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Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

This morning I was chatting with a Facebook Friend about finding a suitable blog platform. She’s a professional writer, so she’s a little pickier than me. She’s looking not just for an audience but for the right audience. Professional writers need the exposure that could lead to a paid gig. And, of course, all professional writers write to be read widely. Otherwise, why write.

I’m not a writer myself. I write basically for my family and friends. A blog is a good way to reach them beyond the bounds of E-mails and letters. Oh, sure, it’s nice when others write nice comments about the things I write, and I have met some fine people through my blog. Can’t deny that, and I hope to meet more good folks with interesting things to say.

My own approach to blogging is simple. I am not at all good at writing about myself. My inner feelings are boring even to me, and I am sort of bored right now. That’s why I tend or have tended to write about external events. And since my interests are quite broad, I am inclined to write according to no particular pattern. Today, I might write about a political event, tomorrow a blurb about an article I ran across in GQ magazine. Whatever strikes my interest at the moment will likely be the topic for the day.

I also like to add a humorous touch to most of the topics I am interested in. That doesn’t mean everything is funny. Some topics are absolutely without humor, child abuse, domestic violence, murder, and suicide, for example, are devoid of laughter.

That’s why the current run of murders in this country is disturbing. Thirteen soldiers murdered at Fort Hood, Texas, one murdered and mayby 15-plus wounded in Orlando, Florida; these are just two of the most egregious examples of recent violence in America today.

Of course, the perpetrators of these crimes will always have an excuse. The guy in Orlando was fired from his job two years ago and he was mad at the company. Oddly, the individuals he murdered are not, “the company.” But somehow in the mind of this deranged individual, the employees who worked for “the company” became “the company.” So, he decided to murder as many human beings as he could.

He may or may not have known or cared that he was shooting individuals rather than “the company.” Is this insanity, or is it a failure of the ability of some people to understand distinctions?  One individual is dead but “the company” lives on. Similarly, thirteen dead but the United States Army survives.

In addition to the damages done to the survivors of these monstrous acts, the perpetrators have harmed the United States in more ways than one. Globally, they’ve added to the perception that this is the most violent country in the world. Say what you wish, but the perceptions of other nations are important within the global system when it comes to the achievement of the vital national interests of the U.S.

Domestically, the current rash of violence has exacerbated the feelings of fear and parnoia among ordinary Americans.  Who among us might be the next mass murder? That guy down the street who looks odd with his little round glasses and close-set eyes? Or a respected Army psychologist?

The most disgusting cipher in the equation is society’s failure to deal with the violence that seems to be a part of our cultural DNA. Why are we as a country so reluctant to tackle the issue? Is it because we feel helpless? Maybe we think its someone else’s job. Or have our leaders failed us? We have a justice system that excuses criminal behavior and a penal system that has become a breeding ground for violence and gang activity.

Whatever the answer may be, it’s a puzzle. As far as solutions go, my own personal impression is that the violence has largely missed the elites of our society. As long as people below the elite level murder each other, as long as the elites do not find themselves the targets of random and mass violence they will continue to largely ignore the issue, appearing on television and uttering meaningless words after a mass shooting or an especially egregious murder.

Somehow, in America, we tend to look at the moment and at the situation. Broader ramifications seem beyond our comprehension.

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When the story first broke, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to CNN News. CNN is the news outlet after all that continually flashes “Breaking News” or something similar across the ticker at the bottom of the screen. Every thing is “breaking” or “developing.” My mind numbs itself in self defense.

But then something caught my attention. I heard the words “Richmond High School.” There are other Richmonds in the U.S., including Richmond, Virginia. I went back to my latest issue of Country Weekly magazine.

As I read, I heard the announcer, I think it was Kyra Phillips, mention California. My ears perked up. The gang rape occurred on the grounds of Richmond High School, Richmond, California. Once upon a time, I attended that very high school. My tenure there was brief, but still, things stick in the mind.

Richmond when I lived there was a classic All-American town, or perhaps I should say a classic California town. However, I’ve lived in many towns and the habits of teens weren’t substantially different from the habits of Richmond’s teens.

