Updated: 2 hours 47 min ago
Thu, 08/28/2014 - 10:43
Some of hip-hop's biggest stars got together to record a new track dedicated to Michael Brown called "Don't Shoot." The song features the Game, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Diddy, Fabolous, Wale, DJ Khaled, Swizz Beatz, Yo Gotti, Currensy, Problem and King Pharaoh & TGT. It also names other victims of police and vigilante violence, including Ezell Ford and Trayvon Martin.
Thu, 08/28/2014 - 10:23
The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates, writer of The Case for Reparations, is reviving his book club. But instead of the Civil War, this time it'll focus on mass incarceration. First up is Michelle Alexander's, "The New Jim Crow." The reading schedule for September is posted. Take a look and join the discussion.
Thu, 08/28/2014 - 09:31
Around fourth grade, CeCe McDonald realized that she was trans. "There was this fierce little diva inside me and she wanted to be free," McDonald recently told a crowd at the Gay-Straight Alliance Network's (GSA) national gathering.
But that diva had to fight for her freedom.
McDonald detailed the intense bullying and harrassment that drove her away from the classroom. "I felt like I was robbed of my education by other people's ignorance."
She shared her story in order to bring attention to the need for more inclusive school settings for queer and transgender children. "We must keep stories like CeCe's at the heart of our work in GSAs. We must keep working for justice. Commit your GSA to working against criminalization this school year," wrote Mustafa Sullivan, director of national programs at GSA Network.
Last year, The Atlantic's Nanette Fondas reported on the harsh reality facing LGBT students of color:
In one study, more than half of LGBT students who are African American, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander and multiracial said they had been verbally harassed at school in the past year. Another reports nearly half (48 percent) of LGBT students of color experienced verbal harassment from both their sexual orientation and race or ethnicity, and 15 percent had been physically harassed or assaulted. The physical, emotional, and mental health impacts of a hostile climate at school easily encourage avoidance behavior, and students often skip class or stay home. This has deleterious effects on their school performance and college entrance prospects. Serious long term effects of harassment at school emerged in one study: 32 percent of transgender people who were physically assaulted at school reported a history of work in the underground economy, including drug dealing and sex work, compared with 14 percent who had not experienced violence at school. In a different survey, a staggering 51 percent of LGBT people who reported being harassed or bullied at school also said they had attempted suicide.
Thu, 08/28/2014 - 09:10
A report released in August by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective paints a distressing picture of the health conditions facing black and Latina women in the United States. The report, "Reproductive Injustice: Racial and Gender Discrimination in U.S. Health Care," was written for U.S. government officials and the United Nations committee tasked with reviewing compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). It makes a compelling case that the U.S. is in direct violation of ICERD based on the health care access and health outcomes associated with certain populations in the U.S.
One of the more frightening findings in the report, which focuses on black women in Georgia and Mississippi and Latinas in South Texas, is one that has received increased attention in recent years--the continued crisis of maternal mortality in the United States, particularly for black women. I've written about this topic before for Colorlines, but the situation continues to worsen with each new examination of our statistics.
Between 1990 and 2013, the overall maternal mortality ratio grew by 136 percent, from 12 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births to 28 for every 100,000 live births. That increase coincides with a period during which a majority of other countries dramatically reduced their mortality rates. Our rates put us way behind most other developed nations. For instance, we have twice the rate of Saudi Arabia and three times that of the United Kingdom.
When you look at these statistics based on race and geography, the picture becomes even bleaker. According to "Reproductive Injustice," over the last 40 years, the rate of black women dying in childbirth has been three to four times the rate of their white counterparts. And in many places where the white maternal mortality rate is so insignificant it can't even be reported, black maternal mortality rates are way above the national average. For example, in Fulton County, Georgia, which includes Atlanta, there are 94 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births for black women--three times the national average. The white maternal mortality rate in the same county is essentially zero--too insignificant to report. In Chicksaw County, Mississippi, the maternal mortality rate is higher than those in countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya and Rwanda.
"Reproductive Injustice" names various factors as contributing to the problem. There's poverty: Citing a 2010 Amnesty International report, it says that high-poverty states had maternal mortality rates that were 77 percent higher than states with a higher percentage of people living above the poverty line.
According to "Reproductive Injustice," women of color are much more likely than white women to live in poverty and lack health insurance--barriers to health care that can lead to diabetes and heart disease, chronic health conditions that put women at greater risk for dying in childbirth.
