In This Episode
DeRay, Brittany, Clint and Sam discuss the racial disparity in student debt, remaking the charity system, mandatory minimums hiding police misconduct, and Trump cutting 500,000 student lunches for cruelty’s sake. DeRay talks to residents and corrections officers at the Young Men Emerging unit in the D.C. Department of Corrections about policing.
The New York Times: How Mandatory Minimums Enable Police Misconduct
Vox: How a wealth tax could totally remake charity in the United States
The Washington Post: Trump administration rule could end free school lunches for about 500,000 children
DERAY: Hey, this is DeRay, and welcome Pod Save the People. In this episode, we have me, Brittany, Clint, and Sam. Sam sent say his news in separately because he was traveling with a host of meetings around policing. This week, we’re doing something a little different for the interview. In this episode, we’re sharing a conversation I had with the residents and Corrections Officers at the Young Men Emerging Unit, or YME, and the D.C. Department of Corrections. It’s a unit of the DC jail that is structured around a mentorship program where residents can apply to become mentors to other residents in the unit.
YME [00:00:27] The rehabilitation is key. And I feel like it’s easy to just lock someone up; it’s easy to just send them to the whole incarcerating. It’s easy to do that. But if you can teach a brother like myself how to go back into the community? It’s an amazing thing.
DERAY: The message for this week is something that I’ve had to remind myself a lot: put things out in the world that you’re proud of, and try not to put it out until you’re proud of it. We so often are pushed by the pressures of our peers, by the new cycle, by [00:01:00] what we think matters in the moment. And sometimes, we lose sight of, like, we know what it’s like to put out something we’re proud of. I know what it’s like when I write something I’m proud of, or when I give a speech and I’m proud of, or when we do a project that I’m proud of, and I know the difference between that and something I like, a talk that went well, a project that was “okay, better than nothing.” But the bar should be things that we are proud of because when we do things that we’re proud of we know that we have put all the energy that we could into it, that we worked smart, we didn’t need to be fatigued for us to be proud.
And I always think about something a teacher told me in elementary school. She was like, “DeRay, sometimes more is just more.” And I think sometimes, we think that, like, more hours will make it better, sometimes more is just more. But I say all that to say that it made me think to put things out that you are proud of; don’t put it out until you’re proud of it. Let’s go
SAM: Hey, it’s Sam. And today I want to talk about a new report from The Institute on Assets and Social [00:02:00] Policy that looks at student loan debt and the impact that student loan debt has by race. So, obviously, student loan debt is a huge crisis: there’s $1.5 trillion in total student loan debt that’s owed. And what this report does is it uses an extensive data set called the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth that actually followed over 7,000 youth starting from ages 12 through 16 and followed them all the way through their mid-30s––up ‘till 2015 and 2016 when they were in their mid-30s––and tracked the impact, for many of them, that taking out student loan debt had on wealth, and the findings are actually quite shocking.
First of all, the study found that there were huge differences between white student loan debt borrowers and black student loan debt borrowers, that not only were black students who borrowed student loan debt––not only do they borrow more student loan debt overall than white student loan debt borrowers, so $19,500 for the median black student loan debt bar compared to only $16,300 [00:03:00] for the white median student loan debt borrower–– but also that over a 20 year period, over the course of going to college and then after college, that for black students, only five percent of that amount was paid off over that 20-year period. But for white students, they were able to pay off 94% of that student loan debt.
Now there are many reasons cited for this, among them the fact that white students tend to have more access to familial wealth and get paid more for the same work due to the pay gap and income gap, and there may also be issues in the terms of those loans and the interest on those loans and predatory lending. But all of that comes together to result in a reality where black student loan debt borrowers are facing a huge crisis today, where most if not all of that student loan debt is still owed, and that has impacts on the racial wealth gap. So, the study looks into the impact on wealth of taking out student loan debt. They find that for every one, [00:04:00] independent of the amount of the student loan debt (so excluding that total debt amount), owing student loan debt was associated with having $8,200 less in wealth than not owing student loan debt. And not only that, but the typical black student loan holder’s total wealth was negative $10,700 compared to close to even, so about zero for whites with student loan debt. So, this is an additional piece of research building on an existing base of evidence that the student loan debt crisis is disproportionately impacting black people.
It’s also impacting Latino communities, although not to the same extent as black communities. So, for example, the study does a breakdown of who defaulted on those student loan debts over the 20-year period, and they find that only about 20% of white student loan debt holders defaulted, whereas 33% percent of Latino student loan debt holders defaulted and 50% of black student loan debt holders defaulted.
So, [00:05:00] this crisis is huge; it is disproportionately impacting communities of color and black communities in particular. And this is all the more reason to be fighting for student loan debt cancellation, as we’ve seen from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, because those types of policies will have a measurable impact on the racial wealth gap––particularly for young people, for Millennials––and that is all crucial to actually improving the economy as a whole.
BRITTANY: Hey y’all, it’s the news. This is Britney Packnett, @MsPackyetti on all social media.
CLINT: And this is Clint Smith, @ClintSmithIII.
DERAY: This is DeRay, @deray on Twitter.
BRITTANY: You know, a few years back, one Donald J. Trump tweeted, “Can someone be impeached for gross incompetence?”
And here we are, in 2019, hoping that indeed that can come true, because that tweet aged particularly well when Nancy Pelosi stood her Speaker of the House-self up [00:06:00] behind a podium and said, “the House will pursue an impeachment investigation inquiry.”
DERAY: (singing) Impeachment!
BRITTANY: And here we go.
DERAY: (singing) Impeachment!
BRITTANY: (singing) Impeachment!
