Drivers in Texas busted for drunken driving, not paying child support or low-level drug offenses are among thousands of “high-threat” criminal arrests being counted as part of a nearly $1 billion mission to secure the border with Mexico, an Associated Press analysis has found.
Having once claimed that conventional crime data doesn’t fully capture the dangers to public safety and homeland security, the Texas Department of Public Safety classified more than 1,800 offenders arrested near the border by highway troopers in 2015 as “high threat criminals.”
But not all live up to that menacing label or were anywhere close to the border — and they weren’t caught entering the country illegally, as Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is Texas’ chairman for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, has suggested.
In response to the AP’s findings, the Department of Public Safety said it will recommend removing child support evaders from the list and signaled a willingness to stop classifying other arrests as “high threat.”
However, it defended the data overall, saying it isn’t intended to measure border security, even though the figures are included in briefings to lawmakers.
“It’s deceptive to say the least,” Democratic state Rep. Terry Canales, from the border city of Edinburg, said of the data. “I would say it’s shocking that a person arrested with a small amount of cocaine in Odessa is used to show supposedly high-threat criminal arrests on the Texas-Mexico border.”
The AP used open records laws to obtain a list of 2015 Texas Highway Patrol arrests classified as “high threat” in a broad 60-county area that the DPS has defined as the border region, then reviewed online court and jail records for cases in Hidalgo and El Paso counties, which had the most such arrests.
Among the “high threat” incidents was a trailer that unlatched from an RV and rolled into oncoming traffic, killing another driver in a town more than 150 miles from the border. Other crimes lumped in with suspected killers and human traffickers were speeding teenagers and hit-and-runs that caused no serious injuries.
Republican leaders have used crime, smuggling and immigration data to justify an intensified deployment of troopers, armored boats and spy planes to the border since 2014. And Trump’s promises to wall off the border with Mexico resonate with many in Texas, where Republican lawmakers tripled border security spending last year, and in 2017 will consider approving another $1 billion.
A threat overview published by DPS in 2013 defined high-threat criminals as “individuals whose criminal activity poses a serious public safety or homeland security threat.” But about 40 “high threat” offenses can be overly broad. For instance, nearly half the 2015 arrests were for possession of a controlled substance, but DPS doesn’t distinguish between a gram of cocaine and a drug smuggler’s 50 pounds of marijuana. And failure to pay child support is included with sex crimes under offenses against the family.
High-threat arrests, which are tracked statewide, are among nearly three dozen “border security related” metrics collected by DPS, according to agency briefings given to lawmakers.
But DPS Director Steve McCraw told the AP that high-threat data isn’t used to assess border security but rather is included in briefings for the sake of transparency. McCraw said the term “high threat” was never meant to suggest only the worst of the worst, but rather to distinguish more serious crimes.
“I don’t care, we can change the name,” McCraw said. “Just so long as, internally, we have a way of differentiating.”
Hidalgo County, in the Rio Grande Valley, is one of the busiest corridors for drug and human trafficking in the U.S., and where Texas deployed an influx of troopers, National Guard patrols and camera surveillance. While dozens of 161 high-threat arrests for drug possession were alleged pot smugglers, about 1 in 5 were charged with having less than a gram or other low-level drug charges. Drunken drivers who didn’t pull over are also counted the same as fleeing traffickers.
In El Paso County, more than half of 190 high-threat arrests last year were for drug offenses. Of those, about three in 10 were arrests for less than a gram of drugs such as cocaine or small amounts of marijuana.
Some lawmakers, including members of Texas’ House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety, said they didn’t pay attention to high-threat arrests and that the data isn’t included in high-level briefings.
But following a border visit in March, Patrick incorrectly tweeted that DPS had arrested about 14,000 high-threat criminals in the previous year. Patrick senior adviser Sherry Sylvester said the lieutenant governor had been “unintentionally unclear,” but then herself falsely described the arrests as “criminal illegal aliens” who she said pose a “serious threat to public safety in Texas.”
Donald Trump keeps peddling the notion the vote may be rigged. It’s not clear if he does not understand the potential damage of his words — or he simply does not care.
Trump’s claim — made without evidence — undercuts the essence of American democracy, the idea that U.S. elections are both free and fair, with the vanquished peacefully stepping aside for the victor. His repeated assertions are sowing suspicion among his most ardent supporters, raising the possibility that millions of people may not accept the results on Nov. 8 if Trump does not win.
