Gary Grice, one of the founders of Wu Tang Clan who goes by the stage name GZA, dropped out of school when he was in 10th grade. These days he’s back in schools sharing the expertise he’s developed over the years and helping students learn science through the art of rapping.
DNAinfo.com reports that the New York Police Department is using facial recognition technology to match photos of suspects with images in online databases like Facebook and Instagram.
The new technology is the latest weapon in the NYPD’s crime-solving arsenal that already includes DNA databases, radiological detectors and sophisticated license plate readers. The new investigative entity was formally launched late last year, with eight cops working in teams of four manning the operations.
Facial recognition — which zeroes in on features and extracts size and shape of eyes, noses, cheekbones and jaws to find a match — is now revolutionizing investigations in ways not seen since fingerprint analysis was implemented generations ago.
Analysts who follow the NYPD closely fear the new investigation tactics could lead to racial profiling.
“The ways that law enforcement is using technology is increasingly becoming a concern for communities of color. There’s a long, ugly history of surveillance in these communities, dating back to COINTELPRO and leading up to the NYPD’s recent and unwarranted surveillance of Muslim communities,” said Colorlines.com’s news editor Jamilah King. “These new tactics are frightening precisely because racial profiling is so rampant.”
The answer to the threat of gun violence in schools is not more guns—no matter what the gun lobby says. So argues civil rights groups, and on Thursday the Advancement Project, the ACLU and the NAACP released a comprehensive school safety proposal with a basic premise: the best protection against school-based shootings is holistic prevention.
The plan comes ahead of the National Rifle Association, which announced earlier this year that it too plans to release a model school security plan in April. The NRA’s plan is expected to focus on calls for armed security officers or school personnel. The NRA is not alone. When President Obama issued his gun control and school safety proposals earlier this year, he called on Congress to fund more mental health professionals, counselors and school police officers in schools. The urgent talk about school safety seeks to address the question on so many people’s minds since the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn.: how do we keep students in schools safe?
The civil rights groups’ plan, called “The Gun-Free Way to School Safety,” (PDF) rejects reactive and militaristic school security measures like arming teachers with guns, or stationing more police officers in schools. Those sorts of tactics can have adverse effects on a school climate and funnel youth into the school-to-prison pipeline. Instead, schools ought to put a focus on tending to students’ mental health, and increasing security in ways which do not militarize campuses. Zero-tolerance school discipline often alienates youth and makes them lose trust in the adults and law enforcement officers in their lives—and that kind of disaffection is what can breed violence down the line.
New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas says his city’s curfew policies are put in place because children “are less likely to get hurt or hurt someone else” if they are at home during the nighttime. But youth advocates are arguing curfew enforcement disproportionately targets poor, African-American youth.
Serpas denies his officers engage in profiling youths when they enforce curfew laws but data analyzed by The Times-Picayune found that in 2011, 93 percent of youths detained at the city’s curfew center were black.
A 2000 study of New Orleans’ curfew law concluded that it did not deter crime. The Times-Picayune summarizes the report:
[The study called] “Do Juvenile Curfew Laws Work? A Time-Series Analysis of the New Orleans Law” found that the city’s ordinance was ineffective because it didn’t cover older adolescents and young adults, who often perpetrate crime; and it excluded what are called the “afterschool hours,” when minors are most likely to commit offenses.
On Monday, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz was a guest on the “The Colbert Report.” His segment which ran close to seven minutes focused on immigration reform and his work with Freedom University, the tuition-free organization that provides rigorous, college-level instruction to all academically qualified students regardless of their immigration status.
“Every single immigrant we have, undocumented or documented, is a future American. That’s just the truth of it,” Díaz told Colbert.
Activists from the website RapRehab.com started an online petition earlier this week calling on Rick Ross to apologize for the rap lyrics they say describe date rape.
The controversial lyrics are from the rapper’s new track called “U.O.E.N.O.” where he rapper boasts about slipping ecstacy in a woman’s drink and then having sex with her: “Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.”
