They headed north? David Sweat and Richard Matt. Those two cons who broke out of Dannemora at the beginning of The month and managed to elude capture for three weeks until first Matt, on Friday, then Sweat on Sunday, stumbled into the gun sites of surprised lawmen. Matt met better marksmen. He's dead. Sweat's in the hospital. They headed north?
The media and the authorities seem convinced they were headed for the Canadian border.
Up there, the Canadian border is in the middle of the St Lawrence River. They couldn't have been thinking they were going to just stroll across the bridge. So what were they planning to do? Swim?
Steal a boat?
These guys couldn't even steal a car, they were going to steal a boat?
My guess is they didn't know the river was in their way. My guess is they didn't even know they were heading north. They were just lost and wandering aimlessly. If they looked at a map before they made their escape, it was probably to see how far a drive it was south to Albany or New York City where they could get lost in the crowds or find a way to get even further south or go west. The border they wanted to cross was probably Mexico's.
If they looked at a map.
My other guess is that all their planning and forethought went into getting them to the end of the tunnel and into their waiting getaway car. When their ride didn't show, their escape was over.
Odds are everything they needed to get far away---money, a change of clothes, weapons, bus tickets if she wasn't dumb enough to have agreed to drive them herself all the way to wherever they planned to go---was in the car with her. When she chickened out, they were done for.
That's why I didn't follow the story with much attention or interest. I figured either they'd made it to Albany or New York before anyone at the prison noticed they were gone and the next we'd ever hear of them is when they got picked up for another crime or were turned in by someone who recognized them from TV---is America's Most Wanted on anymore?---and that could take months, even years, or a couple of days, depending on their luck and self-control, neither of which these two seem to have had much of before they landed in Dannemora. Or, what seemed more likely, they were lost in the woods and would wander in circles until the authorities tracked them down or, hungry, worn out, cold, and out of ideas and hope, they gave themselves up.
Looks like the latter might have been what was happening, I'm just surprised it took as long as it did.
That it took as long as it did and that they weren't so much captured as caught in a Bizzaro world version of an ambush, in which the pursued throw themselves into the arms of their surprised pursuers with the intention of getting caught or killed, doesn't reflect well on the cops, deputies, and State troopers chasing them.
I'm sure they tried their best. There's a lot of forest to get lost in up there, a lot of trees to hide behind.
But there doesn't seem to have been much drama or adventure in the chase. Nobody came out a hero. No brilliant detective work solved the case. Mostly it went the way most police investigations go, with a lot of time wasted chasing down false leads and following up on what turns out to be bad tips, while waiting for the criminals to make a mistake.
Didn't stop Governor Cuomo from grandstanding though. He was up there in a flash to put himself in front of the cameras and microphones, talking as if the state had survived a natural disaster---Actually, I think he was calmer dealing with Hurricane Sandy. "The nightmare is finally over!" he declared when Sweat was finally captured---rather than as if we'd spent three weeks vaguely anxious one or both of these guys might decide they needed a hostage or rob a bank or go out in a blaze of glory with innocent bystanders in range.
In other words, what we were worrying about is that real life might turn into a movie.
The way Cuomo went on, you'd think it had. The way he went on, you'd think he led the manhunt himself. A cynic might think he was taking the opportunity to deflect attention from his less than smooth handling of the renewal of New York City rent regulations or from his feud with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio going public. A more charitable view was that he got naturally carried away by the potential of the story.
From what I've seen, the media did. The little coverage I saw, mainly on TVs that happened to be on in stores and fast food restaurants I was on my way quickly in and out of, was urgent, breathless, full of agitation and exaggerated concern, with reporters and anchors exchanging the trivial and the matter of course as if laying out the as yet unexplained details of a complicated and baffling mystery.
Behind everything they said, of course, was the movie or ripped from today's headlines TV episode they expected---hoped---would be made based on the story.
In fact, that's really what they were reporting on. Which means they were reporting fiction.
It's only as fiction that the story is at all interesting.
Matt and Sweat aren't interesting as characters or personalities or even as possessors of interesting histories even as criminals and killers. They were interesting on the run only in their potential for violence. They were dangerous but not intelligently dangerous. If they'd hurt anyone, there'd have been no thought to it, no planning, no feeling in it except anger and fear. It would have been reflexive and reactive. There was no story to them. Only plot.
The woman who was supposed to be their getaway driver, their supervisor in the prison tailor shop, has more of a story, but it's a sad one. She'll be more interesting as a character if it turns out she was actually the mastermind behind the escape, if she planned it as part of a larger plan to murder her husband, which has been suggested. At the moment it's not certain her husband's murder was really her idea or if it was part of the scheme at all and not just a thought that crossed her mind or something she and Matt and Sweat idly speculated about. She may have been deluding herself in some way about Sweat and Matt---she may have been in love with Matt. That sounds like fiction but it could have happened. Matt may have been more interesting than I thought. I think it’s more likely she was a victim of her own imagination and, depending how vivid her imagination was and how completely it took her over, that could have made her an interesting as a character who was a character in her own fiction.
And as a matter of fact, that's pretty much what happens with the lead female character in T.C. Boyle's novel The Harder They Come. She falls in love with a paranoid schizophrenic whom she's convinced herself is a heroic Right Wing revolutionary and guerrilla.
More likely she's simply someone desperate to escape an unhappy marriage and the story there is in how unhappy the marriage was and what made it so, which means the story is either sad or really sad.
TV news and newspaper reporters don't like to tell truly sad stories unless they can tack on a happy ending. They prefer pathetic ones because it's less disturbing for viewers and readers to feel sorry than to experience real sorrow on a stranger's behalf.
What I'm getting at isn't that it's wrong for the media to treat the story as a movie. I don't think that can be helped. We think in stories and we communicate with each other by telling stories. As Joan Didion said, We tell ourselves stories in order to live. Naturally we try to tell ourselves and each other good stories and we reflexively edit the stories we tell to make them good stories. And most people's ideas for what makes a good story come from movies and television. The trouble isn't that the reporters are making a movie in their heads. It's that they're making a bad one.
Or, at any rate, a clichéd one.
But I also think they're making the wrong one or, rather, the wrong sort of one.
This isn't an adventure tale. It's not a thriller. It's a caper movie. But a comic caper. A caper gone awry in dark ways but still a comedy. It's a comedy about incompetence, official, criminal, and personal. It's a comedy about the various ways vanity warps personality---the cast of characters includes several vain politicians, including, of course, a vain, puffed up, and easily ruffled control-freak of governor.
Now, even though it's a comedy, it can still contain thrills, danger, intrigue, and suspense. It can include violence and death. There's even room for a sad marriage. Great comedy includes tragedy. So if this story gets turned into a movie I'd want it directed by either one of the McDonagh Brothers and be along the lines of In Bruges or The Guard. And of course it's right up the Coen Brothers' alley.
But here's another thing, and this is just me.
I don't really see it as a movie or a TV show.
I see it as a novel.
But since neither of them is around anymore to write it, I volunteer...no, not T.C Boyle. He'd be a good choice, but he's busy, and like I said above, he's just done something similar.
No, I'm volunteering me.
Are you paying attention, editors and agents?
Because here's another thing.
What the story needs that's missing is sex.
Between truly sexy and romantic characters.
And, as luck would have it, I can provide those from personal experience.
First of all, I'm familiar with the area from many family vacations in the Adirondacks and from having gone to college for two years way up thataway.
And while I was there friends of mine who were theater majors were part of a program at Dannemora that taught acting to prisoners. They used to go over to the prison once a month and lead workshops. And they developed rapport even something like friendships with a few of the prisoners. I'm thinking that there can be a third con in on the escape. A character who is smarter, cagier, and more sympathetic than the characters based on Matt and Sweat, although at least as mean and dangerous. He'd also have wit and charm and some physical attractiveness. And he would get farther away. All the way to the college town where he'd look up the students he'd befriended---or more accurately seduced---and convince them he was out on parole. They'd then help hide him without knowing that's what they were doing. The kicker is that he would get into the college life and become a big man on campus.
So, what do you say, editors and agents? Worth an advance? I don't need a big one. Just enough to get by on for the next six months or so and to cover my expenses while I go up north to re-explore the terrain and visit the friends I'm still in contact with who took part in the program and get their stories.
And there’s a bonus: late 70s nostalgia!
Think of the great soundtrack the movie will have when we sell the rights!
Because of course it’s a movie.
This is Part Two. Part One is here.
I am descended from a hero cop. My great-grandfather, Mom Mannion’s grandfather, took on violent and armed criminals by himself with his bare hands and hauled them off to jail. He jumped into the icy river to save a man from drowning. He was tough, brave, and smart. He was a detective although that was a job description not an actual job title: at least for the first part of his career his department didn’t have a detective division. A detective was just whichever officer on duty the chief thought could handle an investigation and solve the case, and that was usually my great-grandfather.
