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‘Diablo Winds’ spark historic wildfires in California wine country

This post has been updated to include revised figures on the number of fires and death toll. 

It’s peak wildfire season in California, and Monday was one of the worst days in state history. More than 60 blazes are currently underway statewide.

At least a dozen wildfires sprung up Sunday night in and around Napa and Sonoma counties—also known as “wine country,” just north of San Francisco — prompting rushed evacuations of more than 20,000 people. In an attempt to speed the flow of relief and firefighting equipment and make the National Guard available, Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency.

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The Northern California firestorm has quickly burned nearly 100,000 acres, and is encroaching on neighborhoods in several places. At around 3 a.m. Monday, a Cal Fire official told a local television station that there was “no hope of containment right now.”

In total, the fires have killed 13 people and destroyed more than 1,500 structures as of Tuesday morning, making them some of the most destructive in state history. More than 100 people have been treated for burns and smoke inhalation at regional hospitals, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and more than 150 people are still missing. Nationwide, this year’s fire season has cost more than $2 billion, the most expensive on record.

Smoke from the fires is visible from across the Bay Area, with many residents reporting the smell of smoke and even ashes falling from the sky. The National Weather Service says that winds at higher elevations in some parts of Sonoma County exceeded hurricane force, with several areas reporting gusts greater than 50 mph.

Several of the worst wildfires in California history have sprung up during October, near the end of California’s months-long dry season. It’s this time of year when a combination of strong offshore winds and low humidity can quickly fan a seemingly innocent spark into a raging inferno.

These winds are usually formed by a strong inland high pressure center, which pushes air down mountainsides and through canyons, causing it to warm up and dry out — a perfect environment for fast-growing fires. In Northern California, they are generally called “Diablo winds,” after Mt. Diablo in the eastern Bay Area. A 2015 study said that climate change is making these wind events more frequent and more severe in California. According to the Bay Area branch of the National Weather Service, conditions will begin to improve starting on Tuesday morning.

One particularly frightening fire in Northern California, the Tubbs fire near Santa Rosa, jumped the 101 freeway, forcing a hospital to evacuate its patients. Officials report evacuation centers that have been set up have already filled to capacity. Aerial images of Santa Rosa on Monday showed widespread devastation of entire neighborhoods.

“People are running red lights, there is chaos ensuing,” Santa Rosa resident Ron Dodds told a local television station. “It’s a scary time. It looks like Armageddon.”

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‘Diablo Winds’ spark historic wildfires in California wine country

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Revisiting the Rodney King Verdict 25 Years Later

Mother Jones

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On April 29, 1992, Los Angeles was engulfed in flames after a jury acquitted four LAPD officers who had been charged in the beating of Rodney King, an African-American motorist. Videos and images of King’s brutalization were widely circulated, provoking an immediate call for justice. When that call went unheeded, the ensuing unrest ignited a wave of violence, death, and financial loss in America’s second-largest city. Fifty-four people were killed in the riots, nearly 12,000 were arrested, and the city incurred more than $1 billion in damages. (The following year, two of the officers were convicted in federal court of violating King’s civil rights; the other two were acquitted once again.)

The parallels between modern-day police brutality and the 1991 King beating serve as a grim reminder of how little has changed today, despite efforts to reform law enforcement. Here are four documentaries and television specials that offer a window into the enduring legacy of the King verdict:

  1. LA Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later
    Despite being a retrospective, A&E’s special does not allow readers to retreat from the present-day, unfurling images of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin at the start of the two-hour film. LA Burning spins through first-person recollections from a week of dark, incendiary nights in Los Angeles. The grievances and discontent of rioters are visible onscreen, and notable interviewees include George Holliday, the photographer whose video of King’s beating went viral in the pre-Internet age. The special is available to stream on A&E’s website.
  2. LA 92
    At a midnight speech in Sacramento, California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) declares a state of emergency in LA: “This is a matter that needs to be settled in the courts and not in the streets,” he tells residents. Using archival footage, LA 92 is National Geographic Channel’s reconstructed glimpse into the turbulence roiling the city during the riots. We shuttle from images of the California National Guard on standby duty to moments of quiet calm at the First AME Church, where African-American city council member Rita Walters tells crowds, “Tonight we must tell our children one more time: Stay cool, be calm…that for African-American children and adults, freedom is not yet a reality in the United States.” The film premieres on Sunday, April 30, on National Geographic.
  3. The Lost Tapes: LA Riots
    As conflagrations spread across Los Angeles, first responders, dispatchers, and law enforcement agents scrambled to ensure the city did not fully descend into flames. Their voices are among those highlighted in this program from the Smithsonian Channel, which stitches together raw footage and homemade videos capturing the riots at the height of their intensity—some of it rarely-seen footage. “I can smell the fires,” one resident phones into a local radio station. “I’m really angry, and I’m really very scared. I just spent the last 10 years of my life in college. But it doesn’t really matter because even with a briefcase in my hand and suit on my back, I’m still just another nigger to the cops out there.” The episode is available online.
  4. Burn Motherf*cker, Burn!
    Showtime’s 99-minute documentary evaluates the events preceding the King beating, outlining the LAPD’s long history of systematic racism. The Sacha Jenkins film revisits the 1965 Watts riots, which were sparked by the arrest of African-American driver Marquette Frye. The six-day rebellion that followed in this largely African-American LA neighborhood killed 34 people and led to approximately 4,000 arrests. It was the costliest urban riot of its period, and it served as a precursor to the 1992 riots. The documentary also examines California’s Simi Valley, the predominantly white community to which the King trial was moved after fears of media saturation led to a venue change. No black citizens served on the Simi Valley jury that acquitted the officers. The full film is available on Showtime’s website.

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Revisiting the Rodney King Verdict 25 Years Later

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North Carolina Republicans Are Trying to Keep Residents From Suing Hog Farms

Mother Jones

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Modern hog farms make pungent neighbors. In North Carolina’s hog-wild Duplin county, an average-sized operation holds more than 7,000 pigs, each generating about 10 times the fecal waste of a person. This massive manure gusher falls through slats and is shunted into open cesspools, known, rather delicately, as “lagoons.” When the pits reach capacity, the untreated fecal slurry is sprayed onto nearby farmland as fertilizer.

