Sunday, October 25, 2015

Just Do What The Officer Says

The NY Times takes a look at traffic stops in North Carolina and finds -- surprise! -- police pull over black drivers far more often even when the rates of finding something illegal are higher with white drivers.

Documenting racial profiling in police work is devilishly difficult, because a multitude of factors — including elevated violent crime rates in many black neighborhoods — makes it hard to tease out evidence of bias from other influences. But an analysis by The New York Times of tens of thousands of traffic stops and years of arrest data in this racially mixed city of 280,000 uncovered wide racial differences in measure after measure of police conduct.

Those same disparities were found across North Carolina, the state that collects the most detailed data on traffic stops. And at least some of them showed up in the six other states that collect comprehensive traffic-stop statistics.

Here in North Carolina’s third-largest city, officers pulled over African-American drivers for traffic violations at a rate far out of proportion with their share of the local driving population. They used their discretion to search black drivers or their cars more than twice as often as white motorists — even though they found drugs and weapons significantly more often when the driver was white.

Officers were more likely to stop black drivers for no discernible reason. And they were more likely to use force if the driver was black, even when they did not encounter physical resistance.
We know this happens, but finding evidence of this time and time again, in city after city, county after county, state after state, just makes it clear that this is systemic, national racism that will require a national fix to resolve.

In Greensboro, which is 41 percent black, traffic stops help feed the stream of minor charges that draw a mostly African-American crowd of defendants to the county courthouse on weekday mornings. National surveys show that blacks and whites use marijuana at virtually the same rate, but black residents here are charged with the sole offense of possession of minor amounts of marijuana five times as often as white residents are.

And more than four times as many blacks as whites are arrested on the sole charge of resisting, obstructing or delaying an officer, an offense so borderline that some North Carolina police chiefs discourage its use unless more serious crimes are also involved.

This has been a problem for years now, but now that it has national attention, it's starting to get noticed.  That's a start, and some cities and states are making changes, but again this is nationwide, any real solutions must also be national.

Failing The Test

In what has to be considered a staggering about-face, the Obama administration now admits the testing uber alles regime of Common Core has gone too far, and that schools need to take a step back and start to limit tests.

Faced with mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in the nation’s public schools, the Obama administration declared Saturday that the push had gone too far, acknowledged its own role in the proliferation of tests, and urged schools to step back and make exams less onerous and more purposeful.

Specifically, the administration called for a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests. It called on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.

“I still have no question that we need to check at least once a year to make sure our kids are on track or identify areas where they need support,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, who has announced that he will leave office in December. “But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.”

“It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he continued. “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”

Teachers’ unions, which had led the opposition on the left to the amount of testing, declared the reversal of sorts a victory. “Parents, students, educators, your voice matters and was heard,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

And even some proponents of newer, tougher tests said they appreciated the administration’s acknowledgment that it had helped create the problem, saying it did particular damage by encouraging states to evaluate teachers in part on test scores.

But the administration’s so-called “testing action plan” — which guides school districts but does not have the force of law — also risks creating new uncertainty on the role of tests in America’s schools. Many teachers have felt whiplash as they rushed to rewrite curriculum based on new standards and new assessments, only to have politicians in many states pull back because of political pressure.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has for years promised that Common Core standards and rigorous testing were the keys to making American public schools more accountable and students more prepared to face the 21st century, and more importantly close the gap between successful exurban white schools and crumbling inner city black and Hispanic schools.

The admission that testing needs to be dialed back is all but indicating that the 20-year effort to fix our schools has all but failed completely.  Common Core has been the worst of both worlds: declaring that teachers and schools should be commercialized and profitized, and then purposefully abandoning the students who needed the most help in the poorest schools in the country.

We've decided over the last two decades that an education only goes to those who deserve it by dint of class, to lavishly fund those schools for the rich and leave the rest to fight over the scraps, to create winners and losers in school almost from birth.

Only now have we realized that we created a monster instead.

Sunday Long Read: Bad Romance

Very little good ever comes from a doctor-patient relationship that turns into something far more unethical.  But when the doctor is a renowned ethics professor at Rutgers and the patient is severely mentally disabled, the fallout can be catastrophic. The line between being the guiding light to help a man trapped by cerebral palsy and taking advantage to the point of sexual assault didn't just get crossed here, but shattered.

Anna didn’t want to keep her feelings secret. As far as she knew, neither did D.J. In recent weeks, their relationship had changed, and it wasn’t clear when or how to share the news. ‘‘It’s your call,’’ she said to him in the lead-up to a meeting with his mother and older brother. ‘‘It’s your family. It’s up to you.’’

