Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

 
Saturday, October 08, 2011

I Need Your Opinion

I've never moderated comments or had members here, but I'm starting to wonder if maybe I should. I want to provide for solid discussion of the issues, but since I am dealing with issues that rouse a lot of passions, I want to maintain the level of the discussion, as well as the tone. The KNS removes only the absolute worst comments, allowing the noise to drown out any reasonable discussion. I don't want that to happen here, and I need to find out the best way to maintain the level of discourse without unduly burdening you.

I have a couple of options.
  1. I can moderate comments. The advantage is that nobody has to sign up or do anything different. The only change would be that comments may take a while to show up as I don't have time to revewi comments all day. That could significantly hinder the discussion.

  2. I could set up moderation so that site members comments would post immediately, while guests would have their comments moderated. The benefits are that folks who signed in would be able to comment freely while others would have their comments moderated. The draw back is the sign in process.

I'm not sure which idea I like better or if I will implement this at all. I'm undecided which is why I'm asking for your input.

I've also thought about requiring people to post with their real names; there's nothing like a little accountability to get you to think before you type, which is one of the reasons I've always posted and commented under my own name. I've decided against that for now, since some people have valid reasons for maintaining their privacy, and hen you're discussing drugs, addiction, and criminal activity, discretion is extremely important.

So, you tell me. Comment moderation? Site membership? Or just keep it open and delete/archive where necessary?



Posted by Rich
Blogging • (11) CommentsPermalink


Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Latest Campus Drinking Game

Students drink a shot every time a KNS headline mentions Henry Granju in a story that claims it is unrelated to him.

Seriously, this is getting ridiculous. Every story the KNS publishes about anybody related to Henry's death prominently features Henry's name in the headline along with the disclaimer that the story has nothing to do with Henry.

It's as obvious as a cat trying to cover up on linoleum and almost as futile. The KNS blew the story, and rather than admit it, they're spinning like crazy, trying to get out in front of it.

Of course, there's another possibility. The KNS is deliberately trying to wear out the Granju story so that when the truth comes out, people will be so tired of hearing Henry's name that they won't notice or care.

I don't know; is Tom Chester that smart?


Hank Williams JR and Monday Night Football

I didn't know MNF was still on the air.

Posted by Rich
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Who Decides Who Lives or Dies?

It sounds like something out of James Bond. A clandestine group, operating outside the law, selecting targets for assassination. With no oversight and no accountability, these nameless faceless men gather together and decide who lives and who dies. They make their decisions, issue their orders, and people die and nobody outside of their group knows how the decision is made.

It sounds like fiction, but it isn't. This process is the one used by the Obama Administration to designate a US citizen for assassination.

The story appeared at Reuters.com.
There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House's National Security Council, several current and former officials said. Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.

The panel was behind the decision to add Awlaki, a U.S.-born militant preacher with alleged al Qaeda connections, to the target list. He was killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen late last month.

The role of the president in ordering or ratifying a decision to target a citizen is fuzzy.


No law establishing its existence. No operating rules. No Congressional oversight. No accountability. No way for Congress or the American people to verify that the intelligence behind the decision was accurate.

This is no way to run the most transparent administration in history.

Here's what really bugs me about this whole thing. Bush was excoriated in the press for justifying enhanced interrogation techniques, which many held equivalent to torture. Those same folks, the ones screaming for impeachment and trial by the World Court, are mostly silent while a President from their party orders the murder of an American citizens.

Folks, Awlaki was a bad man, but our President has just given himself the power to order the death of an American citizen with no eternal review whatsoever. That is far more dangerous than anything the terrorists could do.

It can't be allowed to stand. The President does not have the right to declare citizens to be enemies of the state and to execute them without trial. That power is not afforded to any branch of the government anywhere in the Constitution.

Yet Obama may very well be allowed to get away with it as his accomplices in the lap dog media remain silent.

Speaking of accomplices, let's not forget his allies in Congress, who have just introduced a bill that would allow him to seal all of his Presidential records after he leaves office.

U.S. citizens may never know how or why an individual was targeted, just that they were declared an enemy of the state.

Where this becomes even scarier is in situations where we aren't talking about the 'kill' portion of 'kill or capture.' Essentially, this panel has the power to order the arrest and incarceration of any American citizen they designate, again, without review or oversight. Based on the Reuters report, the President claims to have the authority to 'disappear' citizens, without trial and without charges. I'm telling you folks, this is bad stuff here; this is the kind of thing that brings down countries.

We can't allow this to go on.

This is beyond politics. Bush opened the door with the Patriot Act; Obama just walked through it. The next President will open it a bit wider, and so on. That's the nature of power; unless opposed, it accrues. Who will oppose these excesses? Who will speak up?

Here's a question for you to consider: Are there ANY Presidential candidates talking about the Reuters report today?

If so, I haven't heard. Instead, everybody wants to talk about Obama's jobs bill. It's safe and doesn't require any independent thought. If you're a Democrat, you're for it; Republican, against it. But the issue of the unchecked power grab by the executive branch, well, we don't want to think about that one because it cuts both ways. Political activists want the President to be powerful so when their guy holds the seat, he can accomplish their agenda. They'll tolerate Presidential power for the other team because they know eventually it will be their turn to play.

Politicians aren't the answer. It's going to have top be us.

Are we up to the challenge?

Posted by Rich
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Amazon and Tennessee Sales Taxes

I hate taxes.

That being said, I'm more in favor of consumption based taxes than income taxes since a progressive tax system is inherently inequitable (notice I don't say 'unfair.' 'Fair' is relative and impossible to define while inequitable is a qualitative measure.) to the people at the higher end of the scale.

When Tennessee first started negotiating with Amazon to collect the states sales tax, I was irritated. I order a lot from Amazon and I got used to saving the money.