The responsibilities for the New York billionaire in such a scenario are minimal. Trump holds no public office and has said he’ll simply go back to his “very good way of life” if he loses.
Instead, it would be Democrat Hillary Clinton and congressional Republicans, should they win, who would be left trying to govern in a country divided not just by ideology, but also the legitimacy of the presidency.
As Trump’s campaign careens from crisis to crisis, he’s broadened his unfounded allegations that Clinton, her backers and the media are conspiring to steal the election. He’s accused Clinton of meeting with global financial powers to “plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty” and argued his opponent shouldn’t have even been allowed to seek the White House.
“Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted and should be in jail,” Trump wrote Saturday morning on Twitter. “Instead she is running for president in what looks like a rigged election.”
Trump is referring to Clinton’s use of a private email system while serving as secretary of state. Republicans (and some Democrats) have harshly criticized her decision to do so, but the FBI did not recommend anyone face criminal charges for her use of a private email address run on a personal server.
Trump has offered only broad assertions about the potential for voter fraud and the complaints that the several women who have recently alleged he sexually accosted them are part of an effort to smear his campaign.
“It’s one big ugly lie, it’s one big fix,” Trump said at a Friday rally in North Carolina, adding later: “And the only thing I say is hopefully, hopefully, our patriotic movement will overcome this terrible deception.”
Trump’s supporters appear to be taking his grievances seriously. Only about a third of Republicans said they have a great deal or quite a bit of confidence that votes on Election Day will be counted fairly, according to recent poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
During a campaign event Tuesday with Trump running mate Mike Pence, a voter said she was deeply concerned about voter fraud and vowed to be “ready for a revolution” if Clinton wins.
“Don’t say that,” Pence said, waving away the woman’s rallying cry.
There is no evidence voter fraud is a widespread problem in the United States. A study by a Loyola Law School professor found that out of 1 billion votes cast in all American elections between 2000 and 2014, there were only 31 known cases of impersonation fraud.
Trump’s motivations for stoking these sentiments seem clear.
One of his last hopes of winning the election is to suppress turnout by making these final weeks so repulsive to voters that some simply stay home. Trump advisers privately say they hope to turn off young people in particular. They lean Democratic but don’t have a long history of voting and are already skeptical of Clinton.
Trump is also likely considering how he would spin a loss to Clinton, given that he’s spent decades cultivating a brand that’s based on success and winning. His years in public life offer few examples where he’s owned up to his own failings and plenty where he’s tried to pass the blame on to others, as he’s now suggesting he would do if he’s defeated.
Clinton appears increasingly aware that if she wins, she’d arrive at the White House facing more than the usual political divides. “Damage is being done that we’re going to have to repair,” she said during a recent campaign stop.
But that task wouldn’t be Clinton’s alone.
The majority of Trump’s supporters are Republicans. If he loses, party leaders will have to reckon with how much credence they give to claims the election was rigged and how closely they can work with a president who at least some of their backers will likely view as illegitimate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office wouldn’t say Saturday whether he agreed with Trump’s assertions the election is being rigged. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Wisconsin lawmaker is “fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity.”
Republicans have already experienced the paralyzing effect of Trump stirring up questions about a president’s legitimacy. He spent years challenging President Barack Obama’s citizenship, deepening some GOP voters’ insistence that the party block the Democrat at every turn.
Jim Manley, a former adviser to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, recalled the skepticism some Republicans had about Obama. “I’m afraid a President Clinton is going to start off with far too many people raising similar questions,” he said.
Legislation has been proposed in state after state to protect those who — due to religious beliefs — decide to discriminate against people. Critics say the laws are aimed at the LGBT community.
Here’s a look at legislation around the country.
Alabama lawmakers are pushing a measure to prevent the state from refusing to license childcare service providers who decline services that conflict with their religious beliefs. Religious organizations contract with the state to provide some childcare services and opponents of the proposal have argued that the bill could be used to exclude gay and lesbian couples from adopting children or being foster parents. The proposal comes after the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down an Alabama Supreme Court order that invalidated a lesbian couple’s adoption in Georgia.
