Mystery Plane, Drugs, Cash And Maybe CIA 5

This is a fascinating mystery. And I’m a little bit obsessed. It’s the story of a ghost plane with confirmed links to the American CIA, which mysteriously turned up in Australia. It’s also a story about a significant quantity of illegal drugs and cash seized by New South Wales police, as well as a daring and dangerous under the radar flight operation into Australia.

As I have said more than once, it really is the story that keeps on giving. So many intriguing twists and turns. Here is part five. But first, some background to put the story in context.

At the heart of this tale, is a plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 with twin turbo props, which arrived illegally in Australia. How it managed to end up parked at Wollongong airport, a tiny regional hub south of Sydney is a complete mystery.

The Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, raided the eight-seater private plane in 2014 while it was parked on the tarmac. The day of the raid was a real old fashioned cops and robbers type operation. The plane was surrounded by about 20 armed police, even though no one was on board.

A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, who is listed as the owner of the plane, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

The News South Wales Police case, is that a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs, for distribution throughout southwest Sydney.

The syndicate was allegedly operated by two men who, police claim, have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs. What their precise connection might be to Stevermuer has not been revealed.

Police clearly had Stevermuer under surveillance. They also claim to have documents showing that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000, with money provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was anything but straightforward and is full of intrigue.

Police also allege the documents show Stevermuer, had access to large reserves of cash and was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy two aviation businesses based at the same airport where the plane was raided.

Several aviation sources have confirmed that Stevermuer was in negotiation to buy a flight training company, NSW Air and another company, Aerial Patrol shark-spotting.

Police allege these two aviation companies were to act as legitimate fronts in order to hide criminal activity. But when Stevermuer offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the seller became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot, they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they now are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million.

But then the story gets even more intriguing.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware in the United States, owns the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

But the fact that this club has its registered office in Delaware, might be an extremely significant development. Delaware is one of the strangest American states in terms of corporate law, especially if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy similar freedoms and secrecy  as do the clients of other highly secretive organisations, such as the Vatican Bank or financial institutions based in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies, which own aircraft and yachts, register them in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability and also because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual, making it a great place to hide true ownership if that was your desire.

And according to FAA records, it turns out the person listed as a Director of the Oregonian Aero Club, which owns the mystery plane, is none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who was arrested by Australian police.

The papers list Stevermuer as the purchaser of the plane on behalf of Oregonian Aero Club.

Now you might ask, why would an Australian pilot and skydiving instructor, bother to travel across the world to buy a 42-year-old plane? There is nothing in the least exceptional about this model of aircraft apart from its age.

Even more unusual, Why would an Australian who doesn’t live in the United States, be listed as a Director of a fictitious American aviation club? None of this makes sense unless of course unless there was a darker purpose behind the deal.

The Oregonian Aero club has no headquarters, no web address, telephone numbers, aircraft (apart from this one 42 year old plane) or members. In fact none of the other aero clubs in the Oregon area have ever heard of it.

And, as it turns out, the plane at the centre of this intrigue, the Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop aircraft, could best be described as a ghost plane. By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it ever arriving in Australia.

In fact, the last known official record concerning this aircraft reveals that it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 was doing a lot of flying right up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took and who was flying it is anyone’s guess. What is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to avoid detection. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods so it wouldn’t be detected by radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next official record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Albion Park airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

The next obvious question is who flew the plane illegally into Australia? At this point in time we don’t know the answer to that question. So let’s talk about what we do know. Sometimes fact can be way stranger than fiction.

The contract to ferry the Swearingen Merlin 3 from the United States to the Philippines was undertaken by an Australian company called Snow Goose International.

Snow Goose was engaged by the Oregonian Aero Club, which of course exists in name only. So it might be fair to assume that Snow Goose might know the principals behind Oregonian. If they do, they are not saying. In fact Snow Goose released a statement making the point that it was their job to ferry the plane to the Philippines, which they did, At all times the flights were planned and approved by the appropriate authorities. Communication was maintained at all times by High Frequency Radio in accordance with international requirements. Snow Goose had no knowledge of what happened to the plane after they ferried it to the Philippines nor does it have any knowledge of how it ended up illegally in Australia.

