Friday, December 21, 2012


Today's staff meeting at the Center for Court Innovation was a timely one.  Yale Law professor Tracey Meares talked about how to craft anti-violence strategies based on theories of legitimacy and procedural justice.  In the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, a lot of public conversation has been devoted to the prospect of gun control legislation.  There are, of course, things that we can be doing to stop gun violence in the here and now, without waiting for lawmakers in Washington D.C.  Meares' strategy is an example.  

With the help of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the US Department of Justice, we are testing Meares' approach in Brownsville.  This involves working with key law enforcement agencies (NYPD, the Brooklyn District Attorney, the US Attorney's Office) to convene "offender notification meetings" with parolees from Brownsville.  The meetings are designed to send a crystal clear message to would-be shooters that they have a choice to make.  On the one hand, law enforcement representatives testify that violence and gun possession will be treated harshly.  On the other hand, ex-offenders and social service providers communicate that change is possible and that resources are available to anyone who wants to get out of a life of violence.  The program is still in its infancy, but I have high hopes for it.

While I'm on the subject of guns, the reaction to the Newton massacre reminded me of a piece in the New York Review of Books by David Cole.  Back in September, Cole wrote:

"While...massacres justifiably [spark] the nation's horror and sympathy, the deeper tragedy is that every single day in this country, more than thirty people are killed by guns.  Few of these everyday victims generate national headlines; indeed, gun homicide is so routine that many do not even warrant a local news story.  But it is the decidedly nonglamorous, quotidian infliction of death and serious injury by gun owners that deserves our focused and sustained attention.  And politicians' cowardice in the face of the NRA is not the only obstacle to meaningful reform; an even greater hurdle lies in the fact that we seem willing to accept an intolerable situation as long as the victims are, for the most part, young black and Hispanic men."

In a similar vein, Amy Ellenbogen of our Crown Heights Community Mediation Center recently devoted a blog posting to how the Newtown tragedy resonated in central Brooklyn.  It is well worth reading. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My In-Box

I have just returned to New York following a whirlwind visit to London to check in on our Centre for Justice Innovation.   I'll probably write more about our progress in the UK when I have a moment, but in the meantime, here is a quick spin through a few of the things in my in-box that I found particularly interesting.

  • The Silent Victims of Incarceration -- CNN runs a story on the children of incarcerated parents that features Chris Watler of the Harlem Community Justice Center. 
  • Brushes With the Law -- The latest report from Child Welfare Watch examines teens in the criminal justice system and touches on a number of Center for Court Innovation-related topics, including the Red Hook Community Justice Center and our work on alternatives-to-detention and NY State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's adolescent diversion initiative. 
  • Kindle Project -- Our pilot peacemaking project in Red Hook receives a grant from the Kindle Project of the Common Counsel Foundation. 
  • A New Reason to Kvell -- Morrie Arnovich, my first cousin, twice-removed (whom I wrote about here) finally gets his due from the New York Times. 
  • Wesleyan Center for Prison Education -- Fall newsletter from my friends at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
  • New York Court Families Assistance Fund -- The National Center for State Courts supports the efforts of the New York (and New Jersey) courts to help employees recover from Hurricane Sandy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

One Direction at the Garden

Last night, I took my two daughters to see One Direction at Madison Square Garden.  It was a quite an experience.  Although I am by now well-acquainted with the music of One Direction (currently on constant rotation at my house), I was unprepared for the raw energy of the crowd, which easily had the most lopsided female-to-male ratio of any concert I have ever attended.  Once I got used to the noise, I found the passion that the audience brought to the show infectious.  Indeed, the affection for the band was so intense that it felt a little like the audience willed One Direction into existence rather than vice versa.

As for the show itself, I found much to admire about the performance.  It certainly was an enormous contrast to the first concert I went to as a kid, when my parents took me to see the New Barbarians at the Capital Center in 1979.  Both the New Barbarians and the Capital Center are long gone -- and with good reason.  The Capital Center was a charmless concrete arena in the middle of nowhere in suburban Maryland.  The New Barbarians were a "super group" formed by Ron Wood and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.  In the run up to the concert, rumors swirled that Mick Jagger would make a surprise appearance (no such luck) and that this tour might be the last chance to see Keith Richards on stage (a forecast that seems laughable today after four additional decades of Rolling Stones concerts).  My dominant memories of the show are of the haze of smoke (one part cigarette to four parts marijuana) that enveloped the upper tier where we sat and of a performance that could most charitably be described as loose and unconcerned with popular opinion (a glance at the set list reveals that the New Barbarians played only a handful of the Stones' hits that everyone had come to hear).

I don't think anyone will ever accuse a One Direction performance of being loose or unconcerned with public sentiment.  And, thanks to Michael Bloomberg, there was mercifully no smoke whatsoever at Madison Square Garden last night.

Over a tight 90 minutes or so, One Direction played all of their big hits.  They never departed from the recorded arrangements.  The only moments that felt improvisational occurred when they paused to answer questions posed (via Twitter) by members of the audience.  Interestingly, this segment of the show was my daughters' favorite.

I think my younger self, obsessed with things like indie credibility, might have found the One Direction experience bloodless.  But last night I found myself admiring the group's poise and discipline.  One Direction clearly understand their strengths and are rigorous about sticking to them.  So the show featured no extended bongo solos or embarrassing efforts to rap.  And while the show felt well-rehearsed, it never seemed overly choreographed.  When the guys did interact with one another -- for example, performing a group hug at the end of the show -- it sparked legitimate delight amongst the crowd.

Viewed through the lens of a non-profit manager, the One Direction concert offered numerous lessons, primarily about brand management.  One of the Center for Court Innovation's goals is to develop a reputation for independence and non-partisanship.  In the real world, this is sometimes challenging, since our work requires us to interact with elected officials regularly.  (Indeed, while I was at the One Direction concert last night, the Citizens Crime Commission held a fundraiser featuring several of the current candidates  for New York City mayor, at least one of which publicly endorsed community courts and bemoaned the fact that the City did not have more of them.)  

Functionally, our desire to protect our non-partisan image means that we have to say no to many tempting opportunities.  In fact, just this week, we declined to sign on to an effort to influence educational policy in New York City.  At the risk of forcing an analogy, my analysis was that this advocacy effort was the equivalent of a bongo solo. There's a place in this world for bongo solos, just not at a One Direction concert.