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February 3, 2008


A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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February 3, 2008

Alcohol And A Big Gun

A triple gun murder in our neighborhood flashes through the media and disappears, a story neither glamorous enough or white enough to remember

The triple homicide at 190 Delaware Avenue happened last Wednesday right up the street from me, on the edge of my neighborhood. I understand that one of the victims actually lived in my immediate neighborhood, a block away on Morton Avenue. This was close to home, too close.

But the funny thing is that it seemed like my three neighbors were gunned down on the other side of the world. “Three soldiers dead in Baghdad,” or “Gunman slays three in Cleveland McDonalds.” There was precious little for me to touch, nothing to see except through the corporate media filter, and through the eyes of others.

I’m sure I’ve seen and would recognize all of the people involved, and may have talked to some. I often walk past that house. Perhaps if I had personal connections, it would be different. Perhaps I should be thankful that I have no reason to mourn.

I didn’t want to be a vulture, feeding off of tragedy, but a mass murder up the street is of concern to the neighborhood, and I am the president of the local neighborhood association. So about three hours after the discovery of the bodies, around 10 AM or so I strolled up the street to observe the circus.

Media Corral, Facing The Crime Scene
Media Corral, Facing The Crime Scene

The media was out in full force, corralled by the police across and up the street. As usual I jumped around them snapping photos with my toy camera. They stayed there most of the day, hovering like vultures waiting for dead bodies.

Eventually they were rewarded with one body being carried out of the house, along with screaming relatives. This was the reason for the corralling of the media by the police, to preserve a little dignity for the survivors. In retrospect, I think this was a good move on the part of Chief of Police James Tuffey.

I came up to the Chief to ask him a few questions. Somehow I found myself standing in the gutter while he positioned himself on the curb literally hovering over me, breathing into my face. He answered my questions with monosyllables. This wouldn’t do, so I hopped up to the curb so that I could be taller than him again.

My purpose in talking to the Chief was to ask him to send someone to provide details to the neighborhood meeting we had scheduled for that night, he promised to do so. But then our conversation was cut short by the arrival of Albany County District Attorney David Soares, and the two of them immediately scooted across the street to the scene of the crime, no fooling around with the media or neighborhood busybodies.

I had a great shot of the two of them, but the my toy camera didn’t react fast enough. Damn.

Well, I noticed that people were walking down both sides of the street unchallenged, so I strolled up opposite 190 Delaware to get a photo. But a police sergeant in full regalia charged across the street going, “Sir! Sir!” so I only got off one blurry photo. Oh well.

That Cop's Comin' At Me, No Time To Focus
That Cop's Comin' At Me, No Time To Focus

So what happened? Contrary to the standard suburbanite image of Albany neighborhoods, the house was the home of stable, hardworking people. These are long time Albany citizens with relatives living in various houses nearby. No gangs, no drug deals, and the gun used as a murder weapon was an anomaly.

But everyone involved is black, so the media lost interest almost immediately. As our anonymous friend over at Democracy In Albany put it so aptly:

One wonders if instead of three young black men in a low income section of town getting gunned down this week if this had been three SUNYA co-eds getting gunned down by an acquaintance, would the coverage have been different? What does that tell us about us?

I suppose I should be thankful that the corporate media is not dwelling on this, turning it into an “ain’t Albany awful” piece of propaganda. But really, by amplifying the story and then running away from it, they have left a general impression that this is just one more “gangs of lawless blacks murdering each other over drugs” story. In truth, this is the kind of tragedy that could have happened anywhere.

Javon Underdue
Javon Underdue

The killer, Javon Underdue, is a native Albanian from a stable family. I’ve been told that when his mother died in 1998, he inherited one hundred thousand dollars. It took him eight months to blow through the money. It seems he’d been drifting and scamming ever since.

The family at 190 Delaware knew Underdue from way back, some had grown up with him. They’d taken him in, hoping to help him out. But everyone knew that he harbored resentments for his benefactors, something about them getting all the breaks and none for him. Apparently, this attitude was behind the murder.

Underdue and two of the victims had been hanging out together. The media made much of the fact that they were smoking marijuana, as if that were relevant. Like the yellow lead sentence from the Hearst Times Union account:

Jovan Underdue went to 190 Delaware Ave. on Tuesday afternoon to smoke marijuana, drink French vodka and hang out with his "best friend" -- Bobby "Bop" Jones.

Whatever. I know that the majority of the population is intimately familiar with the effects of marijuana. So I know that the majority of people reading this article will agree that if Underdue had stuck to smoking weed, the worst thing he would have done is describe in detail how he’d like to kill everybody in the house. And maybe kick over the coffee table for emphasis.

