More than 3,425,000 pageviews from 150 countries


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: 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

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: 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

Thursday, December 26, 2013

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 

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.

     

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

Friday, December 20, 2013

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  

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 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

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: 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

Monday, December 16, 2013

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

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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

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

Thursday, December 12, 2013

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

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

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.

     

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 

Friday, December 6, 2013

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

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 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Maryville, Missouri Rape Scandal

     Two girls, 14 and 13 years old, sneaked out to join a group of older football players at a party last year [2012] in Maryville, Missouri, the Nodaway County Seat. After the girls became drunk, a 17-year-old boy had sex with the 14-year-old, while another boy stood by with an iPhone video camera running. Afterward, the boys left the girl on her front porch, nearly unconscious in subfreezing temperatures. The 13-year-old told police that she too had been assaulted by another older boy.

     Nodaway Sheriff Darren White told the Kansas City Star that his [investigators] swiftly compiled the evidence and he expected to see the boys in court. But county prosecutor Robert Rice dropped the charges, saying the evidence was inconclusive. The 17-year-old--the grandson of a former state representative--went to college rather than to prison.

David Von Drehle, Time, October 28, 2013 

Writing Quote: How to Structure a Book

There's no formal school, so far as I know, where you can learn how to structure long forms of prose. Writing programs typically work with short forms, for the obvious reason that short forms can be examined productively within the brief compass of a course program. But the difference between long forms and short forms is precisely their structure, which means that you can't learn how to structure the one by studying the other. Fortunately, you can teach yourself long-form structure by reading books and analyzing how their authors assembled them.

Richard Rhodes, How to Write, 1995 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dajour Washington Sucker-Punched A Teacher

       A year ago, the crime involving black youths who try to knockout white strangers they encounter on the street with a single punch didn't have a name because the authorities were unaware of the motive behind these senseless attacks. Once it became known that the perpetrators of these assaults referred to the crime as the "knockout game," the offense became a national media story. A little more than a year ago, an incident that would now be classified as a knockout attack, drew local media attention because the offense didn't make any sense. It was not, however, a national story. That has changed.

      James Addlespurger, a 50-year-old English teacher at the School For The Creative and Performing Arts (grades 6-12), while walking in downtown Pittsburgh near his school at 3:30 in the afternoon of October 4, 2012, approached six teenage boys who were coming toward him. One of the black youngsters, without warning or provocation, punched the white teacher in the face, then casually walked off with his friends. Mr. Addlespurger fell to the pavement and was later treated for his injuries at a nearby hospital. The gratuitous assault was caught on tape by a city surveillance camera. The teacher had no idea who had punched him, or why.

     Five days after the sucker-punch, Pittsburgh police officers arrested 15-year-old Dajour Washington. The youth attended the Student Achievement Center in the Homewood section of the city. When asked why he had attacked a total stranger, Washington explained that he was an "angry person" who was having a "bad day." Charged with simple assault, Washington was placed into a juvenile detention center. (Under Pennsylvania law, minors charged with misdemeanor crimes cannot be charged as adults.)

     Dajour Washington's grandmother, the woman who helped raise him, told a reporter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the boy was "very intelligent but not street-wise." She characterized Dajour as a follower who, easily influenced by others, would commit inappropriate acts out of a need to fit in. (Isn't this always the case? Has there ever been a parent who says, "I've got a rotten kid who is a bad influence on his friends?") 

     Besides the simple assault charge, Dajour faced a probation violation revocation which revealed this was not the first time he had been in trouble with the law. Knowing what we know now about these random street assaults, the Pittsburgh school teacher had been the victim of the knockout game. This was, at its core, a recreational race crime. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Knockout Game a Non Story for The New York Times

     The New York Times has discovered that the media panic over the "knockout game"--in which primarily black youths engage in random, violent, racist attacks against mostly white victims--is just a product of "fear sown by reports" that "may have racial roots."

     In " 'Knockout Game' a Spreading Menace or a Myth," a...story from Saturday's paper [November 24, 2013], reporter Cara Buckley, with the help of two other credited journalists, reports that "police officials in several cities where such attacks have been reported said that the 'game' amounted to little more than an urban myth, and that the attacks in question might be nothing more than the sort of random assaults that have always occurred"… However, the paper's record on other seeming trends is an unbroken tissue of credulous reporting about alarming phenomena that did not stand up to close scrutiny…[Racially motivated church burnings, crack babies, killer bees, global warming, etc.]

     According to a journalistic rule of thumb, three examples of any phenomenon are enough to constitute a trend. "If there ever was an urban myth, this was it," a Jersey City [New Jersey] police spokesperson told the Times' Buckley when asked about the knockout game.

Tim Cavanaugh, The Daily Caller, November 25, 2013


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Michael Joseph's Deadly Daughter

     In America, teenage girls have become cold-blooded killers. Over the past decade girls between the ages 13 and 17 have murdered or attempted to murder girlfriends, boyfriends, and parents. Pretty in pink has turned into ugly in red.

