Politics

Tolerance is for Everyone

toleranceI don’t even know what to say… I am still in total shock about the events in Orlando this past weekend.  This is not just a issue about homophobia and Islamic radicalism.  This is not just an issue about gun control and mental health, although those two issues need  to be better addressed.

This is really an issue about tolerance.  The shooting in Orlando is just the latest in a long string of violence against innocent people because the assailant didn’t like something about them.  But this is not even just about physical violence.  Why has society become so intolerant of people who are different because of their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, or political beliefs?

We have become such a divided society that we can’t even agree to disagree even during a tragedy.  Just the other day a moment of silence on the House floor was disrupted by Democratic representatives protesting the inability of passing gun control legislation.   Of course, we need gun reform in this country, but what about civility?  A local franchise of Chick-Fil-A in Orlando opened its doors on Sunday to make food and deliver it to blood donors.  But they were drastically criticized on Twitter for its longstanding anti-LGBT stances despite the good deed.  

Speaking of the internet, I think social media and other online commenting forums have only exacerbated the hate in the world today.  Take for instance the mother of the child who got caught up with the gorilla a couple of weeks ago.  Sure, she may have made some poor judgment calls, but does she really need to get death threats?

And Donald Trump doesn’t help this situation either.

With his constant verbal attacks on Muslims, immigrants, blacks, Hispanics and women and the ever-growing physical violence at his rallies, this intolerance will only get worse if he is actually elected president.

This country is at a crossroads and we really need to re-evaluate what our collective values are.  As a civilized society, we need to remember that tolerance is for everyone.

My Questions and Concerns about Police Body Cameras

body cameraA week ago I attended this community meeting about a new pilot body camera program the Boston Police Department will be launching this summer.  Clearly, the city is trying to avoid a potential Trayvon Martin/Michael Brown/Freddie Gray situation by starting this much needed program.  BPD plans to have 100 volunteer patrol officers around the city equipped with Body Worn Cameras (BWC) for six months, starting possibly next month.  The goal for the pilot is to test out the technology and see how it impacts crime and interactions with the community.

This is a really interesting issue that brings up more questions and concerns than answers.  I jotted down some points made during the meeting below.  These are not in any particular order; just random thoughts:

Privacy

  1. Is there a right to privacy concern here?  Can police turn on and off the camera at their own discretion, or can the person coming into contact with the police ask to have the camera on or off?
  2. When should the camera be off?  Should confidential information be recorded, and what is considered confidential?
  3. Should cameras be off when the police enter a private residence?  What constitutes as consent?  Two-party consent (In Massachusetts we have a wiretap law that hasn’t been updated since 1968)?  Should an incident involving a young child or domestic abuse in a private residence be recorded?  Who consents for the child, especially if a parent or guardian isn’t available? If it is a domestic dispute, what happens when one partner consents and the other partner doesn’t consent to cameras?
  4. If a camera is on while in the private residence (with consent) and something is recorded that wasn’t intended to be recorded that might be illegal (i.e. a marijuana joint lying around…), can that be used against the consented person criminally?
  5. Police officers should always tell the person they are interacting with that they have a camera on.  Should the camera be on when the officer is making this notification and then turn it off if the person doesn’t consent?
  6. Do officers themselves have a right to privacy?

Limitations

  1. Cameras don’t follow the police officer’s eyes and see what they see all the time.
  2. Cameras have poor visibility in the dark.
  3. Cameras can never replace an in-depth investigation.

Storage

  1. During the pilot, both cloud-based and local storage options are being considered.  How long will the authorities keep a video?  Who has access to the video?  
  2. How much will this cost the taxpayers?
  3. Should videos of nonviolent, minor offenses be immediately deleted? Who is authorized to delete that video?
  4. How do you make sure there is adequate security for videos, and that they don’t get into the wrong hands?
  5. Can videos, especially ones that record controversial, high profile interactions, be made available for the public to view? How would it be distributed?   
  6. Will videos only be used for police training purposes?
  7. Can videos be subpoenaed?  Are they subject to public records laws?

ACLU

  1. The local ACLU chapter is requesting that officers be disciplined for violating camera rules. What are the disciplinary rules?
  2. They are also requesting that officers never record First Amendment activities – speech, protest, religion, assembly and press. What if a crime takes place during said First Amendment activities, like a physical assault takes place during a protest?
  3. They are requesting that cameras not be used for intelligence surveillance, biometric analysis, and facial recognition, especially with protesters or other First Amendment activities.  But what if a crime is taken place when there is a need for surveillance?

