Tina K. Russell

January 11, 2011

Dangerous rhetoric

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 6:28 pm

Washington (CNN) – Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pennsylvania, said he will introduce legislation making it a federal crime for a person to use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a Member of Congress or federal official.

Brady’s decision to offer the legislation comes less than 24 hours after a gunman attempted to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, in a shooting that claimed the lives of a federal judge, and a nine year-old girl, among others.

via Shooting prompts legislation to protect lawmakers, officials – CNN Political Ticker – CNN.com Blogs.

I think there are two problems with this:

  1. It sounds overly broad, of course. I’m sure there are plenty of innocuous, over-the-top Onion articles or Daily Show sketches that could be interpreted to encourage violence so as long as you don’t address their substance.
  2. Language explicitly inciting political violence is only part of the problem anyway. A larger problem is that when you say, as many radical opponents of Obama have taken any opportunity to tell us, that Barack Obama is a terrorist megalomaniac with a plan to subvert American democracy under his iron-fisted rule, you’re essentially saying the right idea is to kill him. If you compare him to Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc., you’re comparing him to people for whom being assassinated early might have saved millions of lives. If people believe your inflated rhetoric and take it to its logical conclusion—kill Barack Obama and anyone allied with him—you cannot back away and say “oh, I didn’t mean that, I never said that.”

To be clear, such extreme language should also be protected, because it is sometimes true. But, you must take responsibility when people believe you and then do what only seems rational based upon it.  If you truly don’t want to see violence against Obama and his allies, you shouldn’t compare Obama to Hitler.

November 29, 2009

The tragic life story

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:15 pm

THE tragic life story of a murdered Kentish Town transsexual became clear this week when it was revealed the victim’s mother had committed suicide four years ago and her uncle spent 15 years in prison falsely convicted of an IRA bombing.

Destiny Lauren, 29, born Justin Samuels, was found dead at around 1am on Thursday November 5, in her flat on Leighton Crescent.

It was almost four years to the day since her mother Elizabeth Hill took her own life outside the same flat.

via Hampstead and Highgate Express – Tragic story of murdered transsexual, whose uncle was one of the Guildford Four.

I’m really impressed with this article. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an article about the murder of a transsexual that really gave the victim, and the family, a story. For once, we’re not just statistics, we’re individuals.

The ninth paragraph—count it, nine—mentions that she was a sex worker. I was even more impressed after reading that, both because they didn’t choose to make it their lead (“transsexual prostitute murdered in back alley” is the usual angle, which comes with an air of dismissal), and because it’s rare for a transsexual murder victim to get any kind of life story printed, and rarer still if the victim is also a sex worker.

It’s a little chilling that I’m so used to stories of the murders of transgender people that I find myself celebrating one that is well-written. But, such is the reality of our lives. Reductionist, sensationalist stories of transsexuals’ deaths put us in danger by making us seem less than human, reinforcing a belief that discrimination against us is tolerable and our murders inevitable. However, treating these deaths as what they are—promising lives cut short by evil acts—will get people to think twice about mean things they do or say to transgender people, which will help create a climate in which no murder, of anyone, is tolerated.

October 14, 2009

The defense

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:29 pm

The murder case of transsexual Melek K. who was killed in her home in Ankara was continued. The prosecutor claimed to try defendant T.P. under six different charges such as murder, plunder, theft and further allegations.

via English :: Prosecutor Claims 6 Different Charges against Melek K.’s Murder – Bianet.

I have a few things to say after reading the article:

  1. This Turkish news site was funded in part by the Swedish International Development Agency. Cool. (Hooray for Scandinavia!)
  2. It’s sad to see that even in Turkey murderers of transsexual women use the “tranny panic” defense, which is where you say the two of you were about to have sex when you saw her genitals, panicked, and killed her. In the States at least, it often works, as a means to get the jury on your side by playing to their prejudices. The thing is, not only is it bizarre and indefensible (you panicked and killed someone over their genitals?), it’s always a lie. Murderers of transsexuals can and do seek out their victims first.
  3. For the good news, the perp is dead to rights: evidence shows the victim still had her clothes on during the murder. For once, the tranny panic defense won’t work, and let’s hope it never does again.

October 3, 2009

The President’s safety

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:33 pm

Thomas Friedman: “I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination… Even if you are not worried that someone might draw from these vitriolic attacks a license to try to hurt the president, you have to be worried about what is happening to American politics more broadly.”

via A Dangerous Environment — Political Wire.

My concern about the guy with the assault rifle at the Presidential rally has always been this: Though we’ve all feared for Barack Obama’s safety, given raw memories of the assassinations of the sixties and his immense symbolic power, I’ve always taken comfort in that no President today would ever ride, say, uncovered in a parade going past an abandoned book depository. I’ve always thought that, with advances in Secret Service practice and Presidential custom, Obama is not in the kind of danger that JFK (or RFK or MLK for that matter, or Lincoln) was.

All that changes when members of Congress defend Americans’ “right” to bring loaded assault weapons to Presidential town halls, when the Secret Service is brought under the wing of the dysfunctional Department of Homeland Security and is subsequently cut back, and mainstream voices shout louder and louder that Obama is hijacking the country for filling his electoral mandate.

Mock the President, ridicule the President, do whatever you need to do; it’s an American tradition and a cornerstone of democracy. But we, as Americans, all have a right not to have to fear for his life. The JFK’s assassination was traumatic for the country, and no one, on any side of the current debates, wants it repeated. Most of the reason I’m so bothered by the political climate, and its both implicit and explicit threats of violence, is that I do not want to worry about whether or not the President is safe.

