Archives November 2019

TO WIN THE WAR ON DRUGS: LEGALIZE

(This Op-Ed by yours truly appears in today’s issue of Florida Today)
On Nov. 8, just 70 miles south of the U.S. border into Mexico, drug cartel savages opened fire on three American adults and six children, burning and killing them all. Murder is commonplace. It’s not so unusual in Mexico to see bodies hanging from bridges. 
Why? It’s all about messages.
It’s no mystery. Cartels have been killing for years. No matter how many authorities claim they are fighting the drug war, too many — here and abroad — are beholden to warlords, in fear for their lives and the lives of loved ones, so the carnage continues all for money and drugs.
Mexico’s president was criticized recently after he declared a policy of “hugs not guns” in fighting the drug war. He’s too smart to be that stupid.
Arresting drug chieftain El Chapo was good news, though it accomplished nothing. No more than believing that radical Islamic Jihad is stunted because Bin Laden was killed. Great news, perhaps. Nothing changed. Drugs continue to flow. People die.
There are some who have suggested that domestic wars would be over if drugs were legalized. Hmm. Interesting thought. In fact, there is an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) in which present and former police officers have banded together to further that idea. Crushing black markets via legalizing puts a new face on the situation. It might be worth thinking about this. LEAP is an organization of criminal justice communities who oppose the “War on Drugs” to be replaced with a system of legalized regulation as more efficient in dealing with drug use, abuse and addiction.
According to the Drug Policy Allowance, the U.S. spends $47 billion a year fighting the lost drug war. In 2018, that translated to 1.6 million drug arrests. That’s a lot of court dockets and prison cells. Over 200 thousand people have been killed in Mexico’s drug wars since 2006.
Whatever happened to the old adage about doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results? Why don’t we have leaders who think outside the proverbial box?
Black markets drive crime rates, in many modes, not just drug wars.
Does anyone really think that keeping prostitution illegal is going to stop prostitution? The black market has been driving prostitution for centuries. The world’s oldest profession is doing just fine under the radar, where police do their share of expanding criminal records and jail terms. If a hooker gets lucky she can opt to become an informant for other crimes. Las Vegas has the right idea. Legalize, license, tax, zone and medically control. It works fine in Nevada. Why put people in jail? What good does that do, America?
If former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke had his way with criminalizing the sale and ownership of firearms, he would have created the mother of all black markets. He should be the poster boy for naivety. Americans may tolerate some form of firearm regulations, but they would never cede to erase Amendment 2. 
What happened when Uncle Sam restricted the consumption of alcohol during Prohibition from 1920 to 1933? The black market thrived while people drank themselves silly. Organized crime was in seventh heaven, thank you Congress. It was another failure in trying to control what cannot be controlled in a free society.
If we made all abortions illegal, we’d spark another black market where novices and butchers conduct the procedures in animal vets and backroom parlors. That’s the way it was prior to Roe v. Wade. I know. I was there.
Some behaviors simply cannot be legalized. Like it or not, deterrents are necessary in order to control and prevent dastardly activities such as child pornography, sex trafficking or slavery. But if we didn’t need to deploy 800,000 cops in the U.S. to fight unwinnable crime wars, we’d have far less than 2.2 million people wasting away in prisons, therefore creating a windfall of savings to the taxpayer.
Perhaps if we diverted the gigantic cost savings from eliminating drug wars into programs that aid and treat drug addicts and the mentally ill, tax money would be better spent. We might actually safe lives.
 

A FRANK MOVIE REVIEW: "MIDWAY" – 8.5 (M. Frank)

“MIDWAY”  –  8.5
 
     In a word: Deja Vu
Here’s the short version. “Midway” is a well-made war movie, but if you’re a middle-aged (or older) you will think you’re seeing the 1970 version, “Tora Tora Tora” all over again. It’s a remake, a la, scene after scene of American pilots flying, bombing and diving over Japanese war ships.
Just as in “Tora,” Yamamoto is often featured as the Japanese leader aboard his battleship leading the enemy into an invasion of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, and later, reciting the same phrase “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant.”
Certainly, with technology advanced over nearly 50 years, the action shots are more spectacular and frightening. And, while the Pearl Harbor raid is well-recreated at the beginning of the film, the later objective is to defeat the Japanese air and naval forces at a crucial setting at the Midway atoll, in the Pacific. The movie certainly highlights the bravery and valor of the American military heroes as they finally claim victory over the enemy but not before thousands lose their lives. Without a doubt, some filming shots are visually spectacular, as the American commanders and soldiers fight with valor.
Acting is good, though some of the lines in the early part of the movie, I thought, were too corny and amateurish for such an epic film. Main roles, such as Admiral Chester Nimitz and General Jimmy Doolittle, were deftly played by Woody Harrelson and Aaron Eckhart. But the Oscar nominations are more likely to be assigned for Cinematography, Editing and Special Effects. In a technical sense, some scenes were simply head-shakers.
I couldn’t help but think of other movies made about the Midway Atoll conflict, including a 1976 release, same title, same story, starring Henry Fonda and Charlton Heston.
Yet, seeing another “Tora” movie brings the rating down a couple points. Even the back-and-forth cross-sections of dialogue is the same, with the focus on shifting points of view from Japanese military leaders, with sub-titles, and then American men in the fighting mode. That’s a carbon copy from “Tora.”
If a revived Gone With The Wind were to be remade, I would certainly go see it. However, I hesitate to think any man in the modern era would tell his woman, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
In the modern era, advances in special effects, filming and sound, such as sensurround, can blow your eardrums off. Regardless, this is a tremendous motion picture. Very little profanity issues, no sex, but … violence?
Darn right.
I give this movie a rating 8 ½ out of 10.
 
