Category Archives: Crime, Violence, Punishment

American gun use is out of control

(Shouldn’t the world intervene asks the Guardian)

Concepts/issues  – civil rights, the 2nd Amendment, freedom to bear arms, polarisation of opinion, gun violence, fear/peril

The death toll from firearms in the US suggests that the country is gripped by civil war
guns, Henry Porter

A man on a rifle range: ‘More Americans lost their lives from firearms in the past 45 years than in all wars involving the US.’ Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Last week, Starbucks asked its American customers to please not bring their guns into the coffee shop. This is part of the company’s concern about customer safety and follows a ban in the summer on smoking within 25 feet of a coffee shop entrance and an earlier ruling about scalding hot coffee. After the celebrated Liebeck v McDonald’s case in 1994, involving a woman who suffered third-degree burns to her thighs, Starbucks complies with theSpecialty Coffee Association of America‘s recommendation that drinks should be served at a maximum temperature of 82C.

Although it was brave of Howard Schultz, the company’s chief executive, to go even this far in a country where people are better armed and only slightly less nervy than rebel fighters in Syria, we should note that dealing with the risks of scalding and secondary smoke came well before addressing the problem of people who go armed to buy a latte. There can be no weirder order of priorities on this planet.

That’s America, we say, as news of the latest massacre breaks – last week it was the slaughter of 12 people by Aaron Alexis at Washington DC’s navy yard – and move on. But what if we no longer thought of this as just a problem for America and, instead, viewed it as an international humanitarian crisis – a quasi civil war, if you like, that calls for outside intervention? As citizens of the world, perhaps we should demand an end to the unimaginable suffering of victims and their families – the maiming and killing of children – just as America does in every new civil conflict around the globe.

The annual toll from firearms in the US is running at 32,000 deaths and climbing, even though the general crime rate is on a downward path (it is 40% lower than in 1980). If this perennial slaughter doesn’t qualify for intercession by the UN and all relevant NGOs, it is hard to know what does.

To absorb the scale of the mayhem, it’s worth trying to guess the death toll of all the wars in American history since the War of Independence began in 1775, and follow that by estimating the number killed by firearms in the US since the day that Robert F. Kennedy was shot in 1968 by a .22 Iver-Johnson handgun, wielded by Sirhan Sirhan. The figures fromCongressional Research Service, plus recent statistics from icasualties.org, tell us that from the first casualties in the battle of Lexington to recent operations in Afghanistan, the toll is 1,171,177. By contrast, the number killed by firearms, including suicides, since 1968, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI, is 1,384,171.

That 212,994 more Americans lost their lives from firearms in the last 45 years than in all wars involving the US is a staggering fact, particularly when you place it in the context of the safety-conscious, “secondary smoke” obsessions that characterise so much of American life.

Everywhere you look in America, people are trying to make life safer. On roads, for example, there has been a huge effort in the past 50 years to enforce speed limits, crack down on drink/drug driving and build safety features into highways, as well as vehicles. The result is a steadily improving record; by 2015, forecasters predict that for first time road deaths will be fewer than those caused by firearms (32,036 to 32,929).

Plainly, there’s no equivalent effort in the area of privately owned firearms. Indeed, most politicians do everything they can to make the country less safe. Recently, a Democrat senator from Arkansas named Mark Pryor ran a TV ad against the gun-control campaign funded by NY mayor Michael Bloomberg – one of the few politicians to stand up to the NRA lobby – explaining why he was against enhanced background checks on gun owners yet was committed to “finding real solutions to violence”.

About their own safety, Americans often have an unusual ability to hold two utterly opposed ideas in their heads simultaneously. That can only explain the past decade in which the fear of terror has cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars in wars, surveillance and intelligence programmes and homeland security. Ten years after 9/11, homeland security spending doubled to $69bn . The total bill since the attacks is more than $649bn.

