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Archive for August, 2009

In the DC metro area, the world of parking and tickets go hand in hand. However, some cities across the country are connecting homelessness with law enforcement. Barbara Ehrenreich wrote an op-ed article for the New York Times exploring the question: Is it now a crime to be poor?

What do you think? Is it acceptable to force homeless people out of certain areas of a city? To fine them or imprison them for being in those certain areas? Or is it okay if there are certain areas of the city they can go? Are we merely trying to hide homelessness? Or hold them to a universal standard?

Whether you’re homeless or rich one thing is true: we all must be held to the same legal standards. However, how many rich people do you see without a place to stay at night? How many people stop to think about the chain of events which led to someone becoming homeless?

Homelessness is a complex issue which cannot be easily solved. However, at the core of dealing with homelessness in our cities, we must keep one thing in mind: every single person is created in the image of God. Therefore, we should treat everyone with love and respect.

Whether you’re a police officer or lawyer, social worker or barista, when we start dealing with issues, we mustn’t forget the faces of the people. We mustn’t forget the homeless are real. We should be careful about how we execute our plans of action. Being strict or firm is fine, but being cold and harsh is not.

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Update: Marriott has withdrawn its claim that Jane Doe “failed to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children and proper use of her senses and facilities.”

[The Marriott is] profoundly sorry that such a terrible thing happened to the victim of this violent crime.

In Stamford, Connecticut, on October 10th, 2006, a man by the name of Gary Fricker pulled a gun on “Jane Doe” and her two children in the Marriott parking garage, forced them into her minivan, and then raped her at gunpoint in front of her children.  Fricker was arrested three days later and confessed, landing him twenty years behind bars.

Jane Doe, 40, recently filed suit with Marriott due to its negligent security staff, which had disappeared when Jane and her children were abducted.

The second heinous crime happened when the Stamford Marriott Hotel & Spa responded to this horrifying incident, saying,

[S]he was careless, negligent and “failed to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children and proper use of her senses and facilities,”

Read the rest of the story here (Connecticut Post).

Let’s just rehash a bit here: mother and children are kidnapped in hotel parking garage, mother is raped at gunpoint in front of children, kidnapper is arrested and penalized with twenty years in prison, mother sues hotel for negligent security, hotel responds by saying the kidnap/rape was her fault.

A woman is never to blame for being raped — especially under Jane Doe’s circumstance where she and her children were abducted in a hotel parking garage.  Marriott doesn’t believe that the assault is their problem — okay, we can (sort of) deal with that — but claiming that she was “careless”, “negligent”, and basically not using her head (in Marriott’s own parking garage), is completely unforgivable.

And by the way, the assault is Marriott’s problem.  If Marriott does own the parking garage then, yes, anything that happens inside the garage is their problem — especially if security fails to protect the people who pay money to stay at their hotels.  Marriott claims that the “acts were unforeseen and beyond their control”, but it did occur on their premise.  If someone set a car on fire in their parking garage, Marriott would sue whoever lit the car, but since the sexual assault wasn’t against Marriott, they simply don’t think it’s part of their problem.

Marriott needs need to increase their security to prevent these atrocities and they definitely need to overhaul their PR department if they want to keep their customers.  A woman is never to blame for being raped.

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Jack the Ripper, a serial killer who preyed on prostitutes in 1888 London, may have a 21st century protégé.

Rocky Mount, North Carolina, has been restless due to the unexplained disappearances of nine women since 2005.  These woman happen to be prostitutes who use this income to either support their children or drug habits.  So far, six bodies have been recovered without any evidence, raising suspicion that the killer is a meticulous professional.

But why kill prostitutes?  It is believed that in this case, it’s because they are perceived as useless wastes that “won’t be missed”.

Vivian Lord, chairwoman of the criminal justice department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said that if one killer is responsible, he is likely trying to cleanse the world of prostitutes or deliberately picking victims he knows won’t be missed.

These women do indeed have families that care for them even if their profession isn’t terribly desirable.

Juray Tucker, the mother of 37-year-old Yolanda Lancaster, missing since February, said she wants to help with fundraising but doesn’t get much time now that she has to care for her daughter’s children.

The worst part is that only since this past June, when the latest decomposing body was found, has the FBI gotten involved.

