TeenSafe, a service used by parents to monitor the online behaviors and phone activity of their children, allowed tens of thousands of accounts to leak online after failing to properly secure their servers.
You may have heard about that unsettling incident last week—the one in which a white Yale graduate student called campus police on a black classmate who’d fallen asleep on the sofa in the common room of their student apartment building. Yale officers detained the black student, Lolade Siyonbola, for 15 minutes in order to, as one cop put it, “make sure you belong here.”
The caller clearly had issues—and to their credit, the Yale cops say they admonished her that this wasn’t a matter requiring police intervention. Yet it was just the latest in a series of recent encounters between police and African Americans that highlight just how low the bar is for white Americans to sic law enforcement on black people.
The police calls that have made headlines in recent weeks are a minority of those made to law enforcement—in fact, police chiefs often rationalize the heavy law enforcement presence in black and brown communities by noting that people in those communities make more calls to the police by far. Still, calls from white Americans like what we saw at Yale happen every day, and the attention these incidents have received from national media—including Mother Jones—marks a welcome shift in our dialogue around race and policing.
In the month since two law-abiding black men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks, white people have called police on a group of black women who were golfing too slowly, on a group of black girls goofing around outside a formal dinner, and on a black real-estate investor who was inspecting a house he had under contract. White staff at a Nordstrom Rack called police on three black teens shopping for prom clothes because they wrongfully suspected them of stealing—and I quickly discovered this wasn’t a first for Nordstrom Rack.
During the same time period, a former Obama staffer was reported to police as a possible burglar while moving things into his new apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and black women picking up trash on the side of a Pennsylvania highway as community service for their sorority were questioned by police after someone called and claimed they were fighting. (They were not.) In Oakland, California, a white woman called police after confronting two black men barbecuing with charcoal in a lakeside area designated for gas grills. This list goes on.
These completely preventable police encounters are triggered by ignorant calls from people who view black people through a lens of suspicion, and they only add to the routine profiling of black folks by police, who already ticket and/or arrest us for minor violations such as jaywalking and pot smoking at disproportionate rates.In a 2016 Pew survey, nearly half of black respondents said they had been treated with suspicion because of their race within the past year, and 18 percent said they had been unfairly stopped by police.
Police agencies encourage citizens to act as their eyes and ears, to make a report whenever something doesn’t seem quite right—better safe than sorry. And that may sound reasonable. But when black skin is an ingredient for appearing “suspicious,” citizen vigilance becomes an invitation for trouble. In a 2017 Mother Jonesessay titled, “Why the NRA Has Been a Disaster for Black People,” Harvard researcher Caroline Light described new research that demonstrates how race distorts American people’s perceptions:
Psychologists showed facial photos of young black men and young white men to 951 study participants. The black men were consistently judged to be bigger and stronger than the white men, even though all were roughly the same size. In addition, nonblack participants in the study judged the black men as “more capable of causing harm in a hypothetical altercation and, troublingly, [believed] that police would be more justified in using force to subdue them, even if the men were unarmed,” explained the study’s lead author, Montclair State University researcher John Paul Wilson. Darker-skinned men and those with more stereotypically black features “tended to be most likely to elicit biased size perceptions,” he added.
Remember that George Zimmerman, who was of Peruvian and German descent, called the cops on Trayvon Martin after racially profiling him as a potential burglar. Zimmerman then stalked, confronted, and killed the boy before police arrived. “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” former President Obama remarked after Zimmerman’s 2013 acquittal, noting that he, too, had experienced racial profiling before he became president.
If the past month’s headlines have shown us anything, it’s that white people often need to take a deep breath and ask themselves whether calling the police is really necessary in a given situation—because many times it is not. Getting law enforcement involved is an extreme response thattends to escalate conflicts. For black people, that call to law enforcement can have dire consequences—black men ages 15 to 34 were killed by police at four times the rate of our white counterparts in 2016.
That’s why it’s especially egregious when white people use 911 like a personal grievance hotline, summoning officers for something as minor as a black person arguing with restaurant staff—orbecause our behavior makes the caller uncomfortable, or because they think we might be up to no good. There’s an old adage that police aren’t just enforcers of the law, as Jason Johnson noted in TheRoot after the Starbucks arrests; they are also the enforcers of social norms and hierarchies. In America, the norm is white comfort and the hierarchy is racial. We often see this dynamic play out in fast-gentrifying cities where white people deploy the police to bully unfamiliar black people out of their neighborhoods and away from their establishments.
