An Ohio woman, one of two people accused on Monday of planning mass murders, was in contact with the racist gunman who shot up a South Carolina church and killed nine people in 2015, authorities said.
Elizabeth Lecron, 23, of Toledo, was one of two people arrested in domestic terrorism-related cases, the FBI announced. Lecron was arrested with 21-year-old Damon Joseph, of Holland.
Officials said Lecron posted many photos and comments on social media that glorified mass shooters, including Dylann Roof, who opened fire during a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., leaving nine people dead.
Lecron had exchanged letters with Roof while he was in federal prison in Indiana, the FBI said. She was one of four people who Roof communicated with while he was locked up, according to Cleveland.com. She also idolized the Columbine High School shooters, authorities said.
The FBI said investigators found an AK-47, shotgun, handguns, ammunition and hand-caps, which are used to make pipe bombs, in her apartment. Authorities said she planned to attack a bar in Toledo and meet up with other anarchists and free animals from a farm. Her attack was described as “an upscale mass murder,” according to Cleveland.com.
Joseph was arrested in a plot to attack a Toledo synagogue, authorities said. He was charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
Authorities said Joseph converted to Islam and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State earlier this year. He expressed his distaste with “gays, Christians, Catholics and Jews” and thought the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack got what they deserved, the FBI said.
Lecron faces 10 years in prison if convicted. Joseph faces 20 years in prison if he’s convicted.
Sympathy for transgender people cannot trump objective reality.
Last week, a member of my Orthodox Jewish congregation approached me at synagogue to tell me a story. Many of the women in the congregation exercise at a females-only gym for modesty purposes. The gym is successful; its main constituency is religious women who don’t wish to be stared at by men, or to see men in various states of undress.
According to the congregation member, this month, a transgender woman — a biological male who suffers from gender dysphoria — came to the gym. This man, who retains his male biological characteristics, then entered the locker room and proceeded to disrobe. When told by management that he could use a private dressing room, he refused, announcing that he was a woman and could disrobe in front of all the other women.
The predictable result: Many of the actual biological women began cancelling their memberships. When the management asked people higher in the chain, they were simply told that to require the man to use a private dressing room or to reject his membership would subject the company to litigation and possible boycott. So the gym will simply have to lose its chief clientele because a man with a mental disorder believes he has the right to disrobe in front of women.
As it turns out, there are indeed public-policy consequences to the question of transgender pronouns. Those public-policy questions all revolve around a central issue: Can subjective perception trump objective observation? If the answer is yes, tyranny of the individual becomes the order of the day. We all must bow before the subjective wants, needs, and desires of people who require special protection from life’s realities. We must reeducate generations of people to ignore science in favor of feelings. We must strong-arm individuals into abandoning central planks of their morality in the name of sensitivity.
Meanwhile, Twitter announced this week that it would seek to ban those who “misgender” or “deadname” transgender people. In other words, if you note that Chelsea Manning or Caitlyn Jenner is a man, or if you use the names “Bradley” or “Bruce” with regard to the aforementioned transgender people, Twitter could ban you for “repeated and/or non-consensual slurs.” So you will abide by subjective self-definition, or you will be censored. Twitter recently banned a leftist feminist for merely noting that sex is biological and that men cannot become women.
It doesn’t stop there. As Walt Heyer of The Federalist reports, a Texas divorce case now pits a mother who dresses her six-year-old male child, James, as a girl and calls him “Luna” against James’s father, whom she is accusing of child abuse for refusing to treat James as a girl. Heyer reports, “She is also seeking to require him to pay for the child’s visits to a transgender-affirming therapist and transgender medical alterations, which may include hormonal sterilization starting at age eight.” James, as it turns out, prefers being called James and being treated as a boy by his father. That’s not stopping Mom. Refusing to abide by the judgment of a six-year-old — or in this case, a six-year-old’s mom — could mean losing your child in a world where we treat sex as malleable.
There are real-world consequences to the deliberate rewriting of basic biology, and the substitution of subjectivity for objectivity. It means rewriting business operation, school curricula, medical treatment standards, censorship rules, and even parenting. Sympathy for those who suffer from gender dysphoria is obviously proper — no one wants transgender people harmed or targeted. But sympathy for a mental disorder should not trump either objective reality or competing priorities based on those objective realities. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is not a story about the wonderful sensitivity of a population educated on the subjective desires of a ruler ensconced in sartorial self-definition. Falsehood crumbles in the light of day, no matter how sympathetic we are to those who wish to perpetuate it — unless force becomes the order of the day.
A woman was shot and killed at St. Louis religious supplies store earlier this week because she refused her attacker’s demands to “perform deviant sexual acts on him,” authorities said Wednesday.
The alleged attacker – identified as 53-year-old Thomas Bruce – on Monday forced three women who were in the store into a back room at gunpoint and forced them to strip, detectives said in a probable cause statement. He allegedly forced two of the woman to perform sex acts on him, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Bruce allegedly tried to coerce the third woman, Jamie Schmidt, a 53-year-old married mother of three, but she refused. He then shot her in the head, the probable cause statement said. Schmidt later died at a hospital.
