Learning From Ferguson: The Real Cost of Criminal Debt

Learning From Ferguson: The Real Cost of Criminal Debt

In a city with 14 percent unemployment and where more than 20 percent of residents live below poverty, criminal fines and court fees levied on the poor are Ferguson’s second largest source of revenue. That’s according to a new white paper from St. Louis-based indigent defense group, ArchCity Defenders. “I’ll be real honest, I didn’t believe them,” at first, executive director Thomas Harvey tells the Daily Beast about incessant client complaints of being targeted because they were black and poor. But findings from a yearlong court-watching program changed Harvey’s mind—and they’re drawing attention to an ongoing national problem of municipalities using local courts to generate revenue from the poor instead of dispensing justice.

The debt-to-prison pipeline—through traffic violations, misdemeanors and arcane courthouse rules and financial penalties—is a major cause of antagonism between Ferguson residents and local police. Criminal debt cripples families and communities after all, and not only the individual receiving the warrant.

(h/t Daily Beast/The New York Times)

Hours After Brown’s Killing, Police in Ferguson Let K-9 Urinate on Memorial Site

Hours After Brown's Killing, Police in Ferguson Let K-9 Urinate on Memorial Site

It was bad enough that Ferguson police left Michael Brown’s dead body in plain sight on a residential street for more than four hours after Darren Wilson shot and killed the unarmed 18-year-old. But what police did the evening of August 9 gives us a better understanding of why Ferguson’s black community was even further enraged.

In an article over at Mother Jones, Mark Follman explains how police officers disrespected the still bloodstained spot where Brown was gunned down. It’s unclear which police department was responsible, but according to witnesses, one unit allowed their K-9 dog to urinate directly on the memorial site.

And, as if that’s not sufficiently horrific, Follman describes what happened to the flowers and candles that Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden had brought to the site where her son was killed:

The day brought other indignities for Brown’s family, and the community. Missouri state Rep. Sharon Pace, whose district includes the neighborhood where the shooting occurred, told me she went to the scene that afternoon to comfort the parents, who were blocked by police from approaching their son’s body. Pace purchased some tea lights for the family, and around 7 p.m. she joined Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, and others as they placed the candles and sprinkled flowers on the ground where Brown had died. “They spelled out his initials with rose petals over the bloodstains,” Pace recalled.

By then, police had prohibited all vehicles from entering Canfield Drive except for their own. Soon the candles and flowers had been smashed, after police drove over them.

Things got so bad that local residents began using their own bodies to block police cars from entering the street where Brown was killed.

You can read Follman’s article in its entirety on Mother Jones

How News Media Fuels the Myth of Black Crime

How News Media Fuels the Myth of Black Crime

You’re not just imagining things. The local news media’s intense focus on violent crime is also deeply racialized, at least if New York City’s media market is indicative of national trends.

Media Matters reviewed the 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. broadcasts of four New York-area stations over the course of this summer and compared their crime stories to arrest data from the New York Police Department. In a report released Aug. 26, the watchdog group found black suspects in crime stories far outweigh their actual representation in arrests—which is saying something, since we also know arrests themselves are racially skewed, with black people representing far more arrests for, say, marijuana possession than drug-use rates suggest is appropriate.

The disparity in crime coverage was most striking for stories about theft. In local news-land, 80 percent of suspects in New York-area thefts are black, Media Matters found. In real life, blacks represent 55 percent of NYPD’s arrests for theft. For assaults, TV-land sees 72 percent of suspects as black. Real life: 49 percent. 

This reality skewing coverage is part of how black bodies become synonymous with crime and danger—and helps justify the violence and danger the state then reigns down upon peolpe like Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But the news media’s skewed racial reality doesn’t end with crime.

Earlier this year, Colorlines’ publisher, Race Forward, analyzed national news media coverage of stories about race. Our research team found that two-thirds of race-focused stories ignored the systemic factors involved, and focused instead on personal prejudices and individual level efforts to name the racist in the room. Race Forward’s Jay Smooth explains the findings in the video below.

Gaza Ceasefire, IMF’s Lagarde Under Investigation, Kincaid’s New Award

Gaza Ceasefire, IMF's Lagarde Under Investigation, Kincaid's New Award

Here’s what I’m reading up on this morning: 

  • IMF chief Christine Lagarde is under investigation by a French court for negligence in a political fraud case. 
  • Cardinals quarterback Antonio Cromartie pays homage to Michael Brown:
TAGS: Morning Rush

Following Ferguson: Teaching the Crisis in the Classroom

Following Ferguson: Teaching the Crisis in the Classroom

Ferguson is fresh on people’s minds, and that also goes for students returning to school. But Edwardsville, Illinois, schools Superintendent Ed Hightower responded to the crisis by directing teachers not to discuss the events that have unfolded in the last two weeks, and to “change the subject” should Ferguson comes up in class, KMOX reported.

