Saturday, May 9, 2009

Alex Arellano - Beaten, Burned and Shot

CNN reports on the terrible violence that's taking the lives of young kids in Chicago, the most recent example of which is particularly brutal. The Rev. Michael Pfleger has ordered the American flag at St. Sabina Church hung upside-down -- a historic sign of distress -- to symbolize the growing death toll among the city's youngsters.
So far this school year, 36 children and teens have been murdered -- more than one a week -- and Pfleger is among a chorus of weary Chicagoans who say the slayings aren't getting the attention they deserve.

One of the most disturbing slayings came last week when the family of Alex Arellano found the 15-year-old's body. He had been beaten, burned and shot in the head.

"It's sad because they didn't have to torture him that way. He never did nothing wrong, never. He was a good kid. It just gets to me. It's crazy," Alex's friend Ashley Recendez said. Watch friends, family describe Alex»

Indeed, police say the teen had no criminal record, no gang affiliation. His family says he was well-behaved and shy, almost fearful of strangers. They had recently taken him out of school to protect him after gang members threatened him.

Questions arise because the rate of children being killed in Chicago is worse than in other American cities. Los Angeles, California, notorious for its gang problems, is larger than Chicago. It has reported only 23 child slayings this school year. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is about half the size of Chicago, but it has witnessed only a ninth of the child slayings: four this school year.

What could account for those differences? Are the gun control laws, which are extremely strict in Illinois, different enough in the other states to account for this? Often the pro-gun crowd uses Chicago as an example of the failure of gun control laws, but does that mean the laws are working in other cities?

My idea is that it's totally useless to have strict gun control laws in one place and lax ones in another, just like it's totally useless to require background checks on sales by licensed gun dealers but not in private transactions. What's your opinion?

Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis said scuffles among youth have become more violent and a conflict that 20 years ago would have warranted a pushing or wrestling match now sometimes results in gunfire.

"There's simply too many gangs, too many guns and too many drugs on the streets," he said. "We've got a problem with some of our young people are resorting to use of weapons and violence to solve any type of conflicts they may have."

What do you think about the Police Superintendent's comment? He seems to be blaming the guns, at least in part, for the increase in violence.

Please leave a comment.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Wesleyan University Shooting - 1 Dead

CNN reports on the tragic shooting at the Wesleyan University book store in which Johanna Justin-Jinich was killed by her stalker.

Stephen Morgan has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Johanna Justin-Jinich at a Middletown bookstore on Wednesday and is being held on a $10 million bond, Middletown Chief Lynn Baldoni said.

Their acquaintance goes back to before July 2007. At that time, the victim filed a harassment complaint against Morgan while the two were taking the same six-week summer course at New York University, school spokesman John Beckman told CNN.

The complaint, in which Justin-Jinich said she was receiving harassing e-mails and phone calls from Morgan, was filed with the university's public safety department toward the end of the course, Beckman said.

The public safety department brought in the New York Police Department and, after conversations with Morgan and Justin-Jinich, the woman declined to follow up or press charges, Beckman said.

Although this is technically not a school shooting, the book shop's proximity to the college campus does highlight certain questions about allowing guns on campus. On The Gun Guys site there's a comment from The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus.

Sadly, this incident reminds us that we are all at risk of gun violence, even in what should be safe environments such as a university book store. All too often, this is the result when guns are introduced into a confrontational situation.

At first glance I have to admit that statement is not very convincing. But combined with what follows, I had to stop and wonder if they might have a point. From The Gun Guys:

In the universe of gun violence, college campuses are among the safest environments for students – much safer than the communities that surround them. This is due in no small part to the fact that nearly all colleges and universities have adopted policies that severely restrict or prohibit firearms.

What do you think about that? Are they saying the difference between gun violence on campus and off campus in the surrounding community is significant? Are they saying it's partly because of gun laws prohibiting guns on campus? This sounds like the very thing my gun enthusiast friends are always calling for - proof.

What's your opinion?

Drew Peterson Finally Arrested for Murder

The Larry King interview took place about a year ago. Today The Chicago Tribune reports that Drew Peterson has been arrested for the death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

Peterson, 55, was arrested at an intersection near his home shortly after his indictment in the murder of third wife Kathleen Savio, who was found drowned in an empty bathtub of her Bolingbrook home in March 2004.

The former Bolingbrook police sergeant -- whose bizarre encounters with the media, his neighbors and law enforcement played out on a world stage -- will see his next act, the one that determines if he ever walks free again, unfold in a courtroom.

