Justice Tempered by Mercy, Mercy Me

Oh mercy, mercy me
Oh things ain’t what they used to be

Mercy Mercy Me   Marvin Gaye

I know I’ve compromised the lyrics from a song about pollution to one about the justice system, but the lamentation of the words is appropriate.

A recent headline on FOX News blared,

Florida man gets 20 years for stealing $600 worth of cigarettes

A Florida man who stole $600 worth of cigarettes from a convenience store was sentenced Friday to 20 years in state prison, The Pensacola News Journal reported.

An Escambia County jury convicted Robert Spellman, 48, of burglary and grand theft in August. Spellman went into a Circle K in December, and stole 10 cartons of cigarettes from a stock room in the store manager’s office, authorities said.

The State Attorney’s Office said authorities found Spellman nearby, matching a description of the suspect, and had the cigarettes, The News Journal reported.

Spellman had 14 felony and 31 misdemeanor convictions prior to the cigarette theft, which qualified him as a habitual felony offender, The News Journal reported. That led to the lengthy 20-year prison sentence imposed Friday by an Escambia County judge.

The lengthy prison term prompted outrage on social media, with some people accusing the prosecutor of imposing too harsh a sentence for a seemingly petty crime.

“Just such a disproportionate sentence,” wrote one Twitter user. “[W]ho are these cruel judges?!?” Bradford Betz – FOX News – Monday, September 24, 2018

Somehow, people were outraged that a man could be sentenced to twenty years in prison for stealing $600 worth of cigarettes.

Mercy, mercy me.

They apparently skipped the part that said,

“Spellman had 14 felony and 31 misdemeanor convictions prior to the cigarette theft, which qualified him as a habitual felony offender.”

JusticeNow, I will be the first to point out our corrections system is wanting in the rehabilitation department. Our prisons are warehouses and little more. But when an individual, not otherwise suffering from mental illness or incompetence, has been convicted of 45 crimes, including 14 felonies, there is little left for society to do than “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.”

Mr. Spellman could be the poster child for the failed court system. I will bet, if one reviewed the court record, Mr. Spellman was warned by many judges not to return to the courtroom and be of good behavior. To which Mr. Spellman, or most likely his overworked public defender, assured the court he would.

Anything to escape responsibility.

Everyone deserves a second chance, perhaps even a third chance. But 45 chances are bordering on the court being an accomplice to the crimes.

While there are myriad social implications for failing to provide meaningful rehabilitation to criminals, everything from skills training to assist with job opportunities after release, deterrence and punishment for crimes is still a valid societal tool.

Mercy, Mercy me

How much more evidence do we need?

A Tweet a Day, Keeps Rationality Away

In the latest tirade from the Commander-in-Chief, the President whined,

Why was the FBI’s sick loser, Peter Strzok, working on the totally discredited Mueller team of 13 Angry & Conflicted Democrats, when Strzok was giving Crooked Hillary a free pass yet telling his lover, lawyer Lisa Page, that “we’ll stop” Trump from becoming President? Witch Hunt!”

Aside from the blatant inaccuracy and disingenuous nature of these words (let alone the second-grade grammar), there is something more troubling on display. In the words of William Shakespeare, a man who knew the power of words, there is this,

“There is no darkness, but ignorance.”

words-have-powerThe mark of a person is not made by their words but by their deeds. Yet, words offer a window on a person’s character. How one expresses yourself—the tone and timbre of the language—is an elementary part of one’s approach to life.

With emotional and intellectual maturity comes the wisdom to understand the necessity of choosing words carefully. A rational and respectful person learns to make a point without resorting to infantile name-calling.

It would seem with the president we see evidence of intellectual dystrophy and emotional immaturity. Not generally a concern for most who have little international influence, frightening in the case of a man with sole determinant authority to launch nuclear weapons.

History is the arbiter of success and failure. When history reviews the Trump Presidency, the self-serving blaming of others for all things he’s failed to accomplish or been taken to task for will rise to the surface as one of his most glaring defects.

To stand idly by, wringing his hands in-between writing sophomoric tweets, as children are torn from their families is the epitome of disingenuous cowardice. If he seeks to be perceived as even the least bit Presidential, issue a Presidential Executive order halting the policy of separating the children and see who challenges the order in court.

I can guarantee it will not be a Democratic challenge.

The one truth is nothing is permanent. This too will pass.

The President, for all his braggadocio, claims of success, and superlative laced tales of his performance, along with his constant complaining about everybody not on Team Trump, would do well to heed the admonition of Ozymandius by Shelley.

Ozymandius

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandius, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 

Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

A Change of Hate

March 1966, Dalat, South Vietnam.

Green Beret First Lieutenant Harrison Bennett stalks his latest target, an elusive Viet Cong Colonel. After weeks of hunting, the man’s face fills the rifle scope.

A deep breath, a partial exhale, a tap from the observer confirming the target.

The trigger squeeze and rifle recoil meld into the muscle memory of training, the pink mist replaces the man’s face, and it is done….

March 2016, Providence, Rhode Island.

