Working The Four Square Deal On SRO’s

Let’s cut through the smoke and mirrors about the Knoxville Police Withdrawal from the School Resource Officer program (SRO’s). And, apparently…there is a big misconception concerning both money, how some school police problems will be handled, and that effect on policing in the community.

First, look at the money. I am not sure of the exact sum, but back when I was working in news, the Knoxville Police Department’s budget allowed well more than $10 million dollars a year to the SRO program. Let’s be conservative about the cost now, and leave it at 10-12 million dollars a year. When Knoxville Police pulls officers from schools, that city money won’t be ‘gifted’ to the Sheriffs Department.

If I had to guess, the money will probably be diverted into social programs within the community in some kind of non-police department effort.
So Knoxville Police Officers currently working as SRO’s will be absorbed into the streets on patrol. That looks good on paper, much like wetting your pants in a blue suit gives you a warm feeling.

Here’s why:
*City police officers will be on patrol, but-

*Since there will be no city officers inside city schools, some kind of law enforcement will have to take calls for service inside the schools.
*That means calls that routinely happen in schools, such as thefts, altercations, suspicious persons, domestic incidents…. all calls for service.. will have to be answered by an officer on the beat.
*So, officers will be added to patrol, to take care of the exact same problems SRO’s were utilized in the school in the first place.

Have you ever heard of the “four square” method of selling you a car? The sales person effectively makes a chart of -four squares: One is the down payment, the second is the trade-in allowance, third is the price of the car, and the fourth square is the cash invested. When you change the amount inside one square… it automatically changes the amount in another.
The City Of Knoxville is apparently getting the old “four square” treatment, and a warm feeling.

I believe the net result will be a reduction in response time to the rest of the city, while beat patrol officers are answering calls that were once handled by SRO’s.
Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler says his deputies will continue to serve as SRO’s in schools. Move another square on the deal sheet, if deputies are re-assigned to city schools.

And my cynical self ads another square on the deal sheet, and that is political currency. Like just about any other news story like this… follow the money, and ask who stands to gain.

I hope I have illustrated how the removal of city SRO’s will create a sum of money to be used in other places. One of the hackneyed words in news and public relations is “stakeholders”…. and I refuse to use it. Instead, look at the dollars, and see what the mayor’s administration will propose to replace the school resource officers.
Note if any political allies might want to propel the decision on city SRO’s in order to possibly win some money for themselves. That will “bear watching” as the city approaches a new fiscal year.

Get to the right square on that deal sheet…see where the money goes, and ask questions about who -really- benefits.

Your comments and criticisms are welcome, my friends.

Look at who stands to gain in service, money, effective law enforcement, and, sadly but again cynically, political currency.

I hope this isn’t a sunshine blowing expedition to make citizens feel good while they get nothing for something.

HERE’S A POST-SCRIPT-

It’s nearly midnight, and I have been reading some of the comments on the SRO piece. Again, it’s only my opinion. I am relying what I know for sure… Folks…. follow the money.
My memory was jogged tonight, that I wrote a story about how an upper East Tennessee law enforcement agency had received a federal grant to start SRO’s,but after a period of time, the federal money dries up and the department is supposed to support the program on its own.
I’ll try to do some more research on SRO’s.
I believe this is a vital service. I know schools have sworn, armed security guards, but resource officers, I believe, have an opportunity to be proactive in the school, and make a difference… possibly be a change agent in some kids’ lives, and at least, let them see a law enforcement officer in a different setting other than when they are answering a call for service, or arresting someone.
And when seconds count…a patrol officer could be minutes away. And that is an equation nobody should want.
Now… I’ll Osteo-Biflex myself on to bed. !!!
.

