First up, a little good news: New York City: Felony Crime Rate Hits Record Low. One of the on-going American myths is the mistaken notion that crime is on the rise, that there is far more crime happening today than there was when we were younger or in the good old days, or whatever. But that is simply not true. At all. Don’t believe me? Take it away Brennan Center for Justice:
Even despite recent increases, rates of murder and violent crime remain at historic low points, almost 50 percent below their early-1990s peaks. A preliminary analysis of 2017 crime rates in the nation’s 30 largest cities projects that the overall crime rate and the violent crime rate will decline to the second-lowest levels since 1990.
They have a lot of statistics and analysis (and nifty animated graphs!) on their site. It is true that in 2015 and 2016 several cities saw a dramatic increase in murder rates. However, the murder rate continued downward everywhere else. In 2015 the violent crime rate went down 2.6 percent compared to the previous year, and some people would say that a 2.6 percent change isn’t very significant (in fact, certain conservative politicians argued exactly that), but the fact that it was the 14th year in a row that the national violent crime rate went down is much more significant.
Also, they are projecting that the cities which had dramatic increases in 2015 and 2016 are all seeing declines this year, some quite large (Detroit looks to be seeing a 24% decrease!).
In news that is harder to classify: Trump Deported Fewer Mexican Nationals In 2017 Than Obama Did In 2016. This is a bit surprising given some of the crazy lengths that the Trump administration has gone to rounding up suspected undocumented immigrants. Part of me wants to make the cynical observation that the racist jerks can’t even pull off their racist policies right. I really haven’t found anyone analyzing this story in a way that we can evaluate why the deportation numbers (not just to Mexico) are so far down. Maybe because in their zeal that keep rounding up people who actually are here legally, then losing the legal fight to deport them anyway?
Let’s end with something funny. The Daily Show did an end of the year special, and this skit (don’t be like the idiots commenting on Youtube: it’s a parody of both the music industry, political songs, and much, much more) is definitely worth your time. Watch it all the way to the end! Song for Women 2017 (feat. DJ Mansplain) – The Daily Show:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Anyone who has ever dealt with an internet troll has seen this tactic.
Unfortunately, anyone who is paying attention to Seattle politics right now are witnessing a particularly loathsome use of the tactic. I’ve written before about the allegations that Mayor Murray hired teen-age prostitutes and/or sexually abused teens in his care 30-some years ago in Oregon. The allegations came to light because of a suspiciously timed lawsuit filed on behalf of an anonymous man, and the lawyer pressing the case behaved strangely—filing motions with the court that weren’t legitimate filings but rather press releases citing strange gossipy items about the mayor (leading the judge to both warn and fine the lawyer). The mayor decided not to seek re-election. When, not long after the filing deadline to run for mayor and one day before the first sworn answers to question were to be given by the plaintiff/accuser, the lawsuit was suddenly withdrawn, a lot of us thought that maybe there wasn’t anything to the allegations.
And since time immemorial, people have accused all queer people of being pedophiles or other kinds of sexual predators, so it was easy to see this as just another example of that prejudice, right?
Murray maintained that when the accusations came to light about 33 years ago and were investigated by both the police and other agencies, he had been cleared—investigators, he said, had all agreed that the accusations from the teens were unfounded. We knew the country prosecutor had declined to file charges. Oregon’s child protective services said that the case had been closed and that most of the files related to the case had been destroyed some years ago. Given how anti-gay the police and prosecutors in that part of Oregon were known to be in the 80s, it seemed that there must not have been any evidence to sustain the charges.
Well, now we know that’s not quite true.
Some of the records that were thought to be destroyed have been found. And after getting permission from the person who was the teen-age accuser at the time, redacted versions of the files have been released. Murray had been a foster parent at the time of some of these accusations, and one of the people who alleged he had sexually abused him was a foster teen in his care. The agency investigated and concluded that there was reasonable cause to believe abuse had occurred. Murray’s certification to be a foster parent was therefore revoked, with the agency officially finding that he should never be allowed to be a foster parent again.
The mayor’s response to this revelation has been to claim he had no idea of the finding and then argue that child protective services always errs on the side of believing the child, therefore the accusations shouldn’t be believed. There have been a series of statements from his lawyers in which the goalposts have been moved a few times while trying to draw a distinction between the criminal law standard of guilt of “beyond a reasonable doubt” and the standards adhered to by agencies like child protective services.
It is technically true that the standard for conviction in a criminal case is higher than the standard used by child protective services. But statistically it is absolutely not true that those sorts of agencies believe the kids all of the time, or even most of the time. The vast majority of the time when such accusations are investigated, the agencies determine that the allegations are probably unfounded. Unfortunately, other statistics indicates that they reach this conclusion erroneously more times than not.