These frivolous calls to police may be an even more intractable problem than police bias. They implicate not just a few hundred thousand cops but nearly 200 million white people.Accountability requires examining not just how police wield the powers assigned them by a badge, but how whites wield the racial privilege they enjoy from birth.
The solution to this problem isn’t clear. Maybe there isn’t one. Plenty of white folks view the police as their protectors, and in a nation literally founded on racism there will always be those who seek protection from blackness. What’s clear, though, is that it’s time for a broader discussion about how white civilians facilitate anti-black policing.
To that end, white liberals will have to alter their rhetoric: “Silence is violence” is a favorite saying among those who fashion themselves allies of the Black Lives Matter movement. In other words, by failing to speak out against police brutality, whites allow it to perpetuate—and that’s certainly true. But that language overlooks their shared responsibility in bringing police violence to bear. White Americans who want to see an end to police abuses against black people need to interrogate their own role, consider what they can do differently, and encourage their peers to do the same.
This might mean choosing not to call law enforcement even when a call seems warranted—something some black people already do for our own safety, ironically enough. I recently spoke with Tiny Grey-Garcia, an organizer with the Oakland nonprofit Poor Magazine, which runs workshops encouraging people of all backgrounds to think about how they can resolve conflicts without the police.
The workshops include de-escalation techniques for mental health crises and other conflicts, but part of the process is to help participants to examine their own knee-jerk tendencies to call police first and ask questions later. “The reality is teaching them about themselves and getting them to confront that particular urge,” Grey-Garcia says. Many of Poor Magazine’s organizers are formerly homeless and/or have mental health conditions that previously resulted in citizen calls to the police. “We’re asking people, how have they equated safety and comfortability with a 911 call?”
Dave Reiling, the white man whose call sparked the police encounter that killed Stephon Clark, now regrets he ever picked up the phone. In March, Reiling called in to report that someone was breaking into cars on his block in south Sacramento. The responding officers encountered Clark, whom they identified as the suspect, in his grandparents’ backyard and then, apparently mistaking his cellphone for a gun, shot at him 20 times. The fatality made Reiling “never want to call 911 again,” he told a local paper. And his was, by most measures, a reasonable police call. Many are not.
Black people have enough to worry about in this country without police encounters initiated by people who invent reasons to call the cops on us. Their knack for doing so has become more and more offensive given the can of worms they must know they are opening. You want to talk about policing in America? Cool. While we’re at it, let’s talk about calling the police in America. Judging by recent headlines and the reactions to them, maybe that’s a conversation at least some white Americans are ready to have.
"There’s an old adage that police aren’t just enforcers of the law, ... they are also the enforcers of social norms and hierarchies. In America, the norm is white comfort and the hierarchy is racial. ... White Americans who want an end to police abuses against black people need to interrogate their own role."
It can be difficult to figure out what to do with your old electronics when you’re ready to move on from them, but here is one thing you should definitely not do: throw them in the trash. Discarded devices powered by lithium-ion batteries are basically fire bombs waiting to explode on unsuspecting sanitation workers.
A hacker has reportedly provided journalists with login credentials and other data stolen from the servers of Securus, a company that was recently revealed to be selling cellphone location information to U.S. law enforcement agencies without a warrant.
Sony is ending physical production of Vita games, Kotaku has learned. Although the hardware manufacturer says digital distribution will continue, this move will mark the end of physical cards for the maligned portable game system.
In the midst of this drama, Congress is tasked with renewing the farm bill—twice-a-decade legislation that shapes US agriculture and food-aid policy. Rep. Mike Conaway (R.-Texas), chair of the House Agriculture Committee, hopes to bring his version to a vote on the House floor this week. Let us count the ways it would bring pain to the US heartland:
• It tightens restrictions on food stamps—a program widely used in rural America. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps) is the nation’s premier food-aid program, and it represents around three-quarters of expenditures authorized by the farm bill. The farm bill draft circulating in the House would greatly increase work requirements on able-bodied adults—which would ultimately knock 1.2 million people out of the program, more than 60 percent of whom have kids. Conservative critics paint the benefits as a sop to the urban poor, but as Vann R. Newkirk II recently noted in the Atlantic, the program is vital in rural areas, “where poor adults and children can suffer deep food instability and jobs are ever harder to come by.”
