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Why police reforms rarely succeed: Lessons from Latin America

During a speech to law enforcement on July 28, 2017, Trump encourages police brutality against suspects and many of the officers in attendance clapped and cheered. 

President Donald Trump’s appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has led people to speculate about the fate of recent police reform efforts. Early into his tenure, Sessions said he intended to “pull back on” the Justice Department’s investigations of police department abuses, saying they diminish effectiveness.

Americans have mobilized extensively in the past three years against police brutality, militarization and corruption through the Black Lives Matter and related movements. Government officials at the federal level have responded to these demands by creating specialized task forces to recommend best practices, and investigating troubled police departments and enforcing reforms. Courts have also worked to roll back unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policies, while city governments have created independent oversight agencies and enacted robust community policing programs.

But will it stick?

My research on police reform in Latin America shows that such reforms are highly vulnerable to political reversals. These cases reveal how they can be quickly rolled back before they can take hold and demonstrate results.

Understanding the politics of police reform in Latin America may be informative for those who hope for changes in policing in the U.S.

Police reform and politics

Leaders in Colombia and Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, overhauled their police institutions in 1993 and 1998, respectively. These reforms were a response to rising crime rates, as well as pervasive police violence, corruption and ineffectiveness in fighting crime.

Comprehensive police reform laws were crafted through broad political consensus. Lawmakers in the Colombian congress and the Buenos Aires provincial legislature enacted sweeping legislation to demilitarize, decentralize and professionalize Colombia’s National Police and the Police of Buenos Aires Province. The reforms also improved recruitment standards and training, strengthened oversight agencies and created formal spaces for community participation.

Former Colombian President Ernesto Samper during a nationally televised speech in 1995. Reuters/Jose Gomez

Only one year after reforms were passed, however, Ernesto Samper was elected president of Colombia. He vowed to undermine his predecessor’s dramatic overhaul of the National Police, saying his government would “let the police regulate itself.”

Similarly in Buenos Aires Province, Carlos Ruckauf was elected governor in 1999. He left his predecessor’s police reform legislation intact. However, he made his preferred approach to crime-fighting clear: “we have to hit the criminals with bullets.”

Both politicians used citizens’ concerns over rising crime to lead calls for greater police autonomy, in order to be “tougher” on crime. Under their administrations, hard-fought police reform gave way to periods of “counter-reform.” These were characterized by increased police autonomy, weakened accountability, militarization, unchecked corruption and extrajudicial killings.

Other research on policing in Latin America has provided compelling evidence of the impact of such political rhetoric. When politicians promoting “tougher” police strategies are elected, police killings and repression of citizens increase.

These examples reveal how the long-term aims of police reforms can be difficult to reconcile with the short-term goals of politicians.

Police support for reform

My research also demonstrates that police forces that are resistant to reforms have considerable power to undermine them. In Buenos Aires Province, police officials succeeded in dismantling a system of neighborhood security forums that allowed citizens to conduct oversight of police. Police officials felt the forums gave citizens too much control over police affairs. As a result, they lobbied the governor and security minister to reduce the funding and staff needed to implement them.

By contrast, a similar participatory system in São Paulo, Brazil, has endured for three decades. There, police are incorporated into the governance structure of the community councils, allowing for a more collaborative relationship. As a result, many police officers have come to see forum members as their advocates. Although citizens in São Paulo do not have oversight authority, the police’s cooperation has contributed to the persistence of these participatory spaces.

Thus, reformers must identify and bolster police officials with a stake in sustaining reforms. Without support from insiders, reform is unlikely to last.

Sustaining momentum

Police reform is also made vulnerable by the fact that, after reform passes, its proponents demobilize. In Buenos Aires and Colombia, human rights and activist organizations remained active when politicians began to reverse reforms. But the broadly shared societal outrage that led to reform in the first place dissipated. With it went the momentum needed to sustain reform in the long term.

Research from both the U.S. and Latin America has shown that campaigning for “tough on crime” policies, or “penal populism,” is a highly successful strategy for winning elections. As scholars have shown, such policies can generate broad support among a diverse set of voters. So-called “pro-order” coalitions, the collection of civil society organizations, media outlets and politicians that advocate for “law and order” policies, have similarly demonstrated great capacity to mobilize resources and public support.

Failing to sustain reform coalitions means there is little counterweight to these pressures.

‘Counter-reform’ in the US?

Is the U.S. entering a period of “counter-reform” similar to that observed in Colombia and Argentina?

Opponents of reform, including Sessions, warn of “a longer-term trend of violent crime going up.” They have also floated theories such as the “Ferguson effect,” the idea that growing scrutiny of police activity has made police more timid. Such arguments may scare voters into believing that police reform may make police less effective in fighting crime.

Meanwhile, President Trump has engaged in rhetoric similar to his Colombian and Argentine counterparts. As a candidate, he called on police to be “very much tougher” in fighting crime. As president, he has said his will be “a law-and-order administration” that will “empower” police.

It is too early to tell whether these police reform efforts will backslide. While the U.S. context differs in some ways from Latin America, these examples demonstrate that police reform is a continuous and contentious process that is difficult to achieve and highly prone to reversal.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation

The East St. Louis Race Riot Left Dozens Dead, Devastating a Community on the Rise

Three days of violence forced African-American families to run for their lives and the aftereffects are still felt in the Illinois city today.

Two National Guard escort an African-American man in the tense summer weeks of 1917 in East St. Louis, Illinois. (Bettmann)

No one really knows about this. . . . I know about it because my father, uncles and aunts lived through it,” Dhati Kennedy says.

He’s referring to an incident that survivors call the East St. Louis Race War. From July 1 through July 3, 1917, a small Illinois city located across the river from its Missouri counterpart was overrun with violence. Kennedy’s father Samuel, who was born in 1910, lived in East St. Louis when the conflict occurred. A smoldering labor dispute turned deadly as rampaging whites began brutally beating and killing African-Americans. By the end of the three-day crisis, the official death toll was 39 black individuals and nine whites, but many believe that more than 100 African-Americans were killed.

