Race Matters: A New Dialogue Between Criminology and Sociology

The symposium created much-needed energy and new connections between scholars working around race and crime.

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Authors: Rod Earle, Alpa Parmar, and Coretta Phillips

“I wish my department meeting looked more like this”

This rueful but heartfelt observation by Dr Patrick Williams captures many of our intentions in organising Race Matters: A New Dialogue Between Criminology and Sociology at the LSE at the end of August 2018. We wanted to create a gathering of black and minority ethnic scholars active in criminology and the sociology of race to focus on how race and ethnicity generate not only differential experiences of criminal justice but also of criminology. To achieve this we, as organisers, opted for an invitation-only format that would allow us to focus attention on key issues and speakers, create a small participative environment and manage the prevailing white majority structures and tendencies of British criminology – by reversing them: minority ethnic presence was deliberately majoritised, prompting Patrick’s remark as he prepared to present his paper to a gathering of approximately 30 invited scholars.

Two papers opened the symposium. The first, by Professor Katheryn Russell-Brown, advanced and updated her call, in 1992, for the development of a Black Criminology. This criminology needed resources currently absent, neglected or suppressed in mainstream, white, criminology. These would draw from the humanities as much as the social sciences, refusing a binary fostered by the dominant scientific trends in US criminology. Katheryn insisted that Black arts and artists had shown themselves to be more adequate than criminology to the task of representing black lives and the injuries of American criminal justice. Black criminology was needed to widen the visions of justice that criminologist might pursue, and would be a criminology that valued the extent and range of minority ethnic perspectives.

Katheryn’s 1992 paper prompted Coretta Phillips and Ben Bowling’s 2003 call, some 10 years later in the British Journal of Criminology, for minority ethnic perspectives to be afforded greater recognition and support. Another fifteen years later, and with precious little evidence of change, her paper, with the other symposium organisers, Rod Earle and Alpa Parmar, called out to white criminology: ‘where has all the racism gone?’ The paper, like the organisational effort of the symposium itself, was prompted by a growing suspicion that British criminology lacks the theoretical, conceptual and motivational resources to explain the differentials referred to above, in criminal justice and in criminology that sees black people swept into police cells and prisons, kept out of universities and black academics off the curriculum. Strangely though, it seems that racism has disappeared from criminology’s agenda. The paper develops an analysis of the ‘disciplinary unconscious’ of criminology that allows (or worse, encourages) the erasure of race and racism from its business as an academic discipline. We pointed to the recurring absence of papers on race and racism in criminology conferences, journals and edited book collections, even as racial disproportionality in criminal justice escalates and intensifies. We identified tendencies in British criminology to highlight and theorise US experiences of race and racism at the expense of working with a narrative of British colonialism and the differentials generated by domestic criminal justice systems that have long outstripped those of the USA. As minority ethnic scholars addressing a roomful of other minority ethnic scholars Alpa and Coretta could also share and reflect on the continuing impacts of ‘everday racism’, the small injuries that perforate their academic lives and snag their careers with condescension, indifference and insults, in the knowledge their experiences were like, rather than unlike, most of those in the room.

The second and third keynote presentations were from Professor Shaun Gabbidon and Professor Karim Murji. Shaun began in the particularities of ‘shopping while black in the USA’ in a paper that explored shoplifting as a neglected object of criminological study, before telescoping out toward a sustained critique of surveillance techniques and technologies that smuggle racism through the back door of supposedly ‘race-neutral algorithms’. This is a term used and developed in Pamela Ugwudike’s paper about the ‘under-the-radar’ aspect of familiar racialized dynamics that are cloaked through the operation of new technologies. It was a theme featured in several papers, particularly those of Patrick Williams and Tara Young.

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Karim Murji’s paper focussed on the unique styles and insights of Stuart Hall. An established and legendary figure to many criminologists, Karim insisted that the measure of his reputation among criminologists rested on too narrow a reading of his extraordinarily diffuse scholarship. Karim traced and retrieved the sometimes hidden Hall and urged a wider and more critically engaged reading of his works, methods and style.

As one of the leading figures in the contemporary sociology of race the symposium was grateful to welcome Professor David Theo Goldberg for a keynote presentation, ‘On Racial Judgment’. Goldberg has been central to the resurgence of theorising around race, particularly criticising the habits of ‘post-racial’ perspectives that assert the declining significance of race and racism to social divisions. Rather than recognising a historical system of exploitation, these perspective focus on habits of prejudice and individual moral deficiencies marginal to social structures. The persistence of racial judgment, according to Goldberg, and its expansion from the formalities of criminal justice should be a warning to criminologists, and sociologists, that race retains its deadly vitality and is neglected at our peril.

Dr Suki Ali, acting as a particularly creative discussant to the unfortunately absent Professor Mary Bosworth convened a lively discussion around Mary’s paper (delivered by misbehaving technology) on ‘Race and Border Criminology’. The proceedings were also enlivened by Dr Martin Glyn’s delivery of his own ‘data verbalisation’ thesis. Mixing music, poetry and performance Martin urged participants to make their work more accessible to the black and minority ethnic communities that helped them produce it.

The final keynote, from Professor Chris Cunneen picked up and reinforced two recurring and contrasting themes in the symposium. The first of these is the increasing influence of digital technologies in covertly reproducing the dynamics of race and the functionality of racism. Drawing from research with Australia’s indigenous peoples, and particularly young men, Chris reported how policing and criminal justice agencies increasingly resorted to actuarial risk assessment technologies that reproduce discredited white racist schematics. Indigenous communities resist their pathologisation and a key feature of their resistance is their reliance on their arts and crafts to sustain themselves as communities, narrate their experience and express their resilience.

Closing the symposium with brief summary remarks Steve Garner and Omar Khan placed their emphasis on, respectively, the salience of whiteness, positionality and affect, and the way the weakness of criminological analysis of race and racism had serious policy implications.

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The symposium created much-needed energy and new connections between scholars working around race and crime. As organisers, we feel it lived up to its ambition to start a new dialogue between criminologists and sociologists of race, and bridged a gap that has widened alarmingly in recent years. Emerging from the symposium are plans to launch a BSC Race Matters network and promote a Black Criminology Month to run alongside Black History Month every October. Papers from the symposium will, we hope, be included in a Special Issue of a leading criminology journal before too long. In the meantime, if you are interested in supporting the formation of a Race Matters network and enlarging the conversation around race and racism in criminology please contact us.

 

Contact

Rod Earle, The Open University (r.earle@open.ac.uk )

Alpa Parmar, Oxford University (alpa.parmar@crim.ox.ac.uk )

Coretta Phillips, London School of Economics. (coretta.phillips@lse.ac.uk )

Images: courtesy of the author

What future(s) for juvenile justice in Europe?

Modern-day cultural, social, political and economic transformations carry multiple implications for juvenile justice in Europe

Barry Goldson

Professor Barry Goldson holds the Charles Booth Chair of Social Science at the University of Liverpool and is the Chairperson of the British Society of Criminology Youth Criminology/Youth Justice Network (YC/YJN).

