DeRay, Sam, Brittany and Clint talk about Florida legislation that protects police, the effects of tuition-free college, HUD oversight failures, and how the IRS targets low-income people. Deborah Richardson of the International Human Trafficking Institute joins DeRay to discuss how common human trafficking is and ways communities can solve the issue.
- The Atlantic: A Guarantee of Tuition-Free College Can Have Life-Changing Effects
- Pro Publica: HUD Took Over a Town’s Housing Authority 22 Years Ago. Now the Authority’s Broke and Residents Are Being Pushed Out.
- NBC News: Under Ben Carson, more families live in HUD housing that fails health and safety inspections
- New York Times: Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law Applies to Police, Too, Court Rules
- International Human Trafficking Institute
Brittany: Listen, DeRay. One of the reasons I always get excited for the holidays is because it gives me time to catch up on my reading. I know you thought I was going to say something else. This year, I’m looking forward to reading different issues of the New Yorker, which is an iconic magazine that represents the best writing in America today, as you know.
Brittany: Beyond publishing, the best writers in the world. They hold people in power accountable through rigorous reporting and compelling storytelling about everything from politics to climate change to poetry to humor to culture. There’s just so much in there.
DeRay: On Pod Save the People, we focus on the news that you don’t hear. That’s why I also love the New Yorker because I find so many interesting topics that I’d never known about that are fascinating like heirloom beans hunting or how the world’s supply of sand is diminishing. Did y’all know that? We need to cover the sand issue on the Pod.
Brittany: I had no idea.
Brittany: We probably do.
DeRay: Plus, NewYorker.com published 15 to 20 news stories each day that aren’t available in the print magazine. You can even get access to the complete online archive which features every issue of the print magazine.
Brittany: Wow. Each issue of the New Yorker includes satire, cultural criticism, poetry, fiction, long form reporting, the infamous cartoon caption contest and more. Don’t wait. Go to NewYorker.com/savethepeople. Listeners of Pod Save the People save 50% when they enter code savethepeople. With this special offer, you’ll receive 12 issues for just $6 plus get the exclusive New Yorker tote bag. You can choose between print, digital or a combo, print and digital subscription. Subscribe to the New Yorker and read something that means something. That’s 12 issues for $6 and a free tote bag when you go to NewYorker.com/savethepeople.
DeRay: I’m excited today because we’re starting to announce our live shows for the New Year. We’re kicking off our our tour during Black History Month, so those of you in DC, we’ll be there on February 15th. Then we’ll be in Philly on February 16th and New York on February 17. For our West Coast listeners, don’t worry. We’re coming your way in March with a show in Portland on March 13th, Seattle on March 14th and San Francisco on March 15th.
DeRay: On Wednesday, so tomorrow, listeners of Pod Save the People can get presale tickets to our New York and Philly shows. Go to cricket.com/events. Once you click on the venue you want, enter the presale code people in all lowercase letters. That’s cricket.com/events with the presale code people in lowercase. Pod Save American and Love It Or Leave It just announced their tours as well, so while you’re at cricket.com/events, you can get tickets for those shows too. For announcements about our lineup and where you can get these tickets to all our other shows, follow us on Twitter @podsavetheppl … That’s people spelled P-P-L … and stay informed. Come hang with us. It’s going to be amazing.
DeRay: Hey, this is DeRay. Welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode, we’re talking to
Deborah [inaudible 00:02:45], the Executive Director of the International Human Trafficking Institute.
Deborah R.: Atlanta has the highest underground commercial sex industry. It’s like a $290 million a year business and $33,000 a week is the average income of one trafficker.
DeRay: Then we have the news with me, Brittany, Clint and Sam as usual. My message for this week, as we think about closing out this year, transitioning to the New Year, is remember why you got started in the work you do in the first place, and revisit that. The reason I got started in this work is because I think we can win. I fundamentally believe it. It’s what made me quit my job. It’s what made me drive to Ferguson in the first place. It’s what has kept me in this work. It’s this belief that we can win.
DeRay: The reason I have to check in with that is because there’s often a temptation to move you from the why. There’s a temptation to be seen and heard. There’s a temptation to want money. There’s a temptation to want all these things that are different than what called you to the work in the first place. If you answer to and respond to the thing that called you in the first place, you’ll see that the decisions you make are very different. I’ve had to check in with myself and ask myself in all the hard moments, “Why do I still do this work? What called me in the first place?” What called me was this deep belief that we can win. Let’s go.
Brittany: Hey y’all, it’s the news. This is Brittany Packnett @MsPackyetti on all social media.
Sam: This is Sam Sinyangwe, @samswey on Twitter.
Clint: This is Clint Smith, @ClintSmithIII.
DeRay: Ay, ay, ay. This is DeRay, @deray, De R-A-Y, on Twitter.
Brittany: Can we talk about y’all’s homeboy Offset interrupting Cardi’s set to beg her to come back? At the Rolling Loud festival this weekend, she was the first woman ever to headline. Here comes Offset, “Take me back, Cardi. Let me take the shine. Let me take your moment in the sun and make it all about me.” You can probably already tell how I feel about it.
Clint: What’s interesting is that it’s clearly trash. It’s terrible, this person showing up to a woman’s workplace is what it is, interrupting her professional life for something that’s incredibly selfish. What’s interesting to think about is how culturally inundated we’ve been with this sort of public gesturing for a long time now. I can think of romantic comedies that I’ve watched in which the man did something wrong and then in the last five minutes of the movie, he shows up to the woman while she’s making a presentation in the conference room and he stands on the table and is holding flowers. People start to clap, and her friends are like, “You’ve got to take him back.”
Clint: We’ve been conditioned for a long time to think that this is like a positive thing rather than an incredibly invasive thing, rather than what can often be an incredibly dangerous thing as we’ve seen even in recent weeks, men showing up to a woman’s workplace and then having deadly consequences. I think a lot of what’s been happening over the past year or so is a lot of unlearning, very public unlearning of patriarchal and misogynistic things that were never okay, but we were once made to feel as if they were okay. Thankfully, people are beginning to reassess that.
