The Blog Squad

Monday, January 30, 2006

Holmberg is out of line in criticism of Behl's mom

I’ve been trying to dissect a comment Mark Holmberg made in his column yesterday. It was about the murder of Joseph Edward Roberts, a 60-year-old North Richmond man, whose slaying during an apparent home invasion in January went largely unnoticed amid the more high-profile homicides in the truly horrendous, murderous month. As he always does so deftly, Holmberg told us about this man most of us never so much as encountered -- a disabled handyman who had held every job you can name, a very social guy who “craved company”, a man who battled alcoholism and won in the final years of his life. And then Holmberg came to his point:

“It’s all too easy to dismiss this human driftwood -- and a death like Roberts’ -- isn’t it?"

Unfortunately, yes. And then Holmberg took it too far:

"It just doesn’t weigh the same as the other slayings that week, not to mention last year’s death of college student Taylor Behl. Which is why few reporters contacted Roberts’ family, while Behl’s mother continues to bask in the media spotlight like a contestant on some kind of strange “American Idol” for grieving family members.”

Whoa. Basking in the spotlight? "American Idol" for grieving family members? I can’t figure out whether this is merely insensitive or inflammatory for the sake of being inflammatory or perhaps, the most ignorant thing I’ve ever heard. If Holmberg’s point is that all deaths should “weigh” the same -- well, how is it Janet Pelasara’s fault that no one paid attention to Mr. Roberts’ death? Why did Holmberg feel the need to drag her into this? And to more than imply that Mrs. Pelasara is in any way enjoying this is just stomach-turning. God help you in Holmberg’s world if you happen to be a telegenic, articulate woman whose beautiful daughter goes missing and winds up murdered, because apparently you have no credibility as victim of crime. What would any of us do in that situation? You bet your life that if I were in Mrs. Pelasara’s boat, I would sell my soul to the devil -- or worse, cable news outlets -- to get my child’s face and information out there and I wouldn’t feel the least bit guilty about it. There are legitimate criticisms to be made of news outlets who spend way too much time on these “missing white girl” stories but not an ounce of that criticism should go to families who use every resource at their disposal to find their children or, after the fact, to speak out on the issues about which they have become reluctant experts.

“No, we might not feel such a small death, which means something has died in each one of us.”

Holmberg’s weird logic seems to say shame on us for not noticing some victims of violent crime but shame on us too for noticing others.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Comic relief Friday presents: Del. Reid's premature detonation!

Friday is the day you want to splurge on lunch, let the kids eat a donut for dinner, skip out of the office on the early side (let's say, 2ish?) and catch a movie. It's the breeziest day of the week and just right for today's comic relief news of the week: Del. John Reid accidentally fires his Kel-Tec semi-automatic pistol in his General Assembly office! What a hoot!

He's apparently taking out the magazine and unloading the round that's in the chamber -- as he does every morning -- and the thing just goes off!

And it gets funnier! The bullet fortuitously hits a bullet-proof vest Reid just happened to have been given as a joke last year for criticizing former Gov. Mark Warner. The vest stops the bullet from going through the door to the outer office where secretaries work and colleagues and visitors and lobbyists might be walking around. Ha! Lobbyists!

Reid then apologizes to his colleagues and promises to do some "soul-searching" about whether or not to continue carrying a loaded weapon around the State Capitol. (Helpful tip to Del. Reid: Your soul is that thing your bullet proof vest doesn't protect...)

Are you doubled over yet? This is the funniest thing that's happened since that guy walked out of his cell in the Richmond City Jail and killed that other inmate. Wicked funny.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Man, that is one sorry cube.

It'd be worth your while to read Conaway Haskins' comment on my last post (and worth your while in general to check out his blog, South of the James). Here's a piece of it.

As one who also lives in the 'burbs but spends a lot of time in the city, I think that any discussion of crime in Metro Richmond - and the city specifically - has to first make a distinction between "occurrence of crime" and "perception of crime." You can't start a serious discussion without extracting the two. Many people who live in the suburbs fear Richmond - any part of Richmond outside of Carytown and the Far West End - because of the crime in the East End and some Northside neighborhoods. But, when you isolate Gilpin, Blackwell, and the surround areas, the actual rates and numbers of crime declines precipitously.

