philosofunk

what if the worlds/were a series of steps/what if the steps/joined back at the margin


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Domestic Violence and the Law

“Every Fucking Day of My Life” is an HBO documentary about an extremely disturbing case of domestic violence that ended in the homicide of the abuser by his two of his victims, his wife and his son. Wendy Moldonado and her seventeen year old son Randy made a hasty decision to end the life of their tormentor after a night of abuse by Aaron Moldanado. This was a common and familiar occurrence in their home and that night, the two made an impulsive decision to stop Aaron forever. They perpetrated the crime together and Wendy immediately called 911, admitting to the homicide on the phone with the dispatcher. When the dispatcher asks “Did he try to hurt you”  she replies “Every fucking day of my life”.

Sadly, Wendy was sentenced to ten years in prison and Randy was sentenced to seventy-five months, or just over six years. The scope of the horror that the family endured at the hands of it’s patriarch were so extreme and horrifying it is difficult to accept justice in this case in regards to sentencing. The truth is, under justifiable homicide laws in Oregon, this case did not qualify. To meet the standards of justifiable homicide a person must feel that their death is imminent and the only way to prevent this and any greater harm that could occur at the hands of another individual is to kill them. When a case involves domestic violence that has occurred over the course of years and the threat of death is gradual instead of immediate, it does not meet the standard set by the law.

Should a person be able to commit homicide in the case of extreme domestic abuse? Why were other alternatives where the abuser lives not used? The truth is that domestic violence is a complex web of psychological terror designed to keep victims in their place. Other alternatives Wendy had may have included divorce, although both parties must consent and it is unlikely Aaron would have, or simply fleeing, but she may have had to leave her children behind which is not necessarily a wise decision in the best interest of her children. Abusers like Aaron also threaten to inflict harm to the victim’s family if they leave the abusive situation. In Wendy’s case, Aaron threatened to kill her entire family if she left. This is a logical deterrent from leaving because Aaron very well may have carried out his threat. Wendy says she knew she was “screwed” when Aaron told her that he fantasized about being a serial killer who would keep his victims captive for days and then rape everyone, including any men because “I’m not a fag but I’d fuck a man to prove” his point, as Wendy relays in the film.

This man sounds like an absolutely terrifying individual and from all accounts he was. It is not unreasonable to think that a person who says that they want to be a serial killer would terrorize his own family to the point of death. It is feasible that Wendy Moldanado’s death was likely, although perhaps not at the moment of her crime, eventually he could have killed her. He even wrote a song about her with the lyrics “I love you/I killed you always/see your bloody body/lying on the floor/looking toward a new life/a life of torture/have I sealed our fate dear/self murdered bitch I killed”. He literally fantasizes about murdering her as if it were a form of an acceptable love affair. That there is no way for her case to meet the standard of justifiable homicide is absurd. The threat was gradual, there was a level of endurance to the violence. When violence escalates, it is reasonable to assume fatal bodily harm could happen to an individual. An escalation of violence seems to have been the norm at the Moldanado’s. The threat of death omnipresent. When weighing the reality of Wendy’s situation, it is hard to come up with an alternative to her actions because of the atmosphere Aaron created.

The law has often been lagging in relation to the reality of domestic violence. At one time, it was legal for a man to beat his wife with a switch no larger than his thumb, hence the term “rule of thumb”. Post-feminist movement America is a different world however it is far from perfect from addressing the reality of those who suffer in domestically violent situations. When the police would arrive, the Moldanado family could not complain about Aaron because he had surveillance set up outside of the house so he could monitor what everyone did and said. This is an enormous level of control that took away any ability Wendy had to make healthy decisions concerning her life. She would have to send the police away while being beaten upon return was still a threat. Neighbors complained to the police but it fell on deaf ears, ears that were not tuned to the sophistication a predator like Aaron can conjure up. The children were so traumatized that after his death they kept “looking over our shoulders” as Randy describes their paranoia of expecting Aaron to return from the dead.

