Archive for crime
The only thing that is certain in the road rage trial of Martin Zale is that it was tragic.
A wife widowed. Children growing up father-less.
After that, it gets tricky.
Zale is the motorist who is accused of murder in the fatal shooting of Derek Flemming last September 2 in Genoa Township, at Grand River Avenue and Chilson Road.
Zale was allegedly driving recklessly and Flemming, on a beautiful afternoon after having lunch with his wife, didn’t appreciate it.
The vehicles stopped at a red light—Zale’s in front of Flemming’s—and Flemming got out of his vehicle to confront Zale. Witnesses say that Flemming looked very angry and had both fists clenched as he approached Zale’s truck.
Moments later, Flemming was dead—shot once in the face. He died instantly.
Zale didn’t flee; rather, he pulled off to the side of the road and called his lawyer.
Those are the basic facts. Zale’s trial is happening now, and I think it’s going to be fascinating to follow.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than what I have chronicled. But that’s what makes it so fascinating.
Who among us has never been enraged by another motorist?
Martin Zale at his trial
That’s what enthralls me about the Zale trial. So many criminal trials are difficult to relate to, because they involve actions or circumstances in which a vast majority of us would never find ourselves.
But Martin Zale and Derek Flemming? We’ve all been the latter and some of us, whether we choose to admit it or not, have been the former.
It’s just that in this case, Flemming took that extra step that many of us have fantasized about but have still managed to avoid actually doing—probably because of the fear of the fate that befell Flemming.
It’s a trial that so many of can relate to. And I believe that its verdict could have a ripple effect in several ways.
It’s also a trial where there will be no shortage of opinion or water cooler talk at the office.
As I said, the only non-debatable aspect here is that what happened was a tragedy. It always is, when something bad happens that was avoidable.
But there’s that word: avoidable.
It’s a sort of chicken and egg thing going on here.
You can say that Flemming initiated, in essence, his own death by climbing out of his vehicle to confront Zale.
You can also say that Zale initiated everything because of his allegedly reckless driving to begin with.
Then there are the backgrounds of the two men.
Zale, according to co-workers at least, was notorious for crazy driving. He also has another documented road rage confrontation from his past in which police were called.
Flemming, for his part, also–according to those who knew him—had exhibited behavior in the past that aligns with possible anger issues.
So there we have it—two known hotheads coming together to form a perfect storm of rage and reaction.
The easy thing to do—and I am among those who have done it—is to wag a finger and hold up Flemming as the poster boy for why you should never confront, and why you should call 911 instead.
But that doesn’t let Zale off the hook, of course. Flemming’s actions may have been ill-advised, but did they deserve the death penalty?
Maybe something like this was bound to happen, involving Martin Zale.
Perhaps the same could be said of Derek Flemming.
They’ll be talking about this one for years.
In 1984, Bill Cosby helped save an entire television network.
Thirty years later, he’s toxic to an entire industry.
It was in ’84 when NBC, lagging far behind brethren CBS and ABC in ratings to the point of being a national joke, brought in Cosby and built a sitcom around him.
Cosby was 46 years old and though he’d been canceled in the past with other television vehicles, his star power on TV was still heavy. Viewers still had “Fat Albert” and Jell-O commercials fresh on their minds.
The sitcom idea was novel. NBC decided to cast Cosby and his TV family as well-to-do African-Americans living in a tony brownstone in upper Manhattan. This was no “Good Times” scenario.
The presentation on TV of blacks living a life that wasn’t in poverty wasn’t new (witness “The Jeffersons”), but Cosby was a doctor and his wife was a lawyer. With all due respect to dry cleaner moguls, this was different. Plus, Cliff and Clair Huxtable had kids—lots of kids. George and “Weesie” Jefferson’s TV lives were pretty much presented sans children, even though they had a son, Lionel—but he wasn’t emphasized.
So here came Bill Cosby to save NBC in the fall of 1984.
“The Cosby Show” ran for eight seasons (1984-92) and was a phenomenal hit for NBC. The case could be made that Cosby did, indeed, save the network at a time when it was floundering.
