Tag Archives: crime

The Shots

We’ve been here nine years now.

There are many landmarks and monuments in time, but one of them is the moment when we stopped calling the police after hearing gunshots. Before that point, we were diligent citizens, counting shots as best as we could, offering to speak to the officer that we assumed would be dispatched to the scene, noting the time of the shots and the direction from which the appeared to come. After that point? Just numbness, rolling over, trying to go back to sleep, a tiny prayer of thanksgiving that our house wasn’t hit by a stray bullet.

They almost always come when we’re in bed, but that doesn’t mean much because we’re in our late 30s, now our 40s, and we have full-time jobs, so we’re often in bed by 10 p.m. We’ve heard the shots as early as 9, once in a while during the day, two or three times while standing in the back yard, but mostly at midnight or – like tonight – at 3:30 a.m.

If the dog hears them, she’ll often let out a little growl, but she’s mostly joined our apathy, giving up on any reaction. Ears perk up, then she rolls over.

Sometimes I lay in bed with secret agent fantasies, like maybe one day I’ll get so experienced that I’ll be able to identify the kind of gun by how it sounds, the number of shots fired, the echo of the ballistic ringing. But I never learn anything substantive to add to this fantasy. Usually it’s just crack-crack-crack. Or sometimes crack-crack … crack-crack-crack. Then silence.

Then you can sit and wait for how long between the cracks and the sirens. Sometimes the sirens never come. I’d say it’s about half and half, maybe less than half the time that you hear a flicker of one, usually further away than the shots. Sometimes it’s five minutes, sometimes fifteen. Once in a while you hear the helicopter. There’s never any roaring motor of a high-speed chase, although sometimes I imagine one of those too, with people shooting from car to car as they flee the police.

Most often though, I imagine a social scenario about what led to the shooting. Maybe it was anger over something that happened today at a high school – someone was discovered talking to someone else’s girlfriend. A short burst of shots might be unidirectional, aimed at a house while the people inside were sleeping, just a warning message. Sometimes there’s return fire. Maybe a deal went bad.

The number and order of the shots can really help you sketch out a scenario. Bang-bang. Was there arguing before? Bang-bang-bang. Was that return fire, or perhaps a few more shots from the first gun? Time passes. Bang. Was that a shot at a retreating car? Did it take someone a moment to find their gun? Were their fingers fumbling and bloody by this point in the exchange, making it hard to pull the trigger?

You can sketch scenarios about the quiet aftermath too. Maybe there is imperceptible yelling. Maybe there’s a baby crying. Maybe someone is alone, feeling the life slowly leaking out of them. Maybe the last thing they hear is some stupid TV show.

I’ve only seen a dead body once, at a gas station near our house. Ever since, we’ve called it The Murder Chevron. It was a guy laying face down in the parking lot while I waited at a red light after a super early morning airport run. I knew he was dead as soon as I saw him, and I read about the killing in the newspaper the next day. It felt really meaningful, seeing this guy’s body. The newspaper said he was from Selma, and they think it was about drugs and money. I used to know his name, but I forgot it.

I’ve never gotten gas at the Murder Chevron, even though it’s pretty close to my house.

Usually there’s nothing in the newspaper about the gunshots, which really reinforces the idea that there are two cities called Montgomery. In one, people shoot guns in the middle of the night (rarely in celebration or target practice, probably mostly at other human beings). In the other, the Chamber of Commerce is having some kind of event, or someone is raising money for some disease.

If we ever do see something the next day about the gunshots, we always feel a little connected to it. The sound of them unites everyone who is within hearing distance. We may not know the heart-racing exhilaration of having been the shooters, nor the pure terror of having been the targets, but we’re still witnesses, whether we roll over and go back to sleep or not.

It’s always a little surprising how far the sounds of gunshots will carry. At 2 a.m., the crack-crack-crack-crack-crack-crack-crack sounds pretty close, but you see in the paper the address and you’re always a little surprised that you could hear it from inside your house from several blocks away. Guns are loud. Our city’s nights are usually so quiet.