Midway (2019) – IMDb

A FRANK MOVIE REVIEW: "THE GOOD LIAR" -10. M. Frank

“THE GOOD LIAR” – 10
     In a word: Engrossing
 
     This is a great movie, with shades of Agatha Christie and John Grisham creating a plot with so many twists and turns that keep the viewer lasered to the characters while anticipating what comes next in every scene. For people who like mystery, this is a do-not-miss film.
     The irony is that this film may not draw appeal among the bread-and-butter movie goers, the massive count of youths and millennials who keep the film industry thriving. The usual come-ons are absent.  There are no sex scenes, no nudity. No one uses the “F” word as a perennial adjective. Guns and bombs are not going off in every other scene. No Sci-fi or super natural. There is a scene or two involving struggles and one killing, but the story does not surround those events as the basis for the storyline. What does emerge will surprise everyone.
     The main characters are not a young hot woman and a sexy jock, nor politically correct mixed races as we often see today. Rather, the story encompasses two lonely British people in their late 70s, a widow and widower deftly played by Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen who meet up after responding to social ads, hopefully in search of a mate. What transpires from this encounter, was totally unpredictable to (I’m sure) most of the audience. While I will not ruin it for the movie goer, suffice to say that there was far more to the meet-up than what could have been anticipated. Those profound and crafty revelations continue to emerge throughout the film to the very end. When it’s over, you know you’ve been witness to one of the greatest movie mysteries in ages.
     Mirren and McKellen should not only be Oscar nominated for best acting, they should be admired for playing their difficult mental and physical roles so adroitly, particularly at those ages.  I’m sure the movie will be nominated for a Best Picture award, as should the director Bill Condon and writers, Nicholas Searle and Jeffrey Hatcher.
     Movie reviewer, Johnny Oleksinski, of the New York Post, writes:
     “The fun of “The Good Liar” is that, just when you think you’ve got a proper handle on what’s going on, your reality is completely shattered.”
     Movie reviewer, Kenneth Turan, from the L.A. Times, writes:
      “Through it all, however, Mirren and McKellen never waver. Smooth at being smooth, their conviction always convinces us, and their ability to register multiple subtle changes of emotion is consistently impressive.”
     I could find no serious fault with the movie.  Give it a 10 out of 10.
     The Good Liar (2019) – IMDb

THE PROBLEM WITH JAILHOUSE SNITCHES. Op-Ed M. Frank

(This article by yours truly appears as an Op-Ed in Florida Today)
 