In Alaska, bills barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity have gone nowhere since being introduced last year. Bills in the House and Senate would allow clergy to refuse to solemnize a marriage without being subject to criminal or civil liability but so far have not gotten legs. The legislative session is scheduled to end Sunday.
Arkansas lawmakers last year approved a revised version of a religious objections measure after the initial version faced widespread criticism that it was anti-LGBT. The Legislature also enacted a law aimed at preventing cities and counties from passing anti-discrimination measures that include sexual orientation or gender identity.
Colorado lawmakers introduced a bill in February that would have blocked the state from taking any action that may burden a person’s religious freedom unless it was the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. A House committee indefinitely postponed discussion on the bill.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a law stating that clergy, churches, religious schools and other religious organizations cannot be required to marry people or allow their facilities to be used for marriage celebrations that violate “a sincerely held religious belief.” The law takes effect July 1.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a bill that would have prohibited the government from imposing penalties on religious schools and organizations that chose not to employ or serve people based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. The proposal would have also protected clergy who declined to perform weddings for gay and lesbian couples.
A bill to prevent insurers and health care providers from discriminating against transgender patients has passed both chambers of the Legislature and they’re currently working out differences on the amendments. The measure prohibits denying, canceling or limiting coverage for services including care related to gender transition, under certain conditions. Several lawmakers also introduced bills to protect the freedom to express religious beliefs by prohibiting the state from taking discriminatory action based on the person’s moral convictions, but the bills were never granted a hearing.
Lawmakers are considering legislation that would require school boards to designate separate boys and girls bathrooms, changing rooms and other facilities being used during school-sponsored activities. The legislature defines sex as a student’s gender at birth and not their gender identity.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill last year barring government entities from substantially burdening the religious exercise of individuals, organizations and businesses, unless by the least restrictive means to further a compelling government interest. After businesses raised concerns, Pence signed an amended version stating that the law cannot be used to deny services, public accommodations, employment or housing based on race, religion, age, sexual orientation or gender identity.
A proposed bill to prohibit the government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion similar to legislation being considered in many other states was introduced in the Iowa House of Representatives in January. The proposal has been referred to the judiciary committee.
A new law prevents colleges and universities from denying religious student associations the same funding or benefits available to other groups because of requirements that its members follow the association’s religious beliefs, standards or conduct. The law will take effect July. Bills were also introduced to order public schools and colleges to designate restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities for use by males or females according to students’ gender at birth.
The Republican-led Senate passed a measure that would expand the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act by barring penalties against those who decline to provide “customized, artistic, expressive, creative, ministerial or spiritual goods or services” to people that would infringe on their “right of conscience” or religious freedoms. The bill is pending in the Democratic-led House.
Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order providing state employees and contractors with protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and more. The order recognizes exemptions for churches and religious organizations. Edwards also rescinded an order former Gov. Bobby Jindal signed that prohibited state agencies from denying licenses and contracts to businesses that take actions because of religious beliefs against same-sex marriage.
The Legislature is weighing a bill to expand a 2011 state law banning discrimination against transgender people in the workplace and in housing by also banning discrimination in restaurants, malls and other public accommodations, including restrooms.
Michigan Sen. Tom Casperson says he’s firmly committed to introducing legislation to prohibit transgender students from using a bathroom other than the one matching the sex listed on their birth certificate. Casperson said his proposed bill, which has not yet been introduced, would allow transgender students to use staff restrooms in the school, or single occupancy unisex bathrooms, but only with the consent of the student’s parent.
A bill was introduced in late March to require employers and public facilities to designate separate restrooms and changing rooms for men and women. A portion of the bill reads, “No claim of nontraditional identity or ‘sexual orientation’ may override another person’s right of privacy based on biological sex.”
A new law prohibits the government from taking “any discriminatory action” against religious organizations that decline to host marriages, employ people or facilitate adoption or foster care based on a religious belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman, sex outside marriage is wrong or that sexual identity is determined by a person’s anatomy at birth. Several states and cities have banned travel to Mississippi and rock singer Bryan Adams canceled a concert in the state to protest.
The Senate passed a proposed amendment to the state constitution in March that would bar government penalties against individuals and business such as florists or photographers who cite “a sincere religious belief” while declining to provide “services of expressional or artistic creation” for same-sex weddings and receptions. The protections also would apply to clergy and religious organizations that decline to make their facilities available for same-sex weddings. If passed by the House, the proposal will go before voters. The proposal has generated backlash from more than 60 businesses and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.
