Friday, November 4, 2011

Ticket-Fixing Cops Should be Judged Like Any Other Criminals (November 4, 2011)

It’s disgraceful when cops engage in unlawful activities, but it’s more reprehensible when other cops rally to support those who allegedly broke the law.
Hundreds of off-duty police officers rallied outside a Bronx courthouse last week as 16 officers were indicted in a ticket-fixing scandal that was part of a larger ongoing NYPD investigation. The demonstration was appalling and was especially illustrated by one sign that read: “It’s a courtesy, not a crime.”
Excuse me, advocating illegal activity — no matter how negligible — is wrong and is not the message law enforcement officers should convey to a public, especially minorities, who more often than not mistrusts cops.
Police officers tend to rally behind a “blue wall of silence” when a colleague is accused of a crime and refuse to cooperate with investigators. Outsiders loathe that sort of group mentality that is sometimes viewed as cops acting above the law.
Many civilians anxiously await a sensible explanation from those protesting officers about why they or their peers are entitled to operate by different standards than the rest of us. Just because minor illegal activity became part of the cop culture, such practices must cease when exposed. Rules are rules and should apply equally to everyone. Those who break them should suffer just and suitable consequences.
There are those who defend police because “they they’re put their lives on the line every day.” That’s an flippant and feeble excuse. Isn’t that what police are paid to do?
Police union officials, who impulsively support members regardless of the accusation, defended ticket-fixing because it is conduct that has been tolerated for years. Patrolman’s Union president Patrick Lynch maintained that what was once “a courtesy has now turned into a crime, and that’s wrong” then noted that ticket-fixing was “accepted at all ranks for decades.”
There you have the crux of the dilemma. Perhaps it began when one cop fixed one parking ticket for a relative and got away with it, but ticket fixing snowballed into a wayward NYPD tradition treated like a family affair. As a result, some officers apparently thought it was a minor breach they could get away with and that mentality got passed down with succeeding generations of recruits.
This ticket-fixing atmosphere is comparable to steroid use in baseball. Players, managers and owners obviously knew performance enhancement was going on for years, but chose to ignore it until an investigation disclosed that the illegal drug use was rampant and had to cease.
In addition to ticket-fixing charges, other alleged criminal activities uncovered in the wiretaps include crimes as serious as driving while intoxicated and domestic violence, as well as drug dealing and gun running. These charges deserve more scrutiny and, if the accused officers are guilty, deserve harsher penalties and loss of pensions.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has an obligation to end the atmosphere that accepted ticket-fixing and other special considerations. He must let the 35,000 officers under his command know that such practices will no longer be tolerated, have no place in the NYPD and that any officer found to engage in such activity from now on will receive the harshest possible penalties.
Ticket-fixing doesn’t fall in the top ten of police corruption scandals, nor should it taint the reputation of thousands of officers who diligently perform their jobs. Nevertheless, it is embarrassing for a police department that has performed mostly admirably and honorably to reduce crime in our city in the last generation.
However, that demanding work should not be a motive for wrongdoing, regardless of how minor it is. It’s been estimated that the city treasury lost about two million dollars in revenue from the ticket-fixings at a time when every dollar is sorely needed. That, in itself, adds to the gravity of the crime.
If and when these officers are found guilty of ticket-fixing to help family or friends avoid penalties for breaking the law, guilty police officers must be reasonably punished.
Wearing a badge is an honor and a privilege and does not extend an option to police officers to decide who is or who isn’t guilty. Their job is to uphold and enforce all laws, regardless of how insignificant they may seem. A slap on the wrist or severe reprimand for officers who commit a crime — any crime — is not an adequate verdict and would undermine any respect and trust from a law-abiding public.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Literary Group Bestows An Honor Fit for a King (September 25, 2003)

  In news that seemed to momentarily shake the foundations of the literary world, it was announced last week that author Stephen King was selected to receive the National Book Foundation’s prestigious award for lifetime achievement, joining such previous honorees as playwright Arthur Miller and novelists John Updike, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and Toni Morrison. King will receive the nonprofit group’s medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, which includes a $10,000 prize.
Some book critics, who turn up their noses at popular, commercial fiction they deem has little, if any, literary value, undoubtedly snickered upon hearing the surprising news. (Wonder if they reacted similarly when acclaimed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury was bestowed with the honor three years ago.) King deserves the tribute, not only for his prolific literary output, but also for a career in which he has promoted and encouraged no less than two generations of readers.
On the other hand, I presume more than a few King fans, including those who never took a course in American literature and are undeniably less familiar with the works of his fellow honorees, are, as I am, pleased for him.
While King, who has written dozens of bestsellers, certainly doesn’t need the money — he’s one of today’s highest paid authors — he was, nevertheless, elated with the announcement to which he reportedly responded, “I got goose bumps …This is probably the most thrilling thing since the sale of my first book."
That novel, "Carrie," published in 1973, has sold millions of copies and was made into a popular feature film. Early in his career King was primarily lumped into the horror genre, but he gradually shifted to writing less gory, but no less gripping tales ("The Dead Zone," "Firestarter," "The Stand") about good versus evil. While many of early King books, such as "Salem’s Lot," "The Shining," "Christine" and "Cujo," left readers sleeping with a light on, others, like "Misery," "Gerald’s Game" and "Dolores Claiborne," were nightmare-inducing, page turners.
King stories like “The Body,” which became the hit movie "Stand By Me,” or “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” the basis for the hit, "The Shawshank Redemption," and “The Green Mile,” may never be branded high art, but in the written and celluloid forms they are certainly worthy popular culture standouts.
Until now, King had been shut out when it comes to literary awards, except for a 1996 O. Henry prize (wonder if the award’s namesake merits elite literary approval) he received for his short story, "The Man in the Black Suit."
While King’s literary skills are questioned by a few who probably consider his selection debases the award, the author’s popularity is indisputable. A recent Internet check turned up over 1.5 million web sites with a Stephen King reference. Furthermore, over the last 30 years, there have been about 70 films, television movies and miniseries produced, based on King’s novels, novellas and short stories, an accomplishment cited in the Guinness Book of World Records.
King will formally receive his award in November. In keeping with his altruistic endeavors, the author announced he is donating the monetary prize to the National Book Foundation, to support the group’s various educational and literary programs. Surely there aren’t many writers who can afford to do that, which is one of the reasons why Stephen King deserves the "distinguished contributions" honor to be bestowed upon him. Over the course of his career, King has made numerous scholarships grants to high schools in his native Maine and contributed millions of dollars to local libraries through a foundation he established and controls.
When this King is gone, he will not soon be forgotten. And, though it is highly unlikely his work will ever be mentioned in the same breath as noted American authors John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, there are millions of readers whose lives may have been enriched by a writer who has the talent to spin one heck of an exciting yarn.