A recent analysis of satellite data by Environmental Working Group found that around 160,000 North Carolinians, representing more than 60,000 households, live within a half mile of a CAFO or a manure pit. In Duplin County alone, more than 12,000 people—about a fifth of the county’s population—live within sniffing distance of one of these fragrant facilities, EWG found. A growing body of research, summarized here, shows that these operations “pollute local ground and surface water,” and “routinely emit air pollutants that negatively impact the quality of life and health of nearby residents.” High levels of the air-borne toxins hydrogen sulfide and ammonia can trigger eye irritation, difficulty breathing, and feelings of stress and anxiety, research shows.

The NC legislature is working to stick it to the very people who live under these conditions. Bills are pending in the state House and Senate that would severely limit the amount money that can be awarded in lawsuits by property owners who live near “agricultural or forestry operations.” If the bills pass, people who live near CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) will be barred from suing hog growers for making it deeply unpleasant and even dangerous to hang out outside, open their windows, hand their clothes out to dry, etc.

The legislation amounts to a move to protect the state’s powerful hog interests and maintain a classic example of environmental injustice, says Naeema Muhammad, organizing co-director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. She calls the push to limit these nuisance lawsuits a “direct attack on people’s Constitutional rights.” She points to a 2014 paper by University of North Carolina researchers finding that North Carolina’s hog CAFOs “disproportionately affect Black, Hispanic and American Indian residents.”

As the late University of North Carolina researcher Steve Wing has demonstrated, the operations are tightly clustered in a few counties on the coastal plain—the very part of the state that housed the most enslaved people prior to the Civil War. In the decades since, the region has retained the state’s densest population of rural African-American residents—and starting in the early 1980s, experienced a massive CAFO boom. In Duplin County alone, hog CAFOs now churn out 2.3 million million hogs annually—more than 30 for every one of the county’s 60,000 residents, and more than were raised in the entire state as recently as 1982.

The bills’ sponsors openly seek to protect a company called Murphy-Brown from about two dozen pending lawsuits by filed by people who live near hig facilities. Murphy-Brown is the hog-raising subsidiary of pork-processing giant Smithfield, now owned by the Chinese state-owned firm WH Holdings, which calls Smithfield the “largest port company in the world.” As originally written, House Bill 467 would have applied even to those pending suits. Republican state Rep. Jimmy Dixon, the retired hog farmer who sponsored the House bill, called complaints about the operations “at best exaggerations and at worst outright lies,” and accused plaintiffs of “being prostituted for money” by opportunistic lawyers, The Raleigh News and Observer reports.

According to an analysis of campaign-finance records by the Durham-based weekly IndyWeek, “over the course of his career Dixon has received more than $115,000 from Big Pork,” including $36,250 from “donors associated with Murphy-Brown, the company facing more than two dozen federal lawsuits that this legislation would effectively negate.”

In a 2014 Mother Jones piece on the origin of those suits, Bridget Huber reported from the ground:

“It’s like being held prisoner,” says Elsie Herring, a Middleton and Speer client from Wallace, North Carolina in Duplin County, who has been dealing with hog stench for years. The odor means her family can no longer enjoy sitting on the porch, having cookouts, or even hanging laundry on the line. “We were here before the pork industry even came in here, so what about our rights?” she asks. “It’s as if we have none.”

Earlier this month, Dixon’s bill passed the NC House—but with an amendment exempting pending lawsuits from the restrictions on damages. Its companion bill, SB 460, remains under consideration by the NC Senate, and it still contains the provision that would essentially nullify existing lawsuits. North Carolina Environmental Justice Network’s Muhammad says it’s anyone’s guess whether the legislation will make into law. After all, this is a state that recently repealed one odious “bathroom bill” under pressure, only to replace it with “new legislation that LGBT rights advocates say is just as bad,” as Mother Jones’ Ashley Dejean recently reported. “We’re in a fix here in North Carolina,” Muhammad told me. “It’s just one bad thing coming from the legislature after another.”

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North Carolina Republicans Are Trying to Keep Residents From Suing Hog Farms

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Kwame Alexander’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

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Courtesy of Kwame Alexander

We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to suggest the books that bring them solace or understanding in this age of political rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are the thoughts of Kwame Alexander, whose novel-in-verse The Crossover won the 2015 Newbery Medal, the highest honor in young people’s literature.

Latest book: Solo (with Mary Rand Hess; out August 1)
Also known for: The Crossover
Recommended reading: Literature is instant access to humanity. It’s the one art form that allows us to walk in someone else’s shoes for a while and experience lives we might not otherwise understand. It also allows us to find mirrors of ourselves, of our best selves, in times when we feel alone and unsure of the world. And right now the world feels a little crazy. Books are these worlds within a world—safe places to tramp in anxious times and return gently to our own living world, more aware, more fulfilled and hopefully more inspired and courageous. And that is why Mary Rand Hess and I set out to write books like Solo, taking readers on a character’s life-changing journey for the sake of the experience, for the sake of humanity. This is rock and roll and redemption, baby! These are the journeys that run deep, and the ships we take come early and often. We can take as many ships as we like, as often as we like. We only need to choose the right ones.

There are so many incredible books that speak to our times, stories that take place in the past, present, and future. Stories that connect us to our ancestors or people who lived like our ancestors, or to the people who paved the way for our world today—stories like The Underground Railroad, All The Light We Cannot See, Freedom Over Me, March. Stories for adults, teens, and children. Stories that grab hold of us and show us all the pain and beauty that races through and weaves between covers—books like Speak, Pax, Brown Girl Dreaming, Radiant Child, Bridge to Terabithia, As Brave as You, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Tale of Despereaux. Selected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni (and Langston Hughes and Pablo Neruda). The Crossover and The Playbook (you know I had to mention those, right?) and so many more. Books that will stick with us, comfort us, and strengthen us, long after we’ve read them. Books that will connect us to each other.

P.S. Read Rumi!
_______

So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, and T Cooper. (New posts daily.)

