Beautiful bullets: When guns turn into jewelry

This week, Syracuse’s Common Council voted to pass an agreement that would turn confiscated and surrendered guns and bullet casings into jewelry, where local non-profit organizations against gun violence receive about 20 to 25 percent of the proceeds.

The agreement between the Common Council, the Syracuse Police Department, and Liberty United—the organization who change spare gun parts into jewelry—will last for three years.

“The weapons conversion program seems to be a symbolic gesture to promote a cause,” said the Common Council’s former Chair of Public Safety Jake Barrett.

And yet, this gesture has failed to reach its full implementation capacity. According to Barrett, since there is no way of knowing how many guns or weapons people may have, it is difficult to measure how successful the police department’s abilities of confiscating these weapons are.

“Making jewelry for high end customers, or low, has promotional value, but no law enforcement value,” he said.

Although a Liberty United representative was unable to reach, according to the organization’s website, jewelry items range from slightly expensive—a cuff bracelet for $ 95—to even more expensive—a $3,895 white sapphire necklace.

According to Common Councilor Bob Dougherty, a portion—20 to 25 percent—of profits made from this jewelry go to anti-gun violence programs.

“The proceeds have gone to programs at the Southwest Community Center which is at ground zero of our gun violence problems,” Dougherty added.

However, this program reveals an issue with the police department’s role in it.

During Barrett’s experience as the former Chair of Public Safety, he said the police department is not always fully compliant with this conversion program.

Barrett even added that throughout multiple meetings concerning the seized gun program with Syracuse’s police department, there was a “lack of transparency and no sense that the converted funds were under any sort of oversight.”

“It was a kitty control by an unelected official, the Chief of the SPD,” Barrett added.

Syracuse’s police Chief, Frank Fowler, was unable to be reached for comment.

However, police Sgt. Richard Helterline said the police attempts to monitor all reports of gun and gang violence, adjusting their security measures according to the level of violence in a specific area.

“It could happen anywhere and it does happen everywhere,” Helterline said. “We’ve had incidents throughout the whole city at different points throughout the years, so it’s not one specific area, and that’s a part of what we’ve been doing, is tracking it before it becomes an issue in any area.”

Syracuse is no stranger to gun violence, which is why Liberty United’s attempt of tackling gun violence is one of many in the area.

Cure Violence, for example, is part of a state-run program, SNUG, that was first introduced to Syracuse about a year and a half ago, although it was just implemented last August, according to Cure Violence’s former project manager Raheem Mack.

“The reason that Syracuse was chosen as a site is because per capita, the shooting numbers and the homicide numbers is pretty high,” Mack said.

The program involves bringing in people who had been involved in gun violence in their past and have found a way to move forward and away from violence.

“We try to get that high-risk individual in that high-risk community before the actual shooting happens,” Mack said. “Talking to them, giving them a new avenue or mechanism to deal with their conflict, giving them an opportunity to change their mindset in dealing with how they deal with conflict in our community.”

Although Helterline said most of the calls the police receive don’t necessarily relate to gunshots or gun violence, he also said these cases of gun violence in general are “pretty serious.”

However, despite the police department’s efforts in decreasing gun and gang related violence, Councilor Barrett brings up the role police officers play in areas where they may not necessarily be trusted.

“Gun violence most usually has some sort of witnesses to it,” said Barrett. “That no one comes forward to give testimony is indicative of the lack of confidence our affected neighborhoods have in law enforcement.”




Common Council votes to update Syracuse Police Department’s bomb robot

Although this past weekend’s terrorist attacks on Paris and Beirut led to major cities around the world on high alert, the small city of Syracuse has also been wary of possible attacks.

Last Monday, Syracuse’s Common Council voted unanimously to purchase a Power Hawk Non Energetic Remote Access Tool, or NERAT, to use as part of the Syracuse Police Department’s bomb robot. Common Councilor-At-Large and chairperson of the Council’s public safety division, Pamela Hunter, said the main component of this is an updated version of the police department’s current bomb robot.

