Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Kangaroo Kop

A caller asked about the term “kangaroo cop.” It joins Keysone Cop and Rent-a-Cop as terms of derision, but it’s a bit edgier and more sinister than they are.

It’s intimately connected with “kangaroo court,” a proceeding that is markedly unfair and self-serving. It’s vigilante justice and rush to judgment on steroids.

The term started in the days of the California Gold Rush, and the image of a kangaroo was meant to show erratic hopping from place to place. There is some disagreement on precisely what was doing the hopping.

One opinion says that it was an apt image for jumping to a conclusion. The judge--and the puppet jury, if there was one--knew the outcome before the trial began, and jumped to the verdict as soon as cosmetically possible.

Others say that because it was the Gold Rush, many of the trials involved claim jumping, and the point was to get the stake back in the hands that the judge deemed worthy. In Texas, this would have been called a Mustang Court, and it would have involved ownership of livestock.

A third theory says that it refers to the practice of itinerant judges. They were legitimately appointed, but they rode from town to town on a moment’s notice. The fact that they were paid based on volume and the amount of the fine would have made speedy justice desirable. Now they advertise on T.V. and have 800 numbers.

So, a kangaroo cop was an officer who would haul the accused to a kangaroo court. Years later, in Williams v. United States, Justice William O. Douglas would write this: "Where police take matters in their own hands, seize victims, beat and pound them until they confess, there cannot be the slightest doubt that the police have deprived the victim of a right under the Constitution. It is the right of the accused to be tried by a legally constituted court, not by a kangaroo court"

SIDEBAR: Tie me kangaroo down

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