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Dog gone it: Canines and street culture

For lots of reasons many urban dwellers own pets. If you own an animal of the canine variety, and unless you enjoy your residence full of dog urine and excrement, or living with an unhealthy pet, that possibly terrorizes you and your place, then sooner or later, you will need to take your pet outside and maybe even walk it. But this decision (better read obligation) sets in to motion a number of situations and contingencies, particularly if you live in a big city, and most of this touches on selected nuances of street culture.

If you don’t own a dog, you may want to stop reading this post now. I would not have been able to write a blog post of this nature fourteen years ago before our family got Luca, a lab golden mix. Now, I have a better idea of what it is like to live with and care for a dog in an urban environment.

People’s relationships with their dogs and people on the street is worth not just acknowledging, but actually talking about. Dogs often mediate the interactions you encounter or have on the street with other dog owners and walkers (both professionals and owners), delivery folks, joggers, and pedestrians. These serendipitous exchanges occur when you walk down a street with your dog, when you go to a dog park, or take your pet on a run. Your dog (and others you encounter) may be very well behaved or may be super aggressive only when it comes into contact with some people, but not others. It’s hard to tell as you approach someone if your pet has sensed something you haven’t and he will either be smitten or start growling. With the exception of a heightened ability to smell, dogs are like people in many ways.

Dogs are also and often extensions of their owner’s sense of style, class, gender norms, general values, and attitudes. For example, I would not be caught dead walking a Chihuahua or a toy poodle or a poodle for that matter on the street. Likewise neither would I enjoy walking a great Dane or an attack dog. It’s just not my style. When we lived in New York City, and this may have been a function of both apartment living and the Upper West Side, we encountered all manner of ways that people walked (or carried their dogs). Some walked their canine on a leash, others carried their small little dogs in their gigantic purses, and others would push them in a baby stroller. Many people see their dogs as extensions of their families, while others as fashion accessories. On the other hand, some gang members may own a Pitt bull, Rottweiler or English bulldog and the act of walking down the street with a reputed to be aggressive dog makes people fear them. So much so that some jurisdictions have banned these dogs from being owned by anyone. The type of dog you own says something about you.

Walking a dog is not a simple matter. During this activity you can encounter an array of situations and consequently decisions that you must make: will you let your dog sniff another dog’s butt, hump them or allow them to be humped, does it play well with other dogs in a dog park or dog run, is it friendly around kids? etc. etc.

I’ve had lots of great experiences walking our dog on the street and letting him play in the dog park. I’ve also had my share of really dumb interactions with both people who own dogs and those who don’t. Not only dogs, but their owners can be whack jobs too, so it’s important to be cautious when you are out of your abode with your pooch.

Over time Luca became increasingly chill, adopting a live and let live kind of attitude. Although he was a big dog, he was also regal, sweet, and good looking. Luca inspired strangers to want to pet him. The people who knew better not to pet dogs they didn’t know, would occasionally ask me if they could pet him, and I would almost always oblige. After determining that it was safe, I‘d let the man, woman, or child pet him. I had a working ritual: make Luca sit, have the person crouch down, at the dog’s eye level, and once I knew Luca had that innocent look, I would let the person pet him.

Indeed, Luca was like a therapy dog to some strangers. People would become smitten and kinder as they reached down to pet him saying all sorts of endearing things: “you’re such a gooood boy,” “look at you, you’re so beautiful!” etc. After petting him, they looked more relaxed and left with a huge grin on their faces. I had difficulty with children who ran at full gallop towards him wanting desperately to pet him. In these cases, I acted as a shield between the child and Luca. But I did wonder where the parents were. The with-it parents would encourage the child to ask me first if they could pet Luca, but other parents were either distracted or didn’t realize that dogs can be scared and that when they get scared might respond aggressively. When I politely interceded, the parents would give me this look as if Luca was a monster.

