Sunday, January 6, 2008

Real Murderers Cry A Lot

By Alan Caruba

I don’t watch television like other people do. When you spend your days writing, your mind needs to relax to a point where it is not processing a lot of information. I can’t remember the last time I watched an entire football game or even a movie. I want television to teach me something while, frankly, entertaining me.

I tend, therefore, to watch the History Channel, Animal Planet, Discovery, and C-Span on the weekends when they feature authors. I have been a book reviewer for over four decades and I read a lot. Like I said, I like learning things.

Lately I have become addicted to “The First 48” a reality show on A&E. If you are not familiar with it, in Memphis, Phoenix, Dallas or Miami, a camera team follows around real detectives from the minute a call comes in regarding a murder. There are no staged events. We merely get to watch as they attempt to solve the murder and, in their world, the first 48 hours after a killing is crucial to finding the killer.

I have also been a fan of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and what is most striking is the vast difference between the fictional show—which is well written and well acted—and real life is how little forensics, other than the most obvious such as the fortuitous fingerprint or shell casings, play a role in finding killers in the real world.

Things like eye witnesses, license plate numbers, descriptions of automobiles, and especially cell phones and the records they leave behind, play a key role, but almost inevitably, the suspects are already in the crime records, their photos instantly staring back from the computer screen and their “rap sheets” carefully documenting a life of bad decisions when their names are typed into the system.

Another factor common to almost every murder is drugs. And, finally, virtually all the victims are either Black or Hispanic. They live in bad neighborhoods, often home to gangs. Their killers are also Black or Hispanic. White people kill each other, too, of course, but the week-to-week program reveals a world that those of us raised in nice, white, middle, and upper class suburban neighborhoods never see.

How are the killers found? As often as not their family members give them up, providing the information necessary to find them. Sometimes it’s their girl friends or guys with whom they hang out. They are often in their teens or twenties. It is the rare old man who kills anyone, though the show had shown one such case.

Finally, killers tend to cry a lot when they are caught. I found that surprising. In the fictional world of killers, they’re tough as nails, but in the real world, they tend to cry before and during the interrogation. The questions detectives ask are almost too simple. “Tell me what happened?” The lies are so pathetic one understands why these people are unable to envision going to jail for decades. Confronted, they just spill the beans.

The detectives are an eclectic group, both men and women, but they have one thing in common. As difficult and demanding as the job is, they just love it. Their client is the victim. I never watch the show without being very thankful for cops.

In America’s big cities, somebody is killing somebody all the time. That’s the nature of cities. People feel anonymous, but they’re not. They have family and friends. Until they kill somebody and then nobody wants them around.

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