I have mentioned somewhere in this blog that former Police Chief Jerry Oliver once told me in an interview that unless you are involved in criminal activity, drugs or domestic violence you are pretty safe in Richmond. The Harvey murders jolted most of us out of that feeling. It was a sickening aberration from the norm. The sad reality though is that the norm is just as sickening -- it's just that we have gotten used to the idea of poor black people killing other poor black people.

Conaway's right. You can't have this discussion without talking about race and class. Whether you are white, black, Latino or Asian; poor, affluent or middle-class; urban or suburban makes a difference in terms of how you perceive crime. That's where I disagree a bit with Conaway. I'm not sure you really can separate the incidence of crime from the perceptions of it. It's as if we are all looking at the same cube from different angles. Where you see a corner, I see a flat surface and someone else sees a shadow. Even the bird's-eye-view is just a two-dimensional square. Perhaps in bringing together all those views, all those perceptions, we can begin to construct the whole, true picture of our cube.

But my cynical side immediately answers, "Oh, yeah? Then what?" My idealistic side has no answer for that.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Crime forum, anyone?

The Times-Dispatch reported that more than two hundred people bothered to leave their homes and go to Hanover county to discuss Richmond's crime problems. I think 200 is probably a pretty decent turnout (never mind the half-million of us who did not bother to attend). But each week, more than 200 people read this and other local blogs and we have a chance to conduct our own forum, don't you think? I commend the T-D for doing these things even as I agree with Publisher Thomas Silvestri's comment that "I don't think talking about [crime] is going to solve it but maybe if we start the conversation as a community, we can get places." He's right about that, as long as we are not talking in circles or in cliches. Jim Ukrop saying, "We need to declare war on crime in our region" does exactly what for us? Now, I'm sure Ukrop had a lot more than that to say, but that's the quote that got printed. Declare war on crime. Well, for Pete's sake...

Other speakers had these things to say:
"I think prison should be punishment, not a vacation."
"Nowadays the village doesn't raise the child. The child is pillaging the village."
"We've got to stop throwing good money at bad problems ..."
"Self-defense is more than a right, it's a moral duty."

If anything of substance came out of the T-D's effort, it sure didn't show in the story today. Either that was the best of it, or reporters Paige Akin and Julian Walker went for the low-hanging fruit of the pithy quotes. (Regular people are sure getting better at giving good quote, don't you think?) So what should our little forum start with? I would love to know what you would like to talk about in terms of our crime problem. I'll tell you what I've been thinking a lot about. We all talk as if there is something each one of us can do individually, and I suppose that is absolutely true. We can mentor a young person or volunteer to work with troubled youth or join our neighborhood watch. Do you want to know what I did in response to the hideous murders this month to help cut down crime? I called ADT. How do we get people like myself who are safely tucked in the suburbs to care so much about Richmond's crime problems that we actually do something other than protecting ourselves? For that matter how do we get people in the city to do something? And what, exactly, should we ask them to do?
Your thoughts, friends?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Should a city crime forum be held in Hanover?

The Times-Dispatch seems a bit defensive about its Public Square forum on crime being held tonight at its Hanover plant. Readers and community residents have already criticized, questioned or at least pointed out the irony of holding a forum on crime in Richmond at a plant in sleepy Hanover county. The paper's lead editorial this morning goes out of its way to argue that the problem of crime is a regional one which affects every county. No argument there. The editorial also makes clear that the Hanover plant is bigger and more comfortable for the crowd they are expecting tonight. However, the forum is being billed as "Crime: Has Perception Become Our Reality?" It is the city of Richmond that is getting the scary reputation, earned or not. Richmond even took the brunt of Henrico's iBook riot in the national reporting. But the most recent spate of horrifying murders has indeed occurred within the city's boundaries. If we are going to confront these issues, let's really do it. It may be more comfortable in Hanover, but maybe right now isn't time to worry about making people so comfortable. Maybe if we all were a little less comfortable with Richmond's real and perceived crime problems, we would each work a little harder to improve things. I can see why, as a matter of logistics, the T-D is holding the forum in Hanover, but sometimes perception is reality, and they should have realized that this would be perceived as highly ironic -- holding a forum on city crime in the safe-as-milk suburbs.

