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Posts Tagged ‘crime’

Inspiring holiday stuff

Gainesville State School is located 75 miles north of Dallas, next to a town of 15,000.  It was originally a girls’ school, but became co-ed in1974 and eventually all-male in 1988.  The school offers courses in agriculture, horticulture, welding, and business in addition to the standard high school curriculum.

Gainesville State is also a maximum-security youth prison facility.  Incoming students are an average of three years below grade level in reading and four years behind in math, and less than 30% will return to High School upon re-entry into society.

The school has a football team.  Lacking adequate practice time, space, and equipment, the Gainesville State Tornadoes are understandably lousy.  Up against prep school teams with involved parents, endless resources, and home field advantage, Gainesville scored a total of two touchdowns en route to a miserable 0-8 start.

Kris Hogan is head football coach at Grapevine Faith, a Christian school located just outside Dallas.  The Grapevine Lions are high priests in the Texas Football Temple (services Friday evening like Jews).  The Lions made the state title game in 2007, and returned this season with a strong 7-2 record.

Coach Hogan decided to do a good turn for the boys from Gainesville.  With the overmatched prison team on the schedule for the season finale, Hogan emailed team parents and fans requesting that half the group cheer for the visitors.  “Here’s the message I want you to send,” he wrote: “You are just as valuable as any other person on planet Earth.”  Faced with understandably confused parents and players, he stuck to his concept:  “Imagine if you didn’t have a home life. Imagine if everybody had pretty much given up on you. Now imagine what it would mean for hundreds of people to suddenly believe in you.”

Hogan’s commitment converted the unbelievers.  Some 200 hometown fans, approximately half the crowd, sat in the visitors’ bleachers cheering for Gainesville State.  Additionally, for probably the first time in football history, the road team was met with a spirit line, banner to run through, and dedicated cheerleading squad.

Other schools have done things for Gainesville, including providing the students with meals and small gifts.  However, no one had ever given them a cheering section.  It meant a lot more than some trinkets or a snack.  As a Tornadoes lineman explained:  “We can tell people are a little afraid of us when we come to the games.  You can see it in their eyes. They’re lookin’ at us like we’re criminals. But these people, they were yellin’ for us! By our names!”

This wasn’t The Longest Yard. Gainesville was severely overmatched, and Faith went up 33-0 to start the game.  Eventually, however, Gainesville managed two touchdowns on the day on which three of their players had been cut from the team; released from prison.

The score didn’t matter.  In another football first, the head coach of the losing team was doused with Gatorade:

I know people who teach in the prison system, including both maximum-security adult prisons and facilities like Gainesville for youth offenders.  Sadly, adult offenders including those serving lifetime sentences often have better access to educational programs than seventeen-year old first-time offenders who should still have their whole lives ahead of them.  In New York State, this is partly the understandable legacy of Attica and partly due to the fact that D.O.C.S. is its own agency whereas underage offenders are folded into the Office of Children and Family Services.  (I’d be curious if anyone has had any experience with other states; feel free to post in the comments.  New York is actually regarded as one of the best prison systems in the country for adults, in terms of rehabilitation, security for both prisoners and staff, and a relative lack of gang activity.)

The boys on the Gainesville squad are not unrepentant thugs, not inherently violent kids, not the simple stereotypes too often assigned to convicts.  Only those who have served at least half of their sentence, passed all of their classes, and maintained spotless behavioral records are allowed on the team.  Gainesville State head coach Mark Williams explained the importance of seeing his players in human, humane terms:

“A lot of these kids don’t have hope because they’ve taken a wrong path, somebody’s told them that they’re going to be negative,” he said. “They’re not negative. They were very positive tonight. They were just like the other kids.”

After four quarters of football, the winning players greeted their parents and friends while the losing team returned to their bus under watch by a dozen armed guards.  Before the game, and ten minutes from the final whistle, the Gainesville State Tornadoes were faceless statistics in America’s best growth industry.  For 60 minutes, as Gainesville superintendent Gwan Hawthorne put it, the boys “[felt] like any other high school football team.”