KPD Resource Officers Withdrawn

Knoxville City Police officers will likely -not- be serving as school resource officers after this year. You can see a previous post that has quotes and copies of memos. Here’s my take on it, and it’s my own opinion.. you are entitled to yours:
The withdrawal comes after a shooting inside Austin East High School, where a Knoxville Police officer stopped an attack by an armed student. That police officer ended a threat of life or serious injury to others. We will never know the true intent of the teenager who was shot dead inside a school toilet that officials indicated was a place described as a “hang out” for him. Not only was his Glock pistol loaded, there was more ammunition in a magazine in his backpack.
There was a string of student deaths before the police shooting of a student inside Austin East. The only thing that changed was where the violence took place. This time, the kid with a gun was inside a school. The previous times, the killings took place in the same general area of town… just not in a school.
Nothing changed, except police were inside a school the same time as a perpetrator, who at the least was carrying a pistol, and at worst was planning a shooting inside the school… in the same area.
The Los Angeles Times reported the police involved shooting happened in a school on what the newspaper called in these exact words, “the black side of town.” That kind of description is inflammatory to those who might not realize the incidents of black-on-black violent crime. On its face, it implies that law officers recognize they are on “the black side of town” either investigating a death, or preventing another one. It also ignores the fact that in the A. E. shooting, the police officer who fired the fatal shot was black.
School resource officers are an important tool in not only keeping the peace e but also keeping a relationship with the students. It’s that mutual bond of trust that helps maintain a safe environment, even in, as the L.A. Times called it” the black side of town.”
Bullets do not have eyes. They are an extension of intent. Bullets are the business end of either evil doers, or those who are trying to stop it. The chunk of heavy metal traveling at 12 hundred feet per second is no picker of people. Look at the trajectory of the round, trace it back to the eyes, and into the mindset of who fired it.
Death has no eyesight. I have looked at the eyes of people who have been shot to death, both white people, and people of color. The eyes are vacant, staring at nothing, with no recognition of anything except that the life is gone. Mothers of gunshot victims, young and old, grieve the same way. And when the ghastly news is told to loved ones … a law officer and a chaplain at the doorstep…dead is dead.
To be sure, schools need resource officers who can adapt to the neighborhood. You can’t be blind as to what a community is like beyond the boundaries of the campus. A successful resource officer knows the school, like a patrol officer knows the beat. That knowledge can derail problems before they develop.
But there’s no time to cultivate a relationship when a kid comes to a school armed. Video does not lie, it shows the student at A.E., hand in a pocket, and there’s a hole in that jacket where one slug ripped through on its way to the side of a trash can.
There have already been demonstrations. But you haven’t seen anything like what is about to happen to Knoxville when lawsuits are filed, and the words like “the black side of town” are slung against any medium that will listen.
But bullets and guns don’t recognize “the black side of town”, nor will the presence, or the absence of a law officer change their trajectory. The recipe to prevention and life saving includes school resource officers as a bridge…but it cannot include an express lane for political consideration, nor can it include tolerance of what is happening in our community.
Young people have died. Forget which “side of town”. Dead. Is. Dead. We cannot fix what put those young people already in the ground. We can only use every tool in the box to try to prevent more deaths. And one important tool … the knowledge and training of a school resource officer is about to be discarded.
And I warn you, we had better address the mental health, and domestic situations of students years before the point where they pull the trigger… the little bulge on a Glock trigger that is a safety… then the larger trigger that sends a bullet from the muzzle… into a trash can… or into another kid.

What Blankety-Blank Wrote That ?!?

Many years ago, my boss and friend Lee Hall hired a writer by the name of Mervin Block to look over several examples of writing produced by WSB News.   Block had been a writer for CBS News with Walter Cronkite, and a list of other top notch credentials.  

Many years ago, my boss and friend Lee Hall hired a writer by the name of Mervin Block to look over several examples of writing produced by WSB News.   Block had been a writer for CBS News with Walter Cronkite, and a list of other top notch credentials.  

His book, “Writing For Broadcast News” should be a mandatory read for communicators,  and it wouldn’t hurt to be a summer book list read for students from about 9th grade to college.  When I took over the news staff here in Knoxville, I ordered a copy of the book for each member of the team.

Perfection is the enemy of excellence.

Albert Einstein

We gathered in an auditorium at Emory University, as Mr. Block put example after example of our writing on an overhead projector.  He pulled no punches as he went from page-to-page, leveling a sharp editor’s eyes to what we thought was some pretty fair writing.

I’m no Mark Hemingway, or Ernest Twain, but I get by. And in my mind, I’d done a pretty good writing job on my recent copy. I thought “this is going to be easy for me, but some of my colleagues might suffer.”

Just when you think you’ve got the knack, someone comes along with an overhead projector

Dave Foulk, edite, edil…editor

I was enjoying the presentation, mainly because none of my copy had flipped onto to the screen.   Then, it was my turn in the bucket.  

There were very few nice things Mr. Block had to say about my copy.  Okay, he had nothing good to say.  

I spoke up with the only thing I could think of at the time: 

“Well, what dumb a#%@ wrote that one?”

Even Mr. Block grinned.   For about a nanosecond. 

Lessons Learned From The Best

The story begins with Harold Sprayberry and 126 Peachtree Street, downtown Atlanta. And it begins December 7th, one year after the end of World War II. He was a young firefighter at the Winecoff Hotel Fire in downtown Atlanta.

It remains the most deadly fire in the modern history of Atlanta, and one of the worst ever in America. The 5-story Winecoff Hotel was advertised as “completely fireproof” because of its steel construction. But the furnishings could still burn, and the fire quickly spread out of control. There was a common stairway that compounded the efforts to escape.

