Anonymizing The Shooters

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, staked out a firm — and interesting — position after a terrorist attack by a white supremacist on two New Zealand mosques killed dozens of people last month.  “[Y]ou will never hear me mention his name,” said Ardern. “He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”  She added: “He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name.”

anongiftsPrime Minister Ardern is the latest figure to argue that the individuals who commit mass shootings should be anonymized, and that news reports of such crimes should not name the killers.

The anonymity effort traces its roots back to the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, which produced massive coverage of the American teenagers who did the killing.  The Columbine shootings are believed to have motivated many other mass shootings, both in the United States and around the world, and some observers argue that giving the Columbine shooters publicity and celebrity-style coverage only encourages future attacks.  The New Zealand shooter, for example, was supposedly inspired by a 2015 mass shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

As one criminologist, Adam Lankford, has put it:  “A lot of these shooters want to be treated like celebrities. They want to be famous. So the key is to not give them that treatment.”  Detailed news coverage of shootings can also be used as a guide to would-be shooters who are planning their own mass attacks, and can motivate future killers to try to outdo the death tolls in prior shootings.  It’s apparently a sad, sick reality of our modern world that some people are so obsessed with becoming famous that they will commit heinous crimes against innocent strangers to obtain the publicity they crave.

Should the terrorists and criminals who commit mass shootings be named, or should the news media refrain from identifying shooters while otherwise providing the news about such killings?  There’s no doubt that the names of criminals are part of the news.  Every new reporter learns about the “5 Ws and an H” — who, what, where, when, why, and how — that should elements of any news story.  But members of the news media also are part of society and have always accepted some element of social responsibility in their news coverage — by not publishing ultra-bloody or violent images, for example.  Withholding the names of mass shooters who hope for notoriety is just one additional step down that same path.

I don’t know whether anonymizing mass shooters will help to discourage future tragedies, but I do know that what has been done to date hasn’t worked.  I applaud the stance of Prime Minister Ardern and hope that reporters and editors will start to recognize that providing publicity to such shooters simply makes the new media a pawn in their sick and twisted effort to become famous.

Advertisements

Thoughtless And Hopelessly Self-Absorbed

Sometimes I wonder about if people have changed, or whether there have always been a healthy percentage of seriously jerky people in the American population.  Did the “Greatest Generation” that survived the Great Depression and won World War II to usher in an era of great prosperity, for example, have a significant number of thoughtless and hopelessly self-absorbed members — or is the presence of such people an unfortunate modern phenomenon?

close-up-of-measles-rash-f7cd43Consider this article.  A 57-year-old Wisconsin man stayed in a hotel with people who have the measles — which is one of the most contagious diseases around.  The measles virus is communicated to different people by coughing and sneezing, and the virus is hardy enough to live for two hours in an airspace where an infected person coughed or sneezed.  In order words, you don’t need to be in the same room as someone who has measles at the same time for the disease to be transmitted.  The U.S. regularly deals with measles outbreaks when an infected person appears in a community, some members of the community aren’t vaccinated, and the disease quickly starts to spread.  With more and more people blithely deciding they don’t need to have their children vaccinated, the risks of an outbreak are multiplying.

Because the man had potentially been exposed to measles, officials decided it was prudent to keep him quarantined for 21 days and he was ordered to stay home.  Police officers were even posted outside his home to make sure he obeyed the quarantine order.  But because the man felt that he was “going crazy” inside his house, he enlisted his wife to help him escape.  He hid in her car and went to a gym so he could work out.  A gym, of course, would rank right up there as one of the best places for the measles virus to spread — an enclosed space where people are exercising in close quarters, and therefore breathing deeply of the shared air.

The man says he only stayed at the gym for a few minutes, because he started feeling guilty, and when he and his wife were later found outside by deputies, he apologized.  He’s now been charged with violating his quarantine order, and he points out that he never was officially diagnosed with measles and never thought he was symptomatic.  But, of course, that’s not a decision he gets to make, and now he and his wife are being prosecuted for their stupid and dangerous decision.

I think it would be tough to stay cooped up in your house for 21 days without getting cabin fever, but quarantine orders are for the public good.  You’d like to think that a mature adult would accept such an order and deal with it — but apparently that’s not the case.  I think anyone who would violate such an order and unilaterally decide to go to a public place like a gym, where they could potentially be exposing innocent people to one of the most contagious diseases around, should be prosecuted.  Maybe he’ll learn that the world doesn’t revolve around him, and there’s such a thing as a greater good.

Reining In Excessive Fines

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which states that “[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted” — imposes limits on the abilities of state and local governments to seize assets and property and impose financial penalties.  And the Court’s ruling applying the “excessive fines” clause of the amendment to state and local governments was a unanimous one, which is a welcome development in our era of increasingly divided politics.

gettyimages-1066751830The case involved an Indiana man who was arrested for selling several hundred dollars’ worth of heroin, had his $42,000 Range Rover seized as part of the process — even though the maximum fine for his crime was $10,000 — and sued to get his car back.  The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the “excessive fines” clause of the Eighth Amendment did not apply to the states, even though the “excessive bail” and “cruel and unusual punishment” clauses have long been applied to the states.  The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, disagreed.

