Time to change the national anthem and chuck the constitution: Police militarization

Photo by Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

Ferguson MO militarized police photo- Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

It’s this photo that makes my stomach turn. This is not a police force to “Serve and protect”- but a police force to deny free speech, the right to peaceably assemble and to protest.

We are no longer the home of the brave and land of the free.

When gun nuts talk about needing to own an assault rifle, because they are afraid of the government overstepping its bounds, they now have the poster photo to prove the crazies are right.

Let me count the ways that this is wrong. The idiot on the top of the “Urban Assault Vehicle” is actively sighting a target. If he had a legitimate reason to do this, all those “riot police” should be on the deck- with their weapons pointed at an imminent threat. If anyone else held a fully automatic assault rifle like that, they would be shot by the police with the excuse that they were inciting panic. In Beavercreek Ohio, you can get killed for talking on a cell phone with a BB gun in a Walmart- this is an order of magnitude worse.

The mismatched uniforms- with desert boots and woodland camouflage also make these “police officers” look more like extras on a low-budget Hollywood war movie. Why wear BDU’s at all? Are they police- or soldiers? Police officers work for us- have pride in their community, and represent us- soldiers are here to repress us. The moment you don a military uniform, you are no longer serving and protecting me, at least that’s the way this former soldier sees it.

No matter how much police forces train to use this gear, it’s not suited for police work. Good cops know their first and most effective tool, is talking to people, trying to establish rapport and common ground. Note to cops: the moment you don your GI Joe gear you throw all that “one of us rapport” out the window. If we really need an MRAP on the scene, you’d do better to let it be the National Guard in it, because after the shit storm is over, they go home outside the community- and you, well, you’ve permanently distanced yourself by actively taking arms against our citizenry.

SWAT was a bad TV show- that forever changed the idea of what cops should and shouldn’t do. It probably did as much or more damage to the idea of “community based policing” than Jack Bauer on 24 did to interrogation techniques. No, physical torture doesn’t get you good intel or accurate intel- it just makes you guilty of war crimes. Want a lesson in the Geneva Convention- ask Senator John McCain, don’t ask “John McClane”- the cop character in the Die Hard movies which also distorted the reality of what happens when most people shoot other people- even highly trained people shooting other people. The reality is, most cops don’t shoot very often, and this kind of BS isn’t why they got into policing. Any chief who orders his officers to go out with automatic weapons and point them as if to shoot- should be relieved of command.

For those who need a refresher- the United States is probably the only country that glorifies a war battle in its national anthem, and not even the revolutionary war, but the war of 1812. We seem to still be confused as to what a “land of the free and the home of the brave” means. Are we now brave, to walk in protest, facing our fellow countrymen armed to the teeth, to protect our freedoms which have been slipping away from us since September 11, 2001?

The Constitution, starts with this preamble. Read it. Then look at the photo above. Do the two go together?

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Habeas Corpus- the right not to be be unlawfully detained, and to have a judge and jury determine your fate:

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

When police show up with the firepower to go to war, our collective rights are being stripped from us. Those which are guaranteed in the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments to the Constitution).

They read in brief (from this post)

  1. Freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition.
  2. Right to bear arms.
  3. Right not to quarter soldiers.
  4. Freedom from unnecessary search or seizure.
  5. Due process of laws.
  6. The right to a speedy trial.
  7. The right to a trial by jury.
  8. No cruel or unusual punishment.
  9. Constitutional rights do not deny other rights.
  10. States rights

Look again at the photo above. The Third amendment specifically applies to this-

“the Third Amendment subordinates military authority to civilian control and safeguards against abuses that can be perpetrated by standing armies and professional soldiers.” via The legal dictionary/free dictionary.

Do those cops look like cops, or professional soldiers to you? They do to me.

We have a constitutional law expert as our president. Now is not the time for him to be on vacation. What is happening in Ferguson MO is a danger to the state of our union, and demands his attention. It’s time for a come-to-Jesus meeting about police militarization, because if this is how my police serve and protect, I say they are doing neither.

Right after I posted this- Butler Township Trustee Nick Brusky tweeted the following:

The crime scene instant replay hypocrisy

The first thing the rabble rousing reverends call for in the recent police shooting of a young black man in a lily white communities Walmart is to see the store video- all of it.

Yet, the exact same people rail against traffic cams installed to monitor speed and stop lights.

Don’t forget the ones who screamed bloody murder over the high resolution drone surveillance either.

Our society has been spoiled by instant replay from every angle to figure out if a penalty in football was called correctly or if the players foot stepped on the line, that we seem to expect the same from some Chinese DVR taking low rez photos at 10 frames per second in a store.

Some police departments are experimenting with personal video recorders attached to the shirts of their officers, to provide “evidence” of what “really happened” in a police interaction. This is after “dash cams” became the norm- letting the public voyeurs see some things as horrible as when a few local white supremacists decided to do a Bonnie and Clyde move- shooting an unsuspecting State Trooper on a routine traffic stop. Hyped by media that still lives by the adage “if it bleeds it leads” we’ve turned into junkies for “Reality TV” of real life tragedies which often happen when idiots and guns mix. Even pellet guns- as was the case in the Beavercreek Walmart.

One person wrote into the Dayton Daily news wondering what would have happened in the Walmart had a private citizen packing now legal heat at decided to take out the bb gun waving, cell phone talking black man, instead of the police? Or what would have the police done had they seen one of those Concealed Carry people waiting with gun drawn- in case the pellet gun genius came their way? It’s sad that just the hysteria caused by this incident also took the life of a young woman who died as she tried to flea the scene by yet undetermined causes.

