Foolish Reinstatement 9/6/17

Imploring President Trump to Reconsider Reinstating Program Offering Military Surplus to Police – by Laura Finley

Laura Finley

On August 28, the Trump administration unveiled a new plan to roll back limits President Obama had placed in 2015 on the controversial 1033 program, which provides local law enforcement agencies and even some campus and school police with surplus military gear. Obama issued an executive order to end the program, which had provided law enforcement agencies with everything from armored vehicles, grenade launchers, high-caliber weapons and camouflage uniforms.

In doing so, Obama noted the militarized response to the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Michael Brown, where police responded to nonviolent protesters in armored vehicles, riot gear, and with pepper spray, and previously to the use of armored vehicles and military gear by police during the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. Obama said, “We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them. It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message.”

Speaking in support of the policy change at the annual conference of the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville, Tennessee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions applauded the change, asserting (incorrectly) that the U.S is facing an increase in violent crime. He defended the move by claiming that family discipline has eroded as well, another claim that is unsupported. Sessions received multiple standing ovations for his speech from the FOP. A document describing the policy shift says that it “sends the message that we care more about public safety than about how a piece of equipment looks, especially when that equipment has been shown to reduce crime, reduce complaints against and assaults on police, and make officers more effective.” Again, these claims may sound good to the law-and-order crowd, but they are unsubstantiated by data.

Civil rights groups blasted the policy shift, saying the Obama-era guidelines were critical to rebuilding trust between police and communities of color. Vanita Gupta, former head of the DOJ’s civil rights division under President Obama and now leader of the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, said, “These guidelines were created after Ferguson to ensure that police departments had a guardian, not warrior, mentality. Our communities are not the same as armed combatants in a war zone.”

Congress originally launched 1033 program in 1990 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which allowed the Defense Department to transfer surplus hardware and equipment to state and local law enforcement, allegedly to assist with “counter-drug activities.”

Since the 1990s, more than $5.4 billion worth of gear and machinery has been transferred to various law enforcement agencies. Some agencies have made out with a huge booty: Brevard County, Florida, scored big, acquiring nearly $7 million worth of equipment, including 13 helicopters, two armored personnel carriers, and 246 assault rifles. Five Indiana universities have armed their university police officers with military leftovers, including body armor, assault rifles, and tanks, while campus police at Ohio State University now own an MRAP. In all, 120 colleges and universities have acquired military equipment and garb via the 1033 program. In 2014, the Los Angeles Unified School District, amidst outcry from parents, announced that it would return the three grenade launchers it had acquired but would keep its armored personnel carrier and 61 assault rifles. Some 600 law enforcement agencies have received mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs), which are designed to survive roadside bombs. Additionally, local governments have received approximately $34 billion in grants from the Department of Homeland Security to buy their own military equipment from private suppliers. Thus the total financial cost of police militarization is approximately $39 billion, which is more than the entire defense budget of Germany.

1033 was merely a continuation of the militarization of policing, which started with the development of Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) teams after the Watts riots in Los Angeles in the 1960s. Although originally created to address hostage situations, sniper shootings and violent unrest, since the early 1980s the use of SWAT teams has expanded dramatically. Between 1985 and 1995, there was a 48 percent increase in the number of SWAT teams and an astounding 1,500 percent increase in deployments between 1980 and 2000. SWAT teams are most frequently deployed to conduct search and arrest warrants related to drug cases, with some 50,000 deployments in 2015, yet in few cases do they discover actual serious criminal activity. By the late 1990s, 89 percent of large police departments (those serving at least 50,000 civilians) had a police paramilitary unit (PPU), approximately double the number that did in the 1980s. Experts say that the military-style battle dress uniforms (BDUs) and the military-style stress training often provided in police academies, creates an “us versus them” mentality that, coupled with the surplus gear, can very easily lead officers to develop a war-making, not peacekeeping, philosophy of policing. This is all despite federal law that prohibits the military from being deployed against U.S citizens.

The military is designed to use maximum force; police should use as little as is needed to do their work and to protect themselves. There should remain no doubt that training police to act like the military, don military gear, and arm themselves with the tools of an occupying force will do nothing but increase fear and tensions and reduce the likelihood that citizens will want to cooperate with law enforcement. We should put pressure on the Trump administration to reconsider this foolish reinstatement of the 1033 program before another Ferguson happens.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Different From Another 7/19/17

Being Too Much  – by Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Some people are just too much, as the story goes. Or too “extra,” in the parlance of today’s youth. That is, they are more than the status quo can take. They challenge the norms, they are unapologetic, and instead of rejecting it, as is often expected, they remain fiercely committed to their difference. Instead of embracing this attitude, we ridicule and we reject people who are too much. But isn’t it precisely those over-the-top people, those creative innovators, those “unruly” people, people, that are most needed in our world today? Instead, we minimize, dismiss, and marginalize those who don’t fit nicely into our binary definitions of whatever the issue may be. Not skinny? You’re too fat. Too thin? You’re anorexic. Too optimistic? You’re naïve. Too somber? You must be clinically depressed. Ask for what you want? Too pushy. Don’t ask? Not assertive enough.

While this binary-thinking problem afflicts the U.S. as a whole, it is perhaps most acutely on display when we talk about gender. Women who embrace their sexuality are too slutty. Women who refuse to succumb to prescribed notions for post-40s dress are too old. Women who lead are bossy. During the 2016 presidential campaign (and through all of her previous campaigns), Hillary Clinton was repeatedly described as “shrill” whenever she got animated about a topic. Yet male candidates often talk loudly (and, as Donald Trump demonstrated during the debates) and over female candidates, this pejorative is not used to describe them.