I grew up with Bill Cosby, as did tens of millions of Americans. I am old enough to remember his “Bill Cosby Show” of 1969-71, when he was high school gym teacher Chet Kincaid.
I owned a couple of his comedy albums. I saw him perform live at Pine Knob in 1985. I must have watched his video special, “Bill Cosby: Himself” at least a dozen times. I liked that he was into sports, as well as having played football at Temple University.
I have history with Bill Cosby.
It would have seemed unfathomable to me as I grew up with Cosby’s comedy, to think that one day he would be toxic.
But he is.
As accusations swirl that Cosby drugged women to have sex with them, dating back to the 1960s, no one on TV wants to have anything to do with him.
A potential new sitcom featuring Cosby, to be aired on NBC, has been scrapped.
TV Land has pulled reruns of “The Cosby Show” indefinitely.
Think about that last one for a moment. TV Land doesn’t even want Cosby’s likeness on its airwaves from a show produced 30 years ago.
This is O.J. Simpson-like toxicity.
Precious few in the entertainment business have come to Cosby’s defense. He and his camp have been mostly silent as one woman after the other comes forward with a “Cosby drugged me and sexually assaulted me” story.
In America you are innocent until proven guilty.
That’s in the courtroom. In the court of public opinion, it works the opposite.
Right now it seems that too many women with nothing to gain, really, from fabrication, are coming forward for at least some of this disgusting behavior to not be true.
There often isn’t a “smoking gun” when it comes to sexual assault allegations, particularly when the alleged incidents happened many years and even decades ago. It’s classic “he said/she said” stuff, except that in this case, it’s pretty much all “she said.”
Cosby’s radio silence is ear piercing.
All we’ve gotten from the Cosby people is that they’re not going to dignify these allegations with a reply.
That may be good enough if it was just one woman calling Cosby out. But there seems to be a whole cadre of women allegedly victimized by Cosby. The sheer number of women coming forward makes it no longer acceptable to just roll your eyes and shake your head, if you’re the Cosby camp.
Could there be one crackpot looking for a buck or her 15 minutes? Possibly. But do you really think there is a growing faction of crackpots? Or is it a growing faction of victimized women feeling empowered now that the first domino has been tipped?
The answer is probably the latter.
Personally, I feel victimized as well—though not at all to the extent of the women that Cosby allegedly sexually assaulted.
I’m in that other boat of victims—the fans who, like me, have fond memories of Bill Cosby’s comedy attached to our childhood hips.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly can’t look at Cosby the same way again. How can you?
Now, you can stick to your legal guns and urge everyone to wait until the courts have at this brouhaha before we render judgment.
You would, technically, be on the right side of the argument if you took that tack.
But emotions and memories and gut feelings don’t ride technicalities.
I am sure that many of us have tried and convicted Bill Cosby in our minds. That’s our prerogative, frankly. We are all entitled to our opinions.
The challenge now is to put aside our personal disappointment in Cosby, should these allegations prove to be true, and focus our empathy on the women he may have victimized.
If Cosby is proven to have drugged and sexually assaulted even one woman, it’s Olly olly oxen free. All bets are off and his image should be sullied forever.
If Cosby did these despicable things, we’ve all been victimized. We’ve all been made fools of, for decades. We would have fallen in love with a fraud and a sexual predator.
But we still would not have suffered as his alleged victims have, for lo these many years.
Let’s not forget that.
In a perfect world, Derek Flemming would have been able to march up to the driver of a car that cut him off, express some anger, and get back into his own vehicle—without fear of losing his life.
The 43 year-old husband and father of two young children would have vented his anger and frustration and still lived to re-tell the story to friends, co-workers and family at every opportunity.
We do that a lot, you know—turn storyteller when we are wronged, whether it’s from poor service at a restaurant to being incredulous at a retailer’s return policy, among other things.
But then we get it out of our system and we move on, until someone else relates a story that fires your mental file cabinet into gear and your story gets retold yet again.
But Flemming paid the ultimate price in an act that unfortunately will have people—like yours truly—getting into “blame the victim” mode.
