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Here’s a mind-boggling one.

Florida Atlantic University, a 29,000-student public university in Boca Raton, will announce today that it has sold the naming rights to its football stadium to a private prison company that until recently ran a youthful offender facility in Mississippi whose “pervasive level of brazen staff sexual misconduct”  was called “among the worst in the nation” by a 2012 Department of Justice investigation.

The Justice Department report on the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility found not only that Walnut Grove management was “deliberately indifferent to staff sexual misconduct,” but also that the facility “often use[d] excessive force as a first response” to disciplinary issues, tolerated active gang membership by facility employees, failed to protect inmates against physical and sexual assault by peers, and was “deliberately indifferent to the suicide risks and serious mental health needs of its youth.”

Walnut Grove was operated at the time by GEO Group, a global private prison operator. Later that year, after a federal judge described Walnut Grove as “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts,” GEO was removed as manager of the institution. The company would later claim that it had chosen not to renew the contract because Walnut Grove was “financially underperforming.”)

So why would FAU choose to associate itself with a company with such an appalling record? Two reasons.

First, the university has been searching for a corporate sponsor for the stadium without success since it opened two years ago. The $5 million reportedly offered by the GEO Group was apparently impossible to resist.

And second? Well, there’s GEO Group’s CEO, George Zoley. He’s a FAU alum and the former chair of the university’s board of trustees.

Update | It’s official. Thanks to a $6 million donation to the university, the stadium will now be named “GEO Group Stadium.” The university’s press release on the deal calls GEO Group a “fully integrated equity real estate investment trust specializing in the design, financing, development, and operation of correctional, detention, and community reentry facilities around the globe.”

Wednesday Update | The New York Times reports on the story, calling the deal a “a jarring case of the lengths colleges and teams will go to produce revenue, of the way that everything seems to be for sale now in sports — and to anyone with enough cash.” As well, it quotes local private-prison opponent Bob Libal as saying that the GEO Group has recently “poured enormous resources” into attempts “to take over a large portion of the Florida prison system,” characterizing yesterday’s agreement as an extension of that lobbying effort. GEO is, Libal says, “a company whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents that really draw into question their ability to successfully manage a prison facility.” As the Times itself notes, GEO “has been cited by state and federal regulators and lost a series of high-profile lawsuits.”

Asked by a Times reporter whether FAU had investigated such incidents before partnering with GEO, university president Saunders said, “we think it’s a wonderful company, and we’re very proud to partner with them.”

The Times also notes that two past FAU student government presidents have gone on to work for GEO Group.

Third Update | It has emerged that the GEO Group owns an immigrant detention center just ten miles from the Florida Atlantic campus that has been the target of criticism based on complaints of inadequate medical care and unjustified incarceration. The Miami Herald reported today that at least one current FAU student is a former detainee at the center.

Jim Banks, a Republican state senator from Indiana, wants to legalize concealed carry on the state’s public college campuses. And he’s got a novel argument in favor of the proposition.

Rape prevention.

“That’s what’s compelling about this issue,” he told an Associated Press reporter. “how many female students there are around the state, who have very specific and real reasons to be afraid for their own safety on their campus. The number of sexual assault cases on campuses is alarming.”

Of course a large majority of rapes are committed by people known to the victims, with nearly half perpetrated by friends, acquaintances, or prior sexual partners. And while it’s perhaps appealing on some level to imagine Indiana’s college women carrying guns on study sessions, to dorm parties, and on dates to protect themselves from the men they socialize with, one suspects that that’s not what Banks had in mind.

No, of course it isn’t. Banks read somewhere about the epidemic of campus rape and he just slotted it into his previously existing concept of the trenchcoat-clad ruffian in the bushes. And he slotted THAT into his pre-existing predilection for more guns, anywhere and everywhere.

It’s not actually about rape at all.

Update | As @DanMcDs just pointed out on Twitter, the most likely result of a major impact of widespread campus carry on sexual assault would be a massive increase in rapes perpetrated via gun threats or intimidation.

