madison, race

Quote of the evening (partly paraphrased): “I know you sat around and let Walker get elected. You-all didn’t think Walker was going to hurt YOU-all, just us Black and Brown and poor people.”

This seemed fitting, as I’ve been party to many political conversations about the narrowing of the protest to the collective bargaining issue. The ranks are not at all happy about their leadership just conceding the financial issues. The proposal will cost state workers a minimum of 6-7% of their salary, more if they are low wage, as the health insurance premiums do not vary with income. But there is a lot of other stuff in the bill that is being completely ignored. It would give the governor the right to kill off Medicaid — a coalition is trying to bring up that issue, but isn’t making it out of the din. Another part of the bill that isn’t being contested is the right of the Governor to sell off state property without taking competitive bids or gaining the approval of the Public Works Commission. And, of course, with so much under attack, nobody is even considering the possibility of improving social services for the most destitute. This year’s deficit could be made up at $32 per adult in the state — it just isn’t that big. But the Republicans are busy cutting revenue via cutting various business taxes.

This evening I went off to a long-scheduled meeting of a group seeking focus on racial disparities and form a local branch of WISDOM, Wisconsin’s Gamaliel Foundation group. I wasn’t sure anyone would be there with all the ruckus at the Capitol, but a fair number of folks did turn out, although I think everyone either already has some tie to the issue or has a direct tie to one of the organizers. Although the organizers were White (and spoke at the beginning and end of the program), all the invited speakers were Black: a lawyer who heads the racial disparities implementation team who gave an inspiring speech about hanging on, addressing the things we’d rather hide, and God’s calling; a former financial professional who provides job coaching for returning inmates (who stressed that he took the job because of his relationship with Jesus); and a former self-described gangster and drug dealer (quoted above) who told us how his life was turned around by “old white ladies” visiting him in prison. The fourth speaker was another former inmate who runs re-entry programs: he was a last-minute sub for the guy who was supposed to speak, who is currently being held in jail on a parole hold. The substitute speaker and another (white) person who is in his circle of support were talking later about how the parole agent won’t return calls and about what to do next to try to get him out. I also met a diversity specialist who was at the Law School forum earlier this month (about which I did not blog, but the recap is it featured the Black newly-appointed DA who will have to stand for election doing his best to talk the disparities issue into a muddy swamp) who wanted to connect.

The Madison protests are still going. A nasty storm kept the crowds small and indoors on Sunday; there was a rally Monday I did not go to.  Tuesday was another big rally day and the campus was asked to walk out in solidarity and march to the capitol. On the way back, I heard the guy behind me say: “This is Walker’s physical fitness program for the University. Walk up and down State Street every day.” The Steelworkers and Firemen are sleeping at the Capitol. Crowds are smaller. The police have told the protesters that they will try to clear the Capitol of sleepovers if the crowd gets small enough, and blog posts indicate that the sleepovers are being confined to smaller and smaller areas. The word I get is that the out-of-town union people are frightened of the police and keep spreading [false] rumors that the police are massing in riot gear. The locals think the police are acting friendly. Knowing how local police work, I’m pretty sure that if the Capitol is closed, they will be told to disperse and given time to do it, and then will have to face the question of whether to stay and risk arrest or confrontation.

The State Senators’ absence blocks passage only of budget bills. So the Republicans are setting about the business of passing all the other noxious legislation they can, including repealing the recently-passed requirement to collect racial traffic stop data and requiring voters to show ID.

And I finally started collecting personal email addresses so we can do protest support without violating the law. It is explicitly against the law for state workers to use state resources to lobby about a bill before the legislature. As you may imagine, a lot of people are ignoring this law, and there are a wide variety of interpretations about just what it means in this context, as workers do have the right to express opinions about their work conditions. Anyway, the personal email list removes this ambiguity, although it is cumbersome to use. I had to explain to people how to set up a gmail account.

On Wisconsin!

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clothes

Screen Shots from What Would You Do?

After presenting lots of statistics about racial disparities in criminal justice, I showed my class the videos from ABC News What Would You Do? in which first White and than Black youths vandalize a car in a public parking lot. There is only one 911 call on the White boys, but ten on the Black boys. Plus, while the White boys are vandalizing, someone calls 911 to report people who are suspected of planning a robbery — Black kids asleep in a nearby car! Well, most of the class, as expected, saw this the way I did, as evidence of a racial problem. I was trying to emphasize that not arresting Whites when they commit crimes is just as important in racial disparities as arresting Blacks. Some students pointed out (correctly) that it was a demonstration, not a controlled experiment and wondered (fairly) whether the producers selected cases for their strong differences. But a few very vocally insisted that the difference was not about race at all, but that the Black kids were wearing “gang clothing.” They got somewhat offended when I said, “yeah, Black styles” and then cut off that line of argument, saying “OK we disagree on that, but I don’t want to spend the rest of the class arguing about clothing.”

