Letter from America 15th January

Hi Guys and Gals,

Originally this week’s letter was to be all about the more unpleasant aspects of the American judicial system that now follows the more current news of the last seven days. To coin the title of an old satirical TV programme that the young in heart readers will remember “That Was The Week That Was” certainly applied to last week here in the States. Starting with the mass shootings at Tuscon in Arizona where Congresswoman Gabriel Gifford was shot in the head, six others were killed, fourteen injured and has led to some soul searching on the part of politicians. To start with the guy responsible was mentally disturbed. Everyone is coming forward and saying what a mixed up person he was. College officials last year had refused to have him back unless he had mental health clearance. As he was unemployed the question that has yet to be answered is how he got the $500 dollars and the ok to purchase the gun, while the bullets were purchased at Walmart. Amendment 2 of the Constitution, the right to bear arms, is absolutely sacrosanct here, something I have referred to in Letter from America a number of times. The point they are now all arguing about is the vitriolic political atmosphere with the likes of Sarah Palin of the Tea Party showing the cross hairs of a riflescope on those the Tea Party were aiming to defeat in over 20 Democratic congressional districts one of which included Gabrielle Gifford. In addition there was Palin’s quote “don’t retreat, reload”. In her subsequent denunciation of her critics she accused pundits and critics of “blood libel” which is of course very offensive to the Jewish society. I have referred in the past to the bad taste of the politician’s where opponents are accused of being liars, scumbags, fraudsters and much worse. It is therefore no surprise that past presidents such as William McKinley and John Kennedy were murdered. Not forgetting Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, again murdered by persons possibly taking the political dialogue literally. Then there were those presidents that were injured such as Roosevelt and Reagan and no doubt there are many more. But the gun lobby appears to be stronger even than the car or oil industries and it is not surprising that the mentally unstable or illiterate resort to using firearms on people they have been encouraged to dislike.

Following that we have had the enormous storm passing over most of the country. This has cost more than eight lives so far, between two and three thousand flights being cancelled daily, schools closed, some Interstate highways closed, over one hundred thousand homes without power, it goes on and on. Atlanta has been almost at a standstill due to the snow, ice and freezing rain which normally does not come that far south. New York on Wednesday and Thursday had what they called a “snow bomb” with ten to fifteen inches of snow. On the television on Thursday they announced that Florida was the only state without snow in the whole of America . I thought that perhaps they had forgotten Hawaii but on Thursday it was confirmed that the big island had some fifteen inches of snow and that the lovely island of Maui had some twenty four inches of rain causing serious flooding. Sincerely hope that the lovely coastal road referred to as “The road to Hana” has not been spoilt, if ever you visit it is a “must do”, hire a car and enjoy a fantastic experience of the colourful tropical scenery and the beautiful waterfalls. Here in Central Florida we may not be getting the snow but we are experiencing the cold air from Canada , down to freezing and below at night. Some daytime highs have been no more than 50F (10C) and it has just been announced that Central Florida has had more night time temperatures below freezing this year than in the whole of the total of the last nine years. Not to be outdone by all that the city of Orlando has just announced its first murder of 2011. “Only in America ” as I have said many times, although having read about all the extreme weather conditions around the world at the moment it hardly applies to that aspect.

It has been stated that bad eyewitness testimony is responsible in 75% of cases where later the persons concerned are cleared of criminal offences by DNA evidence. Nine prisoners have been released recently in Florida for crimes they did not commit. The most recent example is that of Alan Crotzer who was wrongly convicted of rape and released after 24 years in prison. In a Tampa courtroom in 1981 Crotzer watched as five people took the stand and swore that he was one of the men who kidnapped a 12-year-old and a 38 year old women during a botched home burglary. The child and woman testified that he later raped them. All five people were 100 per cent convinced they were correct and each was 100 per cent wrong. While this was going on Crotzer, then a 20-year-old with a juvenile and adult criminal record was 20 miles away in St. Petersburg with his girlfriend. He was still arrested after victims picked him out of a photo lineup. How can so many people be so wrong when so much is at stake? The problem began when police showed witnesses a photo line-up. Psychologists, researchers and the Department of Justice have now come up with recommendations on how best to conduct photo and live police line-ups to minimise witness mistakes. There is no standardised protocol adopted by the law enforcement agencies statewide. Studies have shown that on live police lineups witnesses get the suspect identity wrong in twenty per cent of cases. One suggestion is to have someone who does not know which photo is the suspect. Another is not to show all the photos at once. Florida does not follow these recommendations. This does not come as a surprise particularly if you have read John Grisham’s “The Innocent Man”, a true story that is a sad indictment of the American police and the judicial system. To be continued next week.

In the meantime keep riding, stay upright and stay safe,

Bryan Staples

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