DeRay: It is interesting too that the internet very quickly called his actions into question, that one of the things that just didn’t exist 10, 15 years ago during all those romcoms was a public conversation about what was happening in real time. You see it now. I saw somebody else write, “Our grandparents stayed in relationships and my grandmother stayed when my grandfather cheated.” Very quickly, somebody was like, “A lot of relationships were rooted in abuse. Just because people stayed didn’t mean that it wasn’t abusive, it wasn’t manipulative, it wasn’t damaging.” I saw that response happen so quickly that called into question things that previously had just gone unchallenged, which I think is really both interesting and powerful.
Sam: Because they both lead very public lives, there was a paper trail there. This wasn’t the first time that Offset had been involved in this behavior. We could see how Offset and Cardi had previously dealt with Offset’s infidelity in the past and new allegations came out, a new incident arose. This is something where people are not only just responding to this event, which Offset was trashing, but also recognizing that this is something that has become more of a repeat issue. I think it’s important that they call Offset out on that and that we all call Offset out and do it in a way that I think can hopefully contribute to learning and growth rather than just canceling him.
Sam: I think, at the end of the day, he is the father of Cardi B’s child, and I think Cardi B then posted a video afterwards recognizing that and saying that she wants Offset to grow into that role, but doesn’t want to do that in the context of having to constantly be with him, despite that repeated abuse. I’m hopeful that he’ll continue to grow and that we won’t see more of this to come.
Brittany: I’m really glad that this is the conversation surrounding this because, Clint, your point is absolutely right. The public conversation around these very public, romantic gestures, especially when a party has wronged the other party, in particular a man has wronged the woman, that these were not only supposed to be acceptable, but desired. You were supposed to somehow inspire to men crawling back in that kind of way, which then means that a lot of young women in particular, but young people altogether, were not questioning why we were actually low key being encouraged to stay in these overly dramatic, very counterproductive and co-dependent, dysfunctional relationships where people had to do a lot of crawling back in the first place.
Brittany: I will say, I’ve been thinking a lot about the influence that Cardi and Offset and their relationship has on young people and what they assume to be healthy relationship behavior and what is not. I remember being in college, and I was an RA in a freshman dorm, which meant that when my now ex-boyfriend, who had cheated on me a number of times, put up, “I’m sorry, and I love you,” signs … Literal signs all over my dorm … that was also my workplace. That’s how I was paying for my room and board. My colleagues, my boss, they all saw these plastered all over my dorm.
Brittany: I remember at the time lots of people around me, women and men, thinking, “Well, this is so romantic. You should give him another chance. At least hear him out.” I felt too ashamed to say that actually I was really embarrassed and I was really annoyed by it. I found it very frustrating that he felt like he could just take up space like that when I told him very clearly when and where we could talk about these things. I ended up going back to him. I very much felt the public pressure to do so, and he kept on cheating. It kept being a very dysfunctional and psychologically harmful relationship until I finally broke it off.
Brittany: I hope that, to your point Sam, that not only do Offset and Cardi learn from this … Offset primarily … but that the people watching, especially folks at whatever age you are that need to learn, better, more healthy relationship habits, that this will be a public conversation that helps you do that.
DeRay: I can only imagine how hard this is for Cardi to not only live a public life, but to see people weigh in so publicly as well. To see all the celebrities who have used their platforms to say that Cardi should get back with … That to me, has been fascinating to watch. All these people are like, “You should take him back.” You’re like, “Really?” I can only imagine how hard that is for her, let alone him coming up on the stage with those signs. That was just a whole lot in her face. Cardi can’t really act her emotions. Her face was like … She was like, “Yeah, not this. Not this.”
Brittany: All right, and now for the news. I want to talk a little bit about a place called Wellston, Missouri. 22 years ago, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, seized control of Wellston Public Housing. What that essentially meant was that the local housing authority was placed under federal control. Staffing, funding, etc was coming from a federal place.
Brittany: It was because the federal government pledged to turn around and stabilize public housing in the area and then to return the local housing authority to local jurisdiction. Community reinvestment and stability of institutions never actually happened. It’s now 22 years later and the housing authority in Wellston is essentially flat broke even though they remain under federal control, which means that 400 residents … That’s one fifth of all of the residents in Wellston. 400 residents who live in public housing are now being pushed out and have to find new places to live because the local housing authority will be completely shut down on January 1st, 2019.
Brittany: Suffice to say that the federal government did not fulfill its duty to the people of Wellston, and this is not an anomaly. We’ve seen under Ben Carson’s leadership, as the Secretary of HUD, that they’ve been moving away from public housing toward public and private partnerships. HUD also has told communities that are qualified for improvements and fixes under the Obama administration that in order to pay for those fixes, they should go out and look for private funding.
Brittany: You also have to consider the fact that a lot of smaller cities and rural areas weren’t even eligible for that additional funding in the first place. This also comes alongside the news that 1,000 families living in HUD housing have failed health and safety inspections … Or their homes have failed health and safety inspections … since this administration has taken over in the last two years. That number of violations continues to be on the rise.
Brittany: This has happened alongside the fact that there have been massive staffing scale backs and a 25% drop in HUD enforcements coming from that particular office during again the last two years. This all, of course, stands in great irony to the fact that the unduly elected President of the United States, Donald Trump, made his fortune in real estate. He had gleaming hotels with gilded lobbies and sprawling golf courses. Of course, we know that the FBI also has 400 pages of investigative notes accounting to the racial discrimination at Donald Trump’s housing complexes.
Brittany: This just remains another frustrating example of Trump and his crew being exactly who they always said they were and exactly who they’ve always been. We are now seeing so many more people suffering unnecessarily for it in the most cruel ways.