One more figure. There have been fewer than 20 terror-related deaths on American soil since 9/11 and about 364,000 deaths caused by privately owned firearms. If any European nation had such a record and persisted in addressing only the first figure, while ignoring the second, you can bet your last pound that the State Department would be warning against travel to that country and no American would set foot in it without body armour.

But no nation sees itself as outsiders do. Half the country is sane and rational while the other half simply doesn’t grasp the inconsistencies and historic lunacy of its position, which springs from the second amendment right to keep and bear arms, and is derived from English common law and our 1689 Bill of Rights. We dispensed with these rights long ago, but American gun owners cleave to them with the tenacity that previous generations fought to continue slavery. Astonishingly, when owning a gun is not about ludicrous macho fantasy, it is mostly seen as a matter of personal safety, like the airbag in the new Ford pick-up or avoiding secondary smoke, despite conclusive evidence that people become less safe as gun ownership rises.

Last week, I happened to be in New York for the 9/11 anniversary: it occurs to me now that the city that suffered most dreadfully in the attacks and has the greatest reason for jumpiness is also among the places where you find most sense on the gun issue in America. New Yorkers understand that fear breeds peril and, regardless of tragedies such as Sandy Hook and the DC naval yard, the NRA, the gun manufacturers, conservative-inclined politicians and parts of the media will continue to advocate a right, which, at base, is as archaic as a witch trial.

Talking to American friends, I always sense a kind of despair that the gun lobby is too powerful to challenge and that nothing will ever change. The same resignation was evident in President Obama’s rather lifeless reaction to the Washington shooting last week. There is absolutely nothing he can do, which underscores the fact that America is in a jam and that international pressure may be one way of reducing the slaughter over the next generation. This has reached the point where it has ceased to be a domestic issue. The world cannot stand idly by.

(Here’s also another perspective – intervention other than legislation, and viewing gun crime as a public health problem)

More: A year in mass shootings

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What’s new in Big Brother Technology?

Does an increase in surveillance correlate with safety in cities?

Concepts: Orwellian societies, Big Brother (from George Orwell’s 1984), Surveillance, Rights/Freedoms, control, power, dehumanisation

Using surveillance to make cities safer

Thursday, 14 Nov 2013 | 7:41 PM ET

In the final episode of our theme week on ‘Innovation Cities,’ Tom Mackenzie takes a look at the new technology designed to help make us all more secure.

Singapore may already have one of the lowest crime rates in the world, but this has not stopped authorities there to push for further innovations in security. Its one-year Safe City pilot program is testing out a range of advanced technologies in the hope of improving public safety.

Singapore’s government has worked with Accenture, the management and technology consultancy, using video analytics to help stop crime. Facial recognition technology is used on streets to identify suspects, suspected gang members, and those on wanted lists.

(Read more: Minority report: Predicting where to put your policeman)

“We’re still in the early stages of that program, but we’re hoping that there will be results showing that this technology can make a real difference to public safety in a more cost-effective way, but also in a more effective way,” Ger Daly, Global Managing Director of Defense and Public Safety, Accenture, said in a report for CNBC’s Innovation Cities.

As well as using facial recognition software, the technology developed by Accenture can scan the way we move and assess whether a crime is being committed. “Now the technology can even detect patterns, so for example people fighting or break-ins at shops,” Daly added.

“It can pick up that behavior just from the shapes and the movement of the people and generate an alert even if nobody is watching that television feed.”

(Read more: Basque Country reaches out to the elderly)

For some, the use of this kind of technology conjures visions of Orwell’s Big Brother: where our every single movement and action is surveyed by the state. But Daly argues this kind of technology is already in use. “Biometric data has become a very important part of identifying people, it can be your fingerprints, it can be your iris, but it could also be your face,” he said.

“The technology is there, today…to really uniquely identify you and me and other people just by the patterns and shape of our face,” he added. “What maybe people don’t realize is that they’re actually using it already today. All new passports have… the chip symbol. It has your personal information on it, same as what’s printed on the passport. But it also has your face as a biometric identifier.”