Our dog has also nipped at other dogs and people and this has been a disconcerting (i.e., resource intensive) experience for us. For example, once a yappy pug was taking nips at Luca and I guess he got tired of it and bit him back. The owner, who I imagine was pretty new to dog ownership, thought that our dog was unnecessarily aggressive, and wanted to call the police, then worried if he had all the appropriate shots, etc.. Another time, I was sitting on a bench in front of a bakery, with my head down, hand on leash, texting on my phone, and not paying attention to the people who were walking by, while my wife went inside. Suddenly Luca leapt, barked, and attempted to bite a person who was coming close to me, while I doubled down on my grip on his leash. He was protecting me while I was distracted.

People are not the only unpredictable creatures. Many dogs were also crazy. On several occasions while I was minding my own business and walking Luca, I’ve had dogs unexpectedly run at full speed across a vehicular laden street to attack my dog. I’ve had dogs jump off a porch, run across a front lawn, and attempt to hop off an embankment to attack Luca. All this while dog owners are distracted or didn’t give a darn. Dog parks and dog runs can be especially difficult places to negotiate. For the most part we had great experiences with our dog and the ones that roam the dog parks. He went there, played nice with others, and then we left. However once I took him there at midday when initially there was only another person, both of our dogs, and me. The individual and I struck up a pleasant conversation while we were sitting on the bench while our dogs played nicely. Then, all of a sudden she picked up her dog, and held it close to her body. I wondered what was going on. I quickly turned my head in the direction that she was staring, and in one split second, two mastiffs and their owner, just entered the park within seconds one of them had his jaw firmly clenched on our dog’s ear, with another circling and barking ready for the kill. With my dog yelping, I leapt to my feet, started yelling profanities at the dog and owner who was dressed in camo fatigues. Almost immediately, I started kicking the circling dog in the ribs, and the one that had Luca’s ear. Meanwhile a crowd was forming around the dog park, equally shouting profanities at the dog owner, while he was unsuccessfully attempting to pry the mouth of his dog off Luca’s ear. I was worried that if I pulled my dog I might either have a part of my body ripped off or my dog’s ear too. Within five minutes, the incident was over and I quickly left with Luca with a large gash in his ear. To this day, this incident frequently replays itself in my head, and I suspect that Luca did too.

In general, having a dog in an apartment can be challenging. It’s not the occasional barking, but using the elevator and the closer contact with residents may put you and your dog in uncomfortable situations. Due to “building rules,” we were only allowed to use the freight elevator to bring our dog up and down. In the meantime, one of the three elevators in the building was continuously broken, and many of the residents were not so understanding of the situation. At other times, when people thought we did not know the rules but were told by the doorman that we could use the non-freight elevator or the freight elevator was broken, some residents would get upset with us and remind us about the rules. Alternatively and occasionally there was an aggressive dog that someone had on the elevator at the same time we had ours who attempted to bite him. Likewise it was a real pain or embarrassing when our dog peed in the foyer, or suffered from diarrhea which happened every three months because he ate all manner of discarded detritus on the sidewalk if we weren’t careful, and we had to take him out at least six times a day including at 3 am.

Walking a dog in an urban environment also brings up the question of where is s/he going to pee and shit and where are you going to deposit that kind of refuse. If it’s a big city like New York, then tossing it in a public trash does not present much of a challenge, but if you are in a city with few of these types of receptacles you may be tempted to throw it into someone’s supercan behind their house or down an alley. Fun fact. Many people don’t like dog shit dumped in their supercans. And I can identify with that. If it is during a hot summer, right after the bin has been picked up, then there is a high chance that the excrement is going to increase the possibility that the bin will smell and attract more rodents than usual.

In the end, although dogs can be “man’s best friend,” they are also part of street culture, and extensions of one’s personal style and relationship with the street. I don’t expect every dog owner to have the same experiences I had with ours, but talking with others about their dogs, particularly in big cities, I’ve noted a considerable amount of similarities. Our dog changed in many small ways how I perceive the street, my understanding of people’s relationships with their canines, and my interactions with other people’s pets.

Dedicated to the memory of Luca (April 8, 2006-May 4, 2020), trusted friend, emotional support dog, and part of our family crew

Small but consequential victories: Convict Criminology becomes an official division of the American Society of Criminology

Nobody goes into academia to become rich and famous. Working in this particular career we hopefully make small, but important contributions. A paper that you worked really hard on finally gets published, your first book gets released, a student that you worked closely with graduates and gets hired by a good employer, etc.

