JOHN DERBYSHIRE: America’s Law Problem—Does It Mean A Wave Of Squatters?
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[Adapted from the latest Radio Derb, now available exclusively on]

Mr. Bumble, the beadle in Dickens’ Oliver Twist, was present when his wife sold stolen goods. He therefore shared responsibility for that offense, he was told, because “the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction.“

Mr. Bumble, a man of spirit, replied that “If the law supposes that, the law is an ass—a idiot.“

Reading the day’s news, I am more and more inclined to agree with Mr. Bumble. The law, which is the foundation of all our rights and liberties, looks more and more like a gibbering fool: an ass—a idiot.

That is the case with both criminal law and civil law. They are two fools; or, as Mr. Bumble would say, two asses.

I came to the recording studio this morning after reading the New York Post with my breakfast.

A young white male student, 29-year-old Iain Forrest, was playing his cello for the entertainment of passers-by in a central Manhattan subway station February 13th. A black female stranger, 23-year-old Amira Hunter, picked up Forrest’s metal water bottle and whacked him over the head with it.

The New York Post report gives no career or occupation for Ms. Hunter, but she has a rap sheet going back to mid-2019, when she would have been 18 or 19 years old: assault, assault, criminal contempt, criminal contempt, petit larceny, petit larceny, grand larceny (items worth $2,050 from Bergdorf Goodman). Occupation-wise, I guess “petty criminal“ fills the bill.

For the assault on Iain Forrest she was arraigned in a Manhattan court Thursday this week, charged with second-degree assault [Thief busted in brutal subway cello attack released without bail—despite even DA Bragg’s office wanting her behind bars, by Joe Marino, Amanda Woods, Alyssa Guzman, NY Post, February 29, 2024].

Her criminality was so obviously chronic, and her inclination to show up for court dates so faint—she missed three of her five dates last year—that the Manhattan prosecutors asked the court to hold her on bail, $15,000 cash or a $45,000 bond.

(If you don’t follow the Manhattan courts you may not know that the sentence “Manhattan prosecutors asked for bail“ sounds as astonishing to us locals as “Joe Biden held a one-hour press conference, patiently fielding reporters’ questions,“ or “Xi Jinping said that Taiwan has every right to be an independent nation if that’s what its citizens want.“ Any kind of restraint on criminals, even the minimal restraint of a bail order, is frowned on by Manhattan’s first black District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, right.)

The judge ignored the prosecutors’ request. Ms. Hunter was set free on supervised release, which I suppose means she has to check in with some kind of counselor once in a while, unless she can’t be bothered.

Plainly we are in Mr. Bumble’s territory here. What explains it?

Race and sex, that’s what. Black female petty criminal clocks white male cellist. She’s arrested and brought before a judge, name of Marva Brown, who is… a black female, pictured below.

Who in any position of judicial or administrative authority nowadays is not a black female?

Am I jumping to unwarranted conclusions based on irrational race and/or sex prejudice?

Am I hell.

Just tell me with a straight face, if you can, that had the person in the dock been a white male petty criminal charged with assault on a black female cellist, or even a white female ditto on a black male ditto, Judge Brown would have shown that same leniency. Tell me if you can.

Unless you are a continental-scale liar or deeply delusional, the words would stick in your throat unspoken.

So the criminal-justice system is FUBAR. How about civil justice?

Forward a few pages in my New York Post. Here are two retired New Yorkers, name of Landa, both 68 years old. They have an adult son afflicted with Down Syndrome.

Retiring last year, the Landas purchased, for two million dollars, a house in the pleasant New York City suburb of Douglaston, on Long Island’s north shore, twenty miles and a million-and-a-half dollars west of your genial host’s rustic abode. They signed the contract last October.

The Landas haven’t been able to move into their new home, though. There’s a squatter in there, a young fellow named Brett Flores, 32 years old. Mr. Flores was a resident caregiver to the previous owner, who died early last year. He just went on living in the house while whoever had inherited it conducted the sale to the Landas.

