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George Soros Funds the Fight to Lie About California’s So-Called Three-Strikes Laws


First, a controlling fact.  California’s much-reviled “three-strikes” law bears no resemblance to what you’ve read about it in the news.  How much no resemblance?  Lots of no resemblance:

  • Prosecutors and judges have discretion in applying the law.  Discretion means “not draconian.”  Discretions means that it isn’t really a “three-strikes” law but merely a recidivist statute that permits, but in no way requires, application of its sentencing guidelines.  Someone can have 20 strikes and the law still won’t necessarily be applied.  Someone can rape and molest dozens of women and children and still not get three strikes sentencing.  The reality of criminal prosecution is that, in virtually all cases, when people face multiple charges (barring a few such as murder) those charges are telescoped down to one or two, and the others offenses are simply not prosecuted.  The tiny number of people facing three-strikes sentencing are extremely flagrant offenders who have committed dozens or hundreds — not two-and-a-half — violent crimes.
  • There are no people serving life sentences “merely” for stealing Cheetos or a VCR tape.  Those are myths.
  • Prosecutors use this recidivist sentencing law so rarely that most apply it just a few times a year, and even then, it frequently doesn’t lead to 25-to-life.  But media reporting frequently stops at the original charge.
  • The lies the media tells about “three-strikes” are legion.  The word” strike” better describes the media’s flailing confabulations about recidivism sentencing than any aspect of sentencing itself.

There is a great website by Mike Reynolds, an expert on California’s three-strikes law and its application (application being 95% of the law, no matter what they tell you in school).  I urge you to read his site and support his efforts:

Three Strikes and You’re Out: Stop Repeat Offenders 

Mike Reynolds debunks myths about three-strikes laws increasing costs for the state.  He proves that prison growth did not occur because of three-strikes laws; he explains who does and does not get enhanced sentencing, and he factors in the financial savings arising from reduction of crime arising directly from the prolific offenders who are sentenced under these laws.  In other words, he does what journalists and politicians ought to be doing, but do not.

From Mike’s site:

What is sometimes mistaken (or misunderstood) is the level of violence and brutality, as compared to the value of something rather minor. My daughter, Kimber, was murdered over a “minor” purse snatching. In fact, most murders are over little or “minor value” issues. Keep in mind, every “Three Strikes” case is closely reviewed by prosecutors who must prove the prior convictions in court. In the event that the defendant is found guilty of the current felony offense, the judge can, and does, review the merits of the case to decide whether or not to apply the full “25 to Life”, or reduce the case to a second strike.

On average, only (1) out of every (9) eligible third strikers gets a “25 to Life” sentence. The average third striker has (5) prior serious or violent felony convictions.

Read Mike’s site!  


Meanwhile, anti-three-strikes activism is an astroturfed social movement funded for years through various channels by billionaire financier George Soros.  The Los Angeles Times reports that Soros just gave $500,000 to the effort to get an anti-three-strikes measure on the California ballot in November.  The other major funding of the ballot initiative is Stanford Law Professor David Mills.  I wonder if anyone’s done an audit to see how much educational taxpayer money (even private schools rely largely on public funds) Professor Mills has used for his political activism.  His “academic” website is basically an advertisement for activism.  Why do California residents put up with paying for this guy’s hobbies?  Can’t he take his druggie-yellow sunglasses off for a photo for his law school?  Is that too much to ask?  What is that, a denim shirt?  Would a suit kill him?

“Professor” David Mills, Stanford University, Photographed on a Sunny Day.

Maybe he dresses this way to conceal the fact that he made a fortune in private investment firms before picking up a starring role at the previously dignified Stanford Law posing as a denim-wearing soldier for the right of thugs, rapists, and home invaders to continue their prolific criminal careers against non-investment firm types who can’t afford personal security like Mills’ and Soros’.

David Mills doesn’t even have a real vitae.  He’s published four editorials (one, risibly, in Slate; one, risibly, in MSN Slate) and one law review article in his own school’s law review, co-authored by a real scholar.

My goodness, the things that get you a law professorship at Stanford these days!


 Anyway, back to the three-strikes campaign.  Below you’ll find some articles I’ve written on the real criminal careers of the more famous poster-children of Soros’ and Mills’ cause.  It took decades for ordinary people and crime victims to create enough traction in the justice system to merely punish a small percentage of prolific criminals.  Now we stand to lose such progress.  These men — sheltered by their extreme wealth, capable of avoiding the consequences of their actions, are trying to empty the prisons in order to make themselves feel virtuous while spitting in the faces of law abiding Americans.  It’s a consequence-free titilation for them, on your backs and the safety of your loved ones.

If you’re in California, the time to push back is now.  George Soros and David Mills merely have money.  We have the truth.  We need letters to the editor every time someone makes a false claim about saving money on prison costs, or cries alligator tears about Supermaxes cluttered with Cheetos-stealing Jean Valjeans and other nonsensical lies.

Here are links to just a few of my posts on three-strikes laws and other recidivist measures under attack by George Soros:

Jerry DeWayne Williams: The original “pizza slice” poster boy for the anti-three strikes movement . . . and his real record

Robert Ferguson: “Bag of cheese” poster boy for the anti-three strikes crowd; of course there’s more to the story

Rodney Alcala: California serial killer and sexual torturer (worked for the LA Times after he racked up a horrifying record)

Russell Burton: 20 years of serial leniency for horrific recidivist sexual assaults in California and Georgia 

Lavelle McNutt: Prolific serial rapist with 36-year record of leniency in at least two states

Chicago Weekend: Is Crime Down, Or Are Neighborhoods Emptying?

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Is crime really dropping in Chicago? Not long ago, the public would have been forced to rely on some pretty unreliable sources for an answer:

  • academicians who worship at the ‘the public’s crime fears are overblown‘ altar
  • mainstream reporters who worship at the “academicians who worship at the ‘the public’s crime fears are overblown’ altar” altar
  • Chicago politicians

From sources like that, you get contradictory numbers like this, in the Chicago Sun-Times:

Five men were killed and at least 19 other people — including two children — were hospitalized after violence in the city this weekend.

Despite the violent weekend, Chicago Police announced Sunday that violent crimes have decreased for the 30th consecutive month and there have been 31 fewer murders this year than through June of last year, a 14.4 percent decrease. The crime stats also indicate a decrease in aggravated batteries, aggravated assaults and criminal sexual assaults.

Five people blown away, 19 others shot or otherwise injured, in one unremarkable weekend that featured the sort of bad weather that tends to drive people off the streets, so that’s good news: crime is down!  (**Update: 11 more shot overnight Sunday, ten homicides total)

Sure, murders are down.  They don’t say how much agg. assaults and batteries dropped, nor do they offer what might be the most accurate measure of non-safety — the number of shootings, as oppose to the number of entirely successful gun murders.  Let’s not reward bad aim, or good doctoring.

At least the public has alternative sources of information, now that cops are blogging.  Second City Cop speculates about other possible explanations for the alleged “drop in crime”:

Are there any actuaries out there who can determine the per capita rate of homicides? We lost at least 200,000 people in the recent census, and since rates are measured in terms of crimes per 100,000, is this a real drop in crime or just a statistical equivalent? And are we still doing that thing with people shot during robberies? And the other thing that negates the FBI ever using Chicago numbers in their crime stats because they’re so hinky?

SCC’s commenters (also cops) knock a little more gild off the lily:

What about property crimes? Criminal damage reports? Thefts? And what of the clearance rates, esp. for violent crimes, like robberies? Oh, I forgot, robberies are property crimes, acc. to Cline.

Crime has gone down for over 30 straight months with the shortage of cops? We don’t need any more cops. In fact lets get rid of all of them and let the animals run the asylum.

With severe police shortages, crime reports fall through the cracks.  So is the public “over-reacting” or is crime under-reported?

It also appears from the cop blogs that Chicago authorities are camouflaging crime numbers by classifying gun robberies as “property crime” instead of violent crime.  I imagine this sort of free pass gets carried over to Chicago courtrooms, where felons who stick guns in peoples’ faces get off easy because it’s just a “property” offense.  And remember all the criminals robbing other criminals who aren’t about to call 911, and the residents intimidated into silence.

Remember too the nine-year olds and eight-year olds and 12-year olds caught in the crossfire.  I don’t even think that’s a complete list from the past week.

How many violent crimes go unreported in a city like Chicago?  This demoralizing Chicago Tribune must-read offers some insights:

Whatever you do, don’t use my name, said the 83-year-old widow, and the fear in her voice was palpable. . .

We [the reporters] met a lot of longtime residents on many blocks fighting to hang on to and regenerate their communities. We wanted to tell their stories, but more often than not they would not let us if we used their names. They are terrified of retribution by the criminal elements — gangs and drug dealers — whose activities mushroomed in the newly vacant houses around them. . . “It’s like young people are berserk around here,” said the elderly widow. “It’s like they’re destroying themselves. Practically every other night or so, we hear shooting just west or east of us, or in the alley. It sounds so close, it scares you.”  She has lived in her house for 54 years, one of the early black families to move into the community. . . After years of watching, [the elderly residents] know by sight most of the players in the nightly drama. The one they fear most is a soft-spoken boss of street crews selling drugs.  “He is just an ordinary-looking person,” said one of the block club’s men. “He doesn’t dress fancy or drive flashy cars. He is very quiet and usually very courteous with people on the street. But he is a vicious killer who is all business.

“Everybody knows who he is.”

If the drug boss knew people were reporting his activities to the police, club members agree he would strike back at them. It’s a frightening prospect because they say he calmly shot a man to death in front of witnesses near their block several years ago and walked away free. The fear of reprisal for reporting criminal activity seems well-founded. Police recognize that gangs and drug dealers plant their own people into community meetings as spies, taking notes on which residents speak out against illegal activity. Community policing experts tell residents to report crimes in strict privacy, not in public forums.

Does any of this sound like good news about the crime rate?  Is Chicago really getting safer, or is the opposite true, despite any temporary drop in murder stats?  The reporters here lay too much blame on the “subprime mortgage crisis,” instead of on the thugs or the justice system that allows them to get away with murder, empty houses or no empty houses.  But, otherwise, the story serves as a fierce corrective to the “crime is down” boosterism coming out of city hall.  For the senior citizens trying to hold their neighborhoods together for the uptenth time in fifty years, it’s horror show:

They are terrified of retribution by the criminal elements — gangs and drug dealers — whose activities mushroomed in the newly vacant houses around them . . . crime problems didn’t seem epidemic, block club members say, until the recent foreclosures as a result of the subprime mortgage crisis.  According to the census, Englewood and West Englewood lost nearly 20,000 residents in the last decade. Now, 3,500 boarded-up houses and empty lots dot the communities

This actually confirms Second City Cop’s musing about population and statistics: high-crime areas experienced large population losses during the recent mortgage crisis.  So it might be that crime rates, adjusted for population, have not dropped at all.

Gee, you’d think some city statistician or publicly funded academic would have caught this.  No, they’re all far too busy denying the existence of crime and lobbying to empty the prisons.  Meanwhile, back on the block:

Because their street is quieter than nearby streets, the longtime residents say police don’t patrol their block as frequently as they do adjoining ones.  “The drug dealers and addicts know that,” said an 80-year-old woman who is also a longtime block club member. “The addicts buy their drugs around the corner and then park in their cars on our block to use their drugs and have their sexual encounters (to pay for drugs). At night, you know they are smoking crack from the blue flame that flares up.”

She talks despairingly of how the crime surge has changed her life.

“I don’t want shooting outside my house or out in the alley. I just want to go to the store and not be afraid, and to get on the bus without fear.”

Is crime really down? Or have the official statistics merely been pummeled by fear of reprisals and thinned by the cop shortage . . . then massaged by statisticians, pled down by attorneys, and shiatsu-ed again by academics, until that hard metal barrel pointed at someone’s face has metamorphosed into a property crime, or maybe just drug possession, if victims are too afraid, or too felonious, to come forward?

Then the anti-incarceration activists can claim that we need more “alternatives to prison” for all those “drug and non-violent offenders” who fill cells.  And the cycle starts over again.

Englewood Neighborhood, Chicago (Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune / July 10, 2011)

Media (Un)Ethics: Using the Anniversary of Jessica Lunsford’s Murder to Advocate For Sex Offenders

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Last week marked the fifth anniversary of Jessica Lunsford’s murder. Nine-year old Lunsford was kidnapped, raped, and buried alive by her neighbor, a convicted sex offender.

You would think the anniversary of Lunsford’s horrific murder would give rise to thoughts about our failure to protect her and other victims of violent recidivists.  You would think reporters would cover stories about early release of sexual predators, lax sentencing of sexual predators, and failure to punish sexual predators.  You would think that, but you would be wrong.  In Florida’s “prestige” media, the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald,  Lunsford’s death is treated as a cautionary tale — not cautioning against the fatal practice of going easy on child rapists, mind you, but scorning those who are trying to prevent similar crimes from happening again.

The problem, according to John Frank of the SPTimes, is not that John Couey was free to kill Jessica five years ago: the problem is that public, thoughtless brutes that we are, reacted to the murder of Jessica by lowering our opinion of sex offenders:

The brutal killing of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, which happened five years ago today, fueled the creation of a boogeyman in Florida politics: the sex offender.

