“I am honored to have encountered Nelson Mandela on several occasions. He changed human history and taught activists around the world that in order to legitimately further what is noble, you must actually be a noble person. Nelson Mandela personified someone that non-violently changed the course of world history with the democratization of South Africa. Everything humanly possible that could be done to someone other than killing them was done to him, yet he maintained his dignity and his determination. It is almost unthinkable what he endured and yet forgave. He taught us that you have to keep your eye on the prize, and that nothing you suffer is as important as the goals that you are fighting for. He showed us that you can change the course of human history without lowering yourself to human depravity.”
Fast food workers earn a median wage of $8.90 per hour.
That’s slightly more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, but it’s way less than most people can live on.
In fact, it takes a wage of $10.20 per hour to afford basic expenses like rent, food and utilities in America’s cheapest place to live, according to an analysis from Wider Opportunities for Women. Nationally it takes $14.17 per hour to survive.
For their part, fast food representatives say the eateries, which are largely run by franchisees, operate on thin profit margins, making it difficult for them to raise worker pay. In addition, they note that entry-level jobs are meant to be just that, and that workers have many opportunities for advancement.
“The restaurant industry has been one of the few industries that continued to create jobs during the recession and economic recovery, offering opportunities to hundreds of thousands of new workers over the past couple of years,” Scott DeFife, the National Restaurant Association’s vice president for government affairs, wrote in an emailed statement.
That’s true. The fast food industry has created jobs at a faster clip than the rest of the economy for the past 14 years. But it’s also because not many high-paying jobs are available: Half of all jobs created in the last three years were low paying.
So as a result, fast food’s low wages end up costing taxpayersbillions every year.
Infographic by Alissa Scheller for the Huffington Post
McDonald’s former CEO James Skinner made 351 times the pay of an average restaurant worker in 2011, according to an analysis from Bloomberg. The CEO of YUM Brands, the company that owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, made 819 times the average restaurant worker in 2011.
So there you have it. Hopefully now you have a better idea of why fast food workers in about 100 American cities plan to walk off the job on Thursday. Protesters are calling for $15 an hour and the right to organize without fear of retaliation.
by Will Wright
Every Wednesday, rain or shine for the past 13 years, the UCLA Mobile Clinic Project sets up on the corner of Sycamore and Romaine, smack in the middle of North Hollywood, to deliver health services to the poor.
At a time when headlines have focused on the Affordable Health Care Act’s problematic website, the Mobile Clinic Project has been a successful and reliable service provider for hundreds who would otherwise have no health care at all. But the care being given to these homeless people is in jeopardy as complaints from local businesses and residents mount.
Curbside service, literally
For the past five months, the program has been under pressure to leave the neighborhood, with regulatory roadblocks that on the surface appear to be callous and running contrary to the welfare of all citizens, rich or poor. The Bureau of Street Services has told the volunteer students running the project that they can no longer set up tables and chairs for their clinic treatments.
Since then, patients have been getting their medical treatments while sitting on the curb. Tana Noorani, an undergraduate coordinator for the program told theGrio in an email, “For some of them this is the only time during their week where someone takes the time to ask how they are feeling and yet they can not even be granted a chair to sit in. With this change we have been sitting side by side with our clients on the sidewalk continuing to fulfill their medical and social needs as best we can. In addition, clients with disabilities have a lot of trouble sitting on the ground.”
And Noorani said patient comfort is not the only problem this mandate has created. “The other night when it rained at the clinic, nearly all of the patient medical files became wet from the rain. In previous years we could have placed the files under the tents that we had, but now there is no place to take shelter in times like these.”
The issue is the visibility and positioning of the poor and homeless, in light of the wealth of the surrounding community. Merchants and residents feel these huddled masses bring with them an unsettling blight of problems that just simple social services such as medical help and food giveaways just do not solve. Alexander Polinsky, an actor who lives in the neighborhood, told the New York Times, “They are living in my bushes and they are living in my next door neighbor’s crawl spaces. We have a neighborhood which now seems like a mental ward.”
