Facebook Decisions Were ‘Setbacks for Civil Rights,’ Audit Finds – By Mike Isaac – The New York Times

“SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook has not done enough to fight discrimination on its platform and has made some decisions that were “significant setbacks for civil rights,” according to a new independent audit of the company’s policies and practices.

In a 100-page prepublication report, which was obtained by The New York Times, the social network was repeatedly faulted for not having the infrastructure for handling civil rights and for prioritizing free expression on its platform over nondiscrimination. In some decisions, Facebook did not seek civil rights expertise, the auditors said, potentially setting a “terrible” precedent that could affect the November general election and other speech issues.

“Many in the civil rights community have become disheartened, frustrated and angry after years of engagement where they implored the company to do more to advance equality and fight discrimination, while also safeguarding free expression,” wrote the auditors, Laura W. Murphy and Megan Cacace, who are civil rights experts and lawyers. They said they had “vigorously advocated for more and would have liked to see the company go further to address civil rights concerns in a host of areas.”

The report, which was the culmination of two years of examination of the social network, was another blow for the Silicon Valley company. Facebook has been under pressure for allowing hate speech, misinformation and other content that can go against people’s civil rights to fester on its site. While rivals like Twitter, Snap and Reddit have all taken action in recent weeks to label, downplay or ban such content, Facebook has said it will not do so because it believes in free speech.

 

That has spurred civil rights groups to organize a “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign aimed against the social media company. More than 300 advertisers like Coca-Cola and North Face recently agreed to pause their spending on Facebook because it had failed to curtail the spread of hate speech and misinformation on its platform.

On Tuesday, civil rights leaders met with Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, and chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, with 10 demands, including appointing a civil rights executive. But those who attended said the Facebook executives did not agree to many of their requests and instead spouted “spin.”

DL: Social Media does not have to follow the same rules as newspapers, and that has to change.

Opinion | Bring On the 28th Amendment – By Richard L. Hasen – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Hasen is the author of “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust and the Threat to American Democracy.”

Credit…Audra Melton for The New York Times

“What if we made voting an agent of equality, not inequality? And how can we get there?

If you are a college student or a working recent high school graduatepoorLatino, or someone who moves more frequently, you are less likely to vote. Seniors are much more likely to vote than young people, in some elections at twice their rate. Those with college degrees vote in higher numbers than the less educated. Minority voters are more likely to wait longer in line to vote in person, sometimes for hours, and they, young people, and first-time voters are more likely to have an absentee ballot rejected for nonconformity with technical rules. Poor voters are less likely to have the time off work to vote at all, much less wait in a long line to vote. Voters in big cities, who tend to be younger, poorer and browner, have coped with more serious election problems than others in voting in person and by mail during our coronavirus-laden primary season, like the voters in Milwaukee voters who saw 175 out of 180 polling places closed during the April 7 Wisconsin primaries.

In a democratic system, we expect our elected officials to be responsive to the views and interests of the voters. If the universe of voters — and, of course, campaign donors — is skewed toward older, wealthier, better educated whiter voters, political decisions will be as well. We need equality in voting rights and turnout to assure responsive representation and social policy that reflects everyone’s needs, not just those most likely to turn out with their votes and dollars.

Let’s start with the causes of the problem. The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare three pathologies with how we protect voting rights in the United States, and why the skew in voter turnout remains persistent.”

Opinion | The Tulsa Race Massacre, Revisited – By Brent Staples – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Staples is a member of the editorial board.

Credit…Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

“The lynch mobs that hanged, shot or burned African-Americans alive during the early 20th century sometimes varied the means of slaughter by roping victims to cars and dragging them to death. The killers who re-enacted this barbaric ritual in Tulsa, Okla., on June 1, 1921, committed one of the defining atrocities of the Tulsa Race Massacre, the bloody conflagration during which white vigilantes murdered at will while looting and burning one of the most affluent black communities in the United States.

