Friday, August 12, 2005

Smearing the Cabbie

According to an article in yesterday's Chicago Tribune, a key component of former city employee Michael L. Jackson's defense will be to portray his alleged victim as a violent person. Here's what happened: Jackson got into an argument with cabdriver Haroon Paryani about an $8 fare. One thing led to another, and in the end Jackson got into Paryani's cab and ran him over multiple times. There were several witnesses, and to me it is an open-and-shut case. Word on the street is that Jackson may have been under the influence of something and that he waited a couple of days to turn himself in so that it would be out of his system. That would at least offer some explanation for his unconscionable behavior.

The dirt on Paryani involves two altercations, one in 1989 and the other in 2001. I wouldn't be surprised if most cabbies had some sort of history due to the nature of their work. After all, this is a job that involves picking up drunks and driving in bad neighborhoods (ironically, Paryani was avoiding such areas after a fellow cab driver was killed a few years ago--Paryani was murdered in Lakeview, one of the priciest neighborhoods in the city). On top of that, a lot of customers look down on them and insult them or treat them rudely (there is probably a racist element to this since many cab drivers are immigrants). Although the city sets the rates and the driver can't control traffic, customers blame the cabbie for high fares or being late regardless. It's a job I would never want to do, and I thank them for doing it. Many of the spoiled, pretentious yuppies in this city are less grateful. I'm not saying there aren't a few bad cabbies out there, but getting two beefs in a couple of decades in such a job doesn't strike me as a history of violence or aggression.

But that isn't the point. Quite frankly, it wouldn't matter if Paryani did have a history. It doesn't even matter who actually started the altercation that night, or what it was about. All that matters is how it ended: Jackson got into the driver's seat of Paryani's cab and ran him over. Repeatedly. Whatever happened before that moment is largely irrelevant. Jackson surely had other, better options than the one he chose. He was outside the car, and he chose to get back in and use it as a weapon. He could have walked away. He should have walked away. He didn't, and he deserves to pay for the life he took.

There are a couple of notable quotes in the article. Jackson's attorney, Thomas Breen, said,"My desire isn't to trash anybody. It's to get to the facts that occurred that night." If he is using Paryani's past to argue his case, that has nothing to do with the "facts" of what happened that night.

But this one is more thought-provoking:
Andrea Lyon, a DePaul University law professor and president of the Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said mentioning a person's prior acts of aggression is permissible in court. "If [Breen] investigated the case and has found some incident that this particular person has been violent, then it would not be an unreasonable investigative tactic to see if someone would come forward and tell you about it," she said.
While the article says "a person's prior acts," it would be more accurate to say "a victim's prior acts." The history of the accused (not to say that Jackson had one, although he has since been charged with assaulting a nurse) cannot be used in court except in sentencing. It's an odd double-standard that puts the victim at a disadvantage, a situation that has been exploited to help some bad guys get away. For example, how many times has a woman's promiscuity been used in a rape case? That specific situation has led to "rape shield laws" to protect rape victims, although lawyers still find ways around them. There is no such protection for victims of other crimes, including murder. Consequently, Paryani's survivors get to watch his name get dragged through the mud in the process of trying his killer.


Eric Zorn said...

I disagree with the grudging use of quotation marks around allegedly. I don't care what the case is or the crime is, the presumption of innocence is fundamental to our system of justice and fairness demands that all of us, journalists, bloggers, citizens, keep in mind that until proven in court, criminal charges are allegations, not facts. This is not a commentary on the particular case in any way, for the record.

David Johnsen said...

You got me there, Eric. I did it in the heat of the moment, and I shouldn't have. I certainly knew better. The quotes have been removed.

Anonymous said...

By now we know that Michael Jackson was convicted and got ONLY 15 years. His subsequent interview for Channel 7 blames "a system gone wrong" and is practically smug.

I am writing this now because I only learned of this case today, July 26 2008. I moved from Chicago 4 years ago to Florida to attend college. I knew Michael Jackson, not well but more than just an acquaintance, and have to say i wa shocked but not surprised to hear of the case.

