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Response to Zimmerman Verdict MUST be About A Movement and Not About Race



by Dr. Michael Wright

The Zimmerman Verdict is not about RACE. It cannot be, and You cannot allow it to be. My point? Let’s begin by determining the focus, scope, and timing of this or any movement. This movement has been going on for a long time. We must resist the knee-jerk reaction to center this movement on race. It’s not because this case does not have elements of race, but it’s because race may become a useless construct to inspire a movement toward justice.

Reflecting on history, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at a rally culminating the March on Washington. The march was motivated because Blacks were being denied employment based on race, BUT it focused on eliminating barriers to employment and enabling workers to unionize. MLK, Jr. was not the keynote speaker who made the call to action on the crowd, it was A. Phillip Randolph a union organizer. By removing racing from the equation, they appealed to all who was affected which increase their ability to collaborate and conjoin the efforts by multiple organizations. Its scope was industrial centers especially state and federally-funded companies including state and local operations. It was co-sponsored by the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations). On August 28, 1963, the timing was specific in order to sustain the momentum needed for the passage of the Civil Rights Act that became law in July 1964.

Racism is not a fight that has a clear opponent. Racism is a construction that indicates differential treatment in laws, economics, education, and other areas of social life. Any movement will, of operational necessity, need to focus in an area or create multiple organizational structures around legislation, class mobility, school quality, and access overall. In terms of scope, realize that organizations, like NAACP for example, function more effectively as a convener of organizations nationally to provide voice, financial empowerment, and information centralization. The redress of differential treatment MUST be local. Not understanding this scope results in MARCHES, events, or petitions that have no legal standing in the locale of the problem. Once the event planners leave, little organizational momentum is left if no new laws have been proposed, no businesses started, or no school charters created.

So it is that I take a break from writing on Deceptions, Distractions, and Disillusionment: Barriers to Your Success and Ours, to use the current national discussion as a case study to present the Anatomy of a Movement, a construct from the last chapter of the book. In the text, I write,

To apply your social role within society, you must conceptualize how to sustain your clarity while others conform steeped in deception, distraction, and disillusionment. They will be your detractors seeking to convince you to conform. Agency involves living a life that demonstrates the value and wisdom of intentionality, forethought, self-reflectiveness, and self-reactiveness. Anatomy of a Movement is a conception of this life. The action plan has six considerations: investigate, educate, liberate, lead, act, and create. – Deceptions, Distractions and Disillusionment (2013)

This Anatomy of a Movement has operational utility in the current discussion. You must have focus, identified scope, and precise timing to influence the righting of institutional wrongs. Without focus, scope, and timing, you will be disappointed again and again. Worse, you will be worn out fighting the shadow of your enemy rather than engaging the enemy head on.

Investigation recognizes that the injustice can only be sold as a benefit to you. It instructs you to trace the mechanism of the benefit—how it works. Consider that laws are created for your protection. The Stand Your Ground law is useful to decriminalize the act of defending yourself against attack. The question of investigation is not, “How does this law work?” Instead, consider “How do laws created by the legislature impact the justice system?” Viewed from this perspective, it is a matter of the facts adjudicated in court, not the intentions of the act.

Marissa Alexander

I offer an unpopular view: The Zimmerman case is primarily about THE CASE not THE RACE. Many, in my Facebook news feed at least, posted the comparison of Marissa Alexander ( with George Zimmerman. Yes, the pictures indicate that they are different. Marissa is a woman of the African diaspora. George is a male of some other descent. But, to use these as the basis of comparison of the cases is improper. [More on activity surrounding Marissa’s case is available at].

When you investigate how the law works in Florida, the setting of both cases, you become aware that the prosecution of the cases each began with a very different question. In Marissa’s case, based on the law, the question was, “Did she fire a gun inside a home with children?” If she did, the CASE becomes the purview of a mandatory minimum law. The only way to get around it is to plea bargain. She reportedly refused the plea bargain.

George’s question, based on the law, was, “Did he effectively apply the Stand Your Ground provision?” If he did, he is not guilty of a crime. The only way to get around that is to convince a jury that he set out that day to gun down innocents. Intent is harder to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

Note: You will have to wait for the civil trial where the questions are fundamentally different for the prosecution and the defense. Consider that the comparison should not be Zimmerman to Alexander. The comparison should be Zimmerman to Simpson (1995).

