Yesterday, I linked to one section of an interesting Philadelphia Inquirer series on chaos in the courts. The entire series is worth reading, but you have to download a flash player to view it all (pathetically, that’s onerous for me): here’s the link.
Anyone who believes the problems described by the Inquirer are limited to the City of Brotherly Love has not visited a courtroom in their own jurisdiction lately.
Such problems are not even limited to our country, though the panoply of indulgences we shower on criminal defendants used to be the envy of criminals throughout the world. As in so many other endeavors, the rest of the world is catching up with us. Britain may be even more lenient than we are on serial recidivists, and simultaneously hard on ordinary people who break the law, a phenomenon crying out for a name.
See, for example, this from the U.K. Telegraph:
Businessman Jailed For Attacking Intruder, Who Goes Free
Munir Hussain, who was threatened at knifepoint and tied up by a gang of masked men in his living room last year, was told he must go to prison for 30 months to preserve “civilised society”.
But Walid Salem, a criminal with more than 50 convictions, was handed a two-year supervision order for his role in the break-in at an earlier hearing.
He was one of three men who ambushed Mr Hussain, his wife and children . . . Their hands were tied behind their backs and they were forced to crawl from room to room before being forced to lie down in the living room . . . when Hussain’s teenage son managed to escape and raise the alarm, he seized his chance and turned on his captors. While two of them got away, Salem was cornered in a neighbour’s front garden. With the help of his brother, Tokeer, 35, who lived nearby, Hussain set upon him with a metal pole and a cricket bat, the court heard.
Hussain and his brother got long prison sentences: 30 and 39 months, for retaliating in the heat of the moment against a man who was terrorizing their community and had tied up and threatened — in a word, tortured — Hussain’s wife and children. Walid Salem, he of the torture and 50 priors, got no jail time. No matter what you think of the Hussain brothers’ actions, it is hard to read the words of their sentencing judge without simply recoiling:
“[I]f persons were permitted to take the law into their own hands and inflict their own instant and violent punishment on an apprehended offender rather than letting justice take its course, then the rule of law and our system of criminal justice, which are the hallmarks of a civilised society, would collapse.”
Whatever part of walking free after 50 prior crimes and a current crime of such severity does not indicate the collapse of both civilization and the British system of criminal justice, eludes me.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia:
Just 23 years old, John Gassew has been arrested 44 times, mostly on charges of sticking a gun in people’s faces and robbing them.
But in the eyes of the law, Gassew isn’t an armed robber.
He’s never been convicted.
Gassew has only been sent to jail once, for a drug charge. So on the books, he looks just like all those imaginary people locked away for no reason other than that they once took a toke of pot. Remember that the next time some activist starts ranting about the unfairness of our “barbaric” justice system. It’s unfair, allright:
Despite being called one of the city’s more prolific, and sometimes violent, stickup men by police – they say he bashed a delivery man over the head with a bat, shot at a 13-year-old neighbor, and smashed in the face of a robbery victim – Gassew has been sentenced to jail only once, for a drug charge.
The Northeast Philadelphia man has become so confident in his ability to beat charges, police say, that he openly scoffs at the system. In December 2007, officers arrested him as he ran down a street, leaving behind a car that police said was filled with the loot from 21 robberies he committed in just one weekend.
“It looked like a store in there,” said Detective Bob Kane.
As Kane and Detective Robert Conn of the Northeast Detective Division tell it, when they confronted Gassew with four trash bags of evidence, he leaned back in his chair and told them he’d take his chances in court.
“The bad guys know that if they come in the front door, the back door is usually open,” Conn said.
That back door being the courts, where some bloviating magistrate listens hard to the sound of his own voice as he ushers felons back onto the streets. It’s the same story everywhere:
A small-time criminal emboldened by a system that fails time and again to put him away graduates to more violent acts and, eventually, a standoff with police.
Gassew has beaten cases in almost every way – including three trials in which he was found not guilty after witnesses changed their story on the stand or were found not credible.
“Twenty-three years old and 44 priors. There’s no excuse for that,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey.
“A second chance? OK. A third chance? OK. But how about a 30th? At some point, you have to realize this guy’s a menace to society. You can’t keep cranking him out,” said Ramsey.
