Could I Shoplift my way to Suicide by Cop?

I am a 52 year old, white, male professor. And I am guessing that if I did what Kajieme Powell, a 25 year old black male wearing a hoodie, did on Tuesday, I would have difficulty getting St Louis (or any other) police to shoot to kill the way they shot and killed Powell.

Let me be clear about a few things. First, I do not know that Powell was trying to commit suicide by cop.  My own viewing of the cell phone video of the shooting suggests that he may have been doing so.  But none of us are in a position to make that determination.  Second, I cannot tell from the video available whether Powell was “brandishing a knife” as police have claimed, but I can say that it sure does not look that way to me. 


WARNING: video depicts man shot to death

The video above[1] has audio and shows the police arrive at roughly 1:16, and the police fire at roughly 1:40.  Powell is clearly shouting “Shoot me! Shoot me now!” and walking toward the police, who have drawn their guns, pointed them at him and shouted at him to get on the ground.  And he clearly disobeys, and walks toward them, again, with his hands down.  The police then fire five or six shots (one cop, both? I cannot tell) and Powell crumples to the ground and dies.

The video below is from two security cameras (has no audio) and contains footage shot prior to what was recorded above.  Powell walks into a convenience store, selects a beverage from the cooler, and appears to walk out of the store without paying.  He then walks back into the store a few minutes later, grabs some sort of a snack, and clearly walks out without paying.  Shortly thereafter a man walks out of the store and begins gesturing in Powell’s direction (who is off camera).  The cell phone video appears to begin not long afterward, though that is difficult to establish.

Powell, selecting a snack

Powell, selecting a snack

We will presumably learn what the officers who arrived on the scene were told when they received the call that led them to drive up and confront Powell.  They may well have been told that he was armed.  But I don’t care.  

I am tempted, as an experiment, to go purchase a kevlar vest, do some shoplifting at a local convenience store, and then shout at the cops who arrive.  I am not rash enough, however, to purchase a second vest and recruit a 25 year old African American male to do so at a similar store, nearby.  After all, I’d never get the approval of the Human Subjects Research committee.   





[1] The video was released by the St Louis Police Department and this version of it is hosted by St Louis tv station KWMU on their YouTube page.


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Add Yorkshire Accents to the List

I have long known that I can struggle with Irish, Scottish and Welsh accents.  Add Yorkshire to the list.

Yesterday my daughter assigned me the task of making sure that her groom and groomsmen arrived to the wedding on time.  So I was hanging about as they finished getting ready, and had a good 15 minutes to listen to the lads chatter with one another.  I’d say I got about 3/5ths of the words.  I was mostly able to follow the gist, but not always.


And, of course, being a fly on the wall among a bunch of groomsmen, who have been mates since they were wee lads, as they cut up and needle one another is a helluva lot of fun.  At one point I turned to my brother, who I had deputized for the task and kicks a proper Chicago accent, and asked whether he could follow what was being said.  He smiled broadly, shook his head from side to side, and said “Not really.”

That evening, when the best man (pictured above, accepting the ring) from Luke’s nephew and sister, have his speech, the yanks in attendance were pretty well lost.  That said, I absolutely adore the way that Luke says my daughter’s name: Kevy (which I will not try to spell phonetically–you’ll have to use your imagination!).

For those of you unfamiliar with the Yorkshire accent, check out Eve Miller being interviewed by her dad:



Below is a quick tour of the accents of the British Isles by dialect coach Andrew Jack, or you can check out samples of 71 different accents from the BBC.



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Untenured? Set up a Google Scholar Profile

Do you have a Google Scholar Profile?  If you are a tenure-track academic, you should.  Google offers help setting one up, or you can find other advice herehere and here.

Why do you want one?  Here is Eva Lansoght at PhD Talk:

 if you haven’t set up your profile – go there and do so immediately. Having an author profile is as important as having your articles showing up in a search on Google Scholar.

“But wait,” you might be thinking, “I don’t have many citations to my work, and I don’t want to show the whole world that.”

Hmmmm.  How can I put this gently?  The problem with such thinking is your internal dialogue, not the Google Scholar Profile.  If you have a CV online, then you want a Google Scholar Profile.  It collects all of your publications in one place, and it has hyperlinks!  If your plan to getting tenure is built upon the idea of minimizing access to your work, then may I recommend that you develop a new plan?  If you wish to maximize access to your work, then please setup a Google Scholar Profile.

Finally, there is this to consider.  When you go up for tenure your university is going to contact a bunch of people and ask them to take a couple of days work from their schedule and devote it to assessing the quality and quantity of your work, and its contribution to the field.  Many of us who get stuck with that thankless task (and note, you plan, after earning tenure, to become one of those people) want to use your Google Scholar Profile to assist us.  It provides ready access to your publications–with hyperlinks!–in one location.  And it also provides us with info about who has cited your work.  Put plainly, many of us expect you to have one, and as my advisor, Ted Gurr, reminds us in Why Men Rebel, when one’s capabilities fall short of one’s expectations, one tends to become frustrated, and aggression is an innately satisfying response to frustration.  So I ask you: do you want your tenure letter writers to be frustrated?  I didn’t think so.

