Jessie Dean Gipson Simmons was full of optimism when she and her family moved from an apartment in a troubled area of Detroit to a new development in Inkster, Michigan in 1955.
With three children in tow, Jessie and her husband settled into a home on Colgate Street in a neighborhood known as “Brick City” – an idyllic enclave of single, working-class families with a shared community garden.
The plan was simple. Like many African Americans who left the South as part of the Great Migration, Jessie’s husband, Obadiah Sr., would find a stable factory job just outside of Detroit. Then Jessie would put to use the bachelor’s degree she had earned in upper elementary education from Grambling State University in the township of Taylor – just a few blocks from their new home.
But the plan went awry. Jessie first applied for a teaching position with the Taylor school district in April 1958, but was denied. The same thing happened in March 1959. And a third time in May 1959. The repeated denials may have set back Jessie’s plans, but they also set her up to fight an important battle for justice for black educators at a time when many were being pushed out of the teaching profession.
I interviewed Jessie’s family as part of my ongoing research into the history of black women teachers from the Reconstruction Era to the 21st century.
The battle began when Jessie filed a grievance with the Michigan Fair Employment Practices Commission, or MFEPC, on Sept. 1, 1959. Jessie’s grievance detailed her conversation with the superintendent Orville Jones in March 1958, in which he told her “there would be vacancies in 1959.”
In August 1958, the Taylor Township Board of Education – the body overseeing the school district where Jessie wanted to teach – took up the matter of employing Negro teachers at a board meeting. The reason the item was placed on the agenda? The Superintendent at the time, Orville Jones, “felt that any handicap” – he deemed race as a handicap – “be pointed out to the board.”
The chair of the school board, Mr. Randall, stated applications were “considered in the order of the dates they were received.” Since the Taylor school board was now on record regarding its hiring practices for teachers, Jessie used that statement in her grievance.
Jessie’s decision to file a grievance would be a costly one for her family. The couple had planned on two steady incomes. In 1959, now a mother of five children, Jessie took a job as a waitress and a cook in a cafe to make ends meet. Her job drew scorn from family members in Louisiana who knew she was severely underemployed. And though her children didn’t know it at the time, Jessie and her husband “gave up meals so the children could eat,” according to Jessie’s oldest son, Obidiah Jr.
In 1960 the MFEPC held a public hearing for the grievance filed by Jessie and Mary Ruth Ross – a second black teacher who was also denied employment by the Taylor board of education. According to the Detroit Courier, Jessie and Mary “were passed over for employment in favor of white applicants who lacked degrees.” Records uncovered by the MFEPC found that 42 non-degreed teachers hired between 1957 through 1960 were all white and “had a maximum of 60 hours of college credits.” Jessie and Mary, on the other hand, were both degreed teachers with some credits toward a graduate degree.
How the Brown decision hurt black teachers
While the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision is often celebrated and considered a legal victory, many scholars believe it had a harmful effect on black teachers. In 1951, scholars writing in the Journal of Negro Education rightly warned that Brown “might conceivably” impact “Negro teachers”. Nationwide, school district leaders pushed back against Brown in two ways.
First, school leaders slow-walked the implementation of Brown – for many school districts as late as the mid-1980s. Second, black teachers across the country lost their once-secure teaching jobs by the tens of thousands after Brown when black schools closed and black children integrated into white schools. In the South, for example, the number of black teachers had soared to around 90,000 pre-Brown. But by 1965 nearly half had lost their jobs. A 1965 report from the National Education Association, a leading labor union for teachers, concluded school districts had “no place for Negroes” in the wake of Brown. School officials railed against Brown and refused to hire black teachers like Jessie, turning them into what sociologist Oliver Cox described as “martyrs to integration.”
My own research confirms that the forced exodus of black women from the teaching profession was ignited by Brown. Discrimination by school leaders fueled the demographic decline of black teachers and remains one of the leading factors for their under-representation in the profession today.
First ruling of its kind
At the eight-day public hearing, Jones admitted that “the hiring of Negro teachers would be something new and different and something we had not done before.” He stated he felt that the Negro teachers were “not up to par.” The hearing eventually revealed that applications for “Negroes” were kept in distinct folders – separated from the submissions of the white applicants.
After more than a year, the MFEPC issued a ruling in Jessie’s case. The decision got a brief mention from Jet Magazine on Dec. 1, 1960:
In the first ruling of its kind, the MFEPC ordered the Taylor Township School Board to hire Mrs. Mary Ruth Ross and Mrs. Jessie Simmons, two Negro teachers, and pay them back wages for the school years of 1959-60 and 1960-61. FEPC Commissioner Allan A. Zaun said the teachers were refused employment on the basis of race.
The attorney for the Taylor board of education, Harry F. Vellmure, threatened to challenge the ruling in court – all the way “to the Supreme Court if necessary,” according to the Detroit Courier. The board stuck to its position that Jessie and Mary were given full and fair consideration for teaching jobs and simply lost out to better qualified teachers.
As a result of noncompliance with the MFEPC’s order, Carl Levin, future U.S. senator and general counsel for the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Taylor school district on Jessie’s and Mary’s behalf. Even though the matter did not reach higher courts, Vellmure filed several appeals that effectively slowed down the commission’s order for seven years.
As the lawsuit dragged on, Jessie became an elementary school teacher with the Sumpter School District in 1961. By 1965, she left Sumpter for the Romulus Community School District. According to Jessie’s children, they would continue in the Taylor school district and were known as the kids “whose mother filed the lawsuit against the school district.”
In 1967, after seven years of fighting the Taylor school district in local court, Jessie and Mary prevailed. They were awarded two years back pay and teaching positions. Saddled by hurt feelings after a long fight with the Taylor school district, Jessie declined the offer and continued teaching in Romulus.
The Simmons moved into a larger, newly constructed home on Lehigh Avenue. Jessie gave birth to her sixth child, Kimberly, one month before moving in. Although the new home was only two blocks south of their old home on Colgate Avenue, Jessie’s four surviving children recall that their lifestyle improved and their childhood was now defined by two eras: “before lawsuit life and after lawsuit life.” And by 1968, Jessie earned a master’s degree in education from Eastern Michigan University.
Unsung civil rights hero
At her retirement in 1986, Jessie’s former students recalled that she was an effective teacher of 30 years who was known as a disciplinarian with a profound sense of commitment to the children of Romulus.
Jessie’s story is a reminder that the civil rights movement did not push society to a better version of itself with a singular, vast wave toward freedom. Rather, it was fashioned by little ripples of courage with one person, one schoolteacher, at a time.
Hate database shows that the terrorizing of people where they live is alive and well decades after the civil rights movement.
by Rahima Nasa and Rachel Glickhouse
In Delano, Minnesota, a black family’s home was broken into in March 2017 and a warning was spray-painted on the walls: “Get out.” The vandals left a note, too: “Next time it’s going to be fire.”
In Athens, Tennessee, the white mother of young biracial children alleged that she’d been harassed verbally by a neighbor for a year.
For close to two years, ProPublica has been compiling reports of hate crimes and bias incidents as part of their Documenting Hate project. The database now houses a vast compendium of ugliness in America. Killings, assaults, threats of terror — they are all there.
One of the more common entries involves people being harassed or threatened at their place of residence, often by neighbors, the people who live next door or down the hall or around the corner. Of course, this isn’t new. The integration of neighborhoods in the U.S. has been as fraught as the integration of the country’s schools.
Jeannine Bell, a lawyer and author of “Hate Thy Neighbor: Move-In Violence and the Persistence of Racial Segregation in American Housing,” said no corner of the country has any claim of immunity from the problem. She also noted that the total number of such incidents is not reliably captured in any formal data set, ours or those kept by federal and local authorities. That’s because, she said, many of these incidents go unreported.
“A lot of times, the people that are targeted don’t even know that this is a crime,” Bell said.
The Documenting Hate database has close to 6,000 entries — a mix of news reports, tips, personal stories of bigotry and records collected by law enforcement and some anti-discrimination groups. Among the most common things reported are anti-Muslim acts, which accounted for 359 entries, and swastikas showing up in public places, which were the subject of an additional 400 or so.
More than 300 entries were reports of harassment or menacing at people’s homes, targeting people of a variety of races and religions. The most frequent victims were African Americans. Indeed, African Americans are the most frequently victimized group nationally for hate crimes, according to data from the FBI.
