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This article explores what happens to criminal evidence after the conclusion of legal proceedings, described here as the afterlife of evidence. The text investigates the ways that this material proliferates in the shadow of the law, in both cultural and commercial contexts. During the criminal trial, the rules of evidence and criminal procedure operate to tightly regulate the collection, admissibility, and interpretation of evidence. After the criminal trial, these rules no longer control evidence, and this material is sometimes subject to the substantial cultural curiosity associated with true crime and its artifacts. This article sets out some of the new questions that are posed by this material when it is transferred beyond the law’s control.
In examining Aboriginal riots, the conditions of political antagonism and the distinct ways these relations of antagonism are played out take precedence. Ethnographic approaches that analyze the substance of situated cultural meanings are central to understanding these relations. Drawing upon Allen Feldman’s ethnographic account of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland for some of its interpretive framework, this article surveys the methodological value and importance the Manchester School of Anthropology placed on “atypical events,” moments when irresolvable tensions boil to the surface. For anthropologists, what is important in understanding riots is the manner in which participants themselves extract meanings in violence. What do they say about the violence? How is it culturally situated in particular social and political contexts? Different antagonists create their own moral economy that then legitimates their repertoires of violence.
Taunya Lovell Banks
Crime films defy precise definition. This category includes traditional courtroom films like Witness for the Prosecution (1957), detective films like Gone Girl (2014), prison films like The Shawshank Redemption (1994), comedies like My Cousin Vinny (1992) or Find Me Guilty (2006), gangster films like The Godfather series (1972, 1974, 1990), and even musicals like Chicago (2002). Thus crime films provide an almost limitless variety of plots, characters, and settings. Adopting a very broad definition of what constitutes a “crime film”, the representation of race in crime films throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries is examined.
During much of the early and mid-20th century, crime on American Main Street silver screens was largely a white phenomenon. The absence of people considered nonwhite from early crime films is unsurprising because “whiteness is positioned as the default category, the center or the assumed norm on which everything else in American society is based. Under this conception, white is often defined more through what it is not than what it is.” Racial outsiders like African and Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and other persons considered nonwhite were not featured on America’s movie screens. If they appeared at all in early crime films it was as marginal stereotypical characters.
Stereotyping, when used in film, is designed “to quickly convey information about characters and to instill in audiences expectations about characters’ actions.” During the early days of American films nonwhites were encoded with negative, often criminal, stereotypes. In silent films like Birth of a Nation (1915), for example, African American men were depicted as rapists and violent brutes. Mexicans in The Greaser’s Gauntlet (1908) and Guns and Greasers (1918) were depicted as criminals. Silent films like The Massacre (1912) and The Battle of Elderbush Gulch (1913) portrayed Native Americans as lawless savages, an image reinforced throughout the 20th century by western films. In The Cheat (1915) Japanese male immigrants were depicted as wily sexual predictors. The stereotypes attributed to ethnic Chinese were slightly different and more exaggerated. Films like The Heathen Chinese and the Sunday School Teacher (1904) and The Yellow Peril (1908) demonized Chinese immigrants as villainous predictors. In episode 13 of the film serial The Exploits of Elaine (1914) the protagonist, Pearl, “[t]rapped in a lair of Chinese devil worshipers . . . is spared rape, a fate worse than death, in favor of ritual sacrifice to an Oriental demon who demands a bride ‘blond, beautiful and not of our race’.” Although nonwhites’ conduct was criminalized in these films, the films themselves were not crime films.
Despite a growing consensus that “mass incarceration” in the United States has reached unacceptable levels, there has been little movement in its decline. National imprisonment rates seem to have stabilized and will remain so absent a major decarceration effort. To implement such a decarceration effort requires a strategic plan that will lower prison admissions and lengths of stay for all prisoners—especially those convicted of violent crimes. It will also need to reduce the more pervasive nature of other forms of correctional control (jails, probation, and parole). Such a strategy, which relies upon current and past policies, is entirely feasible. But to take hold on a national level, the plan must negate economic and public safety concerns that favor maintaining high imprisonment and correctional control rates.
