Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Question of Justice

The story of Michael Brown's death is tragic. There is no question of that. An 18-year-old shot dead, a police officer in the spotlight.

The city of Ferguson, Missouri, is a tinderbox. There have been protests, violent at times, for almost 2 weeks, and there is no sign of it letting up.

The family of Michael Brown has lost a son, brother, friend.

The family of Darren Wilson has lost the comforts of security. He, and his family by association, fear for their lives and Officer Wilson has not left his home (if, indeed, he is still there; media dogs have led cameras and protesters to his address, an irresponsible deriliction of journalistic integrity).

The city is at the center of a federal investigation. I will address that at another time; but suffice it to say that with all the murders that take place every single day in every single American city, why this one has gotten the attention of the feds is solely based on the constant and escalated race-related issues that have only worsened. I do not believe the feds have any business making this case their pet cause.

And as I write this, reports are coming in with more veracity than not, revealing that Darren Wilson suffered an orbital blowout fracture (that's a fracture to the bones around the eye socket), and was severely beaten in the incident, to the point where he was nearly unconscious when taken to the hospital after the shooting. Should this prove to be true, it is what the media have been calling a game changer: he will have had sufficient fear for his own life, and justifiable force would have to exonerate him.

Michael Brown had been involved, just moments before the shooting, in a "strong arm robbery" where he stole from a convenience store and physically intimidated the clerk. Witnesses say that he was also involved in a physical altercation with Officer Wilson when Wilson confronted him and a friend in the street. Michael Brown was 6'4", 290 pounds, and could very well have injured the officer to such severity.

These details are being downplayed because it "disparages the dead" or "assassinates the character of the victim". The video of the robbery was withheld for days before the police department finally released it. This is all evidence that speaks to the officer's actions that led to the fatal shooting. Evidence is about facts - and those are only disparaging when assigned emotion.

The governor of the state has overstepped his office, and the very clear lines of his legal profession, with an egregious breach of prosecutorial discretion. He made a statement, in the heat of riots and tensions in the streets, that called for "Justice for Michael Brown", "Justice for this family", and "Justice for Michael Brown and his family" (as well as a call for "vigorous prosecution" - a rush to judgment if ever there was one).

This is where it sticks most in my craw. If I've learned anything at all about the American justice system, from my reading, from listening and watching news and trials over the years, from listening to legal experts and analysts, it's this: people who cry for "justice" are only looking for the results that will satisfy their side. Those who call for "justice for Michael Brown" are only looking for an indictment, and that prematurely mentioned "vigorous prosecution" of a man who has not even been seen since the day of the shooting, 11 days ago. A man who has not, to date, even given his side of the story. Those who call for "justice for Michael Brown" are looking not only for prosecution, but conviction, and sentencing - most likely, a death sentence. Because - for the record - Missouri does have the death penalty.

Those calling for "justice for Darren Wilson" are looking for him to not be indicted by the grand jury; if he should be, they are looking for a judge to determine there is not enough evidence to go forward with trial; should that not happen, they are looking for an acquittal.

Those people parading with signs and t-shirts, and yelling for justice do not understand one key premise to the American justice system:  justice is not a verdict; justice is the process.

The Sixth Amendment in the United States Bill of Rights states the following:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

That is what defines justice. Justice is due process. Justice is the right to a trial, a jury of one's peers, the right to confront one's accusers and have counsel represent the defendant. Justice is the right for said counsel to obtain and use evidence in presenting his/her case, question witnesses and obtain testimony of supporting witnesses. Justice is an impartial judge. Justice is using facts to present and argue a case, in a Constitutionally mandated, courtroom adversarial setting. Justice is the process, not the verdict.

In fact, nowhere in the Amendment is the verdict addressed. Nowhere is the verdict disparaged as fair or unfair. Yes, there are factors that could be considered unfair - jury tampering, witness tampering, judicial bias, the list goes on. It happens. We've all seen episodes of The Good Wife, Law and Order, or read a few John Grisham novels.

But when the word "justice" is used, it is not supposed to be used in conjunction with "for the victim/family" or "for the defendant", or even "for the community". As I was reminded by Fox News anchor, Megyn Kelly, justice is supposed to be for everyone. Justice is supposed to be blind.

When the word "justice" is used in cases such as these, it should always refer to the process that must always be followed. Justice is the beauty of freedoms afforded in the American - and Canadian - system of law.