Bruce then fled the store, prompting a two-day manhunt that frightened the region and led some schools, churches, and businesses to close.
Bruce was arrested in his mobile home trailer park Wednesday and booked into the St. Louis County jail, The Post-Dispatch reported. He faces first-degree murder, armed criminal action, and sodomy, among other charges, prosecutors said. He is being held without bail.
Chief Jon Belmar, a 32-year veteran of the St. Louis County Police called that attack one of the worst he’d seen in his career – one that “shocked the senses.”
Authorities are working to determine why Bruce targeted the store. Investigators said he has no criminal history.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch said a tip helped authorities track down Bruce.
Authorities noted similarities in the description of the Catholic Supply shooting suspect and a man wanted for the murder of two girls – aged 13 and 14 — in Delphi, Indiana last year, The Post-Dispatch reported. That case is still under investigation.
First Sgt. Jerry Holeman said the Indiana State Police is aware of the St. Louis case and has been in contact with St. Louis County authorities.
“But it is way too early to tell if this is the same” person, Holeman said.
Indiana authorities have released a photograph and sketch of the Delphi suspect.
A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that the U.S. law banning female genital mutilation was unconstitutional and dismissed charges against several doctors in Michigan who carried out the procedure on underage girls as part Muslim sect’s religious practice.
U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that Congress had no authority to enact a law that criminalizes female genital mutilation (FGM). “As despicable as [FGM] may be… [Congress] overstepped its bounds” by banning the procedure, the judge said.
The ruling came after defense lawyers challenged the 22-year-old genital mutilation law that hasn’t been used until 2017 when Dr. Jumana Nagarwala was arrested and accused of mutilating the genitalia of young girls.
She allegedly headed a conspiracy, which lasted over 12 years and involved seven other people, and led to the mutilation of about 100 girls, according to prosecutors, as part of a religious procedure practiced by members of the Dawoodi Bohra, a Muslim sect.
While the charges of performing FGM were dropped, Nagarwala and other conspirators are still facing conspiracy and obstruction charges, according to the Detroit Free Press.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said officials are reviewing the judge’s decision and will consider appealing it.
Women’s rights groups condemned the ruling, saying it’s a setback to the rights of women in the U.S.
“It’s a giant step backward in the protection of women’s and girls’ rights,” Shelby Quast, the Americas director of Equality Now, told the newspaper. “Especially when there is a global movement to eliminate this practice.”
“It’s a giant step backward in the protection of women’s and girls’ rights … Especially when there is a global movement to eliminate this practice.”
— Shelby Quast, the Americas director of Equality Now,
She said that 23 states don’t criminal FGM, noting that “parents are aware of where there are laws against it and where there are not. And they will take advantage of that.”
Michigan state Sen. Rick Jones also slammed the ruling.
“I’m angry that the federal judge dismissed this horrific case that affected upwards of a hundred girls who were brutally victimized and attacked against their will,” he said in a statement. “This is why it was so important for Michigan to act. We set a precedent that female genital mutilation will not be tolerated here … I hope other states will follow suit.”
The case in Michigan prompted state officials to pass a state law officially banning FGM. The law carries a penalty of 15 years in prison for assisting or performing the procedure, but applies only to future instances. Nagarwala and other members of the sect were charged under an old federal law passed by Congress.
The federal law was passed in 1996 under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The federal judge ruled the banning of the procedure under the clause was unconstitutional.
“There is nothing commercial or economic about FGM,” Friedman wrote in the opinion. “[FGM] is not part of a larger market and it has no demonstrated effect on interstate commerce. The Commerce Clause does not permit Congress to regulate a crime of this nature.”
Shannon Smith, Nagarwala’s lawyer, told the Free Press that they are “unbelievably happy” after the judge’s ruling, saying “The impact is huge. It eliminates four defendants from the indictment, and it severely punctures major holes in the government’s case.”
More than 30 people who experienced or knew of Nikolas Cruz’s worrying behavior didn’t report it until 17 people were killed in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, earlier this year.
Cruz’s behavior was “troubling … and in many cases it probably should have caused them to report what they heard, saw or learned,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Tuesday, according to The Sun-Sentinel. “But for a variety of reasons they did not.”
Gualtieri, who also chairs the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission — which was created after the massacre at the school — disclosed the news Tuesday as the commission opened four days of hearings.
Cruz, the suspected shooter, reportedly engaged in questionable behavior long before the mass shooting in February — including killing animals. According to a sheriff’s office detective, Cruz once showed another student a photo of a decapitated cat.
The 19-year-old also allegedly “said he was glad they killed all those gay people” in reference to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, which left 49 people dead.
Cruz also reportedly “made bad jokes about Jewish people, Nazis and Hitler and wished all Jews were dead” and said “he did not like black people and would like to shoot them.”
Days after the massacre, the FBI admitted to receiving a call about Cruz in early January. The person called their Public Access Line (PAL) tipline to express concerns about his erratic behavior and social media posts.
The FBI said in a statement at the time that “under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life” and that protocols were not followed after they received the tip.
