Tag Archives: police

Should NV Police Reveal Teen Shooter’s Name?

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If you’ve been following the news this week, you know that a 12-year-old boy brought a gun to Sparks Middle School on Monday, killed teacher Michael Landsberry, wounded two other students and killed himself with a gunshot wound to the head.

In a typical shooting, within 24 hours we would have known the name of the perpetrator. Reporters would have dug up his Twitter and Facebook presences, as well as any other online activity, and speculated about his hobbies, pastimes, passions and motivations. Instead, the Sparks police are refusing to identify him because he is a juvenile. A handful of news outlets have obtained his identity by other means, but say they’re waiting for official confirmation before publishing it.

At the same time, the press — particularly leaders with the Nevada Press Association — are rightly pointing out that the identity of a deceased suspect, even a juvenile, is public record and can’t legally be withheld.

One the one hand, protecting the shooter’s identity prevents journalists from hastily reporting on his activities and leading readers to the wrong conclusions, as we’ve seen in so many other shootings — Columbine in particular. On the other, it’s troubling when government officials, whose salaries are paid by the public, choose to keep rightfully public information to themselves.

Where do you come down on this issue? Should the shooter’s identity be protected or revealed? Why?

UK pony death: Satanists? No, hungry animals.

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Photo by Flickr user treehouse1977.

Shortly after a pony was killed in Dartmoor, England in July, journalists were quick to report that a Satanic cult was involved. The pony was found dead “with its tongue and eyes cut out, and its genitals and right ear sliced off at Yennadon Down, a remote, bushy area of the Devon National Park,” the Telegraph reported. “Experts,” including the area’s animal-protection officer, said Satanists were to blame.

However, after a police investigation, a more likely culprit has come to light: wild animals took bites from the pony, causing the wounds described in the Telegraph. Here’s what they said:

Devon and Cornwall police concluded earlier this week that the pony had died of natural causes. The much-discussed “mutilation” was not, in fact, mutilation at all, but instead the normal result of wild animals eating the pony’s organs and scattering its entrails.

“Initial media reports linked the death of the pony to satanic cults and ritualistic killing,” the police said in a statement. “The police have sought the advice of experts and have come to the view that the death of this pony was through natural causes. All the injuries can be attributed to those caused by other wild animals. This incident received significant media reporting, some of which was clearly sensationalist.”

If this sounds in any way familiar to you, that may be because it’s similar to what forensic experts found in the West Memphis Three case — more than a decade after three teens went to jail for their supposedly “Satanic ritual” killing of three young boys. Originally, experts claimed that the marks on the boys’ bodies were caused by a ritual knife; that turned out not to be the case. The teens, now in their 30s, were later released under an Alford plea.

July’s pony killing is not the first time rural England has been gripped with speculation about an equine death linked to so-called “occult” practices. Last January, a shadowy (and likely made-up) group was blamed for a horse’s death, mainly because it was killed on a supposedly Satanic holiday that turned out to have been fabricated by conservative Christians. In another instance, Satanists were blamed for a horse’s beheading last May. I will grant that in the latter case, the activity of wild animals seems less likely. But Satanic activity is just as unlikely, considering most most Satanists don’t practice animal sacrifice.

The larger problem, of course, is that hardly anyone knows that. There’s so much misinformation about Satanic and other occult practices — misinformation that seems plausible enough that people actually believe it — that folks have little reason to dig deeper before they start pointing fingers. As the Livescience article says:

One problem is that most ranchers and livestock officials have no idea what occurs in a real animal ritual sacrifice, so they can hardly make a valid comparison. Though animal sacrifice has been a part of many religions (including Christianity, Judaism and Islam), these days, the practice is mostly limited to Afro-Caribbean religions such as Santería, which has very specific procedures and rituals for the sacrifice (and typically sacrifice chickens or goats, not horses). … Of course, with something as mysterious and clandestine as suspected satanists, anything could be assumed to be the result of their sinister actions.

Satanists make a convenient and exciting scapegoat for such incidents. But these kinds of allegations can result in very real consequences for practicing Satanists, who are suspected, as a whole, of brutally slaughtering animals. That isn’t accurate and it isn’t fair.

“Law Enforcement Guide to Satanic Cults” Clip

I could comment, but the comments in the video pretty much speak for themselves. I sincerely hope no police officers watching this video actually took it as a form of education — or as a basis for action against actual occultists or Satanists.

Chantel Garrett’s “Three Steps to Fix Our Mental Health System and Prevent Violence”


Brain images from people with schizophrenia. Photo by Flickr user http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca.

In the month since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary (which as far as we know, was not committed by someone with mental illness), I’ve been encouraged by how much of the conversation has been framed around mental health and the lack of services for those who need them. We saw that front-and-center with Liza Long’s powerful “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” post. We’ve seen it elsewhere, too. I want to call attention another such story today, because it makes great points about what’s missing and what society needs to do — not only to curb mass shootings, but also to help the many, many nonviolent people who struggle with mental illness daily but can’t get the help they need because it doesn’t exist or isn’t available to them.

