| NEWS of the Day - August 12, 2012
|on some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood activist across the country
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
Racial Profiling Rife at Airport, U.S. Officers Say
by MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and ERIC LICHTBLAU
BOSTON — More than 30 federal officers in an airport program intended to spot telltale mannerisms of potential terrorists say the operation has become a magnet for racial profiling, targeting not only Middle Easterners but also blacks, Hispanics and other minorities.
In interviews and internal complaints, officers from the Transportation Security Administration's “behavior detection” program at Logan International Airport in Boston asserted that passengers who fit certain profiles — Hispanics traveling to Miami, for instance, or blacks wearing baseball caps backward — are much more likely to be stopped, searched and questioned for “suspicious” behavior.
“They just pull aside anyone who they don't like the way they look — if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewelry, or if they are Hispanic,” said one white officer, who along with four others spoke with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity.
The T.S.A. said on Friday that it had opened an investigation into the claims.
While the Obama administration has attacked the use of racial and ethnic profiling in Arizona and elsewhere, the claims by the Boston officers now put the agency and the administration in the awkward position of defending themselves against charges of profiling in a program billed as a model for airports nationwide.
At a meeting last month with T.S.A. officials, officers at Logan provided written complaints about profiling from 32 officers, some of whom wrote anonymously. Officers said managers' demands for high numbers of stops, searches and criminal referrals had led co-workers to target minorities in the belief that those stops were more likely to yield drugs, outstanding arrest warrants or immigration problems.
The practice has become so prevalent, some officers said, that Massachusetts State Police officials have asked why minority members appear to make up an overwhelming number of the cases that the airport refers to them.
“The behavior detection program is no longer a behavior-based program, but it is a racial profiling program,” one officer wrote in an anonymous complaint obtained by The Times.
A T.S.A. spokesman said agency inspectors recently learned of the racial profiling claims in Boston. “If any of these claims prove accurate, we will take immediate and decisive action to ensure there are consequences to such activity,” the statement said.
The agency emphasized that the behavior detection program “in no way encourages or tolerates profiling” and bans singling out passengers based on nationality, race, ethnicity or religion.
It is unusual for transportation agency employees to come forward with this kind of claim against co-workers, and the large number of employees bringing complaints in Boston could prove particularly damaging for an agency already buffeted with criticism over pat-downs, X-ray scans and other security measures.
Reports of profiling emerged last year at the behavior programs at the Newark and Hawaii airports, but in much smaller numbers than those described in Boston.
The complaints from the Logan officers carry nationwide implications because Boston is the testing ground for an expanded use of behavioral detection methods at airports around the country.
While 161 airports already use behavioral officers to identify possible terrorist activity — a controversial tactic — the agency is considering expanding the use of what it says are more advanced tactics nationwide, with Boston's program as a model.
The program in place in Boston uses specially trained behavioral “assessors” not only to scan the lines of passengers for unusual activity, but also to speak individually with each passenger and gauge their reactions while asking about their trip or for other information.
The assessors look for inconsistencies in the answers and other signs of unusual behavior, like avoiding eye contact, sweating or fidgeting, officials said. A passenger considered to be acting suspiciously can be pulled from the line and subjected to more intensive questioning.
That is what happened last month at Logan airport to Kenneth Boatner, 68, a psychologist and educational consultant in Boston who was traveling to Atlanta for a business trip.
In a formal complaint he filed with the agency afterward, he said he was pulled out of line and detained for 29 minutes as agents thumbed through his checkbook and examined his clients' clinical notes, his cellphone and other belongings.
The officers gave no explanation, but Dr. Boatner, who is black, said he suspected the reason he was stopped was his race and appearance. He was wearing sweat pants, a white T-shirt and high-top sneakers.
He said he felt humiliated. “I had never been subjected to anything like that,” he said in an interview.
Officers in Boston acknowledged that they had no firm data on how frequently minority members were stopped. But based on their own observations, several officers estimated that they accounted for as many as 80 percent of passengers searched during certain shifts.
The officers identified nearly two dozen co-workers who they said consistently focused on stopping minority members in response to pressure from managers to meet certain threshold numbers for referrals to the State Police, federal immigration officials or other agencies.
The stops were seen as a way of padding the program's numbers and demonstrating to Washington policy makers that the behavior program was producing results, several officers said.
