Mile of Murder

Part 1

Day Street is a residential street that is synonymous with murder to many of the people who live in Green Bay.  It is a street that is steeped in horror, legend, and fear, but also one that resembles any other street in downtown Green Bay.  Located on the city’s near east side, it measures approximately 1 mile in length and includes many lower to mid-level income families in a mix of rental units and owner-occupied housing.  You can see children playing in front yards, teenagers riding their bicycles on the sidewalks, and families out for a stroll on an average warm, summer day.  However, you would’ve also seen multiple condemned properties in the past and the occasional police car stopped near the curb.  Day Street is an aging street that has seen a wave of demographic changes over the years, but continues to remain a source of anxiety for residents because of the events that unfolded there and the stories surrounding them.  It’s not that the concentration of crimes pertaining to that specific street are more numerous than any other part of the city, but rather the ones committed there have been extremely heinous, leading to this view.

The most heinous of all the murders that occurred on Day Street was the murder of a five-year-old Hmong girl named Nancy Thao, who attended a nearby elementary school.  No one could have imagined that Johnson Greybuffalo, a young Native man with a child of his own, would be so cruel as to kill a small child that simply woke up to interrupt him stealing into their apartment in the middle of the night.  If she were alive, she would be a few years younger than me today, but she never got the chance to live out her life.  The most well-known murder that became national news was that of Tom Monfils, which took place at the James River Paper Mill at the start of Day Street.  5 of the 6 men who the courts convicted of the crime have been released or are just now being released after serving their time, but there are still numerous people who believe that all the men were innocent and continue to espouse the theory that the victim actually took his own life.  From 1988 to today, the string of murders and crimes that have plagued this particular street continue to haunt its inhabitants.

The following murders occurred on Day Street: Clinton Cardish was beaten to death by his former cellmate on May 13, 1995, Lorenzo Ayalla was shot and killed by an acquaintance on January 28, 1995, who later left the country and was never caught, Nancy Thao was stabbed to death by Johnson Greybuffalo in the attempt of a burglary on July 22, 1994, Tom Monfils was beaten, bound, and thrown into a paper pulp vat by disgruntled co-workers on November 21, 1992, Eugene McIntosh was stabbed to death by his wife on April 30, 1988, Ouida Wright was killed by her boyfriend on May 3, 2013, and Ricardo Gomez was shot by Richard Arrington on April 2, 2016.  It is hard to believe that such misery and crime could happen in the stretch of only one mile, but these murders now define the street and how people view it.

According to the United States Census, the population for Green Bay was 104,879 persons in July of 2018.  In 2010, that number stood at 103,911 and 102,313 in 2000 respectively.  Green Bay has not grown as exponentially as Madison throughout the years, but the suburbs surrounding the city such as De Pere and Howard have thrived.  This was very apparent when we first moved to Day Street in the late 1990’s, when droves of families who previously lived there escaped to the suburbs and subsequently were replaced with a more multi-cultural landscape.  Along with a more multicultural population, Green Bay also saw an influx of workers who always lived on farms or traveled long distances to reach work in the city due to a scarcity of work in their towns and villages.  Although the population size has not increased much, the demographics of the inner city have changed over the years with different groups of people moving in.  This has led to tensions in a small town that always identified itself as a small-town, all-American city.

I’ve lived on Day Street three times in three different houses in my life.  The first time was when my parents bought a house, which was not an easy feat for an immigrant family that struggled to speak the language and understand the societal norms.  I recall my mother saying that she heard terrible rumors about the street and wasn’t eager to move there, but with the low price of the house and how close it was situated to everything else, my parents changed their minds and closed the deal.  We moved in after the murder of Nancy Thao and I would get chills every time we passed the former residence.  At that time when we first moved, I distinctly recall many for sale signs planted in lawns all around our neighborhood.  It was very apparent that families who had lived there for years had decided it was time to move due in part to the crime in the 90’s.  The neighborhood was definitely changing and our family and others like ours were part of that change.

