Will the 2016 Election Include a Real Debate About Racial Justice in America?

May 1, 2015Andrea Flynn

Hillary Clinton's bold speech was a good start, but events in Baltimore show we're still a long way from addressing inequities.

Earlier this week Hillary Clinton used the first major policy address of her campaign to speak passionately about the systemic inequities and injustices that afflict communities of color in the United States, and presented herself as a markedly more progressive, empathetic, and authentic candidate than we’ve seen in the past.

Hillary Clinton's bold speech was a good start, but events in Baltimore show we're still a long way from addressing inequities.

Earlier this week Hillary Clinton used the first major policy address of her campaign to speak passionately about the systemic inequities and injustices that afflict communities of color in the United States, and presented herself as a markedly more progressive, empathetic, and authentic candidate than we’ve seen in the past.

Clinton’s remarks at Columbia University come against the backdrop of protests and unrest in the streets of Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, whose spine was nearly severed while in police custody. As Andrew Rosenthal wrote in The New York Times yesterday, our nation’s leaders should be at the forefront of a national conversation on “race, policing, and the crisis that exists in so many of our cities.” In many ways, Clinton’s remarks show she knows what the contours of that conversation should be, and that she has what it takes to elevate it to the forefront of our national consciousness.

“From Ferguson to Staten Island to Baltimore, the patterns have become unmistakable and undeniable,” she began, as she listed a handful of the men whose lives have been cut short as a result of police violence. Walter Scott of Charleston. Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old from Cleveland. Eric Garner of Staten Island. And now Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

“We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America,” she said, adding that there is something “profoundly wrong” when Black men are more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and handed longer prison sentences than their white peers; when 1-in-3 young Black men in Baltimore are unemployed and approximately 1.5 million Black men are missing from their families and communities as a result of incarceration and premature death.

Clinton could have kept her remarks limited to the broken criminal justice system, but she ventured further, acknowledging that the fractures in that system are just one cause—and also a symptom—of deep social and economic injustices that must be corrected if communities of color are to live safe, healthy, and economically secure lives. 

We also have to be honest about the gaps that exist across our country, the inequality that stalks our streets. Because you cannot talk about smart policing and reforming the criminal justice system if you also don't talk about what's needed to provide economic opportunity, better educational chances for young people, more support to families so they can do the best jobs they are capable of doing to help support their own children…

You don't have to look too far from this magnificent hall to find children still living in poverty or trapped in failing schools. Families who work hard but can't afford the rising prices in their neighborhood. Mothers and fathers who fear for their sons' safety when they go off to school—or just to go buy a pack of Skittles. These challenges are all woven together. And they all must be tackled together.

She enumerated the real marks of a nation’s prosperity: how many children can escape poverty and stay out of prison; how many can go to college without being saddled with debt; how many new immigrants can start small businesses; and how many parents can get and keep jobs that allow them to “balance the demands of work and family.” These indicators, she said, are a far better measurement of our prosperity “than the size of the bonuses handed out in downtown office buildings.”

In many ways, it is a sad commentary on the state of our nation’s politics that Clinton’s speech feels significant. But given our political discourse on race (or lack thereof), and the gender, race, and social and economic inequities that continue to rage on unchecked, it did indeed feel significant.

Of course, Hillary didn’t have far to climb to pass the low, low bar that has been set by Republicans. This week we saw members of the GOP blame the protests and uprising in Baltimore on everything from President Obama inflaming racial tensions (thank you, Ted Cruz) to the legalization of same-sex marriage (that gem of wisdom from Representative Bill Flores of Texas). GOP presidential hopeful Rand Paul blamed the “breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society” and remarked on how glad he was that his train didn’t stop in Baltimore because it’s depressing, sad, and scary. And Jeb Bush proposed that there be a rapid investigation into the death of Freddie Gray “so that people know the system works for them” (even though—as Rosenthal pointed out—it clearly doesn’t).  

Clinton’s remarks were of an entirely different caliber than we’re hearing from the GOP (not that rising above that nonsense alone should win one points). But she still has a steep road ahead to convince justifiably cynical voters that she will run her campaign—and the nation, should she become our next president—with the same commitment to racial and economic justice that she espoused yesterday. The 2008 campaign left a bitter taste in the mouths of many progressives, especially those in communities of color. And, as Bill Clinton himself said yesterday, it was the tough-on-crime policies of his own administration that led to the over-policing and mass incarceration that his wife criticized.