What does store security video do to change all of this? We’re yet to find out. Most of it comes without sound- so unless the Feds have lip readers, ways to enhance video like on crime scene shows (I work in video and can tell you that most of that “resolution enhancement” you see on CSI is total BS) we may just end up with more questions than answers. This isn’t an NFL game with 13 cameras following the ball at all times from all angles.

At least ten years ago- I sat in a Greene County Court room where a young black man was about to be sent away for three years in prison. The evidence then? A dash cam recording – which coupled with mandatory sentencing laws, decided the case for the judge. The crime? A drunk black man, in cuffs in the back of the cruiser, says on camera to the officer “you won’t live to see your next birthday.” A mandatory 3 year felony stint for threatening the life of a law enforcement officer. Had the black man just hit the cop- 6 months and a minor misdemeanor.

The judge said in the sentencing- “In all my years on the bench, we usually have two parties telling different stories about the same event, and somewhere in the middle is the truth. Here, all we had to do was press play” and a life was changed for saying something stupid.

Video replay of crimes can’t always be the gold standard for deciding guilt or innocence, at some point common sense has to enter into the equation.

I don’t envy the cops who had to make a split second decision about if a gun is real or not real, and if the person acting irrationally (yes, walking through a store with anything like a firearm un-holstered or pointed anywhere other than the floor or ceiling is irrational) could prevent that officer from going home to his family that night. It’s in those split seconds where photographic evidence isn’t the end all and be all. If it shows a gun being pointed anywhere other than floor or ceiling- what the commands were, if they were followed, timing- don’t really matter anymore in my book. The possibility of a tragedy brought on a real tragedy and second guessing it isn’t solving the problem.

The real questions should be is what other shoppers saw- what they thought? Does one persons account via a 911 call make this a situation calling for SWAT? Should the 911 caller be questioned for inciting panic? These are some of the questions that need to be answered.

As to our constant monitoring by video and its effect on our civil liberties, that cat is so long out of the bag it’s time to stop arguing about it, and consider what our real expectations are for a civil and moral society that doesn’t break down into dysfunction at the drop of a dime.

Why property values and tax revenues are dropping: and how to solve it

Just back from a contentious meeting of Historic South Park Inc. For the last year, the County Prosecutor’s office has been sending high-priced lawyers out to our meeting to answer questions. Of course, since we can’t actually get them to file a case directly, this is a ridiculous waste of resources. Tonight, the two county prosecutors were joined by a city prosecutor, who also, won’t file a case unless it’s brought to them by the police, the city law department, or some other department.

The issue was mostly housing code enforcement, at which the laws have been failing for years to make a real change in our community’s net worth. The problem is that they mostly deal with prosecuting physical issues- peeling paint, overgrown yards, dilapidated and abandoned properties. The secret to South Park’s success has been by focusing on social capital- instead of the bricks and mortar. More homeowners create more stable neighborhoods. Local landlords do better than absentee ones. Law abiding citizens create a sense of security that makes investment possible.

So, why are most of our laws focused on the physical capital? My quality of life isn’t damaged by the peeling paint on my neighbor’s carriage house. Sure, the wood can weather- and eventually rot- and decrease the value or increase the costs of repair- but this is a minor problem compared to the following key issues that are killing our neighborhoods: I call them the four pillars of failing cities.

Bad neighbors are bad for investment

Around 2008/9 a foreclosed home was bought by a drug addict with a brood of criminals for family. On average, we’ve had well over 30 police calls per year to the address. Older sons have been in and out of prison, younger ones are a constant issue for children’s services and truancy officers. Windows are broken, bonfires in the backyard are often used to separate metal from plastic for scrap (including a large number of air conditioners) and since they moved in- a string of 17 years without a single break-in, changed to several a year. Well documented on this site.

While the city has no problem charging law-abiding citizens progressively higher fines for false alarm responses by police, no one is fining the bad neighbors for their draining of city resources for their failure to conform to society’s basic rules. Change this- and shut down homes that require inordinate amounts of public dollars- and not only will the city have more resources, but quality of life will improve in the neighborhood- boosting investor confidence.

Bad bankers are bad for investment

A home once appraised for over $150K gets foreclosed on. It had a woman who was divorced from a disgraced public servant living in it. She owed about $70K on the property- and the bank wouldn’t settle for less than the outstanding debt. They used our county prosecutors and sheriff to bounce her out of the home. Once vacant, they failed to properly winterize the home, forcing the bank to invest about $5k to make the home sellable. They then auctioned the home for $45K. Had they accepted a refinancing deal of $40K (what they netted on the deal) they would have kept her in the home- and not used your tax dollars to process the paper to evict- probably costing the taxpayers another $10K.

The solution: If a bank sells a property for less than what its lowest offer was to the homeowner, they are forced to contribute the difference back to a fund to help assist homeowners keep their properties. If a bank has inventory that is currently not being maintained or properly marketed, they aren’t able to proceed with foreclosures. If a bank takes possession of a property in habitable condition- and sells it in less than habitable condition, due to theft, malfeasance, or incompetence, they are forced to pay the purchaser for all repair costs to return those services.

The foreclosure cycle is only contributing to decreasing property values and it’s insanity for taxpayers to continue to support private enterprise with managing their business. As a small business owner, I can barely count on the courts to help me collect on my court-awarded debts.

