Pleasant it is for the Little Tin Gods,
When great Jove nods;
But Little Tin Gods make their little mistakes
In missing the hour when great Jove wakes. - Rudyard Kipling
Even if you clicked on “Never call the cops for any reason whatsoever” in Links #165, I doubt you took the time to look at a map to see where St. John the Baptist Parish is. Well, I’ll save you the trouble: it’s one of three small parishes (that’s Louisianese for “counties”) just west of Greater New Orleans; the three are so similar and so traditionally interlinked that they are referred to collectively as the “River Parishes”. If one heads west from New Orleans, one first passes through Jefferson Parish (the largest suburb); continuing past the airport one will then, within half an hour by interstate, rapidly pass through St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. James Parishes (in that order). This is the general region where I grew up, and I have friends and family in all three parishes. When I was a wee lass they were all semi-rural, but St. Charles began to build up in the late ‘70s due to urban sprawl from New Orleans; St. John the Baptist’s turn came ten years later, and then surged again after Hurricane Katrina. And St. James is still fairly small-towny, with less than half the population of St. John.
The reason I’m going over all this isn’t just because I saw and featured an out-of-control-cops-murdering-innocent citizens story from a place I know well; after all, I feature similar stories every week, sometimes from New Orleans (which I know just as well). No, it’s because that story was only one of several such stories from St. John in a relatively short time. When one considers that the parish only has about 45,000 people, this number of incidents may seem quite astonishing…unless one knows what I know about American sheriffs in general, and Southern sheriffs in particular, and Louisiana sheriffs especially particularly, and St. John Parish…well, you get the idea. My international readers may not realize just how unaccountable to higher authority the sheriffs in most American states are; many of them run their counties like their own private fiefdoms, and head political machines which keep them in their offices for decades. And once the precedent is established, the culture doesn’t usually change merely because one sheriff dies or finally decides to retire; no, the next one often continues just like his predecessor did even if they’re of (ostensibly) different political parties, much like feudal barons inheriting their domains from their fathers. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this only applies to rural counties, either; some of the worst offenders reign over urban or populous suburban areas. I suspect Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona (site of Phoenix) needs no introduction, but you might be less familiar with other specimens of his ilk such as Grady Judd of Polk County, Florida (600,000 people) and the late Harry Lee of Jefferson Parish.
As you can probably guess, the deputies (county cops) of tyrannical sheriffs take their cues from their liege-lords, and behave accordingly; those who imagine my dislike of cops only dates back to my sex work career, or to my especially brutal treatment by three sheriff’s deputies in 1995, have obviously never lived under the tyrannical regime of a Louisiana sheriff. I had already learned to dislike and distrust cops long before I left high school; in fact, the first time I ever heard the expression which forms today’s title was from my mother’s lips when I was about ten, in reference to the sheriff of our parish. Y’all don’t know my mother, but let’s just say that for her that was essentially the equivalent of calling him a thrice-damned son of a bitch. So I wasn’t actually surprised when I read back in January that St. John deputies had murdered a middle-aged woman for refusing to get out of her car, then planted a gun on her to provide an excuse for the deed; nor was I particularly shocked when I read that they had murdered another woman for having a rifle slung across her back, then gunned down her husband for complaining about it. After all, this is the same parish where a deputy once thought it would be funny to throw tear gas canisters into the jail and then close up all the ventilation, nearly killing dozens of men (this was in the early ‘90s and doesn’t seem to be available online). And it’s the same parish which re-elected (as “parish president”) a former sheriff who had done time for extortion, only to see him convicted and sentenced again for the same crime (its sheriff’s office has, in fact, been a festering bog of corruption since at least the 1960s).
The “blue wall of silence” in pocket dictatorships like St. John is like it is everywhere; cops cover up for one another. So while reports of murders and mayhem from down there don’t surprise me, this one did:
A Louisiana sheriff fired his chief deputy – who is an attorney – for objecting to the sheriff’s secretly recording conversations between criminal suspects and their attorneys…Tregg Wilson sued St. John the Baptist Parish and its Sheriff Mike Tregre…Wilson claims he confronted Tregre after he learned of secret cameras on loop in the interview room at the sheriff’s office, where criminal suspects meet for private conversations with their attorneys…
Tregre’s megalomania is apparently so advanced, he didn’t realize that as soon as he fired Wilson the latter would report him to the feds for his incredibly illegal actions. Now, in a way I suppose recording privileged conversations isn’t really as bad as murdering citizens; after all, as Scott Greenfield pointed out, “It only applies to the ones who survived arrest, and shouldn’t they be seriously thankful the deputies didn’t just kill them in the first place?” And hey, if the federal government can record every single one of our electronic conversations, why can’t one of its minor vassals do the same? It’s not like the deck isn’t hopelessly stacked against criminal defendants anyhow. But we live in a looking-glass country, where the worship-word “liberty” is still sacred despite the total abrogation of nearly every constitutional guarantee of it, where police smashing down people’s doors without warrants, destroying their property and murdering their pets and children is said to be for the victims’ “protection”, and where $400 million per life saved is considered reasonable if the threat is “terrorism”, but sums a minuscule fraction of that aren’t if the threat is anything else. So I guess it’s wholly predictable that the feds yawn when people are murdered by cops, but launch a full-scale investigation when those same cops just eavesdrop; after all, they’ve never claimed a monopoly on murder, but do (apparently) want one on snooping. We can’t have these little tin gods in the provinces thinking they’re the equal of the great big brazen idols in Washington, now can we?