- Styles Make Fights: Salah vs. Storyboard
Styles make fights. Anybody who is a fan of the UFC can appreciate how different fighters bring different skill sets to the table (e.g. when Demian Maia used his jiu jitsu to neutralize Jon Fitch's incredible wrestling/ground and pound).A Crazy Popping Battle
I thought about that adage while watching a recent popping battle between Salah (on the right) and Storyboard (on the left). If you have 5 extra minutes today, you might want to check this battle out
...It showcases two poppers from different generations going all out!
|Salah is a master of illusion!|
Both have really unique styles. And the deejay mixes some nice tracks into the background (I personally like it whenever a deejay doesn't immediately rely on the well-known canon of Zapp & Rogers, Ohio Players, and other funk classics).
I like this battle because both are from different generations and have really unique styles. Who do you think won?
- A Serial Killer on the Dating Game: Some Sociological Reflections
I recently watched Louis Theroux's BBC documentary, "A Place for Paedophiles."
The documentary takes place at Coalinga State Hospital, a hospital for pedophiles who have completed their prison terms but haven't been able to transition back into society. While many maintain that they are "cured," the vast majority are stuck in an institutional limbo because they cannot find housing. As convicted pedophiles, most are subject to complicated laws that prohibit them from moving into areas that are close to schools; some face hostile neighborhood associations that do not want a pedophile in their midst; and others are still aware of their urges and do not trust themselves. This means that most will spend the rest of their lives incarcerated, even though they are all technically "free men" under the law.
The documentary is quite disturbing and provocative, simply because it challenges one's ideas about how the criminal justice system works and the rights of convicted offenders. As a good journalist, Theroux doesn't really take a side in this story. At some points, he challenges inmates who claim to be cured, but still show behavior that says otherwise. At other points, he describes the sad reality for most men in Coalinga; they will in all likelihood live out the rest of their days in this hospital because nobody wants them as a neighbor or tenant.
|Rodney Alcala aka the "Dating Game Killer"|
Today, while taking a break from writing, I perused Youtube and stumbled upon a very creepy story that also plays off the aforementioned documentary. Rodney Alcala, aka the "Dating Game Killer,"
appeared on the Dating Game in the midst of a serial killing spree in California. When he was invited on the show as a bachelor, Alcala was already a convicted rapist and sex offender. He would eventually win a date with bachelorette, Cheryl Bradshaw (below in video), who later refused a date with him because he seemed "creepy." Here is a short video of his appearance on the show. It's pretty eery.
Alcala was eventually arrested and convicted for the murder of Robin Samsoe--a 12 year old girl that he abducted, raped, and murdered. Police found her decomposing body in the LA foothills several days after her disappearance. His death penalty was overturned because jurors were improperly informed of his sex offending history. He was found guilty in a retrial, but had this case overturned because of discredited witnesses.
He was eventually arrested and convicted on 5 counts of murder and received the death penalty. This happened, however after a long career in serial killing. Although there is no official body count, homicide investigators estimate that Alcala killed between 50-130 women. Police would later seize a collection of photos that Alcala had shot himself. Many of the photos are sexually suggestive in nature and feature young women and children. There is a gallery
of these (that are PG or PG-13) online.
I guess these two stories highlight core issues at stake when we debate the rights of pedophiles and sex offenders. On one hand, Theroux's documentary reveals a grossly unfair "institutional limbo" that awaits pedophiles who can't find housing in the "outside world." Their situation challenges our larger beliefs in the efficacy of the criminal justice system; if someone does their time, they should have the right to move on with their lives.
At the same time, stories from Theroux's documentary and certainly Rodney Alcala's case highlight the fear that many have against ever allowing pedophiles and sex offenders back into the general public. These stories seem to provide a rationale about the need for increasing surveillance and restricting the rights of registered pedophiles and sex offenders (who by most clinical accounts are all serial offenders).
In the end, I don't really know how to feel. I feel conflicted on this. How do you all feel? Should our society increase the surveillance of pedophiles and sex offenders? Do the repeated crimes of some, warrant the upsurge in surveillance of a group deemed highly likely to reoffend? What does all of this say about our criminal justice system?
- Where's Nancy Lanza?
Like many of you, I have been glued to news coverage of the Newtown shooting. While watching the memorial last night and reading news today, I was struck by a curious omission: Nancy Lanza’s murder does not “count”.
|Nancy Lanza's death does not "count" in the public eye.|
Nancy Lanza is the 27th victim
. Why is her story omitted from memorials? Why is her death and story not worth mentioning when we memorialize the victims of this tragedy?
