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A day remembered

Yesterday Americans of every stripe remembered where they were, what they did, and how they came to grasp the enormity of “9/11”—the day the worst terror attack struck deep into the core of the American experience and forced each of us, in one way or another, to come to grips with the inevitable “cease to exist” facet of life.

We heard the thuds of the bodies of the victims who leaped into the inevitable rather than face the flames as they struck physical objects below. It only took seconds for them hurling downward at a speed of 150 MPH or 45 feet per second to reach the end of their life’s journey. The nation stopped, stood still in time trying to fathom a decision of whether to leap or face the flames.

The terror of that moment still haunts us all.

I was 55 years of age on September 11, 2001, and into my 35th year of incarceration. I was working in the prison laundry at the David Wade Correctional Center in Homer, Louisiana.

“Hey, guys,” Bob Howle, a former police officer and the laundry clerk, yelled out to the inmates working in the sweltering laundry, “some plane just flew into one of them buildings in New York.”

Laundry inmates gathered in the lobby area outside the laundry’s security office. We could see the news coverage, without sound, through the closed office door and plate glass window.

After the second plane struck and the first building collapsed, security ordered all inmates back to their living units. The cellblock TV was on. Inmates began to assemble about the TV listening, trying to understand what each kernel of news information meant.

The day wore on.

The gravity of the moment transcended the razor-wired double fences, reached inside our hearts, and made each of us for a moment different human beings.

What I witnessed was never before seen in a prison. Convicted criminals—some hardened, some not—wiping flowing tears from their eyes; guards and inmates huddled together on bended knees with arms encircling each other praying for families who would never know anything but grief from that moment on in life; and sworn enemies stop, speak conciliatory words to each other, and then embrace each other in a futile attempt rewind the clock to a moment when everything was certain.

The TV remained on throughout the day and night, cell doors were left open, and a dozen or more inmates remained transfixed in front of the TV for the next 18 hours or so.

The next morning the inmates were quiet as they moved in a solemn procession to the food cart in cellblock lobby to get their breakfast tray. They ate in silence, weary, beaten down by horrific images of planes exploding into buildings and buildings reduced to contaminated dust and debris.

“You motherfuckers,” one voice screamed out in anguish.

“It’s all right, my man,” another voice calmed the moment. “The Lord will have His vengeance.”

Silence once again engulfed the tier, each man struggling to swallow the next bite—almost ashamed that he could eat while so many suffered.

The next morning, as I struggled through my usual 1500 non-stop skips of the rope,  a well-developed weight lifter—a former State Trooper in fact—let loose a guttural scream as he lifted a 45-lb weight above his head and slammed it into a weight bench, buckling its iron frame.

The moment after had arrived for us all.

Yesterday as I sat in my living room watching news coverage of the various 9/11 commemorations those images of 20 years ago re-emerged in my brain. I remembered how inmates for a short period became one humanity locked in a shared tragedy. Yes, they returned to their normal world where hate, division, and anger reigned supreme. But for a moment they were human … they understood.

Why did it take such a tragedy to make us all embrace each other?

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Robert.

I came from the womb of a rape victim. My mother—I later learned—was a 20-year-old college student who was impregnated by a serial sex offender.

My mother wanted to abort me two months after my conception. Texas law effectively prevented her from doing that. The Right to Life folks got the most restrictive, publicly vigilante anti-abortion laws passed in the nation.

Moments after the name “Robert” was attached to my life I was turned over to the Texas foster care system—considered one of the worse, if not the worse, foster care systems in the nation.

It seems that Texas Legislators and the Christian-dominated Right to Life folks do not care much about the welfare of children once they receive the smack of life on their tiny ass. Child welfare, they believe, exists only in the womb.

There I was with a blistered red ass handed over to a “child protective” services person who started me on my horrific, atrocious journey through the state-sponsored foster care system.  I was anally sodomized at age four and orally sodomized at age six as I passed from one home to another. Hundreds of nights I went to bed—the cold floor many times—hungry and scarred with the bruises and broken bones of physical abuse. My Right to Life became a hellhole existence, forced on me by Christians and politically motivated lawmakers.

When I turned 15 I escaped foster care and joined a street gang where I found immediate acceptance because I was a hard-hitting, ass-kicking, willing to shoot little motherfucker—all valuable life surviving skills bestowed upon me by the Texas foster care system.

The Christians would say I fell in “with the wrong crowd.” I say I fell in “with the right crowd,’ most of whom shared my same life experiences with either a foot (or something worse) in the ass or a fist upside the head. It’s actually easy to become mean in life, a natural freedom to do whatever you please—except get an abortion.

Then, at age 20, in the middle of a barroom brawl, I pulled out a 9mm and killed two men who were attacking my gang buddies. That was a natural response to a life crisis that my childhood experiences had instilled in me.

The district attorney, a long time Right to Life supporter, charged me with capital murder. He told my twelve- person jury—comprised of eight Right to Life folks—that I should be put to death by lethal injection because I posed a “future dangerousness” threat both in prison and to any possible return to society.