Do it!


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When Apartheid had a Softer Edge (Jan, 1953)

In his autobiography, Let My People GoAlbert Lithuli, then president of the African National Congress, writes about his first “pass law” arrest.  It was January, 1953.  The exchange is not only humorous, it also sheds some light on the progression of Apartheid, as well as local v national political bargaining (the cop is local, the superintendent is a bureaucrat who works for the national government). Lithuli was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960.

I learned the hard way about the regulation requiring us to have permits for a stay of seventy-two hours in any one place… Almost to the minute of the expiry of my seventy-two hours, a policeman called to say that the Location Superintendent wanted to see me…

At the Location Office I was steered in the presence of the superintendent.

Policeman: “Is this the man you want?”

Superintendent: “Yes.  That’s him.  Have you got permission to be in this location?”

Self: “Permission?  I don’t know.  I’m a guest of the local Congress branch.  They made all the arrangements.”

Superintendent: “What!  Aren’t you aware of the regulations?  You can’t be here for over seventy-two hours.”

Policeman (in a discouraging voice): “Well, man, what now?  Are you going to charge him or not?”

Superintendent: “Yes!”

Policeman: “Are you really going to charge him?”

Superintendent (nettled): “Yes, of course I am.  I’m charging him.”

The policeman went off to the telephone.  When he came back he said to the superintendent, “Well, if you’re actually going to charge him, I suppose we ought to take him to the Charge Office.

At the Charge Office I stood around for an hour while the police and superintendent conferred in the near distance.  In the end they seemed to reach some agreement.

“Tell me,” he asked, “what were your plans?”

“I intended to spend an extra day here to suit our branch in Bethlehem.  I was leaving tomorrow,” I replied.

“Can you leave today?”

“If necessary.”

“The superintendent is charging you.  You can’t go back into the location.  Which do you prefer, to wait for your case to come up or to pay an Admission of Guilt?”

“I prefer not to wait around.  It would interfere with my programme,” I said.

“Admission of Guilt, five pounds,” he replied.

The next contentious issue was my luggage.  I said to the superintendent, “I want to go back to get my things.”

“You’re not going back into my location,” he said.

“Well, how do I collect my baggage?”

“Somebody can get them for you.”

“Who can?” I asked.

“Man,” interrupted the police officer testily, speaking to the superintendent, you’ve got to let him go back just to get his things.”

From chapter 14, “Bans,” pp. 143-44.

Twenty-four years later Steve Biko would have a very different experience.



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The Impact of International Human Rights Courts

Last November I attended an interesting conference on The Domestic Politics of International Human Rights Agreements.  It afforded me an opportunity to chat with Andy Moravcsik, whom I had not met before, and I asked him why he had not done more work on human rights (since his widely read 2000 article, pdf).  His answer was intriguing: he wants to spend his time studying institutions and processes that have a big impact, and in his judgment, the international human rights regime does not.  He went on to lament the yield of Beth Simmons’s efforts in her 2009 book, Mobilizing for Human Rights.

Moravcsik’s argument revealed an interesting way to think about how to put one’s professional skills to use.  I would describe it as something of a “gun for hire” approach: how might I best utilize my intellectual capital to learn something important.  Or something like that.

I have approached my career differently. I have a passion for a specific topic: the interactions of dissidents and states.  Sure, I want to “make my mark,” but I have a rather limited scope of inquiry.

But the other interesting part of Moravcsik’s observations is his claim that the regime has had little effect.  I certainly see the point he is making with respect to the size of the effects in Simmons’s recent book (and the work that she cites–indeed, Emilie Hafner-Burton has been making this argument in print for some time).  Yet it nevertheless struck me as short-sighted, with respect to not only how the regime functions, but also how science progresses.  In other words, I am not surprised by the relatively small effects, but I don’t particularly agree with Moravcsik (or Hafner-Burton) that the regime is as weak as it appears to be.  My view, Pollyannaish as it may be, is that it has limited, but growing and non-trivial “bite,” but that are really only beginning to understand the institutions, processes, and behavior that determine the effect.  And Simmons’s book is an important stone along that path

Indeed, Jill Haglund recently defended a dissertation that has results I am sure Moravcsik will find suprising.  In Domestic Implementation of Supranational Court Decisions: The Role of Domestic Politics in Respect for Human Rights (pdf), Haglund shows that a regional court that is widely recognized as being weak has had an impressive impact on Latin American country’s respect for physical integrity rights.  Has it done so universally?  Of course not.  But as the power of a country’s constitutional court rises, the negative regional court rulings have remarkably large effects on that country’s subsequent respect for rights.  The figure below depicts this result  NB: Rather than assume that the effect is constant across the countries in the region, Haglund assumes that states respond differently to court rulings, and that is why each country has its own estimate.