(Colorlines.com’s Jamilah King wrote about the lyrics and the response they’ve received earlier this week. )
But Thursday morning Rick Ross visited New Orleans’ Q 93.3 attempting to clear up the controversy by saying “I wanna make sure this is clear, that woman is the most precious gift known to man.”
Rick Ross called the whole situation a “misunderstanding” and did not offer an apology.
“The term rape wasn’t used,” the rapper said. “You know, I would never use the term rape.”
He went on to say that he, as well as hip-hop, does not condone rape.
“I just wanted to reach out to all the queens that’s on my timeline, all the sexy ladies, the beautiful ladies that had been reachin’ out to me with the misunderstanding,” Rick Ross said in the same breath. “We don’t condone rape, and I’m not with that.”
Yesterday Keli Goff, a columnist for The Root, argued that voting rights and affirmative action was suffering a “media shutout” at the expense of marriage equality. The premise itself lacks validity: March Madness also won a lot of media coverage this month, but it would be silly to argue that it came at the expense of, say, immigration reform. But the charge not coincidentally revives the manufactured debate of black versus gay rights, a divide that never existed until anti-gay organizations actively sought to create it. Still, even if you accept Goff’s false premise, the argument doesn’t stand up to inspection.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard back to back oral arguments this week on two of history’s largest gay rights cases, on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8. Due to those unprecedented hearings, and also owed to a few traditionally pro-DOMA Republicans coming out in favor of marriage equality, media coverage of the issue has been massive. Goff somehow concludes news editors around the country have blown the events out of proportion.
“I bet you know that Republican Sen. Rob Portman now supports same-sex marriage, spurred by his love and compassion for his openly gay son. I bet you also know that 10 Democratic senators oppose gay marriage. The reason you know both of these facts is that same-sex marriage has become the mainstream media’s civil rights cause célèbre …To be clear, this population deserves rights and protections regardless of how few of them there may be, but not at the expense of other groups.”
Goff sought to prove her observation by doing a Google search on “Gay marriage before the Supreme Court” and then comparing the results to those she got by searching “Voting Rights before the Supreme Court” and “Affirmative action before the Supreme Court.”
This is an imperfect gauge. Google searches aren’t uniform. Results vary based on computer and browser settings, cookies, and proximity to events related to the keyword. It also pulls up duplicate hits and non-media webpages that happen to mention the keywords.
Despite the problematic premise and methodology, I was still curious if DOMA was in fact drowning out these other important civil rights issues. I did a Lexis search, which specifically pulls up news results, and searched these terms paired with “U.S. Supreme Court” (There are “supreme courts” all over the nation so you have to specify “U.S.”).
It’s no surprise that voting rights earned little coverage over the last 14 days. It was heard before SCOTUS a month ago. “Gay marriage,” (a problematic term), “DOMA” and “marriage equality” had huge coverage in this time period, as expected given the recent SCOTUS arguments. 60 days out, “gay marriage” still wins, but voting rights coverage is substantially greater over the past two months compared to its coverage the past two weeks. Over the past three months, voting rights coverage trumps all terms — it’s not even close. It’s important to look at the range of coverage over time because both voting rights and marriage equality have been protracted battles that played out well before the SCOTUS hearings.
Affirmative action, did not generate as much coverage as any of the terms, but there was never a time period when it was “shut out” of coverage. It faired much better in general public engagement. These Google Trends charts show how often people searched these terms over the last 90 days, and when those searches peaked and flatlined. Public interest has been more robust over time for affirmative action, and voting rights to a lesser extent, while marriage equality was flat until this week’s hearings:
None of these analyses are perfect. There’s hundreds of metrics for evaluating coverage and interest. But what we can conclude is that there has definitely been no media blackout caused by DOMA. There’s little productive value in drumming up contrived tensions between marriage equality advocates and people of color. Each of these cases, at root, is about 14th amendment equal protection under the law. The “media shutout” on civil rights is not a thing.
First Arizona lawmakers went after the immigrant community with SB 1070. Now they’re going after transgender people with SB 1045.
