Why Wall Street Bankers Won’t Go to Jail

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by Amanda Bloom

A photograph taken during a labor protest in San Francisco in April of 2011.

As we near the one month mark in the now international anti-corporate greed movement known as “Occupy Wall Street”, many protestors are calling for the arrest of the “bad bankers” behind the economic fallout.

Protestors who march on roadways without permission will be arrested, and big bankers who may or may not have caused the country’s economic fallout will not.

Why?

Because the former were operating outside of the law, and the latter were operating, somehow, inside of it.

by Amanda Bloom

 


 

As we near the one month mark in the now international anti-corporate greed movement known as “Occupy Wall Street”, many protestors are calling for the arrest of the “bad bankers” behind the economic fallout.

 

“The big banks’ financial maneuvers brought our economy to the brink of collapse,” wrote Matt Cantor of Newser on October 7, “but you don’t see any bankers behind bars.  Instead, it’s the Occupy Wall Street protesters who are getting arrested–for such heinous crimes as stopping traffic.”

 

It is unfortunate when protesters get arrested, but there are very clear ways in which to protest without police interference – safely, respectfully and within the law.  So if a group of protesters wishes to march up the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge when a walking path sits directly overhead, they are breaking each of these practices.  If a group of protesters decides to demonstrate in a Boston park and in doing so trample thousands of dollars worth of landscaping and garden installations, again they are breaking these practices.  The job of the police is to enforce the law and to keep the peace, and it is unfair to say that protester’s civil liberties are being compromised by the police when protesters are clearly violating the law, and therefore police are just doing their job by arresting them.

Protesters who march on roadways without permission will be arrested, and big bankers who may or may not have caused the country’s economic fallout will not.  Why?  Because the former were operating outside of the law, and the latter were operating, somehow, inside of it.

 

“Societies think they operate by something called morality, but they don’t. They operate by something called law[…]The question is never “Was it wrong”, but “Was it legal”. And not by our laws, no. By the laws at the time.”

-Professor Rohl of The Reader

 

While the morality of what happened on Wall Street in 2008 is more than arguable, it’s hard to say that it was technically illegal.  According to a report from FireDogLake, President Obama told ABC News reporter Jake Tapper that the banks found loopholes within their business practices – the practice of making money.

 

“Obama basically suggested that most of the actions on Wall Street weren’t illegal but just immoral,” wrote David Dayen on October 6.

 

No concrete laws were broken, and the government provided billions of dollars in bailout money to keep ailing banks and corporations in business. These businesses may have acted immorally and caused economic devastation, but with the law and the government behind them, it’s unlikely that they will ever pay for their actions.

The 2008 Academy Award-winning film The Reader, directed by Stephen Daldry, based on a famous German novel of the same name, written by Bernhard Schlink, takes place throughout post-war Germany.  One of the main characters is on trial for the war crimes she committed while working at a concentration camp during the Holocaust.  A group of German law students are observing the trials, and their feelings are quite conflicted – the students ask themselves what kind of punishment is due to those who were in reality just doing their job, and doing so under an oppressive regime.

Their law professor has this to say as the students debate the legality of the concentration camp workers various crimes:

 

“Societies think they operate by something called morality, but they don’t. They operate by something called law[…]The question is never “Was it wrong”, but “Was it legal”. And not by our laws, no. By the laws at the time.”

 

Today, this conflict between American business, government and justice is also one of jurisprudence, or the philosophy of law.  Wall Street bankers were doing their job, though perhaps not in an honest way, and doing so under a complicit, and extensively corporate, regime.  Where do we go from here to set things right?

The Occupy Wall Street movement is a profound and powerful one, a movement indicative of the vast changes that many of us crave for our country.  However, we can’t go back and demand reparations from those who were operating within the law, however creatively they may have been operating.   

The Occupant’s voices are becoming louder and more steadfast, and it will soon be impossible for those in positions of power to ignore the protesters’ messages.  With more time,  the movement may collect the visions within itself and help to grow the United States into a more morally legal country.

 

by & filed under Health & Humanity, Health & Humanity News.