Tina K. Russell

June 22, 2009

Teens just can’t win

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:46 pm

Editorial – Teenagers and Pregnancy – NYTimes.com
Between 1991 and 2003, increased contraceptive use among sexually active teenagers played an important role in driving down teenage pregnancy rates. Since then, according to a new report from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, contraceptive use by teens has declined while their sexual activity has remained unchanged. This is a worrisome shift — and it has bearing on the coming budget battle in Congress.

The report’s authors, Dr. John Santelli, Mark Orr, Laura Lindberg and Daniela Diaz, said they found a decrease of about 10 percent in contraception use that is consistent with recent gains in the teenage birth rate.

They suggest, not unreasonably, a link between the shift in use of contraception and one of former President George W. Bush’s great social-policy follies: highly restrictive abstinence-only sex education programs that deny young people information about sexually transmitted diseases, contraceptives and pregnancy. To the extent these programs even mention condoms, typically it is to disparage their effectiveness.

As a kid, I was always frustrated by how we never seemed to get credit for anything. You never heard it on TV, but teen pregnancy, crime, drug use, etc. had all been going down for decades. That didn’t stop overcaffeinated talking heads from shouting about the explosion of teenage sex and violence spreading across the United States (and possibly to YOUR CHILDREN OMG).

Of course, these prophecies have a way of fulfilling themselves. In response to the made-up explosion in teen misbehavior, we instituted the misguided policy of abstinence-only education, which has led to this prophecy made manifest. Now that teen pregnancy rates are actually rising—like, in the real world, where you and I live—we can expect to hear abstinence-only advocates convinced that this vindicates their policy, because these statistics must mean abstinence-only education is more important than ever. Meanwhile, whatever our nation’s teenagers are doing, they can never catch a break.

Remember! Nothing holds back the onset of puberty like arrogant, senseless, and hypocritical moralizing.

November 16, 2008

“Capital punishment,” in more ways than one

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:11 am

Letters – Easing the Burden of Public Defenders – NYTimes.com

To the Editor:

Re “Citing Workload, Public Lawyers Reject New Cases” (front page, Nov. 9):

The assertion that despite increasingly overwhelming workloads, public defenders must “tighten their belts” during these times of severe reductions in state and local revenues is an affront to the constitutional guarantee of effective assistance of counsel for indigent criminal defendants.

We must not shortchange our Constitution regardless of our economic woes. There are, however, huge savings to be had that would substantially reduce the financial burden on public defenders’ offices and other components of our criminal justice system while maintaining our constitutional commitment to ensuring that all defendants receive quality representation.

As has been established by numerous studies in numerous states, including California, North Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey and Tennessee, the repeal of capital punishment would save taxpayers many millions of dollars a year.

The time has come for Americans and their elected representatives to seriously consider whether we can afford our error-prone, discriminatory and bankrupting death penalty system.

John Holdridge
Director, A.C.L.U. Capital
Punishment Project
Durham, N.C., Nov. 10, 2008

I’m Tina Russell and I approve this message.

October 6, 2008

The influence of Big Karma

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 4:15 pm

Simpson Guilty in Robbery Trial – NYTimes.com

I want to reflect on something for a bit. Two very recent stories have filled us all with shaudenfreude and satisfaction: Jack Thompson, the anti-videogame attourney with a history of bullying and harrassment, has been disbarred, and O.J. Simpson may yet be put away for life.

It’s important to remember, that this is exactly why you cannot get too caught up in hating someone (and I’ll admit to sadistic glee upon reading each of these stories): in the end, they always do themselves in. Even in the counterexamples, when jerks die rich and prosperous, you know they cannot be happy. When (New York hotel baron) Leona Helmsley died, leaving not a dime for her children but a six-million-dollar bequest to her dog, you know she could not have died a happy woman.

It’s not so much that people “get what’s coming to them”… bad things happen to good people all the time. But the things that you hate someone for tend to be the qualities that limit them later in life, so you should never let those qualities limit you. So take a deep breath and remember that people who are jerks tend to hurt inside, too… sometimes, more than anyone else. And if someone is arrogant, believing that nothing can touch them because of all the things they’ve gotten away with, that tends to bite them in the ass very hard in the end.

It’s not even that “living well is the best revenge,” though that is true… it’s that mean people tend to be their own worst enemies, so you can relax and focus on your own life rather than vengeance. The kind of person you’d have to be to be so mean… it doesn’t sound like a happy experience. It sounds like its own prison.