Green Bay has added multi-cultural events celebrating all this diversity to the city through picnics, town talks, and more.  However, this doesn’t change the fact that more minorities and low-income families are affected by crime because of the lack of affordable housing and job advancement.  The median income of a household in 2017 was $45,473 as opposed to the 2017 national median income of $61,372.  While the official national poverty stats of 2017 was at 12.3%, Green Bay had 17% of its residents living in poverty.  A majority of those living in poverty either live downtown or in certain areas that provide more affordable housing.  These groups of people then experience more hardships because of where they live, making it tougher to rise out of poverty and where they are.  Race also plays into how victims and perpetrators are treated in a town that is overwhelmingly white.  In the trial of Johnson Greybuffalo, a juror expressed fears that she might not be partial enough because she thought poorly of both Hmong people and Native Americans.  This casual racism is usually unspoken, but is always there as people fear a foreign race who they assume are taking over their lands and rights, leading to apathy for a little girl that was murdered and for those that continued to inhabit the space of those who discarded it.

My life has been intertwined with this particular street and with that, some of the crimes that have happened on it.  My parents moved from Illinois to the city when I was barely one and I have spent the majority of my life here.  While living on Day Street, I have actually heard a gunshot that killed someone, knew one of the murderers as a young teenager, and attended the funeral of one of the victims.  Since Green Bay is a relatively smaller city, some residents have a connection to one or more the crimes that have occurred on the street, and some even have knowledge of the actual crimes that took place.  Currently, I work at a correctional center that some of these same murderers have either lived in or moved through.  Having worked in a maximum-security prison, I have seen all sorts of offenders from those who trafficked drugs to those who committed homicide.  There are various misconceptions about what happens to inmates once they are incarcerated and what goes on behind the locked gates, but the truth is that although the whole prison system nation-wide could be reformed, it is not what some make it out to be.

Despite these things, I’m proud to call this city my home and am excited for the changes that have occurred so far.  Although wages in the city are not as high as Madison or Milwaukee, the cost-of-living is very accommodating to growing families.  Rents are relatively lower than the more populous cities and crime occurs at a much considerably lower rate here than Madison or Milwaukee.  When I attended UW-Madison, I remember a body being dragged from the water the first few weeks I was there and it didn’t even make front page news.  Many residents of Green Bay will claim that the city is becoming more and more crime-ridden, but the data shows that crime overall has been down over the decades.  In 1993, the national murder rate was 9.5 murders for every 100,000 while it was 5.3 for every 100,000 in 2017.  The reason it may appear as if crime is occurring more is that specifically for Green Bay, it doesn’t happen regularly, so when it happens, it becomes front page news, whereas it is barely a mention for larger cities.  The more we hear about crimes, the more we think it is happening.  However, it could easily be attributed to the fact that we are getting the information at a faster rate than we ever have before and that is why it feels as if there is more crime when there isn’t.

With social media, the spread of harrowing news such as kidnapping and lost children are rapidly fed into our Facebooks and Twitter accounts and continuously shared, with almost no lag time in between the incident and the post.  If a child goes missing in a small city, even those in cities two states over will know and share the posts by the end of the day.  Technology has allowed for information to proliferate like never before, allowing it reach people that may have never known previously.  However, it also added an inflated sense of fear as people think that crime is getting worse, when in actuality, they are just hearing about it more.  We thrive on fear because it is an innate, primal instinct that has kept us alive through the centuries.  Fear is ingrained into our DNA whether we like it or not, and although we like to believe we are move evolved than that, we simply are not.  We seek out fear.  We court fear and we can influence people through fear.  The more we deny this small truth, the more those who understand the power of fear can use it to control us.  What is at the root of fear is the desire to stay alive.  Those who spread fear are seen as heralders of safety even if they are wrong.

We don’t fault someone for spreading misinformation because we feel as if they did it in the hopes of keeping us safe.  We also continue to spread misinformation even if it’s been proven wrong because we feel it’s our duty to keep others safe.  To understand fear, we must understand how the instinct has worked for so long. We as a race have used fear to survive and thrive, and because of it, we seek out fear to keep us alive.  We want to be scared to within an inch of our lives on roller coasters, haunted houses, and paint ball games.  We want to know fear, but a controlled fear because it is exhilarating.  I saw a post on Facebook on a community policing page where someone reported a group of men for trying to kidnap children into sex slavery.  Some commenters stated that the police already investigated the situation and found that it was merely a bible group who was aggressively trying to recruit, but this did not stop people from sharing after the fact.  We live for fear because it keeps us alive and we excuse those that rile up the fear in us because we thrive on it. Real crime does happen every day, but the perception of crime is what we hold on, for we have been conditioned to do so.

