Vandalism, Yale and Black Lives Matter

Corey Menafee wants his job back at Yale University. He is also hoping he doesn’t face criminal charges for his on-the-job conduct. His hopes should be dashed, unless, of course, we are now prepared to recognize political correctness as a defense to criminal conduct.

On June 13, Menafee, 38, was employed by Yale as a dining hall worker in Calhoun College. Armed with a broomstick, he stood up on one of the tables, and shattered a stained glass window while muttering “the picture has to go.” The university estimates he caused $2,000 to $3,000 in damage. Shards of glass fell on a sidewalk outside the college, narrowly missing a pedestrian who happened to walk by.

Why this act of vandalism?

Menafee told a member of the Yale police department that earlier this year a visitor to the campus pointed out the window, and told Menafee it depicted slaves. Menafee told police he didn’t like the picture, showing, as he assumed it did, two people of color, enslaved, walking through a Confederate plantation.

So he decided to smash the window.

This is not a whodunit. Menafee was direct with the police when questioned. “I just got tired of looking at it,” he told officers.

Officers tried to reason with Menafee about whether destroying the property of others was really all that good an idea. What would he do the next time he saw something he thought was offensive? “I can’t predict the future,” Menafee said.

Menafee is African-American.

Initial press reports stated that Menafee was fired by Yale. Then the reports changed; he was permitted to resign. The case then went viral, and in no time flat, Menafee was pressing for his job back. He’d worked at Yale for eight years without incident, after all.

Yale also decided not to demand prosecution of Menafee, but that train had already left the station. His case is pending in the New Haven Superior Court, where he is expected next to appear on July 26. Prosecutors are mulling what to do with the case.

Menafee has been charged with criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. The first charge merely reflects his willful destruction of property; the second reflects his having sent shards of glass cascading down onto a sidewalk outside of Yale.

The case was limping along in relative obscurity until the latest round of police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, followed by the killing of five police officers in Texas. Suddenly, the color line was news again. Menafee decided to hop on the bandwagon to see how far it would take him.

Without doubt, Yale’s decision to name a college after John C. Calhoun, a former vice president of the United States and an arch supporter of slavery, has become a source of deep controversy. Just last year, the ivy campus reached the boiling point on the issue. The university may well rename the college.

That’s a choice the university has to make. The housekeeping staff doesn’t get the right to force the issue by voting with broomstick handles. Suppose, for example, Menafee is rehired, but asked to do custodial work in the library: When he is found destroying rare books because he doesn’t like their content, how will the university react?

Because it is Yale, there is no telling. Yale just might decide to promote Menafee to guest lecturer on diversity.

Let Yale be Yale, and if it decides not to play victim to let this storm pass, so be it. But state prosecutors ought not to be so generous.

There’s a new sheriff in town just now. After the retirement of Michael Dearington as New Haven’s top prosecutor, Patrick Griffin, formerly of the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office, has been tapped to lead the Elm City office.

I’ve known Pat for the better part of a decade, and I’ve tried cases against him. I know him to be honest, hardworking and principled. I can’t see him deciding to drape Menafee in the Black Lives Matter mantle and dismissing the charges just because the images destroyed were hateful. 

What would the new standard be? I disagree with an image I see, a viewpoint I hear, and I react with violence — even minor violence. Is the criminal justice system really supposed to blink because my hurt feelings were politically correct? That’s ridiculous. I doubt seriously the state would dismiss a case against a Ku Klux Klan member who destroyed a mural depicting racial harmony.

The criminal justice system recognizes that not every violation of the law requires punishment. That’s why there are diversionary programs.

One such program, accelerated rehabilitation, permits a person charged to obtain a dismissal of charges after completing a period of probation of up to two years. A benefit of the program is that once it is completed, a defendant’s criminal record is erased, permitting the person to state in the future not only that he has never been convicted of a crime, but also that he has never been arrested.

It’s one of the lies — dare I call it a “white” lie any longer? -— we tell in the name of justice.

Menafee might not be admitted to the program, however. That’s because a judge has to make two findings to permit entry. First, the crime was not serious. There’s no question this is not a serious offense.

More troubling for Menafee is the required finding that he is not likely to break the law again. Menafee didn’t give a judge a lot to work with on this front. When he told officers he couldn’t predict what he’d do in the future if he saw something else he didn’t like, he all but thumbed his nose at self-restraint. He just might do it again.

Yes, Black Lives Matter, but so does the law. Menafee doesn’t deserve a pass for being an angry black man. He shouldn’t go to jail, but he neither deserves his job back nor the extraordinary leniency of dropping the charges against him.

Menafee engaged in vandalism. That should matter to prosecutors even if it doesn’t matter to those who manage Yale’s endowment.


