Friday, November 18, 2005

The Evil Within

Chapters 6-9 of Long Goodbye deal with Marlowe in the paws of unfriendly civil servants.

Enjoy may not be the best word, but I like them if only for showcasing the stupidity of what has at another time has been called corruption. Albeit in very simplified ways.

Homicide head Capt. Gregorius is “a type of copper that is getting rarer but by no means extinct” in 1953. He has Marlowe handcuffed tightly enough to kill his hands, throws scalding coffee at him, punches him in the base of the neck hard enough to fill the man’s mouth with blood and bile, and spits in his face. We are allowed to know that under different circumstances (if there was actually reason to suspect Marlowe of having committed a crime, for instance) we could expect much worse from Gregorius. He is a man who believes he can get away with things.

A half-century later the Captain’s type hasn’t died out yet. Now they have such utter confidence that they actually videotape themselves—and those tapes getting on the local news is about the only thing that gets public opinion against them, sometimes. A roomful of cops laughing as they taser a man to death handcuffed to a chair is un ugly sight to anyone with either a heart or a brain.

But perhaps worse than such technically (and sometimes publicly) frowned-upon inversions of justice are the accepted and even lauded methods, if only because they are a standardized part of a machine originally set in place for the people’s protection.
Current methods of police interrogation administered to the guilty to elicit confessions are, by official policy, only to be used on those who are “guilty.” The utter stupidity of such action would be laughable if it were not so heinous.
In this way a person’s legal “guilt” may be in practice determined by an interrogating officer before any actual evidence has been gathered.

I have seen such an interrogation of a child. Almost immediately he had confessed to murdering his sister. When he said he didn’t know why he had done it, he meant that he hadn’t been told his motive yet. I didn’t see the cops lay a hand on the boy, or hook him up to a car battery, or anything else generally categorized as torture. But what they were doing to force this confession was most definitely wrong in every sense of the word. I knew he was innocent the first time I saw the tape. Even if I had been wrong, if he was guilty, this perversion of justice was no proof of it.

Almost ten years later, that grieving boy—that boy who had missed his baby sister’s funeral sitting in a jail cell—was cleared by a jury when DNA evidence proved his innocence. Two of the officers involved were reprimanded. Last I heard, none of them had lost their badges or been imprisoned as they should have.

When evil becomes part of a system, what is the system then to fight?

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