Sam: This is one of a number of actions that have been taken that have made it harder for people of color to access housing. One of those actions that actually just got reported this past week was an effort by the Trump administration to prevent people who are currently on DACA to access FHA home loans from the federal government. We’ve talked in the past about the role that the federal government has played in red lining particularly Black communities and making it very, very hard for people to buy homes, to access home loans, particularly in areas that were sort of whiter areas, higher income areas that contributed to the neighborhood-level segregation that we continue to see today.
Sam: While they’re using the same tactic against immigrants who qualify for DACA by creating an unofficial policy that apparently has been sent to a variety of lenders across the country instructing them not to offer reduced-rate home loans to undocumented folks on DACA. This is just another example of how the Trump administration is making it harder for folks to access housing, particularly for immigrants, and using a tactic that has been used in the past under the era of Jim Crow.
Clint: Brittany, you alluded to this in your breakdown of the news, but I just want to bring a little bit more specificity to a really important point you made. That’s an MBC news investigation found that more than 1,000 of HUD’s nearly 28,000 federally-subsidized multi-family housing properties failed their most recent inspection. That is a failure rate that is more than 30% higher than it was in 2016 according to an analysis of HUD records.
Clint: I think it’s really important for people to remember what’s behind those numbers, that it’s mold that’s in apartments that can trigger young people’s asthma, that can make it so that young people with certain allergic reactions might have potentially fatal reactions to that. It can be the fact that there is a gas leak that is slowly poisoning the people inside of it. It can be the fact that there are pieces of the building that are physically decrepit and physically falling apart and that might hurt a child or an adult who’s spending time living in that sort of place.
Clint: When we hear these numbers, I think it’s helpful for people just to consider what it would mean for you to have asbestos or for you to have parts of your home falling apart or for you to have these things that are dangerous in your home. Then on top of that, to have no one coming in a timely manner to fix those things when it is their responsibility to do so.
DeRay: This to me was a reminder of how the administrative part of the government actually really matters. I think about when I was [inaudible 00:16:11] school system in Baltimore. I’d be in some rooms both in the district and across the country talking about education and be like, “Wow.” Funding is huge. We don’t fund public schools equitably. Teacher quality is really big. Everybody’s talking about teacher quality, principals, all that stuff, but nobody’s talking about the people who set policy and sit in these meetings at the administrative level.
DeRay: Until that changes, none of the other stuff will be able to make as big of an impact as we want it to. When we think about repairs, when we think about all these things that are fundamental matters of administration, you realize the danger of having somebody like Ben Carson who literally has no experience in government, no experience in housing. When you think about Steve Mnuchin, the Secretary of the Treasury, you think about DeVos, who clearly had never worked in public service and had not done much with traditional public education at all. You think about Rick Perry, who didn’t even know what department he was going to run. He wanted to dismantle energy and then he thought that energy was … He just had no clue.
DeRay: This is a trend in this administration, but it’s not just this administration. A lot of places across the country, the administrative folks are people that don’t know what they’re doing. When I think about some of the listeners on this pod, you probably are really talented and have never thought about working on the administrative side of the agencies that you fight all the time. You’d be shocked at how much impact you can make.
Sam: My news is about Florida, the good old state of Florida, where the Florida State Supreme Court just ruled that police officers can use the Stand Your Ground law to claim immunity after they have shot and killed somebody. In 2013, Jermaine McBean, a Black man, was killed by the police in Broward County. He was in a situation of mental health distress. He was walking around with a toy gun, and he had headphones in.
Sam: Three officers came up on him. They shouted at him. He couldn’t hear them because he had his headphones in. Then one of the officers claimed that he pointed a gun at the officer and shot him dead. Since then, witness testimony has conflicted with that. Witnesses say that he never pointed a gun at anybody. Witnesses say that he never heard any of the warnings.
Sam: As a consequence, prosecutors were able to charge that officer with manslaughter. This was the first case in decades where a police officer was charged for shooting and killing somebody in Florida. Just for some context, Florida has one of the highest rates of police violence in the nation. The state has a similar size population as New York State, but three times as many people are killed by police in Florida as in New York, just to give you some sense of the severity of police violence in the State of Florida.
Sam: This case, what’s interesting about it is that after the police officer was charged, his defense attorneys essentially said that he should be able to claim immunity under the state’s Stand Your Ground law. What that allows you to do is to go in front of a judge, instead of a jury. If the judge agrees that you have immunity, then that’s it. You’re immune from prosecution and you are not able to be held accountable on the decision of that one judge.
Sam: This case, the prosecutors actually appealed that ruling by that judge and said that the police office is subject to a different set of rules, specifically the Police Deadly Force standard and not subject to the Stand Your Ground law, which is the Civilian Deadly Force standard. This past week, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that in fact police officers are also able to claim immunity under Stand Your Ground laws like other civilians are.
Sam: As a consequence that case, the officer is now immune from prosecution, where previously he had been charged and could have been prosecuted. This is interesting for a number of reasons. First and foremost, there are 26 states with Stand Your Ground laws. While this just applies to Florida, it is dangerous in the sense that if this spreads to other states with similar laws in place, it will provide another layer of protection for police who shoot people or otherwise use deadly force while on duty. It’s also interesting in the sense that this is now leading to a relitigation of other cases.
Brittany: I just want to note, Sam, that this is especially interesting … Perhaps interesting is not the word, but it’s curious given what we discussed last week and how when women, Black women in particular, have stood their ground, people like Marissa Alexander, not only have they not been protected under similar laws, they have found themselves in jail when trying to defend themselves under absolutely heinous circumstances.
Brittany: Once again, we see not only is there an unequal application of the law across citizens, there’s also an unequal application of the law between citizens and police officers. Someone tweeted this week a thread on why police officers, particularly conservative police officers, weren’t speaking out about the criminal behavior of this administration or things that were happening at the level of state and federal government. This, of course, provides you an answer. Why would you bite the hand that feeds you? Why would you call out the very systems and structures that are providing you permission to behave badly in so many ways?
