REPORTERS NOTEBOOK: HOLDING POLICE ACCOUNTABLE CAN BE DIFFICULT

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Attorney General Eric Holder’s visit to Missouri after the shooting death of Michael Brown strongly signaled that he will seek changes at the Ferguson Police Department. At the time, protesters complained that some police officers had hidden their name tags and were wearing bracelets supporting fellow officer Darren Wilson. In response, the Justice Department sent two letters to the Ferguson police chief, telling him to make sure officers stash the bracelets and display their IDs. But bigger changes loom. Civil rights investigators are looking at training, arrest records and use of force complaints to determine if the overwhelmingly white Ferguson police force has demonstrated a pattern of racial bias in the majority black town.

In the past five years, Justice has investigated more than 20 police departments, and ordered corrective actions in at least 15 of them. In Portland, Oregon, Seattle and Albuquerque, police were cited for excessive force. In Albuquerque alone there have been 40 police-involved shootings since 2010. Now, all three departments have signed agreements to reduce the use of force and tighten oversight. In East Haven, Connecticut, the issue was racial profiling of Latinos. Now, officers there are subject to enhanced training. Policing can be improved, as demonstrated by Los Angeles. In 2013, the LAPD completed 12 years of DOJ-mandated changes. The force, once viewed as overly aggressive, now seeks to defuse confrontations with community outreach. And what was a largely-white department is now 44 percent Hispanic and 13 percent African-American. “I’m very proud of the way that we reflect the diversity of Los Angeles, and I think that is a significant accomplishment that has occurred over time,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said. The changes usually do take a very long time. The DOJ is not expected to wrap up its Ferguson investigation for several months.

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While our attention is focused on the aftermath of a grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, the United States has witnessed police-involved violence resulting in the shooting deaths of at least 12 people across the country in just the last week. The Cleveland police shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir E. Rice on Nov. 23 sparked outrage and national attention after it appeared that the child was shot after brandishing a BB gun. While in New York City, the accidental shooting death of Akai Gurley, 28, by an NYPD officer patrolling a stairwell in a Brooklyn public housing unit has also provoked public indignation. Other police-involved shooting deaths from Monday, Nov. 17 to Sunday, Nov. 23 occurred in California, Arizona, Florida, New Jersey and Utah. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, more people have died in Utah due to police shootings in the last five years than violent deaths at the hands of gang members and drug dealers.

The FBI does not release annual data on how many Americans are killed by law enforcement officers — information that activists who mobilized after the Ferguson shooting in August have demanded of the Obama administration. Although Al Jazeera identified 12 incidents of deadly police force over the span of seven days, the number of actual incidents may be higher. Killed By Police, a Facebook page that posts links to news reports of homicides by law enforcement, found 23 incidents during the same timeframe. But even that number seems low, says D. Brian Burghart, editor of Reno News & Review, who founded Fatal Encounters, a project compiling comprehensive and searchable national data of people killed by law enforcement officials. The Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), official national crime data complied annually by the FBI, indicates that there were 461 total deaths at the hands of law enforcement in 2013, the most recently published year. But Burghart told Al Jazeera that after scanning local government agencies and media reports the number of police-related fatalities was “closer to about 1,400 a year,” with at least 9,000 from 2000 to 2014.

Over 18,000 law enforcement agencies — including city, county, state and federal law enforcement departments — voluntarily participate in sharing crime data with the FBI. However, only 750 of those agencies contribute to UCR’s data on law enforcement-related incidents, leaving a gap in the fatalities reported by UCR versus the actual number of incidents.  Samuel Walker, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska and author of In Defense of American Liberties, told Al Jazeera that the problem of reporting police-cause fatalities remains “the failure of the FBI and the Justice Department to insist that all agencies report this data.” “Officers assaulted and killed by citizens — well they’re very eager to collect and report that data, but they don’t report the other side of the equation,” said Walker.

REPORTERS NOTEBOOK: NOT BEING RACIST DOES NOT MEAN RACISM DOES NOT EXIST

 

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In a classic study on race, psychologists staged an experiment with two photographs that produced a surprising result. They showed people a photograph of two white men fighting, one unarmed and another holding a knife. Then they showed another photograph, this one of a white man with a knife fighting an unarmed African-American man. When they asked people to identify the man who was armed in the first picture, most people picked the right one. Yet when they were asked the same question about the second photo, most people — black and white — incorrectly said the black man had the knife. Even before the Ferguson grand jury’s decision was announced, leaders were calling once again for a “national conversation on race.” But here’s why such conversations rarely go anywhere: Whites and racial minorities speak a different language when they talk about racism, scholars and psychologists say.