Jailhouse “snitches” play a wicked role within the bowels of criminal justice. Too many innocent people have spent years — no, decades — locked up (or executed) for crimes they did not commit based on testimony from desperate criminals lying to assist prosecutors in gaining convictions. Whether explicitly promised favors or not, most “snitches” are compensated for their lies in the form of reductions in jail time.
One of the most diabolical examples in Brevard County was the case of 21-year-old William Dillon, arrested for murder in 1981 based on testimony by a dog handler. While in a cell, he supposedly confessed the bludgeoning murder to a stranger, who in turn, blathered the fake conversation to happy prosecutors. Twenty-seven years later, that snitch appeared in front of a legislative committee confessing that he had lied in exchange for leniency. At 48, Dillon walked out of prison, a free man never to retrieve those precious years.
The dog handler, John Preston, was eventually exposed as a fraud, based on several criminal cases where the evidence revealed otherwise. Dillon’s case was featured on FLORIDA TODAY’s podcast Murder on the Space Coast.
Not all prosecutors blindly accept testimony from snitches. In December 1980, during the Miami investigation of the beating death of a black motorcyclist by a group of cops, I received television attention by media because I headed the investigation. Some fellow confined to jail had spotted me on television and sent a note to then-State Attorney Janet Reno.  He wrote that he recognized me on television as being a crooked cop taking bribes within organized crime circles. He was fishing for favors.
Reno’s office smelled a rat and promptly had the fellow polygraphed where he coughed up the truth. The bribes never happened. The Brevard County prosecutor’s office never polygraphed the rat in Dillon’s case. The testimony was too juicy.
Dillon wasn’t the only victim of shady prosecutors and cops. Sadly, others have spent many years in prison based on false testimony about their jailhouse confessions, later released by court orders.
To this day, Gary Bennett, now 61, is in his 35th year rotting in Florida’s state prison, based mainly on two unverified snitches whose testimony was never challenged by polygraph. Bennett voluntarily took and passed a polygraph in 1983, but that didn’t matter.
Helen Nardi, then 55, had been stabbed 25 times in her Palm Bay trailer in 1983. It had to be a very personal motive. Sure enough, John Preston and the fake dog were there to accuse the diminutive Gary Bennett, then 26, who had no real motive. If ever there was a wrongful conviction where the inmate should at the least,be given a new trial, it is this one. The shadows of doubt are simply overwhelming. Meanwhile, the clock ticks.
Forget about the dog and the snitches, neither of which is credible, the only other item of hard evidence was a palm print developed on the lower hallway closet door leading to the bedroom. A park resident as well, Bennett openly admitted that he had visited the victim’s house before, with others, and that he sat on the floor next to the door jamb. The print doesn’t prove a murder, it only proves his prior presence in the house.
What did the court-appointed defense attorney do? He never called a witness or presented a defense to the jury. Poor Gary.
The irony is the modus operandi of the prosecutor, who, in the early 1980s, happened to be the same prosecutor in Dillon’s, Dedge’s and, yes, Bennett’s case. Erroneous dog handler and dubious jailhouse snitches all played a role in the convictions, not to mention a do-nothing defense lawyer.
Future judge Dean Moxley was the prosecutor in these cases. 
There is much more to the story, far too many words allowed for this article. I was a Miami-Dade homicide investigator for 16 of my 30 years on the job. Never did I witness such a travesty by the legal side. What is even more appalling is the state turning a blind eye to the obvious.
Imagine spending one week or a year in prison. Imagine spending 35 years of your life in prison because of the very system that is supposed to protect you.
Marshall Frank is a retired police captain from Miami-Dade County, author and frequent contributor. Visit marshallfrank.com.

A FRANK MOVIE REVIEW: "HARRIET" – 9.5

“HARRIET” – 9.5 
 
     In a word:  Powerful
A month ago, I wrote a movie review of “Judy” that began like this:
     “I can see it coming …“And the Oscar goes to – Renee’ Zellweger”…
Now I say, Whoa, not so fast. I hadn’t yet seen “Harriet.”
     It will be a tight Oscar race for best actress because a lesser known, 32 year-old British actress named Cynthia Erivo has given the movie industry one of the greatest female performances ever.
     The “Harriet” in this movie centers on a slave woman known in her earliest years as “Minty” who later changes her name to Harriet Tubman, a woman of unbridled courage and tenacity in the pre-civil war era in which she was responsible for hundreds of slaves being rescued and brought to freedom in the north, and later to Canada, while under the most hazardous of conditions.  She had escaped from the hands of her slaveholders in 1849 Maryland at great risk and steadily became a fearless, storied conductor on the Underground Railroad until the Civil War was over.
     This is not just a “slave era” movie in which the audience witnesses endless whippings and beatings, and heart-breaking plots of about the bane of enslavement. This picture not only brought out the physical horrors, but powerful emotional episodes that could bring the viewer to tears, as man’s inhumanity to man is personified in the script and in the superb acting by all the case, not only Erivo. Kasi Lemmons, previously unknown to me, should also be nominated for best director and/or co-writer. Ms. Lemmons has an extensive history dating back to 1989 as actress, writer and director.
     Were there a few “gotchas” on the implausible scale, or stretching of the facts? Probably. A story this huge cannot be told in a two-hour time slot without some clever artistry. No reason to get nit-picky here as the movie brings to light the essence of the era, and the well-deserved personification of a hero, like none other. Ms. Tubman’s image deserves to be enshrined on American currency, as has been proposed for the 20 dollar bill sometime down the road.
     About half the audience – blacks and whites — in the movie house broke into applause as the credits started to roll. That’s a rarity
     …And the Oscar goes to: Renee’…uhhh…Cynthia…uhhh Renee’… Cynth….Ahhh…what the heck….it’s a TIE!…
     I know others disagree, but I definitely think this film deserves a 9.5 rating.
Harriet (2019) – IMDb
Here’s a more detailed review of the movie by Roger Ebert, who gives it 4 out of 5 stars.
  Harriet movie review & film summary (2019) | Roger Ebert