The Airport Den Of Risk

The FBI recently identified another security risk that we all need to be aware of when we are at the airport. Now we not only need to worry about unattended bags, keeping an eye on suspicious behavior of other would-be travelers, and avoiding use of “free” wifi that might be a ruse offered by hackers, we also need to avoid plugging into the USB ports at public charging stations at airports–or any other public places.

The FBI’s Denver office notes that hackers “have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices,” so you should carry your own charger and USB cord and use a standard electrical outlet instead. The FCC has weighed in on this risk, too. The hacking technique, alliteratively called “juice jacking,” involves the hackers loading malware directly into the public USB port that can then automatically load to your cellphone when it is plugged into the charging port. The risk exists because USB cables are designed to both transfer power and transfer data–which means that if the device with the “free” USB port has been hacked, it becomes a handy way to implant bad code onto the devices of unsuspecting travelers who just want to make sure they’ve got sufficient power to operate their phones or laptops while they are in the airport.

Once the malware is on your phone, it could allow the hackers to access your data and ongoing communications, use the information to commit identity theft, instruct your bank to transfer funds, prepare targeted “spearphishing” efforts that draw upon your personal information, or do any of the countless other evil things that hackers routinely do. You can avoid this risk by bringing your own uninfected charging cable and wall plug and then plugging them directly into an AC outlet–which is designed simply to transmit power, and not transfer data, too.

Airports are increasingly risky places these days, and the criminal element is always coming up with new ways to take advantage of common behavior–like the concern about having enough juice for your phone while you wait at the gate–to achieve their nefarious ends. At the airport, regrettably, it is safer to trust nothing and no one.

Testing The Power Of Classical Music

One of the residential buildings across the street from us in downtown Columbus has a sound system that plays classical music in the area right outside the entrance, all day long. When you walk past, you inevitably hear a snippet of a classical favorite. We suspect, however, that the building does its broadcasting not because the residents are devoted classical music lovers, but because the music tends to keep the street people who might otherwise camp out there moving along to another location.

This potential power of classical music is being tested on a bigger scale in Los Angeles. The L.A. Metro system is dealing with homeless people camping out in stations, drug overdose deaths on buses and trains, and a spike in serious crimes. One subway station in the L.A. Metro system is trying to address those problems through a pilot program in which floodlights and a classical music playlist featuring Beethoven, Mozart, and Vivaldi (pictured above) feature prominently, in hopes of influencing drug users, would-be criminals, and homeless people to leave the station and go somewhere else. An L.A. Metro spokesperson said the music is being used “to restore safety at the transit station” and “as means to support an atmosphere appropriate for spending short periods of time for transit customers who wait an average of 5 to 10 minutes for the next train to arrive.”

L.A. Metro says the classical music technique has produced an “improvement in public safety,” with a “75 percent reduction in calls for emergency service, an over 50 percent reduction in vandalism, graffiti and cleanups, and a nearly 20 percent drop in crime.” Critics of the program say, however, that the the music is being played at dangerously loud levels, weaponizing the music so that it is akin to a torture device. Others say that the music makes the station feel like a set from a dystopian movie. And still others say that the L.A. Metro station approach isn’t getting at the root cause of the homelessness problem that has plagued the Los Angeles area.

Obviously, playing classical music, or any music, at volumes that might do damage isn’t appropriate–but if sound levels are properly regulated, the music and floodlights approach seems like a reasonable effort to discourage criminals and non-riders from hanging out in transit stations. To be sure, the L.A. Metro test program doesn’t address the “root causes” of homelessness, but that criticism isn’t a fair one in my view. L.A. Metro’s charter isn’t to solve the broad societal problem of why Los Angeles has so many unhoused people or why people use dangerous drugs. Instead, its purpose is to provide safe, reliable, clean public transit options for riders. Crime, drug use on buses and trains, and homeless encampments in metro stations clearly interfere with those goals–and if playing some Vivaldi at reasonable volumes helps to address those issues, that seems like a good idea.