We Mannions are lucky to count as a good friend the regular visitor to Mannionville known as Chris the Cop. He was a on the job for well over twenty years. For a good chunk of his early career he worked undercover and helped put away many stupid, violent, and desperate people. Criminals at heart and in deed. Dangerous people who wouldn’t have needed to figure out he was a cop to turn on him and do him serious harm. There was a reason he made sergeant and finished his career out on patrol watching out for and watching over other cops. He was a very good cop, as in way more than competent and as in honest, decent, and brave. He was (and is) very smart and level-headed but he also had an ironic sense of humor and a sense of detachment that let him think outside of the typical cop box and see situations from a non-cop point of view. “We’re cops,” he once said, calming down a young officer who was losing his temper at a drunk yelling insults from his own front porch, “People don’t like us.” He was the kind of cop I like to imagine my great-grandfather was. He never had to jump into a river to rescue someone from drowning but he would have if he’d had to. The only thing he was afraid of was having to deliver a baby. He claims to have been terrified of ever having to answer that call.
And, sure, I’ve had my share of run-ins with bullies with badges. The most recent was ten years ago, when I was long past being a longhair and was in fact a graybeard, and I wasn’t in a car, I was on my bike. I took a wrong turn and wound up on a private road I shouldn’t have been on and this guy took it personally. He took it even more personally that I didn’t move fast enough and in what he thought was the right direction to get out of there. But that was the only time I ever felt in actual danger of being arrested, as opposed to just hassled, and of getting hurt in the process. And excluding those times when I was hassled, almost all my dealings with the police have been positive. The officers involved were polite, professional, respectful, competent, helpful, and, most of them, good-natured and friendly.
What I’m getting at is that if I judged only by my personal experience, I would be one of the police officers’ biggest fans.
Then there’s this:
And, of recent examples, most notoriously, this:
These all happened within the last six months. The Leon County deputy was killed only two weeks ago. And those are only four of the forty-three cops shot dead so far this year. Two more were killed in assaults. One hundred and seven have died one way or another while on the job.
It’s a hard, nerve-wracking, soul-trying, mentally and emotionally exhausting, psychologically wearing, dangerous job. Statistically, it’s not the most dangerous job but outside of the military, there’s no other line of work that routinely brings you into contact with people who want to hurt you. You’re a cop, you’re going to hear a story just about every week about a fellow officer somewhere in the country who was killed by someone who saw a badge as a target. They’re are too many idiots with guns out there and you never know when a call’s going to come in that will require you to deal with one of these idiots.
But just because you do a job doesn’t mean you’re good at it. It doesn’t mean you deserve it. And it doesn’t mean you should keep it no matter what.
Like all cops, Chris the Cop has stories to tell and he tells them well. And many of his stories about his fellow cops have as their moral, “And they let people like that carry guns!”
And while I’ve never been arrested and at mercy of angry and violent people officially sanctioned to take out their anger and use violence on whoever pisses them off, Mrs M has. She was arrested and assaulted by a cop.
I should say assaulted and arrested.
It happened back in college. She was at a block party and either the neighbors complained about the noise or the campus cops just decided things were getting out of hand, whichever, the cops pulled the plug on the band and set out to break up the party. But students didn’t leave fast enough. Many stuck around to complain. Somebody threw a bottle and one of the campus cops called for back up from the Boston City Police. He called it in as an “officer in trouble”. The Boston cops arrived in a hurry and started arresting kids right and left. Mrs M, who was an editor at the student newspaper and her reporter’s instincts had kicked in. She was hanging back, taking notes. One of the cops saw a young woman standing by herself, doing nothing but watching, and identified her as a target. He grabbed her by the hair from behind, pulled her to the ground, dragged her across the pavement, and threw her into the back of a patrol car. She spent the night in jail.
Later, when she tried to file a complaint against the cop, his precinct covered up for him.
I’ll tell the whole story another time, but for now: the reason I wasn’t with her when it happened was I had gone home for the funeral of my grandfather, my hero cop great-grandfather’s son. How’s that for an irony?
Neither of us has ever heard a story since about a cop beating somebody up and thought, “Bet the perp deserved it.”
Then there’s history, and the history of law enforcement in America is a history of brutality.
For a long time, a very long time, brutality was thought necessary to policing. Call the cops and they arrived on the scene swinging their nightsticks. Crimes were solved by beating confessions out of suspects. I don’t like to think about it but in my great-grandfather’s detective tool kit were likely a bright light and a rubber hose. Telephone books weren’t kept in interrogation rooms so suspects could look up the number for their lawyer. It was taken as a matter of course that what kept certain neighborhoods in order was the fear on the part of residents of what could happen to them down at the station or on the way to the station or right there on the street. Was taken as a matter of course? Is taken as a matter of course.
And the history of law enforcement is also a history of corruption.
I’m not talking about Chicago during Prohibition. I’m not talking about New York City when Theodore Roosevelt was a commissioner and failed to clean up the department or in the early 1970s and Frank Serpico stood up to the corruption and was nearly killed for it. And I’m not talking about the Los Angeles Police Department for just about the entire Twentieth Century.
I’m talking about every department, everywhere.
At one time or another, in one way or another, corruption has been the default condition of local and state law enforcement agencies.
Keep in mind there are many ways to be corrupted besides by money and vice.
Departments can be corrupted by politics, standard office politics or the politics played out in city halls and state houses.
They can be corrupted by institutional arrogance, bureaucratic inertia, laziness and incompetence at the top, indifference and demoralization in the ranks, by the encouragement and enforcement of excessive and misplaced loyalty, by a culture of swagger, machismo, and toughness, by a too easy acceptance of human folly.
They can be corrupted by power.
They can be corrupted by fear.
They can be corrupted by anger and resentment.
They can be corrupted by pride.
And, obviously, they can be corrupted by racism.
Finally, they can be corrupted by a lack of restraint and permission from public officials, civic leaders, and private citizens to do whatever they decide needs doing to get the job done.
This is the sort of corruption we’re seeing at work today.
And in a corrupt police force there can be no such thing as a good cop.
End of Part Two.
A couple of tales of institutionalized corruption and brutality at different times in the history of the NYPD:Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York by Richard Zacks and The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge by T.J. English._____________
If you enjoy what goes on around here and would like to help keep this blog going strong, please consider making a donation.
This is the first of what will be a three-part post.
If your first reflex in response to any story involving a confrontation between cops and citizens is to side with the cops you are either a cop, related to a cop, have watched too many episodes of Bluebloods, or you have never had any run-ins with cops yourself.
I guess there are people who haven’t. It’s not my experience. Every adult man I know and quite a few women have at least been pulled over at one time or another by a cop who was clearly looking for an opening to throw his weight around. Keep in mind that most people I know are white and middle class. Generally, police see it as their job to keep us safe not keep us in line. Few of us have been stopped and frisked while walking down the street, minding our own business. But all of us can tell at least one story of having had to sit there and bite our tongues while the cop writing us up for a minor traffic violation tried to provoke us or seemingly dared us to become provoked with his rudeness, presumption, arrogance, swagger, and smug sense of having the upper hand. This is more likely to have happened more than once when we were young to those of us who are men and old enough to have worn our hair long when we were young. But it’s happened no matter what age we are and at any point in our driving lives. Women I know have been pulled over just so the cop could flirt with them or hassle them in a creepily hostile way that very likely grew out of some sort of sexually-based resentment. And it’s been all makes and models of cops. State troopers. Sheriff’s deputies. City cops. Village constables. Anecdotally, the biggest jerks are college campus cops.
Which isn’t to say all cops are jerks. Few of us think that. Most of us think fairly highly of cops. But we know from experience that there are plenty of jerks and incompetents and incompetent jerks on every police force and these incompetent jerks carry guns and they have or think they have permission to push around the people they are sworn to protect and to serve.
So, like I said, I don’t understand how even middle class white people, hearing of an ambiguous confrontation between a cop and a citizen---that is one that isn’t a case of the cop facing off with someone who is not in the middle of committing a violent crime---that ended badly for either the civilian, or the cop can have as their primary and dominant thought that the cop must have been in the right without at least the concurrent thought that the cop could very likely have been a jerk or an incompetent or both.
I’m using jerk as the kindest of catchall words for what some bad cops are.