That finding prompted us to send inquiries to the dozen or so police jurisdictions that had reported the highest number of anti-black hate crimes to the FBI’s hate-crime database from 2010 to 2016. Since we couldn’t get incident reports from every one of those jurisdictions, we also made requests to several police departments where we’d received data that included anti-black hate crimes.
In total, we were able to identify 639 incidents of anti-black violence or harassment from the police reports we received. More than a fifth of those reports, 138 in all, were incidents involving people being targeted by neighbors or in their homes.
In Columbus, Ohio, a man went to police because someone had been ringing his doorbell or banging on his garage 25 to 30 times a night, almost every night. When the man went outside, the suspect would call him racial slurs from the darkness. The man and his family are the only black residents of their cul-de-sac. No arrests were made and the case is currently listed as inactive.
In Toledo, at the north end of the state, a man was allegedly harassing three black neighbors in his neighborhood, using “unwarranted racist language,” according to the police report. One day, the suspect saw a car with black occupants throw trash on the street. Even though they had no relation to anyone on the block, the suspect came over and dumped trash on a black family’s lawn, the report said. “Since you all want to nigger up the neighborhood, I’ll burn you and your nigger family out,” he allegedly told the victim. Police went to the suspect’s home, but he didn’t answer the door. A call to the Toledo police to check on the case was not returned.
In Kansas City, Missouri, an African-American man went to police because his neighbor had harassed him for three years. The suspect allegedly stood in his driveway taking pictures of his home and waved a Confederate flag. The man who filed the complaint wound up moving, but he told police he was worried because he’d seen the man outside his new home.
In Oxford Township, Michigan, a couple — a white woman and a black man — went to police because they said they couldn’t leave the house without getting harassed by their neighbor, who called them racial slurs. When police gave the neighbor a citation for disorderly conduct, she ripped it up in front of the officer. She was subsequently arrested for disorderly conduct and her case was turned over to the local prosecutor’s office.
And in Spokane, Washington, we got records on two cases of possible neo-Nazis harassing their black neighbors. In one case, the neighbors reported that a man with a swastika on his hand called them racial slurs. He allegedly threw a brick at a woman, calling her a slur. In another case, a black man said his white supremacist neighbor and another man assaulted him in his garage while using racial slurs and threatened him with a gun. “Nigger, you don’t deserve to be breathing white men’s air,” they allegedly said. Later, the white supremacist allegedly returned with two other men and yelled “heil the KKK” and “white power” at the man, shortly before shooting a gun at his home from a car. The victim told The Spokesman-Review that one of the suspects had called him racial slurs for months leading up to the shooting.
According to the Spokane Police Department, both cases resulted in arrests and the suspects were charged with first-degree assault and malicious harassment. In the shooting case, suspect Donald Prichard’s criminal history record totals to 16 felony convictions, which included beating and sexually assaulting a woman. He’s awaiting trial on Jan. 22. The second suspect in that case, Jason Cooper, has 12 felony convictions, including unlawful possession of a weapon and burglary, and he is awaiting trial on Feb. 25.
Many accounts, both in our database and that resulted from our queries to police departments, include frustration at what can seem like a lack of police interest or action. In the case of the family targeted in Delano, no one was ever arrested, and the family wound up moving away. The mother in Athens said police told her there was little they could do about verbal harassment, that it was a civil matter. The authorities in Athens didn’t return a request for comment.
That said, we did find examples where the authorities ultimately took serious steps.
In Grapevine, Texas, Dante Petty was harassed by his white neighbor, Glenn Halfin, for over a year after he moved in. The harassment became so persistent that he installed surveillance cameras outside his home and a police officer was stationed outside for over a month. The breaking point occurred when his neighbor left black baby dolls with nooses around their necks hung outside his apartment. Ultimately, Halfin was charged with a hate crime and convicted of violating the family’s housing rights. He was sentenced to year in state prison, the maximum punishment based on his guilty plea to the misdemeanor charge.
“No one should be afraid to go home at night,” said U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox on the day of Halfin’s sentencing. Victims of such harassment at their residences, it turns out, have an option other than going to the local police. Harassing one’s neighbor also violates the federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal for landlords and neighbors to interfere with someone’s right to housing based on who they are. And there is an office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development meant to handle such cases.
Victims can file a complaint with HUD within a year of the alleged violation. Owners, managers and condominium associations may be liable for neighbor-on-neighbor harassment if they fail to intervene when they have a duty to do so. Criminal penalties can include fines and prison.
According to HUD statistics, there were 8,348 complaints of such violations in 2015, 8,350 in 2016 and 8,186 in 2017. Half or more of those cases dealt with alleged violations involving people with disabilities. The HUD statistics show that, historically, very few of the complaints of any kind wound up with federal prosecutions.
The number of prosecutions has gotten appreciably smaller in recent years. In 2015, the Department of Justice closed 84 cases brought to it by HUD regarding the Fair Housing Act. In 2016, there were only 12. In 2017, there were just five.
Calls for comment from HUD were not returned because of the federal government shutdown.
Meanwhile, as the second year of Documenting Hate came to a close, reports kept coming in.
In June 2018, Hubert Roberts, of Clio, Michigan, complained to police that his truck had been targeted by racists. A Nazi symbol was spray painted on the truck, along with slurs and boasts of white pride. The Genesee County Sheriff’s Office would not comment on the case, other than to say no arrests have been made. When asked about the current status of the case, the FBI told ProPublica, “Adhering to DOJ policy, the FBI neither confirms nor denies investigations.”
Roberts said that this wasn’t the first time he was targeted in the community because of his race, either. He noted other instances of being called racist comments, where he was told to “go back to Africa,” while doing work on his yard.
“This could have been an opportunity for some dialogue in this predominantly white community,” Roberts said. “I just feel really disappointed with our justice system.”
Republished with permission under license from ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
Terrorism and white nationalism were among the pillars this country was founded upon. The so-called founding fathers were terrorist and traitors. The 56 signers of "The Declaration of Independence" were all British subjects and 41 were slave owners. They did not agree with certain provisions of the law and decided to commit treason against Great Britain by declaring independence.
While declaring that all men were created equal and arguing for their inalienable right to freedom, they denied freedom to others. Even after a number of free and enslaved black men fought for what would become the United States, when the Constitution was written in 1787, slavery was allowed to continue; in fact Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 of the Constitution prohibited Congress from placing any bans on slavery for 20 years, until the year 1808.
Ironically, when 11 southern states seceded in 1860-61 and formed the Confederate States of American, the Union did not recognize those state's independence from the United States. Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia soldiers were consider patriots during the Revolutionary War, but were considered rebels and traitors during the Civil War. After Reconstruction ended, the Southern States were allow to terrorize former slaves and influence U.S.. policy in ways that still have a negative impact on the descendants of slaves today.
After 250 years of slavery, nearly a 100 years of state sanctioned discrimination and more than 50 years of failed reform a legacy of racism, oppression and aggression still exists for descendants of slaves, which has become one of the most successful exports from the United States. Nazi German modeled their racism after America's and now places as far away as New Zealand have followed the United State's latest examples of racism and violence.
The “alt-right” – an umbrella term describing modern online white supremacist movement – uses the same language. And it has expanded this 20th-century xenophobic worldview to portray refugees, Muslims and progressives as a threat, too.
“The hatred that led to violence in Pittsburgh and Charlottesville is finding new adherents around the world,” Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, a civil liberties watchdog, told USA Today after the New Zealand attack.
“Indeed, it appears that this attack was not just focused on New Zealand; it was intended to have a global impact.”
Rising racist violence
We know the alleged New Zealand mosque shooter’s hatred of Muslims was inspired by American white nationalism – he said so on Twitter.
His online “manifesto” includes references to cultural conflicts that the author believed would eventually lead the United States to separate along ethnic, political and racial lines.
The years 2015, 2016 and 2018 were the United States’ deadliest years for extremist violence since 1970, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
All perpetrators of deadly extremist violence in the U.S. in 2018 had links to white nationalist groups. That made 2018 “a particularly active year for right-wing extremist murders,” the Anti-Defamation League says.
Nationalist terror is a danger to the domestic security of the United States and, evidence shows, a global terror threat that endangers the very nature of global democratic society.
Republished with permission under license from The Conversation with added introductory comments.
A major of feature of Google Maps is its ability to predict how long different navigation routes will take. That’s possible because the mobile phone of each person using Google Maps sends data about its location and speed back to Google’s servers, where it is analyzed to generate new data about traffic conditions.
Information like this is useful for navigation. But the exact same data that is used to predict traffic patterns can also be used to predict other kinds of information – information people might not be comfortable with revealing.