St. Louis Globe Democrat headline on Tuesday July 3, 1917

“We spent a lifetime as children hearing these stories. It was clear to me my father was suffering from some form of what they call PTSD,” Kennedy recalls. “He witnessed horrible things: people’s houses being set ablaze, . . .  people being shot when they tried to flee, some trying to swim to the other side of the Mississippi while being shot at by white mobs with rifles, others being dragged out of street cars and beaten and hanged from street lamps.”

Kennedy is the founder of the Committee for Historical Truth, a group that has spent 20 years commemorating the event and the subsequent black exodus from the city. This year, the Kennedys, survivors, historians and human rights activists are hosting three days of activities in East St. Louis and St. Louis, as well as on the Eads Bridge that connects the two cities. Many residents of East St. Louis used this bridge to flee into Missouri.

“Thousands of blacks were streaming across that bridge when what they called the ‘race war’ got into full swing,” Kennedy says. “When that happened, the police shut down the bridge, and no one could escape. Some, in desperation, tried to swim and drowned.”

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture holds within its collections a copy of the September 1917 issue of The Crisis, a NAACP publication. The magazine includes articles about the East St. Louis race massacres and the Silent Parade held in Harlem, New York, to bring attention to the atrocities happening in Illinois.

The September 1917 issue of The Crisis, the official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

Racial tensions began simmering in East St. Louis—a city where thousands of blacks had moved from the South to work in war factories—as early as February 1917. The African-American population was 6,000 in 1910 and nearly double that by 1917. In the spring, the largely white workforce at the Aluminum Ore Company went on strike. Hundreds of blacks were hired. After a City Council meeting on May 28, angry white workers lodged formal complaints against black migrants. When word of an attempted robbery of a white man by an armed black man spread through the city, mobs started beating any African-Americans they found, even pulling individuals off of streetcars and trolleys. The National Guard was called in but dispersed in June.

On July 1, a white man in a Ford shot into black homes. Armed African-Americans gathered in the area and shot into another oncoming Ford, killing two men who turned out to be police officers investigating the shooting. The next morning, whites pouring out of a meeting in the Labor Temple downtown began beating blacks with guns, rocks and pipes. They set fire to homes and shot residents as they fled their burning properties. Blacks were also lynched in other areas of the city.

Carlos F. Hurd, a reporter known for his harrowing interviews with survivors of the R.M.S. Titanic wreck, published a July 3 eyewitness report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The article was also quoted in The Crisis.

“The East St. Louis affair, as I saw it, was a man hunt, conducted on a sporting basis, though with anything but the fair play which is the principle of sport,” Hurd wrote. “There was a horribly cool deliberateness and a spirit of fun about it. ‘Get a nigger’ was the slogan, and it was varied by the recurrent cry, ‘Get another!’”

Hugh L. Wood, writing for the St. Louis Republicwas also quoted in The Crisis: “A Negro weighing 300 pounds came out of the burning line of dwellings just north and east of the Southern fright home. . . . ‘Get him!’ they cried. So a man in the crowd clubbed his revolver and struck the Negro in the face with it. Another dashed an iron bolt between the Negro’s eyes. Still another stood near and battered him with a rock. Then the giant Negro tumbled to the ground. . . . A girl stepped up and struck the bleeding man with her foot. The blood spurted onto her stockings and men laughed and grunted.”

The Crisis articles include more scenes of raw horror: a person was beheaded with a butcher knife, and a 12-year-old African-American girl fainted after being pulled from a trolley bus. Her mother stopped to help and a white crowd attacked, leaving the mother prostrate with a gaping hole in her head.

As Kennedy’s family prepared for a Sunday morning church service, they learned that whites were heading into the “African quarter.” His grandmother called everyone into the house, and his teenaged father and uncles prepared for battle. Some in the city—both white and black—had just returned from World War I.

“Uncle Eddie and some of the other young men were armed—he had a squirrel rifle. They staked out in front of our home and warded off the marauding white mob as they came down our street. They had to take cover because the white men were shooting at them,” Kennedy says. “There was a standoff if you will, and I understand from my uncle that it seemed to last for hours. They witnessed the burning of homes and people. . . .  People were hanged as well.”

By early Monday morning, the whole neighborhood was on fire. Kennedy’s family decided to run for the river under the cover of darkness.

“According to my uncles, it took four hours to get across that river. . . .They fashioned a raft out of old doors and charred wood to cross the Mississippi River and get to the St. Louis side,” Kennedy explains. “The raft [sprung] leaks, but they were able to get across.”

Even now, Kennedy says, the family deals with the aftermath of those harrowing days. His grandmother, Katherine Horne Kennedy, died several weeks after the riots from pneumonia and the stress of the crossing. To this day, the family tells children answering the door to look out of the window and stand aside—somebody might be waiting outside with a gun.

“My uncles said they had to stay on the Missouri side of the river, and in the east the horizon was just glowing for weeks from burning buildings. For days afterward, you could still hear screams and gunshots,” Kennedy says.

He is looking forward to the centennial commemoration because, as he explains, freedom did not come easily to African-Americans, and people need to know what happened. East St. Louis was not the only example of violence against blacks: Other cities suffered similar destruction, including Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921, and Rosewood, Florida, in 1923.

The centennial begins with a film festival in East St Louis on July 1. The next day, a procession accompanied by drummers will leave from East St. Louis and proceed to the middle of the Eads Bridge. A memorial wreath will be placed in the river, and sky lanterns will be released in honor of those who died. There will be discussions at a local church on July 3, a day of resurrection.

But Kennedy notes that in East St. Louis, a stone’s throw from Ferguson, Missouri, the healing is far from over. Ferguson is ground zero for the Black Lives Matter movement, which erupted in the wake of the 2014 police killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown.

“With all of the talk of healing, especially after Ferguson—here we call it the uprising—my feeling is how can you heal over a festering sore?” Kennedy asks. “You’ve got to clean it out and disinfect it first, and to do that we have to know the truth.”