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Kwame Alexander’s Resistance Reading

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California Is About to Ask Its Liberals to Put Their Money Where Their Mouths Are

Mother Jones

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California legislators will vote Thursday on a gas tax and other vehicle fees proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown that would raise $52 billion over ten years to fund repairs to the state’s crumbling roads, bridges, and public transit systems. Though the vote once seemed like a slam-dunk in the this deeply blue state, Brown is facing likely defections from moderate members of his own party who are concerned about the tax’s effects on farmers and suburban commuters.

“Don’t blow it guys,” Brown said at a Tuesday press conference in the Inland Empire district of Democratic state Sen. Richard Roth, one of the last holdouts on the bill. “You’re going to be driving on these damn roads. Fix them now, or we may never get them fixed. I don’t know what opponents expect—the tooth fairy to fix the roads?”

The bill is shaping up to be a key test of Democratic unity. It must overcome a California requirement for a two-thirds supermajority to enact tax increases. Though Democrats hold a narrow supermajority in both houses of the legislature, Republicans are unanimously opposed to the bill, which means that a single Democratic defection can kill the proposal.

The defeat of the bill would be a major blow to Brown, 78, who has positioned his state as a bulwark against right-wing policies and bureaucratic incompetence of the Trump administration. Brown’s proposal to fund infrastructure though increases in the state’s gas tax resembles the approach proposed by Democrats in Congress, where Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is pushing a similar plan known as the “Penny For Progress Act.”

Raising taxes to fund infrastructure isn’t necessarily a partisan issue. If the California bill passes the state would join 17 others—half of them controlled by Republicans—that have increased gas taxes since 2013. “I have a fair amount of rank-and-file Republicans in Congress who like the proposals that I’ve put out there,” DeFazio told Mother Jones. Yet in California, many moderate Republicans have lost their seats to Democrats, leaving behind a more conservative and united GOP opposition.

California already has some of the highest gas taxes in the country, but the falling price of gas, increases in fuel efficiency, and the advent of hybrid and electric vehicles has crimped revenues in recent years, contributing to an estimated $135 billion backlog in road and bridge repairs. According to the Department of Transportation, California’s roads are among the worst in the country, with 68 percent in “poor to mediocre” condition—costing state motorists $13.9 billion annually in extra vehicle operating costs and repairs. Brown’s bill would move to plug the funding gap with a 12-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax, new taxes on diesel, a $100 annual fee on electric vehicles, and higher vehicle registration fees.

To win support for the bill’s diesel tax among rural and moderate Democrats, Brown included a provision that would give the trucking industry more time to comply with antipollution regulations—angering environmental and health advocates. One Democrat, Sen. Connie Leyva of Chino, has withheld her support for the bill due to concerns over how it will affect air pollution.

Brown, who previously served two terms as governor starting in the late 1970s, has a reputation as both a fiscal moderate and an infrastructure hawk. His father, California Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Sr., oversaw the construction of massive post-war infrastructure projects such canals, aqueducts, and university campuses. Brown has continued that legacy with projects such as a pair of $15.7-billion water tunnels under the Sacramento Delta and a $64-billion high-speed rail line connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco. Both projects are being financed with bonds and user fees rather than new taxes.

Californians have often shown a willingness to tax themselves in exchange for better services, though the issue tends to cleave along geographic lines. In November, 70 percent of Los Angeles voters approved a permanent sales tax increase to fund a major expansion of the county’s public transit service. Yet voters in the less affluent, more rural Central Valley are more fiscally conservative. A Survey USA poll released last week found that overall only 37 percent of Californians support raising the gas tax to pay for transportation projects, 44 percent oppose the idea, and 19 percent are undecided.

In Washington, where Trump has promised $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending, many Republicans are pushing an alternative approach that would eschew tax increases for “public-private partnerships.” House Speaker Paul Ryan and a faction within the Trump administration led by billionaire leverage buyout specialist Wilbur Ross, Trump’s Commerce Secretary, want almost all of the spending to come from tax credits given to private investors who underwrite infrastructure projects such as toll roads. Ross argues that $137 billion in tax credits over ten years could spur $1 trillion in investment, meeting Trump’s campaign pledge. But even many conservative economists say the approach doesn’t hold water.

“I don’t think that is a model that is going to be viewed as successful or that you can use it for all of the infrastructure needs that the US has,” Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the center-right American Action Forum think tank, told the Associated Press. It would only work for projects that generate tolls or user fees, he said, and even then, might just reward investors for projects that would have been built anyway.

Brown continued to push hard for the bill on Wednesday. “I know there are a couple of people who are worried about voting for taxes,” he said during a rally on the Capitol steps. “This is a fee, a fee for the privilege of driving on our roads that the people pay for, and we’ve got to keep paying for them. Otherwise, they are not going to work for us. It’s just that simple.”

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California Is About to Ask Its Liberals to Put Their Money Where Their Mouths Are

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Fast-Food-Loving Cornell Prof Faces Ethical Scrutiny

Mother Jones

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In 2014, I profiled Brian Wansink, a behavioral psychologist who studies how our surroundings affect our eating habits. Wansink runs Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, a prolific group known for its clever dining research—one widely cited study, for example, found that people who keep their breakfast cereal in a cabinet weighed 21 pounds less on average than those who keep it on the counter; another showed that diners who sit near a restaurant’s entrance are 73 percent less likely to order dessert than those who sit in the restaurant’s interior.

I wasn’t the only one who thought Wansink’s work was cool. His research—some 200 studies since 2005—regularly makes headlines. But in January, a team of researchers reanalyzed the data from four of the Food and Brand Lab’s studies about pizza and turned up what appear to be serious problems: The researchers spotted 150 data inconsistencies. As Columbia University statistician Andrew Gelman put it in a blog post: “Although the four papers were all based on the same data, they differed in all sorts of detail, which suggested that the authors opportunistically used data exclusion, data coding, and data analysis choices to obtain publishable (that is, p less than .05) results.”

In a blog post on Thursday, one of the researchers, University of Groningen Ph.D. student Nick Brown, pointed to what appear to be several incidences of self-plagiarism in Wansink’s writing. Brown also found that the data from two of Wansink’s studies—one from 2001 and another from 2003 “appear to be almost identical, despite purportedly reporting the results of two completely different studies.”

