Why Did It Take 47 Years to Prove Anthony Mazza was Innocent?
In April 1973, Anthony Mazza was sentenced to life in prison without parole for a murder in Boston. Last June, at the age of 73, he was released after his conviction was vacated because his trial lawyer was denied key evidence that points to his innocence.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court vacated the case in April, 2020, and charges were finally dismissed in March, 2021—making Mazza the 2,800th American defendant listed in the National Registry of Exonerations.
He spent more than 47 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, longer than any other American exoneree, but his case received so little attention that it took months to track down the details.
It’s hard to imagine spending decades in prison for a crime you did not commit—but Mazza is not alone.
The Registry includes nine other innocent defendants who were released after more than 40 years in prison, 60 who spent at least 30 years in prison, 184 who were imprisoned for more than 25 years each. All told, the 2,800 exonerated defendants we know about spent more than 25,000 years in prison.
For most of the time that Anthony Mazza was in prison, he had no legal assistance. His attorney on appeal did not even ask that his conviction be reversed, only that his sentence be reduced because of his supposed “mental retardation.” That appeal was rejected quickly, in 1974.
For the next 32 years, Mazza pursued justice on his own, and did so with determination and effectiveness that’s hard to square with intellectual disability.
The only witness who directly connected Mazza to the murder was Robert Anderson, an acquaintance in whose apartment the body was found, who drove the victim’s stolen car for days after the killing, who gave items of the victim’s property to others—but who testified that Mazza alone was the killer.
Framing an Innocent Friend
Anderson’s statements about the killing were contradictory and his testimony was inconsistent. Mazza, who had an alibi, always maintained that Anderson himself was the killer. That’s a familiar story. There are at least a dozen other exonerations in the Registry in which a murderer avoided punishment by framing an innocent acquaintance or friend.
Between 1977 and 1995, Anthony Mazza, with no legal help, filed four petitions to reopen his case. They were based in part on affidavits from several men who met Anderson in prison, where he served time for other crimes, and stated under oath that Anderson told them that he had framed Mazza for murder. All four petitions were denied—or worse, ignored.
In 2006, Mazza filed a fifth motion, including a new item: a statement that Anderson’s brother gave to the police in 1972, describing conduct and statements by Anderson that strongly support the claim that Anderson was the killer. Mazza’s lawyer had not seen that statement before his trial. It took Mazza years to get a copy from the Boston police department, once he learned he was entitled to it.
After that, things began to change for Mazza’s case, but at a snail’s pace.
In 2006, a judge appointed a lawyer to represent him. In 2009, that lawyer filed a sixth motion to reconsider the conviction. That motion travelled through the Massachusetts courts, from bottom to top, twice. Finally—after 11 more years, with no change in the evidence—the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reversed Mazza’s conviction because this undisclosed 1972 witness statement undermined the integrity of the jury’s judgment.
This is a common pattern. Withholding evidence of innocence is the most frequent type of government misconduct in trials of innocent defendants. It happened in 61 percent of murder exonerations.
Living Past Exoneration
Anthony Mazza’s exoneration was hardly preordained.
For one thing, prison is very bad for one’s health. By one estimate, a year in prison reduces a person’s life expectancy by about two years. Mazza is fortunate to have lived long enough to be freed; let’s hope he has a chance to enjoy his freedom.
Olin Coones spent 12 years in prison in Kansas for a murder he did not commit. He was exonerated in 2020, but died less than four months later from health conditions that were not diagnosed or treated in prison.
In addition, all copies of the hidden witness statement that freed Anthony Mazza might have been lost or destroyed before he obtained one. Or the courts might have continued to ignore or deny his claims despite this new evidence. Or Mazza, working without expert help, might never have learned how to obtain public records.
Or he might simply have given up, as many innocent prisoners do.
The most important lesson from the (as of June) 2,808 exonerations in the National Registry is that the great majority of innocent defendants who are convicted of crimes are never exonerated.
Why, for example, are defendants who are sentenced to death exonerated about six times more often as defendants—like Mazza—who are convicted of murder but sentenced to life imprisonment?
It’s not because those sentenced to death are six times more likely to be innocent. It’s because defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges, governors and journalists work hard to identify innocent defendants who might be executed.
In particular, unlike Mazza, almost all defendants sentenced to death have lawyers as long as they remain on death row. Few innocent defendants who are imprisoned for life have access to lawyers, and most remain and die in prison.
If we can’t stop convicting the innocent we should at least acknowledge that we do make these terrible mistakes, and take substantial claims of innocence seriously from the start.
We must pay attention when significant new evidence of innocence is presented, not ignore it because the case is closed. And the cases of prisoners who might be innocent should go to the front of the line for decision, not the back, so those who are innocent are freed before they reach old age or die.
Don’t confuse what happened to Anthony Mazza with justice. It’s not.
Samuel Gross, Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Michigan, is co-founder and senior editor of the National Registry of Exonerations. Ken Otterbourg, a former journalist, is a researcher at the National Registry of Exonerations.
This summer, 123,000 people signed the petition, so there may be fierce support among Nebraskans favoring legalized medical marijuana use. Still, no one will get to vote on the issue this November.
On Thursday, the Nebraska Supreme Court issued a 5-2 split decision that removed this fall’s ballot issue.
Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner, a long-time marijuana opponent, challenged the ballot question before the Nebraska Supreme Court. He’s pleased with the court’s ruling.
“Medicinal marijuana always seems to be the first step in reaching for legalized recreational marijuana, and so this effort was no different than Colorado or any other state that’s done that.”
The merits of medical marijuana were not the issue before the appellate court. Wagner’s attorneys argued last week how proponents presented the question to voters was so flawed as to require it be removed from consideration by voters.
According to the language on the ballot, approved by Secretary of State Robert Evnen, a yes vote would add a Constitutional amendment giving Nebraskans the right to use, purchase and produce cannabis for serious medical conditions if recommended by a doctor.
The opinion released Thursday determined the result would mean several state law changes, including possession, use in public, being under the influence at work, and insurance coverage. According to the court, each represented separate issues that could not be rolled in a single ballot question.
“If voters are to intelligently adopt a State policy with regard to medicinal cannabis use,” the justices wrote, “they must first be allowed to decide that issue alone, unencumbered by other subjects.”
Two of the justices, Judges Jonathan Papik and Lindsey Miller-Lerman, dissented in the opinion, something rare for the Nebraska Supreme Court. The dissenters argued the topics were closely enough related to warrant being grouped in a single ballot question.
The unfavorable ruling represents the latest failure for medical cannabis supporters in the courts and the Nebraska State Legislature.
One of the petition drive leaders, State Senator Anna Wishart, told NET News, “I’m very sad.”
Her voice noticeably emotional, she said she had “put a lot of her heart into this effort” and spoke of others who worked on the petition drive “who are really struggling with serious medical conditions.
“Just the thought of them having to wait longer is very sad.”
Marijuana use is legal in 33 states.
Five other states, Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota, will have the opportunity to vote on legalization this election year.
As COVID caused massive shutdowns of traditional in-person institutions, courts were faced with a dilemma. Facing severe backlogs if the courthouse doors were closed, courts quickly shifted to Zoom-based proceedings.
Today, you can watch hundreds of livestream court events—many on YouTube—ranging from felony arraignments to traffic ticket hearings to family court proceedings. For the defendant or witness, this is a welcome change. Going to court no longer requires a person to find childcare, take time off work, or risk exposure to COVID.
However, they must now contend with their name and image broadcast across the internet.
Streaming court proceedings uses the same logic as the decision to release court documents on the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Rooted in virtues of transparency and accountability, the argument is that anything you might witness or access in person by visiting court should be similarly available on the Internet.
