iOS app Android app More

From Greens to Guns in the Czech Republic

John Feffer   |   February 3, 2014    4:50 PM ET

When Communism collapsed in East-Central Europe, it should have been a golden opportunity for the Greens. Newly enfranchised voters were looking for something new. They were skeptical of old-style parties. For decades they'd been breathing polluted air, drinking polluted water, and suffering other consequences of unrestrained growth. Meanwhile, in Western Europe, "post-industrial" politics were becoming increasingly popular. The German Greens, founded in 1980, were the most well-known and politically successful, but Green Parties had gained seats in more than a dozen parliaments in Europe by the late 1980s.

When I talked with Jaroslav Hofer in May 1990, he was very optimistic about the prospects for the Greens in Czechoslovakia. One of the three people responsible for the Green platform, he boasted that a million people had asked for membership in the party. This was quite remarkable for a party that had been in existence for only about half a year. Public opinion polls were predicting that the Greens would draw somewhere around 11 to 12 percent in the parliamentary elections.

But in June 1990, the Greens came in 10th place with only a little more than 3 percent of the vote, not enough to qualify for parliamentary representation.

The Greens soldiered on, but Hofer eventually broke from the party. "It changed its leaders every fortnight," he told me in an interview at a wine bar in Prague in February. "Some people just deserted the Greens for this party or that party. We didn't have money. We didn't have a big office, just a small office in the center of the city. It was not serious work. The Green party lasted for 23 or 24 years. And it became part of the ruling coalition. But as a result of becoming part of the ruling coalition, it fell into ultimate disgrace, and its candidates eventually could win only 1 or 2 percent of the vote."

Green Party organizing was only one facet of Hofer's life. He'd been a successful journalist who wrote the first major article about HIV/AIDS in Czechoslovakia. He was also a Sinologist who had covered China as a Czech journalist in the 1980s. Today, he is largely retired. And he has turned pessimistic.

"In 1990, we were full of hope," he remembered. "Now I am 65 and there is no hope any more. Partly that's also a question of age and health conditions. But the problem is that society - here and even in the States -- has changed a lot in the last quarter century. Globalization, the loss of our industry. Yes, there were opportunities. You can try to start any kind of business you want. But probably someone richer and stronger has gotten there before you."

He talked about how bleak Czech society has become, particularly for pensioners and the poor. It has also become a more dangerous place. So, Hofer is planning to buy a gun. "My son has done it. Three of my five best friends have done it. And I will do it too," he told me.

"It's very difficult to pass the exams that allow you to carry guns," he explained. "But many hundreds of people pass them every month. I think I will do it too. Because I will live soon in a house on the outskirts that was already robbed 3 times in 5 years. I wasn't living there at the time. We had tenants there. But I will have to have a gun."

We talked about the rise and fall of the Greens, current energy politics in the Czech Republic, and the persistence of support for the Czech Communist Party.

The Interview

When we met 23 years ago, you were involved in the Czech Greens.

At that time, the Greens seemed to me to be a very necessary movement for the country. The Green movement was formed already before the November 17 events. It spoke about problems that were very painful. The problem was, however, that the Green movement reminded me of the two sides of a fleece. At one moment it was very strong, and the next moment it was not there. At that time, we thought it necessary to stress not just democracy. It was also clear to us that there is no nationalist path for the Czech Republic. We wanted to be absolutely open and international. We didn't see any borders between us and German Greens or Russian Greens. You're a specialist, are there any North Korean Greens?

No. No Greens in North Korea.

I didn't think so! But we wanted it to be an internationalist movement. We didn't think too much about being in government. We were not ready to be in government. Basically, we wanted to be a strong NGO not associated with any political movement.

After a short time, I had to break all my ties to the Greens because the movement was, as I said, the back of the fleece. It changed its leaders every fortnight. Some people just deserted the Greens for this party or that party. We didn't have money. We didn't have a big office, just a small office in the center of the city. It was not serious work. The Green party lasted for 23 or 24 years. And it became part of the ruling coalition. But as a result of becoming part of the ruling coalition, it fell into ultimate disgrace, and its candidates eventually could win only 1 or 2 percent of the vote. The Greens allied with the Civic Democrats, the party of Vaclav Klaus, and the Civic Democrats were quite corrupt.

Moreover, the Greens pushed for something we call "tunneling." That's basically stealing money from the government by supporting investments in solar energy. Now we as a state, as citizens, as consumers will have to pay 1 billion crowns because of the government that the Greens were part of. By the way, 1 billion is almost all the Czech debt to the federal exchequer.