Attorney-at-Law Harrison “Hawk” Bennett sits at his desk going over his morning schedule. His phone rings….

His world is about to change forever.

Walking into the reception area, his memories go into overdrive. His eyes see what his mind cannot accept.

A saffron-robed Buddhist monk stands and smiles. A face he last saw seconds before he ended its life stares back at him. A specter from his nightmare lives.

“It has been a long time, Lieutenant Bennett, and a long way from our time in Dalat.”

“I thought you were dead, Colonel. They gave me a medal for killing you.”

Bennett finds himself thrust into a world of treason, double-cross, and a justice department bent on vengeance. Those he once fought alongside have become the enemy.

Forced to choose between his dedication to the law and the memories of the dead and dying in the jungles of Vietnam, Hawk faces his greatest challenge; defending a man he believed he killed from a government gone rabid over protecting its secrets.

Cover for Createspace

A Change of Hate: A Harrison “Hawk” Bennett Novel. The latest work by Joe Broadmeadow coming soon to Kindle and print on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Check out my other books at https://www.amazon.com/Joe-Broadmeadow/e/B00OWPE9GU

 

Dilemma

This is from a series of short stories I am working on. Posted here for your reading pleasure and review.  All comments welcome.

My cell rang. I didn’t recognize the number. Thought about ignoring it, then decided to give the telemarketer some shit.

“Hello.”

“Tommy, AJ.”

“AJ? What’s this a new phone?”

“I need your help.” AJ’s tone imparted a more serious patina to the four simple words.

“You always need my help,” I answered. “What is it this time, you get thrown out again?”

“Come outside, I’m parked in the lot across the street.

“Why are you parked across the street?” I asked. Silence. After a moment, I realized he’d ended the call.

Grabbing my jacket, I walked to the door. “Where are you off to?” my wife asked.

“I don’t know. That was AJ, said he needs help with something.”

My wife put her hands on her hips, “Tommy, I don’t care what he’s done this time, no money. Promise me.”

I smiled, “No money, I learned my lesson with his last scam,” I opened the door, the cool fall air rushing in. “I’ll be right back.”

Walking down the driveway, I looked across the street. AJ was leaning against the hood of his car, arms folded around himself, staring at the ground. As I got closer, he heard my footsteps and stood.

I’ve read that ninety percent of communication is non-verbal. AJ’s body was telling me this was not one of his ordinary, self-created problems.

“Hey man, what’s up?”

“Tom, Tommy,” AJ stuttered, glancing around. “I need help buddy. Big time. Can you take a ride with me?”

I saw something in his eyes I’d never seen before, genuine fear. This was a man who once took on three bikers in a bar and got his ass kicked. He returned two days later looking for the three bikers. The same thing happened. He went back several more times, but the bikers never showed up again.

They must have recognized crazy.

AJ wasn’t afraid of anything.

“A ride, where?”

“Please man, just come with me.” His body language now in full alarm mode.

“Ah, okay. Let me call Karen. Tell her I’ll be gone for a bit. Where we going anyway?”

“No,” AJ shouted, then glanced around. “No calls.”

“No calls?” I replied. “If you want me to go with you I will after I call my wife. A philosophy you should have adopted years ago. Saved yourself a ton of trouble.”

I could see AJ’s mind racing as he paced back and forth. “Okay, tell her I need help moving something, that’s all.”

I stood there a moment, holding my phone, studying my now frantic friend. Shaking my head, I pushed the call button. “Hey, it’s me. AJ needs me to help him move something. What? I don’t know, hang on,” holding the phone away from my ear I said. “She wants to know what you need moved. How long will it take?”

AJ threw his arm up, slapping them back to his side. “I don’t know, something heavy. You’ll be back in, ah, a couple of hours.”

“There’s a bunch of stuff, I guess. Won’t take long,” listening to her response I smiled at AJ. “Yeah I know; I don’t have any money anyway. I’ll call on the way back.” I walked to the passenger side. “Okay AJ, tell me the story. What’d you do?”

“First, turn off your cell.”

“I’m not turning off my cell, asshole. What is this about?”

“Look, trust me on this. You’ll understand shortly,” pointing with his hand at my phone. “Turn it off and pull the battery. Then I’ll tell you what this is about.”

*****

“You what?” I said, shaking my head and looking out the window. “I don’t believe this. You’re kidding,” trying to gauge the look on his face.

“I’ll show you,” he said as we pulled into a dirt road used by off-road vehicles.

“You can’t drive this thing down here,” I said, my hand on the dash as AJ dodged the ruts and dips in the dirt track.

“Yes I can, I checked this out before.”

“You checked this out… I don’t believe this.”

Checking the rearview mirror, AJ drove several hundred yards. Making sure we were far beyond the houses bordering the property.

“Ready?”

“AJ, please tell me this is all bullshit.”

“Look,” he said, opening the door.

I watched as he walked around to the back of the car, motioning for me to join him

I opened the door, put one foot on the ground, glanced over my right shoulder at AJ as he looked all around the area.