June 18, 2009

The One I Feed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:46 am

This is what Bill Moyers said after a report on the man who, last year, walked into a Unitarian church with the intention of killing “liberals,” murdering one congregant before being subdued. With the murders of an abortion doctor and a Holocaust museum guard, and questions of the media’s role in these crimes, I feel it is even more important to heed Moyers’s words.

Bill Moyers Journal . Transcripts | PBS
We may never know what finally triggered the killer’s rage, unless he chooses at his trial or later to tell us. But not for a moment do I think any of the talk show hosts mentioned by the police would have wished it to happen.

We asked several radio hosts to come on this broadcast and talk about the story; they either declined or didn’t return our calls. The issue of course is not their right to say anything they want on the air. The First Amendment guarantees their free speech as it does mine. Government shouldn’t be the arbiter of what the Bill of Rights leaves to one’s own sense of fair play.

Watching that report, however, I was reminded of a story from folk lore about the tribal elder telling his grandson about the battle the old man was waging within himself. He said, “My son it is between two wolves. One is an evil wolf: anger, envy, sorrow, greed, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is the good wolf: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The boy took this in for a few minutes and then asked, “Which wolf won?” His grandfather answered, “The one I feed.”

So, too, America’s public life. The wolf that wins is the wolf we feed. Media provides the fodder.

January 13, 2009

Moyers on Middle East violence

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 6:57 pm

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Please watch.

October 22, 2008

All-Shallow Eve

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:27 am

I’ve loathed Eve Ensler for a long time. (Why I dislike her is another, longer blog post. Ask if you want it.) However, I always preface my deep-seated rage against that woman in with flowery language telling of all the good I’m sure she’s done for the world.

Not this time.

Eve Ensler is going to the Congo. To teach them about rape.

wronging rights: Hey Guys, Let’s Clean Out the Old Barn and Put On a Show About Brutal Rape!!
Finally, some urgency! There’s nothing more annoying than a country that has no gumption when it comes to protecting itself from years of the most brutal ground warfare the world has ever seen. Those Congolese people are just so darned complacent about their bodies and livelihoods being brutally attacked at regular intervals! They lack get-up-and-go, that’s their problem! Good thing the nice white lady has arrived to show ’em how it’s done.

It’s fitting for the woman who wrote those famous monologues that she would be visiting the Congo to talk, and not to listen.

(I do ask you to read the rest of the post, as it’s good, but be warned… the paragraph I clipped is relatively tame. The humor on Wronging Rights is brutal, the kind of humor that comes from dealing with horrors like this day to day, rather than merely taking the occasional press junket to the developing world to sell personal-tragedy-themed T-shirts.)

(I’ve always hated Eve Ensler, but now… I really hate her. You might say my hatred of her is a mighty tree, its roots running deep into the ground… its trunk spreading majestically into the heavens…)

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.”

Huh.

And those wounds were caused by… whom?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:28 am

African Union Calls for Settlement in Zimbabwe – NYTimes.com
The African Union on Tuesday urged the creation of a government of national unity in Zimbabwe to heal the nation’s deep political wounds after President Robert Mugabe’s triumph in a one-candidate runoff election widely condemned as a sham.

I’m too sleepy right now to write much, but I will say that I don’t think a Kenya-style unity government is the right option for this particular crisis. Remember, part of the reason it happened in Kenya was that we needed a solution–any solution–to stop the violence, which was completely out of control and perpetrated by and against the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki’s tribe, the Kikuyu. That is, the stolen election simply caused long-simmering tensions to erupt and an immediate solution was needed, even if it went to the distasteful length of allowing Kibaki to retain his illegitimately obtained seat.

In Zimbabwe, in contrast, there are two parties in this violence: Mugabe’s crew, consistently the perpetrator, and everybody else, consistently the victims. There is no compelling reason to reward Mugabe with legitimacy for beating and killing the opposition into submission. In Kenya, the violence was out of control. In Zimbabwe, the violence is controlled by one man: Mugabe. (I’m also uncertain that Mugabe would be willing to hand any real power to a Prime Minister Tsvangirai, or that the odious and continuous locking horns of Mugabe and Tsvangirai–or whatever bizarre, Hydra-like cabinet springs forth from lengthy discussions and dispute–would produce an effective government.)

I prefer Nicholas Kristof’s solution: we find some way to entice Mugabe to retire, quietly, with whatever shred of dignity he has remaining. Mugabe’s a small man, and people respond to incentives.

Op-Ed Columnist – If Only Mugabe Were White – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
The solution is for leaders at the African Union summit this week to give Mr. Mugabe a clear choice.

One option would be for him to “retire” honorably — “for health reasons” after some face-saving claims of heart trouble — at a lovely estate in South Africa, taking top aides with him. He would be received respectfully and awarded a $5 million bank account to assure his comfort for the remainder of his days.

The other alternative is that he could dig in his heels and cling to power. African leaders should make clear that in that case, they will back an indictment of him and his aides in the International Criminal Court. Led by the Southern African Development Community, the world will also impose sanctions against Mr. Mugabe’s circle and cut off all military supplies and spare parts. Mozambique, South Africa and Congo will also cut off the electricity they provide to Zimbabwe.

The Chinese word for “crisis” is comprised of two characters: one meaning “danger,” and the other meaning “holy #@$! we’re all gonna die.” We shouldn’t let well-meaning idealism, or the spirit of coming together, obscure that Zimbabwe is the victim of Mugabe’s tyranny and that he is not likely to share power in actuality, whatever he accedes to in name.

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.

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