Well, today, the AJC gave him enormous chunk of one of its op-ed pages so that he could lecture us on our shortcomings as a city and as a nation.
Here are some of the most telling snippets:
First, I learned that the Atlanta police are barbaric, brutal and out of control. The violence I experienced was the worst of my sheltered life. Muggers who attacked me once near my home in Oxford were considerably more gentle with me than the Atlanta cops.
Many fellow historians at the conference, who met me after my release, witnessed the incident and told me how horrific they found it. Even had I really been a criminal, it would not have been necessary to treat me with such ferocity, as I am very obviously a slight and feeble person. But Atlanta’s streets are some of the meanest in the world, and policing them must be a brutalizing way of life.
In jail I saw none of the violence that typifies the streets. On the contrary, the staff treated everyone--including some of the most difficult, desperate, drunk or drugged-out denizens of Atlanta’s demi-monde — with impressive courtesy and professionalism. I began to suspect that some of the down-and-outs I shared space with had contrived to get arrested to escape the streets into this peaceable world — swapping the arbitrary, dangerous jurisdiction of the cops for the humane and helpful supervision of the center.
Nelson Mandela, I think, was right to say that jail is the best place to make judgments because "a nation should be judged not by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest." If Atlanta is representative, America, by that standard, comes out commendably well.
The first lesson is obvious. The city authorities of Atlanta need to re-educate their police. I can understand why some officers behave irrationally and unpredictably. Much of the downtown environment in their city is hideous — inoffensive to the eye only when shrouded by the often-prevailing fog. The sidewalks are thronged with beggars who can turn nasty at night. The crime rate is fearful.
The result is that the police are nervy, jumpy, short-fused and lacking in restraint, patience or forbearance. But witnesses tell me that up to 10 officers took part in the assault on me. This is evidence not only of excessive zeal but of seriously warped priorities. In a city notorious for rape, murder and mayhem, the police should have better things to do than persecute jaywalkers or harry a feeble foreigner.
Moreover, Atlanta depends on its convention trade. The way the conventions center is designed is extremely practical. There is plenty of good, reasonably priced accommodation. But if Atlanta accumulates a reputation for police frenzy and hostility to visitors, the economy will crumble. At least, the police need to be told to exercise forbearance with outsiders — especially foreigners — who may not understand the peculiarities of local custom and law.
But, at the risk of projecting my own limited experience onto a screen so vast that the effect seems blurred, I see bigger issues at stake: issues for America; issues for the world. I found that in Atlanta the civilization of the jail and the courts contrasted with the savagery of the police and the streets.
This is a typical American contrast. The executive arm of government tends to be dumb, insensitive, violent and dangerous. The judiciary is the citizen’s vital guarantee of peace and liberty. I became a sort of exemplar in miniature of a classic American dilemma: the ’balance of the Constitution," as Americans call it, between executive power and judicial oversight.
Though my own misadventure was trivial--and in perspective laughable--it resembles what is happening to the world in the era of George W. Bush. The planet is policed by a violent, arbitary, stupid and dangerous force. Within the USA, the courts struggle to maintain individual rights under the bludgeons of the "war on terror," defending Guantanamo victims and striving to curb the excesses of the system. We need global institutions of justice, and judges of Judge Jackson’s level of humanity and wisdom, to help protect the world.
I don’t quite know where to begin. From the perspective of his victimhood and rather limited experience of Atlanta, he makes pronouncements about our crime rate, our climate, our local economy’s dependence on tourism (overstated, though true enough, but not something a total innocent as he professes to be would necessarily know) and about the behavior of our police. He also at one point refers to the officer’s "semi-literate scrawl" on his citation. I wonder if that’s the kind of winning and open attitude that led to the officer’s apparent overreaction.
And then, of course, there’s the way that his experience is a microcosmic parable for America’s "brutal" demeanor in the world today, to be reined in by "global institutions of justice." Gee, you think he had some preconceptions--might we even call them prejudices--before he walked across the street? Might the chip on his shoulder have led him to respond to an American authority figure in a way that was less than respectful?
If you want a somewhat more measured response than this, see the AJC’s editorial. If you want to see less measured responses, read the comments from the newspaper’s readers at the end of the professor’s column.