The things she knew, let her forget again –
The voices in the sky, the fear, the cold,
The gaping shepherds, and the queer old men
Piling their clumsy gifts of foreign gold.

Let her have laughter with her little one;
Teach her the needless, tuneless songs to sing;
Grant her her right to whisper to her son
The foolish names one dare not call a king.

Keep from her dreams the rumble of a crowd,
The smell of rough-cut wood, the trail of red,
The thick and chilly whiteness of the shroud
That wraps the strange new body of the dead.

Ah, let her go, kind Lord, where mothers go
And boast his pretty words and ways, and plan
The proud and happy years that they shall know
Together, when her son is grown a man.

–Dorothy Parker, 1928

Today’s press conference by NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre has been greeted with a storm of derision and outrage from across the political spectrum. Even moderates and conservatives were appalled — New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s comment that the speech reflected a “paranoid, dystopian vision” of America was distinctive more for its phrasing than its sentiment.

One of the most ridiculed elements of LaPierre’s appearance was his call for a national volunteer force of armed guards to patrol every school in America — a “blanket of safety,” he called it, and he wants it in place by the end of the Christmas break.

Many observers pointed out that Columbine High School had an armed sheriff’s deputy on site on the day that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered thirteen and wounded twenty-one more in what stands as the bloodiest high school massacre in the nation’s history.

Some conservatives are “peeved” by this criticism, however. As Daniel Foster writes at the website of the National Review,

“it isn’t like the deputy was sitting around eating doughnuts. … He traded fire (that is, he drew fire) with Harris for an extended period of time, during which Harris’s gun jammed. … In this highly chaotic tactical environment, the deputy acted both bravely and prudently, and who knows how many lives he saved by engaging Harris.”

Let’s consider this a moment.

Wayne LaPierre asserts that the solution to the problem of school shootings is bringing armed guards onto the nation’s campuses. Critics point out that the worst high school shooting in American history took place at a school where just such a guard was on hand. And how do LaPierre’s supporters respond?

You see? It works!

The NRA and its allies believe that Columbine was a win. They believe that we need more Columbines, not fewer.

University of Rhode Island labor historian Erik Loomis has garnered a lot of conservative attention in the last few days.

After the Newtown shootings, Loomis tweeted that he wanted “Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick.” (LaPierre is the head of the NRA.) Though this statement was obviously metaphorical, some high-profile conservatives pounced on it, and gave it a lot of attention. Loomis has since been visited by the police and called in for a meeting with his dean. You can find the whole story — along with an ever-growing list of Loomis’s academic supporters — here.

The whole thing would be silly if it weren’t potentially so damaging to Loomis’s career.

How silly? Well, there’s this, for starters. Robert Stacy McCain has been one of the more vocal conservative bloggers on the Loomis beat. As part of his campaign, he invited someone named “Badger Pundit” to guest post about Loomis’s dissertation — a history of union organizing among loggers in the Pacific Northwest.

That post wound up giving prominent play to a few paragraphs in which Loomis discussed homosexuality among early 20th century loggers. Unsure what to make of the discussion, but eager to pass it along, Badger Pundit quoted liberally from the brief passage, linked to the Monty Python “Lumberjack Song,” then tossed in an aside about how reading the material left him feeling like “I needed a shower.”

Classy.

But not as classy as commenter Danby, who opined that given the sleeping arrangements in logging camps of the era, any “homosexuals” among the loggers “would soon be found out and beaten with axe handles within an inch of their worthless lives.”

That comment has at the time of this writing received nine upvotes and just one  lonely downvote. It’s also attracted a reply from Badger Pundit himself, who called it “fascinating,” “a great read,” and “a real contribution to the understanding of U.S. history.”

To recap: Calling for a political enemy’s “head on a stick” is a firing offense. Imagining gays “beaten with axe handles within an inch of their worthless lives” is just good writing.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall
StudentActivism.net is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

To contact Angus, click here.

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