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I not deny
The jury, passing on the prisoner's life,
May in the sworn twelve have a thief or two
Guiltier than him they try.
William Shakespeare, from "Henry VIII"
Subject for today: The State Of Illinois
I have had in my possession, for some time now, a large paperback book that is titled:
"Illinois State Police (Seal)
"Criminal Intelligence Bulletin
"Subject: The Irish Travellers - Photo Supplement
"Synopsis: This bulletin contains photographs and identifiers of the Irish Travellers located in N. Augusta, South Carolina.
"The preface to this book states that that, "This information was obtained from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Columbia, South Carolina.
"This report is confidential and dissemination is restricted to law enforcement personel(sic) only."
The report goes on:
"Criminals who utilize multiple jurisdictions to commit crimes do so deliberately to take advantage of the fact that local law enforcement agencies are limited by jurisdictional boundaries. In addition, because of their mobility, if they are apprehended at a later date, victims have trouble identifying them because of the time that has lapsed. These groups also tend to target the elderly because of their physical debilitations, which makes them much less inclined to identify them and poor witnesses in cases that come to trial. For these reasons, it has become essential that law enforcement make an effort to curtail those who participate and have become proficient in this type of criminal activity.
"This report is an effort toward that goal. It contains photographs, physical descriptors and other pertinent information about the members of a clan known within the law enforcement community as the "Irish Travelers." Members of this clan are known to and have been arrested for participating in various types of home repair schemes, home diversion type burglaries, and fraudulent tool sales. A more detailed account of this clan's history, characteristics, modus operandi and vehicles have been addressed in the Illinois State Police, Criminal Intelligence Bulletin #9-10.
"This has been a joint effort between the Illinois State Police and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and it is hoped that the photographs contained in this bulletin will assist investigators in their efforts to identify offenders.
"It should be noted that several different individuals may use the same name, this is a common practice in this culture. This is done to confuse law enforcement and conceal their true identification.
"The "Name Index" lists the names in alphabetical order. In one instance four different individuals have the same name. In several instances three different individuals have the same name. In these cases the names were not listed three or four times but only once and noted on two different pages. There are several instances where two people with the same name appear on the same page. Please make note of these and consider them when browsing through the "Name Index". A separate "Alias Index" has been prepared and is listed in alphabetical order after the "Name Index."
"Investigators are reminded that not all members of this clan are engaged in criminal activity and will not have criminal histories. There are some relatives and associates. Duplication or distribution is prohibited without the permission of the Illinois State Police, Division of Criminal Investigation.
"In support of this effort it is being requested that those agencies who may have or in the future come in contact with this clan to make copies of their report(s) and make them available to the Illinois State Police to assist them in the production of future bulletins. This effort will be appreciated, and the contributing agency will be recognized if the material is utilized.
"The photographs on the following pages were provided by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Columbia, South Carolina.
"Many of the photographs have been obtained through the South Carolina Driver's License Bureau and reflect the subjects current driver's license photograph. These are renewable every four years. The remaining photographs are the result of arrests from various jurisdiction throughout the United States."
There is no need to quote any further. But there follow 145 pages of "mug" shots, 2 to a page, and the names of 290 Irish Travellers, apparently selected by the state of South Carolina on the basis of family name and home address, to send to the state of Illinois (Illinois of all places; more below) for them to compile a list of the "usual suspects." There is a state or federal ID# on only 16 of those entries altogether, leading me to believe that there was no criminal information available to either the South Carolina or Illinois police on the remaining 274 individuals listed at the time of printing. On those other 16 entries, there is no information given beyond the numbers, which might mean that they were convicted of a crime, perhaps charged and found not guilty, perhaps arrested and not charged (/charges possibly dropped), or merely picked up in a "sweep," booked, and released.
A short aside: nicknames, where known, are listed in the book as "aliases." Nicknames are common among IrishTravellers since so many have identical first and last names, repeated generation after generation as a reverent tradition.
A further 16 photos have an identification of the "Edgefield County Sheriffs Dept." under the head and shoulders full-face portraits, certainly leading any uninformed viewers to believe that they are staring at the images of convicted felons. Yet Edgefield County is the home county of virtually all of these so-called "traveling criminals." With all of America to choose from, would they be that likely to offend against only the laws of their home "turf." Another anomaly: these apparent "perpetrators" against Edgefield County have, in some cases, only been photographed with hats on their heads.
Wait just a county minute! Hats on their heads in "mug" shots? Could it be that these photos were taken by the Edgefield County Sheriff's Department of legitimate applicants for local contractors' licenses? But that's not what witnesses are going to think when they are shown a book full of Irish Traveller drivers' and contractors' license photos and asked to pick a perpetrator. This scenario, to my mind, may often follow the question, "Did they sound a little Irish to you?"