We also now know that at least one prosecutor was convinced that Murray was guilty. She withdrew charges related to the foster child not because there was insufficient evidence, but because the troubled teen ran away from the group home he’d been moved to, and was literally unavailable to testify.
The teens were all kids who Murray had encountered because they were already troubled. They were in the system because of parental abuse, neglect, or abandonment. They had drug issues. They were exactly the sorts of kids that people wouldn’t believe. We know now from numerous studies that they are exactly the sorts of victims certain types of abusers seek out, precisely because of that lack of credibility.
When the agency concluded the allegations of abuse by the foster teen were founded, they were required to notify Murray that his certification was being revoked and offer him a chance to appeal the finding. Murray didn’t appeal. He instead left Oregon and returned to his home town, Seattle. Given the timing of his departure, I’m having a very hard time believing that he never received the notice and the offer of an appeal. So I don’t believe him when he says he never knew about the finding.
And that throws a shadow of doubt over the rest of his denials.
Each time the allegations were brought up to him over the years, his first reaction was immediately attack the credibility of each teen involved. Then it was to attack the credibility and question the motives of any lawyers or investigators who were looking into the allegations. And now, by asserting that child protective services always errs on the side of believing the accuser, he’s attacking the credibility of the agency.
And what makes it loathsome, is that each day he remains in the office of Mayor and gets away with attacking the credibility of the accusers, investigators, and agency charged with protecting kids has a chilling effect on other abuse victims out there. It sends a clear message that if they come forward, they will not be believed. If anyone believes them, those people will be discredited.
Whether Murray committed the abuse or not, the chilling effect helps abusers and hurts abuse victims.
So much time has passed and the waters have been so muddied that these allegations from 30-some years ago probably couldn’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal court (which we’ll never know because of the statute of limitations). But “charges dropped because the witness went missing” is not the definition of exonerated. And “reasonable cause to believe the abuse had occurred” sure as heck isn’t the definition of unfounded. It doesn’t have to reach the criminal law definition of Guilty for reasonable people to conclude Not Innocent.
It has been argued that the city council can’t impeach the mayor because the charter only allows them to do that if he commits a willful violation of duty, which in general meant violation of his duties as mayor while serving in office. But the charter also says the mayor may be removed over an offence involving “moral turpitude.” Turpitude, according to my dictionaries, is “an evil way of behaving.” Whether he committed the abuse or not, I certainly think his behaviors of lying about knowing that the charges had been found as probably true and attacking the standard of proof that a child protective agency should use could be described as evil, don’t you?
Then, of course, I found myself wide awake before the usual time that my own alarm goes off for no apparent reason. So I got up, chatted with my husband before he headed to work, and did a small amount of writing. Fortunately, I started feeling a bit sleepy not long after that, so I went back to bed and slept until noon.
When it was time to head to the doctor’s office, I grabbed my stuff and headed out to the car. The first moment I knew something was wrong was when I saw that the back door on the driver’s side wasn’t completely closed. Then I saw all of the contents of our glove box and the center console piled up in the passenger seat. No windows were broken, and there was no sign of force entry. But the doors also weren’t locked. I am assuming that I simply forgot to press the lock button on the fob after I carried in the groceries earlier in the week.
They stole the iPod that is normally plugged into the USB port inside the console. It’s one of my favorite features of the car. We have a large library of our music playing randomly whenever we drive anywhere. They also took the iPod adaptor cable, as well as the spare cables we keep in there so we can charge our phones while driving if need be. Including the really pretty blue one my hubby found. And, when they pulled my spare eyeglasses out of the little compartment in the roof (I keep an old, but still the right prescription pair in there in case I break or lose my glasses sometime and I need to drive home). And while they didn’t steal the glasses, they did steal the matching sunglass lenses that attach magnetically to the glasses.
I didn’t have time to thoroughly assess what was taken. At the time, I just confirmed that the iPod was gone, but that the registration and similar paperwork was still in the car, and I drove to my appointment.
I was able to activate Lost Mode through the Find my iPhone app on my phone, so if anyone ever connects that iPod to the internet, it will brick itself and display a message that it is a stolen iPod. My bet is that unfortunately it will be some one who buys the iPod from someone who bought it from the thief, but I can hope.
Over the last year or so we have made a concerted effort to give away or sell most of the pile of old iPods we’ve accumulated (since Michael works at a computer refurbisher, he winds up with a bunch; he’s gotten scary good at replacing the batteries on a number of models). So we had a much more limited number of backups to replace the iPod with.
This is the third time in about 9 years or so that an iPod has been stolen from one of our cars. Every time it’s happened it’s been because one of us (me at least twice) left a door unlocked. So these are just crimes of opportunity, rather than anyone going to the trouble of actually breaking into cars.