Clint: I think it’s really important that people understand the impact that a law like this has on the thing that it is supposed to end up preventing. There was the 2017 study that showed that the implementation of Florida Stand Your Ground self-defense law was associated with a significant increase in homicides and homicides by firearm. The [inaudible 00:22:09] of the law is that it is supposed to serve as a deterrent ostensibly to violent crime by people thinking that like, “Oh, I’m not going to violently attack someone if they have a lot of flexibility around notions of what constituted self defense by the law.” That has clearly not been the case.
Clint: Violent crime, and specifically homicides, have gone up since the implementation of rule that is supposed to do the opposite. Intuitively, it doesn’t make sense. Empirically, it doesn’t make sense. The fact that Florida’s legislature is simply doubling down on a dangerous and ineffective law is more than concerning.
DeRay: I just want to read what the judge wrote in the decision in granting Stand Your Ground protections to police officers. What he says is, “Simply put, a law enforcement officer is a person whether on duty or off, and irrespective of whether the officer is making an arrest. In common understanding, person refers to a human being, which is not occupation specific and plainly includes human beings serving as law enforcement officers.”
DeRay: I had to read that a million times because in one one fell swoop, he’s like, “You know what, pardon them. It doesn’t matter.” The fact that they can do things that no other private citizen can do doesn’t matter. He’s just like, “The law says people, and it applies to people.”
DeRay: The other thing is that the true danger of this is that the legal analysts who believe that the ruling will now allow police officers to avoid jury trials completely. They’ll be able to invoke Stand Your Ground and [inaudible 00:23:50]. There won’t even be a jury trial at all. It’ll just go before a judge. That is wild, the thought that police can force you to stop. They can detain you. They can do all these things that nobody else can do and then literally if they kill you, they can just say they were afraid and that would just be covered under this law is pretty shocking. I’m hopeful that it’ll be appealed. Certainly hopeful that this won’t spread. I’m even more hopeful that we’ll figure out how to organize to end the Stand Your Ground laws in general.
Sam: Speaking to that, just one last piece around the Stand Your Ground law in Florida, the state legislature is actually doubling down, as you said Clint, on that law. This past session, they actually passed a law strengthening the state Stand Your Ground law, shifting the burden of proof so that now the prosecutor has to prove with clear and convincing evidence now that the person who shot the other person didn’t fear for their life and didn’t act in self defense which makes it all the more difficult to prosecute now in this case both police officers and civilians both.
DeRay: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come. It’s coming, the annual flood of year end best of lists is almost here, but rest easy. Here’s one best of list that you don’t even have to read. All the best new podcasts of 2018 are on Spotify from [inaudible 00:25:11] the mini series, to pop culture infused round tables to boisterous shows about sports. You’ll never miss a beat during a heated conversation at a holiday party. There’s no easier way to keep up with all your favorite shows and discover new ones.
Brittany: Tune out your younger cousin’s impromptu power ranking of 2018’s latest movie scenes featuring a sword with one of the year’s best shows. Podcasts on Spotify, they’re streaming right now.
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Clint: For my news, there’s been a pretty great series happening at ProPublica about the gutting of the IRS and how over the past decade, people living in poverty have disproportionately and unfairly been subjected to audits as compared to their wealthier counterparts. For some context, the cuts the IRS has experienced over the past several years have been depleting staff members who historically … Their job is to help ensure that tax payers pay what they owe.
Clint: As of last year, the IRS had 9,510 auditors, and that is down a third from 2010. Even more concerning, next year, almost a third of the remaining employees will be eligible to retire. The budgets are continuing to shrink. Many of them, as their retirement becomes available, will likely exit the workforce. It’s becoming increasingly likely that they won’t be replaced. Naturally, because of their few auditors, the IRS is conducting fewer audits. They conducted 675,000 fewer audits in 2017 than they did in 2010. That’s a drop in the audit rate of 42%.
Clint: One of the most concerning parts of this is the fact that the IRS oversees one of the government’s largest anti-poverty programs. That’s the Earned Income Tax Credit. That provides cash essentially to the working poor. Under pressure from Republicans, the IRS has made a long priority of auditing people who receive that money and as the IRS has shrunk, those audits have begun to consume even more resources and account for 36% of all the audits that they did last year.
Clint: This is the wild thing. The recipients of Earned Income Tax Credit, whose annual income is typically less than $20,000, are now examined at similar rates as compared to those who make $500,000 to a million dollars a year. Put differently, if you claimed Earned Income Tax Credit and you make less than $20,000 a year, you are more likely to face IRS scrutiny than someone who’s making 20 times as much as you.
Clint: Just a couple more things. The average credit for the Earned Income Tax Credit is about $2,500 and for larger families that amount can exceed $6,000. For while some people being audited is this simple inconvenience, for many families, they rely heavily on these refunds that are now indefinitely delayed as they have to provide all of this information and all of these documents that are difficult for anyone to keep up with, but especially someone who is living paycheck to paycheck, month to month.
Clint: The last point I want to make is that all of this is to say there’s so much less auditing of people who have wealth and means and there’s more auditing of people who are in poverty. To give people a sense of what that means, the last IRS report to assess what it calls the tax gap issued in 2016, analyzed periods from 2008 to 2010, found that taxpayers paid about 82% of the taxes that they truly owed. If the rate of compliance in 2017 was the same as that, that would translate into $667 billion in missing taxes, which is a staggering amount of money that is enough to pay for so many of the social programs that we know would make a huge difference in the lives of people living in poverty and who are working class.
Clint: I think it’s really important for people to understand what’s being going on and this slow trickle of bureaucratic decimation, if you will, that’s been happening at the IRS for almost a decade now.
