Friday, July 31, 2009

Response to Joe Markowitz

This is a response to the comment Joe left at Who is to blame for Lily Burk's death?

Lily Burk was a neighbor of mine who car-pooled with my kids to school. So my family is very personally affected by this tragedy. I can certainly agree with you that Lily was entirely innocent, and the man who killed her was entirely to blame. But what conclusions follow from that?

To me, there is only one just conclusion. The murderer is imprisoned for life or executed. This conclusion is not the best one, I would have preferred to have this man imprisoned for life after his 10th conviction, but unfortunately we had to wait until his 11th.
Do you have any idea how many people out there have records similar to the suspect in this killing?

Yes, I do. A lot. They're out there right now, walking around free, just like this man was. I think people with 10 convictions should be permanently removed from civil society. How many crimes do you believe someone should commit before suffering this fate?
He did not have a particularly violent history, and his prior crimes were mostly fairly petty. Many thousands of people have a similar history, both inside and outside of prison. It is very difficult to predict which of them will become violent.

Actually there IS a tried and true method of predicting when criminals will become violent. You watch their rap sheet, and watch the crimes become more and more bold. I'm related to a few cops and have a few cop friends. If you know a cop, I highly recommend you ask them how to predict when these criminals will become violent. They'll tell you the same thing. They arrest the same people over and over, they testify against them in court, over and over, and when they finally get violent and get locked away for a long time, they see them outside on probation over and over. You talk about vicious circles later in your comment. This one is about as vicious as it gets.

By the way, please don't lessen theft because it's not violent. A human being's time on this Earth is finite, and the things a human obtains by using that time for labor do have value. If all your possessions, and those of your family are "just things," Then why not give them away? They are your right because you earned them. Anyone who would steal your lunch is stealing the time of your life you spent earning that lunch. I'm not saying repeated petty theft should be corrected with execution, but I'm also not saying judges should go easy because they're "just things."
We already have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. And some of the most severe sentences in the world. And that does not keep us safe.

Joe, I've taken the time to read your comment in full, repeatedly, in order to formulate my response. I would have preferred that you read my post a little bit more closely, as I've already covered this. Does it matter if our incarceration rate is 1% or 99% when everyone in jail broke the law and deserves to be in jail? If 99% of the population were serial killers, should the 1% try to get them released? These examples are hyperbole of course, but why should we not incarcerate people who knowingly and willingly break the law? If it is your contention that our incarceration of criminals and severe sentences doesn't keep us safe, are you suggesting that releasing them would make us safer?

But if you want to get into statistics, crime rates have actually been dropping in California (and Los Angeles in particular), and it is suspected that the three strikes laws are keeping people who repeatedly commit felonies away from their victims.

Just so you know, I have a lot of problems with the way we're deciding who goes to jail. From non-violent drug offenders to prostitution solicitors, I think there are a lot of people in jail for victimless crimes that should not be there. However, since you didn't qualify your statement, I'm forced to assume we're talking about criminals like Lily's murderer.
We can keep locking more and more people up for longer and longer stretches, but that will still not make us safe.

I disagree. Recidivism rates are quite high, and by locking up a repeat offender for longer you will necessarily limit his ability to commit crimes against the public during that time.
Because we have to let at least some of these criminals out eventually after they have served their time.

Yes, we must let them out after they've served the amount of time as determined by a judge or a jury, the amount of time is set by legal precedent, and by the determination of a jury of twelve citizens. If you want to change that amount of time, you need to either change the law, or change the way the juries think.
And if we just lock everybody up who has the potential of becoming violent, what will happen to their children?

No one said anything locking up everyone who had the potential of becoming violent. Technically everyone has the potential of becoming violent, but the people who we lock up have proven their potential by repeated offenses in the past. Unfortunately for people looking at this man's record, the District Attorneys plea down cases to get easy convictions. This basically hides the facts of the case, and lessens the outwardly apparent violence level of the criminal.

They want the easy convictions because they don't want to risk losing a case by trying for too many things, even if the facts are on their side, even if it is clear to them who the accused person is. They do this because they are an elected office, and want a record as spotless as possible. A 100% conviction rate doesn't matter if the attorney only tried one case, and let others walk because there was only a 50% chance of success.

As for the children remark; if you are advocating releasing violent offenders so they can be fathers to their children, then you are expressing a confusion of ideas that I cannot rightly comprehend.
The next generation of criminals are often the kids growing up with fathers in prison. They expect to follow in their fathers' footsteps.

This is another topic entirely, but I will indulge you. You will find no argument from me on this point. I may go so far as to say fatherlessness is the single greatest threat to the safety of our society. Speaking man to man, I'm sure we both understand the role a father plays in a boy's life. He is a moral compass, he is a provider, he is a role model. Unfortunately, we have an entire generation of women who think their children don't need a father, because the government will be their provider. They have children, and eschew the development of a relationship with a male figure because they don't think they need one. No consideration is given to the development of their male children. In my opinion, this is an extremely serious problem.
So what you are proposing may be something of a vicious circle.

