Posts Tagged ‘Crime’
The news media and blogesphere is all abuzz talking about the newly instated curfew in East St. Louis. Before I go any further, for you “non-local” folks, East St. Louis is in Illinois, it is not part of St. Louis, Missouri, they are next door neighbors. In the wake of a rash of violence last week in which four people between the ages of 18-21 were killed and three people were injured (one being a 14-year old boy mowing the lawn at his home) in three separate incidents, Mayor Alvin Parks has issued a city wide curfew. Under the guidelines of the curfew, the police will immediately arrest:
Teens 17 and younger between 8 am and 3:30 pm if they are not in school.
Teens 17 and younger on the streets after 10 pm.
Also, under Mayor Park’s version of martial law, police will have the right to stop and randomly search vehicle for drugs, weapons and open alcohol as well as checking pedestrians, bicyclists, skateboarders and whoever else the for alcohol as well, not to mention arresting citizens who cannot produce a state issued ID upon demand. Residents are allowed, however to go to work, school, before and after school programs as well as to church. The most controversial piece of this policy is that it excludes men and boys from wearing the colors red or blue.
I did some research to try and find out what they were going to do with all of the people that may be arrested under this policy (could their jail hold everyone) and to find out exactly what the consequence would be for wearing red and blue in East St. Louis, I is just hard for me to wrap my head around the possibility of arresting someone for what they are wearing; the 1st amendment of the U.S. constitution prohibits such misuse of power. I called numerous divisions of the East. St. Louis police department, including the chief and assistant chief of police, various departments within City Hall and what I got were voicemails, I never was able to speak to a live person.
Looking at the big picture not only do I think that this is not the answer, I see what appears to be, numerous constitutional violations. I am not a legal scholar yet, give me a year or so…it’s on my agenda, but to randomly stop and search vehicles without probable cause (occupancy does not constitute probable cause), is a direct violation of the 4th amendment, the one that guarantees citizens protection from such behavior.
Other cities, many much larger than East St. Louis have tried to impose laws against “saggin” the practice of wearing one’s jeans low on the hips or under the butt and have failed as courts have ruled that the way one dressed is guaranteed by the 1st amendment freedom of expression. Attempting to govern what colors people can and cannot wear, falls under the same umbrella. To my knowledge the SCOTUS has not ruled on a case such as this but I do expect for this to end up in the Illinois courts, very soon.
I could go on and on talking about constitutionality and legality but I’m going to stop there because the original intent of this blog is to discuss what I perceive to be the ineffectiveness of this policy.
Mayor Parks has said:
“For the right here right now what we’re dealing with is an almost war-like situation and we have to deal with a war-like situation like we’re at war, and that is to get individuals out of the environment where they can be hurt”. (Source)
I think that the Mayor’s “save the children” media campaign grossly underestimates the intelligence of the people in his community. East St. Louis is not the only city to have and enforce truancy and curfew laws, and I’m hard pressed to believe that these curfews are random, I’m feeling very sure that they have been on the books but not enforced. Announcing that young people will be arrested for these offenses is the same as announcing that the city has dropped the ball and now will have the police enforce the policy. In the incidents of violence that sparked this initiative, none of them were perpetuated by juveniles. The only juvenile that was affected is the 14-year old boy who is still in critical condition after being shot in his own yard while mowing the grass. He was no t skipping school or hanging out late, enforcing the juvenile ordinances is about the city doing what they should have been doing all along. People should not be fooled by the pretty packaging.
East St. Louis is a city that was once very prosperous but as industry moved out of the area and people became hopeless and complacent, the city took a turn for the worse and became one of the top 5 most dangerous cities in the United States. In criminology, In sociology, the “broken-windows theory” holds that if a neighborhood or city doesn’t fix its broken windows and graffiti, the environment will continue to descend into crime, chaos and violence and I think that this is a large part of the problem in East St Louis.
Harassing a city’s citizens and violating their Constitutional rights is not the way to rid an area of crime, it is a way to make citizens angry, resentful, volatile and feeling forced into noncompliance. I think that if the city truly wants to start ridding the area of crime, the city has to show the citizens that it has faith in them and appeal to their sense of community. Many of the dilapidated and burned out buildings are owned by out of town people or conglomerates that purchased these properties for pennies on the dollar at auction and have not done anything with them since, including cut the grass. The city could notify these property owners that if vacant homes in a serious state of disrepair are not torn down, the city will contract someone to do it and then sue the owner to cover the cost. The same system can manage properties where the weeds are waist high and littered with garbage. The absentee owners of those properties will not be responsible until they are held accountable.