I’m sure the thought does cross many people’s minds, but, generally, even when it does, it gets quickly pushed aside. Most people, most white people, react to stories about run-ins between cops and civilians as if they’d never heard of there being such a thing as a bad cop. Moreover, they’ll react as if there aren’t any sorts of cops except good cops. Tell them a story in which the cops are clearly at fault and they’ll immediately rewrite it in their heads to turn it into a story in which good cops had had to deal with with a bad situation in the only way they could under the circumstances and if anyone was at fault it was the civilian who must have been doing something wrong or the cops wouldn’t have been there.
There’s a simple reason for this. People know what they “know”, and all most white people “know” about cops, whatever their own direct experience, is what they read in the newspapers and see on the TV news. And going by the news, the streets are full of stupid, crazy, desperate, and violent people doing stupid, crazy, desperate, and violent things and it’s the cops’ job to handle all that stupidity, craziness, desperation, and violence. Who would volunteer to do that, day in and day out, except for best and bravest people?
Oh sure, they’ll allow, there are a few bad cops, maybe more than a few. But when they say “bad cop” they mean corrupt cop, not a cop who one way or another isn’t up to doing the job competently. In their thinking, almost all cops are honest or reasonably honest and almost all of them are good, as in competent and as in decent, caring, and brave.
But say what you want about there being good cops and bad cops, most cops are neither. They’re in-between cops. They’re doing their best to get by cops. They’re they have their good days and their bad days cops. They’re counting the days until retirement or at least their next vacation cops. They’re they have too much else on their minds cops. They’re promoted one step beyond their level of competence cops. They’re how did I get myself into this and what’s the easiest and quickest way out of it cops. They’re like most people in most occupations, doing jobs they don’t particularly love anymore, if they ever did. They’re overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated. Some days they like what they do, they take pride in their work, in their position, in their achievements, but most days they just show up because, well, that’s what you do. They’re there because they have to be there, it’s their job, it’s their livelihood, it puts food on the table, pays the rent, pays the bills, gives them something better to do than nothing, and they’re just trying to get through the day without putting any of that in jeopardy. Without getting in trouble. Without causing trouble. Without screwing up and getting fired.
The difference is that when a cop screws up there’s a real chance someone might wind up dead.
The problem for all of us as a society is that the cops, individually and as a tribe, and the civic entities that employ them have decided that when a situation like that happens, when a cop’s screwing up is going to make someone dead, it’s better that that someone be a citizen, any citizen even an innocent one, and not the cop.
This is especially true when the cop is white and the dead citizen is any other color but particularly black. That makes the problem worse for African-Americans. Much worse. But it’s still a problem for all of us.
On a personal and on a societal scale.
End of Part One. Click on the link for Part Two.
If you enjoy what goes on around here and would like to help keep this blog going strong, please consider making a donation.
Good on those St Louis Rams players.
Good on those members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Joe Scarborough doesn’t agree.
Scarborough believes they’re perpetuating a proven falsehood and they know it.
Scarborough insists it’s a lie that Michael Brown was trying to surrender when Darren Wilson shot him dead in the street for the crime of scaring Darren Wilson out of his wits.
I’m not sure how he knows it’s a lie. Same way a lot of racists know it, maybe.
They know the black guy must have been dangerous and doing something wrong, something that warranted an on the spot death penalty, because that’s the way they are.
Maybe he’s making the mistake a lot of people, mostly white people, well, probably almost only white people, are making, that the grand jury decision proved something instead of being a collective shrug of the shoulders, a group feeling that there wasn’t enough evidence that Darren Wilson had done something that warranted a trial by his peers, regardless of what Michael Brown was doing with his hands.
I’m putting the best face on the decision for the sake of argument. That’s not all that went into the decision, of course. But whether or not it was, it’s not a grand jury’s job to prove anything or declare that anything has been proven. A decision not to indict is no more a declaration of someone’s innocence than a decision to indict is a declaration of his guilt.
Maybe it’s just that Scarborough believes that in any encounter between a cop and a citizen it is the citizen’s responsibility to make sure the cop doesn’t kill him and that any cop, including an incompetent non-entity like Darren Wilson, will respond reasonably to reasonable behavior even if that cop’s frightened, angry, racist, incompetent, insecure of his own authority, in a panic, and too stupid to get in his car and call for backup when he’s lost control of a situation.
It was Brown’s own fault, then. If he’d had his hands up, if he’d really been surrendering, Mike Brown would still be alive.
The way Tamir Rice is alive. The way Eric Garner is alive.
“It’s a lie,” Scarborough said Tuesday on “Morning Joe,” in reference to witness statements that Michael Brown didn’t have his hands up in the air when he was shot dead.
“What is wrong with this country? What is wrong with these people? What’s wrong with these elected officials, they know it’s a lie. They know the cops didn’t shoot him with his hands in the air. They know it’s a lie and they’re doing this on that Capitol floor?”
“Unbelievable ... boy that would really be moving if that were the truth,” he added.
Apparently, whatever else is going on in his head, Scarborough is a literal-minded ass who doesn’t understand symbolism.
Clearly he doesn’t understand what’s happening or doesn’t want to understand or is pretending not to understand just to rile up his viewers for the sake of ratings.
If you don’t understand that it doesn’t matter what Mike Brown was doing or what he might have done before, it matters what Darren Wilson did, which was to decide while he was in the middle of losing his temper, losing his head, and losing his nerve because he’d lost control of a confrontation he’d started that another human being needed to die…
If you don’t understand that this is no longer just about Darren Wilson or Mike Brown…
If you don’t understand that it’s not just about Ferguson, Missouri and never was…
If you don’t understand that African American men and boys are on the front lines and targeted and victimized far out of proportion to their numbers because of systemic racism in our police departments and in the communities that employ them and in the country at large but that this is not only about race…
If you don’t understand that this is about out of control law enforcement agencies…
If you don’t understand that it’s about power, the power we give to those agencies and the power then delegated to individual officers, undertrained, unsupervised, unsuited to the job, and unaccountable…
If you don’t understand that it’s about the use, misuse, and abuse of that power…
If you don’t understand that one of those powers is the power to decide in an instant who lives and who dies and that very few people, even the smartest, bravest, most level-headed, best trained, and most responsible cops aren’t always up to making that decision and that most cops aren’t among that elite group, that most are like most everybody else, just average human beings doing their best to get through their workdays without screwing up, and that many, too many aren’t even in that group…
If you don’t understand that it’s about our as a society giving the power of life and death to incompetent non-entities and then excusing them and protecting them and even making heroes out of them when they abuse that power and demonstrate their incompetence because we, again as a society, are scared of our fellow Americans, which is a way of saying we’re scared of ourselves…
If you don’t understand that this gives police something no other Americans have, permission to be a law unto themselves.
If you don’t understand that Hands up, Don’t Shoot is symbolic of all that, then you are A. White and B. an idiot.
Like Joe Scarborough.
Be sure to read Leslie Larson’s story, Four Members of Congress do 'Hands Up' gesture on House floor, at the New York Daily News.
Then, if you haven’t already, read Vox’s Ezra Klein’s take on Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony. Ezra is careful not to call Wilson a liar but he isn’t shy about calling Wilson’s story unbelievable, in part and in total: At every single point in his telling, Wilson says something that just doesn’t seem likely to have happened in the real world.
But whether Wilson is lying or not, there’s no mistaking that in his version of how he wound up shooting Michael Brown dead in the street, Wilson describes himself as a man in a complete panic and too scared for his own life to think straight and act professionally or care about the life of Michael Brown.
And, finally, about it being a lie that Brown had his hands up? See this chart.
Updated Monday morning, May 26, 2014.
So much still needs sorting out and naturally, here on the web, many people are trying to sort it out without waiting for all the facts to come in and this is leading to opinionizing and guesswork and hobby-horse riding getting tweeted and Facebooked and blogged about as if it’s fact and getting in the way of the sorting out. And probably, and sadly, the usual will result. By the time the facts are known, we’ll have all moved on to other things.
In the meantime this is what we do, talk about something awful and confounding as if talking is the same as knowing, because we’re human and we want to know. We need to know. And there are things we can know already.
This post by Anne Theriault at her blog the Belle Jar, Elliot Rodger and Men Who Hate Women, is one of the best things I’ve read so far on the killer. Without forcing her conclusions on anyone else, Theriault does a very good job of introducing readers to the hate for women Rodger was filling his head with. But as you’ll figure out when you get to the end of the post, there’s a reason I’m grateful to Theriault for what she’s written besides what I’ve learned about the Men’s Rights community online---if you can call an aggregation of disaffected, anti-social, emotionally stunted narcissists a community.
ETA: A few people have been commenting to tell me that I’m wrong about Elliot not having a mental illness, as his family members have reported to the media that he had Asperger syndrome. Asperger syndrome is not a mental illness – it is a neurological condition, and it does not predispose people to violence. Correlating Asperger’s with violence is wrong and uninformed and you are doing more harm than good by saying that.