The decision yesterday addresses a significant real world issue — namely, how far can states and local governments go in imposing monetary penalties and seizing property from people who violate the law . . . or, in some cases, are only accused of violating the law.  Because raising taxes isn’t popular with voters, state and local governments have increasingly looked to aggressive forfeiture practices to fund part of their operations.  Briefs filed in the Supreme Court noted that more than half of municipal and county agencies who participated in a survey said reliance on forfeiture profits was a “necessary” part of their budgets, and that, in 2017, 10 million people owed more than $50 billion in criminal fines, fees and forfeitures. And the aggressive penalties aren’t limited to drug offenses.  One brief in the Supreme Court, for example, described how a $100 ticket for a red-light violation in California results in another $390 in fees.

In holding that the excessive fines clause applies to the states and local governments, Justice Ginsberg noted that “[e]xorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties,” and added:  “Excessive fines can be used, for example, to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies. . . . Even absent a political motive, fines may be employed in a measure out of accord with the penal goals of retribution and deterrence.”

Now that the states know that they can’t impose excessive fines, it will be up to the courts to determine whether the aggressive property forfeiture and fining practices, like the seizure of the Range Rover, are “excessive” or not.  We’ll have to see how that works out, but for now it’s nice to know that Americans have another constitutional protection against potentially overreaching governmental actions.

Realtors And Guns

The next time you go to an open house for a house for sale, bear this in mind:  that chatty, hyper-friendly realtor who encourages you to take an information sheet about the home might just be packing a sidearm under their blazer.

Woman Pulls A Gun From Her Swanky Purse. Conceal Carry Weapon FoA recent survey by the National Association of Realtors found that 1 in 6 realtors state that they carry a gun on the job.  Why?  Because being a realtor has become an increasingly dangerous job in our increasingly dangerous world.  Non-realtors like me don’t focus on the risks, but they’re pretty apparent when you think about what realtors do.  They typically work alone.  They make appointments and meet with potential clients who are total strangers that might potentially want to rob them or otherwise do them harm.  And they regularly go into darkened, empty houses where an unknown home invader might be lurking.  In short, being a realtor doesn’t just require a gift of gab and sales skills, it also requires a considerable bit of intestinal fortitude, too.  Not many of us have jobs that require us to regularly go alone into strange houses where we might encounter unknown people with unknown intentions.

The statistics bear out the risks that realtors face.  A 2018 NAR study found that 33 percent of the realtors surveyed had experienced a situation that made them fear for their safety, and five percent responded that they had been the victim of a crime a work.  And, as the article linked above shows, in some cases realtors have been the victims of assaults, armed robberies, and even abduction, kidnapping, and murder.  That’s one reason why the NAR has stepped up education and training efforts to try to help realtors deal with the risks.  And it’s why an increasing number of realtors have decided that, for their own safety, it makes sense to bring along a weapon when they are going on the job.

I think being a realtor would be a tough gig for a lot of reasons.  You’re going to be dealing with a lot of people who really aren’t serious buyers and ultimately are just wasting your time, and you’ve got to be enthusiastic and pleasant whenever you’re with a client, which must be exhausting.  The personal safety risk just makes the realtor role more difficult.  If I had a job where I thought I needed to cary a gun to be safe, I think I’d look for another job.  But I also think this:  I’ll never again wonder about whether realtors really earn that commission when a house is bought and sold.

The Awful Hatred Within

We now have to ask ourselves two more of those questions that can’t ever be adequately answered, not really.  Why would someone arm themselves with an arsenal of weapons and go into a synagogue to murder complete strangers during a bris?   Why would someone conclude that the best course of action under the circumstances was to create crude pipe bombs and send them to political and cultural figures?  Why?  Why?

181027-synagogue-shooting-al-1443_70ba0bef22a8f1ea38102491713be93c-fit-760wIf you read about Robert Bowers, the despicable anti-Semitic murderer who shot up the Tree of Life Congregation in a Pittsburgh suburb, and Cesar Sayoc, the lunatic who allegedly sent bombs to the likes of former President Barack Obama, you quickly realize that they had at least one hugely significant thing in common:  they were haters.  They hated their targets with a terrible, venomous passion, they expressed their hatred on social media and in their interactions with others, and finally they acted on their hatred in the most horrible ways imaginable.

What would it be like to live your life consumed with hatred for some target group, so filled with loathing and anger that you would reach the point where you would act out your hatred on complete strangers?  And more to the point, how many more Robert Bowers and Cesar Sayocs are out there, lurking in the shadows and on the fringes of society, simmering in their hatred and disturbed world views, on the verge of wreaking havoc?  How many more disturbed ranters might be ready to take action?   And, perhaps even more disturbing, how many people noticed the evil directions that Robert Bowers and Cesar Sayoc were taking, could have done something about it, but didn’t?

