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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Writer in Hollywood

I knew her name--Madam Hollywood. I rose and said good-by to this strumpet in her bespangled red gown; good-by to her lavender-painted cheeks, her coarsened laugh, her straw-dyed hair, her wrinkled fingers bulging with gems. A wench with flaccid tits and sandpaper skin under her silks, shined up and whistling like a whore in a park; covered with stink like a railroad station pissery and swinging a dead ass in the moonlight.

Ben Hecht, (1893-1964) novelist, journalist, screenwriter 

Monday, December 30, 2019

When a Haircut is Not Just a Haircut

     At five in the afternoon on Saturday, December 21, 2019, a man brought his 13-year-old son to a barbershop in Katy, Texas called Magic's Kutts and Fades. Following the haircut, the boy and his father left the shop. A short time later, the father and his son returned to the barbershop. Upon his return, the father complained about his son's look. The boy climbed back onto the chair and the barber fixed the problem without charge.

     Following the second cut, the barber and the boy's father got into an argument in the parking lot outside the shop. The fight ended when the father pulled a gun and shot the barber in the leg, arm, and stomach. As the barber lay bleeding outside the shop, the father and his son drove off.

     The wounded barber was rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he was expected to survive the shooting. Meanwhile, deputies with the Harris County Sheriff's Officer were searching for the shooter.

     Some people take haircuts very seriously. 

Defending the Police

The only people who distrust the cops are crooks. They're not out there just harassing innocent people. Maybe sometimes they do. But there's no inherent situation where cops are deliberately out there harassing people.

Charles Barkley, former NBA player

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Casey Anthony Murder Verdict

As I listened to the verdict in the Casey Anthony case, acquitting her of the homicide of her baby girl, I relived what I felt back when the clerk read the verdict in the Simpson case. But this case is different. The verdict is far more shocking. Why? Because Casey Anthony was no celebrity.

Marcia Clerk, O.J. Simpson case prosecutor 

Hit-and-Run in the U.S.

Since 2006 in the United States, there have been just under 700,000 hit-and-run cases every year. About 65 percent of the fatal cases involved pedestrians and bicyclists. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Cities Where Bullets Fly and People Die

In the early morning hours of Sunday, December 22, 2019, in Baltimore, Maryland, two men shot seven people outside a hookah lounge. A few hours earlier, in separate incidents, three people were shot in East Baltimore. On Sunday evening, three more victims were shot. These people were murdered. In 2019, 342 people have been murdered in Baltimore. The city is having its deadliest year ever. On this Sunday, in Chicago, 13 people were shot in a home in south Chicago. In 2019, 508 people were murdered in the Windy City. Other places where murder has become routine are: St. Louis, Detroit, New Orleans, Memphis, Newark, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. Inner city homicide has become so common it's now essentially ignored by the national media. By contrast, when a kid shoots up a school, cable news channels cover the story nonstop for three days. 

Finders Keepers

     Four home remodelers no longer face criminal charges for spending $60,000 they had found hidden inside a home in western Pennsylvania…The theft and related charges were dismissed in December 2014 by a Washington County judge in what has become known as the "finders, keepers" case…

     The four men had been working as under-the-table laborers, fixing up an unoccupied house, when they found the money hidden in a second-floor dormer. The newest bills dated to the 1980s. The men didn't report the find and split the cash equally. The man they had been working for learned of the discovery and reported them to the police.

     The judge ruled that because the money's owner couldn't be identified, the four workers didn't have criminal intent to steal the cash.

"Charges Dismissed Against Crew That Found $60,000," Associated Press, January 2, 2015  

How Publishers Screen Manuscripts

Publishers will tell you...that every manuscript which reaches their office is faithfully read, but they are not to be believed. At least fifteen out of twenty manuscripts can be summarily rejected, usually with safety. There may be a masterpiece among them, but it is a thousand to one against.