Investigation - including gathering of all evidence, interviews with all parties as is possible, and with witnesses. Presentation of said investigation before a judge, or a grand jury. And only then does it move forward, or end with a non-indictment.

The protesters, the agitators, the social media activists and the news media opiners have all lost sight of what justice means. There have been statements made by protesters and media alike, threatening that the violence seen in the streets thus far would be "a picnic" compared to what would unfold should the officer be acquitted, or not indicted at all.

What will be the denouement? Will there be an indictment/prosecution/conviction because those who cry for "justice" are actually hitting emotional heartstrings? Or out of fear for that threatened increased violence in the streets?

No one is diminishing the pain of a family whose son is dead. Nor should any diminish the anguish of the officer who shot him.

After all the evidence has been weighed and properly considered, should Darren Wilson be found to have unjustifiably fired his weapon to deadly consequences, I will be the first to say that justice has been served. Based on the evidence.

But if an officer is wrongfully indicted, tried before what could well be an already-tainted jury pool, and convicted because due process was denied?

If an officer is indicted and convicted because the court of public opinion has already rendered its verdict and sentence and the "justice system" follows suit?

And if an officer is wrongfully indicted because the true meaning of the word "justice" and the Sixth Amendment have been diluted to generate a result that would appease the masses?

That would be the truest tragedy of all.

Let justice be served. And when I say that, I mean let the process take its proper course. Investigation first. All evidence. Fairly, impartially.

And no matter how it bears out, if all steps have been taken properly, then - and only then - will justice have been served.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Israeli Conflict: Having My Say

Loosely translated, this means "The People of Israel Live"

So, lately, I've been called "angry."

I've been called "biased."

I've been called "one-sided."

Well, yes. Perhaps I am all of those things.

And I would have been those things regardless of what else I am. But today, I'm going to say something I never quite declared out loud "just like that". Something that is a pride and joy in my life but something that was never quite encouraged to be proclaimed.

I am Jewish.

There, I've said it.

Why is this a fact that is not always stated just like that?

Because Jews, throughout time, have been exposed to a special brand of misinformation, a special brand of misunderstanding, a special brand of  hate.


So, I grew up proud of being Jewish but not flaunting it. I went to a mostly Jewish elementary and high school (though there was also diversity and that was always something I cherished in my educational institutions). My family celebrated the main holidays but we still drove on Saturday, watched TV Friday nights.

We kept kosher, observed the holidays with respect and reverence.

But never really advertised our faith - though we were never told to hush it up either.

It was just something we were.

In 2006, when my firstborn had his bar mitzvah, we joined a synagogue for the first time. Attending High Holidays that year instilled in me a feeling I had never experienced to date, but one that grows with the years. A spirituality, a comfort, a soothing, and an awe of my own religion that I was now exploring.

I have always defended my faith in the face of the ignorant, low-informed, misinformed. I was never the object of anti-Semitism personally but knew it was out there, lurking like an evil that could rear its head at any time.

But I find myself, now, defending my spiritual homeland in her time of need. And that astounds me. What astounds me even more is the growing number of Jews who stand against her.

For those who are unaware, every Jew in the world is entitled to citizenship in Israel. No questions asked. Jews are welcome to emigrate to Israel and receive citizenship no matter from where they come. Welcomed with open arms.

Having visited Israel, the feeling is even stronger. The land is magical. The country and spirit and feelings come home with you. You never forget your visit. For Jew and non-Jew alike, the country holds mysteries, histories, sights, sites, and sounds the likes of which are found nowhere else in the world.

And now, that country is being torn apart in rhetoric from news media, politicians, and every social media insta-humanitarian worldwide.

There have been extremely deadly conflicts for years, across the world. Afghanistan. Syria. Libya. Egypt. Iran. Iraq. The list goes on.

I saw no one on my Facebook or Twitter timelines cry out for justice for those who were being assaulted, tortured, murdered in those distant lands.

But suddenly, in this conflict, they come out of the woodwork. They criticize Israel. They dish out scorn and disappointment and condemnation on Israel. They regurgitate the anti-Semitic lines that are watered down for palatable consumption.

Let's take some facts into consideration - because those are irrefutable.

The government of the Palestinian people is a terrorist organization. This is a fact. Hamas, which is a recognized terrorist organization, is in partnership with the Palestinian Authority. Elected by the Palestinian people, for the record, in hopes of regaining Israel for themselves.