 

 

In 1816, the report of the first major public inquiry into ‘juvenile delinquency’ in any European country was published in London, England (Committee for Investigating the Alarming Increase of Juvenile Delinquency in the Metropolis, 1816). The inquiry reflected a series of burgeoning concerns – in England and elsewhere in Europe – regarding ‘juvenile delinquents’ in the high-density urban populations of rapidly growing industrial towns and cities. Moreover, as the nineteenth century unfolded the same concerns inspired a wide range of reform initiatives across Europe and, by the beginning of the twentieth century, recognizably ‘modern’ juvenile justice systems had emerged. In England, for example, the Children Act 1908 formed the legislative foundations of an institutional architecture designed specifically for the administration of juvenile justice and, as such, it represented similar developments taking place throughout Europe.

In 2008, exactly one hundred years following the implementation of the Children Act 1908, a global financial crisis rocked the foundations of European economies. The ‘crisis’ produced, and continues to produce, deep-cutting and wide-sweeping ‘austerity’ measures that, alongside the longer-term reformulation of welfare settlements and welfare states, have had the effect of plunging millions of Europeans into profoundly adverse social conditions. And in 2016, exactly 200 years following the publication of the first major public inquiry into ‘juvenile delinquency’, the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum – also known as the ‘EU referendum’ and the ‘Brexit referendum’ – returned a vote in support of the UK’s departure from the European Union. Many commentators have argued that recent patterns of migration and immigration into Europe imposed significant influence in shaping the vote to ‘leave’. Whatever the motivations, however, Brexit has ‘created severe tensions and strengthened exit movements elsewhere, notably in France, Italy and Denmark’ (Taylor-Gooby et al, 2017: 3).

In the opening two decades of the twenty-first century financial crisis, the re-drawing of welfare settlements and welfare states, Brexit – and the wider tensions that it signals – and unprecedented patterns of migration and immigration, represent key transformational conditions in Europe, just as the industrial revolution characterised radical change across the nineteenth century. Equally, the same modern-day cultural, social, political and economic transformations carry multiple implications for juvenile justice in Europe, just as the industrial revolution had some two hundred years earlier.

How might the past inform the present and to what extent does the present provide a compass to the future? Fundamentally, these are the questions that are addressed in a new book: Juvenile Justice In Europe: Past, Present and Future.

Furthermore:

  • What do we know about contemporary juvenile crime trends in Europe and how are nation states responding?
  • Is punitivity and intolerance eclipsing child welfare and pedagogical imperatives, or is ‘child-friendly justice’ holding firm?
  • How might we best understand both the convergent and the divergent patterning of juvenile justice in a changing and reformulating Europe?
  • How is juvenile justice experienced by identifiable constituencies of children and young people both in communities and in institutions?
  • What impacts are sweeping austerity measures, together with increasing mobilities and migrations, imposing?
  • How can comparative juvenile justice be conceptualised and interpreted?
  • What might the future hold for juvenile justice in Europe at a time of profound uncertainty and flux?

The above represent a series of pressing questions for juvenile justice researchers and youth criminologists. The book begins to define and develop the co-ordinates of a wider critical research agenda that is vital for advancing knowledge of, and intervening in, the ways in which children and young people in conflict with the law are governed, and will be governed, through reformulating juvenile justice systems in Europe.

 

References

Committee for Investigating the Alarming Increase of Juvenile Delinquency in the Metropolis (1816) Report of the Committee for Investigating the Alarming Increase of Juvenile Delinquency in the Metropolis. London: J. F. Dove.

Goldson, B. (ed) (2018) Juvenile Justice in Europe: Past, Present and Future. London and New York: Routledge.

Taylor-Gooby, P., Leruth, B. and Chung, H. (eds) After Austerity: Welfare State transformation in Europe after the great recession. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Contact

Professor Barry Goldson, Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology, School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool

 Email: b.goldson@liverpool.ac.uk

 

Copyright free image courtesy of author

 

Music, criminology and justice

The way that music is used, suppressed or censored is an important area for criminologists to consider as this can uncover violations of the human rights of individuals and groups and reveal grave social injustices.

 

 

E Peters

Dr Eleanor Peters, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Department of Law & Criminology, Edge Hill University. Eleanor worked for many years as a youth justice researcher in the voluntary sector and is the author or co-author of several publications in this area. She is currently researching the connection between music and crime.

My interest in music as a subject for criminological study goes back a long way. I was born and brought up in the Black Country, and some of you will realise the significance of this in musical terms as the home, alongside its neighbour Birmingham, of heavy metal. References to metal in the media and in academic texts portrayed it as a misogynistic, devil worshiping cult followed by greasy working-class white young men; a picture I found unrecognizable from my involvement in a local metal scene. In the pivotal Subculture: The meaning of style, Dick Hebdige (1979) says heavy metal fans ‘can be distinguished by their long hair, denim and ‘idiot’ dancing (the name says it all).’ Chambers (1985; 123) describes the heavy metal audience as being ‘composed of a popular alliance of scruffy students and working-class followers.’

Later I read about the use of heavy metal music as a method of torture and wondered why my beloved music was used in such a way. This was the response of Christopher Cerf, composer of the Sesame Street theme, when he discovered that US intelligence services had tortured detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib using his music. His journey is documented in the film Songs of War, where he meets soldiers and ex-prisoners who discuss their experiences of music as torture. This includes an interview with members of the band Drowning Pool who say they were aware of soldiers using their music in Iraq, and that they were regarded as the unofficial soundtrack of the military. The band members do not answer directly Cerf’s questions to them about their songs being used as an interrogation tool, but joke about how their music could be torture for people. Of course, this is ‘funny’ because everyone ‘knows’ metal is torture (‘they don’t even sing, they just shout’, ‘what a racket!’). Although various types of music have been used to torture, as part of enhanced interrogation techniques (more commonly known as ‘torture lite’), the use of heavy metal and rap by US forces was partly the result of the personal tastes of soldiers but also because of it being culturally alien to detainees. This use evidently breaches the UN declaration of human rights article 5, ‘no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ (Universal declaration human rights) and the Geneva Convention.

It does not have to be heavy metal or children’s TV theme tunes; any music or noise over a certain volume can cause harm to humans. Hearing can become damaged when the frequency of a sound exceeds 20,000 hertz. As Attali (1984; 27) argues ‘in biological reality, noise is a source of pain. Beyond a certain limit, it becomes an immaterial weapon of death.’ However, there are reasons why certain genres of music are more likely to be used in conflict situations and this is because ‘metal and rap are part of a larger system of cultural beliefs that project certain power relations or ideologies’ (Pieslak 2007; 124). Heavy metal is loud, fierce and to many, discordant with violent lyrics.

While the use of music as torture in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay is an obvious human rights violation, there are other forms of injustices that a criminological study of music can uncover. Even when specific laws are not being violated, the erosion of the protection of people’s rights in terms of freedom and autonomy, which is one of the most common social injustices, can be instigated by the state. The United Nations has had a Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights since 2009, which highlights the importance of human rights in artistic expression and freedom, and the knowledge that music can reflect more important messages about problematic social arrangements and practices, rather than just being entertainment.

