Our Criminal Justice System Serves to Protect the Villains
Recently, a hero got sentenced to three years in jail. I’m not talking a traditional hero who gets saluted during halftime shows because when he was 18, he went to a country he’d never heard of, to shoot at people he’d never heard of (who we’re not even technically at war with), and he did it all to get enough money to attend college, because college is too fucking expensive. We all know that’s a real hero. No, I’m talking about a climate activism hero.
Michael Foster is one of five climate activists who broke through a chain-link fence and, in a grotesquely criminal act, shut off TransCanada’s oil flow for a few hours. For stopping the oil, he got three years in jail. However, for actually drilling that oil and destroying our environment, polluting the land and water and risking our future—the heads of these oil companies get “sentenced” to zero years in jail. They instead get billions of dollars and private jets. But I bet the cocktail parties you have to attend if you’re that rich are boring as sin, so the joke’s on you, billionaire oil tycoons. You have boring dinners.
This proves our society is backward. The actions that are illegal versus legal are inverted from what they should be in an evolved culture. A few weeks ago, nine activists with the organization No More Deaths were arrested for leaving jugs of water in the desert to help migrants dying of thirst. That’s illegal. They were charged, basically, with littering. But it’s not illegal to buy up all our clean water, even near Flint, Mich. Soon, Nestlé is going to have it all, and we’re going to have to bathe in Coca-Cola because there will be no water left. We’ll have to fill our water beds with small stones, and that’s not comfortable.
What does illegal even mean anymore? In our land of the free, it’s illegal to feed the homeless in some states. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, between 2013 and 2015, “over 26 cities and communities passed laws restricting the distribution of food to the homeless, and the number is growing every year.” That’s right, a 90-year-old was taken down to the station for the crime of handing out baked beans. You may think this is ridiculous, but if you don’t stop him now, what’s next? Refried beans? Then, before you know it, you’re involved in a pico de gallo situation. And pico de gallo leads to guacamole, and guac opens the gates to cheese, rice and cilantro. You thought you were going to be the cool cop, look the other way, let a few beans slide, and before you know it, you’re dealing with burritos, enchiladas, fajitas. And now the salsa is on your hands, too.
Also illegal is housing the homeless. Earlier this year, according to Splinter News, “police arrived at [a Chicago man’s] house with a warrant and threatened to condemn his property unless he closed his ‘unlawful basement sleeping area.’ ” Not illegal is taking blankets away from the homeless, as the Denver police were caught doing. Also not illegal: destroying tiny homes built for the homeless. Cops did that, too. Banks foreclose on millions of homes, making millions of families homeless. That’s not illegal. We throw out 40 percent of all food. That’s not illegal.
And this isn’t just a “What’s the matter with us?” kind of situation. It’s also a question of freedom. If I were truly free, wouldn’t I be free to give somebody whatever I want? Shouldn’t I be free to give away food, drinks, my Star Wars figurines, two broken umbrellas, three nose-hair trimmers, my virginity and my award-winning collection of scabs from around the globe? Shouldn’t I be allowed to give away anything I want?
The real reason we can’t have people helping the homeless, giving out food and housing, is because it threatens to give a good example, to show another way forward. As “Act Out!” host Eleanor Goldfield wrote: “Filling the gaping chasms purposefully carved by capitalism and its keepers raises people’s awareness; it forces them to reckon with the system they live in and ask whether or not it’s worth protecting—or fighting against.”
Also illegal: having cocaine or heroin or selling marijuana in most states. Not illegal: making billions of dollars from the opioid crisis that’s killing hundreds of thousands of people. According to the CDC, “On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.” You know how many died from smoking marijuana over the past year? One. A guy accidentally lit his sleeve on fire while he was trying to take a bong hit. Then, as he was trying to put it out, he knocked over a lamp that hit the dog. While driving the dog to an animal hospital, he drove into a mailbox and died. Marijuana: The Silent Killer.