“What would make this robot different is that it has the ‘jaws of life’ on it,” she said. “And so this would be able to pry open some sort of container or something that the current one they have right now doesn’t have what they call the ‘jaws of life’ on it.”

The updated bomb robot costs no more than $34,495, and is also able to pick items up and move them.

However, Majority Whip Councilor Jake Barrett noted that the money the police department applies for is usually in response to money that is already available. Although the Council would usually need to match a payment purchase, since this money was already set aside for security related issues, it’s essentially free.

“The Department of Homeland Security has made some money available to certain municipalities to have equipment on hand in the event of a terrorist activity such as a bomb threat,” Barrett said. “So you apply for it and you get it. It’s just another tool in the toolbox.”

Aside from the robot, the police department usually takes other precautionary measures in the case of a bomb threat, such as bomb sniffing dogs and a bomb squad, according to police department spokesman Sgt. Richard Helterline.

Although Helterline could not share the exact details of the police’s usual response to a bomb threat, he said it usually would include sending in police dogs to respond to the threat and check if it’s legitimate, followed by police officers that are called to the scene. This would be different with the updated bomb robot.

“Say a dog went through and sensed a bag that no one was familiar with, we would pull everybody out and we would use the robot so that it wouldn’t endanger any officers or people’s lives,” Helterline said.

Barrett, who was part of the unanimous vote for this new purchase, noted the shortcomings of the robot’s technology in today’s day and age.

“Today’s terrorism, they don’t care. They have a vest strapped on to their waist, and there’s no amount of sniffing, etc., that is going to stop this guy from pulling a zip cord,” Barrett said. “So this equipment our police department is applying for—we’re fighting a war of 30 years ago; war has changed.”

Instead, Barrett suggests “intelligence on the ground.”

Helterline, however, said other forms of security to stop a bomb from happening depend on the actual location since each building’s security standards are different and usually decided by the building’s owner. Which is why the police department also relies heavily on people’s tips.

“If you see something strange, report it,” he said. “We’d rather be safe than sorry. So if anything seems out of place or somebody’s acting strange, we would hope that people would call in before we have an issue.”

Syracuse has not had an actual bomb explosion in its recent history, although there have been threats made in the city of Syracuse and at Syracuse University.

In September, police responded to a false bomb threat on the downtown city courts, forcing the evacuation of everyone in the buildings. While in 2013, SU received a bomb threat through an anonymous social application, Yik Yak, regarding a possible bomb threat in a residence hall, according to Hannah Warren, the Department of Public Safety’s public information officer.

Although the bomb threats have been rare, Hunter, Barrett, Helterline, and Common Councilor Bob Dougherty, all agree this tool is still an important safety measure.

“They’ve identified something that they feel is useful for them to keep them safe, and it’s a tool in their toolbox,” Hunter said. “So they live it, they work it everyday, they know what they need as far as tools. They have identified this as being something useful they need, obviously that’s where we’re going to make that happen.”

Syracuse Councilors to provide free yoga classes to city employees

Syracuse’s Common Council unanimously voted to provide City employees with free yoga classes from September 10 to November 5, in an attempt to promote healthy and fit lifestyles.

The program will be taught by Sophie Tashkovski and will last for nine weeks. This is her second time teaching yoga class with city employees, which was an eight-week program that took place last May.

“Mayor Miner and members of her staff had a New Year’s resolution to practice yoga together, and they regularly participated in my Sunday night Yang Yin Class,” Tashkovski said. “When they saw the benefits of regular yoga practice we began talking about how great it would be if more city employees had access to regular yoga classes.”

The class will be offered once a week and is part of a Wellness Program event. The city’s assistant director of Personnel and Labor Relations, Donna Briscoe, said she received encouragement to bring yoga to city employees.

“There was a lot of positive feedback and increased interest from employees. Our hope is that our employees will reap the benefits of yoga—relaxation, increased endurance, stress relief—and engage in other activities as a result,” Briscoe said.

Councilor Nader Maroun said the City Council’s health insurance carrier, ProAct, has funded this program with $1,000.

“This particular yoga offering is only part of a variety of efforts that have been offered in terms of exercise programs and access to diet information,” Maroun said. “So we’re trying to do our part.”

