Could anti-government paranoia have contributed to the killing of a census worker

Given the climate of hostility and frustration right now in our country, where protesters gather at town hall meeting to shout down their local congressperson and join in at loud TEA parties carrying placards accusing the federal government and President Obama of all sorts of underhanded behavior, it is not surprising to me to learn of the apparent murder of Bill Sparkman earlier this month.

Sparkman was a part-time worker with the federal census bureau in a remote area of Kentucky who was found hanged from a tree on September 12. According to investigators the word ‘fed’ was written across his chest.

Although it’s unclear whether or not Sparkman’s capacity working for a federal agency as “intrusive” as the census bureau was a factor in his killing, it is a possibility that the hostility and animus many people have in our nation could have contributed to this man’s death.

After all, in recent months our commander-in-chief has has come under unfounded suspicion from a good many people in our country of pushing the nation towards the brink of totalitarianism and extreme socialism. A good many of people in our country still hold steadfast that President Obama is Muslim, despite the fact that he is a Protestant Christian. All types of wild rumors and innuendo are out on the Net and with the ranting and raving of people on all sides, commentators and talking heads spewing anger and venom, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone saw a harmless canvasser from the census bureau as an Gestapo-like intruder.

There are plenty of ignorant hillbillies out there that if I were heading from house to house asking questions on behalf of the federal government, I’d be a bit scared myself. Unfortunately, legitimate questions about federal spending and health care proposals have taken a backseat to paranoid ramblings and unsubstantiated rumors.

Sparkman’s job, according to an Associated Press article published this morning, involved door-to-door interviews in Clay County. The substitute teacher had been working for six years with the bureau.

So far authorities are treating Sparkman’s hanging as a homicide. They aren’t saying whether it appears to have been politically motivated and aside from the word scrawled across his chest, I suppose there would be no reason to necessarily believe that. Perhaps the perpetrator or perpetrators had other motivations. What makes me suspect that it could be motivated by someone inflamed against the government is that Sparkman’s laptop computer was left in his truck and not stolen. Robbery does not appear to be a motivation in his killing.

There could be other reasons, I suppose, but given the climate right now, I think it’s reasonable to wonder if he were executed due to someone’s anti-government paranoia.


Albany murder suspects rapped about the thug life

“Got these bitches sucking on me ’til their motherfucking jaws sore.”

And so goes one of the more forceful lyrics in a four-minute rap track recorded by King James Modest and Ricardo Caldwell 17 and 18 respectively and both under arrest for the murder of Richard Bailey, a 20-year-old senior at the University at Albany last October.

Aspiring rappers, Modest and Caldwell are now in the confines of the Albany County Correctional Facility. The alleged triggerman, De Von Callicutt was received at the Coxsackie state prison facility in March on an unrelated charge.

Albany is not a particularly violent city, nor does it have the reputation for crime the way that other Upstate cities such as Buffalo and Rochester have. Still, a three-week period here included several murders – all involving guns –  an accidental shooting death and a random non-lethal attack on a bicyclist during broad daylight. Most of these incidents have occurred in the rougher sections of Albany, though Bailey’s murder took place in the heart of a neighborhood inhabited by college students.

Nearly a year since the night the Long Island native was shot in the head while returning from watching Monday Night Football at a friend’s apartment, many people in the city wondered if there would be any breaks in the crime.

My inclination was that someone would get arrested for doing something stupid. Looking for a deal, he or she may offer up information about the individuals involved in Bailey’s killing. That’s normally how these things happen, I think. So far, the police aren’t saying too much about how they got the three suspects, except that before he was sent to prison Callicutt had revealed his role in the shooting, ostensibly to someone who said something to the cops.

I suppose that it’s rough to say that any one person is destined for a life of crime, but listening to the lyrics in Modest and Caldwell’s low-quality recording, “Uptowns Bubblegum”, it’s clear that these two at least emulated the gangsta culture that has landed and many young men, and perhaps themselves if they are convicted, in prison.

Certainly, they’ll have an opportunity to argue their innocence and if they choose a jury or bench trial. It’s unlikely that Uptowns Bubblegum will make it into any trial, but it seems relevant in this respect: whether they are guilty or innocent Modest and Caldwell have a pretty dim view on the world around them; one the requires the use of force and violence to achieve riches and notoriety. It’s a huge part of the hip-hop culture, packaged and sold to disaffected young men in broken down cities throughout our country.

Out in the world right now, there are probably a half-million young men who want to be rappers, who have recorded their own demos or made cheap slide show youtube videos. Many of their songs are peppered with references to shooting snitches, driving fast cars, wearing expensive threads and sexual exploits with women. The life of a thug is a thing to be admired and exalted. With it, the idea of extinguishing someone’s life over some material item or amount of cash is par for the course. Many rap song attest to this. It really is very sad.

