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My 4-year-old's a cute kid (not pictured above). In his simplified worldview, police officers "stop bad guys." As a defense attorney who stands on the opposite side of the courtroom, I must be on Team Bad Guys, right?
Partly because I don't want my kid thinking I'm an irredeemable a-hole, I've been making an effort to school that ass on the nuances of criminal justice. But where do you begin with a four-year-old?
“Well son, you see, sometimes the police arrest someone. But the police are agents of the government who need accountability… and there’s this thing called the Constitution…”
That explanation doesn't work.
I tried planting a seed in his brain a few weeks ago when we drove past a sheriff's workforce crew and he asked me about the men in the orange suits. I said something along the lines of: “Those people got in trouble for being bad but now they’re cleaning up trash for everyone so they can be good.”
It was an explanation intended to point out that the world is made up of shades of gray -- unlike in PJ Masks where villains just do villain shit. Of course, my ultimate objective is to Jedi-mind trick him into admiring my role in criminal justice because I need him to love me. But to get there I've needed to give him a general foundation.
Here are the hot justice nuggs I've served him thus far:
The police do stop bad guys. They have a very hard job and they're very brave. If you’re ever in trouble you should ask them for help. They’re there to help people.
Buuuuut... sometimes the police stop people who they think are bad, but they really weren’t bad. That’s part of why it’s so hard to be a policeman.
And sometimes they stop people who did something bad and then they give those people help to be good again.
Everyone acts a little bad sometimes. It doesn’t always mean they’re bad guys. Sometimes people do bad things and don’t get caught. Some people might only do one or two bad things but then they get in big trouble.
Jail is like a BIG timeout. You go there to think about what you did and sometimes they keep you in there so you won’t get out and do more bad things. Some people even get their bottom spanked while they're in there.
Did you ever get in trouble but you thought you didn’t do anything wrong? I help people who get in trouble -- because maybe they didn’t do anything wrong. Or maybe they did something wrong but they need help to be good again.
Anyway, my role in "the system" is a tough topic to tackle. To be fair to my four-year-old, there's a large percentage of the adult population who struggle to comprehend a defense attorney's role in justice and due process:
"How could you represent someone who..." "How do you sleep at night after you've stood next to...," etc. and so on for eternity.
Adults are great at compartmentalizing to preserve their fragile constructs. We hate big government, but love the agents of the government who enforce all its big laws. We love the Constitution, but hate cases being dismissed on constitutional "technicalities." We love the presumption of innocence, but not when it involves someone who's been accused of a yucky crime.
In the end, I don't really give a shit about all that. I just need my boy to love me :(
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