Crime and Justice: For What It’s Worth

Three days of tragedy.

A tragic week in America.

There’s something happening here;
What it is ain’t exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there,
Telling me I got to beware…

 

 

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn.
Nobody’s right, if everybody’s wrong.
Young people speaking their minds,
Getting so much resistance from behind

…..

Paranoia strikes deep.
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you’re always afraid.
You step out of line, the man come,
and take you away…
(from the Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth”, ©1966.)

     TLDR ADVISORY: This article far exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers. My apologies ahead of time, but please read on…

     Fifty years ago, Stephen Stills penned these lyrics in response to the “Sunset Strip Riots” of the summer of ’66. During the Vietnam era, the song was adopted and interpreted as an anti-war anthem. Fifty years later, these lyrics remain just as pertinent to the atmosphere in America as when “For What It’s Worth” was first released. During the past three days, our nation has borne witness to tragedy upon tragedy, as a direct result of both the lingering, systemic biases within law enforcement, and the public’s festering fear and anger over the outward examples of these biases.

     On Tuesday, July 5th, 2016, Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling’s life was cut short by two police officers, who were responding to a phone-in complaint of a person threatening others with a firearm outside of a local convenience store. While we don’t exactly know what led up to it, we do know, from cellphone video that was taken of the incident, that one of the responding officers fired six shots into Sterling, at near point-blank range while both officers had Sterling pinned to the ground. The cellphone video of the incident went viral on the internet shortly afterwards, resulting in both national outrage, and the local authorities calling on the DOJ to launch an investigation. The owner of the convenience store, Abdullah Muflahi, has stated that Sterling was “not the one causing trouble” during the events that led up to the incident.

     Alton Sterling was a black man, the two responding officers are white.

     The very next day, near Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, two officers of the St. Anthony Police Department pulled over a vehicle belonging to 32-year-old Philando Castile, reportedly for a broken tail light. Also in the vehicle at the time of the stop, were Philando’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and Diamond’s four-year-old daughter. During the stop, one of the officers, Jeronimo Yanez, asked Castile for his license and registration. The officer was informed by Castile that Castile was carrying a firearm, and that he was licensed to do so. At that point, reportedly while Castile was putting his hands back up from reaching for his wallet, in an effort to comply with the officer’s orders, the officer drew his service weapon, and fired four shots into the vehicle in rapid succession, striking Philando Castile in the arm and torso. Castile’s girlfriend then began live-streaming the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook. At the time of the shooting, Reynolds’ daughter was in the back seat of the vehicle. Castile subsequently died as a result of the shooting. The governor of Minnesota has also called upon the DOJ to investigate.

     Philando Castile was black, the officer who took his life…was white.

      Then, all hell broke loose, and the world once again seemed that it was going off of the rails. On the evening of Thursday the 7th, in downtown Dallas, Texas, as a peaceful local protest against the prior two days’ killings was winding down, gunfire erupted from an elevated sniper’s nest, as 25-year-old Army Reservist Micah Xavier Johnson of Mesquite, Texas, aimed his weapon at police officers, shooting 10 from the Dallas PD, and two Dallas Area Rapid Transit officers, all of whom were present at the protest to ensure public safety. Also struck, were two civilians. As a result, four of the Dallas PD officers, and one of the DART officers, succumbed to their wounds and lost their lives. It was the deadliest attack for law enforcement since the tragic events of September 11th, 2001.

      During the ensuing standoff with the assailant, Johnson stated to law enforcement negotiators that “the end” was coming, that he was upset about the shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, and that his aim was to kill white people, and specifically white police officers. He also stated that there were numerous explosive devices in the area. One suspicious package was indeed discovered, and Johnson was subsequently killed during the detonation of that package.

     In the aftermath of this week’s violence, a great many people are struggling to wrap their heads around what has taken place. My fine, young readers, that includes me. Just yesterday, after reading about the killing of Philando Castile, I was musing to a good friend that there seems to be a systematic “something” that’s happening in this country, and that it’s being fueled by racial divisiveness and preconceptions. On further examination, I tend to think that what ails us as a nation runs far deeper than just racial biases within the system. In fact, just a few days ago, I made the following observation on my Facebook wall;

“Is it just me, or does it seem to anyone else that, unless you’re super-rich or super-notable, we live in a country where we’re increasingly being discouraged from asking that favorite question of scientists and young children, “why?”, about the things that REALLY matter, like why we still have a problem with racial prejudice, or why our government never listens to or submits to its citizenry?

I’m sorry, but from where I’m sitting, it looks suspiciously like we’re being beaten down by a system that’s been rigged against us, a system designed to keep us, for the most part, pacified.

It’s times like these that trouble me the most.”

     I think that it’s safe to say that I’m far from being the only person who feels like we live in a country where the average Joe has little to no say in how their government is run, and lives with a fair amount of trepidation of that same government. From fears over what would happen if we’re pulled over by a police officer having a particularly bad day, to being audited by the IRS, to whatever governmental mechanism that might go haywire in our particular direction, the people live in fear of the government. John Basil Barnhill stated in 1914, that:

“Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty.”