Never mind that the “boogeyman” in this case and countless others was not an imaginary threat but a real one, thus not technically a boogeyman at all.  This is the breathless first sentence of a breathless denunciation of any and all efforts to keep track of sex offenders, from stricter sentencing, to registration laws, to living restrictions, to simply not feeling warm and fuzzy enough towards that convicted child molester who wants to lead your son’s scout troop.

I say “denunciation” instead of “reporting” because reporting signifies a veneer of objectivity.  At least the Times refrained from attacking Jessica’s father, Mark Lunsford, this time.   That must have been hard for them, for attacking Mark Lunsford over everything from his educational background to the type of car he drives has become a sort of newsroom sport among Times staffers.

I wrote about Lunsford-bashing here and here.

Lunsford has been unforgivably smeared, and now the anniversary his daughter’s death is being used to slyly advocate for rapists and killers under the guise of “reporting.”  If only the St. Petersburg Times had an institute for journalistic ethics or something: maybe they could visit it and learn to reign in such ugly behavior.  Instead, because Mark Lunsford is a crime victim advocate, rather than an advocate for criminals like the man who murdered his daughter, he’s fair game to the so-called reporters who hound his every move.

A Truly Offensive Effort to Whitewash the Crime Problem


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.

From the Comments: Matt Podowitz Offers Atlanta Resources for Safety

no comments…

Tina, thank you for this post and encouraging people to consider how to react to something BEFORE it happens. I wanted to share with you two free, non-commercial resources located in the very neighborhood where those incidents take place that can help people take constructive steps to secure their homes, protect their families and live their lives:

Safe Atlanta For Everyone (SAFE) – Founded in East Atlanta in response to a crime wave in the summer of 2008, this organization now operates five innovative programs (SAFEWatch, Graffiti Removal, Safety Tipsheets, Cookies For Cops/Food For Firefighters and Refuse To Be A Victim Seminars) across many neighborhoods in Southeast Atlanta. SAFE’s mission is to create positive ways for individuals to make their neighborhoods stronger and safer. All of SAFE’s programs are designed for “export” to other communities that want to be stronger and safer too. More information is available at

No Victims – Started in early 2009 by a Southeast Atlanta resident in response to a demand for impartial, objective and effective crime-prevention and firearms safety information, No Victims publishes new articles every week designed to inform and educate readers about ways to secure their homes and protect their families based on real experience and careful research. All original No Victims content is available for syndication or reproduction under a Creative Commons license to allow community organizations, houses of worship and other noncommercial entities make this important information available to their members directly. No Victims’ founder is a certified Refuse To Be A Victim(R) crime-prevention seminar and Home Firearms Safety instructor and offers to teach these classes for no charge except the cost of the mandatory student materials. More information is available at

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.

That “Perception of the Crime Rate Dropping” Perception Thing: One Statistic That Would Count

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It is good to see politicians in Atlanta responding to (as opposed to studiously ignoring, or denying) the crime crisis.  But now that we’ve gotten their attention (no small accomplishment), how does the city really move forward to make residents safe?

The Atlanta Police Department has a fascinating series of charts on their website, showing fifty years of statistics for various crimes in the city.  Go to this page and click on “Part I Crime: A Fifty Year Retrospective.”   Immediately, what jumps out is that crime is down since that horrible time in the early 1990’s, when crack cocaine was burning a fat fuse through certain neighborhoods — especially the housing projects.  If you compare 1989 to 2009, it is easy to say, yes, crime in the city limits is not as bad now as it was then.

But numbers are not the whole story.  Sometimes, they are not even a substantial portion of the story.  My neighborhood in southeast Atlanta was a safer place in 1997 than it was in 2007, when I moved away.  In 1997, I didn’t worry about walking my dogs after dark.  In 2007, I worried about walking them (well, him) in daylight.  I even worried about leaving the dog alone in the house when I took the car and went to the store.  Was it my “perception” of danger that had changed?  Did I simply grow more paranoid as the neighborhood actually grew safer, as it appears to have done, if you just look at the official, city-wide statistics?

No.  The neighborhood became less safe.  Starting around 2003, there were more break-ins, and attempted break-ins, and violent incidents, and threats of violence, a situation that worsened considerably after 2005.

I should note this was not merely a case of the internet making it easier for people to hear about crimes that had already happened, for the neighborhood’s long-standing nosy-old-lady-on-the-porch-net certainly rivaled the crude electronic social networking technologies of today.

No, crime grew worse, more omnipresent and more threatening.  One reason this is not clearly reflected in recent statistics is because people started spending vast amounts of time and money on video cameras, motion detectors, alarms, gated housing, and private security patrols.  The political class took the taxpayers for suckers, and so the taxpayers were forced to take it upon themselves (paying twice) to prevent crime.

Such privately-funded crime-fighting efforts probably account for much of the positive difference between crime rates today and the rates from five or eight years ago.

I would like to see a statistic comparing the number of “suspicious activity” calls made to the police in 2000 and 2007 from different precincts in the city.  That statistic would offer a better sense of the real prevalence of criminal activity, though it still would not offer a complete picture of crime.  People don’t call 911 every time they chase a suspicious teen from their neighbor’s porch or yell at some guy peering into car doors.

Yet those are the incidents that wear away at one’s sense of safety, day-in and day-out.

Make that actual safety, not just the sense of it.  People are not fools and will not be taken for fools anymore.  That message appears to have stuck.  Now, where does Atlanta go from here?

What Works? Overcoming Fatalism by Fixing Broken Glass: New York City


Back in the 1980’s, when I was living in upstate New York and deciding where to go to college, New York City beckoned as an obvious choice: the schools, the libraries and bookstores, the Village.  I went down to Fordham for a campus visit.  The next day, I returned home, appalled.  The grounds were beautiful, but the neighborhood was so dangerous that security guards would not allow students to leave campus in groups smaller than 12.  Fordham was gated and patrolled like an embassy on enemy soil.  The streets a few blocks away looked like a war zone, and the subways surrounding it were filthy, subterranean toilets filled with more or less aggressive lunatics trying to catch your eye.

I know, I know: I was a wimp for not wanting to become one of those tough city denizens, Blondie-tough, the type who didn’t blink as they negotiated the human detritus piled up in the streets.  I was also a serious long-distance runner, and I couldn’t imagine living in a place where you needed to recruit 11 other people just in order to walk down the street.  And then, parks were off limits for runners at any hour of the day.  Even in the nicer parts of Manhattan, normal people went about their business only by studiously pretending they were not stepping over some zoned-out junkie passed out in a pool of vomit as they made their way from the subway to the street.

People prided themselves on surviving this, but it was not as if they had a choice, unless they had the choice I made, which was to live somewhere else.  Many people made that choice in the Eighties and Nineties, just as they had done in the Sixties and Seventies, fleeing the growing violence of the city.  Back in the 1940’s, my grandparents had made the same choice for the same reason: crime threatened their daughters’ safety.  If you had tons of money, you could live well in the city and insulate yourself and look down your nose at those lesser types fleeing to the suburbs, but for everyone else, living in the city was a matter of narrowing your horizons, watching your back, and lowering your standards to accommodate the chaos.

By the time New York City “hit bottom” in the late 1980’s, it was astonishing how much abuse the dispirited public could absorb.  The few times I traveled through the city in those years, I found Port Authority Station to be a claustrophobic Habitrail of crime.  Betraying surprise at the Hogarthian spectacle merely singled one out.  This passage from an academic study nicely captures the zeitgeist:

“Inside the bus station, people had sex, shot heroin, gave birth and died.”

Less picaresque were the city’s murder statistics: 2,262 dead in 1990.

The people who rescued New York City realized they would have to change the behavior of two entirely different subsets of the population: those who were causing the problems and a public who had trained themselves to silently submit to them.  Much has been written about the “Broken Windows” model of crime fighting, in which quality-of-life violations such as loitering and graffiti and toll-hopping are no longer tolerated, with the goal of raising community standards and entrapping chronic offenders.  I don’t know of any study that tracks the effect of Broken Windows enforcement on the law abiding, but I imagine their tolerance for social disorder must have dropped as the levels of disorder dropped around them.

Nowadays, despite displays of nostalgia in some circles, I doubt very many New Yorkers would tolerate a return to 2,000+ murders a year, or the spectacle of seeing a homeless schizophrenic women wash her privates in the next sink when they’ve taken the kids downtown to see Nutcracker Suite.

It could be said that New York City triumphed over crime simply because the people in charge decided to stop tolerating any more of it.  This seems like an obvious stance, one that any sane elected official would take, but it is not: it took generations of city leaders openly tolerating crime and anti-social behavior for New York City to crawl as far down as it did into the gutter.  Even during the bloody years of 1989 – 1993, many of these same people vehemently objected to any effort to raise the social bar on everyone’s behavior, arguing that criminals and drug addicts and homeless people are both incapable of changing and should not be told to change.  But despite these naysayers, the evidence keeps rolling in that the Broken Windows philosophy of policing did work and was responsible for New York City’s astonishing turn-around on crime.

Atlanta is not New York City: people in sprawling southern cities do not live heel-to-chin on top of each other, and crime is more dispersed as well.  It is therefore impossible to achieve the density of police presence that Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani were able to muster in the early 1990’s.  Nor, significantly, do a critical mass of residents use public transportation in Atlanta, whereas in New York, people from all social strata rely on public transportation, so Police Chief William Bratton was able to demonstrate to the public that cracking down on minor crimes in the subway could transform the city itself.

Still, there are lessons for Atlanta to learn from New York’s Broken Windows success.  The most important lesson might be that charismatic leadership firmly on the side of zero tolerance matters.  Broken Windows is often portrayed as a bottom-up approach because that is what officers are tasked to do.  But it actually requires a much higher level of coordination and involvement from police brass than ordinary policing.  And given the array of activists aligned against quality-of-life laws, it also requires a police force that knows that City Hall, and their own commanders, firmly have their backs.

Atlanta currently has none of these things.

As George Kelling, one of the main advocates of Broken Windows policing, writes in this article in City Journal, New York City’s crime turnaround also took tremendous cooperation between police and the mayor’s office, parks and public transportation officials, city planners, and especially, the courts.

Atlanta currently has none of these things.

In Atlanta, the district attorney is still talking about “understanding” gang members and excusing their crimes, and some judges in the Superior Court have not yet gotten the memo about actually punishing criminals for shooting people, let alone jumping turnstiles.

But Atlanta has one thing that New York City did not have in 1989, or even 1993. It has scores of citizens who are taking leadership roles in the fight against crime, who believe that technology and cooperation and their own efforts can turn the city around.  The public in Atlanta in 2009 is playing the role that a small band of law enforcement visionaries played in New York City twenty years ago.  They are approaching the crime problem with energy, good intentions, and open minds.  They are networking using new forms of communication, demanding zero tolerance for crime victimization, and livable streets, even as their leaders lag behind them.

Atlantans are not New Yorkers: they are not jaded.


Two recent articles on New York City’s crime turnaround:

How New York Became Safe: The Full Story, George L. Kelling

New York’s Indispensible Institution, Heather Mac Donald

The New Normal: Detroit

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Seven teens were shot last week outside a school offering summer classes in Detroit.  Three were in critical condition.  A week earlier, another girl was shot in the chest outside another school.

Now the police are having trouble getting anyone to cooperate with them.  “The taboo against snitching is worse than the taboo against shooting,” the Detroit Free Press reported yesterday.

In response to the shootings, ministers in Detroit have invented another “community outreach” initiative.  It has an unfortunate name: MADE Men (Men Affirming Discipline and Education), and it probably has a fund-raising initiative up and running.  Such are the economics of outreach.  An identical effort started a few years ago after another round of school shootings folded not long after it was announced.

I’m sure the ministers mean well, and it is hard to imagine what else they could do under the circumstances, but I wish, for once, the adults would forgo the whole clever naming thing and just start doing what they say they’re going to do: get more involved in the schools.  When you create an organization and hold a press conference, that’s just time you’re not spending actually working with kids.  That’s making it all about you, and your organization, and your leadership.  And, frankly, there have been decades and decades of such failed efforts.  People are weary of the rigmarole: crisis — press conference — fund raising — then nothing.

Just start volunteering for the P.T.A. already.

It’s worth noting that, as I wrote about here, the AAAC (Academic/Activist/Advocacy Complex) has invented a formula mathematically proving that crime is not all that bad in Detroit because Detroit has the type of population that actually ought to be committing even more crime.  I’m sure that’s a comfort.

Is Detroit a terminal case of the logical consequences of the academic anti-incarceration ethic (AAIE!!!) that is currently sweeping the federal government?  On the backs of the seven youngsters shot outside school last week, and in the face of the many people who must know something about the crime but refuse to “snitch” to the police, yes, it is.

Blogging Crime Versus “Disappearing” It: Chicago and Atlanta

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In Chicago, something interesting is happening as “twittering” and blogging and e-mail bring in first-hand reports that deviate from official versions.  It is hard to whitewash incidents of violence and rioting when people are reporting them in real time and police are going back over their incident reports to compare notes later.