     In 2012, 51-year-old Michael Joseph resided with his 12-year-old daughter Jasmine in an apartment in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York. That year, Jasmine started running away from home and associating with neighborhood street thugs who turned her into a child prostitute.

     Just after midnight on October 28, 2013, as Mr. Joseph slept, Jasmine let two members of the Crips gang into the apartment for the purpose of murdering her father. In the kitchen, she handed Ricardo Leveillez, her on-and-off boyfriend, a knife. She also armed Leveillez's friend, a gangbanger known as "Murder," with a blade from the kitchen drawer.

     Mr. Joseph awoke that night to find two young men stabbing him with his own kitchen knives. One of the attackers yelled, "Kill that motherf---er!" After being stabbed in the face, chest, arms, legs, and back, Mr. Joseph managed to escape by running into another room and locking the door.

     Shortly after the assault, a surveillance camera caught Leveillez and "Murder" walking out of the apartment building. Before leaving, the two gang members stole the victim's wallet. They also drove off in Mr. Joseph's 2012 Hyundai Sonata, a car they later wrecked. Later that day the hoodlums were recorded on another surveillance camera using the victim's debit card.

     When police officers searched the wrecked and abandoned stolen Hyundai they discovered one of the bloody knives.

     On November 11, 2013, New York City detectives arrested Jasmine Josephs on 34 criminal charges that included attempted murder. The 14-year-old claimed that her father had raped her. (Mr. Joseph denied the allegation and detectives believed him.)

     Four days following Jasmine's arrest, a Brooklyn judge released the girl to the custody of her mother, a resident of a Manhattan homeless shelter for people with AIDS. The judge also issued a restraining order prohibiting the accused attempted murderer from any contact with her father.

     Detectives arrested Ricardo Leveillez a few days later on the charge of attempted murder. The Crips gangster told investigators that Jasmine, who had been thinking about having her father killed for some time, had motivated them by alleging that he had raped her.

     Leveillez was booked into Rikers Island on $250,000 bail. His accomplice, the gangster known as "Murder," is still at large. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Mafia Kicked Out of Cuba

[Fidel] Castro is a complete nut! He's not going to be in office or power for long. Either Batista will return or someone else will replace this guy because there's no way the Cuban economy can continue without tourists, and this guy is closing all the hotels and casinos. This is a temporary storm. It will blow over.

Miami Mafia boss Santo Trafficante circa 1962 in Jerry Capeci, Wiseguys Say The Darndest Things, 2004

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Subway Train Station Pushers: Death on the Tracks

     Beneath the streets of New York City where barbaric young men are sucker-punching strangers to the pavement in a game called "knockout," mental cases and drunks are pushing people off subway station platforms onto the tracks below. If these case reflect an emerging trend in random, violent assault and murder, New York residents and visitors to the city are becoming less safe.

     In December 2012, Erika Menendez shoved Sunando Sen into the path of an oncoming subway train. The 31-year-old mental case pushed the Bangladeshi immigrant onto the tracks at the elevated 40th Street-Lowery stop in Queens.

     When taken into custody, Menendez told her interrogators that "I pushed a Muslim…because I hate Hindus and Muslims. Ever since 2001 when they put down the Twin Towers I've been beating them up."

     Menendez, charged with second-degree murder, is being held without bail.

     At a subway station beneath Manhattan, Naeem Davis, a homeless man with a history of mental illness, pushed 58-year-old Ki Suck Han onto the tracks in front of a passing train. This murder also took place in December 2012. Just before his sudden death, the small business owner from Queens and Davis were seen arguing with each other. Davis has been charged with the second-degree murder of a total stranger.

     On Friday afternoon, November 22, 2013, as 72-year-old Sho Kuan Lin and his wife Yumie Li stood on the train platform at the 145th Street station in Harlem, a 57-year-old drunk named Rudralall Baldeo walked up behind Sho Kuan Lin and pushed him onto the tracks.

     Several subway station bystanders lifted the victim to safety before a train rolled into the station. Paramedics rushed the Chinese native to St. Luke's Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery for a fractured skull.

     A New York City prosecutor has charged Baldeo with attempted murder and felony assault. A magistrate has denied him bail. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Annie Dookhan: Rogue Massachusetts Crime Lab Drug Analyst Goes to Prison

     Annie Dookhan, a chemist for the Massachusetts police, was sentenced to three to five years in prison after committing a fraud so extensive that her crimes call into question the validity of over 40,000 convictions.

     Dookhan worked in a laboratory examining evidence in drug cases. She was a go-to analyst for law enforcement and prosecutors, thanks to her rapid turnaround time and penchant for delivering much needed drug evidence to score convictions.

     Her record, however, was based on countless criminal fabrications. She falsified numerous reports, cut corners, forged signatures, inflated her credentials, lied about whether she was actually testing the lab samples she received and even tampered with evidence, according to NPR.

Robby Soave, The Daily Caller, November 25, 2013

Writing Quote: A Writer Buried in Books

     I've decided that books are my enemy, though they used to be my great love. They are taking over. They crowd my dining room, they double up in the bedroom, they make the attic floor sag. We even have a library in the bathroom: shelves and shelves of books where a normal person might have a vanity table or piles of towels….

