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July 1, 2009

Justice and the menace

Every time former President George W. Bush talked about bringing justice to a particular set of bad people, I died a little inside. Mostly because it’s a boneheaded way of putting that sentiment into words, but also because I like politicians who puff their chests about as much as I like poison ivy.

Bush and others seemed to behave with such gusto for a couple reasons. His worldview, and that of many who ascribed to the set of values he employed, is patriarchal in origin. The male is dominant, both the oppressor and the indicator of right and wrong. In Bush’s terms, he is the decider.

This is, of course, a remarkable responsibility when put to one man. So when confronted with the utter, contemptible violence of 9/11, for instance, Bush went for the bravado: Be a man. Take ’em out. Don’t tread on me. Deliver justice unto them.

America is also a patriarchal society, despite the lip service given to human equality in its various forms. Somebody started a fight with us, and a fight is what we were ready to return. It is raw and emotional rhetoric, absent the nuance that defines us, both as people and country.

Unfortunately, 9/11 set the tone for the entirety of the Bush administration’s dealings with adversity. And it synthesized a small, increasingly isolated crop of radicals whose unnatural propensity for violence was suddenly more acceptable in mainstream society.

Take the case of J.D. Sparks, the low-level Republican activist who assaulted LEO Weekly reporter Jonathan Meador at a GOP fundraiser in May. Sparks approached Meador, who was carrying a handheld video camera and had been credentialed by the Jefferson County Republican Party well in advance, and began asking why he was filming. Meador explained that he was a reporter covering a story, but Sparks wasn’t satisfied. He grabbed and shoved Meador several times, leaving marks on the reporter’s arms and hands. Meador pleaded with him to “stop manhandling me,” but to no avail.

We posted video of the attack at leoweekly.com, and the reader response was overwhelming: This was an act of unprovoked violence.

Meador and the newsweekly filed charges against Sparks, and last week he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. He was issued a $250 fine (on top of court costs) and a court order barring him from communicating with Meador, the writer’s family or friends, and LEO Weekly. The charge will remain on Sparks’s record for five years. If he violates it, Sparks faces as much as a year in jail and a $500 fine.

“I felt like a lead character in one of those terrible John Grisham novels, when the unjustly wronged rube is thrown into a world of violence, ham-fisted intrigue and mind-numbing legalese only to emerge, conveniently, better off for the experience,” Meador said.

The only aspect of the court order not granted — we pushed for it — was to prohibit Sparks from carrying a firearm for a certain period of time. We know from Sparks’s various online missives that where guns are concerned, his is a love supreme. We have also heard from many former associates and colleagues since the incident. They say uniformly that Sparks is boastful about his stockpiles of arms and ammo, and that his temper is dangerously short.

Given his violent tendencies, we don’t think Sparks is a guy who should have a gun strapped to his belt. Period.

We pursued this not to humiliate Sparks — he did plenty of that himself — or the local GOP, whose hands are clean here (in fact, GOP officials helped Meador in the moment and spoke with me at length afterward). And it has no direct correlation to gun owners or the Second Amendment, which does not inherently protect instigators.

Instead, we succeeded in proving two points:

1. Trying to intimidate a journalist out of a story is embarrassingly passé, Judith Miller principle notwithstanding;

2. Only children, gangs, terrorists and the societies they bait settle disputes with unrequited violence. Those of us living in civilized society use words or the legal system.

Sparks had political aspirations, although he may have set himself too far outside the establishment for a future in elective office. Based on my conversations with local officials, I can say with confidence that the local GOP wants nothing to do with him.

He also has a family, and I sincerely hope they do not suffer for his behavior.

We did not deliver justice to J.D. Sparks. He brought it on himself. 

Tagged: Editor’s Note |