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June 6, 2002


House on a Cloud

By Scott Harrison





Which leaves us with a question. If I did not hurt my wife, if I was not at any time violent, if I never even threatened violence, then why would she smash up our kitchen, call the police, and say I did it? Why would she deliberately lie, have me arrested, file for a restraining order, file for divorce, and then never speak to me again? Why? Even if the marriage had been merely a means for her to get to America and earn money, such actions seem rather severe. Surely I must have done something to her to produce this magnitude of vengeance. If I didn’t hit her, what could possibly explain what happened?

There are two things. In the first place, I don’t think my wife could have known how big a deal this would become and I don’t think she could possibly have known how completely the system itself would break down. All she needed was a piece of paper saying she left our marriage because I was abusive. That’s all she needed to give Immigration to retain her American residency. I don’t believe she intended to cut her hand when she broke the kitchen window, but when she did cut her hand by accident, when blood was on the kitchen floor, she started something she couldn’t stop. At that point, the police by their own rules were required to arrest me. She had no say in the matter. And I know now that if she had tried to stop it, they would have threatened her. They would have told her, just as I saw at a trial in another case, that if she didn’t go along with prosecuting me, then she herself could be subject to a criminal charge. Any such criminal charge probably would have resulted in her deportation.

So after she got this ball rolling, it was too big to stop. If she tried to stop it, it would roll over her too, as it had rolled over me.

The second part of the explanation about my wife’s actions has purely to do with her religion. Islam warns about lying and giving false testimony (which she did do). But it is very clear that those who attack, question, or disrespect Mohammed or his book must be severely punished. The Quran says that Allah will do the punishing, but Khadija felt a need to help. She must have believed that if she didn’t turn completely against me, she would not get into heaven. So, the bigger the “statement” she could make, the better. She attacked me the day after America began bombing Afghanistan. I think she felt miserable for living with the “enemy.”

In a non-religious context, you could say that my wife suffered a psychotic episode with delusions of persecution. These were not deliberately provoked by me, but the incident occurred when she was under tremendous duress just weeks after 9/11. Things had become too much for her and she stopped seeing me as a person. She must have seen me as a great demon. I think it was a total rupture from reality. Or at least a partial rupture, coupled with her desire to cover up her fraudulent marriage. She wanted to stay in America and shut me up. Shut me up about Islam, yes, but more importantly about how she had robbed me.

Which brings up another question. Imagine that a stowaway on a ship (as Khadija was a stowaway in our marriage) hides next to the boiler room by sheer accident. As the journey begins, it starts getting hot next to the boiler room, and over time it gets more and more intolerable. Finally, made delusional by the heat, the stowaway finds some tools and uses them to poke a hole in the hull of the boat, so that water pours into the boiler room and extinguishes the fire. But as the water rushes in, it begins to sink the entire ship. Lies lead to bigger lies. Then the boat goes down, and in the chaos and panic the stowaway climbs onto one of the lifeboats and claims to be a regular passenger. Naturally nobody asks any questions. Who would dare? So the stowaway survives. Just as Khadija supposedly survived an abusive man. The stowaway is rescued, taken, as a “survivor,” to the original destination, and even given money for pain and suffering. Aside from the sunken boat and some casualties, everything has worked out beautifully. The stowaway has succeeded.

The question arises: should the shipping company be punished for not having good enough security to prevent the stowaway from getting on the ship in the first place? Whatever happened, am I to blame because I loved her, trusted her, and married her? Did I get what I deserve?

By the same token, if a devout Muslim knowingly marries a non-believer, is it right for her later to persecute him for his non-belief? Is it right for her to make a scene about his differing opinions and set about to punish him? That is exactly what she did when she broke the window and falsely accused me. That was not defense. It was outright persecution.

No matter what my wife did or did not do, no matter what she intended (which I feel certain was to be a fake wife for two years and then get American residency after dropping her decoy husband), the system itself, the system of justice fell flat on its face.

Allow me to take you through a quick inventory. (The SF Call archive has a fuller account, starting from June of 2002. You can check it yourself.)