The figure plots the estimated impact of a ruling by the Interamerican Court of Human Rights against a country for a violation of someone’s physical integrity rights (the dot indicates the average of that effect), holding all other variables constant.[1]  An estimate of 2 indicates that, for a country with a very powerful domestic court, a ruling against the state by the IACHR will increase that country’s future score on the CIRI Physical Integrity scale (which ranges from 0-8) by two points (22% of its range).[2]  As the figure indicates, these results are quite large, with a value of 2 or more for 18 of the 21 countries in the IACHR’s jurisdiction.

Haglund also studies the impact of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and also finds that country’s with powerful courts respond to adverse ECHR rulings by improving their future respect for physical integrity rights (between 1981 and 2006).  However, and importantly, the size of the impact of ECHR rulings is notably smaller than IACHR.  Thus, in addition to finding that negative rulings by regional human rights courts have large effects upon respect for rights in countries with strong judiciaries, Haglund has also found that—contrary to expectations of the literature—those effects are larger in the Americas than in Europe.[3]

To conclude, Moravcsik quite properly points to the paucity of research that has found large effects of the human rights regime upon state’s respect for rights.  Indeed, in her recent book Hafner-Burton makes the case for a triage approach within the human rights regime, arguing that the small impact of the regime will only grow when those working for rights focus their efforts where they are most likely to have an impact.  Her argument strikes me as quite sound, but I also believe that the regime has had more of an effect than we yet recognize.  Haglund’s research helps illuminate the causal mechanisms that underpin what Kathryn Sikkink recently labeled the global justice cascade, and suggests that my relative optimism may not bePollyannaish after all.


[1] The results are estimates from a linear multi-level Bayesian model, and thus the coefficient estimates represent the expected impact on Y of one unit increase in X, holding the other variables in the model constant.  The analysis includes all IACHR rulings that involved physical integrity rights violations (new data coded by Haglund) during the period from 1989-2010.

[2] Equivalently, we can say that when the IACHR rules against a country, if we then change that country’s courts from very weak to very powerful the future expected level of respect for physical integrity rights (as measured by CIRI) will increase by two points.  The coefficient is the multiplicative interaction of two variables, a binary indicator of whether a given court case found in favor of the government (scored 0) or the plaintiff (scored 1), and a continuous measure of the power of the domestic courts that ranges from 0 to 1.

[3] Haglund’s study cannot both find such an effect and explain it (except in a post hoc sense).  Instead, future studies will have to be designed to explore why the IACHR has had a larger impact on country’s respect for physical integrity rights than the ECHR.  Both Haglund and I suspect that the fact that respect for such rights is considerably higher, on average, in Europe than the Americas likely plays some role in the finding (i.e., there is more room for improvement in the Americas than in Europe).

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Making the Phone Calls

We used payphones back then.  I’m sure there were payphones in the hospital, but I wanted to go outside.  I think it was around 11 pm.  I was on the West Coast, in Riverside, California.

I walked a little over a block away, and saw a payphone.  It was Sunday night, and there was no traffic.  Just the stop lights going through their cycle, slightly changing the hue bouncing off of the road.


I had to phone the Mountain time zone (mom), the Central (brother), and the Eastern (dad).  It seemed to me to make sense to work my way west across the time zones, but since it was after midnight in all three I figured I might as well start with my mom.  That seemed to be what most folks would do.  So I pulled the calling card from my wallet, picked up the plastic receiver, and began pounding the numbers.

I don’t recall what I said precisely, nor whether everyone answered or I left messages on machines.  But it was something like this.

Hi mom.  Kris had an accident earlier tonight—massive head trauma.  He’s had surgery—they inserted shunts in his skull to try to relieve the pressure, but it doesn’t look good.  We won’t know more til morning.  I’m sorry to dump this in your lap.

And she responded as one might expect, expressing sorrow; wanting to know what she might do; telling me she loved me; sounding more or less blown away.

I need to make some more calls, so I’m gonna go.

And I hung up, eyeballed the card, and again poked those numbered buttons.  Once.  Twice.  Three times.

Two days later we would request that the attending doctor disconnect the life support machines and let Kris die.  He was about five months short of his sixth birthday.

My experience is that one does not wonder whether one is alive in such moments.  One knows.

I wonder who is making those calls as you read this.


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“Oh, pifflefoot!”

When I was growing up and my mother was mildly irritated she would often delcare: “Oh, pifflefoot!”  I am moving into a new office (same job, same building, new floor, nicer space) and realized my initial configuration plan is not going to work, and so I uttered (to myself)  “Oh, pifflefoot!”  And it dawned on me that I had not heard that phrase in some time, made me curious about how common it is (and provided an excuse not to unpack).

Well, I am uncertain whether this expression is a single word or two, but either way, while it is not a singleton, it is pretty darned close!


Piffle Foot


All of this reminded me of a book I am reading that is quite fun in which a couple of geeks persuaded Google to let them do ngram work on a random sample of Google Books.  Here is a review of Uncharted.

Well, back to unpacking and setting up my new office.


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