This guy pulled out a gun and you can pretty much guess what he did

Was that a firework going off, or a gunshot? In many US cities, you probably don’t know.

Louis C.K. has this bit called “Of course but maybe”. This is apt for this weekend. It was a violent holiday weekend in Indianapolis. Much will be and has been written about a mass shooting of seven people in Broad Ripple and the death of an officer on 34th street the next day. Plus the death of another officer in Gary, Indiana shot in his patrol car.

The seven people shot outside the Vogue on Saturday morning were bystanders. They were waiting to get into the bars and clubs and some guy bumped into another guy and guns were drawn. Of course this is bad. But maybe if you’re standing outside at 2:30 in the morning to get into a place to buy overpriced liquor, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sketchy people are there, too. Indianapolis Metro Police say over 100 witnesses were there, and almost none of those people have come forward with any kind of information about what happened.

A matter of hours later in an unrelated incident, Officer Perry Renn was shot in the line of duty by a 25 year old guy with a prior record, a family history, and a rifle that penetrated right through his vest.

This and the Broad Ripple shooting warrants a lot of talk, as it always does. This city loves to talk, as do most others. The Broad Ripple issue is basically inciting calls of, “Oh my gosh, bad things happened in the part of town we all like.” Which is a thinly veiled way of saying, “Scary black people have managed to get near popular places for white people.” Every time Fishers has a bank robbery one only needs to go 1 or 2 comments deep on an article to find people saying, “Of course, he came from Indianapolis.” Like they’re termites.

But for all the talk, on one side you’ll hear about how these shooters were low life’s, they should have been behind bars, they should get the death penalty. It’s all very simple. Just lock them up or kill them.

On the other side you’ll hear about how these shooters were victims, they were given a shitty lot in life, they don’t have much opportunity or choice, they came from broken and forgotten neighborhoods. The solution is in education.

The truth is both sides are right about the problems and wrong about the solutions.

Proposed solutions leave a lot to be desired

We can’t build an infinite amount of jail space. We can’t become a police state. It’s expensive housing prisoners, and it’s expensive prosecuting them to the death penalty. Because we want Justice, we want our system of judicial processes to work, and we want them to work well. But that takes time and money. Time we might have, but we don’t have a lot of money. And the same people who clamor for locking people up are the same people that say we’re becoming a police state. So those people clearly haven’t made up their mind about much.

We can’t educate our way out of this problem, either. At some point there has to be a realization that some people just aren’t capable of learning advanced math, or they have no interest. Frankly, some people are just there. They exist, they muddle along, then they die. This is, sadly, most people.

But we can’t force them into a Bachelor’s degree, and we can’t force them into a trade program. Because a lot of people don’t really want to do anything. Some people do nothing, and they’re really very okay with that. I know people like that. Much to the chagrin of the rest of us who work for a living or are trying to improve ourselves, those people do exist.

But the important realization is that a lot of people have no business being at IU or any other school. They barely have much business in high school sometimes. So we can’t just pour money on to schools. We already do that anyway with little return.

So we can’t jail them and we can’t educate them. What gives? What happened and what do we do?

The answer is probably nothing. People have been murdering other people for centuries and that’s never changed. We will never achieve a murder free environment in large cities. It’s more likely that as murder rates are at all-time low, our awareness of them is at an all-time high.

Gun control can be practical

Large cities have gun violence and their solution to create more gun control laws just can’t work. It’s a lot like traffic. Cities have traffic problems and they control that traffic with stoplights, signs, divided highways, and so on. Sometimes despite that, they still have traffic. This is just part of living in a city. Rural areas throw a sign in the mud and call it a day. That works for cities, and that works for rural areas.

Gun control can’t work because people in rural areas like and need guns. On any given night in a lot of rural communities, there is only one or two deputies on duty. Those officers may even be at their homes and just “on call”.

If you’re living in a rural community and someone comes rattling your door knob, no one will come help you. Or if they do, it will be too late. So people have guns so they can protect their own property, among other fair reasons like hunting and scaring away animals that may harm livestock or crops. Cities have the opposite problem. To my liberal friends, do not look down your nose at gun advocates.

