Democracy Doubted

Demonstrations and voting show the best in US democracy, while riots show the worst. Other nations are watching…and making decisions about what kind of governments they want. Democracy is declining worldwide, and America’s example looms large. Our future will be poorer, sicker, dirtier, and bloodier as a result.

The United States is sailing through troubled waters in 2020, and the forecast predicts more stormy weather. COVID-19 has killed many Americans, frightened many more, and challenged every one. The tragedy surrounding George Floyd’s death appears to be a crime, and the investigation continues. The peaceful demonstrations spurred by his death encourage an important conversation on police practices and institutional racial discrimination. Meanwhile, many Americans voted in primary elections to choose our political leaders in 2020. Voting, peaceful demonstrations, and dialogue reveal democracy at its best.

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Riding Along

A few months at the Citizens’ Police Academy helps us see law enforcement officers in a better, and more human, light.

I was about to leave for school when I heard the loudspeaker. Looking out my window on that winter morning, I saw a police cruiser, some uniformed officers, and one policeman speaking into a handset, telling me to come out of the house. I walked out my front door, oblivious to the fact that I had my hands in my pockets on this cold day. The officers instantly drew their guns and aimed at me, shouting for me to take my hands out of my coat. Startled, I complied. One of the men moved me to the car, put my hands against it, and searched me, saying that shots had been fired at my location. Later my younger brother came out of the house – he had been setting off fire crackers.

I have had a few other interactions with police in my life. Once a lady in a campus clothing store called the police on me because she thought that I lingered there too long and she found it threatening. More than once I have seen the dreaded flashing blue lights of a police cruiser in my rear-view mirror. Driving home at 0200 after a shift as a bus boy at a local restaurant, an officer stopped me. As I searched my glove box for my registration and proof of insurance, he saw a black object. The officer exclaimed “what’s that” as he drew his weapon. “A comb” I replied, and handed it to him.

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The Year in Crime and Spy History

17 Jan – Eleven thieves stole more than $2,700,000 from the offices of the Brink’s armored car company in Boston in the Great Brink’s Robbery (1950).

21 Jan – The US Coast Guard intercepted a ship with over 9500 lbs of cocaine on board, one of the largest drug busts in history (1999).

24 Feb – Tyrone Mitchell attacked the 49th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, CA, killing two children and injuring twelve more before turning the shotgun on himself (1984).

7 Mar – 17 year old heiress Ellen Turner was abducted by 30 year old Edward Gibbon Wakefield and then forced to marry him in the Shrigley Abduction, which ended in the annulment of the marriage and prison for Wakefield (1826).

6 Apr – During the deadliest day in the history of law enforcement in California, known as the Newhall massacre, two heavily armed men killed four California Highway Patrolmen (1970).

1 May – Francis Gary Powers, piloting a U-2 spy plane, was shot down over the eastern Soviet Union while photographing military bases, setting off an international incident (1960).

4 May – Chicago mobster Al Capone began serving an 11 year sentence for tax evasion (1932)

23 May – Captain William Kidd, a British privateer, was hanged as a pirate in London (1701).

23 May – American criminals Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed and killed by police in Bienville Parish, Louisiana (1934).

12 Jun – The Son of Sam serial killer, David Berkowitz, was given six life sentences for six killings (1978).

23 Jul – Archibald Brown was killed when his son Eric Brown, an Army veteran, put a British Hawkins anti-tank grenade under the cushion of his bath chair in retaliation for what he perceived as abusive behavior towards him and his mother (1943). This sensational case was known as the Rayleigh bath chair murder.

15 Aug – Julian Carlton, a disgruntled employee of architect Frank Lloyd Wright murdered his mistress, Mamah Borthwick, and seven others, and set fire to the living quarters near Wright’s Taliesin studio (1914).

5 Sep – Japanese American Iva Toguri D’Aquino was arrested in Yokohama by US military authorities under the suspicion of being the radio propagandist Tokyo Rose during World War II. She was later acquitted (1945).

18 Sep – First mailing of envelopes containing anthrax spores to various locations in the US as part of the anthrax attacks that killed five (2001).

9 Oct – Second mailing of envelopes containing anthrax spores to various locations in the US as part of the anthrax attacks that killed five (2001).

21 Nov – American disc jockey Alan Freed, the man who coined the term “rock and roll”, was fired from the radio station WABC for taking bribes to play songs on the radio, called payola (1959).

8 Dec – Former Beatles singer John Lennon was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman outside the Dakota apartment complex in New York City (1980).