Read the whole post, which among its other virtues, shows why blogging is still more useful than Twittering but also, because I came across it by following someone's RT, one of the ways Twitter is useful.
Echidne has taken the time to do some of the sorting out: The Day Of Retribution. On Elliot Rodger, the Butcher of Santa Barbara.
And there's this very sad sidebar at Baxblog: The UCSB shooter killed one of our regulars.
Hat tip to Peter Daou.
From today’s Morning Edition:
Less well-known, though, is the case of John Willis, a white man from Dorchester, Mass., who was on Thursday to 20 years in prison for drug trafficking and money laundering.
Willis masterminded an organized crime group that distributed and sold hundreds of thousands of oxycodone pills, according to prosecutors.
What made Willis such an unusual criminal, however, was his unlikely rise as a white man through the criminal underworld of Boston's Chinatown.
Doors Opened For The 'White Devil'
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Moran has a binder of court documents with a label "White Devil," named after Willis' Cantonese nickname, "Bac Guai John" — "White Devil John." ("Bac guai" is often used as a pejorative term to describe white people in the Chinese dialect of Cantonese.)
The man known as White Devil John was born into a white family. Willis lost both his mother and older brother as a teenager, according to his defense attorney, Jeffrey Denner. He was homeless until a local Chinese family took him in as one of their own. They taught him to speak both Cantonese and Toisanese dialects of Chinese and Vietnamese — language skills that helped a white man navigate Chinatown's immigrant enclave and gain access to its organized gangs.
If you’re wondering, a movie is already in the works.
Read and listen to Hansi Lo Wang’s story, Chinatown’s ‘White Devil John’ Sentenced to 20 Years, at NPR.org.
Drawing by Jane Collins, courtesy of NPR.
You’ve got to read all of this one:
The chase ended abruptly when the car hit the back of a tractor-trailer on Route 17 near the Monroe state police barracks. Three people in the car were trapped by smashed air conditioners and were arrested on the spot.
The driver got out of the car and started throwing punches at a trooper…
Police: 5 suspects, 7 stolen air conditioners, and 1 car chase, by James Nani, at the Times Herald-Record.
Your dad’s away.
You want to do him a favor, take advantage of his absence to clean his apartment. Which it needs. Things have been piling up in there.
But you get this idea.
Instead of doing the work yourself, you figure a way to get someone else to do it and make a little money for yourself while you’re at it.
By clean his apartment, you mean clean out.
You go to a local thrift shop, tell the owner your dad isn’t away. He’s dead. Invite the thrift shop owner to come in, take whatever she thinks she can sell, work out a price.
What’s there a problem?
Dad’s going to be surprised when he gets home, sure, assuming he can come home, assuming he has a home to come home to, assuming his landlord hasn’t evicted him, thrown out all his stuff or sold it himself. See, dad’s not likely going to be sending the rent check while he's away.
Away here means he’s in jail.
So if it’s all just going in the dumpster with whatever’s to be made off whatever can be sold going into somebody else’s pocket, that somebody might as well be you, right? His loving daughter?
But you do this? Make sure you get all the money up front. Don’t agree to half now, half later. Because if the thrift shop owner starts to have some doubts, say someone tips her off your dad’s not dead, the stuff isn’t yours to sell? Then when you and your “companion” show up at the McDonald’s where you agreed to meet with the thrift shop owner to settle the balance, you might find there are other people there with her to greet you.
People in uniforms.
And cars with lights on the roof waiting to take you and your companion on a ride to where you can say hi to dad and explain to him how you just wanted to do him that favor.
This is based on a true story reported by Pauline Liu in the Times Herald-Record, Middletown woman and her companion charged with fencing her dad’s possessions. I just wish the paper said what the father was in jail for.
George Zimmerman is a racist raised in a crazy racist family. He had a long history of calling the police to report “suspicious persons” that showed he saw all black males as suspicious persons. It could have been Sunday morning instead of Sunday night and Trayvon could have been on his way home from church, wearing a suit and tie and carrying a bible, and Zimmerman still would have seen him as a threat.
I don’t know if Trayvon would be alive if he was white. Probably but maybe not. Besides being a racist, Zimmerman was a coward who compensated for his fears and insecurities by playing cop. A tall, well-built white kid in a hoodie walking alone in the dark could have frightened a coward like Zimmerman maybe not just as much but just enough. His cop wannabe-ness could have kicked in just as foolishly. He could have been just as determined to play hero to prove he wasn’t the coward he knew himself to be. He could have chased after the white kid, even after the 911 dispatcher told him to say put, and been just as surprised when his “perp” turned out not to be as scared of him as he was of the kid. Things could have turned out as they did, with the panic-stricken “hero” pulling his gun to “defend” himself while losing a fight he started.
I say “could have.” Given what we know, it’s not as likely as what did happen. Zimmerman was out hunting bad guys but in his mind all the bad guys are black.
He probably would have seen a white kid in a hoodie in a very different way than he saw Trayvon.
But say he had killed a white kid. There are other things that almost certainly would have happened differently.
Zimmerman would have been arrested on the spot.
The Sanford cops would have actually investigated instead of just taking Zimmerman’s word for what happened.
They wouldn’t have left the body unattended in the morgue for almost a day with nobody bothering to try to identify him and find his family.
It wouldn’t have taken an intense campaign by relatives and friends of the dead kid and pressure from Washington to get Zimmerman charged with a homicide.
Nobody would have shown photographs of the victim acting like a normal seventeen year old boy or used his short record of getting into minor bits of trouble by acting like a normal seventeen year old boy to “prove” that the kid was a thug and had it coming.
Nobody would have been arguing that wearing a hoodie made the kid look like a gangsta.
Nobody would have been implying that wearing a hoodie meant the kid was a gangsta and had it coming.
Nobody would be talking about this now because George Zimmerman would be in jail serving whatever time for manslaughter his public defenders office lawyers agreed to in their deal with the prosecution.
Everybody would be in agreement that what happened was what did in fact happen. An idiot and coward who wanted to play hero went out with a gun looking for trouble, found it, found he couldn’t handle it, panicked because he was losing a fight he started, and shot an unarmed seventeen year old boy who had the bad judgment to be stronger and braver than the idiot with a gun.
If you’re going to finish your long life of crime and drug abuse at the age of fifty-one shot dead in the street during a fight with a state trooper, you at least want the police to say nice things about you when you’re gone:
Police knew [“Curley” Baynes] as an old-school fighter. One officer complained Baynes cracked his vertebrae in 1991 during a fight. Officers had responded to a harassment complaint and ended up in a brawl. They pressed assault charges, and Baynes countered with claims officers smashed his face into a brick wall and clubbed him. A jury dismissed the assault charges at trial.
Paul Weber remembers the day he saw Baynes leaving a neighbor's house with sacks-full of jewelry. Weber, a former college wrestler, was starting his career with Newburgh police at the time. Weber was off-duty, but he chased the bigger man for blocks on South Street before Baynes got tired of running.
"He just turns and squares off in the middle of the street," Weber said. "He fought like a champ, and I was right there with him."
Curley’s friends remember him as “good at heart,” the kind of guy who “baked cookies for friends.”
Read all of Doyle Murphy’s story at the Times Herald-Record. Photo by Jeff Goulding/THR.
Registration not required but suggested for regular readers of this blog.
Here are a few notes I made to myself about how not to write a thriller while reading Lou Berney’s new thriller, Whiplash River.
Not that I’m planning to write a thriller. And not that if I wrote one it would as entertaining as Berney’s a bit overstuffed but generally fun, cheerfully and unabashedly Elmore Leonard-influenced story of a former car thief and wheelman turned restauranteur dragged into a long con by a dapper old man of mystery while on the run from three separate sets of killers intent on making him dead in the most unpleasant ways possible.
It’s just that I couldn’t help reading Whiplash River with a divided mind.Seemed like every time Berney was just getting a scene up to speed, he slammed on the brakes and brought things to a screeching halt for some unnecessary exposition and then, without warning, he’d punch the accelerator and off we’d go again, nose practically in the air, only to skid to another stop a page later for another expository pit stop. It gave me a case of critical whiplash, particularly in the early going. Being jarred in and out of the story like that caused me to keep taking my eyes off the road and all that time at the pumps for plot fill-ups gave me too much time to think about the driving instead of looking forward to the trip ahead.
And then, halfway through, the story breaks itself rather neatly in two and Berney effectively starts over with a new novel with some of the same characters, the first part of the book reduced to a very long prologue.
At any rate, here are my notes:
If your first scene is several pages of exposition mainly explaining how your hero got his nickname and your second scene is your hero breaking up a knife fight in a restaurant kitchen between the prep chef and a waiter while putting out a grease fire at the same time, then your second scene is your first scene and your first scene is a few lines of dialog in your fifth or sixth scene.
