Militarization of Police Effects Oklahoma
DE: Every day I read a story, or see a video, or read a new study just to see that, you know, it really is pretty bad. And the so-called “Land of the Free” that we live in is really not so free. It’s a marketing term more than it is an actual description.
DE: But the ideal is still there, and I think people are waking up to it in a lot of ways.
JF: I think people are waking up to it now, too. And it’s unfortunate that it took it getting so bad that it ended up in the back doors of everyday regular citizens to finally get jazzed up. If that’s what it takes to start making a legitimate change in our communities, both on our side—meaning when I say “our side”, I don’t mean the criminal side, as much as I’m a criminal defense lawyer, but I defend the people, right—and on the people’s side and citizens versus law enforcement, it would just be an incredible world to live in that it wasn’t like that, that it wasn’t so inherently adversarial at every single encounter.
DE: Well, and it’s not only adversarial, but it’s fraudulent. And so, here we have this system that’s supposed to administer justice, but then you go and look at the court dockets, and how many people there actually have a victim? How many people actually victimized somebody by what they did? And how many of them are on there for some—the only person they victimized was the State itself by—
JF: I offended the dignity of the State of Oklahoma…
DE: Right. By not turning my turn signal on or something like that, right?
JF: And now that should be an arrestable offense.
DE: And that kind of stuff—it makes me think that there’s just a bunch of crazy people out there, because the Sandra Bland thing happens in Texas, right? And the rationale given for pulling her over was that she didn’t use her turn signal, then it turns into this stereotypical kind of police brutality encounter, which ends up with her death in the jail. And then, not a week or two later, Oklahoma City Council’s response to that seems to be, “You know what? We need to make it easier for our cops to pull people over for not signaling when they turn.”
JF: Because clearly enough people don’t die in the Oklahoma County jail.
DE: Yes, and clearly, this cop is being questioned about the legality of pulling Sandra Bland over for not signaling, and we need to make sure that our cops don’t have to face that kind of scrutiny. And what in the world does that create in the minds of the public?
JF: It really is crazy! Right? And you sit there, and I read them every day, too, and I get on social media, and I read newspapers, and I try to keep myself really informed, but I find myself pulling my hair and thinking I can’t be the smartest person in the room! I just know that I’m not. So who are these people running our world?
DE: Right. And here we have this philosophical discussion, right? And so, I’m trying to put myself into your shoes because the discussion you and I are having right now is full of solutions. I mean, we’re looking at education. And it’s also full of respect for the actual role of a police officer.
JF: Well, sure.
DE: I mean, in my mind, it is.
JF: I don’t want my police officers to have to be, number one, trained and actually be in fear of being murdered on a traffic stop. I wouldn’t want to live in that environment, either.
DE: Right, but I think, on the other hand, I can imagine when you’re in front of the system and trying to navigate a client through that system, it’s a very different conversation—
JF: It is a very different conversation.
DE: Because it’s not based in reason. It’s based in the statutory law that’s made by crazy people who make laws like “You need to signal one hundred feet before you change lanes. Otherwise, a man with a gun is going to pull you over and assume that you’re going to try to kill him.” I mean, because that’s the situation.
JF: And when you die in jail three days later, the world will say it’s your fault because you should have signaled.
DE: So here we are having one conversation, and if you sat a police officer in the room with us, he could join the conversation and add to it. There would be a lot of just really great, reasonable solutions come out of it. However, you move this conversation to the courtroom, and now all of the sudden, it becomes this unreasonable thing that’s detached from reality, and its motives are completely suspect. So you don’t trust it, and you’re just praying that it doesn’t kill you. Literally. And something tells me that this isn’t the system that our forefathers envisioned.
JF: Certainly. You would hope not, right? And it’s sad. My clients go through this process afraid of the known, afraid of the unknown, and more often than not, I hear myself saying, “Nobody’s telling you this is fair, but I’m telling you this is legal.” And we have conversations with juries, you know? We’ve got a no-jury nullification. Why I can’t argue jury nullification is the most obscene thing in the entire world, because if we have a crazy law that, in application, is affecting the community in a manner we know it was not designed, then why then should the community—the actual citizens—be able to say no more?
DE: How about not even a crazy law? How about a law that, on the facts, apply, but in the spirit, don’t? And let the community decide, right? So you bring a guy who, the facts of the law all say that he’s guilty of breaking the law, but the jury can sit there and look at the extenuating circumstances and say, “You know what? We don’t care. We acquit.” And that’s the whole idea of our system of government is that it never assumes that the lawmakers were all-knowing and all-powerful—
JF: And able to see every possible outcome.
