DJWriter
The blog of Chicago-based freelance writer David Johnsen.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
 
The Waiter, The Bard, And Lots Of Cops
Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip--Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by Steve Dublanica - Dublanica (whose blog I haven't read) humorously describes the challenges and frustrations of waiting tables. Waiter Rant isn't exactly the book I wanted it to be -- I'd rather have less of the author's life story -- but I enjoyed it much more than Debra Ginsberg's Waiting. If you're browsing at the bookstore, at least take the time to read "Appendix A: 40 Tips on How to Be a Good Customer." Not only is this useful advice, but if you like the way it's written, you'll probably enjoy the rest of the book.

Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson - To be honest, I've never had much interest in Shakespeare. I endured Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth in high school freshman English class, and I haven't given him much thought since. But when I saw this book by Bryson, an author I enjoy very much, and found that it was about Shakespeare the person rather than his works, I figured it was worth a shot (its brevity also attracted me). My gamble paid off, as Shakespeare is a fascinating book that examines the playwright's life in the context of late 1500s-early 1600s England. This is not a groundbreaking work (nor does it pretend to be), but Bryson succeeds in making the biography of someone I wouldn't ordinarily care about into something entertaining and worth reading. Note: an updated and illustrated edition is coming out next month.

On the Job: Behind the Stars of the Chicago Police Department by Daniel P. Smith - Despite my negative predisposition toward any book that I could've/should've written myself (my wife is a Chicago police officer), I found On the Job to be pretty insightful. Smith combines a history of the department with plentiful mini-bios of current and former officers. He interviews a broad range of men and women from various units, collecting humorous and heartbreaking stories from throughout the city. On the Job is undoubtedly favorable toward the department, which probably explains why it didn't get much attention from the local media where cop-bashing has been in fashion lately. Although the frustrations of police work are not ignored, the book avoids the jaded cynicism of bloggers like Second City Cop. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in Chicago history or policing, especially anyone considering a career in the field.

Current tally: 79 books finished, 69 books acquired

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009
 
Bastard of the Day
It's been a while since I did a BotD entry. Of course, getting the Republican regime out of office has cut down on the bastardry somewhat. I'm still having a hard time hearing news reports mention "the president" without automatically thinking asshole, but it will take some effort to undo eight years of conditioning.

Anyway, today's bastard is bus driver Shawn Brim. Here's the AP story from Washington, DC:
A bus driver thought it would be funny to take the bite out of McGruff the crime dog by punching the mascot, but police said children who witnessed the stunt were horrified. Metro bus driver Shawn Brim, 38, climbed off a bus, adjusted his side view mirrors and then punched officer Tyrone Hardy, who was handing fliers to children on a Washington street while dressed as the crime dog, police said. After the punch, Brim got back on the bus and drove away, but was quickly pulled over Saturday.
I hope they hammer this guy for assaulting a police officer, and maybe animal cruelty, too. Don't screw with McGruff, you bastard!

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008
 
Creepy
It was bad enough when I dreamed last night that my wife had died. Then I woke up to this. Although there was no mention in my dream about whether she died in the line of duty, it made today's sad news that much more disturbing.

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Friday, May 23, 2008
 
Lyrics of the Day
Jennifer's comment about the "very bad idea" of arguing with police made me think of this verse from "Guitar Man Upstairs" by Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers:

When I was sixteen I had a little trouble with the law
He said "Boy come here" I said "Boy yourself
I ain't done nothing wrong"
He grabbed me by the arm and he went upside my head
Nobody saw nothing
But I got a little spot where my hair ain't grown back yet
That's from Southern Rock Opera. If you don't own it yet, you should.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008
 
Bastard of the Day
Today's award goes to the trigger-happy Chicago cops who killed a cougar in the Roscoe Village neighborhood last night. I'll bet those bastards fancy themselves as big game hunters now. Of course, taking down a cornered cougar with ten freaking shots isn't exactly expert marksmanship. Sorry, I just don't buy the excuse that it was ready to attack. That sounds like a story concocted to deflect public outrage. Too bad the cougar wasn't in my wife's district -- she certainly wouldn't have shot it (she probably would have fed it cat treats and brought it home!).