Instead, the officers said, profiling undermined the usefulness of the program. Focusing on minority members, said a second officer who was interviewed by The Times, “takes officers away from the real threat, and we could miss a terrorist we are looking for.”
Some Boston officers went to the American Civil Liberties Union with their complaints of profiling, and Sarah Wunsch, a lawyer in the group's Boston office, interviewed eight officers.
“Selecting people based on race or ethnicity was a way of finding easy marks,” she said. “It was a notch in your belt.”
The transportation agency said it did not collect information on the race or ethnicity of travelers and could not provide such a breakdown of passengers stopped through the behavior program.
But the agency defended the program's overall value. Behavior detection “is clearly an effective means of identifying people engaged in activity that may threaten the security of the passengers and the airports and has become a very effective intelligence tool, enabling law enforcement to bust larger operations and track any trends in nefarious activity,” the agency said in its statement.
“In addition, the deterrent value of the program can't be overstated,” it said. Monitoring passengers' behavior “adds another layer of security to the airport environment and presents the terrorists with yet one more challenge they need to overcome” in their efforts to defeat airport security measures, the agency said.
But government analysts and some researchers say the idea of spotting possible terrorists from their behavior in a security line relies on dubious science.
A critical assessment of the program in 2010 by the Government Accountability Office noted that aviation officials began the behavior program in 2003, in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, without first determining if it had a scientific basis.
Nine years later, this question remains largely unanswered, even as the agency moves to expand the program, the accountability office said in a follow-up report last year. It said that until the agency is able to better study and document the validity of the science, Congress might consider freezing tens of millions of dollars budgeted for the program's growth.
Based on past research, the accountability office said the link between a person's behavior and mental state is strongest in reading “simple emotions” like happiness and sadness.
But the link is weak in determining from behavior whether someone is lying, the report said, and “nonexistent” for determining “when individuals hold terrorist intent and beliefs.”
Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican who has pushed for more aggressive counterterrorism measures, said he was troubled by the reports of profiling in Boston.
“If it is going on, it is wrong and can't be defended,” Mr. King said.
Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan airport, is eager to review the findings of the T.S.A. investigation, said David S. Mackey, executive director of the agency.
“There is no place for racial profiling in any security program,” Mr. Mackey said. “It is illegal, and it is not effective.”
Feds: Mississippi county runs 'school-to-prison pipeline'
by Michael Martinez
Officials in Lauderdale County, Mississippi, have operated "a school-to-prison pipeline" that violates the constitutional rights of juveniles by incarcerating them for alleged school disciplinary infractions, some as minor as defiance, the U.S. Department of Justice said Friday.
"Students most affected by this system are African-American children and children with disabilities," the Justice Department said.
The federal agency's civil rights division seeks "meaningful negotiations" in 60 days to end the constitutional violations or else a federal lawsuit would be filed against state, county and local officials in Meridian, according to a Justice Department letter dated Friday to those officials.
The letter also names two Lauderdale County Youth Court judges, Frank Coleman and Veldore Young.
State and local officials couldn't be reached immediately for comment Friday.
"The systematic disregard for children's basic constitutional rights by agencies with a duty to protect and serve these children betrays the public trust," Thomas E. Perez, assistant U.S. attorney general, said in a statement. "We hope to resolve the concerns outlined in our findings in a collaborative fashion, but we will not hesitate to take appropriate legal action if necessary."
In 2009, the Lauderdale County Juvenile Detention Facility in Meridian was the target of a federal class-action lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center that alleged children and teens were subjected to "shockingly inhumane" treatment, the center said.
The alleged mistreatment included youngsters being "crammed into small, filthy cells and tormented with the arbitrary use of Mace as a punishment for even the most minor infractions -- such as 'talking too much' or failing to sit in the 'back of their cells,'" the center said in a statement.
In 2010, Lauderdale County officials and the center reached an agreement to reform the jail system and consider alternatives to sending youths to the detention center, said the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights group.
"I think this is evidence of a broken system where the most vulnerable population of kids are not receiving their constitutionally guaranteed rights," Jody Owens II, managing attorney for the center's Mississippi office, told CNN.