Where music has perceived negative consequences, then censorship can be a perceived answer; in these cases, laws regulate and discipline popular culture. There are power issues at play in whose, when, and what music and sound is labelled as deviant and this can lead to an erosion of liberty. Heavy Metal has often been at the centre of debates about censorship and is banned or suppressed in a number of countries around the world, for example, Russia, China and Malaysia (LeVine 2010). It is not just those less democratic countries where metal (and other ‘deviant’ music) is outlawed; for example, the alleged links between listening to heavy metal and suicide or committing violent acts has a long history. Following suicides and suicide attempts of American fans, Ozzy Osborne was sued in a US court over his song Suicide Solution, despite it being about alcoholism, and Judas Priest were accused of suicide-inducing hidden messages on their album Defenders of the Faith (Wright 2000). The Columbine school shooters were alleged to be Marilyn Manson fans (Muzzatti 2004) and this led to a decline in airplay, and bans on performing in many locations for the artist. Indeed, Manson has recently said that Columbine ‘destroyed his career’ (Petridis 2017).

Political censorship can be understood predominantly in terms of censorship, occurring through laws, interpretations of those laws by judiciary and police, and government actions. Moral censorship of musicians is exercised through ‘social pressure by religious and other social movements, and economic pressure through the refusal of economic entities such as record companies, radio stations, music video channels or music programmes to air their music’ (LeVine 2017; 55). Moral censorship can be exercised though religious or campaign groups such as Mediawatch UK, which was formerly called the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (NVALA), whose first president was the campaigner Mary Whitehouse, or the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) in the US, formed by women with strong connections to Washington politics who called on governments to ban, or corporations to suppress, certain forms of expression.

If censorship is conceived as the control of information and ideas, this can be explored through the example of grime music. In common with its close musical relation, rap, grime has been deemed to be many things; violent and misogynistic (Springhall 1998) and responsible for deaths and riots (Bramwell 2015). The perceived problems associated with grime and similar musical forms (such as Afrobeats, bashment, all of which are commonly described under the umbrella term ‘urban’) have led a suppression of live events featuring these genres. It is difficult for artists to find venues to play in, partly because of the Metropolitan Police form 696. Originally introduced in 2005 as a risk assessment for live music to prevent violence, the original form 696 was amended in 2009, when two questions which asked for the ethnic make-up of attendees and the genre of music being performed were removed following accusations of racial profiling, and the unfair targeting of specific musical genres on a racial basis. Despite the form now being rescinded, black promoters still feel discriminated against when trying to book clubs for gigs (Bernard 2018).

Avowedly political musicians in despotic countries where artistic voices are being silenced by political, religious, cultural, moral activities endure similar problems in terms of economic suppression of their music. As LeVine (2017) discusses, some musicians are moving to Europe, sponsored by the anti-music censorship group Freemuse, to be able to work and play their music. One musician, Ramy Essam, ‘the bard of Tahrir’ is currently exiled in Sweden. Moroccan rapper L7a9edis (or El-Haqed, translated as ‘the enraged’) is currently applying for political asylum in Belgium. These artists faced arbitrary arrest, beatings and torture but also the inability to make a living because of bans on airplay and performances in their home countries and travel restrictions preventing them from touring abroad.

The continued social injustices that can occur through the use, abuse, and suppression of music have great importance to criminologists who are interested in how state and corporate power can be use against the most powerless in society. The erosion of freedom of expression for many musicians, the use of music as a means for the powerful to torture the powerless are areas that the discipline of criminology has much to contribute.

 

Attali, J. (1984) Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Manchester, University of Manchester Press

Bernard, J. (2018) Form 696 is gone – so why is clubland still hostile to black Londoners? Guardian, 31 Jan

Bramwell, R. (2015) UK Hip-Hop, Grime and the City: The Aesthetics and Ethics of London’s Rap Scenes. London, Routledge

Chambers, I. (1985) Urban rhythms: Pop music and popular culture. Macmillan, Basingstoke

Hebdige, D. (1979) Subculture: The meaning of style. Abingdon, Routledge

LeVine, M. (2010) Headbanging against repressive regimes: Censorship of heavy metal in the Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia and China. Freemuse, Report no. 9. Copenhagen, Freemuse.

LeVine, M. (2017) Enraged and defiant: Revolutionary artists against the state in Morocco and Egypt. In Kirkegaard, A et al (eds) Researching Music Censorship. Cambridge, Cambridge Scholars Press

Muzzatti, S. L. (2004) Criminalizing Marginality and resistance: Marilyn Manson, Columbine and cultural criminology. In Ferrell, J et al (Eds) Cultural Criminology Unleashed. London, Glasshouse Press.

Pieslak, J. R. (2007) Sound targets: Music and the war in Iraq. Journal of Musicological Research, Volume 26, Issue 2-3

Petridis, A. (2017) ‘Columbine destroyed my entire career’: Marilyn Manson on the perils of being the lord of darkness, Guardian 21 Sep

Songs of War [2012] A&O Buero filmproduktion for Al Jazeera

Springhall, J. (1998) Youth, Pop Culture and Moral Panics: Penny-Gaffs to Gangsta Rap, 1830-1996. London, Palgrave Macmillan

Contact

Dr Eleanor Peters, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Department of Law & Criminology, Edge Hill University.

Email:  peterse@edgehill.ac.uk

Twitter:  @DrEleanor1

 

Copyright free images: from author and pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons Free for commercial use, No attribution required)

 

For LGBT People, Criminal Justice Equality Remains Elusive

While same-sex sexual activity is no longer criminalised in much of the Western world, and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is growing, full equality for LGBT people before the law and criminal justice systems remains elusive.

Matthew Ball Author image

Dr Matthew Ball, Crime and Justice Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology

 

 

While same-sex sexual activity is no longer criminalised in much of the Western world, and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is growing, full equality for LGBT people before the law and criminal justice systems remains elusive. Taking stock of some of these inequalities in Australia, the USA, and the UK reveals some startling insights into the extent of this inequality, and highlights where criminal justice practitioners, governments, and communities must continue to fight for change.

The ‘Bathroom Bills’ recently proposed in some US states are clear examples of recent attempts to reinforce legal inequality. These laws intend to force people to use public bathrooms that match the sex on their birth certificate, whether or not this aligns with their gender identity. These laws specifically (and deliberately) intend to expose transgender people to possible legal sanctions simply for using facilities that align with their gender, and force them to use facilities in which they may be at risk of violence. In Queensland, Australia, the homosexual advance (or ‘gay panic’) defence was only removed in March 2017. This legal defence allowed murder charges to be reduced to manslaughter if the deceased ‘made a pass’ at the perpetrator, to which the perpetrator reacted violently. This was an acceptable legal defence for a gay hate crime – one that South Australia has yet to remove. These laws play on old ideas that LGBT people are deceptive or predatory, and pose a threat, whether to children or heterosexuality.

