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Critical Essays

  • Terrorism, Extremism and Xenophobia (10/29/2015)             Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 there have been a number of scholarly studies on terrorism. These studies differ greatly from the social construction of the terrorist threat created by the media and politicians. The highly sensationalized and highly selective reporting on terrorism has irresponsibly raised levels of fear and incited discriminatory rhetoric targeting the American Muslim community. Of course, research on terrorism is difficult. But scholarly research on the topic is very useful in providing real knowledge about terrorism and a basis for a realistic awareness
  • Media, Crime and Hegemony (10/22/2015) For three decades scholars in mass communication and criminology have called our attention to the role of the media in the social construction of crime. Study after study has documented how media representations in both the entertainment and news arenas have created a social reality of a dangerous world full of danger and risk populated by stereotyped “others” (Jewkes, 2010; Marsh and Melville, 2009). A flood of mediated images emanating from our televisions, computers, books, newspapers and magazines, movies and even popular music instruct us on the seemingly natural order of the social world. It is through this incessant institutionalized
  • The Violence of Silence in Richmond, KY (10/12/2015) On the morning of October 5th, 2015 Eastern Kentucky University police issued the second public safety alert of terroristic graffiti threatening campus in less than a year. The message “KILL ALL BY 10/8/15 THIS BU OOP” was scrawled across the men’s bathroom wall of the Powell Building on main campus. Some people rolled their eyes at this message as it was conveniently discovered at the beginning of midterms week. Others proceeded with precaution, nervously attending on-campus events, classes, and meetings. Some physically trembled at the thought of setting foot on EKU grounds in the face of such a threat. The message
  • Darren Wilson and American Policing in a Nutshell (8/25/2015) In August the New Yorker published a controversial article focused on Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, MO police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/10/the-cop). The magazine faced some criticism for simply reporting Wilson’s point of view without critical comment. But a careful reading of this piece of “clean” journalism tells us everything we need to know about Mr. Wilson and why Michael Brown died. It also tells us a great deal about what is wrong with policing in the United States. Darren Wilson’s own words are a devastating critique. First, Wilson didn’t live in the community he was policing
  • It is NOT a needle in a haystack: Unearthing Patriarchy in a Rural Landscape (8/10/2015) The concept “rurality” often conjures two opposing images – first, of a bucolic farm, a long gravel road bordered by bales of hay, and a pasture with a herd of cows grazing lazily off the land. The other image is in stark contrast to the first- a vision that has been broadcast by the television and film industry to the mainstream public. In this light, “rural” takes the form of toothless inbred locals rocking back and forth in creaking chairs on the porch and staring down at passersby from an ominous and dilapidated house. It is this second image that
  • Transforming Justice: Lessons in Restorative and Transformative Approaches to Sexual Violence from Social Justice Organizations (6/11/2015) Abstract The criminal justice system rarely produces prosecutions in cases of sexual assault let alone true and enduring satisfaction for the victims and their families (Naylor, 2010). It offers little, if any, provision for perpetrators, their families, or the community that produced them (Hayden, 2012). This view is upheld by the population included in this study: anti-authoritarian (leftist) organizations. Far from frivolous or unorganized in their approach to combating sexual violence within their own ranks, these groups employ interventions in alignment with restorative and transformative justice, which are philosophies and practices representing nonviolent alternatives to retributive or mainstream criminal justice.
  • Organizing and Identity: Intersections, Eviscerations and Individuality (5/4/2015) This essay will annoy, piss-off, and bring denunciations from some of my friends and colleagues. That’s fine. One of the things that politically engaged people who are striving for substantial structural social change fail to do is to identify those things which make success difficult. And that starts by looking at ourselves. I am a white, male, heterosexual, meat-eating, butter-slathering, well-off, whiskey-drinking, cigarette-smoking, elderly professional. Many people looking at that description would assume that I am either a racist insurance salesman thrill-riding with police as an auxiliary cop in Oklahoma, or a corporate shill tea-bagging at a Koch brother’s fundraiser
  • Deservedness, Risk and Late Modernity in Jackie and Eric Garner (1/29/2015) The recent events surrounding the killing of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice have shocked me. I don’t think the events themselves are that shocking anymore, but their proximity and the inspiration they provided for groups of people around the country is surprising. The protests and awareness campaigns make me proud. I’m not sure exactly how to explain why that is, and I think it is somewhat condescending to feel that way, but I can’t think of another appropriate word. Perhaps it’s because of these mixed feelings that I’ve remained relatively quiet. The idea that “they got this,” has
  • The Neoliberal Train for White Supremacism (1/22/2015) (Image: Tiago Hoisel – http://craniumcorporation.org/2014/02/10/a-brief-history-of-neoliberalism-by-david-harvey/) “Some of the commentators on cable television profess to be astounded by the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Only the commentators themselves know if they are genuinely astonished at the disturbances, or if their amazement is just an act for the viewers. But speaking for myself, I, personally, am not a bit surprised, because I have lived through this all before – as have many White Americans… everything old is new again.” -Stormfront user James Harting, August 2014. James Harting, a Hitler-avatar-bearing member of Stormfront, the world’s largest white nationalist website, spoke an unfortunate truth; the
  • Police Violence, Capital and Neoliberalism (1/15/2015) The nationwide movement against police violence and mass incarceration has brought to light the repressive and coercive nature of the criminal justice system in the United States. Attention has been focused on both the egregious disparities in incarceration between the U.S. and other Western industrial states and a plethora of cases of lethal force used by the police against civilians. These are vital issues. But given less attention is the issue of how we have arrived at such violent, coercive and repressive policies of social control in the United States. In this essay I will focus on neoliberalism and its