I'm not sorry that I tried. It was nice to try something in politics. But we did it very amateurishly, without money and without being clear about what we really wanted. We failed to find a specific place in the political game.

I understand that there have been polls that suggest that people are unhappy with the situation today in comparison to the situation before 1989.

First of all, this is a result of lawlessness. Every society needs strict rules, good police, good judiciary, and reliable judges. And it needs parties that are trustworthy or at least respected. Havel came in with an idea of moral government. He was not interested in law and economics. That's where it started. We could have been in a better situation today if, on the first of January 1991, we simply adopted Austrian laws and the state structure that the Austrians or Germans have -- because they are the closest to us in terms of their systems. We were all part of the same Austro-Hungarian monarchy, so it didn't really require that much reform to make their laws fit.

The problem started with the lack of seriousness of many of our politicians. Instead of building a moral society, we started living in a catch-as-catch-can society: catching money if you can, and if you are rich you can do anything. That was our biggest mistake: the lawlessness in which people never know what will happen to them. We have cases here where you lose your ID card. Somebody uses it after a month when he goes on a tram and he doesn't pay for the ticket, just shows this old ID card. After three or four years, you get a letter that says that you have to pay your entire monthly wages for lawyers and court fees just to pay off this 10 crown tram ticket! And there's practically no defense against these small stupidities.

During Communist time, you didn't have to work that much. You just had to live and not worry about being fired two years before retirement. Now you can't be sure. What has also changed drastically is the situation of Czech Roma. Under Communism, they had to go to the army and serve two years. They learned, if nothing else, how to live with White people. Now they don't have that chance. Many have been liquidated by drugs. They don't have the chance to find a job. It's difficult for them to learn Czech language. They can't pass the exams because their language is different. It's difficult for the children to pass exams that are hard even for the majority. Many Roma have taught themselves to steal and live a criminal life. In a way it's not so bad for them to live in a prison. They at least have something to eat there and have a more comfortable life than outside.

I was quite surprised to find that so many people now want to have their own guns.

Here in the Czech Republic?

Yes.

Is there a liberal gun law here?

To read the rest of the interview, click here.

Shoot First, Claim Self-Defense Later

Mike Weisser   |   January 27, 2014   11:55 AM ET

Last week a retired 71-year-old Tampa policeman named Curtis Reeves shot and killed a younger man in a movie theater evidently because his victim would not stop texting during the Coming Attractions and in the argument which then ensued, hurled an "unknown object" at the cop which may have been a deadly weapon known as a bag of popcorn. The victim, Chad Oulson, was sitting in the row in front of Reeves and was not making any effort to climb over the seat but a well-aimed bag of popcorn can, as is well known, constitute a lethal threat. The media is already referring to this incident as an example of the Popcorn Defense.

According to the FBI, there were 260 justifiable homicides committed by civilians in 2011, of which guns were used 75 percent of the time. There were also 12,664 murders in 2011, of which roughly 8,800 were committed with guns. Of the 12,664 felony homicides, about half started as arguments and then things got out of control. Assuming that the ratio of murders to gun use stayed constant, between 3,000 and 4,000 gun murders occurred in 2011 that were no different from what happened in a Florida movie theater; a little yelling back and forth followed by a few f--- you's, and then out comes the gun.

In the Tampa case, the shooter first complained to the theater management but nothing was done. But the point is he knew there were other options which suddenly turned into non-options as the argument got out of hand. The question that needs to be asked is what would Reeves have done if he hadn't been armed with a gun? His victim was younger, bigger and stronger. Without a gun Reeves would have had no choice but to avoid a confrontation by moving away from the scene. At the time of the shooting, there were fewer than 30 patrons in the theater so it wouldn't have been difficult to find another seat. By the way, there's also no reason why Oulson couldn't have gotten up and moved somewhere else.

It turns out that Reeves disregarded a sign on the theater's front door that prohibited patrons from carrying guns. The next time that Wayne LaPierre or John Lott go on television to tell us how unsafe we are in gun-free zones, someone might tell them that the argument cuts both ways. The guy who walks around carrying a gun may think he's protecting himself and others against crime, but he also knows that if he gets into an argument he doesn't have to back down. Proponents of defensive gun use cite all kinds of public surveys in which people are asked whether the fact that they were carrying a gun kept a crime from taking place. But I haven't seen any interviews with guys in prison who pulled out a gun and shot someone because it was the "only" way they could settle an argument on favorable terms. It might be added that none of the proponents of concealed-carry licensing have had anything to say about what happened in Florida last week.