Snow Goose is a very interesting company. It’s Director and Chief Pilot is David Baddams, who was awarded an MBE, a Member Of The British Empire by the Queen of England. On the company website, he is listed as an ex-Navy fighter pilot with 40 years flying experience on many aircraft types including the Sea Harrier, BAE Hawk and the Douglas A4 Skyhawk. Since leaving the Navy in 1999, Baddams has remained closely involved in aviation as the business development manager of a military flying training school, a highly experienced flying instructor, an aircraft salesman and as the Chief Pilot and director of an airborne surveillance company.  He has many years and many hours experience on numerous aircraft.

I am certainly not inferring or suggesting that David Baddams had anything whatsoever to do with ferrying the Swearingen from the Philippines to Australia. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest or infer he was involved. Nor is there any evidence to suggest or infer that he was involved in anything illegal.

But there is also no denying that he had the flying expertise and the skill set to undertake the most perilous of flying journeys in a small plane, for example, from the United States to the Philippines. Snow Goose International regularly posted photographic updates of the Swearingen ferrying job to the Philippines on its company Facebook page. A photo posted by Snow Goose International on April 30 showed Baddams and a man seated beside him the cockpit of a plane, with the caption: “It’s Bernie!!! He is back!” The man sitting next to him is Bernie Stevermuer.

Another photo, posted on June 13, was captioned: “Here she comes! On the pan at Clark about to continue on her journey with the owner!” The caption is referring to the tarmac at Clark Air Force base in Manila.  You might want to ask yourself the question: How is it possible that a private plane obtained the necessary permission to land and take off from a highly restricted US airforce base in the Phillipines?

On the same date, Baddams commented: “Here she comes to Australia! It’s N224HR, the one we brought across the Pacific!”

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Albion Park airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

But would this mystery be solved if we were able to trace the full ownership of this plane from the time in rolled off the assembly line?

As I already established in a past blog post, the U.S. Forest Service was the first owner of the Swearingen Merlin 3 in the early 1970s.

The Forest Service has a track record of an activity known in aviation circles as sheep dipping planes on behalf of the CIA. You sheep dip a plane when you conceal or disguise its true owner. Sheep dipping explains how some Forest Service owned aircraft were discovered in exotic locations like Colombia and Mexico being used by drug cartels instead of fighting forest fires.

Are there any significant clues such as who might have owned the plane, before it was sold to the Oregonian Aero Club? Again a search of U.S. FAA records reveals the previous owner was a company called Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC based in Salem Oregon. Nothing unusual in that you might think except that Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC is owned by a dentist based in Colombia, Missouri on the other side of the United States. He bought the Swearingen Merlin 3 in 2011 and sold it to the Oregonian Aero Club a few months later. There is no suggestion or implication that any of these transactions were illegal. But they were definitely unusual and as per usual we end up with more questions than answers.

There is another interesting element to this story that invites further scrutiny. The fact that this plane began its mysterious odyssey across the world, from Charlotte County Airport at Punta Gorda in Florida, could be an indication of its true origin and purpose.

Punta Gorda, would have to be one of the more unusual locations in the United States and it’s all to do with its history. Punta Gorda could easily and humorously be re-named Spooksville. The founding fathers of Punta Gorda happen to be a pair of CIA spooks, Bud Cole and Al Johns, who turned a vast tidal flat into upmarket home sites complete with canals. As a CIA agent, Al Johns, was fairly gung-ho if you’ll pardon the pun. The CIA posted him to the East China Sea in the 1950s where his job was to supply pirates for junks used to attack Communist Chinese shipping. In fact, Punta Gorda seems to act as a magnet for CIA agents past and present. Porter Goss, former CIA Director during the Presidency of George W. Bush, was a long time resident of Punta Gorda and served as a local Mayor.

With that kind of history of CIA connectivity, it’s little wonder that Punta Gorda’s Charlotte County Airport has been home to some interesting characters and even more interesting allegations. For example at least one Congressional committee heard allegations that the airport was used to transport arms to the Contras in Nicaragua and to smuggle drugs, principally cocaine. Of course the allegations were never proven and no one was ever prosecuted or served jail time.