"Reproductive Injustice" also identifies poor health care quality as a factor in maternal mortality. Black women and Latinas, it says, are more likely to receive poorer quality health care than white women. Based on the 2013 National Healthcare Disparities Report, "Reproductive Injustice" says that African-Americans and Latinos received worse care on 40 percent of measures compared to whites. Poor people, it found, received worse care on 60 percent of measures compared to higher income people.
Focus groups conducted by Sistersong document racial discrimination experienced by black women in health care settings. The women in these groups described the ways in which negative stereotypes about black women impacted how their health providers treated them, what information they were offered, and even the likelihood of being questioned about drug use during pregnancy. One woman from Jackson, Mississippi, shared that her doctor had assumed she wouldn't be able to use birth control effectively: "After I had the baby, and I went back for my checkup...[the doctor] told me, 'I'll see you in six weeks.' I said, 'Why?' He said I'd be pregnant again." Others described prenatal and labor experiences where they didn't feel their providers adequately informed them of their options. Another woman from Jackson had this to say: "We really don't have a lot of good experiences when it comes to having childbirth, especially because we're poor...Why are all these women having caesareans? Was it really necessary for me?...You have more black women having caesareans. Now I'm questioning."
Recent policy developments, primarily the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion, have the potential to improve access to health care for women who aren't eligible for Medicaid under current requirements. But 19 states, including most in the South where maternal mortality rates are higher, have opted out of Medicaid expansion. Georgia, for example, has 838,000 uninsured women, more than 25 percent of whom are black,according to SPARK Reproductive Justice Now
With the Latina immigrant women in "Reproductive Injustice," the major issue was denial of health care based on immigration status, which the report deems a form of discrimination. Recent Texas policies have eliminated funding for women's reproductive health care that many could receive regardless of immigration status or a lack of insurance. The report states that "immigrant women of reproductive age are approximately 70 percent more likely than their U.S-born peers to lack health insurance."
Even documented immigrants are barred from accessing health care benefits. Federal policy imposes a five-year waiting period for documented immigrants before they can be eligible for Medicaid. Texas goes a step further and refuses to extend Medicaid coverage to legal immigrants even after five years. Recent cuts to family planning funding in Texas have had a significant impact on immigrant women who live there. For example, in the Rio Grande Valley, the Southernmost part of Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border, the funding cuts and resulting closure of clinics has resulted in a 72 percent decrease in women receiving services, according to "Reproductive Injustice."
The report points out that the last time the ICERD committee evaluated the United States, it "recommended that the U.S. not only revise policies that inhibit low-income women's access to health insurance, but also to take steps to increase access to reproductive health services, education and information."
Making the case that the U.S is violating its commitments to human rights conventions such as ICERD is one mechanism for trying to create accountability among policymakers, says Monica Raye Simpson, executive director of Sistersong. "I had the opportunity to go to Geneva and read the statement from the health disparities and reproductive justice working group," she says. "These world leaders do really hold the U.S. government accountable. It's important to the U.S. to have a good report card. Being there in the room and seeing that helped me to understand how much of a difference that makes."
Both Simpson, and Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, say that being involved at the United Nations level allow their constituents to have more leverage when lobbying their state representatives.Activists with the organization have been using "Reproductive Injustice" in their legislative visits to the Texas state capitol, and the women whose stories were included in the report have been acting as spokespersons, says González-Rojas."We believe the women most impacted [by these disparities] are the best agents of change," says González-Rojas. "This [report] is a tool that allows them to bring their voices to the Capitol to fight for change."
In today's political climate, where, to quote González-Rojas, "politicians are playing politics with women's health," it can be difficult to see the path forward to improving health outcomes for women of color. The good news is that as the situation worsens, the level of attention placed on the problem increases. "Reproductive Injustice" concludes with a series of recommendations for actions to be taken by the U.S. government to address the situation, including increasing access to health insurance for low-income women (regardless of immigration status), improving monitoring and accountability mechanisms for maternal mortality rates and addressing race and gender stigma in health care.
Thu, 08/28/2014 - 08:02
Because black women make great accessories for folks basking in too much white privilege, Lifetime has announced a new show called "Girlfriend Intervention." From the looks of it, the show -- featuring four stereotypically "strong" black women (Tracy Balan on beauty, Nikki Chu on "home and sanctuary," Tiffiny Dixon on fashion and reality star Tanisha Thomas) -- will bring out the "girlfriend" in timid white women.
