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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Television's "CSI" Shows: These People Do Not Exist in Real Life

     The various "CSI" television shows depicting forensic scientists who are each versed in forensic pathology, firearms identification, fingerprint identification, toxicology, blood spatter analysis, DNA profiling, forensic anthropolgy, odontology, and document examination, and who also process crime scenes, conduct homicide investigations, and make arrests, inspire thousands of high school graduates every year to enroll in criminal justice programs offered by at least two thousand colleges and universities. When asked why they have chosen criminal justice as a major, many of these students say "forensics." When asked what they mean by "forensics," CJ majors express hopes of some day doing what the stars of the "CSI" shows do every week on television.

     Eventually these students find out that the "CSI" people do not exist in reality. A small percentage of these forensic hopefuls actually earn degrees in science and get jobs in crime labs. A handful attend medical school and became forensic pathologists. A few join police departments as patrol officers and work their way up to the position of criminal investigator.

     Most of the criminal justice students who initially express an interested in "forensics" do not want to be stuck all day in a crime lab. They avoided science courses in high school, and want no part of science in college. Most of these CJ majors end up working in the corrections system as prison guards, parole agents, or as social workers.

     In a November 4, 2011 article in "The New York Times," Christopher Drew reported that colleges and universities are not graduating nearly enough people holding degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Studies have found that between 40 and 60 percent of STEM majors either switch to other subjects or fail to graduate. These students were either unprepared for college-level science or quit because they weren't willing to put in the hard work these studies require. Kevin Rask, a professor at Wake Forest conducted a study in 2010 that showed the lowest grades on campus were issued in the introductory math and science courses. The chemistry department's grades averaged 2.78 out of a a possible 4.0. Math students earned an average of 2.90. Education, language and English courses recorded the highest averages ranging from 3.33 to 3.36.

   

      

Criminal Justice Quote: Identifying Criminals Reflected in Their Photographed Victims' Eyes

     "The pupil of the eye is like a black mirror," says a British researcher…For crime in which the victims are photographed by the criminal (e.g. hostage taking, child sex abuse), reflections in the eyes of victims could help identify perpetrators."

     Researchers showed 32 participants high-resolution photo portraits of faces, and the participants were asked to identify people reflected in the subject's pupils--often the photographer or someone standing next to the photographer. When the reflected person was a familiar one, participants could identify him or her 84 percent of the time….When the reflected figures weren't familiar, participants were still able to ID them 71 percent of the time based on comparisons to mugshots.

Matt Cantor, Newser, December 28, 2013

     

Criminal Justice Quote: Police Payroll Bankrupts Town

     The city of Desert Hot Springs [California], population 27,000, is slowly edging toward bankruptcy, largely because of police salaries and skyrocketing pension costs, but also because of years of spending and unrealistic revenue estimates. It is mostly the police, though, who have found themselves in the cross hairs recently….

     About $7 million of the city's $10.6 million annual payroll went to the 39-member police force. The situation was so dire that an audit, compiled weeks before municipal elections in November [2013] but not made public until later, showed that Desert Hot Springs was $4 million short for the year and would run out of money as early as April 2014.

     So at a tense meeting, the new City Council voted unanimously to slash all city salaries, including those of the police, by at least 22 percent, as well as to cap incentive pay and reduce paid holidays and vacation days. For some officers who took advantage of overtime and the other extra payments, the cut could be as much as 40 percent, the [police] union says. Management had already taken a hit: the former police chief and one of two top commanders retired this month, not to be replaced.

     Wendell Phillips, a lawyer for the Desert Hot Springs Police Officers Association, quickly filed a fact-finding request with the state's Public Employment Relations Board, calling the cuts illegal and vowing to go to court if they were not overturned. [Police unions help cause the problem, then fight against fixing it.]

Rick Lyman and Mary Williams Walsh, "Police Salaries and Pensions Push California to the Brink," The New York Times, December 27, 2013

Writing Quote: The Printed Book is Here to Stay

For a while there, after the 2008 crash, it seemed possible that publishing would follow the music and journalism businesses into meltdown. The best literary news of 2013 is that…books have not succumbed to the downward-spiraling revenue trend. Sales of book in all formats actually grew by almost $2 billion in the last five years, and e-books have turned out to complement printed books without replacing them.

Adam Kirsch, "Bookends," The New York Times Book Review, December 15, 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

Writing Quote: Writer Biographies as Author Self-Help Books

When I'm struggling with my own work I'm often drawn to biographies of writers. Not only do learn fun facts about prominent figures--Henry James suffered terribly from constipation, Kafka chewed every bite of food 32 times, Flannery O'Conner cared for a flock of around 40 peacocks, Montaigne never saw his wife with her clothes off, Balzac fortified himself with a paste made of unroasted coffee beans--I'm also reminded that there's no single path for living a successful creative or personal life. It's inspiring to read about a flawed human being who struggled with his or her demons and afflictions, experienced paralyzing episodes of failure or self-doubt, but somehow managed to do the work anyway, and produce something that enriched the world. That's my version of self-help.

Tom Perrota in The New York Times Book Review, December 1, 2013 

Criminal Justice Quote: The AR-15: America's Favorite Rifle

     The Colt AR-15, often known as the assault rifle, has captured the imagination of gun enthusiasts who are drawn to its sleek form, portability and ease of use, as well as a mystique born of its connection to the M-16, its combat cousin from the Vietnam War.

     Part of the appeal of the firearm stems…from the ability to "accessorize it like a Barbie doll," given  extras like interchangeable optics systems and gun barrels. Its military pedigree and appeal to hobbyists has helped spur sales of 5 million AR-15s in the last two decades, with most of these buys coming in just the past six years. According to industry figures, nearly one of five guns sold in the U. S. is now a semi-automatic AR-15-style rifle….

     Even with the renewed effort to ban them, AR-15-style rifles appear to have attained a level of cultural currency rivaling the six-shooter that "Won the West" and Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum.

Andrew Blankstein, "The Most Loved, and Hated, Gun in America," NBC News, December 13, 2013

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Shoplifting

What's new about shoplifting today is that it has become a cultural phenomenon--a silent epidemic, driven by pretty much everything in our era. Some scholars connect it to traditional families' disintegration, the American love of shopping, the downshifting of the middle class, global capitalism, immigration, the replacement of independent stores with big chains, and the lessening of faith's hold on conduct. Shoplifting gets tangled up in American cycles of spending and saving, and boom and bust, and enacts the tension between the rage to consume conspicuously and the intention to live thriftily. The most recent suspects include the Great Recession, the increasing economic divide between rich and poor, and ineffectual response to the shamelessness of white-collar fraudsters; the shoplifter as the poor man's Bernard Madoff.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011

Writing Quote: How to Begin Your Story

It would be nice, I suppose, to begin at the perfect point in the story, in the perfect way, using the perfect voice to present exactly the desired scene. Unfortunately, you have no choice but to be wholly clueless about all of this. The rightness of things is generally revealed in retrospect, and you're unlikely to know in advance what is right and wrong in a story that has not been written. So instead of waiting until everything is perfect, begin anyhow, anywhere and any way. The result will probably not be exactly right. It may not be even close. So what? You're going to persist until you get it right.

Stephen Koch, The Modern Literary Writer's Workshop, 2003

Saturday, December 28, 2013

College Stand-Ins

     In October 2013 a student the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wanted to fly to India to attend a wedding. If she took the trip she'd miss two days of class, absences she couldn't afford. To solve her problem, the young woman decided to find a classroom stand-in.

     In the Raleigh section of Craigslist the wedding-bound girl posted a photograph of herself and an offer of $100 to any female who met her general description willing to attend the classes on her behalf. According to the posting, the job required "sitting in the classroom and raising one's hand during attendance."

     Getting away with this class-skipping ploy is one advantage of taking classes attended by hundreds of students. This little academic episode begs the question: why do professors even bother keeping attendance records. Why should a professor care if kids are skipping class? It's students' money that's wasted. One wonders how many college students make extra money filling empty seats for classroom slackers? It's a lot easier than babysitting.

     In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an enterprising person pushed the college stand-in game to its limits. This man wanted someone, under his name, to acquire a four-year degree from Harvard University. This man claimed to have a 4.0 high school grade average and high SAT scores.

     The Pittsburgh Craigslist posting read: "I am looking for someone to attend Harvard University pretending to be me for four years, starting August 2014. I will pay for your tuition, books, housing, transportation, and living expenses and pay $40,000 a year with a $10,000 bonus after graduation. All you have to do is attend all classes, pass all tests, and finish all assigned work while pretending you are me."

     According to the terms of this education scam, all persons applying for the assignment were required to sign nondisclosure agreements.

     Because I don't think a Harvard degree is worth the cost, I believe this is a better deal for the stand-in than the pretender. Since no one ever flunks out of Harvard, the stand-in can slack off by hiring seat-fillers whenever he wants to skip class.

     

Criminal Justice Quote: Free Speech and The Snitch Next Door

     The end of free speech will not necessarily come when there are soldiers in the streets, secret police in the alleyways and a mustachioed man screaming at you on a television set that can't be turned off no matter how you turn the knob or click the buttons. [George Orwell, 1984]

     Some of these things existed in totalitarian countries, but they were there to sweep up the hardened dissenters who refused to be silenced. The vast majority of citizens did not have bugged phones or men in trench coats following them around.

     That was what their friends and neighbors were for.

     The first line of offense by a totalitarian society against freedom of speech is sourced to the people in the streets. No secret police force is large enough to spy on everyone all the time. [The NSA seems capable of doing that.] Nor does it need to. That is what informers are for.