And there’s the case of the 23 helicopters that mysteriously disappeared from Charlotte County Airport. One of the helicopters was later discovered in Chile of all places. No one can explain how they managed to disappear, how they managed to leave the United States or who was responsible but the local Sheriff has suggested publicly that he has a pretty good idea even if he’s not saying.

Maybe it isn’t so surprising that a ghost plane that flew out of a mysterious place like Punta Gorda would end up thousands of miles away in Australia, linked to drugs and organised crime and with no record of it ever entering Australia in the first place.

So what might have happened to Bernie Stervermuer? He allegedly purchased the plane on behalf of a drug syndicate, and was also allegedly buying two companies so that the syndicate could launder dirty money. It turns out that Stervermuer bought not one but three planes on behalf of the syndicate between 2012 and 2014. NSW police say from 2012 to mid-2014, Stevermuer bought tplanes, in the United States, Malaysia and Cambodia, using money supplied to him.

Investigations by police reveal a “highly suspicious” paper trail linked to the purchase of at least two of the planes.

In the case of the US plane, which was infamously raided at Albion Park airport last July, $450,000 was paid through six bank transfers from five Chinese accounts, none of which had legitimate links to Stevermuer.

The US Department of Homeland Security told NSW investigating officers at least one of the accounts was used suspiciously in the past to transfer large amounts of money from Asia to the United States.

Two hundred thousand dollars was transferred to pay for the plane purchased in Malaysia, again using suspicious accounts, allegedly linked to drug operations.

Investigators couldn’t find any evidence to show who paid for the Cambodia plane or how it was paid.

When police raided Stevermuer’s house on the same day they raided the Merlin plane at Albion Park, they discovered $70,000 in cash, which, they say, was payment to Stevermuer for his involvement in transporting the Merlin to Australia.

After his arrest, Stevermuer decided to plead guilty to charges of dealing with property suspected of being the proceeds of crime and knowingly participating in a criminal group. But here’s where it gets even more interesting.

At the time, Stevemuer’s lawyer, Mark Savic, described his client as a “gentle, devoted and trustworthy family man” whose inherent naivety had been his undoing.

‘‘His love of flying caused him to be blind to what others might see were obvious signs to what was going on around him,’’ Mr Savic said, telling the Magistrate, hearing the case, that his client was extremely remorseful.

‘‘He’s not shied away from the charges, he has deep remorse and shame for being before the court today.

‘‘There was no intention on my client’s part to be involved in breaking the law. He didn’t go out to seek people in the underworld, he was approached by people with an agenda.’’

The Magistrate was clearly unimpressed with the submissions on behalf of Stevermuer, sentencing him to 19 months imprisonment.

However, Stevermuer appealed to the District Court of New South Wales and surprise, surprise won his appeal. His prison sentence was suspended and he walked away from everything a free man who will never spend a solitary second inside a jail cell.

Like I said, this story remains a fascinating and intriguing mystery.

You Can’t Negotiate With Religious Extremists

Terrorism left its calling card in Sydney today. I think we all kind of knew it was coming. We just didn’t know the where?, or the when? Both of those questions were answered when a middle-aged fanatical Jihadist, walked into a busy café, in the heart of the city, around 9 in the morning. He was armed with a sawn off shotgun and proceeded to take more than 20 people hostage. What followed was a siege lasting 17 hours. It ended around 2 am, when heavily armed police stormed the café, after hearing the sound of gunshots coming from inside. Minutes later, three people were dead. The fanatical jihadist hostage taker, and two of his hostages, a man aged 34 and a woman aged 38. Australia is fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. We knew there would be consequences. The Islamic State publicly vowed revenge against innocent people to be chosen at random. But you can’t stop living your life, just because a group of religious crazies threaten you, or want to attack you for the way you choose to live. Nor should we.

