Monthly Archives: September 2005

multiracial victimization part deux

in response to my why are those of two or more races victimized at such a high level? post, erik larson of macalester college has already come up with at least a partial answer. he explains a large portion of the gap in victimization between multiracial individuals and all other racial groups with a single variable. based on his quick calculations, age seems to account for about 40 percent of the excess victimization over the population as a whole. i think that developing this analysis might make a nice research note when the data arrive in full (just make sure to give erik some authorship credit — dude is on the tenure track!). it doesn’t necessarily kill my discrimination hypothesis, but at least it reduces the magnitude of the multiracial victimization gap from “shocking” to somewhere around “disturbing.” thanks erik.

i don’t know the literature well, but i’m interested in the social construction of racial and ethnic identity for personal as well as scholarly reasons. people immediately peg me as swedish or norwegian (especially outside of minnesota) because of my physical appearance, and this is generally the way i self-identify. but i certainly grew up knowing that my background was at least somewhat more diverse (e.g., cree (nêhiyawêwin) indian, italian, irish…). if people who self-identify as biracial or multiracial are more likely to be victimized net of age and everything else, this doesn’t bode well for the american mosaic. am i really less likely to be beaten or assaulted because i look like i’m from one and only one racial background? i’m not advocating a melting pot or assimilation model, but i can’t help thinking we’d be better off if more than .9 percent of us (the figure in the ncvs) self-identified as “2 or more races.”

on a much, much, lighter note, erik’s response got me thinking about another kind of diversity — the ability to claim “2 or more methods.” since erik is best known for his qualitative comparative work, his sharp quantoid contribution helps make a case that i preach to grad students early on — that there’s no such thing as pure “qualitative” or “quantitative” researchers anymore. i probably look like a quant in the same way that i look like a norwegian and i emphasize quant tools in my work. still, few of the top sociologists i know advocate a “purebreed” approach to methods these days. here’s a cheeky take on the advantages and disadvantages of [sociological] purebreeds and mutts, adapted from the “pet library:”

Take two [sociologists], one a [methodological] purebred and one a mixed breed. Which one is more beautiful, smarter, a better companion? It’s often a matter of personal opinion as there are those who believe that purebreds are the only choice while others steadfastly stand by the mutt. One of the most appealing features of the purebred is that they have rather predictable [scholarly] characteristics. You more or less know what you’re going to get when it comes to appearance and size. They also have a fairly predictable temperament so you can get a pretty good idea of what your [sociologist's] disposition will be. And, of course, if you want to professionally breed or show your [sociologist], a pedigree is your only option.

[Methodological] purebreds are more prone to [career] problems, many of which are often due to overbreeding. It’s very important when considering a purebred that you find a reputable and proven [graduate program]. Many purebreds also come with working behaviors that may not fit your ideal of the perfect [sociologist]. Behaviors like digging holes, chasing after things or nipping, which have been bred into certain [epistemologies] for centuries, often prove difficult to change. And, of course, purebreds can be very costly, running anywhere from several hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars.

Now for the mixed breeds. One of the most obvious downsides of the mixed breed is that you can’t predict what a [new ph.d.] will look like or what size it will be as an adult. However, there are those who actually find this to be a positive, enjoying the surprise of realizing what their mixes grow up to look like. Along the same lines, mixed breeds are less predictable than purebreds when it comes to temperament. However, mixed breeds tend toward the moderate, with their temperaments often proving to be less extreme than those of purebreds. You’re less likely to have a [sociologist] who’s “very” energetic or “very” demanding or “very” stubborn, with [epistemologically]-based characteristics that often prove difficult to change, and more likely to have a [sociologist] that can adjust to a greater variety of situations. With a greater [methodological] diversity, mixed breeds are less likely to suffer conditions that affect certain purebreds as a result of inbreeding. They also tend to be a lot less expensive, usually costing around $25 to $75 at most [graduate programs]. Furthermore, by opting for a mixed breed, certainly one from the [non-elite departments], you may just be saving a life.