Sam: Clint, I think this is really important that you’re bringing this into the conversation because we talk so much about how this administration in particular has been adopting this zero tolerance, tough on crime posture towards anybody who’s a person of color, anybody who’s low income. They will not only try to prosecute you for any low level offense, but they will also not allow you to access basic benefits or housing loans and all of these other things that we know are important to making ends meet and having a basic level of dignity in life.
Sam: Yet, at the same time, we’re seeing through the IRS how they’re essentially adopting a practice of hands off law enforcement when it comes to rich people. When it comes to folks who owe a lot of money in taxes, that’s not enforced. Those penalties aren’t enforced and are increasingly not being enforced on people who are wealthier. That doesn’t make any sense as an organization how you would have potentially billions and billions and billions of dollars of revenue that you should be enforcing, by law you’re supposed to be enforcing. Yet, we’re not seeing the types of tactics being employed that are employed on low-income people.
Sam: I’m curious to dig a little bit deeper into this story and see what are the methods that are being employed by the IRS? How could they actually … In addition to the budget cuts, how can they adopt new tools and technologies and change their focus in a way where they could begin actually enforcing this for folks who are making a lot of money to bring in money that can actually go to people who need it.
DeRay: Clint, I read this story and was fascinated by it. Again, I won’t beat a dead horse, but the administrative functions are things that we don’t think about as targets, as sites of activism, but they have to be because that’s the bureaucracy that people don’t even see impacting their lives. Another way the IRS is actually squeezing poor people and people who’ve been victims of natural disasters and other things is by some private debt collectors. There’s an IRS program that’s using private debt collectors at the request of two senators, Chuck Grassley and Chuck Schumer.
DeRay: They pushed for private debt collectors to help out the IRS. Since April 2017, four debt collection companies have been assigned to about half a million delinquent taxpayers. They brought in a little bit less than 1% of what Congress hopes the program will ultimately generate. Tax experts in the IRS’ own oversight board has said that this is dangerous and not helpful.
DeRay: The thing thought is that nearly half the people who paid the private debt collectors in the program’s first six months were considered low income. 19% of them had incomes below the federal poverty level of $25,000. 44% had incomes below 250% of the federal poverty level. The other thing else is that the IRS also gave private collectors illegal information on about 2,500 of the taxpayers. I’m reminded of the push towards privatization in government rarely actually achieves the results that people say that they’re going to achieve.
DeRay: Even when you think about things like private prisons, there’s no data to suggest that private prisons have better outcomes, are run better, any of that stuff. If anything, there’s a lot of data to suggest the opposite. I hadn’t thought about the IRS as doing anything more than raw tax collection until this story that you referenced, Clint, came. Then I was like, “Whoa, there’s a lot of stuff happening at the IRS that I hadn’t thought about.”
Brittany: There are obviously so many ways in which this connects to other things we talked about on the Pod when we were talking about people having access to housing loans and the valuation of their homes, when it comes to people’s access to money to get their education, all of those kinds of things. Of course, when someone is under debt collection it is ruining their credit.
Brittany: As I was reading the piece that you shared, Clint, I started to do some research just on credit discrimination because that, of course, is illegal to use one’s background to discriminate against them in setting whether or not they’re meeting certain credit bars. There are actually new ways on loan applications that companies are starting to discriminate in different ways.
Brittany: One of the ways that they’re doing that is they’re building algorithms, to your point Sam, around people’s social connections, which social media sites they use the most, access to those, who they’re connected to. It’s a way to be race blind and gender blind, etc, technically, but not actually. I just wanted to continue to connect the dots between what is happening at the IRS, what happens when you go into debt and all of the ways that this can spiral out of control for marginalized people.
DeRay: My news is an article called A Guarantee of Tuition Free College Can Have Life Changing Effects. What it focuses on is a study that was recently put out that is focused on the University of Michigan and the High Achieving Involved Leader or HAIL Scholarship. What the scholarship does is it encourages highly-qualified, low-income students to apply to university and promises them four years of education free of tuition and fees.
DeRay: The other part of it is the way they recruit and target students to be a part of the program. They send personalized mailings out with all the information. The mailings cost less than $10 to produce and send out, and the students’ parents and school principals are contacted separately. They do this broad reaching recruitment to not only reach out to the students. The offer of free tuition isn’t contingent on filling out the FAFSA form.
DeRay: Families should fill out FAFSA, but they’re going to give them free tuition either way. What they find is that students who received the mailing were more than twice as likely to apply to University of Michigan compared to a control group. The percentage of low- income students enrolling at the university more than doubled. From 13% in the control group to 28% in the group of students who received the mailer.
DeRay: The last thing that this article talked about that I was fascinated by was the concept of under matching. I’d never heard of under matching before. If you’ve heard of under matching, which is when high-achieving students don’t attend the most selective college that they could get into. I just had never heard of under matching. I’m genuinely fascinated with that.
DeRay: The article talks about how programs like this that guarantee tuition, especially for low- income students, actually address the under matching issue. It’s reduced when low- income students know that their mission is ensured through state policy like in Texas. Really fascinated with that. The thing about under matching is that the students who under match are less likely to graduate in four years as well as within six years than their peers who did not. Again, I have a lot more … We need to get an expert on the Pod on under matching because I’m obsessed.
Brittany: I have absolutely heard of under matching both in the professional spaces that I occupy, but also in a lot of the folks that I know personally … I’m sure this is true for all of us … people who were qualified to attend more selective, more rigorous schools, people who applied and even got in, but very simply did not receive the kind of financial packages that would allow them to attend.
Brittany: Often, to your point about the likelihood of attrition if you go to a school to which you are under matched, there are so many times when the school that is more affordable is the school that is nearby, is the commuter school. Then those additional family pressures to work, to provide money for home to attend to the emotional needs of your family. All of those things that can distract from school especially for people who are first generation college students. That can add to all of that stuff.
Sam: DeRay, this study reminds me of a study in 2013 that the University of Kansas did where they found that students who had between $1 … Only $1 … and $500 in savings for college were three times more likely to attend college and four times more likely to graduate from college than students with no savings. These were all students with low- income or middle-income backgrounds.