And before I am accused of some radical man-hating agenda, I completely acknowledge that women are part of the problem. Writing in Forbes in April 2012, Jenna Goudreau notes how women also find others who are too much to be intimidating. Women who happen to be attractive and also have a successful career and personal life are often persona non grata with other women. Popular culture contributes to this notion that if women with children happen to be successful in any realm outside of motherhood, they are instantly less likeable unless they are that rare breed of super-palatable celebrity moms, like Reese Witherspoon and Jessica Alba. The message is clear: Tone it down, don’t push too much, don’t achieve too much…don’t be too much.

The problem goes beyond a simple narrowness of identity. Rather, this view that anyone who is more than me is too be disregarded or reviled limits much-needed social change. As Anne Helen Peterson wrote in her book Too fat, too slutty, too loud, these unruly people are the ones who help chip away at antiquated notions of femininity and masculinity. They challenge stereotypes and shatter glass ceilings. It is not people who play it safe who will be our leaders but those who take risks and persevere through pushbacks.

So, what if instead of making fun of the unruly people who are too-this or too-that, we asked what it is about our culture that bothers us so much about someone who smashes the either/or categorizations? What if we taught our kids that not only are people different from one another in terms of looks, interests, and abilities, but that success looks different for everyone? In fact, what if we encouraged (no, really, not just in half-hearted, “be all you can be” mantras) all people to go for it? To pursue with passion what excites them? To wear what pleases them? To use their bodies as they desire?

That’s the kind of world I’m up for.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

 

Being a Woman 5/31/17

A Feminist Perspective on Trumpcare  – Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Although the American Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2017 is rife with problems, one of the most disturbing is its shocking gender bias. But why should we be shocked that the AHCA, or “Trumpcare,” privileges males, as it was crafted by a group of privileged males and is being championed by the most privileged of all, Donald Trump himself?

The House bill now goes to the Senate, where majority leader Mitch McConnell initially convened a healthcare working group composed of 13 men. Amidst criticism, they invited Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) to join, although it is not clear that she will be a regular contributor.

The fact that 13 men, and a woman who may or may not be a regular contributor, are crafting this bill is not the issue, but rather that the architects of the AHCA are treating women as second-class citizens while taking care of their own interests.

While the AHCA maintains the federal provision requiring that insurance companies provide coverage to people regardless of their medical history, states will be allowed to seek a waiver from the federal law. An amendment to the bill appears to allow insurers to charge people more if they have certain pre-existing conditions or even to deny them coverage entirely.

The exhaustive list that penalizes women

Rape and sexual assault themselves are not listed as pre-existing conditions in the proposed bill, yet the most common physical and emotional effects can be used to deny health insurance coverage to women under the proposed law. Research is clear that victims of sexual assault suffer higher rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and sleep disorders—all on the proposed list of pre-existing conditions. Victims of domestic violence often struggle with these same things. Given that approximately one in six women are sexually assaulted and 30 percent experience domestic violence, the potential impact is huge.

If you have troublesome periods or menstrual irregularities, expect your premiums to go up. Pregnancy and the need for a C-section are also on the list of pre-existing conditions, and premiums for women who have given birth might be as much as four times higher than for men. In case it’s not yet clear – only women menstruate and get pregnant.

The bill would also allow insurers to opt-out of what Obamacare considered the 10 essential health benefits, or services that all insurance plans must cover. These include maternity and newborn care, preventive care like mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, birth control, and access to free or low-cost breast pumps. Before Obamacare, 62 percent of healthcare insurance plans available on the individual market did not cover maternity care, and only nine states mandated maternity coverage.

The AHCA will defund Planned Parenthood for one year and blocks that agency from receiving Medicaid reimbursements. That essentially eliminates birth control access and sexually transmitted infection screenings for an estimated 390,000 low-income women. About half of the 2.5 million patients who visit Planned Parenthood centers every year rely on Medicaid for their health coverage.

It shouldn’t be that hard

The champions of Trumpcare really don’t seem to get it. Or maybe they do, and just don’t care. Representative John Shimkus questioned why men have to pay for prenatal care, while White House press secretary Sean Spicer even joked that older men didn’t need maternity care. Funny? Not so much.

At the same time, the architects of the bill deliberately left erectile dysfunction off the list of pre-existing conditions. So, being a woman is a chronic medical condition that must be controlled by men but getting hard (or not) is protected. If we ever needed more proof that men think with one head more than the other, look no further. This healthcare bill will continue to entrench male superiority, to the detriment of more than half of the country’s population.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

More on the Chopping Block 3/1/17

Laura Finley

Resisting Trump’s Militarization – by Laura Finley

Not surprisingly, activists are daunted by the lightning-paced dismantling of civil rights and social justice that President Trump has authorized in barely more than one month in office. Trump’s orders on immigration, private prisons, state’s laws on marijuana legalization, use of neutral bathrooms by transgender youth, and so many more are indeed deeply troubling. But perhaps the biggest concern is the proposed increased militarism, which will without a doubt come at the expense of social services and foreign aid.

Although the specifics are yet to be released, Trump has pledged to expand the military while cutting the budgets of various other federal agencies. In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump pledged to oversee “one of the greatest military buildups in American history,” and recent proposals show his inclination to increase defense and security spending by $54 billion while cutting roughly the same amount elsewhere. Trump chief strategist Stephen Bannon said last week that one of the main goals of the administration was the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” In conversations since taking office and on the campaign trail, Trump has pledged not to touch entitlement programs like Social Security, which means dramatic reductions to the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the State Department, food stamps, Department of Justice-administered Violence Against Women (VAWA) grants, and more.

Trump claims that such cuts reflect the nation’s priorities, but it seems as though that statement is part of the alternative-fact universe the president loves to critique. Foreign aid represents approximately one percent of federal outlays, while funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which the administration says should be privatized) and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities make up .02 percent of federal spending. So, the cuts Trump has mentioned are not nearly enough to recoup the $54 billion he wants to spend on the military. Clearly, more programs and initiatives are on the chopping block.