multiracial victimization part deux

in response to my why are those of two or more races victimized at such a high level? post, erik larson of macalester college has already come up with at least a partial answer. he explains a large portion of the gap in victimization between multiracial individuals and all other racial groups with a single variable. based on his quick calculations, age seems to account for about 40 percent of the excess victimization over the population as a whole. i think that developing this analysis might make a nice research note when the data arrive in full (just make sure to give erik some authorship credit — dude is on the tenure track!). it doesn’t necessarily kill my discrimination hypothesis, but at least it reduces the magnitude of the multiracial victimization gap from “shocking” to somewhere around “disturbing.” thanks erik.

i don’t know the literature well, but i’m interested in the social construction of racial and ethnic identity for personal as well as scholarly reasons. people immediately peg me as swedish or norwegian (especially outside of minnesota) because of my physical appearance, and this is generally the way i self-identify. but i certainly grew up knowing that my background was at least somewhat more diverse (e.g., cree (nêhiyawêwin) indian, italian, irish…). if people who self-identify as biracial or multiracial are more likely to be victimized net of age and everything else, this doesn’t bode well for the american mosaic. am i really less likely to be beaten or assaulted because i look like i’m from one and only one racial background? i’m not advocating a melting pot or assimilation model, but i can’t help thinking we’d be better off if more than .9 percent of us (the figure in the ncvs) self-identified as “2 or more races.”

on a much, much, lighter note, erik’s response got me thinking about another kind of diversity — the ability to claim “2 or more methods.” since erik is best known for his qualitative comparative work, his sharp quantoid contribution helps make a case that i preach to grad students early on — that there’s no such thing as pure “qualitative” or “quantitative” researchers anymore. i probably look like a quant in the same way that i look like a norwegian and i emphasize quant tools in my work. still, few of the top sociologists i know advocate a “purebreed” approach to methods these days. here’s a cheeky take on the advantages and disadvantages of [sociological] purebreeds and mutts, adapted from the “pet library:”

Take two [sociologists], one a [methodological] purebred and one a mixed breed. Which one is more beautiful, smarter, a better companion? It’s often a matter of personal opinion as there are those who believe that purebreds are the only choice while others steadfastly stand by the mutt. One of the most appealing features of the purebred is that they have rather predictable [scholarly] characteristics. You more or less know what you’re going to get when it comes to appearance and size. They also have a fairly predictable temperament so you can get a pretty good idea of what your [sociologist's] disposition will be. And, of course, if you want to professionally breed or show your [sociologist], a pedigree is your only option.

[Methodological] purebreds are more prone to [career] problems, many of which are often due to overbreeding. It’s very important when considering a purebred that you find a reputable and proven [graduate program]. Many purebreds also come with working behaviors that may not fit your ideal of the perfect [sociologist]. Behaviors like digging holes, chasing after things or nipping, which have been bred into certain [epistemologies] for centuries, often prove difficult to change. And, of course, purebreds can be very costly, running anywhere from several hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars.

Now for the mixed breeds. One of the most obvious downsides of the mixed breed is that you can’t predict what a [new ph.d.] will look like or what size it will be as an adult. However, there are those who actually find this to be a positive, enjoying the surprise of realizing what their mixes grow up to look like. Along the same lines, mixed breeds are less predictable than purebreds when it comes to temperament. However, mixed breeds tend toward the moderate, with their temperaments often proving to be less extreme than those of purebreds. You’re less likely to have a [sociologist] who’s “very” energetic or “very” demanding or “very” stubborn, with [epistemologically]-based characteristics that often prove difficult to change, and more likely to have a [sociologist] that can adjust to a greater variety of situations. With a greater [methodological] diversity, mixed breeds are less likely to suffer conditions that affect certain purebreds as a result of inbreeding. They also tend to be a lot less expensive, usually costing around $25 to $75 at most [graduate programs]. Furthermore, by opting for a mixed breed, certainly one from the [non-elite departments], you may just be saving a life.

crime and elective office

when i think of crime and voting, i usually think about felon disenfranchisement. i got word today from a friend in the research triangle on a story involving the criminal records of those running for office.

