Fury of former British mayor dragged through courts by yob, 13, who trampled his flower beds
Hours of effort had gone into preparing the soil and planting 250 daffodil bulbs. So Keith Gilbert was horrified when, every day for two months, he returned from work to find his cherished 30ft flowerbed had been trampled on by thugs.
By the time the former mayor caught one of the vandals in the act, he was at the end of his tether – grabbing the 13-year-old’s collar and giving him a piece of his mind.
The boy immediately apologised. But after months of being the victim, it was Mr Gilbert who ended up in the dock, not his tormentor.
The 62-year-old was summoned to appear in court accused of assault by beating, an offence that carries a maximum jail term of six months. Yesterday, after a six month ordeal, Mr Gilbert was found not guilty by magistrates who insisted that his case should never have come to court.
Mr Gilbert, an independent town and district councillor, described the verdict as a ‘victory for people who have to suffer all this mindless vandalism’. He added: ‘All I was doing was protecting my property.
‘This whole matter could have been sorted out through restorative justice, by sitting round a table at the police station and talking about it.
‘My partner could have explained how stressed she was about this boy walking over our raised flowerbed. He could have said he realised that he was being silly and apologised. That apology would have been accepted and I could have apologised if he thought I went a bit over the top. ‘We could have all shaken hands and that would have been the end of it.
‘Instead, after months of being the victim of mindless vandalism, I found myself in court charged with assault by beating, just because I stood up to a vandal.’
Mr Gilbert, a postman from Watton, Norfolk, said footprints appeared on the flowerbed almost every day for eight weeks until his altercation with the boy on December 3 last year.
His partner, Rita Lake, 61, who works at a horticultural nursery, had planted 250 daffodil bulbs in September and created the raised flowerbed from scratch.
‘The entire episode had left her ‘very stressed’, he said, adding: ‘I guessed it was one of the pupils walking to the school who was doing it for a laugh.
‘When I was coming home, I saw him jump on the end of the trough and walk along. ‘I grabbed him by the coat collar when he jumped off the other end.’ Mr Gilbert, who admitted swearing twice at the boy, told him: ‘That’s my garden and you don’t walk on it.’
But six weeks later, in January this year, police arrived at his four-bedroom bungalow and asked him to provide them with a statement.
Mr Gilbert was told that the boy’s friends had reported the incident to the headmaster at Wayland High School and a complaint had been made. He insisted he had acted lawfully to stop the boy damaging his property while walking to the school, which is on the same road. 'I saw him jump on the trough and I grabbed him by the coat collar'
Police hoped to deal with the incident through restorative justice, an informal method of allowing alleged criminals to apologise to victims and avoid court.
But the boy’s father refused to accept the solution and insisted that Mr Gilbert, who was mayor of Watton four years ago, should face criminal proceedings.
Mr Gilbert was given the choice of accepting a caution, which would have involved him admitting a criminal offence and having his fingerprints and DNA taken at the police station, or going to court to clear his name.
When he refused the first option, he received a summons to appear before Norwich Magistrates Court accused of assault by beating. Philip Alcock, prosecuting, told the court: ‘He took the law into his own hands, and that’s not the way we’ve been playing the game for the last ten to 15 years. He was a boy not a man and he went a fraction too far.’
The boy claimed he had slipped on ice and steadied himself by planting his foot on Mr Gilbert’s flowerbed, despite photographs showing it to be nine inches above pavement level and behind concrete blocks.
His claim, said Mr Gilbert, defied the laws of gravity. After a five-hour trial magistrates rejected his story and found Mr Gilbert not guilty.
Presiding magistrate John Claxton questioned how the case had even reached his court, adding: ‘This bench believes that this could and should have been dealt with by restorative justice.’
The Militarization of Compassion
John Stuart Mill wrote in his Principles of Political Economy that “what has so often excited wonder” in observers is “the great rapidity with which countries recover from a state of devastation; the disappearance, in a short time, of all traces of the mischiefs done by earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and the ravages of war. An enemy lays waste a country by fire and sword, and destroys or carries away nearly all the moveable wealth existing in it: all the inhabitants are ruined, and yet in a few years after, everything is much as it was before.”
Mill explained the conditions necessary for this rapid recovery: 1) free mobility of capital and labor, and 2) the survival of some portion of the population and stock of human capital. If these conditions are met, then economic and social recovery do indeed take place very quickly.
Militarization versus Decentralization
This is perhaps a jarring statement in the wake of the tragic human suffering we are witnessing in Japan (or saw last year in Haiti). Of course in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, rescue efforts and humanitarian assistance at the basic level require extensive direction. But we must not ignore decentralized coordinating processes. In the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, for example, various decentralized efforts to provide assistance were vital to the survival of thousands. Though we focus, especially in the 9/11 case, on the government first-responders, in both instances nongovernment people often responded on the spot at critical moments. There is no doubt that police and firemen in New York City and the Coast Guard in New Orleans played significant roles during the first moments after the disastrous events. But after that initial period, government activism more often than not was counterproductive.