But then, I started thinking about it from a different perspective. I support a flat, consumption based tax system to replace our current progressive income tax system; to oppose Tennessee's efforts to collect proper sales taxes for items sold is inconsistent with that position. Tennessee voters, myself included, have made it absolutely clear that we have no interest in a state income tax, and that means out governor must look to existing revenue streams to meet our budget. Convincing Amazon to collect state taxes for goods shipped from Tennessee is one way of accomplishing that objective.


So, even though it will cost me more money, I'm supporting the new agreement. On line sales should be taxed at the same rate as brick and mortar sales, and on line retailers should collect those taxes just as brick and mortar retailers do.

Posted by Rich
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What is Accountablility?

Luke asks a very good question in his comment on my last post, and I started to answer it in the comments, then decided to put it all into this post, since I was going to talk about this soon anyway.

I love it when y'all pick my next topic for me!

Luke's comment was:
Rich, I continue to appreciate your posts and your willingness to lead this conversation and keep it open.
Here, I'm troubled a bit by your comment that "when people are incapable of making rational decision... we no longer hold them accountable for their actions, and rightly so."
Maybe I don't fully understand your meaning, but as I read your post this statement struck me as incorrect - or at best, a matter of degree. We certainly hold drunk drivers responsible for their actions, however impaired they may be.
As I've followed this discussion, I've begun to wonder whether we all intend the same meaning in our use of the word "accountability." What is the difference between someone who is held accountable, and someone who is not? Who decides, and how is that decision carried out? When do we consider the account paid?
I guess what gets me started with these questions is that I see a distinction between the ideas of accountability and forgiveness. They're not unrelated in my mind, but they're certainly not the same thing. Accountability concerns consequences; forgiveness implies love and community. With respect to public policy and addiction, I can't imagine either of these points of emphasis functioning well in the absence of the other.


First of all, Luke was exactly right that my comment there was unclear. I implied far to much that I should have spelled out. Sometimes my brain runs faster than I can type. My wife would tell you I have the same trouble with my mouth, but that's a post for another day.

The key to unlocking my point lies in the phrase Luke ellided, "...whether through accident or illness..."

I was trying to point out that when people are adjudicated as impaired, say through brain damage from an accident or an illness like Alzheimer's, then we place them into a guardianship situation, recognizing that they are not capable of making rational decisions about their lives. We protect them from the consequences of their bad decisions. We also protect them from the influence of predators who would try to take advantage of them.

In a like manner, we insure that defendants are mentally capable of participating in their defense before they stand trial. Again, if they aren't, they are placed in a guardianship situation until such time as they are capable of understanding the charges and participating in their defense. We also recognize that children do not have the same capacity for decision making as a mature adult, and so we hold them to a different standard of accountability for their actions. Finally, mental incompetency is a legitimate defense against many criminal charges.

I'm not saying that addicts escape all accountability for their actions, just that there are precedents for acknowledging that a person with a diminished capacity for making decisions is not fully responsible for their actions while in that diminished capacity.

Now in the case of people who voluntarily decide to diminish their own capacity, like the guy who drinks and drives, we do hold them legally accountable for that decision, an if they hurt somebody as a result of that decision, we prosecute them to the full extent of the law. By the same token, a drug addict who commits a crime while high, say, beating and robbing a man so he can get high, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

What I am saying is that once we step outside of the criminal justice system, we must acknowledge the diminished capacity of the addict and account for it in any plan or policy we devise to deal with drugs. This becomes particularly important when we're talking about juvenile addicts, who get hooked before their brain is fully matured.

I use the word accountability a lot, and I guess I need to define what I mean when I say it. Accountability is the the recognition that actions have consequences, and those consequences devolve upon the actor. It differs from responsibility in that responsibility is internal; it refers to your perception or action. Accountability is a perception or action taken by others. For example, if I drink and drive, I am behaving irresponsibly. If I am arrested and taken to jail, I was still irresponsible, but I am being held accountable for my actions.

Because accountability is imposed externally, it is always going to be a reflection of the values of the culture. Our culture makes value judgments when it decides who is to be held accountable, and for what. When I wrote yesterday that I'd changed a position, what I was saying was that my values had changed so that I now saw the irresponsibility of drug use as no longer just an issue of personal freedom, and that the consequences of that decision were so devastating to the addict, his family, and to society at large that I could no longer say that the addict was accountable only to himself. In fact, the addict was accountable for considerable damage to others far beyond himself.

Now, if you think I'm arguing against myself, when I started out saying that we can't hold them fully accountable, and I'm now saying we must hold them accountable, well, you're absolutely right. But it is this conflict between the need to hold the addict accountable for his actions and the need to recognize that he in mentally impaired and can't be fully accountable that is driving this debate.

If we shift too far to either side in our search for a solution, we'll get it wrong. We're sailing between Scylla and Charybdis (my English teacher just swooned at that metaphor) and to make matters worse, we've got the Sirens singing as well.

Like I said yesterday, I don't have all the answers yet; right now, we're just laying out the parameters of the problem. But we have to do that honestly, accurately, and realistically if we hope to come up with a workable solution.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

An Old Dog learns a New Trick

I've changed a long held position of mine.

For a very long time, I've accepted the libertarian view that what a person chooses to put into their own body is their decision, not mine, and that as long as they bore the consequences of their choices, and didn't burden the rest of us, then it was none of my business.

In short, I favored the legalization of drugs. Tax 'em, regulate 'em, and use the revenue generated to take care of the small proportion of addicts who couldn't handle themselves. I figured, like most libertarians, that legalizing drugs would get rid of the criminal element, and that regulating them would even out the supply, reducing the chances of death by overdose or from contaminates.

I held this position even as I watched my father drink himself into an early grave. After all, he had been a successful business man, and he was never a burden on the state or anybody else, so how he chose to live his life was entirely his choice.

Right?

I don't think so anymore.

I've come to the realization that addiction and choice are mutually exclusive concepts. An addict no longer has the ability to choose rationally, neither when they are high/drunk, nor when they are sober and seeking their next fix. Their entire existence becomes reduced to the next score or the next drink. An addict may be able to function after a fashion, and may be able to accommodate their addiction somewhat, but all it takes is a short delay between highs to completely erase that semblance of rationality.