Other educators are taking a different tack. Washington, D.C., schools issued a five-page teacher’s resource guide for how to discuss Ferguson in the classroom. It’s full of practical tips, and geared for students in the public district. 

Teachers who discuss police brutality and Michael Brown’s death will need to “remember that you will almost certainly have students who have been victims of racial profiling in your classroom,” the guide cautions, urging that teachers proceed with care, sensitivity and openness. The Chronicle of Higher Ed, meanwhile, spoke with St. Louis-area college professors about their classroom plans. 

Georgetown professor Marcia Chatelain used Twitter to put together a #FergusonSyllabus for teachers looking for resources for their classrooms. The list Chatelain compiled at, which includes history, fiction, children’s books and academic works, is a great resource for more than just students and their teachers. Chatelain’s ask was that her fellow educators commit to discussing Ferguson in their first days of class, and share resources with students and each other to help sort through the last few weeks of trauma, confusion and race dialogue. “Some of us will talk about Ferguson forcefully, others gingerly, but from preschool classrooms to postdoctoral seminars, Ferguson is on the syllabus,” Chatelain wrote. Conversation sparked by #FergusonSyllabus inspired this resource guide for educators, too.

The long-read of the day is Adam Serwer’s historical look at decades of so-called “race riots” in “Eight Years of Fergusons” for Buzzfeed. Serwer writes:

The recipe for urban riots since 1935 is remarkably consistent and the ingredients are almost always the same: An impoverished and politically disempowered black population refused full American citizenship, a heavy-handed and overwhelmingly white police force, a generous amount of neglect, and frequently, the loss of black life at the hands of the police. Yet we’re always surprised at what they cook up.

We have had 80 years of Fergusons. We may have more. Violence — as harmful and self-destructive as it is — sometimes works.

Moreover, it was not just sit-ins and marches that finally moved President John F. Kennedy to conclude that federal civil rights legislation was necessary, but a riot — specifically, the 1963 conflagration in Birmingham.

It’s worth a read, and adding onto the #FergusonSyllabus. Please share what you’re reading, and thanks for joining this Tuesday edition of Following Ferguson.

Assault Rifles, Humvees and More Go Missing in 184 Police Departments

Assault Rifles, Humvees and More Go Missing in 184 Police Departments

Following a massive, militarized show of force in Ferguson over the last few weeks, President Obama has ordered a review of federal programs that supply military equipment to local and state police departments. But we now know that at least one of those, the Pentagon’s 1033 program, is already in deep trouble.

Fusion’s Daniel Rivero and Jorge Rivas uncovered that 184 police departments have been suspended from the weapons program because equipment either went missing, or the departments were otherwise unable to comply with program rules. Among the weapons that went missing are M14 and M16 assault rifles, .45 caliber pistols, shotguns and even two Humvees.

Fusion explains part of the obstacle the program faces in keeping track of weapons:

The decentralized structure of the program makes it difficult — even for the Pentagon — to keep tabs on the standing of participating police departments, or the weapons they’ve been issued. Officials at the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which runs the equipment-transfer program, were unable to provide specifics about why various police departments were suspended. And many state coordinators refused to speak to Fusion, or claimed they didn’t have the information requested.

Perhaps more troubling? The departments that are kicked out of the Pentagon’s weapon program are ineligible for new equipment—but it’s not unusual for them to get to keep the military equipment they already got.

Read Rivero’s and Rivas’s full investigation over at Fusion

Low-Income Student Enrollment Stagnates at Elite Colleges

Low-Income Student Enrollment Stagnates at Elite Colleges

In the elite higher education economy, low-income students are an investment many colleges aren’t willlling to put money on. And it’s showing in enrollment.

Federal data show that low-income student enrollment at selective colleges hasn’t grown from the 1990s through 2012. In some places it hovers beneath 15 percent, while the higher education sector overall saw large increases in low-income students attending college, The New York Times reports.