For example, data about a mobile phone’s past location and movement patterns can be used to predict where a person lives, who their employer is, where they attend religious services and the age range of their children based on where they drop them off for school.
These predictions label who you are as a person and guess what you’re likely to do in the future. Research shows that people are largely unaware that these predictions are possible, and, if they do become aware of it, don’t like it. In my view, as someone who studies how predictive algorithms affect people’s privacy, that is a major problem for digital privacy in the U.S.
How is this all possible?
Every device that you use, every company you do business with, every online account you create or loyalty program you join, and even the government itself collects data about you.
The kinds of data they collect include things like your name, address, age, Social Security or driver’s license number, purchase transaction history, web browsing activity, voter registration information, whether you have children living with you or speak a foreign language, the photos you have posted to social media, the listing price of your home, whether you’ve recently had a life event like getting married, your credit score, what kind of car you drive, how much you spend on groceries, how much credit card debt you have and the location history from your mobile phone.
It doesn’t matter if these datasets were collected separately by different sources and don’t contain your name. It’s still easy to match them up according to other information about you that they contain.
For example, there are identifiers in public records databases, like your name and home address, that can be matched up with GPS location data from an app on your mobile phone. This allows a third party to link your home address with the location where you spend most of your evening and nighttime hours – presumably where you live. This means the app developer and its partners have access to your name, even if you didn’t directly give it to them.
Data brokers are companies that are in the business of buying and selling datasets from a wide range of sources, including location data from many mobile phone carriers. Data brokers combine data to create detailed profiles of individual people, which they sell to other companies.
Combined datasets like this can be used to predict what you’ll want to buy in order to target ads. For example, a company that has purchased data about you can do things like connect your social media accounts and web browsing history with the route you take when you’re running errands and your purchase history at your local grocery store.
Even though people may be aware that their mobile phones have GPS and that their name and address are in a public records database somewhere, it’s far less likely that they realize how their data can be combined to make new predictions. That’s because privacy policies typically only include vague language about how data that’s collected will be used.
In a January survey, the Pew Internet and American Life project asked adult Facebook users in the U.S. about the predictions that Facebook makes about their personal traits, based on data collected by the platform and its partners. For example, Facebook assigns a “multicultural affinity” category to some users, guessing how similar they are to people from different race or ethnic backgrounds. This information is used to target ads.
The survey found that 74 percent of people did not know about these predictions. About half said they are not comfortable with Facebook predicting information like this.
In my research, I’ve found that people are only aware of predictions that are shown to them in an app’s user interface, and that makes sense given the reason they decided to use the app. For example, a 2017 study of fitness tracker users showed that people are aware that their tracker device collects their GPS location when they are exercising. But this doesn’t translate into awareness that the activity tracker company can predict where they live.
Today’s internet largely relies on people managing their own digital privacy.
Companies ask people up front to consent to systems that collect data and make predictions about them. This approach would work well for managing privacy, if people refused to use services that have privacy policies they don’t like, and if companies wouldn’t violate their own privacy policies.
Requiring users to consent without understanding how their data will be used also allows companies to shift the blame onto the user. If a user starts to feel like their data is being used in a way that they’re not actually comfortable with, they don’t have room to complain, because they consented, right?
In my view, there is no realistic way for users to be aware of the kinds of predictions that are possible. People naturally expect companies to use their data only in ways that are related to the reasons they had for interacting with the company or app in the first place. But companies usually aren’t legally required to restrict the ways they use people’s data to only things that users would expect.
One exception is Germany, where the Federal Cartel Office ruled on Feb. 7 that Facebook must specifically ask its users for permission to combine data collected about them on Facebook with data collected from third parties. The ruling also states that if people do not give their permission for this, they should still be able to use Facebook.
I believe that the U.S. needs stronger privacy-related regulation, so that companies will be more transparent and accountable to users about not just the data they collect, but also the kinds of predictions they’re generating by combining data from multiple sources.
By Kathy Roberts Forde, Associate Professor, Journalism Department, University of Massachusetts Amherst
The press is an essential guardrail of democracy. As The Washington Post tells its readers, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”
But the press has not always been a champion of democracy.
In the late 19th century, Henry W. Grady, one of the South’s most prominent editors, worked closely with powerful political and business interests to build a white supremacist political economy and social order across Georgia – and the entire South – that lasted well into the 20th century. One of his primary tools was his newspaper, The Atlanta Constitution – which merged with The Atlanta Journal in 2001 to become The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
My research, a collaboration with Ethan Bakuli and Natalie DiDomenico, undergraduate research partners in the Journalism Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, uncovers this history.
The ‘New South’ and racial terror
Grady enraptured white Americans with his speeches and columns about the “New South,” a narrative meant to attract Northern investment in the South’s emerging industrial economy.
“The relations of the Southern people with the negro are close and cordial,” Grady proclaimed in the 1886 New York speech that made him famous.
It was a brazen lie. Many white Americans believed it, or pretended they did, but black editors, journalists and leaders challenged it at every turn.
Grady promoted the New South’s reconciliation with the North, its industrial development and the availability of cheap Southern labor. What’s more, he insisted the “race problem” must be left to the South to resolve.
He meant, of course, the white South.
T. Thomas Fortune, a militant black newspaper editor in New York, would have none of it.
“Mr. Grady appeals to the North to leave the race question to ‘us’ and ‘we’ will settle it,” he wrote. “So we will; but the we Mr. Grady had ‘in his mind’s eye’ will not be permitted to settle it alone. Not by any means, Mr. Grady. Not only the White we, but the Colored we as well, will demand a share in that settlement.”
Grady didn’t listen. Instead, he explained to adoring white crowds why the South was committed to one-party rule: to deprive black men of electoral power.
In 1889, the year he died unexpectedly at 39, Grady told a crowd at the Texas State Fair, “The supremacy of the white race of the South must be maintained forever, and the domination of the negro race resisted at all points and at all hazards – because the white race is the superior race.”
The pioneering black journalist Ida B. Wells understood his meaning. In “Southern Horrors,” a pamphlet that documented lynching and the all-too-frequent collaboration of the white Southern press, Wells drew a straight line from Henry Grady’s New South ideology to the white South’s practice of racial terror:
“Henry W. Grady in his well-remembered speeches in New England and New York pictured the Afro-American as incapable of self-government. Through him … the cry of the South to the country has been ‘Hands off! Leave us to solve our problem.’ To the Afro-American the South says, ‘the white man must and will rule.’ There is little difference between the Antebellum South and the New South.”
Under Grady’s editorial guidance, the Constitution wrote about lynching with disturbing levity, condoning and even encouraging it. One headline read “The Triple Trapeze: Three Negroes Hung to a Limb of a Tree.” Another rhymed “Two Minutes to Pray Before a Rope Dislocated Their Vertebrae.”
Yet another headline read: “Lynching Too Good For the Black Miscreant Who Assaulted Mrs. Bush: He Will Be Lynched.” And appallingly, the man was lynched. Today, his name – Reuben Hudson – appears on the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a monument in Montgomery, Alabama, for victims of “racial terror lynchings.”
Some historians have called Grady a racial moderate for his time and place, but his own words suggest he was comfortable with racial violence.
Well before he became managing editor and part owner of the Constitution, Grady addressed an editorial in the Rome Commercial, a Georgia newspaper he edited early in his career, to his “friends” and “brothers” in the “Ku Klux Klan.”
“The strength and power of any secret organization rests in the attribute of mystery and hidden force,” he wrote. Its members “can be called together by a tiny signal, and when the work is done, can melt away into shadowy nothing.”
Convict labor in the ‘New South’
Lynching was not the only white tool of racial terror and control in the South. Another was the convict lease, which, along with lynching, Wells termed the “twin infamies” of the region.
Grady’s New South promise of cheap labor for industrialists was fulfilled in part by convict leasing – a penal system targeting black men, women and even children, who were routinely arrested for vagrancy, minor offenses and trumped up charges. Once convicted, victims were leased to private companies to serve their sentences working in coal mines, laying railroad tracks and making bricks.
Horrors awaited in these private labor camps: shackles, chains, rancid food, disease, filthy bedding, work from sunup to sundown and tortures like the “sweat box,” flogging, hanging by the thumbs, a water treatment akin to waterboarding and rape. Convicts were killed during escape attempts, in mine explosions and railroad accidents and by sadistic camp bosses.
