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George Zimmerman: Not Guilty

One year ago, shortly after the news broke about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, I posted an article about it. You can read it here.

Today, a jury – after only two days of deliberation – found George Zimmerman not guilty on all counts. They did not even convict him of manslaughter. The jury wasn’t undecided – they voted unanimously to acquit. This is where some of my friends who are very angry about this start dreaming of my death:

This is exactly as it should be.

If you read the article I previously wrote, you’ll see a point I made about the Crown Heights riots. The Jews in Crown Heights in 1991 were brutally wronged and none of them have ever received anything resembling an apology for what mobs of black men did to them. Twenty-two years later, after Al Sharpton excused himself without ever apologizing for inciting those riots, he is once again center stage to call the verdict “an atrocity” and “one of the worst situations I’ve ever seen.” I wonder if he said that after Josef Lifsh tried to avoid hurting anyone as he was about to wreck and ended up killing a boy he couldn’t see in what was purely an accident.

Nobody is taking a center-of-the-road stance on the subject of Zimmerman’s acquittal. Everyone is passionately angry or rejoicing about it. Nobody wins in this situation; the Martins have still lost their son. Zimmerman will never really be a free man because tens of thousands of people want him dead now. Even people whom I respect (even though we don’t always agree) are wildly emotional right now, going so far as to call for the riots to begin.

That’s because all anyone has viewed this incident through is the lens of emotion. Some of my black friends – some, not all – heard his non-emergency call to police that night and believed immediately that the whole thing was racial. At least one person claimed to me that another non-emergency call to police has been played publicly but I have not been able to find anything other than his call the night of the shooting.

Here’s what I know. I’m in public safety. I’ve helped a lot of victims of burglaries and home invasions, both as a victim advocate and as an EMT. I’ve seen the havoc that kind of crime plays in a person’s life. What I hear when that call is played is a man whose home was broken into and is now paranoid that every stranger in his condo complex is trouble. On the night of the shooting, while he says, “I think he’s black,” I can’t hear racism in that. Calling him a racist for one call to police (when in reality he made nearly 100 for the neighborhood watch) in which he describes the person he sees as being black does not make him a racist. What I hear is a man whose adrenalin is going because someone he has never seen before is walking through the complex wearing a hood pulled low over his face. I don’t hear a racist.

This is where I say something that my other friends may not like. Zimmerman was completely irresponsible in the way he conducted himself. I’m a little different from most people; I have years of experience in tactics, close-quarters combat, and the use of small arms. I’ve been in martial arts for nearly half my life. I have a lot of experience, and while I am capable of being very violent if the situation calls for it, I try very hard to find another solution. I will only pull my sidearm as a last resort, if my life or the life of another is in jeopardy. If a person attacks me with his bare hands, I will handle it with my bare hands. I have never in my life had to actually shoot a person despite being attacked, and I hope that I never do have to fire my weapon at another human being. (As an aside, since Nancy Grace asked, I carry a firearm everywhere it is legal for me to do so, even when walking the dog. Why? Because the bad guy will target you when you least expect it.)

The most responsible thing any gun owner or CCW holder can do is get some training in hand-to-hand combat. Not the flashy karate or kung fu crap you see in the movies, but honest-to-Pete street fighting. I always recommend Krav Maga, not because it’s Israeli, but because it’s extremely effective. If you want Asian martial arts then you should be careful to find a place that actually teaches fighting, not one that promises you’ll reach black belt within a year.

He shouldn’t have gotten out of his truck, but if you listen to the call closely, you hear something quite interesting…he didn’t get out until after he told the dispatcher that Martin was running away. By that time, Martin had already noticed he was being followed. What he should have done (as I said in my previous post) was keep running until he got home. Instead, he circled around, called Zimmerman out, and attacked him.

Let me pose this question…if you were walking home in the middle of the night, would you cut through a strange neighborhood? If you did and you found someone following you, would you then pick a fight with that person? If your answer to both of those is yes, you have a problem. At night, if you must walk, you should stick to well-lit areas, preferably those that are populated. If you find yourself being followed, you should either ask the person, “can I help you?” or just run as fast as you can to the nearest populated area to get help. Your first instinct should NEVER be to yell, insult, or start throwing punches. The instant Trayvon did those things he was taking responsibility for a grave decision. Yes, Zimmerman was irresponsible for not knowing how to handle a confrontation with an unarmed person – but Trayvon instigated the violence, therefore he is responsible. Whether Zimmerman is a racist or not is irrelevant at that point.

