A Traffic Stop with RobotCop: Block 02
I observe as the green Honda sedan makes an illegal right turn on red. A quick scan indicates that Mackenzie has witnessed the act as well. He engages the cruiser’s lightbar and pursues the Honda around the corner. There is no emergency lane on the two-lane road. The Honda drives at a low rate of speed and signals a right turn. It pulls over into the parking lot of a chain casual dining restaurant. Officer Mackenzie stops the cruiser behind the Honda then reports the traffic stop to dispatch. He runs a database check on the car’s license plate. There are no notifications attached to the vehicle, and no outstanding arrest warrants, open probations or outstanding traffic violations attached to the vehicle owner, one Chantelle Braddock. Mackenzie cues up the template for an illegal turn, pending identification, registration and insurance information.
“An illegal turn like this is small change, barely worth stopping for, but I have a feeling about this one.” Mackenzie says. “You learn to tell by how the car is maintained, little things… I’ll go into detail after, but I think we’ll be able to do better than a dinky little traffic ticket here. Watch me.”
Mackenzie exits the vehicle and signals me to do the same. Mackenzie walks to the driver side window. I walk to the passenger side and stand several feet from the front door. There are two young men in the car. Both driver and passenger roll down their windows. According to my age estimation circuit, the car’s occupants are likely aged 17–25. My ethnic recognition circuit, which has a limited and well-documented number of interface points with my decision engine, informs me that the passenger and driver are dark-skinned, and likely both African-American.
“You boys know why I stopped you today?” Mackenzie begins. My cultural sensitivity circuit registers that the word “boys” may carry derogatory racial connotations. Due to the probable ages of the occupants however, the circuit determines that the phrasing is only slightly likely to be considered offensive. No prospective words or actions are forwarded to my decision engine.
“Nope,” says the driver. Mackenzie’s face registers surprise and anger.
“Can’t you even read the goddamn sign that says ‘NO TURN ON RED’?” Mackenzie’s body language indicates a level of agitation out of proportion with the driver’s reply, and with the overall situation.
“Didn’t see it.” The driver replies. His body language is calm. However, my audio sensors detect a tremor in his speech. It is consistent with moderate emotional agitation.
“I’m giving you one last chance.”
“I didn’t see the sign, off-fi-cer.”
“You know what?” Mackenzie says. He leans toward the window, then back again. He stands up straight. “I smell marijuana,” he says. “Step out of the car now, both of you.”
My atmospheric analysis sensor registers molecular content consistent with marijuana, but at levels significantly below the range of human detection. There is a 99.78% probability that Officer Mackenzie does not smell marijuana.
“There is no human-detectable marijuana odor present,” I say.
Mackenzie looks at me over the roof of the car. “Oh yeah smart guy? You know what that ‘dro smells like? These goons are probably driving impaired, and endangering every other motorist on the road. There might be more pot in the car. We’ll find out when we do a search.”
My legal circuit reacts immediately. “There is no procedural reason to conduct a search of the car or of the suspects. The evidence and the situation warrant that we serve these gentlemen the citation for the traffic violation and continue our patrol. You may administer a sobriety test if you believe that the driver is legitimately impaired.”
“You telling me what I can and can’t do?”
The passenger looks at me from inside the car. His expression initially registers mild surprise, then amazement. “Whoa, are you that RobotCop? I saw about it- uh, you on the news, but I thought that shit was an April Fool’s joke. Do you really have like, artificial intelligence?”
“I am an automated law enforcement officer. I exist to protect and serve, like every officer on the municipal police force.” My humor circuit instructs me to pose heroically, but my situational awareness circuit warns me that this may agitate Officer Mackenzie further. My decision engine receives a compromise directive. I rotate my head so that the passenger sees me in profile, and face upward in a dramatic fashion for one full second. I turn and face Officer Mackenzie again.
His glare registers high levels of restrained aggression. “Stand down RobotCop,” he says. “We’re here to keep the road safe, not make friends. These fake-ass thugs are driving stoned and we need to search the car.”
“Man, we ain’t smoked nothing. Just chill out and listen to the robot, he knows what’s up. Just give us the ticket and let it go,” says the passenger.