When people are incapable of making rational decision, whether through accident or illness, we no longer hold them accountable for their actions, and rightly so. However, we dismiss entirely the idea that an addict is impaired, and seek to hold them entirely accountable for their actions. The argument is that since they made the original decision to drink/toke/shoot up then they bear all the consequences of that decision, including the consequences of subsequent decision made while impaired.

Do we really want to set up an expectation where one bad decision, potentially made as a minor, can lead to a lifetime of consequences? It becomes even harder to justify this stand when we take into account the cyclic nature of addiction.

I can't do that anymore. I can't in good conscience hold people accountable for decisions they make when they are by all reasonable standards incapable of making rational decisions.

So what does that mean in a practical sense? How can I hold people accountable for the choices they make when one of those choices, by definition, robs them of the ability to make sound decisions?

Well, I'm working on it. There aren't any easy answers, but it seems to me the first place to start is to stop the easy flow of drugs, particularly to our kids. Of course, saying it is the easy part. Doing it, not so easy.

Of course, thanks to federal drug policy over the last couple of decades, we have a pretty good idea of what not to do, so at least we have a place to start.

Just say no? No.

Midnight basketball? Nope.

DARE? Not so much.

Each of these programs mean well, and are very effective at keeping the kids who wouldn't try drugs anyway from trying drugs. We need a way to reach the kids most at risk, and those kids are not the ones who immediately spring to mind. It's not an inner city problem; it's everywhere. Drugs are prevalent in every high school in East Tennessee. The mix varies, but you cam get just about anything you want in any school in the county.

So much for school resource officers.

Don't get me wrong, they're doing the best they can, but the simple truth is that so far, just about everything tried has been an abject failure.

As far as I can see, the common factor to all the approaches is that they've been from the top down, relying on centralized administration of an inflexible zero tolerance policy. In keeping with my libertarian approach, I'm leaning towards a more grass roots effort. not so much a war on drugs as a Civil Defense force. Made up of parent volunteers, and community members, each school would police itself. If you ask around, it isn't any secret who the dealers are, where the meth labs are, or where to go to buy whatever you need. The problem is that a centralized law enforcement approach is reactive rather then being proactive.

I don't have a lot of details yet, and if you have ideas, by all means, talk about them in the comments. One person isn't going to fix this. It's going to take dozens of committed parents at each school to make a difference.

In the next few weeks, I hope to bring you some statistics regarding drug use in our schools.

In parallel to keeping drugs out of school, we need to interrupt the supply as well. Despite the laws passed making it nearly impossible for me to buy cold medicine that actually works, Tennessee still leads the nation in meth labs. Go Vols, right? We need an effective strategy. Again, I don't know what that will look like yet, but I do know what an ineffective strategy looks like. If insanity consists of doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting different results, then the men in white coats should have come to take our drug enforcement policies away a decade ago.

This has turned into more of a rant than a post, and I don't have any clear ending point in sight, mainly because I don't see an end to the problem yet. But I do know that we can't keep going the way we are; we're losing far too many good, talented people to addiction.

It has to stop.


Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Addressing the Blnd Spot

Our culture currently has a very large blind spot when it comes to addiction, and that's one of the things I'm trying to combat here. Now that the KPD have moved against the folks involved in Henry's overdose and death, this is becoming Katie's primary goal as well. Far too many believe that addiction is a choice, and that if we believe in personal accountability, then we must hold addicts solely responsible for the consequences of their addiction. This short sighted and logically flawed approach lies at the heart of the problems Katie had with getting anybody to investigate Henry's death by overdose.

That's why I'm promoting Michelle's comment from this post. Her comment illustrates that blind spot perfectly. I'm going to fisk the comment, not to make Michelle look bad, or to run her down in any way, but to try and expose that blind spot, shine some light into that darkness, and by doing so, dispel it.

What happened to Henry is sad. It could happen to any body's child--mine, yours, anybody's. But my problem with Ms. Granju is she refuses to accept the reality that Henry made choices in his life and those choices led to his death.

This is categorically untrue. Katie's actions prior to Henry's death shows that she held him accountable for his actions. Through the years, she tried everything to get Henry off of drugs, going so far as to forbid him from being in the family home while he was using. She showed him that there were going to be consequences for his choices. When Henry and his girlfriend were arrested, she didn't bail him out, hoping that the stay in jail would lead to rehab, drug counseling, or other forms of intervention. And again, she was allowing him to deal with the consequences of his choices. Far from refusing to accept the reality of Henry's choices, dealing with the consequences of those choices was the defining factor in the Granju family household for the last couple of years of Henry's life.
In blaming the drug dealer, she absolves Henry of the choices he made as an adult.

This is a logical fallacy. Apportioning responsibility is not a zero sum or binary game. To say that other people bear responsibility for Henry's death does not in any way absolve Henry of his responsibility. Conversely, holding Henry accountable for his choices does not absolve the people who took advantage of him from their responsibility for their actions.

Let's look at this another way. Take the case of a young girl who ran away from home. She was being abused at home, and made a desperate choice to run away to escape the abuse. Young and impressionable, instead of going to a woman's shelter or church home or other resource, she lights out on her own, deciding she'll be a star in the big city. She gets off the bus and realizes she has no place to go, no freinds, and no money. She's alone and scared.

What happens next is so predictable, it's almost a cliche. A predator has the bus station staked out, looking for vulnerable girls like her. She's been warned her whole life about men like him, but she's alone, frightened, and still a little rebellious. She chooses to go with him, accepting his offer of food and shelter. She believes she can stay there just for the night, and then move on, without getting trapped.

But he's older, smarter, and well practiced. He takes care of her for the might, leaves her alone, lulls her into a sense of security. She stays another night. There's a party and she chooses to stay and party with her new friends. They tell her it's okay to try a line of this or a snort of that. She's in the big city now; everybody does it. Desperate to fit in, she goes along. Within a few days, she's trapped. Bad things begin to happen to her, and she is told that after what she's done, there's nobody that would want her, certainly not her parents. Only her new family wants her, accepts her.