Take a look at two different sources discussing the Taste of Chicago event.  First, there is the official statement, reported in the Chicago Tribune:

The volatile vibe remained at this year’s holiday fireworks and food festival along Chicago’s lakefront, and authorities Saturday detailed the arrests of eight people accused of carrying guns or knives and several fights that triggered stampedes for the exits Friday evening.

Unlike last year’s pre-July 4 celebration — when one person was killed and several were injured — police said no one was shot in the vicinity of the Taste of Chicago on Friday.

“No Shootings This Year,” reads the headline, a low bar to set.  But is it true?  Here is Mike Doyle, reporting from the blog Chicago Carless:

To compare the stories, I jotted down a thumbnail list of each version of events–the official, and the insider. Here’s what I found:

Events Reported to News Media by City Officials

–One gun-related arrest in afternoon (gang member with shotgun in bag.)
–Arrests for unspecified reasons at Buckingham Fountain at 8:30 p.m.
–No mention of early fireworks start.
–One major fight at 9:45 p.m. (30-person gang melee at Michigan and Congress.)
–Various small, unspecified incidents.

Events Reported by Second City Cop Blog

–Gang members “take over” Buckingham Fountain area and by one account officers are told by police commanders (“Gold Stars”) to “leave it alone, let them have it.”
–911 dispatchers report two people shot at Buckingham Fountain.
–A potential effort (noted here and here) to silence radio reports of shots fired or gang fights.
–Gangster Disciples “50 deep” walking through Taste grounds and throwing gang signs.
–Latin Kings platooning along Roosevelt Road and heading towards Taste grounds.
–Multiple gang fight calls (10-1s.)
–“Numerous chases” and “multiple weapons recovered.”
–Fireworks start at least half-an-hour early.
–At least ten significant gang fights along Michigan Avenue in addition to the large melee as crowds left the southern end of the Taste grounds.

Next, I checked in with my Twitter followers and performed several searches of Twitter’s public timeline to look for tweets that might bear out the Second City Cop version of events. Here’s a sampling of what I found:

“my first year at the taste of chicago fireworks and go figure a shooting occurs 10 ft away from me!” (@chibookgrl, 7:00 p.m. Jul 4th)

Doyle’s appeal for more information bring in detailed accounts of fights and even a possible shooting.  Cops are under enormous pressure to downgrade crimes.  Prosecutors are under enormous pressure to write off charges.  How much crime gets “disappeared” these ways?


Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the activity of court-watching is providing residents with criminal-by-criminal details of crimes that could have been prevented, if only some judges would actually incarcerate some offenders at some point in their fulsome careers.  Here is only the latest career criminal, finally put away, thanks probably to the mere fact that, this time, somebody was watching when he walked into the courtroom, as reported by intrepid IntownWriter and court-watcher Marcia Killingsworth:

Arrested over 27 times and with three prior felony convictions, Andre Keith Grier returned to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob’s courtroom this week. This time, he came to enter guilty pleas to negotiated charges. . . .

Here’s the final outcome on the three cases:

  1. Robbery and Burglary:  15 years to serve 10 years; balance probated. The conditions of his probation are a drug evaluation and treatment, a job, and to stay away from Zone 6.
  2. Theft by Receiving Stolen Property:  10 years to serve
  3. Entering Automobile:  5 years to serve
    Theft by Taking:  10 years to serve to run concurrent
    Possession of Tools:  5 years probation consecutive with the same terms as Case 1 and restitution to the victim.

“All of cases run currently, so the total sentence is 15 years to serve 10 years with balance on probation,” Schwartz says. “Although he is parole eligible, with his record and the robbery charge he is not likely to be paroled until he has completed the majority of his sentence.”

Make that armed robbery charges.  Holding a gun to somebody’s head ought to be enough to get you sent away for ten years, no questions asked, but that does not always turn out to be the case.  I am hesitant to criticize judges at precisely the juncture when they being to respond to citizen demands for real incarceration for serious crimes, but I still have to ask — what happened in court the other 24 times he was arrested?

And that leads to another question: whither those other 24 alleged crimes?  What becomes of them, statistically?

Killingsworth reminds readers:

Fulton County Senior Assistant District Attorney Andrew Schwartz says he believes the presence of neighborhood representatives made a difference. “In my opinion, the reason Mr. Grier received this sentence is because of your community’s involvement and willingness to come to court.”

Here is a notice from the Fulton County CourtWatch about a pending case involving another serious repeat offender.  Several things about his record stand out:

–Demetrius Lester is an 17-Time Convicted Felon.*
–Lester is charged with 3 Felonies – Theft by Receiving (Auto), Criminal
Damage to in the Second Degree and Fleeing & Attempting to Elude.
* The previous notice stated that Lester had 18 prior felony
convictions.  Another review showed that one Burglary case had been
reduced to Theft by Receiving (Misdemeanor).  Therefore, he has 17 prior

Seventeen convictions.  What on earth were the sentences?  There are repeat offender laws in Georgia.  If they have so little teeth, or if some loophole is enabling judges to ignore them, why isn’t the legislature doing something about it?

Not to make light of this man’s behavior, but when I looked up his state prison record, I could not help but be amazed by the number of aliases he has accumulated:


Freddy Racko? That’s not a very good alias.  If I met somebody named Freddy Racko, I would assume they were doing something illegal.

OK, back to not being amused. Lester/Hawkins/Racko/Rooks/Smith/Vester/Woods has three separate burglary convictions.  Two homes and a church, this man entered.  Four separate convictions for breaking into cars.  One conviction for possession of firearm by a felon.  Not one, but two terrorist threats and acts convictions.  Two obstructions of a law enforcement officer.  One criminal interference of government property.

Eight separate stints in state prison, and who knows how many arrests.  This is beyond revolving door justice.  More from Fulton County CourtWatch:

Facts:  Around 10:00AM on Tuesday June 9, 2009, Officers J. Storno and
I. Streeter of Zone 3 saw the Defendant driving without a seatbelt in
the area of Grant Terrace and Georgia Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30312 (between
NPU-W and NPU-V).  Upon initiating a traffic stop, the Defendant sped
away at a high rate of speed and in a manner that was dangerous to the
public.  At one point, the vehicle flew off the ground and caused a
smoky haze upon landing.  The Defendant finally hit a telephone pole and
fled on foot.  Officers Storno and Streeter were eventually able to
apprehend the suspect after an extended chase.

I have spoken to the victim of the car theft.  He has been left without
a vehicle and has endured a significant financial hardship as a result
of having his car stolen.  His vehicle was a total loss and the
insurance company had to pay off his lien-holder, leaving the victim
without a car. Fortunately, no one was injured during Defendant’s
attempt to elude the police but, according to the officers, he was
driving in a manner that easily could have injured someone.  Defendant
is also suspected in other car break-ins in the Summerhill and Grant
Park neighborhoods.  One incident was caught on video and posted on You
Tube, but a positive ID was not able to be made.

Criminal History:  Defendant has 17 felony convictions, including 5
prior convictions for Entering Auto (all in Fulton County), 3 prior
convictions for Burglary (2 residential, 1 for burglarizing the Georgia
Avenue Presbyterian Church), as well as convictions for Terroristic
Threats, Interference with Government Property and Sale of Marijuana.  I
have obtained certified copies of all of his convictions and will be
presenting them in court.

The District Attorney is asking for the maximum penalty which is 16
years in prison (10 years for Theft by Receiving, 5 years for Criminal
Damage to Property in the Second Degree and 12 months for Fleeing and
Attempting to Elude).  However, under the law, the judge can sentence
the Defendant to anything, including straight probation.  The District
Attorney has recidivised the Defendant under OCGA 17-10-7(c), therefore
the Defendant will have to serve every day of the prison sentence he is
given, if any, without parole.

Community Support is greatly appreciated to keep this repeat offender

So what is the problem?  It’s called 17-10-7 of the Georgia Code.  It requires people convicted of a second felony to serve their entire sentence.  Sounds good, right?  Except there is nothing in Georgia’s recidivist code that prevents judges from suspending that entire sentence after delivering it.  Thus Freddy Racko can climb into your car, steal it, endanger police and civilian lives, and total the car — yet still walk away without a single day in prison.

Hopefully, it won’t happen this time.  But how many times has it happened with Racko(Lester) before?  How many times, outside those 17 convictions, have charges against him been dropped?  How many charges were dropped in the process of assigning those 17 felonies?  It boggles the mind.

And remember, those are only the times he got caught.

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 Tech Crime Wave. What Can Be Done. What Can’t Be Done.


What can be done about crime in the neighborhoods around Georgia Tech?  As reported by the AJC, the youths who have been arrested — and the ones who are yet to be caught — are perhaps the most dangerous type of criminal: immature and armed.  As James Fetig, an administrator at Georgia Tech, observed:

“[o]ne concern is the age of the criminals. Police tell us they are between 16 and 19,” Fetig said. “This is not a time when young men tend to consider consequences. We are very concerned that one of these robberies could go terribly wrong and have terrible consequences.”

Here is another concern: young men charged with gun crimes often walk out of courtrooms in Atlanta with little or no punishment — merely emboldened to commit more crime.  How often does this happen?  Nobody will say.  The DA’s office does not release such statistics.  The AJC has done nothing to produce such numbers.  The Fulton County Justices will not tell us.  The Clerk of Court?  Ha.

It is amazing that something so clearly in the public interest as the disposition and sentencing in criminal cases is secreted away from public scrutiny.  Yet, there it is.  And that is a major reason why people in Home Park and elsewhere throughout Atlanta will continue to live as prisoners in their own homes.

When you look at instances where prosecution and sentencing statistics have been released, it is easy to see why judges (and, sometimes, prosecutors) don’t wish for the public to know how they are spending their time.  In Orlando, Florida, which has an active court-watching culture, the Orlando Sentinel conducted this shocking study of sentences handed down for gun crimes:

The state’s 10-20-Life law — passed by state legislators and signed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999 — promised crime-weary voters that armed criminals would face long, no-bargain prison terms. Florida quickly spent $500,000 on newspaper, radio and TV ads spreading the message: “Pull a gun: 10 years. Fire a gun: 20 years. Shoot someone: 25 years to life.” . . .

[B]ut few suspects in Orange County get such tough mandatory penalties even as the campaign to end gun violence enters its 10th year, the Orlando Sentinel has found.

Only 5 percent of 7,437 suspects arrested in Orange County on gun charges from 2003 through 2007 received mandatory sentences, court and prison records show.

The record is even worse for suspects arrested with an AK-47 or other assault weapons, those military-style rifles that police officials say warrant the most serious punishment when misused. Just less than 2 percent of such cases in Orange County produced mandatory terms.

Do not believe that Atlanta is any different.  It may be worse.  It is the rule, not the exception, that offenders get a free pass on their first adult conviction.  It is the rule, not the exception, that most cases get pled down, usually a process involving prosecutors agreeing to redefine the charge to avoid minimum mandatory laws.  In Orlando:

Records show a third of all gun cases in Orange County were dropped by prosecutors who screen incoming cases. Additional cases were dismissed, bargained down or acquitted — casualties of evidence problems and the need to keep nearly 80,000 cases moving through justice system every year.

The vast majority of suspects receive very little punishment.

And when a defendant caught with a gun does not get charged, he may still qualify, the next time, for judges’ absurd passion for letting all “first time offenders” walk free.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out exactly how many times the Georgia Tech area defendants have been arrested and released, or allowed to plead down, as in the following?

What happened to Daryl Barndo Ford demonstrates why tough sentences are rare.

Four years ago, the 22-year-old was arrested in Orlando when drug agents seized a fully automatic assault rifle, a pistol and 16 grams of crack cocaine.

Because Ford was a felon with six prior arrests, state and federal laws prohibited him from having any type of firearm. When caught hiding under his mother’s bed, Ford had eluded three arrest warrants for weeks by sleeping in local motels rather than the family’s Clear Lake home.

The AR-15 rifle found in Ford’s locked bedroom had been converted illegally to fire automatically like a machine gun, according to police reports. Two ammunition magazines were taped together so the weapon could be reloaded instantly after firing a 20- or 30-shot burst.

As part of 10-20-Life, Ford faced a minimum three-year sentence if the office of Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar successfully prosecuted him as a felon with a firearm.

Problems arose when police did not want to disclose the identity of an informant who led them to Ford. And Ford’s mother would not say whether Ford had exclusive access to the locked bedroom. So prosecutors cut a deal.

Dropped were felony charges of dealing crack, possessing a machine gun, possessing a gun with altered serial numbers — a common sign of a stolen weapon — and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Ford pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor.

His punishment: 23 days in jail.

Since then, Ford has been arrested six more times on drug and gun charges. His longest sentence to date: six months in county jail.

Ford has now accumulated a dozen known arrests for drug and gun charges.  He is a repeat felon.  And judges and prosecutors in Florida still have not obeyed state laws requiring them to sentence him to at least three, if not ten years behind bars.