Flemming was gunned down at a traffic light near Howell after he allegedly complained to a driver who cut him off in traffic and who was—again, allegedly—driving recklessly. The 69 year-old man had stopped in front of Flemming’s vehicle at the light. Flemming exited his vehicle and said something like, according to his wife, who was in the car with her husband, “What’s your problem?”
Then Flemming was shot dead by the older driver.
I know we don’t live in a perfect world. If we did, my knee jerk reaction wouldn’t have been (as it was when I read of the tragic story), “Ooh…you shouldn’t have gotten out of your car.”
We have all been cut off in traffic. We have all been frustrated by rudeness in public. And we have all fantasized about what we would like to have done or said, if only we had thought about those reactions at the time.
You have no idea how many fictional, imagined conversations or actions I have wistfully thought of in my head in response to surliness, idiocy and the like. Usually I think of those responses when it’s way too late.
Maybe that’s a good thing.
Certainly Flemming, who was on his way to pick up his kids after their first day of school, would have made it to his children and would have had dinner with them that night, if he had only checked himself before exiting his vehicle.
You can call that blaming the victim all you like. You can say that a man should be able to stand up for himself. You can say that rude, reckless drivers deserve to be confronted.
You can say that Derek Flemming shouldn’t have been expecting the confronted driver to have a gun so readily available and with the demented mindset to use it at a drop of a hat.
But would you rather be right, confrontational and dead, or grumble to yourself—and your wife—and live?
People gather near the area where Derek Flemming was gunned down on Tuesday
It’s sad that this is the subconscious choice that we are now forced to make in this dangerous, violent world. Maybe it’s not so subconscious.
So the rude and the reckless and the surly get a free pass? Not necessarily. There are other ways to throw the karma back into their court.
In Flemming’s case, there is a device called a cell phone. And it accepts emergency numbers.
I walk our dog every evening and in the 10 years that I have been doing so, I have called the police some six or seven times. The reasons range from chickens appearing at a strip mall (true story) to a drunk man passed out on a sidewalk to high suspicions of domestic violence taking place at a private residence.
I call the authorities, calmly describe the situation and let the cops do their thing.
And I live to tell about it, which I have, several times.
Should Derek Flemming have gotten out of his vehicle and confronted a dangerous, reckless, rude driver? Or should he have dialed 911 and reported the reckless driver? Flemming was situated behind the older man, so a license plate number could have easily been reported as well.
This isn’t second-guessing. It’s not a case of hindsight being 20/20.
We live in a world where people simply aren’t to be trifled with on many occasions. No one knows who’s packing heat these days. Worse, no one knows the mental stability of those who are armed.
Did the 69 year-old driver feel threatened by the unarmed Flemming, who approached the older man’s vehicle clearly in anger, according to witnesses?
Playing Devil’s Advocate, you can say that the older man didn’t know if Flemming was armed or not. Just because Flemming didn’t approach with a gun drawn doesn’t mean he wasn’t carrying concealed.
Maybe the older driver panicked.
Regardless, Derek Flemming is dead. And he doesn’t have to be.
His epitaph, of course, ought not to read “He shouldn’t have gotten out of his car.” Flemming was a husband and a dad, and the owner of his own landscaping business. He was much more than a man who made a split-second decision that ultimately cost him his life.
As if we need yet another reminder that things are rough out there.
Sometimes the 24-hour news cycle gets extended.
Sometimes it’s a 48-hour or 72-hour news cycle. And, on occasion, a story manages to stay in the public’s consciousness for a week or more.
News stories anymore are like pieces of pasta thrown against the wall. Only some stick.
The Stephen Utash beating has beat the 24-hour news cycle, by far. Now the question is, Will it matter?
The Utash story is right out of a novel or a made-for-TV movie.
White suburbanite hits a young black boy with his pickup truck, in the city. The suburbanite stops to check on the condition of the boy and is then beaten senseless, perhaps to death (that’s a part of the story that has yet to be resolved), by a mob of black men.
It’s a story that almost had to happen, to provide the most recent litmus test of where we are as a society, particularly when it comes to violence and race relations.
The elements are all there, and if they weren’t, the story wouldn’t work as well. It would be a flawed test.