Bad property owners are bad for investment

We have properties throughout Dayton that are owned by shell corporations, people in other countries, people who can’t be found. While peeling paint is something the city seems to focus on, the most dangerous physical problems are:

  • Leaky roofs
  • Overflowing gutters, which can cause foundation issues and siding and structural rot
  • Stink trees- weeds that grow at a crazy pace and can break foundations in a few years
  • Critters- raccoons, possums, feral cats, etc., can render a home uninhabitable quickly.
  • Dopers
  • Squatters

The problem is, if you can’t find the owner, how do you address these problems? This is where nuisance property laws and eminent domain could be useful, but both seem to be too much work for our elected public officials. We’d rather wait until the property is to the point where it has to be torn down than create intervention strategies that can avert entropy, which is the real enemy. A vacant home isn’t killing the neighborhood values- unless it begins to have the above problems. Work on systems of notification, fines and seizure in order to prevent non-compliant owners from devaluing others’ properties through their apathy.

Impotent police are bad for investment

No, I’m not talking about cops that can’t become parents, I’m talking about police who don’t have the manpower or the support of the community to enforce community standards. Sure, robberies, murders and vandalism suck- but, quality of life, peace and tranquility are where police can best make their presence felt.

You don’t speed through Oakwood for good reason- they enforce speeding laws- without the assistance of stand in cameras. They come when you call about drunk neighbors, loud music or even not putting your trash cans away. Dayton police would scoff at all of those complaints when in fact, those are the root base of community standards of conduct that make the difference in property values. Investment in community safety may trump all “economic development” dollars ever spent in our community- and pay back many times more, than our current reactive solution of tearing down the detritus of our years of failed priorities.

We, the citizens of Dayton, deserve better. If we had leaders who really understood anything other than how to keep their friends and family on the government dime, we might stand a chance of once again becoming the “Cleanest and safest city in America” worthy of investment.

Choose wisely.

The dirty little secret of the VA: failures in government contracting

While Congress continues to feast on the foibles of the VA, pointing fingers at anything that moves, one little minor problem continues to be overlooked: Federal contracting and its farcical system of awarding contracts and providing the lowest and best cost solutions to the taxpayers. The Feds are the largest purchaser of goods and services in this country.

As a Service Disabled Veteran, who owns his own business, and jumped through all the hoops to become a “Certified Service Disabled Veteran Owned Business” I still have not managed to crack the code of getting work from the Federal Government- including the VA, which is committed to spending at least 7% of their purchasing power with SDVOB’s.

While Congress has the VA on full lynch mode- and claims to have Veterans interests at heart, they’ve never gotten upset that the Federal Government has totally failed to follow it’s own law:

The Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act of 1999 (Public Law 106-50 Download Adobe Reader to read this link content) established an annual government-wide goal of not less than 3% of the total value of all prime contract and subcontract awards for participation by small business concerns owned and controlled by service-disabled veterans.

via Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Concerns (SDVOSBC) | SBA.gov.

The main reason: the government depends on the General Services Administration (GSA) to approve all potential contractors with an arcane system called a GSA Schedule. Called “a license to hunt” by veterans’ advocates, the process of getting a GSA schedule is convoluted and overly burdensome, especially for small businesses. While the GSA demands the lowest and best price offered to the government, we’ve seen how well that works with minor purchases like the the F-35 going over budget and way past on time.

From paper clips to printing to pharmaceuticals, the system is rigged so that only a small number of vendors are actually able to compete or bid all in the name of “fairness.”

The VA, is also forced to use private contractors solicited via this process- and when they fail, there are no repercussions to the  contractors.

Take my eyeglasses for example. Mine were broken on Friday May 9th 2014. I was seen that night at the VA. I’d recently had an eye exam, and went to the eyeglasses shop on Monday to get a new pair made. They told me they were running 4-5 weeks behind, which struck me as odd- since there are any number of places in Dayton that can supply eyeglasses same or next day. Luckily, I’m friends with Kevin Harrington of Downtown Dayton Optical and he made me a few pairs of fixed glasses to replace my no line bifocals that day. By Wednesday I realized switching glasses every time I got a text was going to be unbearable for 4-5 weeks, I asked him to make me a pair of no line bifocals. He got them to me the next Monday.

Sign at Dayton VA explaining delay in glasses delivery

Sign at the Dayton VA Optical Shop

It was still bothering me that a pair of eyeglasses for veterans would take that long and I contacted Director Glenn Costie- explaining that glasses are pretty essential to a veteran and there is no excuse for that long a wait. Turns out I was right.

I was called by one of his assistants who told me the contract stipulated 2 week max. They were in the process of switching contractors, to one promising one week. After a month had gone by and still no glasses, I sent a note to Director Costie asking “Why isn’t your purchasing department penalizing the hell out of this crappy vendor?” saying I would write a blog post about this situation (a blog post I wrote in a post surgery fog also got a lot of attention). The next day, a message was on my home answering machine from a woman who sounded almost incredulous that she was calling- saying my glasses were in.

A sign on the sign-in desk for the optical shop at the VA says:

“Notice to Veterans awaiting Eyeglasses
We apologize that the current wait time for eyeglasses is about 5 weeks.

The Company contracted to manufacture the eyeglasses are not meeting our expected delivery time of 5-10 days.

We are finalizing changes so that our expectations of faster delivery times are met.

We are sorry for the inconvenience.”

I’m pretty sure if I violated a contract with the government, I’d be in prison.

This isn’t the first time a VA contractor has screwed up. Last year, when it was determined that I needed to have my parathyroid gland removed, after months of unnecessary tests including 2 needle biopsies and 2 radioactive scans- despite blood chemistry clearly identifying the issue- I was scheduled for surgery at the Cincinnati VA in July with a specialist. Turns out, he too was a private contractor, and works full time for University of Cincinnati medical center. Contracted for X number of hours with the VA, he sees patients and does surgeries at the Cincy VA only on Thursdays, something like twice a month. When he decided to take a few weeks off in July- they bumped me from my initial consultation, meaning I’d have to go in August- and then wait another month to be operated on. Then, he took a day off- on his VA scheduled day. I wrote both the surgeon and Director Costie again- and here was the summary outcome email back to Costie thanking him after he stepped in on my behalf:

I’m not sure what transpired between you and Cincy.
I’d also sent an email directly to the surgeon through his private practice site.
It said something to the effect of-
“you signed a contract with the VA to operate once a month.
When you take a surgery day off- you don’t just get to bump veterans to the next month- because your private practice comes first.
Veterans didn’t get the choice when they were serving- to say, sorry- I’ll deploy next month, I’m busy.
When you miss a day- you get to do two days the next month. Our veterans deserve your best.”