Maybe I've got it all mixed up. Maybe when it comes out that the bag of popcorn really could have caused serious or fatal damage to Reeves, he'll be lionized by the NRA as another 'good guy with a gun.' And maybe the people all over America who sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to George Zimmerman can now send their hard-earned money to Curtis Reeves because, after all, he was only exercising his God-given right to protect himself from harm.

ERIC TUCKER   |   January 25, 2014    6:53 PM ET

COLUMBIA, Md. (AP) — A Maryland hospital says five people injured in a mall shooting and its aftermath have been treated and released.

The shooting on Saturday at the Mall in Columbia ended in three deaths, including that of the gunman.

Howard County General Hospital tweeted late Saturday that the five others who were injured had all been treated and released.

One patient was reported to be a shooting victim while at least three other patients sustained other injuries.

ERIC TUCKER   |   January 25, 2014    5:47 PM ET

COLUMBIA, Md. (AP) — Police have identified the two retail employees killed in a shooting at a Maryland mall.

The Howard County Police said late Saturday that the victims were 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo of College Park, Md., and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson of Ellicott City, Md. The gunman also died.

Both worked at Zumiez, which sold skate apparel and accessories.

Police say the attack took outside Zumiez on the upper level of the Mall in Columbia, a suburb of both Baltimore and Washington.

McMahon said authorities ran into difficulty in identifying the gunman because of concerns that he might be carrying explosives.

Five other people were injured.

ERIC TUCKER   |   January 25, 2014   12:21 PM ET

COLUMBIA, Md. (AP) — A Maryland hospital says five people injured in a mall shooting and its aftermath have been treated and released.

The shooting on Saturday at the Mall in Columbia ended in three deaths, including that of the gunman.

Samantha Lachman   |   January 24, 2014    5:45 PM ET

This cycle's hottest campaign trend, apparently: free assault weapons.

Following Republican South Carolina state Sen. Lee Bright's announcement Thursday that he will raffle off an AR-15 assault weapon in his primary campaign against Sen. Lindsey Graham, U.S. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) will do the same in his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Broun, perhaps seeking to distinguish himself in a crowded Republican primary field, sent an email to supporters Friday offering up a free gun to push back against "the Democrats and liberal media" who "would love to take away our guns and mandate every aspect of our lives," according to the paper.

"As one of the most conservative members of Congress, and a staunch supporter of the 2nd Amendment, I am constantly under attack for my values and beliefs," the email read. "Today I'm fighting back. How would you like to start off 2014 with a brand new AR-15 for free?"

The Broun campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but he gave a reason for the contest on his campaign website. President Barack Obama, he wrote, "would like nothing more than to ban the AR-15 rifle -- and that's exactly why I've decided to give away a free AR-15 to one of my fellow 2nd amendment supports." The contest ends Feb. 27.

Obama came out in support of a ban on the production and sale of certain types of assault weapons in January of last year.

Broun said earlier this month that Democrats will not win in Georgia unless the state grants undocumented immigrants, or in his words, "illegal aliens," the right to vote. Back in 2012, he attacked science, saying that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are "lies straight from the pit of Hell."

The representative is one of eight Republicans seeking his party's nomination in the Senate race. The primary will be held May 20.

Samantha Lachman   |   January 24, 2014   10:59 AM ET

If you're the type of person who enjoys entering free giveaway contests, and you want to receive campaign emails from South Carolina state Senator Lee Bright, then the U.S. Senate candidate has a contest for you.

Bright, who is challenging Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in the Republican primary, announced in an email to supporters Thursday that he will give away a Palmetto Armory AR-15 as a part of his campaign.

“I know the political talking heads may sneer as they continue blaming guns and law-abiding gun owners for the acts of thugs and madmen. But I am the pro-gun, pro-Constitution candidate in this race for the U.S. Senate -- and I can’t think of a better way to get that word out than by giving away a brand new AR-15,” Bright said in the email. “My hope is this AR-15 giveaway will also help me get my message of liberty out to tens of thousands of South Carolinians."

On his campaign website, Bright notes that "one lucky Second Amendment Supporter will be the winner," in the raffle scheduled for Feb. 15.

The contest's winner must be 18 years of age or older and will have to pass a criminal background check in order to be eligible.

Bright's email began with a reference to the mass shooting of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. A drive for gun control after the shooting ultimately failed in Congress.

“In the wake of the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Conn., gun-grabbers were sure they had the votes to ram gun control into law,” the email read. “Thanks to the action of Second Amendment supporters all over the country, their schemed failed -- even despite my Republican primary opponent, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.”

