On the Murder of Nine African-American Christians in Charleston, SC [UPDATED]

These articles offer commentary that I either appreciate or will soon read. 🙂 I’m thankful for the articles people share with me, but I’m having a hard time keeping up. I’ll keep track of my list here, updating as I learn more. Listed in reverse chronological order:

Somewhat related:

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Race, Crime, Perception and Consequences in America

Recently, I highlighted a book by Michelle Alexander that looks at race and incarceration in the United States. I also included a link to the following speech that she gave in Chicago in 2013.

AJ+ offers a shorter, less-detailed summary of this reality:

Continuing with this theme, Marquaysa Battle has posted 12 Heartbreaking Facts About The School To Prison Pipeline That Every Person Should Know,” a compilation of stats and graphics that you may have seen floating independently on social media. Taken together, it adds breadth to the arguments Michelle Alexander advances. For instance, it adds foster care statistics to the conversation. Naturally, correlation and causation continue to be issues to think through when digesting statistics.

Two articles in the Baltimore Sun represent the priorities of incarceration and education. Arguments are not lacking for either side, but in the end, the decisions reflect society’s priorities.

This week we witnessed another case study in law enforcement and race; however, this time it was from the other side–police action to stop a fight between biker gangs in Texas. This situation is not entirely identical to the situations in Ferguson or Baltimore (or…), so we have to be careful about drawing conclusions. Regardless, these two articles make some meaningful observations about law enforcement’s approach in Texas:

Differences in perceptions of black and white individuals are also explored in the following scenarios:

ABC 20 20 What Would You Do Racism In America, Part 1 HQ (YouTube, Uploaded 2009)

ABC 20 20 What Would You Do Racism In America, Part 2 HQ (YouTube, Uploaded 2009)

Black Man Vs. White Man Carrying AR-15 Legally (YouTube, Uploaded May 2015)

Deleted material from AR-15 stop above (YouTube, Uploaded March 2013)

Taking this conversation in a different direction, The Real News posted a conversation between Cornel West, Eddie Conway, and Rev. Sekou on building a mass movement for racial justice (link).

Two additional articles on race in America:

Finally, I’m not sure how to overcome the psychology of the human brain described in this article — The Most Depressing Discovery About the Brain, Ever (Kaplan, AlterNet, 16 Sept 2013). It seems like we learn from experience more than from statistics, but how do we enable one group to experience the reality of another group so that learning can take place? In an era of self-segregation, how do people of good will overcome racism? What role can and should faith communities play in working for and demonstrating the beloved community?

It’s easy for my wife and I to march a bit, and we should, but I see that we also need to be about the harder work of building community.

Resources on Racial Justice

I have not read widely on racial topics, I admit up front. At a recent conference on race and justice, I learned about two books that look like important ones to engage.

  1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Michelle Alexander). We watched this presentation that she gave in 2013. From a gender perspective, the book looks like it might compliment Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter (Traci West). I mean, it sounds like Alexander is focusing more on men, and West focuses on women in this book.
  2. The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-Framing (Joe Feagin).

Here are a few other related links:

News and Commentary on the Shooting of Michael Brown [UPDATED]

I asked my communities on Facebook and Google+ to share the most insightful articles they’ve read about the recent killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, by a Ferguson, MO, police officer. Even though Brown was not the only unarmed black male to be shot in the last few days, it is the situation receiving the most press. Here are the articles people shared with me, plus a few that I’ve added to the mix (listed by date):

READ: DOJ Report on Civil Rights Violations in Ferguson, Criminal Probe of Officer Darren Wilson (DemocracyNow!, 4 Mar 2015)

Most Shocking Parts Of Ferguson Police Report (Sevilla, KRON 4, 4 Mar 2015)

Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By Police (McKenzie, Black Girl Dangerous, 12 Aug 2014)

So, to get folks back on track to focus on what matters most here—the killing of yet another unarmed Black teenager—I’ve compiled this list of 6 Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By the Police.

We’ve Been Here Before (the beautiful due, 12 Aug 2014)

my god, my god, what year is it?

In Defense of Black Rage: Michael Brown, Police and the American Dream (Cooper, Salon, 12 Aug 2014)

The police mantra is “to serve and to protect.” But with black folks, we know that’s not the mantra. The mantra for many, many officers when dealing with black people is apparently “kill or be killed.” It is that deep irrational fear of young black men that continues to sit with me.