I don’t think any of my black friends have ever been spit on for being black. I don’t think any of them have ever had a group of white people threaten them because they are black. I know that none of them have ever gotten death threats for being black. I have been spit on for being gay, I have been threatened for being white (while on duty and in uniform, no less), and I have been openly threatened for being gay. I was first called a faggot when I was in the third grade. Even before I began identifying as Jewish, I had several people – a couple of them black – call me things like kike and dirty Jew, merely for defending Jewish people. Even on the pages of this blog I’ve been attacked as a Jew. I know what hate is. These idiots calling for riots and brandishing guns on Twitter don’t know the first damn thing about hatred. They’ll perpetuate it, though, because something really needs to be done about all of these creepy ass crackas. I suppose I should be thankful that I can tell by the picture that the doofus has absolutely no training at all with guns, but unfortunately an idiot with a gun is still deadly.

Violence may solve a good many problems, but this is not one of them. Dr. King would be beside himself if he could see what is going on right now. Were it only that more would take a page from Lupe Fiasco’s book and turn the spotlight on themselves, we might not need to have this debate. Unfortunately the press turned this sad story, one in which everyone lost, into a circus and the public won’t learn anything from it.

Prayers for Boston

I was at work today on a call when someone mentioned that the news said a bomb had gone off in Boston. As soon as I could, I turned on the news. TWO bombs were detonated within seconds of each other near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Here at gayconservative we are not joining the speculation and we ask that our readers and friends respect that. Nothing is set in stone; there are a lot of rumors swirling about, but we do not really know yet what happened. When something concrete is released, we will comment on it.

Until then we offer prayers, support and love to the families of the three who have died and the 140+ who have been injured. Let our focus remain on them for now.

Hating Rick Warren

On Saturday, April 6, Pastor Rick Warren – famous for writing The Purpose-Driven Life and pastoring SoCal megachurch Saddleback – announced that his 27-year-old son Matthew had committed suicide. Today it was revealed that Matthew shot himself.

I don’t necessarily agree with Pastor Warren on a number of things, but I do have respect for him. He doesn’t pull a huge salary from his church. He doesn’t live an opulent lifestyle, at least not that I know of. My heart broke when I heard that his son had taken his own life after struggling with severe depression since childhood.

What has come out of some members of the gay community, however, is beyond the pale.

Twitchy and The Blaze both reported social media movements directing breathtaking hatred at Pastor Warren and his family after Matthew’s death. They suggested that Matthew was gay and killed himself because his father was a supposed hatemonger. They brought up his support for Prop 8 and literally said that Pastor Warren “hanged his own son”. They said that “with all the gay kids dead, this was a small price to pay.”

Shut up. For once in your over-privileged, self-indulgent lives, shut the hell up. I’ve lost four of my friends to suicide. As an EMT, I’ve run countless suicide calls and I always leave with the feeling that I have done absolutely nothing to help the family. It is nearly impossible for me these days to run those calls without breaking down myself. It has gotten to the point that child drownings are less difficult for me, and that’s a significant statement for me to make. I know how dark those days are after you find someone you loved in that position.

At the same time, I also know suicidal depression. My entire life, I’ve been hated and made fun of. I’ve always been the butt of someone’s joke. I believe it is only by the grace of G-d that I am a stronger person now, because I have been down that black hole where it felt as though there was no escape. Maybe G-d has used those calls to open my eyes to the reality that suicide leaves behind; if so, I am thankful for that, even though I’m not sure my presence was much help to those left to pick up the pieces. Each and every one of you aiming your vitriol at Pastor Warren, accusing him of “killing his gay son”, have directed the same vile stupidity at me at one time or another and you do not know or care how much that hurts. Who the hell are you to preach about caring for the hurting? You can’t even do it yourselves!

I am beyond appalled. I am furious. Pastor Warren is a much more gracious and forgiving soul than I am in praying for these people. I cannot understand celebrating someone’s death, not for any reason. I have never in my life felt happiness upon hearing that a human being has died, no matter how much I may have disliked them. Yet as angry as I am with the gay community right now for their intense hatred, intolerance, and hypocrisy, I still cannot wish this kind of pain upon them.

What astounds me, though, is Dan Savage. Usually the first to make an inappropriate comment or attack a conservative, when asked for his opinion he said, “My only comment is this: As a parent, my heart aches for Rick Warren and his wife. They have my sympathy.”

Thank you, Dan, for not hating Rick Warren as so many others have.

Poor Jodi

I tend not to comment on a case while it’s still in the trial phase. Often I believe we don’t know enough about the case from what the media has said because the media will report on every little twitch, giggle and fart – truth be damned. They will report on rumors as though they are fact. This time, however, I don’t need a trial to tell me what I can tell from professional intuition. I tend to be very protective of women who have been abused. I deal with them professionally and have, more times than I can remember, watched them go back to their abusers because they don’t feel they have a way out. I know when I’m talking to a victim. I also know when I’m being strung along; not all women who claim to be victims are, and they frustrate me the most because they are the reason the true victims have such a difficult time getting help. The drama currently playing out in Phoenix is easy to figure out.