Grady knew the convict lease system well. His newspaper reported on it frequently, as I discovered by reading material in his personal archive at Emory University and contemporaneous issues of the Constitution.
What’s more, from 1880 to his death in 1889, Grady served as kingmaker for a group of white supremacist Democrats – variously termed the “Atlanta Ring” and the “Bourbon Triumvirate” – who enriched themselves by leasing convicts from the state to work in their private businesses.
In an era of machine politics and a press aligned with political parties, Grady proved a master of both.
Using the Constitution as a tool of public influence, Grady helped appoint or elect Joseph E. Brown to the U.S. Senate (1880-1890), Alfred H. Colquitt to the governorship (1880-1882) and U.S. Senate (1883-1894), and John B. Gordon to the governorship (1886-1890).
Brown made a fortune working convicts at his Dade Coal Mines, where Colquitt was a major investor. Gordon worked convicts on his plantation and subleased others to companies and farmers.
In 1886, Grady sent a Constitution reporter to cover a rebellion at Brown’s coal mines. The prisoners were “ready to die, and would as soon be dead as to live in torture,” one convict said. The governor ordered the convicts starved into submission, and Grady’s reporter witnessed the flogging that followed their surrender. He called it “a special matinee” in his news report.
Black Georgians protested their powerful white neighbors profiteering off forced black labor. William White, editor of the black newspaper the Georgia Baptist, put it plainly: “The fortunes of many a prominent white Georgia family [are] red with the blood and sweat of Black men.”
Grady may have been a pioneering journalist, but his journalism served profoundly anti-democratic purposes.
The University of Georgia’s journalism school is named for Grady – a fitting namesake, it was recently said, because of Grady’s “work in uniting the country, not dividing the country.”
Grady may have united Southern and Northern whites, but he did not unite the country. Rather, he excluded black Americans from the union of North and South and the national democratic project that union represented.
The Grady College motto is “We Are Grady.” Thomas Fortune might well have asked Grady who he would include in that “we.”
Before the law was passed, California had no minimum age for sending children to juvenile court – and that’s still true of most states. That means that in many places, children as young as six, for example, can be arrested and detained.
In Texas, Mississippi, Kansas, Colorado and other states, the minimum age is 10. Many California state legislators believe that setting a higher standard, 12 years old, will protect younger children from the dangers that come with juvenile detention. And, given that California’s juvenile justice system houses the largest number of youth in the United States and even the world, their stance may influence how other states set their standards for criminal responsibility.
I am a doctoral student studying neuroscience at UCLA. In my lab, we are examining how time spent confined in juvenile facilities affects brain development and behavior. To do so, we study a range of experiences kids encounter when confined, from the good – increased daily structure – to the terrible – assault by other youth and staff. Our study is just beginning, but previous research has shown that the majority of youth experience abuse while confined and show structural brain changes similar to individuals who have experienced lifetime trauma exposure.
What happens in juvenile detention?
Juvenile facilities function as prisons for youth. The key difference between adult prisons and juvenile facilities is that the latter advocate for rehabilitation.
That’s because young people, usually until their mid- to late 20’s, have brains that are still developing and so have the capacity for change – what scientists often refer to as “plasticity.”
Every year, over 1.3 million youth in the U.S. are arrested and 60 percent face confinement for offenses neither violent or sexual in nature, such as probation violation, status offense, drug offense or property crime.
Rehabilitative efforts can include behavior management, writing classes, religious services and even training on how to manage finances.
Despite these efforts, the experience of being detained appears to have overwhelmingly negative consequences for young people.
Research shows that the more youth are involved with the juvenile justice system – from arrest to detainment to transfer to an adult court – the higher their chances are of early death, specifically a violent one. Going to juvenile detention also increases risk for poorer life outcomes in terms of educational attainment, relationships and gainful employment. At this point, these relationships are only correlational, but have been demonstrated across many large studies.
The physical environment inside juvenile detention facilities has an industrial feel, with limited natural light. They are surrounded by chain-linked fences topped with barbed wire.
Once inside, youth are rarely in contact with their support systems, whether that be family, friends or other individuals. While some youth may have been removed from abusive situations at home, the high-threat environment of secure juvenile facilities is far from a rehabilitation-oriented setting.
Maltreatment has been documented in youth detention facilities in most states. According to one survey, about 42 percent of youth in detention are afraid of being physically attacked, 45 percent report unneeded use of force by staff and 30 percent state that staff use isolation as discipline. Isolation, particularly during development, comes with a range of negative physiological and psychological reactions and is associated with the development of mood disorders, like depression and anxiety, and psychosis.
Under such stressful conditions, even young brains would have a difficult time learning or growing. To make matters worse, most youth in the juvenile justice system have experienced early life trauma like abuse and neglect, which can compound the negative effects of these already detrimental experiences.
No ‘magic number’
The clinicians and academics who wrote a policy brief on the California bill cite developmental research, court decisions on youth sentencing and international standards on juvenile justice as the reasons to adopt the age of 12 as the minimum age at which children can be sent to juvenile detention.
However, there is no strong evidence that setting 12 as the lowest age for sending children to detention will provide major benefits. Among these sources cited by the clinicians and academics, the only specific reference to the age of 12 is from international standards set forth by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.
In 2007, the committee announced 12 as the absolute minimum age of criminal responsibility, but at the same time strongly advocated for higher ages, like 14 or 16. At the time, research investigating brain development in youth was still emerging. Now, more than 10 years later, we know that experiences during all of adolescence tremendously impact brain development and behavior into adulthood.
While a systemic overhaul would be needed to address the current conditions of juvenile confinement, existing diversion programs are an avenue to affect youth of all ages. One such program is the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, founded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation more than 25 years ago.
The initiative monitors the treatment of youth in secure detention facilities and diverts youth or limits time spent confined. The initiative is implemented in over 300 counties nationwide.
Instead of placing young people in detention facilities, these initiatives promote confining them in their homes, in shelters and reporting centers. This approach has been shown to lower the number of times the youth commit crimes again – a large feat given that 70 to 80 percent of youth involved in the juvenile justice system traditionally face rearrest within three years of their release.
Rather than focusing on a specific age for juvenile detention, I believe a greater impact would come from ensuring that confinement is truly rehabilitative and developmentally appropriate for all youth.
If you claim the earned income tax credit, whose average recipient makes less than $20,000 a year, you’re more likely to face IRS scrutiny than someone making twenty times as much. How a benefit for the working poor was turned against them.
by Paul Kiel and Jesse Eisinger,
When Natassia Smick, 28, filed her family’s taxes in January, she already had plans for the refund she and her husband expected to receive. Mainly, she wanted to catch up on her credit card debt. And she was pregnant with their second child, so there were plenty of extra expenses ahead.
Since Smick, who is taking classes toward a bachelor’s degree, and her husband, a chef, together earned around $33,000 in 2017, about $2,000 of that refund would come from the earned income tax credit. It’s among the government’s largest anti-poverty programs, sending more than $60 billion every year to families like Smick’s: people who have jobs but are struggling to get by. Last year, 28 million households claimed the EITC.
Smick, who lives outside Los Angeles, thought she’d get her refund in a month or so, as she had the year before. But no refund came. Instead, she got a letter from the IRS saying it was “conducting a thorough review” of her return. She didn’t need to do anything, it said. Smick waited as patiently as she could. She called the IRS and was told to wait some more.
It wasn’t until four months later, in July, that she got her next letter. The IRS informed her that she was being audited. She had 30 days to provide “supporting documentation” for basically everything. As she understood it, she needed to prove that she and her husband had earned what they’d earned and that her child was her child.
By this point, Smick was home with her baby. She set about rounding up W-2s, paycheck stubs, bank statements and birth certificates. Proving that her 4-year-old had lived at the family’s address for most of the year, as the EITC requires, was the hardest thing, but she did her best with medical records, some papers from his day care, and whatever else she could think of.
She sent it all off and hoped for a quick resolution, but the next IRS letter quashed that hope. The IRS said it would review her response by Feb. 16, 2019 — six months away. Collectors were calling about the credit card bills. She didn’t know how she’d make it that long.
Smick couldn’t understand why this was happening. All she had done was answer the questions on TurboTax. Isn’t it rich people who get audited? “We have nothing,” she said, “and it’s just frustrating knowing that we have nothing.”
It seemed there was nothing she could do. And when she called the IRS to ask how it could possibly take so long to review her documents, she remembers being told that there was nothing they could do, either: The IRS was “extremely short staffed,” the person said.
