What I’ve Learned from Two Years Collecting Data on Police Killings

What I’ve Learned from Two Years Collecting Data on Police Killings (Gawker)

“I started to search in earnest. Nowhere could I find out how many people died during interactions with police in the United States. Try as I might, I just couldn’t wrap my head around that idea. How was it that, in the 21st century, this data wasn’t being tracked, compiled, and made available to the public? How could journalists know if police were killing too many people in their town if they didn’t have a way to compare to other cities? Hell, how could citizens or police? How could cops possibly know ‘best practices’ for dealing with any fluid situation? They couldn’t.

The bottom line was that I found the absence of such a library of police killings offensive. And so I decided to build it. I’m still building it. But I could use some help. You can find my growing database of deadly police violence here, at Fatal Encounters, and I invite you to go here, research one of the listed shootings, fill out the row, and change its background color. It’ll take you about 25 minutes. There are thousands to choose from, and another 2,000 or so on my cloud drive that I haven’t even added yet. After I fact-check and fill in the cracks, your contribution will be added to largest database about police violence in the country. Feel free to check out what has been collected about your locale’s information here.

The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this project is something I’ll never be able to prove, but I’m convinced to my core: The lack of such a database is intentional. No government—not the federal government, and not the thousands of municipalities that give their police forces license to use deadly force—wants you to know how many people it kills and why.”

I spent some time looking through Fatal Encounters this morning, and I am incredibly impressed by the time and commitment journalist D. Brian Burghart has poured into this website. It deeply disturbs me that no official government database exists. However, this is a perfect example of someone seeing a problem and not just acknowledging it, but working towards a solution. In the wake of Ferguson and the on-going national conversation on race and police violence, the importance of this project cannot be understated.

Why Are Postal Workers Boycotting Staples?

Why Are Postal Workers Boycotting Staples? (The Nation)

“You might not consider your local post office to be a hotbed of political foment. But last Tuesday, the nation’s window clerks and other mail service staff assembled in Chicago to declare that, despite efforts in Washington to privatize and downsize the Postal Service, nothing would keep these workers from their appointed rounds.

Rallying with the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) under the banner of ‘The US Mail is Not For Sale,’ post office workers marched to protest recent moves by the office superstore Staples. The chain is at the center of a highly controversial ‘public-private partnership’ deal to turn its store counters into quasi-post offices. At the APWU convention, the union amped up its call for a nationwide boycott of Staples to oppose plans to pilot the so-called ‘Retail Expansion Plan’ at eighty-two stores in California, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and potentially expand nationwide.

Following weeks of postal workers’ campaigning, with support from the AFL-CIO and numerous public and private service-worker unions, Staples has apparently pulled back and announced that the expansion plan would be ended and incorporated into the existing ‘Approved Shipper’ program, which more generally allows private retailers to market certain postal products. In an e-mail to The Nation, Staples states the company has ended the pilot for now, but ‘will continue to explore and test products and services that meet our customers’ needs.’

Calling the move a ‘ruse’—merely a name-change to deflect bad publicity—union leaders vowed to keep up the resistance. They remain wary of the potential expansion of the Approved Shipper program, seeing it as part of the USPS administration’s agenda of selling out postal infrastructure and union jobs to the Big Box retail industry.”

This is not just about post offices. This is about public vs. private, about two different ideas of how our government should work. The outcome of this particular battle about our nation’s post offices will be a good indicator of things to come. Fascinating read.

Mental Health Cops Help Reweave Social Safety Net In San Antonio

Mental Health Cops Help Reweave Social Safety Net In San Antonio

“[20 years ago], the police were repeatedly arresting the same people; many not only had a serious mental illness but were also addicted to drugs or alcohol and were often homeless. And whether they went to the jail or the ER, it was expensive for everyone — the jails, the hospitals and the police department that had to pay for overtime while cops waited at the hospital.

San Antonio’s response was to require all officers to take a 40-hour course called Crisis Intervention Training – to learn how to handle mental health crises. But even with strong programs, there’s only so much that training alone can do; there’s still the problem of where to take patients [with serious mental illness].