These are laudable goals. However, the turn to digital access had the unintended consequence of creating digital punishment: a phenomenon where the collection and release of digital criminal justice information creates permanent online stigmatization for millions of people arrested or processed through U.S. courts each year.
Due to a blend of permissive public records laws that allows the release of pre-conviction and in-process case information—as well as a private market built on re-sharing and selling this information across extortion sites and background check services—millions of people have a tarnished digital reputation simply because they were processed through the court system.
As I document in my recent book, the harms of digital punishment are far reaching.
My research has shown that people who must continually confront their addiction or mistakes posted online often begin to “opt out” of institutional and social contexts that might trigger a Google search. Rather than engage in their communities, schools, or churches, people avoid situations where new people might want to learn more about them—only to discover their name on a website that has reported a court docket or a mugshot.
There are material harms as people avoid employment, educational, and housing systems that rely on increasingly automated background checks that may report incorrect, misleading or outdated information that is nearly impossible for the applicant to remedy.
There are also social harms. Dampening social and institutional participation can also decrease democratic participation, especially if digital punishment leads people toward legal estrangement, lessens procedural justice by assigning public guilt before due process, and increases mistrust in government through what people experience as state-sanctioned privacy violations.
If a victim, witness, or defendant is terrified to testify or afraid to tell the truth because they know their face and voice will be broadcast on YouTube, justice will not be served.
Another overlooked problem with digital access to courts is that we don’t learn nearly as much about judicial decision-making as we do about the individual people whose lives are broadcast across the internet during their hearings.
Recently, I watched a child custody proceeding unfold over five hours in a Texas courtroom. Through his own live streamed testimony, I learned about the father’s alcoholism and suicide attempt and watched as his lawyer screen-shared dozens of emotional text messages between the two parents.
The judge was mostly silent as the proceedings shifted to the mother, tired and in hospital scrubs, whose lawyer showed dozens of photos of the interior of her home, including of her children’s bedrooms.
In New Jersey’s Essex County, I watched an elderly man in prison garb and a face mask silently weep on video for ten minutes at his arraignment. His public defender made a case for his release based on his health and risk of death through COVID exposure. The judge rapidly read through his rights and conditions of a pretrial release. The man asked if she could call his employer to explain why he missed a week of work. The livestream ended.
Live court on YouTube has the potential to expand digital punishment in unexpected ways. We don’t know yet if and how court live streams have been recorded and replicated for extralegal purposes.
We don’t know who is watching.
Transparency is central to having an accountable judiciary. But the pace and disorganization of local courts means viewers get very little sense of how the criminal justice system really operates. Aggregate, complete data about the criminal legal system is still incredibly difficult for journalists and researchers to access. Photos of children’s bedrooms in suburban Austin do not fulfill the intent of public access for watchdogging government officials.
The solution? Courts have a simple opportunity here to instill a bit of practical obscurity, which has long been the shield for protecting individual privacy while encouraging open government. Courts can easily have users register for a password-protected Zoom proceeding.
In the digital context, this means a small, verification hurdle to encourage interested journalists, researchers and members of the public to access governmental data for accountability reasons. In some ways, password protected live streams better mirror the traditional forms of access that underlie transparency laws, where the requester has an active interest in a document, rather than a passive opportunity to make a copy.
And even as our lives have become more isolated and based in technology, we shouldn’t forget that policy decisions are a human-powered process.
The expansion of digital punishment into unexpected, pandemic-responsive domains is not the inevitable outcome of digital life. Technological advances like Zoom and YouTube do not determine their own fate; people and organizations use technologies and share data for specific ends.
We can choose a better way to ensure the judiciary is serving the public while also protecting that same public.
Sarah Esther Lageson is an assistant professor at Rutgers University-Newark School of Criminal Justice, and a grant recipient of the National Institute of Justice Early Career Award. She welcomes comments from readers.
Shortly before the Nineteenth Amendment became a reality, in October 1917, Fannie Lou Hamer (nee Townsend) was born into a Mississippi sharecropper family. The youngest of 20, she was picking cotton at six and left school at 12 p.m. each day to work. In the early 1940s, she met and married Perry (Pap) Hamer, and they continued plantation work. Her ability to read and write allowed her to serve as recordkeeper.
In 1961, Hamer, like many of her contemporaries, was the victim of forced sterilization without her consent when a white doctor was performing other surgery. This attempt to control the black population was one factor precipitating her activism. She attended a Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) meeting. “They talked about how it was our rights as human beings to register to vote. I never knew we could vote before. Nobody ever told us.” She became an organizer and in the summer of 1962, led 17 neighbors to the Indianola, Mississippi, courthouse to register to vote. They were unsuccessful. Upon return, her employer, objecting to her trying to register to vote, fired her.
In 1963, traveling home from a workshop, she and other organizers sat at the whites-only lunch counter and were arrested. In jail, she was so severely beaten, effects to her eyes, legs, and kidneys lasted the rest of her life.
Hamer cofounded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in 1964 in response to the Democratic Party’s attempts to block the participation of black folks. She spoke at the Democratic National Convention and addressed the Credentials Committee, demanding mandatory integrated state delegations. Hamer and the MFDP were noticed, nationally, although the request was denied. Her work was an integral part of the Freedom Summer that brought hundreds of students south to fight for civil rights. Despite objections, Hamer supported the white students, encouraging an integrated movement. She said, “If we’re trying to break down this barrier of segregation, we can’t segregate ourselves.”
Hamer identified economic security as the key to achieving civil rights. She did relief work, started the Freedom Farm Cooperative (buying land that black people could own and farm collectively), and secured 200 units of low-income housing.
Even after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Hamer’s work was not done. In 1968, she was a member of Mississippi’s first integrated delegation, and three years later helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus. Her injuries from the jail beating and breast cancer slowed her down by the mid-1970s. She died in 1977.
The fight for the unfettered right to ballot access continues today. If you’re “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” you are in good company. When Fannie Lou Hamer said that, she didn’t let it stop her. And it can’t stop us.
This story originally appeared in High Country News in 2016
Paul Lumley, like many Yakama Nation citizens, grew up fishing on the Columbia River, through which salmon flowed like blood. Though Lumley’s family lived north of the Columbia, in Washington’s Yakima Valley, his family migrated to the river each fall to set gillnets for valuable chinook. Lumley slept in the truck bed for months at a time, steeped in eau de salmon, at Underwood, a small, decrepit fishing camp set aside for American Indian use by the federal government. “It was really rough living,” Lumley recalls.
Today, 31 such fishing camps line the river, and hundreds of tribal members flock to them during fishing season. Up to 160 families also inhabit the camps year-round. Lumley now serves as director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, a tribal management agency that conducts fisheries research, enforces regulations, and operates hatcheries. Despite its fishy focus, Lumley’s agency is also worried about the Columbia’s camps — among the quietest housing crises in modern-day Indian Country.
The housing dilemma, like many Northwest tribal fisheries conflicts, has its origins in 1855, when treaties pushed tribes onto reservations far from the Columbia. Though the treaties guaranteed American Indians access to traditional fishing sites, the reservations were anathema to those whose sustenance and culture flowed from the Columbia’s waters. White soldiers fought them and settlers murdered them, yet some tribal members remained rooted to the riverbanks, growing gradually distant from their reservation kin. According to the historian Andrew Fisher, “River Indians” today “constitute a shadow tribe, part of and yet separate from the tribal bodies whose fortunes they share.”
In 1937, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed Bonneville Dam, flooding numerous fishing sites and villages. But the treaties gave the tribes leverage, compelling the Corps to relocate some families while promising to purchase land and build new homes for others. Similar vows accompanied the subsequent construction of the Dalles and John Day dams. Yet it took the agency nearly 20 years after the completion of Bonneville to set aside five meager parcels for Native American use. The Corps did briefly put some tribal members in World War II-era barracks, but the buildings turned out to be ridden with asbestos.