Daniel Greenfield, "Lynching Free Speech," Frontpage Mag, December 27, 2013 

Criminal Justice Quote: Police Abuse 2013

America's police force can claim many victims this year: From senior citizens gunned down in their own homes during botched drug raids to non-violent offenders murdered via police neglect for their most basic needs. The Daily Caller chronicled the worst police abuse cases of 2013, and has learned a few unfortunate lessons: You can be killed by police for possessing trivial amounts of marijuana--or even no drugs at all. If your autistic son tells you he met a new friend at school, that friend could be a narcotics officer trying to trick him into selling drugs. And whatever you do, stay away from New Mexico cops. [Cops in Albuquerque are particularly brutal.]

Robby Soave, "The DC's [Daily Caller's] Dirty Dozen: 12 Shocking Police Abuse Stories of 2013," December 26, 2013. [An excellent summary of this year's worst police behavior.] 

Writing Quote: There's a National Novel Writing Month?

     We're now past the halfway point of National Novel Writing Month [November]--or, as it's inelegantly shortened online, NaNoWriMo--when aspiring authors aim to produce 50,000 words during November. More than 277,000 writers signed up for the sprint this year. Erin Morgenstern, whose best-selling novel The Night Circus originated as part of the exercise, once advised: "Don't delete anything. Just keep writing. And if you don't want to look at it, change the font to white."

     Communal support is an important part of the endeavor, with participants sharing daily word counts and inspirational exhortations on Twitter and Facebook. The forums on the project's official website offer a cascade of advice. One writer asked the crowd: "How old must a child be to survive in the Nordic forest?" Another solicited "favorite literary quotes that a guy might not mind having as a tattoo."

John Williams, "Open Book," The New York Times Book Review, November 17, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

Where is Avonte Oquendo?

     Avonte Oquendo, an autistic 14-year-old who didn't speak, attended school in Long Island City, Queens, New York. The black, five-foot-three, 120 pound student was enrolled in the school's special needs program. He lived with his mother, Vanessa Fontaine, a social services case manager, and his four older brothers aged 19 to 29. Avonte's school sits on a busy street across from a playground, a dog run, and a jogging path that overlooks the East River.

     At 12:40 PM on October 4, 2013, a school surveillance camera caught Avonte coming out of the building with other school kids. He hasn't been seen since. Reacting to the missing persons report filed by his mother, dozens of New York City police officers from the 102 Precinct, aided by two helicopters, conducted a thorough search of the neighborhood.

     Following the initial surge of police activity on the case, Avonte's mother Vanessa, working out of a donated recreational vehicle parked in front of the school, oversaw the deployment of volunteer searchers and the distribution of missing person fliers.

     Vanessa Fontaine also organized candlelight vigils and rallies, raised $95,000 in reward money from anonymous donors, and appeared on several nationally broadcast television programs. While the police received hundreds of tips, nothing panned out.

     Two months after her son's disappearance, Vanessa moved her operation out of the RV and set up shop in a rented office. Thirty days after that, with still no leads on Avonte's whereabouts, activity on the case waned. There were fewer tips coming in, and only a handful of volunteers showed up each day at Vanessa's missing persons headquarters.

     The missing boy's mother recently filed a lawsuit against New York City's Board of Education. The plaintiff accuses the staff at Avonte's school of failing to protect him.

     On Thursday night, January 16, 2014, body parts and items of clothing found near the Queens shoreline. The remains were believed to be the missing boy's. The search was over and a new phase of the case, determining Oquendo's cause and manner of death, was underway.  

Criminal Justice Quote: Poison Murder

     There exists a kind of murder mystery pleasure to the subject of poisons; crime novelists, especially in the early twentieth century, have written them into countless tales of deathly intrigue. I've always admired the stylish writing of these vintage novels, which is a nice way of saying that I've read and enjoyed numerous stories involving murder by arsenic and cyanide. That hasn't affected the fact that, in reality, I find poison killings among the most disturbing of all homicides.

     I see poisoners--so calculating, so cold-blooded--as most like the villains of our horror stories. They're closer to that lurking monster in the closet than some drug-impaired crazy with a gun. I don't mean to dismiss the latter--both can achieve the same awful results. But the scarier killer is the one who thoughtfully plans his murder ahead, tricks a friend, wife, lover into swallowing something that will dissolve tissue, blister skin, twist the muscles with convulsions, knows all that will happen and does it anyway.

Deborah Blum, The Poisoner's Handbook, 2010

Writing Quote: The Difference Between Talking and Writing

     Talking and writing are different in just the way listening and reading are different. That difference affects everything. As Fran Lebowitz says, "In conversation you can use timing, a look, inflection, pauses. But on the page all you have is commas, dashes, the amount of syllables in a word. When I write I read everything out loud to get the right rhythm."

     But most important of all, the focus of talk is totally different from the focus of prose. A talker focuses on the relationship between her or his subject and the listener….No third party is contemplated. Prose, on the other hand, must focus on an absent and, in fact "invented" figure known as "The Reader." Prose--all prose--addresses this absent but imagined figure and shapes itself and that figure and its needs in an unseen relationship between them.

Stephen Koch, The Modern Library Writer's Workshop, 2003

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Teenager Accused of Raping an Elderly Nun Behind a Catholic Church

     On Friday, December 13, 2013 at eleven-thirty in the morning, a nun in the Order of St. Joseph named Sister Mary Pellegrino encountered a young man in the parking lot behind St. Titus Church in Aliquippa, a western Pennsylvania town 25 miles north of Pittsburgh. The six-foot teenager, wearing a black-hooded sweatshirt, dark pants, and work boots, came up behind the retired 85-year-old nun, tapped her on the shoulder and asked if he could be of help. When Sister Pellegrino declined the smiling youth's offer, he exposed himself, choked her, punched her in the jaw, and raped her as she lay injured in the snow.

     Rushed to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Sister Pellegrino underwent surgery to repair her dislocated lower jaw. Although the nun was unable speak to detectives, she described the attack and her attacker in writing.

     At the scene of the crime, investigators photographed a series of boot impressions in the snow. Detectives also questioned people who had seen a 18-year-old named Andrew Clarence Bullock near the church just before the assault. Bullock had been wearing clothing that matched the victim's description of  her attacker's sweatshirt, pants, and shoes.

     A few hours after the assault behind St. Titus Church, Aliquippa police officers questioned Andrew Bullock. The suspect, after initially denying the assault, confessed. Officers noticed that Bullock wore work boots that matched, in size and tread pattern, the shoe impressions in the snow behind the church.

     Police officers booked Bullock into the Beaver County Jail on charges of rape, aggravated assault, and several lesser offenses. The District Judge set his bail at $50,000.

     On Sunday, December 15, doctors released Sister Mary from the hospital in Pittsburgh. It's hard to believe she survived such a vicious attack. Had she not, Mr. Bullock would be facing charges of first-degree murder.
     

Criminal Justice Quote: Shoplifting During the Christmas Season

     Everyone needs a little boost to beat the holiday blues. For some during a down economy, it's shoplifting. Retailers call it "shrinkage," the loss of inventory from the store shelves or storage from sticky-fingered shoppers and employees. The total cost to retailers last year was $112 billion, including losses from employee and supplier fraud, and organized retail crime gangs….

     And it goes up during the holidays, but not because thieves are trying to make Santa's bag bigger. Experts say that most thieves are in it for themselves.

     The thought going through a shoplifter's head is simple: "This is the time of year when we gift others, so we should gift ourselves as well," says Robert McCrie, a professor of security management. "People tend to shoplift for themselves, not to find gifts for other people."

     According to an analysis of the most recently available FBI data, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice…national shoplifting arrests averaged 80,889 during November and December 2011, an 8.95 percent increase over the prior two months, and higher than the non-seasonal average of 71,073 offenses….

     And as the economy weakened, shoplifting increased. From 2005 to 2012, annual shoplifting offenses rose from 698,233 to 997,739, according to the FBI, a nearly 43 percent increase.

Ben Popken, "Christmas on Five-Finger Discount for Shoplifters Seeking Holiday High," NBC News, December 24, 2013 

Criminal Justice Quote: What's Wrong With Judge Baugh?

The Montana judge who said a teen rape victim appeared "older than her chronological age" has sentenced a man convicted of punching her girlfriend to write "Boys do not hit girls," 5,000 times. District Judge G. T odd Baugh also sentenced Pacer Anthony Ferguson, 27, to six months in jail and to pay $3,800 in restitution for fracturing the woman's face in three places during an August 2012 argument. The judge ordered Ferguson to number his list, sign it, and mail it to him by May 23, 2014. [A 27-year-old is not a "boy." What is this, 4th grade?]

Associated Press, December 24, 2013 

Writing Quote: The Second Novel

There might be some truth in the fact that writers whose first novels are autobiographical find it more difficult than other writers to write a second novel, but writers of any stripe have a difficult time following up a first novel. I've heard that as many as half of all first  novelists never write a second.

Robin Hemley, Turning Life Into Fiction, 1994

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Police Involved Shooting Statistics: A National One-Year Summary

     In 2011, according to data I collected, police officers in the United States shot 1,146  people, killing 607. Between January 1, 2011 and January 1, 2012 I used the Internet to compile a national database of police involved shootings. The term "police involved shooting" pertains to law enforcement officers who, in the line of duty, discharge their guns. When journalists and police administrators use the term, they include the shooting of animals and shots that miss their targets. My case files only include instances in which a person is either killed or wounded by police gunfire. My data also includes off-duty officers who discharged their weapons in law enforcement situations. They don't include, for example, officers using their firearms to resolve personal disputes.

