Ferguson: Time to put the brakes on the Kid Bashing?

Teen PostOne of the more unfortunate responses from white voices to the issues raised by the shooting of Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri is the “Get A Job!” refrain.  Thus far members of the Great Uninformed have taunted a financial analyst, and generally assumed that if a person were on the street protesting the individual ‘must’ be unemployed. It’s a good guess, but not a rational assumption.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Approximately 47% of young men aged 16 to 24 in St. Louis County are unemployed. [Guard] However horrifying that statistic may be, it still means that over half of the young men in the county are, in fact, working.  To another point, I have a problem with putting 16 and 17 year old kids in the employment statistics generally, even though the technical notes from the BLS advise counting only those who have looked for work in the target four week period.   Call me old fashioned, but my idea of what a 16 or 17 year old youngster should be doing is Being In School.  That’s their job — to be in school.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with compiling statistics on how difficult  boys and girls find getting a summer job, or on trends about their part time employment, BUT my bottom line is that young people 16 and 17 years old have no business being included in employment statistics other than on a seasonal basis.

Education, Education, Education

Speaking of school.  About 37% of young African American young men are enrolled in college.  That’s too low, but again there’s a need for some perspective.

“Increasing numbers and percentages of Black and Hispanic students are attending college. Between 2000 and 2011, the percentage of college students who were Black rose from 11.7 to 15.1 percent, and the percentage of students who were Hispanic rose from 9.9 to 14.3 percent (source). Also, the percentage of Black 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college increased from 30.5 percent in 2000 to 37.1 percent in 2011 and the percentage of Hispanics enrolled increased from 21.7 to 34.8 percent (source).”  [NCES]

More young Blacks and members of the Hispanic community are, in fact, enrolled in college.  We also need to remember that the cohort is a declining one, the general 18 to 24 year old category is expected to be reduced in the next decade by about 4%, so a 13.9% predicted increase in college enrollment is a pretty positive thing. [IHE]

So, before the Great Uninformed pass judgment on the kids, they should know that the odds are about 50/50 they are yelling at someone who does have a job, and that they are spewing on about kids who are more likely to have plans for college than the previous cohort.

College isn’t the only thing those ear-bud inserting cocked hatted little Apples of Mother’s Eye are doing — there are also apprenticeship programs, with an national enrollment of 164,000 in FY 2013; and, across the nation about 375,000 individuals are currently receiving apprentice training. [DoL] As of mid 2013 there were another 60,000 signed up for Job Corps training at 125 centers nationwide. [JC]

It’s probably not occurred to the Great Uninformed that the individual they are currently insulting could be the person who will show up after completing their training from the air-conditioning repair service to fix their AC, or stop the flood in the bathroom, or get the transmission repaired in the family wagon.  On that fine day, the baggie pants T-Shirt clad ‘thug,’ ‘criminal’ and ‘creep’ will look like Salvation Personified  in his or her business logo white/blue shirt, tool kit in hand.

If we’d like more doctors, teachers, nurses, accountants, engineers, designers, EMTs, air conditioner repair technicians, construction workers, plumbers, electricians, …. there are some things we can do to help.  The St. Louis Community College System, literally in the heart of the Ferguson situation, acknowledges some of the problems.

The St. Louis CC reports on their efforts to attract more young African American men, and lists the problems they face:

“There are numerous reasons that can be attributed to the low numbers of African-American men persisting at community colleges and attaining their educational goals. The lack of on-campus support services, low or no financial assistance, lack of transportation, legal issues, the need for childcare, under prepared for college, and most importantly the lack of positive role models are just to name a few.”  [StLCC]

On campus support services range from one on one tutoring to group learning sessions, help using informational technology, study groups, and language instruction.  These efforts aren’t cheap and shouldn’t be approached as such. Cutting public college/university budgets because of lack of state support is counter-productive if we truly want the next generation to pick up the economic baton.

Don’t get me started on the lack of public transportation in general — the rant could go for days.  However, it doesn’t do to disparage young people who live in suburban sprawl or in metropolitan areas with meager public transport for not jumping at the chance to hike miles to a bus station, then transfer to a Metro, travel more miles, and then repeat the process at the end of the school day — IF there is a bus and IF there is a Metro.  I know, those of us of a certain age walked to school, up-hill both ways, in blizzard conditions…. Spare me.

Legal Issues

Legal issues? Could this be a euphemistic way to describe police records for petty crimes, misdemeanors or class Z felonies, plaguing kids these days?   Please stare at the following chart from ChildStats.Gov for a moment.  Who, by the percentages, has a more visible rate of drug and alcohol dependency?

Drug Use ChartThis is an eye test: Whose line is the lowest on the chart? If you said “Blue” you pass. Blue, for Black, non-Hispanic 18 to 24 years of age.  Member of the Great Uninformed who fail this test are probably listening to other members of the Great Uninformed instead of the kids themselves.  If African American young men are the lowest on the chart tracking alcohol or drug dependency where does the impression they are likely to be drug dealers come from?  Try the judicial system.

‘Since blacks are more likely to be arrested than whites on drug charges, they are more likely to acquire the convictions that ultimately lead to higher rates of incarceration. Although the data in this backgrounder indicate that blacks represent about one-third of drug arrests, they constitute 46 percent of persons convicted of drug felonies in state courts.[21] Among black defendants convicted of drug offenses, 71 percent received sentences to incarceration in contrast to 63 percent of convicted white drug offenders.”  [HR]

Notice, it’s not that African Americans are more likely to DO drugs, but that it’s more likely they will be arrested and convicted than their white cohorts.  And for this, those “legal issues” will haunt a young African American in terms of housing, education, and employment.  As the old saying goes, “Justice may be color blind, but the War on Drugs isn’t.”