The other thing about seeing it in the paper or on the TV is that you start to get names, which really help you sketch out your little imagined scenarios. But those names fade, and you’re never at the funeral, never feel the loss of a newly-empty bedroom, or the pain of seeing someone who can’t really walk anymore because there’s a bullet in their hip. It’s just part of the fabric here, something that would freak out some European town for months, but is just part of the cheap cost of life here.

Only once were the shots really close, but they were really, really close. They were right across the street, and I’ve never been awakened by anything quite like that. It was a drive-by. It was more of a CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK and underneath it were a few pop-pop-pops. My stupid movie-trained-never-been-in- war brain told me that someone was emptying an automatic (maybe an AK from the clanking sounds of the bolt) while someone else fired a few shots from a pistol.

Nobody died.

The street was littered with shell casings, which the police came and collected. They said “the grandma” had been hit in the head but was OK. They said it was a domestic violence thing, where the dude was mad about something or other and wanted to send a message to his girlfriend, ended up hitting her grandma by accident, and punching holes in the windows of the nice little house across the street from ours. Our neighbor, who was a cop at the time, said later that he asked about the case and said that the girl didn’t want to press charges against the guy, even though she knew it was him. So I guess nobody got arrested, and those people moved away shortly thereafter, and we were glad.

That was several years ago, though, and nothing that dramatic has happened close to us since. Mostly it’s several blocks over. Mostly we never learn anything about what happens. They’re just the gunshots – punctuation marks in the night, waking you up, reminding you of the violent world just around the corner, of the fragility of life, of the ever-presence of firearms.

We have guns too.

The imagination does not confine itself in the way that residential poverty segregates our neighborhood from the ones giving birth to all of the gunshots. No, the imagination runs wild, and I imagine someone trying to kick in our front door, a different kind of pow-pow-pow, one that the dog would not ignore. And I imagine pulling out the gun and trying amid panic to squeeze off a few shots, at least to let the intruder know that this home invasion would involve threat to life and limb. And maybe that’s what they’re thinking in those other neighborhoods too. They just want to protect themselves and their property. They just want to be safe and sleep at night.

MPD: The Hunt for Desmonte

“Are you following what is going on with the Montgomery Police?”

My brother was texting me.

I had been out of the country. I had not been following what was going on with my hometown police department.

“It’s like something out of The Simpsons,” he texted.

Desmonte Leonard: Fugitive

The newspaper from Seattle carried the following lead paragraph:

Police vowed Tuesday to search again if they have to after a night of probing a house with tear gas and thermal sensors failed to find the suspect in a shooting near Auburn University that killed three people.

A guy named Desmonte Leonard was the target. He was charged with three counts of capital murder related to a shooting during a pool party in Auburn. The dead included two former Auburn football players. Leonard was also accused of wounding three others (two of whom were also Auburn football players).

It is probably worth saying up front that this would not be national news if the dead people had not at one point played college football.

So Leonard was on the loose, and there was a $30,000 reward out for his capture. And since he was from our fair city, Montgomery, it became big news when MPD tactical teams descended on a Montgomery house, searching for Leonard. Local, state, and federal cops were all there, sure they had cornered their man in an old fashioned stand-off. Oh, and the media was there, tweeting real-time “coverage.”

Evidently, MPD had received “credible tips” that Leonard was in the house.

“We will do it again if we have to,” Dawson said. “We will respond in the same way.”

Do what again? Oh, you know, late night stand-off, media circus, SWAT teams using thermal imaging to search the house, cops saying that they heard coughing and moving in the attic, cops storming the house and drilling holes in the ceiling and tearing the whole place to shreds. No Desmonte Leonard, who, oh by the way, later turned himself in.