Wansink declined to comment on the accusations. Instead, he pointed to a statement on the lab’s website, where he writes, “We are currently conducting a full review of studies in question, preparing comprehensive data which will be shared and establishing new standards for future operations at the lab which will include how we respond to requests for research information.”

The statement also notes that Wansink has enlisted a Food and Brand lab member who wasn’t involved in the studies to reanalyze the data in question. This move has raised some eyebrows in the scientific community: Why not hire an independent researcher? Here’s how Wansink answered that question in a Q&A with the scientific integrity watchdog blog Retraction Watch:

That’s a great question, and we thought a lot about that. In the end, we want to do this as quickly and accurately as possible—get the scripts written up, state the rationale (i.e., why we made particular choices in the original paper), and post it on a public website. Also, because this same researcher will also be deidentifying the data, it’s important to keep everything corralled together until all of this gets done.

But before we post the data and scripts, we also plan on getting some other statisticians to look at the papers and the scripts. These will most likely be stats profs who are at Cornell but not in my lab. We’ve already requested one addition to the Institutional Review Board (IRB), so that’s speeding ahead.

But even though someone in my lab is doing the analyses, like I said, we’re going to post the deidentified data, the analysis scripts (as in, how everyone is coded), tables, and log files. That way everyone knows exactly how it’s analyzed and they can rerun it on different stats programs, like SPSS or STATA or SAS, or whatever. It will be open to anyone. I’m also going to use this data for some stat analysis exercises into one of my courses. Yet another reason to get it up as fast as possible—before the course is over.

In the same Q&A, Wansink defended his work on methodological grounds. “These sorts of studies are either first steps, or sometimes they’re real-world demonstrations of existing lab findings,” he said. “They aren’t intended to be the first and last word about a social science issue. Social science isn’t definitive like chemistry. Like Jim Morrison said, ‘People are strange.’ In a good way.”

Cornell has declined to intervene. In a statement to New York magazine, John J. Carberry, the university’s head of media relations, wrote, “While Cornell encourages transparent responses to scientific critique, we respect our faculty’s role as independent investigators to determine the most appropriate response to such requests, absent claims of misconduct or data sharing agreements.”

I’ll be tracking this story, and we will post updates as they occur.

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Fast-Food-Loving Cornell Prof Faces Ethical Scrutiny

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Go to Jail. Die From Drug Withdrawal. Welcome to the Criminal Justice System.

Mother Jones

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When Tyler Tabor was booked in a jail outside Denver on a spring afternoon in 2015, he told a screening nurse that he was a daily heroin user and had a prescription for Xanax. A friendly, outdoorsy 25-year-old with a son in kindergarten, Tabor had started using opioids after he injured his back on the job as a welder. When he was arrested on two misdemeanor warrants, his parents decided not to pay his $300 bail, thinking he would be safer in jail and away from heroin for a few days.

Three days later, Tabor died of dehydration at the Adams County jail, according to a coroner’s report. The alleged cause: drug withdrawal.

A lawsuit filed by the Tabors against the county and Corizon Health, the jail’s private health care provider, describes in chilling detail the three days of missed opportunities and seemingly callous medical care. It draws on video footage, some of which is shown below, from a surveillance camera in Tabor’s cell. By the end of the first day in jail, Tabor was in the throes of severe withdrawal: vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure. He was too dehydrated to provide a urine sample. A day later, he could no longer walk or unclench his fingers. When a nurse came by to give him the usual withdrawal medications—a cocktail of things like Gatorade and Pepto Bismol—he fell to the ground, trembling. Later that night, he begged for an IV—he knew from a previous detox that withdrawing from the combination of heroin, an opioid, and Xanax, a benzodiazepine, was particularly risky. But, according to the complaint, he was told IVs were only used when “absolutely necessary.” He died six hours later, leaving behind a wife and a five-year-old son.

“A simple IV would have almost certainly saved his life,” reads the complaint.

Adams County officials declined to comment on the case. Martha Harbin, a spokesperson for Corizon Health, said the allegations in the complaint were “inconsistent with the known facts.” She added, “It certainly is not our policy to deny a patient appropriate and indicated treatment.”

Yet as the nationwide opioid epidemic continues to spiral, more and more inmates who use heroin, painkillers, or methadone are showing up in jails across the country, where withdrawal treatment can be rudimentary. “So many more people are coming in hooked on opioids,” says David Lane, the attorney representing the Tabors. “If the jails are not trained and they’re not ready for it, you get a Tyler Tabor.”

No organization tracks how many people have died from drug withdrawal in jail, but Mother Jones found 20 lawsuits filed between 2014 and 2016 alleging that an inmate died from opiate withdrawal complications. That number likely represents just a fraction of all jail withdrawal deaths, Lane says. In addition to the counties, many families also sue the companies that public jails often contract with to provide health care—like Corizon Health, in the Tabors’ case.

By the time of Tabor’s death, in May, at least four other inmates in jails around the country had died that year from complications of opiate withdrawal, according to lawsuits filed by their families. In March, 37-year-old Jennifer Lobato was booked into Colorado’s Jefferson County jail, just a half hour from where Tabor would die, for shoplifting $57 of merchandise from Old Navy with her son. A guard scoffed at Lobato, a regular heroin user, as she vomited before collapsing, according to a subsequent investigation by the sheriff’s office. A month later, an 18-year-old aspiring artist named Tori Herr collapsed in Pennsylvania’s Lebanon County jail. “I just want something to drink,” she said to her mom on the phone days before she died. “I want lemonade.”

Left: Tori Herr as a high schooler. Right: Herr in the hospital after withdrawal in jail. Courtesy of the Herr family

Jefferson County settled the Lobato case for $2.5 million last fall. County spokesman Mark Techmeyer said the jail’s withdrawal treatment and evaluation protocols changed in response to Lobato’s death; Lebanon County officials declined to comment on the Herr case.

