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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.

Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences Annual Meeting Focuses on Policing Diverse Communities

Staci Strobl

President of the Academy of Criminal Justice, Dr. Lorenzo Boyd, calls on criminal justice academics to work toward addressing root causes of crime and confronting directly the need for social justice, during his Presidential Address on March 22, 2017, in Kansas City (MO).

President of the Academy of Criminal Justice, Dr. Lorenzo Boyd, calls on criminal justice academics to work toward addressing root causes of crime and confronting directly the need for social justice, during his Presidential Address on March 22, 2017, in Kansas City (MO).

The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) annual meeting is in full-swing in Kansas City through tomorrow, and the number of panels on policing and issues of community and diversity has never been greater. Despite the adage that academics pay insufficient attention to real world problems, this conference appears to have shattered the ivory tower.  In ACJS style, practitioners are hob-nobbing with scholars, and in fact, most here are the quintessential “pracademics.”  Although the tensions between practitioner and academic (critical) perspectives remain palpable, there is something comforting in that these two realms are still co-mingling in a field that by definition is an applied one.

President of ACJS, Lorenzo Boyd, of University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, gave an opening address on Wednesday which outlined his vision for a grounded criminal justice academy in which criminal justice recognizes that it must be rooted in social justice.  He said, we know the “symbolic assailant” (an urban, black male) and must continue to work toward influencing and affecting a larger system that will move beyond criminalizing blackness and address root causes of crime, such as poverty, homelessness, lack of economic opportunity, and disparities in education, to name a few.  It was a refreshingly engaged address, which implored us in the academy to get off our tuffs and make a difference in our communities.

Women's March 2017: NYC + MADISON (WI)

Nickie Phillips

NEW YORK...

MADISON...

When Chicago Happens: Notes from a Forensic Tourist

Staci Strobl

illinois-state-police-forensic-sciences-lab-patch_381703020615.jpg

By Staci Strobl, Crimcast Co-Founder

Late last year, I had the opportunity to accompany Prof. Ava Phipps and her students at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville to the Illinois State Crime Laboratory in Chicago.  Being a criminologist more focused on the sociological aspects of the field, the chance to see up close how forensics operates was a fun departure.  At the crime lab, scientific methods are used to understand and interpret individual pieces of evidence in their own right and in the context of a larger criminal investigation; although larger sociological patterns may inform an investigation, ultimately case evidence is legally and constitutionally specific for purposes of due process.

Despite the unique-ness of each case, however, I could not help asking the laboratory scientists about what they observed across cases.  Clearly, working in a crime lab that primarily services the Chicago area— a place where unfortunately the violent crime rate is way above the national average for a metropolitan area— would provide some fairly reliable insights about what is going on “on the streets.”

We started our tour at the Drug Chemistry unit, which employs 40 analysts and handles 26,000 pieces of evidence a year.  Tasked with being the legal determiners of drug type and weight, the analyst who spoke with us indicated that, like the mainstream media is reporting, heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine show up most often.  Increasingly, the analyst noted, homemade fentanyl is being detected.  She also noted that when a major music festival, such as Lollapalooza, comes to the area, there is a spike in the relatively low level of seized hallucinogens, primarily LSD and mushrooms.

From the DNA unit, we learned that, contrary to a recent National Geographic article, DNA phenotyping is not practiced.  Touted as the next best thing in ruling out suspects, phenotyping allows investigators to take DNA that can’t be matched to an existing identity in the DNA database (via the typical genotyping), but can produce information about a suspect’s characteristics, such as eye and hair color, and likely racial identity.  However, according to the DNA analyst I spoke with, phenotyping is not practiced in Illinois as it is considered a problematic for its potential for over-interpretation, as well as having racial profiling implications.

“There is a misconception that we [in a crime lab] are interested in building a case.  We are not.  Our goal is to use biological matter and DNA to establish connections between a suspects, scenes, and items.”  The analyst saw phenotyping as contributing to speculation that could derail cases.