There was no one at house late Tuesday morning. Through the windows, at least two holes were visible in the ceiling and the floor was littered with pieces of drywall and insulation. Scraps of insulation also littered the walkway outside the house.

Oh, and:

Authorities scoured the attic and air conditioning ducts and drilled holes through pieces of the house. They vowed to repay the house’s owner or rebuild the structure.

So we have dozens of police cruisers, trucks, fire vehicles and vans surrounding a house in a middle-class neighborhood in Montgomery. National media attention is being paid, especially because of the awful symbiotic echo effect that happens when the “news” media gets tangled up with the 24/7 amplification chamber of the “sports” media. Think of a million idiots screaming into a particle accelerator.

Before we dig further, a bit more info from the Boston Globe, which contained reporting from the AP’s Bob Johnson:

• The MPD were acting off a tip they said involved a man claiming to have dropped Leonard off at the house and then called U.S. marshals. “It was that tip, and another 911 call from a woman who said she walked in from work to find the alleged gunman on her sofa, that led authorities to the neighborhood. At one point, they believed they heard movement and coughing in the attic, but their search turned up nothing.”

• They swarmed the house with tear gas, spy gear and assault rifles, and their time there was “a tense, nine-hour search.”

• Two men already have been charged with misleading authorities during the search. MPD Chief Kevin Murphy said the man who ferried Leonard to the home could be arrested on similar charges.

“We did everything right,” said Murphy. “Obviously we didn’t take Mr. Leonard into custody yet. But we will.”

Who are MPD?

Look, I’m not claiming this was a Grade-A Debacle. The cops acted on some info, trashed a house, said they’d pay for it, and their guy ended up behind bars and is awaiting a fair trial. But what is interesting is that the Leonard press conference gave Montgomery residents some insight into the top tiers of the MPD. Chief Murphy was quoted above. He is not to be confused with Chris Murphy, the city’s “public safety director.” The latter Murphy was quoted at the press conference saying that Leonard had some sort of connection to the house that was raided “through someone other than the owner.” That connection remains unclear as of this writing.

And then there’s Mayor Todd Strange, who told the press that there was 15 to 20 minutes between the receipt of the tip and the arrival at the front door of the home that was raided. That’s a pretty darn fast response time.

Let’s take them in order:

Mayor Todd Strange – Mayor Strange took office after Mayor Bobby Bright went off to Washington D.C. to be a one-term Representative in Congress. We weren’t here during Bright’s reign as mayor, but we did do enough research to know that the mayor before Bright, a man named Emory Folmar, had a reputation (vis-a-vis police-community relations) that could only be described as notorious. Strange comes off as an exceptionally laid back guy, more than a shade of the aspects of George W. Bush making people say, “That’s the kind of guy you could have a beer with.” He is not a grim-faced authoritarian. He seems to genuinely want economic development based on downtown entertainment and people having (safe) fun. He seems far more interested in profits than crushing skulls or commanding racist stormtroopers like Folmar did.

Chris Murphy – Public Safety Director – An Auburn police officer who joined the Secret Service. Murphy became the head of the Alabama Department of Public Safety, which is the branch of state government that includes the state troopers and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation. Appointed by Riley, served until 2010. The current head of the DPS in the Bentley Administration is named Hugh McCall.

And what is the Montgomery Department of Public Safety? It “was formed in 2010 by combining three agencies – Fire, Police and Communications – into a single municipal department to streamline safety-related operations, increase efficiency and better serve the public.”

We’re not totally clear on how Public Safety interrelates with the MPD, but like most government agencies, there are probably turf battles in there somewhere. Fortunately, our city doesn’t have any journalists that look into things like, nor do we have any real idea about how the city is split into precincts, or whether funding for law enforcement is going up or down or staying about the same. We assume that because there have not been any major scandals, things must be fine.