So, she made every choice. She was never forced, never faced with violence, never actively coerced.

Does she bear the full responsibility of her choices? Does the fact that she ran away absolve the abuser at home of their responsibility? Does the fact that she chose to go with the pimp absolve him of knowingly preying on her vulnerability? Does her choice to use drugs absolve the people around her from manipulating her into a situation where the only realistic choice was to go along?

Obviously not.

Just because she made bad choices does not absolve the people who manipulated her into making those choices, who took advantage of her vulnerability from their responsibility. By the same token, Henry may have chosen to take drugs, but that does not give anybody else the right to manipulate him, to assault him, to drug him, and ultimately, to kill him. His status as a drug user/dealer did not make it open season on him. He still had the full protection of the law.

And that is what Katie and I, and so many others, are fighting for.


He was not an innocent child, playing in the sandbox when a drug dealer forced him to take illegal drugs. He was a hard core addict who had spent a significant time in rehab and CHOSE to go back to using drugs. Henry had a multitude of options if he wanted to stop using drugs. He had a family that would have done anything to help, which many addicts do not have. He CHOSE not to avail himself of those options and elected to continue to use.

This section shows absolutely zero understanding about addiction. The addict doesn't chose to continue using; the addict is compelled to continue using or else suffer debilitating physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms, followed by a lifetime of abstinence maintained through rigorous self control.

A daunting prospect to say the least.

I say this as the son of an alcoholic father. I know that Dad would have stopped drinking if he could; in the end, the bottle's grip was stronger than his grip on life. He may have chosen to take the first drink; after that, his ability to chose was impaired by his addiction.

This impairment is even more profound in the drug addict, particularly so when opiates are involved. Addiction creates a self reinforcing cycle, a sort of positive feedback loop that traps the addict in a downward spiral. There's a reason why most addicts relapse, and so very few ever get clean and stay clean. You take a young man, whose brain has not yet fully developed the ability to make reasoned choices. He makes a bad choice. For many kids, no big deal; they learn from the mistake, and go on with the rest of their lives. But in some case, there's a predisposition to addiction. There is a genetic component to addiction, and that's the major reason why I've never drank. For those with that predisposition, that first drink, the first joint, the first line of coke sets into motion a sequence of events every bit as destructive and unstoppable as a single rock fall that triggers a landslide.

Even when an addict has gone through rehab, an opiate addict's brain chemistry is still off kilter for years. Their pain receptors are screwed up; their emotions are volatile, and their ability to reason remains impaired, sometimes permanently. While these are consequences of the original choice, should we still hold them fully accountable for decisions made when they are impaired?

Of course not. To do so flies in the face of both logic and compassion.
This isn't about fear that my child will use drugs. It is about the fact that so many in society refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. There is no personal accountability.

Dying from an overdose is not accountability, unless you think that taking drugs is a capital offense. Had Henry been arrested for using or dealing; he would have served prison time, demonstrating that the system and his parents held him accountable for his actions. His death came through the illegal actions of others, as well as his own. You want to hold him accountable for his actions, but let the others off scott free for theirs.

Henry killed Henry. He chose to take drugs. He knew the risks. In fact, he googled whether 80mgs of methadone was a high dose before he took it and discovered it was. Despite this knowledge, he took it. Chose to take it, not forced to take it.

Already addressed in the comments. Your timeline is incorrect.

I think that many of the comments by the community reflect this sentiment--that Ms. Granju does not want to face the fact that Henry made the choices he did, and those choices led to his death. I am sorry for Ms. Granju's loss, but this does not change the facts.


As I have shown, your grasp of the facts is incomplete. You address only one side of the equation, and prefer to ignore the other. I choose to believe that you are not purposely being hateful, but your inability to accept the truth and your constant desire to refute the idea that those who took advantage of Henry have some responsibility for his death are hurtful. You insist that Katie is denying Henry's responsibility when she has specifically stated the opposite several times. You call her to account for a position she does not hold, showing that you have not read her posts, or that you have read them, and believe she is lying. That is what is hurtful.

Again, I didn't single out Michelle to embarrass or hurt her, but to point out a series of very common misunderstandings about Henry's case in specific, and the nature of addiction in general. My hope is that by reading through this post, some folks may gain a better understanding of the battles fought by addicts, both against their addictions, and the people who prey on their vulnerability.


Monday, October 03, 2011

A Comparison

In California, a licensed physician is on trial for prescribing and administering a legal drug to a patient who died from that drug. Malpractice is one thing, but this doctor is being tried criminally for manslaughter. The trial is making headlines globally because the victim in this case was Michael Jackson.

Meanwhile, here in Knoxville, we can't even count on prosecuting known drug dealers for giving illegal drugs to people who die from those drugs.

Sorta makes you wonder, doesn't it?


Friday, September 30, 2011

Why They Hate

For the last couple of days, I've been talking about different aspects of Henry Granju's life and death, and what we as a community can do to get a grip on the drug problem. Yesterday, I outlined a few steps we can take to keep our kids safe, and I pointed out that the solution must come from the community itself, not be imposed from above. We have to do it; there's no government program that can do it for us, and that is why it is so important to keep pushing forward on Henry's case. Due to the Herculean efforts of his mother, Henry's death provides us with an opportunity to actually change the way things are done here in Knoxville and to take measures to protect our kids. And there are many of us who want to do just that, and stand ready to take the baton from Katie and keep running the race.

Reading the comments section in the Knoxville News Sentinel, you would think we were some kind of whacked out cult trying to take over the town. The hate frequently froths over on the page and so many vile comments are left standing that I hate to imagine what the ones that the KNS decides to delete are like. Katie has been called everything from a drunk parent to an egomaniac, from an indifferent mother who couldn't be bothered to raise her kids to an overprotective mother who can't face the truth about her son. She's been accused of smothering Henry, coddling Henry, ignoring Henry, enabling Henry, and all because she stood up and said that the people who gave her son an overdose of drugs, and the men who beat and robbed him should face justice as provided for under Tennessee Law.