     I collected this data myself because the U.S. Government doesn't. There is no national database dedicated to police involved shootings. Alan Maimon, in his article, "National Data on Shootings by Police Not Collected," published on November 28, 2011 in the "Las Vegas Review-Journal," wrote "The nation's leading law enforcement agency [FBI] collects vast amounts of information on crime nationwide, but missing from this clearinghouse are statistics on where, how often, and under what circumstances police use deadly force. In fact, no one anywhere comprehensively tracks the most significant act police can do in the line of duty: take a life."

     Since the government keeps statistics on just about everything, why no national stats on something this important? The answer is simple: they don't want us to know. Why? Because police shoot a lot more people than we think, and the government, while good at statistics, is also good at secrecy.

     The government does maintain records on how many police officers are killed every year in the line of duty. In 2010, 59 officers were shot to death among 122 killed while on the job. This marked a 20 percent jump from 2009 when 49 officers were killed by gunfire. In 2011, 173 officers died, from all causes, in the line of duty. The fact police officers feel they are increasingly under attack from the public may help explain why they are shooting so many citizens.

Who The Police Shoot

     A vast majority of the people shot by the police in 2011 were men between the ages 25 and 40 who had histories of crime. Overall, people shot by the police were much older than the typical first-time arrestee. A significant number of the people wounded and killed by the authorities were over fifty, some in their eighties. In 2011, the police shot two 15-year-olds, and a girl who was 16.

     The police shot, in 2011, about 50 women, most of whom were armed with knives and had histories of emotional distress. Overall, about a quarter of those shot were either mentally ill and/or suicidal. Many of these were "suicide-by-cop" cases.

     Most police shooting victims were armed with handguns. The next most common weapon involved vehicles (used as weapons), followed by knives (and other sharp objects), shotguns, and rifles. Very few of these people carried assault weapons, and a small percentage were unarmed. About 50 subjects were armed with BB-guns, pellet guns or replica firearms.

     The situations that brought police shooters and their targets together included domestic and other disturbances; crimes in progress such as robbery, assault and carjacking; the execution of arrest warrants; drug raids; gang activities; routine traffic stops; car chases; and standoff and hostage events.

     Women make up about 15 percent of the nation's uniformed police services. During 2011, about 25 female police officers wounded or killed civilians. None of these officers had shot anyone in the past. While the vast majority of police officers never fire their guns in the line of duty, 15 officers who did shoot someone in 2011, had shot at least one person before. (This figure is probably low because police departments don't like to report such statistics.) Most police shootings involved members of police departments followed by sheriff's deputies, the state police, and federal officers. These shootings took place in big cities, suburban areas, towns, and in rural areas. Big city shootings comprised about half of these violent confrontations in 2011.

Police Shooting Investigations

     Almost all police involved shootings, while investigated by special units, prosecutor's offices, or an outside police agency, were investigated by governmental law enforcement personnel. It is perhaps not surprising that more than 95 percent of all police involved shootings were ruled administratively and legally justiified. A handful of cases led to wrongful death lawsuits. Even fewer will result in the criminal prosecution of officers. Critics of the system have called for the establishment of completely independent investigative agencies in cases of police involved shootings.

Where People Were Shot

     Most Deadly States

     California 183 total (102 fatal)
     Florida 96 (49)
     Illinois 64 (26)
     Texas 58 (26)
     New York 49 (23)
     Pennsylvania 49 (23)
     Ohio 45 (28)
     Arizona 45 (27)
     Maryland 41 (16)
     Washington 39 (29)

     Least Deadly States

     Delaware 0
     Vermont 0
     North Dakota 1
     Wyoming 2 (1)
     Alaska 2 (2)
     Montana 3 (2)
     South Dakota 3 (3)
     Hawai 4 (3)
     Conneticut 6 (1)
     West Virginia 6 (5)
     New Hampshire 6 (5)
     Idaho 7 (2)
     Kansas 7 (5)

     Most Deadly Cities

     Chicago 46 total (10 fatal)
     Los Angeles 22 (14)
     Philadelphia 17 (7)
     Las Vegas 17 (15)
     New York City 16 (6)
     Phoenix 15 (10)
     Baltimore 15 (5)
     Columbus, OH 14 (8)
     Atlanta 12 (4)
     St. Louis 11 (3)
     Cleveland 10 (7)
     Miami 10 (6)
     Houston 10 (3)

     Least Deadly Cities

     Boston 1
     New Orleans 1 (1)
     Portland, ME 1
     Buffalo 2
     Detroit 2 (1)
     Seattle 2 (1)
     Denver 2 (2)
     Pittsburgh 3 (1)

     Cities with High Per Capita Shooting Rates

     Fresno, CA 9 total (4 fatal)
     Tucson, AZ 8 (6)
     Aurora, CO 7 (6)
     Oakland, CA 7 (6)
     San Jose, CA 7 (3)
     Albuquerque, NM 6 (5)
     Mesa, AZ 6 (2)
     Jacksonville, FL 5 (4)
     Syracuse, NY 5 (3)
     Orlando, FL 5 (2)
     N. Miami Beach, FL 5 (2)
     Little Rock, Ark. 5 (1)
     Yakima, WA 4 (1)
     Bakersfield, CA 4 (3)
     Long Beach, CA 4 (2)
     Garden Grove, CA 4 (3)
     Redding, CA 4 (2)

New York City

     In 1971, police officers in New York City shot 314 people, killing 93. (In California, the state with the most police involved shootings in 2011, the police shot 183, killing 102.) In 2010, New York City police shot 24, killing 8. Last year, in the nation's largest city, the police shot 16, killing 6. In Columbus, Ohio, a city one eighth the size of New York, the police shot 14, killing 8. Statistical diversities like this suggest that in the cities with the highest per capita shooting rates, better people ought to be hired, or the existing forces need a lot more training in the use of deadly force.


    

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

New Jersey Carjackers Murder Dustin Friedland at Shopping Mall

     On Sunday evening, December 15, 2013, 30-year-old Dustin Friedland and his wife Jamie finished shopping at the Mall at Short Hills, a fancy retail mecca ten miles west of Newark, New Jersey. Friedland and his 27-year-old wife had been married two years. After loading Christmas packages into their silver 2012 Range Rover on the mall's parking deck, the Hoboken lawyer opened the passenger door for his wife. At that moment two assailants confronted the holiday shoppers. One of the men pulled out a handgun and shot Mr. Friedland in the head at close range.

     After the shooting, the carjackers pulled Jamie Friedland out of the Range Rover and drove off in the SUV. They were followed by two other men in a green Chevrolet Suburban.

     Paramedics rushed Dustin Friedland to the Morristown Medical Center where he died a short time later.

     This senseless violence at the shopping mall shocked and frightened residents of this low-crime area of the state. While the nearby city of Newark, once called the "car theft capital of the world," was a crime-ridden place, the urban mayhem rarely spilled over to upscale Essex County suburbia. (In 2013 450 carjackings took place in and around Newark. Last year there were 422 of these violent crimes.)

     On Monday morning, December 16, police officers came across the Friedland's SUV abandoned behind a boarded-up house in south Newark. Two days later, in South Orange, a town not far from the Mall at Short Hills, police officers discovered an abandoned green Chevrolet Suburban registered to a woman in Newark. This vehicle matched the description of a car caught on a surveillance camera circling the mall's parking area shortly before the murder. The finding of the green Chevy broke the case wide open.

     Police officers, between nine o'clock on Friday night December 21 and three the next morning, arrested four men in connection with the Friedland carjacking murder. Officers arrested 29-year-old Hanif Thompson at his home in Irvington, New Jersey. In Newark, a SWAT team took Karif Ford, 31 and Kevin Roberts, 33, into custody. In the early morning hours of December 22, officers arrested 32-year-old Basim Henry at a Comfort Inn near Easton, Pennsylvania.

     An Essex County prosecutor charged each of the four suspects with murder, felony murder, carjacking, and several lesser offenses. The men were booked into the Essex Correctional Facility where they were each held on $2 million bail.

     The four men suspected of murdering Dustin Friedland in cold blood were not strangers to crime nor the criminal justice system. They were not out-of-control teenagers high on drugs, but seasoned adult criminals. Basim Henry had robbed a Union Township bank in November 2003. He pleaded guilty to the crime in 2006. In April of this year, Henry walked out of prison after a sympathetic judge reduced his 96-month prison sentence.

     Police arrested Karif Ford in 2012 after the 30-year-old led police officers on a three-mile, high-speed chase in a car Ford had stolen from a supermarket parking lot. In 2003 a jury found Ford guilty of burglary. The judge sentenced him to five years in prison.

     Hanif Thomspon, originally from eastern Pennsylvania, had moved to Irvington, New Jersey several years ago. Thompson had a record of narcotics and theft convictions. Kevin Roberts, although he had a criminal record, did not have the reputation of being a hardened, violent criminal.

     According to reports, the four murder suspects, shortly after their arrests, began snitching on each other in an effort to strike plea bargain deals for lighter sentences. (Each man probably admitted taking part in the carjacking but denied being the shooter.)

     The authorities have not recovered the murder weapon or revealed which man pulled the trigger. If convicted as charged, each suspect could be sentenced to life behind bars.