How do people like Ford continue to walk?  Why do judges get away with ignoring the will of the people, who have decided, legislatively, that certain crimes require mandatory minimum sentences?  Usually, it appears, prosecutors simply do not try to put offenders away for the minimum time because they are overwhelmed by cases.  Pleas must be negotiated in nearly all cases if prosecutors are going to have the time to prosecute anyone.  Why is the system like this in the first place?  Because, contrary to what the mayor and academicians and newspapers will tell you, we have lots of crime and lots of criminals.

We also release criminals back to the streets every day because the criminal bar has succeeded in twisting the system until it simply does not resemble a rational search for the truth.  The ridiculous latitude in suppressing evidence, for example, efficiently and speedily re-delivers criminals to the streets,  No other country has a system so hell-bent on excluding evidence from scrutiny.

And so, Daryl Ford loose on the streets with his dozen convictions is what we get.  We get streets saturated with criminal activity, so much so that authorities are forced to simply throw up their hands and say: We know they’re guilty, but we have to let them go.  We know they will eventually kill innocent people, but we don’t have the resources to even begin enforcing our own laws as they are written.

And still, the Pew Foundation and the editorialists and many criminologists keep telling us that the problem is too much incarceration, too harsh sentencing.  These claims do not even begin to stand up to real evidence, of course:

Light sentences are no rarity in assault-weapons cases. In the 243 cases analyzed by the [Orlando] Sentinel that went to court, prosecutors won 112 convictions, but just seven suspects received the 10-20-Life penalties. In 43 cases, the state dropped the gun-related charges in return for pleas to lesser crimes, such as possession of drug paraphernalia.

Of those convicted, 83 served less than a year in jail. The median sentence was six months. . .

All charges were dropped in 40 percent of the 243 cases. Reasons for those 97 dismissals included insufficient evidence and problems with victims and witnesses.

The remaining 34 cases include defendants still awaiting trial, fugitives and seven defendants tried in U.S. District Court under federal law. Two of the federal suspects were acquitted over an invalid search warrant. The other five received sentences of five to 17 1/2 years.

Out of 243 cases of gun crime in Orlando in 2008 involving assault-weapons, only seven defendants received the minimum penalty required by law.  This is not the type of fact you will find in the highly influential Pew Center report urging lawmakers to cut back on incarcerating convicts — because we’re just too harsh on the poor guys.  It is not the type of fact you will find in most newspaper articles purporting to examine the criminal justice system.

It is the type of fact you should think about the next time you are staying late at the library and need to figure out how to safely make your way home.  And it is definitely what students should think about after they matriculate and leave the dangerous parts of town behind, because there are still children living in those places, without a way out.

What can Georgia Tech students and all the other beleaguered residents of Home Park do to make their streets safer, not just temporarily, or for this semester?  They should go to court.  They should go watch a day or a few days of processing violent criminals, and tell other people what they saw there.  They should take that Orlando Sentinel article and try to replicate that research in their own city — or pressure the newspaper to do so (newspapers being in the business of trying to get readers to read them these days), because catching gun-wielding criminals is only the first part of keeping them off the streets.

We don’t even know how bad it is in the courts.  We don’t know what we don’t know, and there is little excuse for not knowing it in a metro area with hundreds of thousands of undergraduates, thousands of professors, three law schools, and millions of residents.

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

Shedding Light on the Problem: Recidivism, Neighborhood Activism, and The Courts

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Midtown Atlanta Neighborhood Association safety chair Randall Cobb, commenting in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about two stabbings in Piedmont Park, got it right:

“Crime has not gone down in the city, no matter what the city says they’re doing,” [he said] noting a spike in Midtown break-ins and armed robberies since 2007.

“It’s organized crime,” he said. “These are not crackheads looking for a quick turnaround. These guys are moving into a neighborhood and hitting it with everything they have.”

It’s recidivism.  It’s the failure of the courts, where a defendant has to experience a pretty darned unlucky day to end up being put in prison at the end of it.  Courts in Metro Atlanta are leaking like sieves.  They’re broken.  They have become vehicles for empathy, where judges call themselves “change agents” and victims and the public get treated like interlopers.  Prosecutors drop cases because they can’t handle their caseloads, or worse.  Cops don’t have the resources to work through a case and then show up in court for three or five or ten appearances, often on their own time.

Defense attorneys and defendants know they can make charges go away simply by asking for more time, by invoking delays, by exploiting the system in a thousand different ways.

It is too bad that residents who already pay taxes must then turn around and monitor the courts, and patrol their own neighborhoods, because City Hall and the Superior Court are failing so miserably in their duties.  But, there it is.  Luckily, there is no shortage of intelligent people willing to make these sacrifices, and the internet is now enabling them to share information in entirely new ways.

Court-watching is the new neighborhood patrol, as citizens realize that it is not enough to work with the police in their own neighborhoods.  They have to make sure that after an offender is caught, he does not catch an easy plea or an easy judge.

I’m hearing about all sorts of new court-watching efforts these days, not just in Atlanta, but around the country.  The best website I’ve seen comes out of Orlando, Florida, where two victims of life-altering domestic violence started going to court to observe the outcomes in other battering cases.  Ann Lickteig was beaten so brutally that she required several hours of neurosurgery: nevertheless, her batterer was acquitted.  Laura S. Williams lost her two-year old daughter when her ex-husband killed the child, and himself.  Somehow, these women find the strength to go to court every week and report on what goes on there.

The first thing most court-watchers realize, I think, is that what happens in a criminal courtroom is nothing like popular culture ideas about justice.  Consider this: as of 2002, the most recent federal numbers, one out of four armed robbers did not even get sentenced to prison after they were found guilty of the crime.  That makes armed robbery an even safer bet, for the robber that is, especially if he is a juvenile or does not yet have a record.  Judges’ routine abuse of first-offender rules make first-offender status a veritable get-out-of-jail free card, and sometimes two or three if nobody bothers to check to defendant’s record in other jurisdictions.  So why not stroll into Piedmont Park and pull a gun or a knife on someone?

Even when defendants get convicted, the sentences are usually risible.  The idea that we are too hard on defendants, that prison terms are unduly harsh and cruel, simply does not survive in the light of facts.  Beloved as these themes may be to Pew Center researchers, criminologists, and crusading journalists, it is not uncommon to discover that the man who got caught breaking into your back door has been caught and released, like some burglar fish, five, ten or twenty times in the past.  What is actually uncommon these days is to encounter a criminal who has not been through the system and let go again almost immediately.

Here is a typical post from Courtwatch Orlando:

Last week I saw a no contest plea in the case of State v. Eberson Florial (2009CF960) in front of Judge Bob LeBlanc. Florial was initially charged with Domestic Battery by Strangulation, but the formal charge was Felony Battery – Great Bodily Harm. Florial was sentenced to 2 days in jail with credit for time served (the Statute requires 5 days), enroll in a Batterers’ Intervention Program (BIP), and 18 months probation.

Where to begin?  Imagine being sentenced to two days in jail for the crime of Felony Battery — Great Bodily Harm.  The statute “requires” five days.  Five days?  And still, the judge did not enforce it?  The blogger here lays a good bit of blame on the state prosecutor for not asking for more, and that is a problem in Atlanta, too.  But when you look at a sentence like this, how can you not conclude that every party — from the legislature that permitted the sentencing, to the prosecutor who agreed to the plea, to the judge who did not enforce even the minimal law in this case — have utterly failed at their jobs?  Here is what the blogger thinks:

I am delighted to see the State include [Batterer’s Intervention Program] in the sentence (it’s not often we see this in felony court). The kudos to Judge LeBlanc are because he asked the State if there was also to be a no contact order or, at a minimum, a “no hostile” contact provision added to the sentence. The State admitted that it wasn’t part of the plea negotiations, but the judge included a “no hostile” provision in the sentence.

If the judges begin to hold the State accountable for negotiated sentences according to what Florida Statute requires, I think the judicial system will begin to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes more effectively than it sometimes does now.

“If judges begin to hold the State accountable for negotiated sentences according to what Florida Statute requires.”  In other words, judges and prosecutors in Florida are not following the law any more than judges and prosecutors in Atlanta.

And that is why the guy who climbed into your back window last month is climbing into your neighbor’s window right now.  It’s important to get more cops back on the streets (not least because they need to be paid for the time they spend preparing evidence for cases and appearing in court to testify), but that is only the beginning.

In Atlanta, several neighborhood groups have begun the process of watching the courts by sharing information about the criminal histories of defendants caught in their area.  Trolley Patrol, a fee-based protection service that covers several southeast Atlanta neighborhoods, has launched a website with information about court watching and information about arrestees.  The “i-neighbors” networks spread out over the city have become places where residents do their own crime mapping and even crime solving.

With the critical mass of anti-crime organizing going on in Atlanta right now, I hope it won’t be long before a more formalized program of watching the courts takes hold.  Just don’t expect elected officials, or the judiciary, to welcome this scrutiny.  They like things just the way they are.

“Defendants Have the Right to Remain Silent. . . Victims Have the Right to be Heard”

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I found this quote on the website for the Larimer County, Colorado District Attorney’s office. It is a neat sentiment: well-intentioned, not overly ambitious. It is, in other words, a fitting description of the aims of victims’ rights laws.

It is also utterly untrue.

The “right to be heard” is not a right in the ordinary sense of the term. It is not actually enjoyed by the vast majority of crime victims. There is no criminal court where victims may go to plead with authorities to take up their case, if theirs is one of the vast majority of crimes that go un-prosecuted for any one of a hundred reasons.

Other than murder, there is far less than a guarantee that even serious crimes will be taken up by the court. And prosecution rates for murder are far less than most people would imagine: authorities in Houston last week announced that they were stepping up efforts to “do something” about 600 murder cases that had foundered despite identifying a suspect:

More than 600 accused killers from the past four decades have yet to see the inside of a Harris County courtroom for their crimes, according to the Harris County district attorney’s office.

Records show that a handful of those jumped bail, fleeing the area before they could be prosecuted. But most were suspects who were never arrested, said Assistant District Attorney Russell Turbeville. . .

The push to find the fugitives was sparked in part by the case of Tho Minh Quach, who was charged with murdering his neighbor more than 20 years ago, but who disappeared and now will never stand trial because investigators did not try hard enough to find him.

One county, forty years, six hundred un-prosecuted murder suspects. How can this be?

In reality, virtually all crimes result in nobody being held accountable, a situation that has taken an extraordinary toll on hundreds of millions (yes, hundreds of millions) of crime victims since criminologist Milton S. Eisenhower lamented the 1 1/2% incarceration-for-crime rate in 1969. Here is Eisenhower speaking in 1970, twenty-two years before crime rates peaked in the early 1990’s:

There remains one very obvious reason for mounting crime in our society: the increasing failure of law enforcement agencies to cope with it. Consider the grim statistics. Probably 10 million serious crimes were committed in the United States last year. About half of these crimes were never reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Only 12 percent of those 10 million crimes resulted in the arrest of anyone. Only 6 percent resulted in the conviction of anyone, and this 6 percent included many pleas to lesser offenses. Only 1 1/2 percent resulted in the incarceration of anyone. And of those who were incarcerated, most will return to prison another time for additional offenses. As Lloyd Cutler . . . remarked on these statistics: ‘It would be hard to say that crime does not pay. The sad fact is that our criminal justice system, as presently operated, does not deter, does not detect, does not convict, and does not correct.’ (Violence: The Crisis of American Confidence, ed. Hugh David Graham, Johns Hopkins Press, 1971)

Hundreds of millions of victims of unresolved crimes walk the streets, and yet, virtually nobody, not even a fraction of a percent, resorts to vigilantism — this despite hysterical claims by mostly-liberal commentators that we must remain vigilant to hold back the horrifying threat posed to society by emotionally wounded, vengeful victims of crime.

I have long wondered why it is that so many people to the left of the political center despise and fear victims so much more than they despise or fear criminals themselves. Self-loathing, I think lies at the root of this phenomenon, self-loathing busked up by education at the hands of other self-loathing people who are entirely convinced that our justice system is over-reaching and cruel.

To say that the types of statistics mentioned above do not enter into classroom discussions of justice is to wildly understate the case. The only type of literature taken seriously in the classroom is the literature of the wrongly accused (too numerous to mention), or rightfully-accused-but-persecuted-anyway (Orestes, Oedipus Rex, The Crucible, The Stranger, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Clockwork Orange: how the mighty have fallen).

There is also the litmus test, administered with fierce regularity, that one must show the right type and quantity of empathy for criminals before you may speak about criminal justice at all. This is the price of the ticket — no similar admission fee exists regarding victims, save a few politically sanctioned types.

In the face of such orthodoxy, or rather, repression of facts, perhaps it isn’t surprising that so many people agree, with so very little evidence, that crime victims are too powerful, when they are actually legally powerless.

The exception to this powerlessness, now, consists of being allowed to offer a victim impact statement after the accused has been found guilty of the crime, during the time when his representatives may plead for lenience from the judge. Even this right, however, is strongly opposed by those who feel that the presence of victims in courtrooms represents a sort of perversion of pure justice. Character witnesses for the convict, such people argue, are only right, to keep the vengeful passions of the public in check, but character witnesses against them are — just awful.