Snub Nose .38

No, the murder is a result of the deadly combination of alcohol and a handgun, specifically a bottle of vodka and loaded .38. It took both of these things combined with the killer’s weak personality to create the tragedy.

Unlike marijuana, alcohol use often generates violence. But without the handgun we would have had a typical case of domestic rowdiness. “Police called to break up altercation after night of heavy drinking.” Anger, bruises, maybe some broken bones, and busted furniture.

But the loaded .38 made it easy to amplify drunken anger. As the gun advocates say, “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” True enough. But using an ax to murder takes quite a bit of planning and leaves plenty of room for second thoughts. Indeed, it seems to me that the suburbs of Albany are crawling with deranged white people wielding axes.

Or sometimes the suburbanites use knives. One Saturday back in 2005 the Trustco Bank branch that I frequent up on Madison Avenue was held hostage by a lunatic suburbanite with a backpack full of long knives. After an eight hour standoff he hung himself in the manager’s office. He did not have a gun. No one else was hurt.

This lunatic was born and raised in Guilderland. The local corporate media, without exception, claimed that he was from Albany. This was a deliberate lie. Only the consistently reliable Altamont Enterprise reported on his suburbanite origins.

Harold Severy, Schenectady Union-Star, 1916
Harold Severy, Schenectady Union-Star, 1916

And you don’t need alcohol to misuse a gun. It was ironic that the Daily Gazette ran a big feature article the day before about a drifter from out of town who shot four people on the streets of Albany back in January, 1916, one of whom died. One of the victims was shot nearby at the corner of Delaware and Myrtle. He used a sawed-off .22 rifle concealed in his coat sleeve. He was clearly insane, he had escaped from several asylums.

What was Underdue doing with a loaded .38, a veritable hand cannon? This is an irresponsible guy who was scrabbling around, but he could easily obtain and maintain this serious piece of machinery. I have yet to hear anyone ask this question. I call upon the Gun Violence Task Force to take a hard look at this case, and to trace the origins of this weapon. Are you reading this, Lenny Morgenbesser and Rev. John Miller?

Drunk and angry, Underdue shot the two adults and the teenager in their heads, execution style. But they were not the only persons present in the house. There was also a three year old boy, son of one of the victims, presumably sleeping in a back bedroom. What did he see? Did Underdue do something to him?

I’ve been told that when the boy is asked what he saw, he says nothing and punches the air three times. He was taken to one of the hospitals to be checked out. The personnel there, who see plenty of aftermath, immediately saw that the boy is suffering from trauma and needs serious counseling.

To Chief Tuffey’s credit, he responded to my request to provide information to the neighbors and personally showed up at our neighborhood meeting, trailing a retinue that included the detective assigned to the case and the commander of South Station. Afterwards, he moved on to a Delaware Neighborhood meeting hastily convened by 7th Ward Common Council member Cathy Fahey.

I was astonished that only eight of our neighbors showed up for our meeting, the public officials present outnumbered the neighbors. This despite a blizzard of emails The Wife and I sent out during the day. I can only guess that in our media oriented society, such events remain unreal to most people even when they occur in the real world literally around the corner.

I’ve always said that the job of Chief of Police is a political position, and the Chief is by necessity a politician. Whatever his ultimate motives, Mr. Tuffey is the first Albany Chief of Police that I’ve seen who understands this. On behalf of our neighborhood I would like to thank him for his concern and his attention during this tragedy.

But the Chief was not forthcoming about details, although he did confirm to us that the victims had all been shot in the head after making denials to the media all afternoon. And he also dropped some misinformation, such as denying that the unfortunate child was present.

While the Chief was talking to us, Underdue was turning himself in to the police and undergoing interrogation. This was probably why the Chief could so confidently tell us at the meeting that we were in no danger, that this was not a gang related incident, a home invasion robbery or a random act of violence by some suburban lunatic.

Facing The Crime Scene, Visible At Left. Chief Tuffey In Tan Coat

That morning, nearby business owners were frantic, telling Chief Tuffey that they did not want the names of their businesses mentioned in the lurid corporate media accounts. I heard that notorious slumlord Roger Ploof, who has been buying up property nearby, arrived early. Indeed, the first question I asked the Chief that morning was if Ploof owned 190 Delaware. (He does not, the owner is Matt Ryan of Troy.)

Ploof must have made an impression on the Chief. When I walked into my house around 1 PM, The Wife said, “You missed the big phone call.”

Chief Tuffey was brief. He wanted me to know that someone would be at the neighborhood meeting that night, only later he decided to come himself. And one more thing.