In Richmond, as in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, cars were a big deal, and every Saturday night, McDonald Avenue, Richmond’s main drag, would be lined with cars full of kids dragging the street from 23rd Street in the east to the train depot at the west end of town.

If the kids weren’t tooling up and down shouting at one another or at a gaggle of girls walking along the street toward the movie, they were parked in or just idling in any available spot near a drive-in with real live and often good-looking girls taking and delivering orders.

If you want to get a good idea of Richmond then, watch the movie American Graffiti. The movie wasn’t filmed in Richmond but in several nearby towns like Petaluma (the primary filming location), Pinole, Concord, Larkspur, Mill Valley, and San Francisco.

Mel’s Diner in the movie was filmed at a diner (since torn down) on South Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. And 4th Street in San Rafael was used for many of the street scenes. Another coincidence: my wife and I lived on 4th Street shortly after we were first married and then later in Petaluma.

Times have changed since American Graffiti was released in 1973. Most of the towns where the movie was filmed have undergone dramatic growth spurts accompanied by an influx of people from other areas of the United States and from foreign countries.

Richmond has also experienced its share of changes. But unlike the positive changes in many other Bay Area communities, the changes in Richmond have been mostly negative.

The reputation of Richmond today is a place to avoid. The town is widely known as the murder capital of the state. In 2007 (last year I have a figure for), there were 37 murders in this town of roughly 100,000 people. And, the part of I-80 passing through Richmond has achieved dubious standing as a war zone based on the number of shootings that happen along that short stretch of the highway.

To compound these negatives, the Richmond-San Pablo area has become rife with gang activity that often erupts in violence. And lesser crimes such as robbery and burglary are beginning to spill over into once small and peaceful enclaves like El Sobrante.

The causes of Richmond’s decline have often been attributed to its ethnic shift. While the town was once overwhelmingly white, today whites make up about 25 percent of the population. The balance consists mainly of Blacks and Hispanics.

However, the attribution of Richmond’s ills to its ethnic balance is a specious argument. So many variables come into play that it’s difficult if not impossible to narrow the root cause or causes to one factor. More likely, the cause lies in both economics and a failure of civic leadership to address Richmond’s burgeoning crime rate and rapidly declining infrastructure. McDonald Avenue, for example, that one-time image of Americana embodied in American Graffiti, became an absolute, decaying roadway to nowhere before the civic leadership seemed to wake up.

Regardless of the reasons for Richmond’s decline, there can be little doubt that many of the students at Richmond High School are products of the current culture of violence, poverty, drugs, decay, and a nation-wide attitude that drives individuals to seek the immediate gratification of their own desires.

Given such an environment, it was probably inevitable that violence would eventually reach the ground of the high school. In fact, at least one of the active participants in the gang rape apparently wasn’t a student and shouldn’t have been at the homecoming dance to begin with.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of the school’s students are undoubtedly decent individuals doing their best to make it in a cruel environment. Moreover, the high school wasn’t exactly pristine when I attended it. There were fights, usually between individual boys over a girl, and other students would gather and watch, cheering on one or the other of the gangly teens.

But there were no rapes on campus, gang or otherwise. Those were different times. In retrospect, so innocent. Sadly, once upon a time will never come again.

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Another child murdered. Another family in turmoil. Another mother in pain so excruciating that she collapsed on television. This mother now joins other mothers forever deprived of the pleasure and joy of loving a child and watching it achieve in life and in school, attending proms, graduating, heading for college, and eventually having its own family.

What monster could perpetrate such a crime? What kind of twisted personality could snatch a child walking from the school bus to home in virtual plain sight of the child’s friends? Who in God’s name could murder an innocent young human being and toss it’s body on a garbage dump as if it were a piece of trash?

This is what happened to Somer Thompson and her family in Florida. One day, they were happy and loving, the next day, they were thrown into absolute chaos, forever touched by a vicious murder, lives forever dark and brooding. This family and this mother will never “move on” They will live their lives forever in the grip of depression and a Post Murder Syndrome (PMS), which seems to be a peculiarly American disease.

As much as it tends to trivialize and remove the human element from despicable acts, the statistics of child abuse and murder stagger the imagination. Every year in America, about 3,000,000 incidents of child abuse are reported to various government agencies. Sure, not all of these turn out to be legitimate cases of child abuse, but if even ten percent are valid, 300,000 children are the objects of some sort of abuse. That is staggering and it suggests a society that hasn’t come to grips with its acceptance of cruelty against children.

