Institutional racism in policing

Terrific post in Vox from a former Black police officer about the nature of institutional racism in policing.  Was about to put it in quick hits, but this should not be ignored.  Some really good bits (though, it’s not really all that long, read it all):

On any given day, in any police department in the nation, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. Fifteen percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they are working with…

That remaining 70 percent of officers are highly susceptible to the culture in a given department. In the absence of any real effort to challenge department cultures, they become part of the problem. If their command ranks are racist or allow institutional racism to persist, or if a number of officers in their department are racist, they may end up doing terrible things…

Nevertheless, many Americans believe that police officers are generally good, noble heroes. A Gallup poll from last year asked Americans to rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in various fields: police officers ranked in the top five, just above members of the clergy. The profession — the endeavor — is noble. But this myth about the general goodness of cops obscures the truth of what needs to be done to fix the system. It makes it look like all we need to do is hire good people, rather than fix the entire system. Institutional racism runs throughout our criminal justice system. Its presence in police culture, though often flatly denied by the many police apologists that appear in the media now, has been central to the breakdown in police-community relationships for decades in spite of good people doing police work…  [emphases mine]

When you take a job as a police officer, you do so voluntarily. You understand the risks associated with the work. But because you signed on to do a dangerous job does not mean you are then allowed to violate the human rights, civil rights, and civil liberties of the people you serve. It’s the opposite. You should protect those rights, and when you don’t you should be held accountable. That simple statement will be received by police apologists as “anti-cop.”  It is not.

Getting police body cameras right

You don’t have to think for very long to recognize that police body cameras are not a panacea for our criminal justice system (though I strongly suspect benefits outweigh costs), but this is a really useful, thoughtful article examining the difficulties and unconsidered costs involved in implementing such a system:

The temptation of technology as an accountability tool is not new, but accountability is not done by technology. Accountability is achieved by people and systems using tools like technology as part of their bureaucratic processes.There is effectively a global consensus that body cameras are a good thing to have because everyone has a different idea of what they’re agreeing to, a different model of appropriate bureaucracy. The bureaucratic and political battles over policies of use, access, and retention are not yet resolved, and they are significant. Who gets to see the footage, and in what circumstances, will matter. The features and capabilities of the technology matter. What happens when the camera reveals more about what was in the officer’s scope than what they could physically see at the time, especially at night? Or when cameras get additional features, like heat sensors? Even on basic practical questions, such as whether and when officers or the public should see the footage, there is no consensus.

Everyone is imagining what should be done when a citizen is shot dead by a member of the police, but few are focused on how footage might impact accountability or shift power dynamics in more routine encounters. [emphasis mine] For example, prosecutors might rely on the existence of footage, and a suspect’s ignorance of exactly what is captured, to obtain plea bargains more efficiently. Already,countless people agree to a plea bargain for crimes they didn’t commit because they don’t feel confident that they can prove their innocence, regardless of how much our system is supposedly about proving guilt. What happens when they are threatened with video footage or facing video footage that may be cropped, presented out of context, or otherwise manipulated to make them look more culpable than they really are? Who is empowered or disempowered by body cameras and their footage depends very much on the bureaucratic goals of the people making decisions about their use.

And plenty more.  Though I would not say I’m convinced we shouldn’t use them, I do think a go-slow approach definitely makes sense so we can work out how to best implement such systems.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This was a terrific Fresh Air interview on how the government was instrumental in creating Black ghettos.  Our racial residential patterns are no historical accident or Black people choosing to live in their own places, but the result of intentional government policies designed to keep Blacks out of white neighborhoods.

2) Loved this interactive feature to find the equivalent in popularity for you name from various decades (e.g., in 1900’s I would have been “Joe.”)

3) Jason Furman on the importance and success of government programs that invest in families.

4) We need to let our young kids learn through play!