DERAY: You think about Mueller: everybody that the Mueller Report was gonna be the thing, that was going to get everybody worked up, and it was all this “Mueller, Mueller, Mueller.” Mueller happened, and not much happened. And then the Whistleblower comes with this nine page report that we now know. You see Trump threatening the Whistleblower, talking about “in the olden days, we took care them differently,” you’re like, “that sounds like you’re calling for murder.” And importantly, in the Whistleblower, in the complaint, in the first sentence, it says, “in the course of my official duties, the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
It doesn’t meander; you can’t read into it. It is clear what the Whistleblower is saying. And shame on the New York Times for essentially outing the Whistleblower. And I thought the Whistleblower’s lawyer was really strong in saying that [00:07:00] not only does this put the client In harm’s way, but it puts a lot of people in harm’s way because as somebody searches for who the actual whistleblower is, a whole host of innocent people will be caught up in the net and the Whistleblower, who’s also innocent, will eventually be targeted as well.
So, I’m happy that the actual complaint is public; I’m happy that there seemed to be hearings coming up. And it is frustrating––but good, finally––that Pelosi realized that she had no choice, that this was like, “he has done so much wrong, you had to do something.”
BRITTANY: So much wrong, and I’m hoping that given all of the bad karmic energy he has out in the universe, all of the bad things that he has done (and not just things that we disagree with, right, but things that are literally and legitimately criminal and corrupt) that one of those things will ensure that we do not have to deal with him any longer. You know, I think about all of the times throughout history when we’ve seen people go down not for the thing that we thought they’d go down for, we were just happy to see them [00:08:00] actually get moved to the side. What we should also remember though is, “A,” how impeachment works. So, a lot of people probably do not remember the Clinton era. I remember being a young person then and that was the first time I really fully understood that impeachment does not automatically mean that a president is ousted, right? You talked about Andrew Johnson, Nixon, of course, decided to resign instead of be ousted, and Bill Clinton was impeached but remained in office and finished out his full two terms, and obviously has had a full second act since then. And so we have to, “A,” remember what impeachment actually has the power to do. It most certainly doesn’t mean that he will automatically be gone, but it can certainly ease the road to that potential outcome. The other thing that we have to remember is that, unfortunately, impeachment enquiries and investigations often suck up all the air from the room. So, what that means is that other work, other bills, other proposals are not going to continue to see the same kind of energy that they would have had this inquiry and [00:09:00] investigation not been happening right now, which is an unfortunate after-effect of this. And it doesn’t mean that we should stop pushing; it doesn’t mean that we should stop caring. It doesn’t mean that we should stop calling the Senate because this inquiry is happening in the house. We still have to ensure that our elected officials do their job.
We also have to recognize that right now that job is ensuring that this impeachment inquiry and investigation is truly successful.
CLINT: Last thing I’ll say is that it just really feels like a bunch of conservative white people watched The Wire and took all the wrong lessons from it. They couldn’t do it like they held it down in Baltimore. But, you know, these are some clumsy folks, man.
DERAY: The best part too is that the Ukrainian president used to be an actor who played somebody who is a normal citizen who became president, and then…
CLINT: Yeah, he’s like a comedian, right?
DERAY: Yeah, but he, like, became famous for doing the show of a guy who was not a politician who suddenly becomes president in the end, and then he, after the show, he ran for president and won.
To the news. [00:10:00] So, my news: There’s been a lot of conversation over the past year or so about philanthropy, and kind of taking the veil away from the philanthropic world and pushing us to be a lot more critical and to do a lot more excavation as to how philanthropy operates, who the people donating this money are, and where is their money coming from.
Matt Dillon at Vox [00:10:23] has been doing some interesting work around it, and he wrote something about a new proposal that was proposed by two economists at the University of California, Berkeley––Emmanual Saez and Gabrielle Zucman [00:10:32]––that would fundamentally change the nature of how philanthropy operates, and that is a new paper they did on the wealth taxes.
The two authors also worked together to design Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax proposal, which calls for a two percent annual levy on wealth between $50 million and $1 billion and a three percent levy on well in excess of $1 billion. So what they’re proposing now is a radical wealth tax of 10% of wealth [00:11:00] over 1 billion dollars that is meant to gradually draw down the wealth of billionaires, and a tax of 90% on wealth over a billion dollars that’s meant to raise huge sums of revenue all at once by, essentially, making it so that there is a de-facto maximum wealth level. For some people, this might seem scary, but again remember how much a billion dollars––is it is a thousand stacks of a million dollars––and ask ourselves, “why does anyone need that?”
But from a philanthropic perspective, Saez and Zucman [00:11:25] proposed making foundations and donor-advised funds subject to the wealth tax if they are still controlled by the wealthy benefactor themselves. So for example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would be treated the same way as Bill and Melinda Gates as individuals. To avoid the wealth tax the foundation will have to either: one put people other than the Gates in executive control, or two, spend its philanthropic funds more quickly. This can go one of two ways, right? If it is rigorously enforced, it could spur massive increase in the speed and pace of giving and that wouldn’t be, you know, these [00:12:00] one-time things––billionaires would likely opt to front-load their donations and instead of waiting to do these sort of late end-of-life gifts as many do.
What’s concerning is that it could make people donate to things that are easier and don’t require as much research. For example, it is easier to just donate a million dollars to the Met rather than donate a million dollars to testing new medicine that could be used to fight malaria in different parts of the global South. But if we work to ensure that the philanthropic world is funding nonprofits who do that work rather than them holding on to this money themselves, then I think it gives us a different framework with which to think about it.
But part of the point is that so many of these foundations are sitting on so much money, right? They’re only actually giving away a small fraction of the money that they continue to sit on, and this is saying that you cannot just use these foundations as a tax haven, as a place to sit on your money under the pretense of giving it away––that if you are saying you’re going to give away this money, then that is what you need to do.
BRITTANY: There are so many [00:13:00] times when we know what works and yet the best solutions have trouble gaining access to the philanthropic dollars they need in order to exist and persist. So, I’m glad that this conversation has continued to broaden, due in no short order to a lot of the writing and research that has been happening over the last few years, and I say that as someone who has previously led a non-profit, who was caught up in grant cycles, was caught up in not just having to prove the worthiness of our hypothesis, of our work, of our data, which is one thing, but also to have to deal essentially with the whims of really wealthy people. The amount of what I call “hardball” that happens in philanthropy is a lot.
