August 13, 2017 by
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, NYU School of Law Professor Philip Alston, will be undertaking an official visit to the United States on December 4-15, 2017, at the invitation of the U.S. government. His visit will focus on the links between poverty and the realization of human rights, in accordance with his mandate. The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, and he will report to the Human Rights Council on his visit to the United States in the first half of 2018. UN independent experts visit countries around the world to report on their human rights situation. In recent years, the Special Rapporteur has undertaken country visits to Chile, Romania, Mauritania, China, and Saudi Arabia. The Special Rapporteur invites all interested parties in the United States to provide input for the preparation of his December visit to the United States. Interested parties include but are not limited to: non-governmental organizations, activists, academics, and other individuals and organizations working on issues related to poverty and human rights. Input can be sent to srextremepoverty@ohchr.org through October 4, 2017. Respondents who prefer using a browser-based encrypted email service may submit their input to srextremepovertyusavisit@protonmail.com or srextremepovertyusavisit@tutanota.com. Respondents are requested to limit their response to a maximum of 3,000 words. All input will be treated confidentially by the Special Rapporteur and his team and for the sole purpose of preparing the country visit. Respondents are asked to focus their input on the following issues: (i) What is the definition of poverty and extreme poverty that your organization employs in the context of the United States and to what extent do official definitions at the federal and state level adequately encompass poverty in all its dimensions? (ii) What are the most severe human rights violations that people living in poverty and extreme poverty in the United States experience? Please exemplify by referring to specific cases and relevant norms of international human rights law. (iii) Could you specify how poverty and extreme poverty in the United States intersect with civil and political rights (such as for example the right to political participation or the right to equality before the law)? Please exemplify by referring to specific cases and relevant norms of international human rights law. (iv) Could you specify how poverty and extreme poverty in the United States intersect with economic and social rights (such as the right to education or the right to work)? Please exemplify by referring to specific cases and relevant norms of international human rights law. (v) How does the fact that the United States has not ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), affect domestic advocacy and litigation on behalf of the poor related to the rights protected in these international treaties? (vi) In 2015 the Special Rapporteur presented a report to the UN Human Rights Council on economic inequality and human rights, which can be found here. Please point to interlinkages between poverty, inequality and human rights in the United States. (vii) There is increasing debate worldwide on the impact of new technologies on societies, including in the area of Artificial Intelligence, robotics, Big Data, and algorithmic decision-making. How do these developments affect the human rights of those living in poverty in the United States? The Special Rapporteur is interested in learning how these technologies may affect civil and political rights as well as economic and social rights. (viii) What are potential areas (States, territories, regions, cities, municipalities) in the United States that the Special Rapporteur should visit given the severity of poverty and intersecting human rights issues in these places? (ix) Which individuals and organizations should the Special Rapporteur meet with during his country visit to the United States? source Read More: Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

August 12, 2017 by
Buffalo State College welcomed long-time Civil Rights leader Andrew Young Jr. to their campus Thursday evening.  Young is a former U.S. Congressman and United Nations ambassador. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley had a chance to meet with Young at The Mansion on Delaware in Buffalo to discuss his views on racism, racial equity and poverty.   Civil Rights leader Andrew Young, Jr. discussed racism, poverty & racial equity with WBFO. Young, who turned 85 this past June, has witnessed many decades of racism, conflict and the fight for civil rights and social justice.   Young worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960's through the Civil Rights Movement. “Dr. King divided our problems into three-fold – he said we are trying to redeem the soul of American from three evils; racism, war and poverty, and I think we’ve gone a long way toward ending legal racism,” Young responded. Poverty Young points problems with to racism through poverty and economics. “Poverty is also a result of a kind of a chronic sickness in the society and we’re going to cure it when we realize its economic roots – that it’s really much more intelligent, and decent and moral and inexpensive to education people then it is to incarcerate them and the irony of it is – take the health care bill – there are probably ten times as many white people that need health insurance as there are as black people, and yet because they call it Obamacare the senate things of it as being for black people,” explained Young.  Racial Equity Young also responded to our question about creating racial equity in schools and workplaces.  “I have never wanted to be just equal to white people,” Young chuckled. “I mean this is not a racial argument – I have this argument with my son. He gets very, very angry with me because he said ‘you’ve been around money all your life and you’re still broke, and you choose to disrespect money’ and he said ‘you gave us the worst of both worlds – we got fame, but no fortune.’ It was important for me not to be distracted by trying to get myself rich,” Young said.  Young was fair in his response to his thoughts on President Donald Trump.   “I think that he’s a victim of the same thing we are – that nobody understands the world we are in right now and his instinct is to fight and that’s the way he’s done all is life. You can’t bully people when everybody’s got an atomic bomb – it’s calling us to think things through,” Young remarked. Advice to disadvantaged youth While at Buffalo State Thursday evening Young received the 2017 Hal Payne Education Opportunity Lifetime Service Award. Young spoke to about 90-Buffalo Public high school students who just completed the Upward Bound program for disadvantaged. Young said he always tells youth the advice his father game him. “Well I tell them the same thing my daddy told me 80-years ago in New Orleans, Louisiana where it was a whole lot worse than it is now and what he said to me was don’t get made, when you lose your temper in a fight – don’t get mad – get smart and use your mind and you have to think your way through things and don’t get emotional because when you get emotional and angry, the blood runs from your head to your feet  and your fists – you’re not going to win every fight, but you can thing your way through any fight,” Young recalled. “That’s the way we had to survive in the south, and of course, now people think they have rights – we knew we did not have any rights.”  Civil Rights leader Andrew Young, Jr. discussed racism, poverty & racial equity with WBFO. Remember MLK Most powerful in my conversation with Young was his reflection of being right next to Dr. King when he was assassinated by a bullet in April of 1968.   “And he went upstairs to put on his coat to go out to dinner – that a bullet penetrated his neck and that it severed his spinal cord and he probably never heard it or felt it,” recalled Young. source

August 6, 2017 by
This is the age of the plea bargain—and millions of Americans are suffering the consequences. It had been a long night for Shanta Sweatt. After working a 16-hour shift cleaning the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, in Nashville, and then catching the 11:15 bus to her apartment, she just wanted to take a shower and go to sleep. Instead, she wound up having a fight with the man she refers to as her “so-called boyfriend.” He was a high-school classmate who had recently ended up on the street, so Sweatt had let him move in, under the proviso that he not do drugs in the apartment. Sweatt has a soft spot for people in trouble. Over the years, she had taken in many of her two sons’ friends, one of whom who had been living with them since his early teens. Shanta Sweatt (left) and her attorney, the public defender Ember Eyster, in Eyster's Nashville office When Sweatt got home that night, early in November of last year, she realized that her boyfriend had been smoking marijuana, probably in front of the kids. She was furious, words were exchanged, and he left. Sweatt finally crawled into bed after midnight, only to be awakened at about 8:30 in the morning by an insistent knock at the door. She assumed that her boyfriend was coming to get his stuff and get out of her life. When she opened the door, police officers filled the frame, and more were waiting at her back door. She could see that squad cars were swarming the parking lot. “There were 12 to 15 cars,” she told me. “For us.” An officer asked whether they could enter. As a resident of public housing, she wasn’t sure whether she had the right to say no. (She did.) But she was certain that if she refused them, they would come back. She had