Read the entire story here (Fox News).

Only someone who is so careless towards human life would have no problem with over four years of killing.  Even though these women “jump in and out of cars”, they’re still human beings struggling for a decent life.  They’re women stuck in a degrading career, trying to take care of their families.  Why do they “deserve” to die?

What makes you or me a more important soul and thus deserving life more so than one of these nine women?

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There are few countries that take to heart free speech as much as we do here in the United States.  While some in the US may have problems with the political bias laced in television and radio news, we still cannot deny that we are free to say what we want: pro-government, anti-government, pro-Obama, anti-Obama, liberal, conservative — anything goes.  However, this luxury is not so prevalent in countries where the media is filtered by the government, making sure that anything “offensive” or harmful to the “stability” of the government is censored or whitewashed.

Iran, a country that continues defying the world with its controversial nuclear program, will someday have to answer for its numerous human rights violations following its 2009 Presidential Election.  Nearly 4,000 people have been arrested since June, but one of the real concerns is the abuse prisoners face by the police and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.  Our concern is over the rape scenarios female prisoners are subjugated to by the jailers and other authorities.  Many of these accusations have been made against the government, amidst the turmoil of the election that is widely-believed to have been stolen by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ali Larijani, the Iranian parlamentary speaker, has spoken out against these claims, calling them “baseless”.

The swift denial is likely an effort by hard-liners to discredit allegations of widespread prisoner mistreatment that have helped fuel continued protest by reformists who claim President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole the June election.

Continue reading this story here (Jerusalem Post).

How does one prove that the jailers and other authorities haven’t been beating and raping its captors?  You can’t.  Often criticized for its ironclad censorship and whitewashing, the Iranian authorities censor out anything they deem offensive or critical of the government.  Trying to appeal to the authorities?  Get in line with the other suppressed.

China is another country often blamed for censorship and human rights violations.  Beijing is currently (or at least should be more) in hot water because of its “black jails” — black holes where innocent people are unjustly imprisoned and must be censored.  A twenty-year-old Chinese student found herself in one of these black jails when she tried to petition to the government in regards to dispute over grades at school.

But shortly after the student arrived, she was picked up by police. She was delivered to a run-down hotel and dumped in a locked room filled with other detainees. There, a guard raped her.

Read the rest of this story here (MSNBC).

Because these black jails are secret and censorship is key for “stability” in the Republic of China, there is no real way to confront this issue.  This government, like Iran’s, will deny it no matter what so as to keep its public image clean.  Though countries like China and Iran will continually deny any accusations of wrongdoing by its government or its prisons, the rest of the world can see through its lies.  Freedom of speech and unrestricted internet access keep us enlightened, if not skeptical of the human rights in hard-line regimes.

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Bob Herbert, a columnist from the New York Times, recently published a thought-provoking yet ultimately unsettling article regarding accepted misogyny in the US.

We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.

While some might consider his views to be a bit on the pessimistic side, Herbert highlights a striking point in today’s society:

One of the striking things about mass killings in the U.S. is how consistently we find that the killers were riddled with shame and sexual humiliation, which they inevitably blamed on women and girls. The answer to their feelings of inadequacy was to get their hands on a gun (or guns) and begin blowing people away.

Read Bob Herbert’s article here (New York Times).

The sad part is, this has nothing to do with “today’s society” or “today’s media”; women have been victims of horrid abuse for centuries.  What do you think happened when Ghengis Khan and his fellow merciless warriors pillaged villages in Iraq in the 13th Century?   How about how in certain societies in the Middle Ages, prostitution was regulated and organized in order to keep “rape under control”, so that men wouldn’t basically lose their minds from sexless lives.  Who can forget the Rape of Nanjing (caution: link is graphic), where between 20-80,000 women were raped by the Imperial Japanese Army?  The disgusting misogyny that we see today has always existed in time; with the invention of fast-paced media including the internet and 24-hour news televison, we just become more exposed to and aware of it.

On that note, with the widespread utilization of the internet, we can more easily spread the word about domestic violence than ever before.  With blogging and embedded videos, we can spread the word about abuse as soon as it occurs.  While the reality of life is brutal and oftentimes unforgiving, we may live in the best time period for women’s activism.

