And Justice Is Served…T-Bone’s Story

D. Watkins, in a Salon article, recently wrote about those who are so poor that pop culture references are beyond their reach. Watkins knows because as a former drug dealer in East Baltimore…and now a poor college professor…he has seen what blighted America is…he lives in blighted America. In that America the rules are different…in that America…the idea of making ends meet is completely different than what most of consider surviving. In the article, Watkins discusses how some of his friends and fellow residents in East Baltimore didn’t know what a selfie was…and once informed…how the word selfie became their own inside joke. One of the parts that struck me was when describing one of his friends…Buckethead…who served 10 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Buckethead and witnesses to the crime knew he didn’t do it…but in places like East Baltimore there is a no snitch rule. Snitching is a no-no…telling the truth to the police is considered the ultimate crime. Justice in East Baltimore is different…just like the idea of a stupid picture is considered unimportant…reporting the truth to law enforcement is not an option.

I have witnessed this type of societal rule in-person. I served as a juror on T-Bone’s attempted murder trial. I have served on 3 juries. Twice I sat on military court-martials and served once, here in DC, on T-Bone’s trial. In the military it was simple. UMCJ (Uniform Military Code of Justice) is pretty succinct and efficient. As an Army officer and stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, I got selected to be on court-martial duty for 6 months. What this entailed was being on -call and if there was a court-martial needing a young Army captain…then me, and 6 other Army officers would sit in the box and pass judgement. Both cases were relatively easy cases…the Army rarely court-martials without a solid case…additionally, UCMJ offers so many plea deal options that charged service members usually opt for a guilty plea before having to go through the quick court-martial process. Again, the Army doesn’t prosecutes unless the indicted are guilty.

In the first court-martial, PFC Barracks Thief had an affinity for electronics. Seems there were a rash of stereos and computers that went missing in a barracks that a single unit lived in…the Army ensures that single enlisted men and women live together in close proximity…just like they do on the battlefield. When something goes missing, the list of potential criminals is pretty short. PFC Barracks Thief had no real defense other than he was actually a good guy. In the end PFC Barracks Thief was found guilty…with no problem on my conscience…and sent to Leavenworth…and after his time there he would be dishonorably discharged. Stealing from your fellow soldiers is a no-no. Certain societies, like the one in East Baltimore, have rules that you just don’t break.

The second court-martial was a little more interesting. Seems SGT Anger Management didn’t like people telling him what to do…which is odd considering his profession of choice…but not too odd cause you would be surprised how many people with authority issues join the military. SGT Anger Management really didn’t like being told what to do by a certain lieutenant, and one day…while out in Fort Hood’s scrub oak training area…he punched this lieutenant in the face. Again, the Army doesn’t prosecute unless it is succinct. Regardless of Lieutenant Dumb Asses inability to issue orders without sounding arrogant, SGT Anger Management was completely in the wrong for punching him. SGT Anger Management ended up being PFC Barracks Thief’s bunk mate at Leavenworth.

In both of these court-martials, my fellow officers and I met quickly and decided guilt quickly. Witnesses were aplenty, and the stories all matched the prosecution’s case. Both soldiers admitted guilt but played upon the mercy of the jury…both criminals were not so bright…and expecting leniency from Army officers proved the case against their intellect. Army officers are not known for their leniency.

My time on jury in DC was completely different. We were a jury of 14 (12 actual jurors and two alternates) and the majority were middle-aged women and predominately African-American. One young professional, an investment banker, and me rounded out the jury…we were soon to learn what justice meant in Dc. Here are the facts as presented by the prosecution*

– In December 2009 on a cold wintery night, T-Bone walked up to Dman outside of the plethora of apartment buildings in the housing project of DC east of the Anacostia River and asked him “is it true that you are calling me a bitch?” Dman, being a stand-up guy informed T-Bone, that yes, in-fact, he had called T-Bone a bitch…and then proceeded to call him one to his face.

– At this point, with his honor smudged, T-Bone pulled a Beretta 9mm pistol and shot Dman point blank in the chest. Through graphics and medical professional testimony, we the jury were informed how the 9mm round entered Dman’s left chest inches above the heart and how the bullet traveled at a high-rate of speed from its entry to its exit out of Dman’s left ass cheek. Seems gangbangers don’t really care what type of round they use…so a full metal-jacketed 9mm round stayed solid (the target…Dman…was really close to his shooter) all the way through Dman’s body.

