Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Experience With Cops

I have written a lot about Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and other recent police shootings. Generally, I have been critical of the officers and the way the legal system reacted to these incidents. As a result, I have often been called anti-law enforcement. The truth is that it is exactly the opposite. It is because of my experience with law enforcement that I've been so negative about some of the events that have occurred. 

I worked for the Wabash County Sheriff's Department for almost 10 years. Ours was a small department and many of us engaged in duties not strictly listed on our job descriptions. For instance, although my job title was Sheriff's Secretary, I was made a special deputy in order to do things like transport females to detention, go with detectives on drug buys to search the females to ensure they were not carrying drugs in, participate in serving warrants of females, accompany officers transporting mentally ill females to mental health care facilities. I attended Reserve Officer training and did firearms qualification with the deputies.

I was taken aback the first time I was told to go into the restroom to watch a female change from her street clothes to jail clothes to make sure she didn't have a weapon. My boss, the Major, chuckled and said, "do you know what the last sentence in your job description is?" I told him no and he said, "....and other duties as required. Consider this one of them". 

Incidentally, the inmate laughed at the expression on my face, - "don't be embarrassed for me, Honey, I've been through this 100 times."

In the same way, the first little gal I had to search prior to a drug buy also smiled at my reluctance. "I wore a tube top to make it easy on you and I ain't got no boobs so you can easily tell I don't have anything extra under my top!"

I was pleasantly surprised when I first went to the Sheriff's Department at how accepting the deputies were of a female in their midst. They often invited me to ride with them, particularly on the night shifts, simply for company. 

I saw the gamut of offenders during those years. Aggressively resistant mentally ill people off their meds, wildly crazed drug users and drunks, dangerously furious wife beaters, robbers and assaulters. I saw my deputies hit, bitten and scratched as they fought to take someone down. I saw them pepper spray perpetrators (we didn't have tasers then). I saw them draw their guns but I never saw them have to resort to shooting anyone.

By contrast, they were comparatively kind once the suspects were in custody. Usually, they shared their cigarettes (or mine). They generally spoke to them courteously unless the prisoners themselves were being assholes. 

On long transports, I usually functioned as the "good cop" convincing the "bad cop" to let them smoke and buying them a candy bar and pop when we bought ourselves one. My compatriot told them, "I'm being nice because of her but if you give me any trouble, the smokes and the treats will go away." It was an effective system. We never did have any trouble.

We worked closely with the Wabash City Police Department and the Department of Natural Resources officers and the State Police. 

I liked some better than others, of course, but mostly, I respected all of the officers I worked around. I took for granted that they would use good judgement and they did. 

I talked to one of those officers, one I've known and admired since he was first a jail officer and then a police officer. I asked what he thought of the cop in Alabama who shot a naked student high on drugs. The kid,  a slight boy (5'7", 140 pounds), banged on the University police department door. He was deranged from drugs but the officer obviously knew he had no weapon since he was naked. It took only 30 seconds for the cop to decide to shoot him dead. He was exonerated by a grand jury.

"Do you think that's what you would have done?" I asked my friend. Of course, he hemmed and hawed and refused to answer, said he didn't know the circumstances, or how the officer felt, so he couldn't say. But, my opinion, knowing him, is that there is no way he'd have shot the boy. He'd have called for back up; he'd have used less-than-lethal force - something besides killing him. 

So, it is knowing these guys and having seen how they did their jobs that makes me so critical of the "shoot first and ask questions later" mentality that seems to have become so pervasive in modern law enforcement. The officers in my county showed me by example the way it should be done. 


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Hypocrisy.....It Burns

Well, I have spent most of my day pissing people off on Facebook. I probably have a lot fewer friends than I did 24 hours ago. It's all about Ferguson, of course.

Oh, those terrible black people, many of my white friends say - looting and burning and vandalizing. We would never do any of that because we aren't violent animals. We respect the rule of law and obey authority. We have faith in our wonderful justice system.

Except when they are and they don't.