But gun advocates need to see the folly in their ways, too. We could remove all the high powered weapons, and that’s probably fair and reasonable to do. It’s hard to see value in having small canons and armor piercing weaponry in urban or rural environments. Pistols, rifles, and other “common” weapons aren’t going anywhere and shouldn’t. Common sense regulations are also fair. It’s a little unreasonable that it’s more difficult to rent a movie from Blockbuster than it is to buy a gun.

Guns will always spill over into the streets regardless of these regulations. I hardly doubt some doofus in a gang worries about forms. But it’s a reasonable first step and gives police a little something to work on in an investigation.

You actually could do something

The majority of the problem is cultural, and Indianapolis sure has a problem with this. It’s racial, socioeconomic, and largely fixable but only with a massive cultural change.

If you think about human behavior, people move to the suburbs because it’s safer (statistically and it just “feels” nice). They get all the benefits of living in a city with none of the downsides except a little traffic in the the morning and afternoon. Not a bad trade, really.

But all of that suburban flight has left a hole in our cities and that hole is sucking everything down with it. As former Indianapolis mayor Bill Hudnut used to say, “You can’t be a suburb of nowhere.” Carmel and Fishers need only look at Lawrence, Speedway, and Beech Grove to see where they’ll be in 40 or 50 years.

People could just stop running away from their cities. They could buy their homes in cities, raise property values, send their kids to city schools and lift all the boats.

You could, dare I say it, be friends with people and develop relationships with your neighbors. Plenty of cities have good luck with this. It turns out rich white people don’t turn to stone when gazed upon by a poor person. As proof, look at Downtown Indy. We all notice the “homeless” people sitting around, but they don’t bother us so much because there’s all kinds of other cool, neat, and nice things and people around. It sort of “waters things down”, for lack of a better way of saying it.

People could start taking the bus, so we don’t keep referring to a group of people as “bus people”, with the inclination that they’re lazy, gross, or dirty and should be avoided. Then we could start seeing transit as part of our infrastructure and not a service to the poor like other truly world class cities. We’d increase density and have a system where people clamored to be on or near a transit line as opposed to rejecting it for fear that “bus people” might be there.

People could recognize that if you leave a group of people in an area to effectively stew in their own bowl of societal loathing and disregard, you shouldn’t be surprised when those people develop a chip on their shoulders and become agitated and upset.

People could recognize that you can’t lump people together into groups by income and be surprised that poor people begat more poor people. If you make minimum wage, you’re going to get cheap haircuts, so the person cutting hair makes less, too. So instead of fighting the idea of “affordable rental housing” near luxury condos, try for a happy medium. There is a bit of a nugget of truth to the old Reaganism to “lift all boats”.

None of the shootings that happen in this city or elsewhere are all that surprising or confusing to me and they shouldn’t be to you, either. But the causes are really on all of us.

When I was growing up, if a kid seemed a little lost, there were people around who’d help fill in the gaps. They didn’t all run off to the suburbs (if Salem had suburbs).

So stop running, stop being scared, and live amongst the humans that are our neighbors. You’ll do more than any legislator, police officer, or social service worker could ever do.

You’ll never guess what Indiana keeps with its constitution

In 1921, John Dillinger moved from Indianapolis to Mooresville, Indiana. His father said the city was corrupting his son, who while a hard worker, stayed out and partied all night. A year later his wild demeanor conflicted with his newfound rural life and he stole a car. His father, attempting to right his son, urged him to enlist in the Navy. He deserted a few months later and was dishonorably discharged.

Returning to Indiana, Dillinger married in 1924 and tried to hold a job, but it wasn’t his lifestyle. He divorced five years later in 1929.

With the economy slowing in the buildup to the Great Depression, Dillinger was short on cash and unable to hold a job. He and a friend decided to rob a local grocery store of $50. It was their first robbery, one that his father, a local church deacon, attempted to negotiation his sentence down with the Morgan County prosecutor. To no avail, he was sentenced to 15 years.

Dillinger’s criminal history would grow into one this country still talks about today. After his release from prison, Dillinger would go on to live his promise of becoming “the meanest bastard you’ve ever seen when I get out of here.” He was pissed at society and his father, always supportive of his son (even gathering signatures for a petition to release him), never stopped believing in his him.

