Category Archives: Crime

Free Sleezy D

Last Saturday, Crystal and I took one of the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood. As we rounded University and Main–well, more or less, because of construction–I consulted my iPhone to get the correct address. That way, as we passed the unassuming green house, I could point at it and say, “That’s the house that was raided because of the Twitter thing.”

Yep. It’s making national news, and it happened just a few blocks away from where I live, just a few doors down from a vacant lot where once Youlandice Simmons lived.

It’s an ill-omened block, apparently.

If you’re not up on the news, here are some relevant links:

Fake Peoria mayor Twitter account prompts real raid of West Bluff house

THE POLICE RAIDED MY FRIEND’S HOUSE OVER A PARODY TWITTER ACCOUNT

Luciano: Controversy snowballs around Mayor Ardis’ response to Twitter parody

The search warrant, plus an inventory of what was seized in the raid

In particular, pay attention to the Luciano column, because he was actually able to get Mayor Ardis to comment on the record. And, from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t look very good. Mayor Ardis talked a lot about how the content of this Twitter account–with 50 followers at its height, remember!–was “vile” and unprintable in the local news. He talked about the effect on his family. He called out the perpetrator to reveal his name. But he failed to speak to the one thing that is actually on everyone’s mind:

By what right can you do this?

Put yourself in the shoes of the occupants of 1220 N. University (aka the “Stately Wayne Manor”). You answer a knock at the door to find police yelling at you, forcing themselves into your home, searching through your private spaces, and taking some of your most expensive stuff. But that’s not all. For some, police showed up at their workplaces to arrest them. For Jake Elliott, one result of this mayhem is that the job he’s had for twelve years is now in jeopardy. (Source)

Lives have been shattered over this. The sanctity of someone’s home has been violated. Peace of mind has been exploded. Or, to put it another way, their right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects was violated.

And essentially, the only defense Mayor Ardis makes is that he didn’t like what they were saying.

That’s not good enough. As a public official, Mayor Ardis is limited in how he is allowed to respond to such issues. That’s pretty much the point of the First Amendment. Admittedly, most Americans appeal to the First Amendment to argue that they can say whatever they want without repercussion, a belief that XKCD recently skewered. But the First Amendment does mean that citizens are free to engage in speech about their government without repercussion.

You know, like saying that the mayor does drugs.

So, why does this matter?

As I type, I’m just a few blocks from where this happened. The victims of this raid all live in University East. This means that police raided my neighbors. These are my people. And that’s reason enough.

But let’s go a step further.

There’s a famous poem about the Holocaust, written by Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Whenever force is used to suppress political dissent–even juvenile dissent–it harms the entire community and creates a chilling effect on other forms of political speech. Because we all received the message: say something the mayor doesn’t like, and you too could be raided.

There’s a public meeting on Wednesday about the traffic diverted in my neighborhood. Is it safe for me to air my opinion? What if my opinion is that I don’t trust the City to actually finish a project well and that they need to sequence any updates to make sure that my neighborhood doesn’t get screwed by a half-assed job? Can I say that safely?

Some of you might brush that away as hypothetical. Of course that sort of speech is protected. But how am I supposed to know that?

Or, to put it another way, a couple days ago, I mentioned to my wife that I was going to blog about this. And she was afraid, because I was going to criticize the mayor, and I have more reach than this silly Twitter account that we’re talking about. She got the message from the mayor, loud and clear.

But here I am anyways, asserting my First Amendment right to engage in political speech.

Mayor Ardis, you need to fix this. You have overstepped your bounds. I don’t care what was being said about you. You are the public servant holding a sacred public trust. A trust that you have violated. You need to apologize to the inhabitants of 1220 N. University. You need to drop all related charges. You need to return all items seized, plus restitution. You need to go public and admit that you were wrong and acted improperly.

You can still fix this.

Because, if not, I know that I’m not alone in thinking that this incident is reason enough to try to get you run out of office. If we can’t trust you to safeguard our basic rights, can we trust you with anything else?

The city awaits your reply.

The title for this post comes from comments by Jon Daniels, the author of the fake Twitter account.

“Tell them my name. Tell them I did it,” he said, acknowledging the cops have him cornered. “But when they lock me up, tell them to tweet using the hashtag #freesleezyd.”