Except when they want to walk into restaurants carrying AK-47's over their shoulders. Except when they form militias to threaten government agents in defense of Cliven Bundy. Except when they protest carrying signs that show our president hanging in effigy. Except when they want to disobey duly passed legislation like gun control laws and abortion rights they disagree with. Except when they call out their fellow citizens to start the revolution and "take our government back" by force. Except when they shoot young black kids coming home from the store. Except when they don't like the president the majority of voters voted for. Except when they cheer for a foul-mouthed and murderous Ted Nugent.

Because, you see, violence is in the eye of the beholder and when they do it, of course, it is justified but when those black people do it, it's because, well, you know, they're not quite civilized.

Many middle and lower-middle class white people seem innately incapable of even attempting to put themselves in another's place. Their lives are their lives and the way things are. There's no excuse for what people in Ferguson did. You can ask - "but haven't you noticed that this killing of black boys by police officers seems to be happening more frequently and most often, nothing is done about it. Can you imagine how frustrating it might be if you felt the authorities would just as soon kill your child as not?" or "If your child was shot to death because a police officer saw a game remote in his hand and thought it was a gun, do you not think your level of rage would be through the roof"?" or "if he was killed simply walking home from the store?" Yeah....but, he had Skittles and that kind of drink and we all know what that means....he's a thug!

(Thug - I swear to God, I wish we'd banish that freaking word from our vocabulary!)

All you get in return for your questions are blank looks, or maybe anger. That isn't the world they know and it is beyond their conception.

All this began many years before Michael Brown was killed. I wonder, did it never occur to the town fathers of Ferguson to say, "you know, this situation with a majority of black citizens and a vast majority of white cops just isn't good. In fact, it's a tinderbox. There is no respect or trust between the two sides. You know, maybe we should make a big recruiting effort to bring our police department more in line with reality." No, evidently that never happened. In fact, they hired an officer, Darren Wilson, who came from a department that was disbanded because of racial animosity. Oh, yeah, that's smart.

And did it never occur to the African-American leaders in Ferguson to say, "you know, we need to get off our asses and vote. If every one of us voted, we could elect whoever we wanted. So, by God, we're going to register every eligible voter in this city and we're going to get everyone to the polls in the next election if we have to drag them kicking and screaming." Nope, that didn't happen either.

So the the way things were just dragged on. The hostility just dragged on. The fear and mistrust just dragged on.

And then came Michael Brown's death and it hardened attitudes even more than they had been before. Will it also act as a catalyst for change? I guess that remains to be seen but judging by past experience, I'd probably take the "against"

Sunday, November 23, 2014



At my age, most of what I'm thankful for are memories. I'm glad I lived through the times I did. I'm happy my parents were who they were. I'm thankful my Dad had a traveling bone and my Mom was eagerly willing to hitch a ride right along with him.

I remember waiting impatiently on the platform for our train to come whistling and screeching down the track like a huge living thing coming to take us to unknown places. I remember as a little girl being at the station in Chattanooga so that ever afterward the song, Chattanooga ChooChoo, had a special meaning for me. I remember kindly Black porters, taking the time to admire a proud four-year-old's new cowboy boots. And eating at tables with snowy white tablecloths.

And I remember traveling by car. My parents usually both worked and Mom's paycheck was set aside for "traveling funds" so we never had to hurry but could afford to meander across the country from north to south and east to west. I remember the anticipation of motels and restaurants. Now, I mostly go to predictable places that all the look the same and taste the same - the Hampton Inn and Cracker Barrel - but back then, there were no chains so every stop was an adventure. Today might the a piece of salty county ham as tough as shoe leather and tomorrow, the most heavenly biscuits and gravy you ever put in your mouth.

I remember passing through deserts and forests and mountains and crossing wide rivers and struggling through blizzards and blinding rain. I remember going to the rodeo in Laramie and the horse races in Phoenix and beach in Southern California.

I'm glad I grew up in a time when children were free. My cousins and I wandered the town dump hoping to find the secrets hidden in letters and down back alleys scavenging in the trash for magazines and catalogs for our scrapbooks. We rode our bikes across town to the library and down to the river. And in the dusk of the summer, all us kids of all ages played Ditches through the backyards amid the lightning bugs.

