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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.

Filtering by Tag: media

Murray Lee, University of Sydney, Australia on Fear of Crime

Nickie Phillips

Murray Lee

Lee and Mythen's International Handbook on Fear of Crime:

The Routledge International Handbook on Fear of Crime brings together original and international state of the art contributions of theoretical, empirical, policy-related scholarship on the intersection of perceptions of crime, victimisation, vulnerability and risk. This is timely as fear of crime has now been a focus of scholarly and policy interest for some fifty years and shows little sign of abating. Research on fear of crime is demonstrative of the inter-disciplinarity of criminology, drawing in the disciplines of sociology, psychology, political science, history, cultural studies, gender studies, planning and architecture, philosophy and human geography. This collection draws in many of these interdisciplinary themes.

Live Stream - The Internet and Free Speech: A Preview of The Internet’s Own Boy Event

Nickie Phillips

The Paley Center will host The Internet and Free Speech: A Preview of the Internet's Own Boy.   The Live Stream will be held at 8:20 pm ET/5:20 pm PT.

For information and tickets to the live event in NYC, go here.

The Internet and Free Speech: A Preview of The Internet’s Own Boy

Tuesday, June 17, 2014 6:30 pm New York

...Variety has stated that the film “may be the most emotionally devastating movie ever made about hacking and the freedom of information....

The event will include:

Brian Knappenberger, Director Christopher Soghoian, Principal Technologist, Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, ACLU Jane Hamsher, Publisher, FireDogLake.com Moderator: Tim Wu, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law and Director, Program on Law & Technology, Columbia Law School

Go here for more information.

Comics Unmasked, Mannequins Masked

Nickie Phillips

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By Staci Strobl. Crimcast Co-Founder Review of the British Library's exhibit "Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK," May 2 - August 19, 2014

Comics often get tagged as being more ideologically subversive than they actually are-- at least this is the case with mainstream American comic books. But “Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK” is a must-see for anyone who appreciates the subversive in popular graphic art forms, and the subversive is probably more at the forefront of the British experience with this art form than the American. In fact, British independent and underground comics are ripe with depictions of social deviance which go on to influence mainstream works. Any criminologist with their eye on popular culture will find it fascinating to see so many works from a wide variety of writers, artists, publishers, in one exhibition.

Putting aside the superhero section of the exhibition, which appropriately nods its head to the quintessentially American genre while celebrating such home-grown successes as Judge Dredd— but also takes the exhibition too far afield from its primary purpose— the exhibition’s thematic arrangement of material spanning two centuries invokes interesting connections in the world of graphics across the ages. I was particularly taken by the juxtaposition of pages from Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell (1999) and the Illustrated Police News (13 October, 1888) “coverage” of the Ripper murders under the exhibition’s “violence and gore” thematic grouping. We see how the use of black-and-white ink, shadows, small spaces, and flailing arms in the more contemporary work was a brilliantly stylized representation of the Victorian illustrations and also a testament to the enduring fascination with serial killing. People in the West just can’t get enough of these tales of murderous mayhem and transgression, and comics are a perfect medium to deliver such gruesome content.

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Occasionally a juxtaposition left me scratching my head, such as the inclusion of London Illustrated News’ 1883 Christmas supplement featuring ladies looking for suitors in romantic dress, dancing, telling ghost stories, with descriptive, but not remotely subversive, captions. Here, the exhibition has us considering the theme of “social ladder” (perhaps a polite British way of saying “class”) and certainly the supplement is depicting a very uncritical 19th century notion of ladies of high class. This is placed next to “Lord Snooty and His Pals” (1960, Dudley D. Watkins), a comic strip featuring a young Lord Snooty who prefers to ditch his class trappings and hang out with the poor kids. The connection between the two, other than depicting class in Britain, appears unconnected across time and cultural niche. The culture of boys’ education in the 20th century and ladies’ follies in the 19th are distinct and each world has its own version of illustrated hegemony and counter-hegemony. All I learned from putting them near each other is that it is fun to make fun of class, especially in the U.K., but I didn’t learn much about how class operates in these texts across time, nor did the artistic styles seem to inform each other. And, further, who is making fun of whom? Do the texts need to have an obvious critique to be subversive, or am I the subversive, laughing at the class arrogance of marriage-seeking in days gone by? All of this is followed by the overt Class War Comix (Clifford Harper, 1974) in which a long-haired hippie tells us in black and white, “I used to be in politics—but it began to hang me up… You can’t lay a trip on people,” rounding out a graphic tale of a class-free utopia. I was more confused than ever.

