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It started with a puppy. He was across the street, but who was I to let a couple of cars get in the way? I jaywalked in front of some cops (leaving L.A. has its benefits) and began to play with the ball of fur. After a couple of minutes of tummy-rubbing, I was obligated to say something to the patient owner and was about to when she spoke up. “It’s nice to see someone not afraid to act like a kid.” Her honesty was right there with me, but her eyes seemed really distant, as though they had found a way to bury a deep hole for hiding things. “You don’t have a lot of innocence in your life, do you?” I decided to take a chance. “Tomorrow I move to the north suburbs because my ex-boyfriend is getting out of prison early for good behavior. He was in prison for a year for breaking my ribs. Aggravated assault on me, Ellen R. I have a restraining order, but he never respected those in the past.” “Doesn’t he get in trouble for breaking restraining orders?” I asked, as upset now as I had been happy with the puppy. “Well, I’m moving aren’t I? Not much happens to men who hit women. He knows it. I know it. The cops I call every week who know him by name know it. It’s not such a big deal nowadays. I’m not such a big deal nowadays.” “And the cops won’t protect you?” “They will only after he beats me up. The last time he was beating up on me my son attacked him and almost killed him. I had to pull him off, begging him not to go to the electric chair, leaving me alone with that monster. It was the hardest thing I ever had to say.” Now even the puppy listened. “And you’re in a rush to move before he finds out where you are? And all the time you’re still going to have to look over your shoulder, hoping it’s not him?” She nodded. “And the law can’t seem to find a way to protect you?” The nodding continued. “This is bullshit.” Ellen had not stopped nodding since my first, shocked, question. “The law should be ashamed at its failure to protect you and your son.” I walked away and Ellen was still nodding. I was shaking my head — in shame — at having gone to law school. We are all complicit, right? How much more complicit am I? Aren’t I one of the few people who could do something to change Ellen’s plight? As I walked to the nearest bar to numb me back to reality, I saw another dog tied to a bike rack. I crossed the street again. A German Shepherd this time, but a surprisingly friendly one with a shiny coat. It looked like it took vitamins. I got to tummy-rub for longer because this time the owner wasn’t there. But finally he showed up. I had the dog’s hind paw kicking. His owner wore a beat-up denim jacket with a bandanna and needed a shave. He was homeless. Realizing what I was wearing that day, I suddenly felt very phony. “Your dog is beautiful, man!” “Thanks. I try to take real good care of Butter.” Butter had suddenly forgotten I was there and smiled as only dogs can to the scruffy man with the kind voice. “Yeah, I just got her back in time to celebrate her third birthday,” he said as he petted behind her ears. “Why were you two separated?” “I was in prison.” This was it! I was going to find out when the law got serious about punishing people who did real bad things. “What did you do?” “Well, I bought a bike at a pawn shop. Which I need, ’cause I’m homeless. But I didn’t license it because I’m trying to take care of me and Butter with what little money I have and knowing what I do now, I sure am guilty of being dumb. When I got arrested for theft, I had the ticket-number from the pawn shop, but the guy never gave me a receipt. The pricetag was in handwriting so it didn’t help me any either. The DA danced when I got two years. Probably more than even he expected. “Butter here, she stayed with the bailiff for a year because I made friends with him during a recess in my trial and explained to him that my dog needed a place to stay.” Butter’s tail thumped. “He told me he didn’t care for ‘my kind,’ but that that wasn’t my dog’s fault. Said he would take good care of her. After a year, she jumped the fence of the bailiff’s house. When I found out I was still behind bars. It felt like the only family I got was suffering for my mistake which shouldn’t even be a crime. “But she walked the streets for a year while I was waiting to get out of jail. My second night on the streets after I got out, she found me.” He smiled. “Licked me awake!” Butter barked and jumped when he smiled. “So I try to take real good care of her.” And the shock I felt at the Nameless Victim’s story and Butter’s owner’s story individually was nothing compared to how the combination of their stories, in showing where the law overdoes it and where the law meanwhile chooses not to protect our very bodies, our most basic right — this destroyed me. We are spending our legal resources in such a way that we are destroying our real resources — our fellow humans, and in the process, our own humanity. So long as breaking-and-entering real property is punished, and therefore demonstratedly considered a worse crime than breaking-and-entering a woman’s body, reallocating penal resources or reforming police policy will mean nothing. Because society’s fiscal obsession, by molding our values-in-action like a malignant five-year-old with Play-doh that affects real lives, causes us to fail to protect our women. Teenage sons are tackling tried felons because we can’t manage to punish wife-beaters, even when we get phone calls telling us he’s on his way over. Those who become lawyers could choose to give Ellen a reason to expect something different from a system that has failed her and dissapointed her as much as that swine did. Want to make something of the new year? Of your new career? Here you go. Butter lived on the streets, chancing fate everytime she jaywalked, because instead of protecting Ellen our courts are punishing quasi-thieves; financial losses seen on a spreadsheet mean more than human trauma that can’t be quantified via Excel. You can go to court bemoan your stolen bicycle, and get relief. But usually all our courts can effectively give a battered woman is sympathy. If “the business of this nation is business,” the business of the law is to protect business. So long as our values protect property instead of women, it is we and not Butter who are the dogs of this story. The bicycle was replaced. Can Ellen so easily replace her life? Her sense of security? The idea that her society would give a damn about a man telegraphing his next crack at “domestic violence”? Her faith in a social contract that her tormentor is wiping himself with? The original version of the Declaration of Independence read ” … life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.” Have we really come far by establishing woman’s suffrage? What good is the vote if you know that no vote you cast will make your society protect your body as much as your bicycle? Our President called on our armed forces to fight terror abroad. I call on our future, on today’s law students, to fight terror in our homes. Those who created this problem aren’t the ones to change it. Only those who are fresh — only you law students who are thinking about what you’re going to do with that vaunted J.D. — can do something for the Ellens of the world. Free-lancer Mitch Artman lives and writes in Chicago.

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