     I once went through our library and calculated that my husband and I had read about a third of the books that we own, and I think, as we buy more books and read of third of what we buy, that the statistic is more or less holding up. Sometimes we even buy a book and go to put it on one of our few organized shelves only to find that it is already there….

     We have a psychological problem and we recognize it: We never get rid of books….It's a sick relationship we have with these piles of pages between covers. Most people wold be secretly bragging if they said this, but I'm not bragging. I think it's weird and demented. Maybe I'm so involved with my books' fate because I am a writer, and I can all too well imagine a reader taking one of my books and cosigning it to the trash heap.

Amy Wilentz, "…One Book Out," The New York Times Book Review, August 4, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Iranian Rock Band Murder-Suicide Case

     In 2012, five members of a rock band from Iran called Yellow Dogs were granted asylum in the United States. The group had achieved notoriety in 2009 following the airing of a documentary about the underworld music scene in Tehran called "No One Knows About Persian Cats." The production won an award at the Cannes Film Festival.

     In Iran, the "post punk/dance band" rehearsed in a homemade soundproof studio and performed in underground concert venues. The Yellow Dogs, by performing in Iran, risked arrest and imprisonment. Music in that country is not tolerated by the state.

     In America, the band played at New York venues such as Webster Hall and the Brooklyn Bowl and as far away from the group's East Williamsburg, Brooklyn townhouse as Austin, Texas.

     In 2012, 28-year-old guitarist Ali Akbar Mahammad Rafie left the band following a dispute over a relatively small amount of money. Following his departure, Rafie joined a group called Free Keys.

     Just after midnight on Monday, November 1, 2013, the former Yellow Dogs guitarist, armed with an assault rifle concealed in a guitar case, made his way to the roof of a townhouse adjoining the three-story dwelling occupied at that time by two members of the band and several other tenants. From a third floor terrace, Rafie fired a shot through a window that killed a 35-year-old musician who was not a member of the Yellow Dogs band.

     Once inside the townhouse, Rafie entered a third floor bedroom where he shot and killed Arash Farazmand. Rafie shot the 28-year-old Yellow Dogs guitarist in the head. On the second floor, Rafie murdered the guitarist's brother Soroush. At the time of his death, the 27-year-old drummer was on his bed working on his laptop computer.

     Rafie, before returning to the roof, shot a fourth tenant, a 22-year-old artist names Sasan Sadeghpourosko. This victim, shot in the arm, was treated and released from a local hospital.

     Back on the roof, the mass murderer took his own life by shooting himself in the head. (The third and fourth members of the Yellow Dogs band were not home when Rafie went on his shooting rampage.)

     Residents of the industrial neighborhood consisting of warehouses and a few dwellings mostly inhabited by young musicians and artists were stunned by the murders of the Yellow Dog band members and the other musician. The two murdered Yellow Dog musicians came to America to be free. Instead, thanks to a fellow Iranian, they were dead. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Knockout Game

     There's an emerging urban street crime that is quite alarming. It's called the knockout game. A black youth, in broad daylight, sneaks up behind a random white pedestrian and tries to knock him or her unconscious with a single sucker punch. Some of the victims hit the pavement and die.

     These assaults are not motivated by money, sex, drugs, or revenge. Moreover, the black youths who perpetrate these unprovoked attacks are not crazy. The street gangsters who commit these blindside assaults do it for the thrill and fun of seeing strangers they've rendered unconscious hit the ground with a thud. These are recreational crimes that reflect a breakdown of civilized life.

     In Brooklyn, New York knockout practitioners, in a series of assaults, have targeted Jews. On November 10, 2013, in a "Get the Jew" attack, a knockout artist killed a 78-year-old woman.

     There have been knockout crimes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, St. Louis, Missouri, Hoboken, New Jersey, and Washington, D. C.

     According to Bo Dietl, a former New York City police detective, the news media has ignored the knockout trend because it involves black-on-white crime. Appearing on the Fox TV show "Hannity," Dietl said, "The liberal news media doesn't want to say exactly what [the knockout game] is. It's a group of black youths attacking whites. It's called polar bear hunting….That's racism."

     A white woman recently sucker-punched to the ground in the Columbia Heights section of Washington, D. C. by black teenagers playing the knockout game appeared on the Greta Van Susteren show on Fox TV. Regarding her victimization at the hands of a young gangster, she said: "I've moved past it and I really have no bad feelings about what happened. And I just see it as another reason why we [society] need to better support our youth with activities and youth programs….It's great to see teenagers do incredible things when they're supported and empowered."

     Good heavens. This woman views her vicious attackers, criminals who could have killed her, as victims of a society that has neglected them. In other words, it's our fault. No bad feelings? Really? What world does this woman live in?

      

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Role of the CIA and the Mob in the JFK Assassination

     Attorney General Robert Kennedy was not a believer in the lone gunman theory. Like many Americans, he could not accept that a man as ordinary as Lee Harvey Oswald could have acted alone in assassinating the president of the United States, his brother John F. Kennedy.

