once upon a time i was an un/popular defendent
February 11, 2016
Just saw a twitter thread about how even unpopular defendent’s are entitled to legal representation. About how ~progressives~ have taken the principle of prioritizing victims too far, bc it ends up asserting that a defendent has no right to defend themselves….
I know that I’m incredibly sensitive to this particular topic because of my personal experience with it. In my relatively small circle, I was maybe a ‘popular’ defendent. As concerns my field as a whole? I was an unpopular defendent.
Or was I?
While, yes, technically I was a defendent, most people didn’t really perceive me that way. Instead I was the aggressor because it was my actions that started the whole fucking mess. Maybe the other person was the un/popular defendent. It really depends on who you were inclined to side with.
Ultimately, the point of the thread was that, regardless of our relative popularity or ‘victimhood’, all parties deserved legal representation. Which… yes. But not really.
It’ll never stop being tragically ironic to me that a post I wrote about an alternative to the legal ~justice~ system was the exact thing that exposed me to the violence of that system. And it’ll always be super amusing to me in that pretty much everyone’s criticism of me (and that post), they critique the victim-centred view. Basically concluding the same as that thread. That wanting to centre and prioritize victims entails the accused not being allowed a defense. That believing victims is to somehow ‘convict’ the accused without a trial.
Or some such nonsense.
Anyway, its interesting how all these ppl who clutched their pearls over that part of my blog post failed to grasp even the most basic point of the entire fucking thing. All these ppl who were like ‘zomg! liberals/progressives have gone too far! this flies in the face of common decency and the judicial system!’ just. didn’t. fucking. get. it. And, at this point, I’m sure they never will. Even though I’m about to spell it out for them.
So let’s get into why ‘even unpopular defendents deserve a defense/representation’ is a garbage statement. And dig into why some think that prioritizing victims entails a balief that unpopular defendents don’t deserve representation.
1) What is the domain of reference?
This is, perhaps, the biggest flaw in how most people understand victim-first approaches to justice. My blog post was about one alternative to the current judicial system, community accountability. Now, years later, I’ve seen some good, substantive critiques of community accountability. But putting victims first isn’t the sole purview of community accountability and, for my part at least, this is one of the key elements for trying to imagine an alternative to the prison-industrial complex.
Are you beginning to see the problem? The statement “believe victims” isn’t intended to be understood within the current judicial system. In part because the current judicial system not only doesn’t believe victims as its default stance, but because it is often a tool used violently against victims. This is, um, you know, why some of us want an alternative to this system that prioritizes victims.
So, on one level, my critics aren’t wrong. Believing victims, putting them first is incompatible with the prison-industrial complex. So if we evaluate the statement ‘believe victims’ within the current judicial context, it quickly begins to have a lot of implications that run contra the systems values and principles. Which is, um, you know, why the current judicial system is garbage and the prison-industrial complex needs to be abolished. Not reformed. Abolished. Entirely fucking destroyed.
In other words, whether or not a victim-first principle implies that defendents are entitled to a robust legal defense if kind of entirely irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. Maybe they are even right. But it doesn’t fucking matter. Not to me.
Because I want the entire system in which ‘defendents are entitled to legal representation’ is coherent to be destroyed. From my perspective, that statement is incoherent with any notion of justice I’d be willing to recognize as such. The question of whether or not ‘unpopular’ defendents should get legal representation (or otherwise entitled to a defense) is meaningless to me. I don’t care.
So yes, it is accurate to say that I’m a ~progressive~ whose position on these matters contradicts legal notions of justice and is generally offensive to most people. Because most ppl are entirely fucking committed to propping up the prison-industrial complex and the judicial system. Am I then surprised that white, liberal asshat after asshat has seized upon this to show how ‘things have gone too far’ or how I’m a irrational bitch? Not surprised.
But your inability to imagine an alternative to the current ~justice~ system isn’t my problem. I’m quite pleased that my sense of justice offends ur delicate fucking sensibilities. I assure you, the reverse is also quite true. What you call ‘justice’ I call systemic violence and oppression. No surprise we can’t see eye to eye on this.
Anyway, fuck you.
2) Who’s unpopular anyway?
One of the reasons why I talked about the fuzziness around who was the defendent and who was un/popular is because, well, its really a matter of perspective.
In my case, I know a lot of people thought I was a ‘popular’ defendent. I mean, did you see all the blog posts, social media activity, etc and so on in support of us? There were heaps of it. But I also saw just as many negative blog posts, social media activity, etc and so on. So… which is it? Were most people for or against?
The real and actual answer: no one knows. Not with any certainty anyway.
On the web there are various notions about online engagement. Like the 1% rule, which states that only 1% of people are active, everyone else lurks. Sure, people will split it up in other ways. But the real point is that a vast majority of the people who witnessed what happened never said a single public word about it. Nothing. The fabled ‘silent majority’. Not even speaking of the people who aren’t online but knew about and discussed the Case. What did all of these people think? The actual majority?
Hard to say.
If I were to bet, I’d bet with the knowledge that I currently posess. Which is: institutional oppression is, um, you know, a Thing. That a lot of ppl tend to support the status quo and that the status quo is all about oppression. And given my and my co-defendent’s inability to find work after the end, I’m guessing I’m right to guess that most people thought we were unpopular defendents. Or they thought were the accused, assumed to be guilty party. Either way, general support was not on our side.
Of course, many of these people felt vindicated after the settlement, apology, and retraction. Which has also given fuel to the people who think that ~progressives~ have taken prioritizing victims Too Far and now espouse a point of view that is an Affront to Decent Law-abiding Citizens everywhere.
And to make things fun, I feel vindicated in my position that the judicial system/prison-industrial complex is violent and oppressive and needs to be immediately abolished. In conclusion: the entire discussion about fair representation misses the point and is garbage. Both sides are wrong because nothing within a system built to be violent and oppressive has any chance of being ‘fair,’ ‘just,’ ‘moral’, or ‘ethical’. Trying to find an ethical stance within a system of violence is kind of impossible.
And yet…. so many of you try. Good luck with that.