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The Real Perception Problem is the Perception of the Courts

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The comments thread in response to this article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution contain a lot more insight than the article itself, which morphed from the purported subject of policing into another attack on the public for caring about crime.*  No surprise there.  While the criminologists try to minimize crime using formulas measuring relative cultural pathology and other number dances, the public hones in on the courts:

It is time that we stop protecting the young criminals – Start publishing names, parents names and city – Might just be that some parents will be so embarrassed that they will take control of these young people – Start publishing names of judges that continually grant bail bonds or m notes for “REPEAT” offenders. — “D.L.”

[T]he court systems are a huge part of the problem…. i am shocked how many repeat offenders of street crimes are released on a “signature bond” …basically they sign their name and promise to come back to court and walk out….below is the legal definition.  “A signature bond, or recognizance bond, is a promissory that is signed by the individual who was arrested in order to be released on bond. Though no monetary transaction takes place when the promissory is signed, a signature bond contends that the arrested individual will pay an agreed upon amount if he fails to appear in court on the given date and time.”” — “Too Many Signature Bonds”

There’s one important part of the equation left out – the court system. Many of these offenders have arrest histories of multiple felonies but are still out on the street. The police can lock people up, but they can’t keep them in jail…how about an expose on the criminal history of these high profile offenders and why they are out on the streets? I’d really be interested in seeing that article. it seems the heat always comes down on the police, but not the courts who let offenders out while they have two or three armed robbery charges. — “Georgia Dawwg”

One major problem is that the Fulton County Courts dead docket over half of the cases that they could prosecute. Also, the judges are too lenient on young offenders. This is destroying our city. — “S.M.”

Most seem to be saying the same thing: the police can only do so much, then the judges and the prosecutors let offenders go free.

Why, for example, has there been no follow-up on the 43 murder defendants walking the streets?

When people start picketing the D.A.’s office and the Fulton County Superior Court to demand full public disclosure of case dispositions and sentencing so they can make informed decisions about electing judges, things will change.

But meanwhile, we’re utterly in the dark, and while the Atlanta Journal Constitution is beginning to respond with more reporting on these issues, for a very long time the newsroom status quo was a sort of mushy empathy for offenders and reflexive anti-incarceration biases, with some color coverage of victims from time to time — while the justice system went quietly to hell.

There’s no other way to put it.  Many scores of people in Atlanta say the same thing — this offender or that offender isn’t being put away — and the newspaper essentially ignores them.  Judges react with petulant anger when challenged.  Academicians cook up wild excuses for criminality.  Journalists point fingers at the public.

The new mantra is “re-entry” and claims that we “don’t do enough to rehabilitate youths.”  Same as the old mantra — we’re “not doing enough for the kids.”  “We’re denying them job opportunities / education / empathy.”

People who say these things are willfully blind to the fact that billions have been spent and will continue to be spent on all sorts of rehabilitation.  The fact that these efforts fail doesn’t mean we aren’t paying for them.  It isn’t lack of effort: it’s the extreme degree to which the underclass is mired in dysfunction — and the ugly fact that many in the establishment are endlessly willing to deny and excuse that behavior, right up until somebody gets killed (and even after that).

Spend some time with a 14-year old kid whose dad and mom doesn’t parent him, whose head is filled with violent and sexualized videos and rap songs and shockingly little else, who goes to school in Atlanta and gets told that he is a victim of the system instead of actually being taught anything useful.  Then try to change that child’s mindset when there are so many forces working to sustain it: the victim culture and some very questionable “educating” in the public schools, the parents who still aren’t parenting, the pop culture violence: it’s too late for that kid if he stays in that environment.  It really is too late, and I don’t say that because I would give up on him; I’m just trying to inject some reality.

The people who go on endlessly about needing to give juveniles more chances are the people who have never gotten involved at all, who blame the police and society but do little other than complain.  People who actually make the commitment to help learn three things very quickly:

  • there are already scores of intervention and rehabilitation and jobs and education programs
  • the programs don’t tackle the real problems, not because we “don’t care enough” but because they wrong-headed
  • kids in the justice system get a “second chance” already: they get serial second chances, no matter what they have done and even as their crimes escalate

I found the following comment especially interesting: “Nich,” whoever she is, from Grant Park, took the time to get involved in a rehabilitation program.  Her experience reflects my own:

The courts are a very big problem, especially with regard to minors. A lot of the offenders are young. Evidently, there is a 12-step program (you get 12 strikes before you are out) that applies to all minors, per Zone 3 DA. So if a 16 year old boy walks into my home, slays my husband and robs us, is that strike 7? Also, I joined a group called “Project Turnaround” as a council member. (volunteer PO, basically.) This was a program to help these participants/offenders get back on track monitored by the DA’s office. Most every offender was recommended by the council members to be exempted from the program/put back in jail, for repeat offenses. Nothing was done. My participant, for example, never went to the classes, continued to sell drugs and was shot in during a drug deal gone bad. Why was he not thrown out of the program and into jail? The DA’s office eventually just walked away from the program, but the kicker…NONE, NADA, 0% of the participants were put into jail. They basically were given “get out of jail free cards!” They are roaming the streets worse off today, because they don’t believe they will ever receive consequences. Sadly, all evidence supports that theory. — Nich

“Most every offender was recommended by the council members to be exempted from the program/put back in jail, for repeat offenses. Nothing was done.”

This person has a story to tell — a shocking, disturbing story about scores of recidivist offenders — given rehabilitation, given help — let out of jail over and over and over by irresponsible judges and prosecutors despite victimizing more people (and ending up, seemingly inevitably, shot).  Why is the AJC retreading the offensive and inane “perception of crime” theme when there are real stories to be reported?  When you can learn more from the comments threads than the article itself, well, maybe the death of journalism isn’t going to hurt all that much.

*Thomas D. Boston’s research on public housing patterns and crime rates, also discussed in the original article, is a different subject.


A Truly Offensive Effort to Whitewash the Crime Problem

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What’s the matter with the Atlanta Journal Constitution?

In the last year, the residents of Atlanta stood up and declared that they do not want their city to be a place known for crime, where murders and muggings are taken in stride.  They declared that one murder, one home invasion, is one too many.  They partnered with the police — ignoring the headline-grabbing anti-cop types who perennially try to sow divisiveness.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution stubbornly failed to grasp the significance of these events.  They mocked the anti-crime activists and denied the crime problem with a scorn they would not dream of directing at other types of community leaders or social movements.  They sought out the usual political operatives to feed them quotes denying the seriousness of crime.

They didn’t understand that the public had long-ago grown tired of these condescending tactics.  The newspaper of record especially didn’t understand that the internet gave citizens powerful new ways to see precisely how much their lives and pocketbooks were being affected by crime — whether it was sharing information about the ten-time recidivist standing in their driveway or finding out how many other people got put on hold when calling 911.

Atlantans began to demand a healthier, saner, safer status quo.  They set out to change the culture of the city in ways that will benefit every single person, from the well-off to the poor to criminals themselves (for criminals are not helped by a system that allows them to destroy their own lives).

Now, less than a year later, anti-crime activism has brought about a sea change in the political culture of the city.  Several candidates are running in this election on solid platforms of public safety — notably Adam Brackman, a leader in the volunteer court-watching movement that pressures judges to remove repeat offenders from the streets.

Every politician in this election is on notice that they dismiss public concern about crime at their peril.

And by the time the next election rolls around, I suspect that some of the judges who are failing to uphold the law and siding with offenders rather than law-abiding citizens will be folding up their black robes.  Pressure on the courts, and pressuring the city to end the police furloughs, has already set the city on the path to reducing crime, though it will be a long road.

So why did the AJC choose this moment to retreat to the “crime is a perception thing” debate again?

“People are scared,” said Kyle Keyser, founder of Atlantans Together Against Crime. The group formed in January, in a near-spontaneous reaction to a perceived crime wave that crested with the killing of a restaurant worker near Grant Park.

“Near-spontaneous.”  “Perceived crime wave.”  “Crested.”  Could the reporter wedge in a few more diminutives?  I lived in that neighborhood for decades, and in reality, crime has always been unacceptably high there.  It would be a lot higher if residents weren’t paying through the teeth for security patrols and motion detectors and cameras inside and outside of their homes, a veritable self-imposed police state that reflects the failure of city leaders and especially judges to behave as if all crime matters.

So why is the newspaper still hammering away at the theme that it is the perception of crime that is the problem?  Even when they acknowledge that crime is up alarmingly, from a base rate that is alarming enough, they feel the need to remind people that such things are normal, you know, in urban places:

Residential burglaries are a key component of the property crime category. But while all property crime decreased, reports of residential break-ins grew by 65 percent from 2004 to 2008. This year alone, home burglaries in southeast Atlanta are up 52 percent.

Larcenies have steadily decreased, as well. But thefts from automobiles, a frequent grievance of in-town residents, rose 30 percent in five years.

Criminologists say a high crime rate is inevitable in Atlanta, where widespread poverty and an influx of commuters, conventioneers and tourists create an atmosphere conducive to illicit activity.

Yeah, that pickpocket’s trade show sure brought a bunch of pickpockets to town.  The problem isn’t poverty: it’s profound social dysfunction, and the primary targets of crime are not conventioneers in the security-heavy downtown business district but residents going about their lives.  Some criminologists will say anything, however, in the service of rejecting legitimate worries about criminal behavior:

How well a police department performs its most basic job — preventing crime — can be assessed three ways, said Robert Friedmann, a professor of criminal justice at Georgia State University.

“One is the numbers,” he said. “Two is the numbers. And three is perception.”

Is it?  “Perception” is criminologist-code for “hysteria.”  The argument that Atlanta’s crime problem is merely the “perception” of paranoid whiners was rejected by the public months ago.  Yet here comes the AJC, once again, scolding people for failing to lower their expectations to meet the “inevitable” reality of violent urban crime.

The reporter doesn’t stop there, however.  The end of this article, an article that purports to investigate “dysfunction in the police department,”  is instead dedicated to dismissing the seriousness of John Henderson’s murder and by extension the legitimacy of the entire anti-crime movement.

He does this by claiming, again, that John Henderson’s death was probably just “an accident,” foolishly valued and misapprehended by those who reacted to it:

The case featured many archetypal elements of the high-profile urban crime story: the neighborhood’s historic poverty contrasted against the Standard’s hipster scene; the free-roaming young killers, possibly gang members; the overmatched police force, struggling to keep pace with crime. To many, the case seemed to be a metaphor that captured Atlanta as a growing threat.

Except it wasn’t.

It wasn’t?  It wasn’t what?  The bullet that entered John Henderson’s head was neither an archetype nor a metaphor nor a plot twist: it was a chunk of metal that ended an innocent man’s life, fired from a gun by malicious thugs who displayed murderous contempt for other people’s lives.  To point to the dead body of that young man and say “those who have reacted to this loss are making too much of a big deal about it: it’s just routine, the sort of thing that happens is the big city,” is utterly, starkly, reprehensible.

It smacks of telling people that if they’re “hipsters” who choose to live in-town, they must accept a certain body count among their friends and loved ones, and to complain about that is the real crime.  The reporter backs up this sleazy assertion by insisting that the murder wasn’t as bad as people thought.  Get it?  The murder wasn’t all that bad:

Much of what was reported about Henderson’s killing turned out to be false. He was not shot execution-style. Nor was he wounded four times. He was hit once in the leg during the robbery and once again in the head, maybe by accident, as the robbers fled. One of the bullets came from a handgun the robbers took from Henderson’s co-worker.

“He was hit.”  “Hit,” not shot, a softer word.  “Once in the leg during the robbery.”  Only once, not four times, so why complain about it?  “Once again in the head, maybe by accident.”  Accidentally shooting someone in the head?  What is motivating the AJC to keep bluntly denying the horror of this crime?

I’d interject here that this is not the way the AJC reported on Vernon Forrest’s death.  Forrest chased his robbers with his own gun.  He was no less a victim for it, and the AJC took the right line on that murder, as they did on that family’s demands for justice (as did the Chief and the Mayor, who leaped to action, in stark contrast to their response to Henderson’s murder).  And yet, even after finally doing the right thing, the AJC has now returned to Henderson’s murder to throw a little more dirt.

This is selective policing of the public’s reaction to a cold-blooded murder.  Cold-blooded, no matter where the killer was standing when he fired the bullet.  When you shoot a person through a door, you are as legally and morally as responsible for killing them as you would be if you stood over their body and fired the gun.

The reporter, not the public, is the one wallowing in metaphor and fiction here.  John Henderson is just as dead as he would be if the killing were expertly choreographed.  The public understands this.  They understand that adolescent killers waving guns are just as dangerous as — maybe more dangerous than — seasoned thugs who control their firing range.   Why is the AJC so obsessed with diminishing the responsibility of the killers in this case?  Why do they seem more outraged by the public reacting than by the killing itself?

[T]he area around the Standard was hardly unprotected before the robbery.

From 2:55 to 3:05 a.m., police dispatch records show, the officer assigned to the neighborhood was checking on a gas station at Memorial Drive and Hill Street — 500 feet from the Standard. The officer resumed patrol moments before the robbers smashed the bar’s door.

Short of standing guard at the Standard, it appears the officer could have done little more to prevent the crime.

“There’s a limit to how much officers can impact,” said Friedmann, the Georgia State criminologist. “If someone wants to commit a crime, they’ll commit a crime.”

Well, thank you for clearing that up.  Let’s just forget about it, then.  What’s the big fuss?  The police can’t be everywhere at all times.  This isn’t, like, The Matrix, dude.  So you should forget about complaining when your friends get gunned down.  It’s just life in the big city, after all.

And if it’s the right kind of crime, one involving a victim or location presumed immune from violence, news coverage often implies a broad menace, Friedmann said.

Memorial Drive is presumed immune to violence?  Since when?  Bartenders closing shop are presumed immune to violence?  Sometimes I think criminologists will say absolutely anything to whitewash the reality of crime.  Maybe Fridemann was quoted wildly out of context, because this makes absolutely no sense: he is saying that crime is omnipresent and unavoidable but that a bartender working late at night on Memorial Drive is an utterly unlikely potential victim of crime.  Say anything, in other words, so long as it ineluctably reinforces the conclusion that crime is just a “perception” problem:

“You have a story, people pay attention to it,” he said. “You don’t have a story, people don’t know about it, and it’s as if it didn’t happen.”

I speak fluent Hackademese, so let me try to translate.  Dr. Friedmann is saying that it’s not the murder that is the problem: it’s the fact that people made a big stinking deal about the murder that’s the problem.

Now, to mix things up, back to the reporter denying the severity of Henderson’s murder:

In this case, all that followed — protests over police furloughs, a property tax increase to put officers back to work full time, the “City Under Siege” media frenzy over later crimes — was based on inaccurate information provided by a police detective the day of Henderson’s killing.

Keyser now knows the story was exaggerated.

Does he?  I know Kyle Keyser, and he is committed to ignoring the media’s relentless claims that crime doesn’t matter — the reporter’s insinuation here flies in the face of Keyser’s message and actions.   Playing “gotcha” journalism with a person’s death is pretty ugly stuff.

Sadly, reports of John Henderson’s death were not exaggerated.  Thus, claiming that all that followed — a young man’s funeral, a city coming together to confront the problem of violent crime, more murders, more funerals — hinges on precisely how the gun was held when the bullet entered Henderson’s brain is setting up a straw-man of peculiarly grotesque intent.

The AJC really ought to be ashamed of peddling this type of underhanded opinion-mongering as news.   Nobody in touch with reality cares whether John Henderson was shot by somebody standing over him or shot through a door after being shot once already.  Nobody with a shred of decency would obsess over that distinction and conclude that public outrage over the murder and other crime is just “hype.”  Nor crack a joke about it, as the reporter does:

Pennington has a chance to try to turn the hype to his advantage, to convince Atlantans they’re safer than they think. On Tuesday, the chief is scheduled to address an annual breakfast sponsored by the police foundation.

The event’s theme: “Crime is toast.”

Get it?  Just stop worrying about crime, you ignorant hysterics, and it will all go away.

Judicial Outrage in Burke County(GA), and a Judicial “Oversight” Problem

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I received the following e-mail last week from a woman named Jessica Brantley.  This is yet another outrageous story of judicial leniency — involving Jack Bailey, the man who killed Jessica’s father while high on drugs.  Judge Carl Overstreet gave the killer probation for vehicular homicide despite his previous record of DUIs.  Then he let him go on an out-of-state hunting trip (!) before the probation started.  Then he let him out of the probation early.  Then Bailey got nailed for DUI again.

What can we do to hold judges responsible when they act in this manner?

Well, the governing body overseeing judges in Georgia is the Council of Superior Court Judges.  Maybe we could contact them and ask them to look into Judge Carl Overstreet’s actions in and after 2002.

There’s just one problem.  In 2002, Judge Carl Overstreet was the president of the Georgia Council of Superior Court Judges.

So we’d have to ask him to investigate himself.

I’m really at a loss.  Does anybody have any suggestions to help Jessica and her family?  Are there people in Augusta who could attend Jack Bailey’s next hearing and send a message that the community is watching?  I wish the judge would explain his motives.  I hope the media picks up this story, and I’ll have more on this later.  Here is Jessica’s letter:

Folks say that I should contact you with this information regarding a DUI arrest that was made on William Jack Bailey. I’ll try to make a long story short, but about [seven years] ago Jack Bailey killed my father in a motor vehicle accident. Some background: We all live in Burke County… On the date of the wreck, Oct. 5th 2002, Jack Bailey had MDMA & crystal meth in his system and was speeding around 80-90 mph when he hit my dad. He says my dad ran a stop sign, but I don’t really believe that. Anyway, we found out that Jack Bailey has been arrested twice before for DUI, but pled guilty to reckless driving w/o consequence. When his trial came up in Burke County, Judge Carl Overstreet let him plead guilty to a felony vehicular homicide. Knowing Jack’s record, Overstreet gave Jack 10 years probation…. BUT Jack didn’t have to start it until he got back from his HUNTING TRIP IN NEVADA. He violated his probation repeatedly & we reported it, but nothing happened. In Feb. ’08 he asked to be released from his probation (btw he retained his license and he shouldn’t have). At this hearing, my family showed up and testified how we & friends witnessed Jack violate probation. He said he would take the matter under advisement & let us know if anything changed (this was only 2 years into his probation). Sometime around May “09 Overstreet filed a change that terminated Jack’s probation… w/o notifying us. July 3rd “09 Jack Bailey was again arrested for a DUI. He had a truckload of passengers, some minors. All but one girl had been drinking & Jack was driving. He spent the night in jail… bailed out the next morning. Now, Captain Paquette has had to fight w/ Jack’s fancy attorney b/c he wants to plead reckless driving again (like the two of the 4 he has).
To make things even more stinky…. when the arresting officer looked up Jack’s driving record, it was clean…. which obviously it shouldn’t be. He had to do a criminal investigation to uncover everything I just told you.

**This case reeks of judicial corruption. Captain Patrick Paquette is really fired up about it, and for the first time I feel like someone actually cares besides my family. I would really like for you to investigate this, b/c now I hear Jack Bailey has been telling all his friends that his lawyer is going to get him out of this one too. That scares me, but I’m trying to keep faith that this time he will be put in prison.

Please consider reporting on this. If you want to see how this case has charged our community, you should friend my brother on Facebook. Read his note “Bad Judges, Bad People.” We’ve had to erase a lot of posts that reference Mr. Bailey’s children, but it shows how tired Burke County is of the Good Ole Boy System.

http://forum.gon.com/showthread.php?p=3971756

I have documents also, if this is something you’re interested in investigating let me know and I’ll get them to you.

Thank you,
Jessica Brantley

What can we do to help?  This family deserves justice!

Outrage: Lisa Davenport, R.I.P. “Always Full of Happiness.” And Others.

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What do you say to the judge in Athens, Georgia to justify kidnapping somebody, stabbing them repeatedly with a screwdriver, and leaving them for dead?

