I remember, “back in the day,” hearing a fellow police officer make the observation that the things we see in science fiction movies always seem to come true. He especially meant where law enforcement was concerned. The example he gave was that in the movie RoboCop, the police officers were all driving Ford Taurus sedans and wearing external body armor. He made that comment in the mid-nineties and, sure enough, most agencies were in Taurus sedans, or were growing into mid-size vehicles versus the traditional Crown Victoria, Impala or Caprice. (Even the Impala has been down-sized now).
But his statement made me think about the parallels that exist between movies of our past and the reality of our future. However, instead of focusing only on obvious equipment parallels I started to think about philosophical implications of the movie plot(s). In recent years, more than ever I believe that these plots / philosophies warrant some thought.
Let me guide you through a couple of movie plots and how I believe they may apply to our lifestyle and outlook today. Understand as you read through that my outlook, due to my background and experience, is largely formed from a law enforcement and patriotic American perspective.
The Green Mile
This fantastic movie starring Tom Hanks featured Michael Clark Duncan (who was a REALLY BIG man) as a mildly mentally challenged healer. Unfortunately, due to his lack of education – or maybe even worse, his lack of articulation in his speech – when he’s found holding two dead girls he’s blamed for killing them. He says, “I couldn’t hep it.” (I couldn’t help it) Later in the movie he helps others deal with various sicknesses and the viewer comes to understand that he
1) isn’t a bad man, and
2) was trying to save the lives of the girls when he found them.
Now, I wanted to discuss this situation, not because I have a social worker mentality or I feel there are no real criminals in the world. I am all for locking people up when necessary and I in fact favor the death penalty. By the same token I believe that we (society in general) sometimes too cavalierly take someone’s freedom from them (arrest) and then heavily impact their future (jail, probation, fines, community service hours, etc). By far and away the least impacting is community service if someone is found guilty, but I also think about how many people are arrested, go to trial and then are found not guilty. Some of them are ruined by virtue of the financial impact (lawyers aren’t cheap) and certainly the arrest stays on their record unless they know to have it expunged. That always existent black mark on their record implies that they aren’t of the highest character or that they lack something in their integrity, even though they were found not-guilty.
That doesn’t even begin to address the number of people who are convicted based on the often times questionable testimony of a single individual. The court makes many assumptions in weighing evidence; some of the assumptions are good (innocent until proven guilty) and some are a negative statement on the condition of humankind (two adults of the opposite sex alone in any room with opportunity to fornicate will). I use that last example because in plenty of divorce cases it doesn’t have to be proven that the husband or wife was unfaithful, only that they had the opportunity and the court assumes that they did. What kind of statement is that about the general character of mankind?
We now know, with DNA evidence technology improving, that there are people in prison who were innocent. We will find more. Even though the people are free from prison, they’ll never be free from the stigma of having been arrested, charged, tried and convicted. Their character and integrity will always be in doubt. I submit to you that we must make every effort to be sure what we’re doing is right. Let’s be sure in our hearts that the person we’re arresting is actually guilty.
Think of it this way: if the state or county you work in had to pay the person found not-guilty back for all of his or her defense costs, how many cases wouldn’t be tried by your local state’s attorney? THAT would be the measure of being sure. If YOU had to pay back the defense fees for the person you’re arresting if they’re found not guilty based on evidence (not a technicality), how secure would you be in the arrests you make?
A Time To Kill
Now that I sounded all soft and fuzzy, let me go back to my statement about the death penalty. In this movie starring Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson, a father avenges the brutal rape of his prepubescent daughter by two pieces of white trash. The description of the attack, assault, rape and attempted murder in the book is hard to read. The father carefully plans his vengeance and kills the two rapists inside the courthouse. The act is premeditated and does result in the unintended injury of a law enforcement officer.
That same officer, during the murder trial of the father, tells the jury and everyone else in the courtroom NOT to find the father guilty of murder. He says that the father didn’t do anything wrong. Ultimately the father is found not-guilty. I believe justice was served.
Our legal system is the best in the world, but it’s created by man and is therefore imperfect. There is simply no way that the law can address every circumstance. There’s no way that the law can predict behavior, consider motivation, measure circumstance and take human emotional motivations into consideration. The legal system isn’t set up for that. It’s still the best we have.
That means that law enforcement professionals have to do the best job they can to make sure that they enforce the law with an eye toward justice as much as possible. In today’s litigious society, we sometimes consider the arrest potential with more weight on liability management than justice. “What happens if I don’t arrest him and he commits such-and-such crime?” we wonder.
