Thursday, June 22, 2017

the summer of freedom and the sunshine of human rights

Yesterday was the mid-year solstice — the longest day in the sun’s journey across northern hemisphere; the shortest, south of the equator. Here in Bishkek, green still creeps up the slopes of the closest mountains, while snow recedes to the tallest peaks, which gleam, in frozen splendor, all through the sunlit days and never-quite-dark nights. Now, the first day across the border of the astrological marker of the season, the sun continues down the long, gentle slide towards winter.

The day after the solstice doesn’t feel shorter. The summer-lit, cricket-song filled night seems no less enchanting in its fleeting embrace. The long days and gentle evenings promise an abundance of time to attend to the necessary, and still be able to enjoy the life we share on this planet—the local amenities of nature, of climate, of culture, wherever we find ourselves. It seems, when the long march of the sun brings light and warmth, plants grow prodigiously, and food is plentiful, that we should be focused on building, on improving our lives.

It is tempting, in the midst of all this plenty, to be lulled into complacency, to be distracted by the varied tempos of summer’s celebrations and repose. It is easy to blend with the crowd, sated with the munificence of sunlit days and weeks.

We share the solstice, the slow, familiar orbits of our planet, the moon, sun, and stars… the seasons, the climate, the weather. It costs us nothing to notice, to enjoy if we are able. We seek, though, to limit access to the skies, to water, to freedom, and, by extension, time itself. We fight over ownership of the earth; we resort to violence, crime, war for ownership, for power, for causes, religions, for fear, for hate. It is perhaps impossible to number the many centuries of solstices, the many millennia, the peoples of our planet have fought, feared, fled into corners, and across borders.  

The lengthening days of summer encourage the displaced to think they might hold light enough to find safe harbor somewhere, before the long nights of winter set in again. The United Nations Secretary-General observed World Refugee Day on 20 June, noting:
“This is not about sharing a burden. It is about sharing a global responsibility, based not only on the broad idea of our common humanity but also on the very specific obligations of international law. The root problems are war and hatred, not people who flee; refugees are among the first victims of terrorism.”

But what of those caught within the borders of unpublicized, unseen, unspoken battles for power, for control? What happens when people, due to values of faith, of fealty, of finance, find the summer sun eclipsed by exigencies of circumstance, of access, of politics, of the clash between a global concept of human rights, and a local wielding of power?

What are the borders between coexisting, blending with a host-society, and maintaining a sense of self? What are the boundaries between being a citizen of or visitor to a host-nation, and a citizen of the world? Where are the road-signs allowing safe navigation between the included and the excluded, between the uninformed and the unimpeded, between the expansive and the xenophobic?

Whether a local, or a visitor, when you are hunted, targeted because of your talents, your aspirations, your values, your associations, where do you turn? Do you co-opt to blend, acceding, tacitly complicit, to the abrogations of rights for a few, when the “summer” of inclusion beckons so beguilingly?

There are no ‘home free’ spaces without contradictions, no carefree summer playgrounds where we, as humans in a global society, may be absolved of reinforcing oppressive structures. There are no days of summer, enticing, long, and languorous enough to excuse the absence of truth, of trust, of ethics. We must, in the summers of content, as in the ‘winters of discontent,’ be honest about what we are working, walking towards.

In the best of all possible worlds, a song is a song, not a political outcry. Musical and artistic talent, or the glaring lack thereof, know neither affiliation, nor national boundary per se. A game of football is not a ‘diet of worms’ of religious or governmental focus; sports may be an avenue for healthy competition, for the camaraderie of the field, but athletes and coaches do not settle the affairs of state. A job is employment, food on the table, hope for the future for those in the day-to-day grind for solvency and survival.

We may not all share the same talents, but we share the same spaces, and the responsibility for upholding those tenuous concepts of safety, security, and sustainable life within them. “We,” human, animal, insect, plant, from the smallest microbe to the largest expanse of clonal bio-organism, share this place, this seasons, these sunlit summer days.

So what happens, when friends are arrested ‘on suspicion,’ and dragged from the sunlight into the darkness of imprisonment? When conditions of incarceration, interrogation, of possible torture are hidden, when the self-assured condescension of the included — the politicians, the entrepreneurs, the power-wielders, and the complacent, wreaks its violence against the unseen, the unheard, the unprotected? How can the awareness of privilege and crisis, of visibility and dismissal, of a status quo of acceptance rather than transparency be reconciled?

