In “The Feds vs. Ferguson” Mr. Blow says the Ferguson Police Department and the municipal courts treated citizens like a revenue stream, violating their constitutional rights in the process. Mr. Kristof, in “You Think Your Winter Was Rough?”, says through frostbite, blizzards and frozen rivers, Shawn Forry and Justin Lichter did what seemed impossible: hiking from Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Crest Trail in winter. In “Pearls Before Congress” Ms. Collins asks .adies and gentleman, are you ready for this? She says we have some bipartisan cooperation in Congress! Here’s Mr. Blow:
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice released the utterly devastating results of its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department.
The report contained charges that the Police Department and the municipal courts treated citizens less like constituents and more like a revenue stream, violating citizens’ constitutional rights in the process.
And it found that this burden was disproportionately borne by the black people in a town that is two-thirds black. This disproportionate weight is exacerbated when people are poor.
As the Justice Department report pointed out:
“Court practices exacerbate the harm of Ferguson’s unconstitutional police practices. They impose a particular hardship upon Ferguson’s most vulnerable residents, especially upon those living in or near poverty. Minor offenses can generate crippling debts, result in jail time because of an inability to pay, and result in the loss of a driver’s license, employment, or housing.”
According to an August Brookings report:
“Between 2000 and 2010-2012, Ferguson’s poor population doubled. By the end of that period, roughly one in four residents lived below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012), and 44 percent fell below twice that level.”
The view that emerges from the Justice Department report is that citizens were not only paying a poverty tax, but a pigment tax as the local authorities sought to balance their budgets and pad their coffers on the backs of poor black people.
Perhaps most disturbing — and damning — is actual correspondence in the report where the authorities don’t even attempt to disguise their intent.
Take this passage from the report:
“In March 2010, for instance, the City Finance Director wrote to Chief [Thomas] Jackson that ‘unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. . . . Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.’ Similarly, in March 2013, the Finance Director wrote to the City Manager: ‘Court fees are anticipated to rise about 7.5%. I did ask the Chief if he thought the PD could deliver 10% increase. He indicated they could try.’”
Furthermore, the report made clear that “officer evaluations and promotions depend to an inordinate degree on ‘productivity,’ meaning the number of citations issued.”
The report read like one about a shakedown gang rather than about city officials.
The police appear to have done what was requested of them.The report puts it this way:
“According to data the City reported to the Missouri State Courts Administrator, at the end of fiscal year 2009, the municipal court had roughly 24,000 traffic cases and 28,000 non-traffic cases pending. As of October 31, 2014, both of those figures had roughly doubled to 53,000 and 50,000 cases, respectively. In fiscal year 2009, 16,178 new cases were filed, and 8,727 were resolved. In 2014, by contrast, 24,256 new offenses were filed, and 10,975 offenses were resolved.”
For context, the population of Ferguson is around 21,000 people, according to the Census Bureau.
Some officers balked at this obscenity, particularly as it related to “imposing mounting penalties on people who will never be able to afford them” — one member repeating the adage “How can you get blood from a turnip?” But “enough officers — at all ranks — have internalized this message that a culture of reflexive enforcement action, unconcerned with whether the police action actually promotes public safety, and unconcerned with the impact the decision has on individual lives or community trust has taken hold within FPD.”
And the racial disparities as charged by the Justice Department are unconscionable.
According to the report, “Ferguson’s approach to law enforcement both reflects and reinforces racial bias” and “there is evidence that this is due in part to intentional discrimination on the basis of race.”
“African Americans are more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops even after controlling for non-race based variables such as the reason the vehicle stop was initiated, but are found in possession of contraband 26% less often than white drivers, suggesting officers are impermissibly considering race as a factor when determining whether to search.”
“FPD appears to bring certain offenses almost exclusively against African Americans. For example, from 2011 to 2013, African Americans accounted for 95% of Manner of Walking in Roadway charges, and 94% of all Failure to Comply charges.”
“Even where FPD officers have legal grounds to stop or arrest, however, they frequently take actions that ratchet up tensions and needlessly escalate the situation to the point that they feel force is necessary.”
This all brings us full circle to the only reason there was an investigation and the only reason this information has been analyzed and presented — the killing of Michael Brown and the protests that followed.