Michael Joseph in Rotten Reviews & Rejections, 1998

Janet Malcolm's Famous Take on Journalists

Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man preying on peoples' vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like the credulous widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings gone, so the consenting subject of a piece of nonfiction writing learns--when the article or book appears--his hard lesson. Journalists justify their treachery in various ways according to their temperaments. The more pompous talk about freedom of speech and "the public's right to know", the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Future of Internet Journalism

The question is not whether Internet journalism will be dominant, but whether it will maintain the quality of the best print journalism. In the end it is not the delivery system that counts. It is what it delivers. There has never been such access to knowledge in all its forms. What we have to find is a way to sustain truth seeking. If we evolve the right financial model, we will enter a golden age of journalism.

Harold Evans, My Paper Chase, 2009

Thursday, December 19, 2019

December Crime Shorts

     State troopers saw a man standing by a car with a flat tire along I-80 in Indiana. The car had been stolen from State College, Pennsylvania. The officers, as trained observers, noticed that the man had used a crayon to draw a license plate on a brown grocery bag. The crafty forger was taken into custody on suspicious of auto theft.

     A 59-year-old Michigan man told the judge at his sentencing hearing that he had robbed the store because he wanted to return to prison. He had been out of prison for seven years but wanted to go back because he couldn't adjust to life in open society. The judge granted his wish by sentencing him to 25 years. 

     On a call about a possible dead woman in a house, the responding Los Angeles police officer allegedly fondled the dead woman's breasts. The incident was recorded on his body-cam. Although the officer had turned off the device, the camera had an off-switch with a two-minute delay. 

     An Alaska man was arrested for shooting his sister to death because she had unfriended him on Facebook.

     Border Patrol officers assigned to the El Paso sector recovered more than a half-pound of methamphetamine from the vagina of a drug smuggler. 

     Immediately after Baltimore Circuit Judge Wanda Keys Heard sentenced 31-year-old Travis Burroughs to life in prison, the serial rapist picked up a metal water pitcher from the defense table and hurled it at the judge, hitting her in the forehead. He probably felt he had nothing to lose.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Excessive Force: The SWAT Pre-Dawn Drug Raid

     Although the deadly mistakes of police officers are generally not crimes, the injury or killing of SWAT officers by civilians who are reacting to middle-of-the-night home invasions are almost always treated as criminal acts. Even when the police raid the wrong house and an officer, mistaken for a criminal intruder is shot, the shooter, in the vast majority of cases, will be convicted of a crime and sent to prison. Regardless of the circumstances, jurors in trials involving downed police officers are generally not sympathetic to the shooter. They are in no mood for excuses and defenses. Realizing this, many police shooting defendants in cases involving wrong house, no-knock SWAT raids, plead guilty and hope for the best.

     Even when SWAT officers lawfully break into homes for drugs just before dawn, they not only risk their own lives and the lives of everyone in the dwelling, they also create the opportunity, in the event of the officer's injury or death, for a much greater crime than the one that warranted the raid. This is particularly true when the raid is unnecessary and excessive. Suddenly a person guilty of possessing a small amount of marijuana finds himself charged with assaulting a police officer--or worse, criminal homicide. Since these greater crimes would not have been committed had the police found some other way to achieve their mission, they have, in essence, entrapped these defendants. Because the legal doctrine of entrapment (the police are not supposed to go beyond merely giving suspects the opportunity to commit a crime) doesn't apply in these cases as a bar to prosecution, defendants who assault or kill police officers have very little available to them in the way of defense. 

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Threat Of School Shootings In the Overall Scheme of Things

How big a threat are school shootings, really? About 143 students, teachers, staff, and family members were killed during assaults of schools between 1998 and early 2018, according to an exhaustive analysis by the Washington Post, and another 254 were injured. (The study only considered incidents at primary and secondary schools). Three incidents--Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland--accounted for 43 percent of those fatalities. Each of those deaths was an unimaginable tragedy for a family and a community--but the raw numbers are quite small.