     

Criminal Justice Quote: The Guillotine: The Most Merciful Way to Go

If the laws are such that a person must die for the crimes he or she has committed, surely the most instantaneous and therefore the most merciful method is death by means of the guillotine. Execution by hanging is always open to doubt, the timespan between initial strangulation and final oblivion is not known. The sword and the axe allow too much leeway for the victim to flinch or the executioner to mis-aim. And even the multi-executioners of a firing squad cannot guarantee that at least one bullet will penetrate the heart. Most other methods are similarly flawed, whether they be by gas poisoning, electric chair or whatever. [Lethal drugs don't always get the job done properly either.] In other words, there is nothing so instantly final as a head severed by a machine.

Geoffrey Abbott, Lords of the Scaffold, 2001 

Writing Quote: Learning to Write on Your Own

Not too long ago, the concept of studying a "creative writing program" was unheard of. If you wanted to be a writer, then you became an avid reader and a citizen of the world, learning about life through travel and personal experience until you knew enough to write an essay, short story, or poem that said something. In college, you majored in English literature, philosophy, or history-areas of concentration that would introduce the best books and the most influential thinkers.

Lee Gutkind, The Art of Creative Nonfiction, 1997

Monday, December 23, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Calling the Cops on Disruptive School Kids

     There was a time when disruptive students were sent to see the principal. Today in some school districts, the disruptive student is handcuffed and ushered off to court. The school-to-prison pipeline is overflowing with students.

     Melodee Hanes, of the U. S. Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, describes the school-to-prison pipeline as "the pervasive use of court referrals as a means of discipling kids at school."

     According to the Washington Post, more than 3 million students each year are suspended or expelled from schools across the United States. Federal data, though limited, show that more than 240,000 students were referred to law enforcement.

     The school-to-prison pipeline is being fueled by "zero-tolerant" policies that accelerate the involvement of the criminal justice system in routine school disciplinary practices….The results, at times, have been ridiculous.

Matthew T. Mangino, GateHouse News Service, December 19, 2013. (See the link to mattmangino.com below.)  

Writing Quote: Finding a Topic

Learning how to write is hard enough, but deciding what to write about--isolating a marketable subject that is appealing to you--is the most difficult task a writer must confront. Find a subject that intrigues and motives you and that will simultaneously intrigue and motivate readers. The task is double-edged. Salable subjects are around us everywhere; on the other hand, they are astoundingly elusive.

Lee Gutkind, The Art of Creative Nonfiction, 1997

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: A Haven for Fall Down Artists

     Liability law generally holds that property owners must warn people about dangers and pitfalls that aren't readily noticeable. It does not, however, require property owners to line their stores and houses with pillows, guarding against every conceivable injury.

     The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals recently said otherwise. The plaintiff in the case was a man who walked with a cane and was accustomed to frequent tumbles. Yet he chose to descend a flight of stairs in a store parking lot, even though there were no guardrails. (The owner had removed the guardrails due to his concern that skateboarders who frequented them were going to break their necks, and was scheduled to have new rails installed in weeks.)

     The court ruled 3-2 that the owner was at fault for the man's injuries. Writing for the dissent, Justice Allen Loughry II wrote that the unfortunate decision would, "saddle property owners with the impossible burden of making their premises 'injury proof' for persons who either refuse or are inexplicably incapable of taking personal responsibility for their own safety." [Tort law needs to be reformed to bring back the concept of contributory negligence. This case is just another example of the deep-pockets doctrine at work.]

Robby Soave, The Daily Caller, December 18, 2013 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Industrial Revolution and the Birth of Poison

     In the early twentieth century industrial innovation flooded the United States with a wealth of modern poisons, creating new opportunities for the clever poisoner and new challenges for the country's early forensic detectives. Morphine went into teething medicines for infants; opium into routinely prescribed sedatives; arsenic was an ingredient in everything from pesticides to cosmetics. Mercury, cyanide, strychnine, chloral hydrate, chloroform, sulfates of iron, sugar of lead, carbolic acid, and more, the products of the new chemistry stocked the shelves of doctors' offices, businesses, homes, pharmacies, and grocery stores. During the Great War poison was established as a weapon of warfare, earning World War I the name "The Chemist's War." And with the onset of Prohibition a new Chemist's War raged between bootleggers and government chemists working to make moonshine a lethal concoction. In New York's smoky jazz clubs, each round of cocktails became a game of Russian roulette.

     There was no way for the barely invented science of toxicology to keep up with the deluge. Though a few dogged researchers were putting out manuals and compiling textbooks on the subject, too many novel compounds had yet to be analyzed and most doctors had little or no training in the subject.

Deborah Blum, The Poisoner's Handbook, 2010

Writing Quote: The Masterplot

There are stories that we tell over and over in myriad forms and that connect vitally with our deepest values, wishes, and fears. Cinderella is one of them. Its variants can be found frequently in European and American cultures. Its constituent events elaborate a thread of neglect, injustice, rebirth, and reward that responds to deeply held anxieties and desires. As such, the Cinderella masterplot has an enormous emotional capital that can be drawn on in constructing a narrative. But it is only one of many masterplots. We seem to connect our thinking about life, and particularly our own lives, to a number of masterplots that we may or may not be fully aware of. To the extent that our values and identity are linked to a masterplot, that masterplot can have strong rhetorical impact. We tend to give credibility to narratives that are structured by it. [True crime narratives often incorporate masterplots.]

H. Porter Abbott, The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, 2002

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Death Penalty Blues

Twenty years ago, use of the death penalty was increasing. Now it is declining by almost every measure. The recurrent problems of the death penalty have made its application rare, isolated, and often delayed for decades. More states will likely reconsider the wisdom of retaining this expensive and ineffectual practice. [In 2013 there were 39 executions. Since 1976, there have been 1,359.]

Richard Dieter as quoted by CNN reporter Bill Mears, December 19, 2013 

Criminal Justice Quote: A Harvard Sociologist on The Knockout Game

[Regarding the "Knockout Game"] this pattern of violence is sick and barbaric, and, for its victims, both senseless and tragic. Social scientists, and especially sociologists, have abandoned or underplayed the fundamental concepts of norms and values. [Good and evil if you will. Academics generally believe that crime is  mostly caused by poverty and social environment, particularly among minorities.]

Orlando Patterson as quoted in John Bennett's article published in The Daily Caller, December 18, 2013

Writing Quote: Stephen Koch on Clear Writing

     First drafts, even pretty good ones, can be excruciatingly hard for anyone but their authors to read….What is going on? Is John talking to Mary, or is he talking to Bill? Are we in Iowa or Guatemala? Nothing is so infuriating as not being understood, but if a reader of good basic intelligence does not know what you are talking about, you have a problem. Don't rationalize it by blaming the messenger for the message. Your reader is not stupid. You are not being understood, and it is your problem.

     Sadly, your first readers may be reluctant to tell you the truth about your lack of clarity. It is a fact that many readers (especially in a school) will go to great lengths to conceal their bafflement over a piece of prose they don't understand. Rather than run the risk of being thought dense or uncomprehending or philistine, all too many readers, including many who should know better--editors, teachers, workshop members--would rather skip over an obscurity than admit they just don't get it.

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop, 2003

Friday, December 20, 2013

Teenage Parents Accused of Giving Toddler Marijuana

     In late November 2013, someone called 911 to report that the parents of a two-year-old had helped, observed or encouraged their toddler to breathe smoke from a lighted bowl of marijuana. The alleged incident took placed in Mayfield, New York, an upstate town in Chatauqua County not far from Buffalo.

     On December 5, 2013, deputies with the Chatgauqua County Sheriff's Office arrested the parents and the grandfather of the weed-exposed child. George Kelsey, 18, Jessica Kelsey, 17, and 54-year-old Don Baker were booked into the Chataququa County Jail on charges of second-degree reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child. A magistrate set each of the suspect's bond at $20,000.

     The two-year-old victim has been placed into the care of a child protection agency pending the outcome of the case.

     If the endangerment charges prove true, these stupid, drug-addled parents should lose permanent custody of their child. Moreover, the judge should impose the maximum sentence on all three defendants.

     In a nation of potheads, kids under twelve are the only sober citizens left. How long will that last? 

Criminal Justice Quote: The LAPD Wants You!

     Less than a year after reaching its long-sought goal of 10,000 officers, the Los Angeles Police Department is now seeing a steady decline in its ranks as the city struggles to find enough qualified candidates. Fewer people are applying to join the LAPD and, of those who do, a significantly higher number of them are being disqualified from consideration. Officials say budget cuts have slashed advertising used to draw recruits while other departments are luring top talent with higher salaries than the LAPD offers. Since the decline began several months ago, the LAPD is down more than 100 officers. The department needs to hire about 350 officers a year to make up for normal attrition, and officials say they could remain understaffed for years if the current trend holds….

     Also, the number of women and blacks--and especially black women--making it into the training academy has dropped considerably. The leaves the department far short of diversity goals in recent academy classes….None of the 30 rookies who recently graduated from the academy, for example, were black and only five were women….

     Although the LAPD has the advantage of a strong reputation, some other agencies pay significantly higher starting salaries….The base starting pay for an LAPD recruit is $48,462….

     Many of the applicants are being eliminated because of their responses to 173 questions about past drug use, run-ins with the law, financial problems and other potential character flaws….[Many of them are either too fat for the job, functionally illiterate, or mentally unstable.]

Joel Rubin, "With Fewer Qualified Recruits, LAPD Sees Decline in Ranks," The Los Angeles Times, December 3, 2013 

Criminal Justice Quote: Declining Law School Enrollments

     According to the American Bar Association, the number of first-year law students dropped 11 percent in 2013 across the 202 U.S. law schools that the organization recognizes. This year only 39,675 full or part-time students decided to enroll in law school which is 5,000 fewer than last year and only one shy of the total first-year enrollees in 1977--when there were only 165 ABA accredited schools….