These activities add up, shape a career in small ways, and make you feel like your work has some value. The official acceptance by the Executive Board of the American Society of Criminology (ASC), for the creation of the Division of Convict Criminology, at their Spring Board Meeting, April 25, 2020 is one of those small but consequential victories.

During the early 1990s I met Stephen C. Richards, a formerly incarcerated professor who earned a Ph.D. We got to know each other and discussed at length our respective views surrounding the field of corrections (i.e., jails, prisons, those who are incarcerated inside and work there, and the policies, practices and laws in this field). As a former correctional worker, and Stephen a former convict, we both had a lot of difficulty with the ways that corrections was studied, interpreted, and portrayed, not just by our cultural industries, but also by our academic brethren.

We knew that we were not alone, but to move forward we sketched out the rationale and contours of what we later called Convict Criminology (CC). To make CC a coherent body of thought, practice, and praxis we needed to go beyond networking with like-minded people and presenting papers at academic conferences, and started having our work published in respectable scholarly venues. We embarked on this auspicious task slowly, methodically, while encountering and responding to a lot of bomb throwers and contrarians both inside and outside our group.

Three years ago I realized that to better sustain the network, we needed to create a more formal organizational structure. So with the encouragement of Grant Tietjen, Ph.D. and Denise Woodall, Ph.D., I quickly drafted a constitution for this new organization. At the last minute we got a room booked at the Atlanta ASC conference where the Convict Criminology network held its very first business meeting. After some discussion, the constitution was revised, both Grant and Denise were elected as co-chairs, and we had people assume different tasks. At both the Philadelphia and San Francisco ASC meetings, in addition to our panels and social, we held business meetings where we tinkered with the constitution, voted for new executives, and discussed our future direction, including the advantages and disadvantages of becoming an official division of ASC.

Beginning in the summer of 2019, efforts to become an official division took on more prominence. An electronic vote of the CC network indicated overwhelming support for moving forward with the CC division process. At the 2019 ASC conference we started a formal petition to create a division, and quickly discovered numerous people who were willing to sign. During a spirited Convict Criminology business meeting the decision to become an official division was raised again, including issues regarding our formal name and mission, and shortly thereafter reaffirmed our decision through a face-to-face vote, and again a post meeting electronic vote. Daniel Kavish, Ph.D. took the lead in dealing with all the formalities and technicalities, including a DCC constitution that conformed to current ASC guidelines and a website. He had frequent correspondence with Chris Eskridge, Executive Director, and Susan Case, Deputy Director.

At the beginning of April 2020, the formal application was submitted to ASC, and on April 25, 2020 the ASC Executive Board approved the establishment of the Division of Convict Criminology.

The creation of the Division of Convict Criminology, as an official division of the ASC, is a validation of the hard work of numerous people who have been formally incarcerated, justice involved or impacted, and allies of the organization, who believe that the convict and ex-convict voice has been ignored in traditional criminological/criminal justice scholarship, and are working to change this, through scholarship, mentorship, and service. The new division is a milestone for me and for all of those who have been involved in our journey. It is an event that we should all be happy about and celebrate.

This small but consequential victory should better assist those amongst us who are trying to lend a helping hand to our constituency who are trying to better themselves through post graduate education, get a more accurate picture of what goes on behind bars and upon release, and who want to achieve more social justice in the field of corrections.

Crime, criminal justice agencies, & crimes of the powerful during COVID-19

The global COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the types and amount of crime as well as the ability of criminal justice agencies in advanced industrialized countries to deal with crime. In the United States and other similar countries, people are spending more time at home, which may not have been a safe place before the pandemic, with their partners and family, domestic violence has increased. Yet, street crimes such as homicide, robbery, sexual assault and carjackings have decreased in most cities. Why? Less people are out in public, walking the street or driving a vehicle. Likewise burglaries of occupied houses and business have reduced because the likelihood of confronting the owner or resident makes place a less attractive option.