A winless season never ended so well.

(For more on this story, see Rick Reilly’s detailed account and the Waco Tribune‘s local coverage.)

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Rampaging Japanese seniors

There have been a number of stories lately about the criminal proclivities of Japan’s senior citizens.  On the northern island of Hokkaido, arrests of seniors actually outnumbered arrests of teenagers in 2006.  Since then, the number of elder arrests has risen to three for every two bookings of teens.  Nationally, crimes by seniors have risen fivefold over a 20-year period.  This has occurred concurrent to an overall drop in the crime rate: In 2007, elderly crimes rose 4.2 percent while the overall arrest rate dropped almost 5 percent.

Most of this is petty crime, primarily theft of food and non-alcoholic drinks.  Violent crime remains rare, although it has increased.  Shoplifting accounts for more than half of theft arrests of men and 90 percent of thefts by women.

Increased poverty somewhat explains the trend, as the Washington Post reports:

“A government survey of 137 elderly shoplifters in Tokyo found that a desire to “cut back on spending” was a primary motivation of 59 percent of the women arrested. Two-thirds of men said they stole because of their tough financial situation.”

However, Justice Ministry officials report that only 7 percent of the thieves qualified for state welfare payments.  Most received varying levels of pensions.  Fear of poverty appears to be a stronger motive than any actual need to steal for subsistence.  Many seniors are worried following a spectacular scandal in which the government lost over 50 million peoples’ pension files.  This grand-scale fuck-up, combined with the overall declining economy, has many seniors worried about their long-term financial health.

There are cultural and sociological causes as well.  Japanese society’s traditional reverence for the elderly has faded with modernity.  Seniors increasingly live alone, rather than with their children or grandchildren.  One Hokkaido police official summarizes:

“They are not in touch with their children and have no connection with their brothers and sisters,” Shibata said. “These are people who worked so hard for so many years for their companies and for their country. All of a sudden, all their work has come to nothing. They have empty time on their hands.”

Many are driven by a desire for human contact or excitement, and those caught are often eager and happy to talk to police.  Dislocation from society, as well as simple boredom, are as powerful causes as economic need:

“Here in Sapporo, police in September arrested a 71-year-old retired man in a grocery store after he tried to steal 14 items, including ice cream, worth $27. He told police that he often shoplifts.

The man receives a social welfare check for about $1,600 a month and lives with his wife, who is ill and unable to do housework. He told police that his wife’s illness caused him stress but that when he steals, he feels “refreshed.”

At the time of his arrest, he had $7,500 in cash in his pocket.”

Very few of these elder criminals receive prison sentences. However, the Japanese government is currently spending approximately $60 million to construct three new prison wards specialized to house senior citizens.  Unfortunately, Japan lacks an infrastructure of organizations capable of coping with the psychological needs of its aging population.  Public awareness campaigns about shoplifting have met resistance from store owners, who hesitate to put up anti-shoplifting posters for fear of offending loyal customers.  The long-term solution, for a population that is only getting older, will have to include improved socialization programs for seniors without children or grandchildren.  Whether community centers, counceling programs, or manga Marxism, Japan needs to find something more than robots to keep its seniors off the streets.

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Webcasting tragedy

Plain awful, from The Guardian:

“Police in Florida are investigating the death of an American teenager after he appeared to take an overdose and die while broadcasting on video website Justin.tv.”

The 19-year-old left a message on another website in which he described his mental anguish and was encouraged to end his life by a number of other web users.”

Apparently, more than 180 people watched this kid OD and fall unconscious on his bed.  After he had stopped moving, someone called the cops.  Some reports claim that the viewers continued to taunt him.  The victim had previously described his feelings and the possibility of suicide on both justin.tv and another website, where users egged him on:

“You want to kill yourself?” said one. “Do it, do the world a favour and stop wasting our time with your mindless self-pity.”