DURHAM — Of the 17 candidates on the primary ballot for mayor and City Council in Durham, at least eight have been convicted of criminal charges.
The chairman of the Durham County Republican Party moved on Tuesday to withdraw GOP support from mayoral candidate Vincent Brown, whose extensive criminal record was the subject of an article in Sunday’s editions of The News & Observer. The story recounted Brown’s felony convictions for forgery and larceny, as well as a stretch served in state prison. Brown vehemently denied that he has ever been arrested…

in many places, a felony conviction formally disqualifies one from holding office, but this story went on to discuss the arrest records of the candidates. and they found plenty — embezzlement, speeding, lots of bad checks, weapons offenses, petty theft, abortion protesting, failure to pay child support, and others. this one might be the saddest and the strangest:

In light of Brown’s rap sheet, every candidate in attendance was asked before a crowd of about 75 people if they had ever been arrested on a criminal charge or had been to jail.
When it was his turn to answer Tuesday, Ward 1 council candidate Joe Williams said: “I don’t have any skeletons in my closet.”
Records show Williams was convicted in a 1986 trial for a single misdemeanor count of assault on a female. He was ordered by a judge to “pay for damages to teeth” in an amount to be determined by the clerk of court.

ouch. is this further evidence of the carceral state spreading ever outward? i’d hate to participate in such a line-up before a department election. actually, my graduate students tell me that some universities now obtain arrest reports on new faculty — and i’ve read enough papers on institutional isomorphism to suspect that this could quickly become standard practice. if it doesn’t indicate overcriminalization, do you think the 8 in 17 figure indicates greater criminality among politicians than others? As mark twain’s pudd’nhead wilson hypothesized:

It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress. -mark twain

crime and elective office

when i think of crime and voting, i usually think about felon disenfranchisement. i got word today from a friend in the research triangle on a story involving the criminal records of those running for office.

DURHAM — Of the 17 candidates on the primary ballot for mayor and City Council in Durham, at least eight have been convicted of criminal charges.
The chairman of the Durham County Republican Party moved on Tuesday to withdraw GOP support from mayoral candidate Vincent Brown, whose extensive criminal record was the subject of an article in Sunday’s editions of The News & Observer. The story recounted Brown’s felony convictions for forgery and larceny, as well as a stretch served in state prison. Brown vehemently denied that he has ever been arrested…

in many places, a felony conviction formally disqualifies one from holding office, but this story went on to discuss the arrest records of the candidates. and they found plenty — embezzlement, speeding, lots of bad checks, weapons offenses, petty theft, abortion protesting, failure to pay child support, and others. this one might be the saddest and the strangest:

In light of Brown’s rap sheet, every candidate in attendance was asked before a crowd of about 75 people if they had ever been arrested on a criminal charge or had been to jail.
When it was his turn to answer Tuesday, Ward 1 council candidate Joe Williams said: “I don’t have any skeletons in my closet.”
Records show Williams was convicted in a 1986 trial for a single misdemeanor count of assault on a female. He was ordered by a judge to “pay for damages to teeth” in an amount to be determined by the clerk of court.


ouch. is this further evidence of the carceral state spreading ever outward? i’d hate to participate in such a line-up before a department election. actually, my graduate students tell me that some universities now obtain arrest reports on new faculty — and i’ve read enough papers on institutional isomorphism to suspect that this could quickly become standard practice. if it doesn’t indicate overcriminalization, do you think the 8 in 17 figure indicates greater criminality among politicians than others? As mark twain’s pudd’nhead wilson hypothesized:

It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress. -mark twain

why are those of "two or more races" victimized at such a high level?

