Ransoms Never Go Well (2)

Yesterday the news was all about Ayvani Hope Perez, who thank goodness was found safe and sound late in the day. But I wrote then that the whole thing seemed less random than it might appear, and I was right, but I had the wrong person:

Police said two armed men broke into Ayvani’s home early Tuesday and kidnapped her after asking her mother for money and jewelry.

Police said Rodriguez and Jackson are not the same men that were pictured in the sketches investigators released on Tuesday.

They said the men in the sketches are the ones that carried out the abduction, and they remain on the loose.

Um, okay. So they kidnapped the girl and turned her over to Rodriguez and Jackson? In exchange for what? And why? The story is very light on details, probably because the cops are going to track down the two abductors before they release anything further. It’s all speculation: were these guys just somehow stuck with Ayvani and decided that R and J were the two guys best suited to keep hold of her? And as I wrote yesterday, why abduct her in the first place? It’s a lot risk for a very mediocre reward.

The article begins to hint at an answer to the second question:

After digging into both men’s criminal background, Channel 2 Action News learned there was a connection between one of the men arrested and Ayvani’s mother, Maria Corral.

ICE agents confirmed to Channel 2 Action News that Rodriguez was arrested in December 2012 in Henry County under the name of Juan Aberto Contreras-Ramirez, and was charged with trafficking marijuana.

Channel 2’s Erica Byfield confirmed that Ayvani’s mother was also arrested in that same incident.

So Rodriguez and Corral knew each other well enough to get caught in the same house with 500 pounds of weed. And then these two as-yet-anonymous guys kidnap Corral’s daughter and turn her over to Rodriguez? So again, the question is why? Does Rodriguez want Ayvani as a sex toy? She was apparently unmolested. Does he want her as a bargaining chip in his and Corral’s weed business? The charges against both Rodriguez and Corral were dropped after the arrest but before the kidnapping.

So again, what the heck? Imagine Corral being in on it from the start; why does she want her own daughter kidnapped? Even as a professional fabulist, it’s hard to conceive of the level of depravity that would take.

Ransoms Never Go Well

Story of the week here in Atlanta is that of Ayvani Hope Perez, a suburban middle schooler who was kidnapped from her home by two gunmen doing a home invasion. Ayvani remains missing; today, the family says they received a ransom demand:

Suky Guerrero, an aunt of the victim, said Tuesday that family members were trying to get the money together to secure the release of Ayvani Hope Perez. Guerrero said she did not know where the family would get the money but she understood they were still waiting for it to be delivered late Tuesday…

Sources told Channel 2’s Tom Jones authorities were in contact with the suspects, but were limited on what details they wouldrelease.

“At this time, the investigation is fluid and I am not at liberty to discuss all the pertinent information about the investigation,” Richards said.

Okay, this seems like there’s something really wrong with it—something beyond desperadoes kidnapping a teenage girl, which is horrible enough. These guys do a home invasion, which is hugely risky but less so if done very quickly. They stick around long enough to decide to kidnap the daughter. Why? Other than sheer stupidity, I mean. Note that they didn’t wear masks, which supports the “stupidity” theory.

Now, not only have they kidnapped her, but they’re demanding a ransom; and a really, really cheap ransom at that. $10k? This is not real money. And ransom demands, as anyone who’s ever watched television knows, are inherently risky, because somebody has to show up to take the money. Surveillance technology is too good these days for these guys to get away with the money. So again, besides stupidity, what’s going on here?

Disclaimer: this is not in any way to slam Ayvani, who is after all fourteen. But this is a blog about crime *fiction*. I’m writing this story, she has to be involved in some way in what happened to her. These guys are young, as you can see from the sketch. Imagine now if she, wanting to impress older guys, somehow gives up that there’s jewelry in the house. These guys are just dumb enough to do a home invasion on someone they’re even tangentially connected to, and just smart enough to figure out that the girl can finger them. And just sentimental enough not to shoot her, which is the only way to keep her quiet.

So imagine the scene in the shitty apartment where they’re all hiding out. Ayvani is terrified because she’s the smartest (and most naïve) one in the room: she knows what they haven’t figured out yet, which is that her dead is the only path for these two to stay out of jail. The dumber of the two criminals is counting his share of ten whole thousand dollars. The smarter one is in touch with investigators, trying to figure out how to dance away from what happened when he thought he was going to go party with his friend and steal her mom’s jewelry.

In reality, of course, these are just two dumb, dumb young men who are going to end up dead or in a cage at the taxpayers’ expense.


Conspiracy is the Proof of Stupidity

Every story I read like this just confirms it:

Lee County[AL] investigators say the young wife of a Waverly man, her stepbrother and friend plotted to kill her husband then successfully carried out the crime this weekend.