For information and videos about other race riots, visit the Race Riot and the Red Summer of 1919 pages at Court.rchp.com


Republished from article originally appearing in the Smithsonian


 

Why the Reaction Is Different When the Terrorist Is White

James T. Hodgkinison, a white 66-year-year old man from Belleville, Illinois, is the alleged shooter in this morning's attack at a GOP baseball practice. Most mass shootings are done by white men, however, the word terrorist is rarely used or associated when the shooter is white.

As we have pointed out on our racial media bias page, incidents involving blacks and other non-whites are handled very different. Negative descriptors such as thugs, drug relate, gang related, radical muslim extremist are used, but I have yet to hear the media describe any white shooter as a radical christian extremist. When the shooter is muslim or black the media treats the incident as an indictment against the entire religion or race.

This incident brought the Cookie Thornton shooting to mind and I wondered what prompted James Hodgkinson to act. I suspect that some benefit or program that Hodgkinson relied was cut. As more jobs are lost to artificial intelligence and automation, more people will be pushed over the edge. Unless we start profiling white men, these incidents will most likely increase, especially when economic conditions began negatively impacting their standard of living and they discover there is no safety net for them. 

The rising homegrown terror threat on the right

By Arie Perliger Director of Security Studies and professor, University of Massachusetts Lowell

The murder in College Park, Maryland of Richard Collins III, an African-American student who had recently been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and was days away from his graduation from Bowie State University, underscores the violence of America’s far-right wing. Sean Urbanski, the University of Maryland student who allegedly stabbed Collins to death, belongs to a racist Facebook group called Alt-Reich: Nation.

The rising homegrown terror threat on the right May 28, 2017 1.47pm EDT Mourners embrace at a vigil for Richard Collins III, who was stabbed to death in College Park, Maryland. AP Photo/Brian Witte

It makes sense that the FBI is helping the police investigate this incident as a suspected hate crime. But my 15 years experience of studying violent extremism in Western societies has taught me that dealing effectively with far-right violence requires something more: treating its manifestations as domestic terrorism.

While attacks such as the recent suicide bombing in Manchester that left 22 people dead and several dozen injured will probably continue to garner more headlines, this growing domestic menace deserves more attention than it’s getting.

This distraught man and an FBI agent were standing at the site of the Murrah Federal Building in 1995, after the Oklahoma City bombing reduced it to rubble. Rick Wilking/Reuters

Domestic terrorism

Terrorism is a form of psychological warfare. Most terrorist groups lack the resources, expertise and manpower to defeat state actors. Instead, they promote their agenda through violence that shapes perceptions of political and social issues.

Collins’ murder, if it was motivated by racist sentiments, should be treated as an act of domestic terrorism, which I define here as the use of violence in a political and social context that aims to send a message to a broader target audience. Like lynching, cross-burning and vandalizing religious sites, incidents of this kind deliberately aim to terrorize people of color and non-Christians.

I consider domestic terrorism a more significant threat than the foreign-masterminded variety in part because it is more common in terms of the number of attacks on U.S. soil. For example, my report published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point identified hundreds of domestic terror incidents per year between 2008 and 2012.

Another report initially published in 2014 by New America Foundation on domestic incidents of extremist violence shows that excluding the Orlando nightclub massacre, between 2002-2016, far-right affiliated perpetrators conducted 18 attacks that killed 48 people in the United States, while terrorists motivated by al-Qaida’s or the Islamic State’s ideology killed 45 people in nine attacks.

The Orlando mass shooting, given its mix of apparent motives, is hard to categorize.

A spontaneous appearance

In briefings with law enforcement and policymakers, I have sometimes encountered a tendency to see U.S. right-wing extremists as a monolith. But traditional Ku Klux Klan chapters operate differently than skinhead groups, as do anti-government “patriot” and militia groups and anti-abortion extremistsChristian Identity groups, which believe Anglo-Saxons and other people of Northern European descent are a chosen people, are distinct too.

Certainly, there is some overlap. But these groups also differ significantly in terms of their methods of violence, recruitment styles and ideologies. Across the board, undermining the threat they pose requires a more sophisticated approach than investigating their criminal acts as suspected hate crimes.

In an ongoing study I’m conducting at the University of Massachusetts Lowell with several students, we have determined that, as apparently occurred with Collins’ recent murder in Maryland, many attacks inspired by racist or xenophobic sentiments may appear spontaneous. That is, no one plans them in advance or targets the victim ahead of time. Instead, chance encounters that enrage the perpetrators trigger these incidents.

Sporadic attacks with high numbers of casualties that are plotted in advance, such as Dylann Roof’s murder of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, South Carolina church, are always big news. More typical incidents of far-right violence tend to draw less attention.

The widow of Clementa Pinckney, a pastor and South Carolina lawmaker slain in the mass murder at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, hugs her daughter during a 2015 memorial service for victims of that attack. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The fatal stabbing of Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and Ricky John Best aboard a train in Portland, Oregon on May 26 seems to be emerging as an exception. The alleged killer of these two white men, Jeremy Joseph Christian, attacked them with a knife after they stood up to him for haranguing two young women who appeared to be Muslim, police said. A third injured passenger is expected to survive. Much of the media coverage is focused on Christian’s violent and racist background.

Given the spontaneous nature of so much far-right violence, U.S. counterterrorism policies should, in my view, target the dissemination of white supremacist ideology, rather than just identifying planned attacks and monitoring established white supremacy groups.

An iceberg theory

The number of violent attacks on U.S. soil inspired by far-right ideology has spiked since the beginning of this century, rising from a yearly avarage of 70 attacks in the 1990s to a yearly avarage of more than 300 since 2001. These incidents have grown even more common since President Donald Trump’s election.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that researches U.S. extremism, reported 900 bias-related incidents against minorities in the first 10 days after Trump’s election – compared to several dozen in a normal week – and the group found that many of the harassers invoked the then-president-elect’s name. Similarly, the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit that tracks anti-Semitism, recorded an 86 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the first three months of 2017.

Beyond the terror that victimized communities are experiencing, I would argue that this trend reflects a deeper social change in American society.

The iceberg model of political extremism, initially developed by Ehud Shprinzak, an Israeli political scientist, can illuminate these dynamics.