Outside of jails, dying from opiate withdrawal is exceedingly rare because, with few exceptions, it is so preventable. Dehydration, the withdrawal symptom that usually kills people, can be treated with intravenous fluids. It’s nearly unheard of to withdraw from opioids without slowly tapering or having emergency medical care, says Kevin Fiscella, an addiction specialist who sits on the board of the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC), which accredits correctional health services. “What’s happening in jails, it’s kind of a natural experiment to see what happens,” he says. “And in fact some people do die.”

When a user quits opioids cold turkey, the body quickly starts to experience the opposite effects of the original drug, resulting in a rarely fatal but often tortuous withdrawal process that can persist for days or weeks. Where opioids reduce pain, withdrawal makes the body hypersensitive to it. Opioids induce euphoria; withdrawal feels like the world is going to end. Opioids cause constipation; withdrawal causes diarrhea and vomiting. If a person going through withdrawal can’t keep fluids down and is not given an IV, he or she can succumb to dehydration.

Fiscella notes that a number of factors can make withdrawal behind bars risky. Inmates don’t always tell nurses during the screening process that they’re drug users; sometimes, withdrawal kicks off a domino effect that makes other health conditions, like heart problems, act up. Lots of opioid users are also on benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium, known for enhancing and extending the effects of heroin, painkillers, or methadone. Benzodiazepines can make withdrawal much more dangerous.

What’s more, many cash-strapped jails lack basic medications or medical equipment like IVs. And often, Fiscella says, there simply aren’t enough health care staff to check in regularly on each and every withdrawal patient. “In a lot of these deaths, people were simply ignored,” he says.

Of the 20 alleged opiate withdrawal deaths in jails that Mother Jones found, five occurred in jails served by a privately held company called Correct Care Solutions. Based in Tennessee, CCS is one of the country’s largest correctional health care services, providing medical services to 250,000 patients in jails, prisons, state hospitals, and forensic treatment centers throughout the country.

In 2015, the company brought in nearly $1 billion in revenue, according to the Nashville Business Journal. CCS President Patrick Cummiskey told the Journal that the company had “grown 20 percent-plus annually since inception, so growth is our norm.”

Related: Seven Charts That Speak Volumes About the Opioid Epidemic

Despite the company’s robust finances, treating withdrawal can fall through the cracks, according to four jail nurses who currently or recently worked for Correct Care Solutions. Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.

During the evening shift at the Brown County jail in Green Bay, Wisconsin, there is one nurse—and no other medical staff—for roughly 700 inmates, according to nurses who worked at the facility. “I had people detoxing, I had people with chest pain, I had people getting into fights, I had emergencies where people aren’t breathing,” said Abby, who worked at the facility for nine months before leaving last fall. “I can’t assess somebody three times a shift when there’s one nurse for 700 inmates, and do a meaningful assessment, and also provide interventions when I have 20 people on opiate withdrawal.”

Abby says she bought her own medical supplies because the blood pressure cuffs, thermometers, and stethoscopes provided by CCS didn’t always work. She often found herself stuck between a rock and a hard place: There was no IV therapy in the jail, but sending inmates to the hospital was frowned upon. In order to send a withdrawal patient to the hospital, she said, the inmate would “need to be at the point where their vital signs were dropping, their internal organs were starting to become compromised.”

Abby left CCS last fall because she was worried that the quality of care at the jail was so low that she was violating her nursing license. “If I was called into court, I couldn’t say truthfully that I am providing good nursing care,” she said.

Brown County declined to comment for this article.

Greta, a nurse at a different jail served by CCS, described a similar scene. During a typical medical check, Greta had about 30 seconds to take an inmate’s vital signs, hand out medications, and gauge withdrawal symptoms—often in dim lighting and always standing next to a deputy jail guard. On top of it, she said, “You’re using your eyes and your ears because you don’t really have technology. You’re lucky to have a blood pressure cuff.”

Asked about the allegations, CCS spokesman Jim Cheney wrote in an email to Mother Jones, “While it is very difficult to respond to an anonymous source when determining the credibility of their assertion, CCS employs regional executives across the country to ensure that the service standards we have established are upheld. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which a facility was not provided the instruments necessary for routine healthcare, and should there be a need, our nurses have immediate and direct access to administrative teams who can facilitate those resources in short-order.” He added that the staffing ratio is determined by “facility capabilities,” and the company does not frown upon the use of outside providers. In the event that the medical needs of an inmate fall beyond what the facility can provide, he said, “we rely on our medical partners in the community for support.”

Watch: WDIV investigates the death of David Stojcevski

But in some cases no one calls for support before it’s too late. A video strikingly similar to that of Tabor shows David Stojcevski, a 32-year-old from outside Detroit, losing 50 pounds over 16 days of vomiting, diarrhea, and trembling on the ground before his death in the summer of 2014. Stojcevski had been booked at the Macomb County Jail, also served by CCS, for being unable to pay a $772 fine for driving carelessly. Though he notified nurses of his prescriptions to methadone and Xanax, an opioid and a benzodiazepine, respectively, he never received either medication in jail, according to a lawsuit later filed by his parents.

A Department of Justice investigation of the case found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of Macomb County or CCS, saying there wasn’t enough evidence that jail staff acted with criminal intent to prosecute the case. The lawsuit filed by the family is ongoing; county officials declined to comment on the case. Cheney described CCS’s withdrawal protocol as “one of most advanced and respected in the industry,” adding that CCS follows standards from the NCCHC and the American Correctional Association. He added that “while tragic situations do occur, there are exponentially more circumstances in which our professionals save lives and improve the health of the individuals that they treat.”

Corizon Health, the health care provider in Tabor’s case and the nation’s largest privately held correctional health company, is currently facing at least one other lawsuit alleging an opiate withdrawal death. A year before Tabor died, Madaline Pitkin, a 26-year-old from Portland, Oregon, died of heroin withdrawal after repeatedly requesting help on medical forms, according to a lawsuit filed by her family. In her final request, she wrote, “This is a 3rd or 4th call for help. I haven’t been able to keep food, liquids, meds down in 6 days…I feel like I am very close to death. Can’t hear, seeing lights, hearing voices. Please help me.”