Sunday afternoon inside home on Lee Road 649 in Waverly, 59-year-old Carl Dickinson was shot several times in the face, head and neck.

Investigators say well before the fatal shots were fired, Dickinson’s wife, Angela, had plotted with her step brother, Jake Barlett and a family friend Paul Phillips to kill her husband.

Never, ever conspire. There’s always a weak link: the cops are going to get your dumbest partner in a room and he’ll sing like a canary. You’re the wife, so you’re an obvious suspect, so the cops are going to troll your phone records, because if you’re dumb enough to conspire with your much younger ne’er-do-well stepbrother and the 45yo dumb enough to hang out with you both, you’re dumb enough to use your regular phone. And somebody sings.

I want to start writing fiction about the rules of murder, but don’t want to be perceived as actually writing a how-to book. As the obvious suspect, Angela has to not only destroy evidence, but also provide a persuasive alibi—and she made an epic fail at both.

But the article has one of the best kickers ever:

Investigators confirm she had very recently had a child with another man, but declined to say if her child’s father was somehow involved in the plot to kill her husband. They did say more arrests are possible.

A Surge in Crappy Policiing

I’ve blogged time and again about violence in gentrifying neighborhoods, which is one of the chief themes of crime in Atlanta. East Atlanta has been the center of this in recent months—see the second of those two links for specifics—and recently, the police held a press conference where they talked about how they were stepping up patrols in an effort to catch some of the perpetrators.

Now we have some of the results of this surge, and they’re superficially pretty:

DeKalb County’s police chief says his department is taking action against a recent string of crime in the area. Chief Cedric Alexander says the department is seeing results from a recent surge of police activity… In eight days, DeKalb police say the teams have made 75 arrests and written 105 citations. In all, crime in the area had been reduced by 42 percent.

Well, that sounds great: let’s get these punks off the streets. It’s well-attested, though probably rather exaggerated, that crime goes up in the summertime, because teenage punks are out of school and bored.

But upon closer examination, it’s unclear whether we’re any safer:

“For me as a police chief, it’s very troubling. For me as a citizen of the county, it’s very troubling. For myself as a psychologist, it’s very troubling,” Alexander said. “So on a very number of veins, I find it very and I’m very much concerned because these are young kids that are out there unsupervised that we arrest over and over and over. And we find ourselves re-arresting them and find ourselves sending them back the street sometime before we get back out there.”

Kind of cool that the police chief is a psychologist: this might make for interesting fiction. But read what the man says: if his cops are arresting the same kids over and over, then what they aren’t doing is arresting the kids for anything important. If these kids were guilty of, or even chargeable with, major crimes like murder or strong-arm robberies, even as kids they wouldn’t be released to be rearrested—they’d be in custody.

So what we know is that these kids aren’t doing anything really harmful. I’m going to guess traffic issues, maybe as far as suspended or nonexistent licenses; graffiti; underage drinking; maybe some minor weapon possession like jackknives. And, of course, weed. Black kids (and in this part of DeKalb County, it’s a certainty that the kids are black) smoke weed at about the same level as their white peers, but are much, much more likely to be arrested for it, and much more likely to be treated as criminals instead of good kids in trouble.

So this “surge” resulted in some probably pretty high percentage of 75 arrests being for weed, and into the system those kids go, up until now just bored, and now essentially barred from meaningful employment, which in my more cynical moments I feel is the primary purpose of the War on Some Drugs. And are we safer? Get real. These cops can’t even find the criminals who are so dumb they get caught on camera:

Decatur police hope new surveillance pictures will help solve one recent robbery and perhaps others.

Investigators are scrambling to solve a string of crimes in the area this month.

Police say the two men seen in the photos are suspects in a July 6 robbery on New Street in Decatur.

According to investigators, the two drove away in a stolen Mercedes after confronting a woman while she worked in a building, stealing her purse and a laptop computer.

Police believe the two men and a third suspect are tied to other robberies in DeKalb County.

Technically, Decatur, while in DeKalb County, has its own police force. But the point remains: police “surges” catch a lot of little fish, but it takes real work to catch the ones who really do us some harm.


Moral Decay v. Environment

I grew up in an upper-class environment: everyone was the 4 or 5 percent, everyone was white except for one kid of each ethnicity (their dads were immigrant doctors), everyone’s parents were Republicans, almost everyone had two parents, good nutrition, solid schooling and pro-education home environments, etc. And while teens in my school wrecked cars and went to coke rehab (it was the ’80s), nobody committed violent felonies—though many of their parents probably participated in white-collar crime.