 Family Family Family

Child care? Here’s another topic for another day.  The U.S. has little to no real child care services when compared to other developed nations.  The role model issue offers some cause to pause.  If the media were to be believed, especially some facets of our national media, every Black child grows up in a single parent household without a father.  Not quite.

The Census Bureau’s 2013 report (pdf) shows approximately 55% of African American children in single parent homes, 31% for Hispanic children, White 21%, Asian 13%.  Read these numbers in reverse and note that 45% of African American children are growing up in household with two adults.  As in the case of the employment figures, there’s a better chance that the Great Uninformed will automatically assume the Black youngster is in the 55% category and not the 45% classification.  For further clarification, there are maps included in the Census Bureau Report which illustrate that children in Missouri are more likely to live in two-adult homes, and fewer live in single family homes than the national average. {figures 4 and 5}

Every reporter in the country has been speaking to the 67% African American population in Ferguson, Missouri — perhaps this is an outlier?  Not. So. Fast.  The Census Bureau also tells us that 68% of the 8,751 Ferguson households are defined as family homes.  Of these, some 31% have children residing there.  2,669 of these households, or 31.3%, are single parent (female) homes.  7.4% are single parent (male) homes.  Again, before jumping to the conclusion that the youngster on the TV screen marching down West Florissant Ave. is from a ‘broken’ home with a single mother — look at the actual numbers.

We almost inevitably get from the Single Mother narrative to the Absent Dad.  “These kids have no role models.”  First, it’s true that many African American men live separately from the mothers of their children — but don’t jump to the conclusion this means they are absent from their children’s lives.

“Recent data published by the Center for Disease Control reveal that African-American fathers spend more time in their children’s day-to-day lives than dads from other racial groups, defying stereotypes about black fatherhood. The Pew Research Center has found similar evidence that black dads don’t differ from white dads in any significant way, and that there isn’t the expected disparity found in so many other reports. Although black fathers are more likely to live in separate households, Pew estimates that 67 percent of black dads who don’t live with their kids see them at least once a month, compared to 59 percent of white dads and just 32 percent of Hispanic dads.” [HuffPo]

When we speak of role models it’s nearly always in a positive sense. “Dad” or “Mom” is the primary role model.  Is it necessarily ‘negative’ to have a parent known in the household for working two jobs to make ends meet? Or, ‘negative’ to have parents who shift child care roles in order to juggle employment schedules?  There are other ‘negatives.’ What kind of a role model is a local police officer who assumes kids sitting on the stoup are up to no good?  Would this encourage a youngster to want to be a police officer?  What kind of role model is it if a Black youngster is trailed through the department store by security or sales personnel who assume that shoplifting is the order of the day? Would this encourage a youngster to want to work in retail sales?

What kind of a role model might a teacher be who calls on the white children in the room first, and the Black students rarely if at all? Would this encourage a young person to be a teacher? What kind of a role model is a secondary school principal who illustrates the national statistics that Black young people are more likely to receive more and longer suspensions than white students? Does this encourage a young Black person to want a career as an educator?

Imagine a Black teen entering an office building, do the women clutch their purses? Do the men move back and check their wallets? Who would want to grow up and work in that office building?  Before the Great Uninformed pontificate on the roles of fathers and mothers, they might want to consider how their own actions convey ‘models’ to young people of color.

Kids Kids Kids

The problems evident in the Ferguson situation won’t be solved over-night, nor are there quick Band-Aid solutions at hand.  However, it might help if the youngsters who feel threatened in their own community were seen for what they are: Baggy pants, ear-bud inserted, caps askew, often silly teenagers –much like everyone else’s baggy pants, ear-buds likely requiring surgical removal, caps smashed down on expensive hair cuts, silly teenagers; texting constantly to see if She said He Liked Her better than Him maybe but He didn’t like Her better even if She looked at Him in the hall while He was with Her.

God love them, they will grow up, and if God has a sense of humor they’ll have at least one child just like themselves.

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We can’t solve what we can’t see: How a lack of national police reporting obscures local problems

BlindfoldOn November 28, 2011 the Las Vegas Review Journal published an article in which it was reported:

“The nation’s leading law enforcement agency (FBI) collects vast amounts of information on crime nationwide, but missing from this clearinghouse are statistics on where, how often, and under what circumstances police use deadly force. In fact, no one anywhere comprehensively tracks the most significant act police can do in the line of duty: take a life.

“We don’t have a mandate to do that,” said William Carr, an FBI spokesman in Washington, D.C. “It would take a request from Congress for us to collect that data.”

Local law enforcement agencies have guidelines and internal review processes in one form or another, but what they don’t have are compilations of statistics which would facilitate analysis of trends, and problems.

As of July 31, 2012 Mother Jones magazine cited the Review Journal study of shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada, but was still lamenting the lack of national statistics and analysis.   Six days ago, August 14, 2014, USA Today reported the results of an FBI study which concluded, flawed though it may be, the FBI database is the best thing we have, and it’s informing us that officers have been involved in approximately 400 lethal events.   Again, the problem of statistical gaps raised comment:

“University of South Carolina criminologist Geoff Alpert, who has long studied police use of deadly force, said the FBI’s limited database underscores a gaping hole in the nation’s understanding of how often local police take a life on America’s streets — and under what circumstances.

”There is no national database for this type of information, and that is so crazy,” said Alpert. “We’ve been trying for years, but nobody wanted to fund it and the (police) departments didn’t want it. They were concerned with their image and liability. They don’t want to bother with it.” [USAT]

This goes some distance toward explaining why we’ve not been able to address the issues of officer involved lethal events with any precision.  Police departments are reluctant to report incidents with any specificity and quantity, Congress won’t ask the FBI to compile the information, and the blind lead the blind into interminable debates about IF there is a problem, and what the nature of the problem might be.

