Murder by proxy (5×8 – 9/28/12)

Myths of workplace violence, where public education campaigns fail, a second chance to quiz alleged racist remarks, civil conversations, and it helps to have friends.


Decades ago, “going Postal” became an accepted phrase in American lexicon after a series of mass shootings at post offices. Then, the violence migrated into other workplaces with frightening regularity.

The narrative of the shooting is familiar: a co-worker “just snaps.” That, contends James Fox, the respected criminal justice professor at Northeastern University, is a myth.

Fox was heavily featured in the 2010 documentary, “Murder By Proxy: How America Went Postal,” which investigated several post office shootings, dismissing the “bad apple” theory of the shooters.

The film points out that terminated workers often lose a lot more than just their paychecks: a pink slip also can mean a loss of self-worth and a social network. Terminated employees who feel alienated and believe the company treated them poorly may be at a particular risk for taking such drastic action.

Unfortunately, no guide exists to help employers pinpoint the workers who might turn to violence. Fox calls potential warning signs “yellow flags, which only turn to red flags after the blood has spilled.” Companies would like to create a checklist to identify the workers they believe are the “bad apples,” but unfortunately, no such guide exists.

“No one has ever and will ever come up with a profile of workplace murder that’s sufficiently predictive” [to use] to screen employees,” Fox asserted.

Workplace shootings, of course, are rare. But it’s impossible to predict who will commit one, says Jack Levin, a criminologist and sociologist at Northeastern.

To combat disgruntled workers, Levin says, some companies have been employing more compassionate firing processes, a practice during the recession of the ’90s. While it’s not the employer’s fault or responsibility when a shooting occurs, more humane human resources can avoid a variety of problems and may deter shootings.

Unfortunately, there are few other options. “We might like to think there are warning signs,” says Levin, but that’s not the case. While troubled individuals who need help can be identified, there’s no way of figuring out what slight percentage of those people may turn into killers. “We can’t identify these people beforehand,” says Levine. “We can identify people who are depressed, but what are we going to do–lock up thousands of people for the sins of a handful?”

Richard Denenberg, a workplace violence specialist, told the Wall St. Journal after the Empire State Building shooting earlier this year, that companies can enact policies that, if nothing else, can “sort out the real dangers from the non-dangers.”

“This is something we see on the news in other parts of the country, not here,” Minneapolis Deputy Police Chief Kris Arneson said at the scene of yesterday’s shooting in the city. As we now sadly know, the “it doesn’t happen here” theory is one of the myths of workplace violence.


This picture from the Department of Natural Resources raises, again, a question we consider every so often: Do “public education” campaigns work?


This shopping cart full of zebra mussels was pulled out Lake Superior by Bruce A. Hinsverk, 51, of Wahpeton, N.D. Here’s how the DNR tells it in its press release:

(he) told the officers he was on vacation and saw the shopping cart next to two dumpsters near Lake Superior. He planned to drive up the North Shore to Grand Marais before returning to North Dakota with the shopping cart.

“He thought it was unique to have a cart with mussels attached and that it would make a nice addition to his business,” Mueller said, “so he placed it in his truck. He did not know it was illegal to transport invasive species.”

Stop right there.

For almost 20 years — maybe more — the DNR has been calling people’s attention to the problem of zebra mussels, and how they spread from lake to lake.

But it only takes one person to undo all the cost and work of preventing the spread of exotic species. And there always seems to be at least one.


As we’ve pointed out several times on some stories on NewsCut, it’s an awfully small, connected world. Ari Shapiro, the NPR political reporter, found that out again this week. A few weeks ago, he filed a report with comments of a woman that some thought were racist (I wrote about it here).

This week, he ran into her again, and got a chance to ask the questions he acknowledges he probably should’ve asked the first time around.


Is it possible to have civil conversations on “hot button” issues. On Being is finding out:

Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-Dialogue: The Civil Conversations Project from On Being on Vimeo.


In June, Dan Dotzenrod slipped off his semi-trailer, severing a vertebra. After surgery and a 12-day hospital stay, he was allowed to return home but he was on a feeding tube and under orders to stay off farm equipment until winter, the Fargo Forum reports.

That’s a problem for a farmer whose livelihood — the crop — doesn’t wait for winter.

So yesterday, volunteers show up at the Wyndmere, N.D., farm and took care of it.

They can thank this guy…

Farm Rescue on Readers Digest iPad from Redux Pictures on Vimeo.


Some Republicans and Democrats appear unenthusiastic about their candidates for president. Today’s Question: If you’ve made your choice for president, are you voting more for him, or against his opponent?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: The Friday Roundtable. Kathleen Hall Jamieson joins the panel to discuss deception on the campaign trail.

Second hour: In Tornado Alley, you’ll join Storm Chasers star Sean Casey and the researchers of VORTEX 2, an ambitious project that seeks to understand the origins and evolution of tornadoes, on a heart-pounding science adventure through the “severe weather capital of the world.” Casey is the guest.

Third hour: Political cartoons

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): First District congressional debate between Democratic congressman Tim Walz and former Republican state rep. Allen Quist, recorded yesterday in Rochester.

Science Friday (1-2 p.m.) – A look at how wildfires — and an invasive weed — are changing landscapes in the American west. Plus, a look at the use and misuse of DNA evidence in solving crimes.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Conductor Gustavo Dudamel says the secret of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is that, even a hundred years after its debut, the piece still sounds so modern. The bold sounds that nearly caused a riot in Paris is a time-honored classic. NPR will have the story of how Maestro Dudamel first encountered it .