- Gangnam Style and Celebratory Gunfire at a Yemeni Wedding
A video of Psi's "Gangnam Style" is going viral again. Only this time, the video isn't just a cheeky pop song. The video is apparently from a wedding party in Yemen. Guests at this wedding are dancing to "Gangnam Style." At the start of the video, you see a man firing celebratory gunshots from his AK-47. Nobody seems to mind. People keep dancing and the mood appears light and festive.
One minute later, the gunman rattles off another series of rounds. The dancing and music continue for a few seconds and then some revellers recoil in horror as they discover three people dead on the ground. I did some digging around the internet and couldn't find a reliable report on this event. But, from the looks of it, the gun was accidentally discharged in the direction of other party-goers.
I've never really understood "celebratory gunshots." I know that it's a popular pastime for some people on the 4th of July and New Years in the US, but wonder why people engage in such a risky practice? Do they believe that the bullets just magically fly away and disappear in the clouds?
When people fire gunshots into the air, bullets travel at high velocities into the sky and then fall back to earth. This is basic gravity at work. Doctors say that bullets fall back to the ground at a speed of 90 to 180/meters per second. A bullet travelling at less than 60 meters per second can cause a fatal head injury.
Each year, there are other tragic stories of innocent people struck by celebratory gunfire. For instance, in 2012, Diego Duran--a 12 year old from Ruskin, FL--was struck by a celebratory bullet falling back to the ground.
It hit him in the head and was lodged somewhere in his cheek. He spent 5 months in the intensive care unit. Eventually, Duran made a full recovery
, but his story is a reminder of how dangerous and risky celebratory gunfire can be.
I wonder if anyone has stories of celebratory gunfire from their own neighborhoods?
Here is the video. Be forewarned: It is graphic and disturbing.
- Dad Posts Selfie Before Killing Himself and Daughter: What about guns in suicide?
One of my students just tweeted a heartbreaking murder-suicide story. Merrick McKoy, shot and killed his 18-month daughter, Mia McKoy-Phanthavongsa, and then turned the gun on himself
In a nutshell, McKoy was upset that his girlfriend was going to leave him. He then announced the murder-suicide on social media. He wrote to his estranged girlfriend on Facebook, "I told u I can't live without u lol u thought I was just joking now me n Mia out this bitch." He then took a selfie with his daughter and killed her and then himself.
This story has stirred up so many feelings in me. Part of me wants to understand McKoy's mindset. He must have been in a terrible place. Love and heartbreak can make us all do stupid things that we regret. But, I've never heard of something quite like this.
I also can't imagine the pain that McKoy's estranged girlfriend, Kim Phanthavongsa, must feel. What kind of guilt is she feeling? What kinds of support does she have?
This is a tragedy all around and it raises additional questions about gun control and suicide.
Presently, the national conversation on gun violence and control focuses on the role of firearms in interpersonal violence. School shootings, gang violence, and other kinds of homicide situations are at the forefront of our public debates on gun control. There are powerful lobbies and interest groups, millions of research dollars, and a growing academic literature around the causes and consequences of gun-related homicides.
This focus is myopic. Most gun deaths are suicides. In 2011, there were 32,163 gun deaths in the US
: 11,101 of these were homicides; 19,766 of these were suicides. Put another way, gun suicides happen at a rate that is nearly twice that of gun homicides.
I wonder why suicide by gun isn't part of the conversation on gun violence and control? Is it because suicide isn't a tantalizing subject for the news or policymakers? Is it because in most suicide situations, victims only harm themselves? Why do most public conversations about gun violence neglect the ways that people use them to fatally harm themselves?
- Murder is Expensive
So, I've realized that my blog has been dormant for awhile...During this time, I've had that sinking, weighty feeling that you get when you have an unpaid bill collecting late fees, or a late homework assignment that constantly hangs over your head...
This isn't to say that I haven't been writing. I have. But, my writing energies have been channeled toward my book, Blowing Up
, which is finally nearing completion. As I revise chapters that I've revised multiple times over, I find myself gaining new respect and admiration for everyone who has ever finished a book. This is no small feat and something that I previously didn't quite appreciate.
In fact, as I make my way through the revision process, I find myself cringing at memories of when I was a first year PhD student. Like other eager grad students, I'd read an assignment book, mark the hell out of it with annotated questions (see snarky criticisms), and then come to class ready to really lay into the book. What a difference some time, perspective, and firsthand experience working on a manuscript can make!