Savio's death was originally thought to be an accidental bathtub drowning. Her family, as well as many others, never believed that. Suspicions mounted with the disappearance of the fourth wife, Stacy Peterson. Henry Savio, brother of the third wife, said his family is "really happy. Drew's arrested, and we're really happy."

The rush of relief carried over to Stacy Peterson's family, the couple's neighborhood and everywhere else where people were offended by the ex-cop's flaunting of his freedom with absurd stunts involving dating contests, Nevada brothels and TV appearances with his new 24-year-old girlfriend.

I wonder if Drew Peterson has conducted himself this way because he feels he's too smart to get caught. That attitude, combined with having had a career in law enforcement, which does make him knowledgeable about committing crimes and avoiding detection, makes him an especially dangerous man. It's not uncommon behaviour for criminals to exaggerate their self-worth, to think they can get away with murder, but when these traits find themselves in policemen, they're especially heinous.

What's your opinion? Should law enforcement people be held to a higher standard? Is that fair? Are any crimes they commit automatically compounded by the breach of trust which must necessarily take place? What do you think?

Christmas Joy Killer Slated for Execution

Ohio's reports on the approaching execution date of Dayton's so-called Christmas Joy Killer.

The ringleader of one of Dayton's worst killing sprees now has a date with death. Marvallous Keene will be executed July 21,2009.

In 1992 he orchestrated a three day killing spree that began on Christmas Eve and left six people dead, two wounded, and cast fear over the city. The murders later became known as the "Christmas Joy killings," as the victims were chosen seemingly at random.

He was 20 years old, and along with one accomplice, the eldest of the gang of six, their leader. I imagine he probably had a rough childhood, maybe his dad left or perhaps he was punished excessively or deprived in some way. I'm sure there are many potentially mitigating circumstances; some probably came out during the trial. But, what do you do with a guy like this? What do you do with him in order to be fair to him and in order to protect society? That's the question.

The comment section which follows the article is typical; many favor capital punishment in cases like this. But, reading them, I don't get the sense of rational well-balanced people who are striving to find the right solution. Things like this comment don't really work for me. "Removing yet more ****-poor protoplasm from the earth."

Some others talked about the excessive length of time the condemned people spend on death row before receiving their sentence.

And a few feel just like I do. Here's one: "I agree The Death Penalty needs to Stop!! I mean Killing the Killer makes us no better than he is."

I would go further. I would say killing the killer makes us worse than he is. For us as a society there are no mitigating circumstances, the kind that in some cases genuinely exist and partly explain the killer's actions. For us it's closer to cold-blooded, premeditated murder for convenience or for some trumped up idea of right and wrong.

What's your opinion? Wouldn't life in prison for guys like this be a better solution?

Please leave a comment.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Edith Keeler Must Die

Wikipedia has the story of this award winning Star Trek episode: The City on the Edge of Forever, starring Joan Collins as Edith Keeler.

Guillermo Zarabozo Gets 5 Life Sentences

CNN reports on the final chapter in the sordid story of Hialeah security guard, Guillermo Zarabozo who was sentenced to 5 life sentences plus 85 years for his part in the "Joe Cool" killings.

A jury convicted Guillermo Zarabozo of kidnapping and murder, among other charges, in connection with the killings of four people aboard the "Joe Cool" charter boat in September 2007.

The former Hialeah security guard was 19 years old when he and Arkansas fugitive Kirby Archer chartered the Joe Cool off Miami Beach for a purported trip to Bimini. Instead, prosecutors said, they hijacked the boat and killed the crewmembers, including Capt. Jake Branam, his wife, Kelly, crew member Scott Campbell and Capt. Samuel Kairy. Zarabozo maintained his innocence until the end, saying that Archer, who already is serving a life sentence for the crime, was the only killer and duped him into the trip and the killings.

The local news video contained in the CNN report included some interesting observations of what took place in the courtroom. According to the reporter there was no remorse on the part of Zarabozo and no forgiveness on the part of the family of the victims. We often see this in death penalty cases, a thirst for vengeance which they usually describe as "justice." In this case it was typically expressed by one of the family members who said to Zarabozo, "I hope you live a long time, and suffer."

For Mr. Zarabozo's part, I'm not sure what they expected from him. He claimed to be an innocent victim of Kirby Archer who supposedly duped him into doing the crime. Nevertheless, he did have this to say:

"I'm really sorry for the loss of your family members," Zarabozo said in court. "But I had nothing to do with it. When I got on that boat, I didn't know what Archer was going to do. I'm a victim of Archer, too."