Regardless, there are gems not to miss and of course, the V for Vendettafan does not go away unsatisfied. The iconic British tale of renewed anarchy on Guy Fawkes’ Day is the centerpiece. Fans will delight in original scripts for the graphic novel (with edits!) on display. “Good evening London...This is the voice of fate” artwork still packs an emotional punch. And, mannequins in V masks literally people the exhibit in life-size bunches which seem to grow bigger and bigger as the display weaves its path. The exhibition may be conveying that as comics marched forward so did the enthusiasm for them and their counter-cultural messages. At the same time, I found myself irritated by the mannequins, the first one wearing the exhibition’s souvenir T-shirt which struck me as a tad too commercial for an exhibition on art and anarchy. And, the mannequins were mostly men, wearing a kind of urban uniform of T-shirt, jacket, jeans, sneakers, and of course, mask. They looked rather ominously conformist and seem to dampen the quirky creativity of the work on display.

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With the marching mannequins theme, I didn’t need the additional staging of random objects of apocalyptic modernity (gas masks, phones, grainy photos, shattered glass, and redacted documents, oh my!). It will take all of us to prevent the impending crisis was the message I was getting, and yet the best works were idiosyncratic and goofy graphic experiences from rather unique perspectives from within a cultural milieu, playing on mainstream culture, not wearing the same jeans and T-shirt. I marveled at a William S. Burroughs and Malcolm McNeill's comic strip, “The Unspeakable Mr. Hart” (1970, Cyclops), that I had never seen or heard of before, and in Burroughs style was a drug-induced non-linear comment on police brutality, imperial Britain, and colonial desperation. I got the message even as I could also make no sense of it. I also learned, and saw in vivid comparison, that Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum (DC, 1989) took a nod from the mystical artistic meanderings of Aleister Crowley and his Thoth tarot deck. Neil Gaiman’s introductory comments to a 1989 Sandman script seemed to be as self-congratulating and self-important as I would have expected— and yet what a treat to read it myself, I must admit.

Overall, this exhibition is a must-see for anyone from the popular culture and criminology crowd in range of London between now and its close on August 19, 2014. Though the overall exhibit may not tell a cohesive story, the work on display is truly fascinating in its own right and does give the viewer the sense of Britain’s rich and critically acclaimed comics history.

Craigslist: A Hub for Crime?

Nickie Phillips

Danielle Reynolds, Correspondent

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For those searching for employment, housing, friendship or products and services, the Craigslist community can be extremely useful. Millions of visitors view billions of ads each month, with the majority of users having pure intentions. During the summer of 2011 I attempted to use New York City Craigslist to find a long-term sublet apartment and to my surprise found many interesting, yet unsuitable ads under the category “Rooms & Shares.” Some ads promised negotiated or complimentary rent for “favors,” while others outright asked for a live-in “naked girlfriend.” After reading many questionable and unreliable ads, I decided to delve further into the Craigslist world to uncover if Craigslist was indeed a hub for dubious activities.

Unfortunately Craigslist is vulnerable to abuse by a minority of its users, manipulating the site as a fast and free network to others whom they plan to physically and/or financially exploit. Often the perpetrators construct false identities to initiate crime, by developing a sense of trust among Craigslist contacts prior to committing the criminal act. Various criminal acts, such as murder, prostitution, drug and weapon sales and rape, among various other scams, have been initiated or conducted via Craigslist.

Miranda Barbour and husband Elytte Barbour were accused of using a Craigslist ad for “companionship” to lure Troy LaFerrara and stabbing him 20 times, then strangling and killing him, discarding the body approximately 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Miranda claimed that she used Craigslist to meet “unhappy men” and charge as much as $850 for a “delightful conversation.” During an interview with CNN reporter Francis Scarcella, Barbour admitted to almost 100 killings over a 6 year period, occurring in Alaska, Texas, North Carolina and California. In Ohio, Richard Beasley was convicted for killing 3 men who responded to a Craigslist ad for work on a cattle farm.

The most notorious Craigslist murder, however, refers to Philip Markoff, known as the “Craigslist Killer,” which inspired the 2011 Lifetime movie. The movie, based on true events, tells of a pre-med student who found his victims through Craigslist ads for erotic services, then attacking and/or murdering them upon meeting with them in a motel room. Markoff was arraigned on murder charges related to the death of Julissa Brisman (2009) and was charged with two armed assaults of Trisha Leffler and Corinne Stout.

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In 2011, Californian Michael Delgado was arrested for raping a woman who he had hired from Craigslist to clean his apartment. Once within the home, Delgado sexually assaulted and raped the woman for over an hour. He was charged with false imprisonment, assault and rape with a foreign object.

In 2009, Michael John Anderson was convicted of killing Katherine Ann Olson, a nanny who replied to a Craigslist ad for a babysitter. Upon arriving to the Anderson’s home to inquire about an employment opportunity, she disappeared.

Prostitution has made good use of cyberspace, including sites such as Craigslist. Traffic to all Craigslist personal sites, including a section for romance or “missed connections,” is higher than for any online personals sites including Match.com, eHarmony, among others. “Casual Encounters” section of Craigslist has become a major hub, amassing listings with offerings for casual sex, perhaps catering to the erotic underbelly of society where courtship gives way to expediency and anonymity. Created in 2000, ads posted in this section range from prim to vulgar and often providing photographs with precisely what individuals have to offer. Founder of “Casual Encounters,” Craig Newmark, stated that the section was created in response to a demand for a division that allowed for a wide range of personal meetings and relationship options.