While governments have recently expunged the criminal records of those convicted under sodomy laws, and issued formal apologies to LGBT people for government and police behaviour, for many LGBT people, the damage to their lives has been done. They may have lost jobs – or been unable to apply for others – because of their criminal record. In some jurisdictions, despite having had consensual sex with another adult who just happened to be the same sex, they may have had to register as a sex offender. The historic criminalisation of LGBT people thus casts a long shadow.

It might be less surprising that LGBT people remain the victims of some truly horrific hate crimes. The recent murders of fourteen-year-old Giovanni Melton and eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, allegedly committed by their fathers who feared having gay sons, highlight the extreme family violence often directed at LGBT people. Hate-motivated violence from strangers also remains a significant issue. For example, while there is debate over whether to classify the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in the US as a terrorist attack or hate crime, the fact remains that most of the 49 victims were Latino LGBT people.

These are certainly extreme events and receive significant media coverage. However, the everyday forms of victimisation that LGBT people experience often remain overlooked. In Australia, it has taken recent debates over marriage equality and the Safe Schools anti-bullying program to expose the largely invisible undercurrent of homophobia and transphobia impacting on LGBT people. This has been lent some political legitimacy by prominent politicians such as former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has very publicly stated that ‘It’s OK to say No’ to marriage equality. This has also limited progress in other areas where LGBT people experience significant victimisation. Evidence suggests that LGBT people experience domestic violence and ‘revenge porn’-related offences just as much, or at higher rates, than non-LGBT people, and yet this research has not translated into visible public campaigns to address these offences.

A key aspect of the inequalities experienced by LGBT people in the criminal justice system is their interactions with police. Unsurprisingly, given the historical role of the police as a source of injustice and discrimination in their lives – whether by arresting them for same-sex sexual activity, failing to take their victimisation seriously, or committing acts of violence against them – many LGBT people remain reluctant to report victimisation to the police. This has a very direct impact on their access to justice.

Police services have taken great strides in many respects to improve their relationships with LGBT people. I’ve spoken to many police officers who demonstrate a real commitment to change. The Queensland Police Service recently released a powerful video of officers talking about the struggles they have faced as LGBT people themselves. In 2016, Constable Mairead Devlin, a transgender police officer, raised a rainbow flag to celebrate International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) at Queensland Police headquarters. Similar visible symbols of support are not unusual across the UK and USA, with police services increasingly participating in LGBT-related campaigns, such as Wear it Purple Day or IDAHOT. While these attempts to shape the ‘public image’ of the police can be dismissed as symbolic, these symbols are nevertheless powerful. They may actually lead to a victim of hate crime reporting to police as opposed to suffering in silence.

But healing the historical rifts between the LGBT community and the police is challenging. Even where significant progress has been made over decades to do so, it only takes one incident – or one homophobic or transphobic officer – to open up old wounds. The violent arrest of Jamie Jackson Reed, a young gay man, at the 2013 Sydney Mardi Gras Parade, which was filmed and subsequently circulated online, led to questions about just how committed police were to LGBT people, even in the Australian city considered the most progressive on these issues. Incidents such as these have a disproportionate impact on the levels of trust LGBT people have in the police. And they only entrench the difficulties that LGBT people experience accessing justice.

The barriers that LGBT people encounter accessing justice also appear in the harshest part of the criminal justice system – imprisonment. And nothing illustrates this more than the experiences of transgender inmates, who have long encountered significant and unique inequalities here. Transgender inmates have been uniquely impacted by our long-standing tendency to house male and female prisoners separately, based on the sex assigned to them at birth and not on the basis of their gender identity – regardless of whether or not they have undergone any kind of hormonal, surgical, or social transition. This means that transgender prisoners have continually experienced institutional misgendering, and had restricted access to gender-appropriate clothing or personal items, hormones, and transition processes.

These policies have had serious and compounding impacts on transgender inmates. Not only have they impacted significantly on their mental health, but they have also put them at risk of violence from other inmates. The unique vulnerabilities of transgender inmates have often led to them being housed in high-security areas or solitary confinement, not because of any wrongdoing on their part, but for their ‘protection’ from other prisoners. The resulting increase in security measures governing their lives in prison has further limited their ability to express their gender identity while incarcerated. Coupled with the isolation that comes with such housing, it has only increased their risk of suicide.

Though prison authorities are increasingly recognising and responding to these unique needs, as suggested by the recent UK Ministry of Justice ‘Review on the Care and Management of Transgender Offenders’, and the guidelines issued by the US Department of Justice, change is not yet widespread. In some jurisdictions, limited information about the policies underpinning the treatment of transgender inmates is available, and little is known about the experiences of transgender inmates themselves. And the rights of transgender inmates to access surgery and other treatments as part of their transition remains hotly debated in some contexts.

While the injustices discussed here are significant – and certainly not exhaustive – important changes have occurred to improve equality for LGBT people in the criminal justice system. And the pace of change is tied to broader social gains addressing other inequalities facing LGBT people. After all, efforts to improve reporting and response rates for homophobic and transphobic hate crimes are only effective as long as there is a broader social commitment to eliminating homophobia and transphobia.

However, those seeking to address legal and criminal justice inequalities face the danger that the broader social appetite for equality for LGBT people extends only to more ‘palatable’ issues such as marriage equality, or violence prevention, and not less popular issues such as the treatment of transgender prisoners. Meaningful change in the interests of justice obliges us to pursue goals that may not be immediately embraced by the public at large. Those who fought against criminalisation, and who sought to separate in the public’s mind LGBT people from the ‘sex offenders’ and ‘perverts’ they had long been associated with, faced similar problems.

Major gains have only occurred because LGBT people have had their voices heard, their unique experiences of legal and criminal justice acknowledged, and because police, government, and community leaders have recognised the need for business as usual to change. These must remain key components in the struggle to achieve greater justice and equality for LGBT people.

 

Dr Matthew Ball is a researcher in the Crime and Justice Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology, Australia. His research examines sexuality, gender, and the criminal justice system, and he has published widely. Matthew is the author of Criminology and Queer Theory: Dangerous Bedfellows?, and co-editor of Queering Criminology.

Email: mj.ball@qut.edu.au

Twitter: @Dr_Matt_Ball

Copyright free image: from author.

Race and the Death Penalty: The Hanging of Hassen Mohamed, 1923

This article explores the case of Hassen Mohamed, a marine fireman hanged for murdering his fiancée, a white woman named Jane Nagi, in 1923

RandDP

LSeal1

Lizzie Seal, University of Sussex

 

I am principal investigator on a Leverhulme funded project entitled ‘Race, Racialisation and the Death Penalty in Twentieth-Century England and Wales, 1900-65’ (RPG-2016-352). Research Fellow Alexa Neale and I are collecting the archival records (predominantly case files) for all cases of black and other minority ethnic people sentenced to death in twentieth-century England and Wales prior to the abolition of capital punishment for murder in 1965. You can read more about our research questions and the aims of the project here in this blog post by Alexa https://raceanddeathpenalty.wordpress.com/about

We have encountered many fascinating cases so far, which shed light on the kinds of racialised discourses produced by the criminal justice system, the everyday lives of the condemned, their victims and witnesses to the case, and understandings of what the death penalty was for. Here, I shall discuss the case of Hassen Mohamed, who was hanged in Durham for murdering his fiancée Jane Nagi (also known as Jennie) in 1923. According to the Home Office file, Hassen was from Aden in what is now Yemen but at the time was a province of British India. He worked as a marine fireman and lived in a seaman’s boarding house in South Shields. Jennie was a young woman from Jarrow who was widowed having previously been married to a man described as an Arab. She and Hassen were engaged, having ‘kept company’ for nine months, and were shortly to marry.