I know of a situation where a man was abusing his wife. She got all the proper restraining orders and got her day in court. When the court date arrived the accused man showed up without an attorney, dressed neatly, and spoke in an intelligent and respectful manner to the judge. The accusing wife and her attorney didn’t show up. The judge, with absolutely no evidence presented against the man, and the man’s accuser not present, had no choice but to release the man and void the restraining order(s) per state law. That man murdered his wife three weeks later. When that happened you can bet that the judge was blamed for not having taken the necessary corrective action by putting the man in jail or, at the very least, reinstating the restraining order. The truth is, however, that the judge did everything the LAW allowed him to do.
When a flaw is found in the LAW, as happened with the case cited above, sometimes there is no way to correct it. I can’t help but think: that judge has a job to do. He’s in the position he’s in because society (our elected representatives; in this case the state governor) decided he was of sound character, legally educated, and possessing good judgment skills. Then our LAW tied his hands to keep him from protecting that woman and then the entire legal system berated him when the legal system failed. It was easier to blame one man than to admit that we have a faulty legal system. I repeat: It’s still the best legal system in the world, but it can’t anticipate every circumstance. That leaves it up to we the people who work within it or in support of it to measure our role in our hearts and support justice as best we can.
The Chronicles of Riddick
Vin Diesel made the character Riddick very popular when the movie Pitch Black was released. Riddick’s glowing silver eyes, buff frame and carefree attitude appealed to many teenagers and young adults. The fact that he was a cold-blooded murderer seemed not to bother many, but that’s because, even though he was a murderer, he was the best hope the other characters had of surviving a nightmare being hunted by alien monsters. Riddick was a monster fighting monsters. There’s a lesson there I think.
Riddick returned in The Chronicles of Riddick, only this time he was fighting a race of beings called Necromongers. “Necro” means dead body; corpse; death. A “monger” is a person who is involved with something in a petty or contemptible way.
So a Necromonger is a person involved in some petty or contemptible way with death. In the case of the movie, the Necromongers are a race that invades and takes over whole worlds with a simple philosophy of attack: total control; conversion or execution. In other words, convert or die. In the movie, Riddick is the only guy who won’t bow; he’s the only guy willing to fight no matter what; he’s the only guy who would rather die than be forced to bow.
I can’t help but consider our world today in light of this movie. Some fanatical religious sects have much the same approach as the Necromongers: convert or die. While so many Americans would watch The Chronicles of Riddick and cheer Riddick on for fighting against an alien oppression, some of those same people would say we just don’t understand those fanatical religious sects that demand conversion or death.
“Convert or die” means the same no matter who is saying it. The decision to die standing rather the live on our knees is the same no matter who we face as an enemy. This leads me into the next parallel…
Starring Richard Gere and Sean Connery, this movie about the fabled kingdom of Camelot and its knights of the round table drives home two big points for me:
1) We humans are imperfect, and
2) A value system doesn’t have to have geographical boundaries.
In the movie, when faced with a growing threat, King Arthur (Connery) talks about how Camelot is more than a patch of land; it’s a value system; a way of life. That struck home for me.
America is more than a patch of land to me. It’s a belief system; a way of life. Now celebrating 245 years of existence, America was very carefully built to value the individual and to guard individual rights and liberties. If the geographical space of America were invaded and taken over tomorrow, America would not die. The values we hold dear would continue to live on in us and we would band together to seek a new stronghold to rebuild our way of life.
All of these concepts together create a foundation for the strong America our forefathers created. Liberty, Justice, Defense. We have a proud history of fighting for the underdog; of defending the weak. The bane of our existence is the political system which gets so caught up posturing, micro-managing and delineating minutia that our operational forces become ineffective. Above I talked about how the law can’t foresee all circumstances. Yet the large majority of our politicians are lawyers. How efficient and effective can we be when lead by a group of people who aren’t happy until every circumstance is addressed, documented, controlled, planned for and responses delineated?
General George Patton said, “An imperfect plan implemented immediately and violently will always succeed better than a perfect plan.”
Micro-managing delays action. Delineating detail only accomplishes the limiting of improvised creative response. America must be maintained as a value system; a belief structure. As a rule that’s always meant that we have to be willing to stand and fight to defend what we believe in.
Remember this: when the Necromongers show up on our doorstep we have only two options: Fight or bow. Arguing minutia on how we fight is the equivalent of bowing. Our enemies already have their game plan – their attack plan – figured out. It takes violence to overcome violence. Immediate violence is better than delayed violence when defending against an attacker.
The Necromongers have visited us plenty of times in the past. The visit most remembered is the attacks of 9-11-01. Before they come again let-s all get on board with the same idea. That idea, in the words of the beautiful Shania Twain, “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.”
I take faith in the fact that no matter how many more times they come to visit America will never die. It lives on in the hearts and minds of true patriots and will continue to do so even if we have to find a new patch of ground to call our own.