5 posts from Current Affairs


Ferguson, MO: The Mixture of Race, Crime, Police Use of Force and the Utility of Riots

Dr-Arthur-H-GarrisonBy Dr. Arthur Garrison, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice at Kutztown University

On August 9th, Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. As soon as the killing was made public, every politician, platitude, accusation, argument, justification, rationalization and defense that exists in these types of situations was heard on T.V. and radio. Nothing was new. Then, two nights later, fully armed in riot and militarized SWAT gear, the police moved onto the protestors with tear gas, flash grenades and armed vehicles. There was nothing new in the police using force on what they perceived as African American rioters and looters. What was new was the equipment the police used to suppress them. On that night, the public was introduced to the fact that the U.S. military, since 9/11, has been providing local police departments with surplus military grade equipment.

After the police use of militarized force, the Governor of Missouri removed the Ferguson police as lead agency to deal with security and appointed the state police as the new agency in charge. The officer in command, Captain Ronald S. Johnson, was able to bring a sense of calm and control that reduced the tension on the street. Two days later, the Chief of the Ferguson police released a video showing Brown committing a strong robbery in a local grocery shortly before his confrontation with Wilson. The release of the video occurred during the same press conference in which the Chief identified Wilson as the officer who killed Brown. A few hours later, the Chief stated that Wilson did not know Brown was suspected of the robbery when the confrontation occurred. That night the police were met with a riot and wholesale resentment by the press.

From this point on, the case has been met with calls for special prosecutors and condemnation of President Obama for saying too little and saying too much about the whole incident. Attorney General Eric Holder has been praised and vilified for sending in the Justice Department Civil Rights Division and the FBI. Commentary has proved, again, that there is a significant difference between how African Americans and Caucasians see this entire case. African Americans assume racial bias on the part of the officer and intentional cover-up or mishandling of the case because the loss of Brown's life is of no consequence to the police. Caucasians assume that race has little or nothing to do with the case because police don't shoot African Americans for no reason. Further, conservatives asked, if black life is so important to the protestors and politicians, why don't they decry the death of African American youth that were killed in Chicago during the same period as the unrest in Ferguson?

There is no simple answer to any of this. But there is one thing that we all can agree on. Riots make society stop and ask why. Riots have utility. Riots are both cause and effect.

Martin Luther King said of riots,

"But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard."

Thomas Jefferson said of rebellion while reflecting on the proposed Constitution,

"God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion . . . .What country ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it's natural manure."

It is interesting that it's King who teaches us that riots disrupt communities economically, socially and politically; while it's Jefferson who teaches us that riots are a toll of liberty, the remedy of the people and the creator of positive social and political change.


Hobby Lobby, An Example of What Does Not Matter

Dr-Arthur-H-GarrisonBy Dr. Arthur Garrison, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice at Kutztown University

In the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., Hobby Lobby asserted that from its religious perspective, anything that prevented the fertilized egg from growing into a baby -- by definition -- was in the same category as abortion. Under the Affordable Care Act, employers are required to provide a base level of care within the health care insurance that they provide to their employees. Birth control is included in that base level coverage. Under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules, there are twenty different types of contraception methods. Hobby Lobby sued the Department of Health and Human Services (DHH) regulations that included four methods of contraceptives. The first two methods are "day after" or emergency contraceptives -- Plan B (levonorgestrel-LNG) and Ella (ulipristal acetate-UPA). The second two methods are intrauterine devices (IUDs) -- levonorgestrel releasing intrauterine system (LNG-IUS) and the copper Intrauterine Device (Cu-IUD). Hobby Lobby in its arguments to the Court asserted that it opposed the specific funding of these four methods of contraceptives because they are "abortifacients" and that "they have no objection to the other 16 FDA-approved methods of birth control."

Fair enough. What was completely missed by the Court and the reaction to the decision is that Hobby Lobby was factually wrong. These four methods are not "abortifacients." A brief submitted to the Court by a group of medical scientists explained that Plan B, "levonorgestrel (LNG), [is] a synthetic version of the naturally-occurring hormone progesterone [that] works by preventing or disrupting ovulation, but is not effective after ovulation has already occurred." The reason being, "LNG does not cause changes to the endometrium (uterine lining) that would hamper implantation." Ella "acts on human progesterone receptors."  It "works later in the pre-ovulatory cycle, when [Plan B] is no longer effective."