The knife fight experiment hints at the language gap. Some whites confine racism to intentional displays of racial hostility. It’s the Ku Klux Klan, racial slurs in public, something “bad” that people do. But for many racial minorities, that type of racism doesn’t matter as much anymore, some scholars say. They talk more about the racism uncovered in the knife fight photos — it doesn’t wear a hood, but it causes unsuspecting people to see the world through a racially biased lens. It’s what one Duke University sociologist calls “racism without racists.” Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, who’s written a book by that title, says it’s a new way of maintaining white domination in places like Ferguson. “The main problem nowadays is not the folks with the hoods, but the folks dressed in suits,” says Bonilla-Silva. “The more we assume that the problem of racism is limited to the Klan, the birthers, the tea party or to the Republican Party, the less we understand that racial domination is a collective process and we are all in this game.”

As people talk about what the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson means, Bonilla-Silva and others say it’s time for Americans to update their language on racism to reflect what it has become and not what it used to be. The conversation can start, they say, by reflecting on three phrases that often crop up when whites and racial minorities talk about race. It’s a phrase some white people invoke when a conversation turns to race. Some apply it to Ferguson. They’re not particularly troubled by the grand jury’s decision to not issue an indictment. The racial identities of Darren Wilson, the white police officer, and Michael Brown, the black man he killed, shouldn’t matter, they say. Let the legal system handle the decision without race-baiting. Justice should be colorblind. Science has bad news, though, for anyone who claims to not see race: They’re deluding themselves, say several bias experts. A body of scientific research over the past 50 years shows that people notice not only race but gender, wealth, even weight.

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When babies are as young as 3 months old, research shows they start preferring to be around people of their own race, says Howard J. Ross, author of “Everyday Bias,” which includes the story of the knife fight experiment. Other studies confirm the power of racial bias, Ross says. One study conducted by a Brigham Young University economics professor showed that white NBA referees call more fouls on black players, and black referees call more fouls on white players.Another study that was published in the American Journal of Sociology showed that newly released white felons experience better job hunting success than young black men with no criminal record, Ross says. “Human beings are consistently, routinely and profoundly biased,” Ross says.

The knife fight experiment reveals that even racial minorities are not immune to racial bias, Ross says. “The overwhelming number of people will actually experience the black man as having the knife because we’re more open to the notion of the black man having a knife than a white man, ” Ross says. “This is one of the most insidious things about bias. People may absorb these things without knowing them.” Another famous experiment shows how racial bias can shape a person’s economic prospects. Professors at the University of Chicago and MIT sent 5,000 fictitious resumes in response to 1,300 help wanted ads. Each resume listed identical qualifications except for one variation — some applicants had Anglo-sounding names such as “Brendan,” while others had black-sounding names such as “Jamal.” Applicants with Anglo-sounding names were 50% more likely to get calls for interviews than their black-sounding counterparts.

Most of the people who didn’t call “Jamal” were probably unaware that their decision was motivated by racial bias, says Daniel L. Ames, a UCLA researcher who has studied and written about bias. “If you ask someone on the hiring committee, none of them are going to say they’re racially biased,” Ames says. “They’re not lying. They’re just wrong.” Ames says such biases are dangerous because they’re often unseen. “Racial biases can in some ways be more destructive than overt racism because they’re harder to spot, and therefore harder to combat,” he says. Still, some people are suspicious of focusing on the word bias. They prefer invoking the term racism because they say it leaves bruises. People claiming bias can admit they may have acted in racially insensitive ways but were unaware of their subconscious motivations. “The idea of calling it racial bias lessens the blow,” says Crystal Moten, a history professor at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. “Do you want to lessen the blow or do you want to eradicate racism? I want to eradicate racism,” she says. “Yes I want opportunity for dialogue, but the impact of racism is killing people of color. We don’t have time to tend to the emotional wounds of others, not when violence against people of color is the national status quo.”

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In the movie “The Godfather,” the character of Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, hatches an audacious plan to kill a mobster and a crooked cop who tried to kill his father. Michael’s elders scoff at his plans because they believe his judgment is clouded by anger. But in a line that would define his ruthless approach to wielding power, Michael tells them: “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.” When some whites talk about racism, they think it’s only personal — what one person says or does to another. But many minorities and people who study race say racism can be impersonal, calculating, devoid of malice — such as Michael Corleone’s approach to power. “The first thing we must stop doing is making racism a personal thing and understand that it is a system of advantage based on race,” says Doreen E. Loury, director of the Pan African Studies program at Arcadia University, near Philadelphia.

