Analysis by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Sunday evening in Berkeley another destructive demonstration took place.  It followed the typical pattern.  First, we see the “nice” people who “only” want to stop freeway traffic (they succeeded on Interstate 80, delaying a pregnant woman’s rush to a hospital).  Then a fire is lit. Finally people start breaking things and stealing (Whole Foods, for example, was trashed).  “The California Highway Patrol said some tried to light a patrol vehicle on fire and threw rocks, bottles and an explosive at officers. There was no immediate word of how potent the explosives were.” (Fox News)


I know that some of my friends don’t want to hear this, but the causes are interchangeable.  The demonstration patterns remain the same.  After a brief display of signs, shouted slogans and some singing, the activists and thugs take over. Businesses and police are attacked. The “nice” people lament this unexpected turn of events.  But they are addicted to the thrill; they will show up again…and again.


Someone I know recently confessed on Facebook “Disobedience is right response to injustice.
&, you know, being on a freeway is thrilling when you’re with your people and your people number MANY


This is a culture in which a ginned up sense of grievance, always directed at authority figures, substitutes for moral judgment; and the grand gesture substitutes for the much harder work at crafting better policy. And demonstrations can be thrilling.  And thrills can be addictive.


In an earlier era, the town marshal stands up against the mob that wants to lynch someone instead of waiting for a trial.  But in this postmodern era, the marshal stays indoors, hopes for the best, and sends a publicist out the next day to sooth the angry beast.


In this era far too many people are blithely unaware of just how fragile the social order really is, just how many latent thugs inhabit our communities and just how very swiftly these thugs will opportunistically materialize to be activated and mobilized to burn, loot, steal and assault.


One veteran of the 1960’s era protests has commented that “it’s worse now; we never did that.” This is because the moral underpinnings of the social order have been weakened.


I refuse to defend the use of a choke hold to subdue a man whose only crime – before he resisted being taken in – was selling cigarettes.  There were so many better ways this could have been handled, including not enforcing a cigarette ban at all, in the same spirit that certain law enforcement jurisdictions have “gone soft” on marijuana crimes.


Yes, the causes de jure will change.  But certain things will remain as a constant. Grievances, like the poor and oppressed, will always be with us. The thugs, also, will be always with us, waiting for an opportunity to act out.


There is a common denominator in all the recent police use-of-force events. It is that the hair trigger communities where the trouble is concentrated are in or proximate to those parts of town that are seriously under-policed.  When police resources are stretched too thin, the police mindset tends to mutate from careful law enforcement to a wartime setting. Corners are cut, and mistakes are made.


There is one true entitlement that trumps all the rest. It is the right to be secure in our homes and persons from the predation of thugs, vandals and thieves.  Sadly, the subgroup that suffers the most from crime is the poor – the families that must live in the “bad” areas know exactly what I am talking about.  The poorest among us are entitled to the same level of police protection that the very rich get automatically. But police protection is not free.  Good police protection is not cheap.  Because the thuggish predators are concentrated in poor communities, the task of providing good police services for them is more expensive per capita. Poor communities, more than anything else, need safe spaces for their children to be able to live and play without fear.  For these good people, the property that the rich would disdain as “not worth a garage sale” is dear – and is very dearly missed when stolen.


As someone who has spent a career working in this danger zone of the human condition, I am absolutely confident that, when police services in the hair trigger areas like Ferguson are sufficient to reduce the street crime problem to that in, say, Beverly Hills, CA, police-citizen tensions will fade away and the use-of-force issues will fade with them.




Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Forwards and pull quotes are encouraged. For comments and all other permissions, please contact the author via email . The author served as the 7th chief Public Defender for the County of Alameda, CA, headquartered in Oakland. More about the author is posted at .

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