San Antonio tackled that problem, too. People who commit a felony still go to jail, regardless of their mental status. And those who need extensive medical care are taken to the hospital. But San Antonio built another option: the Restoration Center, a separate facility with a full array of mental and physical health services. 

San Antonio and Bexar County have transformed their mental health system into a program considered a model for the rest of the nation. Today, the jails aren’t full, and the city and county have saved $50 million over the past five years.”

This is your hopeful story for the day, and between the Middle East & Ferguson, MO, not to mention the Ebola virus, we need all the good news we can get.

Before Snowden: The Whistleblowers Who Tried To Lift The Veil

Before Snowden: The Whistleblowers Who Tried To Lift The Veil

“The NSA is overseen by Congress, the courts and other government departments. It’s also supposed to be watched from the inside by its own workers.

But over the past dozen years, whistleblowers have had a rough track record.

Those who tried unsuccessfully to work within the system say Edward Snowden — the former National Security Agency contractor who shared top-secret documents with reporters — learned from their bitter experience.”

Very disheartening; this definitely puts the Snowden scandal into a new perspective.

The Cost of Getting a Green Card

The Cost of Getting a Green Card

“The expenses associated with getting a green card come in three general categories: official fees paid to the government, professional fees (lawyers, passport photos, etc.), and black market costs (fake documents, fake marriages, scams of all sorts). I talked to some immigration lawyers and some immigrants I know to get a sense of what these costs can look like.

First, the official costs. A green card application costs a total of $1,490. (If I were in charge, it would be $1,492, because government bureaucracy needs a little whimsical irony.) That is definitely not nothing, but Danielle Briand and Yazmin Rodriguez, immigration lawyers in Bridgeport, Connecticut, who were good enough to give me some orientation in this realm, told me that the immigration service is pretty good about giving people waivers for financial hardship. Of course, there are many many permutations and combinations of fees you might have to pay (here is a daunting pdf of all of them). With the cost of possible appeals, ancillary forms and fees that different circumstances might require, and medical examination and mailing costs, it would be easy to drop $2,000 just on government fees.”

The fees are bad enough, but having to fill out overwhelming stacks of unreadable government forms that are barely in English, which is probably not the applicant’s native language anyway, must be even more overwhelming and discouraging.

“Despite being accompanied by extensive instruction booklets, the forms still have some irreducibly ambiguous questions, perhaps reflecting several different generations of bureaucratic obfuscation. And the green card government hotline notwithstanding, I believe there is very little useful, free, and credible help available to people in trouble-shooting ambiguous questions. When the stakes are so high, and when even a single error can mess up a person’s application or stall it by months or even years, this seems worrisome.”

Not to mention the fact that immigration law changes constantly, and that the process is more subjective than scientific. Something to think about next time the subject of illegal immigration comes up.

Robina Asti Wins an Important Legal Battle for Transgender Couples

Robina Asti Wins an Important Legal Battle for Transgender Couples

The Naval lieutenant (who still pilots aircraft) says she never set out to be a pioneer. But that’s how she’s been hailed by the legal team that helped Asti launch the challenge to win her husband Norwood Patton’s survivor benefits that she believed were rightfully hers following his death in 2012. 

“She was a war veteran, and she’s been living her life and has been recognized as a woman for over 38 years. For the federal government to say, ‘You are not legally female’ was just so insulting at a time when she was already grieving the loss of her husband,” says Dru Levasseur, national director of the Transgender Rights Project for Lambda Legal, which took up Asti’s case in June 2013. 

Adding to Asti’s argument: Her legal documents – from her Social Security card, to her passport, to her federal taxes, to her pilot’s license – had long reflected her legal status as female. 

Your amazing human being of the day. ❤

The Day We Set the Colorado River Free

The Day We Set the Colorado River Free

“It’s been more than 50 years since the Colorado River regularly reached the sea. But this spring, the U.S. and Mexico let the water storm through its natural delta for a grand experiment in ecological restoration. As the dam gates opened, a small band of river rats caught a once-in-a-lifetime ride.”

The story of the Colorado River is about as American as it gets; history, adventure, and politics all play a role. This is a tale of rebirth, but the ending isn’t exactly happily ever after. It’s happily for a little while, at least.