Category Archives: Cheers!

Gerard Richardson Exonerated!

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection chemist r...

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection chemist reads a DNA profile to determine the origin of a commodity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just a few hours ago, Somerset County Prosecutors filed a motion dismissing the indictment against Gerard Richardson, exonerating him of murder for which he served nineteen years.  Gerard’s exoneration comes two months after a court overturned his conviction and ordered his release from prison.

Gerard was convicted of the 1994 murder based on the testimony of a forensic dentist who claimed that a bite mark on the victim’s body matched him.  Gerard maintained his innocence. Although testing was inconclusive, he held out hope that DNA would one day exonerate him.  In the most recent round of testing, the lab was able to detect a complete male DNA profile from the bite mark that excluded Gerard.

Gerard has begun to put his life back together after his wrongful imprisonment, starting work at FedEx just days after his release.

FBI regulations have prevented officials in New Jersey from entering the DNA profile from the bite mark into the DNA database, which has over ten million profiles of convicted offenders and could name the person responsible for the 1994 murder.

To read more about his case, visit the Innocence Project website.

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CDC: Teen Pregnancy Rate Hits All-Time Low

Countries by birth rate in 2008

Countries by birth rate in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The CDC has released a report on the birth rate in America for 2012, and the number of teenagers having babies continues its downward trend:

The birth rate for American teens fell to 29.4 births per 1,000 in 2012 — a six percent drop from 2011, alone.

Data shows it fell for all ethnic groups.

To put that into perspective, the report finds it’s the lowest rate in 73 years. That’s how long the government has been keeping track of teen births.

A lot of the progress has been made in the last few years. The birth rate in 2007 was 41.5 births per 1,000 teenage girls — falling almost 30 percent in the last five years.

The Obama Administration has invested in teen-pregnancy-prevention programs. In a shocking coincidence, red states continue to have the highest rates of teen pregnancy.

At the other end of the spectrum, birth rates for women between the ages of thirty and forty-four have increased slightly.

Via the CDC and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


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Filed under Cheers!, Health, Science, War on Women

Colorado Helps the Homeless and Saves Public Money, Too

Map of Colorado highlighting Bent County

Map of Colorado highlighting Bent County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A former prison converted to a homeless shelter is not only doing right by those on the streets, it’s doing right by taxpayers as well.

The Fort Lyon Correctional Facility in southeastern Colorado had housed prisoners until 2011, when it was closed because of budget cuts. In the two years since, it has laid dormant.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s (D) office proposed a novel idea: turn the prison into a homeless shelter. Bent County, which contains Fort Lyon, has a poverty rate over 20%, eight percentage points higher than the state.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers appropriated $3.9 million to re-open Fort Lyon as a homeless shelter, which will house 200 people, including many veterans.

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless estimates that taxpayers spend$43,240 per homeless person in Colorado each year on everything from emergency health care to legal issues. A 2012 estimate found there are nearly 17,000 homeless persons in Colorado.

Housing 200 people at Fort Lyon, by contrast, will cost just $16,813 per person, less than half the cost of leaving them on the streets.

The shelter opened this week and will be increasing capacity to 200 by July 2014 and 300 by July 2015.

Via TP.

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5 Rules for Talking about Rape

English: Miley Cyrus singing in concert

English: Miley Cyrus singing in concert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over at Salon, Katie McDonough has written a piece called “How not to be terrible when talking about rape.” It’s fantastic, and I’ve re-posted it in large part below (with editing for length and language). Head over to Salon to read the original.


Fourteen-year-old girls in juvenile detention facilities do not “consent” to rape by corrections officers. Latex-clad pop stars do not “encourage a teenage culture” in which boys can sexually assault unconscious girls. A thirty-day sentence for a convicted rapist who violated the terms of his rehabilitation programs has not received a sentence “appropriate given the nature of the case.”

A year after the “legitimate rape” comment that killed Todd Akin’s political career, it’s become clear that Akin’s view of sexual violence is how many people talk about rape: quick to blame survivors and excuse perpetrators.