the new 2004 national crime victimization survey numbers were released this week. according to this large-scale nationally representative survey, violent crime is holding steady at the lowest levels recorded in the three decades for which we have had reliable data. that’s the good news, but there is also some disturbing news regarding race differences.

the ncvs asks respondents to self-identify race, using categories for white, black, other “only,” and, since 2003, “two or more races” (“other race” includes american indians/alaska natives, asians, and native hawaiians/other pacific islanders identifying a single racial background). when i first presented last year’s numbers, i was depressed to find extraordinarily high rates of violent victimization among persons of “two or more races:” 67.7 victims of violent crime for every 1,000 people age 12 and older, relative to rates of 29 for blacks, 21.5 for whites, and 16 for those of other races. i’ve always lectured on racial disparities in victimization, but had never seen gaps like this before. this is not my primary area of study, so i may be missing something obvious. still, any good criminologist who does survey work should be able to address such questions.

i first thought it might be an artifact, given that it was the first year that the “two or more races” option was presented, but the same ugly pattern holds for the 2004 numbers (click the graph for a legible version). those reporting “two or more races” were victimized in 2004 at 51.6 per thousand, double the black rate of 26 per thousand, and far exceeding the white and “other” rates of 21 per thousand and 12.7 per thousand, respectively. only about .9% of respondents self-identify as “two or more races,” but we’re talking about over 1,000 people here, given the NCVS sample size of 149,000. those of hispanic ethnicity are somewhat less likely to be victimized than non-hispanics, but the main difference seems to be between “2 or more” (shown in the red bar) and all of the other bars shown.

several press accounts have reported these differences, but to my knowledge none have printed comments from victimization experts about them. so, my hope-i’m-wrong disturbing hypothesis is that a large portion of the greater violent victimization is due to discrimination. is it the case that multiracial persons are more likely to be victimized everywhere — in black, white, hispanic, asian, and american indian communities alike? i don’t know the census data well enough to comment on response patterns to such questions or even the socioeconomic differences between multiracial families and others. perhaps some of the victimization differences are due to ses or neighborhood poverty or family structure (all of which are no doubt linked to discrimination in some form). but am i missing something else here?

such a large bivariate gap cries out for serious multivariate analysis. does the pattern hold for property victimization as well? what happens when controls for neighborhood and ses are introduced? if we still see disproportionate violence against multiracial persons, it also cries out for targeted policy interventions to address this problem.

gosh, margy, why don’t you tell us what you really think?

when i first began studying the collateral consequences of felony convictions in the 1990s, there were few authoritative sources on the practice. one of the best was a 1996 50-state report by then-U.S. pardon attorney margaret colgate love. margy served from 1990 to 1997 under presidents bush (I) and clinton (I), and she always provides a tough non-partisan critique of any administration’s pardon record. more recently, she prepared a great clemency “resource guide” that offers a starting point for anyone seeking to restore their rights after a felony conviction (more personally, i should add, she helped me make sense of the differing rules governing felon voting rights and their restoration in each state).

today’s crimprof blog features an op-ed by ms. love on the new national sex offender public registry. Her main concerns are (1) the registry’s data quality; and, (2) the absence of controls on its use. while some hail the registry as a “proactive and meaningful step in protecting a child’s life,” the former pardon attorney takes a different view — calling it a “half-baked mean-spirited incitement to vigilante Justice.”

gosh, margy, why don’t you tell us what you really think?

Here are some highlights of ms. love’s editorial:
… [it] relies entirely upon unvetted state registries that are notoriously incomplete and inaccurate
… most of [the offenders listed] had very dated and minor convictions, and had had no adverse contact with the law for decades…their houses and offices, marked with a little red flag like they used to put on the door of a plague house in the middle ages.
… outrageous that the federal government — the Justice Department no less — would rush to publish a list like this without 1) taking any responsibility for the accuracy of the information on it or warning about its shortcomings; or 2) giving the public any guidance at all about how they are supposed to use it.
… the clear suggestion that all 500,000 registered sex offenders in the United States are “predators” is one of the most irresponsible I’ve seen come out of the Justice Department, ever.