Authorities know quite a bit about the Jihadist hostage taker but I don’t want to waste oxygen talking about him to any significant degree. He was Iranian and a Muslim convert. A self styled cleric who was convicted of sending poison pen letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed during the war in Afghanistan. He was also on bail for being an accessory to the murder of his wife, who was stabbed and set on fire. He persuaded his girlfriend to kill her.   The self-styled Jihadist also faced 40 sexual assault charges after complaints from seven women who attended one of his ‘spiritual healing sessions.’ The Jihadist likened himself, on his own webpage, to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, claiming the police charges against him were laid for “political reasons.” His website also carries a quote, posted earlier this month, stating: “I used to be a Rafidi, but not any more. Now I am a Muslim, Alhamdulillah.” ( Praise be to Allah)

During the siege, this religious fanatic forced his hostages to hold up a black flag, with Arabic writing, against the window of the cafe and record video messages on their mobile phones, listing his demands. The videos were initially posted on YouTube but were immediately removed on the advice of police. Deep down we all knew, right from the very start of this, it was going to end badly. Of course, there will be the inevitable questions: Should this man have been released on bail? Had he been identified as a religious extremist and placed on a watch list? If not? why not? His lawyer described him as a ‘damaged goods individual.’ There will also be scrutiny of how the police handled the siege. We received many public assurances from the New South Wales Police Commissioner, the Premier of New South Wales and the Prime Minister that the police were professionally trained to deal with this type of crisis and we should all have faith that they can bring about a peaceful resolution.

Bring about a peaceful resolution? Are you kidding me? When they said that I began to get very worried. For a start this was not a normal siege by any stretch. Most sieges are an attempt by the hostage taker to achieve some personal advantage. The Jihadist who walked into that café only had two purposes, to die killing innocent people and secondly to create maximum publicity so that when he did, everyone would remember who was responsible and, hopefully, from that time on, live in fear of it happening again. He didn’t care that he would be killed. In fact he was counting on it. You can’t negotiate with people like that. You are wasting your time to even try. But the New South Wales police did try. They didn’t comply with his demands but they tried to negotiate with him. And they waited.

Now I don’t want to sound like some armchair quarterback replaying the calls that were made with the benefit of hindsight. I understand the police had a nightmare on their hands. But I will be honest and say I think it was a serious mistake to wait for the shooting to start before they did any shooting themselves. It might sound harsh but being reactive is too late. The horse has bolted. The hostage taker is already doing what he came to do from the moment he walked into that café. We live in a different world. There are people in it who have no regard for their own life as long as they can take the lives of innocent people. The hostage taker in Sydney made it pretty clear who he represented, and what this was about, right from the start. You don’t negotiate. You wait for an opportunity or, you create an opportunity, to use lethal force against him. You certainly don’t wait until he starts killing people. It’s a harsh lesson that maybe the New South Wales police are about to learn.

Grand Juries, Too Soft On Police Who Do Wrong?

In the United States, grand juries have suddenly become de rigueur but not in anything like a good way. To put it bluntly, too many white policemen are getting away with killing black men and Grand Juries are rubber-stamping the process.

Now before anyone climbs on their accusatory high moral horse suggesting this is biased and anti police, bad luck, I’ve beaten you to it. I’m already on it and riding at full gallop.

My high moral horse says the police are yet again culpable. The grand jury got it wrong and the facts speak for themselves.

This time it’s the New York Police under the microscope. Or, to be more accurate, captured on video.

The victim was Eric Garner, a 43-year-old African American, father of six children and a grandfather of two. On July 17 this year, he allegedly committed the heinous crime of selling individual cigarettes on a street corner in Staten Island. A group of New York City police officers approached and surrounded him. Why they did this is a question that was certainly never answered by the grand jury but it’s one that really does demand some kind of explanation in my view. What made this case radically different from all the others, was that cell phone footage was recorded by an onlooker, as the drama unfolded. And because the footage was shared online, the one eyewitness became millions more.

Garner was genuinely puzzled that the police officers seemed intent on arresting him for such a trifling offence. He was a big man, but at no point did he behave aggressively towards the officers or show them any disrespect. But maybe he wasn’t assuming a submissive posture, quickly enough. In any case one of the policemen, Officer Daniel Pantaleo, placed Garner in a chokehold, compressing his windpipe.

