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War: The Ultimate Crime:  The names mean nothing to me, of course, since I never met them during their lifetime.  Michael D. Acklin, 25 years old, from Louisville, Kentucky; Genaro Acosta, 26, of Fair Oaks, California; Jay Blessing, 23, of Tacoma, Washington; Irving Medina, 22, of Middletown, New York; Michael A. Diraimondo, 22, Specialist, Army; Simi Valley, California; Kimberly A. Voelz, 27, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Nathan W. Nakis, 19, of Corvallis, Oregon. 

Zero Tolerance Run Amok:  In recent years "law and order" politicians have stoked the fears of the public with their rhetoric about the new "menace" of teen "super-predators." Despite the fact that serious crime among juveniles has dropped in recent years, many politicians continue the "get tough" talk. "Zero tolerance" is one of the new mantras. Variations of the "zero tolerance" mentality within the schools and elsewhere have not only taken us back more than 100 years as far as juvenile justice policy is concerned, but it has, more importantly, "widened the net" of social control in that more and more minor offenses are now being processed formally by the police and the juvenile court.  

Three Strikes Goes Down Looking:  Another "get tough" policy has failed the test of time.  The cute sounding "Three Strikes and You're Out" was originally passed in 1993 in California and it was supposed to impose extremely harsh sentences after a conviction for a third felony.  Theoretically, it was supposed to "get tough" on the "toughest criminals" - mostly repeat, serious, especially violent offenders.  It was, unfortunately, based upon the erroneous assumption that the criminal justice system was "too lenient" on criminals (when in fact just the opposite was occurring); it was also based upon a few "celebrated cases," especially the kidnapping and murder of Polly Klass.
 

Drug War Update: Nothing Succeeds Like Failure:  We are presently in the third decade of what has come to be called the "war on drugs." It continues to dominate the headlines everywhere, as millions of individuals are consistently rounded up, convicted and incarcerated in the nation's prison system on drug charges.  About half of the growth in the prison system during the past couple of decades can be directly attributed to drug convictions.  Most of those arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison are blacks and Latinos.  It is time for an update and assessment on this “war."

Renee Boje: Another Casualty in the War on Drugs: It=s good to know that our federal government is protecting all of us from the most horrible crimes, as they zealously and relentlessly go after all the bad guys. You know the murderers, robbers, rapists, child molesters and the like.  Yeah right!  Just ask Renee Boje, she'll tell you. The case of Renee Boje is one among a long line of federal witch hunts, in search of Adangerous criminals.@  The stars of this witch hunt are agents of the DEA.*

* This originally appeared in Las Vegas City Life, August 24, 2000. Renee continues to live in Vancouver, Canada and her case is pending as of March, 2004, according to one of the lawyers handling the case.  This is a long time to remain in political and social limbo.  For more information, go to her web site. http://www.reneeboje.com.

 

Who Are the Real Drug Traffickers? Who are the biggest "drug traffickers"?  Not Columbian drug lords, nor inner-city minority youth, and not African-American street gangs.  Causing more than 400,000 deaths per year, they don't push their products along darkened alleys and street corners, nor South American jungles, and they do not try to sneak their deadly product across the Mexican border in low-flying aircraft in the middle of the night.  They do it openly and brazenly in plainly marked trucks as they stock clearly identifiable shelves in grocery stores and mini-marts in every city, suburb and rural hamlet throughout the world.  Who are they?  They are the tobacco companies.

Another Victim of the War on Terrorism The current “war on terrorism” is yet another example of what I would call the “one-size-fits-all” tendency of conservative thought.  Many pieces of legislation in the various “wars” we fight – the “war on drugs,” “war on crime,” “war on gangs” – stem from a simplistic and narrow conservative world view that has no shades of gray. A perfect example came to my attention recently as I attended a conference at Eastern Kentucky University.  Among the guest speakers was a 44-year-old Iranian-born woman, named Mahin Ashki, who came to this country when she was a teenager to escape the repressive Iranian regime. Now she is being threatened with deportation back to Iran, a battle she has fought more than for 20 years.

Haiti: Another Example of “State Crime” n every class I teach, I review two important words: “power and control.” I then explain that most of our problems (crime being one among many) stem from the attempts of a person, group, class or nation to maintain power and control over another person, group, class or nation. I define “power” as the “ability to impose one=s will on others.”  This applies to the rapist as well as to the head of a corporation or a nation like the United States.  “Control” refers to attempts to dominate command, keep in check, regulate. One of the best illustrations can be seen when we consider “state crime” - offenses committed by governments and/or their agents. Some criminologists choose to call it “state-corporate crime,” since corporations are often directly involved.

