Voting Rights: Your Opinions, Please

20151014_120823

In April of this year, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons, a move that circumvented the Commonwealth’s Republican-run legislature. Many of those against the order claimed the governor overstepped his legal authority by committing a transparent effort to win votes for Hillary Clinton in the November election, a move that would help sway Virginia in her direction.

Friday, the Virginia Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling, struck down the governor’s order, saying McAuliffe did indeed overstep his powers under the state constitution. Chief Justice Donald Lemons wrote in the majority opinion, “The assertion that a Virginia Governor has the power to grant blanket, group pardons is irreconcilable with the specific requirement in Article V, Section 12 that the Governor communicate to the General Assembly the ‘particulars of every case’ and state his ‘reasons’ for each pardon.”

Therefore, according to the state constitution (the law), the governor of Virginia does not have the legal power to issue a blanket order to restore rights to all ex-offenders who are no longer incarcerated or on probation or parole.

McAuliffe’s response? He’s he thumbed his nose at the state’s high court by vowing to sign individual orders to restore voting rights to each of the 200,000 convicted felons, starting with those who’ve already registered.

So my questions to you are:

  • Do you believe that convicted felons should be allowed to vote? Or, should their voting rights be restored after serving their sentences and probation/parole? Or, as in Virginia, should their voting rights be taken away permanently.

file1221272219645

Speaking of the rights of convicted felons, specifically nonviolent offenders, who’ve served their time and have returned to their communities, and have lived and functioned with no problems whatsoever … should all of their rights, or some, be forever withheld … permanently? An example of the rights and privileges withheld are:

  1. Voting
  2. Traveling abroad (some countries deny admission to convicted felons).
  3. The right to own or possess guns
  4. Jury service
  5. Employment in certain fields
  6. Public social benefits and housing – they are are not allowed to apply for federal or state grants, live in public housing, or receive federal cash assistance, SSI or food stamps, etc.
  7. Parental benefits
  8. Financial assistance for college

Heres a point to ponder – How is it possible for former offenders to live and function and survive if they’re denied housing, employment, education, and food? And there’s no dignity when someone’s learned their lesson, paid their debts to society, and is trying their best to work toward goals and to be proud of themselves once again and of their country, all when they’re denied the simple right to vote. Some people make mistakes. Some people are guilty of the same offenses, or worse, but aren’t caught. Yet they still enjoy their basic freedoms and rights. Don’t people (again, I’m speaking of people convicted of non-violent crimes) deserve a second chance?

14601720532yyrn

What say you, loyal readers?

*Please, no bashing of politicians, religion, race, gender, cops, etc. Let’s discuss this rationally since the topic affects each of us.

I know, Clinton was mentioned in the opening paragraph, but only to set the stage for the information that followed regarding the rights (lack of) of convicted felons. I am not publicly endorsing any candidate. None. Zip. Nada. So please do not read between the lines. Again, the name was mentioned merely for informational purposes.

 

Read more
Murder: Who’s Pulling the Triggers?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ve received countless requests to have me comment or offer an opinion regarding the connection between race and murder and gun control in the U.S. However, as most of you are aware, I typically do not offer opinions on this site. This topic is no exception.

So, with that in mind …

Not so long ago, law enforcement officials were able to reduce the number of illegal guns in the pockets of bad guys using methods such as the very legal and Supreme Court approved “stop and frisk.”

However, due to public outcry and that some have determined the practice was offensive to criminals and criminal suspects, even though it is perfectly legal and makes communities safer, especially for police officers. So many areas have all but abandoned the practice as a “go-to” tool for helping to rid the streets of illegal guns. Therefore, officers in those areas are now unable to conduct those important stops, and they basically have no real means of locating and removing those weapons short of waiting until the Bonnie and Clyde wannabes blast their way into a corner liquor store, or worse.

Keep in mind, though, that Terry Stops (stop and frisks) are absolutely legal and are still used everywhere in country. It’s just that in certain cities, lawmakers and police administration have reduced its use as a blanket tactic.

With that bit of information out of the way and left for you to ponder, what I will do as it relates to the questions I’ve received, is this … post official government other trusted data.