Administration

  1. How do you make sure videos are used to hold officers accountable for their actions?
  2. If the pilot goes well, the initiative could go full steam ahead in 2017 and all officers, except those working undercover, will be required to wear cameras.  How will undercover cops be held accountable?
  3. Will there be extra vigilance with cameras on alleged “bad” cops?
  4. Will officers be required to file reports before viewing videos so their reports won’t be biased?
  5. During the pilot, who is allowed to volunteer?  Apparently, cameras will be evenly distributed all over the city and in different operations.  Someone at the meeting suggested having 90 officers be volunteers and 10 of them be mandatory for the officers with the worst records, which is a good idea.
  6. Can videos be monitored in real time? Can administrators view videos as an interaction is happening?  What type of police interaction would constitute the need for such monitoring?

The Future

  1. Where does the future of police body cameras go from here?  Someone at the meeting who said they were a teacher wouldn’t mind if classrooms had cameras to record incidents with unruly students, which opens up a whole other can of worms.  Should security guards in schools and other public buildings have body cameras?

As one person at the meeting said, “The cameras are coming; it is just a matter of implementing them.”  The best thing about body cameras is that it opens up the door to seeing what is really happening beyond shootings and killing, and effectively dealing with those issues.  But it also creates more concerns about how society is slowly turning into a hyper-surveillance police state.  I am very interested in knowing what many of you in other states and even other countries that have more experience with this issue think.  Please leave comments below or email me.  I would love to hear what you think!

Would Jackie Robinson Be A Republican Today?

Jackie RobinsonA couple of weeks ago, PBS aired the latest Ken Burns documentary on baseball legend Jackie Robinson.  What stood out to me when I was watching this was his civil rights and political activism after retiring from baseball, and how similar the discussion was in the 1960s about the black vote and the Democratic party is to the conversation today in this year’s presidential election.

Soon after his retirement from the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson became a columnist for the New York Post, where he wrote mostly about non-sports related topics like lynchings in the South, school integration, and even the perceived racism in the Red Sox organization for being the last baseball team to not have a black player.

Politically he considered himself an independent who had torn support for FDR’s New Deal and and the Party of Lincoln.  Robinson was a supporter of the two-party system and looked at the issues and not the party affiliation.  He thought it was bad for African-Americans to vote in lock stock for Democrats all the time because they lost leverage on issues concerning them.  From the end of the Civil War up until the 1940s, most African-Americans were Republicans.

He first leaped into politics with the 1960 presidential election when he declared his support for Richard Nixon.  While his civil rights record wasn’t all that great, Robinson saw potential for Nixon to do better by African-Americans.  On the other hand, John F. Kennedy didn’t really take the civil rights movement seriously either and picked Texas governor Lyndon B. Johnson to be his running mate to appease white southerners.       

Martin Luther King may have had a significant role in solidifying the black vote for Democrats for years to come when he was arrested and sentenced to a chain gang at a Georgia prison for four months for a trumped up traffic violation two weeks before the election.  Robinson asked Nixon to help get King out of jail, but Nixon refused.  Meanwhile, Kennedy called Coretta Scott King to comfort her and his brother Robert made the arrangements to get King out of jail.  The phone call was spearheaded by Kennedy’s civil rights aide Harris Wofford (who is making news for other reasons this week). After this, black voters returned the favor to Kennedy by helping him get elected in a race that was decided by only 100,000 votes.

Robinson was punished for his Nixon support when his column was permanently cancelled in the then liberal New York Post.

In 1964 Robinson got back into presidential politics by supporting the then Republican Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who was socially liberal and fiscally moderate.  White Republicans turned to support the more conservative Barry Goldwater, who was against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and openly supported his racist supporters in his presidential campaign.  

Robinson protested Goldwater, saying he was a bigot and was setting the country backwards.  

“I’m an American Negro first, than a member of any party,” Robinson said.

During the 1964 GOP convention, Robinson and other black Republicans were harassed on the convention floor.  Many members of the KKK were also at the convention to support Goldwater.  While Goldwater got the Republican nomination, he was ultimately beaten by LBJ.  

Even since then, Republicans have struggled to regain a significant black voter base.  The GOP has embarked on several “minority outreach” initiatives over the years.  But all that work to bring back black voters to the Republican party may have been set back by 50 years with the rise of Donald Trump, who is using Goldwater tactics in his own campaign.

