Richard Castle shows us the dark reality of justice in 21st C America

Summary:  We continue our examination of the hit TV show “Castle”, today mining for insights about justice in 21st C America. Castle is a romantic comedy; an accurate depiction of our criminal justice system would be a horror show. As in the previous chapters of this series, this suggests that we might no longer defend America because we’ve lost confidence in it.  Spoilers!

We should fear Justice. If she weighs America in her scales, she might use that sword on us.

Lady Justice
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Contents

  1. “Castle” shows us 21st C American justice
  2. The collapse of our criminal justice system
  3. Feudal justice
  4. Other posts in this series about “Castle”
  5. For More Information
  6. They’ll have to carve these words off the Court’s building

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(1)  “Castle” shows us 21st C American justice

From the first episode of Castle.

BECKETT:  You have quite a rap sheet for a best-selling author: disorderly conduct, resisting arrest.
CASTLE:  Boys will be boys.
BECKETT:  It says here that you stole a police horse?
CASTLE:  Borrowed.
BECKETT:  And you were nude at the time.
CASTLE:  It was spring.
BECKETT:  And every time the charges were dropped.
CASTLE:  What can I say? The mayor is a fan.

BECKETT
Mr. Castle. You’ve got quite a rap sheet for a best-selling author: disorderly conduct, resisting arrest.

CASTLE
Boys will be boys.

BECKETT
It says here that you stole a police horse?

CASTLE
Borrowed.

BECKETT
Ah. And you were nude at the time.

CASTLE
It was spring.

BECKETT
And every time the charges were dropped.

CASTLE
What can I say? The mayor is a fan,

– See more at: http://seriesmonitor.com/castle/transcripts/season1/01.html#sthash.atyJdJrh.dpuf

BECKETT
Mr. Castle. You’ve got quite a rap sheet for a best-selling author: disorderly conduct, resisting arrest.

CASTLE
Boys will be boys.

BECKETT
It says here that you stole a police horse?

CASTLE
Borrowed.

BECKETT
Ah. And you were nude at the time.

CASTLE
It was spring.

BECKETT
And every time the charges were dropped.

CASTLE
What can I say? The mayor is a fan,

– See more at: http://seriesmonitor.com/castle/transcripts/season1/01.html#sthash.atyJdJrh.dpuf

BECKETT
Mr. Castle. You’ve got quite a rap sheet for a best-selling author: disorderly conduct, resisting arrest.

CASTLE
Boys will be boys.

BECKETT
It says here that you stole a police horse?

CASTLE
Borrowed.

BECKETT
Ah. And you were nude at the time.

CASTLE
It was spring.

BECKETT
And every time the charges were dropped.

CASTLE
What can I say? The mayor is a fan,

– See more at: http://seriesmonitor.com/castle/transcripts/season1/01.html#sthash.atyJdJrh.dpuf

BECKETT
Mr. Castle. You’ve got quite a rap sheet for a best-selling author: disorderly conduct, resisting arrest.

CASTLE
Boys will be boys.

BECKETT
It says here that you stole a police horse?

CASTLE
Borrowed.

BECKETT
Ah. And you were nude at the time.

CASTLE
It was spring.

BECKETT
And every time the charges were dropped.

CASTLE
What can I say? The mayor is a fan,

– See more at: http://seriesmonitor.com/castle/transcripts/season1/01.html#sthash.atyJdJrh.dpuf

This is a realistic description of High Justice in America, the criminal justice system for the rich. Drug use? Disorderly conduct? Sexual assault, rapeEven murder? Erased by money and power.

A young man of the middle class who commits crimes like Castle’s gets Middle Justice:  a criminal record, with punishment mitigated only if the relatives fund crippling legal fees. Disorderly conduct, indecent exposure, and resisting arrest are misdemeanors, usually punished by fines and probation — with possible “collateral consequences” such as loss of professional licenses and bonds.  Theft of the police horse is a felony, with punishment depending on the degree of anger felt by the police.

A young man of the lower classes commits such crimes gets Low Justice: a criminal record, with all of the above plus the possibility of jail time.