I know there has been an uptick in the frequency of that sort of theft in our part of town. And apparently at least one a-hole is aware of it too.
Sunday night, right after I’d taken some stuff out to the recycle bins and loaded the dishwasher, Michael decided to empty the trash and recycle from the computer room upstairs. He was just heading out the door when we heard a woman’s scream.
I grabbed my phone and followed him. A van with its lights on was stopped in the middle of the street, in front of the house two doors down. A man and woman were yelling, and it quickly became clear that the man had been driving by when he saw the woman “behaving suspiciously.” He believed she was looking into cars with a flashlight as if looking for things to steal. She claimed she was looking gathering mushrooms.
As the yelling escalated, I started to dial 9-1-1. Then she tried to get away from the angry man, he grabbed her bike, grabbed her, and threw her to the ground. As my husband moved in and yelled, “Hey!” I was finally hearing ringback on my phone. So when the a-hole yelled at her that he had half a mind to call the police, I called out that I was calling the police because I’d just seen him assault her.
As I hoped, this got him to turn toward me, ignoring both the woman and my husband, and start yelling at me. I can keep an idiot/bully arguing for a long time. It’s not unlike yanking the chain on an internet troll.
Once I was actually talking to the 9-1-1 operator, the woman took off on her bike, and the man ran back to his van. He sat in there for a minute while I described the van to the 9-1-1 operator. I don’t know what he was doing. But his level of belligerence was not incompatible with someone who had been drinking.
Anyway as he drove away, Michael read most of the license plate to me. If this comes to court, I’m not going to be any good as a witness, because I didn’t grab my glasses. Everyone was a blur. Our immediate next door neighbors came out. As soon as she had heard a man and woman shouting outside, she’d called 9-1-1, too. And her husband pulled on enough clothes to come outside. The 9-1-1 operator told me cops were responding and an officer would be there, soon.
So we discussed with the neighbors what each of us had heard and deduced. As I said, “The guy might be right; she might have been prowling cars. But that doesn’t give him the right to assault her.”
And if I had been grabbed and thrown to the ground by a big angry man like that, I very well might have run off as soon as I had the choice.
As my husband pointed out, in a lot of places harvesting mushrooms out of other people’s yards is technically stealing (I assume that the yard owner would have to press charges), which would be one reason a person might be looking for mushrooms late at night. And since I recently wrote about our local fungi, and have been told by more than one person that the most spectacular ones I posted pictures of are very likely of the hallucinatory variety, a person intent on harvesting those kinds of mushrooms might prefer to do it at night when no one will see them.
When the cop pulled up a few minutes later, he asked us to clarify which way the woman fled. We’d given a good enough description of the van and the partial plate that they had pulled someone over, “And we’re pretty sure it’s him.”
The guy had seemed the sort of idiot who would immediately start yelling at the cop about how he was the victim of the woman who “started it.”
I didn’t mention that, but when he was yelling/arguing with me, that’s a phrase he repeated several times. “She started it.” Yeah, buddy. He was about 6′ tall, built like a bear, and she was about 5-foot-nothing and maybe weighed 110 pounds, and I saw him throw her to the ground. “She started it” ain’t going to cut it.
I know if they don’t find her to press charges, that nothing is likely to come of this (unless my guess that he might not have been sober is right).
If she was prowling cars, that doesn’t give a passing citizen the right to grab her and throw her to the ground. Sure, yell. Call the cops if you think you see a crime going down. Take a picture with your cellphone. But you don’t assault the person over suspected theft.
I hope that she’s physically all right, regardless of what she was doing. I started to type that I hope the guy learns a lesson, but the way he was yelling at her, then yelling at me, it’s pretty clear that he’s a bully and an idiot through and through. So maybe I can just hope that he doesn’t have any opportunities to assault or abuse anyone for a while.
And despite the title of this blog post, I still like living in this neighborhood.
But I’ll be triple-checking that I’ve locked the car for the foreseeable future.
Within minutes of the news of the horrific shooting at an elementary school, the voices of inaction started spreading across the social networks:
- “Even if you ban all the guns, people can still be killed with other things!”
- “Why do people start talking about mental health care whenever there’s a violent event?”
- “Now is not the time to talk about political action. People are just starting to mourn this senseless tragedy.”
- “Why does the media put so much attention to these things? It only encourages other people to do this so they’ll become famous!”
- “If only there were more armed citizens, this could be prevented.”
…and so on.
An internet meme is one of the least nuanced ways to discuss anything, but I have to admit that sometimes they raise a good point. Thanks to one failed clownish attempt to take out a jet with a shoe bomb, millions of us are forced to take off our shoes when we go through security at airports. Meanwhile, over 30,000 people are killed by gun violence every year in the U.S., but we can’t even talk about changing any gun regulations?