According to the depositions and trial transcript, on the 12 March Jennie had been drinking during the day and was very drunk by the afternoon. She was at Simon Ali’s coffee shop in the ‘Arab colony’ in South Shields. Hassen came to the shop and wanted Jennie to leave with him but she refused and reportedly told him that she was finished with him. He left for around three or four minutes, returned and shot Jennie dead in the presence of three people. After he was arrested and taken to the police station, he reportedly said ‘Me fire one shot. Me sorry. Me keep that girl for 8 weeks, and she has been drunk’ (Testimony of Sergeant Gray, Trial Transcript, TNA/HO144/3009).[i] Hassen’s defence was that the revolver went off accidentally as he was bundled out of the coffee shop and that someone else was holding it at the time. This contradicted what he had said to the police and the testimony of eye witnesses. He was found guilty and hanged at HMP Durham on 8 August.

What can be learned from this case? As with most of our cases, it provides a fascinating glimpse of Britain’s multicultural history: in this example, the Arab community in South Shields, which was centred around boarding houses, cafes and restaurants. One significant issue to arise from the case file material and press coverage is contemporary attitudes towards ‘interracial’ relationships. The Brief for the Prosecution notes that there was a large population of Arabs in South Shields and that ‘it is sad to relate many white girls mix with Arabs’ (HO144/3009). Local newspapers reported that a ‘young Englishwoman’s acquaintance with an Arab was brought to a sensational termination’ when she was shot dead by ‘her coloured lover’ (Shields Daily Gazette, 13 March 1923). The same paper quoted the Deputy Coroner as describing the case as ‘very sordid’ and also stating:

I have come into contact with a number of cases in which white women have married coloured men […] it seems a great pity that white women should marry men of a different nationality […] steps should be taken to prevent these unions if possible (Shields Gazette, 16 March 1923)

Such attitudes reveal much about the constitution of ‘Englishness’ as whiteness and the extent to which respectable citizenship was racialised. We are starting to draw on concepts such as affective citizenship and racialised emotional regimes to explore how intimate relationships between individuals were, or were not, endorsed and recognised and how this related to how citizens were encouraged to feel about themselves and others.

Another intriguing aspect of the Hassen Mohamed case is the discussion that it sparked in relation to capital punishment. Following his hanging at Durham, the coroner was widely reported as having ‘made some injudicious remarks about capital punishment’ as the Evening Standard (10 August 1923) put it. The News of the World related that he ‘condemned in no unmeasured terms’ disputed the effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent (12 August 1923). The coroner argued that ‘the murderer should be treated as dangerous to the community, like a ferocious wild animal’ but that they should also have the chance to make peace with their maker. Taking a life was ‘barbarous’ and flogging followed by life imprisonment should be used instead. The Manchester Guardian published an anti-capital punishment editorial following the coroner’s comments (15 August 1923).

This attention to the utility and advisability of the death penalty in 1923 is fascinating as it precedes the strengthening of the abolitionist campaign in the 1930s. These articles demonstrate that capital punishment was an issue that was debated in the press, although not to the extent that it was in the 1940s and 50s. The coroner’s views are also intriguing in themselves; he found execution barbarous but was not opposed to the bodily punishment of flogging. This does not neatly fit our understandings of views on punishment and pain inflicted on the body but reveals complexity in how people felt about this.

RandDP2.png

Our project is currently at the data collection stage and we have thousands upon thousands of pages of case file material to read, take notes on and analyse. We are beginning to find patterns and to identify useful concepts for our analysis but we still have a long way to go.

Follow our Twitter account https://twitter.com/RaceandPenalty for updates on the project and visit our blog https://raceanddeathpenalty.wordpress.com/

[i] This account of what Hassen supposedly said should be treated with caution. We have found that the recorded speech in depositions and statements of most people who were not white and did not have English as their first language is represented in this way, with the explanation of actions in the first person always beginning with ‘Me’. This is constant across people from a wide range of countries with a wide variety of first languages and perhaps reflects conventions in how their speech was recorded by the police more than it does how they actually spoke.

Copyright free images: from author.

 

Crime and ASB victimisation on Social Renters

A TseloniAndromachi Tseloni leads the Quantitative and Spatial Criminology Research Group at NTU. Her research revolves around risk and protective factors of (repeat) crime victimisation, perceived crime risk and disorder, and the role of security and routine activities in the crime drop.

 

Rich Pickford takes the lead on facilitating RPickfordconnections between researchers, communities, business and citizens and maximising the impact of Nottingham Civic Exchange’s work.

 

 

Social renting households experience the highest levels of crime victimisation by housing tenure types according to research based on national crime statistics from the Crime Survey for England and Wales. At a period of sustained reduction in crime it is imperative to recognise and seek solutions for groups who have not benefited from this crime drop.

Nottingham Trent University’s Quantitative and Spatial Criminology (QSC) Research Group has done in-depth research in this area. This article will highlight research and recommendations related to Social Renters with a particular focus on:

  • Household Crime
  • Personal Crime
  • Witnessing or Experiencing Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB)

Extensive analysis of various years of crime survey data (from 1990s through to 2014) undertaken by the first author highlights that social renters experienced between double and 10 times the national average household crimes depending on their area of residence and year of victimisation (Tseloni et al. 2004; Tseloni 2006). Specifically in relation to owner occupiers social renters on average suffer:

  • 70% more household thefts;
  • 40% more criminal damage (Osborn and Tseloni 1998);
  • 50% more burglaries including attempts (Hunter and Tseloni 2016); and
  • roughly 40% more burglaries and household thefts.

Crucially social renters’ relative burglary risk has tripled compared to owner occupiers over the period of the crime drop (Tseloni and Thompson forthcoming).

The QSC’s research and testing in Nottingham shows that deploying the WIDE combination of household security has the biggest impact. WIDE stands for Windows that lock with a key, Internal lights on timer, Door double or dead locks, and External lights on a sensor. Homes in England and Wales with this combination are 49 times safer from burglary with entry than those without any security devices (Tseloni et al. 2017). The moderate cost of this combination makes it an attractive prevention tool that can be widely deployed. Further research shows it is also the most cost effective & environmentally friendly system of burglary prevention (Skudder et al. 2017). By contrast alarms on average moderately increase the risk of burglary (Tilley et al. 2015).