After coming of age, I lived in some really, really dire neighborhoods, where street crime was a regular event. And I always thought back to my peers in high school, whose parents all would have said something like “those people are poor because they can’t govern themselves”. And there was certainly no shortage of poor impulse control among the inhabitants of those neighborhoods.

But the reality of the relationship between poverty and crime is much more complex. Let’s take as a very illustrative example the story of David Mack Collins, a 22yo father of two, who died ten days ago in the sort of crime so stupid that at first blush it makes for terrible crime fiction:

Athens-Clarke police said Collins and his buddy, 23-year-old Anthony Gray Coleman Jr., were both shot by a man whom they had set up for an armed robbery on the pretext of selling him drugs… Collins’s life ended in a way similar to that of many other local teens and young men who came before him.

Nobody I grew up with would do something this dumb, because they were raised in households that taught that (blue-collar) crime didn’t pay, and because they had other options in life. But Collins didn’t have that kind of support network:

Each sibling had a different father, and David Collins didn’t know who his was. Because their mother was a drug addict, their grandmother in Monroe was given custody of the siblings, Betty Collins said.

In spite of such circumstances, Collins tried to live a normal life.

“My brother grew up in the church (and) sang in the church choir,” Collins said. “He wasn’t made for the streets because he had a different kind of heart. He just ran into it.”

According to Collins, things started going downhill when her brother had a girlfriend in high school who introduced him to alcohol. He got in trouble when found at school with some liquor the girl had brought him.

Now I knew tons of kids who went to coke rehab in high school (again, it was the ’80s). But none of them ever got expelled, or even put into the legal system, because after all they were good kids from good families. But Collins was a kid with no dad and a drug-addict mom, and even if he’d had even one parent, he was still a ghetto black kid, and therefore subject to the strictest possible punishment for infractions that would get a white kid a talking-to.

Even so, Collins tried to get his life together. I won’t quote the rest of the story, which is by Athens reporter Joe Johnson, a guy whose work I’ve admired for a long time. Read it; it’s worth your time and attention. Long story short, Collins can’t find work, but wants to support his family, so getting into street crime was pretty much his ONLY option. And this is where my former peers would stop understanding.

This is what crime fiction is really all about; not the what, but the WHY. Johnson does a great job of opening up to us the series of events that led to Collins taking a bullet, and helps us understand how we can see this as just as much environment as moral decay.


The Comments Say it All

The article is pretty much useless:

There have been three homicides in east Atlanta in as many months, and now people who live in this historic part of Atlanta are fed up.

Hundreds gathered at the ARC Auditorium at Zoo Atlanta to learn how they can protect themselves and their community.

Atlanta police, along with DeKalb County police officers, were there to answer questions and give advice on how to fight crime.

Not everyone thought the meeting made a difference and left shaking their heads. One man who did not want to be identified said the people who held the crime meeting were “just blowing a bunch of smoke.”

There was a meeting; that’s all the article says. The local blog is far superior journalism, though this should hardly be surprising.

In response to a slew of recent residential burglaries, armed robberies and at least one shooting, DeKalb County’s top cop pledged a “surge” of 20 to 25 police officers will be reassigned to the unincorporated areas of the county.

Police Chief Cedric L. Alexander made the promise Wednesday night at a meeting of residents from several Atlanta neighborhoods and unincorporated DeKalb.

The main issue, the article goes on to explain, is jurisdictional: East Atlanta partly belongs to the city and partly to DeKalb County, which has a population of about 700k and whose government is a disaster, with one sheriff murdering another, a school board so fractious and corrupt that the (equally corrupt) governor felt compelled to step in and be the white Republican dismissing a bunch of black elected officials, and a CEO who’s under indictment for strong-arming campaign contributions.

So it’s probably not difficult to understand that the response time to white hipsters’ homes at the very edge of the county is lousy, and that the general levels of incompetence, corruption and cooperation between city and DeKalb police forces are pretty low. Various articles have both forces mentioning that the group of thugs believed responsible for many of these crimes keeps crossing jurisdictional lines, as if this should matter. But, at least they’re attempting to placate residents; though it’s much easier for them and lucrative for their respective jurisdictions to set up speed traps to ticket hipsters than it is to investigate murders and robberies so stupid as to defy ordinary detective procedures.

But the real reason I linked the original article is because of the comments good citizens have left behind. I’ve written before about the duality of gentrifying neighborhoods, and nowhere is the gap in understanding more clear than what people have to say on the internet under cover of anonymity.