Is it because she’s the mother of the assailant? Is it because she bought her son the guns that were eventually used in the spree shooting? Is it because some of us secretly believe that she was “responsible” for her son’s heinous crime?
Nancy Lanza was tragically shot in the head four times. News are reporting today that she was worried about her son and was a great mother. Some of her friends have balked at the idea that she was a “survivalist,” and claim that this is the news media spinning her into a caricature that helps us make sense of this tragedy.
I won’t pretend to know the inner-workings of her life, or her relationship to her son, but I find it strange and troubling that her death doesn’t seem to count.
- The Existential Fall Out after Newtown
The Existential Fall Out after Newtown I have a heavy heart tonight. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of Newtown. The Newtown shooting is a terrible tragedy. It has reminded me of lessons learned while studying the families of murder victims. For the past 2 years, I have been researching the everyday lives of families who lose someone in a murder. This has been difficult—and often heartbreaking—research. I have spent many nights thinking about how much I take my family, friends, and other people in my life for granted. I think about the mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings whose first and last thoughts of each day are of the person they loved and lost. The things that I have seen and the stories that I have collected have left a deep and permanent mark on my soul.
Amongst the many thoughts swirling around in my head, I keep returning to a troubling “double standard” that we often taken for granted when shootings happen.
On one hand, the Newtown shooting reminds us that fatal violence can happen at anytime to anyone. It is a painful reminder that life is precious and that it can be snapped away from us at any moment. The Newtown shooting makes many of us feel an existential fall out. How could this happen? Why did this have to happen? And what does this mean for me? For many of us, these shootings cut a little too close to home. They happen in places to people who remind us of ourselves. We begin to wonder: “Are we ever really safe?” “Will our children come home from school today?” “Will this happen at my favorite movie theater?” In turn, these ideas shape how we feel about families who mourn in the wake of such tragedies. We feel deep empathy, compassion, and sadness for families and victims in Newtown. We talk about the victims here as innocent children who met a horrible death completely out of their hands. We wonder how the families and friends of victims will cope with such a loss. But, the same kinds of sympathy and compassion are often not extended to families who lose their children in street shootings every day. These situations are treated very differently by the media, by our leaders, and by many of us. We see these shootings as events that only happen to people who are caught up in the wrong crowd. We assume that these victims—who are often children—must have been dealing drugs, in a gang, or doing something to meet such a horrible end. Everyday violence in our inner-cities helps us hold onto a precious myth: Fatal violence only happens to people who bring it on themselves. If we can believe this, or at least think it might be true, we can feel safe again. How do we reconcile these conflicting responses to tragedy? I’m here to tell you that many of our popular assumptions about the second group of victims are deeply problematic and misinformed. Many of the people that I have followed over the years have been young men who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is a powerful message that John Rich—a physician, scholar, and interventionist—teaches us in his powerful work on young black men’s experiences with trauma. This is a theme that also resonates with my work: One family I followed lost their youngest son in a street-style execution shooting. The mother and two older brothers of the victim faced an unsympathetic and sometimes cruel world. Newspaper articles talked about this case as an example of how families need to keep closer tabs on their children. Local community leaders and church pastors used this event to denounce drugs in the community. And, most hurtful of all, supervisors at the mother’s work filed complaints about her work productivity slipping after her son’s death. When she told them that she was in the bathroom wailing over the loss of her youngest child—she was fired and released with severance. This is only a small sample of the many tragedies that I followed in Philadelphia. I hope that this underscores the need to rethink how we process and make sense of gun violence across the board. The deep sympathy and pain that we all feel tonight for the victims of Newtown should be extended to families who lose sons, daughters, husbands, wives, grandparents, aunts, uncles, best friends, and siblings in our backyards everyday.
- Should Cop Killers be Eligible for Parole?
I'm teaching Ethan Brown's "Queens Reigns Supreme"
tomorrow. For those who haven't read the book, QRS is a rich book that chronicles Southside Queens in the 1980s--an area that has long been an iconic home to many of Hip Hop's elite (e.g. Run DMC, Nas, 50 Cent, Mobb Deep).
While many know of the area from songs that describe the neighborhood, Brown's book describes the rise and fall of various drug organizations in Southside Queens. Much of his narrative focuses on Lorenzo "Fat Cat" Nichol
s, a notorious drug lord who ran an organization that controlled large areas of Southside Queens and was one of--if not the biggest--distributors of heroin, cocaine, and later crack in the area. Using a mix of media reports, police wire taps, and other data, Brown reconstructs a complex history of Nichols and various other drug crews from the area.