As complaints came rolling in, the city was prompted to enforce ordinances that superseded this compassionate care of the homeless. The Bureau of Street Services told the mobile clinic volunteers that their tables, chairs and occasional shelter tents block the sidewalks, limiting the public’s right of way. “We operate a highly organized clinic with 15 caseworkers, undergraduate UCLA students,” says Noorani. “The juxtaposition of our street-side clinic and the wealth found on Sunset Blvd have always been in the back of our minds; however, it has always served as motivation to speak with a louder voice for our clients who lack the advocacy they need.”
A case of urban NIMBY?
The UCLA Mobile Medical clinic works alongside the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition’s meal outreach. Every day for the past 23 years, the food coalition has been handing out free meals in public spaces in Los Angeles. As reported by theGrio last week, that organization is also being pressured to relocate their services. Free food and health services to the poor and needy are compassionate acts that anyone with a heart would look at and applaud.
But what if it happens on your block or in your neighborhood or in front of your place of business? That’s the dilemma these charitable organizations face as they move to close the gap in care and services that the city and federal governments fail to close. “Not in my back yard” has been an age-old cry of communities organized to oppose services that they feel degrade their property values or slow the neighborhood’s revival. Whether allowing affordable housing projects or regular street-side food and health services, neighborhoods have to wrestle with shame and guilt when moving to protect what they feel are legitimate fiduciary responsibilities.
It’s a moral dilemma that leads to the poor being further pushed to the bottom and out.
The search for solutions
The Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition and the UCLA Mobile Clinic Project have created teams to search for locations that would allow them to operate with more freedom and fewer regulatory restrictions. Volunteers from both groups have written some 50 letters to the LA City Council asking for cooperation and understanding in their efforts to support the less fortunate in the communities they serve.
For the past three years, Nicholas Warstadt has been a volunteer caseworker for both the GWHFC and the MCP and is presently serving as the chief financial officer of the MCP. In a letter to the LA City Council, he wrote, “Collectively I think everyone has the same goals, wants and needs; but we are separated by the paths we take to achieve these goals and the compromises we’re willing to make along the way. Many view homelessness as a reminder of failure, a threat of some sorts to their sense of security, and their own fears cause them to hate the very sight of it.”
But as you examine each layer of this story, one sees how complicated it truly is. TheGrio reached out to the Bureau of Street Services for a response. This is the statement in total:
“Los Angeles Municipal Code Sections 56.08 and 56.11 prohibit the placement of objects on sidewalks without a permit. The Bureau of Street Services enforces laws or rules related to the use or misuse of the public right-of-way.
The enforcement of prohibitions against illegal encroachments is not related to specific activities such as homeless medical services. The advisement given the Mobile clinic is the same as given anyone illegally encroaching on public property regardless of the reason.
The purpose of these laws is to ensure clear and passable sidewalks for pedestrians as well as compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The removal of encroachments is not intended to restrict the medical clinic activity. The goal is to maintain a safe environment for clinic operators and pedestrians.”
So it would appear as though the use of regulations and city departments are tantamount to a bureaucratic proxy to shield communities from appearing to be “the bad guys.”
It will take teamwork on both sides to come to an equitable agreement that services the poor and allows the surrounding communities the space and comfort to grow and prosper.
Resolution is still a long way off; meanwhile the Mobile Clinic Project and the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition continue their work in the face of strong resistance and growing frustration in communities torn between compassionate understanding and their vision of community development.
BY REID WILSON
Detroit will become the largest city in U.S. history to declare bankruptcy after a federal judge ruled Tuesday the city had met the legal criteria to win protection from its creditors.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes delivered the 140-page ruling after four months of legal wrangling between a state-appointed emergency manager and unions worried about the bankruptcy’s impact on pensions. Rhodes presided over a nine-day trial to determine whether the city met the requirements for bankruptcy protection.
“This once proud and prosperous city can’t pay its debts. It’s insolvent. It’s eligible for bankruptcy,” Rhodes said from the bench. “At the same time, it also has an opportunity for a fresh start.”
Detroit, once a city of 1.8 million and the home of the American auto industry, has suffered a long descent into financial crisis. The city was home to just 713,000 people, according to the 2010 Census, a mere shadow of its post-war apex. Huge pension costs and a recession that sent American automakers into their own financial tailspins exacerbated Detroit’s budget gaps.