Our visit to the Ballistics unit revealed a very busy office although specific numbers of guns and ammunition analyzed were not provided.  Instead we were treated to an exciting performance of guns being discharged in machines, and striations being matched, at an incessant clip; the work seemed to be piling up and in this sense, Chicago was living up to its reputation.  Here were the weapons behind the headlines and each one was being carefully considered in a kind of tragic ritual.  I could not imagine the amount of sadness and suffering that belied many of the firearms.

The UW-Platteville students on the tour had the most questions for the Fingerprinting unit, experienced as most were from a Fingerprinting class at the university. They asked about the warehouses that houses several million fingerprint cards used before computer databases, tricks for dealing with partial prints, and also asking about career opportunities.  For those who think biometrics (iris scans, facial recognition) will outshine traditional Fingerprinting, think again.  Latent prints still make up a good part of the forensic information cases produce and the need for well-trained analysts remains.

illinois state crime lab.png

Fingerprinting is arguably more of an art than a science, with matching, though aided by computers, still needing human decision-making (how many points of similarity make a good match?) and the human eye.  New techniques in using the valleys, or spaces between the ridge-markings of a print, are providing new avenues of analysis.

With the constant barrage of media and entertainment about forensics, most of us probably harbor all sorts of mythologies about forensic science and forensic investigation, such as the speed and accuracy at which these things happen (evidence may sit for weeks waiting for analysis, and analysis may take days or weeks depending on its nature and complexity).  Furthermore, in a high-crime metropolis like Chicago, triaging evidence constantly occurs with more serious and high-profile cases getting fast-tracked and routine burglaries being sidelined for a less busy day.  Seeing this world in its laboratory reality helps to debunk some of these myths and put us in touch with the routine nature of evidence processing. 

The natural-ness of forensics as a dominant mode of knowing about crime is relatively recent in human history, primarily in the last 150 years.  The criminologist in me can’t help but marvel at how much has changed so fast.  As a society we perhaps feel we understand crime so much better, perhaps even a violent crime spike in Chicago, but in fact, we know very little.  We can document it and quantify it and prosecute it, but we still debate what it all means and how we can make society safer. Sadly, an academic focus on forensic investigation, forensic science, criminal justice and/or criminology remains a good job prospect precisely because, well, Chicago happens.

Chase Madar on Chelsea Manning - Wikileaks Whistleblower

Nickie Phillips

Chase Madar, author of The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story Behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower, spoke about Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning and her conviction for leaking nearly half a million classified government documents to Wikileaks. Madar discussed government transparency, the consequences of overclassification of documents, and the necessity for criminal justice reform.

Madar is a civil rights attorney and has written for numerous outlets including The Nation, Mother Jones, Al Jazeera America, and Vice

Hudson Link @ SFC Post-Prison Program Begins Third Year

Nickie Phillips

Beginning its third year and with just two semesters until the first person graduates, the Hudson Link @ SFC Post-Prison Program began the Fall semester with a welcome back gathering of students, faculty and special guest Keston Jones on Monday, September 12.

Formerly incarcerated, Mr. Jones is currently a Ph.D. student at Yeshiva University. He also serves as program director for the Fatherhood Program that works with community organizations and individuals to raise awareness around issues of fatherhood.

In addition to welcoming one new student, current students in the program expressed how the program has been instrumental in shaping their life trajectories including providing support and resources.
Johnny Perez

Johnny Perez

Johnny Perez ‘17 is set to graduate with a degree in Criminal Justice in May. “My upcoming graduation is not only an educational victory, but marks a day in my familial history as the first person in my family to graduate from college and therefore break the cycle of ignorance within it. That would not be possible without St. Francis College,” he said.

The Post-Prison program was recently featured in the Association of American Catholic Colleges publication, ACCU Peace and Justice and was recognized during The White House College Opportunity Day of Action which supports President Barack Obama's commitment to partner with colleges and universities, business leaders, and nonprofits to support students across the country to help our nation reach its goal of leading the world in college attainment.

Urban Justice Center: 2016 Celebration & Recognition Awards

Nickie Phillips

Join reentry advocate Johnny Perez and others to honor Roy Waterman and Julia Steele at the 2016 Celebration & Recognition Awards.The celebration will take place over Hors D'oeuvres, an open wine bar, comedy by funny man Kenny Woo, and my favorite: Spoken Word. Opening remarks will be made by Juju Chang, Emmy Award-winning co-anchor of ABC News’ “Nightline,” Since the event willbe held on a private rooftop residence in midtown, event location will be shared upon registration.