There is a difference between reporting accurately on crimes that occurred and willingly spreading false information that others debunked.  With the first, one is simply relaying information about a crime that has occurred, but the latter helps spread an unfounded story that further causes more misinformation and fear in the community.  With this book, I hope to accurately inform the readers of the crimes that took place on Day Street, but it is in no way a recrimination of the street or the people that live there.  Oftentimes, we will indict a whole race based off of the crime of one individual or in this case, a whole street.  Day Street is a street that I grew up on and holds many misconceptions about it due to these crimes, but it is still one that families have decided to live on.  It is not always in the best of conditions and does not always house the best of tenants, but it still deserves the truth.  For those who have chosen to escape it and those who have chosen to stay, the truth still remains.

 

 

 

 

 

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Razor Blades & Civil War Monuments

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Anytime change is introduced, people, regardless of race, sexual orientation, or gender misconstrue this as an attack on themselves.  The reality is that everyone believes that they are good people and to suggest otherwise forces them to look introspectively at themselves, which is the real issue.  Most people in general don’t change unless they are forced to change.  Most people tend to change after someone breaks up with them, their health is threatened, or if they experience a traumatic experience.  To change means we have been doing something wrong, so if we are confronted with change, we will vehemently deny it because it allows us to not think about who we are.

This has nothing to do with masculinity or race, but happens to be more pronounced in those who are privileged.  Those who are privileged tend to have their voices heard more often over those who are minorities and not the norm.  Just because we are confronted with change does not necessarily mean we have been doing something wrong, but sometimes it does.  When statues of southern generals from the Civil War were taken down, people were upset because they did not believe they were wrong and to take them down indicated that they perhaps were wrong in erecting the statues in the first place.  It allows people to believe that they were right and to threaten that threatens their core beliefs and so, people will fight tooth and nail to retain their ‘culture.’

With the Gillette ads that admonish unsavory tendencies of men, many men who do not commit these tendencies are deeply offended simply by the suggestion that they are lumped into the same category of these men without acknowledging that this category of men exist.  Then there are a few men who have done these things and they vehemently deny that these things are issues because once again, to do so would mean they have been wrong this entire time and need to change.  As such, we get an ‘over-reaction’ of defending oneself, which leads to defining oneself by their past and not being able to change because of it.

If we don’t have the ability to change, we will always remain stagnant, never learning or growing beyond who we were.  Change is difficult and hard and that in of itself needs to be acknowledged.  Change will never come easy socially and individually, but simply realizing that we all approach change the same way should tell who we are.

The Year of Sexual Misconduct

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It has been quite the year for highlighting the issues of sexual misconduct in the workplace and how we as a society have dealt with it.  As quickly as empires are built, we have found they can crumble just as fast.  Many powerful men have lost their positions as society is no longer accepting the behavior of those who abuse.  The balance of power is shifting and there will be those who will be uncomfortable with it.  As with change, it is either swift or slow, and in this case, it has been a swift blow to many industries, especially the movie industry.  It is a great feat for us to see that change is possible simply by changing attitudes and mindsets and not through the imagined upheaval of the earth. We sometimes do not court change because we have seen no change in so long, but change is here.  However, it is also disheartening to know that it has taken this long for the shoe to drop.  Sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse by any other name has existed for this long because we have let it exist.