So there will be a new idea, a new fad, a new trend that the folks in the philanthropic space get access to, and they play hardball; they all run toward that one thing. And education––a few years ago, it was technology, now it’s [00:14:00] personalized learning––and anyone who is coming with those ideas, they’re getting funded. The people who are operating on things like culturally-responsive pedagogy, or developing a diverse teacher workforce, or helping to increase teacher pay––these folks are not getting the same kind of love because currently the way that philanthropy works is it’s simply a stacked game, and it’s really really difficult for people with new ideas, for people who are grassroots, and certainly for leadership that have marginalized identities to gain access to the kinds of funds that they need.
DERAY: You think about it, is it’s some people are like, “you know, we need philanthropies to fund a host of these things, and that it is such a win that these wealthy benefactors choose to put their money that they earned in such an incredible way back into society,” and it’s ironic [00:14:43] that if we make the system strong in the first place, we won’t need a million programs, right? So, the reason why we need to feed homeless people under bridges is because they are homeless, and we could actually just guarantee people housing. You know, I hear all these people, and my news [00:14:57] will be about food stamps, [00:15:00] but it’s like there is enough food to feed everybody.
Like, we could actually solve the majority of these problems if we actually invested in the front end solution as opposed to thinking that the program solution at the back end is actually the best way to deal with it.
The second thing is that so many of these nonprofits, they invest in good causes as a way to raise more money. So, you think about, we see a set of people, they’re doing something give them $100,000 and then you raise two million dollars off of saying that you’re doing good things in this one community, and then I seen that money, and I think about that a lot with the way the protests worked. Is there a lot of people who invested in protesters and activists and then just turned around and used that investment to make more money for themselves? How do we make sure that we also talked about the need for really strong leadership at the government level, because I can say, in a place like Baltimore, is that the nonprofits have single-handedly held up any sense of good work strategically happening in the city of Baltimore. Like, if not for the [00:16:00] nonprofits, the city itself was not doing it.
And that does not mean that the nonprofits are the best solution. It does mean that until we’re honest about leadership at city levels, then I don’t know if the problem will ever change because in a place like Baltimore, you really do need not; the mayor is structurally strong, but you need a mayor and city council that just are willing to make these big risks that we know will pay off in the end, that are willing to go against the grain and stop funding and investing in things that we know don’t work (like spending half the city’s budget on policing, for instance) and the nonprofit’s really have carved out that space. But the reason they have to hold it down single-handedly is because city leadership often fails so spectacularly, so I’m interested in the next 5-10 years.
How do we start to not only grow a set of leaders, but empower people to believe that they can be in those roles? Because, as you know, some people think that, like, they meet the mayor, they meet the whoever ,and they’re like, “oh that person must be a gifted thinker.” And it’s like, nope, they just knew how to play the game better; they just played it better [00:17:00] than you did, or they just felt like they should be in the role. And I’m interested to see that change.
DERAY: Don’t go anywhere––more Pod Save the People’s coming.
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BRITTANY: So from my news, I read a fascinating opinion piece in The New York Times by Scott Hechinger, who is a public defender in New York City. His op-ed was all about mandatory minimums and how that is an issue not just in the criminal-justice space, but more broadly when it comes to police violence and police misconduct.
Of course, we’ve been talking about mandatory minimums a lot because they help drive mass incarceration. But one of the things he helps us realize in this op-ed is that it also allows officers to engage in misconduct with impunity. So, he essentially talks about the fact that police officers will do any number of things that violate a citizen’s constitutional rights––stop and frisk, different seizures, searches without cause and warrants––and that when that person is unlawfully arrested, they’re then tempted by the prosecutor with a one-time-only plea deal, and because [00:20:00] that one-time-only plea deal stands in opposition to a mandatory minimum, literally 95% of people accept the plea deal instead of dealing with the possibility of a mandatory minimum.
I want to just read something to you from his op-ed. He said, “that in New York City, for example, less than five percent of all felony arrests that are prosecuted have hearings to contest police misconduct. For misdemeanor arrests that are prosecuted, a third of which are initiated by police, less than 0.5 percent of cases go to a hearing. A guilty plea also has the effect of insulating police from any civil rights lawsuit asserting false arrest because a plea of guilty serves as an admission that the officers arrest was justified.”
So, the threat of a mandatory minimum, essentially, allows for police to go off unscathed even if they violated somebody’s rights, for prosecutors to take home another conviction, and for it to become impossible for the term of their natural lives [00:21:00] for citizens who have dealt with this to actually bring up the issue of police confidence in the courtroom in a criminal space or in a civil space.
And so, this creates a cycle that allows police misconduct and police violence to continue. One of the good things that we have seen District Attorneys and County Prosecutors start to do is institute a “Do Not Call” list. People like Kim Gardener in my hometown of St. Louis and Larry Krasner in Philadelphia (who we’ve had on the Pod), they essentially create a list of officers who they refuse to call and rely on their findings because they’ve previously been found incredulous. What that means is that somebody has refused that guilty plea deal and they’ve decided to essentially bring the officers misconduct up in a court of law. That then creates a record, and those forward-thinking prosecutors refuse to rely on the testimony of those officers because if that doesn’t happen, officers that we know are continuously engaging in misconduct can not only continue to do [00:22:00] that to other people, they can also continue to bear false witness against citizens. So, I wanted to bring this here because it’s one of the things that we don’t always think about in relationship to the continuation of police violence, but this was an incredibly important argument and I’m glad that it’s all the pages of The New York Times.
CLINT: One of the things Scott talks about in that article––and he says it very explicitly, he says, “we need to abolish mandatory minimums”––and something that’s interesting is that I don’t think many people understand the history of where mandatory minimums came from and that they were actually initially proposed by folks on the left by liberals in the 1970s because what was going on is that there was sort of indeterminate sentencing, and so it meant that people thought a racist judge or parole board could give a harsher sentence to a person of color than a white person or give a white person a lighter sentence than they deserve just because of bias and prejudice on behalf of, like, the individual judge. And so it meant that the defendants future was determined by an individual judge rather than the severity of the crime [00:23:00], and the idea of judicial discretion is that it is supposed to eliminate Draconian punishment, but some, including civil rights and prison rights advocates, saw it as a driving force of inequality. And so, what happened in the 1970s, liberals wanted to standardize the sentencing process to cut out bias, to make it so that if you had a super racist judge or something like that, that could not singularly determine what type of sentence you got. Then they started to recommend mandatory minimums.