A bill to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was defeated in the Nebraska Legislature this year. Lawmakers have shelved the bill for the rest of the year.
Three New Mexico lawmakers in December 2015 introduced a measure “to prevent discriminatory action by a person or a government agency in response to a person’s free exercise of religion.” The proposal died during the 2016 regular session.
A new law prevents local and state government from mandating protections for LGBT people in the private sector or at stores and restaurants. The Legislature held a special session in March to overturn an ordinance in Charlotte that would have allowed transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity. Lawmakers then blocked all cities and counties from passing rules that targeted LGBT discrimination.
North Dakota lawmakers have defeated measures in each of the past three sessions to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation.
A new law states clergy and other religious officials cannot be required to perform marriages or provide marriage counseling, courses or workshops that violate their conscience or religious beliefs. On March 14, gay rights advocates in the state celebrated the failure of 27 bills in the Legislature that they said unfairly discriminated against LGBT people.
Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf earlier this month signed an executive order barring state contractors and grant recipients from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. State Sen. Mike Folmer says he wants to vet the bill in committee to make sure it does not violate anybody’s religious liberties or freedom of conscience.
Transgender people told a Senate panel Thursday they fear a South Carolina bill that would require them to use the public bathroom for their biological sex will stoke misguided fears and endorse restroom vigilantism, even if the bill dies as expected. No vote was taken in the panel’s second and final hearing. Whether the full committee will take it up is unclear. But even if it manages to advance to the Senate floor, opposing Sen. Joel Lourie promises to use Senate rules to block debate. House GOP leaders say they won’t deal with it before the session ends in June anyway. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley opposes is at unnecessary.
The Legislature passed a bill to require students to use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender at birth, but GOP Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed it. The House also passed legislation barring government from taking “discriminatory action” against people, organizations or businesses based on religious beliefs that marriage should be between one man and one woman, sex outside marriage is wrong or that sexual identity is determined by a person’s biological sex at birth. The bill did not pass before the legislative session ended.
Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation exempting mental health counselors from providing services to clients based on the therapists’ religious beliefs and personal principles, as long as they refer the clients to someone else. The American Counseling Association has said Tennessee would be the only state to allow counselors to refuse to treat patients if the bill is signed into law. The state Legislature is also considering a bill that would require students at public grade schools and universities to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender at birth.
Before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must allow gay marriage, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law last June stating that clergy and religious organizations cannot be required to marry people or allow their facilities to be used for wedding celebrations that violate a “sincerely held religious belief.” Texas did not hold a legislative session in 2016, but the previous year, a Republican-backed bill repealing local ordinances banning discrimination against gay and transgender people failed without reaching a floor vote in either chamber. The proposal attempted to roll back such ordinances that already existed in all the state’s largest cities. Instead, the all-Republican state Supreme Court heard a legal challenge to an anti-discrimination ordinance approved by Houston’s City Council, and ruled that it had to be put to a referendum. Houston voters soundly defeated the ordinance in a November 2015 election featuring very low turnout.
Utah in 2015 passed an anti-discrimination law that makes it illegal to base employment and housing decisions on sexual orientation or gender identity. Gay-rights advocates had tried for years to pass similar legislation but only succeeded last year when the measure won support of the Utah-based Mormon church and included religions protections.
Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a Republican-backed bill stating that clergy and religious organizations cannot be penalized for declining to participate in same-sex marriages.
Multiple pieces of legislation concerning sex-specific restrooms were introduced by Republicans in both chambers of Washington’s legislature. A bill that would have blocked the Washington Human Rights Commission from initiating any rule-making procedures involving gender segregated bathrooms died in a Senate committee.
The only bill introduced in the Republican-led Legislature dealing with gays, lesbians and transgender people was a measure to force transgender students in public schools to use bathrooms and locker rooms assigned to their gender at birth. GOP leaders never brought the bill up for a vote before the two-year session ended.
The Republican-led House passed a bill modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, stating that government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless by the least restrictive means for a compelling government interest. The bill was amended and then defeated in the Senate.
Margee Kerr says she has the best job in the world: She studies fear for a living, and loves to scare herself as part of her research.