When victim advocates began pushing for Victims’ Rights Laws in the 1980’s, reaction was extreme. These laws were written to provide extremely limited rights to the small fraction of victims whose cases actually made it into a courtroom, including the right to be notified about hearings, the right to be notified when one’s offender is up for parole or is being released, and the right to make a victim impact statement before the judge. Victims’ rights laws do not in any way impede on the vast rights afforded defendants before, during and after prosecution: in fact, their modesty underscores the degree to which victims have fewer rights than the public itself, let alone criminals.

Nevertheless, defense attorneys, law professors, and editorial writers (defenseattorneyslawprofessorseditorialwriters) behaved as if granting victims even extremely limited rights to speak in the sentencing phase of the judicial process was tantamount to bringing back witch-burnings, fueled, of course, with trampled copies of the Bill of Rights.

Tom Teepen, a nationally syndicated columnist based in Atlanta, compared the 1999 Victims Rights Amendment to a murderer stalking an innocent and endangered United States Constitution: “The Constitution has just ducked another bullet, but beware the ricochet”; “You can’t be sure this monster won’t walk again,” he wrote, and, nastily:

You almost have to feel sorry for the politicians working the law-and-order hustle. Crime has been falling sharply for several years. . . It is, in short, getting hard to sell criminals to the electorate.

This, in a year when there were 15,000 murders, 90,000 reported rapes, and nearly a million aggravated assaults.

Teepen never writes about criminals with such sneering contempt. His colleague, Cynthia Tucker, has written movingly about crime victimization at other times, but she called the Victims’ Rights Amendment “a crime in itself,” and accused victims of wanting too much:

The system has already kicked in on behalf of the victim — conducting an investigation, arresting a suspect, proceeding to take the suspect to trial.

Gee, thanks. Except when it doesn’t, which is nearly all of the time.

Tucker went on to accuse all politicians who speak up for victims of “pandering” to society’s hatefulness, prejudice, and barely-suppressed violence, then accused the public directly of wishing to undermine all rights of the accused. That the public, let alone victims, might be innocent of nefarious intentions until proven guilty is not the way this game gets played:

This latest bit of pandering by the vice president [Gore] is disgusting but not surprising. It has become an article of faith among centrist Democrats that a tough law-and-order stance in essential to win elections. . . . As hard as it is for most Americans to accept, a suspect is innocent of a crime until convicted by a jury of his peers (or until he pleads guilty).

In twenty years of advocating for and working with crime victims, I have never met a victim who wanted to undermine the justice system or see the wrong person go to jail for a crime. Such accusations are sheer hysteria, and like most hysteria, they arise from a reality that is inverse to the charge.

Headline: “Series of Mistakes Helped Ex-Cop Escape” (Tools for Activists).

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From today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

A string of mishaps — including uncertainty about whom to call, voice mail messages left unanswered for hours and previous false alarms — combined to help double-murder suspect Derrick Yancey remove his ankle monitor and escape house arrest, according to a report issued Wednesday. . .

A DeKalb Superior Court judge, who revoked Yancey’s bond on Monday, blasted Pre-Trial Services for “a comedy of errors” that helped him escape.

Yeah, blame the monitoring companies hired by Pre-Trial Services.  They’ll sure think twice about donating to the next round of judicial campaigns.  Especially after getting hit with any civil lawsuits that arise from whatever Yancey does next.

I’m not saying that the private monitoring firms are blameless.  But primary blame lies with the judge who let Yancey go free in the first place, over every tenet of common sense and protests by prosecutors and the victims’ families.  She clearly realized he was a flight risk: why insist on electronic monitoring otherwise?  Why let any accused double-murderer out on the streets before trial?  It is unconscionable that the DeKalb County judiciary can issue a report on Yancey’s escape that doesn’t scrutinize — well, the actions of the Dekalb County judiciary.  Maybe somebody else should step in.  The courts are not a sovereign state.   


You can learn a lot by following money trails.  Unfortunately, the Georgia Secretary of State, Karen Handel, has not updated her office’s website to enable the public to see individual campaign contributions to judges.  You have to go down to the Election Division of the Secretary of State’s Office to do that (1104 West Tower, 2 MLK Jr. Dr. Atlanta, Georgia 30334  404-656-2871).

Seeing who gives money to elect judges is a bracing civics exercise — sort of like a cold shower of droplets of realization that monied interests subsidize the election of sitting judges.  I’m not saying that judges act beholden to those who pay to elect them — or, at least, most judges don’t.  But what about the judges who do?  

What about the legislators who do — and then tell the public that they believe the best way out of our fiscal crisis is to release prisoners to community control, conveniently supervised by the same private companies and non-profit organizations that contributed to their election campaigns?  There’s a great deal of money in alternative sentencing.  Of course, there’s a great deal of money, as journalists love to remind us, in prisons, too, but at least they have the added feature of actually keeping the public safe.  

From where I’m sitting (staring out at a glassy bay as the morning porpoise cavorts in mangrove stands — sort of like the mural outside Underground Atlanta, only your feet don’t get stuck in abandoned gum staring at it), I don’t remember if Georgia’s election contribution records include donors’ companies, employers, or lines of work.  I think they do, and that would make for interesting reading.  

I was able to find the CEOs of the two private prisoner monitoring firms that dropped the ball along with DeKalb Pre-Trial Services when Yancey escaped.  Bruce Thatcher is the CEO for Colorado-based BI Incorporated; Fletcher McCuster is the CEO for Arizona-based Providence Community Corrections.  Did these men, or their employees, donate to judicial races in DeKalb County?  Did other private companies seeking prisoner-monitoring or community-based prisoner rehabilitation contracts?

April Hunt’s article on the delays in reporting Derrick Yancey’s escape is worth a close, slow read.  It raises all sorts of questions about the current system of monitoring convicts and accused felons in the community.  As judges move towards placing more and more violent people on “community control” instead of behind bars, we need to think about the systems that will allegedly keep track of them.  If the courts can’t adequately monitor a two-time accused murderer, what are they doing with garden-variety robbers, burglars and chronically violent gang members, like the ones who killed the young man in Peoplestown this week?  Were they supposed to be behind bars, too?     


Columnist Rick Badie on Crime

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A thoughtful column by Atlanta Journal Constitution writer Rick Badie on the ways people are changing their lives to deal with the threat of crime.  It raises a question: is crime really more prevalent because the economy has gone south?  The kids (and they are kids) and young adults running robbery rings and invading homes to steal televisions aren’t doing these things on their hours off from some legitimate work, and there has been absolutely no reduction in levels of support available from social services, so (unlike the rest of us) they aren’t being squeezed in their home lives.  

This is a criminal subculture.  If anything is making them seem more aggressive now, it is police furloughs and the collapse of the courts.  Backlogs in court hearings, ever more intense pressure to let people go on first, second, tenth offenses, cases simply being dropped because there aren’t the resources to try them — this is what puts more, and bolder, criminals on the streets.  

So when legislators and activists start talking about making burglaries into misdemeanors and funneling more people into “community alternatives to sentencing” (from whence most abscond) and ending the practice of incarcerating people under 17 and cutting back even further on police services — well, that’s when you really start to seem less crazy for taking a gun with you to walk to your own mailbox.

What Do You Call A Sex Offender Free on the Streets of Tampa Bay? Doctor. Or Nurse. Or Fodder for St. Petersburg Times Columnist Daniel Ruth to Crack Sex Jokes.


Maybe I’m just touchy because this neck of the woods is not far from where my own rapist traipsed in and out of prison for twenty-plus years, but what precisely does it take to get sitting judges (not to mention certain journalists) in Tampa Bay to take the threat posed by sexual predators seriously?  

First there’s Dr. Rory P. Doyle, who fled the Tampa Bay area after a judge permitted him to go free on bail after being charged with two counts of child molestation.  Astonishingly, Doyle is being treated to similarly indulgent judicial scrutiny in Ireland, where he has again been released to the streets while awaiting extradition hearings.  Then there’s nurse Richard Chotiner, who was released on bail pending an appeal that could take months, or years, after being convicted of lewd and lascivious battery of a mentally-disabled 23-year old.  Chotiner was released without electronic monitoring by Hillsborough Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett.  Releasing Chiotiner without considering public safety is especially egregious when you consider the details of the crime for which the nurse was convicted:

The man police say Chotiner abused has the learning ability of a fourth- or fifth-grader and suffers from neurofibromatosis, a disorder of the nervous system that causes tumors, skin changes and bone deformities, sex-crimes Detective Mark Sutkoff said.

Chotiner struck up a conversation with him April 28 at Adventure Island by recognizing the man’s condition, Sutkoff said. The 23-year-old lives with his family in Hillsborough County but has tried very hard to be independent and was alone that day, Sutkoff said.

Chotiner’s roommate, Justin Fernandez, said Wednesday that he drove Chotiner to the water park on April 28 because Chotiner had been charged with driving under the influence in January. He remembered Chotiner starting a conversation with the disabled man. “When he took off his shirt, Richard started talking like, ‘Oh, you have sores. I’m a nurse. I can make it better,'” Fernandez said.

Chotiner suggested the man come home with them to apply lotion to the sores, but the man declined, Fernandez said. However, the 23-year-old said he would return to the water park the following day.

The next day, Chotiner, who lives near Adventure Island and Busch Gardens, saw the 23-year-old walking through the neighborhood. He told Fernandez to give the 23-year-old and him a ride to Adventure Island, where they spent the day and then returned to Chotiner’s home at 8910 N. 39[th] St.

There, Chotiner instructed the 23-year-old to shower, then offered to “put medicinal lotion” on his “cysts” in a bedroom, according to a criminal report affidavit. Chotiner held the other man down, fondled him and performed a sex act on him, the affidavit said.

Fernandez said he was outside at the time and did not know what occurred. Chotiner told him to drive the 23-year-old to a bus stop outside Tampa, where he could meet his mother and go home. As the 23-year-old left, Fernandez said, “Richard grabbed his right shoulder and gave him a kiss on the head.”

Sutkoff said the 23-year-old immediately reported what happened. He directed police to the area where Chotiner lived but could not pinpoint the house. Investigation through Adventure Island helped identify Chotiner, said Sutkoff, who did not elaborate.

Remember, Chotiner was convicted.  These aren’t “allegations.”

You have to wonder about a middle-aged man who goes trolling for young men at an amusement park, a man with a medical license who uses his status as a nurse to lure a mentally disabled person half his age back to his apartment.  Most people, I imagine, would look at this case and recoil at the thought that we have a criminal justice system that still permits people to walk free after being convicted of a crime like this.

Most people, but not everyone.  “Humor columnist” Daniel Ruth of the St. Petersburg Times looked at this case and found it, and the protests against releasing Chotiner — well, he found them amusing.  Funny stuff, forcing yourself sexually on a mentally handicapped person.  Ruth would probably whine that it wasn’t the actual sexual assault that he was targeting with the following “wit,” but merely the protests mounted by television host Bill O’Reilly of Fox News.  But that defense falls short when you read what Ruth actually committed to the page — a column filled with sexual innuendo and sexual punch-lines about a tragic sexual assault: 

O’Reilly . . . got his hoop skirt in a wad over a decision by Hillsborough Senior Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett to allow Richard Martin Chotiner, who was convicted of lewd and lascivious battery on a 23-year-old mentally challenged man, to remain free on $50,000 bail pending the outcome of an appeal. . .

But Padgett didn’t release Chotiner because, well, he was feeling frisky that day . . .

Interestingly enough, while Bill O’Reilly was getting more lathered up than Old Yeller over Padgett’s reluctance to answer questions about his ruling, the Fluster News anchor has hardly been forthcoming in releasing details of his own 2004 sealed out-of-court settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him by a former employee[,] Andrea Mackris.

The allegations included some pretty salacious stuff, including a claim by Mackris that in a woozy late-night phone call O’Reilly, who loves to promote himself as a family man, told her he wanted to do the “falafel” thing with her.

Hmmm, wanting to commit a sex act with a Middle Eastern concoction of fried chickpeas? How kinky, in a Jacques Pepin kind of way.

In a column about the sexual assault of a mentally disabled man, Ruth doesn’t see anything wrong with cracking jokes about food and sex.  In a state littered with the dead bodies of children killed by repeat offenders who were released thanks to profound flaws in our judicial system, Daniel Ruth only finds humor in the wounded outrage of people who are rising up to say “enough is enough.”  

What a proud day for journalism at the St. Petersburg Times.


Instead of publishing this sick drivel, imagine what it would look like if the Times used the space wasted on Ruth’s column to fairly consider the criticism of Judge Padgett’s decision to release Chotiner without electronic monitoring.  Here’s an article from 1981 that casts Judge Padgett and the Chotiner case in an interesting light.  Of course, it took me upwards of sixty seconds to find this on Google:

St. Petersburg Times, December 19, 1981

Tampa Library Foe Gets Jail Term on Sex Charge

John F. “Jack” Gregorio, former head of a group campaigning against sex education books in Tampa public libraries, was sentenced to a year in county jail and ten years probation Friday for sexually molesting two children.  Gregorio, 46, pleaded no contest Oct. 12 to charges of lewd and lascivious behavior on an 8-year-old girl and sexual battery of a 17-year old boy.  The plea was part of an agreement in which the state agreed to seek no more than one year in jail.  Gregorio has continued to maintain his innocence and Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett said Friday that [the refusal to admit guilt] contributed most to his decision to impose the maximum sentence. Padgett said he will require Gregorio to see a psychiatrist as a condition of his probation but said he doubted it would help. Gregorio was arrested seven days after he was pictured in a newspaper last April carrying a placard and leading an anti-book campaign.

