Honoring Columbus Day: Can I get a mug shot?

Light the tree, set off the fireworks and pass out the candy… it’s Columbus Day in America!  Today is more than just the day we get to watch Bears/Lions on Monday Night Football.  In Canada, of course, they mistakenly call today Canadian Thanksgiving.  Although, we don’t really care what they’re doing up in America’s Hat.  As I’ve already explained, Canada is backwards.  I guess this Thanksgiving/Columbus day mix-up is just Exhibit #2 to that effect.

When I was just a little tyke (eager to learn and foolish to believe what anybody told me) I was taught that Columbus “discovered” America.  Much to my shock and horror, I have subsequently read on  Al Gore’s Internet that Leif Ericson discovered North America 500 years before Columbus suckered Spanish royalty into funding his fantastic voyage .  While you might take that to mean that Columbus did not “discover” North America, I choose to believe it means we were discovered twice.  My first grade teacher wouldn’t lie to me.

 

What I don’t recall any of my teachers telling me was that Columbus was later arrested and dragged back to Europe in chains.  He was subsequently released without any real trial.  Times were different then.

If you take a look at all of the information my first grade teacher didn’t have, shutting down most the government offices in honor of Columbus might not make as much sense as it once did.  He was a five centuries behind Leif Ericson getting here, he likely tortured people, and he ended up getting incarcerated by the people who employed him.  Is that “paid holiday” worthy?

People always ask me “how” I can do what I do.  How I can defend “those” people.  How I can spend all day “trying to get them off.”

Fortunately, I get that people asking those questions lack the overall perspective of the criminal justice system.  That perspective is that the law is not black-and-white. It’s complicated.  Very complicated.  People aren’t black-and-white, either.  They’re complicated.  Extremely complicated.  Court is where those complicated people and legal issues converge and get sifted through the process in an attempt to produce yes-and-no answers.  This is, unfortunately, partly why the comparisons between making sausage and law are too true.

Columbus reminds me of the people you read about getting arrested in the paper.  The people I spend my days trying to help.  If you only knew Columbus from his mug shot, he would never have made it into our history books.  Conversely, he became a national hero for a historical snapshot of his singular, most successful triumph.  He was more than a tyrant.  He was more than a great explorer.  He was more and less than both of those.

I’m not asking you to think of Columbus in high regard.  Nor am I asking you to hate Columbus.  I’d prefer that you don’t judge the man one-way-or-the other.  What I am saying, though, is that nobody named “Canadian Thanksgiving” ever reminded me that people are just that: people.

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This was originally posted on 10/10/11. On 10/13/14 it was updated and re-posted. Happy Columbus Day!

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Author: matthaiduk

Matt Haiduk is a criminal defense lawyer in Illinois. He loves his dog. And pizza.

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