     What has occurred over the past three days, is indeed tyranny.

     My friend and I also discussed the state of the nation, and whether the penchant of certain people for displaying an upside-down flag on their profiles, a sign of a nation in distress, was appropriate. She (my friend) stated that she didn’t believe that our nation was in distress…this was before the events in Dallas. When I spoke with her again after the events in Dallas, I got the distinct impression that maybe her assessment of the situation had changed somewhat.

     My fine, young readers, we are indeed a nation in distress. This distress has claimed at least eight lives in the past three days; five officers in Dallas, Texas, an angry U.S. Army Reservist, a black man in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and another in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  This distress will, unfortunately, claim many more lives until it is alleviated. While I’m sure that there are many opinions on how this distress might find its remedy, one thing is sure; this nation is doomed to perish without that remedy, because as our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” 

“…because evils being once recognized, are half way on towards their remedy.”
(Elizabeth Gaskell, circa 1849.)

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American Rhetoric: No Fly, No Buy…Bye Bye For Now

No Fly No Buy

No Fly, No Buy

TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers…but it’s still a good read!

(At the outset of the House Democrats’ recent sit-in protest on the House floor over firearms reform, I was all for the concept of “No Fly, No Buy.” Then, however, I began to do my own digging. The more I researched, the more I discovered that this might not be such a good thing. What follows here are my personal observations regarding this piece of legislation.)

     There exist within the darkest back halls and deepest data repositories of the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ “Terrorist Screening Center”, secret lists that are not made available or accessible to the American public. These “watch lists” and “no-fly” lists cannot be readily viewed, and getting off of one is highly problematic at best. These are the lists at the heart of the Democratic push for “No Fly, No Buy.” Simply put, if you’re on the “no-fly” list, then the House Dems feel that you should not be able to legally purchase a firearm in this country.

     There’s only one…well, there are a lot of problems with this. First and foremost, many hundreds of people who are otherwise law abiding citizens, have found themselves on these lists. It’s not hard to make the list. In fact, until 2005, the TSA had been using people’s credit scores as a determining factor for placing people on the list! In other words, if your credit was in the toilet for some reason before 2005 / 2006, you might very well find yourself on the “no-fly” list.

     Oh, but that’s not the only way that you might end up being denied air travel! The Huffington Post’s Nick Wing outlined several additional ways that people have ended up on the list in a July, 2014 piece.(1)

      So, let’s just say for the sake of argument, that you’re an all-around good guy, who, like myself, has been pretty critical of the Transportation Security Administration, and its long, dismal record of mistreatment of air passengers. So, like I have, you post some highly incendiary things on social media about those jokers, including comments aimed specifically at John Pistole, the former TSA Administrator. Something to the effect of him being a mentally-deficient twat waffle, who deserves to languish forever in one of his own endless airport security lines. This could land you on the list, folks!

     Now that you’re on the list, let’s also say that the House Democrats have their way, and their “No Fly, No Buy” becomes law. Now, not only can you not take that Southwest Airlines round-trip flight to visit grandma Hazel in Duluth, now you can’t exercise your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms either, should you so choose, all because you got righteously pissed off at the ridiculousness that is the TSA at one time or another!

     On its face, “No Fly, No Buy” seems like a good idea. If someone’s been deemed too dangerous to get on board an airplane in this country, then they’re definitely too dangerous to be allowed to buy a gun, right? Isn’t this a “no-brainer”? Not necessarily, if the list that we’re basing all of this on is flawed, which it is! Even the decidedly liberal American Civil Liberties Union, knows that these “watch lists” are a major Mongolian fuster-cluck.(2)

     In my own, not-so-humble opinion, (when have I ever been humble in the course of opining here!?) we need to first, fix the “No-Fly” list situation, because it is a fu**ered up situation. Hence the Republican gripe about, “trading second and fourteenth amendment rights for secret lists.” So…

     Open it up. No more Orwellian, “secret list” bovine scatology.

     I’m sure that the federal government can get a few MIT graduates to create a secure website, that citizens can log on to, like they log in to their online banking. (Hell, they’re messing with Quantum Computing, I’m sure they can write some HTML!) There, they can check the list to see if their name is on it. If it is, the website should also have a link to both an online form and a printable PDF form, for redress and removal of their name from the list. The arbitration process should take no more than 30 days. One month, for the government to either make its case for depriving you of both your Second Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights, or get your name off of the list, and let you go along your merry way as a free American citizen, with all rights and privileges thereof.

     Listen. I get what my congressman, along with the other Democrats in the House of Representatives, are trying to do. They’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. People are dying every single day from gun violence in this country, more than in any other developed country in the western world. We have a dismal (yes, that’s the second time I’ve used that adjective, so sue me!) record of gun violence and deaths, compared to the rest of our peer nations. We need to do something, however I’m not at all confident that “No Fly, No Buy” is the answer, especially when the list itself is screwed to such a high degree. I suspect that to the Republicans, and maybe even some of the more enlightened Democrats, it appeared as if House Dems were, as my wife just phrased it, “trying to make the shit smell good before shoveling it.”

