In the weeks after George Floyd was murdered, US police flooded the streets in more than 100 cities with some form of teargas, according to an analysis by the New York Times.
A later analysis of 7,305 protest events in all 50 states, involving millions of attendees during May and June, found that police used teargas or related substances in about 183 of these events, or 2.5% of them. Experts called the use of teargas a dangerous choice during a pandemic involving a respiratory disease; hundreds of protesters in one city have reported lasting health effects, including abnormal menstrual cycles.
The Guardian selected 18 police departments that used teargas for a closer examination of their documented uses of force since 2019, suspecting they may have troubling interactions with residents more broadly. We turned to the FBI for this data, because the bureau was tasked with collecting it after the first wave of protests against police killings of Black people that began in 2014.
Only half responded to our requests, and those that did sent us back extraordinarily varied data points, making comparisons across departments or years virtually impossible. Only two sent back substantial data.
Among police departments that sent us information, there was a striking pattern: a tendency to use force at far higher rates against people who were not white, especially Black people.
More than half a decade after Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson were killed by police, the public is still unable to access this information for the majority of US police departments, raising concerns about the ability of the nation’s top law enforcement agency to institute even the barest transparency reforms.
In 2015, the Guardian and the Washington Post began tracking killings by police, leaning on local news coverage. Both efforts represented an embarrassment for James Comey, the then FBI director, who called it “unacceptable” that the FBI did not have its own count of similar events.
The bureau wanted to collect deeper data that included not just killings, but also serious injuries and all officer firearm discharges, according to Gina Hawkins, the police chief of the Fayetteville police department in North Carolina and the chair of the FBI’s National Use-of-Force Data Collection Task Force.
“We realized the only data reporting on how often citizens died as a result of an encounter with an officer was based off media coverage, which is sporadic,” Hawkins, the taskforce’s third chairperson, told the Guardian. “There are a lot of smaller agencies that don’t get a lot of media coverage, so you may not know what’s happening there.”
The program stalled after Donald Trump became president, Hawkins said, but in 2018 the FBI released a summary of information it collected through a pilot program. So far in 2021, the FBI says, 40% of law enforcement agencies have reported officers’ use-of-force data on a monthly basis. The agency publicly discloses the departments currently participating.
But the actual use-of-force data submitted to the FBI by police departments is not available for public review. The FBI says it won’t release this information until 80% of agencies in the country participate.
Hawkins says the FBI is closing in on 50% but because the program is voluntary, there’s no guarantee that police departments will continue sending data to the FBI. An FBI spokesperson told the Guardian in an email that the bureau attempts to raise awareness among police about the program at conferences and digital advertising through various law enforcement organizations.
Yet even Hawkins is surprised at how long the effort has dragged on.
“I never imagined in 2016, when I started, this would be going on in 2021,” Hawkins says. “I never imagined it’d be going on, and we’d still be establishing the format, all the work that’s gone into it, I never thought it’d take this long.”
Because the FBI has not released any force data it has collected, the Guardian attempted to verify the effectiveness of the program by asking police for the same use-of-force reports they sent to the FBI. We also sent a records request for this exact data to the FBI, which declined to provide it.
Though the data we received was incomplete, it still indicated that police used aggressive force against Black and Native American people most often in cities where police used chemical munitions to disperse protesters last year..
In Asheville, North Carolina, for example, which maintains an open data portal that includes 136 unique use of force events involving police dating back to 2018, Black people were 3.3 times more likely to have force used against them compared with white people. The city’s definition of “force” is broader than the FBI’s, and includes physical force but also Taser, showing a firearm, showing a Taser, pepper spray, gunshots and using a baton.
There was also a spike in use-of-force events in Asheville last June, around the time that protests there began. Asheville police deployed chemical munitions several times against protesters, which it considers to be a use of force.
In Green Bay, Wisconsin, officers used teargas and pepper spray against protesters in the days following the murder of Floyd. The department documented 89 unique use-of-force events in 2019 and 2020. “Use-of-force” was defined by Green Bay police as various grappling and physical strikes; the use of Tasers; the use of dogs; the use of batons; the use of teargas or pepper spray; and shootings. A quarter of all use-of-force incidents were committed by the same six officers.
The information we received from other police departments, while limited, also show disparities in how police applied force against Black people.
For example, the Brockton police department in Massachusetts – which one state representative accused of using teargas indiscriminately and violently – sent us documentation for just one incident in which officers shot a Black man in 2019.
Similarly, in Omaha, Nebraska, where video shows police using teargas at point blank range against protesters sitting on the ground, police reported killing three people in 2019 and 2020 by shooting them, all Black men.
