In Defense of Prater

Picasso painting

(Now is a time for calm in the OKC community as the facts of the case get sorted out. It may well be, as Ersland’s attorney Irven Box predicts, that no jury will convict him. That seems like a good bet to make in Oklahoma, but that doesn’t mean Prater should or could have ignored the law.)

It’s difficult to imagine any rational-thinking person could believe Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater was trying to make a political statement when he charged a local pharmacist with first-degree murder.

The pharmacist, Jerome Jay Ersland, 57, shot a 16-year-old boy to death May 19 during an armed robbery attempt at the Reliable Discount Pharmacy in Oklahoma City, according to media reports.

Even a cursory glance at the facts as reported by the local media shows Prater had a legal duty to respond to the case’s two most significant and current pieces of evidence, a surveillance video and a medical examiner’s autopsy report. These were pieces of evidence surely viewed by others besides Prater. He couldn’t ignore what the evidence showed or what it might mean or how it might be construed, and what’s more he shouldn’t have ignored it.

Was Prater just to dismiss the fact the video allegedly indicates 16-year-old Antwun Parker was incapacitated after being shot initially by Ersland and that the pharmacist retrieved another weapon and came back and shot the boy several more times? (Watch the video here. ) Was he to ignore the fact the autopsy report apparently shows it was the second volley of bullets that killed the boy? Prater has a responsibility to the law as a district attorney.

Here’s another simple question: Can anyone believe that Prater wants this controversy? Prater, for example, argued during a court hearing for the pharmacist that he believes in the right of self-defense and that the pharmacist was not charged over the initial shooting. Meanwhile, Prater has also charged three other people alleged to be involved in the armed robber with first-degree murder and not one of them fired a bullet in the robbery attempt.

No one I know is arguing the pharmacist, who is free on bail, didn’t have a right to protect himself and other employees, or that he shouldn’t have had access to guns. He did have the right. We all have that right. It’s part of the law.

Meanwhile, extremists and contrarians on a local discussion board and the blogosphere have gone overboard with hyperbole about Prater’s charges. The current judge in the case has also received death threats, according to media reports. The case has obviously stirred emotions, but this is definitely not the Second Amendment case some gun advocates seem to want it to be. Ersland was well within the law to have guns and to initially shoot. That’s not in dispute.

Now is a time for calm in the OKC community as the facts of the case get sorted out. It may well be, as Ersland’s attorney Irven Box predicts, that no jury will convict him. That seems like a good bet to make in Oklahoma, but that doesn’t mean Prater should or could have ignored the law. Most people will be sympathetic to a pharmacist suddenly faced with an armed robbery attempt. It’s hard to predict how anyone might react in that situation. It may well be that there will be no trial or other evidence emerges.

But Prater had no choice, with what appears to be obvious and public evidence, to bring charges given what has been made known about the case at this point. He deserves credit for standing with the law, knowing the case would generate massive publicity and he would draw heat. That’s real integrity.

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Consistent Contradictions

Image of Picasso work

(Does Oklahoma have too many schools? What's your position on school consolidation? Read DocHoc's commentary this week in the Oklahoma Gazette. Be sure to read the counter argument as well.)

When it comes to education, The Oklahoman editorial page has a consistent contradictory message.

On one hand, the editorial page often presents opinions that argue how important education is to the state’s future. A recent editorial, (“Improving state’s future rests with more education,” May 17, 2009), accurately pointed out:

What would a more educated Oklahoma look like? We’d live longer, have fewer murders, be more financially stable and our kids would read better. What’s not to like about that picture?

On the other hand, the newspaper’s editorials consistently oppose adequate funding for education even though the state often ranks in the bottom ten or even five nationally in per pupil spending. Oklahoma is also known as a place with low teacher salaries.

It’s this contradiction—giving lip service to the importance of education but refusing to argue for adequate funding—that is really at the heart of the state’s education issues. This contradiction or subterfuge has been an historical reality for decades now. It’s all talk and no dough. It’s the appearance of supporting education versus the reality of chronically underfunded schools.

Oklahoma needs to boost funding for education just to catch up with regional averages. Once that happens, then The Oklahoman can argue more convincingly for reform. But its current arguments about education ignore the current reality.

The newspaper, for example, has opposed the HOPE initiative, which will bring a measure to the ballot asking Oklahomans to fund schools at regional averages. At the same, the newspaper accurately (“Oklahoma needs more adults hitting the books,” May 26, 2009) argues:

Not only do we have fewer college graduates than the national average, but the younger generations in our state are less-educated than their elders. That’s bad news — it means potentially each generation of Oklahomans could be less-educated than the ones before.

It’s obvious chronic underfunding has at least exasperated the problem of the state’s low college graduation rate.

The newspaper, which supported the recent income tax cuts that primarily benefited wealthy people, has not pushed constructively for more educational funding, yet it hectors us (“High school diploma shouldn’t be main goal,” May 21, 2009) about high school graduation ceremonies this way:

By all means, congratulate students who have worked hard, accomplished much in high school and are challenging themselves to let high school be just the starting line. Just don’t forget that thousands of kids aren’t making that walk. Or that even for those who do, a high school diploma alone isn’t worth much anymore.

But at least one of the reasons some Oklahoma kids “aren’t making that walk” is because of inadequate education funding. This is a failure of the state's power structure.

No one is arguing the state government should just throw money at its educational systems without rigorous oversight and prudence, but the time has come for adequate and “average” funding for the state’s public educational systems. The Oklahoman editorial writers should concede this non-controversial, obvious position and call for state leaders to find new revenue streams for education.

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Who Will Replace Askins?

Image of state Sen. Kenneth Corn

Who will replace Jari Askins as lieutenant governor?

Askins, of course, is running for governor in 2010. That leaves the position open in the upcoming general election. So far two candidates have announced they plan to run for the position. They are state Sen. Kenneth Corn, pictured right, a Democrat from Poteau, and state Rep. John Wright, a Republican from Broken Arrow.

Other people mentioned as possible candidates by the local media include state Sen. Todd Lamb, a Republican from Edmond, state Rep. Colby Shwartz, a Republican from Yukon, and state Rep. John Carey, a Democrat from Durant.

Who has the best chance in the race? Vote on the poll to your left and feel free to leave a comment.

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