Last week, Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh (R) failed to pass a bill that would have prosecuted transgender people with a class 1 misdemeanor for using public restrooms that don’t match their birth sex. But late Wednesday a panel of Arizona state lawmakers voted to advance a softer bill that protects business owners from discrimination lawsuits if they forbid a transgender person from using a restroom or fitting room.
Senate Bill 1045 would prohibit local governments from passing ordinances that could subject businesses to lawsuits or criminal penalties if they forbid a transgender person from using a restroom.
Bill sponsor Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the measure is a response to Phoenix’s new city ordinance, which bans discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents. The law applies to public accommodations such as stores, restaurants and hotels.
City attorneys have said the ordinance could extend to bathroom use in some cases. For instance, a person with male genitalia who identifies as a woman might have a discrimination claim if the facility bars that person from using the restroom, and vice versa.
During seven hours of testimonies during Wednesday’s hearing, only one person testified in favor of the bill, according to the AP, while more than 200 turned out to testify in opposition.
Gay and transgender rights advocates say SB 1045 will lead to profiling and discrimination.
“This law not only gives business owners the right to profile and discriminate against transgender people, but encourages harmful ‘gender-policing’ of anyone who doesn’t look masculine or feminine enough,” said M. Dru Levasseur, a transgender rights attorney for Lambda Legal, in an email to Colorlines.com.
“Transgender people are targets for hatred and violence. To pass a law that carves out a license to discriminate is extremely dangerous,” Levasseur went on to say.
The National Center for Transgender Equality echoed Levasseur concerns.
“The Arizona Appropriations Committee approved an incredibly discriminatory and hateful bill that specifically targets transgender people,” said NCTE executive director Mara Keisling in a statement. “Rejecting the thousands of people who’ve spoken out against SB1045 in Arizona and across the United States, Rep. Kavanagh and his six allies instead chose to defend discrimination and protect discriminators. SB1045 brings more shame to Arizona’s legislature for isolating and targeting another marginalized community.”
Earlier this week George Zimmerman’s brother shared a picture on Twitter that compared Trayvon Martin and one of two teenagers accused in the recent fatal shooting of a 13-month-old boy in a coastal Georgia town.
Robert Zimmerman wrote in a tweet, “a picture is worth a thousand words … any questions?” In another tweet, he said, “Lib media shld ask if what these2 black teens did 2 a woman&baby is the reason ppl think blacks mightB risky.”
Comedian Baratunde Thurston has joined Breakthrough’s “Ring the Bell campaign: One million men. One million promises” to raise awareness about domestic violence. In the video above promoting the campaign, Thurston promises to help men around him understand that they have a role to play in making sure that the communities they live in are free from violence.
Rapper Rick Ross may think that rape is something to brag about, but the rest of the sane world doesn’t. The former corrections-officer-turned-rapper has been at the center of controversy recently thanks to one of his lyrics from his new track “U.O.E.N.O” where he boasts about slipping ecstacy in a woman’s drink and then having sex with her: *”Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.” *
The video that’s above offers some collective responses to Ross’s lyric on the “FemGeniuses” YouTube Channel. A petition has now sprung up on Change.org asking for Ross to publicly apologize for “glorifying drugging/rapping a woman.” The petition claims that, at worst, Ross should be investigated and prosecuted assaults that he may have committed. At best, he should apologize, according to the petition.
Change doesn’t come from being outraged about big cases like the Steubenville rape trial. The dominant rape culture today has come from people ignoring and even glorifying statements like this because the song sounds good in the club. You don’t have to be a feminist to support this, but roofy-ing and rape are very serious and shockingly common problems.
On Tuesday, Jamilah Lemeiux wrote a piece at EBONY.com that looked at the lyric as one example of a troubling body of work.
The man is a marginally talented huckster who was lucky enough to find a massive audience that was either gullible or simply undiscerning enough not to care that the dude who’s supposed to be a 350-pound Miami drug kingpin was actually a corrections officer. And if it weren’t for a bunch of ghetto-fantasizing, pseudo-intellectual White boy rap bloggers who decided that Ross was the most important hip-hop act since Lil’ Wayne, I think he’d still be “hustling” loosies and porn mags to inmates.
