Author Archives: Natasha

Will Deterrence Do It?


by Natasha David-Walker

Pockets of crime have a tendency to form centralized and inter-connected operations in inner city neighborhoods. South-side Chicago, the Bowdoin-Geneva (Dorchester) neighborhood in Boston, and “Vine City” in Atlanta Georgia are all notorious for gang related activity, drug trafficking, and other elements that breed violence and crime.

Over the last two decades, federal, state, and local dollars have been allocated to programs across the country in an attempt to rid these communities of violence that has contributed to general decay, loss of property, and unfortunately loss of life. The return in results per funding of programs has been minimal in many urban areas. According to Sherman, the evaluation processes in the programs are complicated due to inability to maintain controls. “Any attempt to evaluate an internally diverse national funding program is comparable to a pharmacy evaluation.  Even if the right preventative treatments are matched to the right crime risks, a national before-and-after evaluation of a funding stream would lack vital elements of the scientific method. The lack of a control group makes it impossible to eliminate alternative theories about why national-level crime rates changed” (Sherman, Gottfredson, MacKenzie, Eck, Reuter, & Bushway, 1997).

Jonathan Kennedy initiated deterrence-based programs aimed at connecting law enforcement, community leaders, and nonprofit organizations to form coalitions that joined forces to focus on pockets of resistance within communities affected by crime and violence.  Deterrence-based models use group pressure, group support, and substantial communication with persons of influence in the streets, to develop a network of agents who have internal or external vested interest in the targeted community (Dabney, 2013).

Currently, there is a movement working from the ground-level up, to create a comparable coalition in Atlanta that will utilize the deterrence-based model in the Vine City community. Some are cynical about the prospective effort as evidenced by a recent story in the magazine, Atlanta entitled, “It’s Going To Take More Than $45 Million To Help Vine City” (Atlanta, 2013). According to Dean Dabney, guest lecturer in our Violence Inquiry course, correctional approaches for criminals have shifted from varying perspectives for years ranging from rehabilitation strategies to tough on crime policies without substantial results. Advocates of the rehabilitation model argue that there was a failure to properly implement the model. On the other hand, ideologies promoted by conservatives, packaged as “warehouse theories” were cited as largely ineffective. The difference with deterrence-based theory is the concept that “crimes can be prevented when the costs of committing the crime are perceived by the offender to outweigh the benefits” (Braga & Weisburd, 2012).

Deterrence-based programs, considers a strategic offense from an economic premise, where the end result must provide some incentive for the action. Essentially, law enforcement uses offenders and ex-offenders as street agents. The offender is enlisted to work with the coalition to identify perpetrators and provide other useful information for law enforcement, particularly incidences that are related to gang violence.  Dabney relates, gang related violence accounts for the structured connections between drug dealing, assaults, and other criminal actions in most communities. By applying pressure, and breaking up the gang units, crime has been statistically shown to decrease. Initially, I thought the process of enlisting offenders sounded too much like “snitching.” However, the difference with deterrence-based programs is the immediate reward or the immediate weight of federal enforcers. Most community-based programs are not connected with the federal branches of law enforcement on a programmatic level. In the past, the strength of the law depended upon state and local enforcers. With federal agents in the mix, the arm of the law has the capacity to stretch longer, deeper, and wider creating adverse situations for offenders, such as prison-time in cities located multiple states away from home – which reduces the likelihood of visitation. Most offenders are more inclined to cooperate when the cons outweigh the pros.  As a result of the flexed federal arm, the offender usually agrees to function as the point of contact. In other instances people with criminal records who are guilty of lower level offenses receive the full extent of the law rather than the usual minimum sentence in an effort to send a message to other offenders that there is a serious effort on the ground to root out, and eradicate criminal elements in the community.