Murders and other violent attacks perpetrated by U.S. far-right extremists compose the visible tip of an iceberg. The rest of this iceberg is under water and out of sight. It includes hundreds of attacks every year that damage property and intimidate communities, such as the recent attempted burning of an African-American family’s garage in Schodack, New York. The garage was also defaced with racist graffiti.

The parents of University of North Carolina dental student Deah Shaddy Barakat, who was murdered alongside his wife and her sister by a man who had expressed xenophobic sentiments, grieve at a vigil for the three Muslim Americans in 2015. Reuters/Chris Keane

Data my team collected at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point show that the significant growth in far-right violence in recent years is happening at the base of the iceberg. While the main reasons for that are still not clear, it is important to remember that changes in societal norms are usually reflected in behavioral changes. Hence, it is more than reasonable to suspect that extremist individuals engage in such activities because they sense that their views are enjoying growing social legitimacy and acceptance, which is emboldening them to act on their bigotry.

Budget cuts

Despite an uptick in far-right violence and the Trump administration’s plan to increase the Department of Homeland Security budget by 6.7 percent to US$44.1 billion in 2018, the White House wants to cut spending for programs that fight non-Muslim domestic terrorism.

The federal government has also frozen $10 million in grants aimed at countering domestic violent extremism. This approach is bound to weaken the authorities’ power to monitor far-right groups, undercutting public safety.

How many more innocent people like Richard Collins III – and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and Ricky John Best – have to die before the U.S. government starts taking the threat posed by violent white supremacists more seriously?


This article was republished with permission under license from The Conversation with an included preface.

Future of unions in balance as Trump prepares to reshape national labor board

By Nicole Hallett – Assistant Clinical Professor of Law, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

Last October, employees of the Elderwood Nursing Home in Grand Island, New York, voted to unionize after years of dealing with short staffing, stagnant wages and problems with management. Six months later, the company has yet to come to the bargaining table, claiming that there are unresolved legal questions about whether licensed practical nurses can be part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Yale University graduate students have sought to form a union for more than a decade. AP Photo/Bob Child

Yale University has recently come under criticism for making a similar decision. Despite a February vote to unionize by graduate students in eight departments, Yale has so far resisted calls to begin the bargaining process. Instead, it has appealed the decision to certify the election and is refusing to bargain until the appeal is decided.

Elderwood and Yale could hardly be more different. Yale is a world-class Ivy League bastion of higher education. Elderwood is a medium-sized elder care company that operates nursing home facilities in New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Yet both have made the strategic decision to not recognize the right of their employees to unionize. Why?

My research on the decline of the labor movement suggests a reason: Employers are counting on a changing of the guard at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The NLRB is about to go under new management. AP Photo/Jon Elswick

Republicans take control

The NLRB is the administrative agency that is tasked with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act, the federal statute that gives employees the right to unionize and collectively bargain. The NLRB consists of five members who are appointed to five-year terms by the president upon the advice and consent of the Senate.

Right now, there are two vacancies on the board that President Donald Trump will fill. Once the Senate confirms President Trump’s nominees, Republicans will control the board for the first time since 2007.

The background of the three candidates reportedly under consideration suggests that the board will in fact be much friendlier to business interests under the Trump administration. One of the potential nominees, Doug Seaton, has made a career of being a “union-buster,” the term used to describe a consultant brought in by employers to beat a unionization campaign. Another, William Emanuel, is a partner at Littler Mendelson, one of the largest and most successful anti-labor law firms in the country. Less is known about the third potential candidate, Marvin Kaplan, but his history as a Republican staffer suggests he may also represent employers’ interests.

Many observers assume that this new board will overturn many Obama-era precedents that favored unions. These precedents include questions such as how to define bargaining units, at issue at both Yale and Elderwood.

But the new board could go even further and roll back pro-union decisions dating back decades. This could be devastating to already weakened unions. With private sector union membership hovering at a dismal 6.4 percent – down from about 17 percent in 1983 – nothing short of the end of the labor movement could be at stake.

How politics intruded on the NLRB

The composition of the NLRB is important because most claims regarding the right to organize and collectively bargain are decided by the agency.

Unlike other employment statutes, such as Title VII and the Fair Labor Standards Act, individuals and unions cannot file claims in federal court and instead must participate in the administrative process set up by the National Labor Relations Act. While aggrieved parties can appeal board rulings to federal appeals courts, judges grant a high degree of deference to NLRB decisions.

In other words, three board members – a bare majority of the board – have an enormous ability to influence and shape American labor policy.

Given the amount of power these three individuals can wield, it is no wonder that the NLRB has become highly politicized in the decades since its creation in the 1930s. Ironically, the board was originally established as a way to try to insulate labor policy from political influences.

The drafters of the labor act believed that the federal courts were hostile to labor rights and would chip away at the protections in a way that would be bad for unions. Instead, the board has become a political battlefield for the two parties who hold very different views about labor policy.

This politicization came to a head during the Obama administration, when it became impossible to confirm anyone to serve on the NLRB. In response, Obama appointed several members using his recess appointment power, which allows the president to avoid Senate confirmation of nominees when Congress is in recess.

Employers challenged the move, and the Supreme Court eventually invalidated the recess appointments as executive overreach in NLRB v. Noel Canning. After the decision, Obama and the Senate finally agreed on five members that were confirmed. This new board, with a Democratic majority, then decided many of the precedents that employers hope the new members will overturn.

Flaws in the National Labor Relations Act

So what will happen if Elderwood and Yale bet wrong and lose their appeals in front of the new Republican-controlled board?

In all likelihood, not much. The board process is long and cumbersome. It often takes years from the filing of a charge for failure to bargain to the board’s decision. In the meantime, employers hope that unions will have turnover in their membership, become disorganized and lose support.

Moreover, the penalties available under the National Labor Relations Act are weak. If an employer is found to have violated the act, the board can issue a “cease-and-desist” letter and require the employer to post a notice promising not to engage in further violations. These penalties hardly encourage employers to comply with their obligations, especially when they have so much to gain from obstructing attempts to unionize and collectively bargain.