In QRS, Brown also introduces us to Fat Cat's longtime friend/enforcer/and high-ranking lieutenant, Howard "Pappy" Mason
. Fat Cat and Pappy met while incarcerated and later became close affiliates that controlled much of the drug trade in Southside Queens.
Pappy becomes a central player in this story because he is later shown as the mastermind behind the highly-publicized assassination of NYPD rookie police officer, Edward Byrne.
|RIP Edward Byrne|
I won't spoil everything here, but Byrne was serving as a night's watch for a witness against Mason and the Nichols organization. Mason, who was behind bars for gun charges, ordered the hit on Byrne--who was shot and killed while sitting in his police car around 3 am in the morning. 4 men were later arrested in the murder of Bryne. Mason was later convicted of this and many other crimes, landing him with a life sentence in prison.
As it turns out, the four hitmen who killed Edward Byrne are scheduled for their first parole hearings in November of 2012. Not surprisingly, this has mobilized police officer unions and other concerned citizens, who have begun signing petitions to keep these guys and other convicted cop killers behind bars without chance for parole. So far, these efforts have garnered 250,000 signatures. Here's a recent article from the Washington Post
that describes the assassination, backlash, and parole situation.
This story and many others that I've collected during my research on fatal and non-fatal gun violence challenges my baseline thinking about crime and punishment.
On one hand, I believe that prisoners--even violent offenders--can be rehabilitated and that our prison system works best if it allows for people to become seen as rehabilitated. Otherwise, we open the door for a system that treats all offenders as 'lost causes' and deprives people of the right to redemption. This, to me, is a fundamental human right and something that we should vigorously protect.
But, at the same time, there is an inescapable (and often glossed) emotional side to this story and many other homicide cases. When reading about this case and others, one can't help but feel incredible pain for the family and friends of Edward Byrne, who lost a son, brother, cousin, friend, to a cold-blooded assassination. Indeed, the hitmen were later arrested and convicted because some of them were bragging to others about the killing. Another report claimed that one of the hitmen laughed when he saw brains flying out of Bryne's head.
Although these kinds of details are gruesome and difficult to hear, I think that the voting public should know about these details. Family members, friends, and others mourning a homicide think about these and many other cold and horrible details when thinking about a loved one who was taken from them. Long after suspects have been arrested, tried, and convicted, family and friends are left with traumatic mental images that haunt them for the rest of their lives.
As a public who routinely votes for or against prison and policy reform, I believe we should know and try to empathize more with victim's families and friends. By knowing these kinds of details, we can make decisions that are not just informed by our personal political ideas and sensibilities, but also shaped by an understanding of how these events transform the lives for family members and friends of victims. I think this is an important type of social understanding that should be part of any healthy policy debate.
- Obama, Romney, and Guns
I caught the tail end of the presidential debates tonight. As a gun violence researcher, I enjoyed that someone in the town hall crowd asked both candidates about their position on gun control. Although the debates have focused heavily on the economy and foreign policy matters, I believe that gun violence in our cities is a critically important domestic issue.
Here's a quick recap of my reactions:
I liked Obama's response. He talked about how gun violence prevention could begin in schools, and how faith-based organizations and law enforcement could help curb this problem. We didn't get to hear specifics about how he would do this, but if this is what he plans on doing, I think he's right on the money.
Romney's response puzzled me a little. He seemed to tow the conservative line of not wanting to scare away the powerful gun lobby and made sure to say that he wouldn't introduce new gun legislation. This was predictable. But, what about his comment on how gun violence could be linked back to single-parent households? I'm not saying that families aren't
important, but what exactly is the causal link here? Hearing him talk about gun violence as a symptom of single-parent homes should make lots of people squirm (particularly single-parent homes). He didn't come out and say it, but his comments were right in line with the well-rehearsed "culture of poverty" thesis, which has been roundly criticized and debunked by sociologists for the past 30 years.
If we are to infer from his remarks, we could guess that Romney believes that gun violence is the outcome of parents who aren't invested in their kids, and who are morally bankrupt and divorced. Nevermind institutional racism, declining infrastructure, disappearing work opportunities, and a litany of other structural problems that affect the populations living in areas with the highest rates of gun violence. Romney's comments seem so out of touch with inner-city realities, but then again, what should we expect from a guy who has written off 47%?
|AK-47: a revolutionary firearm|
How do other people feel about their responses?