If the Albany police got these three guys I sure as hell hope they’re the right ones. Nobody wants to think of the wrong people getting in trouble while a killer or killers go free. I guess it will be interesting to see how this whole affair plays out. If Modest, who once impressed Albany mayoral candidate Corey Ellis as a kid escaping the troubled streets of Arbor Hill, is convicted for his alleged role, it will be decades before he steps out of custody – at least 25 years. The world will have changed a lot by then. I wonder if he and Caldwell, who comes from nearby Schenectady, will ever look back on the track they recorded and see it for what reasonable folks see it for, which is poor attempt distinguish themselves the easy way.


It’s been about a month or so since I last posted my weight to this blog. I am happy to report that today at least, I weighed in at below 180. I believe this has to do not so much with my frequent running around Albany but instead the addition of weight training into my repertoire. I’ve never quite had too much success with weights in the past because I believe I pushed it too hard to quickly and at the same neglected to watch what I was eating.

Anyway, I found a very basic set of

instructions in August’s edition of Mens Health magazine which lays out three sets of exercises that can be done. I don’t have it in front of me right now, but I’ll share it with you later (if anyone is reading this).

This time around, I’ve really liked doing weight training. It’s exhilirating, particularly when the form is the right way. That and various reasonable abdominal exercises have really helped a lot.

Shooting at 327 Second Street

About two weeks ago I wrote about the killing of Henry Ferrell, a 32-year-old man on Western Avenue in Albany. At the time, the police had kept a cruiser out for days in front of the residence while people were investigating. Last week they picked up their first suspect, a man, also 32, from Brooklyn. On Friday the police grabbed his alleged accomplice, a boy who turned 16 just last week. Police say that it appears that the suspects Dwayne Wright, the elder and his teenage companion, Kymeir Turner, an Albany resident, killed Ferrell in a botched robbery. I’d jogged past that apartment quite a few times and wondered out of curiosity how long it would take to find the killer(s). We’ll see how the case goes.

Interestingly, Turner is from Second Street, a one-way road heading westward in the rough Arbor Hill section of the city. Just blocks away from his residence there was a murder early Sunday morning at 327 Second Street. Zechariah Banks, a 27-year-old from across the Hudson River in Troy was apparently shot also during a botched robbery at a birthday party.

I was sitting in a Valvoline having my transmission fluid changed when I heard about it on the local cable news station. I wrote down the number of the place and headed there with my camera. I’m always a bit reluctant to take pictures in Arbor Hill. I suppose that’s a part of my own racial insecurity. Feels weird poking around a nearly all-black neighborhood with your camera, particularly after a shooting. Still, I was able to get some alright shots. An Albany area Web site used one for their morning news update section.

I found the crime scene. It had already been cordoned off by the police for several hours. A news cameraman was there to take some B-roll footage of the block. There was nothing much to shoot there, really. The cops were obviously behind the tape and downstairs in the basement looking for evidence on the shooting.

Albany is not a large city (not even 100,000 people) and so it’s easy to recognize people from the news. Officer William Bonanni was watching over the scene from the outside, monitoring onlookers. Bonanni is a bit notorious in this small city for his own legal problems. Still, he was quite accomodating and friendly enough to approach with a few general questions about what had happened.

Bonanni had a good point about this shooting, which is that it was something that was very hard to prevent the way other crimes are.

There’s not much you can do to prevent people who have it in their mind to shoot others in a robbery from doing it. Preventing drug and gun sales, maybe.

Anyway, I grew up in the suburbs around Albany in a nice, mostly quiet town where there have only been a few murders in the last few years. I’ve lived in Boston and Brooklyn where by virtue of their being larger cities, there are more shootings and the like. Still, I’ve never really been exposed to crime scenes, which is to say nothing of killings. So you’ll have to excuse me for being a little wet behind the ears yesterday as I marveled that on this narrow block, within yards of a taped off area, life was going on quite normally.

Yesterday was one of the last days of summer, really. Labor Day is next Monday and a few days later the kids will be back in school. On Second Street yesterday, right across from the shooting scene, kids were enjoying a mild, sunny day. A gentleman whose SUV was parked at 325 Second Street, was washing it down. Life seemed to be going on pretty normally.

Still, it’s strange to think that across the river in Troy several peoples’ days were absolutely destroyed with the loss of someone they cared about. It must be awful to find out on a Sunday that your son or brother or good friend was popped in the chest over some money while he was enjoying himself at a birthday party. For the people who live at 327 it must be awful to think someone just ran into their residence with a gun with at least the thought of using it on someone in the back of their mind.

Woman missing for 18 years located

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about crime (not quite sure why, but I usually develop an interest in something for a few weeks before it fizzles out). Each day for the past week I’ve been watching episodes of Cold Case Files on youtube and this morning awoke to a disturbing dream that my apartment was the scene of a grotesque murder. Kinda creepy.

