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William C. Altreuter
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Friday, December 05, 2008


I've mentioned If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats previously; every now and then it's fun to dip in and think about what it was like back when men wore hats. The last time I was there I noticed that they have a gallery called "American Mouthpieces", which is where I found this image. I saw Kunstler once, back when I was in the Bronx on a more or less daily basis. He was defending a guy who had shot some cops, and as I recall the theory was that the cops had been using his client as an informant and decided to kill him because he knew too much. Something like that-- with a lot of criminal lawyers it seems like a crucial job skill is to believe that the entire machinery of the law enforcement world has somehow settled upon persecuting your client, the Last Honest Man. Kunstler certainly had that knack, as well as an undeniable flair for the dramatic. We were in the Men's room, it was just before 2:00 o'clock, when the courtrooms were about to re-open and resume business. Kunstler washed his hands, and then ran them through his leonine shock of grey hair, tussling it to the state of desired dishevel, then exited, off to fight injustice wherever it might be found. He was a true believer, and you have to respect that-- the system fails if there aren't people like William Kunstler around- guys who believe that that the game is fixed, the cards are marked, and that it is worth playing anyway, because sometimes justice happens, and even if it doesn't the hypocrisy of the system needs to be exposed. It's close to the exact opposite of what I believe, actually, but I can't quite bring myself to say that it is unreasonable to think that way. Who else would have defended Larry Davis? Who else could have sold that story, and got an acquittal? Who knows? Maybe it was true.

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