Kerr is a sociologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, and just in time for Halloween, she’s written a book called “Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear.”
The book documents Kerr’s adventures around the world experiencing extreme attractions, ranging from the tallest roller coasters in Japan to the CN Tower’s EdgeWalk in Toronto, where participants are tethered to the skyscraper for an outdoor walk 116 stories off the ground.
Kerr also works at a haunted attraction in Pittsburgh called ScareHouse, analyzing customer responses to help keep the fright levels just right. “We’re trying to scare people in a way that’s going to make them feel good,” she said.
Kerr is interested in the notion that society usually regards “fear as a negative force. But there’s another side to fear that’s fun and fulfilling,” and that’s the sweet spot sought by recreational activities — whether skydiving, ziplining, roller coasters or haunted houses.
“When we know we’re not really in any physical danger, we can enjoy the endorphins and the dopamine. That response is similar to being really excited and happy,” she said.
Her quest for the “Scream” book took her on “many, many adventures across the world, doing as many scary and thrilling things as I could. I look at it from the cultural perspective, the physiological perspective and the psychological perspective: Why do we engage with this type of material? Part of it is the natural high we get from activating the flight-or-fight response in a safe environment.”
Kerr says the trick is to figure out what types of situations “trigger our flight or fight response. What are people afraid of, what’s going to tap into the fear?”
For example, “we know from science that seeing the whites of people’s eyes will activate the amygdala _ the emotional processing center of our brain.” That intense response to another being’s eyes explains why scary attractions often have “dolls with big eyes or animatronics with wide-open eyes.” Startling sounds, fast-moving props and other sudden visual effects also trigger instinctive responses, upping the fear factor without putting people in real danger.
She added that part of the draw for an extreme adventure or attraction is that “you are testing your own resilience. When you come out the other side of a scary movie or haunted house, you have accomplished something. You’ve tested your will. Even though we know nothing will hurt us, the self-esteem boost is real.”
As for her own responses, she found the CN Tower Edgewalk to be “way more terrifying than I thought it would be.” Skydiving, on the other hand, was pure pleasure for Kerr.
Kerr says her research can have implications beyond theme parks and haunted houses by helping people understand how to tolerate stress. “We’re trying to find the best ways to teach people how to experience their emotions in ways that are healthy and not debilitating,” she said. “When people lean into the experience and test themselves in an environment that is safe, they come to learn they can handle stress and they are stronger than they thought they were.”
The “land of the free and the brave” ranks No. 31 among 34 democratic countries in an analysis of voter turnout by the Pew Research Center.
One contributing factor: U.S. citizens aren’t required to vote.
Pew examined the issue and found that the United States has the fourth worst turnout of the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Corporation and Development, which includes highly developed, democratic states.
U.S. voter turnout was 53.6 percent in 2012, when the last nationwide election took place. In other OECD countries, Pew reported turnouts of 87.2 percent in Belgium, 86.4 percent in Turkey, 82.6 percent in Sweden. The lowest turnout was in Switzerland, at 40 percent.
Pew noted that voting is compulsory in Belgium and Turkey. Such laws aren’t always strictly enforced, but they do have an impact. Pew said three of the five nations with the highest turnouts require that citizens cast ballots.
Meanwhile, voter turnout in Chile plunged after the country abandoned compulsory voting in 2012 — from 87 percent in 2010 to 42 percent in 2013.
Pew noted in its research that in many OECD countries, the government adds names to the voter rolls when a citizen becomes eligible or seeks out and registers voters.
This is not the situation in the United States, where about 65 percent of the voting-age population is registered.
The choir sang, the preachers shouted and the casket stayed closed. The body was taken to the cemetery, and Michael Brown was laid to rest.
Thus went the most recent enactment of “the ritual” — the script of death, outrage, spin and mourning that America follows when an unarmed black male is killed by police.
With a few variations, the ritual has followed its familiar course in the two weeks since the 18-year-old Brown was shot by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb. It continues as the country awaits the judgment of a grand jury considering whether Wilson should be charged with a crime.
Will the ritual ever change, and is it even possible that Ferguson could be part of that? This time, can recognition of the well-known patterns help heal the poisonous mistrust between police and many black people? Is the ritual already helping, in small gains buried beneath the predictable explosions of anger and media attention?