The buck does not stop with the city. The biggest force against crime in any community is the citizens. A newspaper headline following the nightclub shooting in East St. Louis that left an 18, 19 and 21 year old dead reads: ”Witnesses Not Cooperating After East St. Louis Night Club Shooting” (Source) and in the same article, people talk about how horrible the incident is (the shooter has since been arrested by the way) is. No community can expect their government to do their job for them, the people in that community have to accept responsibility for their quality of life as well. I know it sounds idealistic, and that fear often grips a community but at some point, a community has to accept that it will forever live paralyzed by fear or refuse to be repeatedly victimized further and deal with its own quality of life issues. Community members cannot reasonably expect agencies to advocate for them while they don’t do anything to address the problems themselves, cleaning up areas such as East St. Louis is a team effort.
I really think that East St. Louis Mayor Parks is bowing to the pressure to “do something”, I think he is allowing his panic button to be pressed and has come to an impractical solution to a very real problem. I think that the next blog that will be written on this issue may have to discuss how the city is going to collect all of the fines and bail money that is surely going to be generated by this squeeze.
I was doing some research for my homework when I ran across this article and I think that it raises a very good question, should the media coverage of criminal cases focus on the defendant? Legal journalist Robin Barton has this to say:
To describe the recent U.S. and international media coverage of the Amanda Knox case in Italy as intense would be an understatement. One of the key criticisms of this coverage was that it primarily focused on the defendants—or at least one of them—with the victim, Meredith Kercher, almost forgotten.
So that raises the question: when covering criminal cases, should the focus be on the defendant or the victim?
To review: Knox, or “Foxy Knoxy” and “Angel Face” as she was dubbed in the press, and her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were convicted of killing Kercher, Knox’s roommate, on Nov. 1, 2007, in a drug-fueled sex game gone bad. At the time of the killing, Knox was 20 years old.
But their convictions were overturned on appeal.
During both the original trial and the appeal, Kercher’s family rightfully pointed out that the victim had essentially been “forgotten.” As her sister Stephanie said, “There are no photos of Meredith in the papers or on the TV—it’s all on Amanda and Raffaele.”
However, being the focus of the media cuts both ways. While the press in the U.S. largely sided with Knox, the media in the U.K. and Italy were much harder on her.
British journalists were obviously more sympathetic to Kercher because she was British. As for the Italian press, the media there have a different approach to criminal trials.
As an American journalist writing for the Guardian noted, investigative journalism isn’t practiced in Italy as it is in the U.S. or Great Britain. And, the journalist noted, Italian reporters may have been afraid that if they deviated from the prosecutor’s version of the events, they’d be arrested or harassed by the police—which actually happened.
The Knox case is hardly the first in which the attention has been on the defendant rather than the victim.
The O.J. Simpson case is a good example. Most people probably know that one victim was the former football star’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. But how many can name the male victim? (It was Ron Goldman.)
Frustration with the criminal trial and its outcome eventually led Goldman’s family to set up the Ronald Goldman Foundation to assist people who’ve been victims of crime and their families.
The Phil Spector case is another example. Spector was convicted of shooting actress Lana Clarkson to death in a game of Russian roulette. Articles on the case nearly always mention Spector’s career as a music producer and some of the famous musicians he worked with, such as the Beatles, Tina and Ike Turner and the Ronettes. The victim’s name was included almost as an afterthought.
Of course, the O.J. and Spector cases involved celebrities. And when celebrities are involved in a criminal case, rightfully or wrongly, they become the focus—whether they’re the victim or the defendant.
In fact, such cases likely get a lot of press coverage in the first place because someone famous is involved.
But celebrity wasn’t an issue in the Knox case. Everyone involved was unknown before the crime. So why did Knox become a cause célèbre for the media? Was it simply because she was a young, attractive American in a foreign land?
Or were claims that the crime was the product of a sex game too titillating to ignore?
I think a key factor in the media’s focus on Knox was the fact that her family was a very vocal advocate for her, which in turn drove a lot of the coverage.
While Kercher’s family kept a fairly low profile, Knox’s parents hired a public relations firm, which arranged for them to appear regularly on U.S. morning talk shows and news programs.
I’d also like to think that part of the appeal for journalists was that this case arguably involved innocent defendants wrongfully convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. Certainly, much of the American media coverage of the case during the appeal suggested that an injustice had been done when Knox and Sollecito were initially convicted.
I don’t think there is a right answer as to where the focus should be when covering a criminal trial.
