Race, policing, and the universal yearning for safety

“poverty and crime are big predictors, but in all the cities we’ve ever looked at, they aren’t sufficient to explain the racial disparities. Crime and poverty matter, but there are still disparities after that. There’s evidence that there’s still bias after that. In some cities, crime and poverty predict about 80 percent of the disparity; in other cities, crime and poverty rates are about 20 percent. And that means there’s a real difference in how much police behavior and policy is a driver of inequality in policing and therefore in criminal justice outcomes.”

Why police encouraged a teenager with a gun to patrol Kenosha’s streets

“Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with murder in the shooting deaths of two people during the violent protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, had a run-in with the police earlier in the night — an extremely friendly one.

In footage from about 15 minutes before the shootings pieced together by the New York Times’s Visual Investigations team, you can see Rittenhouse walk up to an armored police vehicle and chat with officers. A police officer pops out of one vehicle’s hatch and tosses bottles to Rittenhouse’s associates, members of an armed militia. “We appreciate you guys, we really do,” the officer says before driving off.

The young-looking Rittenhouse is under the legal age for firearm ownership and was carrying an assault rifle, which appears to be a misdemeanor under Wisconsin law. Instead of stopping him and asking for proof of age, the police give him water and an attaboy. And when he tried to surrender after the shootings, the police went right by him, even as bystanders were telling them that Rittenhouse had shot people.”

“Reality” is constructed by your brain. Here’s what that means, and why it matters.

“Most of the time, the story our brains generate matches the real, physical world — but not always. Our brains also unconsciously bend our perception of reality to meet our desires or expectations. And they fill in gaps using our past experiences.

All of this can bias us. Visual illusions present clear and interesting challenges for how we live: How do we know what’s real? And once we know the extent of our brain’s limits, how do we live with more humility — and think with greater care about our perceptions?”

“The stories our brains tell us about reality are extremely compelling, even when they are wrong.”

““The dirty little secret about sensory systems is that they’re slow, they’re lagged, they’re not about what’s happening right now but what’s happening 50 milliseconds ago, or, in the case for vision, hundreds of milliseconds ago,” says Adam Hantman, a neuroscientist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus.

If we relied solely on this outdated information, though, we wouldn’t be able to hit baseballs with bats, or swat annoying flies away from our faces. We’d be less coordinated, and possibly get hurt more often.

So the brain predicts the path of motion before it happens. It tells us a story about where the object is heading, and this story becomes our reality. That’s what’s likely happening with Cavanagh’s illusion. It happens all the time.”

“The brain tells us a story about the motion of objects. But that’s not the only story it tells. It also tells us stories about more complicated aspects of our visual world, like color.”

“When we think an object is being bathed in blue light, we can filter out that blue light intuitively. That’s how many of these color illusions work. We use surrounding color cues and assumptions about lighting to guess an object’s true color. Sometimes those guesses are wrong, and sometimes we make different assumptions from others.”

“Night owls, or people who like to go to bed really late and wake up later in the morning, are more likely to see the dress as black and blue. Larks, a.k.a. early risers, are more likely to see it as white and gold. What’s going on?

Wallisch believes the correlation is rooted in the life experience of being either a lark or a night owl. Larks, he hypothesizes, spend more time in daylight than night owls. They’re more familiar with it. So when confronted with an ill-lit image like the dress, they are more likely to assume it is being bathed in bright sunlight, which has a lot of blue in it, Wallisch points out. As a result, their brains filter it out. “If you assume it’s daylight, you will see it as white and gold. Because if you subtract blue, yellow is left,” he says.”

“The owls versus lark data seems quite compelling for explaining a large part of the individual differences,” Schwarzkopf says. But not all of it. “There are still lots of other factors that must have a strong influence here.”

“we have no way of knowing how our experiences guide our perception. “Your brain makes a lot of unconscious inferences, and it doesn’t tell you that it’s an inference,” he explains. “You see whatever you see. Your brain doesn’t tell you, ‘I took into account how much daylight I’ve seen in my life.’””