“Chill out and listen to the robot,” Mackenzie says quietly. “Alright, get the fuck out of the car.” He pulls on the driver-side door handle. My visuals indicate that the door is locked. Mackenzie realizes this and reaches through the window to manually unlock it.
“Hey, what are you doing?” says the driver. “This is messed up. I don’t want trouble. Just gimme the ticket and I’ll pay.”
“Oh you’ll pay alright,” says Mackenzie. He opens the door and reaches across the driver, pressing the seat belt release mechanism. My situational analysis circuit recognizes that Officer Mackenzie has made himself vulnerable by initiating contact with a suspect without first securing proper coverage from his partner. He has also given the suspect the opportunity to seize his sidearm, Taser and mace, as well as other important items in his equipment belt.
“Man, get off me!” cries the driver. He offers minimal resistance however, and Mackenzie pulls him from the car. Mackenzie moves several feet away and unholsters his service pistol, holding it at his side.
“Put your hands on the vehicle,” commands Mackenzie.
“Man, help us,” says the seated passenger, quietly. He is looking directly into my facial optics.
“Officer Mackenzie, you are escalating the situation without probable cause,” I say. “You are in danger of violating the suspect’s 4th Amendment rights by initiating an unreasonable search and or seizure.”
“Oh can it, you self-righteous pile of bolts,” Mackenzie says, before motioning at the passenger with the muzzle of his gun. “Get the fuck outta the car now. RobotCop, make yourself useful and search that asshole when he gets out.”
The passenger emerges as Mackenzie begins reaching into the driver’s pockets with his free hand. “Anything sharp in here asshole? Am I going to cut — A-ha!” Mackenzie shouts, pulling a plastic bag from the driver’s pocket and holding it up. My visual and atmospheric sensors indicate that it is likely marijuana. The amount appears to be less than 0.125 ounces.
“I told you I smelled that Kush, and I knew you were lying to me, homeboy. Now we can all take a ride back to the station and get you guys booked up.”
My legal circuit takes precedence. “Officer Mackenzie, the evidence you are holding was obtained through an illegal search. It is invalid and inadmissible according to the principle of the exclusionary rule.”
“What are you, RobotLawyer now? Let the DA worry about that. Get that goon’s ID and put him in cuffs.” Officer Mackenzie is attempting to place handcuffs on the driver without holstering his gun. The driver moves his wrists away in an isolated manner.
Mackenzie jabs the muzzle of his service pistol into the base of the driver’s neck. “You want resisting arrest as well, homey?” The driver goes still. Mackenzie maneuvers him closer to the car, then slams his upper body onto the hood of the green Honda.
My legal circuit is making recommendations to my decision engine. My misconduct circuit is active. I walk around the Honda and stand approximately 5.27 feet behind Officer Mackenzie. “I am programmed to eliminate inefficiencies in the municipal legal system. This is an unlawful arrest based on inadmissible evidence from an unconstitutional search. Officer Mackenzie, please release the suspect and serve him with the traffic citation.” My police psychology circuit informs me that Officer Mackenzie will be unlikely to acquiesce to my request immediately. My diplomacy circuit begins to compile persuasive strategies for accomplishing my legal circuit’s imperative.
Mackenzie turns toward me. His body language indicates rage and disbelief. “You fucking piece of junk! How dare you tell me how to do my job? I’ve been keeping this city safe since you were a bunch of chips being soldered to a board in fucking Taiwan.” The driver and passenger are both still, their attention focused on Mackenzie.
“How could you ever know what it’s like to worry about crime?” he continues. “I let Lil Boosie here go, and I become the responsible party — like if he gets fuckin’ faded, runs a red and kills somebody’s daughter on his way to KFC. Even better, Who’s responsible if him and his homeboys shoot up the wrong house and kill a taxpayer?” He moves over and slams the driver onto the hood again for emphasis. The driver makes a quiet sound of distress. “I am. And I take that seriously. You don’t know anything about family, you don’t know anything about crime. You’re just gears and sensors, running on some bullshit code written by eggheads who wouldn’t know a serial rapist from their own mother.”