Every case is unique. And although crime victims deserve to be remembered, innocent defendants also have a right to have their stories told. At the end of the day, the focus of the coverage will likely be on the aspects of the case that interest the public the most.
Robin L. Barton, a legal journalist based in Brooklyn, NY, is a former assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and a regular blogger for The Crime Report.
Although the article discusses the question, I think that the fact that the question even came up tells us that courtroom media has changed the scope of how criminal trials are conducted. The media’s job is to find the most “entertaining” aspect of a trial, whereas the court’s obligation is to make sure that all of the evidence is presented within the manner prescribed by law and to make sure the constitutional rights of the accused are not violated.
I say that to say, the media is not concerned about where the focus should be, they tend to take the side of the person whose story is the most interesting. I am glad that the victim is not forgotten in the media but the media is the outlet that is responsible to disseminate information to the court of public opinion. I think that the trial focus needs to be on the offender and less on the victim, the victim is not on trial and shifting the focus from the suspect and the victim can greatly jeopardize one’s chance to a fair trial under the constitution.
Tell me, what do you think?
Written By: By William D. Burrell
In my last posting on the 40th anniversary of the “War on Drugs, ” I wrote that we now know a great deal more about the science of addiction. In a follow-up post, I would like to outline a more effective strategy for dealing with the use and abuse of illegal and legal drugs.
I propose that we pursue a strategy that is based on empirical evidence about the science of addiction, the impact of drugs on the human brain, and the effectiveness of treatment. Since the past 40 years of enforcement-based efforts have proven largely ineffective, it’s time for a new approach.
The argument for a new strategy is more compelling than just change for change’s sake, however. The evidence has grown to a point where it is clear that the drivers of the drug problem are as much medical as anything; thus our strategy should be based on a public health model, not a criminal justice model.
I think it is important to acknowledge up front that changing our strategy in this way will be a tough sell because of a number of characteristics of contemporary American society:
- there is a widespread lack of knowledge among the public, elected officials and policy makers about the science of addiction.
- the tenacity of Americans’ belief that addiction is the result of poor choices and moral weakness.
- our country’s pervasive reliance on a punishment-based response to drug abuse and addiction through the criminal and juvenile justice systems.
- the lack of knowledge of, and engagement by, the broader medical community in the identification, diagnosis and treatment of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction.
- a disturbing, anti-science mindset among a significant portion of the population, including prominent elected officials and candidates for higher office.
I find this situation puzzling in a country where medical science occupies such a revered status.
Many pioneering breakthroughs have eradicated diseases, alleviated suffering and improved the quality of life for millions of people worldwide. Ours is a country where medical treatment, especially with prescription drugs, is almost considered a birthright. Witness the passionate and often angry defenses mounted when the federal healthcare reform legislation was being considered, and even after it went into effect.
The medical science/health care/pharmaceutical industry is a huge part of our domestic economy, employing thousands and providing routine and emergency care to millions of Americans every day. Our standard of care is generally first rate, with the exception of drug and alcohol addiction.
In this area, we behave for the most part like it is still the 19th century.
In this country, we have a love affair with drugs of all types. I think it is fair to say that we are “addicted to prescriptions.” Just watch commercial television in prime time and you will be subjected to an endless parade of advertisements for prescription drugs to treat a variety of ailments and symptoms.
The phrase “talk to your doctor about…” is always heard, identifying a specific drug. Since when did it become the norm for the patient to diagnose an ailment (often based solely on the commercial) and suggest a drug to a physician? I think of the well-known phenomenon of students reading descriptions of diseases and convincing themselves that they have all of the symptoms.
Hopefully, physicians are diligent about diagnosing and prescribing, but the incredible rise in the number and type of prescriptions gives one pause. In a scathing critique of drug companies and doctors, Marcia Angell explores the dynamics of prescription practices and drug effects in mental health. It is hard not to conclude that drugs are being over-prescribed for behavioral disorders, particularly with children and adolescents.
While prescription drugs provide many benefits, they are not entirely benign. Legal prescription drugs are the fastest growing category of drugs of abuse. These are not heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines purchased on crime-ridden street corners in urban ghettoes. They are legal drugs, often obtained through legal means, which are then shared, sold or stolen. This phenomenon has the potential for widening the drug enforcement net to include many people who would not fir the typical profile of a drug abuser or addict. Perhaps this will be one of the drivers that could result in a change of strategy.
My first exposure to the emerging science of addiction was provided in the late 1990s by Alan Leshner, then director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), who gave a presentation which featured color slides of PET scans of the human brain under the influence of drugs.