I also found that both candidates sort of paid lip service to commentary that emerged in the wake of the Aurora shootings. After the mass shooting, pundits and policymakers began another familiar trope in American culture: The problem isn't guns, it's guns in the wrong person's hands. Just about every politician speaking out on the shootings dropped a line about mental health care reform. While I agree that we need to revamp our mental health care system (in terms of increasing access and coming up with more creative ways to deliver care), both candidates seemed to suggest a platform that would involve better screening measures to ensure that people with histories of mental illness can't buy guns. I think this is a slippery slope. How would this kind of program work? People who are insured are using mental health care at historically unprecedented rates; the stigma of having anxiety, depression, and many mental health conditions don't exist anymore (or they're at least more widely accepted conditions). What would this system look like? How would it work?
In the end, I'm just happy that gun violence got a brief--albeit hurried--moment in the debates. I'm curious to hear how others feel about each candidate's remarks.
- Michael Jackson's Thriller and Prisoner Health
I just read an LA Times article about a new prison program in Santa Rita Do Sapucai, Brazil. In exchange for reduced sentences, prisoners ride stationary bicycles that generate power for a city boardwalk.
The program was created by a local judge, Jose Henrique Mallman, who got the idea for this program after googling "renewable energy" on the Internet. Mallman, like many progressive minded folks, started realizing that prisons were doing little to reform inmates and had little effect on violent crime rates. Mallman is also moving to create a program that would reduce prisoner stays for reading and submitting book reports.
Prisoners are already singing the praises of this program. The program has kept some prisoners busy, who report feeling physically and mentally healthier as a result.
Reading about this program reminds me of a 2007 viral video of prisoners in the Philippines doing a choreographed rendition of Michael Jackson's "Thriller." If you haven't seen this video, and you have a few spare minutes in your day, you should check it out. It's pretty amazing.
|The Dancing Prisoners of Cebu Prison, Philippines|
This program was engineered by the prison's chief, Byron F. Garcia, who believed that a dance program would help improve the physical and mental health of inmates.
I am a big supporter of these kinds of programs. In addition to encouraging health promoting behaviors and reducing prisoner stress, I believe that they encourage teamwork and cooperation amongst a population that is often internally divided. I like to believe that these programs might be settings where some prisoners build positive relationships with other inmates and may help some inmates develop social skills that they hadn't developed in other domains of their lives.
How do others feel about these kinds of programs? Are they worth it? Are there other similar programs that are shown to work in the US?
- Lessons from The Karate Kid on Bullying
Like many of you, I was a child of the 1980s. I grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons and Bruce Lee movies like Enter the Dragon. My favorite movie from that era, however, was The Karate Kid. Most of you have probably seen the Karate Kid multiple times over, but here's a quick recap and explanation for why I'm using it as my lead-in for this blog:
|Wax on, Wax off!|
A kid, Daniel LaRusso, and his mom move from the east coast into a Southern Californian suburb. He arrives in sunny Southern CA and is immediately a fish- out-of-water. He develops a crush on a girl at school (played by Elizabeth Shue), but is picked on by mean bullies who are part of the Cobra Kai dojo, an aggressive 'no mercy' brand of karate. Daniel strikes up an unlikely friendship/mentorship with Mr. Miyagi (an old and reclusive Japanese immigrant) who teaches his valuable life lessons and karate using unconventional methods (like having him buff and wax his cars). Daniel eventually becomes a karate badass and confronts his bullies, earning their respect. The end.
Anyways, even though the Karate Kid is a pretty cheesy movie, it has a bunch of relevance for current discussions around bullying. In recent years, bullying has garnered popular attention, both in the US and in Canada. Scientists have linked bullying to a whole gamut of negative mental health consequences. It has been implicated in everything from relatively acute forms of depression and negative body image, to suicide amongst children and teenagers
While karate is still a popular mainstay in American society (and offers children a martial arts background that can pay dividends over the life course), Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has quickly become another popular form of self-defense for children. Both of the BJJ schools in which I have trained currently offer children's BJJ classes that are marketed as a means for "bully self defense." Check out Balance Studios in Philadelphia. They currently have a program that is designed to "Bully Proof" children
. My current BJJ school, Toronto BJJ, also has a children's class where they teach kids the fundamentals of BJJ. These classes are fun, engaging, and will teach your kids techniques and life lessons that will help them manage bullying, if they ever have to confront it.