My diplomacy circuit suggests I attempt to calm Officer Mackenzie by legitimizing his concerns. It instructs me to induce the passenger and driver to validate him as well, if possible. “Officer Mackenzie, your concerns are my concerns, inasmuch as I am an officer of the law. The perspective you possess in your dual role as both citizen and peace officer is indeed beyond my comprehension. Your knowledge and experience are invaluable. However, I do not believe that it is inconsistent with your principles to serve justice today by confiscating the illegal drugs found here, delivering a traffic citation and a sobriety test to the violators and resuming our patrol. These young men have demonstrated no violent behavior, and their actions today have indicated no criminal intent than a mild, but possibly willful disregard for the technicalities of traffic law. I am ninety-nine point three one percent certain that these young men value your service in an unconscious way, if not a-”
“You are not a person. So shut. The fuck. Up. Be silent and take a good look at this, because this is how we do things. This is how we’ve always done things. Don’t think you can just boot up your little operating system and change the way we keep law and order. Stand the fuck down RobotCop. We’re not letting this scum get off with a wrist slap just cause your imaginary rookie conscience is bothering you.” Mackenzie moves back over and slams the driver onto the hood again, with more force than the previous instances. My heat sensor indicates a small irregularity, and my optics pick up data from the same region. The driver has urinated slightly onto his pants.
The passenger begins running away. I turn my main optics toward him. My motion circuit calculates the vectors I will follow in order to apprehend the suspect.
“I will apprehend the passenger,” I say. However, as I begin to actuate, my sensors pick up movement from Mackenzie. I focus on him and see him raise a weapon. Within 3.50 milliseconds I identify it as his police-issue Taser.
Mackenzie fires, and the electrodes attach to the passenger. He stumbles, emitting a yelp, then falls to the ground. Mackenzie and I both move toward the prone passenger.
“The citizen is incapacitated,” I report. “Please release the trigger and stop the flow of current, Officer Mackenzie.”
Mackenzie does not say anything. My sensors indicate a high level of current flowing through the electrodes. The passenger is writhing on the ground in pain. My medical circuit indicates that he is at severe risk of lasting physical harm if the current is not stopped immediately.
“The fuck you doing man?!” the handcuffed driver shouts, struggling to lift himself upright from the hood. “You piece of shit. He didn’t fuckin’ do nothing. You’re killing him.”
“Release the trigger Mackenzie. This man is in danger,” I say. While I am shielded from a specified level of electrical current, the amount flowing through the Taser wires could seriously damage both my physical and computerized systems. I can do little to help the passenger directly.
“You’d like that wouldn’t you, RobotCop?” Mackenzie says, switching hands so that his pistol is in his right hand, and the Taser is in his left. “Pay attention! Sometimes you gotta show em that we don’t back down. Every year they try to file down our teeth, but deep down they know we’re really all that’s there, the thin blue fucking line, the only barrier between society and the savages outside it.”
My public safety circuit has overridden the others. An emergency course of action has been prepared and submitted to my decision engine. Initial vectors have been calculated, and alternate sequences have been prepared in preparation for contingencies.
“This is your last warning, Mackenzie.”
“You’re warning me? That’s rich. You know, you really are-”
I execute the course of action.
“Somebody wanna tell me why the fuck we decided to pick Officer Thomas G. Mackenzie to be our public face, in this delicate task we’ve chosen to undertake? Jesus Lord God, we coulda picked somebody fresh-faced and clean cut. Somebody still young and idealistic, noble. Overstreet would be perfect, Chang would be steady, even Rodriguez — mean streak and all — at least has charisma.”
O’Flannery rests his elbows on the desk and bows his head. He runs his hands through his bright orange hair, which looks unusually oily and thin under the fluorescent office lights. “Mackenzie’s seen too much, he’s done too much, he doesn’t smile or make pleasantries, and frankly — and I said this to them, in no uncertain terms — he’s too cor-”
“You know we don’t use the C-word here.” I interrupt.
O’Flannery fixes me with a glare. Despite the puffiness of his eyes, the effect is piercing. “Fine,” he says, “In my professional opinion Officer Mackenzie is too… worldly to pair with RobotCop. It’s obvious he’s trying to teach him too much ‘street knowledge’ off the bat, and in front of every journalist and academic in the tri-state area. If you think they aren’t squirming in their seats right now — the civilians and our officers both — you’re on another planet.”