– Dman, after being shot, but not killed…jerked at impact and then ran…yes RAN…after being shot.

– T-Bone, realizing he had not made the impact of his message…chased Dman…and repeatedly attempted to unjam his 9mm pistol…seems gangbangers don’t do much weapon maintenance…so after the first shot the pistol was rendered useless. There was, however, a trail of perfectly good bullets littered on the ground from the point of initial shooting to the final location of T-Bone’s and Dman’s confrontation.

– Dman ran to a neighbor’s apartment where a Dontel, a 10 year-old, was playing.

– Dman, now being a bitch himself, hid behind the boy as T-Bone approached.

– T-Bone said “call me a bitch now.”

– Dman didn’t respond and before T-Bone could restore his honor, the apartment door opened and Dman and Dontel…the innocent bystander and now human shield…were jerked inside by Dontel’s mother.

– T-Bone ran…like a bitch…when the sound of approaching police cars reached him.

– Dman, now lying in the apartment’s entry way (with blood flowing from his chest and left ass cheek) was unable to identify his attacker…seems the 9mm not only caused massive blood loss…and ass cheek tissue damage…but it also cause amnesia. Dontel on the other hand decided to forgo the no-snitching rule identified T-Bone as the shooter.

During the trial, T-Bone and Dman were both in jail for unrelated offenses…thus as they entered the court room everyday wearing handcuffs. Seems shooting one another was a temporary thing and they spent most of their time dealing drugs and stealing shit from their neighbors. Dontel, however, arrived everyday in his private school uniform…he looked as uncomfortable in the starched shirt as he did in having to testify to a bunch of strangers.

Dman continued to claim he didn’t know who shot him…since he didn’t want to be known for snitching and hiding behind 10 year-olds. T-Bone claimed he knew of Dman but didn’t know him. Seems shooting friends and fellow thieves was above him. Regardless of the testimony…Dman and T-Bone stood firm to the fact that it wasn’t T-Bone who shot Dman and that they really didn’t know each other. The no snitch rule was firm.

As you can imagine, the middle-aged African-American women on the jury (moms and grandmothers) did not like the fact that Dman and T-Bone had brought their beef up for public scrutiny and had brought a child into the sights of a 9mm pistol. I had initially worried that there would be some consternation on finding T-Bone guilty…that I would be forced to say something in the argument in finding him guilty. As a person who attempts to deal in facts and data professionally, I thought I would have an uphill climb in fighting for a guilty verdict.

I never said a word in the jury room…7 African-American women discussed and determined T-Bone’s guilt without any of the rest of the other jurors’ assistance. Justice was served by them…it was their duty to pass verdict…the rest of us were there as window dressing. Places like East Baltimore do have their own rules…and they have their own justice…and I for one was not going argue against it. Justice was served but I walked away knowing that I had nothing to do with it.

*One of the lawyers was a young Asian female who had an ability to wear extremely tight skirts…so tight that her garter belts were outlined…guess she was playing to a few of us men in the jury.

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3 Love Stories

I have three love stories in my life…I’m not quite middle-aged, so who knows how many more I can rack up…hopefully the last one is it though…love stories have to end. We (all us raised in the Christian faith that is) have heard how Jesus Christ’s love for humanity was “agape” love…selfless love. There are other Greek words for love and each one seems incomplete except for agape. I strive for agape…but I take what I can get and give. Here are my love stories.

Greek Types of Love
Greek Types of Love

My first love story is the one that I have with family and friends…ones that are a mix of heart and head. Family represents home…home in the sense of the place where you can go and they have to take you in. Unfortunately, not everyone can boast or claim a family that will let you back in the door after life has kicked your teeth in. I’m fortunate, I have parents that, regardless of their irritation with me, always open the door and embrace me. Fortunately for them…I have never over stayed my welcome and since graduating high school…I have been able to fend for myself and make it in the world. This love is familiar and familial. This love causes me and them worry. I wasn’t the most mature young man…many a night my parents worried about me…I imagine my parents still on some level worry about me…how can they not…they love me.