The deterrence-based model produced results in Boston. Typically duplicating programs with some modifications per the dynamics of the city are successful.  However, working from the inside in, appears to be one of the major roadblocks to accomplishing the goals in Atlanta’s Vine City. For example, one of the difficulties in the establishment of the coalition was determining who to utilize as agents in the slots dedicated for community stakeholders (Dabney, 2013). There also seems to be a general malaise about the derelict conditions in the Vine City area although the deterioration belies the beautifully landscaped sidewalks a few blocks away in downtown Atlanta. According to Atlanta magazine reporter, Rebecca Burns, a drive along Sunset Street “provides an instant snapshot of how impoverished Vine City and English Avenue truly are” (Burns, 2013).  An online source reports, the median income in the Vine City area is $24, 186 compared to the median income of Atlanta residents of $49,981 (, 2013).  “Bleak doesn’t begin to describe it; Third-World is too cheap and easy a label but comes closer” (Burns, 2013).  Although a large part of the debate hinges on the criminal issues, researchers acknowledge that poverty is a major co-factor, the other “usual suspect” in neighborhoods where violence reaches tipping points.

Physicians and practitioners are making a concerted effort to change the way we perceive violence, thus the intention of this course, to draw attention to the connection between health and violence. In fact, Dabney asserted that the presence of Grady Health System’s emergency care is largely responsible for the reduction of human collateral. Without the team of specialized physicians at Grady there would be more funerals.

There are serious efforts in academia to rank violence as a public policy issue and tie the problem more directly to public health. “The public understands the prevention of disease through the concepts of lifestyle choices. Similarly, people have a good understanding of automobile safety and injury prevention when it is logically framed to show cause and effect between seat-belt usage and failure to wear a seat-belt”(Sherman, et al., 1997).  The more we connect the dots between violence and public health, by emphasizing the long-lasting, emotional, physical, mental, financial, and often fatal consequences of violence on society as a whole, and in individual cases; the general public will grow to understand how critical it is to become proactive in efforts to combat violence.  


Sherman, L. Gottfredson, D. MacKenzie, D. Eck, J. Reuter, P. Bushway, S. (1997). Preventing crime: What works, what doesn’t, what’s promising. A Report to the United States Congress.

Dabney, D. (2013). Rehabilitation and prevention.  Violence Inquiry Lecture. Emory University: A Multidisciplinary Inquiry. April 22, 2013.

Braga, A. A., Weisburd, D. L., (2012). The effects of focused deterrence strategies on crime: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the empirical evidence. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency.  49(30. 323-358.

Burns, R. 2013). It’s Going To Take More Than $45 Million To help Vine City.   Atlanta. March, 13, 2013. (2013). Vine City neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia (GA), 30314 detailed profile


When Religion Goes Wrong: Killing In The Name Of The Lord

Religion & Violence

By Natasha David-Walker

religion photo: Peace is my religion deuces_zps4cdfcffa.jpg

Peace is my religion (courtesy Photobucket)

God & Guns

I recently heard a gun rights activist proclaim on television that it was his “God-given right to own a gun in America.” Try as I might, the exact scriptural reference to confirm his entitlement to gun ownership eludes me. For many, the preceding statement sounds bizarre and extreme. However, the gun debate in America has revealed polarizing opinions, oftentimes along the lines of religious perspectives.

The increasingly unfortunate acts of random and systemic violence in America have triggered a national conversation.  A myriad of issues related to violence have emerged as a result of the focus on violence, such as mental health, poverty, drugs, the second amendment, and not surprisingly, religion.

The discussion will almost, always turn controversial when religion and violence intersect. Historical accounts of the Crusades and the Inquisition and the legitimization of violence for religious reasons is disturbing because it predicates a “God complex.” Globally and historically, religion has been used to justify unusual and excessive force expressed as violence against women, violence against people of different faiths, and violence against people who simply do not believe.


Most notable in our recent history when religion and violence coalesce, is the concept of jihad. As we learned in our readings, jihad includes more than the commonly discussed and familiar areas of jihad such as acts of terror in the name of Allah, the fatal 9-11 hi-jacking’s, and even the torture of young middle-eastern girls and women. An intellectual jihad encompasses the ability to eloquently and persuasively deliver the tenements of the faith to non-believers. There is jihad of the heart (Firestone, pg. 17, para.1), that is more reflective and internal, that urges followers of Islam to deal with the inner man – similar to the biblical admonition to “circumcise the heart” (Jeremiah 4:4). And there is jihad that covers the various forms of physical warfare, which may be a contributing factor to the more extreme promptings, based on private interpretation of the Koran. “There are therefore many kinds of jihad, and most have nothing to do with warfare” (Firestone, pg. 17, para.1).