11 Things White People Should Stop Saying to Black People Immediately (Clifton, Mic, 14 Aug 2014)

A growing number of black people have been ruthlessly beaten, shot and killed by white police officers of late, a fact all too easy to gloss over for white people who will continue moving through American life with white privilege. White privilege means not having to deal with the disproportionate impact of police brutality, racial profiling and exclusion from everyday social settings and public accommodations.

When Terror Wears a Badge (Herring, Sojourners, 14 Aug 2014)

Over the past three weeks there have been four separate incidents that have led to the deaths of four unarmed black men at the hands of police. For many black people, myself included, the moments following these tragic events are filled with despair, sorrow, anger, and frustration. Each incident serves as a reminder that as a black man in America, my life holds little to no value in the eyes of the general public.

Ferguson Perspective from a Cop’s Wife (Neace, 14 Aug 2014)

I’m frustrated.  I’ve watched the news and heard all the reports…the rants…the chants…the demonstrations.  Perhaps it’s time to hear the perspective of a cop’s wife on the situation in Ferguson.

In which I have a few things to tell you about #Ferguson (Bessey, 14 Aug 2014)

I have waited patiently for more white Christian bloggers to speak up, particularly the Americans, trying to give them precedent to respond, but I have been disheartened by minimal response there. I want to come alongside the African American voices already writing and advocating, even in this small way.

I Don’t Know How to Talk to White People About Ferguson (Barthwell, XOJane, 14 Aug 2014)

How do I talk to white people about this!? How can I possibly explain the rage, fear, sadness, and every other emotion I don’t have a name for yet as I watch these events unfold?

Rand Paul: We Must Demilitarize the Police (Paul, Time, 14 Aug 2014)

If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.

Get the Military Off of Main Street (Beavers & Shank, New York Times, 14 Aug 2014)

The police response has shocked America. The escalating tension in this town of 21,200 people between a largely white police department and a majority African-American community is a central part of the crisis, but the militarization of the police is a dimension of the story that has national implications.

While You Were Talking About Gungor, Driscoll, and Walsh (Schell, OnFaith, 15 Aug 2014)

While the white Christian world debates who’s going to hell, the African-American community is already there, and nobody seems to give a damn.

The Police Are the Issue in Ferguson, Not Michael Brown’s Character (Klein, Vox, 15 Aug 2014)

This case is not about whether Michael Brown was One Of The Good Ones. It’s not even about whether he robbed a convenience store. The penalty for stealing cigars from a convenience store is not death. This case is about whether Wilson was legally justified in shooting Michael Brown….

Later on Friday afternoon, the Ferguson Police Department clarified that Brown was stopped because he was jaywalking, not because he was thought to have been involved in a robbery. So, as far as we know, Darren Wilson had no reason to believe Brown was involved in any kind of violent crime at all. Which makes the Ferguson PD’s decision to release the robbery photos today, absent this context, look even more like an attempt to sow doubts about Brown’s character.

How We’d Cover Ferguson If It Happened in Another Country (Fisher, Vox, 15 Aug 2014)

How would American media cover the news from Ferguson, Missouri, if it were happening in just about any other country? How would the world respond differently? Here, to borrow a great idea from Slate’s Joshua Keating, is a satirical take on the story you might be reading if Ferguson were in, say, Iraq or Pakistan.

4 Dead Unarmed Men and the Police: What You Need to Know (Edwards, The Root, 15 Aug 2015)

Eric Garner. John Crawford III. Michael Brown. Ezell Ford.You should recognize these names. They all belong to unarmed black men who were killed by law enforcement since July 2014 for seemingly inexplicable reasons: allegedly selling loose cigarettes, allegedly holding a toy gun in the toy section of Wal-Mart, allegedly running away after a scuffle with the cops, and allegedly complying with police and lying down on the street. All of these cases are in varying stages of investigation.

Black People Are Not Ignoring ‘Black on Black’ Crime (Coates, The Atlantic, 15 Aug 2014)

There is a pattern here, but it isn’t the one Eugene Robinson (for whom I have a great respect) thinks. The pattern is the transmutation of black protest into moral hectoring of black people.

Behind A Twitter Campaign, A Multitude Of Stories (NPR, 16 Aug 2014)

Earlier this week, media outlets across the country (e.g. NPR, the Los Angeles Times, TIME, Mashable, the New York Times ) devoted coverage to a hashtag — #iftheygunnedmedown — aimed squarely at them. (Us.)