      The overarching idea behind the sit-in, though, is that Paul (Lucifer) Ryan and the House Republicans weren’t even allowing debate on this issue, which is not conducive to solving these problems, and is simply a nipple-headed, right-wing elitist thing to do.

     Allow the debate.

     Allow the vote.

     Sure, the bill is going to go down in flaming death on the House floor, but at least we’re having the debate. At least we’re sussing out the problems, and trying to come up with productive solutions…and that, as one congressman said during yesterday’s sit-in, “..is a good Goddamned start!”

American Rhetoric: Some Thoughts on the Democratic Sit-In for Gun Legislation

House Dems Sit-In

House Democrats announce their “occupation” of the floor.

TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers, including Congressman Mark Walker, and the Republican leadership. My apologies…NAH!

     Today, I can say that I am proud to be a Democrat, because yesterday, I witnessed my party’s leaders make history. Starting at around 11:00 A.M. EDST, several House Democrats, led by the civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis, staged an unprecedented “sit-in”, effectively taking over control of the House floor. This sit-in was precipitated by the recent tragedy in Orlando, at the Pulse nightclub, where a lone gunman killed 49 members of the LGBT(QI) community, before being killed by responding officers.

     In the wake of this mass shooting, which has been referred to in the media as the “worst mass shooting in U.S. history”, as with previous tragedies such as Sandy Hook and Aurora, national discourse on firearms legislation and control has risen to fever pitch; however nothing of significance ever seems to get accomplished. It was this angst that prompted members of the House Democratic Caucus to take the extraordinary step of staging yesterday’s “sit-in.”

     John Lewis is no stranger to things like sit-ins. The 76-year-old Troy, Alabama native was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, having been one of the 13 original “Freedom Riders”, and leading the march across the Edmund Pettis bridge in Selma in 1965. If anyone in congress was up to the task of putting together something like this, it was John Lewis. According to Lewis, the sit-in was not made known to the leadership. (I’ll comment a bit more on Lewis a bit later down the page!)

     At approximately 11:00 A.M., John Lewis was recognized by the chair, took the floor of the house, and issued the following statement:

     Thus started what would eventually become a 25-hour-long protest by House Democrats, over the Republican majority’s reluctance to allow a vote on two pieces of legislation; a “No Fly, No Buy” bill, which would prevent people on the government’s “No Fly” list from purchasing firearms, and a bill to close loopholes in the background check process where it pertains to online and gun show purchases. Both of the bills that Democrats were seeking a vote on, incidentally, are bipartisan authored bills. With their intent to force the Republican majority to allow a floor vote on these bills, or be held over with no holiday break, Democrats employed the rallying cry of, “No Bill, No Break!” The Republican chair was forced to adjourn the House once the Democrats took the floor.

     One of the more significant hurdles that the Democrats had to overcome, was the absence of media coverage of the sit-in protest. This was due to the House Majority’s control of the cameras and microphones in the House chamber. The Republican leadership had these shut off when the chair adjourned the House, much to the chagrin of the Democrats. No worries, though! As it turns out, there’s an app for that! Enter “Periscope”, and social media feeds from Congressmen Eric Swalwell (D-CA 15th), Scott Peters (D-CA 52nd), and Beto O’Rourke (D-TX 16th). Because of this, C-SPAN was able to broadcast the sit-in in its entirety, albeit with the occasional video glitch due to the nature of streaming video from a smartphone.

Jim Costa

My congressman, Jim Costa (D-CA 16) speaks.

     During the day-long sit-in, several Democrats took to the podium at the front of the House chamber, rallying their fellow Dems and outlining the many reasons for both the sit-in, and the need for tighter laws on firearms purchases, with the pictures and names of the many victims of gun violence in America as both their backdrop, and constant source of motivation, along with signs reading, “Disarm Hate.”

     The Republicans, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, eventually used a parliamentary procedure to call an early recess, then left for the July 4th break in the wee hours of the morning, without even an acknowledgment of the issue. In fact, Speaker Ryan referred to the Democratic sit-in as merely a “publicity stunt.” This left the Democrats basically on their own in D.C.

     John Lewis and the House Democrats ended their sit-in at around noon on Thursday, the 23rd of June, with Congressman Lewis stating that their “struggle” was far from over, vowing to return from the holiday break and once again take up the issue. Lewis was the last one to speak. What began with Congressman Lewis, ended with Congressman Lewis, that courageous and noble gentleman from Georgia’s 5th congressional district.

     I find myself left with both a strong sense of pride in my party, and an equally strong sense of disgust at the statements and behavior of House Republicans. At various times during the Democrats’ occupation of the House floor, Republicans alternately heckled, laughed at, and yelled at the Democrats on the floor. During all of this, however, my party’s representatives maintained an overall sense of decorum and restraint. They did us proud, getting into what Congressman Lewis referred to as, “good trouble.”