(2)  The collapse of our criminal justice system

The “Castle” TV show frankly if lightly describes some dark aspects of our criminal justice system, such as prison rape. But overall it is accurate as a “police procedural” in the same sense that Lord of the Rings describes warfare. Fun fantasy.

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Scales of Justice

Our criminal justice system is a disgrace, as shown in these posts revealing the horrific details about the workings of our “law enforcement” system:

  1. Being a third world nation is a state of mind, as we will learn (about prison rape), 19 March 2011
  2. The Collapse of American Criminal Justice System, 19 September 2011 — Excerpts from The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz
  3. A survey of the components, each rotten: More about the collapse of the American Criminal Justice System, 20 September 2011 – Studies and reports about our shameful system.
  4. Final thoughts about the American Criminal Justice System, 21 September 2011

(3) Feudal Justice vs modern justice

Wikipedia describes the old justice system.

{F}eudal justice was a labyrinth of specific customs and rules in nearly endless variation, not governed by any clear legal logic, and subject to significant historical evolution in time, though the largely customary law tended by nature to be quite conservative.

This applies equally well to our legal system. It’s evolved into an incoherent mess. It produces arbitrary results, consumes not just vast amounts of public funds but often the lives of those who fall into it.

(4) Other posts in this series about “Castle”

Desmond Tutu

(5)  For More Information

(a)  See all posts about:

  1. Art, Myth and Literature
  2. Women and gender issues

(b)  Posts about justice:

  1. Sparks of justice still live in America – cherish them and perhaps they’ll spread, 11 September 2009
  2. The Feds decide who to lock up for life (not just at Guantanamo), another nail in the Constitution’s coffin, 2 June 2010
  3. Code red! The Constitution is burning., 5 August 2010 — Judges pretend blindness to the hit on Anwar al-Awlaki
  4. Another American judge weakens the Republic’s foundation, 8 August 2010
  5. Why should we care about the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing strip & cavity searches of prisoners?, 5 April 2012
  6. Freedom and justice, evicted from America, may have found a new home, 17 August 2012
  7. A mystery about a possible domestic hit by the police in America, 8 September 2012
  8. The NDAA shows that justice is blind in America, but in a bad way, 9 October 2012
  9. Justice still lives. It’s found a new home – in Europe., 23 December 2012
  10. The last prosecution from the Occupy movement: guilty! Reformers beware – suppression works., 6 May 2014

(6)  They’ll have to carve these words off the Supreme Court Building

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Equal Justice for All

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8 thoughts on “Richard Castle shows us the dark reality of justice in 21st C America

  1. I do think you’re onto something by examining America through its entertainment, particularly television. After more decades of being involved with various entertainment fandoms, ranging from drum and bugle corps to anime to reality TV, I’ve come to the following conclusion, “Americans will take all manner of social, economic and political abuse, but will rise up with righteous fury when you disturb their Entertainment.” We take being entertained very seriously, possibly because our entertainment may be the part of our lives over which we have the most power of choice. It may also be because our entertainment is so compelling.

    Crime and (In)justice are very popular topics in film, too. Here’s what I wrote about the Oscar nominees and winners this past March.

    “More than half the Best Picture nominees involved crime. Two more involved injustice. Only the two science fiction films, “Gravity” and “Her,” involved neither. Furthermore, all of the nominees for both Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Supporting Role involved crime or injustice, too. The only acting nominee in films not about either crime or injustice was Sandra Bullock in “Gravity.”

    As far as who won, it looks like crime paid. “12 Years a Slave” won for Best Picture and Best Actress in a Supporting Role, “Dallas Buyers Club” boasted Best Actor, both in leading and supporting roles, and “Blue Jasmine” got Cate Blanchett a Best Actress Oscar. Only “Gravity” won one of the top six awards, Best Director.”

    http://crazyeddiethemotie.blogspot.com/2014/03/crime-and-injustice-among-oscar-nominees.html

    1. Neon,

      For context, this is a focused and goal-driven search to understand why we allow the Republic to decay and fall — undertaken after previous attempts and diagnosis and prescription had weak results.

      The next few posts will wind this up. The results are not pretty.