The situation improved somewhat in the 1990s, when the Corps began construction on 26 new seasonal fishing sites. But the sites still lacked housing. Most resemble bare-bones campsites, endowed with little more than a bathroom, a fish-cleaning station and a boat ramp; many lack running water and electricity. Tribal fishermen drag in generators or bootleg power from the grid.
Although the housing crunch has simmered for decades, in the last several years it has erupted into a full-blown crisis. Record-setting salmon runs have lured more fishermen from the reservation to the river, crowding the sites in summer and fall and straining their deplorable infrastructure. In turn, the tribes have recruited congressional allies to make their case to the Corps, which has acknowledged its responsibility to build new housing. But bureaucracies move slowly, and dispensing reparations for historical injustices has never been America’s strong suit. Says Yakama fisherman Randy Settler: “It’s not a popular issue to build replacement homes for something that happened 70 years ago.”
Poor living conditions are common in Indian Country — more than 5 percent of homes on Native American land lack plumbing, 10 times the national average. Still, Lone Pine, Oregon, a tribal fishing camp 85 miles east of Portland, is a particularly run-down aggregation of trailers and shacks sided with corrugated tin and tree bark. Hubcaps and piles of clothes litter the packed-dirt track; derelict vans and motorboats perch on cinderblocks. A single bathroom serves the 40 permanent residents, whose numbers swell during fishing season. Drug abuse, including meth and heroin, is rampant.
Lone Pine sits on basalt bluffs across the river from the Dalles Dam, which generates power for a nearby $1.2 billion Google data center, among other infrastructure. “How do you think people at Lone Pine feel looking at this huge dam every day, making all those other people rich?” says Lumley, a rangy, cordial man whose voice grows softer the angrier he gets. “When I ask this community if they want a free house, they look at me like I’m crazy. They want water that works, they want someone to come pick up the -garbage.”
The substandard facilities aren’t merely eyesores, they’re also hazardous to health and safety — as demonstrated by Lumley’s uncle, a wizened, good-humored 86-year-old named Johnny Jackson. Jackson, a chief of the Cascade Tribe, one of the groups that comprise the Yakama Nation, has lived at the Underwood site since the 1960s, when he resisted the Corps’ attempts to oust him and turn the landing over to white sport fishermen. “My sisters used to come and help me have a salmon-bake right here,” he recalls, standing in the shade of a fish-cleaning station. In September 2014, Jackson’s hand-built house caught fire when a faulty fuel line caused his propane tanks to hurtle through the air like bottle rockets. When firefighters arrived, they found that the nearby yellow fire hydrant wasn’t connected to any water source. Jackson’s home was reduced to charcoal. Now he lives in a trailer.
Lone Pine and Underwood are not unique in their dilapidation — the bathroom in a 3-acre site called Cooks Landing doesn’t even have a door, and most of the other 31 sites suffer from similar conditions. But even supplying these spartan services is draining the Corps’ coffers: According to Laurie Jordan, a policy analyst for the Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, it costs more than $40,000 per year just to pump the septic tank at Cooks Landing.
The abysmal quarters contrast painfully with nearby North Bonneville. When that town had to be moved in the 1970s to make way for a new dam powerhouse, its mostly white residents secured $35 million for relocation. Today, the community is a Pleasantville-esque complex of churches, tennis courts and ball fields. “I’m happy for them,” says Lumley as we drive through the hamlet. “But we have people who are owed basic amenities.”
After more than 70 years of neglect, new housing may finally be on the horizon. In 2013, a Corps-commissioned report acknowledged that many displaced families had never received relocation assistance, and that the facilities were inadequate. The 2016 iteration of the Water Resources Development Act, biennial legislation that authorizes Corps water projects, includes language about granting relocation assistance to displaced families. In July, congressional delegations from Oregon and Washington also introduced legislation in the House and Senate that would direct the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which owns the sites, to improve sanitation and electrical infrastructure. “These are items that shouldn’t wait for longer-term legislative action,” says Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., one of the bill’s authors. “It’s extraordinarily frustrating that we’ve allowed these conditions to -persist.”
Although passing the legislation will be a tall order in an election year, the housing momentum is gathering. If and when funding arrives, the tribes will face a difficult decision: Who will build and manage the infrastructure? Though the Bureau of Indian Affairs was once responsible for operations, maintenance and law enforcement at the sites, everyone agrees the agency bungled the job — a posted emergency phone number, for instance, sometimes routed calls to an office in Wyoming. These days, those responsibilities are handled by the Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, but it’s an awkward fit. “Fish is our middle name,” says Lumley. “Housing isn’t.” Lumley hopes the tribes will create a housing authority to steward the sites. “There’s the potential to address the long-term economic development that these people need,” he says. “But it needs to come directly from the communities themselves.”
More than 150 years after the U.S. Army attempted to dislodge the Columbia River Indians, the river tribes remain in the shadows. Many year-round river dwellers, says Jordan, don’t avail themselves of services like welfare, food benefits and energy assistance, which are widely used by reservation residents. According to Wilbur Slockish, a bearish 71-year-old Klickitat chief, off-reservation Indians remain out of sight and out of mind when the salmon aren’t running. “The tribe’s mentality is the reservation, and it’s always been that way,” he says. “We’re on our own.”
Few river dwellers know that better than David Sohappy Jr., a Yakama fish technician whom I meet on a warm sickle-moon evening at Drano Lake — a Columbia River pool formed when Bonneville Dam inundated a historic fishing village in the 1930s. In 1982, when hostilities between the River Indians and the government were near their apex, -Sohappy and his father were arrested at Cooks Landing for illegally selling fish to undercover federal agents. Though they pled entrapment, both men received five-year sentences. “I remember him lying awake on his bunk in prison, banging his fist against the wall,” Sohappy says.
That Sohappy, once jailed as a poacher, now works as a tribal fisheries manager is a sign of how far the Northwest has come. Salmon runs, though still just a vestige of their pre-dam glory, are stronger than they’ve been in decades, and fishing has reassumed its prominence in Native life. Fifty years ago, when many runs stood on extinction’s doorstep and officers tear-gassed Yakama fishermen for “trespassing,” it would have been almost impossible to imagine the Columbia River teeming with Native-owned boats.
Some injustices, however, can never be rectified. Sohappy’s own great-grandmother grew up alongside the Columbia, but was forced to move away when her village was drowned by Drano Lake.
"She wanted to live near the river,” Sohappy says. “She died waiting for the house the government promised her they’d build.”
Ben Goldfarb is a correspondent for High Country News, covering wildlife science, fisheries management and Northwestern resource politics.
The economic slowdown brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a surge of rental evictions, leading to a ballooning of social and legal problems and calls for more access to lawyers to represent renters in eviction cases.
At the American Bar Association Virtual Annual Meeting in August, the House of Delegates adopted policy urging governments to minimize evictions and financially assist both landlords and renters faced with hardship because of the pandemic. The new ABA policy expressed concern that if little is done nationwide there would be a significant destabilization of the rental housing market and a major eviction crisis.
Earlier this year, as the pandemic spread, courts, governors or legislatures in most states had imposed moratoriums on evictions, essentially delaying legal proceedings. Since then, the national landscape for evictions has changed, with 31 states now lacking any eviction moratorium, according to panelists at last week’s 2020 Equal Justice Virtual Conference.