Michael Eric Dyson spells it out for white people: Police won’t ‘kill your child’ (Edwards, Raw Story, 16 Aug 2014)

“Especially white people, whose white privilege obscures from them what it means that their children can walk home and be safe, they’re not fearful of the fact that somebody will kill their child who goes to get some iced tea and some candy from a store,” he remarked. “Until that equality is brought, the president bears a unique responsibility and burden to tell that truth.”

The Coming Race War Won’t Be About Race (Abdul-Jabbar, Time, 17 Aug 2014)

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.

Eyewitness: ‘The Police Force in Ferguson Is Lying, and I Am Bearing Witness’ (Wilson, Sojourners, 18 Aug 2014)

I have never had 50 guns trained at me before, running with camera gear, hands in the air. The inexcusable and irrational level of violence is terrifying. Towards the end of the evening, more looting did happen. But there was none before the police attacked us repeatedly.

5 Things Ferguson Got Terribly Wrong over the Weekend (Bogado, ColorLines, 18 Aug 2014)

But authorities in Ferguson continued to make even more trouble over the weekend, especially when it came to dealing with journalists during the ongoing state of emergency. Here are just five of the ways Ferguson continues to get things wrong:

“A Human Rights Crisis”: In Unprecedented Move, Amnesty International Sends Monitors to Ferguson (DemocracyNow!, 18 Aug 2014)

After a week that saw a militarized police crackdown and the imposition of a nighttime curfew, Amnesty International USA has taken an “unprecedented” step by sending a 13-person delegation to monitor the developments in Ferguson, Missouri. It is the first time the Amnesty organization has deployed observers inside the United States.

Iraq Vet: Ferguson Cops Have Better Armor and Weaponry Than We Carried in a Combat (Rivera, The Raw Story, 18 Aug 2014)

In my year in Iraq, I lost track of how many times my guys asked me why so many Iraqis viewed us with distrust when we were trying to help them. The question would arise while we were walking the beat with Iraqi police officers, manning checkpoints, or in our forward operating base after we went off-duty.

Invariably, my response went something like this: “Imagine that you’re back home, OK? Suddenly, you got a whole mess of Iraqi soldiers in your town. They’re all over the place, doing the same things we’re doing right now. How do you think you’d react? You’d probably get pretty hot, right?”

Ferguson: Nixon Would Make a Solitude and Call it Peace (Knapp, Center for a Stateless Society, 18 Aug 2014)

American “police forces” of today, on the other hand, are de facto military organizations, occupying  the communities they claim to “protect and serve.”

An uproarious, moving John Oliver is perfect on Ferguson (VanDerWerff, Vox, 18 Aug 2014)

John Oliver’s monologue on the protests in Ferguson in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown is exactly as angry and hilarious as you might want it to be.

Ferguson Police Busted – Attempt To Defame Shooting Victim Blows Up In Their Face (VIDEO) (Downes, Addicting Info, 18 Aug 2014)

When the Ferguson police department released the name of Darren Wilson, they also chose to release video footage which they claimed was of Michael Brown robbing a convenience store for some cigars. The problem is, the video shows Michael Brown at the register, paying for the cigars.

Reparations for Ferguson (Coates, The Atlantic, 18 Aug 2014)

Among the many relevant facts for any African-American negotiating their relationship with the police the following stands out: The police departments of America are endowed by the state with dominion over your body.

Caller Says She has the Officer’s Side of the Ferguson Shooting (McLaughlin, Ford & Yan, CNN, 19 Aug 2014)

The renewed tensions came after the preliminary results of an autopsy that Brown’s family requested were released, as was a new account of what allegedly happened in the moments immediately before the teenager was killed by a local police officer.

Michael Brown shooting: ‘Stark racial divide’ in American views (Botti, BBC, 19 Aug 2014)

Over a week after teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, events there remain fluid and tense. In response, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll at the weekend to gauge how Americans view what has happened in Ferguson. The poll’s results shows an America divided along racial and political lines over the complex issues at play in the shooting’s aftermath.

Wake Up, America: Why We Can’t Afford to Ignore Ferguson (Guess, Red Letter Christians, 19 Aug 2014)

But this change can only start when we all open our eyes and acknowledge the truth of injustice that has been played out for way too long by local police forces across the country. We can’t just cover our ears and eyes and hope this storm goes away.

Not As Helpless As We Think: 3 Ways to Stand In Solidarity With Ferguson (Evans, Sojourners, 21 Aug 2014)

But when it comes to violence and oppression, we are rarely as helpless as we think, and this is especially true as the events unfolding in Ferguson force Americans to take a long, hard look at the ongoing, systemic racism that inspired so many citizens to protest in cities across the country this week.