You would think that she's the one who committed a crime.

Where does this anger, this hatred come from?

Well, it turns out that Yoda was right. Anger and hatred find their roots in fear. And in this case the fear comes from the realization in the heart of every parent, whether we admit to it or not, that our children are independent agents, and that they will often make decisions that go against everything we've tried to teach them.

That's a bold statement, and I'm going to go even further. If you think your child is the exception to the rule, that you've raised them right and they would never ever do anything that you did not approve of, then you are either lying to yourself or guilty of child abuse.

Now that I've pissed a bunch of you off, let me explain. First a few questions.

How many of you can honestly say that your kids have never disobeyed you? That you've never had to discipline than in any way? Nobody, right? The biggest task in parenting is teaching our children right and wrong, using discipline to help them develop self-discipline, and training their young minds to think rationally and make responsible decisions. At the same time, we need to give them the freedom to develop, to become people instead of automatons. It is a delicate balance, setting boundaries without crushing independence, nurturing growth while maintaining respect, encouraging exploration while keeping them safe. It's not a science; it's an art, and we're all amateurs when we start.

My next question. For those of you who have raised your children through young adulthood, how many decisions have they made that you disagree with? Choices of friends, clothing, jewelry, etc. How many times have they made a choice that conflicts with the values you've tried to instill in them? How many times have you had to step in and manage the consequences of the choices they've made? Again, that's one of the biggest tasks in parenting. We don't want to isolate our children from the consequences of their choices, but at the same time we don't want those consequences to ruin them. So we do the best we can to teach them responsibility while trying to protect them until they achieve it.

And now my final question. For those of you who have raised your children to adults, when you look back over the job you did as parents, are there things you would change if you could? Do you see mistakes you made, things that held your child back, or hurt them in some way? Are there opportunities you missed, lessons you failed to teach, or examples that you regret setting for your kids? Take a good, long, hard look at yourself as a parent. Were you perfect? Or did you just do the best you could? Was it good enough?

If we are honest with ourselves, in our hearts we know that much of the time, we were just making it up as we went along. We took examples from our parents, added in our own beliefs, and did the best we could. We learned on the job, and one of the things we learned was that we were in competition with the rest of the world as we tried to raise our children. As our kids grow, they become exposed to other influences and those influences may or may not coincide with what we've been trying to teach them. There comes a time when our influence over our children goes from primary to secondary. Unfortunately, that time comes well before our children are capable of making fully rational choices. The decision making centers of the brain are not fully developed, and a code of behavior is not fully developed. Adolescents are still very impressionable, and the image impressed by our culture is not one that is safe.

Look at what's on TV, the lyrics in popular songs, the dress that is now acceptable, the behaviors that are now acceptable. Don't worry, I'm not going on a right wing rant about censoring things, just pointing out that the role models provided for our children today do not embody values that lead to responsible, mature, decision making.

It is this that causes the fear that lives in every parent's heart. We know that we've one everything we could to raise our children to be strong, smart, and responsible, but we also know that our influence diminishes as they get older, which is also at the same time as the risk grows greater. As out ability to control our children's lives begins to decrease, the potential consequences of their decisions increases. As our influence fades, the influence of their peers, their culture, and other adults in their lives grows. That plus the knowledge we have of the dangers waiting for them is enough to make the most secure parent fearful. Add to that our memories of the stupid things we did when we were their age, and it's a wonder we aren't all strapped into love-me jackets in rooms with padded walls.

To be a parent is to live in fear for your child, with the knowledge that the world we live in is a dangerous one that can destroy lives in a heart beat. We deal with that fear in different ways. Some of us turn to God, and place that burden on Him. (A choice I highly recommend by the way.) Some of us become obsessed and become helicopter parents, never letting their kids grow up. And some choose to deny the fear and pretend that it only happens to bad parents. We all deal with the fear in different ways, but all parents share it. We know that what happened to Henry can happen to any parent's child. We know that any feeling of security we have for our children is largely illusory, and that illusion can be dispelled forever by the simple sound of a ringing telephone.

And I really think that knowledge is what's behind most of the hate being poured out on Katie. She is standing up and forcing everyone to see that what happened to Henry was not due to bad parenting, or bad luck, or being born poor, or living in the wrong neighborhood. Henry's death rips away at the illusions, all the tricks we use to deny our fears and forces us to acknowledge that our children can be taken away from us despite everything we've done to protect them. That's a scary thing to admit, and since we don't like to be afraid, we get angry instead. We lash out at the cause of our fear, or if that is out of reach, at whatever causes us to confront that fear. In this case, Katie, by refusing to allow us to hide behind the blinders of "just another junkie overdose; nothing to see here," is forcing us to confront that fear, that essential powerlessness that comes with parenting a young adult, and that makes us angry.

And Katie wasn't just forcing us to face addiction head on, she was also forcing us to see that the people we put in charge of enforcing the law were not always worthy of the faith we put into them. That bad people could do bad things to our children and law enforcement would be almost completely disinterested in holding anybody accountable.

I have to be honest. I could very easily have been hiding behind those blinders myself, except that I had them ripped away the day Henry died. My son was in a car wreck that same day. He went to the same ER, the same ICU, even shared a nurse with Henry. As our family was gathering to wait and see whether Luke would live or die, (he lived, thank God), Katie's family was slowly dispersing home, to deal with their grief, to mourn, and to try to find a way to get through the rest of their lives with a large piece missing. There are no coincidences on this earth; I believe there is a purpose to everything, no matter how hard it is for us to see it and as I offered Katie my consolation as she left the hospital in tears, I immediately believed that Henry and Luke were linked.