We recommend that social renter providers deploy the WIDE principles across their housing stock, and be prudent on relying on burglar alarms to prevent burglaries.

WIDE

Window locks, Internal lights, Door double or dead locks, External lights.

Social renters experience 40% more personal crimes within their neighbourhood (within a 15’ walk from home) than owner occupiers regardless of where their neighbourhood is situated (Tseloni and Pease 2015). Specifically in relation to owner occupiers social renters on average suffer:

  • an increased number of thefts from person and robberies (Thompson 2014);
  • 85% higher odds of assault in the night-time economy (Garius 2016); and
  • nearly double number of violence incidents perpetrated by acquaintances, that is people they know just to speak to casually / just by sight, neighbours, workmates / work colleagues, clients / members of public contacted through work, friends / acquaintances, or local children (Tseloni 2016).

Also social renters’ relative risk of violence by acquaintances has moderately increased compared to owner occupiers over the period of the crime drop (ibid).

This research highlights the increased risks faced by social renters. The QSC research has informed engagement and awareness campaigns and we are happy to talk further about this work. It has nudged the Office for National Statistics to provide the online individual victimisation predictor tool (Pease and Tseloni 2014). It can help national and local crime prevention agencies and crime and safety partnerships to understand their area risk profile for a variety of crime types and target messaging to support clients (Hunter et al, 2018; Hunter 2017). These research findings could be used to lobby government and local policy makers to ensure resources are allocated to this pressing issue.

Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) is a term that includes a wide and diverse mix of ‘social disorders or incivilities’ which can range from harassment and intimidating behaviour to dangerous or inconsiderate vehicle driving. The Crime Survey for England and Wales identifies 13 types of ASB whereas the police classifies reported ASB into three possible but not mutually exclusive categories: personal, nuisance and environmental.

Social renters have in comparison to owner occupiers higher odds of experiencing or witnessing ASB by roughly:

  • 30% with regards to criminal ASB (this includes criminal damage / graffiti, harassment / intimidation, others using / dealing drugs, dangerous dogs, and indecent sexual acts);
  • 20% with regards to inconsiderate social ASB (this includes inconsiderate behaviour, loud music / noise, litter / dog fouling, nuisance neighbours, and begging / vagrancy / homeless);
  • 40% with regards to vehicle related ASB; and
  • 20% with regards to ASB from groups hanging about (Ward et al. 2017).

These figures have highlighted a real need to further understand this issue.  The QSC team are currently undertaking further research on ASB.  If you wish to be kept informed of this research please contact the research lead, Dr. Becky Thompson, at rebecca.thompson02@ntu.ac.uk.

We hope our research is used as justification and evidence to stakeholders and partners to tackle traditional volume crimes and ASB by directing scarce crime prevention resources towards target hardening social renting households and their physical environments.

The Quantitative and Spatial Criminology Research Group at Nottingham Trent University is continuing to develop research in this area.  We are keen to work with crime prevention agencies to make society a safer place by developing collaborative work. Further research is currently being developed on similar issues, including, for example, investigating the place and community cohesion effects on crime rates and perceived victimisation risk.

If you are interested in hearing more about this research or some of our previous studies highlighted here on burglary and violence we welcome your contact. Our work is always undertaken with partners tackling issues outside of academia and we value the opportunity to test and develop our research in this way to ensure it has non-academic use and value.

The Quantitative and Spatial Criminology Research Group at NTU has vast expertise in producing internationally leading research often in collaboration with crime prevention agencies that informs public protection policies. Our aim is to develop a better understanding of the factors that shape victimisation across different crime types and ASB in order to inform crime reduction and public reassurance initiatives. The group has extensive expertise in Public Protection informing research, in particular identifying population groups and areas vulnerable to crime and ASB, effective and efficient crime prevention initiatives and their evaluation.

 Academic References

Garius, L.L. (2016) Opportunities for physical assault in the night-time economy in England and Wales, 1981-2011/12. PhD Thesis, Loughborough University.

Hunter, J. (2017) “Helping police forces to engage with their local communities: A bespoke Community Engagement Area Classification at the LSOA level across the East Midlands.” Report to the College of Policing.

Hunter, J., Garius, L., Hamilton, P. and Wahidin, A. (2018) Who steals from shops, and why?, in V. Ceccato and R. Armitage (eds.) International Perspectives on Retail Crime. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan (in print).

Hunter, J. and Tseloni, A. (2016) Equity, justice and the crime drop: The case of burglary in England and Wales. Crime Science. 5(3). DOI10.1186/s40163-016-0051-z Open Access.

Osborn, D.R. and Tseloni, A. (1998) The distribution of household property crimes. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 14, 307-330.

Pease, K. and Tseloni, A. (2014) Using modelling to predict and prevent victimisation. Springer-Brief Criminology Series, New York: Springer. ISBN: 978-3-319-03184-2 (Print) 978-3-319-03185-9 (Online).

Skudder, H., Brunton-Smith, I., Tseloni, A., McInnes, A., Cole, J., Thompson, R. and Druckman, A. (2017) Can Burglary Prevention be Low Carbon and Effective? Investigating the environmental performance of burglary prevention measures. Security Journal. DOI: 10.1057/s41284-017-0091-4 Open Access.

Thompson, R. (2014) Understanding Theft from the Person and Robbery of Personal Property Victimisation Trends in England and Wales, 1994-2010/11. PhD Thesis, Nottingham Trent University. ​

Tilley, N., Thompson, R., Farrell, G., Grove, L. and Tseloni, A. (2015) Do burglar alarms increase burglary risk? A counter-intuitive finding and possible explanations. Crime Prevention and Community Safety: An International Journal, 17(1), 1-19 DOI:  https://doi.org/10.1057/cpcs.2014.17 Open Access.

Tseloni, A. (2006) Multilevel modelling of the number of property crimes: Household and area effects. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A-Statistics in Society, 169, Part 2, 205-233.

Tseloni (2016) “Stranger and acquaintance violence in England and Wales: Trends, equity and threats.” Crime Surveys Users Meeting, Royal Statistical Society, London. 9 December 2016. Also see: http://www.ntu.ac.uk/apps/research/groups/4/home.aspx/ project/178996/overview/violence_trends).

Tseloni, A. and Pease, K. (2015) Area and individual differences in personal crime victimisation incidence: The role of individual, lifestyle /routine activities and contextual predictors. International Review of Victimology, 21(1), 3-29.

Tseloni, A. and Thompson, R. (forthcoming) Highly targeted population groups lacking adequate burglary security over time, in A. Tseloni, R. Thompson and N. Tilley (eds.) Household Burglary and Security. Springer. See also http://www.ntu.ac.uk/apps/research/groups/4/home.aspx/project/178965/overview/burglary_security).

Tseloni, A., Thompson, R., Grove, L., Tilley, N. and Farrell, G. (2017) The effectiveness of burglary security devices. Security Journal, 30(2), 646-664. DOI: 10.1057/sj.2014.30 Open Access.