It should be pointed out that this maneuver was outlawed by the New York Police Department 20 years ago.

Again there appeared to be no reason for the police to take such an aggressive approach to Eric Garner. It was not warranted by his alleged crime or behavior. The videotape shows Garner complaining repeatedly that he’s having trouble breathing. The police officers wrestle him to the sidewalk and Eric Garner dies. Emergency paramedics are summoned but the police officers, who were present, are clearly shown making no attempt at all to resuscitate Eric Garner.

Again let’s be clear on the facts. The coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide. He suffered from asthma, and Pantaleo’s chokehold killed him. The Staten Island prosecutor presented evidence against Officer Pantaleo to a grand jury. The other officers involved in the incident were given immunity in exchange for their testimony. But the grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on any charge.

An American journalist, Eugene Robinson wrote what I consider to be an insightful piece, in the Washington Post, about the tragic death of Eric Garner. He called it a depressing episode in the reality series, No Country For Black Men. In his view, equal justice before the law in the United States is just a cruel joke.

Robinson wrote that African American men are being taught a lesson on how society values, or devalues their lives. He says the Garner case raises two very important issues: One involves what he called the excessive license given to police to do whatever they must to guarantee that the streets are safe. The second, poses the question, has the pendulum now swung too far in the law and order direction at the expense of justice, liberty and equality?

Robinson believes the Garner case is part of what he called the ‘broken windows’ theory of policing. If you want to reduce serious crime, you crack down on minor, nuisance offending like selling loose cigarettes on a street corner. He draws a parallel between the Garner case in New York and the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In both cases, Robinson says, the grand juries examined the evidence and decided there was no probable cause, a very low standard of proof, that the police officers involved did anything wrong. He asks, would the results have been the same if the victims were white?

In yet another twist in the Garner case, the only person to be indicted, who was involved in the Eric Garner killing, was the eyewitness, Ramsay Orta, who recorded the Garner incident on his mobile phone. He faced charges relating to weapons offences after a bust by an undercover policeman. Police allege Orta slipped a handgun into the waistband of a teen accomplice outside a New York hotel. Orta claims he was falsely charged in retaliation for the Garner filming. His case was also examined by a grand jury, which had no trouble at all in indicting him.

I think all of us have an obligation to be extremely careful in playing the race card. It’s easy and convenient and can be used to either confuse or silence justified criticism especially when there are two sides to every story. But in the case of Michael Brown and Eric Garner it happens to be true. Sadly, the category that defines America’s most feared and loathed citizens would appear to be young, black men. Ironically, Eric Garner didn’t even fit this profile stereotype. He was a middle-aged, overweight asthmatic man. He was engaged in an activity that warranted nothing more than being told to move along.

I hate to say it, but in my view, his capital offense, in the minds of those police officers who confronted him, was to be born black.

How Can Police Justify Shooting A 12 Year Old Child?

I don’t want this to sound like I’m some kind of armchair critic of the police because they have a tough job to do at the best of times. But something happened in Cleveland that left me dumbfounded, shocked and appalled.

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, was shot dead by police.

He was a child but he was waving what looked like a black handgun. It turned out to be a BB gun.

Police weren’t to know that or were not prepared to take the risk.

They confronted him and now Tamir is dead.

Let’s just pause for a minute.

A lot of questions need to be asked here. How did this happen? How could it have happened? Why did it happen? How could it be allowed to happen?

Let’s firstly deal with the how and the why.

According to the police account of what happened: A caller tells police “a guy with a gun is pointing it at people” on the swing set at a children’s playground at a local recreation center. The caller says on two occasions that he thinks the gun is “probably fake,” but the person pointing it is scaring people.

Police dispatchers send a radio message to officers that there is “a male with a gun threatening people” outside the recreation center. Officers respond and see the boy pick up what they assume is a black gun, tuck it in his waistband and take a few steps.

Police Officers draw their weapons, telling him to raise his hands. Instead, he lifts his shirt and reaches for the handle of the gun sticking out of his waistband. As he pulls out the gun, one of the officers shoots twice, hitting him at least once in the abdomen.