The parents of Jaime Guttenberg, a student who was killed in the massacre, filed a lawsuit against the FBI on Tuesday because the tip wasn’t acted upon.
“Everybody failed, and this is going to be the shooting where we hold people accountable,” Guttenberg’s father, Fred, said at the hearing on Tuesday, The Miami Herald reported. “If only one person had stepped up and done their job, my daughter would be alive today.”
The Broward County sheriff said after the shooting said at least “20 calls for service” were made regarding Cruz in the last few years alone.
Gualtieri reiterated on Tuesday that if you “see something, say something.”
“It means something, and it has to be more than a phrase,” Gualtieri said. “We need it to resonate with the public because law enforcement simply cannot be everywhere at the same time, and we have to have the public’s help to effectively do our job.”
The sheriff’s detective said that while two students did report Cruz to school administrators in December 2016, they were ignored.
A former Colorado district attorney — who has been retired since 2001 — is fighting a subpoena in a $750 million defamation lawsuit filed against CBS by JonBenét Ramsey’s brother.
The Daily Camera reported that a lawyer for former Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter — who was in office during the first four years of the Ramsey investigation — argued the subpoena is an “annoyance” that would interfere with the 81-year-old’s annual relocation to Hawaii, the Associated Press reported.
The lawsuit says CBS and its featured experts set out to conduct a “sham reinvestigation” of the murder with “the preconceived the story line” that Ramsey killed his sister and conspired with his parents to cover it up.
“The accusation that Burke Ramsey killed his sister was based on a compilation of lies, half-truths, manufactured information, and the intentional omission and avoidance of truthful information about the murder of JonBenét Ramsey,” the lawsuit says.
The CBS special looked into theories that Burke Ramsey possibly could have killed his sister — accusations he claimed were entirely false. He was 9 at the time of JonBenet’s death.
Lawyers for CBS are seeking a deposition and documents from Hunter after Burke Ramsey sued in December 2016, saying his reputation was ruined after a television series suggested he killed his 6-year-old sister.
The beauty pageant star was found dead in the basement of her family’s home in Boulder in December 1996. A prosecutor cleared her parents and brother.
Norway is set to review a series of controversial child protection decisions involving a prominent expert convicted of downloading hundreds of thousands of images of child sex abuse.
For years the psychiatrist played a key role in recommendations on children being taken into care.
He was given nearly two years in jail by an Oslo court in April.
The decision to review his cases follows a public debate sparked by a BBC investigation.
One family, whose two youngest children were kept in foster care following an intervention by the child psychiatrist, has already been reunited in the past few weeks following a court judgement. The Arnesens’ story featured in the BBC investigation.
Norway’s child protection agency, Barnevernet, has come under attack from some parents and child welfare professionals who say it often takes children into care without adequate justification.
Child protection expert who worked across Norway
The 56-year-old psychiatrist, who is not being named to protect his children, had admitted downloading nearly 200,000 pictures and more than 12,000 videos showing the sexual abuse or sexualisation of children.
The court heard that some images appeared to show infants being raped by adult men.
The psychiatrist, who is appealing against his sentence, said he had been viewing the material for 20 years.
During that time the psychiatrist was appointed to the prestigious 14-member Child Expert Commission, which oversees childcare recommendations throughout Norway. He has also been employed as an expert by various local authorities across the country.
His professional licence to work has been withdrawn but the Board of Health Supervision said after his conviction that they would not be re-examining previous cases he was involved in – despite calls from some parents to do so.
How did Norway respond to scandal?
In June, the children and equality ministry told the BBC it could not comment on the case, and declined a request for an interview.
Now, after considering its “handling of this case during the summer”, it has called on local authorities to look into the psychiatrist’s past cases, and told the health supervision board to work out how that can be done with the involvement of parents. The case raised several issues that had not been previously assessed, it told the BBC.
Borge Tomter, head of child welfare on the health supervision board, said: “I think we are going to assess every case if possible.” But he added he did not yet know how many cases there were.
The psychiatrist himself said 10 years ago that he had been employed as an expert assessor in between 50 and 75 child protection cases.
The Child Expert Commission, in which he was involved more recently, reviews some 750 welfare recommendations every year. The head of the commission, Katrin Koch, told the BBC in July that she had looked into some of his reports and found no cause for concern.
The ministry said no authority had “a complete overview” of the number of cases and “this challenge” was part of the review.
Family’s five-year battle against authority
Inez Arnesen, a mother of eight and local politician from Tonsberg in southern Norway, whose two youngest children were returned to her in August after five years in care, welcomed plans for a review but said: “It has to be done by someone from outside the system who can look at each case with fresh eyes.”
She questioned how parents could take part in the review when most Norwegians did not know the name of the psychiatrist concerned.
Four of her children were put into foster care in 2013 following allegations that she had used physical force on her children, which is outlawed in Norway.
Three years later, a criminal court acquitted her of the charges. Two of her children were then returned – but the youngest two were not. That followed criticism by the now-disgraced psychiatrist of a report recommending that they be allowed to return home.