There are 17,000 law enforcement jurisdictions in the United States, but only 750 contribute such statistics to the national database. [USAT]  Here’s why this is a problem:

# Failure to quantify a problem, or to attempt a quantification using a mix of statistical and anecdotal evidence colors any scientific analysis of projections, correlations, and trends.  We cannot rationally analyze and evaluate that which we cannot statistically describe.

For example, if we have two highly publicized cases of lethal events, does this mean we have a problem?  Is the problem ethnic? Cultural? Is it even a problem?  Lacking valid and reliable statistical context none of these questions can be adequately addressed.

# Without a statistical context the anecdotal and the immediate obscure the predictive and the analytical. The argument becomes one of perception, and perception uninformed by any clarification or larger context.  When the argument spills into the street the view becomes even more opaque.  While the existing statistics do support the assertion that interactions between white officers and black suspects are more likely to be negative, the limited depth of the statistics precludes giving the numbers any range.  We have a general sense of negativity, from a limited number of jurisdictions, which leads to more problems.

# Since not all law enforcement agencies are compelled to supply statistics on this subject, there is little predictive value from the numbers we do have.  We can study the trends in large agencies, such as Las Vegas Metro, Los Angeles, or New York City, but little can be reliably said of agencies which do not report.  Unfortunately, this situation means that smaller, or less responsive, police departments can’t adequately address problems — real or potential — in their environs and jurisdictions.

For example:  Let’s create a hypothetical in which there is a major metropolitan police department which does track and report its officer involved lethal event figures.  If this is a well administered, community responsive, department then we can reasonably conclude that Megatropolis area has good police/community relations.  Further, if a few suburban departments collect and report their statistics, and those, too, are positive, then most community leaders might conclude relations in the overall region are generally good, and in no need of assessment or change.

But, let’s toss a fly in our hypothetical ointment — What if there is a cluster of small jurisdictions in the metropolitan area which do not report, and do not have a demonstrable record of positive interactions with their community members?   In this instance, the partial analysis  of statistics from a limited sample obfuscates problems which will eventually flare into anecdotal evidence.  Or, to put it more simply — into people in the streets and headlines in the newspapers.

It didn’t have to be this way.  The International Association of Chiefs of Police began collecting data on officer involved incidents in 1995, and reported in 2001 that there were 3.6 records of use of force for every 10,000 calls for service.  [IACP]  For the first two years the project was supported by a joint grant from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Institute of Justice, and from 1998 to 2001 the database was funded by the IACP. [IACP pdf]  The IACP developed proto-type software for reporting and worked to secure state and local cooperation, but in 2001 the funding dried up and the project halted. [USAT]

Therefore, for the last 13 years we’ve been effectively operating with vision obscured by the lack of hard data.  Some law enforcement agencies may have made great strides in terms of community relations — but we’d not see that reflected in national statistics because we don’t have the numbers. There may be some police departments which have trajectory trends in police officer incidents that are essentially negative — but we don’t know this because we don’t have the numbers. There may be some regional problems indicating negative trends in community relations, but we don’t know this because we don’t have the numbers.

There are also reasons for police departments to support the collection of more, and better, data.  First, it’s really difficult to fix problems which aren’t acknowledged, and when anecdotal evidence — from either side — is all that’s available it is all too easy to miss trends. Secondly, if Department A is tracking its use of lethal force, while in the next door ZIP code Department B is functioning blithely unaware that it has a growing problem, then it’s reasonable for Department A to be aware of neighboring problems which threaten to land on its own doorstep. And, third, it is all but impossible to objectively evaluate the seriousness of issues such as the use of lethal force, and the efforts made to correct injustices,  without a solid, reliable, national database.

It’s high time for Congress to require that the Bureau of Justice Statistics compile and report statistics on officer involved use of force incidents, and to resurrect the IACP project with adequate funding.  Otherwise, we’ll continue to blunder in the dark, living witness to the truth of the old adage: There are none so blind as those who will not see.

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Buck the NRA? Nevada’s Going To Try It

Everytown86% of Nevada residents want every gun buyer to pass a criminal background check.  [CPA pdf] So, a person might have thought that legislation in the last session of the Assembled Wisdom would have been enacted — and it was, only to be vetoed by a Governor who felt it would be too “burdensome” and a “violation” of someone’s 2nd Amendment rights.  Undaunted, and unmoved by the pretzel-twisted illogical prolix of NRA dependent politicians, Nevada for Background Checks launched an initiative.

The group has until November 11th to collect 101,677 signatures, or to put it in more legalese, 25,416 qualified signatures in each of Nevada’s four Congressional Districts, in order to get this measure on the 2016 general election ballot.

We already know the statistics on guns in this part of the country. We are the 9th deadliest state in terms of gun violence; we have 15.9 gun deaths per 100,000 people which is the 5th highest rate in the nation.  In 2010 we had the 4th worst homicide rate for women, most of whom were killed by firearms. And, there’s another statistic of which we can’t be all that proud: We’re the 9th highest exporter (trafficker) of guns the it country.  None of this will stop the opposition from the National Right to Shoot’em Up Association.

The right wing’s ready for this one, but the arguments being pressed contain their own seeds of self destruction.  Nothing quite like wearing reflective sun glasses at the poker table to give away one’s hand?  First, there’s guilt by association — the Nevada effort is supported in part by Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors MAIG action fund.  Gasp. Yes, and the opposition to the measure is coming from the National Rifle Association and its affiliates, so the point is exactly what?  That major national organizations are on opposing sides of the issue? I sincerely hope no one is surprised by this development.  What might be more surprising is the transformation of the opponents dog whistles into bull horns.