It remains to be seen if yesterday’s speech will mark a real evolution in her long political career, and not, as some suspect, a calculated political pivot to appease the voters she will need to win this campaign. All things considered, it was a bold start to what will be a long campaign. This is the Hillary many have been waiting for. This moment requires a leader who will boldly challenge the inequities and injustice in our society—whether at the voting booth, on the job, in our neighborhoods, or within our criminal justice system—and lay out a clear path forward. That's the challenge and opportunity for Hillary; we don't yet know if she will accept it.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

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The Ferguson Probe Reveals Entrenched Racial Bias in Policing

Mar 9, 2015Aman Banerji

The Justice Department’s probe of Ferguson has revealed a troubling pattern of discrimination in traffic stops, but the problem doesn’t begin or end there.

The Justice Department’s probe of Ferguson has revealed a troubling pattern of discrimination in traffic stops, but the problem doesn’t begin or end there.

The initial findings from the Justice Department’s probe of the Ferguson, Missouri police department reveal a pattern of racial discrimination that is both broader than Ferguson and deeply rooted. Among the most shocking statistics disclosed last week is that African Americans accounted for 93 percent of all arrests in Ferguson in the 2012–14 period, although they accounted for only 67 percent of the city’s population.

Vehicle or traffic stops, a routine feature of citizen-police confrontations, appear to be a prime example of racial police bias in action. The initial findings reveal that 85 percent of all people stopped and 90 percent of citations in the area were conducted against African Americans. During the 2012–14 period, Black drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during traffic stops, although they remained 26 percent less likely to be in possession of contraband.

In spite of former Missouri state representative Jeff Roorda’s statements, it’s difficult to deny the startlingly obvious racial bias such evidence suggests. However, this initial set of 2012-14 findings has focused on Ferguson from 2012-14, ignoring longer-term trends in racial policing of traffic stops across the State of Missouri. 

The Missouri Attorney General’s analysis of vehicle stop rates from 2000–13 in Missouri and in the St. Louis County area reveals this long-term pattern. The stop rate in St. Louis County increased more than 300 percent during this period across all ethnicities, with a disproportionate increase in Black communities. There was a 522 percent increase in stop rates for Blacks, while the corresponding figure for white motorists in St. Louis County was 284 percent. Similarly, the ratio of stops that led to arrests has also shown a racially disproportionate increase, moving from 1.2 percent in 2000 to 7.5 percent in 2013 for African Americans, while corresponding figures for Whites were 1.1 percent and 4 percent. Clearly, not only have the police in St. Louis County been pursuing an increased number of stops, but an ever greater portion of these have targeted the African American community.

The disparity index compares a racial group’s proportion of traffic stops to its proportion of the population aged 18 or older. A value of 1 indicates that a group is neither over- nor underrepresented in traffic stops. In other words, the higher the disparity index, the greater the racial profiling at traffic stops. An examination of the disparity index for vehicle stops in St. Louis County provides an even clearer picture.

During the entire 13-year period of examination, the disparity index for Blacks in the region has remained between 1.34 and 1.50, peaking at 1.50 in the year 2013. Meanwhile, for whites the disparity index has remained between 0.88 and 0.96 in the same period, falling from 0.94 in 2000 to 0.88 in 2013. In fact, no other single ethnicity has ever risen above the disparity index of 1 in the entire period, demonstrating that African Americans were the only ethnicity to be the victims of disproportionate traffic stops in the 2000–13 period. 

The Department of Justice’s findings and a slew of media coverage have focused on the Ferguson region and the county of St. Louis. Yet the trend of increasingly punitive and racially biased traffic stops demonstrated at the St. Louis County level is just as demonstrable for the state of Missouri as a whole.

At the state level, the Attorney General’s report reveals that stop rates have climbed 270 percent, rising 385 percent for African Americans and 252 percent for whites during the 2000–2013 period. The rate of arrest from such stops in 2013 also remains racially tinged: 7.7 percent and 4.2 percent for African Americans and whites respectively. Finally, while the statewide disparity index has remained between 0.98 and 0.95 for whites, it has steadily increased for African Americans, rising from 1.27 in 2000 to 1.59 in 2013 and reaching a peak of 1.63 in 2011. In fact, the disparity index for African Americans in Missouri was even higher than St. Louis County. Clearly, the county’s racially discriminatory vehicle stop practices are not an outlier in the state. Equally though, in a nation where both the regularity and nature of traffic stops bear marked racial disparities, the state of Missouri itself is far from an outlier in national police practices.

These findings represent the entrenched nature of racially biased police stops. The case for stronger and more regular federal oversight of St. Louis’s policing practices could not be stronger. This local effort, however, must be complemented by a broader state-level response. Strengthening police-community relations, building police departments that more closely match the ethnic demographics of their constituents, and developing a more holistic set of safety measures beyond policing are all vital steps toward charting a less punitive and biased form of policing in St. Louis, Missouri, and beyond. 

Aman Banerji is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Community Manager.

