Friday, October 19, 2007

Violence, Perversion and Politics

For his anger endureth but a moment… weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
–Psalms 30:5

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month as declared by the President of the United States. When I was a police officer I remember writing a newspaper article about ways couples could get along better. I have taught several classes on Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention to women and teen girls, as well as classes on creating healthy relationships at work and at home. As evidenced by my last blog, everyone has spats of anger. (Although the last time I remember being that upset was when I was 13-years-old.) At any rate, there is simply too much violence in the world.

I might be in a well publicized war zone, but the private agony victims of domestic violence face is a grief and sorrow that is too often unheralded. We must expose that trend and change it. Families, children and societies suffer. I would gage—without a scientific study, mind you—that more money and vexing social problems occur from the long term havoc and widespread acts of domestic abuse than in many military low-intensity conflicts around the globe.

In his book “The Gift of Fear”, Gavin de Becker wrote that women visit emergency rooms for injuries caused by their husbands or boyfriends more often than for injuries from car accidents, robberies, and rapes combined.

While men are occasionally the victims, women are often the target. It’s not just physical abuse, though, there’s emotional and psychological abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. All of these are deviant and terrible atrocities. Unfortunately, 1 in 3 women worldwide will fall victim to violence at some point during her lifetime.

Just the other day my wife told me that someone she knows pleaded with her for help recently. Her friend was beaten and abused. This victim showed my wife the bruises her husband had given her. No one deserves such treatment. Nothing can justify such cowardly behavior. Unfortunately, abuse is a vicious cycle. An abused woman will usually leave her spouse or ‘significant other’ about seven times before she leaves him for good or is killed by him.

Years ago I found the following poem written by an anonymous soul. I treasure it as one of my favorites.

Woman was created from man
Not from his head to be ruled over
Not from his feet to be trodden under
But from his rib to be equal,
Under his arm to be protected,
Near his heart to be loved.

The increased level of vicious and violent acts in society has stemmed, at least in part, from the media’s powerful influence. It costs approximately $5 million for literally seconds of commercial air time during the Superbowl. Media moguls can say all they want about how media does not have the power to influence its audience, but those figures give a sobering example to what advertisers estimate the power of media influence really is.

Violence in the media (television, movies and video games) has been linked to violence in society by at least all of the following professional health organizations: the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Institute of Mental Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Surgeon General. (See Jay Stuller, The American Legion Magazine, “Not Child’s Play: Today’s youth are in the crosshairs of a violent film and video-game marketing war”, June 2004, p 35.)

Studies have proven that individuals become more aggressive when fed violence in the media. This is not healthy for us as individuals or societies. The American Psychological Association Commission on Violence and Youth stated this poignant fact:

There is absolutely no doubt that higher levels of viewing violence on television are correlated with increased acceptance of aggressive attitudes and increased aggressive behavior.

Moreover, consider this:

Repeated viewing of X-rated films (even if non-violent) makes one’s own partner seem less attractive, makes women’s friendliness seem more sexual, and make sexual aggression seem less serious. (Harris, 1994)

It is disturbing and totally false to say that pornography injures no one and is a victimless activity.

I believe we must strengthen marriages and strengthen families, the fundamental unit of society. To do so we must strengthen the moral fiber within each of us.

One of my best friends here is a young, charismatic black officer from Tennessee. The other day before he got onto a helicopter a thought came to me that I hoped he would be okay in his travels; I’d hate to lose my dear friend in a helicopter accident. Wouldn’t you know it: within minutes after the take off, the helicopter started on fire. Fortunately all the crew and passengers returned safely to the ground. Now my friend and I get to continue our interesting, stimulating conversations.

Lately he and I have been discussing the presidential candidates. He shares different views than I do about religion and politics, but we do have a lot in common nonetheless, and our conversations are amiable and engaging. One point I’ve brought up to my good friend is that we need an honorable, wise and good man in the Whitehouse. His vote is for Hillary, he says, because he likes Bill. Bill was impeached. He lied. He committed perjury and adultery. My friend wasn’t overly impressed with Obama, although they share one obvious commonality. I met Senator Obama when I was an air marshal, by the way. He definitely has a genuinely powerful air about him. I’ll give him that.