Use Google to research “20 years mandatory minimum Florida firing a gun home with children”. You will gain a wealth of information. Through investigation, you will find connections with other thought leaders and organizations that have already begun a movement toward justice for Marissa and many others. For example, link to Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) Notice that these groups are challenging the law in the legislature where they are created rather than the justice system where they are only implemented.

In the Deceptions text, I write:

Education describes the intervention into the mechanism you observed during investigation. Your task is to reclaim the ownership of your ideas. With the ownership of ideas, you may begin to comprehend the role of producer. You may also begin to see the opportunity to integrate this social role into your interactions with others. Education results in a new valuing of your ideas, definition of the producer role, and integration of the producer role in your social interactions. – Deceptions, Distractions and Disillusionment (2013)

Again, on my Facebook news feed, I read some cries for justice and movement, but I also read some resolve to go back to school to study law. I read one entrepreneur and thought leader pledge to redouble her efforts to be a part of the solution through continued efforts to become “stronger, more aware, and more together.”

Build strength through competence. You must learn in the arena you wish to influence. For some, the focus will be law. For others, it will be education. For others, it will be journalism. Above all, learn to value your ideas and to challenge them with the search for information.

Develop your expertise. Create a specific outlet for your ideas. Maintain the discipline and motivation fueled by the fact that injustice exists AND the positive progress that is being made constructively. Get together with other experts and thought leaders and organizations that you can inspire, challenge, and support. Require them to also support you and your development.


Liberation describes effort to address the automatic behaviors that support conformity. The comfortable relationship between your conformity and benefit must be broken by revealing the comparative detriment you experience through conformity. Liberation results in a revelation that others are not your obstacle. You are the obstacle to your success. Your labor is not your greatest contribution. Your ideas are your greatest contribution. The goal and motivation is not money. The goal is social capital. – Deceptions, Distractions and Disillusionment (2013)


George Zimmerman

In situations such as the Zimmerman verdict and others, you will hear people talk about racism as a lack of access to the REAL workings of the institutions to which we are beholden. The education system is considered unfair. The employment system is considered biased. People will say, “It is not what you know but who you know.” Others say, “It is not who you know, but who knows you.” I offer that the IT is a question of social capital. You MUST build relationships in the community you wish to influence. Being independent and successful is not an exercise in isolation. Every contribution you make of time, energy, money, and communication must be strategic to gain favor and collaboration, to seek common ground and mutual benefit. Relationships are not a matter of whether you are liked. Productive relationships are a matter of whether your ideas are perceived as critical to the discussion. “It is WHAT you know, WHO knows you know it, and HOW willing they are to risk their reputation to bring YOU to the table.” Make it easy for them by freeing yourself to engage in relationship building in your community.


Leadership describes both quality and activity. The quality is above reproach, self-vetted, and transparent. The activity is to set the agenda in written form, clear with action steps and indicators for independent evaluation. Leadership results in strategic plan including explicit opportunities for newcomers to engage in the movement based on their desire AND expertise. Willing workers who do not arrive with identified or compatible expertise are educated into areas of the movement that approximate or into which their skills are transferrable. Another alternative for non-compatible expertise is to expand the movement to accommodate a new area or support that expert in creating a parallel movement. – Deceptions, Distractions and Disillusionment (2013)

Movements in response to the Zimmerman Verdict 1.0 and other Florida-based or national concerns must have a clear vision. Identify the end goal exactly. From there, identify the criteria for collaboration and coalition building. Efficacious leadership suggests a plan extending over the long-term, not just a rally for a moment.

For me, this case brings more attention to the work of organizations in Florida who are working on justice issues. Florida, once the land of hanging chads, has been exposed for a system of public laws that may support the incarceration of the non-violent. Whatever leaders of the movement decide the focus, scope, and timing to be, it must be clear about the impact that is desired.


Action describes an obvious step of implementation. It also describes a systematic approach to the operations of the movement. What many do not account for is the marketing and messaging, the education, and the convening that is required in any collaboration. As the initiatives add new areas of focus, expand their scope, and extend across time, these considerations become even more critical to success. Action results in a set of principles, a schedule of training, and a schedule of conferencing. – Deceptions, Distractions and Disillusionment (2013)

In my estimation, this is the area with the most grow potential especially of the existing national organizations that portend to promote and act for justice and advancement of civil society. Too often, you find that money and time you have donated to a cause was spent to promote the organization rather than to put boots on the ground in the way you envisioned.