The conference, which ran Aug. 11-13, was co-sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. In a panel, “Right to Counsel in a World Gone Mad: Evictions During and After COVID-19,” panelist Emily Benfer, a health and housing expert and visiting law professor at Wake Forest University School of Law, warned that 30 million to 40 million Americans are at “risk of eviction right now” if no additional governmental assistance is provided.
Aside from financial assistance to renters and landlords, another effort to combat the rise of evictions, which is already law in a handful of U.S. local jurisdictions, is to expand a guaranteed right to counsel for low-income renters. In eviction proceedings, most landlords have lawyers, and research shows that unrepresented tenants usually lose their cases.
“Providing a lawyer makes a tremendous difference in keeping people in their homes,” said John Pollock, a housing advocate who moderated the conference program. Evictions, he noted, lead to homelessness with a resulting host of social problems related to the health and welfare of individuals and families.
“This is a right that can really make a difference,” Pollock added.
WASHINGTON ― The U.S. Census Bureau unexpectedly announced it will end 2020 census field operations early, a decision that will disproportionately hurt Native American tribes that are already historically undercounted, hard to reach and rely on accurate census data for lifesaving federal dollars.
The agency slipped the news into a press release last week: “We will end field data collection by Sept. 30, 2020. Self-response options will also close on that date to permit the commencement of data processing.”
That’s a month earlier than the Census Bureau ― and any organization focused on a strong census count ― planned for all year.
So what? It’s only a month, right? And why does the census matter anyway, beyond showing us how many people live here and where they live?
The census is so much more than a headcount. Census data is used to draw congressional districts, which means, for example, the more that minorities are counted in a given area, the more likely they will be kept together as a community and have a voice in Congress. If fewer minorities are counted in a given area, those communities are broken apart and lumped into other districts.
Census data is also used to decide how much federal money goes to every community. For each person who isn’t counted in the census, their community loses thousands of dollars every year for the next 10 years. That money would have otherwise been used for services like health care, education, infrastructure and housing assistance.
Native Americans were the most undercounted population in the country the last time the census was taken in 2010. This time, it’s going to be even worse because of the Census Bureau’s decision to close up shop early.
Why? People in remote areas, like many tribal communities, often rely on census takers coming to them in the final stage of data collection to do “nonresponse follow-ups.” They knock on the doors of people who haven’t responded to the census online or by mail, and they interview them. Many people on reservations don’t have internet access or reliable mail, so they get counted in person. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, reservations closed to the public for months. Now, with census field operations cut short, census takers simply won’t reach some of these communities at all.
“It ensures a historic, devastating undercount for Native Americans,” said Natalie Landreth, senior staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund. “It ensures it. We’re not guessing. We’ve run all the numbers, and we know it.”
Tribes in remote areas rely entirely on federal dollars for health care, which the federal government is required to provide to millions of Native Americans under its treaty obligations. A census undercount means they will get a fraction of the federal money they are owed for the next 10 years, in an already chronically underfunded health care system overseen by the Indian Health Service, amid a pandemic that has ravaged tribal communities.
Native Americans have long been undercounted. The official estimated undercount in the 2010 census was 4.9%, though Landreth said it was likely closer to 7%. But this year’s pandemic and the Census Bureau’s shortened timeline mean tribes will take a bigger hit.
“It’s going to throw people who are already poor into more extreme poverty and diminish their political power so you never get anybody who represents your interests,” Landreth said. “Think of being powerless and poor. That’s what this does.”
The 2020 census response rate is trackable on the Census Bureau’s website. It currently shows a 63.6% response rate nationwide among people who responded online, by mail or by phone. If you toggle the data, it shows a 20.5% response rate among tribes.
"Think of being powerless and poor. That's what this does."
Natalie Landreth, Native American Rights Fund
In Alaska, which is home to 229 of the 574 federally recognized tribes in the country, the level of census data collection among tribes sounds abysmal. The state is so big and some tribes are so remote that census takers typically head into communities as early as January, much earlier than in the rest of the country. But bad storms early in the year delayed the process. That was followed by tribes’ shutting down for months because of the pandemic. Now that it’s August, a lot of locals aren’t home. They’ve left their villages for weeks of fishing and hunting as part of the seasonal subsistence cycle.
On top of that, the Census Bureau sowed confusion among Alaskan tribes about how census data would be collected this year, said Nicole Borromeo, executive vice president of the Alaska Federation of Natives.
“They had been trained to tell rural residents that they could only do it in person. Now they’re being told they can do it online or over the phone, when they had neither option before,” she said. “Then they said they’d be back in person. But instead, they’re just mailing them flyers and postcards. Then they said field operations are going to last through October. Now all of a sudden they’re ending at the end of September.”
It doesn’t help that there is already a massive amount of distrust of the federal government among tribes due to decades of oppression and broken promises.
“This could not be any worse for Alaska,” Borromeo added.
Three major tribal advocacy groups last week issued a rare joint statement sounding the alarm on the Census Bureau’s “unwarranted and irresponsible decision” to cut short the census count.
“Our tribal nations and tribal communities have been ravaged by COVID-19, and an extension of the census enumeration period was a humane lifeline during an unprecedented global health catastrophe that provided critically needed additional time to tribal nations to ensure that ... everyone in their communities are counted,” said the statement from the National Congress of American Indians, the Native American Rights Fund and the National Urban Indian Family Coalition. “For millions of American Indians and Alaska Natives, whether they live on rural reservations or in America’s large cities, an inaccurate census count will decimate our ability to advocate for necessary services for our most vulnerable communities.”
The groups urged Congress to include language in the next COVID-19 relief bill to require the Census Bureau to stick to its original Oct. 31 deadline to end field operations.
There is some support for this on Capitol Hill. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) wrote to House and Senate leaders Tuesday urging them to extend the statutory deadlines to deliver census data to the president and states to the spring of 2021 from Dec. 31. That would extend the entire census process, not just field operations, which is what some census officials have said they need to do an accurate census count.
“In July, the associate director of the census, Albert Fontenot, said, ‘We are past the window of being able to get those counts’ by year’s end,” said the letter from Murkowski and Schatz, which was signed by a total of 48 senators. “Extending the deadlines for the delivery of these files in the next COVID-19 relief package will ensure that the Census Bureau has adequate time to complete a full, fair and accurate 2020 census.”
But congressional leaders are nowhere near a deal on the next COVID-19 relief bill. Congress doesn’t even return from a break until September. And in a depressing sign that the census itself has become a partisan issue, only two of the 48 senators who signed the Murkowski-Schatz letter are Republicans: Murkowksi and fellow Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska.
HuffPost could only find one other GOP senator, Steve Daines of Montana, who publicly urged the Census Bureau to extend its deadlines.
A spokesperson for Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who chairs the Committee on Indian Affairs, did not respond to a request for comment on whether he is concerned about census field operations ending early and hurting tribes.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States, said there’s only one reason why the Census Bureau is closing up shop early.
“This is all politically motivated,” he said. “This is about Republicans trying to keep control over a changing demographic that they just can’t keep up with. ... Republicans understand if the census data comes back strong, when it comes to reelections, they’re going to have an even harder time holding power through a gerrymandered district.”
It makes no sense to stop counting people early, and all signs point to corruption within the Trump administration, Gallego added.
“They could ask for more money if they wanted,” he said. “They have given us no real reason for this. They’re just not going to count.”
A Census Bureau spokesperson responded to a HuffPost request for comment by emailing a link to the agency’s press release announcing its plans to end its field operations early. The spokesperson did not respond to a follow-up email asking if politics are driving the agency’s decision.
With Congress gone and hardly any Republicans making the issue a priority, there’s nothing stopping the Census Bureau from ending its count early. Unless something changes, tribal villages and reservations already wrestling with poverty and health disparities will have to brace for even fewer federal resources for another 10 years.