     Who did he suspect was part of the plot? "Apparently Bobby Kennedy's first suspicion was that it was some rogue element of the CIA," said Philip Shenon, author of a new book on the JFK assassination. But after an intimate meeting with CIA Director John McCone, the president's brother was convinced the agency was not involved. He lived the rest of life suspecting that the Mafia or the Cubans were behind his brother's death, according to Shenon's book, A Cruel and Shocking Act.

Evan Burgos, "An Inside Job: CIA a Suspect for Some in JFK's Killing," NBC News 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Writing Quote: The Problem With Young Writers

     Though everybody is talented and original, often it does not break through for a long time. People are too scared, too self-conscious, too proud, too shy. They have been taught too many things about construction, plot, unity, mass and coherence….

     Another trouble with writers in the first twenty years is an anxiety to be effective, to impress people. They write pretentiously. It is so hard not to do this. That was my trouble.

     For many years it puzzled me why so many things I wrote were pretentious, high-sounding, and in consequence utterly dull and uninteresting. It was a regular horror to read them again. Of course they did not sell either, not one of them.

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, originally published in 1938 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Locked Docks: Courtroom Cages for Criminal Defendants

     Long eschewed as prejudicial by American courts and by the International Criminal Court in the Hague, locked docks, either metal cells or enclosures made of glass or wood, are still common, not only in countries like Russia and Egypt where the judicial systems often face international criticism, but also in Western democracies, including Britain, France, Canada, and Australia….

     Critics often cite security concerns for using docks, either the risk that violent suspects pose to others, or the danger to defendants from potentially hostile spectators. Supporters say that when docks are used routinely, they do not attract notice or prejudice against defendants, but are crucial to safety….

     Although there has been little research on the potential influence of locked docks on the verdicts reached by judges or juries, experts argue that defendants are clearly put at an disadvantage. "All the evidence we can collect suggests that it's prejudicial," said David Tait, a professor at the University of Western Sydney in Australia who has studied the issue….

     In the United States, docks have been virtually eliminated as a result of judicial rulings, including by the Supreme Court. Some states still have courtrooms with docks, but many
are historic relics and are rarely used. Instead, some American courts discreetly chain the ankles of a potentially dangerous defendant to the floor. Others require an electric stun belt, which can deliver an immobilizing shock, to be worn under a defendant's clothes. As a security measure, the International Court in the Hague puts the entire spectator gallery behind a glass partition….

David M. Herszenhorn, "Presumed Innocent, but Caged in Court," The New York Times, November 18, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

Andy Kaufman: A Dead Comedian or a Stay-at-Home Dad?

     Andy Kaufman became famous in the 1970s as the comedic character Latka Grauas in the popular sitcom "Taxi." He later appeared regularly on "Saturday Night Live." At the height of his fame, after a performance at New York's Carnegie Hall, Kaufman arranged for 24 buses to take his audience of 2,800 out for milk and cookies after the show. As he career petered out, Kaufman took on the persona of a cheesy and abusive lounge singer from New Jersey he called Tony Clifton. During this period the eccentric (and in my view unfunny) comedian participated in a series of bizarre wrestling matches with women. At times he seemed unhinged which in Hollywood often passes for brilliance.

     In May 1984, suffering from a rare form of lung cancer, Andy Kaufman died in a West Hollywood hospital room. He was 35.

     In 2013, the 9th Annual Andy Kaufman Comedy Awards ceremony was hosted by Andy's brother Michael at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York City. That Monday night, November 11, 2013, Michael stunned the audience with the announcement that his brother was in fact alive.

     Michael Kaufman informed the awards show audience that when going through Andy's things following his supposed passing, he had found an essay by Andy detailing how he planned to fake his own death. According to the scheme, Andy would reappear at a specific restaurant on Christmas Eve 1999.

     Michael, on Christmas Eve 1999, showed up at the restaurant to meet his presumably dead brother. Instead, he was met by a waiter who handed him a typed letter from Andy in which he had written that he had fallen in love and had gone into hiding. (The typed letter precludes handwriting identification. And where is this letter, anyway.)

     In the letter, Andy supposedly wrote that he and his girlfriend resided with their ten-year-old daughter at an undisclosed place. The letter led Michael to believe that everything was great in Andy's life. He had faked his death simply to get away from being Andy Kaufman. The reclusive ex-comedian asked Michael not to tell their father, Stanley Kaufman, that he was alive. (Does that mean Stanley Kaufman would not have been pleased to learn that his son was alive and that he had a granddaughter?)

     In July 2013 Stanley Kaufmann passed away. Not long after his father's death, Michael received a call from a 24-year-old woman who claimed to be Andy's daughter. The caller had good news. Andy Kaufman was still alive. (Andy would be 65.) The young woman said she went by the last name McCoy, the name Andy had used when checking into hospitals.

     As the awards audience tried to digest Michael Kaufman's shocking revelations, the host called a young woman onto the stage and introduced her as Andy's daughter. Addressing the comedy crowd, this woman said, "Andy just wanted to be a stay-at-home dad. That's why he wanted to leave showbiz. He's pretty much a great dad. My mom has her own business…he helps her with that kind of thing--paperwork and stuff--so he can work from home and he doesn't have to be hiding out or concealing himself. He just makes us food and takes care of the house."