The St Paul police department in Minnesota reported six shootings in 2019 and 2020 total, half of them against Black men. Police used gas many times against protesters in the Minneapolis-St Paul region last year, though it was not always clear which police force deployed it.
The Spokane police department in Washington and the Wichita police department in Kansas, two cities where activists told the Guardian that chemical munitions against protesters were rare, only provided aggregated data primarily involving officers that shot someone. St Louis police in Missouri, where a judge in 2014 ordered limits on the use of gas amid protests then, provided similarly limited data.
San Diego police sent us links to two websites containing information for some use-of-force events over the last several decades, disclosures mandated by California state law. At one point during protests last year, officers fired a teargas canister inside a county administration building, allegedly by mistake.
Five police departments did not respond substantively to our requests. Three departments either rejected our requests or imposed costs that were prohibitively expensive.
Since 2015, activist researchers with Campaign Zero have tried to track police killings nationwide through their Mapping Police Violence project, relying on a mix of available media reports, criminal records databases and public records to identify the race of victims. It estimates that it has accurately tracked about 92% of killings by police since 2013.
Mapping Police Violence has filed public records requests to about 500 of the largest police departments in the country, according to co-founder Sam Sinyangwe. There are about 18,000 in total.
Among the 100 largest departments in the nation, according to Mapping Police Violence’s analysis of killings between January 2013 and December 2020, Black people accounted for 38% of killings by police despite only being about 21% of the population, and 44% of unarmed people killed by the 100 largest city police departments were Black.
Drilling down further into that data presents its own challenges, especially when police have so much discretion over reporting it. For example, Sinyangwe says, the Dallas police department publishes officer shooting data online but considers some victims as being armed with their hands. Dallas police teargassed protesters last year.
“We’re seeing how some police are sharing data in a way that is designed to obscure violence – that’s another big worry,” Sinyangwe says. Such machinations could make the FBI’s attempts at tracking use-of-force more unreliable.
“It’s a waste of time, we already have more data than they have let alone what [the FBI is] sharing to the public,” Sinyangwe says.
Hawkins defended the FBI’s program.
“We have definitions and clarifications, and it is a true apples-to-apples comparison,” Hawkins says. “So, if someone says they’re doing a better job than the FBI, then they need to be on the taskforce and say how they were able to collect it.”
Several states have passed laws mandating police departments disclose when their officers use force since 2015, including Texas, Illinois, New Jersey and Minnesota. But even if the US’s thousands of police departments suddenly started reporting use-of-force in greater detail, this only tells part of the story – and could crowd out discussion of the racist conditions that lead to police encounters in the first place.
“Without the interaction data, the initial data of when a cop interacted with an individual, it’s hard to understand any outcome data, including arrests and use of force,” says Abdul Rad, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Oxford who studies obstacles to police accountability.
“It’s missing that first part of the picture critical to understanding bias in policing, and why.”
One study published by the American Political Science Association last year found that if police officers are racially discriminating who they choose to investigate and apprehend, and if that discrimination isn’t acknowledged, then any analysis –including the FBI’s data collection program – could “severely underestimate levels of racially biased policing or mask discrimination entirely”.
At the same time, there’s plenty of research showing force used by police is more lethal against Black people. In addition, the areas where Black people live – an arrangement resulting from 20th-century federal policies amounting to apartheid – are exposed to anti-social patrols far more often than majority-white neighborhoods.
Why, then, is it important to obtain more data on how police use force, when the grim reality of policing is already so well-known by a majority of Americans?
“Transparency is important to help build support for what solutions should look like,” Sinyangwe says. “It can help you understand which departments are shooting people at higher rates than the national average, which departments have larger disparities in policing – all of this is critical to building support for and thinking about what policy interventions should look like to address the issues.
“But the police won’t police themselves, so how do we get that data and convert it into policy that results in changes in practice?”
WHO concerned about first cases of monkeypox in children | Science & Tech
Reports of young children infected by monkeypox in Europe – there were at least four in recent days, with a fifth one recorded a few weeks ago – have raised concern about the progress of an outbreak now affecting more than 5,500 people in 51 countries.
The health organization’s Europe chief, Hans Kluge, also warned on Friday that overall cases in the region have tripled in the last two weeks. “Urgent and coordinated action is imperative if we are to turn a corner in the race to reverse the ongoing spread of this disease,” said Kluge.
The WHO has not yet declared the outbreak a global health emergency, however. At a meeting last Saturday, the agency ruled it out but said it could change its views if certain scenarios come to pass, such as a spike in cases among vulnerable groups like children, pregnant women and immunocompromised people. Available data shows that children, especially younger ones, are at higher risk of serious illness if they become infected.