I think I may be confused. I advocate locking up violent offenders. What is it you are advocating? Is it the release of these offenders in order to make their homes whole again? Who will bear the responsibility for these released offenders' actions? Please correct me on your point, but it seems to me your saying "Who cares about a few lost innocent lives, when we have the real possibility of turning around the lives of some murderers?"
Your answer--that we should not even try to understand evil, and we should not even try to prevent it--does not strike me as any kind of answer at all.

I said that understanding was a question for another time, not that we should just lock everyone up forever. This man murdered a girl full of potential that she was ready to give to the world. An entire life of possibility was ahead of her. All the explanations in the world will not change that, because what he did was irreversible. No matter how many apologies he says, tears he cries or Hail Marys he prays-- even if he means every single one-- it won't do a damn thing for Lily. This man deserves to be removed from society permanently. Do you disagree?

You claim you want to understand his crime, but you don't. You only want to make allowances for it. If I were to cut off your right index finger, and tell you that I did it for fun, should my punishment be any more severe than if I told you it was because my pastor sexually abused me as a child? I think not. The result was the same. The damage is done. You are without finger, and I preformed the action. I should be punished for my actions, not allowed to explain them away.

Certainly an index finger is very different than taking the life of Lily Burk, but should this man who, under whatever influence of his own doing, committed this murder of this innocent girl, be allowed to explain away his actions? I highly doubt he will be allowed to explain them away completely; but would you want this man doing exactly what I said needs to change by working a deal with the DA to plea down his charge to involuntary manslaughter under temporary insanity due to drug use, and serve his time out comfortably in a minimum security psychiatric treatment facility?

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm afraid that you would.

But if my answer does not strike you as a kind of answer at all, know that your answer; to be understanding and lenient, gets people killed. Your answer isn't an answer to me. In fact, your solution is the problem.
Note that I am not proposing letting any criminals off the hook, and I am not blaming the victim. I am merely suggesting that we have to think more carefully about policies that might actually help reduce crime.

By all means! You've said yourself that there are countless criminals walking the streets who have the exact same records as this man. Is this acceptable to you? Which ineffectual solution would you implement? Counseling? Half-way houses? Drug rehabilitation? These violent offenders have ignored every rehabilitation program that has been offered. How many more must fail before you admit that they don't want to be rehabilitated? How many more innocents must die before you realize that these people don't want to become contributing members of society?

Is your object to get him to understand his crimes? To understand the finality of what he has done? If he were to understand the real impact of his actions, honestly, truly comprehend what he had done, he would do the honorable thing and plead guilty and ask for the death penalty. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely.
For example, what we should be thinking about are ways to reduce the recidivism rate of those who are eventually released from prison. There are programs that do this with proven success, but they do not receive adequate funding or attention.

Please substantiate your claim. If you can, I'll become the program's biggest advocate. I do not believe your statement to be fact.
Beefing up these kinds of programs is a constructive thing that we can do that could actually reduce crime. Doing that does not blame the victim, and it does not let the criminal off the hook. But it does allow for the possibility that some criminals can become less violent if they are forced to acknowledge their destructive tendencies, and deal with them.

Acknowledge their destructive tendencies? Joe, I'd like you to watch this video. Get some headphones, and a clear 5 minutes.

Listen to what James Broadnax had to say about his actions.

You must watch the whole thing, beginning to end. Every part is important.

James Broadnax stole his grandmother's rifle, and traded it for a handgun so he could rob people. He then took a train with his cousin to a different part of Texas because "dat's where all the rich white folks stay at." Once there, they realized they had to rob someone to get a car because it was a long walk back. They stopped and talked to Matthew Butler and Stephen Swan who were standing outside their Christian music recording studio. They talked for a short while, then parted ways. James returned and asked for a cigarette. Then he shot them both. While they lay incapacitated on the ground, he executed them by shooting them both in the head. He then robbed them for $2, and the keys to an old Ford Crown Victoria. He and his cousin were caught by the police in the car on their way back.

This video was a source of a great spiritual awakening for me. I understood that evil existed in the world. But was the evil growing in James Broadnax for years before? Was the evil something that temporarily took him over when he "just blanked out?" Or was the evil something that took over completely once he made his decision, and sits in him still?

Joe, I think we all have our demons. We have the angel and the devil on our shoulder, but they aren't who we really are. Which shoulder we choose to listen to is a reflection of who we really are. Boys have been raised in the same situation as James, and have come out good. Most don't, but some do. Is it sad that most don't? Yes. Is it good that some do? Yes. But does it make a difference to Matthew Butler and Stephen Swan? No. Because they're dead. Their children are fatherless. Because James made a decision a long time ago to walk a path. He knew his final destination if he continued on that path, and he continued on it anyway.