“This is harming their day-to-day ability to live for the next decade,” Landreth said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
By Shari Silberstein
In the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands of us took our grief, trauma and rage onto the streets, online, and into public hearings to protest the ways that this nation devalues, demeans and destroys the lives of Black and Brown people.
Violence against people of color is at the core of U.S. history. From the genocide of Native Americans to slavery and Jim Crow, to today’s Black Americans who live in fear every day — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Nina Pop are just a few recent victims of our national epidemic of violence and racism.
Policing’s role in this brutalization is not new.
Police enforced slavery, enabled lynchings by white mobs, enforced Black Codes, and continue to criminalize Black and Brown kids in our schools for the same behavior that gets white kids a mere warning. In short, policing as a system has always upheld white supremacy, no matter how many individual officers act in good faith.
By now, it is clear that our justice system, including policing, must transform. Transformation cannot happen without accountability—for the present and the ugly past. But what does that look like in practice?
Most people use the term “accountability” to mean punishing people for doing something wrong. Our legacy of racism positions Black and Brown people as always suspect of wrongdoing. This leads to over-policing, mass incarceration, and devastation and trauma for communities of color.
At the same time, this model of accountability almost never applies to police violence. In most of those cases police don’t even lose their jobs, much less go to prison.
An anti-racist vision of accountability repairs harm instead of causing more of it. This process, modeled on restorative justice, begins with the essential step of acknowledging and taking responsibility for the harm. From there, accountability continues with additional steps to make things right and prevent future harm.
Owning the full weight of hurting another sounds so simple. But it is, in fact, terrifying.
Humans avoid it with all kinds of mental and verbal gymnastics. How many times have you heard someone downplay slavery as a thing of the past? Our nation has never fully acknowledged the centuries-long impact of slavery and its corollaries on the health, socioeconomic status and safety of Black Americans. We must fully name what happened— without defending, excusing, or downplaying it—before we can truly move forward.
Baton Rouge, La., exemplified this kind of acknowledgement last summer.
As the city still grappled with the 2016 police murder of Alton Sterling, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul apologized to the city for the killing. He then went significantly further, apologizing for the trauma that policing has inflicted on communities of color for decades. It was a stunning moment. He unflinchingly carried the burden of historical harm caused by his profession and committed to change.
Acknowledgement creates space for repairAcknowledgement creates space for repair, the second step in accountability. This is critical in communities of color, where the long history of police violence means that the police badge and uniform are traumatizing.
Equal Justice USA works to create a space for healing and build this understanding among police officers through a program in Newark, N.J. For three and a half years, community residents have sat across from police officers and recalled the times they were victims of police violence or other mistreatment. They explain how those experiences changed the way they live and the trauma they feel when a patrol car comes rolling down their block.
Police officers learn about the links between slavery, mass incarceration and policing. These painful yet powerful exchanges have helped hundreds of community members and police officers lift up each other’s humanity and fully hear each other’s pain.
Participants have described the healing that comes with being able to tell their story of police violence directly to a room of uniformed officers, to be heard and acknowledged, and to share in an examination of oppression.
At the end of the process, the group comes together to envision new approaches to healing and safety and a more collaborative, community-centered relationship. This process, of working through the pain together to arrive at a new way forward, is the beginning of repair.
Acknowledgement and repair address the past and the present. But these steps are meaningless without behavior change—concrete changes that ensure the harm is not repeated in the future.
Behavior change in the case of police violence means more than preventing individual officers from harming again. It also means systemic change—specifically defunding the police and stopping the endless feeding of a system that has inflicted harm and pain on generations of Black people.
When we call for police to be defunded, we are not calling for an overnight eradication of law enforcement. We are recognizing that there are more effective ways to address the majority of problems that currently fall to police to handle.
We are calling for a balance of the scales between investments in policing and these alternatives, to ensure not just community safety, but community healing and well-being.
Cities like Oakland, St. Louis, and Newark have made historic investments in violence prevention in the past few years. (Most recently, Newark voted to reallocate 5 percent of the police budget toward an Office of Violence Prevention.)
Among other things, these programs fund highly skilled community outreach workers and violence interventionists, who come from the communities they serve, to mediate and deescalate conflicts and reduce violence without police.
These approaches don’t rely on punitive justice.
These approaches don’t rely on punitive justice. Instead, they lean on relationships built on trust and an understanding of the social and health-based indicators of violence and harm.
Activists and lawmakers are fighting to protect as much violence prevention funding as possible even in the face of an economic disaster. But no investment has been made at the scale necessary to sustain the systemic change needed to actually make Black and Brown people safe in their communities.
As a society, this is our collective behavior change to make. We must stop endorsing the militarization of police by objecting to an overall budget that has quadrupled over the last 30 years. We must demand change in the many systems that oppress people of color.
We must live anti-racist lives.
Acknowledge. Repair. Change.
Any one of those steps without the others fails to create accountability that repairs. It fails to recognize that white supremacy is real, that it’s everywhere, and that we must actively and forcefully dismantle it.
This is the way we battle racism. This is how we can stop violence. This is the way we flip the page on a history that is shameful and begin a new accounting of what justice really is.
That’s justice, re-imagined.
Shari Silberstein is executive director of Equal Justice USA.
A comprehensive guide to the bigger problem poisoning our nation
The rapper, Ice-T was quoted in 1992 famously saying, “Here we are yelling on a rap record, but no one will listen”, referring to Black on Black crime and police brutality in the 1990's. Almost 28 years later, and the message remains the same and ‘defund the police’ has become a social media hashtag, giving scope to a much bigger issue that doesn’t begin with George Floyd.
Broken Record is a podcast created by Rick Rubin that interviews artists across space and time. Mostly, his podcasts center around artist’s processes and how they came to be the famed artists we know and love today. In an episode aired recently, Rubin focused on Tupac and Biggie, and the tensions between rappers and police during the 1990’s. In listening to the episode, also detailed on Slate.com, the message is clear:
Something is broken, and we’re just not listening.
Hip Hop’s historical feud with police isn’t new, in fact, it blew up in the 1990’s with Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls confrontation on their records, that left an imprint on the climate around law enforcement. The 90’s is often heralded as the Golden Era, and looked on with nostalgia, yet, in the Hip-Hop world? Gangsta Rap was at war with society, police faced backlash from the nation, and music was being dissected for a moment to prove that America needed reform. It is important to trace the hostilities between rappers and law enforcement at this time and the mirage of civility during the 1990’s between the feud that birthed Gangsta Rap. It alludes to a similar climate that exists today, the question still remains: Why haven’t we been listening?
Broken Record’s podcast, begins telling the story of a man named Ronald Ray Howard, “He grew up in South Park, a tough neighborhood in Houston. He described it as a war zone. Howard attended nine different elementary schools and was held back three times. When he was 16, he dropped out of high school”(Source: Slate.com). Broken Record introduces Howard’s life in fragments, painting the picture of what would later become a nation-wide story for many reasons,
“Howard ended up selling drugs in the town of Port Lavaca, two hours down the Gulf Coast from Houston. That’s where he was headed the night of April 11, 1992, when a Texas Highway Patrol officer pulled him over”(Source: Slate.com).
Howard had a lot to worry about that night, when the state trooper pulled him over, not only was he a drug dealer, but he was driving a stolen car,
“The patrolman who pulled Howard over was Trooper, his name was Bill Davidson. He’d been on the force for about 20 years. As Davidson approached the car, Howard shot him in the neck with a 9 mm pistol. Davidson died three days later”(Source:Slate.com).