Harbin, the Corizon spokesperson, declined to comment on the specifics of Tabor’s or Pitkin’s cases because of active litigation and patient privacy rules. “One of the most common misconceptions about our company is that we somehow benefit from providing lower quality care,” she wrote in an email. “To the contrary, what makes good medical sense and good business sense is proactive preventive care—intervening early to treat conditions before they become serious and more costly to treat.”

Tabor’s family, meanwhile, is still reeling from their loss. Tyler’s son, D.T., an energetic six-year-old who loves fishing and biking, still regularly asks when his dad will come home. Tyler’s father, Ray, a manager at the local Safeway, tells D.T. that he went to heaven. “It’s one thing to lose a child,” says Ray. “But it’s another thing knowing that he died in a jail cell alone on the floor, asking for help.”

Originally posted here: 

Go to Jail. Die From Drug Withdrawal. Welcome to the Criminal Justice System.

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The Long History of "Nazi Punching"

Mother Jones

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By now many have seen the video of an unidentified man punching white nationalist Richard Spencer in the face during inauguration weekend. Much in the way that the new president’s vicious campaign rhetoric gave voice to the deeper resentments of some of his supporters, the assault on Spencer seems to have offered a cathartic and even comedic outlet for those on the left who were angered by thoughts of Trumpians goose-stepping through the streets of DC as Trump entered the White House. Since the video emerged, social media users have set the footage to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” and the Hamilton soundtrack, and comedian Tim Heidecker even wrote his own tune to celebrate the bashing. Former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau tweeted, “I don’t care how many songs you set Richard Spencer being punched to, I’ll laugh at every one.” Journalists for the New York Times and other major outlets were soon mulling over the question at hand: “Is it OK to punch a Nazi?” A website, isitokaytopunchanazi.com, answered with a gleeful loop of the attack, with one neon-yellow word superimposed atop it: “Yes.”

Yet, this was more than just a morbid social-media sideshow: The attack on Spencer is part of a perennial conflict that may again be escalating. For decades, far-right extremists have faced the militant wrath of “antifas” (short for anti-fascists). With Trump’s campaign having summoned all sorts of white supremacists and other trolls from under their bridges, the old war—which I first got a front-row glimpse into a decade agoappears ready to re-ignite.

This beef goes back to before World War II, when in Europe, a nascent authoritarian movement inspired by Hitler, Mussolini, and Francisco Franco squared off against a popular front coalition of liberals and radicals. At the Battle of Cable Street, in October 1936, Oswald Mosley brought 2,000 members of his British Union of Fascists to march through London’s Jewish East End neighborhood and 100,000 anti-fascists showed up to oppose them. In the resulting melee, Jews, Irishmen, Communists, anarchists, and socialists beat Mosley’s men with sticks, rocks, and sawed-off chair-legs. Local women dumped their chamber pots out of windows onto the heads of Mosley’s men.

Similar conflicts played out several decades later in America. In 1979, in Greensboro, North Carolina, the American Communist Party organized a rally called “Kill the Klan Day.” TV crews filmed as a nine-car caravan of Klansmen and neo-Nazis suddenly showed up and shot at marchers, murdering five participants, though no one was ever convicted of the crime. (In 2014, one self-proclaimed participant, Frazier Glenn Miller, went on a shooting spree at a Jewish cultural center in Kansas, murdering three people. The 74-year-old had just been diagnosed with lung cancer; he said that he “wanted to make damned sure I killed some Jews or attacked the Jews before I died.”)

In 1982, a street gang in Minneapolis named the Baldies began committing what they described as “righteous violence”—a term apocryphally attributed to Henry David Thoreau to describe John Brown’s attack at Harpers Ferry—against neo-Nazis who had started to appear in the city. The Baldies and their opponents both adopted the fashion of British punks—bomber jackets, bald heads, boots and braces—and kicked the Nazis, quite literally, out of town. On one occasion they even collaborated with now Congressman Keith Ellison, then a law student at the University of Minnesota, to lead a protest. “I remember he and the rest of the Black Law Student Association were friendly with us,” a founder of the Baldies told the Minneapolis City Pages. “I think they were just intrigued because we were so young and because we were anti-racist skinheads, which was weird to them.”

The battles in the Twin Cities were followed by a wider spread of neo-Nazi violence. In 1988, three members of a gang called White Aryan Resistance beat a 28-year-old Ethiopian student named Mulugata Serew to death in Portland, Oregon. In 1998, skinheads murdered Daniel Shearsty and Spit Newburn, a pair of anti-racists and best friends from Las Vegas—one black, one a white Marine—in the Nevada desert. The next year, a member of the racist cult World Church of the Creator went on a shooting spree in Indiana, gunning down nine Orthodox Jews, an African-American man, and a Korean graduate student before killing himself.

Anti-fascist groups like Anti-Racist Action, Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice, and the Love and Rage Anarchist Federation fought back. Their members advocated “direct action” against white supremacists, eschewing legislative efforts in favor of physically preventing Nazis from organizing, distributing literature, and speaking in public. To their supporters, these groups merged the moralism of America’s abolitionist tradition with the nihilism of punk rock, and boiled the culture wars down to their most primal element: vicious brawls over racism, sexism, and homophobia. The logic of their direct action was that, if a white-supremacist leader inspired someone to commit a hate crime, police couldn’t intervene until after a violent action had taken place. Anti-fascists wouldn’t wait. “Racism is an idea,” one anonymous ARA member said in the 2000 documentary Invisible Revolution, but “fascism is an idea mixed with action. It took fascism to establish Jim Crow and before that, slavery….Anti-Semitism has been around a long time but it took fascism to make the Holocaust….When you cross that threshold, you negate your rights to a calm, collective conversation.”

My own introduction to what anti-fascism looked like took place in South Philadelphia in 2004, where I attended a house party arranged around a half-keg of High Life in the kitchen. At the center of the gathered crew of mohawked kids was a man named Joe, whose skinny crimson suspenders strained over a swell of jiggling belly. A leader of ARA’s Philadelphia chapter, Joe regaled us with a story about a stranger in a pub who’d once called him a faggot. “So I grabbed this motherfucker by the collar,” he said, “and I dragged him outside.” In the parking lot, Joe explained, he beat the man unconscious. The tale was horrific. But it was also surprising—because Joe was gay, it turned out, as were many of his Philly ARA comrades. He wasn’t insulted by being called a faggot; he was insulted that someone would think there was anything wrong with being one.

