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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Statement Against Interest

Have you heard about this group of nutjobs that's been demonstrating at soldiers' funerals, not because of opposition to the war per se, but because they think we're losing due to God's wrath, brought on our nation because of support for homosexuals?  Yeah, these people make Pat Robertson seem sensible.  Anyway, John Hinderaker at Power Line has a brief comment on the topic, particularly the push to make demonstrating within a certain distance of a funeral illegal here in Minnesota.  We'll file this one under "man am I glad someone else said it."


What do you think about Hinderaker's call for people to commit assault and battery against anyone engaging in these protests?

I agree with Hinderaker that the law being discussed shouldn't be enacted--it would have the effect of criminalizing all protests within a certain distance of funerals or processions, meaning people protesting entirely different subjects along Hennepin Avenue while a funeral procession passes will be rendered criminals.

But I don't agree that "the appropriate course is for an able-bodied man--there should be at least one at any funeral--to take a sign and break it over the ringleader's head." Then again, if Hinderaker actually were to do that, I probably wouldn't complain. Does committing assault get your law license taken away?
Ivan, you've been on spring break far too long. What do I think about his call to "commit assault and battery against anyone engaging in these protests"? Well, I assumed I had made it clear that I thought he had it dead on. Our "violence never solved anything" culture, which you seem to favor, has virtually eliminated informal social sanctions (as JH mentioned)in areas where, like this, they could be especially useful. OH NO! HOW HORRIBLE, HE'S SUGGESTING COMMITTING ASSAULT AND BATTERY AGAINST PROTESTORS, THAT'S ILLEGAL! Yeah well, too bad. I'm not saying that someone should beat the living crap out of a protester, and neither was Hinderacker. I was, however, saying that these soldiers' families shouldn't have to just stand there impotent while these tools hold signs saying "Thank God for IEDs". These motorcycle people:
are certainly doing good work, but they can't be everywhere.
That's interesting. And here I thought law was our resolution to the fact that some problems are best solved by violence. Our criminal law is the imposition of violence on people who we as society feel deserve it, and the recognition that violence is better committed in the controlled legal way than through uncontrolled vigilantism. I find it shocking that someone who is a law student (or a lawyer, as Hinderaker is) would hold the attitude that domestic violence committed outside legal strictures is acceptable, much less desirable.

I have to admit I'm a fan of eliminating "informal social sanctions" for the precise reason of their informality. The classic informal social sanction is the lynching of the black man with the temerity to have contact with a white woman. Quite frankly, I'd rather have people desiring social sanctions against others to use the legal system rather than take it on their own shoulders. I don't trust people to decide on their own what properly deserves 'informal social sanction.' Especially people like John Hinderaker.
"And here I thought law was our resolution to the fact that some problems are best solved by violence. Our criminal law is the imposition of violence on people who we as society feel deserve it..."
Sorry, I just don't really buy that, I mean, unless you want to talk about the death penalty. Also, you can't just throw around terms like domestic violence simply because you think it sounds good, the term has a very different meaning. You're shocked that I don't think everything in the world should be filtered through our legal system? That's exactly what I meant by the title, because I really don't think legislatures, courts and lawyers need to be brought into every single insignificant happening in the world. Uncontrolled vigilantism? Not so much what I was after, and I'm calling a party foul on you for bringing lynching into this, and especially for claiming that it is a classic example of an ISS when there are so many more out there that would be more on point. How about a bouncer throwing a particularly loud-mouthed patron out of a bar?

Think about it this way. A is a cousin of the deceased soldier, 26 years old. B, also 26, is on the sidewalk holding such a sign (any number of which are described on the website for the "church" behind all of this nonsense: No joke, that is their website.). A, upon arriving at his cousin's funeral sees B and others holding these signs. A walks up to B, takes his sign, and proceeds to make B wear the sign as a hat. Is B going to call the police? If he does will they arrest A? If they do, and this somehow makes it to a trial, do you think a jury would convict A of assault? Now, there are a lot of factors that go into that, like if B was seriously injured, but more than likely none of this would happen. And no, I'm not suggesting a $5 dollar fine for beating up a funeral protestor (think flag burning in 1990). All I am saying is that there doesn't need to be a new law here, that people should try to deal with the world themselves, ideally within the current legal system but not to the point that they are paralyzed in the face of this sort of shenanigans. Also, I'm going to pistol whip the next guy who says, " Shenanigans."
Seriously though, there is a difference between outright vigilantism and this, and this just wouldn't bother me. I know you would rather "have people desiring social sanctions against others use the legal system rather than take it on their own shoulders", but face it, the legal system is slow, expensive, and already insufferably clogged, and in the time it took to type your "Quite frankly..." sentence, the problem could be solved and the "God Hates Fags" crowd sent on it's way.
Also, I just don't understand the continued caricature of John Hinderacker, why the visceral reaction to the guy?
There are a few things to get straight here:

Criminal sanction by imprisonment is violence. Regardless of what you think about coddling prisoners or a "soft" prison environment, it is violence. That premise underlies the entire criminal justice system--those who violate our laws are caused pain in response to the pain they caused (with appropriate adjustments for retributive and deterrent purposes). I doubt you could find many former criminals who would deny that imprisonment is violence.