Graham voted to allow debate on the legislation but ultimately voted against the legislation itself, as Politico notes.

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) made a similar campaign move last year when he also chose an AR-15 to raffle off.

Bright introduced a bill to create a guns, shooting and Second Amendment awareness class for South Carolina's high schoolers last January.

"I believe the more guns we have the safer we are, because had there been someone in Newtown with a weapon, had it been a teacher, they could have stopped it early," Bright told WSOC.

Bright is one of four Republicans planning to run against Graham in the June 10 primary.

  |   January 24, 2014   12:47 AM ET

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The relatives of a 17-year-old Northern California girl say she was shot and killed by her 14-year-old brother because of an argument over laundry.

Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said officers received a report of the shooting just after noon Thursday and found the girl in a downtown apartment with a fatal gunshot wound. The victim was pronounced dead by emergency medical workers.

2nd Amendment: Shooting for Freedom

Lydia Hughes   |   January 22, 2014   12:02 PM ET

2014-01-21-310147_373418826096778_709442632_n.png

It is estimated that between 270 million and 310 million guns are privately owned across America. Yet despite the growing possession of arms, the gun debate is also something that continues to grow. Producers James Dann and Richard Morel explore the debate in 2nd Amendment.

As part of this documentary James Dann and Richard Morel discover and observe the alternating opinions of the American public. It confronts the provision of an amendment that seeks to protect the right of individuals in America to keep and bear arms. And it presents the tensions and consequences of what such a reality currently accesses, and what it may be allowed to access in the future.

2nd Amendment Trailer from Richard Morel on Vimeo.

Lydia Hughes: How would you describe 2nd Amendment?

James Dann: It's basically two outsiders [James Dann and Richard Morel] looking into a culture that they don't understand. It's two people going somewhere because they hear so many different viewpoints about gun legislation and everything going on in the States. Two people having no first-hand experience as to what's going on other than seeing things in the news. So it's about trying to present the world -- what's actually going on in America at the moment -- from a very neutral perspective, without being on any political side.

LH: Who does it gain the opinions of?

JD: We've got people who are from firing-range owners to people who live in the woods by themselves, and their gun is literally their only companion. We've got psychologists, we've got people who have been affected by guns directly, others who live next to their gun because they think it's the only way to protect themselves. We definitely left there with more questions than answers. We got a billion different opinions from every angle you can think of.

LH: Of those people, whose opinion seems to be the most poignant to you, and why?

JD: We interviewed this woman called Leah, who runs 'New Yorkers Against Gun Violence,' and her opinions were very factual-based -- emotional as well, because her brother was shot in the head and killed, despite owning a gun which he couldn't reach in time. Which argues against the fact that having a gun will protect you. And then the complete polar opposite is a guy called Don, who lives in the woods, and has very few friends and family surrounding him. His only son was killed in the Iraq war, and he uses multiple weaponry to protect himself in his rural house.

LH: Has the making of 2nd Amendment, and the insight that you've gained from your research, changed where you stand on the issue?

JD: I don't know whether it's made me change where I stand on the issue but, if anything, it's made me more neutral because we had such convincing arguments from every person. It's sort of centred me more. I went there expecting to leave being on one side or the other. But I've definitely come back thinking, 'How many more perspectives are there?'

LH: Dick Metcalf, long-time writer for Guns & Ammo, got fired recently for writing that the constitutional right to bear arms is subject to regulation. Do you think America holds preference for the second amendment over other constitutional rights, such as the freedom of speech?

JD: A huge amount of Americans do love their guns, definitely. Those that are strong supporters of the Second Amendment sometimes fear it is somewhat under attack. And this raises its priority in terms of how much it's discussed and presented in the media, as well as how highly it seems to be regarded by others.

LH: What will 2nd Amendment tell people that they don't already know?

JD: It'll tell them what's actually happening in America. It's not like a statistical documentary; we're going to show them all the things that don't make it to the news, showing them the real people behind the quotes that they read online. It shows families and the people who have these guns, and the actual reasons behind why people think they need guns -- the personalities behind the statistics.

LH: What are you hoping to achieve in the output of this documentary?

JD: I'm hoping to shed light on what's actually happening. I'm hoping people will have a better understanding of why this is such a hot topic at the moment, and that they go away thinking, 'Whoa, I never knew that. That's a fair point.' Hopefully, they'll understand more about where people are coming from, and why it's such a difficult debate.

LH: Are you hoping for some kind of revolution?

JD: I'm mostly hoping to raise awareness and make people stop and think before they buy a gun, and question whether they really need it.

