Category talk:American criminals

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WikiProject Crime (Rated Category-class)
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Allegedly non-existent problem[edit]

Please see here, and here, and here, here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here. No, this category doesn't need extra-special care. No more than nitroglycerine, anyway. David in DC (talk) 07:20, 16 April 2009 (UTC)

Any category can be mis-applied. Those articles wouldn't have been properly included in the category under any of the criteria that've been proposed, though if we're looking at reviewing the criteria we might want to check with legal sources as to whether a pardon really has the effect of wiping the crime off the record, which is the oissue with Samuel Loring Morison.   Will Beback  talk  17:41, 16 April 2009 (UTC)

Any category can be mis-applied, but the stakes are different (and higher) when categorizing people.

(A) Igneous or sedimentary? Critters that hibernate or critters that estivate? Animal, mineral or vegetable?

(B) Convicted or acquitted? Knave or fool? Crook or mensch? Tendentious or diligent?

Perhaps one can see why the categories hypothesized in (B) require more delicate, adult, nuanced editorial judgment than using a binary toggle-switch.

Of course, perhaps one can't.

Happily, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Here's what editors before us have beqeathed to us for guidance in this matter:

Wikipedia:Categorization of people#General considerations
Be aware that mis-categorizations are more sensitive for articles on people than for articles on other topics.

Example: Categorizing a politician involved in a scandal as a "criminal" would create much more controversy than categorizing a behaviour or act as "criminal".


  • Categories should not be automatically assigned: Categories are only assigned as the result of an individual assessment of the content of an article (lists are easier in this sense, because a doubtful assignation can be marked as such). See also Wikipedia:Bots for a general discussion of contra-indications regarding robotized operations.
  • Not all categories are comprehensive: For some "sensitive" categories, it is better to think of the category as a set of representative and unquestioned examples, while a list is a better venue for an attempt at completeness. Particularly for "sensitive" categories, lists can be used as a complement to categorization. See also Wikipedia:Categories, lists, and series boxes.
  • Double check: Always check after saving an article whether the categorization strikes you as offensive or indelicate. The Wikipedia system allows anybody to edit the article and remove a questionable categorization. In order to avoid that, follow your intuition in finding those categories you think most to the point and inoffensive. Create a new category that better serves what you want to communicate, rather than using an existing category that is (partly) inconsistent with the content of the article....

The notion that this can be dismissed by simply arguing that calling something controversial doesn't mean it's forbidden is sophistry. Of course it's not forbidden. But it should be approached cautiously, with the examples above serving as a guidepost. David in DC (talk) 00:07, 17 April 2009 (UTC)

Those issues concern the application of the category to individual articles. Other than putting a notice (which few will read) on the category page warning editors to use caution I don't see what we can do to ensure that the category is only applied properly. I doubt that a CfD would succeed.   Will Beback  talk  00:32, 17 April 2009 (UTC)
There's a lot we can do. We can write a better category. The current one sucks. (Harry Chapin had a schtick in concert where he used to explain that "sucks" was originally a technical musical term, used primarily to describe ... The Osmonds. Harry's comic timing was better than my elipses.)
As it is, the category is both over-inclusive and under-inclusive. It invites mischeif. Almost anything would be better. Aleta agrees with either formulation, at least at last sounding. JGIG, RD, and I all seem to agree that something new and different is needed. I find that encouraging. You're making a zillion very good edits marked "sharpen cat" that replace "American Criminal" with more specific, more narrowly-drawn, cats, focused on the criminal act instead of the actor. They help address the BLP (and even BDP) concerns that JGIG and I are trying to address with a better category. A well-drawn standard would sure be better than trying to guess which places a sole editor thinks American Criminal needs replacing. David in DC (talk) 01:04, 17 April 2009 (UTC)
I doubt that anyone who added the category to ineligible articles read the criteria. The criteria isn't the problem and changing it won't result in article editors being more careful when applying the category. The issue only comes up in a few hard cases where a decision has to be made of how to categorize an article. Itd be better to deal with those specific issues.   Will Beback  talk  18:53, 17 April 2009 (UTC)
That totally ignores at least half the preceding discussion. Clearly, you simply don't share the concern that labelling people rather than acts, and conflating different usages of a key term ("criminal") is problematic. Why? Rd232 talk 19:35, 17 April 2009 (UTC)
How will changing the criteria affect whether we're labelling the person or the crime? Making that change would require renaming probably a couple of hundred categories. I don't see a discussion of that here. I'm not opposed to it, but I also think that there is nothing wrong in principle with using a category like "Serial killers" rather than a more convoluted category like "People who have killed serially", or "Rapists" rather than "People convicted of rape".   Will Beback  talk  19:46, 17 April 2009 (UTC)
You don't see a discussion of mass-renaming here? I thought it was understood; maybe not. Maybe I'm wrong! As to your examples, there may be isolated category cases where renaming in the way proposed is too troublesome; but this is no reason to avoid addressing the general issue. Rd232 talk 21:25, 17 April 2009 (UTC)
I see a suggestion for renaming this category, but not for renaming all of the parallel and child categories. As I said, I have no general objection to doing that as long as the solution is comprehensive and covers all applicable categories, and so long as people like Lee Harvey Oswald and Henry Earl are accounted for.   Will Beback  talk  21:29, 17 April 2009 (UTC)