Despite the party behind the man (or subsequently, the woman), having a standard of candidates and government officials that are lewd, immoral and dishonorable does not make this voter feel good one bit. (Ughum…an Idaho Senator and an airport bathroom scene comes to mind. I wish I could poke my mind’s eye out from ever learning of that incident.) No, the office of the President of the United States of America as well as all other government leaders ought to be had by someone with the moral fiber and decency that America was built upon.

John Adams, the second President of our United States, said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” In his farewell speech on September 19, 1796, George Washington said, “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that our national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Values and morals should not shift on a whim or change from year to year or from decade to decade. Goodness is time-honored. If the shift in America has changed so much that integrity, virtue and ethics do not matter when considering a candidate—that ‘fashionable forgiveness’ is the norm—then the morality of the people has depleted to a new low level. The word plebeian comes to mind…an uncultured, vulgar, lower social class.

If the characteristics of the elected leaders so closely match the popular, albeit nihilist constituents, then I suppose the society gets what it deserves: corruption, impiety and depravity among its represented officials.

Now, let me end with this.

A couple days ago the 12-year-old sister of a suspected terrorist named Mohamed Ibrahim Shnewer was assaulted by a group of peers at her middle school in America. She was choked and punched in the face.

Washington Times reporter Audrey Hudson broke the ‘John Doe’ story which spoke of the six jihadist-motivated males that had planned to attack soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Shnewer is one of the suspects to be tried in January. His little sister was beaten, apparently, because of her brother, despite the fact that she may carry the opposite views entirely.

I’m appalled at the foolishness and depravity of this situation. It reminds me of an incident in my southeast Dallas police beat a few days after 9-11. A man from India, a kind corner store worker, was shot in the head and killed while at work. What was the motive behind his death? He was mistaken for a ‘Middle Eastern’ terrorist by a nefarious criminal wanting revenge for the 9-11 atrocities.

Lastly, to change the subject slightly, I believe what one good man said many years ago. “If we could look into each others hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us face, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance and care.” There are thousands in our midst who stand in need of a smile, a hug, a complement, a friend. I took it upon myself to swallow some of my own medicine. I told the co-worker I erupted on, “I’m sorry.” Sorry is the beginning of a better solution. But, to all the wife-abusers and revenge-seekers who will ever read this blog (and I wish it were every one of them), I echo what my high school English teacher used to say. When a student would say I'm sorry, she would quip: “Don’t describe yourself, change your behavior.”

Be good America.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Dummy Named Fred

A friend of mine told me that when he was over here a few years ago, a small military element was clearing an Iraqi house. The greenhorn lieutenant entered the building and, with lowered vigilance, accepted the initiation to stay downstairs and drink Arab tea. Meanwhile the soldiers searched the house, room to room. When a two-man team entered a room upstairs, an insurgent with an AK-47 shot a Private First Class (PFC) square in the chest. Fortunately, his body armor protected him. The enemy combatant, on the other hand, was stopped with several burning hot pieces of lead traveling 3,500 feet per second.

Livid and raging on adrenaline and the near-death experience, the PFC walked downstairs and, finding the lieutenant surprised yet calm and tranquil with a cup and saucer in his hand, the soldier punched the lieutenant right in the face.

I’m not sure what it is about war that drives men to do such things, but to be honest, I’ve had a few daydreams about boxing rings and bosses myself. Living and working with little guys with big egos and power-trips is torturous.

Tom and Trish Bradach from OK Fine Productions, the owners of, sent me a training dummy in last year. The dummy is about six foot and feels about as heavy as I do. It’s a big padded mannequin used for hand-to-hand combat training. As a civilian I’ve taught law enforcement, military and security personnel courses on suicide bomber recognition and interdiction. For a portion of training the Training Dummy works great.

Since the dummy came in the mail, the guys from DHL had a hey-day with it. The arms and legs were individually wrapped in a blue tarp to protect it. Suffice it to say, the dummy looked like a person all wrapped up tight and shipped. When DHL arrived at my door, the delivery man told my wife they had referred to the dummy as their boss all day, calling him by name. They really got a kick out of it.

Fascinated with what had come in the mail while I was off working, my wife propped it up against the wall, took a digital picture of it and sent it to her family: “Hey, look what came in the mail?” One of her sisters, with a delightful sense of humor, grimly suggested that if my wife ever came up missing the investigators should check the mail first.