LH: And how wide-spread are you hoping this film will go?

JD: Hopefully everywhere. Mostly in the UK, America and Europe. The whole film is just about spreading awareness of what's going on there, about some very unreported situations. That was the original intention.

LH: Where does the debate end? Or will it never?

JD: I don't think the debate will ever end. There are people who have personally been shot at, or whose family have been killed by guns, and people who have never used a gun in their life other than at a firing range and can't understand why their guns are being taken away. Liking guns doesn't mean you like anything about shooting. It could mean you like the challenge, it could mean you like bonding with your grandson, or that you like going on family trips. It doesn't mean that you like standing there with a machine gun in your house waiting for someone to come in. But these are all the people who the statistics lie behind. And trying to get people to agree on things when they come from such different worlds is impossible. I don't think the debate will ever end.


For more information visit www.2ndamendmentfilm.com. Expected release date: end of February.

The Story Behind the Nation's Falling Body Count

David M. Kennedy   |   January 21, 2014    9:39 AM ET

The numbers are in: 2013 puts America on track for its lowest murder rate in nearly 40 years. But there's an important point the year-end media round-ups are missing: there is a method to the growing lack of madness in America's cities. Most of the cities making headlines -- Chicago, down 18 percent, to the lowest level since 1965; New Orleans, down almost 20 percent, to the lowest level since 1971; Baton Rouge, down over 20 percent; Philadelphia, down a quarter, to the lowest level since 1967; New York, down 20 percent, to an absolute historical record low; Oakland, down 29 percent, the single largest reduction in 40 years; Stockton, down 55 percent, the single largest reduction ever -- are using the same basic method to stop the killing. There is something that can be done about the urban homicide that has plagued the nation for generations, these cities are doing it, and it is working.

Violent crime has been declining across the U.S. for some time, but there is still tremendous work to do. It is nothing less than a national shame that communities across America, especially poor black communities, live with unconscionable levels of violence, incarceration, and tensions with the police (for much of the time the national homicide rate has been going down, the gun homicide rate for younger black men has been going up). Traditional enforcement in these neighborhoods has been not only ineffective but often broad, blunt, and intrusive: high levels of street stops, drug arrests, "trespassing" and other pretext misdemeanor arrests, warrant service, and the like have left many angry at and distrustful of authorities. But the cities where violence really declined in 2013 are approaching the problem narrowly and strategically; working to not arrest and incarcerate; and consciously engaging with communities in ways that they can embrace as fair and that help them reset their own public safety standards.

Indeed, focus is one of the important things these cities have in common. A growing body of criminological evidence shows that serious violence (and much other crime) is concentrated among remarkably small numbers of "hot" people and places. We now know that homicide and gun violence are overwhelmingly concentrated among serious offenders operating in groups: gangs, drug crews, and the like representing under half of one percent of a city's population commit half to three-quarters of all murders. We also know some reliable predictors of risk: individuals who have a history of violence or a close connection with prior victims are far more likely to be involved in violence themselves. Hot groups and people are so hot that when their offending is statistically abstracted, their neighborhoods cease to be dangerous. Their communities aren't dangerous; they are.

Hot places are likewise very few and account for a startling proportion of a community's crime. Research on hot spots shows violence to be concentrated in "micro" places, rather than in "dangerous neighborhoods," as the popular idea goes. Blocks, corners, and buildings representing just five or six percent of an entire city will drive half of its serious crime.

The good news is that these concentrations create high-payoff opportunities to intervene. The cities that recognize this fact are creating community-based interventions with a laser-like focus on the people and places driving violence.

In Chicago, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Philadelphia, Oakland, and Stockton -- all cities where homicide, not homicide reduction, has made headlines for years -- a community, social service, and law enforcement partnership identifies group members with extensive criminal histories and engages them in meetings -- "call-ins" -- to demand an end to violence, explain the legal risks they face, and offer them help. Chicago has added "custom notifications" and is using new social network analysis techniques to identify the hottest and most vulnerable people and give them individualized messages about their vulnerability, the help available to them, and their legal risks. Not only has violence dropped dramatically, the Chicago Police Department made 7,000 fewer arrests last year. In Los Angeles, where homicide is down to 255 city-wide, a pilot version of the approach in the San Fernando Valley's Mission Area has reduced violence even further: shooting victims are down almost half over last year.