But last month, the family successfully argued that in light of the psychiatrist’s conviction, that criticism should now be disregarded.
Now her son Christian, 11, and daughter Vendela, aged 12, are gradually readjusting to life with their parents.
“We didn’t cross the finish line when we won,” Inez says. “We still have to get family dynamics back and we have to co-operate with the Child Protection Service. They had my head on the block for five years. I’m willing to cooperate with them, but it’s strange.”
Another mother, Cecilie, whose daughter is in care following a recommendation co-authored by the disgraced psychiatrist, praised the decision to hold a review.
But she said: “I’m not very hopeful. They want people to see that they are doing something, but they are not eager to do it.”
Following the BBC documentary Norway’s Silent Scandal, which examined the implications of the psychiatrist’s conviction, Children’s Minister Linda Hofstad Helleland was criticised by a series of prominent child welfare professionals for failing to defend the system publicly.
In an interview earlier this month she said: “To have the care for a child taken away must be one of the most desperate things a parent can experience.”
But she added: “Where a conflict arises between the interests of the child and the parents, we shall be on the child’s side. On this point I won’t give an inch.”
By Tim Whewell
It was the beginning of just another day in one of the world’s most murderous places.
Cristian Sabino was sitting on a plastic chair by this beach resort’s central market when a gunman walked up and shot him five times. As the 22-year-old dropped to the ground, the assailant fired a final bullet to the head and walked away.
Six more people would be killed that day in Acapulco, including a cabdriver who was hacked to pieces. Death is so much part of the landscape that once police cordoned off the area around Mr. Sabino’s body, some patrons at a nearby rotisserie chicken restaurant stayed to finish their meals.
Acapulco’s days as a tourist resort with a touch of Hollywood glamour seem long ago. In a city of 800,000, 953 people were violently killed last year, more than in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal and the Netherlands put together.
There were more than 900 murders in Acapulco last year. Violence is so pervasive in this city, once a premier Mexican tourist destination, that criminology has become a thriving new profession. Photo/Video: Jake Nicol/The Wall Street Journal
It’s not just Mexico. There is a murder crisis across much of Latin America and the Caribbean, which today is the world’s most violent region. Every day, more than 400 people are murdered there, a yearly tally of about 145,000 dead.
With just 8% of the world’s population, Latin America accounts for roughly a third of global murders. It is also the only region where lethal violence has grown steadily since 2000, according to United Nations figures.
Nearly one in every four murders around the world takes place in just four countries: Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia. Last year, a record 63,808 people were murdered in Brazil. Mexico also set a record at 31,174, with murders so far this year up another 20%.
The 2016 tally in China, according to the U.N.: 8,634. For the entire European Union: 5,351. The United States: 17,250.
Violent deaths by firearms in 2016
(per 100,000 people)
and Middle East
Note: Deaths resulted from Forces of nature, conflict and terrorism, and executions and police conflict are not included in the calculations.
Source: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington
Crime slows development and spurs migration to the U.S. Violence costs Latin America 3% of annual economic output, on average, twice the level of developed countries, according to a 2016 study by the Inter-American Development Bank. The price tag for crime, which the bank put at between $115 billion and $261 billion, is comparable to the total regional spending on infrastructure, or the income of the poorest third of Latin Americans.
In recent years, growing numbers of families from Central America, including women and children, have fled to the U.S. because of horrific violence. Gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18 enforce a reign of terror, dictating even where people can go to school or get medical care. El Salvador’s murder rate of 83 per 100,000 people in 2016—the world’s highest—was nearly 17 times that of the U.S.
A new study by Vanderbilt University shows that the strongest factor in predicting whether someone emigrates from Honduras and El Salvador isn’t age, gender or economic situation, but whether they had been victimized by crime multiple times in the past year. A World Bank study found that nearly a quarter of children in one Honduran municipality suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to violence.
At the Acapulco morgue, bodies pile up faster than workers can process them. The morning after Mr. Sabino’s murder, there were already three new victims lying on gurneys awaiting autopsy. A few feet away, 356 bodies that remain unclaimed or unidentified were stuffed into five refrigeration units. The smell of death hung in the air.
A resident of Acapulco’s Primero de Mayo neighborhood eats breakfast while Mexican soldiers and police guard a severed head left on the street.
“We never catch up,” says Ben Yehuda Martínez, the top forensic official for the state of Guerrero, where Acapulco is located. “While we’re trying to clear the first set of bodies, another set of bodies arrives.”
Just this week, Mr. Martínez’s counterpart in the state of Jalisco was fired after it emerged that two trailer trucks filled with more than 150 cadavers each were roaming Mexico’s second-largest city of Guadalajara for days because the local morgue was too full. Officials admitted the trucks contained corpses after neighbors complained of the smell and dripping blood.
Mr. Martínez, 60, has seen it all. His very first case as a young forensic specialist in the nearby city of Iguala was the 1997 autopsy of two doctors who had botched a plastic surgery operation, accidentally killing drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes. Their bodies, encased in cement, were found on the side of the Mexico City-to-Acapulco highway. Mr. Martínez’s verdict: They were both asphyxiated with a tourniquet.