About 20 years later, they realized they had made a terrible mistake because it had not alleviated the racial and socio-economic disparities in the prison system; they did in fact worsen them considerably, and continues to do so as we see today. So, Scott is right that we should abolish mandatory minimums.
It is also important for folks on the left to reckon with the fact that the issue of mass incarceration is largely and historically a bipartisan project––and I recommended this book before I think years ago on the Pod––but Naomi Murakawa’s The First Civil Right is a really important and incredible book on this front if you’re interested in learning more
DERAY: [00:24:00] So people forget that the first big set of mandatory minimums that were passed by Congress was the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. There were some laws past before––there was a marijuana mandatory minimum passed 1951 that was overturned in 1970––but the 1986 is the big drug bill that essentially changed the face of incarceration in the country. It is the birth of the War on Drugs, and it was important because two things: one is that the first offense you get two to five years, in the second offense you get 5 to 10 years, and that single-handedly did a lot. It also is where the crack cocaine, powder cocaine disparity first originated at the federal level (that really changed everything). But people forget that these mandatory minimums, for all the talk around mass incarceration that’s happening in the country today, people forget that there are still many really wild laws in the books. So in Florida today, one law that I will highlight is Florida statute 775.087. It is known informally as the “10/20 life law,” or the “10/20 [00:25:00] life rule.” What it says is that producing a firearm during the commission of certain felonies mandates at least a 10-year prison sentence, firing a firearm mandates at least a 20 year prison sentence, and shooting someone mandates a minimum sentence of 25 years to life regardless of whether a victim is killed or simply injured.
And again, you know, during the time that the drug bill was passed, in a time that most mandatory minimums were passed, there were a lot of people on the left who were like, “we want to make sure the judges can’t just send you to jail for 200 years for something really minor.” But what happened when people weren’t paying attention, or just didn’t have the structural power to fight it, is that these laws not only blossomed all across the country, but they still continue.
So in Florida today, in addition to the 10/20 life rule, you get at least a sentence of three years in a state prison for someone who was a former felon or a felon who possesses a firearm, at least a 15-year prison sentence if the offender is in possession of either a machine gun or semi-automatic gun, at least a three-year prison sentence for aggravated assault [00:26:00] with a firearm. There are, like, a million of these. And again, as much as we need gun control–– and Lord knows we do–– the gun control we need has to start. Like, nobody in the hood is melting AR-15s in their backyard to make them, like, that’s just not happening. Nobody in the hood is manufacturing these weapons of war; it’s just not happening. And so we’re always worried about gun control that becomes about gun users in this way because we’ve seen it happen time and time again is that it really is just used as an excuse to put black and brown people in jail.
And interestingly, in Florida (and this why prosecutors matter), is that in Florida, the only person who can waive a mandatory minimum is the prosecutor; the judge can’t even do it, only the prosecutor, which means––and we talk about this idea of people pleasing––if it’s 20 years or plea, you know, people are like, “let me just plea given the way the system is set up.”
So my news is about food stamps and free lunch. So, Trump is doing a lot [00:27:00] of really wild things (which is no shock to anybody), but one of the things that he’s doing is he is about to change a rule that could kick off about three million people from SNAP. And you know SNAP: SNAP is the Supplemental and Nutritional Assistance Program; it is informally known as food stamps. And that argument is essentially that there are more people on SNAP they need to be on SNAP, and that people are taking advantage of SNAP.
So what they’re saying is that they want to change one of the rules to say that a family of four who makes $50,000 or more, for instance, would no longer be eligible for SNAP, that $50,000, with the family of four, is too much money for you to get food stamps. This change, and a couple others they’re proposing, would cut a couple million people off of food stamps, but would also happen, if they did this, is about 500,000 kids would suddenly no longer qualify for school lunches, and because of [00:28:00] the impeachment stuff, because of the stuff that makes the news––I haven’t seen this on the news at all––like, this is a huge deal for people who are impacted.
The second thing is you just see the callousness of the administration. Like, it’s not insignificant thing to cut that many people off food stamps, and certainly not insignificant to cut that many kids off free lunches in schools––and there are set of governors and mayors who are trying to fight back against this––but it really is one of the things where the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture are sort of like, “you know what? People will be fine. Everybody will be able to get something one day.” Like, they literally just lying about this, and you have to remember that the Administration already changed the rules for nutrition and school lunches against the will of everybody who is an expert in these spaces. And I just want to bring this here because I haven’t heard a lot of people talking about this many people getting kicked out food stamps or this many people getting kicked off of free lunch.
BRITTANY: You know, sometimes when we talk about what this Administration does, it’s really hard not to curse on a podcast where we don’t curse.
I [00:29:00] screamed when I first read this. Obviously, we’ve talked before about the fact that he is trying to cut SNAP benefits for three million people. I personally did not realize the connection between SNAP and free lunch, even as a former public school teacher. And we’ve talked about before on this podcast, as the three of us know, on days when there is inclement weather or there is teacher in-service and school is closed, there are so many considerations because so often in our lowest-income public schools, with our most challenged families, there are children who are not going to get any meals if they do not get them at school.