Kevin Murphy – Chief of Police – As of this writing, Chief Murphy’s bio page says that he is in charge of “510 sworn police officers and 200 civilians.” That’s a good-sized force. He took over from Art Baylor, who became a federal marshal in the Obama Administration.

If you ever flip around TV channels, you’d know that MPD has a TV show, which is something like the infamous show, COPS, and something (sadly) also similar to the fictional parody show, Reno 911. We’d love to know how much the city gets paid for letting TV crews do ridealongs.

The MPD obviously has a complicated history, and that’s putting it mildly. Not withstanding the bad reputation from the Folmar era, there is also all of the other stuff from the Civil Rights Movement. If you want to read something really crazy, try to get your hands on a self-published book from 2006 called “Another View of the Civil Rights Movement” by Drue H. Lackey. If the name strikes you as familiar, it’s because Lackey is the officer present in the famous picture of Rosa Parks being fingerprinted, kicking off the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Lackey’s ’06 book is a paranoid and defensive thing, an effort to show that the “white man’s” side of the civil rights story has been neglected by historians. Since his time as MPD Chief of Police, he ended up associating with some unsavory characters.

This means nothing for Chief Murphy, other than he has a tough job on his hands and probably a lot of folks in our community that refuse to distinguish Murphy from Lackey (who was chief from 1967-1970), or any of the other MPD cops that could help a million people in thankless fashion and have their reputations permanently tarnished by a Todd Road Incident.

The MPD also have a link on their webpage to a sub-page called “Annual Reports.” Evidently, MPD has been too busy solving crimes to produce an annual report since 2009. And the 2008 one isn’t actually linked on the site. And that means if you want to read the two most recent annual reports on their site, you get one that is three years old and one that is five years old. Transparency!

To be fair, they do seem to keep a little more up to date on the crime stats, here listed through 2010. But what are these “annual reports?” Next time, we’ll take a look of what we can find of these reports. But for now, we are glad that Desmonte Leonard is in custody and that the MPD is out there, doing thankless work in a world that increasingly views government spending on basic services like roads and police officer salaries (and pensions) as wasteful Socialism. Here’s hoping more people will get to know the cops, and prevent them from turning into the big metro department up the road, which evidently has a problem with officers being lunatic arsonists.

Gun Shots

I’ve been sort of sick lately. Nothing major — just some headaches that I hope are not a signal of some growing mass in my brain. But when you don’t feel well, you’re thankful for peaceful good sleep.

Also, I have work in the morning. And when you have to get up to go to a job, you’re thankful for a good night’s sleep.

Both of which are reasons why I’m annoyed to be up with my heart racing due to the familiar sound of gunshots.

We’ve written before about how we were diligent when we moved here about dutifully calling the police after hearing them. We figured that the “time of call” would help the police pinpoint the exact time that the shots were fired, somehow assisting in the ongoing investigation. But the police seemed bored when we called, and it was, after all often 2 in the morning. So we made a note of it the first time we heard them, woke up, and rolled over and went back to sleep. It was like our cynicism deflowering. We were here now, and the gun violence was just part of the landscape — not even worth reporting.

It’s a familiar, if unpredictable routine by now: hear the shots, wait for the sirens, scan the paper the next day to see if it was anything the media discovered. I almost said, “See if it was anything major,” but it’s still major in the lives of the participants, even if it doesn’t make the newspaper.

When the shots wake me up, I still note the time, as if I’ll later have firsthand knowledge to contradict some sort of official report. I’ve decided that I can tell the difference in sizes of guns from the shots. Tonight’s were especially close and sounded closer to the AK end of the spectrum than the clipped bursts of an Uzi. And yes, they sounded fully automatic. Much different than the occasional pistol round.

One thing that made tonight’s shots memorable is it sounded like someone yelled something during the spray. Might have been the shooter yelling something like, “boom.” Might have been a victim crying out. Hard to tell when you’re groggy and it all happens so fast. Anything can get mangled if you replay it in your mind enough times, especially if it’s just a tiny fragment. Within a few minutes, it’s hard to know if there are six shots or seven, and you appreciate the hard work of the justice system (both lawyers and witnesses) trying to piece together little scraps of violence several months (and even years) after they happen. Memories fade, especially if they aren’t written down right away.