Why is it that attitudes are now changing this year when more than 40 women came out to identify Cosby as a rapist just a few years ago?  These were the same allegations we are hearing now, but these women’s stories were dissected and belittled everywhere until a veritable voice spoke up and enabled their right to fight for their cases to come to light.  And still, the shoe didn’t drop.  Sexual abuse was business as usual even in light of this high-profile case.  Women have faced sexual abuse for centuries, but why was it finally important now?  One of the reasons, unfortunately, is that the women’s voices were corroborated.  As with Cosby, Hannibal Burress cemented Cosby’s fate with a joke on stage when many people in the industry already knew about what was happening.  With Weinstein, his downfall came in the form of a New York Times article.  It is not enough that women speak up, but they must also be corroborated to be believed.  It is disturbing that it takes this level to bring to light the atrocities that these women have endured when their own voices meant nothing.  All of a sudden, sexual misconduct was legitimatized and people were allowed to speak about it.  It was no longer a secret shame they were forced to carry.

What this speaks to is a system that is failing these women.  We live in a society that does not speak about sexual assault.  We talk about the prevention of it, but nothing about what to do in the aftermath.  It is an unsavory subject, and as such, we sweep it under the rug in hopes that it will not come up again.  What this does is creates an air of secrecy around sexual assault, causing the victims to be shamed because they are breaking the unspoken rules of society.  Sexual assault is the odd cousin we never talk about at family gatherings because we don’t want to think about it.  When we don’t think about it, we have no idea how to manage it when it does happens.  The ideas we are living with are arcane and out of date, for they are not helping us in the current climate that we live in.  If we can change how sexual assault is viewed, we can change how we deal with those who serve up these charges.  Instead of dismissing them, we can learn to listen to them and not be ashamed of what has happened.  There is no shame in being raped.  The only shame that exists is when the society that you live in decides that you should not talk about being raped.

The balance of power is shifting and those who are losing power are those who have held it for a very long time. People like Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly were relieved of their jobs, but with great payouts.  They felt no shame in their dismissals and didn’t even acknowledge their sexual misconduct in the workplace.  To them, it was business as usual and they didn’t understand why they were forced to leave.  When Fox gave them a hefty severance package, Fox was also saying that the sexual misconduct meant very little to them. Sheryl Sandberg warned of a blowback about the #MeToo campaign, and it may not be as pervasive as you’d think it would be, but it will come  For those losing power, they may try to regain it by reasserting themselves in other ways.  Power is a very powerful motivation and when someone tries to take it away, there will be unintended consequences.  As when the government enacted new laws to protect Black Americans, some White Americans saw this as a blow to their power.  What happened was the White protest in America that protested Black children attending their schools, Black college kids sitting at their counters, and marrying into their race, with miscegenation laws still on the books into the late 60’s.

Power is a tricky thing to deal with, but more tricky is how systematic race, sex, and sexual-orientation issues are in our society.  As with race, we ask if there is still racism if we elect a Black president?  Then with sex, do we then equate the same thing; that there is no more sexual abuse of power if we hire more women into higher positions?  The answer to all of these is no.  Abuse of power does not stop simply because we hire people of color or women.  The problem is the entire system.  If you do not overhaul the system, the abuse will still occur.  Yet, even more problematic is how we view the problem.  We view the problems as someone else’s problem: an issue that is touchy and not to bring up.  Sexual abuse if everyone’s problem and not to be hidden away.  When you can talk about it casually, when you can see bold demonstrations of protecting victims in your workplace, and when you can feel confident in opening up about your sexual abuse, then  you will know the issues are being dealt with.  Sexual abuse, racism, xenophobia, and hate crimes will always happen.  The more we are on board with the idea that these things are here to stay, the more we will know that we must develop effective ways to deal with these issues rather than denying their existence.

 

 

The Gilmore Girls Effect

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What does minority representation mean in the media?  I was reading through the very scientific comments of Buzzfeed about the revival episodes of Gilmore Girls and someone had asked why there were never any minority characters on the show, and someone else responded that there had in deed been minorities portrayed on the show.  The show itself exists in a vacuum of a Mayberry-esque world, where nothing from the real world affects it, and that is part of the show’s charm, but the idea that it accurately represented minorities is a farce just because they showed minorities.  When you show minorities without any true dialogue about who they are, they just became a stand-in for a white character.  In that sense, you lose who they are as a person.  Not every moment is a teachable moment and not every moment is infused with the minority plight, but if you strip the vernacular, the culture, religion, and habits of a people from a single character, you lose sight of the bigger picture.

