12:26:02 pm on
Saturday 08 May 2021

Beyond the Law?
AJ Robinson

Source: heraldsun.com.au

I watched the old film version of Moby Dick, yet again. As a New Englander, I know the story quite well. I even made the effort some years ago to read it; talk of a long book.

A sample of classic cinema.

These days there are a slew of streaming services available. One is called Tub. It has a nice library of classic cinema, among its films is Moby Dick, based on the Herman Melville novel, of 1861.

As I watched Moby Dick, a scene stuck in my head, a scene that previously hadn’t stood out to me, but recent events have given it a new and stronger meaning. The first mate, Starbuck, of the ship Pequod, calls together the second and third mates to read them a section of the Maritime Law. It’s got all sorts of fancy legal terms, such as usury and usurp that Starbuck must translate for Stubb and Flask.

What it boils down to is that if a captain uses the ship and crew for his personal agenda, he’s broken the law. The crew is then within their right to take over the ship. In fact, they’re required to do so or be judged equally guilty of the crime, at least in the eyes of the law.

The scene is a tad ironic, in that Starbuck talks of how their occupation is noble, even righteous, as they are harvesting a vital natural resource put on earth by God. Today, what with our concerns for the environment and bans on whaling, his words, his casual attitude of the subject, are almost as shocking as his suggestion of mutiny. It’s not a matter to be taken lightly.

Stubb is very nervous of the idea. Then Flask says something, which, now, truly sticks in my mind. He states his belief that a captain can’t break the law, he is the law.

Right now, the trial of Derek Chauvin is taking place. He killed George Floyd. There can be no debate, of that. There are multiple videos showing him pressing his knee onto neck, of George Floyd, as the man lay helpless on the street.

More than nine minutes the act went on and on, until the life literally squeezed from the body of George Floyd. Some people would consider the case open and shut. No trial is needed. Derek should plead guilty to manslaughter and take whatever penalty the court sees fit to impose.

He feels he did nothing wrong.

That’s not going to happen. Chauvin feels he did nothing wrong. For those who think the man will surely be found guilty, I have two words for you: Rodney King.

If you’re too young to know about that case, back in 1992 Mr. King, a Black man, was severely beaten by several police officers. The incident was caught on video, a first, by George Halliday, filming from his balcony.

Some people might say, “Well so what? Everyone’s has a camera in their phone.” Quite true; but note the year the event took place: 1992. That was the pre-cell phone era and although camcorders were common, they weren’t nearly as widespread as the phones, today; security cameras were not nearly as pervasive.

That was also the pre-9/11 days of America. The video shocked the country, if not the world, and most people were certain the officers would be convicted of at least assault and battery. Rodney King became a euphemism for police brutality of Black men.

Alas, all officers involved in the beating of Rodney King were found not guilty. The riots that followed were horrible. What was even sadder is that event was not an isolated incident.

In the decades since, most police officers charged with beating, abusing or even outright killing a private Black citizen have been let off by the courts. In most cases, no charges are even ever filed. Sad but true, which is why I have strong reservations as to the outcome of the Chauvin trial.

Although I hope Chauvin is found guilty of manslaughter, at least I’m not optimistic. Many legal experts and pundits go on and on over how this trial is different, how fellow police officers and even his bosses say he went too far. Yet, I keep coming back to what Flask said: a captain can’t break the law, he is the law.

There are many people that share that sentiment when it comes to the police. Theirs is a dangerous and demanding job and, thus, there is a belief that we must give them wide latitude when it comes to dealing with lawbreakers. If that means overlooking their occasional shortcomings, then so be it.

Prepare for the worst.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I hope the jury convicts Chauvin, even of a lesser charge. Still, we need to prepare for the worst.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Working, again, as an engineeer, after years out of the field due to 2009 recession and slow recovery, Robinson finds time to write. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true. His teen vampire adventure novel, "Vampire Vendetta," will publish in 2020. Robinson continues to write books, screenplays and teleplays and keeps hoping for that big break.

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