“Sometimes, especially when the information we’re receiving is unclear, we see what we want to see. In the past, researchers have found that even slight rewards can change the way people perceive objects.”

“In a more complex example, Balcetis has found that when she tells study participants to pay attention to either an officer or a civilian in a video of a police altercation, it can change their perception of what happened (depending on their prior experience with law enforcement and the person in the video with whom they more closely identified). “That instruction changes what their eyes do,” Balcetis told me last summer. “And it leads them to a different understanding of the nature of the altercation.”

You can’t completely remove bias from the brain. “You can’t change the fact that we’ve all grown up in different worlds,” Balcetis said. But you can encourage people to listen to other perspectives and be curious about the veracity of their own.”

“Just as we can look at an image and see things that aren’t really there, we can look out into the world with skewed perceptions of reality. Political scientists and psychologists have long documented how political partisans perceive the facts of current events differently depending on their political beliefs. The illusions and political thinking don’t involve the same brain processes, but they follow the similar overarching way the brain works.”

George Floyd’s Horrifying Death Highlights Stark Racial Disparities in the Use of Police Force

“In a 2017 analysis of data from 20 states, researchers at Stanford University found that “white drivers are searched in 2.0% of stops, compared to 3.5% of stops for black motorists and 3.8% for Hispanic motorists.” After the researchers controlled for stop location, date and time, and driver age and gender, they calculated that “black and Hispanic drivers have approximately twice the odds of being searched relative to white drivers.” They were also twice as likely to be arrested. The study found that “black and Hispanic drivers are searched on the basis of less evidence than white drivers, suggestive of bias in search decisions.”

After surveying drivers in the Kansas City area in 2003 and 2004, Charles Epp and two other researchers at the University of Kansas classified police encounters based on the legal justification (or lack thereof) and the amount of discretion involved. They found that black drivers were no more likely than white drivers to report clear-cut “traffic safety stops” (e.g., for running a red light or stop sign, driving at night with headlights off, or exceeding the speed limit by seven or more miles an hour) but were nearly three times as likely to report seemingly pretextual “investigatory stops” (e.g., for an unilluminated license plate, driving too slowly, or no reason mentioned by the officer).

During investigatory stops, Epp and his colleagues reported, black drivers were five times as likely as white drivers to be searched. They were also more likely to be handcuffed and threatened with arrest, and more likely to describe the officer’s demeanor as rude, hostile, or insulting. Blacks perceived investigatory stops as less legitimate than traffic safety stops, while whites made no such distinction. The more stops black drivers had experienced, the less they trusted the police, an effect that was not apparent among white drivers.”

Why the policing problem isn’t about “a few bad apples”

“No matter how you look at it, the American criminal justice system is riddled with biases. As the Washington Post’s Radley Balko cataloged, we know that black people are nearly twice as likely to be pulled over and more likely to be searched once they’re stopped even though they’re less likely to have contraband; and that unarmed black people are more than three times as likely to be shot by police as unarmed whites.”

“Let’s think about the Floyd case. Before we get to the killing, let’s think about the arrest. The store owner called the police and said that someone had tried to pass a fake $20 bill. The police respond, and what they do is virtually impossible to imagine happening to a white person. What they do is to approach Mr. Floyd’s car like he’s a violent thug. They order Mr. Floyd and the passengers to exit the car. One officer has his hand on his gun. They put Mr. Floyd in handcuffs. When he falls to the ground, they leave him on the ground in handcuffs, and then, as the whole world knows, they hold him down by his back and knee and legs for 10 minutes until he dies. I just can’t imagine that happening to a white person over a $20 bill.”