Chantel Garrett wrote this piece about her brother, Max, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. In her article, she doesn’t just talk about how difficult it is for Max to stay afloat. She also offers concrete steps for repairing the system so that Max and others like him might hope for functional, fulfilling lives.

Mostly, I want to let Garrett do the talking here, because she does it well:

2) Change the law to more easily help an adult loved one get involuntary care when they desperately need it – before anyone gets hurt.

We must begin to fill the gaps in the mental health care system that could have potentially helped to prevent recent massacres at the hands of people in need of psychiatric intervention. Studies show that early intervention greatly improves the prospect for recovery. In my own experience with my brother, a first dose of anti-psychotics during a psychotic episode palpably reduces paranoia and hallucinations.

A few years ago, Max went off his medication, barricading himself in his apartment and warning his family to stay away. In an extremely psychotic state, he plastered the Web with terrifying words and images, predominantly aimed at the people who love him most. While punishing to read, as the time and severity of his symptoms wore on, his posts became our only proof that he was still alive – our only hope that he could still get help.

For two months, my parents and I campaigned the local police to knock down his door and get him to a hospital. My dad became a fixture at the police station. We sent the police chief Max’s blog and threatening emails. We explained his diagnosis, his years of involuntary hospital commitments and dire need for care before he did more permanent damage to his brain. His neighbors also called the police to complain. The police went to his house multiple times but said they didn’t have cause to forcefully enter. Their response was always the same. “We understand that he’s very sick, but what has he done? Call us when he’s done something and we’ll pick him up.”

Males with schizophrenia most often become symptomatic in their late teens to early 20s. From a legal standpoint, parents hands are often tied trying to get help for their sick child who is of legal age, with the current standard of “danger to oneself or others” far too hazardous.

The “dangerous” bar is too high to get someone with acute psychotic symptoms care when they need it most – and when they are the largest threat to themselves and, potentially, their family and community. Why should it not instead be a standard of gravely disabled – unable to care for oneself or for others? Surely, if the police could have somehow glimpsed at him and his apartment, they would have immediately seen that he was unable to care for himself.

We need to change the law, and create a mental health workforce working alongside officers and families to provide more proactive, onsite assessment of people who are credibly unable to care for themselves – before it gets to the point of “dangerous.”

Do you know someone who’s mentally ill and prone to violence when they’re in their darkest periods? If so, what do you think would help them the most?

Satanism, Santeria, or Sensationalism?


Is a torched chicken Satanic? Photo by Flickr user adactio.

Step 1: Patrol the local cemetery at night.

Step 2: Find a patch of burned ground.

Step 3: Find a dead, burned chicken.

Step 4: Find an empty bottle of cologne nearby.

Step 5: Conclude Satanism is involved.

Wow. Do they teach this stuff in the police academy?

Honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this particular bit of deductive reasoning. Maybe the fact that this incident took place near Halloween is what set the police officer’s Satan-radar off; I’m not sure. The article is much less about the actual incident in question and more about a string of supposedly Santeria-related activities involving everything from dead animals to human skulls and, er, coconuts.

Because, of course, a bunch of police guesswork is the same thing as proof of an “upswing of occult activity in Bridgeport, much of it related to voodoo or Santeria.”

Unfortunately, one thing it doesn’t include is any information from actual Santeria practitioners, or Satanists for that matter, to discuss such things as a) their actual religious/spiritual practices, b) whether those practices routinely involve harming animals, and c) how these groups feel being mistaken for each other. (Try calling a Catholic a Mormon sometime, or vice versa. After all, they both believe in Jesus, right? Just try. See what happens.)

As I’ve said here before, Satanists rarely, if ever, practice animal sacrifice. Those who do harm animals under the banner of Satanism probably aren’t dedicated practitioners, but dabblers who don’t know what they’re doing, and are following horror movies or misguided web sites or books — they aren’t the real deal.

Santeria does, at times, involve animal sacrifice — and, by the way, it’s protected under the Constitution after a 1993 Supreme Court vote. It’s part of the religion, practiced rarely and carefully, and shouldn’t be touted as ooky-spooky “occult” ritual and certainly not “Satanic.” However, it’s hard to say whether these particular incidences in Connecticut were the work of a devoted Santerian, since I’ve been told that just leaving animals lying around — or, in this case, leaving one of them alive and half-burned, isn’t considered a respectful part of their religious practice.

In other words, it’s wrong to peg such acts on a particular faith without a much deeper knowledge of the incident in question, and who perpetrated it. Right now, all they’re doing is making Satanists and Santerians look bad, and that’s not right.

Is Satanism worse than child abuse?


After Lotts was arrested on child-abuse charges, why did his interest in Satanism seem more relevant than his sex-offender status?

Alleged criminal John Lotts, Jr., made news recently when he was arrested on charges of assaulting a 5-year-old Tennessee boy. According to police, the boy had “multiple injuries, including a laceration to the liver, and kidney contusions.” The boy’s mom was also arrested for failing to protect her son from the attack.