Rather than provide examples of scandals or companies whose financials simply do not add up to action, I invite you to review the financial statements of the organizations you count on and contribute to. Attempt to find the connection and momentum of connection between the capital (both financial and other) invested and the actions taken. Ask a basic question, “How much is spent to empower me with information, engage me with skills to address the wrongs, and to place me safely, sustainably at the forefront of training and equipping others?” Compare that to how much is spent simply administering the organization, fundraising, salaries, and fringe benefits.


Creativity describes the reality that effective leadership and action will result in former volunteers, line workers, and interested learners who become regional directors, non-profit founders, and social entrepreneurs. The movement must be responsible for the development of these new institutions as well as the leaders themselves. Leadership and action provided the model and the education. Creativity must provide the operational knowledge and evaluative structure for the newly created institution. Consider creativity as a three part initiation of the institution. First, reflect on the history and the model of other institutions seeking justice, progress, and altruism. Second, capture in writing that history as instruction on best practices and opportunities from improvement as the new initiative is launched. Third, ensure that the new initiative spawns other initiatives and does not consider itself the end all.” – Deceptions, Distractions and Disillusionment (2013)

Creativity gives a new mandate that may have been missing from justice seeking and injustice redressing organizations. It is not just the continued expansion through regional and chapter development that strengthens the coalitions and expands the vision. The inspiration and nurturing of new organizations engaging multiple areas, other systems levels, across time is the hallmark of a sustainable justice-promoting organization.

It is my hope that the competent reflection I am seeing in some areas of national discourse and in my own Facebook news feed continues to grow and win the imagination of many. Systematic redress of injustice through direct, policy change in systems that regulate and control should be the focus of your efforts. This means engaging the lessons of investigation, education, liberation, leadership, action, and creativity. The “Racism” challenge is easily dismissed through deception born in ignorance. Race as a stand-alone creates a distracting argument that will take time away from what matters—institutionalization of differential access perpetuated through lack of economic mobility. It will leave you disillusioned about the people around you and devaluing your power to change the system. Focus on the case-law. In the scope of the system, determine where you will educate yourself and where you want to intervene. Plan the timing of your productive action.

Photo Credit: Mother holding Child (MSNBC)

Dr. Michael Wright: Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW is a Social Work Helper Contributor. He offers his expertise as an career coach, serial entrepreneur, and publisher through MAWMedia Group, LLC. Wright has maintained this macro practice consultancy since 1997. Wright lives in Reno, NV.


Environmental Justice

Climate Change Increases Potential for Conflict and Violence



Images of extensive flooding or fire-ravaged communities help us see how climate change is accelerating the severity of natural disasters. The devastation is obvious, but what is not as clear is the indirect effect of these disasters, or more generally of rapid climate change, on violence and aggression.

That is what Craig Anderson sees. The Iowa State University Distinguished Professor of psychology and Andreas Miles-Novelo, an ISU graduate student and lead author, identified three ways climate change will increase the likelihood of violence, based on established models of aggression and violence. Their research is published in the journal Current Climate Change Reports.

Anderson says the first route is the most direct: higher temperatures increase irritability and hostility, which can lead to violence. The other two are more indirect and stem from the effects of climate change on natural disasters, failing crops and economic instability. A natural disaster, such as a hurricane or wildfire, does not directly increase violence, but the economic disruption, displacement of families and strain on natural resources that result are what Anderson finds problematic.

One indirect way natural disasters increase violence is through the development of babies, children and adolescents into violence-prone adults, he said. For example, poor living conditions, disrupted families and inadequate prenatal and child nutrition are risk factors for creating violence-prone adults. Anderson and Miles-Novelo noted these risk factors will become more prevalent as a result of climate change-induced disasters, such as hurricanes, droughts, floods, water shortages and changing agricultural practices for efficient production of food.

Another indirect effect: Some natural disasters are so extensive and long term that large groups of people are forced to migrate from their homeland. Anderson says this “eco-migration” creates intergroup conflicts over resources, which may result in political violence, civil wars or wars between nations.

“This is a global issue with very serious consequences. We need to plan for ways to reduce the negative impacts,” Anderson said. “An inadequate food supply and economic disparity make it difficult to raise healthy and productive citizens, which is one way to reduce long-term violence. We also need to plan for and devote resources to aid eco-migrants in their relocation to new lands and countries.”

Which is worse?

There are no data and there is no method to estimate which of the three factors will be most damaging, Anderson said. The link between heat and aggression has the potential to affect the greatest number of people, and existing research, including Anderson’s, shows hotter regions have more violent crime, poverty, and unemployment.