The last known case of a child contracting monkeypox was reported on Tuesday in Spain, where a three-year-old was confirmed to have the disease. Cases in Spain are now in excess of 1,500 according to health reports filed by regional governments.
Also on Tuesday, Dutch authorities reported that a primary school student had become infected and that contact tracing had been initiated to rule out more cases within the child’s close circle of contacts. On Saturday, France reported one confirmed case and one suspected case among elementary school students.
The UK has so far recorded at least two infections in minors. The first case, reported in May, involved a baby who had to be taken to intensive care for treatment with the antiviral Tecovirimat, of which few doses are available but which has already begun to be distributed in several countries. British authorities this week reported a second case of a child with monkeypox. The UK currently has the biggest monkeypox outbreak beyond Africa.
The main vaccine being used against monkeypox was originally developed for smallpox. The European Medicines Agency said earlier this week it was beginning to evaluate whether the shot should be authorized for monkeypox. The WHO has said supplies of the vaccine, made by Bavarian Nordic, are extremely limited.
Until May, monkeypox had never been known to cause large outbreaks beyond Africa, where the disease is endemic in several countries and mostly causes limited outbreaks when it jumps to people from infected wild animals.
Jury calls for sweeping reforms to Canada’s approach to femicide | Canada
A community in rural Canada has made a series of transformative recommendations at a coroner’s inquest that – if adopted – could position the country’s most populous province as a leader in preventing femicides, particularly those carried out by an intimate partner.
The jury in Renfrew County, Ontario, just west of Canada’s capital, delivered 86 recommendations this week in a unanimous verdict on the deaths of three local women, who were killed by the same man on a single morning nearly seven years ago.
The boldest was to have the Ontario government “formally declare intimate partner violence as an epidemic” that requires “significant financial investment” and deep systemic change to remedy.
Since the triple homicide on 22 September 2015, 111 women in Ontario have been murdered by their current or former partner, the inquest heard. Every six days in Canada, a woman is killed by her intimate partner, according to Statistics Canada.
The jury also recommended official prominence be given to the word “femicide” – to have it be listed as a manner of death by coroners in the province and added to the criminal code of Canada to underscore the misogyny beneath the killings of women and girls because of their gender.
“A lot of the recommendations are groundbreaking,” said Pamela Cross, a lawyer and expert on intimate partner violence in Ontario who testified at the inquest.
The inquest, which heard from nearly 30 witnesses over three weeks, was meant to examine the systems that broke down in the weeks, months and years leading up to the day Basil Borutski got in a borrowed car, drove to Carol Culleton’s cottage and strangled her with a coaxial cable, then moved on to Anastasia Kuzyk’s house where he shot her to death and then to Nathalie Warmerdam’s farm where he shot her too.
All three women had previously been in an intimate relationship with Borutski. He had been in and out of jail for assaulting Kuzyk and Warmerdam and was on probation at the time of the murders and subject to a weapons ban.
Borutski had been flagged as “high risk” two years before the triple homicide, the inquest heard, and exhibited 30 out of 41 risk factors identified by Ontario’s domestic violence death review committee – including a deep sense of victimhood and the ability to convince new partners he was innocent and unfairly targeted by police in his prior convictions.
Police witnesses told the jury Borutski was very good at “manipulation” and constantly flouted court orders, including never showing up to a mandated partner assault response program.
The jury heard from family members, including Valerie Warmerdam, Nathalie’s daughter, who painted a nuanced and empathetic picture of Borutski as a troubled stepfather. It heard from a frontline worker who described Warmerdam and Kuzyk’s constant terror that Borutski would kill them or harm their family.
The inquest jury demanded decision-makers make “significant financial investments” in ending violence, have police all use the same records management system and create clear guidelines for flagging high-risk abusers. It urged the study of disclosure protocols like Clare’s Law, which is used in the United Kingdom and in parts of Canada to allow a concerned person to check if their partner has a police record of intimate partner violence.
Valerie Warmerdam welcomed the verdict, but underscored the need for action on the part of governments who will receive these recommendations in the wake of the inquest. “I want change,” she said. “These recommendations are a good start, if they are actioned. That’s a big if.”
Kirsten Mercer, counsel to End Violence Against Women Renfrew County (EVA), noted that it was the jury themselves who added the epidemic recommendation among 13 others, including creating a registry of high-risk offenders akin to the sex offenders registry, and exploring electronic monitoring of those charged or found guilty of an IPV-related offence.
“The jury has asked that we tell the truth about intimate partner violence,” Mercer told the media after the verdict. “The jury has asked that we put our money where our mouth is.”