Mr. Martínez says he hasn’t ever become used to seeing children killed. “Before, criminals never killed kids. But now I do autopsies on 7- or 8-year-olds,” he says. He teaches chemistry and biology at a local college. “I’ve had the shock of having to autopsy quite a few of my former students.”
Up to 10% of the cadavers that arrive are never claimed. No one files a police report or bothers to pick up the body. Other times, there is no way to identify a corpse: “We sometimes get only a leg or a head to work with,” he says.
Latin America accounts for 43 of the 50 most murderous cities, including the entire top 10, according to the Igarapé Institute, a Brazilian think tank that focuses on violence. South Africa and the U.S.—where St. Louis ranks No. 19—are the only countries outside Latin America that crack the top 50.
Mexican soldiers and police guard a severed head which was left as a message between rival drug cartels.
At current murder rates, if you live in Acapulco (or Caracas, Venezuela, or San Salvador) for 70 years, there is a roughly 1-in-10 chance you will get murdered.
Between 2000 and 2017, roughly 2.5 million people were murdered in Latin America and the Caribbean, as if Chicago were wiped out. That compares with about 900,000 killed in the armed conflicts of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan combined, according to U.N. figures and estimates by groups like Iraq Body Count.
During that same period, all the world’s terrorist attacks killed 243,000 people, according to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database.
“Large swaths of Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela are experiencing a war in all but name,” says Robert Muggah, head of the Igarapé Institute.
The vast majority of victims and perpetrators are young men, killed mostly by gunshot. A vital Twitter feed in Rio de Janeiro is “Onde Tem Tiroteo,” or “Where’s the Shootout?” which tells motorists which parts of the city to avoid. Some recent entries: “A grenade was thrown on the pedestrian bridge near Zuzu Angel Tunnel.” “Shots on 2nd Street in Rocinha, police base under shooting attack.”
Shockingly, 1,379 babies under one year of age died violently in Brazil between 2000 and 2015, according to government statistics. Nearly 30,000 victims in Brazil were over 60 years old.
Gabriela Victoria’s daughter Erica was kidnapped and murdered by long-time acquaintances from her Acapulco neighborhood.
Six-year-old Elias Victoria with a photo of his older sister Erica.
Mexico’s murder tally may be underreported because many victims are tossed into unmarked graves, burned or put through sugar-cane grinders. In Tijuana, Santiago Meza confessed to dissolving more than 300 people in acid for a local cartel, earning the nickname “Pozolero,” or soup maker. The state of Coahuila, once under the control of the hyperviolent Zetas drug cartel, holds some 103,000 bone fragments belonging to unidentified bodies.
The sheer number of the missing could outnumber better-known cases of “disappeared” in Latin America’s sometimes bloody history, including Argentina’s Dirty War against leftists in the late 1970s.
Mexico has become a nation of unmarked graves where a small army of grieving mothers financed by bake sales search for their missing children. Their technology: They hire construction workers to hammer steel rods 6 feet into the ground, and then sniff the ends. If it smells of death, then it’s probably an unmarked grave. The government gives little support.
“It’s an interminable search,” says Guadalupe Contreras, one such searcher. “Today you find 20. Tomorrow, they bury another 20 somewhere else.” This month, the state of Veracruz discovered a mass grave with 168 skulls.
While murder rates are falling in most of the world, in Latin America the number of murders has grown about 3.7% a year since 2000, three times faster than the population, according to the Igarapé Institute. The region’s murder rate, at about 24 per 100,000 right now, will hit 35 per 100,000 by 2030 if the trend isn’t reversed.
Crime affects everyday life. About half of respondents in Latin America said they stopped going out at night, while more than 1-in-10 said they had moved due to the fear of violence, according to a survey from the U.N. Considering Latin America’s population, that’s more than 62 million people who felt the need to change homes.
Once the party spot of choice for the wealthy and famous, Acapulco has descended into disrepair and despair.
How did it get this bad?
Latin America was colonized violently and had bloody wars of independence. It has the world’s biggest gap between rich and poor, fueling resentment. Large parts of the economy are “informal,” street markets and family-run businesses that operate outside government control and pay no taxes, creating a culture of skirting the law. It has powerful groups of organized crime like Mexican drug cartels, and weak states riddled with corruption.
Demographics play a role: Latin America has more young people than most other regions, making for too many young men chasing too few quality jobs. And it has weak educational systems. Only 27% of Brazilians aged 25 or older have completed high school, according to government figures.
Much of Latin America also urbanized rapidly without services such as schooling and policing, creating belts of excluded groups around cities. Migration may have made matters worse. The percentage of single-parent homes in Mexico and Central America has grown rapidly over the past 20 years.
Latin America is also awash in guns, most of them held illegally. Nearly 78% of murders in Central America between 2000 and 2015 were caused by guns, compared with a global average of 32%, according to the Igarapé Institute. (In the U.S., it is around 73%.)