The Urban Justice Center(UJC) Mental Health Project (MHP) has provided re-entry services for people with mental health concerns who are leaving New York State prisons or New York City jails and returning to the NYC community. Safe Re-entry advocate, Johnny Perez, has been the driving force behind MHP’s re-entry work, and this work has demonstrated to the UJC that many people returning to NYC from institutions of incarceration could benefit from assistance in re-entry.

The proceeds from this fundraiser will be used to research and develop a new project at the UJC: ReAP – the Re-entry Advocacy Project. With Johnny Perez’s direction, this project will provide support for people exiting our institutions of incarceration to obtain benefits and supports necessary to become integrated fully into the NYC community. The UJC hopes to begin ReAP in the fall of 2017.

Julia Steele Allen
Co-Writer, Producer, Performer
Mariposa & the Saint: From Solitary Confinement, A Play Through Letters

* Mariposa & the Saint is a play written entirely through letters between Julia Steele Allen and Sara (Mariposa) Fonseca over the course of three years, while Mariposa was held in isolation at a California women's prison. Partnering with grassroots organizations, Julia has performed the play over 50 times across 9 states, for legislators, judges, wardens corrections officials, faith communities, theater audiences, and students, using the play as an organizing tool to support the growing movement that will end solitary confinement in this country.

Roy Waterman
Director of Engagement for Drive Change and Owner and Head Chef of Caribbean Soul Caterers

* Drive Change is a non profit Social Enterprise that uses the mobile vending industry to train, employ, mentor, and encourage formerly incarcerated young people ages 18-25 years old who are released from adult jails and prison. Drive Change pays them a livable wage as well as a percentage of the food truck sales. Drive Change also provides licensed credentials such as the food handlers license and mobile vending license. The agency's focus is on the social and emotional leaning and on job training.

 

You can register for the Celebration here.

 

I really hope you are able to attend, or at the very least are able to purchase a ticket for someone who is formerly incarcerated, because freedom really is something to be celebrated in this era of Mass Incarceration. Please feel free to share the attached Celebration flier with your networks.  

Changing the conversation about violence, slavery, and plantation life

Staci Strobl

What kind of site is it?  Houmas House markets itself in part as a luxury garden space, in Darrow, Louisiana.

What kind of site is it?  Houmas House markets itself in part as a luxury garden space, in Darrow, Louisiana.

By Lieselot Bisschop and Staci Strobl

One of the most tragic chapters in American history is the economic reliance on the Plantation System in the South during colonial times and through the mid-nineteenth century.  As criminologists, we recognize that the historical foundation of the region’s criminal justice system was shaped by the collusion between plantation overseers and local sheriffs.  Together they used routine and heavy violence to keep African-Americans enslaved (see Websdale or Reichel). 

Earlier this summer, we found ourselves in Southern Louisiana doing fieldwork (on a topic not related to plantation life) and sought to escape a bit from the relentless grind of travel and interviews, taking in some of what the region has to offer its visitors.  Perusing the kiosks of tourist pamphlets, we found several that offered tours of and lodgings in old plantations with their ancient oak trees and lavishly furnished interiors.  Promising such magical adventures as living “like a sugar baron” and giving that special someone “every girl’s dream,” these slogans caused us deep pause.  From our perspective, they glossed over the violence and bondage that underpinned the nostalgic luxury being peddled.  It seems that plantation tourism helps us forget that living like a sugar baron meant countless others lived like tortured animals to produce the cash crop.

We visited Houmas House to experience it all firsthand, already leery of the narrative, but attempting to be open-minded. Our tour guide led us through the plantation mansion, pointing out the many valuable historical artifacts collected by the current owner, who interestingly still lives on site—his current bedroom in the mansion is part of the tour.  The name “Houma” comes from the names local Native American tribes used for themselves.  The first landowner, in a Manhattan-like buy-all-this-land-for-nothing-but-beads swindle, gave the local Houma some trinkets for hundreds of acres of land where the site now stands. In telling this story, our guide editorialized sadly that “you just don’t find deals like that anymore.”  In retrospect, was she being insensitive or just ironic?  We're not sure.