So the idea that this Administration would have the audacity to cut half a million students and their ability to receive that nourishment is absolutely disgusting, and I want us to be very clear about what happens to a child when they are malnourished. They have difficulty with [00:30:00] memory, with concentration, with energy, obviously all of these things making it difficult to learn and function, period. It can interrupt their sleeping patterns, which means that they come to school too tired and it’s, again, difficult for them to concentrate. It increases their susceptibility to illnesses because it weakens their immune system, because they are not getting critical nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
It can also lead to depression, to anxiety, to withdrawal; it can cause behavioral issues. It can cause short-term and long-term issues for those young people. And this is something that continues to help put young people on a conveyor belt of Injustice because if you struggle in school, of course––in certain States, if you are not reading on grade level by third grade, there is a jail cell literally built and waiting for you because people will predict the number of jail cells they need by third grade reading levels––we know that you are much more prone to a life of unemployment or underemployment, which means that you will [00:31:00] have a lack of quality housing, that you will not be making a living wage, that you will have lack of access to quality healthcare. And if you end up in a situation where you are criminalized for being poor, where you are criminalized from suffering from injustice, or will you have to enter an alternative industry in order to feed your family, then you are moved on that conveyor belt into the space of mass incarceration.
So I just want us to connect the dots here and understand why besides the fact that this is completely inhumane and absolutely immoral, that this is why so many people fully believe in conspiracy theories about what they are trying to do to destroy communities, because there is no possible way you could justify a move like this knowing all of the harmful effects that it will have on young people for the course of their entire lives.
CLINT: So, yeah, just briefly to add to some of the numbers and the sort of social phenomenon: you know, 16 million children in America struggle with hunger every year; [00:32:00] 62 percent of teachers say that children in their classrooms are coming to school hungry––almost two-thirds of kids; children facing hunger are subsequently twice as likely to repeat a grade in elementary school; nearly half of all food stamp recipients that people that were talking about, half of these folks are children; and twenty percent of food insecure families are not eligible for government assistance in the first place, which is why we need to expand the social safety net and not contract it. There’s so many kids who rely on these meals at school as their only means of nourishment in a world in which everything else around them is precarious, in a community that is suffering from a lack of resources and homes that are suffering from lack of resources, in a world of plenty.
And the result of lack of resources, we can never forget, are not their fault. You know, we can’t say it enough, that the reason one community in D.C. looks one way and another community in D.C. looks another way is not at all reflective of the people in those communities. It is reflective of what has been done to those communities generation after generation after generation [00:33:00] after generation.
You can say that about any city in this country, and we have to understand that our schools are part of the ecosystem and part of the histories that have created the landscapes of inequality in these cities, and so we can’t understand what’s happening in the schools without understanding what’s happening in the larger communities, without understanding what is happening in the sort of larger historiography that has shaped this moment.
So, um, it’s kids man. It’s, like, these are our kids and it is a crime. It is added to the list of crimes that this Administration has attempted to enact and I hope you’re getting closer to the end of this nightmare.
DERAY: That’s the news.
Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere––there’s more to come.
BRITTANY: You want to know what is completely wild, DeRay? Only one in five homes actually have home security.
It’s probably because most companies really don’t make it easy. In the past, I know getting home security has been completely confusing, expensive, and a total hassle. That’s why Simplisafe is my top choice, hands down.
DERAY: Simplisafe protects every door, window, and room with 24/7 [00:34:00] professional monitoring. They make it easy. There’s no contract, no hidden fees, or fine print. That’s why it has won a ton of awards, from CNET, to the New York Times, to Wirecutter.
BRITTANY: Prices are always fair and honest, with around-the-clock monitoring that’s just $15 a month.
DERAY: When other home security systems are triggered, a lot of time the First Responders assume it’s a false alarm; the call goes to the bottom of the list. But with Simplisafe, First Responders get to the scene 3.5 times faster than other home security companies.
BRITTANY: And for our listeners, Simplisafe has a huge deal going on right now. Go to Simplisafe dot com slash people and get free shipping and a money-back guarantee. That’s Simplisafe dot com slash People today. Simplisafe dot com slash people.
What is really up with anti-vaxxers? Why does GOOP have such massive appeal? And who does our health care system really care for? In America Dissected, a new podcast from Crooked Media, host Abdul El-Sayed talks about the forces beyond the headlines that shape the issues that matter for our health: the ways we’re failing [00:35:00] science, the ways the government is failing us, and what we can do to get it all back on track.
DERAY: We love Abdul! Abdul is the man! America Dissected as a ten-part series that explores who we’re up against in our health care system. Remember, the very first episode of Pod Save the People was about health care. But Abdul is doing a deep dive, and you should listen because he’s not only focused on sort of what’s wrong, but how we’ve solved problems like this before––the rigorous science and competent government, working hand-and-glove getting it done. The show will explore issues like anti-vaxxers, the cult of wellness, the high cost of prescription drugs, the Flint Water Crisis, the opioid epidemic, antibiotic resistance (you should listen to that one) and superbugs, and, of course, the healthcare system. America Dissected is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows. Subscribe now!
DERAY: And now, the group meeting I got to participate in at the Young Men Emerging Unit at the D.C .Department of Corrections. This is a conversation with mentors and mentees who live at the Young Men Emerging Unit, or YME. Also, some of the unit’s [00:36:00] Corrections Officers and staff members participated in this group meeting.
YME [00:36:10]: My experience here: I’ve been in Corrections for a little over 10 years, first as a correction officer, then case manager. And what I believe first of all, just my belief, and I think that as a society we’ve kind of given up on his youth, but I do commend the educators and the youth advocates that have pushed to help society see that is not, is not the youth.
So when I see these young men, I see the possibilities, and what I see is that they have so much living to do, and they are, they’re young, and there’s so much to do and conquer out in this world and I’m inspired by Holleen [00:36:48], who I follow up with you, and I see how much living he’s doing in such a short period of time. And even though there’s [00:37:00] many years that of his youth he’s lost, but he’s gained so much.
And that’s that’s why I see these youth is, like, you have a lot of living to do and this is not it.
YME [00:37:10]: DeRay, so, like, I read your bio, and I’m just basing my question off your bio because I don’t know you; I don’t, I’m not on the outside, so I don’t know what your initiatives in the community are, what it looks like in the real way.
And what I’m asking you is, so, In D.C. right now, I know when I was on the community, one of the biggest problems for my peers was what we call “jump hours” and it’s, you know, the thing about police misconduct, not so much police brutality. You know, I know that the only thing that changed in the last 20 or 30 years in the real way is the cell phone and the extension of social media.
