False Witness: Baltimore & Ancient Israel

eric-garner Police choking Eric Garner to death

I’ve been steamed this week, reading about the latest victim of police murder–Freddie Gray. As often happens, perjury is committed by those sworn to uphold the law. The medical examiner says that the probable cause of death was a “rough” ride in a police van. Mr. Gray sustained a crushed larynx and 80% of his spine was severed. The examiner’s report showed no bruising. How could the ride be rough enough to sever his spine without leaving any bruises? And how could such a ride crush his larynx? His head would have to be thrown back and his body flung neck first against a protruding bolt—all somehow without damaging his nose, teeth, or jaw.

Eyewitnesses say, more plausibly, that one police officer knelt on Mr. Gray’s neck while another bent him backwards “like a pretzel.” That he was not fighting but limp when thrown into the van. These accounts have since disappeared from the news. Recordings on surveillance cameras were taped over.

In The Stars in their Courses I include a dramatic incident of perjury in ancient Israel. King Ahab has hired two lowlifes to bear false witness against his neighbor, Navot:

Navot and his sons were hauled in at the end of a rope. The prisoners’ wrists had been tied above their heads, and Navot’s face had purple bruise marks.

The head of the Council shook his head in disapproval. “Untie them,” he ordered. “They haven’t been convicted yet. Then bring in the witnesses.”

A soldier stepped outside and returned with two men. They strutted like dandies. Their beards were oiled and braided with carnelian beads. Cheap gold chains—mostly copper—hung from their necks. When they passed through the commoners’ section, a group of gaudy women waved at them and they nodded briefly, like princes acknowledging the peasantry. But their speech had more in common with a porter’s than a nobleman’s.

“Nah, Navot and me, we ain’t friends.”

“But you know who he is?” the councilman asked.

“Yup. I seen him at the wine shop.”

“Did you ever hear him say anything bad about the king?”

“Yeah. He said Ahab should, begging your pardon, folks, he said Ahab should eat shit and die. And if Yahweh didn’t have enough balls to strike the sonofabitch dead, maybe someone else would poison him.”

“It’s a lie!” Navot shouted.

“The accused is ordered to be quiet. You’ll have your turn.”

The Councilman turned to the second witness. “Did you ever hear Navot talk like this?”

“For sure. I was there, same time.”

“You were drinking?”

“We had a couple, yeah. Not more’n that. Too early in the day, y’know? Mostly we was there to check up on our girls.” He nodded toward the women in gaudy dress. One of them fluttered her fingers at him.

Navot’s turn came. He passionately denied the accusations. However, it was two men’s word against his. The Council found him guilty and ordered him stoned, along with his sons.

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One Response to False Witness: Baltimore & Ancient Israel

  1. Martha Shelley May 4, 2015 at 10:28 pm #

    After this post, I wrote in a comment to a NY Times article. I mentioned Mr. Gray’s injuries and my doubt that they could have been caused by a rough ride. Then I made the following prediction: “those eyewitnesses will never be called to testify or, if they are, they will be discredited because they were Mr. Gray’s friends and probably have had previous encounters of their own with the law. Five of the six officers will walk. The sixth, the driver of the van, will be convicted on the least of the charges and serve a minimal amount of time.”

    Another reader, Mary from Atlanta, replied to my comment. She said, “… from eyewitness accounts, Gray inflicted his own injuries by flailing about in the van, deliberately banging his head against the bolts…I seriously doubt these injuries were inflicted by the officers.”

    I thought I was beyond astonishment at the level of racism and authoritarianism in this society, but Mary’s reply floored me. What eyewitnesses could have seen into the back of the police van while it was moving? And can you imagine anyone banging his head against the bolts so forcefully that he severed his own spine? How could he crush his own larynx?

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