Although the City Hall has not specifically initiated yoga classes outside its own employees, Maroun said he hopes others in Syracuse are encouraged to initiate a similar program.

“The short-term and long-term benefits of it (yoga) are good and so the idea of being a catalyst for others to offer these types of programs is certainly something to be considered,” he said.

This could not only be beneficial to the Syracuse community, but specifically to students in schools, especially since nearly half of students in Onondaga public schools are either overweight or obese, according to a 19 Apr. 2015 article.

However, Maroun says some initiatives have already been made in the Syracuse school systems. “The city itself through the school district in one way is trying to offer a balanced and healthier diet in our school system,” Maroun said.

Tashkovski said yoga is suited for all levels and is specifically helpful for people working at an office all day.

“Yoga is for everybody and every body,” she said. “Many employees are sitting at desks all day, and yoga helps improve posture as well as calms the nervous system after stressful days at work.”

In addition to these yoga classes, Briscoe, the assistant director, said they have promoted other ways of healthy living by introducing employee sporting events like kickball and basketball, having workshops on disease and stress management, and interacting with the Syracuse community through the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge, where approximately 278 companies compete against each other.

“Our goal is to help our employees find some form of activity that will enhance their and their loved ones’ lives. Everyone can benefit from healthy lifestyle changes and our goal is to make a difference,” Briscoe said.

But even with the focus on wellness, some say the City Hall program ignores the broader meaning of yoga. Yoga is not solely a physical activity or simply made for people to relax, according to director and instructor of Morningside Yoga Michael Smith. Smith has been a practicing yogi for more than 40 years.

“Yoga is originally the science of mind, really, the whole exercise component evolved much later,” he said. “Now it’s okay to go to yoga and be relaxed—don’t get me wrong—but it’s only a kind of starting place for yoga as far as where you go.” Instead, Smith added yoga is an activity that takes a lifetime to practice.

The idea of a nine-week yoga program is not something Smith appreciates, since he said it only begins to scratch the surface of yoga practice. Smith also expressed some criticism towards the Common Council’s initiative.

“The fact is, they don’t really respect yoga. They think of it as a second-rate fluff on the side and not a serious activity. So I’m not surprised that they’re going to do a 2-month program,” he said.

However, Tashkovski, the program’s instructor, still remains hopeful concerning the benefits of these classes and its impact on the city employees.

“I love leading the City employees through a yoga practice each week,” Tashkovski said. “It is very satisfying to see them grow in their practice and many have told me that they are sleeping better and feeling better with every yoga class they take.”


Ben Carter ’10 couldn’t find anyone talking about money and having fun, so he created his own show, blog and brand

Originally published on Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications website

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Newhouse grad filmed 14 episodes of personal finance show this year

Ben Carter has been fascinated by money, investing and personal finance since he was a little kid. Carter, who studied advertising at the Newhouse School and graduated in 2010, has found a way to pursue his passion and hopefully help others in the process. After moving to Washington, D.C. after graduation, Carter spent several years developing “Manage Your Damn Money,” a video series and blog devoted to just what it sounds like: finances. With 14 episodes under his belt, Carter answered a few questions about what it’s been like to create a brand from scratch.

How did the idea for “Manage Your Damn Money” begin? Did you see yourself doing this as a student at SU?

It was never something that I thought would lead into my professional life. (A year or so after) graduating from the advertising program at Syracuse University, I realized there was no space where money or personal finances are dealt with in a cool and funny way. Money is usually dealt with in a more serious way, and when someone is giving advice it’s usually boring. So there’s this complete space that’s open in terms of the market and in terms of building a brand—that was something I was comfortable doing.

So I started developing the brand and it took close to three years to actually launch the project. We finally launched on April 15, 2014. I think our last episode was posted a month ago, and we have 14 episodes.

How do you manage your money? Would you say you’re good at it?

I’ve been holding onto money and saving money since I was a kid. I remember I got $200 for some work I did for my uncle in Virginia and then I went back home and took those four $50 bills and I put them in my jar. I used three of them, but I was just going to hold on to one of them forever, and I never used it. I would probably still have that $50 bill but my dad used it on gas.