Many shows today are striving to be better without really understanding why.  They want to be more progressive and will introduce minority characters where there are none to be more inclusive, but that creates a strange dynamic, where the viewer sees these minorities portrayed in a way where they never comment about their race because that character was written without a race.  As such, the representation of the minority is skewed so that many think they have the same exact quandary as the white characters, when this is false.  This is not true of all minorities everywhere, but as a whole, it does affect them.  Thus, the representation of the minority character is not true to life.  Simply showing a person of color does not dispel any myths about race.  Yes, it allows actors of color more roles, but the roles don’t necessarily accurately depict their lives.  As such, the viewer wonders why race must be discussed because the worlds they always view never do.

If a character can be swapped out for a white character in a movie or a show, their race is meaningless.  If they are not culturally portrayed accurately, they are merely a stand-in for someone white.  And some ask then, shouldn’t this be what we should strive for?  Shouldn’t we be color-blind and never think of race?  That would be ideal, however, that can only exist in a world such as Mayberry or the Gilmore Girls, because race is ever present in our society.  We are defined by who we are in our sex, religion, sexual-orientation, and race.  Simply showing these characters without showing what they have to go through ignores their plight.  It also gives the viewer the impression that there is no plight.  This is quite dangerous, because it mutes the voice of the people they are showing.  It is unintentional and without malice, but it harms society nevertheless, because it lulls them into a false equivalency.

 

In Search of a Killer

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I first found out about my cousin’s disappearance from a random post one of my Facebook friends shared.  It was one of those things people like to share without really thinking about who the subject was, and the prettier they were, the more it was likely to to be noticed.  I did a double-take when I really looked at the picture because I realized I knew that missing girl.  That girl was my family.  I had just seen her at another family member’s birthday party last month.  And here was this picture of her saying she was missing.  I was dumbfounded that this was happening.  This happened to other people, but not to us, and we hoped that perhaps it wasn’t true.

When your loved one is missing and you’re faced with the options, you will pick anything over death.  You want them to be missing.  You want them to be stupid and careless like I was once when I was her age, not caring about my parents and making rash decisions because I didn’t know any better.  We thought maybe she was trafficked.  Perhaps she did run away.  Anything other than the idea that she was dead.  It’s hard to imagine a mother hoping that her daughter is trafficked instead of being dead because the first leaves room for her daughter to be alive, and the other doesn’t.  However, when you’re in that situation, you’ll take any  shred of hope that you can hold on to.

As the days slipped away and the circumstances of her disappearance came to light, we realized that things did not add up.  The way she went missing seemed very suspicious as her mother was the last to see her late Wednesday night.  By early Thursday morning, she simply vanished without a trace.  She left behind her phone, her money, and everything else that mattered to her.  It was as if she never existed.  How do you track down a ghost?  Someone who simply isn’t there anymore.  You start to question if you really even knew them.  With each day, we tortured ourselves with the details and re-examined what little we knew over and over until the items themselves didn’t make sense anymore.  How do you make sense out of a life that vanishes into thin air?  What do you have to hold on to except for the memories?

Then we heard the police pulled a body from the Fox River and we waited for what seemed an eternity for the news.  Some of us suspected it was her.  Some of us hoped for the best up until the very moment the words escaped the detective’s lips.  It was her.  There is a strange sense in knowing.  In not knowing, you could imagine she could be out there somewhere, alive. In knowing, we knew that her last moments would’ve been hell.  We knew she suffered.  We knew she was gone.  But we also knew that some families never get their loved ones back, and at least we did.  The investigation is ongoing, but there is a killer out there and we are looking for them.  Who the killer is is anyone’s guess.  It could’ve been herself.  It could’ve been someone she knew and trusted to leave in the dead of the night without her phone.  It could’ve been a stranger that abducted her from her room.