…What’s so scary about Ross’ line is that this is something that a good number of men and boys actually do. Maybe a rap lyric won’t inspire an impressionable young dude to go and try to flip a couple keys, but normalizing this sort of rape? I see it. I see it and it scares me.
As of this afternoon, the petition has nearly 400 signatures. To read more about the it, go here.
Rosa Clemente, a prominent hip-hop activist and former vice presidential candidate, also offered up a response to Ross’s lyric.
The trial of gay former Army Lt. Dan Choi will resume on Thursday in federal court in Washington D.C. The former Iraq War vet and graduate of West Point is going to trial to face charges that stem from a November 2010 arrest for chaining himself to the White House fence to protest “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
The trial, which began in August 2011, has been on hold for more than a year over procedural disputes. The prosecutor initiated a highly unusual procedure known as a Writ of Mandamus that successfully overturned a ruling by the judge allowing Choi’s attorneys to argue that Choi was targeted for “selective” and “vindictive” prosecution.
Choi appealed the ruling barring him from using a selective and vindictive prosecution defense, but lost his appeals to higher courts.
At the White House protest, Choi and 12 other LGBT activists and supporters were charged with disobeying a lawful police order to disperse from the White House fence after each of them attached themselves to the fence with handcuffs.
British activist Peter Tatchell will attend the hearing in support of Choi and will also act as human rights observer. In a press release Tatchell said Choi is facing extra scrutiny because of his history challenging the federal government:
Generally, White House protestors are arrested and required to pay $100 fine to a municipal court, the equivalent of a parking ticket in the District of Columbia. Instead, in this case, the US Attorney’s Office is invoking a seldom-used federal level criminal charge called “Failure to Obey”.
Choi’s case is the first time since anti-Iraq war protester Cindy Sheehan was prosecuted, that a protestor has been tried federally for demonstrating at the White House.
The trial Judge, John M. Facciola, has already made a prima facie finding for “vindictive prosecution” in Lt. Choi’s case, prompting the prosecution to make legal history by pausing the trial for two years and embroiling Lt. Choi in a Writ of Mandamus fight.
Until this trial, such a radical and rarely used writ has never been granted in the middle of criminal proceedings. The writ orders the trial judge not to hear evidence concerning the selective prosecution and political targeting of the defendant.
Activists and supporters are planning peaceful actions in support of Choi on Thursday morning. Ben Jealous, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are expected to make appearances in support of Choi, according to Choi’s supporters.
This week the Supreme Court is weighing in on whether same sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
Supporters of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender couples have been outside of the court to witness what could precipitate historic changes in how LGBT couples are treated under the law. Below you’ll find ten images highlighting some of powerful signs of protest outside the court.
A mixed race couple once high school sweethearts now married, Kris White and Lyssa White, from Manassas, Virginia, kiss in front of the US Supreme Court protesting for marriage equality on Capitol Hill Tuesday, March 26, 2013. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
John Lewis (L) and Stuart Gaffney demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 26, 2013. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Eric Breese (L) of Rochester, New York, joins fellow George Washington University students outside Supreme Court. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Married couple Nathan Lents (L) and Oscar Cifuentes kiss in front of Westboro Baptist Church protesters, in front of the U.S. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
On Tuesday the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) released a report that found the number of writers of color writing for television has doubled since the millennium.
The WGAW’s 2013 TV Staffing Brief examined employment patterns for 1,722 writers working on 190 broadcast and cable television shows during the 2011-12 season. The report found the number of writers of color has increased as a group but because the share of people of color continues to grow in the U.S. population little headway has been made toward reaching anything “approximating proportionate representation,” the report found.