TWENTY years ago, kids in preschool, kindergarten and even first and second grade spent much of their time playing: building with blocks, drawing or creating imaginary worlds, in their own heads or with classmates. But increasingly, these activities are being abandoned for the teacher-led, didactic instruction typically used in higher grades. In many schools, formal education now starts at age 4 or 5. Without this early start, the thinking goes, kids risk falling behind in crucial subjects such as reading and math, and may never catch up.

The idea seems obvious: Starting sooner means learning more; the early bird catches the worm.

But a growing group of scientists, education researchers and educators say there is little evidence that this approach improves long-term achievement; in fact, it may have the opposite effect, potentially slowing emotional and cognitive development, causing unnecessary stress and perhaps even souring kids’ desire to learn…

Over the past 20 years, scientists have come to understand much more about how children learn. Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, has spent his career studying how the human brain develops from birth through adolescence; he says most kids younger than 7 or 8 are better suited for active exploration than didactic explanation. “The trouble with over-structuring is that it discourages exploration,” he says.

5) Fascinating Slate piece on the origins of race-based slavery (had never really thought about the fact that slavery existed long before, but was not necessarily based on race).

6) How some men (but not women) fake an 80 hour work-week.

7) Speaking of which, one of the reasons I so loved Mad Men was because it was such a great exploration of the role of gender in the workplace.

8) Let’s keep the gender theme rolling… a couple good links from a commenter about rape, nudity, etc., on Game of Thrones.

9) USA Today editorial on the wrongness of Chipotle’s anti-GMO policy.

10) Surprise, surprise, the Patriot Act is not actually helping the FBI catch terrorists.

11) When it comes to social issues, liberals have caught up with conservatives.

12) Not only do we need better train infrastructure, we need the War on Drugs to not blatantly and horribly violate people’s rights while they are riding trains.  Seriously, the War on Drugs just has so much more harm than good that I think only those truly ignorant of what is going on can support it.  Or fascists.

13) Yes, there was huge fraud in political science, but because of how the scientific method works, it was actually caught out pretty quickly.  And a handy chart on how to spot bad science.

14) Okay, so this Slate piece freaked me out about ticks pretty good.  Actually think I am going to spray my kids’ shoes and socks as a result.

Quick hits (part I)

This was supposed to be quick hits part II last Sunday, so this is just an indication of how behind I am.  I promise better blogging for you when I’m done my Maymester class.

1) In the interests of “promoting jobs” and ending those pesky regulations, NC is trying to do away with streamside buffers against water pollution.  I’m sure that nothing bad can come of that.

2) If you were not aware of how evil and antithetical to democracy (including here in NC) ALEC is, this news report (from a local Atlanta TV station of all places!) pretty well captures it.

3) Yes, Republicans are a lot of old white people, but that doesn’t mean the party will die off.  Here’s how Jamelle Bouie expects them to adapt.

4) Apparently being stabbed by a giant sword leads to a much slower death than is portrayed on Game of Thrones.

5) Honestly, I can never post enough on how evil civil asset forfeiture is.

6) Yglesias on Gallup poll showing Americans want to redistribute wealth by taxing the rich.

7) John Oliver on standardized testing.  Of course it’s great.  My youngest son had his first ever experience with them the past week.  Beforehand, they managed to worry a kid who was in absolutely no danger of failing that it was a real worry for him.  Also, no backpacks in school because somehow… ?

8) I’ve followed this guy’s Instagram feed for a while.  Enjoyed the story behind it.

9) Good story on the Obamacare hating man in SC who was disappointed to find out he couldn’t game the system when his eyesight depended upon it.

10) I was surprised at all the cynical takes on conclusion of Mad Men.  It was clear to me these people just did not understand Matt Weiner’s vision (and therefore should not have been writing as authorities on the show) and in this interview with Weiner, that’s pretty clear.  On the lighter side, here’s what Don Draper was thinking in his final moments.

11) A small piece of good news in the battle to protect individual liberties– the government cannot search the contents of your laptop or phone without a warrant.

12) We so totally know that 18-year olds are not really ready for the adult-world in many ways.  Yet, we typically just let foster kids (who are surely even less prepared) loose at age 18 with no more support.  That’s a horrible idea.  Kudos to Tennessee for figuring this out and creating a program that helps increase the adult success of these kids.