Transgressive imaginations refers to the breaking of rules and taboos including, but not limited to, acts of crime and violence as they are represented in fictive texts and ethnographic research. The focus here will be on the fictive, rather than ethnographic, element. Transgression can be understood not only as exceeding boundaries or limits but as resistance, protest, and escape. Particularly apposite is the portrayal of “heroes” and “villains” in different cultural forms, and how these contribute to popular understandings.
Cultural portrayals of those who transgress societal norms are frequently stigmatizing, and label them as mad, bad, and abject. However, the analysis of transgression also entails radical democratic possibilities, whether this is through research that challenges restrictive stereotypes and normative assumptions, or the means through which those labeled “outsiders” defy their marginalization. Cultural representations of transgression are not necessarily supportive of culturally dominant or conservative positions and can instead offer new ways of imagining social identities and social change. The ways in which transgression is imagined can both construct and challenge moral boundaries.
True crime reporting was extremely popular in early modern England (ca. 1550–1800). Depending on when this literature was written, and the audience it was intended to attract, the sub-genres of true crime writing took the form of small pamphlets, broadsides, rhyming ballads designed to be sung to a familiar tune, ministers’ accounts of criminals and repentance, collections of trials, newspapers, and biographies of professional criminals. In addition to being inherently shocking and entertaining, this literature served as cautionary, religious, and morality tales that reflected on serious crime as one of the signs that English society had become ignorant, irreligious, and immoral. These tales of true crime could be used to remind a wide readership of the wages of sin, and of the role of the community, church, and state in bringing about justice for criminals and their victims. In a society that placed significant restraints on sexual, personal, and religious freedoms, and exhorted obedience, deference, hard work, sexual restraint, and abstinence from all forms of vice, true crime literature could help to restore order and balance to society. To accomplish these various goals, the authors of true crime literature were not very faithful reporters, often embellishing criminal deeds, publishing small portions of much lengthier cases, or fabricating facts as needed to fill in unknown details or to improve readers’ fear of and education about the criminal element that surrounded them. As this literature developed in the 18th century, its authors became famous for reporting about infamous criminals in semi-biographical novels, thus merging true crime literature with fiction and giving rise to another genre of crime literature by about 1800.
Arthur J. Lurigio and Elizabeth Maine Ellis
Civil abatement involves the use of non-criminal remedies to address crime and public disorder in communities. Such remedies can hold accountable nonperpetrators of criminal activities, such as property and business owners, if those activities occur on the premises of the buildings or establishments that they are responsible for managing. Known as third-party policing, civil abatement strategies can also seek equity for non-criminal behaviors (e.g., standing in a public way), which are deemed to pose a threat to public safety, disrupt social order, and precipitate subsequent crimes. For example, antigang and antidrug ordinances are designed to alter situations or environments that provide opportunities for criminal activities. By bringing petitions to the civil courts, injunctions can be issued against the agents of public nuisances, such as known gang members who threaten the public by loitering on the streets or drug sellers who operate clandestinely from apartment buildings or drinking establishments. Violations of court injunctions can result in the closure of a property, the loss of a liquor license, or an arrest.
The uses of civil remedies to curtail or eradicate gang and drug activities have been challenged in the courts. For example, antiloitering ordinances have been found to be too vague in their proscriptions, too broad in their scope, and too nebulous in their targeting of residents. Such ordinances have also been found in violation of First or Fourteenth Amendment Rights. Nuisance abatement programs to reduce drug selling on private properties have resulted in modest successes in terms of enlisting property owners’ cooperation in evicting dealers from apartment buildings and appear to be effective with only an issuance of warning letters to landlords.