The lack of documentation on the violent state of their marriage may have contributed to Wendy’s long sentence. However, the reality is that domestic violence victims may not be able to make reports because of the controlling nature of their abuser, like in Wendy’s case. For these victims there is little recourse in directing their futures. Wendy could not direct her future and had to accept time in prison in order to free herself from her chains. Her actions were not premeditated, she says that it was two minutes before she killed him that she made the decision to do so. Justifiable homicide laws simply do not address extreme cases of domestic abuse in a realistic manner that protects the victim. If the criminal justice system were justly dealing with domestic violence, Wendy would have gotten a lighter sentence or not even one at all. It is time for the legal system to catch up with this disturbing reality.


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“Homeless Kids of Orange County” Documentary

California is one of the top ten economies in the world, and logically, one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. For families struggling to make ends meet, problems such as homelessness can be a burden placed upon a family whose breadwinners do not sufficiently make enough to keep a roof over everyone’s head. In places like Orange County, California, as one mother calculated, that would mean making at least $20/hr or $3,000 a month in order to cover just basic life expenses. This is beyond the reach for many in the non-skilled work sector without taking two or more jobs. Survival is very hard work for the living poor.

“Homeless Kids of Orange County” focuses on the families living in a motel across the street from Disneyland, in an ironic juxtaposition of tragic proportions. The children featured in the film have never been to Disneyland because of their families financial situations, but still climb the stairs of parking garages to watch the fireworks at night. They do not have a steady place to live, but remark with great insight that being homeless in America is better than other places because “the homeless get food in America”. Their small lives are filled with such intense instability and they are completely aware of it. One kid remarks that it “sucks” to be homeless, there is no privacy and few options for entertainment, with many scenes consisting of children creating toys out of resources like plants and things evicted families have left behind. The children witness violence, drug use, and a great police presence. It is not a suitable environment for them, and they are aware of this fact.

The film’s subjects attend Project Hope School, which is a public school also supported by a foundation that caters exclusively to homeless children so that they will not have to constantly go through the process of redistricting every time they move. Project Hope provides food and school supplies to the children and supportive resources that are specifically designed for the needs of homeless children. Since the school does not have a lot of students everyone is taught in a single classroom. Even though this is a supportive environment, one can see the impact of homelessness and their school environment on the children. There are complaints of not being able to focus because one’s younger siblings are in the same classroom bickering, there is observation of Miranda rights during a discussion on early American history when one boy utters “I have the right to remain silent”, a third grader is featured saying that he wants “a big mansions and all the guns”. The children are clearly effected negatively by their surroundings, some of them are doing their best and some of them act out negatively.

One very poignant moment in the film is when the Brewster family is evicted. The Brewster family consisted of five people and four dogs, and the mother worked in a parking lot at Disneyland making about $12/hr. homeless kids

Zack was a badly behaved little boy who was insufficiently and inappropriately entertained at the motel. Instead of receiving positive attention and stimulating experiences, Zack fell victim to what many children who live in poverty fall victim to: becoming his own worst enemy. Zack’s behavior was rambunctious and his working mother with three other children could not adequately give him the positive attention he needed in order to be properly functional. When the Brewsters were kicked out was one of the scarier points made in the documentary because it gave a storyline to how families are evicted from the property. A parent has control over their child to a degree, and in a desperate situation, may loose more control because of the choatic nature of desperate situations. When a child can be solely responsible for destroying the safety and welfare of a family’s living environment, the stability of that living situation was barely tenable at best. The instability of living in a motel is constantly remarked about in the film, especially since families are paying by the week to live in their rooms.

The filmmaker, Alexandra Pelosi, asks the kids “Why would god let kids be homeless?”. The first girl gives a dark response, she doesn’t know and doesn’t like it that god lets her be poor. The second girl gives a more poignant answer, “God provides what you need, he only gives you the things you really need not the things you wish for”. The different type of familial support that is constructed during a crisis period such as homelessness can be seen in the attitudes of different children. The children whose families decide to stick together, create rules, and move forward do better with their attitudes than the children whose families become depressed or stuck in the chaotic ghetto environment of the motel. Many of the children seem to exhibit at least some basic signs of depression, such as not having any hope for the future, “Nothing, nothing at all” the same little girl answers who gave the dark response to “why would god let kids be homeless”. It is very disheartening to witness because life is already such a burden to these young children and they already face so many obstacles that are completely out of their control.

