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.

Equal Standards

I’m usually the first one to stand up for the cops. I can’t say how many times I’ve seen good cops get maligned on the news for wrongs they never committed. I’ve even seen cops I knew not to be in the wrong accused of racism, brutality, and a slew of other charges and a sliver of video footage provided as proof – only to be later proven wrong by witnesses, both officer and civilian alike, because the footage failed to capture the aggressive actions of the accused leading up to what was captured on video. Having lost two friends and two professional acquaintances to line-of-duty shootings, it irritates me when the public is so ready to lash out at the police over something when they don’t have the full story. I’ve even seen people lie about what they witnessed to malign good cops. What happens when the officer is proved innocent? Nothing. The media loses interest and the public almost never hears the truth. I don’t want to be a cop because I’d never be able to keep myself from blogging the injustices I see. Even as an EMT, it’s hard not to. A lot goes on once I leave a scene, though, so there’s a lot that I gladly miss.

Every once in a while, though, we do get verifiable evidence that a cop really is a jackass and doesn’t deserve to wear a badge. The League City Police Department has targeted a friend of mine for a crime she documented that she couldn’t possibly have committed and most other Houston-area police departments consider them a running joke. In Canton, Ohio, however, an officer has done his level best to prove the myth that all cops are thugs in dire need of a serious attitude adjustment.

On June 8, Canton police officer Daniel Harless and his partner, Mark Diels, pulled up behind a stopped vehicle that a passenger was exiting. One other passenger and the driver were still inside. As soon as the officers exited the vehicle, Harless started yelling at the passengers. Diels never did anything to calm his partner, who, over the course of half an hour, became so enraged he was screaming threats to execute the driver for being stupid. It has to be seen to be believed. CAUTION: the video is long, but worth the watch, and it is peppered with profanities, all coming from the officer. It is not safe for viewing at work or with the kids around.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kassP7zI0qc&feature=player_embedded]

According to Ohio CCW law, a licensee is required to “promptly notify” officers that he has a weapon and then not touch the weapon. In this case, officers make a mistake that even a piss-ant former CO like me could spot: they start searching with the driver still inside, unsecured. If I were turning down a cell, there is no way I would do it with the occupants still inside and no backup nearby to cover me if the occupant standing outside decided to go after me. Were I a cop, first I’d never search a vehicle without a warrant or the driver’s permission – and then, I would only do it with the driver secured outside the vehicle with my backup watching him intently.

Maybe it was the outrageous stupidity of their error in judgment that caused Harless to go over the edge. Whatever it was, the driver is told by the officer searching the vehicle to “shut up”, so he complies. As he is being taken out of the vehicle, he has his CCW card in his hand and tries TWICE to tell Harless that he’s licensed and armed. Harless repeatedly interrupts him.

Then, when he finally does clue in, he snaps.

While I’m the first to stand up for officers wrongly maligned, I cannot allow an injustice like this to go uncalled. Officer Harless is the poster child for the way an officer should never behave when dealing with the public. I get the feeling this dashcam footage will end up being shown in police academies in the future, and well it should.

I’ve learned in my life that when a person loses control and has an extended angry outburst that they simply refuse to let go of, they have serious issues. I promise that this is not the first time that this officer lost his cool and he probably learned over time that this kind of behavior was acceptable. Your authority alone should be quite enough to speak volumes; the gun you carry is plain for all to see. If you need to yell at a person multiple times about what you could or should have done with it, you shouldn’t be allowed to carry it. As a civilian and a CCW holder, if I were to threaten anybody with deadly force without just cause, I’d not only go to jail, I would immediately be stripped of my right to own a firearm and it would be a cold day in hell before I got it back.

I asked one of my police friends what she thought of it and she was, at first, speechless. I asked her to watch the video and then call me. When she finally did find her voice, she said, “I kept waiting for that cop to go postal and beat the crap out of that poor guy.” She said that she’s gotten angry with people from time to time, but in nearly a decade on the force, she knew that self-control is paramount – and this guy displays no self-control at all. Lack of control will get an officer in big trouble far more quickly than a naive gun owner.

I didn’t even have to become a cop to learn that lesson. I hope the City of Canton strips Harless of his badge. It is extremely rare that I say this, but he doesn’t deserve the honor and shouldn’t be allowed to continue sullying the names of the good cops out there who know how to conduct themselves properly.