The helpless old black man who was shredded alive behind a fast-moving car would have been well known in Tulsa’s white downtown, where he supported himself by selling pencils and singing for coins. He was blind, had suffered amputations of both legs and wore baseball catcher’s mitts to protect his hands from the pavement as he scooted along on a wheeled wooden platform.  . . . . “

“Greenwood, whose business district was known as the Negro Wall Street, was the seat of African-American affluence in the Southwest, with two newspapers, two movie theaters and a commercial strip featuring some of the finest black-owned businesses in the country. White Tulsa’s business elite resented the competition all the more because the face of that competition was black. Beyond that, the white city saw the bustling black community as an obstacle to Tulsa’s expansion.

The white press set the stage for Greenwood’s destruction by deriding the community as “Niggertown” and portraying its jazz clubs as founts of vice, immorality and, by implication, race mixing. As was often the case in the early 20th century, a false accusation of attempted rape opened the door for white Tulsans to act out their antipathies.

A black man accused of accosting a white woman in a downtown elevator in broad daylight was predictably arrested, and, just as predictably, a mob convened at the courthouse spoiling for an evening’s lynching entertainment. Black Tulsans who appeared on the scene to prevent the lynching exchanged gunfire with the mob. Outmanned and outgunned, they retreated to Greenwood to defend against the coming onslaught.

The city guaranteed mayhem by deputizing members of the lynch mob — a catastrophic decision, given that Oklahoma was a center of Ku Klux Klan activity — and instructing them to “get a gun, and get busy and try to get a nigger.” The white men who surged into Greenwood may well have been told to burn the district. Greenwood’s defenders fought valiantly but were quickly overwhelmed.”

Opinion | Three Futures for the Police – By Ross Douthat – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times

“American policing is going to emerge changed from this June of protest. The question is whether it will be altered for the better. So let’s consider three possible scenarios for change — one building on the current system, another more ambitious but also riskier, and a third to be avoided at all costs.

At this point, almost everyone except their union reps agrees that American police officers are too well defended from accountability. Collective bargaining makes police misconduct more common; the terms of union contracts often obstruct disciplinary action. It’s too hard to fire bad cops, too easy to rehire them, too difficult to sue them, too challenging to win a guilty verdict when they’re charged with an offense. All of which means it’s too easy for cops to get away with abuse, violence, murder.

On the other hand, as Charles Fain Lehman of The Washington Free Beacon points out, police departments aren’t as awash in funding as the rhetoric of “defund the cops” — even in its milder or nonliteral interpretations — would suggest. As a share of budgets, state and local spending on the police increased in the 1990s but has been flat or falling for the last two decades. (Indeed, cities may be offering sweeping union protections to their cops as a way to avoid paying them more money.) Despite frequent suggestions that the United States overspends on policing, as a share of gross domestic product, the European Union spends 33 percent more on cops than the United States does — while spending far less than us on prisons.

There are good reasons to think that the Europeans know what they’re doing. A substantial body of research suggests that putting more cops on the beat meaningfully reduces crime. And even the American neighborhoods that suffer most from police misconduct and brutality are often still under-policed when it comes to actually solving murder cases.”

David Lindsay, comment in the NYT:

Thank you Ross Douthat. You wrote: “At this point, almost everyone except their union reps agrees that American police officers are too well defended from accountability. Collective bargaining makes police misconduct more common; the terms of union contracts often obstruct disciplinary action. It’s too hard to fire bad cops, too easy to rehire them, too difficult to sue them, too challenging to win a guilty verdict when they’re charged with an offense. All of which means it’s too easy for cops to get away with abuse, violence, murder.” With such a clear opening statement, you could only add value to a most complicated debate. I would love to hear more about how the Europeans do better than us. I also, as a trained martial artist, would like to see all police officers required to work towards a black belt in Aikido, the modern Japanese martial art about controlling an opponent, while also knowing how not to hurt them, as well as how to hurt them if necessary.

Opinion | Georgia Set Up a Polling Place in a Nursing Home – By Cliff Albright and LaTosha Brown – The New York Times

By Cliff Albright and 

Mr. Albright and Ms. Brown run a civic engagement organization based in Georgia.

“ATLANTA — On what should have been a signal day for democracy last week, when voters cast ballots in the statewide primary elections, the signs of a debacle were visible early: malfunctioning voting equipment, a bungled response to the pandemic, too few polling stations and the looming specter of police violence.