Alex Landau’s Bloody Beating By Denver Cops Goes National Thanks to Echoes of Ferguson (Calhoun, Denver Westward, 20 Aug 2014)

Last Friday, the morning after communities across the country held rallies to protest police violence against African-Americans — and, specifically, the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri — National Public Radio’s StoryCorps ran a particularly appropriate piece. It focuses on Alex Landau, an African-American who was adopted by a white couple as a child, grew up in Denver and had his own unfortunate encounter with cops when he was nineteen — one that left him beaten and bloody.

Self-Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson (Jones, The Atlantic, 21 Aug 2014)

Clearly white Americans see the broader significance of Michael Brown’s death through radically different lenses than black Americans. There are myriad reasons for this divergence, from political ideologies—which, for example, place different emphases on law and order versus citizens’ rights—to fears based in racist stereotypes of young black men. But the chief obstacle to having an intelligent, or even intelligible, conversation across the racial divide is that on average white Americans live in communities that face far fewer problems and talk mostly to other white people.

Ferguson Feeds Off the Poor: Three Warrants a Year Per Household (Daly, The Daily Beast, 22 Aug 2014)

A report issued just last week by the nonprofit lawyer’s group ArchCity Defenders notes that in the court’s 36 three-hour sessions in 2013, it handled 12,108 cases and 24,532 warrants. That is an average of 1.5 cases and three warrants per Ferguson household. Fines and court fees for the year in this city of just 21,000 people totaled $2,635,400. The sum made the municipal court the city’s second-biggest source of revenue.

EXTRA

A National Shame (Sales & Smith, Sojourners, Sojourners, Aug 2014)

These police killings of black people emerge out of a culture and system of white supremacy. In such a context, police killing of black people is not a black problem. It is an American problem that shreds the curtains of democracy.

18 Things White People Should Know/Do Before Discussing Racism (Drayton & McCarther, the Frisky, 12 June 2014)

Discussions about racism should be all-inclusive and open to people of all skin colors. However, to put it simply, sometimes White people lack the experience or education that can provide a rudimentary foundation from which a productive conversation can be built. This is not necessarily the fault of the individual, but pervasive myths and misinformation have dominated mainstream racial discourse and often times, the important issues are never highlighted.

White Privilege Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means (Rage Against the Minivan, May 2014)

I realize now, as I hope Tal can someday realize: white privilege isn’t about me individually. It’s not a personal attack. White privilege is a systemic cultural reality that I can either choose to ignore, or choose to acknowledge and attempt to change. It has nothing to do with my worth as a person or my own personal struggle.

Mapping the Spread of the Military’s Surplus Gear (New York Times, 15 Aug 2014)

State and local police departments obtain some of their military-style equipment through a free Defense Department program created in the early 1990s…. Highlighted counties have received guns, grenade launchers, vehicles, night vision or body armor through the program since 2006.

Racial Reconciliation 2.0 (Carrasco, Christianity Today, 18 Aug 2014)

A founding philosophical principle of CCDA is reconciliation, which is defined in two ways. First, reconciliation is about reconciling humanity to God through the saving work of Jesus on the cross. Second, reconciliation focuses on racial reconciliation, bringing together people from different ethnic groups in relationships that reflect the vision of Revelation 7:9, a great multitude of people from every tribe, nation and tongue, united in worship of Christ.

Last night I was reading about activism in the Philippines that looked at “five aspects of the damage created by poverty” (Salvatierra & Heltzel, Faith-Rooted Organizing, 157-158). Elements of it reminded me of Ferguson. Number 3 is cycles of denial and explosion. “The cry of grief, rage and terror can be disabling. To manage daily tasks, the cry must be suppressed, where it builds internally until it finally erupts. Oppressed people often live with these cycles of denial and explosion, which complicates  the process of analyzing problems and finding solutions: during periods of denial, the person ignores the problem, which interferes with a clear and comprehensive analysis; during periods of explosion, the person becomes the problem” (p. 158).

Crazy Radical Environmental Fruit-Nuts

In the past month or so I’ve watched two very intriguing documentaries about environmental activists who go to prison for their actions. Readers of this blog know I advocate for nonviolent social action, and I just want to highlight that again in the context of these two films.

The first is If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (PBS, film website, Wikipedia, IMDB, DemocracyNow!) which follows the story of Daniel McGowan. As a member of the ELF, McGowan had participated in arson as a tactic for social and environmental change. The film simultaneously tells the ELF’s story and follows court proceedings against McGowan.