On July 18, with Detroit facing an estimated $18 billion in debt and liabilities, it became the largest city in American history to file for bankruptcy protection. Almost 40 cents of every dollar the city collected was used to pay down debt, an amount the city said would skyrocket to 65 cents on the dollar without bankruptcy protection, according to theAssociated Press. Detroit said it owed money to more than 100,000 creditors.
Under Chapter 9, the city’s emergency manager, Kevin Orr, will explore ways to pay off some of its debt while restoring some social services, all under court supervision.
Orr will be able to consider pension cuts as part of his final proposal, Rhodes ruled. But Rhodes said he would only allow the cuts if the final reorganization is fair, the Detroit Free Press reported. Unions protested that bankruptcy would threaten the pensions of retirees and current employees.
At a news conference, Orr said selling the city’s art collection was still an option. He said pension cuts would be necessary to emerge from bankruptcy, but that he would work to mitigate the impact.
“We’re trying to be very thoughtful, measured and humane,” Orr said.
An attorney for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Sharon Levine, told the Associated Press after the ruling that the union would appeal the decision to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
“There’s going to be a lot of pain for a lot of different people. But in the long run, the future will be bright,” outgoing Mayor Dave Bing (D) said at a news conference after the ruling.
Michigan’s constitution doesn’t allow reducing pensions already owed to public workers, except in cases of bankruptcy.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) supported Detroit’s move. Snyder appointed Orr to oversee the city during the proceedings.
“Authorizing the emergency manager to seek federal bankruptcy protection was a difficult decision, but it was the last viable option to restore the city and provide Detroit’s 700,000 residents with the public services they need and deserve,” Snyder said in a statement. “We know that Detroit’s comeback is already in motion.”
BY JESSE JACKSON
Pope Francis is displaying an extraordinary style and passion that demands our attention. He addresses the needs of the poor, embraces outcasts, and loves those on the margins of society. In this recent apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, the pope
raises a moral challenge to both his church and the world. Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Pope Francis calls upon people of faith to go forth, to preach and practice their faith. I prefer a church, he writes, which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy for being confined and from clinging to its own security.
Pope Francis raises a profound moral voice against trickle-down theories, which put a crude and naive trust in the
goodness of those wielding economic power. We have created new idols, he warns, in the worship of money and markets.
The result is that human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have witnessed
a globalization of indifference, in which the poor are dehumanized and ignored, he writes.
Pope Francis exhortation, over 50,000 words long, deals broadly with the church, the papacy and matters of the faith. He is not a
revolutionary. He states that the priesthood will remain open only to men, that the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion will
continue. But he directs new focus and passion to the growing inequality between and within countries, the stark contrast between the
wealth of our technology and invention and the poverty of our ethics. In this he addresses directly the plight of todays America. We
suffer mass unemployment while the stock market hits new highs. Profits set records, but working people don’t share in the rewards. The top 5 percent pockets literally all of the rewards of growth, while the remainder struggle to stay afloat.
This extreme inequality, Pope Francis writes, is the direct product of ideologies that defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace
and financial speculation. … A new tyranny is born and with it widespread corruption and tax evasion among the most powerful. Money, the pope argues, must serve, not rule. This is not a secondary concern, but the heart of the mission of
today’s church. Pope Francis notes that just as the commandment says, thou shalt not kill,we must say, thou shalt not to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.
He warns of the corruption and the ethical poverty of ignoring the poor. In our politics, poverty has become literally unspeakable.
Politicians talk about defending the middle class, or middle out economics. The poor are scorned as lazy or incompetent.
Politicians vote to cut food stamp allotments, to cut unemployment insurance, even to cut back nutrition programs for impoverished mothers and infants, while they refuse to close the tax havens that allow multinational corporations and the wealthy to avoid paying taxes.
Too many politicians devote their energy to raising funds from the affluent and protecting their interests. They seek careers and
fortunes, not public service. Pope Francis sees this as moral corruption, and calls for more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people and the lives of the poor. At the same time, Pope Francis issues a stern warning to the complacent. Without justice, there can be no peace. Building up police and armaments offers no answer. Peace will come only when there is
hope, and a committed effort to provide opportunity and justice to those who are locked out or pressed down.