The driver was white, the hit boy was black. That’s the only way this can work. Any other combo would either not tell us anything we don’t already suspect, or it would be less newsworthy.
The white man is beaten by a mob of black men. Again, reverse it, and it’s just another example of what so many people already suspect, and what so many other people vigorously try to defend.
The person who intervened and got the mob to stop beating the white man was a black female nurse. Author, author!
The white man lies in a medically-induced coma as the suspects are rounded up. Score another for the fiction writer.
Oh, and whites and blacks come together in churches around town and try to pray the violence away. Money is being raised for the white man’s medical bills. Not bad, not bad at all.
And Detroiters did it all by themselves. They didn’t need anyone to zoom into town to rally the troops.
The author did a bang up job on this one.
Ah, but it’s all true.
The Utash beating has a shot—an actual, legitimate shot—at bringing white and black folks together in an effort to take a collective look in the proverbial mirror.
Thankfully, the words “vigilante justice” have been rinsed off this story, revealing it to be what it really is—senseless, animal-like violence that wasn’t advocating for anyone or anything, other than an opportunity to take something out on a poor man. A chance to get your licks in, for whatever reason.
Unlike others, though, I’m not convinced that the mob saw a white man and decided to go to town. Maybe we will never know for sure. Maybe the five (so far) suspects that have been arrested—four have been arraigned—will start chirping, even against each other. Maybe a motive will trickle out.
Maybe had the driver been black, he would have been beaten, too—once identified as the man who hit the boy. Again, we may never know. But we may, eventually.
The fact that no one in the beating mob—according to witnesses’ recounting of the incident—appeared to show any concern for the boy’s physical condition before they started whaling on Utash, is the most damning piece of this horrible crime.
And that’s why the vigilante label doesn’t fit and has been ripped off, rightly so.
You can’t have vigilante justice if you don’t know what the heck you’re justifying.
The facts, of course, weren’t all in when the mob sprang into action. They didn’t know—or didn’t care—that the child stepped off the curb into oncoming traffic. The boy was 10 years old—certainly old enough to know not to step into the street without looking both ways.
But that’s another discussion entirely.
It’s terrible, but often it takes something terrible to finally drum something into people’s heads.
We can only hope that Steve Utash—and let’s hope he survives and regains his wits—evolves into a turning point of sorts. He will not only be a man but a landmark.
Then again, the beating of Vincent Chin didn’t necessarily change anything.
But that’s the thing about hope. You’re willing to throw the history books out the window and say, “Maybe THIS time.”
Maybe this time.
It’s all a big joke to Justin Bieber.
Dangerous drag racing, drugs, alcohol, resisting arrest? Pfft!
The mug shot says it all.
Bieber, another young entertainer sliding down the slippery slope of hubris and spoilage, was arrested early Thursday in Miami.
With the aiding and abetting of his own father and mother—TMZ reported that Jeremy Bieber, 38, helped block off traffic for the drag race and may have supplied the alcohol, and that prescription drugs Justin Bieber allegedly used came from his mother—the odds are even longer that the youngest Bieber will get his act together anytime soon.
In the mug shot after Thursday’s booking, Justin Bieber looks like he doesn’t have a care in the world—giddy, almost.
It’s hard to blame him for thinking that way.
He’s 19, making loads of dough, has the usual protective inner circle that stars often have, and has parents who are his pals rather than his mom and dad.
He’s indestructible, right?
The charges are serious, however.
Suspicion of a DUI cocktail of alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs. An F-bomb laced rant. Resisting arrest without violence and driving on an expired license, all while he was allegedly drag racing.
Laugh it up, kid.
WHY do so many teen stars have parents who seem to want to join in on the fun rather than police it?
Bieber, like Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus, Amanda Bynes and many, many others preceding him, has now hit that age where he’s no longer cuddly but is still not a full-fledged adult. These are the years that separate the well-adjusted from the bozos.
So far, Bieber isn’t handling it well and is heading toward bozo status. But let’s look at the parents’ role.
We’re not talking about looking the other way, here. Bieber’s dad was an accomplice, if reports about the arrest in Miami on Thursday are accurate.
It’s not clear if the mother’s prescription drugs were allegedly obtained by Justin with or without her knowledge.
