All posts filed under: Crime

Policing in the Anomie Era

We bounced along a pitted dirt road on an Indigenous reserve in Northern Ontario. As I leaned on my horn to convince a bored looking, semi-feral stray dog to move out of our path, I chatted with my passenger. She was a young Indigenous woman who worked at our police detachment as an administration assistant. It was midnight, and I was driving her home at the end of her shift because dangers—both canine and human—rendered it unsafe for our civilian staff members to walk home alone after dark. This woman, who I’ll call Grace, was 23 years old. She had recently returned to the reserve after spending a year in southern Ontario attending university. Raised in a home with two alcoholic parents, by the age of 14 she was pregnant. Another child with another father would follow before her 18th birthday. Neither of these men remained in her life. Despite these challenges, Grace was a voracious reader who loved school. With the help of a supportive teacher and various government programs, she was able to …

Racist Police Violence Reconsidered

Tony Timpa was 32 years old when he died at the hands of the Dallas police in August 2016. He suffered from mental health difficulties and was unarmed. He wasn’t resisting arrest. He had called the cops from a parking lot while intoxicated because he thought he might be a danger to himself. By the time law enforcement arrived, he had already been handcuffed by the security guards of a store nearby. Even so, the police officers made him lie face down on the grass, and one of them pressed a knee into his back. He remained in this position for 13 minutes until he suffocated. During the harrowing recording of his final moments, he can be heard pleading for his life. A grand jury indictment of the officers involved was overturned. Not many people have seen this video, however, and that may have something to do with the fact that Timpa was white. During the protests and agonizing discussions about police brutality that have followed the death of George Floyd under remarkably similar circumstances, …

Condemn this Violence without Equivocation

I thank God that the brutal and senseless killing of George Floyd—an unarmed black man—by the white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, was captured on video for all the world to see. That shocking episode provides irrefutable evidence—yet again—of the callous, corrupt, and inhumane practices that are being used by some of those to whom we have granted the fearsome authority and weighty responsibility of policing the streets of our cities. Chauvin’s behavior (and that of his fellow officers, who are depicted in the video standing idly by for what seems like an eternity, while Chauvin casually kneels on Floyd’s neck choking the life out of him) is contemptible, enraging, and entirely unacceptable. This would be true, of course, regardless of the victim’s or the policeman’s race. Yet, given our country’s history, when the murderous cop is white and the dead civilian is black, it is truer still. So, it is essential that those who committed this apparent crime be held accountable in a duly constituted court and, should they be found guilty, punished to …

Pandemics and Pandemonium

Minneapolis and urban centers across America are burning, most directly in response to the brutal killing of a black man by a white Minnesota police officer. But the rage ignited by the death of George Floyd is symptomatic of a profound sense of alienation that has been building for years among millions of poor, working class urbanites. The already diminished prospects facing such people have only been worsened by the unforeseen onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and the policies devised to combat it. Like earlier pandemics, the virus has devastated poorer communities, where people live in the most crowded housing, are forced to travel on public transport, and work in the most exposed “essential” jobs, most of which are badly paid. Unlike the affluent of Gotham, some 30 percent of whom were able to leave town and work remotely, the working class remained, forced to endure crowded conditions as the disease raged through the city. No surprise then that inhabitants of the impoverished Bronx have suffered nearly twice as many deaths from COVID-19 as those …

America’s Black Communities Are Suffering. Violent Protests Will Make the Suffering Worse

Protests sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin—an act that prosecutors describe as murder—have devolved into violence. Numerous small businesses have been destroyed, and at least one elderly shopper at a Target store was assaulted. A man has been shot dead. This pattern of events is familiar because it has repeated itself numerous times over American history following acts of police brutality, especially in cases where, as with Floyd, the victim was black. First, large numbers of people protest peacefully, drawing attention to their cause and attracting national sympathy. Then, a smaller group turns violent, causing destruction in the community and sometimes harming innocent people. That smaller group sometimes includes people who exploit the chaos for their own ends. During the Baltimore riots of 2015, for instance, the looting of pharmacies led to opioids and other drugs flooding the market, likely feeding drug dependency, enriching gangs, and fueling more crime. In the 1960s, thousands of Americans took part in non-violent protests in opposition to segregation. Their …

Return to ‘The Unheavenly City’

