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Depp not right for Bulger role

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment June 2, 2013 08:00 AM

The word out of Hollywood is that Johnny Depp has pulled out of his commitment to play mobster Whitey Bulger in the planned film version of Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill's book, Black Mass. Apparently, the versatile and talented actor was unhappy with a requested $10 million pay cut for headlining in the struggling project. Too bad Depp’s decision was based on money, not an ethical statement concerning whether it is appropriate for a famous film star to pose as an infamous criminal.

Of course, Depp or whatever big name is chosen as his replacement would not be the first Hollywood celebrity to play some notorious murderer, rapist or thief. Few people would know of Depression-era outlaws Bonnie and Clyde were it not for the romance-infused performances of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Actor Tony Curtis enjoyed a significant career boost for his chilling portrayal of Albert DeSalvo in the box office hit, The Boston Strangler. The same was true for an up and coming Mark Harmon when cast as serial killer Ted Bundy in the 1986 TV miniseries, The Deliberate Stranger. And just a few years ago, the beautiful Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her role as part-time prostitute and other times killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, and, in the process, winning Wuornos some posthumous measure of sympathy.


Responding to Mother Jones

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment January 31, 2013 01:00 PM

The weekend before last, a 15-year boy allegedly murdered his parents and three siblings at the family home outside of Albuquerque, N.M. Should we add it to the list of recent mass shootings about which all of America is talking? Of course we should, although according to at least one influential news source it shouldn’t be a part of the discussion.

In the ongoing public debate over the causes and solutions to mass shootings, the overwhelming consensus is that mass shootings are on the rise. President Obama mentioned recent deadly rampages while releasing his multi-faceted gun reform proposal. And although former President Bill Clinton may have exaggerated in suggesting that half of all mass killings in the United States have occurred since the 2005 expiration of the Federal assault weapon ban, many Americans sense that these incidents have become much more frequent.

Of course, perceptions are not always in line with reality, and they are more strongly influenced by recent events than by those that occurred well in the past. Given the widely-publicized and exceptionally dreadful mass shootings in Colorado last summer and in Connecticut last month, it is rather easy to believe that mass murder, particularly those involving firearms, is a growing menace. Yet the growing menace lies more in our fears than in the facts.


Sandusky's fate in prison is no joke

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment October 9, 2012 12:00 PM

While growing up in this area, I was a big fan of AM talk shows. Of course, talk radio was quite a bit different a half-century ago, both in content and style.

Back then, in the 1960s, I was an avid listener of Paul Benzaquin, Jerry Williams and Steve Fredericks, three stars of the airwaves who truly put the “master” in the role of talk-master. Benzaquin and Williams were honored by induction into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and Fredericks likely would have been nominated had he not moved back to his hometown of Philadelphia where he became a renowned sport announcer.

I hardly ever listen to talk shows anymore. It is not just the shift from liberal ideas to ultra right-wing thinking that I dislike. It is more the anger and vitriol that has turned me and my radio off to squawk shows.


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.


Obsessing over record victim counts

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment July 30, 2012 11:45 AM

Long before Guinness published the first edition chronicling various world pace-setting achievements in virtually every walk of life and death, Americans have been obsessed with records -- the good, the bad, and the deadly. It certainly does seem that events and accomplishments, from the trivial to the tragic, take on special significance if they can somehow be cast as “the best” or “the worst” of their kind.

As if the recent shooting spree at an Aurora, Colo. movie theater, which resulted in 12 killed and another 58 injured, wasn’t horrible enough, many news outlets felt compelled to declare it as a record of sorts -- thereby blurring the fine line between awful and awesome. Although the Aurora shooting spree wasn’t nearly record-breaking, certain members of media tried hard to describe it as a superlative nonetheless.


Just punishment for Penn State

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment July 15, 2012 02:30 PM

The substance and tenor of sports radio is sounding like crime and punishment once again. Just short of one year ago, the air waves that ordinarily provide a forum for discussing wins and losses featured instead speculation about whether the NCAA should invoke the "death penalty" against the University of Miami football program surrounding allegations of under-the-table payments to amateur athletes. And now that same "death penalty" debate has resurface in relation to much more serious transgressions involving a Penn State cover-up of its former assistant football coach's reprehensible sexual abuse of children.