Latin America’s share of global population and homicides
Source: Igarape Institute
These factors create vicious cycles. Laura Chioda, a researcher at the World Bank, found that as many as 40% of young people in Honduras suffer from some form of depression due to the violence. “Now, imagine them at school,” she asks. “Can you teach calculus to someone with that level of trauma?” Many drop out and join the informal economy, where they won’t have a salary, training or career prospects. “Once there, they find this parallel structure of crime that provides jobs, services and an identity,” she says.
Marcelo Bergman, a sociologist who runs the Latin America Violence Research Center in Buenos Aires, thinks the informal economy plays a role. He says much of rising income at a time of economic growth among the region’s poor since 2000 went to consumption in the informal economy, creating more demand for stolen car parts, knockoff clothing and pirated movies. That gave more power to the mafias that supply them.
Latin America’s powerful mafias come from two accidents of geography: One is sitting next to the world’s biggest market for illegal drugs, the U.S., and the other is being the only region in the world to grow the coca plant, the main ingredient in cocaine, which remains among the world’s most profitable drugs. Organized crime accounts for about two-thirds of Mexico’s murders, experts say.
Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations on the night of Sept. 15 were marred when gunmen dressed as mariachi singers entered the city’s fabled Garibaldi plaza and gunned down five people, allegedly in a dispute over local drug sales.
Organized crime doesn’t explain all the violence, however. In Colombia, for instance, it accounts for anywhere from a quarter to half of crimes, government officials estimate. Latin America also has high rates of interpersonal and family violence. Colombian officials say the most murderous day of every year in Colombia is Mother’s Day, when revelers get drunk. Next on the list: New Year’s and Christmas.
Mexican state police stop cars to search for firearms after cartel members fired on a taxi stop.
Latin America wasn’t always the most murderous region in the world. In the 1950s, Singapore and Caracas had very similar murder rates, between 6 to 10 per 100,000 residents, according to Manuel Eisner, who studies historical levels of violence at the Violence Research Centre in Cambridge, U.K.
At the time, Singapore suffered from gangs, prostitution, drug trafficking and corruption. But after independence in 1962, authoritarian Lee Kwan Yew enforced rule of law, boosted education, and created a culture of working hard and achievement, and ensured social integration. “It wasn’t all coercion—there was a caring element,” says Mr. Eisner.
Nowadays, Singapore’s murder rate is 0.4 per 100,000 residents. In Caracas, the government doesn’t bother to count. The nongovernmental Venezuelan Violence Observatory estimates the country’s murder rate is roughly 110 per 100,000—about 34,000 a year.
Not all of Latin America has this problem. Chile’s murder rate of 3.6 per 100,000 sits well below the U.S. The state of Yucatán in Mexico has a similarly low murder rate. Even within cities, crime is concentrated: Half of all crime in Bogotá, Colombia, takes place in just 2% of the city. That makes good policing crucial to lowering violence.
But with some exceptions such as Chile, and increasingly Colombia, Latin America has largely failed to build strong legal institutions. Less than 20% of homicides in the region are solved. In Mexico, the figure is below 10%. Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office, the country’s version of the FBI, investigated more than 600 murder cases linked to organized crime in the past eight years. It won a guilty verdict in just two. That kind of impunity literally means that you can get away with murder.
When impunity is high, people take justice into their own hands. In mid-May, locals in the town of Miravalle in southern Mexico grabbed three men accused of holding up an elderly woman and burned them alive. No arrests were made in the case, state officials say.
A 10-year study of murder cases in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte found that police investigations lasted an average of 500 days, the average trial lasted 10 years and in a quarter of the cases the statute of limitations ran out—allowing the suspect to go free. Some 7% of suspects were slain before their sentence was handed out, in many cases by families of victims tired of waiting for justice.
Latin American prisons, the most overcrowded in the world, breed violence. Wardens have little control. The murder rate in Latin American prisons is 16 per 100,000—by far the world’s highest, according to U.N. figures. In two of the most chaotic prison systems—in Venezuela and Brazil—hundreds of prisoners die in gang fights each year and warlord inmates run vast drug-trafficking outfits that, on the outside, control swaths of territory.
The prison system is so weak that Colombia’s Pablo Escobar was allowed to build his own jail in the early 1990s, and Mexican kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped twice from a maximum-security prison.
The spread of democracy in the 1990s across the region has had a perverse effect. Authoritarian states have an easier time controlling organized crime and violence. Many parts of Latin America got democracy before the rule of law; parts of Asia got the rule of law without democracy. Cuba, the hemisphere’s lone communist state, has a homicide rate estimated at about 4 per 100,000 residents.
Democracy in places such as Mexico disrupted existing arrangements between governments and organized crime that allowed for a pax mafiosa, says Eduardo Guerrero, a Mexican violence researcher. State governors would allow drug gangs to ferry narcotics to the U.S. in exchange for money and a promise to keep violence in check, not sell drugs near schools and reinvest some of the profits locally. The marketplace for votes upset those arrangements.
“None of these governors had bothered to build capable police forces because they relied on these arrangements,” he says. “But when the arrangements broke apart, they didn’t have any way to control the violence.”