If the labor movement is to survive, the National Labor Relations Act needs to be reformed to fix these problems. Instead, a few years of a Republican-controlled NLRB could be organized labor’s death knell.


Republished with permission under license by The Conversation.

Why schools still can’t put segregation behind them

By Derek Black – Professor of Law, University of South Carolina

A federal district court judge has decided that Gardendale – a predominantly white city in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama – can move forward in its effort to secede from the school district that serves the larger county. The district Gardendale is leaving is 48 percent black and 44 percent white. The new district would be almost all white.

The idea that a judge could allow this is unfathomable to most, but the case demonstrates in the most stark terms that school segregation is still with us. While racial segregation in U.S. schools plummeted between the late 1960s and 1980, it has steadily increased ever since – to the the point that schools are about as segregated today as they were 50 years ago.

As a former school desegregation lawyer and now a scholar of educational inequality and law, I have both witnessed and researched an odd shift to a new kind of segregation that somehow seems socially acceptable. So long as it operates with some semblance of furthering educational quality or school choice, even a federal district court is willing to sanction it.

While proponents of the secession claim they just want the best education for their children and opponents decry the secession as old-school racism, the truth is more complex: Race, education and school quality are inextricably intertwined.

Rationalizing Gardendale’s segregation

In some respects, Gardendale is no different from many other communities.

Thirty-seven percent of our public schools are basically one-race schools – nearly all white or all minority. In New York, two out of three black students attend a school that is 90 to 100 percent minority.

In June 2017, New York City released a plan to diversify its public schools. The plan includes an advisory group that will evaluate current diversity pushes and recommend additional ones by June 2018. Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock

In many areas, this racial isolation has occurred gradually over time, and is often written off as the result of demographic shifts and private preferences that are beyond a school district’s control.

The Gardendale parents argued their motivations were not about race at all, but just ensuring their kids had access to good schools. The evidence pointed in the other direction: In language rarely offered by modern courts, the judge found, at the heart of the secession, “a desire to control the racial demographics of [its] public schools” by “eliminat[ing]… black students [from] Gardendale schools.”

Still, these findings were not enough to stop the secession. As in many other cases over the past two decades, the judge conceded to resegregation, speculating that if she stopped the move, innocent parties would suffer: Black students who stayed in Gardendale would be made to feel unwelcome and those legitimately seeking educational improvements would be stymied.

Simply put, the judge could not find an upside to blocking secessionists whom she herself characterized as racially motivated.

As such, the court held that Gardendale’s secession could move forward. Two of its elementary schools can secede now, while the remaining elementary and upper-level schools must do so gradually.

The problem with conceding to segregation

Unfortunately, there’s no middle ground in segregation cases. No matter what spin a court puts on it, allowing secessions like Gardendale’s hands racism a win.

While it’s true that stopping the secession may come with a cost to members of that community who have done nothing wrong, our Constitution demands that public institutions comply with the law. That is the price of living in a democracy that prizes principles over outcomes.

From left to right, George E.C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall and James M. Nabrit stand in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. 1954. The lawyers led the case against the Board of Education of Topeka to end segregation in schools. AP Photo

In this case, the constitutional principles are clear. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court held that there is no such thing as separate but equal schools: Segregated schools are “inherently unequal.”

Rather than stick to these principles, the judge in the Gardendale case seemingly tried to strike a bargain with segregation. As long as Gardendale appoints “at least one African-American resident” to its school board and does not do anything overtly racist moving forward, the court will allow the city to pursue its own agenda.

The sordid roots of school quality – and inequality

The ruling in Gardendale is a step toward reinforcing an unfortunate status quo in Alabama.

Alabama is one of a handful of states that amended its state constitution in an attempt to avoid desegregation in the 1950s. The amendment gave parents the right to avoid sending their kids to integrated schools and made clear that the state was no longer obligated to fund public education. Alabama preferred an underfunded and optional educational system to an integrated one. Courts quickly struck down the discriminatory parts of the new constitution, but the poor state education system remained.

Today, student achievement in Alabama ranks dead last – or near it – on every measure. Most communities don’t have the resources to do anything about it. Funding is relatively low – and unequal from district to district. Even after adjusting for variations in regional costs, a recent study shows that the overwhelming majority of schools in Alabama are funded at ten percent or more below the national average and another substantial chunk is thirty-three percent or more below the national average.

Parents trapped in under-resourced schools understandably feel like they need to take action. But rather than demanding an effective and well-supported statewide system of public schools, parents with the means often feel compelled to isolate their children from the larger system that surrounds them.

And while whites and blacks struggle over the future of Gardendale’s schools, the real culprits – the current state legislature and the segregationists who gutted public education in Alabama decades ago – go unchallenged.

In 2006, the Nebraska legislature approved a plan to divide Omaha public schools into three districts: one predominantly white, one black and one Hispanic. Lawmakers argued that resegregation would give black parents more control over their schools. AP Photo/Nati Harnik

The path forward leads through equal public education

The education system in Alabama, like in so many other states, is rigged against a large percentage of families and communities: Those with less money tend to get a worse education. Until these states reform their overall education funding systems, the inequalities and inadequacies that they produce will continue to fuel current racial motivations.

The lawsuit in Gardendale was a poor vehicle for fixing Alabama’s education system: The state’s overall education system was not on trial. The only issue before the court was a racially motivated district line in one small community.

But our small communities are connected to larger education systems.

In my view, we cannot fix those systems by way of more individual choice, charters, vouchers or school district secessions. The fact is, educational funding is down across the board, when compared to a decade ago. If we want all students to have a decent shot at better education, we need to recommit to statewide systems of public education. Only then will our base fears and racial biases begin to fade into the background.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Not just for the poor: The crucial role of Medicaid in America’s health care system

By Simon Haeder – Assistant Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University

Nurse Jane Kern administers medicine to patient Lexi Gerkin in Brentwood, New Hampshire. Lexi is one of thousands of severely disabled or ill children covered by Medicaid, regardless of family income. Charles Krupa/AP

Despite many assertions to the contrary, Senate leaders are now saying they want to vote on the replacement bill for Obamacare before the month is out.

