Richard Spoor, he tells us, is a public interest lawyer with a special interest in land reform, mines and communities and compensation for occupational diseases, and a “militant non-racialist,” whatever that means. His tweet is addled in so many ways:
- The fate of these two lawyers turned terrorists is no more “sad” than any story of previously law-abiding citizens whose ethics alarms stop working as they knowingly break the law.
- The fact that they are “young” makes it no more sad than if they were older, like 50. They’re not kids: both are over 30. They cannot claim immaturity or lack of experience. My son nearly ruined his life with a terrible, spur of the moment decision that could have killed him and others, but he was a teenaged male. He was also lucky. Truly young people like he was wreck their lives with bad decisions every day. That’s sad. Adults doing it is something else.
- Participating in a riot and throwing a Molotov cocktail is not the act of an “idealistic” person by definition. Breaking the law, engaging in violence, and trying to destroy property for no good reason does not embody “ideals.” They embody the opposite of ideals. If the two lawyers were really idealistic, this wouldn’t have happened.
- They didn’t “get wrapped up” in BLM’s racist movement, they joined it. It isn’t something that just happened to them.
- “Moment of madness” is another version of Rationalization #19, The Perfection Diversion, or “Nobody’s Perfect!” and “Everybody makes mistakes!” People don’t suddenly throw Molotov cocktails and go “Ooopsie! What was I thinking?” That’s not “a mistake,” it is the culmination of many intentional acts leading up to a serious crime.
As intellectually dishonest and ethically inert as Spoor’s tweet is—and it risks making anyone who reads it dumber and more ignorant than they already are—the New York Magazine article that he was reacting to (he linked to it in the tweet) was worse. It was written by Lisa Miller, a veteran journalist who specializes in religious commentary. The title is The Making of a Molotov Cocktail, Two lawyers, a summer of unrest, and a bottle of Bud Light.
I wouldn’t recommend reading the whole, long, soppy, head-exploding thing. This selection should tell you all you need to know:
More than 200 people were arrested in New York City on the night of May 29–30, including Rahman, who is 31, and Mattis, who is 32. Most of the demonstrators were released the next day, but Rahman and Mattis were held for hours at the 88th Precinct in Clinton Hill, interrogated, taken into federal custody, and finally charged with seven federal crimes — including arson, conspiracy, and the commission of a “crime of violence” using a “destructive device,” a charge that carries, if they are convicted, a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years. Altogether, Rahman and Mattis each face nonnegotiable sentences of 45 years to life.
To be a lawyer is to agree to play by the rules, or at least to acknowledge that the rules exist, even as you seek to bend them. And it is this simplistic, romantic understanding of a lawyer’s job that is part of what has the government so provoked, as if going to law school is or should be a safeguard against breaking the law. “The conduct,” said U.S. District Court judge Margo Brodie in reference to this case, was “completely lawless.” At a recent bail hearing, one of the prosecutors argued similarly. “These were lawyers,” he said, “who had every reason to know what they were doing was wrong and knew the consequences. Committing this crime required a fundamental change in mind-set for them.”
But to work within that system is to understand just how capricious and brutal criminal justice can be — the enormous latitude given to prosecutors, the deference extended to judges and juries, and the procedural protocols and professional ethics that often merely cover for the status quo. And when a president and his advisers seem to regard the law as an obstacle course; when an attorney general metes out favors, not justice; and when immigrant children are held in cages and men are killed on video by police, some lawyers may want to embrace a more flexible definition of “lawless.” As recently as a few years ago, even a progressive-minded lawyer might have regarded fervent, visible participation in a political protest as professionally unbecoming. Today, some of Mattis and Rahman’s friends may concede in private that throwing a Molotov cocktail represents a lapse in judgment, but none are willing to discuss the degree to which their friends may have been ethically, professionally, morally, or legally out of bounds. Instead, they emphasize that violence against government property, especially in the midst of political upheaval, is not the same as violence against a person; that the prosecution of their friends for an act of what amounted to political vandalism is far more extreme than the crime itself; that it amounts to a criminalization of dissent and reflects a broader right-wing crusade against people of color and the progressive left — and, as such, demonstrates precisely the horror of the system they were out in the streets that night to protest. There is a version of the Rahman and Mattis story in which they are civil-rights heroes, even martyrs, instead of professionals who crossed a line.
- She couldn’t play it straight. Too bad: it makes this a hack piece, straining for approval by New York Mag’s almost unanimously Democrat, Trump-Deranged readership.