The aforementioned opposition piece is delighted to tell the audience there must be something secretive, something associated with those infamous outside agitators, because — addresses for Everytown are connected to New York City.  Bloomberg + New York = ?  Here’s the part where we have to decide if this sounds a bit too audible to be a dog whistle.  Is the question: NRA = Good Big National Group, Everytown = Bad Big National Group?

The second line Nevadans can expect from opponents is the old reliable ‘This won’t solve the problem’ canard.  If the initiative won’t prevent Bubba from blasting Bertha because the mayo went south in the refrigerator, then It Won’t Work assemblage of the south bound products of north bound bulls is getting old.   The response to this one is simplicity itself. Do you want to support a law which will make it harder for felons, fugitives, undocumented people, the severely mentally ill, and unsupervised juveniles to get guns?  That’s it. Yes? No?

The third main line of contention from the opponents is that it will inconvenience some gun buyers.  Yes, and being dead is very inconvenient as well.  It’s also inconvenient and unpleasant to find out we’re in the Top Ten Gun Exporters in the Country category too.  Once more, proponents can counter this object by repeating the question to the second argument.  Do you support a law which makes it harder for felons, fugitives, undocumented people, the severely mentally ill, and unsupervised juveniles to get guns? Yes? No?

Will some people be inconvenienced by having to wait for a purchase to be complete? Probably. Does that impinge on the ultimate ownership of a firearm by a person who can easily clear a criminal background check? Probably not.

A more difficult rejoinder to the right wing objections might be created by their quibbling over the word “transfer,” as in “Gee whiz, I’d be all for this but but but the word transfer isn’t clear.”  In fact, yes it is, if Black’s Law Dictionary is to be believed.  First, “transfer” is the “all encompassing term use by the Uniform Commercial Code to describe the act which passes an interest in an instrument to another.  Or, we can make this even more simple: “A transfer (n): An Act of the parties, or of the law, by which the title to property is conveyed from one person to another.”   However, this probably won’t stop the opponents of gun sale reform legislation from litigating hypothetical situations out of whole cloth and perfervid imaginations.

In the mean time, organizers and supporters have a limited amount of time to do the maximum amount of work to get this initiative on the 2016 ballot.  Here’s wishing them some very good luck.

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Of All Places, Why Ferguson?

Why Ferguson? Of all the incidents of confrontation between African Americans and police officers, why is Ferguson more instructive, more illustrative of long term social structural problems?

The Segregation Problem

  Social and broadcast media have referenced St. Louis as a segregated city, but offer the viewers little context. The problem goes back to the early 20th century when St. Louis (city) adopted restrictive covenants in real estate transactions to limit Black residences to a small area on the north side.  “The Ville” is an historic black neighborhood, and was home to Sumner High School, one of the first high schools for African American students west of the Mississippi River, (map pdf). The issue of these restrictive covenants was settled, in a legal sense, in Shelley v. Kraemer, in which the Supreme Court ruled (1948) that the covenants were not enforceable.  (see also: Inclusions)

We can reasonably date the “white flight” to the 1950s, in the wake of the Shelley v. Kraemer decision, the ‘flight’ increased in the 1960s and 1970s.  The real estate developments created a plethora of small jurisdictions, each with its own zoning and residential standards — most designed to exclude lower income, mostly minority, home buyers. [UIA]  The University of Iowa’s “Mapping Declinemap series is especially helpful in visualizing this movement, and should be consulted for a better understanding than the summary offered here.  Here’s the map for the St. Louis area in the 1940s and 1950s:

Map St Louis 1950 White areas show an increase in white population, black indicate increases in black population and red and orange indicate decreases in both white and black populations.

By 1980 the “white flight” phenomena was in full view, as in this map — modified from the University of Iowa original.

Map St Louis 1980By 2000 the depopulation of St. Louis (city) is well under way. A city of nearly a million people at its height, the loss of industrial, commercial, and manufacturing employment in the city reduces the overall population to approximately 350,000. [StL]

The map for 2010 can be argued to show a change in direction from an area in which African American population replaces formerly white populated areas, and starts to reveal the ‘gentrification’ of the downtown area of the city, the sprawl in the suburban zones, and the general depopulation of the region — in short, decreases are showing up all over the place.

Map St Louis 2010Thus, the map from Business Week can be said to reveal who’s left in the area:

Map St Louis 2014Light blue areas indicate 20% African American population or less, slightly darker blue shows 20% to 40%, medium blue shows 40% to 60%, darkened blue 60% to 80%, and dark blue 80% or more.  However, mapping demographic movement and the replacement of formerly all white neighborhoods with more diverse populations doesn’t complete the picture.

Non-Renewal Renewal

Another facet of the problems revolves around the city’s attempt at renewal. The urban renewal efforts after 1970 tended to push African Americans out of their former neighborhoods, displacing residents to the inner ring of suburbs, (see demolition of the infamous Pruitt Igoe Housing Project) Colin Gordon’s work describes the civic emphasis:

“St. Louis’ urban renewal projects included two baseball stadiums, hotels, a convention center, the Jefferson Memorial and casinos. But with old rail beds scarring the city, a dismal view of the struggling East St. Louis across the river and most of the riverfront remaining unsightly industrial land, St. Louis never got over the hump to stand out against other cities. And, unfortunately, the efforts didn’t generate long-term stability or decent jobs…”

When the Kansas City Federal Reserve studied population and employment in the region in 2003 St. Louis lead the decline with an abysmal 16.5% decline rate from 1950 to 2000. (KFED pdf] (Pittsburgh was second at 13.1%, Buffalo third at 12.8%) The reason was fairly obvious:

“The area was once home to many business headquarters, and still is home to 21 of the Fortune 1,000 largest U.S. companies. But some have moved out, including Anheuser-Busch, which was sold for $52 billion to the Belgium company InBev in 2008.