July 17, 2008

Police and Mexico’s drug war

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:11 pm

The Long War of Genaro García Luna – NYTimes.com

I’m of two minds about the drug war. On the one hand, I don’t think the police can necessarily be used to end Americans’ bad habits by force, and I definitely cringe at the sheer volume of young people we corral into prison for minor drug offenses (where they will develop the identities, contacts, and skills of criminals) when we could be treating and rehabilitating them to make way for real criminals in our strained system of justice. On the other hand, I don’t like the idea of substances like cocaine or heroin, drugs that attack Americans in moments of weakness and then make them do anything for one more hit, being sold as legitimate products, even if such legalization would take the bottom out of the illegal drug market and the massive private armies it funds.

Here, the NYT magazine runs a great profile of Genaro García Luna, Mexico’s new chief of police and point man for their war on drugs. I’m not sure exactly where I should stand on Mexico’s drug war… it may or may not have been a good idea, given that it replaced a long period of calm and stability that was both untenable and morally contemptible. (Essentially, cops and drug lords had an understandin’. Read the article.) The drug war, of course, has produced utter chaos, with high-level police assassinations and an epidemic of police corruption rising from the drug cartels banding together as one force to fight the state. It’s also worth noting that Mexico is losing, and not only can it not afford to lose this war, we cannot afford for them to lose.

The thing is, García Luna cheerfully admits that they will be unable to eliminate drugs per se, noting that Colombia, regarded internationally as a success in America’s drug war, has had no notable decrease in drug traffic since the toppling of the fearsome Escobar empire. What cannot be allowed to continue is a morass of private armies fighting–and in many cases, winning–against the state for control of governance. Police works because they have a monopoly on violence, because they’re the biggest, best-armed gang on the block, and they’re accountable (ideally) to the taxpayers for their actions. Like any monopoly on a good or service, cornering the market on violence causes there to be less violence overall. In other words, competition causes lots of people to be killed, combatants and noncombatants, by police and non-police, in never-ending turf wars that distract from the full extent of police duty. García Luna essentially says (though I am the one paraphrasing John Kerry) that drug crime cannot be eliminated, but it can be reduced to the level of a nuisance. It must be reduced from its current level, where drug lords and their private armies are challenging the state monopoly on violence and causing good people to die in the process, and threatening the proper growth of the Mexican state.

Here’s where the US comes in. I must stress that it is absolutely essential that Mexico not lose. Democracy, economy, prosperity, none of these things can exist without the baseline of rule of law. I think the prospect of Mexicans streaming across the border en masse to come to our great country is a legitimate concern (though a logistical one, as I think our culture will survive and be better off for their participation), but one prong of that concern needs to be supporting Mexico, its fight against lawlessness and corruption, so that Mexico can flourish as a country and we will cross each others’ borders to relax and visit family rather than to flee plummeting economies.

I’m not saying that Mexico’s government is at all desirable (in fact, my impression is that their president right now is completely illegitimate, like Bush was in term one). It’s rife with corruption and reinforces the kind of cynicism that causes people to pack their bags and head north, or to join the deadly drug cartels. I’m saying that we cannot afford to let Mexico fall apart, as we are friends, we are allies, and we ought to be sure peace and stability exist in our corner of the world before we worry about others’. I’m saying that the rule of law is important and needs to be supported firmly by those, like me, who oppose violence in all of its forms. I’m saying that we cannot just send large aid packages full of money, but also personnel, clean and well-trained American police commandos to work with Mexico’s forces. As we’ve seen in Iraq, sometimes stability does come down to sheer numbers. (There were other factors in Iraq, but I’ll talk about those some other time.)

Here’s one more thing: while he appreciates America’s support, there’s one thing about us that reasonably bugs him.

When I met García Luna in Washington in January, soon after the shootout in Tijuana made headlines in the United States, he was carrying with him a manila envelope full of color photographs. The photographs were grisly full-color shots of dead Mexican police and narco gun caches — a police officer bleeding on the ground; the aftermath of the shootout; the underground firing range. García Luna thought of them as a sort of secret weapon of his own.

…  García Luna met with government officials and diplomats and gave a stilted power-point presentation to policy experts. He seemed more interested in the photographs he had brought, his way of making a blunt point about a touchy aspect of U.S.-Mexican relations: the vast majority of weapons in the cartel’s arsenals (80 to 90 percent, according to the Mexican government’s figures) are purchased in the United States, often at loosely regulated gun shows, and smuggled into Mexico by the same networks that smuggle drugs the opposite direction. García Luna has a hard time concealing his anger about the fact that U.S. laws make it difficult to do much about this “brutal flow” of firepower. “How is it possible,” he asked me, “that a person is allowed to go buy a hundred cuernos de chivo” — AK-47’s — “for himself?” In the United States, he said, “there was a lot of indifference.”

