Saturday, June 27, 2009

Weeping Criminals and Police Brutality

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the three young men accused of attempted murder who wept in court viewing the video of their beating.

Three men charged in a triple shooting wept openly in court yesterday as a videotape of their beatings at the hands of Philadelphia police officers was screened at the Criminal Justice Center.

Dwayne Dyches, Brian Hall, and Pete Hopkins are charged with attempted murder and other counts in connection with a May 5, 2008, shoot-out that injured three men in the Feltonville section.

After shooting three other guys on the corner, Dyches, Hall and Hopkins led the police on a high speed chase. The cops hate that. Apparently in their anger and disapproval, the Philadelphia police involved in the chase didn't realize a news helicopter was filming the whole thing. When finally cornered and extracted from their vehicle the three shooters were given a taste of what I suppose those adrenalin-high cops call justice.
As the video was screened, Hopkins, the alleged gunman, used his necktie to dab away his tears. Dyches and Hall choked back sobs as family members seated in the courtroom gallery cried and groaned.

There weren't many details about the beating except that it "resulted in the firing of four officers and the demotion of four others." Here's a link to what I think is this incident. It's hard to tell because there are dozens to choose from.

What is wrong with the Philadelphia police department? Or are they typical in their methods of fighting crime? What's your opinion? Is it the criminals' fault when cops go over the line? Should the police be given a break because of the stress of the job? What do you think?

Please leave a comment.

Time Capsule Opened in Dallas After Nearly 100 Years

The Dallas News reports on a Time Capsule that was discovered in Houston during the demolition of a hospital. It had not seen the light of day since 1913, which meets quite nicely the criterion mentioned by FatWhiteMan last time we talked about time capsules.

The crowd that gathered around the front of the Old Parkland Hospital on Thursday could have been re-enacting a scene from almost a century ago.

Back in 1913, Dallas public officials and business leaders were on hand for the laying of the cornerstone of the new public hospital. Inside they placed a copper box filled with documents.

On Thursday, the battered time capsule was removed from the landmark's foundation for the first time. Inside were the crumbling remains of some letters and two mostly intact newspapers.

The holding company responsible for the demolition and construction project didn't know if anything was buried there, but they drilled a hole in the cornerstone to look. The copper box was discovered.

Historically, cornerstones were put in place with Masonic ceremonies. Sam P. Cochran, an early Dallas business tycoon who was one of the founders of the Dallas Scottish Rite Cathedral and the Scottish Rite Hospital, conducted those proceedings at Parkland in March 1913.

On Thursday, Leonard Harvey, a Mason who is past grand master of the Grand Lodge of Texas, pulled the small metal box out of a hole bored in the side of the cornerstone.

Does that mean the Masons were involved in this particular hospital, or that they run Dallas the way the Mormons run Salt Lake City? What are the Masons anyway? Aren't they some kind of secret organization with secret rites all their own? Is burying time capsules one of them?

Here's the fascinating part: "The big news on the front page of the March 18, 1913, Morning News was about President Woodrow Wilson and a rebel attack on the Mexican town of Nuevo Laredo."

I don't suppose that could have anything to do with the present-day problems along the Mexican border? It is interesting though that those problems are not limited to our own day and age.

What's your opinion? Is part of the fun in burying a 100-year-or-more time capsule that we sometimes forget about it and have to discover it by accident?

Please leave a comment.

Friday, June 26, 2009

One Handgun per Month in New Jersey

Why do the pro-gun folks object to this one? It's often been suggested as one of the ways to combat gun violence and the gun flow that inevitably takes place in our society. Yet, it's met with the same response you'd expect when denigrating the 2nd Amendment or when talking about door-to-door gun confiscation. Why are they so unbending?

In New Jersey it'll now become law, assuming Gov. Corzine signs, which everyone expects him to do. The Gun Guys describe it like this.

Our Freedom States Alliance affiliate, Ceasefire NJ, and one of the most remarkable gun violence prevention advocates, Bryan Miller, is celebrating a huge victory tonight in passing a one handgun per month law. The state senate vote was 21-15, and now goes to Gov. Corzine for his signature to become law.

What's your opinion? Isn't this one of the most reasonable laws, one which should produce the desired benefits without too much inconvenience to gun owners?

In the video to which the Gun Guys provided a link, Bryan Miller talks about the tragic death of his brother which he explains was his motivation for getting involved in gun control. Do you think anti-gun folks who have suffered a personal loss due to gun violence are somehow less qualified to hold their opinions? I've heard this suggested about Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy. Do you think there's some decrease in functionality of the reasoning part of the brain in these folks? Might not the tragedy give increased focus and clarity?