“When a president and his advisers seem to regard the law as an obstacle course; when an attorney general metes out favors, not justice; and when immigrant children are held in cages and men are killed on video by police”–these are hoary resistance talking points and deliberate distortions, not facts. Miller presents them as if they are objective reality.
- Miller makes it sound as if there is something unfair about the two bomb-throwers being charged. I’ll agree that more of the rioters should have been charged, but that doesn’t relieve the two lawyers of guilt or accountability.
- I will bet that Rahman and Mattis do not “face” the maximum penalty. Both Spoor’s tweet and Miller’s sympathetic essay are deceitful. The pair are first offenders, and they have lost their careers as lawyers. Unless they scream “Power to the People!” in court or otherwise show a lack of remorse, they will get the low end of the sentencing guidelines.
Count on it.
- “To be a lawyer is to agree to play by the rules”—that’s correct. And it isn’t an agreement, it’s an oath. If you are not prepared to play by the rules (and that means laws too), then you are unfit to be a lawyer, and your oath was a lie. “
At least to acknowledge that the rules exist, even as you seek to bend them,” is embarrassing non-lawyer ignorance, and means that Miller doesn’t know what she is writing about.
- To work within the system is to realize that enforcing the laws effectively and correctly is complicated and difficult, and that injustices, that mistakes are inevitable, and that throwing a tantrum every time it doesn’t work the way you want it to is a powerful sign that one needs to go into a less challenging and ethically confounding field, like, say, haberdashery.
- What does Miller’s complaint about “the deference extended to judges and juries” mean? What does she think would be better, public polls?
If she’s going to write something that fatuous, she better back it up. She doesn’t, because again, she’s just inciting readers, not informing them.
- “Procedural protocols and professional ethics that often merely cover for the status quo”—again, what’s that supposed to mean? My job is working with professional ethics rules, and that system is far from perfect, but they do not “cover for the status quo.” Miller is apparently in that willfully ignorant camp that can’t see any reason why problems and failures within a system can’t just be magically “fixed,” and if they can’t, it’s proof of widespread and deliberate evil.
A woman cable of writing this drivel has been writing for The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal, among others for decades. Think about that.
- She writes, “Some lawyers may want to embrace a more flexible definition of ‘lawless.’” Yes and some may want to punch a judge in the nose, or take off their clothes and sing “Baby Love” in court…BUT THEY CAN’T.
- “Some of Mattis and Rahman’s friends may concede in private that throwing a Molotov cocktail represents a lapse in judgment”? Who are their friends, ISIS?
- “They emphasize that violence against government property, especially in the midst of political upheaval, is not the same as violence against a person.” So what??
This is one of the more pernicious and self-indicting false principles of the rioters, and it deserves no respect or legitimacy at all. It is basically Rationalization #22, the worst of all, The Comparative Virtue Excuse, or “There are worse things,” which is ethically and intellectually indefensible. OK, they didn’t kill anybody, but that was moral luck. Miller is trying to spin throwing a bomb into a police car.
- Then she really descends into the Great Stupid: “the prosecution of their friends for an act of what amounted to political vandalism is far more extreme than the crime itself; that it amounts to a criminalization of dissent and reflects a broader right-wing crusade against people of color and the progressive left — and, as such, demonstrates precisely the horror of the system they were out in the streets that night to protest.”
Wow…get the net! No, it wasn’t “political vandalism,” it was throwing a firebomb, in public, into a police car. Political vandalism is writing “Give Peace A Chance” on the Iwo Jima Memorial. (Again, Rationalization #64). It’s “far more extreme” than the crime itself–what? Enforcing the law against arson and violent rioting is more extreme than than the crime? Why is Miller regurgitating these crazy Marxist/ Bizarro World arguments?
Miller thinks throwing a firebomb is “dissent?” Arresting someone who burns up a police car is “criminalizing dissent”? I heard ideas like this in the Sixties, but their advocates hadn’t shaved yet. Neither had I, but I could recognize anarchist poison when it was in the air.
- “It amounts to a criminalization of dissent and reflects a broader right-wing crusade against people of color and the progressive left — and, as such, demonstrates precisely the horror of the system they were out in the streets that night to protest.” Sure, Lisa. Res ipsa loquitur. This sentence speaks for itself, and what it says is, “The author has no integrity, or is too biased and ignorant to be taken seriously.”
- “There is a version of the Rahman and Mattis story in which they are civil-rights heroes, even martyrs, instead of professionals who crossed a line.”
Yes, and that version is called “indefensible propaganda.”