Richard Pérez-Peña reports:

Colleges generally spend 4 percent to 5 percent of their endowments per year on financial aid, prompting some administrators to cite this rough math: Sustaining one poor student who needs $45,000 a year in aid requires $1 million in endowment devoted to that purpose; 100 of them require $100 million. Only the wealthiest schools can do that, and build new laboratories, renovate dining halls, provide small classes and bid for top professors.

As Pérez-Peña points out, legal attacks on race-conscious admissions policies mean universities have been turning to other means, namely a socioeconomic-based approach, to boost diversity. It’s not clear that a class-based approach, while more palatable to some, will be all the more alluring to universities. “Higher education has become a powerful force for reinforcing advantage and passing it on through generations,” Georgetown University professor Anthony Carnevale told The New York Times. “College presidents are under constant pressure to meet budgets, improve graduation rates and move up in the rankings. The easiest way to do it is to climb upstream economically — get students whose parents can pay more.”

Leaders Petition Obama on Racial Biases in Policing

Leaders Petition Obama on Racial Biases in Policing

In a petition to the president that appeared in the Washington Post on Monday, more than 125 writers, artists, educators, lawmakers, and union and political group leaders are asking the Obama administration to take a hard look at racial biases in policing in light of the killing of Michael Brown:

In cities across America, local law enforcement units too often treat low-income neighborhoods populated by African Americans and Latinos as if they are military combat zones instead of communities where people strive to live, learn, work, play and pray in peace and harmony. Youth of color, black boys and men especially, who should be growing up in supportive, affirming environments are instead presumed to be criminals and relentlessly subjected to aggressive police tactics that result in unnecessary fear, arrests, injuries, and deaths.

The letter outlines steps to train law enforcement and to diversify, demilitarize and hold police departments accountable. It also calls for the establishment of a national commission to review current policies and provide solutions—as well as for the appointment of a federal czar to oversee the “implementation of equitable policing.”

You can read the petition in full over at the Washington Post

Israel Levels Gazan High-Rises, More Bedbugs in NYC’s MTA, ‘Diversity’ at the Emmys

Israel Levels Gazan High-Rises, More Bedbugs in NYC's MTA, 'Diversity' at the Emmys

Here’s what I’m reading up on this morning:

TAGS: Morning Rush

Following Ferguson: Michael Brown, Not an Angel, Just a Black Teen

Following Ferguson: Michael Brown, Not an Angel, Just a Black Teen

Michael Brown was laid to rest today, but much of the day’s conversation was spent responding to New York Times reporter John Elignon’s treatment of Brown in a Sunday article. Eligon’s key passage:

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

Those choice phrases reignited a roiling conversation on what exactly a black victim of state violence must be in order to be deserving of sympathy and justice. Who else had the New York Times described as “no angel”? Convicted murderers and rapists, one of the youth responsible for the Columbine shooting, Magic Johnson, Al Capone, and a Nazi field marshal—in other words, “hardened white criminals, or men of color,” Vanity Fair pointed out. (A New York Times’ profile of Officer Darren Wilson, who killed Brown, published the same day as its profile of Brown, detailed financial crimes of Wilson’s mother, and otherwise described Wilson as a, “well-mannered, relatively soft-spoken, even bland person.”) Dabbling in smoking and underaged drinking and listening to hip-hop are just about the very definition of adolescence, many pointed out, but in Michael Brown’s case, those details have been used as a kind of weapon against him and those seeking justice for his death.

Black Twitter eviscerated the narrative in its typical sardonic fashion:

Dexter Thomas, writing over at Medium in a story published on Saturday, had a prescient take on the New York Times story:

Maybe what we need is a 5’8, light-skinned, Harvard-bound, star tennis player/violinist/poet that volunteers at the local pet shelter, bakes amazing blueberry muffins, speaks with a Mid-Atlantic accent, has a white name, who has never taken a photo with anything other than a thumbs up and a smile, and just recently published a groundbreaking cure for cancer in Science.

And we need him to die. Someone needs to find this boy, and kill him in public. It’s our only hope.

I’d offer myself, honestly. I would. But I got a D in Calculus once, so I don’t think I qualify. I’m not good enough.

The outcry drew a response from the New York Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan. Eligon, a black man himself, told Sullivan of his word choice, “Hindsight is 20/20. I wish I would have changed that.”