“From concept to characters, from plot to narrative, writers play a fundamental role in the fashioning of stories a society circulates about itself,” said Dr. Darnell Hunt, author of the report and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA wrote in the report. “But in the Hollywood entertainment industry, unfortunately, there has all too often existed a disconnect between the writers hired to tell the stories and an America that’s increasingly diverse with each passing day.”
Between the 1999-00 and 2011-12 TV seasons, women writers’ share of TV staff employment increased approximately 5 percentage points, from 25% to 30.5%. At this rate of increase it would be another 42 years before women reach proportionate representation in television staff employment.
Between 1999-00 and 2011-12 seasons, minority writers’ share of TV employment increased from 7.5% to 15.6%. Despite this increase, minorities as a combined group remain underrepresented by a factor of more than 2 to 1 in television staff employment in the 2011-12 season.
Women and people of color continue to be underrepresented among the ranks of Executive Producers in television. In the 2011-12 season, women were underrepresented by a factor of more than 2 to 1 among the writers who run television shows; people of color were underrepresented by a factor of nearly 5 to 1.
10% of shows of TV shows in the 2011-12 season had no female writers on staff; nearly a third had no writers of color on staff.
According to the report, while the number of writers of color increased as a whole, the largest percentage increase was amongst Latino and Asian-American writers.
Meanwhile, the black share of television staff employment the largest share among the minority groups has increased only .7 percentage points since the 1999-2000 season, from 5.8 percent to 6.5 percent (108 writers). African Americans, who constitute slightly more than 12 percent of the U.S. population, are still underrepresented by a factor of nearly 2 to 1 in television staff employment. Separate figures for the relatively small shares of Native writers and other race writers .3 percent (5 writers) and 1.5 percent (25 writers), respectively were included in this brief for the first time.
To help increase the number of writers of color writing for television the Guild developed the Writer Access Project (WAP), “a peer-judging program designed to identify excellent, diverse writers with television experience, and to provide a resource for accessing their work to showrunners, industry executives, agents, and managers.”
Members of WAP include “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes and “Modern Family” writer Elaine Ko.
Count Virginia as the newest member of a small pack of states requiring photo identification cards in order to vote. This morning Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law a new voter ID law that would go into effect in 2014, a crucial election year for congressional seats. The law will have to be approved by the Department of Justice or U.S. District Court since Virginia is a Section 5 state under the Voting Rights Act, due to a history of racial discrimination. The Justice Department approved a voter ID bill law Virginia passed just last year, but on the grounds that the state allowed for a wide range of IDs to vote, not all of them including photos. The law passed this morning restricts acceptable IDs to only drivers licenses, passports or government-issued cards with photos.
Voting rights advocates were highly disappointed, especially given McDonnell’s seemingly progressive stance on automatically restoring civil rights for those previously incarcerated with felonies.
“I understand that there are concerns about protecting the integrity of our elections, but part of maintaining that integrity is ensuring that no qualified voters are deprived of their rights. This bill doesn’t do that,” said Tram Nguyen, Deputy Director of Virginia New Majority. “To change the voter ID law, yet again, within such a short period of time will undoubtedly create unnecessary confusion among voters about which forms of ID are required at the polls. We saw it last November and we may very well see it again this year.”
This law comes on the heels of a Virginia report on the election failures in November 2012, citing a lack of resources and poll workers as the cause for punishingly long lines. According to the Bipartisan Election Process Improvement Commission, a major reason for the problems was that poll workers didn’t anticipate the huge turnouts. Not exactly a revelation, but disappointing that the first legislation out the state on election reform doesn’t solve the resource problem, but instead narrows the path to the ballot.
“Eliminating previously acceptable forms of identification such as a current utility bill, bank statement or social security card instantly places undue burdens eligible citizens, particularly the poor, the elderly and people of color,” said Advancement Project co-director Penda Hair. “Elections must be free, fair and accessible to all eligible voters and these photo ID laws are antithetical to our fundamental democratic ideals. We are working with our partners in Virginia to explore every option available to reverse this terrible piece of legislation.”
Actor Will Smith tells Entertainment Weekly he turned down the role of Django in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’ because the slave character was not the lead in the film.
