Even TV's Modern Family enjoys a good flash-mob.

Happy Change of Venue Friday. Today, I’m interested in the intersection of communal activities, crime and choreography.

Of course, I’m talking about flash mobs, those wacky syncopated routines that lead passers-by to drop their jaws and wonder how line-dancing got cool all of a sudden. (Free suggestion of the day: Don’t do a Google image search for “flash.”)

But it is cool, as we know if we watch any TV or music video. And there is something amazing about the rhythmic release that accompanies a crowd acting in unison.

Unfortunately, like vodka slipped into the punch at a school dance, some people have to ruin a good thing. And that is giving flash mobs a bad name.

An AP story this week noted that some criminals are using flash mobs as a cover for their own nefarious activities.

As the story says,

“Flash mobs started off in 2003 as peaceful and often humorous acts of public performance, such as mass dance routines or street pillow fights. But in recent years, the term has taken a darker twist as criminals exploit the anonymity of crowds, using social networking to coordinate everything from robberies to fights to general chaos.”

Well, as the famed choreographer George Balanchine was once heard to utter, “Gimme a break!” “Darker twist”? (Though that does sound like a cool name for a dance move.)

Ruth Carter

If that’s not enough, we now have the U.K. riots providing another opportunity to demonize not only flash mobs, but also social media, public gatherings, speaking in groups, sharing ideas—and maybe even leaving your house.

One voice against this hijacking of the term “flash mob” is Arizona law school graduate (and soon  lawyer) Ruth Carter (whose blog The Undeniable Ruth you really should follow). She examines the history of flash mobs and cautions against rushing to conclusions.

I wish Ruth luck in her battle for education. But she’s taking to an embattled rampart; just the other day I spotted another story on the topic, this one out of Pennsylvania. In the article, Philadelphia’s mayor uses the term “flash mob” to describe criminal activity.

That’s unfortunate. Because the first step in over-criminalizing behavior is often to rename legal activities, to brand them as illicit, and to appropriate a long-accepted term for your own purposes.

To counter that, click on some of the links in Ruth’s blog post. They will make you smile. And be sure to watch the following video, about a “frozen” flash mob that entranced and amazed commuters in New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

No crime, no looting, no vandalism. Just inspiration, creativity and stunning ingenuity. Flash me some of that anytime.

Have a great weekend.

Just more than a month after U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke re-asserted his position that prosecution on Indian land is a priority, we can see significant movement on the topic.

It may have been the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington that made wide-ranging legislative proposals, but they have the fingerprints of western states’ prosecutors all over it. And that’s a great thing.

As an article describes it, the changes would “stiffen federal sentences for certain domestic violence crimes in Indian Country and expand tribes’ authority to enforce protection orders against non-Indians living on reservations.”

I’ve written more than once about the crisis confronting law-abiding people on Indian land. And this article reiterates that crimes have reached “epidemic rates”:

“One-third of all American Indian women will be raped in their lifetime, and nearly three of five have been assaulted by their partner, the Justice Department says. In addition, murder rates are 10 times higher than the national average for Native women.”

The proposed changes would be considered in congressional reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Among them would be an expansion of federal jurisdiction over crimes committed on the reservation. The change would mean “sentences more in line with those faced by defendants in state courts who commit the same crimes, and give prosecutors better tools for deterring the offenses.”

Proposals also would allow tribal courts to enforce protection orders against non-Indians, no matter where the order originates.

If enacted, the VAWA amendments would take effect in two years.

We’ll follow the story as it develops. But this is a noteworthy step in stemming the epidemic.

Note: This post was updated on April 17, 2021, to point readers to this helpful article about whatever became of MainJustice.com.

We just got news of some praiseworthy work Arizona lawyers have done. And given the fields they toil in, let’s hope it’s a precursor to more positive change.

Dennis Burke, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona

The news came out of the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona. There, eight employees were honored with national awards, given last Wednesday.

As the press release begins, “Eight employees from the Office of the United States Attorney, District of Arizona, have been selected as recipients of the 2010 Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) Director’s Awards. These eight employees represent the highest number of awardees in one year for the District of Arizona.  The awards reflect the top priorities in the District for border security, drug trafficking on Indian County and mortgage fraud.”

Honored were Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shelley Clemens, Marnie Hodahkwen, Joe Lodge, Nicole Savel, Sharon Sexton, John Tuchi, Kevin Rapp and Brian Larson.

U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke is rightly proud of his staffers’ accomplishments. These honors are coveted, and it’s great to have Arizona lawyering recognized on a national stage.

You can read the complete release below. (Editor’s note, April 17, 2021: When this news was first posted, I also pointed you to the site MainJustice.com for the complete list of honorees. But since then, that helpful page went away. For insight into what happened to it, read this article.)

It is especially noteworthy that the majority of attorneys receiving accolades are being honored for “Superior Performance in Indian Country.”

The high crime rate and lack of prosecution on Indian reservations has been a serious problem for quite awhile. In fact, few could argue with the fact that the persistence of the problem is a national embarrassment.

Just this past September, an Arizona Republic news story by Dennis Wagner examined the intractable problem of high crime and “declinations” to prosecute—usually due to a lack of evidence, which relates to “convoluted jurisdictional boundaries, insufficient funds for training, and distrust and limited communication between federal and tribal investigators.” Add to that abysmally low police staffing, and you have a problem that many would prefer to keep from the public’s eye.

Today’s newspaper provided another glimpse into the ongoing problem. It reported that half of all crimes committed on Indian land go unprosecuted.

Half.