We all need to stand with the Tree of Life Congregation and the targets of the mad bombing scheme, and also recognize that this kind of ugly, violent hatred can be, and has been, directed at any group that can be defined by religious, political, or personal differences.  But more proactively, we need to keep an eye on those people who appear to be veering off into a place where they might do something so abominable.   We Americans, as a community, need to start doing a better job of watching out for each other and protecting our way of life from the depredations of the lunatic fringes.

Under Lock And Key

Do you ever leave your house unlocked, even for only a few minutes?  How about your car?

I never do.  In fact — and you can call me obsessive-compulsive if you want — I make sure I always lock our house with the deadbolt and not just the automatic lock, and I try the door handle after I’m done to be certain.  I also hit the locking button on our car key and hear the little chirp twice and then pull on the door handle to make absolutely sure the lock is engaged.  I have keys in hand before I do either of these things to make sure that I’m not locking myself out, too.  These are habits I’ve had for as long as I can remember.

187098I mention this because of this article I ran across about crime statistics in one upper middle class midwestern suburb in a recent month.  All of the 25 cases of automobile theft in that month involved unlocked cars, and half of the house thefts involved unlocked homes.  That’s mind-boggling to me.  And the house break-in data is skewed, because of some unique circumstances — typically, according to the article, an astonishing 80 percent of such thefts involve unlocked cars and houses.  Why would so many people leave their cars and houses unlocked?  Are they worried about locking themselves out?  Do they think they would be inconvenienced by the few seconds it takes to fish a key out of pants pockets or purses and unlocking their car or house?  Do they think they’re going to be gone for only a few minutes and there’s no risk?  Or are they just trusting souls who are convinced their neighborhoods are totally safe at all times?

According to the article, too, the identity of the criminals has shifted.  Before, teenagers looking for a little pocket money were often the perpetrators of such petty theft; now it’s inevitably adult opiate addicts who are looking for money that will allow them to get a quick fix.  Check out the chilling video surveillance footage accompanying the article, of the guy quickly checking the doors on cars.  According to the article, the thieves try to minimize their risk — in cars, they’ll look for an unlocked car and when they find one they’ll steal loose change and whatever appears to be valuable and be out in a few seconds, and in houses they’ll head directly to the bedroom, steal any visible small electronics they see, take any jewelry and money from the bedroom, and get out of the house in a few minutes — so being away from your unlocked house or car for only a few minutes isn’t going to provide any protection.  And the article notes that having a dog isn’t a sure-fire thief deterrent, either.

Why take a needless risk?  As the title of the article states:  Lock your damn doors!  (And make sure your kids do, too!)

Public/Private

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who had been a vocal proponent of the “Me too” movement and had been investigating the activities of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, resigned on Monday, hours after he was accused of physically assaulting four women.

7-schneiderman-w710-h473Two of the women who spoke on the record said Schneiderman hit them without their consent and that they had had to seek medical treatment for being slapped and choked.  One woman, who was born in Sri Lanka, said Schneiderman called her his “brown slave,” choked her, beat her, and spat at her.

In response to the allegations, Schneiderman said that “[i]n the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity.”  Schneiderman’s resignation statement, given several hours after the story broke, said:  “While these allegations are unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of the office, they will effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time.”  New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, who had called for Schneiderman’s resignation, stated:  “Given the damning pattern of facts and corroboration laid out in the article, I do not believe it is possible for Eric Schneiderman to continue to serve.”  Schneiderman is now being investigated by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Schneiderman’s resignation statement raises an increasingly common question about where to draw the line between public and private when you are talking about public officials.  He claims that the allegations are “unrelated” to his “professional conduct” or the operations of the New York Attorney General’s office — but if the allegations of the four women are determined by investigators to be true and Schneiderman is prosecuted for the physical assaults, that’s obviously not accurate.  As a baseline, the “professional conduct” of an Attorney General should include not engaging in criminal activity.

But what if Schneiderman’s depiction of the circumstances are credited, and his violent interaction with the women was part of “role-playing and other consensual sexual activity”?  If, hypothetically, two consenting adults choose to engage in such conduct, and one of them is a high-ranking public official, does the public have a right to know about it?  It’s an exercise in line-drawing, and part of the evaluation has to consider whether public officials have a right to enjoy some kind of privacy in their personal lives — and, more broadly, whether imposing a rule that says every aspect of an individual’s personal and family life is fair game will discourage people from seeking office in the first place.

These are tough questions, but in my view there are some lines that can be drawn.  If a public official is engaging in conduct that indicates that they have an interest in acting out violent and demeaning fantasies, I want to know about it and factor it into my decision-making on whether they should be serving the public trust.