So my question to you is, with the, you know, [00:38:00] illegal search and seizure, the Fourth Amendment right, what I have noticed is my peers, they complain to me about police hopping out searching them without any warrants or any reason, and they get felonies off of what they have on them without probable cause, and from what I know that’s against the law, and that, in turn, some of the times they run and this is what they say is probable cause. So my question to you is: what has been done on that issue of police misconduct, of police randomly hopping out sometimes in plain street clothes with guns drawn, looking to arrest young black youth and adults in Ward 7 and 8 in Washington D.C., for example?
DERAY: Yeah, so, good question.
So, one of the reasons why we focus so much on police violence that results in death is that we know the person dies, so we have good data on it because they [00:39:00] died. The government doesn’t collect data on any police violence; they just started probably in the past three months. So, if you’ve heard any number of people killed by police, it was because of newspaper reports. So, it was, activists a decade ago started to do these really elaborate Google Alerts around, like, the number of people killed. So, any number we have we think is underreported because it literally is from the aggregate of newspaper accounts and media reports, so, like, news and TV shows. So, the number is a little off.
Things like jump outs, we have no good data on because police don’t keep records on it. So, even things like snatch and grabs happen at protest––the police will line up in a line, you’ll just be standing there; you think that they’re just landed up in a line because they’re in the line––and they literally will just like snatch one person and then they’ll close in and then they process that person and they’ll do another one. And like we know it happens; we have footage of it happening. We don’t have good data on it because they don’t report it.
Same thing with, like, sexual assaults. We know that women get sexually assaulted by the [00:40:00] police––not good data on it. So it’s sort of a hard, it’s like a black hole when we think about police oversight.
One of the other things that we focused on is this idea of filing a complaint. So we know that only 1 in 12, 1 in 13 complaints against an officer is ever sustained. We just did this big project in LA. In LA, in 2016-17, 1700 complaints were filed against a police officer for use of force (like some sort of force violation), 0% were sustained. And we’re like, “1700 people didn’t lie. Maybe some of them weren’t right, but 1700 people didn’t lie.” And in cities across the country, you actually can’t file an anonymous complaint against a police officer. You have to sign a sworn affidavit with your name and address. You probably can’t name 10 people in your neighborhood who are going to sign a sworn affidavit with their name and address against a police officer.
So in LA we would say if 1700 people are willing to do that then, like, 1700 other people aren’t lying. So we spent a lot of time on those sort of things.
You talked about seizing property. Raise your hand if you’ve heard of civil asset forfeiture before? [00:41:00] So civil asset forfeiture, the law started around with mobsters are really big and drug dealers were really flamboyant, and would it allow was for the police to seizure asset, like they could take your––so they pull you over, you’re driving a Lamborghini, you have reported no income, so they’re like “how do you have a Lamborghini?” They seize the Lamborghini, It becomes a property of the police department. They can sell it and they have, they get the money.
Now, what we know today is that the value of all the things seized in civil asset forfeiture is greater than the value of all things stolen in burglaries, which is sort of wild. The police actually take more things from people than the combined value of all things stolen in the given year, which is wild. So, there’s a lot of work that people are trying to do on that. So, that is happening at the federal level and at the local level.
The last few things I’ll say is you talked about a felony. One of the things that we try to help people on is, like, what is a felony? So, in places like Florida today, theft over $300 is a felony, and Oklahoma, up until 2001, theft over $50 was a felony. When most people [00:42:00] think about felony, they think about things like rape or they think about arson. They don’t think about “what does it mean that you stole a bike?” Or you might have stole a cell phone, or you might have stole a skateboard, like that’s sort of wild. So there’s a lot of work on those sort of things that are a little less sexy, but will change people’s lives in a huge way.
YME [00:42:14]: Thank you.
DERAY: I’ll ask you (and maybe you already know) but what percent of arrest you think happen in the country for a violent crime? Like of all the arrests that happened in the country, what percent do you think happened for violent crime? Three to five? Any other guesses? 20? 22?
If you think it’s more than 50% of the arrests happen for violent crime, raise your hand.
No more than 50, more than 50. For violent crime. More than 50? 40 to 50 percent? 30 to 40?
According to the FBI, it’s 5%.
YME [00:42:20]: How much?
DERAY: Five. [00:43:00] Five percent, according to the FBI. FBI’s statistic, not ours.
And if you think about 5% of the arrests are violent crime, less than 5% are convictions, right? What’s interesting is that when we asked the public that question––so the public thinks it’s like 80%, the reality is around five, and the hard part is that that gap is, like, jail, right? So the gap is like people thinking that incarceration must be the answer, people thinking that, like, police must be the solution, and you’re like, “violence is actually really low.” It’s not happening in the way people think: it’s five percent violent crime, 12% property crime, and then the rest is sort of, like, a host of misdemeanors and random things. But it’s actually much lower. So we try to spend lot of time trying to, like, change the way people think about it.
Even private prisons. What percent of people incarcerated do you think is in a private prison?
More than 50? Yeah, it’s like eight percent. It’s like a little bit less; it’s in between seven and a half and eight percent. It’s really low. How do we help people start to understand, like, what is actually, what is myth versus what is fact? It’s so much of the [00:44:00] work, and you’d be shocked at, like, the things that are myths that we spend a lot of time on the outside trying to fight people about being like, “that just isn’t, like, it literally didn’t happen, you know?” Or like, “that’s just not true.” And that’s a big part of the work.
I haven’t even asked you, anybody: When you hear the police say they solved a case, or they cleared a case, what do you think happened? Like, what do you think they did?
Somebody like, somebody plead to it? What’s another, what else do you…? Somebody over here said they made an arrest?
Yeah, so, all across the country, if you ever hear a percentage of solve or cleared, it literally just means at least one arrest was made. It doesn’t mean the right person was arrested; it doesn’t mean it was a conviction. Police departments actually don’t track the relationship between arrests and convictions, which is really crazy, right?
So we’re in these rooms and we’re like, “I don’t really know what a clearance rate, like that actually doesn’t meet, that doesn’t tell me anything about much, you know?” So we spent a lot of work on those things.