Budget cuts have crippled the IRS over the past eight years. Enforcement staff has dropped by a third. But while the number of audits has fallen across the board, the impact has been different for the rich and poor. For wealthy taxpayers, the story has been rosy: Not only has the audit rate been cut in half, but audits now tend to be less thorough.
It’s a different story for people who receive the EITC: The audit rate has fallen less steeply and the experience of being audited has become more punishing. Because of a 2015 law, EITC recipients are now more likely to have their refund held, something that can be calamitous for someone living month-to-month.
IRS computers choose people to audit, but if those taxpayers respond, a person must review the documents. With fewer employees to do that, delays have mounted in a process that was already arduous, according to several attorneys who represent taxpayers through the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic program. It regularly takes more than a year to get a taxpayer’s refund released, they said, even for those who are represented.
“If the service doesn’t have the personnel to evaluate evidence submitted in a timely manner, then they should not be initiating the exams in the first place,” said Mandi Matlock, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
Generally, the more money you make, the more likely you are to be audited. EITC recipients, whose typical annual income is under $20,000, have long been the major exception. That’s because many people claim the credit in error, and, under consistent pressure from Republicans in Congress to curtail those overpayments, the IRS has kept the audit rate higher. Meanwhile, there hasn’t been similar pressure to address more costly problem areas, like tax evasion by business owners.
The budget cuts and staff losses have made this distortion starker. The richest taxpayers are still audited at higher rates than the poorest, but the gap is closing.
“What happens is you have people at the very top being prioritized and people at the very bottom being prioritized, and everyone else is sort of squeezed out,” said John Dalrymple, who retired last year as deputy commissioner of the IRS. In 2017, EITC recipients were audited at twice the rate of taxpayers with income between $200,000 and $500,000. Only households with income above $1 million were examined at significantly higher rates.
Put another way, as the IRS has dwindled in size and capability, audits of the poor have accounted for more of what it does. Last year, the IRS audited 381,000 recipients of the EITC. That was 36 percent of all audits the IRS conducted, up from 33 percent in 2011, when the budget cuts began.
“Those struggling to make ends meet are being unfairly audited while the fortunate few dodge taxes without consequence,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, told ProPublica. “The IRS needs more manpower to go after tax cheats of all sizes, and working Americans need a simpler way of obtaining a tax credit they’ve earned.”
The IRS declined to answer questions about its EITC audits.
The EITC has bipartisan roots. Conceived as a “work bonus” for low-income wage earners in the 1970’s and an alternative to welfare, the program has grown over the decades with the support of Republicans and Democrats. These days, the average credit is for about $2,500, but for larger families, the amount can exceed $6,000. The Census Bureau recently estimated that the EITC and the child tax credit together boost millions of children out of poverty every year, more than any other government program.
Unlike Social Security or food stamps, the EITC has no application process. Instead, taxpayers simply claim the credit on their tax returns. Millions of people get it wrong in both directions, according to IRS estimates. About a fifth of eligible taxpayers don’t seek the EITC. And almost a quarter of the $74 billion paid out this year was issued “improperly.”
That estimate of “improper payments,” about $17 billion, is the reason the EITC is such a focus for the IRS. Some tax experts — including the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent office within the IRS — argue the estimate is way too high. One reason is that it is based on the outcome of audits, and low-income taxpayers are much less likely to have competent representation to dispute the IRS’ conclusions.
Regardless of the precise error rate, the IRS acknowledges the primary cause of the problem is not fraud: It is the law itself. It is too complex, too easy for someone to think themselves eligible when they are not. The same child might be a “dependent,” for example, but not a “qualifying child” under the EITC, and the IRS’ instructions for claiming the credit run to 41 pages.
“My third-year law students, they sit down and study this material, and sometimes they still don’t get it,” said Michelle Lyon Drumbl, a professor at Washington and Lee School of Law.
Since the 1990s, Republicans in Congress have focused on these improper payments as a major problem and harshly criticized the IRS for failing to stop them. In 2015, the Republican Congress passed, and President Barack Obama signed, a bill that required the IRS to hold EITC refunds until Feb. 15 each year. The purpose was to give the IRS more time to match tax returns with the corresponding W-2s to avoid misstatements of income. But it also meant people who are audited are more likely to see their refund held — instead of receiving the credit and then undergoing audit. That’s a crucial difference for low-income taxpayers.
“You expect this money during tax season and you don’t get it… It tears you down,” said Paul McCaw, a forklift operator in Rock Island, Illinois. He had refunds held for several years in a row because the IRS doubted that his niece’s three young children lived with him. For years, the family struggled. Bills piled up and eviction was a constant threat. Finally, this year, with the help of a legal aid attorney at Prairie State Legal Services, Macaw, 50, was able to convince the IRS to release the refunds.
“I was just beside myself,” he said of finally getting his refunds, adding, “I caught everything all up, and I also paid a month in advance.”
Stopping faulty refunds from going out, rather than trying to recoup them through an audit is “always the better option” because it is more effective, said Jesse Solis, a spokesperson for House Ways and Means Committee chair Kevin Brady, R-Texas. Congress should continue to look for ways to reduce improper payments, he said.
Taxpayers of all kinds cheat. And IRS studies have found that EITC recipients aren’t close to the worst offenders. For certain kinds of business income, for instance, people pay only about 37 percent of the tax they owe because they simply don’t report the income. Hundreds of billions of dollars in government revenue is lost. But people who have their own businesses are audited at about the same rate as EITC recipients.
The IRS’ disproportionate focus on stopping EITC “improper payments” is misguided, said Nina Olson, the national taxpayer advocate. “What’s the difference between an erroneous EITC dollar being sent out and a dollar attributed to unreported self-employment income not collected?” she asked. Unreported business income is “where the real money is,” she said.
When EITC cheating does occur, the culprits are usually tax preparers, said Chi Chi Wu of the National Consumer Law Center. “They know the system, they game the system and ultimately the taxpayer ends up on the hook if there’s an audit,” she said. In undercover investigations by the NCLC and the Government Accountability Office, multiple preparers advised taxpayers to file bogus EITC claims.
About 60 percent of taxpayers use a preparer, but in most states, preparers are not required to be licensed, and the IRS’ ability to oversee them is limited. After the agency launched a program to certify preparers and subject them to regular compliance checks, a federal appeals court ruled in 2014 that the IRS doesn’t have that power. Congress could pass a bill to confer such authority on the agency, but it has not done so, despite some bipartisan support for the idea.
The IRS has a difficult task in auditing taxpayers who claim the EITC. Low-income families are often complicated; they’re more likely to be multi-generational than more affluent filers, for instance, or to add or subtract household members from year to year. A study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that only about 48 percent of low-income households with children were married couples, while for other households it was 75 percent.
But advocates for taxpayers say the IRS makes the situation needlessly worse. Virtually all the EITC audits are conducted by correspondence, and the computer-generated letters are far from simple. A survey by the Taxpayer Advocate Service found that more than a quarter of EITC recipients who were audited didn’t even understand that they were under audit.
“When I first got audited, I couldn’t figure out what was going on,” said Denise Canady, 62, of West Memphis, Arkansas, who at the time was earning $8.50 an hour as a home health aide. The audit sent her on a scramble to get documents from her granddaughter’s doctor, pharmacy, hospital and school that would demonstrate that the toddler had lived at her address. “A lot of people don’t want to give you old records,” she said.
She eventually found her way to Legal Aid of Arkansas, where an attorney helped bolster her case, but, a year after her audit began, she is still awaiting the outcome.
“I pray and hope,” she said.
Republished with permission under license from ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
Unless you're among the handful of people who were taught the truth, much of what you know about Thanksgiving is mythology. America's history is full of half truths and outright lies. Just about everything I was taught about America when I was a child was fake, including the myth of Thanksgiving.
What do you know about indigenous communities of people that we incorrectly refer to as Indians or Native Americans? The information you've accepted as fact, such as the story about Pocahontas is fake news.
My brainwashing about how great America was began in kindergarten when I was taught the Pledge of Allegiance, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Fast forward 40 plus years to Colin Kaepernick's protest of the National Anthem, which highlighted not everyone enjoyed justice or liberty. Ironically, the "Star-Spangled Banner" as originally written, glorified the deaths of slaves who were actually fighting for their freedom which includes justice and liberty. However, that was never mentioned in school.