Economic populism is not foreign to the Catholic Church and has been articulated by previous popes. But Francis’ clear words and bold
style make his message compelling. This is an authentic, world-changing gospel of good news. This is a return to the original gospel that Jesus taught. It seeks not pity for the poor but their emancipation. Churches cannot be silent in the face of growing inequality and desperation. People of faith must go forth; and be willing to be bruised, hurting and dirty in the cause of justice. This is a charge all of us, whatever our faith, should take to heart.
Get Informed, Be Social with PUSH!
Huff Post Black Voices
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has announced a new initiative at the National Institutes of Health in pursuit of a cure for HIV.
Obama says his administration is redirecting $100 million into the project to find a new generation of therapies. He said the United States should be at the forefront of discoveries to eliminate HIV or put it into remission without requiring lifelong therapy.
Obama made the announcement Monday at a White House event marking World AIDS Day, which was Sunday.
The president also announced that the U.S. passed the ambitious goal he set last year to support 6 million people around the globe in getting access to anti-retroviral drugs. Obama said the U.S. helped 6.7 million people receive life-saving treatment.
Plan on skipping Black Friday for the much saner option of Cyber Monday? We (and millions more) are with you. So we’ve rounded up the best deals for online shopping on this new, wonderful holiday — start bookmarking these websites for the feeding frenzy next week.
AllSaints: Take 20 percent off site-wide with the code THANKS.
Alternative Apparel: Buy two, get one free of specific hoodies, dresses, tees and leggings.
Ann Taylor: Take 50 percent off cashmere collectible sweaters in stores and online.
Anthropologie: Receive free standard shipping on US and Canada orders.
Armani Exchange: Score 45 percent off on all styles (including sale items).
ASOS: Get 30 percent off everything with the promo code GIMME20 at checkout.
Athleta: Take 20 percent off all sale items and 20 percent off select winter styles with the code CYBER20.
Badgley Mischka: Take 20 percent off everything online!
Banana Republic: You can find a selection of men’s and women’s clothing reduced by anywhere from $5 to $60 on Cyber Monday in BananaRepublic.com’s special Cyber Monday section. You can also take 40 percent off your entire purchase with the code CYBER.
BaubleBar: By playing the jewelry site’s Cyber Monday game, you can win one of four deals: $25 off orders of $50 or more, 20 percent off site-wide, 30 percent off site-wide or a $100 gift card.
Bliss: Get 20 percent off Elemis and Remede skincare products.
Bobbi Brown: Get a duo of deluxe-sized samples, a specially-sized lip gloss and free shipping with every purchase, plus your choice of five samples.
The Body Shop: Get 50 percent off site-wide and free shipping with any purchase of $30 or more.
Bonobos: Take 30 percent off site-wide, and up to 60 percent off with the code CYBER360.
Bumble and Bumble: Get a set of travel, mini and sample-sized versions of hair products valued at $36 with the code CYBERMONDAY.
butter LONDON: The beloved nail polish brand will be gifting customers with 20 percent off site-wide (excluding product marked at “last-call”) and 50 percent off “last-call” items, all using the code CYBER13.
C.O. Bigelow: They’re offering 25 percent off everything site-wide with the code Turkey1838.
Cosabella: Get 25 percent off the entire site with the code CYBER25.
C. Wonder: Take 40 percent off everything, plus free ground shipping on anything over $75 with the code GIFTS40.
Dermablend Professional: Buy any 2 products and receive $15 off with code CYBER.
DKNY: Get 25 percent off the entire site.
DL1961 Premium Denim: Enjoy 25 percent off all nonleather items online and 70 percent off sale items.
Forever 21: On Cyber Monday, Forever 21 will be offering free shipping on all orders over $75. Plus, 50 percent off jewelry!
Gap: Get 40 percent off your entire purchase with the code CYBER.
Gilt: This online shopping mecca is starting at 9 pm EST on Sunday night with free shipping on everything, plus “Marquee Monday” sales on lots of items (including designer shoes) and a sweepstakes with high-end luxury prizes for 12 lucky winners.
H&M: Receive 40 percent off online purchases of $50 or more, plus free shipping!
Massimo Dutti: Get 20 percent off all merchandise online.