  2. Matt Taibbi offers a diagnosis (emphasis mine):

    That image, of a welfare inspector sneeringly holding up panties with a pencil end, expresses all sorts of things at once. The main thing is contempt. The implication is that someone broke enough to ask the taxpayer for a handout shouldn’t have sex, much less sexy panties.

    The other thing here is an idea that being that poor means you should naturally give up any ideas you might have about privacy or dignity. The welfare applicant is less of a person for being financially dependent (and a generally unwelcome immigrant from a poor country to boot), so she naturally has fewer rights.

    No matter how offensive the image is, it has a weird logic that’s irresistible to many if not most Americans. Even if we don’t agree with it, we all get it.

    And that’s the interesting part, the part where we all get it. More and more often, we all make silent calculations about who is entitled to what rights, and who is not. It’s not as simple as saying everyone is the same under the law anymore. We all know there’s another layer to it now. […] To be extreme about it, on the far end—like, say, in the villages of Pakistan or Afghanistan—we now view some people as having no rights at all. They can be assassinated or detained indefinitely outside any sort of legal framework, from the Geneva conventions on down. […] Of course, on the other end of the spectrum are the titans of business, the top executives at companies like Goldman and Chase and GlaxoSmithKline, men and women who essentially as a matter of policy now will never see the inside of a courtroom, almost no matter what crimes they may have committed in the course of their business.

    […]

    But the truly dark thing about those stories is that somewhere far beneath the intellect, on a gut level, those who were paying attention understood why those stories panned out the way they did. Just as we very quickly learned to accept the idea that America now tortures and assassinates certain foreigners (and perhaps the odd American or three) as a matter of routine, and have stopped marching on Washington to protest the fact that these things are done in our names, we’ve also learned to accept the implicit idea that some people have simply more rights than others. Some people go to jail, and others just don’t. And we all get it.

    […]

    We have a profound hatred of the weak and the poor, and a corresponding groveling terror before the rich and successful, and we’re building a bureaucracy to match those feelings.

    Buried in our hatred of the dependent, in Mitt Romney’s lambasting of the 47 percent, in the water carrier’s contempt for the water drinker, is a huge national psychological imperative. Many of our national controversies are on some level debates about just exactly how much we should put up with from the “nonproducing” citizenry. Even the George Zimmerman trial devolved into a kind of national discussion over whether Trayvon Martin was the kind of person who had the right to walk down the street unmolested, or whether he was a member of a nuisance class, a few pegs down on that sliding scale of rights, who should have submitted to … well, whatever it was that happened.

    […]

    What deserves a bigger punishment—someone with a college education who knowingly helps a gangster or a terrorist open a bank account? Or a high school dropout who falls asleep on the F train?

    The new America says it’s the latter. It’s come around to that point of view at the end of a long evolutionary process, in which the rule of law has slowly been replaced by giant idiosyncratic bureaucracies that are designed to criminalize failure, poverty, and weakness on the one hand, and to immunize strength, wealth, and success on the other.

    — from the introduction to The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi

    I recommend the book, with the caveat that after it makes you angry, it doesn’t really have anywhere else to take you.

    “The collapse of our criminal justice system”

    Like one of its major components, the “War on Drugs,” I would argue that our judicial system is not collapsing or failing at all. The ugliest part of it all is that it is working more or less as intended. What is failing is our gag reflex.

  3. Have things ever been different? I grew up in the 60’s down south. Maybe there was more equal justice among white heterosexual men then than now, but there certainly wasn’t equal justice for blacks, women or homosexuals who ran into conflicts with the white heterosexual men. Likewise, there may have been equal justice in the 19th century among white males in the west, but there certainly wasn’t equal justice for the indians.

    There have always been hierarchies and always will be. The strong have always done as they wish, the weak have always suffered what they must. Nature herself is hierarchical. Humans dominate animals, predators dominate prey, big squirrels steal nuts and territory from small squirrels, big trees block light from small trees, etc. True, humans are unique in that we can transcend nature, and we do so frequently, but only if this serves the interests of those at the top of the human hierarchy.

    In particular, if equal justice is seen as benefiting the rich and powerful, then that is what we will get. And indeed, a strong case can be made that this ideal does benefit the rich and powerful. A rich man in the United States can expect to be left unmolested by the government, other than taxes and jury duty, and this same government will provide protection from other rich men (his greatest natural enemy). Compare with Russia or Africa, where it is not at all uncommon for a rich man to be deprived of everything by the despot currently running things, or to be assassinated by a rich rival, etc.