It didn’t take long for the name Fred to stick. I took Fred to some courses I taught; I took him to the Boy Scouts I supervised at the time. They punched and pulled and threw the dummy with all the energy their young bodies had.

Years ago while studying martial arts and sparring with my friend Damon Willis (author of “How to Get Your Black Belt in Phone Sales”), I learned that no Sensei (i.e. Dr. James Graves) and no true martial arts enthusiast was a brut or a bully. If anything those who study such things are calm, laid back and avoid contention at all costs.

So, while Fred might be good to pounce on every once in a while, no Dummy, not even Fred, is worth hitting in an adult temper tantrum. As a cop I saw—and subsequently arrested—too many people who punched in a rage of anger. Not only is it wise to control the physical body, but also the mouth. Self control is best. That is, if there’s not a boxing gym around and a boss willing to step into the ring.

(Disclaimer: This was written with the full knowledge and understanding that this is public information and could be viewed by anyone. If so, I’m challenging you-know-who or anyone else to a couple rounds in the ring. I have some serious pent up aggression. That’s what war does.)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

My Friend Was Shot and Killed

My sister emailed me today to tell me about the shocking news. The dear friend and roommate my sister had had for several years, Rhoni Reuter, was found with multiple gunshot wounds in her Deerfield, Illinois condominium Thursday morning. Rhoni was also pregnant, which multiplied the ferocity of the crime. Of course, my sister is torn up over it. I remember meeting Rhoni. My sister was anxious for me to meet her and her boyfriend of several years, Chicago Bears player Shaun Gayle. Rhoni was down-to-earth, beautiful, friendly and athletic. She will be missed.

What a terrible thing murder is. I, too, had a friend that was murdered. I’ve been thinking about him and his young widow wife all week.

With a background in law enforcement and military, it’s bound to happen sometime. I’ve lost friends and co-workers to terrorist explosions and I’ve have had a good friend get murdered on the streets of America. Almost two full years has gone by since my friend, Dallas Police Officer Brian Jackson, was shot and killed. He and I went through the police academy together and worked as cops together on the tough streets of Dallas.

Brian had been married just three months when he was killed. I’ve kept in touch with his wife Jo-Ann since his death. A couple of weeks ago she wrote saying the trial was finally here. She has also updated me since the trial began, and I’ve been following the news reports carefully.

Jo-Ann testified through tears on the first day of the trial. She explained how she went to the hospital after learning that Brain had been shot in the line of duty. When she walked down the hallway filled with police officers, she remembered, “no one would look at me.” When she finally reached Brian’s room an officer told her, “He didn’t make it.”

Jo-Ann screamed out, “What do you mean, he didn’t make it?” She had to re-live all those emotions again while telling her story at the trial earlier this week.

Brain’s dad emailed me that night: “We are in Dallas, and finished the first day of the trial.” He simply wrote, “Tough… But we are getting by.” That one word in that very brief email summed it up. It was ‘tough,’ which I translate to mean it was one of the worst emotional experiences of his life. It summed up every terrible, tragic, painful and hurtful feeling he had since learning about his son’s death. That single adjective embodied the full experience of something terribly painful to bear and exhaustingly hard to endure. Now he only has the memories of his son. He cannot see him, hug him, speak with him or watch the grandchildren Brain and Jo-Ann would have had, grow up. Indeed, it was tough. It was the type of pain not many on this earth have ever—nor will ever—experience.

I can still remember learning about his death. My friends from the police academy quickly contacted me. At the time, I was working as a Federal Air Marshal. “Did you hear that Brian Jackson was killed last night?”

Oh no, I thought, and as my heart began to palpitate in a slow, mournful rhythm. It took a second or two for the news to sink in before I asked, “What happened?”

On November 13, 2005, Brian was working the late shift with his partner Brad Ellis. Just 20 minutes before their shift ended, as they were about to return back to the substation and go back home, a call came out. An illegal immigrant named Juan Lizcano was again threatening his former girlfriend, Marta Cruz, this time with a gun. A few weeks earlier Lizcano was arrested for threatening her with a knife, and then days later he was arrested for driving while intoxicated.

In a panic and threatened with her life, Ms. Cruz called the police. Dispatch made an assignment. The responding police officers needed some backup and put a call came out over the radio.

Brian told his partner, “Let’s go help them out.” That was Brian’s style. He had the uncanny willingness to go out of his way to say something nice, to do something kind. In police work it was no different. But this time it would cost him his life.