Moroccanoil: This cult beauty brand is gifting consumers with complimentary full-sized products with the purchase of e-Gift Cards. Plus, free shipping on all purchases $55 and up.
Nasty Gal: Get 30 percent off everything site-wide (excluding vintage and gift cards).
Nicole Miller: Take 20 percent off all orders online.
Old Navy: Get 30 percent off your entire purchase with the code CYBER.
Rue La La: There will be 24 “Today’s Fix” items on Cyber Monday, including a Missoni scarf ($79.90), Kenneth Jay Lane bangles ($49.90) and Portolano leather gloves ($59.90).
Sachin + Babi: Get 25 percent off your entire purchase with the code CyberM.
Stella & Bow: Get 25 percent discount site-wide from Black Friday through Cyber Monday.
True Religion: Score 40 percent off select denim online (and in stores!).
It’s totally understandable if you think the term “Black Friday” is a direct linguistic descendent of “in the black,” accounting jargon for turning a profit. After all, the day after Thanksgiving is now one of the biggest shopping days of the year, an annual delight to retailers hoping to give their bottom lines a nice little boost in the year’s final weeks.
But the truth is that Black Friday owes its name to the Philadelphia Police Department, which did not have profitability in mind. One thing to remember is that, long before the rest of us started calling it Black Friday, retailers hoped to start the holiday shopping season with a bang by offering “can’t miss” deals right after Thanksgiving. (Note: These days, “holiday shopping season” can begin way before Turkey Day.) People being people, they have long stormed stores, caused traffic jams and been generally terrible to one another in an effort not to miss these deals.
In the middle years of the twentieth century, the scene was often particularly bad in Philadelphia, where the annual Army-Navy football game was regularly played on the weekend after Thanksgiving.
Lots of cars, lots of traffic, lots of chaos. Sound familiar?
So at some point in the 1950s or 1960s — some put the date exactly at 1966— the Philadelphia Police Department started to refer to the day after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday,” with the unrealistic hope that people would find the whole shebang distasteful and opt out of the collective consumer madness. At a minimum, it was a derisive way to describe an unpleasant day in the life of a Philly cop.
“It was not a happy term.” retail scholar Michael Lisicky told CBS Philly in 2011. “The stores were just too crowded, the streets were crowded, the buses and the police were just on overcall and extra duty.”
The term took off in a big way, but not for the reasons the cops hoped. By the 1980s,the idea gained steam that “Black Friday” was named after retailers trying to hop into the black, according to The Telegraph.
Then, somewhere along the way, Corporate America joyfully co-opted the phrase for their own purposes. Behold, modern-day repurposing:
For at least a while, some remembered the cops’ reasoning. But by 1975, when a sales manager said it was “bus drivers and cab drivers” that call it Black Friday because of the traffic, it was clear the police were not getting credit where credit was due.
By DEEPTI HAJELA
NEW YORK (AP) — Long sharing the common goal of protecting the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, the bond between the family of the slain civil rights leader and one of his former top aides, Andrew Young, has become threatened.
At issue is a lawsuit initiated by King’s sons. The points of legal contention are who has the rights to King’s words and image, and how far do those rights extend. Young is facing the sons’ ire over footage of King that shows up in a series produced by Young’s foundation. Another of King’s contemporaries also has legal issues with his children — actor Harry Belafonte, in a separate case, is debating ownership of some King documents.
“The question is whose legacy is it? And I agree that it’s their legacy, and that the copyright images of their father need to be protected by them, but I also feel that I’m doing the same thing for nothing and I will not give up my right to the legacy for their right to the legacy,” Young said recently in an interview with The Associated Press.
At the heart of the conflict is the lawsuit filed by King’s sons, Martin Luther King III and Dexter King, who as chairman and president/CEO control their father’s estate including his image and his papers, against The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which is run by King’s daughter, Bernice, and where Young is a member of the board.
The estate’s suit asks that the center be stopped from using King’s image and likeness unless certain conditions are met. Among those conditions is that Young be removed from the center’s board of directors over allegations that he used footage of King in a documentary without permission.
The lawsuit was filed Aug. 28, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where King made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Young, a King confidante who helped coordinate civil rights efforts throughout the south, disagrees about his use of footage in which he and King appear. “They said I infringed on their copyright. Well, I don’t think so, because I think it was my right — it’s mine also.”
