The Real Death of Innocence

Tuesday, December 30 in Hayden, Idaho, a 2-year-old boy pulled a handgun from his mother’s purse, raised it, and shot her dead. This was, of course, a horrible accident. But it reminded me of my childhood, and I want to share that memory with you.

When I was a child growing up in Georgia, guns were a part of my family’s life. My parents had guns in their bedroom and the glove compartment of both cars we traveled in. There were rifles in the closet at the house where I was raised. My siblings and I knew those guns were there, we knew they were loaded, and our father had explained to us that guns were only for adults. If we ever got caught touching or playing with one, it was made perfectly clear, there would be serious corporal punishment as a result. And let me tell you, when my dad gave you a spanking, you knew you had been spanked. Your butt usually stung for hours afterwards. In today’s world, I guess that would be called child abuse, but I’m not sorry my parents were so strict. Had they not been, I might well have been out of control.

But what the story of the child in Idaho did most reminded me of is the fact that my paternal grandmother–we called her Nana–also carried a gun in her purse everywhere she went. It was, she explained, for protection. My Nana was not a big woman–about 5-3 and 98 lbs. soaking wet–but she was tough as nails and knew how to take care of herself and her family. This is a woman who put herself through nursing school and could watch open heart surgery without batting an eye. As they say in today’s lingo, she was hardcore. The gun my Nana carried was small, just like her. It was a .22 snubnose pistol, but as she liked to say, “If you shoot someone in the right place with it, they’ll go down.” I had no doubts at all that my grandmother could and would use that weapon if the situation presented itself. I knew that gun was in her purse, so why did I never reach in there like the boy in the Idaho Wal-Mart? Fear? Yes, there was some of that. But I also think it was because I knew guns weren’t for kids to play with. Don’t get me wrong: I was a very curious and nosy child. I was the kind of kid who liked to shake wrapped Christmas presents and try to determine what was inside the box. (I was often correct, which drove my parents batty.) I wanted to touch and examine just about everything I saw. But not the guns. Something always stopped me from letting my curiosity get the better of me when it came to guns. I am eternally thankful for that.

So what of this terrible tragedy which has befallen the family in Idaho? Not only have the woman’s children lost their mother, the 2-year-old now must carry the guilt of having killed the person who gave birth to him and loved him unconditionally. What must that poor child be feeling right now? How will his siblings look at him from now on? As the person who killed their mother? Children, I know, are incredibly resilient, but is it possible to recover from a horrible accident like this one? For their sakes, I hope and pray it is.

Now that I’m an adult, and a father, I do not have guns in my house. I have an 8-year-old daughter whom I cherish more than life itself. What if someone were to break into our house one night and threaten her? How would I defend my child’s life? Well, something tells me that’s where our pet pit bull mix would spring into action. She is 80 lbs. of muscle and sinew. Yet she is also the most gentle, loving dog I have ever had the honor and pleasure to have in my house. She loves my daughter completely and even, in a sense, dotes on her. Yes, I know some reading this will say that pit bulls are vicious animals who will turn on children and kill them. That is a myth. A pit bull is no more likely to attack than any other breed. But perhaps the best thing about a dog as opposed to a gun is that a dog can love you back. Can a shotgun love you unconditionally and look at you with loving brown eyes that can melt your heart?

I often wonder why it is in this country that we feel all our problems can be solved with violence, and as a logical extension of that, why we feel a need to arm ourselves to the teeth in an effort to keep the bad guys at bay. I’m not saying guns should be taken away. No, what I am calling for is a few minutes of self-examination as we stand on the cusp of another New Year. Is force and violence the inheritance we want to leave to our children? If it is, then we too are just as afflicted, just as in need of sympathy and prayer as that little boy in Idaho.