     Many law schools can cost more than $50,000 a year. In a three-year program, a graduate who relied on student loans to get through school could wind up being in debt up to $150.000…Some law schools have lowered tuition, others have reduced admission standards, and a few have lowered class sizes in order to maintain the caliber of its students and preserve its ranking. [This means that the lower tier law schools are producing even more incompetent practitioners.]

Breanna Deutsch, The Daily Caller, December 18, 2013  

Writing Quote: Writing Your Memoir

     A memoir takes a certain amount of arrogance to write….One must think one's life is important or interesting enough to palm off on an unsuspecting public. At least fiction writers have the pretense that their work has more to do with their characters than with themselves. Still, I doubt you'd find much of a difference between a memoir writer and a fiction writer in the humility department.

     Or maybe memoir writers tend more toward exhibitionism, are more willing--eager, in fact--to slap their cards on the table and squawk, "Read 'em and weep." The fiction writer, cagier, plays his hand close to his vest, pretends he knows how to bluff.

     If you write your life down on the page, beginning with "I was born in…" and ending with, "As I pen these immortal words, I gasp my last breath," what you've probably got is a self-indulgent autobiography, not a memoir. A memoir usually deals with a portion of one's life--say, childhood--not the life in its entirety.

Robin Hemley, Turning Life Into Fiction, 1994

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: NSA Spying and the Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment typically require's "a neutral and detached authority be interposed between the police and public," and it is offended by "general warrants" and laws that allow searches to be conducted "indiscriminately" and without regard to their connections with a crime under investigation. I cannot imagine a more "indiscriminate" and arbitrary invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely such a program infringes on "that degree of privacy" that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.

U. S. District Court Judge Richard Leon, December 16, 2013 

Criminal Justice Quote: Mega Millions Lottery Suckers

     [In state mega millions lotteries], the incredibly remote odds [250 million to one] don't really sink in for people. They don't really understand probabilities at all. Once you have a bunch of zeroes, it doesn't matter how many you have--one in 10,000, one in a million or one in a billion….

     When people are desperately sick, there's always a part of the brain that thinks there will be a miracle cure. It you want something to be true, your brain is awfully good at figuring out reasons, magical ones, that there's a good likelihood that it is true. The desire to win does drive a certain kind of frenzied optimism.

Professor George Loewenstein as quoted in an Associated Press article by Sharon Cohen, December 17, 2013


Writing Quote: Creative Nonfiction Versus Reportage

Creative nonfiction differs from fiction because it is necessarily and scrupulously accurate….Creative nonfiction differs from traditional reportage because balance is unnecessary and subjectivity is not only permitted but encouraged.

Lee Gutkind, The Art of Creative Nonfiction, 1997

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Resa Cooper-Morning: Phone Sex at the University of Colorado

     Over the past ten years, Resa Cooper-Morning, a cultural diversity coordinator in the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Colorado at Denver, has been living a double life. Employed by the university since 1992, Resa, in 2003, began supplementing her $68,000-a-year salary by charging phone sex callers $1.49 a minute for her pornographic talk.

     Cooper-Morning advertised her services through her website, msresa.com. The site also offered soft core videos of the university administrator with titles such as "Stripping Before the Camera," and "Erotica in Pink." The site included a link to her phone sex service that promised to "rock every part of your body." Internet viewers could also purchase memberships to Cooper-Morning's virtual world.

     Internet visitors desiring sexy phone talk were encouraged to call Resa between seven in the morning and "late at night", Monday through Friday. This made her available to sex callers Monday through Friday, 7 AM to 3PM, her university working hours. This meant the 54-year-old was talking dirty for money on university's time. (I guess you could argue that a lot of employees talk dirty on company time. The only difference here is that Cooper-Morning did it for money.)

     Big wigs at the University of Colorado were informed of Cooper-Morning's clandestine business by a producer with the local CBS-TV affiliate working on a segment about Cooper-Morning's erotic website. The show was scheduled to air on December 12, 3003. Shortly after the notification, the diversity coordinator found herself on paid administrative leave.

     Blair Cooper, Resa's daughter-in-law, appeared in the CBS-produced segment that aired as scheduled. According to Cooper, "she [Resa] was taking calls at work. I've been in her office and she's said, 'oh, let me be right back, I have a phone call.' She takes them very discreetly, shuts her door and takes phone calls on Colorado University of Denver's pay."

     The allegations against Resa are currently under investigation by school officials. If the website/phone sex accusations prove true, Resa Cooper-Morning could lose her job. If other university employees knew about her office hours porno business, and covered it up, these folks could get the axe as well. It is highly unlikely, however, that Resa will face criminal charges for defrauding Colorado taxpayers. Compared to what local politicians steal, she is small potatoes.   

Writing Quote: Literary License in Creative Nonfiction

     The term literary license is often used in reference to writers who manipulate truth and accuracy in stories--what really happened--to enhance dramatic impact and, therefore, to make a story more readable or exciting.

     Creative nonfiction writers, however, are permitted a different form of literary license: to use the literary devices previously and exclusively available to the fiction writer in the writing of their true and accurate creative nonfiction stories. In other words, nonfiction writers cannot alter the facts, but they can capture and present them much more dramatically.

Lee Gutkind, The Art of Creative Nonfiction, 1997

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Robin Hood Fantasy

People secretly applaud those who do not play by the rules. It's a vital fantasy among the law-abiding bourgeois. Whenever there is an economic dislocation, theft arises. We often fall in love with the little thief if there is a big one at work. The analogs of the robber barons and their rapacious greed are the small-time thieves in the underworld. [Don't forget about the biggest thief of all--the U.S. government.]

Stephen Mihm, A Nation of Counterfeiters, 2008

Criminal Justice Quote: The Rise of Shoplifting and the War to Stop It

     Shoplifting came of age in America in 1995, when the FBI reported that it had jumped 93 percent in the previous five years and was "the nation's fasted-growing form of larceny." The crime was part of President Johnson's Commission on Law Enforcement; his "Special Message to Congress on Crime and Law Enforcement in the U. S." It marked the first time a president ever mentioned shoplifting. The shoplifting spike also inspired three men in different parts of the country to launch the modern anti-shoplifting technology industry, which in the past half century has claimed multibillion dollar profits, evoking both rags-to-riches tales and a morality play about the costs of trying to suppress the crime.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011


Memo to Earl Woods, Jr.: Bomb Threats Aren't Funny

     Earl Dennison Woods, Jr., the 58-year-old half-brother of Tiger Woods, the world famous professional golfer, worked for the Department of Economic Security, a state agency headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona that provides social services for needy children, the elderly, and the disabled.

     In an April 2012 interview with a TV correspondent with ESPN, Earl Woods said that Tiger hadn't spoken to any of his half-siblings since their father, Earl Woods, Sr. died in 2006. According to the ESPN report, Earl said, "I'd like to slap Tiger, wake him up. I'd like to say, 'Don't come knocking on the door when you need a bone-marrow transplant.' " Earl Woods said he was upset with Tiger for not helping his half-brother Kevin who suffers from multiple sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair. "Maybe when you see the world like he does you don't see what other people are going through. But, seriously? You're got problems with you knee? That's nothing compared to what Kevin is going through. Nothing."

     As reported in Golf Digest, Tiger Wood is close to Earl Jr.'s daughter Cheyenne who turned pro last year on the European Ladies' Golf Tour.

     At eight-thirty in the morning of Friday, December 13, someone called the front desk at the Department of Economic Security headquarters and reported that a bomb had been planted in the building that would blow the place up. As 100 DES employees filed out of the structure, police officers and firefighters searched the premises for a bomb. Before the emergency responders completed their sweep, Earl Woods informed a supervisor that he was the one who had called in the bomb threat. He said he did it as a joke, a prank.

     After repeating his admission to detectives, the officers placed Mr. Woods under arrest. Shortly thereafter the apologetic bomb hoaxer was booked into the Maricopa County Jail on the misdemeanor charge of using an "electronic device (a telephone) to terrify, intimidate, threaten or harass others."

     According to Earl Woods, he was surprised that people took his joke so seriously. Really? On the theory that Mr. Woods is not a stupid man who must have foreseen the consequences of his "joke," one has to suspect that behind his bomb threat lies a motive that is pathological or associated someway with drugs or alcohol. Otherwise, this crime makes no sense whatsoever.  

Criminal Justice Quote: Fatal Falls: Accident or Murder?

High on the list of scenarios for the perfect murder is death by falling from a high place. "Did he fall or was he pushed?" is no joke. Some of the most difficult crime investigations have centered on incidents on mountaintops. When two people are in a high, dangerous place, there are no witnesses on a bleak windswept mountain and not a CCTV camera for miles around. If someone falls to his or  her death, who is to know if it was a slip made by perhaps an inexperienced mountaineer or the fatal plunge after a gentile nudge by an enemy?

Les Brown and Robert Jeffery, Real Hard Cases, 2006

Criminal Justice Quote: What Are Rampage School Shootings?

     What exactly is a rampage school shooting? Rampage school shootings occur when students or former students attack their own schools. The attacks are public acts, committed in full view of others. In addition, although some people might be shot because the shooters held grudges against them, others are shot randomly or as symbols of the school (such as a principal.)

     Rampage school shootings do not include two people having a fight that results in one shooting the other.

