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“Today we’re gonna talk about guilt by association.” He clicks to the next slide. A handcuffed youth, face contorted, screams at us from the window of a police car. “So let me tell you a story.”
He sizes us up, takes a bite from his doughnut and plunks himself down on the desk, then points an accusing finger at a hapless student in the front row.
“John here was dealing drugs out of his home. Kyle—“ he motions to another student—“was coming over to buy some with his friend Al—“ he points at me. I raise an eyebrow and catch Kyle’s amused glance before looking away quickly.
Officer Kriegfer continues. “Kyle wants to buy some drugs. Al isn’t so sure. They both enter the house. They both meet with John. And then—“ he pauses. “And then the police show up!” He grins, mock excitement etched into his face. He goes on in a singsong tone.
“But John’s a badass drug dealer, and he has a gun. So when he sees the cops pull up, he has a great idea. He decides to kill a police officer! Blam!” He pretends to shoot the small girl who never talks. She cowers low in her chair.
Officer Kriegfer takes another bite of his doughnut.
“So now we have John for drugs and homicide! He surrenders his weapon and we arrest all three of them.” He stops and sweeps his gaze around the room. “Now tell me,” he says softly. “Who is guilty?”
A collective murmur answers him. He acts surprised. “So you’re saying John was the only guilty party? Weren’t Al and Kyle going there to buy drugs, weren’t they involved, aren’t they just as guilty?”
We again murmur our assent, not giving a s***.
“But tell me,” begins Kriegfer, excited. “Who is the most guilty?”
We stare at him until John raises his hand. “I am.”
“No!” exclaims Kriegfer, finishing his doughnut in one massive chomp. “The most guilty party is...Al!” He stops in front of me and stares down hard.
I open my mouth to question him, but before I can say anything he stalks back to his laptop and tugs on his belt with authority.
“Allow me to explain.” He advances to the next slide. “Let’s just reason this out for a moment.” I grin skeptically as he continues.
“The only reason John sells drugs in the first place is because people want them. Buy them. People like Kyle.” He points again, and Kyle starts to look uncomfortable.
“And the only reason he has a gun is because he sells drugs—deals with a rough crowd. Understandable—and as a result, he kills an officer of the law.”
I vaguely start to glimpse where this argument is going.
“Therefore, we must ask who is really to blame. It seems like Kyle should be the most guilty, as he was the reason for John’s... unsavory occupation. Yes, John shot the policeman, but the situation itself existed only because of Kyle’s selfish greed.”
Kyle looks deeply pissed. Kriegfer continues.
“But we are leaving out an important factor. Al was also there. Al knew there were drugs involved, knew it was wrong, yet went anyway. He went unwillingly to partake in an activity he did no believe in. He didn’t speak out against his friends. He didn’t tell the police. No. He betrayed his moral compass, betrayed himself!”
I’m irked now, my smirk a dream of minutes past.
“Al could have reasoned for Kyle, could have made the right decision. For all we know, Kyle didn’t realize he was doing anything wrong! But Al knew,” he says, pacing over to my desk once again. “Al knew, and did nothing. Absolutely nothing.” He shakes his head and regards me with utter contempt. “You could have prevented the slaughter of a police officer. But instead, what you did was pathetic.”
I stare back defiantly, seething with hatred for this man and his voice and his boxes of doughnuts.
“Pathetic...” he lets the word hang. Then the bell rings and he turns to address the entire class.
“So it looks like we won’t have time to finish the presentation. Just remember—guilt by association. Make the right choice!”
We file towards the door in various degrees of consciousness, similar levels of apathy. I can’t even look at Kriegfer as I imagine the triumphant smirk creasing his arrogant face. As for my classmates—they all stopped listening half an hour ago. And so I reflect to myself on the impermeable depths of police logic, a thin blue line that bobs and weaves, twists and turns, before kicking you squarely in the groin.