He came in and apologized to me-
said it was refreshing to see the patient’s perspective. Said he’d been with the VA for 20 years- and this kind of thing still happens- because of a miscommunication- and that maybe I should come work there to help straighten things out. I said I’d pass on the government job- but thanks.

Unfortunately, other veterans don’t have the ability to call bullshit when they see things going wrong, and unfortunately, Congress seems to be so busy pointing fingers that they don’t see the problem either. Accountability means contracts must be enforced at all levels if we truly want to help our veterans- and get our tax dollars’ worth.

I think highly of Director Costie- and I was saddened to hear that he’s going to Phoenix to try to clean up that mess, but the real question is when is the GSA going to be held accountable for securing contracts that are routinely ignored?

Back in 2005, on behalf of my veterans business group, VOB108, now VOBOhio, I wrote a proposal for a GSA EZ schedule to help small businesses have a chance at selling to the federal government. That would be a good start- and possibly allow small businesses a true shot at government contracts- and also, what are the true penalties involved in not performing to contract standards?

Considering new government rules on medicare and medicaid asking for verified outcomes, isn’t it time for the same when hiring contractors for the VA for service delivery to our veterans? And, while we’re at it- how about the same for our Congressmen- when you don’t work and shut down government, you should lose your job and be sent to prison.

 

The real reason Boehner wants to privatize the VA

John Boeher wants to privatize the VA, while Gen. Shinseki makes $200K, and the health-care industry donates $265 million to politicians

Apparently the people at the VA don’t donate enough to politicians.

Gen. Eric Shinseki is in charge of the VA, and is a service-disabled veteran. The operation is immense.

one of the nation’s biggest health care systems, a far-flung operation that treats 6.5 million people a year at 151 hospitals and 820 outpatient clinics, with more than 18,000 doctors and an annual budget of more than $57 billion.

The need for care has increased with a surge in the number of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, coming on top of a population of aging veterans who were already straining the capacity of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Improvements in battlefield medicine mean that many service members survive with severe injuries that need treatment after they leave the armed forces….

Q: How big is the Department of Veterans Affairs?

A: The clinics and hospitals serve more than 230,000 veterans a day and deliver care in 85 million appointments a year. The 6.5 million patients treated each year include more than 757,000 whose military service began after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

via History and Context of an Embattled Department of Veterans Affairs – NYTimes.com.

And while heads of local Dayton health networks make upwards of $4 million, to run a much smaller operation- that claims to be a non-profit, and receives well over half of its revenue from the government via Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements- Shinseki makes $200,000 a year- doing his public service job for the taxpayer.

And while mistakes happen in all health care facilities, the latest uproar over delayed care or medical malfeasance has Faux News in an uproar, all medical providers screw up, get sued, lie, cheat and steal, that’s how lawyers make money in this country.

But, when Speaker John Boehner, who served 8 weeks in the Navy before being discharged for a bad back, says he wants to privatize the VA, one has to wonder why?

More than two decades ago, Boehner said he offered an idea that was controversial at the time: Why not privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs?

The idea was soundly rejected by veterans organizations.

Now, in the midst of a sweeping scandal over reports that veterans had died waiting for treatment, Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., said Friday that the idea still has merit.

“I still like the idea and especially now,” he said, but cautioned that “until we understand what’s happening and until we understand whether it can be fixed or how it can be fixed, all veterans seeking care shouldn’t have to wait.”

Boehner, in an exclusive interview with the Dayton Daily News on Friday, said he believes the problems at the VA are “systemic,” and said he is not convinced that having VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resign will fix the problem.

via Boehner wants to privatize the VA.

As a veteran who receives excellent care for myself- and my 87-year-old father, I can only come to one conclusion: VA officials don’t contribute money to political campaigns anywhere near as much as the people who run our private health-care system.

In the 2012 cycle- the health industry ranked sixth in all giving, donating $265,727,881.

56% of the donations went to Republicans, not that it matters. The reality is, money spent on political campaigns by companies that receive public dollars should be banned. This means if you are a defense contractor, a health provider, any company that sucks on the public teat, you shouldn’t be able to buy your way into office with the taxpayers picking up the tab.

Gen. Shinseki isn’t the problem in the first place – if the idiots in government had listened to him, when he warned Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld that the numbers of troops to occupy Iraq would be in the hundreds of thousands and would suffer casualties, we’d have a lot less dead and wounded soldiers.

It’s time to hold Boehner and the rest of Congress responsible for a war that has bankrupted our country, a political system that is corrupt, and a media conglomerate that feasts like vultures on the only truly successful health care-organization in the country when it comes to providing care efficiently- the VA.

Thank you Gen. Shinseki for your service, as a general and as chief of the VA.

Hits, runs and errors. Society’s failings- not baseball.

I’ve never been afraid in Dayton, Ohio. Maybe because I’m wired wrong. On the way home from the first CIRGV meeting, I saw a young teen walking fast up W. Third with a 22.-caliber rifle, I turned my scooter around- and stopped him to talk- before he scurried off, and I called the police. Yes- I should have called cops first- and headed on my way. I’ve also been all over Dayton- way past dark, hanging basketball nets. Carried the ladder at least a thousand feet to the remote court in Western Hills – close to midnight to put up nets- without a worry.