“Part of the evidence that the system was designed this way, and one of the reasons it recurs over and over again, is because a lot of the conduct that people of color complain about is totally legal. So I don’t think the case against the officers in the Floyd case is a slam-dunk by any means. The defense will be that their use of force was reasonable. And they have a case to make. They don’t have a great case, given that Mr. Floyd was handcuffed, but what they will say is that he was resisting arrest and they used reasonable force to subdue him. And obviously there comes a point where the reasonableness of that force is extinguished by the fact that his body is lying limp and motionless on the ground. But up until then, I think they have an argument that what they were doing was legal.
Outside of that case, in theory, the power that police have is unreal. I have a police officer buddy who comes and visits my criminal law class, and to demonstrate how much power he has, he invites my students to go on a ride-along in his car, to see what it’s like to patrol the streets of DC. He plays a game with them called Pick That Car. He tells the student, “Pick any car that you want, and I’ll stop it.” So the student will say, “How about that white Camry over there.”

He’s a good cop. He waits until he has a legal reason. But he says that he could follow any car, and after five minutes or three blocks, the driver will commit some traffic infraction, and then under the law he has the power to stop the car, to order the driver and the passengers to get out of the car. If he has reasonable suspicion that they might be armed or dangerous, he could touch their bodies, he can frisk them, he can ask to search their car. And it’s totally legal. That’s an example of the extraordinary power that police have.”

“A hundred years from now, when people want to know what it was like to be alive in 2020, the Ferguson report is one of the things they’ll look at. It’s this amazing synthesis of data and stories. The data includes the fact that every single time the police used a dog in Ferguson, they used it against a black person.”

“So there’s one story in there in which a woman calls the police because her boyfriend’s beating her up. By the time the police get there, he’s gone. The police look around the apartment and they say, “Does he live here?” And she says, “Yes, he does.” The police say, “You’re under arrest for occupancy permit violation, because his name isn’t on the lease.” When that happened to another woman in Ferguson, she said she would never call the police again, she didn’t care if she was being killed. Again, this is how the police do black people and brown people. They don’t treat white people like this, certainly not as systematically as they do black and brown people.”

“I think a lot of people go into the work because they really want to help communities, and they really want to make a difference, and this belief is based on my experience as a prosecutor working with police officers of all backgrounds and of all races. So I don’t think that police officers are especially racist. But I do think we give them tools and authority in a context that leads them to deploy it unjustly against people of color.”

Fox News goes to desperate lengths to gin up outrage over clip of Vince Vaughn chatting with Trump

“Fox News’s article about how Vaughn supposedly “faces liberal outrage after he was seen with Trump during national championship game” prominently features a tweet from Washington Examiner staffer Siraj Hashmi, who is hardly a liberal, sarcastically quipping that “Ladies & gentlemen, I regret to inform you Vince Vaughn is CANCELED” — but the tweet is presented in David Aaro’s article as though Hashmi is a liberal who meant it earnestly.

Hashmi later noted on Twitter that the Fox News article caused right-wing trolls to flood his Instagram page with abusive comments. And the few other examples of “liberal outrage” in the piece were gleaned from the far fringes of Twitter. (Fox News still hasn’t figured out that Hashmi isn’t actually liberal as of Tuesday afternoon — his tweet was falsely cited as an example of “liberal cancel culture” on Outnumbered.)”

“a few left-wing accounts did react to Burke’s clip with comments like, “Sad. Vince Vaughn is one of my favorites. I always knew he was Republican but this, so gross … I don’t need a Wedding Crashers sequel anymore.” But the idea that there was some sort of concerted liberal backlash to the clip is make-believe aimed at ginning up outrage.”

Can populist economics coexist with pro-immigrant policies?

““When we decide how much to redistribute, how progressive the tax should be, the thinking is: I’m putting some weight on everyone in the economy, measuring how much I value $1 given to Dylan, $1 given to Stefanie,” Stantcheva told me, laying out the model. “The weight we put mentally depends on many characteristics of those people: how poor they are, how hard they work, etc.”

Voters often put a lower weight on immigrants’ welfare, which means the more immigrants they think are getting money from the government, the less likely they are to support redistribution overall. But the picture is more complicated than that. Alesina and Stantcheva’s model also assumes that voters put a low weight on “freeloaders”: people they perceive to be cheating the welfare system, as opposed to the “deserving poor,” who are getting benefits they ought to be receiving. If voters think that a higher share of immigrants than natives are freeloaders, that will also reduce support for redistribution.

