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Justice

Dark-Skinned Whites Arrested More Than Those with Lighter Skin

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A Cornell University study found that black men, no matter how dark or light their skin, get arrested at the same rate, but darker-skinned white men are more likely to be arrested than those with lighter skin.

The study draws on a persistent stereotyping phenomenon – which social psychologists have known for more than a century: People perceive more physical variation in individuals who belong to their own social groups than they do in people who belong to other social groups. It’s the idea that “They all look alike, but we don’t.”

The phenomenon kicks in especially during brief interactions where there’s not much opportunity to learn about another person – potentially including when a police officer is making an arrest.

The finding aligns with larger concerns that white police officers may perceive black individuals as more physically homogenous, says Amelia Branigan, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Cornell Population Center.

“We rely on police officers to consider information about a potential arrestee that may be available only by looking at that person’s body, such as age or body size,” said Branigan, who is currently a visiting assistant professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“If police officers are less able to accurately read physical differences among people of a different race when making an arrest decision, that would constitute a critical information gap.”

Branigan’s co-authors include Christopher Wildeman, associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell.

Branigan and Wilderman emphasize other research has overwhelmingly established that, overall, African-American men are arrested at a far higher rate than white men – even white men with darker skin.

The study breaks new ground for the field of sociology, the authors said. Historically the field has assumed that differences in skin color between whites are not socially meaningful, said Wildeman. “What we show is interesting, in large part, because it suggests physical features, including skin color, matter not just for underrepresented minority groups, which is where most of the emphasis has been, but also for non-Hispanic white males.”

Considering both whites and minorities in studies of skin color is important because certain patterns of bias may only be clear by comparison, the authors said.

“Finding no relationship between skin color and arrests among black men is a good thing on one hand. But when that finding holds only among black men, it fits with popular concern that white police may perceive black men as ‘all looking the same’ during split-second arrest decisions,” Branigan said. “Discrimination by skin color is inequitable for anyone, of any race, but we do want police officers to use accurate visual cues to make decisions about the people they encounter on the job.”

The researchers analyzed data from 888 white men and 703 black men who participated in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study in the late 1980s. The data included a measurement of the reflectivity of the study participants’ skin – the darker the skin, the less light it reflects – and the participants’ arrest records. Three-fourths of the participants lived in cities – Birmingham, Alabama; Chicago, Illinois; and Minneapolis, Minnesota – where more than 95 percent of the police force was white. The other quarter lived in Oakland, California, where 75 percent of the police force was white.

One way to chip away at the disparities found in the study could be policies that change how close police feel to the people they are policing. These could include requiring officers live in the communities where they work, the researchers said.

In many racially diverse communities where police are disproportionately white, most officers live outside the town or city in which they’re employed, Branigan said. “These white officers may be most frequently encountering minorities in the context of crimes committed, which just reaffirms the sense that someone who is nonwhite is inherently ‘someone not like me.’”

In contrast, requiring police officers to live in the communities where they’re employed could redefine their sense of belonging, Branigan said.

“It may provide officers with a basis on which to affiliate with community members of another race, because they are neighbors, instead of viewing them strictly as ‘other.’”

The study “Complicating Colorism: Race, Skin Color, and the Likelihood of Arrest” was published August 29 in the journal Socius.

SWHelper is a news, information, resources, and entertainment website related to social good, social work, and social justice. To submit news and press releases email contact@socialworkhelper.com

          
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Human Rights

Mea Culpa: Increased Inmate Deaths and the Lack of Accountability

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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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Diversity

Hearts and Humanity: Reframing Homicide, Renewing Communities

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On July 18, 2013, Dr. Tyrese Gaines, author of “Homicide ‘directly affecting’ racial gap in U.S. life expectancy, study shows” stated, “But overall, African-American males continue to die younger, with heart disease and homicide shortening their lives.” This grave conclusion was further substantiated in a report from the Centers for Disease Control which highlighted the following statistics (page 1):

  • In 2010 the life expectancy rate at birth was 78.7 years, an increase of 11% since 1970. The life expectancy for whites rose 10%, and for blacks, the rate increased by 17%.
  • Life expectancy for black males was 4.7 years less than that of white males. This difference was attributed to higher death rates for black males from homicide, stroke, heart disease, cancer, and pre-birth environments.