Here is the point. The "claim that Plan B and Ella prevent implantation is not supported by current scientific data or by evidence in the record below. To the contrary, scientific research shows that Plan B and Ella both function by inhibiting or postponing ovulation; they do not prevent fertilization or implantation." As for the two types of IUDs, the "LNG-IUS works primarily by thickening the cervical mucus, thereby preventing sperm from reaching the egg." "The Cu-IUD affects the motility and viability of sperm and impairs their fertilizing capability." The brief goes on to explain that none of the methods can dislodge a fertilized egg, the scientific definition of abortifacients. A Google search confirms the assertions made in the brief.

The Court and both sides of the litigation bypassed the brief altogether. Rather than focusing on the science of these methods and the legal/factual issue of whether the four methods were in fact violative of religious convictions, the Court ruled that for-profit corporations were "persons" under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) and that that the RFRA protects for-profit organizations that "wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the man¬ner required by their religious beliefs." The Court could have ruled that since the four methods did not violate Hobby Lobby's religious values because they were not abortifacients, Hobby Lobby was legally obligated to offer these four methods along with the other sixteen. This limited approach would have avoided the current result in which the Court provided a legal determination that left open more questions than it answered.


Marijuana Legalization is Dangerous to Pennsylvania's Youth

Doyle-HeffleyBy Doyle Heffley, State Representative of the 122nd Legislative District
Pennsylvania's drug-induced deaths rank higher than the national average. In fact, a few years ago, more than 1,800 residents of Pennsylvania died as a direct consequence of drug use, compared to the number of Pennsylvanians who died from motor vehicle accidents (1,604) and firearms (1,325) in that same year.
In Carbon County alone, there's been a sharp increase in drug overdose-related deaths since 1996.  In 2007, four adults died of drug overdoses in our county. That figure spiked significantly in 2010, when 18 county residents, including one person under the age of 21, died of drug overdoses.
With marijuana being the second most abused drug in Pennsylvania, I can't help but wonder why some state lawmakers are pushing legislation to legalize recreational use of this gateway drug.
State Rep. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), in his recent opinion-editorial, "Legalize Marijuana: We're Locking Up Pennsylvanians for No Reason at Great Cost," said the only crime committed by those who smoke marijuana is "smoking a plant which makes them feel giddy," and that the perception of marijuana being a gateway drug is false.
Well, here are the facts.
A 2012 Yale University study, which appears online in the Journal of Adolescent Health, showed that alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana were associated with an increased likelihood of prescription drug abuse in men ages 18 to 25. In women of that age, marijuana use was also linked with a higher likelihood of prescription drug abuse.
More specifically, the Yale researchers focused on a sample of more than 55,000 18- to 25-year-olds. Of those, about 12 percent reported that they were abusing prescription opioids. Of the group abusing these drugs, more than 34 percent had used marijuana. Among both men and women, those who had used marijuana were 2.5 times more likely than those their age who abstained to later dabble in prescription drugs.
Perhaps it's a mere coincidence that the most abused drug in Pennsylvania is heroine? After all, the increase in prescription drug abuse is fueling a rise in heroin addiction, according to a recent NBC News report. A growing number of young people who start abusing expensive prescription drugs are switching to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to buy.
According to Pennsylvania's most recent "Youth Survey Report" results, nearly 20 percent of students in grades six, eight, 10, 12 across the Commonwealth admitted to using marijuana at least once in their lifetimes. More than 5 percent of those students also admitted to abusing painkillers.
Marijuana legalization brings questions to the minds of parents and causes confusion for our children. Frighteningly, it can also cause the misperception that marijuana is not a harmful drug.
Studies have shown that teen marijuana use can aggravate depression and affect the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is not fully developed in teens. The list of negative affects is long, but that message can be challenged in the minds of our youth with marijuana legalization.
It is important that parents in Carbon County and the entire state keep talking to their kids about the harmful effects of marijuana and educate themselves on marijuana facts.
I am hosting a free Carbon County Drug and Alcohol Awareness Expo on Thursday, April 18, from 6-8 p.m. at the Lehighton Area High School, for parents and educators to gather more information on substance abuse.
Keep the message straight with the youth across the Commonwealth: Despite talks of legalization, marijuana is still a dangerous drug.


Learning from Sandusky Case

Sarcc_logoOctober 9, 2012

Dear Editor,

For many, the sentencing of Jerry Sandusky for his sexual abuse of 10 boys over 15 years can't come soon enough. Sandusky's abusive behavior and Penn State's initial response has been a painful reminder of ways in which adults and organizations fail to protect our vulnerable children. The unprecedented NCAA sanctions against Penn State and the more general condemnation of some college’s “over the top, win at any cost" culture of sports has been an eye opener. Our surprise has not been that this culture exists, but with the fact that it can so dramatically compromise the safety of our children.