So here’s the data as it relates to the murder rate in the U.S., by race/ethnicity, in the year 2013. I did not include age and sex. No one seems to be concerned about that particular aspect.

Keep in mind that criminals are the people who’re murdering other people. Good, honest, law-abiding folks are not. The color of someone’s skin cannot pull a trigger. Nor can a gun fire itself.

So, here goes …

*Remember, this is FBI data from 2013, not 2016. Current numbers would be noticeably higher.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 10.39.14 AM

Line 1. (below) – Total murders by race.

Line 2. – Percent of distribution (numbers are rounded which explains a tally not equal to 100%).

Line 3. – Murderers under the age of 18.

Line 4. – Murderers under the age of 22.

Line 5. – Total murders committed by offenders over the age of 18.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 10.34.24 AM

Part two of the popular question relates to the population of the U.S. Here’s the population data for the same year, 2013.

The current U.S. population, by the way, is 324,118,787.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 10.41.04 AM

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 10.37.44 AM

Total percentages of U.S. population by race/ethnicity is …

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 12.19.04 PM

*Source of above chart – The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

*Please keep in mind that there’s a margin of error when using data from different sources.

And, when we compare the homicide rates of 2015 to only the first half of 2016 (Source – The New York Times) …

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 11.14.16 AM

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 11.15.55 AM

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 11.16.15 AM

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 11.16.32 AM

*Please, please, and PLEASE … this post is not my attempt to sway opinions one way or another. This is not the site for racial arguments, politician- and cop-bashing, quarrels about whose religion is better than another, and gun control rants. I merely posted data. By the way, you’d probably be amazed if you knew my feelings on the issues, but it’s not my duty to post personal opinion. I’m here to help writers by presenting facts, therefore I don’t take sides, as if there should be “sides” to take.

Read more
A List of 20 “Eye-Rollers”

giphy

  1. Being a writer is like being a politician. You get to make up @#$! and your fans love it.
  2. Being a writer is like being a plumber. Somewhere around the middle of the job you find yourself elbow deep in @#$!
  3. Writers are like prostitutes. They do it for money but the income arrives in small amounts at random times.
  4. Agents are like pimps without the purple suede leisure suits and feathers in their hats. Oh, wait …
  5. A good book is like a side effect of “the little blue pill.” It keeps you up all night.
  6. Sitting at a keyboard while clacking away at random characters is something an illiterate chimp can do. Much of today’s media is proof that chimps are better at it.
  7. Spellcheck is great, except when it isn’t.
  8. A great book is a like a fine statue. Their creators started with an idea and then carved away everything that didn’t help tell the story.
  9. Writers are like cops. They like coffee, and whiskey, and telling tall tales … and whiskey.
  10. A bad story is like a snow skier. They’re both start at out on a slow upward climb toward the summit. Then it’s all downhill from there until they reach the end, which is totally uneventful.
  11. The words of a good book remain forever. The words of a politician remain only until the next big donation comes along.
  12. If real-life bad guys would simply take the time to read a mystery book they’d know the good guys always win in the end.
  13. Good books are like the bed in a by-the-hour motel. Lots of action between the covers.
  14. Great ideas make great books, except when they don’t.
  15. Social media can be like a cancer. No punch line. It truly can be like a cancer.
  16. The bravest men and women in the world today are currently sitting at home, ranting and raving away on Facebook, telling people just how brave they are. Then they get up and go to their day jobs, greeting customers at Weirdmart, or selling fries at Booger Joe’s Burger Emporium.
  17. Lone literary agents at writers conferences are like the innocent fawns that tiptoe through the forest—they both know the attack could come at moment. This is why experienced agents travel in packs.
  18. A firefighter and a police officer enter a bar at a mystery writers conference. They’ll know better next time.

Finally …

Two drunks and a writer enter a bar during a writers conference. Three drunks come out.

20. Have you got a zinger you’d like to share? If so, please do. (no foul language, racism, cop-bashing, etc., please.).

 

Read more
Sex on a Grave, and Stolen Bones

file5591302551607

An assignment working homicide cases is, without a doubt,  a first class ticket to the bizarre and all things macabre.

Cops who investigate murders for a living see it all, from poisonings to gunshot wounds to decapitation by sword. Even today, for example, headlines feature a man who used a crossbow to kill another man, and another killed a guy by beating him to death with a tire iron (tire irons are often used as weapons, by the way).