Dillinger would go on to rob at least 13 banks, though he’s suspected in more. His gang, whom he met in prison, would rob six banks in Indiana alone across the state. He became wanted in the shooting of an East Chicago police officer. They robbed police stations in Auburn and Peru, Indiana for weapons and ammunition. They became so brazen, Dillinger’s gang became the reason J. Edgar Hoover established the modern day FBI.

Dillinger was wanted in states across the Midwest and by the US Government. His crimes were stopped when he was shot and killed by officers in Chicago during a raid.

Among his crimes in Indiana, they included assault, bank robberies, armed robberies, assaulting officers, killing an officer, and escaping from the “escape proof” Crown Point prison in Lake County.

His crimes are the stuff of legend. So much so that legends live on. It’s rumored his penis is in the Smithsonian. And the paperwork for his arrests and warrants and other evidence sits in a surprising place.

In Indianapolis at the Indiana State Archives sits records from across the state. In the already secure and fire-protected facility sits a vault. In that vault are more precious and important papers and work. And in that vault sits a safe. In that safe are three things: aerial photos of the state, the Indiana Constitution, and the Dillinger files.

So the next time you wonder where the vaulted Constitution sits, or how such a document can be the guiding principle for our laws, and how our state can enshrine marriage laws to men and women, remember: that document is of the same value and prestige that it has to be stored alongside files and papers from a murderer, robber, and escaped convict so infamous and heinous it overshadows the likes of Bonnie and Clyde.

The Spirit of Adventure

You know that scene in UP, the one where Carl and Ellie have their life play out before us? Their lives start as young kids who meet over a shared interest in exploring South America.

They get married, save money for their future life in Paradise Falls, and life constantly gets in their way. A flat tire, a broken leg, a tree falls on their house. It constantly empties their savings and with it their life in Paradise Falls. Ellie even miscarries a baby, and despite the gravity of the situation, It’s a beautiful four minutes of cinema. Pixar managed to tell a better story in four minutes than most movies can do in a hundred and four minutes — all without a single spoken word.

UP is my favorite movie. The characters are lovable and relatively pedestrian, yet flawed and adventurous. The music is perfectly timed and relevant. The plot has its twists on a classic carpe diem theme.

Who isn’t Carl or Ellie? Carl had big dreams as a child, got married and lost sight of his dreams but never his love. He sold balloons at the zoo Ellie worked at as a zookeeper. He retired and is widowed only to have his world around him change and collapse. With exception of never failing at love, his experience mirrors that of you and me.

Carl loses his wife to death, but never stops believing she’s there. He gets jaded and bitter in his old age — maybe he always was. Maybe I have, too. Pixar took the storybook and rewrote the book.

There’s so much about UP I admire, respect, and envy. I admire the team at Pixar that wrote, animated, scored, and produced this film. I respect their talent and skills and envy the ability to do it. We should all be so lucky to attach our names to a project that as far reaching and wonderful as UP.

JustinJeremiah_019As much as I admire the technical and artistic chops of Pixar for such real and flawed animated characters, I admire and relate to Carl, too.

Since I first saw UP in 2009, I’ve wished for the love that Carl had. But “had” is the key word, because I inevitability question the pain of the inevitable loss of love.

Is 50 years of love worth the heartache that is destined for us all? Or is 50 years of solitude and loneliness, which is likely to shorten your life anyway, a better alternative?

Most people would quickly favor a long life filled with love, but if you lose it enough times you have to begin questioning the fleeting value.

I’m thinking of the life I want to have, just like Carl and Ellie did. Even though I know that life likely won’t permit me to live out the dreams I’ve always had. Despite serious setbacks along the way, I’m lucky to have met Jeremiah — my partner of over a year now.

We should all be so lucky.

You like wine and pie, right?

Because I liked it, I’m publishing my oft-reserved-for-print column here.

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The Salem Leader
Generation Why – Column
Justin Harter
January 2013

You like wine and pie, right?

Hold on to your wigs and keys everyone, America has a new congress. The 113th, to be exact, so I think I speak for everyone when I say now’s a good time to be superstitious.

There’s a lot Congress should, and needs, to take up. One of which has particularly grated on my nerves lately: immigration reform. I’m not talking about Mexicans supposedly leaping over fences along the US-Mexico border to take our high-paying leaf blower jobs. I’m talking about the idiotic policy this country takes that fights against itself.