People are saying that the police couldn't have been expected to have tranquilizers, but that excuse doesn't hold water, either. The cougar was first reported in the morning. By 6 PM, when the big cat was killed, numerous police/animal care and control workers/game wardens/zoo workers/whatever should have been roaming the neighborhood with tranquilizer guns ready.

Somebody needs to control the squirrel and stray cat populations in this city -- not to mention the proliferation of yuppie toddlers -- and that cougar was just the one to do it.

UPDATE -- Before someone waves this in my face, let me note that just because experts say the killing was "justified" does not mean it was the ideal course of action or outcome.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007
 
My Tasteless Joke of the Day
If you lend a screwdriver to a Chicago police officer, don't ask for it back.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007
 
And People Complain About Chicago Police?
A car crashes, police arrive, the driver says there are three passengers, the police find one, and they stop searching. This happened early Saturday morning in Gary, Indiana.

Seven hours later, the father of one of the missing passengers went looking in the woods where the car crashed. He found a shoe, and then he found his son and the third passenger.
He said he called police immediately, and when they arrived, they would not discuss whether the woods had been thoroughly searched. Smith said police were more concerned about the shoe he had picked up in the woods and was still clutching in his hand. "The only thing they said to me, and it was in a messed-up tone, was, 'Where did you get that shoe from?' and, 'You better put it back about where you found it,'" Smith said. "I threw it at them. I said, 'I'm looking at my son and his friend dead and you're worried about where I found a damn shoe?'"
I can only hope they died quickly from the crash. The alternative -- hearing sirens and voices nearby, only to be abandoned -- is too horrible to imagine.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007
 
"We Don't Want Any Hangings"
I probably shouldn't make light of this story, but I can't help myself.
A Chicago man held on traffic violations by Schiller Park police was found hanged in his jail cell Saturday, police said. Martin Garcia, 42, was arrested late Friday and was being held on traffic violations at the police station at 9526 W. Irving Park Rd., police said in a statement... An autopsy determined the death was a suicide...
This reminds me of Arlo Guthrie's classic "Alice's Restaurant":
After the ordeal, we went back to the jail. Obie said he was going to put us in the cell. Said, "Kid, I'm going to put you in the cell, I want your wallet and your belt." And I said, "Obie, I can understand you wanting my wallet so I don't have any money to spend in the cell, but what do you want my belt for?" And he said, "Kid, we don't want any hangings." I said, "Obie, did you think I was going to hang myself for littering?"
Similarly, why would a guy hang himself for traffic violations?

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Thursday, July 20, 2006
 
How Not to Frame an Argument
Eric Zorn tries to rile up some outrage over the report about Chicago Police torturing suspects, but he makes a terrible mistake:

Wilson killed two police officers in 1982 and was sadistically worked over during interrogations by an Area 2 police crew led by the now infamous Cmdr. Jon Burge. That beating ultimately proved a window into numerous others incidents, but information about it was brushed off at the time by then States Atty. and now Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Regardless of his case being a "window," was Wilson the best example Zorn could find in that 290-page report? Naturally, a few commenters jumped on the fact that Wilson was a cop killer. And of course, some anti-brutality (dare I say anti-police?) activists said it didn't matter that he killed two police officers because he was still a victim.

Yet the nature of his offense does matter. In general, I don't think police should torture suspects. I don't think police should be above the law. But police are human beings -- how can we expect them to be above emotion? When an officer looks at a guy who killed two of his men, what goes through his mind? You bastard, you killed my friends. Or maybe, That could have been me you shot. Perhaps the activists expect someone in that position to calmly say, "Ah well, I am sure justice will be served. Have a nice day." Sorry, but killing police hits too close to home for officers. Say you caught someone trying to molest your kid. Given the opportunity, wouldn't you pound on that person for a while before contacting the authorities? I can pretty easily forgive the police for beating a cop killer.

Another commenter likened police brutality in Chicago to the torture at Abu Ghraib. That's interesting because the key to illustrating the atrocity of what guards did at Abu Ghraib was choosing good examples. The prime example I heard was that one torture victim was a guy who stole a car -- he wasn't a terrorist, just a thief. When car thieves are being tortured, many of us ask why. It seems just a tad extreme. Notice the example was not a guy who killed two Marines. Citing a case like that would have elicited very little sympathy from the average American.