Jodi Arias is a complete sociopath.

We know what the facts are, and when you put them together they’re chilling on a level that most people don’t want to believe is possible. Jodi Arias met Travis Alexander during a conference for the company he worked for, Prepaid Legal Services, in Las Vegas in November 2006. Arias moved to Mesa (a suburb on the East edge of Phoenix proper, just East of Tempe) to maintain a relationship with Alexander. She lived with a roommate because Alexander was Mormon and living together before marriage is forbidden. By June of 2007, Arias began telling friends that she and Alexander had broken up. By April 2008, Arias moved back to Yreka, California, where she lived with her grandparents. At this point Alexander had already told his friends that Arias had been stalking him – hacking his Facebook page and slashing his tires. On June 9, after he’d missed several important appointments, co-workers and friends went to his home to check up on him. His two roommates, thinking he’d gone to Cancun, said he was out of town. Among those who had showed up to find him was one of the women he was supposed to have gone with, so they forced their way into his bedroom. Pools and trails of blood led to the master bathroom, where he was found dead (and practically mutilated) in his shower. His throat had been slashed, he had been stabbed 29 times, and he’d been shot in the face with a .25 caliber gun. He had been dead for five days. A bloody handprint was discovered on a wall and his brand-new digital camera was found in the washing machine with heavy damage.

Suspicion was immediately turned on Arias. All of Alexander’s friends agreed to give DNA samples – Arias complied as well, though she strangely began calling the lead detective on the case repeatedly to ask how the investigation was going and promising to help in any way she could. That detective discovered that Arias had also been accessing Alexander’s voicemail over the past several days and calling repeatedly, leaving multiple messages, beginning on June 4 (shortly after he would have been killed). She told the lead detective that she didn’t know anything about the crime, even said that she had last seen Alexander as she was leaving town back in April. The investigation turned up quite a trail of curious incidents.

On May 28, Arias’ grandparents called police to report a burglary. It was peculiar because the bandit took exactly one item from each room in the house, including a single .25 caliber handgun in a safe containing four guns, and cash and jewelry were left untouched. Somewhere around May 30-31, Arias asked a friend, Darryl Brewer, if she could borrow two five-gallon gas cans for a trip; on June 2, she rented a white Ford Focus from Budget Rent-A-Car and claimed the rental would be for local use only. Her credit card was used to buy several items at a Wal-Mart in Salinas, CA (including a third five-gallon gas can) and just over 20 gallons of gasoline (a Ford Focus typical to rentals only has a 12-gallon tank) on June 3. Salinas is just less than halfway between Yreka and Phoenix, a trip that would total 1013 miles according to Google Maps.

After the stop in Salinas (still 675 miles from Phoenix), her credit card wasn’t used again until June 6 – she used it in Sparks, NV, fully 737 miles from Phoenix. By then, however, she had gone to Utah to visit her new love interest – a man named Ryan Burns. He said that she was a day later than they had planned to meet and that, despite the heat, she wore long sleeves and had a bandage on one hand. She excused it by claiming she’d injured herself at work. After meeting with Burns, she drove back to Yreka. The Ford Focus was returned with more than 2800 miles on it (how’s THAT for local use?), the floor mats were missing, and the return report stated there were “kool-aid stains” on both the front and back seats.

Here’s where it gets really creepy. Mesa police were able to recover deleted images from the digital camera found in the washing machine. Whoever had run it through a wash cycle had first deleted several pictures; they wanted to be doubly certain that the images would be forever lost. Those pictures were of a sexual romp between Alexander and Arias on June 4. Both of them looked like they were having fun. Arias was even wearing pigtails during the encounter. The very last image, taken at 5:30 p.m., was of Alexander lying on the floor, bleeding profusely.

A DNA match was also made – it was Arias’ blood mixed with Alexander’s in the bloody handprint on the wall. By the time this evidence was discovered, Arias had lied to police multiple times, lied to Alexander’s family (even going so far as to send his grandmother flowers), and had gone to great lengths to throw off any evidence that she could have possibly committed the crime.

Is anyone else shivering yet?

Not even 24 hours after murdering Travis Alexander, Jodi Arias was cuddling and making out with another man in Utah. She gave no hint that anything had gone wrong. After her arrest for the murder, Arias appeared on 48 Hours to make her case to the public. Again, she lied. She admitted to being there, but that two intruders broke in and killed him – yet she had no explanation as to how she knew this and didn’t report the incident to police. Once cornered on that story, she changed the story yet again: she arrived at the new excuse she’s been using in court, that Alexander was abusive and forced her to engage in “uncomfortable” sex acts.