DE: That’s right. And so that’s why the power was given to a jury, but also that jury wasn’t given a power that can create precedents. So one guy can let go of a law, and another guy can get convicted of the same law based on the standards of a community, which is represented by the jury. And you say, “Well, that’s subjective,” and yeah, it is subjective because the only law that isn’t subjective is the law of gravity. The law of—the physical science laws. And nobody has to enforce those laws; they enforce themselves. But when we’re trying to live in a just society, when we’re trying to maintain justice and make sure people aren’t victimized, that’s upon us to put some effort into it. We need to have some flexibility to do that because the situations are different. And like you said, for it to be forbidden, for you to tell the jury that that’s their right is ridiculous. It’s not justice at all. It doesn’t serve justice at all.
JF: It’s the imbalance of power, and I think it kind of goes back to what you said. They can only have as much power as we give them, and we can’t give them more than what we have, so we’ve got to start taking the power back.
DE: And power, in my philosophy, is born of dependency. You know, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. So if one hand on the body is feeding you, and another hand is beating you, you might not fight the hand that’s beating you because you’re dependent on that other hand to be fed. So government knows this; they know how to establish their power. However, when we become more self-sufficient, when we start taking care of our own communities—little things like doing our own charitable things, getting out to know people—the hand of force becomes a little more inappropriate. We begin to see it as something we don’t want. So, for instance, right now if a lady were making tortillas or something on the side of the road and selling them, literally a cop could walk up and shut her down. And if she resisted, he could lock her up for making tacos without the proper paperwork.
JF: And we see it with the little kids in their lemonade stands. It’s happening. These aren’t extreme examples; they’re not theoretical. It’s actually happening.
DE: To me, it looks ridiculous. Why not just let her sell those tacos or whatever she’s doing?
JF: Why can’t I assume the risk to take the taco off a truck?
DE: But the other question is, when I see that happen, why don’t I step in and stop it?
JF: Well, you know why. Because you’re getting arrested, too.
DE: Right. And nobody will support me because we’re all a little dependent on the system. And we’re all a little bit afraid that we don’t have each other’s back, too. And, you know, my life’s pretty good, so why would I want to get caught up in your drama? So what that does, that apathy just begins to create more room for the state to do the things they do. And they start with the poor, the marginal. You know, every population that is oppressed is some population the rest don’t care about that much. That’s where the roots of state power are established. So if you look in Oklahoma, the homosexual population, or the Muslim population, or the minority population, the drug users—these are people who are marginalized in some way, and when they’re oppressed, people don’t really care, because they’re not me.
JF: And it would never happen to me because I’m not black, I’m not gay, and I’m not poor, or whatever.
DE: Exactly. But what we don’t realize is that, by tolerating that or allowing the state to entrench itself with force into our communities—that force at some point, if you come up against it, you’re not going to have a chance. And nobody’s going to be there to back you up, either.
JF: Well, and it’s tough to defend yourself. My clients learn the hard way that innocence costs extra. We say it with a smile on our face, but it’s a fact. “I’m falsely accused. Can’t you just call the judge?” No, I can’t. It doesn’t work that way, and it’s not meant to continue profiting on the back of bad policies, but I find myself—if I’m really honest, I am really part of the system, and law enforcement doesn’t want to call me part of the system. But I remind them all the time that I’m law enforcement, too. I enforce the law against the government while the government enforces it against the people. But it’s a sad truth that the innocent person has to pull me up to go defend themselves more than the guilty guy who wants to just go in, get a good deal, and get out of town. It doesn’t seem like it should be right until you understand that the justice system is an unjust system, and to get the right result requires ten times the work and a lot more resources—judicial resources.
DE: And everything is pitted against the innocent person, even down to what we talked about before with the jury not being allowed to consider anything but the law. Or the facts of the case. They can’t look at the law and say, “We don’t like this law. It doesn’t apply.” They’re instructed not to do that, in fact, which to me is like, we do we even have a jury? Why not let the judge decide? But you do create that kind of…where the innocent person is at the disadvantage. Where it’s a lot quicker and cheaper to plead something you didn’t do and go on with your life.
JF: It’s a terrible reality of the criminal court system.
DE: And it’s something we need to let people knowabout and work on changing. We live in a new age of information. Like you said, if you’re not aware if the police violence is worse today or if we just know about it more? We do know about it more. It’s easier to get the information, and it’s also easier to get the information out. Take for instance, that civil asset forfeiture hearing that we went to, we had quite a few people show up that, in the past, before the internet, nobody would have shown up to that thing unless they were personally invited by—
JF: Somebody in the inner crowd.
DE: Right. And they would have had it at the Tulsa Police Academy, and the Police Academy would have rah-rahed their idea, and it would have gotten done. But because they can get information out to people and because people begin to see these stories, and to read these things, and to understand, I think that the human mind is a rational engine. And when it’s presented with truth that contradicts the paradigm that it’s living in, it really doesn’t like that, and it will deal with it and it will change how it sees the world in order to accommodate that information. So getting that information out to people is absolutely the most powerful thing you can do. It’s more powerful than passing a law, especially when you’re trying to pass a law in an environment where it’s not going to get passed. The goal should never be to pass the law. The goal should always be to change minds and to use the opportunity of the public battle, of the hearing, to present a truth and to get that into people’s minds so it begins to break the—I call them mental firewalls.