  • Absolute Capitalism, Mass Murder and Suicide (1/4/2015) Mass murder has become all too common in the United States. From Columbine, to Newtown, to San Bernardino the response has been both predictable and banal. There are almost ritualistic calls for additional controls on firearms. There are commentaries on the problem of mental health. And there are suggestions that the depiction of violence in movies, television programming and video games sparks imitation and stimulates the deeply buried dark impulses in the minds of some potentially dangerous people. To some degree these all have a core of truth. To some degree they all have the exaggerations of myth. Yes, we
  • White Girl Wasted: An Intersectional Examination of Race, Gender and Class in Justice Outcomes (12/11/2014)   It had all the makings of a bad situation: I had swallowed a pill whose name I did not know, chased by a bottle of some sort of alcohol that college boys favored, followed by a few hits of hash. Things were looking up, until a terrible moaning starting coming out of the speakers. This simply would not do. You see, I have a peculiarity that seems to afflict most of the iPod generation. I feel, for no discernable reason, that I have the best taste in music ever. At any rate, some unfortunate soul had put on Led
  • Whiteness and Weed: A Story of Mass Control in America (10/30/2014) The significantly faster rate nonwhites are incarcerated and arrested for the violation of U.S. federal drug laws might lead one to believe that the purpose of this legislation is to control racial minorities. While this is true, the fact that 880,742 people of the 1,382,783, or 64% of the total U.S. drug arrests in 2007 are racially categorized as white makes it inaccurate to suggest federal drug policy seeks to target and control African Americans and Latinos exclusively and absolutely. A historical analysis of federal marijuana prohibition reveals how decades of legislation is informed and influenced by a white racial
  • Ronald Reagan and the Mob (10/2/2014) In the years since Ronald Reagan left the White House, sufficient time has passed for congressional committees, journalistic exposes, and even criminal prosecutions to reveal a pattern of high-level corruption in Reagan’s administration. Indeed, in his first term, forty-five presidential appointees resigned as a result of criminal or ethics investigations. Revelations surrounding the arming of U.S. backed guerrillas in Nicaragua, drug trafficking by these same “contras,” arms shipments to the Middle East, government collusion with money laundering entities such as the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), and foreign policy decisions benefitting countries facilitating drug trafficking, particularly Panama and
  • State Organized Crime and U.S. Imperialism (8/28/2014) The myth of mafias and drug cartels perpetuated by the media and the government deflects attention from and hides one of the most pernicious and powerful forms of organized crime, state-organized crime. Chambliss defines state-organized crime as acts committed by government officials or by the state that are defined by their own laws as criminal (Chambliss, 1986). Governments often engage in criminal acts such as smuggling (arms and drugs), assassination conspiracies, terrorist acts, and other crimes to further their foreign policy objectives or for economic advantage. Needless to say, federal law enforcement, which doesn’t even track political corruption within the
  • Cultural Criminology and Reification of the Ideological Superstructure: An Argument for the Materiality of Signs (8/7/2014) It has become very fashionable of late for leftist criminologists, particularly those associated with the cultural criminology movement, to embrace semiotics, textual critique and discourse analysis as tools for advancing a richer and more critical understanding of crime and justice. In what appears as a well-intentioned attempt to escape the constraints of over-determination, rigid structuralism and simplistic dualities many in the cultural criminology movement have turned to a safe haven of abstraction. In doing so, however, much of the new criminological discourse has become mired in idealism, endless critiques of mythical floating and detached representations of the superstructure and obfuscating
  • NSA Data Collection Program: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength (7/31/2014) As a college student in 1984 I had an introductory class in political science. One of our readings was George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. In 1984 the iron curtain was still hanging and there was more pronounced understanding of freedom because of a reinforced perceptual dichotomy between the Soviet Union and the United States in political and social contexts. For the student Nineteen Eighty-Four was a satire of Stalinism that illuminated the idea that there are forces that would steal the civil liberties of a people and justify their oppressive rule in the name of a supposed greater good.Big Brother’s doublethink,
  • Wilson and van den Haag: Conservative Theories of Crime Control (5/12/2014) Theoretical Assumptions of the Conservative Model   Crime control policy in the United States is grounded in two basic conservative traditions.  The first is an assumption that traditional, hierarchical forms of social organization organized around established values have positive impacts on society.  The second assumption is that any reform is subversive and radical reforms are anarchistic.   At its core, the theory underlying crime control policy in the United States is extremely simple.  There is very little concern with what “causes” crime.  Crime is a legally defined category of behavior and the reality of crime is based on a principle
  • Cocaine Fiends (3/27/2014) The early campaigns against psychoactive drugs in the United States did not focus on issues of drugs and crime, or addiction, or the potential for physical harm. Instead the problems of psychoactive drugs, particularly alcohol, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, were framed in the context of “aliens”—Irish and eastern European Catholics, Jews, African-Americans, and Mexicans. The temperance movement, for example, was a part of a nativist panic over the diminution of traditional white, rural, middle-class, Protestant, native lifestyles in America. As Joseph Gusfield (1963) comments: The power of the Protestant, rural, native Americans was greater than that of the Eastern upper
  • Policing Political Upheaval in the 1960s and Today: Which Side Are You On?* (3/13/2014) The 1960s were a time of great change and great contradiction—a time of youthful optimism as well as political failure. Optimism was fueled by the idealism of millions of young people who profoundly shaped the American culture with their hopes of political and social change. Political failure was ensured by a lack of understanding what it takes to bring about meaningful political change and naivety about just how powerful vested interests were in American society. These contradictions were perhaps best personified in President John F. Kennedy. President Kennedy tapped into youthful enthusiasm when he challenged an entire generation to “ask