Today I went back to the video and took screen shots of the kids. They are all wearing hooded sweatshirts and jeans, as I said. (One student had insisted that the White kids wore tucked in shirts! Not so.)  There are subtle differences in how they wear the clothes, though. The Black kids’ clothes are bigger on them (and the kids themselves appear to me to be smaller). The White kids’ shirts have words on them which I assume are school names (the resolution isn’t good enough for me to read them) while one Black kid has some sort of design on it that you could construe as edgy — it is definitely not preppy. One Black kid is wearing a cap which (as can be seen elsewhere in the video) is a gold weave thing that I cannot imagine a White kid wearing, but he’s wearing it in the same way as lots of White kids wear baseball caps. In my view the only difference between the clothing was subtle differences in style sensibilities between Blacks and Whites, and that calling the Black kids’ clothing “gang attire” is ridiculous. These few students think that if the Black kids had been in “non-gang” (i.e. “White”) clothing, the result would have been different. (They did not even suggest dressing the White kids in “gang” styles.) I think they are just exhibiting extreme resistance to the obvious. (The same students criticized me for failing to show examples of Black crime.) Opinions?

Edit: I decided to add shots of the kid with the most distinctively Black hat. In these shots you can see that he’s also wearing a do-rag.  Just to be fair. I can find no evidence that this is “gang attire.” But it is certainly distinctively Black. Do you think it’s the do-rag and not the skin color that matters here?

Public Hearing

My recent posts may make it appear that all I’m doing is writing Stata code. That would be only half true. Apart from some personal issues I can’t write about (because they involve other people) and trying to remember how to write sociology, I’ve been at a LOT of meetings for the disparities task force. One of the public hearings was last week. Away from the computer and out into the heartbreak of real life. As I expected, we heard stories of unfair police treatment, including mass ticketing of Latinos for playing music in the park, A Latino guy who says he has been here 20 years but things have gotten much worse in the past two years, and one guy who was basically claiming he had been framed by police on a drug charge (his story was quite specific about what he said happened) whose testimony led a lawyer on the panel to caution him that he should be careful about what he said about a case that had not been adjudicated yet. I had not expected to hear about ICE [immigration] raids here: I guess I have not been paying attention.   People saying they are police knock on the door and ask to come in; once in they announce they are ICE and haul people off to the ICE holding center 90 miles away to be held for deportation hearings. Tearful women speak in English and Spanish (there is an interpreter): we are here, we have been here twenty years, we are working, we are law abiding, we pay taxes, what about our children who were born here and went to school here, what will happen to them if we are deported, if their fathers are deported? There is also concern that any Latino picked up for any law violation (no matter how small) is taken downtown and run through ICE. Many minor offenses turn into deportations. Suggestions from public officials that they are holding closed-door negotiations trying to deal with these issues and a lot of “could you talk to us privately later?” statements from activists.

Most of the testimony was less about racial disparity per se and more about the Kafka-esque nature of the criminal justice system and the way it perpetuates economic hardship. We heard from a young White woman whose father was imprisoned for sexually assaulting older siblings, whose complaint was that the family was left without a breadwinner and no social support for her now-single mother and a family of young children. We heard from a number of people, both Black and White, about the arbitrary rules and restrictions of probation and parole supervision, including GPS monitors that malfunction and lose signal indoors (one malfunctioned at the hearing while a high-placed official watched it), forcing the person monitored to leave what he is doing (even if he is at work and being watched by a boss) and go outside, or face incarceration for escape. They also complained that supervision is all about keeping track of you and making you show up for meetings, and not at all about helping you get a job or housing. If you miss an appointment or a meeting or violate the terms of supervision (perhaps go to a party at your boss’s house where alcohol is served and a condition of your supervision is no contact with alcohol), you can be charged with felony bail jumping and there you are, incarcerated. A middle-aged White guy (imprisoned several times for drunk driving) complained that he had a job waiting for him in a city 50 miles away with a boss who said he’d accept responsibility for his housing etc., but the parole officer would not authorize the move out of town.

If you are on “community supervision” (probation before prison, parole or extended supervision after), you are under constant surveillance. Community corrections officers have almost complete discretion to tell you what your conditions of supervision are, including a high level of reporting. The basic rule is that you cannot violate any law (federal, state, or municipal) nor do anything that would threaten the public good or your own rehabilitation in any way. Ninety percent of the people revoked from probation or parole and sent to prison in this state have no new prison sentence – they are what is called a “technical violation.” If you get revoked, the clock starts over. There are many folks who will be on community supervision basically for the rest of their lives. People on supervision also get thrown in jail periodically for short periods on “holds” for things that are not bad enough to justify a revocation, but the corrections officer thinks you need to be taught a lesson, or perhaps you are alleged to have done something and they want to hold you until they figure out whether you did it. These don’t count as revocations, but a typical result of a hold is that you lose you job and your housing and thus start the spiral toward revocation and prison.