We have seen it in our time with The World Trade Center attack on September 11th. The desperation was so great, that many people chose to take a chance on surviving the jump from a window, or… worse yet, decided to end their life in a jump to spare them a death from fire or choking smoke. A graduate student at Georgia Tech caught the horrific image of a woman mid-fall in a that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in Journalism (note- graphic content- df . Some firefighters were injured by falling victims of the inferno.

Harold Sprayberry told me about efforts to create a kind of “ladder bridge” across a gap in two buildings so allow some to take a chance on crawling across the chasm to safety across the ten foot gap. Others tried to jump, and fatally underestimated the distance. The namesake of the hotel was among the dead

After that horrific fire, and two more high casualty fires in America, building codes started the evolution that brings sprinklers, escape routes, and safer construction today.

Aubrey Morris was a young newspaper reporter who worked the police beat in Atlanta. Word quickly spread that The Winecoff was burning, and it was bad. Aubrey told me that he jumped into a car and rushed to 176 Peachtree.

Aubrey’s world revolved around deadlines, and hard-and-fast deadlines they were. In order to get a morning newspaper typeset and ready for the “Bulldog Edition” of very early morning, there was a deadline. And, if the newspaper wanted to break the news with an “extra” edition, that deadline was as soon as possible.

Incidentally, an Atlanta Journal photographer was being treated for pleurisy at Grady Hospital downtown. That man got up from his hospital bed, dressed, and went to work.

I saw that same look in Aubrey’s eyes as I did in those of the then-young fireman..as they recounted his story from that night. Aubrey cared about people, and he saw the same horrors witnessed by Harold Sprayberry. But both men had a job to do. Aubrey absolutely had to get on the telephone with the newspaper’s city desk and describe what was happening.

It’s Aubrey’s tenacity as a reporter that made him think fast. This was way before two-way radios, and car and handheld cell phones were only in the reality of Flash Gordon, and Commander Cody. But, it would take too long for him to run down the street to find a pay phone booth that was not being used, or even worked. Atlanta would want to know the story, and Aubrey could not leave his post as a witness and an interviewer He told me he knew there was a telephone he could use in a drug store that was close by. I forget how Aubrey broke the glass door of the pharmacy to get to a phone. But, he figured the business owner would know the newspaper would cover the cost.

Aubrey would eventually move from newspaper to WSB Radio, where he also rose in responsibility to eventually become news director. He would be honored with all kinds of awards during his career. His reputation and reliability were so advanced, that in 1962, when several prominent Atlantans and arts patrons died in a plane crash in Paris, the mayor asked Aubrey to travel with him to document the sad round-trip that brought back to Atlanta the remains of many large patrons of the arts.

So, by now you might be ready to say these stories diary one day in the lives of two men who were plunged into both compassion and professionalism. Chief Sprayberry was one of the finest public servants I could imagine. And Aubrey Morris was a friend and mentor who was willing to share a lifetime of experience with a new reporter from Knoxville.

Fast forward to 1989. I was inside the newsroom that was always filled with the chatter of two-way radios. We didn’t just have a scanner, we had several, and they were turned up so we could hear the emergency calls. As a matter of fact, my last day of work at WSB, we had a small gathering that was videotaped. You can clearly hear the radios in the background. And, any cop beat reporter will agree, that on some calls… you can hear the emergency in the voice of the dispatcher.

The first alarm, commercial assignment sent several fire companies to the Peachtree-26th building. I heard something, maybe a report that smoke was showing… something that did not sound right. I grabbed two cassette recorders already in my gear bag, and a huge Panasonic “briefcase” cell phone, and beat it to, literally just up the street from the radio station.

It looked bad from the beginning. The first-due ladder companies were already working to get extended on the south side of the building. People were hanging in the windows, hoping for rescue from choking smoke. The fire was electrical in origin.

I was able to get my car very close to the building.. because most of the equipment was close to the building. In the early days of cellular phones, coverage was hit-and-miss, even in the city. To increase my odds, I carried a cell phone antenna that had about 20 feet of cable that fit the Panasonic set. The business end, the antenna was a full wavelength stick, and on the base, a magnet strong enough to lift a cement block. My general routine covering “spot” news was to first, try to park near some kind of street sign.
I would take my antenna and literally toss it up to the steel sign. With a “whang” the antenna would secure itself, and I had better coverage. I thought of Aubrey that day, and how he had done what he needed to get the story out…. in another age. As it was, I was live, and the solo reporter for the station for at least an hour. I remember on the Ludlow Porch show, having the venerable talk show genius allow me to completely take-over the station, commercial free, as I interviewed witnesses.

Five people died in that fire. The death toll could have been ten times that or more, had firefighters used every skill they possessed to get people out, and in good shape. Many people were rescued from choking smoke that day. Technology in fire fighting was light years beyond what young Harold Sprayberry and his brother firefighters had at hand during the WInecoff. Equipment was updated, and the department had some highly trained personnel.