nothing to hide, so she let them in. “I didn’t get smart or give them a rough time,” she said. “I cooperated.” Sweatt, who is black, didn’t know what had led the police to her door. Their report says a complaint had been made about drug dealing from the apartment. After entering, they began systematically searching her apartment. One officer yanked open a junk drawer in her bedroom dresser, and inside he found small baggies of marijuana, containing a total of about 25 grams—a weight equivalent to about six packets of sugar. There was also marijuana paraphernalia in the apartment. When the officer showed the baggies to her, Sweatt immediately knew they had to belong to her boyfriend, who—in addition to having just been smoking in her home—had past drug convictions. Sweatt, 36 years old, left high school in 11th grade, but she has the kind of knowledge of the law that accrues to observant residents of James A. Cayce Homes, a housing project in East Nashville. “I’m the lease owner,” she told me. “Whatever was there, I would get blamed.” It seemed useless to her to say that the drugs must have belonged to her absent boyfriend, who had a common name and no fixed address. She believed that this would result in the police pinning the crime on her sons. Her 17-year-old was at school, but her 18-year-old, who worked on the cleaning crew with her, was home, along with the friend of his who lived with them. Sweatt told me, “I’ve seen that where I lived: The parents said no, so everyone in the house gets charged. I’m not going to let my children go down for someone else’s mistake. A parent should take ownership of what happens in the house.” So she made a quick and consequential decision. To protect her sons, she told the police that the marijuana belonged to her. “I said it was mine, and me and my homegirls were going on vacation to California. I said we were going to take the marijuana with us—I heard it was legal there—and we were going to smoke for a week or two, then come back to normal life.” Sweatt told me this two months after her arrest. She and I were sitting in a conference room at the Metropolitan Public Defender’s Office, in downtown Nashville. She was dressed for work in a black sweatshirt, sweatpants, and sneakers. A large ring of keys attached to her belt bespoke her responsibilities as a janitorial supervisor at the arts center, just a few blocks away. I asked how she had come up with such a specific story on the spot. “It’s a dream,” she said. “I heard California is more lively, more fun, than Nashville. The beaches are pretty. The palm trees.” For a moment she looked as if she could actually see the surf. She was born and raised in East Nashville and has spent almost her entire life within the same few square miles. She had no plans to vacation in California, or anywhere else. “All I do is work and take care of my sons,” she said. The police seemed to believe her story (the arrest warrant noted her upcoming trip) and drove her downtown, where they put her in a holding room. By 1 o’clock that afternoon, her bail had been set at $11,500. To be released, she needed to get $1,150 to a bail bondsman. She contacted a friend, and they each paid half. (“That’s gone,” she says.) She assumed she’d be out in time to get to work that evening, but the money didn’t clear until almost nine, minutes before she was to be sent to jail in shackles. A court date was set for January. Sweatt was facing serious charges with serious consequences, and she was advised to get an attorney. The fallout began even before the court rendered judgment in her case. Under the rules of the housing agency, her arrest prompted her eviction, which scattered her family. Sweatt moved into a cheap motel, and her sons moved in with her mother, although she still managed to see them every day. She tried to get enough money together to hire what she calls “a regular lawyer,” meaning a private attorney, but failed. So in January she turned to the public defender’s office—a choice that many people in her situation make reluctantly. That’s because of the common misperception, I was told by Dawn Deaner, the head of the office, that public defenders are nothing more than “public pretenders” who are “paid to plead [their clients] guilty.” Sweatt’s case was assigned to a lawyer named Ember Eyster. At their first meeting, Sweatt felt reassured. As she put it to me, “Ember wears a dress that says, I’m going to take you down!” During their 75-minute discussion, Eyster asked Sweatt what her goals were, and Sweatt responded with a big one: no incarceration. She couldn’t bear the idea of being away from her boys. At Eyster’s request, Sweatt gathered her time sheets from work and dropped them off at Eyster’s office. Eyster planned to use them as evidence that Sweatt was too busy mopping the floors at the arts center day and night to be a drug trafficker. The next time Eyster and Sweatt saw each other was two weeks later, in court. Sweatt had been charged with a Class D felony, which carried a two-to-12-year prison sentence, and a misdemeanor related to the paraphernalia. Exactly what punishment she would face depended largely on how the district attorney’s office weighed several factors. First, there was her confession. Second, there was the police account of the circumstances of the arrest. Third, there was the fact that she lived within 1,000 feet of an elementary school, which meant it was possible that the charges against her would be “enhanced.” Finally, there was the fact that she already had a criminal history. In years past, she had pleaded guilty to several minor misdemeanors (most for driving with a suspended license) and one felony. The felony conviction resulted from her involvement in a 2001 robbery at a Jack in the Box. As Sweatt tells it, friends had discussed committing a robbery at the restaurant, where she worked, and then surprised her by actually carrying one out. She was arrested and pleaded guilty to a charge of “facilitation,” and in exchange got three years of probation. “I have never gotten into trouble since,” she told me, “except for driving without a license.” She now relies on the bus. Eyster believed that Sweatt was innocent of the drug charges against her. “This is a hardworking woman who lived in a heavily policed community for 10 years,” she told me. “If she were a drug dealer, she would have already been evicted. She doesn’t have a history of drug use.” But the idea of taking this case to trial was a nonstarter. The best path forward, Eyster decided, was to humanize Sweatt to the prosecutor—hence those time sheets—and then try to negotiate a plea bargain. In exchange for a guilty plea, the prosecutor might not recommend a prison sentence. The strategy worked. The prosecutor reduced the charge from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor and offered Sweatt a six-month suspended sentence (meaning she wouldn’t have to serve any of it) with no probation. Her paraphernalia charge was dismissed, and her conviction would result in a fine and fees that totaled $1,396.15. Upon hearing the news, Sweatt embraced Eyster and wept with joy. Then she stood before the judge and pleaded guilty to a crime she says she did not commit. This is the age of the plea bargain. Most people adjudicated in the criminal-justice system today waive the right to a trial and the host of protections that go along with one, including the right to appeal. Instead, they plead guilty. The vast majority of felony convictions are now the result of plea bargains—some 94 percent at the state level, and some 97 percent at the federal level. Estimates for misdemeanor convictions run even higher. These are astonishing statistics, and they reveal a stark new truth about the American criminal-justice system: Very few cases go to trial. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy acknowledged this reality in 2012, writing for the majority in Missouri v. Frye, a case that helped establish the right to competent counsel for defendants who are offered a plea bargain. Quoting a law-review article, Kennedy wrote, “ ‘Horse trading [between prosecutor and defense counsel] determines who goes to jail and for how long. That is what plea bargaining is. It is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system.’ ” Ideally, plea bargains work like this: Defendants for whom there is clear evidence of guilt accept responsibility for their actions; in exchange, they get leniency. A time-consuming and costly trial is avoided, and everybody benefits. But in recent decades, American legislators have criminalized so many behaviors that police are arresting millions of people annually—almost 11 million in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available. Taking to trial even a significant proportion of those who are charged would grind proceedings to a halt. According to Stephanos Bibas, a professor of law and criminology at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, the criminal-justice system has become a “capacious, onerous machinery that sweeps everyone in,” and plea bargains, with their swift finality, are what keep that machinery running smoothly. Because of plea bargains, the system can quickly handle the criminal cases of millions of Americans each year, involving everything from petty violations to violent crimes. But plea bargains make it easy for prosecutors to convict defendants who may not be guilty, who don’t present a danger to society, or whose “crime” may primarily be a matter of suffering from poverty, mental illness, or addiction. And plea bargains are intrinsically tied up with race, of course, especially in our era of mass incarceration. Shanta Sweatt and her two sons in front of the James A. Cayce Homes, where she was