Friday, December 05, 2014

Rights and wrongs: a.k.a. 'Never read the comments'

General stupidity is at an all-time high. Thanks to the Internet — and fueled by Facebook, idiots have found that they’re not alone and so they’re coming out of the woodwork, propped up by other idiots. They’ve learned that they can say the most ludicrous, hateful things and someone will applaud their “bravery” in taking on such a position.

Worse than that, certain sentiments that have been hidden in society have bubbled up to the surface, feeling the time of their revival is now.

I’m a news junkie. I read the news all day. From other local media to the New York Times, Fox News and USA Today. I’m constantly scouring the web for information. It is my addiction. Well, it’s one of my addictions.

I need to learn to leave well enough alone, though. I need to learn to read the story and close my browser window. Instead I find myself scrolling down. Because just like the other idiots out there, I want to see that people agree with my particular take on things. I want my own position to be validated.

Almost without exception, it is. There are always people who say in the comment section pretty much what I was thinking. But then there are also people who say the opposite.

Now, I’m not talking about a story about ponies where someone says they like white ponies and someone says they like brown ones. Well … actually, maybe I am.

When did it become OK to be racist again? Racism has never quite gone away. But in my lifetime, I’ve never seen it so popular. I’ve never seen it so accepted.

The recent acquittal of Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of Eric Garner has given the dumb masses a license to proudly trumpet their white pride in a manner I’ve only seen on old newsreels from the 1960s. Some of it, of course, is thinly veiled.

And some of it isn’t racist, it’s simply authoritarian: the belief that those in power can do no wrong. Statements like “he shouldn’t have broken the law if he didn’t want to die” and “if he hadn’t resisted arrest, he’d still be alive” anger me as much or more than the blatant racism that I’ve seen.

I think we’ve all grown accustomed to the phrase “the United States is a nation of laws.” And that it is. But it’s also a nation of rights. In fact, it was a nation of rights before the first law was ever passed by Congress. One of those rights should be the right to not get choked to death by a police officer over a petty violation on a New York street corner — or anywhere else. We could simplify it by calling it the “right to breathe.”

Personally, I’m not a fan of laws. Well, mostly, at least. Laws are written to the lowest common denominator. I can’t talk on my cell phone while I drive because some people are incapable of multitasking. Because other people have drug problems, I can’t sit in my basement and smoke pot while watching Star Wars. And because some people can’t control their dogs, I have to keep mine on a leash wherever we go. Rather than punishing those who actually do something wrong, we have criminalized things that could lead to something bad happening. Lowest. Common. Denominator.

Maybe we should replace the word "illegal" with "wrong" — as in "not (a) right." I'd be OK with that. Shooting someone is wrong. Killing someone is wrong. Hitting someone is wrong. Taking someone else's property. Harassing someone. Choking someone out. Pretty much things done to "wrong" someone else should be "wrongs." Then instead of "law enforcement" being asked to "enforce laws," they could be asked to "right wrongs." And since there's really nothing "wrong" with selling loose cigarettes on a street corner, Daniel Pantaleo would have had no reason to choke Eric Garner.

Our elected officials have taken police and asked them to control the people. They have no time to protect and serve. They're too busy enforcing laws. Laws with loopholes and silly reasoning.

So while I could be arrested for talking on the phone, walking my dog or smoking a joint, a New York City cop was absolved of any wrongdoing when his actions resulted in the death of another man. Because he "hadn't broken any laws."

That's just not right.

Scott Leffler doesn’t talk on his cell phone while driving, smoke pot in his basement or walk his dog without a leash. But mostly because Scott seldom drives, doesn’t have a basement or a dog. He also can’t breathe. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.