On September 8, 2006, “Casual Encounters” forums had been compromised in several cities by individuals posting fraudulent ads in order to obtain personal information from its users, such as email addresses, phone numbers, home addresses, photos, etc. This was the first time the section had been threatened by various prostitutes and spammers to seize and control the community. Then in 2007 a Minneapolis woman pleaded guilty in federal court for running an underage prostitution ring through Craigslist. Craigslist has become a favorite for prostitutes as it is relaxed, allows people to be more candid and anonymous, and has a lack of oversight. Although Craigslist policy prohibits pornographic photos, it is not vigorously enforced. “Casual Encounters” accounts for approximately 2% of all Craigslist postings, and since its creation it has quickly evolved to fulfill a variety of suggestive quests as it delivers erotic thrills for minimal effort.

Craigslist, although a hub for illegal activity, has also been used to combat that activity as law enforcement targets criminal users in sting operations, catching prostitutes using the site to sell their services. In Long Island, eight women were arrested on prostitution charges in a sting operation by the Nassau County Police Department who have used Craigslist to make over 70 arrests in 2013. As technology expands, the traditional sense of looking for street walkers, brothels and massage parlors has transitioned to scouring Craigslist ads and various pages on cyberspace. In July 2013 Nassau County Police Department arrested 43 women for walking the streets soliciting prostitution and 60 on Craigslist pages soliciting online.

danielle

Danielle Reynolds, Crimcast contributor, teaches Criminal Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Danielle earned her Master’s degree in Criminal Justice in 2011 from John Jay College where she was awarded the Claude Hawley Medal and Graduate Scholarship. She currently lives in New York City.

What Introductory Criminal Justice Students Need to Know About the Media and Crime

Nickie Phillips

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At the start of a new semester, criminal justice professors face the daunting task of demystifying media myths

Danielle Reynolds, Crimcast Correspondent

The media, through various means, has become the primary source of news and entertainment for many Americans. Each day the media reaches millions of viewers, listeners and readers throughout the world and provides a rapid broadcast of knowledge and information. Although the ability to have “the world at our fingertips” is beneficial, the inaccuracies and rash portrayals of current events can lead to inadvertent consequences.

Crime in the news

Crime is portrayed in the media on a daily basis, whether it is in the newspapers, on television, via video or written blogs, among other means. As criminologist Ray Surette explains, news regarding crime may be general, referring to broad trends and issues, or specific, in reference to a particular crime incident. The media has one objective, to sell stories. Therefore, it chooses which crimes, victims and court cases merit attention, often choosing to expose the most sensational, emotional, and significant crime stories. Unfortunately, the media does not always broadcast information in an objective or accurate manner, which can lead to unintended consequences.

How the media portrays crime

The media increases crime salience through agenda setting, priming and framing the “best-selling” stories. The public is exposed to certain crime issues and then primed to believe that those issues warrant more political attention. The media chooses which social problems merit greater attention and relies on the government and experts to interpret and contextualize these problems to the public. As viewers, we rely on the government and experts to frame the news for us and determine the criteria by which we judge public policies or crime related issues. Lastly, the media encourages its audience to arrive at certain conclusions by promoting a particular treatment recommendation or moral evaluation to the problem. It often focuses blame on a particular individual or larger social or political institution, which ultimately affects punitiveness and future policy preferences.

Representations of the police in the media are often overdramatized and romanticized. Research has shown that police are often presented favorably in television and movies; as fictional television dramas show the majority of cases solved and criminal suspects successfully apprehended. Unfortunately, crime presented as entertainment distorts viewers understanding of criminal investigations. Subsequently, the public develops unrealistic expectations regarding the investigation process, police use of force and forensic evidence. Such portrayal reinforces traditional law enforcement tactics including increased police presence, harsh penalties and increasing police power.

The effect on viewers

It has been argued that heavy television viewers have an altered perception of the “real world”, shaped by the media. Therefore, these viewers feel a greater threat from crime and believe that crime is more prevalent than statistics indicate. Violent crime is disproportionately broadcast and portrayed as more violent, random and dangerous than in the “real world”. Subsequently, viewers internalize these crime stories and develop a “scary” image of reality. Unfortunately, this threatening perception of society initiates fear, mistrust, and alienation, causing viewers to support more “quick-fix” solutions against crime.

Leading to punitive policies

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Misinformation dispersed by the media heightens public sensitivity to the crime problem, reinforcing public sense of immediate and inescapable danger. Subsequently, fear and anxiety develop as the public pressures politicians for a “quick-fix” and extreme solution to the crime problem. These “quick-fix” solutions focus on short-term crime relief, resulting in more punitive rather than preventative polices and encourage more policing, arrests and longer sentences.