The air travel security processes that have been imposed on us are a horrific overreaction, don’t reduce the odds of a disaster by a significant amount, and are therefore a colossal waste of time and money. So we shouldn’t duplicate the thinking over there.
But doing nothing after decades of these mass shootings is an even more colossal waste.
The good news is, there are options between the extremes of overreacting and doing nothing.
Will banning assault weapons end violence? Of course not. But think about this: last week, a man went on a rampage and stabbed 22 school children in China, but no one died. Yes, it was a horribly traumatic event. Yes, it is certainly possible to kill someone with a knife, but it is much harder for a single person to inflict deadly wounds on a whole bunch of people in a short time with knives than with an assault rifle. So regulating the sale of certain types of weapons, offering gun buy-back programs, and so forth might save a few thousand lives a year.
Will better mental health options end all violence? No. And the usual argument people make on this point is that most mass shooters have fallen through the cracks of the mental health system. The problem with that argument is that currently, the mental health care system has cracks the size of the Grand Canyon. Nearly everyone falls through the cracks. Let’s get a functioning system together, first, shall we?
The variant on the mental health argument I was quite amused with recently is that, since so few of these shooters survive to be diagnosed, we can’t assume they are mentally ill. One person making this argument insisted that mentally ill people are no more likely than the non-ill to be violent. And as proof said, “Of the 61 mass shooters of the last five years, only 38 exhibited signs of mental illness before the crime, but none had been diagnosed.” Thirty-eight out of sixty-one is 62%. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, only 26% of the population suffer from a diagnosable mental or mood disorder at any time. So 62% seems at least a bit disproportionate.
The “now is not the time” argument is beyond infuriating. If anything, talking about it after a tragedy is too late, certainly not too soon. And silencing the discussion by saying we’re trying to politicize a tragedy? That is politicizing a tragedy. So, stop being a hippocrit, man up, and debate the issue.
The “media creates these events” argument is very tempting. And in more than a few of the cases there is evidence that the person was trying to make a statement, having left behind videos or notes. But you know who else does that sort of thing? Terrorists. And no sane person believes that the guys who flew those planes into the World Trade Center thinks that if only the news hadn’t revealed their names, that they would have never done it.
The “more guns argument” overlooks a few facts. First, there are already more privately owned guns in this country than there are people. We have no shortage of guns available for citizens to defend themselves. Second, one need look only at incidents such as the Lakewood shoot a couple years ago in my state: four armed cops, all experienced, all having been in shooting situations before hand, were at a cafe when an armed guy walked in and started shooting. He wasn’t even armed with an assault rifle, but none of the officers was able to draw and fire back in time to stop him from killing all four. There are dozens of similar cases, and statistics galore that indicate that just having responsible, trained, armed people there doesn’t put a stop to these crimes. In the majority of the cases, even after a large force of armed police arrive, it’s the shooter killing himself that ends the massacre, not the police killing him.
And all of these leaps to unsupportable conclusions are keeping us from tackling any of the sources of the problems that lead these guys (and they are almost all men, usually young men) to do these things. We aren’t willing to talk about our society’s toxic expectations of what masculinity means. We aren’t willing to discuss the correlations between the economic and romantic frustration that many of these mass murderers express before these things happen, and how many of them form alliances with gun-stockpiling, paranoid communities.
We have to stop leaping to conclusions, stop following our gut reactions, and look at the facts. We have to be willing to start seriously implementing multiple changes. We have to be willing to get past the bumper sticker/internet meme rhetoric and talk about the difficult problems.
Otherwise, the senseless deaths are going to just keep happening.
There’s this silly “alternate weekly” here in Seattle, the Stranger, that I read all the time. I admit, sometimes I read it to see what crazy thing one of them is going to say this time. But I also read it because several of the writers are good, and even when they aren’t, they often cover stories no one else does. The story I’m about the link for you was covered by lots of people. It was about a horrific double-rape, murder and attempted murder. About a pair of women waking up, one with a knife to her throat, the evening after they had a fitting for the dresses for their commitment ceremony. Only one of the women survived, and eventually she testified before a jury about that night.
Eli Sanders wrote a series of stories about the crime, the investigation, the perpetrator, and the process of how we, as a society, investigate and handle horrific crimes. All of the stories were good, but he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the tale of testimony the surviving partner eventually was able to give.
He called it, The Bravest Woman in Seattle. I cried the first time I read it last summer. I cried when I tried to explain to someone about the story that made me cry. I cried when I read again today after learning it had won a Pulitzer. I cried when I tried to tell Michael the link I was looking for.
Back in the days I was writing for college newspapers and thinking of possibly going into journalism as a career, that’s the kind of story you hoped someday you would get to tell.