“How does it feel!” Joe thundered, when he’d gotten to the climax of his yarn, in which he knocked his antagonist down and kicked him in the head repeatedly. Everyone laughed as Joe pantomimed his victory over the man by stomping the floor of the kitchen with his steel-toe combat boots: “How does it feel to get your head kicked in by a faggot?”

With the dawn of the Trump era, the Joes of the country may be stirring, and Spencer and his fans seem to sense it. On Tuesday, Spencer’s supporters offered a $3,000 bounty to anyone who could identify the alt-right leader’s assailant, and Spencer called for the formation of alt-right vigilante squads to prevent future attacks. “The ANTIFA thug who violently assaulted Spencer hid his face behind a mask,” an anonymous commenter said, “but some think they caught a glimpse of his face. There’s not much to go on—but let’s identify the ANTIFA criminal who punched Richard Spencer.”

Meanwhile, the same day that Spencer was assaulted, a 25-year-old anti-fascist was shot in the stomach during an inauguration protest at the University of Washington, allegedly by an alt-right sympathizer. New groups adopting an anti-fascist outlook such as Redneck Revolt, John Brown Militia, and the Bastards Motorcycle Club appear poised to revive the direct-action tactics of the 1980s and ’90s in order to confront white supremacists emboldened by Trump. Anti-Racist Action’s 20 or so chapters around the country have also promised to join the fray. The day after the inauguration, ARA’s branch in Louisville, Kentucky, posted on their website:

For decades, white supremacists were the face of the enemy and only a minute few dared show their true colors in public. This made them easy to dismiss, easy to ignore…However, recent events have proven that the fascist ideology has not only survived but thrived…Now, their labors of hatred have been rewarded with a sympathetic President-Elect and a federal Congress that is, at best, indifferent to their evil.

A warning to those who wish to destroy what we hold dear; We will resist you in the streets, in the poll booths and in the townhouses. Whether it’s in the bars, the concert halls, the conference centers or even City Hall, we will not allow a platform for your dangerous and divisive ideas. We will not allow history to repeat itself. We will shut you down everywhere you go. We will block your marches. We will interrupt your speeches. We will protest your legislation. We will be the thorn in your side. The glass in your bread. The pain in your ass.

Trump’s presidency is already promising to turn back the clock on American progress in multiple ways, with women’s rights, racial justice, and environmental protections under siege. The return of the war between fascists and anti-fascists is another expression of our current political atavism. This time, given a uniquely pugilistic president of the United States, the battle may rage hotter than ever.

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The Long History of "Nazi Punching"

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Michael Eric Dyson Wants White People to Step Up and Actually Do Something About Racism

Mother Jones

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St. Martin’s Press

The election of Donald Trump sent things spinning in America and got people talking about “whiteness.” Did Democrats ignore the white working class? Was Trump making a legitimate appeal to rural America, or was his rhetoric a thinly masked courtship of white racists? If progressives want to win the next presidential election, do they need to abandon identity politics?

As befuddling as it all seems, the author Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown University sociology professor and Baptist minister, has a pretty simple message: If America is to improve racial harmony, then white people—all of them—will need to get on board.

In Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, out this week, Dyson doesn’t sugarcoat what he expects from “white brothers and sisters.” He demands action, not just empathy. The book calls on all whites, urban and rural, to get involved, and Dyson even offers a list of ways to do so. You might start reading notable black authors (James Baldwin is a favorite), create an “individual reparations account,” or find another way to pay a “secular tithe” that helps young black people in your neighborhood. He even calls on whites with social-media savvy to use their resources for good: If young whites were to tweet, for example, every time a cop let them off the hook for a minor infraction that a minority kid might have been punished for, it might help highlight policing disparities.

Not everyone, as Dyson is well aware, will be receptive to his ideas—in fact, he might just piss some people off. But minority voices in America can’t be buried, Dyson writes, least of all during a Trump administration

Mother Jones: Tell me a little bit about your childhood in Detroit.

Michael Eric Dyson: I grew up on the West Side—the “near West Side,” as they say—in what would be considered now the inner city. I had an exciting, interesting childhood, to be sure, with all of the challenges that ghetto life provides—but had loving parents. I was born in ’58, so the riot in Detroit in 1967 was a memorable introduction to the issue of race and how race made a difference in American society. And then the next year, of course, Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. And the Detroit Tigers winning the World Series. All of that made a huge impression on my growing mind.

MJ: Why the World Series?

MED: It introduced me for the first time to a team with a lot of black players. Detroit had about three of them: I think it was Willie Horton, Gates Brown, and Earl Wilson—might have been one or two more in ’68. But the St. Louis Cardinals, the team we were facing and eventually beat in a seven-games series, had Lou Brock and Bob Gibson, who just mowed down 17 batters in that first game and made me want to become a pitcher. To see all those beautiful black ballplayers in one place and thriving and doing so well made a huge impression on me.

MJ: So you were a good student? A big reader?

MED: Yep.

MJ: You have a great list of black authors at the end of your book. When did you start reading their books?

MED: Mrs. James, my fifth-grade teacher, introduced us to some of the great literature of African American culture. I won my first blue ribbon reciting the vernacular poems of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, in particular “Little Brown Baby.” She introduced us to these authors early on and taught us that their literature is important. Langston Hughes—we read his poetry. We studied who W.E.B DuBois was. And so she whetted our appetites.

And then I went to the library and began to read some of this stuff on my own. My discovery of James Baldwin was life-changing. I read Go Tell It on the Mountain first, and that was hugely impactful. The beauty of the literary art, the grappling with the black church, the wrestling with one’s identity in the bosom of a complicated black community that was both bulwark to the larger white society as well as a threshing ground, so to speak, to hash out the differences that black people have among ourselves.

MJ: You were ordained as a minister pretty young, right?

