122 posts categorized "Crime and Deviance"

October 19, 2015

Sociology and Infamy

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The news coverage of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1999 was one of the events that inspired me to write my first book, It’s Not the Media: The Truth about Pop Culture’s Influence on Children, which was published in 2003. I had purposely decided never to mention the shooters’ names, which my editor didn’t quite understand. “Everyone already knows their names,” she said. The information was out there, she insisted. I would just be providing a historical account of the event.

But I didn’t want their names in my book. I didn’t want to type them, and I didn’t want those individuals to get even a modicum of attention from my readers. The book wasn’t about them anyway, it was about the problem of coming up with simple solutions like blaming popular culture for complex social problems like youth violence.  I stood my ground, and their names do not appear anywhere in the book.

I thought of this upon hearing of the Twitter hashtag #dontsayhisname, a request from many survivors and residents of Roseburg, Oregon, in response to the shooting at Umpqua Community College. Obscurity may be the ultimate form of shunning in the internet age. Sadly, we all-too-often remember the names of perpetrators and forget the names of the victims as time goes by. Perhaps this hashtag will help change that.

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September 25, 2015

To Live and Die in L.A.

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When I was a graduate student, I worked as a research assistant on several projects for criminologists. Perhaps the most interesting and challenging project I participated in was a study of homicides in Los Angeles.

This was a comprehensive, multi-faceted study. I was given a great deal of responsibility for collecting data from police homicide files. The senior researchers had gained a court order that enabled us to have access to hundreds of files from 1993 and 1994, peak years in homicides for the city and county. I led the team that went to police and sheriff’s headquarters, reading files along with a team of students that I supervised who would read the files and then use a coding sheet to note key details about the incident. Over the course of the study I personally read hundreds of police murder files.

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August 03, 2015

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

When I first heard of the school-to-prison pipeline I thought that it was some sort of exaggeration. How could it be possible, I wondered, for schools to be a direct path to prison? It doesn’t make any sense that primary and secondary schools are serving as the conduits that fill the cells of penal institutions. Unfortunately, this pipeline not only exists and it is not just a mere trickle; it is a strong flowing and steady stream. Every year, thousands of young people experience a direct path from school to juvenile detention centers and then ultimately to prison.

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June 16, 2015

Police Killings by the Numbers

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

If there has been one dominant, sociologically-relevant story in the news lately, it has arguably been the treatment of African Americans by the police. From Michael Brown in Missouri to Eric Garner in Staten Island to the McKinney, Texas, swimming pool incident, there is a heightened awareness, an ongoing conversation, and a growing sentiment of anger about how race influences policing.

As increasing attention has been devoted to this social problem, and more questions have been raised about it, there have been calls for greater accountability from law enforcement. In particular, many people want to know how many citizens are killed each year by police officers. Unfortunately, because the United States government does not keep a systematic record of these deaths, this data has been either unavailable or unreliable. That is, until now.

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May 14, 2015

Probability vs. Certainty

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In a recent class discussion, we talked about the connection between children who have parents who are incarcerated and the likelihood of future incarceration for those children. One student had trouble understanding how all kids in this situation don’t end up in prison someday. After all, don’t we all just follow our parents’ examples?

Children with parents in prison do have a greater likelihood of getting arrested in the future, for a number of reasons beyond the scope of this post. The real issue that this student needed to understand was the concept of probability, or the notion of how likely an event is to occur.

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May 05, 2015

How Can Sociology Help Explain the Civil Unrest in Baltimore?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

On our last day of class for the spring semester, I asked my classes this question, in order to apply what they learned during the semester to help understand the civil unrest in Baltimore in late April.

The events were triggered by the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody on April 12, leading many citizens to public protests. After his funeral on April 27, demonstrations took place, and not all of remained peaceful. The news filled with vivid imagery of clashes with police, destruction of property, fire, and looting. In a video that went viral, a mother shown hitting her son and dragging him away from the crowds received praise nationwide.

What was this all about?

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April 15, 2015

Getting a Job with a Criminal Record

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In a competitive job environment, having a criminal record might effectively exclude someone from legal employment. For some jobs, it makes sense to exclude people who have committed specific offenses in the past. No one wants their cable installer to be a convicted burglar, their child’s teacher to be a sex offender, or their accountant to have committed forgery.

But for many people who have past offenses, the charges have less to do with their character than the communities in which they live. Check out this clip from Last Week Tonight, which examines how municipal fines like speeding tickets, parking tickets, and loitering charges can cause low-income residents to end up in jail if they can’t pay the mounting fines:

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February 25, 2015

Middle-Aged Men and Alcohol

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

We’ve all probably heard the phrase “teen drinking” and thought about it as a social problem. Many public service announcements (PSAs), like the one below, highlight the problem of teen drinking.

But data just released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that 35-64-year-olds are the most likely of any age group to die from drinking too much. And three-quarters of those who die are men. Perhaps we should have PSAs for teens’ fathers and grandfathers. More people 65 and older died of alcohol poisoning than those aged 15-24.

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January 21, 2015

Community, Policing, and Accountability

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

In response to the recent murders of unarmed black men by local police officers in Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island, and Oakland, to name a few, the Obama Administration created a task force to improve community policing.  The idea is that if police officers are embedded within the communities they serve, instances of racial profiling, and excessive use of violent force would be less likely to happen. The task force also hopes that community policing will help to facilitate greater conversation, interaction, and friendliness between police officers and residents.

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December 15, 2014

Police Misconduct as a Social Problem

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Are you angry about the legal system’s decisions about the cases in which have police killed unarmed black boys or men? Or are you angry that people are angry about that?

It is not clear whether the rates of unarmed black man being killed by police are increasing, but we are seeing more media coverage when it happens. It’s about time.

Is this a problem of individuals? Yes, on the one hand. It’s a problem for them personally if it happens to them or someone in their life. But it’s also a problem for society. One of the key tenets in sociology is that the personal isn’t just personal, it’s societal, and it’s political. The things that we experience are linked to larger social structures.

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