The sugar barons of Houmas House dined under crystal chandeliers and master oil paintings.

The sugar barons of Houmas House dined under crystal chandeliers and master oil paintings.

Slavery was briefly mentioned a couple times during the tour.  We were assured that past owners of Houmas House were “good to their slaves.”  We were also told that descendants of the slaves live in a nearby community and they are on “good terms” with the current plantation owner.

On Trip Advisor one guest gave a poor review of Houmas House because of the lack of engagement with slavery on the site.  Houmas House responded:

I am so sorry that you were disappointed in not [seeing] the slave cabins that were once a part of this [plantation]. They were relocated in 1858, over 150 years ago, and each was given with a parcel of land to the former slave families, when they were freed by John Burnside, prior to the Civil War. It’s true that the slaves built the Mansion in 1810 through 1812, but only the Mansion and two garconierres remain to this day. Our tour concentrates on the lifestyles of the Great Sugar Barons of this plantation. Our brochures, marketing efforts, and website all clearly say this.  Please judge us on what we say we offer, and not what one thinks we should portray.

High art in the men's sitting room at Houmas House included this marble statue of a Native American.  Below it, slaves are depicted lifting the ornate bowl of a golden candy dish.

High art in the men's sitting room at Houmas House included this marble statue of a Native American.  Below it, slaves are depicted lifting the ornate bowl of a golden candy dish.

Slave cabins at the Whitney Plantation were preserved and grouped on the site from neighboring plantations.  Old sugar processing bowls lie in the hot sun to the right of the cabins.

Slave cabins at the Whitney Plantation were preserved and grouped on the site from neighboring plantations.  Old sugar processing bowls lie in the hot sun to the right of the cabins.

The problem with the narrative around these sites is that they perpetuate a type of historical forgetting that should not be encouraged.  One cannot honestly focus on the lives of sugar barons as separate from the lives of slaves.  We would be horrified if Auschwitz turned into a hotel and resort, but we do not feel that same horror for a plantation.  Arguably both types of sites are places where forced labor and genocide were perpetuated, and in the case of the latter, over many generations.  Americans have hardly come to terms with the crimes of slavery, especially since we stage weddings and other fancy galas on slavery sites.  Does the present physical beauty of these sites have no connection to a bloody past?  We would argue that celebrating these places in the present contributes to a white-washing of slavery, allowing contemprary (primarily white) people to perpetuate a one-sided narrative with suspiciously little memorializing of the systemic plantation violence.

To be fair, on the way out of Houmas House, visitors are encouraged by banners to go visit the Whitney Plantation, which focuses on the life of slaves.  So that's where we also went.  The Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana, under the guidance of historian Ibrahima Seck, is the only plantation tourist attraction that actively goes beyond the mainstream narrative.  The tour guides frame a visit there in a way that encourages people to remember slavery without feeling personally responsible by virtue of being of a particular present-day identity. The plantation tour shows slave quarters, slave jails (metal train car-size boxes) and recounts the stories of the property’s last generation of slave children (whose stories were collected in the 1930s as part of a Works Progress Administration project).

A bronze statute depicts cabin life as it might have been for a young slave in the mid-19th century.

A bronze statute depicts cabin life as it might have been for a young slave in the mid-19th century.

Visitors to the Whitney Plantation learn that punishments administered by the overseers, institutionalized through the so-called black codes, had absolute obedience as a goal (see Schafer).  Difficult living conditions, starvation rations, rape, and murder are all covered in the tour, prodding visitors to remember and relate honestly to a difficult history.  Toward that end, the entrance ticket is a lanyard with a slave’s story and picture on it. One of ours explained the story of Anne Clark:

I ploughed, hoed, split rails. I done the hardest work ever a man ever did. I was so strong, iffen he needed me I’d pull the men down so the marster could handcuff’em. They’d whop us with a bullwhip. When women was with child they’d dig a hole in the groun’ and put their stomach in the hole and then beat’em. They’d allus whop us.