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Reduce Police Brutality Through Community-Building

Mar 2, 2015Andrew Lindsay

Efforts that connect police to the community in which they serve help to reduce encounters that lead to extrajudicial killings by police.

Efforts that connect police to the community in which they serve help to reduce encounters that lead to extrajudicial killings by police.

In Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony, he describes Michael Brown, an unarmed teen, as a “demon.” After he fired the first shot, Wilson says he heard a “grunting, like aggravated sound” coming from the teenager. He explains, “You could tell he was looking through you. There was nothing he was seeing.” After firing 12 rounds, Wilson eventually shot Brown in the head, killing him.

In a 911 report, a caller related that someone, possibly a child was pointing “a pistol” at random people in a Recreation Center. The caller clarified that the gun was “probably fake.” According to the responding officers, they approached 12-year-old Tamir Rice, ordering him to hold up his hands. Tamir reached to his waistband and grasped a bb gun. In a matter of seconds, one of the officers fired two shots, fatally hitting Rice once in the torso. Footage was released of the officers tackling the bereaved 14-year-old sister of Rice after they shot her 12-year-old brother. Rice’s mother said that a friend had given him the toy gun to play with minutes before the police arrived.

In these descriptions we see fewer teenagers and more vicious animals. Many extrajudicial killings of Black people share similar dehumanizing stories. Policy makers and community members need to shift this pervasive negative narrative. Micro-place community policing is one solution.

In vulnerable communities, high rates of gang violence and high rates of police bias come hand in hand. Between 1991 and 2013, there were on average approximately 400 police killings reported to the FBI from local police. Out of all these incidents reported annually, an average of 96 per year involved a white police officer killing a black person. In contrast, there were no fatal police shootings in Great Britain in 2013. In Canada, cases of ‘justifiable homicide’ hover around a dozen annually. These figures reveal a disturbing propensity for US police officers to use deadly force and a high potential for racial bias in shoot/don’t shoot scenarios.

Project Longevity in Connecticut, Operation Ceasefire in Boston, and lesser-known initiatives in Chicago and Cincinnati are organize to reduce the homicide victimization and gang violence among young people in these areas, with the help of local law enforcement and community partners. However, these programs also have unseen potential to increase police-community relationships and humanize black lives in the eyes of law enforcement. Community members not only patrol with police but also are considered equal partners.

Project Longevity is a community-oriented policing strategy to reduce gang violence in three of Connecticut’s major cities: New Haven, Bridgeport, and Hartford. It is modeled after successful efforts implemented by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and Operation Ceasefire: Boston Gun Project. Connecticut has seen dramatic declines in police and civilian violence after the initial implementation of this program.

Project Longevity directs federal and state spending to the most vulnerable communities in these cities with the purpose of steering at-risk youth and repeat offenders away from violence. A broad array of social services (housing, educational opportunities, addiction and mental/health care) are offered to those who want to end the cycle of community violence and gang activity – with the option of “receiv[ing] the full attention of the law” the next time any crime occurs.

Longevity combines social services, law enforcement, and community involvement to target crime and positively influence dynamics between residents and the police. Key to this strategy is a quarterly “call-in,” an intervention that combines local, state, and federal level law enforcement; community members; service providers; parents; and members of the clergy.

According to Tiana Hercules, “They speak to these young men and in some cases young women at the call-in and explain to them the consequences of further gun violence in the city of Hartford. Essentially, the message is put the guns down or the next body that drops in the city or person to get shot is going to receive the full focus of law attention. And not only yourself, but also those who you run with.” Violent crime in Connecticut’s three big cities after Project Longevity has decreased nearly 15 percent and crime in the state has decreased 10 percent, twice the national average. Longevity is credited with half of this overall cut in statewide violent crime.

The problem of police brutality in the United States is one of police accountability, but not in the conventional understanding of the term. The typical hypothesis is that once law enforcement is vigorously policed they will be held to a higher standard, decreasing the likelihood of police excess. This is the motivation behind the Obama administration’s $75 million push for mounted body cameras nationwide. Perhaps if Darren Wilson were monitored, he would not have so easily killed Mike Brown, or so the story goes. However, history teaches us that this conventional way of policing the police may be misplaced. In the trial of LAPD officers who beat Rodney King in 1991, videotape evidence was argued away because it did not present the full picture. This year, apparently indisputable video was refuted in the recent police killings of Eric Garner and John Crawford.