The trials and tribulations of children may seem irrelevant to adults but the overall story line of this documentary is indicitave of how the American economy and government treats its poor. Corporate America seems dedicated to ensuring that a livable wage is just slightly beyond grasp for many working Americans. Taking two jobs seems to be the solution for many, which is absurd because a person should be able to make a living from one forty-hour work week job. Corporate America sees workers as expendable and figures, not the humans who have to go back to a crowded motel to live after a hard day’s work with no vacations and no breaks to relax. The American government provides a small amount of aid to needy families, such as food stamps, but there is still more need than services to go around. While the children remark that it is due to the American government that they have free lunches and breakfasts, legislators in Congress have yet to raise the federal minimum wage to a livable wage for working Americans.

The documentary “Homeless Kids of Orange County” pulls at the heartstrings while delivering a very concise message about the discrepancy of wealth in the United States.


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The Heroin Problem

Recently I found out an acquaintance died from a heroin overdose. I had not seen this person in about a year, yet have clear memories of him that now seem sad in hindsight in the way that death overcasts a person’s memory. According to the New York Times, “heroin related deaths quadrupled between 2002 and 2013” and is becoming a scourge in many American neighborhoods. Heroin dealers are shrewd for money and power. Heroin users are looking for a fantastical escape that is bigger than themselves. It is a clear problem for which we are not finding a solution.

The documentary “Black Tar Heroin” is a comprehensive examination into the daily lives of heroin users. The documentary aired on HBO in 2000 and captured the attention of the public due to its honest portrayal of the struggles of heroin addicts.

One of the subjects in the film, Tracy, now writes a fantastic blog about her heroin days in hindsight now that she has been clean for many years. In the documentary, the audience meets her in the midst of heroin’s claim over her life. She notes that “it looks like I’ve gotten dropped in a dumpster” due to the physical toll shooting up in her legs took, and generally seems very out of touch with reality. After getting out of jail and doing a shot of heroin, she notes the disappointment of the hit and that the anticipation was the driving force to get her to shoot up. She is depressed and lost, a person with promise who turned to the most powerful substance to numb her pain. Her boyfriend in the film, Ben, also does crack cocaine which is a source of argument for the couple. When couples use drugs together, things get very distorted because of the enabling nature of the relationship and lack of genuine affection because all energy is reserved for the procurement and administration of the drug. Tracy says “recently all I’ve been thinking about what I’m gonna do when I quit heroin…and it seems like getting there is easy all I have to do is kick…even if I wasn’t doing heroin I don’t know what the fuck I want to do with my life I would’ve just done it”. She vacillates between wanting to not use and accepting her use. Junkies use many excuses to justify their bad behavior and often act as victims of their circumstances whether it is true or not. Fast forward several years and Tracy was able to kick her habit with dedication, support, and sheer will. However as her blog notes, the experiences of using heroin and the atmosphere that heroin use creates is not something a person can simply escape from, it stays with you and creeps up in the night.

For another subject, Jessica, the documentary remains a testament to her demise due to the streets, heroin, and a prostitution lifestyle. Jessica turns to prostituting in order to pay for her habit which is a very common decision for many female addicts. On her refrigerator a poem about the heroin lifestyle is scrawled, “Dead End Street Kid-bloody needles/full of junk/never bathing/smell like skunk/strict-9 acid/fuckin’ bunk/drink 40s/goddamn punk”. She says that in prostitution “you get through with them you try to clean up yourself in the car…and you stand back on the street and it feels like you’re a tissue being wiped”. She acquires AIDS and doesn’t stop prostituting, being so jaded that she no longer cares about putting other people in danger. It is clear in the film that she is dying, the last scene with her in it is very dark and disturbing. With her head shaved looking androgynous, she states that shes tired of “the sex trade business, I’m about to the point of just robbing people but I can’t do that because I’d go to jail because some stupid person would have to try to take a swing at me and I’d have to cut them up into little pieces”. She knows she lives a risky life, with the possibility of being raped and/or robbed a daily threat. “At the rate I’m going in a year I’ll be dead”, she says to the camera, with full knowledge of where the consequences of her actions are going.

wages of sin

This photo “for the wages of sin is death” is shown at the beginning of the film. However, heroin use in and of itself should not be considered a “sin”. Drug abuse is a recognized disorder on the DSM-V and addiction is a medical condition that must be treated carefully. Drug addicts may do bad things due to the nature of addiction (ie. stealing money from family to buy drugs), but saying that they are sinful is reducing their problem to something too basic. Due to the likelihood of any person becoming addicted, this disorder could theoretically happen to anyone. That is why it is so important to understand how addiction works and why it is so important to destigmatize drug addiction, something that could possibly cause more people to receive help for their addictions because of the reduction of the shame factor. Shame factors are enablers of negative behavior because it makes the person feel so negatively about themselves that they become unable to seek proper and adequate treatment.

