James Holmes, the primary suspect in the Colorado theater shootings
Sitting in a darkened movie theater, waiting for the start of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, many people’s minds will undoubtedly drift to the Aurora, Colorado massacre. Thirty minutes into the darkly violent film, the shooting may press even more heavily upon their consciousness. Nolan’s final installment in his Batman re-boot is a taut action thriller, perhaps even darker than the first two films. The main villain of the film, a mask-wearing, psychopathic revolutionary named Bane, uses martial arts, guns, and explosives to terrorize the citizens of Gotham City, breaking Batman’s back and nearly breaking his spirit in the process. Although James Holmes, the primary suspect in the shooting, dyed his hair orange and compared himself to “the Joker,” the villain of the previous film, it’s hard not to think of his actions whenever Bane or one of his minions opens fire in a crowd or kills senselessly. Whatever identity it takes, evil remains the same.
At the start of The Dark Knight Rises, Gotham is in “peacetime.” Organized criminals great and small have been put away in the bleak Arkham prison, thanks to Batman and the ethically-dubious Harvey Dent Act. Bruce Wayne is in reluctant retirement. Commissioner Gordon is on the verge of stepping down. The police department has gotten lax and self-congratulatory. A storm is brewing, however, in the form of the rumored mercenary, Bane.
“The idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.”
Similarly in the real world, the U.S. is in “peacetime,” and has been for a very long time. It’s been almost one hundred and fifty years since we had a war on U.S. soil, seventy since we were in a war that dramatically altered life for the average American, and forty years since the last military draft. Aside from a few national tragedies, America is in a comfortable position as a strong, peaceful, and dominant world power.Tragedies like the one in Colorado, however, shake up this peacetime, leaving us, as a nation, fragile and frightened of the Banes and Jokers in our own midst. At moments like these, one of our best options is to follow the people of Gotham City and turn to Batman.
In response to the Colorado shootings, Christopher Nolan said, “I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime. The movie theater is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.” For Nolan, and for many Americans, the theater is a transformative place of escapism, where people can go to experience the strange for a few hours before returning to their daily lives. It is joyful, even when the films are not, which is often the case with Nolan.
Perhaps the most important part of Nolan’s message in both his press release and The Dark Knight Rises is the “hope” of movie theaters. Early lessons in the film seem to teach the debilitating deception of hope. Selina Kyle desperately hopes for the “impossible” clean slate. Pennyworth hopes for a peaceful end to “Batman.” Bane puts Wayne in a prison whose most sadistic feature is the skylight at the top—a constant reminder of the “impossible” escape option. Wayne escapes the prison, however, gives Kyle the so-called “clean slate,” and meets Pennyworth abroad, not as the dark brooding Batman, but as a joyful Bruce Wayne.
A report on the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings
It’s difficult to find hope in peacetime complacency. Hope is a response to darkness, like Bane’s ticking time bomb or Holmes’ theater massacre. It is faith in the near-impossible, in a superhero without guns or powers or in a nation without terror. Holmes’ actions may have destroyed the innocence of the theater, but they have not destroyed its hope. For every person who finds an outlet for their anger in the Batman villains’ senseless killing, many, many more draw hope and inspiration from Batman’s triumphs.
The Colorado shooting has been called senseless many times over, and in the respect that a dozen innocent civilians have been slaughtered, that term is appropriate. How we, as a nation, can begin to make sense of such violence, however, is by looking past the violence of the film to its message of hope and change. As with Batman, every dark night must end.
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Eugène Vidocq, the father of modern criminology and the inspiration for the Vidocq Society
Sherlock Holmes may claim to be the world’s first “consulting detective,” but he’s not the only one any longer. Enter the Vidocq Society.
Born in France in 1775, Eugène Vidocq, noted criminal-turned-detective, fell in and out of trouble (and prison) from the age of thirteen until thirty-four, when he offered up his services as an informant to the French police. After a couple years working undercover, Vidocq created France’s first undercover detective bureau, the Sûreté Nationale, the inspiration for both Scotland Yard and the F.B.I. Vidocq himself inspired several characters in works by Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, and Edgar Allen Poe.