Hamas's very charter includes the following:

Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.

And this:

The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: 'O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.

These are facts.

 The Gaza Strip was given to the Palestinian people in order to invite peace and coexistence. They razed greenhouses and destroyed settlements in order to build an infrastructure that was committed to the destruction of Israel. The sophisticated terrorist tunnels uncovered by the IDF shows the level of commitment to terrorism by Hamas. Hundreds of millions of dollars, an estimated 800,000 tons of concrete provided to Gaza to build schools and homes and hospitals were appropriated by the terrorists to build these networks of tunnels.

The list of facts goes on. The sad thing is, most people who are outraged aren't looking at the facts. They're looking at the photos and videos terrorists want them to see. The ones that tug at everyone's heartstrings (yes, mine, yes Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's, yes, the heartstrings of supporters of Israel). Those photos are heartwrenching. No one is disputing that.

But why haven't the terrorists released photos of men killed by IDF retaliation? Because grown men don't pull on the bleeding heartstrings of the average middle-aged woman in North America as much as photos of children bleeding and broken.

That, too, is a fact. Evidenced by the condemnation of Israel for causing the deaths of children and shouted out by those average bleeding-heart middle-aged women in North America. Oh, men too. And not merely middle-aged. (I'm an equal-opportunity ranter, if nothing else.)

People on Facebook and Twitter, who have never, in my interactions with them, commented or cried out about any other humanitarian crisis the world has seen since the influx of social media. People who fight against Israeli rockets now, in cherry-picked articles and misinformed rants, who never spoke out against the Iranian police who executed Christian infidels, or the Syrian president who used chemical weapons against his own people, killing thousands, many of them children. People who engaged in hashtag activism and not much more when hundreds of children were abducted by terrorists Boko Haram, but whose timelines don't reflect an ongoing humanitarian attitude or concern for those now-forgotten girls.

So it isn't the children. It isn't the inhumanity. The only common denominator has to be that it's Israel doing the dirty deed now.

I won't go into my presentation on Israel's right to defend herself. After all, most of you have heard it. And you all know it, too, even if you don't admit it. Or grudgingly admit it. For over a decade, rockets have been fired at Israel's men, women and - yes - children who have had 15 seconds to run to the nearest bomb shelter or crouch in terror by the side of the road, or in their homes, praying that the rocket would be intercepted, fall short of its target, or that falling debris would avoid them and their families. There are cities in Israel where children don't even play outside because the cities are targets at all times. Would you accept sitting back and doing nothing if your kids could never be allowed to play outside?

A decade. Thousands and thousands of rockets. And yes, there have been deaths. But Israel, unlike Hamas terrorists, doesn't parade those bodies for the world to see. That isn't the way civilized societies operate.

I've heard the moral equivalence. Excuse me, the attempts at moral parity. The argument cannot be made. Terrorists who have it in writing that they want the other side dead, obliterated, versus a democratic, free society that just wants peace. A country that, in over a decade of bombardment, has only responded militarily on 3 occasions.  How on earth can anyone even have the chutzpah to attempt a comparison of morality? Did anyone feel badly for Al Qaeda supporters who were caught in crossfire when the US Army bombed the terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan? Thousands, including children, of Syrians gassed to death?

Oh, wait, no they didn't. Casualties of war. Collatarel damage.So what if bin Laden hid behind his wives, they were terrorist sympathizers, they're dead, who cares?

Does anyone decry the usage, and deaths, of over 160 Palestinian children who were killed digging terrorist tunnels? Haven't heard anyone outraged over those deaths on Facebook. And I'd wager that is more a by-product of low-informed slacktivists who pick and choose what they learn, listen to, and condemn.

And while we're at it: this escalation began when 3 innocent Israeli teenagers were abducted and murdered by Hamas members. I saw NO tears on anyone's Facebook pages where now, I see tears for the casualties of war. More specifically, the casualties of the IDF's retaliatory strikes. I see no tears for Israeli soldiers or civilians killed by Hamas rockets. Again, the low-informed, willfully ignorant minions of social media.

People who don't even understand the history of Israel and this conflict, believe Palestine is a state, and that Palestinians have been a people since time immemorial are now condemning Israel for reacting in a way that any other country would (without incurring worldwide scorn).