Claiming that he intends to build a military bigger and stronger than ever before, Trump said. “…hopefully we’ll never have to use it, but nobody’s going to mess with us, folks. Nobody.” His blowhard rhetoric while he defunds programs that assist our allies does nothing to convince those who despise the U.S. that we are changing our ways. Rather, as is evidenced by the increase in hate crimes reported after the election, this tough-guy mentality merely serves to embolden the lunatic fringe and to stifle dialogue and collaboration.

Cuts to the federal VAWA grants have been recommended by the right-wing Heritage Foundation, which sees them as a misuse of federal funds despite evidence that domestic violence decreased 64 percent after the VAWA was first enacted in 1994. Similarly, cuts to the EPA will result in further environmental damage by corporations yet zero accountability for it. Cuts to the arts and humanities will do nothing to create a more accepting and peaceful world. Reducing funds for food stamps means that even more Americans, the vast majority of whom are working long hours for little pay, will struggle to feed their families. More children will go to school hungry, unable to learn because their tummies rumble. All this while the U.S. already has a military bigger than the next 15 countries combined.

We must resist this militarization with all our might. Our tax dollars are at work here, and as such, the public should say what we want to prioritize. Please tell your elected officials that you want more money devoted to a peaceful and more just world, rather than one in which those with the most military might prevail.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Just Too Much 1/4/17

Cops Copping Out – by Laura Finley

Laura L. Finley

“I wasn’t trying to offend anyone.” This seriously has to be among the most ludicrous cop-outs of all time. These six silly words make it clear that 1) The speaker or writer actually knows that he or she offended someone; 2) The speaker or writer is pathetically unaware of the difference between effect and intent; and 3) The recipient should suck it up and get over the allegedly unintended and non-harmful remark. Despite the clearly ridiculous logic that underlies this huge dodge of responsibility for what one freely emits from his or her vocal cords, a quick perusal of news will find it to be a common refrain from people of all sorts. While always problematic, it is even more so when uttered by people in power, as their institutional position and social status should make them models for the most thoughtful and careful rhetoric. That is often not the case.

The latest example that got me ranting this morning came from a report in my local newspaper, The Miami Herald, which discussed the firing of three rookie police officers in Miami for exchanges in a group chat in which they described using predominantly black neighborhoods as target practice. Yes, that’s right, these officers somehow thought it was funny or clever to refer to Overtown and Model City, two of the city’s historically black neighborhoods, as a location for practicing their accuracy with a lethal weapon. They even referred to the residents as “moving targets.” This comes amidst national attention to police shootings of black males, and at a time when the department is under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Justice for a host of questionable shootings. Nearby, officers in N. Miami Beach were found a year ago to be using real photos of black men for target practice.

Naturally, the fired officers and their defenders claimed they were just joking and that they did not intend any harm. Because one of the officers is black and another has a black grandfather, the police union has argued that they cannot be considered racists and that they should have been reprimanded but not fired. As if we aren’t all influenced by the toxic air of racism that rains down on us every day. Others have argued that the officers were merely young and did something dumb. When your job is to protect and serve the very communities for which you have expressed clear disrespect, these remarks are far from just impulsive and stupid. They speak volumes about the way you are likely to interact with residents and do nothing but set back the efforts to bridge the divide between police and some black communities.

The most absurd response has come from the officers’ attorney, Stephan Lopez, who maintains that they have grounds to sue the city for discrimination because…wait for it…others who have made even more racist remarks faced lesser sanctions. If that isn’t just too much.

Since the officers and their defenders seem befuddled by their firings, I shall bring some much needed clarity with a series of declaratives. Yes, your remarks are racist. No, the color of your skin does not absolve you from discriminating based on race—there have always been people of color who suffer from the internalized oppression and dominant culture pressure to target their own. Yes, you control what you say or write so you are responsible for it. No, you do not get to determine whether someone else is offended. Yes, you should apologize, but that’s probably not enough. No, you should not be allowed to work with communities you describe with disdain, disrespect, or prejudice, let alone work there with the authority of the state to carry and use a lethal weapon.

And for all of us: Can we please stop pretending our words don’t matter by saying “I didn’t mean to offend anyone.”

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Execution Binge in Florida 12/7/16

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Making 2016 More Peaceful  – by Laura Finley

It’s a new year and already we’re off to the same old tricks. Donald Trump released his first televised advertisement in which he doubled down on his threat to prohibit Muslims from entering the country if he becomes president, while also vowing to “chop the head off of ISIS.” When he was informed that terrorists were using video footage of his comments, Trump proclaimed that he didn’t care.

Although President Obama is announcing expanded background checks for gun purchases, many states are moving in the opposite direction. Texas started the year with new legislation allowing people to openly carry their guns, and Florida looks poised to pass open carry as well as campus carry laws. This despite the fact that 27 Americans were shot and killed on Christmas Day alone, a number equal to the annual gun homicide rates in Austria, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Estonia, Bermuda, Hong Kong and Iceland. Combined.

Just before the end of 2015, a grand jury in Ohio refused to indict the two white officers who shot 12-year-old African-American. This does not bode well for better police-community relationships.

While Bill Cosby will finally stand trial for sexual assault, his defenders are still babbling incessantly about “his side of the story,” a not-so-subtle code for “we don’t believe the victims.” Even less subtle are those who call the women “gold-diggers.” Harvard University and Florida State University, both of which were critiqued for their poor response to sexual assault victims in The Hunting Ground, have launched public campaigns to discredit survivors.

Despite being on the decline nationally, and its system being reviewed by the Supreme Court this year, Florida Governor Rick Scott is set to resume his execution binge on January 7.