It was the updated, and scientifically accurate, version of the old television commercial “This is your Brain on Drugs” showing an egg sizzling in a frying pan. Leshner’s slides graphically illustrated how human brain functioning was affected by drugs. This and other research led to the conclusion that addiction is a “chronic relapsing disease of the brain”, and does not result from a personal weakness or moral failure by the addicted person.
NIDA has continued and expanded this important research under the current director, Nora Volkow who is a specialist in scanning and mapping the brain structures and processes. She wants to shift the emphasis away from addiction as a criminal problem and make it a medical problem.
Dr. Volkow has said “My obsession is to engage the healthcare system in addiction” The title of the article on Volkow identified her as a “general in the drug war.” A reader subsequently wrote to the editor, correcting that perception by noting that Volkow and NIDA are not fighting a war but rather “are devoted to uncovering knowledge on addiction as an illness and to finding evidence-based methods to help people recover.”
This is a quest that underpins the rationale for a change of strategy.
In addition to the development of a robust body of research on the science of addiction and its treatment, there are some other hopeful signs that change may be feasible. The popularity and effectiveness of drug courts has largely restored the legitimacy of treatment as a response to drug abuse and addiction. Drug courts have grown over the past two decades to become an accepted component of an evidence-based approach to drugs and crime.
A number of states (New York and New Jersey among them) have revised their drug laws to reduce their severity and make it easier for the offender to get treatment. The enormous cost of building and operating prisons to incarcerate thousands of non-violent drug users is also causing states to reconsider community-based treatment alternatives.
Texas, a legendary law and order state, is prominent among the states that have redirected funding away from prisons and into treatment and community supervision of drug offenders.Based on the ineffectiveness of the law enforcement/punishment strategy and the promise of an evidence-based public health approach, I propose the following as a framework for a more rational, humane and effective drug policy.
1. Shift the primary emphasis from law enforcement and punishment to demand reduction. The present approach is massively expensive and largely ineffective in significantly reducing demand. As we can see with recent history in Mexico, drug distribution and enforcement activities are incredibly violent and destructive of civil society.
2. Invest in research and development on addiction, and on the technology transfer work to implement research finding in practice. The pending merger of NIDA and its alcohol counterpart, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism should produce synergies to advance research. One example of a promising avenue is addiction vaccines. It would seem prudent to redirect some of the funds now allocated to enforcement to an expanded research program.
3. In Increase the engagement of the medical community in primary prevention and interventions. Too many people begin their addictions with behaviors that should be red flags for medical professions with the proper training. Medical practitioners at all levels should be the first line of defense.
4. Develop and deploy a broad-based educational public effort on the science of addiction and its treatment. This campaign should target citizens, parents, educators, elected officials, policy-makers as well as the health care community. Public health campaigns have proven effective for initiatives as diverse as stopping smoking and increasing seat belt use.
5. Build on successful efforts to address abuse and addiction through interventions and treatment. As noted above, drug courts have made great strides to demonstrate the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of treatment for substance abusers. Unfortunately, such courts are not universally available and only reach a fraction of the drug abusers in the justice system. More juvenile drug courts are especially needed. Larger statutory and policy-based efforts to redirect resources and offenders to treatment in the community should be encouraged and reinforced.
6. Highlight the cost-benefit aspects of the public health model over the criminal justice model. Numerous high-quality studies have shown the significant financial benefits that accrue from a treatment-based approach to addiction. People remain in the community, maintain their ties to family and work, pay taxes and build social capital. A more aggressive public health approach can reduce the costs of untreated substance abuse even when the abusers are not involved in the justice system. The costs of untreated drug and alcohol abuse to businesses and employers include lost productivity, accidents and health insurance costs.
It is rather simple to articulate the framework for such a change in policy. There will no doubt be need for elaboration and refinement. Gaining broad acceptance and succeeding at implementation will be much greater challenges.
But I believe the potential is there for transforming our society and reducing the harm we now inflict on our fellow citizens, our communities and other sovereign nations.
William D. Burrell is a regular blogger for The Crime Report. An independent corrections management consultant specializing in community corrections and evidence-based practices, he was a member (2003-2007) of the faculty in the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University in Philadelphia. Prior to joining the Temple faculty, Bill served for 19 years as chief of adult probation services for the New Jersey state court system. Bill is chairman of the Editorial Committee for Perspectives, the journal of the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) and serves on APPA’s Board of Directors. He has consulted, and developed and delivered training for probation and parole agencies at the federal, state and county levels. He welcomes reader comments.