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My love letter to Leverage

Last night Crystal and I finished watching Leverage. For the entire time we were watching, I contemplated writing a love letter to Leverage. Well, now seems like a good time.

I like serious television.

That seems like a good place to start.

I’m not a sitcom kind of guy. I don’t want light, fluffy entertainment. I want stories that matter. If it’s too light, I’m not engaged.

So, while others are lauding How I Met Your Mother or Big Bang Theory, I’m turning to weightier fare.

The Wire and Babylon 5 are tied as my favorite shows. And please don’t make me pick. On the one hand, a story of an honorable man in dishonorable times (Babylon 5). On the other hand, a tale of organizational dysfunction, urban decay, and political critique (The Wire). These are shows that challenge me morally and ethically, force me to think deep thoughts, and to face the difficult parts of life.

They can also be seriously depressing. In particular, The Wire is populated with wonderful characters, but, honestly, some terrible things happen to them, and, really, do any of them actually win? (Just a few–a precious few–like Bubbles.) And, sure, that’s realistic.

But who wants to live in reality all the time?

Don’t you sometimes want a show that is sharp and intelligent but where good prevails, evil is vanquished, and it’s just…fun?

And that’s why I love Leverage.

You see, Leverage starts with a clear-eyed look at the villains of the world. Specifically, Leverage focuses on corporate evil and political corruption, those that manipulate the system and use the weak and powerless to gain money and influence. Insurance companies, banks, mercenary groups, pharmaceutical companies, big box stores–all these and more had their turn in the spotlight. Inevitably, some ordinary person gets in the way of the ambitions of the group or is harmed through their callousness. These are the sorts of stories that you don’t have to look hard to find in our day. They are the kinds of stories that get us angry, that make us want justice.

And that’s the beauty of the escapism of Leverage. It starts with real villains. And then, they get what’s coming to them.

So, each week, we see Nate Ford and his team of incredibly skilled con artists, hackers, and thieves take down these corporate villains, Robin Hood-style.

People like that… corporations like that, they have all the money, they have all the power, and they use it to make people like you go away. Right now, you’re suffering under an enormous weight. We provide…Leverage.
–Nate Ford

I’ve often said that Leverage combines two of my favorite things: crime and project management. This is because Leverage is a heist show. Every episode is like Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job, with clever plans, unexpected reversals, daring risks, and, eventually, sweet, sweet success. Along the way, you get to see very competent people being very good at what they do. Probably impossibly good, actually, but it doesn’t matter. Because they’re using all that crazy awesome to make bad people pay…and that feels so very good.

Also, Leverage is funny. Really funny. Like, I watch an episode and laugh out loud repeatedly. Snappy lines, situation comedy, recurring motifs (“Dammit, Hardison!”) and even the occasional playing with the fourth wall. Plus, despite the fact that all the characters are hyper-competent, they’re only hyper-competent in their areas. So, the times that Hardison (the hacker) ends up in a fight or Parker (the thief who is, admittedly, kinda crazy) is trying to con someone…well, hilarity ensues.

And then, on top of this, Leverage managed to unfold characters that transcended their base roles on the team to being full-fledged people that you actually care deeply about. So, Parker is the crazy daredevil thief, but she spent most of her life in foster care and has deep-seated fears of abandonment. Elliot is a one-man army, sure, but he remembers his blue-collar roots and carries the stains on his soul from a life of covert wetwork and constant violence.

Which means that the Leverage team isn’t just a group of quasi-super do-gooders. They are also needy, hurting people, who desperately needed each other. They start the show as loners, but together they become the family that they all needed.

Because, in Leverage, at the end of every show, everything is set to right, and the world is a better place for both the client and for the team itself.

And I’ve needed that in my life right now.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time now, you know that I’ve been struggling with depression for several years. And so, I knew I needed to spend some time away from “realistic” television. I needed something that would be happy and uplifting without insulting my intelligence.

And that’s what I found in Leverage.

One more reason to walk out of the dark.

So, I want to thank showrunners John Rogers and Chris Downey, actors Timothy Hutton, Gina Bellman, Christian Kane, Beth Riesgraf and Aldis Hodge, and everyone else who worked on Leverage. You’ve made something wonderful and beautiful and seemed to have a lot of fun along the way. And, as you did, you made something precious to me and made the world a better place.