Dr. Peter Langman, Why Kids Kill, 2009

Writing Quote: Writing Paragraphs

     Keep you paragraphs short. Writing is visual--it catches the eye before it has a chance to catch the brain. Short paragraphs put air around what you write and make it look inviting, whereas a long chunk of type can discourage a reader from even starting to read.

     Newspaper paragraphs should be only two or three sentences long; newspaper type is set in narrow width, and the inches quickly add up. You may think such frequent paragraphing will damage the development of your point….Don't worry; the gains [of short paragraphs] outweigh the hazards. [I'm not a fan of the extremely short paragraphing you get in newspaper writing. I find it disjointed and annoying, particularly when reading online.]

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, originally published in 1976 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Kleptomania

Shoplifting is…misunderstood because the line between crime and disease has blurred. Although most estimates put the number of kleptomaniacs among shoplifters at between 0 and 8 percent, some experts believe that the disease is far more prevalent. Others contend that so-called shoplifting addiction has replaced kleptomania altogether. [How about greed replacing both of them?]

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011

Criminal Justice Quote: Beheading as a Status Symbol

Death by decapitation was the method of execution granted to the nobility of many countries, for it was considered to be an honorable way in which to be dispatched. Common criminals were hanged, drowned, burned or otherwise disposed of, but royalty and the aristocracy were given the privilege of dying by an edged weapon, as in battle.

Geoffrey Abbott, Lords of the Scaffold, 1991

Writing Quote: Scenes as the Building Blocks of Creative Nonfiction

     Scenes (vignettes, episodes, slices of reality, and so forth) are the building blocks of creative nonfiction--the primary factor that separates and defines literary and/or creative nonfiction from traditional journalism and ordinary lifeless prose.

     The uninspired writer will tell the reader about a subject place, or personality but the creative nonfiction writer will show that subject, place, or personality in action.

Lee Gutkind, The Art of Creative Nonfiction, 1997

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Another Hazing Death: Chen Deng

     Over the past five years there have been 16 hazing deaths at U. S. colleges and universities. Victims of these unintentional, senseless killings were members of fraternities, school bands, or sports teams that had long histories of putting new members through right-of-passage rituals. These young people died because they desperately wanted to belong. Despite the efforts of university administrators and others to break this tradition, hazing will continue and students will die as a result.

     Chen Hsien Deng, a 19-year-old freshman finance major at Baruch College in Manhattan, New York, joined the Pi Delta Psi fraternity. According to its published profile, this fraternal organization is an Asian-American group with a mission to "spread Asian-Amerian cultural awareness." Founded in 1994, the organization has chapters in twenty states and the District or Columbia.

     On Friday, December 6, 2013, thirty members of Pi Delta Psi left New York City en route to the Poconos Mountain region in northeastern Pennsylvania. Chen Deng was one of four fraternity pledges participating in the weekend getaway. The group had rented a house in Tunkhannock Township in Monroe County.

     On Sunday, December 8, 2013, at eight-fifteen in the morning, three of Deng's fraternity brothers drove him to the Geisinger Wyoming Valley Hospital emergency room in Danville, Pennsylvania. Doctors found the freshman unresponsive and immediately placed him on life support. Twenty-four hours later, Chen Deng died.

     Two days later, a spokesperson for the Luzerne County Coroner's Office announced that Chen Deng had died from "closed head injuries due to blunt force trauma."

     Investigators with the Poconos Mountain Regional Police Department, when they searched the rented house in Tunkhannock Township, found marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

      At the hospital, detectives spoke to Sheldon Wong, the fraternity's "pledge educator." Wong said that Deng had injured his head when he fell backward in the snow while wrestling another fraternity brother. Charles Lai, another member of the fraternity told a different story. According to Lai, Deng had died during a hazing ritual called "The Gauntlet." In this initiation game, a blindfolded pledge is repeatedly tackled as he runs a gauntlet of fraternity brothers while carrying a backpack full of sand. After Deng was knocked unconscious in the snow outside the rented house, fraternity brothers carried him into the dwelling.

     Before driving Deng to the hospital, fraternity members removed and replaced his wet clothing. Next, someone made an Internet search regarding the unconscious pledge's symptoms. The Internet inquiry also included determining the location of the nearest hospital. An hour after Deng collapsed in the snow, the three Pi Delta Psi fraternity brothers drove him to the emergency room in Danville.

     At the hospital, one of the fraternity brothers called the rented house in Tunkhannock and instructed someone there to dispose of all fraternity memorabilia as well as anything else that would reveal what had happened to the dead pledge.

     If detectives determine that the delay in Deng's medial treatment contributed to his death, or that drugs were involved, the fraternity brothers responsible the delay and the drugs will be charged with some form of criminal homicide. Moreover, Pi Delta Psi brothers might be charged with evidence tampering and evidence destruction.

     

Criminal Justice Quote: The Knockout Game: A Cultural Cycle of Violence

     When violence is culture; then it's a cultural problem. Throw together large amounts of fatherless teenagers with no real goal in life except, briefly to become NBA stars or rappers boasting about selling rock, and the knockout game is inevitable.

     Some of the knockouters will drift back and forth out of prison, heading back to the old neighborhood to hang out with the old gang, catch a meal and a nap at their mother's house, before urging their friends to go out looking for trouble….

     Catch them two decades down the road and they'll talk about how they almost wound up going down a bad path before they turned their lives around and they'll have stories of their friends who went from mugging to dealing to shooting. But often these same men, now amiable and wise, shaking their heads at their past selves, will have left behind a trail of fatherless kids who are repeating the process all over again.

David Greenfield, "Civilization and the Knockout Game," Frontpagemag.com, December 4, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Norman Mailer as a Bleeding-Heart, Sob-Sister

The fundamental premise of incarceration…demonstrates to us, over and over, is that prison is equipped to grind down criminals who are cowards into social submission, but can only break the spirit of brave men who are criminals, or anneal them until they are harder that the steel that encloses them. [Brave men? Brave men do not mug old people, rape women or murder their girlfriends and wives. Only a hopeless romantic would associate criminality with courage.] If you can conceive of a society…that is more concerned with the threat they pose to the suburbs, then a few solutions for future prisons may be there….No system of punishment that asks a brave human being to surrender his or her bravery can ever work for the common good. It violates the universal stuff of the soul out of which great civilizations are built.

Norman Mailer, Introduction to Jack Abbott's In The Belly of the Beast, 1981 [Not long after Mailer and other bleeding-heart types lobbied corrections authorities to release Jack Abbott from prison, this career violent criminal stabbed a waiter to death. How brave was that?] 

Writing Quote: The Fear of Failure

I believe that the writer who can't figure out what form to write in or what to write is stalling for a reason. Perhaps he is dancing around a subject because he is not ready to handle it psychologically or emotionally. Perhaps he is unable to pursue a project because doing so would upset his world too much, or the people in it. Maybe not writing, maybe being driven crazy by the desire to write and the inability to follow through, is serving some greater goal, keeping some greater fear at bay. Fear of failure is the reason most often cited to explain why so many aspiring writers never realize their dreams.

Betsy Lerner, The Forest For The Trees, 2000

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Fairy Tales: True Crime for Kids

     The children are safely tucked in bed; a light breeze blows in through the window; Mom hushes them and begins to tell a sweet tale of children being abandoned in the woods, lured to a witch's cottage, there to be fattened and roasted in an oven. Medium-rare.

     Critics have long complained about the violent content of some of the classic fairy tales we read to our children. However, what few of these critics realize is that we are reading watered down versions of the fairy tales, and that the originals were far more graphic and brutal.

     Sleeping beauty was not first awakened by a kiss; in the 1636 Italian version of the tale--the first known written version--she was raped by a man who rode off the next morning without leaving even a Dear Sleeping Beauty note. Her "morning after" came nine months later when she awoke to find herself the proud mother of twins.

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997 

Writing Quote: Two of B. R. Myers' Rules for "Serious" Novelists

1. Be Writerly

Read aloud what you have written. If it sounds clear and natural, strike it out.

2. Play the Part

Take yourself seriously. Practice before the mirror until you can say things like this with a straight face:

"It's because I want every little surface to shimmer and gyrate that I haven't patience for those lax transitional devices of plot, setting, character, and so on, that characterize a lot of traditional fiction."
(Mark Leyner)

B. R. Myers, A Reader's Manifesto, 2002

Criminal Justice Quote: Declining Rate of Gun Violence in U. S.

School violence is decreasing, just as the general crime rate has decreased steadily over the past 20 years. With the focus by the news media and public on crime, particularly gun crimes, the public is largely unaware that the gun homicide rate is down 49 percent from its peak in 1993. Most of the public believes incorrectly that gun crime is higher than two decades ago.

Bill Dedman, "Newtown Anniversary: Daily Drumbeat of Child Homicides Gets Little Notice," NBC News, December 12, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Homicide by Gun in U. S.

The high-profile tragedies that glue us to the TV screen are a very small part of the overall [homicide] problem, and they're not representative of it. If you take Sandy Hook and the Oak Creek Sikh temple shooting and Aurora and Virginia Tech and Columbine, 95 people were killed in those shootings. And each of those deaths is horrific. But we lose on average 88 per day to firearm violence.

