Friday, December 26, 2014

Free Speech For Sony Only

In a capitulation to hacking by North Korea, Sony did not release the Seth Rogen flick, The Interview, as planned. Released Sony emails proved embarrassing and threats to theater bombings shut down a Hollywood film in an unprecedented way.  President Obama took to the airways and said, 
“Sony Pictures "made a mistake" when it decided to cancel the theatrical release of "The file:///Users/makebra/Desktop/innocense%20%20of%20muslims.pngInterview" in the wake of cyber attacks from North Korea….

"We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States," the president continued. "Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they do when they start seeing a documentary they don't like, or news reports they don't like. Or even worse, imagine if producers or distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don't want to offend the sensibilities of someone whose sensibilities probably need to be offended," reported CBS News.

President Obama’s remarks are accurate but they make anyone with a memory feel as though they’ve just entered the twilight zone since President Obama has already silenced at least one filmmaker right here in America not so long ago.

On September 11, 2012, crowds gathered in Egypt and Libya and assaulted U.S. diplomatic compounds. This led to the death of Ambassador Christopher Stephens in Benghazi, Libya.  Notwithstanding the coincidence of the date and the annual air of celebration many in the radical Muslim world have for this day of death in America, the Obama administration told the nation the protests were in response to Innocence of Muslims, an on-line You Tube video written, produced, and directed by Mark Basseley Youssef, aka Sam Bacile, depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a way Muslim’s consider blasphemous.

In September 2012, Bacile was arrested and held in federal detention without bail.  The New York Times cited reports that leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan issued warrants for Bacile’s death and so we were told the detention was for Bacile’s own safety.  While in custody, coincidentally Bacile was then charged in federal court for violating four conditions of his probation from a 2010 bank fraud case for maintaining additional identities. How convenient for the government.  The assistant United States attorney Robert Dugdale later dropped the four charges against Bacile relating to Innocence of Muslims but then proceeded to use those very charges against him as he argued for jail time, the New York Times reported.  Bacile entered a guilty plea and served one year in prison. 

A lot was uncovered about Bacile’s past and complaints by some of the cast of Innocence of Muslims have been filed against him for fraudulently inducing them to act in the project.  His character notwithstanding, there can be no credible argument that the arrest and subsequent jailing of Bacile did not amount to censorship by the United States government on a filmmaker. Bacile’s arrest, detention without bail, and one year sentence seem obviously connected to the administration’s response to the 2012 9/11 events and amount to censorship. Charging his probation violations shields the government’s true motive here. 

So we learn another lesson today.  North Korea cannot bully U.S. filmmakers.  We have our president’s support in preserving the American way and the very fabric of our civil society – Free Speech - is intact.  However, when a filmmaker or even a conservative nonprofit group decides to express an opinion the president doesn’t like, filmmakers are jailed and the IRS attacks.  This duplicitous behavior on the part of government should give us all pause. Ask Bacile who was released from prison in August 2013 to a half-way house in Los Angeles.   In this way, the very fabric of our civil society-Free Speech- becomes frayed and protecting it has become an arbitrary exercise at the whim of government. 

"Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding" (Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis).  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Power Shields a Multitude of Sins

Why Bill and not Woody?

Did you hear the big crash landing in Hollywood this month?  It was Bill Cosby’s career tragically ending.  After being accused by more than a dozen women of drugging and rape, America’s Dad has fallen off of his patriarchal throne while the line of accusers grows.  To witness the unfolding of what appears to be a hidden lifestyle of crimes against women is sad-making to say the least both for Cosby and for the women.

Did you hear the other big crash landing in 2014?  No?  That’s because there wasn’t one after we were reminded of the allegation that iconic film director Woody Allen molested his seven year old adopted daughter Dylan Farrow.  Recall in the Open Letter on February 1, 2014, Mia Farrow’s daughter, Dylan went public for the first time that her adopted father Woody Allen molested her 20 years ago.  Back then, the lawsuit against Allen was dropped to prevent forcing Dylan to testify in open court which may have caused further injury; Allen has always denied the allegations.  Dylan kept her silence for so long convincing herself that her voice would not be heard.  Well, she was right.  Few, outside of her family, believed her and Allen went on to receive the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award just two weeks before Dylan’s public disclosure. Allen incidentally married his other adopted daughter Soon-Yi and is still among Hollywood’s elite.

The list of alleged Hollywood sexual deviants goes on and on, but somehow Bill Cosby is the one to pay the career-ending price.  His syndicated shows were pulled across the country; he resigned from prestigious board seats and affiliations; he has refunded tickets to shows and will likely never be seen again.  If he only abused one woman out of the dozen accusers, he deserves the consequence.  There is no excuse but the disparate treatment between Cosby and Allen does beg the question: shouldn’t both men be treated equally? Of course the answer is yes, but only one star falls.