P.S. I can't be there tonight (the kids are still under the weather). If any of you reading this attend, please provide us with some of your thoughts on the forum tomorrow. Thanks.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I'm King of the World!: 0

Sorry, I've been slacking a bit this week but my kids have been, shall we say, releasing unattractive fluids from various exit points this week. Scouring the paper this morning for anything that felt like big news -- Governor wants to fix entire transportation system, raise car sales tax; government wants to spy on our Google searches, yada yada yada, I finally found it buried in the bottom left-hand corner of A-6. "Kaine to give party response to Bush." That's right. Our fresh-out-of-the-shrinkwrap governor has been tapped to deliver the Democratic response to the president's State of the Union address on Jan. 31. Following, my predictions for the number of times we will hear the following phrases:

Moving Virginia forward: 2
Moving America forward: 3
bipartisan: 6
special interests: 4
American people: 11
Mark Warner: 704

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Marrs and the T-D: Do we smell a Texas cage match?

This little war between the Times-Dispatch and former 68th District representative Bradley Marrs is getting fun to watch. Marrs' photo with the what-me-worry? grin has appeared two days in a row on the Editorial page -- yesterday in his own letter to the editor blasting the paper for its "sudden and stunning embrace of the political causes of homosexual activists" and its "pro-homosexual attack mentality" and again today, when the paper responded with its own lengthy editorial taking his charges on point by point and almost calling him a liar, saying his letters were "remarkable for distortions and omissions."

I don't particularly want to get into the issues themselves at this time. There will be plenty of time between now and the November referendum to debate the merits or faults of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Virginia. Right now, I simply find it interesting watching the conservative paper and the conservative sore loser duke it out. I guess it just goes to show you how great the divide is among social and religious conservatives and the more moderate wing. Funny, huh, that the Times-Dispatch would appear to fall into the latter category? How things have changed since the days when they would they would write editorials like the one in 1995 about Billie Jean King's visit to a local AIDS hospice? Can you imagine them writing something like that now?

While the paper's positions on gay issues remain solidly on the conservative side, there is definitely more moderation and tolerance there -- in both the position and the language. The paper supported former Gov. Mark Warner's ban on discrimination in state hiring, but questioned the appropriateness of burying it in his budget. Fair enough. Gone are the strident tones and wrath of God language. That now seems left to lawmakers and former lawmakers obsessed with sexuality, reproduction and even fertility treatments.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Sunburned in January

When you are sunburned, even the slightest touch hurts. Right now, it is as if all of Richmond is sunburned and the things that ordinarily wouldn’t bother us now sting and burn. I am speaking for myself, but I don’t think I am off-base here. I was never a fan of CSI or Law & Order-type shows but now the idea of them is positively revolting. The other night as I was packing lunches for the next day, one of those Law & Orders (which invariably I wind up calling Law & Order SUV) started with the rape and murder of a little girl. I couldn’t switch the channel fast enough. This is entertainment. Flipping through the Weekend section the other day, I bristled at the ad for that cheeseball curiosity known as the Mystery Dinner Playhouse putting on their production of “Murder at the Irish Wake.” What I once thought of as merely rubber chicken and scattered chuckles now seemed in horrible taste.

Saturday, as our family watched some playoff football and built stuff with Legos there was a knock at the door. Two squeaky clean young men wanted to save our souls on the front porch. I did not want to open the door. My husband opened it anyway without the safety benefit of keeping the slide lock at the top of the door engaged. He sent them away politely but I wanted to stop them and say, “Don’t you know what happened two weeks ago? Tell your bosses to get a new marketing plan!”

I do hope the sunburn will go away. I don’t want to stay overly sensitive to these things -- I think I was sensitive enough already. I dwell in a murky area in which I am both staunchly anti-violence in our culture and yet an occasional (and I hope discriminating) consumer of it. I watched every second of “24” last night and probably chuckled a little when Mrs. Huber met her fate in the kitchen on “Desperate Housewives.” I am an unabashed Buffy fan. And one of my all-time favorite movies, “Fargo” is dark, violent and at times wildly funny. The sight of that leg in the wood chipper is as funny as it is horrifying. But perhaps my own true feelings are revealed in the speech given near the end of the film by Marge, the heroine of “Fargo”. Her character -- a trusting and naïve woman but a shrewd sheriff -- and the movie itself are distilled in that one brilliant moment after she has apprehended the killer and is talking to him in the police cruiser while he stares blankly from the back seat. “I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than money, you know. Don't you know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well … I just don't understand it.”
I don’t understand it either. But you know what? It is a beautiful day.