While Americans condemn the egregious acts of violence by Islamic militants such as Al Qaeda, we fail to see the beam in our eye while picking the splinter out of the eye of Islam. If we apply the concept of “jihad of the heart” to ALL religious efforts, and seek to observe our religious beliefs from the inside out, perhaps there would be less convincing needed – less effort, less arguing, and less violence due to controversies based on religious beliefs.

But…It’s In The Bible

How do religious institutions reconcile the love, peace and good will expressed in Biblical texts with the accounts of very violent act of war – initiated by “the Word of God?” Consider the prophet Samuel’s lambasting of King Saul when he failed to carry out the annihilation of a people, “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (I Samuel 15: 3, KJV).

Terrence Fretheim perfectly frames this seeming duality when he writes, “The Old Testament has a reputation: it is a book filled with violence, including the violence of God …The New Testament especially with its talk about hell, even envisions, an eternal violence, in which God is very much involved” (Fretheim, 2004, pg. 18, para.1).

Many people argue against modern, organized religion based on isolated texts without properly contextualizing the custom of war and the elevation of gods in general in biblical times. Most indigenous peoples worshiped some form of deity and even promoted gods of war as the impetus for plundering and oftentimes brutally annihilating other races of people. War and violence of that sort, was in fact the custom of the times. What is less understood by the non-religious, is the converged mentality of modern religious movements with the war-like “tone” of days of yore. Effectively, the jihad-like tone in religious rhetoric against same-sex marriage, in support of gun ownership without checks and balances, and staunch opposition to immigration rights may feel jihadist. Is this an example of rhetorical jihad or an expression of deeply held beliefs? Does the rhetoric promote oppression and a global superiority of religion regionally and culturally…Christianity in the west and Islam in the east? Joseph Anton speaks…

No Rush To Judgment

In our discussion during week four, our distinguished guest lecturer was journalist Salman Rushdie, the topic: Religion and Violence. The choice of Rushdie for this particular topic was both perfect and paradoxical since he was sentenced to death by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 – accused of writing a novel against Islam called, The Satanic Verses.  Rushdie is, in his own words an atheist, who, based on his account in Joseph Anton was forced underground fleeing religious persecution. During our discussion he offered his perspective on a variety of subjects, most notable to me – the motivating factor behind Dr. King’s commitment to the civil rights movement and the veiling of women in Islam.

Before he mused on Dr. King, Rushdie offered a waiver since he was in Atlanta but stated that he did not believe the crux of Dr. King’s motivation “spiritual.” In my opinion, it would be difficult to catapult Dr. King from the stage of religion and remove “the spiritual” as his ultimate motivation for essentially putting himself in harms’ way for a social cause. The Civil Rights Movement in America, during the 60’s was a religious movement based on the non-violent teachings espoused by Mahatma Gandhi. Overcoming evil with good is both scriptural and ethical. However, I believe it takes more than a desire for social change to gather the inertia to walk the path of martyrdom – which Dr. King prophetically attested to in his speeches, was his ultimate fate. I categorically reject the mutually exclusive idea of the Civil Rights Movement as social change without a predominantly spiritual basis. I believe the core motivating factor behind Dr. King’s personal convictions was his belief and connection with God, in conjunction with his belief in human rights.

Regarding women and veiling Rushdie referred to veiling as an “instrument of oppression” and a “false consciousness” (Rushdie, 2013, Classroom Discussion 2/18/13). In humor he added, “In Islam women are covered to NOT arouse men as opposed to blind-folding the men to prevent arousal” (Rushdie, 2013, [paraphrase] Classroom Discussion 2/18/13). In juxtaposition, a stranger dressed in traditional Islamic garb told me a joke in passing. A woman was converting to Islam and a Christian commented that she was joining a religion that favored men by having women cover up. The woman replied if she was joining a religion that favored men, the women would be totally naked. The contradiction of belief between those outside of Islam is that the women are not COVERING UP of their own volition, but rather being forced to veil by a patriarchal controlled, religious sect. It seems to those outside of Islam that the religious experience is oppressive and perhaps even condescending to women and their rights. While that may be true in some instances, in other cases the women may be exercising their free-will to veil.

