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Schultz: Once falsely incarcerated, now a police academy graduate

In the fall of 2001, Michael Green walked out of prison after serving 13 years for a crime he did not commit.

The story of his wrongful conviction is, in its particulars, an all-too-familiar one in America. He was accused by a white woman who had never seen a black man until she came to the Cleveland Clinic for cancer treatment. Michael had worked at the clinic for a short time, so police used his ID photo in lineups. Eventually, the woman, who had never before seen Michael Green, identified him as her rapist.

Michael was a 23-year-old school dropout without money or influence, so he was dependent on a public defender, who was no match for a zealous prosecutor. The rapist had wiped himself on a washcloth and thrown it on the floor, but DNA testing was years away. Evidence against Michael was scant, and at least one so-called expert was inept, but the jury convicted him anyway Oct. 21, 1988.

More than a decade later, his stepfather’s sleuthing turned up the washcloth in a dusty evidence box. The Innocence Project took his case and arranged for the DNA testing that proved Michael was innocent.

I met Michael days after his release and followed him throughout his first year of freedom. I wanted to tell the story of this man, who, on the day he got out, insisted he was not bitter. The five-day series ran in The Plain Dealer in October 2002. The following week, the real rapist turned himself in after reading the series and recognizing his crime.

On the day of his sentencing, Michael entered the courtroom to tell him he forgave him. It took the state of Ohio more than two years to begin paying Michael what it owed him. There is no compensating a man for taking away 13 years of his life, but wise investments allowed Michael the time and flexibility to figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

Michael always insisted to me that he wanted to work in corrections to help young people. In the early years after his release, he couldn’t get anyone to take him seriously. He may have been innocent, but he had spent 13 years behind bars. People judge you for that. They think they have you all figured out without knowing anything about you.

Michael and I lost track of each other for a few years, but we recently reconnected for the best of reasons.

At age 52, Michael is now a police academy graduate.

You read that right.

The system that betrayed him, that robbed him of more than a decade of his life, is the one he wants to join.

In September, Michael graduated from Cuyahoga Community College’s Peace Officer Basic Training Academy. We met last month in the kitchen of his Cleveland home, which he shares with Patricia, his wife of 14 years. She worries sometimes about his generosity—he has a habit of paying for strangers’ groceries and meals at McDonald’s—and his eagerness to join a police force. “I’m leaving it to God,” she said.

Michael shrugged. “When I walked out of prison, I told myself I would be an advocate—that as long as I was able, I would help others. For the longest time, it seemed I couldn’t get things right. I wasn’t doing what I’m supposed to be doing.” He smiled. “Graduating from the academy? This is what I am meant to do.”

Unfortunately, he’s got one more obstacle ahead, and it’s one he can’t control. At 52, he’s too old for big-city police forces.

Jamie Tavano, commander of the college’s police academy, says there are plenty of other police departments—including those for some villages, colleges and hospitals—that could be willing to give Michael a chance, and should.

“Mike works hard,” Tavano told me in a phone interview. “I’m not worried about him being able to do the job.”

Michael still wants to work with young people. “My job is to get back out here, show my face and show people there’s an alternative to violence. Anger puts a wall up, gives you tunnel vision.”

He’s putting in applications. He wants a paying job, not an auxiliary post. Not for the money, he said, but for the respect that comes with a paycheck.

In the meantime, he’s trying to recruit young men in the neighborhood to go through police training.

“Most cadets in my class came from families in law enforcement,” he said. “We need some police officers to come from our neighborhood, too.”

We all need that, as a community and as a country, and Michael Green deserves to be one of them.

Your Views: When will Congress do something about gun violence?

Dear Congress,

I am writing to tell you how disappointed I am in you. You have chosen to do nothing, because it is “not the right time:” Fifty-nine people killed in Las Vegas, and you did nothing. Forty-nine killed in an Orlando Nightclub, and you did nothing. Thirty-two killed at Virginia Tech, and you did nothing. Twenty-six killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and you did nothing. Fourteen people killed in San Bernardino, and you did nothing. Nine killed in a Charleston Church, and you did nothing.

Even when a couple of your own were shot, it was “not the right time,” and you did nothing.

The list goes on and on. When is the right time? What a disappointment.



Guest Views: So much for party of fiscal responsibility

Republicans in Congress have passed a budget resolution. But in the Senate, it cleared only narrowly, 51-49, with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, the only Republican vote against it. Total price tag for the budget? $4 trillion. Even by today’s standards, that’s hefty.

For now, it seems, the party of fiscal responsibility is gone. But established Republicans worried about the death of what was once a marquee feature of GOP politics shouldn’t be quite so concerned. Fiscal responsibility will never go fully out of style.

