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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: Crimcast: Newtown Shootings, Boston Marathon Bombing, New Orleans Shooting

Nickie Phillips

This is our latest installment of Dr. Demetra M. Pappas' "News of the Week" in which she uses short topics as a teaching tool to stimulate conversation in her sociology, anthropology, criminology and legal studies course.It has been my practice for 10 years to work on topical and timely events in the news as they relate to my courses. Last semester, barely a week after final exams, the Newtown school shootings, of 20 children and 6 adults, at Sandy Hook took place. Along with the country, I watched in horror and was seized with grief. How could such a young person have so much access to weapons? Since the day of this essay is Mothers’ Day, I feel obliged to ask how could Adam Lanza’s mother Nancy, encourage his arsenal interest? At dinner meetings for other purposes, professionals found themselves bereft in the most personal ways – one such event included probation officers (with juvenile and youth specialties), academics and criminal lawyers. In that blur, I remember telling my colleagues and friends that I wished that News of the Week was still on, that I wanted to know what, if any, sense my 20 year olds were making of it all. This would not have been far removed from Spring 2012, during which I gave out copies of two chapters of Adam Winkler’s tour de force, Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America (W.W. Norton 2011), and invited them on a semi-open final exam (chapters and cheat sheet allowed) to comment on the Treyvon Martin case – a more technically difficult option, nearly overwhelmingly chosen by the same-age cohort, many of whose members hailed from urban backgrounds. This year, as luck would have it, I was on a business trip to Boston the week before Patriots Day and the Boston Marathon. The weather was lovely, Boylston Street was bustling – in short, it was exactly as it would be on Marathon Day, shortly before the bombs went off near the finish line

HOMELAND SECURITY/DEVIANCE/SPORTS AND SOCIALIZATION: The Boston Marathon Bombing, which everyone knows about (actually cannot avoid, as it is all over web, tv, radio, etc.). No suggested articles/internet approaches, because so very many as to be too numerous to count. There are many possible approaches to this, and I will let the team take the approach they wish. NOTE: All of our hearts go out to friends, family, and Boston, which, but for a change of schedule, I was meant to be in this week, instead of last week. If anyone in the class has a direct connection, we are all so sorry and empathetic. Also, if anyone gets upset, that is ok, too, especially if there are personal connections. We are here/there for you

During the conversation, which was essentially earnest, three particular statements were so compelling that I put them (with attribution and extra-credited) on the final examination. Because I can visualize the students, but the reader here cannot, I am including brief demographic commentary next to their names, a gesture of citational respect for these insightful students:

OPTION A: SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION/DEVIANCE/NEWS OF THE WEEK CONTEMPORARY ISSUES IN SOCIETY: Using at least 10 sociological terms (highlighted, underlined, circled or in ALL CAPS), please construct an essay discussing employing the sociological imagination to determine whether the Boston Marathon bombing was deviant or an act of terrorism against governmental power or both (you MUST give a conclusion or you SHALL lose -10 points) that includes reference to EACH of the following paraphrased from class:

“The Boston Marathon is a monument” (Nate a/k/a BC Bud, a traditional student aged Caucasian Canadian student athlete and vigorous participant in class, who gets +5 extra credit points for use of this quote).

“Terrorism is the use of fear and acts of violence in order to intimidate societies or governments. Many different types of social or political organisations (sic) might use terrorism to try to achieve their goals.” (As read by Indigo Team Member Robert, a bi-racial African American/Hispanic 30 –something-year-old professional and married father of one, during News of the Week, for which he gets +5 extra credit points; PS the quote, taken from Wikipedia is cut and pasted, so no typo contest points.)

“No self-respecting black man would make a bomb from – what was it? – a crock pot – it had to be white guys who did this.” (As commented upon by the famous wordsmith Sam, a 30-something-year-old professional African American married man with two children, who has met with agreement both east and west, and north and south of the Mason Dixon line, Sam also gets +5 extra credit points and full quote attribution.)

OPTION A EXTRA CREDIT OPPORTUNITY: Were there issues of social stratification that led to the actions of the brothers in the Boston Marathon Bombing? (PS this is not a yes or no question – please justify your opinion with critical thinking and analysis with a +5 for each argument pro or con.)

I have spent much of today reading insightful essays by these and other students, of varying ages, races, nationalities, majors, life experiences, and who had little in common other than the college and course they were enrolled in. The essays I have been reading threading these three into a common unifying narrative have been compelling and heartbreaking, and supported by more than any mere textbook (no disrespect to Anthony Giddens, who was the Pro-Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science while I was earning my PhD from the Department of Law and the Department of Sociology – i.e., Giddens’ home educational and topical ground). This morning, over an insufficient amount of caffeine, I read of the distinctions (and commonalities) between homeland terrorism and deviance, race and ethnicity in terms of mass murder profiles, and comparisons of the Boston Marathon to a World Trade Center most are too young to remember other than as a crime scene and now a rebuilding site.

For a break from these (and the Option B comparison of The Laramie Project, Django Unchained and the recent controversial staging at BAM of Julius Caesar), I turned on my Twitter. The first thing I saw, just a few moments ago, was that there was a parade shooting in New Orleans, where I was just 4 days ago, and literally flying back to administer my final examination. Leaving aside my new reluctance to state where my business travels will take me, I leave this contemplation with a question, which I ask not as a criminal lawyer but as a college professor and as the aunt of a young man about to leave home for his first college experience, which I hope to be replete with sports and romance (as well as studies and student service learning) and devoid of victimology. Are sporting and parade events the new school shootings? Alternatively phrased, was the Boston Marathon this decade’s Columbine, a harbinger of what is to come?

For more information on Dr. Pappas' pedagogical approach, see her article, "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.