From NPR's Monkey See:
Like so much of makeover television, this is shaming dressed up as encouragement (they actually call the segment where the makeover candidate shows them how she currently dresses the "catwalk of shame"). It's conformity dressed up as individuality, and it's submission to the expectations of others dressed up as self-confidence.
Only now, with obnoxious racial politics slathered all over the entire thing!
It is not like those politics need to be introduced by the viewer, either: They are the premise of the show, and they are repeated over and over. Black women, we are told in so many words, are unerringly confident, gorgeous, stylish, unflappable, and -- ah, yes -- better at pleasing men, especially black men.
The show's already one episode in and the reviews are terrible. Take this scathing piece from TV columnist Brian Lowry at Variety: "Loud, brash and filled with stereotypes, it's hard to know what's most irritating -- the sweeping declarations about black women as if they were monolithic, or the forced remodeling of women who are perfectly comfortable with their looks and style, after subjecting them to a 'Catwalk of Shame.' If indeed there's cause for shame here, the producers should start with a mirror."
Thu, 08/28/2014 - 07:03
Here's what I'm reading up on this morning:
- Remember last summer when Obama wanted congressional approval for strikes in Syria? Not so much this summer.
- Ukraine says it's still fearful that Russia is invading.
- Omaha cops shoot and kill a "Cops" crew member.
- Some headlines this morning are actually wondering whether 9-year-olds should be learning how to use submachine guns.
- Boston's Market Basket workers are thrilled to have their old CEO back.
- The Samsung and LG smartwatches are here.
- Hello, Kitty. Who is not a cat but is actually a British schoolgirl.
- USC's Josh Shaw is suspended after he admits he lied about a heroic story.
- Wow. The WHO says more than 20,000 people may be infected with Ebola before the virus is under control.
- Does this walking fish offer new clues to understanding evolution?
Wed, 08/27/2014 - 15:13
Five-year-old Malachi Wilson was all set to start kindergarten at F.J. Young Elementary in Seminole, Texas, but on Monday he was told to cut his hair and was sent home. His mother, April Wilson, contacted the Navajo Nation; the American Indian Movement also put pressure on the district to reverse its decision against the child. Only after she provided documentation of her son's Native-ness through Malachi's Certificate of Indian Blood did the Seminole Independent School District change its mind.
The district's rather lengthy student dress code stipulates more than a dozen rules when it comes to hair. Among them, Mohawks are prohibited. (Mohawks are called that for the way that some actual Mohawk people wear their hair.) Dreadlocks are also prohibited. The handbook says exceptions are made on "certain recognized religious or spiritual beliefs," but students "must receive prior approval by the campus administrator." The district changed its mind about Wilson's hair--but he nevertheless missed his first day of school.
Wed, 08/27/2014 - 13:54
After Michael Brown's killing, Damon Linker doesn't want another national dialogue on race. Instead the former speechwriter for Mayor Rudy Giuliani wants white Americans to see their country through the eyes of African-Americans. Here's why:
Blacks overwhelmingly believe that the police use deadly force against black suspects...while whites tend to presume that cops do their jobs fairly. This is a big deal, and one that should trouble white America far more than it does -- because it means that whites view armed agents of the government as their allies, while African Americans see those same agents...like the occupying army of a hostile power.
Linker doesn't get at the hard stuff: "how" to get more white Americans to see life from the other side of the color line. But the full essay over at The Week is worth the read.
Wed, 08/27/2014 - 11:28
Watch Jon Stewart take down a number of Fox News talking points that are popular among people of color on the left and right, too. Stay tuned until the end when Stewart, who's just returned from vacation asks, "Do you not understand that life in this country is inherently different for white people and black people?" The question gets at the difference, well-noted these past few weeks, in how white and black Americans react to Ferguson. Stewart answers with a tale of two of his employees sent out on an assignment. One is black, the other white. Not much to say: many people know how this story goes.
Wed, 08/27/2014 - 11:14
A group of Newark parents announced today that their children will boycott Newark public schools beginning next week, at the start of the new school year. "NPS Boycott 4 Freedom" is a response to "One Newark," a school reform plan set to take effect next month that will restructure or shut down a third of schools in the city's state-run public school district.
"The NPS Boycott 4 Freedom is an act of resistance and a statement against the One Newark Plan -- Gov. Christie and Superintendent Cami Anderson's destructive and shortsighted plan," Newark parent Deborah Cornavaca said in a statement. "We have decided to escalate our actions to a boycott because we cannot continue to let the state and the superintendent disregard our lived experience and endanger the lives of our children."