Much of the employment in the region is located outside St. Louis’ city boundaries, borders that were set in 1876 when the city and county were divided. Neighboring St. Louis County makes up 20.1 percent of the state’s economic share, St. Charles County 6.1 percent while the city only accounts for 5.4 percent, according to 2007 data.” [PBS]

The Ford plant in Hazelwood, MO (near Ferguson) was closed in 2006, and mostly demolished. A smaller manufacturing firm (International Food) moved into remainder in 2013. [CBS] Chrysler closed the South Plant (Fenton, MO) in June 2008 with production moved to Windsor, Canada. The North Plant closed in 2009 and both plants were dismantled in 2011.  In short, the automobile industry followed the previous flight of the shoe manufacturers, once third largest in the nation,  from St. Louis to parts elsewhere.

The Fragmentation Issue

When St. Louis and St. Louis County parted company in 1876, often called The Great Divorce, a highly contentious election determined the present city line and county boundary. At that point there were 310,000 city residents who didn’t want to be responsible for the 27,000 residents of the county. The boundary was set at Skinker Boulevard so the city could claim Forest Park. Within about 25 years the City was beginning to regret its decision. [TRT] The result was a fragmentation of the county into some 91 separate jurisdictions.

Not only did the separate jurisdictions have differentiated city zoning and residential ordinances, but all other areas of governance were split as well. Voters rejected a borough plan of coordination similar to that in New York City in the 1930s, and a district plan went down to defeat in a 1959 election.  The fracturing continued.

We have been witnessing the plethora of police departments from the county entering the Ferguson city limits, which is, in some respects symbolic of a larger problem — the fractured state of county/city coordination efforts which affects not only law enforcement, but community development, economic planning and development, and various other government services.  It’s not entirely unreasonable to place the origin of St. Louis County’s failure to respond to serious social issues in the lap of the Great Divorce, and subsequent failures to address the possibilities which greater consolidation could offer.

In short, what we’re watching on television at the moment is a failure long in the making — a city and county unable to live with or without each other, a county fragmented into suburbs large and tiny which obstructs coordinated development, racial and ethnic divisions sorted from and into specific neighborhoods first by law and then by practice, and the overall decline of manufacturing in the area.

The issues revolving around the Michael Brown Case will eventually be resolved, what isn’t quite so clear is whether or not St. Louis and St. Louis County can commit to any form of coordinated governance, or to any consolidated and focused plan for economic development.

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How to screw up a press conference in one easy lesson

NBC Headline

I just watched the attempt by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to hold a press conference in Ferguson, Missouri concerning the situation developing as a result of the shooting death of Michael Brown.  [CNN]  The event was tense, at times hostile, loud, at times interruptive, cautious, at times cooperative. But, at all times it was not very constructive.  There were some ingredients in the mix which could manifest themselves in a primer on how to screw up a public event.

If mangling an opportunity to make inroads into the sources of public discontent is the intent then:

# Assume the audience is there to hear only what you have to say.  The Governor was there to announce his declaration of a state of emergency in the area and the imposition of a midnight to five o’clock in the morning curfew.   Let’s grant for a moment that it’s necessary to publicize this information, and that it’s just as necessary to find a way to get some very overworked Missouri Highway Patrol officers some sleep.  However, there was certainly more the members of the audience wanted to hear — Which gets us to the next way to foul the waters.

# Don’t admit that there are issues over which you have no control.  Standing behind a podium can often augment feelings of omnipotence, such as “I’m the (fill in the blank with the title) and I can handle all this.”  The Governor was there to announce law enforcement plans, but the audience wanted to hear about the progress of prosecutorial efforts to bring the killer of Michael Brown into court.  A word about the system:

“Missouri circuit courts are courts of original civil and criminal jurisdiction. That is, cases usually begin in the circuit court, which is where trials may occur. Within the circuit court, there are various divisions, such as associate circuit, small claims, municipal, family, probate, criminal, and juvenile. Missouri’s counties and the city of St. Louis are organized into forty-five judicial circuits. There is a court in every county. The circuit court is typically in the county seat (or the city of St. Louis) and may be in additional locations in the county.” [CourtsUS]

A case against the officer would be tried in the St. Louis County Circuit Court, and for that to happen charges must be brought by the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s office. The Prosecutor is Bob McCulloch who has already told the press and public there is no timeline for the investigation of the Brown Case. (8/13/14) [KDSK] In other words, unless the Governor were there to announce the appointment of a special prosecutor, he couldn’t offer anything more about the investigation at the local level without having McCulloch chime in.

# Squirm away from questions about the progress of local inquiries.  Failing the cooperation of the local prosecutors office — one from which a tone deaf response has already been issued [Wonk 8/15] — there wasn’t much the Governor or the Highway Patrol could say without creating another brush fire with the Prosecutor’s office.  There was no particular reason to shy away from telling the audience something to the effect that “I can’t answer your questions about prosecution because that’s in Bob McCulloch’s hands.” It’s absolutely no secret in St. Louis that McCulloch is the policeman’s best friend, and has been very visibly so since the 2001 Jack in the Box Case.

# Fumble attempts to inform the audience how the investigation might find a work-around the prosecutor’s office.  Once having tip-toed past the conflicts with the county prosecutor the Governor was in no position to firmly tell audience members that the FBI has been called in, and this case would be taken out of county hands.  The audience saw the flyers, heard the part about 40 FBI agents on the ground, and still weren’t assured that the officer was going to find himself answering at the bar.  In fact, with the Department of Justice and the FBI in play, there is a very real possibility the officer will be facing Federal charges.  So, why not tell the good people in the hall, “I share your frustration with the time it’s taking the local prosecutor to move on this case, but he may become irrelevant when the Justice Department files charges in a Federal District Court.”