Illegal: Living off the grid. In most areas of our “Land of the Free,” there are a myriad of regulations designed to make it nearly impossible to live off the grid. In fact, a lot of states consider living off the grid to be “camping.” And in most places throughout the U.S., it is not legal to camp on your own land for more than two weeks. That’s right, on your own land. What does that even mean? What if I set up a tent in my living room? Would that be camping? What if I’m not camping, I just happen to be an alcoholic and pass out in my yard nightly? So much so that I start leaving a pillow and blanket and jammies out there. You may call it camping, but I call it “a regularly scheduled blackout.”
It’s illegal to camp in this country, yet it’s legal for our military to camp out in Iraq, Afghanistan, Niger, Syria, Germany, Cuba, Djibouti, South Korea. We fucking love camping out all over the world. We have military bases in 70 percent of the world’s countries. And those very assholes have the nerve to tell me I can’t get a piece of land and live however the hell I want? If I decide I want to live on a 40-foot plot of dirt, wearing underwear on my head, sleeping in the grass, plugging my phone and George Foreman grill into a fecal-matter-powered generator, what does it matter to you?
Illegal: The crime of secretly filming a slaughterhouse. Yes, in some states people were arrested for filming the abuse of farm animals. Not illegal: abusing farm animals.
Also not illegal: filming every human being in this country at all times. Cameras are on every lamppost, stop light and storefront. Soon, those cameras will have facial recognition software. Our government spies on us constantly at all hours on all our devices and says it’s perfectly legal. But you bring home a tape of a piglet getting flat-out tortured, and that’s not permissible because it might harm the profits of the factory farm corporations.
Same goes for war crimes. You reveal war crimes, as Chelsea Manning did, and they’re going to lock you up for a good long time. You commit war crimes, as our military does on a daily basis, you can become the secretary of defense. James Mattis bombed a wedding party and then bragged he didn’t lose any sleep over that decision. If only he’d bombed a daycare center, he could be president by now. Come on, Gen. Mattis, believe in yourself.
Illegal: Laughing at Jeff Sessions during a Senate hearing. Because that type of free speech is “dangerous.” On the other hand, it’s completely legal to spout full-on propaganda daily like CNN or Fox News or MSNBC does. You can push for endless war while being funded by weapons contractors, and it ain’t no thing. But you chuckle at an elfish-looking racist under oath saying how much he loves black people, and you get the cuffs slapped on.
Illegal: To stage a die-in protest to call attention to people murdered by police. Legal: For police to murder people. And our police do it far more than any other country. U.S. police kill more people in a day than Iceland police have killed in the past 70 years. (Iceland police have killed one person in the past 70 years.)
I could go on with how backward our justice system is for hours, but here’s one last one. I was in a plane recently flying over the middle of the U.S., and I saw something out my window that stretched for miles. As far as the eye could see, something had torn apart the earth in a gruesome and systematic manner. And then I figured out what I was looking at: fracking. From an aerial view, fracking looks like a virus on the planet. It’s like the globe got smallpox. Our system is a plague on spaceship earth. And if you try to stop the virus, you’re arrested, maligned and repressed.
At the end of the Bush administration, climate activist Tim DeChristopher tried to stop stuff like fracking. He went to an auction, posed as a bidder and “bought” 22,000 acres of land in Utah’s pristine red rock country to stop oil and gas companies from getting it, even though he couldn’t pay for it. He succeeded at stopping them. He’s a genuine hero. And for faking those energy lease bids, he spent two years in jail and was fined $10,000. The parasitic rich are now above the law, and those trying to fix the system are sentenced to years in jail. This is the moral collapse of our culture and our criminal justice system. When sociopathic rulers are this powerful, they use the courts—traditionally used to stop pillaging—to continue their takeover of land and extraction of resources. They have captured the fail-safe mechanisms meant to defend against exactly this type of moral inversion.
Chris Hedges explained in February: “Oligarchs cynically view laws as mechanisms to legalize their fraud and plunder.” They also use the captured courts to arrest those who try to stop them. While in a Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” We should all seek to be illegal now.
So get out there and stop the pipelines, reveal the war crimes and let the pico de gallo run free.