In my experience, a woman who has been abused to the point that she kills her abuser in a fit of blind terror isn’t arriving at that moment without there first being some kind of evidence. There are usually police reports of neighbors calling to report violence (and Alexander had two roommates), friends and relatives noticing bruises or other injuries (such as broken bones or burns), even hospital records. There was nothing on Jodi Arias. I’ve also never seen an abuse victim who didn’t live with their abuser continue to engage in a relationship with them over a period of over a year – or come back two months after moving away to have sex with them and brutally murder them.

Victims who kill their abusers don’t usually realize they’ve done it until the act is done, and it doesn’t include the extreme method that Jodi Arias used. It’s usually a single stab wound, one or two gunshot wounds, something simple and quick. It doesn’t involve heavy planning, renting a car, finding methods for purchasing gas and food well out of the way to make sure your credit card isn’t being used within hundreds of miles of the city where the crime was committed and going to play tonsil hockey with a man you’ve never met…all while claiming that you deeply loved the man you’ve killed.

Jodi Arias is a classic sociopath. She has no conscience. She feels no real emotion; emotion is a second language to her, one she has likely learned over her three decades of life to mimic. She’s proven that she is very good at turning it on and off at will to get what she wants. She is capable of telling a multitude of lies, and every time she’s caught in one lie she concocts anther set of them to cover her tracks. Now that she’s cornered yet again, she is putting on a grand show of weeping in court. I was there the day prosecutor Juan Martinez began his intense questions, yelling at her to look at the picture of Alexander’s dead body. It was an act that deserved an Oscar. It’s an act I’ve seen before and was just as unsettling in court as it is to witness in real life.

I only hope the jury is able to see through poor little Jodi’s stage act. Travis Alexander deserves justice, and victims everywhere deserve better.

Tragedy at the Sikh Temple

I have yet to offer my thoughts on the Aurora shooting, mostly because I know cops and firefighters who were there and I’d be walking a fine line when I do say something about it.

Today, though, I’m stunned at the news that a gunman walked into a Sikh temple near Milwaukee and opened fire with a single handgun, killing six and wounding three (including a police officer) before he was taken down by police. What we’ve heard so far that the attacker was a former military member in his 40′s and he had a 9/11 memorial tattoo on one arm. There are rumors the he mistook the Sikh temple for a Mosque.

I have never met a Sikh whom I did not deeply respect. Sikhism is the polar opposite of jihadist Islam; they believe in peace and genuine equality, that men and women of all races are completely equal in God’s eyes. Sikhs are supposed to be saint/soldiers who live to help others and defend those who have suffered injustice. Like the Shaolin monks who have taught me, Sikhs have good hearts and are very giving people.

My heart goes out to the victims, their families and their friends. Today is a very sad moment. I will not condemn the shooter just yet, as we don’t know what his actual motivations were. Like the Sikhs, however, I pray for peace and justice, and I hope the public can gain greater understanding of who the Sikhs are through this.

Mom Would Never Lie

The press in Phoenix must have Essie Strong’s cell phone on speed dial.

I follow the news closely. Last week I read a story about a home invasion that ended when one of the men living in the home struggled with the invader and cracked his skull open with a clothes iron. I didn’t think much of it until today. The intruder was 20-year-old Moses Taylor. He died in the hospital of his injuries. His family held a car wash this morning to raise money for his funeral. His mother, Essie Strong, had her own version of events.

She claims that he wasn’t breaking into the home. He had supposedly been robbed and was running for help. He wouldn’t break into anyone’s home, she says. There was no reason to hit him and kill him. Unfortunately there’s more to this family’s story. A LOT more.

Back in June 2008, a news story broke about an officer-involved shooting near I-17 and Dunlap in Phoenix. Police were called by several people in an apartment complex who saw a young man chasing a pregnant woman; they feared for her safety. When police arrived and knocked on the door of the apartment the suspects had disappeared into, they were met by a thug wielding a gun. One veteran officer opened fire and hit the suspect. It turned out later that the thug was using a BB gun. Guess who it was?

Then-16-year-old Moses Taylor.

His mother, Essie, immediately went on the news and pitched a crying fit. It just wasn’t fair, you see – he only had a BB gun. There was no reason to shoot him over that. I wasn’t writing for this blog at the time, but when she claimed that it was “obviously” a BB gun and couldn’t possibly be dangerous, I posted photos like these and asked readers to tell me which one was the real thing:

Not one person, even my cop friends, could tell. Because of how serious airsoft war games have become (even my martial arts school does combat training with airsoft guns), it’s easy to buy a BB gun that looks like the real thing. Those officers couldn’t have known, and they can’t afford to wait to find out. They’re not going to ask, “excuse me, but is that a REAL gun you’re pointing at me?” They were perfectly justified in shooting Taylor. When it was proven that the officers did exactly what they were supposed to do, the press rapidly lost interest.