Put The Candles Out

With cute shows like Glee on the airwaves to make gay seem chic, it has become surprising to most adults just how cruel kids are still being to each other. The problem with this is that bullying isn’t cute. The victim usually doesn’t have a small army of friends nearby (especially not ones on the football team) to come to their defense. I can’t stand that show because it never works that way in real life. I was VERY different, and I didn’t have anybody there to come to my defense. Girls particularly didn’t want to be around me, not with rumors flying about that I was a lesbian. I learned to watch my mouth because I knew it would get worse if I didn’t. Besides…a gay guy usually has a girlfriend or two with shoulders he can cry on. Who sticks up for the lesbians? It sure as hell ain’t the boys. I had it pretty rough as a kid. I was soundly beaten the one time I told a girl in the 6th grade that she was beautiful. I didn’t stop acting like a boy bent on being a rock star, but I kept my thoughts and feelings to myself because I knew it wasn’t normal.

On February 12, 2008, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney pulled a .22 pistol out of his bag in the middle of an English class and shot classmate Lawrence “Larry” King twice in the back of the head as the class worked on a WWII assignment. In the weeks leading up to the shooting, a lot happened. There was also a lot of history prior that is simply being ignored, and regardless of what King’s adoptive father Greg says, gay groups have made a crusade out of his murder. So have anti-gun groups.

Larry King started accessorizing like a girl when he was just ten years old. By the time he was 15 – the day of his death – he’d come to school wearing stilettos, knee-high pink boots, brightly-colored clothing, hair gelled into different styles, and enough makeup to put Elizabeth Taylor to shame. By the time he arrived at E.O Green Middle School, he was chasing other boys, openly expressing affection for them, and staring at boys in the locker room. He was tormented, but he didn’t make it easy. Here’s where I piss off every gay liberal on the planet.

Larry didn’t know how to control himself. Teachers didn’t know how to guide him. As a result, his classmates, for the most part, didn’t know quite what to do with him. His behavior was out of control, and no amount of bullying excused his reactions.

Newsweek did a surprising article on the incident in which they actually flirted with an unbiased opinion. They quoted his father as saying, “I think the gay-rights people want it to be a gay-rights issue, because it makes a poster child out of my son.” He doesn’t like the idea that Larry turned into a cause celebré overnight because of what happened.

I learned early on to not cross the boundaries with people. Every kid has to go to some extreme at some point; mine ended up being religion. I got into my religion in a huge way and wore it in neon lettering on my sleeve. Other kids go goth, emo, country, rap, metal, nerd…or gay. When I was a kid, nobody could get away with openly admitting to being gay. Things have come a long way, but they have a long way to go yet and we are openly lying to ourselves if we think kids are really capable of comprehending the issues involved.

If a 15-year-old boy sexually harassed a girl the way Larry is purported to have harassed Brian McInerney, he’d be disciplined harshly. The instant it came to light that the boy was asking her out, whispering “I love you” in the hall and claiming to have scratched her arm during sex, there would have been major meetings with the parents and the two would be separated immediately. If the boy then broke the new rules and asked that girl to be his valentine, he’d have been immediately suspended.

Why is it impossible to conceive of doing this when a boy acting out as a homosexual makes overtures to another boy?

Most of the teachers and executive staff apparently didn’t help. Some did try to formally complain about the lack of discipline concerning Larry, but they were told nothing could be done because of California state law that banned gender discrimination – including gender identity discrimination. Larry was allowed to continue wearing outrageous clothing, makeup and hair gelled to a bouffant because nobody wanted to stop the distracting behavior. Never mind that every kid in school talked about him constantly. The lesbian assistant principal reportedly encouraged him and stifled dissent among teachers who tired of his antics. Another teacher brought him a gift in the form of a green formal dress that Larry immediately ran to try on.

We’re talking about a group of junior highers. They don’t understand sexuality yet. They certainly don’t understand homosexuality, and because it isn’t the norm (get used to it, folks, it isn’t and never will be) it results in the sometimes-violent ostracizing of kids who display same-sex behaviors.

What Brandon McInerney did was reprehensible. He deserves to go to prison for the rest of his life for his actions. We cannot, however, make Larry a poster child when his behavior cannot be excused, either. He did blow kisses at straight boys. He told Brandon he loved him. Two days before his murder, he trotted onto the basketball court to ask Brandon to be his valentine in front of the whole school. None of that was okay. If we delude ourselves into believing that it was just harmless fun, that neither Larry nor Brandon should have been hurt, then we do a disservice both to gay and straight kids alike. Gay rights groups need to learn to stay within the same boundaries that everyone else operates in.