In May, Newark parents, together with groups from Chicago and New Orleans and the Advancement Project, filed federal complaints with the Department of Education, charging that school reform and closure plans disproportionately affected African-American and Latino children in those cities. Last month, the Department of Education confirmed that it opened an investigation into Newark's One Newark plan off of the complaints it received.
According to the federal complaint civil rights groups filed, African-American students comprised 53 percent of the district enrollment but nearly three quarters of those impacted by school closures in the 2011-2012 school year. One Newark will have similarly racially disparate impacts on Newark students, parents warn.
Parents are calling for an end to the One Newark Plan, and an end to decades-long state control of Newark Public Schools, as well as implementation of "community-driven sustainable schools," according to parents' demands.
Wed, 08/27/2014 - 10:34
Ferguson is fresh on people's minds, and that also goes for students returning to school. But Edwardsville, Illinois, schools Superintendent Ed Hightower responded to the crisis by directing teachers not to discuss the events that have unfolded in the last two weeks, and to "change the subject" should Ferguson comes up in class, KMOX reported.
Other educators are taking a different tack. Washington, D.C., schools issued a five-page teacher's resource guide for how to discuss Ferguson in the classroom. It's full of practical tips, and geared for students in the public district.
Teachers who discuss police brutality and Michael Brown's death will need to "remember that you will almost certainly have students who have been victims of racial profiling in your classroom," the guide cautions, urging that teachers proceed with care, sensitivity and openness. The Chronicle of Higher Ed, meanwhile, spoke with St. Louis-area college professors about their classroom plans.
Georgetown professor Marcia Chatelain used Twitter to put together a #FergusonSyllabus for teachers looking for resources for their classrooms. The list Chatelain compiled at TheAtlantic.com, which includes history, fiction, children's books and academic works, is a great resource for more than just students and their teachers. Chatelain's ask was that her fellow educators commit to discussing Ferguson in their first days of class, and share resources with students and each other to help sort through the last few weeks of trauma, confusion and race dialogue. "Some of us will talk about Ferguson forcefully, others gingerly, but from preschool classrooms to postdoctoral seminars, Ferguson is on the syllabus," Chatelain wrote. Conversation sparked by #FergusonSyllabus inspired this resource guide for educators, too.
The long-read of the day is Adam Serwer's historical look at decades of so-called "race riots" in "Eight Years of Fergusons" for Buzzfeed. Serwer writes:
The recipe for urban riots since 1935 is remarkably consistent and the ingredients are almost always the same: An impoverished and politically disempowered black population refused full American citizenship, a heavy-handed and overwhelmingly white police force, a generous amount of neglect, and frequently, the loss of black life at the hands of the police. Yet we're always surprised at what they cook up.
We have had 80 years of Fergusons. We may have more. Violence -- as harmful and self-destructive as it is -- sometimes works.
Moreover, it was not just sit-ins and marches that finally moved President John F. Kennedy to conclude that federal civil rights legislation was necessary, but a riot -- specifically, the 1963 conflagration in Birmingham.
It's worth a read, and adding onto the #FergusonSyllabus. Please share what you're reading, and thanks for joining this Tuesday edition of Following Ferguson.
Wed, 08/27/2014 - 10:05
In a city with 14 percent unemployment and where more than 20 percent of residents live below poverty, criminal fines and court fees levied on the poor are Ferguson's second largest source of revenue. That's according to a new white paper from St. Louis-based indigent defense group, ArchCity Defenders. "I'll be real honest, I didn't believe them," at first, executive director Thomas Harvey tells the Daily Beast about incessant client complaints of being targeted because they were black and poor. But findings from a yearlong court-watching program changed Harvey's mind--and they're drawing attention to an ongoing national problem of municipalities using local courts to generate revenue from the poor instead of dispensing justice.
The debt-to-prison pipeline--through traffic violations, misdemeanors and arcane courthouse rules and financial penalties--is a major cause of antagonism between Ferguson residents and local police. Criminal debt cripples families and communities after all, and not only the individual receiving the warrant.
Wed, 08/27/2014 - 09:07
You're not just imagining things. The local news media's intense focus on violent crime is also deeply racialized, at least if New York City's media market is indicative of national trends.
Media Matters reviewed the 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. broadcasts of four New York-area stations over the course of this summer and compared their crime stories to arrest data from the New York Police Department. In a report released Aug. 26, the watchdog group found black suspects in crime stories far outweigh their actual representation in arrests--which is saying something, since we also know arrests themselves are racially skewed, with black people representing far more arrests for, say, marijuana possession than drug-use rates suggest is appropriate.