Similar hot-people interventions are consistently effective. In New York City, NYPD has launched Operation Crew Cut, aimed at street crews and their dynamics. Closely monitoring crews, focusing enforcement on the most violent, and intervening when violence is imminent appears to have cut youth homicide in the city by half while resulting in only 400 or so arrests -- at the same time that, at year's end, the city's controversial street stops were down a full 80 percent. The NYPD's Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program, or JRIP, operating along similar lines, has cut robbery recidivism equally dramatically. A gun-offender call-in initiative pioneered in Chicago over ten years ago by now-Yale Law School Professor Tracey Meares has shown remarkable impact and is being replicated in five sites across New York State, and expanded to juveniles in New York City. High Point, North Carolina has even extended the approach to the most dangerous domestic violence offenders, with very promising early returns.

The approach can transform what are often broken relationships between police and historically troubled, oppressed, and deeply angry minority communities. By making it clear that law enforcement can tell the difference between the very few even potentially violent and everybody else, and leading with intervention rather than arrest and incarceration, law enforcement wins the trust of communities and strengthens their ability to act on their own behalf and police themselves.

This is not simply an aspiration; more and more, it is a proven approach.

In Los Angeles, for example, the Watts Gang Task Force has set up a real-time working partnership between the LAPD, community figures and ex-gang members to gather street intelligence and intervene to head off trouble before anybody gets either hurt or arrested. Ex-offenders committed to their communities are working closely with the Philadelphia and Mission Area law enforcement teams, and elsewhere across the country. Community actors -- elders on the block, pastors, the moral voices that remain strong and authentic in the most troubled of neighborhoods -- help make the Chicago-style "custom notifications" and say to young men and their mothers, we care about you, we need you alive and out of prison, the violence has to stop. These and similar efforts are not about "community relations." They are concrete, pragmatic working partnerships between police and communities. Evidence shows that they reduce violence, but they also have the important effect of increasing police legitimacy, the belief that authorities are acting with respect and in communities' best interests. "The statistical information reflects a positive trend," says Todd Chamberlain, commanding officer in the LAPD's Mission Area. "However, what's not reflected, yet just as important, are the incredible partnerships that have grown out of implementation of the program." We now know that where legitimacy goes up, crime goes down: if police are seen as allies, rather than an occupying army, and street offenders hear "put your guns down" rather than "stop snitching," the spiral of decline we have been used to for so long becomes a virtuous cycle.

The new law enforcement thinkers are even taking on the past harms and toxic racial legacies that poison relationships between police and especially African-American communities. Chicago's Superintendent Garry McCarthy is a model of this new honesty. "I understand the historical divide between police and communities of color," he said shortly after taking over the Chicago Police Department. "The most visible arm of government is a police force, and the institutionalized governmental programs that promoted racist policies that were enforced by police departments in this country are part of the African American history in this country. And we have to recognize it because recognition is the first step towards finding a cure towards what is ailing us. Over the years we've actually done a lot of things wrong and I'm willing to admit that. A lot of police executives are defensive. We've done a lot wrong." Remarkably, this transformative honesty about the America's racial history and its implications for legitimacy has become all but, if not, mainstream amongst criminal justice's leadership. "It's time to declare, once and for all, that we must do better - as a country and as a people," Attorney General Eric Holder told the International Association of Chiefs of Police this fall. "For the safety of our men and women on the front lines -- and in the name of winning the respect and cooperation of America's minority communities -- it is incumbent upon law enforcement leaders to help bridge this divide. And we can start by recognizing that compliance with the law begins not with the fear of arrest or even of incarceration - but with respect for the institutions that guide our democracy."

It's true, of course, that not every city with homicide declines in 2013 is doing this work (and this is not all the successful ones are doing; the Philadelphia Police Department, for example, is seeing powerful impact from a parallel hot-places strategy). But where cities are using these approaches, the results are consistently tremendously promising. And they are growing and spreading: Detroit, Denver, and Kansas City have begun to use them; Baltimore will launch this year; the state of Connecticut is supporting them in New Haven, Bridgeport, and Hartford; smaller cities like Peoria, Chattanooga, and South Bend have begun or are beginning. They are taking on squarely the core public safety issue for American cities, and in many ways for the American democratic experiment: how to police both effectively and with legitimacy, and how to protect communities without sending whole generations of young men to prison.

Homicide may be down nationally, but until we reach the corners of America that still suffer from daily violence, and where getting stopped, arrested, and locked up are a normal part of a young man's life, we are doing them an injustice. The efforts of these cities, using these methods, represent a major advance -- a workable way forward. They foster a focus on preventing violence and incarceration among the people most likely to be touched by both; help police do their jobs in a way that does not harm, and in fact strengthens, the communities they serve; and support communities in reclaiming their voice about the way they want to live.