Contrast Will Beback's current (and wonderful) editing blitz --- depopulating the American Criminal category almost by half in the past few days, and replacing the cat with various iterations of "Americans convicted of ...", --- with his arguments here. They don't fit together easily. One might think he was convinced of the problem but unable to back off of the limb he occupies all alone in this discussion. Will: It's OK to be wrong occasionally. It's even ok, <shudder> not to get the last word.
The blitz is kind of a strange approach to collaboration, but so be it. The result is a good one. It makes fixing this category slightly less urgent. The cat still badly needs fixing, but between our pointing out obvious BLP (and BDP) problems, and Will curing them, one-at-a-time, we've stumbled onto a peculiar process that improves Wikipedia. Stranger things have happened. Anyone who wonders what I'm talking about, just read the last 53 examples of WB edits with an edit summary of (sharpen cat) or some similar phrase. David in DC (talk) 21:40, 17 April 2009 (UTC)

Please stick to discussing the category. Insults and complaints go on my user tak page. Thanks.   Will Beback  talk  23:51, 17 April 2009 (UTC)
If somehow in practice we seem to be in agreement, perhaps we could get on with that. Rd232 talk 01:59, 18 April 2009 (UTC)
We are surely not in consensus about how (or whether) to reword the category. We do seem to be in consensus only about striking the category and replacing it with a subcat that focuses on the act rather than the actor, page by page. That's why the list of articles in this cat has shrunk from three pages to two, and now to a single page.
So I'm following another editor's lead and doing that. This other, unnamed, editor is doing it to a much greater degree than I am. I invite others to do so as well. David in DC (talk) 14:47, 18 April 2009 (UTC)
The only articles left in Category:American criminals are those that don't have an good subcategory in which to place them. There are several reasons why some article are still here: we don't have subcategories for some crimes, like "conflict of interest" or "bomb threats"; some people were convicted of so many different crimes that it may be overload to list them all; and in some cases it's not clear what crime the person committed (those are all dead people, so there's no pressing BLP issue). But that hardly matters - every article in a subcategory is still within this category. While there may be a general agreement that a renaming would be helpful, we haven't been discussing how that would be done so it's still up in the air, as is the criteria for this category.   Will Beback  talk  18:38, 18 April 2009 (UTC)

Oh, wow, I stumble on a rerun of something that's actually one of the few things I commented on after mostly leaving Wikipedia. Anyway... Last time (2008) I brought up the issue of whether Rosa Parks and Leo Frank are criminals. Rosa Parks got left out by limiting it to felonies, but that still leaves Frank. Of course Frank is widely believed to be innocent, and his conviction a miscarriage of justice. So should he be left out? It's easy to say he should, but when I think of it I'm not convinced. The reason is that the category is trying to avoid making a value judgment by limiting it to convictions, which can be verified, as opposed to actual guilt or innocence, which often can't. But if the category is about convicted people, and we're trying to avoid claiming that it's about guilty people, then we should have convicted-but-not-guilty people in there. In fact, we should have as many as we can find, because the more we have, the less the reader will assume that the page is about guilt. Ken Arromdee (talk) 00:35, 20 April 2009 (UTC)

I concur that this category should be kept as objective as possible. Even those who were, in the opinion of history, wrongfully convicted should be included (unless their convictions were overturned, of course). There are two exceptions. First, inclusion of people known or assumed to be guilty, but never convicted. That includes folks like Lee Harvey Oswald, Kelvin Martin, or Frank James. The only folks in that circumstance are dead, so it's not a BLP issue but those are still judgment calls which get us away from the objective standard. The more controversial exception is for people whose sole notability comes from committing misdemeanors. The best example of that is Henry Earl. If someone is only notable as a (petty) criminal, then it seems (to me, at least) to be logical to include them in this category or a subcategory. Any thoughts on those two issues?   Will Beback  talk  01:31, 20 April 2009 (UTC)
Just consider that Rosa Parks' sole notability comes from committing a misdemeanor. Ken Arromdee (talk) 04:00, 20 April 2009 (UTC)
Henry Earl and Rosa Parks are very different cases. From reading the biography, it appears that Parks was fined a total of $14 for disorderly conduct. The article is unclear about the appeal. It says, Parks appealed her conviction and formally challenged the legality of racial segregation. OTOH, Browder v. Gayle says: Durr believed that an appeal of Mrs. Rosa Parks' case would just get tied up in the Alabama state courts. So I'm not sure if the conviction was ever actually appealled. In any case, it shows that it can be honorable to defy unjust laws.   Will Beback  talk  04:20, 20 April 2009 (UTC)
It is surely honorable for a person to defy unjust laws. And it is just as surely dishonorable to label such a person an "American Criminal". Wikipedia should not behave dishonorably.
Filling a Wikipedia category page with the name of every righteous civil disobedient in America's long, glorious history of civil disobedience (such as it is) would not whitewash the derogatory stigma from the word "criminal". The word is inherently derogatory. The hubris it would take to imagine that Wikipedia editors have the power to change that is breath-taking.
Any category definition of "American Criminal" that really does include Rosa Parks is fatally flawed. David in DC (talk) 18:17, 20 April 2009 (UTC)

