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.

Another Glimpse at Gender, Age, Selection

(Observations in the "Presumed Innocent" series)

Perhaps part of the imbalance of participation across genders and cultures is due to the communicative skills and signals which are part of our perceptions of what is, and what is not “acceptable” as visible response to rational, emotional, or physical interactions. This may have lasting effects upon the choices we make and the success we may attain, throughout our lives—not only from our perspective, but from the perceptions of those other groups of people with whom we interact.

If group X is taught from infancy to be deferential, that differences of opinion, differences of expression, differences in choice of action and career are “inappropriate” or even forbidden to them (and to the generalized “members” of their group), and group X sees that groups Y, Z, B (etc) are taught and/or treated differently, then members of group X may be less likely to choose certain career paths. Moreover, if choosing against the cultural bias with which they have been imbued, they may be less confident of the likelihood of their own success, and their dissent may be viewed as rebellion, or as misguided (by those confident that they are better aware of what is needed). In some cultures (or sub-cultures within even such “developed” nations as the United States) dissent is not tolerated to the extent that “perpetrators” are excluded, outcast, exposed to physical or even fatal punishment.

Similarly, members of groups Y, Z, B (etc) may feel a greater sense of appropriateness (“good fit”), of duty, of privilege, when choosing certain career paths, due to the intellectual, emotional, and social training and circumstances of their childhood and early maturation. The confidence with which they approach situations and people is markedly different—and the acceptance with which dissenters, those who choose different paths, are treated may be different as well—their divergent paths being hailed as independence, as further evidence of confidence and ability to succeed “against all odds.”

Gender, color, date of birth, religion, affiliation—we learn about these from our earliest memories among family, neighborhood, and locality. We learn about these through the experiences and education of childhood, through the opportunities or disappointments of youth… the most-favord groups of names, colors, cultures may change around the globe, but the patterns of differentiation and acceptance, discrimination and inclusion based upon proximity do not seem to vary widely.

Barriers to success may be more than networking opportunities extended or denied to adults.