The lines in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward stretched three long blocks. At one site, voters couldn’t even cast ballots until four hours after the polling station opened. Some workers weren’t properly trained to use the new machines. Voters showed up at polling places that had quietly closed. It was a “hot mess,” said Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.

How could Georgia be so unprepared, especially after state officials twice delayed the primary vote?

Wait times of four to six hours were the last things we needed in a pandemic that has disproportionately killed black people and older people, and in a state that reopened prematurely. It’s part of a pattern of course, given Georgia’s long history of voter suppression and the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

Opinion | Abolishing Qualified Immunity Is Unlikely to Alter Police Behavior – By Daniel Epps – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Epps is an associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.

Credit…Madison Carter/WKBW, via Associated Press

“The national movement galvanized by the killing of George Floyd has created the possibility of transformational change to policing. One reform that has generated broad discussion is eliminating “qualified immunity,” the court-created doctrine that makes it difficult for people whose civil rights are violated by police officers to obtain money damages in lawsuits. There are good arguments for getting rid of this immunity, or at least seriously restricting it. But abolishing it is unlikely to change police behavior all that much.

Qualified immunity shields government officials from personal liability in federal lawsuits unless they violate “clearly established” federal law. That means that even if a police officer violates someone’s constitutional rights, the victim can’t obtain damages from the officer unless he or she can show that the officer violated a right explicitly recognized by a prior court ruling.

In theory, this requirement protects government defendants from unexpected liability when law changes. In practice, courts apply the doctrine aggressively to shield officers from lawsuits unless plaintiffs can point to other cases declaring essentially identical conduct unconstitutional — a difficult hurdle, even when police conduct appears clearly wrong.

Indeed, even if the former police officer Derek Chauvin is convicted of murdering Mr. Floyd, it’s quite plausible that a court could refuse to hold him liable for violating Mr. Floyd’s constitutional rights if his lawyers were unable to point to an earlier case making clear that the specific action Mr. Chauvin took — kneeling on a restrained person’s neck for more than eight minutes — was unconstitutional.”

Opinion | The Supreme Court Finally Provides Good News for Trans People – by Jennifer Finney Boylan – The New York Times

“. . . .  Last week, the author J.K. Rowling felt it necessary to unveil a screed against trans folks that ran to nearly 4,000 words, and read like a greatest-hits list of false statements and groundless fears.

She stated that trans men transition because being a woman is hard; they do not. She stated that trans women pose a threat to others in the ladies’ room; we do not. In fact, more Republican congressmen have been busted for causing trouble in public lavatories than trans women. But no one wants to throw them out of the Coast Guard.

The effect of Ms. Rowling’s manifesto was immediate and passionate — I heard from many young L.G.B.T.Q. people who’d grown up reading her books who responded to her words with sadness and fury. Surely Ms. Rowling was familiar with a series of books about a group of outcasts who were treated differently simply because of who they were?”

David Lindsay:

This op-ed by By Jennifer Finney Boylan  confused and upset me. It it threw around terms like TERF, which I’ve never heard of, and attacked J K Rowling, whom I admire greatly and even revere. I have read Rowling’s Harry Potter series and listened to them read by Jim Dale multiple times, for more times than I have ever read the Bible or any other religious texts.

The top comments calmed me down, as one reader after another defended Rowling’s carefully written 4000 word essay which is on her own blog from last week. I felt the need to read the Rowling piece for myself, and I found it to be everything that the Boylan piece wasn’t. Grounded, clear, fair, and ferociously brave and intelligent. Rowling wrote,

“… activists … accuse me of hatred, call me misogynistic slurs and, above all – as every woman involved in this debate will know – TERF.

If you didn’t already know  ….  ‘TERF’ is an acronym coined by trans activists, which stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. In practice, a huge and diverse cross-section of women are currently being called TERFs and the vast majority have never been radical feminists. Examples of so-called TERFs range from the mother of a gay child who was afraid their child wanted to transition to escape homophobic bullying, to a hitherto totally unfeminist older lady who’s vowed never to visit Marks & Spencer again because they’re allowing any man who says they identify as a woman into the women’s changing rooms. ”

J K Rowling would be a better choice for an occassional op-ed writer.