Tracking illegal activity and criminals using facial recognition is one thing. Being alerted to offences by sounds is another. ShotSpotter, a U.S. company, has developed innovative acoustic surveillance technology that can detect gunfire and alert authorities to its location.

Joern Haufe | Getty Images

(Read more: Cities take some decongestant)

In 2011, the Minneapolis Police Department used ShotSpotter to great effect. “The system that we have of integrating our public safety cameras with ShotSpotter… [was] able to help us identify and catch the suspects in a homicide,” Commander Scott Gerlicher said this week.

“When we had a drive by shooting at a local convenience store, the ShotSpotter audio system captured the shots and our camera, which happened to be located at the corner where this incident occurred, also captured video tape of the vehicle actually doing the shooting,” he added.

With rapid advancements in security technology, are we nearing a future when police officers on the ground become redundant? “Technology has its limitations and it’s not meant to replace police officers,” Gerlicher said.

“But I think it’s been proven time and time again that technology, if used appropriately, can greatly improve the effectiveness and efficiency of delivering police services to a community.”

 

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Legality and effectiveness of extensive surveillance?

THE AL QAEDA SWITCHBOARD BY JANUARY 13, 2014, The Atlantic

Concepts: Privacy, control, rights, duties, responsibilities

Background: Surveillance, post 9/11 world, 2013 NSA/Edward Snowden leaks 

Edward Snowden has started a critical debate about the legality and the effectiveness of the N.S.A.’s practice of collecting unlimited records of telephone calls made to, from, and within the United States. Last month, two federal judges came to opposing conclusions about these issues. On December 16th, Judge Richard J. Leon, in Washington, D.C., ruled that the indiscriminate hoarding violates the Fourth Amendment right to privacy and its prohibition of unreasonable searches. Two weeks later, in New York, Judge William H. Pauley III ruled that the metadata-collection program was lawful and effective.

Judge Pauley invoked the example of Khalid al-Mihdhar, a Saudi jihadist who worked for Al Qaeda. On 9/11, he was one of the five hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. In early 2000, Mihdhar made seven calls from San Diego to an Al Qaeda safe house in Yemen. According to Pauley, the N.S.A. intercepted the calls, but couldn’t identify where Mihdhar was calling from. Relying on testimony by Robert Mueller, the former director of the F.B.I., Pauley concluded that metadata collection could have allowed the bureau to discover that the calls were being made from the U.S., in which case the bureau could have stopped 9/11.

If he is right, advocates of extensive monitoring by the government have a strong case. But the Mihdhar calls tell a different story about why the bureau failed to prevent the catastrophe. The C.I.A. withheld crucial intelligence from the F.B.I., which has the ultimate authority to investigate terrorism in the U.S. and attacks on Americans abroad. Continue reading

What is the real terrorist threat in America?

Domestic terrorism in the US is hardly an outcome of Islamic militanism, yet terrorism is largely associated with the muslim community in and outside of the US. 

The New Yorker – Posted by 

oak-creek-465.jpg

Satwant Kaleka, who served as president of the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, arrived in the United States from India three decades ago with thirty-five dollars in savings. By last Sunday, he owned several gas stations, according to the Los Angeles Times. He turned up early that morning at his temple to oversee worship and preparations for a large birthday party.

Wade Michael Page, a former bassist and guitarist in a white-supremacist rock band, drove to Oak Creek just after 10:15 A.M. He pulled out a pistol and shot worshipers remorselessly. An eleven-year-old-boy, Abhay Singh, watched him shoot one victim seven or eight times.

Kaleka tried to tackle the gunman. Page shot him, too; Kaleka dragged himself away, but he bled to death. He was sixty-two years old.