“Mackenzie’s a stalwart. He’s seen this department through tough times. And Jesus, O’Flannery, remember Lieutenant Mackenzie? He was your equal — until he jumped on that grenade to save those other guys. He never once complained, even when he was back shadowing second-years on their street patrols.”
“I’ve never said this aloud Lou, but I think he was like a caged animal behind that insignia, and more than anything he wanted to run in the wild again. He’s got an appetite — an appetite for-”
The phone that O’Flannery hung up not three minutes ago rings again. He scoops it up swiftly and listens for a few seconds.
“We’ve gotta move Lou, now,” he says.
O’Flannery’s face looks grey as he sets the phone in its cradle. He turns off his computer, rises from his desk, picks up his holstered gun, puts on his hat and opens the door, holding it for me as we exit the glass cube of his office. He locks up and we step out into the temporary auditorium. Mackenzie is saying “I smell marijuana,” then the video and audio suddenly cut out. There are a few seconds of silence and darkness, then a set of readouts fills the screen and people begin to murmur. I recognize the display as the same one that the Indian prick was looking at earlier.
“We’re probably gonna have to shut him down,” O’Flannery says. The urgency of his tone sets me on edge and I put a hand on my gun.
“It,” I say. “RobotCop is an it. Not a fucking person.”
There is confusion in the auditorium. Everybody is looking at each other and babbling. They are looking around the room as if they expect to the answers to suddenly materialize. Sergeant Delvecchio steps up to a podium under the screen and once the mic is live, tells the crowd that “We are experiencing technical difficulties.” This is the correct lie, but many of the audience see right through it. A shouting match develops, and Delvecchio quickly gives up the mic.
O’Flannery and I are already jogging for the elevators, our heels clicking on the marble. It’s setting in now and I feel rage and adrenaline coming to a boil in my stomach. If that traitorous fucking pile of scrap hurt Mackenzie I’ll dismantle it myself, piece by piece.
“What?” O’Flannery says.
“If that traitorous fucking pile of scrap hurt Mackenzie I’ll dismantle it myself, piece by piece,” I shout, apparently for the second time, meaning it just as much as the first.
While Chief Brockton and Deputy Chief Gottfried have power over the feed, only the judge can shut down RobotCop. Brockton and Gottfried are in a viewing room upstairs. I can’t remember where the judge is… does O’ Flannery know?
“We go straight for the municipal courtroom and the judge, but diplomatically,” he says, as if able to hear my thoughts. “Chief and Gottfried probably won’t wait for us.”
As we get into the elevator, I hear footsteps echoing on the tiles behind us. I poke my head out and see Rombus and some other guy moving fast toward the elevator bank. The door is closing, and there’s nothing to be done. If we see them upstairs though, they are fair game.
I remove my gun from its holster.
“What are you doing?” O’Flannery asks.
“Not for the judge… We’re being followed.”
“You mean those pencil-dick programmers? Shite man, what the fuck are they gonna do?”
I don’t answer. I begin to wonder if maybe I’ve been outfoxed, not just me — all of us. There was some block of code in that machine that we didn’t know about, some liberal revenge fantasy that manifested as one of my officers being hung out to dry.
O’Flannery takes a deep breath as the elevator rises. “You know what Lou? I’m creating an atmosphere of panic, and I apologize,” he says, “We all reviewed the operating code together, remember? We took months going through every contingency. So let’s not lose our heads and jump to conclusions. It could be something as stupid as Mackenzie saying something un-PC, and they don’t want the journalists to hear it. We’ll drop in on Gottfried and Chief first. Hell, they could even be putting the feed back on right now.”
I need to find out what happened.
Five minutes. So much can happen in five minutes.
All my intuition is telling me that it will be a race to the judge, so I’m on my feet and moving as the murmur begins. I’m thankful that I chose an aisle seat the second time. I spot my friend Wei Cooper-Zhang — a real scrupulous, earnest-hearted reporter for the Courier — leaning against the wall and sidle up to him.
“I’m going to the judge. Come with me now, or play dumb and get out of here. Things are going to get serious.”