In October of 2008, Essie was back in the news when her 15-year-old daughter sparked a confrontation with a bus driver who ended up following her into a convenience store, punched and kicked her, then threw a large bottle of Powerade at her. The press didn’t even mention Moses Taylor’s incident at the time, but Essie (surprise!) never questioned her daughter’s behavior. I said then that the bus driver was absolutely wrong for his behavior – something about a grown man chasing down a teenage girl just sounds wrong on the surface, let alone what he ended up actually doing – but I questioned whether Essie’s daughter really only tossed up her hands and yelled, “you almost hit us!”

Essie never questions her own children, so it should come as no surprise that when Moses Taylor was killed during a home invasion she stepped into the spotlight yet again to claim he didn’t do anything wrong. As if she were there with Moses, she had the nerve to claim that he’d been beaten and robbed and was “banging on the door to get help.”

I call bullshit.

What facts the press hasn’t gotten wrong are pretty clear. There was no banging on the door. Taylor entered the home through a window and left his pants behind as he crawled in. One of the men living there heard the window break and went to confront the intruder; that’s when the fight broke out and the tenant grabbed a clothes iron and hit Taylor in the head with it. Everyone got out and police arrived to find Taylor in critical condition in the home. Witnesses in the area knew Taylor and they all said he’d been drinking and using drugs earlier that night. I’d have to ask, how would Essie know that her son had been robbed? Did he hit the pause button on the scene so he could call his mother and tell her what happened right before he desperately broke the window of someone else’s home and wiggled through a hole in the screen, leaving his pants behind?

Here’s the most ironic part of all of this nonsense: the picture they’re carrying of Moses smiling brightly is his prison ID photo. In less than four years he managed to rack up four disciplinary infractions, every single one of them a major incident, the very first one being a sexual assault on another inmate. The crime that sent him to prison wasn’t the shooting in June, either. It was a violent armed robbery that the press never breathed a word about three months later.

Yeah, he was just running to find help. Mom would never lie, would she? Of course not…especially not after she learned her lesson during her own hard time for selling narcotics the year before Moses was born.

A Million Little Grinches

I will never, ever go shopping at a brick-and-mortar store on Black Friday.

I started refusing from the first year it was held, because at the time I was doing robbery investigations for JP Morgan Chase (I no longer work for them). Back then, our group also fielded calls from various offices whenever a malicious caller made a threat, and back then I heard some outrageous things from customers whose cards were stopped during Black Friday sales. I later went on to another department with that company where I talked to the customers directly, and things got worse every year. In 2009, I had a woman say, “you know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna come to your office and shoot you in the balls!” (Whereupon I corrected her and told her that I was a woman, to which she replied, “no you ain’t! I ain’t never heered no woman talk like no man!”)

This year, this happened at a Wal Mart just half an hour from where I live. It’s the talk of Phoenix right now (aside from the plane crashing into the Superstition Mountains).

I’m going to take a look at both sides of the issue.

The story from the family is that they had gone at midnight to a sale at a Wal Mart store in Buckeye, a suburb of Phoenix. Jerald Newman, 54 years old, had taken his grandson Nick and they were headed for a video game sale that was about to open. Witness Skylar Stone says that the crowd insanely ripped the box to shreds, and Nick was only able to get his hands on one game – but people in the crowd tried to snatch it away from him. Newman, in an effort to stop the greedy crowd from doing so, took the game and shoved it down his trousers. That’s when a loss prevention employee tried to detain him. Newman is hard of hearing and the LP guy wasn’t in uniform; when that employee called uniformed Buckeye police officers over, Newman was slammed to the ground, knocked unconscious, and dragged off to jail. They say that no explanation was requested.

Police, however, say that his actions were classic of shoplifters. According to them, even once uniformed officers came over, he refused to calm down – and when they tried to handcuff him, he still fought, flailing his arms wildly, leaving them no choice but to use force to detain him. His behavior, while it may not have been intentionally aggressive, were still dangerous, and when a person refuses to de-escalate officers will do what they need to do to contain them.