Tamir is taken to an emergency medical center but dies of his injuries. Police later determine the gun was actually a BB gun, with the orange safety cap removed.

Police later release a statement to further clarify what happened, which said: “Upon arrival on scene, officers located the suspect and advised him to raise his hands. The suspect did not comply with the officers’ orders and reached to his waistband for the gun.

“Shots were fired and the suspect was struck in the torso.”

It added: “Further information reveals that the weapon which the 12-year-old suspect was in possession of is an ‘airsoft’ type replica gun resembling a semi-automatic pistol, with the orange safety indicator removed.”

Now if you break all of this down you get a pretty good idea on what went wrong here. For a start everyone involved gives a completely wrong description of who Tamir Rice really is.

He is not a “guy with a gun” or “a male with a gun threatening people” or a “suspect” and that is a big part of why this went so dreadfully pear shaped.

Tamir Rice is a 12-year-old boy.

He is a child.

Too young and immature to really know what he was doing or what kind of trouble he was causing. If all of those involved in this had simply remembered that simple point, right at the very beginning, the outcome might have been very different and Tamir Rice would be a little wiser but alive.

I know we live in a violent and unpredictable world but since when did it become the police first response to open fire and ask questions later because clearly that is what they did in this case. Asking a 12-year-old to put his hands in the air does not constitute a meaningful question in these circumstances, in my view.

And in any case whatever happened to the simple art of talking to people? Negotiating with them? Couldn’t they have talked to Tamir and found out what the problem was instead of drawing their weapons and responding with lethal force?

That’s what parents do. That’s what teachers do. That’s what any sane or sensible person would do. But it’s what Cleveland police didn’t do. And shame on them.

Cleveland Deputy Chief of Field Operations Ed Tomba said the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice was “very very tragic.”

“We don’t come to work every day and want to use force on anybody,” he said. “That’s not what our job is. We’re part of this community.”

It’s a bit late now to be making those kinds of statements particularly when the circumstances point to the exact opposite being the case.

Deputy Chief Tomba said the boy did not threaten the officer verbally or physically. So I ask why was it necessary to shoot him?

Tamir’s father told reporters that he couldn’t understand why police had failed to use non-lethal force like a taser to subdue Tamir? I guess that is certain to be one of the questions asked at the Grand Jury investigation into this tragedy.

Tamir’s Dad said his son was “respectful” and “minded his elders.” He said he could not understand why Tamir would have ignored what police told him to do.

Which brings me back to the question why was this allowed to happen?

This might be part of the reason. One of the police officers involved in this incident was in his first year in the job. We can only hope that this tragedy will prompt a serious and rigorous review of police procedures in Cleveland.

The police department’s Use of Deadly Force Investigation Team is investigating the shooting and has security camera footage from the recreation center. The officers, directly involved in the shooting, have been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, which is standard procedure for police.

The evidence will eventually be handed over to a grand jury, which will decide whether the officer was justified in using force.

I don’t need a Grand Jury to answer that question. Children are not adults capable of making rational decisions. It is stupid and wrong to think they can. Tamir Rice clearly had no idea what he was getting himself into. He was relying on adults to make the kinds of rational decisions he was incapable of making. Unfortunately for him the adults let him down. There is simply no justification for lethal force to be used to kill a child under any circumstances.

And if I happen to be living in a world that says there is then quite frankly it’s one I don’t ever want to be a part of.

Let’s Get Rid Of The R Word

This might not be a shock to many. But it is to me. The United States has an R problem. More specifically, the police have an R problem. I’m talking about Racism. An extremely ugly word that has no place in civilized, educated societies. It clearly is a problem. How big a problem is anyone’s guess but just recently there have been some examples that should make us all feel ashamed.

I’ll come to Ferguson, Missouri but lets begin in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A local cop has quit after he was busted sending text messages to colleagues urging them to “pull a Ferguson and take them out.” He was referring to young Black Americans. That was only the beginning. He also described African-Americans as “monkeys” and told how he “enjoyed arresting them with their sagging pants.”