     One of the more ironic things that came up during the protest, was when Southern Baptist preacher-come-Congressman Mark Walker (R-NC 6th) attempted to engage in a bit of “whitesplaining”, tweeting that;

Calling this a sit-in is a disgrace to Woolworth’s. They sat-in for rights. Dems are “sitting-in” to strip them away.

     I think that it’s a pretty “twunt” move, presuming to tell a civil rights icon about the civil rights movement, especially when the significantly younger Walker wasn’t even born until May of 1969, almost ten whole years after the Woolworth’s lunch counter protest.

     Once again, I am a proud Democrat. I’m proud of my party, proud of my congressional rep, and proud of my President. I also have my own opinions on things like the “No Fly” list, disallowing people on that list from purchasing weapons, and closing loopholes. Instead of going into that here, I’ll pen individual articles on each one, links to be found here soon! (Suffice it to say that this particular piece has indeed migrated towards the “TLDR” end of the spectrum!)

     #SickAndTiredofBeingSickAndTired #NoFlyNoBuy #CloseTheLoopholes #DisarmHate

Life and Living: An Open Letter To The Stanford Survivor…and ALL Survivors

     I read your impact statement last night, in its entirety. Where do I begin? I felt the overwhelming desire, being the father that I am, to encircle you in comforting arms…but what can be said, to bring comfort?

     “It’s going to be okay”? “Everything’s going to be okay”? They seem like such empty platitudes, in light of everything that has happened since that terrible night. No. Everything is not going to be “okay.” Nothing about this is “okay”, or should ever be thought to be “okay.” That despicable act, the lack of any acceptance of culpability on the part of the young man or his father, and the equally despicable joke of a sentence handed down by the judge. None of it is “okay”, or ever will be.

     You, on the other hand, can find yourself firmly on the road to “okay”, but you’re going to have to dig deep. Some days will be better than others. Things that seemed inconsequential before, will now bring hesitation and trepidation. I’m not going to even presume to tell you that this is “normal”, because it’s not normal, unless a person has endured what you and many others have. When these triggers jump up, (and they will never do so at opportune times,) you’re going to need some personal ammunition to combat their impacts.

     You will survive…you must survive. Don’t give those bastards the satisfaction of ever caving under the weight of this. Yes, there will be times when the weight will seem unbearable, but in those times, remember that you are not alone. You’re never alone. You have millions of fellow life travelers, some of whom have been through similar trials, who stand with you, maybe not in person, but definitely in thought and spirit. Surround yourself with those who will uplift you. Cast off the negatives, the naysayers and the “don’t be’s.”

     You’re on our minds and in our thoughts. While we may not know your name, that’s not important. We’re still thinking about you, willing you feelings of love, peace, comfort and light, even in the darkest of times.

Domestic Politics, Faith and Religion: Is Militant Christianity Placing Christ in The Crosshairs?

christ_chrosshairs     Once again, it’s Sunday, and a fitting day for another “Dies Solis” post with regards to topics concerning religion and faith. In addition, it has been two days since the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, and I find myself troubled at what I’m seeing in places like Facebook, WordPress, Twitter and even on the news. Please allow me to elaborate, my fine young readers…

     On Friday, an article came across my newsfeed on Facebook, pertaining to the statements of one Everest Wilhelmsen, administrator of the group “Christian American Patriots Militia.” It seems that the head of this group, consisting of over 1,400 members, posted a status update on his Facebook account, (which has since been removed,) advocating for the assassination of our current president, Barack Obama. The following is a screen shot of that post:

Clear and Present Danger - 18 USC § 871 – Threats against President and successors to the Presidency

Clear and Present Danger – 18 USC § 871 – Threats against President and successors to the Presidency

     In addition, in the days surrounding the 50th anniversary of the tragic events at Dealey Plaza, there have been at least two other incidences of threats to the president which have also made headlines. (1) (2) I find myself aghast at the sheer audacity of these and others, who would blatantly flout the law in the process of their IRL and online shenanigans.

Palin takes aim.

Palin takes aim.

     Even more so, however, I stand dismayed at evangelical Christendom’s seeming acquiescence to this type of message. Speaking specifically with regard to the Wilhelmsen / CAPM post, I fail to see how Christendom’s embrace of such notables as the gun-toting, former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, the torture-endorsing, former 2012 GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, or anyone like them, can be doing the mission or the message of Christ and Christianity any favors. I don’t see anyone from that camp taking a definitive stand against Wilhelmsen et al., or their brand of evangelistic hatred and vitriol. On the contrary, all of this seems to indeed be placing the revered “Son of Man,” the faith’s savior, right in the crosshairs of the very same guns that these people hold nearer and dearer. In short, these things are killing Biblical Christianity.

     When I was a child, I was told that the “mission directives” that Christ handed to the disciples, consisted of things like rendering love, even to those who you would consider your enemy, and spreading the Gospel message. Contrary to the appending of the word, “Christian” on Mr. Wilhelmsen’s group title, it appears that he hasn’t exactly taken the time to examine and digest what that word is actually supposed to entail. Oh, but Everest Wilhelmsen’s vitriol isn’t limited to just Facebook; I’m ashamed to say that he also hosts a weblog on the very same venue as my own, WordPress. (Mr. Wilhelmsen’s blog features a decidedly “Germany-centric” amount of imagery and content.)