I remember buying two nickel ice cream cones (because it was the same amount of ice cream but you got two cones) at the corner store and waiting in a long line at the movie to see Elvis in Love Me Tender. I remember that we were given 15 cents in addition to the dime to get in - 5 cents each for a pop, a bag of popcorn and a candy bar. On some lucky days, we got to go to the drug store for a chocolate soda after. I remember poodle skirts and fringed plastic jackets and bloomer shorts and penny loafers.

My family treated children equally. If we all went out to eat and you wanted a T-bone steak, you got it. When the whole big bunch of them went to the Eagles on Saturday night, our dads and uncles and cousins danced with us like we were grown ups.

When they got together for their beloved marathon poker games, we were allowed to play too but it was a learning experience. If you thought you were old enough, you didn't whine if you lost your allowance. You didn't ante out of turn. You paid attention and played, seriously, by God, or not at all. I hate poker to this day.

I'm glad I was young and running around when every bar had a live band and no cover charge and every place was jam-packed. The Club Royal and Stonyridge and the Fox and Hounds and there was a favorite place in Elwood...I forget the name. It was a time when the authorities turned a blind eye to marijuana and I guess to drunk driving too because I never knew anyone back then who got arrested for D.U.I. although many probably could have been.

I remember going to the drag races at Bunker Hill (the track is for sale now, I read) and the motorcycle races at the track on Dora Road. Decked-out choppers were the prestige bikes to have then and Jim Driscoll (Cisco) had the most beautiful one of all.

And I remember Vietnam, not so thankfully. Back then the guys coming home still wore flack jackets and boonie hats and long hair and an attitude of wariness. We swore after that we'd never let it happen again but, of course, we did. We watched our brothers go and then we sent our sons. I can never quite understand how that works.

I remember Canal Days and the looked-forward-to sidewalk sales in front of all the shops downtown - Beitman and Wolf and the Francis Shop and Resnecks and Wassman's and Max's Gentry shop and Woolworths and Kresge's and Mark's Camera Shop and Gillespie's and Sonda's. Shopping to be followed by lunch at the Sweet Shop and maybe bag of Pop Morris' wonderful candy. Yes, all those places were on the downtown block then.

I still think of those days as the glory years of rock and roll but I suppose every generation feels that way about their own era. Are there bands now that will become legends like the Beatles and the Stones and Led Zeppelin and CCR.....? I expect there are.

I'm thankful I was in love once and was loved in return. That's not to say it turned out so well in the end. Jim was far from an ideal husband and I was far from an ideal wife but still, I wouldn't have given up those feelings for a more mundane life. I was sort of into roller-coasters back then although eventually, I got off and never wanted to experience those stomach-churning emotions again.

Motherhood was much the same. I was not a natural mother. Although I loved John dearly, I had no aptitude for understanding babies. While other mothers sighed and regretted their children growing up, I couldn't wait. My best time as a mother was the teenage years. I enjoyed teenagers then and I still do.

I'm glad Jim and I moved to the farm out past Lagro though two people more ignorant and ill-suited to be farmers you couldn't find. But I remember all the animals and the garden and the creek that ran by the yard and the hilly woods. I remember Marty the great silver Collie and Buddha the enigmatic yellow cat whom we inherited with the house and Spot the calf and Spot the other calf and Tessie the hateful milk cow and the pigs and the rabbits and my beloved chickens and ducks and geese and guineas. I loved that place and that life.

So, memories. They are what last when everything else goes away. Hopefully, your, like mine, are mostly good ones.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Saint Ronnie and Saint Dale


I am a political junkie and a NASCAR fan-atic and these are the two heroes in the world I inhabit...which pretty much puts me totally out of step with most of those around me.

Ronald Reagan, President, the Great Communicator.

Dale Earnhardt, Stock Car Driver, The Intimidator.

They have both long passed out of reality and into the stuff of myth.

Reagan devotees have put time and money into an effort to name everything but the kitchen sink after him - airports and schools and highways and ships and mountains and money. I wouldn't be surprised if some Republicans don't have a little bronze plaque in their kitchen - Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Kitchen Sink. In fact, the new country planned by some secession enthusiasts is tentatively named Reagan.

