In Memoriam Eric Garner, Part I

The churning water slipped away as the steel box of the ferry plied the waters of the sound, a squadron of gulls accompanying its passage. Islands hove into view while others retreated behind them. Officer Scharnhearse stood at the prow and let the wind play in his hair. There had been a time, months ago, when in this situation he would have been putting down the urge within himself to fire off a few shots at the gulls. Those were old days, rookie days. Scharnhearse was feeling expansive. Down at the City Terminal precinct that morning they had begun the day with an officer ethics drill-down. And not what you would expect either. The automated self-evolving national curriculum had coughed up a module on ancient philosophy, of all things. The mood in the projector room had been all chortles and rolling eyes at first, but as the presentation wore on it gave way to a kind of grudging flattery. Scharnhearse and the boys had been given to understand that there were men who had lived 2500 years ago, wise men, who felt exactly as they did now: beleaguered by the needs and reproaches of the week, restrained by convention and false shame from acting with the freedom and authority their natures had endowed them with, lest they be judged by an ethical standard that held out the worship of weakness as its highest ideal. It had been hard to keep up with everything the resonant, stentorian narrator had been saying, but the takeaway for Scharnhearse was that there had been a guy named Callicles over there in Europe or the Middle East somewhere who had taken up cudgels long, long ago for what he and his boys were feeling now, and that he had been scorned and ostracized for voicing his perfectly natural sentiment. Scharnhearse could hardly believe it when the narrator said that he and his boys, ordinary sound and harbor patrol officers, were the last in a long line of heirs to this underdressed grievance. The narrator had been very particular, not only about the fact itself, but about the need to do something about it. Scharnhearse thought he could remember the words through the whistle of wind and the sight of holms and the pinging and flexing of the ferry’s hull: “For unless the active principle is applied in pursuit of vengeance, an historical grievance is bound to reduce its heir to the latest in a long line of unremembered victims. But with that sorry risk comes a golden opportunity: today you have the chance, yes today, to show that as the agents of strengths in our city, you are unencumbered by the old ways and the old fears. Fear of what? Stepping on toes? Toes be damned – nay crushed, in honor of the strength of the law.” When the lights came on, Scharnhearse’s sergeant stood up and said the whole line of thinking was beyond their pay grade, but orders were orders. Make of it what you will, he’d said. Scharnhearse wasn’t so sure. There’d been something there that had spoken to him. Something real. Eternal even.

To the other passengers borne over the waters in the austere comfort of the steel box, Scharnhearse must have appeared not to have a care in the world. They could not have been more mistake. He was monitoring the goings-on on both decks every fathom of the way through the video feeds being patched into his heads-up sheepdog display. Nothing noteworthy, but there was one passenger he just had a feeling about. A tremendously fat fellow sitting down below who could been shelling peanuts and littering the refuse onto the steel decking and into the water the whole way. Not that that was an ordinance against shelling peanuts on a boat. Peanut shells were one of the few items you could get away with littering in public, the heads-up Letter-of-the-Law Wizard had told him. A detail that made Scharnhearse chafe. The guy was clearly an offensive character – how fat and pathetic did you have to be to let your weight keep you from enjoying the breeze and the light of day on the upper deck? – so how could his actions not constitute an offense? The worst was that the slob seemed somehow pleased with himself, self-assured even. He never interacted with the other passengers, but every flick of his wrist or toss of his head was done with the most infuriating nonchalance.

Still, Scharnhearse felt sure he’d be presented with an opportunity to turn the slob into a stat. All he had to do was bide his time and keep trail him after they docked at the island terminal. Using his eyes as a mouse, he put a box around the man’s miserable girth to lock onto him as a suspect in the heads-up interface. That way no matter where he went he’d be passed from camera to camera and would never slip from Scharnhearse’s viewfinder. Just then the voice of the narrator from the morning’s presentation spoke into his ear: “Remember Callicles. Justice that openly sides with the weak is a mockery.” The wizard tended to give positive reinforcement whenever he used the controls to do police work like this, but until now it had always been a mellow computer voice that came on. Scharnhearse found the narrator’s voice appealing to be sure, but it still somehow felt like an intrusion – like waking up with a stranger next to you.


In Memoriam Eric Garner, Part I

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