Given these facts, Kenneth D. Kochanek, lead author and statistician of the CDC report, surmised, “…when you look at the graph for males, you see how important homicide is for directly affecting life expectancy for African-Americans.”

Considering this direct correlation, Dr. Robert Gore, an emergency medical physician at Kings County-SUNY Downstate Hospitals and executive director of the Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI) in Brooklyn calls for a paradigm shift in the way we view homicide. Dr. Gore says, “We have to look at [violence and homicide] like a disease. We have to stop looking at violence as a purely social problem.”

Flash forward to April 27, 2016, and Dr. Dhruv Khullar and Dr. Anupam Jena echo these sentiments in an article titled, “Homicide’s Role in the Racial Life-Expectancy Gap” in the Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Khullar and Dr. Jena note for blacks ages 1 to 44, the premier cause of death is a homicide. They further add the life expectancy of black males has decreased substantially by the high rate of homicides. Acknowledging this alarming outcome, Khullar and Jena suggest a reevaluation of the way medical professionals consider violent crimes. Dr. Khullar and Dr. Jena state, “Homicide can no longer be understood only as a criminal-justice problem; it needs to be seen as a first-order health issue, a contributor to early mortality.”

As a resident of Louisville, KY since 1999, I know homicide is a visual and a visceral experience for our community. Hearing gunshots throughout the day and night, seeing shell casings lying on the streets, and being afraid to let your children play outside is a reality for myself and many Louisvillians. On February 25, 2016, the Louisville Courier Journal conducted an in-depth look at the homicide rates in Louisville, KY over the past year.

According to the Louisville Courier Journal report:

  • In 2015 the total number of homicides for Louisville was 84, up 47% from 2014.
  • Two-thirds of the victims – 52 men and 4  women – were black. About 22% of Louisvillians are African Americans.
  • In instances where the suspected perpetrator was known, 91% of the black victims were killed by other African Americans, while 72% of white victims were killed by other whites.
  • Louisville was not the only city that experienced a spike in homicides. According to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, after two decades of a downturn in violent crime, 44 of the nations’ 65 largest cities saw upticks in the murder rate in 2015.
  • Only 14 cities had larger increases than Louisville, though even with the dramatic rise in killings here, the Louisville homicide rate – 11 per 100,000 – is standard for cities its size.
  • While the investigation revealed citizens were murdered in 21 of Louisville’s 26 residential ZIP codes, 14 were killed in the 40212 area, the city’s northwest division.
  • Mirroring data for other cities, the homicide rate for African Americans – 35 per 100,000 – was greater than three times the rate for all residents, while for black males that rate doubled to 70.

As a resident of Louisville’s West End (Algonquin, California, Chickasaw, Park Duvalle, Park Hill, Parkland, Portland, Russell, and Shawnee neighborhoods) I understand why these numbers make citizens afraid to live and go about their daily routines in these areas. Due to the tragic death of social worker Boni Frederick in October of 2006, some social workers who live and work with clients in the West End are apprehensive as they conduct home visits and provide services in these areas.

On July 7th of this year, Jonathan Capehart, author of the Washington Post article, “Why African Americans are terrified” attempts to define this fear in light of current events. Capehart shares all these incidents together: (Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Samuel DuBose, the Mother Emanuel nine, Levar Jones, Sandra Bland, and Walter Scott). These which took place under various circumstances, add to the fear African Americans feel across the nation.