Tseloni, A., Wittebrood, K., Farrell, G. and Pease K. (2004) Burglary victimisation in the U.S., England and Wales, and the Netherlands: Cross-national comparison of routine activity patterns. British Journal of Criminology, 44, 66-91.

Ward, B., Thompson, R. and Tseloni, A. (2017) “Understanding Anti-Social Behaviour.” Report to the College of Policing.

Contact

Andromachi Tseloni, Professor of Quantitative Criminology, School of Social Sciences,  andromachi.tseloni@ntu.ac.uk

Rich Pickford, Knowledge Exchange and Impact Officer, Nottingham Civic Exchange, richard.pickford@ntu.ac.uk | @NottsCivicEx | http://bit.ly/2qhBfB8

Copyright free images: from author and https://pixabay.com/

Recent Travels in a Trump Gun culture

BSC President Peter Squires discuses a recent trip to the US

PeterSquiresProfessor Peter Squires is the President of the British Society of Criminology and Professor of Criminology at the University of Brighton.

 

We had touched down in Las Vegas just twelve days after what had been the USA’s most deadly mass shooting during which 58 people were killed (plus the shooter) and 546 injured.  This was the USA’s 338th mass shooting  – defined by the FBI as incidents involving four or more gunshot casualties, not including the perpetrator, in 2017 [https://www.massshootingtracker.org/data].  Five days later we were in Tombstone, Arizona, waiting for the first of a three-times daily re-run of the infamous ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral‘ to begin.

It was 87 degrees Fahrenheit and a pale dry sun was beating down.  The audience benches in a back yard just off Tombstone’s main thoroughfare, Fremont Street, were uncomfortably hot to the touch. But right on cue, ‘Doc Holliday’ swaggered out of the saloon and began to narrate the story of a thirty-second gunfight which has been the subject of 47 separate movies.  A story which has dramatically shaped the history of ‘The Wild West’ (Guinn, 2011), laying important foundations for the region’s gun tourism industry.  After the gunfight, visitors could even have their photographs taken with Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc Holliday. I’m not so sure it was a good idea.

GunTourismPictures 3 and 4:  Yours truly with the ‘Earps’ and ‘Doc Holliday’, Kathy with ‘Tom McLaury’ looking mightily healthy for someone who had just been shot and killed

We were in the USA to attend a Gun Studies Symposium, scheduled many months earlier, hosted by the University of Arizona, in Tucson. Turning the visit into a week-long immersion in the vagaries of the US ‘gun culture’ was too good an opportunity to miss.  The increasing political tension concerning the issue, followed a sequence of increasingly lethal mass shootings, but the Trump administration was taking a distinctly ‘hands off’ approach.  The White House displayed a marked preference for seeing mass shootings as if they were random natural tragedies or the simple result of ‘evil’.  In either case there was a marked reluctance to address the gun question.

Personal tragedies and public issues

Route 91 in Las Vegas was still closed on our arrival, crime tape fluttered in the breeze, as crime scene examiners continued to work.   Up the road a huge tribute of flowers and white crosses honoured those killed.  Across Las Vegas electronic billboards paid tribute to the victims and heroic first responders.  But on the TV news different stories began to surface.  Even as the names of dead and injured began to filter out, and the first funerals were held, the repercussions of the incident continued to be felt.  Personal tragedies pointed to public issues, although no-one seemed any wiser as to the shooter’s motives.

Las Vegas TV news prominently featured Tina Strong, who had been shot through the head, in the process losing an eye.  She awoke from a coma while we were in the city, some two weeks after the shooting. Because she had insufficient health insurance (it may not be the first thing one thinks of in the context of gun victimisation – but pretty vital, nonetheless), friends and family had fundraised to provide the $50,000 needed for her care and convalescence.  Within days, however, half a million dollars had flooded in.

Las Vegas may have responded admirably to one tragedy, but it seemed quite incapable of grasping others.  The city which promotes the high-rolling, casino culture, lifestyle also has in excess of six thousand homeless people, the highest rate of homelessness in US cities.  Its roads are also notoriously dangerous, during the three days we stayed in the city, Clark County, chalked up its 58th pedestrian killed on the roads.  As many deaths as the Route 91 shooting, but with remarkably less media attention and still two more months of the year yet to run.

In the wake of the shooting, Nevada Democrats published gun control bills to outlaw the so called ‘bump-stock’ devices (used by the shooter to convert 12 of his military assault rifles to fully automatic – machine gun – firing) and limit ammunition magazines to ten rounds. [https://thenevadaindependent.com/article/democratic-lawmakers-introduce-bill-draft-to-ban-bump-stocks-used-in-mass-shooting-on-strip ] However, their other proposals to extend firearm purchase background checks foundered upon a disagreement with the FBI, with the federal agency refusing to underwrite the cost of performing the state level checks.

bumpstock

Both Nevada and Arizona feature amongst the most deregulated states as far as the seven most common state-level gun control measures (assault weapon restrictions, prohibition of large capacity magazines, armour piercing bullets and silencers, firearm registration systems, gun purchaser waiting periods, expanded background checks, and the licensing of firearm dealers) are concerned.  Nevada prohibits armour piercing ammunition and, consistent with the increasing polarisation of the gun debate (Democrat states introducing more controls and Republican states deregulating), Arizona recently disbanded its system of firearm sales background checks.  Furthermore county authorities are not allowed, under state law, to impose their own systems of localised background checks. [https://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/jan/15/gun-laws-united-states]

‘Open defence’ carriage of firearms is permitted in public areas although many Arizona hotels and private businesses appear to prohibit firearms on the premises. In similar fashion, the University of Arizona vetoed an attempt to allow firearms carriage on campus, thereby failing to join ten other ‘campus carry’ states.  As in thirteen other states, guns on Arizona university campuses must remain locked within vehicles.

Symposium

For these reasons, a gun studies conference in Arizona made a lot of sense, given added poignancy by the terrible events a few hours’ drive to the North. Yet this was to be a gun conference with a difference.

In marked contrast to the largely stalemated political debate on guns in the USA, which Professor Robert Spitzer, one of the USA’s leading political scientist commentators, famously characterised as ‘elephantine political forces’ battling over ‘policy mice’ (Spitzer, 1995, p.181),  the Arizona ‘gun studies symposium’ was approached through the lens of inter-disciplinary social science.  Sociologists, lawyers, historians, cultural theorists, marketing analysts, ethnographers, criminologists, political scientists and public health analysts combining their insights to throw more light, rather than heat, on the gun question.  The questions were not those which have most typically animated public discussion of guns in the USA, such as: What does the 2nd Amendment really mean? Does increasing firearm prevalence exacerbate or diminish crime and violence? And, finally, which gun control measures actually work?

Emerging issues in Gun Studies

Instead, the symposium sought to explore the nature of ‘gun culture’; what firearm ownership means to individuals, communities and societies; what are the symbolic significances of guns and gun laws, and gun ownership and social identity.  The symposium was organised into four distinct sessions: guns and violence; guns, identity and intimacy; guns and governance, and guns and markets.