“Red Collar” Crime

Yesterday, in connection with a discussion of the Alex Murdaugh case, I saw a reference to “red collar” crime. If, like me, you hadn’t seen that phrase before, it refers to instances of “white collar” crime–that is, crimes of a financial nature, like embezzlement, Ponzi schemes, or fraud–when the criminals turn to murder in an attempt to cover up their conduct. White and red collar crime are distinguished from “blue collar” crime, which always involve some act of violence against person or property.

Red collar crime isn’t as unusual as you might think. The article linked above notes that Frank Perri, a criminal psychologist, studied 50 reported cases of red collar crime and found that there were some common behavioral elements in the criminals involved that made them resort to violence, either by pursuing murder themselves or, more commonly, by hiring a “hit man” to kill people who the criminal feared might alert the authorities to the underlying financial crime.

Analysts believe that true extent of red collar crime might be vastly underreported, because a random murder occurs and police and prosecutors might never make the connection between the murder and an unsuspected financial crime. That’s not surprising, since many financial crimes go undetected. (The murder of the Patrick Swayze character in Ghost, for example, was a red collar crime that would never have been connected to underlying financial crimes if it hadn’t been for the help of a determined ghost and a psychic.)

I’m not sure it’s all that helpful to draw clear lines between types of crimes, because financial crimes are just as criminal as other crimes. They can be devastating, too–as anyone who has been cheated out of their life savings by a fraudulent scheme or identity theft can attest. Perpetrators who have a criminal impulse probably aren’t very good about respecting clear boundaries when they feel cornered and at risk of their misdeeds being discovered.

The Impact Of Shoplifting

Walmart announced recently that it will be closing its last two stores within the city limits of Portland, Oregon, because the performance of the two stores wasn’t meeting the company’s financial expectations. The decision follows a recent statement by Walmart’s CEO that increasing retail theft was affecting the performance of its stores. The two store closures will affect 600 employees, who will be given the opportunity to transfer to suburban Walmarts in the surrounding area, as well as the people who live nearby and use the store regularly.

Portland evidently has a significant shoplifting problem, and it is making businesses make a difficult choice. Walmart’s CEO noted that the spike in shoplifting means that prices “will be higher and/or stores will close.”  Other businesses, including Nike and Cracker Barrel, have closed Portland locations. Smaller businesses have been hurt, too. The owner of an upscale consignment shop at a Portland-area mall had to close that location because it was hit by shoplifters 19 times in the course of a year. The shoplifters stole $56,000 in merchandise, which was more than the business could absorb. Portland news media reports that the shoplifters often are brazen, stealing even in the view of security cameras, and apparently have little fear of being arrested or prosecuted.

The consignment store’s owner voiced her frustration with the situation in this way: “The amount of work that goes into running a small business, down to the research, tags and training to do this the right way and then someone just steals a day’s worth of all your work, it’s like — ‘What’s the point?'”

Portland’s sad story illustrates the domino effect that occurs when criminals are not caught and punished. If retailers respond to shoplifting losses by raising their prices to cover the cost of the thefts, the impact is borne by shoppers who are actually paying for their goods, as opposed to pilfering them. If stores are closed, jobs are lost, employees are dislocated, storefronts go empty, and the commercial real estate market is hurt. And, because the thieves don’t pay for their crimes, others are incentivized to steal, and entrepreneurs who otherwise might be opening new businesses are discouraged from doing so.

It’s not a positive cycle.

The Power Of The Crime Issue

Chicago’s incumbent mayor lost in her bid for reelection last night. Mayor Lori Lightfoot finished third behind two challengers, garnering only 16.89 percent of the vote.

The consensus view is that the outcome-determinative issue in the Chicago mayoral race was crime. The Windy City experienced a 41 percent increase in overall crime from 2021 to 2022, and the candidate who received the most votes in yesterday’s election, Paul Vallas, campaigned on the theme that crime in Chicago is out of control. Vallas, who is backed by Chicago’s police union, ran on a law-and-order platform and calls for adding hundreds of new officers to the city police force.