Guns go south and drugs come north. That’s depressing. (You could say that at least these assault weapons are going to well-regulated militias, though ones that mow down Mexican cops.) If we want Mexico to clamp down on drugs, then we need to do our part and clamp down on guns. Part of the state monopoly on violence needs to be a monopoly on the factors of production. Guns do have legitimate uses, such as hunting, and neither handguns nor assault rifles fit those purposes. The Second Amendment is explicitly for the purpose of state security, and I do not see how our insanely loosely-regulated gun market fits that purpose, either.

Blecch, I hate talking about violence. Let’s talk about something else…

July 2, 2008

Violence voyeurism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 4:05 pm

The Anatomy of Violence | Newsweek National News | Newsweek.com
Pathological genes, a disturbed mind, social isolation and a gun culture are not enough. Mass murderers also need the individual will to pull the trigger.

When I was in high school, I wrote a brief essay on how I felt about the Columbine killings. (Those had taken place years earlier, when I was in middle school.) Essentially, my feelings were that, while the two gunmen were solely responsible for their detestable deed, they had been failed by the society around them, a society that did not recognize their considerable intelligence and skill (instead, condemning them for being reserved or different), a society that did not venture to teach them how to use that skill for means other than senseless brutality. A plot like that, a massacre in your own school, causing thirteen deaths before you’re finished, sounded like it would take a lot of skill, anyway. I was also going from this:

Prognosis: Good. Eric is a very bright young man who is likely to succeed in life. He is intelligent enough to achieve lofty goals as long as he stays on task and remains motivated.

That’s from the police report explaining why Columbine killer Eric Harris was released early from juvenile detention (found here). I figured that adults had failed to engage with the killers’ creativity and ingenuity, failing to give them outlets other than violent aggression. (I noted that Doom did not have to be a culprit, here; it could be part of that outlet, with its level editor encouraging players’ creativity.) I asked about the abusive jock culture that the kids were raised in and were clearly rebelling against. I also used, as a framing device, an old Superman story where the hero laments the wasted talent of the young hooligans who attack him, and the slum environment that he was convinced contributed to their poor development. I thought that worked well.

The trouble is, I went to research my story to see if it held up, and it didn’t. (Well, one part did: the killers’ Doom levels were pretty ordinary, and nothing to write home about.) The kids had comfortable, upper-class lives. The shootings were random, senseless, with no clear target; they chose, when their plans went awry, to make their last stand in the library, when surely the gym or locker room would have been a better place to target football players or other high-school social elites. The killers’ diaries did include hateful diatribes against various religious and ethnic minorities–the killers were, after all, full of hate–but also against white people, against wrestling, against country music, against the WB television network. The killers never said “all jocks stand up,” nor did they ever slay a woman for affirming her faith in God (both are apocryphal and discredited). The killers were not social outcasts; they weren’t the most popular kids in school, but they were well-known and had many friends. Most of all, the rampage was not an ingenious plot; it was actually an abysmal failure, as pipe bombs around the school failed to go off, and the killers were forced to scale back their massacre to a “mere” thirteen murders, ending at the school’s library. There was no clear motive, no rhyme or reason, no sign of intelligence or ingenuity. The killers merely had many screws loose. They were insane, an unsatisfyingly arbitrary conclusion.

This disturbed me deeply, when I got to unraveling the problem. The legend has it that the killers were abused and bullied until they snapped, that the school’s jocks and preps had pushed them to the breaking point by not accepting them in the school’s social fabric. The legend was untrue, and I had grown accustomed to believing it. What I was realizing was that, in developing the legend, people–including me–were projecting onto the Columbine killers. (In my case, this was helped along by the witchhunt that followed, where teachers, now wary of “edge” cases, proceeded to isolate students who seemed “different”–students, possibly, like me–though isolation sounds as though it would exacerbate the problem of actual high-risk cases.)

What does this mean for us? What pieces of our identity are we mapping onto high-school mass murderers? What pieces of us–including me–admired these lowlifes? What made us think of them, privately, as antiheroes, bad-boy Guy Fawkeses standing up for what we believe in using methods we don’t, while publicly condemning them as rank thugs and cowards?