“This tragedy, because the world’s attention has been galvanized, this is one of those things that’s ripe for change,” said Martin Luther King III, the son of the famed civil rights leader, after the funeral on Aug. 25.
The ritual began to take shape in the 1960s, when instances of police mistreatment of black people led to organized resistance in many places across America — and sometimes to violence. As the decades passed, a blueprint developed for how black advocates confronted cases of alleged police brutality: protest marches, news conferences, demands for federal intervention, public pressure on sympathetic elected officials.
Sometimes this led to charges or even convictions of police officers. Sometimes there were riots: Miami in 1980 after police were acquitted in the death of a black motorist; Los Angeles’ Rodney King rebellion in 1992; Cincinnati in 2001 when a 19-year-old was fatally shot by an officer; Oakland’s uprising in 2009 after Oscar Grant was shot in the back while face-down on a train platform.
The 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watchman in Florida added the transformative element of social media. The public was now participating much more intimately in the ritual.
And still, the unarmed black males kept dying. The chants of “No justice, no peace” kept rising.
So what happened after Brown was shot on Aug. 9 was predictable:
First, protests and outrage. A narrative forms in favor of the deceased: According to accounts of several witnesses from Brown’s neighborhood, he was shot with his hands up. He was a “gentle giant” headed to college. Pictures of Brown circulate that show him smiling, baby-faced — reminiscent of the childlike photos that first introduced us to Trayvon Martin.
The day after Brown’s shooting, protesters are met with a militarized police response. Violence and looting erupt and persist for days. Police respond with tear gas and rubber bullets, “scenes that have brought back visions of the 1960s, when civil rights activists were met with force in the streets,” says the president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, La June Montgomery Tabron.
Michael Brown’s death goes viral. Ferguson trends on Twitter. A horde of media descends. The civil rights activists Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson arrive.
A backlash builds against the protesters. There are complaints that the liberal media skew the facts to create a false narrative about racist white police. As with Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant, a narrative forms against the deceased: Based on a video released by police, Brown is characterized as a weed-smoking thug who robbed a store minutes before his death.
Social media spreads facts, rumors and lies at Internet speed. There is a chain email with a fabricated arrest record saying, falsely, that Brown was charged with several felonies. A photo circulates of someone who is not Brown pointing a gun — like the menacing photo of a gangsta rapper that some said was Martin.
“Every time a black person does something, they automatically become a thug worthy of their own death,” the actor Jesse Williams says in a TV appearance.
The media reports new versions of the old stories: White flight has created poor black neighborhoods policed by white cops. Black people don’t trust the police. Black males are stereotyped as violent.
Then, the funerals
The main sermon at Brown’s service was delivered by Sharpton, who is as much a part of the ritual as police tape. His solution is twofold: Change the nation’s policing policies and repair the black community from within.
“Nobody is going to help us,” Sharpton said, “if we don’t help ourselves.”
There are a few glimmers of institutional change.
Those concerned that Brown’s death might not be fairly investigated took note of the high-profile appearance of Eric Holder, America’s first black attorney general, in Ferguson to meet with locals and discuss the federal probe he ordered. At least three police officers in the Ferguson area have been suspended for behavior that came to light due to newly heightened scrutiny of police. The White House is reviewing policies that have supplied police departments with military hardware, an issue that received much scrutiny in Ferguson.
In Michael Brown’s case, can the ritual be remembered for more than riots?
“Most definitely,” said Ferguson resident Jeremy Rone as he completed a protest march.
He said Brown’s death should increase voter registration, which would “put the right people in the right places” to change the way police deal with the black community.
Soon after the unrest started, a voter registration booth went up on the corner of the hardest-hit street.
The Republican Party is hiring people to reach out to black and Hispanic communities, and setting goals for the number of minority candidates it will recruit.
At the same time, Republican judges are moving closer to a long-held conservative goal of ending affirmative action.
It’s a delicate dance for the GOP.
The party’s platform says it opposes “preferences, quotas and set-asides as the best or sole methods through which fairness can be achieved, whether in government, education or corporate boardrooms.” Notably, that could leave room for the consideration of race as one of many factors in selecting candidates or students, which is how affirmative action generally is practiced.
Even that looser standard is banned under measures backed by Republicans in seven states that have outlawed government affirmative action.