 

Tasers: Are These Police Tools Effective and Are They Dangerous? – The New York Times

“The fatal police shooting of Rayshard Brooks, a black man who was found asleep in a car in a drive-through at a Wendy’s on Friday night in Atlanta, has reignited the debate over Tasers.

Mr. Brooks, 27, had fled from the police after failing a sobriety test, and grabbed a Taser from an officer during a struggle, the authorities said.

“During the chase, Mr. Brooks turned and pointed the Taser at the officer,” the authorities said, adding that “the officer fired his weapon, striking Brooks.”

Kalfani N. Turè, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, said the shooting of Mr. Brooks was what was known in police circles as “lawful but awful.”

That is, he said, officers are trained that they have the right to escalate their use of force if they believe someone is threatening to incapacitate them.

In the case of Mr. Brooks, Professor Turè said, other options were available to the officers: Identify Mr. Brooks through his car and track him down later, for instance, or call for backup to help apprehend him.”

Opinion | When It Works to ‘Defund the Police’ – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

““Defund the police” is a catchy phrase, but some Americans hear it and imagine a home invasion, a frantic call to 911 — and then no one answering the phone.

That’s not going to happen. Rather, here’s a reassuring example of how defunding has worked in practice.

In the 1990s, both the United States and Portugal were struggling with how to respond to illicit narcotics. The United States doubled down on the policing toolbox, while Portugal followed the advice of experts and decriminalized the possession even of hard drugs.

So in 2001, Portugal, to use today’s terminology, defunded the police for routine drug cases. Small-time users get help from social workers and access to free methadone from roving trucks.

This worked — not perfectly, but pretty well. As I found when I reported from Portugal a few years ago, the number of heroin users there fell by three-quarters and the overdose fatality rate was the lowest in Western Europe. Meanwhile, after decades of policing, the United States was losing about 70,000 Americans a year from overdoses. In effect, Portugal appeared to be winning the war on drugs by ending it.

That’s the idea behind “Defund the Police” as most conceive it — not to eliminate every police officer but to reimagine ways to make us safe that don’t necessarily involve traditional law enforcement”

Opinion | The Scandal of the Predatory City – By Bernadette Atuahene – The New York Times

By 

Ms. Atuahene is a law professor at IIT, Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Credit…Claire Merchlinsky

“I coined the term “predatory cities” to describe urban areas where public officials systematically take property from residents and transfer it to public coffers, intentionally or unintentionally violating domestic laws or basic human rights.

Ferguson, Mo., is one well-known predatory city. As a 2015 Department of Justice report showed, the police in Ferguson systematically targeted African-Americans and subjected them to excessive fines and fees. The U.S. Constitution does not allow judges to incarcerate defendants for unpaid debts without first determining their ability to pay. Nevertheless, local courts issued arrest warrants for unpaid fines and fees without these determinations. Minor offenses, like parking infractions, resulted in jail time, although lawmakers did not contemplate or approve such severe punishment. The Ferguson Police Department and courts prioritized revenue raising over public safety, transforming Ferguson into a predatory city.

New Orleans is another. In 2018, a Federal District Court ruled that the revival of debtors’ prisons in New Orleans violated the 14th Amendment. At the time, Orleans Parish Criminal District Court’s primary source of funding was the fines and fees it collected. This created a structural incentive for judges to aggressively and erroneously pursue payment from those with no ability to pay, turning New Orleans into a predatory city.

Washington, D.C., is yet another predatory city. While civil asset forfeiture laws allow the police to seize property that they suspect was involved in a crime, in Washington, D.C., property owners had to post bonds of up to $2,500 in order to challenge the seizure. If the owner could not raise money in time, the D.C. Police Department sold the property, and the money went into its annual budget. In a two-year period, the Police Department made $4.8 million in profit by seizing money from over 8,500 people as well as seizing 339 vehicles. According to a federal court, this abuse of civil forfeiture laws was illegal.