Front and center is the planned transformation of America’s Medicaid program, which covers 20 percent of Americans and provides the backbone of America’s health care system.

As a professor of public policy, I have written extensively about the American health care system and the Affordable Care Act.

Living in West Virginia, perhaps the nation’s poorest state, I have also seen the benefits of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion since 2014.

To understand how the ACHA’s proposed changes to Medicaid would affect people and our health care system, let’s look more closely at the program.

What is Medicaid?

Created in 1965, Medicaid today provides health care services for 75 million Americans. It is jointly administered by the federal government and the states. The federal government pays at least 50 percent of the costs of the program. For particularly poor states, the federal government’s contribution can exceed 75 percent.

Medicaid was initially envisioned to provide medical assistance only to individuals receiving cash welfare benefits. Over time, the program has been significantly expanded in terms of benefits and eligibility to make up for the growing shortcomings of private insurance markets, including rapidly growing premiums and increasing rates of uninsurance.

Like all health care programs, spending on Medicaid has increased dramatically since its inception in 1965. Today, we are spending about US$550 billion annually. This compares to about $300 billion in 2007.

What does Medicaid do?

As Medicaid evolved, it has become more than just a program for America’s poor. Indeed, it is the largest single payer in the American health care system, covering more than 20 percent of the population. This amounts to 75 million American children, pregnant women, parents, single adults, disabled people and seniors.

To put this in perspective, this is about the same number of individuals as the nation’s two largest commercial insurers combined.

Roughly half of all enrollees are children.

Medicaid also pays for about 50 percent of births in the U.S. In some states like New Mexico, Arkansas, Wisconsin and Oklahoma, close to two-thirds of births are paid for by Medicaid.

Medicaid helps many Americans who are generally not considered “needy.” For example, the Katie Beckett program provides support to families with children with significant disabilities without regard to parental income.

Medicaid is also critical for elderly Americans. It is Medicaid – not the federally run insurance program for the elderly, Medicare – that is the largest payer for long-term care in the United States. These services include, for example, nursing facility care, adult daycare programs, home health aide services and personal care services. It pays for roughly 50 percent of all long-term care expenses and about two-thirds of nursing home residents. And it also provides help with Medicare premiums for about 20 percent of seniors.

Indeed, the vast majority of costs in the Medicaid program, about two-thirds, are incurred by elderly or disabled individuals who make up only a quarter of enrollment.

How did the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, change Medicaid?

One of main components of the Affordable Care Act was the expansion of Medicaid to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL). For a family of four, this amounts to $2,800 per month.

However, the Supreme Court rejected the ACA’s mandatory expansion of Medicaid and made it optional. To date, 31 states and Washington, D.C. have chosen to expand their Medicaid program. Not surprisingly, the uninsurance rate in those states has dropped significantly more than in states refusing to expand their Medicaid programs.

Nonetheless, Medicaid enrollment increased by about 30 percent since the inception of the ACA.

The expansion has also resulted in better access and better health for individuals.

It has also helped to fight the nation’s opioid epidemic.

In states that did not expand Medicaid, hospital closures occurred disportionately.

What would the Republican-backed AHCA and the Trump budget do to Medicaid?

Tom Price, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, whose department includes the oversight of Medicaid, pictured in the Rose Garden the day House Republicans passed a bill that would overhaul Medicaid. Evan Vucci/AP

Overall, the American Health Care Act cuts more than $800 billion from Medicaid by 2026. The cuts focus on two major components.

First, the AHCA significantly reduces funding for the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. These changes reduce the federal government’s contribution from 90 percent to an average of 57 percent. The large associated costs for states would virtually eliminate the expansion in most if not all states.

However, the American Health Care Act goes further. Specifically, it alters the funding mechanism for the entire Medicaid program. Instead, it provides a set amount of funding per individual enrolled in Medicaid. In doing so, it ends the federal government’s open-ended commitment to providing health care to America’s neediest populations.

Over time, these per capita payment are adjusted based on the Medical Consumer Price Index. In states like West Virginia, these increases will not keep pace with rising costs for the state’s sick and disabled.

In addition to the more than $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid under the AHCA, the proposed budget by President Trump would further cut Medicaid by more than $600 billion over ten years.

One major way to achieve this is to further reduce the growth rate of the per capita payments.

What would be the effects of dismantling Medicaid?

Both the American Health Care Act and the Trump budget would be challenging for the program. In combination, I believe they would be truly devastating.

The cuts would force millions of Americans into uninsurance. Confronted with medical needs, these Americans will be forced to choose between food and shelter and medical treatment for themselves and their families. They would also force millions of Americans into medical bankruptcy, similar to the situation prior to the ACA.

The cuts would also affect the broader American health care system. They would create incredible burdens on American hospitals and other safety net providers. Many of them are already operating on very thin margins.

Medicaid is particularly important in keeping doors open at ruralinner-city and essential service hospitals.

The cuts would cause tremendous burdens for million of Americans with disabilities and their families.

They would shrink the program virtually in half over the next decade.

Unable to raise the necessary funds, states will be forced to cut either eligibility, benefits or both.

In my view, both the American Health Care Act and the proposed budget by the Trump administration will cause dramatic, avoidable harm to millions of our families, friends, neighbors and communities.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Foreclosure Crisis Fueled Dramatic Rise of Racial Segregation: Study

by Sarah Lazare

Displacement of black and Latino households was so dramatic, crisis should be seen as a 'mass migration event' says lead author of paper

The foreclosure crisis that drove approximately 9 million people across the United States from their homes disproportionately displaced black and Latino households and led to a spike in segregation along racial lines, a new study finds.

In fact, displacement was so dramatic that Matthew Hall, assistant professor at Cornell University and lead author of the study, told Common Dreams that the crisis should be seen as a "mass migration event."

"We found that the racial patterns of the foreclosure crisis are shocking and perhaps even more stark than we knew before," said Hall, who is a demographer.