Leo Frank was pardoned in 1986 and that fact is included his Wikipedia article. If the point is that there are people who have been convicted of a felony in the United States since 1900, and are now deceased, and their innocence in the act for which they were convicted is not a matter of controversy among historians, then one needs other examples for which hypothetical exceptions need to be described. patsw (talk) 01:37, 21 April 2009 (UTC)

It says that he was pardoned without clearing him of the crime. Does that count?
As for Rosa Parks, the issue is that this isn't a list of justly convicted people, it's only a list of convicted people. You've defined the category so as to include her (assuming you decide to allow misdemeanors). If you really want it to be a list of justly convicted people, define the category that way. Ken Arromdee (talk) 18:06, 21 April 2009 (UTC)
I expanded the relevant section of the Leo Frank article. It seems odd to me that the board used the term "pardon" here for a what amounts to merely a statement of regret. To get to the point of this topic, I am persuaded that there needs to be a "Leo Frank" exception -- where the conclusion that deceased person did not commit the crime for which they were convicted is a non-controversial consensus among historians. patsw (talk) 19:05, 21 April 2009 (UTC)
I think this is an important point. I don't think there is anyone who seriously thinks Frank committed the murder of which he was convicted and for which he was murdered. He most definitely does not belong in this category, and we should forumalate the criteria to exempt cases such as his. I feel strongly that Leo Frank does not belong in this category. LadyofShalott 19:22, 21 April 2009 (UTC)
Leo Frank was pardoned, though the board of pardons did not say he was pardoned for actual innocence. Neither he, nor Rosa Parks, would fit under the current category. JustGettingItRight (talk) 20:37, 21 April 2009 (UTC)

Are there any people who are only well known for civil disobedience, but this involved a felony?

Also, what about cases like Mumia Abu-Jamal? A substantial number of people believe him to be innocent, but of course very many people don't too. (talk) 20:41, 23 April 2009 (UTC)

I'm not aware of any, but then it's hard to tell sometimes whether a conviction is for a midsemeanor or a felony. I suspect that anyone who has been convicted of a felony is probably known for more than just that one act. For example, Daniel Berrigan. As for Mumia Abu-Jamal, I don't see any logical, objective standard we could use to exclude such a person. He was legally convicted of performing what we'd all agree is a crime, murder. I suppose we could create a subcategory along the lines of "People who claim to have been wrongfully convicted", but I'm not sure of the value of that.   Will Beback  talk  21:36, 23 April 2009 (UTC)
Is his conviction still under appeal? I'm inclined to believe no based upon the article. JustGettingItRight (talk) 01:16, 29 April 2009 (UTC)
Do you mean Mumia Abu-Jamal? The article says:
  • On April 6, 2009, the United States Supreme Court ruled that his original conviction of 28 years ago would stand.[5] A separate appeal by prosecutors to reinstate the death penalty has not yet been heard.[6] In 2008, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the murder conviction, but ordered a new capital sentencing hearing over concerns that the jury was improperly instructed.
It sounds like he lost the appeal on the conviction and the only matter in dispute is the sentence.   Will Beback  talk  01:31, 29 April 2009 (UTC)

I mentioned Jamal because it's a cause celebre among some groups that he's unjustly convicted. (Look at the "Support" section in our article about him. Heck, the first Google hit I get for him is the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition home page.) Yet obviously he should be included anyway. You want to define a category so as to exclude the unjustly convicted (like civil rights felons and Leo Frank), while still including people who are often claimed to be unjustly convicted (like Jamal). How do you do this? (The best I can think of is something like "or unless widely believed by historians to be unjustly convicted".) Ken Arromdee (talk) 18:42, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

One way of handling that situation is to leave convicted criminals in the appropriate criminal category, but add a second category along the lines of "disputed convictions". However it'd be hard to develop an objective criteria for what qualifies as a disputed conviction - almost every case in which the accused pleads not-guilty would qualify, plus many in which there was a guilty plea. Perhaps "people considered by historians to have been unjustly convicted"? I'm not so sure...   Will Beback  talk  19:04, 8 May 2009 (UTC)