A liberal is a conservative who has been arrested.

Tom Wolfe[1]

A conservative is a liberal who got mugged the night before.

Frank Rizzo[2]

OK, in case you haven’t guessed, today’s topic is law-and-order. Some people – often called Libertarians – think that we have altogether too many laws in this country. Perhaps we ought to lighten up a little bit; cut back on the things that are restricted or forbidden; and give people more room to live and enjoy their lives. This is an attractive notion, especially if you were raised back in the 1950’s, as was I. Back then just about everything connected with sex, drugs, and general entertainment was forbidden; that’s why teens had to invent rock and roll.

And why did their parents go along with that? Well, I don’t know, but I do have a suspicion. I think, deep down, the parents really knew that American society was unduly repressive; they compensated by dousing themselves with alcohol and tranquilizers; and by ignoring their kids’ deviant beliefs and behaviors. Hypocrisy was the order of the day. Where do you think the counterculture of the 1960’s came from?  It exploded out of the various closets the [decade of the] 1950’s had built for its inmates.

Anyway, that’s what I think; but what does this have to do with law and order? Well, let’s consider Tom Wolfe’s observation that a liberal is really a conservative who has been arrested. Think about it. Suppose you are [mostly] a law-abiding citizen, but the police pick you up for doing something they don’t like. The allegations may be true or untrue; in either case you’re thrown into the criminal justice “system,” with all of its complexities, pressures and attendant costs. You might even be offered a plea bargain as an easy way out. Just admit something and skip serious jail time. If you go to trial, there’s always the chance that a trier of fact, a jury or a judge, may make a mistake and convict you even though you’re innocent, if you are.

Middle class people who face this for the first time no doubt are (a) shocked that it happened to them, and (b) doubly shocked at the costs and pressures imposed by the system. So why be surprised if some of them begin to take an interest in civil liberties and, more specifically, in the rights of the accused in criminal proceedings? Don’t get me wrong!  I’m not saying that all liberals have been arrested at one time or another. It’s enough if they can simply imagine themselves in the place of the accused, and want to work to make the system more fair for everyone.

That’s the liberal bias that Tom Wolfe identified and, I think, it’s a good one to have. Anyway, you could see it in full bloom in the case of Freddie Gray, a black man who was arrested over in Baltimore and mysteriously died while in police custody. The press went wild for a time, perhaps assuming that this was just another example of a white power structure picking on poor minorities. But time passed, and people realized that Baltimore’s mayor and attorney general are black women, and its Police Commissioner is a black male[3]. Then the indictments came out and, lo and behold, three of the police indicted in the Gray matter are white, but the other three are black. [4]

So is race still the dominant factor in the case, or if not, what is? Perhaps social class? Was Freddie Gray arrested simply because he was poor and couldn’t defend himself from the system? I don’t know, and we have miles to go before we learn the truth. There will be further investigations; the DOJ has been asked to take a look at the way Baltimore polices its people; and the accused officers no doubt will be tried on the various charges levied against them. It’s too soon to tell what the result of all this might be, and this isn’t a horserace; so we’re not making predictions or placing any bets.

Now let’s talk about Frank Rizzo’s observation, and what it means today. Does a mugging, or the fear of one, really create law-and-order Conservatives?  Do people really expect a breakdown in law and order, and threats to their personal security? Well, obviously some do. While violent crime rates in this country have been decreasing for years[5], gun ownership is on the increase.[6] Why? For personal protection, I would expect.

There are plenty of reasons to worry, if you want to. We have the problem of riots. They’re back, and people get upset when they occur. And then, of course, there’s a new phenomenon – the violent home invasion. People in the gun community worry about that kind of thing, and plan for it. [7] And who’s to say they’re wrong? Such things do happen.

Just last week, for example, there was an apparent home invasion, and a quadruple murder at the Savopoulos family residence[8] in DC, not far from where the Vice President lives. Apparently the family’s home was invaded on or about May 13; Mr. Savopoulos called his office and asked an assistant to deliver $40 thousand to the residence; the assistant did so on May 14, leaving the money in a garage; then the family [and a housekeeper] were killed, and the money disappeared. One person has been apprehended, allegedly on the basis of DNA evidence found in the residence. No doubt others were involved, but they’ve yet to be found.