Dale Earnhardt worshipers are much the same. To them, Dale was the epitome of daring cool and no one else will ever measure up. No matter if they pass him in poles and laps led and wins and championships because everyone knows that NASCAR has become a woosified sport compared to back in the day when men were men and Dale was the manliest of them all.

Of course, the people who love them know what they would have thought and done in every situation. Like now. Ronald Reagan would have thrown down against Putin for invading Ukraine. Forget that he didn't do a thing when Russia shot down one of our passenger planes - and when a truck bomb killed 242 of our Marines, we simply packed up and left Lebanon. Forget that Reagan's "claim to fame" as a war president was the invasion of the tiny little island of Grenada. What would Reagan's response have been to Ebola? Ask yourself how he reacted to AIDS and that will probably give you some idea. (Hint: he ignored it).

And Reagan would never have shredded our revered constitution by using executive orders to grant clemency to illegal immigrants....except he did. Reagan would never have signed a gun control bill in defiance of the Second Amendment....except he did. As Governor, Reagan would never have approved any legislation that weakened the pro-life position....except he did. Reaganites have either forgotten, or found excuses for all these actions.

In the last many years, NASCAR has created a play-off system called the Chase. Many old-line NASCAR aficionados hate the Chase. They swear that Dale would have marched into the executive offices at NASCAR and demanded that it be repealed. They boast that Dale would have refused to drive in such a travesty of a series and NASCAR would, of course, have backed down rather than alienate its most popular driver.

Dale Earnhardt was before my time in NASCAR. Perhaps he was all that and more that his fans thought about him. But my belief is that he would have done exactly as every other driver has done - he would have raced and tried to win based on the rules mandated by NASCAR.

Saint Reagan. the Great Communicator, told the American people how unions were bad and firing all Air Traffic Controllers, banning them from practicing their profession again, ever, was what they deserved. Instead of being aghast at the pure brutality of his actions, we believed and yelled, "right on, Ronnie!" He told us that tax cuts pay for themselves and that if you pile the profits onto the rich, their left-overs will trickle down to the rest of us and we believed and yelled, "right on, Ronnie!" So, even though, lo' these many years later, time has proven over and over again that he was wrong, we go right on believing.

Saint Dale is to NASCAR what Ronald Reagan is to the Presidency. His ubiquitous number # 3 race car is tattooed on body parts and flown on banners and painted on the sides of campers. How many times do I hear, "Dale, would have done this" or "Dale wouldn't have put up with that" or "Current Driver wouldn't have made a pimple on Dale Earnhardt's ass"?

I don't understand this penchant Americans have for idolatry. Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton were two of my favorite presidents but I acknowledge their weaknesses while still honoring their accomplishments. Jimmie Johnson is my favorite NASCAR driver. I think he is by far the best of modern times but I don't insist that he is is super-human.

And that's the problem with deifying  our heroes. It causes us to scorn the heroes of now. No one will ever be able to live up to Saint Ronnie and Saint Dale. No pedestals will ever be high enough to reach them. And while our rose-colored glasses are focused on the past, we let the present slip through our fingers.  

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Mixed Message of the Election


Yes, I'm still suffering from an election night hangover but like most addicts, it won't keep me from opening that next bottle of political poison. I'm a political junkie, what can I say?

I was going to write about how totally disgusted I am with the party I usually claim as mine but Jim Wright at Stone Kettle Station said it better than I ever could. Democrats, overall,  are kinder and fairer and yes, I think, smarter than Republicans over all, but they suffer from the malady of Chronic Spinelessness. They prefer to play defense to going on offense and their defensive team isn't worth shit. I remember watching Al Gore lose in large part, I believed, because he was afraid to claim Bill Clinton. Now I just watched the Democrats lose in large part, I believe, because they were afraid to stand with Obama and recite the good things they've done in the last six years. Did you vote for Obama, Allison Lundegan Grimes? But read Jim's piece. It's the best.

Now, ole Mitch Baby, who swore to destroy Obama's presidency from day one is talking bipartisanship. Screw that! I could have been talked into it once but I'm out of the mood now. Obama doesn't have to account to anyone anymore so I hope he rides as roughshod over the Republican congress as it is legally possible for him to do (with the benefit of the doubt going to the president as it did with Bush and the Torture Gang). I hope he vetoes everything they send to him - good, bad or indifferent. They won't like him any better if he tries to compromise with them so why bother?