Howard was arrested and later, confessed to the crime, yet, it became a national story for many reasons. Howard’s music choice the night of the murder featured:
Tupac’s 2Pacalypse Now, solo album, which focused on police brutality. This case is famously argued for hip-hop’s negative influence on its listeners. Tupac’s lyrics were even used in court to build Howard’s defense case in order to persuade the court that he felt compelled to shoot the state trooper from Tupac’s message. As you can imagine, this case built a villainous image around Gangsta rap and sparked a nation-wide debate on hip-hop’s merits. It can be argued that this case changed society’s view of hip-hop forever.
It wasn’t too long before Howard’s case that N.W.A had received nation-wide criticism after recording their famous song, “Fuck Tha Police”, and the case of Rodney King,
“Los Angeles police officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted on almost all charges, setting off one of the biggest race riots in American history, another song about police brutality became the focus of protests: Ice-T’s “Cop Killer.”(Source: Slate.com).
Not foreign to today’s climate, this was a tense time in America’s history that can be correlated with the current climate. In the 90’s, hip-hop music was dubbed a bad influence that brainwashed young people into hating law enforcement. An outcry stemmed from law enforcement warning hip-hop listeners that songs focused on killer cops could cause more violence in the future and a much greater divide. With the birth of Gangsta rap, the feud between rappers and society remained tense. Rappers wanted to be heard, law enforcement wanted to be safe, society wanted justice, especially after Howard’s court case testimony, when he stated:
“The music was up as loud as it could go with gunshots and siren noises on it, and my heart was pounding hard,” he told a reporter. “I was so hyped up, I just snapped.”(Source: Slate.com).
Howard’s case could be a whole conversation in itself, but to keep the conversation current, Howard’s testimony begs the question that if the concern for safety is boiled down to lyrics in a hip-hop song, why haven’t we been listening to the message and asking for reform much earlier?
This moment in history became national news, and may have been the reason hip-hop received criticism from listeners around the country. I believe blaming hip-hop for Howard’s murder was irresponsible. While Howard had a right to build a defense against the crime he committed, hip-hop may have aided his motivation, but it certainly wasn’t the first domino to fall before he shot and killed the state trooper that night.
The argument relates today with the move to outlaw violent video games for kids because many parents believe that it breeds learned bad habits, and violent dispositions. As stated in a recent Harvard study on violent video games, Harvard argued that while the topic remains controversial that violent video games are nothing to be worried about,
“Although adults tend to view video games as isolating and antisocial, other studies found that most young respondents described the games as fun, exciting, something to counter boredom, and something to do with friends. For many youths, violent content is not the main draw. Boys in particular are motivated to play video games in order to compete and win. Seen in this context, use of violent video games may be similar to the type of rough-housing play that boys engage in as part of normal development. Video games offer one more outlet for the competition for status or to establish a pecking order”(Source: Harvard study; violent video games and young people).
To take this study one step further, Harvard argues that violent video games did not have a violent correlation effect on the majority of its users and that those affected had previous mental/emotional distress and trauma that contributed to their violent behavior,
“Two psychologists, Dr. Patrick Markey of Villanova University and Dr. Charlotte Markey of Rutgers University, have presented evidence that some children may become more aggressive as a result of watching and playing violent video games, but that most are not affected. After reviewing the research, they concluded that the combination of three personality traits might be most likely to make an individual act and think aggressively after playing a violent video game. The three traits they identified were high neuroticism (prone to anger and depression, highly emotional, and easily upset), disagreeableness (cold, indifferent to other people), and low levels of conscientiousness (prone to acting without thinking, failing to deliver on promises, breaking rules)”(Source: Harvard study; violent video games and young people).
To relate this video game study back to hip-hop, it would seem that even the most violent lyrics against police officers wouldn’t effect the majority of its listeners, except if it is listened to through the ears of youth experiencing neroticisim, disagreeableness, and low levels of conscientiousness. Studies have shown that these experiences are influenced by genetics, but also by environmental factors that often make-up high-crime rate urban areas, to use L.A. as an example,
“According to publicly available LAPD crime data, there is a trend of rising crime involving the mentally ill in the City of Los Angeles. Crimes involving the mentally ill have increased 338% from 2010 to 2018 (the most recent year for which we have complete data)”(Source: xtown.la-statitics).
If hip-hop songs that carry messages about killing law enforcement are being distributed among a population that suffers from the highest rates of mental illness, than, it is easy to conclude that it will most likely have a negative effect on violent crimes and violent actions towards law enforcement, generally speaking. In the case of Tupac, his focus remained on police in his music, especially after Rodney King:
“He(Tupac) explained his relentless focus on police violence in some situations that show us having the power and other situations that show more has to happen with the police or with the power structure.”(Source: Slate.com).
The power structure is key here. The years of having a broken power structure in our most populated and high-crime cities can lead to disastrous results. While rappers like Biggie and Tupac have voiced their opinions about law enforcement, for years, hip-hop artists have narrated a reality that they’ve been burdened to grow up in, with a goal to escape and never return. The trust that the high-crime neighborhoods will resolve and rebuild on their own is naive, and the argument to defund the police, remains open-ended as we’re left wondering:
What about the communities that can’t stand on their own? What about the support that is needed in these cities to create a safer and more reliable future?
Rappers such as Mos Def in his songs: Mr. Nigga, and Mathematics, both tell a narrative of these communities:
From ‘Mathematics’ by: Mos Def:
Like the nationwide projects, prison-industry complex
Broken glass wall better keep your alarm set
Streets too loud to ever hear freedom sing
Say evacuate your sleep, it’s dangerous to dream
But you chain cats get they CHA-POW, who dead now
Killing fields need blood to graze the cash cow
It’s a number game, but shit don’t add up somehow
Like I got, sixteen to thirty-two bars to rock it
But only 15% of profits, ever see my pockets like
To reveal ‘nationwide projects’, and the symbolism that exists through his lyrics, should be a reason to listen, a reason to understand, a reason to change this pertinent issue that stems from nation-wide unrest. Another stanza from his song reads:
Full of hard niggas, large niggas, dice tumblers
Young teens and prison greens facing life numbers
Crack mothers, crack babies and AIDS patients
Young bloods can’t spell but they could rock you in PlayStation
This new math is whipping motherfuckers ass
You wanna know how to rhyme you better learn how to add
The symbolism behind Mos Def’s plea to understand mathematics isn’t to call for police reform or school reform, he serves his audience lines of data that exist in a city he grew up in to exploit the piles of problems stacked against him. He isn’t the only artist to come from grim and violent beginnings,
Jay-Z came out with his song 99 problems in 2003 talking about 1994,
The year’s ’94 and my trunk is raw
In my rearview mirror is the motherfucking law
I got two choices y’all, pull over the car or
Bounce on the devil, put the pedal to the floor
Now I ain’t trying to see no highway chase with Jake
Plus I got a few dollars I can fight the case
So I, pull over to the side of the road
I heard, “Son, do you know why I’m stopping you for?”
“Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hat’s real low”
Do I look like a mind reader, sir? I don’t know
Am I under arrest or should I guess some more?
“Well you was doing fifty-five in a fifty-four” (uh huh)
“License and registration and step out of the car”
“Are you carrying a weapon on you, I know a lot of you are”
I ain’t stepping out of shit, all my papers legit
“Well do you mind if I look around the car a little bit?”
Well my glove compartment is locked, so is the trunk in the back
And I know my rights so you goin’ need a warrant for that
He continues to rap about an experience with a police officer and how unfairly the man in the song was being treated during this narrative because of the color of his skin. This song received 6 awards, yet, no movement on nation-wide reform.