It is so easy to be better. Here are five ways to start.

1. Being sexually assaulted is a tragedy. Going to prison for sexually assaulting someone is not. 

Empathy is a good thing. Empathy for people who commit terrible crimes can be a good thing.

Judge G. Todd Baugh initially agreed with Stacey Dean Rambold’s defense attorney when he argued that Rambold — a forty-nine-year-old teacher who raped his fourteen-year-old student — should not serve the recommended fifteen years behind bars because he had “suffered enough” during his trial.

Rambold’s victim, however, was repeatedly raped by an adult who was legally responsible for her care; she committed suicide at only sixteen years old.

To suggest Rambold’s experience of being found guilty of a crime is on par with the experience of being a victim of that crime is not only offensive — it’s delusional.

Then there was CNN’s commentary on Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the two high school football players found guilty of raping an unconscious teenage girl and, in Mays’ case, circulating photos of the assault. After delivering news of the guilty verdict, correspondent Poppy Harlow lamented:

Incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart … when that sentence came down, [Richmond] collapsed in the arms of his attorney … He said to him, “My life is over. No one is going to want me now.”

It isn’t a tragedy when people who commit crimes face consequences. It’s justice.

2. Female sexuality does not ever invite rape.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post ran a piece by Richard Cohen suggesting that Miley Cyrus might be responsible for the crimes committed in Steubenville.

In a story for USA Today, Joanne Bamberger took a similar position, blaming Cyrus for failures of accountability from the criminal justice system. Bamberger cites the pop star’s onstage writhing and grinding as the reason that judges like Baugh think girls like Rambold’s victim are “as much in control of the situation” as their assailants:

Even though [Cyrus] is 20, many of us still see her as the tween/teen star of Disney’s “Hannah Montana,” and maintain a mental image of her as that more wholesome child, even as she struts on stage today, inviting sexual attention. Shows like “16 and Pregnant” reinforce the idea that girls are sexually mature before they graduate from high school. The music industry inundates us with salacious female images, like the Britney Spears/Madonna French-kissing episode ten years ago on same MTV award show.

3. Being anti-rape is not anti-sex.

Only days before the Washington Post ran Cohen’s editorial, they published Betsy Karasik’s musings on why sending a forty-nine-year-old man who raped a fourteen-year-old girl to prison for longer than 30 days is “utter hysteria.” Teachers who rape students, Karasik says, exist on a “nuanced continuum of sexual interactions.”

As Katie Halper recently noted for Salon, a fourteen-year-old girl literally cannot consent to have sex with a forty-nine-year-old man. There is no “sex” between a teacher and a fourteen-year-old student. It is rape. The same goes for the recent trial of a forty-year-old corrections officer who raped an incarcerated fourteen-year-old girl.

The Poytner Institute has a wonderfully concise rule of thumb on distinguishing between rape and sex when reporting on sexual violence: “Describe charges of sex without consent as rape, not anything less … sometimes writers minimize the trauma of rape by describing it as sex or intercourse if the rape doesn’t involve the kind of physical violence that requires medical attention.”

4. Don’t use a stand-up comedian as the crux of your defense of a convicted rapist. 

Seriously. Just don’t do it.

5. “Prison rape” is rape.

Last month, the Daily Beast ran a piece announcing that “true rape” does not happen in prison and that it’s “really not that unusual” for incarcerated people to lie about being sexually assaulted. Mansfield Frazier’s piece (which has since been edited to remove this passage) continued:

Indeed, the vast majority of experienced convicts know that “true” rape is not a common occurrence in prison. That doesn’t mean that homosexual sex doesn’t occur — it certainly does. But it’s really not that unusual for a new prisoner to show up on the compound and begin walking around the yard in pants far too tight. Before long they drop the soap in the shower, get a little close to another naked man, and then — simply because they’ve never been able to come to terms with their own sexuality — tell anyone who will listen (but, interestingly enough, they usually never complain to the guards) that they were “raped.” And a week or two later it could happen again, and then again.

