When you cross Houston Street heading south towards the bottom of Manhattan and turn east towards the river and the Williamsburg Bridge, you come to one of New York’s original old neighborhoods: the Lower East Side. If you could listen through the curtain of time to a hundred and twenty years ago, you would hear clusters of voices talking, shouting over other voices, none of them speaking English. You would hear some German, some Russian, but mostly you would hear the sound of Yiddish. You would hear the creaking wheels of wooden pushcarts making their way along crowded streets, vendors selling their hot chickpeas, and schleppers calling out from doorways to entice young men to buy tailored suits to move up in the world.
In 1972, rural Allentown, New Jersey, sitting on the westernmost tip of Monmouth County, was a throwback to an earlier time in America, defying with an almost furious resistance the changes taking place in the rest of the United States and exploding on college campuses. The town only had one traffic light that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t at the one intersection where Main Street crossed Church Street. There were the humble single-family duplex frame houses at the poor end of town and the gingerbready manses at the high end of town, aptly called “Hill Street.”
There was a small fire department with a pumper truck, a tanker, and a field truck for fighting brush fires, a rescue squad with two vintage Dodge vans converted into ambulances, and a three-person police department headed up by a retired New Jersey State trooper who didn’t believe in automatic transmissions and started his car in low, moved it into 2nd, and then into drive as he tried to catch speeders bounding through town on their way to Trenton. The town’s mayor ran the borough’s only general store from behind which meat counter he would rail at things like welfare, civil rights, socialism, college students, and anyone else younger than thirty.
Today is Law Day. The president signed a proclamation acknowledging Law Day, a day in which Americans look around in appreciation that we are a society of laws – not simply of regulations – but laws that protect our basic rights and guarantee justice as a remedy for wrongs. Sometimes we disagree with the interpretation of laws and sometimes we agree with them. But, regardless, each and every person living in America has the basic right to walk into court, have his or her day in court, to argue for justice.
When my law school put out a call to alumni to submit papers on an aspect of law, the Fourteenth Amendment’s application of the Bill of Rights, initially only applied to the federal government, I wrote about how the first amendment, the protection of free speech, second amendment, the right to keep and bear arms, and the fourth, fifth, and sixth amendments , all having to do with rights protecting against arbitrary search and seizure, the right to due process of law, and the right to be represented by an attorney at hearings all apply to the states in specific cases. Here is that law note.
Holy Week fifty years ago came at the end of a wet and harsh winter in New York’s Greenwich Village. It came near the end of my first year in graduate school year, a shock to the system of someone who had glided through college spending more time in student politics, varsity athletics, and fraternity beer bashing than doing anything else during this era of “Mad Men.”
At the end of the 1990s, my old writing partner from our book The Riverman approached me with a question: Would I be interested in participating in a United States Department of Justice grant to audit the ways previous DoJ hardware and software grants to local and municipal law-enforcement agencies used their federal money? The issue was that the federal government was looking for follow-up on the scores of millions of dollars it had spent purchasing and donating state of the art computer systems to local police agencies to enable them to review cold cases involving sexual assaults and homicides. The Department of Justice wanted our new grant audit team to ascertain whether the expenditure had made any difference in closing these cases.