Rachel Monroe, Savage Appetites: Four Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession, 2019

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Taking a Middle School Girl's Death Threats Seriously

     On Friday, December 6, 2019, a 12-year-old girl who attended the Falcon Cove Middle School in Weston, Florida posted two threats on the message app Snapchat that led to her arrest that evening.

     The 12-year-old's first message included the names of fellow students she planned to shoot to death. The second posting warned that these students would be killed on December 9, 2019.

     The suspect's parents, when they learned of their daughter's Internet death threats, notified the Broward County Sheriff's Office. A local prosecutor charged the girl with two counts of making a written threat to kill someone.

     Weston is a community located 25 miles south of Parkland, Florida where a former Stoneman Doublas High student, in 2018, entered the school and shot 17 people to death.

     The attorney representing the young death threat suspect characterized her postings as a "bad joke," noting that in the wake of the Parkland mass murder, this was not a matter to joke about. He was right about that. Nobody was laughing.

Cat and Dog Memoirs

Memoirs about cats and dogs are nearly as common as cats and dogs.

John E Williams (1922-1994) writer, editor, and professor

Monday, December 9, 2019

Rape in India: A Nightmare For Women and Girls

      Because of India's history of infanticide, child marriage, slavery and rape, it was one of the worst places in the world to be a female. Girls and woman who had been raped were routinely blamed for their victimization, and discouraged from reporting the assaults to the police. If they did, the victims and their families were subjected to public ridicule and humiliation.

     Police officers in this male-dominated society often refused to accept rape complaints. And when they did register rape complaints, the crimes weren't professionally investigated. In those occasional instances where rape cases were taken seriously, crime lab delays slowed down the process of identifying the rapists. In India's Forensic Science Laboratory in Rohini, it took 75 days for a DNA report to come back to the investigating officer. These delays were caused by a work backlog caused by a serious shortage of qualified lab personnel. In the rare instance of an Indian rape prosecution, the case would drag on for years, and almost always end with an acquittal. In India, rape was treated as a victimless crime.

     Among India's major cities, New Delhi, the nation's capital and home to 16 million people, had the country's highest number of reported rapes. Because such a small percentage of these assaults were reported, crime statistics did not come close to reflecting India's extremely high sex crime rate. If just half of India's rapes were reported and investigated, the nation's crime lab system, unable to cope with the workload, would completely break down.

     On the evening of December 16, 2012, in New Delhi, a 28-year-old software engineer and his 23-year-old female companion boarded a city bus after attending a movie. The woman, from an urban, middle-class family, had recently qualified as a trainee physiotherapist in a private New Delhi hospital. The bus driver and five men from the city's slums were the only other people on the bus. The passengers began taunting the woman's friend, then knocked him unconscious with an iron rod. Five of the men then beat and gang-raped the woman. At some point, the bus driver turned the wheel over to one of the rapists, walked to the back of the bus, and had sex with the beaten and bloodied woman. Before the one-hour ordeal came to an end, one of the attackers inserted the iron rod into the female victim's body. The men undressed both victims and threw their nude bodies off the moving bus.

     The unidentified woman was taken to the Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi with serious brain trauma and severe injuries to her intestines and abdomen. The police, with the help of the rape victim's friend, quickly identified the bus driver and the five other rapists. Shortly after the suspects were taken into custody, the men confessed, telling the police they had tortured and raped the woman "to teach her a lesson."

     On December 26, 2012, following three operations and a heart attack, the authorities flew the victim to Mount Elizabeth's Hospital in Singapore.

     This brutal beating and gang rape on a city bus (operated by a private company) sent thousands of protesters into the streets in several Indian cities. The irate protestors demonstrated against the government's lax attitude toward crimes against women. In New Delhi, demonstrators clashed with riot police.

     Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, facing serious civil unrest, promised police and legislative reforms. But the public demonstrations continued throughout the country, growing in strength daily.

