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Letters to Works in Progress

Dear Works in Progress,

The article in September’s Works in Progress entitled “More questions than answers” was reminiscent of an experience a friend recently endured—a crazed cop, gun drawn, screaming at him for, contrary to instructions, getting out of his car to retrieve his proof of insurance from his wallet. My friend is white. He was driving a new Prius.

His thoughts were: “There’s a crazy person threatening me with a gun. I can fight, I can run or I can place myself at his mercy.”

He chose the latter and came away with a newfound fear of the police. Black Lives Matter. But so do white lives and no race of people is now safe.

At some point this becomes a constitutional issue. Asset forfeiture in which the police, prior to trial, take and keep everything a person owns, their house  their business, all their money, even though none of it was from illegal sources. Fifth Amendment states that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of the law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” The Eighth Amendment states that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed”. The court then appoints a public defender who will only plea bargain a guilty plea. The Sixth Amendment states that every person is entitled to “assistance of counsel for his defense”, not in negotiating a guilty plea.

In addition to the constitutional issues, there are those involving methods such as entrapment, enticing someone into doing something they normally wouldn’t do, such as finding some pot for an attractive undercover cop that has infiltrated your high school. It seems quaint if we don’t consider the ruined lives. The standard here is “predisposition”, which could be interpreted to mean “all who take the bait”. Multi-jurisdictional drug task forces such as the Thurston County Drug Taskforce have perfected these methods in the War on Drugs. They›ve become customary…as has intimidation.

What should be an important and occasionally used tool becomes ever-present. These things have been disproportionately felt in black communities because working class people, especially the working poor, are targeted.

People need to trust the legal system. We need to trust that if we call the police they will work to diffuse a situation, not escalate it. We need to trust that we won’t see a young person shot in our yard. People need to be able to respect the legal system. To feel that laws will be applied fairly and justly. If we have no trust or respect in the system, then the system is in trouble. It only operates with the permission of “We the People.”

Harry Branch, Olympia


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