Sunday, August 24, 2008

Library patron does the perp walk

A certified Obama-free posting™ !
No artificial ingredients

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Here is the latest instance of an evergreen story that appears in the news every few years:

Woman cuffed, booked for not paying library fines

A Wisconsin woman has been arrested and booked for failing to pay her library fines.

Twenty-year-old Heidi Dalibor told the News Graphic in Cedarburg that she ignored the library's calls and letters as well as a notice to appear in court.

Still, she was surprised when officers with a warrant knocked on her door, cuffed her and took her to the police station to be fingerprinted and photographed.

Come to attention, civics class. Do you believe this is justified or not? The incident is trivial, but it says something about the state of play of the social contract. While feeling fairly mindless at the moment, I'm of two minds (good trick, what?) about Ms. Dalibor's arrest.

For the defense: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this is a bad joke at my client's expense. Arrested! Handcuffed! For what? A few overdue library books. Is there no real crime in our fair city that our police could not better employ their time in preventing or solving?

A girl of 20 summers subjected to humiliation and a night in jail with hardened criminals, maybe even bloggers who have questioned the multi-cultural imperative? Is there one Hmong you, excuse me, I mean among you, who would not go to any lengths to save your own daughter from that experience? Such things can scar a person emotionally for life.

I ask you to reach into your soul and examine your conscience. Can you tell me, before God, Darwin, or Nothing (your choice), that you have never neglected to return library materials on time? Have you never put aside an overdue notice thinking, "My basement is flooding, I'll deal with this later" or some such? How would you feel if, some days later, the long arm of the law appeared at your door, the neighbors gathered on the street wondering what a police car was doing there, and were herded off to the jail under their gaze? This is a travesty, a gross breach of common sense and an abuse of power that can only presage totalitarian rule.

What next, ladies and gentlemen? I ask you, what next? Is our community to devolve into a snowy Singapore, our young people -- your own sons and daughters -- caned for chewing gum? Perhaps my learned opponent would have them, or you -- or you! -- subjected to the lash for overparking. Make no mistake, this is a slippery slope, a slippery slope! Or perhaps you believe capital punishment is the only way to deter those who, amid the press of business, have forgotten to pay their library dues?

I ask you to send the district attorney, who cares about nothing except the number of convictions he can ring up (may I remind you there is an election later this year?), a message: [Walks to jury box, looks one juror after the other in the eyes] We, the citizens, draw the line! This is over-reaching, this is a power play, and we will not allow it!

For the prosecution: Ladies and gentlemen, after you have wiped from your eyes the tears called forth by the learned counsel for the defense, may I present -- if it may be admitted into this soap opera scripted by the defense -- a few facts, followed by some observations on civic responsibility.

Let me point out that Ms. Dalibor is not charged with having overdue library materials. Of course you (and I freely admit, I) have occasionally failed to return items to the library on time. But, as the good citizens I know you are, you have not behaved like Ms. Dalibor. You have taken responsibility. I have no doubt that, the next time you visited the library, or even if you only received a notice by mail, you have paid up -- not out of fear of punishment, not only so you could continue to benefit from the services of our fine public library system, but because you knew it was right! Because you are citizens, with all that implies about the very basis of our ability to live together in a just and fair society.

[Tapping table with knuckles] Fact: The defendant was notified of her overdue fine by letters. Fact: The defendant was notified by phone calls. What did she do? Nothing! Finally, in desperation, our shamefully underfunded library system, which relies on overdue fines for a significant part of its operating budget, turned to the very institutions that the law has in its wisdom, since the earliest days of the Republic, counted on to restore the balance. She was served with a notice to appear in court.

What did the defendant do, when confronted with the summons? Nothing! Ladies and gentlemen, what you see in the dock is [pause] a scofflaw! A person who believes that she is above the rules of society -- enshrined in law, mind you -- that the rest of us take seriously, as our strongest safeguard against anarchy. The learned counsel for the defense has exercised his wit in trying to persuade you that the defendant's actions, or rather inactions, are so trivial as not to be worthy of police time. His argument is jesuitical (no offense, those of you who are Roman Catholics).

You have no doubt heard of what is known as the "broken windows" theory of policing, put into practice by Mayor Giuliani's police chief in New York City in the 1990s, and which is widely credited with restoring a large measure of safety and order to that burgh, formerly abandoned to criminals. The theory is, in essence, that broken windows and such forms of vandalism are symbolically far more important than their immediate effects. They symbolize that the social contract itself has broken down, that authority is powerless and can no longer protect ordinary citizens.

The corollary is that if you enforce the law against lesser anti-social individuals (graffiti painters, window breakers, squeegee pests at traffic lights), you send a signal that the rule of the streets is over! There's a new sheriff in town and the horse thieves had better make tracks so that decent, law-abiding folks can walk the streets without fear.

I ask you to send a message to all the scofflaws, the people who think they are too important to be bothered with the ordinary claims that we as members of society owe to one another: [Walks to jury box, looks one juror after the other in the eyes]
We, the citizens, draw the line! Ms. Dalibor has shown contempt to the library from which she has obtained the benefit of its collection, she has abused its trust, and we will not allow it!

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3 comments:

leadpb said...

Thanks for a wonderful piece of writing. I suppose there is a moral theme in there somewhere, but I will never have the same mental image of Singapore again.

zazie said...

What decision have the jury come to, I wonder ?
I am glad to see that Swift, and Montesquieu, have left some irony behind them after they departed ....

Jaz said...

I say throw the book at her. Preferably one of the overdue ones...