… the Attorney General is looking into how the FBI can share its criminal history information …the FBI’s information is almost as unreliable … [leading to] the same categorical discrimination
… The Justice Department should be trying to address the important privacy and due process issues raised, rather than leading the charge to stir up a public witch-hunt.
… The people most hurt by it are those who are already down and are easy to victimize.
… There are labor organizations and advocacy groups working on the important privacy and due process issues raised by these initiatives, and Human Rights Watch has written a letter to the Attorney General expressing concern about the Sex Offender Registry. Where are the lawyers?


i have not investigated the registry (beyond looking up my neighborhood), but i am troubled by ms. love’s report and opinion on its use. but this is a call-to-arms for lawyers — where are the sociologists and criminologists? i’m afraid it would be a pretty lonely crusade (that might land one in prison if certain movies are to be believed). i’m revising a piece with jeff manza and melissa thompson on ex-felons as a caste-like status group. it seems far-fetched until you see such registries in action and consider their easy extension beyond sex offenders. are sex offenders so different from, say, murderers that we wouldn’t create a more comprehensive registry? it could easily encompass anyone convicted (or arrested — the private search firms use arrest data) on felonies (why not misdemeanors, as long as we have the data?) as an adult (aww heck, why should the juvenile court hoard all those records down in the basement?). the notion of a permanent stain or stigma seems ever more plausible to me in an age of free-and-easy information.

paradoxically, we now have the technology to apply a permanent mark at the very historical moment that life-course criminology establishes that everybody desists from crime. so, at the risk of oversimplifying, here’s how i see the mismatch: there are social, political, and (most importantly, in my view) technological pressures toward treating criminality as a fixed characteristic of individuals, even as the science paints a picture of malleability and movement away from crime in adulthood. such pressures will clearly frustrate reintegrative efforts, but unlike ms. love i don’t see a way out of the dilemma — Justice department database or not, the information systems genie seems to be out of the bottle. i think the better long-term plan might be for sociologists and criminologists to attempt to provide an unflinching, evidence-based assessment of risk across different offense groups and the relative costs and benefits of stigmatization and reintegration.

gosh, margy, why don’t you tell us what you really think?

when i first began studying the collateral consequences of felony convictions in the 1990s, there were few authoritative sources on the practice. one of the best was a 1996 50-state report by then-U.S. pardon attorney margaret colgate love. margy served from 1990 to 1997 under presidents bush (I) and clinton (I), and she always provides a tough non-partisan critique of any administration’s pardon record. more recently, she prepared a great clemency “resource guide” that offers a starting point for anyone seeking to restore their rights after a felony conviction (more personally, i should add, she helped me make sense of the differing rules governing felon voting rights and their restoration in each state).

today’s crimprof blog features an op-ed by ms. love on the new national sex offender public registry. Her main concerns are (1) the registry’s data quality; and, (2) the absence of controls on its use. while some hail the registry as a “proactive and meaningful step in protecting a child’s life,” the former pardon attorney takes a different view — calling it a “half-baked mean-spirited incitement to vigilante Justice.”

gosh, margy, why don’t you tell us what you really think?