The founders: William Fleisher, Richard Walter, and Frank Bender
Named in honor of Vidocq, the Society, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, consists of retired and current members of forensic and law enforcement professions. The founding members include former FBI and U.S. Customs Special Agent William Fleisher, pseudo-psychic forensic sculptor Frank Bender, and forensic psychologist and profiler Richard Walter. The three friends wanted to create a place where “like-minded persons, in and out of forensics, could gather to discuss and debate crimes and mysteries.” Since their first meeting in 1990, the organization has mushroomed into one hundred and fifty members, and found its final resting place in the Union League of Philadelphia, a Victorian brownstone built in the mid-1800s.
The Union League of Philadelphia, the current home of the Vidocq Society
A society of distinguished criminologists, the Vidocq Society offers its detective services free of charge, and even pays for the travel expenses of those who come to plead their case in Philadelphia. There are qualifications, though. The Vidocq Society will only consider unsolved murder cases more than two years old (and therefore a “cold case”) with non-criminal victims presented to them by the appropriate law enforcement agency. If a case is selected, the appropriate official will travel to Philadelphia to present their case at one of the Society’s monthly lunches. If one or more of the members are interested in the case, they can form a subcommittee for further investigation.
“When you bring all this expertise together…it’s one stop shopping.”
The Vidocq Society has an excellent track record when it comes to the cases it takes on–as one local police chief they helped enthused, “When you bring all this expertise together…it’s one stop shopping.” They’ve helped solve several high-profile cold cases, including that of the infamous John List. The religious List methodically murdered his mother, wife, daughter, and two sons in 1971 in New Jersey, explaining in a note that he was sending them to heaven, and disappeared without a trace. Eighteen years later, in 1989, Bender and Walter aided America’s Most Wanted in capturing List. Walter created a profile for him, claiming he would be remarried, wearing a suit, involved with the Lutheran Church, and within 300 miles of the crime scene. Using this information, Bender sculpted an “aged” bust of List. Police caught and arrested List almost immediately.
ABC’s 20/20 profiles the Vidocq Society’s investigation of Leah Freeman’s murder.
Recently, the society helped the miniscule town of Coquille, Oregon solve the decade-old murder of fifteen year old Leah Freeman. In 2010, Walter helped Coquille Police Chief Mark Dannels discover more evidence in the murder case, and Leah’s then-boyfriend, Nick McGuffin, was arrested for murder.
The Vidocq Society has been covered comprehensively in crime journalist Michael Capuzzo’s book, The Murder Room. Interspersing their most famous cases with in-depth character studies of the three enigmatic founders, Capuzzo brings the society to light almost as well as the Vidocq Society brings criminals to justice. Read an excerpt here.
Caylee Anthony, the deceased two-year old and inspiration for ‘Caylee’s Law’
Joining the ranks of AMBER Alert and Code Adam is another missing child system inspired by an infamous case: ‘Caylee’s Law’. Caylee Anthony, the deceased two-year-old whose trial captured the nation’s attention in 2011, inspired the law after her young mother, Casey Anthony, failed to report Caylee as missing for over a month. Although the jury acquitted Casey Anthony on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child-abuse, and aggravated manslaughter of a child, they declared her guilty on four misdemeanor counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer. Judge Belvin Perry sentenced her to one year and $1000 for each false information count to be served consecutively. Incorporating her time already served and credit for good behavior, Anthony was released from prison on July 17th, 2011, just a couple days after sentencing. America was outraged.
In response, Michelle Crowder of Oklahoma proposed ‘Caylee’s Law’ on Change.org, a petition-hosting website, suggesting increasing the penalty to a fourth-degree felony for failing to report a missing child within twenty-four hours of their disappearance or one hour of their death. The petition quickly went viral and garnered over 1,300,000 signatures, pressuring lawmakers across the country to design such a law.
Edward Mehnert covers his mouth with duct tape as he protests the verdict against Casey Anthony during her sentencing. Anthony’s trial provoked such a media circus that Time magazine called it the “social media trial of the century.” (AP Photos/Alan Diaz)
The backlash to the proposed law was almost as strong. Critics cited ineffective previous laws inspired by dead children and cautioned against making lasting legislature out of anger and fresh wounds. A Huffington Post article criticized the impracticality of the one hour and twenty four hour cut-offs, demonstrating the difficulty of determining time of death so precisely and offering complicating hypothetical situations. What happens if your child is at a sleepover and doesn’t call home? Under this law, would you have to call your child at summer camp every day? What happens if your infant dies in his or her sleep? You might discover the death several hours later. Do we really want to punish a grieving parent in that situation with a felony? Although common sense should guide judicial rulings in these situations, there are many current examples of gross and insensible violations of justice.