arrested As prosecutors have accumulated power in recent decades, judges and public defenders have lost it. To induce defendants to plead, prosecutors often threaten “the trial penalty”: They make it known that defendants will face more-serious charges and harsher sentences if they take their case to court and are convicted. About 80 percent of defendants are eligible for court-appointed attorneys, including overworked public defenders who don’t have the time or resources to even consider bringing more than a tiny fraction of these cases to trial. The result, one frustrated Missouri public defender complained a decade ago, is a style of defense that is nothing more than “meet ’em and greet ’em and plead ’em.” According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 630,000 people are in jail on any given day, and 443,000 of them—70 percent—are in pretrial detention. Many of these defendants are facing minor charges that would not mandate further incarceration, but they lack the resources to make bail and secure their freedom. Some therefore feel compelled to take whatever deal the prosecutor offers, even if they are innocent. Writing in 2016 in the William & Mary Law Review, Donald Dripps, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, illustrated the capricious and coercive nature of plea bargains. Dripps cited the case of Terrance Graham, a black 16-year-old who, in 2003, attempted to rob a restaurant with some friends. The prosecutor charged Graham as an adult, and he faced a life sentence without the possibility of parole at trial. The prosecutor offered Graham a great deal in exchange for a guilty plea: one year in jail and two more years of probation. Graham took the deal. But he was later accused of participating in another robbery and violated his probation—at which point the judge imposed the life sentence. What’s startling about this case, Dripps noted, is that Graham faced two radically different punishments for the same crime: either be put away for life or spend minimal time behind bars in exchange for a guilty plea. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled, in Graham v. Florida, that the punishment Graham faced at trial was so cruel and unusual as to be unconstitutional. The Court found that a juvenile who did not commit homicide cannot face life without parole. Thanks in part to plea bargains, millions of Americans have a criminal record; in 2011, the National Employment Law Project estimated that figure at 65 million. It is a mark that can carry lifetime consequences for education, employment, and housing. Having a record, even for a violation that is trivial or specious, means a person can face tougher charges and punishment if he or she again encounters the criminal-justice system. Plea bargaining has become so coercive that many innocent people feel they have no option but to plead guilty. “Our system makes it a rational choice to plead guilty to something you didn’t do,” Maddy deLone, the executive director of the Innocence Project, told me. The result, according to the late Harvard law professor William J. Stuntz, who wrote extensively about the history of plea bargains in The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (2011), is a system that has become “the harshest in the history of democratic government.” To learn more about how plea bargaining works in America today, I went to Nashville, where Shanta Sweatt entered her plea. A blue county in a red state, Davidson County, which includes Nashville, has a population of about 680,000. According to District Attorney Glenn Funk, Nashville–Davidson County handles about 100,000 criminal cases a year, 70 percent of which are misdemeanors, 30 percent felonies. Last year, attorneys in the public defender’s office dealt with 20,000 misdemeanors and 4,900 felony cases. Of all the defendants processed in Nashville–Davidson County last year, only 86 had their cases resolved at trial. During my week in Nashville, I attended hearings at the courthouse on a full range of cases. I sat in on the plea discussions between an assistant district attorney and two public defenders. I observed a public defender in conversation with jailed defendants facing felony charges. I saw justice meted out courtroom by courtroom, often determined in part by the attitude, even the mood, of the prosecutor. My experience may not have been representative, but over the course of five days, I saw few defendants who had harmed someone else. Those who were facing felony charges had been arrested for drug offenses; some were clearly addicts with mental-health problems. I started with the misdemeanor-citation docket, which covers the lowest-level offenses. The defendants on the courtroom benches were white, black, and Latino. Sartorial guidelines were posted on the doors: no “see-through blouses,” no “exposed underwear,” no “sagging pants.” Ember Eyster, Shanta Sweatt’s attorney, was at the courthouse, but very few of the defendants in court that day had requested the services of a public defender or were accompanied by a lawyer. Misdemeanors are lesser offenses than felonies and are supposed to result in limited penalties. In Tennessee, Class A misdemeanors are sometimes referred to as 1129s: convictions that carry a maximum sentence of 11 months and 29 days. Many people convicted of misdemeanors are given probation or a suspended sentence or simply “time served”—that is, the amount of time they spent waiting in jail for their case to be heard because they couldn’t make bond. The most-minor offenses can result in being required to take a class or do community service. Getting put through the system often also means accruing fines, fees, and court costs, which in a single case can run to more than $1,000. The punishments are not designed to be severe, or to create long-lasting consequences. But for many people they do. Nashville–Davidson County’s courthouse, in downtown Nashville Millions of people each year are now processed for misdemeanors. In a 2009 report titled “Minor Crimes, Massive Waste,” the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers described a system characterized by “the ardent enforcement of crimes that were once simply deemed undesirable behavior and punished by societal means or a civil infraction punishable by a fine.” In Nashville, I was struck by how many people were in court because they had been picked up for driving with a suspended license. It’s a common practice, I learned, for states to suspend the licenses of people who have failed to pay court costs, traffic fines, or child support. In 2011, for example, Tennessee passed a law requiring the suspension of licenses for nonpayment of certain financial obligations. Both Glenn Funk, who must enforce this law, and Dawn Deaner, the head of the public defender’s office, agree that it’s absurd, in part because the scheme is almost perfectly designed to prevent the outcome it seeks. If people stop driving when their licenses are suspended, they may no longer be able to reliably get to work, which means they risk losing their jobs and going deeper into debt. As a result, many people whose licenses have been suspended drive anyway, putting themselves in constant jeopardy of racking up misdemeanor convictions. It is common for defendants charged with such minor infractions to represent themselves, even if they don’t understand the consequences of pleading guilty, and even if there might be some mitigating circumstances that an attorney could argue on their behalf. Plead guilty to enough suspended-license misdemeanors, and a subsequent charge can be a felony. Funk, who was elected in 2014, has stopped routinely jailing defendants arrested for driving with a suspended license. “Most of the time, driver’s licenses are revoked because of poverty,” he told me. “I want people to have a license. It gives them ownership in society.” Deaner told me that about two-thirds of the people listed on the citation docket are on there because of a driver’s-license violation. And once their names are on the docket, the system strongly encourages them to plead guilty. “It’s a hamster wheel of bureaucracy,” she said, “that does no one any good.” Plea bargains didn’t exist in colonial America. Law books, lawyers, and prosecutors were rare. Most judges had little or no legal training, and victims ran their own cases (with the self-evident exception of homicides). Trials were brief, and people generally knew one another. By the 19th century, however, our modern criminal-justice system was coming into its own: Professional prosecutors emerged, more defendants hired lawyers to represent them, and the courts developed more-formal rules for evidence. Trials went from taking minutes or hours to lasting days. Calendars became clogged, which gave judges an incentive to start accepting pleas. “Suddenly, everybody operating inside the system is better off if you have these pleas,” Penn’s Stephanos Bibas told me. The advantages of plea bargains became even clearer in the latter part of the 20th century, after the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, issued a series of decisions, between 1953 and 1969, that established robust protections for criminal defendants. These included the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright and Miranda v. Arizona decisions, the former of which guaranteed the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in felony cases (since expanded to some misdemeanor cases), and the latter of which required that police inform those in their custody of the right to counsel and against self-incrimination. The Court’s rulings had the inevitable effect of making trials lengthier and more burdensome, so prosecutors began turning more frequently to plea