(Darren Wilson first encountered Michael Brown and his friend walking in the street and ordered them to move to the sidewalk, and a scuffle began, and Wilson ultimately shot Brown. By the way, Wilson was also cleared of civil rights violations by the Justice Department on Wednesday.)
Whatever one thinks about the case of the killing and how it was handled in the courts, it is clear that Brown’s death will not be in vain. It is clear that the frustration that poured out onto the streets of Ferguson was not without merit.
Once again, the oppression people feel as part of their lived experiences, and can share only by way of anecdote, is bolstered by data.
When people say “Black Lives Matter,” they’re not referring only to the lives lost, but also to those stunted and controlled by a system of power that sees them as pawns.
Next up we have Mr. Kristof:
In October, two young Americans set off on the most daring and foolhardy wilderness expedition since, oh, maybe Lewis and Clark.
They were trying to become the first people ever to backpack from Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Crest Trail in the dead of winter. Once before, in 1983, two people set out to traverse the trail in winter. They never made it. Their bodies were found a month after they fell off an icy cliff.
A winter thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail seemed impossible. The trail is covered by many feet of snow that time of year, and, even if the two explorers managed to find their way, they risked triggering avalanches, plunging through ice into rivers, or simply running out of food while trapped in blizzards.
“People said it was a death sentence,” Shawn Forry, one of the hikers, told me. He had estimated half-jokingly at the start that they had a 17 percent chance of succeeding.
But he spoke to me shortly after he and Justin Lichter reached the Mexican border on Sunday, completing their 2,650-mile odyssey — and surviving frostbite, blizzards, tumbles into frozen rivers and 1,750 consecutive trail miles without encountering a single other hiker.
Perhaps it feels a little self-indulgent to celebrate two guys who took a long walk. But what a walk! Like the 4-minute mile or the free climb of the Dawn Wall at Yosemite, this is something that seemed beyond human capacity — and then humans did it.
So let’s take a break from current affairs and recriminations about human venality to laud a triumph of human strength.
It helped that the two men were enormously experienced. Forry is a wilderness instructorfor Outward Bound. Lichter works on a ski patrol and said he has hiked 35,000 miles, equivalent to nearly one and a half times around Earth. He gave up one long backpack across East Africa when lions were stalking him.
Both Forry and Lichter had hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail in summer — itself an ultimate test of endurance (fewer people have thru-hiked the full trail than have climbed Mount Everest). But they wanted to see it in another season.
“With the snow, there’s so much natural beauty,” Lichter said. “It’s so peaceful. And the frozen rivers have these strange ice formations.”
They used snowshoes and, in California, skis, while carrying loads of up to 45 pounds, including food (they resupplied every week or so). Winter storms were frequent. When it snowed at night, they would get up every 30 minutes to push snow off their tarp to keep it from collapsing on them. In white-outs, they could barely see and stayed close to each other — except when crossing avalanche zones, when they had to separate to ensure that they would not both get buried in the same avalanche.
Even drinking water was a challenge. “You’re surrounded by frozen water, but you don’t have easy access to it to drink,” Forry said. They used a stove to melt snow for drinking water.
The worst period, they said, came in the Oregon mountains when a huge snowfall and below-zero temperatures left them with frostbitten feet. They were able to warm up and avoid permanent damage, yet they still had another 2,000 miles to go.
“At times, you’re pulling your knee up to your chest to take the next step, to get it above the snow — and that’s in snowshoes,” Forry said.
Barney Mann, the chairman of the Pacific Crest Trail Association and unofficial historian of the trail, said that after the frostbite incident he had doubted that Forry and Lichter would succeed.
“It’s the unrelenting cold,” Mann said. “It’s the unrelenting snow. It’s the moment-by-moment challenge of navigation when everything is white.”
One difficult day came in northern California when a storm dropped 10 inches of rain in 24 hours, winds reached 70 miles per hour and both men tumbled into a swollen torrent of a river that left them and their gear drenched and frigid.
Yet, in spite of all those challenges, they still urge people to try winter camping — carefully.
“I really encourage people to get out in the winter,” Forry said. “You have it to yourself, and it’s so peaceful. But start with a day trip — that way if anything goes wrong, you’re near your car.”