You may say I am merely projecting my own feelings, presuming that, because I was horrified to find I was contributing to a legend of projecting ourselves onto the Columbine killers, others must have been doing the same. That is possible. Discuss.

I will admit that, in middle school, I did have violent fantasies. They scared me, as I am not a violent person (I’m a Quaker!) and strongly believe that violence in such situations fails to solve anything, that violence is, in almost every instance, merely an excuse for one to feel powerful. I would never want to be in that situation or deal with the consequences of killing my friends, teachers, classmates, people I love and care about even if they treat me poorly; this dislike is probably related to why these murder sprees typically end with suicides. Twisting your mind into believing that your tormentors deserve death is difficult. Twisting your mind into believing that you can then stand by that decision and face the consequences is downright impossible. (Willingness to stand by your decision and accept the consequences, incidentally, is a good test for whether or not you’re sincere about breaking what you consider to be an unjust rule or law. Something inherently immoral, like murder, is something nobody wants to accept the consequences for.)

Middle school was a fairly special situation for me, and you might read about it, someday, perhaps in my memoirs. But over time, the violent thoughts, the fantasies, subsided, and to this day if I’m ever upset over bad treatment over a long period of time, I tend to fantasize more about cussing someone out or finally saying how I really feel (I imagine this is common), something else that is difficult to accept the consequences for. Shooting someone with a gun seems innately distasteful to me, and the main reason that I stay away from hyper-violent games is not because I think they will somehow “make” me a killer (give human beings credit: we’re not nearly that malleable), but because I do not want to become desensitized to violence, the way most of the world seems to be. I’m not offended by the oft-repeated fact that, in Grand Theft Auto, you can kill prostitutes; the game allows you to kill anyone, and the open world is the game’s trademark. I’m more offended by the fact that, the one time I played Grand Theft Auto III (determined to be a “good” mobster–I enjoy power fantasies where I get to be good–and vowing only to kill those whose deaths are required for the mission), it is downright impossible to drive down the street without running people over and hearing their spines crunch beneath your tires. Why isn’t that brought up as a social failing of the game? How is it an “open world” when I can’t not kill people?

I digress. Newsweek is running a feature (which I found through GamePolitics) on the “anatomy of violence,” focusing on a psychoanalysis of Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech killer. The old drumbeat starts up again, as social isolation, American opportunism, and abuse growing up are trotted out as ingredients in the making of a mass murderer. I would presume that these killers serve as a sort of mirror, ways for us to talk about the demons inside of us while exculpating ourselves by projecting them onto murderers. It’s a useful technique, to be sure, but it needs to end. We should confront our inner romanticization of young killers (at least, if I’m right about all this), because a front like that covers deep-seated issues underneath, human issues that we all have, issues that keep us from connecting with each other and living full lives.

Back when I was in middle school, and Columbine had led to an increase in reporting on school violence (and to a myth that youth crime was on the rise), I remember when I learned of a new school shooter. This one was different… she was a girl, she was quiet, she was well-spoken, she idolized people like Martin Luther King, Jr. She didn’t fit anyone’s profile of a shooter, someone keeping the anger bottled up until she blows. (I can’t find this story on a Google News archive search, so I may have remembered it wrong.)

I remember reading that and thinking, finally, a school shooter that I can identify with! That stopped me cold. What was I thinking? Do I really think school shooters can represent me, that I can be his or her constituent? That chilled me for a long time, and led to a lot of this later introspection.

One last thing. While looking up the links for this post, I found this, explaining why the juvenile-detention authorities didn’t consider the Columbine killers to be a recidivism risk:

NMU (11/6/02): District attorney releases Columbine gunman’s juvenile records
According to district attorney spokesperson Pamela Russel, the diversion program did everything it was supposed to. Diversion officers met with Harris and Klebold twice a month, for about 15 minutes each session. Each session was documented with notes made by diversion officers.

The situation with Harris and Klebold was an anomaly, Russel said. “These kids didn’t meet the criteria for troubled teens. They came from affluent neighborhoods, two-parent households, jobs, and no serious drug or alcohol problems. They were able to conceal what was going on inside them.”


April 28, 2008

Investing in our children

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 8:32 am

Bernie Sanders is an independent, socialist Senator from Vermont. He happens to be my hero. Anyway, here he writes a letter on the recent story that the United States has less than five percent of the world’s population but nearly a quarter of its prisoners.