Not only did an armed militia group occupy a federal wildlife sanctuary, but media has in many cases referred to it as a “peaceful protest.” I must be missing the peace part of their actions. The response by many on the left has been to mock the group, referring to them as “‘Y’all Qaeda,” “VanillaIsis,” “Yeehawdist,” and “YokeHaram.” How it is helpful to use the same demeaning language we decry when used to describe progressive activism escapes me.

A Florida woman admitted to killing her toddler and stuffing him into a suitcase because she believed the world is about to end in a great biblical flood. Meanwhile, close to 500 children died in a six-year period, all while child welfare officials were either investigating or had investigated their homes for abuse and neglect.

While so many of us make New Year’s resolutions for personal betterment, I think addressing these things and so many more should be our collective resolution for 2016. In addition to exercising more, spending more time with family and all the other things we vow to do annually, perhaps we can vow to take more seriously the call to reduce violence in all its forms. We should commit to being more careful with our language, to demanding better of our politicians and candidates, to supporting victims and families, to holding accountable those who perpetrate violence, and to promoting peace in our homes, schools, and communities

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Does Not Bode Well 12/7/16

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Making 2016 More Peaceful  – by Laura Finley

It’s a new year and already we’re off to the same old tricks. Donald Trump released his first televised advertisement in which he doubled down on his threat to prohibit Muslims from entering the country if he becomes president, while also vowing to “chop the head off of ISIS.” When he was informed that terrorists were using video footage of his comments, Trump proclaimed that he didn’t care.

Although President Obama is announcing expanded background checks for gun purchases, many states are moving in the opposite direction. Texas started the year with new legislation allowing people to openly carry their guns, and Florida looks poised to pass open carry as well as campus carry laws. This despite the fact that 27 Americans were shot and killed on Christmas Day alone, a number equal to the annual gun homicide rates in Austria, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Estonia, Bermuda, Hong Kong and Iceland. Combined.

Just before the end of 2015, a grand jury in Ohio refused to indict the two white officers who shot 12-year-old African-American. This does not bode well for better police-community relationships.

While Bill Cosby will finally stand trial for sexual assault, his defenders are still babbling incessantly about “his side of the story,” a not-so-subtle code for “we don’t believe the victims.” Even less subtle are those who call the women “gold-diggers.” Harvard University and Florida State University, both of which were critiqued for their poor response to sexual assault victims in The Hunting Ground, have launched public campaigns to discredit survivors.

Despite being on the decline nationally, and its system being reviewed by the Supreme Court this year, Florida Governor Rick Scott is set to resume his execution binge on January 7.

Not only did an armed militia group occupy a federal wildlife sanctuary, but media has in many cases referred to it as a “peaceful protest.” I must be missing the peace part of their actions. The response by many on the left has been to mock the group, referring to them as “‘Y’all Qaeda,” “VanillaIsis,” “Yeehawdist,” and “YokeHaram.” How it is helpful to use the same demeaning language we decry when used to describe progressive activism escapes me.

A Florida woman admitted to killing her toddler and stuffing him into a suitcase because she believed the world is about to end in a great biblical flood. Meanwhile, close to 500 children died in a six-year period, all while child welfare officials were either investigating or had investigated their homes for abuse and neglect.

While so many of us make New Year’s resolutions for personal betterment, I think addressing these things and so many more should be our collective resolution for 2016. In addition to exercising more, spending more time with family and all the other things we vow to do annually, perhaps we can vow to take more seriously the call to reduce violence in all its forms. We should commit to being more careful with our language, to demanding better of our politicians and candidates, to supporting victims and families, to holding accountable those who perpetrate violence, and to promoting peace in our homes, schools, and communities.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Negative Playout 11/30/16

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

President Obama Must Act Now on DAPL –                    by Laura Finley

Thanksgiving has come and gone, with millions of Americans stuffing their faces, watching parades and football, and perhaps mentioning a word or two of gratitude for their families. Perhaps a few considered the alleged first Thanksgiving, a supposedly peaceful meal between Natives and Pilgrims. Native Americans consider it a day of mourning, as they challenge that quaint depiction and point to the government’s long history of massacres, broken treaties, and forced cultural assimilation. Even more ironic than celebrating the destruction of Native Americans land and lifestyle is the fact that most Americans have no idea that such destruction continues today, and that our president has the power to stop at least one part of it immediately.

To be fair, President Obama has repeatedly been praised for his attention to issues faced by Native Americans. During his 2008 campaign, he vowed that his administration would pay attention to Native Americans’ grievances about the government’s reneging on treaties and its long history of federal mismanagement of tribal affairs. He declared that no group has been ignored by Washington for as long as have Native Americans. Obama has been applauded for helping broker a $492 million settlement with 17 tribes for federal mismanagement of land and funds, for creating a White House council to improve communication with tribes, for including Native women in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and for expanding the jurisdiction of tribal courts. If he continues to do nothing about the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the protests at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, however, his administration will end with a huge black mark. And, importantly, it is clear that his successor, Donald Trump, would back the pipeline, not the protestors.

For months, Native Americans and supporters have protested the building of the 1,172 mile pipeline, which will disrupt sacred land and may have environmental and economic consequences for a number of tribes. On November 1, President Obama called on “both sides to show restraint” and said that the Army Corps of Engineers was considering an alternate route. He also said that he wanted to “let the situation play out.”

It has played out, and not in a positive way. One side is definitely not showing that restraint. Things escalated in the last several weeks due to the militarized response from state and other authorities. North Dakota Governor Dalrymple has sent law enforcement from all over the state to Standing Rock, and has convinced seven other states to do the same. Law enforcement has used aggressive tactics to counter the nonviolent protests. Police are using water cannons, tear gas, concussion grenades and rubber bullets against the unarmed protestors. Hundreds of water protectors, including “Divergent” star Shailene Woodley, have been arrested for trespassing and report enduring invasive strip-searches before being stuffed into cells they call “dog kennels” without bedding for the night. One activist, Sophia Wilanski, who was handing out water bottles to protestors, suffered a serious injury to her arm when she was hit by a concussion grenade. Some 300 were injured, and most of the patients who were treated suffered hypothermia due to the seven hour assault by police officers armed with water cannons in temperatures as low as 22 degrees.