And it’s not every day you can say that.

Thank you. Thank you for Leverage.


A quick thought about the drug war

Note: this is a half-formed thought, being quickly jotted down. But it seemed worthy of being pointed out.

So I saw a headline on Twitter: Iowa man complains to cops he was stiffed in drug deal. It certainly had the feel of one of those “ha ha, isn’t this guy dumb?” stories. But it gave me pause.

If we were talking about a Craigslist transaction for a used dresser or something similar, this wouldn’t be news. In fact, this would be an appropriate action for a defrauded individual to take. The only thing that makes this situation different is that the substance being sold is illegal.

So then, how do you enforce honesty in business transactions in a case like this? What recourse does a defrauded druggie–or drug lord–have?

The answer: violence. Round up some muscle, find the ones who did the defrauding, and make them hurt.

But isn’t this exactly the sort of behavior that makes our streets unsafe? Isn’t this very situation what leads to drive-by shootings and murders in back alleys?

Is the war on drugs making us safer? Or is it just creating more violence?


Bradley’s Finest (UPDATED)

Last night, I got to watch police work up close and personal. That’s right; someone was actually handcuffed right in front of my house! Three patrol cars! Five police officers! Imagine my excitement! And the miscreant who was being handcuffed? His crime?

Not having a headlight on his bike.

Perhaps I should start over.

Late last night (starting around midnight and ending around 12:30 a.m.), police from the Bradley University Police Department detained a man in front of our house. I’m using “detained”, because he was obviously not free to leave. The police officers around him made that quite clear, especially since they had handcuffed him. So, “detained” seems like a fair word to use. I personally witnessed from the point where one of the officers put the man in cuffs, forcing him onto the trunk of the patrol car and then laying him in the road. Based on what the man was yelling, this wasn’t particularly gentle treatment, which scratched his face on the road surface. Orange Street was tarred-and-chipped back in the summer, so it’s a rough surface with plenty of loose gravel lying around.

We were able to hear most of the conversation between the various officers and the man in cuffs. As a result, we heard most of the story, which didn’t seem to disputed. The man was riding on his bike when the officers came along and told him to “slow up”. So, the man pulled to the side of the road and slowed down his speed. The officers were unhappy because the man didn’t stop. So, eventually, he did stop, and the officers told him that he was being ticketed for not having a headlight on his bike. He was then told to produce identification. He said that he didn’t have identification on him, so he couldn’t produce any. This apparently wasn’t satisfactory to the officers who claimed they needed some sort of identification in order to write the ticket. I’m not sure how this ended up with the man being handcuffed. I’m going to guess that he was arguing with the officers, but I didn’t actually witness that. I did hear the man yelling and saw the officer cuffing him.

After the man was cuffed, several other officers arrived on the scene. The man was questioned by one of the new arrivals. Why didn’t he stop when told to stop? Why hadn’t he produced identification when asked? The man reiterated that he had been trying to be cooperative but that he had misunderstood the original instruction and that he had no identification to produce. He was just on his way to his girlfriend’s house. At this point, one of the original officers started yelling at him, accusing him of lying about how he had spoken to them. “You didn’t say ‘sir’!” was the quote, as I recall.

While this was going on, another officer searched the bag the man was carrying. No drugs or alcohol were found.

Several of the officers consulted together and apparently figured out that they could write the ticket without identification. All they needed was a telephone number where he could be reached. No, his cell phone wasn’t good enough. So, the officers demanded that the man give them his number and his girlfriend’s name, number, and address. He refused to identify his girlfriend or give her contact information. Eventually, they came to some compromise and required that the man sign the ticket. He agreed, so they uncuffed him so he could sign the ticket. He signed it and took his copy. He kissed the ticket to prove that he was being cooperative, took his bag, walked over to where his bike had been left in the middle of the street, picked up his hat from off the street, and walked off, pushing the bike.

The police talked a little and then dispersed.

So, here are my questions, in no particular order:

1) Orange Street isn’t on Bradley University’s campus, nor is there off-campus housing located on Orange Street (that I know of). How does the Bradley University Police Department have jurisdiction in front of my house?