I’m sorry. I see you.
YME [00:44:52]: Police killing people, how many of those police officers that was [00:45:00] kills, that was convicted of the crime that they say that they committed?
DERAY: It’s so small that it doesn’t show up in percentage, but it’s, like, around 1%. It’s really low.
One of the things that we know today that we didn’t know in 2014 is that the laws are actually on the side of police. So in Oregon, the law literally says the officer can use deadly force if you engage in escape in the first degree (escape in the first degree is running), if they think you just committed a felony, any felony (so felony theft in Oregon is theft over one thousand dollars, so your cell phone), or if they think you’re about to engage in a felony.
YME [00:45:27]: They can kill you?
DERAY: They can kill you. So we, in 2014, we were really upset with the prosecutors, being like, “why aren’t you prosecuting the police.” And now we’re like, because you’re going to lose; you know you’re going to lose because the law is actually that permissive, right?
So when we meet with, I met with the mayor, I met with the police chief, I met with all these people in Portland, and we’re sitting down and when I say it to them. they think I’m being dramatic because I’m an activist, so we just print it out and show them and they’re like, “that’s really crazy.” We’re like, “yes, that’s really crazy, right?”
And Portland even has a rule––Portland and Seattle are the only two cities in the country that have a rule that says [00:46:00] that the officer has to be disciplined in the least embarrassing manner before the public in the department. Like, that is actually in the contract.
So.…and then the police were texting racist memes each other, and the mayor publicly said that was unacceptable, and he’s actually being sued right now because they said that him publicly saying it was unacceptable is embarrassing and what is true is that the rule really says it he can’t embarrass the police.
So, it’s those sort of things that we literally didn’t know, we just didn’t know in 2014 that we know today.
I saw you?
YME [00:46:28]: My question to you was: how do you not feel safe if you have all these tactic equipments, and then you have a partner, and then, and then on top of that you have backup as well, so it’ll be like five of y’all verse a dude who may have, you don’t even know if he has an object or not. He may?
DERAY: There isn’t a doubt [46:44] that the people want to be safe, right? What we remind people is that if you close your eyes right now and thought about the place where you feel the most safe in the world, it’s probably a place where police officers aren’t present, right? That if you had to [00:47:00] imagine, like, the place where you feel the safest, it’s probably a place where your family is, where there’s food and shelter, where there’s resources, where there’s money. Like, and we believe that we can create whatever your vision is for the place where you feel the most safe? We can create that for everybody, and that, like, no vision that people have where they feel the most safe in the world, it’s not a room full of police, right? Like, we believe that.
With the safety issue on their perspective is that, some of it is a little wonky. So, there’s a rule that police officers get training called the 21-foot rule. It’s old, it’s a really old thing that they made up a long time ago that says anybody within 21 feet of you can kill you, so you can kill them.
So we see these cases where, like, (21 things like a lot of space). So say somebody’s a knife within 21 feet and we’re like, “why did you shoot them?” Because they’re like, “you were within 21 feet,” and we’re like “that is a made-up rule.” There’s a Supreme Court case that protect police officers who do things they were trained to do, which is a killer for us, but, so there’s a lot of structural things.
There’s also––have you ever heard, as anybody ever heard of the 48-hour rule, like police officers can’t be interrogated immediately after something [00:48:00] happens? So there’s a there’s a rule called the 48-hour rule. So, police officers in most cities, they can’t be immediately interrogated; they get at least two days before anybody can ask them a question. In Maryland, that used to get ten days, they now they get five days. So it’s a, but it all started with 48, and we were trying to understand where this came from, we’re like “where did this come from?” And it came from the scientists who work for the police, who said that the trauma that police face is so different than any trauma that exists in society, so they need at least two sleep cycles so the adrenaline will drain from their system so their memory will be better. And we would say, like, “if it’s good enough for you, then it’s going to go for the public, right?” Like if we can interrogate you immediately, then anybody committing a crime, they get two days to do whatever they need to do, you know? So, it’s a lot of structural things.
YME [00:48:40]: A lot of us that come from these communities, we know these things, a lot of what you’re saying, just from our personal experience, from living in these impoverished areas, disenfranchised areas. But when you try to make the argument, you know, it’s so limited because we can only speak from [00:49:00] our experience.
So it comes across as, you know, I’m saying so people will argue against you like, “now you just being irrational, you complaining, you know? You sitting on a Pitty Pot [00:49:07].” But like, a lot of what you just said, right, right now, is, like, what we be trying to explain sometimes, but don’t have the hard facts, don’t have the numbers to explain.
So, the work you’re doing is very, extremely important, and bringing all these these statistics to light and certain facts because the police have a whole lot of shelter; they have a whole lot of protection, and they just they do what they want to do, and we’ve been saying it for forever now. And the work you’re doing is uncovering the facts to back it up. So, I just wanted to say, um, great job.
DERAY: Some of it is the data, and some of it is, like, just how we tell stories. So people say to me, “but DeRay, you’ve never been a police officer. How can you say that?” It’s like I’ve never been a doctor either, [00:50:00] but I want to go to a hospital where people keep dying, right? Because, like, I would just say, like, something’s wrong with the hospital, right?
It’s just not, something’s not right, and I can have expectations about how my doctor treats me even though I’ve never been a doctor. The police will say, like, they have to make split-second decisions? I’m like, “you know what? Teachers make a new decision every 30 seconds. I made a ton of decisions.” I taught sixty, ninety, and a hundred twenty minute classes, 30 kids, same lesson three times a day. It was a lot of decisions about people’s bodies, about, like, who could talk. If I kicked your child down the stairs and I said to you, “you know what? I had split second decisions.” You would be like, “that’s unacceptable.” You know? There would be no version of me being like, “I made split-second decisions” that you would be like, “Cool. Like, I see why you kicked my kid” You know? Like, that doesn’t make sense.