The Whitney Plantation does not host weddings or serve fancy dinners; instead it merely bears witness to history from below-- although not without an acknowledgement of those who occupied the plantation mansion.  The tour ends in the mansion, a fantastic denouement.  By then, visitors aren’t impressed by the high life; the exquisite mantle pieces, oil paintings and fine china seem merely like the sad trophies of social injustice.

As professors in criminal justice and criminology, we can help shift the narrative to where it belongs by focusing more intently on the plantation as a precursor to modern day policing in southern states.  The plantation systems used privately-paid overseers in cooperation with public sheriffs to criminalize African-Americans who attempted to live life outside of forced labor.  Punishments were not publicly administered for the crimes of being an escaped slave, but rather meted out in private where a plethora of instruments of torture had been forged by the plantation blacksmith.  This was a deliberate and violent social system of injustice that was accomplished through the marriage of economic interests and the legal apparatus and led to the convict-leasing system of the Reconstructionist era south (see Mancini).  Rather than dusty chapters in a distant past, the lessons of slavery—a capitalist pursuit that captured a criminal justice system for its purposes—may help us make sense of present day phenomena such as racially disproportionate mass incarceration or the rise of the private prison industry.

The dominant rhetoric of the present day plantation tourism celebrates the luxury of the “big house” of white landowners. Given the violent history, this is puzzling, at best, and an abomination at worst.  Luckily, the Whitney Plantation is changing the conversation.

Lieselot Bisschop is a criminologist at Erasamus University Rotterdam (The Netherlands) and a research fellow at Ghent University.  Staci Strobl is a criminologist at the University of Wisconsin-- Platteville.

For a history of the slave community at Habitation Haydel (the Whitney Plantation), see Ibrahima Seck's Bouki Fait Gombo.

Dangers for Female Prison Guards - New York Times

Nickie Phillips

“We’re trained how to deal with inmates. We’re not trained to be sexually assaulted by our co-workers, especially our supervisors.”
— Lisa Sullivan, NY Times

"A new Justice Department study shows that allegations of sex abuse in the nation’s prisons and jails are increasing — with correctional officers responsible for half of it  — but prosecution is still extremely rare." - Joaquin Sapien, Propublica

Notable Criminal Justice Docs at Tribeca Film Festival

Nickie Phillips

When the most powerful lobbyist in Florida discovers that the nanny has sexually abused his daughter, he harnesses his extraordinary political power to pass the toughest sex offender laws in the nation. UNTOUCHABLE chronicles his crusade, and its impact on the lives of several of the 800,000 people forced to live under the kinds of laws he has championed.
— Untouchablefilm.com
 
In 2012, California amended its ‘Three Strikes’ law—one of the harshest criminal sentencing policies in the country. The passage of Prop. 36 marked the first time in U.S. history that citizens voted to shorten sentences of those currently incarcerated. Within days, the reintegration of thousands of ‘lifers’ was underway. The Return examines this unprecedented reform through the eyes of those on the front lines—prisoners suddenly freed, families turned upside down, reentry providers helping navigate complex transitions, and attorneys and judges wrestling with an untested law.
— The Return Project
Do Not Resist is an urgent and powerful exploration of the rapid militarization of the police in the United States. Opening on startling on-the-scene footage in Ferguson, Missouri, the film then broadens its scope to present scenes from across the country—a conference presentation where the value of high-end weapons technologies is presented to potential police buyers, a community that has just received its very own military-grade tank, and a SWAT team arriving at a home to execute a warrant. The cumulative effect of these vignettes paints a startling picture of the direction our local law enforcement is headed.
— Do Not Resist, Deborah Rudolph
Solitary investigates an invisible part of the American justice system: the use of isolation and segregation in US prisons, commonly known as solitary confinement.
— Tribeca Film Institute

Exclusive clip of Solitary at Deadline.

Randy Williams Speaks Out about Wrongful Conviction

Nickie Phillips

The ripple effect of wrongful convictions resonates throughout families and communities. Randy Williams’ time behind bars can never be returned, nor his time away from his family and the promise of his future.
— Private Investigations by Management Resources Limited of NY

Randy Williams and Bob Rahn

Randy Williams served nine years of a 22 years-to-life prison sentence as a result of a wrongful conviction. He was released in 2016.