However, Anderson fears the third effect he and Miles-Novelo identified – eco-migration and conflict – could be the most destructive. He says we are already seeing the migration of large groups in response to physical, economic or political instability resulting from ecological disasters. The conflict in Syria is one example.

Differences between migrants and the people living in areas where migrants are relocating can be a source of tension and violence, Anderson said. As the level of such conflicts escalates, combined with the availability of weapons of mass destruction, the results could be devastating.

“Although the most extreme events, such as all-out war, are relatively unlikely, the consequences are so severe that we cannot afford to ignore them,” Anderson said.  “That is why the U.S. and other countries must make sure these regional conflicts and eco-migration problems don’t get out of hand. One way to do that is to provide appropriate aid to refugees and make it easier for them to migrate to regions where they can be productive, healthy and happy.”

Taking action now

Anderson and Miles-Novelo say the purpose of their research is to raise awareness among the scientific community to work on prevention efforts or ways to limit harmful consequences. The long-term goal is to educate the public on the potential for increased violence.

“From past experience with natural disasters, we should be able to prepare for future problems by setting aside emergency resources and funds,” Miles-Novelo said. “We should tear down negative stereotypes and prejudices about those who will need help and humanely assist refugees and others who are displaced. By doing all these things we can reduce conflict and hostility.”

Changing attitudes and policies about immigration also will lessen the potential for conflict, Anderson said. He points to the backlash against refugees in many European countries.

“The view that citizens of wealthy countries often have about refugees needs to change – from seeing them as a threat to a view that emphasizes humanitarian values and the benefits refugees bring when they are welcomed into the community,” Anderson said.

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Human Rights

Increased Inmate Deaths and the Lack of Accountability



Sandra Bland

One year after the death of Sandra Bland on July 13, 2015, the Huffington Post compiled a list of persons who died in jail. In the following twelve month period, there were 811 deaths, most of which were the result of suicide. In fact, 253 detainees committed suicide in the year after Sandra’s death, constituting 31% of all fatalities.

This heartbreaking statistic highlights a historical pattern; one of racial targeting and classism, poor management, health care oversight, and corruption. The criminal justice system fails our communities by allowing preventable inmate deaths while targeting the most vulnerable communities. These alarming trends in our prisons, jails, and juvenile detention centers have us wondering, why?

Experts examining suicide and death in our nation’s jails reveal disturbing trends across the most vulnerable communities. A recent New York Times article, for example, Preventing Suicide in America’s Jails, reveals in 2013 a total of 967 jail inmates died while detained in local corrections facilities. This statistic continued to grow the year after, even though the inmate population declined by 4%. Other authors and researchers cite poor management, inadequate health care, and perfunctory oversight as major culprits. Although these issues go mostly unresolved, they continue to institute a pattern of death and suicide.

Reasons Behind Inmate Deaths

Many jail fatalities are overlooked and underreported. Generally, jails are not required to disclose fatalities occurring within their facility to their community. Even the most egregious incarceration centers can go unnoticed by the community at large when they aren’t being held accountable for deaths occurring in their own institutions.

Different from prison, jail stays are shorter (approximately 21 days) and most of the inmates have yet to be sentenced. Jail inmates could also be under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or have mental or physical health issues that correctional staff might be unaware of. For these reasons, many jail suicides occur in the first week of incarceration as indicated below by the Prison Policy Initiative.

According to KyCIR’s reports in Kentucky’s Grant County Jail, rampant corruption, employee incompetence, ineffective staff preparation, and inmate maltreatment were all present in the jail’s culture. In an environment where accountability is minimal, inmates are more likely to be disregarded and mistreated, as is the case of Danny Ray Burden at Grant County Jail.

“Danny Ray Burden fell asleep mid-sentence as he was booked into the Grant County jail, toppling over on the bench where he sat. Prodded awake, he coughed, shook and pleaded for emergency medical attention. A blood test showed that the 41-year-old diabetic badly needed insulin. Instead of assisting with proper medical standards and medications, deputies put Danny Ray in a cell, where he was found unconscious just three hours after he had entered the jail on March 27, 2013. He died a week later.”

Reflecting on the data, including the specific cases of Sandra Bland and Danny Ray Burden, who is at risk for jail fatality?

Vulnerable groups at correctional facilities include:

  • Persons booked for lesser crimes
  • Those without financial resources who are unable to post bond
  • Communities of color who are profiled by police and often receive harsher punishments
  • Sex offenders and those accused of vicious crimes

Why Death by Suicide?