This love story is painful though, my dad is recovering…yet again from a severe stroke…something he seems to have and recover from very often. This one was very severe…this one had everyone wondering if this was the time that he would be reduced to a shell of the man he once was…I talked on the phone with him today. He sounded like the father he always was…he has not regained use of his right hand yet…but he was walking from hospital bed to bathroom on his own. On Saturday he was unable to communicate very well…today he laughed when I told him I needed him to hurry up and recover because I had some wood for him to cut and split. Parents die…the love story doesn’t necessarily end…but part of the love dies when a parent dies. We remember them…we ache for them…we celebrate them…but ultimately it means there is no one to open the door and embrace you.

My love for friends is of this nature a mix of heart and head. Embracing kindred spirits of eclectic natures is what I do. I am an unusually gregarious fellow (like my parents) and I feel the need to gather good friends like warm blankets on cool crisp nights. I have never purposefully let a friendship die…but I have been neglectful…I am human. Long and close distances are how I describe my friendships. My best friend lives in Texas…him and his wife are expecting their first child…in a few weeks. My love for him has not wavered but it has definitely changed due to time and distance. Fortunately, when we physically reunite…the comforting love of friendship is there.

My second love story is my first wife and marriage. I speak very little of this first marriage here or on social media. This is out of respect for the private individual my first wife is. Highly intelligent, deeply thoughtful, and amazingly analytical. Truly an old soul who from an early age learned the necessity for maturity. We married young…right time, right place. We married, we finished college, we enjoyed 20 years of matrimony. I would not be the man I am today without her. Unfortunately, we became comfortable…old shoes…at too early of an age. We had no children, thus we allowed ourselves to grow independently…which is necessary for a mature and giving marriage…but we grew too independent. We grew apart, we wanted different things…different goals. This love story didn’t end per se…but the romantic affair of my 20s had turned to a calm quiet in my late 30s. Because of our love…and respect…we parted amicably. We parted friends…but without the bond of shared children…we rarely talk. We have made peace with our history. Thus like the death of parents…I know a marriage, a friendship, and a life can end. To this day, however, I never question a person when they say it was “love at first sight.” I met my wife in March and was married by August. Unknowingly at the time, we jointly filed for divorce on the same day 21 years before I had asked her to marry me.1 Love stories can be extremely painful.

My third and most important love story is my second wife. Vivacious…gregarious…outspoken…highly intelligent, deeply thoughtful, and stunningly analytical (see my pattern in women yet?)…this is how I would describe my wife. I am mesmerized…I am stunned by the love I feel for her. I have written about this love before. I believe I am a man who can fairly articulate his thoughts and emotions…yet at times…I look at my wife and I am speechless. This of course is a good mixture of romantic/eros love…but at this age in life I am aware that romantic love can only get you so far. My wife is an open book…she is shitty at hiding her emotions and thoughts. Like my first wife, she is my equal if not my superior in thoughts and actions. As a child, I relished a good challenge. As a young man, I took challenges. Now…I recognize that I am a man who can’t live without them. My wife isn’t a challenge in the traditional or negative way…my wife is a challenge because of her ability to woo me beyond recognition…continually, day in and day out. Some might argue that I am still in the early stages of matrimony and that I am yet to settle…thus I haven’t truly experienced the layers of love with her. This may be true…I may be writing with stars in my eyes…but I know that for love to be truly appreciated…the heart may need to be the winner in the eternal struggle between it and the head. My heart beats loudly when I am in her presence and it aches when we are apart.

I’m old enough now to know one day my parents will die. I know friendships will wither or reduce in intensity due to distance or new priorities. I know (intimately) that marriages can end. Fortunately, I know new marriages and new loves can begin…it is all an adventure…but damn love hurts2 sometimes. I know a number of you (regular readers) expect something more entertaining than this…sorry…I have spent a significant amount of time lately thinking about our conventional thoughts on love. Some day I hope that I am capable of being a selfless lover…but right now I am content to scream from the mountain tops that “I am in love!”…and still know that I am not naive…or I am just fooling myself…but that is part of the human condition I guess.

1. I hope she forgives me for saying this much.

2. What written piece on love can’t include Nazareth’s “Love Hurts?”