The Fourth of July (Independence Day) celebrates the creation of a country where my ancestors were still enslaved! Even the story about George Washington being the first president of the United States is not entirely true! Keep in mind that George Washington wasn't elected president until 1788 and inaugurated in 1789. The Continential Congress began in 1774 and the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Who ran things between 1774 – 1788 before Washington was elected?
There were 15 presidents prior to Washington. Peyton Randolph was the first of eight presidents of the Continental Congress, John Hancock was president when the "Declaration of Independence" was signed in 1776; which probably explains the large signature. Samuel Huntington was the last president of the Continental Congress and the first of ten presidents under the Articles of Confederation. John Hanson, the third president under the Articles of Confederation is responsible for establishing Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in November in 1782.
The American public is becoming more aware of historical misinformation. Attempts to remove monuments to despicable people and ideology have begun and real change has happened. Many cities celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day and Columbus, OH for the first time this year chose not to celebrate its namesake.
“Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
Some people are so indoctrinated in American propaganda, they can't or refuse to see the truth. American was built on stolen land and made rich by stolen labor and lives.
The 1790 Naturalization Act permitted only "free white persons" to become naturalized citizens, thus opening the doors to European immigrants but not others. Only citizens could vote, serve on juries, hold office, and in some cases, even hold property.
The 1830 Indian Removal Act forcibly relocated Cherokee, Creeks and other eastern Indians to west of the Mississippi River to make room for white settlers. The 1862 Homestead Act gave away millions of acres of what had been Indian Territory west of the Mississippi.
Indigenous people and people of color had their land stolen, their rights stripped away, were artifically held back by law, placed under restrictions and oppressed.
Don't let others tell you to forget about the past. Forgeting or lying about the past is the same as erasing your future.
The system for inspecting federally subsidized properties is failing low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities and undermining the agency’s oversight.
by Molly Parker, The Southern Illinoisan
In the winter of 2017, a toddler was rushed to the emergency room after swallowing rodent poison inside her family’s unit at the federally subsidized Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments in Hartford, Connecticut. Her mother had placed sticky traps throughout the house after another one of her children was bitten on the arm by a mouse, according to a local housing advocate who worked with the family.
This August, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley sued the St. Louis Housing Authority and the private management company it hired to run the Clinton-Peabody Housing Complex, saying they both violated the state’s consumer protection laws by advertising that the development was habitable even though it was plagued by a pest infestation, black mold and water damage.
That same month, residents of Texas Coppertree Village Apartments in Houston filed suit against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, saying the federal government had failed to hold their landlord accountable for deplorable conditions and criminal activity at the federally subsidized complex, including rapes, aggravated assaults and robberies.
In all three cases, despite well-known, long-standing problems, the properties had passed their most-recent inspections mandated by HUD.
Apartment complexes subsidized by HUD collectively house more than 2 million low-income families around the country. Some are run by public housing authorities and others are owned by private for-profit or nonprofit landlords. By law, the owners of such complexes must pass inspections demonstrating they are decent, safe and sanitary in exchange for millions of dollars in federal money each year.
But as thousands of renters across the country have discovered, passing scores on HUD inspections often don’t match the reality of renters’ living conditions. The two-decade-old inspection system — the federal housing agency’s primary oversight tool — is failing low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities and undermining the agency’s oversight of billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded rental subsidies, an investigation by The Southern Illinoisan and ProPublica has found.
HUD has given passing inspection grades for years to dangerous buildings filled with rats and roaches, toxic mold and peeling lead-based paint, which can cause lifelong learning delays when ingested by young children. The same goes for buildings where people with disabilities have been stranded in high-rise apartments without working elevators, or where raw sewage backs up into bathtubs and utility drains. The agency has passed buildings where ceilings are caving in and the heat won’t kick on in frigid winter months as old boiler systems give out.
The failure of HUD’s inspection system has been on display in the southern Illinois towns of Cairo and East St. Louis, which have had their public housing taken over by HUD. In both towns, complexes received passing scores as decades-old buildings deteriorated.
HUD’s inspection system “is pretty much a failure,” and the agency’s staffing levels after years of budget cuts are “wholly inadequate” to assess properties, said Sara Pratt, a former senior HUD official who worked at the agency under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Kate Walz, director of housing justice with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, a social justice and legal advocacy organization based in Chicago, said, “We just shake our heads sometimes.”
“Some owners fail an inspection and they have a great building, and some owners pass it, and they have just a horrible building,” she added. “We’re running up against this all the time.”
The consequences of these failures are made more severe by the paucity of affordable housing in communities across the country. Nearly one in five of the nation’s 43 million renters spend more than half of their income on housing, according to an April report by The Pew Charitable Trusts. With few alternatives available to families who live in deep poverty, many choose to stay where they are and endure their conditions rather than complain and risk eviction and homelessness.
That’s why it’s critical that HUD ensures the safety and stability of government-funded housing units set aside for low-income families, housing advocates say. It’s a difficult charge given that the vast majority of these apartments are decades old, and many of them have gone without routine maintenance for years.
Representatives of the Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments have said that they tried to fix problems there and that the property’s passing scores meant it met HUD’s standards. After a yearslong effort led by tenants, HUD ended its contract with the owner in May. The St. Louis Housing Authority did not respond to a call seeking comment, but in news reports it said that efforts have been made to improve conditions at Clinton-Peabody, including by addressing the mice problem. And after tenants of the Texas Coppertree Village Apartments filed suit against HUD, inspectors gave the building a failing score and HUD has issued two default notices to its owner. HUD’s response to the tenants’ lawsuit was due on Tuesday, but the department has sought an extension.
The Southern emailed a synopsis of its findings to a HUD spokesman several weeks ago. The agency declined to comment in detail. HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said in an email that “the perfect system hasn’t been, and probably will not be designed. That given, the agency continues to learn and we realize the challenges of a 20-year old system.”
HUD declined to make Secretary Ben Carson available for an interview, but in late October, Carson shared a two-page statement on Twitter that said he “directed a wholesale reexamination” of how the department conducts inspections. Carson wrote that the agency is exploring “immediate improvements and those refinements over the long-term.”
The letter did not elaborate on those changes or when additional details would be made public.
“We’re simply signaling that change is coming,” Brown said. “The details will be released when we’re convinced we have a system that will better serve the residents.”
HUD’s inspection system was born out of political fallout from the agency’s previous oversight failures.
“HUD has been plagued for years by scandal and mismanagement,” then-HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo told lawmakers during a Senate hearing in 1997, announcing a reform plan, of which standardized inspections was a central feature. In the 1980s, he said, HUD was the “poster child for fraud, waste and abuse.”
“At the time, if you knew HUD at all, you knew it through its failures,” Cuomo said, citing as examples Cabrini-Green in Chicago and Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, large public housing complexes that have since been leveled.
Facing calls for his department’s elimination, Cuomo called for the creation of a Real Estate Assessment Center within HUD, which would largely rely on contractors to assess the financial and physical conditions of landlords managing HUD-subsidized properties.
All properties are supposed to be inspected at least once every three years, and poorer performing ones more often. HUD also has the ability to perform an inspection at other times in response to complaints by tenants or others. Scores are issued on a 100-point scale, with a 60 needed to pass. After the inspection, landlords receive a list of all life-threatening health and safety violations, and they have three days to fix those problems. If a privately owned property fails with a score below 30 or has two consecutive scores below 60, it is referred for enforcement action, which can include termination of a contract.
HUD survived the 1990s, but not before Congress cut a quarter of its annual budget and ordered a massive downsizing. The agency’s workforce has been reduced by more than half since the mid-1980s, from roughly 17,000 to about 8,000.
HUD has fielded complaints for years about flaws with its inspection system, particularly with respect to its complicated scoring algorithm that struggles to tell the difference between unsafe properties and decent ones, said Mike Gantt, senior vice president of The Inspection Group, a consulting company that helps properties prepare for their inspections.
“Many people have believed these scores to be largely meaningless for nearly 20 years, and this includes many HUD officials who will say so privately,” Gantt said. “This is not a newly discovered problem. Any claim to the contrary amounts to a cover up or ignorance of historical fact.”
Through a spokesman, Cuomo, now the governor of New York, defended the creation of the inspection system in the 1990s, saying that before it, there was no uniform system for inspecting federally subsidized housing across the nation. But spokesman Tyrone Stevens added that, with the passing of two decades and a dropoff in federal funding and oversight, Cuomo believes the system needs to be reevaluated.
The system’s flaws were brought into sharp relief a few years ago, when deplorable conditions in apartment buildings owned by the nonprofit Global Ministries Foundation prompted news reports and a 2016 Senate hearing that called into question HUD’s oversight.