The film ends with Tracy dumping her used needles into a bin at the needle exchange, a very important health care service that addicts need in order to be safe and protected from diseases. This is a strategy of the “harm reduction” school of thought, which states that since people are going to engage in potentially risky behavior, there should be services that provide ways for drug users to stay as safe as possible. Harm reduction does not label people because of their medical condition of addiction but rather seeks to recognize that the humanity these people have includes the right to be as safe as possible in their decisions, and if there is a way to facilitate that safety, it should be done. This strategy is more honest than the school of thought that prohibition of narcotics is the superior way to eliminate drug use.

In our society, it should be clear that prohibition is not working. It is a propaganda ploy to create power structures that are unbeatable. It creates black market jobs that are filled by dangerous people and causes people who are addicted to hide away from the public creating acute medical crises across the country. There will never be a “solution” for heroin use, that is heroin use will never completely go away. However, recognition of what the disease of addiction actually is could improve the conditions that come with heroin use.


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“Lost Angeles: Skid Row Is My Home” Documentary

Homelessness is a societal problem with many different implications for the homeless persons. To a degree in the United States, homelessness is now becoming illegal as is helping the homeless. For certain, a society can be judged how it treats its homeless, and in the United States, the legal establishment has not been kind to the homeless.

The documentary “Lost Angeles: Skid Row Is My Home” focuses on several homeless persons who live in Skid Row in Los Angeles. Skid Row is a fifty block conglomerate of primarily single adult housing units and is a low economic area with arguably the nation’s largest homeless population. It was established by a court case, Jones v. City of Los Angeles after it was found unconstitutional under the eight amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment that police could not destroy homeless camps in Skid Row because of the city’s housing shortage and thus the actions of the homeless could not be criminalized. Skid Row is a place of institutional proportions because it is also home to a large number of mentally ill persons. When the mental asylums were closed in the 1980’s by President Reagan, the policy toward the mentally ill became one of pharmaceuticals and little else support. The reason why so many people are homeless also have mentally health issues is because of the lack of community support, and in Los Angeles, many of them end up at Skid Row. Similarly, the Cook County Jail, LA’s jail, is also the largest mental health facility in the United States. The prevalence of jail and homelessness for the mentally ill makes logical sense since many cannot create the stability in order to lead productively healthy lives. Skid Row is an institution in and of itself for the mentally ill.

One of the characters the audience meets is Lee Anne, an eccentric old cat lady who cares for the cats and birds on Skid Row. She has a full shopping cart and a fiance who follows her around, a fellow by the name of K.K. Both share a mutually beneficially relationship by taking care and looking out for one another. K.K. remarks that to a degree, they have both chosen to be on the street. For him, he wanted to be “wild” and engaged in the drug lifestyle. For Lee Anne, she prefers to live outside despite having an apartment, K.K. reveals. Lee Anne has a mental illness where she collects trash, however, she seems to be one of the souls of Skid Row who is genuinely trying  to make it a better, more improved place to live by taking care of the animals. We meet Emanuel Compito, a man who voluntarily literally cleans up the streets of Skid Row with a broom and occasionally takes time to wash the streets with buckets of water. When the city continued to refuse to clean the streets, Compito took it upon himself to improve conditions for himself and his fellow Skid Rowers.