President-elect Donald Trump reportedly has a $2 million stake in the DAPL. It’s pretty clear we can’t count on him to shut it down. In fact, given his position that the U.S. should upgrade its oil and gas infrastructure, it is likely he’ll re-open the Keystone XL Pipeline, which President Obama shut down amidst similar protests. Energy Transfer CEO Kelcy Warren believes Trump will support the company as well, and Energy Transfer Partners’ stock price climbed more than 15 percent since Trump’s election. No lover of Native Americans, Trump has previously scuffled with tribes in the northeast over casino projects. Trump is unlikely to help the protesters, either, as previous comments (such as saying Colin Kaepernick should “find a new country”) make it clear that nonviolent protest isn’t something he approves.

So, it really is up to President Obama to act before he leaves office, as the company plans for the pipeline to be moving oil by January 1. The situation is worsening and letting it play out further simply means allowing the company to run roughshod over Natives’ rights. Mr. Obama must put people over profits and shut down the DAPL.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Much Needs Attention 10/5/16

Presidential Debate Recommendations – by Laura Finley

Laura L. Finley

Laura L. Finley

Like many others, I was deeply disturbed by much of what I heard (and saw) during the presidential debate on September 26. From Donald Trump’s difficulty breathing to his repeated interruptions, lies, and dodges of even the softest questions, the Republican nominee was way less than impressive. And, while I thought Hillary Clinton exhibited far more poise (perhaps due to her actual preparation for a debate) and a much greater grasp of the issues of which she spoke, there remained many things I wanted to hear a lot more about. As someone interested in creating a more peaceful and just country, I am listing three topics I would like to be addressed in more detail during the next debate.

First, I heard very little about war and militarism. Trump asserted that ISIS formed because the U.S. does not have enough of a military presence and vowed to help the country regain its’ “winning temperament.” Clinton’s comment that the U.S. needs to work with its allies to acquire better intelligence was a good start, as was her acknowledgement of the successful diplomacy with Iran by Secretary of State John Kerry, but neither candidate elaborated on their inclination to use troops and/or drone attacks in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Neither discussed the importance of increasing resources for veterans but otherwise cutting military budgets, despite the U.S. having a military force greater than the next 15 countries combined. According to Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index, the U.S. is 103rd out of 163 nations due to its excessive militarism (among other factors). Given that both candidates supported the war in Iraq (even though Trump lied about that during the debate and was even called on it by moderator Lester Holt), it is hard to imagine either as anything but hawkish in this regard. I believe we should push them to take a stand on decreasing military expenditures and engagements, as well as to explain how our continued activity in many countries does not violate international human rights law, as surely seems the case.

Second, gender inequality was shockingly missing from the debate. Sure, Clinton noted her advocacy for equal pay and denounced Trump for his poor treatment of women, but neither offered specifics regarding how to increase women’s presence in politics, the corporate world, or other institutions in which we are sorely underrepresented. Likewise, neither mentioned the many forms of violence endured by women in the U.S on a daily basis. Catcalls, sexual harassment, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and commercial sex trafficking are intractable problems in the U.S. yet none of these issues were mentioned. The 2015 Global Gender Gap Report ranked the U.S. 28th of 145 in regards to gender equality. Data is clear that gender inequality is bad for women, men, and for the society as a whole, as it results in reduced productivity, emotional and physical health outcomes, and more. Given that Clinton has said she isn’t hesitant to “play the gender card,” even asking to be “dealt in” for doing so, I think it is fair to probe her on these issues. And Trump can only stand to repair his image among women, so he would be well-served to think deeply about reducing gender inequality before the next debate. Providing he elects to prepare for that one.

Third, neither candidate focused on education during the debate, barring Clinton’s brief mention of the cost of college. Given that our public schools are as segregated as they were when Martin Luther King Jr. was alive, funding is ridiculously disproportionate, testing and test preparation takes up as much as twenty percent of instructional time in some schools, many offer nothing in terms of comprehensive sexual education, and school grounds increasingly resemble militarized fortresses or prisons, there is much that needs our attention.

In sum, perhaps instead of spending time rehashing that President Obama is indeed a U.S citizen born on U.S. soil, maybe the next debate can include having the candidates describe how they intend to make the country more peaceful and just.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Healthy Peaceful Relationships 10/5/16

Pay Attention to Domestic Violence – Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Dwarfed by the enormous outpouring for breast cancer awareness month, it receives attention largely from survivors, advocates and activists. But it should warrant far greater and more careful consideration. Domestic violence is not only deadly, it is also associated with a host of other social problems. It costs the country billions in criminal justice expenditures, healthcare, lost productivity and more. It is a contributing factor to many other crimes. Yet it is preventable. This October, I implore everyone to do what they can to support survivors but also to teach our children and young adults how to engage in healthy, peaceful relationships.

Here is why we should all care about domestic violence.

According to the Violence Policy Center, more than 1,600 women were murdered by men in in 2013. Of those, 62 percent were wives or intimate partners. Almost one-third of the mass shooting deaths in 2015 were domestic violence-related, and in cases in which four people were killed (but not the shooter), 57 percent included family members or intimate partners as victims. Domestic violence was the reason for more than 20 percent of police officers killed in the line of duty between 2010 and 2014.

Bullying is a predictor of later involvement in an abusive dating or domestic situation. Dating violence is a major cause of school massacres. According to sociologist Jessie Klein of Adelphi University, of 12 school shootings that occurred in the U.S. between 1997 and 2002, assailants specifically targeted girls who had either rejected them or broken up with them. The boys had previously made threats against the girls, typically both in person and online.

