Prisons, pizzas and gunslingers

Sometimes the scariest news in the daily papers isn't even a story but simply a little filler item.

FBI and local cops have been trumpeting the fact lately that violent crime rates, specifically murder and armed robberies, have been going down for the past decade. (Rape is up in some locales, as is child molestation.) New York City in the mid-'70s averaged almost 2,500 homicides annually. That number is down to approximately 1,250 per year now in the cleaned-up Big Apple. Would that we could cut into industrial pollution so heavily in just the next three decades.

Closer to home, Seattle's homicide rate rose in the late '80s and early '90s, peaking at 75 homicides per annum. But last year and the year before there were fewer than 30 homicides annually in Seattle. That's the good news.

However, nobody is trumpeting the following facts, which were buried recently in a little paragraph The Seattle Times calls "By the Numbers." America's prison population has grown to 2.1 million inmates. That means one in every 75 American males is in prison right now. Washington state has almost 17,000 men incarcerated at present - a 2.9-percent increase from the previous year.

Now if all of those locked up were violent crumb bums - murderers, rapos and armed stickup men - you wouldn't be hearing any complaints from me.

Unfortunately, more than 50 percent of the people locked up here and nationally are charged with nonviolent drug offenses. This while corporate pirates and streetside killers often walk free. Make profits, for God's sake, on the bones of their victims.

We are beginning to resemble a fascist police state in much more than simply pinheaded presidential rhetoric. To a true freedom-lover, rather than some hypo-jingoistic, fundamentalist patriot screaming endlessly about God and country, these little facts about our growing rates of incarceration should be terrifying. Heightened security and vigilance is one thing. Paranoia and repression quite another.

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SPEAKING OF COPS, how about the local varieties. Recently every time you pick up one of the dailies there are stories, current and investigative, about rogue cops running wild.

Most recently, an unarmed attorney was shot by an off-duty Seattle cop who multiple witnesses claim was riding a motorcycle wildly in a downtown alley frequented by tourists and nightclubbers. An argument about the cop's driving broke out and then a scuffle, which the cop ended by shooting the aforementioned unarmed attorney in the abdomen.

The cop has at least one previous incident of alleged violence on his rap sheet, I mean in his official file. Sorry. Only days later, on June 30, non-uniformed thugs, oops, I mean King County police detectives, attacked a bunch of bicyclists in downtown Seattle. Cellphone photos from citizens at the scene captured the assaults, but police are claiming the skinny, hirsute bicyclists, marking intersections to protect other bicyclists, and seen in most photos assuming the fetal position under the assault of much huger men, began the fray.

I am not a personal fan of the skinny little self-righteous vegan folk on two wheels cutting in and out of auto traffic on our streets, but I am even less fond of huge, former second-string high-school footballers thumping whomever they wish to, and then claiming immunity by (unseen at assault time) badge.

A case could be made that a segment of King County law enforcement officers are out of control. Still, my guess is that nothing but whitewash is in our futures concerning this issue. Cops locally are more and more a closed shop.

Pay attention when out and about. The big, overly aggressive guys inciting you may not all be former nightclub bouncers. They may be undercover law enforcement, and it looks like they may be above the law. So be obsequious and stay safely unbruised and unincarcerated.

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A NEW YORK FRIEND turned me on to another scarifying factoid recently. This little chiller was published in New York magazine.

Seems that Chuck E. Cheese, the kiddy pizza franchise, has been showing a two-minute video of smiling American soldiers handing out candy to Iraqi kids in their 500 or so national units (love that word for food places - "That unit fries up some good pommes frites").

The pizza propaganda is set to the musical tune of "America the Beautiful." Evidently there are no video snaps of the endless Iraqi kids killed and injured by both insurgents and American misfires. Estimates of Iraqi civilians, including children, killed since Bush declared that war over, three years ago now, range between 30,000 and 100,000. No exact figures can be given, except for dead American military personnel, because we don't try to keep Iraqi casualty numbers.

I wouldn't want Burger King showing videos of Castro, say, backed up with a Carmen Miranda tune, and I don't want to see jingoistic, unbalanced videos while I try to endure the screaming of my grandkids and their friends.

Even if the video has been pulled (I haven't checked with Chuck E. Cheese), I'll be dealing around them next time anyone close to me talks about pizza. If you want to read this column to musical accompaniment, I suggest an old Pink Floyd tune to honor the memory of former Floyder Syd Barrett, who died last week.

Dennis Wilken's column appears periodically in the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at editor@

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