Interestingly, the second place candidate, Brandon Johnson, takes a sharply different approach, arguing that Chicago doesn’t need more money for police, but instead should increase funding for mental health care, education, jobs and affordable housing. Other candidates, including Lightfoot, accused Johnson of wanting to “defund the police.” It therefore looks like Chicago voters will be presented with starkly different approaches to the crime issue as the candidates move toward the final runoff election on April 4.

Mayor Lightfoot’s loss in the Chicago mayoral race shows, once again, that crime is an immensely powerful political issue, especially on the local level. If voters don’t feel personally secure as they go about their lives, they aren’t going to pay a lot of attention to other matters. In American cities, that’s a lesson from Municipal Politics 101.

Where Have All The Bicycles Gone?

In Columbus, as in all major cities around the world, bicycle theft is a significant problem. The city has tried to address the problem by encouraging cyclists to “bug your bike” by putting RFID chips in one of two specific locations on their two-wheelers and registering them with the city; the chips allow participating groups to scan bicycles and, hopefully, return them to their rightful owner. There’s also a Central Ohio Facebook group called Bike Snoop that promises to be on the lookout for stolen bikes and bike thieves. Community involvement apparently helps; a local media outlet recently reported on one distinctive, bright orange bike that was stolen and recovered thanks to attentive community members.

One of the issues with stolen bikes is: where do they go? Do they stay in the area where they were taken, or is there a stolen bicycle network that carts them to neighboring towns to be sold as used bikes to unsuspecting purchasers? A recent study in Amsterdam, in which there are 11,000 reported bike thefts each year, tried to answer that question by putting mobile trackers on a fleet of bikes and then tracking them. The effort determined that stolen bikes in Amsterdam got resold to unwary buyers, who then rode the bikes in the same area where the bikes were stolen in the first place. There are so many bicycles in Amsterdam that the stolen ones evidently just get lost in the mass of thousands of bikes in the city.

If the Amsterdam study findings hold true in Columbus, that suggests there is some value in participating in the “bug your bike” program, taking a picture of your ride so you can share it if theft occurs, and trying to get the police and the community involved if your bike is stolen. Doing something to distinguish your bike from the mass of other cycles would help, too.

When Libraries Aren’t Safe

For many bookish kids, myself included, libraries were a fabulous place of discovery during our childhoods. I loved going to the local library and browsing among the bookshelves, looking for a Homer Price book or an Encyclopedia Brown book or a Hardy Boys book that I hadn’t read yet–being careful always to be quiet as a church mouse to avoid being shushed by the librarian. For me, and I think many others, public libraries were a gateway to a lifetime of reading and all of the pleasure and intellectual growth it has brought.

That’s why it is so sad to read about the problem at the main library in Boulder, Colorado. The library had to close before Christmas because there was a spike in people using the library bathrooms to smoke methamphetamine, exposing staff members to meth residue and fumes. Then, when the city conducted tests of the air ducts and ventilation system at the library, it found unacceptably high levels of methamphetamine, leading the city to keep the library closed to conduct further tests of surfaces in the library. You can read the City of Boulder press release about the unfortunate situation here. According to a more recent report from a Colorado TV station, testing showed some contamination in certain seating areas, causing library officials to remove the furniture in those areas and further delaying the reopening of the library.

Anyone who has been in a library branch in an urban area recently has probably noticed that those library branches attract homeless people who are looking for a place to stay warm, particularly during the winter months. Library restrooms often end up being used by those patrons as personal hygiene centers. Some libraries are also dealing with issues of homeless people camping out on library grounds. The homeless issue is a tough one, and no one thinks people should freeze during periods of frigid temperatures. But surely everyone can agree that libraries shouldn’t have to put up with people smoking meth in their restrooms. Libraries aren’t de facto public shelters or drug treatment facilities, and librarians shouldn’t be put in the position of policing library grounds and bathrooms to identify drug use or roust out other people who are engaging in illicit activities.

