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Violence and Social Justice

Please forgive the jumble. Willl restructure soon as I set up the Distributive Justice course pages. jeanne, July 13, 2000.

  • Hal Pepinsky's Comments on Colorado High School Shootings

  • Pass? or Prepared? on Race and Juvenile Justice

  • The Violent Social World of Black Men Focusses on Working Class Men and Bars and Hanging Out
    Link added on July 1, 1999.

  • Pushing Them Away When They are Mentally Ill NY Times article on Subway Assailants.
    Link added July 1, 1999.

    The Violent Child
    Kellerman's Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children
    Link added May 31, 1999.

    The Violent Fairy Tale
    A law professor speaks to the Story of O as fairy tale.
    Link added June 24, 1999

    Tavis Smiley's Comments on Littleton: Gangs or Cliques??
    Link added in May 1999.

    Assisting Victims of Campus Crime
    External Link to National Criminal Justice Association, added May 23, 1999
    Scroll down for report of study in progress.

    The Violent Minority: Black Men
    A Black Male Responds
    A Dear Habermas Project from the Fall of 1998.



    Pushing Them Away When They are Mentally Ill

    Review by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
    Part of Narrative of Learning Identity Series
    Copyright: July 1, 1999. "Fair Use" encouraged.

    N.Y. Times article, June 28, 1999. by Nina Bernstein, "Frightening Echo in Tales of Two in Subway Attacks," p. A1. In both subway attacks, in which people were pushed onto tracks, the assailants were found to have a history of mental illness. The article describes the increasing desperation and uncontrollable acting out of one of the alleged assailants. Caseworkers at a shelter requested that doctors hospitalize the man involved in the April 28, 1999, attack, as his violent fantasies of revenge and increasing paranoia had already forced him from one shelter, and were now forcing him from theirs. "The advocates said it is harder than ever to get even the acutely mentally ill admitted to pscyhiatric hopsitals at a time when shelters are being overwhelmed with patients who have a long record of violence. State institutions like Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens [New York] continue to discharge patients from their dwindling populalton, and supportive housing programs, with far more applicants than they can accept, pass over the most problem-ridden." (at p. A 19)

    This is a long way from Deborah Weinstein's "We need to help these people. . .We don't need to push them off . . ."


    Connecting Theory Across Disciplines

    One connection here is that we recognize a similarity between Deborah Weinstein's statement about homeless children and their mothers and the plight of these mentally ill people. Psychologists, educators, social workers, and now those who try to aid the mentally ill are all concerned with helping those who are not able to provide for their own basic needs. Each group goes about this process differently, but the goals of all are basically the same: to help their clients achive as much independence as they can. Psychologists may approach an understanding of what triggers outbursts of anger and frustration that can interfere with the client's getting the help he/she needs; educators may seek means of teaching their clients how to learn; sociologists may look at the sociometric structure to strengthen support ties, and social workers may look at how to make all the needed services available in one place for better community infrastructure. By understanding and alternatively adopting the several perspectives we have a better chance of describing and predicting what is needed as well as of providing it.

    Though some of us are focussed more directly on getting the job done, finding a place where the homeless can take shelter, finding ways to smooth out some of the emotional roller coasters, that does not mean that we can dispense with theory and research. Theory is a tool for keeping us aware of the complex factors that enter into the issues with which we deal, and methodology keeps us honest in measuring the world around us to assess both the problem and our proposed alternative solutions. Theory, methods, and practice should go hand in hand.

    We can all pretty much agree with Deborah Weinstein's statement that we shouldn't abandon and push away those who cannot meet their basic needs without assistance. But agreeing on much else becomes difficult, especially when we recognize that one reason the doctors who rejected the request to hospitalize one of the subway assailants aren't speaking to the press is that there are likely to be law suits over the harm done to two innocent citizens waiting for subway trains.