     On December 29, 2012, at 4:45 in the morning, the female victim of the brutal bus attack died in the Singapore hospital. Her body was flown back to India for cremation. The rape victim's cause of death was listed as brain injury complicated by a lung infection. The six men responsible for her torture, rape, and death were charged with murder, which in India could lead to the death penalty.

     The fact that Ban Ki-moon, the head of the United Nations voiced "deep sorrow" over this young woman's ordeal and death, revealed how this case focused international attention on India's rape culture.

     On the day following the 23-year-old's passing, a human rights organization called on the Indian government to ban the so-called "finger test," a medical procedure routinely given to rape victims. This unscientific and irrelevant measure involved testing the laxity of a rape victim's vagina to determine if she had been "habitual to sexual intercourse." The obvious purpose of this procedure was to humiliate victims and to discourage victims from reporting their rapes.

     Amid the women's rights protests, a legislator from the state of Rajasthan, in proposing his own rape prevention measure, suggested replacing girls' school uniform skirts with pants. While many ridiculed this politician and his idea, it reflected how most men in India blamed rape on the rape victim . If the five slum degenerates and the bus driver hadn't beaten and murdered this young woman, she would be alive, and they would still be raping women with impunity.

     City politicians in New Delhi, facing a wave of public anger, tendered the rape victim's family monetary compensation. Officials also offered one of the victim's unemployed relatives a government job.

     On January 3, 2013, five of the suspects were charged with, among other crimes, rape, kidnapping, and murder. The defendants were Ram Singh, the 33-year-old bus driver; his brother Mukesh, 26 who cleaned buses for the company; Pavan Gupta, 19, a fruit vendor; Akshay Singh, 24, a bus washer; and Vinay Sharma, 20, a fitness trainer. The sixth suspect was a juvenile.

     The male friend assaulted by the men on the bus, in his first public statement about the case, said that he and his friend were lying nude and bleeding on the street for an hour while pedestrians passed by without stopping to help them.

     On January 6, 2013, a popular Indian spiritual guru who called himself Godman Asharam, in a video circulated in the Internet, said, "This tragedy would not have happened if she [the murder victim] had chanted God's name and fallen at the feet of the attackers. The error (italics mine) was not committed by just one side."

     A defense attorney representing three of the accused rapist/murderers, announced on January 9, 2013 that his clients would plead not guilty. The attorney also claimed that the suspects were beaten by the police.

     On March 11, 2013, one of the men in custody for the New Delhi bus rape was found dead in his cell. Police say Ram Singh hanged himself. The suspect's father claimed that he had been murdered.

     On September 10, 2013, the four adult defendants were found guilty of rape, murder, and kidnapping. The guilty men faced the sentence of death by hanging. In May 2017, following numerous appeals, the Supreme Court of India upheld death sentences for all four men.

     On the night of March 15, 2013, in the wake of the gang rape on the New Delhi bus, another Indian rape case grabbed international attention. On Friday night, March 15, 2013, a Swiss couple on a three-month vacation were camped out in the forest 400 yards off a road near the town of Datia in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The couple had ridden their bicycles to the spot from the temple town of Orchha. In the morning, they planned to bicycle to the city of Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal.

     The Swiss woman and her male companion, that Friday night in the Indian woods, were set upon by seven men. The intruders beat them, tied the man to a tree, then gang raped the woman. After committing the assaults, the rapists stole the tourists' cellphone, laptop computer, and their money. The rape victim was treated for her injuries at a hospital in the nearby city of Gwalior.

     Two days after the gang rape of the Swiss woman, the police in Datia arrested six men suspected of the assault. The next day, the suspects were charged with rape, assault, and theft. All of the men were poor farmers from villages near the scene of the attack.

     On January 14, 2014, a 51-year-old Danish woman vacationing in New Delhi's most popular tourist spot in the Paharganj District, was gang raped after asking a group of local men for directions to her hotel. A few days later, New Delhi police officers arrested two suspects.