Not that Robert McCulloch will be vastly pleased to find himself designated irrelevant after his highly publicized prosecution of Axl Rose, and his police protective performance in the Jack in the Box Case, but the Governor’s reticence to inform the listeners about the possibility of a very vigorous and very serious prosecution — making the whole thing literally a Federal case — didn’t help matters. Nor did omitting information about the efforts of St. Louis County Executive Charles Dooley to secure permission for a special prosecutor from the office of the Missouri Attorney General help the situation any. [DKos]

We can only hope that future press events will include (1) people who actually have something to do with local investigations and prosecutions, (2) people who can update the press and public about the progress of the investigation, including such public information as a summary of the autopsy report, and incident reports.

Until then, the Missouri Highway Patrol will have more sleepless nights.

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Five Questions About The Police and The Community

It shouldn’t take a tragedy to bring attention to local police policies on the use of lethal force, but it does.  The premise of this post is not to argue that community members bear the burden of preventing police misconduct, but that members of the community do have an obligation as citizens to exercise informed oversight of police policies and procedures.

Telling community leaders and other citizens to take yet more time to research and review police practices is relatively easy.  And, as mentioned in a previous post, getting familiar with the mission statement publicized by most police departments is as good a place to start as any.  Once beyond reading the mission statement, and evaluating it in terms of how it might inform policies regarding the use of lethal force and other controversial items, there are some other questions citizens might raise with members of county commissions, city councils, and boards.

#1. How many of the officers in leadership positions received their initial training prior to 1985?  Yes, that’s 29 years ago, but it’s still relevant. Here’s why.  Before the Supreme Court decision in Tennessee v. Garner (1985) a majority of states had a “any felony” policy.  Police were authorized in most jurisdictions to use any force necessary, lethal included, to effect an arrest for any felonious behavior.  Justice White’s opinion place restrictions on this policy stating:

“Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force. Thus, if the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape,…”[FindLaw]

In other words, after 1985 there must be a reasonable expectation that the suspect poses a serious threat of physical harm to the officers or others, or has already caused serious harm to others.

Training programs are drafted and administered by senior law enforcement officers, and it’s not unusual to have senior officers conduct the training and perform the administrative reviews of incidents involving the use of force.  If the law enforcement agency has an in-service training program emphasizing how seriously the department takes such incidents, and how carefully it will conduct reviews of the use of  force, then problems associated with the holdover effect of pre-1985 attitudes can be mitigated.

It’s probably safe to assert that in any institution composed of human beings there will be those who cling to the attitudes of the Good Old Days When…. However, in terms of the unlimited use of lethal force and other controversial practices, those good old days are over and have been for the last 29 years.  In the mean time care should have been taken to erase some of the attitudes associated with those not-so-good days. Has the in-service training program addressed the upgrading of current  information and re-training for senior officers?  There’s been much palaver about Police Culture, but if questions aren’t raised about the contributors to an unproductive culture then we’d ought not be surprised when the answers don’t please us. This leads to the second question.

#2. How much emphasis does the law enforcement agency place on training in community relations?  The Nevada Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training has a 16 week training curriculum for category I cadets. Performance Skills consume about 291 hours. Patrol Operations and Investigations  take up 165 hours. Law and Legal Procedures average 83.5 hours, Administration and Examinations average 72.5 hours, and Functions of a Peace Officer average 67 hours.   Nevada’s curriculum description (pdf) requires POST trained officers  pass a written examination (70%) on the following topics:

“(1) Define “traditional/incident-driven policing,” “community-oriented policing (COP),” “problem-oriented policing (POP), “CompStat” and “Intelligence Led Policing (ILP) (2)  Identify the four steps of the S.A.R.A. problem-solving model (3) Identify the differences between the traditional aspects of policing and community-oriented policing  (4) List the six most important groups with which to partner.”

What we know is that a Nevada POST graduate will be able to score at least 70% on a written examination regarding these models of police work.   What we don’t know is how effective the law enforcement agency which hires the young recruit will be at helping the new officer reach out to those six (at least) most important groups. Do we know the proportionality of in-service training programs? Do we know, for example, the relative amount of time expended on physical or fire arms training when compared to in-service education on public and community relations?  And thus, our third question.

#3.  Does the local police department or sheriff’s office have a formalized way to interact with elements of the community?  The Las Vegas MPD has a Multi-Cultural Advisory Committee which meets monthly.  The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office has a Community Relations Section.  In an ideal world, with adequate funding and resources, a law enforcement agency would have an advisory committee enhanced by a structured way to get recommendations from the committee to all levels of the law enforcement agency in a timely fashion.  A reasonable question to ask of city or county officials is what systems are in place to regularly gather information and opinions from the public at large, and minority populations in particular, which will help officers engage with the community more positively? And, then follow up the initial inquiry with a second one — How is this system evaluated, and how often?  The next question concerns whether the system works.

#4.  How does the local law enforcement agency process, evaluate, and resolve issues between personnel and members of the public?  Larger law enforcement agencies have formalized procedures for processing complaints, and IADs for investigating the validity of the allegations.  Even the best organizations will receive complaints, and this is all the more reason for the agency to have a written complaint response policy.  The Washoe County Sheriff’s office has an Office of Public Integrity for this purpose.  The LVMPD has a Citizen Review Board.  Before lamenting the lack of citizen complaint resolution, check to see if your local law enforcement agency has a formalized complaint resolution process, who’s in charge of it, and how often is is evaluated?

Drilling down to an obvious source of complaints, such as abuse of authority, misconduct, or downright brutality, can we evaluate community relations by the numbers?