Well, your honor, she’s mine, and she deserved it:

Police first arrested [Phillip] Scruggs in 2001, after family members say he abducted [Lisa]  Davenport, stabbed her with a screwdriver and left her for dead.

A Clarke County grand jury indicted him on charges of kidnapping, kidnapping with bodily injury, aggravated assault and violating the state Family Violence Act, and as part of a plea agreement Scruggs pleaded guilty to kidnapping, false imprisonment and battery.

He received a three-year sentence, but with credit for time served in county jail, Scruggs was back out in September 2004.

In 2001, the jury indicted him and the judge (and possibly the prosecutor) let him walk.  At the time, why wasn’t Scruggs charged with attempted murder instead of aggravated assault, which can be excused with one year — a one year suspended sentence, even, if the judge’s hair happens to be blowing that way?

And then why did the prosecutor agree to drop even the aggravated assault charge and let him plead to battery?

Who was this Lisa Davenport, whose life was so unimportant that someone who kidnapped her and left her for dead in 2001 got a slap on the wrist, enabling him to come back later and finish the job?

“Lisa was the kind of person who was always full of happiness and had a glow around her,” [her brother, Eric] said.  Lisa Davenport is survived by her mother, father, two brothers, a sister, daughter and two grandchildren.

I do not give a whit that this was a “domestic violence” case: aren’t the legal experts always nattering on about how the victim is only a witness to a crime, that the prosecutor represents society, not the victim, because the crime is committed against society?  Aren’t victims supposed to be these untrustworthy, dangerous creatures who must be repressed into symbolic non-personhood in the courts lest they feel “vengeful” or something, a thing far worse than the crime itself, according to the experts?

Isn’t that one of the noble ideals under-girding our entire legal system?

Well, here is (I should say was, for she is dead now) one victim whose perspective truly should have been consigned to the status of “state witness” because she was tragically brainwashed by some sick monster into believing her own non-personhood: she went back to Scruggs after he got out of prison.  Then she tried to escape him again, and he killed her.

Here is the truly chilling thing, the thing that ought to give voters in Clark County pause the next time they must stand with their consciences at a ballot box: in 2001, the judge agreed with Phillip Scrugg’s interpretation of Lisa Davenport’s non-personhood.  The judge sided with the man wielding the screwdriver, not the woman being stabbed with the screwdriver.  How, otherwise, do you explain a three-year sentence (actually less) for trying to murder her?

The prosecutor and the judge were supposed to prosecute, and sentence, Phillip Scruggs for the crime he committed, no matter who it was he tried to kill.  But they didn’t.  They failed, and we failed by letting them, and now Lisa Davenport, whose life was deemed so cheap by the courts in 2001, has been murdered by the man we didn’t keep in prison:

A 42-year-old woman who was doused with kerosene and set on fire has died from her injuries.

Family members say Elisa Davenport died around 5 p.m. Saturday at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center, due to complications of burns she suffered on more than 60 percent of her body from the Aug. 17 attack.

“The trauma that her body went through was just too much for her to hold on,” her brother, Eric Davenport, said.

Athens-Clarke police say they plan to take out warrants Monday charging 49-year-old Phillip Scruggs with murder.

Scruggs, who was her boyfriend, had originally faced charges of aggravated assault and first-degree arson for the incident, which caused a blaze that gutted her home and spread to other units in an Athens apartment complex.

Lisa Davenport took two weeks to die in a burn unit in Augusta.  Her brother said Scruggs set her on fire and then sat and watched her burn:

“He didn’t shoot or stab her, but he set her on fire, and set more fire in her house in a way that made it almost impossible for her to escape,” Eric Davenport said. “Then, he just sat across the street to watch what happened, until people pointed him out to the police.”

~~~

How do we minimize the killing of a woman? The criminologists weigh in with clinical terms like “spree killer” and “serial killer,” words designed to distract from the moral outrage of the crime, making it curious, not outrageous.  Or “domestic violence,” which sounds — well — it sounds so domestic.  Minimal.

Ironically, the very same criminologists who are consulted to label certain murders “spree” or “domestic” are also the leaders of the hate crimes movement.  Those crimes, they tell reporters, are the really serious ones, the ones that ought to provoke moral outrage.  Not like killing a woman.  Or twelve women.

Here are celebrated hate crime advisers and criminologists James Allen Fox and Jack Levin, weighing in on George Sodini, who walked into a gym in Pittsburgh and picked off 12 women, killing three of them, a crime that Fox and Levin ever so carefully avoid labeling “hate”:

There are so many features about this shooting spree that are tragically textbook. Like most mass killers, Mr. Sodini struggled through a long history of failure and rejection, from childhood, with a brother he regarded as a bully and a father he saw as distant and unconcerned . . . In his extreme loneliness, Mr. Sodini was without emotional support and comfort . . . Aside from the gunman, the real culprit in explaining mass murder can be found in society itself . . . Many Americans simply have no place to turn when they become desperate. Their misery has no company. Without options and without support, mass murder can sometimes seem like the only way out. . . we must still make an effort, perhaps by reaching out to the seemingly isolated stranger sitting alone at the next table in the restaurant or working out with an iPod at the next treadmill in the gym. We may, in the process of trying, enhance the well-being of others . . .

No outrage here, except at society, which made Mr. Sodini feel bad.  It was just killing a woman — a bunch of women, one woman, whatever, just women.  That’s not hate crime, according to these experts, not even if you set the woman on fire and then sit down to watch her burn because you think you own her, not if you pick off twelve strange women after telling the world you hate women in a blog: none of this is hate, according to these experts, so long as the people you’re hating are heterosexual females.

To say the least, this is not the way Professors Fox and Levin talk when they are labeling a crime — even a minor crime — a hate crime.  Then there’s no long, slow, minimizing rumination about the loneliness of the long distance runner, or other such prattle.  Then they declare zero tolerance and shout for moral outrage.

Imagine if the Athens community had spoken out in 2001 about an attempted murderer getting less than three years in prison for kidnapping and stabbing a woman and leaving her for dead?

Imagine if that crime, and that lack of punishment, had mobilized candlelight marches, and earnest speak-outs, and calls for the prosecutor and judge to step down, because they did not honor the woman’s humanity, her purported equality under the law.

Imagine if the activist politicians, the grand-standers and media-seekers, had stood up and declared that this crime was a crime of hate and would not be tolerated in Athens, that no attempted murder would be tolerated in Athens.  Would Davenport still be alive?  How many others, if other killers were called hate criminals, too, instead of the word “hate” being increasingly reserved for a select few?

And so, the grand-standers were in a jam two weeks ago when Lisa Davenport was set on fire by a man who sat down to watch her burn, because their need to defend a system that dictates that killing women is not hate crime is more important to them than actually speaking out on real cases of hatred, like that one (and so many others).

As Scruggs watched her burn, an American honor crime, like slaughtering your daughter if she tries to marry the wrong man, or setting a widow on fire and watching her burn, there was nothing but silence from the arbiters of moral outrage.

~~~

“There’s just too many of ’em,” said President Clinton in 1999, referring to acts of violence against women and why they pose a peculiar problem for the leaders of the hate crimes movement.  The Anti-Defamation League fretted that prosecutors might be distracted if women were counted, and the statistics might be “overwhelmed,” so they and others quietly found ways to instruct police and prosecutors to not find hate when women were the target.  And, always, the criminologists chimed in with their expert opinions, shining on the movement’s ideological necessity: to say with a straight face that stealing a car can be a hate crime, but blowing away 12 women is . . . you know, just an understandable expression of loneliness.

The feminist establishment, smacked down for years by the hate crime activists whenever they whimpered that hating women is hate, has learned to remain silent on the George Sodinis of the world.  No activists called for the shooting of 12 women to be labeled a hate crime — some naive young feminist bloggers did (they’ll learn), and Ms. Magazine ran a crabbed little note, but the major organizations kept their lips tightly zipped.

Attorney General Eric Holder, who was pretending to advocate for the inclusion of “gender bias hate” in federal law (it will not really count women) at the very time Sodini started blowing women away, remained silent.  Odd, that he wouldn’t take advantage of such an opportunity.

~~~

“We must give the lie to the notion that there is no difference between an assault and an assault that is motivated by bias.  The differences are very, very real,” Eric Holder thundered in 1999.

What he meant is that murders like Lisa Davenport’s are less bad.  That is the unavoidable meaning of his words: killing Lisa is not as serious as a murder the experts decide to call a hate crime, even though her killer set her on fire and sat down to watch her burn.

You can’t make some murders more morally significant without making other murders less morally significant.  That’s just a fact.

~~~

In 2001, the judge in Athens, Georgia stuck his or her finger in the wind and decided that nobody really cared, and so the judge let Phillip Scruggs plead out after he nearly killed a women who had disobeyed him.  In Pennsylvania, a man wrote that he hated women; then he killed women; then the movement that purports to “expose hate” denied it instead, because the victims were women.  In Islamic states, women get beaten with clubs for showing their ankles on the street and murdered for disobeying their husbands.  We are supposed to be different from radical Islam on the grounds that our legal system is supposed to stand between such killers and their victims.  But that didn’t happen in Lisa Davenport’s case.

How many ways are there to minimize the killing of a woman?  More and more.

What a Difference Seven Months Makes?

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Remember this?

Well, according to the data that we have, there are some neighborhoods where the data don’t go along with what has actually transpired in their community.  We’ve had reductions [in crime] in a lot of those neighborhoods.  And then, some of the neighborhoods that we’ve had an increase in burglary and property crimes, those neighborhoods haven’t had a large outcry. . . I think they just respond to what they hear.  And a lot of times, perception to them is reality.

That was Chief Pennington in late January, saying that residents were over-reacting to crime, that it was just in their heads.

Here is Pennington August 7:

“In 2009, crime is down 10 percent . . . Since I joined the force [in 2002] crime is down 25 percent.”

Ben King, a graduate student at Georgia State who has an excellent blog called Terminal Station, writes:

We’ve all noticed that the police department’s contention that crime is down doesn’t seem to match what we see for ourselves.  I decided to do a little data project to figure out if the official police stats can help shed any light on what is going on.

My first post looks at residential burglaries, but I’ll also be looking at a lot of other types of crime and doing a some different types of analysis than just this first post.

What King found was a 65.1% increase in residential burglaries from 2004 – 2008.  I urge you to read the entire report at Terminal Station, which explains his methodology and includes easy to understand break-outs by Neighborhood Planning Units.  Here is his “short version”:

  • Residential burglaries are up significantly across the city
  • Southwest Atlanta has seen the highest increases in burglaries
  • East Atlanta and Grant Park had high levels of burglaries, and they’ve only gotten worse
  • Mild improvements in 2009 aren’t enough, given the increases of the last three years

Residential burglaries are up across the city

One thing that is lost in the overall numbers that get reported is how specific categories have performed. Residential burglaries are up significantly, both city-wide and even more in certain NPUs. From 2004-2008, the number of home burglaries increased 65%.


It is no surprise, then, that people feel less safe. Their homes are being violated at an alarming rate. This also places the statistics from 2009 into better context than I reported earlier. Through the first six months of 2009, residential burglaries are actually down slightly:


The fact that burglaries are down by 2% so far doesn’t negate three years of double-digit increases from 2006-2008. When it comes to residential burglaries, the city gets a big, fat, FAIL.

To summarize:

Chief Pennington says crime is down.

Ben King says burglaries are up 65% in just the past four years.

Pennington is particularly insistent that crime has not increased in certain neighborhoods with active neighborhood associations and e-mail notification lists, such as East Atlanta and Grant Park.

Ben King says this is certainly not true of burglaries:

NPU W, which includes Grant Park and East Atlanta, saw moderate increase in 2005 and 2007 before also exploding in 2008.  2008 was a bad year for the city as a whole, but particularly bad for NPU W – it brought them in to position as the #1 NPU in the city for residential burglaries for the year.

