Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico had intended to join host Neil Cavuto in his New York studio to discuss questions of economics and religion, but Friday’s events in Centennial, Colorado prompted a different discussion altogether.
Yesterday I noted some items related to the question of punishment and restorative justice in the American criminal justice system. And in the past we’ve looked here at the PowerBlog of the issues surrounding political and social activism on prison rape.
Now today Joe Carter, web editor at First Things, considers the Prison Rape Elimination Act and the broader cultural attitudes toward prison rape:
While such laws are a useful beginning, what is needed more than any legislation is a change in attitude by the American public. While jokes about conventional rape are always considered in bad taste, humor about prison rape is common and broadly accepted.
Joe makes an important case, and it is worth serious consideration. Given his position on water boarding and torture more generally, I’m sure that Joe agrees with what I’ve written previously on this issue: “Inmates are still people, and therefore need to be treated as such, with all the challenges and potential that face all human persons.” One of the things it means to treat someone with the dignity they deserve as a human being is to not subject them to conditions where the threat of rape is rampant.
With regard to the relationship between humor and prison rape, Joe is right to point to the double standard. One commenter on one of my previous posts contended, however, that “I don’t think the vast majority of people who joke or threaten about prison rape are seriously indifferent to it when it comes to making real decisions about the penal system. Instead, I think they are simply pointing out one of the ugly realities of any penal system.” You can judge for yourself the accuracy of that claim.
But I wonder too whether one aspect of why prison rape humor is so relatively prevalent in our culture is that, as Joe has noted in his always worthwhile 33 Things, comedy has something to do with “making immoral behavior seem harmless.” In this sense, then, the danger isn’t that humor about making prison rape seem moral, but rather that it makes prison rape seem inconsequential or “benign.”
I’ve been on record more than once regarding my own doubts and criticisms of the precise political pronouncements made by various church groups, especially offices and branches seemingly representing the institutional church. So when I see something sensible and good coming from these same sources, it’s only right and fair that I acknowledge and celebrate them.
Here are two items worthy of notice:
The first is from the newsletter of the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action (OSJHA) of the Christian Reformed Church, which linked to an article, “Can Violence Ever Lead to Peace?” In this piece Paul Kortenhoven explores how “the use of violence in reaction to an extremely violent attack by an extremely violent rebel force simply stopped them. Along with the British stance in Sierra Leone, this also was a main catalyst for peace.”
I have to say I was pretty surprised to see an explicit acknowledgment of the positive role that military and coercive intervention can play as a backdrop for lasting peace. Kortenhoven’s piece is the diametric opposite of what IRD’s Mark Tooley has called in another context the attitude of “pseudo-pacifist academics and antiwar activists.”
It’s an article that takes seriously the complexities involved in answering such questions as, “How, in a world of such strife, are Christians to build peace? How should we think about war? And how do we talk to one another about these issues with open hearts and minds in patience, love and humility?”
The second item of note comes from the ecumenical world, where at the end of last month leaders of WARC “called for the lifting of the United States’ economic embargo against Cuba in the interest of justice and right relationships.”
Unfortunately, this position shouldn’t be construed as part of a broader agenda pursuing economic liberty and international openness, linked as it is to the overall “covenanting for justice” outlook of the 2004 Accra, Ghana meeting. How can you decry embargoes and at the same time militate against “neoliberal economic globalization”? Your guess is as good as mine, but at least on the issue of the Cuba embargo, WARC leaders are in the neighborhood of a prudent approach.
Beyond this, I do have a word of concern as well as praise. Regardless of the rightness of the positions espoused above, there is the methodological and eccelsiological issue of whether these are the appropriate groups to be campaigning for such things. That is, should the institutional church, which the ecumenical clearly fancies itself as representing, be speaking so clearly and particularly on prudential policy matters?
The nation’s news outlets picked up the story quickly last week out of downtown Los Angeles, where an immigration rally at MacArthur Park sparked a violent police reaction.
It looks from reports like the rally turned ugly when protesters moved out of the confines of the park and into the streets. Rally organizers contend that the violence was initiated by a group of “anarchists” not affiliated with the rally itself.
Bratton agreed and said police were initially trying to deal with 50 to 100 “agitators.”
“The individuals were there to provoke police,” Bratton said. “Unfortunately, they got what they came for.” The New York Times also provides a lengthy summary piece of the event, which was organized around “a call for broad changes to immigration laws.”
For a period in the 1980s, I lived less than a block from MacArthur Park, at an apartment building named the Park Wilshire (You can see the proximity to MacArthur Park here). When I lived there, the park was not very family-friendly. There was a lot of violence, including gang and drug activities. It wasn’t a safe neighborhood by any stretch.