The last hip-hop example I will use also comes from Jay-Z called: Hard-Knock Life which came out in 1998. This song arguably made Jay-Z famous, and is coined the Ghetto Anthem,
From standin’ on the corners boppin’
To drivin’ some of the hottest cars New York has ever seen
For droppin’ some of the hottest verses rap has ever heard
From the dope spot, with the smoke Glock
Fleein’ the murder scene, you know me well
Using the chorus from the musical Annie, Jay-Z encapsulates life in New York city growing up in the projects, repeating in chorus: It is a hard knock life for us,
I’m from the school of the hard knocks, we must not
Let outsiders violate our blocks, and my plot
Let’s stick up the world and split it fifty/fifty, uh-huh
Let’s take the dough and stay real jiggy, uh-huh
And sip the Cris’ and get pissy-pissy
Flow infinitely like the memory of my nigga Biggie, baby!
You know it’s hell when I come through
The life and times of Shawn Carter
The fact that Jay-Z writes about this experience at all, reveals the problems that have yet to be solved. I could write pages detailing hip-hop lyrics that discuss the exact same message, but I’ll spare you the reading. One thing remains crystal clear: hip-hop has been telling us through song what these communities have needed for a while, we just haven’t been listening, and it doesn’t start with police reform. Shortly after Rodney King, Ice-T stated:
“Nineteen ninety two and Los Angeles is ignited by the fires of riots sparking a war of words over justice in America. I feel that the jury in Simi Valley gave the OK to continue to abuse an oppressed and suppress black people in this country”(Source: Slate.com).
It sounds a lot like today’s climate, so what about the continuation of abusing and oppressing Black people in this country, was there reform after the Rodney King case?
According to Bloomberg City Lab that details police reform in 1992 after the beating of Rodney King,
“The commission’s findings did result in the end of the LAPD’s lifetime-term policy for chiefs. That allowed the department to force its notoriously aggressive, divisive leader, Daryl Gates, to resign, and to begin hiring chiefs on five-year terms instead”(Source: Bloomberg City Lab: LAPD REFORMS FOLLOWING Rodney King).
While this reform didn’t solve all of the problems stemming from King, it wouldn’t be until 2000 when LAPD reform would really hit the ground running after corruption jaded law enforcement that would grant much-needed change in the LAPD(you can find out more about this from the link below).
To give credit, police officers generally join the force to save lives and save the world, the corruption between community and law enforcement can get blurry through the reality that still exists today. While reform for police is a step in the right direction nation wide, I also wonder if we are listening to the rest of hip hop’s repetitive themes such as no support for quality education, no support for mental health, no access to healthy food, no opportunities to make a decent living that turn a lot of community members to take drugs or become drug dealers, that has caused a nation-wide domino effect for impoverished communities. The distrust stems from a life that most impoverished communities are forced to lead — with no opportunities to get out and succeed, most citizens turn to drugs, violence, crime that create a negative feedback loop to the citizens that live there. Hip-hop gives a unique perspective into communities that are left haunted by the fight, flight or flee reality.
If we keep failing to support these communities in the places they need dyer help in, we fail to follow through on the reform we promise to uphold. While rappers hold the perspective that a lot of citizens in impoverished communities feel: police are corrupt, and they can’t be free in their own neighborhoods, police often join the force generally, to save the world and are confronted with a society that is held back by crime, poverty and daily illegal activity. While the police generally do their jobs well, the citizens that make-up this community want their neighborhoods to be safe, yet, also, want their freedoms back. In the documentary entitled: Charm City, that depicts the police relationships with inner city Baltimore, the citizens explain that they want police officers around for safety, but when a crime is committed, the police are often blamed for their inaction. It is a system that is broken, a trust that is broken, maybe police reform comes in the form of being more involved in the communities they work in full-time.
The majority of Americans are not listening to rapper’s lyrics for a lot of reasons, but those reasons continue to take our nation away from a real problem that plagues an already vulnerable population. We can’t blame the police officers who whole-heartedly join the force to save lives, and we can’t blame the citizens who feel victimized in high-crime areas, both populations are products of their environments, and we need to find a way for those populations to work together towards a common goal. Reform can’t be a one-sided fight, it must address the epicenter in which all of these problems stem from. Hip-hop included.
If we can’t listen to the rappers from the 90’s whose main goal was to choose to protest through their music, we fail to acknowledge the war that has poisoned our cities that continue to stay in stagnant state of emergencies for far too long.
a.99 Problems: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z-xP7E_zMU&list=TLPQMTAwNzIwMjA7q20tXNfWZw&index=1
b. Hard Knock Life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I97GSE5d0VI
5. Mos Def’s Songs On Youtube:
a. Mathematics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5vw4ajnWGA
6. Charm City Documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcAIGdPJ5yc
The Doe Fund says it pays homeless and formerly incarcerated people New York City’s minimum wage of $15 per hour. But the nonprofit charges weekly fees that can drive their wages below the federal minimum of $7.25.
Jul 29, 2020
Blue-shirted men wielding brooms are a common sight in New York City’s business improvement districts (BIDs) where the city entices real estate development and an influx of new business investment. The workers are some of the city’s most vulnerable people—the formerly incarcerated, homeless or sometimes both—and they are paid and managed by the Doe Fund, a nonprofit at the nexus of welfare and the criminal legal system. But the Doe Fund is not their employer. Instead, the nonprofit’s lowest-paid laborers are legally considered “clients” in a workforce development program, so they don’t have the typical protections that New York City workers enjoy.
According to contract language reviewed by The Appeal, Doe Fund client pay is not considered a wage, but instead a “training incentive” that recognizes “progress in the program.” The Doe Fund says it pays clients New York City’s minimum wage of $15 an hour, but its workers receive far less. Until this month, the Doe Fund charged a $165 weekly fee to all clients. On July 1, the fee increased to $249 each week. Because it’s a flat fee removed from clients’ weekly paychecks, the fee now drives $15 per hour pay well below $8 an hour—and in some cases, even lower than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. According to the Doe Fund, clients typically work 35 hours each week. A person working 35 hours—30 paid hours, excluding lunch breaks—would earn just $201 after the Doe Fund charges its $249 fee, or $6.70 an hour.
In a telephone interview with The Appeal, Bill Cunningham, a Doe Fund spokesperson, noted that the wages from the program aren’t taxed. But a New York City worker making minimum wage earns about $12 per hour after tax, significantly higher than the sum earned by Doe Fund clients.
There’s legal precedent supporting the notion that this “workfare” arrangement violates minimum wage laws. In 1995, 40 homeless plaintiffs sued the Grand Central Partnership claiming that they were paid below minimum wage. That BID was paying people $1 to $1.50 an hour, a small fraction of the city’s $4.25 minimum wage; the Doe Fund is paying its clients a slightly larger fraction of minimum wage. “We are alarmed to learn of complaints that the Doe Fund is deducting $100 more per month from the pay of homeless workers, possibly resulting in sub-minimum wages,” said Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for policy with the Coalition for the Homeless (which represented homeless plaintiffs in that class action suit).
In 1998, U.S. District Judge Sonia Sotomayor—now a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court--ruled that the Grand Central Partnership BID violated minimum wage laws. “Despite the defendants’ intent, they did not structure a training program as that concept is understood in case law and regulatory interpretations but instead structured a program that required the plaintiffs to do work that had a direct economic benefit for the defendants,” Sotomayor wrote. “Therefore, the plaintiffs were employees, not trainees, and should have been paid minimum wages for their work.”
Critics characterize BIDs as “shadow governments” that rake in millions while paying comparatively little for performing services like cleaning city streets. A 2016 article by Crain’s New York found that clearing litter from sidewalks and gutters accounts for just 25 percent of the $130 million spent by BIDS every year. The Doe Fund’s workforce development program, then, supports the efforts of New York City commercial landlords and business owners to avoid paying for comparatively more expensive sanitation workers. Contracts with unionized workers would cost businesses about three times as much.