Imagine this scenario: you’re out with a friend and your friend says, “Hey, why don’t you come over to dinner later? I’ll make soup.” And you say, “Hey, that sounds great. I’ll bring some wine and dessert for us, too!” And you’re all set. So you go over to your friend’s house later that evening with a nice bottle of wine and a freshly made pie. Your friend welcomes you in, you enjoy some soup, and once you both finish the main course, your friend turns to you and says, “Okay, that was great, but you have to leave now. And take your wine and pie with you.”

That is exactly what this country does when it comes to foreign students who come to America to study in our top-notch schools, both public and private. American taxpayers have helped subsidize and build the greatest higher education system anywhere in the world. It’s not without its problems (high costs being a big one), but there’s no denying an American education is far and above almost every other school in the world with only a few exceptions, like Oxford in England.

US schools already put hard caps on foreign student enrollment, saving most of the top spots for American students. But foreign students, like some I’ve met lately from Taiwan, Thailand, and South Korea, have gone through insane amounts of red tape and Passport-and-Visa-Wrangling to get here. Now that they’re here, they’re studying in US schools, often with subsidies like their American peers, or sometimes paying full sticker price, for an education that’s uniquely American. And they’re doing good work, too, working with groundbreaking research to save lives here and abroad from disease and illness that plagues us all.

But once they’re finished with their degree, they can sometimes find work to remain in the US, but often they find it nearly impossible to find a sponsor to stay here, especially when the school is tapped out on researchers and graduate-level jobs. This means a 20-something individual who is at the top of their home country’s rankings (and our’s) gets sent back home with advanced degrees in science, medicine, technology, and engineering. In most cases, their home country doesn’t have the ability to support their career with jobs, infrastructure, or the kind of salary they rightfully deserve. If they can, they’re effectively competing against the US by earning patents, awards, and research accolades “someplace else”. It’d be like if we invaded Afghanistan and before we fought the Taliban, we invited them to enroll in West Point and once they finished, they could go back to fight against us.

At this point, we don’t get to sit around confused as to how India’s siphoning off technology jobs from America, or how China’s able to churn out engineers using lessons learned here in America. We did this to ourselves and we continue to punch ourselves in the face.

When most people hear “Immigration Reform” they hear “Mexicans taking our jobs”, which isn’t supported by the numbers. It is fair, however, to say that Mexicans come into the country and because of their illegal status they fail to pay all the taxes they otherwise could and they do become, to some extent, a net drain on the country. But it’s just as bad on the other end of the spectrum.

Why would it be so difficult for the US to enact legislation that made an advanced Masters degree or PhD an automatic enrollment as an American citizen? “Want to come to America to study in our schools? Great, come on in, and when you finish, we’d like you to stay.” Effectively, we’re tossing people out with their wine and dessert after we’ve spent the time giving them our soup. It makes no sense and on some level it’s rude. As if this country couldn’t use more doctors or engineers. And you can’t say they’d be taking away jobs from Americans. At what point does anyone with, say, a medical degree not get a job in medicine? What are we afraid of? Shorter wait times at the doctor’s office?

Dealing with Mexicans here illegally is an issue in itself. However, surely we can grant citizenship with the achievement of one of our own highly-valued degrees (and even service in our armed forces). We already made the soup, let’s not cheat ourselves out of a nice glass of wine and some pie. Someone’s going to eat that pie, it might as well be us.

A moving story about Guardian Relocation and Atlas VanLines

In early December 2012 I started packing up my belongings at my house in Indianapolis, Indiana. I neatly tucked glassware and dishes into boxes lined with packing paper. I placed valuable and sentimental items inside bubble wrap, and stuffed things with newspaper where possible. I lovingly labeled boxes “This side up!” and double-taped boxes to ensure their safety and comfort for their journey to New Haven, Connecticut.

Then Atlas VanLines showed up.

In Indianapolis I had 42 boxes worth of stuff, 3 garbage bags filled with clothes, and a few “loose” items like a TV stand, bookshelves, a sofa bed, etc. The movers I hired were under the name “Guardian Relocation” for at least as long as they were in Indianapolis. The two guys that showed up were pretty nice and courteous, even going so far as bringing in scrap pieces of cardboard to tape down to my floors so they wouldn’t trample in water from the rain coming down outside. My agent, Chris, even stopped by a few days prior with some extra boxes that came in handy. Those guys, they were alright. I like those guys.