Instead of external accountability, police officers need to develop a greater sense personal accountability to the vulnerable in communities where they serve. This need for personal accountability stems from a racial and spatial separation that keeps communities and police isolated. This gap reinforces the biases that keep youth like Mike Brown and Tamir Rice dehumanized by the very people tasked with their protection. Programs that put law enforcement and communities in greater contact should be encouraged.  There is no better policing mechanism than one’s conscience. Working closely with residents provides information that can prevent dangerous encounters with police, simply by police intimately knowing community members and their families. More importantly, these programs humanize members of vulnerable communities to law enforcement. Darren Wilson was wrong. There are no demons, just police officers isolated from communities.

Andrew Lindsay, a 2015 Truman Scholarship Finalist in Massachusetts, is a junior at Amherst College, where he is an active member of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and studies Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought.

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Guns on Campus: Not an Agenda for Women's Safety

Feb 25, 2015Andrea Flynn

Allowing guns on campus won't reduce sexual assault on campus - instead, it will increase the risk of homicide.

Allowing guns on campus won't reduce sexual assault on campus - instead, it will increase the risk of homicide.

Two years ago, Republican leaders released a post-mortem analysis of the 2012 election in an effort to better understand how they lost the single woman’s vote by 36 percent. The 100-page report recommended that GOP lawmakers do a better job listening to female voters, remind them of the party’s “historical role in advancing the women’s rights movement,” and fight against the “so-called War on Women.” Look no further than recent GOP-led efforts to expand gun rights on college campuses under the guise of preventing campus sexual assault as evidence that conservative lawmakers have failed to take their own advice.

Today, lawmakers in at least 14 states are pushing forward measures that would loosen gun regulations on college campuses. In the last few days a number of them have seized upon the growing public outcry over campus sexual assault to argue that carrying a gun would prevent women from being raped. (So far they’ve been silent on how we might prevent young men – who, of course, would also be allowed to carry a gun – from attempting to rape women in the first place.)

Republican Assemblywoman Michele Fiore of Nevada recently told The New York Times: “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.” (Really? Hot little girls?) And as the Times highlighted, Florida Representative Dennis Baxley jumped on the “stop campus rape” bandwagon recently when he successfully lobbied for a bill that would allow students to carry loaded, concealed weapons. “If you’ve got a person that’s raped because you wouldn’t let them carry a firearm to defend themselves, I think you’re responsible,” he said.

Let’s be clear. People aren’t raped because they aren’t carrying firearms. They are raped because someone rapes them. What a sinister new twist on victim blaming. As if anything positive could come from adding loaded weapons to the already toxic mix of drugs, alcohol, masculine group think, and the rape culture endemic in college sports and Greek life on campuses around the country.

These lawmakers have appropriated the battle cry of students who are demanding more accountability from academic institutions to prevent and respond to campus sexual assault. It’s a vain attempt to advance their own conservative agenda of liberalizing gun laws. This is an NRA agenda, not a women’s rights agenda. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, each of the lawmakers who have supported such legislation has received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA). They have enjoyed endorsements from the NRA during election years and some – including Fiore and Baxley – received campaign contributions from the organization.

These lawmakers are pointing to the demands of a handful of women who have survived sexual assault and are advocating for liberalized campus gun laws. The experiences of these students are real and deserve to be heard and considered as we debate how to make campuses safer. We must also recognize that these students are outliers. Surveys have shown that nearly 80 percent of college students say they would not feel safe if guns were allowed on campus, and according to the Times, 86 percent of women said they were opposed to having weapons on campus. And for good reason.

Research shows that guns do not make women safer. In fact, just the opposite is true. Over the past 25 years, guns have accounted for more intimate partner homicides than all other weapons combined. In states that that require a background check for every handgun sale, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. And women in the United States are 11 times more likely than women from other high-income countries to be murdered with a gun. Guns on college campuses would only make these statistics worse.

If the GOP wants to show they care about women – or at the very least care about their votes – this is just one of the realities they need to acknowledge. And they need to listen to the experiences of all women who have experienced sexual assault – like those who have created the powerful Know Your IX campaign – not just those who will help advance their NRA-sponsored agenda. 

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

 

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Daily Digest - January 23: Politics Broke the Economy

Jan 23, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

The Politics of Economic Stupidity (Project Syndicate)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

The Politics of Economic Stupidity (Project Syndicate)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz says the economy's "near-global stagnation" is the result of "stupid politics," meaning austerity policies that slow demand.

It's 'Pathetic' What Politicians Have To Do To Stay In Office (HuffPost Live)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Robert Johnson discusses the State of the Union and campaign financing, noting that fundraising makes our government less healthy.

The Most Dangerous Man In American Politics (Buzzfeed)

Ben Smith says that U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara has proven he's willing to cross not just Wall Street but his own political party in pursuing justice.

The Government Just Took a Step Toward Ending Mass Homelessness (ThinkProgress)

Allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to contribute to the National Housing Trust Fund could mean a small but steady supply of cash for building affordable housing, reports Bryce Covert.

