Earlier this week Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, defended her office's handling of the criminal case against Aaron Swartz, following news of the Internet activist's suicide.
Legal scholar and Internet activist Lawrence Lessig is having none of it.
On his personal blog in an emotional post titled A time for silence, Lessig slammed Ortiz's statement to the press, criticizing the prosecution of Swartz for helping "in part at least" to drive "this boy to his death."
Ortiz's statement is a template for all that is awful in what we as a political culture have become. And it pushes me -- me, the most conventional, wanting-to-believe-in-all-things-patriotic, former teenage Republican from the home of Little League baseball -- to a place far more radical than I ever want to be...
You're so keen to prove that you understand this case better than your press releases about Aaron's "crime" (those issued when Aaron still drew breath) made it seem ("the prosecutors recognized that there was no evidence against Mr. Swartz indicating that he committed his acts for personal financial gain"). But if your prosecutors recognized this, then this is the question to answer:
Why was he being charged with 13 felonies?
His motive was political -- obviously. His harm was exactly none -- as JSTOR effectively acknowledged. But he deserved, your "career prosecutors" believed, to be deprived of his rights as a citizen (aka, a "felon," no longer entitled to the political rights he fought to perfect) because of what he did.
Yet here's the thing to remember on MLK weekend (even though my saying this violates a rule I believe in firmly, a kind of inverse to Godwin's law, because though I believe these two great souls were motivated by exactly the same kind of justice, King's cause was greater): How many felonies was Martin Luther King, Jr., convicted of? King, whose motives were political too, but who, unlike Aaron, triggered actions which caused real harm. What's that number?
And how many was he even charged with in the whole of his career?
Two. Two bogus charges (perjury and tax evasion) from Alabama, which an all-white jury acquitted him of.
This is a measure of who we have become. And we don't even notice it. We can't even see the extremism that we have allowed to creep into our law. And we treat as decent a government official who invokes her family while defending behavior which in part at least drove this boy to his death.
I still dream. It is something that Darrell Issa and Zoe Lofgren are thinking along the same lines. On this anniversary of the success of the campaign to stop SOPA -- a campaign which Aaron helped architect -- maybe I'm right to be hopeful that even this Congress might do something. We'll see. Maybe they'll surprise us. Maybe.
But for now, I need to step away. I apologize for the silence. I am sorry for the replies I will not give. Aaron was wrong about very few things, but he was wrong to take his life. I have to return to mine, and to the amazingly beautiful creatures who are trying to pull me back.
I will always love you, sweet boy. Please find the peace you were seeking. And if you do, please find a way to share that too.