While his partner stayed in the house with the distraught complainant, Brian and other officers searched the outside of the home.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Lizcano intentionally shot his revolver towards three other Dallas police officers. None of them was hit. No doubt, Brian’s heart beat jumped up a notch when he heard the shots ring out. He took his newly purchased AR-15 rifle that the department had just authorized him to carry, and walked carefully through the dark. Brian didn’t want to hurt any one. He wasn’t that way. But he knew this mad man needed to be stopped before someone got hurt or, worse, killed.

The heartless assassin stood only 20 feet from Brian, hiding in the dark. As Brian passed by, the revolting criminal shot him in cold blood. He ambushed my friend from the side. The foul and vile cop-killer fired the last round of the murder weapon, a revolver. The bullet entered through Brian’s upper arm, tore into his chest, passing through his lungs and heart, and lodged in his back. Although my friend wore a ballistic vest, it didn’t matter. He was shot in the side where there wasn’t any protection. Three shots rang out from Brian’s weapon, but to no avail. Although conscious enough to feel the excruciating pain, he was mortally wounded. His life quickly ebbed from him and he gurgled on his own blood.

During the trial as the chief medical examiner explained what had happened and showed the jury pictures of the autopsy, Brian’s family had to leave the court room. Jo-Ann, emotionally drained, sat alone, weeping silently.

Seeing he was out of rounds, or feeling he had accomplished his mission and didn’t want to be killed, the coward dropped the weapon and lay down on the ground, waiting for police to arrest him. My cop friends told me the revolting murderer had no feelings of remorse whatsoever. In fact, calm as baby, he fell asleep moments after being arrested.

Even though Brian and Jo-Ann had only been married for three months, they had known each other a lifetime. Brian had moved out to Dallas to go through the six-month-long academy while Jo-Ann stayed back east. Originally from Rhode Island, I remember him telling me he had thought about working for NYPD, but he felt he made the right choice by moving to Dallas, Texas. Dallas, however, was home to some of the worst criminal activity in the nation—just the thing cop’s love: action.

Brian liked the thrill of the case. As an Emergency Medical Technician prior to getting into law enforcement, Brian enjoyed running ‘Code 3’ with full lights and sirens. He had a winning attitude and a warming, effervescent smile. He had one of the greatest attitudes of anyone I’ve ever known. He was truly a hero.

About the same time Jo-Ann wrote to me, my friend Jeff Evans sent me a note. Jeff had just descended the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. On May 25, 2001, Jeff made history. He led Erik Weihenmayer to the top of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. The amazing thing is Erik’s blind. Erik’s the only blind man in history to climb Everest. And, Jeff Evans led him there!

A few years ago I had the great opportunity to get to know Jeff a lot better. He’s an amazing guy with a real winning attitude. He told me that when other climbing teams heard that he and the rest of his team planned to take a blind man up Mount Everest, they told him he was on a suicide mission. People doubted him and questioned his intelligence. But Jeff saw something in Erik that others hadn’t seen. Erik had a gift. He could climb. He would climb well. And, more importantly, he wasn’t a quitter.

When I think about the seemingly insurmountable odds and the virtually overwhelming personal struggle facing Jo-Ann and the rest of Brain’s family, my thoughts are turned to Jeff and Erik. Times will be tough—there’s that word again. There will be hard times, no doubt. There will be obstacles to overcome and precipices to traverse. There will likely be times when they want to give up and quit. They will experience a lifetime of bereavement. But unlike the climbing duo, Jo-Ann is now bereft of companionship. The love of her life was murdered. She surely has felt the bleak feeling of loneliness and despair. And she will likely feel that more in the future. But Jo-Ann’s not a quitter.

Jo-Ann has an indomitable human spirit—that same power that lies within each of us. It’s the ability to get up when you’re knocked down; try when the trek seems too dark, too difficult or too steep.

Life is a journey. Some climb mountains, some climb hills. Jo-Ann and her family were given the Mount Everest’s of mortality. But God will not give us anything we cannot overcome, conquer and win. Life isn’t just about surviving, though merely ‘getting by’ may seem all we can muster or encourage ourselves to do at times. No, life is about winning. Life is about helping. Life is about loving and life is worth living.

Officer Brian Jackson was the epitome of goodness, of charity, of kindness and of life. He will be missed immensely.