Must we put their names in lights (again)?

Some things never change. When I saw the coverage of the recent Virginia killings, I was reminded of this January 2011 post on related matters.

Must we put their names in lights?

I haven’t posted much on the Arizona killings. The enormity of the tragedy demands a respectful silence, unless one actually has something useful to say. Most everything constructive I would say has already been said by someone else with greater force than I would muster.

I would mention again the importance of long-term care and rehabilitative medicine. The typical 9mm bullet is quite adequate to lacerate human body parts, sometimes beyond repair. Every day, thousands of doctors, nurses, physical therapists, try to repair these lacerating wounds, and try to repair over months and years the human lives lacerated by such gun violence. Most of these men and women labor in relative obscurity. I happen to be away delivering a talk at a VA facility where some of these professionals do their work. Their faces rarely grace the front page of your local newspaper. There just isn’t the space to honor everyone who deserves it.

I’ll bet that your local newspaper found the space for this crazed mug shot of Jared Lee Loughner, the disturbed young man who apparently committed mass murder. He’s gotten his fifteen minutes, which I suspect is what he really wanted: to see his name and his picture in lights.

Can we not do that?

Much in our popular culture—from Silence of the Lambs, to Nancy Grace, ironically, to the death penalty itself—creates in some people an enticing motive for atrocity. Shoot someone famous, and you’ll end up an (anti) celebrity, on the cover of People or Newsweek. That’s a heck of a lot easier than finding the cure for AIDS, winning an NBA championship or “Dancing with the Stars,” not to mention accomplishing the intricate repair of brain tissue damaged by a 9mm round.

I wish there were a way to shun mass murderers the way we shun grimy child molesters. We should know who they are. The police, forensic experts, and the court system should do what they need to do. Yet I wish we lived in a world in which the rest of us gave this necessary work a little more distance and private space, in which it’s considered rather distasteful, even disgusting to publicize without some very good reason the little people who commit huge crimes.

I can’t prove what I believe. If we stopped rewarding these criminals with the massive publicity, we might have somewhat fewer of these atrocities.

I admire Campaign Zero. Here’s how I would augment it

It’s been obvious for a while now that the Black Lives Matter movement would benefit from a concrete policy agenda around which it could focus its organizing, public protest, and practical negotiations with public officials. Developing such an agenda is no easy task — especially for a grassroots movement that basically came into existence a year ago.Black Lives Matter took an admirable step forward on this front, however, thanks to the new Campaign Zero documents released Friday, co-authored by a group including DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie (a.k.a. “Netta”), two of the movement’s leading activists.

Jesse Singal, over at New York‘s Science of Us, asked for my thoughts on their recommendations to reduce police violence. I admired their well-crafted and specific proposals. I hope in their future work that they will layer on a more positive vision of urban policing and link their efforts to an active public safety agenda.

More on how they might do that, here.

Veronica Pollack responds to an internet heckler.

I wrote an op-ed in Thursday’s Chicago’s Sun Times about the impact of Illinois’s budget crisis on services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. A gentleman with initials “J.K.” read it, and sent me the below email.

JK's email

JK’s email

My wife Veronica happened to see it, and composed the below response, which I am posting below.

Dear J.K..

I would like to take a moment to address your question: “Why can’t your wife do it?” As I hear the question, you are really asking: “Why should my hard-earned tax dollars go to help you or people like you?”

First of all, I’d like to say that (I have learned) writers have little say over the headlines that are used for the pieces they write. I cringed when I saw the headline, “Who will help my brother-in-law?” I was concerned that people would jump to the conclusion that we were throwing up our hands and asking for help – an Op-Ed Go Fund Me, if you will. We are not. Harold’s purpose was to present the situation of a few real and relatable human beings being who are being negatively affected by the budget shenanigans going on in our state. He intended to illustrate the dilemma facing thousands of Illinois families, most much less fortunate than our own. Let me explain our situation, again as one example, and also talk a bit more about the needs of families of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

My widowed mother died suddenly in February of 2004. A few days after the funeral, my husband and I along with our two daughters – then seven and nine – drove Vincent to our home in the Chicago suburbs. We re-arranged our home, bought some furniture and settled him in. Almost immediately, I began to arrange his long-needed medical and dental care while helping him mourn the loss of his mother and everything that he knew.

