About the arrest of Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr.

To the Cambridge police: Look at my photo. Do you see the color of my skin? Now, I’m telling you. You might be able to bullshit the President of the United States, but you can’t bullshit me.

Because I know the issue isn’t any inflammatory words that your cop might have uttered or any inflammatory words that Gates might have uttered. This issue is about exactly what you charged him with–disorderly conduct. “Disorderly conduct” is code for not doing what the “nice officer” wants you to do. This issue is about control, and the need that cops have for it. You want to control everyone, everything, everywhere. You call that “law and order.”

I’ve already talked about “law and order.” Law is passed overwhelmingly by wealthy, white males who are rarely concerned with their own actions but with the conduct of “others.” And order is about social order, the hierarchy that keeps the rich above everybody else. It is expressed in the Federalist Papers, perhaps most succinctly in No. 10, attributed to James Madison. Madison makes clear that he’s interested in protecting minority rights, not the civil rights of any stigmatized or disadvantaged group, but the property rights of the wealthy, the people he most trusts to govern. Everyone else is the rabble, a threat to order.

You have tried to dismiss the history of relations between police and Blacks as history. But just this New Years, a man was shot while he lay face down on a BART platform. This is a history that continues to the present.

Which is why I also have a message for the middle and upper class Blacks who have written that they are raised to understand that no matter how much they think the police are wrong, they dare not resist, dare not protest: A former BART police officer would almost certainly not be on trial right now were it not for protest, were it not for resistance. Your attitude amounts to a warning not to upset the Master.

And if you don’t know what I mean by “the Master,” you have lived too comfortable lives, too separated from the brutal experiences of your forebears, not just in slavery, not just in lynchings, not just in the death penalty. You too easily blame the poor for their own misfortune; you have too quickly forgotten what you have only partly overcome. Gates’ arrest should be a wake up call that your class does not immunize you from bigotry; and yes, I really do believe that many of you have forgotten that.

Because when you say to de-escalate, what you are really saying is to enable. And even one life is too high a price to pay for bigotry.

So sue me.

Corporations have increasingly adopted a tactic of legal bullying–threatening a ruinous lawsuit against those less able to defend themselves in an expensive legal system–to get their way. Sadly, it appears this is happening in the Los Angeles vegan community.

Vegans get used to reading ingredient lists at grocery stores to choose vegan products that are often not labeled as such. Different vegans apply different standards, but at minimum, vegan foods should not contain meat, dairy, or egg. Honey is controversial, as is the most common form of sugar. Some vegans will reject products that in any way entail the use of any animals. At least at a grocery store, it is somewhat possible to choose. Alternatively, one can order goods at a variety of on line vegan merchants.

The act of going to a restaurant, however, is an act of trust. That not all ingredients are listed on menus and that some sauces are mysterious leads a vegan either to interrogate a waitperson (who likely has limited knowledge), to cross one’s fingers and hope, or to limit one’s excursions to those restaurants that appear easily able to produce vegan dishes. Restaurants that label themselves as “vegan” are thus especially attractive.

But what if a restaurant makes false claims about its food?

A blogger invested considerable effort, time, and money checking putatively vegan foods at some Los Angeles restaurants and meticulously documented her procedures. She found a number of cases of trace amounts of non-vegan ingredients, likely due to different ingredient labeling requirements in Asian countries. One restaurant, however, managed to score an “overload” for casein, a dairy ingredient.

Instead of transparently correcting the problem, however, the restaurant sought legal help. As can be seen from the original posting, this blogger is not rich. So all the lawyer has to do is breathe the word “lawsuit.”

Fluffing up the threat, the lawyer claims, “The facts are that Green Leaves Vegan is vegan and is verified by the Los Angeles Health Dept. Green Leaves has passed all city inspections regarding it’s vegan menu.” It would be a very rare health department that tests foods to determine whether or not they are in fact vegan. This is a blatantly specious claim. It is not the only one.

This lawyer alleges that the “information … provided is false, malicious and defamatory. My clients business has suffered as a direct result of you [sic] website.” To claim that this blogger’s information is such is to claim that this blogger’s tests were “false, malicious and defamatory.” I strongly doubt that this lawyer or his client were present for these tests. Therefore this lawyer’s characterization is unsupportable.

But of course “Quarry Girl” cannot afford a legal defense. A lawyer can easily bully her. So she publishes a retraction.

The threat is the same as in higher profile cases. “Truth” comes to be limited to that which can be said without fear of legal action. It comes to be defined as information, misinformation, or disinformation approved by the wealthy, whether or not it is in the public interest.

I wasn’t present for these tests either. And the procedures Quarry Girl claims to have implemented are well outside my area of expertise. But any scholar in any kind of science will recognize the general outline of her original posting. We will recognize that she presented evidence. The lawyer presented something else. But that something else comes to be the “truth.”