domingo, janeiro 14, 2007

O dia em que o historiador atravessou fora da passadeira

«(...) Apparently, however, as I was later told, "jaywalking" is a criminal offence in the State of Georgia. But I had no idea I had done anything wrong. A young man in a bomber jacket accosted me, claiming to be a policeman, but with no visible evidence of his status. We got locked in mutual misunderstanding, demanding each other's ID. I mistook the normal attitude of an Atlanta cop for arrogance, aggression and menace. He, I suppose, mistook the normal demeanour of an ageing and old-fashioned European intellectual for prevarication or provocation. His behaviour baffled me even before he lost patience with me, kicked my legs from under me, knocked my glasses from my nose, wrestled me to the ground, and with the help of four or five other burly policemen who suddenly appeared on the scene, ripped my coat, scattered my books in the gutter, handcuffed me, and pinioned me painfully to the concrete. (...) First, I learnt 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. (...) Once in gaol I discovered another, better side of Atlanta. (...) In gaol, I saw none of the violence that typifies the streets. On the contrary, the staff treat 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 deliberately contrived to get arrested in order to escape from the streets into this peaceable world - swapping the arbitrary, dangerous jurisdiction of the cops for the humane and helpful supervision of the centre. (...) I then met the best of America when I appeared in court. (...) I watched Judge Jackson at work. He had 117 cases to try that day. He handled them with unfailing compassion, common sense and good humour. (...) It only took him a few minutes to realise that I was the victim, not the culprit. The prosecutors withdrew the charges. The judge then proclaimed my freedom with kindly enthusiasm and detained me for nothing more grievous than a few minutes' chat about his reminiscences of the Old Bailey. (...) But, at the risk of projecting my own limited experience on to 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 civilisation of the gaol 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. (...)

(The Independent)

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