Vincent lived with us for almost three years. The care for an intellectually disabled adult can be joyful, rewarding, but also relentless. There were no longer “babysitters” so every outing – read ballet lesson, soccer practice, pediatrician appointment, trip to the grocery store – became a tour de force. Vincent, like many people living with Fragile X syndrome (the cause of his disability) will eat everything in sight. He also sleeps poorly. This translates into excessive nighttime eating of everything from cereal, flour, mayonnaise – everything. We installed a lock on our refrigerator. Every night we would leave Vincent a snack, and we would stow all of our uncanned food into a few locked foot lockers. We would then drag these foot lockers into our garage to keep Vincent from prying into them.

When Vincent finally found a spot in a sheltered workshop – he was thrilled – the expectation was that I be ready for his pickup between 7 and 8:00 each morning. His drop off could be any time between 1:30 and 3:00 p.m. Do you know many people with a job that would accommodate this schedule? I don’t.

At the time Vincent came to us, I was working from our home on completing my PhD from the University of Michigan. The plan had been for me to work from home and commute as needed while caring for the house and our two children. Ultimately, it became impossible for me to continue. I have been out of the workforce since my entry into my doctoral program. Due to the erratic needs of my brother and some other family complexities, I haven’t been able to work for years.  I have volunteered in the community, at Vincent’s social service agency, at my church and in our local public schools.

As you mentioned, Harold is a professor at the University of Chicago. Imagine a single mother or a family living close to the edge and then impose the need to remove an adult from the workforce and loose years of potential income. This would be a crushing financial blow. Add in the medical expenses (more about this later) – paid for by your tax dollars via Medicaid and Medicare – and almost any family would be bankrupt.

Vincent has had many medical problems. Since his arrival in Illinois I have accompanied him to innumerable doctor appointments, emergency room visits and hospital stays. On one occasion Vincent was discharged from the hospital on three different intravenous antibiotics. He had a PICC line – a long-term IV that is inserted in the arm and ends at the superior vena cava. He needed me to administer the medications, care for the PICC line, give him injections of his anticoagulant medication and change dressings on the sores he had on his lower legs which were the source of his infection. This went on for a month. This was also the straw that broke the camel’s back with respect to my dissertation. Thankfully, my discipline is nursing.

Despite all of this, we were very lucky. Vincent is charming and funny. He has remarkable social intelligence. Perhaps most important, Vincent is very gentle. He is a large man, about 240 pounds. If he were physically aggressive, a fairly common issue among men with fragile X,  I don’t know how we would have managed.

Vincent is also able to feed, toilet, dress, and bathe himself. Not all individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have these skills. I can only imagine how much more relentless and exhausting these added responsibilities must be.

But, you ask, “What does this have to do with me?”

Well, let me ask you something: Do you, should we as a society, believe that the birth of a person with an intellectual or developmental disability should impose such a burden that the very idea should lead families to despair? Do we so devalue the lives that Vincent and his peers lead as to heap a crushing personal and financial blow to families upon the stigma already associated with life as a person living with an intellectual disability?

Vincent, like all people has a complex inner life. He has wishes and hopes for the future. He deeply wants to live the kind of life he perceives a “man” should live. He wants a job, a car, a cell phone. He wants to get married and have children. It is poignant to be with him as he is watching children with their parents. He often says, “Those will be my kids someday.” He loves our family and is fiercely proud and protective of his nieces. Nevertheless, he didn’t want to live in his sister’s house the rest of his life. Would you?