13) Vox’s health reporters on their 8 big take-aways from years as health reporters.

14) Great National Journal article on Amtrak and our problems with high-speed rail:

The Gulf situation is a miniature version of the chicken-and-egg question that bedevils Amtrak as a whole: Is it a waste of money because there isn’t sufficient demand for trains? Or is there insufficient demand for trains because we haven’t spent the money to create a great rail system? Outside of the Northeast Corridor, the tracks Amtrak uses are almost all owned by freight railroads. CSX, Union Pacific, and a handful of other behemoths naturally hog them, which contributes to Amtrak’s chronic tardiness, which in turn dissuades passengers from taking Amtrak. As a result, Congress cites Amtrak’s low-ridership numbers as a reason not to grant it larger subsidies, which of course are exactly what Amtrak would need in order to purchase its own train tracks. Commenting on the vicious cycle, John Robert Smith says: “You can’t disinvest in something and then beat it to death because it doesn’t perform.”

And a nice defense of Amtrak from Tim Wu.

15) I love reading about the Beanie Baby bubble and remembering fondly how my stepmother and little sisters were spending $80 on these things on Ebay and thinking it was a good investment.  There’s a new book on the matter.  And here’s an interview with the author.

16) Just a wee bit of hypocrisy in Republicans asking the Pope to say out of politics (somehow only seems to happen when he mentions poverty or climate change).

17) Oh, how I love School House Rock.  And, yes, I still show “I’m Just a Bill” every semester.  Here’s a nice bit from Mental Floss on 15 things you didn’t know about it.

18) Fox News personalities claim that they don’t actually say bad things about poor people.  Talk about a target-rich environment for Jon Stewart.  Oh my this is good.

 

Game of Thrones and the meaning of rape

So, I’ve been too busy lately and not getting in good blogging.  But I have not been too busy to watch the (terrific, in my opinion) finale of Mad Men and the latest Game of Thrones.  And to do plenty of reading about them both on-line.  One thing that keeps coming up, is spousal rape (e.g., this).  On Mad Men, we haven’t seen Greg (Joan’s ex-husband) in a long time, but most references to him on-line refer to him as a rapist.  Meanwhile, GOT this week saw the rather unpleasant consummation of poor Sansa Stark’s marriage (and, honestly, I find most every scene With Ramsey Bolton far too unpleasant– the stuff last year with Theon went well into gratuitousness).

Anyway, what strikes me about so many responses is that they all use post 1970’s conceptions of what “rape” is.  Now, don’t for a second pretend that I am arguing that it is “right” or acceptable to force sexual intercourse on an unwilling woman, but the simple fact is that throughout most of history, this was seen as perfectly legal, if not appropriate, behavior, if that unwilling woman was one’s wife.  Here’s a nice summary from a laywer:

Marital rape was a term that was viewed by the law as an oxymoron until shamefully late in U.S. history. Until the 1970’s, the rape laws in every state in the union included an exception if the rapist and the victim were husband and wife…

While it has generally been illegal at all times for a man to force sex upon a woman other than his wife, a husband could force sex upon his wife without violating the law until very recently. The justifications for this marital rape exception were:

  • the British common law view that the contract of marriage includes the husband’s “right to sex”—the wife having given consent for all time by entering the contract
  • the traditional view of wives as the property of their husbands with which they could do as they pleased under common law

So, did Greg “rape” Joan on Mad Men?  According to the laws in New York at the time, certainly not.  Did Ramsey “rape” Sansa in GOT (or Kal Drogo and Danaerys for that matter)?  Okay, I’m not sure of the legal code in Westeros, but I’m pretty sure it is not more progressive towards gender that British common law.  It seems to me, Sansa did not even conceive of the idea that as a wife she could do anything except submit?  Within the universe of GOT I have absolutely no doubt, Sansa was not raped.  Now, there is something worthwhile in emphasizing that women should never be coerced/forced into sex against their will, but I also think it actually just serves to muddy the picture when we apply our modern understandings of rape (especially the spousal exemption) to times and places where such conceptions are completely alien.