The ‘Let’s Kick Ass and Take Names’ Mentality in Iraq and Elsewhere: Over 750 American soldiers have died so far since we invaded Iraq, and at least 3,000 have been injured (much more, depending upon your source).  Thousands of innocent Iraqis have been killed, many just children. The country is in a state of chaos, with many cities and small towns filled with the debris of war.  In the middle of all of this is the inevitable prison for those captured.  The latest news is that this prison, called Abu Ghraib, has been the scene of more atrocities, this time committed by soldiers in charge of guarding the prisoners. Additionally, it has been reported that at least 25 Iraqi and Afghan prisoners have died, including two Iraqis who may have been murdered.

Criminal Justice Reforms in Brazil: A Lesson for Us  A recent article by Paul E. Amar (Visiting Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the Federal University Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro) on criminal justice reforms in Brazil is rather surprising; in the sense that such an analysis is rare among criminologists in the United States (“Reform in Rio: Reconsidering the Myths of Crime and Violence.” NACLA Report on the Americas 37, 2 (September/October, 2003), on-line (http://www.nacla.org).). Even more incredible is what Brazil is doing about the crime problem, taking an approach long advocated by progressives and critical criminologists.

Give Peace a Chance The Beatles popularized it in a song and it became one of the most popular phrases during the anti-war protests of the 1960s. The phrase may sound “mushy” and “feel good” to some, but it appears to be one of the easiest methods known to reduce violence in the world.  A variation of this theme has been echoed by the Dalai Lama, who often tours this country, spreading his message of nonviolence.  He is among a long line of “peacemakers” and has been the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize, and is perhaps the ultimate in Buddhist compassion and love.  He lives in exile, traveling around the world trying to bring peace to his Tibetan land in their support for independence from five decades of Chinese rule.  Seems the Chinese do not like peaceful men.  Not that the United States loves peace, either.  Ever heard of a Department of Peace?  We use to have a War Department, which is now called, ironically, the Department of Defense (the irony is that this department more often engages in war, both directly and indirectly).  In fact, we Americans seem to love war and enjoy using the word. 

 

Connecting the Dots  Today, as usual, the headlines are mostly about the continuing Iraq crisis, with some updates on the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison.  This led me to a story from The New Yorker written by Seymour Hersh, reporting that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved a secret program last year which “encouraged physical coercion and the sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq.” 

The Globalization of Social Control  As I have previously written (see “It's More Profitable to Treat the Disease..."), the official response to the problem of crime in America has taken on characteristics that resemble the “military industrial complex.”  An appropriate name to this is the “criminal justice industrial complex,” since it represents a sort of symbiotic relationship between the formal criminal justice agencies and various businesses and other governmental agencies and institutions.  More importantly, however, as the more popular phrase “military industrial complex” suggests, the existence of a crime problem has created a tendency for all sorts of interests to be involved in the study of and response to the problem.

Surprise, Surprise, County Jail Filled To Capacity  I remember as if it was yesterday, all the arguments claiming how desperately we needed an expansion of the Clark County (Las Vegas) Detention Center.  Recall that the voters of Clark County approved a bond issue a few years ago, after being told by local authorities that they were running out of space at the present jail (in newspeak language, it=s called a “detention center”).  I recall hearing the dire warnings, as the man with the deep voice (part of the big ad firm, R & R Advertising) told us that there were too many dangerous criminals on the loose in Las Vegas.  The “obvious” solution was the simply build another 500 bed facility. 

Trafficking in Prisoners: Forerunners of the Modern Prison Industrial Complex Scott Christianson, in his historical work With Liberty for Some: 500 Years of Imprisonment in America, suggests that there is a connection not often seen when examining imprisonment, namely that between prison and slavery.  He observes that slavery has often been viewed as a form of punishment and also that prison systems have often resembled a form of slavery.  Similarly, Michael Hallett has arrived at a similar conclusion when discussing the connection between slavery, convict leasing and the modern growth of private prisons.

Conditioned Stupid  I had just finished reading P. J. O’Rourke’s “I Agree with Me” in the July/August, 2004 issue of The Atlantic when my mind drifted to a lecture I attended at a small San Antonio college in 1996.  The speaker was author Neil Postman. I was jolted into my reverie by O’Rouke’s assertion that “Arguing, in the sense of attempting to convince others, seems to have gone out of fashion with everyone.”  O’Rourke, who boasts that he is to the right of Rush Limbaugh, argues that the likes of Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Al Franken and Michael Moore are doing no more than preaching to their respective choirs, and preaching to one’s choir is famous for changing no minds. 

Drug War Update II  It is that time of year again.  We just passed the half-way point of 2004 and it is time for an update on the “war on drugs.”  Sad to say that it is still going strong, for according to the web site www.drugsense.org we have spent just over $20 billion for this “war” so that we are on a pace to surpass last’s year’s expenditures of $39 billion.

Above the Law These “traditional” crimes cost the country about $10 to $13.5 billion each year. There are roughly 20,000 murders and 850,000 assaults each year.  Here is, however, another type of crime and another type of criminal.  The perpetrators are white males occupying the highest seats of power in the country and they represent a legal fiction known as the corporation.  We call this corporate crime and the costs range (depending upon the estimate and the source of the data) from around $150 to $500 billion each year.