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Art, unfortunately, imitates life
Sons of Anarchy premiere coincides with 2 Manteca motorcycle gang murders
08 sons of anarchy
A scene from Sons of Anarchy - photo by Photo Contributed

Millions of people tuned in to the last season premiere of the epic motorcycle crime drama that is “Sons of Anarchy” Tuesday night.

And why wouldn’t they? It’s compelling television. It’s chock full of the drama and the suspense and the violence that you’d expect from a show about an outlaw motorcycle gang.

And if you live anywhere in the Central Valley, there’s a good chance that there’s a certain amount of hometown pride associated with the show.

It’s set in San Joaquin County. They mention all of the places around here that you’re likely to cross if you go in any direction – Stockton, Lodi, Escalon, Oakland and Calaveras County.

Entire scenes are supposedly set within the San Joaquin County Jail.

It’s a town called Charming.

But Tuesday morning, hours before Charlie Hunnam and Jax Teller went on a murderous rampage that included slicing a swastika into the stomach of an informant while in custody and shooting a wounded pastor twice in the face like he was putting a wounded animal out of its misery, what was taking place inside the San Joaquin County courthouse was anything but charming.

Brandon Gann sat stoically behind a desk in a courtroom while Deputy District Attorney Kevin Mayo entered photo after photo as evidence that Gann was in fact a member of the Hells Angels, and that he along with an accomplice were responsible for the shooting death of a member of a rival motorcycle gang.

The story itself was straight out of the show’s script – a car rips into the parking lot, smashes into a motorcycle, and a fight ensues. Somebody from the car allegedly produces a gun and fires seven shots including the one that killed 26-year-old Danny Martinez. The murder took place just outside of Manteca’s eastern city limits on Ideal Parkway.

It gets more complicated and convoluted from there. Deciding Gann’s fate will be up to the 12 men and women (and three alternates) that are currently weighing the options.

But here’s the catch. It wasn’t the only motorcycle-based murder proceeding going on that day.

Just two doors up Deputy District Attorney Janet Smith conducted the second day of trying to select a jury and move forward with first-degree murder charges against 24-year-old Michael Roessler and 23-year-old Justin Wilson. Both are allegedly part of the trio that are responsible for the shooting death of 51-year-old Michael Lawrence in front of his family back in June of 2013 near Wetherbee Lake just outside Manteca’s western city limits.

Life imitating art?

Time will tell.

Nobody is saying that “Sons of Anarchy” is promoting violence among motorcycle gangs, and I think that most people can realize that despite the fact that the show’s creators spent time in the area for research while writing the initial storyline, that it’s fiction.

It’s not real.

It’s a melodrama – a brutal, blood-soaked soap-opera where anybody can die at anytime, and doing whatever you want is acceptable as long as it’s in the name of brotherhood or family.

But people do die over it. People do kill over it. And the fact that Tuesday’s premiere – which had heavy references to San Joaquin County, Stockton and Lodi – came on the same day that a Hells Angel was on trial for murder and another pair were awaiting the next step in their own is too heavy to ignore.

And here’s an extra dose of irony.

The first commercial break gave an extended cinematic preview of the “The Drop” – the last movie that James Gandolfini made before he died and the first screenplay that author Dennis Lehane wrote specifically for the silver screen.

Lehane knows a thing or two about the steely-eyed – creating characters like Boston-born private detective Patrick Kenzie that carries a moral burden not unlike the main character from the wildly popular television series.

And his words seem to resonate to me now more than ever. 

“When I was young I asked my priest how you can get to Heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world,” Kenzie says in the opening monologue. “He told me what God said to his children, ‘You are sheep among wolves. Be as wise as serpents, yet innocents as doves.”

I wish he wasn’t right.