Framed? Do I believe the any significant number of law enforcement officials would deliberately frame someone that they know to be innocent? Not on your life. My father was a police officer, and I have friends and relatives who are scrupulous law enforcement officials. I even have a close cousin who works for a well-known TV news show (not any that I name); although the subject of the Travellers has never come up between us and I do not believe that show would sink to the level of its imitators, in any event.
Yet consider this: Are there policemen and policewomen who would use ethically dubious or even outright illegal tactics to stack the deck against people they consider "offenders," those they are prepared to think of as guilty before the fact. Well, if you believe that O.J. Simpson killed two people and discarded only one bloody glove at the scene, ran a few miles home, and conveniently (for Mark Furman) dropped the other in his front yard you might say, "No." If you think that he was guilty (if only because such slayings are usually committed by a jealous lover or ex-lover) and the glove was removed from the crime scene and transported by others who already considered him a suspect as an excuse for a search of his premises, you might say, "Yes." And I, for one, would not think you excessively cynical.
Illinois: What an amazing state? Surely it is an astounding coincidence that, over the period of the last twelve years, just that many, 12 "felons" on death row there have been completely exonerated and freed following years of unjust imprisonment, and just that many convicts have been executed during that period, and just that many Illinois prosecutors and police have been indicted for framing innocent victims over that length of time. Well, actually, the relationship of those numbers is approximate, because I do not have the tools to do professional research here though I did want to make a dramatic point, but the thrust of my argument is sound and the numbers not too far off.
Am I knocking Illinois? Not in the least. I think, unfortunately, that state's law enforcement culture might pretty typical in this country.
Am I knocking the police? Some of them; a little, I guess; although I would also say that John Q. Public has no greater friend when it comes to the protection of the innocent. But John Q. Traveller often sees the other side of that shield, when the assumption is made that he or she is guilty just because of their ethnic heritage. I certainly don't know most Irish Travellers; there are at least thirty thousand of us in America and another twenty-five thousand in the Old Country. But I can say this without qualification: in my lifetime, the ratio of Irish Travellers I have met that might be called "criminals," compared to those even the most finicky of you would term "honest" is no greater than most other ethnic minorities. Question from the back row? No. I'm not thinking of those notorious Amish in this context.
What devilish scheme can we use to justify this accusation of bias? How can we cleverly penetrate this secret cabal, this conspiracy of prejudicial repression? Oh, I don't know; how about quoting their remarks to the press.
Taken from a national magazine article on the Bill Paxton flop motion picture, "Traveller":
"In this business you sort of admire the chutzpah of certain con men," says Dave Kirkman, an assistant attorney general in North Carolina's Consumer Protection Division , "[But] after seeing how they treat their kids, dressing up 6- and 7-year-old girls like little sluts, it's hard to have any compassion for those folks (Travellers)." Thanks, "Dateline." Thanks, "20/20." Thanks, "48 Hours." (See Media 06/01/99 and Marriage Customs 06/03/99).
In case you may have been confused in the past about the logical truism: "Absence of evidence
is not evidence of absence," perhaps the following comments, attributed to Lt. Joe Livingston of the SC Law
Enforcement Division by assorted TV tabloid "news" shows, will help you to understand it, or perhaps
"Travellers are a mysterious group. They leave home and travel around the U.S. most of the year. It's just like they're sticking their nose at us saying, 'Hey! You can't touch us because we have our own society.'"
A quote about Livingston, derived from his statements to "48 Hours":
"He's on a mission, a mission to break what he says is a clan of con artists (the Irish Travellers) outside of Columbia, SC."
Somehow Lt. Livingston was able to reconcile his feelings with the fact he acknowledged in a
"I can count on one hand the number [of all Irish Travellers] that I know have actually gone to jail."
I find the above to be a remarkable statement about a remarkable fact, given all the media coverage and his more than a dozen years of concentrated effort against Travellers. Unfortunately, that statement is probably no longer entirely accurate, due to the intense police "profiling" of Travellers nationwide in more recent years.
Jody Roland, Chief Deputy Sheriff, Edgefield Co., SC (is that envy I hear?) commented on the
houses built by Irish Travellers in Murphy Village:
"How in the world can painters and travelers build this type of community? Makes you wonder. Makes you wonder."
Two quotes about Sgt. David Kessler of DeKalb Co., GA, by "Dateline," again based on
"It is the Travellers' opulent lifestyle that so angers Sgt.Kessler."
"But Sgt. Kessler was determined to lock up a few Travellers. . . ."
Get the picture? It is not a pretty one.
Are all Irish Travellers honest? No, certainly not, and the ratio does not improve with time as legitimate channels for nomads to make a good living are further and further restricted out of fear and sometimes spite by settled folk. Are all Irish Travellers dishonest? Not by a long, long shot and we do not deserve to be labeled and libeled so by those who declare themselves judge and jury by virtue of a badge or a press pass.
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