09/11: Even If “Loss Is Loss”, A One Year Arts-Project Will Help Going Beyond

When entering the immense courtyard enclosed in the middle of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture on September 11 2011, one could think the place had been conceived to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the attacks. Covered by a wavering glass canopy, the visitor is immediately permeated with the 28 000–square–foot space’s calm. The luminous rectangle is strewn with six flower beds heightened into white veined marble vessels. Four shallow pools divide the length into one harmonious trajectory.

It’s in there that on Sunday the sculptor Kurt Steger and the musicians Micheal Pestel and Gray Jeffery were invited to lead a so-called water-cleansing ceremony. On one of those basin stood the roughly one foot high Burden Boat Project. A structure made out of wood shaped by Kurt Steger which he uses as a tool to help bereaved people going beyond their grief.

“In 2005, I used it after the shooting in Virginia Tech” said Mr. Steger, 51, living close to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the South West of Virginia. “One mother called me 2 months later to explain her son wouldn’t nightmare anymore as he used to before attending the ceremony”.

Last Sunday the cause was different but the goal alike: avoid nightmares. If the 2996 people killed by the high jacked planes on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Shakesville, Pa., in the early business hours of September 11th 2001 are now well known, the enigma related to such violence still remains both for the families of the victims and to a lesser extent for the rest of the population.

“Loss is loss” summarizes Helen Frederick, professor at the School of Art of the George Mason University, Va., and curator of the 09/11 Arts Project initiated by the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, a Washington-based nonprofit arts, health, and education organization. The performance led by Kurt Steger launched one year of healing, as the Project puts it, of events which will take place throughout the next 12 months in various locations in the district.

Katherine, 52, is one of the hundred attendants which filled the hull of the sculptured boat with notes – written burdens most would like to get rid of. “I put six of them in the boat, many were for myself and very personal and others for friends battling alcohol for example” said Katherine who survived cancer about 4 years ago. “I wish our country was less hysterical and more self-conscious. This sort of events is the few gifts given by tragedies”, she explained after tiptoeing around the structure for the several times and taking the hip of little folded pieces of papers into pictures. For Fergus Hughes, 12, and 2 years old when the crashes occurred, the feeling is obviously different: “It’s a good idea, we’re respecting the people who died during 09/11”, says in a very shy way the boy gathered with a few friends his age and his mother.

“Arts tap our emotions in our hearts and allows us to share the love” interpret Gray Jeffery, 44, Nevada City, who practice and teach sounds healing since he studied It with shamans in South America. He met Steger when he moved from California to Virginia, and now works with him and Micheal Pestel on the musical accompaniment of the cleansing ceremony.

                At 3:30 pm on Sunday, that’s exactly what he did: setting the tone before the artist started the original rite. Playing gongs, drums, condor feathers and chapka among other indigenous instruments, he set the tone before the artist started the original rite. “I remember when I first saw the images of the attacks, my fist question was ‘why?’. No one can do something so dramatic without some sort of reason”, said the stressed Steger to the audience as an introduction.

                A series of very slow-paced movements followed which everyone in the audience paid silently and carefully attention to. Steger first draw a circle of water around the boat with a watering can, then cut the 10 ropes hanging up on each side of the structure 20 small bundles — embodiments of painful remembrances. He eventually poured water on the written messages as a way to release the burdens. “My inspiration comes from nature, mountains, fallen trees, curves in branches, tree trunks” commented Steger about the process.

                “I look around, and I see different people, different religions, different sexes, different genders and cultures” said John, 53, to the rest of the audience gathered in circle around the crowd. “Even if we let go our burdens today, we know we can fill the void of the past by relying on the new friendships we knotted today through this common experience”.

“At a later time the softened messages will be pulped into a book for the present and future”, announces Frederick while pointing at a small basket where people could leave notes of hopes during the whole afternoon.

Shortly after the end of the ceremony, the sculpture was to be brought back to the Pepco Edison Art Gallery, a few blocks away from the National Portrait Gallery. There Steger’s work is also on display since August 23rd at an exhibition entitled “Ten Years After 09/11”, among 35 other international artists. The beginning of a “very deep process”, as Frederick puts it.