McDonald's Sued Over Claims Workers Were Fired From Store With 'Too Many Black People' (The Guardian)

Jana Kasperkevic reports on the lawsuit, filed by 10 former McDonald's employees in Virginia, which tries to hold the parent company accountable alongside the franchise owner.

Americans Overwhelmingly Want Paid Sick Time, Even if It Lowers Their Wages (WaPo)

Christopher Ingraham counters the common conservative argument that mandatory sick leave will lead to lower wages with data that shows workers support sick leave anyway.

New on Next New Deal

After Four Decades with Roe, U.S. Women Still Need Abortion Access, and So Much More

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn and Shulie Eisen look at Kansas as an example of how economic inequality intersects with lack of access to reproductive care to create a crisis for women.

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There Will Be Another Michael Brown: Millennial Perspectives on Ferguson [Updated]

Nov 26, 2014

(Last updated Dec. 5, 2014)

In the wake of the announcement that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would not stand trial for the shooting death of Michael Brown, members of our Networks shared their views on what's unfolding in Missouri and what it means for us as a nation.

Marissa Charlemagne, Campus Network member and junior at Goucher College:

(Last updated Dec. 5, 2014)

In the wake of the announcement that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would not stand trial for the shooting death of Michael Brown, members of our Networks shared their views on what's unfolding in Missouri and what it means for us as a nation.

Marissa Charlemagne, Campus Network member and junior at Goucher College:

I was in a Roosevelt meeting when I heard the news of the non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson. As I looked around the room at all the faces, at all the colors of those faces -- black, white, and brown -- there was not a sense of surprise, nor shock, nor sorrow. The room was silent and full of blank expressions. Then one white girl said, “the system does work; it just works for those who it's made for.”

On social media, I saw that people were talking about the riots, about the looting, about the police, and about Michael Brown’s family, but hardly anyone was talking about Michael Brown. We hear the words "institutionalized racism" and "systematic oppression" so much that they lose meaning. Based on our history, there will be another Michael Brown, and there will be another Darren Wilson, but will there be another movement for change? I pray not just for black people but all people; I pray that this world gets it together to see real justice and real peace for all the Michael Browns, and for all the people who are tired of living the struggle. Because I too sing America.

Riley Jones IV, Campus Network member and sophomore at Columbia University:

For many people of this generation, the Ferguson situation highlighted for the first time the supposedly dormant tensions of race and class. For others who come from communities where murder is not an uncommon occurence, myself included, it is simply one further injustice in a system of inherited economic and political oppression. In either case, this should serve not as an excuse to despair, but rather as an impetus to abide by the call that President Theodore Roosevelt -- cousin of our organization's namesake -- lived by: "Get Action." As students and alumni of the world’s best universities, we must do our part to ensure that every citizen has the right and access to opportunity that we have been fortunate enough to receive. Only through displaying our humanity in the gravest of situations, at the climax of our anger and the inexorable depths of our sadness, can we truly overcome the societal infirmities that led to the murder of Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri.

Alan Smith, Roosevelt Institute Associate Director of Networked Initiatives:

In a statement Monday night, President Obama said, "There are ways for you to channel your concerns constructively, and there are ways for you to channel your concerns destructively."

With all due respect, Mr. President, there aren't any ways for the people of Ferguson to channel their concerns constructively. After months of peaceful protesting, after being tear gassed and intimidated, after the media has made them out to be hooligans and thugs, after countless pleas for justice (or at least redress), after trying to do everything in their power to stand against a system that is blatant in not valuing them, this community was just told, in no uncertain terms, that all that constructive action and those attempts at dialogue fell on deaf ears.

Please, don't ask them to wait more. Don't ask them to "be constructive." That ball is not in their court. They are mourning, they are scared, and they are hurt. And we've made it very clear to these protesters that nothing they do or say makes even one iota of difference in how this discussion unfolds.

Katie Kirchner, Campus Network member and senior at American University:

In the wake of the Ferguson decision, we have clearly seen how our country's systems serve as tools of oppression. We have also seen how afraid the country is of voices rising from that oppression and using channels outside the system to cry for justice. Newspeople condemn those resisting rather than the police officer who used deadly force on an unarmed child. But the power of those resisting has been beautiful, powerful, and inspiring. I will fight as hard as I can, for as long as it takes, in solidarity with those who refuse to allow this oppression to continue. I will fight for my students, middle school kids from Southeast DC, who have already been victimized by racism and racial profiling. I will fight for my adopted niece and nephew who, I pray, will never have to justify their presence with their family or in their neighborhood. And I will fight because I believe that every single human life has an equal value. No justice, no peace.