The seasons mean little to the grinding wheels of commerce, the ceaseless turbines of information-flow, of government. Throughout history, the practice of throwing prisoners into dark places where life becomes one long, twilit, season-less misery has vied for horror with the penchant for stringing prisoners up without protection from the glare of the weathered skies, for all to see.

The halcyon days of summer mean little to those whose lives have been interrupted as collateral of the clash between scions of power. It is easier to hide the derelictions of human rights in the darkness of seclusion, apart from the eyes and voices of family, friends, advocates, or activists. And, yet, the seasons turn. Plants grow, compelled by the urgency of life, to produce in summer, to withstand the winter, to prepare for spring. Theirs is a calendar grounded in the eternities of the suns and planets.

Our human calendar is more ephemeral. Acquiescence to the well-cloaked tyrannies of power may be easier during the carnival-days of summer, when distractions are plenty, and hardships are few. But their burden is no less heavy; the impenetrability of the borders they impose between freedom and oppression no less dark.

The summer sun has little power to lighten circumstances such as these. And, soon enough, we will be well along the way towards fall.

NB: Public publication in Different Truths, 25 June, 2017 (actual article written 22 June, 2017)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

credo, reviewed

There are seven continents, hundreds of nations, thousands of human cultures on our interdependent Earth. The U.N., nations and individuals uphold a central concept of “universal” human rights—every human being is entitled to social justice, to safe, secure, sustainable life. The issues involved include: food, water, energy, environment, even habitat/living space.

Balanced with these is one central ecological and ethical reality. Out of about 25 million or so species, and possible trillions of microscopic species, all are Earthlings. One is human.

It is time to recognize that there are "universal" environmental rights. The Earth itself has boundaries, sovereign, non-renewable rights, resource-balances which we must not violate.

Whatever our nationality, access, title or position in life, humans must work together to prevent further exploitation of the planet. It is irresponsible, even unconscionable to continue the depredations of global resources vital to the continuation of intrinsic Earth processes--including the continuation of human life on this planet.

For a moment, view the Earth as a machine which supports all human life. The "engines" of the Earth require care. Depletion of vital components causes deterioration—failure of the system.

We are all allies in the search for truth and justice, which must include the fair and sustainable treatment of our citizens, of all on this interdependent planet, and of the Earth itself.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Another viewpoint on Eyewitness Identification

(Observations in the "Presumed Innocent" series)

It is commonly stated that factors of "own-race bias" contribute to making identifications of persons of a different race among the most challenging for most "eye witnesses." And it does often seem that people of homogeneous backgrounds are most adept at identifying those features with which they are most familiar.

Some individuals may, however, due to larger, more cosmopolitan experience, or since they are artists, anthropologists, medical professionals, or similar, actually be quite skilled at distinguishing between facial and other features of various genetic heritage. Some others may have very-good, or eidetic-memory of features, characteristics, conversations, etc., but it is not the “norm” that someone so qualified will happen to be in the right place at the right time to contribute eye-witness information.

And there are other layers to the challenges of using serendipitously-involved “eye-witness” accounts.

Enforcement and court-based interactions between races which have remained otherwise only superficially integrated (if at all) also have some impact on emotional reactions and perceptions, on attitudes towards and displays of remorse (or not), and other cues missed due to intrinsic differences.

Working with people of many races and cultures, it becomes increasingly apparent that people of different inclusion-circles, heritage and inculcation respond differently. The affluent have a far different aplomb than the desperate. The “educated” (in whichever languages or rules and social mores) respond differently than the mis-informed, dis-informed, un-informed, fearful and/or distrusting.

For some cultures, it is shameful to display weakness, shameful to show dependence. What some might perceive to be a “stony-faced” reception to authority and/or criticism is merely the extreme self-control exerted to prevent any show of vulnerability, or, as importantly, to prevent any hint of challenge to the “authority” voicing the criticisms—a self-defeating effort in cultures which consider non-reaction to be a challenge in and of itself.

Further, relatively few people are trained, or instinctively capable of the degree of comprehension and empathy required to recognize detachment or even apparent hostility as masks assumed protectively and almost sub-consciously by survivors/victims of abuse, survivors of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), or many of the differently-abled.

Each of these conditions can be a double-edged sword: people so affected may not be able to recognize the layering they put on accounts for which they are attempting to process and deliver corroborating or disputing “eye witness” information. Their speech and emotional cues of delivery may be perceived as erratic, and they may be dismissed, discredited, or punished due to miss- and missed-communication.