Benjamin Polle

The Fight for Funding

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With a wide smile, Megan Kuehner rests on the large black couch filling the living room, thankful that as a woman she has options to protect her reproductive rights, at least for the moment.  Kuehner, a junior at University of Maryland College Park, is honest about the reasons she relies on Planned Parenthood as her source of birth control medication. She fears decreased or nonexistent funding for the organization, because of some political opposition regarding the abortion services Planned Parenthood offers, may curtail her personal choices about reproduction.

“When I turned 18 I knew that I wanted to be on birth control, but I wanted to make the choice for myself,” says Kuehner, 20, nonchalantly tossing her long brunette hair to the left side. “It was a personal decision that I didn’t want my parents to be involved in. I did the research and made an educated, adult decision.”

Kuehner is grateful for the low cost services and products that Planned Parenthood provides so that she is able to afford her birth control pill, Microgestin, without depending on her parents insurance to cover the cost. However, the recent Federal budget debate regarding how to solve the accumulated 14 trillion dollar deficit and conflict for the government funding an organization that provides abortions has Kuehner worried that the help she recives from Planned Parenthood may have an expiration date.  Democrats, in support of federal funding for Planned Parenthood, have classified the resistance as a “war on women” making it difficult for women to get the protection they need from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Planned Parenthood began as a birth control clinic in 1916, facing challenges but also securing victories ever since. One of the first successes came in 1936 when, according to a PBS Timeline on “The Pill,” “The American Medical Association officially recognizes birth control as a part of a doctor’s medical practice.” The history of Planned Parenthood foreshadows the contests to come, but not without a fight. Planned Parenthood continues to increase its global presence with more than 800 clinics across the United States and services available in 12 other countries, providing affordable birth control to nearly two and a half million patients, yet only 291,000 abortions annually. Largely due to Planned Parenthood’s advocacy, women have gained the right to personal reproductive choices and Planned Parenthood has become a prominent educational resource for women and men regarding sexual health care.

Now, Planned Parenthood is worried that their progressive actions may hit a roadblock due to the proposal of eliminated funding by the recent House budget bill. Elise Foley with the Huffington Post reports on February 19, 2011, “The measure would prevent the organization from receiving any federal funding because it performs abortions – even though using government money for abortions is already illegal.” Americans, Kuehner included, worry that this funding cut will impose on their freedom to receive affordable birth control they have difficulty getting elsewhere.

Megan Kuehner, who frequents the Planned Parenthood in Frederick Country, Maryland pays only three dollars per month for her birth control – something she will have to pay upwards of $20.00 for if she has to rely on her parents insurance – not to mention giving up the freedom to make her own decision about her reproductive rights as an adult. Cutting funding for Planned Parenthood will not only impact abortions, but also will detrimentally impact pregnancy prevention methods that are currently easily obtainable for women of all incomes.

The money that Planned Parenthood receives from federal funding cannot be used towards abortions by law, thus eliminating funding for an organization that pioneers women’s rights is harmful to women who rely on Planned Parenthood for affordable sexual health services. The proposed budget cut for Planned Parenthood increases the possibility for a lack of continued pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection prevention for women. This is not just a fight against funding for Planned Parenthood; it is a war on women.

Ending funding for Planned Parenthood, an organization dedicated to helping women, is unacceptable. Women rely on the services provided by Planned Parenthood and are able to keep themselves safe in part because of the organization. The government cannot expect women to protect themselves if they do not have the necessary means available. The focus of this budget battle must shift from penny pinching in the wrong places to protecting the health of women in our country.

Kaela Gedda

Profile of Meghan Welsh

Meghan Welsh walked into the Starbucks around pentagon city. She had her blonde hair tied back, wearing a navy cap with a ‘B’ on it and shiny earrings. She was also wearing a gray T-shirt and a sky blue North Face jacket. She ordered a cup of tea instead of coffee, saying that most of journalists like drinking coffee, but she doesn’t. She started to talk about her special stories, sitting on a chair around a small circle table in Starbucks.

“Do anything. Always be willing to say that yes I can do that. Take every opportunity that you get. Always be eager and helpful and always be willing to do whatever,” says Welsh who works at PBS as a reporter and a producer. “Even if it’s small, go get me a coffee, I need photo copy. Whatever it is. Just always be willing to say yes, because then when a good opportunity comes they will be ready to ask you.”