Last month, Republican-appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court, joined by one Democrat, upheld Michigan’s voter-approved ban on considering race in any way in college admissions. It was the latest of a series of rulings by the court’s conservative majority to limit affirmative action.
Mark Rosenbaum, who argued the case on behalf of minority groups that opposed the affirmative action ban, said the sort of routine outreach that political parties perform is prohibited to public universities under laws like Michigan’s. “They can say, `If you’re a person of color, you would not feel out of place in our party,'” Rosenbaum said. “But if a university said that, there would be 1,000 lawsuits tomorrow.”
The GOP is spending $60 million to expand its outreach among demographic groups with whom it historically has struggled, including Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans. A new initiative aims to recruit 300 women and 200 minorities to run for state and local office. Republicans already bested their prior goal last year of finding 100 new Hispanic candidates.
The party also is trying to trumpet its efforts in minority areas it once shunned. In December, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was in Michigan for the opening of an office in inner-city Detroit and to announce the appointment of a state director of African-American outreach.
Party officials say they see no contradiction between such efforts to diversify and long-held skepticism of some types of affirmative action. “Republicans believe in equitable access to education, not special treatment solely based on race,” said Tara Wall, an RNC spokeswoman. She said the party believes economic-based affirmative action may be a better way to promote diversity.
Jill Bader, a spokeswoman for the Republican State Leadership Committee, which has set the goals for women and minority recruitment, said, “What we’re trying to do isn’t to fill a quota. It’s that the people on the ground find people who are representative of the community.”
Ward Connerly, a black Republican who helped write Michigan’s affirmative action ban, argued there is a difference between a public university selecting students for limited slots partly due to race and the GOP’s recruitment.
“That’s just outreach,” Connerly said. “Getting good candidates from different backgrounds is healthy.”
Seven states have outlawed affirmative action since Connerly, with the support of then-Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, launched the first ballot measure against the practice in California in 1996.
Numerous conservative legal thinkers, joined by some centrist and liberal ones, have argued that affirmative action is unconstitutional. They have the support of some of the Supreme Court’s conservative wing, which has yet to outlaw it but has made rulings increasingly restricting the practice.
In 2003 the court narrowly allowed a University of Michigan policy to stand because the school considered race as one of several factors for admission. That triggered the ballot measure to ban affirmative action in the state, which passed by 16 points in 2006.
Richard Sander, a UCLA law professor and affirmative action critic, said the GOP’s outreach is clearly affirmative action. But he said that may be appropriate the same way it was appropriate for President Richard Nixon to require federal contractors to use affirmative action in the late 1960s. The approach was necessary “just to convince people that policies are changing,” Sander said.
John Eastman, a law professor at Chapman University in California, acknowledged there is a risk that a party recruiting minority candidates will select them just because of their race. But he said he did not believe Republicans were regularly doing that. He cited the example of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., whose candidacy pushed then-Gov. Charlie Crist, an Anglo, out of the Republican Party in 2010. The GOP rallied behind Rubio not because he is Hispanic, Eastman said, but because he was the more conservative candidate.
“You have to broaden the net on applicants,” Eastman said. “But I’m not going to put a thumb on the scale to let them in.”
Hilary Shelton, senior vice president for advocacy at the NAACP, said that Republicans’ opposition to affirmative action will make it harder for the party to be trusted in minority communities that already are suspicious of its motives.
“If not equal opportunity programs like affirmative action, what issue or plan do you have to fix this problem?” Shelton said of the GOP. “It doesn’t help if you don’t have a solution.”
Republicans say that in their outreach to minority communities, affirmative action rarely comes up. They note that in California, Asian-American Democratic legislators recently opposed an attempt led by with Hispanic and African-American lawmakers to reverse that state’s affirmative action ban.
Priebus was not asked about it during a recent appearance at a historically black college in Ohio, Wall said. Hector Barajas, a Republican political consultant who recruits Hispanic Republican candidates in California, said affirmative action is not what is hindering the GOP there.
“The only questions we get,” Barajas said, “are on immigration.”
Booming production of oil and natural gas has exacted a little-known price on some of the nation’s roads, contributing to a spike in traffic fatalities in states where many streets and highways are choked with large trucks and heavy drilling equipment.