2) Was this situation really resolved in a professional way by the Bradley University Police Department? Couldn’t they have prevented this from escalating? Better yet, was this really the best problem to focus on at this time?

3) Am I really required by law to carry identification on me at all times? Do I need a license to ride a bike?

So, after last night’s display, I just want to say that I feel much safer in my home than before. It’s good to know that the police are out there, protecting me from dangerous black men riding around on improperly illuminated bikes. Hopefully, as a follow-up, they’ll start fining people for having lawns that are too long. It’s not like there are more important things to be doing.

Note: we shot video. It’s fairly unclear, but you can get some decent audio. When it’s available, I’ll link to it here.

UPDATE: A clarification: as I talked to Crystal about this, she mentioned that two of the cops who showed up later on the scene were Peoria police officers. Upon reflection this makes sense, as they generally seemed more professional than the Bradley officers.


The Appliance Recycler

Last summer, we bought a used refrigerator from Appliance Recycler at 4024 SW Adams St. They were willing to haggle, eventually throwing in a small dorm-sized refrigerator as well.

The refrigerator wouldn’t work. It was under warranty with Appliance Recycler, so they sent people out to try to repair it. They were friendly and knowledgeable…but they were unable to fix the fridge. So, we went back to the store, and they let us pick out a replacement refrigerator for free. The replacement ended up being about $100 more than we had originally paid, but they gave it to us to honor their warranty. It was a positive experience, and I’d gladly do business with them again.

Why am I bringing this up?

Last week, Appliance Recycler was robbed. According to the news reports, someone pried open their back door and stole about $20,000 in merchandise. That’s a sizeable hit for a small business to take.

So, if you’re in the market for a used appliance, consider checking out Appliance Recycler. I’m sure they could use the business.


A brief addendum to “Responsibility”

I had a couple more thoughts to append to my post on privilege and responsibility.

1) When I say that the rich have certain responsibilities, I mean that they have certain ethical responsibilities. This is different than saying that they have certain legal responsibilities. It is the responsibility of the government to protect people from each other by (say) enforcing contracts and the like. It is not the responsibility of the government to require that the rich be charitable. Confiscatory taxation to fund social programs is totally contrary to what I’m talking about.

2) When I say that the rich have certain responsibilities, I’m generally talking about anyone who can read this blog. Is this a generalization? You betcha. However, I’ve noticed that people have a tendency to avoid calling themselves rich.

Here’s an example. For the last couple of years, my GenCon demo for Dirty Secrets has featured various members of the independent roleplaying community, who have graciously agreed to appear in my demo. As a result, I’ve asked several people to “stat” themselves out in Dirty Secrets terms. This means writing down your age, sex, race, social class, and legal status, each chosen from a specific list. The options for “social class” are simply rich, middle class, and poor. Most people were very uncomfortable identifying their social class, even though they generally settled on “middle class”. And, to be fair, it’s an awkward question. How do you go about answering that one? I mean, what social class are you?

But when these discussions come up, it’s often human nature to push ourselves toward the median. I mean, I’m not living in a house with a dirt floor, but I’m not in a mansion, you know? So I must not be poor or rich, right?

Of course, these categories aren’t tight; rather, they form a spectrum that shifts from “dirt poor” to “poor” to “working class” to “middle class” to “upper middle class” to “rich” to “filthy rich” to “Vanderbilt”. And that’s not really a fair spectrum either.

So, when considering these issues, don’t think about the “poor”. Think about “those who are poorer than me”. Specifically, think about “my neighbors who are poorer than me”. Because, as G.K. Chesterton pointed out, Jesus didn’t say, “Love humanity”. He said, “Love your neighbor.”


Responsibility

Sigh. I feel like I’m in the middle of a series of blog posts dedicated to removing whatever conservative credentials I might have left. Hmm. Never mind. That’s not really a bad thing. Because I’m not really a liberal, either. Be that as it may, I’m about to do something dangerous.

I’m going to talk about privilege.

Wikipedia files this concept under “dominant privilege” and offers this definition:

“Dominant privilege is a sociological concept describing the unearned advantages enjoyed by members of the dominant culture.”

There’s also a link to a syllabus about privilege (PDF).

