Keep Your Kid Safe On The Internet! Law Enforcement Agencies And Citizen Groups

I have already submitted a couple of articles about the dangers the internet holds for children. My next series of articles will be about the various citizen groups and law enforcement agencies that work to deter or stop predators and keep children safe online.

The first group I want to cover is a group called Perverted Justice. Their “nickname”, or what they are also known as is PeeJ. Perverted Justice is a citizen group that was set up for the purpose of identifying adults willing to have chat room sexual encounters with minors. Millions of Americans have seen this group in action during the operation series called “To Catch a Predator” that Dateline NBC carried out on the air.

The people who make up Perverted Justice are volunteers. These volunteers carry out sting operations, using “young” sounding screen names, such as sara_so_bored. They then wait for older men to approach them in chatrooms. The volunteers of PeeJ do not make the first contact with the adults, but instead wait to be approached.

Once the men approach the volunteer (who they think is a young teen girl or boy), the volunteer works to get identifying information from the men; information such as a phone number. This information is usually given during talk about setting up an offline meeting with the perceived minor. The PeeJ volunteer then uses a Reverse Look Up service to find out the name of the person who owns the telephone number, and passes the information on to law enforcement.

Perverted Justice was started in 2002 by Xavier Von Erck of Portland Oregon, who got the idea after watching men attempt to woo young girls in chatrooms in Oregon. Von Erck says that PeeJ is a computer watchdog agency that works closely with law enforcement. During the ‘To Catch a Predator’ stings put on by Dateline NBC, Perverted Justice was actually temporarily deputized by law enforcement, since some of the operation was required by law to have been carried out by members of law enforcement.

Von Erck goes on to say that “The media likes to use the term vigilante because it gets attention, but we don’t consider ourselves vigilantes. We cultivate cooperation with police and work within the law to get justice, not outside of the law.”

Perverted Justice’s volunteers act as bait in chatrooms where children and minors can often be found. The profiles the volunteers set up have youthful sounding nicknames and often pictures of children. The volunteers do not initiate contact with the men, but instead wait for the men to first come to them. They refuse to act on tips from internet users, to avoid the risk that someone might use the website for purposes of revenge.

If a man starts chatting with the volunteer and turns the conversation toward sex, the volunteer attempts to obtain identifying information from the man; information such as a telephone number so that a “meeting can be arranged”.

In years past, the chatlog and details would then be published on Perverted Justice’s website. However, beginning in 2003, the organization began its “Information First” program, in which interested police departments could contact Perverted Justice, and any busts made within the jurisdiction of that department would be sent to them without having been posted to the website.

In the early days, PeeJ did not initiate contact with the police, due to the difficulty of prosecuting online criminals in a court of law. Because the law has evolved in such a way that law enforcement now CAN and regularly DOES prosecute online criminals, PeeJ has switched to a policy of cold calling local police with the information they obtained. If a one of the government agencies is interested (police, FBI, military CID, etc.) then the chatlog and other information is not posted to the site until after a conviction has been reached.

To date, Perverted Justice has been responsible for over 100 convictions of online predators. Some of those convictions were witnessed by television-watching Americans, glued to their T.V. screens during the airing of Dateline NBC’s To Catch a Predator series. One of these “public convictions” was a rabbi, who entered a home with the intention of having sexual relations with a minor boy. The “candid-camera” photograph of this rabbi as he was caught by Dateline NBC is posted on my website, which is dedicated to keeping kids safe online.

My website is interactive and includes a place for parents, educators, and interested parties to post methods of keeping kids safe online, as well as a message board where people can chat about online safety and what can be done. I have a page that shows Internet Safety in the news, as well as a page dedicated to educating parents on what can be done to “keep your kid safe on the internet”. Everyone is welcome.

The “Aggressive Forgiveness” of Grace

What an amazing term it is: grace. Nothing bad, The Message tells us, has any power over it. Even though it appears illogical, “grace… invites us into life.”[1] With this sort of power, and the knowledge of it, it’s only a fool who would pass it up – yet, we often don’t trust its power; we have to experience it first-hand. It’s a “what comes first: the chicken or the egg?” situation. We can’t experience grace until we take a risk with our heart and try it or see someone else give it to us; giving grace in essence is giving someone a chance they don’t deserve. Many people never actually experience this grace in a personally meaningful way, although one could argue that life itself (i.e. the provision of life) is an act of grace.

The supreme example of grace was the Passion of Christ. The power of this salvific act was, is, and will always be, undeniable and irrefutable, as millions upon millions of human beings are given the ‘second chance’ at new life, and we might say, real life. It transformed the meaning to life by making life with God a possibility.