The Cornell University analysis Neighborhood Foreclosures, Racial/Ethnic Transitions, and Residential Segregation was published online in late April and is set to be included in the June issue of American Sociological Review.

Examining foreclosure rates in urban areas between 2005 and 2009, researchers found that black neighborhoods faced 8.1 foreclosures per 100 homes, and Latino neighborhoods faced a rate of 6.2 per 100 homes.

This compared with the average of 2.3 foreclosures per 100 homes in white neighborhoods, meaning that majority black and Latino neighborhoods faced home-loss rates at approximately three times that of white areas.

A report summary explains that "white households were significantly more likely to leave areas with high foreclosure rates, while black and Latino families entered these neighborhoods out of necessity or to seek newly affordable housing options."

This led to the  re-segregation of urban areas.

Researchers concluded that overall segregation jumped dramatically during this period, growing by 50 percent between Latinos and whites and 20 percent between blacks and whites, as people of color moved into neighborhoods vacated by white people.

"This really was a crisis that hit African-Americans and Latinos especially hard," said Hall.

"But the foreclosure crisis has not ended," Hall added. "There are still a large number of foreclosures that are unresolved and homes that are somewhere in the foreclosure process, which can take years. The impacts of the crisis on segregation have therefore not been completely borne out."


Republished with permission under license from CommonsDreams


See other related articles:

53 Percent Of Black Wealth Wiped Out: Foreclosure Crisis Erodes Communities Of Color

The Great Eviction: Black America and the Toll of the Foreclosure Crisis

For The Black Middle Class, Housing Crisis And History Collude To Dash Dreams

Trump White House Taking ‘Marching Orders’ from Hundreds of CEOs: Report

'One of every five of the corporate executives who met with the Trump administration within the first 100 days represented the banking or financial sector'

"President Trump not only has betrayed the promises of candidate Trump by failing to break up the special-interest monopoly in Washington, D.C., he has invited the special interests into the White House and asked them for guidance on how to deepen and perpetuate their monopoly." (Photo: Mike Maguire/flickr/cc)

Since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has met with at least 190 corporate executives, not including phone calls with heads of banks or his numerous Wall Street appointees, the watchdog group Public Citizen reported Monday in a new analysis.

And since the November election itself, he's met with at least 224.

"One of every five of the corporate executives who met with the Trump administration within the first 100 days represented the banking or financial sector, a particular focus of Trump's criticism during the campaign," Public Citizen noted in a write-up of its findings.

The group's report comes just days after the Trump administration announced it would not disclose visitor logs from the White House, Trump Towers, or the president's Mar-a-Lago resort to the public.

With those documents unavailable, Public Citizen developed its analysis via news reports and White House press releases.

The gatherings reflect the administration's interest in giving special treatment to corporate sectors, such as Big Pharma, banks, and the automotive industry, among others—and it's yet another example of Trump breaking his "drain the swamp" campaign promises, Public Citizen said.

"Donald Trump has asked America's CEOs for marching orders, and in meeting after meeting, they are happily issuing instructions," said the group's president Robert Weissman. "As best anyone can decipher what's going on at the White House, the CEOs are in charge now—and they are predictably advocating their narrow, short-term profitability interests, not what's in America's interest."

Sheldon Adelson, David Koch, and Carl Lindner III are among the wealthy benefactors that Trump has met with in his first 100 days; he's also entertained JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Andrew Liveris of Dow Chemical, and Doug McMillon of Wal-Mart, along with four separate executives from Fox News.

"President Trump not only has betrayed the promises of candidate Trump by failing to break up the special-interest monopoly in Washington, D.C., he has invited the special interests into the White House and asked them for guidance on how to deepen and perpetuate their monopoly," Weissman said.


Republished with permission under license from CommonDreams

‘Informed Delivery’ From The US Postal Service – New Potential Evidence

The United Stated Postal Service now offers a service called 'Informed Delivery.' With Informed Delivery, the USPS is able to scan your mail each day and send images directly to you.

Informed Delivery is Expanding Nationwide!

Informed Delivery was previously only available to eligible residential consumers in select ZIP Codes™ of several major metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Northern Virginia, and Washington DC. Starting today, April 14th, Informed Delivery will be available in remaining ZIP Codes covering the majority of the United States, as shown on this map.

Informed delivery is free, but you must sign up for it and it is available only to residential consumers who have mail delivered to their homes and is not currently being provided to businesses.

New Form of Evidence

I'm looking forward to informed delivery which should prove to be a valuable new form of evidence in court cases. 

Whenever pleadings, motions or other documents are filed in court, the opposing side is supposed to be given a copy of whatever is filed. A certificate of delivery is usually required to be attached to the court filed documents certifying that the opposing side was mailed, email, hand delivered or otherwise given an exact copy of the documents. 

Some court documents, such as a motion for summary judgment must be responded to in writing and filed within a certain number of days; otherwise, the allegations contain within the motion for summary judgment are deemed admitted and the side that request the motion automatically wins.

I've had several situations as a pro se (self-represented) litigant, where an attorney has claimed to have mailed me documents that never arrived. I have suspected in certain instances that the documents were never actually mailed, most likely so that I wouldn't respond in a timely manner, resulting in the motion being granted, often resulting in the case being lost. 

Before informed delivery, there was absolutely no evidence that the other side did not mail the documents, it was simply their word against mine. Additionally, the opposing side could argue that even if I hadn't received the mailed documents, they could have been misdelivered or otherwise lost. Now with informed delivery, if there is no record of the letter containing the documents, a stronger point can be made in court that the documents were never mailed and the certificate of service was a false statement. 

It's been my experience that judges seem to be biased in favor of attorneys rather than pro se litigants and tend to side with the attorney who claims they did actually mail the documents. Informed delivery is a game changer.

At this time, images will be provided for letter-sized mailings that are processed through automated equipment. The plan is to include images of larger flat-sized mailings, such as magazines and catalogs, in the future. All USPS® customers have access to USPS Tracking® that enables them to track their household’s packages. Visit My USPS® for additional details on personalized package tracking.