The US Farm Bureau Federation—using data from The Food Research and Action Center—calculates that SNAP household participation rates in urban counties averaged 13 percent between 2011 and 2015, vs. 16 percent in rural counties and small towns. And those averages mask gaping differences, the Farm Bureau notes:
For example, in the eastern coal-field county of Owsley, Kentucky, the average percentage of households receiving SNAP benefits was 48 percent from 2011 to 2015. Meanwhile, in Jefferson County, Kentucky – home of Louisville, the largest urban area in the state – the percentage of households receiving SNAP benefits was below the national average at 15 percent. Similar patterns can be found across the US.
This county map illustrates just how much rural America relies on federal food aid:
• It could further undermine a shaky healthcare situation. In a 2017 report, researchers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that rural residents “tend to be older, poorer, and sicker than their urban counterparts.” Mortality rates from the five leading causes of death—heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease (CLRD), and stroke—are all significantly higher in rural areas than in cities, the CDC found. As Mother Jones’ Kiera Butler noted last year, farmers have it particularly tough: The average age for US farmers is 58, their on-the-job injury and death rates are among the highest of any occupation, and health costs cause them lots of stress.
The Republican Party’s tax bill, signed into law late last year, has already made the situation worse by repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate—a move likely to fallhard on already-struggling rural hospitals. And as Julie Appleby reports for NPR, the House farm bill carries its own subtle and potentially damaging dig at Obamacare. It contains a provision for $65 million in loans and grants, to be overseen by the US Department of Agriculture to help ag groups establish farmer-directed “association health plans.” Here’s Appleby on why that’s less innocuous than it sounds:
Under Trump’s proposal, association plans would not have to offer coverage across 10 broad “essential” categories of care, including hospitalization, prescription drugs and emergency care. They could also spend less of the revenue from premiums on medical care.
The plans—coupled with another Trump administration move to make short-term insurance more widely available—could draw healthier people out of the ACA markets, leaving the pool of beneficiaries with higher percentages of people who need medical care. And that, some say, could drive up premiums for those who remain in marketplace plans.
• It could mean more exposure to toxic pesticides. The House farm bill draft contains a slate of measures that would roll back regulation of pesticides. As Environmental Working Group notes, it would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to approve new pesticides without having to consult with other government agencies, undermining the Endangered Species Act. “That means that EPA would no longer need to wait for independent research on the toxicity of pesticides in rivers, wetlands and prairies from the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the Interior Department, or in estuaries and coastal waters from the National Marine Fisheries Service in the Commerce Department,”writes The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Derrick Z. Jackson.
It would also allow farmers to apply pesticides near water ways without having to obtain permits under the Clean Water Act, and lighten restrictions on use of the highly carcinogenic fumigant methyl bromide, which the US government agreed to phase out because it so severely depletes the ozone layer. According to Jackson of UCS, these and other regulatory rollbacks in the bill would “would usher in the weakest federal protections against pesticide abuse since Rachel Carson charted the destruction of species by overuse of DDT and other pesticides in her seminal 1962 book Silent Spring.”
• It does little to ease the plight of farmers locked in a cycle of over-production and low prices. Prices for corn and soybeans—by far the largest US crops—are mired in a multi-yearslump. For dairy farmers, a glut has driven milk prices down 40 percent since 2014, triggering a spike in suicides and farm failures in the northeast. Overall, the US Department of Agriculture projects that net farm income will hit its lowest level since 2006 this year. The House GOP farm bill draft maintains the same crop subsidies and insurance programs that keep US farmers stuck in overproduction. As Leah Douglas recently reported in Mother Jones, it doesn’t have to be this way:
With a trade war looming, commodity prices falling, and the dairy industry in full-blown crisis, a growing number of American farmers are embracing a controversial set of farm policies that would manage the country’s commodity production and stabilize crop prices. The policies, known as supply management, governed US agriculture for decades but were abandoned in the late 20th century as large-scale monocropping and commodity exports came to define farm policy.
Under supply management programs, which were abandoned decades ago, the USDA helps farmers coordinate production cuts when prices plunge, ensuring they get a fair price. As Douglas notes, it works against the interests of food processors, for whom overproduction means low input costs. In the previous farm bill, passed in 2014, House Democrats pushed for a supply-management mechanism for dairy farmers, but Republicans killed it. The current House bill contains no supply management proposals, or any new ways to help farmers manage chronic overproduction.
Meanwhile, Conawayfaces an uphill battle pushing the farm bill through the House—Democrats universally oppose it because of the tweaks to SNAP, and some ultra-conservative Republicans are holding out for a version that makes steeper food-aid cuts. If this version does ultimately reach the president’s desk and win his signature, it will represent more hard tidings for to rural America.