What's your opinion.

Teen Shooting in Las Vegas - Shared Responsibility

The Las Vegas Fox affiliate carried the story.

A 19-year-old Las Vegas man accepted a plea deal today in the case of a drive-by shooting that left a high school freshman dead.

Ezekiel Williams' lawyer said his client has been promised a sentence of eight to 20 years for voluntary manslaughter with a deadly weapon and accessory to murder in the February 2008 slaying of 15-year-old Christopher Privett.

What happened was, Williams was driving the car while his passenger, 17-year-old Gerald Davison, shot and killed Privett as he and three friends walked home from Palo Verde High School. Williams admitted handing the gun to the shooter.

What's interesting to me is the shared responsibility. Apparently the courts felt the older teenager who passed the gun to Davison shared in the guilt for this murder. What about the girl? The story says there was a girl in the car as well who had gotten in an argument with the dead boy earlier in the day. Does she not share in the responsibility?

Maybe there's only so much guilt to go around. Direct involvement like passing the murder weapon immediately before the incident counts, but less direct involvement like whatever happened between the girl passenger and Privett is too far removed. In which case, whatever parental or societal influences might have played a factor couldn't possibly be mentioned as excuses or mitigation.

After interviewing the 17-year-old murderer, Metro Detective Clifford Mogg said, "He told detectives he didn't mean to kill anyone.” Is that difficult to believe? Is the idea that an individual who commits murder is not acting in isolation but rather in concert with numerous influences, some of them quite direct, too hard to accept? I say no. I say we lose nothing as a society by giving people like this the benefit of the doubt.

What's your opinion?

Help Save Troy Davis

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is appealing for help to save the life of Troy Davis who has been on Death Row for 18 years for a crime many believe he didn't commit. We discussed the case a few months ago when the Supreme Court refused to hear it. Now it's being reconsidered.

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is today considering what to do, if anything, regarding the case of Troy Davis, and may issue its decision today, tomorrow, or some think most likely, on Monday, June 29.

As you know, Troy Davis was convicted of murdering a Georgia police officer in 1991. There is no physical evidence tying him to the crime and seven out of nine witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony. These seven witnesses must be heard in a new evidentiary hearing. Read an Amnesty International report about this case here.

If you have not yet signed the on-line petition at, please do so now, as these petitions will be printed and hand delivered on Monday morning.

Here's the other thing you can do right now to help save Troy's life:

Please call Georgia's Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm at 912-652-7308 and ask that he reopen Troy's case.

If you are a Georgia or Chatham County resident, please identify yourself on the call as a concerned resident. However, you do NOT need to be a Georgia resident to make the call! We want DA Chisolm to know that Troy has massive support across the country, so make the call yourself, and then please forward this widely and ask everyone you know to make this call.

If there is one phone call you make today, please make it to Larry Chisolm's office.

It's getting down to the wire. This may be the one call you make that can actually save a man's life. 912-652-7308. Please call now.

Some of my friends keep pointing out that I seem to be on the side of criminals and against the law abiding. To a certain extent that's true. It works like this. Law enforcement personnel and others in authority should be held to a higher standard, in my opinion. When they abuse their power, in addition to whatever legal or moral crimes may be involved, they're violating the public trust. To me, that's important.

Criminals on the other hand, especially addicted and abused ones, are already operating with two strikes against them. In many cases they're just trying to survive. There's no need to be excessively severe with people like this, except where public safety is at stake. We lose nothing by applying to them the same rules of presumed innocence that everyone's entitled to.

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

Icons of My Generation, R.I.P.

Years ago when I lived in Las Vegas, I saw Steve Martin's show on the Strip. He said, "Ah, yes, the poster of Farrah Fawcett. I've stared at it for hours, holding it up with one hand."

I once had a close encounter with the King of Pop. Read about it here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Juvon C. Harris Found Guilty in Baltimore

The Baltimore Sun reports on the guilty verdict handed down in the case of a robbery turned to murder.

A week after going on trial on charges that he killed a man in a botched holdup and tried to kill another, Juvon C. Harris was found guilty Monday by a Baltimore County Circuit Court jury of all eight counts against him, including first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.

Harris, 28, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole when he is sentenced July 30 by Judge John O. Hennegan, who presided over the trial. Prosecutors dropped their earlier intention to seek the death penalty for Harris, who was seen in a surveillance video fleeing the parking lot of Woodlawn's Windsor Inn early on July 1, 2007, immediately after two men had been shot there.