bargains. Before the 1960s, according to William J. Stuntz, between one-fourth and one-third of state felony charges led to a trial. Today the figure is one-twentieth. The legal system provides few rules and protections for those who take a deal. In what has been described as one of the Court’s earliest plea-bargain decisions, Brady v. United States (1970), the justices found that guilty pleas were acceptable as long as certain conditions were met, among them the following: Defendants had to have competent counsel; they had to face no threats, misrepresentations, or improper promises; and they had to be able to make their plea “intelligently.” This seemed eminently fair. But crime had already started to increase sharply. The rise provoked a get-tough response from police, prosecutors, and legislators. As the rate of violent crime continued to accelerate, fueled in part by the crack epidemic that started in the ’80s, the response got even tougher. By the 1990s, the U.S. had entered what Donald Dripps calls “a steroid era in criminal justice,” which continued even though violent crime peaked by 1992 and began its now-historic decline. In the late 20th century, legislators passed mandatory-minimum-sentence and “three strikes” laws, which gave prosecutors an effective bludgeon they could use to induce plea bargains. (Some “three strikes” laws result in life imprisonment for a third felony; hundreds of people in California received this punishment for shoplifting. California reformed its three-strikes legislation in 2012 to impose such punishments only for serious or violent felonies.) The growth of the system took on a life of its own. “No one sets out to create bloated criminal codes,” I was told by David Carroll, the executive director of the Sixth Amendment Center, which protects the right to counsel. “But once they exist, vast resources are spent to justify them.” In response to the crime wave, the United States significantly expanded police forces to catch criminals, prosecutor’s offices to charge them, and the correctional system to incarcerate them. Legislators have added so many acts to criminal codes that in 2013, Neil Gorsuch—now on the Supreme Court, but then an appellate judge—publicly raised concerns. In a speech sponsored by the Federalist Society, he asked, “What happens to individual freedom and equality—and to our very conception of law itself—when the criminal code comes to cover so many facets of daily life that prosecutors can almost choose their targets with impunity?” One morning in Nashville, I sat at the prosecutor’s table with Emily Todoran, an assistant district attorney, and Ryann Casey and Megan Geer, two young public defenders. (Geer has since left for a private criminal-defense firm.) Before us was a two-inch stack of paperwork that included police reports on everyone who had been picked up the night before, for a variety of misdemeanor violations. None of those arrested had made bond (“Basically, it’s all homeless offenses,” Geer said), so everyone whose case was being assessed was waiting in jail. Police officers have wide discretion in deciding whether a person is breaking the law, and they sometimes arrest people for such offenses as sleeping in public and sitting too long on a bench. One case involved a woman whose crime seemed to have been, in the words of the officer who filed the report, “walking down the road around 1:30 a.m.” with “no legitimate reason.” Casey told me before this meeting that she hoped to get all such cases dismissed. “Walking down the street!” she said. “Imagine if it was you.” Ember Eyster told me it’s sometimes possible to get misdemeanor cases dismissed with a bit of investigation. Maybe a trespassing charge doesn’t hold up, for example, because the property owner hadn’t posted a no trespassing sign. But this takes time, and clients who can’t make bond have to sit in jail until the job is done. It’s a choice few are willing to make for the small chance of avoiding a conviction. Many clients tell Eyster as soon as they meet her that they want to plead guilty and get time served. The choice makes sense under the circumstances. But anybody who makes it is incurring a debt to society that’s hard, sometimes impossible, to repay. Those with a conviction in the United States can be denied public housing, professional licenses, and student loans. Many employers ask whether job applicants have been convicted of a crime, and in our zero-tolerance, zero-risk society, it’s rational to avoid those who have. People with a misdemeanor conviction who get picked up for another minor offense are more likely to face subsequent conviction—and that, according to Issa Kohler-Hausmann, an associate professor of law and sociology at Yale, is part of a deliberate strategy. Kohler-Hausmann made this case in a provocative 2014 Stanford Law Review article, “Managerial Justice and Mass Misdemeanors,” about the rise of misdemeanor arrests in New York City, which occurred even as felony arrests fell. Authorities, she argued, tend to pay “little attention” to assessing “guilt in individual cases.” Instead, they use a policy of “mass misdemeanors” to manage people who live in “neighborhoods with high crime rates and high minority populations.” These defendants, she wrote, are moved through the criminal-justice system with little opportunity to make a case for themselves. They are simply being processed, and the “mode of processing cases” is plea bargaining. (This year, New York City settled a federal class-action lawsuit against it for issuing hundreds of thousands of unjustified criminal summonses.) Sitting at the prosecutor’s table that morning, I watched Todoran, Casey, and Geer read from the police reports and make deals. Such a ritual takes place, in one form or another, in the courts of each of the country’s more than 3,000 counties, which make up what the Fordham University law professor John Pfaff has described in his book Locked In as “a vast patchwork of systems that vary in almost every conceivable way.” We know little about what happens in these negotiations. Trials leave copious records, but many plea bargains leave little written trace. Instead, they are sometimes worked out in hurried hallway conversations—or, as I witnessed, in brief courtroom conferences. casey: He was lying across a sidewalk over a vent, because it was cold. todoran: Dismiss it. You’ve got to sleep somewhere. casey: This one is for standing in front of a liquor store. todoran: Dismiss. For so many of these things, a few hours in jail is punishment enough. geer: This defendant was found in a car with marijuana and 0.7 grams of crack. todoran: I guess we’ll do time served. casey: This man was at Tiger Mart. He was warned to leave earlier, and then came back. todoran: Thirty days suspended and stay away from Tiger Mart. casey: This case, an officer heard him yelling and cussing and arrested him by the rescue mission. todoran: Dismiss. geer: This is my favorite—the woman who was walking down the road. todoran: Dismiss. For many of the cases, Todoran was making her decision in less than a minute. I felt I was watching justice dispensed at the pace of speed dating. Critics on the left and the right are coming to agree that our criminal-justice system, now so reliant on plea bargaining, is broken. Among them is Jed S. Rakoff, a United States district judge for the Southern District of New York, who wrote about the abuses of plea bargains in 2014, in The New York Review of Books. “A criminal justice system that is secret and government-dictated,” he wrote, “ultimately invites abuse and even tyranny.” Some critics even argue that the practice should be abolished. That’s what Tim Lynch, the former director of the Project on Criminal Justice at the libertarian Cato Institute, believes. The Framers adopted trials for a reason, he has argued, and replacing them with plea bargains—for convenience, no less—is unconstitutional. But plea bargains aren’t going away, so reformers have practical suggestions for improving them. Bibas wants a “consumer-protection model.” Shoppers, he told me, have more safeguards when making a credit-card purchase than defendants do when pleading guilty. He wants pleas to clearly explain several things: exactly what defendants are pleading to, what obligations (classes, probation) defendants are incurring, what the consequences of their failing to follow through would be, and what potential effects a guilty plea could have on their lives. He has also suggested a “cooling off” period before a defendant takes a plea in serious cases. Stuntz suggested giving those who plead guilty the same protections that are offered in the military system of justice. Before accepting a plea, military judges conduct inquiries to ensure that pleas were not made under duress, and that the facts support them. This, Stuntz argued, would shift some power from prosecutors back to judges and make pleas more legitimate, which in turn would produce “a large social gain.” Ember Eyster believed that Shanta Sweatt was innocent, but the idea of taking her case to trial was a nonstarter No amount of tinkering, however, will matter much unless Americans stop trying to use the criminal-justice system as a tool for managing social ills. “Why are these cases being pumped into the system in the first place?,” Bibas said to me. He’s not alone in asking. Across the country, in red states and blue states, reformist state and district attorneys have recently been elected on platforms of rolling back harsh sentencing, reducing the enforcement of marijuana laws, and knocking down crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. And change is happening. Last year, for example, the New York City Council passed legislation that made offenses such as public drinking and urination civil rather than criminal violations, and thus subject largely to tickets and fines. Paring back our criminal code and eliminating many mandatory minimum sentences will be crucial to reform. In the long-running War on Drugs, the government has regularly prosecuted people for possessing small amounts of illegal substances, or for merely possessing drug paraphernalia. Often, on the basis of no evidence beyond a police officer’s assertion, officials have charged and prosecuted defendants for the more serious crime of “intent to sell.” But during Prohibition, when the manufacture, transport, and sale of alcohol were federal crimes, Americans were not arrested by the millions and incarcerated for drinking. And they certainly didn’t plead guilty to possessing martini glasses and other drinking paraphernalia.   