Sikhs in the greater Milwaukee area face discrimination “on a daily basis” because of the visible markers of their faith, such as the turbans that believing Sikh men tie on, Kaleka’s brother said later, and yet Kaleka held onto a belief in an “American freedom dream.”

Page’s other five victims were all immigrants to the United States from India’s Punjab province, where there is a large Sikh population. Among them were Suveg Singh Khattra, an eighty-four-year-old farmer who came to the U.S. to live with his son, and Paramjit Kaur, who worked more than sixty-five hours a week at a Wisconsin medical-instrument factory; she was the mother of two college-age sons.

There is no hierarchy of hate crime or racist terrorism, but Page’s massacre has a distinctive, sickening quality, set amid ignorance and reflecting a pattern of underpublicized bias of a sort that is often directed at the smallest of minority groups.

It’s not clear whether the shooter, like some Americans who have violently attacked Sikhs before, mistakenly believed that his victims were Muslims. In any event, the outrage would be the same if Page had shot up a mosque. The killer seemed to hate all brown people, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Yet the mass murder at Oak Creek took place in a context of persistent discrimination against Sikhs. During the months and years after September 11, 2001, Sikhs have been attacked and in at least one instance murdered by vigilantes who mistook them for members of the Taliban. Nor is this bias only a fringe problem of skinheads. At American airports, it is the policy of the Transportation Security Administration to always single out turban-wearing Sikh men for secondary screening and pat downs, no matter the traveller’s age or profile. (Turbans can in theory hide explosives, as suicide bombers in Afghanistan have demonstrated, but the procedures and explanations of the T.S.A. about its rules, as described by the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy and education group, suggest a blanket policy that would not likely be applied to a religious group with a higher profile and more numerous advocates.) Continue reading

It’s the Guns – But We All Know, It’s Not Really the Guns [Movie shooting – Aurora, Colorado]

by Michael Moore

Since Cain went nuts and whacked Abel, there have always been those humans who, for one reason or another, go temporarily or permanently insane and commit unspeakable acts of violence. There was the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who during the first century A.D. enjoyed throwing victims off a cliff on the Mediterranean island of Capri. Gilles de Rais, a French knight and ally of Joan of Arc during the middle ages, went cuckoo-for-Cocoa Puffs one day and ended up murdering hundreds of children. Just a few decades later Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula, was killing people in Transylvania in numberless horrifying ways.

In modern times, nearly every nation has had a psychopath or two commit a mass murder, regardless of how strict their gun laws are – the crazed white supremacist in Norway one year ago Sunday, the schoolyard butcher in Dunblane, Scotland, the École Polytechnique killer in Montreal, the mass murderer in Erfurt, Germany … the list seems endless.

And now the Aurora shooter last Friday. There have always been insane people, and there always will be.

But here’s the difference between the rest of the world and us: We have TWO Auroras that take place every single day of every single year! At least 24 Americans every day (8-9,000 a year) are killed by people with guns – and that doesn’t count the ones accidentally killed by guns or who commit suicide with a gun. Count them and you can triple that number to over 25,000.

That means the United States is responsible for over 80% of all the gun deaths in the 23 richest countries combined. Considering that the people of those countries, as human beings, are no better or worse than any of us, well, then, why us?

Both conservatives and liberals in America operate with firmly held beliefs as to “the why” of this problem. And the reason neither can find their way out of the box toward a real solution is because, in fact, they’re both half right. Continue reading

Chile passes anti-discrimination law after brutal hate crime

SANTIAGO (AFP) – Chile enacted an anti-discrimination law on Thursday, fully seven years after it went before Parliament, amid horror after suspected neo-Nazis killed a young gay man.

The bill condemns discrimination based on gender, race and religion, among other factors. It was presented to parliament in 2005 but not approved until May 2012, after the initiative was stalled by conservative legislators.

It introduces the concept of ‘arbitrary discrimination’ into the Chilean legal system and punishes violators with fines ranging from US$400 (S$508) to $4,000.