A Tale of Two Counties

Clayton County is immediately south of Atlanta. Its stereotype used to be lower/middle white flight: the auto parts store where John Wesley Morgan shot his father down is nearby. But over the last ten years, like a lot of suburban Atlanta, it’s become much more ethnically mixed. Its local government is notoriously dysfunctional even for metro Atlanta. Last night, a violent stalker story ended the way we’d prefer:

A shootout on the streets of Clayton County on Friday night sends a police officer to the hospital and leaves a suspect dead.

The incident happened in the area of Upper Riverdale Road and Tara Boulevard around 10:15 p.m. Investigators tell FOX 5 News that it all started when a minivan slammed into the back of a patrol car driven by Officer Melvin Snell while stopped at the light. They say the woman driving that minivan was involved in a “rolling domestic dispute” with a man following her in another car. That third vehicle ended up crashing into the back of the woman’s vehicle all stopped at the light.

Man tries to fight cop, pulls gun on cop and shoots him, second cop rolls up and kills the stalker. Let’s hope Officer Snell makes a full recovery, and that the woman can get her life back together.

We can then move on to Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta, whose stereotype used to be upper/middle class white flight but which also has become somewhat more diverse. Though it’s remained very politically “red”: the good residents of Cobb County will be the last to accept a passenger rail link to the city that is their reason for living in Georgia. East Cobb is suburban Whiteopia; West Cobb is more middle class. But nothing really changes:

Authorities say an officer shot and killed a man in Cobb County on Friday evening.

The incident took place around 8:10 p.m. in the 3500 block of Dallas Acworth Highway near Acworth.

The officer was responding to a domestic disturbance call when he heard shots fired and saw a man in the yard. That man allegedly did not comply to the officer’s commands to put his firearm down.

“The officer had to use deadly force to stop the threat because the officer’s life was, he believed, in danger,” said Officer Michael Bowman of the Cobb County Police Department.  “We do have a deceased victim at the residence, and as of right now, the officer is being talked to by detectives as the scene is being investigated at this point.”

There are fewer details on this one, but another domestic disturbance, another man with a gun, another death. That’s how pervasive violence between intimate partners really is. Murder over a car debt or a lotto ticket? Upper-class white people don’t do it. Mortgage fraud? Lower-class black people don’t do it—they’re the victims. But stalker/killer patterns make no distinction for class nor race; everywhere out there, there’s a person, nearly always a woman, at risk from someone, nearly always a man, whom she used to love or maybe still does or maybe just fears. But he stalks her, and underpaid cops have to shoot him. Sometimes, we get lucky and the cops shoot him before he kills her. But more often than not, we don’t.

New Twist on the Restraining Order

This gas station murder happened the other day and has been all over the news. But there’s a great story underneath a simple crime:

Hours after being denied a permanent restraining order against Roger Clark, Gregory Walker was approached by the man at a Clayton County gas station, Walker’s attorney said Thursday. Clark had already threatened to kill him over an unpaid debt, and Walker wasn’t taking any chances, Averick Walker, his attorney and cousin, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Clark sold Walker a car; Walker couldn’t pay it off in a timely manner. Walker got sick of the threats, got a temporary restraining order, and for whatever reason was turned down when he applied for a permanent protective order. So when Clark shows up and starts threatening him again, Walker kills him and is now claiming self-defense. Which, if I were on the jury, I’d be tempted to agree. Walker tried to go the legal route and the system wouldn’t work for him.

But then watch: it’ll come out that Clark was angry but not actually violently threatening Walker, and Walker was trying to use the system as a shield from being held accountable for not paying his debts.

East Atlanta Murder Village

Here’s a story detailing efforts being undertaken to increase security in East Atlanta Village. “Village” is something of a misnomer: EAV is just a commercial strip near a series of single-family residential neighborhoods that were the epicenter of gentrification about ten years ago. Think Hipster Central, with little boutiques and bars serving Pabst Blue Ribbon, live music venues starring dudes with mandolins, that sort of thing. But like every other gentrifying neighborhood in the city, there’s a lot of conflict, as an “us v. them” mentality arises.

One of the remarkable things about writing fiction about Atlanta is that it’s impossible to extricate class conflict from racial conflict, all because of a dynamic I’ve mentioned multiple times on this blog: there are essentially no poor white people inside the city limits. So while there are thousands of affluent black people, they generally, for what they feel are excellent historical reasons, tend to stay in their own almost hermetically sealed private culture; gentrifying white people, outside the workplace, only see black people who are poor, and only see poor people who are black.