Perhaps it's not possible to express remorse if you claim to be innocent. I thought what he said was at least something, though. What do you think?

One element of the story I hadn't noticed before was the fact that at 19 years of age, Zarabozo was a "former security guard" who owned a gun, which ended up being the murder weapon. Is that legal? Can a person under 21 be an armed security guard and own the weapon?

What's your opinion? Was justice served in this case? The grandfather of one of the victims said that young Guillermo was on his way to becoming a hardened criminal and it's better that he spend his life behind bars. Do you agree with that?

Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

$1.5 Million for Wrongful Incarceration

The New York Daily News reports on the settlement received by a man who was wrongly incarcerated.

A 34-year-old cabbie who spent nine months in jail for a crime he didn't commit based on a cop's "phony" identification Tuesday got a $1.5 million settlement from the city.

"This is the end of a very ugly part of my life," Jesus Diaz Delossantos said after the settlement in Bronx Supreme Civil Court.

"There was a mistake, but thank God there is an end."

Delossantos, a Dominican immigrant and the father of two children, was arrested in 2002 after an undercover cop identified him as the man who sold him 100 Ecstasy tablets two weeks earlier.

The cops involved in this "mistake" were not charged with any wrongdoing. To me it sounds like only half the problem has been addressed. What do you think? Isn't this similar to the cases we frequently discuss in which the overzealous prosecutors are left standing after their handiwork is overturned in the courts.

What about the amount? Is that excessive for nine months in jail? I'm not suggesting it is, bit I wonder what the city would do for someone wrongly jailed for ten or twenty years. What do you think?

What about the idea of undercover drug buys by the police? Is that really necessary? Isn't that often a case of entrapment or something?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Bill Maher on Gun Sales

R.I.P. Dom Deluise

I guess we knew wartime profiteering didn't start with Halliburton.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Evangelizing or Proselytizing

Coonsey's World has a post up today which highlights a very controversial situation in the U.S. military. What do you think about this? Please leave us your opinion.

Troy Ryan Bellar - Murder / Suicide

CNN reports on the tragic story of a Florida man who shot and killed his wife and two kids then committed suicide.

Troy Ryan Bellar, 34, used a high-powered rifle with a scope to shoot his 31-year-old wife, Wendy, when she tried to leave their home, the Polk County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

Two of the couple's children -- 5-month-old Zack and 7-year-old Ryan -- also were killed, but a 13-year-old got away, with the father chasing and firing after him, officials said.

What is it with these guys who decide to kill the whole family? I can't understand it. And there are so many of them - imagine the ones that don't make the national news.

This case had a bizarre twist. The eldest son, a 13-year-old, got away, in spite of the fact that dear old dad was chasing him and firing at him. In the end, Bellar turned the rifle on himself.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Bellar had a history of violence and alcohol problems. But in another strange twist, Mrs. Bellar had herself been arrested for battery domestic violence just a couple months ago.

I realize no member of a family like this could get a gun permit, but are they still allowed to have "high-powered" rifles in the house? Are they allowed to own shotguns for personal protection? Or is this another example of law-breaking people who have nothing at all to do with the legitimate gun culture?

I think it's wrong for the lawful gun owning public to disown people like this. It seems like pro-gun folks want to draw an imaginary line beyond which are all the criminals and irresponsible gun owners and this side of which is everybody else. It doesn't seem right to me to separate one group from the other especially since in many cases the line is not so clear.

What do you think? Is Troy Bellar another example of a one-time legitimate gun owner gone bad? What does it sound like to you? If he hadn't had a gun in the house, do you think this tragedy might have been avoided?

Gun Culture in Turkey

Yahoo News reports the shocking story of a wedding party in South-eastern Turkey which turned into a bloodbath.

Masked assailants with grenades and automatic weapons attacked an engagement ceremony in southeast Turkey on Monday, killing 45 people. Two girls survived after the bodies of slain friends fell on top of them during the onslaught.

NTV television quoted Deputy Gov. Ferhat Ozen of Mardin province as saying the nighttime attack occurred in Bilge village near the city of Mardin. Some media outlets reported that a "blood feud" among families had led to the killings in a region where tribal ties and rivalries sometimes eclipse the power of the state.

This area of the country is populated by rival groups of pro-government village guards who fight alongside Turkish troops against Kurdish rebels in the region. What that amounts to is a situation much like the pro gun crowd in the United States would like to see: little or no restrictions on weapons and little or no interference by the federal government.