There was also a lot about child support, which you might not think connects with criminal justice, but does. For one thing, the meter keeps running on child support while you are in prison, so when you get out, you are automatically in arrears and in danger of being incarcerated for failing to make payments if you fall behind. (The money is actually owed to the state for welfare payments to the family, so only about half of the child support actually goes to the children.) When you have a prison record, it is hard to get a job and make the payments.  People told stories of being incarcerated for non-support just at the point at which they had finally gotten a job and were going to be able to make payments. Or another said he’d gotten a good job, was making payments and doing fine, but then lost job and complained that he was being threatened with incarceration for non-payment even though (he said) “they are withholding half of my unemployment check, they know I’m unemployed.” Oh and another penalty for non-support is losing your driver’s license. Then you get to choose between losing your job because you can’t get to it or risking arrest and incarceration for driving without a driver’s license. On a side note, this was the first time I’d actually heard a man use the phrase “baby mamas” non-ironically to refer to the mothers of his children.

And there was testimony about tickets: tickets for noise, tickets for smoking a joint, tickets for retail theft, tickets for parking or speeding. These seem like pretty minor things for those of us with money, but a $200 ticket is unpayable if you are poor. So the tickets pile up. And then one day you get arrested and incarcerated for failing to pay the tickets.

We now return to our regular programming: Stata files and trying to figure out how in the heck I’m going to turn all these graphs and tables into a massively-overdue book. Oh, I forgot the part where my task force subcommittee is behind on getting our recommendations together, largely because we don’t actually agree on what to recommend and have not done a very good job of working through our differences. That would be another story, if I could figure out how to write about it discreetly.

public sociology in farmtown (4): white supremacy

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(Shorter extract from this post if this is too long for you)

It is important to place this discussion in the context of the whole conference, so it you are new to this series, please check out the previous post. For a quick recap, I’m writing about a two-day conference on racial disparities in incarceration and education at a university in a rural area I call Farmtown. The previous post focused the first half of the first day and the ways information was brought into the group. This post focuses on the second part of the first day, which ran from 3:15 – 9pm.

Two Farmtown professors do the short version of a workshop they’ve done often before for white faculty at their institution on the ideology of white supremacy. The black social science professor goes first, and it is relevant to note that he is older, in his sixties. His title is “isms and schisms.” The point is about how demographic differences become structures of inequality. He talks about how people respond to experiences of discrimination and then asks people what they see when the imagine pictures of powerful groups (i.e. Congress, Supreme Court). We are supposed to say “white male.” I hear one of the officers next to me say something like “mostly white males with some women and a few blacks and latinos” to Congress, and for the Supreme Court says “mostly white men and a woman and a black man.” At the end of this exercise, he requires the white man to answer his “what do you see?” question, and the answer is “mostly white men.” I’m glad I’m not put on the spot like that. I learn later that the speaker always forces a white person to answer this question. Continue reading “public sociology in farmtown (4): white supremacy”

public sociology in farmtown (2): the set up

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I wrote this from notes I took at a conference on racial disparities in incarceration and education at a branch campus of the state university located in a rural very-white area I will call Farmtown. I was invited to give my disparities talk by a group of university-connected people in Farmtown who have been meeting because they want to do what they can to fight problems of racial disparities. The call to the conference expressed the hope of linking up people in different communities working on these issues. Farmtown is 150 miles away from metropolitan Segtown, where most of the state’s African Americans live, and 75 miles away from Unitown, the state capital and home of the major university where I work and live, so this seemed an odd locale for such a conference. I could have just given my talk and left, but I am a member of the “community” who is working on these issues, so I decided I’d like to stay for the whole two days to talk to people and see what was going on. I told the organizer that if they covered my conference registration fee (which includes three meals and a dorm room) I would consider myself adequately compensated, and did not need an honorarium. I was told that about 45 people have registered for the conference, although not everyone is spending the night, a large contingent of Unitown people are coming tomorrow only, and some people have been coming and going from the room.

When I counted at the opening session, I got about 11 whites and 18 people of color who are mostly black. I learned as the day progressed that I had miscategorized some folks, about which more later, but the errors were in both directions. The conference is about 2/3 people of color. Thinking about it later, I realize that I am the only white speaker at the conference. Although most of the groups I talk to are overwhelmingly white, I have addressed and worked with groups that are at least half black before, and am comfortable in the setting. I’ll talk more later about the impact of racial mix. Roughly half the attendees are from Farmtown, virtually all university faculty, staff, or students, including mostly people of color but also a couple of white deans. In pre-opening chit chat, a white woman who is one of the deans chats with a black woman who is a U-Farmtown staffer about the new choir director at the church they both attend. Most of the non-Farmtown people I talk to turn out to be alumni of U-Farmtown, and the core of the conference is clearly African Americans who know each other because of the U-Farmtown connection. This surprises me, as it had not occurred to me that ANY African Americans would be at or have gone to a university in this very-white part of the state. Shows what I know. I learn more later about what they have been doing at U-Farmtown and think there are things to learn from them. There are few representatives from the criminal justice system here, unlike the groups I’ve worked with in Unitown or Segtown. Unitown’s police force has three representatives here, one black (who seems to know the organizers well) and two white, a man and a woman; all seem fairly young to me. I chat with the black police officer as we wait for the opening; he knows of my work and we talk about the issues. There is also someone from the state university system and her intern; I don’t know whether she is part of the network or not.

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