Here are some highlights of ms. love’s editorial:
… [it] relies entirely upon unvetted state registries that are notoriously incomplete and inaccurate
… most of [the offenders listed] had very dated and minor convictions, and had had no adverse contact with the law for decades…their houses and offices, marked with a little red flag like they used to put on the door of a plague house in the middle ages.
… outrageous that the federal government — the Justice Department no less — would rush to publish a list like this without 1) taking any responsibility for the accuracy of the information on it or warning about its shortcomings; or 2) giving the public any guidance at all about how they are supposed to use it.
… the clear suggestion that all 500,000 registered sex offenders in the United States are “predators” is one of the most irresponsible I’ve seen come out of the Justice Department, ever.
… the Attorney General is looking into how the FBI can share its criminal history information …the FBI’s information is almost as unreliable … [leading to] the same categorical discrimination
… The Justice Department should be trying to address the important privacy and due process issues raised, rather than leading the charge to stir up a public witch-hunt.
… The people most hurt by it are those who are already down and are easy to victimize.
… There are labor organizations and advocacy groups working on the important privacy and due process issues raised by these initiatives, and Human Rights Watch has written a letter to the Attorney General expressing concern about the Sex Offender Registry. Where are the lawyers?

i have not investigated the registry (beyond looking up my neighborhood), but i am troubled by ms. love’s report and opinion on its use. but this is a call-to-arms for lawyers — where are the sociologists and criminologists? i’m afraid it would be a pretty lonely crusade (that might land one in prison if certain movies are to be believed). i’m revising a piece with jeff manza and melissa thompson on ex-felons as a caste-like status group. it seems far-fetched until you see such registries in action and consider their easy extension beyond sex offenders. are sex offenders so different from, say, murderers that we wouldn’t create a more comprehensive registry? it could easily encompass anyone convicted (or arrested — the private search firms use arrest data) on felonies (why not misdemeanors, as long as we have the data?) as an adult (aww heck, why should the juvenile court hoard all those records down in the basement?). the notion of a permanent stain or stigma seems ever more plausible to me in an age of free-and-easy information.

paradoxically, we now have the technology to apply a permanent mark at the very historical moment that life-course criminology establishes that everybody desists from crime. so, at the risk of oversimplifying, here’s how i see the mismatch: there are social, political, and (most importantly, in my view) technological pressures toward treating criminality as a fixed characteristic of individuals, even as the science paints a picture of malleability and movement away from crime in adulthood. such pressures will clearly frustrate reintegrative efforts, but unlike ms. love i don’t see a way out of the dilemma — Justice department database or not, the information systems genie seems to be out of the bottle. i think the better long-term plan might be for sociologists and criminologists to attempt to provide an unflinching, evidence-based assessment of risk across different offense groups and the relative costs and benefits of stigmatization and reintegration.

voting crimes "lack the same gravity as a homicide"

the strib reports that a woman serving a probation sentence for theft voted in a closely contested minnesota mayoral race last year, casting a ballot in a race in which her husband won by a slim 8-vote margin. Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, who happens to be running for US senate, has charged Linda Gilbert with a felony for registering to vote while ineligible.

Court documents indicate that in July, when authorities interviewed Linda Gilbert about the matter, she admitted to voting even though she knew she had lost her right to do so. Klobuchar said her office usually handles 15 to 20 election crime cases — involving ineligible voters or people voting more than once — each year after a major election cycle.

ms. gilbert, the current first lady of long lake, minnesota, must be very honest to admit that she knew she had lost the right to vote and voted anyway. still, it seems hard to believe that a thief who did 60 days in the workhouse is now going to catch a new felony for voting — in her husband’s election. here’s the kicker, though:

Such crimes lack the same gravity as a homicide, Klobuchar said, but they still need to be prosecuted. “We have to protect the integrity of our elections.”

i’m wondering about that “lack the same gravity as a homicide” quote. is it a joke? nowhere in the story is it mentioned that felony probationers can vote in 19 states or that the minnesota legislature considered enfranchising probationers and parolees this spring (i drafted a short report on the impact of this change in march). minnesota makes heavy use of probation and light use of incarceration, so ms. gilbert and thousands of others would have been able to vote without risking a felony conviction. under the proposal the total disenfranchised would have shrunk from an estimated 55,551 to 13,825, or from about 1.5 percent to about 0.4 percent of the voting-age population (and from about 12 percent to 3.5 percent of the African American voting age population).

voting crimes "lack the same gravity as a homicide"

the strib reports that a woman serving a probation sentence for theft voted in a closely contested minnesota mayoral race last year, casting a ballot in a race in which her husband won by a slim 8-vote margin. Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, who happens to be running for US senate, has charged Linda Gilbert with a felony for registering to vote while ineligible.