“It’s feudalism, pure exploitation,” one Doe Fund program client told The Appeal under the condition of anonymity. “They receive money from the city and private donors, and they take money from us. A thousand dollars a month. Where is it going?”
The answer to that question remains unclear. Cunningham said the fee was increased for several reasons, the foremost being that BIDs haven’t changed their $12 per hour contracts with the Doe Fund to reflect minimum wage laws. He also pointed to unexpected coronavirus-related costs, such as PPE and transporting meals to hotels leased by the city. And he told The Appeal that the fee funds services for clients—housing, food, clothing, vocational training—and repeatedly compared the program fee to the cost of rent for individuals earning minimum wage while insisting that the Doe Fund was more favorable for clients, even when clients earned below the federal minimum wage.
Earlier this year, New York State Assembly member Andrew Hevesi introduced a bill that would prevent homeless shelters from charging rent to residents, and its provisions may apply to the fee that the Doe Fund charges its clients. “People should not be forced to hand over their hard-earned income from low-wage work cleaning city streets to the operator of their shelter,” Nortz of the Coalition for the Homeless told The Appeal in an email.
Doe Fund executives George and Harriet McDonald each pay themselves about $430,000 per year, and their son, John McDonald, earns a $290,000 yearly salary as executive vice president of real estate. The Doe Fund’s headquarters is the McDonald family brownstone on the Upper East Side, and the nonprofit pays for that, too, at a yearly cost of $200,000 on “rent and utilities.” Blue-shirted Doe Fund clients clean the McDonalds’ street as part of their “beautification” route, powerfully illustrating the family’s use of formerly incarcerated labor for personal benefit.
The Doe Fund is also contracted by the New York City Department of Homeless Services to operate shelters across the city, including facilities in Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Bushwick. Over 600 people live in the Doe Fund’s shelters and hotel rooms leased by the city, and 410 of those people participate in the nonprofit’s workforce development programming.
The Doe Fund’s shelters don’t just serve homeless people—they also house many formerly incarcerated men. One of the organization’s stated goals is to reduce recidivism and help people successfully re-enter society. About half of the workforce development program’s 410 clients are on parole or community supervision, and roughly 75 percent have had some experience with the criminal legal system. The workforce development program contract specifies that noncompliance with its conditions can result in a parole violation. Former Doe Fund employees say that many of the conditions are racist and paternalistic: Contract language prohibits “visible underwear” and “do-rags,” imposes a 10 p.m. curfew, bans pornography, and requires that clients submit to “random drug and alcohol testing” and fingerprinting. The contract also notes that parole officers will be consulted if shelter residents request a curfew extension to, for example, spend a weekend with a family member off site.
In the first month of the Doe Fund’s programming, clients clean and maintain the shelter buildings; once “orientation” is complete, clients begin “beautifying” public and private spaces in the city as part of the workforce development phase. Because sanitation work is legally considered part of the workforce development program and not employment, clients have to work in order to remain in the program and receive vocational training. Clients only “graduate” after completing vocational training classes over the course of nine to 12 months. But these courses disappeared during the coronavirus pandemic, which leaves clients in a state of limbo where they’re expected to work indefinitely while earning below minimum wage. Clients have not been provided a date for when the bulk of vocational training will resume. In an email statement, the Doe Fund said it had resumed some educational and vocational courses with a mixture of in-person and remote learning starting July 3—but clients told The Appeal that they hadn’t been in class since early spring.
Researchers say the Doe Fund should be situated not just in business improvement but in the broader political economy of prisoner re-entry. Reuben Jonathan Miller, assistant professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, told The Appeal that the precarity of Doe Fund clients symbolizes a concept he calls “carceral citizenship,” an alternate form of political membership for people who have been accused or convicted of a crime. “Criminality is doing this interesting work of translation,” he said. “You’ve got 40 hours of work, but I’m going to take $250 each week. The criminal label lets you do that. If this happened with anybody else, you might call it exploitative—but because it’s formerly incarcerated people, not so much. Where are you going to go for a new job? Who are you going to complain to?”
Indeed, formerly incarcerated people typically experience much higher unemployment rates than the general population—especially in pandemic era New York City where the unemployment rate is above 20 percent. The Doe Fund’s website proudly notes that clients were deemed “essential workers”—though they don’t have legal status as employees—and deployed to clean streets throughout the darkest stages of the pandemic in the spring.
Miller also emphasized that re-entry service providers typically focus on individual transformation—“soft skills” such as changing one’s attitude toward work—instead of direct connections to the labor market and permanent housing. He says the Doe Fund’s use of the term “graduate” is both intentional and meaningful. “Graduates are credible messengers,” Miller said. “They are people who have changed their lives. I was blind, now I see. Now I run a program. This is a redemptive story. But ritual and symbolism aren’t enough.”
The Doe Fund’s sanitation services are primarily funded by BIDs, which are part of New York City’s gentrification engine—and policing is deeply connected to gentrification. The city’s first BID was formed in 1984, and the districts function as a sort of public-private extension of city government that have been called “cartels for landlords.” Broadly speaking, BIDs are a symptom of white flight and the reduced tax base that accompanies it; businesses that depended on tax-funded city services (including sanitation) turned to BIDs in order to keep costs low.
BIDs played a significant role in former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s “clean up” of Times Square in the mid-1990s, where adult establishments and sex workers were ruthlessly targeted by city officials. In 1998, the city implemented a zoning law that banned a variety of adult businesses from operating within 500 feet of schools, homes, and churches. The Times Square Alliance BID acted as a sort of anti-pornographic custodian in the 2000s, taking steps to push out businesses that attempted to circumvent loopholes in that zoning law.
Although the Doe Fund contracts with several BIDs, including Dumbo and Downtown Brooklyn, not all BIDs use nonprofit intermediaries to reduce wages and deny legal protections to their workers. For instance, the Downtown Alliance BID employs at least some unionized sanitation workers, as does the 34th Street BID.
BIDs have close working relationships with the NYPD, and often hire their own security forces to extend “order maintenance” policing more fully. In San Francisco, police used BID surveillance cameras to spy on protests against police violence in real time. So, if police and private security forces can be considered the “front end” of gentrification—ushering “disorderly” people away from sites of real estate and commercial development with tickets and arrests—coercing underpaid formerly incarcerated laborers to “beautify” sites of gentrification might be considered the “back end.”
The Doe Fund’s influence extends deep into New York politics. The nonprofit is a real estate developer, and the organization maintains more than 1 million square feet of housing in part through financial support from New York State. In addition to receiving tens of millions of dollars in public funds to operate homeless shelters, the organization lobbies the city on homeless services policy (and situates its own services as a better “solution” to homelessness than permanent housing).
This political work also crops up in the personal politics of Doe Fund management; last year, Politico reported that employees who criticized the Amazon HQ2 deal (or Governor Andrew Cuomo more generally) faced retaliation from George McDonald. The McDonald family has donated at least $250,000 to Cuomo’s election campaigns. The Doe Fund is also tied to New York City’s political leadership: former Mayor Michael Bloomberg has given the organization millions of dollars, and the Doe Fund reciprocated this support by sending “van loads” of program clients to testify in favor of his third term in 2008.
Connections like these aren’t lost on the Doe Fund’s clients. “George McDonald and Michael Bloomberg are best friends. They were shooting pool in one of the facilities together,” one client told The Appeal. The Doe Fund appears poised to export its welfare-punishment framework nationwide: The organization’s most recent annual report notes that its model is expanding into other cities, including Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and two cities in Colorado. But it’s possible that cities where George McDonald holds less political sway could resist the expansions.