I’m delighted to announce that the winner of my annual win-a-trip contest is Austin Meyer, a journalism student at Stanford University. We’ll probably travel to India and Bangladesh, although Congo is an alternate possibility. The runners-up are Ashley Bastock of John Carroll University, Taylor Graham of Ithaca College and Sam Friedlander of University of Pennsylvania. Thanks to the Center for Global Development for helping me pick Austin from a dazzling field of 450 applicants. Stay tuned for a great reporting trip!
Self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing stupidity if you ask me… Suppose they had been injured — they didn’t seem to give much thought to the people who would have had to come out and search for them. Assholes. Here’s Ms. Collins:
Welcome to a whole new world.
In Congress, that is. Not in the actual world. Control your expectations, for heaven’s sake.
You may have noticed that in an orgy of bipartisan cooperation, Congress passed a bill this week funding the Department of Homeland Security until the fall. Then, on Wednesday, the House passed a bipartisan bill funding the Amtrak system.
And then everybody went away because it was, you know, going to snow.
But, still, bipartisan cooperation. It all started with the Senate. Republicans have been horrified to discover that whenever the now-minority Senate Democrats don’t like something, they can simply filibuster, requiring 60 votes to move the bill forward. The Democrats always complained bitterly when the Republicans pulled that trick on them, but now they say the circumstances are totally different.
The Democrats demanded that the homeland security funding bill be passed without any side assaults on President Obama’s immigration program. And Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, eventually had to give in.
In a way, you could look at last week’s homeland security crisis as similar to the reported theft of a $150,000 gown, covered entirely in pearls, which actress Lupita Nyong’o wore to the Academy Awards. Later, the disgruntled thief called TMZ and said he had left the dress in a hotel restroom out of disgust after he had two of the pearls appraised and discovered they were fake.
So, good news is that the Department of Homeland Security is going to be funded. Also, that very attractive gown is back. The bad news is that we’ve now hit the point where keeping the government running sounds like a big victory. And the pearls weren’t real.
Irony abounds. Who expected the Senate Republicans to be surprised when the Democrats started filibustering? Who knew dress thieves had such principled standards?
The Senate Democrats’ success really ticked off the Republicans in the House, which nurtures a long and glorious tradition of hating the Senate, no matter who’s in charge. (The Senate ignores the House completely.)
“If we’re going to allow seven Democratic senators to decide what the agenda is … then we might as well just give them the chairmanships, give them the leadership of the Senate,” groused Representative Raúl Labrador.
Labrador is a leading member of a superconservative Republican caucus, which was created recently, with the apparent goal of bossing Speaker John Boehner around. In its debut performance, the caucus managed to kill a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security for just three weeks.
It is true that Labrador is the only member of Congress with the same name as a large, friendly retriever, but he can be really strict.
Pop Quiz: After conservative Republicans killed John Boehner’s bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security for three weeks, Boehner realized that:
A) Homeland security isn’t actually all that big a deal.
B) His own right wing was completely crazy, and, if he wanted to get through the year, he was going to have to work with the Democrats.
C) “If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas.”
Yes! Boehner seems to have realized that he’s going to have to work with the Democrats. Also, he said that thing about the candy and nuts, but nobody really knew what he was talking about.
Both the homeland security bill and the Amtrak funding were passed with unanimous Democratic support, and huge Republican defections. The Amtrak bill, by the way, is more ambitious than your normal kicking-of-the-can-down-the-road legislation. There’s money to actually improve the infrastructure, which is more than Congress has managed to come up with lately for highways and bridges. It also opens up the wonderful world of rail transit to pet dogs and cats, which I have to say is something most of us were not anticipating.
The last bit seems to be the inspiration of a California Republican who owns a French bulldog that likes to travel. It is possible the program may be limited to small animals, but we will refrain making any jokes about aggrieved Labradors.
So this appears to be the path to the future: Senate Democrats will block anything they don’t like, forcing the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, to compromise. In the House, the Labradorians won’t vote for any Senate compromises, so Boehner will need the Democrats to pass any legislation that could actually make it into law.
Here we go — four fiscal cliffs in the offing and if the Republican majority wants to avoid falling off any of them, they’ll have to join hands with the Democrats and tango. We won’t get any big, dramatic reforms, but we might avoid any big dramatic disasters.
Plus poodles on Amtrak. Who knew?