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina I initiated a research project at the Mercatus Center to analyze the effectiveness of the voluntary response to the crisis through the market and civil society. Families and communities were strengthened and rebuilt through the cultivation of commerce. To the extent that commerce was impeded, families were weakened and communities remained in ruins. This conclusion runs counter to common intuitions that demand a command-and-control approach in the wake of a crisis.
The language of disaster and recovery efforts is one of centralization—a military effort is presumed to be required to tackle the urgent problem. But the militarization of compassion is not very effective in achieving improvement. As my colleague Chris Coyne (author of After War and a forthcoming book on humanitarian aid) suggests in his paper “Delusions of Grandeur,” imagine you asked the firemen responding to a raging fire at a corporate building to also coordinate the provision of medical supplies and treatment, oversee the reconstruction of the building, and then rebuild the company’s supply chain after the fire was extinguished and the building rebuilt. This is precisely what happens through the creeping militarization of humanitarian efforts.
The militarization of compassion does not help strengthen families, rebuild communities, or cultivate commerce. Instead, it centralizes efforts and ignores the local knowledge that resides in individuals and that is embedded in communities. Our intuition pushes toward command and control, but the science of economics pushes back against this intuition and favors the decentralized, on-the-ground information possessed by individuals—who are capable of embracing the challenges of the “cares of thinking and all the troubles of living” (as Tocqueville argued was required of a society of free and responsible individuals). The militarization of compassion may help those far away to feel they are doing their best to address the crisis, but once we get beyond the initial search-and-rescue phase and on to the second, rebuilding phase, the result is usually planned chaos.
What emerged from our studies of the rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina was the vital role that both civil society and commercial life, as opposed to government direction, played in successful efforts to bounce back from the disaster. Whenever government attempted to guide individuals in their decisions rather than allow them to base those decisions on their local knowledge and to follow their private motivations, roadblocks to recovery arose. Mill’s observation about the amazing rapidity of recovery was confirmed in those areas where the free movement of labor and capital was permitted, and frustration was produced by restrictions on the freedom to choose.
What we have learned from the study of disasters and recovery is that efforts to provide immediate humanitarian aid will always have elements of chaos. The chaos is alleviated not through the militarization of compassion, but rather through the market mechanism that takes over the allocation of resources and signals the required adjustments through relative prices and the feedback of profit and loss.
The 'Jim Crow' Lie
How could asking for ID be discriminatory only when it comes to voting?
E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, Baghdad Bob of the liberal left, dutifully trots out the latest propaganda line. He claims that "an attack on the right to vote is underway across the country," through, among other things, antifraud measures requiring voters to present identification before casting a ballot:
"Besides Texas, states that enacted voter ID laws this year include Kansas, Wisconsin, South Carolina and Tennessee. Indiana and Georgia already had such requirements. . . .
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court, by 6 to 3, upheld Indiana's voter ID statute. So seeking judicial relief may be difficult. Nonetheless, the Justice Department should vigorously challenge these laws, particularly in states covered by the Voting Rights Act. And the court should be asked to review the issue again in light of new evidence that these laws have a real impact in restricting the rights of particular voter groups.
"This requirement is just a poll tax by another name," state Sen. Wendy Davis declared when Texas was debating its ID law early this year. In the bad old days, poll taxes, now outlawed by the 24th Amendment, were used to keep African Americans from voting. Even if the Supreme Court didn't see things her way, Davis is right. This is the civil rights issue of our moment.
In part because of a surge of voters who had not cast ballots before, the United States elected its first African American president in 2008. Are we now going to witness a subtle return of Jim Crow voting laws?"
Here Dionne parrots an assertion by the unwieldily named Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who said earlier this month that Republicans "want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws." (Literally? She's lucky there's no literacy test for members of Congress.) Even the left-leaning site PolitiFact.com rated this false.
The claim is that laws requiring voters to show identification impose a special burden on black citizens and are therefore discriminatory. Why this should be the case is never clearly explained, but in any case it is bunk. As PolitiFact notes:
Jim Crow was about much more than just voter disenfranchisement. While laws to restrict voting were an important part of the system of Jim Crow, they were just one part. . . . Legalized discrimination in the South ran the gamut from separate hotels and buses to to [sic] unequal schools to separate water fountains.