There is a great tension within the city of Los Angeles between the business owners, government leaders, and the advocates of  the homeless. People who are homeless exist because we live in a capitalistic society where peoples’ value and worth is measured  in financial terms. In capitalist societies, there are more people than jobs to create demand for jobs at the same time there is more available housing than there is people in the housing. Homelessness, theoretically, does not need to be a problem, it is the system it exists within that creates the problem. William J. Bratton was brought in to assist the city with “cleaning up” Skid Row. Bratton infamously helped “clean-up” New York City in the 1990’s. Bratton is a proponent of the “broken-windows” theory of policing that dictates that small quality of life policing is more conducive in the fight against crime and the chaos crime can bring. This means stopping people for simple violations and essentially taking a zero tolerance policy on law breaking. It means that the police become a large, unstoppable force with which there is no reckoning, and it wrecks devastation on the citizens it is enforced against. There is a disturbing scene when the police harass Lee Anne; she puts the contents of her cart and the belongings of other homeless folk in the street because the police informed her that they would be cleaning the street that day. In a chaotic exclamation of calamity, Lee Anne tries to salvage the belongings while managing to keep track of everything. She later finds out that she was being harassed by the police, that there was no street cleaning scheduled for that day and that because of the debacle some homeless people lost all their sleeping blankets. It is a scene that crystallizes the struggle of the homeless plight.

Bratton enforced quality of life arrests because it disproportionately puts pressure on the homeless person to live their lives in a way that does not favor their current lifestyle, the policy is intended to force these people out of homelessness as if many of them weren’t trying to begin with. For example, people violating the ordinance stating that no one can sleep on a city side walk can be fined up to $1,000, a sum of money a homeless person surely does not have.

Legally, the battle in the courts over homelessness is an issue of conduct versus status. That is, a homeless person may be protected under the law like in the Jones case against cruel and unusual punishment if they were left with no other alternative for their conduct and thus their status as a homeless person allows them more protection. However, the conduct of a homeless person for example lying on the street could be construed as illegal because of city ordinances or other public safety rules, therefore allowing the conduct to be criminalized. It is a chicken versus egg issue, one whose coin can be flipped depending on the judge or set of judges at trial. It is one in a barrage of examples of how the lives of the homeless are often left up to chance.

The film ends to remind us that:

skid row

From beginning to end “Lost Angeles: Skid Row Is My Home” is a documentary that showcases the brilliance and resiliency of the human race. However, it reminds us that the comfort of our homes is one of our own making, that any one of us really can become homeless. We meet Danny Harris, a man at the beginning of the film, who won a silver medal in the Olympics for sprinting and became homeless on Skid Row. Life is filled with an endless amount of land-mines that must be navigated in order to continue. “Lost Angeles: Skid Row is My Home” is a documentary guaranteed to make one think of what makes life worth living and what the essence of humanity is.


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A Hate Crime in a Case of Mistaken Identity

Hate crime legislation did not always exist because the concept that a group of persons of minority status deserved special legal protection was not a popular sentiment until the 1990’s. Racialized tension has always been a historical American problem of epic proportions that has been dealt with many failures and some successes.

Documentaries are permanent time pieces that capture the essence of a person, place, or event. The Public Broadcasting Station produces many fantastic documentaries about a wide array of subjects. To find a documentary that is a few years old and genuinely well done is an exciting feat for a documentary junkie. Who Killed Vincent Chin is one of those documentaries rarely found, a diamond in the rust.

https://vid.me/SzO/who-killed-vincent-chin-1987

The premise of the documentary is the murder of Vincent Chin by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, his stepson. Chin was a Chinese-American man who lived in Detroit during the 1980s and was engaged to be married. During the 1980’s the American car industry, located in Detroit, suffered a number of set backs as they industry honchos mismanaged changing demands of the consumer while car producers in Japan appealed to the desires of car drivers in American markets. This caused the car industry in America to plummet, leading to a decrease in jobs in American car manufacturing plants, and as a result, it became that there were many angry unemployed working class people living in Detroit. Unemployment is a problem because it causes a decrease in self-esteem, motivation, productivity, and overall quality of life.

There has always been a problem of racism within the American frame of mind. Making wild generalizations about an ethnic or racial group is a disdainful American tradition, and white solipsistic perspective often erases ethnicities within a racial group. For example, Vincent Chin was Chinese-American but died because he was suspected of being Japanese. For Ronald Ebens, the man who bashed Chin’s head in with a baseball bat, this was explanation enough for the attack:

whokilled

Racine Colwell was a dancer at Fancy Pants, a Detroit strip-club that was frequented during the evening by the working class men of the auto plant industry. Chin and Ebens had had a verbal spat at the club that then carried into the parking lot. Instead of continuing the verbal spat, the disagreement turned into a hate crime because of Eben’s prejudice against Chin for being of Asian descent.”You little motherfuckers” is the phrase that is contentious as to whether or not this attack was a hate crime at the time of trial. Appallingly, Ebens was not convicted of murder despite the attack being witnessed by two off duty police officers, but plead guilty to second degree manslaughter while serving no jail time, instead being fined several thousand dollars. Many in the Asian community felt that this was a clear instance of white privilege at work keeping a white man free of the confines of jail or prison while an entire ethnic and racial group was failed by justice.