To break the cycle, the United States will need to address the disparity in funding for the two sides of its legal system. According to Fordham’s John Pfaff, of the $200 billion spent on all criminal-justice activities by state and local governments in 2008, only 2 percent went to indigent defense. But the system needs more than just money, says Jonathan Rapping, who in 2014 won a MacArthur genius grant for his work as the founder of Gideon’s Promise, which trains and supports public defenders around the country—including those in Nashville. What’s necessary, Rapping argues, is a new mind-set. Defenders need to push back against the assumption that they will instantly plead out virtually every client, rubber-stamping the prosecutor’s offer. Ember Eyster did ultimately negotiate a plea bargain for Shanta Sweatt, but in doing so she pushed back, using all the tools at her disposal to ensure that Sweatt was not incarcerated. The U.S. should also reform the bail system. We are holding people in jail simply because they lack the funds to secure their own release. The public-housing complex from which Shanta Sweatt was evicted after her arrest. She now lives in a motel, apart from her sons. Making these sorts of changes would allow authorities at the federal, state, and local levels to allocate more resources to the underlying social problems that drive so many arrests. But reform will not be easy. Even though crime rates remain near historic lows nationally, Donald Trump’s administration has professed a desire to return to the days of “law and order.” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced, for instance, that he wants federal prosecutors to use maximum possible charges for crimes and to enforce mandatory minimums, which would result in harsh plea bargains. Almost all crime is handled not by the federal government but by the states, but with both the president and the country’s highest law-enforcement official inflaming public fears, advocates for change worry about the fate of the reform efforts set in motion during Barack Obama’s administration. The United States is experiencing a criminal-justice crisis, just not the one the Trump administration talks about. By accepting the criminalization of everything, the bloat of the criminal-justice system, and the rise of the plea bargain, the country has guaranteed that millions of citizens will not have a fair shot at leading ordinary lives. Before I left Nashville, I visited Shanta Sweatt at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. It’s an enormous building of glass and concrete with multiple stages. Sweatt gave me a tour that started in the basement. As we made our way to the upper floors and the theaters, she gestured toward the banks of restrooms that she has to keep sparkling. “Thirty-eight stalls for women,” she said. “Thirty-eight stalls for men.” Sweatt is still struggling with the consequences of her arrest. “If it weren’t for my boys,” she told me, “I would have given up a long time ago.” At the time of her arrest, she told her employers about her situation, and they rallied to support her. “They stood behind me. They said, ‘I got prayers for you.’ ” Because she wasn’t incarcerated, Sweatt was able to keep her job, and her dream is that one day she might be able to buy a house, which would allow her to live together again with her sons. In her mind’s eye, the house has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a yard, and it promises her and her family privacy and freedom. “Police mess with you in the projects,” she said. “You get off the bus, they follow you. They don’t mess with you in a house. I want to live like an average Joe.” source  

July 30, 2017 by
Efrain Estrada grows so many peppers, eggplants, okra and squash that he sends the extras to his relatives in Puerto Rico. Though Mr. Estrada calls himself a farmer, his bounty sprouts from the unlikeliest of settings: a patch of green wedged among the bodegas and public housing projects of the South Bronx. There, in a community garden where Mr. Estrada is one of dozens of urban farmers, he fills a box of soil no larger than a child’s sandbox with the things he used to grow with his father on a farm in Puerto Rico. Efrain Estrada, 74, who grew up on a farm in Puerto Rico, is one of dozens of urban farmers in a community garden in the South Bronx. “If I knew what I know now, I would have helped my father a lot more,” said Mr. Estrada, 74, a retired cook. “There would have been more food.” Mr. Estrada is able to carry on his family’s agrarian tradition in a teeming metropolis as a result of New York City’s thriving network of community gardens, which is being expanded at a time when an onslaught of development has made these public green spaces more valuable than ever. The community gardens are a refuge for immigrants and those without farms or country houses to escape to in the summer as well as a homegrown source of fruits and vegetables in food deserts like the South Bronx. This summer, the Parks Department’s GreenThumb program — the nation’s largest community garden program — has grown to 553 gardens, up from 501 in 2009. Most of the gardens sit on city-owned or other public property, and are maintained by community groups and a dedicated corps of 20,000 volunteer gardeners. A pepper plant at the United We Stand Community Garden. In many neighborhoods, community gardens have fiercely loyal protectors who have mobilized in recent years as the city has targeted gardens in Harlem and elsewhere as sites for affordable housing, and private developers have also eyed them. Bill LoSasso, the director of GreenThumb, said the program had increased its efforts to create more community gardens across the city, especially in largely immigrant communities where many newcomers have roots in agricultural areas. Its budget has increased to $2.9 million annually from $720,000 three years ago, and its staff has nearly doubled to 35 people, who provide training and support and free materials like plants, shovels and wheelbarrows. “Sometimes when you arrive in a new place, you don’t have a network you can tap into for support,” Mr. LoSasso said. “By joining a community garden, you’re joining a network of neighbors who are coming from diverse backgrounds who can help new members of their community to get settled.” About 3.2 million New Yorkers, or 38 percent of the city’s population of 8.5 million, were born in other countries, according to an analysis of census data by Queens College. About half of those immigrants came from the Caribbean, Central America and South America. Queens had the largest number of foreign-born residents, with 1.1 million, followed by Brooklyn with 992,255 and the Bronx with 514,360. The gardeners at the New Roots Community Farm in the Bronx hail from Guyana, the Dominican Republic, the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Gambia, Myanmar and the Ivory Coast, among many other places. The garden was started in 2012 by the International Rescue Committee, a refugee services organization, and Bronx Green-Up, an outreach program of the New York Botanical Garden. Jose Ramos, 89, is a retired maintenance worker from Puerto Rico who works in a community garden every day in the summer. Ursula Chanse, the director of Bronx Green-Up, said that in the last decade, her program had increasingly worked with gardeners from the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and Africa who have settled in the Bronx. “Community gardens reflect the neighborhoods and local demographics,” she said. In the City Line neighborhood of Brooklyn, Bangladeshi immigrants tend a community garden with spinach, winged beans, long beans and bitter melon gourds. The garden was opened in 2014 after a four-year effort by a local group, Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services, to take over a trash-strewn lot. Samiha Huda, the group’s executive director, said that home gardening was part of daily life in Bangladesh. Ms. Huda, who lived in the city of Dhaka before moving to New York in 2009, used to grow mangos, lychees, spinach and beans on the roof of her apartment building there.   