The numbers on homicides are also mind boggling. From the time that statistics on murder began to be reported to the federal government in the early 1900’s until the present time, more Americans have been murdered in this country than have been killed in all of the wars America has engaged in since the birth of the nation. If you doubt this statistic, do as I did. Visit your local library and take a look at a publication called The Statistical Abstract of the United States. Tabulate the number of murders per year, beginning with the first year on record, 1900. My own tabulation covered the years 1900 through 2000, and the total number of murders was just short of 2,000,000. That’s almost two million dead people in a span of 100 years, an average of about 20,000 murders a year. Of course, the number per year will vary. In some years the figure may be less than 20,000 and more in others. But the total number of almost 2,000,000 is still there.

The number of Americans who died in America’s wars, roughly 1,000,000 (I’m working from memory here), pales in comparison to the number of murders. But at least we can understand and accept death as a result of military conflicts. We cannot understand and we ought not to accept senseless murder and child abuse.

What in God’s name can we do to prevent the violence against innocent beings in our society? At the moment, solutions seem elusive. When a murder is sensationalized in the media, we get on a roll and the air and cable waves are loaded with talking heads and experts of all sorts who raise our righteousness to a new level the way a balloon with a (rumored) six year old boy in it rises and soars across the Colorado prairie. Then, as soon as the current murder or sensational event loses its immediate emotional impact and hence its revenue potential, those same media twerps file the story in the bin of yesterday’s news. Remember Elian Gonzales?

Concurrent with the loss of media interest, our righteousness subsides and the victim loses its identity, relegated to the obscure and forgotten pages of The Statistical Abstract of the United States. Unfortunately, there are no solutions in this obscure government publication.

As individuals, we may be powerless to effect change, but as a society, we ought to be ashamed.  Shame, however, is un-American. Murder is the price we pay for freedom.

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Be honest now. If you were given a choice between an all expenses paid vacation to Chicago or Rio de Janeiro, which one would you choose.

Personally, I’d choose Rio. I’ve never been there so the town would offer a new experience. Just looking for the Girl from Ipanema would take a week or more.

Chicago is so, well, so American. America is a great country, but it’s pretty similar in most geographical areas. Sure, there are beautiful mountains, grand vistas, lakes, rivers, fields of amber waves of grain, ocean waves crashing against seashores, wild horse preserves where magnificent animals run free, and cypress swamps where old-growth timber still thrives.

The trouble is, none of this is in Chicago. Oh, sure, Chi has its wind from Lake Michigan and a beautiful lakeshore drive. And there’s the Sears Tower, a wonderful example of American architecture and engineering innovation.

You may even find a speakeasy or two if you’ve got the guts to wander off the beaten path. Only, the Windy City’s 21st Century speakeasies are speakeasies in name only, Hollywood’s concept of Chi in the Roaring Twenties.

Before the Roaring Twenties, Chicago had another history and another reputation. The American poet, Carl Sandburg, said this about the city in 1916 in his poem Chicago.

HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.

And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.

Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

In many ways, Chicago is still the brawling City of Big Shoulders. There is a bravado about its residents that speaks to its industrial past and reputation as Hog Butcher for the World.

But the stormy brawling today is reflected in its drugs, gangs, and the crime that inevitably accompanies these activities. Chicago can be and often is a city that elicits a degree of apprehension when potential tourists are planning their vacations.

Rio also has its share of crime, but few people in the world are aware of it, whereas most of the world’s inhabitants who have seen Hollywood movies and television shows about Chicago are convinced that a vacation there would be an unpleasant experience at best.

In contrast, the vision of Rio is largely one of frivolity, symbolized by its annual Carnival, beautiful girls walking virtually nude along the beach at Ipanema, and the breathless magnificence of the city as seen from Mount Corcovado.

When I learned that the International Olympic Committee had eliminated Chicago as a contender for the 2016 Olympics on the first round of voting, followed in subsequent rounds by Madrid and Tokyo, leaving Rio as the winner, I wondered if the visions of Rio’s sugarplums in theit heads colored their votes.