If your hero is spending his time after something violent or threatening or comic or baffling that just happened to him thinking about what just happened to him in a way that pretty much just recaps what just happened, hit the backspace key and hold it down until you’ve deleted at least three sentences and then start in on making the next violent, threatening, comic, or baffling thing happen.
If you’re not planning to introduce your love interest until halfway through the novel, work her backstory in as you write your way towards her entrance or else you’re going to have to interrupt yourself in the middle of the chase to spend several pages telling us what is most likely an old, old story: They met, they were in love, it ended badly, they both still carry a torch.
While you’re at it, don’t fall in love with your leading female character.
Don’t introduce a second female character and fall in love with her too.
Don’t let on you’re having fun picturing which actresses you’d like to play your female leads and imagining them speaking your dialog. It’s distracting not least because it will cause your readers to start playing the casting game along with you, and, by the way, Emma Stone and Angelina Jolie.
Also, if you’re holding off on revealing the MacGuffin that’s driving your plot, make sure it’s a truly weird and unique item or a completely understandable one, like a painting, a diamond, a top secret soft drink recipe, either way, something your readers might be tempted to steal as opposed to something you have to keep reminding them is worth a lot of money to the right sort of buyer. Don’t make it a banal piece of historical trivia that happens to be A.) real and easily Googled and B.) currently on display in a museum in New York City and not in the condition it’s going to be when you’re through with it. If you insist on using that particular artifact, think about what the National Treasure movies did with similar artifacts, which was not make them ends in themselves.
Now, obviously, it sounds like I only learned negative lessons from Whiplash River. Even if that was the case, though, please don’t get the idea I only have negative things to say. The Elmore Leonard influence is a very good thing, as are the comparisons coming up to Carl Hiaasen and Donald Westlake. But, as it happens, I drew one very important positive lesson from the book. It’s actually not something new. It’s just something I like being reminded of.
There are three ways to go with a thriller. You can write what’s essentially a horror story. You can tell a morality tale. You can make it a comedy. It seems like most contemporary thrillers---books and movies---are horror stories. The bad guys are monsters, inhumanly evil, irresistible, relentless, and possessed of an almost supernatural ability to cause harm and get away with it. John D. McDonald, Raymond Chandler, and Robert B. Parker told morality tales. Most of the crimes in their novels arise from decent people’s moral failings rather than from the intrusion of an outside evil. Whiplash River is a comedy, cheerfully amoral and with a cast of lunatics, not sinners or monsters. Issues of right and wrong, good and evil are left out of the mix or pushed into the background by characters’ more immediate concerns, like “How did I get myself into this mess and how am I going to get out of it.” Characters aren’t motivated by their vices so much as by their obsessions and manias. Troubles don’t come because of moral lapses but because human beings just have a natural tendency to goof up.
Elmore Leonard is Berney’s obvious influence, but there’s more than a nod towards Carl Hiaasen here too. Berney’s humor, though, isn’t as mordant or borderline sadistic as Leonard’s can be or as blackly farcical as Hiaasen’s. Actually, in its more screwball comedy, Whiplash River reminded me of Donald Westlake’s comic crime novels, particularly the Dortmunder series. Berney’s protagonist, Shake Bouchon, is not as smart as Dortmunder and he lacks Dortmunder’s instinct for self-preservation, but like Dortmunder he is, to paraphrase Westlake himself, a man upon whom the sun shines only when he needs complete darkness.
Shake---and as I hinted up top, Berney spends too much time in his first scene explaining how Shake came to be called Shake, and it turns out not to be an interesting or important story---is having a bad week.
His beachside restaurant in Belize isn’t doing a landmark business. The boss of the local drug cartel who loaned Shake the money to open the place is not happy that Shake has fallen behind in his payments. An FBI agent has flown down from the States intent on coercing Shake into testifying against some Armenian mobsters Shake did a few jobs for back in California. And to top off his troubles, a ski-masked thug shows up during what passes for the dinner rush and tries to kill one of Shake’s few customers, shooting up the dining room in the process.
Since dead customers tend to bring down the ratings in the online travel guides, Shake reflexively tackles the thug and after a less than heroic struggle chases him from the scene with a broken nose.
The thug turns out to be part of a team of rookie killers for hire on their first hit, and his partner is his ferocious, vindictive, psychopathic, and fiercely loyal freckle-faced girlfriend who immediately decides that Shake has to pay for breaking her beloved’s nose and, incidentally, getting in the way of their doing the job they were paid to do. For the sake of love and professional pride, Shake has to die, painfully.
It’s a question, though, who’s going to cause Shake the more trouble, the freckle-faced assassin or the customer whose life Shake has saved.
Harry Quinn is, he claims, a semi-retired CIA operative who, if he’s to be believed, had a hand in every important Agency mission from the Nixon Administration on up into George W. Bush’s first term and who, take his word for it, still gets called in from time to time to help out his old colleagues and even, and this Shake is willing to believe, old enemies. The grateful Quinn, feeling he owes Shake a life-debt, wants to repay him by bringing him in on a scheme Quinn promises will pay off in millions of dollars. Shake is inclined to say thanks, but no thanks, wisely figuring that Quinn is not someone to trust with his physical or financial well-being.
But then Shake’s restaurant blows up. The freckle-faced assassin tries to shoot him dead on the beach. The drug kingpin decides to write of his losses and Shake along with them. And the FBI agent gives Shake a choice: rat on the Armenians or…well, actually, there isn’t an or.
Shake needs to get out of Belize in a hurry. But his only ride is Quinn and Quinn demands Shake’s help with his scheme as the price of the ticket.
That’s a lot going on for one novel, and we’re still only halfway through.
Shake realizes he and Quinn are going to need some help. He doesn’t feel smart enough or ruthless enough himself and even if the money Quinn expects his scheme to net is real, Quinn himself doesn’t seem wholly grounded in reality. Shake decides to enlist an ex-girlfriend, a brilliant and ruthless grifter turned brilliant and ruthless hedge-fund manager.
Berney doesn’t get heavy handed with the irony. He leaves it up to us to decide if managing a hedge fund is a legalized con game. It’s simply the case that skills and talents are neutral attributes. Gina Clement has skills and talents that make her very good at manipulating people and playing the odds, and she’s decided to use her powers for (a relative and more lucrative) good and not for (life and limb-risking) evil anymore. But when Shake and Quinn show up at her office with their proposition, she isn’t in the mood to hear it. She’s mad at Shake. Their relationship ended badly. Gina had a longstanding rule regarding her love life. Men don’t dump Gina Clement. Gina Clement dumps them. Shake broke the rule.
Then it occurs to her that, besides offering her the chance to have more fun than she’s had in a long time, throwing in with Shake and Quinn will give her ample opportunities to punish Shake for his sins.
From here, the scene shifts to Cairo and Whiplash River II gets underway.
Berney’s dialog is sharp, clever, and idiolectic---everybody talks like themselves and not like extensions of the narrator, although I have one more note for myself here: Don’t have your characters think what they could and would just as likely have said out loud. The action scenes are clean, neat, coherent, exciting, and funny. Shake is a congenial and likeable protagonist. Gina is appealing in her criminal brilliance, romantic perversity, and, predictable, soft-heartedness. She and Shake make a sexy couple, a felonious Beatrice and Benedick expending as much mental effort on trying to con each other about their feelings as on conning their mark out of the MacGuffin. Quinn is a hoot and a half, and there are a number of standout supporting and minor characters, my favorite being Meg, the freckle-faced assassin, a little Tasmanian devil with a gun spinning in and out of scenes on the strength of pure, vengeful rage.
I said Whiplash River breaks in half, turning itself into its own prequel and sequel. But another way to look at it is it’s as if Berney has given us back to back episodes of a TV series with an ongoing story arc that carries through the stand-alone plots of individual episodes, like Justified, or Leverage, or Burn Notice. In fact, and I mean this as a major compliment, Whiplash River is a lot like Burn Notice, with Shake as Michael Westen’s less together, less driven, less dangerous but at heart just as romantic cousin and Gina as Fi’s more cerebral, cooler-headed, less pyromaniacal but just as emotionally and sexually manipulative little sister.
Sadly, there isn't a character comparable to Sam Axe.
Read an excerpt.
The difference here is that the suspect isn’t part of a gang of cool surfer dudes looking for cheap thrills.
He’s allegedly a jonesing investment banker addicted to prescription drugs.