Ultimately, the issue boils down to whether libraries will be permitted to serve their intended function–as places of learning and wonder that allow members of the community to enjoy reading different books for free–without having to shoulder additional responsibilities as a result of other societal issues. Meth use in library bathrooms interferes with that intended function, and will have regrettable consequences. How many parents in Boulder are going to allow their kids to go to the main library now, to browse through the shelves and find a book that looks interesting? That’s very sad.

Robot Cops

There’s an interesting debate underway in San Francisco about the use of robots to assist the police. The police want to use seven remote-controlled robots in certain situations, such as to check out and if necessary defuse apparent bombs, or to provide video surveillance of a standoff situation. The issue that has raised concern is whether, and if so under what circumstances, the police could use the robots to apply deadly force.

The police have said that they don’t have plans to create “killer robots” carrying guns, but they don’t want to rule out the possibility of using the robots to carry explosives in extreme situations, where there is imminent risk of loss of life to police officers or the public that outweighs any other options. Critics say that those standards are too vague, and that allowing the use of robots in deadly force situations further militarizes the police and creates unacceptable risks for poor and minority communities, where there is already significant distrust of police activities.

Last night the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which had voted last week to allow the police to use the robots in limited deadly force situations, reversed course and banned such use of the robots for now. The Supervisors referred the issue to a committee for further study, and some Supervisors said that they wanted to give the public additional time to understand and react to the robot issue. The robot issue surfaced in the first place because of a recently enacted California law that requires police departments to inventory and seek approval for the use of military-grade equipment in law enforcement activities–a process that obviously contemplates public engagement with policing issues.

American police departments clearly have grown increasingly militarized over the past few decades, and the use of technology in police activities–whether it is helicopters, or drones, or armored vehicles, or advanced SWAT team equipment–is common. Most Americans, presumably, would have no objection to using robots to neutralize bombs, so that human lives are not put at risk. But using robots to apply lethal force raises different issues. Would using robotic delivery systems, thereby removing human beings from direct and immediate involvement, make the police more likely to use deadly force in the first place? Will police departments be tempted to increase their use of what they may consider to be cool new toys? And, more fundamentally, is it a good idea for police to use robots as a kind of technological interface with the public at large, increasing the perception that the police are divorced from the communities they serve and taking us farther and farther away from the cop on the beat of days gone by, who was part of the neighborhood?

These are tough issues that deserve some careful thought. I think the San Francisco supervisors are wise to take their time and let the public weigh in before deploying a force of “killer robots.”

The Disturbed Among Us

Recently I was walking home from work when I was approached by a street person. We have some “regulars” in our part of downtown, and over time you get to know them, but this person was unfamiliar. I immediately noticed that she had that kind of distracted, fidgety appearance that suggested that she was disturbed, or drugged up, or perhaps both. In any case, I kept my distance, and listened as she said she was a TikTok celebrity and asked for money to make a new video. (At least, I think that’s what she said.) When I demurred, she started fumbling in her pockets and dropped an unopened soda can, which started spraying all over. At that point the light changed, and I crossed the street and was on my way.

It was one random encounter on one early evening, and nothing came of it, but it got me to thinking all the same. If you live or work in a downtown area in America, you’ve no doubt had similar experiences. We’ve lived with street people in our midst since the U.S. adopted a deinstitutionalization policy decades ago, but lately it seems that a new layer of concern has been added to the interaction between the housed and the homeless. What used to be predictable panhandling has become more uncertain, and many of us have heard or read of encounters that have turned violent. The son of a coworker, for example, was attacked and stabbed with a screwdriver by a deranged street person in Denver. I’m not familiar with any such incidents in Columbus, where the homeless population seems to be smaller than in many other cities, but you don’t need to hear many such stories to be on your guard.