JF: Fair enough. I like that.
DE: So we live in these constructs in our minds, and most of them were given to us by somebody else.
JF: Parents, teachers, pastors…
DE: Yeah, these are constructs that we’ve been given. It creates our culture. Most of them we didn’t create on our own. So we don’t know why we think this way; we don’t know why a cop has more authority than a regular person. They just assume that’s the way it is because that’s the way it’s always been, but then when you start planting little nuggets like, well, is a cop a human being? Yeah? Well, where does a cop get these rights? Is he a special kind of human being? Does he get special rights from God? When you start to logically work these things out, all of the sudden, it doesn’t make sense. And this thing that I’ve held as true and as part of my identity now has a glaring contradiction logically. The human mind will not deal with that; it will either resolve it by changing its mind or it will find some way to deal with it like through drugs and alcohol. One of the funny things is, when you start talking about drug policy—we’ve been so enamored with this idea that drugs are bad and the drug wars have just cause—that when you start to challenge people on it, it’s like you’re challenging their religion. It’s a sacredly held idea that “just say no” and all of these ideas they grew up with. But when you start to work through things logically, and it starts to not make sense, I like to say that they’ll actually develop a drug problem getting over their drug problem. Because they only have one of two choices. They either have to accept the reality and adjust their frame of mind accordingly, or they have to figure out a way to cope with the cognitive dissonance, and drugs and alcohol actually work pretty well for that. So they can anesthetize themselves to the cognitive dissonance. And so, kind of in my worldview and in what I do, it’s a lot easier for me because I live in that worldview and that philosophical, real world solution where I can just spout off ideas and people can listen to them. Sometimes they get them, and sometimes they don’t. But at the end of the day, the world changes just in little bitty increments versus you who have to go up in front of a judge and convince somebody, not according to reason, not according to logic, not according to right and wrong, but according to the law, which may have been written by crazy people who don’t even have a connection to the cultural context that this case is being presented within. And that’s a much different kind of skillset. I don’t envy the stress that it has to bring—especially with a person like you who I’ve heard speak about issues and see as an activist. Having to reconcile those two worlds has definitely got to be a challenge.
JF: It certainly is, but I think we’re doing it. I alwayssay, “Be the change you want to see,” right? And as much as there are many days I want to go bury my head in the sand, and plead ignorance, and turn up the music, and not pay attention to reality, I think what we have to do, and what we’re doing, and what I appreciate from you, for you helping us do it today, is educating people and keeping the conversation alive—not just when it’s hot, not just when the senate meetings are happening, but keeping the conversations alive and in the forefront. Because that’s what I think is how we change people’s minds, too. It’s the whole ‘90s version of Rock the Vote. I remember getting empowered and inspired to be informed by MTV! And, thank goodness, because from that, at a very young age, I rocked the vote in my little community. And I think Anna, my assistant,will tell you that I’m the reason she registered to vote. I just lit into her when I realized she was 20-something years old and wasn’t registered and wasn’t voting in local elections and things like that, because we have to be the change we want to see and keep the conversation alive and keep progress moving forward. Because we have to move forward, right? We can’t move backward, and we can’t stay still, so…
DE: We have to at least be a bulwark against the encroachment of the state onto the individual rights. And for a long time, they’ve been allowed to do it, kind of under the cloak of darkness. They had control of the media, the newspapers, the television, so the narrative was theirs. And so, all of the stories of injustice were word-of-mouth and almost like a conspiracy.
JF: Well, yeah, it was everybody’s Crazy Uncle Dennis, right?
DE: Right. Or they all looked so anecdotal that you couldn’t see any kind of systemic problem. But now with the Internet and with our ability to see things on a bigger level, we see this is a systemic problem. There is a problem with policy in our country that’s creating an adversarial relationship between the people and the police, and between the people and their government in general. It’s not healthy, and it’s only benefitting a tiny fraction of the people in our country, and it’s victimizing everybody else. You know, as more people become aware of it, it doesn’t mean the bad guys out there who are doing this on purpose—that are actually promoting these systems because they want power—it doesn’t mean they’re going to stop, but it does mean they have to adjust their tactics to be more palatable to us. And so the smarter we are, the more aware we are, the more outraged we get, the more they have to shrink back and say, “Okay.” So it’s this ongoing ebb and flow, this back and forth between people who want to live peacefully and people who want to aggressively liveat the expense of other people. As you kind of do that, the more we know, the brighter we become, the more people are able to think rationally with good information, I think the better systems and policies that we’ll see implemented.
JF: Thank you so much, Dax. I appreciate it.
DE: I had a great time.