My eyes were opened and when Katie began to post about her concerns, I saw the truth in her words. Because I was already living the parent's worst nightmare, I was beyond denial. I knew it could happen at any time, in any family. Whether through a drug addiction, a car wreck, or a random act of violence, our children, the ones we promised ourselves we would die to protect, can be taken from us and there's not a thing we can do to prevent it. All of our best efforts can still come up short.

And that, in the end, is why there's so much hate spewing. Katie is forcing people to face some very uncomfortable truths, and that always brings out the worst in some people.




Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fighting the Drug Infestation

Yesterday, I talked about Henry, and his responsibility for the circumstances of his death. I lightly touched on several issues surrounding addiction, including the diminished capacity to make rational decisions when high, and when in withdrawal. And then I started to examine just what we can do in the face of the dangers of teenaged drug use. Considering that many if not most drug users start experimenting well before they hit 18, we can't simply say they made their choice and paid the price. Nor can we hold their parents completely responsible, since kids over the age of 12 will often make decisions that directly conflict with what their parents taught them.

So how do we deal with cases like this? How do we properly apportion responsibility and mete out justice? Fortunately, as a nation of laws, we do have a clear cut path forward but it requires a tremendous amount of personal integrity.

First, we have to check our prejudices at the door. We have to put away any moralizing about the victims and the accused. Calling Henry a drug dealer is accurate, but as Katie points out, it isn't a full description of him any more than 'tax cheat' is a complete description of Timothy Geithner. And more importantly, it should be completely irrelevant when we are talking about justice. His addiction drove him into dangerous places and activities; however, that does not in any way lessen the responsibility of anybody who took advantage of that addiction to harm him.

Second, we have to apply the law equally, without partiality. Had Henry been arrested, tried, and convicted for dealing, I have no doubt that Katie and Chris would have no issues with Henry serving time as prescribed by law. But that wasn't what happened. Henry was robbed, beaten, and then given a lethal dose of an illegal drug. That's not justice in any form. Henry should not have been treated like a second class citizen by the KCSD; his case should have been vigorously investigated and prosecuted. Instead, the KCSD literally phoned in the investigation, resulting in a failure to gather any evidence to support prosecution. Contrast this with the work of the KPD. Once the KCSD closed the case, the KPD went into action. Rather than limiting themselves to Henry's death, they took the copious amount of information available in the case files and went to work. Over a period of weeks, the KPD developed evidence, presented it to a grand jury, and garnered arrests of all key players. There's no reason the KCSD couldn't have done the same thing.

That they didn't is evidence enough of their lack of effort on this case.

Third, we have to vigorously attack the problem at it's source. Opinions vary as to whether drug interdiction or education is more effective at controlling drug use. That's not a question that will be answered in a blog, but given the fact that we know kids are vulnerable, that their capacity for reason is not fully developed at the time they are first introduced to drug use, interdiction must play a key role in protecting them from drug predators.

This is a community problem, not one that can be solved by any police force no matter how dedicated. By definition, police are reactive; when they get involved, it's already too late. Somebody has been hurt. In order to protect kids, we have to be proactive. I'm not talking about Federal or state programs to regulate drugs or limit their availability; that's a failing strategy. And I'm not talking about more drug awareness programs, which are another failure. These two approaches share the same flaw; they go from the top down. They rely on a slow reacting bureaucracy dominated by special interests and hamstrung by conflicting priorities. While our children are dying, our government agencies are debating the merits of midnight basketball leagues.

I'm talking about real community involvement at the local level. I'm talking about neighbors standing up and making their neighborhood unattractive to dealers. Everyone I've talked to knows where the crack houses are in their neighborhood. Meth labs aren't secret. Each time one is taken down, the news will interview residents who say they knew something was going on, but either didn't think they should say something, or did say something and the police failed to respond. We know where the bad neighborhoods are, and it's very easy to pawn off the problem as one that concerns only the people who live there, but the truth is that the drug blight affects us all. We often hear about the 50% of the victims of drug violence come from the inner cities. What we don't stop to consider is that figure means that 50% come from the suburbs.

The only way we will ever get control of illegal drugs is to make it very clear that we won't tolerate it. Period.

I'm not saying we should take the law into our own hands and go for some vigilante justice; what I am saying is that it is up to us to make sure that our own little slice of the world is free from infestation, and then turn around and help the folks next door do the same thing.

The final step is the hardest one of all, and we'll talk about that on Friday.



Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Henry: Dealer or Addict?

Yesterday, I outlined my reasons for continuing to actively pursue changes in the way we see drug users and addicts. In short, right now, according to our law enforcement community, drug addicts are basically disposable. This attitude is a reflection of our society as a whole, which many times turns a blind eye to criminal activity as long as the victim was somehow asking for it. In a comment on that post, Katie Granju raises a very interesting question, one that I planned to address fairly soon anyway.
As for my son being a dealer, I swallow hard every time I read that because the only evidence that exists of my son's dealing is evidence that ***I**** voluntarily offered to authoritities to help get other dealers off the street. To be fair to Henry, he was never arrested or charged or convicted of any crime, yet his reputation has been sullied in a way that is very, very painful to me. The much older adults now arrested and charged with drug dealing are referred to as "accused" and "alleged" - and that's appropriate. They will also receive every consideration and protection our legal system and media ethics provide to be sure that their reputations are not forever tarnished with the words "drug dealer" unless they are ultimately convicted. Yet my son, who has no protection, no peer review of the evidence "against" him, and who was never charged with any crime is now forever branded "drug dealer" because I wanted to be as straigtforward as I could be in sharing info with authorities so they could use that info to go after still-active criminals who might be preying on other teens.

Don't misunderstand - I do believe Henry was dealing drugs in the final period of his life - but many victims of crime were likely involved in something that they should not have been at the time of their death, yet it's not common practice for the public to consider that negative behavior to be their defining characteristic.

My son was a teenager hooked on drugs sold by adults who made and still make lots of money on the addicts they create and kill.


The question is easy to state, but difficult to answer. Are there differences between drug dealers?

