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.

Justin Lynch: US Swimming’s Next Michael Phelps?

Justin Lynch: US Swimming’s Next Michael Phelps? (Ozy)

“What do you do once you’ve beaten Michael Phelps’ record? At 16 years old? For swimmer Justin Lynch, 18 last month, he just keeps practicing, chasing the dragon of his record-breaking memory, with an eye on the 2016 Rio Olympics.

That memory-making moment came at the USA Swimming finals last year. He’d broken a Phelps age-group record in the 100-meter butterfly at 14, but now competition was stiffer among the older swimmers. While many of his competitors in the 15–16 age group had already ballooned up with muscles and ripped six-packs, Lynch looked pretty ordinary, his appearance giving no hint at the beast in the water.

His record-breaking swim made headlines in 2013, but not just for his time. With an African-American father and a Filipina mother, Lynch will be the only minority swimmer on the [University of California, Berkeley] team. Swimming is overwhelmingly white, perhaps a result of the history of discrimination in access to municipal swimming pools. The modern-day result can be tragic: Nearly 70 percent of African-American children between the ages of 5 and 14 have little to no swimming ability, and they drown at rates three times that of white children.”

Looking forward to hearing more from this talented young man.

The racial parenting divide: What Adrian Peterson reveals about black vs. white child-rearing

The racial parenting divide: What Adrian Peterson reveals about black vs. white child-rearing (Salon)

“In college, I once found myself on the D.C. metro with one of my favorite professors. As we were riding, a young white child began to climb on the seats and hang from the bars of the train. His mother never moved to restrain him. But I began to see the very familiar, strained looks of disdain and dismay on the countenances of the mostly black passengers. They exchanged eye contact with one another, dispositions tight with annoyance at the audacity of this white child, but mostly at the refusal of his mother to act as a disciplinarian. I, too, was appalled. I thought, if that were my child, I would snatch him down and tell him to sit his little behind in a seat immediately. My professor took the opportunity to teach: ‘Do you see how this child feels the prerogative to roam freely in this train, unhindered by rules or regulations or propriety?’

‘Yes,’ I nodded. ‘What kinds of messages do you think are being communicated to him right now about how he should move through the world?’

And I began to understand, quite starkly, in that moment, the freedom that white children have to see the world as a place that they can explore, a place in which they can sit, or stand, or climb at will. The world, they are learning, is theirs for the taking.

Then I thought about what it means to parent a black child, any black child, in similar circumstances. I think of the swiftness with which a black mother would have ushered her child into a seat, with firm looks and not a little a scolding, the implied if unspoken threat of either a grounding or a whupping, if her request were not immediately met with compliance. So much is wrapped up in that moment: a desire to demonstrate that one’s black child is well-behaved, non-threatening, well-trained. Disciplined. I think of the centuries of imminent fear that have shaped and contoured African-American working-class cultures of discipline, the sternness of our mothers’ and grandmothers’ looks, the firmness of the belts and switches applied to our hind parts, the rhythmic, loving, painful scoldings accompanying spankings as if the messages could be imprinted on our bodies with a sure and swift and repetitive show of force.”

This essay reveals uncomfortable truths about our culture that we don’t like to acknowledge, making her words all the more powerful and thought-provoking.

Kanye West Knows You Think He Sounded Nuts on Kimmel [Oct 2013]

Kanye West Knows You Think He Sounded Nuts on Kimmel [Oct 2013]

“I’m 9 or 10 and my mother and I are on a cross-country road trip when we decide to stop for breakfast at a small diner in Mississippi. I’m too young to be aware of the charged atmosphere of racial tension, but something feels odd. It feels odd when the people in the diner—most of whom are white—turn to look at my white mother and me, her brown son, as we enter and make our way to a table. It feels odd when my mom asks if there are raisins to put in her oatmeal and the waitress irritatedly spits, “No!” It feels so odd, in fact, that my mother asks our server if something is wrong: “No!” she barks again. It feels odd when the woman throws down the bill when we’re done eating. No one calls us names. No one threatens us. The surly waitress has even specifically told us nothing is wrong. But when we return to the car my visibly shaken mom pulls a canister of pepper spray out of the glove compartment and tests it on the ground to make certain it’s functioning properly.

I think one of the most damaging effects America’s omnipresent racism has on a person’s psyche isn’t the brief pang of hurt that comes from being called a slur, or seeing a picture of Barack Obama portrayed by a chimpanzee. Those things are common and old-fashioned, and when they happen I tend to feel sadder than angry, because I’m seeing someone who engages with the world like a wall instead of a human being. Rather, I think what’s far more corrosive and insidious, the thing that lingers in the back of my mind the most, is the framework of plausible deniability built up around racism, and how insane that plausible deniability can make a person feel when wielded. How unsure of oneself. How worried that you might be overreacting, oversensitive, irrational.

