Saturday, May 11, 2013

Law and (Pecking) Order.

or, Poor is the New Black.

Observe these two videos.



They show what appears to be quite similar situations:
  1. the police stop two women in each case (according to the narratives, in the American case for jaywalking; in the second case, the Mexican case, to apply a breath test);
  2. the women apparently react similarly, too: they become uncooperative, yell at the officers, insult them, use coarse language, and push them, which can be interpreted as assault (in the Mexican case, according to the narrative, one of the women, the taller one, wearing a vest, may have actually have hit the policeman, which undoubtedly constitutes assault);
  3. passersby witness and record the incidents.
And, yet, the police officers involved reacted in very different ways.

In the case of the alleged American police officer, he retaliates to the push by punching the perpetrator in the face, ordering her not to struggle (to which she complied), handcuffing one of the women and arresting both of them. Eventually, according to the narrative, both women were released from the police station; nothing was said about charges; the police officer's superiors apparently judged his reaction appropriate.

In the Mexican case, both women were let go (the video does not show their departure). The video went viral on the net, and the two women were recognized as local TV celebrities, which apparently generated some outrage against the women. Eventually, the Mexican authorities decided to summon the women for investigation. (See here, video link in Spanish)

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In situations like these, if one is learning of the facts through a video, as we are, it's difficult to offer a clear, balanced and definitive opinion. So, I won't try.

I can say this, though. In the case of the alleged American police officer, the fact captured in video of being pushed back by one of the women legally justifies a physical reaction from him. Whether his reaction was appropriate, given the principle of proportionality, perhaps would be open to interpretation, but the fact itself of a reaction is not  (in the officer's defence, it should be noted that he stopped immediately, after hitting the woman, who also ceased pushing him).

But the same facts would also justify a reaction by the Mexican officers. And they did not react in any way. Why?

If I had to guess, I'd say that the Mexican police officers, whom the women repeatedly insulted using the words "asalariado" (literally, wage-earner: worker; roughly translated as in "pleb") and "indio" ("Indian", as in Amerindian), know their place in the Mexican pecking order: they are allowed to be forceful, sometimes abusively so, to those socially below them; but they must think twice when confronted by those above them.

On the facts shown in the video, it's hard to say a similar conditioning explains the behaviour of that particular alleged American officer, although it wouldn't surprise me: the women confronting him were black.

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I don't know all the facts, and I may be mistaken. But if I am right, scenes like those above will become more and more common, as inequality increases and the middle "class" become less and less middle

This BBC News note documents precisely that, in Mexico, now.

If I'm right, this will be coming soon to a street near you. Either you do something about it or get used to it. Your choice.

But there may be a positive side to this:  if you are not black (or Indian, or Asian, or Leb, or wog, or Bogan, or Jew, or Palestinian, or Gypsy, or gay, or "asalariado", or unemployed, or poor, or homeless, or protesting, or commie, or something) this may be a whole new experience...  Welcome to the club and enjoy!

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