In places where crime is more than twice the national average. Where more than one in three Native American women are raped sometime during their lives.

It boggles the mind. Can we imagine any other place in the 50 states where such a chronic situation would be allowed to exist for generations?

The story today reports that Arizona and South Dakota account for about half the cases that all federal prosecutors receive annually.

“What’s most disconcerting about these [declination] numbers is that they probably don’t even tell the full story,” said Katy Jackman, staff attorney at the National Congress of American Indians. “What they do confirm is, as we’ve known for some time, that declination rates in Indian country are a major problem.”

Some optimistic news comes out of these numbers, however. Data show that federal prosecutors in Arizona declined “only” 38 percent of the Indian land cases sent to them, whereas prosecutors in South Dakota declined to prosecute 61 percent. (It does not report whether our state is on an upward or a downward trend.)

Congratulations to the prosecutors who have worked hard to develop strategies that make our state safer. The attention that U.S. Attorney Burke and his prosecutors have given to reservation crime is a welcome sign that they are committed to addressing an epidemic that has too much become an accepted commonplace.

We’re looking forward to more positive stories about significant advances in safety and justice, especially on Indian reservations. For as all great prosecutors know, the legacy of their work’s effectiveness is cast most indelibly not in places where TV cameras reach easily. It is sealed in the trust of the most vulnerable—who until now have learned that they are largely on their own when it comes to justice.

Here is the press release.

Eight Members of Arizona’s U.S. Attorney’s Office Honored

Employees to receive prestigious Director’s Awards; reflect top priorities of District

PHOENIX—Eight employees from the Office of the United States Attorney, District of Arizona, have been selected as recipients of the 2010 Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) Director’s Awards.

These eight employees represent the highest number of awardees in one year for the District of Arizona.  The awards reflect the top priorities in the District for border security, drug trafficking on Indian County and mortgage fraud.

“Over the past 14 months, the District has focused on expanding security beyond our border back into Mexico and blocking drug trafficking from bleeding into Indian Country,” said Dennis K. Burke, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona.  “We’ve also aggressively targeted the mortgage fraudsters who aided and abetted the decimation of home values in Arizona.”

The employees received their awards from Attorney General Eric Holder at a ceremony December 8 in Washington, D.C.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shelley Clemens, Marnie Hodahkwen, Joe Lodge, Nicole Savel, Sharon Sexton and John Tuchi will receive the award for Superior Performance in Indian Country.  This team was nominated for development of a comprehensive Indian Country Public Safety program that serves as a model for other Districts across the United States.

The team developed several successful initiatives this year, including joint federal-tribal investigations into drug distribution organizations on four different reservations across Arizona.  The effort has resulted in more than 50 indictments to date.

Kevin Rapp will receive the award for Superior Performance as an Assistant United States Attorney-Criminal.  Rapp was nominated for his excellent work in the mortgage fraud case of the U.S. v Bernadel, et al.

His work in the case resulted in the conviction of eight defendants in a nearly $10 million dollar mortgage scheme.  The lead defendant in the case received a nearly 17-year prison sentence.

The case has been used as a national model for successful mortgage fraud prosecution.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has frequently cited the Bernadel case as an example of the successful efforts by the Department of Justice to combat mortgage fraud.

Brian Larson will also receive an award for Superior Performance as an Assistant United States Attorney-Criminal.  Brian was nominated for his outstanding work to further the mission of the first-ever Rule of Law Group in the District of Arizona and the Department of Justice on the southwest border.

Larson has coordinated and conducted training of Mexican prosecutors and investigators in Sonora as part of the “Rule of Law” outreach.  His work has been instrumental in developing cooperative law enforcement relationships with prosecutors and investigators throughout Mexico, and in coordinating prosecution of some of the most high profile drug trafficking cases in the District of Arizona.

“The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona has done more to prosecute border crimes, crimes in Indian Country and mortgage fraud than any other District in the country,” said Burke.  “These award winners exemplify that leadership and are a testament to how we lead the nation.”

The Director’s Awards are nation-wide awards through which the Attorney General honors the employees of the 93 United States Attorneys’ Offices and EOUSA, as well as other individuals, who have supported the mission of these offices and distinguished themselves through extraordinary professional achievements and excellence.

What is the intersection of crime and immigration? I can’t answer that definitively, but I know that there is no more hotly contested issue in Southwestern policy debates.

Last week, I attended an event where an attorney pointed to skyrocketing crime rates as a reason that the Arizona governor had virtually no choice in whether to sign SB1070, the state’s new restrictive criminal law.

But news reports—and Department of Justice statistics—indicate a trend in the opposite direction. And if crime (except on Wall Street) is going down, then where’s the fire? I mean, there may be a lot of reasons to seek comprehensive immigration reform, but should crime be touted as one of them?

(That’s not to say that there are no crimes affiliated with illegal immigration. This spring’s death of an Arizona rancher—if it turns out to have been by an immigrant—is one of the worst examples. Overall, though, the trend does not seem to be increasing.)

Q: However, for argument’s sake (the lawyer’s favorite phrase), let’s say that there is crime and that there is illegal immigration. How are they connected?

A: Not as handily as you might assume, at least according to Tim Wadsworth, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His findings are, for many people, counterintuitive:

“Cities that experienced greater growth in immigrant or new-immigrant populations between 1990 and 2000 tended to demonstrate sharper decreases in homicide and robbery,” Wadsworth writes. “The suggestion that high levels of immigration may have been partially responsible for the drop in crime during the 1990s seems plausible.”

To read more about his hypothesis, click here.

There is more news from the University of Colorado here.