This policeman patrolled a predominantly Black southern University. You can only begin to imagine the kind of treatment he would have handed out to the students he encountered. This cop has resigned and is now being investigated. He may face criminal charges. One of the local police chiefs in Baton Rouge did say  it was “gut wrenching” to believe that someone possessed that much hate in them especially a police officer who is in the community enforcing the law everyday. He might have added especially a police officer packing lethal force. The Police Chief said the revelation made him sick to his stomach. Bravo.

But unfortunately this has not been, nor will it ever be, an isolated occurrence. There is something rotten to the core in the US of A. In Jonesboro, Arkansas an investigation is continuing after a 21-year-old African-American allegedly shot himself in the head while handcuffed in the back of a police car. He was arrested after police discovered a $10 bag of marijuana in his pocket during a routine traffic stop. A post-mortem is expected to provide more details about the shooting. I don’t want to pre-judge anything. But I would point out that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to shoot yourself in the head when your hands are cuffed behind your back.

Here is what it has come down to in Ferguson Missouri. Police are now wearing body cameras, which include a recording device in an attempt to calm community anger after an 18-year-old man was shot dead by police. This incident sparked a wave of street protests and the predominantly white police in Ferguson, were widely criticized for being heavy-handed and using unnecessary force in dealing with protestors. Two companies donated the body cameras and now patrolling police are wearing them. There is a hope that the cameras will make police more accountable, and allow for greater transparency. It will mean that judges and juries can see video footage and make a deliberation on what happened during an incident that resulted in a complaint against police or in a fatal police shooting.

What makes me sad and despairing is that all of this has become necessary. But the police must act swiftly and decisively to nip this racism thing in the bud. That means either through education or threat of prosecution, dismissal or all three combined. Public confidence is at stake. We can’t function properly as a society if our cops are making judgment calls based on nothing more than a person’s skin type. Quite frankly it isn’t a world any of us wants to live in.

To Recline Or Not

When I opened up the paper this morning I was struck by a question some people think is far more important than Russia or the Middle East. It’s a question occupying a lot of minds across the world. Apparently. I am sure you are busting to know what it is. Ok. Here it is: Should airline passengers travelling in cattle class be allowed to recline their seat?

This is a serious question. And it got pretty serious on August 24 during a flight from New Jersey to Denver. An argument over a reclining seat quickly escalated into an emergency diversion to Chicago and two passengers being escorted from the plane by police. In the days that followed, two other flights had to be diverted after violent arguments over the same issue. So no way was this was a one-off.

Here’s what went down. I should point out that this never happens in the pointy end of the plane. Wealth has its privileges. In this case plenty of legroom.

On this particular flight from New Jersey to Denver, one of the passengers has what some people might describe as a pathological obsession with people who exercise their right to recline their seat. I did say their right. Let’s set the record straight. Reclining your seat is not illegal or against airline policy. It’s not yet enshrined in the US constitution but I think you get the idea.

And here’s where everything started going pear-shaped. Once the plane reached cruising altitude this particular passenger who hates seat recliners undid his tray table, unpacked his laptop and then installed a device called a knee defender that physically prevents the passenger sitting in front of him, a woman, from reclining her seat.

Like I said airline passengers who recline their seats is this guy’s pet hate. The knee defender, by the way, was a Christmas present from his wife. Many airlines prohibit the use of the knee defender but the device itself is not illegal. And in its quaintly American way the knee defender comes with a courtesy card that tells the passenger trying to recline their seat that they have been blocked. Now this particular passenger has used this device many times but never gives out the courtesy card for two reasons. He doesn’t want a confrontation and secondly he uses what he thought was a foolproof solution. He installs the knee defender immediately after boarding the plane. The passenger in front tries reclining their seat a few times but gives up believing their seat is broken. It’s worked well in the past but, unfortunately for him, not on this occasion. What he didn’t count on was the woman sitting in front of him verbally complaining to the flight attendants that her seat appeared to be broken. Realizing the game was up the owner of the knee defender fessed up. The flight attendant asked him to remove it, which he did. That should have been the end of the story but it wasn’t.