An Open Letter to Charles Koch


Dear Chuck:

Is it OK for me to call you Chuck? I see your name in the news so often I kind of feel like I already know you. Just yesterday I saw that you are now supporting reforms in the criminal justice system. The story even said you were teaming up (unofficially, of course; you wouldn’t want to be disinvited from all of those really cool Republican shindigs held by groovy guys like Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz) with the ACLU. And I think that’s great! Good for you, Chuck!

But then I got kinda disappointed when the article I was reading said part of the reason you were so in favor of criminal justice reform is because you were charged with 97 (that’s a lot where I come from, but I understand you’re accustomed to dealing in billions) environmental crimes at a petroleum refinery you own in Texas. That same article said the charges were eventually dropped and you just paid a measly little $10 million settlement. You probably had that in the glove compartment of your car. Uh, I mean your limo. My bad. We all know how overzealous these environmental nuts can be when all you want to do is refine some oil and spew the waste into the air and water. I mean, who hasn’t done that at least once in their life?

So it sounds like you are now a born-again good guy, Chuck. Sure, you give donations to politicians who are so far to the right they make Atilla the Hun look like a progressive, but a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do to get his voice heard in Washington, D.C. I was also planning to give some money to my favorite candidates in the midterm election, but then I looked at my checkbook and realized I needed those funds to pay my rent and utilities.  Which reminds me: Would you by any chance be looking for a good corporate communications officer at Koch Industries? I’d work cheap (let’s say a million a year) and would even bone up on my Machiavelli, which I haven’t read since undergrad school. Hell, I might even attempt to read some Ayn Rand, with the stipulation that you don’t make me quote any of it back to you. Just let me know where to send my resume.

In closing, Chuck, I gotta say I totally misread you. I thought you were this evil corporate monster who only cared what happened to the very wealthy. To celebrate your conversion to the good side, I say we have a huge catered party at your house (mansion, I mean. My bad) for New Year’s Eve. You can arrange that, right? Oh, and be sure to have lots and lots of shrimp, ’cause I can’t get enough of those. And get the really big ones. Also, some lobster might be a nice touch. Champagne also. Do you drink, Chuck? Since you’ve now been baptized into the world of the average Joe, you may have sworn off the booze. I respect that. Can I drink your portion? Sleep on that one and get back to me.

Happy New Year, Chuck. It’s gonna be a great party, and something tells me 2015 will be a good year for you. You might even break the $50 billion mark in net worth. But don’t worry: as your new corporate communications officer I can make it look like you actually earned that extra money.

Your Friend,




Georgia Governor Nathan Deal To Be Indicted in January



Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) will be indicted by a federal grand jury by no later than January 15, 2015, according to a source close to the investigation of the embattled former member of Congress. A second independent source confirmed that Deal will indeed be indicted, but could not verify when the indictment will be handed down.

Deal, who won reelection to a second four-year term as Georgia’s governor in November, has been under investigation since 2010. While a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Deal was accused of wrongdoing by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). The report issued by OCE concluded that Deal had improperly used his office staff in an attempt to pressure Georgia officials continue the state’s vehicle inspection program. This program, the report concluded, had generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for Deal’s auto salvage company. Deal denied any wrongdoing and defiantly stated, “I have done nothing wrong and am not going to let this tarnish my record of public service. Less than a month later, Deal resigned from his Congressional seat but said he had done so to concentrate on his planned run in the Georgia gubernatorial primary.

In 2011, Deal became the subject of a state ethics investigation. This probe accused Deal of using campaign funds collected for his 2010 race for governor to pay legal bills stemming from the ethics investigation while still a member of Congress. As subpoenas were about to be issued in the state case, two members of the State Ethics Commission were released from their positions. One of the people appointed to replace the fired Ethics Committee members, it was later reported, had been hand-picked by the governor’s office. Shortly thereafter, Deal was cleared by the state ethics panel but did pay $3,500 to resolve “campaign and financial disclosure law” irregularities.

The current investigation by the U.S. Justice Department is believed to be focused on both the campaign-finance charges and the improper use of staff while Deal was still in Congress. A source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Deal will be indicted on multiple charges and that the case against him is “airtight.”