And if that doesn’t shake your faith in the rule of law in this country, consider also what happened down in Waco TX not too long ago. For those of you who don’t know, Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs [OMGs] are said to be key players in the distribution of drugs and weapons in this country and possibly worldwide. The police, according to one report, consider them to be little more than “heavily armed crime syndicates” although the OMGs portray themselves differently. [9]  There’s also evidence that some OMGs “continue to court active-duty military personnel and government workers, both civilians and contractors, for their knowledge, reliable income, tactical skills and dedication to a cause.”[10] How about that? Outlaw bikers with military connections! If you’re a law-and-order type, it kind of makes you feel, what? Certainly not safe.

Anyway, last week a couple of these OMGs decided to congregate together down in Waco, and the results weren’t good. Fighting broke out, shots were fired, 9 people died, and  170 were arrested. All in all it was a real melee with plenty of blood, all in family-friendly Texas.

So what does all this mean? What’s the moral of this tale? Well, a friend of mine once said, “Where you sit is often where you stand.” Back in the day this had religious connotations, [11] but today it means, simply, that people tend to assess threats, etc., based on their own particular interests.[12]That’s not going to work very well in an increasingly violent and disorganized world. Frank Rizzo and Tom Wolfe will have to sit closer together, and talk through their problems, if they’re ever going to solve anything.

That’s what I think.



[1] See Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (6th Edition, 2003) (henceforth, ODQ at __) at Tom Wolfe, p. 843, n. 20. The quote is from The Bonfire of the Vanities, a book he published in 1987. For more about Tom Wolfe, check out the Wikipedia entry on him at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Wolfe .

[2] This one is harder to verify. Brainy Quote attributes it to Frank Rizzo, an American politician who died in 1991. See Brainy Quote at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/f/frankrizzo125560.html . Rizzo was police commissioner in Philadelphia from 1968 to 1971, and mayor from 1972 to 1980. He was quite famous in those days. For more information on Rizzo, see the Wikipedia entry on him at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Rizzo .

[3] Baltimore’s Mayor is Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; its prosecutor is Marilyn Mosby; and its Police Commissioner is Anthony W. Batts.

[4] See CNN, Shoichet, Freddie Gray death: Grand jury indicts police officers (May 21, 2015) available at http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/21/us/baltimore-freddie-gray-death-officers-indicted/index.html

[5] See FBI, Criminal Justice Information Services Division, Murder Circumstances by Weapon (2010) at  http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/tables/10shrtbl11.xls

[6] You can track trends gun ownership through the National Instant Criminal Background System. Its public website is at http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/nics/nics

[7] See Weapons Education, Home Invasion, Don’t Get Killed (January 11, 2015) available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXni1RWorEg

[8] See The Washington Post, Hermann & Alexander, Police suspect plot in killings (Saturday, May 23, 2015) at p. A1, A2.

[9] See The Washington Post, Madigan & Sullivan, Olive branch broken in deadly biker melee, eyewitness says (Sunday, May 24, 2015) at p. A4.

[10] See DOJ, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, OMGs and the Military (2014), available at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2085684-omgs-july-2014-redacted.html

[11] See St. Luke, Ch. 14, v. 8: “When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room, lest a more honorable man than thou be bidden of him; And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee; Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.” See also St. Luke, Ch. 14, v, 11; St. Mathew, Ch. 23, v. 12. “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” We tend to use the King James version of the Bible around here, mostly for literary reasons.

[12] See The American Economic Review, Dahl & Ransom, Does Where You Stand Depend on Where You Sit? Tithing Donations and Self-Serving Beliefs (September, 1999) at p. 703 et seq., available at    http://econweb.ucsd.edu/~gdahl/papers/self-serving-bias.pdf “Previous psychological and economic research indicates that individuals are highly inclined to skew reported beliefs to line up with selfish interests”