A Memo to Friends and Colleagues

I wanted to take a moment to thank the many friends and colleagues, especially those at Felician University, who have expressed their support for me following my police detention of Wednesday, November 29th. I deeply appreciate the support you’ve sent my way. Indeed, my gratitude extends to the many jokes–some of them pretty funny–that have been made at my expense, my personal favorite being someone’s description of my detention as “something out a sitcom co-written by Michel Foucault and Flavor Flav.”

My brother’s idea of “moral support”

For now, suffice it to say that I was involuntarily detained on that date for several hours by the Lodi Police Department and Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, involuntarily transported to the Lodi police station, held and questioned there, and asked to give consent to search my car and “premises.”

Having refused to speak, and having refused consent for all searches, I was released later that day, and have heard nothing since. No specific allegation was ever made, no charges were ever filed, no arrest was made, and to the best of my knowledge, no searches were undertaken, other than a pat-down of my clothing and a demand to empty my pockets (yielding three pens, a wallet, 30 cents in change, and three Lactaid Single Serve Pouches). I was simply told that someone had made an allegation to the police through an anonymous tip line (“mishear something, say something else”), that the allegation involved the imputation to me of a “threat,” and that the “threat” had to be investigated by law enforcement, as it was.

I’ve now retained defense counsel, and am well on my way to putting the event behind me–though I reserve the right, of course (and in due course), to comment on it here and elsewhere. Free speech having been compromised by the event, it would make no sense to compromise it any further. In any case, I learned a lot from it, so there’s a lot to say. But right now, I have grading to finish.

Instead of commenting directly on the event, I thought I’d quote two passages I encountered while dealing with it. Each in its own way helped me put things in perspective.

The first is a passage from section 94 of Locke’s Thoughts Concerning Education.

The only fence against the world, is a thorough knowledge of it: into which a young gentleman should be entered by degrees, as he can bear it; and the earlier the better, so he be in safe and skilful hands to guide him. The scene should be gently opened, and his entrance made step by step, and the dangers pointed out that attend him, from the several degrees, tempers, designs, and clubs of men. He should be prepared to be shocked by some, and caressed by others; warned who are like to oppose, who to mislead, who to undermine him, and who to serve him. He should be instructed how to know and distinguish men; where he should let them see, and when dissemble the knowledge of them, and their aims and workings. And if he be too forward to venture upon his own strength and skill, the perplexity and trouble of a misadventure now and then, that reaches not his innocence, his health, or reputation, may not be an ill way to teach him more caution.

This, I confess, containing one great part of wisdom, is not the product of some superficial thoughts, or much reading; but the effect of experience and observation in a man, who has lived in the world with his eyes open, and conversed with men of all sorts. And therefore I think it of most value to be instilled into a young man, upon all occasions which offer themselves, that when he comes to launch into the deep himself, he may not be like one at sea without a line, compass, or sea-chart; but may have some notice before-hand of the rocks and shoals, the currents and quick-sands, and know a little how to steer, that he sink not, before he get experience.

I have mixed feelings about Locke, and about this book of his in particular, but I can’t argue with any of this. Having had my first police interrogation at the age of seven (“the earlier the better”), and experienced so many since then (“conversed with men of all sorts”), I feel like I’ve lived up to Locke’s strictures, and better come to appreciate “the perplexity and trouble of a misadventure now and then,” along with the knowledge that comes with it. Ivory Tower epistemologists don’t always appreciate the significance of the knowledge involved, but if we locked more of them in interrogation rooms, I think they’d figure it out.

The other passage is a prayer by St. Francis de Sales, “Be at Peace,” sent my way by one of the sweetest and hardest-working colleagues I have at Felician. (Let’s spare her the embarrassment of being named, but she knows who she is, and she now knows how much I appreciate her gesture.)

Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life; rather look to them with full hope as they arise. God, whose very own you are, will deliver you from out of them. He has kept you hitherto, and He will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it, God will bury you in his arms. Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and everyday. He will either shield you from suffering, or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.