Quick hits (part I)

1) I’ve been using Flickr for a while and really like it.  David Pogue writes about 7 great new features.

1) Interesting story of the 1 juror holding out in the Etan Patz trial.

The defendant, Pedro Hernandez, 54, had confessed to killing Etan almost 33 years after he disappeared, but there was no physical evidence tying him to the crime. Defense lawyers argued that the confession, which he repeated later to a prosecutor, was a fiction made up under police pressure by a man with a low I.Q. and a personality disorder clouding his ability to tell fact from fantasy.

Given what I know of coerced confessions, if there’s no physical evidence and the chief evidence is a recanted confession, that’s sure reasonable doubt for me (it does sound somewhat more complicated than that, but the story got a little confusing).

3) Nice NYT Editorial on how racism doomed Baltimore.

4) Seth Masket makes a good point– should we really have primaries to choose candidates anyway?

5) Nice Op-Ed on how NC needs to invest in teachers.

6) Whether you want to call it a “war on science” or not, Republicans sadly don’t believe that government should be supporting science (or that legislators should be listening to what scientists have to say).  John Cassidy:

Cutting NASA and the N.S.F.’s climate-science budgets isn’t going to alter the basic realities of climate change. No one needs an advanced degree to understand this. Indeed, the idea that ignoring a problem isn’t going to make it go away is one that kids should grasp by the time they’re six or seven. But ignoring a problem does often make it more difficult to solve. And that, you have to assume, in a perverse way, is the goal here. What we don’t know, we can’t act on.

“It’s hard to believe that in order to serve an ideological agenda, the majority is willing to slash the science that helps us have a better understanding of our home planet,” Representative Johnson wrote. Hard to believe, but, unfortunately, true.

7) Meanwhile the state of Wyoming (that is, the Republicans in government) seems to have outlawed citizen science.

8) On the bright side, Vox presents an interesting interview with a Republican (of the liberatarian stripe) who has been convinced of climate change and why he has been (and it is a good argument):

So [Litterman] came in to talk to me and my then-colleague, Peter Van Dorn, and laid out what I thought a very powerful argument. In brief it went like this: the issues associated with climate change are not that different from the risk issues we deal with in the financial markets every day. We know there’s a risk — we don’t know how big the risk is, we’re not entirely sure about all of the parameters, but we know it’s there. And we know it’s a low-probability, high-impact risk. So what do we do about that in our financial markets? Well, if it’s a nondiversifiable risk, we know that people pay plenty of money to avoid it.

[Litterman’s] point was that if this sort of risk were to arise in any other context in the private markets, people would pay real money to hedge against it. He did it every day for his clients. Even if Pat Michaels and Dick Lindzen and the rest [of the climate-skeptic scientists] are absolutely correct about the modest impacts of climate change as the most likely outcome, it’s not the most likely outcome that counts here. Nobody would manage risk based on the most likely outcome in a world of great uncertainty. If that were the case, we’d have all our money in equities. No one would spend money on anything else. But we don’t act that way.

9) Assigned this “Bad Feminist” essay by Roxane Gay to my Gender & Politics class.  I really like it.

10) Among the consensus conclusions from my Criminal Justice policy class this past semester was that we need to invest more in better police training.  In Indiana and Arkansas you don’t necessarily need any training.

11) An interesting feature of the Dutch economy is that a lot of people work part-time.  The Economist explains why.

12) Thanks to Mika for sharing this link on a “moneyball” approach with a Danish soccer team.  Fascinating!

13) The story of a doctor who believed in “alternative medicine”– it’s oh-so-compelling when you are looking for any hope in a struggle against autism in a child– and his journey back to science.

14) Dylan Matthews on how giving money to your wealthy alma mater is about the least beneficial thing you can do with your money.  Of course, I was convinced by this logic long ago, which is why Give Directly gets my money and Duke doesn’t.