MED: Yeah, I grew up in the church and began to recite set pieces at the age of four and five, like many of the other kids. We began to connect literacy and learning and the lively effects of biblical knowledge and preaching pretty early. That was a tremendous impact. When I was 12 years old, my pastor came to the church: Dr. Fredrick Samson. And that was revolutionary because he mentored me and I got a chance to see up close the impact of a rhetorical genius. I received my calling and accepted it at around 18. I went to school four years later than most people because I was a teen father, hustled on the streets, worked, lived on welfare and the like, and didn’t get to college until almost 21. That’s when I officially got licensed and ordained, right after that.

MJ: You note in this book that you felt a sermon coming—as opposed to a sociological work.

MED: I was trying to write a straightforward book of sociological analysis, or at least cultural criticism, and I failed. I’ve written a lot of other books and this book was different. I couldn’t just say what I wanted to say in the same style that I said it in those other books. I felt compelled to preach.

MJ: You also write that Trump’s victory was America’s response to eight years of Barack Obama. In terms of racial attitudes, do you think his victory uncovered something new—or merely revived things that never went away, but that many of us had forgotten?

MED: I think it’s both. When people are not sure about their future, when their economies are suffering, when their personal fortunes are flagging, we have often in this country turned to nativism and xenophobia and racism and anti-immigrant sensibilities and passions to express our sense of outrage at what we can’t control—and to forge a kind of fitful solidarity that turns out to be rather insular—we look inward and not outward.

As a result, the demand for racial (and sexual) justice gets reduced to politics of identity—and excoriating the so-called perpetrators of the identity politics. What the left ends up missing is that politics have always been at the heart of American culture; it’s been a white identity that’s been rendered invisible and neutral because it’s seen as objective and universal. As a result, we don’t pay attention to how whiteness is one among many racial identities, and that identity politics have been here since the get-go. But they only become noticeable when the dominant form gets challenged—when the invisible is made visible, when the universal is seen as particular. That’s what people of color do when they challenge white privilege and unconscious bias. In that sense, it’s an ongoing process.

MJ: One line that really stuck with me came when you were talking about urban white people looking down on rural whites as “poor white trash.” You write, “In the end, it only makes the slaughter of our people worse to know that your disapproval of those white folks has spared your reputations but not our lives.” Are you basically saying to the “good” white people who didn’t vote for Trump that not being racist isn’t enough?

MED: Right. It’s not enough to be against something. What are you for? It may be, to a degree, consoling that white brothers and sisters did not vote for Trump, and do not participate in that brand of animus, that gas-bagging of enormous bigotry. But the problem is we are left only with empathy—which is critical, if it can be developed—without substantive manifestations of that empathy. It’s one thing to attain it intellectually, but it’s another thing to do something about it. To challenge norms, presuppositions, practices in communities across this country—where the unconscious valorization and celebration of whiteness and conscious resistance to trying to grapple with black and brown and other peoples of color’s ideas and identities—makes a huge difference.

MJ: So you would say that’s one of the more important roles for an enlightened white person?

MED: Yeah, that kind of peer learning, that peer teaching, that peer evaluation, and then administration of insight. That is an extremely important role: how white brothers and sisters laterally spread knowledge, insight, and challenge in a way that white brothers and sisters will not hear it from a person like me, necessarily. I hope they read this book and engage with it, but other white people have a better chance of speaking more directly to the white folk they know, because they’re less likely to be subject to ridicule. They’re insiders, so to speak.

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Michael Eric Dyson Wants White People to Step Up and Actually Do Something About Racism

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Cops’ Feelings on Race Show How Far We Have to Go

Mother Jones

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This week, the Pew Research Center released a report entitled “Behind the Badge,” a comprehensive survey of nearly 8,000 law enforcement officials across the United States examining their attitudes toward their jobs, police protests, interactions with their communities, racial issues, and much more. The report states that it is appearing “at a crisis point in America’s relationship with the men and women who enforce its laws, precipitated by a series of deaths of black Americans during encounters with the police.”

According to 2016 University of Louisville and University of South Carolina study, police fatally shoot black men at disproportionate rates. Since the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the last few years have been marked with protests leading to a national discussion around race and policing. This report explores how law enforcement officers in the United States view the intersection of policing and race—often, not surprisingly, with very different perspectives between white and black officers.

Here are some of the highlights:

Racial equality: When asked about racial inequality in the country, 92 percent of white officers answered that the United States does not need to make any more changes to achieve equal rights for black Americans. Only 29 percent of black cops agreed. This is in sharp contrast to white civilians, the report notes: Only 57 percent of white adults believe that equal rights have been secured for black people; a mere 8 percent of black people agree, Pew found in a separate survey.
Demonstrations against police: Sixty-eight percent of the officers interviewed say demonstrations against police brutality are motivated by anti-police bias, and 67 percent say the deaths of black people at the hands of police are isolated incidents. Once more, there is a significant racial divide between the respondents: 57 percent of black cops think the high-profile incidents point to a larger problem, while only 27 percent of their white colleagues agree.
Police involvement in immigrant deportation: During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump supported local law enforcement having more of a role in deporting undocumented immigrants, and a small majority of cops agree. Overall, 52 percent of police officers believe they should have an active role in immigration enforcement; 59 percent of white cops agree, compared with 35 percent of black officers and 38 percent of Hispanic police officers.
Community policing: The idea of training police officers to work with community members to achieve better policing has become the center of the conversation surrounding police reform since President Barack Obama organized a task force around the “community policing” concept. But 56 percent of all police officers interviewed consider an aggressive approach to policing more appropriate in certain neighborhoods than the approach of being courteous. There was no racial breakdown for this result.
Physical confrontation: For most police officers, according to the report, physical confrontations do not occur every day, but one-third of those interviewed reported having a physical struggle with a suspect who was resisting arrest within the last month. Thirty-six percent of white officers reported having such an incident, while 33 percent of Hispanic officers reported the same thing. Only 20 percent of black officers said they had a physical altercation with a suspect.

The report also includes police officers attitudes on job satisfaction and police reform proposals. “Police and the public hold sharply different views about key aspects of policing as well as on some major policy issues facing the country,” the report concludes.

Read the full report here.

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Cops’ Feelings on Race Show How Far We Have to Go

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