So, a guy limps into a bank yesterday…
Witnesses told police a man passed a note to tellers at a Chase branch, demanding money. It was about 3:30 p.m., and the man wore a long-sleeve plaid shirt over a white shirt, dark pants, brown sneakers and a tan ball cap with a large "L" printed in script on it, Newburgh police Chief Michael Clancy said. The man was thin, dark-skinned with scruffy facial hair and stood between 5 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 10 inches tall. Clancy estimated his age at 20-30 years old.
I’m betting the limp was cured within blocks of the bank.
Probably the plaid shirt and the baseball cap disappeared shortly after that.
The scruffy beard too.
Also, his posture probably improved.
This guy watches the same TV shows I do.
Not that I rob banks.
Read Doyle Murphy’s whole story at the Times Herald-Record.
Registration suggested for regular visitors to Mannionville.
Photo by Jeff Goulding of the Times Herald-Record.
This is weird. It looks as though the Sanford Police Department did its job the night George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, taking Zimmerman in for questioning and applying to the Seminole County Prosecutor’s office for an arrest warrant charging Zimmerman for manslaughter or criminal negligence. The Prosecutor turned them, saying there was no probable cause. So it was the prosecutor’s office that goofed up and the police did better than I thought based on the news stories I read last week
But the reason they looked bad in those news stories is that their own Chief made them look bad with his cursory and dismissive descriptions of what happened and remarks implying Trayvon shared the blame for what happened to him. Basically, the chief made it sound as if his cops just took Zimmerman at his word and let him go and he thought it was too bad Trayvon was dead, but, well, you know, the kid should have known better than go to the store at night because he might scare white idiots with guns.
You should read the whole story at the Miami Herald.
None of this changes what happened to Trayvon. An idiot with a gun but with no badge, no uniform, and no authority, out playing at being a cop, thought Trayvon looked ‘suspicious,’ chased him even though he was told by the 911 dispatcher to stay out of it and let the real police handle it, caught up with Trayvon, and was surprised that the kid thought that the stranger with a gun coming at him out of the dark wanted to hurt him or rob him and decided to fight back.
Trayvon’s mistake was thinking courage and fists could defeat stupidity and cowardice and a gun.
And it doesn’t change the fact that Stand Your Ground laws privilege and protect idiots with guns.
Update: Melissa Harris-Parry identifies Trayvon’s “mistake” in the eyes of the Right Wingers attempting to smear his memory and let Zimmerman off the hook:
…the unarmed teenager was culpable in the encounter that led to his death, not because of any aggressive or illegal act but because he was not following the appropriate protocol for being black in public. A black body in public space must presume its own guilt and be prepared to present a rigidly controlled public performance of docility and respectability.
Read the rest of Harris-Perry’s column, What It’s Like to Be a Problem, at the Nation.
I know you all know the story by now, but I feel compelled repeat it. It’s a story that needs to be told and told and told again or it will disappear from the news, pushed aside by the GOP primaries and new incidents of celebrity misbehavior and March Madness and even some actual news.
Last month, in Sanford, Florida, a grown man chased and confronted a seventeen year old boy and shot the kid dead. The man was armed with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. The kid was armed with a box of candy. The man was playing at being a cop. The kid was on his way home from buying a snack at the store. The man thought the kid was “suspicious.” The kid thought….well, we don’t know what he thought because he’s not around to tell us, but the man wasn’t wearing a uniform, he didn’t carry a badge, the car he was driving had no markings---because he wasn’t a cop! He was an idiot pretending to himself he was a cop!---so what the kid probably thought was that some idiot who had no business chasing him was chasing him and he was under no obligation to listen to, let alone obey the idiot. The idiot was in fact an idiot and he had been told by the police, when he’d called 9-1-1 to report his suspicions, that he really didn’t have any business chasing the kid and he should leave him alone until the real police showed up. The idiot, being an idiot, didn’t listen.
It turns out that under Florida law, any frightened idiot with delusions of grandeur who thinks for whatever reason you might try to hurt him or rob him can shoot you dead as long as he can convince the cops---or a jury---he “reasonably” thought you were a threat to life, limb, or property.
When the real cops arrived, they decided on the spot that the idiot had “reasonably” felt threatened to the point where pointing his gun and pulling the trigger was the reasonable thing to do.
It seems incredible that police officers would have accepted an idiot pretend cop’s word that a man with a gun felt he was in danger from a kid with a box of Skittles. But they were likely helped along by the fact that when they arrived the idiot was bleeding and had apparently been on the ground, knocked down or pulled down in a scuffle with the kid.
Based upon the way their chief has talked about what happened since, though, it seems that what really convinced them was that the idiot was white and the kid was black.
Now, it’s “reasonable” to suppose that something like this happened, that the kid, thinking the idiot had no business chasing him and, I’m guessing but it’s a good bet, grabbing him to “detain” him, hauled off and clocked the idiot one good and proper. In addition to the candy, the kid was also armed with some iced tea. I don’t know if it was in a can or a bottle. Either one, you get hit in the face with it, it’s going to hurt. The idiot, going down, might have “reasonably” thought the kid wasn’t going to leave it at that and managed to get off a lucky shot.
Of course, what he also might “reasonably” have thought, if he hadn’t been an idiot, was, “I’ve got no badge, no uniform, no real authority, and no real business chasing him, he doesn’t know me from Adam, and I’ve got a gun. The kid might have thought I was trying to rob him. No wonder he hit me. Maybe I need to do a better job of explaining. Or maybe I should just wait for the real cops to arrive.”
Let’s not think about what might have happened if the real cops had showed up to find a black kid standing over a prostrate and bleeding white guy right now, but it’s hard to imagine they’d have accepted the kid’s story that he “reasonably” believed the white guy intended to do him bodily harm.
The thing is that although the cops who were first to arrive might not have known the whole story at the moment, it couldn’t have been too long before they heard it all, and that story is this:
“I was out pretending to be a real cop, a way I like to spend my Sunday evenings, when I saw a black kid in what I think of as a white neighborhood, which can only mean one thing, so I called it in, as if I was real cop. But the 9-1-1 dispatcher reminded me I’m not a real cop and told me to leave it for the real cops to handle. But I’m too big an idiot. I decided to chase the kid. When I caught up with him, he defied me. Even though I wasn’t wearing a uniform or carrying a badge, I expected him to let me point my gun at him and tell him what to do. Instead he treated me like I was just some idiot threatening him with a gun. I got scared and I got angry---angrier, because I was already angry at him for not respecting my authority which I don’t have, but never mind---so I discharged my weapon. So even though I had no real reason to be suspicious of this kid, and even though I was officially told to stay out of it, and even though I had no business chasing him and no authority to arrest or detain him, and even though he had nothing in his hands but candy and ice tea, I ‘reasonably’ thought I was within my rights to shoot him.”
To which the police should have said and most likely would have said, if the idiot had been black and the kid had been white, or if both had been black, or if both had been white, “Tell it to the judge, moron.”
But that didn’t happen. The cops agreed that the idiot had acted “reasonably” and let him go because we live in a country where a grown man running around playing at being the Blue Knight can harass a seventeen year old kid going about the business of being a normal seventeen year old kid and then shoot him dead because the kid showed in some way that he didn’t like being harassed by a stranger waving a gun at him. This is the law in Florida. It’s the law in 29 states. It’s going to become the law in a bunch more. Any idiot can shoot you if he “reasonably” believes you’re threatening him.
It’s the case that this is more likely to happen to you if you’re a young black man. It’s clear from the police chief’s justifications for letting the idiot go that not only is a young black man a suspicious and threatening character just by being a young black man but that a young black man ought to know that he scares white idiots just by being a young black man and should adjust his behavior accordingly. That means, generally, avoiding contact with white people as much as possible, but specifically when confronted and challenged, cringing and apologizing and doing whatever the white idiot tells him to do or just running away like a thief, as if turning his back on a frightened white idiot waving a gun would have been a “reasonable” course of action.
Basically, what the chief was saying was that Trayvon Martin should have known that he had no right to go out to the store to buy a snack in a neighborhood where frightened white idiots pretending to be cops are wandering around with guns.
So this is the story. We live in a country where any frightened idiot can shoot you dead if you make him nervous.
This is even more the case if you’re a young black man and the frightened idiot is white.
But basically it comes down to this. We live in a country that privileges and protects frightened white idiots with guns.
Update: Up above I wrote that we’ll never know what Trayvon was thinking when the idiot chased him down, but I wasn’t thinking. Trayvon had his cell phone with him. And being a normal seventeen year old kid out on the business of being a normal seventeen year old kid, he was talking on it while he walking. He was talking to his girlfriend and told her what he thought was happening.
