When Credibility Is More Important Than Justice
In a story headlined “Pot’s popularity, state law create trying times for U.S. prosecutor,” a Los Angeles Times reporter named Joe Mozingo attempted a sympathetic profile of a United States attorney who works closely with DEA agents to imprison Americans for possessing or selling cannabis, even when those Americans are obeying state law. How tricky, how challenging! Especially when the prosecutor, Julie Shemitz, 57, admits that she personally has no grievance with the plant or people who enjoy it.
Indeed, she claims she wouldn’t care if Congress made it legal.
Then why does she ruin the lives of people who she understands are no threat to society? According to the newspaper, so the Justice Department can “remain credible.”
A Justice Department that prosecutes immoral laws has no credibility. Yet, so long as there are credulous writers like Mozingo and rationalizing dupes like Julie Shemitz willing to do the dirty work of people more powerful than they, wicked legislation like the Fugitive Slave Acts and Jim Crow and Anti-Sodomy retain their “credibility.” If someone’s willing to prosecute these unfair laws and someone else goes to prison because of these unfair laws, then they really do have credibility, even when everyone involved knows they’ve been party to profound injustice.
Julie Shemitz characterizes herself as a “nice Jewish girl” from a “liberal Connecticut” family. We’ve thought hard about this description, and we can’t figure out what’s nice and liberal about being an intellectual fraud.
People like Julie Shemitz are required for every war, whether on Vietnamese, Afghanis or drugs. The rich and greedy make the wars (but stay far from the front lines) for their benefit. They need disposable flunkies to fight the battles. And for that to happen almost all thoughtful human beings must act in opposition to what they know to be unassailably right. Military soldiers, especially good Judeo-Christian ones who follow the Ten Commandments, know that killing is wrong, but in order for their army to remain credible they must shoot someone with whom they have no personal grievance, someone they intuitively understand has done nothing that warrants his death. Things like religions and laws and republics allow trained killers (and other agents of hurt) to excuse the harm they do under the cloak of blind faith, of belief in “the system,” or the good book, or the Constitution. But the truth is the truth: what they’re actually doing is bad, a stain on society. A net loss for humanity.
Virtually everyone involved in the costliest failed “war” in American history – the prosecutors, the judges, the Drug Enforcement Agency goons – knows that what they’re engaging in is on some essential level wrong, and that the laws of the land are rapidly changing to prevent more damage being done. When behavior that once brought decades behind bars soon becomes unpunishable, when there aren’t pernicious laws to wield like a cudgel, all the good mercenaries who made war on their fellow citizens will be viewed not as nice Jewish girls, but as opportunistic collaborators. And just like all war-time collaborators, their willingness to embrace lies big and small is what allows them to hurt their fellow citizens instead of serve them.
The Times story follows the trial and conviction of someone who clearly has violated Federal law. It closes with a direct quote from Julie Shemitz. “As a prosecutor, the thing we will not stand for is when someone doesn’t take responsibility for what he does,” she said.
If the reporter found Shemitz’s self-righteousness in any way hypocritical, ironic, or nauseating, that was lost on the readers of the Times, two of whom had scathing Letters to the Editor published. They expressed no sympathy for the poor baby prosecutor caught in the dialectical tension between Right and Wrong. Readers of the Times understand that this kind of situation is commonly known as a moral dilemma: expediency, paycheck and status vs. Doing the Right Thing. Normally, the paper profiles heroes, the ones who make the tough-but-correct choice in the face of daunting challenges. This time they profiled one of the millions of banal anti-heroes who predictably choose the money and the ease.
Those who serve as pawns in an evil game are victims to some extent. But mostly they’re self-interested actors complicit in the crime – and apparently quite satisfied with their life’s work, whether clearing black boys out of a whites-only restaurant, gassing Jews and Gypsies, or putting nonviolent citizens in cages for conducting businesses that deal in a dried flower direct from Nature – a substance that they know isn’t harmful, might well be beneficial, and which they wouldn’t mind being decriminalized.
When this war finally ends, for good soldiers like Julie Shemitz and their propagandists the question will be: What punishment do they deserve?