But despite facing legal action from people he has been close to for years, Young was philosophical.
“I understand the reason for it. I think it’s the way things go, and the way probably they ought to go,” the former Atlanta mayor, congressman and United Nations ambassador said. “We took many cases to court, simply to have the doctrines clarified and to have a court consider the merits.”
A lawyer for the King estate, Miles Alexander, declined to comment on any litigation. Bernice King could not be reached for comment.
But the legal actions from King’s civil rights heyday are a far cry from what’s unfolding through King’s children now, said Jelani Cobb, history professor and director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut.
“The legal action Dr. King was concerned about was about broadening access,” Cobb said. “The legal action that we see most prominently from the King children is about broadening their own financial possibilities and protecting their copyright.”
By embracing their father “as a brand,” Cobb said, “his legacy under their stewardship has diminished.”
Belafonte, another of King’s confidants and early civil rights supporter, filed suit against the estate in October, seeking a court ruling that he is the rightful owner of some documents related to King that he had planned to auction several years ago.
The items were pulled from auction after the King children challenged his ownership of the documents. They include an outline of a Vietnam War speech by King, notes to a speech King never got to deliver in Memphis, Tenn., and a condolence letter from President Lyndon B. Johnson to King’s wife after the civil rights leader’s 1968 assassination.
In his lawsuit, Belafonte said all of those items had been in his possession for years, given to him by King, his wife, or close connections of the couple.
Belafonte’s lawyer didn’t return repeated messages from the AP seeking comment or an interview with Belafonte, and a representative of Belafonte Enterprises said he would have no comment.
Young highlighted the yearslong connection between Belafonte and the Kings: “When Martin was killed, the only money that Coretta had was money from an insurance policy that Harry Belafonte had paid out,” he said.
Belafonte and Young are not alone in going up against the King estate in court. In 1987, Coretta Scott King sued Boston University and lost over papers her husband had given to the school where he earned his doctorate.
In 2011, the estate filed a federal lawsuit in Jackson, Miss., against the son of Maude Ballou, who was King’s secretary in the late 1950s, over documents including letters from King. They lost, and those documents were put up for auction by Ballou last month.
The three surviving King children — eldest sibling Yolanda died in 2007 — have also sued each other. In 2008, Bernice King and Martin Luther King III sued Dexter King, accusing him of acting improperly as head of their father’s estate. The three reached a settlement in October 2009.
The legal actions have brought the King children criticism from some corners. But Young isn’t among those voices.
“Whenever I hear people criticize them, I say, remember, none of them were even teenagers when their father was killed and they’ve done pretty good,” Young said. “It’s almost impossible for anyone to live up to that name.”
by Donovan X. Ramsey
The family of Miriam Carey, the 34-year-old woman who was shot to death outside the Capitol a few weeks ago, has asked for a federal investigation into her death.
“A lawyer representing Carey’s family has sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney General claiming police violated Carey’s civil rights and used excessive force,” reports a local Stamford, Conn. outlet, where the slain mother was from.
When D.C. police killed Carey in October, the country was once again thrown into a conversation around the use of deadly force—especially as Carey’s 14-month-old daughter was in the back seat of the vehicle as police fired on it.
That tragedy is the most recent in a series of high-profile cases in which unarmed black suspects have been killed by authorities under controversial circumstances.
Revisiting tragic incidents
In September, after surviving a car accident, former Florida A&M University football player Jonathan Ferrell was shot 10 times and killed by police in North Carolina while seeking help.
News reports tell of many more stories that ended in similar tragedies, such as those of Ramarley Graham, a teen who was killed in his home after fleeing New York City police officers in 2012, andKenneth Chamberlain, Sr., an elderly Whiten Plains, New York resident who was killed by officers dispatched to his home after his medical alert device went off.
Reynaldo Cuevas is another innocent victim whose life was cut short by a police bullet.
All were shot and killed by police officers through what their surviving loved ones believe was excessive force.
Even with the prevalence of such high-profile cases, there is still surprisingly very little official data available regarding the number of people killed by police every year, or how often the use excessive force was suspected.
