8 minutes to read

A couple of weeks or more ago, Fresno criminal defense lawyer Harry Drandel was attacked by the Fresno Sheriff’s Department while trying to enter the courthouse. Harry, who has been an respected attorney since 1983 — that’s thirty-one years — without a single negative mark on his record, was attacked in order to keep the public safe.

I didn’t write about this sooner because I’ve had so much going on, and I needed to try to focus on other things. [1]Another reason is because there’s some weird thing going on the last couple months with my WordPress installation, where it can easily take 30 seconds to several minutes for a WordPress page to reload. Since I switch from writing, then reading what I wrote, to writing again, this is a major hassle. There seems to be no fix for this, and I’ve given up trying. When my current provider contract runs out, I’ll likely have to go through the headache of switching hosting companies again. Scott Greenfield, however, had it covered in his post, “Fresno Deputies and the Terrorists Hiding in Harry Drandel’s Wallet.”

While Fresno appears to have moved on from the incident — we’re fond of forgetting — other parts of the world have been heating up.

Ferguson, for example, where police have even teargassed reporters, and then disassembled their cameras. 

Scott Greenfield noted that Ferguson was different, because the police didn’t run to the cameras with their usual bag of tricks, including defaming the dead.

Whether they read Scott’s post, or not, they are finally getting with the program; Friday, among other things, came the stories that Brown was a suspect in a nearby robbery of a convenience store. The story smells fabricated, and not just because it comes almost a full week after Brown was executed in the street by a police officer. The “robber” allegedly stole a fifty-dollar box of Swisher sweets — cheap cigars. Notably missing from the story is any claim that cigars were found on the dead boy’s body. Or any information on the bullet-to-cigar ratio. [2]The facts appear to continue to show that the officer did not know Brown was involved in the shoplifting — not strong-arm robbery, but shoplifting — event, and that the execution continues to be unjustified, even for the heinous crime of shoplifting. As of this writing, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered a second autopsy, overseen by the Justice Department.


With the initial release of photos from the store, there was skepticism of the reports. As one observer noted,

Anyone could walk in the store and they could get surveillance and take a picture, I don’t see that he’s robbing the store. I just see a picture of a young man.

More importantly, there remains no explanation for why — even if it were true that Brown stole a fifty-dollar box of cheap cigars — executing a black kid from thirty-five feet away when he was in the midst of surrendering, with his hands up in the air, is somehow justified. The county budget cannot be so strained that arresting, charging, and trying the kid wasn’t an option, and summary execution was required instead.

Meanwhile, the pictures out of Ferguson — and perhaps more particularly the police attacks on the Press-with-a-Capital-P — have brought to the foreground of the nation’s consciousness the potential recognition that police militarization (if not Authoritarianism) has perhaps gone too far. “Potential” being the key word in that sentence.

Because for a minute, you see, things were already changing in Ferguson. Police had doffed their armor. Robocop had been replaced by Andy Taylor of Mayberry. And had things remained that way, in a few days we would have all moved on to some other temporary outrage. When I originally started writing this article, that was the focus: I was writing about our tendency to become outraged, then to be mollified (or not), forget, and move on. We would all quickly adjust to a new level of subjugation: summary execution would become an acceptable police response to the failure to obey.

Then the governor of the state realized that all this did was encourage people to exercise their First-Amendment-protected rights to assemble and protest, so the entire town was placed under house arrest. A number of people defied the order, including journalists, and were therefore placed under actual in-a-real-jail-cell arrest.

And still, the nation continues to talk about the over-reaction of the police.

Whether this talk will have any long-term impact on the epidemic of the executions of young unarmed black men by police officers is another story. In this sense, “Michael Brown is not special.” As I noted in my last post, racism is alive and well, even if too many of its targets are not.

More to the point, the government’s belief in its power to have total control of the civilian population is very much alive and well, as demonstrated by the suspension of the United States Constitution by a state governor in a small city in the state of Missouri.