For once, we need to put the candles out and start really holding ourselves up to the same standard that we expect everyone else to live by.

Michele and Sarah: The Woman Warriors of the Right

Re-posting an article of mine published on American Thinker, also featured in Conservatives4Palin.

With the debut of Stephen Bannon’s documentary in Iowa, the media cycle woke up energized Tuesday morning.  It seems CBS News managed to find two Republican Iowa women who believe it’s time for Sarah Palin to go away.

Of course, Sarah Palin’s approval in Iowa greatly outweighs her disapproval, but this type of narrative seems to be a stubborn roadblock for the Mainstream Media.

CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford said, “Palin has been so badly damaged by years of negative media coverage” after one of the Iowa voters declared, “I respect her a lot, and I really do like her, but I think it’s time for her to step back.”

The second comment came from a Waterloo resident who seems to portray Bachmann as a more serious candidate.  Her reasons include the fact that her children are raised while Palin’s are not.

With this “news,” CBS scores a double-win for liberalism.  They get to portray Republican women as anti-feminists while simultaneously using them to characterize Sarah Palin as a housewife on a mission to break the rules of motherhood.

Ironically, news stories like this directly confirm Crawford’s claim of press-perpetuated scrutiny.  But unfortunately for those in the media and the blueblood elite members of the Republican Party, this isn’t the first time Sarah Palin’s dealt with it.  This in and of itself is not good news for Michele Bachmann.

After the Congresswoman’s announcement in Iowa yesterday, Bachmann innocently and erroneously claimed John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa.  As a result of her gaffe, the media immediately pounced.

While Bachmann is relatively new to the national spotlight and the media’s dissection of every word uttered, Sarah Palin has undoubtedly proven it is something she can handle.  Since 2008, Sarah Palin has been scrutinized, vetted, quoted, and taken out of context more times than practically any other politician in history.

As a result, she has a steel spine in dealing with it which matches her handling of dismayed establishment-politicians beholden to special interests.

To be fair, it is difficult to point out the differences between the two without first acknowledging the similarities.

Without a doubt, Palin and Bachmann are political allies.  While Palin was campaigning with John McCain in 2008, Bachmann was on the House floor standing in opposition to the Wall Street bailout.  While Sarah Palin was out selling books and preparing to campaign for a myriad of candidates, Michele Bachmann was rallying strong as a member of Congress against the stimulus and ObamaCare.

Both women are of strong faith.  Both women are resourceful, attractive, young, and energetic.  Further, they separately and collectively graced stages and podiums in 2010 at Tea Party rallies to deliver great energy to the crowds, leading to the most historic victory for conservatism since WW2.

In all honesty, their convictions alone make them both more than qualified to take on President Obama, win, and lead this country to the greater days we’ve yet to discover.

Still, on the basis of objective evidence, the chips fall in favor of Sarah Palin.

First, no President since James Garfield in 1880 has gone directly from the House of Representatives to the White House (my apologies to Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul fans).

Despite varying political persuasions, Americans instinctively prefer executive experience found in former governors including Reagan, Clinton, G.W. Bush, and even Carter.

As a former governor, Palin vetoed $237M of wasteful spending under Alaska’s billion-dollar annual budget.  She proposed and often convinced the legislators on both sides of the aisle to reduce burdens on individuals and businesses by eliminating nuisance taxes and various bureaucratic road blocks to success like license fees and other unnecessary costs.

She achieved a record 88% approval rating by showcasing her independent streak of reaching across the aisle to Democrats in the legislative branch.  Doing this made sure that fellow Republicans were, too, held accountable.

While one can appreciate Michele Bachmann’s entrepreneurial experience as a job-creator, Palin’s similar experience is now combined with that of an executive of a state.  She knows how to utilize business experience for the greater good of job creators.

Further, as former head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC), Sarah Palin knows firsthand the complexities involved in dealing with often-stubborn oil giants.  Her experience can be utilized to explore tapping into our own resources benefiting our economy, creating jobs, and making us less dependent on foreign sources.

Finally, the aforementioned experience Palin has with handling the media is one characteristic which discourages Republicans from supporting her.  However, those same naysayers seem to be ignoring the lashing Bachmann took yesterday.