The police were called by a woman who claimed falsely to be the victim of her husband’s temper. She claimed he had thrown her around the kitchen and into a window, causing her to sustain an injury. The police were given a totally counterfeit story. The police arrived, quickly surveyed the scene, decided what had occurred, and proceeded to shape the case, selecting only the evidence that supported their perception. They immediately aborted an objective investigation in favor of assembling a case that would stick in court. Unfortunately their hunch, their guess was wrong. They produced a totally botched case with falsehood by omission. It’s not what they said; it’s what they left out. Among the things they did while trampling justice, they made a mockery of the Miranda law. They reshaped my brief interview to make it friendlier to their verdict, by taking out all my accusations against my wife. They conducted the case in miniature, by selecting nearly no evidence at all other than taking a picture of my wife’s injured hand. They interviewed her, but they failed to talk at all about how she had a black belt in Taekwando and how she could move tremendously toward gaining American residency by making a false police report. They never questioned her actions or motives. They never explored what she would have to gain if it was a bogus report. They didn’t touch on any potential guilt on her part and didn’t get within even a light year of asking about other people who may have helped her do what she had done.

The police were made total fools of.

I think their being duped is understandable and forgivable. People make mistakes. It’s like a store that mistakenly accepts a counterfeit $100 bill. It was designed to fool them. They are not looking for it. It worked. Her counterfeit incident passed.

What is not forgivable is the stonewalling of the San Francisco police. When I kept insisting they go back and look at the case more carefully, they put me off, making it clear that a “shithead” like me wasn’t going to tell them anything about how to do or not do their job. I encountered a depth of arrogance that astonished me. And when I pushed further, I was given advice that would have amounted to my hanging myself if I had followed it (look in the SF Call archives beginning at  August 30, 2002 for my chapter on this, “Men in Black and Blue”). The police badly blundered, but rather then show any degree of integrity and accountability, they showed an awesome disregard for honest investigation, due process, the presumption of innocence, and my civil rights. I gather this is just regular business as usual for them. I have discovered the police have a huge reputation for shoddy, dishonest work.

I was learning my wife not only shoved me into a pit; she shoved me into a pit of snakes. Who could have known? Not me. I had no idea the system itself was so diseased.

Then the case should have been cleaned up by the District Attorney’s office and the Public Defender’s Office. When the case was given to them by the police, surely they should have cleaned things up. Surely!

Not so. The District Attorney’s Office was on a “no tolerance” crusade, so I was collateral damage. They were so busy proving how tough they could be for the newspapers, the TV stations, and local politicians that they couldn’t be bothered by whom was getting trampled by their excessive zeal. I was a bone they would not let go of! They would prosecute me to the full extent of their powers; they would have “so-called” expert witnesses come in to tell a jury that mine was a typical case of domestic abuse leading to violence. “Experts” who had no special academic training. Experts who were police officers working for the police to assist in obtaining convictions with no record of ever assisting the defense. The D.A. also had laws on the books that were so tight and so technical that every third person on any given day would be guilty of them. For example, when I restrained my wife by holding her arm, that was defined as battery. Punishable by six months in county jail. The “expert” witness would also be on hand to tell a jury that my wife was lying about lying in case she decided to retract (and tell the truth). The D.A. was also schooled and versed in coercing “victims” to participate in the prosecution or face serious consequences. It was a basketball game. Slam dunk. Truth be damned.

What about the lawyer appointed to defend me? (Please refer to “Wall to Wall Law,” beginning in the September 23, 2002 SF Call). Public defenders are faced with liars and deniers all day long, so my lawyer decided I was one more liar although the circumstances were more exotic than most cases he’d seen. He cut corners. By misrepresenting laws, he arranged a package deal where I’d plead to a lesser charge and avoid almost-certain conviction -- conviction because in a trial, he said, it would be my wife’s word against mine and he felt sure the jury would side with the woman. I tried to tell him: no, it is not her against me; it is what really happened against her fabrications. Truth was on my side, and hopefully in a courtroom that still counts for something. But he didn’t really have the time for me to be innocent. His caseload was too full, so he was happy because he had obtained a better deal for me than most guilty men get.

I was shoehorned into a deal I didn’t want. But I assumed, because I had pleaded “no contest” to the charge of dissuading my wife from calling the police (which hadn’t really happened) and because all the other charges were dropped, that all presumptions that I had hurt or pushed my wife into a window would be eliminated. I soon found (too late) that everyone, everywhere assumed that because I made any plea at all, this was proof I had been violent to my wife. The police. Friends of Khadija’s. Lawyers. The Commissioner in Civil Court. Everyone! And I was told over and over that it was my fault that I was presumed guilty, because I had accepted a plea bargain. That proved it. If I wasn’t guilty, why would I plead to anything? (See SF Call archive for a fuller answer).