I got out and stood next to him.

“Ready?”

I laughed. “Okay, you got me. What’s the joke?”

I heard the click of the trunk release, watching as it popped up. AJ reached over, opening the trunk.

As I looked in, my mind went into denial.

I looked from the trunk to AJ and back. Voices in my head screamed, ‘Run, you idiot, run.” But my legs remained paralyzed in place. I tried to speak, but my throat was sand. I tasted the adrenaline rushing through my body. The fight or flight response to my brain’s recognizing a problem.

A big problem.

“I had to do it, Tommy. He beat her, put her in the hospital, he molested my granddaughter.”

Words eluded me. I backed away, trying to absorb the reality.

“Tommy, I need you to help me here. I need help getting rid of it.”

For fifty years, AJ had been my best friend. We had grown from GI Joes and baseball to girls and beer to married with kids, together. We’d spent twenty years together as cops, righting wrongs, trying to make a difference.

He’d been there when my first wife died of cancer. He held me in his arms, covered in my blood from the bullet wound in my arm, when they drove me to the hospital.

Never leaving my side.

But this? This was beyond it all. This was too much. I knew the stories. The hospital visits to his daughter. The on again off again boyfriend sliding through the system.

But this? They say friends will be there when you most need them. But this?

As my heart rate slowed, the rationale me resumed control. The panic passed and the realization of the choice I faced came clear.

I knew what I had to do.

I looked at my friend. The tears welled up, the emotions uncontrollable. I took a deep breath and walked back to the car.

“AJ, I’m sorry.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone, walking to the side of the car, away from my best friend.

His eyes showed regret as the enormity of what he asked, what he’d done, set in.

I tossed the phone on the seat. Reaching into the back seat, I grabbed the two shovels and the bag of lime.  I’d spotted them when I got in the car. Hoping I was wrong.

Walking to AJ, I handed him a shovel.

“That’s what friends are for.”

 

 

ISIS, Immigration, and the Law

In a February 25, 2015 column by Ann Coulter (www.anncoulter.com/columns/2015-02-25.html), Ms. Coulter complains about the narrow-minded focus of the country on certain issues.

Now, I do not often agree with Coulter. However, her columns are always well researched, supported by sound argument, and well written.  In this piece, she makes some valid points, and misses some others.

Coulter writes that Congress and the media fixate on ISIS and the crisis in Syria, yet ignore a much more serious domestic problem, illegal immigration. Or, more to the point, crimes committed by illegal aliens.

History is replete with Governments using Foreign affairs, war being a favorite tool, to divert attention from more pressing, and difficult to solve, domestic issues.

Coulter recites a number of incidents involving illegal immigrants committing violent crimes, ranging from assault and robbery to rape and murder.  She details how many of these illegals have extensive criminal records.

The complicity of the media in underreporting crimes by illegal aliens smacks of political correctness run amuck.  In many ways, this is more troubling.

She derides Congress, in particular the new Republican majority, for “gassing on about what’s happening 7000 miles away.”  She points out that ISIS has killed four Americans, while illegal immigrants have committed thousands of violent crimes killing many American citizens.

As she says, “if you don’t want to be killed by ISIS, don’t go to Syria.”

Where I diverge with Coulter, and the whole deport every illegal immigrant philosophy, is that while the law is clear, the Justice of its application is not.

First, the easy part, if you are in this country illegally and commit a violent crime you go to jail, and then you get deported. This is the ultimate no brainer.

Why not just deport them, you might ask?

Despite rumors to the contrary, prison is not enjoyable.  Giving them a free ride home is like pardoning the crime.  Let them do the time, all the time, no parole eligibility by virtue of their illegal status, then back to their country. While I am willing to extend access to our system of Justice to everyone, regardless of his or her immigration status, it is only to a point

Here is where it gets complicated and blanket deportation will not work.  Most illegal immigrants obey the law. Hold on there you might say, they came here illegally, and they already broke the law.  True, but many came here out of desperation.  Many left countries plagued by violence from their own government, starvation, horrendous conditions; they came here for the sake of themselves and their families.

Then, many of them had children who were born here yet, by virtue of the law, are illegal.

Justice in this country is famously blind.  However, the true strength of this country is its Justice tempered by Mercy.

There need be a path so those that are here, following our laws and contributing to the cultural mix, can remain here.  The words on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” are meaningless unless we find a way.

We should demand of our Congress and President, cooperation in finding a solution to illegal immigration.  One that fully protects our citizens from violence yet tempers Justice with mercy for those who have heard the message of the Statute of Liberty and believed in it.

If a time arises that ISIS poses a direct threat to this country, I have the utmost confidence in our ability to respond effectively.  No military in the world can provide the maximum opportunity for each member of ISIS to enjoy martyrdom like the US military.

In the past, playing the world’s police officer brought us only a few things, a host of dead American service personnel and the rending of our society at home. We cannot ignore the rest of the world, but more importantly, they cannot ignore us.  By strengthening our own society, we influence the world for the better.

This country will never truly be in trouble, until people stop trying to come here.