#5. What measures have been taken by the local law enforcement agency to maximize communication with the community?  However important it may be — and it is — to have a police department which looks like the community at large, it’s equally important to have a department which knows how to communicate with that public.  Does the agency recruiting and retention process encourage members of minority groups to seek employment with the department?  How is this evaluated? And, how often? The how is important, but so is the when.

Another line of inquiry in this regard concerns when officers have an opportunity to interact with the public.  Are officers isolated in vehicles during their shifts, and accessible to the public only in presentation, ride along, or safety presentations?  How and in what circumstances does the department encourage interactions?  Traveling down this thread a step further: When is the leadership of the department available to the public?  In organized public forums? In press conferences? In periodic site inspections? All of the above?

Public officials should be not only able but willing to answer these, and other, questions for members of the public.  Being a law enforcement officer is one of the toughest jobs in the country, and one of the most dangerous.  A complementary effort on the part of both the agencies and the public should help those POST graduates perform to the best of their abilities, and provide regularly evaluated systems, structures, and practices which are conducive to good community relations.


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Pulling Representative Heck Slowly Toward Understanding Foreign Policy

SpaghettiRepresentative Joe Heck (R-NV3) is confused about the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.  “I don’t think we have a coherent foreign policy, and that’s part of the problem,” Heck said. “We have not exercised the level of leadership around the globe as we have over the past 20 years. … The world looks toward somebody to kind of set the example. And I don’t think we’ve been setting the example that we have set previously.” [LVRJ]

First there’s a big difference between something which is incoherent and something with which there is disagreement.  The limited engagement portion of what’s lumped together as Obama Doctrine isn’t too difficult to comprehend.  Unilateral force will be used if there is a direct threat to the United States.  That wasn’t too hard, was it?

Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance.  If force is to be used, it should be in a very precise way.  [FP] Also not all that hard to understand.  In case Representative Heck is still confused, let’s apply some examples.

ISIL: A direct threat to Americans or American interests. IS attacks threatening Americans and American interests in Iraq, especially in the vicinity of Erbil in Kurdish controlled areas presented a direct threat to Americans in the region.  Response? Air strikes.  So far so good.  IS momentum in the area has been blunted and American lives and interests protected.  Humanitarian aid and the rearming of the Peshmerga forces associated with the mission was augmented by efforts from the British, the French, and the Germans.  Multilateral, targeted, minimal force applied to secure desired results.  What’s confusing about that?  But, what of indirect threats?

Libya:  What should be done in cases of threats to global security? Once again, we find the Administration employing a multilateral approach. In 2011 an effort by the U.S., Canada, France, Italy, and Great Britain (in a coalition ultimately including 19 nations)  coordinated a campaign of air strikes, naval blockades, no-fly zones, and logistical assistance to Libyan rebels. It worked.

Syria: The civil war in Syria presents a more complicated problem for nations which perceive the situation as a threat to global security.  The Assad government has close ties to Russia, and the rebel groups range from small inexperienced moderate elements, to criminal gangs, to extremist groups, to the really extremist groups like ISIS.  Coalitions, alliances, and coterminous realignments and the creation of new coalitions, make this a very fluid situation.  Problem One was to get the stockpiles of chemical weapons out of the game.  Mission accomplished. Last month a Danish ship delivered the last 600 metric tons of chemical weapons to a U.S. ship (Cape Ray) at an Italian port, where the chemicals will be destroyed. [CNN] Multilateral. Minimal use of force (a show of force at one point) with a maximum use of diplomacy, combined with a specifically focused mission.

Calls for arming the anti-Assad rebels is a simplistic response to a complicated problem.  In December 2013 the BBC published something of a roster of Syrian rebel forces for those wishing to keep track of the players.  There’s a coalition now called the Supreme Council of the Free Syrian Army, the good news is that this is a relatively moderate group, but the bad news is that it is composed of some 30 different militias which retain their own operational independence, command structures, and agendas. In short it is a very loosely joined network of independent brigades. Then there is the Islamic Front, another coalition of about seven groups which wants to topple the Assad government and devise an Islamic state.  This is not to be confused with the Al Qaeda or jihadist groups, such as the Al Nusra Front, and the Islamic State.  But wait, we haven’t listed the independent groups such as the Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigades, Asala wa al-Tanmiya Front, or the group often associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, the Durou al-Thawra Commission.

Now, just who is it that the U.S. might want to arm?  And by the way, Syria is about 64% Sunni, about 20% of whom are Kurds, Turkomans, Circassians, and Palestinians.  The Shia represent most of the other Muslims in Syria, and are divided into three groups: Twelvers, Ismailis, and Alawis.  And then there are the recently discovered by the foreign press —  Yazidis.

Now Representative Heck might want to ask himself: Does he prefer a policy which keeps U.S. interests in mind in Syria by making maximum use of diplomatic multilateral efforts and a minimal infusion of force; or would he prefer getting the U.S. mired in another swampy situation in the Middle East?

If one’s idea of a coherent foreign policy is one of moving in with a maximum use of unilateral force — and with minimal consideration of the consequences — then the Obama Administrations doctrine isn’t going to meet with one’s approval. And, that’s the question which needs to be answered by Representative Heck — If you don’t like a mission specific use of force, applied in conjunction with a multilateral diplomatic and military effort, then what do you want?

The bellicose blustering of the Bush Administration sounded coherent, but ultimately proved to produce incoherent results.  Witness our next example: Iraq.

Iraq: A nation created in the wake of World War I, with significant religious and political internal differences, formerly governed by an intransigent and despicable (albeit secular) dictator, crumbles after Sunni populations in the north and west perceive the Shiite government in the south (Baghdad/Basra) to be ignoring or damaging their interests. Kurdish populations in the northeast see the Shiite government as inimical to their interests, and the compliment is returned by the southern Shia.