Now, I’ll wave the tattered remnants of my conservatism and say that I generally get irritated by discussions of privilege. I’ve seen my share of privilege discussions, and they often go like this:

Non-white non-male: Waah! My life is so hard because The Man keeps me down.
White male: Are you sure The Man is keeping you down?
Non-white non-male: Shut up! You have privilege and therefore are incapable of understanding me or having any wisdom at all!

Or like this:

White male: I have privilege, and now I have guilt! I am a terrible person and refuse to be consoled, because I am white and male. I abase myself for my genetics.

Yeah, these sorts of conversations irritate me. A lot. So much that I’d be tempted to pitch the whole concept.

Except that it’s kinda true.

I tend to focus on socio-economic privilege, so let’s talk about the rich and the poor.

I love the wisdom literature of the Bible. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes just lay it out there without apology, explaining life the way it is. And, not surprisingly, both books say a lot about the rich and poor. For example, Proverbs 10:15 says:

A rich man’s wealth is his strong city;
the poverty of the poor is their ruin.

In a related passage, Ecclesiastes 7:12 says:

For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.

These passages lay out a simple fact: having money protects you. The rich have protection from the world, but the poor are exposed to additional suffering. Or, as my mother put it, having money makes life easier.

That’s privilege.

(Yes, I’m aware that the Bible is full of warnings about the deceitfulness of wealth. However, this is because wealth actually does bestow power, though not as much as the rich think.)

The conservative response to this fact tends to be something like this: “Sure, having money makes life easier. But, this is America. We all have an equal chance to get money. Those with money just did the work, while the poor just refused to work hard.” Really? Proverbs 22:7 says:

The rich rules over the poor,
and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

For all that we want to deny it, the poor are at the mercy of the rich. This is a fact of life. We are not all equal. Some are stronger than others, and that will not go away.

In other words, we will not be able to rid ourselves of privilege. This is simply true, and we need to stop lying to each other and ourselves about this.

So, what then?

If the rich are stronger than the poor, then the rich have a greater responsibility than the poor. The Biblical principle is that the strong care for the weak. As an example of this, Romans 15:1 says:

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

Think about it like this. I’m a pretty big guy. It’s a rare occasion to meet someone who is taller than me. Over time, I’ve realized that this means that I need to be very careful when I move around people, especially children. If I’m not careful, I will knock someone over or step on someone. Because I’m bigger and stronger, I have a greater responsibility to consider the impact of my actions.

Privilege is often used to attempt silence the strong. That’s wrong, because it’s simply an attempt to attack the strong. Instead, the powerful should be reminded of their privilege in order to remind them of their responsibilities to those who are not privileged.

Of course, this goes side-by-side with the need to remind those who are not privileged that they should not envy those who are privileged. Rather, the strong should help the weak because it is their responsibility, and the weak should humble themselves to accept help from the strong.

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD,
and he will repay him for his deed. (Proverbs 19:17)

In light of all this, next time I’ll talk about an issue that’s been on my mind recently: gentrification.

See you then.


CrimeView has gotten even cooler

So, I blogged about Peoria CrimeView last month. Well, it’s become even cooler.

Now, in addition to seeing an incident map, you can get both summary and detail reports on the incidents within the search that you ran. These reports can be viewed online or exported in a number of formats, including Excel, PDF, Crystal Reports, and XML.

Also, through the CyberWatch feature, you can set up subscriptions to receive reports of incidents within a radius of a specified location. Want to keep an eye on crime in your area? You can get a regular email, customized to your requirements. How cool is that?

If you’re at all interested in tracking police reports for the Peoria area, then I highly recommend checking out this tool. Kudos to the development team for their work and to the Peoria Police Department and Peoria County Sheriff’s Office for making this information available.


It won’t make my maps obsolete…

…but it’s a great tool! Check out Peoria CrimeView. I was pretty happy to see this, but I was blown away when I discovered that you can run searches based on neighborhood association borders. That’s tremendous!

Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be a way to export to Google Earth files, but that’s probably a fairly specialized need. Still, it would be nifty if that were to become a possibility.


A quick update on the crime maps

About those crime maps….

Yes, I’m still doing them. I’m actually updating them right now. However, I have discovered the joy of working in Google Earth instead of Google Maps. So those maps won’t necessarily be available online.

That being said, if you want a copy of what I’ve got, let me know and I’ll email you the Google Earth files.