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Innocent Bystanders

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Riots and Reporters

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Recently, the death of former L.A.P.D. chief Daryl Gates inspired a smattering of recollections of the Rodney King riots, in which 53 people died.  That loss of life, which included horrific murders of good samaritans trying to save others, is largely forgotten in favor of a narrative that exculpates — even celebrates — the rioters, while blaming police for both causing the violence and failing to quell it once it started.

In other words, the police were guilty because they used too much force against King after he weaponized his car, but they were also guilty because they didn’t use enough force against the rioters, though they would have been just as guilty had they used more force to stop the rioters.  The police are guilty no matter what they do, not just in America, but everywhere.  And in this strange rubric of culpability, they are deemed more guilty when the crime rate increases but also more guilty when the crime rate decreases.

Conversely, rioters are rarely held responsible for the crimes they commit, which may be why they often look so happy hurling bricks through store windows, while the policemen look so grim.  Riots are holidays from even small amounts of social responsibility for people who carry that burden lightly enough to begin with, and the worst violence is usually committed by criminal hangers-on just looking for any excuse to break things and steal and beat people while posing for the cameras.

In 1992, this dynamic had ugly consequences in Atlanta. The Rodney King riots in Atlanta were a weird, wannabe event, a manufactured spectacle, though the violence was real.  Looking back, I can’t avoid a creeping suspicion that the riots got as bad as they did in Atlanta because CNN is headquartered in the area where they occurred.  CNN reporters often illustrate their stories by taking their cameras to the streets below their studios: anyone familiar with the area will recognize the CNN food court in footage from countless stories on countless subjects.  CNN “man on the street” interviews are often something quite a bit more specific, as in: “the man on Forsyth Street between Luckie Street and MLK, in downtown Atlanta at lunchtime.”

So after the riots broke out in L.A., CNN did what they always do and went looking for footage in downtown Atlanta just beneath their studios (any other news network would do the same).  What ensued was strange mini-riots in which youths were obviously acting out for the cameras.

You can’t deny the excitement of news reporters when they’re jostling for position in a big national story like that one.  Is it fair to say that they egged the rioters on?  I’m not sure I would go quite that far.  But I do remember this: uninvolved people got off the streets pretty quickly, leaving little pockets of rioters fighting little pockets of police, being shadowed by little pockets of the media, all in the shadows of the CNN headquarters.  In L.A., it was far too dangerous to report from many portions of the city: police helicopters were actually taking fire over populated areas.  In Atlanta, the street scene arose symbiotically with the television cameras.

And the losers, as usual, were the police.  As Jack Dunphy writes in an interesting article here, Daryl Gates’ recent death has become yet another occasion for the media to single him out for blame for the damage done to Los Angeles by the rioters.  The way I remember it in Atlanta, the police were exasperated hall monitors trying to keep gangs of young men from doing more damage to downtown businesses and innocent pedestrians while the reporters aimed their cameras at the policemen, hoping one of them would make a wrong move, and the story would explode.

Jonathan Redding, 30 Deep, the Blue Jeans Burglaries, the Standard Bar Murder, and Disorder in Atlanta’s Courts

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Jonathan Redding, suspect in the murder of Grant Park bartender John Henderson, suspected of firing a gun in an earlier armed robbery outside the Standard (Why isn’t it attempted murder when you fire a gun during a robbery?  Are we rewarding lack of aim?), suspect in a “home invasion gun battle” in which Redding shot at people, and was shot himself (Two more attempted murders, at least, if sanity existed in the prosecutor’s office), suspected member of the “30-Deep Gang,” one of those pathetic, illiterate, quasi-street gangs composed of children imitating their older relatives, middle-schoolers waving wads of cash and firearms on YouTube: Jonathan Redding is 17.

How many chances did the justice system have to stop Johnathan Redding before he murdered an innocent man?  How many chances did they squander?

In May, Fox 5 ran a chilling story about the 30 Deep Gang.  Deidra Dukes reported:

Police say 30 Deep is based in Atlanta’s Mechanicsville community. The gang reportedly popped up on their radar about three years ago, and recruits members as young as in middle school.

“They know that the juvenile laws are a little more lax than they are when they are adults so they get them to do so they get them to do more serious crimes between the ages of 14 and 16, they won’t get into as much trouble,” said Harper.

Everybody knows this.  Everybody knows that there are 14-year olds waving guns on the streets and 16-year olds committing murder.  How can they not know, when there is video evidence of it, not to mention the bodies?  Spend a few minutes on YouTube watching the videos in which young men identify themselves by their housing project, some by the names of housing projects that were torn down but have managed to survive in the imaginations of eighth-graders as places where life was good in direct, not inverse, proportion to violence and chaos.

Look at the apartments these kids live in, that appear in the videos: they have little cathedral ceilings and nice fixtures, but nothing else — no beds, just mattresses, no pictures on the walls.  Nobody is starving: this is cultural poverty.  These are children: they take pictures of themselves in their classrooms, pictures of the school bus, then, inevitably, pictures of wads of cash and guns and little groups of kids who would have a hard time reading Goodnight Moon throwing gang signs with their hands.