Little tracking of excessive force accusations
Despite a provision in the 1994 Crime Control Act requiring the collection of this information and the annual publishing of related findings, the U.S. Department of Justice has only released a few sporadic tracking reports.
The data deficit is due to a lack of cooperation from many of the nation’s 18,000 local police departments and the lack of legislation in states needed to mandate it, experts say. As a result, there are no comprehensive figures on how often deaths like those of Carey, Graham, and Ferrell occur.
“Getting data to track these incidents is critical,” says Loyda Colon, co-director of the Justice Committee, a police watchdog organization based in New York City. “For example, we’ve been talking about the issue of Stop and Frisk for years now. The city only started responding, and the public at large was forced to address it, after data came out that illustrated the scale of the problem. Those numbers hit a nerve. They make it real for people.”
The police officer’s dilemma
Why do officers seem to so frequently engage in such behavior when a potential suspect is black? In response to a similar question, in 2002 psychologists at the University of Colorado at Boulder published The Police Officer’s Dilemma, a look at how racial bias impacts decisions to shoot.
Inspired by the police killing of Amadou Diallo in 1999, researchers created a video game in which participants were presented with images of black and white men holding either guns or non-threatening objects. They were asked to make a decision to shoot or not shoot each of the figures based on whether the target was armed.
Psychologists found that participants hesitated longer to shoot, and were more likely not to shoot, when an armed target was white. They shot armed targets more quickly and more often when they were black. Unarmed black targets triggered more “false alarms,” and were shot. These effects were consistent across all demographics and were present even though participants reported not holding discriminatory views.
Damon K. Jones, a New York representative for Blacks In Law Enforcement of America (BLEA), is not surprised.
“Even black law enforcement officers have been victims when off duty, or in plain clothes,” says Jones. “In fact, here in New York, former Governor Paterson’s Police on Police Shooting Task Force found that race plays a factor in the decision to shoot a subject.”
Hope on the horizon
There are entities that have recognized the need for scientifically gathered data on this critical situation.
In July 2013, the Center for Policing Equity at the University of California, Los Angeles received a one million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to collect data on racial profiling in policing, including the use of excessive force.
“You never want to say that the seeds of revolution in an institution lie at the clerical level. It’s a very uncool thing to say, but in this case it’s really true,” says Phillip Atiba Goff, a professor of social psychology at UCLA, and the director of the Center for Policing Equity.
Goff says the new database will provide a way to analyze racial profiling and use of excessive force data in a way that will help individual police departments track their statistics and hold themselves accountable.
“Because there are no national standards, it’s difficult to get at what’s going on across all these different departments,” Goff says. “One that we’ve worked with literally has a packet that’s about three to five inches thick for every incident involving use of force. Another department literally has a two-sided form that sometimes isn’t even all the way filled out. In major cities, you see these types of discrepancies.”
The database is still in its beginning stages. Over the next year, researchers, civil liberty experts and law enforcement officials will develop the project by meeting to discuss what data should be captured and the best practices for collecting it. Initially, it will include data from up to 70 police departments across the country.
Will there ever be a federal database?
While this project will offer an impartial starting point, it will be a far cry from an exhausitive database administered federally.
Goff is still optimistic about what the project will offer.
“We’re also going to know a lot more about the factors that aggravate racial disparities in policing and, on the social justice side,” he says, “we’re going to have objective numbers that serve as commonground between law enforcement and the community. If we can say ‘Here’s where we are,’ then we can come together to decide where we want to go.”
For BLEA representative Jones, the primary issue is creating legislation that forces local police departments to report excessive force statistics to a federal body.
“It has always been our argument that policing is the only institution without proper oversight of policy and procedure,” Jones says. “The DOJ [Department of Justice] should be the body to do it but, unfortunately, they have been AWOL on truly investigating the many questionable shootings around the country by law enforcement.”
Ultimately, Colon of the Justice Committee hopes a global system that tracks the use of deadly force by law enforcement will prevent incidents in which police shoot first and ask questions later. “What it really comes down to is transparency and accountability,” she says. “The individual families of those killed deserve answers and so does the community.”
TheGrio.com has asked the Department of Justice for comment on this issue and the allegations made against it, without response.