Compounding these difficulties, some eyewitnesses may view others who are merely circumstantially co-located with an incident acting with apparent guilt or fear or other “inappropriate” and therefore distinguishing emotional response—calling these people to the forefront of memory, and obfuscating perceptions of an actual suspect or perpetrator, who, for any number of reasons, may be well-equipped to take advantage of distractions and fade away without distinction.

The differently-behaving individuals, so noticed, may actually, therefore, become suspect, possibly apprehended on suspicion, while merely exhibiting their own distress, detachment, or self-protective rituals or emotional cues in order to survive what they perceived to be a stressful or even threatening situation beyond their control—or a situation demanding their involvement. With their well-intentioned intervention regarded as culpability, many of these people, not comprehending missed-cues, and already seen as “out of sync” with “the norm” become, and often remain, unable to defend themselves against wrongful treatment, wrongful charges, convictions, punishment.

And maybe all they had hoped to do was assist someone in distress and serve as an eyewitness themselves, out of a sense of duty to the society in which they co-exist.

Possible safeguards against wrongful convictions?

(Observations in the "Presumed Innocent" series)

"There's an app for that"
At the risk of trivializing the jury process, I might be tempted, in our increasingly tech-integrated world, to say “there’s an app for that” and develop an assortment of macros for interactive “games” wherein jurors could, after sitting on a trial, and subsequently being discharged from duty, explore the questions about evidence, impressions, events which might have contributed to the unfolding, understanding, and ultimate decisions made in the case.

Generally, it seems that litigators and assistants, as well as reporters, are permitted to communicate with jurors after the jury trial is completed (unless such contact is barred by law or court order) in both civil and criminal cases. Books, movies, all sorts of media explore major details and even minutiae following conclusion of court-room responsibilities.

If games could be accessed through servers ensuring juror anonymity (if the juror wanted to speak in person, they could do so, though the game might still not be redundant—what if jurors experience blockages and subliminal filters similar to so many “eye witnesses” to crimes?), risks of harassment, embarrassment, criticism could be avoided. Post-trial exploration of juror reaction to trial events and information can be proper, appropriate, in conformity with law and controlling court orders, but also, more importantly, informative and very valuable to test the limits of “reasonable doubt” and possibility of error.

If jurors think that a there is doubt, public defenders, retained counsel, amicus curiae, even, perhaps, judges themselves, might greatly benefit from this identity-shielded, possibly more truthful, unthreatened exposure of a juror’s comprehension of issues and evidence. Jurors are uniquely capable, if so inclined, to provide defense, prosecuting, and peripheral counsel and experts with informative feedback about all aspects of the case—even perhaps insight into the future selection of perceptive and impartial jurors for future pools.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a game, properly secured, ethically sound, and in accordance with prevailing law, might enable clearer perceptions of the truth, extend touchstones which might raise warning flags about possible wrongful conviction, or, in a more ideal circumstance, enable a clearer perspective of findings of actual guilt?

What is Innocence?

(Observations in the "Presumed Innocent" series)

An invitation to discuss the definition and nature of innocence, and the harms or negative repercussions of wrongful convictions to individuals, institutions, and society is a very open-ended call. Humanity is becoming increasingly globalized, so, while I approach this exploration from the perspective of the systems and operations of law in the United States, I think it important to use the opportunity to also consider these topics from a larger ethical perspective.

Mala en se crimes seem to be crimes in and of themselves regardless of culture, class, gender, age… However, position, access, education, resources seem to “arm” some perpetrators of crime with a greater likelihood of obfuscating trails of evidence (if any do actually exist) which might lead to themselves. This sword of misdirection, similar to the crimes themselves, seems to know no nation, although some states severely limit the freedom, and, therefore, the likelihood that certain groups of people would be able to commit crimes with impunity.

Yet it is an interesting circumstance that in some isolated cultures, with very nascent systems of law, survival itself prompts an upholding of life values which would in themselves prohibit, make unconscionable, mala en se acts. Are these societies “innocent” through their isolation, through their seeming adherence to a code of humanity which protects life, honor, hope?

What is lost when acts of war, or when marauding bands, or the “inexorability of modernization”  invade these places, decimating resources, livelihoods, village and family structures, etc.? And what resists decimation? Humans share an atavistic instinct to survive; humans may learn an altruistic code by which to allow, enable, assist, prosper survival in others.