     What gives Mr. Wilhelmsen, or anyone else, the right to threaten the very life of Barack Obama, the man? This is a man with a wife and two growing daughters, who love him dearly. What, may I ask, if anything at all, is “Christian” about wanting to see him killed? It is high time that the church leadership in America, and the rest of the world, takes a more active stance against rhetoric and threats of this kind. Pastors need to stop “politicking” from the pulpit. Christians need to start distancing themselves from those like Palin, Bachmann, Cruz and others, who only reinforce these hateful ends.

     Fifty years ago, Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed president Kennedy. Now, militant Christians are calling for the same thing for president Obama. Around 2000 years ago, Christ was crucified by his people. Now, 2k years later, it’s happening all over again.

Crime and Justice: Conundrums in Columbia – SC Interim Police Chief Forgets First Amendment

Interim Columbia PD Chief Ruben Santiago. Photo Credit - The State

Interim Columbia PD Chief Ruben Santiago. Photo Credit – The State

     I remember Columbia. I was stationed at Fort Jackson in 2000, and had a few opportunities to drive around that fine city. The mall was huge, the weather was nice, and the people I met were gracious. All in all, my impression of the “Palmetto State” capital was a good one. That being said, these fine people don’t deserve to have to suffer someone like their current Interim Police Chief, Ruben Santiago. Issues are swirling around Santiago and the department, like moths around a street light on a sultry South Carolina night.

     Back in July of this year, a recently-dismissed CPD captain openly accused chief Santiago of corruption, in an alleged scheme to frame Senior Assistant City Manager Alison Baker, Santiago’s supervisor at City Hall, on drug and weapons charges. (1) According to South Carolina news website “The State,” City Manager Teresa Wilson has dismissed the former captain’s allegations as false, questioning their timeliness. Flash forward four months, and enter Brandon Whitmer.

     On Friday, the Columbia PD posted news of a sizable marijuana seizure and subsequent arrest on its Facebook page. (2) Among the comments in response to this “semi-official” press release, one Brandon Whitmer posted the following comment:

whitmer_comment_400pxw

     In response to Mr. Whitmer, Interim Chief Santiago posted back:

Santiago_comment01_400pxw

     According to news sources, (3) (4) the chief’s comment was deleted shortly thereafter, by department spokesperson Jennifer Timmons, who administers the department’s Facebook page along with Santiago. Oh, but the chief couldn’t leave it at that;

Santiago_comment02_400pxw

     In the ensuing “fit hitting the shan,” Timmons stated that she had in fact, deleted Santiago’s first comment, because she “…thought it was best to do that until I got a better understanding of what he was trying to say and to set the record straight.” Indeed, Santiago’s second post was made after he and Timmons had spoken on the phone. Santiago further stated to media that the comments were posted late at night, while he was watching television and accessing Facebook on his computer.

[SOAPBOX=ON]

     I can’t even begin to tell you, my fine young readers, the myriad of problems that I have with this one…but I’ll do my level best to try. First, I have a problem with anyone in a position of authority, who would use their position to even suggest that they would seek to oppress (“We will work on finding you.”) the citizenry simply due to their views on something. Second, and this is in my own, not-so-humble opinion, Interim Chief Santiago is a blithering idiot. Just because someone advocates for the legalisation of marijuana, does not mean that they also imbibe, contrary to his “putting everyone on notice.” Evidently, this guy has no idea what the meaning of “reasonable suspicion” actually entails. Who put this flake in charge? (For the record, I’ve supported the legalisation of marijuana, ever since Proposition 215 came along in the mid-90’s. I personally feel that it should be completely de-criminalised, taxed and regulated, using the profits to help balance the stupid budget. Do I smoke pot? No. I drink alcohol once in a blue moon and I smoke cigarettes, 1/2 pack-a-day habit, but no. I don’t use marijuana. It’s not a personal choice that’s right for me at this time in my life. Oh, and I have no wants, warrants, misdemeanors, felonies, tickets or accidents. My record is whiter than the driven snow.)

     This whole business of Timmons having to follow Santiago and his verbal incontinence around the Facebook page with her finger on the “delete” button, reminds me of a half-blind person chasing a pet (pick your pedigree) around with a pooper scoop. Maybe we should set this entire episode to music, something fitting, like the theme to “Benny Hill.”

     I have another problem with this, in that Santiago used his position with the department and the department’s presence on Facebook to do this…from home while off-duty. It would have been one thing if he had done this on his own time, on his own page. No, this was an act within the scope of his place as a community leader / servant, and he needs to be held accountable for it. The department’s Facebook page is a community outreach portal, and any post that Santiago makes is tantamount to an official statement. Interim Chief Santiago has pulled out the proverbial shovel, and dug himself a very big hole.