My attorney—an agnostic civil libertarian, no less—argued rather persuasively I thought that the State of Texas could not take my life because before birth it had given me a perpetual “Right to Life” contract by not allowing my abortion; that the contract was non-revocable. He argued that I had a right to a life sentence and the State of Texas had no right to a lethal injection death sentence.

But those Right to Life people on that jury did not agree with my attorney. They agreed I had breached my right to life contract when I killed those two men.

So, here I sit in a Huntsville prison death cell just an hour from execution because the State of Texas forced life on me; inserted me in a child care system that guaranteed a trip to either a prison or a death cell; and will now kill me because it made me what I am.

Yes, I am the fault of my own situation and bear some responsibility for my impending execution. But remember Right to Life folks, you made me who I am and you are responsible for what I became.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: There are literally hundreds of real  Roberts on the nation’s death rows and hundreds of thousands more in its prison systems. Right to Life folks indeed love life in the womb, but they don’t give one plug nickel for life after it passes through the birth canal.

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Justice was served.

The August 27, 2021 decision by the California parole board to recommend parole for Sirhan Sirhan was a just, rational and criminal justice-serving decision.

Fifty-three years ago Sirhan assassinated former U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY). The year was 1968—one of the most violent political years in modern U.S. history.

Two of Kennedy’s sons—Douglas and Robert Jr.—supported Sirhan’s bid for parole.

After learning of the board’s decision, Robert Jr. issued this statement: “My father, I think, would be really happy today. My father believed in compassion. The ideals of our justice system are the possibility of redemption and the importance of forgiveness. He didn’t believe the justice system was just about revenge.”

Six of Kennedy’s children did not share those sentiments expressed by Robert Jr. They demanded more revenge. They vowed to fight Sirhan’s actual release “every step of the way,” by calling on the parole board reverse its decision, and failing that, by urging California Gov. Gavin Newsom to reject the board’s decision.

In their collective statement, the six Kennedy siblings stated: “We are devastated that the man who murdered our father has been recommended for parole. We adamantly oppose the parole and release of Sirhan Sirhan and are shocked by a ruling that we believe ignores the standards of parole of a confessed, first-degree murderer in the state of California.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted Sirhan, did not oppose Sirhan’s parole. Reform-minded District Attorney George Gascon implemented a new policy after his 2020 election that prosecutors from his office would no longer appear at parole hearings to oppose parole for inmates. The new policy is based on Gascon’s belief that the district attorney’s role in a criminal case ends at sentencing.

The district attorney’s office issued this statement: “The role of a prosecutor and their access to information ends at sentencing. If someone is no longer a threat to public safety after having served more than 50 years in prison, then the parole board may recommend release based on an objective determination. Our office policies take these principles into account and as such, our prosecutors stay out of the parole board hearing process.”

Gascon is correct.

Crime victims and district attorneys have no legitimate penological interest in the parole decision-making process.  

If the law grants to an individual a right to parole eligibility, the decision by the parole board to either grant or deny parole should be based on one dominant factor: does the individual pose an immediate threat to public safety or presents a reasonable likelihood of future dangerousness.  Other collateral issues should be utilized in reaching that determination: the individual’s rehabilitation efforts, acceptance of criminal responsibility, and release plan.

Demands for revenge—either by victims or politically motivated prosecutors—have no place in the American penal system. These demands can be heard, and accommodated, at the front end of the system—investigation, charging, prosecution and sentencing. These demands have no place at the back end of the system: prison assignments, penal conditions, classification determinations, security interests, or release decisions.

An example of how corrupt politics worms its way into the parole decision-making process was evidenced by a letter sent to the parole board by the Los County Sheriff’s Department opposing Sirhan’s release.

Who really gives a fuck what the LA County Sheriff’s Department thinks. It has been reported in multiple sources that the department’s 170 year history has been riddled with corruption, racism, and unwarranted excessive and lethal force against the very public, especially in minority communities, it has a responsibility to protect and serve.

That is the responsibility of law enforcement, period—protect and serve, not stick their noses in the parole decision-making process.

Whether Gov. Newsom will approve Sirhan’s parole remains to be seen. Like all governors, he is a political creature who will stick his middle finger in the air to see which way the political winds are blowing.

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Unequal justice?

Perhaps.

In August 2019, Larosa Waller-Asekere and Dwight Broom Palmer were high school basketball coaches at the Elite Scholars Academy in Clayton County, Georgia. Both are Black Americans.

70 percent of the students at Elite, which is located in Jonesboro, are Black Americans. The rest of the students are Hispanic or some other ethnic group, less 0.9 percent who are white (or roughly 6 students out of a total of 686 students).

In August of 2019, Imani Bell was a 16-year-old student at Elite. She was a member of the school’s basketball team. On the 13th of that month she died after suffering a heat-stroke during an outdoor 97 degree practice session.

Last month a Clayton County grand jury indicted Waller-Asekere and Palmer for involuntary manslaughter and reckless cruelty in connection with the teenaged athlete’s death.