Now that the masks have been pulled off of Houser and Harper, some of the more hateful commenters at the News Sentinel are now trying to draw an equivalency between them and Henry. They say we are hypocrites if we term Henry a victim and them as predators if all three were drug addicts. Their 'logic' is that if Henry was a victim because he was a drug addict, and they are also drug addicts, then they too must be victims.

There are several flaws in this logic, starting with the simple fact that Henry was a victim regardless of his status as a drug addict. First and most plainly, he was the victim of a robbery and assault. That the assault and robbery took place is not in question; the men involved admitted that it took place, although they lied to cover up their part in the assault. Second, according to the story told by Henry's friends, he was given an overdose of methadone by people who pretended to be his friends, and when he collapsed in their home, they tried to avoid calling for medical assistance. Henry was the victim of several crimes over the course of 36 hours.

The next flaw is that as far as we know, Harper and Houser dealt drugs, but weren't using them. Remember, according to the News Sentinel's report on the wrongful death lawsuit, the methadone clinic named in the suit claimed that not only were Houser and Harper not patients, but that they were not registered at all in the State of Tennessee as patients at any methadone clinic. While they may have been former addicts, to date, no source, either the case files released by the KCSD or written up in the KNS have ever said they were users.

And finally, just what is it they are supposedly victims of? What crime has been perpetrated against them? Were they beaten and robbed? Were they given drugs that killed them?

Nope.

So much for the 'logic' of your typical KNS commenter.

As much as it obviously pains Katie to discuss, Henry was selling drugs. That's how he supported his habit. The text messages on his phone support the idea that on the day he was robbed, he was eager to make a sale in order to bail his girlfriend out of jail. But as far as the record shows, Henry was not involved in dealing as a means of support. There's no mention of him building a network. There's no indication that he tried to expand his market to increase his sales. Every indication we have suggests that Henry's only interest in selling drugs was to get the money to score for himself.

Compare that with the prototypical drug dealer. Always on the move to increase his sales, looking to hook new clients, supporting themselves on the proceeds of their sales, and using violence to protect their business, these people are professionals; it's how they make a living. Clearly, this description does not fit Henry. As Katie pointed out, Henry was never arrested, charged, or convicted for selling drugs.

But it isn't that simple.

Nobody knows the pain and despair of addiction like another addict. So when one addict sells to another, it is with the knowledge that they are deepening the hold of the other's addiction, enabling them to remain trapped in a hellish existence of always searching for the next score. Of course, the alternative is to consign them to either going through withdrawal, or finding another, possibly more dangerous source for their fix. Every deal Henry made put another person at risk. While he wasn't seeking to hook new users, I don't know that he would have refused to sell to them. Henry certainly bears a moral responsibility for his decision to sell drugs to support his habit, but again, that's only one side of the equation. As an addict, his ability to make reasoned decisions was drastically impaired. We don't hold people with diminished mental capacities responsible for decisions they make, and a drug addict is certainly operating in a diminished mental capacity.

The difference of course is that addicts made the decision that led directly to that diminished capacity. But Henry made that decision as a juvenile and we don't hold those decisions against people for the rest of their lives, do we?

Like I said, there are no easy answers. Henry was both an addict and a dealer, and while his addiction played a role in the choices he made, choices that left him vulnerable, he was also the victim of crimes as stated in Tennessee law, and the perpetrators of those crimes should have been brought to justice, Henry's failings notwithstanding.

Trying to apportion an addict's responsibility is a Gordian knot with no easy solution, and I can't provide one in a single blog post. All I can do is point out that the simple answers are wrong, and maybe lay out the foundation for a better response.

So we'll tackle that tomorrow.




Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Justice for Henry: My Path Forward

Some of you may be wondering why I'm still writing about this. After all, the folks involved in Henry's death have been arrested and will face hefty jail time if convicted. Katie has said that it is time to move forward, and wrote an eloquent post in order to do just that, move forward. While she hasn't backed off from her position that the KCSD failed to perform a thorough, professional investigation, she's shifting her focus away from past mistake and more towards making changes for the future.

Some think I should be doing the same.

I'm not.

Not because I think Katie is wrong for doing so; she's run her race. Her quest has always been in two parts. First, she wanted to get some from of justice for Henry, and she has succeeded. True, the charges are not related to Henry's death, but the fact remains that the people who were involved are now facing prison time and have been exposed as drug dealers, not "Good Samaritans." Now it's time for her to set her priorities on the second part of her quest, to educate the public about the insidious epidemic of drug abuse, and to provide help to teens and young adults caught in the snare of drug abuse. I fully expect that Katie will take a couple of weeks to enjoy her family, rest and recharge, and then jump back into the fight, but this time, focusing on education, intervention, and treatment to prevent other families from being torn apart as hers was. I expect she will lobby for tougher drug laws, for more rigorous investigation protocols, and to have the state of Tennessee actually enforce the laws already on the books. Katie and her family will move on with the work that will give the tragedy of Henry's life and death a meaning. Nothing will ever replace Henry in their hearts, but knowing that because of Henry's death, many other lives will be saved, will provide some measure of comfort.

It's time for Katie to start that work, bringing meaning out of a meaningless tragedy.

But for the rest of us, there's still hard work to be done.

Let's get this straight right from the beginning. Henry was a drug addict and a dealer. He sold drugs to support his habit. He'd been through rehab a couple of times, but was unable to kick the addiction. In the end, that addiction cost him his life. My father was an alcoholic and he died several years ago, partially because of the drinking, so I have some understanding of what Katie went through with Henry. But there were significant differences between my father's death and Henry's. My dad died from kidney failure brought on by a combination of hemochromatosis and the alcoholism. He drank, knowing that it would eventually kill him, because to him, he had no choice not to. The addiction was too strong. In this, he was just like Henry. But the key difference is that nobody took my father away from his family, nobody used his addiction to control and isolate him, and nobody gave him an overdose of alcohol while telling him it was safe.