And I guess that’s why I’m writing now. We weren’t hit. No holes were punched in the walls or windows. The dog didn’t even wake up. We didn’t call the police. Shots were fired, almost certainly in anger, and the night sprouted a blurry sonic blanket of sirens. It sounds like they might be driving around in circles in the next neighborhood, either chasing a suspect or totally passing by a victim who is leaking life.

Anyway, I’m not sure what we can do. It’d be nice to do an interview with local law enforcement. Our police chief is Kevin Murphy. He is not to be confused with Chris Murphy, who heads our city’s Department of Public Safety. Chief Murphy was hired by Chris Murphy, who used to be the head of the Alabama Department of Public Safety (the state troopers). Our police chief from 2004-2010, Art Baylor, was appointed by Obama to be a federal marshal.

But an interview with local officers and leaders isn’t likely to be all that enlightening. I’ve interviewed cops before. They mostly just talk about how crime is down and how nobody appreciates how hard their job is. Both facts are unarguably true, although the current crime fighting strategy (cramming poor people into unconstitutionally overcrowded prisons) leaves something to be desired.

EOL

One rumor is that he lives in the dumpsters behind Tomatino’s and “Eats Only Lizards.”

One rumor is that she is a deranged botanist, seeking to conduct an underground marketing campaign for the Encyclopedia of Life.

And one rumor is that he/she is a hacker and a big fan of the movie Tron, in which “End of Line” is a phrase signifying terminal communication.

And maybe we just made up all of those rumors when we went out New Year’s Eve and saw that the main drag in Cloverdale had been tagged up by EOL.

We’re in a bit of a weird space since we love graffiti, but we also love our local merchants who, understandably, don’t want graffiti on their properties. And this isn’t really anything that merits the label “graffiti,” in the sense that the word can have positive connotations. It’s really just tagging. And there’s nothing all that artistic about it. The tags look like some 11-year-0ld got hold of a large-gauge Sharpie and ran down the street.

There’s a complex social history behind tagging, one that is way deeper than “so-and-so was here” and the usual uninformed stuff about marking gangland turf. But our observations were mostly in the vein of mocking EOL’s lack of talent. Sure, not every scribbler is going to throw up a major piece, a Montgomery-themed burner mural with wildstyle font and thought-provoking images. But seriously, EOL ought to practice in the ol’ notebook before going live and messing up the exteriors of some of our favorite establishments.

Night Life in Montgomery

From time to time, I wonder why I don’t go out more in Montgomery. I have lived in a fair number of large cities and have visited countless others. I like going out to bars and clubs. Sometimes I like to go hear live hip-hop. Sometimes I like to go hear electronic music and go dancing. I like good beers, whether in upscale joints or places with sawdust on the floor. Other times, I prefer a more lounge sort of environment, with couches and tasty mixed drinks, maybe a pool table or some darts. Why don’t I go out more?

Then I read articles like this one in the Montgomery Advertiser, and I remember that I’m not in New York or Austin. I’m not even in Tuscaloosa, which has some problems with the police and some anti-drinking forces within the university but by-and-large tries to accommodate the young people and nightlife crowd with a variety of bars and live music venues.

No, Montgomery is no Tuscaloosa. Here, bars and clubs are the enemy (unless, of course, you are talking about The Alley and the Entire Future of Downtown Redevelopment). To most who live in this area, Montgomery must be fled by sundown. For those who stay behind, you’ve got what is discussed in The Advertiser’s article: a police-state crackdown with SWAT raids on local businesses. As if I needed another reason to be glad I’m not a student at Alabama State.