It’s difficult to come to common ground on matters of religion because it is a matter of the heart. But Rushdie had a great point when he projected his idea that the “private practice of religion was perhaps the best practice of religion” (Rushdie, 2013, [paraphrase] Classroom Discussion 2/18/13). I concur, and add that private practice of religion would nullify the need for public displays since “they that worship God should [actually] worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

Works Cited and Related Links

Firestone, R. (1999). The origin of holy war in islam.  Jihad. New York. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

Fretheim, T. (2004). God and violence in the old testament. Word & World. Vol. 24.1

 Obama Signs Anti-violence legislation

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by N. D. Walker

I recently learned more of the details of the King and Kennedy assassinations. The bullet that struck Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., actually entered through his face.  Following the assassination of Dr. King, the Kennedy brothers were murdered in cold blood. The bullet’s that hit President Kennedy exited his neck. A preacher, a President, and the President’s brother, all dead, but not by some foreign menace or internationally provoked diatribe – but rather, unprovoked and untimely, and by the hand of America’s Most Wanted. What other country in the 19th or 20th century has murdered three prolific figures?

We live in a society where violence is rampant. Yet, we often treat images of violence in movies as entertaining, although they are filled with gore. We find violence among gangs egregious, but we don’t perceive it to be our problem because gang related violence often occurs in urban centers. We even think the problems of violence can be easily solved (with or without) gun restrictions, dependent upon the political affiliation, but we forget about the millions of unregistered guns in the general population. The desensitization of violence among the citizenry and the politicization of the gun debate in general, has impeded unilateral legislative action; as a result, the violence continues. But are we truly in a position to “legislate” violence, particularly in situations where expressions of violence in videos, movies, and music are commonplace and are excused as enantiomer’s of society?

According to the Strain Theory, social structures within society may pressure citizens to commit crimes. Robert Merton describes the strain, as “the discrepancy between culturally defined goals and the institutionalized means available to achieve those goals. He argues that the dominant cultural goal in the U.S. is the acquisition of wealth – which is often equated with happiness gained by the application of oneself to education. Since education is perceived to be the means to achieve those material goals those who do not apply themselves to education are categorized as lazy or defective. Consequently, a strain is generated and produces mode of adaptation or coping strategies that the disadvantaged use to deal with the pressure.”  Based on Merton’s perspective, material success or the attainment of some tangible is central to the strain theory. Which prompts me to inquire, what did Dorner, Lanza, and Holmes desire?

Post Christopher Dorner’s murderous melee, Adam Lanza’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, the Colorado movie shooter James Holmes’ rampage, and the constant culture of violence in Chicago and other urban centers,America has been awakened to the crisis of gun violence. Due to the pervasiveness of violence in America, we can no longer dismiss, ignore, or treat acts of violence as isolated incidences. No seemingly idyllic neighborhood, comfortable cranny, high or low socioeconomic status is exempt. Violence has become the equal opportunity epidemic. Like a disease, violence is infectious in nature as the headlines across America repeat weekly news of some horrific crime involving violence, guns, and unfortunately human collateral. From the White House to every house in America, and pundits and politicians at round-tables can be heard sparring, echoed by the footsteps of lobbyists on Capitol Hill vis a vis Wayne LaPierre and crew…only to be interrupted by another act of violence.