Are Too Many Americans in Prison? – New York Times

To the Editor:

There is an important point to add. The United States has, by far, the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country — almost 20 percent.

Unlike other industrialized countries, quality and affordable child care in our country is largely unavailable for low- and moderate-income families.

Further, many of these low-income kids attend underperforming schools and drop out of high school at very high rates. To nobody’s surprise, a lot of these ignored, jobless and poorly educated youngsters then engage in destructive and criminal activity.

Perhaps if we adequately invested in the low-income children of this country, we could produce citizens who work and pay taxes, rather than criminals who cost us $50,000 a year to incarcerate.

Bernie Sanders
U.S. Senator from Vermont
Washington, April 23, 2008

I couldn’t agree more.

April 18, 2008

On Prevention

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:53 pm

Topics in University Security: Lockdown 101 – New York Times

IN February, a man carrying a fake assault weapon burst into an American foreign policy class at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina. The seven unsuspecting students, along with a stunned professor who later remarked that he was “prepared to die at that moment,” were held hostage for 10 minutes. During that time, the gunman said he would kill at least one of them.

The class survived because the gunman was a volunteer, part of an exercise intended to test the university’s system for responding to a possible campus attack. The university had alerted its students and faculty with e-mail and text messages, but not everyone read them. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the simulation — at least physically.

In the year since the shooting at Virginia Tech last April 16, American colleges have been under pressure, from worried parents as well as from the news media, to beef up campus security. Like Elizabeth City State, many schools have overreacted by instituting safety measures of questionable effectiveness. Safety officials are quick to shut down classes, as happened recently at California State University, Dominguez Hills, when an R.O.T.C. student with a drill rifle was mistaken for an assailant toting an automatic weapon. Instead of making campuses safer, we are fostering an unwarranted and unhealthy level of fear.

Never, ever betray a student’s trust without the strongest of reasons. That trust is extremely hard to build over time and painfully easy to tear down. Moreover, I’m troubled by the use of nightly-news scare stories as disaster scenarios to prepare for. Certainly, students need to know what to do in case of an emergency, and such emergencies include the possibility of a hostile person with a firearm on campus. Especially in these days of shock reporting on TV, it can give students comfort to know they have a plan in case of danger, one that is unlikely to fail. But drilling the students improv-drama style, with a fake assailant scaring the students and professor half to death, just to practice for one specific scenario is inevitably going to do more harm than good. The last thing we want to do is make students bitter and cynical about campus safety, or worse, make them presume that a real assailant is just an actor sent by campus security.

Perhaps the most important change inspired by Virginia Tech is a renewed emphasis on mental health services. And given that there are many times more suicides on campus than homicides, this could benefit countless students, the vast majority of whom pose no danger to others. Over the past year, one-third of campus counseling centers have added staff members, including psychiatrists, and 15 percent of campus counseling centers have received larger budgets.

Suicide is an enormous danger to students, and I’m happy to see any college beefing up its department for dealing with it. But there are only so many suicide-prevention posters you can clobber a campus with (my school, the University of Oregon, is plastered with them). But I want to see a broader range of attack (and forgive me if I’m ignorant of such efforts in this direction). I’d like to see some sociological studies done on what factors may or may not make a campus likely to be a suicide risk. Off the top of my head, I’d guess that, while what a suicidal student most needs is a friend to listen to him or her (and not, repeat not, offer judgment), what could keep students from becoming suicidal is classes and activities interesting and engaging to them, and faculty that engage with them, checking up on them and letting them know someone is on their side. I didn’t get any of that coming to UO, but hey, things can change.

Suicide prevention is more than just suicide intervention… we must ensure students are not inclined to do so in the first place. While we can’t simply fix students’ problems for them, we can create an environment where it always feels like there’s something more left to discover.

…And, of course, student depression causes more problems than just suicide, such as drug or alcohol abuse, risky social and sexual behavior, poor school performance and disconnection with reality, et cetera. Until we face the whole picture–and stop assuming that suicidal students simply have something in their heads, a screw loose or a joint unhinged, that will inevitably be fixed through talking, though it helps–student suicides will still be campus’s most dangerous scourge.

But this approach, too, may fail to identify and stop a violent student. Thousands of college students are depressed or even suicidal, but there is no consistent profile of a person who turns from disappointment and frustration to violent rage.