    The underlying cause of what is happening now is as follows. The rich and powerful in the United States (and Europe) began giving away some of their privileges starting in the 19th century, because they were concerned about revolution (American revolution, French revolution, various revolutions in the 19th century, Russian revolution, Chinese and other mid-20th century communist revolutions). This process reached it’s peak in the 1960’s. Starting in the 1970’s, the rich realized they gave away too much, and that the threat of communism wasn’t as bad as they had feared, and so they have been gradually taking back their privileges. The process will continue until the rich start to worry about the United States and Europe getting to be like Russia or Africa, such that the primary threat to their wealth is not redistribution to the poor via the welfare state but rather attacks by other rich people. (There will probably be some overshoot as well. All cyclical processes like this overshoot on both up and down sides.)

    Also, average humans are becoming increasingly useless to the rich and powerful, and this marks a distinct break with all of human history. In the past, a huge population allowed for huge armies and huge labor forces to supply the army with food and equipment, and thus it was never in the interest of the rich to actually exterminate the poor. In the future, military power will be determined by technology plus energy and raw materials to turn that technology into physical weapons, with most of the low-intelligence labor being performed by robots. This is the “Average is Over” idea. Elite scientists and engineers to design the weapons will not be replaced by artificial intelligence anytime soon, so they are safe, but this is a massive surplus of lower-skilled labor who are no longer useful to the rich, and this makes some sort of mass extermination inevitable.

    An elite of a million people, let’s say, might need another couple of million humans to do work that can’t be done by robots. The remaining three hundred million in the United States then become useless eaters, consuming energy and raw materials that could be used to build a bigger military. (The rich will continue to want a big military as long as there is not a single world government, and I don’t see that happening in our lifetimes. And even if there were a single world government, the rich would want to conserve energy and raw materials to prepare for natural disaster, the natural equivalent of war. Power and security are the only things most humans want in unlimited quantity. Since the rich, by definition, already have power, security must thus necessarily consume all the excess resources.)

    The elite are unlikely to actively exterminate these useless eaters, because of fears that the extermination process might unleash dangerous forces that would then rebound against the elite, like what happened in Nazi Germany. But they wouldn’t object to passive extermination. Katrina is the model for what to expect in the future. Or the Irish Potato Famine or the other preventable mass starvation incidents of the past. And remember, these mass starvations occurred back when humans were still valuable. Those starving Irish peasants, for example, could have been drafted into the military and used to extend the British Empire, and yet they were nevertheless allowed to die. If the rich were that careless of human life back when ordinary human life was useful, just imagine how careless they will be in the future, when ordinary humans are no longer useful.

    There will also be tremendous pressures applied to the poor and middle class–everyone who is not useful to the elite–not to reproduce. I felt these pressures to go extinct myself even back in the 1970’s, but then I’ve always been ahead of my time. As a young man with a future as a well-paid member of the middle-class, but not a member of the elite, I was offered the opportunity for lots of disposable income and hence lots of pleasure in life, PROVIDED I didn’t reproduce, and I grabbed at this opportunity. I expect the pressure to get much stronger in the future and birth rates, already low in the middle-class, will plummet in the future. The elite will produce just enough children to sustain themselves, same as they do now.

    1. revelo,

      “Have things ever been different? ”

      Yes, America is very different than it was.

      Is it better or worse? I’ll leave that calculus problem to people of higher pay grade. The subject here is alienation. What fraction of citizens see themselves in the mirror when they look at America.

  4. Alienated is a fancy term for losing. The winners aren’t alienated. In the 1960’s, the vast majority of white heterosexual males could see themselves as winners, and their wives went along for the ride. Now, only the top 10% see themselves as winners. Globalization and robots have hit the white middle-class hard and will hit even harder in the future (barring some major technology breakthrough, like fusion power, that brings about another era of abundance). But the system has always been alienating for blacks, Native Americans, homosexuals, women who wanted to be independent of men, etc. Nothing new here quality-wise, just quantity-wise.

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