Friday, January 13, 2006

End of the week rambling ...

DNA tests have proven conclusively that Roger Keith Coleman, executed in 1992 for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law, was in fact the killer, despite his insistence of innocence. I'm not sure the retest was necessary. Those glasses say it all ...

That new TD Channels section is spiffy in a completely canned sort of way, don't you think? ...

Did anyone else hear Diane Walker on Fox News at 10 call Arlen Specter "Arlene" the other night? ...

I got a hold of the super-secret set list for the Beach Boys' performance at Tim Kaine's inaugural concert. They'll dedicate some songs on Kaine's behalf to Mark Warner ("You're So Good to Me"), Russ Potts ("Heroes and Villains"), Paul Goldman ("I Get Around"), Doug Wilder ("You Still Believe in Me") and Jerry Kilgore ("Wouldn't it Be Nice").

Today's Your 2 Cents column in the T-D included a mini-rant from someone wondering why all the gun-control types are so quiet in the wake of these murderous weeks in Richmond and suggests that if the victims had guns they might be alive today. Well, lady, maybe people know this is not the right time or even situation to get into a political argument. Well, apparently only some people know it ...

On a personal note, it has been my pleasure to do this blog for the past four months, but I feel it's time to move on. My last post will be on June 30, 2007 ...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A must-read for all of us

Please read all of this.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The people of Woodland Heights need a few more answers

There is one small aspect to the Harvey murders that I didn’t really want to get into for fear of seeming overly critical of Richmond police. I do feel that they have done an extraordinary job this past week and am particularly impressed with the leadership and professionalism of Chief Rodney Monroe. However, given the concerns voiced in the Times-Dispatch this morning by Woodland Heights residents, I no longer feel that it would be nitpicking to ask some hard questions about why the police assured neighbors there was no need to worry about random attacks. Todd Ranson, identified in Michael Martz’s story as a Harvey family friend who lives in the area, said that Richmond police assured friends and neighbors that the killers were most likely known to the Harveys and not motivated by robbery. Ranson is quoted as saying: “It was not the neighborhood that was driving that. We were taking our cues from the police.” He said that a detective told him: “You have nothing to worry about. This is not a crime of opportunity. This is a crime of passion.”
We need to hear from the Richmond Police why this communication happened. Was it a detective or officer so desperate to give these people some peace that he reached too far for a conclusion that was not officially drawn? Understandable. But still, we need an answer. Did the police focus their investigation too narrowly at first and assume it was a crime of passion? We need to know that too. There is no doubt that Richmond Police never officially acknowledged a theory or suspect until the two suspects were caught. It may have been even a little frustrating for the rest of us to read a quote from an official saying there were 197,000 suspects, referring to the entire population of Richmond. The police took the right official tack, but may have misstepped on the front porches of Woodland Heights. Was it due to misinformation or miscommunication from high in the ranks or poor judgment or overzealousness of individual officers and detectives? Richmond Police should tidy up what so far seem like the only loose ends dangling from a tight and well-done investigation.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

It's fun to be right

One of my anonymous friends out there took me to task for coming down too hard on Marcus Vick a few posts ago. I could say "told you so, Anon" but that might be like pulling a marker out of my sock in the end zone and signing the ball...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Should we feel better or worse?