So, when we even make the case for abolition or the end of prisons, we can acknowledge that, like, sometimes people do things that means that they need to be separated from society in the same way that, like, this kid I taught, when he threw something across the room, he had to go. It was like, “Armani, you just gotta go for a second because [00:51:00] it’s not working, right?” But “you got to go for a second” is different than me locking him in a closet, right? And that, like, when we think about incarcerations, like, if I want Armani to make better decisions when he comes back into my classroom, locking him in the closet is just not going to set him up to do that; he’s just gonna be mad at me. You know what I mean? Like, saying you need time out and go to the principal’s office, like, that is actually saying you need to get out of the classroom for a second, but I want to set you up so when you come back, you just make better decisions, right?
And like, some of that is a storytelling part of what we do; it’s not just the data, it’s like pushing people because the police will say they’re not safe. It’s like, “we’re not safe either, like we both are safe, right? So join the club and not safe people, right?” Like, how do we, and people say, like, the crabs in a barrel, and we remind people, when people talk about crabs in a barrel, that the barrel is not the crab’s natural habitat, right? They’re like, the crab didn’t grow up in a barrel, that there’s actually enough space in the water, and we want to live in a world where we always remind people there’s enough space in the water, right?
That like, there, we make enough food so everybody can [00:52:00] eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s not a food scarcity. There’s enough money; there’s enough, really, there’s enough of all the stuff we need to do what’s right. So when we think about hunger, when we say hunger is a political condition, it’s not a resource issue, you know?
YME [00:52:11]: You said you was in Portland doing some work recently when you gave this stats and statistics about the crime and how the violent crimes is at a low, lower than what people think, and when you gave the policy about the police, what was their reaction? And what is this you or your group of guys, whoever you work with, like, what was your purpose of giving them the facts? Like, was you try to change the policies, the ways, and if you did, like, did it happen? Or is you working to change these policies about what the police has been doing, the how low the numbers are, and you know, just basically opening the people eyes and the community of what really the police doing.
Yeah, you see it on CNN [00:53:00] and all the other news channels, but we see it, but what is the work being done behind the scenes?
DERAY: It’s a good question. When I first spoke to the mayor and the police chief, I was in the city doing this big talk, and they requested to me with me. So, they wanted to meet, I went there and met with them.
We have some things that we care about, so I pushed them, but the police chief had just been there for three months. We had a tough meeting, that first meeting.
The second one, they just elected a black woman on the city council and she is, like, on it. So, I went back for another––I had to do a talk––and she was like, “well, you can meet with my team,” and then she convened these community leaders.
What I, what we now do is, like, I can talk about this stuff, and people sort of believe me, but we like to just show you because we believe everybody smart enough to understand it. So with the community leaders, instead of doing this, like, big talk, we like printed out the things and walked them through it so they could see it and they were like, “oh, this is bad.” It was like, “yes, it’s bad.”
So when we were back in Portland, it was about helping them focus on different things. They were focusing on things that just didn’t matter. So we would say is that, like, most of the solutions that will [00:54:00] change people’s lives are simple, but not small––that like, you can probably right now dream of a way to make sure every kid in your neighborhood gets breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can probably identify the building; you can probably, like, identify the best time that, like, kids should come. Like, you actually, most people are actually smart enough to do it. One of the ways that the status quo continues to be the status quo is by convincing you that, like, you just aren’t, there must be smarter people somewhere, and as long as you think that there are smarter people somewhere, like, you actually will never be in power to make a difference in your community.
So in Portland, it was about saying, like, they read it, and they were like, “oh, you can get killed for escape in the first degree,” and it’s like, “yes, that literally,” and they’re like, “that’s crazy.”
You’re like, “that is crazy.” It’s like, “what are you gonna do about it?” They’re like, “we’re gonna work with our legislators, like yes.” You know? So we’re following up with them.
In Oregon, for instance, they have a thing called Measure 11. So every 50, any teenager charged with any felony is automatically given five years, a minimum of five years in Oregon, so they were trying to repeal that and that was a little more important than some of this other stuff.
So, like, they got some of that taken back. But yeah, I’m [00:55:00] hopeful because we now know how it got bad before. But we want to remind people that the goal is not better people––the goal is not better police officers, it’s not better judges, it’s not better mayors, it’s not better wardens or directors. The goal is that we have a system that works in is fair whether the people are good or not, right?
The goal is a system thing, because the more and more that we rely on good people, then, like, you just never get a good person forever, right? We want a system that works in and in Oregon that was our work with them [00:55:22].
YME [00:55:24]: Based on the stats and data and what you do know about policing and the prison system, what do you see the system being in 10 years for the younger youth and the ones that’s coming up under us, the new generation?
DERAY: The Republicans rewrote the tax code––like, the way who has to give taxes––in the biggest rewrite of the tax code ever, like, literally in the country’s history, and they did it in maybe six days. It was, like, quick, dirty, and I’m not [00:56:00] joking, the last version of it was written, like, hand written on a piece of paper
When they interviewed the Republicans and said, “did you read it?,” they hadn’t read it, but they voted on it anyway, the biggest rewrite of the tax code in the history of the country. And I think about that and I’m mindful that if we wanted to end mass incarceration in a weekend, we can do it, right? Like, it is, if you can rewrite the tax code, which is like crazy and complicated, we could actually do all of this stuff really quick.
So, when we say the system is broken and people say, “oh no, is designed to be that way,” my takeaway is that it was designed, right? People made it up––because people made it up, we can make something better. So when I think about 10 years, I want to look back in 10 years and be like, “we just made a whole set of things not crimes,” right?
Maybe you get a ticket for but it’s not a crime. So like, jumping the turnstile? Give people tickets for days, right? Not a crime. Like, I want to decriminalize a host of things. I think that addiction should be a public health, that, you know, like, the things we know, it’s not like we’re, I’m not, like, a rocket scientist. It’s like we actually know these things already, you know? And, like, I want us to put them in practice
That’s what I want to see in 10 years.
[00:57:00] Thank you to the residents and staff the Young Men Emerging Unit and the D.C. Department of Corrections for allowing us to visit and share this conversation with the Pod.
That’s it for this week’s show. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Rate and subscribe wherever you listen, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else, and we’ll see you next week.