     On December 5, 2019, a 23-year-old woman who, in March 2019, had filed rape charges against two men, was set on fire as she walked to a hearing on the case. The next day, she died in a New Delhi hospital. The police quickly arrested the two men who had burned 90 percent of her body.

     On the day the New Delhi rape victim died from her burns, police officers in Hyderabad, India shot and killed four suspected rapists in an unrelated case. While civil rights activists protested the killings a police vigilantism, the women, as well as many men in the community, celebrated the rapists' deaths.

     Since the December 2012 gang rape and murder of the young woman on the New Delhi bus, rape has been the most prominent criminal problem in India. Although the 2012 case focused attention on the issue, sexual violence against women in India has not abated.

     In 2012, 25,000 rape cases were reported to the Indian authorities. In 2016, there were 33,658 reported cases of rape, an average of 92 a day. In 2017, the number of reported rapes dropped slightly to 32,559. In 2018, the Indian government announced the addition of 1,000 fast-track courts to deal with the rape backlog. But there are just too many rapists in the country. In 2019, with national court backlog of 127,800  cases, justice still comes slow for Indian rape victims, if it comes at all. The current conviction rate in these cases has remained below 35 percent. India is still not a good place for women and girls.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Less Militarized Policing

      Militarized policing doesn't provide added protection from crime and domestic terrorism. What it does do, however, is alienate innocent people, cost money the country can't afford, turn public servants into combat warriors, and, in a free nation, make police officers an occupying force.

     The first step toward police demilitarization would include a de-escalation of the war on drugs followed by the disbanding of SWAT teams that exist primarily to serve predawn, no-knock search warrants. Demilitarizing law enforcement would also include the termination of the special forces training of ordinary police officers.

     Step two would involve replacing zero-tolerance, no-discretion law enforcement with the less aggressive community model of policing where officers function more as public servants than as occupiers of enemy territory. Less fear mongering from politicians and police administrators would also improve police-community relations.

     And finally, reducing the role of the federal government in dealing with criminal offenses that could be adequately handled on the local level would further enhance police-community relations.

     In the larger jurisdictions where SWAT teams are occasionally needed, training should be standardized and intense. Officer assigned to routine patrol should not receive SWAT training, or be issued paramilitary weapons. SWAT operations should be subjected to enhanced civilian oversight and, if there are too many botched or low-risk raids, disbanded. Legislators, in cases where victims of wrong-house raids sue the government, might consider a kind of tort law reform that would make the recovery of civil damages less difficult.

     The demilitarization of policing should not be confused with lax law enforcement or criminal leniency. It's a matter of how to enforce the law, not if to enforce it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Understanding and Preventing School Shootings

     Following the Columbine mass murder in 1999 that involved two Colorado high school shooters who killed 13 and injured 20 before committing suicide, the United States Secret Service published its first study of school shooting incidents. According to the report, 71 percent of school shooters had been bullied, and many of them for years. After the Columbine shooting spree, public schools across the nation instituted anti-bullying courses. These programs have not, however, solved the problem. School kids are bullied now more than ever.

     Research has shown that 90 percent of school shooters foreshadowed their intentions with rants and threats published on social media. These indicators of future violence were either ignored or downplayed.

     School shooting studies also reveal there is no proof that active shooter drills are useful. In fact, they may do more harm than good, causing unnecessary student anxiety.

    The most recent Secret Service school shooting study shows that 83 percent of the attacks are over in five minutes or less. According to Lina Alathari, the study's lead researcher, schools need a more comprehensive approach than active shooter drills, metal detectors, lockdown procedures, armed school guards, and teachers with guns. What is lacking is threat assessment procedures, the identification of bullied students who are fascinated with guns, bombs and accounts of previous mass murders. These potential shooters also fantasize about getting revenge by killing their teachers and fellow students.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

There Is No Typical School Shooter

There is no accurate or useful "profile" of students who engage in targeted school violence. Some come from good homes, some from bad. Some have good grades, some bad.

Bill Dedman, investigative journalist