Interesting stuff (once you set aside the Times’ focus on the book-banning, the crimes of a sexual predator being more significant than the hypocrisies of a sexual predator).  What you find in this article from 1981 is something not discussed much in newspapers today: an argument supporting the legal reforms that eventually enabled and mandated judges to send sex offenders away for more than token sentences, as well as a fascinating perspective on Judge Padgett himself.

In 1981, Padgett railed against the restraints placed on him when it came to dealing with this particular sexual offender.  He was moved to speak out against a sentence that he viewed as too short for the crimes. He accurately questioned the usefulness of therapeutic interventions in preventing sex crime.  

Between 1981 and today, state legislators revised the Code of Florida so that child molesters, and others, could no longer walk away with a slap on the wrist, because they were walking away with a slap on the wrist.  They passed “truth in sentencing” laws to slow revolving prison doors, because offenders were only serving a fraction of their sentences.  These improvements had to be written into the legal code because, as Daniel Ruth histrionically and self-righteously reminds us, judges are only the interpreters of law as it is written.  They also had to be written into the code because many judges did not follow the laws as written, but that’s another story.  

Today, the Times, and others (who should be covering both sides of the issue, but don’t) now beat the drums exclusively for rolling back the sentencing reforms of the last twenty years.  Ignoring the many lessons of the past contained in their own pages, they viewing sentencing narrowly through a prism of preconceptions, namely:

  • Minimum mandatory sentences are innately cruel and unusual, and we embarked on imposing them only because politicians wanted to appear tough on crime, not because crime and recidivism are problems. 
  • Minimum mandatory sentences are the cause of prison overcrowding, which places America tragically ahead of other countries in the numbers of incarcerated people, which is a terrible reflection on our society, far more terrible than the high crime rates which are the actual cause of every individual incarceration, which will go unmentioned in the reporting.  See, the Pew Report, et al.
  • In order to regain our stature in the eyes of the world, we must reduce our incarceration rates at any cost, including the cost of letting violent offenders go free to victimize more innocent people.
  • Alternative sentencing, like counseling, is the ideal solution for these problems.

It’s very much worth remembering Judge Padgett’s frustrated effort to protect the public from a sexual predator twenty-eight years ago, when he could only sentence him to one year behind bars.  What type of sentence would Richard Martin Chotiner have received back then, before minimum mandatories put some restrictions on such pleas?  Do we really want to go back to those days?        


Tools for Activists: Just Say No (To Releasing Dangerous Inmates)

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With a hat tip to Chris, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Fulton Inmates to be Released Before Trial,” by Steve Visser.  It’s worth quoting extensively, to grasp precisely what is being done:

Fulton County court officials say they can save taxpayers $5.5 million a year by releasing suspected criminals from jail — inmates whom judges have balked at freeing because of the likelihood they would commit another crime before their trials.

How did they arrive at 5.5 million in savings?  Is it simply the difference between incarceration and probation for X prisoners for Y months?  What about the cost of anticipated new crimes — police, homeowner’s insurance, losses, new court dates, new attorney’s fees?  Pain and suffering?  Loss of public safety?

People won’t have to worry, said Superior Court Administrator Judy Cramer, because officials are starting a program Wednesday that ensures the bad boys will be watched a whole lot closer.

The county has hired five more staffers to closely supervise inmates who previously didn’t qualify for pre-trial release because of their character, lack of permanent address or who had weak community ties.

We know what some of the inmates who already qualify for release are capable of: what on earth are these people capable of?

The monitors will each carry a caseload of 35 released inmates they will meet with each week until the cases are resolved at trial, said court spokesman Don Plummer. The monitors will also meet regularly with family, employers or friends of the people they are supervising, Plummer said.

Five times 35 is 175.  Is that 175 armed robbers?  Aggravated assailants?  Since they have a set number already, then tell us the types of crimes this cohort is accused of committing. 

Plummer said the monitors would be able to meet the tough schedule of an average of seven meetings a day — along with other home and employment visits. “This isn’t going to be a featherbed job,” he said. “They are going to keep these people on a really tight leash.”

Imagine going to seven different appointments in one work-day.  Every day.  In Atlanta traffic.  Now imagine that half, or more, of your appointments are with people who do not have a permanent address and are prone to not show up for things because, well, they’re repeat offenders, and most of them have probably given a probation officer the slip before. 

Chief Jailer Riley Taylor doubted if a new supervised-release program would do much to take pressure off the jail — which is normally filled to its court-ordered capacity of 2,250 inmates — or off taxpayers’ wallets.

Thank you, Chief Taylor.  Thank you for talking to the public.  That’s what a public servant is supposed to do.  We could use some more of that.

“They want to fund the court system more to refine it more and they’ve tried that in the past and the math hasn’t worked out,” said Taylor. “Historically the jail population catches back up after new initiatives come into play.

“The whole system has to be retooled.”

So, basically, what the Chief Jailer is saying is that this won’t save $5.5 million dollars because the jail will just fill up again, which means that decisions are already being made to not incarcerate a certain percentage of law-breakers, or to release a certain percentage of law-breakers prior to trial, because the prison is already full.  And it’s not as if they’re going to start releasing high-risk prisoners without having released every possible allegedly low-risk prisoner first: what kind of sense would that make?  No, they’ve already released all the people who can cobble together a home address, or who haven’t committed a serious, violent crime yet — and they’re still beyond capacity, so they have to start releasing the people they know will commit more crimes, and have committed serious crimes.  And, yet, it “hasn’t worked before” (which means they have tried this before — at what human cost?).

The county has to find a way to resolve cases more quickly so that either jail inmates are freed or they are shipped to the prison system, Taylor said. More than 1,200 inmates — half the permitted population of 2,250 — have been in jail for more than a year without their cases coming to trial, according to county figures.

What has caused this backlog?

[Superior Court Administrator] Cramer acknowledged the “Intensive Supervision Program” won’t save any money if the jail beds remain full. He said it is among a several court-system initiatives designed to chip away at the county’s backlog of 6,000 unresolved, indicted cases.

The court system has just been funded to pay three retired judges to help clear up the backlog of murder, rape and robbery cases which now pack the jail, Cramer said. There is currently just one judge handling that workload.

Wow.  There is one judge handling murder, rape and robbery.  That’s crazy, especially in a county that has managed to waste million of dollars on corrupt boondoggles like FanPlex.  Oh, and this won’t work, but they’re doing it anyway.

The superior court has also dedicated one superior court judge to handle property crimes such as burglary and car theft, Cramer said, and is resolving most of those cases by pleas — often to probation — in less than two months, on average.

Break into somebody’s house, get probation.  Get out, break into somebody else’s house.  Pretty sweet.

The court system’s next aim is to get Superior Court judges — there are 19 in all — to develop uniform case-management standards for handling serious crimes that bog down in the court system, Cramer said.

Judges traditionally have run their courtrooms as they wished — with varying degrees of efficiency.

“Serious crimes” are “bogging down in the court system.”  That’s terrifying.  Since even breaking into someone’s home has been dumbed-down to a minor offense, what constitutes a serious crime these days? 

Enough is enough.  Fulton County Superior Court Judges need to come clean, now, about their efficiency rates.  Are they even working nine-to-five?  All of them?  If they are, and if they oppose this plan, the public needs to hear from them.  If there is a resource emergency in the courts (and there is), then why the silence from the judiciary?  Have they asked the legislature for money?  Have they appealed to the County Commission?  Do they have plans to request stimulus money instead of releasing felons to prey on the innocent?  Have they reached out to the public?  Why doesn’t the public know?  This is a situation begging for transparency.

In order to solve this problem, an essential mindset needs to change.  For far too long the courts have been an insular world, a closed loop in which scrutiny by the public is viewed with barely-concealed irritation, if not outright contempt.  ‘If you’re not a lawyer, then what the heck are you doing asking questions,’ is the attitude I’ve sometimes (not always) encountered — and all lawyers must maintain good relations with judges, so don’t expect them to complain if they see a judge not keeping up with his or her docket, or just not working at all, or serially letting violent felons go free.  

In a circuit like Fulton County, some of these judges also practice far too much leniency with criminals, worrying exclusively about their needs, ignoring victims of crime.  It’s a predictable outcome of the culture of insularity and politics that exists in the judicial appointment process.  Victim advocates — and community members seeking accountability — are treated like peasants who must beg favors at the door.  Information is contained with Kremlin-like security.  

Atlanta has outgrown this system.  

It’s time for the Fulton County Courts to open their doors to citizen scrutiny in a meaningful way.  Of course, it would have been useful for some of the many law professors and criminologists in the city to take a lead on this, but in my experience, academicians are interested in only one question regarding the criminal justice system: how do we get prisoners out of jail?

So I wouldn’t count on the professorate to do the footwork needed to find out exactly how broken the courts are in Fulton County.  But citizens can do the job, first by opposing this mass release of dangerous prisoners, then by seeing what is really going on in the courts.


Call your county commissioner and the two “at-large” commissioners and demand a citizen review panel.  By non-lawyers, for obvious reasons.  And while you’re on the phone, tell your commissioner that you oppose the pre-trial release plan that’s been sprung on the public, fait accompli.  Think of all the people who have been killed recently in Atlanta by people who should have been behind bars at the time: Harish Roy.  Eugenia Calle.  Who else?  John Henderson?  Octavia Atkins?  Brutus Jones?  Chastity Jones?  The AJC cannot report on every murder, so surely there are more.  Here are the contact numbers for the Fulton County Commissioners:

At-Large Commissioners:

John H. Eaves, Ph.D. District 1 (At Large) Chairman Email John Eaves 404-730-8206 Chairman Eaves’ extended website 

Robb Pitts District 2 (At Large) Email Robb Pitts 404-612-8210

District Commissioners:

Lynne Riley  District 3 Email Lynne Riley 404-730-8213

Tom Lowe  District 4 Email Tom Lowe 404-612-8218

Emma I. Darnell  District 5 THE MIGHTY FIVE [sic] E-mail Emma  404-612-8222

Nancy A. Boxill  District 6 Email Nancy Boxill  404-612-8226

William “Bill” Edwards  District 7  Commission Vice Chairman Email William Edwards  404-612-8230

Don’t Know Your District?  Check the Commissioners’ websites. 

How Many Gold Mercedes Are There Out There?


THE average citizen hardly needs to be persuaded that crimes will be committed more frequently if, other things being equal, crime becomes more profitable than other ways of spending one’s time.

–James Q. Wilson, “Thinking About CrimeAtlantic Monthly, September, 1983


Yesterday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that police in Clayton County may have solved a whole lot of Metro Atlanta crimes when they arrested four men and charged them with “breaking into dozens of businesses,” and “stealing more than 200 flat-screen televisions” throughout the city.

The article announcing the arrests mentioned “50 investigators from 17 police agencies [who] joined forces last year after noticing a spike in burglaries and flat-screen TV thefts.”  Just last Wednesday, Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington announced the formation of a presumably different multi-jurisdictional task-force to address flat-screen thefts.  

I imagine citizens weary of crime would say: “I don’t care who’s doing what, just get them off our streets.”  

Add to that, “this time.”  For, of course, at first glance, at least two of the men have faced previous charges in Clayton County alone (the current crime spree extends to Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Douglas Counties — a wide swath on the map — and I have not checked those yet).  Devon Sherman Anderson was charged in Clayton with simply battery, disrupting a public school, and disorderly conduct in 2004, the year he turned 18.  The first two charges were dropped, and he received six months probation on the third.  Schoolyard fight?  Maybe.  Or it could be the first adult charge after a lifetime of juvenile crimes, which are sealed. Bershan Lewis‘ record is more extensive.  It also begins the year he turned 18: it was a busy year for him.  He was charged with four counts of entering autos.  

Prior to the current charges, neither man’s records indicates a major crime wave (some of the charges that appear more than once are simply working their way through different courts).  But the crimes with which they have now been charged seem outlandishly prolific.  If they are guilty, they have been driving Anderson’s gold Mercedes all over the metro area for months, or years now, committing crime after crime after crime.  

That’s a lot of broken glass, insurance hikes, and security expenses for small businesses. It’s also a lot of employees of sports bars and laundromats who have the eerie task of opening or closing the doors when nobody else is around, hoping that whoever committed the last break-in isn’t coming back.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution story reports that the men named themselves the “Hit Squad” and that an AK-47 was found in one of their homes.  Anderson’s new charges include armed robbery, and there are more charges to come.  

There were nearly 10,000 burglaries in the city precincts alone in 2008.  

People are scared, and tired.  They are sick of hearing that prisons are overcrowded and that judges are looking for alternatives to incarceration for people with records like Johnny Dennard’s.  Dennard had at least five burglary convictions when he was arrested on the most recent charge.  He was convicted a sixth time and released to an “outpatient treatment center” rather than being sent to serve the (apparently mandatory) minimum five years for the crime.