For all that is disturbing about this case and all those that have been harmed, there is the potential for good to come from what we have learned.

Estimates suggest that each day tens of millions of youth participate in activities that could be made safer by systematic prevention activities. While many organizations already incorporate prevention efforts, ALL organizations working with children or teens would benefit from stronger screening policies, regular self-assessment, and greater efforts to empower staff to keep youth safety in the forefront. The Sandusky case also reminds us that we need to do more to educate parents and the public about the everyday role that they can play in creating safer environments for children. SARCC is committed to ending sexual violence by educating adults and children in how to prevent violence by learning the skills necessary to be a good bystander. We can’t do this work alone. It takes a community to change this norm.

In the long run, the real tragedy of the Sandusky case will be measured by how we respond to this tragedy. Child sexual abuse is preventable and there is a role for all of us. Take time today to find out what you can do in your community to make the world safer for all of our children.


Jenny Murphy-Shifflet

For additional resources, visit SARCC’s website or to volunteer.


Voter ID Needed To Combat Voter Fraud

Rep_Charlie_DentBy U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (PA-15)

In several Pennsylvania newspapers, I've recently read letters to the editor and opinion pieces opposing our Commonwealth's new voter ID law. Many of these essays erroneously claim voter fraud is a rarity in Pennsylvania, making the new law unnecessary. The truth is voter fraud has a long and well-documented history in our state. Want proof?

In 2007, canvassers working for ACORN in Berks County filed fraudulent voter registration forms to qualify for pay bonuses from the organization, resulting in a prison sentence for one perpetrator. In 2008, fraud occurred in nearby Dauphin County when an ACORN employee similarly filed more than 100 bogus registrations over the course of a single week. Within the last few years, numerous well-documented cases like these have been investigated across Pennsylvania.

Regrettably, the Commonwealth's largest city, Philadelphia, has developed a deplorable reputation for incidents of voter fraud. Many of us remember when U.S. District Judge Clarence Newcomer unseated State Senator Bill Stinson (D-Phila) in 1994 after it was discovered widespread voter fraud -- perpetrated through the absentee ballot process -- helped Stinson steal an election from Bruce Marks (R-Phila). Philadelphia's most memorable case of fraudulent activities is well documented in court records, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other regional media outlets.

In the early 1990's, Pennsylvania had a sensible policy of purging individuals' names from the voter rolls if they had not voted within a reasonable time period. Consequently, in a few weeks we are likely to learn that in Philadelphia there will be tens-of-thousands of more registered voters than citizens of voting age. Sadly, this should come as no surprise, as better than 100 percent turnout has been reported in some voting precincts in Philadelphia during recent Presidential elections. While the purging of voter rolls ensured those who died or relocated were no longer registered, even that practice could not guarantee the identity of legitimate voters.

Unfortunately, voter fraud is not isolated to Pennsylvania and has an inglorious history in many states. How can we forget Cook County, Illinois, where in the 1960 presidential race, ballots were miraculously cast by countless deceased voters. Or New York City, where in 1993 the Rudy Guiliani campaign for mayor famously witnessed individuals riding buses from poll to poll to cast multiple votes.

And just like Pennsylvania, voter fraud remains a serious problem across the country today. In 2008, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) defeated incumbent Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) by a mere 312 votes. Later, it was revealed over 1,000 convicted felons, a population ineligible to cast ballots, voted in the Minnesota election -- enough votes to affect the outcome of the race. And just a few days ago, a Democratic Congressional candidate in Maryland was forced to abandon her campaign when it was revealed she voted in both Maryland and Florida during the 2006 general election and 2008 presidential primaries.

In the United States, the principle of one man one vote is sacrosanct. A fraudulently cast vote negates one cast by an honest American. I believe it is imperative we not only count every vote, but ensure the integrity of every vote. While some will claim voter fraud is not a serious enough problem to warrant the new law and argue it will fail to eliminate all fraudulent activity, it certainly is a reasonable approach to achieving greater integrity in our democratic process.

Other than far left political activists and media antagonists, I have discovered few reasonable people believe the requirement to present photo ID when voting is an electoral barrier. In fact, the proposal has garnered widespread public support throughout our region, where residents are accustomed to presenting photo ID to cash a check, board an airplane, or buy a beer at an Phillies game.