Let's talk about that - if your house was being pelted by rocks by your neighbor, on a daily basis; if your kids were forced to run to shelter because the kid next door had yelled "I'm coming to kill you now!" and was running full force with a massive baseball bat; if your city was suddenly invaded by "militants" (the watered-down version of "terrorist" for the verbally squeamish and politically correct) emerging from tunnels that came up in your back yard, your kids' school, or your workplace, and these invaders had tranquilizers, handcuffs and the ability to abduct you or your children...

Would you not want the full force of the law to come down upon them?

And let's talk about that. Israel has broken no international laws. Israel has fired in retaliation, on military targets, avoiding civilians when possible - and in fact, going out of the way to avoid civilians. Those actions are perfectly legal in the court of international law in matters of war and self-defense. Fact.

Hamas, on the other hand, has fired first, fired on civilian targets, broken every ceasefire, and fired from behind human shields - men, women and children. Those are not only illegal, they are crimes against humanity.

But it seems the once-exalted United Nations Human Rights Council (what a joke) sees fit to condemn Israel instead of Hamas.

And it seems - even more tragically - that the uninformed world has taken that stance as well.

Hamas has broken every single ceasefire since the escalation of hostilities has begun. Even when a ceasefire has lasted for days, Hamas tends to fire 2 hours (on average) before the truce is to expire. Might one make the illogical assumption that Hamas time is 2 hours earlier than Israeli time? They are, after all, a "separate state" according to those who wish to believe that lie.

Or can it just be that Hamas has no intentions or desires to make peace? Hamas wants this war. There has been literature recovered from captured Hamas terrorists outlining exactly how to get the world opinion to turn against Israel: fire from behind civilians. Fire from civilian structures (homes, hospitals, mosques, schools). Hamas knows the PR war is theirs to win because they already know the tenuous acceptance of Israel, Israelis, and Jews is breakable with the slightest provocation.

These are dangerous people.  Inflating the death toll - whether the numbers are true or not - has actually had two effects: Hamas has turned the world against Israel, and has legitimized itself on the world stage.

It's the equivalent of a hockey player taking a dive over an opponent's stick, feigning indignant injury and drawing a penalty for the other side to get the man advantage for his team.

Only this is real life. And real lives are at stake. On both sides.

It doesn't help that the United States has shown an unprecedented hostility toward Israel since Obama took office. It doesn't help that the world condemns Canada for standing unequivocally in support of Israel.

But I'm much prouder to be Canadian than so many of my American friends and loved ones are to be American when it comes to this topic. And so proud to be in a country whose leader takes a stand on the right side of things instead of joining the Muslim extremists, their supporters and the misinformed in hatred and disdain of all-things-Israeli.

So, am I biased? Only toward the strong side of justice. Fire upon me, I'll fire back.

Am I angry? Damn straight. I'm angry that I am being accused of blind embrace of Israel when all along, I am using facts in defending a country surrounded by massive populations of people who want to see Israel obliterated (it isn't just Hamas - they're just the ones acting on it now). I am defending a country that has only wanted to live in peace since its inception - and even before - and I am defending people who did not ask for bomb shelters in pretty colors on their playgrounds but know it is sadly necessary to have those structures.

I am defending an army that has sent hundreds of thousands of leaflets, text messages, phone calls and "dummy bombs" (blanks) to plead for civilians to flee the area because they are in a military zone. An army that, when pushed to the wall, pushes back. According to International law of war, legally and above and beyond.

I am defending my spiritual homeland whose destruction is the platform of many a terrorist group and political party (see: Iran).

And I am angry that I am seeing people crawl out of their hidey-holes of parties and lunches and make-up and fashion and everyday life normally unaffected by anything in the news outside of the sports scores, the weather, and the latest movies only to condemn Israel when Israel fights back against terrorism. People who didn't give a damn when Syrians were gassed. And Iranians slaughtered. And Christians beheaded in Iraq. All by Muslim extremists.

People who couldn't tell me, without the inimitable help of Google, who Mariam Ibrahim is. Or Saeed Abedini. Or Andrew Tahmoreesi. Or Kenneth Bae.

People who suddenly develop a moral, societal conscience.

Because it is Israel. Because it is Palestinians. Because suddenly, it is children.

And perhaps, not in all cases, but in many...

Because it is Jewish.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ghouls, Gawkers and Grieving

Robin Williams died yesterday. You might have heard about that.