Urban Nights is supposed to be when we put out our welcome mat. When all feel welcome to go downtown. Well, all, except the people we don’t want to acknowledge live in our community- urban, black youths. And, this isn’t an indictment of them- we’re all to blame. We’ve worked for the last 50 years to separate ourselves and to pretend that everything is hunky-dory. What happened and what I saw Friday night, 9 May, 2014, Urban Nights wasn’t an epic event by any means. As a very young boy- I remember my Dad lifting me to the window in East Cleveland of our 8th floor apartment to look North over the city of Cleveland- with the sky glowing orange from the fires during the Hough and Glenville riots. He took a photo that ended up on the cover of the Plain Dealer Sunday magazine- my grandmother, painted it, the painting hung on our walls for a long time, and faded away from relevance. I don’t know where the painting is now, but- the memory of the sky stuck with me. That was an epic event.

This year’s spring Urban Nights seemed like it was lightly attended compared to others. The rain was holding off, but, the crowds were still light. I had almost stayed home, after a long week, but a friend had texted and I headed over on the scooter and parked it next to Drake’s Gym/Gentile Produce and started at St. Clair between Fourth and Third. As usual, I ran into lots of friendly faces including our former neighborhood cop, former Mayor Gary Leitzell, a BOE worker, Tim Kambitch- head of the Dayton Metro Library- all within the first 40 minutes. I headed over to 2nd Street and saw my friend Haitham at Carmen’s Deli- and waited for the band to start at 9- it was Hal Melia’s Brass Tacks band- with a horn section. I talked to Brian West- a friend and trumpet player- who said the guy on trumpet was probably the best in a 200-mile region. They were tight- the singer had a great voice- but, when they started playing their second song by Chicago after only 6 tunes- I’d reached my limit of pop- and headed round the corner to see what was going on at Courthouse Square- and to check out the AIA at the Business Furniture spot.

The police were congregated at Second and Main. On bikes, cruisers, and a few of the new SUVs. Courthouse Square was dark. The architects had already closed up shop- I continued ambling down S. Main where I passed a white guy with a megaphone standing on the corner- reading scripture. Other than the security guys that I saw at the RTA bus depot, he was the last white person I saw as I made my way through a crowd of black youths. I didn’t feel threatened. I didn’t sense any tension. It was around 9:20 pm. I made it down where I was almost to 4th street, having passed TNT Fashion and was looking over at the Kuntz building- at the corner of 4th and Main- it’s still one of my favorite downtown buildings, with its red clay color and castle-like ornamentation. I glanced back toward Third and saw a swarm of kids out in Main Street- moving like a flock of sparrows, undulating, changing direction together as if they were some sort of magnetic liquid goo being moved by a mysterious unseen magnet.

I took out my phone and started recording, with the thought that the police would be the ones to act badly. I was wrong. Someone says at 0:45 “he’s recording” – as if they are totally oblivious to the city’s new security cameras and the ones RTA has had. At 1:05 my phone gets swatted from my hands, I pick it up, stick it in my pocket and start chasing the punk. At this point, I’m mad, but not thinking about what comes next. Sort of like GWB invading Iraq. Thanks to his baggy pants and me not being totally out of shape at 51, I am gaining on him as he stops, midway down 4th St., across from Dave Hall Plaza- you can hear the complete exchange. He wants to fight, I don’t know what I want. I’m also aware of the huge mob that has run after us and is starting to surround me- someone swings- hits me in the temple- my glasses go off, I turn- and step on them. More hits come- I’m moving to the wall to at least make sure that I don’t end up in the center of a beat down- and can stay up. Fighting a lot of people doesn’t work out like a Bruce Lee movie- they don’t conveniently wait for you to dispatch them one at a time, they all come at you at once. Most of the blows come to my head- at some point- I lost vision in my left eye temporarily. As fast as it starts, it ends- I go over to pick up my glasses- one arm of my glasses is askew- I pick up the lenses and stick them in my pocket. One of them is going to be the only way I can read until morning. A cop on a motorcycle pulls up as I wave him down- and tell him I was assaulted by a kid wearing a white wife beater, baggy jeans. The cop told me to wait here.

I post to Facebook using Siri voice recognition- at 9:45 pm

“Just got assaulted at urban nights, while videotaping of Nealeigh out in front of the RTA glasses are broken so I can’t see what I’m typing”

Apologies to my friend Tommy Nealeigh, who is usually worth videotaping, I said “melee” – but Siri apparently isn’t a riot girl.

Another crowd swarm started at Fourth and Main- by an RTA bus. I filmed again.

No cops had come back- so I called 911, and as I was on the phone, another officer came by- I flagged him down. Told him again what had happened and asked 911 to send a medic. I told them I was moving toward 4th and St. Clair- but was crossing over to the Dave Hall plaza corner- and would wait there for a medic. I didn’t think I was bleeding- which was confirmed by friends, former city planning director Paul Woodie and current city purchasing director Pete Hager, who were walking down Jefferson toward Fifth Street. The fire engine passed us- then the medic passed us- even as we waved- and I called back to 911 to confirm my location. The medic had my neighbor Jen Quinn in it- and she checked me out and suggested I go to a hospital- I said I needed to go to the VA- and they started driving before I agreed to it. I would have had a friend take me, but she said it was too late- just decline transport.

My phone was getting messages like crazy- with friends checking in. I had to hold up the one lens to my right eye to read them. A Dayton cop came and took a statement, gave me a report number. About an hour later- another officer showed up to do the same thing.