This case is not unprecedented, nor is this a simple indictment of the internet.  Impersonal groups pressure jumpers.  It’s the “baiting crowd” phenomenon.  Research on the topic suggests that the following variables contribute to baiting: size of the crowd (larger is worse), the cover of nighttime, and physical distance.  These are all de-individuation factors, as members of the crowd abdicate their ethical obligations.

That said, the internet is a uniquely powerful medium for this sort of behavior.  Crowds of thousands can gather in seconds on message boards, populated by nameless individuals hiding behind user-tags.  It’s best summed by the now-famous New Yorker cartoon: “On the internet, no one knows you are a dog.”  The problem is not just the anonymity; it’s also the distance.  At least in person, crowds can physically see their targets.  The internet adds a level of disconnect.  Even if the victim is on a webcam, there’s an element of unreality to the situation – you can minimize the window and they’re gone.  This is worsened by the frequency of internet hoaxes.  A man on a ledge in front of you is awfully real; “DpressedDave7,” holding a bottle of nondescript pills on a Wichita webcam, might just be putting you on.

None of the nearly 200 people who witnessed this, including those who baited the victim, are legally culpable.  (One hopes that they’ll get their ethical rewards through sleepless lifetimes.)  But what of the justin.tv people?  While there’s no reason to believe they’ll face any legal sanction, the question of whether they should is a little more complex.  On one hand, the website was simply a location where the acts took place.  Mayor Fenty wouldn’t be responsible for a nasty Washington crowd talking someone into leaping onto L Street.  However, an internet message board is a controlled environment.  People apply for user names, submitting their email addresses (and sometimes more) to aquire them.  Websites are private domains with discretionary power over messaging – it’s usually called “Terms of Use.”  After hesitating on free speech grounds, Facebook recently pulled several neo-Nazi pages.

The purveyors of the website are not criminals because there is no underlying criminal act.  Groups baiting suicides is repulsive, but won’t send anyone to jail.  What I don’t know, because I am completely out of my depth on internet law, is this:  If message board participants had plotted and then carried out murder, would the message board hosts be culpable?  And if so, for what crime?

Internet law is a fresh and evolving field, with cases from horrific to laughable arising every day.  If there’s any law students with insight on this topic, any comments on the matter would be appreciated — both legal examples and subjective opinions welcome.

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Reliable Source reports on The Bowtied Crusader:

Tony Williams was on K Street yesterday afternoon when a thief grabbed a package from a UPS hand truck. The deliveryman, standing a few yards away, looked up and yelled, “Hey!” but the man kept walking.

Enter the former mayor, who asked the delivery guy if he was being robbed. “I said to myself, ‘Do I just stand here? No, this can’t happen,’ ” Williams told us. “And I just started running.”

For those of you unfamiliar with Washington, this is former Mayor Anthony Williams:

Comin straight outta Yale

Comin straight outta Tenleytown

So Williams, bearer of the iconic, non-NOI bowtie, chases down the surprised perp:

Williams sprinted down K Street shouting, “Stop! Stop! You can’t do that!” With the deliveryman right behind him, he caught up to the culprit — who looked at the bow tie and stopped dead in his tracks.

“You used to be the mayor,” said the surprised thief, who simply handed over the box of computer parts.

Williams, with no police cars around, let the man go.  Asked what happened by a passerby, Mayor Bowtie stayed humble:

“I’m just fighting crime in the city.”

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Don’t buy a Bulgarian football club

I know it’s on your to-do list, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  I also know you read the Sofia Echo, so you’ve seen this already:

Holding the presidency of a football club can be hazardous – even deadly – in Bulgaria. Dozens of examples over the past 19 years attest to this. The latest is that of Yordan Andreev, president of second division Marek football club from the small southern town of Doupnitsa.