Do I feel sorry for James? Yes. I feel great sorrow for him, and his position in life, and the outer influences that pressured him to choose his path. But on a jury I still would vote to give him life in prison or the death penalty. And were I armed when he attempted to kill me or my loved ones, I would kill him without a thought. I would kill, because I am a moral human being that protects the sanctity of life.

The loss of any life is a terrible thing, but his life was lost the moment he decided to take another.

He deserved to die. Not his victims.

Joe, if there were a rehabilitation button we could press, I would personally press it after every criminal served the time for his crime. But there is not, and we are left with imperfect solutions. We must do our best, but we must not forget that actions have consequences. The actions of a murderer certainly have consequences, but so do the actions of a society who releases an increasingly violent 10-time offender who goes on to murder a young girl. Our blind hope is to blame. Our blind hope that this man would turn himself around, despite facts to the contrary, is to blame. We all failed Lily. In so many ways.

We must continue to hope, but not blindly. We must remove failing programs, and try new ones. We must review our failing actions, and try new ones. We have to measure our hope against reality, and turn to new goals. Right now, our hope is not working, but we keep hoping that it will. While we blindly hope, people die. Lily dies.

But even now, after the deed is done, he doesn't deserve a second chance.

Lily does.

I understand what you're trying to do. To be honest, I used to think the same way. It's very noble and very selfless of you to overcome your anger and reach out your hand of understanding to his man in the hopes that he will change his life.

But I choose to save the life of the victim rather than the life of the murderer. I choose to do this by locking up repeat offenders, and violent criminals before they commit the ultimate act of violence.

But even so, killing this man will not bring Lily back. Nothing we do will bring Lily back. Even if we ignore the likelihood that his execution or life imprisonment will serve as a deterrent, and ignore the certainty that his execution or life imprisonment will prevent him from ever killing again; even if we ignore those things, what are we supposed to do with him?

What are we, as moral and human beings, in a society that values life, supposed to do with a man who murders an innocent girl?

If killing this murderer saves just one life, it will be worth it.

But if NOT killing this murderer costs just one MORE life?

Then we don't deserve to call ourselves moral.

Joe, in the spirit of Obama's beer "summit," I'd like to extend to you an invitation to meet you half way at a bar or restaurant for a beer. I live in Orange County, and I believe you live in Los Angeles. If you want to sit down and have a real conversation about this over a beer or a meal, just send me an e-mail.


JP said...

When I saw that comment, I considered responding.
I would not have been very polite.
But that's me. I've been rather realistic for far longer than you seem to be willing to admit (I'm in DFW, and remember the Murders you refer too. I'd personally shoot both cousins in the head and happily supply my own ammo. I'd even use the TAP 230 grains instead of the Wolf) and I really wanted to go off on that "Fairly Petty" line of his. The "We had no idea he'd get like this" line really only works for someone who never broke a law in their life before snapping and killing like this.

What I would have taken far longer to say, if I had responded, and not to mention far more vulgar, was that Joe is part of Who we need to blame. Thinking like his put Lily's killer on the street to do the killing.
Sorry Joe. But it is the truth.

Fletch said...

I thank you for your civil tone, JP.

Joe Markowitz said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response to my comment. I don't have time to respond to all your points right now, but I can provide you with a link to the article I read recently that talked about programs and research that has been done on reducing recidivism. There is also a link to it on the post I did on my site:

The program I read about was developed by Sunny Schwartz in San Bruno prison and is documented in her memoir, which was discussed in the book review I read. I realize I am citing a third hand source, and should really be familiar with the original research before talking about it. Maybe I should read her book before I keep pretending to know what I'm talking about.

But, as is also mentioned in the article I cited, George W. Bush was also a believer in doing more in the prisons themselves to reduce recidivism, signing the Second Chance Act, which increased funding for programs more like the ones that Charles Colson started. Senator Jim Webb is also hard at work on this issue. So as I mentioned, this is something that people on both the left and right may be able to agree on.

But I don't claim to be an expert criminologist. I only took a few courses on the subject in college and law school, but I did have the chance to study with some people who were expert criminologists.

As far as meeting for a beer sometime, that's a great idea. Maybe we should also take a tour of skid row together.

Fletch said...

Joe, I already read your post, and the program you linked to, and found it very interesting. I look forward to hearing more about this study's success at the three-year mark, and in other states. Thank you for linking it. I also appreciate your candor about your third hand knowledge, but know that I too was excited about the 85% reduction in recidivism in the first year.

I understand that you are not an expert criminologist, I am not either, but I deal in facts and results. The facts of recidivism are well known, and the results of this murder are indisputable. You should be able to reach a conclusion or an opinion without being an expert. Particularly when it is not the experts who are being killed, it's the regular people.