It’s all funny now for Justin Bieber. It’s all a big joke. Life is still good. There’s still the money, the adoring girls, the hot cars and the protective shell of an inner circle which is all too eager to please the kid.
They say there are three versions of a violent event: the accused’s, the victim’s, and the truth.
When the violence results in the victim’s death, we are left with only two of those three—usually.
In the matter of the trial of grandmother Sandra Layne, a 911 call gave a glimpse into the victim’s version. And it was enough to convict Layne of second degree murder.
The 75-year-old Layne, from West Bloomfield, was convicted the other day in the killing of her 17-year-old grandson, Jonathan Hoffman. She shot the troubled Hoffman six times last May 18, in her home. She claimed self defense—that she was fearful for her own life.
The teen had been living with Layne and her 87-year-old husband while the kid’s parents (divorced) were in Arizona to help tend to a daughter with a brain tumor.
The jury didn’t buy Layne’s plea of self defense.
They didn’t embrace Layne, really, when she took the stand in her own defense, which is always a risky move. Layne’s defense team apparently gambled that the sight and sound of a 75-year-old woman conveying her fear of her own grandson (due to proven drug use among other things) would sway the jury into acquittal.
But Layne shot Hoffman six times. She didn’t try to call the police before she broke out her gun. Nor did she call them after she showed Hoffman the weapon, presuming her intent was to use the gun to scare her grandson.
A 911 call can be a powerful tool, both for the defense and the prosecution, depending how the events unfolded. It’s even more powerful when the dead speak, as Hoffman did for the jury.
Five words were chilling.
“I’m going to die,” Hoffman told the dispatcher in the call. “Help.”
I’m going to die. Help.
Those words from a dying teen trumped anything Layne could offer up on the stand.
Sandra Layne reacts after being convicted of second degree murder in the shooting death of her 17-year-old grandson, Jonathan Hoffman
“They played the 911 tape over and over again,” said Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Walton, who tried the case and interviewed jurors after the verdict. “And they arrived at second-degree murder.”
Layne wasn’t liked well enough by the jury, and after the verdict, it turns out that she wasn’t all that well-liked by her own family, either.
Layne’s son-in-law, Michael Hoffman, said, “I never liked her. She was always a thorn in my side.”
OK, that was the son-in-law. But even Layne’s own daughter, Jennifer Hoffman, said, “I know my son is in heaven, and this is a place that (Layne) will never see.” She added that instead of calling Layne mother, Hoffman would “like to call her monster.”
The case sparked some interest because of the relationship between the accused and the victim, and the extreme ages. A teen aged victim and an accused grandmother is not your garden variety case.
A Lifetime movie? Perhaps.
Layne will be sentenced on April 18. She could be in prison past her 90th birthday, given the charges.
A 17-year-old boy dead, a 75-year-old woman going to prison, where she will likely perish.
No happy ending to any of that.
His name really was Mudd.
Today is the 179th birthday of the most vilified doctor this side of Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil.
Samuel Mudd was born on December 20, 1833. Before his 32nd birthday, he was a convicted felon.
With the rebirth of Abraham Lincoln in our social consciousness (they even made a movie where Abe isn’t a vampire hunter), now is a good time to remember Dr. Mudd, who was convicted along with several others for conspiring to kill the president in 1865.
Justice moved a lot quicker in those days, for good and for bad. The president was assassinated on April 14, 1865 (he died in the wee hours of the 15th). Less than a month later, Mudd and his co-defendants were on trial. By the end of June, Mudd was convicted along with the others.
It was Mudd’s prior acquaintance with assassin John Wilkes Booth that planted the seeds of conspiracy.
Mudd first met Booth, history says, in November 1864 in a church in Bryantown, MD. Booth used a guise of a real estate hunt as an excuse to visit the town, but his real intent was to scout out an escape route in his plot to kidnap Lincoln and ransom him for the release of Confederate prisoners of war. During this first Bryantown visit, Booth allegedly met Dr. Mudd and even stayed overnight at the doctor’s farm.