In the thread on Facebook, the discussion turned to safety of downtown, whom to blame. A friend pointed out that there had been an event promoted to youth- and then cancelled at the last minute and blamed organizers. I found no evidence of this event happening this year- but they had a teen celebration in the fall of 2013.

The VA called in the guy to give me a CAT scan- and I left with a shot of an anti-inflammatory in my butt. The three hours of ice pack seemed to have averted major bruising. I got a printout of my recent eye exam, so I could get some glasses. My head is still a little sore, and thanks to Kevin Harrington at Downtown Dayton Optical I now have 2 new pairs of glasses- one for reading and one for the computer. When I tried to pay Kevin, he refused payment- almost had me in tears.
He said “most people don’t appreciate what you do for this city- I do. One of the advantages of owning your own business is you can do nice things for people. I really appreciate you, and- I’m sorry what happened last night”

I’m sorry what happened too.

After the video had stopped recording in my pocket- some kids did come over and said they were sorry- I said that I was kind of in shock- after hanging 300 plus basketball nets- I’m the one that gets beaten up. One kid said – “oh, you’re esrati” (mangling my name)- which was the one glimmer of hope for the evening.

But, after the bruising of my ego and when my head heals- what do we as a community do? The Dayton Daily has kept this event to a few column inches in the back of the paper today. Chastising the Downtown Dayton Partnership, or reporting negative things happening at their signature event is something to be minimized. It was on the 11 p.m. news- I saw it from my bed in the VA ER. From 100 to 1,s000 youth have been attributed- my guess is around 500. That someone had a gun is also part of their synopsis.

But, this is more than one event. This is what happens when you stop finding money to put basketball nets on rims, fill in pools, close rec centers, stop having midnight basketball in the summer. This is what happens when you bus kids all over the city- instead of maintaining strong neighborhood connections. This is what happens when kids have kids- and let their kids run the streets. If you are a mother, or a grandmother and see your kid in these videos, you are failing your babies.

screen grab from melee, with kid identified who hit David Esrati

On the right of this frame, from around 0:39 you see the kid in the white wife beater and baggy jeans, pushing someone else aside.

I’m lucky I’m here to write this, with my only problem being the two- to three-week wait for my new no-line bifocals with AR coating to show up. I’ve had friends say I should take up boxing, others say I should have had a CCW. Meeting violence with violence is not the answer. I’m sure that had I been carrying a gun, someone would be dead right now, possibly me. I do know how to fight- but, one man against a mob- the odds aren’t good. I’m not happy in retrospect with my own choices of words and actions in the span of those few minutes- but, then again, a bad decision in a few minutes is what puts many of our young black men in prison. I’m not black. Someone told me on the campaign trail last time, that “if you were black, you’d have been elected long ago.” I still wonder about what would make someone say that- and, if it was true.

I’m sure that this post is too long for an event that spanned just a few minutes. If you are still reading, thank you. If you’ve watched the videos- thank you. If you see your kids in the videos- it’s time to have a talk with them. It’s time for our community to have a real talk about this. Our kids need better options than this. It’s not their fault, it’s ours. We’ve failed them.

Had I been anyone else, I would have seen that crowd and would have run the other way. I’m sure that I may think twice about doing what I did on Friday night. But, hopefully, the young man who decided to hit my phone, and then me- maybe, just maybe, he might read this, and realize that this wasn’t his triumphant moment in life. Maybe when he tells his friends about his beating on this old white dude- one of them says- you hit the green net man, that guy is cool. Maybe not.

I know I could have behaved better as well. We all need a better understanding- a better dialogue in this community. We need better solutions for our youth. For our community.

I got hit, I ran, I committed errors. This isn’t baseball. Let’s all work together to fix this.

Boycott Family Dollar. Makes Walmart look good on employee compensation

The security cameras that were all over the store didn’t catch a thing when a robber stepped behind the counter and pointed a gun at the manager’s head, that’s because they were fake. The manager had just taken over the store after 8 years with the company. She’d lived in the neighborhood most of her life and knew most of the customers. On her second day in charge, the back wall of the store had collapsed, and water had poured in. Three weeks later, they were only coming around to get estimates on repairs.

In the time she’d been promoted to manager, the Chief Operating Officer of Family Dollar had both appeared on “Undercover Boss” and left the company to “pursue other interests.” He probably had a hard time living with his conscience, realizing that the company exploits workers and is part of what’s wrong with America today. Sure, showing up on “Undercover Boss” and playing Santa Claus is great- but, bailing out a few people doesn’t mean the rest of the company’s employees won’t hate you for your stunt.

The robber fired a shot in the store. Luckily, no one got hurt. The new manager wanted to quit, but jobs are hard to find. She has 2 kids and a disabled baby daddy. The robber has continued on a spree, hitting several other dollar stores. The police think they are close to finding him. Family Dollar put a security guard in the store for about a week- and added real video surveillance cameras and panic buttons throughout the store.

But, here is the crazy part. The “manager” wasn’t being paid as a manager yet.  After 8 years with the company, most as an “assistant manager”- she was still getting paid a whopping $9 an hour. The manager’s job, which pays a whopping $800 a week, wasn’t hers yet- she was an “acting manager.” And I always thought actors were paid better than their real-life counterparts.

My advice was to tell them that if she’s not being paid as a manager, she’s not responsible to do the duties of one. Their response was to cut her hours back to 30 a week and that she “no longer had a store.”

A little poking around online finds that Family Dollar has settled lawsuits galore, for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and that their expectations of “managers” amount to being slave labor that must work 60 hours plus to make things work via their allotted budgets. Meaning management is lucky to make around $13-$14 an hour. This is a company that’s traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Who invests in companies that engage in corrupt and illegal labor practices? Where are the investigations by state attorneys general into a company that’s been sued and lost in several states over its crappy practices? For all the people that talk about unions being the demise of American manufacturing- it’s these kinds of management practices that gave unions their moral high ground to organize.