Sam: Simply having that $500 or less in their savings account made a significant difference in their likelihood of going to college and graduating from it. It reminds me of the ways in which often time there are some simple fixes that can be done that can make a significant impact on big issues like educational attainment and access to higher education.
Sam: DeRay, in your article it was a $10 mailer that they sent to the student. They called the family. They called the principal and they made a simple promise that we’re going to support you financially if you come to our school. That made a significant impact. When we think about these big issues of how do we close the opportunity gap? How do we ensure that folks are getting college degrees, particularly from low-income backgrounds, from communities of color?
Sam: We need to look at often times what’s already working in some context that could be invested and scaled up. For example, in San Francisco, they took that college savings example and study and built a program where now every incoming kindergartner in the school district in the city is automatically given a child’s savings account for college. That’s just one example of building a system that’s building on the data that shows what works so that we can ultimately achieve the goal that we all want to achieve.
Clint: I think that we’ve seen different examples of this. I remember a few years ago … I think it was at University of Texas … I don’t have the information in front of me … where they were piloting a new orientation for first generation students. After doing it a couple of times, they found that it dramatically increased the retention rate and matriculation rate of those students.
Clint: Sometimes it’s just takes these really simple things that have huge impacts for folks who otherwise don’t have access to a lot of this information. I think it’s just so important. I’ve been a high school teacher at a low income school and the whole process is just so overwhelming if you don’t know. It’s overwhelming for most people, but especially if you don’t know anyone who’s attended college before. I think it’s so important for us to continue to think of new and innovative ways to get information to young people who might have no idea how to even enter the process.
DeRay: That’s the news. Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come.
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DeRay: Now my conversation with Deborah Richardson, the Executive Director of the International Human Trafficking Institute. Deborah, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Deborah R.: My pleasure. Thanks for the invitation.
DeRay: You’re the Executive Director of the International Human Trafficking Institute. How would you define what human trafficking is so we have a shared understanding? Then how did you get drawn to this work?
Deborah R.: Human trafficking is when someone is coerced, smuggled or led to be engaged in illegal activity such as through labor, sex or domestic servitude without them having the full agency around the behavior. As an example, if someone answers an ad to be a nanny in a home and they think it’s a regular paying job and they come to find out that the family wants him to stay there in the home, they can’t leave on their own, they’ve come here from another country. They generally take their passports away.
Deborah R.: They were led to believe that they were getting a job as a nanny, but it comes out that they are being enslaved and not able to have their free will around their behavior. Then, for instance, in terms of sex trafficking are the most vulnerable because they don’t have the maturation to really understand perhaps what someone is saying to them and what someone is attempting to do to them to lure them out.
Deborah R.: Let’s say you have a couple of teenage, young women at a mall and someone comes up to them and says, “Hey, we’re doing a music video. Love to have you in it. We’re doing auditions in 30 minutes. Why don’t you come with me to be in an audition and I’ll bring you back?” The only thing that they’re hearing is there is a potential of being in a music video when in fact they’re being lured away. We’ve seen these instances where the parents don’t hear from them for months on end if at all. Those examples of how they are lured to a certain behavior that they didn’t realize was actually an entrapment.
DeRay: How did you get drawn to the work?
Deborah R.: It was 20 years ago when I was the Director of Program Development at Fulton County Juvenile Court. My job was to identify services for young people and their families coming through the court system. I was sitting in the back of the courtroom listening to a docket. I would listen to judges’ dockets a couple of times a month so I can get a clear idea of what the judges were hearing.
Deborah R.: A 10-year-old little girl came in. She was handcuffed and shackled at the ankles. She had been in juvenile detention since Friday and this was Monday, so that’s three days. Her crime was that she had been found in the backseat of a van with a 42-year-old man who had rented her for sex for two hours.
Deborah R.: She was arrested for child prostitution and a curfew violation since she was a minor and it was after 11:00pm. Because pimping and pandering a child in the State of Georgia at that time was a misdemeanor, he was given what was equivalent to a traffic ticket and let go. I was absolutely-
DeRay: What year was this?
Deborah R.: 1999.
Deborah R.: I was absolutely floored, outraged. It really did sear something in my soul to realize that this was really happening in my own community. When I talked to the judge, she shared that she’s seeing 30 or 40 of those cases every month. The law says that these were child prostitutes. Nobody ever stopped to think, “Can a 10, 12, 14 year old consent to be a prostitute?” That’s when we began to unravel the fact that there were indeed vulnerable young people who were being recruited by traffickers into sex trafficking. That started me to be engaged in several movements since then.
DeRay: What would you say are some of the biggest misconceptions about trafficking?
Deborah R.: One is particularly when it comes to sex is that the young person is wanting to do this, they’re making a choice. They’re getting paid. Not realizing that the young people are not getting paid, not realize that they are being coerced and held against their will. I went on subsequently a year later and I opened the first safe house for sexually exploited girls in the Southeast. The stories we would hear from the young women was that they would have a quota. If they didn’t make the quota, they would come back. Their trafficker would beat them, tie them up, torture them and also not let them eat for a couple of days to show that the trafficker was in control.
Deborah R.: Therefore, these girls became compliant by fear. People don’t understand the violence that goes on behind the scenes and that often traffickers use drugs so that they can make the young women compliant. Young women and young men because we’re seeing more and more young men are doing this as a career choice. Nothing can be further from the truth.
DeRay: Is there data about how many young people are people trafficked in a given year?
Deborah R.: Data is very hard because this is a underground, illegal activity. There was a report that was done a couple of years ago at the University of Pittsburgh that said there were up to 200,000 young people within the United States who was at risk. By being at risk, that means that they are living in impoverished conditions. They have frail family relationships. They had poor school performance.
Deborah R.: One of the huge gateways into human trafficking are kids in the foster care system. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says that 98% of the children that they rescue from trafficking come directly out of the foster care system. That’s the kind of stats we have. We don’t really have one around the scale and scope.