Professor Garen Wintemute as quoted in an article by NBC News reporter Bill Dedman, December 12, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Cost of Shoplifting

Shoplifting incurs remarkable real-life costs for retailers and consumers. The "crime tax"--the amount every American family loses to shoplifting-related price inflation--is more than $400 a year. [This does not include the cost of retail security to combat it.] Shoplifting cost American retailers $11.7 billion in 2009. The theft of one $5 item from Whole Foods can require sales of hundreds of dollars to break even.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2009

Writing Quote: Stephen Koch on Style

     Style is the relationship between writer and reader, and it is the vehicle through which you say whatever you have to say. It is the way you get your story told, and therefore consists of all your language and the whole manner you bring to its use. Style is always much more than decor or ornament, and it is always more than the way you dress up your story. It is the complete sound of what you write….

     Writers often talk about "finding their voice," and that is indeed just what it feels like. In fact, most writers have to "find their voice" many times over, since each new project, with its changed subject and set of demands, will call for some change in manner and inflection.

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop, 2003

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Executioners Got No Respect

Accounts of criminal trials published in old books and documents generally go into much deatil of the court proceedings. The judge's name, the lawyers' speeches, evidence given by the witnesses, even the prisoners' protestations, are covered in full. And when executions were held in public, news sheets described each one minutely, dwelling avidly on the victims's behavior, the crowd's reactions. Yet little if anything was said about the official presiding over the dreaded finale. He was referred to only as the "executioner," thereby implying that he was unworthy of further identification, except as an object of scorn.

Geoffrey Abbott, Lords of the Scaffold, 1991

Writing Quote: Science Writing

Science writing has a reputation for bloodlessness, but in many ways it is the most human of disciplines. Science, after all, is a quest, and as such it's one of the oldest and most enduring stories we have. It's about searching for answers, struggling with setbacks, persevering through tedium and competing with colleagues all eager to put forth their own ideas about how the world works. Perhaps most of all, it's about women and men possessed by curiosity, people who devote their lives to pursuits the rest of us find mystifying or terrifying--chasing viruses, finding undiscovered planets, dusting off dinosaurs or teasing venomous snakes.

Michelle Nijhuis, "The Science and Art of Science Writing," The New York Times, December 9, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Whackadamia Quote: Campus Political Correctness and Phony Outrage

Students are ill-served by the culture of the modern college campus which stifles free-thinking in order to protect students from damaging each other's feelings in even the most trivial ways. It's not just that students are offended much too easily, it's almost as if they want a chance to grandstand or win an argument even if the justification for their offendedness makes absolutely no sense.

Greg Lukianoff, Unlearning Liberty, 2013 

Criminal Justice Quote: Who Do You Trust?

     An AP-GfK poll conducted last month [October 2013] found that Americans are suspicious of each other in everyday encounters. Less than one-third expressed a lot of trust in clerks who swipe their credit cards, drivers on the road, or people they meet when traveling….

     What's known as "social trust" brings good things. A society where it's easier to compromise or make a deal. Where people are willing to work with those who are different from them for the common good. Where trust appears to promote economic growth.

     Distrust, on the other hand, seems to encourage corruption. At the least, it diverts energy to counting change, drawing up 100-page legal contracts and building gated communities….

     People do get a little more trusting as they age. [Perhaps that's why so many old people are victimized by swindlers.] But beginning with the baby boomers, each generation has started off adulthood less trusting that those who came before them….

     There's no single explanation for Americans' loss of trust. The best-known analysis comes from Bowling Alone, author Robert Putnam's nearly two decades of studying the United States' declining "social capital," including trust. Putnam says Americans have abandoned their bowling leagues and Elks lodges to stay home and watch TV. Less socializing and fewer community meetings makes people less trustful than the "civic generation" that came of age during the Depression and World War II….

      Crime rates fell in the 1990s and 2000s, and still Americans grow less trusting. Many social scientists blame 24-hour news coverage of distant violence for skewing people's perceptions of crime.

Connie Cass, "Poll: Americans Don't Trust Each Other," Associated Press, November 30, 2013 

Writing Quote: Self Censorship

Renowned editor and author Gordon Lish, in his famous writing class used to shock the assembled company by asking whether we were waiting for our parents to die before writing something worth reading. Some students were offended by this suggestion, but I felt it made a great deal of sense. [Today, the writing teacher's comment might get some students thinking about hiring a hit man. Just kidding, I think.] Writers tend to censor themselves for fear of what other people think, especially those at home.

Betsy Lerner, The Forest For the Trees, 2000

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Execution by Rope

For centuries, disposing of criminals by hanging them was the standard method in England and indeed in many other countries, for lengths of rope were cheap and although the gallows had to be built high, those were the only overheads. In the early days all that was needed was a hurdle [A portable frame made of interlaced twigs used as a sled on which prisoners in England were drawn through the streets to execution.], a rope over a beam and a ladder; and of course, the dominating personality, the Lord of the Scaffold, with an assistant. After being dragged on the hurdle from prison to execution site, the victim climbed the ladder for the noose to be secured, and then the ladder was twisted, "turning off" the felon and leaving his feet kicking in the empty air.

Geoffrey Abbott, Lords of the Scaffold, 1991

Writing Quote: Norman Mailer on Responding to Letters

     An author [who is well-known] will receive as many as several hundred letters a year from strangers. Usually they want something: will you read their works, or listen to a life-story and write it.

     There are happy paradoxes to being successful as a writer. For one thing, you don't have much opportunity to read good books (it's too demoralizing when you're at sea on your own work) and you also come to dread letter-writting. Perhaps ten times a year, a couple of days are lost catching up on mail, and there's little pleasure in it. You are spending time that could have been given to more dedicated writing, and there are so many letters to answer! Few writers encourage correspondents. My reply to a good, thoughtful, even generous communication from someone I do not know is often short and apologetic.

Norman Mailer, Introduction to Jack Henry Abbott's In The Belly of the Beast, 1981



     

Monday, December 9, 2013

New York City Police Shoot Two Bystanders

     On September 14, 2013, a mentally ill man from Brooklyn, New York named Glenn Broadnax created a disturbance at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue near Times Square in Manhattan. The 250-pound 35-year-old disrupted traffic by putting himself in the path of passing vehicles. Broadnax escalated his public disturbance when he resisted attempts by officers to pull him out of harms way. During the encounter, Broadnax reached into his pants pocket for his wallet. Fearing that he was going for a gun, two police officers shot at the mentally disturbed and distraught citizen. The bullets missed Mr. Broadnax but wounded two female pedestrians. As it turned out, Mr. Broadnax was reaching for his wallet. He was unarmed. A police sergeant, not wanting to fire his gun in a place crowded with people, subdued the subject with a Taser.

     At Bellevue Hospital Center where he was taken for psychiatric observation, Mr. Broadnax told a detective that he had been "talking to dead relatives in his head." The obviously mentally ill man said that by putting himself into the path of moving vehicles he was trying to kill himself.

     As the authorities booked Mr. Broadnax into jail on the misdemeanor charges of menacing, drug possession, and resisting arrest, the two officers who shot at him were placed on administrative duty pending an internal inquiry. The women who had been shot were treated for their gunshot wounds at a nearby hospital. They were both expected to survive.

     A Manhattan prosecutor, perhaps worried about the public relations ramifications of this police involved shooting, decided to upgrade the charges against Mr. Broadnax. Pursuant to the truism that a prosecutor has the power and discretion to indict a ham sandwich, the assistant district attorney talked a Manhattan grand jury into indicting the mentally ill man, in relation to the two wounded women, with felony assault. Mr. Broadnax, according to the wording of his indictment, had recklessly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death." Further, "the defendant was the one who created the situation that injured the innocent bystanders." If convicted of the assault, Mr. Broadnax faced a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.

     The Broadnax grand jury, instead of looking into the actions of an unarmed, mentally unstable man trying to kill himself, should have been contemplating the conduct of the two hair-trigger police officers who fired into a crowd. The "risk of death" in this case had been created by the police.

     On January 8, 2014, Sahar Khoshakhlagh, one of the women who took a police bullet, wrote an open letter about the incident to New York mayor de Blasio. She called for better police training in the handling of mentally ill people. Officers should not, she wrote, shoot at people "indiscriminately." The 38-year-old Iranian-born mental health care worker said the following about Mr. Broadnax: "This man could possibly go to jail. That weighed heavily on my conscience. He didn't do anything to me. He needs help."

     The Broadnax case illustrates a major shift in priority over the past thirty years in American law enforcement. During an earlier era, a time when crime rates were much higher, citizen safety came first, officer safety second. Today, in our highly militarized policing, the cop/warrior's safety is priority. Citizens suspected of crimes are treated as enemy combatants rather than people merely under suspicion. Moreover, police officers now presume that everyone is armed and dangerous. One furtive move and a person will be shot.

     

Criminal Justice Quote: Married to a Mobster

I look back and I realize that in the end I got everything I dreamed about having when I was still living with my parents in Bensonhurst [New York City] and longing for escape. I married a handsome man, we became wealthy [on other people's blood and money], we had children, they went to private schools, we lived in a nice big house. So I got everything I always wanted. Some people might say I got everything I deserved. What do they know?

Lynda Milito, widow of slain Gambino soldier Liborio "Louie" Milito in Jerry Capeci, Wiseguys Say the Darndest Things, 20004


Criminal Justice Quote: The Real Threat to Civil Liberty

An important tenet of civil liberties is that the greatest danger to liberty comes from the powerful state. The greatest disasters throughout history have been inflicted by states. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Stalinist murders, the Holocaust, the Cambodian genocide--all were inflicted by governments. Hence, the focus of civil libertarian concerns has always been on the abuse of power by state actors.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

Writing Quote: Stephen Koch on What is Literary Talent

What is literary talent? A nimble fluency. A way with words. An imagination that's easily aroused, quick to see, to hear, and to feel. An ear for the music of the language and a tendency to become absorbed in the mysterious movements of its significance and sound. A sense of audience. Skill at organizing verbal concepts solidly, effectively, and fairly swiftly. An aptitude for catching the elusive forms and figures of a vivid imagination and a knack for pinning them down on a page.

