Police State During Our Times

Published on 19th October 2015

This is a review of Gerry Spence’s book: Police State, How America’s Cops Get Away With Murder (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015) pp338.

If this book was written by anybody else, let’s say for example the late famed African-American lawyer Johnnie Cochran, he or she would be outrageously ostracized as anti-police and anti-establishment, a hate-monger and worse, a terrorist. He would be shunned and marginalized. Just look at the harassment the hip hop artists suffered by their mere putting in art form their daily experiences or the experiences of their people at the hands of the police! The harassment has recently been depicted in the movie, Straight Out of Compton chronicling the lives of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre.

But this vitriol invective book against the police is written by one of America’s main stream legal giants, Gerry Spence. He is main-stream but an outlier lawyer. He has been exposing America’s injustices for over fifty years but without suffering any consequences. It can only be speculated as to why he has not been ostracized by the powers-that-be all these years.

Gerry Spence is reported never to have lost any criminal case since he was called to the Bar in 1952, initially working as a prosecutor. After stringing some successes there because everybody pleaded guilty, (a system that still operates in America where close to 98% of the criminally accused plead guilty), Spence crossed over to the defence bar and he has never looked back.

Spence has defended more high-profile and most difficult cases (both civil and criminal) than many defence lawyers combined, cases like Karen Silkwood, Randy Weaver, Imelda Marcos and many other cases. He has written about some of these cases in a lot of his books. Some of the cases have been turned into movies. He has also written about slavery and historic injustices perpetrated in the US by the police, the prosecutors and the judiciary.

What comes out in all of Spence’s writings, speeches, appearances on TV like CNN and other avenues is a down-to-earth common sense approach to the practice of law. He makes his clients sympathetic. He touches the judges and the juries’ hearts, minds and consciences. He is overpowering. He is irresistible. He is civil and polite and never deviates from the common denominator truth or circumstances of the case.

Spence has dispensed with his approach to winning cases in many books including Win Your Case; How to Argue and Win Everytime; Give Me Liberty; Gunning For Justice; Seven Steps to Personal Freedom and others. He has written about some of his cases in books like The Smoking Gun; Trial By Fire; Of Murder and Madness; Gunning for Justice. He has written about injustices in books like Bloodthirsty Bitches and Pious Pimps of Power; From Freedom to Slavery; With Justice for None. Spence has even written one of the best books on the O.J. Simpson trial called O.J. The Last Word. Novels and portraits have not escaped Gerry Spence writing about his beloved Wyoming in books like Half Moon and Empty Stars; Gerry Spence’s Wyoming; A Boy’s Summer.

If anybody wants to know how Spence became the most decorated lawyer in the last half century in America, Spence supplies the background in his autobiography entitled, The Making of A Country Lawyer.

I am very proud to state that I have all of Gerry Spence’s books and I have read all of them just as I have all of Alan Dershowitz’s books and Lord Denning’ s books all of which I read, along with almost any book that has so far been written about the O.J. Simpson case.

Spence’s findings in his latest book where he rails against the police in the US  can be applicable to many countries including Canada, England, France, Russia, China, South Africa, Israel, Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria and others. It is an invaluable tool to fight the continuing or emerging police state everywhere. This book deals with Spence’s actual cases where the police used violence, trickery or other misconducts against the accused including fabrication or withholding of evidence. When the police can behave the way they can “without fear of reprisal, is this not the conduct of the police in a police state?” Then in some cases, there are prosecutors and judges who abate this conduct. Some defence lawyers in exchange for so-called good deals participate in the railroading of their clients.

This book is a call to action by one of America’s greatest advocates. He advises with equal applicability to many countries that it must be resisted that “In America…that police and prosecutors are trustworthy and will protect us, and that in America there is liberty and justice for all. Such is a mythology that enslaves.” Only a few wealthy individuals have a shot at justice in America and many countries.

Spence offers some suggestions as how to minimize and regulate police perpetrated injustices among others: all police interrogations must be video-taped from the beginning; police must wear video cams; there must be psychological and psychiatric tests for all would-be police officers; the police must be turned and trained into professionals just like lawyers, doctors, engineers etc; there must be truly independent civil oversight of police conduct; serious police training to diffuse tense situations moving from teaching police to shoot at first blush to considering alternatives; grand juries where the prosecutors lay out their cases without challenge from the defence must be reformed; no jailhouse informants of any kind (no informants of any kind); disclosure must be complete and wholesome; cure the dangers of overcharging so that something sticks; control the “courthouse club” consisting of police, prosecutors, defence lawyers and judges where accused are traded and deals are cut for future considerations and to streamline the dockets and the removal of politics from judicial selection processes.

Spence is not singing in the wilderness. People are struggling for justice, transparency and accountability everywhere. His book is a welcome arsenal in that onward struggle.

By Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa,  the author of Getting Away with Impunity: International Criminal Law and South African Apartheid Criminals, and The Politics of Judicial Diversity and Transformation. He practiced criminal law in Toronto for 25 years and brought numerous class actions and individual cases against racial profiling and carding. He is now an international consultant in social justice. He can be reached at mhamalengwa@sympatico.ca

This article has been read 8,794 times