As soon as we could, I worked with Aubrey Morris to pay for a banquet for every firefighter who worked the Peachtree-26th alarm. There were many donors, small and large, who wanted to make sure the city said “thank you” for averting another Winecoff Fire.

There are no coincidences in life. I met the right people at the right time. They taught me how to tell a story, to care about the people involved, and to follow up after the story leaves the top of the stack. I will forever be in debt to those fine folks, men and women who spanned my whole career. Men and woman who could get there quickly, tell the story, then follow up with a sense of community. If I started to name them all, I would surely leave someone out. So, I’ll let the two men I’ve told you about be the representatives for all who would accept no less than to “get it right”.


Evil You Cannot Un-See

This is going to be an unsettling piece for some of you. It’s commentary, my opinion, my viewpoint and my own observations. You see, I am a Christ Follower, not believing in religiosity, and what the Bible calls “vain repetitions”, in other words, going through the motions. I’m about as imperfect as they can come, but ordained as a deacon, and was a Sunday School teacher who even got a thumbtack from the bulletin board … in the seat of my chair. So, with that preamble said, let’s get down to some brass tacks.

Over on Facebook, a friend talked about something being very real. Real, indeed.

In my career as a newsman, most of the time I was the ‘cop’ reporter. And much to the determent of my family, I worked on call for when bad stuff happened, and the station needed to cover it. I was pretty fair at covering breaking news like big fires, plane crashes, standoffs… the stories that might even break into regular programming for a live report (back when many radio stations did such a thing). I would take a breaking news story any day over sitting in some interminable government meeting, or some speaker at a rubber chicken luncheon. I was the guy who loved to be out in bad weather, in hurricanes, ice storms, and floods. I was the geek who pre-planned where to go and who to call when bad things happened.

Unlike law enforcement or fire rescue, my work spanned not cities or districts, but entire metro areas. That exposed me to a lot of news. I’ve seen stuff I cannot un-see, smelled odors I can’t undo in my memory, and I can say I witnessed life and death with an other-worldly tang.

It’s something that is very hard to describe. You get to thinking about it, and it’ll be a dark, wet blanket that won’t leave your bedroom when you’re trying to sleep. Memories of stuff that will make you shake your head in disbelief when you thing about it decades later.

It’s evil.

I’ll give you an example.. one that I have used in some of my public appearances in the past.

It was a call of a person killed in Southwest Atlanta, in some apartments off Campbelton Road. When I got to the scene, I learned that a child had been stabbed to death. He was a little guy…around eight or nine years-old. He had been viciously attacked. Police say he was repeatedly stabbed, with ghastly wounds on his body. And… his body had been tossed into a garbage container…and, police say they had a suspect.

His mother, in some kind of rage had chased the boy through the house, cutting him with a large knife. In addition to the child’s body, she had thrown some other things into the Dumpster. The head of the homicide squad at the time was a seasoned supervisor. He had been decorated by the department for his valor in a gun battle with an armed robber. And, that afternoon, he was as grim in countenance as I’ve ever seen anybody.

There was the usual meeting with reporters to explain as much as they could about what had happened, and that the mother was the only suspect. I had a pretty good relationship with officers, and they somehow let me look into the dumpster where the body was tossed.

It looked like a can of red paint..deep red paint had been dropped into the receptacle. You could easily tell what the mother had tossed in along with her dead son. All of it was bloodied, smeared with the life of that child. His heroes had apparently been ripped from the wall, or at least from his room. There was a picture of Stevie Wonder, another of Martin Luther King Junior, and one more framed image...

That of Jesus Christ. It was one of those iconic images that has lasted through the ages. It was that image of Christ as he is looking toward the sky, his somber, illuminated face.

And one more thing. That picture of Christ had a bloody hand smear on His face. It wasn’t the kind of vulgarity of some murders. The body had been removed. They were just things thrown out in some kind of rage against a kid that couldn’t possibly have earned a sentence of death…especially death at the hands of his own mother. It wasn’t the picture that creeped me out.. it was the imagination of how the child had lived the last moments of his life.

It wasn’t a crime of passion like the one I saw years before in a house in Concord, now Farragut. A man had been shot several times and died where he fell inside a house, because of some kind of dispute. It was like a double killing in West Knox County, where a husband and father killed his wife and daughter, loaded their bodies down and tossed them into Fort Loudon Lake… for strangers to see those sights, and experience those odors.

I don’t know whether I even considered the existence of palpable evil on this planet until I started covering police and fire stories.