In the 1980’s, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was recently enacted legislation that dictated protection for discrimination based on racial prejudice. Social change is not the same mechanism as legal change but both are affected by one another and both are gradual processes that require compromise and understanding of nuances. Legal change is an instant moment that can be measured by victory and success or failure. Social change is a story based around millions of lives interconnected by a narrative thread. Understanding of the Civil Rights Act is not the same landmark event as the accomplishment of passing it.

Ebens was given wide latitude by the police and the legal system because of the historical standing of white male privilege. Hate crimes were common events in areas like the South and bodily violence against non-white bodies was common, and as current events across the country exhibit, is still common today. In the documentary, Ebens himself expresses surprise that he did not go to prison for murder. There is clearly something off in this case, something working toward the expression of Eben’s liberty at the expense of justice for Chin’s murder. The police did not interview the dancers from the club who saw the verbal altercation. The District Attorney downgraded a senseless murder to manslaughter, a charge that in layman’s terms mean’s “this person didn’t mean to kill anyone it just happened”. Killing someone with a baseball bat, bashing a person’s skull in like you were hitting a home run is not an accident. It is intentional, there is malice, and there is hatred. It is a personal way to kill someone, to express rage.

There is a point in the film when public rage was expressed by literally bashing Japanese cars with sledgehammers. There is a curious correlation between violence done to people and violence done to things. For example, during the Nazi era, there were public book burning that were held in order to express fascistic rage at liberal or communist ideas. The idea that there is a correlation between burning books and burning people by this group of radical fascists is logical. In Detroit, it went from people smashing Japanese cars to smashing Japanese bodies. Racialized hatred is a clear act of defiance of peace. Violence is an expression of hatred.

Federally, Ebens was convicted of federally violating Chin’s civil rights and given a twenty-five year sentence that was later overturned on a technicality. Hate crime legislation did not yet exist, so the idea that minority groups have a special status of protection within the law was not a legal concept. The film contains many allegories that Ebens was not in any way a racist  man because he either worked with racial minorities at the auto plant, or because his daughter had tutored an Asian boy in school. These are instances of white nonsense, a way to whitewash making racialized hatred normal by virtue of interacting with racial minorities. This is illogical and attempts to appeal to emotional manipulation. Nitz’s girlfriend even contends that he was even happy to be on unemployment because he could “collect all this money” while doing things like taking trips and apparently, beating up Asian men.

Meaningful social transformations must be supported by legal action and accomplishment. Hate crimes are a necessary legal protection in order to ensure that groups who are minorities have the correct protection from unnecessary aggression.


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Rethinking “Serial”

I love documentaries and true crime. “Serial” was a compelling podcast because it was based on a real life tragedy with elements of deception, love, sex, betrayal, and at the height of its success was dramatically relayed to 2.2 million people. On this blog I originally and uncritically went along with Sarah Koenig’s conclusion that it was reasonable to believe that Adnan was innocent and had been a victim to a great barrage of deception on the famed story changer Jay’s part. It was a stylized story, a sexy story as storytelling goes because of how well Koenig got the story to flow. It was compelling, surprising, and disturbing at the same time. As was reflected with this combination, people love stories that are woven tales of the complex intricacies of real life. With Adnan, Koenig found a relatively likable character who was charismatic and intelligent. However, after a few months of listening to “Serial” sporadically after listening to it relatively non-stop for days on end over the course of a few weeks during the winter, my perspective on Adnan’s innocence to one of guilt and how the techniques Koenig employed effected the overall point of view of Adnan’s innocence.