Guardian tucked away my stuff on a truck on the morning of December 20, 2012. It was a Thursday, and they showed up half an hour into their 2-hour window. They were done and loaded up in about 2 hours. I flew out of Indianapolis the next day on Friday, December 21, 2012 to New Haven. Upon landing, I bought an air mattress and had just a scant few things I managed to pack into a car I brought over the weekend prior.

Guardian, for all their good work, told me my stuff would arrive “in 2 to 14 days”. I was told this by Chris, my agent, and by the movers on moving day. The movers, for their part, thought it might go pretty quick as drivers might want to cash in on more lucrative holiday pay. This did not happen.

After a week I was frazzled, but not angry. After two weeks I was getting miffed. After we started approaching the three week mark I was pissed.

From what I can gather, once Guardian left my house in Indianapolis the truck went about 7 miles down Washington Street, parked, and sat there until December 31, 2012 — 10 days after leaving my house (I’m being generous by not counting loading day as a “day”). It sat through a blizzard of epic proportions and in sub-zero wind chills.

From there, Guardian turned things over to their interstate-transport parent, Atlas VanLines on the 31st. Atlas took my stuff and placed them on another truck for the haul across the eastern third of the country.

After a few more days, I started calling Lynn from Atlas’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. Lynn was sympathetic and did her part in checking on my stuff between her multiple stretches of vacation days, but wasn’t finding it easy to pinpoint even in what state my stuff was in. My entire world of cups, plates, flatware, knives, furniture, books, entertainment, computer equipment (save my laptop and iPad, which I had with me), lamps, bicycles, clothes, canned goods, and more were all on that truck. At one point when asked how I was doing, I said, “Well Lynn, you can live this little dream by taking your entire desk and throwing it out the nearest window, then try to do some actual work.”

In the year of our Lord, 2013, Atlas VanLines has not discovered a way to track their trucks, locate their equipment, or contact their drivers. If only there were some sort of radio technology, or perhaps a network of towers spanning the country that could connect a woman in Columbus, Ohio to a guy in a truck in, let’s assume Idaho. Because at this point I sorta think the truck drove in reverse, backwards across the country for a while.

The truck, of course, did not drive backwards across the country. I later learned the truck was actually being pulled by two guys on horseback Oregon Trail-style. They would have to stop and shoot buffalo for meals and bury some of their party along the way. Which makes sense, because from when they left to when they arrived the movers were an entirely different group of people.

Two days before my stuff would arrive I got a call from the driver who explained he was in Baltimore, Maryland, and would be driving past me in Connecticut to deliver items on two smaller jobs “That would take 15 minutes each”, in and around Boston. One questions why someone would pay movers to do what would take 15 minutes.

Atlas moved my stuff from the second truck to the third truck in Baltimore. Upon hearing my concern they may not be able to find adequate parking near my building in New Haven (despite my efforts to get a delivery estimate so I could contact the local parking authority to block off meters just for them in advance), they moved my stuff from this third truck to a smaller fourth truck.

In this process practically every box was turned upside down, sideways, shaken, stirred, or in the case of at least three boxes dropped or smashed by heavier items. Some things, like my toaster, actually arrived with fingerprints on the side that aren’t even mine. Which leads me to believe based off that and the fact the boxes were in such bad shape that the movers had manhandled my entire world of possessions to the point that some of the boxes collapsed or fell apart, spilling their contents onto the floor, and required some amount of re-packaging. Mind you, the two boxes that were most noticeably damaged were U-Haul moving boxes, which aren’t exactly flimsy.

In addition to the unloving treatment of my possessions, the amount of time things sat in a very cold truck further weakened items, one of which was very personal to me. One of the few remaining memories I have with my mom was going to the River Falls Mall in Clarksville, Indiana with my grandmother. At a small booth in the center of the mall was an artistic sand making booth, where you could pour various colors of sand into small jars and make neat little designs. Mom and I made one together, and my grandma made one, too. My grandma’s is sitting on a shelf in her living room. The one mom and I made has sat on one of my shelves for at least 13 or 14 years now. Having sat in the cold for so long, it weakened the glue that seals the top of the jar and caused it to fall out, spilling about 20% of its contents. I’ve never been so disgusted with a group of people in my life until that point.