In many ways, Acapulco is a perfect metaphor for Latin America’s broader failures. It is a place of stunning beauty spoiled by the same factors that fuel violence across the region: inequality, rapid and unplanned urbanization, lack of good institutions from education to police, deeply rooted corruption and an anything-goes attitude to the law.
Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and John Wayne were regulars here during the resort’s heyday in the 1940s and 1950s. Two American presidents—John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton—made it their honeymoon destination. Later on, for more daring tourists, Acapulco was the place they could do what they couldn’t back home. Marijuana and cocaine were easily available at discos and from taxi drivers, and prostitution thrived, with brothels sitting just a block from the main strip.
“Acapulco was a place where tourists were allowed to do anything. So it’s not that surprising that locals also began to view the place as a city where there were no rules,” says Elisabet Sabartes, a Spanish journalist who is writing a book on the city’s violence. During the four years she has lived there, five acquaintances have been murdered.
A mural depicting a more prosperous time in Acapulco at a now-empty beach.
As the drug war escalated, the tourist-dependent economy of Acapulco quickly declined and many large construction projects were left unfinished or abandoned.
Despite opium fields in the nearby mountains, violence here only took off in 2006, when the drug gang that controlled Guerrero split into two rival groups. It got worse in 2011, when Mexican marines killed kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva, prompting further splits. Nowadays, more than two dozen rival gangs fight for control of the city’s criminal market.
Many no longer have the clout to carry out big drug deals, so they turn to other activities such as extortion. Practically every business in Acapulco pays. Father Jesus Mendoza, a priest, says some of his colleagues get extorted, and gangs have stolen church bells from some parishes to sell for the copper. The effect on business has been predictably bad. No new hotel has been built in more than a decade.
“The only thriving businesses around here are funeral homes,” says Laura Caballero, the head of a shopkeeper association. She closed her eight shops along the city’s main beachfront avenue three years ago due to monthly extortion demands that reached $800 per store. She says several fellow shopkeepers who refused to pay were killed.
The police have been incapable of stopping the violence. In 2014, most members of Acapulco’s police force were given a battery of tests to see if they were honest, including psychological profiles and lie-detector tests. Some 700 out of 1,100 failed.
When the Acapulco mayor at the time tried to fire the cops who failed, the entire police force walked off the job for 11 months. He backtracked. During the walkout, crime actually fell slightly. Scores of police who failed the test are still on the job, say security experts and former policemen.
In 2014, Mexico was outraged when local police in Iguala, another city in the same state, handed over 43 college kids to a drug gang, who are believed to have incinerated the teens. Most experts think the students accidentally commandeered a passenger bus that had heroin on it heading for the U.S., and police, in the pay of a local drug gang, thought the kids belonged to a rival cartel.
Acapulco’s police chief, Max Sedano, failed his recent lie-detector test, according to a local opposition-party congressman, Ricardo Mejia. Mr. Sedano, who remains in his post, told local journalists he didn’t know if he failed the test. The tests, usually done by federal officials, are confidential, and by law only the municipalities can fire their own officials. Mr. Sedano declined to be interviewed for this article.
“It’s not right that the police here aren’t in charge. The cartels are in charge,” says a 17-year veteran of Acapulco’s police force who quit in disgust last year.
Lesly Mariana Reyes sits on her mother Penelope’s childhood bed on a visit to see her grandmother. Penelope disappeared without a trace after a shift at her work as a manager of a local bank.
Fliers and family pictures of Penelope Elizabeth Reyes.
There is a saying in Acapulco: If you want to be an old cop, look the other way.
In the hours after Mr. Sabino was murdered in Acapulco’s market recently, a local detective turned up, wearing a crocodile-skin belt and dark glasses. He asked no questions of witnesses. After the body was picked up by a forensic team, the detective left.
The violence in Acapulco has created a dystopia where social norms have broken down. Growing numbers of children drop out of school. Fewer go to church. Many hit men and teens worship La Santa Muerte, the cult of death represented by a grim reaper. A less toxic version is St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Mr. Sabino’s body had a tattoo of St. Jude, according to the autopsy report.
Perhaps the most notorious crime in Acapulco in recent years was the kidnap and murder of at least 10 teenagers by a gang of students who attended a local university. The gang targeted acquaintances, including classmates and friends from high school. One gang member had his own girlfriend abducted and killed. Members of the gang, after collecting ransom money and still killing their hostages, would even go to their victims’ funerals and mourn with the parents.
“What kinds of people do these things?” asked Elsa Ceballos, whose 19-year-old son was strangled by the kidnap gang.
At an Acapulco criminology college called Centro Forense, nearly every student in a ballistics class raises their hand when asked if they have been affected by violence. Conin Pascual’s father was killed. Luis Rodríguez’s cousin, a cabdriver, was hacked to pieces.
Carlos Kevin, 19, saw his first dead bodies at age 13, when he arrived at his middle school and there were two mangled bodies on the street.
“There are no cops in our neighborhoods and when there is a killing, they don’t want to investigate,” said Anitxa Gutierrez, who was 14 when a shootout left bullet holes in her family’s living room.
Santiago García, an eighth-grade teacher, says he tries to teach the students values in a society where social norms are breaking down. He also teaches them boxing so they can manage their anger.