The removal of ISF military leaders who are Sunni or former Baathists by the Maliki government creates a security force (army) of questionable utility.  The question is answered as the Iraqis try to form a new government in July-August 2014, and  ISIL moves from Syria into ‘friendly’ territory around Mosul.  ISIL (IS) attracts support from local Sunni groups alienated by the Maliki government, and radicals from surrounding territories.

The fractures in the Iraqi political system, fully identified in a policy review with General Odierno in 2010, are visible today. [FP]  Our goals as set forth in 2010-2011 are to (1) encourage reconciliation, (2) help develop a professional civil service, (3) promote a healthy relationship between the parliament and the executive, and (4) to support the reintegration of refugees and displaced persons.  [FP]

Recent actions by the Obama Administration have sought to get the Yazidis to safety (a multinational effort), re-arm and supply the Peshmerga (a multinational effort), and get the Maliki government in the rear view mirror in order to restore the government and the Iraq Security Force into working order.  Is this too complex for Representative Heck to ponder?

How about we set an example of using multinational cooperation to  diminish threats to global security by applying the least force appropriate in the most multilateral format possible?  Is that too difficult to understand?

Carry a Big Bull Horn and Do What With It?

But wait, Representative Heck’s apprehensions go even further:

“Heck said a lack of follow-through on U.S. threats makes America appear weak. He didn’t cite Syria, but President Bashar al-Assad suffered no serious repercussions for using chemical weapons against his own people.

“Our adversaries need to know that if they do X, then the U.S. is going to do Y,” Heck said. “And there has not been that consistency. That’s why you see actors, not only in the Middle East, but also Russia and China, push the limits.”  [LVRJ]

Breathe.  Did Representative Heck miss the part where the Danish ship met the U.S. ship in the Italian harbor — and Assad doesn’t have his chemical weapons anymore? The serious repercussion is that Assad can’t use his chemical weapons on his own people anymore because he doesn’t have them.  He’s down to barrel bombs.

Breathe, and let the breath condense on the crystal ball Representative Heck seems to have about the intentions and actions of foreign parties. If we tell people we’ll do Y if they do X — What are X and Y?

Let’s explore some of the implications of Representative Heck’s simple formula, in the application of the administration’s doctrine: Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance.

Putin moves against Ukraine.  There is no direct threat to the United States therefore we will address the threat multilaterally and not necessarily with maximum (military) force.  Multilateral action is messy, can be slow, doesn’t make for dramatic headlines, and certainly isn’t conducive to the bellicose bluster approach. However, in this instance it’s a far better approach.

For example, the U.S. does about $160 million in trade with Ukraine, [Cen] by contrast Germany’s trade with Ukraine is estimated at $10 billion. [Siemens pdf] If economic interests are placed in the “threat” category then Germany has far more at stake in the problems between Ukraine and Russia than we do.  So do China, Belarus, Poland, Turkey, Italy, and Hungary. [Bloomberg]

But, but, but, sputter the critics, Putin moved into Crimea and we didn’t do anything.  Come to think of it, neither did the Ukrainians — possibly remembering Crimea was attached to Ukraine in 1954 as a matter of Soviet administrative convenience, and when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 Crimea negotiated terms which allowed it to be an autonomous republic. [AJAM]

While the Russians (Putin) continue to threaten interference with Ukrainian sovereignty, the latest efforts have been rebuffed.  The Russians are putting out the story that the destruction of an armored column is a fantasy — the Ukrainians have another version of events, one in which they destroyed at least half of it. [HuffPo] Meanwhile, the notion of sending arms to Ukraine sounds a bit like carrying coal to Newcastle — at one point Ukraine exported arms to Russia, included in a total of $1.3 billion in arms sales each year. [Bloomberg]

Perhaps there’s not enough drama in the careful ratcheting up of economic sanctions to cool the blood of those who, like Representative Heck, are unable to comprehend the current foreign policy direction of the Obama Administration?  However, it’s not like the Russians didn’t get some warnings as the sanctions were slowly increased until they started to hurt Russians in their grocery stores. [USAT]  Yes, Mr. Putin, if you continue to threaten (X) Ukraine, the western nations will (Y) hit you in the grocery baskets.  Worse still for Mr. Putin’s plans, the Germans, who have taken their own economic interests into consideration during the maneuvering, are now taking a much stiffer stance. [NYT]

Now, what part of Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance. isn’t clear?

China? It’s difficult to tell what Representative Heck might be talking about, other than a generalized appeal to the old Yellow Peril line of jingoism.  However, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he knows we’re monitoring what is going on between the Philippines, Vietnam and the Chinese regarding the South China Sea. [Reuters] And, that’s what we’re doing — monitoring to see if there has been or will be a de-escalation of tempers in that region.  We will be working with Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and China to resolve differences — meaning we will adopt the position that Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance.

Perhaps Representative Heck does understand that the Obama Administration will meet indirect threats with multilateral efforts and not apply the use of maximum force in each instance — then what is the substance of his criticism?  We don’t “sound” strong enough? What does that mean? We don’t “look” strong enough? What does that mean?

Representative Heck may be indulging in theater criticism — should the President’s voice have been louder? Deeper? Should the wording of policy statements have been more aggressive? Should aggressively worded policy statements be issued no matter what our friends and allies may say?  He may assert he doesn’t agree with the foreign policy direction of the Obama Administration, but surely he can’t mean he doesn’t understand it.

Never one to be considered a softy, Gen. George Patton offered this pithy bit of advice on leadership:

“You young lieutenants have to realize that your platoon is like a piece of spaghetti. You can’t push it. You’ve got to get out in front and pull it.”

President Obama seems to have received and understood that message, Representative Heck must still be working on it. Pull too hard on spaghetti and it breaks.

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