Andreev was beaten by two unidentified men on October 27, possibly in relation to match-fixing allegations.  This is standard operating procedure for Eastern European football, with club owners alternately being accused of crimes and shot at.  The Sofia Echo listed some cases from Bulgaria:

Kostadin Hadjiivanov, owner, Belassitsa Football Club:  Arrested on smuggling charges.

Ivan Slavkov, president, Spartak Varna:  Charged with human trafficking and money laundering.

Angel Bonchev, president, Litex Lovech:  Kidnapped along with his wife.  (Both were found alive, she was unharmed but he was missing two fingers.)

There’s also Alexander Tassev, the third chairman of Lokomotiv Plovdiv to be murdered within two years.  (He had been under investigation for vote-buying and fuel smuggling.) Three football club chairmen were murdered in Bulgaria in 2004 alone.

Football is a nasty business in the former Soviet bloc.  The game is tainted by the hooligans, (often associated with paramilitaries,) and the mafia influence and violence.  Referees have been suspended and coaches and clubs investigated.  Serbian warlord Arkan once ran FK Obilic, and when he met a fitting end, his wife took over the club.  Unfortunately, the football fits its societies, so it’s unlikely that these problems can be addressed simply by sports oversight mechanisms.  Until the governments in the former Soviet bloc get a handle on organized crime, the football scene will continue to be tainted by violence.

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Via DCist, members of the Metropolitan Police Department use their in-car internet to watch Family Guy:

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Once in a while, (for which, read: “When we’re lazy”) we’ll be stealing content from compelling guest posters. So today we have belle absente with some thoughts on Law & Order, SVU-flavor. A brief bio then we’re off:

Ghost blogger belle absente is a first year law student at Large State University, where she studies civil rights law. Her extracurricular interests include such wide ranging topics as the private wars of tiny countries, alpaca shearing, and tentacle porn. She appreciates your understanding of her need for anonymity.

I enjoy the Law & Order franchise as must as the next guy. Really, I do. I mean I would be completely lying if I said that some part of my interest in law didn’t come from watching episodes ever since I was little, and admiring strong, confident, intelligent female ADAs.

But. My least favorite series is, unfortunately, the one that used to be my favorite: SVU. There are a lot of reasons… but there was a particularly awful episode on DVR the other night that really set wrong with me. I mean, I’ve always been aware of what a fascist Elliot is… that’s no secret. No warrants, no problem with police brutality, all force no style. And it’s not the first time he crosses the line, but it got to me worse than most of the time.

The episode revolves around the argument of whether or not it is legal (or for that matter ethical) for the state to force a mental health patient to take their medications. This is important to me and stuck with me for two reasons: 1) I’m a law student with a strong interest in human/civil rights, especially disability & mental health law, and 2) I’ve had a lifetime of experience dealing with the mental health system as it exists in this country, and I’m intimately aware of its idiosyncrasies and injustices.

It’s important to not that the episode is, as it should be, designed to locate that argument outside of the standing legal statute, the commonly cited “harm to self or others” rule of thumb. While that may seem to provide a wide berth for interpretation, it actually is fairly well defined, and (also as it should be), difficult to actually prove. At first glance this may cause some readers discomfort: shouldn’t “we”, the “sane people” be allowed to use that ‘golden rule,’ to confine individuals for no reason besides their own good?

No. We shouldn’t. Because the ‘harm’ rule is legally defined and enforceable – for their own good is not. Using the existing laws, the only way to exercise force over an individual for reasons of mental health is to prove that they are an active danger to others, or an immediate suicide risk. I say this because nowadays it is virtually impossible to commit someone on the only other legal avenue available, ie, proving that they are non compos mentis. In other words, the current laws come with a built-in safeguard against abuse of power via the burden of proof. Proving a person is a threat to others requires written statements (which are still hard to use), or actions (at which point they are criminally liable as well)… and proving someone is a threat to themselves basically requires them to be actively attempting suicide. This stuff is fairly straightforward.