Afterwards, I got into investing a little bit and I just started learning more and more about how people go about using the money they have to make more. And that’s really kind of where I started. I do a good job at saving and trying to be aggressive about investing.

You ask most of your guests this question so it will sound familiar: What was your “Damn, I’m broke as hell moment?

When I graduated I moved to D.C. and I was living on my buddy’s couch for way too long—eight or nine months. I had around $2,000 to my name that I could spend, and was working at Banana Republic. I could spend the majority of it to put a deposit down on this one apartment. I didn’t have any furniture, I was sleeping on this mattress pad thing. So that was my “damn I’m broke as hell moment.” And then soon after that I got a job at this retail place where I could at least pay my bills. Eventually I found a position in my area of study at a communications agency.

What have you learned since starting the MYDM series?

I think we did a good job of executing the vision, but we haven’t gotten the traction in terms of hits or views on the videos. The main thing is that when you do this online content thing, you’ve got to definitely be in it for the long haul. I was under the impression that the name was so unique and the concept was so unique, that that would drive a lot of attention. What I found is there are different things that drive the competition online, and it’s much more of a long game.

What are your hopes for the future of the series?

I hope one day it’s a well-known entity. The ultimate goal is to create a brand that makes money cool and so that when people from our generation see it, they understand that this is something that they can identify with and to go to the show’s events. Hopefully then everyone will find their own way to be better at managing their money.

What advice can you offer Newhouse students?

Don’t give up and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Just stay persistent, because it can be tough and it can feel like it’s never going to come, but if you’re persistent and you take small steps, eventually it will.

Check out the Manage Your Damn Money website here. 

Delta Lambda Phi fraternity for gay, bisexual and progressive men recolonizes at SU

Pledges and brothers of the Syracuse University colony gather at a pledge ritual and colony charterization event. Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Goldsmith
Pledges and brothers of the Syracuse University colony gather at a pledge ritual and colony charterization event.
Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Goldsmith
Originally published on The Newshouse.

When Ivan Rosales-Robles went through the rush process during his first year at Syracuse University, he didn’t feel like the fraternities were for him.  But when Robles heard about Delta Lambda Phi, a social fraternity for gay, bisexual and progressive men, he said he found a great outlet on campus.

“It’s a nice group of people I can go and hang out with, spend time with, and feel comfortable with,” said Robles, the current president of the fraternity.  “And I think that’s a great outlet to have.”

The fraternity originally came to the SU in 2004 and disbanded in 2010.  Last semester, Aaron Goldsmith, a television, radio and film senior and pledge master of the fraternity, worked with other members of the community and the fraternity’s national chapter to bring back the fraternity as an active organization on campus.

As of Oct. 4, the fraternity is officially recolonized at SU with plans to become the Beta Iota chapter. Colonization is the prerequisite to becoming an official fraternity chapter. The SU colony currently has seven members.

“It’s something that this campus needed, and since they once had it, they could bring it back,” Goldsmith said.  “I think it’s something that would benefit this campus, this community, and help make Greek life more progressive and inclusive.”

Although the fraternity usually attracts members from the gay or bisexual communities, Adam Magill-Goodskey, treasurer of the SU colony, said they aim to recruit “forward-thinkers.”

“I don’t have to be gay to be in this community. I don’t have to be bisexual. I can just be a man. I can be straight,” he said. “It’s really open for any man who wants to join it.”

Goodskey said he became interested in the organization when a friend approached him about joining.

“It just snowballed into this great thing,” he said.

One of the main concerns members of the SU colony involves history repeating itself.  Goodskey attributed the fraternity’s past failure to a lack of the necessary commitment, time and motivation to keep it going, with past members more focused on having fun than maintaining the organization.

This makes picking and recruiting qualified members for SU colony extremely important, Goodskey said.

“We want to see it grow in the future and be a stable house on campus.  We want this to be picked up from where it left off,” he said. “I think it can definitely be done and I hope to see that.”

