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Justifiable homicides by police on the rise

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment August 22, 2012 10:30 AM

Yesterday’s lethal shooting by the Boston Police of an armed man in the South End (or Back Bay by some people’s definition) reflects a curious pattern that has emerged over the past decade. Even while crime rates have remained relatively level, the number of felons or suspects killed by the police in America has risen fairly steadily (see figure below). Although not quite as frequent as in the violence-peak years of the early 1990s, since 2000, the incidence of justifiable homicides, as they are classified, of felons/suspects by the police has grown nationally by about one-third, from approximately 300 to 400 per year.

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Crime: No laughing matter?

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment August 20, 2012 10:30 AM

The themes of crime and punishment, particularly true crimes and real punishments, are very much a part of our popular culture, and have been for generations. We are forever fascinated with tales of destruction and evil -- in movies, books, music and various other media.

Although the horror of murder and mayhem is no laughing matter, the fact is that the lighter side of our fixation on crime extends to humor, puns and jokes. Who hasn't heard and even repeated their share of cracks about O.J. Simpson's wild car chase with the cops or Jeffrey Dahmer's unusual appetite? So-called "gallows humor" is a well-established mechanism for helping us deal with harsh realities that affront our senses and sensibilities.

There are, of course, limits to what is acceptable -- a fine but important line that divides a good joke from poor taste. And, as with many proscriptions of social etiquette, this line has everything to do with time and place.

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No increase in mass shootings

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment August 6, 2012 02:45 PM

When it comes to gun violence, no one can deny that the Summer of 2012 has seemed especially horrific. In May, a disgruntled man, known in the community for his belligerent manner, shot up a Seattle cafe after being denied service, killing five before committing suicide. Then we witnessed the massacre of 12 moviegoers in Colorado and now a rampage at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that claimed the lives of six worshippers plus the gunman who was killed by the police.

The carnage has compelled many observers to examine the possible reasons behind the rise in mass murder. New York Times columnist David Brooks noted the number of schizophrenics going untreated. Gun control advocates have pointed to the 2004 expiration of the federal assault weapons ban as the culprit, while gun-rights proponents have argued that the body counts would be lessened were more Americans armed and ready to intervene and overtake an active shooter.

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Good sense has struck out

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment August 2, 2012 12:45 PM

In a private ceremony closed to the public, closed to the press, but open by invitation to victim-activist Les Gosule, Gov. Deval Patrick signed the sentencing reform bill, which includes the hotly debated three-strikes provision. It was a great day for Mr. Gosule who saw the fruition of his 13-year-long struggle in memory of his daughter Melissa, an opportune day for some legislatures who are eager to remind their constituents as the November election day approaches of just how ”tough-on-crime” they stand, but a sad day for the Commonwealth which was once seen as a model for criminal justice policy.

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About the author

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University. He has written 18 books, including his newest, "Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool through College." More »

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