Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The tragic story of Tony Mahon

You probably haven't heard of Tony Mahon. Or maybe you have.

Tony Mahon was a young kid, seventeen to be exact, growing up in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. One night he had run out to the 7/11 down the street to buy a six-pack of beer (he looked old for his age, and would often get away with using his older brother's ID) when he noticed a vehicle was following him. He didn't know it yet, but the driver was 28-year-old Gene Zachary.

Recent weeks have revealed that Tony was a somewhat troubled kid. He was failing a couple of classes in school, and had recently been suspended after being caught smoking pot on school grounds for the second time. In junior high, he'd gotten into a couple of fairly rough fights. Still, he'd managed to get a spot on the varsity football team recently, and things were looking up.

Tony was on his phone with his girlfriend when Gene Zachary started tailing him, and according to her testimony, it was setting off all kinds of alarm bells in Tony's head. "This big black dude in an SUV is following me. I'm not sure what he wants," he told her. His girlfriend said to walk faster, to get away, but Tony's pride dictated otherwise. He pulled the brim of his Eagles baseball cap lower on his brow, and trudged on.

This went on for several minutes, with Tony stubbornly maintaining a normal walking pace while the menacing Escalade puttered along behind him, until finally Gene Zachary pulled over, vaulted out of the vehicle, and approached Tony. Despite the fact that his assailant outweighed him by nearly 100 pounds, Tony stood his ground. "What's your problem, man?", he said.

"What 'choo doin' here?". replied Zachary, as he closed the final few paces separating the two men. And that was when all hell broke loose.

What happened next is a matter of some debate, but most witnesses agree Tony threw the first punch. "He was scrappy," his mother would say later. "He never let anybody intimidate him, would never be cowed just because someone else was taller or stronger. If he felt somebody was trying to take advantage of him, he would fight back."

A struggle ensued, and as witnesses frantically called the police, Mr. Zachary fatefully pulled out a 9mm pistol and put a bullet through Tony's chest. Tony was pronounced dead at the scene. His only crime: underage drinking, a phony ID, and a moderate chip on his shoulder. That earned him a death sentence.

Gene Zachary was arrested by the arriving officers, treated for minor injuries from the scuffle, and upon release from the hospital he was charged with first degree murder. However, the following weeks saw a huge amount of political pressure from the African-American lobbying groups, who said that Zachary was being unfairly targeted. Mental health advocacy organizations also weighed in, pointing out a litany of bizarre complaints Mr. Zachary had filed with the city council. Moreover, Pennsylvania has a "stand your ground" law which allows strong leeway for a properly licensed gun owner (as Mr. Zachary was) to use deadly force if they feel threatened. Critics responded that is was Zachary who had been pursuing Mahon, not the other way around -- this point is not in dispute by any of the involved parties, by the way -- and that therefore if anyone was justified in using force, it was Mahon. And while Tony had technically been in violation of the law (according to the police report, all he had on him were his and his brother's driver's licenses, a six-pack of Bud Light, and some loose change), the idea that a kid could be executed in his own neighborhood for such a mundane crime just seems incredibly cruel to most people, myself included.

Despite all this, following an emotional appeal from the Rev. Al Sharpton, the prosecutors in the Tony Mahon case decided to reduced the charge to manslaughter. Can you believe the racial politics in this country? These minorities are always playing the race card to get out of trouble. This should have been an open-and-shut case, and yet due to special interest lobbying, Gene Zachary will be back out on the streets in as little as 1-2 years, assuming he gets parole.

This country just makes me sick sometimes.

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