10:39 AM CDT, October 28, 2007
On Sunday, Bob Mette and his son, Mike, 30, will go to the game at Soldier Field to watch the Bears play the Lions. On Monday, Bob will drive Mike to Iowa, to prison. Mike Mette, until recently a Chicago police officer, is scheduled to begin serving a 5-year prison sentence.His crime? According to the judge's ruling, Mike threw one punch at an angry drunk who chased Mike down the street and attacked him verbally, physically, repeatedly.
The drunk is fine now, golfing, having attended college in Dubuque. The last time I checked he was adding to his resume with a DUI. And Mette?
"Well, he got framed, and nobody cares," Bob said about his son. "It's just not fair. Since when can you get hit three times and get locked up for five years when you respond with one punch? If you can't protect yourself from being attacked, then we are not in America anymore."
Iowa is in America. They even have a governor, Chet Culver, a Democrat who took office in 2007. We called Gov. Culver to see if he'd take an interest in Mike Mette's case.
But the governor is extremely busy. His press secretary said the governor has a full schedule and can't talk about Mike Mette because he's got too much to do.
Iowa is indeed hectic these days, with presidential candidates sweeping the state, selling themselves in cornfields, at roadside diners, using fine words about justice and fairness and so on. Politicians often talk about mercy when one of their own gets in trouble with the law. Their mouthpieces pull the levers, and the machinery begins to whir and purr. The same goes for when a politician's kid gets in a jam.
But Mike Mette isn't a politician's kid. He's no politician. He's never made anyone wealthy with the stroke of a pen on a government budget, so there are no levers to pull. Where's the compassion for Mike Mette?
He's a white cop going to state prison. I usually don't mention race in this column, but that's the fact of things. So the media-political dynamics should be understood by most grown-ups. Because you read newspapers, surely you must have studied the ritualized public theater of other cases, the protests and formulaic media responses accompanied in news narratives by the ambiguous phrase "social justice."
But there is no "social justice" for Mike Mette. No protests, nothing. A few newspaper columns by me, a late-night report on CNN, stories in the Dubuque paper taking the prosecution's side and a fair account in The Des Moines Register, that's about it.
Mike's a cop. Or was a cop, a good one by most accounts. If there were anything kinky in his background, it would have been dropped on my desk by now, anonymously, as such things are done. Mike was a beat cop, a blue shirt in a squad car, the real police, the men and women who show up after midnight when you call 911 and the world has gone to hell.
It went to hell for Mike Mette, too, in Dubuque on Oct. 8, 2005. What happened shouldn't have happened, but it did. Mike and his buddies were drinking, a testament to what happens when young guys mix with alcohol. They heard about a house party, the party was a dud, they left without taking a drink, but the alleged victim and another man, a basketball player standing 6-foot-8, were highly offended.
The victim said his cell phone had disappeared. Angry words were exchanged. Mike and his friends left. The victim, a college student, and the basketball player chased them down the street, picking a fight. Mike wasn't armed. He tried to avoid the confrontation until the other guy began pushing him, punching him in the chest with both hands.
So Mike did what anyone would do. He threw a punch. One punch. The victim went down. Unconscious. There was no testimony that he did anything other than throw that one punch. Prosecutors spinning their local paper talk about the victim being kicked, but even the victim's friend wouldn't testify to that. The victim was released from the hospital four days later. A month went by, and Mike was charged with assault causing serious injury, which carries a mandatory five-year term.
I figure that if anyone puts their hands on you, you have a right to put your hands on them. At worst, he should have been charged with a lesser crime and jailed for 15 or 30 days. But five years in state prison for one punch in self-defense?
"It's kind of funny with the negative publicity the Chicago Police Department gets when somebody does something wrong. But when a police officer is getting screwed over, nobody seems to care," Mike Mette said. "Where is the attention for this? You get people doing marches for people who are guilty and they know they're guilty and they try to get them off. What about trying to get an innocent guy off?"
Not for you, Mike. You're not a politician's kid. You're not political enough. You're a cop. And on Monday, after the Bears game and breakfast at home with your mom and your sister, you've got a long ride ahead of you, with your dad, into Iowa.
It's that state where politicians are busy, standing tall before TV cameras, talking of justice.
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