And the store that had the shot fired- used to qualify as one of the “high-risk” stores eligible for higher manager pay, but they took away that status too- just weeks after the robbery.

One other well documented despicable practice of this “business” is that when employees leave the company they aren’t entitled to cash in their earned vacation time. As a condition for hiring, you are forced to sign that right away.

Family Dollar stores don’t deserve to be in business with business practices like this. Boycott Family Dollar.

Old fashioned entry-level jobs

I was having a discussion today about first jobs, entry-level jobs, and “when I was a youngster” type stories.

Someone mentioned that in Oregon and New Jersey they have people pump gas at gas stations. Why? Back when I was a kid, and gas was well under a buck a gallon, not only would they pump your gas- but they’d check the oil, washer fluid and even your tire pressure. Some of them were high school kids, others- were old guys. Every day in grade school I walked past the Shell station on Lee Rd. four times a day- and I’d wave and say hi to “Smiley”- who had to be a grandpa- and was pumping gas. By the time I was in high school, Smiley was gone- and we were pumping our own gas, albeit without a hold-open lever.

A bunch of brothers named Barrett, used to work at the Sohio station. By the time I came home from the Army, one of them ran it. Besides pumping gas, they worked on cars. Now the corner mechanic is a thing of the past.

A lot of kids got their first jobs as baggers at grocery stores. Sure we still have baggers, but back then, it was different. You might push your own cart out the door- but then you’d leave the cart with your purchases at the corral, and they’d give you a plastic disc with a number on it- that you’d hang on the window- and pull back up- and a youngster would load your bags into your car. Not only did carts never get stolen, they also did bash your car in the lot. And kids had jobs.

We all remember paper routes, well those of us who are pushing the half-century mark. Budding entrepreneurs were given a block or two as their local territory. You’d deliver the papers every day according to different instructions. Some inside the screen door, others in a paper box, some up the stairs- or around back. Once a week you’d go knock on doors and hope to get paid. Checks, cash, and it was almost an honor system since almost all paid the carrier instead of having a subscription. It was a very personal relationship. I’m pretty sure many people “bought” the paper just like many buy Girl Scout cookies- just to keep a kid employed. I had favorites on my route. Some would offer me a cookie almost every time I collected. One old guy was a camera collector- he had hundreds of split 35mm cameras. I’d never heard of or seen one before- and he had them all. It was always fun to have him show me his latest acquisition.

My father always talked about being an usher at a movie theater. He, and his friend Johnny Bowles, used to see all the movies that way. I barely remember that job being around when I was old enough to go to the movies.

Now, kids even have a hard time finding jobs in fast food. There are adults competing for those jobs- even seniors, trying to make it on their meager Social Security checks. I’ve had a bunch of kids come through my office via the Montgomery County YouthWorks program, where our government pays for them to make $8 an hour to job shadow, and intern, despite having limited job skills. Right now I’m graced with two awesome young ladies who are both cheerleaders. Their enthusiasm to learn, to experience, to participate is inspiring. But, the sad thing is we are paying tax dollars to make it possible for them to experience jobs that will require them to go to at least two years of college, which is growing more expensive by the minute.

Not everyone is ready to be a college graduate. Not everyone can afford to be, with the amount of money it now costs to go. It’s time to look for ways to create more entry-level jobs – to stop subsidizing Wall Street and look to invigorate the entry-level job market. How can we reward companies for insourcing and creating entry-level workers?

Maybe it’s time to cut payroll taxes on entry-level workers or offer rebates for job creation, instead of tax breaks for promises of new jobs. We need to make it culturally cool to be the person who hires as many local people as possible, and take the pedestal away from those who outsource, offshore and exploit workers.

It’s time for a new version of old fashioned entry-level jobs. Suggestions?

Veterans day shouldn’t be one day only.

A friend in advertising posted this video on Facebook, it had over four million views yesterday and close to 8 million today.

He said “We look, but do we see?”

He’s an award-winning copywriter and his perspectives are often insightful, thought provoking and almost always pithy. He says more with less than most I know. I watched the video, mostly because he was recommending it- and it had a before and after pic- and the before had “US ARMY VETERAN” superimposed. I’m in that group, I should watch.

The video, which I assume you’ve now watched, shows a guy getting a haircut and a suit. This somehow is supposed to say we’ve transformed a homeless drunk vet into a productive, acceptable part of society. When the call for donations came at the end- it just felt shameless to me. Ripping off the Dove “Evolution of Beauty” award-winning spot is one thing- turning it into a donation machine is another.  For those of you who don’t know about the Dove spot- it’s an award-winning ad that isn’t an ad for Dove:

When I see this “Homeless Veteran Timelapse Transformation” I see propagation of a stereotype of our veterans. That somehow, we all become drunk, homeless, unemployed. Yes, I full well know that the unemployed figures tell us that something like 26% of our vets are unemployed- about the same rate as minority high school dropouts or maybe a little higher. But, there are a lot of veterans who aren’t unemployed- or drunks or drug users. In fact, there are a whole bunch of them who own businesses and hire other veterans. Check out the National Veteran Owned Business Association NaVOBA, an organization that’s run by vets to help grow awareness for supporting the notion of “Buying Veteran.”