On April 14, 2016, Randy and his mom, Rosie, spoke with students at St. Francis College to share their story. They discussed how Bob Rahn and Kim Anklin, of Private Investigations by Management Resources Ltd of NY, worked tirelessly on behalf of Randy uncovering false eyewitness testimony and police misconduct.

Criminologist Nickie Phillips, Rosie Benjamin, Randy Williams, and Bob Rahn

Brooke Georgia Guinan Inspired in Lost in Trans*lation

Nickie Phillips

Brooke Georgia Guinan

Brooke Georgia Guinan

We were honored to host third-generation New York City Fire Department member Brooke Georgia Georgia Guinan (3/15) as part of the Spring 2016 Senior Lecture Series: New Protest Movements at SFC (Profs. Emily Horowitz and Sara Haviland).  

Brooke is the “first and only transgender firefighter” in the FDNY (read more in this inspiring Village Voice piece), and she shared her personal journey about coming out as a transgender person and her professional triumphs as the first openly transgender firefighter in New York City. 

Brooke Georgia Guinan

Brooke Georgia Guinan

Brooke Georgia Guinan

Brooke Georgia Guinan

The Confined Arts: Solitary Confinement Edition at SFC

Nickie Phillips

Solitary confinement is torture...and should completely be abolished.
— Confined Arts: Solitary Confinement Edition
The Confined Arts: Solitary Confinement Edition - SFC March 12, 2016

The Confined Arts: Solitary Confinement Edition - SFC March 12, 2016

The Confined Arts: Solitary Confinement Edition - SFC March 12, 2016

Conference on Restorative Justice in Wisconsin will take close look at victim forgiveness

Staci Strobl

If a drunk driver killed your daughter and her friend, would you be able to forgive him or her?  Renee Napier has done just this after Eric Smallridge forever changed the course of her life by irresponsibly taking the wheel while under the influence of alcohol.  Renee and Eric are the keynote speakers at the upcoming 3rd Annual Restorative Justice Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.  They will share their journey to healing, and ultimately a place of forgiveness, on March 7, 2016.

This annual conference brings together mediators, dispute resolvers, and others practicing under the broad label of restorative justice, a type of response to crime that focuses on the harm done to victims and directly addresses those harms in alternative ways than those found in the mainstream criminal justice system.  Bringing together academics, practitioners, criminal justice authorities, counselors, and members of the community, among others, this conference utilizes peacemaking methods such as facilitated 'circle time' to discuss the keynote and other presentations from restorative justice experts.  For more information, and to register, click here.

Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2015 - Protecting Our Kids: How Sex Offender Laws are Failing Us

Nickie Phillips

Protecting Our Kids: How Sex Offender Laws Are Failing Us by Professor Emily Horowitz has been named among the Outstanding Academic Titles of 2015 by Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries.

"Dr. Horowitz makes a persuasive case for why the current rash of draconian sex offender laws in the United States violate civil liberties, create an entire class of pariahs and outcasts, and above all, fail to protect children. Her interviews with offenders bring reality, insight, and clarity to a subject usually blurred by panic and hysteria." - Gavin de Becker, bestselling author of The Gift of Fear

Humanizing The Dehumanized: The Legacy Of Eugenics And The Relevance Today at Central Booking

Nickie Phillips

Twisted Data

Join us for the panel Humanizing The Dehumanized: The Legacy Of Eugenics And The Relevance Today

January 21 @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm

OffLINE at CENTRAL BOOKING, 

21 Ludlow St, New York, 10002 United States

Moderator: Nickie Phillips, criminologist, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NYC

Panelists: Artists Noah Fuller, Geraldine Ondrizek, and Barbara Rosenthal featured in Twisted Data exhibit

This panel will explore the legacy of eugenics and the ways that “scientific” data has been used to justify atrocities. The panelists will discuss how the categorization of individuals, dehumanization, and bureaucratization converged to reinforce cultural prejudices and the lasting impact of these policies and practices. The study and reception of bio-criminological explanations of criminality will be discussed in light of the history of eugenics within the field of criminology, as well as other unfortunate implications of the movement to “purify” the population.