Meghan Welsh has always loved to read and write. When she was a child, she was very interested in becoming an English teacher. However, she had her first journalism experience in high school and began to change her mind. The former Washington Semester Program student didn’t start out as a reporter at PBS, but after a short time she moved back to the field that she started in high school. Welsh, who is close with her family and her long-time boyfriend, is happy with the choices she has made so far.

Drinking a cup of hot tea, Meghan Welsh, 26, who has attractive brown eyes begins to talk. She originally intended on being an English teacher not journalist because she loves reading books and writing. “But when I was in high school, I wrote some articles for high school paper. When I was in college, I joined the college paper. I did it just for fun because I like to write. I was bitten by the journalism bug, and then I really just enjoyed it.”

She started working at PBS three days after she graduated from college. She did not start working there in journalism. She got a job there in public relations. “My first job was promoting the News Hour to other people and organizations,” says Welsh. “I did that about a year. I was a production assistant for about a year and a half. After that, I got a promotion to the report and producer position. It’s been about four and a half years. It’s gone by really fast. I can’t believe it’s been five years.”

When she gets in the office every morning, her boss usually gives her an assignment, whatever her story is going to be for that day. Her job is all throughout the day to follow that story. “As I’m following it on the wires, reading stories, making phone calls, going to press events, briefing that kind of thing,” says Welsh. “I put together script. I have production assistants who work with me. As I’m writing the script, they are gathering all the video pieces from a lot of different sources to put it all together.”

In the early afternoon, she has a correspondent who will voice the pieces. She goes in to visit her editor. She has an editor who puts together the voice with her script with video footage from the production assistant. “We usually go into the edit room at like 2p.m. and on the air by 6p.m.,” she says. “It’s about a four hours term for the piece, sometimes less. Things can change too. I’ve done pieces before where at 4 o’clock, President Obama will come out to say something that totally changes the whole piece. You really have to be flexible and ready to change things anytime. That’s basically what I do.”

Tiffany Mullon, 29, has worked for five years with Meghan Welsh. She is also a reporter and producer. “Meghan is a wonderful colleague. We have had a lot of great experiences working together at PBS,” says Mullon. “We had a lot of fun covering the last presidential race together, especially at the conventions. They were long days but we worked hard and got to experience some great things. Meghan is very dedicated to her work as a journalist, as we all are at PBS. She works under the highest standard of journalism ethics.”

Meghan Welsh was born in 1984 in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. She has been close with her parents. She admires her mother, Maria Welsh, “My mom worked in a bank. When she had me, she decided to stay home. She was always into having birthday parties for us. She is a great cook. She makes a really good soup like a vegetable soup. She taught me how to cook.”

Meghan Welsh slowly sipped her tea. Her dad, Terry, is also precious for her. “My dad works in an insurance company. He and I are very alike. My mom and I are very different. We look alike and talk alike.” She is the oldest. Her younger sister, Kattlin, 24, is studying to be a teacher. Her younger bother, Kevin, 18, is in a college now. They are still very close.

Maria Welsh, 54, says “It’s no surprise that she has a career in television,” said Maria. “She loved to watch videos from an early age and her favorite was Sesame Street. She would watch Sesame Street all day if we’d let her. She taught herself to read by watching the show. It’s kind of funny to think about her love for Sesame Street as a baby, because now she works for PBS. She loved books like no other child I had ever seen. As soon as we would ravel to visit her grandparents, she would crawl to her books and sit on his lap for hours with him reading to her. When I would need her to take a nap in the afternoon, I would put her in her crib with a stack of books and she’d sit and read them over and over again. Her teachers praised her writing skills, even when she was very young. So with her interests in television, reading, and writing, it seems fitting that she eventually pursued a career as a television producer.”

Her college, Providence College, was so small. They did not have journalism classes. So she chose Washington Semester Program when she was junior. “My major was English. I wanted to be a journalist. I probably needed to get some experience,” she says. “Providence Island was very small. There wasn’t a lot there. So I decided to choose the Washington Semester Program. I think Washington is very special place for that kind of things.”