King and his colleagues are going to crunch the numbers on muggings and car break-ins next.  This is exciting work, and it shows the power of internet-accessible data.  It’s too bad, however, that it takes the volunteer labor of private citizens to do the type of work that ought to be done with the money we pay in taxes.

~~~

8,133 residential burglaries in 2008 is a lot of invaded homes.  Now if only we had on-line access to court dispositions, we would be able to see what percentage of those cases resulted in anyone being convicted of a crime and how many of those convictions resulted in incarceration, however brief.

Then you would know what your government is really doing, or not doing, to stop that guy crawling in your bedroom window.  I think those facts would shock people.

My sense of the way it washes out in the courts is this: juveniles need not worry too much about burglary charges.  They are generally given a pass the first time they get caught, unless violence is involved.  Even their second or third arrests rarely get them time in a juvenile facility (then, when they age out of the juvenile system, those records are sealed).

Once a burglar has “aged out” at 18, he gets another free bite of the apple with his first (the famously abused “first-time offender” category), and sometimes second and third burglary charge, if nobody is paying attention.  After that, his defense attorney counsels him to plead down to drug charges and request community treatment in lieu of incarceration.

It’s sort of like an apprenticeship, you see.  We should charge them tuition.

Leniency Lunacy: Atlanta’s CBS News Tackles Recidivism, Judicial “Discretion,” and Fulton County Prosecutors Going Easy on Repeat Offenders

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Hat tip to Paul Kersey:

Atlanta CBS News Investigative Reporter Joanna Massey dissects the problems in the courts.  This is thoughtful reporting (here is part 2), and hopefully there will be follow-up on points raised by the story, such as:

  • Why is it that county prosecutors do not so much as try to enforce Georgia’s recidivism laws?  The prosecutor in the story tells the reporter that she uses her discretion in every case.  Well, if discretion means someone who has been arrested 69 times and accused of multiple violent crimes gets released back onto the streets again, then maybe discretion needs to be taken out of the hands of the Fulton County D.A.’s office in the form of a real recidivism law for Georgia.
  • Why, for that matter, don’t prosecutors have the mindset of seeking to impose the recidivism law in every possible case?  All victims deserve to be treated equally.  The law should be applied evenly.  Allowing criminals to get away with crimes inevitably tells them — especially impressionable juveniles and the mentally ill — that there will be no consequences for their actions.  Anybody who has lived with a three-year old knows the consequences of that.  The ethical culture of the D.A.’s office needs to change.
  • We’re not doing criminals any favors by letting them get away with — well, escalating patterns of violence until they get sent away for life.  Ricky Love, the offender profiled in the news story, does not appear to have a state prison record.  If that is true, it means that exactly none of his 69 arrests or multiple convictions got him state time — not robbery, not assault.  In other words, somebody in the D.A.’s office, the courts, or both, dropped the ball 69 times in a row.
  • What political motive lies behind Paul Howard continually insisting that his office does not need more resources?  Who is he trying to appease by saying that, when it is so obviously false?  The prosecutor in the news story appears to have been told not to acknowledge that her caseload prevents her from examining every defendant’s full record.  She sure looks caught out when she says:  “You deal with the facts that you have on that day, on that case, and you make a judgment call.”  The city needs more prosecutors, of course, if prosecutors don’t even have the resources to know who they are convicting.
  • Why did Judge Craig Schwall agree to release this offender?  He can pass the ball to the prosecutors, but he has discretion, too.  Every time I watch a judge suddenly getting tough on an offender, it reminds me of all the times they didn’t do it when nobody was watching.  There needs to be new standards for judging judges at election time, something a little more judgmental than “check incumbent box.”
  • And that will require information.  Data.  A new transparency at the Fulton County Clerk of Court’s office.  Why has nobody filed impeachment papers on Fulton Clerk Cathelene Robinson?  She is standing in the way of the residents of Atlanta gaining access to the records of criminal convictions, pleas, and non-prosecutions, records they will need to see in order to understand what is happening in the courts.  How to reform the dysfunctional Fulton Clerk of Court’s office?  The state body overseeing them is the Georgia Superior Court Clerk’s Cooperative Authority (GSCCCA).  More on this later…
  • Atlanta could easily take a page from Houston County, located in the center of the state.  The Houston County District Attorney provides immediate web access to all case events and sentencing outcomes, so people there can see precisely what the DA’s office is doing at every phase of a prosecution.  What would it cost to post these records in Fulton?  They must be databasing them internally, right?  People have a right to know what their prosecutor’s office is doing.
  • The Court Watch volunteers are heroes.  The Court Watch program in Atlanta needs to grow.  And while Paul Howard deserves a lot of credit for creating a court-watching program in conjunction with his office, I hope the Atlanta Court Watchers will also branch out and grow into an independent organization.  It is important to witness those cases where the nobody invites you to watch, too.

Everything’s OK in Here, Bob: The D.A., the Police Chief, and Atlanta Gang Story

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I am still trying to puzzle out why District Attorney Paul Howard and Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington keep insisting that they do not need more resources to fight crime and prosecute criminals, while they also keep holding press conferences to warn the public that today’s criminals are more numerous, dangerous and better organized:

“We don’t have one person breaking into a store,” Howard said. “We now have eight people.”

I would add that, in addition to organized gangs, there are still plenty of free agents out there.  Nevertheless, Howard keeps buffering his statements about the tidal wave of gang violence with assertions that it is not his aim to prosecute all criminals involved in gangs.  From a July 16 interview with Fox 5:

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard spoke out Thursday about what he called an explosion of gang activity in Metro Atlanta. Howard talked about the wave of gang crimes that have been committed mainly by teenagers.  Howard said that gang violence was never really a big problem in Atlanta until now.  There are now more than 100 active gangs in the city and the number of crimes just keep growing.  “It started as a small stream and now it seems like there is a river of them,” said Howard. . .

[H]e said the rise in gangs is a new phenomenon.  “It’s a warning and I think people ought to heed the warning.  I think we should start getting ready,” said Howard. . .

OK, we need to start getting ready, right?  The problem is exploding and the public needs to act?  Well, wouldn’t that mean that the prosecutor’s office needs more lawyers to deal with this explosion of organized crime?  Not according to Howard:

When asked if locking up the people involved in the gangs would solve the problem Howard said, “It’s not going to solve it and that’s what I want to say to people. I’m the DA and I tell you we cannot lock up every gang member in our community.”

Howard said he was looking at options outside the courtroom, starting with sponsoring a community-wide gang summit.

Ah-ha: a gang summit.  They’re not going to arrest gang members and impose consequences: they’re going to make gang members feel even more important than they already do by sitting down and talking with them and with the activists who view them as victims of society.  That’ll show ’em.  Oh, and by the way, they’re not even going to try to prosecute them.  Howard continues:

“As prosecutors we’re not on some campaign to add more prosecutors,  we’re not asking the governor to strengthen laws to fight gangs . . .

To state the obvious, why not?  Why would any prosecutor not want this, especially when his office has dropped the ball on gun crimes and dropped the ball on recidivism cases, at least one of which led to the released offender committing cold-blooded murder (see my posts here and here)?

Paul Howard, prosecutor, has decided that gang members need to be understood:

“[W]hat we are asking to do is to start to look for the roots, the sources,” said Howard. . . “We have to ask ourselves, ‘why are young people attracted to this gang activity?'”

Meanwhile, over at Pennington’s beat, the chief who denied that crime is a problem is now acknowledging it is a problem — but not for the law abiding.  Crime is a cry for help by criminals who feel squeezed by the economic crisis.  You see, it’s all your fault:

Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington told the crowd that crime spiked when the city cut recreational programs for children.

“Kids are idle in our community,” Pennington said.  When you talk to them after you arrest them, they say, ‘I don’t have anything to do.'”

Oh, come on.  Did anybody bother to ask the Chief to produce the figures that support such gawking claims?  The population of school-age children has dropped substantially in Atlanta as public housing populations dispersed, often outside city limits: that represents the only reduction in publicly funded recreation programs for children.  The city still has an enormous (and politically connected, and well-heeled, thanks to taxpayer dollars) network of programs that do all the parenting from cradle to adulthood for its population of parents (read: absentee fathers) who cannot bother to parent their own children or simply have come to expect somebody else to pay.

There has been no denial of spaces for children who need them because of their parent’s choices.  There is also no proof that the economy has anything at all to do with youth crime.  It’s all lies.

Does anybody ever ask these people for any proof to back up the things they say?

Here is what is really going on: the Chief and the D.A. are gearing up to blame the public for failing to provide enough social programs for deprived youths.  They are doing this to punish you for having the temerity to tell them to show up and do their jobs and get criminals off the streets.  They are reverting to a narrative that has tremendous support among the anti-incarceration crowd: offenders are merely victims of society.  We need to understand them, not punish them.  It’s all your fault that they are kicking down your doors.  If you gave them more things than you are already giving them, they would stop victimizing you.  Shame on you.

Of course, that’s just a perception of failing to provide social programs for deprived youths.  But that is one “perception” nobody is going to question on the editorial pages of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The “blame the public, not the criminals” narrative is seeping out in every new public interaction.  The “crime summit” where politically connected activists pretended to teach self defense and community organizing is where Pennington made his contemptuous remarks about the public being responsible for youth crime.  And don’t forget, he showed up there.

Think about it: well-intentioned, taxpaying, law-abiding residents spend six months trying to get Pennington to show up for work and he stays disappeared and heaps contempt on them from undisclosed locations: now he shows up and blames them for the crime problem that he also says doesn’t exist anywhere but in their minds.  Nice.

This is just like Bill Campbell’s last days.

More narrative, on your dime?  There is a very snazzy, very expensive-looking new interactive computer “gang intervention” game posted on the Atlanta Police Department’s website.  Go to this page, or you can find it on the bottom of the department’s homepage.  I encourage you to explore Atlanta Gang Story and let me know what you think.  In fact, let Pennington know what you think, too.  It’s your money.

I think Atlanta Gang Story is a disturbing glamorization of gangs, complete with a cool gun-logo which is inappropriate in so many ways that I’m tempted to contact Francis Ford Coppola to see if he’s interested in copyright infringement.  It looks like a movie poster.  How smart was that?  How long before vendors start hawking t-shirts that say Atlanta Gang Story, gun and all?

I think Atlanta Gang Story will do exactly nothing except amuse those gang members literate enough to use computers and then make them feel all puffed up for being the center of attention.   Self-esteem pieties aside, the last thing 14-year-olds with guns need is to feel more important.

I think this type of intervention is doomed to fail because it rewards the kids who join gangs instead of rewarding the vast majority of kids who do not (and are also most vulnerable to violence by gang members).  Everybody except apparently the D.A. already knows why young people join gangs: they join gangs in order to gain recognition for being tough, and to belong to something, and because it’s exciting and fun and gets them power and gets them noticed.  This is why they put videos on YouTube showing themselves waving wads of twenties and flashing not-so-secret hand signals.  Acknowledging their identity as gangsters will merely reinforce this sense of toughness, and of belonging.  It will enhance their identities as gangsters, not discourage it.

Atlanta Gang Story is also directed at earnest-yet-naive citizens who believe in this stuff, the types who get excited by the idea of the special role they imagine they play in understanding misunderstood gang-bangers.  In other words, this is also PR, directed at that slice of residents most likely to overlook the Chief’s lack of commitment to actual crime fighting in the first place.

I think somebody made a LOT of money producing this site.  I think reporters should start asking what got spent to produce Atlanta Gang Story and what is being spent on the whole rest of this gang summit boondoggle.  Remember Shirley Franklin’s 8 million dollar (according to NPR) “re-branding” campaign?  Atlanta needs to grow up: the party needs to end.

Millions disappear on this type of junk, while you still can’t get a 911 operator to take your call.  Of course, it’s hard to get the money to do something as mundane as hire more 911 operators and train and supervise them correctly.  It’s easy these days to get a fat grant to hold a conference where important people bloviate predictably and then evaluate each other positively while spreading the cash around.  Your cash.

How much money?  Who is getting it?  And in the interest of tracing the future path of the status quo, who do they support in the next election?

Why won’t the city’s chief prosecutor simply commit to prosecuting every single crime?  Which crimes will be deemed unimportant enough to ignore?  Small businesses that have been hit five times?  Certain neighborhoods?  Who, exactly, is going to be denied justice this time?

District Attorney Paul Howard Should Do His Job, Leave Self-Defense Training to that Judo Guy Down the Street

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People in Atlanta deserve better.

Reeling from months (years, really) of life-altering crime in the streets, they finally drag the Mayor and Chief of Police kicking and screaming to some podium, where the two continue to deny that they are not doing the job of serving the people before storming off again.

Now Act II opens with District Attorney Paul Howard holding a town hall meeting where he insults people further by using the pulpit to praise Pennington (!) and lecture the public about taking responsibility for self-defense.

Isn’t it extremely weird for the person in charge of putting criminals behind bars to tell you that you should learn how to engage in hand-to-hand combat with them, instead of talking about what he is doing to, say, put offenders behind bars?

Grannies with numchucks?  That’s the plan?

Just to let folks know, this is NOT the way things happen in cities where elected officials are actually serious about fighting crime.  This is the type of smoke and mirrors that happens instead of vigorously enforcing the law.

In cities where elected officials actually behave as if crime is unacceptable, the district attorney responds to crime by prosecuting criminals.  Nobody wonders about the whereabouts of the chief of police.  The mayor does not refuse to come out of her office.

It would be a shame if all the hard work being done by the anti-crime activists got co-opted into a bunch of meaningless “summits” and calls for “mentoring” and the other claptrap designed to garner grant dollars and do precisely nothing about that 16-year old stealing your car.

People who already pay for security cameras and neighborhood patrols, who commit hours of their own time attending NPU meetings, who have to hold complex negotiations with the city in order to ensure that the 911 operators aren’t elsewhere getting their nails done, deserve better than this:

“You are a victim waiting for a perpetrator,” said summit organizer Derrick Boazman, a former Atlanta city councilman.

Residents learned self-defense techniques, such as stomping on someone’s foot and hitting him in the groin if he grabs you from behind.

“What do you do after that?” asked instructor Steven Muhammad.

“Take off and yell, ‘Fire,’ ” the participants answered in unison.

Is that Steven Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center?

Is he working for free?  Or are you the one who is working for free, after you go to work at your real job, and pay the tax dollars that are ending up in questionable community activists’ pockets, and then spend your evenings sitting through mind-numbing committee meetings for the (real) neighborhood groups, where the real crime-fighting work is getting done?

Enough of this nonsense.  Enough showcasing by the usual suspects.  Enough of telling people to “stomp on their feet.”  Is that even what a real self-defense instructor would advise?

Pennington spent six months insisting to you that Atlanta didn’t need more police.  Here is what he said at the “summit”:

Police Chief Richard Pennington announced a plan two weeks ago that includes increasing the Police Department’s gang unit from six to 24 officers and conducting more sweeps of high-crime areas. “Any time you have more police officers on the street, you have more visibility,” he said.

Really?  How refreshing.  And thank you to the civilians who dragged him to that point.  Here is Paul Howard:

“[Pennington] never shies away from his obligations,” Howard said.

Howard has also, repeatedly, said that his office does not need more resources and the state does not need better laws to tackle recidivism and sentencing for violent crime, making him the only D.A. in the known world who is happy to let 90% of offenders plead out with a slap on the wrist because prosecutors don’t actually have time to prosecute even a fraction of crimes.  Think about that the next time his office drops the ball on some gun offense.

And, meanwhile, ask some hard questions about how much money is going to be blown by his office on the upcoming “gang summit” and which well-connected activists will be pocketing that cash.

The first step to doing real, adult things about crime is saying no to another dog-and-pony sideshow.

You go to work: so should they.

What Works? Coffee and Danish with the Smash-and-Grabbers?

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Thanks to Paul Kersey:

Fulton DA Alarmed by Rise in Gang Crimes

Justin Gray — myfoxatlanta

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard spoke out Thursday about what he called an explosion of gang activity in Metro Atlanta. . . Howard said that gang violence was never really a big problem in Atlanta until now.  There are now more than 100 active gangs in the city and the numbers just keep growing.  “It started as a small stream and now it seems like there is a river of them,” said Howard.

This is not a new problem.  Drug gangs have always existed in Atlanta.  Back in 1991, I arrived at work one morning at a refugee services center in Clarkston and was startled to learn that a group of young immigrant men had been caught very near our office (and child-care center) with a trunk full of automatic weapons.  Ironically, we were in the process of applying for a federal grant to address violent immigrant gangs in Atlanta.  This is the type of coincidence one can do without.

It is also the type of coincidence that forces you to sit down and ponder whether “providing more outreach to the community” is really the right response to, say, a trunk load of automatic weapons in the hands of a bunch of antisocial 18-year olds.

Now Paul Howard is telling reporters that we have to talk with the gang members because we cannot possibly arrest and prosecute them all.  Why not?  With murdered innocents, devastated business owners, and communities under siege, shouldn’t he at least try to prosecute and imprison as many of these thugs as possible before declaring defeat?  He apparently feels otherwise:

When asked if locking up the people involved in the gangs would solve the problem Howard said, “It’s not going to solve it and that’s what I want to say to people. I’m the DA and I tell you we cannot lock up every gang member in our community.”

Howard said he was looking at options outside the courtroom, starting with sponsoring a community-wide gang summit.

“As prosecutors we’re not on some campaign to add more prosecutors,  we’re not asking the governor to strengthen laws to fight gangs, but what we are asking to do is to start to look for the roots, the sources,” said Howard.

This is utterly insane.  It is also doomed to failure, as has been every single quest for “root causes” for crime in the past fifty years, ever since such disingenuous foolishness became the mantra of criminologists, certain activist journalists, and other unpleasantly eager aging subculture hangers-on.  When somebody says they’re going to “look for root causes for crime,” here is what they really mean:

  • Criminals are not to blame for committing crime: society is to blame, and society should feel really, really bad.
  • And, by the way, we’re not going to incarcerate those criminals because they aren’t to blame, you know?

But why should the DA’s goal be to “understand” the little monster who just pepper-sprayed terrified store employees or shot a bartender?  Paul Howard is not a therapist: he is supposed to enforce the law.  Besides, there are scores of other people in Atlanta whose job is to “understand” or counsel or otherwise attend to the needs of deprived youths.  Paul Howard’s job is to do something when such efforts do not work.

The notion that there is anything we don’t already “understand” about gang activity is both dangerous and ridiculous.  The evidence has been in for decades now, and it is incontrovertible: young men from fatherless environments, immersed in a culture that glorifies violence and gangster lifestyles, mimic what they see and become involved in gangs.

If any of that is unclear to Paul Howard at this stage of his career, spending more time on the inquiry is not going to enlighten him.  Such talk is all just smoke and mirrors anyway: Howard refuses to lay the blame for gang violence where it really belongs, so he has already chosen a misdirecting excuse — he’s going to blame us all:

Howard attributed a lot of the jump in gang activity to the downturn in the economy.

Bunk. The economy” has nothing to do with it.  It’s not as if gang members were paying their own rent and utilities while pursuing a nice little marketing degree while clocking 39-hour weeks at the McDonald’s before the stock market crash forced them to take up sub-machine guns and drive stolen cars through the front of Lenox Mall with the regularity of lab rats hitting levers for pellets.

Why does anyone let poor Paul Howard get away with saying stuff like this?  Look at the Facebook pages of these kids if you “need to understand” anything else about them.

Here is what the media, and the public, needs to be asking the elected district attorney, every day, until he actually offers some answers that don’t insult our intelligence:

  • Why isn’t he “on some campaign to hire more prosecutors,” if gangs are multiplying in the city and crime is exploding?
  • Why doesn’t he “ask the governor” to strengthen Georgia’s recidivism law, that Swiss cheese of the Georgia Code?
  • Where does he get the chutzpah to scold people for asking him why he does not try to get more resources to fight crime while spending their money to “understand” the people committing crimes against them?

The city is in serious trouble when the District Attorney holds a press conference to simultaneously warn the public that the gang problem is spiraling out of control and to announce that he’s not equal to the task of enforcing the law to the highest degree possible, which is what Howard said:

“It’s a warning and I think people ought to heed the warning.  I think we should start getting ready,” said Howard.

and:

When asked if locking up the people involved in the gangs would solve the problem Howard said, “It’s not going to solve it and that’s what I want to say to people. I’m the DA and I tell you we cannot lock up every gang member in our community.”

Howard said he was looking at options outside the courtroom, starting with sponsoring a community-wide gang summit. . . Howard said he is planning his gang summit for August.

I’m amazed there has not been more of an outcry over this type of expensive, dangerous boondoggle.  Why has nobody demanded an accounting of how much taxpayer money the DA is requesting to do this; how he is going to identify these apparently unidentified, violent, recidivist offenders who are currently apparently impossible to find; and what, precisely, he is going to do with them when he finds them?