Great news over the weekend -- police have arrested two suspects in connection with the Harvey and Tucker/Baskerville murders. Then the stunning development that police are investigating the possibility that Ashley Baskerville, one of the victims, may have been an accomplice to the robbery at the Harvey house. We may finally be getting the answers we have been waiting for. So why don’t I feel any better? In fact, this development may be the worst outcome possible. Not the arrest, of course, but the news that the Harvey slayings seem to be, in fact, random. After much speculation on the internet with theories about estranged, troubled relatives and the Harveys’ attempts to intervene (kudos to the local press for not biting), it turns out that what seemed unthinkable might actually be the case: that someone did this just to grab some DVD players or something. It makes me want to vomit.
The initial idea that this might have been something contained to the Harveys’ universe was bleak, if selfish comfort. As horrifying as it was, one can at least grasp that personal situations spin out of control, people go crazy or stop taking medication. And from that selfish point of view -- that thank God it does not affect my universe -- I took the only bit of comfort I have known for days. Once the Harveys’ universe was punctured, it was grief more than terror that spilled out all over Richmond.
That’s not to say most of us didn’t entertain the thought that there might be monsters in our midst. In the days following the murders I, like many of you, have had trouble sleeping. When I wake in the middle of the night my first thought is those two precious babies. I admit to having checked my kids’ rooms armed with a lava lamp. When I needed to go into the attic I brought along a spray bottle of Lysol bathroom cleaner. I told myself I was being irrational, especially as it seemed that this might have been a case of a lunatic in the Harveys’ midst -- at least that’s what many of us read into the police reports that robbery was not involved and the comment in the Jan. 3 T-D story quoting neighbors of the Harveys:

Three families said yesterday that police detectives have told them they need not be alarmed about a continuing threat in the neighborhood. “One of the detectives came to me and said, ‘There’s no need to worry,’” said one neighbor, who has a wife and two children.

So how to process this? That this lovely family's fate was determined by the throw of a dart, a random monstrous act that could have happened to you, to me or anyone else in this town? Last night at the dinner table my daughter asked me what I was afraid of. I couldn't tell her the truth, so I said "dark places." How could I tell her that I am afraid of monsters when I have reassured her time and again that there is no such thing? I suppose someday I will have to tell my children the truth.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Hall of Fame bid crashes in Turn 2 (and other thoughts on the week)

Richmond's "If you build it they will come" mentality finally seemed to have righted itself with the NASCAR Hall of Fame pitch. For once, it was "Clearly they will come. Let's build it!" There was genuine civic excitement (and OK, some naysayers) but unlike some other doomed projects around here lately this one was well-organized, though-out and pitched. Unfortunately, and with no reason offered, Richmond was dropped from the short list with only Atlanta, Daytona Beach and Charlotte remaining. (Keep watching the papers and TV news for phrases like: Where did the wheels fall off? ... Richmond's bid ran out of gas ... No checkered flag for Richmond. Am I missing any?*) ...

So, Marcus Vick has been given his options of what to do after his leg-stomping incident in the Gator Bowl. Let's see. He can either choose to go pro early and hope to go in the second round of the draft OR he can transfer to a Division 1-AA school with little or no TV exposure OR he can take a suspension of at least one whole game (!) and then keep on playing for the No. 7 ranked team in the nation. Now let me think. Let's just say I libel someone in my Richmond Magazine column, and my editors say, "OK, Janet, here are your options: You can either quit and hope you get picked up as a nationally syndicated columnist OR you can go write for the local weekly shopper that comes with the Pizza Hut coupons OR you can sit your column out for a month and then just keep on doing it like before." Hmm ... what to choose, what to choose ...

Well, we are finally getting a look at just what a mess Michelle Mitchell made of the Richmond City Jail. Faulty plumbing, wiring, locks, overcrowding and a medical refrigerator that housed both inmate bodily fluids and employee lunches. Jeez, I'd hate to see her house ...

I have no idea who Vito Colucci is other than a talking head private investigator but last night on Rita Cosby's show on MSNBC, while discussing the Harvey murders he had high praise for the Richmond PD. He said, and I am paraphrasing, that Richmond has a "great police department down there" and implied that if the case can be solved, the Richmond PD will do it. It was nice to hear.

*see my headline

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

How about VTZ 4 THGS?

I was behind a minivan today with the license plate NUTZ 4VT. I wonder if the driver wasn't a teensy weensy bit embarrassed to be sporting that plate this week after Marcus Vick's thuglike performance in the Gator Bowl on Monday.

In case you missed it, Vick seemed to very deliberately stomp on the leg of a Louisville defensive end while the guy was lying on the ground well after a play was over. No flag was thrown.