I hope that I have given you a glimpse into a situation not many people talk about. I can’t tell you how to feel. I hope that you would find it in your heart to see the value of efforts that help people with disabilities live with greater dignity. I also hope that you see the value of reducing the isolation and lightening the burdens experienced by many families who confront these challenges.



Paul Jargowsky on the return of concentrated poverty

My forger former grad-school TA and current Century Foundation colleague Paul Jargowsky just released a beautifully-produced web-report called “Architecture of Segregation: Civil unrest, the concentration of poverty, and public policy.”

Paul is a national leader at understanding the geography of American poverty. It’s a pretty sobering report. The below figure illustrates one reason why. If you wonder why the criminal justice system faces such strains exemplified by misconduct captured in the Black Lives Matter campaign, the harmful trends in residential segregation–abetted by exclusionary zoning and other policies–are essential pieces of the puzzle.

Whistle stop

Last night my family and one of our friends saw Mr. Holmes at the Chicago’s Landmark Century Theatre. On our way out, we went with everyone else to pay for parking.


A cheerful man of maybe 60 was standing there. I asked if he was in front of us on the line. “No,” he replied, a bit oddly but with a friendly smile. “I would punch that machine. It’s crazy. It’s crazy out there.”

He asked my friend if she thought it was crazy out there. She replied, “I know what you mean.”

“I carry a whistle,” he told her, holding it up. “Do you carry a whistle?”

“Some people carry one on their key chain,” she replied. He asked to see her keys.

My friend understandably got a bit nervous. “I’m not going to show you my keys.”

I handed her the parking ticket, and said “Would you get on the line for me?” She went ahead to do that.

“That’s some whistle you have there,” I told him. “What kind is that?”

“A Thunderer. A policeman gave it to me. If you see anything that isn’t right, anyone who needs help, you blow the whistle. That way, people will come. I wanted to give it to her.”

He added, a bit embarrassed:  ”She didn’t want to show me her keys. That’s good. You have to be safe.”

We chatted amiably. I asked if I could take a picture of it so I could buy one for my friend. I thanked him for the advice. We all happily went on our way.

The Americans with Disabilities Act at 25

My conversation with University of Michigan Law Professor Sam Bagenstos. From 2009 to 2011, he was a political appointee in the U.S. Department of Justice, where he served as the principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, where he headed Obama administration’s disability enforcement efforts.

We had a great conversation about the often-unsung heroes of the disability rights movement, why Jerry Lewis isn’t one of these heroes, why smartphones don’t have to accessible to people with vision or hearing disorders, what ADA accomplished and failed to accomplish in America.

It was great to do this bloggingheads via Skype. We could actually see and interact with each other.


My response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the world and Me

The Atlantic allowed me to write a short response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book, Between the world and Me. I’m not qualified to evaluate the book’s literary merit, let alone to engage celebrity-gossip regarding Coates’ rank in the pantheon of African-American public intellectuals. I read this book for my own reasons, as one of many researchers who study interventions to reduce youth violence. So much of Between the world and me underscores the necessity and the inherent limitations of our efforts. I make two points.

First I note the sad strategic dilemma in which urban youth have to be tough to deter each other. The game theorists will be unsurprised that the resulting codes of the street easily go awry, and how the memories of youth violence linger into one’s adult life.

Second, I find hope in Coates’ own relationship with his own son. He shows in the living that one can be a righteously angry black man and still be a gentle and loving father to one’s own sons and daughters. There is no contradiction in that.

Physical discipline is a sensitive issue, particularly in black America. The weight of the pediatric and social-science evidence suggests that such practices do real harm. It’s only human that frightened parents would seek the security and speed of harsh punishment to steer their kids from so many dangers and temptations that lurk right outside the front door. Yet what lessons do their children really learn—and at what price? If reaching for the belt were sufficient to deter young offenders, our juvenile-detention centers would be pretty empty already.

More here.