An Associated Press analysis of traffic deaths and U.S. census data in six drilling states shows that in some places, fatalities have more than quadrupled since 2004 – a period when most American roads have become much safer even as the population has grown.
“We are just so swamped,” said Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva of Karnes County, Texas, where authorities have been overwhelmed by the surge in serious accidents.
The industry acknowledges the problem, and traffic agencies and oil companies say they are taking steps to improve safety. But no one imagines that the risks will be eliminated quickly or easily.
“I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon,” Villanueva said.
The traffic accidents have devastated families: two young boys crushed to death last year by a tanker truck in West Virginia; a Pennsylvania father killed by another tanker in 2011; a 19-year old Texas man fatally injured in 2012 after colliding with a drilling truck on his way to work. A month later, on the same road, three retired teachers died in another collision with a truck.
Not all of the crashes involved trucks from drilling projects, and the accidents have been blamed on both heavy equipment drivers and ordinary motorists. But the frenzy of drilling activity contributes heavily to the flood of traffic of all kinds that has overwhelmed many communities.
Deadly crashes are “recognized as one of the key risk areas of the business,” said Marvin Odum, who runs Royal Dutch Shell’s exploration operations in the Americas.
Crashes often increase when the volume of traffic goes up, whether because of an improving economy, a new shopping mall or more people moving into the area. Still, the number of traffic fatalities in some regions has soared far faster than the population or the number of miles driven.
In North Dakota drilling counties, the population has soared 43 percent over the last decade, while traffic fatalities increased 350 percent. Roads in those counties were nearly twice as deadly per mile driven than the rest of the state. In one Texas drilling district, drivers were 2.5 times more likely to die in a fatal crash per mile driven compared with the statewide average.
This boom is different from those of the past because of the hydraulic-fracturing process, which extracts oil and gas by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals. It requires 2,300 to 4,000 truck trips per well to deliver those fluids. Older drilling techniques needed one-third to one-half as many trips.
Another factor is the speed of development. Drilling activity often ramps up too fast for communities to build better roads, install more traffic signals or hire extra police officers to help direct the flow of cars and trucks.
Last year, a truck carrying drilling water in Clarksburg, West Virginia, overturned onto a car carrying a mother and her two boys. Both children, 7-year-old Nicholas Mazzei-Saum and 8-year-old Alexander, were killed.
“We buried them in the same casket,” recalled their father, William Saum. He said his wife, Lucretia Mazzei, has been hospitalized four times over the last year for depression.
Traffic fatalities in West Virginia’s most heavily drilled counties, including where the Mazzei-Saum boys were killed, rose 42 percent in 2013. Traffic deaths in the rest of the state declined 8 percent.
The average rate of deaths per 100,000 people – a key mortality measurement that accounts for population growth – in North Dakota drilling areas climbed 148 percent on average from 2009 to 2013, compared with the average of the previous five years, the AP found. In the rest of the state, deaths per 100,000 people fell 1 percent over the same period.
Traffic fatalities in Pennsylvania drilling counties rose 4 percent over that time frame, while in the rest of the state they fell 19 percent. New Mexico’s traffic fatalities fell 29 percent, except in drilling counties, where they only fell 5 percent.
In 21 Texas counties where drilling has recently expanded, deaths per 100,000 people are up an average of 18 percent. In the rest of Texas, they are down by 20 percent.
For Villanueva, that means there are now accidents serious enough to require air transport of victims three or four times each week, compared with only a few times a month before drilling operations took off.
Some experts say regulatory loopholes contribute to the problem. Federal rules governing how long truckers can stay on the road are less stringent for drivers in the oil and gas industry.
Every truck accident “is a tragedy,” said Steve Everley of the industry group Energy in Depth. He said oil and gas drillers and their suppliers have been working to reduce traffic and accidents by adopting safety programs, recycling more drilling water and building more pipelines for water.
Vehicle crashes are the single biggest cause of fatalities to oil and gas workers, according to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Some states are working to reverse the trend by widening roads or promoting safer driving.
On the day his sons were killed, William Saum’s wife had taken the boys to the YMCA to register for swimming and karate classes. The truck didn’t stop at the stop sign, tried to make a turn and flipped onto the family car. Police issued two traffic tickets but filed no criminal charges.
Asked what he thinks of the drilling boom, he paused.
“I guess,” Saum said, “it’s good for the people who are making the money.”