In addition to voting records, experience, and name-recognition, media-written narratives have become an expected, yet sad reality to our electoral process.  Since waiting around for the media to treat a good conservative candidate fairly is not likely to happen anytime soon, we have no choice but to accept it and fight back as we did in 2010.

That mission promises to be a lot easier with a candidate who has spent many years handling it than with one who is not even yet acclimated to it.  Be it media wisdom, executive experience, or vast knowledge on issues like energy, it is Sarah Palin whose time has come.

“Anonymous” Thatcher “Aide” Says Palin is “Nuts,” Claim Thatcher is Snubbing Palin

I am writing about this as I am certain this “aide” is going to regret their words.

Tonight, once again, Sarah Palin is sending the blogosphere into full swing.

An article published in The Guardian claims that Palin is planning a trip to Sudan in July and desired to pass through England on the way back with a hope to meet with Margaret Thatcher, a pioneer to worldwide conservative politics.

Alan Colmes immediately posted tonight on it stating the story as it was: ONE anonymous aide said something to a reporter.  The remainder of Thatcher’s staff who would go on record merely point out that her health is very dire and that the only meeting/event Thatcher is trying very hard to attend is the unveiling of a statue of Ronald Reagan on July 4th.

The best depiction is that of the LA Times which blatantly headlines: “Margaret Thatcher refuses to Meet with Sarah Palin” and begins with a photograph of Thatcher with CARTER and follows with an unflattering photo of Sarah Palin looking whacky.

The media is going off the deep end folks and before they scare fellow Republicans into writing off Palin, I certainly hope the remaining Republicans out there who have a little integrity about them remember they can do this to any candidate we pick.

If we give in to them and their blatant bias, they win.  I refuse to do so.

Taking the High Road With Anthony Weiner

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijsUSOyiPaA]

I must admit, I felt a bit giddy when I saw a man I truly detested literally caught with his pants down.  I believe Anthony Weiner is a cocky man who in many ways does not represent the people he allegedly represents.

On the other hand, though I disagree with his positions to the largest degree imaginable and utterly dislike folks like him and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz who spin and lie about important issues like Health Care and Medicare, I believe Weiner is a liberal who believes in his positions and exudes a lot of passion in fighting for them.

I am far from perfect.  So is Anthony Weiner.  So is Sarah Palin.  So is George Bush.  We can go on and on in the search for divine perfection.

Watching Hannity tonight, I found myself rolling my eyes at all these demands for Weiner to resign.  Are we really so perfect as a society that we cannot allow someone the opportunity of learning from a bad choice?  The first step to moving our Democracy back to a place where ideas alone are debated and tested on their merits is getting past these bizarre delusions that we can expect people to be perfect and divine.  It’s never going to happen.

As a proud Palinista, I’ve watched the media vet Sarah Palin up and down and from side to side.  She made a mistake in a bad interview with Katie Couric and her daughter made a bad choice by getting pregnant out of wedlock.  As a conservative, it was frustrating for me to watch an entire media explosion and the vile hatred from the left come at her in these petty ways completely overlooking her success as a public servant to perpetuate smear from everything having to do with her career as a politician, to her marriage, and even the birth of her son.

It is so easy to buy into the sensationalism of it all.  But folks, we’re at a new time in our nation’s history where lies and deceit from the White House are dictating the rest of our lives and our future.

  • We were told that everyone could keep their health care if they liked it, remember?  That was a lie.
  • We were promised that unemployment would not go above 8% if we allowed Obama to squander a trillion dollars.  The current unemployment rate proved, that was a lie!
  • We were promised health care negotiations would be held on CSPAN, that was a lie!
  • Union-leaders with Cadillac plans were given a pass after the nation was promised fair health care reform.  That was a lie!

We have a country destined for greatness on the basis of its founding but headed for failure on the basis of its current leadership.  We must stay on the issues and support the folks we know hold the right convictions and commonsense ideals to turn it all around.

I’d like for Anthony Weiner’s Congressional destiny to be left up to the voters.  In order for our country to remain free, I would hope Anthony Weiner learns from this stupid choice and continues to use the House to argue for positions he supports.

But the next time some liberal starts attacking someone like Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann for the stupidest and most trivial reasons possible, we need to remind them of how easy it is to take the high road because on the basis of the issues alone, conservatives remain poised at taking this country back and improving the conditions that are affecting all of us.