I can understand both arguments. I can understand wanting to protect his grandson and not knowing who the loss prevention guy was. I can understand that he was hard of hearing and wouldn’t have been able to make out what he was being told. What I don’t understand, though, is why he would have put the merchandise down his pants. I’m not sure I believe he was trying to steal it, but regardless of the reason for doing so, there were other ways to stop sticky fingers from trying to steal it from Nick. He had to know that employees would question that kind of move. After that, once he saw uniformed, armed officers approach, he should have understood even though he couldn’t hear. You simply cannot get agitated when you are dealing with a police officer. More often than not, when an officer is dealing with an agitated person, that person intends to do harm, and the officer cannot afford to wait for you to do something harmful.

On the other hand, I’m not sure I understand body-slamming the man onto his face. I’ve studied martial arts for half my life, the vast majority of my time in Shaolin (traditional kung fu) and Krav Maga (Israeli hand-to-hand combat). I’ve taught police officers. I’ve seen what they teach those officers in the academy. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that officers aren’t taught how to fight very well. They’re not really taught to be aggressive, some of them are just naturally so. I know from experience there are many ways to subdue a combative person that don’t include tossing them to the hard floor on their face.

Even though I disagree with both sides to some extent, however, I still think that the guy taking the video and yelling “is that REALLY necessary???” is an idiot. I can’t stand it when people do that to me in public, so it irritates me even more to hear it in these videos. If you’re asking that question out loud, it implies that you expect a response, and the officers are obviously busy. Shut up.

The lynchpin of all of this, however, is the crowd itself. How can any rational human being justify attacking a merchandise display like that and trying to tear a video game out of the hands of a 12-year-old boy? How the hell would you feel if someone else did that to your child? Even if that item is marked down by more than half, that is no reason to be a rabid thug, which is all these creatures are. If you are that desperate to get that deal because you can’t afford it at regular price, then you don’t need that item.

None of this is to mention the woman who, three kids in tow, opened up a can of OC spray (pepper spray) on a crowd headed for a display of XBOX game consoles. That woman managed to pay and get out before police arrived and they still haven’t caught her. Two men at the jewelry counter at a Wal Mart got into a brawl and had to be arrested. At two separate Wal Mart stores, shoppers were accosted by armed robbers in parking lots, with victims in both incidents being shot. A near-riot broke out in yet another Wal Mart (seeing a pattern here?), requiring a police officer to use pepper spray to disperse those involved. In yet another Wal Mart incident, a drunken 22-year-old was tased and arrested after getting into a fight.

The holiday spirit isn’t what it used to be. What scares me is that pretty soon we’ll have reality shows popping up to chronicle the insanity of Black Friday because it almost seems that people enjoy the drama. It is embarrassing that this is what my country has turned into.

Unbelievable

When the news first hit, it was hard to swallow: college football defensive coaching legend Jerry Sandusky, one of Penn State’s best, had been caught with more than just his pants down. The report was that a graduate assistant went to the locker room and heard “slapping noises” that he recognized as being sexual and, to his horror and revulsion, found Sandusky having full-on sexual intercourse with a 10-year-old boy. Disgusting, isn’t it? It would be if that were where the story ended. Disgusting doesn’t come close to covering what happened.

That was back in 2002. The assistant, who isn’t named in the grand jury’s finding of fact, didn’t go to the police. He called his father. His father didn’t tell him to go to the police, either – he told the assistant to tell Joe Paterno, Penn State’s legendary head coach. He waited until the next morning to call Paterno. Then, Paterno failed to call the police – HE called Tim Curley, who was Penn State’s athletic director, who then called Gary Schultz, the university head of business and finance. Even campus police were never informed. Apparently, Sandusky’s keys were taken away and he was told not to bring young boys to the Penn State locker rooms again. Oh, and they informed Second Mile, Sandusky’s charity for underprivileged youth.

Never, in any of this, did anyone stop to think that the police needed to be notified of what had happened. Not once did any of the people involved in that particular incident ever consider whether they needed to make sure that Sandusky would never be able to commit such a horrible crime again. As a result, other boys were sexually assaulted for years afterward. What’s more, by the time the 2002 incident happened, Curley testified that he knew of a similar incident in 1998 that Sandusky had been investigated for. You’ll love this part: Curley and Schultz both testified before the grand jury that they didn’t recall being told of all-out sodomy between Sandusky and this young boy. And when the university president, Graham Spanier, testified, he says that Curley and Schultz described the incident to him as “horsing around in the shower”. He also said they had no intention of ever reporting anything to the police. Then, the grand jury found that Curley and Schultz lied in their testimony that they had never been told that the “inappropriate contact” was “sexual in nature”.

Unbelievable.

Now that the feces has hit the oscillating rotator, Penn State has been forced to fire Joe Paterno and his name will be stricken from the school’s championship awards. The school had to cancel a football game due to the lack of coaching staff. Incredibly, students and alumni actually rioted in protest of the actions being taken. Pundits Tammy Bruce, Michelle Malkin and fiction author Brad Thor were all attacked by Penn State alumnui on Twitter for their stance on the meltdown. The common response? “Joe Paterno was 74 years old! He had a lapse in judgment! You can’t punish him and the football team for that!”