For inmates whose lives were previously difficult, a brief jail sentence could prove traumatic. The most at-risk inmates may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms, a lack of access to prescriptions, and/or low availability of medical or mental health services. An inmate with a troubled emotional, mental, or physical state of inmates suffers even more while imprisoned, especially when our system neglects their basic needs.

Correctional facility detainees may have anxiety about unemployment, broken relationships, loss of residence, healthcare, or the inability to care for children. Without financial resources, these issues are compounded by the inability to pay a bond. And for black inmates, especially those in the 18 to 29-year age range, accruing considerably greater bail amounts than their peers in other racial groups isn’t uncommon.

Suicide Prevention Strategies for Correctional Facilities

In Matti Hautala’s article In the Shadow of Sandra Bland: The Importance of Mental Health Screening in U.S. Jails, the author examines the multifaceted environment of our American jail system and garners evidence-based recommendations for inmate suicide prevention.

The author suggests the initial entry procedure, including the preliminary psychological evaluation, acclimates the inmate to the criminal justice environment. This experience could have a lasting impact on the immediate future for that inmate; although alternative programs such as parole, probation, or mental health courts are recommended. Community supervision, rather than incarceration, is especially effective for those with psychological or mental health issues. Further recommendations include:

  • Psychological evaluation instruments and qualified evaluators
  • Proper procedures regarding medical records and treatment
  • Limiting the use of restraint and isolation
  • Frequent visual follow-ups, every 15 minutes, with suicidal or homicidal inmates.

The gross lack of culpability by local and state corrections personnel and increasing inmate deaths calls for advocacy and reform. Social workers, helping professionals, and concerned citizens must engage our political and community leaders in evidence-based dialogue and program development to reduce the number of inmate fatalities in our nation’s correctional facilities.

By engaging with our local communities and representatives, together, we can hold our system accountable. We can force our jail and correctional facilities to say “mea culpa!” and reform our policies to prevent tragic and unnecessary death.

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Brexit: Paradise Lost – or Have We Forgotten?



For over a year now the UK has been wracked with a host of political scandals which rival the most intricate episodes of Yes, Prime Minister.

Yes, Britain is apparently leaving the European Union (a matter knife-edge enough). Yes, there are questions about the tenability of the Prime Minister’s position, and who will usurp her. Yes, the Paradise Papers have long ago told us what we already knew: the rich aren’t paying tax. Yes, our government is regularly implementing and justifying racist policies. But the hottest of the hot topics was, at least for a time, this:

Why has the sexual harassment and abuse of (mostly) women been prevalent in British parliament for decades?”

Our government has been dealing with everything from rape to groping and sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual or inappropriate comments. Women set up a WhatsApp group specifically to share information about whom to be cautious of.

The Secretary of State For Defence (that’s right, the person responsible for defending the United Kingdom against attacks) resigned on November 1st, 2017 before the full range of allegations was even made public.

The media has, of course, sought answers, ranging from It was the culture to Women need to toughen up to a disappointingly modest mainstream smattering of power, privilege and toxic masculinity.

Some outlets have linked this (to some, unsurprising) spurt of public revelations to the infamous Harvey Weinstein allegations. This is a man whom, for decades, sexually harassed and abused (mostly) women in Hollywood. His behaviour was known-yet-unknown, referenced in public but never revealed.

Given this, Hollywood responded with the full spectrum of shock, anger, feeling ‘sad’ and ‘bad for’ Weinstein, expressing renewed curiosity about women’s dress codes and naïveté of ‘the culture we live in’. This British Bank Holiday, on the 25th May 2018, he was finally charged, with rape, sex abuse, and sexual misconduct pertaining to two women. Two.

However, we now know about comedian Louis CK, actor Steven Segal, and the once-beloved Kevin Spacey. Morgan Freeman is on the list of those accused. Heartbreakingly, there will be others to come.

To what extent can we continue to suggest it’s women’s responsibility and women’s fault – when it’s happening to a whole spectrum of people? Let’s be clear: every single accused person is a man. And we are all – no matter our personal gender – at risk of the violence of male power.

As Judith Hermann writes in her seminal work Trauma and Recovery, “It is now apparent that the traumas of one are the traumas of the other. The hysteria of woman and the combat neurosis of men are one. Recognising the commonality of affliction may even make it possible at times to transcend the immense gulf that separates the public sphere of war and politics – the world of men – and the sphere of private domestic life – of women” (p. 32).