The first discussions centred upon research conducted in Los Angeles exploring the ways in which formerly legal firearms ‘slipped’ into illegality and came to be used in criminal violence.  A number of issues surfaced including: irresponsible firearms dealers, ‘straw purchases’ (people buying guns for someone else), secondary sales and transfers, theft of firearms and ‘time to crime’.   No particular methods of illegal transit stood out, illegal gun markets appeared to be very localised with some handguns having a very short time between point of sale and first criminal misuse.  The findings were broadly taken to endorse existing community level interventions to tackle illegal firearm transfers.  [https://www.rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/TR512.html]

A second theme concerned the somewhat overlooked issue of firearms and suicide.  There are roughly twice as many gun suicides in the USA as homicides, in this respect alone, the USA gun suicide pattern resembles that of European societies, however there are an enormous 20,000 firearm suicides each year in the USA.  Much debate surrounds the degree to which the suicide rate is exacerbated by the scale of private gun ownership, around 53% of suicides involve firearms, with older white males running a disproportionately high risk. [https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine/magazine_article/guns-suicide/]

In the remainder of the morning delegates heard a series of papers exploring issues of identity and meaning relating to gun ownership and use, one paper exploring the consequences of shootings for their victims.   Largely as a result of advances in emergency trauma care, most gunshot victims do not die as a result of their injuries, fully 80% survive, although victims’ lives are often dramatically transformed by the injuries they have received.  Extensive ethnographic research from a forthcoming book, Ricochet: Gun Violence and Trauma in Killadelphia reveals how most daily activities are complicated by firearm injury, posing continuing challenges to gunshot survivors.

In parallel fashion, a series of papers explored the emotional ties people might have with their firearms. In the first place, gun ownership tends to be concentrated within a demographic comprising white, middle aged, suburban and rural males often with a military background.  Viewed in this way, firearm ownership shares many characteristics of a cultural identity or social movement perspective.  [https://nyupress.org/books/9780814795507/]  Gun ownership becomes part of ordinary life. In a related sense, if firearm acquisition is predicated upon a sense of vulnerability or the perceived need for protection, the threat of losing one’s weapon is likely to pose an existential threat to the defence of the self, therefore gun control proposals are often fiercely resisted.

Firearm advocates typically refer to firearms as ‘tools’ and, as in the case of any tool, the purpose is to extend human capabilities. Others refer to firearms as a prosthesis, both extending human capacity, but also personal responsibility. It is worth noting that a majority of states have now permitted the concealed carry of personal firearms, augmented by ‘castle doctrine’ and  ‘stand your ground’ laws, whereby private citizens assume a de facto statutory responsibility to shoot to kill to protect.

Recent Hurricane and flooding disasters in Houston and Florida exposed the rather darker side of these laws, prompting suggestions that concealed carry permissions should be suspended during environmental crises. By contrast, gun advocates claim that, it is precisely at such moments, when the infrastructures of governance, especially policing, are under such pressure, that personal defence firearms become most necessary.  Apparently local media outlets were rife with stories of looting, violence and burglary from vacated properties, invariably the looters depicted were black.  [http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/852551/hurricane-Irma-Florida-Miami-looting-seige-Branson-Virgin-Islands-unrest ; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4870676/Eight-looters-broke-Fort-Lauderdale-clothing-retailer.html]

The question of African American firearm ownership accents these issues especially in the wake of recent police involved shootings. Police have tended to perceive black gun possession as a potential threat, reacting accordingly. African American gun advocates remind us that some of the earliest gun control measures introduced in the USA were measures to disarm slaves and former slaves in the Southern states. Likewise cultural commentators demonstrate that the ‘gun debate’ still resounds to the intersectional politics of race, class and gender. [https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/546064/stand-your-ground-by-caroline-light/9780807064665/ ]

Selling guns

The final session of the symposium was devoted to the marketing of firearms.  Papers addressed different aspects of firearm marketing practice, the first reflecting upon the changing emphases of firearm advertising, revealing how since the 1960s gun marketing had increasingly focused upon firearms for self defence rather than target sports shooting or hunting.  The overwhelming frequency of self-defence gun advertising in the leading American Gun Magazine (The American Rifleman, published by the NRA), clearly evidences this cultural change.

Rifleman

A second marketing paper focused instead upon the way in which firearm advertising, first in the decade 1985-1995, and then again in the last ten years, has effectively ramped up the firepower available to American citizens.  In the first period, on the back of loss-leader sales of semi-automatic pistols to elite police and military units, firearm advertising in leading US gun magazines, effected a shift in customer purchasing.  Fully 75% of gun advertisements featured semi-automatic handguns, which were advertised for their calibre, concealability, stopping power, speed of use, and ‘intuitive pointability’. These were combat-ready guns for civilians.  In the most recent period, since 2005, and the lapsing of a federal ban on the sale of new assault rifles, these weapons now dominate the covers and advertising space in the magazines. They are also the weapons misused in the USA’s recent most lethal mass shooting atrocities (Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas and Texas).

Contrasting advertisements:  1985-1995/ 2005-2015:   ramping up civilian firepower

1985-1995 2005-date
 GunMag1  GunMag2

A final presentation sought to show how, in a search for new markets (the average US gun-owner already has seven firearms) the gun industry has been targeting its advertising at women and children.  Although the social research data does not bear out the claims frequently made [http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1557085115609416 ], women are seen as a lifeline for the gun industry – either as potential self defence firearm purchasers themselves, or as parents capable of normalising gun ownership amongst their children.  The gun industry has been producing a range of supposedly female and child oriented firearms and accessories.  The pink ‘Barbie’ assault rifle and the brassiere holster have attracted most media attention, but there are many varieties of product available, including a colourful selection of starter rifles for children.  [http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/us/selling-a-new-generation-on-guns.html ]

Gunpink

Meanwhile, back in Tombstone where, in 1881, City Ordnance Number 9, was introduced to require cowboys intent on drinking and gambling to disarm and deposit their firearms when entering town. This sits uneasily with contemporary concealed carry deregulation, and the gun tourism souvenir merchandise to be found in neighbouring shops. Nevertheless, gendered stereotypes persist, the toy guns for sale came in familiar colours, outlaws carry black, lawmen (and Doc Holliday) silver, whereas cowgirls, it seems, pack pink.

Guns1

Since, the Las Vegas shooting, America’s most deadly, the USA has seen another 40 mass shooting incidents in just over a month, culminating in the Sutherland Springs, church shooting in Texas, where 27 died and over 20 were injured.  This time the perpetrator was in illegal possession of an assault rifle.  An armed citizen intervened, but only after the tragedy.  One of the ironies of these mass shootings and the FBI data upon which they are based, is that the iconic gunfight in Tombstone in 1881, which has epitomised the ‘Wild West’ for generations, would barely have made the FBI mass shootings list today: only three people were killed.

Professor Peter Squires is the President of the British Society of Criminology and Professor of Criminology at the University of Brighton.

Email p.a.squires@brighton.ac.uk
Twitter: https://twitter.com/PSqCriminology

Copyright free images from the author.