     Andy Kaufman's friend, fellow comedian Al Parinello, in talking about Andy's secret life after death, said this to a reporter with The Comic's Comic: "Only the family actually saw Andy's body [before the closed-casket funeral]. Andy was an aficionado of meditation. One of the things Andy was taught at the highest level was a process where one could slow down his breath to a point where you can literally fool anyone that you may be dead when in fact you are alive."

     Andy must not only have mastered the technique of death impersonation well enough to fool the hospital pathologist, he must have found a way to tolerate having his blood replaced by embalming fluid. Otherwise, he managed to pull off a tricky body switch. It that's what happened, then there's a body in Andy's grave that's not him. That is unless the substitute corpse was cremated.

     In response to the news that the comedy world's strange duck was not a dead duck, Kaufman's last girlfriend, 56-year-old Lynne Margulles, told TMZ that she had watched him die in the West Hollywood hospital room. According to Margulles, Kaufman's only daughter is a 40-year-old named Maria.

     If Andy Kaufman had in fact faked his own death, is he guilty of a crime? In the United States faking one's own death is not against the law per se. It is, however, a criminal offense to use the ploy to defraud an insurance company or to avoid taxes and other debts. It is also not a crime to publicly announce that a dead man had faked his own death. But it is a bad taste joke. But in life that's what Andy Kaufman had become, a bad taste comedian. 

Writing Quote: E-Books Taking Over in Britain

     Ninety-eight British publishers closed their doors in the year ending August 2013. The cause? E-books and online discounts.

     Closures were up 42 percent over the previous year, according to the Guardian. The companies that folded included the 26-year-old healthcare publisher Panos London, and Evans Brothers, which published popular children's book author Enid Blyton for 30 years.

     During 2012, e-book sales in Britain rose by 134 percent to more than $346 million. While print sales still dominated the bottom line in Britain with more than $4.6 billion in sales, that total was a one percent drop from the year before. The trend is toward e-books, and that trend has not been good for publishers….

     "The rise of Amazon and other discount sellers with massive buying power means the pressure on publishers' margins is now immense," Anthony Cork of [publisher] Wilkins Kennedy told the Guardian. "While publishers might be able to sustain relatively small margins on a bestseller, it is much harder for niche publishers."

Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times, November 5, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Who Killed Kennedy?

Even the basic facts of [John F.] Kennedy's death are still subject to heated argument. The historical consensus seems to have settled on Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin, but conspiracy speculation abounds--involving [Lyndon B.] Johnson, the C.I.A., the mob, Fidel Castro or a baroque combination of all of them. Many of the theories have been circulating for decades and have now found new life on the Internet, in Web sites febrile with unfiltered and at times unhinged musings. [According to Vincent Bugliosi, 82 people have, over the years, been accused of assassinating President Kennedy.]

Jill Abramson, "The Elusive President," The New York Times Book Review, October 27, 2013

Writing Quote: Novelists Criticizing Novelists

     Novelists are not remotely wary of criticizing one another's work in private; they do it all the time. Only when they're asked to commit their shoptalk to print do they grow reticent. A hardy few are prepared to engage tough-mindedly with the works of their peers….

     Most fiction writers end up deciding that discretion is the greater part of critical valor. Some recuse themselves from reviewing any contemporary fiction at all. Others review only those novels they can praise in good faith. Still others adopt a tactful, discursive reviewing style that allows them to write about books they don't rate without actually copping to an opinion.

     Before we rebuke these writers for their intellectual cowardice, we ought to acknowledge the genuine difficulty of the task they shirk. The literary world is tiny. The subgroup represented by novelists is even tinier. If you're an author who regularly reviews other authors, the chances of running into a person whose novel you have criticized are fairly high….It may not be the worst thing in the world to find yourself side by side at a cocktail party with the angry man whose work you described as mediocre in last Sunday's paper, but the threat of such encounter is not a great spur to critical honesty. [If you're interested in literary courage, read B. R. Myers' book Reader's Manifesto where he rips apart several so-called literary giants. A great book and a wonderful read.]

Zoe Heller, The New York Times Book Review, September 8, 2013


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Gonzaga University Students: Don't Bring Your Guns to School

     In the fall of 2013 Gonzaga University students Erik Fagan and Daniel McIntosh resided in a university owned, off-campus apartment complex in Spokane, Washington. The seniors at this Jesuit institution were good students who had never been in trouble with the law or the school. But thanks to an uninvited and unwelcome visit to their apartment by a total stranger, that all changed.

     On the night of October 24, 2013, John M. Taylor, a 29-year-old man with six felony convictions that included drug possession, unlawful imprisonment, and riot with a deadly weapon, knocked on roommates' apartment door. When Erik Fagan answered the knock, he encountered a black man who boldly asked for $15. Not feeling comfortable giving a stranger money simply because he asked for it, Fagan offered Taylor canned food and a blanket.