The disparity in crime coverage was most striking for stories about theft. In local news-land, 80 percent of suspects in New York-area thefts are black, Media Matters found. In real life, blacks represent 55 percent of NYPD's arrests for theft. For assaults, TV-land sees 72 percent of suspects as black. Real life: 49 percent.
This reality skewing coverage is part of how black bodies become synonymous with crime and danger--and helps justify the violence and danger the state then reigns down upon peolpe like Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But the news media's skewed racial reality doesn't end with crime.
Earlier this year, Colorlines' publisher, Race Forward, analyzed national news media coverage of stories about race. Our research team found that two-thirds of race-focused stories ignored the systemic factors involved, and focused instead on personal prejudices and individual level efforts to name the racist in the room. Race Forward's Jay Smooth explains the findings in the video below.
Wed, 08/27/2014 - 09:00
It was bad enough that Ferguson police left Michael Brown's dead body in plain sight on a residential street for more than four hours after Darren Wilson shot and killed the unarmed 18-year-old. But what police did the evening of August 9 gives us a better understanding of why Ferguson's black community was even further enraged.
In an article over at Mother Jones, Mark Follman explains how police officers disrespected the still bloodstained spot where Brown was gunned down. It's unclear which police department was responsible, but according to witnesses, one unit allowed their K-9 dog to urinate directly on the memorial site.
And, as if that's not sufficiently horrific, Follman describes what happened to the flowers and candles that Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden had brought to the site where her son was killed:
The day brought other indignities for Brown's family, and the community. Missouri state Rep. Sharon Pace, whose district includes the neighborhood where the shooting occurred, told me she went to the scene that afternoon to comfort the parents, who were blocked by police from approaching their son's body. Pace purchased some tea lights for the family, and around 7 p.m. she joined Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, and others as they placed the candles and sprinkled flowers on the ground where Brown had died. "They spelled out his initials with rose petals over the bloodstains," Pace recalled.
By then, police had prohibited all vehicles from entering Canfield Drive except for their own. Soon the candles and flowers had been smashed, after police drove over them.
Things got so bad that local residents began using their own bodies to block police cars from entering the street where Brown was killed.
Wed, 08/27/2014 - 07:37
Stacia L. Brown wears a lot of hats. The Baltimore-based single mother of a 4-year-old serves as Colorlines' Community Engagement Fellow, teaches writing at a local college, runs Beyond Baby Mamas and Bellow, and still finds the time and energy to write--beautifully. Over the past couple of weeks, sparked by the police killing of Michael Brown, she has been writing essays about the slain teen, police brutality, parenting and black vulnerability. Brown posted what became a five-essay series on her personal website, stacialbrown.com.
Here, we share excerpts with you:
1. From "Ferguson and the Patience for The Appalled," August 18, 2014
Forgive us for retiring "We Shall Overcome" for a while. Our president was black, and his attorney general had been tasked with tending to what was left of systemic inequity. We overcame! Or at the very least, circa 2008, we felt fairly capable of overcoming.
Yes, even when we couldn't catch cabs. Yes, even when we were stopped and frisked. Yes, even when a black Harvard historian was accused of breaking and entering into his front door. That was resolved with a beer summit, wasn't it? Ain't we some overcomers?
Pardon us for reeling in the wake of this latest reminder that we are still psychically, politically, horrifically, oppressed.
We watched a child bake on the asphalt on a middle American town last weekend, while the cop who killed him fled without calling in the murder or staying on the scene. And while sitting on our seat's edge waiting for accountability, we had to reckon with the protracted dawning that no immediate responsibility would be assigned, that none of the shooting officer's higher-ups -- from his police chief to his governor -- would feel the need to reprimand or hold him wholly responsible.
2. From "Ice Berg Boys: On Michael Brown and Other Lives Cut Short," August 16, 2014
Honey, here is a thing you will need to know about young black men: they are icebergs. My lord, how often they've been told to shine up the peak that is exposed, how thoroughly they've convinced themselves that what lies beneath should stay submerged. The waters are dark and frigid, but when you love any one of those iceberg boys, you will want to plumb his depths. You will long to warm him enough to lift him, to lower the water levels, to expose the many moments that he feels the need to hide. And if you succeed, what you will surely find first is fear.