Perhaps one of the better popular songs, When Love Comes to Town, describes best the effects of grace on a life; this ministry of the second chance. The lyrics below summarise what so many have experienced through the loving power and grace of God:

Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down,

But I did what I did before love came to town.

What is actually a gospel song sung by U2 and B.B. King soared through the charts through the world. These lyrics above describe what so many did before coming to know God. Lives punctuated by sin, both covert and overt. These lives were most often useless for anything other than self-gratification, disorder, misery, and the antithesis of real hope, as well as contradiction and hypocrisy. Only rarely did glimpses of the light of grace emanate from within this person. Then a miraculous thing happens. Love comes to the ‘town of the heart’ of that person. Grace is ‘love coming to the town’ of our hearts. It is knowing and accepting our true selves in the light of life. This love came to us; we did not go to it. The love of God that is grace seeks and finds us, and it truly finds us when we turn and look, and then it is there – and it is there to be seen! We are the ones who have to ‘see’ it.

Here are some more lyrics from the above song that feature the theme of this ‘aggressive forgiveness’ we know as grace:

I was there when they crucified my Lord,

I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword,

I threw the dice when they pierced his side,

But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide.

Theologically, these are correct statements. In essence, we killed Jesus and he, the resurrected Lord, still forgives us; further, that is precisely why he did it; so we could have a way of being set right with God, and also to facilitate the process to “make us fit for him [i.e. the Father].”[2] It is grace that made the way possible; the undeserved favour of God. It is so we could be saved from our sinful selves.

The Greek word charis means grace. It can mean all manner of things connected with the theme of grace including: matter of approval, benefit, a charitable act, free favour, gracious provision, or simply, grace. The Bible is littered with this term as a response to the fall of humankind in the days of Adam and Eve and the serpent. Even at that point grace was evident. Grace has been and always is evident.[3] People who are grace-filled have charisma, another Greek word for someone with charm, allure, and who is persuasive; a natural and at times divine leader.

Grace is anything that we do that we illogically forgive for. If someone harms us, slanders us or gossips about us, or doesn’t consider us, we normally have the right to defend ourselves and exact revenge – not with grace; we leave any of that justice to God, and he sorts them out, eventually! It simply doesn’t matter to the person who has grace. Grace is finding love in the heart to cover all wrongs; it may lack sense to you but until you try it you won’t know true life. To forgive someone a transgression is also about forgiving yourself, as you release all the pent-up anger in a most beautiful and safe (and graceful) way.

Grace collides with freedom. It challenges incredibly all captivity. It’s fighting courageously for the ethical right. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s “I have a dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 oozed grace for both his, and inevitably all, people:

“Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring-when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children-black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics-will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Grace is freedom for everyone. It is knowing that wrongly holding something from anyone is a bondage to one’s self too. That’s the power and allure of grace.

Sadly, Rev. Dr. King was shot dead not quite five years later, and this is depicted in another U2 song, Pride (In the Name of Love). The lyrics of the song underscore one man’s pride for his people, and for love to win the day, through the justice and righteousness of God; of action. “Early morning, April 4, shot rings out in the Memphis sky, Free at last, they took your life, they could not take your pride.” Indeed, King’s ‘pride’ lives on! Now, that is descriptive of the provision and justice of grace. As powerful as grace is for the good, it also ushers in the presence of God for justice to pervade situations and groups and individuals. In this way grace is theologically both prevenient and irresistible. It is irrepressible.

Grace is about relationship: between God and humankind. It’s knowing the joy of life. The experience of grace for Jews in Old Testament times brought about joy. Grace is not a New Testament, purely Christian concept though Christ sought to ‘finalise’ the deal by fulfilling the law and the prophets. “The ancient Israelite looked on the law not as a burden, but as a gift of grace, a delight, precisely because of the warm and personal relationship with the LORD that it enabled and expressed.”[4] The law was always a provision of grace. Covenant (the relationship) always came before the law.

In yet another U2 song, One, what sounds like a ballad is actually a painful song of the opposite of grace within the relationship between lead singer Bono and his father. Here are some of the lyrics that allude to this sentiment:

Did I ask too much?

More than a lot.

You gave me nothing,

Now it’s all I got,

We’re one,

But we’re not the same

See we,

Hurt each other,

Then we do it again

You say

Love is a temple,

Love a higher law,

Love is a temple,

Love is a higher law,

You ask me to enter,

But then you make me crawl,

And I can’t keep holding on,

To what you got,

When all you’ve got is hurt.