The scene was a frightening one. Harris approached the two victims in the parking lot, instructing them to get on the ground. He then pushed the gun into the face of Howard L. Hamlin hard enough to leave marks. Hamlin reacted, perhaps instinctively, by "slapping" the gun away, in his own words. It went off grazing his head and instantly killing his friend, Taavon J. Chambers.

The reason the prosecutors agreed not to pursue the death penalty was unclear. Could it have been the question of intent? Do you think Harris may have accidentally fired the guy when it was pushed away by Hamlin? Could that affect the outcome of the trial?

In a case like this it's impossible to tell whether Harris was going to pull the trigger at that very moment or if the swiping at the gun by the victim caused it to fire. Do you think it matters? I do. I think we need to give people the benefit of the doubt in all cases. Isn't that what "reasonable doubt" means? What's your opinion?

Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Police Stop Cars with Bullets

Ever since we discussed the famous case of Ladon Jones, who was exonerated in the shooting death of someone in the act of stealing his SUV, I've been intrigued by the image of a man with a handgun shooting in self defense at an attacking vehicle. I don't know about anyone else, but I find it a bit incredible. Nevertheless, there are two cases in the news today.

The Los Angeles Times reports on the acquittal of an off duty policeman who shot at such a vehicle wounding the driver and her 8-year-old boy.

Officer Frank White, 29, was charged in a March 2008 "road rage" incident that occurred while White and his wife were shopping in Oceanside.

Another driver, Rachel Silva, 29, allegedly followed White and rammed her car into his in a parking lot. White identified himself as a police officer and fired five bullets into her car, striking Silva in the arm and her son in the leg, according to court papers and White's testimony.

The Houston Chronicle reports on one that took place in El Paso in which the offending driver was killed.

El Paso police have identified a 12-year veteran with the department as the officer who shot and killed a motorist accused of trying to hit a police officer and a group of pedestrians with his car.

Police said Sgt. Louis C. Johnson shot 31-year-old Ruben Troncoso on Friday night after Troncoso fled from a traffic stop after allegedly trying to run down an officer and then steering his car toward a group of pedestrians.

Troncoso died after being shot and running his car into a light pole. No one else was injured.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm all for a righteous shooting, but I can't quite shake the feeling that shooting a handgun at an out-of-control automobile is the stuff of Hollywood movies, not real life. This is the kind of thing Bruce Willis does convincingly, not real-live cops and homeowners protecting their property.

I still have serious reservations about old Ladon, and the two cop shootings don't really work for me either. The first one sounds a bit excessive and the second, completely implausible.

What's your opinion? Does the idea of Officer Frank White shooting at Rachel Silva and discovering later that her kid was in the line of fire, bother you? It bothers me. Does the fact that Officer Louis Johnson killed only Ruben Troncoso and no one else comfort you? It doesn't comfort me. In fact, I put this one in the same category with Ladon.

Does it sound plausible to you that Troncoso's car was first "trying to run down an officer" and then was aiming "toward a group of pedestrians," and that the officer was able to shoot and kill the driver in time to prevent the tragedy?

To me it sounds exactly like what I suspect happens in a questionable DGU. The shooter, whether it be Ladon Jones or Officer Johnson, describes the sequence of events in such a way as to excuse the incident as justified. Sometimes that sequence of events is transparently implausible. And what happens next is the other cops and the prosecutors and the judges decide to accept that version all for their own reasons.

What's your opinion? Were these justified shootings? Do you think unjustified shootings are sometimes passed off in the way I've described?

Please leave a comment.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tobacco Regulated, But Not Guns

Last week we talked about the gun manufacturers who are exempt from the kind of safety regulations which others are subject to. I seemed to have some difficulty explaining the difference between safety regulations and the many legal requirements gun owners must adhere to. The answers became clear in today's article in the Huffington Post by Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center in Washington, DC. In his article, "Gunmakers Now Last Unregulated Industry" he explains.

When presented with guns' unique niche in the pantheon of consumer products, the industry and its cheerleaders like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) go into a well-practiced spiel of how in fact they're actually the most regulated industry in America -- citing dealer and manufacturer licensing, the minimal paperwork necessary to buy a gun under federal law, the Brady background check all buyers must go through to purchase a weapon from a licensed dealer, and the fact that ATF is allowed to check a dealer's sales records once a year (a privilege the agency has the manpower to employ on a far less frequent basis). Yet these are sales standards, not product safety standards. ATF lacks any of the health and safety authority that is routinely granted -- and usually expected by the American public -- for other consumer products. Imagine if there were no FAA and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to oversee air safety. Would the public tolerate it if 100 Boeing 777s crashed every year? Of course not. But that would result in the same loss of life as the 30,000 Americans who are killed year in and and year out by guns.