Henry was an addict, and he was a dealer, and had he been arrested for using or dealing, I would have stood foursquare for him to pay the price for his crimes as decided by a court of law. I believe in accountability. However, that is not what happened. There was no justice in Henry's death. No trial, no court of law, no judge, no jury, no appeal. To say that because he was an addict, Henry somehow deserved what happened to him is ludicrous because that means that Henry was at fault for allowing people to take advantage of him.

We stopped blaming the victim in most cases a long time ago; drug users are one of the last holdouts.

The only way to change this is to get people to recognize their own prejudices, to rub their noses in it if necessary, and that's what I am going to do.

My goal is to make the folks at the KCSD and at the KNS see Henry and other young addicts as people, not things. I want them to understand that when as addict is taken advantage of, is beaten and robbed it is no different than any other citizen being beaten and robbed. Some law enforcement officers will tell you that this is already the case; the more honest ones will admit that some citizens are more important than others.

The way to end this insidious kind of discrimination is to highlight it whenever it occurs; to point it out with a brilliant spotlight so everybody sees it. As I learn more about the investigation and how the story was covered by Knoxville media, I'll be examining every statement, every press release in order to look for and highlight any signs of complacency, indifference, or incompetence. By shining a light, I hope to dispel some ignorance.

That's my path forward.




Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why I’m Not Cutting the Knoxville News Sentinel Any Slack.

When information given to you by somebody else turns out to be false, there are only two possible causes. Either the source was wrong, or the source was lying.

Check back through the email exchanges with Jaime Satterfield in this post and see if you can tell which side Satterfield puts Katie on. If you aren't sure, let me point you to another exchange Ms. Satterfield had, this time on a public forum.
Jamie Satterfield
03-08-2011, 08:34 PM
As far as I can tell, no one has come forward to say they saw this couple give Henry a fatal dose of methadone. That leaves KCSO with nothing more than hearsay, which is inadmissible in court. Not to mention that the initial claim was that Henry suffered broken ribs, a broken jaw and a skull fracture when the medical examiner specifically ruled out any proof of such injuries. (Emphasis mine)
Should we be targeting dealers who supply people like Henry with drugs? Absolutely. KCSO certainly can and should try to build a case via traditional and legally acceptable means - send in a snitch and record buys, for example. But there simply is no prosecutable case based on what the family has so far revealed.

There are at least four instances in these two links of Jaime Satterfield either implying or outright saying that Katie has been deceptive in discussing Henry's injuries, and that this ruins her credibility. The problem is that the case files document conclusively that Katie was not spinning, manipulating, or in any way distorting the truth. Instead, she was accurately conveying the medical information given to her at the time by the physicians and caregivers at two separate hospitals. Satterfield didn't know that because she didn't have the background knowledge to read and understand the medical files, nor did she have the complete medical files, only the edited version supplied by the Knox County Sheriff's Department. Despite this lack of information, when the ME's report came out several weeks after Henry died, Satterfield concluded that since the ME found no evidence that there was any trauma from the attack, Katie must have been distorting the truth. In essence, Satterfield ignored all the medical reports in the case file, ignored the fact that every doctor who examined Henry believed that his trauma came from an assault and said so to the Granju family, ignored all of that in order to accuse Katie of distorting the truth.

So, why would she assume that Katie was lying? Arrogance springing from her own ignorance? Or was she primed to believe the worst, and if so, who colored her perceptions? Is the bias limited to Satterfield, or does it extend throughout the KNS?

My questions go even deeper. How is it that a seasoned reporter like Satterfield fails to do basic research in order to understand a medical file? A minute or two on Google, and Satterfield would have known that the case file did note bruising on Henry's chest, saving the KNS no small amount of embarrassment. A simple timeline would have shown that when Katie was talking about details of the assault and Henry's injuries, her descriptions were consistent with the medical documents of the same time period. Had Don Jacobs taken the time to look at the medical files Katie brought to him, the KNS would have had a fuller picture of Henry's medical condition as observed by the medical professionals who saw him while he was alive.

That makes two separate reporters, both of whom discounted Katie's reports of what happened to Henry.

What bothers me most about this is that the KNS does not show any of this skepticism towards the KCSD. While they question virtually every word out of Katie's mouth, they accept without question the pronouncements from the KCSD, even the ones that are demonstrably in error.

I can't come up with a reasonable explanation for the disparity in treatment shown by the KNS that doesn't involve some sort of institutional bias at the paper. Maybe there is one; maybe Jack McElroy will be able to explain exactly why his paper has missed the boat so badly on this story. And it's clear to anybody with an open mind that they have missed it. As other news organizations begin to look more closely at the events surrounding the death of Henry Granju, we will learn more about what happened that night at the Houser home, why the KCSD investigation went nowhere, how a KPD detective became so heavily involved in a KCSD case, and why, despite ample evidence of drug dealing and confessions of robbery, the case was closed with no arrests, and no additional investigation. And we may even find out why the KNS shows no interest in any of these questions. At this point, I'm hoping that the answers to all of these questions boil down to indifference coupled with incompetence.

But I'm no longer counting on it.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No Arrests Possible for KCSD; Four Arrests by the KPD. JJs Not Looking So Good.

One of the things I find most interesting about the press release is visible only between the lines. While the KCSD and the DA's office are listed as investigators along with the KPD, if you read carefully, you realize that their contribution was the investigation that they said "could not result in arrests or successful prosecutions. Clearly, the KPD did not agree, and using the failures of the KCSD as a springboard, the Organized Crime Unit (Interesting choice of investigative bodies, isn't it?) of the KPD moved forward and got multiple arrests.

One question I've always wanted to ask Sheriff Jones: In the affidavit filled out by Brad Hall in order to get Yolanda Harper's phone records, he stated that he had personal knowledge that she had engaged in drug trafficking and listed the details of the transaction. That being the case, why did the Sheriff's Office continue to refer to Harper as a "Good Samaritan," and never pursue any additional investigations beyond the Granju case? Why was Sheriff Jones content to leave a known drug dealer on the streets for a year?

Maybe we'll get an answer to that question in the trials to come.


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