The CDC has estimated domestic violence costs $8.3 billion per year, with $5.8 billion of that in medical costs and $2.5 billion in lost productivity. Domestic violence is the most common cause of injury for women in the U.S. ages 15 to 44. Victims of domestic violence use emergency healthcare services eight times more frequently than do non-victims. Women who have been abused are 70 percent more likely to have heart disease, 80 percent more likely to have a stroke, and 60 percent more likely to develop asthma. They are three times more likely to suffer from depression, four times more likely to commit suicide, and endure six times the rate of PTSD as non-victims. Women experiencing physical abuse are also three times more likely to report having an STI than non-abused women. More than one-third (38.8 percent) of adolescent girls tested for STI/HIV have experienced dating violence. The increased healthcare costs for victims can persist 15 years after the abuse.

According to a 2005 survey, some 64 percent of domestic violence victims say the abuse has impacted their work. It is estimated that victims lose eight million paid days of work annually. Abusers often injure or kill others while targeting victims at the workplace, as in the recent shooting at a mall in Burlington, Washington.

Children who witness abuse are at greater risk for becoming either victims or abusers. They are also prone to act out in school, creating a challenging climate for teachers, administrators and classmates. They may require mental health assistance, which is also costly. And many, especially boys, end up involved in the criminal justice system—yet another cost.

The above-listed statistics should be enough for us to take action in our homes, schools, workplaces and communities. We can teach our children healthy, respectful relationship boundaries and to intervene when they witness someone mistreating a date or partner. We can include these topics in our school and college curricula. We can train employers and colleagues to identify the signs of abuse and to be helpful supporters. We can educate healthcare providers and police on best practices in identifying and responding to abuse that help survivors receive the support they need and hold abusers accountable. Amazing resources are available through organizations like Futures Without Violence, The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the Partnership for Prevention. While it is easy to buy one more pink item that contributes minimally to breast cancer awareness and research, it is equally easy to learn and act to end domestic violence.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Not The Strong Suit 9/7/16

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Protest and Disrespect: America in Black and White – by Laura Finley

This country was built on protest, or so we are told. Americans fight for what is right, to correct injustices and to secure the freedoms and liberties we wish to enjoy. We teach our kids to admire Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the many others who organized nonviolent protests like sit-ins as a tool for challenging deep inequality. We talk about the importance of allies, or those who stand up with the oppressed, even if they themselves are not.

Yet when a well-paid professional athlete elects to use that same strategy we allegedly admire so much to call attention to the continued oppression of black people in this country, he is critiqued for his privilege and denounced for being unpatriotic. As has been widely reported, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been refusing to stand for the national anthem, saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” What really seems to be at play here, then, is not that Kaepernick’s cause is unjust or his strategy unsound. Rather, it is that Americans want their athletes, especially those on the new plantations that are our football fields, to do as they’re told. Just stay in your place and all will be fine.

It’s also interesting to juxtapose the reaction to Kaepernick’s protest with the reactions to Donald Trump, who wants “make America great again,” which of course implies it is far from great right right now. It can’t be, as some have said, that Kaepernick’s salary with the NFL makes his complaint less legitimate, since Trump makes a crap-ton more than Kaepernick will ever dream to. Trump slings all kinds of criticism and hate in a far from peaceful fashion, yet is not told to “find a country that works better for him,” as he recently recommended to Kaepernick.

The reactions of Trump, his political toadies, and a host of others (generally white) are the very real manifestations of white privilege. And they are further proof that we want to enjoy our brutally violent football without the bother of confronting anything more serious than when to grab the next beer and how many wings to eat. When other black athletes have shown solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement, supported justice for Trayvon Martin, or engaged in a host of other nonviolent protests in recent years, they too have faced such criticisms. In sum: Rich white men can complain. Black men should not, income regardless.

The New York Giants’ Justin Pugh, in the very city where Eric Garner and, before him, Sean Bill, both black and unarmed, were killed by police, used Kaepernick’s protest to pledge support for “different opinions” but most importantly for the military who risk their lives for the flag. What Pugh sees as an issue of opinion is unclear; it is undoubtedly true oppression of people of color remains a problem in the U.S. This is not Kaepernick’s opinion. It is fact.

Minnesota Viking Alex Boone called the protest shameful and denounced it for being disrespectful. Yet, as others have noted, Boone did not call out the “disrespect” of the Minnesota police who killed a black man, Philando Castile, during a traffic stop. Former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh also referred to Kaepernick’s protest as disrespectful, later claiming it wasn’t the position but rather the action to which he disagreed. New Orleans Saint Drew Brees commented similarly, despite playing in a stadium close to where Alton Sterling was killed by police and in a state that is generally considered the most unequal for people of color. And his coach Sean Payton’s assertion that they have “more important things” they are working on within the stadium is not at all minimizing or disrespectful?

An NFL executive has claimed that he hasn’t seen this much dislike for a player since Rae Carruth, who is incarcerated for hiring someone to kill his pregnant girlfriend. Wow. Truth-telling is not the strong suit of the NFL, it seems, if a peaceful protestor is being compared to a convicted violent criminal.

Many others have supported Kaepernick, thankfully. White female soccer player Megan Rapinoe knelt during the playing of the national anthem before a game on September 3. She explained, “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties. It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it. It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this. We don’t need to be the leading voice, of course, but standing in support of them is something that’s really powerful.”

Veterans are not all uniform in their response, of course, but the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick makes it clear that some are not at all disrespected by his action, seeing it instead as precisely what they fight for. And, in an interesting turn of events, sales of Kaepernick’s jerseys have skyrocketed since he began the protest. Maybe there’s hope he can make Trump-like money after all, and therefore be his criticisms of the U.S will be more widely applauded.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Anywhere Else? 8/10/16

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Protecting Floridians: Zika, Poisonous Water, and Gun Violence

By Laura Finley

Is there anywhere else in the US that is experiencing anything like this?