California Passes Bill Banning Forced Sterilizations of Inmates

California Passes Bill Banning Forced Sterilizations of Inmates

Last Tuesday the California legislature passed a bill banning the forced sterilizations of inmates in California prisons, KQED reported. The California state Senate passed SB 1135, authored by State Sen. Hannah Beth-Jackson of Santa Barbara, in a unanimous vote. The bill was a legislative response to a 2013 story from the Center for Investigative Reporting which found that prison physicians performed tubal ligations on at least 148 women inmates between 2006 and 2010 without state authorization.

SB 1135 will prohibit sterilizations except when a mother’s life is in danger or in order to treat a medical condition where no other less serious options exist.

“It’s clear that we need to do more to make sure that forced or coerced sterilizations never again occur in our jails and prisons,” Jackson said in a statement. “Pressuring a vulnerable population into making permanent reproductive choices without informed consent violates our most basic human rights.”

Corey Johnson reported for CIR last year:

To be sure, tubal ligations represented a small portion of the medical care provided to pregnant inmates. Statistics and a report from the prison receiver’s office show that from 2000 to 2010, 2,423 women gave birth while imprisoned in California, costing the state $2.7 million. Fewer than 1 in 10 were surgically sterilized.

But the numbers don’t tell the full story. California still grapples with an ugly past: Under compulsory sterilization laws here and in 31 other states, minority groups, the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill and criminals were singled out as inferior and sterilized to prevent them from spreading their genes.

It was known as eugenics.

Gov. Jerry Brown must sign or veto the bill before the end of the state legislature’s session on August 31.

#HandsUpWalkOut: Students Honor Michael Brown Today

#HandsUpWalkOut: Students Honor Michael Brown Today

Were Michael Brown not shot and killed by Darren Wilson on August 9, he would have been a new student at Vatterott College, a Missouri trade school. But Brown’s seat is empty today. Missouri’s Organization for Black Struggle, along with Freedom Side and Dream Defenders, called for students to host #HandsUpWalkOut on their campuses today, as a way to remember Michael Brown and other lives that have ended too soon due to police violence. Students around the country answered the call.

Here are just some of the tweets and images from today’s actions: 

Ferguson Goes Back to School, With Double the Counselors

Ferguson Goes Back to School, With Double the Counselors

Monday marked the first day of school for the Ferguson Florissant School District’s 11,000 students after protests pushed back the start of school by nearly two weeks. Signs and pinwheels urging peace welcomed students back to school, St. Louis’ KPLR reported. And support from St. Louis health agencies Health Circle and the Children’s Service Fund funded a short-term doubling of the 33 full-time school counselors the school district employs, Huffington Post and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. 

Students at Michael Brown’s alma mater, Normandy High School, returned to school last week. With the 18-year-old teen’s death still fresh on people’s minds, educators are grappling with how to respond to recent events in their classrooms. Teachers at Normandy High school opted for open conversation, NBC News reported, while some educators in Illinois have been urged to “change the subject” if Ferguson comes up in class, the New York Times reported.

This is How Mourners Entered Michael Brown’s Funeral Services

This is How Mourners Entered Michael Brown's Funeral Services

Michael Brown’s funeral is underway at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis. Mourners made their way into the chapel today with their hands up. 

Watch Live: Michael Brown’s Funeral

Watch Live: Michael Brown's Funeral

Today marks the funeral for Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old who was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014. You can watch the live feed from the services here. 

Brown’s Family Prepares for Funeral, IS Takes Syrian Airbase, Schimmel’s Amazing Pass

Brown's Family Prepares for Funeral, IS Takes Syrian Airbase, Schimmel's Amazing Pass

Here’s what I’m reading up on this morning:

  • Burger King and Tim Horton may merge, which may mean BK would move to Canada. 
  • Shoni Schimmel’s behind-the-back pass is everything:

TAGS: Morning Rush

Following Ferguson: Grand Jury 101

Following Ferguson: Grand Jury 101

The grand jury has been seated, and it happens to be three-quarters white. Now what?

“The Good Wife” can only teach so much. Los Angeles Times reporter Lauren Raab breaks down the roles and responsibilities of the various actors in the room and explains the task ahead of the grand jury. In order to indict Officer Darren Wilson, Raab reports, three-quarters of the 12-member panel will need to agree to do so.

The grand jury will be bound by case law that defines when use of force by a police officer is justified, reports AP’s Eileen Sullivan. “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote in the 1989 decision of the key case Graham v. Connor.

Sullivan reports:

The key question will be: Would a reasonable police officer, with a background such as Wilson’s, have responded the same way?

The answer is typically yes.