Historians pretty much agree that it’s unlikely that the doctor would have knowingly participated in Booth’s kidnap plot, though a second Booth-Mudd meeting occurred in December, which included drinks at a tavern and at Mudd’s farm. The nature of the meeting is unknown.
Mudd’s farm was only five miles from Bryantown.
Co-conspirator defendant George Atzerodt claimed that Mudd knew of Booth’s plot ahead of time, which turned into one of the murder variety.
You know the rest. Booth shot Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, and sought medical assistance at Dr. Mudd’s farm later that night. The doctor treated Booth’s broken leg (suffered while leaping from the balcony onto the stage after the shooting) and let Booth spend the night. It’s unclear—and this is a biggie—whether Dr. Mudd knew, at that time, that Booth had murdered Lincoln.
The doctor didn’t help his own cause. Mudd failed to contact authorities until several days after Booth left his farm, fueling speculation that Mudd was part of some sort of plot.
Mudd was also less than forthcoming about whether he had met Booth previously, once authorities were able to question the doctor. Mudd at first denied ever having met Booth, then retracted and confessed to the first meeting in Bryantown in November 1864. It wasn’t until he was in prison that Mudd confessed to the December 1864 meeting. Both denials were, obviously, big mistakes.
Mudd served less than four years in prison. It always helps to have friends in high places; Mudd’s defense attorney, Thomas Ewing Jr., was influential in then-President Andrew Johnson’s administration. This connection was a big factor in Johnson’s pardon of Mudd in February 1869. Mudd returned home in late March.
Dr. Samuel Mudd, as he appeared while in prison
Thanks to the pardon, Mudd resumed practicing medicine and in 1877 he even ran for the Maryland House of Delegates as a Democrat. He lost.
Mudd died of pneumonia on January 10, 1883. There is irony in his burial, which was in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Bryantown.
That’s the church where Dr. Mudd first met John Wilkes Booth.
It’s another of the talking points pushed by the gun camp, symbolically accompanied by the throwing up of hands in the air.
“If you ban guns, only criminals will have guns.”
First, I am not in favor of banning guns. I fully believe in the Second Amendment to the degree that folks should have the right to protect their castles—even if deadly force is required.
I do, however, believe that reasonable, responsible gun owners can darn well protect themselves—and their homes and their families—with weapons that aren’t designed to mow dozens of people down in minutes.
But here’s the thing. These mass shootings that are being committed nowadays aren’t being committed by criminals. In fact, many times the perpetrator has no previous criminal record. Not even a parking ticket.
Like Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old monster who shot up Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.
Lanza had no criminal record.
Neither did the shooter in the recent mall incident in Oregon. Same with the Aurora, CO theater shooter last summer.
The kids who committed the atrocities at Columbine weren’t criminals, either. Nor was the perp in the Virginia Tech massacre.
Loners? Yes. Troubled? Definitely. But not criminals.
Criminals aren’t committing mass shootings. Armed criminals typically rob or steal. Or trade on the black market. If they stockpile artillery, it’s to sell. They don’t acquire automatic weapons so they can shoot up a mall, a school or a movie theater.
Those are facts.
The folks who are arming themselves to the hilt, throwing on military-style vests and camouflage gear, aren’t criminals. They’re suffering from mental illness.
Until we start treating root causes rather than symptoms, we’re going nowhere in the effort to try to make what happened in Connecticut on Friday a once-in-a-lifetime tragedy.
It’s time to start educating about mental illness, which is still, in the 21st century no less, terribly misunderstood.
Look no further than the reports that Lanza may have been autistic, or afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Neither has ever been directly connected to violent behavior of any serious degree. Yet you just know that there is a segment of the population that will take the autism and Asperger’s thing and run with it. And you know that those afflicted with said disorders will now be looked at sideways.
There is so much we don’t know about mental illness. I’d say we’d better start getting a handle on it, because it ain’t going away.
If there is any common ground I can find with those on even the most extreme side of pro-guns, it’s that people are ultimately responsible for their actions. The gun provides them with the means of destruction, but not every gun owner commits mass shootings, so that should be a clue right there.
Lanza’s mother, Nancy, who was gunned down first last Friday, has been taking some posthumous heat for her decision to have guns of the magnitude that was used by her son, in the first place.