Where is the media?  This is a story.

The gang-summit idea has been tried repeatedly — it is a beloved activity of precisely the types of people who don’t believe that holding a gun to somebody’s head should land you in prison and who don’t live in the types of communities where criminals control the streets.

It’s an employment program for already-employed criminologists and community activist types, an exciting (for them) exercise that actually inflates gang members’ sense of invincibility.  In California and elsewhere, it funnels grant dollars into allegedly-reformed gangsters’ pockets, predictably subsidizing their criminal activities.

It rewards gang membership while neglecting youths who don’t break the law.

Again and again and again, in other cities, it hasn’t worked, and then after millions of dollars get squandered and more innocent lives get wasted on the streets, some adult has to step in, enforce the law and clean up the mess.  Not that you’ll hear this from the excited criminologists who get paid to hang out with tough and authentic gang members and ask them if they feel their self-esteem has been enhanced by getting free money and face-time with important elected officials — for this is how “success” really gets defined by the people involved in such cash cows.

Does anybody actually believe that community groups that stand to get millions of dollars in federal funding to “do anti-gang outreach” would actually admit that such efforts don’t really work?

Meanwhile, if Howard really feels that he cannot do his job, he needs to quit and let somebody else step in.  There needs to be consequences — legal consequences for committing crimes . . . political consequences for refusing to do the work you have been elected to do: enforce the law.

Court Watching in Atlanta Scores a Victory — and Kudos to Judge Wendy Shoob

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From Marcia Killingsworth’s always informative blog, Intown Writer, this story of keeping career criminal Andre Grier off the streets.  For now, at least:

[R]ecently, CourtWatch Coordinator Janet Martin and one of our community prosecutors Assistant District Attorney Kimani King alerted us to State of Georgia vs. Andre Grier 09SC77314, a case coming before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy L. Shoob.

This was a bad guy, but we knew that wasn’t enough to ensure that he wouldn’t be put back out in our neighborhoods. According to the information we got from the DA, Andre Grier’s record includes 27 arrests with at least three felony convictions. He was also convicted of entering auto and he has at least two drug convictions. At the time the latest incident occurred – a car break-in – he was out on bond on robbery charges that were later upgraded to armed robbery.

Grier was in court to ask to be released on bond. And not just any bond, a signature bond, which – as I understood it – he just signs his name, puts up no money and swears to be good if they let him out.  Additionally, although he had two other bonds on pending charges which he had committed while he was out on bond, he was asking to have this third bond lowered.

Really, who could make this up?

Here is what happens when the curtain gets pulled back on the criminal courts.  One might ask: why would Andre Grier assume he could be released on a signature bond when he had two other bonds pending for crimes he had committed the last two times somebody had let him walk, once on a serious, violent gun crime?

Because the last two times he appeared before a judge in Fulton County, that judge did let him walk.  And out of 27 arrests, he was convicted only three times.  What happened to the other 24 crimes?

If you are Andre Grier, out there committing crimes, 9 times out of ten when you get arrested, there are no consequences.  Not bad odds, especially considering that the police cannot possibly have caught you every single time you commited a crime.

But this time, Andre Grier’s assumptions about the justice system did not pan out:

So Andre Grier was brought before Judge Shoob (whose name every CourtWatcher and their neighborhoods will remember when judicial elections come up).  Judge Shoob was discerning enough to note Grier’s record. In doing so, she outlined to the defendant and his lawyer – in an Are-you-sure-this-is-what-you’re-asking? tone – that he had been arrested in January, and while he was out on bond for that one, he committed the crime he was there for today… and that these two most recent crimes were while he was out on bond for yet another pending case – the armed robbery – and that in essence, he was asking to be let out a third time – well, third time’s the charm, right? – even though he had violated the terms of his previous releases.

I’m thrilled to see this.  But what does it say about the Fulton Superior Court that such vigilance is noteworthy?  Who let Grier walk free after he pulled a gun on an innocent victim a few months ago?  Why is it that anybody who has been arrested for armed robbery gets released from jail while charges are pending?  Marcia continues:

Judge Shoob observed to Grier that it appeared that every time he was released on bail, he went back to the same neighborhood and committed the same kinds of crimes, and yet he expected to be released again as he had been before.

But I guess Grier got “third time’s the charm” mixed up with “three strikes and you’re out.”

Judge Shoob didn’t.

She told him that he was not getting out of jail today or tomorrow or anytime soon. In fact, she said, with the armed robbery on top of his other convictions, he was looking at a mandatory 10 years to life sentence. So, she said, Mr. Grier, you are not going anywhere for a long, long time. No bond. Back to jail. Period.

That’s a good outcome.  Hopefully, as more people become involved in CourtWatch, there will be fewer outcomes like the one Andre Grier was expecting.

The Next Step for Georgia Court Watching

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I have been watching the growth of court-watching in Georgia, and it is encouraging to see the practice taking hold.  Nothing will change on the streets until public scrutiny is brought to bear on the courts, where evidence abounds that judges have been breaking and bending the intent of Georgia’s sentencing laws with no professional consequences whatsoever.

No consequences for judges, even when they actually violate Georgia’s sentencing laws.  No prosecutor dare complain when a judge cuts an illicit deal with an offender — because the prosecutor must appear before that judge, or one of that judge’s peers and colleagues, every single day.  You can’t be critical of judges and be effective in the courtroom.  So there are no consequences for judges, even when their decision to overlook the law or their failure to do their jobs with appropriate diligence results in preventable murders, like the killing of Dr. Eugenia Calle.

The judiciary is far too much an insider’s club — loyal only to each other and unwilling to hold their peers to appropriate standards of conduct.  Does anyone disagree?

Thus, court-watching.  The judiciary behaves better when they know they are being watched.  And when they don’t behave better, someone will be there to see it and report it to others, maybe even complain about it.  To whom do you complain?  That’s a subject for another day. The next step for Atlanta is to create a site where all the different court watchers can report on the courtroom decisions they witness — the good, the bad and the ugly.

Atlanta’s court watchers could not adapt a better communication model than Orlando CourtWatch’s.  Here is their blog and here is their organizational website.  This nonprofit has trained 150 volunteers in two years and monitored more than 7,000 hearings.  With the exception of a proliferation of Snow Whites and Goofys, Orlando has a good deal in common with Atlanta, demographically and crime-wise, so the same could certainly happen in Atlanta.

Orlando CourtWatch is organized differently from the Atlanta program, which is being run through the D.A.’s office.  The Orlando CourtWatch organization is an independent 501-c3 with one paid staff member, and their primary focus is domestic violence courts.  But the organizing model would apply to any court.  And having a program independent of the D.A. is useful in many ways, not least of which being that independent court watchers could speak out without worrying that they are endangering prosecutions by doing so.

In terms of impacting public safety, I think court watching is every bit as vital as neighborhood watches.  When offenders are permitted to cycle through the system, they are not only free to commit more crime: the local system gets depleted of funds as it addresses the same criminals over and over again.

So lives get endangered (including the lives of all those 18-year old criminals, for those who exclusively sympathize with them), tax dollars get squandered, and nothing gets resolved.

Tomorrow: Georgia Tech Crime Wave, and What to Watch for in a Court

An Important Law Georgia Still Does Not Have: Arrestee DNA Databasing

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Back in the 1990’s, Georgia Lt. Governor Mark Taylor made it a priority to build the state’s DNA crime database.  He did this long before other states got on board, and for many years Georgia was rightly viewed as a leader in using DNA to solve violent crimes.  Taylor was driven by his strong commitment to victims of rape and child molestation who had been denied justice.  He did not heed the civil rights and convict rights lobbies who tried to stir up hysteria over using DNA to solve crimes (ironically, these same activists are howling over the Supreme Court’s utterly reasonable decision last week not to enshrine post-conviction DNA as a blanket, federal right, when 46 states already guarantee it, as even Barry Scheck admits: don’t believe virtually anything you read about this case on the editorial pages).

Taylor’s leadership on DNA databasing yielded an extraordinary number of database “hits” long before other states got their databases up and running.  In 1998, only convicted and incarcerated sex offenders were required to submit DNA samples in Georgia, yet 13 repeat-offender rapists were immediately linked to other sexual assaults, and scores of “unidentified offender” profiles were readied to be used if those offenders were finally caught and tested.

The convicted-and-imprisoned-sex-offenders-only database also revealed a chilling reality: many of the prolific rapists whose DNA matched other sex assaults had only ever been convicted of non-sex crimes such as drug crimes, burglary, and robbery.

Any prosecutor of a certain age will tell you that, before DNA evidence, it was so difficult to prosecute rapists that prosecutors often made the choice to allow rapists to plead to non-sex offenses such as burglary just to (temporarily) get them off the streets.  This strategy was directed at serial, stranger sex offenders who were known to the cops but managed to avoid conviction because the public was so resistant to finding anyone guilty of rape.  Taylor’s database made this injustice to victims visible.

Unfortunately, the types of injustice (to victims) and justice (against offenders) the database revealed was of little interest to the media.

Nevertheless, for several years, Georgia’s DNA database quietly withstood efforts by “civil rights” activists to shut it down.  In 2000, the legislature expanded DNA testing to all incarcerated felons: 70 crimes were immediately solved, including serial rapes committed by convicts who had no prior rape convictions.

In 2007, the legislature expanded the database again, adding felony probationers — that weird category, the existence of which should splash some cold water on heartfelt feelings that we are far too harsh in sentencing and imprisoning criminals.  In the real world, even violent felons still routinely walk away with nothing more than probation for their crimes.

As of a year ago, thanks to the expansion of the database, 12 of these “felony probationers” were linked to serious crimes through DNA.  That’s 12 fewer violent offenders on the streets.

Still, no paper.  Few headlines.  Fewer editorials.  And, eventually, Georgia began to fall behind other states in DNA databasing.

As I write this, Florida Governor Charlie Crist has briefly emerged from his offender-kumbaya-fervor to sign a bill requiring all people arrested for felonies to submit DNA samples for analysis — just like they submit photographs and fingerprints.  Florida now joins 20 other states that are using DNA to investigate and solve crimes (Denver D.A. Mitchell R. Morrissey has a good website explaining the use of DNA in the courts).

But Georgia still languishes on the list of states that do not require DNA samples to be drawn upon arrest for a felony.  Here is a chart comparing state laws from the DNA Resource Report.

In 2008, the Georgia Legislature did pass Senate Bill 430, which started out as a felony arrestee DNA database bill but got watered down through the legislative process.  It emerged as little more than a statement affirming that prosecutors may ask the GBI to check a suspect’s DNA sample against the existing database so long as “the sample was obtained through a search warrant, consent of the suspect, court order, or other lawful means.”  Then it concludes: “The bureau [GBI] shall not add a DNA profile of any such suspect to any DNA data bank except upon conviction.”

In other words, a bill that started out attempting to add felony arrestees to the state database morphed into a bill specifically restricting arrestee DNA from being added to the state database.  I’d like to know the story behind this watering-down, particularly as it occurred at the same time when other states were successfully expanding their DNA databases to include felony arrestee samples under certain conditions.

Why did Georgia fold?  Is there another bill in the works?

If you still aren’t convinced that arrestee DNA databasing is an urgent need, take a look at the website for DNA Saves, the organization Dave and Jayann Sepich started after their daughter Katie was raped, strangled and set on fire in New Mexico in 2003.  Her offender was arrested and convicted of several other crimes, but his DNA had never been databased, so her murder went unsolved and he went free to continue attacking women for three years after Katie’s death.

How many victims of murder and rape in Georgia would have been protected by such a law?

Meanwhile, here is a statement from FDLE commissioner Gerald Bailey to the St. Petersburg Times correcting some of its inaccurate and fear-mongering press on the issue of arrestee DNA:

A valuable tool in fighting crime

Your editorial regarding the new Florida Department of Law Enforcement DNA database legislation failed to provide the public with a full picture.

This initiative, once funded, will expand Florida’s DNA database to include samples from persons arrested for felonies. The process is no different from the way Florida already stores and handles fingerprints from arrests. Like the current law on fingerprints, the DNA legislation has provisions for removal of the file when a person arrested for a felony meets certain requirements.

The database in its current form has been a great investment for our citizens; every month it generates an astounding 230 hits. These hits match an unknown DNA sample left at a crime scene to a known felon whose DNA is already on file, or links two or more unsolved crimes. It’s an invaluable investigative tool.

Including felony arrests means more samples in the DNA database and more crimes solved. It also means crimes will be solved faster and, most important, crimes will be prevented. Taking DNA at the first felony arrest ensures that DNA is taken from those offenders who evade felony conviction time and time again. It ensures that DNA from the first felony will be matched to that offender’s next crime, halting further victimization and saving lives.

Florida becomes the 21st state to take samples from felony arrestees. There is no other tool that can prevent violent crimes as efficiently and effectively as this. The Legislature got it right. Our citizens expect this level of protection. I think they deserve it.

Gerald Bailey, commissioner, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Tallahassee

I certainly deserved it: too bad it wasn’t there to help me in Florida when I needed it.  Worse, too bad it still doesn’t exist to protect victims in Georgia.

Sgt. Scott Kreher Update: Cops and Us

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Sgt. Scott Kreher of the Atlanta Police Department, has been returned to desk duties as Mayor Shirley Franklin continues down the path of using the D.A.’s office to “investigate” him for importune remarks made during a hearing on denying medical benefits to the city’s disabled officers.  Stephanie Ramage, at The Ramage Report, has issued another call to restore Sgt. Kreher to his full duties.  It’s an amazing plea for forgiveness and the respect the police deserve.

Along the lines of Stephanie’s blog, I’ve been having some interesting conversations with a young police officer at my gym.  What always strikes me when I’m talking to police is how they view their jobs as a calling, not just a place to punch the clock.  The young officer at my gym told me that he does not do overtime because he recognizes the need to be able to go home and have a life at the end of his shift, because the job is so intense and what is being asked of police officers is so emotionally challenging.

One of the biggest challenges that he sees is the constant pressure of going into situations where people feel comfortable expressing hatred for police officers — and not just on the streets, where it’s not so surprising that the guy you’re locking up is not responding with gracious consideration for the demands of your profession.  Almost every cop I’ve ever met talks about the pain of being automatically reviled by some media types and politicians and activists.

In some community groups I belong to or follow, contempt for cops seems like a default, and this is too bad.  Setting aside the small handful of people who don’t belong behind a badge, the police are continually reaching out to the public, so I’d like to propose an exercise in consciously reaching back.  There are some darn great police blogs out there.  Read a few.  You don’t need to hug a cop, just try listening to one.

Here are some of the cop blogs I’ve discovered.  If you have others, I’d love to know about them.

Second City Cop: A Chicago officer talks bluntly about both policing and the politics of policing in Chi-Town.  Brave guy.  Really brave guy.

The Johnny Law Chronicles: Johnny Law is not shy about the frustrations of the “bi-polar moments” that arise when “bohemian wanna-bes are afraid of the criminals in their area but aren’t exactly sure about what they want done about it.”  I wouldn’t exactly say that he is reaching out to the public in a warm and fuzzy manner, but his perspective on this extremely common dynamic is worth confronting.

The Roanoke Cop: Nobody does a better job of explaining what happens during a long, depressing shift.

Behind the Blue Line: One of the cop blogs that is not anonymous, Cst. Sandra Glendinning is a canine officer in Vancouver.  And seems to be a lovely person.  Canada, land of the polite and free.

Officer Smith:  Officer Smith is a cop who apparently does a lot of highway patrol in California.  For readers from Atlanta who have never heard of such a thing, Highway Patrol Cops are police officers who drive on the highways enforcing things like speed limits and other traffic laws.

British Cops, being from Britain and therefore completely unconflicted about being literary while armed, write some of the funniest and most insightful cop blogs.  And because they still have a publishing culture and a reading public over there, cops (and nurses, and paramedics, and dispatchers, and social workers) with blogs are getting book contracts left and right:

The Policeman’s Blog: Funny.  The author of Wasting Police Time.  Lots of the policing and political terms may seem unfamiliar at first, but there’s really nothing all that different under the sun.

P.C. Bloggs, A Twentieth-First Century Police Officer:  The author of Diary of an On-Call Girl, about her career as a female police officer.  Imagine a world where On-Call girls, rather than Call-Girls, were the feminist heroes of the day.  P.C. Bloggs is quite good at expressing the frustrations of officers dealing with an ungrateful, drunken, unruly, and astonishingly piggy public.  Many insightful observations about the central role of body fluids in policing.

The Thinking Policeman: My favorite cop blog.  Long, non-frivolous disquisitions on Hobbes and Locke, The Social Contract, and how to forget the first utterly blown-out arm you see on a junkie.  Posts like “The Mental Health Patient” are an education in policing for the rest of us.

Two Crimes I Didn’t Report, Part 3

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I’ve been writing this week about the predictable reactions to the semi-annual release of the Uniform Crime Report statistics.

In Atlanta, much is being made of the fact that violent crime is down.  However, burglaries and larcenies are up — substantially.  Why might this be?

Maybe it has something to do with the courts.

In 1994, Georgia passed a “serious violent felony” law imposing a minimum ten-year sentence for the following violent crimes: murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery (here is an interesting law review article by Brian D. Boreman on the law).

Georgia’s law varies from minimum mandatory laws in some other states: it assigns strict “first-strike” minimums to a short list of unambiguously heinous crimes, rather than including crimes like burglary and theft.

For “serious, violent felonies,” the law removes judicial discretion:

[A]ny person convicted of a serious violent felony . . . shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of ten years and no portion of the mandatory minimum sentence imposed shall be suspended, stayed, probated, deferred, or withheld by the sentencing court and shall not be reduced by any form of pardon, parole, or commutation of sentence.

Meanwhile, the legislature essentially left property crime and other felonies to the discretion of the judges.  There are repeat offender laws applying to these crimes, but they still contain a default to judicial discretion.

We all know how that washes out.

Violent crime began dropping in Georgia and in other states as soon as minimum mandatory laws were put into place.  Is this surprising?  These laws were enacted precisely because people were committing five, ten, or more violent crimes before any judge bothered to remove them from the streets, if then (of course, the defense bar and its judges have vigorously sought and found ways around these laws, but that is a subject for another day).  Deterrence works.  Incarceration works.

The fact that incarceration works, however, is not a message that sits well with criminologists and journalists.  The effect, and success of these laws does not receive much academic attention or news coverage. Exactly one year ago, when the activist Pew Foundation began beating the anti-incarceration drum again, Jeffrey L. Sedgwick, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), had this to say in a letter to the Washington Post (and it speaks volumes that he was forced to say it in a letter, in response to the Post’s anti-incarceration biased coverage):

The Price of Leniency

The June 12 news story “New Criminal Record: 7.2 Million,” on the number of people under supervision in the nation’s criminal justice system, reported on the financial burden of running correctional systems without mentioning the savings resulting from crimes averted. Experience suggests that shortened sentences and reduced supervision of offenders released from prison carry a higher cost, especially in human terms, than the savings these shortsighted policies generate.

In 2006, the most recent year for which complete data are available, police received the fewest reports of violent crime and property crime since 1977. What was the cause? Research has shown that, with some exceptions, crime rates decline as the incarceration rate rises. In other words, while the number of people under correctional supervision has gone up, crime has gone down.

Research on state prisoners shows that among drug offenders, nearly 67 percent were rearrested within three years of release. For violent offenders, nearly 62 percent were rearrested within three years of release. Overall, more than 67 percent of prisoners were rearrested within three years for committing new offenses.

The cost of these new crimes goes beyond prisons. The most conservative estimate for the cost of violent and property crimes in the United States is more than $17 billion a year — and that’s just direct, immediate cost. This leaves out such costs as crime victims’ struggle to be made whole.

Let there be no mistake — releasing criminals early may save money in the short term, but not in the long term.

Jeffrey L. Sedgwick

Director

Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

“[C]rime rates decline as the incarceration rate rises.”  Georgia has a law that removed judicial discretion (read: leniency) from cases involving violent crime but no law that effectively restricts judicial discretion in cases of property crime: violent crime is down in Atlanta, but property crime is up.

I said a few days ago that I would be talking about two crimes I did not report to the police.  The second one happened when I was in Atlanta two weeks ago.  I was at the Wal-Mart on Cobb Parkway, in south Marietta.  Walking from my car to the store, I saw a man going up and down the rows of cars, looking inside each one of them.  When I came out half an hour later, he was near my car, checking the door handle of a car nearby.  I noticed an SUV waiting behind him.  I walked towards the man, then past him, and when I turned around, he jumped into the SUV.

The man looked suspicious as I was going into the store.  When I saw him again, still looking into car windows, I was sure he was casing cars.

So why didn’t I do something?  I was overwhelmed at the time, dealing with a death in the family.  I didn’t trust my instincts.  I knew I could not handle being put in the position of having to argue with some recalcitrant 911 operator with an attitude, as I had done so many times before in Atlanta [the 911 system in Atlanta is a criminal’s best friend].