Loury says racism “permeates every facet of our societal pores.” “It’s about more than that cop who targets a teen while ‘WWB’ (walking while black) but the system that makes it OK to not only stop him but to put him in a system that will target and limit his life chances for life,” she says. Racial bias is so deeply engrained in people that it can manifest itself in surprising places, says Charles Gallagher, a sociologist at La Salle University in Philadelphia. He gave a hypothetical example: “A white police officer in Ferguson may be married to a black woman and have black and Latino friends, but that doesn’t mean the officer is above racial profiling,” Gallagher says. These old and new ways of talking about racism can be seen in how some whites and blacks perceive the events in Ferguson. Many have already looked at them as something beyond a personal interaction between a white police officer and a young black man. They point out that two-thirds of Ferguson’s population is black, yet the mayor, police chief and five of six city council members are white — as are 50 of the 53 people in its Police Department.

Ferguson is like countless multiracial communities, they say: calm on the surface but seething with racial disparities beneath. But those disparities are invisible to many whites, who often see themselves as victims of discrimination, writes Jamelle Bouie of Slate magazine in a recent essay, “The Gulf That Divides Us.” “Median income among black Americans is roughly half that of white Americans. But a narrow majority of whites believe blacks earn as much money as whites, and just 37% believe that there’s a disparity between the two groups. Likewise, while 56% of blacks believe black Americans face significant discrimination, only 16% of whites agree,” he writes. “Many whites — including many millennials — believe discrimination against whites is more prevalent than discrimination against blacks.” But as Nicholas Kristof recently pointed out in The New York Times, the U.S. has a greater wealth gap between whites and blacks than South Africa had during apartheid.

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Such racial inequities might seem invisible partly because segregated housing patterns mean that many middle- and upper-class whites live far from poor blacks. It’s also no longer culturally acceptable to be openly racist in the United States, says Bonilla-Silva, author of “Racism Without Racists.” Overt racism is so widely rejected in America that a white supremacist in Montana recently announced that he is creating a new inclusive Ku Klux Klan chapter that will not discriminate against people because of their color or sexual orientation. Instead, according to one report, the chapter’s new mission will be to prevent a “new world order” where one government controls everything. Another recent article revealed how white supremacists in America are facing such hostility at home that some have moved to Europe in an attempt to link up with far-right groups. “The new racism, like God, works in mysterious ways and is quite effective in maintaining white privilege,” Bonilla-Silva says. “For example, instead of saying as they used to say during the Jim Crow era that they do not want us as neighbors, they say things nowadays such as ‘I am concerned about crime, property values and schools.’ “

When protests erupted in Ferguson after the shooting this summer, various white and black residents tried to talk about race, but such discussions didn’t bear fruit because of another reason: People refuse to admit their biases, research has consistently shown. Ross, author of “Everyday Bias,” cited a Dartmouth College survey where misinformed voters were presented with factual information that contradicted their political biases. There were voters, for example, who were disappointed with President Obama’s economic record and believed he hadn’t added any jobs during his presidency. They were shown a graph of nonfarm employment over the prior year that included a rising line indicating about a million jobs had been added. “They were asked whether the number of people with jobs had gone up, down, or stayed about the same,” Ross wrote. “Many, looking straight at the graph, said down.”

Ross says it’s even more difficult to get smart people to admit bias. “The smarter we are, the more self-confident we are, and the more successful we are, the less likely we’re going to question our own thinking,” Ross says. Some of the nation’s smartest legal minds aren’t big believers in racial bias either, and that could complicate efforts in Ferguson to reduce racial tensions. Some say they could be eased by hiring more officers of color in Ferguson’s police force. But the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, has been suspicious of efforts to achieve diversity in workforces, believing that they amount to reverse racism or racial preferences, legal observers say. Some fear the court is about to get rid of one of the most effective legal tools for addressing racial bias.

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The court recently took up a fair housing case in Texas where the conservative majority could very well rule against the concept of “disparate impact,” a legal approach that doesn’t try to plumb the racist intentions of individuals or businesses but looks at the racial impact of their decisions. Disparate impact is built on the belief that most people aren’t stupid enough to openly announce they’re racists but instead cloak their racism in seemingly race-neutral language. It also recognizes that some ostensibly race-neutral policies could reflect unintentional bias. A disparate impact lawsuit, for instance, wouldn’t have to prove that a police department’s white leaders are racist — it would only have to show the impact of having all white officers in an almost all-black town. Roberts distilled his approach to race in one of the court’s most controversial cases in 2007. The court ruled 5-4 along ideological lines that a public school district in Seattle couldn’t consider race when assigning students to schools, even for the purposes of integration. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” Roberts said in what is arguably his most famous quote.