Anyways, I'm currently on a train out to London, ON. I'm giving a talk today in the Sociology Department at the University of Western Ontario. The talk is less a polished presentation and more of a work-in-progress talk from a chapter in my new book tenatively titled Wounded: The Social Aftermath of Gun Violence
While thinking about this talk, I came across an interesting article in Forbes about the costs of fatal shootings
. This article really drove home a point that I've encountered in other places: Murders are economically costly for everyone
Take a look at some of these stats. On average, a single
murder results in .6 million dollars in lost wages over the killed individual's lifetime. It also racks up 5,000 in criminal justice expenses, ,000 in medical care for the deceased victim, ,000 in mental health care costs for the victim's family, and ,000 in losses to the victim's employer.
Those are some pretty staggering statistics. Regardless of how you feel about gun violence, gun control, or specific policies (i.e. concealed carrying, semiautomatic rifles, etc.), these numbers are a sobering reminder of why it makes fiscal sense to work toward ending gun violence.
Anyways, that's about it from here. I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this!
- How Trayvon Martin's Murder Changed my Ideas about Surveillance
The George Zimmerman trial has challenged some of my beliefs about surveillance in the 21st
On one hand, I’m like many of you and feel that the NSA, CIA, and other governmental institutions have far too much access to our private lives.
I also catch myself feeling the panoptical gaze of friends, co-workers, and random people on Facebook and other social media. In my personal dealings, I usually lament the disappearance of privacy. Christina Nippert-Eng’s insights in Islands of Privacy
are both timely and right on the money.
But, the George Zimmerman trial raises interesting questions about how crime fighting might be better with better surveillance technologies.
|What if we had the shooting on video? Would this case already be closed?|
Most of the state’s case against Zimmerman has been built on witness testimony. In addition to having Rachel Jenteal take the stand and testify that Trayvon was being stalked by Zimmerman, the state has called Trayvon Martin's mother and brother who have testified
that the grainy voice screaming for help on the 911 call was indeed the voice of Trayvon Martin.
The defense team, meanwhile, is trying to poke holes in this argument.
They are arguing that Zimmerman was the person calling for help.
If we believe this story, then, Zimmerman’s decision to use his firearm was justified and legally protected under “Stand your Ground Laws” in Florida.
While watching this case unfold, I can’t help but wonder how much of this back-and-forth about “who said what” and "who did what" would be moot if we had video surveillance catching the fatal shooting-in-progress. Imagine if there was a video of the shooting. We might be able to see the way that this shooting unfolded in real time. Zimmerman's defense might fall apart if the video showed him stalking and shooting an already subdued Trayvon Martin.
This is not to say that videos are inscrutable evidence. We can all remember how trial attorneys selectively played back and interpreted grainy home video of police officers beating Rodney King. Videos that show "what happened" can still be interpreted differently by different parties. This is one of the key lessons from Charles Goodwin's classic article, "Professional Vision," which looks at the ways that attorneys used/manipulated the Rodney King videos.
During my time in Philadelphia, I also attended various gun cases where videos had caught someone shooting someone else on tape. These tapes rarely had audio and were often of such poor quality that prosecutors had a difficult time using them as strong pieces of evidence against defendants. Defense attorneys could easily poke holes in these videos, claiming that the camera angle didn't provide visual confirmation that the defendant was indeed the shooter.
Like many of you, I'm weary of living in a world that feels like a scene from Orwell's 1984. But, is there a greater good that justifies ramping up surveillance? In some moments (like now), I tend to think so.
- Canadian Apologies and Dance Floor Etiquette
Canadians like to apologize a lot.
I’ve noticed that many Canadians are mindful of their personal space and the space of others.
Although my students and some colleagues have warned me not to be charmed by what they call the “underhanded apology,” I’ve found this to be a very pleasant part of living North of the border.
Take, for example, a mundane encounter last night during the Pride block parties.
A group of women were walking backwards in the middle of a crowded street full of intoxicated revelers hopped up on everything from booze to molly.
It was a slow and grinding procession.
Most of the outdoor parties were shutting down for the night and people were sort of roaming the streets, looking to keep the party going.
In the midst of it all, I spotted a group of women that looked especially
They were screaming loudly and dancing (more like flailing!) about…until BAM!
They ran into someone.
The guilty person—a somewhat gangly brunette who looked like she had three too many Tequila shots—swiftly apologized, “I’m soooooo Sorry” (emphasis on the strong “O” sound).
Her friend, a shorter brunette who was sporting a glow stick and “sex hair,” nudged her friend, “See!
You need to watch where you’re going!” They giggled at their mistake and the person they bumped into nodded and went on his way.
From my limited experience in Canada (and I do mean limited), this seems like a routine kind of interaction: Someone steps out of their personal space, briefly invades someone else’s space, and then “repairs” the tenuous situation offering an apology.