For the past several days, there have been multiple full page articles on or near the front page of the Miami Herald warning about Zika. I get it. No one wants a nasty flu-like virus, and of course it is particularly dangerous for pregnant women or women who might get pregnant in the near future. Yet, while Governor Rick Scott is championing funding for Zika advocacy like he cares deeply about the welfare of Floridians, he has simultaneously pushed forward changes in regulations that critics believe will expose the public to more dangerous toxins in their water. Further, Governor Scott’s administration has done nothing to keep people safe from gun violence, a threat far more deadly than Zika. In fact, it almost seems as though the emphasis on Zika is meant to draw attention away from other problems with his administration.

In June, Governor Scott issued an executive order authorizing $26.2 million for the fight against the Zika. Scott has repeatedly criticized Washington for failing to adequately fund the anti-Zika efforts, although President Obama did offer to send $5.6 million to Florida while Congress was on recess. It’s always interesting when the “no big government” people beg desperately for the federal government for assistance. What Scott isn’t sharing is that in 2011, he cut funding for mosquito control programs, and that he was slow to call in the CDC for assistance. To date, Zika has infected just 16 people in Miami Dade County and 422 in the state. Again, not good, but it doesn’t really sound like a public health emergency of epic proportion. Maybe it’s a lot about Rick Scott making up for the previous cuts?

In July, Florida regulators voted to approve new water quality standards that critics say increase the amount of cancer-causing toxins allowed in Florida’s rivers and streams. Proponents, including Governor Scott, say the plan will protect more Floridians than do the current standards, with 39 new chemicals to be regulated. But the regulations on 43 other chemicals, mostly carcinogens, are being revised as well. Environmental groups caution that the new standard would allow polluters to dump dangerous chemicals in high concentrations into Florida waters before they trigger the limits of the new rule. They maintain that the new standards are weaker than federal guidelines. Naturally, the acceptable level increases involve chemicals that are released by oil and gas drilling companies, including fracking operations, dry cleaning companies, pulp and paper producers, nuclear plants, wastewater treatment plants and agricultural producers—some of Governor Scott’s best buddies. Thankfully, the rules do not take effect until the federal Environmental Protection Agency approves them, and environmentalists have vowed to put up a fight. Again, it’s possible that Rick Scott’s activity here is not in the best interest of the state, but in that of his toadies.

On a more deadly issue, Governor Scott has shown absolutely no political will to address gun violence. Some 2,000 people die from gun shots annually in Florida. This is the state in which George Zimmerman was allowed to murder Trayvon Martin. Where Michael Dunn was originally acquitted for opening fire on four teenagers because their music was too loud (he was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison, however). Where a Miami officer shot at an autistic man, wounding his caregiver, who, incidentally, was unarmed, had his hands in the air, and was announcing that the other man had a toy truck in his hands. Where the deadliest mass shooting was perpetrated by a single shooter at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, followed just weeks later by the killing of two and wounding of dozens more at a nightclub in Ft. Myers.

I say enough of paying lip service to “protecting” Floridians. Governor Scott’s actions, and inactions, speak volumes.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Not For Me 7/20/16

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Refusing the “New Normal”  by Laura Finley

It has been a rough few weeks, to say the least. Philando Castile, killed by police during a traffic stop, July 6, 2014. Dylan Noble, also killed by police during a traffic stop, July 14, 2016. Both unarmed. Five Dallas police officers are killed, and nine others wounded in alleged “payback” for police violence, July 7, 2016. Some 40 people, including women and children, executed by the Islamic State in Um al-Housh, Syria, July 5, 2016. Two dozen local soldiers killed by al-Qaeda suicide bombers in Aden, Yemen, July 6, 2016. Noncombatants killed by US bombs against ISIS and unknown US drone civilian victims in up to seven nations. Seven killed and 11 injured in Rashidiya, Iraq suicide attack, July 13, 2016. At least 84 people killed in terrorist attack in Nice, France, July 14, 2016. Sadly, but surely, there are more. So much heartbreak. So many questions.

Pundits and social media alike have discussed that global violence may be “the new normal.” In these troubled times, some turn to their faith, as evidenced by the hashtag #prayfornice or the like. I do not write to judge that response, but it is not for me. It’s easy to see how these events and the belief that violence is ubiquitous lead to hopelessness and despair. While I understand it, my heart heavy as well, that too is not for me.

Both these responses, I believe, do not challenge this so-called new normal. They leave me, and perhaps others, feeling powerless. And that is something I refuse to feel. I know that I personally cannot end gun violence, terrorism or any of these major problems. But I will not pretend that I there is nothing I can do, that even my simple daily actions have no impact on the world. I by no means want to be sanctimonious or to bury my head in the sand about the seriousness of these issues. But, reflecting on what I can do, I offer the following list:

· I can believe in the humanity of all people and treat each person I encounter with respect and dignity.

· I can reach out to people I don’t know, making them feel comfortable and included.

· I can do good by my family, my neighbors, my colleagues and others, offering a helping hand, encouraging word, or even just a smile.

· I can share what I have with others through donating my time, skills, food, money, or other things.

· I can speak up when I hear people speak with hatred or prejudice.

· I can make my voice be heard politically by educating myself about candidates and about their voting records so that, perhaps, elections at all levels are won by people who are determined to reduce the violence.

· I can continue teaching my daughter about both the problems and the beauties of the world today, and can help her see that she can use her imagination, her intelligence, and her motivation to be part of the solution.

· I can ensure that I do not act or react with violent words or behaviors, even in the face of conflict.

