Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Apologies to Norwegians re Breivik sentence

Hal Pepinsky,,
August 29, 2012

I shared my August 24 post on the sentencing of Anders Breivik with several Norwegian friends. One of them, criminologist Per Ole Johansen, has taken the time to inform me that Breivik promised that if released he had access to weapons and would use them for a repeat attack, and likeminded friends to help him. Per Ole tells me that underground guns are all too abundant in Norway, and that he wouldn't be prepared to bet lives on the unsupported police belief that Breivik was bluffing.

I apologize, especially to those whose lives were directly touched by Breivik's massacre, for suggesting that he poses no further danger to his community. Here I preach resistance to profiling and stereotyping. Woops!

And Norwegians, thank you for setting the rest of us an example of dignity and restraint in the face of national tragedy. Love and peace--hal

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Sentencing of Anders Brevik

Hal Pepinsky,,
August 24, 2012
                Today a court gave Anders Breivik Norway’s maximum sentence of 10-21 years for murdering 77 people last year in an urban bombing and ground assault a year ago on a Labor Party youth camp.  Most unusually, the guilty verdict and sentence was a triumph for the defense, and a defeat for the state which sought to have him found not guilty by reason of insanity.  The attorney general is thought unlikely to exercise a right to appeal, given overwhelming public and media approval of the 5 judges’ unanimous decision.  It is reported that the only Norwegians who argued that Breivik’s murders were insane were white supremacists who wanted it known that they themselves would not be crazy enough to use terrorism as a political vehicle.  The prevailing Norwegian sentiment seems to be relief that the court has recognized that the violence represents a real political problem rather than a psychological aberration.
                On one hand, the sentence and popular reaction to it reflect Norwegian reluctance to punish criminals for punishment’s sake.  It is enough that Mr. Breivik has been declared guilty and that he is deprived of the liberty to do any further violence.  This in a country where Mr. Brevik will enjoy all other rights of Norwegian citizenry such as voting and access to free education because “deprivation of liberty” is regarded throughout the criminal justice system as being THE punishment for serious offenses.
                On the other hand, the sentence shows just how hung up on punishment even Norwegians are.  Common speculation is that Mr. Breivik will have his sentence extended as long as he lives, because he remains such a dangerous offender.  But he poses virtually no danger if left at large.  He only targeted Norwegians in Norway in an attempt to get his own fellow citizens to get their political act together.  It would be practically impossible for him to disappear at large in a small country (just over 5 million strong) where residents normally register their whereabouts with authorities via the post office, where Brevik could not conceivably re-arm himself to carry out any further attacks.  Further “deprivation of liberty” is unnecessary to reduce chances that Mr. Breivik will ever reoffend.
                Ultimately, Mr. Brevik’s sentence shows just how hung up even extraordinarily restrained Norwegians are on the assumption that we have to want to do something “painful” to an offender’s body to show we care about victims’ suffering.  Apparently, the assumption still has as strong a grip on the national psyche as it did more than thirty years ago when internationally renowned Norwegian criminologist Nils Christie called on fellow citizens to reinforce Limits to Pain that have traditionally restrained their inclination to punish “criminals.”  The will to punish for punishment’s sake remains robust in Christie’s country regardless of whether punishment is necessary for social defense.  Love and peace--hal

Monday, August 20, 2012

Voter Unidentifiability

Hal Pepinsky,,
August 20, 2012
                I live in Ohio.  With so much press furor surrounding whether requiring state-issued photo id from voters  tends to disenfranchise the poor and the disabled, I decided to follow up on a tip given me by Columbus social services caseworker and friend Diane Donato:  How could I get voter id if I were homeless, unemployed, and had no id?
                Proponents of the voter id requirement tell us that all any resident needs to get one is a birth certificate.  With help from my local public reference librarian and further web searches, I discovered that I’d be lucky to live in Ohio in one respect: Ohio is among the minority of states that regards birth certificates as public records.  That means that if I had been born in Ohio, I wouldn’t need any id to get my own birth certificate or anyone else’s.  I’d just need to pay $21.50 to the Ohio treasurer as a processing fee.  If I didn’t even have money for food, I’d just need transportation to get to the Catholic charity, JOIN, in downtown Columbus, the only place in the area that would once in my lifetime pay for my birth certificate.  (Thanks, Diane Donato, for that info.)
                Trouble is, I was born in Douglas County, Kansas.  Kansas is one of the majority of states that requires me to provide copies of the same kinds of id that I would need to get a social security card or driver’s license (or substitute if I didn’t drive).  Resident of Kansas or not, I’d need copies of two of the following forms of secondary documentation—a social security card or bank statement with ss# and home address on it, a utility bill with home address, or a pay stub.  With no card, no bank account, no home and no on-the-books job, I’d have no way to get my birth certificate even if I could pay for it.
                My community, like those around me, is overflowing with people who are unemployed and homeless.  If I, an Ohioan from Kansas, were one of them with no valid picture id, I couldn’t get the birth certificate and ss card I’d need to get the state-issued id I’d need to vote.  As if voting would be foremost list of daily things to do to eat and stay warm.  And I might be homeless in part because I had a felony on my record.  It’s ironic that having state photo id meant you had a record that could be held against you; now you need a state photo record not only to board a bus or a plane, but to enjoy every citizen’s constitutionally guaranteed right even to vote.
It started out in my country that you had to be a propertied white guy to vote; now the property I need is either an up-to-date state photo at hand, or an on-the-books job and a home.  I’m told that there are many people in town who have access to neither.  If you’re down and out, you don’t count.  Love and peace--hal