What is lost in the national discourse of watching Cosby’s falling star is the pain and suffering women endure in relationships with some men.  A woman doesn’t have to be the minor daughter of a famous director or an aspiring actress to be abused.  Little girls are molested by the average Joe Blow more often than we care to discuss.  As an attorney in the Los Angeles Dependency Court, I litigated these issues of child abuse regularly; and not-so-young women are drugged and raped by men as a matter of course.  

We have a problem.  We have predators among us. These predators often hate women (misogynists) or have an unnatural proclivity for minors.  It may have something to do with past history or an addiction that requires treatment, but there is no excuse.  Whatever the root cause, when men use their power and authority to take from girls/women what they want, they leave behind broken souls that injure all of us.  (I in no way ignore the abuse of minor boys; however, that is not my subject today.)

While Cosby and Allen may or may not pay for their sins fully, we must look beyond their celebrity and see the women they (allegedly) have broken.  Let’s have compassion for them; let the voices of these women be heard and validated (and if they are determined to be false accusers, then they will likewise pay for their deceit).  And to those women who have been victimized, don’t wait 30 years to seek healing from your injury and brokenness.  You have a voice. The Statute of Limitations typically expires one year after the injury occurs.  If you wait, he wins.  Go to the local police department right away and most importantly seek professional healing for your soul. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Where Is Justice (Part II)

If we abandon the idea that Lady Justice is blind and insist she see things as we demand, one day someone with more influence will bend her vision against us.  Justice must be allowed to seek truth no matter the sway of public opinion.

In 1987, as a graduating student from university, I was held up at gun point and shot with a 12-gauge shot gun.  I barely escaped with my life and was fortunate to only lose my right leg from the gun shot.  I know violence and I know what it feels like to want criminal justice.  In fact, after the first trial, the black 18 year old gang member was not convicted despite eye witnesses and positive identifications.  Criminal justice is not a science but rather is meted out by imperfect people.  In my case, law enforcement brought about justice for me.  Because of their diligence, the shooter turned himself in and was ultimately convicted in a second trial.  Lady Justice almost missed the mark in my case but she ultimately delivered her just reward. 25 years to life.

In the case of Eric Garner, we are saddened by what seems to be a miscarriage of justice.  Garner, 43, was taken down to the concrete by a white New York police officer with a chokehold for the illegal sale of cigarettes in Staten Island, New York.  To the laymen, the officer used excessive force. Garner yelled repeatedly, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” during the arrest.  He died leaving behind a wife and children; the coroner ruled his death a homicide, the New York Times reported.  The grand jury failed to indict Officer Pantaleo, 29, for the death.  We now gather and in unison shout “No Justice, No Peace” around the country in response to what seems inconceivable based upon the viral video footage.  Lady Justice seems to have missed her mark.  But we must not lose heart.

There have been very dark periods throughout our collective histories before.  The list of unspeakable discrimination against Jews, Italians, Irish, Japanese, blacks, and other ethnic groups (including women) is too long to itemize.  These have been storms that each of us would have preferred to avoid.  However, a wise man once told me, “There has never been a storm that didn’t pass over.”  

The struggle highlighted in the Garner case is not a struggle of racism in my opinion. The race card is over played, which diminishes movement against racism when it really occurs.   We saw a good example of racism recently with the revelation of private emails between Sony Entertainment executives and their pejorative exchange about President Obama. Incidentally, there have been no cries for boycotts against Sony films yet.   

Rather, in the Garner matter, I see two problems: (1) zealous policing for an alleged misdemeanor infraction that should have never warranted a physical encounter and (2) a flawed grand jury decision that failed to recognize the use of excessive force.  Unless and until I see racial motive, I am unable to label this as a race problem.  It’s not enough that a black man was killed by a white man; that does not make the death motivated by race although recent and historical events pull my community to that conclusion.  (By the same token, I typically accept the decisions of a trier of fact because they have the information that I do not; however, in this case, the world saw the incident and it is inconceivable to lay eyes that Officer Pantaleo did not commit a crime against Garner.)

This is a storm.  It is a storm for the Garner family just as my shooting was a storm for my family.  This is a storm for New York and even for the nation.  The unwarranted taking of a life under the color of authority is a serious matter for us all, but so is the senseless killing by blacks against other blacks.  We must not pretend the elephant is not in the room.  90% of the deaths in the black community are by blacks themselves, reports Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal.

So where is justice in these storms?  Just as it was for me when I fell tragically into the hands of violence by a black youth, justice is in our perseverance to bring about righteousness; justice comes riding on the winds of change as she has done throughout time.  But justice must come not only for the Garner family but also to our very own communities where killing each other has become sport.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What is Justice? (Part 1)

In the wake of the recent grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner deaths and the ensuing cries for “justice,” it is important to have an understanding of what justice really is, how to find it, and what it looks like.  Is justice a feeling of vindication for wrongful murders?  Is it a tool to right the racial wrongs of the past? Before we address these questions and decisions of the grand juries in these recent cases, let’s first be clear what justice is not.  What we seek in response to these murders is not “social justice.”  That term is widely misused and clouds the conversation.

