Marc h 13, 2003

THREE STRIKES... AND MORE

Written by Mumia Abu-Jamal
from death row

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 that the three men, Matthew Tonsing, David Lee,
and Alex Fagan, Jr., had recently left a celebration of the
appointment of one of the men's fathers, Alex Fagan, Sr. to Asst.
Chief of the Police Department. After celebrating at a banquet for
Fagan, 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 Fagan, Jr. According to a series of reports in the
*San Francisco Chronicle*, Junior has 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, Fagan
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 Fagan. 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 Fagan 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 Fagan, 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.

One 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)

Copyright 2003 Mumia Abu-Jamal

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Mumia Abu-Jamal is the author of three books:
'Live from Death Row',
'Death Blossoms', and
'All Things Censored'.

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