She began to talk about her life in American University, looking back on the past. A light sparks in her eyes. “I remembered what we were doing now. We did some project about Vietnam War,” says Welsh. “We had a speaker. I don’t remember who was. We even went out to a restaurant in George Town to eat Vietnamese food. I appreciate that my professor, Iris was trying to get us out of the class room. You know, some journalism class, you just sit in the class room and professor talks and that’s it. But Iris’s class, that was more interactive.”

            Meghan Welsh has been with her boyfriend for nine years. They were friends for a couple of years, before dating. She started to talk about him and her future plans. “He is my biggest supporter. When I went to Washington for WSP, some guys would say ‘I don’t want you to go,’ but he was like ‘go, do it! Great opportunity!’,”she says. “So, I think probably marriage, hopefully some kids, maybe in a couple more years. Staying in journalism or maybe teaching eventually journalism or English professor. Maybe. I’m trying to figure it out.”

She just finished her tea. Then she said she is going to go home and wake up her boyfriend after this interview. “Right now my plan is in journalism. But industry in journalism is changing so fast. I think right now a lot of people don’t know where it’s gonna go, what it’s gonna be like in five or ten years,” says Welsh, smiling brightly. “But you know, I love my job and I love what I do. I can do and learn something different everyday.”

Ilwah Moon

Rebecca Cross; a Life Drawn in Color

Sitting at the back of a tiny, white room just big enough for her large, white desk that faces a single, white chair, Rebecca Cross stands out against her austere backdrop much like the pieces of brightly-colored art that adorn the walls. Her slender, black-clad frame is shrouded in a shawl patterned with geometric reds, blues, oranges and greens, and her quick-to-smile face is clean of make-up save for a dash of bright pink lipstick.

She takes off her half-frame tortoise shell glasses and puts them beside her on the desk where they pick up the reflection of a yellow ceramic sculpture in the corner: a heap of carefully shaped little canaries, piled like a bowl of lemons in their dark lacquered base.

“People should know that they need to buy art,” says Cross, 56, nodding slightly to affirm her statement. “It just an important part of people’s lives; the world would be a very dull place if there weren’t artists, musicians and painters and photographers, and they can’t do it without people buying their work. And I can’t show it unless people buy it. I just want to encourage people that it’s something that they can have in their life and they can’t take it for granted either.”

Her portfolio, which is lying open on the desk, is full of clippings and photos taken of the highlights of Cross’ 25-year career as an artist. Her ceramics are featured in the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, her series of technicolor pear paintings hang in the Convention Center, her costumes and set designs for dancers were staged at the Kennedy Center, and many of her other pieces brighten D.C.’s restaurants and private collections. Her work has been influenced by teachers, marriage and motherhood, but remains singular in its fantastical representation of Cross’ world. Now, as the owner and proprietor of the Cross Mackenzie Gallery, she embraces what she calls the “new challenge” of running the establishment with a passion and optimism that even the sinking economy can’t deflate.

Tamara Laird, an associate professor at the Corcoran College of Art and Design whose work has been shown at the Cross Mackenzie Gallery, says that she’s honored to include herself among the artists that Cross sponsors.

“She’s really honed down her vision of what kind of work she wants to carry in the last couple of years after trying a number of different things,” Laird says. “She does a lot of research and outreach to designers and architects and collectors, and she’s got a really nice group of artists that she’s been showing recently and I’m very excited and kind of pinching myself to be included in that group.”

The gallery, nestled in the brick courtyard of Canal Square in Georgetown, hosts nine exhibitions a year and specializes in ceramic art, although Cross greatly enjoys their two-dimensional shows as well.  From her white desk at the back of the gallery’s main room, Cross works tirelessly to keep the shows running on schedule – which means planning them at least two months in advance.

“Each month, when I put up a show, it takes several days to put the show up and set the price list and so on and hang the show, touch up the walls because you make holes,” Cross says, looking at her current exhibition as if envisioning the holes behind them.

After the whole process is over, Cross says that she only has a short window of time to tackle paperwork before taking down the old show and putting up a new one. With the additional obligations of advertising her shows, promoting her artists and vying for media coverage, Cross has put her own work on the backburner for the past five years, opting instead to focus on the work of others.