If a Tree Falls is compelling story-telling. It is a provocative look at the sociological, psychological, and political factors that radicalized the local environmental activist community. I appreciated that the filmmakers allowed the activists and the law enforcement personnel to be complex; they weren’t dumbed down to one-dimensional caricatures. These are complex issues with complex actors, and I value that this messiness was allowed to come through.

More recently, I watched Bidder 70, which looks at the actions of Tim DeChristopher relating to conservation and climate change (film website, organization, Facebook, IMBD, Peaceful Uprising). Rather than take a violent or destructive approach like McGowan, DeChristopher interfered with an auction of extraction rights by holding up his bidding number, 70.

I have a deep respect for people who find creative and meaningful ways to live our their values. I respect even more those who dedicate themselves to pursuing this integration of values and living in peaceful or nonviolent ways.

Reflection Questions

  1. Am I as committed to my values as these two young men are?
  2. To what degree have I integrated my values and actions? What holds me back from doing this more fully?
  3. What sacrifices am I willing to make to live what I believe and to promote my values?
  4. What role did community play in the lives of these two men? How did community influence them before, during and after the actions noted in these films?
  5. In the area of environmental activism, what is needed today? What issues, strategies and tactics are most important at this stage in world history?

BONUS

Want to find more films that address some of these same themes? Check out the follow twelve films on protest and social action:

  1. Encounter Point (2006, documentary)
  2. Budrus (2009, documentary)
  3. 5 Broken Cameras (2011, documentary)
  4. The Singing Revolution (2006, documentary)
  5. This Is What Democracy Looks Like (2000, documentary)
  6. Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008, documentary)
  7. Rage Against the Machine: Revolution in the Head and the Art of Protest (2010, documentary)
  8. 180 South (2010, documentary)
  9. A Force More Powerful (1999, documentary)
  10. The Edukators (2004, movie)
  11. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2004, movie)
  12. Amazing Grace (2006, movie)

>Three Cups of Freshly Squeezed Ethical Juice

>I posted the following item on my ethics class’s forum. I’d thought I’d re-post here as well:

1) Smedley Butler, AKA “Old Gimlet Eye” (You just can’t make this stuff up):

War Is a Racket (By Smedley Butler)

  • http://www.lexrex.com/enlightened/articles/warisaracket.htm
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Is_a_Racket
  • “[T]he title of two works, a speech [1930] and a booklet [1935]… in which Butler frankly discusses from his experience as a career military officer how business interests have commercially benefited from warfare.”
  • “War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”
  • “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

2) Narco Cinema

Want to disappear down a rabbits’ hole of cultural and ethical surrealism? Then this be for you:

3) Zimbardo & the Prison Hoopla

I might not remember a lot from Social Psychology a decade and a half ago, but at least three things have stuck with me: marshmallows (Mischel), shocks (Milgram), and… prison insanity (Zimbardo).

Zimbardo’s experiment shows that the power differential between those playing the roles of officers and inmates led quickly to social problems. In fact, the experiment was called off after just 6 days because the “experiment quickly grew out of hand. Prisoners suffered — and accepted — sadistic and humiliating treatment from the guards. The high level of stress progressively led them from rebellion to inhibition. By the experiment’s end, many showed severe emotional disturbances” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimbardo_experiment).

>Marcelo Rivera & El Salvador

>Jamie Moffett (Another World is Possible) is following up his first documentary, The Ordinary Radicals, with a new film looking at the civil war in El Salvador that ended 17 years ago, Return to El Salvador. While filming for this project, he came across the story of Macelo Rivera, a teacher and activist who was killed, presumably, because of his work to stop mining in the area. Take a look:

Learn more here:

Sign a petition here.

>Wednesday Potpourri

>These articles and posts have caught my attention this week:

>Friday Potpourri

>There was a lot in the news this week:

1. Planner of Rwandan massacres convicted of genocide (Sukhdev Chhatbar And Donna Bryson, Associated Press, 18 Dec ’08)

“A former Rwandan army colonel was convicted Thursday of genocide and crimes against humanity for masterminding the killings of more than half a million people in a 100-day slaughter in 1994. Survivors in Rwanda welcomed the watershed moment in a long search for justice.”

2. Regulators adopt new credit card rules (Marcy Gordon, Ap Business, 18 Dec ’08)

“Federal regulators on Thursday adopted sweeping new rules for the credit card industry that will shield consumers from increases in interest rates on existing account balances among other changes.”