When humans wrote codes of law (the Magna Carta, 800 years ago, other laws centuries and millennia prior to that), an external structure of checks and balances was erected, in hopes that societies, families, individuals might govern themselves, might enforce, among themselves, codes against deeds mala prohibita and mala en se. And yet there have been witch hunts, crimes in the name of religion, in the name of race, in the name of almost any cause promising affiliation with a cause greater than oneself, a strength, therefore, greater than one’s own, a guarantee, of sorts, that the “others” that might be excluded from social groupings and norms might still be treated equally “under the law” and entitled to certain protections from harm.

However, this has proved to be a flawed bargain. Crimes of passion still occur, and innocent people are convicted of crimes they did not commit. Systems of enforcement are called to task for not protecting society, and called to task for enforcing too harshly, and called to task for enforcing improperly, making mistakes in a rush to fill arrest quotas, to find a suspect and allay public fears, to bring to arbitration/plea bargaining instead of costly trials alleged suspects whom prosecutors feel confident they can find “guilty” of perpetrating crime(s). 

And when it becomes clear, through the dedicated efforts of legal professionals, Innocence Project and other organization members, volunteers, and courageous victims of wrongful conviction, that an innocent person has been incarcerated, punished for a crime they did not commit, already shaken confidence in the social transactions we undertake, accepting and abiding by codes of law which, after all, do not always ensure that truth is found, that innocence is protected, that values of life and the best qualities of humanity are upheld, another crack appears across the armor with which human societies have crusaded forth towards their concepts of modern tolerance and life upon a shared planet, life in the constitutional democracy called the United States, life in the neighborhoods, homes, or in the cardboard shelters erected under bridges and in odd unnoticed corners along the outskirts of our towns and cities.

What is the danger of innocence? In an ideal society, people would recognize an intrinsic responsibility to preserve life against things mala en se and mala prohibita—life of humans, life of animals, life of our interdependently-linked eco-system upon this planet… And the United Nations attempts to arrange an overarching set of codes to approach a system of self-governance, self-enforcement, and social enforcement, to uphold these codes. But our national system, here in the United States, has many other interests, pressures, obstacles to any such idealism. Systems of law are enforcement-based, resting upon a hope that Justice can be “blind,” that juries can be “peers,” that truth might “set us free…”

And innocence? The costs of innocence-lost ripple far beyond taxes levied to fund legislation, enforcement offices, systems of incarceration, rehabilitation, re-entry…
Perhaps not until the costs of guilt are recognized to far outweigh the costs of innocence, on a local, societal, global scale, will it truly be possible to uphold the abhorrence of deeds mala prohibita (which do, after all vary by culture and other influences) and, more importantly, abhorrence of deeds mala en se.

Perhaps not until an abhorrence of deeds which diminish the values to which we ascribe, diminish humanity itself—not until a mature, holistic perspective enables perception beyond the limited self-interests of survival-at-cost, and profit-at-any-cost, might the sanctity of life be valued sufficiently to encourage not only assent to social government, but also responsible self-governance.

Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit—if we remain silent, acceding to a flawed system of justice, a due process which is vulnerable to corruption of intent, omission, commission, the costs of innocence will be waved as summation of those standards of justice to which society might aspire.

But if, in speaking, we might explore the costs of guilt, the costs of abdication of self-responsibility to a social monitor protecting a flawed system, we might, finally, be able to aspire to a more lasting change towards the protection of freedoms, rights, liberties, peace.

If speaking not only of the costs of innocence, but of the ultimately of the far-greater costs of silence, of guilt, we might render a more pure understanding-- of justice, of the search and upholding of truth, of the potential to evolve beyond mere separate, and competing, classes of homo sapiens—to evolve as humankind, as a species capable of so much more.

Enforcement, Excess or Excel

(Observations in the "Presumed Innocent" series)

Perhaps a difference in reactions to work in fields which uphold, enforce, ensure, advocate or legislate for justice might stem from whether or not the person working is required to use force in the disposition of "duty" -- and, then, whether or not that force is used in self-defense, or to cause-least-harm, to effectively-restrain, or used in excess.

Personal and social reactions reflect opinions about whether or not a person working in the field has rational cause to believe truth, justice, and a "greater good" are upheld through decisions and actions taken in the line of "duty;" or if decisions and actions are undertaken to adhere to quotas or requirements of the job, as ordered through a chain of command. Personal and social reactions to harmful engagement with enforcement tend to question decisions and actions which seem to result from exigent circumstance, or which seem capricious, or, worse, seem vulnerable to or even rife with corruption.