It should be noted here that Hermann’s usage of ‘hysteria’ was of hysteria a debunked and oppressive conceptualisation of women. She discusses  how a range of traumas, apparently so different, are linked  by the political – they are characterised by fear and threat, power and violence.

Her words ring true, except now the traumatic event is the same for both men and women. The personal world of child sexual abuse – largely perpetrated by men – has become political. And, unfortunately, that is meant both metaphorically and literally.

For Britain, however, this does not follow the Hollywood accusations as some have suggested. Its cultural foundations more likely rest on the ‘watershed moment’ of the British Jimmy Savile story.

Between 2011-2013 Jimmy Savile –  an English radio, TV, and media personality who was an avid charity fundraiser – was posthumously exposed as having perpetrated prolific sexual abuse.

Some of the abuse happened live on air, with cameras rolling. Some was with unconscious and disabled children. He was buried as Sir Jimmy Saville, just two months before the truth of his abuse was unearthed to the public.

This case was unprecedented; ghastly, shocking, unspeakable and yet the country could speak of little else. The grim reality of the tale started to unravel with one small thread: a ‘handful of cases’ in the 1960s.

At first, people couldn’t believe it.

Then, eventually, nobody could question it.

His final victim count – following a snowball effect of increased confidence in reporting, public attention, support and helplines – was around 500. At least, that we know of.

It is to the shame of Britain this happened. It is to the shame of Britain nobody listened until it was too late.

Consider now the current political mess. Consider the heated discussions about everything from consensual flirting to discomfort to harassment to rape. At once point, these discussions consumed the media as much as the media is consumed by its audience. Now, the attention has cooled in light of the scandal-machine that is our current government.

However, the sexual consent movement has been built upon the backs of those who were brave enough to stand up and say: this happened. It was real. It is also built upon the humiliation and isolation we heaped upon so many hundreds of thousands of others, by not believing them in the first place.

Arguably, such open discussions about child sexual abuse could not have happened before. They repeat an age-old story, except this time people are compelled and able to hear it.

The personal is political and the political is personal. The social and cultural context for victims, survivors and survivor-victims to finally unburdening their stories is ripe. And abuse is rife.

What does this tell us? It tells us we have a problem with how we teach our men. And it tells us we have a problem with power.

Judith Hermann predicts every few decades, society can acknowledge traumas and set the stage for action and reparation. However, the unspeakable nature of trauma begs that we push it back into our collective unconscious.

And we can’t. We simply can’t let that happen. Not in my country.

The original meaning of ‘watershed’ is an area of land which separates rivers which flow in two different directions. Politically, culturally, socially, morally, we need to make sure things flow in the right direction.

Crucially, we can’t let this stop with perpetrators who are famous, who have pockets of accusers sharing their stories together for their own safety. We need to support ordinary people (ordinary women, particularly), to share their stories outside of the limelight where the public’s support is less tangible. We need to support the poor, the less ‘credible’, the young, those of ethnic, gender and sexual minorities, those already in sex work, those with ‘bad reputations’.

Let’s continue to bring those in power to task.

Let’s support and donate to groups like Refuge and Broken Rainbow, the NSPCC, and other local charities in your area. Let’s protest the closure of women’s shelters. Let’s give our gratitude to groups like Sisters Uncut. And for goodness’ sake, for all that is healthy in this world…

Stop blaming women. Stop blaming victims. Start listening. Don’t let us forget what it felt like when these allegations and stories were fresh. Let’s turn the political back personal again.

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Is It More Than Just A Shooting?



Several articles in response to the shootings in Minnesota, New Orleans, and Dallas point fingers at PTSD and mental illness. Although these issues are valid, there is a multitude of factors making this issue far more complex than a singular culprit like mental illness.

Underneath all these shootings and acts of violence is fear, an emotion we don’t often factor in when discussing shootings. Fear causes fight or flight reactions in humans, a strong, protective instinct which can, at times, cause reactions that aren’t typical of our normal behaviors.

When we experience fear, whether real or perceived, our adrenaline increases and as an act of self-preservation. Our reactions to fear may cause us to act in ways our “normal” brain might not have. Unfortunately, it can also cause us to react in a way which can take the life of someone in the name of self-protection or justice.

So, imagine the stress of living in a neighborhood where people are killed, gunshots are heard regularly, and those around you are involved in nefarious activities. Long-term stress can have severe consequences – such as physical health issues and problems with cognitive thinking. For children, toxic stress results in behavioral and development issues.