In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control reported that heat illness during practice and competition was the leading cause of death and disability among high school athletes. Between 1995 and 2018, an average of three football players died each year from heat stroke, most of whom were high school athletes. A more recent 2021 report by ther International Journal of Biometeorology nearly tripled between 1994 and 2009.

In other words, there was ample evidence in the public record that high or extreme heat during practice or competition was killing student athletes at an alarming, even unprecedented rate. Coaches, athletic directors, school administrative officials, and especially parents were aware of the deadly dangers of high school athletics in the summer time.

Many of these student athlete deaths, including in Georgia, were caused by white high school coaches engaged in intense practice and competition.

So, why were none of them indicted?

Just recently a 16-year-old white high school football player named Drake Geiger at Omaha’s South High School died on August 11, 2021 after practicing in a 91 degree and 105 degree session. Omaha is experiencing one of its more severe heat waves.

Will the white coaches involved in young Geiger’s death be indicted in Nebraska?

I doubt it.

The indictment of Waller-Asekere and Palmer attracted national media attention. A cursory Google search produces nothing about any white high school coach being indicted in connection with a heat-related death of one of their athletes.

I will not pass judgment on whether Waller-Asekere or Palmer should have been indicted for Imani Bell’s death. Most of the grand jurors were probably Black Americans since 72 percent of Clayton County are Black Americans.

Still, the social optics is not good. Two Black American coaches get indicted while white coaches under similar circumstances routinely get free passes.

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Richard “Bigo” Barnett.

This Gravette, Arkansas resident is one of the thousands of traitorous insurrectionists who stormed the nation’s Capitol Building on January 6, 2021.

Loud-mouthed Bigo garnered international media fame as the as the moron sitting behind House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk with his booted left foot sitting atop of some of the Speaker’s official documents lying on her desk. His left finger was pointed at the two tiny balls between his legs that he later boasted about scratching while sitting at the Speaker’s desk.

Put simply, this redneck white supremacist, Richard “Bigo” Barnett, not only defiled the Capitol Building with his very presence but disgraced the history and purpose of its founding.

Barnett’s violent break-in of the Capitol Building also garnered him, and more than 500 of his co-conspirators, a host of federal criminal charges. They were all then placed in what is commonly referred to as the “D.C. jail. Some of the insurrectionists, like little “Bigo,” made bail after spending weeks or months in “protective custody” on lockdown tiers (also called “solitary confinement”) in the jail facility.

Barnett, one of the leaders of January 6 treason, recently decided to speak out about “conditions” at the D.C. Jail.

In a television interview, Bigo said he was frequently targeted for punitive treatment by DC Jail guards because he was outspoken about the way he and his fellow insurrectionists were being treated. He said the harsh treatment he received was made even worse when he informed the guards they were violating their own “rules.”

In this pearl of wisdom, Barnett told the television reporter:

“You can love me. You can hate me. You can love me and hate what I did. You can not like anything about me. But you have to put that aside because this isn’t about me. This is about our federal prison system in America.”

It is rather peculiar that not once in his miserable lifetime did Bigo ever offer a personal concern about “our federal prison system in America” for January 6. About the only imprisoned people he was ever concerned about may have been the Aryan Brotherhood. He was certainly never concerned about the roughly 40  percent of the black inmates in that prison system, although black people comprise only 13 percent of the general population.

Gator mouth Bigo, and some of his U.S. Congressional supporters, are particularly incensed that the Capitol insurrectionists are being held in “solitary confinement.”

Folks, there is no other place to house these white supremacist goons. 87 percent of the DC Jail population is black- Bigo, his legion of Oath Keepers and Proud Boys and Three Percenters, would not fare too well in general population in the DC Jail. They would quickly learn lessons about “our federal prison system in America” they would never forget, not in this lifetime or the next.

Jails are not nice places. Most are actually worse than prison, especially the larger jails like New York’s “Rikers Island” or the Los Angeles County Jail.

But what did Mr. Bigo expect after he flopped his nasty ass in Speaker Pelosi’s chair and threw his dirty boot upon her desk?

That sight may have been charming to the Proud Boys or the remnants of the Arkansas Ku Klux Klan, but it certainly was not an endearing image for most law-abiding Americans.

The tragedy with the Capitol insurrection is that the insurrectionists themselves and their supporters think of them as “American patriots.”

When did it become American patriotism to storm the nation’s Capitol Building, urinate and defecate in its hallways, destroy government property, beat and injure and kill Capitol Police, try to lynch the Vice President of the United States, and seek out Democrats to kill or maim.

Is this the new American Patriotism?

Will this new “Jim Crow Order” personified in Richard “Bigo” Barnett really “Make America Great Again?”

Have the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys become America’s new symbol of the “rule of law?”

The Richard “Bigo” Barnetts may have wormed their way into mainstream America, and gained some political support along the way, but they are not “true Americans.”

They can best be described as “Putin Americans.”

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