• He Just Couldn't Win For Losing.

    Malcolm Hines walked out of prison in 2007 with a plan to get his life straight. Unlike most other ex-convicts, he had a bit of seed money with which he opened his own shoe store, and he did just that in a depressed, retail-starved and crime-ridden area that most others would have given a pass to. Given how many of the stores in the area had been robbed at some point or another and how the police department proved itself to be highly ineffectual in catching these criminals, it only made sense for store owners to keep some measure of protection with them.

    Except Hines couldn't do that, because his status as a twice-convicted felon prohibited him from owning any firearms. Nevertheless, his sister legally purchased a shotgun and left it at the store for protection. It was a gesture that would come back to bite him in the ass.

    Hines was arrested March 28 after a dispute with a customer. A teenager bought a pair of New Balance 2000 sneakers. But Hines mistakenly gave him a mismatched pair — one from an adult pair, worth $140, another from a child’s pair, worth $70.

    The customer returned to the shop and got into an argument with Hines, who asked to see a receipt before providing the match for the more expensive shoe. The boy didn’t have one and left, saying, “We’ll be back, you’ll see,” according to Hines’s telling.

    The teenager came back with his father and another man. According to court documents, the father said Hines stepped into a closet next to the cash register. The man said he heard the racking of a shotgun slide and saw a barrel peeking from the closet door. Hines said he stepped into the closet after seeing the teenager hold his hand in his pocket as if he was holding a pistol — Hines had been robbed at gunpoint five days earlier — but said he didn’t even know the shotgun was there.

    After the three left, they alerted police, who got a search warrant and discovered the shotgun hidden at the back of the closet, tucked behind a water heater.

    During a three-day trial in October, Hines’s sister-in-law testified under an immunity deal that she had purchased the shotgun legally in Maryland and brought it to City Beats for protection. She said Hines did not know the gun was in the shop, but a jury convicted him. Sentencing is set for Dec. 9 before Superior Court Judge Robert I. Richter; Hines faces a minimum sentence of three years.

    Maupin said that Hines’s arrest was “unfortunate” but that officers had no choice.
    In this case, the law is an ass, but the law is the law, although I have to wonder if any stipulation would have been made if Hines had been another color. Given the ethnically-imbalanced justice system of this country, it's a fair question to ask.

    Of course, there are those who ask why Hines chose to open a shop in such a shitty area. Or how Hines managed to hold onto $10,000 in blue-chip stocks after a drug conviction, where the usual procedures are to assume that all assets are "tainted" with drug money and are therefore subject to seizure. Or perhaps why his sister left a shotgun in the store in the first place.

    18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) mandates that anyone convicted in any court for any crime for which imprisonment exceeds one year is barred from possessing a firearm. There's no set time limit for such disenfranchisement. 18 U.S.C. §§ 921(a)(20) and (a)(33)(B)(ii) essentially leaves the restoration of firearm ownership up to the states. Some states don't restore firearms ownership to ex-convicts, no matter how long ago their convictions were. I've been looking into whether the District of Columbia allows for restoration of gun ownership rights, but I haven't found anything as of yet. If D.C. doesn't offer that option, then Hines is practically barred from being near a gun for life. Not good if you want to stay in business in rough territory.

    In other words, Hines was put between a rock in a hard place: risk his life to maintain his freedom or risk his freedom to maintain his life. It was a split-second decision that's now cost him his freedom. And the aftermath?

    Since Hines’s arrest, there have been some changes at City Beats. Cameras monitor the sales floor. No one works alone in the shop.

    But, Hines said, people in the neighborhood know there’s no longer a gun inside. “They gotta have in their mind that if they come in the store, you can’t pull a gun on us,” Hines said. “Without people thinking there’s some repercussions . . . they would definitely try to take advantage.”

    On Sunday, his wife, Sherita McLamore-Hines, closed the shop as usual at 5 p.m., then proceeded to review inventory with her son and nephew.

    About two hours later, a familiar customer knocked on the shop’s glass door, cash in hand. McLamore-Hines let him in, hoping to make one more sale. But after the man stepped in, three men wearing ski masks came in behind him. One of the men held a gun to McLamore-Hines’s head and cleaned out the cash register as she crouched behind the counter.

    Police had not made any arrests in the case.

    I don't expect them to. Knowing a place like MLK, Jr. Avenue, it's probably a Lost Cause as far as law enforcement is concerned, so there's minimum effort to protect shop owners and their livelihoods. They're on their own here.

    This is the story of a man who tried to do things the straight, narrow and right way, only to find himself in even more trouble. Sometimes, you just can't win for losing.

    Metafilter had this story posted, but it got axed thanks to their rather fickle standards for a "good post." Fortunately, I caught it just in time to repost it here. Their loss.