It’s difficult to get precise data about crime committed by the homeless, although there seems to be a consensus that it is underreported, because many such crimes are committed against other homeless people who don’t want to involve the authorities. Data from Los Angeles indicates that the substantial homeless population in that city accounts for about eight percent of the total amount of crime in that city, but 60 percent of that crime is classified as violent crime. Also concerning is the fact that many of the homeless among us are people who formerly were incarcerated; according to a recent study, people released from prison are 10 times more likely to become homeless than the general population. Drug use among the homeless population just adds to the volatility.

The issue of homelessness obviously is a complicated one, but the failure to address it has produced a culture in urban America where a street person seeking money might become suddenly aggressive, and a random encounter with a total stranger might become violent. That’s obviously not good for our cities, for people who live and work in them, or for the homeless people themselves.

The Life Span Of A Russian Oligarch

Being a Russian oligarch these days seems like a pretty dangerous job. In fact, lately the oligarchs–generally defined as anyone who is deeply involved in running a major industry in Russia, while accumulating vast amounts of wealth–are dropping like flies.

Vox reported last month that at least 15 Russian businessmen have died this year, often under mysterious circumstances. The causes of death include murder-suicides, hangings, shootings, stabbings, and of course falling out of a hospital window. The combination of deaths is so remarkable that one tabloid ran an article this week with the lurid headlineBLOOD FEUD How ruthless Russian oligarchs are ‘MURDERING each other’ in bloody battle for power in Putin’s ‘viper’s nest’‘.” (Speaking of vipers, fatal snake bites seem to be the one cause of death Russian oligarchs have avoided this year, although one oligarch was identified as dying during a shamanic ritual that involved “toad poison.”) The tabloid article includes head shots of the dead oligarchs, with icons identifying their causes of death.

So, what’s going on? Are Russian oligarchs just having a bad run of deadly health problems and sudden suicidal impulses? Based on a long record of suspicious deaths since Vladimir Putin took over, experts generally discount that possibility and say that the official reports of what happened should be taken with a grain of salt. And the sheer number of curious fatal falls–off cliffs, from boats, down flights of stairs, and out of hospital windows–sure seems like an improbable coincidence. But no one really knows what is going on, and whether it is a combination of actual suicides, poorly disguised political assassinations, or that vicious “viper’s pit” of killings within the small circle of greedy oligarchs fighting for every last ruble. And the impact of Russian struggles in its invasion of Ukraine, and the impact of resulting sanctions on the Russian economy, just add to the uncertainty.

The only thing we know for sure is that this is not a good time to be a Russian oligarch. If you’re going to be in Russia any time soon, keep your eye out for falling bodies if you happen to be walking past any hospitals or other tall buildings.

Those Annoying “Buy Your House” Texts

If you own a house–or if you formerly owned a house–you undoubtedly get them: those annoying but also unnerving texts from total strangers who address you by name and want to engage you in a conversation about selling your home. The texts are annoying because they clutter your text inbox and confirm that no form of communication is truly safe from unwanted solicitation efforts. They are unnerving because they show that, somewhere out in the internet vastness, telemarketers and potential scammers are trying to cobble together bits of information to link your name, your cell phone number, and your property holdings.

So, are these texts part of some fraudulent scheme, or are they legitimate efforts to buy a house? Apparently some house-buying texts fall into one category, and some fall into the other. The scam potential of such texts seems pretty obvious: the scammers want to knit together as much personal information about you as possible, which could be used for identity theft purposes, and hope that if they engage you in a text conversation you will divulge some personal financial information that they use to take your money. It’s hard to believe that anyone would fall for such a scam–but then who would have thought that people would fall for the Prince from Nigeria scams, either?

The article linked above, and a local report from a Columbus TV station, say that some of the texts are “legitimate” in the sense that they are from people who do in fact want to buy your house–or for that matter any house. They are flippers looking to purchase properties at bargain prices, perhaps make a few cosmetic changes, and then sell them. The texts you receive from the flippers are the modern equivalent of “cold calls,” with texts being used because no one owns land line phones any more or answers their cell phone when a strange number shows up. It’s an intrusive way to do business, which is just another reason why those texts are best ignored and immediately deleted without responding. If you want to sell your house, a local realtor who has been part of the community for years and who can give you an informed sense of fair market value is a better and safer option.