Casey McQuillan, Campus Network member and junior at Ahmherst College:

When I watched the announcement that the grand jury had decided not to indict the officer responsible for shooting and killing Michael Brown, I felt outraged. Yet, as a white American, my privilege was to be outraged by the court’s decision while others had to be terrified of it.

As is the case with any discussion of race and discrimination, part of me felt that since I am white, it is not my battle to fight. However, it is exactly this intuition and comfortable inaction that must be changed. Failing to fight for what I believe in is equivalent to taking action against what I believe in.

As the family of Michael Brown urged, let’s ensure that the dialogue on discrimination sparked by the events in Ferguson results in substantive change. Let’s work to translate our words into actions. Let’s make a difference.

Jessica Morris, Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice and senior at Mount Holyoke College:

The police shooting of Michael Brown and resulting suppression of protesters in Ferguson reflects a testament to racial inequality and a failure in responsible policy. A major response to the unjust death of Michael Brown is to mandate body cams for every police officer in the country. While this policy explicitly responds to the criminal injustice system, I don't think it's a perfect solution; there is too much potential for abuse of the technology. We need just as much accountability with our police officers as in our court system. As Roosevelters, we recognize that progressive change happens best when policy is effective and transformative. Now is our time to respond. 

Andrew Lindsay, Campus Network member and junior at Amherst College:

In Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony, he describes Michael Brown, an unarmed teen, as a “demon.” After he fired the first shot, Wilson says he noted a “grunting, like aggravated sound” coming from the teenager. Each shot after appeared to make Brown more powerful. The “gentle giant” that Brown’s friends knew was gone, according to Wilson. He explains, “You could tell he was looking through you. There was nothing he was seeing.” After firing 12 rounds, Wilson eventually shot Brown in the head, killing him.

In these descriptions we see less of a teenage boy and more of a vicious animal. Many extrajudicial killings of black people share similar dehumanizing testimony. Policymakers and community members need to shift this pervasive negative narrative. Micro-place community policing is one solution. Programs such as Project Longevity in Connecticut, Operation Ceasefire in Boston, and lesser-known initiatives in Chicago and Cincinnati have all reduced crime and increased police-community relations. Community members not only patrol with police but are considered equal partners. Working closely with residents provides information that can prevent dangerous encounters with police, simply by police intimately knowing community members and their families. There are no demons, just police officers isolated from communities.

Molly Williams, Campus Network member and senior at UNC Chapel Hill:

“Atticus”…said Jem bleakly. “How could they do it, how could they?”

“I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it…seems that only children weep.” – To Kill a Mockingbird

It was difficult to enjoy Thanksgiving this year. It was difficult to enjoy a holiday made possible by white people claiming indigenous bodies and land that did not belong to them. How far we’ve come. White people continue to murder and incarcerate people of color, now in the name of the law. Police officers, primarily white men, who agreed to protect and defend instead continually murder people of color and face no punishment. Racism masked by language like self-defense and “the only option.” 

Yet while it was difficult to enjoy Thanksgiving this year, it was still possible. It was not possible for Michael Brown, for Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, Tyisha Miller, Aiyana Jones, Ezell Ford, Pearlie Golden, Orlando Barlow, Jordan Davis, Erica Collins, and countless other people of color murdered at the hands of white men, primarily police officers. I cannot speak for them, but I imagine it was impossible for their families as well, seated around tables with an empty chair.

“It was difficult to enjoy Thanksgiving this year” – a clever rephrasing of white guilt and another product of a racist system.

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Bigger Health Care Providers Mean Bigger Profits, But Not Always Better Care

Nov 24, 2014Emily Cerciello

Hospitals are buying private physician practices left and right, and state attorneys general should consider whether such mega-providers violate anti-trust laws.

Hospitals are buying private physician practices left and right, and state attorneys general should consider whether such mega-providers violate anti-trust laws.

In 2002, only 22 percent of private physician practices were owned by hospitals. Today, this number has climbed to more than 50 percent, and 75 percent of newly hired physicians are entering the workforce as hospital employees. As the physician population ages, the behaviors of young physicians will have long-term impact on the organization and norms of care delivery.

Amid declining reimbursements and a shift toward value-based payment models in which physicians are reimbursed for quality rather than quantity of services, health care providers are facing pressure to reduce costs and improve outcomes. An increasing number of physicians are selling their practices to hospitals, and hospitals are aggressively buying to remain competitive.

Two chief catalysts that are driving hospitals to purchase physician practices include the recent economic downturn and passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In this economic environment, hospital survival is a matter of cost cutting and care organization. The ACA requires compliance with new quality regulations, including curbed readmission rates and a reduction in hospital-acquired infections, and facilities are compelled to spend money in efforts to meet those requirements. Hospitals are acquiring physician practices to increase scale for better negotiating positions with insurers, further penetration of local markets, the ability to integrate IT systems, and the improvement of purchasing power with suppliers.