The anguish of a mother and father whose daughter went missing. I sat in their living room and interviewed them, wishing I could say something of hope or encouragement… but I knew the odds that they would ever see her again were not good. Instead of a. half-lie, I thanked them for their time, and did the best I could to tell their story.

The ugly smear of red on a storm door, where a crazed husband nearly bisected his wife during some kind of frenzy. There were things like that ..I could not photograph, or even describe in the PG world I tried to maintain in my reporting.

I was on the scene of many of the Atlanta Child Murders, and talked to mothers of some of the victims. Mothers who, to this day, have no peace about what really happened to their child, or why. One young woman disappeared from the “nice” section of town…kidnapped and murdered with her body dumped in woods near a remote street often heaped with trash. She was discarded there, too.

Who does this stuff? A mother who barricades the door of her apartment bedroom, throws gasoline around the rom and immolates herself and her children. A woman who is stabbed so severely that her body was pinned to the floor. A man who dispassionately describes how he trussed up, and butchered his victim because he was too heavy to carry to the trash in one piece. All of those are real stories from my time both on the street, and at the news desk anchoring live events.

You write these stories and you shake your head. And if there was any doubt of the existence of an evil force in this world… it was chased away when I heard myself reading the stories out loud.

There are those of us who are not ashamed to tell of the power of prayer, or a belief in something beyond ourselves. We might be afraid that we would be thought of as too orthodox, old fashioned, or maybe just.dead.wrong. I have no doubt experienced the power of Faith in many people…. many people who have embodied what it means to believe.

I’ve seen good, and I know It exists.

And… I have seen evil. It is powerful. Innocents die. Lives are ruined. Families are left in perpetual mourning, and as for one reporter… it sometimes creeps back into my dreams to show me things I cannot un-see.



A Set-to With Broadcast News

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seriously cut back in my consumption of the very product I used to make. It’s because I have a snoot full of substandard reporting and downright bias.

I won’t lump all reporters in one basket. But, for consideration today, I’d like you to stir broadcast news into one soup.. one entity.. that I could call to the table in my imaginary office, and put it “on notice”.

I haven’t called accounting to cut a severance check and draw up a non-compete paper for you to sign. But I have the contract folder on my desktop, and I’ve reviewed the terms. Let’s say I am facing some hard decisions on whether I’ll have to let you go

(I know reader’s attention spans are short. You want a two minute read on blogs like mine, But this time, the meeting will take a few more minutes.-df)

During my career in broadcast news, I had my share of ‘meetings’ with my bosses. Many times it was over a mistake I made operating the control board. It seems my talent in that department is a notch or two lower than a chimpanzee. But I can’t remember a time when management had to meet with me because of a complaint that I was biased. Covering stories, and showing different viewpoints is hard, and it’s also hard to explain alternate viewpoints in a limited amount of time. But you have to find a way, or your reporting misses the mark. Let me explain by some examples-

During media broadcasts of police videos, reporters say a person was holding “what appears to be a knife” , or “what appears to be a gun”. Why don’t you write it to explain the video showed what appeared to be something..a knife, a gun, or a gesture, and then tell whether or not an object was found near where a person fell. You might have to press departments to say what was found, but I believe in most cases, that part of the video would be easily clarified. And, I know you have incredible slow motion capability, but you need to emphasize that things in slo-mo can reveal things that cannot be seen in real-time.

There is a difference in reporting a public meeting or demonstration, and cheerleading for things to happen. Too many times, I see you standing with a background of an empty street..telling what will happen next. Your voice is the opposite of the video…nothing is going on right now, or a demonstration with ten or fifteen people is given the same amount of coverage as much larger gatherings.
I understand the dynamics of reporting on demonstrations and public unrest. I’ve covered everything from anti-war protests during the Vietnam era, Operation Rescue, Rodney King unrest, and a whole list of other events…even people chaining themselves to construction equipment. You’re under pressure. But that is part of the job. You can’t use the demands on you to determine the standards of fairness.

What what you say, and how you say it is as important as what you show. You might not mean to sound biased, but it might appear you are because of inflammatory or hot button words you use in your report. Be careful, and think about what you are saying or showing. I understand the many pressures on you…time considerations, working with a producer who’s talking into your ear on your IFB and changing plans on the fly, and unexpected events. But the paramount consideration should be the connection between your brain, and what comes out of your mouth. Learn the ways you can sound biased by either omission, or commission.

It might be a good idea for your department to pre plan haver an inside-outside strategy to cover particular events. One viewpoint can be extremely myopic. One reporter inside the event, telling what is happening from that perspective, while another reporter might be outside the boundaries, telling what is happening there is one way to do it. For instance, there could be rioting in a particular neighborhood…serious, violent stuff, and only blocks away..nothing could be happening, Point out the scope, size, number, amount, effect of something.