An email will be generated each day your household receives mail that is processed through USPS®automation equipment. If no mail is processed through automation that day, you will not receive an Informed Delivery notification. Notifications are not sent on days when there is no mail to be delivered, or on Sundays or federal holidays.

Keep in mind it will also be harder for you to claim you mailed something if you didn't and it may be harder to deny you didn't receive certain mail if the post office has a record that it was scheduled to be delivered.

Only time will tell if judges or the rules of evidence will allow this new technology to be used as evidence.

Use the ZIP Code lookup tool to check if Informed Delivery is available in your area: https://informeddelivery.usps.com/box/pages/intro/start.action

Get up to 10 mail piece images in your morning email, which can be viewed on any computer or a smartphone. Get more mail than that? Additional images are available for viewing on your online dashboard – in the same place you track your packages! Don't worry if you are on travel; if you have email or online access, you can see much of the mail that will be delivered to your mailbox.

If you suspect your mail is stolen, you will know exactly what is missing when filing a police report. https://informeddelivery.usps.com/box/pages/intro/faq

Asians we stand, United they fall: Lessons for African-Americans

The Asian man who on Sunday was dragged off a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville, for refusing to give up his seat, has been a public relations disaster for the airline, especially in China.

There was early speculation in China that the victim was Chinese. He has now been identified as David Dao, a 69-year-old Kentucky physician of Vietnamese origin, but the fact that the man was Asian is a strong theme in much of the Chinese social media response. By the end of Tuesday afternoon in China, there had been over 200 million views on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, for the hashtag #UnitedForcesPassengerOffPlane and a lot of people called for a boycott.

According to Vincent Ni, an editor at BBC Chinese, the reaction on Chinese social media has been one of widespread outrage. It’s been very overwhelming, and most of the comments are very angry towards United Airlines. "A lot of people involved in these discussions mention race — a lot. That is part of the big reason why it has attracted so much attention."

Dr. Dao suffered a concussion, broken nose, damaged sinuses and lost two front teeth when he was pulled from his seat and dragged off the flight according to his lawyer, Thomas Demetrio.

China is the most populous nation on Earth and is one of the largest aviation markets in the world. United Airline is the largest US carrier in China and operates 20 percent of the routes between China and the US.

Lessons for African-Americans

Asians didn't wait for an investigation, the video told them everything they needed to know. They didn't march or protest, they quickly united together by calling for a boycott against United. 

The strong reaction by Asians and others prompted United Airlines to quickly change their narrative. The went from blaming the passenger to apologizing and admitting that they did something wrong. 

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz originally said the passenger was "disruptive and belligerent" and employees "followed established procedures," and told employees he "emphatically" stood behind them. By Tuesday, Munoz stated: 

"The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.

"I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.

"It's never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what's broken so this never happens again."

United We Stand, Divide we Fall

How many videos of African-Americans being abused or even murdered have we seen with no satisfactory result? Last year we posted, "Where protest fails, violence prevails". As stated then, we need to inflict economic pressure, a sort of consumer violence to get the companies we support to start supporting us back. 

African-American Mizzou football players successfully used economic violence as they supported Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike by threatening not to play. Mizzou could have lost millions of dollars. Public support of WNBA players taking a stand against police shootings was another time economic violence was successful. Unfortunately, African-American commnunities do not more effectively use economic pressure more effectively when members of the community are systemically treated unfairly. 

Until and unless we cause economic pain when African-Americans are abused, we will continue to experience physical and emotional pain caused by police brutality. Additionally, we need to practice Pan-Africanism. The Asian reaction to the abuse of Dr. Dao should serve as an example for African-Americans. When people of African descent in other parts of the world experience crisis, we should react.

Africa was home to the richest man of all time, Masa Musa. Much of Africa's wealth was stolen, including its people, during European colonization. Many of Africa's resources are still under colonial control. Africa currently contains approximately 30 percent of the Earth's remaining mineral resources, including gold, diamonds, and oil. Even though Africa's population has been ravaged by war, political strife, genocide, colonization, drought, hunger, Aids, Ebola and more, it is home to more than 1.2 billion people. 

The United States has a black population of about 43 million. The Black press in the United States needs to build partnerships with the press in Africa and other areas with large concentrations of people of African descent and report about their issues. Syria is not the only nation experiencing a crisis. However, charity starts at home and we need to put our differences behind and work together. Black churches, organizations, activist, celebrities and supporters need to start forming alliances to create a more coordinated response to issues affecting our community. 

As Malcolm X stated in his, "Ballot or the Bullet," speech,

"You and I – as I say, if we bring up religion we’ll have differences; we’ll have arguments; and we’ll never be able to get together. But if we keep our religion at home, keep our religion in the closet, keep our religion between ourselves and our God, but when we come out here, we have a fight that’s common to all of us against an enemy who is common to all of us." 

The United States government routinely dismisses the civil rights and humanitarian issues in African-American communities. The U.S. quickly intercedes in areas such as Syria under the guise of humanitarian relief, but ignores similar or worse situations in Africa. Below are the top countries outside of Africa and the United States with the largest populations of people of African descent.

Unfortunately, people of African descent suffer racism and economic oppression all over the globe. For example in England, although the African population is better educated than the white population, 26 percent of the blacks have had at least some college education compared 13 percent of the whites, however, the black community faces greater unemployment and poverty rates. Data shows that half of Black Africans in the UK live in low-income households compared to 20 percent of white people.

Colonial powers became experts of divide and conquer strategies which to this day prevent people of African descent from joining together to improve their economic and political position. During slavery, African tribes and nations were coerced into the slave trade, Willie Lynch style practices were adopted during slavery, the FBI sabotaged the Marcus Garvey back to Africa movement, white jealousy of Black prosperity resulted in the destruction of Tulsa's Black Wall Street, the government targeted civil rights leaders, black organizations became dependent on donations from white corporations and government funding and are now held hostage by threats of defunding if they work too aggressively on behalf of the oppressed, it is believed that Muammar Gaddafi may have been targeted because he was trying to unite African nations under a single currency backed by the vast resources of Africa.