Let’s take a look at the article, from Feb. 10 by Scott Johnson. Headline: “City Uses Raid-Style Inspections on Nightclubs.” Well, that’s fantastic PR right there. Really just what you want to see when you are thinking about holding a convention in Montgomery or going out for a night of dancing. The thing is, the Chamber of Commerce types who that ought to bother are probably more mad at the newspaper for reporting the truth than they are at the police for turning local clubs into Gestapo Night.

So what’s behind the use of armed SWAT raids at local clubs (some of which have no history of violence)? According to the article, “through the years,” there have been shootings at some nightclubs. How many shootings? How many years? It takes some hashing through the article to discover.

From a careful read of the piece, we learn that one club was shut down by the city: Top Flight Disco … in 1997!

And another club, Celebrations, closed on its own in 2007 after some controversy.

Oh no! Two clubs closed in the past 13 years! Horror! Call in the SWAT team!

I’m frankly surprised they were able to get the owner of Rock Bottom American Pub to go on the record as complaining about the raids. Even money says that club gets the door kicked in just to make sure the liquor licenses are up to date. Oh wait, Rock Bottom already was raided, along with six other nightclubs on Jan. 16 and nine more the night before that. Fifteen clubs in two nights!

Maj. Huey Thornton, a police spokesman, said the SWAT team was necessary for the safety of the inspectors.

“These officers have specialized training in dealing with situations where there may be large crowds,” Thornton said. “We don’t want to send our officers — or any city or state em ployees — into any situation without providing them the safety and security to accomplish their mission.”

Damn, maybe that’s the kind of important crime fighting lesson we missed at the Crime Expo.

Three places were shut down for over-crowding — Frontstreet Entertainment, Magic Nights Club, and Club Rewind. For how long were they shuttered? Oh, for a whopping 16 hours, although the court has the option of suspending their business license for 10 days.

Frontstreet Entertainment was certainly a likely target of the raids. Montgomery residents will remember that there was a shooting there on Christmas night, injuring two teenagers. Horror. Freakout. Teens not old enough to drink were at a nightclub. Shooting. Christmas.

And yet while the article says the Frontstreet shooting “prompted” the city to take action, the quote from Mayor Todd Strange calls the raids “a proactive approach.” Either the article is wrong and the Frontstreet incident had nothing to do with MPD’s raids, or the mayor doesn’t know the difference between “proactive” and “reactive.”

But sure, we get the point. He’s explaining why the cops are raiding the clubs where there is no history of violence. They’re showing up with guns to prevent violence from happening. That makes tons of sense. Send ’em a message!

Oh, but also, buried in the story was the fact that there was also a fatal shooting at something called Club O’s back in January. Club O’s then shut its own doors. So let’s recap the rationale for the raids:

1. Top Flight Disco was shut down 13 years ago.

2. Celebrations closed itself amid controversy three years ago.

3. Two teens were shot (but not killed) at Frontstreet Entertainment in December.

4. Two people were killed at Club O’s in January (and then Club O’s closed down).

Holy crap! Let’s nuke the Alley Bar! I might have seen a Huntington student use a fake ID to get into Bud’s and order a margarita at El Rey’s! Let’s burn something down!

And if you like to shoot pool at Deja Vu, just keep in mind that your money is going into the pockets of an owner who makes apologies for the cops.

“I appreciate it as a business owner that they are coming out and making sure things are run right, but just make sure it’s fair across the board,” said Lithia Barber, owner of Déjà vu Billiards.

Barber, who said the raid was “kind of scary,” wondered why inspectors targeted her Burbank Drive business and overlooked other nearby nightclubs.

The SWAT team members came into the club wearing masks and carrying rifles, locking the door behind them, Barber said.

Oh, just masks and rifles? Well, I guess they have to “make sure everything is run right.” Hard to imagine they can do that with just masks and rifles and not actively kicking every patron of your establishment in the face, followed by cavity searches.