When she arrived at the house on Memorial Day in 2011, Anna didn’t know what D.J. planned to do. His brother, Wesley, was working in the garden, so she went straight inside to speak with D.J. and his mother, P. They chatted for a while at the dining table about D.J.’s plans for school and for getting his own apartment. Then there was a lull in the conversation after Wesley came back in, and Anna took hold of D.J.’s hand. ‘‘We have something to tell you,’’ they announced at last. ‘‘We’re in love.’’

‘‘What do you mean, in love?’’ P. asked, the color draining from her face.

To Wesley, she looked pale and weak, like ‘‘Caesar when he found out that Brutus betrayed him.’’ He felt sick to his stomach. What made them so uncomfortable was not that Anna was 41 and D.J. was 30, or that Anna is white and D.J. is black, or even that Anna was married with two children while D.J. had never dated anyone. What made them so upset — what led to all the arguing that followed, and the criminal trial and million-­dollar civil suit — was the fact that Anna can speak and D.J. can’t; that she was a tenured professor of ethics at Rutgers University in Newark and D.J. has been declared by the state to have the mental capacity of a toddler.

Anna does not agree with this assessment. She does not deny (as no one could) that D.J. is impaired: His cerebral palsy leaves him prone to muscle spasms in his face, his neck, his torso and his arms and hands. She acknowledges that it’s hard for him to stay in one position, that muscle contractions sometimes twist his spine and clench his fingers in a useless ball. It’s clear to her, as it is to everyone, that he has trouble making eye contact and keeping objects fixed in view. She knows that he wears diapers and cannot dress himself; that he can walk only if someone steadies him; and that otherwise he gets around by scooting on the floor. She knows that D.J. screams when he’s unhappy and chirps when he’s excited, but that he can’t control his vocal cords. Anna understands that even now, at 35, D.J. has never said a word.

But she takes issue with the other half of D.J.’s diagnosis: that he’s not just spastic but has a very low I.Q. In 2004, five years before Anna met him, a clinical psychologist named Wayne Tillman, who consults for New Jersey’s Bureau of Guardianship Services, assessed D.J. and found that his impairments precluded any formal testing of intelligence, but that certain facts could be inferred: ‘‘His comprehension seemed to be quite limited,’’ ‘‘his attention span was very short’’ and he ‘‘lacks the cognitive capacity to understand and participate in decisions.’’ D.J. could not even carry out basic, preschool-­level tasks. A few months later, a court made P. and Wesley his legal guardians.

From the time she met D.J., Anna thought Tillman had it wrong. D.J. might be unable to speak or hold a pencil, but those are motor skills, not mental ones, and their absence didn’t mean his mind was blank. What if D.J. had a private chamber in his head, a place where grown-up thoughts were trapped behind his palsy? Then, of course, he would fail the standard tests of his I.Q. — tests made for people who can answer questions verbally or read and write. What D.J. needed was another way to share his deep intelligence.

At the request of D.J.’s family, Anna began to work with him, using a controversial method known as ‘‘facilitated communication.’’ Starting with her hand beneath his elbow, she helped him point at pictures, and then at letters, and eventually at the buttons of a Neo, a hand-held keyboard with a built-in screen. With his hand in hers, she helped him type out words after 30 years of silence.

Wesley and his mother had been thrilled with D.J.’s progress, but now, suddenly, they recoiled. (Neither D.J.’s family nor Anna agreed to be interviewed for this article; all their quotes and recollections are drawn from court records and testimony. P. and Wesley are referred to by a middle initial and a middle name to shield D.J.’s identity, which has not been publicly revealed.) When Wesley told Anna he thought she had taken advantage of his brother, she could not muster a response. At last, with her help, D.J. began typing: ‘‘No one’s been taken advantage of. I’ve been trying to seduce Anna for years, and she resisted valiantly.’’ Then he typed another message, meant for Anna: ‘‘Kiss me.’’ Wesley walked out.

Later, after he told Anna that she wasn’t to see his brother anymore, she tried to plead her case by phone: ‘‘I will put in writing, prick my finger and sign with blood — whatever makes you reassured that this is for real,’’ she promised in a voice mail message. ‘‘I will leave my husband, and I will make a permanent life and home with [D.J.].’’

This one is pretty long, and worth the read.  It's the most human of dramas to boot.  How far does someone go in order to try to heal someone that society has given up on, and when does that turn into shocking levels of abuse and manipulation?

When does love cause farm more harm than good?
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