Certainly, I do not know the answer to that question, and I doubt if even the judges themselves could explain their rationale. Oh, sure, they could provide reasons, such as “Rio’s presentation was the best of the lot.” But what is “best.” I have a hunch that the judges voted their preconceptions but we’ll never know. It’s a done deal. Why agonize over it?

Don’t get me wrong. Of course, I wanted Chicago to win. If Chicago won, I reasoned, America would win. I didn’t attach Barack Obama’s name to the matter in any sense. Even if Rush Limbaugh were president and supported the selection of Orange, Texas, I would still want the Olympics in the United States.

But if it came down to a vacation, I’d still opt for Rio.

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This may sound heartless, but I can’t seem to dredge up any pity for Roman Polanski. He was arrested recently in Switzerland and placed in jail pending a deportation hearing on a 32-year old warrant because he  failed to appear in court for sentencing on a charge of unlawful sex with a minor, a charge he pled guilty to. Instead, he fled the United States and has been living in Europe since.

Almost immediately after his arrest, the elites of France went berserk, accusing the United States of picking on this poor old seventy-some year old man. Then several of Hollywood’s biggest names jumped in on Polanski’s side.

Meanwhile, it turns out that a lot of ordinary French people and Americans as well have no sympathy for Polanski, either. He should come back and face the music, many argue. He committed a crime, he ought to do the time. After all, isn’t that what the bigwigs have told us for years and years?

So, suddenly, these same believers in the sanctity of the law want this guy who had sex with a 13-year old girl to escape justice because he spent his life after evading it making fine movies that are applauded by the elites of Europe and Hollywood. I wonder how these individuals would feel if Polanski’s 13-year old victim happened to be a daughter of one of them.

What about Polanski’s victim? For all of the years Polanski roamed as free as a bird, she’s been psychologically imprisoned by the vile acts committed by him on her body, damaged by thoughts of this man working over her, performing oral sex and sodomizing her mind and body.

Those who support Polanski argue that the judge was biased against him. If I were the judge I would have been biased against him, too. After all, he pled guilty to those acts.  He deserved prison time then and he deserves it now.

His supporters also contend that the judge violated a plea agreement that would have placed Polanski on probation without jail time. As a matter of law, judges do not negotiate pleas with defendants. The prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney work out an agreement and present it to the judge. The judge can accept or reject it.

Judges reject plea agreements every day somewhere in America. They also accept them. In the Polanski case, we actually don’t know how the judge would have decided since Polanski cut out before decision time. Now, the judge is dead and we will never know.

Every year there are over 3,000,000 (that’s three million) reported instances of child abuse in America. Not every case involves sexual abuse and not all reports are verified. But if only 10 percent of the reports were valid, that would still amount to a horrendous 300,000 incidents annually. That is one hell of a statistic for a country that purports to be a nation of laws, not of men.

For the sake of our children, men like Polanmski need to feel the heat of prison. If only one incipient predator gets the message and decides to drive on by instead of abducting a child on the way to school, then Polanski’s incarceration will at least have served a socially redeeming purpose.

If Roman Polanski were an ordinary citizen, his victim would be just another statistic, lost in a bureaucratic spreadsheet. But the publicity surrounding Polanski ultimately resulted in the self-revelation of her identity. Samantha Gailey Geimer, now 45 years old, has decided that she will no longer permit the incident that happened so many years ago to imprison her mind. A revelation like that takes courage.

If Polanski had her courage, if he were any kind of man, he’d voluntarily return to the United States and take his medicine. Then, his supporters might have something to commend him for.

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Well, no, not me. But I have known quite a few and even have one in the family. I don’t know how they think, but I once developed a theory of the police personality that went something like this: a cop is someone who is trained to overlook people driving within the speed limit.

A joke, of course, but I likened it to psychologists who are absolute masters at detecting the slightest personality defect and transforming it into a Freudian psychosis. I used to make that statement to a friend who was a psychologist. This guy would administer a test to anyone within range, and since we were friends, he wanted to use me as a guinea pig. Of course, I was always nuts.