Although it might be easier to numb the heartbreak, to be resolved to the horrid normalcy of violence, I won’t do it. I hope that others feel that they, too, still have the power to make a much-needed change toward a safer and more peaceful world.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Far From Funny 6/22/16

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Rape is Rape, Nothing Else Is  – by Laura Finley

Let me begin with a simple declarative. Nothing, I repeat, nothing, is like being raped. Rape is a horrific invasion of the most sacred thing we have, our bodies. So, it infuriates me to hear celebrities and politicians minimize rape by equating their life experiences to being violently victimized, or by using their powerful public platform to blame victims.

In the latest in public figures who leak stupidity from their lips, Indian actor Salman Khan attempted to equate filming a difficult scene with being a victim of rape, professing that afterwards he “couldn’t walk.” Kanye West once compared the paparazzi following him and his family to being raped. Likewise, Charlize Theron, who has been a Stop Rape advocate for the UN, commented that having her privacy violated was tantamount to rape. Johnny Depp compared having to participate in photo shoots with fans to being raped, while Kristen Stewart likened fame in general to enduring sexual assault. And of course, there’s Donald Trump’s comment that China has been allowed to “rape our country.”

My least favorite comedian (unless you count the multiple rapist Bill Cosby as one still—I don’t and never have found him funny) Daniel Tosh, when called out by a female audience member for saying rape jokes are always funny, doubled-down to state “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now? Like right now?” Speaking of Cosby, Damon Ways attempted to defend the man from rape allegations by pronouncing some of the accusers as “unrapeable.” Then, of course, there’s Congressman Todd Akin, with the infamously moronic comment regarding rape and abortion: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.” Not to be outdone, former North Carolina Republican Representative Henry Aldridge stated that when women are “truly” raped (note the heavy implication that women falsely claim they are sexually assaulted) “the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant.” Ron Paul similarly called it “honest rape.” Clearly none of these fools has read even a bit of literature on rape, or they’d know that false reports of rape are quite infrequent and occur no more often than do false reports of other crimes.

More rape myth spewage: In 1988, basketball coach Bobby Knight compared the stress of a game to rape, exclaiming ‘I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.” Just two years later, former Texas Gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams echoed that asinine tidbit. Many celebrities have also made jokes implying that drugging someone then having sex with them is completely acceptable. Such comments have come from a diverse array of celebrities, including Miley Cyrus, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug actor Martin Freeman, and Al Franken. Far from funny and definitely not clever, these remarks are definitely not going to help young men and women navigate sexual relationships.

Victim-blaming is a common trope as well. Whoopi Goldberg, Chrissie Hynde, Serena Williams, musician Cee Lo Green all sadly, and likely scores more, have blamed women’s clothing, drinking, or other so-called “inappropriate” behavior for their victimization. Commenting about Rihanna, Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones wrote that the artist had a “fashion sense on stage that surely invites rape at worst, disrespect at least.” When actor Shia LaBeouf said he had been raped years prior, pundit Piers Morgan thought he needed to weigh in, calling it, with no proof at all, “a load of baloney” and insisting that it insults other victims. Hmm. How about they get to decide if they’re insulted? And when did he become the rape truth-teller?

It pains me to review the frequency of these comments, some even issued by people I would generally have respected. While some did apologize afterwards, many used that insincere “I didn’t mean to offend anyone” garbage. Surely it can’t be that hard to avoid equating any minor life annoyance with being sexually assaulted. And time has more than come for people everywhere to withhold their personal diatribes about a victim’s personal appearance or behavior. Please. Enough, already.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Lighthouses of Ourselves 6/15/16

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Applauding Joe Biden  by Laura Finley

So often, criticism is levied at politicians for an array of issues, much of it warranted. Sometimes, though, these folks use their office to make powerful statements that reach millions and have the potential to generate real change. On numerous occasions, Vice-President Joe Biden has done so, and he recently did again in a statement issued in response to that made by the woman who was raped by Stanford swimmer Brock Turner. Biden’s heartfelt note of solidarity moved me to tears, and his continued advocacy for ending rape culture represents some of the best of Washington, D.C. Biden had no motive to write this other than genuine empathy. Here’s what I think Biden did so well in his response.

First, he acknowledged the courage it took this survivor to share her story in such detail. While no survivor should ever be pushed or coerced into rehashing the assault, those who do so help pave the way for others, and they also serve to educate people about the reality of rape. Although repeatedly stating that he does not know her name, Biden’s letter is deeply personal, for he notes, “you so eloquently represent every woman.” This, of course, is reference to the everyday sexism, the routine harassment and assault of women, that is all too real.

Second, Biden recognized that a lot of people have failed this survivor, not just on the night of the attack but in the months following. He calls out the people at the party who could have intervened when she was clearly incapacitated, the people who question whether her drinking somehow “brought this on.” Biden clearly dismisses those who would refer to this situation as “two drunk kids who made a mistake,” explaining that this incident will not define her, but it will indeed define Brock Turner.

Third, Biden indicts the broader culture that allows young people to not just turn a blind eye, but to disbelieve. Biden similarly denounces Turner’s father for referring to the incident as “20 minutes of action,” an appalling implication that the “action” was mere sex, not a violent crime. He notes that rates of sexual assault on campuses have not changed in decades, stating that “it’s a failure that lies at all of our feet.”

Fourth, Biden implores others to read her story, to share it, and to use it to facilitate conversations. This, he maintains, will help save lives and stimulate people to intervene in cases of sexual assault—as Biden powerfully wrote “We will make lighthouses of ourselves, as you did—and shine.”

Many are engaged in efforts to remove the judge who sentenced Turner to a ridiculous six months in county jail and three years of probation and to otherwise address the many problems with how our courts handle sexual assault. I applaud these efforts. I do hope, however, that this survivor’s story, and Biden’s supportive response, will remind us that it is not just the courts that fail victims, it is all of us. And, as Biden has repeatedly said, it’s on all of us to change rape culture.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

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