New Times staff writer Jim DeFede has been selected as a winner of the 1996 Mencken Award. Sponsored by the Free Press Association, and named after iconoclastic editor and social critic H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), the award honors "outstanding writing and cartooning on issues of individual liberty and abuses of power."
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In the competition, which is open to print media nationwide, DeFede took top honors in the feature-story category for his article "This Is Not the USA," published March 30, 1995.
The article described the harrowing experience of William Negron, a Miami recovery agent whose specialty is repossessing automobiles. Upon entering the Miccosukee Indian reservation on a job assignment, Negron learned the hard way that many U.S. laws do not apply there. Tribal police officers arrested him on felony charges and confiscated his tow truck and other personal belongings as he was attempting to repossess a vehicle from a member of the tribe. After several months spent working as his own attorney, Negron succeeded in recovering his property. The Miccosukee tribe, recognized by Congress as a sovereign nation, enjoys virtually complete immunity in state and federal civil courts.
Winners of the 1996 Mencken Award in other categories include Andrew Sullivan, author of Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality, for best book; Michael P. Ramirez of USA Today for best cartoon; Alexander Cockburn of the Nation for best op-ed column; Thomas Fleming of Chronicles for best essay; and Seth Rosenfeld of the San Francisco Examiner for investigative reporting.
DeFede has been a New Times staff writer since 1991.