Alexandre Chapeaux, a Delta Lamda Phi brother who was part of the original colonization in 2004, said the major issue and reason for the fraternity’s disbandment was recruitment.

“We had great members, but we didn’t have great leaders,” Chapeaux said.

Goldsmith, who was involved in bringing back the fraternity to SU last year, expressed and addressed these concerns.  “(We’re) really focusing on people who are strong leaders and who will lead the organization, because if they’re not leaders then it’ll fall apart again,” Goldsmith said.  “We’re looking for quality brothers. We obviously also look for fun people, but we’re not just about that.”

In terms of the fraternity’s reintegration to the campus community, Goldsmith said he has gotten a lot of support.  Because of this, he said being a gay fraternity has not necessarily hindered the organization’s assimilation on campus.

Although a few members have expressed thoughts about what they perceive as a closed-minded SU community, Goldsmith prefers to focus on the positive instances that have occurred so far.

“I feel like we also have to be open-minded to the fact that (the community) may be more open-minded than we think, and to focus more on the support rather than the hatred,” Goldsmith said.

SU ranked in the top 50 friendliest LGBT campuses in a Campus Pride’s annual list.

Jermaine Williams, however, said he’s had a different experience. The secretary of the SU colony said he’s seen multiple aggressions, whether being yelled at by a passing car or having “sly comments” directed toward him.

One of Williams’ concerns is rejection from the SU community, he said, since some individuals may think that the fraternity can’t really be a brotherhood with the potential for sexual interests between brothers. “But to be honest, we’re still guys and we still can have a good time with each other without it having to be something that’s about sexuality,” Williams added.

Williams, who said he felt separated from the campus community before joining Delta Lamda Phi, encourages people to join the colony because it’s a group in which everyone can truly be themselves.

“I hate it when people have to hide themselves because of what they feel is socially correct,” Williams said.

Rob Lydick, Chief Communications Officer of the national social fraternity, was part of the Delta Lamda Phi chapter at Pennsylvania State University.  Similarly to the chapter at SU, Lydick’s fraternity also disbanded and was reestablished at some point, and he said this has happened across multiple university campuses.

However, anytime a university becomes interested in bringing back the fraternity, Lydick said he is “thrilled” to see that interest rise up again.

As for the SU colony, Lydick said the members must focus on the future.

“This is something that is not just college, it’s not just until you become a chapter, it’s something that you should be actively part of for the rest of your life,” he said. “There will be brothers that you meet up with when you’re 60, when you’re 70. There’s something to gain out of being in this organization for your lifetime.”

Newhouse School gives Tully Award to Guardian editor for Snowden coverage

This was originally posted on the S.I Newhouse School of Public Communications website. 

Photographed by Gao Hong
Photographed by Gao Hong

On Wednesday evening at the Newhouse School, editor-in-chief of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, was awarded the 2014 Tully Award for Free Speech for breaking one of last year’s biggest news stories.

Rusbridger is responsible for publishing reports from whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who leaked thousands of classified documents, which included details of American surveillance operations.

More than 100 people attended the event on Wednesday in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium at Newhouse. At the event, Rusbridger discussed issues concerning censorship and freedom of speech, touching on the differences between British and American culture.

“The words that are inscribed on this building mean something here, and it’s internalized in American life,” says Rusbridger, referring to the first amendment, which is on many of the walls of Newhouse 3.

Unfortunately, the American first amendment stands in stark contrast to the legal actions Rusbridger has endured from the British state, he says. The government there ordered for the destruction of the computers and hard drives that contained the leaked Snowden data.

In a sort of rebellion, Rusbridger says, he and his colleagues destroyed the computers themselves. And they filmed it, all while British intelligence agents watched, Rusbridger says.

“It was all very British,” Rusbridger jokes. “It’s an art–smashing up a computer.”  (Watch video of Rusbridger and colleagues destroying computers.)

Rusbridger spent much of his time Wednesday night discussing government censorship.

“I think anybody can understand that the extraordinary intrusive powers that the state has, has a great potential for evil,” Rusbridger says. “Does anybody disagree with that?”

The audience remained silent, with a few nods spreading from one person to the other.