Physicians are selling their practices to hospitals for greater access to capital and fewer administrative responsibilities amid reform, an improved work-life balance, and recruiting incentives by hospitals.

But when hospitals purchase physician practices instead of contracting with physicians, the results can be costly. A recent Health Affairs study gives authority to the issue: hospital ownership of physician practices increases hospitals’ pricing power, and prices rise for privately insured patients. A one-standard-deviation increase in market share can increase prices by 3 percent, and a one-standard deviation increase in hospital Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (a statistical measure of market concentration), can increase prices by 6 percent.

In central North Carolina, Duke University Health System has been aggressively converting nearby clinics into Duke-affiliated outpatient centers. State Attorney General Roy Cooper is examining whether antitrust laws or new legislation can be used to reduce growing hospital prices.

In January, a federal judge blocked a major purchase of Idaho’s largest physician practice by the state’s largest hospital system. In light of that case, the FTC has suggested it will show greater scrutiny of healthcare provider consolidations.

In theory, true integration of physician practices into hospital systems can provide substantial gains for both parties. By reducing barriers to patient information and care coordination, facilities can improve quality and generate cost-savings in the long-term. Truly integrated practices employ a well-managed infrastructure, aligned incentives, coordinated IT tools, and a culture of partnership and collaboration. But there is a great possibility that hospitals are primarily motivated by the prospect of greater bargaining power with insurers, and are not truly integrating.

State Attorneys General should renew a focus on anti-trust legislation to protect the strained wallets of healthcare consumers in states where transactions are occurring. In a time of seismic shifts in care delivery and payment mechanisms, we need to keep the patient at the center of health activity and ensure that transactions do not further burden consumers in an already expensive system.

Emily Cerciello is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Health Care, and a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 

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Dirty Deals: How Wall Street's Predatory Deals Hurt Taxpayers and What We Can Do About It

Nov 18, 2014

Download the report by Saqib Bhatti.

Download the report by Saqib Bhatti.

The financialization of the United States economy has distorted our social, economic, and political priorities. Cities and states across the country are forced to cut essential community services because they are trapped in predatory municipal finance deals that cost them millions of dollars every year. Wall Street and other big corporations engaged in a systematic effort to suppress taxes, making it difficult for cities and states to advance progressive revenue solutions to properly fund public services. Banks take advantage of this crisis that they helped create by targeting state and local governments with predatory municipal finance deals, just like they targeted cash-strapped homeowners with predatory mortgages during the housing boom. Predatory financing deals prey upon the weaknesses of borrowers, are characterized by high costs and high risks, are typically overly complex, and are often designed to fail.

Predatory municipal finance has a real human cost. Every dollar that cities and states send to Wall Street does not go towards essential community services. Across the country, cuts to public services and other austerity measures have a disparate impact on the working class communities of color that were also targeted for predatory mortgages and payday loans, further exacerbating their suffering.

The primary goal of government is to provide residents with the services they need, not to provide bankers with the profits they seek. We need to renegotiate our communities’ relationship with Wall Street. We can do this by implementing common sense reforms to safeguard our public dollars, make our public finance system more efficient, and ensure that our money is used to provide fully-funded services to our communities. Taxpayers do trillions of dollars of business with Wall Street every year. It is time we start making our money work for us.

Key Recommendations
  • Transparency: Officials should disclose all payments for financial services and conduct an independent investigation of all financial deals to identify predatory features.
  • Accountability: Cities and states should take all steps to recover taxpayer dollars when bank deal unfairly with them, including taking legal action, renegotiating bad deals, and refusing future business.
  • Reducing Fees: Officials should identify financial fees that bear no reasonable relationship to the costs of providing the service and use their leverage as customers to negotiate better deals.
  • Collective Bargaining with Wall Street: Cities and states should agree to a common set of guidelines for an efficient municipal finance system and refuse business with any bank that does not abide by them, creating a new industry standard.
  • Creating Public Options for Financial Services: Cities and states should determine which services they could do themselves more cheaply if they hired the right staff, and make a plan to insource those functions.
  • Establishing Public Banks: Cities and states should establish public banks that are owned by taxpayers, can deliver a range of services, including municipal finance, and provide capital for local investment.

Read: "Dirty Deals: How Wall Street’s Predatory Deals Hurt Taxpayers and What We Can Do About It," by Saqib Bhatti.

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We Need Pretrial Detention Reform in Massachusetts

Oct 29, 2014Jessica Morris

Alternatives to bail won't just reduce overcrowding in jails: they will create a more just justice system.

Alternatives to bail won't just reduce overcrowding in jails: they will create a more just justice system.