Social justice is an economic term that has its roots as a religious doctrine to do charity to the poor.  Both the Catholic, Jewish and Muslim faiths have longstanding traditions in this regard and adhere to this idea of delivering charity, or social justice, to those in need.  The distorted term, as used today, has become a euphemism for redistributive wealth schemes.  It requires the government to take by force or involuntarily the wealth of others and redistribute it to others.  This can only be done by an overpowering government, reducing the liberty of every American, and is not biblical.  I reject the distorted use of the term “social justice” in the context of seeking justice for these recent murders.

On the other hand, God is a God of justice and His justice indeed applies to us all.  It is from a biblical perspective that I want to define the term.  Justice comes in two parts: justice in our relationships with each other and justice as a part of God’s redemptive goal for us all.

The Hebrew word for justice as used in the Bible is tsedeq and misphat (Old Testament) and dikaiosyne in the Greek (New Testament).  When they are used, they are interchangeable with the idea of “what is right” or “righteousness.”    When used, these terms are applied to fair weight and measures, legal proceedings, personal behavior, and the responsibility of the ruling government authorities, to name a few.  In these examples, we can deduce that biblical justice focuses on “what is right” or depicts how things should be.  That’s consistent with our secular idea of justice.  However, in this biblical context, we have a human responsibility to deliver what is right to one another too. For the secularist, the Golden Rule says,  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you;” the biblical version of that secular saying says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).  This is the standard for justice in action whether you are religious or irreligious.  It is fundamentally a personal charge.

Secondly, in scripture God is the defender of the poor, the widow, the orphan and the foreigner.  In this way, the term for justice is expanded and looks like deliverance or victory for the oppressed.  In other words, we are not alone in the pursuit of “what is right” in the world.  We have partnership with God and therefore are not pursuing justice alone.  Justice plays a role in God’s redemptive plan for His creation but in His divine providential timing. With a steady hand He will even bring about change to our criminal justice system. 

A lot can be said of our criminal justice system and specifically the industrial prison complex but that must be for a different time.  I will only say now that the industrial prison complex is not focused on real justice (“what is right”) but rather is focused on retribution and the economics associated with that business.  In this way, over 2 million men and women are behind bars (and growing) with no path to restoration; rather, the system creates a permanent underclass of Americans, perpetuates recidivism and broken families.  We need a restorative criminal justice system-a system that contributes to mending the breach in our culture and minimizes the profit from our moral failures.

But the focus for justice cannot be only on the criminal justice system.  Justice must first be delivered between each of us in our respective homes and in our respective communities. We must first treat one another as we would treat ourselves. Justice in its truest form restores what has been broken.  As a community, we are broken along racial and socio-economic lines and we must seek a “restorative justice” between ourselves and in doing so we restore the breach we have with God.

The breach of relationship we have with God is evidenced, in part, by crime and poverty statistics.  In 2012 the Wall Street Journal reported that, “94% of the murders of blacks in America for decades have been at the hands of other blacks.” Also, we spend one trillion dollars a year as a country in programs to help the 1 in 6 Americans living in poverty today and that community continues to grow.

The response to these statistics looks outward for justice with blame and dependence and not inward (personally and in our communities) which misses the larger problem.  These statistics are symptomatic of untreated decay in the moral fabric of our society.  By letting this decay go untreated, we foster a broken relationship between us and with God.  Man is made in God’s own image; we assault God when we murder ourselves. We fail to lift the Golden Rule when we don’t do our part to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  We have a spiritual problem that requires repentance if not the wrath of God itself.

And so, the question “What is Justice” is on the floor.  In this context, justice, or “what is right” or “righteousness” is defined first in our own lives.  It is personal.  It is an act of love for ourselves and for our neighbor.

I submit to you that we, as a nation, cannot begin to reform our criminal justice unless and until we understand the core idea of restoring interpersonal relationships within our own families and communities.  When we start there, when we understand and deliver justice to one another, we restore our own brokenness and then we bring ourselves into right relationship with God.  When we take up this charge, we begin to fulfill His redemptive purpose in our lives and our communities can begin to experience healing, deliverance, and alas – justice.

Please join me for Part II next week for Where Is Justice. I will discuss the recent deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the findings of the respective grand juries.

Correction: I received commentary to this article that indicated that the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner were not murders as I stated.  These commentaries are accurate and I used the term "murder" inadvertently.  As an attorney I am aware that "murder" is the premeditated taking of a human life.  In these cases, murder is not an appropriate term; moreover, the grand juries did not find probable cause that crimes were committed in those cases .  While many disagree, the grand juries rendered their respective decisions. I trust my error does not distract from the broader point of the article.