And I was intimidated.  I hadn’t been paying attention until I saw the man the second time, and by then I was ten feet from him.  It was the middle of the day, and the only other people in that part of the parking lot were a man with a small child.  What was I going to do, say: “Hey, you, stop looking in cars”?  “Citizen arrest”?   It would have been stupid to say anything, but I think showed on my face that I realized what the man was doing.

Once I got in my car, I thought of what might have happened if somebody came out while the man was trying to break into their car.  He was a wired and nasty-looking person: what if someone startled him?  What about the man with his child in a cart, the cart in the driving lane?  What if somebody had a gun?  The experience was unnerving.  Yet, if the man had been caught, would he even have been punished, or simply let go by some overwhelmed prosecutor or judge basking in magnanimousness?

For every crime that gets reported, how many actually take place?

Is theft really non-violent?

Two Crimes I Didn’t Report, Part 1

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As I’ve mentioned several times, most crime is committed by a small number of very prolific offenders.  Remove these people from the streets, impose real consequences, and crime rates will drop.

But so long as the courts continue to let people off for their first offense, whatever it may be, and then for their second and their third and their fourth offenses, with a slap on the wrist and time served or probation, then the streets will remain dangerous.

A little more dangerous here, a little less dangerous there, which is the main thing the FBI statistics tell us.  But always most dangerous for the most vulnerable, those who cannot afford video camera surveillance for their doorways and who lack the ability to organize neighborhood patrols or pay off-duty cops to do it for them.

Mind you, I’m in no way being critical of those who have the resources to protect themselves.  Ultimately, they are helping everyone by holding the city to higher standards.

But in the short term, the people the Mayor and Chief Pennington are throwing most directly under the bus by denying the problem of crime are the poorest citizens of the city.

Some dozen years ago, I was sitting with my husband in our house in southeast Atlanta.  The neighborhood was still mostly empty lots back then: none of the new houses had been built, and there were overgrown fields across the street and to the right of us.  Around 10:00 p.m., we heard a car door slam and angry male and female voices.  The car screeched away.  Then we heard keening, like an injured animal.

It was an injured child.  When I found her kneeling in the grass, I thought I would be sick.  She was not badly injured, but she was terrified.  She was hiding in the grass, in the dark, from whoever had just dumped her out of a car, and she did not look relieved to be found by two strange adults in a strange neighborhood.

The girl looked about thirteen or fourteen, and she was in shock, which I recognized from working at a rape crisis center and from my own experience of a violent assault.  After police rescued me, I could not stop laughing and crying for some time, and I have known other people who have experienced either hysteria, or laughing, or numbness, in the wake of a physical attack.  Adrenaline is strange: you either shut down or ramp up after you have escaped something.  This girl had clearly shut down.

I sent my husband back into the house because his presence was scaring her.  I coaxed the girl up to the house as he locked up our dogs.  The whole time I was urging her to come inside, she was looking up and down the street, and I began to worry that whoever had dropped her off would come back.  I wanted to get us inside and lock the door, but I did not want to frighten her any more, and I did not want her to run away.

All the while, I was flashing back to ten years before that, when I was the one scrambling around on the floor trying to find the telephone, terrified that the man who had just raped me would come back in, as he had been doing in order to ramp up my fear, I believe.  He would pretend to be leaving, then reappear.

When I got the girl up under my porch light, I looked at her clothes, and I thought, “Good, her pants are still in one piece.”

An awful thought, but there you have it: the mind tries to impose order on uncontrollable events.  We all minimize crime, in a way, because otherwise we would not be able to sleep.

It must have been terrifying for the girl to come into our house.  We might have been the next chapter of whatever terrible thing was happening to her, instead of people who were offering her safety.  But she did not want to be outside any more than I did, so she finally walked through the door, flinching away from me.

It didn’t help that we were white and she was black, or that you could hear our large dogs whimpering behind the bedroom door, or that I was renovating the house, and it was seedy-looking.  The girl did not want my husband anywhere near her, even though he exudes gentleness.  So he sat with the dogs and I cleaned up the cuts on her arms and knees and tried to get her to breathe through her hysteria.

In the light, I could see that the girl was beginning to mature, but she was still dressed like a child, not a teen.  She was a little chubby.  She looked like the type of kid who would be shy even under ordinary circumstances.  There was nothing rebellious or streetwise about her, which was surprising because most of the children in our neighborhood were sadly streetwise.

Somebody obviously cared about her.  They cared enough that she still seemed like a child.  She lived with her grandmother, she finally said, and she had sneaked out of the house and gotten into a car with some dangerous kids from her school, hoping to fit in or hoping for an adventure.  Instead, they beat her up and threw her out of the car in a strange neighborhood.  Both the boys and the girls had attacked her in some kind of imitation of a gang ritual.  Then they dumped her out of the car.

I was relieved that she had not been snatched up by some stranger, but the fact that she knew her attackers created another problem: I wanted to call the police, but she begged us not to do so.

The girl was still shaking, saying something like “I’ll never do it again, I’ll never go out again,” so I had to consider the consequences of calling the police.  If they arrested her attackers, she would probably fare far worse as soon as they got released, which would happen in hours, or days.  The youths’ mothers (I did not think about fathers existing) might also retaliate.  Even if the police simply came and drove the girl home, somebody in her neighborhood might see the police car.  Her grandmother was asleep, she told us; she just wanted to go home.  My husband and I decided the best thing to do was to take her there.

This was not the decision I wanted to make.  But we did not have any illusions that we were taking the girl back to the type of community where her offenders would be punished, or even sufficiently restrained by their parents from harming her again.  Childhood is not the only thing that disappears in fractured communities: adulthood disappears, as well.  My neighbor D., she of the 14 children, would tear down the street screaming at anybody who dared to call the police when her children got caught pawing through somebody’s car or breaking into a house, as if calling the police was the thing that had violated community standards.

D. was wrong about a lot of things, but she wasn’t particularly wrong about that, at least not in the world where her children went to school, near the housing projects surrounding the federal prison a few blocks south of us.

That was where we were driving the girl, down to Thomasville Heights, a plot directly east of the penitentiary where Cuban criminals from the Mariel boatlift had rioted in 1987.  In Thomasville Heights, cars pulled up to the housing projects all night long to purchase crack; grass didn’t grow; children turned up dead, not only during the famous Atlanta child murders, which claimed children from that neighborhood, but also before, and after those notorious crimes.

The girl didn’t live in the projects but in one of those sturdy ranch houses that radiate out for miles from Atlanta’s downtown.  Brick house, brick mailbox, painted concrete, raised flowerbeds, marigolds planted in rows in a perfectly manicured yard: I knew when we pulled up that creating such order two blocks from the gunfire and sex-and-drugs market of the projects was an act of defiance.  But not too defiant: every window had burglar bars.  The door had a burglar gate so that it could not be kicked in.

No politician should ever be allowed to declare victory over crime so long as people have to cover their front doors with metal bars in order to keep criminals from kicking the door down.  But they do, of course, not only in Atlanta, but also in Baltimore, where Peter Hermann wrote this week about the pressures on cops to keep crime numbers down, and Detroit, where 100+ homicides disappeared from the record books last year in order to make somebody look good at City Hall.

We dropped the child off and waited until her grandmother unlocked the door and unbolted the burglar bars and let the girl inside, then bolted the burglar bars and locked the door behind them.  And then we drove away, leaving an adolescent girl and her grandmother to the gunfire and crack whores and drug dealers of Thomasville Heights, which is precisely what Mayor Franklin is doing whenever she downplays the seriousness of crime.

Politicians “using the numbers to climb into office or sabotage opponents,” as Peter Hermann puts it.

Last month, when I was in Atlanta, I drove past Thomasville Heights on my way out of town.  I don’t know if the official crime rate there has gone down, or by how much, but unlike many other parts of the city, it does not appear to have changed.  It still looks blighted; people still walk aimlessly from one empty lot to another, and the few convenience stores are shrouded beneath burglar bars.  I still would not stop for gas or a newspaper there.

Even if the crime rate has gone down, you have to wonder if this happened because everybody on a certain corner finally managed to kill each other: statistical victory through depopulation.  Not a nice way to think about other humans, but there it is.

That is what we left that child in: she must be 25 or 26 by now.  The crime committed against her doesn’t exist in any file at the APD, nor in the FBI Uniform Crime Reports.  But it happened, one of the millions of offenses that go unreported, in addition to the millions that do get reported and still get denied by the politicians.

That Perception Thing

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The release of the FBI’s semi-annual report on crime has provided Atlanta’s pathologically tone-deaf Mayor and the Chief-of-Police-In-Absentia with another opportunity to shower contempt on every citizen of the city.  What else could inspire the Mayor to repeat the words, “the city is ‘safer now than it has been in decades’,” given her knowledge of public feelings on her attitude?

Apparently, according to City Hall, a slight drop in the still unacceptable high rates of some crime in some areas, a rise in crime rates in other areas, and a sharp rise in property crime rates is cause to break out the bubbly.

How much of this drop in crime in some areas of the city can be attributed to heroic, time-consuming, and expensive efforts by neighborhood groups and individuals?  How much higher (than the 7.6% increase) would the property crime rate climb if people weren’t bankrupting themselves paying for alarm systems, burglar bars, security cameras, guns, and off-duty cops to patrol their neighborhoods?

Should the burden of preventing crime fall so heavily on residents who already pay the city to protect them?

Chief Pennington, bizarrely, has refused to comment on the FBI report.  Does the guy even show up for work anymore?  Why has the City Council caved to demands by the usual activists to re-re-re-investigate city cops in shooting incidents (after the appropriate authorities, and the FBI, the courts, and everybody else already investigated/prosecuted/sentenced the officers involved), but they seem utterly incurious about Pennington’s performance, not to mention grotesquely timid on the subject of denying injured cops their medical benefits?

Can we get one public statement from the Chief in exchange for the latest kangaroo court for cops who put their lives on the line?

Chief of Police is a political gig. Some chiefs manage to rise above the politics — in places other than Atlanta.  The national organization representing police executives is a political organization, too, which explains why the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum comes down on the side of pooh-pooing that Real Clear Politics report ranking Atlanta as the second-most dangerous large city nationwide, by population:

The ranking, compiled by the Web site Real Clear Politics, was derived by dividing the total crimes detailed in the FBI’s report by city population. Atlanta’s per-capita crime rate measured at 16 percent.

“Determining whether a city is safe or not is not as easy as that,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which has representatives from law enforcement agencies nationwide.

“That’s a very simplistic approach.”

All due respect to Wexler, what would be a “less simplistic” way of determining the prevalence of crime?  Criminologists, of course, have many answers to this question.  Unfortunately, their answers involve using very complicated number-crunching, statistic-discombobulating, and hide-the-peanut tomfoolery to achieve one overweening goal:

to deny the problem of crime

What is harder to deny is this:

  • 1.4 million violent crimes,
  • 10 million property crimes,
  • 17,000 murders
  • and nearly 100,000 rapes is a tidal wave of suffering, violence, fear and wasted lives.

The irascible Randall Cobb, one of those community activists who probably clocks ungodly volunteer hours trying to do the job the Mayor and Chief are paid to do, had this to say:

“Franklin and [Atlanta Chief of Police Richard] Pennington have been trying to get us to drink the Kool-Aid for 12 months now,” said Randall Cobb, safety chairman for the Midtown Neighborhood Association. “The biggest thing they’re doing is refusing to take responsibility for crime in this city.”

Amen.

Tomorrow: two crimes I did not report…

Selective Outrage: What the Paralyzed Cop Scandal Says About Atlanta’s Politicians

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As elected officials in Atlanta crowd the microphone to denounce Sgt. Scott Kreher for saying something importune about Mayor Shirley Franklin, the list grows . . . of elected officials in Atlanta grandstanding on Kreher while refusing to comment on the city’s grotesque treatment of wounded police officers, the real issue.

Here is a video Kreher helped create that details the systematic abuse of the officers by the city.  And here is a petition supporting Kreher, a decent guy who lost his temper over real injustice.  Not fake injustice.  I urge you to read the text of the petition, if you want to know what really happened.

In recent months, Mayor Franklin and Police Chief Pennington have pointedly refused to speak out against the high toll of violent crime, accusing residents, instead, of merely “perceiving” the crime wave that has left people dead on the streets, and at their jobs, and in their homes.  I don’t know anyone in Atlanta who doesn’t either own an alarm system or live behind locks and bars, or both.  That’s normal for Atlanta, a normal that is growing worse.  Yet the mayor feels that people are exaggerating the effect of crime on their lives, while she simultaneously feels that there should be a federal investigation over a passing remark made about her in anger, in the midst of a City Council meeting about her outrageous treatment of wounded officers.

So if your back door gets kicked in by armed thugs, or your car gets stolen, or somebody holds a gun to your son’s head, then you should just shut up, sit down, and not complain.  But if somebody says something in passing about the Mayor while talking about something else, then there should be a federal investigation, with all the resources of the government brought to bear, punitively, on any citizen who deigns to express anger at her Highness.

She gets — to demand that free speech be investigated if it displeases her.  You get — to hope that a cop is available to show up when your life in endangered by a violent criminal.  The cops get — to stand between you and the criminals, risking a fate like that of their fellow, paralyzed officers who are treated with raw contempt by elected officials.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution is calling the controversy over Kreher’s remarks a “debate.” Well, not really.  Debate implies that both parties have the right to speak freely, and that is not the case here, where Franklin may whip up hatred and demand federal government action under the guise of being frightened by what she is codedly pretending to be a racial remark, while Kreher and his supporters, and anyone else who deigns to be upset over the crime situation, or the paralyzed cop situation, must grovel and apologize while expressing their point of view.

It’s an ugly tactic that should be outdated, but is not.

Senator Vincent Fort, the crown prince of such double-standards, has, of course, weighed in for the Mayor.  This is Fort’s stomping grounds: he has spent most of his time in office trying to codify such double standards into law, simultaneously lobbying for leniency for violent criminals and harsher sentencing for so-called hate crimes, the system of selectively enforced, selective outrage that dictates that some people’s victimization is more important than others’.  The hate crimes code is also what underlies Franklin’s demand for a federal investigation of Kreher, a chilling threat.  If Kreher had said such a thing in Canada or Britain or any one of several European countries these days, he would doubtlessly be facing hate speech charges.  Luckily, our unique bill of rights largely protects us from prosecution for hate speech, though that would change in a heartbeat if Fort and others had their way.

Fort also, predictably, had bad things to say about the police, playing the police brutality card for the press:

“If I had said that to a police officer on the street, where do you think I’d be?” said State Sen. Vincent Fort.

Fort’s comment here is worth contemplating: he brings up non-existent police brutality but refuses to address the actually brutal treatment of the paralyzed police officers at the hands of Franklin’s administration.  Talk about a double standard.

And what a perfect expression of the realities of the hate crimes movement: some people get to have police protection against words.  Other people have to beg for any protection against crime.  Now that he has inserted himself into this debate, Fort should be called on the carpet, both for what he said about the police, and what he did not say.

Despite the fact that he believes that some people matter more than others.

Here is Shirley Franklin’s latest statement on Kreher, who has already apologized, grovelled before her:

“His threat cannot be tolerated or explained away,” she said on the city’s official Web site. “I believe his threat to be serious and an attempt to intimidate me and other city officials and my family.”

Here is what she said about the wounded officers:

”           “

Here is what she said about real crime victims in the city, in an op-ed scolding the public for demanding more police officers:

“The city is safer now than it has been in decades.”

In Atlanta these days, you had better know your place.

Fulton County, Georgia to Put More Defendants Back on the Streets (Translation Provided)

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Why not spend the money actually trying the cases instead?  Why bother having a justice system at all?

Court Program to Save Fulton $5.5 Million

A program that began April 1 will increase the number of defendants given pretrial release is expected to save Fulton County taxpayers more than $5.5 million a year in jail costs.

That’s “savings” as in “we’re going to shuffle these costs further down the line in some crazed and futile attempt to get through this budget year, knowing full well that our deception will be papered over by our criminologist friends (thank you, Pew Center!!!) who are busy inventing statistics that don’t take into account the added costs arising from additional victimizations, additional police investigations, and additional court cases that will result from releasing offenders pre-trial — not to mention the overall effect of further reducing the dwindling consequences for committing crimes.”

The Superior Court of Fulton County’s Pretrial Services will operate the new Intensive Supervision Program (ISP) which was recently funded by the Fulton County Commission. The program will provide rigorous supervision of defendants who don’t qualify for release under existing criteria.

That’s “defendants who don’t qualify for release under existing criteria” as in “we already let a shocking number of people go before trial or case disposition — boy, you would probably be really surprised to see some of the people we let go — but we’re still so utterly disorganized and underfunded and distracted and in some cases, just lazy, that we’re going to swing open those prison gates just a little bit wider.”

Over the past decade the Court’s existing Pretrial Services program has racked up an impressive record of reducing jail costs while ensuring that over 95 percent of program defendants show up for all scheduled court hearings.

That’s “over 95% of program defendants show up for all scheduled court hearings” as in “5% of the people who do something serious enough to end up in jail don’t show up in court after we let them go before trial.  Since we have an acknowledged backlog of some 6,000 cases, that’s 300 absconders just from the cases that are backlogged.”

The new ISP will supervise about 150 additional defendants per month.

Candidates for the program are:

• Youthful defendants charged with non-violent crimes that the Judiciary deem appropriate for release if heightened supervision is available.

That’s “appropriate for release if heightened supervision is available” as in “since we already release juvenile offenders almost automatically, even if they have been involved in home invasions or gun crimes or assaults, these kids are really scary, but we’re going to let the go anyway if heightened supervision is available.

• Defendants whose community ties cannot be “verified” or those who have not established a six month residency in the Atlanta metropolitan area
•Defendants, with little or no criminal history, charged with property crimes who do not meet normal pretrial release criteria.

That’s “little or no criminal history” as in “pretty much everything is little criminal history these days, especially since we keep giving people first-offender status for their sixth or eighth crime” and “property crimes that do not meet normal pretrial release criteria” as in ” kicking down your front door and luckily nobody got killed.  This time.”

•Defendants referred to the ISP by a judge.

That’s “referred by a judge” as in “like the judge who let rapper T.I. free on a gun charge because he’s rich, or the judge who let murderer Shamal Thompson go because he said he was a wedding dress designer.”

ISP release requirements may include:

That’s “may include” as in “not will include or must include, but may include.  Or, thus, may not.”

•In-person office contact twice a week
•Weekly field visits to defendant’s home/employer
•Curfew
•Electronic Monitoring
•Seek full-time employment if not already employed.
•Attend in-house life skills programs or community service programs.
•Be employed or actively seeking employment or school
•Defendants without high school diploma must enter GED program
•Social service agency referrals where appropriate
•Immediate sanctions in response to program infractions

That’s “immediate sanctions” as in “is that anything like the sanctions attempted murderer Joshua Norris didn’t receive when he threatened two young women with a gun while he was out on bail for repeatedly shooting another person, as in, no sanctions, unless you count being praised for stayin’ in school and then having all your other violent gun charges reduced to community service by fawning court officers as a sanction?”

The ISP will notify the Court, District Attorney, and Defense Counsel of any violations of release conditions.

That’s “will notify . . . of any violations” as in “What?  They do this already, don’t they?”

***

Here is a troubling statistic: the Department of Justice reports that in 2002 (the latest figures available)  one-third of all defendants arrested for felony crimes were “active” in the system at the time of their arrest — in other words, on parole, probation, or pre-trial release.

Here is another troubling statistic: “[t]he Fulton county jail currently has a backlog of about 880 prisoners who have been awaiting trial — most for felonies like murder, rape or armed robbery.”

32% of the people booked into the system for new felony crimes are under court supervision yet on the streets when they commit those crimes, and most of the people currently incarcerated but available for pre-trial release in Fulton County are charged with felonies like murder, rape, and armed robbery.

Hypothetically, how much money could Fulton County save if it reduced the felony crime rate by 32%  —  by not letting people out of jail while awaiting trial or finishing their sentences?

Vaut mieux prévenir que guérir. Except, apparently, in the Fulton County Courts.

How Atlanta Treats its Wounded Police Officers on Memorial Day

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If the genius of democracy is the peaceful transfer of power through elections, the tragedy of democracy is the exploitation of this public goodwill by elected and appointed officials who treat their last year or so in office (sometimes, their entire time in office) like a tin pot dictatorship, holing up and divvying the spoils while behaving as if the needs of the people are beneath their concern.