Wei seems a little surprised by my urgency, but nods and falls in alongside. The judge’s viewing room is not technically in the police station, but in the adjacent legal building, which houses a small municipal courtroom — one generally used for minor infractions and misdemeanor cases. The judge is the only person authorized to execute a hard shutdown on RobotCop. He is viewing in a sequestered environment to avoid any undue influence. He has a trusted bailiff posted at the door and that’s it.
For whatever reason the shutdown procedures were kept secret from the architects of the project, but a journalist friend of mine explained it to me over cocktails last week. It literally requires a metal key, but the lock is built into a housing that plugs into a computer by USB — hybrid style. Apparently a string of characters wouldn’t cut it; they felt the actual key was necessary.
I’m almost sure that right after the feed cut out, my programming saw a real fucking test. I was naïve, all of us were really, to think that the conflict between police brotherhood and public ethics wouldn’t come to a head this soon. I just wish we could have all watched it unfold together, in a more neutral environment. It would have been like watching the last play of the Super Bowl.
“Last play? The game is still on,” Wei says. I realize I must have said the last part aloud. He’s right though, the game is still on, and only the judge can call it early.
As we jog toward the elevators, I see another pair of men moving ahead of us, trenchcoats billowing, shoes clacking sharply against the cream marble floor. I recognize Argyle right away. The other guy I don’t recognize — probably some higher up in the department, if official-looking hats are a reliable indicator of rank.
“They’re probably thinking judge too huh?” Wei says.
“The one on the right is Lou Argyle.”
“Yeah. He’s dangerous, and he hates me, with a passion.”
“I’m not high on his friends list either. Remember the Ice Cream Truck Scandal?”
“We’re in the belly of the beast here,” I say. “And if shit goes down, our word means nothing.”
The men get in the elevator. Argyle pops his head back out and stares at me until the door almost closes on it. There’s a wild look in his eyes that I don’t like. Paranoid, a little insane.
“Let’s take the stairs then, or go around outside,” Wei suggests. I stop to think. If we take the stairs they’ll hear us coming up and ambush us. If we go outside they could lock us out.
“We need eyes, ears. If we go after them alone they’ll just beat the shit out of us — or worse,” I say. “Here, follow me.”
Wei sees me starting to turn back. “Daniel. You need to go ahead, or I do. Someone has to get there before they tamper with the footage, or strong-arm the judge into deleting it.” He fixes me with a look. “One of us can rally the press and the observers. They want answers and we can make this into a protest scene pretty quick.”
“Protest scene… There should already be one outside.”
Wei looks confused, then smiles. “I can’t believe I forgot about that. Yes, that should simplify things.”
“Simplify?” I say under my breath.
Wei has heard me. “Control is their thing. Chaos favors us.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be neutral…? Wait, don’t answer that.” I think for a moment. “The dispatcher, radios, communications. Disrupt that and they won’t be able to organize or call for backup. They’ll have a harder time converging on RobotCop too, poor guy.”
Wei gives me a funny look.
“I think the comm room is in the northeast corner of this building,” I say, trying to recover.
Wei’s already leaning toward the auditorium. He turns back to me for a quick, firm handshake, then we dash our separate ways.
I take the stairs, but quietly. I try to stifle my panting at the top, but this proves to be difficult. The first floor’s high ceiling makes the second floor more like the third, and I’m hardly in great shape. I open the stairwell door a crack and peer through. Silence. An empty corridor. They must have gone ahead. I make my way down the hallway, shoes in hand. I hear a movement and I freeze.
The four of them file out of the room and move away in a hurry. They don’t even look in my direction or close the door behind them. I realize almost instantly that the door will lock once it shuts. I have to get in there. I begin a desperate lunge on slippery stocking feet, praying to whatever gods will listen that the men don’t turn around and spot me. The door is closing slowly, the damper hissing — but the distance is great, and in their big coats with big guns underneath, the men’s backs are like a mountain range…
I slip in and freeze, waiting for the door to close. Nothing from outside but shoe-clack, receding. The door shuts and I hear the mechanism slide home. Safe, for the moment.
Unless one of them forgot something in their haste. I look around frantically for badges, guns, Tasers, documents, anything that would send any of them back into the room. I don’t see any personal objects, but I still scan for a potential hiding place.