This emotion is lamented in the words of Langston Hughes’ poem, “Democracy” when he writes, “I tire so of hearing people say, Let things take their course. Tomorrow is another day. I do not need my freedom when I’m dead. I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”

Why do the homicides in our country, states, and cities continue to end up as cold cases? According to a March 7, 2016, Louisville Courier Journal article, Major David Ray, commander of the Louisville Kentucky Metro Police Major Crimes Division, believes a low rate of citizen involvement has led to a lack of justice in many cases. Major Ray adds that because of the decreased rate in citizen involvement the percentage of homicides solved is lower than 52%, in contrast to the 2014 rate of 75%. Additionally, Major Ray proposes the fear of being labeled a “snitch” which is embedded in our pop culture and general skepticism about police creates apprehension about providing information. Knowing these barriers exist to solving our nation’s homicides, what can police and citizens do differently?

Four major cities: Boston, New York City, Cincinnati, and Louisville have initiated diverse game plans for addressing the homicide rate in their respective areas. Each approach has had varying degrees of success. Andrew Wolfson, author of “Curbing homicides: What other cities have tried” lays out the pros and cons for each of the above metropolitan areas.

According to the article:

Boston:

  • In 1996 an interdisciplinary group of law enforcement, clergy, and helping professionals formed Operation Ceasefire.
  • Program goal was to inform local gangs of a zero-tolerance policy against violence with prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.
  • Neighborhood groups, social services, and probation officers also presented gang members with the opportunity for rehabilitation.
  • The effort nicknamed the “Boston Miracle” produced a 63% decline in homicides among teens.
  • Eighty-two cities conduct “call-in meetings” openly between gang members and community leaders to foster relationships and address crime.

New York:

  • Homicides have decreased by 85% over the last 25 years and the overall crime rate decreased by 40%.
  • Efforts were described as “quality of life” or “broken windows” policing in which officers focused on low-level violations that may lead to felonies.
  • The New York City Police Department (NYPD) increased their visibility in specific areas utilizing crime mapping and investigation and amped up the number of officers from 17, 000 to 25,000.
  • From 1990 to 2009, NYPD stops grew from 41,000 to 581,000. Blacks were detained for possession of marijuana at seven times the rate for whites, despite statistics revealing greater marijuana usage among whites.
  • However, in 2014 the city’s “preventive policing” or stop and frisk methods were deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge citing that Hispanics and blacks were disproportionately pursued.

Cincinnati:

  • In 2006, a community partnership called the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) was created to diminish gang activity.
  • During a period of 42 months, 568 perpetrators were informed that entire gangs would be held accountable for individual homicides.
  • A local group of 14 activists proposed counseling services and employment coaching to over 600 clients.
  • Gang-affiliated homicides dropped 41%.
  • However, even with preliminary gains Cincinnati’s homicide rate was approximately double that of Louisville in 2015.

Louisville:

  • In 2003, the Department of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods was instituted as a community effort to combat violent crime.
  • Program director Anthony Smith attempted to conduct neighborhood meetings with community leaders and former offenders to convey stiffer penalties would be enforced for drug trafficking.
  • However, the efforts proved disappointing as only a few former offenders attended the meetings.
  • The Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) enhanced its homicide unit by adding 8 detectives for a total of 25.
  • Also, in February 2015, a project called Operation Trust was established as an evidence-based initiative to focus on high crime areas. This effort consisted of federal agents and LMPD representatives from various units.

Despite sincere national, state, and local efforts from law enforcement, helping professionals and Commonwealth leaders to diminish the number of homicides and attempt to rehabilitate offenders, each approach was met with variable outcomes. Steve Brown, author of the July 8, 2016 article, “What can we do to prevent the next killing?” states, “We have already identified numerous evidence-based policies and programs that can make our communities safer and more enriching for young people of color, make policing more effective, and improve under-resourced neighborhoods.” Research and evidence can help, but our hearts and humanity will take us there.”