Obviously it’s been many years, and perhaps the area has changed. But if it’s anything like it was then, MacArthur Park is a pretty bad choice for place to hold a rally. No doubt the police over-reaction was at least in some small part related to the negative associations connected to the rally’s location. I’m also willing to bet that the “anarchists” and “agitators” didn’t have to travel far to enact some payback against the police, and were able to use the rally as cover.
Unfortunately the real victims of their violence were the innocents at the rally, the women and children who were put in danger, and the members of the media who were beaten and hurt. But there may well be victims beyond the rally itself, if the violence becomes an occasion for fostering more anti-immigrant sentiment in the US.
The NYT editorialized last week about the potential for a new immigration bill that would “eliminate or severely restrict whole categories of family-based immigration in favor of a system that would assign potential immigrants points based on age, skills, education, income and other factors.”
Family concerns are a huge factor motivating illegal immigration. The story of Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Alfredo Quinones-Hinjosa relates this fact. Dr. Quinones-Hinjosa admits that there is no justification for his entry into the US as an illegal immigrant twenty years ago.
“When I first came, I wasn’t thinking that I was breaking the law by coming to this country. All I wanted to do is have enough money to eat, period. That’s all that I had in my mind, is that how can I make money so that I can at least put food on the table of my parents, my siblings, and my future children,” said Quinones-Hinjosa.
His story is one well worth reflecting on as our nation debates the issues surrounding immigration policy and enforcement.
Anthony Bradley looks at America’s children of privilege and the influences that have put so many of them into crisis. “There is mounting evidence that we are faced with a new reality in America: educated, middle-class kids represent a new ‘at risk’ group, as both perpetrators and victims of peer-related violence,” Bradley writes.
During a recent family trip to visit relatives, we settled down for a night of wholesome family entertainment to watch “Inside Man” (well, maybe not all that wholesome; it is a film about a bank robbery, after all). This post has almost nothing to do with the plot of the movie, so if you haven’t seen it, don’t fret. It is a film worth queuing on your Netflix, however, and I recommend it despite the fact that I don’t much care for Spike Lee films.
In any case, at one point in the film a young black kid is playing a video game on a portable game unit. We get a closeup of the game, wherein Matthew (played by Amir Ali Said), is controlling a car full of gang members about to do a drive-by shooting. As the car approaches the target, instructions flash prominently on the game screen, “Kill ‘dat [N-word]!!!” Matthew, good at following directions, manipulates a few buttons, thereby moving one of the gang members to shoot the mark in the head, thereby pasting “cherry pie” all over the outside of the building.
There’s an interesting conversation between Matthew and one of the bank robbers at this point in the movie, but I want to pass along what happened in the real world later. After the film ended, I asked our relatives if they knew what real video game Spike Lee was parodying. They answered negatively, and I said, “It’s the one the kids are playing in the next room.” Sure enough, some of our family’s kids, as well as some neighbors, were huddled around a console playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
This game was originally released with an ESRB rating of “M” for “Mature,” then was readjusted to “Adults Only,” after the political brouhaha, and then re-released as “M”. In any case, there is a great deal of violence in the game, and at least some of the children playing it in my family’s house were well under even the “M” age rating (17 years and older). The parents had no real knowledge about the content or the themes of the game.
This situation is no doubt repeated innumerable times all over the country on a daily basis. That’s why it’s nice to see some recognition in the debate about censorship of video games of the necessary role parents play. NPR’s Future Tense has noted the release of the 11th annual video game report card by the National Institute on Media and the Family.
According to the report card, the latest installment reflects a change in focus, in which the institute “acknowledge[s] the strides” taken by retailers and the video game industry. This year, the challenge is put forth to parents: “Simply put, parents need to step up to the plate and the experts need to conduct more and better research.”
Indeed, the report card grades “Parental Involvement,” as an “INCOMPLETE,” saying, “Parents could be, and should be, doing a lot better, but at least part of their failure can be attributed to the confusion created by the game makers.” The cacophony of voices clamoring for the authority to be passed on to some other institution makes the institute regard lack of parental involvement in the context of such extenuating circumstances. That’s why parents don’t get a failing grade this year.
All this finally reflects the truth of the matter, I think, that parents bear the primary and ultimate responsibility for the education and moral formation of their children. In this day and age, that education and formation is conducted within a world pervaded by use of technology. It’s our calling and challenge as parents to make sure that we use computers, video games, and other technologies prudently.