…Except that one tends to go from the former to the latter. Like this writer, I feel that it’s more important to recognize that many students on your campus want to kill themselves, and they need immediate help, than to quiver in your boots about a possible Virginia Tech II. However, if the knowledge that helping students out of suicide will also help keep aggressive students from turning suicidal thoughts into violent action leads to a greater awareness of the problem, I’m all for it. I just hope we don’t go into a post-Columbine fetal position of being scared of every awkward teenager in a dark hooded sweatshirt, worrying that they could be the next killers. That kind of fear ferments in their minds as an identity, and helps drive students toward violence.

And if you know a student who’s depressed, reach out and listen. Don’t judge, listen. If you think your friend might be suicidal, talk about it with them, bring it up (trust me, you won’t be giving them ideas; suicide is everywhere and everyone’s considered it). Spend time with them, give them openings, help them see why it’s worth it to keep on living, and don’t blame them for not seeing it right away (or even over a long period of time), because we’ve all been through our dark patches and rough spots (though this is a particularly bleak one), and it takes time and effort to get out.

It also takes friends.

April 15, 2008

You’re Not Helping

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:06 pm

allAfrica.com: South Africa: Zuma Backs Deputy Over ‘Shoot to Kill’ (Page 1 of 1)

DEPUTY Safety and Security Minister Susan Shabangu’s controversial “shoot to kill” comment has received African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma’s backing.

Shabangu told an anticrime rally in Pretoria last week that police should “kill the bastards” and leave concerns about the regulations to her.

This is after Shabangu became the latest of a line of ministers and senior officials to encourage the police to shoot criminals first, starting with safety and security minister Steve Tshwete in the late 1990s , but this view has done nothing to improve the levels of violent and organised crime.

The problem with “kill them all,” though it’s often a tempting position, is that it sets you back. You need the public’s support and sympathy, which you won’t have if you, and the officers you represent, seem like a brute. Also, it draws battle lines in ways that do not benefit you: you declare too many enemies and not only criminals will resent you, but so will the families of criminals, people who dislike criminals and dislike the overly aggressive tactics they use, and most people with a passing interest in politics. Then, people will be less likely to support or sympathize with the police, will be less likely to help them in investigations and less likely to be candid, and be more likely to create an environment were fear and hatred of the police–both unnecessary and counterproductive–can come to a boil.

And, as this guy points out, it frames the issue poorly. It’s an admission of failure, and it legitimizes the rank thuggery of criminals. Rulers rule because they have followers, and it’s difficult to have followers when you look just as bad as the enemy, even if you aren’t. Here in the United States, we committed a massive error of political framing when we declared a “war on terror,” because that made al-Qaida terrorists look like legitimate state players, and rallied every disaffected, nationalistic youngster bitter towards America to al-Qaida’s side. You can never declare police work in any way that makes it seem like a friendly duel at ten paces, because it undermines your position and moral authority, which, in the age of mass media, are requirements for victory. (Just ask Abraham Lincoln, were he alive, who brilliantly used the Emancipation Proclamation to reframe the battle as freedom-loving people fighting a backwards and ignorant enemy, rather than the South’s preferred framing of a second American Revolution.) Public sympathy is like friendly terrain, the wind at your back, the advantage you need in battle, and it’s something you should never surrender. And Ms. Shabangu, besides being brutal and immoral, has done exactly that.

Johan Burger of the ISS [Institute for Security Studies] said Shabangu’s comments not only looked like an admission by the government that it was failing in its fight against crime, but was irresponsible, as courts were unlikely to sympathise with police officers who use excessive force.

“The deputy minister seemed almost exasperated on Wednesday, and while it is important for government to be seen to be taking a strong stance, it is not correct for her to have said she will take the blame, as it is police officers who will be held accountable in court for not abiding by the regulations,” said Burger.

He said the police should rather examine weaknesses within and outside the criminal justice system that are contributing to crime such as “socio-economic factors and policies that are not being properly implemented”.

I know that’s a liberal talking point, but it’s important… to reduce crime, you often do need more police officers to impose order. But, that can only be a temporary fix, and you must root out the problem by figuring out what is fostering and supporting crime in the community. It’s sort of like, when ants raid your kitchen, you set out ant traps and baits to try and fight the incursion. But, you also seal up the food and clean up to keep them from entering in the first place. A solid police policy does not lean entirely on the efforts of hard-working cops, but also tries strategies of relieving them by ensuring that the elements that support crime–poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunity, and a certain pervasive cultural poverty that requires a multifaceted approach to fight–are removed. It’s also important to keep criminals from having easy access to guns… just so you know.

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