Then came the year of torture where lawyers, counselors, and my probation officer repeatedly threatened to have me spend up to a year in jail if I didn’t admit I was violent. I never buckled. But I began to realize the entire system was dishonest, abusive, and corrupted. People in the system with little corners of power become fond of playing sadistic power games over the men they control. It gets really sick. And all the while they pointed their fingers at me as if I had asked for their cruel torments.

Be that as it may.

I also discovered one reason the system has broken down so badly is that it has become brilliant at suppressing, stifling, and smothering anyone who would stand up and make a complaint against it. It’s one thing for me to choke and suffer and endure its ignorance but quite another for me to dare stain anyone's reputation. How dare I! I’m talking about the entire system, all the players from the cop on the beat to the judge on the bench.

If judges are sexist or hopelessly prejudiced against a party, it is for the judges themselves to decide if they are competent or not. They are the ones who decide to recuse themselves or not. These are the court rules.

A victim of the police who wants to file a lawsuit against the city must first have the city itself review the complaint. The city allows only a narrow time frame for complaints to be filed, and it excludes whole categories from being considered. For example, it can consider an individual violation of the police rules by a police officer but it does not recognize complaints against police policies. Same with the Office of Citizen Complaints that is empowered to “police the police.” I found from personal experience that the OCC eliminates 80% of complaints against police by accepting a simple denial by the police officers in question and not doing any further investigation or inquiry. I learned that many times the police don’t even bother showing up to make their anticipated denial. The inspector practically shouted at me that they could not simply take my word. I told him, yes but that’s all my case was ever about! My wife’s word! And my wife lied!

With police officers, none of this counts.

I tell myself, if the shoe were on the other foot and the police had to drop any case where the suspect denied it, we could trim the entire police force down to ten people sitting by telephones.

The courts are an entirely different matter. The courts are extremely old, tradition-bound, rule-gridlocked, blind, deaf, and dumb dinosaurs. The essence of a free country inhabited by people who live freely is that government -- the courts included -- must be, as Lincoln said, “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Our courts are not. I found the courts to be made up of highly paid lawyers, run by highly paid lawyers, and administering laws written by lawyers for highly paid lawyers whose clients were told to rely on their lawyers and shut up. In Civil Court I represented myself, so I was dismissed out of hand. I was told that, if I was legally representing myself, I had to adhere to the same standard that lawyers spend years of time in law school mastering, and I was eliminated. The law is a specialized system with a specialized language, a specialized, highly technical protocol, and highly complex rules. The courts are ruled and run by an elite for an elite, and both make absolutely obscene profits monopolizing the law for themselves. It is a monopoly. And I discovered that lawyers will defend one another and their special little world before they will defend you. Just hope your interests don’t conflict with theirs! It is a system that is completely unsuited to deal with the complex and diverse social situations it gets handed. It is a dinosaur that handles matters by stomping on the perceived “bad guys” according to roomfuls of legal books. It is a form of institutional psychosis that has long perpetuated the deep inequities and prejudices of our society. By complex means, it allows police to be occupation armies. I can’t even begin to deal with this huge subject, but I will propose a little thing for you to consider. If law-and-order is not reflective of the sickness of a society but of individuals who have gone wrong, then why are such a disproportionate number of poor people and people of color defendants? All day long in the courthouse you see light-skinned judges and you see dark-skinned defendants.

Of course there are good judges and superb judgments (Gideon for one and Miranda for another) but these are summer birds in a snowdrift. The entire empire of justice is blind, deaf, and dumb. The more the courts attempt to control social behavior, the more they just step on people’s homes, lives, and communities. It’s not that the police and the courts don’t have a right to try to make society a safer, better place. They just do not have the right to make such a god-awful mess of it as they do.

And it’s not that my wife didn’t have the moral right to fool me, get to America, and make a better life for herself. She did. But she didn’t have the right to use my love to defraud me out of some $60,000, ruin my peace of mind, and demolish my hard-earned reputation. She didn’t have the right to hurt all the other people she hurt in her wake. Mary Jones, my sister, my mother, and so many others. This stowaway didn’t just make the trip. She sank the boat. She didn’t have the right to violently shut me up because I said I don’t believe her leader spoke to God and I don’t believe the book he produced is the absolute unquestioned truth for all people. That is not domestic violence. That is not a crime. Not here anyway.

But I have discovered that people in general suffer from television consciousness. In the land of television, you can be sure that, by the final commercial break, the good guy will win, the liar will be exposed, and justice will be done. In the universe of television, pretty words cast an illusion. And if things look good on paper, don’t worry, you did your job. Let truth and the people you’ve hurt be damned. You got paid. Don’t worry. Walk on.

Nothing is going to stop you.