    Tort law apportions the cost of harm. If the city or state improperly rejected hospitalization, and citizens were injured as a result of that action, the law will have to decide how to apportion the cost of that harm. So there are more than just the unhappy, frustrated mental patients to consider. There is also the safety of the general public. And to hospitalize, especially in a mental hospital, is to invoke endless disagreement, and loss of individual freedom. So much is at stake here. Many validity claims vie for good faith hearings. Those in positions of decision-making power may privilege their own subjectivity. Then there is concern in public discourse for a forum in which all claims can be heard in good faith.

    Often theory will dictate policy. And one way to look at theories in policy terms was well described by Kemp (1): theories differ in how they see both the source of the problem and its solution. Individualist theories tend to see the problem as originating with the individual, which leads, sometimes with unstated assumptions (2), to our looking for the solution by teaching, supporting, punishing, or incapacitating the individual. Structuralist theories tend to see the problem as originating in social structural conditions (i.e., severe poverty), which leads, again sometimes with unstated assumptions (2), to our looking for the solution by changing the social structure, building prisons, building schools, creating jobs, closing factories and consolidating costs, lowering the capital gains tax, etc.

    Notice that whether a theory takes an individualist or a structuralist approach to the problem does not depend on where the theory is located on the political spectrum. Radical feminists tend to decry women with "false consciousness," a quality certainly within the individual. And they would remedy that false consciousness by teaching genuine consciousness to the individual. Psychotherapists, trained in helping to change the individual, sometimes, in exasperation, want to lock up the violent child who has committed an intentional crime like murder and throw away the key.(3).

    We like Kemp's division of theories along these lines because it lends itself so well to policy analysis. If you understand how someone is seeing the problem and the solution, then you can better understand their proposals for dealing with the problem. We believe that one of the best ways to judge theories is by their efficacy in solving the big problems we face. (Cite theory construction book.)

    Footnotes to be added. July 1, 1999. jeanne



    The Violent Social World of Black Men

    by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
    Part of the Narrative of Learning Identity Series
    Copyright: July 1999. "Fair Use" encouraged.

    Our theoretical persuasion is one of grounded theory, reflexivity, and a constant critical assessment of premises and assumptions. But we also use the orienting principle of Habermasian good faith in public discourse. Thus, when William Oliver's piece appeared in Images of Color, Images of Crime, we ordered it, sight unseen, for those of our Black males who were critically reviewing the concept of the "Violent Minority."

    This is not a "review" of the book. This is a reaction to my first approach to the text. The study is about lower-class black men. I didn't expect that from the title. The title says "Black Men," period. So chapters on Black Bars and Compulsive Masculinity Displays offended me, a white woman. I know about testosterone. I even know about biological theories to link it to violence. And I know about the social learning of violence. But I also knew Black Bars rather intimately in the early seventies when some of my friends played jazz there. I was afraid, as a single white woman to walk to those bars from my little open topped convertible. But my friends assumed that I would be safe, expected me to share their world if I wished to share their music, and did not hasten to chaperone me to and from my car. And safe I was. I never saw compulsive displays of masculinity. We shared the music, and Les McCann teased me about "doing my part for integration."

    I know, I know. The inner city has changed in nearly thirty years. I would be more hesistant to drive an open convertible to the same late-night spots now. But then, I'm thirty years older now, and less likely to hang out in a night club. My world still exists. Our sharing didn't disappear. That is why Keith began the project of the myth of the "violent minority." A superficial encounter with this book's cover and table of contents might convince me otherwise.

    Judging by the status characteristic of "black" and "male," many are tempted to conclude "violent." We need more work on the black male world that is not a "violent minority." We need to deal with how our expectations and fears of violence sometimes lead us to interact with the social context in ways that confirm our expectations. But would things have turned out the same without those expectations? That is why we need more than narratives, as wonderful as narrative is. We need also to test hypothese on the accuracy of our expectations, not to the exclusion of our narratives, but as checks and balances on our stories, for our imaginations and our myths and our muses also inspire our stories. Theory and research are tools that add to our skill in inerpreting our social context. They make me want to ask William Oliver to tell me also about what has happened to my world, in which such violence did not play a major part.


    Oliver, William. The Violent Social World of Black Men. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco. 1994. ISBN: 0-7879-4305-3.

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    The Violent Social World of Black Men.