Roberts has equated affirmative action programs with Jim Crow laws, says Erwin Chemerinsky, author of “The Case Against the Supreme Court.” “Chief Justice Roberts has expressly said that the Constitution and the government should be colorblind,” Chemerinsky says. “He sees no difference between government action that discriminates against minorities and one that benefits minorities.” What that means for Ferguson is that any aggressive attempt to integrate the police force could be struck down in court, says Mark D. Naison, an African-American Studies professor at Fordham University in New York City. Unless a lawyer can find smoking-gun evidence of some police department official saying he won’t hire blacks, people won’t have much legal leverage to make the police department diverse, he says. “Once the doctrine of disparate impact is weakened, you have to prove discriminatory intent in order to declare a practice discriminatory,” Naison says. “Huge racial disparities in law enforcement can be tolerated if they are the result of policies which are race-neutral in how they are written in the law even through the implementation is anything but.”

The courts may ignore colorblind racism, but ordinary people ought to be aware of it when they talk about racism, others say. Ross, author of “Everyday Bias,” says being biased doesn’t make people bad, just human. He says people are hardwired to be biased because it helped keep our ancestors alive. They survived, in part, by having to make quick assumptions about strangers who might prove threatening. “We need to reduce the level of guilt but increase the level of responsibility we take for it,” he says. “I didn’t choose to internalize these messages, but it’s inside of me and I have to be careful.” Part of being careful is expanding our definition of racism, says Bonilla-Silva, author of “Racism Without Racists.” Racism has evolved, but our language for describing it hasn’t, he says. “Colorblind racism is the new racial music most people dance to,” he says. “The ‘new racism’ is subtle, institutionalized and seemingly nonracial.” How long before another Ferguson erupts is anyone’s guess. But if and when it does, the knife fight experiment suggests that before people look at videotapes, read police reports and listen to radio talk shows to form their opinions, they should do something else first: Look within themselves.

THE WORLD TONIGHT

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AIR TRAFFIC…GROUND TRAVEL HAMPERED BY EAST COAST STORM

2014-11-26

 

 

 

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Wednesday’s Close:
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AIR TRAFFIC…GROUND TRAVEL HAMPERED BY EAST COAST STORM

2014-11-26

NEW YORK, New York | DMN — A storm with rain and heavy snow is stretching across the East Coast and Appalachians, threatening to cause major air and roadway disruptions on the busiest travel day of the year. While the heaviest snow will fall well north and west of the I-95 cities from Philadelphia to Boston, enough snow and sleet can fall to make roads in the cities and suburbs slushy and slippery. As the storm progresses, blowing and drifting snow will become problematic in areas with the heaviest totals, particularly in northern and western New England.

2:54 p.m. EST Wednesday: Multi-vehicle accident reported on I-95 northbound between Exit 17 and Exit 19. There is a lane restriction, according to Pennsylvania 511.

2:25 p.m. EST Wednesday: More than 4,800 FirstEnergy customers in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, without power, the utility reports.

12:54 p.m. EST Wednesday: More than 180 arriving and departing flights have been cancelled thus far today for La Guardia International Airport compared to nearly 150 cancellations at Newark International Airport.

12:27 p.m. EST Wednesday: The heaviest snow from the storm is currently falling from northern Virginia to central Maryland, central and eastern Pennsylvania, northwest New Jersey, southeast New York and southwest New England, according to AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. Visibility has been reduced to one quarter of a mile in some places.

12:00 p.m. EST Wednesday: Watch #AccuLIVE now for the latest from AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Bernie Rayno on the snowstorm in the East.

11:13 a.m. EST Wednesday: “It has changed to or is in the process of changing to heavy wet snow along I-95 from DC to NYC. Roads are just wet, but slushy areas will develop as temperatures slip during the afternoon into the evening,” AccuWeather.com Expert Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

11:10 a.m. EST Wednesday: Heavy snow is falling at Washington Dulles Airport with visibility reduced to a quarter of a mile, according to AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. Snow is beginning to mix in with the rain at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

11:00 a.m. EST Wednesday: Routes 83, 283, and 81 into Harrisburg are wet with freezing conditions, 511PA reports. Similar conditions also reported on major routes around Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Altoona and State College, Pa.

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A snowstorm pummeling the East has produced lengthy flight delays and treacherous travel on roadways Wednesday. As snow rapidly exits the Northeast into Thanksgiving Day, there will still be some travel trouble spots in the wake of the storm. Aircraft displaced and delayed by the storm in the East may lead to additional flight delays and cancellations on Thanksgiving Day across the nation. Passengers may have to schedule a different flight on an alternate route to get to their destination. In anticipation of delays or cancellations, several airlines, including US Airways, American and Delta, have announced they will waive change fees for passengers scheduled to fly into airports in the line of the storm.  The storm will wind down early Thanksgiving Day in Maine. However, many roads will remain slippery and snow-covered into the afternoon as some blowing and drifting snow will follow the storm.