     One thing is for sure, and that’s that Teresa Wilson and the folks up at City Hall have a problem, one which they need to divest themselves of with all due haste.

Crime and Justice: Resurrecting Tragedy, Perpetuating Negative Biases

Stop the ride spinning, I want off.

Spinning in the wrong direction…either way.

     I’m going to start this one off by saying that I apologise. I apologise for the hard feelings that might be had by some who will read the following piece, and I apologise for the mere fact that the piece is necessary at all. With that being said, let’s dive into the murky deep together, my fine young readers.

     In August of last year, in the village of Maywood, Illinois, a tragedy occurred. This tragedy involved an off-duty officer, a four-year-old girl, and her 26-year-old father. After sifting through the many accounts of the story, here’s what I gather happened on that fateful night last year:

     At around 22:00, an off-duty Chicago PD officer was on his way home after his shift, riding his motorcycle through Maywood. At the same time, four-year-old Taniyah Middleton was walking down the street, accompanied by her eighteen-year-old cousin. At some point, the four-year-old entered the roadway, directly in the path of the officer. According to authorities, the officer ditched his motorcycle in an attempt to avoid striking the girl, however the bike still managed to clip her, causing injuries to her face and other “bruises and contusions,” according to news reports. (1) (2)

     What happened next, did not have to happen. The girl’s father, 26-year-old Christopher Middleton, along with another relative, came out of a nearby restaurant, and confronted the officer. A scuffle ensued, with the elder Middleton striking the officer in the face, and another party hitting him (the officer) in the back of the head. The officer in turn, drew his weapon and fired once, striking Middleton in the groin. Christopher Middleton was taken to Loyola University Medical Center, where he passed away from the gunshot wound at approximately 22:30. Both the officer and Taniyah were also transported to Loyola, and were placed under observation for their injuries.

     [SOAPBOX=ON] Since this incident occurred, the media has, as they have with all other stories of this type, had a field day with it. While those on the right paint the father as a despicable attacker, and the officer as a valiant public servant, those on the left use the opposite brush, painting Christopher Middleton as the tragic victim of an unwarranted shooting by yet another power-abusing cop…while neither perspective, nor those who pen them, bring anyone directly involved in the tragedy any true justice.

     In addition, I now must take issue with certain publications that, almost a year and a half ex post facto, would resurrect the story and use it to perpetuate biases against either the deceased father, (3) or the police. (4) Regardless of which side this story is viewed from, there are a few basic truths that come out in the light of time. First, like I stated earlier; this didn’t have to happen the way it did. Had it been me running out of that restaurant that night, my primary concerns would have been in caring for my injured daughter, not taking reactionary vengeance on the officer. It was a bona-fide accident, and accidents, even tragic ones, do happen. Second, no one should have to take a beating as a consequence of an accident, especially when they did everything they could to prevent it, and not be expected to justifiably defend themselves. (Had the officer actually meant to take this young man’s life, I highly doubt that the shot would have been to the groin!) If anything about this is certain, it is that the entire incident took place within a very short timespan, as evinced by the 10:00 P.M. time of the initial accident, and the 10:30 P.M. time of Christopher’s demise.

     I find it unfortunate that we live in a society, where partisan media has no qualms with taking a piece of old news, resurrecting it and using it to further divisiveness. All of that spin surely has a dizzying effect, which makes it all the more difficult to focus one’s eyes on the actual truths of a matter. The truth, my fine young readers, is this; sure, there are some pretty bad apples out there on the force. Sure, there are some pretty bad “fathers,” if that’s what one can call them, out in the world. In this particular instance however, I don’t see either. I see an off-duty officer, who tried like hell to keep a bad thing from happening, and I see a caring father, distraught over his daughter’s suffering. Where these two intersected in the manner that they did, I see unfortunate, unnecessary tragedy.

Life and Living: An Open Letter To Rensselaer Parents From WGY Morning Host Kelly Lynch

News Radio WGY morning host Kelly Lynch. Photo courtesy of WGY (810 AM / 103.1 FM) Schenectady, NY

News Radio WGY morning host Kelly Lynch. Photo courtesy of WGY (810 AM / 103.1 FM) Schenectady, NY

     It’s very seldom that I find material on the internet that is worth reblogging in its entirety. The following letter however, is one of those rare items. It is an open letter to the parents of the “Stephentown 300,” the three hundred teenagers that broke into former NFL star Brian Holloway’s Rensselaer County home, and proceeded to throw what can only be described as a brutally bacchanal bash, (yes, three times, really fast!) replete with acts such as urinating on the floors, destroying memorials and laying utter waste to the property. What’s even more outrageous is that these teenagers had the sheer audacity to post pictures and messages about the torrid event on twitter! Holloway was made aware of the ongoing trouble as it happened, via retweets from his 19-year-old son.

     But I digress. The rest of the torrid tale is contained within the details of the letter below, penned by Kelly Lynch of the News Radio WGY-AM morning show team in Schenectady, New York:

“What planet do you live on?

