FROM WHERE I STAND: Notes from the desk of peace activist Polly Mann (b. Nov. 19, 1919)

False arrest and imprisonment creates criminal record
The so-called criminal action involving the son of the wonderful woman who weekly cleans my apartment just got out of jail. (We’ll call him Eugene.) He’s about 30 years old and was working as a waiter in North Minneapolis. He’s soft-spoken and smiles a lot. But none of that mattered when early one evening, about 8 p.m., he suffered a panic attack and decided he should telephone his mother or a friend for help. (He either has no cell phone or was too distracted to use it.) He rang the doorbell of the nearest house. The owner opened the door and when he saw the black man, he hurriedly slammed it shut and called the police. Within a few minutes, while Eugene was still in his car, fidgeting around about what he should do, the police, weapons drawn, opened the car door and motioned for him to get out. They then arrested him and took him to the local jail where he spent several days waiting to be seen in court. At his trial, the very busy judge (probably distracted by the large number of arrestees before him) ruffled through the papers and sentenced him to three months in jail. Eugene may have seen an “attorney for the defense,” but believe me, he got no defense—attorney or not. He’s out of jail now, working in the restaurant of old, where his gap-toothed smile has returned. This situation would never have happened to my son, but then he’s not black. Unless Eugene can find the money to pay an attorney to have the arrest expunged, it will be a detriment to his employment for the rest of his life. Somehow I’m finding myself crying, but I’ll feel better after I see this account in print.

Not your typical Danish Dame
The New York Times dedicated a whole page to Danish Margarethe Vestager, Europe’s competition commissioner, who has spent the last four years investigating American technology firms and finding them guilty of violating anti-trust laws, in particular, Apple, Facebook, Google and Qualcomm. This has not made her popular in some circles, as might be expected. Apple is especially aggrieved. In 2016 Mrs. Vestager ordered Ireland to reclaim about $15.5 billion in back taxes, saying that the company had illegally received a tax break that was not available to others.

Chief executives from both Apple and Google have traveled to Brussels to argue their cases. Mrs. Vestager fined Google about $2.8 billion, concluding that it had unfairly used its search engine to favor its services over those of its rivals. Last May she fined Facebook about $131 million after concluding that it had misled the European authorities about its acquisition of the messaging service WhatsApp. And this January she fined the American chip maker Qualcomm about $1.2 billion, saying it had abused its market dominance to shut out competitors.

She has also emerged as a major voice about the effects of tech firms on our habits, our privacy and ability to make human connections and even democracy itself. Last November at a tech conference in Lisbon, Mrs. Vestager declared that we need to take our democracy back from social media. Harvard Business School organized a conference in March where she was the main speaker.

Mrs. Vestager, the daughter of two Lutheran ministers, at age 22 became a member of the Denmark Social Liberty Party founded by her grandfather; was elected to Parliament in 2001; and became the party’s parliamentary leader six years later. She has made a fair share of political enemies, among them a group of long-term unemployed workers, angry at reductions in their benefits. Mrs. Vestager’s husband is Thomas Jenson, a math and philosophy teacher; the couple has one 15-year-old daughter and two daughters who are in college. She believes that the “Me Too” movement might be the most important catalyst for decades. She says “it tears down our understanding of power. Power is not something you own. It’s something you’re borrowing.”

Comments are closed