One final consideration is that, with interest rates going up and house prices going down, the “legitimate” texts about whether you are willing to sell your house are likely to stop, because no rapacious house-flipper is going to want to buy properties, spend money to fix them up, and then try to sell them at a profit in a down market. That means that, in the future, most if not all of those texts will be from fraudsters looking to cheat you in some way or another. It’s just another reason to be wary of unsolicited communications.

Literally Robbing Themselves Blind

War often exposes otherwise unknown things about one of the combatants. That has been the case in Russia, where the invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing fighting have exposed a huge problem with outright theft of the supplies that were supposed to be used to clothe and equip Russian soldiers. The theft problem is so acute that the Russian men who have recently been conscripted to fight have to buy their own uniforms, boots, and other gear–and what they are given by Russian authorities is often obsolete. “The army has nothing,” one of the conscripts said in a recorded call.

The BBC has an interesting story about the official records concerning supplies stolen from the Russian army and the staggering scale of the thievery. One member of the Russian Duma complained that 1.5 million sets of soldier kit, consisting of basic items like uniform pants, shirts, and flak jackets, summer and winter boots, helmets, and other essentials, have vanished even though, for years, Russia has been allocating huge sums toward its military supply budget. One popular item for theft is the night-vision goggles that soldiers obviously need for operations under cover of darkness–which means the Russians are literally stealing themselves blind.

The BBC report suggests that most of the stealing is being done by members of the Russian army, so much so that theft from military stores seemingly is a way of life. Commissary officers are adept at pilfering goods, creating fake stock lists, invoices, or reports to cover their tracks, and writing off perfectly good supplies as damaged by mold or poor storage conditions. Russian army records of the thieves whose schemes have been discovered reveal that the larceny ranges from spur-of-the-moment decisions to boost available items to systematic schemes to take goods in such quantities that trucks are needed. In addition to clothing and protective equipment, the light-fingered Russians are filching food and petrol–which may be why so many Russian vehicles in the Ukraine seem to be running out of gas.

The prevalence and vast scale of the crime makes it likely that the official records of theft barely scratch the surface of what has really happened in Russian supply depots. And the extent of the theft likely would not have been detected but for Vladimir Putin’s ill-conceived decision to invade Ukraine, which revealed that the cupboard was bare when it was supposed to be fully stocked. You have to think that the invasion of Ukraine not only was opposed by the civilized world outside of Russia, but also by the supply officers and soldiers in the Russian army whose criminal schemes suddenly were at risk of exposure. Supply officers who have been stealing for years make for good pacifists.

Still Digging For Jimmy

This summer marks the 47th anniversary of the abrupt disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, the former head of the Teamsters Union. On July 30, 1975, Hoffa was last seen in a restaurant in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit; he was legally declared dead in 1982. Hoffa is one of the most famous missing persons in American history, right up there with Amelia Earhart. TIME magazine, at least, places Hoffa with Earhart on the list of “top 10 famous disappearances.”

In the 47 years since Hoffa vanished, the FBI has spent a lot of time, and done a lot of digging, looking for him. An interesting article this summer by a current Harvard Law School professor recounts the high points of the extensive, long-running, and so far totally fruitless search for Hoffa’s presumed remains. As the article explains, over the last 47 years a rogue’s gallery of criminals, with the kind of nicknames you would expect if you’ve watched The Sopranos, have claimed knowledge of what happened to Hoffa and where he can be found. Their stories have differed, placing Hoffa’s remains in Florida swamps, in the concrete under Giants Stadium, in a Georgia golf course, and at various locations around Michigan. The FBI has investigated the claims, often to the point of digging, and nothing is found. The most recent, nine-month-long investigation focused on a former landfill under the Pulaski Skyway in Jersey City, New Jersey, and the FBI reported just last month that the effort came up empty.