That’s even more unbelievable.

This is what happens when morality is no longer allowed in universities. You have liberals indoctrinating kids in our colleges to believe ideas about secular humanism, socialism and anti-religious ideals and we wonder why Jerry Sandusky gets away with child molestation for years after being caught in the literal act. You can see why in the reactions of Curley and Schultz – they were more concerned about the reputation of Penn State in the heat of the moment than they were with the well-being of a child. They were willing to sweep the whole thing under the rug to temporarily save their reputations. This was not a lapse in judgment; it was a deliberate, concerted effort to hide the truth, that a man who had unfettered access to young boys and to secluded areas on the campus of Penn State was committing unspeakable acts on young boys. We have, as a society, essentially said that God and morality have no place whatsoever in society (despite the fact that we have laws, which come from…um, morality), and we balk when something like this happens.

While the graduate assistant might be able to plead ignorance – which I disagree with, but conceivably he could – nobody else can. His father, at the very least, should have told him to immediately call the police. When he didn’t, Paterno should have. And when HE didn’t, the people above him – Curley and Schultz – should have. I’ll tell you right now, if I ever caught one of my friends doing anything like that, I don’t care how long we’ve been friends. First I will beat you soundly, then I will hold you for police. It should have insulted Paterno, Curley and Schultz when they discovered what he was using them and their facilities for. Instead, they tried to cover it up and protect him. Now we have entire groups of Penn State students angrily protesting the fallout, complaining that they shouldn’t have to pay. Wait right there while I check on whether I care…

Nope. My give-a-damn is busted.

Free At Last

One of the most important lessons I have learned in my life is simple: do not allow your emotions to control you.

Emotions are literally drugs. Harvard researchers even found that the human brain, when a person is in love, reacts in the same fashion that it does when using cocaine. Love literally gets us high. Anger does also, albeit in a different way. When a major incident drives us to a rage, adrenaline can numb our nerves, steel our muscles and help us tune out some pretty intense things. As a kid, I wasn’t very emotionally controlled. As a grown woman, I’ve learned that it is when our emotions threaten to boil over that we must exert all of our willpower to remain calm and find a way to channel that emotion into something healthy.

In May of 1993, much of the country (largely the uber-religious portion) forgot what it means to moderate themselves.

I saw news reports about the murder of three eight-year-old cub scouts in West Memphis, Arkansas and saw the adults around me react first with revulsion, and then with untold fear. Mind you, they didn’t always put voice to it. The story went that it was an occult ritual crime. My church, however, started whole new classes and sermons about how to spot potential satanic activity in kids. I grew up in the culture of satanic panic and at the time I believed it. Then again, I was a kid and I had no reason to question it. While I still believe in the spiritual realm, I don’t see it as being what they made it out to be back then.

When the news reported that three teenage boys believed to be involved in a satanic cult had been arrested for the murders, churches everywhere went wild. A guilty verdict was not necessary in the least. As soon as the story hit that Jessie Misskelley, Jr., Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols had kidnapped, raped and murdered the boys as part of a satanic ritual, no evidence was needed. They could have done without the trial entirely. The mention alone was enough to convict three teenagers. Once the three had fingers pointing at them, no other suspect was even considered. Even West Memphis Natives Chris Morgan and Brian Holland, who skipped town for California just four days after the bodies were discovered and made incriminating statements AND failed polygraph tests with Oceanside police, were forgotten. All anyone focused on were the statements made by Echols about being a satanist. Then again, every metalhead kid I went to school with back then said the same thing for shock value because the Christian kids gave them a reaction.

Looking back on that time is surreal every time I do it. It feels strange to realize just how emotionally involved we were in all of that and how dangerous it has become. With barely circumstantial evidence, zero physical evidence and a coerced confession, prosecutors were able to put two teens away for life and sentence a third to death. Rumor had it that Damien Echols had taken his first name (it had been Michael) out of an obsession with the movie The Omen. In fact, he’d taken it after a famous Catholic priest when he converted to Catholicism. That was never said in the courtroom.

Defense attorneys in both trials – Misskelley was tried before Baldwin and Echols – were denied the ability to present expert witnesses who could have thoroughly debunked Misskelley’s confession as coercion. It didn’t matter that police had only recorded 46 minutes of a 12-hour interrogation, and it certainly didn’t matter that police had to correct him (and were caught in the recording correcting facts such as when the boys were abducted, what they were tied up with, and how the bodies were left in the creek). It didn’t matter that forensic evidence actually proved the boys were never sexually assaulted. A superstitious jury of locals convicted Misskelley.

