Saturday, July 27, 2013

Rising above the swamp

Nobel-prize laureate Malala Yousufzai - Photo Creative Commons by Southbank Center
This week I watched Malala Yousufzai speaking to the United Nations, the brave 16-year old Pakistani student whom the Taliban attempted to murder because she promoted education for girls. She is inspirational and, though a victim of violence, offers welcome respite from news of violence.

Whether Islamist fanatics killing young Muslim girls or fundamentalist Christian ideologues attacking abortion clinics, Malala Yousufzai reminds us political nutcases will always surface. Tragic also is how they are sensationalized in the putrid swamp that passes for contemporary news reporting. That may be as much the fault the media as it is the fault of the extremists themselves.

News reports of violence

The same can be said for stories of murder, rape and violence that find their way into headlines. Is there validity to the claim that by airing such atrocities we raise alarm, show disgust, and shame local authorities into taking action? Does media attention allow us to hear the Yousufzai’s of the world?


Putting aside for a moment recent blips in crime trends of a few cities, (possibly due to the Recession) new research suggests the trend for worldwide murder, mayhem and violence is actually on the decrease. Yes, things are getting better (though you wouldn't know it from the media)!

This according to a number of respected journalists who rise above the putrid smell of info-tainment, for example Joe Schlesinger’s recent article on CBC titled You do know, right, that the world is getting better?

Steven Pinkers 2007 presentation “The Decline of Violence”

Schleshinger cites Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature. Pinker reveals a dramatic decline in violence rates around the world. The Middle Ages - the so-called Dark Ages - were particularly brutal and violent says Pinker.

He should know. Ever since criminologist Ted Robert Gurr wrote the historical classic Rogues, Rebels and Reformers in the 1970s (showing the same downward trend from ancient times until the crime explosions in the 1960s), few historians have looked so exhaustively at the topic. Pinker has compiled the most comprehensive historical data on homicide to date.

"Even for the 20th century as a whole, with its two world wars, revolutions, genocides and man-made famines, the violent death rate was down to 3 percent…a marked decline from the 15 and 10 percent rates that he documents for prehistoric times and the Middle Ages." 

It is left to Malala Yousufzai, a victim of violence, to show us that even in a swamp there are flowers.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Policing Detroit 2023 - ED Series 209 versus G3.mp4

The latest police vehicle in the fleet - the G3.mp4 - top-of-the-line

Consider the AC/DC lyrics in the above advertisement for the Lenco Bearcat G3.mp4 police vehicle:

I was caught
In the middle of a railroad track 
I looked 'round,
And I knew there was no turning back
My mind raced
And I thought what could I do? 
And I knew
There was no help, no help from you

An omen perhaps of a possible future?

I'm thinking of our LISC friends in Detroit this week as I watch with sadness the news of that city's bankruptcy. On the heels of a number of other Great Recession city bankruptcies, this is the largest in US history.

Just imagine broken police cars with no fuel, employee payrolls empty, acres of abandoned homes! Is there any doubt this is Toffler's hinge in history?  I wonder what future that hinge will open?

Today the Wall Street Journal, that staid fixture not known for radical thought, foreshadowed one future in Risk of the Warrior Cop.

It describes the increasing militarization of American policing. Those familiar with SafeGrowth may remember my blogs on combat policing and warrior cops. Some say my combat cop versus community cop dichotomy is unfair. Both are needed, right?

Maybe. But one wonders why the Cobb County Police require an amphibious military tank? Perhaps "tank" overstates. (How about military-grade, turbo-charged, armored personnel carrier with thermal imaging and tear gas grenade launchers?) Or why does the Richland County Sheriff require, "a machine-gun equipped armored personnel carrier that he nicknamed The Peacemaker."

Fueling this trend, in 2011 the Department of Defense gave away almost $500 million worth of military equipment to police.

Former Kansas City police chief Joseph McNamara warns police militarization is risky and counterproductive. "It's totally contrary to what we think is good policing, which is community policing".

With apologies to Detroit, all this domestic militarization brought to mind a future portrayed in a 1987 film. Then it dawned on me! (Cue sarcastic tone). I know exactly what law enforcement needs... The Enforcement Droid series 209, programmed of course for urban pacification.

If it wasn't so possible, it would be funny.

Monday, July 15, 2013

I am the crucible of the future

Social media = social cohesion? Today during the LISC sponsored Twin Cities SafeGrowth training we heard some terrific planning projects to enhance safety on the new light rail Transit Oriented Development in St. Paul.

Among the presentations was an idea to incorporate social media and Facebook into one of the neighborhoods as a 2nd Generation community cohesion strategy. Cool.

Then I came across this: The City 2.0 crowdsourcing project from the 2012 TED Prize.

It's a new website with a platform to "surface the myriad stories and collective actions being taken by citizens around the world. We draw on the best of what is already being discovered by urban advocates and add grassroots movers and shakers into the mix."

I especially found the City 2.0 Safety part of the website fascinating. It expands to show Gallup's new poll on quality of life  conducted over the past 3 years and mapped with categories like nighttime safety, community satisfaction, and stress.

The future is being written as we speak.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Slutwalks and risky behavior

Walking and texting late at night in a Calgary alleyway - photo Randall Atlas

Strolling downtown late at night after Calgary's ICA CPTED conference we came across this young woman walking by herself in an alleyway. What struck us was not how she was dressed or that she was alone or that the alley was well lit. What amazed us was that she texted the entire time as she walked down an isolated alley quite oblivious to her environment.

It seemed risky.

Then I thought about the Slutwalk phenomenon launched after the victim-blaming remarks by Toronto police constable during a 2011 crime prevention presentation.

"I've been told I'm not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized," the constable commented to a group of women at York University.

He later apologized for his remarks but they led to city-wide (and later world-wide) annual Slutwalks.

The phenomenon has been both lauded and criticized by others, including feminists.

One motive for Slutwalks is the persistent and idiotic views on the topic. According to Huffington Post one Manitoba judge "condemned a rape survivor for wearing a tube top, no bra, high heels and makeup which he implied led her to sexual assault." The judge also implied "the assailant had succumbed to inviting circumstances."

That thinking is absurd. It is also still alive and well.

None of which changes the fact that mindless oblivion while texting late at night in an isolated alleyway is just not a good idea.