But even his own mother clearly didn’t understand the scope of Adam Lanza’s troubled state.
This is a time for experts in many arenas to sit down, together, and start hashing some stuff out. To do whatever we can to prevent another atrocity like Newtown from happening again is going to require serious, honest discussion from everyone across the gun, mental illness and law enforcement spectrum.
You’re afraid that only criminals will have access to guns?
It’s not working too well when the non-criminals get a hold of them, either.
For eight years, every Saturday, I have pumped out 1,000+ words about pastimes—kids games played by grown-up millionaires. I have mused about the merits of the Lions’ latest draft, the Tigers’ latest free agent signing, the Pistons’ latest implosion, the Red Wings’ latest Stanley Cup.
Not this Saturday.
This Saturday, there won’t be any hand-wringing over the NHL’s (latest) lockout. There won’t be any fussing about another Lions season gone wrong. No analysis about whether the Tigers should have committed $80 million to a pitcher. No unsolicited solutions to all that ails the Pistons.
What does any of that matter, when 20 precious children woke up, went to school, and ended up being carried out of their classrooms in body bags?
For many, sports is a diversion—a way to unplug, for 2-3 hours, the cord that connects us to our troubled lives. We shove our money problems, our marriage troubles, and our job worries to the back burner, so we can yell and scream at the TV and bring our sports teams’ troubles to the fore. Sometimes the logic seems ill, actually.
But it’s not real life, in the strictest definition. The drama is played out on the field, or on the ice, or on the hardwood. At the end there is a winner and there is a loser but none of it really matters.
Even Reggie Jackson, who didn’t meet a spotlight he didn’t like, once tried to put sports in perspective.
“I was reminded that when we lose and I strike out, a billion people in China don’t care,” Reggie said.
Sports is a diversion, but even that is kind of disingenuous to say. The line between sports and real life is being blurred, almost daily. The off-the-court, off-the-field, off-the ice news is capturing a larger slice of the information pie. Sports isn’t, any longer, just about hitting a curve or sacking the quarterback. It’s not just about how to defend the pick-and-roll or getting the puck out of your own zone.
They used to do a lot of killing in sports, but it was all figurative.
Kill the umpire! Kill a penalty. Kill the clock.
Lately, as we’ve seen with recent incidents involving players of the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys, they’re killing people for real.
But on this day we don’t look to sports to divert us. The games go on, but today we are glued to our TV sets, tied to the Internet, frantically searching for answers that may never come, to a one-word question.
That three-letter word starts so many of our queries.
Why did a 20-year-old young man kill his mother? Why did he then drive to the school where she reportedly worked, and gun down the principal and a school psychologist?
And, the biggest “Why?” of them all.
Why did this young man, reportedly identified as Adam Lanza, march into a classroom and start shooting grade schoolers?
Why did his mother have such powerful weapons registered in her name, to which Lanza had access? Why didn’t anyone see this coming?
After the why come the next big questions, and those all start with “How?”
How will the parents of the dead children cope? How will the parents of the surviving children ever hope to re-instill a sense of security in their kids? How will the town of Newtown, Connecticut, a small burg of about 27,000 people (not unlike the size of Madison Heights, where I live), manage to carry on after the slaughter that occurred in their town?
You want to keep sports in this discussion, in an allegorical way?
Well, here it is.
The country has hit its two-minute warning. But it needs to get the football back from the gun lobbies before it can mount a game-winning rally.
We’re out of timeouts, too.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in the wake of the news of the shootings that “today isn’t the day” to talk about gun control. Someone should remind Carney that we have no timeouts remaining.
If the day to talk about gun control isn’t the day in which 20 of our babies are shot dead, sitting at their desks in a kindergarten class, then we’ll never have that talk.
The nightmare in Connecticut has pushed us to the brink. Our backs are against the wall and all that sports rot. The gun violence keeps getting worse, backing us closer to that wall. It wasn’t bad enough after Columbine, apparently. Wasn’t bad enough after a Congresswoman was gunned down at a public appearance.
We edged closer to the wall after the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. And even closer, after the mall shooting in Oregon, just this week.