Your personal opinions can be belied by eye rolling, inflection of your voice, and body language. If you want to appear un-biased… you need to work on those things.

And we’re running late in our meeting so I’ll only give one more piece of advice. Decide what you are. If you are a reporter…report and be fair to all involved. Otherwise, get a gig as a commentator. It would be an easier job, because you don’t have to even give an appearance of fairness.

Let’s both think about fairness in our work. We all have biases. Otherwise, we would all be robots, driving the same cars, and same colored clothes, thinking the same way all the time. All I’m asking is for you to leave either your personal bias, or corporate bias next to the umbrella holder and coat rack.

Think about it, and let’s meet again in..say a few days. I’ve already dismissed some of your colleagues today. I believe you are trying to decide what you are both internally and on-the-air.
I need to know what you decide…soon.

Needed: A Dose Tough To Swallow

Opinion:
You might consider these words a spring tonic of sulphur and molasses, or castor oil in Coca-Cola. I have no doubt my message will be taken in the wrong way by some who will choke and gag on the words this humble ex news slinger offers. But it’s eating at me. It’s not aimed at any individual family. I expect some folks might un-friend me for writing this…. But its merely what I see:
Young people shot dead…either by other young people, or police officers… Then… people talk about how the lives of the victims are cut short. My answer might seen callous… but at some point, we’ll have to understand-
A 30 second encounter with a rival, or a law officer is the end of a year’s long issue.
And no amount of looking away can avoid seeing the question laid out, and surrounded by yellow crime scene tape. Those last few seconds mark the end of a neglected life… a life with no authority figures in the home who can say “No, you are not gong to (fill in the rest). Men often abdicate their position of responsibility by either turning their back on the family who needs them, or being incarcerated themselves.
God Bless responsible single mothers and dads who have to fight everything from influence by social media, intimidation by bullying, gangs, influential videos, and misplaced aspirations. My generation has tuned in, turned on… and now… often dropped out.
Raising a child is hard. And sometimes- no matter how much you try, hard to get right. It’s a cactus farm of dangers. You need a back-up in discipline, and a second moral compass…. and, maybe not the least, a person who can help navigate a youth into an adult who has a vocation, an aspiration, and a goal for life.
I’ve talked to young people caught in the drug slinging culture who have told me they don’t have any expectation of living beyond 20 years or so.
The COVID Pandemic has been stealing the headlines from record drug use and mental health.
Not every single adult household is facing imminent collapse. Please don’t interpret these comments as a wholesale indictment of any particular group in our society.
Try to look at it this way….those last thirty seconds of life.. could be a culmination of a young, troubled, unsupervised, and under-parented life.
School teachers can’t do it alone. The church is having trouble retaining pastors because of the many pressures on them…and, anyway…church membership is flagging in some sectors of of the Faith community.
Mental health centers are stretched to the max, and it might take months to get a bed available for a patient. Meanwhile, families are left to cope all on their own.
There’s what I believe to be a drought of parenting.
Law officers have to make a split-second life or death decision, and they have their own family waiting on them to return home. They are sworn to defend the law. And the law specifically mentions they can only use deadly force when they have a reasonable fear that they, or someone else is faced with imminent threat of death, or serious injury or bodily harm.
I submit that all too often, there’s a threat of bodily harm, or death-too-soon… that’s generated over a period of years.
Not just those last few seconds.

A Call For Action On Youth Violence

This is my opinion, and it might not be anybody else’s. But sometimes, you see things over time… and the images boil over in your mind. It’s not a good thing to keep cooking in your head. So here goes:

A kid is dead… after he opened fire and shattered the leg of a Knoxville Police officer. Police returned fire inside a bathroom at Austin East Magnet School. I’m betting that investigators already have an idea of why that young man carried a gun into school. And their answer could reveal evidence of plans for violence on a wider scale.

The community hears about the latest bloodshed, on top of other students’ shooting deaths in the same neighborhood. The television cameras record their grief, and their struggle to get control of a condition that seems to be in a flat spin.

Before I say this, please understand that I am a God-fearing Christian man. I believe in the power of prayer, and I have felt that Blessed Assurance because of the prayers of many. Some days, I keep the circuit hot in my silent conversations.

But I also believe there comes a time when we have to act on what God would have us do. There are times when we need to move. I don’t believe God expects any of us to just sit back and wait for something to happen, if we can do something. Think of the time Christ healed people. The moving of the water, the mud in the eyes of the blind, picking up the bed and walking. It seems like, a lot of times, Jesus required some action on our part before the healing could begin.

This is where my belief might part with others who are reacting to violence in that community. And I apologize in advance if I make you uncomfortable when you read it. I want you to know that, while I cannot comprehend the grief and anguish family and friends of the victims feel, I do understand your sorrow can almost be tasted right now.