     Rather than either accept the gifts or walk away, Taylor entered the apartment where he repeated his request--or perhaps a demand--for the money. At this point, with an intruder in the dwelling who wanted money, Erik called out for Daniel McIntosh.

     Fagan's roommate entered the room carrying a loaded 10 mm Glock pistol. The sight of the firearm was enough to prompt the strange man's prompt retreat from the apartment.

     While running a potential robber out of their apartment by exhibiting a gun was the right thing to do,   reporting the incident to the campus police department turned out to be a mistake.

     The roommates were visited that night by officers with the Spokane Police Department accompanied by Gonzaga security personnel. Armed with a description of the intruder, police officers took Taylor in for questioning a short time later. (I do not know if they have charged him with a crime.)

     If Fagan and McIntosh thought they had acted responsibly and could move on, they were wrong. Gonzaga administrators, now aware that two of their off-campus students were living under the same roof with a firearm, were horrified. Possessing that weapon violated the school's zero-tolerent policy of no guns on campus-owned property.

     Rather that at least wait for daybreak, several campus police officers, at two that morning, rousted Fagan and McIntosh out of bed.

     Gonzaga officers not only confiscated McIntosh's pistol, they seized Erik Fagan's shotgun.

     McIntosh's firearm had been given to him by his grandfather. The student, in complying with the law, had acquired a state-issued permit to carry a concealed weapon. Fagan possessed the shotgun because he liked to hunt.

     On November 8, 2013, a panel of university personnel at a disciplinary hearing found Fagan and McIntosh guilty of possessing guns on school property and putting others in danger. (I guess, at Gonzaga University, the last thing school officials want their students to do is to "endanger" ex-felons they don't know who have, without invitation, entered into their dwellings asking for money.)

     The guilty students, due to public outrage over the university's handling of this case, placed them on probation. The boys could have been expelled or suspended. Fagan and McIntosh have asked the university to return their illegally seized guns.

     Note to Gonzaga students: When confronted by an intruder inside your dwelling, pick up a baseball bat or a butcher's knife. That is assuming the school doesn't have a blanket policy that prohibits any form of intruder endangerment. If the school has an intruder protection policy, then help the intruder loot your apartment, or run like hell.  And do not call campus security if you exhibited a bat or knife because the officers might confiscate these instruments of endangerment. You could also get kicked out of school. Oh, if the intruder displays a firearm be sure to tell him he is in big trouble with the school. (Even though the university anti-gun policy doesn't apply to him.)

Writing Quote: Sherlock Holmes: Arthur Conan Doyle's Gold Mine

[In 1891] I made my first effort to live entirely by my pen. It soon became evident that I had been playing the game well within my powers and that I should have no difficulty in providing a sufficient income…The difficulty of the Sherlock Holmes work was that every story really needed as clear-cut and original a plot as a longish book would do. One cannot without effort spin plots at such a rate. They are apt to become too thin or break. I was determined, now that I had no longer the excuse of absolute pecuniary [financial] pressure, never again to write anything which was not as good as I could possibly make it, and therefore I would not write a Holmes story without a worthy plot and without a problem which interested my own mind, for that is the first requisite before you can interest anyone else.

Arthur Conan Doyle in Russell Miller, The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle, 2008

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Juan Rivera Case: A False Confession and the Unsolved Murder of Holly Staker

     Years ago I wrote a book about two youngsters who in 1956 and 1958 confessed falsely to Pittsburgh area murders they didn't commit. (Fall Guys: False Confessions and the Politics of Murder, 1996) In those days people believed that short of physical abuse, innocent persons would not confess to crimes they didn't commit. Although we know better now, innocent people continue to confess because the police either don't know how to properly interrogate, or they know how to elicit false confessions.

     Anyone, under the right conditions, can falsely confess, but those most prone to this are young people, the mentally slow, and arrestees terrified of the police. False confessors often think that the investigators will eventually catch the real criminal and everything will be staightened out. These people obviously don't know much about law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

     An interrogator more interested in getting at the truth than acquiring a confesson should suspect that something is wrong when the physical evidence contradicts the confessor's account of the crime. Factual inconsistency within the confession is another sign of trouble. To avoid false confessions, interrogators should  be careful not to feed details of the crime to suspects and to ask open ended questions. Contradictions in confessions should be resolved before the written statements are signed. To reduce the risk of coercion, prolonged questioning should be avoided, and it's best that only one officer conduct the interrogation in a calm and professional manner. Ideally, an interrogator should only question a suspect that he believes, based on solid evidence, is guilty of the crime at hand. Interrogation techniques should not be used on weak suspects.

     All interrogations should be video-taped (In some states this is required by law.) and no conviction should be based solely on the strength of a confession.

The Juan Rivera Case

     On the night of August 17, 1992, someone raped and stabbed to death an 11-year-old girl named Holly Staker who was baby-sitting two young children in Waukegan, Illinois. The Lake County police questioned 200 people, including a 19-year-old with a ninth-grade education named Juan Rivera. Rivera said he had attended a party that night not far from the murder house. At the party he had noticed a man who had behaved strangely. Weeks later, on October 27, 1992, the police brought Rivera back to the station for a second interview. Rivera told the same story, but the interrogators didn't believe him.