This kind of legal standard is exactly why courtrooms are an awful venue to seek justice when seemingly unwarranted police killings occur. We’ve been here before. Just four years ago in 2010, murder charges alone against the BART police officer who killed Oscar Grant were a rarity. That Johannes Mehserle was eventually convicted—even if he served a short jail sentence—was itself historic. 

“In my long history being involved in police matters since 1979 and well over 30 homicides with police, never have I had a case when a police officer was convicted of any crime against an African-American male,” the Grant family attorney John Burris said when Mehserle was found guilty.

The legal debate will continue, as will the public debate. More outlets are picking up on Colorlines reporter Carla Murphy’s call to speak with white folks in the St. Louis area. What did New York Times reporter Campbell Robertson find? Indifference, anxiety, and in some cases, outright anti-black animus.

“They always want to stir up to trouble, the blacks,” said David Goad, 64, a retired movie projector operator who lives in a neighborhood bordering Ferguson. “I grew up around blacks, so I know how they are,” he said. “That’s why we had to get out in 1962, because it was getting so bad.”

NBC In Plain Sight reporter Seth Wessler explores similar terrain. Whites and blacks, unsurprisingly, seem to live in two Fergusons. Longstanding residential segregation and racial isolation contributes to white people’s inability to wrap their minds around Ferguson’s reality for black residents, as we discussed in Thursday’s roundup.

As always, please share your reads and we’ll see you back here on Monday.

[Video] Michael Brown’s Parents Looking to Feds for Justice

[Video] Michael Brown's Parents Looking to Feds for Justice

After meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder, Michael Brown’s parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., told Anderson Cooper that they trusted the federal government to do a proper investigation into the Furgeson police killing of their unarmed son. Brown’s father also said that the killer, Officer Darren Wilson, should go to jail so the familly can “have some type of peace.”

Watch a segment of the interview above and visit for additional footage.

Groups Sue Over Fast-Track Deportations of Migrant Mothers

Groups Sue Over Fast-Track Deportations of Migrant Mothers

The Obama administration’s efforts to fast-track the processing and deportations of newly arrived migrants being held in New Mexico are violating the rights of women and children who are seeking asylum in the U.S., charges a lawsuit filed today by four immigrant and civil rights groups.

The ACLU, American Immigration Council, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild and the National Immigration Law Center sued the the federal government over the way it’s treated women and children held in a detention center in Artesia, New Mexico. 

Women and children who have fled to the U.S. are being mistreated by deportation and detention policies that limit their contact with attorneys, intimidate women while they are detained, and “prejudge” asylum cases by prioritizing expediency over consideration of people’s individual circumstances.

“U.S. law guarantees [these women and children] a fair opportunity to seek asylum,” Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement. “Yet, the government’s policy violates that basic law and core American values — we do not send people who are seeking asylum back into harm’s way. We should not sacrifice fairness for speed in life-or-death situations.”

Women who fear for their lives should they be deported were cut off from phone calls after three minutes, making it impossible to prepare for hearings or get legal help, the complaint states. Mothers were asked and forced to answer questions about rape and other traumatic events with their children present. 

This week Sarah Perez, an immigration attorney, wrote for Fox News Latino about her attempts to provide legal representation to women and children detained at the Artesia facility. Perez wrote:

You want to inform people about their rights? Not in Artesia. 

We created flyers to let the detainees know that they have the right to an attorney, and that there are pro bono attorneys ready to consult with them. 

In the morning we handed them out, but in the afternoon detainees told us that they’d been told that if they were caught with the flyers, they would be in trouble.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Read the complaint at the ACLU.

NBC News Erroneously Reports Michael Brown Committed a ‘Stick-Up’

NBC News Erroneously Reports Michael Brown Committed a 'Stick-Up'

In an NBC News article published Wednesday evening, reporter Tom Winter erroneously wrote that Michael Brown was seen committing a “stick-up” in a video released by police. Ethics professor Jeremy V. Cruz provided Colorlines with a screen grab of how the article appeared on the site Wednesday evening:


Cruz brought up the error up to Winter himself Thursday afternoon on Twitter:

Winter responded that he could “see why people may imply a gun was used.” But the word “stick-up” doesn’t imply that a gun is used—the dictionary definition of “stick-up” indicates that it’s a robbery in which a gun a used:

stick-up-1.jpgNBC News has since updated the story, without explanation.

Even if Brown had used a gun in the alleged robbery that occurred before he was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, it wouldn’t matter. Wilson stopped Brown for jaywalking—not as a suspect in a crime. 

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