When I read the details of the courtroom testimony, of an eye witness who said MJ got in the cab, "set his hands on his lap" and then took the wheel before driving over the victim 3 times, a chill ran down my spine: I had seen this gesture made by him at least 50 times in meeting, discussions, even at lunch. He did this when he was about to make a point to someone, someone he felt was less intelligent than him, someone he had to condescend to explain something that he thought obvious, smart, witty, etc. I can still see him, palms flat on each knee, fingers pointing forward, looking down at his lap, while he sighed a sigh reminiscent of Al Gore at the famous presidential debates, and would look up, smile and deliver a withering, bitter diatribe. He liked himself for this little habit, he enjoyed doing it it seems and just the hands on the lap were a sure signal that it was coming.

Creepy, and so real, the description brought back a gesture I hadnt seen in my memory for years.

Problem is, Mike was seldom making such a universally obvious point. Often it was just an opinion and an idiosyncratic one at that. More often the object of his scorn was not so stupid, not so thick, not so deserving of his "knowledge".

But Mike was always on the edge or anger at those he thought less than himself. Like the silly folks who were telling people like Mike that "white people shouldn't say n*****, and yet 'they' can call themselves that....". This was the type elegant logic and witty point Mike was at pains to convey. On that occasion it was in a business setting, spurred by God knows what stimulus. I heard many comments like that, many racial, sexist, heterophobic, if I can coin a word (and yes I'm gay).

And the funniest part was how the joke was on Mike on many occasions: he would talk loudly of how he had attended Bradley University (thats in Peoria if you didn't know) be fore working at KPMG. For a while I wondered if it was some long lost ivy league school I had never heard of, but no, in fact it was just what it sounds like a small liberal arts college in a medium size town in a midwestern state. I guess Mikes Dad had been a doctor, or a lawyer and he made pains to mention that, and often. For those of us from Chicago and New York and even Toronto who worked with him it seemed sad, bragging about nothing much and putting on airs about it. It would have been just sad except it barely masked a contempt for people of color, others with less money and anyone Mike felt superior to. The group Mike felt most superior to were those not in on the gay circuit scene of crystal meth and all night parties that he had just discovered at age 30 or so. Thinly disguised as AIDS fundraisers, a New York Times article once accusewd them of pandering to as many sero-conversions as they cleaned up after in charity dollars. The Hearts Party was no better or worse than any other, and was typical in other regards: in-fighting over charity turf. Mike decided things were all wrong there and bull-dozed his way through the party until it was spun off, in litigation and finally split up into two competing parties. You can decide who was right or wrong in that debate.

I wonder if Mike had never seen hard drugs back in Peoria: he seemed naive to their effects and thought a little bump was great for getting work done and I had to listen to him blithely natter on about one lost crystal weekend after another, while he discovered leather, toys, group parties etc. He called in sick more and more often and weekends became tweakends, starting on Thursdays and ending on the following Wednesday.

Everyone I worked with knew what was going on and senior management enabled it. Perhaps he could have been stopped then.

Wouldda, couldda, shouldda. Lke I said: shocked but not surprised. I knew MJ as a bitter, bitchy, condescending, shallow, catty, and in reality, not-so-bright person. I remember him shirtless with our group from work attending the Chicago marathon to urge on runner on staff, striking his newly learned porn star pose - arms flexed over his head, hips thrust forward - I remember thinking I was gunna barf, wondering does he realize this is the work group?

Mug shots on the web show an angry person, some look all out insane. It's not the picture, it's him.

I should also ad that MJ was always nice to me: he seemed to think because I didnt react negatively to his inappropriate conversation I was approving. I didnt really care, but then again I had no choice, he was a principal at the firm and I was a subordinate.

Why would I dis him so now: because I think he deserves to be in for life and his interview with channel 7 shows how unrepentant he is. He had a previous DUI and years of crystal meth use, Im sure if he gets out he'll be a danger to to others.

Why anonymous? Because when Mike doesn't like what you say to him, he puts his hands patiently in his lap, looking down, smiling to himself before he raises his head and then strikes out, with bitter words, torts, injunctions and finally if he's drunk, broke and on the tail end of a 4 day crystal bender, it might get really ugly.