While Barber questioned the use of the SWAT team, she did say she supports the inspections and would welcome more of them.

The inspection only took 20 to 30 minutes and was not that much of a disruption, she said.

“We ended up having a really good night that night,” she said.

Presumably, by “we,” she means her cash registers still turned a profit, and doesn’t mean that her customers “had a really good night” as armed cops with masks locked the door behind them and searched through everything. Hey, what’s 20 or 30 minutes when you’re a paying customer looking to shoot some pool with friends?

The article goes on to say that our Mayor has promised to “keep conducting the surprise inspections for as long as they are necessary.” Oh. OK. Since they were so necessary before.

“We will continue doing them and probably be pretty aggressive until the message gets out there,” he said.

And what is that message? For me, it’s a good reminder of why I don’t go out and spend money in my hometown.

Crime Expo 2010

All the latest in crime fighting technology and fish taxidermy

Oh dearest reader, we have let you down. We, like Icarus, aimed too high. We wanted so dearly in the molecules of our cardiac fiber to respond to the alluring flyer we received promoting a “crime expo” at the Mann Museum here in town.

A crime expo? And what is the Mann Museum? Would there be rows of vendors selling burglar bars and pepper sprays and mace foam? Would there be self-defense experts teaching ninja moves to soccer moms worried about ruffians? And would there be wildlife learning at the Mann Wildlife Learning Museum?

After all, the electronic handbill carried with it a most nefarious image of a highly-dangerous criminal clutching a ring of keys and wearing a cartoonish “robber” mask. Where did he get those keys? If he is merely a janitor or custodian, why is he wearing a backwards baseball cap and that suspicious Lone Ranger mask? FEAR!!!!

So we put on our reporter hats and wigs and we Googled this “Mann Wildlife Learning Museum.” Turns out, it’s part of the city zoo complex. So we drove and we drove. With a 6 p.m. start time, we were in a mad post-work scramble. Must eat food! Must find hidden museum! Must be there before judo lessons and taser demonstrations!

We arrive ready to take notes. When people think of Montgomery, they often bring up crime. The image is that our urban area is full of crooks, thugs, hoodlums, and no-goodniks. Douse that gumbo with a healthy degree of classic new and old Southern Racism, along with very real poverty and urban decay, and you’ve got a lot of people talking about crime all the time. This talk fuels white flight and is the enemy of those looking to redevelop downtown. The fear monster is alive and well among folks of all races and walks of life. Oh, and there’s actual crime too.

So we were ready to be critical and yet honest in our time-tested Lost in Montgomery way. If we saw a creepy police state thing, we’d call it. If we saw a good deal on lethal and/or non-lethal weapons, we’d report those deals. (Note: The hot pink pepper spray was not a good deal). If the whole thing came off as a cheesy PR stunt for law enforcement, we planned on holding up the light of scrutiny to the whole scene.

So we got there at 6:05 or so. One way in, one way out. Single door. Sign in when you get there. And you walk in at the “front” of the room, meaning all of the chairs are facing you as you walk in. There are about 50 people there, maybe 60. We pass the empty podium and walk to the back. There in the back, amid a bunch of weird empty aquariums are the crime expo “exhibits.” Some of the aquariums are empty. Some are terrariums that have living creatures in them. They look to be in bad shape. Many have lots of moss growing on their foggy glass making whatever is inside super difficult to see. Some are labeled (newts, other swampy critters). Others are unlabeled. And an entire display case is empty as if undergoing renovations or something. It appears it once had poison dart frogs. The entire “museum” looked underfunded and sketchy. But maybe that’s because it was cleared out for this meeting. Clearly we’ll go back for another trip during normal business hours, in hopes that we will see more than stuffed turkeys lining a hallway.