The media coverage of minorities and crime demonstrates the disproportionate portrayal of minorities shown in menacing contexts. Blacks are more likely than whites to be shown in mug shots, in physical custody of the police and victimizing strangers and members of different races. Media representations of minorities result in exaggerations of crime statistics including the number of blacks arrested for crimes and the likelihood that the public will be victimized by minorities. This ultimately attributes the crime problem to blacks as a group. This false depiction of minority criminals leads to public fear and mistrust of minorities, allowing for the expansion of punitive policies based on race.

This culpability was demonstrated by the media’s coverage of the “War on Drugs”. The media exposed an imminent and threatening national crisis and recommended the use of power and mobilization of massive resources to curb the threat and vanquish the “enemy”. Images and stereotypes of the “enemy”, exposed by the media, included young, inner-city, minority males in gangs terrorizing communities and innocent citizens while conducting illegal drug deals and committing various crimes. Subsequently, the public became fearful and began to alienate themselves from the community, while pressuring politicians for an immediate “quick-fix” solution. Consequently, the police crackdown on street-level drug dealers and harsher sentences resulted in additional arrests and longer prison sentences. However, the underlying conditions leading to the drug problem remained unidentified and unaffected. In addition, the punitive “quick-fix” solution lead to unintended consequences, including angry and hardened attitudes towards offenders, increased costs of the criminal justice system and intensified racial tensions, resulting from targeting minorities. Concerns about constitutional and civil rights waned, citing more immediate concerns for public safety. Respect for the law eroded, as the public encouraged more aggressive policing strategies, exposing citizens to expanded discretion of law enforcement and infringements of their Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

danielle

Danielle Reynolds, Crimcast contributor, teaches Criminal Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Danielle earned her Master’s degree in Criminal Justice in 2011 from John Jay College where she was awarded the Claude Hawley Medal and Graduate Scholarship. She currently lives in New York City.

Deconstructing Risk Narratives in the War on Terror

Nickie Phillips

NTAS

Part 1 of 5 in a series on Risk-Logic and the War on Terror

Aditi Gupta, Guest Blogger

Since 9/11 many of us may have noticed the creeping erosion of democratic and legal principles  in what has been called ‘The War on Terror’ (WoT). The present day, world-wide agenda combining extraordinary rendition, secret evidence, mass surveillance, secret detention and 'enhanced interrogation' is something that has caused uproar among all who care about civil liberties, fair treatment and due process. Journalists, academics and human rights activists the world over have repeatedly exposed and condemned these global security policies, seeking change at the highest level in the international and domestic arena.

While this strong focus on legal and policy implications of the WoT is an essential and core component of the means to combat the effect of global security practices post-9/11, this series will argue that if we really want to abolish these policies, we first need to change the way that we think about terrorist security threats in the first place.

Many studies have noted a conceptual shift to the logic of risk in global security practices. In my view, the most important finding of these analyses show that the impact of ‘risk’ in shaping security post-9/11 renders the War on Terror far more than an assemblage of policies. It represents the advent of a cultureof fear and suspicion based on society’s understanding and engagement with the risk posed by terrorism. In other words: by thinking of terrorism through the logic of risk, we render ourselves incapable of human empathy and find ourselves accepting more violence, more surveillance and an increasingly hollow legal system of accountability simply because we are scared of what might happen.

Donald Rumsfeld (2002): ‘the message is that there are no knowns. There are things that we know that we know. There are known unknowns…but there are also unknown unknowns – things we don’t know we don’t know’.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Photo: New York Magazine)

Rumsfeld’s quotation reveals that in the extreme conditions of uncertainty post-9/11, policy-makers are no longer able to guarantee predictability, security and control. The result of this infiltration of fear into decision-making has resulted in a paranoid global phenomenon whereby security officials are 'given' an imperative to act in advance of any possession of evidence. As outlined by President Bush in 2002 and pursued with a vengeance by Obama, this ‘not only means dealing with real immediate threats; it also means anticipating threats before they occur.' This conceptual shift in 'security think' is epitomized by the global network of over fifty countries involved in the pre-emptory practices of pre-charge detention and extraordinary rendition, and the internment of hundreds of men without charge or trial in locations such as Guantánamo Bay (OSJI report, 2013).

The overall effect of the application of risk-logic to security is not to be underestimated. Risk-logic ultimately transforms security practices into complex social practices: it changes the way we live and the way we interact with each other. This blog series will attempt to illuminate how this way of thinking has profoundly affected society. In order to have a concrete starting point, I will show how risk-logic affects the work of human rights organizations working to combat the seep of human rights violations endemic to the WoT. By the end of this series, I hope to convey an insight into the poisonous forces of risk at work in society, and how this wholesale cultural change affects traditional methods of checking the balance of power in the world we live in.

Sabine Selchow has put forward a very useful framework of four inter-linked dynamics for looking at the transformative effect of risk-logic on society– what this blog post will be based on (see  Selchow 2014; also Loughnan and Selchow 2013). As it’s useful to understand these dynamics separately, I’ll first briefly outline each one. Then, in the coming weeks I’ll zoom in on each dynamic and show how it translates into everyday life, as well as how it affects relations of power between the state and society.

