A manhunt for the wrong thief

March 12, 2009

Locking down campuses to catch an escaped larceny suspect while the state's biggest budget-cutters are rewarded shows the absurdity of our "justice" system, writes Rebekah Ward.

KENNESAW STATE University (KSU), Georgia's third-largest college with 21,000 students, was placed on emergency lockdown and high-security alert on the afternoon of March 3.

Around 3 p.m., emergency security alerts were sent via email, text and phone to the entire campus community. The alert was called because a larceny suspect had escaped custody and was believed to be lurking on campus. A second security alert went out shortly afterward, stating that the suspect was allegedly seen near the Science building, and Kennesaw State was subsequently shut down.

While thousands of students and campus workers were on lockdown, a massive police hunt ensued on campus, with helicopters hovering overhead, while cops and police dogs combed the campus.

With this much hoopla, it must have seemed like a big-time crook had snuck onto campus. Could the larcenist-on-the-loose be Gov. George Ervin "Sonny" Perdue III, who recently stole $136 million from our university system's education budget?

Maybe it was Erroll B. Davis, chancellor of the University System of Georgia. Davis takes home an annual salary of $558,378 (plus $15,604 for travel expenses), while systematically denying domestic partner benefits to LGBT staff, students and faculty.

Georgia Governor "Sonny" Perdue
Georgia Governor "Sonny" Perdue

Perhaps the suspect was KSU President Daniel Papp, who pockets a $224,218 salary (plus $18,306 for travel expenses) while enforcing a pay cut on all KSU workers through dumping more health care costs on them.

Unfortunately, none of these thieves was the target of the manhunt at KSU. They'll probably be handsomely rewarded for their larceny.

The reason for the lockdown was a Barney Fife-ish deputy sheriff from Coffee County, Tenn. (named after Gen. John Coffee who slaughtered Creek Indians), who was transporting a prisoner, Chris Gay, from Florida to Tennessee on a larceny case.

The sheriff apparently got hungry on the drive, and pulled off I-75 and into a Waffle House near KSU to satisfy his appetite. When he returned to his vehicle, Gay somehow ran away from him, and--apparently full from his meal--the deputy sheriff couldn't catch the suspect, who ran onto campus.

After a three-hour lockdown, police decided that Gay was not on KSU's campus (actually, they admitted they didn't know where he was, and he's still free as of this writing), and students and workers were allowed to leave. Classes were canceled and campus remained closed the remainder of the day.

THE CORPORATE media dutifully covered up for police and focused instead on Chris Gay's supposedly magical escape powers.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's headline read: "Latest BMOC 'Little Houdini' captivates Kennesaw State." Police justifications were circulated. "We're thinking he had a key," Coffee County Sheriff Steven Graves was quoted as saying. "Handcuffs are easy, but that's the only way you can get free from belly chains or leg shackles." Graves promised not to get tricked again, telling reporters, "I guess we'll do a criminal background check the next time we pick up a prisoner."

Gay actually did have a history of escaping from authorities. After freeing himself from a police transport vehicle in South Carolina in 2007, he made his way more than 300 miles to Pleasant View, Tenn., just outside of Nashville, in an attempt to see his mother, who was dying of cancer. Gay got all the way to his mother's front yard before cops chased him away. His mother died shortly after. Before her death, Gay's mother, Anna Shull, told reporters, "What he did was wrong, but he knows his mama don't have long."

Gay's story inspired a folk song by Tim O'Brien, "The Ballad of Christopher Daniel Gay," set to the tune of Woody Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd." "Stole a pickup in Carolina, then a Wal-Mart truck with eighteen wheels/He drove toward his dyin' mama in the Cheatham County hills/And it's down those lanes and backroads, the police made their chase/And he almost made her trailer, he almost saw her face."

Launching manhunts and locking down campuses to catch and punish Chris Gay, while budget-cutters like Perdue, Davis and Papp are richly rewarded--that's the absurdity of our "justice" system.

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