What never ceases to amaze me is that I went to college with people who looked upon this stuff as romantic, not tragically stunted.  From the first time I walked into an apartment like the ones on these videos, I could see that what we were doing wasn’t working, if this was the result.  And yet people still debate this, as if there is anything left to say in the face of such colossal ignorance, and violence, and wasted lives, subsidized by us.

For the last year, the Mayor, the Police Chief, the usual editorialists and academicians, have all been denying that any of this is a problem.  One Jonathan Redding is one too many, but the powers-that-be, even at this late and tragic date, want to punish the public for daring to say this out loud.  If voters don’t reject this status quo next week, it will be a shame.

~~~

Jonathan Redding’s defense attorney is laying the groundwork to claim that her client’s profound ignorance is some type of defense — that he “doesn’t understand” the charges against him.  His life was empty, nihilistic, wasted, violent: this is an argument in favor of him.  Such routine suspension of disbelief in favor of defendants, and the rules of evidence that block the search for truth at every turn, are in Redding’s favor from now on.

It is not believable that Jonathan Redding is such a naif in the courtroom.  Some prosecutor or judge let him go, over and over — first as a truant, then as a juvenile, then as “just a robber” or “just a kid breaking into cars,” or “just a member of the gang stealing blue jeans.”  Now he is lucky to be alive, having been shot, and he is facing a lifetime in prison, and John Henderson is dead.

“They know that the juvenile laws are a little more lax.”  Our justice system has tied its own hands in a thousand different ways, and the judge wants Redding to testify before a Grand Jury, to give up names.

Who are we kidding?  Nobody in the juvenile justice system, nobody on the police force, knows who Redding was running with?  How many bites at the apple did they have with this kid?

Sure, put him in front of the Grand Jury; however, the Grand Jury is too little too late: plenty of people with authority to stop him knew precisely what Johnathan Redding was doing and who he was doing it with, but they didn’t take it seriously, and two more lives are over.  When will this price finally seem too high?

Probation for Murder in 2006, and Now Two Adults and A Baby Are Murdered

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Ronald Clemons, the 24-year old who is now charged with killing three people, including a three-year old baby, should have still been in prison for a 2004 murder when he committed this crime.

Here we go again.

Paul Kersey writes: “According to DeKalb County’s OJS, Ronald Clemons was arrested seven times before this week’s incident. His first arrest on record was when he was 17, so I think it’s safe to assume he has a juvenile record.”

In September of 2004, Clemons participated in a murder on the same street where he committed a triple murder this week.  In the previous killing, a DeKalb County prosecutor let him plead to aggravated assault and offered a light sentence.  A DeKalb County judge signed off on the plea.

Why?  It’s worth noting that community standards play a role when someone like Clemons gets away with murder — the community creates the atmosphere of leniency, and the community elects District Attorneys who go easy on violent criminals.

For some reason, Clemons was not sent to prison until a year and a half after the 2004 murder, in March of 2006.  He was supposed to serve three years, no parole, but he was released after serving approximately three-quarters of that time.

Maybe he got credit for time served.  Or maybe the Georgia Pardons and Parole Board let him walk.  Who knows?

What we do know is that, having internalized the lesson of no consequences, Clemons then went on quite a tear.  He’s also charged with robbing three men at gunpoint.

Five months ago, he was charged with violating parole.  That case is still open: apparently the prosecutor’s office failed to act on it.  If they had, people might not have died.

Clemons’ father told the newspaper that his son could not be guilty because murder is “completely out of character for my son.”  Now there are three more bodies to be explained away.

See DeKalb Officers for more on the (non) prosecutions of Ronald Clemons.  Don’t miss the acerbic comments, by cops who see this happening every day.

And, meanwhile, here is a practically identical case in Britain this week (minus the guns: they have to kill with fists more often over there, and so they do).  If things go as they’ve gone in Atlanta, this “Jamie Webb” should work up to slaughtering babies and other innocent bystanders sometime around Autumn, 2012.  Conveniently, he’ll be out of prison then, too.

Back to School: The Longer You’re Standing Still

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I read this Charlie LeDuff column last week in the Detroit News, and I just can’t get it out of my mind.  Think back to when you rode a bus to school.  Did you have to worry about not getting home?

Stand at Detroit’s most notorious bus stop at the northeastern intersection of the Southfield Freeway and Warren. This is the corner where seven children waiting for a bus were shot in an after-school rampage. There was a school beef on Monday, the kids told investigators. Tuesday was the shooting. School starts in 10 days and still no one has been charged.

Talk to the kids on this corner. They’ll tell you that standing at the bus stop can be tantamount to taking your life in your hands.

“I’m scared a lot of the time,” said Mikhale Stinson, 17, who was waiting on the No. 46 with her sister, Arkeshia Crippens, 15. It was only 4 o’clock. The sun was high. Still, the girls were keeping a wary eye. “The only thing more dangerous than the bus after school is waiting for the bus after school. The longer you’re standing still is the better chance that something bad is going to happen to you.”

The longer you’re standing still is the better chance that something bad is going to happen to you.

How do these girls muster the inner strength to learn at school, once they get there?  How many good kids stop going to classes because it is all too much, to get there, then get home?

Read the rest here.