There’s little the public can do about a lame duck elected official who treats them with contempt.  Little, that is, except doing their homework for the next election, noting who is aligned with whom, voting accordingly — and carefully counting the towels after each transfer of power is complete.

This last bit of business was sorely neglected when former Mayor Bill Campbell was hauled off in handcuffs — people should not wonder so much when current Mayor Shirley Franklin’s allegedly “reformist” administration feels like deja vu all over again.

Sunday Paper broke this story about the disgraceful treatment of injured Atlanta police officers last weekend. The Atlanta Journal Constitution offered an excellent update yesterday.

Paralyzed cops being denied needed medical services by city administrators: this is the type of injustice that cries out for public leadership.  Phone numbers are below.

And where is Atlanta Police Chief Pennington?  Vegas?  Disney World?  Mars?  These are police officers who were injured in the line of duty — who took a bullet protecting us.  In other cities, that unambiguously means something:

In Atlanta, injured cops are treated like wounded animals put out in the rain.  That Chief Pennington refuses to comment on this mistreatment, let alone oppose it, is extraordinary.  It is the type of thing that should create an outcry, but it has not.  Are people so afraid to speak up for the police who protect them?  Is an entire generation so utterly brainwashed by the type of virulent, anti-cop rhetoric that spews from lefty politics and liberal media that they are able to look at a cop who took a bullet to save innocent people and say: well, who cares?

This is the Vietnam of our age.

Meanwhile, Mayor Franklin and Chief Pennington have managed to find the time for a vendetta against the police officer who stood up for the injured officers.  Sgt. Scott Kreher lost his temper after months of trying to get the wounded officers appropriate medical care and after two hours of being grilled at a City Council hearing.  Kreher said something inappropriate about Mayor Franklin, and now the Mayor is falsely accusing Kreher of being a threat to her and her family.

As columnist Stephanie Ramage points out in her blog, The Ramage Report, Franklin expressed no such anxiety when her son-in-law the violent drug kingpin was terrorizing the city (you can’t make this stuff up).  Here is Ramage on the full statement made by Kreher, not reported in the AJC, which truncated the quote:

The indignities that these cops, all of them injured in the line of duty, have suffered at the hands of Mayor Franklin’s administration are simply unconscionable.

And that is what Kreher told the City Council: “These five officers were injured in the line of duty…I want to beat her [Mayor Franklin] in the head with a baseball bat sometimes when I think about it…I cannot believe Mayor Franklin’s administration would allow this to happen. This administration should be ashamed of itself.”

Mayor Franklin was not present. Kreher was not visibly incensed. . . .

Franklin has said “I think it’s [Kreher’s remark] intended to intimidate me, my family and city officials. I think it’s very dangerous language and when someone says they want to take a bat and hit you in the head, from my experience, they want to kill you.”

Her family is intimidated? Franklin’s daughter is, even this minute, on probation for money laundering for her now-ex-husband, a kingpin in one of the most violent drug rings in the history of Atlanta. Mayor Franklin must have had at least a few dinners with the thug, yet she expects us to believe that she is afraid of a cop who says that her treatment of paralyzed and brain-damaged police officers makes him want to take a baseball bat to her head when he thinks about it sometimes?

Kreher has been suspended, but the Mayor and Police Chief are still refusing to comment on their actually unconscionable treatment of the injured officers.

As if it is laughable — a paralyzed cop snapping a leg bone because he can’t get the city to fix his broken wheelchair.

The relationship between City Hall and Atlanta residents has descended into paroxysms of sado-masochism.  I wonder when folks will say “enough” and start demanding some respect, if not for themselves, then for the men and woman who sacrificed their ability to walk and talk and think for the public’s safety.

This is, after all, Memorial Day, when fallen officers are supposed to be honored, as is happening in ordinary places, places other than Atlanta.

City Council

Mayor

Chief of Police

A Fall From A Tree, And Then Rape

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Michael Ledford’s attorneys want the jury to believe that Ledford is not responsible for murder and rape — is not responsible for any of the rapes he committed — because he once fell out of a tree.

If they believe that he is utterly incapable of controlling himself, and that he must rape and kill, then where were they when he was released from prison?  Why didn’t these experts — or rather their peers, somebody from the cohort of prison psychiatrists — make the case that Ledford should have been committed to an institution upon release from prison?  For surely he has not fallen out of another tree since his release: he has not changed.  If he was that dangerous and that crazy a few years ago, why did nobody do anything then?

They did nothing, the prison psychiatrists, the parole officers, the lawyers, because they do not believe in incarceration.  They did nothing, the forensic psychiatrists, because too many of them view their role as freeing people from prison, not keeping them there.

The only time these people hoist themselves out of their own self-righteous fogs of misplaced empathy and acknowledge that their “clientele” are, indeed, dangerous and prone to rape and kill again, is after one of them has been caught raping and killing and thus faces the chair.

Then they admit what they have know all along: the people they force on the rest of us, through a catalog of defense tricks, including the mess they’ve made of determining culpability at sentencing — are very, very dangerous.

I admit I have a difficult time writing about this.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll calm down.  It reminds me too much of the psychiatric passes given to my own rapist, a violent, terrifying, serial predator who, I was told, got time knocked off one sentence for being mentally slow, then somehow miraculously stopped being slow in prison and obtained — of all things — a “psychology degree,” which got more time knocked off his sentence.  Many are the hands that contributed to that release.

Which enabled him to go back to sexually torturing elderly women all the sooner, and if there was any real content to his prison “degree” (which I doubt), it merely provided him with pointers for busking up the horror-show.  Frankly, I didn’t find him slow at all.  I found him methodical and very good at his craft.  I found him impulsive — and details of his prior record bore this out — but also perfectly capable of exercising control.  Crazy?  Sure.  As crazy as he wanted to be.

Then again, I don’t have one of those psychology degrees.

So it is difficult for me to watch a spectacle like the Ledford sentencing without wishing to track down the cawling idiot — a graduate student or a professor, no doubt, in need of a beard trim and some source of self-esteem not connected to identifying with society’s predators — who got all titillated trotting over to the prison and pretending to teach my rapist “psychology,” so he could get out of prison early.

This leaves me wondering what pointers Ledford picked up on his own journey through the system.  What did he learn to say, to position himself as a victim in the eyes of the parole officers and psychiatrists and defense lawyers who helped him minimize his last sentence and avoid re-incarceration while he violated parole repeatedly, all the while gaining confidence that no consequence would accrue because no consequence did accrue.

And then he killed Jennifer Ewing.

Silver Comet Trail Killer’s Sentencing: Our Twisted System for Excusing Killers

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The sentencing phase has begun in the Silver Comet Trail case, and this is a good opportunity to see the types of things that keep or get a killer off death row — not just now, during sentencing, but later, during the endless appeals that will inevitably follow.

Anti-death penalty activists always use the “evidence” presented during the sentencing phase to try to get their clients off death row, “evidence” in quotes because the types of things that get presented in court during sentencing are wildly subjective.  Nevertheless, if the defense says later that jurors did not consider these factors appropriately, there’s an appeal.  And if one defense lawyer says later that the defense lawyer at trial did not present this subjective “evidence” appropriately, there’s another appeal.

And this is how most convicts get off death row — not because they’re innocent, as activists would have you believe, but because the subjective story being told about their intentions, and feelings, and childhoods (not their actions) is being re-scrutinized at the behest of defense attorneys who have turned this process into a sickening series of extra bites at the apple — and an excruciating, decades-long ordeal for the victim’s family.

Do defense lawyers sometimes intentionally “mess up” during sentencing in order to lay the groundwork for future appeals?  Well, according to some who have chosen to brag about their trial techniques, they do.

But resorting to conspiratorial behavior is hardly necessary in the system we have now.  Convicts can appeal over the craziest things, and during sentencing itself, many crazy things are permitted to be called mitigating factors — factors, that is, that excuse the killer and keep him off death row.  Decades of pro-criminal jurisprudence has manufactured a system of allowable grounds for appeal that is so excessive it is a wonder that anyone goes to jail for anything at all.

Mitigating factors in Ledford’s case include arguments that he is less responsible for murdering Jennifer Ewing because he was drinking, and drinking makes him want to sexually assault women, so he’s less responsible for what he did to Ewing if he was drunk around the time that he did it.  Get it?

In other words, Jennifer Ewing’s suffering, her death, and the meaning of the loss of her life to those who loved her is being measured against a can of beer in Michael Ledford’s fist.

And remember, you’re paying for this.

I encourage you to watch the arguments for mitigating and aggravating factors in the Ledford sentencing very closely.  More tomorrow.

Classrooms and Courtrooms [Updated]

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From 11 Alive, Atlanta, which carried the story after all sorts of officials dropped the ball:

Stefan [Ferraro] is an 11-year-old boy with Autism. A judge ruled he was physically and verbally abused at school.. . . Stefan cannot speak. He has Autism, and is non-verbal.

Ferraro began to show signs of abuse after he was transferred to the Marshall School in DeKalb County, a placement through the Atlanta Public School System.  His parents complained to the school, to no effect.  Then they placed a microphone in their son’s clothes.  This is what they recorded.  Picture an adult talking to another adult in a room with profoundly disabled, non-verbal children in their care:

“The man I’m dating is intelligent. But he has a small penis. You can’t throw a pebble into the ocean. Does it matter? Does size matter? Yes it does.”

The adults talked about drinking.

“Russian vodka with olive juice. That’s a dirty martini?”

At one point in the day, Stefan ate some pizza out of the trash can. The adults joked about it.

“I mean he was chill. Finger lickin’ good. He was chillin’ with that.”

But what the Ferraris heard that horrified them was this:

“You want a be-quiet hit?” (followed by the sound of a thump) “There you go. Get it now, go on.”

And two minutes later, listen as an adult tells others to leave.

“Please make him be quiet. Go away. Go. Take a minute. Go. Go on.”

And 15 seconds later, there were 18 seconds of thumps and the sounds of Stefan making noises.

Have you ever been in a classroom where adults talked like this?  Here is the way the same adult talked in the courtroom:

[T]he most anticipated witness took the stand on the final day of the hearing: teacher Sherri Jones. And the Ferrari’s attorney, John Zimring, got right to it, asking her if she was the one talking about a man’s gentials.

“I can’t recall if I said it or not,” Jones said.

If she was the one talking about drinking.

“I may have,” she said.

If she was one of the people joking about Stefan eating out of the trash.

“I don’t recall saying that,” Jones said.

But after Sherri Jones is made again and again to listen to the audio, her answers changed.

“And that was your voice?” Zimring asked.

“Yes, it was,” Jones answered.

“So you did say that?” Zimring asked.

“It came out of my mouth, yes,” Jones replied.

“It came out of my mouth.”  Denial of culpability is the lingua franca of courtrooms, spoken fluently by defendants who believe that any judgment of their behavior is unfair.  The weird, stilted, third-person language that people slip into in court, and even outside of it, is a verbal tactic designed to avoid guilt.  Ms. Jones was actually saying: “I was in that room.  The child was in that room.  The words were in that room.  But the words were just there.  Nobody is any more responsible for them than anybody else.”

A regular Albert Camus.

A person who is foul enough to talk about her boyfriend’s genitals in the presence of handicapped children, and mock those children, and either hit them or allow another adult to hit them, cannot reasonably be expected to take responsibility for that behavior.  The real question is this: why is nobody else holding her responsible?  Her principal has not done so.  The Atlanta Public School System has not done so.  They are defending what she did.

It came out of her mouth, and they did nothing.

***

Jurors in the Silver Comet Trail killer trial took less than two hours to find Michael Ledford guilty.  Paul Kersey writes:

Michael Ledford was found guilty on all ten counts. Remember how his lawyers made a huge stink about not being paid? Well, they did not call one witness for his defense. Their actual work in the case was/is, like you said, tactics to delay and obfuscate. The news reports on Monday said Ledford’s lawyers will call several witnesses during the sentencing phase to make the case for not giving him the death penalty. Apparently they’re counting on leniency for the following reasons: Ledford fell from a tree when he was a boy and allegedly sustained brain damage; Ledford was sexually abused as a boy; and Leford is an alcoholic.

Five Ugly Pieces, Part 5: Around Atlanta

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Some mop-up for the week:

The Silver Comet Trail murder case is moving along despite efforts by the defense to derail it.  Tragically, Michael Ledford’s mother had tried to get her son put back in jail before Jennifer Ewing was killed:

The mother said her son should already have been locked up and his probation revoked on July 25, 2006, the day Jennifer Ewing was beaten to death just off the popular Silver Comet Trail in Paulding County.

She said she pleaded with authorities in early July to get her son off the streets but the probation officers only told him to “behave.”

“It they got him off the streets … that lady would be alive. They let this happen,” Mihlaek testified in her son’s death penalty trial.

“They promised to do something legally. They didn’t and now it’s too late,” she said.”

Ledford’s brother also asked authorities to do something about his brother:

Mark Ledford testified family members had called his brother’s probation officers several times to report his drinking and his penchant for staring at women. Drinking would have been grounds for revoking his probation. But he was never arrested.

He spent 10 years incarcerated for a 1991 rape and was serving 10 years on probation when Ewing was attacked.

Ledford’s mother and brother did everything they could do to keep women safe.  And when their warnings went unheeded, and Ledford came home covered in blood, they called the police and turned him in.

Not so with the mother of Jonathan Redding, the teen charged in the killing of bartender John Henderson.  Redding’s family released a statement this week:

[Jonathan Redding] is not the monster that he has been portrayed to be but was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jonathan has strong family values and ties, and we feel he is currently a victim of the judicial system.

The wrong place at the wrong time.

Now defense lawyers in the Silver Comet Trail trial are trying to argue that Ledford is a victim of gender discrimination:

Sixteen people — 12 jurors and four alternates —were seated Friday to hear the Paulding County death penalty case against Michael Ledford, charged with murdering a Sandy Springs woman biking the popular Silver Comet Trail. . . .

The jury is dominated by men — only four women were among the 16 chosen as jurors or alternates — so Ledford’s attorneys filed a motion accusing prosecutors of gender bias because they struck so many women.

This type of thing would be laughable if it were not so costly.  Our trial system has become a joke, with the courts tilted so far towards the defense that every trial is a chilling reminder of how easy it is for murderers and rapists to walk free.

* * *

Meanwhile, in DeKalb County, a story that fell off the radar deserves a second look.  WSB-TV was the only news source that looked into this case:

Officer Accused of Exchanging Threatening E-Mails With Teen

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Officials with the DeKalb Police Department said a 15-year veteran of their department and an 18-year-old girl were exchanging e-mails that threatened her family.

Channel 2 Action News reporter Amanda Rosseter spent the day digging through the officer’s personnel file and she found two offenses of conduct unbecoming – both within the past four months, and both over contact and e-mails with teenage girls.

DeKalb County police confirmed Kevin Sowell resigned two weeks ago after the department said it would fire him for two offenses – including a string of e-mails that threatened a young girl’s family.

Sowell was allowed to resign instead of being fired, and, according to WSB, as of April 24, no other action had been taken regarding his possibly criminal conduct:

The first offense allegedly took place in January. Sowell was suspended after he “developed a friendly relationship with a 16-year-old child,” according to officials. According to his file, after the girl’s parents requested that he discontinue contact, he continued with the child in person, by e-mail, and by a cell phone he purchased for her.

Just two months later, the second offense allegedly occurred. The internal affairs memo said, “The content of the messages was threatening in nature and spoke of violent acts towards the female’s parents” and said he “admitted to sending the correspondence.”

And another report noted, “They were both planning to harm her parents and sister-in-law. Instead of discouraging her, he responded in a manner that encouraged further thoughts on the act to harm.”

* * *

The Village Voice’s True Crime Report has some interesting commentary about George Zinkhan, the UGA marketing professor who murdered his wife and two others before killing himself.  According to True Crime, Zinkhan had a troubling history at University of Houston, serially harassing female students and junior faculty.  At the time Zinkhan came to UGA, he was the subject of a federal lawsuit at UH for “persistent sexual harassment.”  Apparently, this did not negatively affect UGA’s decision to hire him.  What a surprise.

* * *

Finally, yesterday, I received a copy of the full transcript from the indictment of Joshua Norris, the Morehouse student who emptied a gun into another Morehouse student and walked away with probation, apparently because the prosecutor got caught up in Judge Marvin Arrington’s otherwise admirable campaign to address the problem of crime among minority youth.

The transcript is in yesterday’s comments thread.  What is striking to me is the utter lack of attention to the crime itself — it seems that Arrington, and everyone else in the courtroom, have entirely forgotten that Norris is standing before them because he tried to commit murder, firing a gun six times outside a nightclub and striking the victim three times.

Judge Arrington and the prosecutor seem far more interested in debating the relative merits of different community service positions for Norris than addressing the law, or the crime.  The prosecutor, who is supposed to be representing the public, and the victim, apparently feels that it would be inappropriate for Norris to demean himself by picking up garbage with other probationers, because his is a special case:

Prosecutor Thompson: HE NEEDS TO BE IN SOME TYPE OF A PROGRAM WORKING WITH YOUNG PEOPLE.

Judge Arrington (?): WHAT DO YOU CALL THAT, CATHY, COMMUNITY SERVICE?

Staff Attorney: BIG SISTER AND BIG BROTHER?

Prosecutor Thompson: THERE’S 240 HOURS OF COMMUNITY SERVICE, AS PART OF THE PLEA, YOUR HONOR.

Judge Arrington:  NOW, MIZELL, I WANT YOU TO FIND A CONSTRUCTIVE PROGRAM FOR THIS YOUNG MAN. I DON’T WANT NO –

Mr. Mizell: THAT WON’T BE POSSIBLE WITH THE GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, YOUR HONOR.

Judge Arrington:  WHY?

Mr. Mizell: HE HAS TO DO THE COMMUNITY SERVICE THAT’S DIRECTED BY THE
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS. I HAD -— THEY HAVE SOME ISSUES WITH PEOPLE DOING OTHER THINGS, OTHER THEN WHAT THE DEPARTMENT MANDATES.

Judge Arrington:  WHAT DO THEY MANDATE IN THIS PARTICULAR INSTANCE?

Mr. Mizell: HE WOULD DO IT, ACCORDING TO THE -— WHAT WE HAVE SET UP, NOW. AND THAT’S THEY PICK UP PAPER, THEY WORK IN SALVAGE PLACES, BASICALLY. ALTHOUGH, THERE HAVE BEEN INSTANCES –

Prosecutor Thompson: I WOULD LIKE FOR YOU TO REQUEST AND HIS LAWYER SEE IF WE CAN GET HIM OUT TO THE CAREY STEEL PITTS HOME THAT IS WORKING WITH YOUNG PEOPLE WHO DO NOT HAVE PARENTS. IT’S A FACILITY WHERE THEY CAN LIVE ON SITE AND THEY EAT THREE SQUARES A DAY. NINETY-EIGHT PERCENT OF THEM GO ON TO COLLEGE. . . . IT’S A GREAT PROGRAM.

Judge Arrington (?): I DON’T NEED NOBODY OUT THERE PICKING UP SOME PAPER. MIZELL, YOU AND I CAN DO THAT ON SATURDAYS, PICK UP SOME PAPER. BUT I’D LIKE TO — WHO IS THE DIRECTOR OF YOUR PROGRAM, YOUR YOUTH PROGRAM?

Mr. Mizell: I BELIEVE THE PROGRAM, THE REGIONAL CIRCUIT TEAM, IS S.G.

Judge Arrington: WHERE IS SHE LOCATED?

Mr. Mizell: SHE IS LOCATED IN THIS BUILDING. . . .

Judge Arrington: YOU THINK IT’S POSSIBLE I CAN GET HER UP HERE? YOU ACT LIKE YOU’RE SCARED?

Mr. Mizell: NOT LIKELY, SIR.

Prosecutor Thompson: YEAH.

Mr. Mizell: NOT LIKELY.

Judge Arrington: WHY NOT?

Mr. Mizell: I CAN PASS THAT MESSAGE ON TO HER.

Prosecutor Thompson: HE NEEDS TO BE IN A PROGRAM THAT HAS SOME SUBSTANCE, SOME MEAT.

There is so much that is wrong with this, it is difficult to know where to begin.  But setting aside the appalling spectacle of a prosecutor buddying up with a murder defendant, talking about how ordinary community service is simply below his dignity, and the judge buddying up with a murder defendant, playing the “stay in school, son” game, and the absolute erasure of the victim from this entire process, there is a little matter of the law.

The victim stated that he was not informed of this deal and not permitted to make a statement in court.  Statements made by the defense attorney in this hearing support the victim’s claim, because the defense attorney himself seems surprised that Prosecutor Thompson has offered only community service, and not prison time, for the attempted murder:

Defense Attorney Brian Steel: ON BEHALF OF MR. NORRIS. FIRST, I WOULD LIKE TO THANK THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY. WHEN WE CAME HERE TODAY, IT WAS A PRISON OFFER. I HEARD WHAT HE SAID, AND I WANT TO THANK HIM. I, ALSO, WANT THE COURT TO KNOW THAT MR. NORRIS IS AN EXTREMELY BRIGHT YOUNG MAN.

And the crown goes to: Mr. Georgia, Joshua Norris.

So what happened in the courtroom is the prosecutor broke the law.  And then Judge Arrington seconded the breaking of the law.  And nobody in that room spoke up and reminded these people that the (absurdly low) minimum mandatory sentence for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is one year in prison, which Arrington mentioned in the reading of the charges, then ignored.  This is why legislatures have to pass minimum mandatory sentences.  But what good is the law if the judge ignores it?

What a joke.  What a travesty.

Georgia also has a victim’s rights law.  This law provides the following rights, clearly denied to Joshua Norris’ victim:

  • To be notified of each stage in the judicial process to include pretrial hearings, bond, arraignment, motions hearings, pleas of guilty, trial, sentencing and appeals
  • To be notified of any arrest, release, possibility of release, or escape of the accused or any change in custodial status
  • To give opinions regarding release from custody or bond issues
  • To have access to a private waiting area during court proceedings
  • To offer input on plea negotiations or sentence hearings or conditions

What on earth is happening in the Fulton County Superior Court?  Can crime victims sue the state for denying them their legal rights?  This victim ought to try.

Five Ugly Pieces, Part 4: Britteny Turman, Grace Dixon, and Frank Rashad Johnson Denied Justice in Atlanta

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On Sunday, May 10, the Atlanta Journal Constitution published an article by Bill Torpy that raises troubling questions about what is going on in Atlanta’s courtrooms.  Like this April 10 story by Steve Visser, Torpy’s story focuses on an element of the justice system that receives less attention than policing but is arguably far more responsible for the presence of dangerous felons on Atlanta’s streets: the choices, both legal and administrative, made by Atlanta’s judges.