What happens in South-eastern Turkey is the result of the attitude already prevalent in much of America. If you offend me, I blow you away.

Some people say this has nothing to do with the availability of guns. I say that's wrong. When you put guns in the picture, you're liable to have a slaughter, and that holds true in the Turkish village or the Florida dinner table (I'll write something about Troy Bellar today).

What's your opinion? Given less gun control and less government interference, what's to prevent this kind of thing from happening? Are the Turkish men who own guns fundamentally different from the American men who own guns? Do you think Islam has something to do with it?

Please leave a comment.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Manny Pacquiao, Greatest Pound for Pound Champ

(photo credit Steve Marcus, Las Vegas Sun from the fight with De La Hoya last December)

The Las Vegas Review Journal has the blow by blow description of Manny's 2nd round knockout against the British champ Ricky Hatton on Saturday night.

It was Pacquiao's first time fighting at 140 pounds and the Filipino's fourth straight win in a different weight class, having already posted victories at 130 pounds, 135 and 147.

"I'm surprised this fight was so easy but I worked hard since the beginning of training camp in March," Pacquiao said. "Nothing personal, but this is as big a victory for me as when I beat Oscar De La Hoya."

Wikipedia says

He has also held the Ring Magazine featherweight, super featherweight, and light welterweight divisions. For his achievements, he became the first Filipino and Asian boxer to win five world titles in five different weight divisions. He is currently the IBO and Ring Magazine Light Welterweight champion and is rated by the Ring Magazine as the #1 pound-for-pound boxer in the world.

Now, if you followed all that, you're a bigger fight fan than I am. To make it even more complicated, I read somewhere else that he has 6 world titles in 6 different weight classes. Number 1 in the world is what he is.

This is one of the things I miss about living in Las Vegas.

Ladon Jones' Justified Shooting

CNN reports today on the case of Ladon Jones, the Florida orange grower whom we spoke about last week. It seems the local prosecutors are sticking by their original take on the situation, that he was justified under Florida's "no retreat" law.

The Brady Campaign to prevent Gun Violence says Florida is one of 16 states that have enacted "no retreat" laws, which some call "shoot-first" laws. The laws extend the right to use deadly force beyond a person's home and into public places.

"The shoot-first law is not needed," said Brian Malte of the Brady Campaign. "This person, regardless of the situation, may have done the right thing, but he cannot be prosecuted for doing something wrong if he hit an innocent bystander," he said.

Other groups stand by the "no retreat" laws.

"At the moment a crime occurs, victims don't have the luxury of time," said Andrew Arulanandam of the National Rifle Association. "They have seconds to decide on a course of action to protect their lives and their families. This law provides law-abiding people with options."

In our discussions the other day about this case and others like it, we all seemed to agree that if a criminal is using a car as a deadly weapon and the only way for someone to save themselves is to shoot at that vehicle, then whatever happens is justified. I say that's an extremely unlikely set of circumstances. You see it in the movies all the time, but in real life I'd say it's extremely rare.

In today's CNN story it says Mr. Jones heard the sound of his SUV being started in the barn. He grabbed his gun and went out to investigate.

He said he could see two people in the SUV as it backed out of the barn, according to the affidavit. He said he saw the passenger's arm reach outside the vehicle, and believed that person might be holding a gun.

The Land Cruiser stopped directly in front of him, Jones said in the affidavit. He said he raised his gun and pointed it at the occupants, shouting "Stop," but the vehicle appeared to be moving directly toward him.

"Fearing for his life, he then fired what he thought to be six to eight rounds into the front windshield of the vehicle," the affidavit stated.

The vehicle backed up at high speed, crashed through a fence and ended up in a ditch. Jones told police a man jumped out of the SUV and ran away.

I wonder if he shot because he thought the passenger had a gun or because the vehicle "appeared to be moving directly toward him." But a moment before that it had stopped, according to his affidavit.

I doubt it was either one. I think he shot because someone dared to take what was his, because someone had the audacity to steal from him. I fear many gun owners have this exaggerated sense of proprietary rights. I say they're exaggerated. I say it's not right to shoot bullets into someone's head because they're stealing something from you. I say it's not right to kill someone on your property and then stumble around for a justification, "they seemed to have a gun", the car "appeared to be moving towards me". And, finally, I don't think it's right for other gun owners and the State of Florida itself to support this shabby behaviour which is nothing other than vigilantism.