The time for signs, slogans, and school programs has passed.
The community is facing an invasion, and no enemy can be defeated with talk. Stories of battles are common in The Old Testament. And again, God’s people were told to do something to defeat their enemy.

I covered a lot of stories about children and crime. From The Atlanta Child Murders, to an award winning series on where kids buy their drugs, I have been close to the battle zone. I sat in the kitchen of a woman’s apartment. The night before, her son had been forced to the ground, and shot in the head, along with two other young men. Days before, that mama had begged police to arrest her son because she knew he was dealing dope, and would be killed. One time, a kid told me I could order a pizza, and he could order some dope from his supplier, and he would get his dope faster.

I humbly submit these actions are needed immediately:

First, the family structure needs to be hardened. A child needs two adults in the home, for accountability, and solidarity. If a mother or father has left the scene, the community will have to find a way to stand in the gap through churches, social agencies, or organizations. Young men need to see male role models, solid men in their lives. If it takes a generation to clean up its collective act, we need to get to work.

Young people need to see a future. Studies show that many young males don’t have an expectation of living past their twenties. Their twenties ! If you have no expectation of living a year or two past high school age, it’s a pretty grim future. You can preach til you are blue in the face, but the best sermon would be to live a life where you can be there for your child.

The community needs to learn that, by the time the police department becomes involved, it’s probably too late. Social structure in every demographic needs to realize the justice system is not in the child rearing business. Youth detention centers can become “felony schools” where young offenders learn little more than tricks of the “trade”, and the caseload for juvenile cases can be staggering.

Mental health needs to be addressed, with better pathways for those who need treatment for psychological disorders. We have preached the opiate addiction story until it’s numb. I don’t even know if we can do much about it. Videos depicting gang life, exotic cars and cash, and opulent houses glorify a lifestyle that causes death, and robs a person of their dignity.

Gangs are more prevalent that we might imagine. We need to support police departments that glean gang intelligence and movement and treat them for what they are, a continuing criminal organization designed to make money by illicit means. Attorneys General and Law Enforcement should be empowered in special task forces on gangs, statewide. And, back to the expectation of life again… young people need to somehow see there is a life beyond twenty.

No matter how hard it seems we try, there is an inequity in schools within the same system. There will always be “good” schools and “bad” schools that carry a stigma. That reputation can be broken. Not by calling schools something other than a school… but making all schools able to carry out lessons that lead to better state benchmarks.

It’s going to take a long time, and I believe that if we start right now, the goal might not be achieved in our lifetime.

But we have to try.

We have to do something to bring about healing.

A Pinnacle Of Pizza Perfection

Pizza Palace is on Magnolia Avenue in East Knoxville. It’s a drive-in, or take out place that’s served this area for a long time.
I know the pizza is terrific, but the spaghetti at this place is a tight second place. Now, the least kept secret in Knoxville dining.. Pizza Palace will soon be featured on national television.

Load the car… and follow these directions.
The Place is on Magnolia Avenue, close to the southwest corner of Chilhowee Park. There is no dine-in. I am not sure the neon sign has changed for decades. This is the sign at your target destination for a galaxy of garlic and an oasis of oregano

Iconic Sign Image From VisitKnoxville.com

There are a couple of ways to get there. From Downtown Knoxville, turn east on Magnolia Avenue, and as you approach the Park, watch for the drive-in on your right.
From Interstate 40, Exit Rutledge Pike, and take the westbound lanes of Rutledge Pike, as if you were going to Zoo Knoxville. As you go past Chilhowee Park,… watch for Pizza Palace on your left. Bring some paper towels- it’s that good!

There was another great eatery less than a block away. But it’s been gone nearly a lifetime.

The Tic-Toc was across the intersection to the “5th Avenue Gate” of Chilhowee Park. It had great BBQ, and inside dining as well as a drive-in.

Inside The Tic-Toc, the tables had individual juke box controls, so you could drop a coin and order up a song without having to leave the table. I have memories of tagging along with my parents and their friends after Burlington Lodge meetings. They would dine, and talk and laugh…and enjoy each other’s company.

I remember the laughter most of all.

Putting Polecats In the Oven And Calling Them Biscuits

This is not a news story.  It is my opinion.  But I think you will be interested, and might even share these thoughts: 

Raymond was barricaded.  He had shot his wife.  And police in the Burlington neighborhood of East Knoxville were trying to get him out.   I remember like it was yesterday….a many years-old cop story that disappeared after a half-day in the news cycle.  