Sociologists from Goffman to Conversation Analysts are quick to point out that apologies are important maneuvers because they: a) clear up potential moments of miscommunication (which are ripe for conflict), and b) they show that a person knows when they are in the wrong and that they can be trusted in the future.
Apologies are moral acts that help maintain an otherwise fragile social contract between people.
Now, in spite of this general trend, I’ve noticed something peculiar happening on dance floors, which are spaces in which people relax (and modify) the taken-for-granted rules of personal space that they observe in everyday life. From my limited (and I do mean limited) experience, I’ve noticed that Canadians don’t generally observe a thing that I like to call “Hip Hop dance floor etiquette.” Let me explain: I grew up dancing Hip Hop and House in different music scenes stretching across San Francisco/Oakland, LA, and most recently Philadelphia. In all of these places, I’ve noticed that people clear up space for dancers who are starting to heat up. From massive raves in old and dank Oakland warehouses to swanky lounges in Center City Philly, people in different scenes I’ve danced in seem to understand that when someone starts doing a “6 step” or “The Indian,”
they let that person to bust. In LA, I was always fascinated by small house clubs where someone would flick their wrists upwards, which other people would see as a sign that they were going to lock or “Campbell-lock.”
Sometimes people would break out into an Apache Line
and top-rock with each other, or space would immediately clear around that person, creating a dance circle.
I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve had the opposite experience here.
There have been a number of recent times when I’ve been out and the opposite happens.
The DJ puts on a track that gets me hyped.
I start to pop or do some house stepping and quickly find a bunch of people walking around me, stepping on my shoes, bumping into me, spilling their drinks on me, or the worst—just standing there with their feet planted firmly into the ground
At first, I thought this was a hipster thing.
I thought, these kids are too cool for school and busting a move to Gang Starr’s“Mass Appeal”
might feel foreign to them. It might not move them in the same way.
Either that, or their skinny jeans made it hard or even painful for them to dance… ;)
Last night at one of the Pride block parties the same thing happened. And this time, I couldn’t fall back on the convenient “hipster explanation.”
The DJ was spinning a really awesome set.
I started to pop a little bit and then found myself surrounded by a group who looked at me like I had invaded their
What’s worse is that during the break of one of the songs, a tiny circle started to open up around me.
Whether on purpose or by chance, I started to have some space.
And then, this person walked right into the middle of the circle, bumped into me, and half-shoved me. I looked at her, expecting an apology, but got nothing except for an icy stare.
Where did the Canadian apology go?
Was she waiting for me to apologize?
I sure the hell wasn’t planning on it!
Maybe old habits die hard, but I am still a big believer in dance floor etiquette.
Anyways, I should say that I use the Canadian generalization a bit loosely here.
I’m mostly joking and don’t want to offend anyone.
I did have a really awesome experience with my friends at Open Mat MMA at their annual dance party.
There was a dance floor there and there were dance lines, dance circles, and lots of people vibing with one another.
I guess one moral of the story: Roll deep to a dance floor and you can create your own dance circles?
- Haunted by Gun Violence
The New York Times reported today that homicides in Chicago are down
. Data shows that year-to-date homicides have declined by 34%. This is the kind of crime drop that has public officials, police, and news reporters cheering. Statistically speaking, Chicago and other major cities are "safer" places than they were a year ago.
But, stats don't easily map onto the lived experiences of community members in these "hot spots" of crime. People living in areas with long histories of gun violence don't suddenly "feel safe" because politicians, police, and newspapers say so. Many are haunted by memories of family members, friends, and random acquaintances who have been gunned down in their backyards, on their stoops, and on corners in their neighborhoods. These memories aren't easily washed away by larger statistical trends in violence. They linger on in the minds of community members. They become key events that shape how community members make sense of their own lives and safety in the world.
|Photo of North Philly mural from Carlos Javier Ortiz, 2008|
Many of the folks that I've met throughout my fieldwork live in places that see similar annual fluctuations in crime. I always found it interesting how community members continued to be gripped by fear and continued to live their lives as if violence could happen
during times when local politicians and police were celebrating drops in violent crime. Their everyday lives seemed unchanged by the public enthusiasm around improved crime fighting. One of the residents in the NY Times article
captured this lingering fear best, "If you ask me, nothing has changed. I'm still scared to let the kids play in front of the house."
While year-to-year crime drops give everyone hope that they are making a dent on crime, we should remember that feeling "safe" and being "safe" are two different things. Making people "feel safe" is an elusive thing that requires a different kind of intervention. Simply increasing the number of police officers on the streets, or changing their tactics aren't likely to improve feelings of safety on the ground. I'm not sure what this would look like, but it's worth asking: What kinds of things might help community members "feel safe"?
- 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.