Caitlyn Xiong was a kind and gentle soul who loved children and wanted to be a teacher.  She hated bullies and wanted to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.  She was an underdog and rooted for people just like her.  She was also very strong-willed and independent.  Although she and her boyfriend had just broken up a few days prior, her mother said she didn’t think she was suicidal.  She wasn’t planning her departure from this earth.  She was planning for a future.  She had gotten a job so she could save money for a car and attend school.  She was on the verge of becoming an adult and reaching her full potential, but that was all taken away from her.  She will never fulfill those plans and we will never see them come to fruition because she was taken.

We are looking for a killer.  A killer of hopes and dreams. A killer of family relationships and bonds.  A killer of possibilities.  Because when she was taken, all of these things were also taken.  What happens to a life that is unexpectedly stopped?  Do the answers also stop?  In reality, what we really need to come to terms with is that once we do finally get the truth, it may come with justice, but no comfort, for it will not bring her back.

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What leads good people to follow bad people and ideas?

When I watch the news and see all that is happening, I wonder how there can still be those who support the President? What can possibly happen so that not another person attends his ridiculous rallies meant to bolster his fragile ego? There are always those hold-outs who astound me, such as the people who continue to defend Cosby in the face of so much evidence.  What leads good people to follow bad people and ideas even when it is clear to so many people how bad these things truly are?  The same reason why cults still exist like The Church of Scientology and why people still fall for nationalist ideals.  When we fall for an idea, a religion, or a person wholly, we tie ourselves into that ,and we feel as if we are denouncing ourselves when we denounce what we have bought into.  Instead, we continue on blindly in hopes that there is a higher purpose, being, or meaning than us.

We tend to make gods out of mere mortals because we like to follow.  When someone gives your life meaning, you will view them as a god.  We want to believe in movements and religions larger than us because we want to belong and feel alive.  These things make us susceptible to those who pander to us because we want to believe in the goodness of others and man.  When we start to believe, we sometimes immerse ourselves wholly and don’t know where the idea starts and where we end.  When this happens, we find it hard to extricate ourselves from things that are no longer healthy.  If we can accept this truth about ourselves, it will be easier to swallow the truth that we have taken the wrong path.  If we never face this truth, we will be doomed to follow in the footsteps of so many that have come before.

R. Kelly and the Cult of Control

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R. Kelly has been in the news as of late due to a Buzzfeed article that details how he allegedly keeps women in a ‘cult.’  I’ve seen comments defending him from either side, some saying that no one batted an eye when Hefner did the same.  Some also argue that these are grown women who are free to do what they want. I agree with that sentiment.  You are free to be in any abusive relationship you want to be in, even if it is slowly choking the life out of you.  R. Kelly has committed no crimes, but morally, he is a reprehensible person who seeks out the companionship of young, impressionable women who he can easily manipulate by using his fame and fortune to leverage control.  There is no law that prevents you from being manipulated, and people confuse manipulation and abuse because the one may lead to the other, but they are not the same.

In my opinion, these young women are being mentally trained to not question their roles in his home.  Is it it a cult?  No, but is it unhealthy?  Yes.  He is using his cult of stardom to wow them and let them know who is the star, but there are no beliefs to be shared.  A cult uses the same strategies to maintain their lambs, but they are not the same thing.  He can be seen as a cult leader because he is charismatic and forceful, but he is not one.  What he is is a man who craves control because it makes him feel more powerful. He enjoys the position of power as did Warren Jeffs, of a Utah Mormon sect that abused his position by having sex with underage girls.  Once again, similar, but not the same.  It’s easy to bandy that word about, but do not confuse the two situations.  R. Kelly is simply a man who uses his position to get what he wants sexually, but Warren Jeffs is a man who uses his religion and position to get what he wants sexually, and religion can easily be eschewed to line up to his benefit.  Religion is a far more damaging agent because it can encompass your whole life and way of thinking.

I do not agree with the fact that these women chose to stay with him, but I also do not agree with the fact that women in the Mormon sect decide to stay within that society, that women all over stay in abused marriages, and that a lot of harm befall women because this is how they are kept from rebelling.  If we keep letting women believe that they are less than, they will keep trying to and not ask for more.  As with manipulators and cults of any sorts, the antidote is to question, for when you start questioning, you start unraveling.  If there is the one thing you teach your children, I hope it is that they always have the right to question.