With President Obama's signing of a bill granting the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory authority over the tobacco industry, we are now left with only the gun makers as the last American industry not regulated for health and safety.

As Mr. Sugarmann said, guns are now the only consumer product manufactured in America not regulated by a federal agency for health and safety. Does that sound right to you?

Why are gun owners so against anything to do with gun control? Are they afraid it will inconvenience them in their daily lives or do they fear a slippery slope leading to government confiscation?

What's your opinion?

Technology's blog Geekdad offers a wonderful reflection on the technological explosion we're all enjoying. Lonnie Morgan described a 12-hour road trip in which the Morgan family packed their most essential gadgets. Here's the list.

  1. Mario Kart driving wheels
  2. Wii controllers
  3. Wii
  4. DS (dual as there are sharing issues)
  5. Car lighter power converter
  6. Cell phones
  7. iPod Nano (there is another one here too, but I could not find it for the pic)
  8. iPod Touch, 16GB, loaded with 3 movies (recently replaced with a 3G S, Woot!)
  9. JBL iPod speaker port
  10. Dell 9-inch Mini
  11. Sims 3 DVD (so the kids can “make” Mama in the game)
  12. iPod USB power converter (for charging)
  13. 10,000 hour LED reading light
  14. Amazon Kindle
  15. iPod-to-RCA video cord (hooks up to minivan DVD player, for playing movies from the iPod Touch)
For me the best part of the article was the final comment.

Note: I remember riding from Columbus, Ohio to Miami with three brothers and a sister in an Oldsmobile Cutlass back in 1984. All we had was a bucket of crayons and a few coloring books. My kids just don’t know how good they have it. God bless my mother and father!

What're your essential gadgets? Do you have as many as the family of Lonnie Morgan?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Busy Father's Day in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Enquirer reports on the bloody Father's Day which transpired in the City of Brotherly Love.

Police said they believed a 60-year-old man shot two women, a 31-year-old who died at the scene and the other, described as the shooter's 55-year-old girlfriend, who was declared dead at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Their names were not released.

According to neighbors, the man shot the younger woman on the street and then went inside to go after her mother. He shot her in the head, then walked away, neighbors said.

The next shooting was reported at 8:15 p.m. in the 6200 block of North Smedley Street, in the Ogontz section of the city. Police said a 17-year-old boy was shot in the head and declared dead at the scene by rescue units. His name was not released.

Those homicides were followed by another about 9:20 p.m. in North Philadelphia.

Initial reports were that a 50-year-old man was found shot twice in the abdomen on the 100 block of West Westmoreland Street.

Another shooting about the same time on the 7300 block of Ogontz Avenue reportedly left three people with serious injuries. All three were taken Albert Einstein Medical Center.

Last night's violence was preceded by another homicide hours earlier in Hunting Park.

Police said a man opened fire about 1 a.m. yesterday inside La Quinta Restaurant & Bar at Fifth and Courtland Streets. The gunfire resulted in one fatality and the wounding of five people.

The dead man was described as 30 years old. Police would not release his identity yesterday because his family had not been notified. There was no word on a suspect or a motive for the shootings.

Now, I don't know about you, but I lost count. That is one busy, bloody night in Philly. Why do you think that is? How do the gun laws enter into this? In Pennsylvania they're fairly lenient and across the river in New Jersey they're fairly strict. I wouldn't imagine the guns involved would have come from Jersey, would you?

Do you think the availability of handguns in Philadelphia could have played a part in this tragic weekend? Do you suppose if guns were much harder to come by, one or more of these deaths might have been avoided?

Please leave a comment.

All About Eve

Gun Flow into Jamaica

The Miami Herald reports on the latest problem the American gun market is causing.

Ships from Miami steam into Jamaica's main harbor loaded with TV sets and blue jeans. But some of the most popular U.S. imports never appear on the manifests: handguns, rifles and bullets that stoke one of the world's highest murder rates.

The volume is much less than the flow of U.S. guns into Mexico that end up in the hands of drug cartels - Jamaican authorities recover fewer than 1,000 firearms a year. But of those whose origin can be traced, 80 percent come from the U.S., Jamaican law enforcement officials have said in interviews with The Associated Press.

When we discussed the flow into Mexico, the suggestion that 90% of the weapons came from the U.S., was hotly contested. It turned out that figure came from the ATF themselves. What do you think about this 80% idea, that the U.S. is the source of 80% of the Jamaican guns? Does that sound reasonable?