After a decade of attempts to crack down on gun crime, the streets of Philadelphia are still awash with armed robbers, and the courts are unable to put them away even when they are caught red-handed.
And why is that? Because those “decades of attempts” coincided with and were not nearly as powerful as the vast and systematic dismantling of consequences for criminal actions enacted by an unholy cabal of activists, attorneys, academicians, all abetted by cherished public fantasies about our prisons being stuffed full of innocent men, and felons being misunderstood innocents crying out for help.
One of the most effective ways of keeping people out of prison is to de-fund the courts by creating unnecessary, virtually unenforceable sets of hoops to be jumped through in order to achieve a prosecution. Philadelphia is the poster child for such legal shenanigans, but it’s bad everywhere, and behind every legal loophole, there’s some self-satisfied appellate judge telling his grandchildren how gramps bravely protected the poor and weak — criminals, that is.
That’s how streets ended up “awash” with crime. Fitting adjective, awash:
Of the 9,850 gunpoint robberies reported in the city in 2006 and 2007, only a quarter were brought to court, according to an Inquirer analysis. In the end, only two in 10 accused armed robbers were found guilty of armed robbery.”There’s a law on the books that enhances the penalty when you commit a crime with a gun. It’s not enforced,” noted [Police Commissioner] Ramsey, referring to the state’s mandatory minimum five-year sentence for brandishing a firearm in the commission of a felony.
I would love to hear an explanation from any judge — or law professor — regarding the state of affairs that exists today, in Atlanta, Philadelphia, every major city, wherein judges and prosecutors simply disregard the laws they are required (you know, by law) to enforce. I’ve never heard an explanation, nor have I heard one peep about censure of the many judges whose careless abdication of their responsibilities have most recently resulted in horrific subsequent crimes:
A 13-year-old girl who lived next door said Gassew pointed a sawed-off shotgun at her and asked, “Do you all want to die?”, before firing at her. A judge found the story credible enough to allow Gassew to be tried as an adult. But a different judge found him not guilty.
In May 2004, Gassew was charged with clubbing a pizza-delivery man over the head with a baseball bat and stealing about $100. The victim, who spoke only Spanish, identified Gassew at the scene and later in court. But Gassew was found not guilty after a witness changed her story on the stand.
Prosecutors said she was scared. Another neighbor, who also identified Gassew, failed to appear. Even a codefendant in one of Gassew’s robbery cases said he was scared of him.
Police say they had reason to be frightened. His own aunt, Neilene Calloway, took out an emergency restraining order on him in April 2005 after several armed men came looking for him at the house.
It appears that court authorities in Philadelphia were content to wait for Gassew to murder someone before they acted. We are all responsible for letting such things go on. We sacrifice victim after victim and do nothing:
Jennifer Mulholland, who was a bartender at Brian’s Sports Bar in Frankford, got a taste of [Gassew's threat].
Gassew drank there often, she said in an interview, and befriended her.
One night in May 2006, Gassew said good night and left. A short time later, a man wearing a mask burst into the bar with a gun in his hand and demanded that she empty the register.
Mulholland thought it was Gassew. “Quit playing,” she told him.
“It’s not a joke,” the robber replied, pointing the silver gun at her head.
“I knew it was him,” she recalled.
He grabbed her by the neck and told her to open the register.
She gave him the money.
Mulholland, whose father is a police sergeant, said she was prepared to testify.
“I never got a court notice,” she said.
There are millions of Jennifer Mulhollands in this country (and elsewhere), victims whose lives were treated like garbage, and then “the system” decided they had no rights, who could have died and then were told that their right to even be heard in court was irrelevant because the rights of criminals are the only rights that matter at all.
I’m one of those people; my husband is another. We were both merely lucky to survive. So were the cops who ended up getting shot at by John Gassew, in the utterly inevitable, thankfully non-fatal, denouement of a decade of criminal negligence on the part of the Philadelphia court system issuing from the end of Gassew’s semiautomatic handgun.
The law comes down hard on decent people, while prolific thugs are literally groomed in-court by irresponsible judges and lawyers to escalate their violence to the tipping point.
At what point do people like us get some answers from those responsible?