There’s a form of mental torture called “gaslighting,” its name taken from a play in which a man convinces his wife that the gas lights in their home she sees brightening and dimming are, in fact, maintaining a steady glow. His ultimate goal is to drive her into a mental institution and take all her money, and soon the woman ends up in an argument with herself about whether she’s losing her mind. American race relations have a similar narrative: An entire set of minorities confident that the everyday slights they’re seeing are real and hurtful, and an entire set of other people assuring them that they’re wrong.

In response to the shooting of Michael Brown, and the rioting that has followed in Ferguson, Missouri, I wanted to share one of the best essays about racism in America I’ve ever read. I read a wonderful article in the New York Times today about how white people are uncomfortable and confused; they don’t see that the world they live in is different than other people’s, even when they’re living in the same county. They don’t see their privilege. And I think this essay really speaks to that so well; it really breaks down the wall between perception and reality.

Let’s keep having this conversation, even after the headlines change.

Possibly the most widely held sentiment among whites is the hope that it all simply goes away. “I feel for everyone involved,” said Shannon Shaw, a jeweler in Mehlville. But, she added, “I think the protesters just need to go home.”

Even when they do finally go home, this all isn’t just going to go away for the protesters. They don’t have the privilege of going home to safe neighborhoods, where this is all only happening on the screens of their smart phones.

America Is Not For Black People

America Is Not For Black People

“The worst part of outfitting our police officers as soldiers has been psychological. Give a man access to drones, tanks, and body armor, and he’ll reasonably think that his job isn’t simply to maintain peace, but to eradicate danger. Instead of protecting and serving, police are searching and destroying.

If officers are soldiers, it follows that the neighborhoods they patrol are battlefields. And if they’re working battlefields, it follows that the population is the enemy. And because of correlations, rooted in historical injustice, between crime and income and income and race, the enemy population will consist largely of people of color, and especially of black men. Throughout the country, police officers are capturing, imprisoning, and killing black males at a ridiculous clip, waging a very literal war on people like Michael Brown.

********

By all accounts, Brown was One Of The Good Ones. But laying all this out, explaining all the ways in which he didn’t deserve to die like a dog in the street, is in itself disgraceful. Arguing whether Brown was a good kid or not is functionally arguing over whether he specifically deserved to die, a way of acknowledging that some black men ought to be executed.

To even acknowledge this line of debate is to start a larger argument about the worth, the very personhood, of a black man in America. It’s to engage in a cost-benefit analysis, weigh probabilities, and gauge the precise odds that Brown’s life was worth nothing against the threat he posed to the life of the man who killed him.”

Absolutely devastating read. Every word is like a punch in the gut. Don’t just read the paragraphs I’ve highlighted here, please: read the whole article.

‘Orange’ Showrunner Jenji Kohan on Hollywood’s Pay Inequality, ‘F— You’ Money and Her ‘Friends’ Regrets

‘Orange’ Showrunner Jenji Kohan on Hollywood’s Pay Inequality, ‘F— You’ Money and Her ‘Friends’ Regrets

“It began at the family dinner table, where Kohan, the youngest of three, fought for attention among comedy giants — her father, Buz, a king of variety shows; her brother David, a creator of Will & Grace. As she entered her teens, she was the quirky misfit in a privileged Beverly Hills community. And later, when she joined the family business and wrote more than a dozen pilot scripts that never aired, she fought for recognition in a network system where she lacked both the commercial sense and the capacity — or desire — to be politic.

But as she sits on this day in her spacious office in the heart of Hollywood, news of Orange is the New Black’s 12 Emmy nominations — the biggest haul of any comedy contender — still fresh, it’s not hard to see that she finally has attained the respect and acclamation she has spent her lifetime chasing. And in the evolving landscape of premium television, where a Netflix dramedy can live as far out on the edge as her imagination does, Kohan has become the establishment.”

Anytime I can share a profile of a strong, fabulous, trailblazing, not to mention rainbow-haired woman, I will. Also, I find insider Hollywood stories irresistible.

Viola Davis Gets Groundbreaking Role As ABC Bets On Diversity

Viola Davis Gets Groundbreaking Role As ABC Bets On Diversity

“A lot of the questions I get about race are really annoying,” [Shonda] Rhimes said. “I get a lot of ‘Why is it so hard to cast people of color?’ questions. My answer is always ‘Why are you asking me that question? Why don’t you ask someone who is not casting people of color? … I would rather you just look at the work. Because the world of television should look like the world outside.”

The fact is, Hollywood has found it extremely difficult to cast people of color as stars in TV shows. Forget about Seinfeld or HBO’s Girls presenting a New York that seems mostly devoid of nonwhite people; even ABC’s fall comedy Manhattan Love Story has few nonwhite supporting characters, despite its setting in one of the most diverse cities in the nation.

Looming in the background is a question you would think TV had settled years ago: Will mostly white network television audiences watch shows with mostly nonwhite casts and subject matter?

I am tired of this question. If it’s a well-written show, especially if it’s starring Viola Davis, I will, as a white person, watch it. In fact, I will go out of my way to watch this show. So there, Network Television Execs. Take that.