The passenger in front of him clearly riled by what happened blasted the seat back sending his laptop flying no pun intended. That was a red rag to a bull. It was the turn of the passenger with the knee defender to complain to the flight attendants. But he was told the woman in front had every right to recline her seat and he would just have to accept it. I think it would be safe to say he didn’t take their advice very well. He pushed the woman’s seat forward and reinstalled the knee defender. Her response was to stand up in her seat and throw a cup of soda over him. A flight attendant stepped in and quickly moved the woman to another part of the aircraft before it got really ugly. In the meantime, news of this skirmish found its way to the cockpit and the Captain in the interests of public safety decided to make an emergency diversion to Chicago where police were waiting to escort both parties off the plane. Neither party is facing criminal or civil charges.

Apparently the inventor of the knee defender later waded into the debate accusing the airlines of wanting to wish the problem away. His solution is for airlines to redesign passengers seats so that they recline into a shell away from the passenger sitting behind or better still allow his device to be used. Of course he would say that.

The passenger who got kicked off this particular flight for using the knee defender flies more than 75,000 miles or 120 thousand kilometers a year so that might explain why he is a little sensitive over the issue of reclining seats. He later told reporters that he personally never reclines his seat. And while acknowledging the rights of the woman sitting in front of him to recline her seat he said it was just plain rude. He also said he was ashamed and embarrassed by what happened and admitted he could have handled it better. Really.

Now here’s my solution apart from banging some heads together. If you want to recline your seat, better still if you hate someone reclining their seat in front of you don’t complain. Put your money where your mouth is and cough up for business class. You’ll be doing everyone a favor.

In The Midst Of Madness

Things happen that make me think we live in a very strange world.

Take this as a for instance. We’re at a local park. A mother is pushing her small daughter on a swing. A father of another child is waiting impatiently nearby for his kid to have a turn.

He asks the woman how long her daughter will be. She replies five minutes. Apparently, that was the wrong answer. The father takes matters into his own hands. He manhandles the little girl from the swing and tries to replace her with his child.

The mother of the little girl is understandably shocked and outraged by this obvious show of rudeness. But what she does next might surprise you. It certainly surprised me.

She called the cops. Now I don’t know if that is what most mothers would do but that’s what she did. Amazingly, the local police arrived very soon after in their police car probably with lights and sirens blazing.. I bet you wouldn’t get that kind of service if you were ringing to report a burglary. Never mind. It seems our police have nothing better to do than to waste their time. Ok. The man was a stranger. He was rude. He had no right to touch her child. But calling the cops? Give me a break.

The police spoke to the two respective parents. A police inspector later released the following statement

“Police attended the scene, there was a dispute over one child staying on the swing longer than reasonable. The police spoke to both parties, and no offence was detected by the police. Neither party wanted to make a further complaint. From the information police had at the scene there was no incident.”

You can say that again. Like I said. It was a complete waste of valuable police time. Of course this soap opera doesn’t end here. It was bound to be replayed on social media, which it was, as these kinds of incidents have a habit of doing. And you might be interested in knowing the response it got.

One mother was right behind the decision to call the police. After all, the father concerned was teaching his child disgusting manners and how to be impatient and rude. Well that must be a criminal offence.

Another opined that a stranger touching your child is not something you can just let go. If the mother had tried to sort it out herself there is no telling what the man might have done. Taken it out on her perhaps. The issue clearly was the fact that he got physical. I guess you would call it child rage.

Yet another said I would definitely call the police. The heart stopping feeling of some stranger picking up your child would be enough to make me smash him in the face with the swing. Of course that kind of advice would only result in the mother being arrested and charged with assault.

It must have looked like a crazy scene. The idea of armed police (they all carry guns and tasers these days) descending on a child’s playground would be disconcerting for everyone especially the children.

I just think what a waste of precious resources. Instead of doing what they should be doing and making our streets and neighbourhoods safer places to live in, the cops are responding to a call about two adults fighting over a swing.

But of course it raises some interesting questions: Should the mother have called the police? Well should she? What would you do if you found yourself in that situation?