There is a bill pending in the Massachusetts House Committee on Ways and Means to build a bail jail in Middlesex County. Led by Representative Kay Khan (D-Newton), H.1434 proposes for a new facility for women charged of a crime and awaiting trial. This jail is not for convicted prisoners, but for women who are charged with violent and nonviolent crimes and cannot afford bail.

Three states away in New Jersey, residents are preparing to vote on Ballot Question Number 1, a bail reform legislation, in this November’s election. Signed by Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), this policy states that dangerous suspects can be held in jail without bail, while non-dangerous suspects can be released through alternatives to bail. Both of these states attempt to tackle the overcrowding issue in jails, but New Jersey’s legislation will alleviate this issue through a long-term and humanizing solution. New Jersey has shown that bail reform is a bipartisan issue that can only be solved through intentional policy.

Massachusetts can learn from New Jersey’s responsible approach. There has been a growth of pre-trial detention in the state. From 2005 to 2014, pre-trial detainees in Massachusetts Department of Correction custody increased by 23 percent. This growth of pre-trial detention significantly impacts women. 34 percent of total female inmates in Massachusetts's jurisdiction this year are awaiting trial, but only 3 percent of total male inmates. Most women awaiting trial in Massachusetts are not able to make bail (80 percent cannot make bail of $2,000 or less and a third cannot make $500 or less). Many need services – not to be in jails. Two-thirds of the women in Massachusetts state prison have a diagnosed mental illness and half of them use psychotropic drugs. Prisons, such as the bail jail proposed in Middlesex County, can exacerbate mental illness when the women truly only need proper substance abuse and mental health treatments.

A study by the Pretrial Justice Institute shows that judges are inclined to assign harsher punishments to pretrial detainees than to those who are able to make bail. Thus, a person’s credibility is determined by money, no matter the verdict. Those who can afford to pay their bail do not undergo the ramifications of being in jail. They are able to continue supporting their families or continue their education. If they cannot afford bail, however, they have to go through the obstacles of pausing their lives and are more likely to commit recidivism; pretrial detainees are six times more likely to return to jail because of the challenges they face once released.

States such as Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio, Virginia, and possibly soon New Jersey have reformed their pretrial systems. Massachusetts needs to join them. Facilities across the state of Massachusetts are overcrowded by up to 155 percent, and this could be alleviated by using electronic monitoring as an alternative to incarceration. New Jersey’s proposed legislation does this by having bail depend on risk and not whether someone can afford to pay to get out of jail. A judge will only present bail as a last resort if electronic monitoring might not assure the defendant's appearance at their trial or if he or she is believed to pose a threat to public safety.

Massachusetts has the political will to take the same path as New Jersey and reform its system. Through legislation similar to New Jersey’s bail reform, pretrial detainees charged with nonviolent crimes should be enrolled in an electronic monitoring program instead of entering a facility. There is a high financial cost for the state and social cost for defendants of having people await trials in jails. An electronic monitoring program is cheaper on both fronts. Defendants would have the ability to return to their lives fully and freely until they are tried. The idea of innocent until proven guilty is currently obsolete in Massachusetts because of the bail system, but it can be restored through reform that ensures liberty prior to trials.

Jessica Morris is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice. She studies politics and gender studies at Mount Holyoke College.

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Daily Digest - October 1: State Law Puts Profits Ahead of Primary Education

Oct 1, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Arkansas Internet Law Gouges Schoolkids (Bloomberg View)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Arkansas Internet Law Gouges Schoolkids (Bloomberg View)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford says support for the current law, which prohibits Arkansas from connecting K-12 schools to its high-speed fiber network, puts telecoms' profits ahead of kids.

Long-Term Jobless Perfectly Employable, New Report Finds (WSJ)

Pedro da Costa looks at a new study from the Economic Policy Institute, which says that while any unemployment creates serious setbacks, long-term unemployment doesn't create special skill loss.

The Hole in Holder’s Legacy (NYT)

Eric Holder had some real successes as Attorney General, but his efforts to prosecute the crimes of the financial crisis were "notoriously laggard," writes Joe Nocera.

The A.I.G. Trial Is a Comedy (New Yorker)

John Cassidy asks why this case, in which former American International Group CEO Hank Greenberg claims the company's bailout violated the Constitution, was even allowed to get to trial.

Prison Bankers Cash in on Captive Customers (Center for Public Integrity)

Daniel Wagner reports on how financial services companies profit off the families of prison inmates, who use these high-fee services so their relatives can buy basics like warm winter clothing.

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame (Pacific Standard)

A new study examining what circumstances impact people's trust in institutions and one another finds that trust in other people drops as inequality rises, writes Nathan Collins.

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