Deborah R.: However, I will say that the Urban Institute did a study out of 14 major cities and found that Atlanta has the highest underground commercial sex industry out of those 14 cities. It’s like a $290 million a year business, and $33,000 a week is the average income of one trafficker. Think about it. 33,000 cash dollars a week is what traffickers are making. Those stats that we do know. When we say underground sex activities, that can be pornography, strippers at a private club or at a party, as well as young people being lured in for sex trafficking.
DeRay: If the scale is so large in places like Atlanta, how are people able to get away with it? For that many people to be trafficked, how does it still go so unimpeded?
Deborah R.: I’m chuckling because you don’t even know how to ask the question. You’re right.
DeRay: I know. I’m like … I was like, “I don’t understand.”
Deborah R.: I agree. It’s confounding. Let’s look at it from this perspective. Let’s look at trafficking as using a business model. A trafficker is a business person who is seizing an economic opportunity to make money from a buyer. Because there are buyers who are willing to purchase sex with trafficked persons, particularly young girls and young boys, the trafficker is motivated to recruit and coerce young people to meet the demand of the buyer.
Deborah R.: A lot of times our emphasis is on, “How come law enforcement isn’t identifying and rescuing girls? How come they aren’t arresting the traffickers?” The issue is why aren’t we focusing on the men who are driving the industry? I’ll give you another stat. There was an organization in Atlanta called youthSpark, and they did what they called the Georgia Demand Study. What they found that 12,400 men per month was going online to purchase sex. Out of that 12,400 men, 58% of their transactions was specifically for a young person. That’s what’s driving it, the customer. Until we shine a light on the customer, the trafficker is just responding to a business opportunity.
DeRay: Do we know anything about the demographics of who the traffickers are?
Deborah R.: Not really. They’re all races, ethnicities. We are finding that there are more traffickers who are women than there were …
Deborah R.: Mm-hmm (affirmative). 10 years ago. Just think about it. If you have a 14, 15 year old daughter and her new friend shows up at your house. She’s a high school senior, you won’t think anything about, “Hey, can we go down the street and get some ice cream cones?” Therefore, traffickers have learned if they put the women out there as a front, they get better success. We’ve even seen instances where they are young people in the high school who are students who are being recruited by the trafficker to recruit students out of the school.
DeRay: That is blowing my mind. I hadn’t even thought about women traffickers.
Deborah R.: Yeah, I agree, but, again, it shows you because this is such a lucrative, underground business that the traffickers will do all that they need to do to make sure that they are protecting the supply in order to meet the demand of the buyer.
DeRay: What can people do to stop trafficking?
Deborah R.: What people can do to stop trafficking … This is what we’re doing now in Atlanta. We’re talking to businesses to make anti-trafficking activities a fireable offense in your human resource policies, to make anti-trafficking stipulations in your vendor contracts. What we’re seeing is that there’s a convention in Atlanta. People are coming in to represent their companies. They’re getting online before they leave their home city so that when they get to the hotel, there’s a girl that’s being delivered to them. They’re paying the trafficker using the company credit card. They’re going online-
Deborah R.: Yes because it’s considered entertainment. They’re entertaining clients by setting up … Getting an Airbnb, for instance, and setting up a party for their clients. They’re entertaining clients and they’re using company credit cards. There was a study done a few years ago where we set up a fake website and men were … “Hey, if you’re coming to Atlanta, you want to have a good time?” Etc. The peak activity for that website was Thursday and Fridays from 2:00 to 5:00pm. These people were at work. If it had been Saturday or Sunday, we could say, “Oh, maybe they were at home and they were bored.” No, they were at work setting up their evening and weekend entertainment.
Deborah R.: There was a sting a sheriff in Florida did last Halloween. It was called Trick But No Treats. They set up a website and lured men to a hotel because they thought they had purchased sex. One of the men was on his honeymoon. One was a pediatrician. One was a surgeon who actually showed up in his scrubs. He didn’t even take time to change clothes. You have a whole, whole range of men who do this illegal activity because they know they can do it with almost complete anonymity.
DeRay: What are the sites people are using? Was it Craigslist? Was that the number one?
Deborah R.: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, it was. I was the convener of the coalition that did the campaign to have Craigslist shut down. Testified before Congress. We got it shut down. Then Back Page was the second highest. They became the largest site. Finally, after six years of efforts, Congress shut down Back Page last spring. What we are finding now is that the websites are moving offshore. Since they aren’t originating in the United States, Congress doesn’t have the control anymore around sites.
Deborah R.: Again because there’s a lot of money and there are a lot of people going online swiping that credit card, making that transaction, it’s lucrative.
DeRay: What are the tips that people can use to spot trafficking?
Deborah R.: Great. That’s a great question. I’m going to gear a lot of this for parents or people who work with children. Generally, with a young person, they will begin to have a different set of friends, miss a lot of school or they’ll be sleeping in school. They will have possessions that they didn’t have before. If they’re out, they’ll generally be with someone who looks older than they are. They won’t engage you in a conversation or if they do, it would be a script.
Deborah R.: Those are the kinds of signs. If you have an ongoing relationship with a young person, you will notice a shift. For you to begin to realize that that shift really could be because they are being exploited. If you’re out, more often than not, it would be because the person’s actions are being controlled. They are not able to move about freely or like in their restaurant. If they get up to go to the restroom, somebody goes with them. That kind of thing.
DeRay: If you could train one industry to spot trafficking, what would be that industry?
Deborah R.: Transportation. I’m currently training the Lyft drivers in Atlanta. My very first training I was five minutes into the training when somebody raised their hand. The driver said, “I picked up two young women from a six-star hotel in Atlanta at 6:30 this morning and dropped them off at a high school. Was that trafficking?” Those people who are out there transportation, seeing people come and go, they see it, but they don’t know what they’re looking at.