David M. Kennedy is a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, and co-chair of the National Network for Safe Communities, which supports cities in the work described in this article. His most recent book is Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America.

2-Day Crime Spree Ends In Fatal Shootout

Steven Hoffer   |   January 17, 2014   11:19 AM ET

A teen's two day crime spree -- which left four people injured, including two ATF agents -- ended Thursday night when he was fatally shot by police.

Henry Jackson, 19, was killed at 9:30 p.m. after he exchanged fire with authorities in Oklahoma, CNN reports.

The ordeal began Wednesday, when a 19-year-old woman called police to say that she was shot in the arm.

CBS explains:

CBS Sherman, Texas affiliate KXII-TV cites police as saying Jackson shot a 19-year-old woman as she was leaving her Ardmore home Wednesday night. They say she was in the back seat of a friend's car when Jackson approached wearing a black hoodie and ski mask and knocked on the window before shooting her in the arm. She was taken to a hospital in good condition.

On Thursday, police say Jackson struck again, this time shooting a man in the hip. Police said the suspect was "armed and very dangerous," according to NBC News.

Later that evening, Jackson opened fire on two Bureau of Alcochol, Tobacco and Firearms agents who happened to be in the area and recognized Jackson's vehicle. The suspect injured both agents.

Finally, officers searching for Jackson located him in a in a silver Ford Taurus. The officers chased Jackson, who shot at them. Police returned fire, hitting Jackson several times. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

None of the injuries sustained by victims are considered life-threatening.

Ashley Alman   |   January 17, 2014   12:34 AM ET

A bill introduced by a Republican state lawmaker seeks to exempt Georgians from any new federal gun laws.

The bill, proposed by state Rep. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville), would nullify any future federal gun restrictions, rendering laws that regulate firearms manufactured in Georgia "unenforceable."

Kirby and the bill's cosponsors -- state Reps. Delvis Dutton (R-Glennville), Paulette Braddock (R-Powder Springs), Kevin Cooke (R-Carrollton), David Stover (R-Newnan), and Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) -- want Georgia gun owners to be free from federal laws governing ownership and registration of firearms, ammunition and accessories.

"It's sad that we need a bill like this," Kirby told Creative Loafing Atlanta. "We want to remind Congress that they don't have the right to violate the Second Amendment more than anyone else."

Last year, in the weeks following the mass shooting of elementary school children in Newtown, Conn., Georgia state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) proposed tougher gun restrictions, including a ban on assault weapons.

In response to Kirby's proposal, Fort told Creative Loafing it's "unfortunate" Republicans feel the need to make "extremist, ideological statements."

The American Gun Culture: Standing Your Ground Against the Deadly Use of Popcorn

Bob Cesca   |   January 16, 2014    3:55 PM ET

(In admiring, affectionate memory of The Political Carnival's Paddy Kraska. Safe home, PaddyK.)

As gun violence increases and pro-gun forces achieve new legislation, the gun control movement in the United States is rapidly unraveling. In the year since Sandy Hook, when you'd think there'd be the political and popular will for reasonable new gun regulations, gun sales have reached record highs and AR-15s, the firearm used at Aurora and Sandy Hook, are the trendiest, best-selling weapons in the industry.

And now, in Florida, it's possible that you can lawfully shoot a man in the chest at point-blank range to defend yourself against the lethal use of a popcorn. If not popcorn, definitely Skittles.

The notorious Florida law known as "Stand Your Ground" is back in the news. This time, it's very likely the statute that will be used in defense of the 71-year-old ex-cop, Curtis Reeves, who shot and killed a man, Chad Oulson, inside a Tampa movie theater. Oulson had been texting his daughter's baby-sitter during the trailers to mention that he'd be turning off his cellphone during the movie. Reeves was annoyed by the texting and an argument broke out. No punches were thrown, but Oulson tossed a bag of popcorn at Reeves who responded by brandishing a .380 calibre handgun and shooting Oulson and his wife.

So Reeves told sheriff deputies after his arrest that he was "in fear of being attacked." And Chris Nocco, the Pasco County sheriff, said that Stand Your Ground will surely be used in Reeves' case, though he intends to fight it.

While it's true that Florida state law qualifies the popcorn-throwing as, technically, an assault, there's no logical justification whatsoever for lethal force to be used in response to it. But in Crazy Florida the Stand Your Ground law authorizes deadly force if a person "reasonably believes" he or she is threatened with "great bodily harm" or "death," and it doesn't matter if there's an opportunity to walk away from the fracas.