Over a number of years, the nonprofit and a subsidiary had purchased 60 properties for low-income residents in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina and Tennessee. The nonprofit, run by an evangelical minister in Memphis, Tennessee, named Richard Hamlet, entered into contracts with HUD to house thousands of tenants in about 40 of the properties.
By 2014, Global Ministries was receiving about $40 million in federal funds annually to offset reduced rents through HUD’s project-based Section 8 program.
Internally, HUD officials were raising serious questions about the conditions at the properties, said John Gemmill, who retired from the department in 2016 as director of the agency’s Memphis office. But externally, little happened, and tenants suffered.
When Cynthia Crawford moved into Warren Apartments in Memphis in 2013, she was desperate for a place to live. For nearly four years prior, she had been homeless, bouncing between friends’ couches and shelters. Her children were in foster care, and to get them back, she had to have a home. But the conditions they endured were horrendous. “These were not just any house mice. I’m talking about rats so big we thought they were possums. A lot of ceilings were falling in on families. Stoves and fridges didn’t work. We had issues with floors falling out from under people,” Crawford said. “It was just an absolutely hopeless feeling.”
For years, the inspection scores assigned to the Memphis properties were inflated as they fell into disrepair, well before Global Ministries purchased them, said Brad Watkins, director of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, a civil rights organization that works with tenants. The scores began to drop only after Watkins and others raised concerns with HUD, he said.
Then, in the spring of 2015, Crawford and other residents began organizing and Memphis’ local paper, The Commercial Appeal, revealed that people were living in unsafe units at Warren Apartments, one of the Global Ministries properties. At roughly the same time, Hamlet paid himself a salary of $500,000. After the story ran, HUD inspectors returned, this time issuing a failing score for Warren and Tulane apartments, which were inspected jointly. Months later, HUD moved to end a contract with Global Ministries for these two properties.
This prompted reporters and advocates in other states to start asking questions. In the spring of 2016, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., visited a troubled 400-unit apartment complex in his home state that was owned by Global Ministries. During the visit to Eureka Garden Apartments in Jacksonville, Rubio told a representative of the owner that the conditions he had witnessed were “terrifying and inexcusable,” according to news reports. Days later on the Senate floor, Rubio turned his attention to HUD. He criticized the agency for not giving the property a failing inspection score.
“I, for the life of me, don’t know how they passed any inspections because, I’m telling you, I visited and I’m not a building inspector, but you don’t have to be one to visit this building and know there is no inspection that the building should ever pass,” Rubio said.
That August, under pressure from HUD and the public over poor housing conditions, Hamlet announced plans to put all of Global Ministries’ HUD-subsidized properties up for sale.
Brown, the HUD spokesman, said that Global Ministries “hurt a lot of folks in Memphis” and that the department forced Hamlet to sell his HUD-subsidized properties. But in an interview, Hamlet said that the department had been familiar with deteriorating conditions in the properties that Global Ministries bought, as they had long been a part of HUD’s rental subsidy program under prior owners. The department also had to review his financing plans, approve the purchases and enter into contracts with the nonprofit.
In the interview, Hamlet blamed tenants for lacking basic housekeeping skills, faulted the management companies he hired to run day-to-day operations and said he was targeted by HUD officials because he’s a pastor. He defended his salary, saying a consultant told the nonprofit’s board that he was “underpaid.” “It’s clear we became the pinata of all the frustrations of the whole Section 8 program on some of these older properties,” Hamlet said.
The problems with Global Ministries prompted a broad re-examination of oversight at HUD and promises of reform.
In the last two years alone, Brown said, HUD has increased training and oversight of contractors who conduct inspections on the agency’s behalf. In 2016, HUD ordered inspectors to mark down properties for shoddy repairs such as using plywood to cover holes in drywall or tape to fix a rotting refrigerator gasket. And in 2016 and 2017, the agency decertified more than 50 contract inspectors after determining they had not properly followed protocols.
These changes had a dramatic effect on inspection scores nationally. From 2015 to 2017, the failure rate nationwide roughly tripled — from 4 percent to 13 percent for public housing complexes, and more than doubled from 2 percent to 5 percent for privately owned projects subsidized under HUD’s project-based multifamily programs. About 260 private properties with housing assistance failed, roughly one of out of every 19, as did about 430 public housing complexes, roughly one in eight properties inspected in 2017.
At the same time, the number of inspections of privately owned multifamily properties has decreased dramatically over the same period, from 8,400 in 2015 to 4,900 last year. HUD declined to answer a question about the reason for the drop.
But even after the changes HUD made to improve inspection protocols, unsafe properties continue to pass in some places. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Hartford.
In early 2017, a school family resource coordinator reached out to the Christian Activities Council, a neighborhood advocacy organization in Hartford, after a child at her school said she’d been bitten by a mouse. A community organizer with the nonprofit arranged a meeting with the child’s mother to find out more. But at the appointed time, the mother wasn’t home. Her other child had swallowed rat poison and was in the emergency room at a local hospital.
Shortly after this incident, Cori Mackey, the nonprofit’s executive director, and other advocates began knocking on doors in Hartford’s North End, a distressed neighborhood that sits a half-mile from the capital city’s downtown.
The Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments consist of 26 buildings, each containing six to 12 units. Most tenants did not realize that they shared a landlord, Mackey said. But after speaking about their shared concerns, the tenants decided they wanted to take on the landlord, Ah Min Holding LLC, and its managing member, Emmanuel Ku, and ultimately, HUD. A core group of six residents led the charge.
In April 2017, the Christian Activities Council reached out to HUD’s regional office in Boston to express concerns about unsafe conditions despite the property’s passing inspection scores. The following month, a construction analyst from HUD’s Boston office visited the property and found outdated kitchens, dead mice, nonfunctioning baseboard heaters and rickety outdoor decks, according to a report obtained by The Southern in a records request.
The next month, HUD issued Ah Min Holding a notice of default, giving the owner seven days to fix the most serious health and safety violations. But nothing really changed, the residents said.
Between late June and early July 2017, a HUD inspector assessed the property again. Because the department had been made aware of problems, this particular inspection was more intensive than is typical. Still, the property passed, scoring 73, just one point less than the previous year’s 74.
The property was marked down for mold and mildew, infestation and defective windows and doors inside units. But the owner compensated for those problems by posting high scores in other categories, including the exterior of the buildings and the grounds, which tenants said were manicured in the days before HUD officials arrived, while their units received little attention.
In early July, a little more than a week after the inspection, tenants held a rally and press conference where several detailed their poor living conditions and what they said was an absentee landlord. Afterward, Joseph Crisafulli, a senior HUD official from the agency’s Boston office, addressed the tenants, saying, “The stories I’ve heard about are as far away from acceptable HUD housing as I’ve heard in my 29 years at HUD.”
That same month, a rodent expert from Cornell University found that the mouse problem at Clay Arsenal defied amateur mouse traps. Because mice were living and breeding behind fridges, in walls and cabinets and in the cushions of plush furniture, he recommended an extensive and professional extermination effort to control the problem.
In September 2017, Yulissa Espinal, one of the tenants’ leaders, gave birth to a baby girl. She and her baby had to stay in the hospital for a week and then in a hotel for another while a social worker and city code enforcement officer attempted to force her landlord to rid her unit of rodents.
When Espinal returned home two weeks later, she said she found a dead mouse in the living room. It wasn’t long before the live mice returned, she said, forcing her to set traps around her baby’s crib at night. “I worried one would get into the crib and bite her,” said Espinal, a school bus driver raising four children on a limited income.
She and others continued to plead with HUD for help, while Ah Min Holding mounted a challenge to another default notice sent by the department, threatening to cancel the company’s contract. Ku’s attorney, Carl A. S. Coan III, told HUD that such a decision was “arbitrary” and “completely contrary” to the department’s enforcement regimen for a property that had passed its most recent inspection. Ku did not respond to request for comment through Coan. HUD withdrew the second default notice and instead required Ku to fix a lengthy list of problems by January 2018, a deadline the department extended numerous times.
Dismayed, the advocates and tenants kept searching for answers. They discovered what they considered an opening: Ah Min Holding had not properly obtained certificates of occupancy for its rental buildings, which require a city inspection when there is turnover of a rental unit. The city agreed. In February of this year, city officials inspected about 100 of Ah Min’s units, and nearly all of them failed.