3. From "A Brief History of Black Folks and Sidewalks," August 14, 2014
Henry's Freedom Box or Freedom on the Menu; you have not heard of Emmett Till, have not seen what it seems that every black child must: his bloated, disfigured face in an open casket -- but someday you will understand just how many of our horror stories begin and end with sidewalks.
Whether stepping off of them to let a white man pass or refusing to cross to one on the other side of a street in order to clear a white woman's path, sidewalks have never been entirely inanimate for us. Our teeth have been broken against them. After tussling unarmed on one, Trayvon Martin was accused in court of using a sidewalk as a weapon, just before his blood was splattered across it. And even now, with no particular law in place to compel us, some confess to still ceding the sidewalk for white passersby, in spite of ourselves.
4: From "Stay Here," August 12, 2014
Stay here. Do whatever you can. Duck. Chant. Sob. Rail. But stay. The rest of us are running to and fro in your stead, spreading your words, your footage, your fears, your demands for a demilitarized, diverse police department. We are trying to make the world around you understand how wrong it is for police from multiple counties to bring in heavy artillery on ground and heavy surveillance in sky, in order to subdue the few of you brave enough to venture out each night in search of answers. We are trying to help you hold your county accountable for employing and protecting an officer who would flee down the same street where he opened fire on an unarmed boy and left him there, first to die, then to bleed in open view for several hour
You will never do as much damage to the town's businesses as the damage being done to the town's bodies. Do not try. If there will ever be a way to win, this sort of competition isn't it. On foot, you cannot play chicken with tanks. Unarmed, you cannot play roulette with rifle-bearing riot police.
5. From "When Parenting Feels Like a Fool's Errand: On the Death of Michael Brown," August 10, 2014
I don't want to talk about the boy and the sneakers peeking out from the sheet crudely draped over his corpse in the street, because I have been happy this month and it is so rare that I'm happy and that you, at age 4, don't have to touch my knee or shoulder or face and say, "What's wrong, Mama? You sad?"
I don't want to think of who will go out on her hands and knees to scrub what's left of the boy's blood from the concrete. It will probably be a loved one, her hands idle after hours of clenching them into fists, watching what used to be her breathing boy lie lifeless, as she waited and waited and waited for the police and the coroner and the county to get their stories straight and their shit together and their privilege, sitting crooked as a ten-dollar wig, readjusted till it was firmly intact. All that time they spent, just primping, just holding their whiteness and authority up as mirrors for one another, tuning out the cries of a mourning community -- or garbling them, rather. Did they say, "Kill the police?!" As long as that's the way you heard it, they did. And that is what AP will wire out to every mainstream news outlet who can be bothered to report the death of another unarmed black son on a Saturday night.
Their truth is not our truth.
Wed, 08/27/2014 - 07:15
Here's what I'm reading up on this morning:
- An open-ended ceasefire is accepted after nearly two months of terror in Gaza. Approximate death toll: 69 Israelis (including six civilians), 2,143 Palestinians.
- A U.S. citizen is killed while fighting for IS in Syria.
- A 9-year-old in Arizona accidentally shoots and kills her submachine gun instructor.
- Time Warner is close to restoring broadband coverage to all of the roughly 12 million customers it failed nationawide this morning.
- IMF chief Christine Lagarde is under investigation by a French court for negligence in a political fraud case.
- It's no longer Google, but Amazon that is now poised to acquire video game streaming platform Twitch.
- Cardinals quarterback Antonio Cromartie pays homage to Michael Brown:
- Jamaica Kincaid wins the American Book Award.
- A third doctor dies from Ebola in Sierra Leone.
Tue, 08/26/2014 - 12:12
Following a massive, militarized show of force in Ferguson over the last few weeks, President Obama has ordered a review of federal programs that supply military equipment to local and state police departments. But we now know that at least one of those, the Pentagon's 1033 program, is already in deep trouble.
Fusion's Daniel Rivero and Jorge Rivas uncovered that 184 police departments have been suspended from the weapons program because equipment either went missing, or the departments were otherwise unable to comply with program rules. Among the weapons that went missing are M14 and M16 assault rifles, .45 caliber pistols, shotguns and even two Humvees.
Fusion explains part of the obstacle the program faces in keeping track of weapons:
The decentralized structure of the program makes it difficult -- even for the Pentagon -- to keep tabs on the standing of participating police departments, or the weapons they've been issued. Officials at the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which runs the equipment-transfer program, were unable to provide specifics about why various police departments were suspended. And many state coordinators refused to speak to Fusion, or claimed they didn't have the information requested.