What's your opinion? Do you think Florida may be trying to be hard on criminals with laws like these? Do you think killing someone for stealing from you is justified even if your life is not threatened?

Please leave a comment.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Georgia Professor Still at Large One Week Later

George Martin Zinkhan III, who shockingly killed his wife and two others one week ago, is still on the run. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution web site has a fascinating article into the man's background.

He was described as aloof and introverted, a prodigious researcher and academic writer. Certainly not someone suspected of violent tendencies.

“I never even heard him raise his voice to his kids or Marie, and my daughter, who baby-sat for them, said the same thing,” said Bob Covington, who lived next door to the family for nine years.

Covington said Zinkhan was an introvert who revealed little to those in his Bogart subdivision. He wasn’t terribly unfriendly, Covington said; he just seemed to be somewhere else.

Before coming to UGA, he taught at the University of Houston where some students remember him fondly. Richard Tansey, who studied at the university in the late 1980s and early 1990s, took some of Zinkhan’s classes and went to him for advice.

“George created a nurturing environment,” Tansely told the UGA newspaper, the Red & Black.

“I would have never gotten a Ph.D. in marketing without George.”

Zinkhan joined UGA in 1994 as head of the marketing department in the Terry School of Business. He was already a published academic and had left an ex-wife and three children behind in Texas.

Does anyone else think that's significant? The fact that he'd already had a wife and three kids in Houston. It sheds some light on the, at least up till now, inexplicable act of leaving his two young kids with the neighbor after the shooting and taking off, don't you think?

The only thing I can come up with is that, unknown to anyone, Professor Zinkhan had a problem with anger. And perhaps also unknown to anyone, he suffered from the same insane idea that so many suffer from today, the idea that in certain situations violence with a gun is the answer.

Whatever triggered his violent attack, whether his wife had been cheating on him, or if she had decided she no longer loved him, or perhaps it had nothing to do with her and was about one of the others he killed, whatever it was, his response was over the top. I see this type of excessive response just slightly differently from that case we discussed the other day in which someone being wronged decided that blowing away the offending party is the answer.

To me, this is one of the hidden problems with the pro-gun movement. The ones who are within the law and the ones who commit cold blooded murder have exactly the same mentality. "If you offend me enough, I'll blow you away."

What's your opinion? The comments which come will probably demonstrate this same thinking, I predict. My challenge is to the pro-gun person who knows he doesn't suffer from this mental illness, if I can call it that, to dispassionately describe the difference.

Please leave a comment.

New Immigration Policy

A New York Times opinion piece came out on the new focus of the Obama administration concerning undocumented workers.

Last week, immigration enforcement policy shifted a little. The administration issued guidelines for Immigration and Customs Enforcement that place a new emphasis on prosecuting employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

That is a good idea, and a break from the Bush administration method — mass raids to net immigrant workers while leaving their bosses alone. The raids were tuned to the theatrics of the poisoned immigration debate, using heavy weapons, dogs and helicopters to spread the illusion that something was getting fixed.

That Bush was something else, wasn't he? I thought hindsight was supposed to be 20/20? How can there still be people who claim Bush was a good president? This one single example, which is such a typical description of the Bush policies, says it all.

The New York Times goes on to say that however improved the Obama approach might be, it too will fail to bring about the desired result. By targeting employers, the undocumented workers suffer almost as badly, at least as far as losing their jobs goes. Other employers would probably get rid of their immigrant workers in fear.

The decision to adjust the policy on raids seems sensibly motivated. But we agree with immigration and labor experts like Professor Jennifer Gordon of Fordham Law School, who sees the new guidelines as a smarter version of a bad idea. Far better, she says, for the government to redouble enforcement of laws like the minimum wage, the right to organize, and health and safety protections. This would reduce the incentive to hire the undocumented, and raise standards for all workers. It would not end up devastating immigrant families, as raids do. In times like these, that would be a step toward immigration reform that all workers could support.

What's your opinion? I like what Prof. Gordon has to say. I'd go further, though. I'd first grant a complete amnesty on all aspects of illegal immigration. If people are in the United States, I say it no longer should matter how they arrived. Then, I would push for all those nice reforms around the workplace.

What do you think? Should being an illegal immigrant be a crime? Should being an undocumented person be a crime? Aren't many of them making huge sacrifices and taking huge risks for their families? Doesn't that make them very much like the "family values" folks who persecute them and call for their arrests?

Please feel free to leave a comment.