     Following a psychologically brutal, nonstop 24-hour interrogation, Rivera broke down and confessed to raping and murdering Holly Staker. When asked why his fingerprints were not at the scene of the crime, Rivera provided a helpful explanation. After stabbing the girl 27 times, then raping her, Rivera said he bashed in a door with a mop to simulate a break and entering. Before leaving the house, he removed his fingerprints by wiping off the mop handle with a towel. He then broke the murder knife and tossed the pieces in the victim's backyard.

     In 1993, a jury found Rivera guilty and sentenced him to life. In two subsequent trials, the last being in 2009, juries found him guilty again even though DNA testing in 2005 ruled him out as the depositor of the semen inside the victim's body. (The prosecutor wished this exonerating evidence away with the preposterous theory that the 11-year-old had had sex with another man just before being murdered by Rivera.) The fact Rivera had been convicted of such a serious crime without the benefit of physical evidence linking him to the crime scene or the murder weapon, reveals the power confessions have over juries.

     On December 10, 2011, an Illinois appellate court reversed Rivera's murder conviction. The judge also barred Lake County prosecutors from going after Rivera for the fourth time. A week later, the 39-year-old, after 19 years served at the Statesville Correctional Center near Joilet, walked out of prison. Because Rivera's interrogators manufactured a false confession, Holly Staker's killer has not been brought to justice.

Criminal Justice Quote: Public Executions

     For almost 5,000 years of human history, public executions have been an excuse to party, from the mass stonings of biblical times to the drunken festivities at Tyburn gallows in England all the way to the wine-and blood-soaked mobs at the guillotine, that "National Razor of France"….

     America was of course not exempt. Back in 1693 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a bargeman convicted of murder was scheduled to be hanged on July 3. The Colonial Records of Pennsylvania matter-of-factly stated, "There were too few people there to make the affair enjoyable."

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997

     

Writing Quote: A Generation of Semi-Literates

     Can you tell a pronoun from a participle; use commas correctly in long sentences; describe the difference between its and it's?

     If not, you have plenty of company in the world of job seekers. Despite stubbornly high unemployment, many employers complain that they can't find qualified candidates.

     Often, the mismatch results from applicants' inadequate communication skills. In survey after survey, employers are complaining about job candidates' inability to speak and write clearly….

     Experts differ on why job candidates can't communicate effectively. Bram Lowsky, an executive vice president of Right Management, the workforce management arm of Manpower, blames technology. "With Gen X and Gen Y, because everything is shorthand and text, the ability to communicate effectively is challenged," he said. "You see it in the business world, whether with existing employees or job candidates looking for work."

     Others say colleges are not doing a good job. In a survey of 318 employers published earlier this year by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and conducted by Hart Research Associates, 80 percent said colleges should focus more on written and oral communication….

Kelley Holland, "Why Johnny Can't Write, and Why Employers are Mad," CNBC, November 11, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Romano Dias Poisoning Case: A Strange and Mysterious Death

     According to Katee Dias, in early 2010 while residing in London, England, she received a package in the mail. The parcel bore the correct address but was intended for someone else, a former resident perhaps. Thinking that this person might claim the item, Katee held the package for six months before opening it. When she did, she found a bottle that, according to its label, contained a fruit drink. Katee kept the bottle and threw away the packaging.

     At some point (here the story gets vague) Katee gave her father, a resident of Impington, a Cambridgeshire village in southeast England, the presumed fruit drink. In October 2013, 55-year-old Romano Dias opened the three and a half-year-old bottle and consumed half of its contents. (Based upon news reportage, Katee was present when her father gulped down some of the drink.)

     After a couple of mouthfuls, Mr. Dias reportedly said that the liquid tasted "awful." Shortly thereafter he complained of a burning throat then said, "I am in trouble here. I am dying. I am dead." Mr. Dias collapsed and died, presumably from the contents of the outdated fruit juice bottle.

     A laboratory analysis of the mystery bottle's contents revealed that it contained liquid methamphetamine. (Dealers in meth frequently transport the drug in liquid form.) In speaking to a reporter with the Cambridge News, pathologist Dr. John Grant said that Mr. Dias had consumed well above the lethal dose. He said that while meth use in the United Kingdom has been traditionally light, the American television show "Breaking Bad" has popularized the drug. ("Breaking Bad" was a series about a former high school chemistry teacher named Walter White who becomes an accomplished meth cook.)

     Following a coroner's hearing, Cambridgeshire coroner William Morris ruled the manner of Mr. Dias' death "accidental." The coroner based his ruling on the fact there was no evidence that the sender of the lethal package had intended to harm the victim or anyone else.

     In the United States, the sender of the liquid meth could have been charged with felony-murder. Under the felony-murder doctrine, the perpetrator of a felony that directly results in an unintended death is criminally culpable for the killing of that person. Mailing $34,000 worth of methamphetamine must be a felony in England. Mr. Dias died as a direct result of that crime. The sender, therefore, is guilty of criminal homicide.