I had covered other stories, including crime… but they had been after-the-fact.
There were no college journalism classes …  at least none I know of… .that taught how to do journalism from live, breaking news events.  So, in my reporting curriculum, I included my own school of hard-knock lessons learned.  Thankfully, professionals like WBIR’s Carl Williams and Jay Beeler were around, and willing to suffer endless questions on the what’s and how’s of police beat reporting. 

Then, at WSB, I added towering pros like Bob Ketchersid and Aubrey Morris… and manager Elmo Ellis to my list of teachers.   Mr. Ellis was an avid listener.. and if there were any problems, you could count on seeing a small note that said “See me,  E.”  You didn’t want to get a summons like that.
 Early-on my feet were held to the fire of responsibility and dignity. 

This long preamble is a long way around the barn to claim that during my career, I earned awards for covering  a huge amount of “spot” news…a couple of them national awards.  And some were big stories, like prison take-overs, riots, multiple killings, and mass casualty fires.   I don’t want to brag, I just want to kind of state my resume’. 

Now, I’ve been looking into a part of the news coverage from Boulder, Colorado and the slaughter of ten people.  
Many of you have seen the video that was streamed from the parking lot of that supermarket.  It even showed at least two bodies.  
That video didn’t come from a concerned citizen.  It came from a man who called himself a “journalist”.    His video feed was a way for the media to contact him concerning the broadcast rights to his video. 

Now, here’s where I see a very dark gray area.
The man doing the live streaming showed police officers reacting outside the building.  
I looked it up, and listened to nearly an hour of police radio communications, and here is what I learned:
Early on in the recording, I heard dispatchers tell the on-scene commander to “be advised someone was live streaming audio”..  That greatly concerned officers because they were afraid the killer might see where they were assembling, and how many were there… and how best to set up an ambush.   

Also- at that time, police had no idea of the condition of the (fatally) wounded officer, and were desperately trying to get super-hardened shields inside the store. 

Let’s switch to the video that you DIDN’T see.  
I also looked up, and watched the recording of the live stream.   And about the same time officers were warned that their actions were being streamed live, I watched a confrontation between police, and the video-taker.   He not only refused to move back, he told officers he would remain where he was…cursing them with “F-you’s”  several times.  I believe he refused to respond to  lawful commands.  Also- five or six officers had to corral the live streamer and funnel him out of the area.  I think police were more than restrained in a moment in time where I know they were worried about their brother officer reported shot.  

You have to know when to do the right thing, even though it might keep you away from the middle of things.  I’ve always held there were some things you just didn’t do.   There has to be a dignity in death.   There has to be a willingness to NOT add to the problem.   Of course, I would work my way as close to the action as I could.  There were times my car would be caught inside the familiar yellow tape perimeter.  You can always ask to get closer… or even get there right after something happens, and record the aftermath.   But the moment police tell you to move back… you move.   You might be able to find a supervisor who would allow you some leeway and move you closer to the story.  The time to argue comes later, and then you can complain or work to educate officers on what you need as a news gatherer. 

The action that you did not see, was irresponsible,  it put lives potentially in jeopardy, and was not “journalism”.   It was a matter of being “lucky” to be on the scene of an incident as it was unfolding.   

I don’t think taking the video was illegal… the law usually says in a public area, you have no expectation of privacy.  But, when officers told they guy  to move- he should have moved back behind police lines instead of asking for names, and  badge numbers, and cursing.  

If that’s what it takes to be a “journalist”- count me out. I’m done.
I know this will be an unpopular idea with many… but I believe that video is a news story all its own.  The few seconds of video were seen over-and-over.   Is it wrong to think that the stations who used the video should have explained the source…eventually?

And, an even larger question is the result of high quality video recorders in cell phones.  Can anyone with a camera claim to be a journalist, and expect the same consideration from officials afforded the larger media outlets?  How can a legitimate news source  use video collected in this way?   The temptation to use it and then explain later is tremendous.   And if one network as the video, you can bet the other two are screaming to get it, too. 

It’s something you don’t hear a lot about, but just about every city has one or two independent photographers who will occasionally take photos or recordings then sell the product to news departments.   (Side note- I once knew a guy who took free-lance film of news stories overnight and sold them to TV stations in Atlanta.  His name- Wayne Williams… the guy convicted in connection with the Atlanta Child Murders… a story for another day)


I did the research,watched a lot of footage, and heard police traffic from the first call to the call to command that an ambulance would not “be necessary” for the wounded officer…or anybody else except the suspect the police shot. 

The images you didn’t see is what bothers me.  I always thought of myself as a citizen first, and a reporter second.  And above all, a respecter of humanity, including a respecter of  the remains of those I was near and their loved ones. 

If this guy, full of profane rants, claiming to be a journalist.. is a harbinger of social media as news gathering….  I’m glad I walked away when I did… with my box full of awards… but more important– my dignity intact.