Living in a state of constant fear never allows an individual to care for themselves, always on the alert for potentially dangerous situations. Living in fearful conditions where a community’s needs aren’t met and their safety is questionable, a physically and mentally harmful lifestyle is already enough to deal with. Now, factor in racial profiling, police bias and brutality, and classist targeting.

In low-income neighborhoods, police are not always responsive. The police don’t often know you or your family and tend to approach certain neighborhoods with harmful preconceived ideas. Whether it’s internalized hate, racial profiling and learned bias, classism or just plain ignorance, many police officers are not educated about communities different from their own and only have reference points from television and media, which reinforce harmful stereotypes. If this is the basis from which police are viewing the public, it’s highly likely police will target certain groups out of fear.

It is important as a society, we do not downplay the personal responsibility we have for our actions nor the sheer horror of violence. But we are not born disliking people of color, women, immigrants or cultures different from our own.

Through our learned experiences with family, school, media, or religious institutions, we learn to be separate and fear groups who are not like us. We look around and see people who only look like us and learn to live in a comfortableness rather than question the status quo which oppresses certain groups more than others.

So, how do we get past this fear? Education, compassion, and empathy are key. As a community, we need to be more responsible to one another and have difficult conversations about race, gender, and class while challenging our own internalized biases.

Speaking to our legislators, media representatives, friends, and family is a power to hold ourselves and others accountable for racial profiling, classism, abuse of power, and internalized fears. We need to put our foot down and refuse to settle for superficial conversations or answers to large, complex problems.

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Environmental Justice

How Should Social Work Respond To The United States Leaving The Paris Agreement?



“Logic clearly dictates the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” – Dr. Spock (Star Trek)

This quote is at the heart of a complex political debate; Dr. Spock doesn’t think it’s that complex.  Social justice is one of the tenants of social work practice. This often places social work on the wrong side of Dr. Spocks quote.

Frequently, social workers are providing for or advocating for the needs of the few. Dr. Spock had some help in posing this quote. The question originates from the philosophy of Utilitarianism. John Stewart Mill argued that society is a collection of individuals and that what was good for individuals would make society happy.

You can see this gets messy… and quick. This philosophy was recently put to the test with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords. A 195 country agreement to reduce carbon emissions and offer assistance to developing nations to do so as well. Mr. Trump makes a case for economic justice that our involvement in the Paris Accord forces us to over-regulate businesses. He also argues it places an unfair burden on The United States contribution to developing nations. Trump asserts both factors create undue pressure on some of the most economically vulnerable areas in the country. Taking a strict stance stating he “Does not represent Paris…I represent Pittsburgh”. He believes the needs of local Americans outweigh the need to cost-share climate change with the globe.

Should the United States share in the cost of global warming at the cost of our local economies? The economic impact is up for significant debate. The best analysis of this complex issue is provided by I’ll let you read it but the economic rationale for leaving the Paris Accord seems questionable. The report he cited on the economic impact ignores many factors including the growth in the renewable sector.

From the social work perspective, this creates an interesting dilemma. The virtues of Globalism versus the “America First” Populism will remain a challenge. How do the local needs of the “Rust Belt” and “coal country” interact with the global energy economy impacted the Paris Accords?

The issue of Global Warming challenges social work to think about where our “systems thinking” begins and ends. Is our profession concerned for the global good or just the area’s they serve? In a recent speech, the UN Secretary-General argued the poor and vulnerable will be hit by climate change first.

Also, what is not in question is the economic impact in the Rust Belt and Coal Country of the United States. This also depends on where you are placing “The needs of the many”. The loss of manufacturing and energy jobs has had a significant impact on services in these areas.  These voters were activated by a hope of a potential change in their economic future. These parts of the country who rely on manufacturing and energy have been economically depressed. There is fear further government regulation and lack of money in these areas will make this worse.

Even if the move out of the Paris Climate Accords does fix local economies, it creates another complex systemic problem. Again thinking about where does our “systems” thinking end? I touched on this in my post about Facebook’s global vision for the world. The debate on globalism is a complex one, but The United States leadership on climate change is not.  Have we put ourselves at disadvantage by not being a leader willing to partner in climate change?

Are countries going to want to “make a deal” with us about innovation and technology in the energy sector? How will the impact on the global economy affect our local economy? Seems like this blog post has more questions than answers.