1. The decoupling of political decision-making from actuality

The obsessive desire of security officials to regain control post-9/11 means that risk-logic locates its temporality in the future, therefore effectively separating political acts from having to address an actual, or tangible threat. The advent of the idea of risk as a means of governing thus coincides with a security apparatus that no longer seeks to prevent, order or withhold, but instead to pre-empt (Amoore & DeGoede, 2008). Once institutions shift their focus from addressing existing threats to potential threats in the future, they are duty-bound to assume responsibility for control. This means that it is no longer possible to determine if a threatening event would have happened without the risk-based pre-emptory action, as risk-based action is always in the realm of the unknown. This pre-emptory stance that ultimately depoliticizes security policy, is summed up by Blair’s 2004 response to criticism of the pre-emptive war in Iraq: ‘…would you prefer us to act, even if it turns out to be wrong? Or not to act and hope it’s OK?’

2. The Depoliticization of Security

As touched upon in the previous section, the application of risk to security essentially depoliticizes policy-making. Firstly, the temporality of risk-based decisions means that the policy-maker is able to present issues as needing immediate action in the face of extreme uncertainty and risk of catastrophic damage. The net result of this is that issues related to terrorism have to be presented as capable of being controlled. This fetishization of control is situated firmly in the political imagination, as terrorism is ultimately ‘a risk beyond risk’ that cannot be measured (Aradau & VanMunster 2008:23). The ‘unexceptional’ (according to the United Kingdom's Home Office in 2006) nature of attackers, such as the 9/11, Madrid and 7/7 bombers, render creation of any risk models based on identifiable characteristics of ‘terrorists’ impossible. Mythen and Walklate (2008) stress that the calculus of risk post 9/11 is directed by a projective ‘what if?’ position whereby presumption of innocence metamorphoses into a presumption of guilt. Since risk models cannot be modeled on abnormality this suggests that the government will have to screen everybody equally. In reality, whilst this may sound appealing, this essentially submerges individual cases into types based on factors of risk, ultimately creating ‘new’ risk assessed identities: it is no longer necessary to actually see the person one… judges (Krassman, 2007).

3. Internalization of security issues and the process of responsibilization

Through the application of risk logic, global security threats are no longer the sole remit of government security agencies, but become a responsibility for every citizen as part of lived, everyday experience. This dynamic is most clearly seen in government campaigns worldwide urging citizens to report anything that arouses suspicion, leading ordinary people to absorb the responsibility of securing their state. Public and private, internal and external are now boundaries that have been profoundly blurred, leading to a politics of normalcy inherent to risk-based modes of governance (Amoore & DeGoede). Being ‘normal’, as defined by the U.K.’s Metropolitan Police is now a political act whereby the citizen not only protects their country by reporting anything ‘abnormal’, but actively defends themselves from suspicion as a terrorist. This action is all the more powerfully embedded in society through the explosion of panoptic surveillance put in motion by the application of risk logic to security.

4. The dynamic of the expansion of ‘securitization’

The fourth dynamic of risk is the expansionary and unlimited nature of its mandate. As discussed, the logic of risk implies an imperative to act – to be seen to be doing something in the face of the uncertainty posed by the terrorist threat. This imperative inevitably feeds an expanding process of securitization, whereby a wider array of issues are deemed to be security threats. However, as risk-based decisions are not ‘tamed’ by an accompanying actuality or event, this instates a process of unlimited risk-based action. Risks are ‘infinite because they multiply over time since one can always do more to prevent them from becoming real’ (Rasmussen 2006:4); risk-logic thus always produces the sense of further uncertainties. This leads to an insatiable quest for ‘more and better knowledge of risk’ (Ericson & Hoggarty, 1997:85). This risk assessment however, has to draw on past experiences in order to address an imagination of the future. Therefore, previous knowledge is always incomplete, thus driving a governance of risk yearning for ever greater knowledge. The population wholesale is thus securitized in an ever-expanding process that has a profound impact on society.

Although this is an extremely brief outline of the dynamics underlying the shift in global security policy post-9/11, the next installments in this blog will explore each in further detail and clarify the profoundly social impact of security policy by looking at the difficulties faced by human rights organizations in combating the curtailment of freedoms post-9/11. The following blog posts will aim to illustrate the deep cuts that risk-logic has made in the way that society all over the world thinks by linking risk-logic to power relations. Ultimately, the fight against counter-terror policy is no longer solely in the governmental arena; the real fight is against the pervasive culture of fear and suspicion that underlies the relations between ordinary, innocent people every day.

Aditi Gupta

Aditi Gupta graduated with an MSc in Global Politics (Civil Society) from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Autumn 2013.  She has previously worked at Soul Rebel Films and Reprieve and has co-authored reports based on depth interviews conducted for the Indian development NGO, CHIRAG. Aditi has volunteered for refugee and homelessorganizations in the UK and is developing a career in the human rights field. This is the first in her five-part series to be published on Crimcast.  It will appear weekly from January 7, 2014.