“Make sure your husband knows,” he said to The Wife, “that Roger Ploof does NOT own 190 Delaware.”

Then he repeated himself. That was all.

Thanks to Dominick Calsolaro for providing some of the details used in this article that did not appear in the press accounts.


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If you are having difficulties posting a comment, please email Daniel Van Riper. We are experimenting with our spam filters, and we do not want to exclude any legitimate commenters, just spammers!

Posted by: Roger Green
Posted on:
I do recall that there was great outrage after the TU showed pictures of the sheet-covered highway accident victim a month or two ago. But the TU had pictures of sheet-covered murder victims. Nada, as far as I can tell.

Posted by: nycowboy
Posted on:
Guns and Alcohol:

Have you ever tried firing a firearm while drunk and hit a moving target? How about with a little handgun like that one (which probably has shitty accuracy)?

Somehow the media accounts that suggest he highly drunk and stoned sound like more of an excuse then a real explanation -- the same kind of claim rapists make who say they where drunk (try to get it on while very drunk -- biology won't let it work).

Ilegal Guns:

Moreover, there was no mention of Undervue's pistol permit in the story. I doubt he had one -- it's so damn hard to get one in our state. Certainly somebody with Undervue's questionable moral character would be laughed at when he tried to get a pistol permit, and would lack the required references and the alike.

This is versus other states, like Vermont where the reasonable precautions are taken -- and ensure a balance between public safety and the necessity of protection of our constitutional rights. In Vermont, if you can show an in-state ID, pass the instant check for federal disqualifiers, and the gun shop feels you are of moral character (and is willing to attest to the fact), you can purchase on the spot.

Every gun shop must maintain detailed sales records on every firearm sold for 20 years, including who to. Even those who have minor infractions such as typos, can have their federal firearms licenses revoked.

Crimes and Death and Dying:

People die, have sex, and go to the bathroom. If it happens on the farm, it certainly happens to humans too. Get over it -- the media and people's prurient interests should just grow up.

It's too bad that some people choose to kill their colleagues, but so be it. Animals kill other animals all the time, and us humans don't get upset. I haven't lost any sleep over all those mosquitoes I killed with my truck last year.

Posted by: Jim Travers
Posted on:
Andy, I find your comment not only callous but revolting.

You're neither a cowboy nor a farmer and your comment reflects the fantasy world you seem to exist in.

You know less about this incident than Dan does, though I concede that you may know more about this tragic event than you do know about animal husbandry.

Cowboy, when was the last time you saw a horse kill another horse, or a cow kill another cow or for that matter, any animal kill another of the same species?

It just doesn't happen. Pure fantasy on your part. Just like you're assuming Javon Underdue was or was not drunk. You don't know whether he was or wasn't drunk, and frankly that fact is immaterial, whatever the truth is. What is material is that three young men are dead for apparently no good reason.

The accuracy of the weapon is also as immaterial to the conversation as was Underdue's sobriety. A .38 was used to assassinate a child, and two young men, one of whom was the father of a three year old, and whether it was a Police Special or a long barreled pistol, fired at close range as it was, had the effect it was designed to accomplish. In the hand of Javon Underdue the bullets it fired killed three mothers' children. So much for your "moving target" theory.

My repugnancy only grew as I read more of your comment, especially when your tried to turn this tragedy into an argument against gun control, by bemoaning how difficult it is for law abiding citizens to get a firearm permit in New York, which is nonsense. Yes, gun shops can have their federal firearms dealer license revoked, but I challenge you to find me one single incident of this occurring due to a bookkeeping error. Again, your fantasy. Even the gun shop in Colonie that had one of the illegal machine guns for sale is still in business.

I don't want to debate you here or now on this issue, but will anytime, in any fora, but never when it takes place and is highly sensitized by the occurrence of a multiple murder. This is a time for mourning, in case no one told you. And this is why I'm revolted:

"People die, have sex, and go to the bathroom. If it happens on the farm, it certainly happens to humans too. Get over it -- the media and people's prurient interests should just grow up.

It's too bad that some people choose to kill their colleagues, but so be it. Animals kill other animals all the time, and us humans don't get upset. I haven't lost any sleep over all those mosquitoes I killed with my truck last year."

No, it doesn't happen on a farm. Never in history has a duck pulled a .38 on another duck and blown its brains out. Never has there been a farmyard trial convened with a jury comprised of other ducks, presided over by one wearing robes. No farmland jails either. But the next time you're drunk, out shooting your dad's pistol and one of those murderous ducks grabs it from where you left it lying, you'd better run for cover.

