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Three Strikes & More

Long version: mp3, 5 MBs, 5:56
Short version: mp3, 3 MBs, 3:54

[Col. recorded 3/13/03]

A man steals several videotapes from the friendly neighborhood K-Mart, and gets arrested. When sentenced for these petty thefts, he is cast into prison, for life!

Another man steals several golf clubs, and he too gets arrested for theft. When sentenced, he too is sent to prison, for life!

Both men committed their thievery in California, at a time when the infamous ‘Three Strikes’ law was in effect, and as both men had at least two prior felonies, both fell victim to the statute.

Both men had the added misfortune in appealing before the present Supreme Court, which promptly upheld the constitutionality of California’s law, meaning the two men, Gary Ewing (the golf club guy), and Leandro Andrade (the videotape guy) will have to serve at least 25 years to life. Andrade, sentenced consecutively on two counts (one count each for each videotape) was sentenced to * 50 years to life* in California gulags.

In 5-4 decisions in * Ewing v. California* and * Lockyer v. Andrade*, the nation’s highest tribunal let stand these extremely punitive sanctions, saying essentially it would not “second guess” the legislature. Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the minority in * Ewing*, argued that Ewing, his “recidivism notwithstanding”, had made a strong claim that the sentence was “disproportionate”, given the relatively minor charges – the theft of three golf clubs. In * Andrade*, it was Justice David Souter who opined that the California courts’ decision was “irrational”, saying, “Andrade did not
somehow become twice as dangerous to society when he stole the second handful of videotapes.”

Both cases reveal the power in the nation’s courts of that old idea of “state’s rights.” In short, almost anything goes.

What makes it even more alarming is what is happening to California, at the same time Messrs. Ewing and Andrade have to look at quarter-century, and half-century prison bits. In San Francisco, California, leading members and executives of the city’s police department have been indicted by grand juries for their role in the police cover-up of a brutal attack on civilians.

What is the connection, one wonders?

Simple. At the base of the ‘Frisco cop scandal is the charge that three off-duty cops assaulted two men, after they refused to give the 3 a bag of steak fajitas. Moments after the fight began, one of the men, Adam Snyder, flicked open his cell phone, and dialed 911, telling the dispatcher, “I need some cops fast!” He tells the dispatcher that he just got off work (Snyder is a bartender), and “they just started fighting us, over nothing.” Snyder’s cell phone call proves that he hadn’t the slightest idea that the three men who attacked him and his friend, Jade Santoro, were cops. They also couldn’t have known the three men, Matthew Tonsing, David Lee, and Alex Fagen Jr., had recently left a celebration of the appointment of one of the men’s fathers, Alex Fagen, Sr. to Asst. Chief of the Police Department. After celebrating at a banquet for Fagen, Sr., the three hit a bar on Union Street for liquid refreshments. An argument could be made that the three, probably inebriated after a night of ‘celebrating’, lost their cool when, under the haze of alcohol, the arresting aroma of steak fajitas hit them, and they simply had to have them.

Then comes Alex Fagen, Jr. According to a series of reports in the * San Francisco Chronicle*, Junior had at least 16 violent encounters with people in 13 months, and has sent 6 of them to the hospital. He reportedly body-slammed a 5-foot-4, 124 pound woman, Monise Brown, after she kicked a cop car that almost ran over her feet. Two days before his body slam of a handcuffed woman, Fagen reportedly hog-tied a man accused of punching a woman. The hog-tie method has caused deaths in some cases from suffocation. The man was hospitalized for respiratory problems. Another man, suspected of stealing a car was kicked in the head by Fagen. Yet another was beaten so badly that several ribs were broken, and his lung was punctured by the 23-year old cop.

What distinguishes these cases is that Fagen did most of his ‘wilding’ in the predominantly Black Bayview area, and except for an occasional anger management class, the department ignored it. The fajita caper took place on Union St., an upscale part of town. Oh yeah; and the Union St. people were white.

What’s the connection, you wonder?

Well, consider this. One man beats and hurts people, repeatedly, sending half a dozen to the hospital.

Another guy steals 3 golf clubs. Another guy steals several videotapes. All three may be called repeat offenders, but who goes to jail? For life?

It may be shown, on the other hand, that Fagen, as a cop, works for the system, and because of the rank and power of his father (who was among the indictees), may never be sanctioned for the legalized violence of which he is a part. Indeed, after the current scandal plays itself out, neither he, nor any of the other 9 cops involved, may ever see the inside of a prison cell.

On may, in fact, rise to the highest levels of the department, putting others in jail, for their breaches of the law, and paid well by the citizens of the city.

While two others languish in a man-made brick and steel hell, for the rest of their days, because the nation’s highest court dared not “second guess” the legislature.

That is the face of the law today as America enters a new century; remarkably similar to that of the old.

(sources: * San Francisco Chronicle*, Sat., Mar. 1, 2003; Sun. Mar. 2, 2003)


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Text © copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.