In April, HUD once again notified Ah Min Holding that the company was in violation of its contract with the department. On May 2, the mayor of Hartford told Ku in a letter that the city would charge Ah Min $99 per violation per day until he fixed the issues. Two weeks later, a city committee voted to end Ah Min Holding’s tax abatement, which was worth about $266,000 annually.
On May 31, tenants found letters taped to their door from HUD, announcing that the agency had pulled the company’s contract and would provide them assistance in relocating. HUD also sent Ku a letter stating that “in light of the conditions at the project, and your continuing failure to provide decent, safe housing,” the agency was denying his company’s request for additional time to fix problems.
Rhonda Siciliano, spokeswoman for HUD’s Boston office, said that routine inspections are only one of the agency’s oversight tools for holding landlords accountable: “Is it the primary one? Yes. Is it 100 percent foolproof? No.”
Siciliano said that as soon as problems were brought to HUD’s attention by the advocacy organization, the agency responded. But that’s the problem, said Mackey, the executive director of the nonprofit helping the tenants.
“HUD acted only because we put pressure on them, not because that’s part of their standard oversight system,” she said.
Even as HUD is making promises to further reform the inspection system, years of inflated scores assigned to unsafe and deteriorating properties has caused harm that will be hard to reverse.
Congress has made cuts to programs that pay for renovations at apartment complexes for years, and this has led to a massive backlog of repairs. In 2011, HUD published a study saying that some 1.2 million public housing units needed about $26 billion in large-scale repairs, and that the backlog would grow by more than $3 billion annually. (There has not been a more recent assessment.)
One of the most dramatic public housing oversight failures is playing out in New York City, in Cuomo’s home state, where nearly 400,000 people live in public housing. For decades, the New York City Housing Authority, the nation’s largest, managed to avoid many of the pitfalls and public relations nightmares that plagued other large cities. It was considered a success story for government-run housing. But not anymore.
This winter, thousands of tenants were without heat. The housing authority later admitted it had not properly conducted inspections for lead paint in recent years, and hundreds of children were poisoned. Units are overrun with rats and mold. In a complaint, federal prosecutors accused local officials of trying to conceal the extent of the problems and mislead HUD inspectors with actions such as turning off the water to buildings to conceal leaks and posting “Do Not Enter” signs on basement rooms. The city, which manages the housing authority, has agreed to spend more than $2 billion over a decade on renovation efforts, and to be overseen by a federal monitor under the terms of a consent decree that still must be approved by a federal judge.
Yet, records show that HUD has known about serious health and safety deficiencies inside New York City’s public housing complexes for years. Some inspection reports estimated more than 1,000 health and safety deficiencies; the properties continued to receive passing scores. On Wednesday, a judge declined to sign off on the consent decree because he said it did not go far enough to address conditions he described as “somewhat reminiscent of the biblical plagues of Egypt.” He asked both sides to come back next month with a proposal for how to proceed.
Similarly, in the town of Cairo, located in the southern Illinois region known as “Little Egypt,” residents of the Elmwood and McBride apartment complexes lived with mice, mold and heating outages that forced them to heat their homes with gas ovens. And for years, HUD gave these buildings passing grades as they fell apart.
Today, both buildings are empty.
Vines stretch up their sides. Plywood boards have been stapled over windows. Mangled, wind-whipped metal awnings hang over them. Once home to hundreds of children, it’s now eerily quiet. Before HUD moved everyone out, nearly a sixth of the population of this town at Illinois’ southernmost border lived in the two 1940s-era apartment complexes.
When HUD placed the housing authority into receivership, an agency spokesman told The Southern that HUD was “stunned … at what it saw, not just in terms of deplorable living conditions” but also “poor and absent record keeping, the staggering backlog of critical repairs.”
When HUD finally announced a plan to address the unsafe conditions in the spring of 2017, officials told residents that the buildings were too far gone to save, and that the department was no longer in the business of building public housing. Residents were provided vouchers that subsidize rent in the private market, but many had to leave Cairo because it had few rental apartments. The shuttering of Elmwood and McBride leaves few public housing options: two high-rise towers and several smaller buildings.
When HUD’s inspector general released a report this summer examining why the department didn’t step in sooner, faulty inspections were identified as part of the problem.
Brown, the HUD spokesman, previously told The Southern that what happened in Cairo was a “rare” oversight failure on the department’s part. Three inspectors who had performed physical inspections at the Alexander County Housing Authority between 2009 and 2016 have been decertified for performance issues.
But Jeremy Kirkland, HUD’s acting deputy inspector general, told a House subcommittee in late September, “I am absolutely certain there are others out there like Elmwood and McBride.”
Republished with permission under license from ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
The first group of borrowers who tried to get Public Service Loan Forgiveness – a George W. Bush-era program meant to provide relief to those who went into socially valuable but poorly paid public service jobs, such as teachers and social workers – mostly ran into a brick wall.
Of the 28,000 public servants who applied for Public Service Loan Forgiveness earlier this year, only 96 were approved. Many were denied in large part due to government contractors being less than helpful when it came to telling borrowers about Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Some of these borrowers will end up getting part of their loans forgiven, but will have to make more payments than they expected.
With Democrats having regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the November 2018 midterm elections, the Department of Education will likely face greater pressure for providing better information to borrowers, as it was told to do recently by the Government Accountability Office.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program forgives loans for students who made 10 years of loan payments while they worked in public service jobs. Without this loan forgiveness plan, many of these borrowers would have been paying off their student loans for 20 to 25 years.
In general, working for a government agency – such as teaching in a public school or a nonprofit organization that is not partisan in nature – counts as public service for the purposes of the program. For some types of jobs, this means that borrowers need to choose their employers carefully. Teaching at a for-profit school, even if the job is similar to teaching at a public school, would not qualify someone for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Borrowers must also work at least 30 hours per week in order to qualify.
What types of loans and payment plans qualify?
Only Federal Direct Loans automatically qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Borrowers with other types of federal loans must consolidate their loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan before any payments count toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness. The failure to consolidate is perhaps the most common reason why borrowers who applied for forgiveness have been rejected, although Congress did provide US$350 million to help some borrowers who were in an ineligible loan program qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
In order to receive Public Service Loan Forgiveness, borrowers must also be enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan, which ties payments to a percentage of a borrower’s income. The default repayment option is not income-driven and consists of 10 years of fixed monthly payments, but these fixed payments are much higher than income-driven payments. The bottom line is it’s not enough to just make 10 years of payments. You have to make those payments through an income-driven repayment plan to get Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Parent PLUS Loans and Direct Consolidation Loans have fewer repayment plan options than Direct Loans made to students, so borrowers must enroll in an approved income-driven repayment plan for that type of loan. Borrowers must make 120 months of payments, which do not need to be consecutive, while enrolled in the correct payment plan to receive forgiveness.
How can borrowers track their progress?
First of all, keep every piece of information possible regarding your student loan. Pay stubs, correspondence with student loan servicers and contact information for prior employers can all help support a borrower’s case for qualifying for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Unfortunately, borrowers have had a hard time getting accurate information from loan servicers and the Department of Education about how to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office told the Department of Education earlier this year to improve its communication with servicers and borrowers, so this process should – at least in theory – get better going forward.
Borrowers should also fill out the Department of Education’s Employment Certification Form each year, as the Department of Education will respond with information on the number of payments made that will qualify toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness. This form should also be filed with the Department of Education each time a borrower starts a new job to make sure that position also qualifies for loan forgiveness.
Can new borrowers still access Public Service Loan Forgiveness?
Yes. Although congressional Republicans proposed eliminating Public Service Loan Forgiveness for new borrowers, the changes have not been approved by Congress. Current borrowers would not be affected under any of the current policy proposals. However, it would be a good idea for borrowers to fill out an Employment Certification Form as soon as possible just in case Congress changes its mind.
Are there other affordable payment options available?
Yes. The federal government offers a number of income-driven repayment options that limit monthly payments to between 10 and 20 percent of “discretionary income.” The federal government determines “discretionary income” as anything you earn that is above 150 percent of the poverty line, which would translate to an annual salary of about $18,000 for a single adult. So if you earn $25,000 a year, your monthly payments would be limited to somewhere between $700 and $1400 per year, or about $58 and $116 per month.
These plans are not as generous as Public Service Loan Forgiveness because payments must be made for between 20 and 25 years – instead of 10 years under Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Also, any forgiven balance under income-driven repayment options is subject to income taxes, whereas balances forgiven through Public Service Loan Forgiveness are not taxed.