Santiago García teaches his students boxing to give them an outlet for their frustrations.
“In the past, when kids got a failing grade, parents would ask how they could help. Now, I’ve had parents threaten to kill me or hire a hit man if I don’t pass their children,” he says.
Mr. García says between 30 and 40 kids didn’t return for this school year, in large part because their parents were threatened, a family member had already been killed, or the kids were being forced by gangs to sell drugs at the school. In many cases, the families simply left Acapulco.
Across the street from Mr. García’s middle school stands a pink house that was used by a gang to hold hostages. One day, during school hours, it was raided by marines, who pulled out several human remains. On another recent morning, a sixth-grader entered school crying, saying he had just found his uncle’s dead body outside the school gates.
“We ask the kids, where do you see yourselves in 20 years, and some say, ‘Carrying an AK-47!’ ” says Mr. García. Locals share videos of killings posted by local gangs. One recent video showed a teen being sliced open and his beating heart taken out.
Javier Morlett is an Acapulco native who knows the city better than anyone. His father was mayor in the 1960s and Mr. Morlett ran both the city’s airport and port at various stages in his career. In 2012, his 21-year-old daughter, who was studying at Mexico’s leading public university in Mexico City, was abducted. After an agonizing two-year search, he found her remains. The crime was never solved.
“I don’t think we can solve this,” he says of the violence. “This place was paradise, but we’ve turned it into an inferno.”
Historically an area where wealthy Americans would have their yachts repaired, Playa Manzanillo has now become known for the bodies that wash up on its shores, victims of Mexico’s drug violence.
Write to David Luhnow at firstname.lastname@example.org
In two instances, “school officials did not follow the requirements of Florida statute or federal laws governing students with disabilities”
Following the Parkland shooting that left 17 people dead, the Broward County School District commissioned an independent review. The review, conducted by the Collaborative Educational Network of Tallahassee, found that the shooter was inappropriately denied special needs accommodations at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
A Broward County judge ordered public release of the report, entitled “Independent Review of ‘NC’s’ Education Record,” and though much of it was redacted, the Sun Sentinel found that the redacted portions could be read by copying and pasting the text into another document.
In the year leading up to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killer Nikolas Cruz was stripped of the therapeutic services disabled students need, leaving him to navigate his schooling as a regular student despite mounds of evidence that he wasn’t.
When he asked to return to a special education campus, school officials fumbled his request.
Those conclusions were revealed Friday in a consultant’s report commissioned by the Broward public school system. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ordered that the report be released publicly, but with nearly two-thirds of the content blacked out.
The school district said the alterations were needed to comply with the shooter’s privacy rights, but the method the district used to conceal the text failed. The blacked-out text became visible when pasted into another computer file.
The consultant found two specific instances of failure by the school officials.
Without directly criticizing the schools, the consultant, the Collaborative Educational Network of Tallahassee, recommended that the district reconsider how cases like Cruz’s are handled. The recommendations suggest that Cruz could have been offered more help in his final two years in high school, leading up to the Feb. 14 shooting.
Whether that would have changed the outcome is impossible to know.
The consultant found that the district largely followed the laws, providing special education to the shooter starting when he was 3 years old and had already been kicked out of day care. But “two specific instances were identified,” the report says, where school officials did not follow the requirements of Florida statute or federal laws governing students with disabilities.
— School officials misstated Cruz’s options when he was faced with being removed from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School his junior year, leading him to refuse special education services.
— When Cruz asked to return to the therapeutic environment of Cross Creek School for special education students, the district “did not follow through,” the report reveals.
The school’s misstatement regarding Cruz’s options resulted in his having no special needs care for over year before his deadly rampage. Even classified as a general admission student, however, he should have had access to school counseling and related mental health services.
School officials misstated Cruz’s options when he was faced with removal from the Florida high school his junior, which led him to refuse special education services, according to the report.
When Cruz was asked to return to the therapeutic environment of Cross Creek School for special education students, the district “did not follow through,” the report said.
“Upon entering the room and seeing the Cross Creek representatives, the student immediately became upset and verbally aggressive. He refused to sit at the table, angrily repeating that he would not go back to Cross Creek and that he wanted only to stay at Stoneman. He intended to graduate from the school,” the report said, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
. . . Three days after he was forced by the district to withdraw from Stoneman Douglas High, he purchased an AR-15 rifle. Then, a year after his ejection from the school, he returned for the mass shooting.
The district treated him “like a general education student” for his final two years, but even those students should have access to counseling and mental health services, the report said.
The shooter’s attorneys call the report an attempt to “whitewash” the failings of the school and of the school district.
Fox News continues:
But Cruz’s attorneys called the report a “whitewash” commissioned by the district to absolve it of responsibility for its handling of Cruz’s psychological problems, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
“I think that the report is an attempt by the school board to absolve itself of any liability or responsibility for all the missed opportunities that they had in this matter,” said Gordon Weekes, the chief assistant public defender.
Posted by Fuzzy Slippers Sunday, August 5, 2018 at 5:00pm