We invest judges with extraordinary power.  We allow judicial discretion in all sorts of sentencing and administrative decisions.  Legislators have tried to limit judges’ discretion in recent years by imposing minimum mandatory sentence guidelines and repeat offender laws.  But Georgia’s sentencing guidelines still give judges far too much latitude to let criminals go free.  Also, far too many judges have responded to this legislative oversight (aka, the will of the people) by simply ignoring the intent, and even the letter, of those laws.

Not long ago, I was sitting in a Tampa courtroom listening to a request to overturn a particularly egregious lapse in judicial discretion in the case of Richard Chotiner.  Chotiner is a former nurse who used his status as a caregiver to sexually assault a developmentally disabled young man.  He was convicted of the crime and sentenced to fifteen years behind bars.  Then the judge let him go, to wait out his appeals as a free man.  To say that this decision was unusual is an understatement; nonetheless, facing criticism, the judge dug in.  Next, he allowed Chotiner to remove his ankle monitor on some trumped-up claim of needing to undergo physical therapy, and then refused to require Chotiner to put the monitor back on after the “therapy” was completed.  It’s hard to see the judge’s decision to remove the ankle monitor as anything other than a petulant reaction to being criticized in the first place.

In other words, this judge decided that his ego was more important than the victim’s peace of mind, public safety, or justice itself.  And when another judge was called upon to re-evaluate the first judge’s lack of judgment, Judge Number Two said that while he would not have let Chotiner go, he certainly was not going to second-guess the brillant legal mind of his esteemed colleague, etc. etc. etc.

Chotiner is still on the loose, though Judge Number Two actually did second-guess Judge Number One’s decision to remove his ankle monitor and ordered it put back on.  I suppose we weren’t supposed to notice that logical inconsistency while swooning in abject gratitude that one of these Apollonian deities had deigned to throw a few scraps the victim’s way.

Now, thanks to Bill Torpy’s article, Atlantans can watch a similar Olympian battle of wills not unfold in the Fulton Superior Court.  Expect other judges not to act to rein in the behavior of Judge Marvin Arrington, who once again completely forgot that he isn’t yet presiding over a fake television courtroom.  Expect the chief justice to not speak out in the face of yet another miscarriage of justice, and to not look into the chain of events that put yet another attempted murderer back on Atlanta’s streets.  They are, after all, judges.  The rest of us should mind our place.

This time, Arrington released a violent criminal who shot a fellow Morehouse student three times with a handgun.  He then treated the court to another episode of what goes on in his mind, saying:

[The attempted murderer] needs to have a curfew. He needs to be in a dorm where you can get some study time. Take organic chemistry and physics. Make him some A’s . . . All of them got cars.  Don’t need no dern car. They need a MARTA card.”

Let me attempt to summarize.  If you have repeatedly shot a person with a handgun, what you need to do is not go to jail, but study more and take public transportation.  That should fix it.

Just like the judge who wouldn’t judge another judge in Tampa, Arrington did feign some harsh words for the defense.  He actually cut the defense attorney off in mid-sentence (!), declaring:

“No more excuses. He doesn’t have any reason to give for not being successful.

“Where is the mama?

“Better put your arms around him and make sure he goes in the right direction. If he comes back here, I’m going to put him in jail. J-A-I-L.”

Then, after spelling out the word J-A-I-L in harsh tones for emphasis, Arrington let Joshua Brandon Norris go free.

OK, I’m not being completely fair to Marvin Arrington. As Torpy’s article explains, an inexperienced prosecutor, and thus the prosecutor’s boss, D.A. Paul Howard, agreed to the crazy plea deal in this case (Allowing a plea in a case of attempted murder means that the sentencing law needs to be changed.  Or, conversely, enforced, with penalties accruing to judges who fail to follow the law).  But regardless of the prosecutor’s actions, it is still Arrington’s courtroom.

Of course, there were reports of other crimes by Norris.  Serious ones.  Like, gun stuff.  Like grinding a bar glass into a girlfriend’s face.  Such things are apparently meaningless, however, in the halls of the bizarro-world of the Fulton Superior Court, where shooting somebody gets you sent to study hall, and aiming a gun at two women gets you — well, nothing.  Here is Torpy’s article.  I’ve quoted from it extensively because it is important — please go to the website and read the whole thing:

Tale of two students with a twist
Shooting victim won’t be Morehouse Man, but suspect to earn degree.

By Bill Torpy
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sunday, May 10, 2009

Joshua Brandon Norris is expected to graduate soon and become a Morehouse Man, with all its prestige. At 22, he’s had a good run during his time at Morehouse College. He drove a Hummer, co-owned a fashion store at Perimeter Mall and owns a stylish $450,000 townhouse.

He also shot another student.

Quite a lifestyle for someone whose dad is a cop in Nashville (see below).  That must be some clothing store.

Across the country, Frank Rashad Johnson, the victim, attends Sacramento City College and lives with his mother, trying to save money. He, too, wanted to be a Morehouse Man.

“My great-uncle was a classmate of Martin Luther King’s,” Johnson said. “It has a long history of exemplary students and good men. It was my dream school.”

But all that fell apart when he was shot three times outside a school-related Halloween party near Atlantic Station in 2007. Police reports say Norris was kicked out of a nightclub, had words with Johnson after bumping into him outside, then shot the fellow Morehouse student during a struggle in the street.

Pause on this for a moment.  One shot, two shots, three shots, six shots in all.  In a public place.

Completing a Morehouse degree is vital to Norris. Fulton County Judge Marvin Arrington ordered him to do so after he pleaded no contest to a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The deal calls for six years of probation and comes with first-offender status —- meaning Norris’ record will be wiped clean if he stays out of trouble.

“You’re getting the break of your life,” Arrington said during the Jan. 27 hearing.

Arrington was accepting a plea offered by the prosecution and the defense.  But he could have done any one of a number of things.  Instead, he went off on his routine about staying in school, as if the situation were somehow not real, a pantomine, or an after-school special.  It’s crazy, how the courts have been hijacked by this type of foolishness.

The arrangement constitutes a bizarre twist of fate for Johnson.

“I sit at home, still recovering from my wound, painfully aware my Morehouse dreams have become a nightmare,” Johnson wrote to Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard after hearing about the deal. “My victimizer (and almost murderer) received a closeted, secretive, back-door slap on the wrist and is now back at Morehouse, moving forward with his educational aspirations without having paid any price for his crime.”

This is the person who is not at Morehouse.  The president of Morehouse chose an attempted murderer over this young man, the victim of his crime.  Nice message to send, President Franklin.

[District Attorney Paul] Howard recently investigated how the case was handled after receiving questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I am uncomfortable with the quality of the prosecutorial services provided … in this matter,” Howard wrote the family. Reid Thompson, the prosecutor who cut the deal, resigned.

Howard surely must have approved the plea deal.  And so, this must be routine.  If the public cannot count on its prosecutors to demand justice, then they have no protection against violent criminals.

The case is an example of how a relatively new prosecutor got caught up in Arrington’s crusade to save young black men. Of an overworked department dealing with a hard-charging defense attorney. Of a victim not getting his just due in court. And, says Johnson’s family, of a young man once again escaping serious criminal charges.

I’d like to know more about how Arrington’s crusade to save young black men ended up with someone who tried to kill a young black man receiving a get-out-of-jail-free card for a serious, violent felony, while the actually endangered young black man who didn’t try to kill anybody got the shaft.

And nearly killed.  But it gets worse.

The deal came after Thompson, a former Fulton police lieutenant who became an attorney in 2005, heard Arrington’s up-by-your bootstraps message in court weeks earlier, according to a transcript of the hearing. Last year, Arrington removed whites from his courtroom to lecture black defendants on proper behavior.

“We’ve got this young man who’s coming back to Morehouse now, he’s close to graduation,” Thompson told Arrington. “Sending him to state prison for two years, I don’t think that would be in the state’s best interest. Hopefully, this will be the lesson he needs.”

This is the prosecutor speaking.  That’s insane.  He resigned?  He should return his salary.  But I imagine there will be a reward system in place for him in academia somewhere.  And why, precisely, was the choice between two years in prison or no time at all?  This was attempted murder, firing a weapon in a public place.  The Code of Georgia does not allow for “attainment of a college degree” as punishment for this crime:

Georgia Code, 16-5-21

(a) A person commits the offense of aggravated assault when he or she assaults:

(1) With intent to murder, to rape, or to rob;

(2) With a deadly weapon or with any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury; or

(3) A person or persons without legal justification by discharging a firearm from within a motor vehicle toward a person or persons.

(b) Except as provided in subsections (c) through (i) of this Code section, [not applicable] a person convicted of the offense of aggravated assault shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than 20 years.

Can anyone explain to me how it is that Judge Arrington, and D.A. Paul Howard, agreed to quietly circumvent this law?  Why aren’t they resigning?  It really is time for new blood at the D.A.’s office.

[The victim, Frank Rashad] Johnson complains his voice remained silent during the hearing. Actually, not only was his voice absent, but a version opposite of what police reports said happened that night was presented. In the hearing, [Prosecutor] Thompson said [victim] Johnson was kicked out of the nightclub before a fight started outside. And the defense attorney picked up from there, telling the judge Johnson and his friends surrounded his client’s Hummer and threatened him.

But several police reports in the court file say it was Norris who was kicked out of the party, one that Johnson never entered. And the reports say Norris returned to his vehicle after arguing with Johnson, then drove back, slammed on his brakes and got out with a gun.

The prosecutor makes the defense’s case, contradicting police reports.

Meanwhile, back in the victim’s world:

Johnson said prosecutors repeatedly told him they were up against a “prestigious” attorney. “I think they were intimidated by him,” he said. “It infuriates me I was never able to give anyone my sense of outrage or my story.”

Here are the details of the crime.  I also doubt it’s the only such case in the Fulton courts.  If you’re searching for the reason why innocent people keep getting killed in Atlanta, here it is:

According to police reports, witnesses said the events of Oct. 31, 2007, unfolded this way:

Norris and his girlfriend were escorted out of a Halloween party at LITKitchen. Norris bumped into Johnson, who was waiting outside. The two exchanged words and Norris walked to his Hummer, drove back and screeched to a halt —- a point nearly every witness mentioned.

Witnesses said Norris jumped out and pushed the gun at Johnson’s face. Johnson struggled with Norris as he fired at least six shots. Three bullets hit Johnson in the leg. Norris fled.

Norris turned himself in a week later after conferring with a lawyer and was released on bond.

Norris’ identity was known.  Why did it take a week to get him?  Was he hiding?  Was his father, a Nashville cop, involved in hiding him?  And since he was on the run for a week, why the hell did a judge let him free on bond, instead of holding him to make sure he didn’t run again?

Who, precisely, let Norris bond out?  To do this:

Eight months passed, and then last summer, Fulton prosecutors moved to revoke Norris’ bond after learning he was accused of smashing a glass in his ex-girlfriend’s face at a Nashville bar. She received severe cuts in her forehead requiring eight inches of stitches, police reports said.

The victim’s aunt, Kelly Carr, told police “when she went to the ER her niece told her Brandon had done this to me.” The aunt also said, “the victim is scared of the suspect because he is out on bond for attempted homicide” and Norris’ stepfather, Daniel Turner, a Nashville cop, “pulled her from the room and said his son, wanted to see/speak with [the victim].”

An officer reported this to internal affairs, which investigated and cleared Turner. The victim was “completely uncooperative,” Nashville police reported.

The victim was scared out of her mind.  And why not?  It’s not as if anybody was protecting her.  Only people like Norris get protection from this system.  Victims learn to shut up.

During Norris’ bond revocation hearing in Fulton last August, the woman testified she was cut when a fight broke out in the Nashville bar while she walked toward Norris’ table. He was cut in the hand in the same fight, according to testimony. Prosecutors later dropped the matter.

Which prosecutor dropped the matter?  What is happening in Paul Howard’s office?  The scariest part is that this level of dysfunction cannot be unique.

How many Joshua Brandon Norrises are walking Atlanta’s streets?  Why isn’t Paul Howard screaming from the rooftops for more resources, if things have gotten so bad that he does not ever try to put attempted murderers away?  Why isn’t the Mayor helping him?  Why isn’t the Chief of Police?  Why aren’t they standing in the city council, and the county commission, and the state legislature, every single day, pleading for the resources to keep killers off the streets?

But in the end, the decision gets made by the sitting judge: Marvin Arrington.  And then his peers do what judges do when other judges fail to enforce the law: they do nothing.

Of course, there’s more:

In another case in Fulton court files, Clark Atlanta University students Britteny Turman and Grace Dixon say Norris pulled a gun on them during a traffic dispute near Morehouse in November 2005. The women, in recent interviews, said Norris screamed profanities and followed them in their car for several blocks.

“He was laughing like it was funny when [he waved his gun and] we both ducked,” Turman said.

“I don’t understand why he didn’t get kicked out of Morehouse,” Dixon said. “He shouldn’t have been there to do this to somebody else.”

The two say they heard no follow-up from Fulton solicitors. Morehouse officials declined to answer questions about Norris.

In fairness, Marvin Arrington never said anything about saving young women.

Asked about Norris’ plea deal in the shooting, Arrington said he has “close to 100 cases a week” and doesn’t remember it. But he recalled the Nashville assault case when Norris came before him during the plea hearing.

“This is the young man who was whipping a young lady?” the judge asked.

Then he let him go.  Told ’em to study hard.

Johnson [the shooting victim] last month got a letter from Morehouse President Robert M. Franklin after the Johnson family repeatedly contacted the college after the plea deal.

Franklin suggested Johnson return. “Your matriculation would be a wonderful triumph over adversity,” he wrote.

Johnson aspired to becoming a Morehouse Man, as have three generations of relatives. But he has soured on that.

“Honestly, I don’t want to do that; I don’t feel safe there,” he said. “The situation is all backward to me.”

Is anything stopping Paul Howard from prosecuting Norris for his armed attack on Britteny Turman and Grace Dixon?

When the judge in Tampa let Richard Chotiner walk away from a sexual assault conviction, television host Bill O’Reilly stepped in to protest Chotiner’s release.  I hope that O’Reilly would be similarly interested in the release of Joshua Brandon Norris, and the grotesquely raw deal delivered to his victims, Britteny Turman, Grace Dixon, and Frank Rashad Johnson.  They have a right to justice.

Five Ugly Pieces, Part 3: How Many Shootings In Atlanta This Month?

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Exactly how many murders and other shootings have occurred in metro Atlanta since May 1?  Here is only a partial list:

College Park police are investigating a home invasion at a College Park apartment early Sunday in which a victim shot and killed one of the robbers.  Sunday, May 3

A Georgia Tech student shot during a carjacking remained in critical condition at Grady Memorial Hospital’s intensive care unit early Wednesday, hospital officials said.  Patrick Whaley, 22, was shot and two other people robbed during a carjacking at an off-campus apartment complex.  Monday, May 4

Less than 24 hours before a Georgia Tech student was shot during a Monday night carjacking, a Georgia State University student was kidnapped and shot by three men in the same area of northwest Atlanta.  The victim, Carsten Singh, 22, said police told him there was a “high probability” that he was attacked by the same men who critically wounded the Tech student.  Monday, May 4

Gwinnett County police said Monday they were investigating a shooting outside a convenience store on Indian Trail Road.  Police said the shooting happened at a QuikTrip gas station. The shooting victim was found at the location with a gun shot wound and was taken to a local hospital for treatment. Investigators did not release the victim’s name or a motive in the shooting. The shooter remained at large Monday night.  Monday, May 4

A 28-year-old Atlanta man was shot by an off-duty Atlanta police officer Tuesday night, but accounts vary as to what led to the conflict.  Atlanta Police Lt. Keith Meadows said an officer, working security at the Cityviews Apartments on Richardson Street, saw what he believed to be a “suspicious” person and when the officer approached the man ran to his car. The officer approached the vehicle with his weapon drawn.  “The subject reached under his seat and the officer felt threatened,” Meadows said. The officer fired a single shot to the face.  No weapons were found on the man, Meadows said.  Tuesday, May 5

One man was killed and another critically wounded in a shooting at the Huntingwood Pointe apartments on Campbellton Road, Atlanta police said.  The shooting occurred just after 7 p.m.  Lt. Keith Meadows said the victims, both 20, encountered the suspect behind Building 12 of the complex, which is at 2909 Campbellton Road. The suspect shot one victim multiple times in the back, killing him. The other victim, who was shot once in the back, was in critical condition at Grady Hospital.  Wednesday, May 6

The Dunwoody Police Department responded to a shooting at the entrance of Peachtree Place North Apartments around 10:30 p.m. Thursday.  According to a police report, two Hispanic males were located with gunshot wounds to the abdomen. Uriel Rodriguez, 18, was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital and is listed in stable condition. Primitieo Sanchez, 31, was transported to Atlanta Medical Center, and is also listed in stable condition.  The victims were walking westbound on the access road to Peachtree Industrial Boulevard when a vehicle approached them from behind and began shooting. The vehicle is described as a white Ford F-150 that was occupied by several Hispanic males. The vehicle continued westbound after the incident.  Thursday, May 7

One person was dead and another wounded early Saturday following a workplace shooting at a Clayton County fast-food restaurant. . . .The employee shot the manager in the leg, then turned the gun on himself. Owens said the employee, whose name was being withheld until relatives could be notified, later died.  Saturday, May 9

Investigators said a young man was gunned down near his Clayton County home Sunday morning. Police said an argument broke out among residents at an apartment complex on Johnson Road. Clayton County police said they received an emergency call just after 11:00 a.m. Sunday.  The incident happened at the Laurel Point Apartments. When officers arrived they discovered a man lying on the ground with multiple gun shot wounds.  Sunday, May 10

Two men were wounded — one seriously — in a late afternoon shooting at a southwest Atlanta gasoline station.  Atlanta Police spokesman Eric Schwartz said the unidentified victims were taken to Grady Memorial Hospital. One of the men is listed in critical condition, while the other is expected to survive.  Details are sketchy about the incident, which occurred around 5:30 p.m. at the intersection of Jonesboro Road and Lakewood Drive, Schwartz said.  Monday, May 11

Police spent Monday evening searching a Duluth neighborhood trying to piece together a botched drug deal that left one dead and three injured.  The shooting occurred around 10 a.m. at a house at 4299 Buckingham Place, an unincorporated area near Duluth, Gwinnett County Police spokeswoman Cpl. Illana Spellman said.Officers said they found three males inside the house with gunshot wounds.  One of those victims, according to neighbors, fled the house and collapsed in a nearby yard. His hands were tied behind his back and he was shouting for help, neighbors said.  The other two other victims were taken out of the house on stretchers. Their conditions were unknown, Spellman said.  Another person with gunshot wounds went to Gwinnett Place mall with a friend. He was found dead in the parking lot near Macy’s, Spellman said.  Monday, May 11

Is there more?  Does this seem like a lot?  One seems like a lot.

Five Ugly Pieces, Part 2: Hiding In Plain Sight

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The MySpace Page (thanks, to Grayson) of the “30 Deep Gang” is, according to the creator, “all about money.”  There are images of dice, diamonds, blocks of gold, rap stars, and twenty dollar bills.  There is a photograph of a young man pointing a gun at the camera, and another photo labeled “Lil’ Wayne . . . Prostitute Flange” showing a smiling woman towering over the rap star.  In the “friends” section, there is a picture of a young man with the caption, “Zone 3 shawty money men da longway.”  Zone 3 is where bartender John Henderson was murdered, and the police are looking for “30 Deep Gang” members in Henderson’s death.

Zone 3 is also where I used to live, and the sound of gunfire was a regular thing there.  In order to get by you had to ration your response to it, or you would spend every day responding to it, which is an impossibility.  This is what the mayor and the chief of police are denying whenever they announce that residents are being hysterical about crime.  Residents police themselves, even more than criminals are policed.   Innocent people are held captive by the threat of violent crime, but, still, there are people who believe it is distasteful to demand to be freed.

You cannot say that crime is abnormal when the criminals actually define themselves by the police zone they live in.  Clearly, crime is the most normal thing to these young men.  The page’s creator, “$Booman Da S***$,” describes himself this way: “single, straight, Capricorn . . . income: $30,000 to $45,000.”  Income?

Another “30 Deep Gang” friend is a pretty young woman flashing two fingers at the camera: her photograph reads, “F*** Yo Baby Mama She Aint Got No Money.”  A culture that says this about women is a dead culture.  Four of the fifteen “friends” are photographed taking photographs of themselves with cellphones.  They stare at the phones in their own hands, hypnotized.

“OmG iTZ KiTTy KaTT” poses sexually, staring into her phone; “Tonio(Y.M.G. B***h)” holds a cellphone in one hand and a gold chain in the other.  This is not about money but about poverty.  People who take photographs of themselves with twenty-dollar bills or gold chains or cellphones in their hands cannot think of anything else to do.  These are portraits of tragically stunted lives.

Is it at all surprising that people like this seem prepared only for future acts of violence, then prison time, the way others prepare themselves for the SAT, then college?

After the murder of John Henderson, some in the media agonized over whether the killing was done “gangster style,” as if the angle of the gun mattered in discerning the intention of the murderer.  Some actually reported the killing as an accident, as if shooting an unarmed crime victim in the leg, manhandling him to a locked room, then shooting him again through the door is something that just happened.  This type of thinking is a sickness that benefits nobody beyond the person who prides himself in believing it.

On the “30 Deep Gang” page, the young man pointing the gun at the camera is holding the weapon sideways.  He is very clear about his intentions.  Why is it hard for so many otherwise well-educated people to see this?

A Personal Look At Drug Court and Community Sentencing

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This week, I have been writing about alternative sentencing and drug court. My perspective is shaped by experiences as a “community outreach” worker, witnessing the gaming that takes place when non-profits and private companies are granted fat government contracts with little oversight to monitor and provide therapy to offenders in the community. We are playing with fire whenever we turn over important government duties, like protecting the public, to private individuals – especially when there is no oversight.

Community control supervised by private companies and non -profits have become the status quo, however – and now community monitoring has become one of those things, in our twisted judicial system, that is increasingly viewed as a defendant’s right.

