Changes in Law
COWARDLY NEW WORLD
Dennis L. Blwitt, Esq.
Many of you have urged me to chronicle the changes I have observed in over four decades of law practice. Probably because I croak before I finish my drug war commentaries. However, I wish to report that I rumors of my demise are premature. It is curious that the request is mainly from European readers. Since I have never been a firm believer in brevity, I have decided to serialize the observation. The main reason is that not many of you were around during the McCarthy hearings, beatniks, Selma-Birmingham, Kennedy and Viet Nam. So I will attempt to describe that era through my eyes. Bear in mind I have several biases, prejudices and pre conceptions… However all but a Chimpanzee would figure them out by reading my posts. Here is the first installment. I feel I need to make this available before I croak or while I can still remember.
I will begin by explaining my title above. It is my perception of the world we live in today, that it is controlled by police, media, advertising and ignorance. I was impressed by Huxley and H.G. Wells when I was in school. I think they are more relevant today than in the past.
In addition to being the recipient of derogatory remarks and snide comments, I have been described as a futurist. People often ask me “How did you come up with that” I try to explain that I simply read the news and pay attention and don’t get distracted by scandals, misdirection and other ploys. I don’t think anything about it. I have been endowed with a really good memory and couple that with observations.
When I started, this country was at war. We were coming out of the McCarthy era and started to abandon a lifetime of fear and suspicion. There was rebellion in the air and on the streets. People protested the war and hard hats beat up the protesters. Then there were the Hippies, also known as the flower children. Society seemed splintered and the divide was hair and drugs, signifying non-compliance. But it was also open. Reporters in Viet Nam were out in the trenches reporting on events and the Monk frying. News showed protesters and how they were countered. But, there wasn’t the feeling of repression and apocalypse that exists today. No one thought it was the end of the world. Young people were touting peace and love. Music was the language and Woodstock was the culture.
1n 1969, a concert occurred in Woodstock, NY, which became an historical event which defined the times. The fences couldn’t contain the celebration of peace and music. At 500,000 souls, it was the largest gathering in recorded history. Musicians, famous or not showed up. Artists showed up. And, of course, drugs abounded. Drug enforcement was a major issue of the times. Not because of the innate nature of drugs, but as a symbol of non-conformity and rebellion. It was viewed as an open insult to the World War II generation who viewed Viet Nam as a patriotic duty, and loathed the rejection of the WW II values and sacrifices. The youth were full of rejection of the values that had brought bomb shelters, cold war, discrimination, and belief in things. The assassination of Kennedy apparently killed optimism and idealism, that wasn’t the case. Hippies just decided to ignore things and get on with life, defined as drugs, sex, and rock and roll. The apocalyptic thinking was on the way out. It was the Age of Aquarius.
I had a beginning law practice as a defense attorney, defending accused of all kinds of people and behaviors. I met with prosecutors on each and every case. I would go to their offices. We viewed each other as parts of a system, each with person performing a role to make the system work. There was mutual respect. I used to have lunch weekly with a prosecutor. I met with the police to discuss problems and to work on solutions. Sentencing was realistic and progressive. Defense attorneys were viewed as part of a team, not the enemy.
The most remarkable difference was that prosecutors were members of the community, not isolated. Prosecutors also had outside practices and many prosecuted part time. As members of the community, they explained the happenings of the Courthouse by educating people about the law and policy. Instead of a bitch fest directing venom against the poor and defense attorney, they were a moderation influence. They also were aware that after any given election, they might have to go out into the legal community and earn a living. This was the main prosecutor anti-prick pill. Most tried to get along and work out solutions in the interest of the community and not the career politician’s agenda. The power was more equally distributed.
A main reason for the power equality was that crimes had to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutions could not be show trials to send a message to the public. That was considered an obvious abuse of power. Nor could a prosecutor suggest this to a jury. Since juries were unpredictable, trials took time and prosecutors had to live with the community, justice seemed to work. Neither the left nor the right prevailed. Vengeance and compassion were both at play at sentencing.
However, the police had been clamoring for the abolition of the Constitution, at least as it applied to them. Constitutional provisions were applied to the states in Mapp v. Ohio, limiting the power to search and seize. Then came Escobedo and Miranda which limited the police from beating or isolating arrestees while giving them the “third degree.” Police thought that was unfair.
After the peasantry rebelled in Chicago, Newark, Los Angeles, and other places, Blacks organizing into political groups, youth rebelling against the selective service, Nixon was elected on a law and order platform. No one paid much attention to that rhetoric because law enforcement had traditionally been a state function, not Federal and the focal point was Viet Nam. However, Nixon appointed the likes of John Mitchel, Jaris Leonard and other right wing extremists into the justice department and they went to work repealing the Constitution. which is the focal point of this series. I will try to explain how we went to being the land of the free and home of the brave, to the state of fear and home of the coward.