If you believe that the appropriate response to a certain action is violence, then you should support criminal sanction. If an activity is legal, then violence in response to it is illegal (that's why your bouncer analogy is inapt--bouncers cannot go up to a customer and start beating them up; they must ask them to leave, at which point if a patron refuses he is committing trespass). So in your hypothetical, I think B should call the police, the police should arrest A, A should be convicted of assault and go to jail. Further, A should sue B for assault and battery and receive compensation. That's what's called civil society. If you think A shouldn't be allowed to do what he's doing, the proper response is not violence, it's making that activity illegal. Then A could call the police, let them deal with B, and go on grieving his cousin.

I've been watching the "God Hates Fags" (their alternate website is crowd for years, since the Matthew Shepard killing, when they put a picture of him up with flames behind him that screamed when you clicked on it. They've been picketing at funerals of people killed for being gay for quite some time. Now that they're picketing soldiers' funerals, they've gotten your attention. So what to do about it?

I would say the best response is a law similar to that in effect, except creating a slightly smaller zone that only applies to funerals. I don't think outlawing protests near funeral processions is desirable or practicable (or constitutional). I don't think picketing at funerals is appropriate behavior and support societal condemnation of people who engage in it.

Should everything be filtered through our legal system? No. Only everything to which violence is considered an acceptable response. And like I said, I'd rather have the legislature, judge, and jury decide what's an acceptable response than the guy on the scene. Finally, what if the deceased soldier's cousin attacks the leader of the protests, then gets beaten up by other protesters? Should the determining factor in whether the protests are acceptable be whether there are more mourners or protesters? Or should we say that the soldier deserves to be mourned in peace regardless of how many mourners are present?

As regards Hinderaker, like you said it's a visceral reaction I have, so it's hard to explain. He's dismissive of contrary opinions, personally insulting to those who hold them, and prefers criticism and insult to discussion and understanding. I have the same visceral reaction to Armando of Kos and Atrios of Eschaton, inter alia, if that helps explain anything.
Hey, come on, the comment about the visceral reaction to JH was just an allusion to your similar questions to me regarding my posts on Howard Dean and Jan Egeland, how could you miss that?

Imprisonment may be a sort of violence, it's just not really what I meant in that statement; the "violence never solved anything" crowd (oh crap, that must be a strawman) isn't opposed to imprisonment. I doubt you could find many former criminals who would understand your conception of imprisonment as violence (as opposed to the very real violence that too often occurs in prison).
I will concede that the bouncer analogy was inept.

I know you "think B should call the police, the police should arrest A, A should be convicted of assault and go to jail", I was asking if you thought that scenario would actually be likely to happen, because I think that between police discretion and jury nullification most A's would get off, and those A's who somehow were convicted would probably get nothing more than symbolic sentences.
As for it taking protests at soldiers' funerals to get my attention, you're mostly right. I had heard of the group before this, but brushed them off as an isolated moronic bunch. I didn't see the website of grasp the scope of their activity until (surprise) they started getting more news coverage for the soldier funerals.
As for making it illegal, I think that gives them even more attention, and assures many more years in the spotlight until they eventually get to make their case before the SCOTUS, a forum and an opportunity I don't think they should be given so easily (and don't think they wouldn't jump at it). And while yes, the state should generally have a monopoly on violence, I have no personal moral objection to the guy on the scene who makes a judgment call (probably in the heat of passion, I would guess malice aforethought to be rare) and uses some minimal forcre. That said, the biker response is probably a better informal social response, but like I said, they can't be everywhere.

As long as we're naming people on our own side who we can't stand, though I don't need to use the law latin, here are mine: Pat Robertson, Bill O'Reilly, Jerry Falwell, among others, of course. Sorry it took so long to respond, spring break withdrawl shock.
It was a fair question about Hinderaker, though. If I spit out questions like that, I have to be willing to answer them, eh?

I can't say if the police would actually arrest the person or a jury would actually convict--I think it's possible, depending on the extent of the violence; the actions you and Hinderaker advocate would be likely to spark a full-on brawl.

I also don't think a well-constructed law would cause a problem. Like I said, my problem with the law is that it's not well constructed, but

"the government may impose reasonable restrictions on the time, place, or manner of protected speech, provided the restrictions "are justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech, that they are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and that they leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.""

Ward v. Rock against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 791 (U.S. 1989). The key would be to have the law be enacted with a purpose that is content-neutral, and I think you can enact a law that fits that restriction in prohibiting protests that disrupt funerals (by prohibiting them within a certain not-too-large distance). It may not be easy and may be subject to litigation, but I would be shocked if a well-crafted law on the subject went to the Supreme Court. More than likely, it would be affirmed in three sentences at the appellate level and never heard from again.

No matter the intention of the person initiating violence, those situations can quickly get out of hand. Wouldn't police intervention before violence be better than police intervention subsequent?
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