Fundamentally, the conflict in these gentrifying neighborhoods is a class conflict: (white) people move in, with what to the locals is a lot of money, and they fix up the house they bought and start having cute little white kids. And while the white gentrifiers are usually superficially pleasant to their impoverished black neighbors, they’re generally not going to invite them in or expect to be invited in. And like gentrifiers everywhere, they have absurdly unrealistic expectations about how the neighborhood should change the minute they move in: the police, who have been regarded as a hostile occupying force for decades and who largely leave the poor to their own devices, are suddenly expected to keep the neighborhood as safe as the affluent district the gentrifiers moved from. And they certainly won’t send their kids to the local public schools, nor let them run wild with the other neighborhood kids.

There are cultural conflicts (life among functional urban poor blacks is usually centered around a strong Christian church; educated white people are militantly secular), economic conflicts, conflicts of taste and decorum (poor people tend to play music much more loudly in public spaces), etc. Just something as simple as the habit of gentrifiers of fencing in their front yard rather than just the back is a physical manifestation of a cultural conflict.

And then once enough “pioneers” (a deeply problematic word) arrive, they start developing businesses; and these businesses do not cater to poor urban blacks. It’s not Jim Crow: they’re not going to stop black people from walking in. But there are enough cultural differences between these businesses and the ones the locals are used to that the locals won’t generally go there. Why in the world would you spend good money on cupcakes for a dog? And then there’s a bar and restaurant district, where black people might work, but the owners and patrons are largely white. And the customers have a few drinks and walk around the corner to their car, and someone pulls up on them, draws down and robs them. Then shoots them.

This has happened twice in EAV in the last week, and the white folks are just up in arms about it, as they should be. It’s their neighborhood, after all. And most of the remaining black residents are upset about it too, not only because murder = bad, but also because this means the cops are going to come down on them looking for suspects and/or scapegoats. What’s going to happen? In about a week, some cousin is going to snitch on the extremely stupid 17-year-old boy who never had a pot to piss in and envied everyone else’s wealth and success, and failed out of school, and listened to too many gangsta epics written by rappers who work for record labels run by white people, and decided that he was going to make a name for himself by shooting some yuppie white people who’d had one too many craft microbrews. This kid will get life without parole, at a yearly expense to the state equivalent to about 2.5 full-time college students, and the family of the dead guy, a Georgia Tech grad who worked in the IT industry, will mourn. And about two years from now, some other stupid 17-year-old boy will show up, not having heard of what happened to the last one, and he’ll kill someone else with education and dreams and value to society.

The murderer’s story? Not that interesting: it’s a paint-by-numbers of deprivation. The victim’s story? More so, but as he’s fundamentally a victim of random crime, it’s hard to draw a parallel between his life and death. The class conflict? That’s where the real story lies.

Amber Alert!

Feel-good story from this morning:

A 1-year-old girl who was in the back seat of a car when it was stolen outside a daycare center near Atlanta was found safe Wednesday morning, authorities said.

Police got a call from a resident who had spotted the car parked in a neighborhood, Forest Park police Lt. Jason Armstrong said.

Police then found the missing car and the girl, asleep inside the vehicle, near Scott Drive and Holly Circle in Clayton County shortly before 7 a.m.

Authorities had issued a child abduction alert early Wednesday morning after the 1994 green Honda Accord was stolen outside the 24-hour Playskool daycare facility in Forest Park, just south of Atlanta.

Now, child abduction isn’t funny; but anyone who follows the news can tell you that abduction by a stranger is so rare as to be remarkable. The overwhelming majority of Amber Alerts come when a non-custodial parent decides that stealing their own kid(s) is actually a workable idea.

So in turning this into fiction, for low comedy we could go with the thief’s perspective. Crack kills, and opportunistic car theft is right up there on the crack-o-meter. You find an unattended car with the keys still in it, and off you go! Then, ten minutes later, the baby makes a noise; you adjust the rearview mirror to see what’s up and holy mother of god there’s a child in this car. Park, wipe steering wheel, forget that you left clear fingerprints on the rearview, exit stage left, spend the rest of the day in crack-fueled paranoia.

Better still, imagine if said crackhead stole the car from the non-custodial parent who’d already abducted the child. From the crackhead’s perspective, it doesn’t matter—though it might be funny to have the crackhead not notice the baby until dozens of cars filled with armed response officers surround him. But imagine the story from the noncustodial parent’s perspective. You’ve raged yourself up on alcohol and masculine entitlement until you’ve convinced yourself that stealing your own child is somehow going to work out. You bust into the daycare center, social-engineer taking the child, put her out in her car seat, run back in because you forgot your phone, come back out and the goddamn car is gone! NOW what?

As an aside, note that the daycare center is 24-hour. What’s up with that? Seems like the kind of fly-by-night thing where they’d actually let the non-custodial parent take the kid.