How many burglaries net you six convictions in our broken justice system?

Atlanta Redux


The problems created by crime are so vast, and crimes are so numerous, and the arena of agencies created to address them are so dysfunctional and interwoven, that it is maddening to look at the police chiefs and the courts and the lawyers and the mayors and the prisons and the prisoners and the legislators and not just throw up your hands and say: “There’s nothing I can do.”

This type of despair is what drives us to crumple on the couch and switch on the Nancy Grace and pretend that what we are doing is watching somebody doing something real about “the problem of crime.”

No matter what people like Noam Chomsky and Susan Sontag might say, we don’t do this because we are primitive and bloodthirsty: we do this because we are civilized and victimized.

Also: exhausted.

Ever since I became the victim of a fairly horrifying crime, way back in 1986, I have been trying to “do something” about crime, not because of the few hours I spent at the mercy of a criminal, but because of everything I learned about him and the justice system afterwards.

Becoming a victim does strange, alienating things to people. In his 1996 memoir, My Dark Places, the crime writer James Ellroy more or less explains what made him turn out so odd by telling the story of the unsolved murder of his own mother in 1958, when he was ten. He’d nurtured that experience into an obsession with the murder of a young woman named Elizabeth Short – re-named The Black Dahlia to sell papers – and then his obsession with The Black Dahlia eventually led him back to try solving his own mother’s murder. This led to a disjointed trail of old clues and possible suspects – and then to limbo.

In 1977, a young woman named Terri Jentz was nearly murdered by an axe-wielding man who attacked her and her companion as they biked across Oregon. Jentz briefly became a minor celebrity. She spent the next several years fleeing from and re-approaching the crime, until she decided, like James Ellroy, to try to solve it. What she found when she entered the world of victims agitating for justice was quite the opposite of the”closure” she appeared to be seeking. She found broken people trying desperately to patch together clues about their loved ones’ deaths, confronting system after system where they were sometimes treated with more contempt than the killers and rapists they were trying to put away.

She also found her killer – “alleged killer” – quite easily. Everybody knew who he was. Her efforts to find him and put him away, documented in her extraordinary book, Strange Piece of Paradise, led to a brief sentence for the man on an unrelated crime, but it also led her back to the limbo of her own attack, and experience she she thought she was trying to escape.

After I joined the vast ranks of victims whose predator got away with the crime, my personal obsession manifested in keeping files on men (and, rarely, women) who got away with multiple rapes or rape-murders.  I started with my own assailant and moved on to others.  I kept tabs on my rapist as he strolled in and out of prison, raping elderly women in the same little area of Florida for a dozen more years before he finally received a life sentence for one of his crimes.

I expanded my files to state laws and statistics and DNA research and the predominance of pro-criminal sentiment in academia and the media. Most of what I found was utterly demoralizing. But I have to keep reminding myself that my rapist was finally put away on a life sentence (later overturned, but he’s still in prison) because a few haunted victims of other crimes had managed to beat their way to the state capitol in Tallahassee and force changes to the very laws that allowed my rapist to walk away from his first rape charge with nothing more than probation – in 1982.

Haunted victims forced changes to the sentencing codes.  They implemented three-strikes rules.  They insisted on funding for DNA databases.  They stopped judges from letting rapists plead down to non-sex crimes, or just send them for treatment, or just let them go.

When I started this blog, I imagined my focus would be national and issue-based (and I still intend it to be so).  But I immediately found myself back in my old neighborhood in Atlanta, watching with no small amount of amazement as thousands of activists there spontaneously came together to take on the whole ball of wax on crime – recidivism, sentencing, the courts — a fight I’d often felt I was fighting alone, in an increasingly claustrophobic room stuffed with unwieldy files.

Some of these Atlanta activists started meetings with a judge in Atlanta this week. I’ll let them speak for themselves about how it went. But I already know one thing: I think I speak with some authority when I say that the era of haunted crime victims wandering the landscape of the justice system, looking for justice alone, is over.

I feel less weird already. Thanks for that.

What Citizens in Atlanta Are Doing to Fight Back: Part 1


Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, never one to shirk at the job of preserving her reputation, wrote recently in the AJC that people should not complain about things like violent home invasions because crime used to be worse in Atlanta. 

It’s an interesting argument.  And in many ways, she is right, if you think back to the early 1990’s, for example, when virtually nobody lived in downtown Atlanta.  Back then, the city’s business district cleared out so fast after 5 p.m. you’d think it was vampires renting all those abandoned lofts. 

I worked at the Georgia World Congress Center at the time, installing convention booths.  Sometimes we had to work overnight for one of the bigger trade shows, which meant leaving our cars in unattended lots.  On those nights, before we went to work, we’d take everything of value out of our truck cabs, pop our hoods, and remove our car batteries.  We’d bungee cord the batteries to our toolboxes and bring them into the building with us so that nobody would steal the batteries, or, even worse, damage the hood or break the car windows trying to steal them.  It costs more to replace a window or repair a jimmied hood than to replace a battery or some factory-installed radio.  So, in essence, we proactively stripped own cars before clocking in for a night of unloading trucks and laying carpet. 

Still, cars got messed up or stolen.  And the only reason more of us weren’t victimized was because a lot of my co-workers were tough construction workers: the crack-heads knew that not a few of them carried both guns and short fuses about people messing with their work trucks. 

I didn’t carry a gun.  So if I got off late from a shift and had to take the train after the people in suits had fled the city center, I would take my hammer out of my tool-bag and swing it around while I waited in the station.  I found that swinging a hammer worked a whole lot better at deterring unwanted attention than flashing a box-cutter or one of those keychain-sized, feminine-looking little cans of mace.  Who, after all, wants to approach a pissed-off looking, exhausted-looking woman covered in sawdust and carpet lint who is twiddling a hammer in her hands?

This was my version of stripping my own truck, as it were: I stripped away the normal parts of my appearance and imitated the crazies and criminals around me so they would think twice about stealing my tools or flashing their privates.  And it worked, to a degree: I only had tools stolen when I laid them down at work, and I got flashed mostly in the downtown library, where, of course, I wasn’t wielding a hammer. 

The one time I did get flashed on the train, I was carrying my law school books instead of my tools, which taught me a great deal, in retrospect.

So when Shirley Franklin says that Atlanta is safer now than it used to be, she is partially correct: with the huge influx of non-gun toting, non-hammer-wielding residents, and the leveling of many of the city’s toxic housing projects (hey, let’s send ‘em to Clayton!), and the rental of at least some downtown lofts to non-vampire tenants, Atlanta can say that (at least temporarily) it has finally ceased to be the frontier town it has, more or less, been since 1837.

Only, that isn’t really true, either.  What is true is that crime was really out of control then, and crime is really out of control now, but now there are many, many more residents who have the resources to demand that their lives not resemble some episode of Deadwood or The Wire.  [In a later post, I will talk more about crime statistics, but suffice to say that all statistics can be fiddled with; all crime is bad, and there’s lots of bad crime happening every day.]

No wonder the Mayor and the Chief of Police and the court bureaucracies and judges are reeling at the sight of this new activism.  Used to be, the only organized activism they ever dealt with was endless lawsuits by prisoner’s rights advocates who knew they could bankrupt the justice system and free prisoners by suing over every last little thing.  The media loved this, and even many elected and appointed officials loved this, because after the lawsuits (paid by taxpayers) were over, they could all hold press conferences together and announce that they were working to “improve conditions” in the jails, and line up to collect human rights awards they’d stack up on the windowsills of their offices.

Which had the added benefit of blocking their view of the scores of felons they were (and are) releasing out the back doors of our courthouses every single day.

So What’s Different About the Public’s Response to Crime Now?

Two things have changed.

One of them is the Internet.  The Internet is affecting citizen activism in all sorts of ways.  It is literally creating a new type of activist: somebody who can go to work all day and then get involved on their own time, in their own homes, rather than having to decide to choose between working in the ordinary world or descending full-time into the weird, corrupting, consumptive netherworld of politics and professional activism. 

This professionalizing of part-time activism is an extremely healthy development, because the old model of activism practically guaranteed that activists either lived in poverty or succumbed to the temptations of “professional activism” of the ACORN mold, where political favoritism and political power eventually ate away at even those with the best of intentions. 

The Internet allows this new generation of activists to be ACTUALLY un-bossed and un-bought.  And as I keep saying, watch out for us old-timers.  Even many of us who started out meaning well have been bossed and bought to death.  Not that activism doesn’t take money, or that the government and elected officials can’t solve problems – but when there’s a wider range of people involved in fighting crime, they can only provide more checks and balances on each other.  The Internet really is democratizing anti-crime activism.      

The Internet is like CompStat for citizens.  It allows ordinary citizens from all over the city see what is going on in other neighborhoods.  It allows them to compile records of crime in entirely new ways.  Now, when neighborhood activists approach elected officials and police bureaucrats, they are not completely at the mercy of statistics that have been intentionally manipulated to downplay crime.  I think some of precinct commanders actually appreciate this, and I know that many cops on the street are welcoming these new activists.  For a long time, in Atlanta, and in many other cities, both the beat cops and the public have been at the mercy of bureaucrats who are motivated only to deny and ignore crime.

The other thing that has changed about the public’s response to crime is that people have simply stopped listening to the old excuses about criminals being mere victims of circumstance.  These excuses are made endlessly by academicians and mainstream journalists, and the politicians and police bureaucrats in cahoots with them.  But people are tired of hearing the same old excuses when their neighbors get roughed up and they can’t sleep at night. 

This has to do with the Internet, too, because now ordinary citizens can share information, rather than opening up the morning paper and reading one story after another written by somebody whose mission in life is to humanize predators, hide the failings of the criminal justice system to put predators away, and accuse anti-crime activists of being “vigilantes.” 

On a recent trip to Atlanta, I met several of the new anti-crime activists, and they are the farthest things from hothead vigilantes that anyone could imagine.  These new activists, many of them also new residents of Atlanta, are simply refusing to accept the type of lifestyle that used to mean taking your car battery out of your car when you went to work or sitting in an empty train car swinging a hammer, or trying not to be “insensitive” while the fifteen kids in your neighbor’s household grow up without parenting until they age out of the juvenile system into the adult one – the only graduation they’ll ever know.

These new activists are changing Atlanta, and they’re doing it while refusing to behave as if their flat-screen TVs and personal safety and peace of mind are the normal price to pay for living in a city.  It’s time for the Chief of Police and the Mayor to stop fighting them and start listening. 

Next: Recommendations for the Courts


The Anatomy of Yet Another Unnecessary Murder: How the Justice System Failed Eugenia Calle and Is Failing Us All



What follows is a preliminary effort to piece together Shamal (aka Jamal) Thompson’s long and troubling journey through Georgia’s broken criminal justice system prior to February 17, 2009, the day he murdered* an innocent cancer researcher named Eugenia Calle.  Ten months earlier, a DeKalb County Superior Court Judge named Cynthia J. Becker let Thompson walk free from what should have been a ten-year sentence for burglary.  She did so on the grounds that he was a first-time offender.  

He was not.

I gathered the records of Thompson’s many other criminal charges and pleas merely through Internet searches and a few phone calls to court clerks in Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett Counties in Georgia.  These counties and jurisdictions vary quite significantly in their commitment to making public safety information available to the public.  Fulton County’s public records system is almost uniquely shameful in comparison to similar courts throughout the country, while DeKalb County’s records are impressively detailed and easy to access on-line. 

This information is preliminary, based only on a few phone calls and web searches.  If you choose to reproduce or quote this article, please understand that I am unable to guarantee its absolute accuracy at this point.  Court records themselves often contain errors, and I can only reproduce what is entered on-line by the courts.  However, I include the public records case numbers for every case I cite, and if anyone involved in the justice system (or not) wishes to offer corrections or add to this account, please contact me through this website.

Why Didn’t Judge Cynthia Becker Do What I Did?

I am not a lawyer.  I don’t even live in Georgia anymore, though I lived in southeast Atlanta for twenty years.  Yet I managed to look up Shamal Thompson’s criminal history while sitting at a computer in Florida.  From 500 miles away, with no press credentials or official status or legal secretary or law clerk, I was able to easily discover what several judges in Georgia apparently did not care enough to find out: Shamal Thompson was no “first-time offender,” or mere “troubled kid” when he strolled into courtrooms throughout Metro Atlanta and was repeatedly given a slap on the wrist and a fourth, or tenth, second chance.  He was no first-time offender when he strolled into Eugenia Calle’s condominium and beat her to death on Tuesday.  

He was clearly no first-time offender in 2006, when he walked away from felony charges of aggravated assault in DeKalb County after the ADA declined to present the case against him to the Grand Jury (DeKalb County on-line Judicial System, #D0170113).  He was no first-time offender in 2007, when State Court of Fulton County Judge John Mather let him take a plea on theft-by-taking (State Court of Fulton County #06CR314782).  And he was certainly no first-time offender ten months ago, when DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Cynthia J. Becker let him walk out of prison with time served on a ten-year sentence for Burglary that she chose to reduce to a six-month “first offender” sentence, and then reduced, even more, to time served (DeKalb County On-Line Judicial System #07CR3936).  