The fact that this alleged madam was born in Scotland is not the most interesting thing about her---the guard pig at her country home who chased away a cop and her “friendship” with the Morgan Stanley investor broker helping her finance her new “dating” service and her animal rescue work and her third husband the realtor and once upon a time local football hero and her brother-in-law being a sheriff’s department detective and her bodyguard Sly being a former New York City cop and her four school-aged children and the pro athletes coming in from out of town who knew that for a good time visit Anna’s and her assuring nervous clients that she had sympathetic connections high up in the police department all trump her ethnic heritage in the colorful character department. But I can’t help it.
I hear she’s a Scot and all I can think is “A Scottish brothel?” and I picture tartan wallpaper and tartan curtains and the girls in kilts and a blindfolded bagpiper in the parlor instead of a piano player and Mike Meyers greeting the customers with “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crrrrrrap!”
And hoot mon!
Here’s an overview of the story from the Times Herald-Record.
Here’s a jailhouse interview she did with the New York Post in which she insists she’s getting a bum rap.
And here’s a localization from the local paper by Steve Israel and Victor Whitman, Remembered fondly, alleged madam’s husband grew up in Livingston Manor.
One of my great-grandfathers was a police officer in Albany, New York. Not just any police officer though. Great-grandfather Jake was something of a hero cop, famous around town for taking on criminals single-handedly and bare-handed. One time, he busted up a robbery of a jewelry store and hauled in two of the robbers, unarmed and by his lonesome. But his most notorious collar was a gangster known as Boston Blackie. I don’t know the details. In fact, I didn’t know any of this about Jake when I was growing up. His son, my grandfather, didn’t talk about him. He didn’t talk about his older brother the firefighter who died on a call or about his other brother who fought in the trenches in World War I or about his own time in the Army in World War II. And I didn’t know to ask. As far as I knew I came from a long line of engineers, tax accountants, and insurance salesmen and how Great-uncle Fred got that bonus by writing policies for the mayor’s cousins wasn’t a family story I was keen to hear told. But I inherited two of Jake’s billy clubs when my grandfather died. They’re formidable looking rounds of wood and holding one changes your thinking about what it would have meant that Jake went into these encounters “unarmed”.
One of Jake’s most heroic exploits, however, was a rescue. In 1899, he leaped from a bridge to save a man who’d fallen into the Hudson River. This was in winter. Actually, he may have done this twice in his career. We have the original newspaper account but we also have his obituary---he rated quite a big story when he died---and the details in the two accounts differ enough that they could have been two different rescues. People fall into rivers regularly. Jake might easily have responded to more than one splash in the night in his day. He was a cop for a long time. He died on the job. Well, at home, after a long day on the job. He was sixty-eight.
No pensions back then. No social security. You worked till you dropped. I guess. I’m not sure. It might have been that Jake loved being a cop so much he refused to retire. That’s a detail my brother Larry hasn’t turned up yet.
Larry’s the reason we have a lot of the details we do have about any of our ancestors. He’s been researching the family tree for several years now, and just the other day he dug up this:
It’s the police blottter from March 15, 1899. I’ll save you the trouble of enlarging it and trying to read it. The first two entries are about a pair of (I’m guessing) drunks named Coyle and Hogan brought in at one in the morning for “Breach of the peace” by an officer named (it looks like) Gormley. Then it says:
3:15 AM. Patrolman S----- pulled out of the river at the foot of Hamiliton street George Partridge, 21 years old, residence no. 321 First street. He was taken to his home in a carriage. In rescuing Partridge the Patrolman lost his cap in the river.
Now, what I want to know is why Jake’s losing his cap made the report. Was the cap regarded as a piece of equipment it would have been Jake’s responsibility to replace? Was it noted so that the city wouldn’t kick when Jake put in for a new cap? Was it Jake’s own response to what would have sounded at the moment, with Jake standing there in front of the desk sergeant’s dripping wet and shivering, a dumb question, “What happened to your cap?” or Jake’s taciturn and stoic answer to the sergeant’s concern when Jake showed up looking half-frozen and half-drowned?
Sergeant (who of course would have been Irish): Begora, Jake, are ye all roight now? Anything happen to yerself when ye joomped into the water like a idjit?”
Jake: Lost my cap.
If Jake was anything like his son, that would be my bet. My grandfather once wrestled with a rabid dog menacing the neighborhood and, in addition to having his hands all chewed up, had to undergo rabies shots, which as you know is no picnic and which is about what my grandfather replied when asked if the bites and the shots hurt.
Larry thinks the detail about the lost cap might have been something of inside joke because it made the newspaper story. Given Jake’s habit of charging into dangerous situations the cap that drowned in the river might have been just one in a long line of caps Jake had to replace over the course of his career.
Would be interesting to have the story in Jake’s own words, but it doesn’t appear that Albany cops in his day were required to write up individual incident reports. Maybe it’s out there and Larry just hasn’t come across it yet.
Our old friend Chris the Cop took pride in crafting his reports. You can tell from his comments that Chris writes well and he knows how to tell a good story. His fellow officers and the newspaper reporters who covered the cop shop admired his ability to make his reports succinct but full of lively detail and even work in some humor while he was it.
But Chris was Joe Friday compared to another cop he worked with and whose reports Chris had to wade through when Chris made sergeant. The blonde read some of this other cop’s reports when she was working for the newspaper and she remembers them as “beautifully written.”
“Beautifully written” isn’t a compliment many cops strive for when they file a report. But this cop was apparently a closet novelist and he couldn’t sit down at a keyboard without getting carried away by his Muse. He could churn out pages on a routine drunk and disorderly. If he’d had to report on a rescue like the one Jake made, we’d know the exact meaning of that lost cap. We’d see it too. It’d be the image closing out the report, the cap bobbing and swirling away on the frothing and foaming waters, spinning down the river and bouncing off ice flows until it disappeared in the murky darkness of the moonless night.
Paradise, Massachusetts Chief of Police Jesse Stone in what passes for one of his lighter moments on what passes for one of his better days in the CBS television movies based on Robert B. Parker’s novels. Series star Tom Selleck with Kohl Sudduth as Officer “Suitcase” Simpson.
Watched Innocents Lost, the most recent of Tom Selleck’s series of Jesse Stone made for TV movie mysteries, last night. The series is based on the novels by Robert B. Parker, but Selleck made Stone his own even before Parker died. He’s not the first actor to steal a character away from the writer who created him.
Parker created Stone in order to have a leading man who could do things Spenser couldn’t do, have sex with different women, screw up, and…die. Not that it definitely would have happened, but who knows. Agatha Christie killed Poirot. Conan Doyle killed Holmes and would have preferred to leave him dead. If Parker had lived long enough, he might have seen he was working his way to an inevitable of his own devising. Jesse Stone is mortal in a way Spenser isn’t. Besides existing in the third person, which means that there’s a narrator who can witness Stone’s death and survive to tell us about it, Jesse is prone to mistakes and bad judgment. He’s tough but he’s not strong the way Spenser is strong. Jesse’s strength is decidedly not as the strength of ten because his heart is far from pure.
But there’s one more thing. Spenser is a happy man. He likes his life and he enjoys being alive. He is content within himself. Jesse wants out of his life and out of his self. He doesn’t have an explicit death wish but the only reason he has to live is the possibility that things will get better, and he’s not at all sure that that possibility is real.
This doesn’t make Jesse careless or reckless. It just means he has less reason to think his way out of a dire situation. And it makes him more likely to be fatalistic and give in to his fatalism at what would then become a literally fatal moment. I don’t recall Parker ever putting Stone in that sort of danger, where the threat comes as much from within as from without. But the option was always open for him if he decided it was time to end the series in a dramatic and tragic way. Stone would get himself into a situation from which he sees no way out because he wasn’t watching where he was going when he was on his way in. Spenser always watches out for himself. Plus, he has Hawk.
And Susan. And Quirk. And Belson, and Lee Farrell, Chollo, Teddy Sapp, and Vinnie Morris. Spenser would see the point of sacrificing himself, he just wouldn’t ever have to. The angels, and not a few devils, are on his side to pull him back from the edge.
Stone is mostly alone except for his personal demons who would gleefully give him a push.
That’s the fundamental difference between Jesse and Spenser. Spenser is essentially a comic character. Stone a potentially tragic one.
In his novels, Spenser puts things back together. Jesse is what most needs putting back together. His heart and his spirit are broken. His psyche is fractured.
Basically, he’s a mess.
The reason he hasn’t come completely apart or, to put it another way, what holds him together is his sense of responsibility to the people he has sworn to serve and protect.
Jesse is the chief of police in Paradise, Massachusetts, a tourist and fishing village just north of Boston. He’s lucky to have the job. Stone’s an alcoholic. He drank himself out of a marriage and out of his job as a cop with the Los Angeles Police Department, having drunk himself into a demotion from detective. He’s taken the job in Paradise out of desperation, convinced that he doesn’t deserve it or any position of responsibility. It doesn’t help that he’s aware he was only offered it because the town’s corrupt board of selectmen who hired him want a screw-up as chief, because, they expect, he’ll be easy to control.
