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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An Argument over spilled beer leads to Murder

The Three [Philadelphia] Stooges—Charles Bowers, James Groves and Francis Kirchner-- who (allegedly) beat to death 22 year-old Lansdale-native, David Sale, over spilled beer, now face the possibility of life in prison.
They’d gone to McFadden’s bar in the Phillies ballpark on a beer road trip with other patrons from one of the sleazier bars in Fishtown. Their intention, I would assume, was to have a good time but that’s not what happened.
Whatever problems these men had before this incident are nothing when compared to what lies ahead for them. Ten years from now, perhaps, (if they are convicted of killing David Sale) they may wake up in a cell in Graterford Prison to participate in a Mural Arts prison Project. At that point they may think back to the stupidest night of their life, when they choose to let lose the ‘dragon within’ rather than talk things out, or walk away.
Walking away from impossible, alcohol-fuelled situations takes strength of character; there’s nothing cowardly about it.
If there ever was a lesson in controlling one’s temper before over reacting, this is it. Imagine having to spend a lifetime in jail because, under the influence of alcohol, you allowed violent, drunken impulses to possess you for the better part of 30 minutes?
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, when commenting on the Sale killing, said, “There’s a lot of violence out there.”
Psychologists, of course, have a lot of theories about why some men are violent. Violence can stem from a dysfunctional, abuse-filled childhood. It can stem from anger from unfulfilled personal desires (that which we seek to repress builds up stem, eventually producing a “volcano”). Violence can occur when lives are perceived as meaningless, when life itself is thought to be worth little. Nihilism may have its place in existentialist philosophy, but it rarely translates well to troubled individuals for whom life then becomes just as meaningless for everyone.
Sometime ago I wrote about vigilant violence, but ‘dog pack’ violence, when large groups that hang out, drink and do stupid things together, is a close cousin to roaming the streets and taking justice into your own hands.
Group dynamics, when mixed with alcohol, can have different effects. It’s unlikely that ten women having Martinis at a Union League luncheon will get into a barroom brawl, though their breeding might instigate conversational warfare should there be a breakdown in communications. Ditto for Knights of Columbus members who decide to share a brew at a local pub, say, and then get into an argument. Chances are the end result of that ‘fight’ would be a slammed drink on the bar, and a quick “disciplined” exit.
In movies there are lots of examples of barroom scenes in which a drink is thrown in someone’s face, and then a handkerchief offered to clean it up. Woman in those old films might even blow smoke in a man’s face and even get away with a slap or two before they walk out the door. Only in gangster films and western melodrama do we have examples of what happened in McFadden’s sports bar.
The testosterone-filled, crowded sports bar must be the direct descendent of the rowdy, western bar where cowboys used to shoot one another. Sports bars are “ripe” for public brawls because you can’t even maneuver the simple act of sipping (a drink) in such places without your elbow hitting your neighbor.
Sports bars are like little Roman coliseums: the wild laughter and good times always seem to threaten to turn into violence. Sports bars are places where just one drunk in the group may attempt to influence the pack, whether out of a sense of bravado or showing off in games of one-upmanship. Group drunks can turn into sloppy, dangerous affairs at the flip of a coin because the individual antics of just one member can cajole, encourage and otherwise instigate collective stupidities. This is what happened at McFadden’s bar, where police reported large numbers of people from “both sides” rumbling outside in small groups.
We may never know for sure how the fight at McFadden’s began in the first place. One thing is certain: alcohol almost certainly distorted the perceptions of what was only, on the surface, a simple beer spill. “Something” was read into the spill, and for that somebody had to die.
It’s one thing to die for one’s country, for someone or something that one loves, for work, family, religion, friends, etc., but “trading” a life for spilled beer just doesn’t make the grade.
Thom Nickels

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