This is where social workers come in. Dr. Angela Henderson, author of “Voices of Reason”, notes social workers serve a pivotal function in impacting violent crime in our nation. The irreconcilable loss of countless black men, women, and police officers should be challenged and stopped. For this reason, social workers must continue to serve their communities without fear. We must educate the public about the epidemic of homicide in our nation and its impact on the life expectancy of black and brown citizens. And we must continue to apply evidence-based practice in policing and policy reform to protect all of our citizens.

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News

Paradise Lost – or Have We Forgotten?

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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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Diversity

Is It More Than Just A Shooting?

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Several articles in response to the shootings in Minnesota, New Orleans, and Dallas point fingers at racists, 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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Business

Work Together to Prepare for the Next Big Storm

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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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Justice

Brett Kavanaugh’s Hall Pass for Police Misconduct

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Brett Kavanaugh

On July 9, 2018, Brett Kavanaugh was nominated for a lifetime appointment to the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Since Kavanaugh’s nomination, opponents are extremely concerned his addition to the court will skew the court to a conservative majority resulting in the rollback of rights and protections for women and minorities

Although Brett Kavanaugh’s stance on Roe v. Wade has been widely discussed, the latest allegation of sexual assault levied by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has added yet another layer of angst among Democrats and women advocacy groups opposing his confirmation.

Observers can’t help but notice the historical parallels between the Kavanaugh hearings and the installation of Justice Clarence Thomas despite the testimony of Anita Hill in 1991. Thomas is currently the longest serving conservative justice on the current court. Most importantly, it is likely his impact will be felt for decades to come which is why its imperative the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

As the spotlight shifts from Kavanaugh’s stance on Roe to allegations of sexual assault, little attention has been paid to Kavanaugh’s position on the exclusionary rule which may drastically change how law enforcement wield its governmental power. The exclusionary rule is “a law that prohibits the use of illegally obtained evidence in a criminal trial” presented by police to prosecutors.

Last year, Kavanaugh gave a speech where he commended the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s view that the exclusionary rule “was beyond the four corners of the Fourth Amendment’s text and imposed tremendous costs on society,” and that it was not “required by the constitution.” Kavanaugh was referring to Rehnquist’s originalist approach to the constitution and his belief that the court should not go beyond its text.

The exclusionary rule was created to deter law enforcement from performing unreasonable searches and seizures as defined by the 4th amendment of the United States Constitution. This limit on law enforcement power is so intrinsic and engrained in our culture that it is almost taken for granted.

The rule simply says that evidence unlawfully obtained by police cannot be used against a suspect at trial. The rule also provides an important check on a criminal justice system that is already skewed against poor people and people of color.

A recent study found that the majority of innocent people who are wrongfully convicted and later exonerated are African American. In regards to murder convictions, African Americans are seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted than white people. The disparity is even more pronounced with regards to drug offenses; African Americans are twelve times more likely to be wrongfully convicted than whites.

The stock argument in opposition to the exclusionary rule is that it inevitably allows guilty persons to go free. According to Judge Benjamin Cardozo, “The criminal is to go free because the constable blundered.” However, those in favor of the exclusionary rule remaining intact believe without it, the protections guaranteed by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments are nothing more than empty promises.

The exclusionary rule has been chipped away at with various exceptions since the Rehnquist Court. Currently, the Supreme Court has four conservative justices; Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts. With the addition of Kavanaugh our protections under the exclusionary rule, and Roe for that matter, will be in jeopardy.

The public has already witnessed Officer Michael Slager on video attempting to plant evidence on Walter Scott after fatally shooting in him the back while he was running away from a traffic stop for a broken taillight violation in Charleston, South Carolina. Communities of Color already fear and mistrust the police, and unchecked police power will further widen the divide.

If police are allowed to illegally enter into a home or seize property without securing a warrant and are able to present this evidence in court despite being obtained illegally, many fear this move will reward illegal behavior by the police.

The hypocrisy of government benefiting from its own unlawful conduct leads to a lack of trust in it and further diminishes the idea of equal protection under the law. Most importantly, when a court permits the use of illegally obtained evidence, the court not only sanctions the misconduct but also encourages it.

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