When Quentin Tarantino’s western revenge-fantasy Django Unchained was first announced, casting rumors pegged Will Smith as the titular slave-turned-vigilante. But Smith, who teams with his son Jaden in this summer’s sci-fi epic After Earth, tells EW that he turned down the part because his character would’ve been second fiddle to the bounty hunter (played by Christoph Waltz) who teaches Django his trade . “Django wasn’t the lead, so it was like, I need to be the lead. The other character was the lead!” says the Men in Black star, whose departure opened the door for Jamie Foxx to play the role.
Smith says that before he left the project, he even pleaded with Tarantino to let Django have a more central role in the story. “I was like, ‘No, Quentin, please, I need to kill the bad guy!’” (Ironically, Waltz was considered a supporting actor during his Oscar-winning award season, while Jamie Foxx was promoted as the movie’s lead.)
Waltz won the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor earlier this year while Quentin Tarantino won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Foxx was not nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Django.
Have you ever heard someone argue that all immigrants should just “get in line” and apply to come to the United States legally?
During his immigration reform speech in Las Vegas earlier this year, President Obama said “[undocumented immigrants have to go] to the back of the line, behind all the folks who are trying to come here legally. That’s only fair, right?”
But is it fair? Check out the infographic below from the Asian Law Caucus.
At a naturalization ceremony Monday at the White House President Obama personally congratulated twenty-eight new U.S. Citizens. The President also used the platform to challenge congress to “finish the job” of finalizing legislation that would create immigration reform.
“Immigration makes us stronger, keeps us vibrant, hungry, keeps us prosperous,” Obama said. “It is part of what makes this such a dynamic country. If we want to keep attracting the best and brightest the world has to offer, we need to do a better job of welcoming them. We’ve known for years our immigration system is broken, that we’re not doing enough to harness the talent and ingenuity of those that want to work hard and find a place here in america, and after avoiding the problem for years, the time has come to fix it once and for all. The time has come for a comprehensive, sensible immigration reform.”
Twenty-eight new American citizens, including 13 members of the military, were recognized at the ceremony.
The Associated Press reports Obama has called April as the month that will host immigration bill debates.
Adria Richards, the developer evangelist who was fired after tweeting an image of two men she heard making sexist jokes, may have a strong case if she decides to take her former employer to court.
Richards recounted on her blog, butyouareagirl.com, that she was seated in a ballroom at a technology conference in Santa Clara, Calif. when the men behind her started talking about “big dongles” in an inappropriate manner. After hearing their remarks, Richards turned around, took a photo of two men and posted it on Twitter with their alleged comments. Here’s how it played out:
The PyCon Conference organizers publicly thanked Richards’ for her tweets but hours later (after pressure from different online communities) her employer fired her.
“We understand that Adria believed the conduct to be inappropriate and support her right to report the incident to PyCon personnel. To be clear, SendGrid supports the right to report inappropriate behavior, whenever and wherever it occurs. What we do not support was how she reported the conduct,” read a statement from SendGrid CEO Jim Franklin.
Rob Pattison, a San Francisco attorney who represents employers for the Jackson Lewis law firm, told the Mercury News defending SendGrid’s decision to fire Richards would be “tough.”
“The law is strong in protecting people who make complaints of harassment, or who participate in an investigation about complaints of harassment,” Pattison told the Mercury News.
Love him or hate him, Justin Timberlake knows how to sell pop music. The singer’s third solo album, “The 20/20 Experience”, is on its way to selling nearly a million copies in its first week.
From The Hollywood Reporter:
On Sunday (March 24), industry sources forecast that the pop star’s new The 20/20 Experience could sell between 950,000 and 975,000 by the close of the tracking week — Sunday night. (Nielsen SoundScan’s sales week runs Monday-Sunday each week.)
As I wrote last week for Colorlines.com, there’s something troubling about Timberlake’s appropriation of black music. It’s good, and also embodies the historical mistrust between white performers and black listeners. But however fans feel about it, it looks like they can’t help but listen.