USexit and Donald Trump

The doom and gloom forecasts about the consequences of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union are bewildering. Why all the storm and stress? The vote — Brexit, it was called — makes perfect sense. So does the sense of inevitability revolving around Donald Trump’s run for the presidency.

Trump’s campaign also represents an exit strategy, call it USexit, as in “stop the world, we want to get off.” We’re overextended, unable to meet domestic commitments, and not up to shouldering the burdens of empire, much less being lectured on what we owe the world.

“America first” is not the cry of a triumphant nation; it’s an angry plea. That so many refuse to hear this plea is akin to collective madness — thus distrust of the elites who scorn localism in favor of universalism.

Globalism, the rhetoric of untethered human rights, mass migration of peoples forever in search of better, or the best, possible lives — these are the forces shaping our time. None of these imperatives foster a sense of local community, of the felt necessity of a given time and place.

Economic efficiency, guaranteeing the dignity of all, welcoming every stranger to share in a decreasing bounty — these are the empty promises of post-modernity. Brexit, Trump, neo-nationalism are reactions to a world governed by endless empty promises. 

Consider globalism.

Of course, it makes sense to consider the world as one vast and interconnected economic entity. The logic of cost-benefit analysis will distribute the production of goods and services across the globe in ways that run roughshod over a sense of community. Labor costs are less in the underdeveloped world. It’s no wonder manufacturing jobs flee to countries where labor is cheap.

But this migration of employment opportunities decimates communities that used to produce things, leaving behind hopelessness, mass unemployment, and fear about the future. Our Midwest is today a wasteland.

When Britain’s midlands and America’s heartland vote against globalism, they aren’t engaging in nostalgia, they are demanding a future.

What of untethered human rights?

We’ve come along way from the eighteenth century’s proud declarations about the rights of man. Nongovernmental organizations now sit alongside nation-states claiming rights of uncertain origin for each and every inhabitant of the Earth.

Internationally, that means aid to every region; domestically, that means recognition and validation of every lifestyle. It’s an exhausting imperative. Each new international crisis, each new perceived slight to the newest group in search of validation — I think now of the transgender in our midst, comes at a cost to those expected to give.

It’s small wonder that those displaced by globalism now resents those claiming entitlement to their sympathies and support. When did human rights become an entitlement to the goodwill of those exhausted by watching the world slip from their grasp?

This leads, of course, to mass migration.

The world is interconnected as never before. Social media makes every crisis an event, and advertises the benefits of leaving one’s troubles behind in search of a better life elsewhere. Accelerate population movement by the ever-growing dislocations caused by global warming, civil war and easy transportation across borders, and world suddenly seems in flux.

German’s Angela Merkel meant well when she welcomed migrants to Germany by the hundreds of thousands. Exhausted Germans no doubt wondered where it all would end. Where do Germans go when they no longer recognize their homeland?

Community matters. A community failing to meet the needs of its members simply doesn’t feel a sense of generosity to strangers. We don’t feed our own, why should we then be expected to welcome more to the failed banquet? And why are we obliged to respect the values of everyone while placing our own on hold?

Hence, Brexit.

The young and affluent favored remaining in the European Union. If you’ve got money in the bank, or are making a living serving the human rights industry or global finance, the future is yours. The young always believe in tomorrow.

If your job has been exported overseas and you’re living on the dole, or on a fixed income, you’ve less to give to a person you never met, a person whose way of life, whose customs, are foreign.

Xenophobia, or fear of strangers, has become a term of condemnation these days. Yet, fear of strangers is entirely adaptive in a world of scarcity. Only a fool stands on the street corner emptying his pockets to strangers.

What of Donald Trump?

He has no experience as a politician. His claims to make us great again are hollow. He is crass, bordering on illiterate, and offends with speech that tends to be hateful. Just how is it possible that he has become the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States?

Perhaps it’s because Hillary Clinton has become the globalist, human rights, identity politics, and immigration standard-bearer. Everything she says is perfectly rational, in an attenuated, lifeless sort of way. She has the existential appeal of an ironing board. She wants to pay for tomorrow’s commitments with promises that failed a decade ago.

Trump, on the other hand, appeals to those who have lost their footing in the world. Trump supporters listen to Hillary lecture on what they must do for others with resentment: I must make room for a Syrian family in the community in which I cannot find work?

Despite all of Trump’s failings, his supporters remain loyal because he speaks about frustration they experience. While Clinton tells a tired people that they must do more for others, Trump promises to make a priority of those already here and in need.

It may be that neither Trump nor Clinton are what the nation needs now. But if forced to choose, I’d pick Trump. Sure, he’s a reckless gamble. But so, too, is the future. Until we care for ourselves, we cannot care for others.


About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis


Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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