There is much more to say on the subject of drug courts, and I will try to get back to it at some point during May, “National Drug Court Month.” There have also been serious incidents lately, in Atlanta and elsewhere, involving people wearing ankle bracelets but committing crime nonetheless. In January, a man wanted for parole violations was spotted at a traffic stop in Alpharetta, Georgia. He tried to flee after a police officer saw his ankle bracelet, and the officer shot him. Derrick Yancey, the former DeKalb County, Georgia police officer charged with double homicide, is still missing after he disabled his ankle monitor and fled. Yancey managed to escape thanks to failures in the monitoring system set up through a private vendor in DeKalb County; failures by DeKalb authorities who were supposed to respond to the alarm – but mostly the failure of the judge who let him go free to await murder charges instead of holding him in prison, where any double-murder suspect belongs. In Southeast Atlanta, a paroled burglar was recently caught exiting a home he was burglarizing – wearing his ankle bracelet for another crime.

But despite the dangers and scams associated with community monitoring and alternative sentencing, there are successes too. A reader offers the following personal account. His observations about the system are more incisive than a hundred academic studies:

To say I had a “drinking problem” would not come close to describing my situation; it was like calling a field of kudzu “green-space.” I was convicted of DUI, while being a Habitual Offender – 3 DUI’s in 5 years. I was looking at a year, easy, in prison. My lawyer, on his own, had me “evaluated” by an “alcohol/substance abuse counselor.” Basically, he found that I drank a lot, and that I felt my main problem was that I was in jail. He and the attorney came up with a plan, and presented it to me as I was waiting to see the Judge. I was to be monitored with a device that would test my breath’s alcohol level; attend group therapy 2X/week; attend AA 3X/week; be on probation for 5 yrs. I was to pay all costs (which were roughly $650/month in 1994; I noticed during that time an ad for leasing cars, and noted I could have leased a Jaguar for what I was paying). The judge agreed, and I haven’t drank since.

Point is, that ‘proactive’ plan put forth by my attorney saved me: I doubt I would have survived a stay in jail, but if I had, I really doubt I would have stayed sober once out. I cannot say that this course should be normal, common, advised, for anyone else; but it worked for me. And part of the reason it did, was fear: prison was not an attractive option, for me. A couple of weeks sober in the county jail also enabled a few neurons to spark, which gave me enough sense to have some shame of my predicament. By the time of my trial, I was physically, mentally and spiritually ready to try to right my situation.

Now, you really have to experience jail to get how degrading incarceration is for all involved, inmates, staff, everybody. I like to say that of all the people I’ve come across there (numerous overnight to 28 day stays), many may not have been guilty as charged, but none were innocent, either. Probably half that I have seen are not affected, at all, by being locked up: 3 hots & a cot is better than they have been able to provide for themselves, despite all their scheming. Maybe 10% are remorseful, the rest are hoping for their bullshit lines to pull them through. The staffs always manage to make the smallest maneuver degrading, and I’ve found them to be meaner than all but a few inmates: cruelty for the f*** of it. Inept to the point that it has been rare that I have been called by my name at any of the 7/day roll calls. Pisses ’em off big time when I don’t respond to a different name. My point here is I would find “therapeutic jurisprudence” to fit an extremely small segment of the perpetrator population.

I can also pass on my experience with “home monitoring.” That DeKalb deputy that shot his wife and yard man (no affair, the Latino was just at the wrong place, wrong time) had an ankle bracelet, but the monitoring co. didn’t notify the cops for, what? 12 hrs. after he cut it off? It’s an industry, and like all industries has its public face & PR, and the real world, which it only vaguely resembles. They try to do everything on the cheap (hey, it’s the American way), so the equipment, personnel and procedures are all suspect.

In my case, I was sentenced to home confinement, with an alcohol monitor. This machine was hooked up to the phone line, and had a phone receiver, dial pad, 2.5″ screen, and a tube. When the phone rang, I was to blow in the tube between audible beeps. I was to be home from 8PM to 8AM every day; calls would be random during that time. Most often, I’d get one call, say 9PM or 7AM. A couple nights, I got no call at all. I paid $100/wk. (1994) for the service. Same folks provided the group counseling I had to attend (2 nights/wk., $25/each). All went well, for about four months (I was also sentenced to 3 AA meetings/week. Group counselor was in AA, became a great friend/mentor/sponsor; that was his part-time gig).

So, one night, no call. Even though it had happened before, it made me nervous, so I checked the phone: the ‘on’ light was out! I jiggled the wire, and sure enough, it came on. I immediately called my probation officer (PO). He read me the riot act, telling me he knew I’d been fucking up all along, and was looking forward to locking me up (!!!). Who knows exactly where his attitude came from; I was doing all asked of me, and more, had always been respectful, and the first one waiting on him for my weekly appointments (to get in early, and then to work). When I told him of the bad wire, he didn’t give that any credibility, as he said he knew I had been out chasing women (that situation bothered me a heck of a lot more than it did him: Hi, my name is Chris, and I’m a drunk on probation. Wanna go out for coffee while it’s light out? Not a real appealing resume, so I was just biding time, with that).

Next thing I did, call the phone company. Tech – small black guy (reference matters), nonplussed about the machine and its purpose – wrote out a tag stating that it did indeed have a short. Called the monitoring company, left message. Went to work, and with limited access to a phone, called who I could. Went to the AA meeting, and to my surprise, a few members consoled me, and gave me the contact info for a lawyer that was in AA. When I got home, there was a message from the PO that my trial date had been set.

That night, and for the next 90+ days/nights, the machine would ring every 45 min., give or take a couple min. Every night. All night. By the end of a week, my eyes were falling out of my head. At a month, I was an angry knot, walking. At 3 mos., I wanted to kill. Anything, anyone.

The week before court, the lawyer asked me what I wanted out of the case. All I want, I said, is for the PO to join me in a room with the door closed for 10 f****** seconds! Well, no Chris, that can’t happen. OK- I’ll do what I’m sentenced to, but I want that PO out of my life. I want the monitoring co. to admit that their machine may have a problem, and that they fix it if broken. And – they have to go back to the original calling schedule/frequency.

All this, because I noticed, while waiting for the lawyer to finish her business, that an article in the state law review went over a case where it was decided that a probationer only had to obey the judge’s written instructions; verbal instructions were not valid. None of my conditions, aside from monetary fines, were in the original order. We slam-dunked the pissant PO at court. About 12 AA’s were in attendance behind me, along with – the telephone repairman! We all went for coffee at Underground afterward, and I asked him why he showed. He told me the residents of the complex – 99% black, many old, most with kids – told him I looked out for all of them, standing up to the j*******s that tried to push them around.

So, the lessons to me personally were many, but as to the company – they were just assholes. They were pissed as hell at court – all for a shorted wire! Fix your g*****n equipment! I was facing 1.5 years in prison: they needed to spend 10 bucks!

The companies that dealt with me are now dissolved, but records are still there from the GA Secretary of State: In-House Detention Systems, Inc. was the monitoring company. GA Recovery Center- Larry Nolting was the principal there, and his in-laws ran In-House (a fact I was not privy to until my lawyer found it). Nolting later was principal for another corp. that appears to be the successor to In-House, as it was listed at the same address. This corporation dissolved in 2005. So, I’ve stayed sober longer than they stayed in business. But, a Google search showed his address as Jett Rd., which is big money. The Bell South Tech actually called In-House from my apartment when he figured out what was wrong (short in the wire); they tried to get him to say it was something I did.

Rehabilitating Adam and Eve, But Not Adam and Steve (Or Eve, Actually)

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Sorry for the absence of a blog post yesterday. I went into Tampa to attend a hearing to appeal a judge’s inexplicable and unheard-of release of a convicted sex offender as the offender waits out the appeals process. Appallingly, the hearing judge yesterday decided that it was more important to honor the feelings of a fellow judge than to consider the safety of the victim and the community, and he refused to overturn the prior judge’s strange and inappropriate decision to release the convicted sex offender. Richard Chotiner remains free as he appeals his 15-year sentence for sexually assaulting a mentally handicapped man. I plan to write about this awful case next week.

***

Now back to something marginally less demoralizing: community sentencing programs. On Monday, I wrote about my own accidental (and utterly ineffectual) foray into drug rehab outreach. My VISTA stint gave me ample opportunities to explore the many ways that community-based program funding can be gamed for profit.

In my old neighborhood in Southeast Atlanta, the Victory House Men’s Re-Entry Program used to set up a tent in an abandoned lot and spend days blasting wildly sexist and homophobic sermons over loudspeakers, ostensibly as part of their ministry to previously incarcerated men. Homeless, ex-felons, addicts, or none of the above: I have no doubt that these events were held to justify funding lines intended for community-based prisoner re-entry and diversionary substance abuse treatment. Pastor Craig Soaries claims to have saved many, many thousands. The Victory House Men’s Re-Entry website reads: “To date [since 1992] over 100,000 men have been reached, ministered to and provide emergency or transitional housing, life skills training and hope for a brand new life.

100,000 is a lot of men, especially considering that the Victory House on Boulevard is just a single-family home. The Georgia Secretary of State database lists Soaries as an officer of five separate corporations (four non-profit, one limited liability) located at three addresses, one of which is the Boulevard Victory House, which also houses Faith and Missions, Inc. and the Victory Community Development Corporation. Busy place.

I came to know about Victory House because — well — I had no choice, having two working ears and living a few blocks away. Soaries would plant his speakers on Boulevard and blast sermons at high volume for days at a time. He would rant about the evil of crack cocaine and homosexuality and loose women, and I, and my neighbors, several of whom were gay, would have no choice but to listen if we deigned to work in our gardens or simply walk to the mailbox.

One day I was outside tending my basil, a task considered spiritual since the Medieval era, and Soaries started up with one of his fire-and-brimstone tirades, this one about women being disobedient to their men. Women who failed to be obedient, he said, would find themselves whoring, drugging and engaging in other sinful acts, obedience to men being the only true way to control women’s innate sinfulness. Women smoked the crack pipe, for example, because they failed to recognize the superior moral guidance of men.

I put down my trowel.

I walked the two blocks to the Victory House encampment, where a few stoned-looking men sat on folding chairs in the heat, listlessly clocking their (court-ordered?) time as Pastor Soaries shouted into his microphone. To summarize the ensuing exchange, he felt that my criticism of the volume of ministering was an excellent example of disobedient womanly sinfulness, a view that even a subsequent visit from my husband, who assured the minister that I was not disobeying him, failed to deter. “Control your woman,” he screamed after us, as we walked away, banished from his earthly, possibly taxpayer-funded, paradise. For the rest of the evening, he ranted about women who don’t listen, which in fairness I was not, since I listened very closely to him after that.

Sadly, I don’t have any information about specific reimbursements Victory House may receive for their substance abuse treatment and prisoner re-entry programming and housing — there are scores of such programs, hundreds of millions of dollars churning through H.U.D. and the D.H.R. and the Justice Department — Weed and Seed, Community Redevelopment Projects, Empowerment Zones, “Community Capacity Development.” I do know that Soaries claims to provide these services, though he doesn’t register Victory House with the State as a charity. Maybe he provided for 100,000 men out of his own pocket. Maybe “reaching,” “ministering,” and “providing life skills” to 100,000 men merely means “hollering into a microphone in an empty lot next to a kudzu-covered junkyard,” which admittedly doesn’t cost much to do.

On one of his websites, Soaries quotes no less an expert than Ashton Kutcher on the topic of outreach:

“I am sharing a six part series this week on the amazing fact that as Ashton Kutcher stated and proved that “one person can actually have as big of a voice online as what an entire media company can on Twitter”.

For me that is indicative of a larger phenomena in that through the Internet one person can literally, as the Bible states, chase, interact, engage a thousand. The potential is really unlimited!”

Let’s just hope we aren’t paying for this through the courts. Hope, too, that men being released to community control in Atlanta after committing a crime aren’t being taught — on our dime — that they need to control their women in order to control their addictions. How many prison ministries — “Men’s Re-Entry Programs” — are operating this way, using public dollars from the feds, or federal dollars churned through state, county and city programs, to subsidize questionable and ineffective treatment programs? The lack of accountability in this field is staggering.

Breaking out the Bubbly: National Drug Court Month

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National Drug Court Month is just around the corner, so I am going to spend this week taking a closer look at some of the claims being made about the effectiveness of drug courts. By next week, the canned press releases will be seeping out all over the news in the form of stories lifted directly from the press kits provided by advocacy groups such as the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

Rather astonishingly, the NADCP press kit asserts that “for twenty years, drug courts have saved millions of lives.” Millions? Really? In New York State, which has one of the larger state drug court systems, only 20,400 people have graduated from drug court since the program began, and nobody can say how many of those people stayed sober for more than a few years after they left the scrutiny of the courts. No man is an island, but really — millions of lives?

I do not oppose very limited use of drug (and alcohol) treatment sentencing diversion, but there is a big difference between diverting first-time offenders into treatment programs and the runaway drug court system that exists today. Drug courts have become dumping grounds for all sorts of criminals — including serial offenders and people charged with multiple crimes.

The system is broken when criminal defendants know to say they want help for a substance abuse problem in order to avoid a jail sentence for some other crime. Such was the case with Johnny Dennard, the career criminal in Atlanta assigned to a community-based drug treatment program upon his sixth burglary conviction.

Dennard is precisely the type of person legislators had in mind when they tried to reign in judicial leniency towards repeat offenders. But the fact that he was permitted to walk free from a burglary conviction because he claimed to have a substance abuse problem is only one of the problems with drug courts. Another problem is the quality of the “community-based treatment programs” assigned to treat offenders like Dennard.

There is, of course, a money trail to all of this. When a judge decides that someone who has broken into a dozen houses needs treatment, not incarceration, he or she picks from a list of programs that charge the state to rehabilitate offenders. Some are well-run. Others are scams, often connected to small non-profit organizations and church ministries. Public oversight of the placement choices made by judges is practically nil — another casualty of the secrecy of the courts.

Many people are made happy by this process. The judge has saved the state prison system the cost of incarcerating the offender; the criminal has gotten away without prison time and maybe even cleaned himself up — temporarily — enough to get some fat on the bones; the “service providers” have pocketed some serious cash, and the academicians can write their next study on the efficacy of drug offender programs. Troublingly, some of these studies rely on self-reporting by the very ministers/outreach workers who are profiting from the rehabilitation programs that are being studied.

Everybody is happy, except the people with unnatural attachments to, say, not having their cars stolen and their homes invaded by junkies on a post-intervention-program tear.

About twenty years ago, fresh out of college with a charmingly ineffectual degree in Renaissance Poetry, I found myself accidentally providing rehab for addicts at one such program. To say the least, I had zero qualifications as a counselor, but my boss was getting paid by the federal government to supervise me as a VISTA “community outreach” worker, and he was getting paid (six figures) by the Department of Human Resources to provide “AIDS outreach to under-served populations,” and he was getting paid to provide “rehabilitation services” and “job training” and who knows what else –- many were the people billed for his time. Billing for services, however, is not the same as providing them, which was the primary lesson I learned from my stint with this man (the other being that many “services” serve nobody but the service provider).

Nowadays, when I read about this or that “outreach” program, the image that forms in my head is of a big hand reaching out to grab a bundle of cash.

In order to pretend to fulfill one of the program goals for one of the grants my boss was receiving, I was sent over to a medical center in southwest Atlanta to educate recovering addicts on sexually transmitted diseases: your tax dollars at work. The addicts, many of them prostitutes, were sleepily polite. They were also still high. Some of them were so high, they nodded and nearly fell out of their folding chairs as I went through the pyramid of risky behaviors, which read something like a daily planner for their lives: 9:00 a.m., give unprotected oral sex in a pickup truck; 10:30 a.m., share a needle in the shooting gallery. And so on.

I didn’t belong there, and neither did they, though I learned some skills I later applied while teaching indefinite pronouns in early-morning composition classes. For example, always make sure students are seated close enough to each other that they don’t fall all the way to the ground when they pass out.

But even though I didn’t belong there, somebody (not me – I made $6,000 a year as a VISTA, or domestic Peace Corps worker) was being paid handsomely to “rehabilitate” these poor, crazy drug addicts. I am certain that some of them would have had a better chance at recovery (not to mention personal safety) if they had been sent off to prison, where they would have had a slightly harder time getting drugs and a much better chance of being forced to attend real 12-step programs and real detox programs run by real professionals, not by some community activist who wrote a grant.

To say that community-based programs vary wildly in quality doesn’t scratch at the surface of what I experienced in my year as a VISTA, or what I saw in the neighborhood where Johnny Dennard was released to another program, and where a third church-based rehab has been plying its trade in some very strange ways for over a decade now. More on that tomorrow.

Justice Delayed + Tax Dollars Wasted = Justice System Starved

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Apparently, while it may be hard to be a pimp, as the popular song goes, it isn’t particularly hard to be a defendant in a child molestation case:

DragonCon founder’s health might keep him from standing trial

Edward Kramer was charged in 2000 with molestation children

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kramer, first arrested on Aug. 25, 2000, has been indicted on multiple felony charges of child molestation and aggravated child molestation.

He was under house arrest at home in Duluth until last year. Now he can travel but cannot have unsupervised contact with children under 16 and must report his whereabouts every week.

Heck, it isn’t even particularly hard to be a convicted offender — in this case, of a man whose victim was in his early twenties but is developmentally handicapped:

Hillsborough judge allows sex offender to go free during appeals process

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

TAMPA — Linda Petruzzi thought her nightmare was over when Senior Judge J. Rogers Padgett sentenced the man who molested her mentally disabled son to 15 years in prison.

But a day later, Richard Martin Chotiner walked out of jail.

The judge allowed the convicted sex offender to remain free on $50,000 bail while an appeals court considers his case, a process that typically takes months or years.

Chotiner, who was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device for a time before his conviction, doesn’t have to wear anything to track his movements now.

The defense bar is derailing our justice system by forcing ever-broadening protections for defendants and convicts. By driving up the cost of getting cases to trial and then dealing with post-conviction appeals, they are stealing justice from the rest of us.

Many in the media are colluding in this crime. Inexplicably esteemed St. Petersburg Times columnist Daniel Ruth (whose crimes against the English language merit an entirely different set of felony charges) got away with a giant legal misrepresentation about the judge who let Chotiner walk after conviction, and the Times, which prides itself on possessing an entire institute of journalists ethics, didn’t even bother to correct him. Ruth wrote an editorial claiming, wrongly, that the judge was required by law to let Chotiner go free on bail after his conviction. Not true: the judge exercised his own “discretion” in releasing the Chotiner, and then he exercised his own discretion again in allowing him to remove his ankle monitor. But who cares? We’re talking about a convicted sex criminal here: empathy over facts, please.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Edward Kramer’s lawyers are playing a reprehensible game with the our tax dollars, trying to up the ante until the state can no longer justify the costs of trying Kramer on three counts of molestation:

An April 29 trial date was postponed Wednesday after Edward Kramer told Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Karen Beyers he was uncertain he could stay awake and alert enough to assist in his own defense. A spinal injury makes it difficult to sit, stand or breathe, and he is chronic pain, he said. . . .

He’s accused of sexually abusing three teenage boys. The mother of two alleged victims, a former friend of Kramer’s, has said Kramer dazzled the boys with action figures, sci-fi memorabilia and celebrity connections. The boys told police that Kramer took advantage of them during sleepovers at his house. . . .

Kramer’s defense attorneys, Edwin Marger and former Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr, said that in order for the case to go forward, they will have to prove Kramer is physically competent to stand trial.

“He’s been going through this now for almost nine years and he wants to get it over with,” Marger said.

What is the “this” that Kramer is “going through” that has taken almost nine years? Nothing more than his own lawyers’ machinations to postpone the trial by subverting our justice system.

Pretty strange behavior for a Libertarian. I guess I missed those chapters in Atlas Shrugged where Ayn Rand instructs her acolytes on how to relentlessly milk claims of physical disability in order to postpone fact-finding.

Make that permanently postpone. According to Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, Kramer’s attorneys may indeed succeed in their efforts to derail justice:

“For all this talk about ‘I want a trial,’ Ed Kramer really proved today that he didn’t want a trial because the court made the accommodation for him,” Porter said. “The only trial he wants is the one he controls.”

I hear from many people that Bob Barr is a nice person. Nevertheless, when the issue was handicapped people who weren’t also accused child molesters, he opposed the Americans With Disabilities Act. And here are some oddly jarring quotes from then-Representative Barr’s 1988 efforts to push through the impeachment of President Clinton:

The rule of law finds its highest and best embodiment in the absolute, unshakeable right each of us has to walk into a courtroom and demand the righting of a wrong. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, what God you pray to, how large your bank account is, or what office you may hold. If you are an American citizen, no one can stand between you and your access to justice
No one, that is, except a libertarian representing an accused child molester by endlessly gaming the justice system, I suppose.