There isn’t much. The room seems to be a surveillance room, quite modern in fact, with a medium-sized console and array of flatscreen monitors at the front of the room and some blinking equipment behind the locked grate of a tall A/V rack to the left, opposite the door. Folding tables are set up against the side walls at the rear of the room, each with a couple folding chairs tucked into them.
As the thudding of my heart subsides I realize that the feed is still on here, with sound. I approach the console with some trepidation.
I am expecting the worst: the suspects handcuffed and prone, blood drying on their waxy grey faces, or a static shot of the sky, clouds slipping behind the foregrounded grin of Officer Mackenzie, kneeling in triumph over the incapacitated RobotCop.
It is Mackenzie I see on the screen, but he is holding a bleeding hand and screaming curses at the camera. “You fuck! I’ll fucking kill you!” He kneels suddenly and begins scrabbling in the tall grass at the side of the road. The camera moves toward him — RobotCop’s perspective — then rotates away. A robotic hand emerges to pick up a pistol from a cluster of tall grass. RobotCop places it somewhere on or in his body, then turns away and goes to the driver, who appears grey and shaken.
“What is your name?” RobotCop asks, his voice clear and calm, carrying over the raving, cursing Mackenzie.
“J-Jeremy,” the driver says.
“Jeremy, I am taking you into protective custody. My partner, Officer Mackenzie, may seek to cause you physical harm. It is not safe for you to leave the scene unprotected.”
Jeremy eyes RobotCop, terrified. “Th-This shit is crazy man. I saw what you did. How do I know-”
“There’s no time,” RobotCop interrupts. “Come with me if you want to live.”
Above the dull roar of passing traffic, the sound of sirens becomes apparent. RobotCop puts out his hand. Jeremy reaches out and shakes it.
RobotCop turns toward Mackenzie. “Those monitoring my feed have witnessed what transpired. I have no doubt that municipal officers are heading this way. I have no doubt that medical first-responders are en route as well,” RobotCop says. “However, as an additional safety measure, I have called an ambulance on your behalf. If you would like me to administer first aid to your injured hand, please say ‘First aid.’ ”
“Go fuck yourself!” Mackenzie howls, charging like an enraged bear. He attempts to strike RobotCop. The camera shakes and Mackenzie is on the ground again. The camera tilts to Mackenzie’s feet and RobotCop’s hands execute a series of rapid motions. He steps back. He has tied Mackenzie’s shoelaces together.
RobotCop and Jeremy get into the police cruiser. “We will attempt to pick up your friend,” RobotCop says. “Shout from the window as we approach, to let him know that it is safe.”
“Where are you taking us?” Jeremy asks.
“I have contacted a local television news program. You will be able to stay in their studios until the matter is resolved. I have also contacted several local civil rights groups and they have agreed to send representatives to meet you there. The combination of media attention and legal representation should prevent police elements from seeking retribution in a heavy-handed manner. If they attempt to, their actions will be subject to very intense scrutiny. I will testify on your behalf in any later proceedings if I am able.”
“You’re not staying with us?”
“My presence would only make the situation unsafe.”
I take an involuntary step away from the screens. I wonder if I am the only person who has seen this, other than the judge. Did the bigwigs really all take off without posting someone to monitor this?
And wait! What is RobotCop going to do next? Is he coming here?
I suppose I should know, I programmed him, after all. If I was a robotic police officer who just went rogue and injured my partner, the script I would execute would be…
Then it hits me. I realize that more than anything I’ve ever wanted in my entire life, more than wanting to meet Santa Claus when I was six years old, more than becoming an astronaut, I want RobotCop to come here, and I want to watch all hell break loose, even if it ends up being the last thing I do.
I put my shoes on and I text Tess, saying that I love her. She wanted to be here too, but she couldn’t get the credentials. I wanted her to be here. RobotCop was supposed to be a proud moment for me, for us. Now I don’t know what it is. As much as one touch from Tess would give me all the courage in the world, I’m glad she isn’t here. It would kill me to put her in danger.
The hallway is deeply silent. I make my way through the above-ground tunnel to the judicial building. As I descend the wide staircase to the lobby I hear noise from outside. Apparently the wide bank of doors at the entrance is locked, because someone is pounding on them, violently. I reach the floor and see that there is some sort of melee going on outside, way out of proportion with the “multidisciplinary team” that was assembled in the auditorium.
