During the 1990s, New York City reported that it had scored a major victory over street crime, thanks to the Latin vincere, vici, victi, “to conquer.” it also led its mayor to think he was invincible, though his policies  created many victims in their wake.

For a criminal to be convicted he must be caught dead to rights (Mid 19thC.), his guilt established beyond a shadow of a doubt. “Dead” has a certain air of finality about it, making things absolute and irreversible. The “rights” in the phrase are nothing more than past slang for  “at once.” In New York City, what was “dead” then were the rights of Black males and in too many instances, the men themselves.

American jurisprudence is based on the presumption of innocence. Finding someone guilty of a crime should be a lead-pipe cinch, not just successful but certain. The cinch is a belt-like strap used to secure the saddle on a horse. When properly tightened, it keeps the saddle from slipping out from under the rider. The lead pipe underscores the certainty from a time when plumbing was best done with lead pipes as opposed to those of cast-iron. Conviction of a crime should also be in alignment with its original meaning, from convincere (con, “with”+ vincere, “ to conquer). Convincing someone such as a jury literally means “to overcome with arguments,” logic and cold facts deciding the outcome… If only that were so.

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