Now 20 little boys and girls are dead. If this doesn’t cause us to start kicking, clawing and scratching, trying to fight our way back from the edge of insanity, then the clock will run out and the game will be over.
For decades, the gun people have put all their chips on “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It’s a rallying cry that lacks common sense and immediately puts blinders on those who utter it.
It’s catchy, I grant you that. It’s also true in the most literal sense. A Glock or an assault rifle won’t, of course, kill someone if no one takes hold of it, aims it, and pulls the trigger. You got me there.
But people with guns kill people. Why doesn’t the gun camp think that’s as catchy?
Get ready for the argument of, “If only someone at the school was armed, then a lot of lives might have been saved.”
The old OK Corral argument. The notion that, like in the movies, a hero will draw his weapon, and pick off the bad guy with one shot, with no possible chance of collateral damage or stray bullets striking and killing others.
You think that’s really how it would go down if everyone walked around with a pistol on their hip? Or is it more likely that more people might choose to go for their weapons to “solve” problems, in a horrific moment of indiscretion?
Is the way to put out a fire, to throw more fire at it?
We’re at the two-minute warning. We have no more timeouts remaining. We need the ball back. The situation is just that dire.
We can’t put off the rally any longer. Twenty babies are dead. If that’s not a game changer, then we’re doomed.
The Sesame Street Muppets have become such a part of our social consciousness that I don’t think any of us really stop to think that the Muppets aren’t living, breathing creatures—we must remember that they’re puppets, controlled and voiced by living, breathing humans.
Humans, as in imperfect beings.
The face of Elmo, one of the more popular Muppets, was ripped off in a shocking and vile manner recently, revealing that its puppeteer, Kevin Clash, has been allegedly involved, in the past, with some hanky panky with at least one underage youth.
Two accusers came out against Clash, who is openly gay. The first recanted, saying that the relationship was consensual and legal (age-wise). But then a second accuser surfaced, and this one says that he and Clash became involved when the former was just 15 years old.
The second accuser has slapped Clash with a $5 million lawsuit, claiming he (the accuser) had only recently become aware of “adverse psychological and emotional effects.”
Kevin Clash and Elmo
Regardless of the credibility of the accusations, Clash has submitted his resignation. Elmo is in need of a new alter ego.
Sesame Workshop issued this statement regarding Clash’s resignation.
“Sesame Workshop’s mission is to harness the educational power of media to help all children the world over reach their highest potential. Kevin Clash has helped us achieve that mission for 28 years, and none of us, especially Kevin, want anything to divert our attention from our focus on serving as a leading educational organization. Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Kevin’s personal life has become a distraction that none of us want, and he has concluded that he can no longer be effective in his job and has resigned from ‘Sesame Street.’ This is a sad day for ‘Sesame Street.’”
To Sesame Street’s credit, they were ready to welcome Clash back into the family once the first charge was recanted. Clash’s sexual orientation, thankfully, wasn’t enough to pull the plug on him as being Elmo’s puppeteer. But when the second charge came down, along with the accompanying lawsuit, SS felt like it had no choice but to call for Clash’s resignation.
It’s hard to argue with SS and Clash’s decision. The SS brand has been a part of American households and families for about 40 years. Why should they risk any additional bad press and scuttlebutt by bringing Clash back while there is all this legal stuff going on?
Besides, the mystique and aura of Sesame Street’s Muppets are based almost solely on the anonymity of the puppeteers. Yes, folks eventually found out that guys like Frank Oz and Jim Henson operated and voiced many of the original Muppets, but for the most part we aren’t visualizing humans behind the scenes when Kermit the Frog or Miss Piggy are doing their thing.
They’re not puppets, they’re Muppets, for crying out loud! They’re practically human.
The seedy story that is about to unfold about Kevin Clash (under-aged boys, meeting online, etc) is one that Sesame Street just as soon let play out somewhere else—anywhere else, other than behind Elmo’s back.
It looks to be the end of a 28-year ride for Clash as Elmo’s puppeteer, but it’s an ending that needs to happen.
The sooner the anonymity of Elmo’s puppeteer is returned, the better.