While temperatures will not plummet following the storm over the balance of New England and the mid-Atlantic, the air will cool enough for some untreated wet and slushy areas to freeze by Thanksgiving morning. Motorists and pedestrians should be on the lookout for areas of black (clear) ice.  A breeze and the movement of traffic will dry off major roads with time on Thanksgiving Day, including in areas that were plowed and treated following accumulating snow. However, where the snow was plowed and shoveled, areas of ice may form again Thanksgiving night, where melting took place. Black Friday shoppers should be on alert for more areas of black ice as a result.

Northeast

The storm will wind down early Thanksgiving Day in Maine. However, many roads will remain slippery and snow-covered into the afternoon as some blowing and drifting snow will follow the storm.

While temperatures will not plummet following the storm over the balance of New England and the mid-Atlantic, the air will cool enough for some untreated wet and slushy areas to freeze by Thanksgiving morning. Motorists and pedestrians should be on the lookout for areas of black (clear) ice.

Midwest to the Southern Appalachians

Areas of light snow will extend from parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin to eastern Tennessee and the mountains of North Carolina into early Thanksgiving morning.

This swath of snow and below-freezing temperatures will make for slippery travel for people heading out in the morning.

North Dakota to Montana

Snowy travel is in store along much of I-94 from North Dakota to Montana and along U.S. Route 2 in Montana through Thanksgiving.

While a large amount of snow is not forecast in the northern tier of the Central states, motorists may need to reduce their speed and use extra caution.

Coastal Washington State

Warmer air will prevent snow from falling in coastal Washington to the passes in the Cascades through Thanksgiving Day.

Rain will fall in these areas at times. Fog may reduce the visibility on occasion in the mountains.

Elsewhere

Areas from California and much of Oregon to Florida, the coastal Carolinas and Delmarva can expect good travel conditions on the roads.

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Flight schedules for this year’s busy day before Thanksgiving took a hit before the day even began. Airlines scrapped more than 210 flights for Wednesday — one of the USA’s busiest air travel days of the year — all before the clock struck midnight on Tuesday. All told, flight-tracking service FlightAware counted 214 Wednesday cancellations as of 11:50 p.m. ET on Tuesday. That number grew even more on Wednesday morning, climbing to about 630 as of 2:55 p.m. ET, according to FlightAware. U.S. carriers have increasingly decided to preemptively cancel flights in recent years when poor weather was forecast to hit busy airports, and that trend appears to be playing out again for this latest storm. Wednesday’s preemptive cancellations came as an approaching winter storm threatened to snarl flights at the peak of the Thanksgiving travel rush. Nearly a third of Wednesday’s cancellations came at just three airports: New York LaGuardia, Newark Liberty and Philadelphia. About 15% of Wednesday’s entire schedule had already been grounded at Newark, LaGuardia and Philadelphia airports as of 2:55 p.m. ET, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. A number of those cancellations were made Tuesday evening.

Washington Reagan National, Boston, New York JFK, Westchester County, N.Y., Hartford, Conn., and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton were among other airports that had high numbers of cancellations for Wednesday. All of those airports were in the path of a storm that brought messy weather and strong winds to East Coast’s biggest cities. Still, more than 200 of Wednesday’s cancellations came even before the first rain drops or snowflakes fell in those cities. Regional airlines were hit hardest by Wednesday’s cancellations. Of the 630 counted by FlightAware as of 2:55 p.m. Wednesday, more than 480 were on regional carriers like Shuttle America, ExpressJet and Republic. Those carriers fly as regional affiliates for the nation’s big airlines, including American, Delta and United.

JetBlue had already canceled 38 Wednesday flights, the most among the big “mainline” airlines as of 2:55 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Southwest had 26 Wednesday cancellations, Delta 24, American/US Airways 21 and United 9, according to FlightAware. The numbers for American, Delta and United all are dramatically higher when their regional affiliates are included in the count. Including those affiliates, more than 120 flights had been canceled at each of those three carriers. Precipitation in the East’s big cities began as rain in coastal areas, though snow had mixed with rain by late morning in Washington, New York and Philadelphia. Baltimore and Philadelphia — though Washington’s Dulles airport is far enough west that accumulating snow was expected. In anticipation of the poor weather, nearly every big U.S. airline had moved by Tuesday afternoon to waive rebooking fees to cities in the storm’s path.