Now she can go to the community garden, where the pickings are free for the taking and there are plans for henna painting and story time. “This garden is open for everyone,” Ms. Huda said. “We never talk of having a fence, ever.” The United We Stand Community Garden where Mr. Estrada plants was started in the 1990s by Bronx residents and rebuilt and expanded last year by GrowNYC, the organization that runs the city’s Greenmarkets. It has built 100 community gardens since 1975, including 43 since 2013. “There is nothing more beautiful, and quintessentially New York, than people from all over the world working together to build a better community,” said Marcel Van Ooyen, its president. Alex Gonzalez, 44, a deli worker from Mexico, has a box full of vegetables used in Mexican dishes. He said he would grow more, if he had more space. The 15,000-square-foot garden is divided into 51 numbered boxes that are assigned to individual gardeners to plant what they fancy. “This is my second home,” said Jose Ramos, 89, a retired maintenance worker from Puerto Rico who works in the garden every day in the summer. Alex Gonzalez, 44, a deli worker from Mexico, has a box full of tomatoes, green beans, jalapeño peppers and papalo, a cilantrolike herb used in Mexican dishes. He would grow more, if he had more space. His wife and his brother also have boxes. “This is fresh,” he said. “I like to eat this way.” In the next box over, Mr. Estrada watered slight green plants that will bear sweet peppers called aji dulce for his wife’s homemade sofrito sauce. She makes enough to freeze for the cold months. “It’s very expensive to buy,” he said. Mr. Estrada said he hated working on the family farm in Puerto Rico because he was given no choice. His father used to tell him that they were planting for the rainy days. “When you have no money, you go to the farm and grab something and then we have lunch,” he said. “It was a necessity.” But years later when his Bronx neighbors started cleaning up a junkyard to turn into a community garden, he did not hesitate to pitch in. “I said, ‘This corner is going to be my garden,’” he recalled. “Now I’m going to make a garden on my own with what my father taught me. I had farming in my blood.” source

July 27, 2017 by
A Finnish research team has taken a step towards the future of food by developing a method for producing food from electricity. If scaling it up proves to be successful, it could be a tool in the fight against world hunger and climate change. The Electric Bioreactor Farm Finnish researchers have created a batch of single-cell protein that is nutritious enough to serve for dinner using a system powered by renewable energy. The entire process requires only electricity, water, carbon dioxide, and microbes. The synthetic food was created as part of the Food From Electricity project, which is a collaboration between Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. After exposing the raw materials to electrolysis in a bioreactor, the process forms a powder that consists of more than 50 percent protein and 25 percent carbohydrates — the texture can also be changed by altering the microbes used in the production. The next stage, according to Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, principal scientist at VTT, is to optimize the system because, currently, a bioreactor the size of a coffee cup takes around two weeks to produce one gram of the protein. Pitkänen said in a LUT press release, “We are currently focusing on developing the technology: reactor concepts, technology, improving efficiency, and controlling the process.” He predicted that it would take about a decade before a more efficient incarnation of the system would be widely available — “Maybe 10 years is a realistic timeframe for reaching commercial capacity, in terms of the necessary legislation and process technology.” Click to View Full Infographic A World Without Hunger The potential impact of food produced using electricity and other widely available raw materials is enormous. Currently, there are two main ways that it could be used. First, as a means of feeding starving people and providing a source of food in areas that are not suited to agricultural production. Pitkänen said that, in the future, “the technology can be transported to, for instance, deserts and other areas facing famine,” providing a source of cheap and nutritious food to those who need it most. The machine also works independently of environmental factors, meaning that it could feed people consistently — Jero Ahola, a Professor at LUT, said in the press release that it “does not require a location with the conditions for agriculture, such as the right temperature, humidity or a certain soil type.” Second, as a means of decreasing global emissions by reducing the demand for food livestock and the crops necessary to feed them. Currently, the meat industry accounts for between 14 and 18 percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases, as well as taking up swarths of land that could be applied for other ends. The food from electricity project could decrease the amount of unsustainable farming needed to fill our bellies as it provides us with a smaller, cheaper, and renewable method of getting our nutrients. Other solutions to this problem include lab-grown meat or turning to insect farming, which produces less waste and requires less energy. source  

July 16, 2017 by
A new group of studies into racial disparities among people with Alzheimer’s disease suggests that social conditions, including the stress of poverty and racism, substantially raise the risks of dementia for African Americans. In four separate studies, researchers found that conditions that affect blacks disproportionately compared with other groups — such as poor living conditions and stressful events such as the loss of a sibling, the divorce of one’s parents or chronic unemployment — have severe consequences for brain health later on. One study by University of Wisconsin researchers found that stress literally takes years off a person’s life in terms of brain function — an average of four years for African Americans, compared with 1½ years for whites. Another Wisconsin study showed that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood is associated with later decline in cognitive function and even the biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia. In the other two studies, researchers with Kaiser Permanente and the University of California at San Francisco found a higher degree of dementia risk for people born in states with high rates of infant mortality. Researchers at Kaiser Permanente and the University of California at Irvine found that racial disparities in the incidence of dementia that were previously found among people who are 65 years and older also appear in the very oldest demographic, people who are 90 or older. These lifelong effects of stress and disadvantage could be direct, perhaps in line with previous research showing that sustained stress can physically alter the brain. Or the impact could be the result of cascading effects, such as when a powerfully disruptive event affects a person’s early schooling and limits achievement later on. “No one’s looking at the same kind of things, but the research all dovetails really well,” said Megan Zuelsdorff, an epidemiologist with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “It is the social environment that’s contributing to disparities.” She and other researchers said the overall thrust of the studies’ findings — which were presented Sunday in London at the Alzheimer’s Association’s annual conference — not only offers additional evidence of racial inequities in people’s risk of dementia but suggests the need for more urgent interventions directed at those communities. “Not one of these things is good news — except that they are modifiable,” Zuelsdorff said. Over the years, researchers have theorized that blacks are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s owing to genetics and higher rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. But researchers in recent years have also been focused on social factors that might raise the risk. It’s long been known that stress is associated with social disadvantage, and in the United States and other countries, members of minority groups often suffer disproportionately from those disadvantages. Paola Gilsanz, a researcher with the University of California at San Francisco and Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research, attempted to examine the impact on brain health on people who had been born in states with high levels of infant mortality, a sort of proxy for beginning life under adverse circumstances. During the period she focused on, the infant mortality rate of blacks was nearly twice as high as that of whites. The study reviewed clinical exam data collected between 1964 and 1973 for 6,284 Kaiser Permanente members, of whom 17 percent were black. The subjects were born between 1919 and 1932. Researchers then analyzed their health records in regard to whether they had been born in one of 10 states with the highest infant mortality rates in 1928 — a year chosen because of the stark difference between white and black infant mortality rates and that year’s place toward the lower range of ages among the subjects of the study. African Americans born in those states had a 40 percent higher risk of dementia than blacks who were not born in states with high infant mortality rates. The risk was twice as high, even after accounting for differences in education and other health risk factors, as it was for whites born outside states with high infant mortality rates. “I think this is important because it contributes more information to a growing body of evidence that early life matters to brain health and that maybe early life conditions partially explain the racial disparities we see in dementia risk,” Gilsanz said. “We should really think about brain health as a lifelong concern.” Amy J. Kind, who is also a physician and researcher at the University of Wisconsin, looked to see whether there is a relationship between disadvantaged neighborhoods and disparities in the prevalence of dementia. She and her colleagues first refined Census and American Community Survey data to map more than 34 million neighborhoods — blocks of 1,500 to 3000 people — based on socioeconomic data to arrive at an Area Deprivation Index. After ranking those blocks from least disadvantaged to