The late senator, statesman, sociologist, and New Yorker Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously observed that, “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Moynihan balanced one truth with another, in part to show that neither side enjoyed a monopoly on wisdom. Had he offered these competing visions of politics and culture without describing one as “conservative” and the other as “liberal,” however, it would have admitted the possibility that one was more accurate than the other. And whether or not that is in fact the case matters—not merely for philosophical reasons but for political and social reasons, too. In 1970, American political scientist Edward Banfield had explored this apparently innocuous question in a monograph entitled The Unheavenly City: The Nature and the Future of Our Urban Crisis. The book proved to be so divisive that a slightly revised version appeared just four years later entitled The Unheavenly City Revisited (the …

Fabricated Innocence: The Self-Exoneration and Re-Incrimination of Jens Soering

One of the narrative paradigms in Kurt Vonnegut’s typology of stories is called “Man in a Hole”: Someone starts out doing pretty well at the beginning of a story, then plunges into a deep hole of misfortune, then scrambles out of it again. Jens Soering is that man in the hole. Soering’s promising life went off the rails at the age of 18, when the young German student at the University of Virginia began a love affair which culminated in the brutal double murder of Derek and Nancy Haysom, the parents of his girlfriend Elizabeth. That was act one. Act two involved an international flight from the law, hours of confessions, and a judicial decision which has shaped human rights law to this day. Act three begins with Soering’s conviction and sentencing to life in prison at a televised 1990 murder trial. The pace of the drama then slows for act four: Working from his prison cell, Soering patiently constructs, over decades, an alternate history of the love affair and murders, and convinces a dedicated …

Are We in the Midst of a Transgender Murder Epidemic?

The claim that there’s an “epidemic” of fatal anti-transgender violence in the United States has been made widely in recent years. A Google search for the phrase “epidemic of anti-trans violence” turns up pieces from the New York Times, NBC National News, ABC National News, and the Human Rights Campaign, a leading LGBT lobby group—among 2,500,000 other results. The HRC’s primary on-point article was headlined ‘A National Epidemic: Fatal Anti-Transgender Violence,’ while the Times led with ‘Eighteen Transgender Killings This Year Raise Fears of an Epidemic.’ Transgender Day of Remembrance has been celebrated since the late 1990s to honor those “members of the transgender community whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence,” and the American Medical Association has stated on record that fatal attacks on transgender people—particularly minority trans women—constitute a large part of an “epidemic of violence” against the trans community. However, there is remarkably little evidence that transgender Americans are killed at an unusually high rate. According to an exhaustive database kept by the HRC, there were 29 recorded murders of …

Male-Bodied Rapists Are Being Imprisoned With Women. Why Do so Few People Care?

In 2015, the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists (BAGIS) submitted a written brief to the Transgender Equality Inquiry, which had been undertaken by the UK Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, explaining why it was “naïve to suggest that “nobody would seek to pretend transsexual status in prison if this were not actually the case.” “There are, to those of us who actually interview the prisoners, in fact very many reasons why people might pretend this,” wrote Dr. James Barrett, the President of BAGIS. “These vary from the opportunity to have trips out of prison through to a desire for a transfer to the female estate (to the same prison as a co-defendant) through to the idea that a parole board will perceive somebody who is female as being less dangerous through to a [false] belief that hormone treatment will actually render one less dangerous through to wanting a special or protected status within the prison system and even (in one very well evidenced case that a highly concerned Prison Governor brought particularly to my …

Buying Fentanyl on the Streets of San Francisco—An Interview with Heather Mac Donald

Heather Mac Donald has written one of the most important essays on homelessness in recent memory for City Journal. In it, she argues that we’ve misunderstood the homelessness problem as a problem of poverty when it is, in reality, a problem of family breakdown and the erosion of social norms. While I don’t agree with all of what she’s written, I admire her fieldwork. She interviewed homeless people in San Francisco and even bought fentanyl, the synthetic opiate that resulted in over 17,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States last year, to investigate how easy it was. Such fieldwork is rarer than it should be among journalists and advocates alike. I thought her contribution to the growing debate over homelessness, particularly in California but nationally and globally as well, was so important, I requested a telephone interview for Quillette. It has been edited for length. Quillette: What’s a nice lady like you doing buying fentanyl from drug dealers on the streets of San Francisco? Heather Mac Donald: I wanted to test how easy it …