Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Musings

“Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.”  ~W.J. Cameron  

I share the above quote with you for two reasons: First, I want us all to take a moment to truly appreciate the things we have, not just by saying “Thanks” but by taking action. You can show gratitude with a kind word, a charitable donation, or a change of mind/heart.  During this special holiday, we all could stand to be a little more selfless and a little less hectic.  And a little more “doing.”

I chose W.J. Cameron specifically to quote because he was a pretty notorious red-headed gentleman. Red-heads are supposed to be hot-headed, right? Well, apparently this trait isn’t limited to read-heads.

Have you heard about the tragic beating of a young child because of his hair color? Read the story here 

I absolutely cannot believe that kids would be “inspired” by a cartoon character to beat up on a classmate -- just because he had red hair.  Apparently, a 12-year-old boy was beaten up on the campus of A.E. Wright Middle School in Calabasas by as many as 14 of his classmates! The students who participated in the attack were allegedly motivated by a Facebook message telling them that November 20th was “Kick a Ginger Day.” (A ‘ginger’ is a label that was used in a South Park episode for people with red hair, freckles and fair skin). This episode aired in 2005 to satirize racial intolerance – but the 12-year-olds evidently didn’t understand the satire and took it literally.

I want to echo the comments of several HLN experts who said very clearly that it is not the “fault” of the TV cartoon, but rather the fault of the parents for not explaining the different between TV satire and real life. There is always going to be violence and intolerance portrayed in the media (online, on TV, in videos, and in the movies). It is the job of every parent to help their kids distinguish between a “joke” and real-life hateful/unacceptable behavior.   So this weekend, while you are taking time to be thankful, perhaps you can use this example around the family dinner table to talk about tolerance with your kids! 

Finally, I received another one of those gratitude lists via email called “Why I Am Thankful”, and I thought it was apropos (and actually worth sharing):

I am thankful for the teenager who is complaining about doing dishes, because it means she is at home.

I am thankful for the taxes I pay, because it means that I am employed.

I am thankful for the mess to clean up after a party, because it means I have been surrounded by friends.

I am thankful for the clothes that fit a little too snugly, because it means I have enough to eat.

I am thankful for all the complaining I hear in the media, because it means I have freedom of speech.

I am thankful for the huge heating bill, because it means I am warm.

I am thankful for the pile of laundry and ironing because it means I have clean clothes to wear.

I am thankful for the parking spot at the far end of the lot, because it means I am capable of walking.

I am thankful for the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours, because it means I am able to get up.

I am thankful for too much email because it means I have friends and colleagues who are thinking of me!

Have a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving! 

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It Happens Everyday: Cases of Abuse

It Happens Everyday.  It really does.  I am not just saying it because it’s the title of my book, I am saying it because it is so.  There is not a day that goes by that I don’t get a word of a new a case of abuse.  Many of you are thinking of course you hear about it everyday you are a DA.  Well, actually I am not anymore (always will be at heart but not in profession) yet I still am inundated with stories and cases of abuse.  

For whatever reason in the last few months my worlds of sex crimes and legal commentating has merged as several high profile cases made there way to the news.  But even as much as it is “out there” from a news place it is amazes how many people are still too “icked” out to even talk about it. 

Who am I talking about when I say people have a hard time stomaching sexual assault. I am referring to a very specific group---the media.  Not all media, but a lot of it.  I probably sit in two meetings a week talking to different producers,  production companies,  networks, etc.  with the people who have the ability to choose programming only to be found that this topic is just to darn tough.  I am not saying I disagree and I understand it feels tough to find a sponsor who wants to put their brand on this issue but someone has to!   

Last week I was on Dr. Phil. It was so refreshing to hear him say it like it is he said something to the effect of this is difficult television, not television that everyone wants to hear but it is responsible television.  Amen, Phil!  Thank goodness you have the cajones to use your space, your platform, your stage to give light to such an important issue.  And not just for a segment, not just for the high profile cases, but for a whole show highlighting real cases, real people.   

As a society, we can talk about all kinds of crimes-murderers, gangs, and domestic violence with no problem.  We don’t think twice about preparing kids about what to do in a fire, earthquake, or tornado.  We observe and discuss the media and over-sexualization of teenagers.  We go to the movies and laugh at slapstick, dark, and inappropriate humor and even go to horror and thriller movies with sick enjoyment.   We watch CSI, Law and Order with ease and barely flinch at the Dr. 90210.   

Yet despite all of this people are constantly telling me they are scared to talk to their kids or even each other about protecting us and our children from sexual abuse.  But, it’s time.  Just like the time was about 10 years ago to make breast cancer a focus of national concern amongst women and men, it is time for people to feel just as comfortable talking about keeping our bodies safe as it is to wear pink, admit we have fought and beat cancer, and stand strong together.

In order victims—children and adults alike to become survivors they need to have a place to speak and the place begins with recognizing that there is an epidemic of sexual abuse in our society.  And even if you don’t buy into the statistics put out by organizations or even the government, I can tell you from my own case load, working in the trenches of Los Angeles County that sexual assault is rampant.  It is rampant amongst whites, blacks, Hispanics, men, women, children, and crosses all socio-economic boundaries.  And while the preference is to think that the sexual abuse occurs in dark alleys by random strangers the fact is that at least 85% (if not more) is perpetrated by someone the victim knows.   