     By classifying Mr. Dias' death as accidental, the Cambridgeshire coroner shut the door to a criminal investigation. As a result, the public will never know who sent the bottle of meth to Katee Dias' house in London. (Did the police process the bottle for latent fingerprints?) Other questions that will remain unanswered include: Why did Katee keep the bottle so long? Exactly when did she give it to her father? Why did she give it to him? And did he know he was consuming a three and a half-year-old drink?  

Criminal Justice Quote: Afghanistan Poppy Farming and Opium Production

     Afghanistan produced record levels of opium in 2013--despite nearly $7 billion spent by the U. S. to combat the problem, according to a sobering United Nations report out Wednesday [November 13, 2013]. Propelled by strong demand and an insurgency that has become more hands-on in the trade, cultivation of opium poppies, which are processed into heroin, rose 36 percent, amounting to 209,000 hectares [a hectare of land is about two and a half acres].

     Afghanistan remains the world's largest opium producer--last year accounting for 75 percent of the world's heroin supply. This is despite more than a decade's worth of international efforts to persuade poppy farmers to switch to other crops such as wheat….

     At $160 to $200 for one kilogram of dry opium, compared to 41 cents for one kilogram of wheat, farmers are making a strictly economic decision when they decide to get into the opium trade…

Aarne Heikkila, producer, NBC News

  

Writing Quote: Begging For Cover Blurbs

     Writers published by the biggest New York houses get [blurb] requests all the time. Typically they come from the editors at these publishing houses. It will be an email, or an actual book in the mail with a note attached that says something like this: "Jane Doe's first novel is an exciting new take on an old story and we'd be so pleased if you'd give it a look. And if you deem it worthy, a few words of support on Jane's behalf, sent to us by such and such a date, would give her novel a tremendous lift!"

     The more famous and respected the writer, the more of these blurb requests he or she will get. They might come from friends of the famous writer, too, or from his or her editor or agent and their friends. One imagines that Jonathan Franzen, for example, could spend hours and hours responding to the blurb requests he gets. Some writers are famous in the book trade for blurbing a lot (too much), and others for never blurbing at all.

Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2013

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Writing Quote: Managing Fear of the Blank Page

All working writers devise their own program for keeping fear at bay. Although writing nerves never vanish, they do become more manageable over time. No magic strategy exists that will turn an anxious novice into a self-assured veteran. Since courage points very so much from writer to writer, there is no one-size fits-all program to recommend. Developing writing courage involves learning about one's working style and how it's best manipulated.

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lakisha Gaither's Warning Shot: Reckless Endangerment or Self-Defense?

     On Saturday night, October 19, 2013, when questioned at her apartment complex in Woodbridge, Virginia, Lakisha Gaither told Prince William County police officers that she and her daughter had been set upon that night by a gang of boys. As Gaither and Brianna, her 15-year-old daughter, walked to their apartment, ten boys approached them in the parking lot.

     According to the 35-year-old mother, one of the boys insulted and swore at them. Brianna, who was five-foot-nine and 160 pounds, did not back down. This led to an exchange of face-to-face insults. When the boy grabbed Brianna's shirt and started hitting her, Ms. Gaither unholstered her handgun and fired a shot into the air.

     The warning shot ended the parking lot confrontation.

     Police officers arrested Lakisha Gaither for the reckless use of a weapon, a misdemeanor offense. None of the boys were charged with a crime. The next day, Lakisha took Brianna to Fairfax, Virgina to stay with the girl's grandmother. Lakisha feared that the boys she had run off with the gunshot might retaliate.

     In speaking to a local reporter, a Prince William County spokesperson said, "Ms. Gaither should have called the police instead of taking matters into her own hands. She may have been trying to break up the fight, but that's not the proper course of action to take."

     The gun-owning mother told the same reporter that, "I didn't feel like I was wrong. I wanted to protect my child. I just wanted this group of guys to disperse. I didn't know what they were going to do. I wanted him to stop hitting my child."

     Gaither's public defender attorney, Daniel L. Hawes, conceded that his client, while well-motivated, should not have created a threat herself by shooting into the air.

     A week after the confrontation and warning shot, a Prince William County Police Department spokesperson issued a modified account of the incident. According to investigators, Brianna and the boy in question had been involved in an ongoing dispute over rumors that had been spread about her. That night, Gaither and her daughter had sought out the boy near his home where the fight and warning shot took place. The boy claimed that Brianna had thrown the first punch.

     Most people believe that citizens have the right to defend themselves when threatened with bodily harm. There is something profoundly satisfying about dispersing overwhelming force with a shot into the air. However, if the person claiming self-defense instigated the confrontation, there is a lot less sympathy for the shooter.

     The day after being taken to her grandmother's house in Fairfax, Brianna went missing. Lakisha filed a missing persons report with the police. "I don't know where she is," said the mother. "I don't know if she's okay. I don't know if she's hurt. There's been no action on her Facebook."

    Four days later, on October 24, 2013, Brianna returned home. Her mother, without revealing where her daughter had been, used Facebook to thank the people who had been looking for her.