Are you KIDDING? Might have?? It was plastered all over the news, the second the announcement was confirmed.

The first tragedy is this very talented, very heartwarming man's death. His depression, leading to suicide, his family's pain, his tortured soul. No question, when it comes to Tragedy Priorities, this is first.

The second is how many people thought it was a hoax. Why? Because social media users are that disturbed to create celebrity fake death threads and they go viral. In this day and age of technology, we hear things at warp speed, and thus, the minute anything hits the wires, it is immediately pounced upon. Will Smith, Paul McCartney, Britney Spears are among those who have the dubious honor of having had their deaths spoofed. The minute this death hit the news, there were immediate dismissals of "Hoax." Sadly, this would turn out not to be among the hoaxes.

The third tragedy is happening as I watch. The police department is giving a news conference on the death of Robin Williams. (I'm actually shocked CNN doesn't have a theme riff and catchy title for it yet: "Death Of A Clown", or some such dramatic-sounding intro)

The cops are briefing the press because Mr. Williams was a worldwide celebrity, and I'm sure such conferences happen in such cases. Every network is carrying it. I'm positive the radio stations have taken breaks from their regularly scheduled programming as well.

But do we really need to know the exact details of this man's death? I watched a Facebook thread unfold last night, as someone insisted he knew the exact cause of death, despite the fact that this detail had only been conjecture according to "an unnamed source". There was actually an exchange. Did he die this way? Maybe it was another way? I'm sad to say I was one of the contributors, but in my defense, it was to make the statement that we did not have a confirmed detail and should not jump to conclusions.

Yet, the police department is making this announcement with detached, clinical language and yet a graphic visual being planted in the minds of all who are listening.

I get that he was beloved. I felt this like a stomach punch when I heard it.

People are emotionally invested in the lives of public figures. I see it all the time. We call them by their first name. We seek their autographs. I see the younger set swooning over celebrities as though they may, just may be the one s/he picks to smile at, wink at, or - as I've seen - even talk to and want to befriend. There are those who talk about celebrities they've met as though they have made an impression upon him/her and will forever be remembered. I get that - I, too, was once a teenybopper.

But sometimes, the emotional investment goes too far.

The details of Robin Williams's death are being read off a report, in exhaustive, minute detail. As though it is for public consumption. As though our emotional investment, even if it was the peripheral "Oh, that guy is so amazing, I'd love to meet him one day," type, gives us free rein to wander through the intimate details of their lives - and deaths.


Is it our business? Is it our right to know?

People die every day. People we know, people we do not. People we know personally, people who are celebrities.

I can understand the press - and public - wanting to know the cause of death. Perhaps why this suicide happened and could it have been prevented? (though that can never be answered. Ever.)

I can understand those who make a living writing about celebrities wanting to know some details.

But is his body position, location in the home, location in the room - are those REALLY necessary?

It seems extraneous. It seems gratuitous.

It is an invasion. It made me uncomfortable enough to turn off my television.

It defiles his memory to be describing, in visual details, with analogies and description, the exact position of his body, and it dishonors his family's request for privacy at this time.

I get that the announcement is also to dispel the possibility of foul play. But that is an internal investigation that should be taking place.

Now the talking heads will all take over. They will, no doubt, dissect the press conference. They will, absolutely for certain, recap the exact descriptions. They will invite the experts, the coroners and psychiatrists, the MacTherapists who will analyze the details they have now been gifted with, and apply them to the inner thoughts of a man about whom they knew nothing, outside of his films, his appearances, and his death. And about whom they have no right to surmise.

This angers me beyond belief. It disgusts me to no end.

Pay him tribute, by all means. He has earned it. He touched our lives with laughter and tears, and profundities and silliness. He will be honored for years to come, in magazines and television shows, movies (a biopic will be in the works, no doubt) and award shows. He should be. He was a Force in the entertainment world. Someone who was known to pretty much everyone in the world who knew entertainment.

But grieving is a profoundly painful, intimate, private matter. And a man's last minutes of life, and journey into death - no matter how it happened - should never be public fodder.

I hope his family is avoiding the news. I hope they find peace within their own circle.

And I am not hopeful that the next celebrity death will be treated with any less rubbernecking than Robin Williams's was.

This society has gone to the gawkers.

And perhaps, second only to the loss of an immensely gifted entertainer, that is the biggest tragedy of all.