This is a period of transition for the Republican Party. Although it’s still too early to be quite sure what the national party is going to transition into, one thing has stayed the same over the past several decades. Vice President Dick Cheney once quipped that “deficits don’t matter.” He was speaking somewhat narrowly about the cost of fighting a war to win—with the memory of America’s deficit-financed Cold War win still fresh.

Today, the constituency for a balanced budget has become very small, and the constituencies who in effect depend on deficit spending for their share of subsidies, entitlements or other federal benefits is quite large. It encompasses Americans at every economic level, in both parties. It includes corporations and business interests. For the time being, there just isn’t enough of a coalition to impose fiscal responsibility as we knew it toward the end of the 20th century.

To be honest, deficit hawks haven’t always helped burnish the reputation of budget-cutting. Sometimes it has appeared that the importance of the position was primarily to unify Republicans around something they could all agree on because it looked good but would never really have to happen.

Then along came President Donald Trump, well attuned to the fact that many Republican voters had a broadly nationalist and populist interest in protecting some massive government outlays, and only a narrower ideological interest in paring back other kinds of government expenditures and programs. These voters wanted their share, too—and, inevitably, it would not come entirely out of revenues.

Finally, Republicans this year have strained to notch a legislative win, which they sense is important both for matters of pride and for electoral purposes. Congress remains less popular than the president. But with the “repeal and replace” of Obamacare a lost cause, attention has focused on tax relief, which, in turn, required the passage of the budget resolution to smooth the way. Republicans are now scurrying to determine how revenues and tax cuts will be squared in the new budget.

For sheerly political reasons, which shouldn’t be mocked in a democracy going through political change, it makes sense for the GOP to have dialed down the volume on fiscal responsibility.

Nevertheless, Republicans ought to know—like it or not—that they can run from budgetary prudence for a time, but they can’t hide. Democrats will never take a stronger line, ensuring that the GOP owns the basic idea of keeping federal deficit spending manageable at a minimum, and hopefully steadily shrinking. That’ll take much better economic times, however.

Most Americans, including the many saddled with their own debts, can’t see a way to get there without more deficit spending. That may be the case for now. But it won’t always be.

—The Orange County Register (California)

Other Views: Demographics largely to blame for Democrats losing

The U.S. Supreme Court will be deciding whether the redistricting lines drawn after the 2010 Wisconsin census were legally drawn or need modification.

After each census, the political party in control is required to approve redrawn maps to conform with population changes. This process has been in place for decades.

Republicans approved the maps after the 2010 census. Liberals filed suit, Gill v. Whitford, in an effort to slow the erosion of districts they were losing. They accused Republicans of packing and cracking districts, something Democrats admit they did when in power and continue to do in states such as California and Illinois.

An earlier lawsuit found 97 of 99 Assembly districts met minority guidelines.

One needs to dig deeper to find the real reason Democrats have lost so many seats in the past decade, not only in Wisconsin but across the entire country. Democrats continue to migrate to condensed large urban areas, such as Milwaukee and Madison, thus diluting their voting power in a majority of Wisconsin districts.

Republican-leaning voters tend to be dispersed throughout most of the state. This phenomenon has created an electability problem for Democratic candidates.

Reviewing the past few election cycles further validates this fact. In 2016, President Trump won 59 counties, and Sen. Ron Johnson won 54 counties. In the six contested congressional races, Republican candidates won 61 counties, while their Democrat counterparts won only six.

The past three gubernatorial elections, Gov. Scott Walker has won 59, 60 and 54 counties. In the Legislature, Republicans have gone from being a minority to having 20 Senate seats and 64 Assembly seats.

All of this did not happen because of gerrymandering. It happened because Democratic voters continue to condense the areas where they decide to live.

Two former state legislators, Sens. Dale Schultz and Tim Cullen, discussed the redistricting issue at an Oct. 24 forum in Janesville. Cullen admitted that if the lines had been drawn “more fair” (to Democratic advantages), only 10 to 15 additional Assembly seats would be competitive. This would make a total of only 20 to 25 competitive seats. This is not the result of so-called gerrymandering but of personal preference as to where individuals want to live.

Schultz and Cullen had a combined nearly 50 years in the Legislature. Both served as majority leader of the Senate, arguably one of the most powerful positions in Wisconsin. Both benefited from the redistricting process and enjoyed its fruits. Now that they are on the outside, they cry foul. While only they know their motives, the public can’t help but be cynical.

To make districts balanced in voting preference would require tremendous shifting of current boundaries. This would create extreme gerrymandering. Should Janesville be split into four or five districts and likely wind up with no single legislator representing its interest?

Changing the way our legislative districts are drawn is not the answer to winning elections. Recruiting well-respected candidates who can articulate policy positions the voters believe will move the state forward is the way to win elections. This holds true for both parties. Voters will then give them a mandate to govern. This was true 40 years ago, is true today and will probably be true 40 years from today.

John Lader