Deal could not be reached for comment on this report.



Officer Quincy’s Blues, Part II


After thirteen months as a patrol officer for the Atlanta Police Department (APD), Officer Quincy’s partner, Chuck, was assigned to another duty and Quincy was partnered with a second officer, whom he called Roy. Roy, unlike his previous partner, was white. Roy, Quincy said, was a “good old country boy from South Georgia” who had moved to Atlanta less than a year before joining the police force. Despite having little in common with Roy, Quincy got along well with his new patrol partner and appreciated Roy’s sense of humor, which was dark and dry.

Feeling that he was adjusting to being a police officer in his second year on the force, Quincy tried not to focus on the negatives he saw all around him, most notably his perception that the APD assumed the majority of crime in the city was committed by African-Americans. But not long after his new partner joined his patrol route, Quincy witnessed something he couldn’t just ignore.

“I went up to a section of  HQ (headquarters) where you turn in your paperwork and other stuff for cases and walked in where several white Atlanta police officers were sitting and talking while they waited their turn to hand in their papers. And every other word they said was a racial slur against blacks and Hispanics. They were using the ‘N’ word like it was nothing, like it had no meaning at all. I recognized one of the guys as a member of my graduating class from the police academy. So I pulled him to the side and said, ‘Man, it’s really not cool to be saying those kinds of things. One day a black officer might have your back in the field, and is he still gonna be an ‘N’ word when he saves your life?’ The guy looked at me and poked his finger into my chest. ‘Don’t get in the way of who I am, Quincy, or it could wind up being real bad for you. You know what I mean?’ And it dawned on me: this guy was threatening me. I walked out of the room and down the hall to the bathroom. I had to splash cold water on my face ’cause I suddenly wanted to go back and open fire on that jerk. He’s gonna threaten me? I know how to take care of that kind of disrespect. But I just went back to work and tried to put it out of my mind.”

That wasn’t the only time Officer Quincy heard racist remarks being made by his fellow officers. He once heard a black lieutenant referring to a suspect by a derogatory term for Hispanics:

” I must have done a double-take when I walked by and heard that, because the LT (lieutenant) stopped long enough to grin and say to me, ‘You know how those illegals are. Ain’t that right,Quincy?’ I couldn’t even speak. I just kinda nodded and walked off like it was no big deal. But this was a commanding officer! And he was saying that kind of nonsense? It made me feel sick inside.”

The breaking point for Officer Quincy came three weeks before he celebrated his third anniversary with the Atlanta police. As he entered one of the officer break rooms, he heard two fellow patrol officers engaged in a discussion about how to report a shooting that had taken place on their patrol earlier in the week.

“One of the guys said to the other, ‘So then you back me and say he pulled a knife. And I’ll say he charged you. We stick with that and they can’t charge us with anything. The whole thing winds up being righteous. But we gotta say the same thing or they’ll turn it over to IAD (Internal Affairs Division) and then it’s over for both of us. We don’t need that.’ It hit me right then and there: these guys are fabricating a story to stay out of trouble because they knew they had shot a guy without justification. And I realized I had to get out of that place once and for all or I was gonna either wind up becoming just another dirty cop or eating my gun. A week later I resigned. Best thing I ever did for myself. Probably the only reason I’m alive today.”

Life hasn’t been easy for Quincy since leaving the Atlanta Police Department. He had trouble finding a job after resigning so suddenly. And the job he finally got doesn’t pay nearly as much or have benefits.

“Basically I’m a glorified janitor. They call it a ‘cleaning technician,’ but I’m just a custodian who cleans offices in downtown Atlanta. But I’m thankful for the chance to work at a job where I don’t feel like a hypocrite when I leave the office at the end of the day. A friend asked me the other day if I regret leaving the police force. And I told him not for a minute. I’m just sorry the whole system seems to be so damn messed up. I pray for those guys on the force every single day. I pray God will change their hearts and make them better people. And I pray God will forgive me for ever being a part of all that.”

