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1/ My first client as a solo practitioner shared his name with the protagonist of "1984."

His crime?

Talking to a white woman.

In #Massachusetts.

In 2008.

He was convicted under a weirdass 17-century MA statute, and he was doing 6 months for it when we met.

2/ I was impressed when I first came here to learn that there are still colonial-era laws in effect in the Commonwealth.

Like this one, charged in pertinent part as Accosting & Annoying a Person of the Opposite Sex. Sounds like something you'd be put in stocks for, right?
3/ (Quick footnote:

The law was recently amended to remove reference to "the opposite sex" so that the charge is merely "accosting and annoying a person." This is because making the victim's gender an element of a crime is both highly problematic & blatantly unconstitutional.)
4/ Anyway, pretty much every part of this old MA statute involves what legal scholars call "social crimes": vagrancy, disorderly conduct, panhandling, etc. Really any offense you can think of that ruling elites have historically used to keep the poors in line and off the streets
5/ Here was my client's actual crime:

He hit on a white convenience store clerk, while black, in an extremely white Massachusetts county.

That's it. I swear that's all it was.

Nothing threatening or sexually inappropriate--just a bad pickup.

That stupid law got him 6 months
6/ Go out around Faneuil Hall in Boston any given Saturday night and you'll see white college bros literally spitting their terrible drunken game in ways far worse than anything my client said. Yet somehow our courts aren't swamped w/accosting & annoying charges every Mon morning
7/ Like all social crimes--and really most criminal statutes--this offense is deployed strategically against the poor and/or racial, sexual, neuroatypical, & gender minorities.

I was 28 when I took the case, and academically aware of this concept--but this was real. Too real.
8/ Here I was a few miles from ultra-liberal Northampton, in the middle of one of our famously bluest states, sitting across a plastic prison table from a black man convicted of the colonial equivalent of a Jim Crow law.

Again: 2008.

The 2008 you may remember from 11 years ago
9/ Here's the thing: I lost his appeal.

The MA Appeals Ct agreed with the jury that the "victim" had every right not only to be nervous when a black man walked into her store, but to *call the police on him.*

He served his full 6-month sentence.


2008. Massachusetts.
10/ Part of the appeal involved having to explain to three elderly white male judges that "don't get it twisted" is not the unstable gibberish of a madman, but in fact a well-known expression among non-white people for "don't misunderstand me."

Which, just
11/ "Don't get it twisted."

My client was literally telling the clerk that he didn't mean to upset her.

But she took it as some kind of threat, even beyond the apparent threat that his very existence represented to her. So she called the police.
12/ Fellow white people: this is reality.*

Listen to POC who tell you this is happening to them.

In Massachusetts. In 2019.

*also please, please don't call the police for anything short of actual mortal danger.
13/ Also very much worth noting that this is exactly why @DARollins is specifically declining to prosecute most social crimes.

White #Boston is acting like this sensible, equitable policy is the Purge.

It's homeless people sleeping in buildings. Chill

(Footnote: I did challenge the constitutionality of the law in the appeal, but that's difficult when the issue wasn't raised below--and our highest court had already considered this question & (barely) ruled it constitutional anyway. This has been affirmed as recently as 2014.)
*EDIT: I hadn't reviewed this case in more than 10 years when I wrote this. Upon review, he was alleged to have said some crude--but still not threatening--things to her. Poor taste, and certainly a mistake... but six months worth of poor taste?
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