You should take your own advise and "grow up".

"Get over it"?? How dare you even suggest such an obtuse rationale?

When someone you love, moreover, when someone you've given life to is senselessly murdered, there's no getting over it. You remain haunted by this loss for the rest of your days.

Not only family, but friends of the deceased are impacted most powerfully by their untimely death. My fourteen year old grandson today attended his fifteen year old friend, Kenyon Hankins' funeral service. Try telling him he should get over it.

Rest in peace, Kenyon, Bobby and Victor. You will never be forgotten as long as I or my grandson live.

Posted by: Farmer Bob
Posted on:
Have you ever been to a farm?

I did -- animals do in fact kill each other. I've had to clean up chickens that were pecked to death, sheep with broken necks after being trampled by other sheep bum-rushing a misplaced bag of feed, cows and horses that had to be euthanized after breaking a leg following some incident. (Cow/horse incidents are rare however)

This was a tragic incident, period. The callous attitudes that some display are distasteful, but unfortunately a part of life.

Posted by: nycowboy
Posted on:
We could have probably prevented September 11th, if we had allowed the government to tap our phones and monitor our email communications. Maybe if we had more undercover FBI agents at peace rallies, mosques, and minority neighborhoods we would be safer.

Maybe we'd even be better off if we banned all coloured people from planes. After all, the hijackers all where middle eastern. And banned all large public gatherings that could rally people against the American cause.

But that would be immoral, illegal, unconstitutional, and wrong. We as a society are choosing our freedoms over life. So sometimes tragedies will happen, and sometimes we can't prevent them if we care about our liberties.

Posted by: Jim Travers
Posted on:
Farmer Bob,

The only time farm animals kill each other is when they have been confined by humans. As you point out in your example, the sheep which were trampled to death occurred only after humans controlled their diet. An unconfined chicken or any other animal will always give ground to a bullying member of its own species. It is an extremely rare occurance in nature for an animal to kill another of its own kind.

I live on twenty acres of land bordered by an undeveloped 6,000 more. A cattle farm is on the other side of the property but you won't see any cattle in the pasture. It's a CAFO operation. He's never had one kill its neighbor.

"We as a society are choosing our freedoms over life."

The government has taken away our 1st, 4th & 6th amendment rights, all in the name of preserving our personal freedom, so Andy, are you suggesting we do away with the second amendment and collect all guns so we'll have a safer society?

You know well, as does this blogs author, my personal emotional proximity to this tragic incident. Had you ever had a family executed by a firearm you would understand much better just what a tragedy this was and would never tell anyone to "get over it".

Posted by: Dan Van Riper
Posted on:

OK, enough.

NY Cowboy, these are human beings we are talking about here, not mosquitos. Whether or not we are divine beings, we have to think that we are special and better than animals. Why? For our own survival, that's why. So show a little respect. Someday what happened at 190 Delaware could happen to you or one of yours.

Jim Travers, have you ever put two crayfish in a ten gallon terrarium? You know, I once watched a flock of ducks kill a runt among them by incessantly pecking the top of it's head. Cowboy is being unnecessarily offensive, but he is right and you know it. Killing is a fact of life. And killers do indeed kill their own kind.

I'm receiving complaints about this exchange between the two of you, so this will be the last word. I declare it OVER.

Posted by: Heartbroken Teacher
Posted on:
Keynon's friends are hurting! I was his neighbor before I was his teacher. I attended his funeral. I purposely chose an aisle seat, as I knew several students would attend his funeral without a parent. I repeatedly joined grieving students in that long walk to and from the casket. I still have a hard time watching certain movies, seeing students that I had the year I had Keynon. Trying to celebrate this Christmas, knowing that its the first Christmas his family will be having without him...sad. I've since moved to North Carolina and am wondering when Jovan Underdue's trial will start? Oh! And the worst part...I actually met Jovan Underdue a couple years before the murder. I attended a baby shower for his then girlfriend...I shook the hand of the man who would kill my "baby". And people wonder why I have a hard time sleeping at night?

Posted by: neostellopoke
Posted on:
Hi, fellows!
It's a pity that we live in such an unstable society. It's so frustrating, I can't even tell... I could never imagine that in my hometown, Portland, in the heart of the U.S., there will be something like "Occupy". We were always proud as Americans that we have peaceful and lawful society. And these anarchists had gone beyond the acceptable behavior. If everything goes as predicted in this prognosis we are going to forget about democracy, government and president. Everything will be ruled by wild anarchists.
Nevertheless I voted there 12% for the possibility of the prediction to come true. Means I'm still optimistic about this. And how about you?

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