By far, women are more likely to know their violent attacker rather than experiencing violence from a stranger. While in my other blog post I flirted with the plausible idea that there could have been a serial killer who was targeting Asian women, it is statistically more likely that Hae knew her attacker and that he was or had been an intimate partner. That is why Adnan and Don were initially suspects. While listening to the podcast after the shiny sensationalism faded away, I noticed that Koenig uses this to stir the audience against the police and to create sympathy for how Adnan must have felt to be falsely accused by these two police who did nothing but just look at him. She finds other people to corroborate this perspective, notably a lawyer named Dierdre Enright who runs an innocence project at the University of Virginia School of Law. While Diedre Enright makes some legitimately construcitvely critical statements about the investigation into Adnan’s guilt, notably Jay’s inconsistencies and the lack of hardcore physical evidence, there are still things Koenig does to gloss over some of  the aspects of the case that look badly for Adnan.

However, while Adnan is talking, there are points where it feels like he is too slick to not be lying. When Koenig confesses to having feelings that she and Adnan are friends, he balks and exclaims that she barely knows him. Koenig doesn’t understand, saying that she has talked to him for probably more hours than she has other people she most certainly considers friends. This always struck me because of how poorly Koenig demonstrates she doesn’t understand Adnan’s life. For Adnan, he never escapes the people he lives with, he is constantly around other people as the result of being stuck in prison. He knows who his friends are and are not in prison. Koenig also notes that he does not tell her about any violence in the prison, probably more likely because it is not his business to spread the instances of violence rather than the idea that there aren’t any instances, which is what Koenig infers. There is some naivete to Koenig, she appeals to the white liberal idea that people who say that they were framed were indeed framed, and that the reality that is presented is the truth. Perhaps its how she manipulates the media she uses to tell a tale that ends up being sympathetic to Adnan that makes me take this perspective about her, but she seems too eager to believe Adnan that nothing other than the conclusion of “Serial” where she states she believes in his innocence is possible.

There is also what could be infinitely referred to as “The Jay Problem” and that is figuring how the ever elusive and slick Jay with his differing accounts of what happened on the day in question. Why does he do things like change the name of a mall they allegedly went to, is he correcting himself or making it up? Koenig presents Jay as a villain in the podcast, she casts him in with the prosecution and police that went after the presumptuously innocent Adnan. The point that just because a story changes doesn’t mean the truth isn’t revealed is thrown out in the “Serial” podcast. There is a curious question as to why Jay would frame Adnan. In my previous post, I posited that it may have something to do with drugs, that perhaps there was a deal Jay and Adnan were making and Hae saw, and was killed, and that somehow the convoluted stories that Jay came up with were a way of protecting the drug source. For all I know, my theory is as likely as the one I am positing now, which is that it is fairly likely that Adnan killed Hae and Jay is just getting the story wrong for reasons of being nervous, or stoned, or mixing up his days and times and the simple process of being human getting in the way of having the story go smoothly. Jay did admit to participating in the disturbing act of witnessing the burial of the murdered body of a friend. However, maybe that is why he came clean in the end and using a patchwork of the stories he told to be the truth of the day in question, ended up revealing what happened to Hae.

The courts are taking another look at this case soon. Hopefully something constructive will be revealed.


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“The Jinx” and Robert Durst’s Smoke and Mirrors

Though I know I’m a little late on this, HBO’s “The Jinx” is a goldmine and I finally got to sink my teeth into the six part docuseries by acclaimed documentarian Andrew Jarecki (“Capturing the Friedmans” is his other excellent work). As a writer, I spend a lot of time imagining. Some of the imagining is within the realm of normal, some of it is pretty bizarre, some of it is sick and twisted, and some of it is rather mundane and boring. For people like me, Robert Durst, the subject of “The Jinx” is a monster of a character both in terms of scope of the allegations against him and how enormous the eccentricities of his life have shaped his character. For instance, the “AAAANNNYYYWAAAAYYYYY” Durst blurts out after he forgets whether or not his victim Morris Black had a bow-saw or not (with which Mr. Durst AKA Bobby was going use to cut Black’s corpse) is spoken as an uncannily normal statement to make. He is not fazed by the fact that he was just describing tools with which he used to dissect a human corpse, and was treating the matter as a conventional conversation topic, like “I couldn’t find my socks today, but this and then that and my story the dog hid them blah blah blah AAAANNNYYYWAAAAYYYYY”.  The question becomes to the viewer, what the fuck is Bobby Durst’s normal?