The italicised portions of the lyrics above highlight the awkwardness seen in relationships lacking grace; for instance, where father will lord it over the child. It acknowledges that genetically for Bono and his father, ‘we’re one’ and at the same time ‘we’re not the same,’ because of this grace that is somehow missing. It highlights the hypocrisy and incongruence of the father preaching ‘love is a temple and higher law,’ and yet the same father who makes his son crawl. We see in the antithesis of grace an absence of beauty, favour and ‘way.’ It is clumsy and inelegant.

The father who experiences no grace can issue only hurt to the life of the son or daughter whom desperately needs the father’s love. I used to know such a man; one who tried so hard to say the right things and do the right things, yet invariably when push came to shove wasn’t able to consistently offer grace. This can be for a range of reasons. For the individual who hasn’t got grace it is frustrating; it’s inexplicable. Something just isn’t right. One thing is for sure, the person who misses out on grace misses the mark in life, and so do those who rely on this person. There we have the recipe for generational cursing.

Grace comes to us. We recognise it and respond. It is beauty and favour. If we respond the right way its beauty and favour become part of us and the way we operate and behave. Then we have ‘charisma.’ This is a spiritual word. Only when we ‘move in time’ with God can we have this charisma, which is an aggressive form of forgiveness. It’s a miraculous gift of God to have this insight and requisite character quality.

© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.


[1] Romans 5:21 (The Message).

[2] See Romans 5:1-2 (Message).

[3] Even during events like the 6th Century BCE Exile of the Israelites and the great flood (Noah’s Ark) grace was evident.

[4] Christopher J.H. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, A fully revised, updated and integrated edition of Living as the People of God and Walking in the Ways of the Lord (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 2004), p. 317.

Environmental Justice Gets Push From White House

Environmental justice.

The term sounds great. The concept, however, has a long way to go.

While poor areas get the brunt of a long list of environmental hazards and toxic sites, bad stuff can be buried or swirling in the air or water in any ZIP code. Progress has a way of getting things done and dealing with consequences later.

But Obama’s taken up the call.

This week, Lisa P. Jackson, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, resurrected the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice.

Big deal, right? Perhaps not. But it’s something and at least a positive move by the Obama administration to push for federal protection from environmental and health hazards for everyone. The language of a press release reminds me of talk in the living room political gatherings I grew up with in Alaska.

I can hear my activist parents, Willie and Mary Ratcliff, publishers of the San Francisco Bayview, saying the same thing 30 years ago.

“Pollution like dirty air and contaminated water can have significant economic impacts on overburdened and low-income communities, driving away investment in new development and new jobs and exposing residents to potentially costly health threats.” I was momentarily taken back in time by the words.

My activist parents continue to fight the battle they began as teenagers in the 1950s, my mother at Oberlin, my father as a black concrete contractor in California and up the coast to the Last Frontier. The best way to describe their message over the years I sum up by quoting Jesse Jackson’s jobs, peace and freedom call for justice.

Environmental justice is a huge part of this, and it’s effects can be seen in any poor community across the globe. Immigrant entry points in big cities are overlooked as are rural areas. Got something toxic? Give it to the poor folks under the auspices of jobs.

Jobs never materialize but the toxics remain.

I generalize, but dig a little and the examples are there.

The EPA’s newfound call for environmental justice is supposed to “guide, support and enhance federal environmental justice and community-based activities.” Officials say the effort will help federal agencies identify projects “where federal collaboration can support the development of healthy and sustainable communities.”

Who knows if it will mean anything beyond more high- and low-level bureaucratic meetings? I’m optimistic. Just talking about it raises the political capital of the environmental movement and the push to generate interest and jobs in a clean energy economy.

Groups like will gain grassroots members and the 10/10/10 movement may gain a little boost to identify and tackle projects that make the world a better place.

I’m inspired by something U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said: “In too many areas of our country, the burden of environmental degradation falls disproportionately on low-income and minority communities – and most often, on the children who live in those communities. Our environmental laws and protections must extend to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.”

Criminal Defendants on Trial – How to Relate to the Courtroom Work Group

Who is the Judge and what is his role?

The Judge is the person who is elevated on the Bench in the front of the courtroom. While the Judge is required by law to rule on the “admissibility” of the evidence as it comes into trial, the jury is empowered by law to rule on the “reliability” or “credibility” of the evidence. The Judge must have no impact on the jury’s verdict. If the ultimate verdict is guilty as charged, the Judge will be the one deciding the sentence. The jury cannot consider what the sentence might be when they deliberate on the facts. The role of the Judge and the role of the jury at the trial are separate and distinct.