I have as mixed feelings about God the Father as I do about Locke the Philosopher, but I can’t argue with any of this, either. Suffice it to say, in the spirit of the prayer, that if I had to do it all over, I’d do nothing differently than I did–whether it led to the same outcome or a worse one. And for those who have wondered whether I’m “OK,” rest assured, I’m doing a hell of a lot better than that. In fact, I’m in an uncommonly good mood–the kind of mood the prayer describes. Where the mood comes from, I couldn’t say. Being in it is good enough for me.

5 thoughts on “A Memo to Friends and Colleagues

  1. I’m sorry to hear about this. I suppose it adds to your rich experience of being subjected to utter bullshit by people with political authority, but, well, I’m not sure the experienced gained is worth the subjection. In any case, glad to hear that you’re free and unmolested (for now).

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    • Well, thanks. You’d have to ask my attorney as to the exact culpability of the authorities (a topic on which I defer to him), but I can’t help wondering about the culpability of the people who made the accusation in the first place. It’s taken me about two weeks of inquiries–no one ever made a specific accusation, and no one ever specified what accusation was made–but as far as I’ve been able to gather, the accusation was that I had threatened a form of terroristic mass murder.

      What a fucking surprise. Two years ago, people thought I was exaggerating when I made such a big deal about Trump’s lies about the supposed celebrations of 9/11 in Jersey City. Yes, they said, it was wrong of him to make such claims (and to make fun of a disabled reporter in the bargain), but could it really lead to the dire consequences I envisioned? Really? I mean, could any concrete, physical threat arise from the widespread delusion that the Arab-Muslim(ish) community of north Jersey had celebrated 9/11?

      Gee, I don’t know. It could be that when people become that credulous, they’ll believe any rubbish you put in their ears–or for that matter, that comes out of their own mouths. It could be that if someone fabricates an accusation that a loudmouth Muslimish professor has made a “threat,” the accusation becomes sufficient evidence in this climate of opinion that he is a threat. And if it’s to be believed that he’s a threat, then it’s to be believed that he’s a lethal, murderous threat. And how do you deal with one of those? Well, you rush in, you block his car, you detain him, you get the SWAT team ready, and all the rest.

      But don’t worry: we have nothing to fear from people who would blithely make such things up, nor do we have anything to fear from a Fraternal Order of Police that endorsed Donald Trump, nor do we have anything to fear from a Donald Trump who lied about 9/11 and wanted the Central Park Five executed (and hasn’t taken it back). We have nothing to fear but Fake News itself.

      The Lodi Police Chief, while interrogating me, told me that he had fought for my freedoms in Iraq. This was his way of trying to get me to waive my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. We live in a time when it’s considered “unpatriotic” and “inappropriate” to ask the obvious question: what the fuck does the Iraq War have to do with the Fifth Amendment? How did the weapons of mass destruction they didn’t find facilitate my saying the things I didn’t say? But maybe questions like those are the ones most in need of asking, however “threatening” they may be to those who don’t want them asked, much less answered.

      As you may surmise, I have a lot to say, not all of it of an “appropriate” nature, but I’m trammeled not only by my lack of tenure at Felician, but by an employment contract that prohibits contact with the press, and by the advice of counsel, which is always in the direction of a legalistic form of prudence. And your guess is as good as mine as to whether writing on my own blog counts as a form of “contact with the press.” If I start talking to myself on the street, and a journalist goes by, have I made contract-violative contact with the press? If I’m in the middle of a riot in Jerusalem, and have a conversation with NPR’s Jerusalem correspondent–during the summer, while off-contract–am I supposed to call the Vice President of University Advancement and ask him if my contract permits my having the conversation? Once again, we’re forced to ask the lawyers.

      Just for the record (not that you asked): I didn’t threaten anyone, ever. (I’m not threatening anyone now.) I had no plans of carrying out a threat, have none, and can’t foresee ever having one. I had no means of carrying out a threat, then or now. I still don’t know who made the accusations, what the accusations were, what they were based on, or why they were made. I only know that they were whole-cloth lies through and through. I can know that without knowing the specific accusation made because I know as a certainty that I made no threat, and had none to make.

      As for my overall assessment of the experience, to paraphrase Solon: let us offer no verdict until the end is known.

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