The story generated near-immediate outrage, which the editors responded to by significantly altering the piece and posting a public apology, but the Daily Beast was far from the first media outlet to make light of sexual assault in prison.

On CNN that week, Richard Herman said that Chelsea Manning, a transgender woman, would get “good practice at being a woman” while in prison. Disgusting.

As Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams noted in 2012, minimizing rape in prison isn’t funny. “Ever wonder why, though men make up at least 3 percent of rape victims, the crime so often goes unreported?” Williams asks. “Couldn’t have anything to do with our cultural propensity for turning sexual violence against men into a smug joke?”

Rape doesn’t suddenly become acceptable when it’s committed against a person who is incarcerated. It actually just keeps being rape.

Via Salon.


Filed under Cheers!, Crime and Punishment, If You Were Gay, Sick Sad World, War on Women

Obama to Meet with LGBT Rights Groups at G20 in St. Petersburg

Barack Obama

Barack Obama (Photo credit: jamesomalley)

President Barack Obama will meet with Russian LGBT rights groups as well as several other Russian human rights activists at this week’s G20 summit in St. PetersburgBuzzFeed reported Monday.

Obama cancelled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in August amid tension over the country’s offer of asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

From BuzzFeed:

Four Russian non-governmental organizations told BuzzFeed Monday they had been invited to the meeting, scheduled for this Thursday at St. Petersburg’s Crowne Plaza Hotel. The groups include veteran human rights activists Lev Ponomarev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, legal aid NGO director Pavel Chikov, and Coming Out, a St. Petersburg-based LGBT organization. Another local LGBT group, the LGBT Network, is believed to be attending, though director Igor Kochetkov declined to comment to BuzzFeed, saying that he had been “asked not to say anything.”

Via TPM.


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Filed under Cheers!, Civil Rights, If You Were Gay, Politics, World

Saudi Arabia Passes Domestic Abuse Law

On Wednesday, Saudia Arabia’s cabinet passed the “Protection from Abuse” law to protect women, children, and workers from domestic abuse. The law is the country’s first of its kind and has been celebrated by human rights activists.

The law lays out that physical and sexual abuse at home and in the workplace are illegal. Anyone found guilty of abuse under the new law may face up to a year in prison and $13,300 in fines.

In April, the King Khalid Foundation began an anti-abuse campaign that encouraged women report cases of domestic abuse. The campaign’s calling card became an advertisement (shown at the right) that featured a veiled woman with a bruised eye and the slogan “Some things can’t be covered. Fighting women’s abuse together.” The advertisement quickly gained notoriety for its portrayal of a typically taboo topic.

While the new law is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, many are waiting to see how it is implemented.

Rights activist Waleed Abu al-Khair said the law gives women some independence: “Women were required to bring in a male relative if they showed up at a police station to file a complaint,” he said. This will not now be necessary.

However, women are still required to receive permission from a male guardian to carry out business, apply for jobs, or travel out of the country. Further, women are often accompanied by a male guardian when they leave the home, which may inhibit a victim’s ability to report abuse.

Via Impunity Watch.


Filed under Cheers!, Crime and Punishment, International Justice, World

School Behind Genesis “Biology” Exam Shuts Its Doors

You might remember this “biology” quiz that made the rounds earlier this year. The quiz originated from a private Christian school in South Carolina, Blue Ridge Christian Academy, which was using a DVD from creationist entrepreneur Ken Ham, the cheerful crazy guy behind Kentucky’s “Creation Museum” and “Ark Encounter.”

Due to insufficient fundraising, Blue Ridge Christian Academy will not be opening for the current school year. The publicity surrounding the quiz helped them raise some money, but God did not inspire enough donors to raise the $200,000 they needed.

We can all breathe a sigh of relief. Now, let’s just hope these poor kids get to take a real biology class in their lives.


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Filed under Cheers!, Education, Religion, Science Schmience