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Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd’s recent violent deaths mark a new low for law enforcement in the U.S. The underpinning racism that these incidents expose is only the tip of an iceberg.

The entire U.S. legal system for the past 30 years has been floundering and teetering closer and closer to a totalitarian police state masquerading as a tool for “public safety.” It’s ironic that videos of men being slaughtered like dogs do not provide “sufficient proof” for the arrest of the perpetrators while bashing through doors on flimsy warrants and arresting people without sufficient probable cause and even shooting people in their own homes is rampant elsewhere throughout the system.

The obvious problem is that the brutality is coming from their ranks, from the top down, from the oval office, from the courts, from the Congress and the tweet-meister at the White House.

The even more obvious problem is that it has become an “us against them” situation, that the systems we ourselves have spawned are now gradually turning against our own safety and security. Sufficient proof of guilt is no longer necessary. Guilt is assigned by racial or social prejudices, by lies or public agitation and fear. No one is innocent until proven guilty anymore. That old platitude went out when Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry started blowing away all the bad guys back in the 70s when we began to squeal for the need for law and order.

Well … here it is. We have it now. This is what law and order looks like. Not the clichéd TV show with Ice-T as a cop but the real world imagery of a Minnesota police precinct on fire.

The woman in New York’s Central Park who acted hysterically when approached by a Black man is sadly representative of a majority of a society that now lives in permanent terror, disgust and disdain of the ‘other’, the one who is unlike me, from another group, another country, another sexual orientation, another social caste — or simply psychologically impaired.

We have done our best to legislate this formless fear, to put as many laws as possible on the books in order to cover every possible facet of what might be perceived as “harmful” or ‘indecent’ or ‘sexist’ or fill in the blank. So many laws. So little justice.

In the end we default to panic, fear. We are increasingly reactive and not proactive. And now, in the time of a global pandemic, all our weaknesses, our fears and our faults become magnified, spinning out of control. Talking heads of every political persuasion cry and screech. We are no longer a country of laws, or a country of people. We are now a country of depersonalized bureaucracies focused on one purpose: to make money, to get status, to control and confine all free thinking. To promote complacency and subservience … and above all, consumerism.

Think of the insidious deviousness of what happened in Minneapolis. Though the four cops were fired no other legal action was taken immediately. We were told that some sort of legislative fact-finding needed to take place. It is important to assure that the guilty are truly guilty.

Anyone else but a cop shown on a video kneeling on someone’s neck until they died would have been thrown in the slammer the same day. The visual evidence is never enough in any of these cases. As it became evident that no indictments were forthcoming, the authorities simply let the rioters break loose. CNN reported no police presence for several hours while the precinct and other buildings went up in flames and people (“thugs” the President called them in his Twitter comments) crashed through the area.

Cops and National Guard were then ordered in to usher away the protestors. Obviously, the incident was a way of allowing people to let off steam. However, the governor later couched his explanation for in politically correct terms that he’d insisted the operation would be conducted in a professional manner, that no violence was to be exerted on the protestors and rioters.

To add a last flourish of absurdity, a CNN reporter and his crew were also arrested in Minneapolis while covering the protests. The reporter had a Black and Hispanic background. The crew and the reporter were quickly released after the massive legal clout of CNN was brought to bear.

It’s a brave new world and we’re all involved. It’s the new law and order. Unquestionably a new low, for all of us.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Fernando Rivas Martinez is writer and prison reform advocate incarcerated in Texas. He is a 1977 Juilliard graduate and award-winning composer of film and television music. In 2016, while incarcerated, he received an honorable mention from the PEN America prison writing program for his poem "300 Min." In 2019 he won the American Short Fiction Insider’s Prize award and an honorable mention on the Texas Observer short story contest.