I still like what one of our favorite commenters said last time about Mexico. FatWhiteMan said who cares what happens down there. I suppose this could apply even more to Jamaica. Certainly, we're all more concerned what's happening in the States, in our inner cities especially. But, on the other hand, is this the kind of reputation we want for our country. It used to be "The land of the free and the home of the brave." Now, what would we call it?

What's your opinion? Should we be concerned with Mexico and Jamaica when we can't even get our own situation in order? Or is it all part of the same problem?

Please leave a comment.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bob Herbert's "A Threat We Can't Ignore"

Bob Herbert has written another op-ed for the New York Times, this one entitled A Threat We Can't Ignore. The last time Mr. Herbert's writing caught our attention was in April. In that piece, he basically provided a list of the gun damage that occurs each year. He said the solution is gun control and that as responsible citizens we're remiss in allowing the gun enthusiasts to get away with what they're doing. This time his message is basically the same thing as far as the solution goes, but as to the problem, he highlights the right-wing rhetoric that has not only polarized the debate like never before but also acted as the catalyst for several high-profile shootings this year.

Even with the murders that have already occurred, Americans are not paying enough attention to the frightening connection between the right-wing hate-mongers who continue to slither among us and the gun crazies who believe a well-aimed bullet is the ticket to all their dreams.

I hope I’m wrong, but I can’t help feeling as if the murder at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the assassination of the abortion doctor in Wichita, Kan., and the slaying of three police officers in Pittsburgh — all of them right-wing, hate-driven attacks — were just the beginning and that worse is to come.

As if the wackos weren’t dangerous enough to begin with, the fuel to further inflame them is available in the over-the-top rhetoric of the National Rifle Association, which has relentlessly pounded the bogus theme that Barack Obama is planning to take away people’s guns.

What's your opinion about the connection between the right-wing hate talk and the three shooters mentioned by Herbert? What about that assertion that the NRA has "relentlessly pounded the bogus theme?" Are those two assertions true?

In the aftermath of Waco, the N.R.A. did its typically hysterical, fear-mongering thing. In a fund-raising letter in the spring of 1995, LaPierre wrote: “Jack-booted government thugs [have] more power to take away our Constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property, and even injure or kill us. ...”

I've seen comments to this effect, even here on my own blog. I accused the writers of being paranoid, of living in a fantasy world, of practicing what I called exaggerated victimism. Is this where the idea comes from? Did he really write "jack-booted government thugs" in a serious sentence? Is La Pierre the author of the absurd idea that gun bans will be followed by gun confiscation, an eventuality that must be resisted at any cost. That would be the 3%, right?

I noticed something else. I myself have been accused of "dancing in the blood" of victims in order to make my anti-gun point. I've heard this assigned to Paul Helmke numerous times, this "dancing in the blood of victims" nonsense. But, isn't that what Mr. La Pierre did after Waco? Didn't he appeal to the membership for donations, strategically timed after Waco, and playing up that fear angle? Do you pro-gun guys have no original tricks up your sleeves; is it all just rehash of what the NRA says and as often as possible accusing the other side of exactly what you're guilty of?

What's your opinion? Do you think Bob Herbert is an intelligent, well-researched writer who expresses the anti-gun argument well?

Please leave a comment.

Polygamy in West Texas

Atlanta's has the story.

Eldorado, Texas —- Until the raid on their compound last week, the women and girls of the Yearning for Zion Ranch spent their days caring for its many children, tilling gardens and quilting, dressed in pioneer-style dresses sewn by their own hands.

But it was no idyllic re-creation of 19th-century prairie life, authorities say. Since last week, they have interviewed members of the polygamist sect looking for evidence that girls younger than 16 were forced into marriages with older men.

Five miles off the highway, beyond a double gate, the group's members live lives that are isolated even for the scruffy West Texas prairie. Their 1,700-acre ranch is like its own city, with a gleaming temple, doctor's office, school and even factories.

My first reaction is that this is too much government intervention. Who cares if these people marry young? Isn't our idea of the minimum age of consent a fairly recent convention?

But, when we discussed the case of Warren Jeffs, the founder of this Eldorado compound, I came to a different conclusion. During his trial in which he was convicted of child sex abuse for having arranged marriages between middle-aged men and girls as young as 12, I came to agree with his critics who say it's too abusive to the women. Even if the girls don't know any better because they and their mothers were raised in this type of society, it's still unacceptable patiarchial abuse.

What's your opinion? Is the government going too far in interfering with the lives of these people? Or is this one of those cases where intervention is called for?

Please leave a comment.