most, the researchers compared them with data of nearly 1,500 people who had been tested for memory and cognitive function in the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention Study (WRAP). The group also analyzed the neighborhood data against a much smaller subset of people who had been tested for biomarkers — proteins found in cerebrospinal fluid linked to Alzheimer’s. The researchers found that people in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods performed significantly worse in every aspect of cognitive function that was tested; they also had disproportionately higher levels of an Alzheimer’s biomarker. “This linkage between neighborhood disadvantage and Alzheimer’s has never been explored until our work,” Kind said. Zuelsdorff — the University of Wisconsin School epidemiologist whose study found that higher levels of stress among African Americans have the effect of speeding the aging of a person’s brain — has spent a decade or more looking at how stressful experiences affect cognitive abilities. For the past year or so, she focused on how that would intersect with race. Using data from the WRAP, Zuelsdorff and her colleagues examined the role of profound stress on the cognitive function of 1,320 people, of whom 82 were black. The others were non-Hispanic whites. Although the subjects differed in race, they were otherwise alike in terms of average age, genetic disposition as regards Alzheimer’s risk, and education. The subjects underwent testing of their memory and executive function. The impact of stress in their lifetimes was elicited through a questionnaire on 27 items, such as whether the person had severe problems in school, the family suffered bankruptcy or a parent suffered from alcohol-related problems. Although the questionnaire also asked respondents to rank the impact of those disruptive events, Zuelsdorff’s study focused only on the number of such events themselves. “We’re trying to get at really, potentially disruptive events,” Zuelsdorff said in an interview. What the study found was that blacks reported more than 60 percent such stressful events in their lifetimes and that those experiences were associated with poorer cognitive function. source

July 16, 2017 by
The riots of 1967 changed how the great man saw the struggle In the summer of 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. was less than a year away from his death. It’s impossible to say if he knew this, but he must have felt something on the horizon. To be so black and so visible and so dangerous to the status quo for so long meant that the bullet was already on its way toward him. By then he had somewhat resigned himself to the idea of the riot as a necessary form of action. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking to war protestors at UN Plaza in New York, April 15, 1967. (AP) By the summer of that year, the country was on fire. Not all of it, of course — very specific pockets of it. Riots erupted in major cities: Detroit, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Newark. It was the boiling over of a pot that had been simmering for the majority of the Sixties, first in the South and then rising upward and outward: a pushback against rampant police abuse and lack of affordable housing, a swelling resistance against urban renewal projects and economic inequality, and, most importantly, the rise of black militancy. In September of 1967, Martin Luther King delivered a speech at the American Psychology Association’s annual convention in Washington, DC. Approaching his fortieth year, more than a decade removed from his most prominent battles and victories, this was King with the sun setting at his back. In the eyes of many he was the nominal leader of a movement that no longer followed him. And he was faced with the choice of whether to resist or submit to the growing momentum of a younger, more turbulent generation. It was his first speech since the bloody summer had come to a close, and he appeared to have evolved on the issue of rioting and looting. He now spoke of it as a necessary act, a stance which stood in contrast to his discussion of riots just a year earlier. He had been resigned to them as an inevitability, but now he was understanding them as a small measure of freedom. (left) By 1967 King had resigned himself to the riot as necessary action. (AP/A.E. Maloof) | (right) The aftermath of rioting in Newark on July 14, 1967. (AP) “Urban riots must now be recognized as durable social phenomena,” he told the assembled crowd of mostly white doctors and academics. “They may be deplored, but they are there and should be understood. Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting which is their principal feature serves many functions. It enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse. Often the Negro does not even want what he takes; he wants the experience of taking.” One of the foundational notions of nonviolence is that in order to be respected, one must behave well and abide by the social contract: work hard, follow the rules, and prosper. The problem is that since the beginning of the Atlantic Slave Trade, black people had worked harder and followed more rules, more strictly than anyone in America. And still they found themselves in an impossible and impoverished situation. King might not have been as militant as the militants would have liked, and he may have become an even greater citizen of the world while cities were on fire, but by the time he spoke in the fall of 1967, he recognized that it would no longer be effective to tell black folks to only protest peacefully, kindly, and respectfully. They could not prosper in a game where they were the only ones expected to play by the rules. King closed that speech with a stark truth: “Let us say boldly that if the violations of law by the white man in the slums over the years were calculated and compared with the law-breaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man. These are often difficult things to say but I have come to see more and more that it is necessary to utter the truth in order to deal with the great problems that we face in our society.” If it is violent to take that which does not belong to you for the thrill of, even briefly, imagining yourself on even ground with your oppressor, then King was concluding there was to be no hope for nonviolence. Perhaps not then, perhaps not ever. Martin Luther King, at the end of his life, was coming to understand the restrictions of nonviolence as a weapon against a violent oppressor who shows no moral compass. There are limits to how long one can attempt to quiet a fire. King’s transition from the summer of 1966 to the summer of 1967, was from hoping against violence to accepting it as a function of the society it operated in, as an inevitability for a people he had led to a promised land that did not deliver on its promise. Beyond the misattributed quotes and bad memes and poor logic made in his name, the real tragedy of King’s legacy is that the white people who so frequently invoke it in the name of peace do so with a fundamental perversion of his message. Nonviolence — as it is discussed and fetishized in proximity to the poor and/or marginalized — is so often only dragged out in response to any uprising of those people. The riot is a language, yes, but the response to a riot is also its own language; a language of doublespeak. The call is for peace and love, but the true demand is for complete silence altogether. An NFL player takes a knee without speaking, and is threatened and hated, called a violent thug and a racist. For those of certain skin colors, no protest can be peaceful enough. And it’s funny how that works. The people who have the most justifiable anger, the most rightful case for rebellion are the ones most frequently told to settle down, to embrace nonviolence. They are the ones told to follow the example of a man who met his end with a bullet, fired from a racist’s gun. Just a year earlier, in a tense 60 Minutes interview with Mike Wallace, he insisted that the vast majority of black people in America still honored nonviolent resistance as the best way forward, but acknowledged that a rising group in the black community was now advocating for violent resistance. This interview is where his famous “a riot is the language of the unheard” quote originated, citing the newfound urgency facing black people. Just a few sentences later, often left out of our retelling of the quote, King warned of violence in the coming summers while also holding fast to his hope for nonviolence. “I would say that every summer we’re going to have this kind of vigorous protest,” he told Wallace. “My hope is that it will be nonviolent. I would hope that we can avoid riots because riots are self-defeating and socially destructive. I would hope that we can avoid riots, but that we would be as militant and as determined next summer and through the winter as we have been this summer.” The summer in question turned out to be the Long Hot Summer, and Martin Luther King found himself in an increasingly difficult position. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 felt to some like distant memories. Progress, especially when it is passed down by those in power to those who are not, can be blinding. The work of King’s civil rights movement was vital, but its successes may have obscured the fact that the root of the problem was impossible to pull up and dismantle: that the country was founded on the subjugation of the poor, the marginalized, the black. King’s efforts towards moderation and a stern but willing hand to reach across the aisle to whites were increasingly at odds with the direction of the new resistance. He was right in 1966 about members of the black community turning to militant violence as a means of leveling the playing field, but he seemed then unwilling or unable to recognize their growing numbers and influence. Younger militants, buoyed by the earlier teachings of Malcolm X, assassinated just two years earlier, were moving themselves to the forefront of the national conversation around race and resistance. There is something heartbreaking about watching one era bend itself as it begins to bow to another. King’s work was nowhere near finished in 1967, but the work he took on looked different. His eye was more globally tuned than it was before — vehemently speaking against the Vietnam War. He was focused on economic justice as well, laying the groundwork for what would become the Poor People’s Campaign. But in the urban areas that were being betrayed by the institutions that were supposed to uplift and protect them, urgency was high, and noise had to be made. source