Homicide crime patterns, however, are not consistent throughout the country. In Baltimore, for example, a city that in recent history has had one of the highest homicide and violent crime rates in the USA, the rate of these types of crime has not slowed down. It persists at the same levels as before the pandemic. In Baltimore, at least, the consistent violent crime rate may reflect perpetrators using this time to settle old scores, maintain dominance or expand power.

Who’s doing the crime? Throughout the US, many people have been laid off, furloughed, or fired from their jobs and they are struggling to survive economically. Many believe that the unemployed are so desperate, we’re going to see them resort to crimes. Regardless of the times we live in, this argument is false. People committing the crime now are the same people committing the crime before COVID-19.

Also noteworthy is that the ability of criminal justice agencies handling crime might be now diminished. In New York City, 6,974 uniformed officers (19.3 % of the total force) are out sick, 1,935 have tested positive to the virus, and 12 have died. This puts added pressure on the remaining personnel to respond to calls for service and there’s indication that they are struggling. Overall street stops and arrests have decreased which has meant a decrease in drug and DUI charges. Adding to the burden on law enforcement is that during this pandemic, in some jurisdictions, they are being required to warn, ticket or arrest individuals who fail to adhere to local “shelter in place” or “stay at home” legislation.

Jails, prisons and other correctional facilities have also been affected by the Corona crisis. Not only are inmates contracting the virus, but correctional officers are also testing positive. Numerous civil liberties organizations, the loved ones of those who are incarcerated, and in some cases those who are incarcerated, are pleading with correctional facilities and their respective governors to reduce the number of prisoners and/or engage in methods to facilitate convicts to social distance. Many prison systems are either releasing selected inmates, although the criteria are unclear and vary. In some places inmates closest to the end of their terms, or ones convicted of less serious crime are being let go, but it is also uncertain where in the community they will be housed.

A type of crime that seems to get less play and coverage is the increase in corporate crimes such as price fixing in public health products and fraudulent scams by individuals and businesses that have hoarded essential protective gear, and hand sanitizer in order to sell them at inflated prices.

Crimes committed by the powerful, at least the framing of these activities as such, most notably financial corruption, also get less attention than they deserve. A number of journalists are reporting about attempts to funnel government financial assistance to individuals and corporations that President Donald Trump has deep connections with. Many of these potential crimes, have been temporarily curtailed because of last minute restrictions placed by the senate and house of representatives forbidding money going to any business that Trump has a financial stake in. But, the administration and its allies keep on trying to find loopholes that can benefit them. Shortly after the passage of the stimulus money legislation, Trump removed the inspector general who was in charge of overseeing the corona virus stimulus money. Presumably, the inspector general would insure that the money would be distributed in compliance with legislative guidelines, with a minimum of corrupt activities that often follow in situations like this. During his controversial daily briefing, the president has been advocating the use of hydroxychloroquine as a cure for the virus. Although Trump has a comparatively small financial interest in Sanofi, the French drug manufacturer, it’s nonetheless highly unethical for him to be hyping a drug that most COVID-19 experts suggest has minimal clinical benefits and could be quite deadly.

The biggest current crime of the powerful is the fact that Trump and the White House administration knew about this global pandemic as early as January and they failed to act timely and appropriately. It did not help that Trump dismantled the White House global pandemic team in the early part of his administration (2018) and let the national stockpile of masks, personal protective equipment (PPE), and ventilators to be depleted. Had the president and administration acted timelier, including authorizing the Defense Production Act, it would have quickly motivated the private sector to increase the production of COVID-19 related protective gear including ventilators that hospitals are in dire need of. Another failure of his administration is his decision not to coordinate efforts among the states in the fight against the virus, rather leaving cities and states (i.e., the Governors) free to make up their own Covid-19 policy responses on their own. This lack of coordination among states stands in sharp contrast to the efforts in place in other countries that had been better able than the US to slow down the spread of COVID-19. Finally, Trump and his administration failed to direct the Department of Health and Human Administration to engage in widespread Coronavirus testing and contact tracing, like they are doing in a number of jurisdictions and countries. If Trump and the White house had acted timely, coordinated with states, and engage in testing and contact tracing, we would have reduced the number of people exposed to and infected by the virus, reduced the number of senseless loss of lives, and increase the number of lives saved.