Crimcast to Live-Tweet from March on Washington, Saturday August 24

Nickie Phillips

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Crimcast, along with thousands of Americans, will descend on Washington tomorrow morning (Sat. Aug. 24, 8 a.m. EST) to stand up for justice, jobs and freedom in commemoration of the historic march 50 years ago.  Follow us on Twitter as we tweet our impressions of the pre-march rally, including speeches by Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, John Lewis, Nancy Pelosi and many others.  We will also tweet our impressions of the crowd and share our favorite signs and slogans.  Crimcast, of course, is partial to calls for justice! 

"Racism Savings Time": Trayvon Martin Verdict Sets the Clock Back 60 Years

Nickie Phillips

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Acclaimed comic book writer Mark Waid summed up the frustration with last Saturday's verdict when he tweeted: "Remember, it's Racism Savings Time tonight. Don't forget to set your clock back 60 years before you go to bed." Thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets last night to demonstrate their outrage that Florida's criminal justice system could end up acquitting an armed vigilante who gunned down a black kid who was returning to his home from getting a snack at a convenience store. Demonstrators also amassed in Los Angeles, D.C. and Oakland.  They are asking, who or what is to blame?  The jury?  The prosecutors? The judge?  "Stand your ground" laws?   A racist system?  A racist society?  As one demonstrator summed it up, anyone who cares about social justice knows that the wrong verdict was reached for whatever reason.

But reasons matter.  If something is broken, the fix, however difficult, must confront the reality of the problem. Here are some notable takes on why Zimmerman was acquitted and what it means for American criminal justice and society in general.

  • CNN weighs in saying that the prosecution's case was weak in a number of ways, including over-charging the defendant in the first place. The prosecutors, then, used poor discretion.
  • USA Today opines that the defense failed to refute the Zimmerman's self-defense claim adequately, suggesting they missed an opportunity to paint the picture of racism-based vigilantism that was operating in the situation.
  • One can question whether a mostly white and all female jury could truly understand the social reality of being a black male teenager.  Dr. Delores Jones-Brown has documented the "symbolic assailant" assumption that people often paste onto young black men regardless of their actual individual behavior. In this case, Trayvon, the vicitim, was under suspicion, made all the more easy by stereotypes about young black men as perpetrators.
  • Andrew Cohen in the Atlantic and Common Dreams write that the problem is Florida's Stand Your Ground laws (Cohen: "You can go looking for trouble in Florida, with a gun and a great deal of racial bias, and you can find that trouble, and you can act upon that trouble in a way that leaves a young man dead, and none of it guarantees that you will be convicted of a crime.")
  • The Martin's family attorney says that Trayvon Martin is a symbol of unequal justice in America, along with Emmett Till and Medgar Evers, suggesting that the court failed to provide justice given the context of continued American racism in the minds of criminal justice actors and/or the system itself. (Sadly, in the same press conference, Zimmerman's attorney rolled out reverse racism in suggesting that Zimmerman was vilified because he wasn't black.)
  • Gawker and Racism Review reminded us before the verdict that some media engaged in a racism smear campaign that attempted to discredit Trayvon Martin as a victim; some of these attitudes may have made their way to the courtroom or been in jurors' minds.
  • The genuine, heartfelt reactions of demonstrators say it best here; The criminal justice system just isn't in line with the present-day social justice concerns of Americans.

Crimcast takes issue with State Attorney General Angela Corey's statement that criminal justice should only take place in a courtroom and that people should refrain from having opinions on the Trayvon Martin case and its verdict.  Criminal justice takes place everywhere-- in courts but also online and in movies and on television and in schools and in one's imagination-- and it is a part of public life in a democracy.  We find Corey's appeal, which privileges alleged technical and legal competency, tragically forgets that the criminal justice system must work for the American people.  It does not exist in a vacuum.  It is a system that absolutely must be up for commentary.  Whereas we agree that the court is the formal place for justice, and that it should be respected as an institution aimed at actualizing the rule of law, we also believe that its meaning in the context of the issues of the day and whether it is working is always up for debate.  Participating in a democracy fundamentally means that none of its institutions or actors should be beyond opinion-making-- even when those opinions are critical or uncomfortable.  And progressive criminologists in particular should not be silent in doing newsmaking criminology.

Comment below or email us (crimcast@gmail.com) if you have found a response to the verdict that is particularly good at uncovering why it happened and what it means.

Carol Tilley on Wertham's Scholarship, Social Science, and Archival Research

Nickie Phillips

CrimCast welcomes Carol Tilley, assistant professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois. Professor Tilley recently published "Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications that Helped Condemn Comics" in Information & Culture: A Journal of History.You are one of the few scholars who have gained access to Frederic Wertham's papers and other personal archives, now housed at the Library of Congress. Can you tell us what prompted your interest in the project and how were you able to gain access to this vast amount of information?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wertham-10.png

For the past eight years or so, I’ve been studying how librarians and other reading guidance professionals responded to comics captivating influence on young readers during the 1940s and 1950s. Even though Wertham was not the primary focus of my work, he is someone difficult to ignore when thinking about comics during these years. Anti-comics sentiment preceded Wertham’s interest in the topic by nearly a decade, but for the last few years of the 1940s and throughout the 1950s, he was the figurehead for the movement that sought to restrict the sale of comics to America’s youth.