Americans are surprised, shocked, and some are afraid. However, the violence in America of late should not absolutely come as a surprise, unless you have no re-collection of history. We sing of America the beautiful, but America was ugly before it was beautiful. Our America fought a very brutal war to gain freedom from British rule, encored by the Civil War where brothers fought against brothers, and stained by the historicity of a slave trade that is as notable for brutality as it is infamous as a protracted human atrocity.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on their official site, defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against a person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a likelihood of resulting in injury, death or psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.” Interestingly, and unfortunately,  the definition of Violence by WHO covers a wide span of movies we deliberately define as “action films, drama, and dark.” In fact “over 70% of persons over the age of 30, believe there is too much violence in advertising for movies and TV” according to a joint poll by The Hollywood Reporter and Penn Shoen Berland.

If we acknowledge, and apply Strain Theory, can we deduce that social structures in society pressure citizens to commit crimes? No owe doubts the influence of gang violence in low income communities as contributing factors. Can the same theory apply to James Holmes, who was purportedly under a great deal of academic pressure? Could Adam Lanza have been under some duress due to difficulties related to Asperger’s? Does the theory extend to Christopher Dorner whose manifesto included allegations of disparate treatment by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)? Apparently, criminal behavior is learned like other behaviors are learned, and while there are an abundance of theories about violence “all sociology theories share the view that it is dimensions of the social environment that explain the distribution of different types of conduct and variations in the probability that individuals will learn different forms of conduct” (Jensen, pg. 639, para.1) Can we conclude from this convergence of theorists that the “social environment  is one of the primary contributors to violent behavior? If, so how do we create barriers or controls to prevent or reduce violence that is a direct result of visuals, environment, family, and peer groups. Who is responsible for the mitigation of influences that are perpetually compounded on a daily basis? Has America become a nation too preoccupied to deal with the problem of violence?

I hope the mother’s and father’s in Connecticut and Chicago and the rest of America lobbies until something happens to change the extreme and ubiquitous violence we are witnessing. Those parents owe it to their children. We owe it to our children. Because the next time, could be your time. It’s sad but true. Nothing happens until something happens to you.

 Interesting links and references cited related to the post and Violence Inquiry:

The Cafferty File/blog on Violence

The Hollywood Reporter

Strain Theory

Example Post: On Oscar Grant

Three (pink) Protestors at Oscar Grant Rally have signs taped to their backs that say "Don't Shoot"

I watched the verdict last night. Not on any TV news station because NONE of the major networks had any coverage of the rage and pain of the people in Oakland and LA last night. Tweeting with folks across time zones and continents, we tried to hold Oscar Grant’s memory.

As my Twitter Timeline filled with anguish, police positions, disbelief, it also became populated by folks who seemed to have a similar level of rage (or excitement) for LeBron’s decision to Join the Miami Heat.

I have to say that sports are not my thing and I already don’t hold professional athletes in much esteem but the reality that folks were more or even equally incenced by LeBron’s decision was beyond what I could process in an evening. An ESPN hour long interview, The Decision, sponsored by Bing “the decision engine” (gag), was all that major networks wanted to talk about. The contradictions of this country are astounding. LeBron’s lust for victory is more compelling than the realities of our criminal (in)justice system. Did I mention that NO major TV news network covered the trial  last night (I have a deep and abiding hatred for CNN; we have history)?

Riot Police in full gear; helmets, shields, bullet proof vests, etc.

I suppose I was also surprised by folks tweeting as though it was just another day in America, like this grave injustice didn’t occur, like this kind of thing happens all the time… oh wait. It does. And the fact that it does makes people more likely to check out than check in. More likely to say ‘F*ck it I want the new Nike’s’ than to question the system that sells you rubber and cloth with an 1000% mark up. As Summer M. asked “can we blame a cat for being nihilistic? if he screams “f[*]ck bitches, get money”? what decent alternative do we have to offer? our tweets?”

I don’t know that I have an answer…

Side Note: Johannes Meshserle does not sound like the name of a good ol’ American boy born and raised by parents born and raised in the US of A. Though I have no evidence of this my hunch is that the Meshserle clan don’t have an extended history in this country. Seems like an immigrant white boy, or a white boy that’s the son of immigrants, makes for a better first time “involuntary manslaughter” police perp than someone whose colonial and prison industrial complex roots are deeper. That and multiple “caught on tape” videos of Meshserle’s deed that can’t be erased from public memory…