Deborah R.: Hotels generally have adopted training their employees to recognize human trafficking. However, we also know that how trafficking shows up in a hotel a lot is through labor trafficking as the cleaning staff. Most cleaning staff now from hotels are contract workers. The hotel hires a contractor to provide their labor, and that contractor is using trafficked persons. That’s why we’re asking groups to put anti-trafficking stipulations in their vendor contracts. They may not be doing it explicitly, but because of the contractors they’re using. The larger number of people who are trafficked is actually for labor.
DeRay: Atlanta’s hosting the 2019 Superbowl. I imagine that that is a hotbed for trafficking at that event. Is there anything that you can do to prepare?
Deborah R.: Absolutely, but let me take away the myth. There’s a lot of hyperbole saying that the Superbowl’s the largest human trafficking event in the world. That is not the case. There is no quantifiable data around that. What we do know is when you have large groups of buyers, primarily men, who have disposable income, you’re going to have human trafficking.
Deborah R.: Atlanta with its robust convention business, with the world largest airport is a feeder for human trafficking 365 days a year. The Superbowl, yes, there will indeed be trafficking, but it will have proportion to the number of people, the same amount of trafficking as say any major convention that comes to the city.
Deborah R.: To answer your second question, we are training the Superbowl host volunteers. I just came from our second training. We’re going to be conducting 20 different training sessions for the 10,000 Superbowl volunteers, so that they can learn about the signs so when they see it, they can report it. Our mantra is, “Learn something, see something, do something.”
DeRay: What do we do with the laws or policies to make sure that the young people being trafficked aren’t the people who are getting jail sentences, but that the people trafficking are the people who are being held accountable?
Deborah R.: It’s a federal law that makes human trafficking illegal. The laws are on the books. What we have to do is enforce the law. The same law is on the book that says if you are a customer who participates in a commercial sex act with anyone 18 and under, you are also guilty of human trafficking. It’s the buyer that we always let off the hook. If the 65,000 people coming to the Superbowl, if they were not the 10, 15% of people there who were going to buy sex, then you would not have a business for the trafficker. As long as we focus on the middle man and not on the source of the business, you’re going to always have trafficking.
DeRay: You said that your initial work in this was around safe houses. Are there enough safe houses for young people? Are safe houses like transition houses so that you rescue them from the trafficking space and then you help them readjust to go back to the home that they were in before or to go back into larger society? How does that work?
Deborah R.: When we were working on getting the last trafficking bill passed by Congress, we helped to close the loophole sort of around the fact that there are too few places for a trafficked person to go for rehabilitation. In the testimony, one of the supporting Congressmen said there are more shelters for animals in this country than there are for trafficked children.
Deborah R.: There are not enough … I will tell you in opening that safe house, one of the things that I absolutely saw is no amount of counseling, education, care, teddy bears can repair that child to what she was before she was trafficked. As a society, if we allow a young person to be lured into trafficking to meet the demand of a buyer, shame on us. I want us to redirect our emphasis. We should not allow children to be trafficked in the first place.
Deborah R.: For us to say, “Okay, we’re going to open up more safe homes,” we’re being complicit and allowing that to happen to our children. If we eliminate the demand by holding buyers accountable … If a buyer knew if they went online to order sex from a child that they would lose their job, that’s a huge deterrent. If they would be registered as a sex offender, that’s a huge deterrent. That is what we’re not doing.
DeRay: If somebody hears this episode and wants to get trained or wants to volunteer or wants to be helpful, what do you say to them?
Deborah R.: We would love for them to go to our website, humantrafficprooftheatl.org. They can sign up to volunteer. If they tell us if they’re in another state, we have connections with organizations throughout the United States that we can refer them to. You could consider us the one stop shop for anyone who wants to get engaged and volunteer. We’re also doing trainings for employers for them to understand how it could impact their business and giving them policies that they can implement. Of course, we’re doing training for our transportation workers, hotel workers, anyone who is out there in the general public so that they learn to see something. They know what to do.
DeRay: There are a lot of people who have protested, who have been to the marches, been to the rallies, who’ve run for office, who’ve called, who’ve emailed and the outcomes haven’t changed in a way that they wanted it to. What do you say to those people who are losing hope in moments like this?
Deborah R.: I think you’re absolutely right. We believe that a march is a gateway to a solution and it really isn’t. What we need to understand … The American Civil Rights Movement taught us this. The March on Washington happened after almost 10 years of organizing, education of people in the community about the wrongs of having apartheid in this United States.
Deborah R.: Because of creating a public will around this is wrong … When you get to the march, you already have the momentum, but if you start at the march, you’re not doing the groundwork that’s necessary. People being trained to understand it, people requiring that they’re company have these stipulations, people having conversations with men and young boys because the behavior starts when they are young that women’s bodies are commodities. All of that has to take place before we can really see an end to human trafficking or any social condition.
DeRay: Is there a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that’s stuck with you?
Deborah R.: Oh yes. That is parents please talk to your children. Parents don’t feel comfortable talking about human trafficking, but I promise you, your children … You would be surprised at what they’d know. I have gone into middle school and those young people have told me about a classmate or someone they know who has an older boyfriend. They always call it a boyfriend or a good friend.
Deborah R.: Young people, because of their vulnerability of age and their maturity rate, they are targets. You have to talk to young people about it in advance and if your child has a computer, put it on the dining room table, a laptop, so you know who they’re corresponding with. Every week almost there is something in the paper about some young [inaudible 01:05:34] who’s been online, think they’re talking to another teenager. They go to meet the teenager and it’s an older person. It happens continuously. We have to take the responsibility of protecting our own children from this.
DeRay: Thank you so much.
Deborah R.: No, thank you. Thank you for allowing us to spread this word because it impacts us more than we think.
DeRay: I learned too much. That’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure that you rate it wherever you get your podcasts whether it’s Apple Podcast or somewhere else. We’ll see you next week.