I wonder if cops practice on their friends, like conning them into driving by within the speed limit and figuring a way to fudge the reading on their radar gun. Professionals need practice to stay sharp.

I wanted to be a cop one time, in Oakland, California. I would not advise anyone to become a cop in Oakland. But I was desperate, just out of the service and in dire need of a job. The City of Oakland was advertising for police officers and firemen. So, I decided to apply for both.

To my surprise, I was rejected for failing to meet the basic requirements. I should say, I was stunned. I am a veteran, I fretted. Christ, if I’m old enough and fit enough to get shot at in a foreign land, why can’t I be a freakin’ cop in Oakland? As it turned out, it was the age, stupid. I was shy of 21.

By the time I reached the magic age, I had found another job and my need for danger had disappeared. But, somehow, as time passed, I found myself coming into close contact with a variety of police officers.

The first one was a very polite Tokyo cop who apologized for having to arrest me for drunk and disorderly conduct in a small restaurant. I didn’t actually do anything, but the guy with me went berserk or something and broke the window. We were hauled off to a police station in the middle of nowhere and finally released about 2 a.m. on one of the darkest, coldest streets in the world about five miles from a train station. I guess the polite cops figured that was punishment enough.

My second close-up and personal look at a cop was a plainclothes detective with the Honolulu police force. We played golf together, and he always carried a pistol in his golf bag. I had the impression he was crazy, but he was a nice friendly guy. Maybe it was that glint in his eye when he thought I hadn’t counted all of my strokes.

Time passed, and, man, was I in for a surprise. I woke up one morning and my daughter was wearing a uniform and packing a pistol. Not only that, she had finished at the head of her group at the Federal law enforcement training center, the best pistol shot in the class. Later, she was a firearms instructor for the Department of Homeland Security. This was a shocker. She had been a television model for several years, and the transformation was somewhat shocking. To make matters worse, she married a cop.

This is just a brief list of my police associations. I haven’t included minor encounters such as being chased over dusty country roads when the driver ran a red light and refused to stop. He lost the cop in the dust, but it was a harrowing ride.

Or the night I had a head-on collision with a truck that fled the scene, leaving me and my passenger against a row of hedges in the front seat of a mangled car. Fortunately, I was so drunk even my bones were flexible. A sober person would have probably died in that one. As it was, we had to hike about five miles to find civilization and when we located a sheriff or something, he was nice enough to call a tow truck.

And the ultimate encounter. Our next-door neighbor is a cop who ignores cars parked illegally in my driveway. She is a classmate of our daughter, a fine individual, whose house was burglarized twice in quick succession shortly after she moved in. On the first occasion, her pistol was stolen. I don’t know about the second, but each time, she woke us by pounding on our front door in the early morning to use our phone because she didn’t want to enter her home without backup. Since then, things have been relatively quiet and people continue to block my driveway.

This list doesn’t include every single encounter with a police officer, but you get the point. With around 3,000,000 Americans in jails and prisons in the United States, there must be one hell of a lot of cops out there to arrest them. Encounters are inevitable.

Minor Addendum: One of my service buddies became a San Francisco motorcycle officer.

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This is a question I direct to the Democratic members of the United States Senate. It’s a slight variation of a famous question that came out of the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954. This is the question in its original form:

“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

I ask this question, Senators, in reference to your refusal to seat Roland Burris as the Senator from Illinois, appointed by Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, to replace Barack Obama.

I ask you, Senators, by what logic do you refuse to seat a widely-respected and highly competent man? Is your only objection that he has been appointed by Blogojevich, a governor under investigation but not charged with  a single crime in a court of law?

I ask you, Senators, have you no sense of history? Do you consciously seek to tarnish the magnificent accomplishment of the American people who, for the first time in the history of our country, elected a Black President?

I ask you, Senators,  why you have chosen this moment to engage in a petty political circus, suggesting an inability to legislate on behalf of the American people?

I ask you, Senators, what do you hope to accomplish by creating a Constitutional crisis? Surely you must understand that this matter will reach the Supreme Court and a ruling against you is almost certain given the facts in this case.

I ask you, Senators, is it your desire to tarnish the presidency of Barack Obama before he is sworn into office?

Have you no sense of decency, Senators, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

For criminey sake, get your dammed act together.

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