If you decide to have your case tried to the Judge alone without a Jury, several factors come into play:

¨ The Judge will decide admissibility AND reliability of the evidence.
¨ The trial will be much shorter. A three day jury trial can be completed in an afternoon by the Judge.
¨ The drama that is seen in jury trials is low-keyed in a trial to the Judge.
¨ The Judge and the prosecutor are both employed by the State but their roles and requirements are

theoretically different.

¨ Certain arguments presented with theatrics that can be favorably made on the jury have no impact on the

Judge sitting alone as decision-maker in the case.

¨ The Judge alone decides on all issues of procedure and law as well as deciding the facts of the case.

There are fewer checks and balances.

Every Judge has their own personality which they bring to their courtroom. This human factor must be taken into consideration just as it is in every other walk of life. Thus we ask, “Is the Judge the enemy with whom we are at war?” Have you played competitive sports? In basketball, for instance, your team is competing against another team. Both want to win! A referee is hired to call the game according to the same rules that everyone applies to every game. The referee is impartial but still has to rule in favor of one team or the other. Yelling and screaming at the referee never persuades a change in ruling but may influence future calls. It is always in your team’s favor to calm down and abide by the referee’s ruling. Play the game hard but you must abide by the rules. To do that it helps to know the rules inside and out.

We can perceive two different pictures of the courtroom. One is where the Judge is very strict and treats everyone the same. The other is where the Judge is overly friendly with one or more of the attorneys and courtroom workers and the atmosphere is very loose.

In the case of the strict Judge, both sides must approach the podium to present their arguments; otherwise, they are not permitted to talk. They must stand to make their objections. When they sit down, they must be quiet while the other party presents their argument. In the other picture with the loose or relaxed atmosphere, familiarity often congeals into a close knit fraternity between the Judge and the prosecutor that is very hard to put aside once a jury trial commences. After all, they spend most of the work week together.

You are never certain into which situation you will step for your trial. Whether the Judge is very strict or overly relaxed cannot be predicted by the defendant. However, an astute Defense lawyer should find out what the tendencies of that particular Judge are before the trial starts. Either way, you will want be respectful to the office of the Judge. If you ever get arrested again in the same jurisdiction you will most likely be assigned to that very same Judge.

Here are some suggestions for your behavior that will help you with the Judge as decision maker.

  • Be polite; stand up and be quiet when the Judge enters and exits the courtroom.
  • Don’t talk when the Judge is talking.
  • If you talk to your lawyer, whisper or, preferably, write him a note.
  • Keep in mind that after the trial should the verdict go against you, the Judge that you have been respectful to at trial will be the one determining your sentence.
  • Listen to the Judge and try to understand the rulings of the Court.

Who are the other people up front in the Courtroom?

The in-court clerk usually is seated in front or just to the side of the Judge, depending upon the layout of the courtroom. This employee works for the Clerk of the Court who is an independently elected official. The in-court clerk takes orders from the Judge but is governed by the procedures delineated by the Clerk’s office. This is not an antagonist to the Defense, so don’t be rude to the in-court clerk. Nothing is ever gained by fighting with this person. You will see during breaks when the jury and Judge leave the courtroom, that the in-court clerk is usually kind, friendly and polite to everyone else in the courtroom environment. Since the in-court clerk does all of the Court notices, makes the entries into the case file and literally “has the Judge’s ear” throughout the case process, you already have an important relationship with that person.

The court reporter takes down everything that is said while Court is in session. The reporter usually uses a machine to record a type of shorthand version of the spoken word exchanged between the various speakers. They are attentive and focused because if they miss anything they may not keep that job for long. The Record of the case is of utmost importance for later appeals, reference by the parties or postconviction Courts and even if the jury wants a read-back of testimony in this trial. The reporter generally doesn’t engage in any conversation with other persons in the courtroom even during breaks.

The bailiffs or in-court deputies are very important persons to the Defense. They have observed hundreds of jury trials and have a good feeling for how your particular trial is going. They are a good source of information and advice that is helpful to those who will listen and heed. For example, in a trial where the defendant had long, wild dreadlocks and the sole issue was an eye-witness identification, the bailiff tried to convince the defendant to shave his head for trial. The bailiff told him to try to look like Michael Jordan and be quiet and respectful during trial. The attorney, the defendant’s family, and all of the courtroom workers gave the same advice but to no avail. Ironically the eye-witness testified that he had not seen the armed robber’s hair because he might have had a cap on. However, the subconscious thinking of the jurors was, “If I didn’t see this man for 10 years and suddenly saw him, I would remember it was him because of that hair!” He was convicted and sentenced to life. Had he listened to everyone’s advice, the outcome might have been different.