“It’s something that I thought that I would be able to manage, doing the gallery and doing my own work, and what I discovered is that doing the gallery at the level that I want to do it really takes a lot of attention,” Cross says. “And so my own work has been shelved for a bit, but I’ve just started to get back to it.”

Born Nov. 12, 1955, Cross grew up in the suburbs of Hollin Hills, an artistic, mid-century modern community in northern Virginia. It was here that she discovered her love and talent for

art. Other community members with lively artistic careers were role models for Cross as a young adult and her father, an architect, often took her to museums, further opening her eyes to the possibilities that a career in the arts held.

The second oldest of four children, Cross’ ambitions were supported throughout high school by her parents who encouraged her in every possible way.

“Carpooling means a lot when you’re little,” she says, reflecting on the numerous art classes her parents chauffeured her to in her youth. “That’s a very big sign of support is driving you places when you’re young.”

After high school, her passion for art didn’t wane, and she enrolled at Bennington College where she earned her first degree in painting and sculpture. During her time there, she met Max Mackenzie, an architectural photographer and her husband of 30 years. The two grew together in their budding careers, each one often helping the other in their home studios and supporting each other in the tough world of freelancing. After college, Cross furthered her education, learning the ropes of studio management in London from Sir Anthony Caro, a well known contemporary sculptor.

Cross’ work is characterized by her bold use of color and whimsical way of capturing every-day objects such as food or household items. She names some artists that she admires as being Matisse, Milton Avery and Diebenkorn, whose impressionistic, vibrant styles are also apparent in Cross’ art.

“I really think it’s so much about the color and the sense of joy really, you know?” Cross says, waving a hand in front of her face expressively. “I think that there’s an energy in my work that is effusive and I like that. I think it’s something to add to the world.”

Yet for all that other artists have influenced her, Cross says that motherhood has had the most significant impact on her life and work. Her two sons, Alexander, 27, and Cooper, 20, were even featured in one of her series of paintings. Another of her most recognizable pieces, titled Domestic Landscape, is a series of paintings arranged like tiles, each one depicting a fleeting, feminine aspect of motherhood such as buttons and rattles.

Cross’ smile gets even wider as she describes Alexander, who is now a film editor in L.A., and Cooper, who is studying to be a painter at Bard College, growing the family’s artistic reputation.

“What can we do? I was hoping for an investment banker but it didn’t take,” Cross says, laughing.

The passion Cross has for her work and her family does not seem to wane when her train of thought changes subjects. She speaks enthusiastically about politics, books she’s read, the importance of visiting Mount Vernon, and her dreams of traveling with the same level of gusto used when she speaks about art and the gallery.

Olvia Demetriou, a close friend of Cross throughout her career, is very familiar with Cross’ perpetual zeal.

“Becca is exheuberant, full of real joie de vivre,” Demetriou says. “She has an incredible passion for art, for life, for everything. She has a very colorful, very rounded personality. She’s very warm, very passionate and very interested in learning.”

Although she claims to have no “crashing ambition,” her goals for the future seem to inevitably coincide with her goals for the gallery. According to Demetriou, a career as a gallery owner might even suit her outgoing and personable character as much as a career as a full-time artist.

“I actually have a goal of having the gallery really sustain itself in a bigger way,” Cross says, “I have fantasies of more space, you know, I’d like to grow the gallery. I feel like it’s just in its beginning stages, like it’s a starter gallery and it’s just moving along.”

One day, the Cross Mackenzie Gallery might find itself in Florida, Santa Monica, or perhaps even Tuscany. Or maybe it will be just down the road at Dupont Circle where Cross can walk to work from her home, taking her beloved Jack Russell Terriers with her.

“It’s interesting because I think that it’s something that I could do for a long time, you know, I could have a gallery until I’m very old,” Cross says. “It’s fun to support young artists and to help people in their career; I like doing that.”

Samantha Hungerford

Go Outside Already

“Even though your room is nice and comfy and warm, you have to leave it. Every experience you have in D.C. might not be as comfortable as your bed, but everything here is worth seeing and doing once no matter how tired you are, how cold/hot it is outside, or how outside of your comfort zone it is.”