Killers are sometimes outright creative. I’ve seen people stabbed with a sharpening steel from a kitchen knife block, suffocated with a plastic grocery bag, and even one poor soul who was deliberately pushed in front of a very fast passenger train. The latter did not end well at all. Well, neither did the others, but the train…

Once in a while a killer blames his dastardly deeds on some unseen force, such as voices in his head, or as in a case I once worked, the killer blamed what he’d done—used an ax to hack his sister-in-law- to death—on aliens from Mars.

So yes, I’ve seen a few oddities over the years, including:

I knocked on Miss Evelyn’s front door, and while waiting for someone to answer I had a look around the front porch. Nothing unusual…a one-gallon vegetable can filled with sand and topped with a handful of cigarette butts, an old wooden rocking chair, five flower pots with each containing the remnants of some sort of plant—all dead, dried up, and crispy—, a well-worn, green cloth sofa, and a portable radio that was missing a knob.

As always, smack-dab in the center of the front door were three fairly fresh chicken feet that were tied together with a piece of twine and dangling from a rusty thumbtack. Nothing odd at all…for Miss Evelyn. I knocked again. Nothing had changed in all the years I’d gone there. Not a thing.

I’d met Miss Evelyn after arresting a man for burglary and, while searching his pockets for weapons and other illegal items, I discovered a small flannel pouch tucked inside his wallet. I figured the contents could possibly be drugs, probably marijuana or hash, or something of that nature, so I asked the kid to level with me so I’d know what to expect.

I was surprised to hear him say that what I held in my hand was not was I’d suspected. Instead, he said, it was his “medicine bag,” a ground up mixture of chicken bones, tobacco, human hair, and herbs. Its purpose was to keep him safe.

He’d gotten the bag from Miss Evelyn, the local root doctor. Since this was a totally new experience for me I decided to pay this so-called root doctor a visit. And, long story shortened a bit, Miss Evelyn “knew all and saw all” and she soon became one of my most reliable informants. Her customer base was massive and many were criminals, so…

A young man, Miss Evelyn’s nephew, answered the door and led me to the kitchen where his aunt stood at the head of the table, hard at work assembling her latest batch of medicine bags and other concoctions. A large black kettle was at full boil on the wood stove. I didn’t ask.

Miss Evelyn wore her usual attire, a blue bandana tied over her hair, a faded pink and blue housedress that was three sizes too big, and black pumps. If I’d had to guess I’d say she weighed in the neighborhood of just under a hundred pounds. As always, her face was wet with sweat and her fingernails were bitten to the quick. When she smiled it became instantly obvious that dentists were not a part of her clientele, nor had she ever been a patient of theirs. Her breath smelled like a rotten animal carcass. She was quirky, to say the least, and she was one of the nicest people I’d ever met.

I’d gone there that particular night to see if Evelyn could offer any insight about two bodies that had been dug up in a local cemetery. The vaults had been damaged and the caskets broken open. The grave-robbers took the same thing from each coffin…the bones from the lower right arms and hands.

She said she’d heard about a couple who used human bones as part of their religious rituals. Before exhuming remains, though, they had sex atop the grave sites.

The man and woman visited Miss Evelyn to ask if she knew where they could get heir hands on a fresh corpse because they needed the blood prior to embalming. Well, Evelyn was having no parts of their nonsense and sent them on their way. And that was the purpose of my visit. Miss Evelyn called me the second the grave robbers left her house.

I finally caught up with the couple when I discovered their car parked near a funeral home. They were planning to break in to steal someone’s dearly departed loved one. Fortunately, we stopped them before they committed the act.

So, writers, bizarre and macabre crime does not always come in the form of murder. Nor are the macabre criminals always the odd characters who reside at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, the house with the permanent thundercloud floating above it.

This particular couple, the grave robbers, were as normal as your neighbors. Both were professional people with public jobs. They lived in a typical neighborhood and drove a normal car. However, the contents of their trunk was a bit different than most—shovels, picks, tools for prying open caskets, and a few human and animal bones scattered about. Other than that…as normal as you and I. Well…

 

Read more