In the far back are walls covered with stuffed fish: Big bass, marlins, etc. There are four tables there. The first is from ADT, the home alarm company. They have the usual sales pitch handouts about crooks and the need for alarms. Another table is from MADD. They are against drunk driving. As usual. Another table is from a gun dealer. They have a few tasers on display and a few pistols. Nothing remarkable. And the final table is from Christ for Crime Victims. Evidently, this is a Jesus-based charity that involves bringing new doors and windows and other anti-crime fortifications to folks who have been victimized by crime. And then (I guess) they tell you about the Lord or something. Unclear. And that’s it for exhibits. Takes us about 10 minutes to make “the rounds” to all four tables. The meeting still has not started.

We find seats. The crowd is multi-racial. Many of the black folks there are wearing the red shirts of the “Enough is Enough” campaign that is pretty big here in Montgomery. It’s an anti-violence, anti-gang campaign run by Rev. Ed Nettles of the Freewill Missionary Baptist Church. Rev. Nettles himself was present, as were a ton of police officers and a bunch of old people. We were the youngest people there by a good margin.

So we sit. And sit. And it’s now 6:30. And we have to be somewhere at 8. We thought we could stay from 6 until 7:45 or so and hit the road. We thought we’d see some cool exhibits. Wrong. When it’s 6:30 and nothing has started yet and they’re telling people to go enter a raffle to win some ADT security package, we get worried. The doors we entered are soon going to close. Then people (possibly people in police uniforms) will stand in front of those doors and start talking. And we won’t be able to leave.

So, dear reader, we failed you. We did not stay for the informative law enforcement programming. We did not learn about crime in our beloved community and what the police want us to do about it. We did not get to ask our burning questions about the “Volunteer Police” who hilariously cruise our neighborhood. We have some brochures about what to do in case we see “someone suspicious.” And the back of the “Enough of Enough” shirts have the word “VIOLENCE” in a circle with a big slash through it … and under it says: “Try Jesus!”

So if that helps you, we are grateful. But we carry a heavy sense of guilt at our journalistic failings. You, the crime wary citizens of this body politic, deserve only the finest information about the doings of our order-preserving guardians.

The Dark Side of Montgomery

I saw Frank York last night on my way home from the airport.

Frank was lying face down next to his car as we drove by the gas station where he died. According to the newspaper, he was 25, from Selma, and killed in a drug deal. Police say they found some marijuana and a gun next to his body.

The killing was Montgomery’s 23rd of the year, which, from what I understand, puts us under the pace to meet last year’s mark. This group ranked Montgomery as the second worst mid-size city in the U.S. for crime, noting the high murder rate. According to WSFA, the local TV station, the cops reported 31 murders in 2005 and 28 in 2006. The city population was 201,568 as of the 2000 census.

I’m not really interested in diving into crime stats much more than that, or comparing Montgomery to Detroit or de-populated New Orleans. Frank York is dead and I saw the gas station parking lot where he died. It’s pretty close to my house. Dying on pavement next to a flithy gas pump seems terrible.

Frank York may have been a jerk. He may have been trying to rob the person who killed him. The gun and marijuana may or may not have been his. The killing may or may not have been about drugs much more powerful than marijuana. Maybe it was about romance. Maybe they argued and the gun went off accidentally. Maybe the police will catch the killer by looking at the gas station security cameras. Maybe not.

Meanwhile, the hyper-racist Montgomery Advertiser message boards will continue to spew filth like a punctured sewer pipe. Their discussions of crime and race by these anonymous posters make me ashamed to live in this city. And at the same time, we still hear gunshots from our house, even though it’s in a lovely area of town. And the white people continue to flee to the east, where they refuse to pay for city schools and build enormous and vile big box stores and strip malls.

I don’t want to get off on a digression, complaining about how Montgomery has lost luster over the years. I don’t want a reflection on murder in Montgomery to become an elegy for the Blue-Gray Football Classic.

So seeing the lifeless corpse of Frank York, a 25-year-old from Selma, really made me think about Montgomery. Big problems. No easy solutions.