July 14, 2017 by
South Bronx students are among the least likely in the city to receive needed disability services provided outside of school, according to a new report by Public Advocate Letitia James. Public Advocate Letitia James found that South Bronx students are among the least likely in the city to receive needed disability services provided outside of school. Many city schools, especially in the outer boroughs don't have enough staff to provide services, such as speech therapists, mental health counselors or occupational therapists, according to the findings. In those cases, parents get a voucher — called a Related Service Authorization — to use for services provided outside of school. But nearly half of the vouchers go unused, the report found, and the problem is “particularly acute” in Bronx school districts 8, 9, 10, and 11. In Bronx School Districts 8, which includes Hunts Point, 91 percent of 129 vouchers went unused in the 2015-2016 school year. In District 9, which includes Morrisania, 63 percent of 365 vouchers were not redeemed. Citywide there were 9,164 vouchers given out and nearly half of them — 4,161 — were not used, the report found. Using the vouchers can prove particularly difficult in parts of the city that providers don’t want to visit, according to the report, and families who choose to take their children to the providers find it challenging to get reimbursed by the Department of Education for travel. As part of its investigation, the Public Advocate’s office called 50 speech therapists and 50 occupational therapists who were independent providers claiming to offer services in the Bronx. None would travel to the borough. The office also called providers on a list provided by the DOE and very few of them were willing to travel to the Bronx either. Families from poor school districts and those living in shelters are particularly effected by the problem, the study found. In District 8, 3,747 students — 12 percent of the student body — were homeless in 2014-2015, and in District 9, the homeless rate was 18 percent. The Public Advocate’s study concluded that the vouchers are “effectively useless” in parts of the Bronx. "The RSA voucher program does not work for students, parents, or schools; and is leading to the neglect of students with disabilities," James said. "It is essential for the DOE to reevaluate its reliance on RSA vouchers and find a way to provide for all students." The Department of Education says it has hired 700 new staff clinicians over the past three years and has expanded the pool of contract agencies used when no DOE therapist is available. In the small percentage of cases that RSA’s are given, the DOE says it connects families with providers, updating the list as needed, and provides transportation when necessary. “The percentage of students receiving their recommended related services increased to 95 percent during SY 2016-17 – up from 84 percent five years ago – including very substantial gains in areas of the city that have historically been the hardest to serve,” said Toya Holness, a Department of Education spokeswoman.  The DOE says it will continue to update and improve the process. source

July 9, 2017 by
Those who argue the practice of racism is weakening, cite the reign of Barack Obama or the increased prominence of Black entertainers and African-Americans who’ve accumulated financial success and career accolades. It’s substantially more challenging to find optimism in the academic achievements of Black boys and girls. A 2015 study found that racial disparities in school readiness, “in terms of math, reading, and behavior,” are improving for all groups of children, “except for Black kids.” A year later, USA Today reported that Black children “are nearly four times as likely as their white classmates to be suspended from school.” An investigation from the same year, titled “Given Half The Chance,” announced grimly that, “The 47 percent national graduation rate for Black males is nearly 28 percentage points lower than that for white males. In 10 states, the report said the graduation rate gap exceeds 30 percentage points.” Author and educator Joseph Gibson writes, “Nobody (with better options) wants to teach Black kids, especially those from high-poverty backgrounds” To be “young, gifted, and Black” remains a dire proposition for Black children. Given the dismal report card on the progress of African-American students, finger pointing and blame-assignment is perpetual, and Black parents are often the targets. The award-winning author of “Medical Apartheid” Harriet A. Washington blasts the racist tradition of demonizing “Black parents, particularly mothers, as medically and behaviorally unfit.” The conviction that Black mothers and fathers are defective motivated William Shockley, a Nobel Prize winner, to suggest that Black mothers be sterilized to prevent birthing a new generation of thugs. Even former President Obama, at the time a U.S. senator and presidential hopeful, once castigated Black mothers and fathers for feeding their children “cold Popeye’s” fried chicken. Notwithstanding the negativity heaped upon Black parents, the future of Black sustainability hinges on quality Black parents raising Black boys and girls brimming with self-esteem and prepared for life challenges, including the racial terrorism targeting them. General and child psychiatrist Dr. Frances Cress Welsing implored Black people to recognize that uncared for Black children can become helpless victims. “When you play around with sex, the joke is on the offspring,” is a saying the late physician passionately repeated because she saw Black children as a priceless investment in the future of Black people. Counseling youth for a half century, she saw the lifelong consequences of children who endured racism as well as substandard parenting. The tendency to heap non-constructive scorn on Black parents fails to obscure years of coordinated effort to deny Black boys and girls quality education. USA Today reported Black high school students are more likely to attend to schools that don’t offer Algebra II, calculus, chemistry, or physics. In addition to being more often denied advanced courses, Black students “are also more likely to have inexperienced teachers.” Black mothers and fathers are infrequently the deciding vote and are routinely excluded when decisions are made about which instructors are in their children’s classrooms or which classes are taught.   Although many impediments to Black academic success are beyond the control of Black parents, this does not mean we have no room for improvement. Educator and founder of KITABU publishing, Joseph Gibson points to one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s less popular remarks: “We must not let the fact that we are victims of injustice lull us into abrogating responsibility for our own lives. We must not use our oppression as an excuse for mediocrity and laziness.” Gibson’s new book, “Why Nobody Wants to Work with Black Kids from High Poverty Backgrounds,” offers a wealth of suggestions on how Black parents can fine tune their own behavior to help support their child’s educational growth. Acknowledging that untold generations of Black people have endured trauma and frustration in school systems operated by white educators who despised the Black pupils they were charged to educate, Gibson recognizes many parents harbor painful classroom memories that make it challenging to nourish their child’s education. Additionally, the violence of racism that imperils mothers’ and fathers’ ability to reliably provide for their children, convinces too many Black parents that regardless of their best efforts, racism will devour their children. Gibson posits this confluence of trauma leads many Black parents to “self-handicapping behaviors.” “Not facilitating homework completion, not limiting academically unproductive activities, not constructively communicating with teachers… and not encouraging consistent effort and resilience,” are just a few of the behaviors Gibson asks Black parents to eliminate. There are a myriad of obstacles to the success of Black students, Black parents should make sure that our habits and/or fears are not one of the things blocking are child’s learning. Watching generations of Black children flushed through the school to prison pipeline can deflate a parent’s motivation and convince some that investment in school is worthless pursuit. But it’s imperative Black parents reject this thinking and demand and model a lifelong pursuit of knowledge. Classrooms have been operated in a manner that devalues the lives and intellectual capacity of Black boys and girls. This should motivate and sternly challenge Black mothers and fathers to cultivate Black scholars in spite of these barriers. source