When he recanted his confession and refused to testify for prosecutors (even though they offered him a sweetheart deal to testify) in the Baldwin/Echols trial, the confession was legally not allowed to be presented as evidence. So-called “fiber forensics” proved little more than the fact that fibers found near the victims could be matched to clothing worn by half of the people in West Memphis. Hair and blood traces were collected, but DNA testing wasn’t then what it is now. There was almost no blood from the boys at the scene. There was absolutely no evidence whatsoever to suggest that even a halfhearted cult crime had taken place anywhere near the scene. A hunting knife was found in the lake behind Baldwin’s home, but it didn’t belong to either of the boys and couldn’t be called the murder weapon because none of the victims were stabbed. The prosecution’s star “expert witness”? It was Dr. Dale Griffis. He sold himself as an expert on all matters occult. Every single thing he said on the stand was untrue, merely a parroting of legends and myths that Christians had long spread about satanic cults.

Then, during deliberations, jury foreman Kent Arnold slipped word of Misskelley’s confession into the deliberations. The move was completely illegal; he’d talked to an attorney friend intimate with the prosecutor’s work to convict the West Memphis Three and knew details about the confession that weren’t public. What he didn’t say was that it was fraught with mistakes that interrogators openly corrected him on. The confession was completely inadmissable, but it was entered anyway and all three ended up behind bars for a crime that they didn’t commit.

Years later, in 1996, a little-known documentary began to make waves. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills raised questions that many wouldn’t dare ask for fear of offending the families of the victims or questioning the wisdom of what had been done. Heavy-hitting musicians and actors poured money into the defense fund. In the past five years, DNA evidence has proven that none of the West Memphis Three were at the scene of the crime. The initial appeal for a new trial was denied by none other than Judge David Burnett. Burnett, you see, had been the original trial judge, and he had handed down decisions blocking the defense from presenting a great deal of exculpatory evidence. He never would have allowed his own decisions to be questioned, particularly not in a case of this magnitude.

It took a ruling from the Arkansas Supreme Court to grant a new trial. Then, out of nowhere, prosecutors played on the fears of all three accused and all of their families and supporters: they cut a deal that both spared prosecutors from eating crow and granted all three immediate freedom. They would offer an Alford Plea. Such a plea allows the accused to maintain their innocence while agreeing that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict them. In other words, they were pleading guilty without admitting guilt. None of them liked the idea of admitting even a hint of guilt, but all three agreed because Echols has been within three weeks of execution once already. Any longer and his execution would move forward. They were re-sentenced to time served, given ten years of probation and immediately freed.

Echols, on death row, wouldn’t have had much contact with other inmates, if any at all. Baldwin and Misskelley were a different story. I can only hope that all three find their place while they work to clear their names, which they have vowed to do. Far too many of those who have been freed from prison after more than a decade behind bars have ended up in trouble again because they didn’t know how to live “on the outs”.

Knowing what I know about criminal justice, investigations, evidence, legalities and all that goes into them, it seems plain as day to me that the WM3 are innocent. Those who continue to cling to the idea that they are guilty don’t have any hard facts; all they have are emotional reactions based on a superstition that created the wrong in the first place. Having learned the hard way just how dangerous that is, I believe we should learn, even when we are so enraged we cannot see straight, to take a step back, look at it from a couple of different angles, and if we can’t make an informed decision, then have others help us to do exactly that.

I am less than impressed with the game being played by prosecutors. It is unfair that these three were forced to take this step. I am ecstatic, however, that they are free, and I pray that they have the support they need to make it in the world as it has become. I pray that the true killers are found. I still hold to my faith even though it is dramatically different now than it was then. I believe that all of those who are unrepentant will answer to God for their wrongs – including the hordes of people who blamed their drive to convict three innocent teenagers of murder on their religion and have continually refused to admit their wrong.

The Fight Continues

The news from Afghanistan came over my cell phone at around 0300 AZ time: 31 Americans, including at least 20 operators from SEAL Team 6, were killed when Taliban insurgents shot down a Chinook helicopter in Eastern Afghanistan. The exact location still has not been made public.

A handful of my friends, including two SEALs, are currently deployed in Afghanistan, so my friends and I here in the US are a tad nervous to hear from them and be sure that they’re okay. When something like this happens it usually takes time for the facts to trickle out, but we’ll keep you all posted.

Today is being called the darkest day for US special forces since the start of the war in Afghanistan. Keep the families of those lost in your prayers. Keep the ones still fighting in your prayers as well, and when they come home, thank them. We all owe them more than we can ever repay.

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