Perhaps more troubling? The departments that are kicked out of the Pentagon's weapon program are ineligible for new equipment--but it's not unusual for them to get to keep the military equipment they already got.
Read Rivero's and Rivas's full investigation over at Fusion.
Tue, 08/26/2014 - 11:52
In the elite higher education economy, low-income students are an investment many colleges aren't willlling to put money on. And it's showing in enrollment.
Federal data show that low-income student enrollment at selective colleges hasn't grown from the 1990s through 2012. In some places it hovers beneath 15 percent, while the higher education sector overall saw large increases in low-income students attending college, The New York Times reports.
Richard Pérez-Peña reports:
Colleges generally spend 4 percent to 5 percent of their endowments per year on financial aid, prompting some administrators to cite this rough math: Sustaining one poor student who needs $45,000 a year in aid requires $1 million in endowment devoted to that purpose; 100 of them require $100 million. Only the wealthiest schools can do that, and build new laboratories, renovate dining halls, provide small classes and bid for top professors.
As Pérez-Peña points out, legal attacks on race-conscious admissions policies mean universities have been turning to other means, namely a socioeconomic-based approach, to boost diversity. It's not clear that a class-based approach, while more palatable to some, will be all the more alluring to universities. "Higher education has become a powerful force for reinforcing advantage and passing it on through generations," Georgetown University professor Anthony Carnevale told The New York Times. "College presidents are under constant pressure to meet budgets, improve graduation rates and move up in the rankings. The easiest way to do it is to climb upstream economically -- get students whose parents can pay more."
Tue, 08/26/2014 - 10:55
The graduation ceremony started with a freedom chant led by fellow Angie Rollins, a member of the BYP100. The 40 plus people in attendance joined in, clapping and repeating the chorus: "What side are you on my people?/What side are you on?" It grounded the event in this political moment, referencing Michael Brown and Ferguson in the chant as they began. If you didn't know better, you'd think this was a graduation for community organizers, or radical political educators. Instead, it was a graduation for 11 newly trained coders, finishing the first-ever Code for Progress (CFP) fellowship. They all spent the last four months in an intensive coding bootcamp in Washington, D.C., learning from instructor Aliya Rahman the basics of a handful of different coding languages, with the hopes of beginning their careers in technology.
The graduation was held at Google's downtown Washington, D.C., offices, a fact that felt both fitting and somewhat ironic given recent conversations stirred up this summer with the release of Google's, Apple, LinkedIn and Yahoo's self-reported diversity statistics. Unlikely to be a surprise to anyone working within the industry, the stats show abysmal representation for non-Asian people of color overall, and a poor showing for women as well. So for the 11 fellows, seven of whom are women of color, they are unlikely to find many peers in their future places of employment. The freedom chant, while distinctly out of place at Google, was actually quite fitting for the mission of CFP--its goal is to bring politically minded organizers into the tech industry.
The fellowship is a direct response to the lack of diversity in the tech field, and it also tries to address a root cause of these disparities: access to computer science education. "Folks who are in communities of color have a higher probability of going to a school that doesn't teach computer science," says Rahman. "Seven kids took the advanced placement computer science exam in Washington, D.C., [last year], compared to hundreds in Maryland and Virginia."
Even if you look beyond your high school education for this training, people often find college-level computer science courses to be unwelcoming or the faculty unsupportive. Both Aurea Martinez, one of the graduating fellows, and Sabrina Hersi Issa, the owner of the technology and digital agency Be Bold Media, have had experiences that turned them off of computer science in college. Hersi Issa describes being "frozen in fear" during computer science class, and Martinez says that the competitive environment kept her from even enrolling in the courses. There are other ways to learn how to code, including intensive courses similar to the CFP model, but Rahman says the cost makes them inaccessible for many women and people of color. They can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
CFP not only focuses its recruitment on "historically excluded communities," they also pay the fellows a $3,000-per-month stipend while they are learning to code during those four months. That erases one barrier to education and the class of fellows demonstrates this. Pamela Davis, a 56 year-old black grandmother, had been a low-wage Walmart worker prior to joining the fellowship. It was her use of technology--particularly social media--to organize with other workers that got her interested in learning more about tech. That organizing also got her fired from Walmart, along with 27 other workers, a termination that the National Labor Relations Board has deemed illegal and for which a settlement is in progress. "I'm reinventing Pam. This is the chance for me to do something new and different," says Davis about what's next for her after the fellowship. "So this was time for me to flex my wings. [For] the last chapter I want to do something that will at least leave my footprints. We're trying to raise up a new generation to care about the world so that we're not in this situation again."