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop, 2003

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Executions: The Thrill is Gone

     During the late Middle Ages (1000-1500), executions took place in the marketplace or in the village square, but by then they had become more formal, dignified, even ceremonial undertakings. Procedures were more elaborate; rage was blunted by formalities. For the grievous offenders of this time--a category including heretics--executions were elaborate highly planned exhibitions orchestrated by high officials. Rage was absent altogether in these pageants, but other strong emotions reigned. Most notably, there was excitement and awe, especially before the might and majesty of the Inquisition.

     Executions marked by a restrained ceremony were the norm during the early modern period (1500-1800). Crowds of spectators might have lapsed into unseemly behavior, but such behavior was sharply at odds with the formal execution script. These executions featured ritual and etiquette, as in the late Middle Ages, but little pomp or circumstance. Milder feelings, such as those of devotion were given an outlet in ceremony; excitement or awe was deemed inappropriately expressive. Officials and spectators were instead expected to show a quiet reverence, tinged by sadness.

     In the modern period (from 1800 on), ceremony gradually gave way to bureaucratic procedure played out behind prison walls, in isolation from the community. Feelings are absent, or at least suppressed, in bureaucratically administered executions. With bureaucratic procedure, there is a functional routine dominated by hierarchy and task. Officials perform mechanically before a small, silent gathering of authorized witnesses who behave with marked restraint. Executions have come to be seen as "dirty work." Hence, there is no communal involvement of any sort. The proceedings are antiseptically arranged; few of us get our hands soiled.

Robert Johnson, Death Work, Second Edition, 1998 

Writing Quote: Lapdog Journalism

I think the principal problem with the establishment press, at least in terms of political journalism, has been excess deference to, and closeness with, the most powerful political factions, precincts over which journalism is, at its best, supposed to exercise oversight and serve as a watchdog. Instead it serves as a kind of amplifying mechanism and as a servant to them.

Glenn Greenwald [The Guardian journalist who published surveillance stories leaked by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden.] Quoted in The Daily Caller, December 7, 2013 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Great Brink's Robbery

     The smart thief learned early on that the money in banks had to come from somewhere, which meant that someone or some company was transporting it. This task, at least in the middle of the twentieth century, was primarily handled by the Brink's Armored Car Company.

     The Brink's company has, since its inception, been involved with the banking business. It specializes in transporting money from one location to another--a point which has not gone unnoticed by bank robbers and holdup men. At one time or another everyone has envisioned the big bag full of money falling off the back of a Brink's truck. Often this money is completely untraceable; it's either new money going to a bank or old money going to a federal reserve depository to be destroyed. One can safely assume that wherever there is a Brink's armored car on the move, money is inside….Today there are hundreds of armored car companies all over the nation.

     The first Brink's robbery took place in Boston on January 17, 1950. The crime, pulled off by minor miscreants, nettled the robbers $2.7 million in cash and securities. Although these robbers should have fallen into the amateur classification, they did case the job very well. They even went so far as to gain entrance to the Brink's building by accessing the security company's office, and taking a close look at the system which protected the fortified building….

     Eight men were finally convicted of the crime and given life sentences. The three surviving members of the gang were released from prison in 1980.

L. R. Kirchner, Robbing Banks, 2003

Criminal Justice Quote: The Knockout Game: A New Wave of Violence?

[The series of knockout assaults] could become the start of a crime trend because the attacks have a social media component that could go viral. As experience shows, other kids will see this and it becomes group think. The trend has not become an epidemic.

Will Marling, National Organization for Victim Assistance as quoted in USA Today, November 24, 2013 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Loose Lips Sink Wiseguys

You know, sometimes I lose my temper, and I say, "Gee I wish somebody would bump that guy off," and then one of these young punks who wants to make a name for himself goes ahead and does it. And then I have to pick up the pieces.

Al Capone in Jerry Capeci, Wiseguy's Say the Darndest Things, 2004

Writing Quote: Science and Technical Writing

     Take a class of writing students in a liberal arts college and assign them to write about some aspect of science, and a pitiful moan will go around the room. "No! Not science!" the moan says. The students have a common affliction: fear of science. They were told at an early age by a chemistry or a physics teacher that they don't have "a head for science."

     Take an adult chemist or physicist or engineer and ask him or her to write a report, and you'll see something close to panic. "No! Don't make us write!" they say. They also have a common affliction: fear of writing. They were told at an early age by an English teacher that they don't have "a gift or words."

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, originally published in 1976 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Writing Quote: Character Identification

If it is true that no two writers get aesthetic interest from exactly the same materials, yet true that all writers, given adequate technique, can stir interest in their special subject matter--since all human beings have the same root experience (we're born, we suffer, we die, to put it grimly), so that all we need for our sympathy to be roused is that the writer communicate with power and conviction the similarities in his characters' experience and our own--then it must follow that the first business of the writer must be to make us see and feel vividly what his characters see and feel. However odd, however wildly unfamiliar the fictional world--odd as hog-farming to a fourth-generation Parisian designer, or Wall Street to an unemployed tuba player--we must be drawn into the characters' world as if we were born to it.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, originally published in 1983 

Criminal Justice Quote: "Linkage Blindness" in Serial Killer Investigations

     Law enforcement investigators do not see, are prevented from seeing, or make little attempt to see beyond their own jurisdictional responsibilities. The law enforcement officer's responsibility stops at the boundary of his or her jurisdiction. The exception is generally only when hot pursuit is necessary. The vary nature of local law enforcement in this country and a police department's accountability and responsiveness to its jurisdictional clients isolates the department from the outside world.

     The National Crime Information Center [NCIC] provides officers with access to other agencies indirectly, to obtain information on wanted persons and stolen property. However, the sharing of information on unsolved crimes and investigative leads is not a function of this extensive nationwide information system. Reciprocal relationships between homicide investigators are at best informal and usually within a relatively limited geographical areas.

     Linkage blindness exemplifies the major weakness of our structural defenses against crime and our ability to control it. Simply stated, the exchange of investigative information among police departments in this country is, at best, very poor. Linkage blindness is the nearly total lack of sharing or coordinating of investigative information and the lack of adequate networking by law enforcement agencies. This lack of sharing or networking is prevalent today with law enforcement officers and their agencies. Thus linkages are rarely established among geographic area of the country between similar crime patterns or modus operandi. Such a condition directly inhibits an early warning or detection system of the serial murderer preying on multiple victims. [Today there is a national databank designed to help in the identification and investigation of serial murder. But many police departments don't bother contributing information to the computerized repository. Moreover, within federal law enforcement, there is still little coordination and cooperation between agencies.]

Steven A. Egger, The Killers Among Us, 1996

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Amish Family Disappears After Parents Lose Right to Determine Daughter's Medical Fate

     In Ohio, doctors at Akron Children's Hospital, in April 2013, diagnosed 10-year-old Sarah Hershberger with lymphoblastic lymphoma, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The Amish girl's parents, Andy and Anna Hershberger, when told that 85 percent of the patients treated for this illness survive, agreed to a two-year chemotherapy program. After the first round of the chemotherapy, the tumors on Sarah's neck, chest and kidneys were diminished.

     In June 2013, after a second round of chemotherapy treatment made their daughter extremely ill, the Hershbergers decided to stop the treatment. They took this action against the advice of cancer doctors who warned them that without the chemotherapy, Sarah would die.

     The hospital authorities, believing they were morally and legally bound to continue treating the girl, went to court to take away the parents' right to make medical decisions on their daughter's behalf.

     Andy and Anna Hershberger, in September 2013, took Sarah to an alternative cancer treatment center in Central America where doctors put the girl on a regimen of herbs and vitamins. When the family returned to the United States, hospital scans showed no signs of the lymphoma.

     On October 13, 2013, an Ohio appellate court judge granted Maria Schimer, an attorney and licensed nurse, limited guardianship over Sarah Hershberger. The guardianship included the power to make medical decisions on her behalf over the objections of her parents.

     Shortly after the court ruling, the guardian sent a taxi out to the family farm near the village of Spencer, Ohio to fetch Sarah and take her to the hospital in Akron for additional chemotherapy. When the cab arrived at the Medina County home located 35 miles southwest of the Cleveland metropolitan area, the family was gone.

     A few weeks later, pursuant to a welfare check on Sarah, deputy sheriffs went to the farm to find the place unoccupied. No one in the Amish community seemed to know where the Hershbergers were hiding out. If members of this Amish enclave knew the family's whereabouts, they weren't cooperating with the authorities. Attorneys for the Hershberger family have appealed the guardianship ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court on issues related to religious freedom.

     If Sarah Hershberger's fate remains in her parents' hands, and she dies from the cancer, Mr. and Mrs. Hershberger could face negligent homicide charges. Moreover, people who helped them avoid the authorities could be charged as accomplices to the crime. The right of religious freedom does not match  the right of a child to receive life-saving healthcare. Being given vitamins and herbs as a cancer cure, while less painful than the immediate aftermath of chemotherapy, does not qualify as adequate healthcare.

     This story could have a sad ending if the authorities in Ohio don't find Sarah Hershberger and get her into treatment.

UPDATE

     On December 6, 2013, according to media reports, the court appointed guardian decided not to force Sarah Hershberger to undergo further chemotherapy treatments. The family's whereabouts are still unknown.