On Friday, the U.S. Justice Department accused Meridian police of automatically arresting all students referred by the city's public schools and then sending them to the county juvenile justice system, "where existing due process protections are illusory and inadequate," the federal letter says.
The police department command staff and officers characterized their agency as a "taxi service" for the schools and juvenile detention facility, without assessing the circumstances of the alleged charges against students, the Justice Department said.
"The Youth Court places children on probation, and the terms of the probation set by the Youth Court and DYS require children on probation to serve any suspensions from school incarcerated in the juvenile detention center," the Justice Department letter said.
From the White House
Progress Toward a World Without Violence Against Women and Girls
by Valerie Jarrett
Eqlima is a young girl from Afghanistan. She lived with an abusive father and stepmother who often beat her. They even set her hair on fire. She escaped to a U.S. State Department-supported women's shelter. The staff helped move her away from her father and stepmother, and now is helping her move in with her older brother.
Stories like these are all too common. From beatings, to “honor” killings, to sexual violence as a tactic of war, from intimate partner violence to human trafficking-- the forms of gender-based violence are varied, but their scope, and their impact are devastating. Globally, an estimated one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
When women and girls are denied the chance to fully contribute to society because of the violence or fear they face, our entire world suffers. That's why President Obama has made the treatment of women an essential part of our global vision for democracy and human rights. A key part of that effort is stopping violence against women and girls.
Last December, President Obama released the first ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security and signed an Executive Order directing the Plan's implementation. This action signaled a key commitment of the Obama Administration: to put gender equality and the advancement of women and girls at the forefront of our foreign policy.
Today, I am proud to announce that the President has taken another important step to prioritize and protect the rights of women and girls. President Obama issued an Executive Order on Preventing and Responding to Violence Against Women and Girls Globally. The Executive Order requires enhanced coordination of the United States' efforts through the creation of an interagency working group, co-chaired by Secretary of State Clinton and USAID Administrator Shah, designed to leverage our country's tremendous expertise and capacity to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally as well as establish a coordinated, government-wide approach to address this terrible reality.
The Executive Order directs Federal agencies to implement a new strategy, developed by USAID and the State Department. The four objectives of the strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally are to: (1) increase coordination of gender-based violence prevention and response efforts among United States Government agencies and with other stakeholders; (2) enhance integration of gender-based violence prevention and response efforts into existing United States Government work; (3) improve collection, analysis, and use of data and research to enhance gender-based violence prevention, and response efforts; and (4) enhance and expand United States Government programming that addresses gender-based violence.
The Executive Order also requires that the work is evaluated in line with the Administration's focus on data collection and research. Recognizing that this is a long-term commitment, the Executive Order directs the interagency working group to update or revise the strategy after three years. You can read more about the Executive Order here .
Our commitment to ending violence against women and girls is both a foreign policy priority and a domestic policy priority. The United States has made tremendous progress on violence against women and girls domestically since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994. Since the passage of the Act, annual rates of domestic violence have dropped by more than 60 percent.
As you all know, the Violence Against Women Act, something that should be above politics, is mired in just that on the Hill. The Senate passed a strong bipartisan bill three months ago. The House should take up the Senate bill so we can get this important bill to the President's desk. Women should not have to wait a day longer. As the Vice President has said, Congress should act now to protect women.
The Obama Administration is doing its part in the effort to end violence against women and girls In 2010, President Obama announced unprecedented coordination across Federal agencies to continue our progress in reducing violence against women in the United States, and Vice President Biden has led the Administration's efforts to reach teens and young women who are most at risk of dating violence and sexual assault. Most recently, President Obama and Vice President Biden appeared with star athletes in a public service announcement speaking out against violence and launched our 1 is 2 Many Campaign.
Globally, the President's commitment is embodied throughout the Administration's foreign policy efforts, from the President's National Security Strategy; to the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development; to the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. Ultimately, the President and his administration's goal is a world free from violence against women and girls.
But we realize that government alone cannot end this problem. That's why the Executive Order directs agencies to deepen their engagement with a broader set of stakeholders, including civil society, grassroots, and international organizations, all of which are a vital part of the effort to end violence against women and girls.
Today's Executive Order and new strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally provide a blueprint to guide our next steps in working towards this goal.
Together, we can help protect more women and girls like Eqlima from senseless violence, and give them the opportunity to advance and thrive, living without fear.
Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama.