Monthly Archives: March 2011

Last Call

In a college town like Athens, the words “last call” are usually connected to closing time. This past week we were reminded of a much more important & exponentially sadder connotation.

On Sunday, over 2,000 people attended the funeral for Athens-Clarke County Senior Police Officer Elmer “Buddy” Christian, who was killed in the line of duty on Tuesday. Senior Police Office Tony Howard remains hospitalized & is recovering from wounds sustained in the same incident.

I’d have written about this sooner but once again I found words failing me. What can you say that even begins to scratch the surface of something like this? Beyond the intense desire to see the killer taken off the streets as the days of the manhunt rolled on, even now I’m left with a hodgepodge of thoughts & emotions that seem impossible to fully organize.

Obviously the loss to his family, friends, co-workers is something that most of us can only try to comprehend. There’s been an outpouring of support for them from near & far, I can only hope that it will continue as the immediacy of the tragedy begins to fade.

The made-for-TV arrest of the suspect was certainly a spectacle. Part of me would like to find fault with the media involved but rationally I can’t do that. By all indications, their involvement was not of their own making & I find nothing improper about their participation in a drama being scripted by a villain who left them little choice but to cooperate.

There’s a good bit I’ve found to be less than satisfactory about living in Athens-Clarke County since we arrived over five years ago. It often feels like being stuck in the Berkeley of the South, a political cesspool of Blue lacking decent judgment or common sense in a largely Red state. Almost oddly though, law enforcement has never really been one of those things I found lacking. They operate in a rather odd environment but they’ve typically struck me as meeting their obligations to a surprisingly high degree. I occasionally wish they took a sterner hand but on the whole, I’m probably more comfortable with the caliber of law enforcement I’ve seen here than anywhere I’ve ever lived.

I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I wasn’t disappointed that the killer’s flight ended with him complaining about the handcuffs being too tight rather than with him dispatched with finality. If that’s an imperfect reaction to this, so be it. It’s the God’s honest truth & while I’m not particularly bragging about it I’m not inclined to lie about it either. I begrudge the fact that this sorry piece of shit consumes the same oxygen the rest of us do.

I’m was quite amazed to learn that it had been 75 years since an Athens police officer had been killed in the line of duty. Thankful, but amazed. That’s what is really lingering with me today. I find myself so surprised by the rarity of this because of the other things I’ve seen in the past week.

I’ve watched the local media not-so-subtly try to paint the killer as some sort of victim. Misleading headlines like “Suspect Served 12 years for $3 theft” are downright obscene. No, he served 12 years for sticking a gun in the face of a pizza delivery guy … who happened to throw $3 on the ground as he fled with his life. What would our local fishwrap suggest, that we punish violent criminals on the basis of their relative success or failure? Brilliant plan, we’ll make it easier on the ones who just aren’t very good at it, give them more opportunities to improve their skill. Incidentally, if you follow the link today you’ll find a different headline but the original one remains on the story if you search their archives. I guess they figured out which way the wind was actually blowing & decided to make a change but that’s a day late & a dollar short as far as I’m concerned. It spoke volumes about the mindset of those at what passes for a newspaper in Athens, no surprise to regular readers however.

We’ve also been told ad nauseam how this assassin feared for his life at the hands of police because his brother was shot & killed by an officer back in 2001. What hasn’t been adequately described is why police shot him. You see, Timothy Hood pulled a gun, placed it to the head of the officer, and pulled the trigger. That gun jammed, the officer’s gun didn’t. Sorry, but that’s not a situation where you give the perpetrator a pat on the head & a cookie … nor another chance.

We’ve also been told by the murderer’s parent how “we’re Christian people” and that their son should turn himself in. At the same time however, we hear from the mother how “It brings back what they did to my son. Clarke County shot him, and we still don’t know what happened.” Ah yes, the culture of victimization, did we really expect that not to make an appearance? I’ll say here what I’d gladly say to her: “They” didn’t do anything to your son that he didn’t bring upon himself. Good riddance, the world is at least fractionally better off without him in it. Indeed, it appears that the notion of criminal as victim may well have played a role in the current attack, as according to one of the so-called “hostages” “Law enforcement killed his brother back in the day, and he said he just wanted them to see how it felt to lose one,”

Almost naturally, the victim culture that we’ve cultivated over the past few decades has also produced “fans” for the latest criminal. I won’t dignify it with a link but there’s a fan page for the latest cop-killer on Facebook. Yes, you read that right. He’s a celebrity now, complete with fans supporting his crime. Granted, there’s also a page protesting the fan page & that’s encouraging although it doesn’t take away from the disturbing notion that we’ve slipped so far into the abyss that such a page would have been created in the first place.

That culture is the same one that breeds bacteria like those who helped the killer during his attempted flight. That left no shortage of willing volunteers to form a human shield around him & delay his apprehension. While we’re better off with him off the streets, it remains disturbing that these scum will still be walking the streets among the rest of us. That is, of course, unless authorities can find a way to charge them, which seems like a faint hope at this point but it’s one of the few optimistic things I can find to consider right now. Maybe further investigation can turn up something involving the substance behind his cocaine-fueled negotiations. Again, you read that right. Turns out he was sky high while talking to police on Friday. I figure he had to get the coke from somewhere, might not have to look too far to find the source.

Right about now I’m expect that the “you’re just being racist” charges are being primed & readied. I don’t give the slightest damn whether those enabling & outright supporting this vermin are black, white, blue, green or have little purple polka dots. My condemnation for their words & actions is most definitely equal opportunity. Indeed, the problem certainly doesn’t seem to be limited to any specific race, at least not the core problem that my thoughts keep coming back to this morning.

It’s hard for me not to think about something incredibly more mundane that’s caught my eye in the past few weeks. Among my son’s peers, there are a few kids who have (more than a little awkwardly) been trying to adopt gang-oriented slang into their repertoire. It’s the height of absurdity really, 12 and 13 year old wannabes mimicking what they’ve heard … never mind that these poor culturally confused whelps would have their livers merrily eaten with a bag of Cheetos & a 40-ounce by the thugs they’re trying to sound like. Somehow though, despite those adolescents being fairly counted among the more privileged members of society, it’s somehow cool to them to try to look & speak like common criminals, just beyond my comprehension how that happens but it does.

I believe it’s really nothing more than a very minor symptom of how we’ve slipped as a society. How we’ve failed to make it clear that we will not accept unacceptable behavior, that we refuse to tolerate the intolerable. It takes me back to why it was with considerable regret I watched a surrender & capture scenario play out instead of a much more satisfying shot to his repeat offender head. The future for this brazen killer likely rests in the hands of a jury composed of 12 people, hopefully you’ll understand why I’m not supremely confident that we won’t manage to include at least one of the same morally bankrupt crowd in that dozen.

I mourn at the Final Call for SPO Christian, please let nothing so far afield I’ve pondered here leave any doubt about that. I’m encouraged by the response of the community at large to this tragedy. Still, I come away worried that the final call for the U.S. as even a reasonable facsimile of a civilized society isn’t all that far behind, or at least won’t be unless we increase our efforts & willingness to make very clear what we refuse to tolerate.

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Friday 5 o’clock Whistle (3/18/11)

Not really feeling it today, maybe the Whistle will cure that, although I don’t think even rockin’ is going to fix what ails my busted bracket. Some eclectic electric today, from the latest Shinedown to classic Molly Hatchet with Judas Priest along for the ride. Enjoy the weekend my friends 🙂


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Friday 5 o’clock Whistle (3/11/11)

You know there’s gotta be a whistle today, it’s the start of Spring Break ’11 for our household. Okay, maybe that isn’t quite as motivational for me as it once was but hopefully you’d never guess that by the time this week’s extended Whistle is done. Had to go to six songs since I couldn’t bring myself to cut out Warrant, AC/DC, or the new Seether that really isn’t what the title would make you think. Since Seether was here, I just had to add A7X and Alter Bridge since we just got tickets today for their May 5th show in Atlanta. Enjoy the weekend my friends 🙂
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Friday 5 o’clock Whistle (3/4/11)

Stop the presses ! Two weeks in a row? Srsly?

What can I say, I probably needed something to kick off the weekend as much as anybody, all this rain today has been a drag after the sunshine. After the whistle, there’s new music from Danko Jones, a trip to the 80′s with Dangerous Toys, and new Saliva that’s probably gonna get someone arrested at some point. Enjoy the weekend my friends 🙂

Welcome to the Jungle – Guns N’ Roses

I Think Bad Thoughts – Danko Jones

Teas’n Pleas’n – Dangerous Toys

Badass – Saliva

Sound of Madness – Shinedown

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Tough week in sports

More often than not we Americans turn to sports as a way of escaping from the mundane realities of life, or even the from the more seriously distressing challenges that we face. In spite of labor strife, the police blotter, the occasional bizarre comments & behaviors, on the whole sports still distracts us, entertains us, distract us long enough for us to decompress a little & continue to function as best we can.

Then there are times like the past 48 hours.

On Thursday, sports fans read with no small sense of disbelief about the murder of Tina Stewart, a member of the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders women’s basketball team. A 21 year old junior from Memphis, she was a part-time starter having the best season of her career but most of the reaction from those around her talked about Stewart as a person more than an athlete. Despite having a relatively large student body, the MTSU environment is usually likened to that of a much smaller school. Students who know each other by name, who are part of the community, where the university president plays host to students who can’t make it home at Thanksgiving. In short, not the sort of place where you expect anyone, much less a somewhat public figure, to be stabbed to death by their 18 year old roommate. But according to police, that’s what happened & it’s hard not to read between the lines of what’s being said (or not said) and get the impressions that Stewart may have died in large part because she tried to do the right things, because she wasn’t willing to risk her future by tolerating improper (or downright illegal) behavior by her roommate.

Hard enough to think about a recognizable face suddenly gone. Harder still when it’s a young person. Downright brutal when it seems that doing something right may have contributed to her senseless death.

Friday morning comes & the sports section/websites/news brings us a story that’s even harder to get our heads around. 16 year old Wes Leonard hits a layup in overtime to help his Fenner, Michigan team stay unbeaten heading into state tournament play. The celebration that followed was like the ones many of us have seen many times, jubilant players & fans enjoying the moment, lifting the hero of the moment in the air in celebration & triumph. Except this one didn’t end like the others. The high school junior praised earlier in the week by his coach as “a special kid” with great drive and the ability to see “the bigger picture” collapsed, lost consciousness, and was pronounced dead at a local hospital a short time later.

What’s stayed with me all morning is how many high school basketball games I saw this year. How many different kids I’ve watched play this year. How many games I’ve watched in my life, how many faces & lives & families I’ve shared that experience with. As either a fan or an announcer I’ve seen stadiums plunged into total darkness by power outages, I’ve seen fights in the stands, I’ve seen fights on the field, I’ve seen players taking swings at their own coaches, I’ve seen a fan with very bad intentions head to the floor after a referee. I’ve seen career ending injuries, I’ve seen cheerleaders crash to the floor & leave in ambulances, I’ve seen officials go down with injuries. As a broadcast and/or newspaper reporter I’ve covered unexpected deaths of athletes from both hidden medical problems to accidents … and I realized this morning that none of it comes remotely close to preparing me for even the thought of something like what happened in Michigan. Not in that kind of moment, not in that environment. Not as a fan, not as an observer, and definitely not as a parent.

As if the story wasn’t tragic enough, wasn’t stunning enough, wasn’t hard enough to get my head around, reading some of the local coverage reveals that it’s actually the second student-athlete death at the same high school in 14 months. A 14 year old wrestler suffered a seizure after competing early in 2010. Trying to imagine what that school and community have to be going through is mind boggling to me.

It also isn’t lost on me that, as tragic and as senseless and as incomprehensible as these deaths are, in some ways they differ from other deaths mostly in terms of media coverage. We lose good people – of every age – every minute of every hour of every day, from illnesses, accidents, or other causes. Those losses don’t have any less impact on loved ones, on communities, and I don’t mean to diminish them in the least. The additional shock comes, I think, when something so tragic intrudes on something that many of us associate with entertainment or escape. It’s so incompatible with our expectations that I suspect it influences our reactions, human nature I suppose.

As much as the Friday morning story bothered me and seemed likely to stay with me all day, as I was reading one more story, I ran across something that finally brought me to tears. Wes Leonard’s team had just pulled out a dramatic win in overtime, but for that to happen then another team had suffered a heartbreaking loss, in this case Bridgman High School. Their athletic director talked to reporters after the game, telling them “I went back in to tell my coach to keep the guys in the locker room, and they already had a pretty good idea of what was going on, and one of our players (Josiah Badger) was leading our team in a prayer when I walked back in.”

All morning I’ve been fairly baffled by what I’ve read from the relative calm of my desk, trying to make sense of the tragedies, feeling sad to the point of being depressed. Yet somehow in the middle of that scene, amidst their own emotions and all the uncertainty of the situation, there was a group of teenagers who apparently knew exactly what to do.

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