Unfortunately, I don't think being unreasonable is in Obama's nature. I believe, for the most part, he'll continue to try to work with the Republicans as best he can although they'll continue to claim he isn't.

I honestly hope they bring impeachment proceedings on the first day they take over. I've heard so much about impeachment and treason and not-really-an-American and Muslim sympathizer, blah, blah, blah, that I feel as if I'm choking on it. Hey, you guys were balls to the wall when it meant clicking "like" on a Facebook post. But now you have the luxury of putting your money where your mouths are so do it if you think you have the evidence.

Ditto repealing Obamacare. For all those that they hate it, I doubt they'd be very happy to see pre-existing conditions and lifetime caps come back. There would be horror stories in the media about people who....finally managed to obtain health insurance under Obamacare going without again. I don't think the Republicans have the guts.

This election created befuddlement in trying to figure how Americans make the choices they do. In all the states (and D.C.) where legalization of marijuana was on the ballot, a majority voted for it. (In Florida, 57% of voters approved medical marijuana but in that state, it takes 60 percent to move forward). In the two (red) states where a Personhood Amendment was on the ballot, it was defeated soundly (although Tennessee did vote for a very restrictive abortion bill). In every state where it was on the ballot, increasing the minimum wage won big. In the small Texas town of Denton, an anti-fracking bill passed. In Washington State, on a referendum to require background checks on all gun sales, the measure passed.  In Connecticut and Colorado the voters retained governors whom the NRA had sworn to defeat.

Okay, so on all these issues, the liberal leaning side won. So, what explains the fact that those very same voters also elected politicians who actually sponsored the Personhood Amendment they voted against and all the politicians who were opposed to a minimum wage increase that voters supported in huge numbers or were against legalization of pot.

Have we all simply become a nation of raging political schizophrenics?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Don't Vote

Well, here we go....Election Day. I used to love the suspense of elections more than I do now. That's because I wasn't terribly concerned about which party won back in the day. I usually leaned toward the Democrats but I wasn't literally afraid of the Republicans as I am now. I believed yesterday's Republicans had the country's best interests at heart even if I disagreed with them on some issues. I basically thought the country would be okay no matter who won.

But somehow those Republicans morphed into the Tea Party and then the Tea Party morphed into the Mean Party. In the beginning, I thought some of their principles were idealistic if sort of wacko. Uh, yes, we probably all agree that lowering the deficit is a good thing (and, in fact, it has been going down steadily under Obama) but to end all deficit spending RIGHT NOW would plunge the country into a depression that would make this last one look small.

What would they cut to end the deficit immediately. Well, one of their core principles is a strong military so I guess that means the cuts would have to come from social programs? Social security? Medicare and Medicaid? Education?

None of us particularly like taxes but the Tea Party really, really doesn't like them and want major cuts. So they want to end deficit spending but give the country less income to do it with. What's that saying about being able to hold two conflicting thoughts in your head at the same time?

Anyway, the original Tea Party barely mentioned social issues. They simply "encouraged' traditional values but the latter day Tea Party swung sharply to the social (versus economic) side with gay marriage and abortion in the forefront of what should be outlawed in a Tea Party country.

Guns, of course, are sacred. Literally. It's in their platform. Isn't that a form of worshiping false gods?

And we began to see the kind of crazies the Tea Party supported - Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman, Steve Stockman and Ted Cruz, Louis Gohmert and on and on. The birthers. The science-deniers. The "I.U.D.s are a form of abortion" folks. The "legitimate rape" guys. The Personhood people. The "oh, my God, I can't say Christmas anymore" victims. The "Obama is a Muslim" insisters.  The "billionaires are better than you and me" believers.

And all done in the name of religion. Pretty much exactly the opposite of what Jesus preached.

The accepted thing to say is that everyone should vote (unless you're trying to suppress the votes of your opponents, of course). "Go, Vote" posts are all over Facebook. I'm not going to be a hypocrite and say, "I just want everyone to vote their conscience" because actually what I'd prefer to see is all the conservatives struck with apathy today and not vote at all.