When they cranked their patrol cars to start their shifts on the Saturday night before Mother’s Day, Hattiesburg policemen Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate knew he was out there.
Officers hope and pray for routine shifts. But in the tiniest towns in America and in the biggest cities, they know they are entering minefields. They know there are human time bombs out there — mentally broken or hopped up on drugs or alcohol or mad at the world or bursting with testosterone.
Often some of each.
They’re determined to release their anger on somebody.
Often somebody innocent.
Too often somebody in uniform.
Officers also know their actions will be judged harshly. If they guess wrong or panic or make a mistake, the nation will pounce.
We get to second-guess.
Bless the judges, corrections workers, parole boards and even the people who draft and pass sentencing laws.
If they get it right, a first-time transgressor will mend his ways after time behind bars.
If they get it wrong, more people become victims and suffer at the hands of those who continue to opt out of basic human decency.
Hattiesburg went into mourning, as did all of Mississippi, after Deen, 34, and Tate, 25, were gunned down.
The person believed to be guilty, Marvin Banks, is 29. Indications are that he fired one shot from a .40-caliber handgun into Tate’s face and another Deen’s back. Both bled to death, becoming 43rd and 44th officers to die on duty in America this year, the third and fourth in Mississippi.
Banks, whose brother and a smattering of others at the scene were charged with related offenses, was a veteran of “the system.”
In 2010, he admitted possession of a stolen gun, served nearly a year and was set free. Records show he violated release terms and was sent back to prison.
When stopped by Deen, Banks’ felony charges included both possession and sale of controlled substances, and there was an outstanding warrant.
America spends a lot of time pondering the issues that society decides are pressing.
For some reason, recidivism — the 50-cent word that describes those for whom intermittent incarceration becomes a lifestyle — is not one of them. Perhaps this is because answers are so elusive.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported last year on a study performed on 405,000 inmates released in 30 states in 2005. Within three years, 68 percent were charged with additional crimes. Within five years, 77 percent were facing a return to prison.
That’s more than three out of four.
And we’re not talking single arrests on single charges. The five-year total of new charges was 1.2 million — about three new felonies each.
The bright side was this: The longer a person stayed out of prison, the less likely he or she would commit new crimes. To be specific, 43 percent of the released prisoners were rearrested within a year, but only 13 percent of those not rearrested during the four years after release were arrested in the fifth year.
This speaks well of reforms enacted by the Mississippi Legislature in 2014. New tactics based on a private study showed how post-release options could be tweaked. The goal is to reduce wear on the spinning turnstile at Parchman. It will take a few years to see if those changes prove worthwhile, at least in statistical tallies.
One aspect of the study revealed that prison became a repeat destination for so many because it was the one place in their lives there was “structure.”
Nobody in Hattiesburg is interested in statistics or analysis. Banks’ mother was on television, very distraught. Sympathy, however, is better directed at the families, friends and coworkers of Deen and Tate. Their deaths, apparently at the hands of a jobless druggie with a nice ride, custom wheels and a big gun, were, sadly, foreseeable.
Banks’ mom, who worked the night shift at a nursing home, said she tried everything she knew to raise him right. His prison time could have turned his life around if he was smart.
But he wasn’t smart. He was a time bomb.
His day in court is pending, but he apparently chose, in the vernacular, to remain a thug —maybe to be proud of it.
All we are left to do is wish there had been a way to know he was determined to destroy his own life and, more importantly, that he cared nothing about the lives of others.
And be grateful there are those who, like Deen and Tate, knew he was out there — and went to work anyway.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist and assistant dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.