Thursday, July 30, 2009

As If We Really Needed Any Proof.

I have become an old fart.

This article caught my eye this morning and I was shocked...shocked, I say, to discover that I was firmly on the 80-year-old lady's side.

I wish there were a mug shot, but this is the best I could find.

Anyway, the gist of the story is that 80-year-old Adlyn "Paddy" Cook got pissed off that kids using her neighborhood as a short cut to school were leaving trash all over the place and in spite of repeated complaints to the school, they wouldn't do anything about it. The place looked like the aftermath of the Woodstock music festival.

OK, I totally made up the part about how bad the trash problem was and I have no idea how many times she complained, but dammit the kids were messing up her lawn! So she gathered up the garbage and dumped it in the lobby of the school -- twice! She even left a note with her name on the garbage bags. And the only response she got was a charge for illegal dumping. Asshats!

Anyway, all's sorta well that ends sorta well. She didn't have to go to jail and they're making her monitor students in the cafeteria at lunch -- cruel and unusual punishment if I ever heard of any.

The reason this strikes a chord with me is that we constantly have flyers and store circulars dumped on our front stoop for restaurants and stores in the area. The ones that really get me are the ones for restaurants that are so far away that I'm outside their delivery area. I'm sorely tempted to collect all of them from around the neighborhood and dump them back on the stores' doorsteps for them to find in the morning with a note saying, "Did you misplace this stuff?" I'd probably get sentenced to sorting produce at Pathmark. Or taking calls from people pissed off at Dominos for not delivering their pizza.

Can't get no justice from the man!


Eric said...

I sympathize with her predicament, but not her decision to engage in "self-help." That's just a huge, huge, huuuuuuuge no-no....

John the Scientist said...

Eric, then who the fuck should she go to? The cops treat it like a goddamn joke, and if no one enforces the law then there is no law, and the court system chews up too much time. She's 80, she should not use up what precious health she has left to go to court to force the cops to deal with the issue.

There are some rights reserved to the people, and stuff like this is exactly what the founders meant.

Just like that woman in SC should not have been charged if she HAD shotgunned the bastard that buggered her horse. You are on my property, molesting my animals? I get to shoot you, not questions asked. Personally, I would not vote to convict her if I were on a jury and she had tazed the little shits.

Eric said...

John, what should the cops do? Delegate a 24-hour patrol to her house to deter littering? I'm not a fan of the cops (see my Prof. Gates post, or, for that matter, my career). Does she know which students are leaving the litter? For that matter, how certain is she that the kids are from that particular high school? I sympathize, but the uncomfortable fact remains that the only specific person I know for a fact committed a crime is Ms. Cook.

And the problem I have with that, ironically, isn't that Ms. Cook should be punished. Mediating the charges or flat-out dismissing them is appropriate. But she's exactly the kind of person who comes into my office hopelessly confused by the fact that she felt justified in breaking the law and then some cop did his job and arrested her. She was in the right, impotent or not, up 'til the point she decided to put herself in the target sights.

Furthermore, if this were truly an act of civil disobedience it would be one thing--if she said "I'm going to break the law and suffer the punishment to make a social, legal or political point," well there you are. But I'm pretty sure from the article (and, frankly, from dealing with people just like Ms. Cook for more than a decade) that she was surprised and taken aback when her act was treated as the petulantly-committed crime it really was. "You're arresting me? What about those damn kids?" Well if you were able to catch those kids in the act and get the cops out there, they would have been sent to juvie, but the only trespassing litterbug dumb enough to get herself caught was you, lady.

Oh, and by the way, it doesn't help that she committed her retaliatory crime against the community, not the perpetrators. You think the kids who littered in her yard had to deal with the mess she dumped in the school lobby? Hell no, they laughed their asses off over it. The taxpayer-paid principal had to take time out of his schedule to get the taxpayer-paid janitor to clean it up while the taxpayer-paid school resource officer had to take the trouble to make sure the crazy old lady with the sack of trash wasn't actually a threat to the students or faculty. Nice job of misdirecting your anger there, Ms. Cook.

Oh, one last point: "precious health" or no, she has recourse under the law, however ineffectual. She can sue the kids or their parents if she can get ahold of them, or she can keep calling the cops to file criminal charges. That's how a culture with aspirations of civilization deals with things, whether it's frustrating or not. As parents always say, "Two wrongs don't make a right," and Ms. Cook's departure from the social contract to salve her own wounded feelings and pacify her frustrations may arouse sympathy and empathy, but that doesn't make it right.

Eric said...

I left a sentence fractured up there. I should have written:

I'm not a fan of the cops (see my Prof. Gates post, or, for that matter, my career), but I don't see how they're in the wrong here, or what else they're supposed to do about relatively minor hooliganism being committed by mostly-harmless juveniles; maybe in Amity or Mayberry the cops can investigate every broken fence or TPed lawn, but I'm guessing even cops in affluent Montgomery County probably have enouh rapes, murders and arsons to keep themselves busy.

John the Scientist said...

Eric, the garbage was in bags, so give me a break on the hooliganism crime against society at large part, the prinicpal sent the janitor to toss them in the dumspter. No blood, no foul. He did not feel like addressing the problem (and quite honestly it's not really his problem), and so went after her.

I am not saying I agree with her tactic, but to arrest her and do nothing to the kids? THAT is a breach of the social contract.

Quite honestly what I would have done is set up cameras to get evidence to take to the cops, but she is not that tech savvy. I don't think the system took into account her advanced age, here. What recourse does she have? How does she stop vandalism of her property? And now the kids who did this are laughing at her in the lunchroom. Something is not right.