Wertham was something of a packrat too, as there are more than two hundred boxes of his materials preserved at the Library of Congress (LOC). Although not all of these materials are related to his work on comics, many of them are. I was curious to learn about his correspondence with librarians, teachers, parents, and other folks who were interested in children’s reading and welfare. So, my initial reason for using the materials had little to do with Seduction of the Innocent (Rinehart, 1954), the book about comics for which Wertham is popularly and infamously remembered.

Although Wertham died in 1981 and his materials were transferred to the LOC soon afterwards, his papers have been open for research use since mid-2010. Before that time Wertham’s literary executor controlled access to those materials. Barty Beaty, professor of English at the University of Calgary, was the only person granted significant access to the materials. His book Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture (U of Mississippi Press, 2005) makes use of the collection. James Gilbert, professor of History at the University of Maryland, also made use of Wertham’s papers for his book A Cycle of Outrage: America’s Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent in the 1950s (Oxford, 1988). Gilbert had access to these materials while Wertham was still alive.

You mentioned in the article that many scholars were long suspicious about Wertham's methodology. What was your most surprising finding?

Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent has hallmarks of suspicious social science. It lacks a bibliography, for instance, and contains assertions that are often grand. Take, for instance, his claim that teenage drug users were comics readers. Well, nearly all young people read comics at that time, so this claim is like stating today that teenage drug users use Facebook. One of Wertham’s contemporaries, Bertram Beck, a social worker who led the Special Juvenile Delinquency Project for the United States Children’s Bureau, wrote to the doctor a month after Seduction’s release, saying,

Your treatment of contrary evidence and, in fact, anyone who disagrees seems to me to be as unscientific as you demonstrate the defenders of the comic book have been. [April 16, 1954, Box 123, Folder 7, Wertham papers].

The comics creator and scholar Stephen Bissette more recently took issue with Wertham’s method and presentation. In Teen Angels & New Mutants: Rick Veitch’s Bratpack and the Art, Karma, and Commerce of Killing Sidekicks (Black Coat Press, 2011), Bissette points to Wertham’s “circularity of logic” (p. 67) along with the absence of context, “methods, footnotes, or attribution” (p. 68).

Despite these and other critiques, I was astounded to discover numerous instances where Wertham seemed to disregard an even more basic idea about presenting evidence—that you don’t ‘doctor’ it. Here’s a fairly typical example.

In Seduction, Wertham wrote about a girl (pp. 40-41), who according to her mother, read love comics all the time. The text in the book read,

“This girl I found to be an expert on love comics. She told me she bought some, ‘but mostly I trade them.’ I asked her about stealing in love comics. She laughed, ‘Oh, they do it often.’”

http://www.thecomicarchive.com/archives/568

Wertham’s notes [Box 109, Folder 12] portrayed a somewhat different scenario. For instance, he learned from the mother that the girl doesn’t read as many comics as she once did because they now have a television. The notes also stated,

"Patient says she reads love comics, 'if I have any.' 'I buy one once in a while, but mostly I trade them.' Titles: True Story, Superman or something like that; sometimes I see Crime Does Not Pay; Love For Two, Romance, that is all. The story where somebody steals is in Crime Does Not Pay. In the Love Comics they sometimes steal...My mother says she does not want me to read comic books because they interfere with my school work and she just don't want me to read them."

In other examples, Wertham turned a single teenage boy into several different people, borrowed phrases and ideas from colleagues and acquaintances, and exaggerated or distorted evidence. For instance, Wertham recounted the experiences of one boy: “‘I read the comic books to learn how you can get money. I read about thirty a week. I read Crime Does Not Pay, Crime and Punishment, Penalty, Wanted. That is all I can think of” (p. 73). Yet, in the original case notes [Box 109, Folder 16], the boy told Wertham he read only five comics a week.

You state that Wertham "manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence" to support his contention that comic books contributed to maladjustment and deviant behavior among children. Further, you describe Wertham's conclusions as being driven by a rhetorical strategy to bolster support for his position. Yet, you acknowledge in the article that you are ultimately conflicted about Wertham. Can you tell us more about that?

My dilemma is simple: as abhorrent as I find Wertham’s representations of evidence, I believe he wanted to help people who he believed were vulnerable, whether because of their age, their race, their socioeconomic status, or something else. For instance, Wertham was an early advocate for racial integration, and his testimony provided support for the overturn of school segregation in Delaware. Wertham’s testimony as part of Delaware case helped effect a positive outcome in 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education. Does his goodness excuse his errors? Certainly some comics readers, creators, and fans will say ‘no.’