Rusbridger also noted how different journalism is today compared to when he started.

“When I grew up as a journalist, you wrote your story, you handed it over… and that was the end of the story,” he says. Nowadays “it doesn’t require much imagination to see that the life of the story begins at the point when you publish it.”

Rusbridger says he is still dealing with the repercussions of publishing the Snoweden information. And Rusbridger may still face criminal prosecution, he says.

“You’re not necessarily out of the woods with legal problems,” says Roy Gutterman, director of the Tully Center for Free Speech.  “… Would you still do it?  Would you still run these stories?”

“Certainly, yes,” Rusbridger says, noting that the story’s significance and public interest outweighed the risk.

Rusbridger offered valuable advice to Newhouse students.

“I hope that you’re studying journalism because you understand the importance of journalism, why it matters, why society has to have a source of verified information in order to function,” he says. “I think of journalism as being like a water utility or a police service… It just seems to be one of the essential things that our society needs in order to function.”

Latina editor uses her magazine to reach women about more than just beauty

Damarys Ocaña Perez guest of Magazine Speaker Series

The pages of Latina magazine offer content for women who reflect a true mix of nationalities and cultures.

“In every single section we’re trying to reflect that diversity” says Damarys Ocaña Perez, director of editorial content at Latina Media Ventures. “It starts with our staff being our audience.”

Ocaña Perez spoke to an intimate crowd of 30 at the Newhouse School on March 26 as part of the Magazine Department Speaker Series.

Ocaña Perez was born in Havana, Cuba and grew up in Miami. She recalled leaving Cuba by boat. As her family fled the Communist country, her father threw his money in the water to prevent the government from taking it, she says.

This “planted the seed in me to resist authority and speak out against things that weren’t right,” she says.

Ocaña Perez launched her journalism career writing local stories for the Miami Herald.

“Literally, someone’s dog died, and I was writing about it,” she says.

She later covered crime and wrote feature stories. The Miami Herald laid her off and she began freelancing for Latina magazine in 2004. She eventually moved up to an associate editor position, then entertainment editor and writer-at-large. She was laid off again in 2008, however, and again worked as a freelance journalist, which she says she found empowering.

“(It) is pretty rewarding because you get to develop ideas on your own,” Ocaña Perez says.

She began working for Latina magazine again in 2012.

The largest challenge Ocaña Perez says she has faced during her career is being underestimated as a Latina woman.

“People just automatically think that you know less, that you’ve experienced less, and that you do less,” she says.

Ocaña Perez battles these preconceived notions by encouraging communication and establishing meaningful relationships with colleagues at work.

With her experience in both newspaper and magazine, one thing Ocaña Perez learned throughout her career is to always keep high standards of writing, regardless of the topic.

“I try to go into everything that I write or edit with the same sort of connection, intensity, and vision of having it be a quality piece, and not underestimate what it can be and the impact it can have on people,” she says.

This is evident in her daily schedule as she spends most of her time combing over every detail of the magazine.

“I take a final look. I look at every single word, every single image,” she says.  “Everything in the magazine is approved and looked over by me. So it’s very important to me to be able to make sure that everything is in order.”

When Latina was first published, it was the first of its kind. Today, Latina faces competition from magazines such as Cosmopolitan for Latinas and Glam Belleza Latina.

However, Ocaña Perez says Latina magazine offers a broader range of topics—not just fashion and beauty—including social and political stories, which she says are important to the editorial mix.

The magazine speaker series aims to bring diverse guests, says Jim Shahin, associate professor of magazine, newspaper and online journalism.

“We wanted to bring Damarys because Latina magazine represents one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in America and we thought it was a very important voice to be heard,” Shahin says.

He noted how Ocaña Perez’s talk was an inspirational one as she described how her family left Cuba to pursue a better life and now she’s a top editor at a large magazine.

Ocaña Perez says too many journalists are worried about deadlines rather than quality, and because of that, content suffers.

“I think that you coming out of school with training from a place like Newhouse can really change that,” she says.  “I’m depending on you guys to do that.”

Check out the original article on the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications website, written as a part of the Newhouse Student News Team. 

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