Of course, they’re wrong. The point is, though, that Jesse is worried they’re right, at least in believing he’s a screw-up.
Spenser has nothing to prove. Jesse has everything to prove, to others but especially to himself.
So with Jesse Stone Parker had a hero who could brood, and sulk, and give in to self-pity and despair. Which meant he could tell grittier, darker, and more “realistic” but also more Romantic stories.
Noticed I capitalized Romantic?
Spenser is a figure out of Arthurian romances. Jesse is a Romantic hero, arriving in Paradise, by way of Wuthering Heights.
But here’s where I’ve always thought Parker goofed. He made Jesse too young and too romantic.
Small r this time.
Stone is in his thirties. Which means that he has a great deal of life ahead of him. His future is full of bright possibilities…if… If Jesse can prove himself---and in every novel he does---and get clean and sober---a trickier proposition---he can leave Paradise for a better job. He might meet someone he’s worthy of loving, marry, and start a family. He might survive, thrive, and prosper. He might be…
Now, no matter how realistic or Romantic Parker intended him, Jesse is trapped in a genre the conventions of which are such that he must triumph at the end of every novel. He always solves the mystery. Things get messy along the way, there are costs he regrets, he hasn’t put any of his demons to rest, just kept them at bay, but he succeeds. Professionally, at any rate.
So it just makes sense that it’s only a matter of time before Stone can leave Paradise and move on to bigger and better things. We see, again and again, that the demons, the self-doubt, the personal foibles and failings, the drinking, the brooding, the angst and the moments of existential despair aren’t getting in his way, and since they aren’t preventing him from doing his job and doing it well, very well, they begin to feel like gimmicks for Parker to use to keep Jesse stuck in Paradise.
He can’t leave until he’s sure he’s clean and sober. He can’t leave until he works things out with his ex-wife. He can’t leave until he stops regretting he his past and learns to focus on his future. He can’t leave until…
I think Parker began to sense this was getting annoying---that Jesse was getting annoying and readers were thinking, Get over it already!---and he began to work out another reason for keeping Jesse where he was. He was liking it there.
He liked being chief. He liked the cops who worked for him. Well, he liked Molly and Suit, at least. He liked the town. He felt at home. He was even beginning to like being himself, something that made at least one reader, me, ask, And why wouldn’t you? You’re young, strong, handsome, you’ve got a good job and you’re good at it, you live in one of the most beautiful places on the Eastern Seaboard, and very hot women, like the fiery redheaded lawyer crossing over from the Spenser novels Rita Fiore, throw themselves at you! What’s not to like?
Stone was beginning to become a younger Spenser, only without the wisecracks, Hawk, and the local color provided by the Boston background, which is to say, without the fun.
When Sunny Randle waltzed into Jesse’s life from Parker’s other detective series, her too obviously symbolic first name blazing, I gave up on the Jesse Stone series.
Parker’s novels, I mean. I’m in no hurry at all to give up watching Selleck’s series and I’m happy to note that Innocents Lost is not going to be the last one. There’s another movie coming in May. Benefit of the Doubt.
At sixty-seven---Sixty-seven? Magnum is pushing seventy? How is that possible?---Selleck is at least thirty years too old for the part. You would think. If you didn’t, like me, think Parker had made Stone too young. Although Selleck’s thickened up quite a bit since his Magnum days, he can still pull off playing, well, not young. He doesn’t play Stone as young, which is the point. Younger. Fifty-something, and that’s about right. At say fifty-five, Jesse can still handle the job, physically. What he can’t do is expect very much to come from it, no matter how well he handles it.
For a still young man in his mid-thirties, the job of chief of police of Paradise is a second chance. And he can hope for third and fourth chances if he screws up again. But for a man on the brink of old age, the job is a last chance.
That goes for him personally as well as professionally.
In Innocents Lost, Jesse begins an affair with a beautiful and sexy younger woman. But she’s no kid. She’s around forty, she knows the score, and she’s married. She has no plans to end the marriage, but even if she did, Jesse isn’t a guy she’d end it for. In fact, she makes it clear to him she’s with him because she knows there’s no possibility of their having a future together, mainly because she’s pretty sure Jesse himself hasn’t much of a future.
Parker’s younger Jesse has good reason to believe that if cleans up his act and shakes himself loose from his demons he can have a relatively happy future that might include true and lasting love and a family. He just has to make himself believe it.
But Selleck’s Jesse knows that while there might be hope the odds are against a man of his age---who, thanks to his drinking, is aging faster than other fiftysomethings---finding that kind of happiness. Even if there’s a possibility, he still has to make himself believe he deserves it. And here’s the thing. Selleck’s Jesse is old enough that he might have already found it but he threw it away. We’ve not seen hsi ex-wife Jen yet, she’s been just a voice on the phone in calls made mostly in the dead of night, which means she’s essentially a ghost. We don’t know how old she is. We don’t know how long she and Jesse were married. We suspect she is younger. Which opens up the possibility---the probability---that she was his second chance. There might be another ex-wife out there and children we haven’t heard about. If not, then very likely there’s someone with whom Jesse could have had a family, with whom he should by now sharing grandchildren, but he blew that too, and given that he’s a drunk, it’s likely that he hurt her in blowing it and if that missing family is there he hurt them too.
Selleck’s Stone has never said anything about it, but he sure seems to be carrying around an awful big load of guilt.
Then there’s the drinking. Both Jesses would like to give it up or at least get better control of it. But the older Jesse has to wonder if he has time and even if there’s really a point. Sobriety would be good for him all around, except that why bother if all’s he’s doing is exchanging the debilitations of drink for the debilitations of old age? Why would he want to be able to look at his life with clear eyes if all he’s going to see is his life coming to its end?
Neither Jesse has a death wish, but the TV Jesse doesn’t have any good reason to go on living. In the novels Jesse drinks---or drank---to forget his problems. In the TV series, he might be drinking to end them.
At the opening of Innocents Lost, we learn that Jesse has taken up jogging---he hates jogging. He’s on a diet too. “I’m working on the new me,” he tells people, but Selleck deadpans it and he lets his eyes sneak away to their corners. The idea of a new Jesse is a joke only he finds funny.
What this amounts to is that Parker’s Jesse is a man trying to climb out of hole he’s dug for himself while Selleck’s is a man at the end of his rope.
Selleck doesn’t overplay it but he’s clearly carrying the weight. And there’s another thing. He carries Magnum around with him too. He doesn’t have to do anything to evoke him. We just can’t help remembering. (Parker named the town Paradise ironically, of course, although the irony isn’t that it’s really a hell but that it’s Jesse’s Purgatory, the place where his past sins must be burnt and purged away. But Magnum fans will remember that Magnum, who narrated the shows, often opened episodes by referring to Hawaii as Paradise.) Selleck couldn’t have played Stone when he was in his thirties, and not just because Parker hadn’t written Jesse into existence yet. He was too golden and glowing. And he was too clearly happy and at ease within himself. (He would have made a pretty good Spenser, if Robert Urich wasn’t around making a very good one.) You look at Selleck and you can’t help seeing those roguishly bouncing eyebrows.
Then you look at not Selleck but Selleck's Jesse and start thinking that Stone may once have been like Magnum and you instinctively want to reject the thought. This can’t be where a Magnum ends up!
But of course it can be. It often is. A golden youth doesn’t guarantee a happy old age. What happens in between decides it, and somewhere in between Jesse Stone ruined himself and now he can’t forgive himself for that.
There’s not a lot of self-pity in Selleck’s Jesse but not a lot of self-loathing either. What there is is a cold, hard, unceasing and unforgiving self-judgment. We see him hauling himself before the court of his own conscience to be tried and tried again with the verdict always coming back Guilty as charged!
I’m probably making the series sound like much more of downer than it is. Actually, there’s a lot of fun it and a good deal of humor. And the episodes are smartly directed and beautifully photographed. The writing’s good and the supporting cast is excellent, although I miss Viola Davis as Officer Molly Crane. I don’t know why she left the series, but I hear she’s found other work.
Still, there’s a sadness at the heart of the series. Which I happen to think is what makes the shows compelling.
Jesse Stone: Innocents Lost and all but one of the other Jesse Stone mystery movies are available to watch instantly at Amazon. The missing one is Stone Cold. Note that it’s the only one without “Jesse Stone” in its title. It was the first one made but it falls second in the series’ ongoing storyline. All the movies including Stone Cold are on DVD.
And of course you can find Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone novels at Amazon too.
Spenser is waiting for you at my aStore.