Gruesome enough, right?

Let’s look at the first sentence of the news article about Lotts’ arrest from the NewsChannel5.com site, based in Nashville:

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — A self-confessed Satanist is behind bars charged with abusing a five-year-old boy. Detectives suspect it may have been part of a satanic ritual or torture.

The first sentence of any news article — called the lede — is written specifically to grab attention. The first thing reporter Nick Beres mentions is the alleged Satanism angle, even before he gets to the child abuse. The latter should be attention-grabbing enough, right? So why does it play second fiddle to a piece of personal information?

The rest of the story is a confusion of information: After Lotts was arrested, police questioned him. During questioning, he “produced a red card and declared himself a member of the Church of Satan.” While it’s true that CoS members sometimes carry red cards, it’s unclear why Lotts would mention this during the interview, particularly since he then had to disavow the police of the idea that his alleged assault had anything to do with his religious beliefs.

In fact, Lotts came right out and told the reporter that he “admitted to harming the child after losing his temper, but said his Satanism had nothing to do with what happened.” And, to be fair, the reporter looked at the Church of Satan web site and commented that “the web site also clearly states that it is wrong to harm little children.”

However, Beres waits until the very last sentence to mention perhaps the most pertinent piece of information about this man charged with violence against children: he is a convicted sex offender in the state of Tennessee.

Let’s revisit that lede again. Wouldn’t this be just as compelling?

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — A convicted sex offender is behind bars charged with abusing a five-year-old boy.

You’d read that, right?

And it wouldn’t give you the mistaken impression that Satanism had anything to do with the crime.

If Lotts had revealed to police that he was a CostCo member, or held a library card, they wouldn’t immediately leap to the conclusion that those memberships had anything to do with the abuse of a child. Waving around a red Church of Satan card shouldn’t be any different. The only reason it did is because the police in this instance — and in many instances — are so ill-informed about the actual practices of Satanists and other minority faiths.

Blaming Grand Theft Auto insults rioters, ignores real reasons for youth rage

Here’s what we know so far:

* A London father named Mark Duggan was allegedly shot and killed by police last Thursday in the north London neighborhood of Tottenham.

* Rioting in working-class neighborhoods in London began on August 6, two days after Duggan’s death. Demonstrations, and then vandalism, violence, and looting, followed in Tottenham, Croydon, Wood Green, Enfield Town, Ponders End and Brixton.

* Violence spread to other cities in England, including Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham, Bristol, Kent, and Leeds.

* More than 500 Britons have been arrested, and more than 111 police officers have been hurt.

* Rioters are communicating partly by way of a BlackBerry service called BlackBerry Messenger, which allows for simultaneous communication similar to an online chat.

* Because the uprising is taking place predominantly in working-class communities, some say the violence has been percolating for years, just waiting for a spark:

It is demonstrative of how far Labour has sunk that it is barely considered a voice for those people on the streets, and it is of the utmost importance — if Labour is to against be simultaneously left-wing and electorally successful — that it once again gets in touch with those it has unfortunately abandoned.

Because, to be honest, that is what causes riots — disenfranchisement … Many of the rioters will have been unable to vote in the last election, and are now being hit hardest by the Coalition’s cuts. Cuts to EMA and youth services seem to be designed to specifically target the young and disadvantaged.

That only adds to a general environment which has been growing over the last decade (and perhaps longer) of anti-youth hysteria. In Maidstone and in towns and cities across the country, young people are treated like vermin to be kept away from shops and fast food outlets with a ‘mosquito’ device.

In the above video, journalist and political leader Darcus Howe says his own kids have lost count of the number of times his son has been searched by police. He also makes the case that it’s wrong to classify these actions as “riots”:

“I don’t call it rioting, I call it an insurrection of the masses of the people. It is happening in Syria, it is happening in Clapham, it’s happening in Liverpool, it’s happening in Port-au-Spain, Trinidad, and that is the nature of the historical moment.”

Meanwhile, the police — the very police whose actions against Duggan (justified or not) and whose actions against the young people of these poor communities may have sparked their anger — are blaming something else entirely.

Are you ready for it?

Grand Theft Auto.

In Tottenham, the scene of the first riots on Saturday night, a police officer said: ‘These are bad people who did this. Kids are out of control.

‘When I was young it was all Pacman and board games. Now they’re playing Grand Theft Auto and want to live it for themselves.’

When youth grow up facing attitudes like that, it’s no wonder they’re angry, bashing cars and torching shops.

It’s beyond insulting to the people of these communities to write off such deeply held rage as the product of playing a video game. Such statements lay bare the gulf of misunderstanding that lies between those in power and the powerless. The story of this violence is, in some ways, the story of every act of youth violence: in the effort to raise their voices, to be heard, to claim a moment of power, however senseless or misguided, their acts are once again misnamed, misinterpreted, misunderstood, and dismissed.

As long as this ignorance continues, so will the violence.