Anyway, before the world of crime could seem any stranger, I just read several minutes ago about the likely return of Jaycee Lee Dugard, a California girl missing from the Lake Tahoe area since 1991. I’d never heard about Dugard before, but because we’re around the same age, this is very intriguing. I hope it’s for sure the same person who was abducted and that she can be reunited with her family. What a nightmare to think that someone could be captive, physically and psychologically for most of their life. Strange world we live in.

The release of Abdelbaset Ali Al-Megrahi

It’s an image to that me is as indelible as any published in the media during my lifetime. The cockpit of a jumbo jet liner laying on its side on a Scottish field like a  discarded, crushed soda can. The words Maid of the Seas,  still legible below the cockpit windows, and despite a six-mile plunge, the right side wiper was still intact. Absent from the photograph is any evidence of the rest of the aircraft, which was in pieces scattered in and around the village.

It turns out wreckage from the downed airliner wasn’t the only thing scattered about the area. The bodies of the passengers stayed around town for days as investigators scrambled to get vital information to piece together as best as they could how PanAm Flight 103, from London to New York City had suddenly exploded and come apart.

I’ve been thinking about this photograph a bit lately, as the Scottish courts just days ago released the only person ever convicted in the Flight 103 bombing, Lybian citizen Abdelbaset Ali Al-Megrahi, who was serving a life sentence for his part in coordinating the placement of explosives in the jet, which went down just days before Christmas in 1988.

The cockpit photo is something I’ll always remember. I believe in fourth grade I was given a World Almanac by my father for 1990, and one of the photographs in the center section was this one. Because the incident had happened so close to the New Year, it was was considered a significant event for 1989, as it was at the time considered one of the most brazen and deadly terrorist attacks carried out.

It would take more than a decade before anyone would be convicted and then only one person. More than 270 people on board and nearly a dozen on the ground were killed.

The horror that the families must have felt at learning of their loved one’s deaths during the holidays must have been horrific, second only to the terrifying deathes that the victims endured, many of whom are believed to have survived the rapid depressurized decent until impact. That to me seems absolutely horrible.

This week, Al-Megrahi was released because he has terminal prostate cancer, which may only allow him to live for three more months. Under Scottish law, a person with a terminal illness may be released.

The families of the victims are predictably and understandably upset that Al Megrahi  has been let go, and deported back to Lybia, where he received a hero’s welcome.

I guess I’m torn about it. Although I don’t think criminal courts should be required to let anyone go who has been convicted and sentence to a crime – regardless of their health – I think it is a mark of the underlying decency of the West that one of our courts would consider such a move, offering some bit of mercy to someone with a terminal illness. Personally, I don’t know if I would have done it if I were a judge, but I somehow don’t think the Scottish judge who made the release decision did so without thinking about it.

It’s a marked difference in some senses between the West and the Arab world, that our legal system would consider giving this man his last three months out of a cell. Somehow I don’t think that under nationalist dictatorship of Mohammed Gaddafi, there would be as much mercy given.

Still, that will be of little comfort to the families who have little to claim from this tragedy but justice.

Murder where I jog past

On Sunday I drove home a teammate from a softball game.  Across the spot where I let her out we noticed Albany Police had cordoned off an apartment on Western Avenue. I haven’t seen it much in life, but I know when you see the yellow tape, it’s usually a crime scene. For some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me that someone could have been killed there. Sure enough, my teammate told me there was a killing there. Henry C. Ferrell, a 32-year-old single father living at 158 Western Avenue, was shot after some sort of early morning argument on Sunday. So far his family is unsure of why he may have been killed.

I guess that makes about 4 homicides in Albany so far this year. The only other one that I can remember was one that occurred not far from the Ferrell killing  on West Street.

I don’t think of Albany as a particularly murderous place, but looking back over the past year, and remembering the shooting of 10-year-old Kathina Thomas last year in the West Hill neighborhood, not far from where I live.

Thomas’ death, which came at the hands of a teenager who was firing at some rivals on the street with a “community gun”, was absolutely awful. Still, this is not a particularly murderous city. Earlier this year however, a gun was found in the basement of my apartment, so I suppose you never know where something that could occur or who is involved with us things.

I jog past the site where Farrell was killed at least four times a week, although mostly during daylight. On the other hand, I’ve walked around at late night near a spot on Lake Street where an unsuspecting University at Albany student was popped last year for no apparent reason. His killers have not been identified yet and so far it seems pretty random.

I don’t normally live in fear, but I suppose even in safer neighborhoods people can be killed. My own brother was held up at gunpoint in March in his neighborhood in the West Roxbury section of Boston, known for being pretty safe. I guess you can never account for other folks unfortunately.