Last week, word got out that your children had broken into a home in Stephentown and threw a party. More than 300 of them partied and drunkenly smashed windows, urinated on the floors, stood on tables, punched holes in the ceiling and stole a statue that was part of a memorial for the owner’s stillborn grandson. Oh, it gets better.  Before, during and after the party, they tweeted about it and posted pictures of themselves engaged in this behavior.

Way to go.

The house is owned by former NFL player Brian Holloway.  It is his second residence, paid for in part by his Super Bowl bonus.  He lives in Florida and the Stephentown house is on the market.  He watched this unfold online while at his home in Florida.  Instead of demanding the arrest of your kids, he instead created a website, www.helpmesave300.com where he reposted their photos, identified the people involved, and called for ways to reach out to young people and show them that there are better ways to spend their time than drinking, drugs and vandalism.

He is a better person than I would have been in that position. It takes class and compassion to see beyond the urine stained carpets, broken windows, damaged walls and blatant disrespect to reach out to your kids. He even offered to welcome these derelicts back to his house for a picnic, where they would work together to make repairs and clean up the mess they left behind.  I don’t know that the rest of us would have been able to react the same way.

And one kid showed up.  One, out of the 300 teens who were there.

Instead of dragging your kids back to apologize and clean up the mess, you lashed out at Brian Holloway, threatened to firebomb his house, and are now planning to sue him.  For what? For identifying your kids online.  Well guess what?  Your little Johnny did that himself the minute he tweeted that iPhone photo standing on the dining room table, holding a red solo cup filled with beer.

Look, I don’t blame you for what your kids did.  Heck, I don’t even really blame them.  Teens will be teens, and they do stupid things sometimes.  We’ve all been there. It’s not fair to judge parents on the mistakes their kids make.  It is how you handle that behavior afterwards that reflects on you as a parent.

Instead of sitting little Johnny down and reminding him that what he did is not acceptable and then dragging him by the collar to apologize to Mr. Holloway, you chose instead to harass and threaten the victim.  Let’s not forget here, your child victimized this man by destroying his home.  How dare you respond with anything other than regret, embarrassment, and a sincere apology instead of righteous indignation, threats of violence and lawsuits.

Parents like you are responsible for an entire generation that expects the world handed to them, because you have given it to them all along.  Instead of teaching your kids to work hard and earn things, you give a trophy to every kid in youth sports and then hand them an iPhone in middle school. You are the parents screaming through the fence at the Little League umpire instead of teaching good sportsmanship. You are the ones criticizing the teacher instead of realizing they just want to help your child learn.

Can you please just step back and look at what you are doing to your kids?  This is the generation that will grow up to lead our country and make decisions regarding our lives.  Personally, I hope NONE of them come from Stephentown.

-Kelly”(1)

     Kelly, as a parent, I couldn’t agree more, and couldn’t have said it better myself.

__________________________________________________

The Chaser: Vivent Les Femmes!

A battle won, a war still being fought...

A battle won, a war still being fought…

     As the fallout from last month’s VAWA vote continues to coat the newsfeeds with a dusting of politically partisan pollen, (yes my fine young readers, three times, really fast!) I thought it only prudent to do a quick “round-up” of the more salient information (bullet points) with regards to the bill. So…allons-y!

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013

S. 47 Text – Adobe PDF

______________________________

Fast Facts: Senate

Senate vote #19, of the 113th Congress, held on February 12th, 2013.

  • 78 senators voted “yea”.
  • 22 senators voted “nay”.
  • Of the 78 that voted “yea”, 53 were Democrats, 23 were Republicans and 2 were Independents.
  • ALL 22 that voted “nay” were Republicans.
  • Result: Bill passed in the Senate. Submitted to the House of Representatives for vote. (1)

Fast Facts: House of Representatives

Roll call #55, on the question of Passage of Senate Bill S. 47, held on February 28th, 2013.

  • 286 representatives voted “yea”.
  • 138 representatives voted “noe”.
  • Of the 286 “yeas”, 199 were Democrats, 87 were Republicans. (No independents.)
  • All 138 that voted “noe” were Republicans.
  • Of the 138 that voted “noe”, 10 were women.
  • Result: Bill passed in the House of Representatives. Submitted to the President of The United States for signature. (2)

The bill was signed into law by president Barack Obama on March 7th, 2013. (3)

Microsoft Excel Workbook: VAWA Vote – Statistical Breakdown

     Analysis of the above statistics would seem to suggest that Tea Party influence and / or alignment had little bearing on the passage of the bill in the House, but a larger impact on individual votes by Republicans aligned or identified with that particular group. As the graphs below illustrate, the majority of TP aligned representatives did indeed vote “noe” on the bill:

TP_caucus_split01_600pxTP_caucus_split02_600px

     Although it could be (and has been!) suggested that the Tea Party vote on this particular bill shows a bias against both women’s issues and minority issues, I would caution the reader to do their research before making this assertion. The assertion may indeed be borne out by the statistics…or may be disproven. The idea here is to get informed, to be informed!