So as much as people want to bury their heads in the sand it is time to recognize there is an issue and start talking about it.  As soon as we have the conversations with each other and our kids, we will be able to do more to prevent it as well as help allow victims to come forward so they can make their way towards healing and survival.    

Friday, November 13, 2009

An Example of Expedient Justice

As most of you already know, John Allen Muhammad, 48, was executed this past Tuesday night for terrorizing the D.C. area for three weeks in 2002 with sniper attacks that left 10 people dead.

In 2003, a Virginia jury sentenced him to death for one of the murders, specifically that of Dean Harold Meyers. The victim was killed while pumping gas at station in Manassas, Virginia. Muhammad’s defense lawyers argued that he was not mentally competent to stand trial, but the courts disagreed and he was found guilty.

Muhammad hunted people going about their daily chores, but why he chose his victims, including a middle school kid on his way to class, and how many victims there were still remains a mystery. Muhammad was silent as he was executed, leaving the victims who survived and the survivors of those frustrated. They had hoped for some insight as to why and how he plotted the killings, as had the public at large. They would not get their wish.

But overriding this disappointment is the good news: in this case, justice has been served!

Muhammad changed his name from John Allen Williams after converting to Islam. He had been in and out of the military since he graduated from high school in Louisiana and entered the National Guard. He joined the Army in 1985 and was a Gulf War veteran. Although he did not take special sniper training, he did earn an “expert” rating in the M-16 rifle (the military equivalent of the .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle used in the shootings).

The U.S. Supreme Court turned down Muhammad’s final appeal on Monday evening and Governor Timothy Kaine denied clemency Tuesday afternoon. Muhammad was executed that night, much to the relief of those who felt that justice often moves too slowly.

I am so impressed by the expediency of justice in this case. It was only six years from conviction (2003) to execution (2009). The way this case went through the system is impressive. No matter what you think about the death penalty itself, no one can deny that it is a sad case all around. The deaths, the loss for the families of the victims, are truly heartbreaking – it’s the worst part of being human when we see senseless killings occurring and are unable to stop them.

In Muhammad’s case, we have an excellent example of how such cases can quickly move through the justice system! We can actually resolve a death sentence case of this magnitude without giving up anyone’s legal rights.  Six years is a reasonable period for a case to run, and for true justice to be provided. The sniper had every legal right available to him, and used them. The ultimate resolution--the death penalty--was handed down with sureness and relative speed, just as it should be.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Online Safety During the Holidays

There has been a lot of banter on the news this week about online safety (at least until the arrest  of Anthony Sowell, accused serial murderer, with the potential bones of 11 missing women’s bodies found in the walls of his home)!

Every day, online safety comes up in some form, whether it’s questioning the benefits of technology or contemplating the worst fate possible for mankind. There is a continuing debate about how technology helps or hurts crime, so we can’t help but be aware of what goes on in the land of the world-wide web.

A CNN report explored this issue this week in the article, Social Networks and Kids: How young is too young? (link) As many of you already know, this is my area of specialty and my passion.  Whatever we may think, the good, the bad, the productive, the addictive—internet technology is here to stay!

We all know how important it is to take precautions to keep our kids safe online (and if you don’t know, I’m telling you now)! As our President said to a group of students, “Be careful what you post on Facebook”… So, what precautions are you taking for yourself, as well as your children? Identity theft, among other hazards, is a very real and scary online problem, so don’t give your credit card numbers (or any other personal information) to any sites unless you’re 100% sure they’re legitimate.

Many of you will be cruising online this month for special holiday deals—(and cheers to you for helping fortify our economy)! Now, have any of you heard of Cyber Monday? I hadn’t--just a sign that Hallmark doesn’t make cards for that holiday!

Anyway, this is what I learned: the “official definition of Cyber Monday is:

“…..the Monday immediately following Black Friday, the ceremonial kick-off of the holiday online shopping season in the United States between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Whereas Black Friday is associated with traditional brick-and-mortar stores, "Cyber Monday" symbolizes a busy day for online retailers. The premise was that consumers would return to their offices after the Black Friday weekend, making purchases online that they were not able to make in stores. Although that idea has not survived the test of time, Cyber Monday has evolved into a significant marketing event, sponsored by the National Retail Federation's division, in which online retailers offer low prices and promotions.”

I just wanted to educate you about this new “holiday” and remind you all to exercise safety when you’re shopping online. I also wanted to note how cyber-culture has made its way into our traditional holiday shopping sprees. This is a clear indicator to me that we are moving more and more towards becoming an online community, and that, as in any developing community, we need to include additional safety measures as the demand grows.

On the lighter side, Cyber Monday is offering really good deals online -- most of you know that my other passion, besides kids’ safety, is fashion and deals/finds! Here is your link to some great online deals:

Happy Shopping and be safe!