Court documents indicate that in July, when authorities interviewed Linda Gilbert about the matter, she admitted to voting even though she knew she had lost her right to do so. Klobuchar said her office usually handles 15 to 20 election crime cases — involving ineligible voters or people voting more than once — each year after a major election cycle.

ms. gilbert, the current first lady of long lake, minnesota, must be very honest to admit that she knew she had lost the right to vote and voted anyway. still, it seems hard to believe that a thief who did 60 days in the workhouse is now going to catch a new felony for voting — in her husband’s election. here’s the kicker, though:

Such crimes lack the same gravity as a homicide, Klobuchar said, but they still need to be prosecuted. “We have to protect the integrity of our elections.”

i’m wondering about that “lack the same gravity as a homicide” quote. is it a joke? nowhere in the story is it mentioned that felony probationers can vote in 19 states or that the minnesota legislature considered enfranchising probationers and parolees this spring (i drafted a short report on the impact of this change in march). minnesota makes heavy use of probation and light use of incarceration, so ms. gilbert and thousands of others would have been able to vote without risking a felony conviction. under the proposal the total disenfranchised would have shrunk from an estimated 55,551 to 13,825, or from about 1.5 percent to about 0.4 percent of the voting-age population (and from about 12 percent to 3.5 percent of the African American voting age population).

what was the bellingham murderer thinking?

The seattle times has been following the case of michael mullen, who confessed to killing two registered sex offenders in bellingham, washington. i wrote about the murders last month, suggesting that public availability of specific addresses and offense details might be a net loss to public safety. mullen wrote a letter to reporter mike carter at the times, which (after some hand-wringing) it decided to publish online in mullen’s original hand:

“[s]hould we post the letter itself online? Most who had read it said yes. Here’s why: Reading the handwritten letter was a different experience from reading the story. It was methodical. The penmanship doesn’t change. Mullen thought out the message just as he said he had thought out the crime. If you are concerned, scared or just fascinated, you want to understand what he had to say. … “Certainly no one in his right mind would agree with vigilante Justice,” Carter said, “but people are very frustrated about how society deals with sexual predators.” He added, “the overarching sentiment (from readers) has been one of people agreeing with Mullen’s sentiments, if not his methods.”

is there a real danger that publicizing mullen’s motivations will lead people to agree with his sentiments or inspire other vigilantes? as “p.s. punk” predicted in a comment to my earlier post, mullen spins a tale of righteous slaughter and wishes to make himself a martyr. he claims that he went to “interview” the three former sex offenders living at the house, checked their IDs to confirm identification, and let one of them go after he “showed remorse or guilt.” he claims that the two he killed “blammed [sic] their victims — they showed NO remorse.”

such statements show how easily a vigilante assumes the roles of judge, jury, and executioner. i’m most interested in how his comments reveal the dark side of community notification. here’s what the confessed killer said on the subject:

“the State of Washington, like many states now lists sexual deviants on the Net. And on most of these sites it shares with us what sexual crimes these men have been caught for, and most are so sick you wonder how they can be free … In closing, we cannot tell the public so-and-so is ‘likely’ going to hurt another child, and here is his address then expect us to sit back and wait to see what child is next”

mullen clearly blames the victims for their deaths, but he also implicates institutions that make the information public (i’m sure he’ll be pointing other fingers elsewhere as we get closer to his trial). i’m working on a project now coding the information provided by each state on sex offenders and other felons. reading through the individual case records that some states post, one cannot help but see them as “sick” monsters. one sees a bad picture, a horrific description of a crime, and an address. even if the acts are decades old, there is typically little countervailing information that would help us understand their current circumstances or the extent to which they pose a threat to public safety today.