3. Gay leaders furious with Obama (Ben Smith, Nia-Malika Henderson, 17 Dec ’08)

“’I have many gay friends, I’ve eaten dinner in gay homes. No church has probably done more for people with AIDS than Saddleback Church,’ [Rick Warren] said in a recent interview with BeliefNet.

“In the same interview, he compared the ‘redefiniton of a marrige’ to include gay marriage to legitimizing incest, child abuse, and polygamy.”

Note: It’s that last sentence that stands out to me. I’ve heard this jump before, and it bothers me. Where does this fear come from?

4. Fla. police close books on ’81 Walsh killing (Yahoo.com, AP, 16 Dec ’08)

The news:

“A serial killer who died more than a decade ago is the person who decapitated the 6-year-old son of ‘America’s Most Wanted’ host John Walsh in 1981, police in Florida said Tuesday. The announcement brought to a close a case that has vexed the Walsh family for more than two decades, launched the television show about the nation’s most notorious criminals and inspired changes in how authorities search for missing children.”

The good news:

“Adam’s death, and his father’s activism on his behalf, helped put faces on milk cartons, shopping bags and mailbox flyers, started fingerprinting programs and increased security at schools and stores. It spurred the creation of missing persons units at every large police department.

“‘In 1981, when a child disappeared, you couldn’t enter information about a child into the FBI database. You could enter information about stolen cars, stolen guns but not stolen children,’ said Ernie Allen, president of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, co-founded by John Walsh. ‘Those things have all changed.’

“The case also prompted national legislation to create a national database and toll-free line devoted to missing children, and led to the start of ‘America’s Most Wanted,’ which brought those cases into millions of homes.”

The not-so-good news:

“What it also did, said Mount Holyoke College sociologist and criminologist Richard Moran, is make children and adults alike exponentially more afraid.”

>Waco: The Rules of Engagement

>Waco: The Rules of Engagement was our film of choice this past week. I didn’t remember much from the 1993 conflagration, but I had a general sense that David Koresh taught that he was Jesus Christ and that the Branch Dividians were a weird cult that collected arms and blurred traditional boundaries of healthy sexuality. Though not a clearly formed opinion, I figured that whatever had gone wrong was the fault of the religious extremists.

I had no idea how far back the Branch Dividian movement went. The movement broke from the Seventh-day Adventist church in 1929 and began to grow in the early 1930s. A major split occurred in 1955, and Vernon Howell (David Koresh) joined the group in 1981. While the documentary gives some of this background, the emphasis is on the initial ATF raid on February 28, 1993 and the firey stand-off conclusion on April 19.

Through congressional hearings, expert interviews, forensic evidence, film footage made by the Branch Dividians, and survivor testimonies, the documentary paints a very different picture than I had previously understood.

One significant question is who fired first during the initial raid. Because videos of the event and the front doors themselves are missing, this question cannot be conclusively decided. Despite this ambiguity, several questions remain: Why didn’t the authorities arrest Koresh while he was in town or outside of the community? Why did they turn it into a stand-off? Why was it handled in this way? Why is evidence missing? It is also noteworthy that all of the survivors were acquitted of conspiring to murder federal agents, though other charges brought convictions.

The disparity between the original claims about the April 19 raid and subsequent evidence demonstrate that the federal agency was looking for a fight and was planning to kill as many Davidians as possible. This is demonstrated by agents firing on a burning building in back areas where members could have otherwise escaped the flames. This area was not readily visible to the media who were kept on the front side of the community. Heat sensitive footage taken from the sky ultimately revealed this atrocity.

I have not read the various books on the events at Mount Carmel in Waco, so my general knowledge of the event is very limited. However, at this point I conclude that inappropriate sexual behavior and odd religious beliefs were met with bad music, weapons, gas and fire. If the facts are even close to my present understanding, then both sides have serious explaining to do. If not in this world, then on the way to the next.

The group of us who watched this film had also seen The End of the World Cult together. One significant difference I noticed between these two films was the mannerisms of the various members. Even if you didn’t listen to the audio of The End of the World Cult, you would notice that their gestures, eye movements and other mannerisms were odd. Something was wrong. Something was off. By contrast, the interviews with Branch Dividians during the siege showed “normal” people with normal speech patterns, normal topics of discussion, normal mannerisms. I don’t know what conclusions can be drawn from the differences in appearance between the two groups, but the difference was clear.

Wild film; give it a go, but be warned of graphic footage.