In The Aftermath: Canonising Christopher / Demonising Dorner

aftermath_waste_cabin

“At last Don Quixote’s end came, after he had received all the sacraments, and had in full and forcible terms expressed his detestation of books of chivalry.”
(Miguel de Cervantes, from “Don Quixote” c1615.)

     In amongst the charred remains of what was once a cabin in Big Bear, lay the body of a murderer. That murderer was once an honorable man, who served his country with dignity in the U.S. Naval Reserve, and dreamed of joining one of the most high-profile law enforcement organisations in America; the LAPD. Christopher Dorner realised that dream, but then his dream turned into a personal nightmare.

     Christopher Dorner, in the process of performing his duties, was confronted with difficult choices. One of these choices brought him up against something that he wasn’t prepared for; the “blue line”. It’s an unspoken, undocumented line that officers dare not cross in their interactions with each other. Chris Dorner however, later stated in his “manifesto” that what he witnessed forced him to step perilously but purposefully over that line, in an effort to keep other officers honest. (1) As a result, Chris Dorner’s life and career were turned on their ear by the very same organisation that he had dreamed of being a part of, and Christopher Dorner…was driven over the edge.

     Dorner was terminated from the Los Angeles Police Department in 2008, and pursued a five-year battle within the system to try to get his termination overturned, being represented by retired LAPD officer Randall Quan. This process proved unsuccessful, and in the end, something in Chris Dorner snapped. His answer to the “blue line” would now be to draw his own line, where lives would become collateral, vendettas would be outlined, and plans would be made for all-out, “asymmetrical” warfare on the police force that he had once revered.

     In the days following Dorner’s posting of his manifesto on the internet, three people would lose their lives, and another two would be injured. Randall Quan’s daughter Monica, and her fiance Keith Lawrence were shot and killed in Irvine, one officer in Corona was injured, and two Riverside officers were also fired upon by Dorner, one fatally.(2)

     Law enforcement caught up with Chris Dorner on Tuesday, February 12th at a cabin in Big Bear where, after officers fired incendiary devices into the structure, (3) Christopher Dorner, once a decorated veteran and aspiring LAPD officer, and now a hunted fugitive from justice, met his maker. (4)

can·on·ise: transitive verb /ˈka-nə-ˌnīz/

1. Treat as a sacred person.
2. Declare to be a saint.

de·mon·ise: transitive verb /ˈdē-mə-ˌnīz/

1. To represent as evil or diabolic.
2. To mark out or describe as evil or culpable.

     [SOAPBOX=ON] Did Christopher Dorner actually “meet his maker”? What I mean to say, my fine young readers, is who made Christopher Dorner the man he was at the time of his death? Granted, the cheese had slid off of the cracker at the moment in which he claimed his first victim, but what drove him to it? While the recriminations might seem simple, they are in point of fact anything but. Exactly how much culpability are Randall Quan, Teresa Evans and the LAPD willing to accept for what has happened? Should they even be held culpable?

     Now, don’t get me wrong here. I am not trying to turn Chris Dorner into some kind of saint, or a “modern-day Robin Hood”. Anyone who would take innocent lives and make terrorist threats against people’s families, especially their children, is a monster. There are however, those on the fringes and on social media sites including Facebook that would view him in this light. (5) (To those people, I would suggest that anyone who would support a murderous traitor to their country, needs to seriously reexamine their own values system!) No, Dorner strikes me more as a twisted, macabre kind of Don Quixote, tilting at the creaking windmills of a police force that indeed, is still in dire need of repair and further reform.

     Yes, I’m inclined to agree with Chris Dorner on that point of fact, especially when in the course of hunting for him, officers from the Los Angeles and Torrance police departments opened fire on three innocent people, just because they happened to be driving around in vehicles that resembled Dorner’s! These are a stark reminder of an issue that plagues not only the LAPD, but other large metropolitan police forces as well; a lack of discipline. These two “shoot first, ask questions later” incidences were largely the result of a police force that was, at the time, on the edge. Chris Dorner had placed the entirety of the L.A. basin’s law enforcement community on the defensive, and they in turn had itchy trigger fingers. Something was bound to break, the already brittle rubber band had been stretched, and it was primed to snap…and snap it did, to the detriment of three civilians. (6)

     Some will say that it was Chris Dorner’s fault that the three civilians were shot by the police, that had Dorner not gone on his short-lived, one-man war against the police, this wouldn’t have happened. While this may be true to some extent, I would also posit that had the LAPD not held their sacred “blue line” in higher esteem than doing the right things, then Chris Dorner may never have had a cause to lose his marbles in the first place. Those firmly ensconced on the side of law enforcement will continue to point their fingers squarely at Christopher Dorner…while at the same time remaining blissfully unaware, or willfully ignorant of the three other fingers on the same hand, pointing back at themselves.

     In the aftermath, the saddest part of it all is that no one will discuss the real issues. The entire episode will fade from the social consciousness, and our society will be no better or worse for the wear. I guess that’s the one word that truly sums up the whole thing; a waste.