Tech's quarterback coach chewed him out on the sidelines and says he considered benching him. Why didn't he? Well, one guess. Because in the end, the only thing that matters is the W. It's why Vick has survived a string of arrests and legal troubles.

To make matters worse, not only is Vick a bully, he's also apparently a liar. He told reporters that after the game he had apologized to the guy he stomped on, Elvis Dumervil (isn't that a great name?). Dumervil says the apology never took place. (OK, maybe Vick did apologize, mumbling under his breath something like, "Sorry your motionless leg got in the way of my fast-moving, stomping foot...")

Now, Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver has called Vick's actions "unacceptable." We are about to see how much wiggle room there is in the word unacceptable. Anything less than dismissal from the team means that Tech does indeed accept his behavior.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

World of Mirth, indeed...

I did not know Kathryn Harvey any more than as a Carytown fixture, a presence almost every time I visited World of Mirth, which was quite a bit since almost the day it opened. The most we ever spoke, other than to ask if you still carry this or are going to reorder that was when she very kindly let me use her cluttered but clean back room to change a diaper. Moms sympathize.

I don't want to belabor this story. It is simply too awful. What I want to do is pay tribute to the world that Kathryn Harvey created in that spot in Carytown -- a world of mirth, indeed. I was there on Dec. 23 and spotted Kathryn briefly chatting with a friend who had brought her some cookies. I was over the by the adult Mad-Libs. I bought my husband an Avenging Unicorn Playset, which included a unicorn with interchangeable horns who impales a mime along with two other annoying little figures. I shamelessly guffawed out loud when I saw it. I also bought an Edgar Allan Poe action figure and a Jane Austen action figure, complete with quill and writing desk! (More out-loud laughing). I bought a Miracle Eyes Jesus, a concave little sculpture in which Jesus' piercing blue eyes follow you wherever you go in the room. It's exactly like the huge porcelain one my grandfather had in his bedroom. Then I bought some buttons for many people on my list. "Can't sleep, clowns will eat me" ... "Raising teenagers is like nailing Jell-o to a tree" ... "I'm not old, your music really does suck" ... a peace sign for my daughter and I replaced my "Wackos for Peace" button that I'd lost the week before Christmas.

Where else could you find infant onesies with anarchy signs next to Hello Kitty toys next to handcrafted wooden toys next to punching nun puppets next to ...? Well, you get the idea. World of Mirth has been more than a store to me; it's a vibe. I have always felt comfortable there among the tattooed employees with the St. Catherine's manners. For being a store so steeped in hipness, it never exuded a "you're-not-cool-enough-to-be-here" feeling. No one cares if you hang out for an hour browsing, playing, laughing, letting your kids touch everything and then leaving. When you bring someone a gift from World of Mirth, wrapped up and overstuffed with tons of colorful tissue paper and ribbon, the recipient always knows something surprising and delightful awaits them.

I always attributed that warm and welcoming vibe to Harvey, who seemed so easy-going and lighthearted as she strolled through the store. She created something new and unique in this town that somehow felt familiar and comfortable from the very beginning.

I hope the irreverent and joyful world Kathryn Harvey created is strong enough to withstand the pain of this loss. I hope one day to laugh out loud again in World of Mirth. But I imagine it will take a very long time.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The incomprehensible

How are we to digest the indigestible, to comprehend the incomprehensible? The slaying of an entire family in the most brutal, monstrous way. We will try -- it is human nature -- to make sure something is done about it. There will be committees and crime task forces and neighborhood watches and memorials and we will grab for these things because we don't know what else to do, but deep down we know there is nothing we can do. Some will try to point fingers and there will be talk about another horrendous black mark for Richmond. This is not a Richmond story. This is not a story about time or place at all, but of humankind itself. We will ask the eternal questions that people have been asking since they have been able to: How could human beings do such a thing? Why? Unfortunately, we will never find the answers, so we will busy ourselves with doing whatever we can -- the committees, the task forces, the memorials. If it's all we can do, at least it is something. I hardly know what else to say except that I wish someday for peace to come back to the family and friends of Bryan, Kathryn, Stella and Ruby Harvey.