At the end of my last interview with Quincy, I watched as he walked towards his car. He seemed to be standing taller, walking with more purpose than I had seen in previous weeks. Maybe it was just a trick of the light, but he appeared to be smiling, as if a weight had been lifted off him.



Officer Quincy’s Blues, Part I


About a month ago, as I was walking out of church on Sunday, someone tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned, I saw an African-American gentleman I estimated to be in his early to mid-thirties, about six feet tall, well-dressed, with the muscular appearance of someone who perhaps worked out in his spare time. “I’d like to take you out to lunch,” he told me. Thinking that he might have a spiritual matter he wanted to discuss, I accepted and met him at a cafe in downtown Atlanta.

At lunch, this gentleman, who still had not told me his name, said he had heard from another member of the church that I was a writer. I told him I was. That being the case, he said he had a story he needed to tell me. A story he had lived and was relevant to everything in the news recently about police officers being accused of killing young black men and then not being charged by grand juries. He referenced Ferguson, Missouri, and the Eric Garner case in New York City.

Taking out my notebook as I listened, I told this fellow congregant that I needed to have a name to call him by. He shook his head, then smiled and said I could call him Quincy. “That was my grandfather’s name,” he said. “I’ve always thought it sounded strong and noble.” I agreed with him that it was indeed a good name.

Quincy began his story: He had been a member of the Atlanta Police Department (APD) for three years and had resigned a little more than a year ago because he grew tired of the racism and racial profiling he had seen at every level of the police power structure. That seemed unusual, I countered, in light of the fact that the APD is predominantly black (57%) and the Chief of Police, George N. Turner, is also African-American. “True,” he replied, “but that doesn’t change the way things are done.” Intrigued, I agreed to meet Quincy on five separate occasions in the weeks following this initial conversation, and what he told me was, to put it mildly, disturbing.

Officer Quincy joined the Atlanta Police Department in his mid-twenties after being honorable discharged from the U.S. Army. He was given a patrol assignment, meaning he was issued a police car and partnered with another rookie officer he referred to as Chuck. Chuck was also African-American and had relocated to Atlanta from North Carolina to be closer to his parents, both of whom were in failing health. At the morning briefings held for officers, Quincy said, it soon became clear that blacks were always suspected of being the most likely to commit crimes:

“The officer doing the briefing would say we should be especially vigilant when it came to blacks we saw on our patrol routes. One of the most common things we would be told is that a majority of young black men are gang members and will be armed if you stop to question one of them. After a few weeks of this, I started to see that this kind of thinking was written in stone for the higher-ups in the department. If a crime occurred, they would send us out with the instruction to look for black suspects first. One sergeant even told us directly, ‘Blacks commit most of the crime in this city and are our primary focus.’ And the sergeant was black! It was like a bad dream at times.”

While investigating a shooting on his route, Officer Quincy was approached by a detective who gave him a bit of advice that sounded like something from a police show on television:

“He said if I ever had a case where I had to pull my weapon and discharge it, and if I struck a civilian with my shots, especially if I killed a suspect, I should be carrying a ‘plant weapon’ so I could place it near the suspect and make it look like my life had been threatened. When I told the detective that wouldn’t be right, he glared at me and hissed, ‘Just do what you have to do and cover your ass, rookie.'” 

By the end of his first year on the force, Quincy said he felt “corrupted,” even though he himself hadn’t done anything wrong:

“I started asking myself how I could be a part of something so wrong. I felt dirty, like I was a part of the problem instead of helping others. I talked to friends and family about it, and they told me to just hang in there, it was gonna get better. But it didn’t. It got worse and I got more immune to it. Pretty soon it was clear the only way to live with it was to become a part of it. So I held my feelings in check and just did the job. I thought I could be two people. One that did the job and another that was the real Quincy. That’s a confusing way to live. And it catches up with you.”

 Part II of this article will run December 28, 2014