Like “Serial”, which I am also infatuated with, “The Jinx”‘s true crime appeal acts as a stranger-than-fiction stage for which the real life characters who deceive, question, squawk, insist, and attempt to understand an act or acts of violence that seem beyond the comprehensible. Unlike Adnan, the subject of “Serial”, Bobby Durst is immediately identified as an atypical human being. Rich and privileged, Durst is portrayed as mentally unstable, seemingly sad and outright bizarre, yet Jarecki affords him a certain amount of dignity in the film. During the last scene, where Jarecki is interrogating Durst about the identical handwriting found on “The Cadaver Note” and an envelope written in his handwriting, Jarecki does not himself condemn Durst, instead he allows Bobby to do it for himself. Jarecki sets the scene up, but Bobby could have just as well gotten up, de-miced, and refused to talk about it. Certainly, one wonders why he didn’t.

Both in “Serial” and “The Jinx” the subjects want to tell their side of the story, and both subjects ask viewers to suspend their presumptions about their cases and examine the facts with the documentarians. However, in “Serial” Sarah Koenig concludes that she believes in Adnan’s innocence and approached the production of the series as giving Adnan back the presumption of innocence while looking for concrete evidence of his guilt. Finding vast amounts of ambiguity, deception, and flip-flopping stories, Koenig concludes that it is reasonable to believe Adnan’s account of his innocence. Jarecki seemed to approach his film in a similiar manner, giving Durst a presumption of not guilty but not wholly innocent either, and came to the conclusion that the New York Post had proclaimed several years ago:

run for your lives

When I rewatched “The Jinx” (always, always watch a documentary more than once should you wish to understand it better) it seemed to be that Bobby Durst was consciously making this documentary out of egotism, but subconsciously giving essentially a veiled confession. During the scene where Jarecki questions him about whether or not he sent The Cadever Note in the first interview, Durst keeps using the pronoun “you” while describing why it would be unintelligent for a killer to send a note to the cops with instructions to the murder they just caused. Its like he was describing his own mixed regret and guilt for sending the letter, one which he all but admits to sending in The Bathroom Scene when his mic was hot, “There it is. You’re caught…arrest him”. His rambling soliloquy racked with guilt, ambiguity, and what could be considered a confession, “What did I do? I killed them all of course” is absolutely the second most chilling thing I have ever seen in  a documentary, the first being corpses being thrown into a pit at a concentration camp in Nazi Germany.

There is speculation among law enforcement agents about whether or not Bobby Durst is a serial killer. I certainly believe that he is. One thing Jarecki commented on was how much he had grown to like Durst as a person during the course of the filming, so much so that Durst gains his trust enough that he does not question whether or not Durst really is in Spain in the last episode, to the shock of the production team’s camera man. Durst was not actually in Spain, but LA, he lied to Jarecki to get him off of his back, and not with a small lie either. One thing remarked about many serial killers is their charisma and charm. Durst’s access to huge amounts of money only seems to add to the enigma of what and who he really is since he can buy pretty much anything and is as Jarecki says “a smart fucker”. If anyone has doubt as to how seductive people who have the capability for serial killing are, watch “Manson” (which unfortunately is bizarrely banned in the United States but periodically shows up on Youtube) and evaluate the love Manson’s family had for Manson. In one Texas juror’s mind, Durst is a man who is “simply unlucky” rather than seemingly malicious. Given that he was on the jury for the dismemberment trial, Durst has some pretty amazing charming abilities (Durst appeared on the stand for that trial).

But Bobby seems guilty, he seems to want to shout “I really did do it take me away!” but doesn’t. He plays his part, like the rich are expected to do. The rich must toe the line within their segregated world, there is too much money and power at stake for them not to. Durst says his lines, “No I didn’t write that” when confronted with irrefutable evidence of his handwriting on The Cadaver Note. Its insisted that he did not murder Morris Black but with a warped rationality explains why he had to dismember Morris’ body. He doesn’t even know if Kathy is really dead, he says. He laments that his accomplishments are never really his because of all the money and prestige propping him up. If he was any one of the peasants, he knows he would have been dragged off by the legal system long ago.

Prior to watching this docuseries, I knew nothing about the Durst saga. I believe it will end anticlimactically, with Durst dying peacefully in his bed leaving behind a mass of questions. We can only hope he leaves confessions with his lawyers for after he is dead. But most certainly, the poor go to prison and the rich go to court.