The only question is; will we continue to equivocate and deliberate over the best way to keep this from happening in the future while people just like Lily's murderer walk free, and kill at will, or will we do what we know will minimize these threats while we try to find solutions that really work?

While I'd be happy to meet you for a beer, I believe I'll pass on the tour of skid row.

No one is disputing the state of skid row, plight is plight, whether you see it in the alleyway between two high-rises, or if you see it in an apartment building in Russia. I don't need to personally experience everything in the world before I formulate any opinions.

Besides, I'm getting married in a few weeks, and it would be irresponsible of me to unnecessarily travel to a dangerous place simply to prove a point.

JP said...

I'm trying to remain civil, but it has been tough. I feel I could easily come across as poorly as any BDS sufferer. Of course, I can come up with proof and points in my arguments that every BDS sufferer was lacking. But still, need to watch the temper. I've always had a bad one.

Second chances are fine, this guy was on Chance #10!
I've a cousin(son of my cousin actually) who went nearly terminally stupid, and after his girlfriend left him for the drug dealer, and he was fired from his job for all his thieving junkie buddies hanging around, broke into his Grandparents house, stole a pistol, fired it several times, reloaded and headed back to his now former workplace.
He was holding the Store hostage with possible intent of shooting his boss.
One of the counter girls ran away when he turned away. He shot at her as she rounded a corner and missed, then, luckily for all involved (and I'm sure, humorously, to Ernest and me) He did not know what pistol he had, so when he shot it and reloaded, he loaded .40S&W rounds into a 9mm, and the gun locked out of battery and jammed. A large black man wrestled him down and held him in place until the local police got there (my backwoods town has nearly no blacks, and there was a brief confusion by one of the cops who did a bit of profiling and tried to cuff the black guy but my cousin's kid, of all people, put him right).
Once my cousin got to the jail to see is kid, he had a long while to think. He ask one question.
"What if someone like your Uncle Gary had been there?"(Uncle Gary is the family "Gun Nut" and carries concealed)
"I'd be dead, dad."

After the trail, he was sent to jail and after a year, his dad was visiting and in a quiet spot, his kid said something telling.
"You know, I realized something the other day. . . . I'm the only S.O.B. in here who is guilty" Everyone is the same. None of them feel it was their fault, or they claim they didn't do it, even others like my cousin, who had a store full of hostages that saw him do it, caught him and held him until arresting. Most of those in jail are "innocent", just ask them.
Now, my cousin's kid will likely get out a bit early and probably be reformed. He keeps his nose clean (no small feat in Jackson, MI. Fed Pen)and is taking some schooling while in. On the other hand, he says if he does not get an early release, and serves his full term, he deserves that, and doesn't begrudge it. He is certainly earning his Second Chance.
But he will be the first to tell you that a vast majority of those he is in with will no more change than the sun changing the direction it rises. Even those like him, in for the first time.

JP said...

deja vue
I'm getting a serious case of that.

Mike said...

The loss of any life is a terrible thing, but his life was lost the moment he decided to take another.

I cannot think of a better way to say it. That sentence is beautiful in its simplicity and profundity. My thoughts on it:

I don't even think I've ever used the word "profundity" before, that's how impressed I am!

I'm also in agreement with you on the subject of theft. Theft is murder by inches. I trade my life for the money I use to buy the stuff that people would steal. That stuff literally is my life measured in hours at work, in cars repaired and in my line of work, these are often measurable in sweat and sometimes blood! Stealing that stuff is no different than enslaving me to work for you. It's no different than stealing part of my life.

JP said...

Theft is murder by inches. I trade my life for the money I use to buy the stuff that people would steal. That stuff literally is my life measured in hours at work, in cars repaired and in my line of work, these are often measurable in sweat and sometimes blood! Stealing that stuff is no different than enslaving me to work for you. It's no different than stealing part of my life.

And, in this beautiful statement, is why Taxes are just a heinous.

I will willingly pay a portion of my life for defense and policing, but I'll be damned if I want it stolen to give to someone who is just sitting around consuming resources. I'd rather give what I can to someone who will best use what I give, and The Feds are not who that is (as an atheist, I prefer giving to the Mennonites. They do more with a dollar than most anyone else. Soldiers Angels and ValorIT are worthy as well, but sadly, I have little to give at this point in my life). We need a .10 on a $1 fed sales tax. Locals limited to .025 and State should be limited to .04 as well. I'll pay that and they damned well best budget within that limit.
No bonds for Football stadiums, maybe .005 for a new school but it would need voting on.
But that's just me, and I've wondered off topic a goodly bit.

Fletch said...

Find my final contact with Joe in the comments of this post.

Anonymous said...

Stalin said it best, death solves all problems, no man, no problem This applies here. In spades.