I move closer to the doors. It looks like Wei was effective. Some of the police have riot gear on, and a thin haze of tear gas is hanging over the parking lot. I don’t see Wei, but I do see at least one person lying motionless on the pavement.
One of the cops is pounding on a door with a large black baton. He turns his helmeted head and seems to notice me. He swings his baton once more and the shatter-proof glass pane before him blossoms instantaneously. I turn toward the courtroom.
I push through the heavy wooden door. What I see chills my blood. The bailiff is dazed and bleeding, handcuffed to the witness stand. Judge Dorothy Marshall is up on the bench in full robes, eyes blazing and gavel raised. A laptop is open in front of her and it dawns on me that her gavel is poised over RobotCop’s emergency shutdown lock.
Marshall is quaking with defiance. This is because Argyle and the same redheaded guy he was with earlier are in front of the prosecutor’s table, aiming their pistols at her. Judge Marshall is not the judge who oversaw the development of RobotCop. That was Judge Geoffrey Brookstone. Judge Marshall was brought in afterward, anonymously, to impartially monitor RobotCop’s initial patrol. She is the final arbiter of whether his actions are legal or illegal, and whether his compliance with public safety and the law are sufficient for him to remain in operation.
How did a strong-minded black woman end up as the judge on this? Isn’t the system set up to prevent things like this from happening? I want to shout because it’s too good to believe — but then… it really was too good, and now Judge Marshall has two guns pointed at her, each with a white man behind it.
Chief Brockton and Deputy Chief Gottfried are at the defendant’s table, their hands empty and entreating, having a back and forth with the judge. It’s always good cop, bad cop with them. Good cop, bad cop… RobotCop.
Marshall notices my presence and meets my eye, but her glance flits away almost instantly. The others have their backs turned and have not noticed my entry to the courtroom.
I once argued a jury case before Judge Marshall in defense of an alleged shoplifter. He claimed that he was racially profiled in an aggressive and threatening manner as he shopped at a store at the mall, and that he inadvertently walked out with a piece of very expensive merchandise in hand due to the stress, agitation and embarrassment of the experience. Despite the odds and the perjurious testimony of the store’s security staff, I won the case and kept the kid out of the system. It was an important victory for me — a cornerstone for my formative years.
A few years later, Jameel wrote me a letter from college. Also in the envelope was a photo of him and Cornel West, both smiling broadly, arms thrown over each other’s shoulders. I brought it to Judge Marshall during lunch recess one day. She gripped my arm tight with one hand, and wiped tears away from her eyes with the other. I thought her reaction was a little out of sorts, but I didn’t say anything. Finally, still gripping my arm, she used her free hand to turn a photo on her desk toward me. Melvin Van Peebles, smiles, arms around shoulders. The resemblance was uncanny. “Your son?” I asked. She nodded, and I understood.
“Back up!” Marshall shouts, pointing her gavel at Argyle and the redhead. “Do you understand your actions? How dare you come into my courtroom and point those filthy guns at me!”
“Listen Marshall! We got officers in danger out there,” Brockton bellows. “You wanna be responsible for the death of an officer? Shut it down, shut it down now before it hurts somebody else.”
“I’ll do no such thing! I’m well within my authority and if you don’t put those guns away now…”
“Not gonna happen lady,” Gottfried shouts. “We asked you real nice, but we can’t afford to keep wasting time. Hand it over, we’ll shut it down, then we’ll all calm down and talk it over.”
At this Judge Marshall begins to sag, as if her robes have sprung a leak. She slowly reaches for the laptop with her free hand. “Well gentlemen, I can see that I’m outnumbered and outgunned today. I suppose sometimes might really does make-”
She twists suddenly and the gavel is whistling through the air. I recall the time she told me about her track and field days in college. Javelin — the javelin throw was her best event. She said she even competed in the Commonwealth Games once, Edinburgh, 1986, for her native Canada.
The redhead flinches away, but to no avail. The gavel strikes him in the temple and his hat flutters crazily off his head. He crumples to the floor. Argyle, who has recoiled himself off balance, roars and fires a wild shot. I look back at Marshall and see something glint in the space between us. I instinctively put my hands out to catch it, and once it lands in my palms, I realize what it is.