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On Wednesday, August 5th, the world let out an enormous sigh of relief when word spread that both reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee safely returned home after nearly 140 days in detainment.  Both reporters, working with Al Gore’s San Fransisco-based media outlet Current TV, accidentally crossed into North Korea from China’s border in March 2009.  After months of questioning, solitary confinement, and receiving sentences of twelve years in a work camp, former President Bill Clinton secured their amnesty and aided in their return to United States soil.

Read the rest of the story here (Reuters).

Tensions between the United States and North Korea has been on the brink for years.  North Korea continues to defy the world with its controversial nuclear program and missile tests that put South Korea, Japan, and other neighboring powers in danger.

The most recent confrontation has been with Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who had their releases secured without any sort of nuclear negotiation with Washington (as far as we know).  Is this a sudden positive PR move on Kim Jong-Il’s part or is there a deeper political scheme at hand?

Regardless, two women should never become bargaining chips between two obstinate nations.  While we are overjoyed that these two ladies are finally home, their potential 12-year imprisonment would have been their death sentences.

Aside from the fact that North Korea is in a constant state of famine, the labor camps, also known as gulag camps, are notorious for beatings, executions, and rape.  Even though Laura Ling and Euna Lee were sentenced to twelve years of work at one of these camps, they would be lucky to even fulfill half of that sentence.

“They work logging in the mountains, quarrying stone and at farms. The work is extremely difficult and prisoners are beaten by guards for not working fast enough or forgetting to sing patriotic songs as they work,”

As stated before, these two young ladies became bargaining chips between two powers with very different aims.  Human beings should not be used and exchanged like currency, especially for political gain.  Thankful, both Laura Ling and Euna Lee have returned to their families.  Let’s just hope that they do not suffer ongoing dread of how their lives could have ended.

Additional Sources:

http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=7785836&page=1

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/great-escape-survivors-reveal-horror-of-north-korean-concentration-camps-451351.html

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With some crimes, you truly wonder if the criminal is indeed a human being — or simply an animal with a gun.

At 8:15 PM on an ordinary summer Tuesday in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, a man entered an LA Fitness’ aerobics class with a duffel bag, shut off the lights, and fired bullets into the room of trainees.  George Sodini, a 48-year-old systems analyst, didn’t open fire in a random spur of violence — he was specifically targeting women.

“He targeted this aerobics class,” said Allegheny County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt. “He had this class circled on a schedule in his home.”

Sodini killed three women, wounded five others, and finished by killing himself.  One of the victims, the class’ instructor, had just announced her pregnancy.

Like angry people tend to do, Sodini placed blame on others for the troubles in his life.  The troubles from his perspective were caused by women and how they’ve rejected him over the years.  With a blog in his name, Sodini made very clear his infuriation with women, stating openly that he hadn’t had sex in nearly 20 years.

Read the rest of the story here (Fox News).

There is no correlation between lack of sex and murder.  What we have here, is a man who had no real reason for what he did.  Hating women was simply an illusion Sodini had, which masked the deep-rooted problem he had: lack of benevolence toward humanity.

This is a godless man who floated in a disconnect between humanity and digital noise.  His most intimate interaction (that is publicly known) was with his blog.  His targeting of women and the blank, indiscriminate killings show he long ago burned his bridges with humankind.  At the end of his actions, Sodini took his own life — the surest way to avoid the courts and jailtime, thereby eliminating the particular closure some need to cope with the death of a loved one. Instead of committing a crime and being arrested, Sodini likened himself to a tornado: a natural force that cannot be reasoned with, destroying lives, and then disappearing into air without explanation. A suicide at the scene of the crime is not the same as jailtime or state execution; it was all part of his plan, which indeed came to fruition.  Sodini successfully escaped justice.

What he left behind is an unquantifiable mess of horror and grief.  Because Sodini indiscriminately declared war on a gender, he created unforgettable memories that will haunt the people of that gym, especially the women, who know that this man came for their blood.

It is difficult to stop society’s outliers especially when they do, in fact, hold a stable job and don’t physically appear to be threatening.  If more people would flag blogs like his — ones that actually outline his precise plans and intent — then hopefully we can prevent crimes such as this.  It is maddening that Sodini targeted women in his vicious shooting spree, but it is also sickening how someone can degrade into a defunct shell of a human.

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