15) Great Richard Thaler piece on how irrelevant things matter a ton in our economic decision making and classical economists (as opposed to behavioral economists) do their best to pretend this isn’t true:

There is a version of this magic market argument that I call the invisible hand wave. It goes something like this. “Yes, it is true that my spouse and my students and members of Congress don’t understand anything about economics, but when they have to interact with markets. …” It is at this point that the hand waving comes in. Words and phrases such as high stakes, learning and arbitrage are thrown around to suggest some of the ways that markets can do their magic, but it is my claim that no one has ever finished making the argument with both hands remaining still.

Hand waving is required because there is nothing in the workings of markets that turns otherwise normal human beings into Econs. For example, if you choose the wrong career, select the wrong mortgage or fail to save for retirement, markets do not correct those failings. In fact, quite the opposite often happens. It is much easier to make money by catering to consumers’ biases than by trying to correct them.

16) And, lastly, we’ll finish with another long excerpt.  Finally got around to reading this really long essay from a former Lost writer on whether they were just making stuff up as they went along.  (Apparently, much less so than I assumed they were guilty of).  If you were a fan of the show (and you should be) definitely worth reading the whole thing.

First we built a world. Then we filled it with an ensemble of flawed but interesting characters — people who were real to us, people with enough depth in their respective psyches to withstand years of careful dramatic analysis. Then we created a thrilling and undeniable set of circumstances in which these characters had to bond together and solve problems in interesting ways.

Soon thereafter, we created a way for you to witness their pasts and compare the people they once were with the people they were in the process of becoming. While that was going on, we also created an entire 747s worth of ideas, notions, fragments, complications, and concepts that would — if properly and thoughtfully mined — yield enough narrative fiction to last as long as our corporate overlords would demand to feed their need for profit and prestige, and then, just to be sure, teams of exceptionally talented people worked nonstop to make sure the 747 never emptied out.

And then we made it all up as we went.

 

The arbitrariness of the death penalty

Not only does the death penalty vary dramatically between states, even within states there is huge variance– quite often depending upon how bloodthirsty the local prosecutor is.  For example, I always tell my classes about Harris County, Texas (Houston) which typically executes more people than any other state.  Nice article in Slate looking at how much difference the particular prosecutor makes (along with plenty of disturbing examples of over-willingness to use the death penalty).  Love this summary:

What distinguishes these counties from neighbors that have mostly abolished the death penalty, in fact if not in law? Perhaps the biggest factor is the presence of a handful of disproportionately deadly prosecutors who represent the last, desperate gasps of a deeply flawed punishment regime. Most of their colleagues are wisely turning away from a practice that has revealed itself to be ineffective at deterring crime, obscenely expensive, inequitably administered, and not infrequently imposed upon the innocent. But America’s deadliest prosecutors continue to pursue death sentences with abandon, mitigating circumstances and flaws in the system be damned.

And here’s some nice examples:

Cox is one of them. Jeannette Gallagher of Maricopa County, Arizona, is another. She and two colleagues are responsible for more than one-third of the capital cases—20 of 59—that the Arizona Supreme Court reviewed statewide between 2007 and 2013. Gallagher recently sent a 19-year-old with depression to death row even though he had tried to commit suicide the day before the murder, sought treatment, and was turned away. She also obtained a death sentence against a 21-year-old man with a low IQ who was sexually abused as a child, addicted to drugs and alcohol from a young age, and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She then sent a U.S. military veteran with paranoid schizophrenia to death row. Her response to these harrowing mitigating circumstances has not been to exercise restraint, but rather to accuse each of these defendants of simply faking his symptoms. The Arizona Supreme Court has found misconduct in three of her cases, labeling her behavior as “inappropriate,” “very troubling,” and “entirely unprofessional.”

It’s bad enough that when it comes to executing people are peer nations are Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but the worst part is just how flawed and arbitrary our system of executions (like the rest of American criminal justice) can be.

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