Nonetheless, Robinson was right about blacks only voting for one party all the time.  Sure, the GOP needs to do better to get our vote, but so do the Democrats.  Because of this longtime support, Democrats have now taken for granted the black vote.  The way Hillary Clinton has handled the controversy around her husband’s 1994 crime bill has bothered many black people, with the thinking that the Democrats would be handling it differently if they knew they could lose the black vote because of it.  And let’s not forget Clinton’s continuously offensive hot sauce, CP Time pandering to black people.  But it won’t even matter because she will mostly likely still get the majority black vote.

I too try to look at the issues before party affiliation.  I mostly support the Democrats because their policies are more inline with my perspective, not necessary because of party loyalty.  I’m not a staunch Hillary supporter; I just think she is the lesser of the five evils currently running for president and she would be ready to lead on day one because of her experience.  I think it is also important to be an informed voter, and that is why I have watched most of the Republican and Democratic debates, town halls, rallies and forums so I can make an informed decision in November.

As for Jackie Robinson, I don’t know what his party affiliation would have been today.  But after viewing the documentary, I got the impression that if Robinson hadn’t died suddenly from a heart attack in 1972, he would have ran for a political office himself.  He would certainly be calling out Trump on his bigoted ways, unlike Ben Carson.  If he became a politician, he would have definitely have had a significant influence on black voters today, regardless of political affiliation, and that would have been interesting.  

STEM Policy Recommendations for 2016 Presidential Candidates

Projected STEM Job GrowthImmigration, terrorism and now a vacant Supreme Court seat are hot topics among the U.S. presidential candidates.  There has been very little discussion about the jobs of the future, namely jobs in the STEM sector.  Nearly a quarter of all jobs today require a high level of knowledge in any one STEM field, and STEM workers earn 11 percent higher wages compared with their same-degree counterparts in other fields.

STEM fields are seeing the highest rates in job growth.  STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17 percent from 2008 to 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations.  However, not many students are going in this direction. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16 percent of American high school students are proficient in math and have interest in pursuing a STEM career. “The United States is falling behind internationally, ranking 25th in mathematics and 17th in science among industrialized nations.”  Advanced Placement computer science is only taught in five percent of American high schools.  

Although President Obama has pledged $4 billion towards computer science education, a lot more has to be done to beef up the STEM sector, especially by the next president coming in next year.

The STEM Education Coalition created a comprehensive list of policy recommendations for the 2016 Presidential candidates.

I like all the recommendations!

  • Appoint a high-profile STEM education coordinator at the White House whose role will be to drive a STEM agenda across the federal government .
  • Appoint qualified STEM education professionals to a wider range of federal advisory bodies, such as the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and the National Science Board, and in White House and other senior federal agency policymaking positions.
  • Convene a summit during the first 100 days at the U.S. Department of Education, led by the Secretary, with state, local and national STEM stakeholders, including business and workforce groups, to highlight and discuss major STEM policy issues with the goal of seeking input into a broad federal STEM agenda.
  • Encourage states to emphasize student performance in science, alongside reading and mathematics, when developing, evaluating and implementing the accountability provisions under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
  • Direct the Secretary of Education to prepare an annual report to assess the degree to which states are utilizing the new authorities provided under the Every Student Succeeds Act to support and prioritize STEM education activities and student success.
  • Publish an online guide for educators and students that showcases federal resources available to support STEM education and highlights research on best practices in teaching and learning and emerging areas such as STEM competitions, advancements and integration of informal learning, exciting opportunities for students, and increasing women and minority participation in STEM learning.
  • Utilize the authority provided to the Secretary of Education by Section 2245 (STEM Master Teacher Corps) of the Every Student Succeeds Act to propose a national initiative to support high quality STEM initiatives in 5-10 leading states.
  • Adopt a balanced approach to supporting community colleges, technician trade schools, and other degree granting institutions of higher education through federal post-secondary workforce education and training programs.
  • Integrate the goal of broadening the STEM education pipeline, especially to women, girls, and students from underrepresented backgrounds, in the Administration’s proposals for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
  • Propose robust, predictable, and sustained support for the National Science Foundation, including full funding of NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate and other agency efforts to develop a rigorous education research base to inform innovations in teaching, learning, and educational materials development.