“Misperceptions and biases against immigrants can interact and reinforce each other,” Alesina and Stantcheva write. “If the bias against immigrants is already high … even a small over-estimation of the share of free-loaders among immigrants can tilt preferences towards less redistribution. Similarly, if the bias against immigrants is high (or if the perceived share of free-loaders is high), even a small overestimation of the share of immigrants can reduce support for redistribution.”

And what their survey work with Armando Miano finds is that these kinds of misperceptions are incredibly common, and especially common among people disposed negatively toward immigration.”

“Flood the zone with shit”: How misinformation overwhelmed our democracy

“No amount of evidence, on virtually any topic, is likely to move public opinion one way or the other. We can attribute some of this to rank partisanship — some people simply refuse to acknowledge inconvenient facts about their own side.

But there’s another, equally vexing problem. We live in a media ecosystem that overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is accurate, some of it is bogus, and much of it is intentionally misleading. The result is a polity that has increasingly given up on finding out the truth. As Sabrina Tavernise and Aidan Gardiner put it in a New York Times piece, “people are numb and disoriented, struggling to discern what is real in a sea of slant, fake, and fact.””

“it’s the consequence of a deliberate strategy. It was distilled almost perfectly by Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News and chief strategist for Donald Trump. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon reportedly said in 2018. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.””

“What we’re facing is a new form of propaganda that wasn’t really possible until the digital age. And it works not by creating a consensus around any particular narrative but by muddying the waters so that consensus isn’t achievable.”

“creating widespread cynicism about the truth and the institutions charged with unearthing it erodes the very foundation of liberal democracy.”

“The role of “gatekeeping” institutions has also changed significantly. Before the internet and social media, most people got their news from a handful of newspapers and TV networks. These institutions functioned like referees, calling out lies, fact-checking claims, and so on. And they had the ability to control the flow of information and set the terms of the conversation.

Today, gatekeepers still matter in terms of setting a baseline for political knowledge, but there’s much more competition for clicks and audiences, and that alters the incentives for what’s declared newsworthy in the first place. At the same time, traditional media outlets remain committed to a set of norms that are ill adapted to the modern environment. The preference for objectivity in political coverage, in particular, is a problem.

As Joshua Green, who wrote a biography of Bannon, explained, Bannon’s lesson from the Clinton impeachment in the 1990s was that to shape the narrative, a story had to move beyond the right-wing echo chamber and into the mainstream media. That’s exactly what happened with the now-debunked Uranium One story that dogged Clinton from the beginning of her campaign — a story Bannon fed to the Times, knowing that the supposedly liberal paper would run with it because that’s what mainstream media news organizations do.

In this case, Bannon flooded the zone with a ridiculous story not necessarily to persuade the public that it was true (although surely plenty of people bought into it) but to create a cloud of corruption around Clinton. And the mainstream press, merely by reporting a story the way it always has, helped create that cloud.”

“This all intersects with political polarization in troubling ways. One consequence of pervasive confusion about what’s happening is that people feel more comfortable siding with their political tribe. If everything’s up for grabs, and it’s hard to sift through the competing narratives to find the truth, then there’s nothing left but culture war politics. There’s “us” and “them,” and the possibility of persuasion is off the table.”

“It’s worth noting that this polarization is asymmetric. The left overwhelmingly receives its news from organizations like the New York Times, the Washington Post, or cable news networks like MSNBC or CNN. Some of the reporting is surely biased, and probably biased in favor of liberals, but it’s still (mostly) anchored to basic journalistic ethics.

As a recent book by three Harvard researchers explains, this just isn’t true of the right. American conservative media functions like a closed system, with Fox News at the center. Right-wing outlets are less tethered to conventional journalistic ethics and exist mostly to propagate the bullshit they produce.”

“this has created an atmosphere that has helped Trump. The Trump administration has been remarkably successful at muddying the waters on Ukraine and impeachment, and Republicans in Congress have helped by parroting the administration’s talking points.”