When personal and/or social distrust of legal and enforcement systems spirals to reactive levels within those same systems, imbalances can cause vigilantism, sub-cultures attempting to regulate "their own members," criminal systems which exist symbiotically/parasitically with citizen groups.

As more people balance "real" and "virtual," and learn to use dark web as well as open social media, to such anti-hero figures as DPR (dread pirate Roberts), lone, valiant warriors (or autonomous/autonymous groups) which claim to uphold the best of freedoms to the best of possible standards, while eschewing the controls of the societies alongside of which they operate.

It seems using any endeavor as a lens through which to evaluate life-in-general, and one's own life (and success or failure) in particular, might, then, give rise to dissatisfaction and detachment, since the ideals touted as sine qua non of the endeavor are seldom actually possible--although they are still held as standards to which "adherents" must aspire.

However stringently concepts of "perfection" are demanded, however, measurements of self-satisfaction, external-evaluation, and recompense/remuneration, even approval and inclusion seem to remain subjective, and involve many factors other than the pure form of the task, and the dispassionate weighing of burden, or accomplishment.

While disparities between value systems, social systems, avenues to attainment, and concepts of personal responsibility continue, it seems few, if any, social systems are immune to the evolution of dissent, of the lone, valiant warrior (or group), striving to uphold the best of laws to the best of possible standards as they perceive them.

Our global societies, through the aegis of the United Nations and pan-social entities, draft goals and standards through which to work towards a more responsible defense of safe, secure, sustainable freedoms. Through the efforts of global-to-grass-roots inclusion, tolerance to cultural perceptions of balance, of "truth" may result in social / societal shifts towards a broader concept of deeds mala prohibita which harm global society, and/or mala en se, harmful in and of themselves, wherever upon our interdependent they occur.

But until people uphold the right to safe, secure, sustainable (free) lives of each, inclusively, as energetically as they uphold their own rights, exclusively, there can be little true evolution from sporadic systems of enforcement, to any reflection of a greater harmony, and a greater potential for humanity as a whole.

Crime and Citizens, Presumptions, Preconceptions, and Trust

(Observations in the "Presumed Innocent" series)

Citizens of the United States come from many places and cultures around the world, as do the temporary visitors to this nation. Citizens of some nations may share concepts of the presumption of innocence until being proven guilty similar to those held in the United States. Citizens of other nations (including some assumed to be emerging democracies, with constitutions ensuring rights and codes of law upholding balanced security and freedom) may live in states which presume the guilt or guilt by association of people connected with a criminal event, until (or unless) they are able to prove their innocence.

Even where presumptions of guilt, or of innocence, might be more widely standardized, preconceptions, and, therefore, individually-held, and socially-held definitions of crimes may vary. Moreover, preconceptions of trust, or mistrust, in the legal systems responsible for writing those laws may vary—as will, then, preconceptions of the feasibility or impossibility of inclusion in the process, and probably, therefore, also the resultant opinions in the fairness of the laws.

Preconceptions of trust, or mistrust, in enforcement systems responsible for upholding those laws, defending the population against acts defined as crimes most likely will contribute to the balance of fear and security against which people decide whether or not to come forward as victims of crime, or remain silent. The balancing of fear and security, inclusion or exclusion weigh against accused/defendant’s decisions to assert their innocence of criminal charges, or plead guilty, bargaining for lesser charges (or remain silent). 

In systems where preconceptions cloud the clarity of definitions of crime, cloud the perceptions of those turning to “the law” for restitution, reparation, relief from acts of crime, concepts of culpability and punishment most likely also blur in focus and become vulnerable to corruption. Preconceptions of the balance of fear and security, inclusion or exclusion may empower people or groups to engage in crimes of omission or commission, mala prohibita or mala en se due to confidence in their ability to affect the outcome of any charges, enforcement of law, or disposition of punishment (or absence of punishment).

Differences of culture, locality, preferences sometimes influence those acts which might be defined as mala prohibita, in many locations within the United States, and certainly, also, elsewhere on the planet.  Even if laws are written in such a manner as to ensure that mala en se crimes are defined clearly and equally, that mitigating factors are defined clearly and equally (self-defense in an apparent murder case), and that each detainee is clearly informed of rights prior to arrest and incarceration/disposition of bond, then what balancing of education, comprehension and acceptance of these laws ensure that they might be applicable across the broad social groupings of “humanity” (giving credence to “Universal” concepts of rights—human or earth-as-a-whole)?

It seems concerns that “due process” be addressed are only touching the tip of a very large iceburg.