For their part, they recommend taking some things some other way, particularly in cold or hot weather months. Which sorta defeats the entire point of moving because if I had to move all the things they rattled off that get upset by extreme temperatures, like TVs or any electronics, glassware, etc., why would I hire movers? At that point I’d just be moving all my stuff myself. Plus, that would narrow the appropriate time to move across the country to about one weekend in March.

Upon arriving in front of my building, 90 minutes later than expected and promised, and after 19 days, which is 5 days longer than I was told, the movers showed up. It turns out, “2 to 14 days” doesn’t mean weekends, or holidays. Because, you know, Sunday isn’t really a day, because Jesus. They probably don’t even count Canadian holidays, like Boxing Day.

The drivers started unloading things and in the back of this smaller truck I could see my two $1,500 bikes sitting on top of piles of stuff, laid over, chain-side-down, which true to form, means my chains and gears were about to fall off. I even included these items on the “High Value Items” form so they could be given “special care and attention”, which judging by the comments of one of the movers, they “hadn’t really noticed those items.”

Upon unloading items into my building, they looked to me to provide them with screwdrivers and hardware to reassemble things like my sofa bed, or the small stand the TV screws into. This meant I had to rummage through boxes finding these items, and after half a god damned month I mostly forgot where things were.

At one point, the driver unloading items from the truck complained about the building’s small elevator, as if I have any control over that. “Hmm, I dunno honey, maybe we should look somewhere else, this place is in a great location, has a fair price, and is in a good school district, but it has a small service elevator and it might make the movers sad.” – Said no one ever.

If that weren’t enough, the driver made the remark, “No offense, but you’re kinda costing me money today.” This came up when I asked if that was a smaller truck they had loaded my things onto so they could navigate town easier, which evidently means they had to rent a smaller truck. I mean, who would expect a moving company to have access to varying sizes of trucks? What is this, Communist China? I wanted to reply, “Well, sorry, but you’ve kinda cost me 19 days of my life and a shit ton of my money, too.” But I didn’t, because I was afraid they’d go smash something else.

So naturally, they went and smashed something else. They brought up my TV stand, sat it down, and said, “I dunno what happened, it was just like that.” It was sitting in three distinct pieces, having splintered as though many many pounds of weight had been placed on it. Really? “It was just like that?” AS IF IT WAS LIKE THAT IN INDIANAPOLIS? Of course they know what happened to it, they weren’t careful, they threw it around, and it broke. Of course, that item isn’t covered under their insurance policy because it doesn’t cover “some wood products”, of which this is. Because, you know, movers are really only there to help you move pillows, towels, toilet paper and your dreams. One mover asked, “So what do you want us to do?” regarding the stand, as if I somehow still would want a pile of splinters, I said, “You can take it.” To which this warranted a comment about how this would cost them money. As if I just woke up one morning and magically shat a TV stand onto my living room floor for absolutely nothing and could do so again without incurring any cost myself.

After complaining about everything from the elevator to the weather to the fact they were spending money on a smaller truck and that they didn’t even bring their own tools, they finally left.

I lost my TV stand, my toaster was manhandled like a gun control bill on the floor of the House of Representatives, I had two broken plates, every box labeled “This side up” was upside down, — and I do mean every box, my bikes weren’t considered with any special care, and my aforementioned souvenir from my childhood, which I packed in bubble wrap, was in a box so heavily jostled in became unwrapped and fell apart.

At no point since has Guardian or Atlas VanLines called to ask me how my move went or how they could improve their experience (like, I dunno, giving a more accurate indication that by “day” they mean “a Plutonian day”, or that they could come by to get all these damn boxes they brought me to begin with). Lynn, the rep in Columbus, Ohio, called me while the movers were actually unloading my stuff to genuinely ask if the truck had arrived, because again, in 2013 it’s not like we have satellites orbiting the earth in outer fucking space that could remotely tell someone in Ohio where their employees are in, say, Connecticut, two states over in what they must assume is the American equivalent of Siberia.

Guardian was okay. Atlas VanLines sucks harder than Bill Clinton’s intern. Their service is bad, and they should feel bad.