How does ten years become six months become time served?  How does somebody who has bonded out of several courts and been charged with multiple crimes multiple times keep getting defined as a “first-time offender?”  Why do judges keep releasing him, and DAs keep declining to prosecute him?  How many innocent people have to die before we acknowledge that our courts are so de-funded and functionally broken that predators have little or nothing to fear from being arrested over and over and over again?  

How many people have to die before we say that we’ve had enough?

Here is the burglary sentence delivered to Shamal Jerome Thompson on April 3, 2008 in a courtroom in DeKalb County, Georgia.  Think of it as Eugenia Calle’s death sentence:

Docket Text Details
Case ID   07CR3936      
Description   Sentence      
Docket Filing Date   03-APR-2008      
Associated Party   SHAMAL JEROME THOMPSON      

Why did Judge Becker give Thompson First Offender status?  His adult record stretches back virtually to the day he ceased being a juvenile, which certainly suggests that he committed crimes that we, the public, cannot even know about before he turned 18.  And why, once again, was I able to find these things on-line, hundreds of miles away, while the courts in Atlanta kept letting Shamal Thompson back onto the streets?  

WSB Atlanta offers some truly gut-wrenching insight into what Judge Becker was using her Internet for when she should have been looking into Thompson’s criminal history before sentencing him on those burglary charges. She was looking at the bridal gown website Thompson claimed to have designed.  According to WSB (and WSB was the only news station that reported this), “Judge Becker cited the Web site and the ‘beautiful designs’ on the site as part of the reason for the light sentence she gave Thompson in the burglary case.”

Let’s take a moment to let that sink in.

Perhaps because I wasn’t busy looking at bridal gowns, what I found on-line about Shamal Thompson had less to do with taffeta than serial identity theft.  And fraud.  Little clues that should have led the Judge to ask herself: “Is this guy even telling me the truth when he tells me he’s a bridal fashion designer?”  Cynthia Becker needs to resign, out of embarrassment if not some deeper comprehension of the grotesquely ironic lack of judgment she displayed. 

Am I the only person who thinks Cynthia Becker needs to quit her day job? Well, here’s a good way for you to decide.  Because DeKalb County keeps such stellar on-line records, you can actually go to their website, the Online Judicial System of DeKalb County.  

Go to Shamal Thompson’s case, #07CR3936, and you will see a list of documents – a case docket.  Some of the documents are on-line, and some, like the court transcripts, aren’t on-line, but you can go to the court and request to see those.  Or pick some other offender – someone who has been terrorizing your neighborhood, or someone who has been in and out of the courts, or another of Becker’s cases.  Take a look at the dockets and think about all of the money we’re wasting on truly baroque and foolish things, while the crimes themselves – the point of the courts – seem to literally disappear in the endless processing and pleading and not prosecuting, or “nolle prosequi.”  

Nolle prosequi can occur because nobody had the resources to even investigate the case, or because there are too many defendants, or too many crimes, or because the public has become so gob-smacked with the idea that they are freeing innocent men that it is practically impossible to get most people put away anymore.  Nolle prosequi might as well be translated: we’re losing this game every day.

And don’t expect critical news about the broken court system from the daily paper.  They run personality pieces on criminals and mash notes about defense attorneys and never, ever, challenge judges.  The AJC hasn’t done a substantive series questioning sentencing in the courts since 1993.  They’ll go after the police, and some of the time when they do they should, but the courts get treated with real kid gloves.      

So I encourage you to go to the courthouse and see how things work.  But please remember, court clerks are busy people.  The good ones rank among the un-noticed heroes of our dysfunctional courts.  They don’t get the cushy no-show jobs like Juanita Hicks, former Fulton County Clerk of Court, who appointed her crony, Cathelene Robinson, who then turned around and paid Juanita to “write a history of the Clerk’s Office,” which Hicks of course, didn’t get around to writing.  

But she did take the money, which is just one reason why Fulton County says it can’t afford to put criminal records on-line, so you can’t go on-line and find information about the dirt-bag who just kicked in your back door. 

Just remember that when you’re standing in the hallway of the courthouse with a paper in your hand on which Judge Cynthia Becker prattles on about Shamal Thompson’s design skills: it wasn’t the clerk behind the counter who let Thompson walk out the door you’re about to walk out through.  The clerk behind the counter probably would have thrown him in prison, where he belonged.      

Who is Shamal Thompson?

I know nothing of Thompson’s life story.  For that type of “color coverage,” you’ll have to wait for the AJC to run long, plaintive stories about his difficult youth.  Meanwhile, here is what I was able to find out about Shamal Thompson’s crimes and history, so far:

Thompson was born either on 3/11/86 or 11/3/86, and he may well have used different birthdates, as well as different names, to avoid detection of his other crimes.  Of course, with technology like the In-ter-net, and fingerprint databases, such simple ploys should not have worked at all.  Did they?  Interesting question.

On May 18, 2005, a warrant was issued for Thompson in Gwinnett County on the charge of theft by receiving stolen property (#05W-17152).  It would be two years before the courts addressed these charges.  He also apparently committed an act of theft on December 9, 2005 (#06CR314782).  The information I received was confusing, but the State Court of Fulton County wouldn’t address those charges, either, until 2007. 

Meanwhile, on September 28, 2005, Thompson was arrested in DeKalb County.  He was released on October 5.  Charges included felony aggravated assault, fleeing/attempt to elude, and reckless driving.   Eight months later, on July 25, 2006, an Assistant District Attorney declined to present the case to a Grand Jury in DeKalb, and Thompson walked (#D0170113, or use the name Shamal Thompson, and be sure to hit the “all” button on the “case status” prompt). 

Why did the ADA decline to go forward with the case?  Why didn’t the jurisdictions of Gwinnett and DeKalb communicate with each other and deliver Thompson to Gwinnett to face his outstanding warrant there? 

In any case, on August 26, 2006 (note, we’re up to 2006 now – the dates get confusing: there’s so many of them), Thompson committed a felony burglary in DeKalb County.  He was arrested and spent five days in jail – from September 30 to October 4, 2006.  This case wouldn’t reappear until 2008, in Judge Becker’s court.  

About ten weeks later, December 5, 2006, Thompson was in trouble again, this time in the State Court of Fulton County.  I have little information on this case, and the on-line database from the State Court of Fulton County is ridiculously unusable.  The charge was forgery-in-the-first-degree; Thompson was the second defendant in the case, and it is “still open,” according to a helpful clerk on the phone.  The case number is #06CP5770.     

Next, on or around December 18, 2006, Thompson was either charged with theft-of-services and identity fraud or appeared in court on those charges.  Again, the information I have is confusing, but the clerk told me that the case is still open; the “last court date scheduled for it was January 2, 2007; and that the Fulton DA “hasn’t scheduled another court date.”  The case number is #06CP60870.  

All of this could be made clear to us on-line, of course, if there were any functioning leadership at the Clerk of Court during the expensive and ruinous years of Juanita Hicks and Cathelene Robinson.  

The next day, December 19, 2006, Thompson had 11 counts of identity fraud “dismissed at jail.”  Whatever that means.  It could be that some overworked cop didn’t show up, or didn’t show up the sixth time, after Thompson’s defense attorney managed to spin the date a half-dozen times before.  It could mean some paperwork disappeared.  Or was disappeared.  It could be that the overworked DA’s office couldn’t cope, that the case seemed insignificant compared to the thousands of others they were investigating and preparing.  In any case, in case #06CP60926, Thompson walked out the door.  Free again.

For forty days, at least.  On January 30, 2007, the State Court of Fulton County got around to addressing Thompson’s 12/9/2005 theft charge.  Judge John Mather accepted a plea, and Thompson walked.  The case number is #06CR314782.  

It would be great if somebody in Atlanta would go to the State Court of Fulton County and take a look at Judge Mather’s sentence and any other materials related to the case.  For if Thompson accepted a plea, why is it that Judge Becker gave him a first-time offender’s break, and Judge Michael Clark (we’ll get to him next) simply dropped charges against him and let him walk?  

Onward and upward.  On April 23, 2007, Judge Michael Clark of the Gwinnett Superior Court cut Thompson a deal: in exchange for Thompson pleading guilty to theft by receiving, Clark dropped another charge of theft by taking and gave him five years probation — as a first offender.  Case #06-B-02474-4, Gwinnett Courts.  

Questions arise.  If Thompson pleaded guilty on January 30, 2007, why did he get to plead guilty, again, as a first offender, some seven weeks later?  For that matter, had Judge Mather give him a first-offender deal, too, those seven weeks prior to his second first-offender plea, despite his juvenile record, if it exists, and all the other confirmed charges floating around?  The head swims.  But, then again, I’m sitting here in Florida, getting paid nothing to watch the dolphins cavort, dreaming of crime victims.  

I’m not some judge in her chambers in DeKalb County getting paid to enforce the law.  Dreaming of wedding gowns.

Some time around February 11, 2008, Shamal Thompson was back in jail again in DeKalb County, where he stayed until April 3, when he convinced Judge Cynthia J. Becker that his bridal gown web design skills entitled him to a third first-offender sentence, a further reduction in that sentence, and immediate release with time served, justice be damned.  

And 319 days later it was, wasn’t it?  

What Will Happen Now?

What will happen now is that Shamal Thompson has just bought himself (on our tab) a very expensive and high-profile defense team who will use our money to accuse us as a society of failing this talented /troubled/ mentally unstable/ promising/ neglected/ sensitive/ misunderstood young man while using every trick they’ve embedded in the criminal justice system to try to get him off again as they grandstand to enhance their public personas while lining their pockets and wailing that they do all this in order to defend justice from its enemies.

Lapdogs in the daily press will breathlessly report this.

Eugenia Calle’s family and loved ones will bury her body and remember all the good she did while she was alive.

Her colleagues will go back to trying to cure cancer. 

Who Was That Who Saw it Coming? 

In 2005, a writer named Coley Ward published a startling article in Atlanta’s Creative Loafing.  Called “Case Dismissed: Accused Felons Often Are Released When Officers Fail to Testify,” Ward interviewed Fulton County Magistrate Judge Richard Hicks, who complained that more than half of the felony cases scheduled in his courtroom had to be dismissed, usually when police officers didn’t show up to testify.  The police argued back that they didn’t always receive subpoenas in time, or that they were on duty elsewhere or off the clock – working for free.  DA Paul Howard (whose own staff is stretched beyond human means) argued that most of those felons eventually got re-arrested for something else and thus indicted, an argument Judge Hicks called statistically untrue.  Even if it were true, Coley Ward points out, what type of system lets out half its felons, or more, on the grounds that they’ll be back again soon?  

Everybody agreed on one thing, though: the justice system is so broken that the chance of a felon even getting indicted once he has been caught, if he is caught, is so small in Fulton County that it hardly seems worth worrying about.

Now picture Shamal Thompson boldly strolling through Dr. Eugenia Calle’s condominium lobby, trying to get back into her apartment, where he knew her body lay, after killing her and going on a cold-blooded shopping spree with her credit card.  No consequences.  No fear.  

We should have all seen it coming.  Thompson appears before Judge Richard Hicks on March 3, four years after Hicks pulled the fire alarm on his own courthouse.  

And the Mayor and the Chief of Police continue to say that there’s no problem, that it’s all in people’s heads, that crime is down. 

I once had a defense attorney say: “Geez, you take this stuff so personally.”  Well, I’m a victim of violent crime, and so is my husband and many, many of my friends in Atlanta.  I matriculated from Emory University’s Graduate School, and as a public health worker and lobbyist, I occasionally worked with the epidemiologists, including those involved in seeking the links between hormones and cancer that defined Eugenie Calle’s research (I never met her).  My dear friend, Toni, lost her life to cancer two years ago.  Another dear friend and mentor, Vicki, has been fighting breast cancer for years.  I lost a beloved male friend suddenly to cancer last year. And since Christmas, my mother has been waging a valiant fight against late-stage lung and brain cancer.  

So, yeah.  As someone who prays daily for those gone to cancer and those fighting it now, I take the loss of a brilliant and dedicated cancer researcher personally.  God rest.  

As a crime victim, I take crime personally.     

As an Emory alum, I take their community’s safety personally, and I would expect all members of the campus, even those faculty of the offender-besotted-ilk, to take the murder of a member of their community seriously.  

As a woman, I take the vulnerability of women personally.  As a former Atlantan who worked hard to make the city a safer place for women and children, I take crime in Atlanta seriously.  

It’s up to us – black and white, neighbor by neighbor by neighbor, to come together to demand that criminals be removed from the streets.  Permanently.  The only way to break the cycle of violence — to save the younger brothers and sisters of all the Shamal Thompsons out there, is to change what the courts have been doing for the last thirty years.  

Stop letting the predators out.  All of them.  

Start prosecuting crimes.  All of them.        

Start telling us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what is happening in our courts.  They are the problem.  And that is what this blog will be about.  

I am so, so sorry for Eugenia Calle and for the people who loved her.  

Tomorrow: What citizens in Atlanta are doing to fight crime and monitor the courts.

*Of course, Thompson has not yet been convicted of the crime.