What is a “snowball”? For some, a snowball is a drink made of advocaat and lemonade; for others, a mix of heroin and cocaine injected; for yet others, a handful of packed snow commonly thrown at objects or people; for gamblers, it refers to a cash prize that accumulates over successive games; for social scientists, it is a form of sampling. There are other uses for the term in the stock market and further historical usages that refer to stealing things from washing lines or that are racist. Clearly then, different people in different contexts and different times will have used the term “snowball” to refer to various activities or processes. Problems like this—whereby a particular word or phrase may have various meanings or may be interpreted variously—are just one of the issues for which cognitive interviews can offer insights (and possible solutions).
Cognitive interviews can also help researchers designing surveys to identify problems with mistranslation of words, or near-translations that do not quite convey the intended meaning. They are also useful for ensuring that terms are understood in the same way by all sections of society, and that they can be used to assess the degree to which organizational structures are similar in different countries (not all jurisdictions have traffic police, for example). They can also assess conceptual equivalence. Among the issues explored here are the following:
• What cognitive interviews are
• The background to their development
• Why they might be used in cross-national crime and victimization surveys
• Some of the challenges associated with cross-national surveys
• Ways cognitive interviews can help with these challenges
• Different approaches to cognitive interviewing (and the advantages of each)
• How to undertake cognitive interviews
• A “real-world” example of a cognitive interviewing exercise
• Whether different probing styles make any difference to the quality of the data derived.
Vengeance or revenge has been characterized in popular culture in a range of different ways. Within theories of criminology and social psychology, its relationship to retribution has been examined along with notions of deterrence and rehabilitation. Vengeance has been prevalent within a range of various belief systems as well as in myths, legends, and sacred texts. While vengeance seems to be a feature in all cultures, its acceptance as an appropriate response has been less than clear. It has been weighed alongside a preference for forgiveness, and tensions between these two options against harm have come to the fore in more recent times.
A distinction can usefully be made between vengeance undertaken by the state and the community on the one hand, which might be termed the revenge of the legal process and that exacted by the individual or family. The vengeance theme has been a major feature of Western culture in its expression in Greek literature and theater, through classical authors like Shakespeare and Racine to the present day. There is a link to popular literature as well as the more elusive world of popular theater and its occasional forays into the revenge theme.
The major expression of revenge within mass cultural forms, however, has been in film. Initially production codes prevented revenge being shown as having a successful outcome. Since the 1970s, however, a major modern version of portraying revenge that recurs within modern cinema throughout the world has been the vigilante film. This model of vengeance operates on the notion of an individual responding to the failings of the official system of securing proportionate or effective retribution. There are particular recurring features in these films including a disruptive random unlawful event, the law taking its course, a system malfunction, a trigger to revenge, and a coda stressing the efficacy of vengeance. Along with this is a significant subgroup within the cinema of personal revenge, the rape-revenge film. There has been extensive scholarship on this type of film and its rather different elements. A distinction can be made on the basis of the nature and perceived audience between this trope and the wider world of vengeance movies.
There has been relatively limited coverage of the revenge theme in television. The changes in the forms of media provide fresh opportunities for coverage of the vengeance theme in the 21st century. The contrast between the community approach of law and that of the individual seeker after revenge are formally different, but in the end they both involve elements of vengeance.
Timothy Rowlands, Sheruni Ratnabalasuriar, and Kyle Noel
A product of the military-industrial complex, from the origins of the medium, video games have been associated with violence. As they have become increasingly popular, finding their ways into many households in the United States and around the world, video games have come under increasing scrutiny for the graphic depictions of violence and sexuality some present. An overview of the history of video games suggests this is not a recent problem. As early as 1976, there has been public outcry for regulation of the industry to prevent antisocial content from findings its way into the hands of children. While some politicians, newsmakers, and activist attorneys have stirred up moral panics in response, courts in the United States have generally remained dispassionate. Unmoved by the inconsistent research exploring the connection between video games, aggression, violence, and crime, these courts have insisted on a hands-off approach in order to avoid infringing upon freedom of speech. Nevertheless, likely unrelated to this question of transference, video games have created new venues for the commission of real criminal acts such as fraud and harassment. This points to the ways video games and the virtual worlds they sometimes present have become very real and meaningful parts of everyday life for many people.