I, for one, will not jump on the fast-growing "death penalty" bandwagon. Fine the University, if you want. Sue those who failed to fulfill their duty to report, if the evidence warrants it. Suspend the football program and strip it of scholarships, if that sends the right kind of message. But let's lose the death penalty term. Notwithstanding the atroctious actions of one and inexusable inactions of others, the metaphor for NCAA sanctioning must go.


The Unabomber -- Still infamous after all these years

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment May 25, 2012 02:30 PM

Let me see a show of hands. How many of you were amused, even momentarily, by Theodore Kaczynski’s playful responses in Harvard’s published survey of alumni accomplishments? Now, how many of you instead were, like the Boston Globe's editorial board, outraged over Harvard’s apparent insensitivity toward the Unabomber’s victims and their families?

If you sided with the Globe's board and the rest of the PC crowd, then did you find it curious that the paper decided to reprint Kaczynski's alumni profile and publicize it as news, even while criticizing Harvard for publishing the original in a limited circulation book? And were you also offended by the Unabomber display at the Newseum in Washington D.C., an exhibit that featured Kaczynski’s Montana cabin in which he constructed his explosive devices?

And were you at all critical of the recent public auction by the federal government of the Unabomber's 35,000-word manifesto that was once published verbatim in The Washington Post? Actually, if any publishing decision related to the Unabomber’s saga was ill-advised, then arguably it would have been that move by the Post to provide a forum for a deadly serial killer.


Fatal flaws in biolab report

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment April 24, 2012 08:00 AM

“If you build it, they will come,” a much overused expression for just about any kind of venture, originally referred to a “Field of Dreams” ballpark in an isolated Iowa cornfield that would attract the unsettled spirits of disgraced ballplayers. In the case of the Boston University Biosafety Lab on Albany Street, which has stood for several years awaiting resolution of a controversial risk assessment, it is more like “If you open it, they may come.”

The “they” in this instance are a lot more worrisome than a bunch of ghosts with leather gloves. The “they” include nefarious folks, terrorists and saboteurs who would see the facility as a prime target for their malicious schemes.

Despite a healthy dose of resistance from my South End community to a perceived health risk, Boston University has been eager to establish a Level 4 biosafety lab for research on highly dangerous pathogens. The interests of science were delayed, however, when the first risk assessment report, released two years ago, was deemed wholly inadequate, particularly given the high stakes of potentially exposing a densely populated area to Ebola and other deadly viruses.


Altered meaning of Zimmerman’s 911 call

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment April 5, 2012 11:00 AM

Where is the outrage? More to the point, where is the news coverage?

You may have missed it. Actually, unless you were searching for it (or are a frequent viewer of Sean Hannity's show), you probably did.

It seems that a version of the 911 tape that we all heard over and over again of George Zimmerman calling the cops to report suspicious behavior by 17-year-old Trayvon Martin just before fatally shooting the boy was like something out of the Nixon White House -- edited. Sure, we all heard it with our own ears, but it is what we didn’t hear that’s key to understanding the confrontation between the neighborhood watchman and the Skittles-toting youngster.


Gov. Patrick gets it right

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment January 23, 2012 08:30 PM

When it comes to criminal justice matters, some politicians get it--and Governor Deval Patrick is one of them. . Unlike the "get tough at all costs" blowhards who pander to the three R's--Retribution, Revenge and Retaliation--for the sake of the ultimate R of Re-election, some leaders recognize the critical importance of crime prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.

Regrettably, the prevention approach has at times been disparaged as "worthless" and as "soft on crime." Yet, this cynical perspective reflects gross misunderstanding of the process and goals of prevention, and a selective examination of outcomes. Simply put: Prevention programs can work; good prevention programs that are well-implement do work.

Too often, prevention initiatives are funded and implemented on a shoestring, and a rather short shoe-string with a brief window of opportunity to show results. This is a recipe for failure and provides additional fodder for skeptics. Besides the matter of funding adequacy, there are five fundamental principles of crime and violence prevention that are critical to a successful investment.


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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