At the end of the day, this too shall pass.

Taunting the Anti-Palin Opportunists, Steve Flesher’s Latest “American Thinker” Article

With all the noise made last week, the top “reviewed” Palin smear-books have flopped.  Read my latest American Thinker article:

Prayers for Tornado Victims

I am a Texan, but my family also spent time living in Alabama. First we lived in Decatur (up North, about 20 minutes from Huntsville), then in Demopolis (West-Central, 45 minutes due South of Tuscaloosa – less than half an hour the way I drive!). I’ll never forget November 15, 1989. The weather had been horrible all day long. Storming, pouring rain, blowing wind like hell – all of it. My brother, sister and I got home from school; dad was let out of work early and mom needed a few things for supper. I went with dad to the store. It was as we pulled into the store parking lot that the hail started.

It was the size of baseballs at its smallest. It scared the hell out of me; I’d been through small tornadoes before and knew that big hail meant a big, bad storm and a near guarantee of a tornado. We were in the middle of the store when the wind picked up to the point that the rain and hail made it impossible to see out the windows at all and the tornado sirens turned on. Store power flickered, then went out. People inside were crying and running for the back of the store. Dad and I waited until the whiteout ended and the sirens turned off – then sped like demons toward our home on 8th St SW, not far away. I have since seen that house on Google Earth, and it doesn’t look much different now than it did then.

The house was okay, although mom’s brand-new Chevy Corsica was covered in gigantic dents from the hail and my brother, sister, and all sixteen pets (I do not exaggerate that number – two of them were blue-fronted Amazon parrots) were under mattresses and blankets in the hallway. Power stayed out for a little while, but inside ten minutes we were able to turn on the news.

Gary Dobbs, meteorologist for Eyewitness 31 News, came on – and this is the very first thing I saw:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-nlXqsHE18&feature=related]

Click through the link and you’ll be able to see the rest of the documentary in pieces.

What’s more is that the twister didn’t really “hit” Decatur. It mostly just skipped on and off the ground, picked up, went over the river as a funnel cloud, then touched down, grew to be nearly a mile wide and wiped out the entire Southeast section of Huntsville.

Tornado weather is something I have feared since childhood. I was so terrified of it that I studied it constantly. I could still explain the physics surrounding the formation of supercell thunderstorms and tornadic conditions as if it were second nature. I could sit with you underneath a building storm and show you what is going on as it happens. Early in the day you’ll see cumulus clouds; they’ll turn into cumulonimbus clouds and go from gray to very dark gray fairly rapidly. From a distance you’d be able to see the anvil-shaped top of the storm as updrafts build the storm column. What’s happening is a battle of warm, moist air and cool, dry air. If you’re underneath the storm, you’ll start to see a wall cloud form just before the rain starts. Sometimes you’ll see mammatus clouds form on the underside and around the wall cloud formation. Both of these are indicative of a pending tornado. Often, the sky will take on a sickening greenish-gray tint (if it isn’t black).

Most people never see a tornado coming. Most of you are likely used to the dramatic footage you’ve seen on TV and in movies that shows tornadoes without rain obscuring them, blowing up transformers and ripping up the landscape, debris clearly seen in the foreground. That’s not usually how it works. It usually starts with rain and large hail, then a sound like a roll of thunder that just doesn’t stop. It gets louder and louder until it sounds like a freight train. In the Deep South, the old Cold War air-raid sirens are now used as tornado sirens. I always knew that if I heard thunder that lasted more than about ten seconds, I needed to get to the hallway or an interior bathroom – and as a kid with OCD, I had a plan mapped out in every single house we lived in.

To this day, thunderstorms are my singular fear. I remember the 1989 tornado and the aftermath almost as if it were yesterday. I still remember the heavy, oppressive humidity leading up to the storm, the sudden violent cold after the storm and its associated cold front passed, and the smell…it was a mixture of newly-snapped timbers and crushed vegetation. It was almost pleasant except that I will forever associate it with the aftermath of a tornado that killed 21 people.

My heart, mind and prayers are with those who were hit by tornadoes just a couple of days ago. When I lived in Demopolis, AL, we went up North to Tuscaloosa when we wanted something to do that didn’t involve hanging out at Wal-Mart; many of the neighborhoods we used to haunt were blown away this week. I watched on the news as sections of that town that I recognized – University Mall, the old fire training academy, apartments near the University of Alabama – were battered by an F4 twister that killed at least twenty people so far. The total death toll topped 340 today, making the April 27 outbreak the worst since 1933.

