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News of The Week: Crime, Voting, and Community Organization

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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

News of The Week: Crime, Voting, and Community Organization

Nickie Phillips

Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD will be contributing "News of the Week" short topics, which she uses as a teaching tool to stimulate conversation in her sociology, anthropology, criminology and legal studies course. This year, she published a peer reviewed piece, "Creating an Antidote to Student Apathy: The News of the Week," in Teacher Scholar:  The Journal of the State Comprehensive University, Volume 3, Number 1 pp. 45-51.  After reviewing that piece, she noticed a trend for students to pick celebrity and criminal law related topics, such as the trial and sentencing of Dr. Conrad Murray, who was convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson; stalking of celebrities and average people; and cross-cultural.comparative dramaturgy in criminal trials. What follows is a sample of her classroom exercises.  Please choose ONE of the following THREE options.  Assume that the team will have 10 minutes to discuss (if time permits and if the team is keen to have more time, I will allow a bit more).

1.  DEVIANCE/CRIME AND PUNISHMENT/FOOTBALL AS A SOCIAL INSTITUTION/EDUCATION:  On October 9, 2012, Jerry Sandusky, former Penn State assistant football coach, was sentenced to a period of incarceration (prison term) from 30-60 years for sexually abusing young male football players involved in Penn State’s football program (which cost the University President, Graham B. Spanier, his job, as well as previously revered football coach Joe Peterno, whose statue was taken down at Penn).  Penn has acknowledged that it will have to pay the victims compensation (money) for the many abusive acts that were disregarded (or denounced) by the school and its officials, all of whom turned a blind eye (ignored) to what resulted in 45 counts of abuse.  As for Sandusky, he was defiant to the end, making statements prior to sentencing denouncing the veracity (honesty) of the 10 boys (all from disadvantaged homes) who had been abused. Furtter, Sandusky made remarks at his sentencing that were bereft of remorse in the case of this recidivistic (someone who does it again) and unregenerate (someone who does not grow from experiences and do better) defendant.  Note that Sandusky not only used his connections to Penn State’s football program, but had his own charity for disadvantaged youths, called the Second Mile, by which he was able to identify potential victims, grow close, groom them and sexually abuse and violate them.  At sentencing, Sandusky portrayed himself as an underdog being victimized himself by a conspiracy, although several victims spoke movingly and hauntingly at the sentencing proceeding, and the night before, news played tapes of him insisting that the only person he ever had sex with was his wife, Dottie (which opens a whole different discussion regarding what rape is, what sexual predators are, what the theory of victim precipitation is  -- while some of this won’t be discussed academically in class until the second week in November, we can start thinking about it now, and it is newsworthy).  There are too many broadcasts, web reports and articles to count, but a copy of an article by Tim Rohan, writing for The New York Times, should follow these questions (page down).  What does this prosecution and sentencing say about education? About sports programs? About social institutions regarding young persons?

2. VOTING/CROSS-CULTURAL CONSTRUCTIONS:  This past week, Venezuela held a general election.  One news report on Sunday speculated that 90% of Venezuelans were expected to participate in the vote (as opposed to the relatively anemic 45-55% we tend to see in the US – in presidential election years).  While incumbent Chavez has been re-elected, his percentage dropped from 26 in the last election to 8 in the current (so claimed the Grey Lady on October 9, see William Neuman, “Chavez Calls for Unity after Victory in Venezuela, p. A7).  What is important about this to our class? To social institutions? To the sociological imagination? (Hint:  we will be talking about voting rights in this class over the next few weeks – especially with regard to current legislation as to voter ID, for which we will have a guest speaker, social stratification, race/ethnicity and sex/gender, for which I have a film at the prompting of discussion during an earlier news, which I expect to play the first week in November).

3. COMMUNITY/SOCIAL ORGANIZATION FOLLOWING A (NOT-SO-NATURAL) DISASTER/BROOKLYN FOLKWAYS/SOCIAL NORM V. “GOOD” DEVIANCE/TEAMS:  Last week (and reported on NBC News online by Andrew Siff on October 6, 2012), there was a bit on the morning news about a community of Good Samaritans who came together to get a car off of people who had been run over in Bushwick, Brooklyn, last week. (You can find the article on www.nbc.com, www.dailynews.com, and my guess is that it is also a youtube moment).A 770year old driver (NOT the lady who got arrested for refusing to give up her license when she sped because she had to “pee”) accidentally hit a grandmother and toddlers, who got pinned under the ground.  The driver allegedly panicked and hit the gas instead of the break (and ended up stuck in a chain link fence on the sidewalk.  According to www.nbc.com, “bystanders quickly rushed to the victims’ aid and gathered around the car that had pinned” the lady and two children down. Edwin Padua, one of about 20 Good Samaritans, helped to pick up the care and free the trio and “dragged everybody out.” This is a New York story (maybe a BROOKLYN story!).  What do you think of this instant community of saviors within a community? (PS Take a look at the photo essay on “When a Tornado Strikes” in Ch. 4 of Henslin, “Social Structure and Social Interactions” in my book, p. 233-233, but those with the custom course pack can find it by looking up “tornado” in the index of the book, which is a new protocol after the football essay issue).  The tornado essay talks about ensuring loved ones are safe, then helping others, noting in one picture caption that “personal relationships are essential in putting lives together.”  It is highly unlikely that all 20 Bushwick Good Samaritans knew the lady or the toddlers, or even each other, yet they made an instant community that worked together as a team for a common goal (I didn’t forget about the Team Project, and this is a good showing of teaming!). Discuss. PS If the Yellow Team finds it on youtube or NBC news AND can work the tech podium, I am willing to let you show the clip as part of your News of the Week and to give you an extra 5 minutes to do so.