As for the report, it was a stupid exercise, really. They spent $6 million to investigate things that happened in the 1970s and 1980s, too long ago to be prosecuted. The police can still face civil suits, but why should public funds be used to gather evidence for a civil suit? What a supreme waste of time and taxpayer money. That should be the outrage.

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Friday, June 23, 2006
 
Idiot of the Day
I am toning down my Bastard of the Day award today since this woman lost her husband. He was shot by police at a Dominick's grocery store. According to the Chicago Tribune:
As one officer detained an unidentified woman near the checkout lines, three tried to detain [James] King, who was described as 6 feet, 2 inches, tall and almost 400 pounds. One officer sprayed him with mace, and another got one handcuff on him before King withdrew a 9mm semiautomatic handgun, police said. Three of the officers "left the immediate scene," [Supt. Philip] Cline said, leaving one to fend off King. That officer shot and killed King in a shooting police have judged to be within department guidelines.
(A Chicago Sun-Times account says that this was all captured on the store's security cameras and mentions a detail omitted by the Tribune: that King not only drew but pointed his gun at the officer who then shot him.) Obviously, the three cops who left one alone to subdue this large man screwed up. One cannot imagine how they could possibly justify their actions. Two were probationary officers (first 18 months on the job), so they were fired. The third has been suspended for now and may be fired later. But the Idiot of the Day is widow Audrey King:
King's family said the father of two might be alive if the three officers had stayed to do their jobs. "It's devastating," said his wife, Audrey. "They were trained to handle situations like that. They're supposed to be professionals."
Your husband might be alive if he hadn't pulled a freaking gun on a police officer who was trying to arrest him! Sure, the police are "supposed to be professionals," but citizens aren't supposed to point guns at them! For that matter, who is to say that the situation would have played out differently with four officers instead of one? Is there a certain number of police who need to be present to discourage a person from drawing a gun on them? Maybe James King told Audrey, "You know, if there's just one cop, I'm gonna try to shoot him. But if four cops are there, I'll go quietly." Blaming the police for your husband's death after he draws a weapon on them in a grocery store is utterly ridiculous. The police are professionals, and they are trained to counter deadly force with... deadly force.

I'm sorry that Audrey will have to raise those two kids alone. But maybe their father should have thought about that before he pulled out his handgun. She has no right to fault the police for his death.

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Saturday, December 10, 2005
 
Chicago Cop Shot by "Cell Phone"
In June 1999, a Chicago police officer shot a woman who was using a cell phone, LaTanya Haggerty, because her phone was mistaken for a gun. The media had a field day with that story and everyone piled on the Chicago Police Department. The city paid Haggerty's family $18 million.

Last night on the South Side a Chicago police gang crimes officer was wounded:
The officers saw a man in the group raise an object, which the officers initially thought was a cell phone but turned out to be a gun, Camden said. The man fired the gun, striking one of the officers in the thigh, Camden said.
Let's see how much coverage this story gets in comparison with the Haggerty shooting. People are quick to criticize police when they make the wrong decision and shoot innocent citizens. But no one talks about the times when police err on the side of caution, assume they are not in danger, and pay with blood or their lives.

In a similar context, it will be interesting to see how the Miami air marshal story plays out. Already, an eyewitness is questioning their actions at Time magazine online.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005
 
Twenty Years of Vaudeville and a Pension
My wife's birthday was Monday, and as usual, she coerced me into handing over her gifts a day (or at least a few hours) early. I can't recall whether I've blogged about it before, but my wife has this really annoying habit regarding books. Say I'm enjoying a book, maybe reading her a few excerpts aloud. Then I go to the kitchen to get a can of pop or something, and when I come back, she has my book firmly in her grasp. Worst of all, she doesn't relinquish it until she's finished!

I got even on Sunday night. I gave her several books for her birthday, and one of them was Twenty Years of Vaudeville and a Pension: What Really Happens Behind the Badge, a memoir written by former Chicago cop Richard Solita (for those who don't know, my wife is a Chicago police officer, too). After she opened her gifts (tastefully wrapped in a Barnes & Noble bag), I picked up this book, opened to a random page and started reading. And laughing my butt off. It was a vignette about a robber whose life was saved by his Bible. A storekeeper shot him in the chest, but the Good Book stopped it from penetrating. Alas, the man was dead because the storekeeper also shot him in the head. The punchline was that he should have started reading his Bible instead of just carrying it. I flipped back to the start, and that turned out to be one of the less amusing tales that Solita had to tell.