That's another distinction for the fellowship--it isn't just about getting people of color into tech, it's about getting social justice activists into the field. Most of the fellows were inspired to apply for the program by their past activism and the potential they saw for technology to improve their work. Martinez, for example, had been involved in undocumented youth and immigration activism before joining CFP.
Both Rahman and Hersi Issa* describe finding their way into tech through organizing jobs that required tech solutions. Hersi Issa found her own training after her first employer at an NGO asked her to take on some technology projects. She said yes while knowing she didn't have the necessary skills. "The day that she asked me I went to a local community college and I started the class the next day," Hersi Issa says She used the class to learn and test out her work assignments and her boss was none the wiser.
These kinds of non-traditional forms of education are often necessary for women of color to gain vital skills, but even once they have the credentialing and experience, racism and sexism affect how often they are received. Rahman, who is the lead trainer for the fellowship and is responsible for the curriculum, describes constantly being questioned by men in Washington, D.C., about whether she knows how to code. This is after she's told them that she teaches a coding class. And while the fellowship has created a safe space, says Martinez, when the fellows have gone to citywide coding and hack events, she's noticed that the women's suggestions often get questioned.
It's these aspects of the race and gender gaps in the tech sector that may not be getting the attention they deserve. One of Google's first responses following the release of their diversity stats was to offer free coding classes to women and people of color. That paints a picture, perhaps inadvertently, that the lack of diversity is just about the fact that women and people of color don't know how to code. In reality, it's much more complex than that. Once you get in the door, how are you treated? Are you supported? Google, Apple and others now have well-designed websites and materials addressing diversity at their institutions, but Rahman wonders if the efforts go beyond public relations: "Their communications staff is definitely working on the portrayal of the problem," she says. Google's materials detail the myriad affinity groups that exist within the company--from Greyglers (older employees), to Gayglers (LGBT employees) to a Filipino affinity group. But Hersi Issa has her doubts about the impact of these groups: "I think affinity groups in organizations play an incredible role in creating community, but in terms of pipelining [people of color] into major positions of leadership--who holds the power?" I contacted Google to request an interview, but a spokesperson for the company declined stating that "Google's diversity team is making an effort to focus on the work at hand rather than speaking publicly at this time."
The environment of the CFP graduation was both celebratory and emotional. It was clear from the remarks that the group has fostered a real community that may actually serve them even more than the technical skills. It's already proving useful as they work together to support each other's job searches, sharing resources and being transparent about interviews. About half of the fellows, says Rahman, are moving along in the process of final interviews and negotiating offers. She hopes they'll continue to back one another up in their new positions during the final eight months of the fellowship. The first class won't be the last--there are already plans to have two classes of fellows next year.
While Silicon Valley has been getting a lot of attention in recent months, we know these diversity problems aren't unique to that industry alone. Adria Richards, a developer whose firing from SendGrid after tweeting about sexist jokes overheard at a conference rocketed her into the public eye, still doesn't think the industry is the problem: "Overall I can say that what I believed before the PyCon incident still rings true for the tech workplace. It's a fantastic career to have and the media sensationalizes the conflicts in the industry regarding gender and race. It's a cultural problem in America, not just technology." She and most of the women of color I interviewed for this article remain optimistic despite the major barriers. Hersi Issa lays it out: "Women of color are the original creators--the ones making a way out of no way since the dawn of time. If you gave them the reigns of power I can't even imagine what would begin to be unleashed in this world."
*Post has been updated. Previously Hersi Issa was identified as "Issa."
Tue, 08/26/2014 - 10:06
In a petition to the president that appeared in the Washington Post on Monday, more than 125 writers, artists, educators, lawmakers, and union and political group leaders are asking the Obama administration to take a hard look at racial biases in policing in light of the killing of Michael Brown:
In cities across America, local law enforcement units too often treat low-income neighborhoods populated by African Americans and Latinos as if they are military combat zones instead of communities where people strive to live, learn, work, play and pray in peace and harmony. Youth of color, black boys and men especially, who should be growing up in supportive, affirming environments are instead presumed to be criminals and relentlessly subjected to aggressive police tactics that result in unnecessary fear, arrests, injuries, and deaths.
The letter outlines steps to train law enforcement and to diversify, demilitarize and hold police departments accountable. It also calls for the establishment of a national commission to review current policies and provide solutions--as well as for the appointment of a federal czar to oversee the "implementation of equitable policing."
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