Some on the Chilean right feared the law might lead to the legalisation of gay marriage and held up the bill’s progression. The political logjam only broke after the killing of 24-year-old Daniel Zamudio on March 27.

The new law has been dubbed the ‘Zamudio Law.’ Pictures released by Zamudio’s family showed how the attackers inflicted a head wound, burned him with cigarettes, and carved Nazi symbols and slogans on his body. Zamudio spent three weeks in hospital before dying.

Chile’s political left ruled the country at the end of roughly two decades of dictatorship, until 2010, when right-wing President Sebastian Pinera was elected to office.

‘Thanks to Daniel’s sacrifice, now we have a new law I’m sure will help us confront, prevent and punish acts of discrimination, which cause so much pain,’ Mr Pinera said, as his enacted the new law at the presidential palace.

Zamudio’s parents attended the ceremony.

‘I am very proud that the law was passed and that it is named for Daniel,’ said Daniel’s mother, Jacqueline Vera. ‘My son will never be forgotten.’

Representatives of Chile’s Jewish, Arab, indigenous and disabled communities were also present at the ceremony.

The law defines ‘arbitrary discrimination’ as ‘any distinction, exclusion or restriction made without reasonable justification by state employees or private individuals that would deprive, disrupt or threaten fundamental rights.’

Chilean gay rights group The Homosexual Liberation Movement reports that 17 people have died and some 800 have been assaulted in crimes against Chile’s gay community since 2002. –  20Jul, 2012

Gunman Kills 12 in Colorado, Reviving Gun Debate

There are some events that we never grow numb to, things that weigh heavily on our sense of humanity and national psyche.

Early Friday morning, 24-year-old James Holmes, masked and armed, entered a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and opened fire. After things settled, at least 12 people were dead and 59 were left wounded.

It is on days like this that we are reminded of how much more alike than different we are, when we see that tears have no color, when ideologies melt into a common heart broken by sorrow.

But it is also on days like this that the questions invariably come.

They are questions about the shooter. How deep must the hole have been in his life? How untenable was the ache? How cold must the heart have grown? When did he cross the line from malcontent to monster?

But there are also questions for us as a country and as a people. We are called to question our values and our laws, and those obviously include our gun laws.

My own feelings on the matter are complicated.

I grew up in a small town in northern Louisiana — in the sticks. Everyone there seemed to own guns, even the children. My brothers slept beneath a gun rack that hung over their bed. Women carried handguns for protection. Even now, my oldest brother is an amateur gun dealer, buying and selling guns at his local gun shows. Continue reading

Sticker Lady: What’s the fuss, really?

Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, June 17th 2012

In Hoxton or New York, it might be regarded as commonplace – witty stencils and stickers posted by an artist around public spaces. In Singapore, however, a city obsessed with order and where “vandals” can be flogged, 27-year-old Samantha Lo – the so-called “Sticker Lady” – has inspired a massive online campaign after being arrested for posting stickers.

Lo, founder of an online arts magazine, has been arrested for sticking messages on traffic signal buttons, including “Press to Time Travel” or “Press to Stop Time”, as well as on suspicion of painting messages on roads reading “My Grandfather Road” – a Singaporean pun on bad driving and, some believe, the out-of-touch government of Singapore.

Lo’s arrest, which has been condemned by more than 14,000 people who have signed an online petition calling for leniency in the way she is treated, has triggered deep soul-searching in the city state, which is infamous for its enforcement of strict social order and banned the sale of chewing gum to keep its pavements clean.

If charged under Singapore’s draconian 1966 vandalism law, Lo could face up to three years in jail and a $2,000 (£1,000) fine. Men who are convicted, even of first offences, also receive three strokes of the cane. Continue reading

long march of international justice

There is still a long way to go before the goal of ending impunity for crimes against humanity has been reached

The conviction of Charles Taylor for aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone was an important step in what can only be described as the faltering path of international justice. The sentence pronounced in The Hague sent strong signals to both his victims and former supporters in Freetown and Monrovia.