Solita's 20 years on the force have given him lots of great stories. He works patrol to start, then the gang unit for many years. When things go sour there, he transfers to traffic (hit & run), and in his last few years he gets shuffled around by vindictive bosses. As a patrolman, he has some of the funniest and most absurd experiences. In the gang unit part of his career, he talks more about "real" police work, getting into the nuts and bolts of how he and his partner nailed thugs. He matches wits with gang bangers, FBI guys, supervisors and Internal Affairs investigators. His later years pass quickly in the book as he grows tired of the department.

This book is an addictive page-turner. I never went more than three pages without laughing out loud. Of course, the nature of police work is such that there are lots of bittersweet or tragic moments, too. Solita doesn't ignore common police vices like alcoholism and infidelity; indeed he sometimes trivializes them. He writes about the politics of the job and how you can't get anywhere without a clout (he had one who helped him twice). The only thing that stopped me from reading the book straight through from cover to cover was my late start -- around 4 AM I couldn't concentrate anymore so I went to sleep.

Something that struck me was how much has changed and yet how little. One recurring theme is how the department brass values quantity over quality. They would rather see someone write three moving violations (i.e. speeding, running a stop sign, etc.) than nail one felon. Police had lots more leeway in the old days (Solita started in 1968), but aside from that I could have been hanging out at a bar listening to my wife's co-workers telling me these stories (my wife doesn't really get into that -- I repeat her stories to others more often than she tells them herself). Solita's conversational style rolls along steadily, and the narrative never lags.

Yesterday afternoon I gave my wife's book back to her. This morning I got up at 7 AM because the insulation guys were coming. She was just going to sleep, having spent all night reading Twenty Years of Vaudeville and a Pension. For an excerpt, click here.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2005
 
International Police Missions
Last night my wife came home from work with a nutty idea. "Have you ever heard of a company called DynCorp?" she asked. Hmm, it sounded familiar... Yes, I had just read about them yesterday afternoon in Censored 2004: The Top 25 Censored News Stories in an article about the privatization of the military:

In April 2003, DynCorp was also awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to build a private police force in post-Saddam Iraq. Potential officers do not need to speak Arabic and must be U.S. citizens and current or former police officers, according to the London Observer. Private police provided by DynCorp working for the U.N. in Bosnia were accused of buying and selling prostitutes, including a 12-year-old girl. Others were accused of videotaping the rape of one of the women.
They are looking for police officers with five years of experience to do police work in Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, and East Timor. Another Chicago police officer said he was planning to go to Afghanistan for a year. He could make $100,000 in a year with no federal taxes since he would be out of the U.S. The pay in Iraq is even higher, up to $120,000. He offered to hook her up with his recruiter to get her "on the fast track" so she could start within a month. Greed was getting the best of her, and she was actually considering it.

My role here was obvious: "Oh, please honey, don't go, it's too dangerous!" Ha! As if I could utter such hysterical words. I was busy figuring out which new computer to buy with that extra cash. No, I refused to play along. Besides, since she let me take my cross-country bike trip three years ago, who am I to stand in the way of her adventure? At her request, I visited the recruiting web site and printed a dozen pages of information.

Naturally, my apparently apathetic reaction made her mad. Despite her college minor in women's studies, she said, "I want you to be a caveman." So I grabbed her by the hair and dragged her around the house for a while. No, actually I just told her I knew she was trying to elicit an emotionally charged response, and I wouldn't indulge her: "You can do whatever you want to do." I knew she would never do it anyway. We can't go on vacation for a week without her missing the dogs. She could never leave them behind for a year abroad, especially the older one. She could live without me, but not without them.

When she floated the idea to her mother today, she got the reaction she had wanted from me anyway. And I refuse to be the worrywart that my mother-in-law is. In fact, I made a conscious decision when I met my wife that I was not going to worry about her job. It's probably the best choice I've ever made regarding my mental health.

By the time she left for work tonight, she seemed to be talking herself out of it. I guess I won't be getting that new computer after all.

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