To attempt to answer this, I again consult the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics.  Section 6.04 in social action says…

(c) Social workers should promote conditions that encourage respect for cultural and social diversity within the United States and globally. Social workers should promote policies and practices that demonstrate respect for difference, support the expansion of cultural knowledge and resources, advocate for programs and institutions that demonstrate cultural competence, and promote policies that safeguard the rights of and confirm equity and social justice for all people.

No easy answers when thinking about dedicating United States funds which may help globally but detract from the local action. This also brings about thoughts of our core value of competence. That whatever we do to help the most vulnerable citizens in the Rust Belt, I hope it based on sound evidence.

Those policies are based on science and evidence-based practices to try to help these local economies. Whatever we do globally it places the people we serve in the healthiest and most prosperous situation.  It’s not just social workers who are thinking about the impact but physicians are weighing in as well …

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Work Together to Prepare for the Next Big Storm



Year by year, hurricanes are growing stronger and more frequent. We are witness to these changes as we watch two catastrophic storms devastate the southeastern United States in as many weeks.

This month, Hurricane Michael slammed the Florida Panhandle, southern Virginia, and the Carolinas. The massive storm killed at least 16 people, flooded cities, highways, and rivers, and reduced much of the region to rubble.

Barely two weeks ago, Hurricane Florence killed at least 36 people in three states, forced thousands to evacuate their homes, dumped record floodwaters on North Carolina, created power outages for hundreds of thousands, and killed millions of farm animals. The most recent damage estimates put the economic toll at a staggering $100 billion, once accounting for property damage, medical costs, and lost wages.

Natural forces emboldened by climate change continue to overwhelm our outdated stormwater management practices and inadequate urban planning, putting us in a precarious position. Short-term economics have often driven development where considering long-term environmental impact was needed instead. When it comes to handling the effects of more storms, we’re not as prepared as we think.

As we assess the damage done by Michael, Florence, and other storms, the shrewdest move is to prepare for the next big storm — and the one after that. Municipalities, businesses, and individuals can brace for the next storms by focusing on the following areas:

Additional Pollution Prevention

Florence and Michael disrupted two of North Carolina’s biggest industries: coal power and hog farming. This created environmental trouble and the potential for health problems. Duke Energy officials in North Carolina said slope and landfill erosion caused stormwater with coal ash — containing heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury — to spill into Sutton Lake. Watchdog groups have expressed concern about the effect on water quality.

Floodwaters also breached multiple hog lagoons, designed to keep solid waste from polluting sources of drinking water, in at least two North Carolina counties, causing varying degrees of damage. The North Carolina Pork Council says the state’s other 3,000 hog lagoons are holding up, but the state’s Department of Environmental Quality will have to perform inspections.

The landfills, dams, and lagoons containing pollutants need to be stabilized and reinforced. Cities can reduce landfill washout by using gravel stabilizers, terracing, drainage diversions, and other measures to safeguard their slopes against erosion. To avert overflow of detention ponds like hog lagoons, companies can add pond depth, secure the perimeters, and place impervious barriers around the site.

Adjusted Damage Estimates

Because of climate change, we can count on heavier rain and shorter intervals between storms increasing flooding risk. Data is still being gathered for Michael, but we know that for Florence, greenhouse gas emissions and warmer weather made for more intense rainfall. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last year, the city matched its annual rainfall (typically 50 inches) in a matter of days.

Cities, businesses, and infrastructure planners need to set new damage expectations, as 500-year storms” arise with increasing regularity. Adequate planning and preparation may seem expensive overall, but it’s more expensive to deal with damage in the aftermath of flooding. It’s important to remember there’s no immediate fix or silver bullet. Instead, we need long-term solutions first acknowledging the problem and then planning for it.

Broader Public Education

Weathering the next storm requires a public education process that touches all sectors on the solutions available to help protect communities against floodwater. In my hometown of Houston, the community has come together with a discussion on the web, in public forums, and in community meetings.

The Houston Green Building Resource Center provides a public resource at the permitting building, providing engineers, architects, contractors, and homeowners with techniques on how to reduce flooding on the macro and micro levels, including information on building codes, permeable and sustainable materials, and engineering technologies to incorporate. Examples include elevated construction, or raising buildings above the rising floodplain, and permeable paving techniques that can reduce the extreme weather’s impact on the earth’s surface. Both are cost-effective improvements worthy of broader public education.

The intensity of storms like Michael and Florence raise the bar for planning and preparation. Governments, businesses, and communities must plan ahead and work together during the quiet times before the storm returns.

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