Based on the record, it’s probably only a matter of time before another colorful character claims to have been involved in Hoffa’s disappearance, identifies a new spot, and the FBI gets out the shovels and does more digging for Jimmy. But after 47 years, it seems like the trail must be awfully cold. Whoever actually knew what happened to Jimmy Hoffa hasn’t talked about it, and unless we get a verifiable deathbed confession, we’ll probably never know. But at the FBI, the shovels are still at the ready, just in case.

The Reverse Starbucks Effect

Some years ago I wrote about the so-called “Starbucks Effect.” discovered when economists had crunched some numbers and found that houses located near a Starbucks coffee shop appreciated more than houses far away from the nearest Starbucks. The open question was whether the finding was the result of causation–i.e., that the decision to locate a Starbucks caused house prices to climb–or simple correlation.

Now, perhaps, we’ll get to see if there is a reverse “Starbucks Effect,” because the ubiquitous coffee chain is closing 16 stores–one in Washington, D.C., one in central Philadelphia, six in the Seattle area, six in the Los Angeles area, and two in Portland–because of personal safety concerns reported by employees. Many of the safety concerns, set forth in “incident reports” Starbucks employees submitted to the company, apparently involve drug use issues and encounters with customers and the general public.

A news article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the closure of the Philadelphia location reports that the Starbucks and other businesses in the Center City District had persistent problems with drug users in bathrooms, and that Starbucks has changed its policies to empower store employees to close restrooms and even entire stores in response to safety concerns. The Inquirer article noted that the drug use problem at the Philadelphia Starbucks was so significant that the store installed blue light bulbs in the bathroom, which are supposed to deter intravenous drug use by making veins less visible, In addition, the article reported that the store was the source of a number of “calls for service” to the Philadelphia police, primarily for individuals fighting.

It’s sad to think that coffee shops have become such unsafe spaces in some cities, but you can’t blame Starbucks for closing locations where there is a pattern of safety concerns that raise obvious liability risks. And you also have to wonder how people in the neighborhoods where the Starbucks stores are closing feel about the decision. What kind of message does it send if your area is deemed too unsafe for a Starbucks?

In Dangerous Times

Earlier this week Dave Chappelle was ending a show at the Hollywood Bowl when he was assaulted by a man who came up on stage and tried to tackle the comedian. The attacker, who was armed with a fake gun that contained a knife blade, was subdued by security as Chappelle finished his show. Ironically, during the show Chappelle had apparently just been joking about having increased security in the wake of the Will Smith-Chris Rock-Oscars incident, and Chris Rock–who was at Chappelle’s performance–came on stage and jokingly asked Chappelle whether the assailant was Will Smith.

We can tip our caps to Chappelle and Rock for their faithful adherence to “the show must go on” tradition in show business, but the attacks on performers obviously aren’t funny. The Hollywood Reporter has published a piece headlined “Nobody’s Safe: Dave Chappelle Attack Raises Concerns For Performers” that addresses the incidents that reflect the increasing risks involved in performing in public. The concern is that the invisible but previously respected barrier between the stage and the audience has been breached, and that performers now have to be wary of the possibility of being physically confronted by some lunatic every time they go before the public to do a show. While that is a risk for any live performer, the risk is greater for a comedian, who is up on stage, alone, and might just make a joke that some unbalanced person in the audience finds personally provoking. And the Chappelle incident, coming on the heels of the Will Smith-Chris Rock assault, raises heightened concern that copycats might be lurking out there, ready to charge the stage at any comedy venue.

Chappelle, who is a real pro, issued a statement after the attack saying that he “refuses to allow last night’s incident to overshadow the magic of this historic moment.”  I hope that turns out to be true, and that performers everywhere continue to perform before live audiences, albeit with enhanced security and greater attention to their safety. There is a certain magic in seeing a live performance that simply can’t be replicated in a Netflix special, and I would hate to see that lost. But if these kinds of incidents continue, I wouldn’t be surprised if some performers decide that live acts just aren’t worth it. In dangerous times like these, who could criticize them for being unwilling to take that risk?