Your article has received quite a bit of media attention. Were you surprised that your work would receive so much attention from the mainstream press?

I was indeed surprised! Seduction of the Innocent is nearly sixty years old and Wertham has been thoroughly lambasted in comics culture. At this point few people familiar with Wertham and his anti-comics work can feign shock that his research was troubled, but I’m pleased to offer some substantive evidence to support this long-standing assumption. Plus from a scholar’s perspective, it’s gratifying to know that not only are more than a handful of people reading your work, but that it’s getting discussed in places like the New York Times and io9.com

Can you tell us about any projects that you are currently working on? Should we look forward to more research from the Wertham archives from you?

Eventually you’ll see more from me that draws on the Wertham archives. I’ve got a chapter out soon on the use of comics in language arts classrooms during the 1940s and 1950s, a paper on early (1930s and 1940s) reading promotion efforts in National / DC comics, and a chapter forthcoming on how young comics readers responded to comics’ critics such as Wertham. My bigger ongoing project is writing a history of young people’s readership of comics from the 1930s through the 1950s. If you’re interested, you can keep up with my comics research via my webpage or via Twitter (@CarolGSLIS).

archive

This is the second of our 5-part series appearing throughout 2013 focusing on the often game-changing discoveries that come out of archival work in the realm of police, courts, and corrections.

ACT UP, TAG, and the Power of Protest

Nickie Phillips

Members of ACT UP and TAG took to the streets--fearless warriors dedicated to raising awareness and research funding for an unknown and deadly disease. Across the country, people were felled by this ruthless communicable illness, yet there was little will for politicians and influential members of the public to take up the call.

See the Oscar nominated documentary How To Survive a Plaguethat details the heroic activism of those determined to fight back against government inaction against the AIDS crisis during the 1980s and 1990s.

Go here for the NPR interview with David France, the director and producer.

UPDATE: Read Garance Franke-Ruta's article "The Plague Years, In Film and Memory" here.

A screening of the documentary will be held March 5th at 5:30 in the Gerald Lynch Theater, John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

How to Survive A Plague Screening at John Jay College

Wertham's Notes and the Seduction of the Innocent

Nickie Phillips

Frederic Wertham is most known for his scathing attacks on comic books, suggesting that they influence deviant behavior and juvenile delinquency.

In 1954 he published Seduction of the Innocent which contributed to public and political debates about the relationship between comic books and behavior, and was a contributing factor to the decline of the comic book industry. In 1954, Wertham testified at the Senate Subcommittee Hearings into Juvenile Delinquency arguing the deleterious effects of comic book consumption by youth. For more on Wertham, see Bart Beaty's Frederic Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture.

Professor Carol Tilley examined Wertham's notes, stored at the Library of Congress, and concluded that his methodology was flawed. In her interview with Dusty Rhodes, she states,

“Lots of people have suspected for years that Wertham fudged his so-called clinical evidence in arguing against comics, but there’s been no proof,” Tilley said. “My research is the first definitive indication that he misrepresented and altered children’s own words about comics.”

Her article titled Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications that Helped Condemn Comics can be found in Information and Culture: A Journal of History.

Abstract:

Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham and his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent serve as historical and cultural touchstones of the anti-comics movement in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s. Although there have been persistent concerns about the clinical evidence Wertham used as the basis for Seduction, his sources were made widely available only in 2010. This paper documents specific examples of how Wertham manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence—especially that evidence he attributed to personal clinical research with young people—for rhetorical gain.

http://www.thecomicbooks.com/wertham.html

A Tale of True Crime Exhibit, Harvard Law School Library

Nickie Phillips

Detail of Illustration from The Diary Murderer of Lynn Boston Evening American and Boston Sunday Advertiser, [1936?] Wood Detective Agency Records, 1865-1945: Box 5-30 Source: http://www.law.harvard.edu/library/special/exhibitions/extra!-extra!-read-all-about-it.html

Harvard Law School is hosting an exhibit on true crime narratives January 3 – April 26, 2013. For more information, go here.

Among the exhibit topics:

"serialized true crime literature, crime photography in newspapers, and the representation of family life in the media’s coverage of the Sacco and Vanzetti case."

Media Manipulation and the "Post-Truth" Approach to Information

Nickie Phillips

Join Jason Stanley, distinguished professor of philosophy at Rutgers University, and a leading epistemologist, in a lecture and discussion about media manipulation and the right-wing "post-truth" approach to information.  In a series of New York Times articles, Stanley has described the current social  "...expectation... [that] any statement made either by a politician or by a media outlet is a false ideological distortion."  This fundamental lack of faith in political statements has devolved into a lack of public accountability: do individuals no longer blame politicians for making false claims or peddling inconsistent political messages ("flip-flopping")?    When?  Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 1:40 p.m.

Where?  Rm. L.61 of the "new building" at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 524 W. 59th St., New York, NY

Lecture sponsored by the Philosophy Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.