|Don't be fooled by their smiles, these kids can wreck shop!|
And as BJJ continues to grow in popularity--thanks in large part to the explosion of the UFC and other MMA organizations--public schools are beginning to adopt BJJ as part of their physical education. Check out this article on BJJ becoming part of Brazilian elementary school education
One thing that I love about the martial arts is that they are not only a series of physical techniques and moves that one can deploy in self-defense scenarios. The martial arts also teach you to be a more calm, gracious, and confident person. The lessons learned on the mats often extend far beyond the dojo or gym. This, after all, is communicated in one of the best scenes from The Karate Kid. At one point, Daniel LaRusso asks Mr. Miyagi, "What kind of belt do you have?" Mr Miyagi, wryly responds, "Canvas. JC Penney, .98. You like?" Daniel replies, "No, I meant..." Mr. Miyagi then says, "In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants." Mr. Miyagi then taps his head and says, "Karate here." He then taps his heart and says, "Karate here." Mr. Miyagi then points to his belt, "Karate never here. Understand?"
- Home Mental Health Care for Gunshot Victims
Here is a link to a special guest blog that I've written for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Human Capital Blog. The post is called "Home Mental Health Care for Gunshot Victims,"
and is inspired by my fieldwork in Philadelphia with surviving gunshot victims. I'd be curious to hear what you all think.
Hope you enjoy.
- Jessica Ghawi and the National Shift Spotlight on Victimization
Although I'm always reading, writing, and thinking about gun violence, these past few weeks have provided me with an overwhelming amount of stuff to think about.
Mainly, I've been following news coverage of the mass shooting at the Dark Knight Rises premier in Aurora, CO. I've listened to numerous firsthand accounts of the shooting and seen virtual reenactments of how everything went down. My thoughts and prayers go out to all families who have been affected by this shooting. This was a terrible tragedy and quickly remind me of just how fleeting and precious life can be.
But, in thinking about the news coverage, I'm struck by how the Aurora tragedy has sparked national interests in victimization. I usually feel that victims of violent shootings don't get enough news coverage. I often feel like we as a society do not pay enough attention to the many lives that are shattered after a fatal shooting.
|Jessica Ghawi and a little furry friend|
But, this time around, I gotta say that I'm pleasantly surprised by the news. In my opinion, news coverage of the Aurora shooting has done a good job covering victim stories.
Some of this interest might have been initiated by the tragic death of Jessica Ghawi, a young woman who was killed in the Aurora premier--just a month shy of escaping a similar public shooting in Toronto's Eaton Centre. The details surrounding her death are extremely tragic and quickly became national news. In the days after the shooting, it was nice to see the news cover her story and the stories of so many other victims who were killed in Aurora.
Since then, folks like Anderson Cooper
have begun to focus national attention onto the family members and loved ones of victims in Aurora. I caught snippets of an hour long special in which he interviewed family members who reflected on their loss and experiences just days after learning that their sons, daughters, friends, and loved ones were murdered. Along the way, I've also caught smaller news pieces about victim's families that have made me feel like Jessica Ghawi's story has helped place victim's stories into headlines.
As expected, the left and right have jumped all over these tragedies and are using them to further political aims around gun control. In the wake of Aurora, liberal policymakers have begun to push for tighter gun laws. Many are pointing to the fact that James Holmes (the shooter) purchased his AR-15 assault rifle, his .40 caliber Glock pistol, and his shotgun legally. The left is also quick to point out that he purchased thousands of rounds of ammo and an extended magazine for his assault rifle legally. They argue that if such guns were not available for civilian ownership, such tragedies could be avoided.
Meanwhile, the right has invoked a familiar constitutional stance on gun control. By and large, they argue that the 2nd Amendment (the "right to bear arms") is a sacred and inalienable right, much like the right to free press and speech. They also argue that gun control isn't the real issue here; the main issues revolve around developing better ways of stopping certain people--criminal offenders, the mentally ill, etc.--from having legal access to guns.
I won't comment here on my political beliefs on gun control. It's a contentious issue and one that I'll save for another day...when I feel more resolved about inconsistent logics on both sides of the aisle.
But, while bigger moral and political issues around gun laws continue to grab national headlines, it's nice to see that the news is also reporting on the little people whose lives are directly impacted by mass shootings.
In the months to come, news will inevitably find other tragedies and events to report on; news coverage will also probably shift to forthcoming trials and hearings for James Holmes. As the news coverage shifts away from those directly affected by the shooting, it's incredibly important for everyone to remember the victims and the collective forms of grieving and pain that encircles their families and friends. Families and friends of murder victims have a long road ahead of them. Healing from such tragedies is something that takes a long time and the continued attention, care, and support of multiple institutions and people. While victim stories are front-and-center now, we as a society need to resist the temptation to "move on" and figure out better ways to help the families and friends of fatal gunshot victims.