This is now the second nationally-televised episode of the use of this technique, of placing an entire city’s population under house arrest. The first, of course, was Boston. And civil libertarians, criminal defense lawyers, and other thinking people saw the writing on the wall then, and tried to raise the alarm. I wrote about it myself, in a post called “Life in a Post-Constitutional World.”

Police panderers, such Brian Naylor of NPR, took a different course, arguing that the lockdown was “extraordinary, but prudent.” Stephen Flynn, who directs Northeastern University’s George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security allegedly said,

[O]fficials made the right call given the circumstances, noting there is no rule book for dealing with armed individuals who may be carrying explosives.

Apparently, he has never heard of a rule book called “The United States Constitution,” which absolutely is a rule book for dealing with virtually anything that the United States government might wish to do.

Yet despite this failure to adhere to the rules of engagement that control law enforcement interaction with the populace, an entire large city was locked down in violation of the Constitution. And while nobody blinked an eye at this unconscionable and egregious abrogation of the Constitution,

[t]he irony is that it wasn’t until the lockdown was lifted that a Watertown resident found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hiding in a boat in his backyard.

In other words, the lockdown was not only more destructive of American freedoms than the Tsarnaev “terrorists,” it played no part in accomplishing anything other than being destructive of American freedoms.

So it is in Ferguson. A kid is dead. Executed in the streets by a cop who understands that the protections of the United States Constitution are nothing more than a quaint memory. Officers, he knows, are allowed — even encouraged — to tell citizens what to do, and to execute any who disobey. As one police officer said after the murder of Eric Garner,

If people think they are being treated unfairly, they should sue the city after they go through the process instead of resisting.

And if they are dead? Well, someone else can sue for them.

Problem solved.

Techdirt’s Tim Cushing provided the interpretation,

[Citizens] should just submit to any form of police harassment and go through “the process,” something that could easily give them a criminal record when they haven’t truly performed a criminal act and then spend their time, money and energy fighting in the city’s courts to have their grievances addressed and their good names restored.

This is the lesson law enforcement is trying to reinforce after the lockdown of Boston, after the murder of Eric Garner, after the execution of Michael Brown — and after the even more mundane attack on Harry Drandel. You can bet that, for the most part, Americans are going to be cool with it. We are, after all, followers and conformists above all else. We talk about freedom. We talk about equal rights for all. But we do not actually believe in those things.

The greatest “strength” of Americans is to bitch, complain, and submit. Thereafter, we forget what things were like before. New generations grow up thinking its normal to go to schools with metal detectors and armed police officers guards in the halls. Next up, searches by armed guards at supermarkets, movie theaters, and any other public venue you have the balls to visit, just like Harry Drandel and others submit to in order to enter a courthouse. You see, Missouri’s governor’s outrage, because it was ill-timed, has delayed our acquiescence a bit. But eventually, we will adjust.

And don’t think Jay Nixon is an idiot for placing everyone under house arrest because a few people in the town might have broken the law. This is the new tool of law enforcement. Anytime, anywhere the governments of the United States of America — formerly a constitutional democratic republic — get tired of people who still think the United States Constitution means something, it will be trotted out.

And we will adjust.

This is the real reason Ferguson police were so slow to come up with a justification for the execution of Michael Brown. It wasn’t that they didn’t have one.

It’s that explanations are no longer needed. Nationalized house arrest is the newest tool of law enforcement, the culmination of total control.

Gods do not explain themselves. Not to you. Not to the press. They simply issue orders, and mete out death to those who disobey.

UPDATE: John Oliver summed Ferguson up quite nicely.




  1. Good post. I’ve heard someone else suggest that the police response to Chris Dorner’s attacks against cops was an even earlier example of this kind of thing than the Boston lockdown. It wasn’t literally an entire city, but police did house-to-house searches and shot at vehicles.

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Free ePamphlet

Sign up for my newsletter and receive a free ePamphlet on "How to Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer."

Recent Posts