Casey the Hero

I frequently see friends of my 14-year-old stepsister using words like “fagget” (yes, they spell it that way), “gay”, “homo”, and other gay slurs to describe people they don’t like. That is no different than it was when I was a kid. I was called all of those things – beginning in third grade at Walter Jackson elementary school. I’ll never forget the first time I was called the F-word and how my teacher did absolutely nothing about it. From there it was all downhill. I was cornered, smacked around, beaten up, tossed into lockers, dropped from elevated walkways and stairwells…you name it, I took it. It wasn’t just at school, either. Nathan Hutchison lived down the street from me AND went to church with me. He once beat me until I was covered in bleeding welts. Danny Sugasti first went to school with me then started going to my church because his girlfriend went there. “Faggot” was his favorite name for me. Theresa Baylott cornered me in the locker room more than once to beat me up – and she rode the bus with me, too. Her favorite thing to do was call me “big girrrrrl” in the most annoying, nasal voice she could muster from across whatever space she saw me from. I had bigger boobs than most every white girl in school, so she made fun of me for it. Ginger Bailey had science with me; she’d make a face and go, “ewwwww!” when I walked into the room. Eugene Klimczak also called me a faggot – he also called me dyke, queer, and a host of other gay slurs that I didn’t understand in jr. high school. He, too, cornered me and beat me up on more than one occasion.

I never fought back because I was deathly afraid of what my parents would do if I were caught fighting. The idea of self-defense didn’t even cross my mind, even though back then teachers did discern between fighting and self-defense. My parents were against any form of violence. It was made well known in our home that if any of us were suspended for fighting, we’d be in a hell of a lot of trouble. I never fought back because I was more afraid of the fallout at home. Both issues made my life a misery that a select few share with each other once they reach adulthood.

Recently I saw a video that has gone viral: young Casey Heynes, a 10th-year student in Australia, fighting back against a younger boy who was bullying him. Here’s Casey talking about the incident, along with the clip in question:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sKA5LTRECIw&oref=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fembed%2FsKA5LTRECIw&has_verified=1]

Seeing Casey pick that kid up and slam him back to the ground to stop the abuse took me back to the days when I was being treated that way, outnumbered and surrounded, wishing I had a way out – and imagining myself doing exactly what he did.

Amazingly, Ritchard Gale – the bully – claims that Casey started it all:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4ODGW72woQ&feature=related]

I have no illusions that Ritchard will actually read this, but if he does, he’s going to get his first lesson in reality. People can tell when you’re lying your ass off, buddy.

First of all, in the original clip, it is obvious who started it. Casey had no friends with him. In fact, he was surrounded by Ritchard’s friends, one of whom filmed it with a cell phone. Ritchard’s friends were spurring the incident on and laughing. And when Casey finally put a stop to it, one of Ritchard’s bigger friends stepped up and threatened Casey. Casey, unlike Ritchard, walked away once it was over. Those aren’t the actions of an instigator. Consider, too, that Ritchard was taunting Casey by dancing around him. That is what a bully does.

Remember the first kid I mentioned – Nathan Hutchison? His mother thought his shit didn’t stink. She believed everything that came out of his mouth. He would bully my brother and I and turn around and tell his mother that WE were picking on HIM. The day he severely beat me (he did so with an industrial-strength blueprint mailing tube), he claimed to my mother that I’d “nailed” him in the chin (which I hadn’t done). HIS mother believed him and told me to my face that I deserved what he’d done. The only problem was all of the other neighborhood kids who tried to tell her he was lying. She still believed him. Were I to meet him today, I would likely do exactly what he claimed I did back in 1991 – nail him. Today, though, I’d hit him hard enough to shatter his jaw.

Ritchard Gale’s father may not accept it, but his kid is a bully. Claiming that Casey abused him first is exactly what bullies do when they’re caught…they try to lay the blame on their victim for starting it, thus taking the full weight of the trouble off of them. I can only hope that school administrators see it that way. And if Casey ever has to defend himself again, I hope he shows the same courage that he did that day.

I’m in my thirties now and I will forever wish I had when I was his age. I’m now quite well-versed in Shaolin gongfu and Krav Maga and wouldn’t tolerate being abused. I’m just eighteen years too late.