Samantha Hungerford

Framed: Large Capacity Magazines Misrepresented

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In the wake of the January 8th shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the United States stood still as the different aspects of the story unfolded. Although the shooter was identified as Jared Loughner, his motivations of committing the crime remain unclear. As the nation was overcome with shock and disbelief, several lawmakers monopolized on the opportunity to use the tragedy to their political advantage.

Many details remain unknown to this day. Without hesitation or knowing all parts of the story, Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) hastily prepared gun-related legislation and began the fight to have it passed and signed into law. While other organizations were waiting until everything was known about the case before issuing a response, H.R. 308, Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act, was introduced on January 18th, only ten days after the shooting.

“In the wake of these kind of incidents, the trick is to move quickly.,” said Kristen Rand, the legislative director of the Violence Policy Center, a group that works closely with McCarthy’s office. Not letting a crisis go waste, gun control advocates raced to introduce H.R. 308 a mere ten days after the shooting while the veil of emotion is pulled over the eyes of the American people.

H.R. 308 is designed to place a ban on any “large capacity” firearm magazine. “Large capacity”, as defined by the bill, is a magazine that “can accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition.” The bill does not work to completely eliminate large capacity magazines, only stop their production, importation, and transfers. If passed, any magazines that were purchased prior to the law being implemented would still be considered legally owned. It is impossible to prevent criminals from illegally acquiring firearms, let alone magazines that can’t be traced.

Today, the majority of handguns are equipped with a magazine that doesn’t meet the specifications required by H.R. 308; they can hold more than 10 rounds. These magazines are not the, so-called, dangerous aftermarket accessories that anti-gun politicians are making them out to be. If H.R. 308 is signed into law, it wouldn’t only affect aftermarket parts, but also the standard equipment that comes with many weapons on the market today that are designed for self-defense and target shooting.

It seems as if guns always find themselves in the middle of various political debates. There have been countless attempts to pass the buck for onto guns, which are ultimately a tool, for the shortcomings of society. In an attempt to lower crime, there have been thousands of laws passed affecting firearms and firearm ownership.

Keeping weapons out of the hands of criminals should be at the forefront of reducing firearm-related crimes. There is no doubt that there must be some laws governing firearms in the United States, such as the laws that require the use of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in all firearms sales. Even the National Rifle Association, who has been deaminized by McCarthy, supports passing more laws that prevents from criminals obtaining firearms.

Rep. McCarthy became involved in politics after her family became victims of a tragic mass shooting aboard a commuter train. The shooting left her husband dead and her son critically wounded. After the shooting, she launched a campaign pushing for more gun control and eventually ran for the United States Congress.

It is important to note that the racist mass-murderer, Colin Ferguson, that killed McCarthy’s husband, did not use a large capacity magazine. Ferguson walked onto the Long Island Rail Road train with his weapon and a large bag filled with 160 rounds of ammunition. The magazine belonging to Ferguson’s weapon, a Ruger P series handgun would not be banned under H.R. 308. Criminals would still be able to stock up on legal magazines and commit crimes. Banning large capacity magazines would not have prevented the Arizona shooting that motivated H.R. 308.

Rep. McCarthy believes that H.R. 308 “…is common sense gun legislation”. McCarthy, who does not have tangible training or experience with firearms, is not qualified to make such a determination; she is out of touch with the millions of law-abiding citizens that legally own a firearm. McCarthy was motivated to run for office because of the tragedy that completely changed her life. Such misfortune makes it impossible for her to render an objective decision on anything regarding gun violence. Her political career was fueled by the emotional baggage that she has on a single issue.

On the other side of the argument, there have been countless instances where a law-abiding citizen used a legally obtained weapon to save a life. The standard magazines that are included with many of the firearms purchased today are considered to be large capacity according to H.R. 308. In cases of self-defense, this standard equipment is designed to give the owner a fighting chance against multiple assailants.

Since the Supreme Court of the United States has already ruled that the second amendment, the right to bear arms, is an individual right, anti-gun politicians can no longer attack the firearms. Instead, they work to put as many speed bumps, such as H.R. 308, as possible for the firearms industry and law abiding gun owners. Instead of attacking the tool used in a crime, lawmakers should focus on attacking what really causes people to commit these crimes.

Javier Lopez