But the arguments presented in the episode take it a step further and ask the question – what can the state do about patients who do not fit into the existing legal definitions? I would not be surprised if the majority of readers’ immediate reaction is to lean towards giving the courts more power in these matters. But the question bears a second look. Because when we read deeper, we can see that the question is essentially, how much power are we willing to give the courts, and thus the state, over individual human bodies and minds?

In the situation presented in the SVU episode, the person in question is a schizophrenic with information on a case – not a suspect. The patient has repeatedly indicated his refusal to take medications, and his family supports his decision. During the course of ‘interrogation,’ Elliot tricks the psychiatrist into forcing an injection of anti-psychotics, thus inducing the person to talk. When the doctor realizes what’s happened, he voices his objections and considers resigning. Cabot, the ADA, agrees with him. Elliot, however, sees no reason to question the ethics of the event.

In addition to the issue that increasing state power over our bodies and minds is, inherently, a dangerous and irreversible act, this brings up a more fundamental question: how do we define our sovereignty over ourselves, and, thus, of others’ sovereignty over themselves? And is that sovereignty a basic human right?

Or is it a privilege of those who fit within an arbitrary parameter of normalcy?

The concept of “for their own good” bears some examination. I believehope that it goes without saying that some kinds of “protection” mechanisms inherently carry with them the implication of race/class/ability superiority. These are the kinds of protections that involve force – forced hospitalization, forced medication, forced anything. Because applying this kind of force means we believe we have the right to apply it. We possess something they do not, thus making us more capable of making their decisions than they are. By othering those living with mental health concerns, we separate ourselves from them, and, on a very basic level, justify a difference in rights and privileges.

Of course this isn’t the only time the Elliot Stabler method has trod over human dignity. Yet no matter the case, his justification is always the same – essentially, spare the rod spoil the pervert. If this line or something like it isn’t repeated every single episode without fail, I will eat my non-existent hat: “I did what I had to do to catch the [insert tv new york cop slang for criminal here].” At first glance this may seem to make sense (and if you only watch the show once!), but the logic follows that if whatever you did is irrelevant because you caught a criminal, then you can do anything in the pursuit of anyone you might think is guilty of anything.

To be fair, it’s just a tv show, operating around some basic, cut-out archetypal characters. We have the benevolent but brilliant doctor, the hard-on-the-outside but secretly lonely and sensitive female cop, the cutthroat female lawyer willing for whom the ends always justify the means, and, of course, the heavy handed but well-intentioned hardworking male cop. It’s fiction, obviously, and there’s not much room to move within these archetypes. However, it is hard to imagine that a television franchise so ubiquitous in popular culture has completely escaped the eye of public morality, and it is difficult to deny that what we as a public see in some way informs our moral compass as a society. As such, the show has an obligation to handle situations like this in a more informed manner.

What it comes down to is this: in a society where freedom is enshrined in law, human choice and the entire spectrum of it beyond the rule of harm – and in this case the right to make that choice, is sacred, philosophically and legally. It is fundamental in our society that a person has a right to sovereignty over his or life, up to the point where that sovereignty interferes with either that of another person, or the state’s monopoly over force. And individuals who live with mental health issues do deserve legal protection – but not from themselves; from the people who would define “protection” as synonymous with “force”.

People have a right to protection from the system – from the abuses of the state – not within it. That is what the current law provides, the protection of a burden of proof. A burden of proof that places the same standards on every person, in every situation, every time – as opposed to the Elliot Stabler method of taking the law, and human rights, on a case-by-case basis, assuming without question that a mental health patient does not deserve the same rights and protections that First Class Citizen Elliot Stabler does.

SVU aside, I felt it was important to note that choice, the fundamental human sovereignty over one’s mind, is a right that was not given by the state to any individuals, and can not be taken away by the state; it is a right that transcends ability, age, race, or any other category, because it is an essential right, a human right.

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