This is exactly why the founders restricted the franchise to those who had property - unless you have a stake in the system, most people are not inclined to look at things through the lens of the effort put into all the things they see around them.

Nathan said...

Holy Crap! I thought I'd just left you guys a nice little piece of fluff for a Thursday morning.

For the record:

A.) I thought she had dumped the bags of garbage in the lobby (and liked the image). I may be wrong there.

B.) The school really wouldn't have been soooo inconvenienced if it had taken the complaint seriously and posted an employee on that block during lunch hour for a few days to catch the miscreants.

C.) I'm still really tempted to take a few hundred of Pathmark's circulars or Dominos' flyers and dump them back on their doorstep. I'm in a four-story building with three mail boxes in plain view. Why do they feel the need to leave 20 of the damned things on my front steps (looking very much like random litter)?

Eric said...

John, I've no doubt the kids would have been in trouble if they were busted, just like Ms. Cook. I have no idea where you're getting the idea that there was something the police or school could do, besides stationing a 24-hour patrol in Cook's yard or accusing every teenager in the area of littering and cracking down on the innocent as well as presumed lawbreakers. ("Presumed," since it's still apparently only merely Ms. Cook's belief that these kids are students at the school she vandalized. Her belief may be true or not, but as of yet it seems no more than a presumption of guilt.)

Maybe something isn't right, but a hard truth is that there's not a remedy for every injustice. Not every guilty party is brought to justice, whether it's a kid who litters or a police officer who violated some defendant's rights. And sometimes the people who get caught breaking the law are sympathetic--many criminals are the Ms. Cook type, sympathetic, likeable people who felt pushed and pushed back when they shouldn't have.

A few weeks ago I was driving my new Bug home and some little shit on the side of the road threw an egg at me. I heard a loud POP and had no idea what it was 'til I got home. The top was down and I was glad the thing hit low. Would I be happy if the kid was carted to juvie? Sure. But what was my remedy, really? My remedy was I got a towel and some soap and water and I cleaned up the side of my car. Sometimes people are assholes and you deal. Me getting in the car with a carton of eggs and going back to the apartment complex I was driving past when the kids nailed me might have been emotionally satisfying, too, but it would have been a pathetic and unproductive gesture that would have gotten me charged with a crime if I'd been busted--you know, just like Ms. Cook's gesture might have been emotionally satisfying but was pathetic, unproductive, and criminal.

Last and least, I have no idea at all what this has to do with the franchise, much less how it supports your assertion in any way, shape or form. First, unless you know something I don't, you don't know if Ms. Cook rents or owns her home--for all you know she's a subletting retiree. Nor do either of us know if any of the kids vandalizing her yard are voters--it's possible some of them are 18-year-old seniors, but just as likely (maybe more) that none of them would be eligible under any circumstance. Above and beyond that, the connection of the franchise to property ownership was an elitist notion that might be vaguely justified in a largely agrarian society, but one that has been obsoleted in a mostly-urban society in which many stakeholders are rentors or lessors. It may break your heart, but a mere fifth of the population lives in areas defined by the Census Bureau as "nonmetropolitan" and nearly 58% of Americans living in metropolitan areas with populations greater than one million. (This is based on 2000 census data.) One reality of metropolitan areas is that very significant numbers of people who have a stake in the system will not own any of the limited real estate that's available, renting or leasing instead. Another is that stakeholders may have divided loyalties--commuters may conduct all of their business (work, shopping, education, whatever) in a community they don't live in; this latter issue isn't one that has any ready answer, but is certainly worth pointing out. (Actually, there is a ready answer, sort of--it may be part of the reason that politics has become increasingly delocalized, with state and federal representation becoming more important than district or local representation.)

All of which is a sidetrack, isn't it? I mean, whether or not we should regress to an 18th-Century notion of how representative democracy ought to work doesn't really deal in any way with a pissed-off 80-year-old lady who is surprised that her local school didn't take kindly to her frustrated, juvenile and messy prank, however understandable her acting-out may be.

John the Scientist said...

Eric, I think our living areas have something to do with our different perspective, as well as our politics.

I ride the train into NYC every day past graffiti covered industrial buildings, with graffiti-covered trucks parked inside lots that are protected by razor wife. It looks like the fucking third world. All this because the system takes the view that some injustices are not worth the time. Really? Who the fuck gets to decide that? And you surely can't be conflating an egg tossed at your car, or a one-off game of mailbox baseball on my front lawn with repeat offending such as the graffiti, can you?

This is where I agree with Sotomayor, that a Hispanic woman who grew up in the Barrio might make a better call than some rich white guy from the Ivy League. She would know the frustration of the old women living in neighborhoods that are crime and delinquent-ridden, and even if she saw that the law required the lady be punished for an obvious crime, she would not make the woman do community service in the very place that the hoodlums-in-training congregate. To have them laugh at the old lady, having put one over on her not once, but twice. That judge needs to un-ass his head right quick, because I am damn sure if someone started littering on his property that the otherwise busy Montgomery County Sheriffs (like all MD cops, a passel of assholes if there ever was one) would find some time to do something right quick.

This is connected with the erosion of the idea that those who contribute to society should have more say in it. I will go into that in a blog post when I have more time, but I will say that you should not conflate property ownership with "stake", which is the mistake the founders made, probably under Jefferson and Washington's agrarian ideals, I like to think Hamilton wold have had a broader view.

Stake means "paying for it". Just ask those of us who commute through the wasteland of outer NYC and have to pay for the privilege of working in the City with an additional tax. If you think allocating more power to the Feds will solve our issues, you have not seen what the feds and their institutions do as absentee controllers right now.