Many states have adopted preferences for buying from vet-owned businesses. Unfortunately, Ohio isn’t one of them. When you consider that Raj Soin, an Asian Indian built MTC into a global powerhouse based on being an 8a firm (one the government gives preference to based on being minority owned) and that government contracts go to 8a’s ahead of those owned by Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses SDVOBs, you have to wonder if our country really values its veterans.  I don’t know the exact stat- but, I do know that veteran-owned businesses are way more likely to hire vets than non-veteran owned businesses- and that vets better understand other vets. It’s time this country stopped paying lip-service to military service and put SDVOBs at the top of the pecking order for government contracts.

The other change that needs to happen in government contracting to put real teeth into a buy veteran preference program is that size standards for “small businesses” not include companies that gross $150M a year. Really? That’s a small business? Changing the requirements for a GSA schedule (an overly complicated contract with the government to provide goods and services at an “appropriate” rate) from being a 200-page plus monstrosity to something more like a 1040ez for small businesses under $10M a year. This is a proposal I wrote back in 2005 that got about a minute’s worth of attention on the Hill. GSA EZ Schedule Proposal

There is an old proverb- give a man a fish and eats for a day, teach him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime. If our country wants to help our vets, who now make up around only a single percent of our population, yet give us the freedom and protect our democracy, from enemies foreign and domestic as the saying goes- it’s time to build a more friendly vet support network. A haircut and a suit are just window dressing.

Jobs and opportunities are what will make the difference.

Thank you for your service to all my veteran brethren. May your sacrifices never be forgotten or in vain.

 

End the frequent flyers at the county jail

I’m pretty sure that if someone focused on our local jail population, we’d find a core group of people who seem stuck in a revolving door. I know one of them all too well, I’ve been a “big brother” for the last 26 years.

In the last month, he’s been a guest of the taxpayers twice at costs to society that aren’t being clearly calculated. The standing number of $65 a day for room and board at the jail is just the tip of the iceberg, all the money spent on the police officers’ time to arrest, do paperwork, show up in court- the costs of the prosecutors, judges, bailiffs, the time he loses from work- all add up to a lot more money than we realize.

And in the end- it doesn’t work.

We may find him guilty of public intox, resisting arrest, trespassing, “obstruction” (whatever that means) and a slew of other charges that are all minor misdemeanors. We may fine him- for which he doesn’t have the resources to pay, we may lock him up some more- which costs us more money and cuts his income and employability to even less, and in the end, we’ve not solved a damned thing.

And while we can point fingers and say if he wasn’t so stupid, he wouldn’t keep getting into these situations, the question is how stupid are we for not trying to solve the root problems?

Just getting rid of “the box” on employment applications as Judge Wagner likes to talk about on the campaign trail isn’t going to solve the problem for our frequent flyers- it won’t take long after securing a job that they will be missing work due to a visit to the county guest quarters on W. 2nd Street.

The problems are deeper than we’re willing to tackle. Being a minority increases his chances of getting hauled downtown on minor BS. I know this only too well- a neighbor who is blonde, buxom and beautiful recently got pulled over on I75 heading home from Covington because her “tail lights were out.” The cop administered a field sobriety test, which she supposedly passed- but, he didn’t give her a ticket – just a warning, then drove her to Waffle House to be picked up by a friend (me- at 3 a.m.). Out of his own curiosity he asked her to blow- to calibrate his performance on the field sobriety test- it was a .86- so she was legally drunk. This wouldn’t have happened to my little brother- it would have been “go to jail, go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.” Note- this would have been her third DUI and could have caused loss of license and job. Also note- it wasn’t that the tail lights were out- it was that the lights were off- she was driving without headlights, too.

Besides the minority rap, the arresting officer sees the record of a suspect in the field. Once you show up as a frequent flyer- decorum goes out the window. In the latest arrest- he was beaten. He claims after the cuffs were on. Does he have a defense- of course not. Does this decrease respect for authority and cause deeper emotional distrust and damage- yes. What is the solution? Probably it’s going to end up requiring all police officers to wear video cameras and record every interaction- and to me, this can’t happen soon enough- to protect both parties. Supposedly, my idiot has an audio recording of the altercation. Right now- I don’t have time to dig into this, nor, after years of this kind of stupidity do I really want to. I’ve gone to bat too many times for him and gotten burned with half-truths and misrepresentations.

But, what can and should we do? I’d say a coordinated effort at handling these frequent flyers would be a better solution. Instead of jail and prosecution for minor charges, send them to camp. A diversionary voluntary program where you stay until you get sober or calmed down, and then placed into a treatment program that requires AA meetings, community service and assigned a case worker to try to deal with the multiple issues that are causing the bad behavior. This includes psychological counseling, job counseling, mentorship, and if needed, grants or low-interest loans to help solve immediate issues. Believe it or not- paying to fix a car to get to work may be cheaper than paying for jail and prosecution.

We’ve got too many people stuck in a cycle of failure to which our legal system isn’t the answer. Hopefully the Affordable Care Act may make mental health treatment more accessible to those who may need it most. On the other hand, maybe we need to pioneer a program like AA for social misfits who can’t seem to fit in (although I do believe most of them have substance abuse issues).

We can’t fault the police for “doing their job” – but, the system seems to be causing itself more problems than it’s helping in these repeat offenders of minor crime because that’s really not what the system is meant for. I’d feel better if just the murderers, thieves and dangerous people were in the system and the annoying ones were being taught new habits.

As a reference point: He’s been incarcerated twice for 3 years each time. The first, there was no training or counseling and he was back in prison within 2 years. The second time, he went through alcohol treatment and got a full year of college in- with a 3.99 gpa. He’s currently a few credits short of graduating from Sinclair, but has been unable to complete due to recurring issues with the law and his poor financial and time-management skills. He has a GED. He’s also the father of 3 by two different women and has another bun in the oven. This is par for the revolving door types. It’s time to replace that revolving door with a more efficient system that actually delivers outcomes we, as a society, want.