However, Reeves was the one who started the ill-fated argument, one, and two, there was no indication that Oulson was going to inflict "great bodily harm" or "death." But he can easily make a debatable case for it, given his age and the popcorn attack.

Needless to say, the law is absurd. It expands and indeed bastardizes self-defense, providing a handy-dandy excuse to shoot and kill someone with whom you're having a heated argument. Even if the argument descends into fisticuffs (or aggressive popcorn hurling) there's no logical or proportional need for a firearm to be involved in any way. Stand Your Ground is simply and transparently a catalyst for selling more guns and giving the buyers something to do with them -- all in the ironical name of preventing gun violence.

But none of these details really matter. The very existence of this concealed-carry-Stand-Your-Ground Brundlefly has helped to breed a culture that encourages and even glorifies this inexcusable behavior as somehow dutiful and patriotic.

Reeves and so many others exist in a bubble of hubris, anger and entitlement. Reeves obviously felt as though he was entitled to, as a God-given right, carry a loaded firearm into a movie theater. The possession of that weapon provided him with the 'roid-rage hubris to allegedly instigate a fight, and the existence of Stand Your Ground provided a legal framework in which he could apparently end that fight by discharging his weapon.

In a broader sense, and feeding this sense of entitlement, the gun lobby and the anti-Obama conservative entertainment complex have collectively fabricated a climate of defiant anger in the face of a president who they believe hates white people, hates the Constitution and is clinically obsessed with persecuting anyone who clings to their guns and Christian faith. Anyone following the administration closely enough knows that this isn't anywhere close to being realistic. In fact, until Sandy Hook, President Obama had been mostly and admittedly unresponsive, at least at the policy level, to gun violence.

Yet the very existence of an African-American liberal in the White House has touched off a five year end-times-ish freakout among the more unhinged elements of the conservative movement. We've reached an era in America when it's okay to walk into a fast-food restaurant carrying a semi-automatic assault rifle. It's okay to hang out in a parking lot with a group of cohorts, all armed with loaded military-style weapons. It's okay for a sitting member of Congress to troll liberals by giving away two AR-15s -- again, the Sandy Hook weapon -- in online contests. It's legally permissible and societally acceptable to shoot an unarmed teenager because he was wearing a hoodie, walking the streets while black.

Blogger Milt Shook wrote in the Banter comments yesterday:

Just in the last few weeks, a woman was shot for knocking on a guy's door to ask for help because her car broke down in Michigan. In Colorado, a teenager was shot and killed by her stepfather as she came home after sneaking out all night, because he thought she was a burglar. And in Virginia, another young person was shot and killed when they stumbled into the wrong house because they were too drunk to realize where they were. In every single one of these cases, the shooter had a choice, and chose to take a life immediately, rather than assess the situation and call police for assistance.

Yep. More good guys with guns.

Meanwhile, the gun control effort continues to be an exercise in futility. In the vacuum created by an almost total lack of a serious gun control movement, the quick and easy purchase of firearms will only grow as a resigned acceptance of the gun culture expands. There will only be more Curtis Reeves cases and more George Zimmerman cases. All because we've been conditioned to believe that the law and the Constitution is on the side of the well-armed, heroic shooter, and very seldom on the side of the victim.

Cross-posted at The Daily Banter.

Click here to listen to the Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show podcast.
BobCesca.com Blog with special thanks to Seth Okin.

Philly 'Goods For Guns' Program Wasted Federal Funds, Audit Finds

Ryan J. Reilly   |   January 16, 2014    1:14 PM ET

Read More: gun buyback, guns

WASHINGTON -- A foundation running a program in Philadelphia which allowed members of the public to exchange guns for grocery-store gift cards with no questions asked wasted nearly half-a-million dollars in federal grants, the Justice Department Inspector General found in a report issued Thursday.

The expenditures for the program, also known as Goods For Guns, were unallowable, unsupported and unreasonable, according to the report and a separate related audit, which also found that the executive director of Philadelphia Safety Net, Raymond Jones, spent over $3,000 in federal grant money on unreimbursed personal expenditures. Additionally, the board of PSN -- which included Jones' sister -- didn't properly oversee the organization.

PSN said in response to the findings that it had suspended all operations of the organization until a new board of directors was elected. But the foundation disagrees that Jones was overcompensated, suggesting that since he was PSN's only employee he also performed roles in addition to his job as executive director, including project manager, public relations director, grant manager, office manager and outreach coordinator.

The total unallowed costs associated with PSN included $346,394 related to the executive director's compensation, $43,697 in rent and utilities, gift cards totaling $36,300 and $52,792 in consultant expenditures.