The court was not persuaded beyond reasonable doubt of the most serious charges. While it agreed that Taylor had “substantial influence” over the leadership of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which terrorised civilian populations with murder, rape, sexual slavery and enforced amputations, it ruled that that influence fell short of command and control. It similarly rejected counts based on a joint criminal enterprise. But in finding that Taylor knew about the campaign of terror the RUF was waging, fuelled it with arms and ammunition, and told RUF commanders to seize the diamond-producing areas so that he could continue trading gems for arms, one part of the truth of that dark period has been established. Continue reading

Cyber Conflict

Joseph S. Nye, a former assistant US secretary of defense, is a professor at Harvard University and author, most recently, of The Future of Power.

Project Syndicate, April 16 2012

CAMBRIDGE – Two years ago, a piece of faulty computer code infected Iran’s nuclear program and destroyed many of the centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Some observers declared this apparent sabotage to be the harbinger of a new form of warfare, and United States Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta has warned Americans of the danger of a ‘cyber Pearl Harbour’ attack on the US. But what do we really know about cyber conflict?

The cyber domain of computers and related electronic activities is a complex man-made environment, and human adversaries are purposeful and intelligent. Mountains and oceans are hard to move, but portions of cyberspace can be turned on and off by throwing a switch. It is far cheaper and quicker to move electrons across the globe than to move large ships long distances.

The costs of developing those vessels – multiple carrier taskforces and  submarine fleets – create enormous barriers to entry, enabling US naval dominance. But the barriers to entry in the cyber domain are so low that non-state actors and small states can play a significant role at low cost.

In my book The Future of Power, I argue that the diffusion of power away from governments is one of this century’s great political shifts. Cyberspace is a perfect example. Large countries like the US, Russia, Britain, France, and China have greater capacity than other states and non-state actors to control the sea, air, or space, but it makes little sense to speak of dominance in cyberspace. If anything, dependence on complex cyber systems for support of military and economic activities creates new vulnerabilities in large states that can be exploited by non-state actors.

Four decades ago, the US Department of Defense created the Internet; today, by most accounts, the US remains the leading country in terms of its military and societal use. But greater dependence on networked computers and communication leaves the US more vulnerable to attack than many other countries, and cyberspace has become a major source of insecurity, because, at this stage of technological development, offence prevails over defence there.

The term ‘cyber attack’ covers a wide variety of actions, ranging from simple probes to defacing Web sites, denial of service, espionage, and destruction. Similarly, the term ‘cyber war’ is used loosely to cover a wide range of behaviors, reflecting dictionary definitions of war that range from armed conflict to any hostile contest (for example, ‘war between the sexes’ or ‘war on drugs’).

At the other extreme, some experts use a narrow definition of cyber war: a ‘bloodless war’ among states that consists solely of electronic conflict in cyberspace. But this avoids the important interconnections between the physical and virtual layers of cyberspace. As the Stuxnet virus that infected Iran’s nuclear program showed, software attacks can have very real physical effects.

A more useful definition of cyber war is hostile action in cyberspace whose effects amplify or are equivalent to major physical violence. In the physical world, governments have a near-monopoly on large-scale use of force, the defender has an intimate knowledge of the terrain, and attacks end because of attrition or exhaustion. Both resources and mobility are costly.

In the cyber world, by contrast, actors are diverse (and sometimes anonymous), physical distance is immaterial, and some forms of offence are cheap. Because the Internet was designed for ease of use rather than security, attackers currently have the advantage over defenders. Technological evolution, including efforts to ‘reengineer’ some systems for greater security, might eventually change that, but, for now, it remains the case. The larger party has limited ability to disarm or destroy the enemy, occupy territory, or use counterforce strategies effectively. Continue reading