A Tale of Two Criminals

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It was the
best of crimes; it was the worst of crimes. The week after a man
was shot by air marshals in Miami, my husband served on a jury.
I could go on and on about the inconveniences of his jury duty to
me and to our children, but frankly, he and my friends have heard
enough about those from me. "Don't do this again!" I told
him, only half-jokingly. This past weekend, after it was all over
and the jury found the defendant guilty of two counts of assault
with a deadly weapon and not guilty of two counts of attempted murder,
I heard the details of the trial from my husband.

The defendant
was a grandmother, a 53-year-old woman who'd had some neighbor troubles,
not an unusual thing in Los Angeles, where houses are much less
than a stone's throw from each other. There was some fighting between
one of her grandchildren that she was raising and one of the neighborhood
children, no doubt one of those lovely results of our being forced
to put up with each other in the confinement of government schools.
Grandma had warned her unwelcome neighbors not to come around again,
or that she would "cut them." And they did come around
and she did live up to her promise, telling the paramedics that
she called after she stabbed two neighbors, "They're gonna
need some paramedics, u2018cause I was chopping, honey."

Not once did
Grandma show remorse, according to my husband; she had a subtle
sort of pride about what she'd done. She was defending herself and
her grandchildren, in her eyes. Her neighbors were intruding. She
had seen one of her neighbors holding a knife, or so she said on
the witness stand, although she'd not told the police this information
initially. No one else had seen a knife, however, and so the assault
charges held. No one, without a reasonable doubt, could prove that
she had actually meant to kill her neighbors. But the jury also
could not find her innocent, believing that she did not completely
act in self-defense.

After my husband
told me this story, I must say that the calls to last-minute babysitters
so that I could go to a work meeting, the difficulties in reaching
my husband via telephone this past week, and my fears of how long
the trial would last, went out the proverbial window. I was proud
of him and proud of the process.

Despite Grandma's
guilt, however, I couldn't help but think about Grandma in contrast
to my husband. He slept with his wife and children in our cozy bedroom
last night; Grandma slept in a jail cell. Grandma will not be spending
Christmas with those grandchildren that she, in her mind, was trying
to do right by. My husband will be spending Christmas with the children
he helped to create, and with their mom.

Despite the
sadness of Grandma's situation, the system had worked. Grandma had
been tried by a jury of her peers and found not guilty on a couple
of counts and guilty of two others. Hearing the story from my husband,
I grew to respect this system and be thankful for it, a last vestige
of our fading Constitutional rights.

I couldn't
help but contrast Grandma's inability to be home this Christmas
with the air marshal's ability to do what he wants for the holidays,
the air marshal who put a bullet through a man who had not been
given a jury trial, a man who was killed before being found guilty.
I haven't seen much in the media about this air marshal, but my
guess is that he'll be spending Christmas at home, or maybe at work,
keeping our skies safe from suspicious folks, from anyone who doesn't
quite fit with Leviathan's idea of normal.

As with Grandma,
however, this officer had a unique perspective of the situation.
Every initial report that I read of this situation has said that
the officer shot the man because he said he had a bomb. John and
JoEllen American, who have been conditioned since 9/11 to cheer
any Leviathan plan that claims to fight terrorism, automatically
say, "Oh, well, good for the air marshal!" In a similar
way, if Grandma's story had been backed up by the neighbors, we'd
be saying, "Good for Grandma!" But it wasn't. No one else
reported seeing the neighbors with a knife shortly before Grandma
did her cutting. Oddly enough, no one else heard Mr. Alpizar, a
missionary, say that he had a bomb. Hmmm.

Mr. Alpizar's
neighbors all had good things to say about him. Despite being diagnosed
as having a mental illness, our missionary man had yet to cut anyone
with a knife in his neighborhood. And he had not, to anyone's knowledge,
ever shot anyone dead. In fact, according
to the witnesses
, Alpizar said nothing about a bomb as he ran
up the aisle; some say he said nothing at all.

For sure this
situation makes for an interesting jury trial. Or rather, it would
have. Trouble is, Mr. Alpizar, unlike Grandma, won't be spending
the night in jail. He won't be facing twelve of his peers, with
their judging his every word and action, or lack thereof, to figure
out his guilt or innocence. No, that would be a bit too complex,
wouldn't it, to have allowed this missionary to have his Constitutional
rights.

Better, it
did seem, to just shoot him.

And to kill
him. One of my kind readers told me that air marshals are trained
sharpshooters. It looks as though, perhaps, someone trained as a
sharpshooter might have just thought, maybe, to shoot a suspect
in the foot, or even in the hand. That way, and I'm no gun expert
here, but it seems to me, as I wallow in gun ignorance, that if
Alpizar had a bomb, then shooting him in an extremity might, just
maybe, have given him the benefit of the doubt. Shooting him in
both hands would have made it hard for him to detonate a bomb; but,
he would, at least, have had those wounded hands to touch his wife.

Mr. Alpizar
was almost a decade younger than Grandma and yet, he is dead. He
won't be in a jail cell this Christmas because he isn't alive. He
leaves a grieving widow and many puzzled neighbors. And an air marshal
who probably got a promotion and a raise. If the air marshal has
shown signs of remorse, I've yet to read about it.

I don't know
if Mr. Alpizar was guilty or innocent. I only know what the witnesses
said about him. But I don't think that he's any less deserving of
his right to a jury trial than Grandma. In early 2000, when I was
newly pregnant with my firstborn son, I boarded a plane without
bringing any food on board. Pregnancy and hunger, I soon learned,
don't mix well. I was so hungry that I yelled at my husband. It's
not my proudest moment, and eventually I calmed down when the pretzels
came around, but then again, what would have happened if I had tried
to get off the plane, asking to go back and buy some food. What
if I'd been hungry and pregnant after the so-called Patriot Act
passed? Would I and my yet-to-be-born child have been shot and killed?

Mr. Alpizar
certainly didn't have the excuse of pregnancy for his behavior,
whatever his behavior actually was, but he deserves to give his
side of the story. Or rather, he deserved to. While Grandma's
husband may look forward to a quick phone call or visit this Christmas,
Mr. Alpizar's wife cannot. He is dead. There is no trial, no jury.

 

 
photo
by John Thomas

 
 

Yes, Grandma
was convicted of committing a crime and yes, she'll have her punishment
meted out. But tell me, please, what crime Mr. Alpizar was proven
to commit. As with Alpizar, the air marshal will probably never
face a jury. Unlike Alpizar, the air marshal is alive and well and
thriving. So besides Grandma, tell me who the other criminal in
this story is. No one's been convicted, of course, but my money's
on the one whose salary we pay with our taxes.

December
23, 2005

North
Carolina State University graduate Tricia Shore [send
her mail
] is happy with her momly life. Discuss this article
at http://www.livejournal.com/users/comic_mom/.

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