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13-01-13 Prosecutor as Bully

13-01-13 Prosecutor as Bully

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Published by William J Greenberg

Aaron had literally done nothing in his life “to make money.” He was fortunate Reddit turned out as it did, but from his work building the RSS standard, to his work architecting Creative Commons, to his work liberating public records, to his work building a free public library, to his work supporting Change Congress/FixCongressFirst/Rootstrikers, and then Demand Progress, Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good. He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think?

Aaron had literally done nothing in his life “to make money.” He was fortunate Reddit turned out as it did, but from his work building the RSS standard, to his work architecting Creative Commons, to his work liberating public records, to his work building a free public library, to his work supporting Change Congress/FixCongressFirst/Rootstrikers, and then Demand Progress, Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good. He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think?

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Published by: William J Greenberg on Jan 14, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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09/17/2013

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Prosecutor as bully(Some will say this is not the time. I disagree. This is the time when every mixedemotion needs to find voice.)Since his arrest in January, 2011, I have known more about the events that beganthis spiral than I have wanted to know. Aaron consulted me as a friend and lawyer.He shared with me what went down and why, and I worked with him to get help.When my obligations to Harvard created a conflict that made it impossible for me tocontinue as a lawyer, I continued as a friend. Not a good enough friend, no doubt,but nothing was going to draw that friendship into doubt. The billions of snippets of sadness and bewilderment spinning across the Netconfirm who this amazing boy was to all of us. But as I’ve read these aches, there’sone strain I wish we could resist:
Please don’t pathologize this story
.No doubt it is a certain crazy that brings a person as loved as Aaron was loved (andhe was surrounded in NY by people who loved him) to do what Aaron did. It angers
 
me that he did what he did. But if we’re going to learn from this, we can’t let slidewhat brought him here.First, of course, Aaron brought Aaron here.As I said when I wrote about thecase(when obligations required I say something publicly),
if 
what the governmentalleged was true — and I say “if” because I am not revealing what Aaron said to methen — then what he did was wrong. And if not legally wrong, then at least morallywrong. The causes that Aaron fought for are my causes too. But as much as Irespect those who disagree with me about this, these means are not mine.But all this shows is that if the government proved its case, some punishment wasappropriate. So what was that appropriate punishment? Was Aaron a terrorist? Or acracker trying to profit from stolen goods? Or was this something completelydifferent?Early on, and to its great credit, JSTOR figured “appropriate” out: They declined topursue their own action against Aaron, and they asked the government to drop its.MIT, to its great shame, was not as clear, and so the prosecutor had the excuse heneeded to continue his war against the “criminal” who we who loved him knew asAaron.Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For theoutrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of theprosecutor’s behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as itcould to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The“property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — withthe hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from hiscrime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stashof 
 ACADEMIC ARTICLES
is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not,yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.Aaron had literally done nothing in his life “to make money.” He was fortunateReddit turned out as it did, but from his work building the RSS standard, to his workarchitecting Creative Commons, to his work liberating public records, to his workbuilding a free public library, to his work supporting ChangeCongress/FixCongressFirst/Rootstrikers, and then Demand Progress, Aaron wasalways and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good. He wasbrilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question Ihave asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gonetoday, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. I getwrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve tohave the power of the United States government behind you.

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