He’s still living there, refusing to move. He’s even tried to rent out rooms in the house to other tenants. He himself of course pays no rent. Nor does he pay property tax or utility fees—the Landas have been paying those since October. When the Landas tried to enter this house they own, Flores called the cops on them:

They’ve been to civil court five times to try to get him out; at a hearing in early January, he showed up without an attorney—which under the law halted proceedings, rather than forcing him to represent himself or forfeit.

More recently, he filed for bankruptcy, which under city law again blocks the owners from even continuing the case to get him out. 

 Queens couple’s squatter nightmare shows the madness of New York’s ‘tenant protections,’ NY Post, February 29, 2024

These laws protecting squatters’ rights are a serious nuisance. I opened my January Diary with a segment about them, from which, quoting myself:

In New York State a squatter who’s been living on your property for thirty days or more has tenant rights, and those rights are generous. In the minds of our progressive lawmakers and the fools who vote for them, tenants belong to the class of oppressed people while landlords are of course oppressors. Get it? Seen through the CultMarx who-whom prism it all makes perfect sense.

It’s not just New York, either. Recently our own Paul Kersey here at posted a horrifying report about squatters taking over hundreds of homes in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Atlanta squatters seem mostly to be underclass blacks; but their victims—the people who own these houses—include middle-class and professional blacks as well as whites, I’m not sure in what proportions.

News outlets should speak plainly about these issues to give us a better picture of what’s happening, but of course they don’t.

Atlanta City Council (below) isn’t as black as I would have guessed, but as Paul Kersey says, it’s black enough to make eviction even more difficult than in New York.

(All the principals in that New York squatter story are white.)

Other locations in the USA have the squatter problem. Once you start Googling, there are squatters all over [Squatters’ Rights in Portland[Oregon]: What You Should Know,, Jun 8, 2023] with local laws strongly favoring the squatter over the actual owner of the property.

The jurisprudential principle generating these laws seems to be: “Tenant good, landlord bad!“

So yes: criminal law and civil law both.

My fellow Americans, we have a law problem. And it’s rooted in out-of-control grievance culture where everything is a case of identifying—however fancifully—the oppressor and the oppressed, then favoring the oppressed.

The law has become the great engine of the Left in our time: that clever young radicals are swarming everywhere to overthrow the habits and customs of centuries, to assert inalienable “rights“ invented in some law-school dorm bull session in 1965, to bolster and expand the powers of government—especially the federal government—and to pursue those who, for one reason or other, have offended Leftist sensibilities.

A peek into any modern law-school syllabus shows the state of affairs. Here is all the gassy flapdoodle of postmodern epistemology: “critical race theory,“ “feminist jurisprudence,“ and, of course, “queer legal theory.“ The law has proved all too alterable.

My own eyes were opened by the plundering of the tobacco industry in the 1990s, culminating in the quarter-trillion-dollar Master Settlement Agreement of 1998. What, I wondered, had happened to the ancient Common Law doctrine of “assumption of risk,“ which asserts that a plaintiff may not recover for an injury to which he assents?

I asked people who might know. The doctrine had, they told me, in more words or less (usually many, many more), become inconvenient to revenue-seeking politicians.

A friend who teaches law at a Southern university—a learned friend!—tells me that we have drifted far from the old principles of property rights, freedom of contract, and limited government on which our nation was built, and that our nation’s legal system is approaching some great crisis.

I don’t doubt he is right.

The ultimate remedy must be in the ballot box. In the meantime, the most minimal requirement for appointment to our highest judicial positions ought to be, that the appointee cleaves strongly to those battered old principles, is aware of the looming crisis, and understands what is at stake.

All other matters of opinion and belief are secondary.

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

For years he’s been podcasting at Radio Derb, now available at for no charge. His writings are archived at

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