In court, during your criminal trial, as in all facets of life, the best advice anyone can give you is to try to live up to some of the points of the Boy-Scout Law, “Be friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, and clean.” Put your best foot forward for trial. Respect the Judge, the court process and the court room workers who strive to live up to those standards every day. If you do try your hardest to exemplify these things, some degree of grace and mercy just might come your way when you need it most.

Our Criminal Courts – The Role of Defense Counsel

Imagine yourself as a young adult, pulled from friends and family and called upon to defend your country in a foreign land. One day, while on guard duty with your platoon, you’re suddenly surrounded by a group of hostile, threatening people–a jeering, taunting mob, probably armed, and stirred to anger by faceless voices in the darkness calling on them to fire. A shot rings out–your platoon returns fire–and the next day, you’re hauled into court and charged with murder. Your case is set for trial, and the only jury around is made up of the very same mob that was threatening you the night before.

The Critical Role of Defense Counsel

Defense lawyers are called upon by our system of justice for a variety of tasks. They explain to their clients what is happening, and make sure that each defendant knows his rights, and is fully aware of what is happening. As defense counsel, the lawyer is charged with protecting those rights, and ensuring that the client receives the protections afforded to every citizen by our laws. The lawyer will take over dealing with the prosecution, call and examine any witnesses in court, and do everything the law allows to keep his client from harm–or, at the least, to minimize the damage. This means challenging the prosecution’s case, its conduct, and on occasion, the very laws that govern the case.

We often take these protections for granted, or scoff at them as mere “technicalities” that do little but allow criminals to escape justice. It is easy, and often tempting, to dismiss defense lawyers (and, for that matter, all lawyers) as professional hacks, whose only function is to confuse juries and confound courts. And sometimes, when defending people who are clearly guilty, it may seem that defense lawyers are a needless extravagance, who only get in the way of protecting people from the worst elements of society. But just as crimes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, criminals are often indistinguishable from the ordinary citizen, a fact that some of us only come to realize when we find ourselves seated at the defendant’s table, with fingers pointing at us. It is then that we realize just how critical a vigorous and independent defense bar is to a free society–allowing ordinary citizens to challenge the actions of their own government. Viewed in this light, the bedrock of American liberty is our right to use the rules we have all agreed to live by to defend ourselves in a public setting, where the actions of the same government that seeks to condemn us must prove that we have broken the law.

Defense lawyers don’t exist just to make everyone else’s life difficult. And their job is a critical, if often misunderstood safeguard against tyranny. Just imagine what would happen if the government could decide whom to jail–without the messiness of subjecting their actions to the test of law. The freedom of all of us would be in the hands of government bureaucrats–people, like all others, who have their likes, dislikes, biases, and petty grievances.

A Safeguard of Liberty

In large measure, the law exists to protect us from bullies. But without the means of challenging the actions of our own government, there would be little protection for the common citizen against a bully who happened to wear a policeman’s badge, or a prosecutor’s suit, or who happened to enjoy the friendship of someone for whom justice means doing right by his friends. And if you should ever find yourself on the wrong end of action taken by the government, you will find that the ability to resort to the law to defend yourself will be critical. Among the first casualties of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia was the independence of the courts and the legal profession. Once those bulwarks against tyranny fell, there was nothing to protect common people against the unbridled assertion of governmental power–no matter how misguided, petty, or malevolent it might prove to be. But it is the rare government that will attack its own citizens directly: instead, the attacks come against marginal groups, ones that nobody would rise to defend, and who seem to everyone to be a threat to the security of the state. Unfortunately, those threats never seemed to end; and so the knocks on doors of enemies of the state continued, as the government kept finding new enemies to fight, and new threats to fear.

The example cited at the beginning is from one of the most famous confrontations in American History–told from the side of the defendant, rather than the victim. It was the Boston Massacre, which arose at a time of growing tensions between the Colonies and Great Britain. The encounter between soldiers and the angry mob led to shots–nobody knows for sure who fired the first one, although some testimony indicated that it was a terrified British soldier–and in a country without a strong defense bar, the young soldiers would likely have been swiftly taken out and hung, if not by the Law, then by the mob itself.

Thanks to a courageous Boston attorney, the defendants received a fair trial and most were acquitted on grounds of self-defense, the sentiments of the mob notwithstanding. A couple were convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter and released–the proper verdict when emotions and provocations don’t quite excuse a homicide, but make it less an outrage and more a fallible human reaction to extreme stress.

The defense lawyer was a prominent member of the state bar, who later served his country in a variety of ways–statesman, ambassador, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the second president of the new United States.

It was John Adams…patriot and rebel, for the defense.