I would like, if I may, take some time to salute some criminals who made important contributions to society. Because, every once in a while, you should take the time to thank a criminal.
Now, I'm not trying to say that criminals are inherently good. In fact some of them are downright horrible. I'm looking at you, Bernie Madoff. However, consider the following. We have a black history month despite the continued existence of Alan Keys and Flava Flav. We have a women's history month despite the continued existence of Margaret Thatcher and Ke$ha. So why shouldn't criminals be similarly honored?
Like black people and women, criminals are discriminated against. There is an unwritten assumption that criminals are inherently bad people. It's almost as if the written law had some sort of actual correlation between good and evil. Now that's just crazy talk, but it's crazy talk that people believe, just like creationism and the linearity of the square root.
For instance the right-wing anti-immigrant demagogues like to emphasize the face that they're fighting illegal immigrants. But the only reason why the illegal immigrants are illegal in the first place is because there are some stupid anti-immigration laws that have no business being there in the first place. If they just got rid of those stupid laws, all of those illegal immigrants would magically become legal immigrants.
But because people associate being a criminal with all sorts of horrible things like rape and murder, people hear the word illegal and assume they must be bad.
It gets even crazier when police brutality is involved. Did you know that there are laws against the "crime" of "resisting arrest"? How insane is that? I mean, if you did something genuinely bad, that should be a crime in and of itself, and if your not guilty then you should have every right to resist arrest!
So when police beat the shit out of somebody for exercising their right to free speech and/or skateboarding, the police always throw in a charge of "resisting arrest". So when it turns out that exercising your right to free speech and/or skateboarding are, in fact, not against the law, you'll still be guilty of "resisting arrest" and that makes you a criminal, and hence, a terrible person. Therefore the police are completely justified in whatever they do. I mean, talk about lame!
So with that in mind, let's turn to a few of those important criminals who genuinely made the world a better place. And not despite being criminals, but because of being criminals.
Martin Luther King
You might be surprised to learn that we actually have a national holiday in honor of a criminal! That's right, Martin Luther King, the "I have a dream" guy, was a criminal. He even went to jail. A Birmingham jail. Where he wrote a letter. His crime? Holding a civil rights protest despite an injunction from the Commissioner of Public Safety. Public Safety, for fuck's sake! Won't someone think of the children?!
You'd think that wouldn't you? I mean breaking the law, threatening Public Safety! He's got to be a horrible person. But then, in a shocking turn of events, it turned out that civil rights was actually a good thing. Weird, man. In fact, nowadays, it's universally recognized that civil rights was a good thing, at least by people who don't have the last name "Paul" and first initial "R".
I know it seems shocking. I mean, a law that, rather than being good, is bad! And a criminal who, rather than being bad, is good! It's like everything's gone topsy-turvy. How does this happen? The world may never know.
You know how we have this thing called a "weekend"? And this thing called "being paid enough that you won't starve to death"? And this thing called "not having everything being made by child labor"? How do you think we got those things? I'll tell you. It's because of the tireless work of criminals. Specifically the criminals in the labor movement.
That's right, all of these basic rights came from people going on strike. In 1894, union activist Eugene Debs was supporting the Pullman strike, when President Grover Cleveland decided it should be illegal, so he sent troops to arrest the strikers, including Debs. The troops also killed 13 strikers, but that was okay, because they were criminals anyway. And yet, it was precisely this sort of thing that makes us not all be sweatshop workers.
There were, of course, lots of important criminals involved in the labor movement, beyond Debs, who made some important contributions. But Debs later on became a criminal again! That's right! Get this, he actually gave a speech opposing the First World War. That's right, he actually had the nerve to exercise his right to free speech. This being before the invention of the "resisting arrest" charge, he was arrested for sedition instead. But he still have in third place in the 1920 presidential election despite being in jail.
Every Single One of the Founding Fathers
Do you know what's particularly crazy about all of those "rule of law" anti-immigrant types? They're all proud to be American! Even though this fine country of ours was founded by criminals!!! That's right, when those founding fathers of ours signed a declaration of independence calling for, in the words of Stan Freberg, "the overthrow of the British government through force and violence".
In order for all of that American rule of law to even come into existence people had to end the British rule of law. Under that perfectly legal law the signers of the declaration of independence were guilty of treason. This was a capital offense. I mean, if they hadn't won the war they would have been executed. More importantly, it was against the law!!! Criminals!!!!!
I mean, if you think the existence of Martin Luther King day is crazy-go-nuts, July 4th is a celebration of a whole bunch of criminals who committed a capital offense! And yet all those anti-immigrant "tough on crime" types seem completely oblivious to the fact that they're fighting crime in the name of these criminals!
The Liverpool 47
These guys aren't as well known, but they are nonetheless criminals who nonetheless made important contributions. In 1983 the Labour Party was elected in control of the Liverpool city council, under the leadership of the Militant Tendency. The Militant Tendency were a bunch of crazies who had this crazy idea that politicians should actually adhere to their election promises. Those promises included, funding public services, creating jobs, not introducing burdensome taxes on working people. However the Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher, who decided that should be illegal.
While most politicians would respond to this by backtracking on their promises, the crazy Trots who were running Liverpool had this idea that it was "better to break the law than to break the poor". So they funded public services, created jobs and didn't introduce any burdensome taxes on working people. They did this with an illegal budget, while demanding that Thatcher pay for it with the vast amount of federal money that she decided was better spent on a pair of desolate islands off the coast of Antarctica.
And in 1984 Margaret Thatcher did give in! That's right, Margaret Thatcher, the iron lady caved into the demands of 47 criminals (and the hundreds of thousands of people who voted them into office)! But in 1987 they were kicked out of office, not by the will of the people of Liverpool, but by a decree from the House of Lords. You see, in England, fulfilling your election promises makes you a criminal, but having a bunch of inbred royalists overturn a democratically elected government is perfectly legal. So ask yourself, who's side are you on? The Monarchists? Or the Criminals?!?!?!
Of course, the Liverpool 47 weren't the only people to come into conflict with the House of Lords. In Gilbert and Sullivan's opera Iolanthe, the son of the title character is in love Phyllis, with the ward of the Lord Chancellor. Iolanthe herself was married to the Lord Chancellor and had to meet him to keep him from marrying Phyllis. The problem? Iolanthe was a fairy! And it's against fairy law to marry a mortal. Iolanthe was punished with banishment and a promise that she never see the Lord Chancellor again. So to stop the Chancellor from marrying Phyllis she had to violate a long held but frankly, unjust, fairy law!
Her motives may have been pure. But that doesn't change the fact that she was a criminal! A fairy criminal! But, this being a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, it had to have a happy ending. How could this come about? I mean it's the law! Right there in black and white: "every fairy must die who marries a mortal". You can't change that! Or can you? Well thanks to the courageous criminality of the fairy Iolanthe, the Lord Chancellor came up with an ingenious solution:
Allow me, as an old Equity draftsman, to make a suggestion. The subtleties of the legal mind are equal to the emergency. The thing is really quite simple – the insertion of a single word will do it. Let it stand that every fairy shall die who doesn’t marry a mortal, and there you are, out of your difficulty at once!
And that's really what it all comes down to. When you have a law that sucks, don't treat people like the scum of the earth just because they're criminals. Simply change the law so it doesn't suck anymore, and there you are, out of your difficulty at once!