Many landmark civil rights cases involved not voting but public accommodations--services provided to the general public by government or private companies, which were segregated in the Jim Crow South. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana law that required railroads to "provide equal but separate accommodations for the white, and colored races" in passenger trains. Decades later, the court repudiated the doctrine of "separate but equal." And in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S. (1964), the high court upheld the Civil Rights Act, passed a few months earlier. The unsuccessful plaintiff in that case was "the owner of a large motel in Atlanta, Georgia, which restricts its clientele to white persons."
Today railroads and hotels, along with almost all providers of public accommodations in almost all circumstances, are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race. So what happens when you ride on Amtrak, the government-subsidized railroad? You hear an announcement over the PA system advising you to be prepared to show your identification if the conductor asks to see it.
Likewise, these days there is a good chance you will be asked for identification when you check into a hotel. You need ID to board an airplane or to drive a car. Recently we visited a doctor whose office is in a hospital. Just to enter the premises, we needed to present ID to a security guard.
If black people have trouble producing identification, how come nobody ever claims that these requirements are discriminatory?
Another important aspect of civil rights is equal employment opportunity. Under the 1986 immigration law, when you are hired for a job, you are required to provide your employer with documents proving both your identity and your citizenship or legal residency. How come nobody ever claims these requirements discriminate against blacks?
It is possible that the ID requirements for planes, trains, automobiles, hotels, hospitals and jobs have justifications so compelling as to justify discrimination. It is also possible that by contrast, as Dionne maintains, preventing election fraud is not a sufficiently compelling justification. The point here is that no one has ever had to make the former argument, because nobody claims ID requirements are discriminatory against blacks except when it comes to voting.
Why? If Dionne or Wasserman Schultz has a good answer, we'll be happy to acknowledge it in a future column. Our answer is that their claim of discrimination is a dishonest and divisive partisan appeal to blacks' fears of racism--fears that, in this instance, do not appear to have any basis in contemporary reality.
In the aftermath of the exposure and resignation of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) from Congress, his colleagues, some journalists, ethicists and pundits are trying to sort out what it means. Has a new standard been created in Washington? How can Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) remain in office under an ethical cloud about money and Weiner be forced to resign because he had fantasy sex? It wasn't even "real" sex, like Bill Clinton had. Clinton also lied about sex and was impeached for lying (but not for the sex because as actress Janeane Garofalo told Bill Maher recently, "everyone lies about sex"). Some wondered then if standards had fallen for occupants of the Oval Office, or whether the behavior of Clinton and some Republicans mirror a national moral decline?
The Washington Post ran a front-page story last Friday, the sub headline of which said, "Had congressman not lied, colleague says, 'it could have ended differently.'"
So it isn't what used to be called moral turpitude that did Weiner in, but lying about it? If he had not been exposed, would he have been any less morally guilty? Who decides? Not the voters. Democratic Party leaders forced Weiner out. They were embarrassed by his behavior and they wished to discuss other things.
A University of Maryland student friend of mine tells me one of her classes last semester discussed "the normalization of deviance." In an age when what is normal is determined by culture and opinion polls and when "orthodoxy" is regarded as something to be avoided, deviance has ceased to have meaning. That's because there is now no nationally accepted standard by which it can be measured and, thus, be used to hold people, even members of Congress, accountable.
If lying is now the unpardonable political sin, we may at last have found a way to limit congressional terms. If lying is sufficient reason to expel a member, then the halls of Congress may soon be vacant of all but the janitorial crew who empty the trash and mop the floors at night.
All politicians lie at some level, even Jimmy Carter, who promised during the 1976 campaign and in the aftermath of Watergate, "I'll never lie to you." He did though. Google "Jimmy Carter lies" and read for yourself. According to the list, he's still telling lies, 30 years after leaving office.
George H.W. Bush promised, "Read my lips. No new taxes." We read his lips, but were they lying lips? He caved into Congress, which raised taxes during his single term. Bush signed the legislation.
In 1963, before cynicism replaced skepticism in the press, Pentagon spokesman Arthur Sylvester spoke about government's "inherent right to lie." Granted, it was in the context of "to save itself when facing a nuclear disaster..." but as we know from the Pentagon Papers, lies from government became commonplace during the Vietnam War. More than 58,000 Americans, whose names appear on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, are victims of those lies.
President Obama's lies about many things are catalogued on various websites and increasingly in mainstream newspapers. Some who led cheers for him in 2008 are now finding his lies difficult to ignore. Glenn Kessler, who writes the Fact Checker column for the Washington Post, recently awarded the president "three Pinocchios" (out of four) for his claim that "Chrysler has repaid every dime and more of what it owes American taxpayers for their support during my presidency."
There are many, more examples. Sure, Republicans lie, too, but if lying about something, rather than bad ideas or bad behavior, is the new standard in Washington, D.C., someone had better tell the politicians.
Thomas Jefferson did in an Aug. 19, 1785 letter to Peter Carr: "...he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions."
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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