April 2006 Archives

Today marks the 100 year anniversary of the great earthquake of 1906 that hit Northern California on April 18. Somewhere between one and five thousand people were killed in San Francisco alone and until recently the story about the quake and its aftermath has not been adequately told. I think there is much here for criminologists to think about. Why has this story been so long in coming? Obviously we have a centennial anniversary of a great event that may hold commercial promise that could explain the recent interest in this issue. However, the lack of our adequate understanding of what happened is probably much deeper than we imagine. Past researchers have found that the distinctive tourist economy of San Francisco has suppressed its crime problem, and we know that the 1906 quake has been downplayed considerably: in the past it has been shown that photos have been doctored to make it appear that buildings were destroyed by fire and not the quake.

So there is so much more to this story than a quake and the inevitable death and suffering. As with many but not all catastrophic events, there was a law and order period following the event--although no formally declared martial law. In Philip Fradkin's (The Great Earthquakes and Firestorms of 1906: How San Francisco Nearly Destroyed Itself, U C Press, 2005) frank view,

Who, or what, was to blame for the earthquake and its violent aftermath? Not nature, which merely set the events in motion. San Francisco was the city that nearly destroyed itself, and is poised to do so again for most of the same reasons.

It seems pretty clear that Fradkin is not out to make San Francisco look pretty but rather to tell a story that has not been told: one of blatant racism West Coast style; the grab of commerce and price gouging by a power elite; the use of armed guards with orders to kill to protect propertied interests; and the purposeful suppression of the story of the quake.

Previously we noted the possible moratorium on the death penalty in California. Now there is even more activity in this area. An L.A. Times article discusses the UCLA conference on "The Faces of Wrongful Conviction" that took place on April 9, 2006. One speaker commented: "Good morning, my name is Gloria Killian...The state stole 22 years of my life for a robbery and murder I did not commit in Sacramento."

Amnesty International, the ACLU, Death Penalty Focus and others sponsored the event to draw attention to an important issue that a California Senate Commission will be examining. Aside from irrevocable error of executing death row inmates the danger is greater that lifers or long term inmates will experience wrongful conviction since their adjudications and sentences are less closely scruitinized than those of condemned inmates.

Thanks to Barbara Bloom for bringing this event to our attention.

Clocks and Crime

While the F.B.I. has finally decided to unplug their crime clock (a major source of the "x people are robbed, murdered, raped, etc., every minute, hour or day for everywhere regardless of whether there are dramatic differences by jurisdiction; has there ever been a jurisdiction that is exactly what the clock says?), other clocks continue that have very different meanings, implications and potential uses. Take, for example, the Doomsday Clock from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The time is now five (recently changed), not seven, minutes before midnight, when life as we have known it will end. The intention is to draw attention to nuclear war that could happen. Then there is the population clock of the U.S. and World, the National Debt Clock (now at 8.8 trillion) and the Chronic Disease Clock. Many more have probably been created and others could be--although we hope you don't read this and mindlessly go run and do that. So many of the uses of time point to a feeling of potential catastrophe or foreboding. While these are or may be appropriate at times, and although the history of criminology sees more abuse of crime clocks (e.g., in using it to construct the dire crime problem for this or that political purpose) than positive education for constructive change, we look forward to the criminological uses of clocks and time more generally to bring about constructive change in theory, research and practice. The current critique underway of the use of prison time to solve the crime problem gets at this in a clear policy arena (see, e.g., the book, It's About Time). The more extended use of time to alter the denominator in the computation of the nature and extent of crime events is also welcome. Mike Maltz did so in Recidivism, which looks in part at time-controlled survival models; Sally Boggs paved the way in her early work on computing crime rates; a solid standard for recidivism measures is recidivism rates adjusted for time at risk, i.e., whether an offender is actually at risk of offending (not in custody or limited by 'handlers' in some other way); and more recent crimemapping work has the potential to combine time-based crime calculations over geographic, demographic, crime and related dimensions. Even here time denominators need to include potential offender time benchmarks, not just the seconds of an atomic clock, and the variably timed opportunities of offenders for variably timed crime targets.

Should California's Crime Clock on display at the Attorney General's Office, available here (at the bottom of the page) or with a click below, be canned?

View crime clock

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This page is an archive of entries from April 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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