Critics also fear that the law will make cautious parents falsely report absent children as missing, clogging up the police department’s missing persons cases. The excess of false cases would obscure the real missing children cases and prevent them from being investigated in those first few crucial hours. Critics claim that the law will be unenforceable and ineffective in its goal of protecting children, merely entrapping innocent parents.
State Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport speaks out on House Bill 600, Louisiana’s proposed ‘Caylee’s Law,’ on June 25th
Despite these criticisms, several states have moved ahead with legislation. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie passed a ‘Caylee’s Law’ in January, 2012, making the failure to report a missing child age thirteen or younger after twenty-four hours a fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to eighteen months in prison and fines up to $10,000. Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed House Bill 37 into law in April, another variant of ‘Caylee’s Law.’ This law heightened to felony status the act of misleading a law enforcement official in a missing child case. Louisiana’s version of ‘Caylee’s Law’, House Bill 600, passed in early June, and declares that failure to report a missing child is punishable with up to 50 years in prison and $50,000. Overall, thirty-two states filed some form of legislature in the past year to criminalize the failure to report a missing child.
Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the majority opinion in the Supreme Court evaluation of “Obamacare”
Is not having insurance a crime?
Thursday, June 28th, the Supreme Court officially upheld the Obama administration’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The act, which narrowly passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives along party lines in 2009 and 2010 respectively, enraged many people, causing many states, independent organizations, and individuals to challenge its constitutionality. The Supreme Court heard the case’s oral arguments in late March and finally came to a decision on Thursday. Obamacare was upheld.
What does this mean for the average person? The PPACA has many elements, including extended healthcare for individuals near poverty levels, protection for those with previous medical conditions, and increased taxes on high-income taxpayers. The most controversial aspect, however, has been the “individual mandate.”
The “individual mandate” is the PPACA provision that requires all individuals to be covered by some form of health insurance. Effective by January 1, 2014, individuals who choose not to buy health insurance will be fined an annual penalty of $95, or 1% of their income, whichever is higher. In 2016, that fine will rise to $695, or 2.5%. For families, the fine limit rises to $2,085.
Who will be affected by the penalties of the individual mandate? The Congressional Budget Office predicts that those who opt to remain uninsured will most likely be younger, single citizens. Of these younger citizens, those aged 19-25 will now be able to stay on their parents’ insurance plan, thanks to Obamacare, further decreasing the number of uninsured.
Outcry against this provision resulted in several cases brought against the PPACA, the summation of which the Supreme Court heard last March. In a somewhat backhanded decision, the usually conservative Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority:
The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax…Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.
The four liberal justices on the court joined Roberts in his decision, including Kagan, Sotomayor, Bader Ginsburg, and Breyer. Although the decision helps the liberal Democrats and Obama’s re-election campaign, many legal experts have called the decision conservative, citing its employment of judicial restraint. Had Roberts sided with the rest of the conservatives, the decision would have been close to a legislative act, something that Roberts, a proponent of judicial restraint, has sworn not to do.
When speaking on the first amendment, Chief Justice John Roberts says that it protects, “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate”. The Supreme Court has ruled that Westboro Baptist Church’s picketing of soldier’s funerals is to be protected under the first amendment. Host of call-in radio talk program, Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon, says that laying a loved one to rest is not a “public issue”, but a private act.
How far is too far? The first amendment prevents Congress from creating a law that eliminates freedom of speech, but not all speech should be protected. “Fighting words” and hate speech are examples of this. Even if the Westboro Church didn’t spew hatred with their famous picketing slogans including, “God Hates Dead Soldiers”, the location of their outbursts cannot be justified. Throughout history, the Supreme Court has placed restrictions on the content of some speech (i.e. The Klu Klux Klan and other famous hate groups). If individuals are unable to protest on private property, shouldn’t a private event like the mourning of a fallen hero be protected as well?
This has nothing to do with, “stifling public debate”, but everything to do with a family’s right to lay their loved one to rest without the frightening and hateful messages that the Westboro Baptist Church promotes.
Maryland Congressman, Dutch Ruppersberger, is planning to introduce a bill on Tuesday that will serve to protect families targeted by the Westboro Church. His bill states that no one can protest a military funeral five hours before or after the service. In this bill, protestors must also be 2,500 feet away from the funeral.
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