The idea to add femicide to the coroner’s list of manners of death and to the Criminal Code of Canada came from the joint submission. Countries in Latin America have already added this as a criminal offence, she said, and should be looked to as a model for how to do it here.
Accountability was a priority for this jury, Mercer said. The verdict called for the creation of an accountability body akin to the United Kingdom’s domestic abuse commissioner and a specific committee to make sure this verdict does not just languish in decision-makers’ inboxes.
“We are not going to wait forever any more.”
Apollo Go: The Beijing neighborhood with robotaxis and driverless delivery service | International
Book a robotaxi on a mobile app and it will pick you up in less than 10 minutes. It’s 2:00pm on a Thursday in Beijing and our ride is going smoothly with no human intervention so far. “Sometimes we have to speed up manually to avoid causing traffic jams. Bicycles and motorcycles often cause traffic congestion because they ignore traffic signals,” says the driver supervising our trip, as the steering wheel magically moves by itself.
The 37-square-mile (60 square kilometers) Beijing High-level Automated Driving Demonstration Area (BJHAD) is where the country’s first pilot project to use autonomous vehicles on public roads is happening. Located in a secluded district in the southeastern part of the city, BJHAD is the test site for a futuristic plan that envisions turning Beijing into the standard-bearer for artificial intelligence (AI). The Apollo robotaxis manufactured by Baidu and the autonomous delivery vehicles manufactured by JD.com (aka Jingdong) zip around a tranquil utopia that stands in stark contrast to the hectic jungle of downtown traffic.
“[A robotaxi] can handle an average of 15 daily bookings, most of which are trips between a subway stop and an office,” said the cab driver. In November 2021, Baidu and Pony.ai became the first companies authorized to operate a fleet of 100 robotaxis in BJHAD. As of April 2022, humans are no longer required to sit in the driver’s seat of the robotaxi, which is allowed to travel at a maximum speed of 37 miles per hour (60 kph). The service is free for now, although the two companies are commercially licensed.
Baidu, China’s leading search engine, is diversifying its business by commercializing its AI and intelligent transportation technology. Its Apollo Go program is currently operating in seven cities, and the company plans to expand to 65 cities by 2025, and 100 cities by 2030. Unlike the Waymo robotaxis that Google began operating in 2020 in the US, Baidu’s vehicles circulate during the day, enabling them to collect more data.
Although Baidu has topped the list of Chinese companies with the most patents for AI applications over the last four years, e-commerce giant JD.com is the leader in the autonomous delivery vehicle space. In 2016, Jingdong established its headquarters in BJHAD, and its delivery robots now dominate the streets. These vehicles mainly transport orders from the 7FRESH smart supermarket chain operated by JD that combines e-commerce and traditional commerce. “Instead of people going out to buy products, we deliver them,” said Yang Han. Who works in Jingdong’s communications department.
JD’s applies big data analytical methods to the information collected from more than 400 million annual users, and utilizes it to tailor inventories to the specific needs of each 7FRESH physical stores location. The entire 7FRESH inventory is available in the app. The delivery robots, which travel at nine miles per hour (15 kph) and can carry 220-440 pounds (100-200 kilos), deliver orders in less than an hour within a three-mile (five kilometer) range.
JD employees rely on smaller robots to send documents and other items between offices in 10 minutes or less. “They speed up the work and saves us from having to run around from one place to another,” said Yang Han. The robots are able to operate elevators and open doors by themselves as they follow their delivery routes.
The robots can recognize their surroundings and avoid obstacles with a 98% accuracy rate for small objects. Information streams in through cameras and other sensors, while the navigation algorithm pinpoints their location and plans routes. JD’s cloud-based simulation platform accumulates data from every trip to continuously improve the robots’ capabilities.
The Covid pandemic spurred JD to accelerate its autonomous delivery program, enabling it to deploy small and large delivery vehicles to the Chinese cities most affected by the pandemic over the last two and a half years. In early 2020, during the peak of the pandemic in Wuhan, these delivery vehicles traveled a total of 4,225 miles (6,800 kilometers) and delivered more than 13,000 packages.
In a country where low unemployment is one of the main pillars of its social stability goals, the move to autonomous vehicles may prove to be risky in the long run. However, Yang Han insists that the objective is to “achieve a synergy between humans and machines… The goal is to take the pressure off delivery drivers and allow them to focus on customer service and vehicle maintenance. The couriers don’t need to transport the goods. Instead, they wait by the curb for the robots to arrive, and then walk the goods to the customer’s door. “
BJHAD is part of the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Area, the first place in China specifically geared to AI research. The country aspires to become the world leader in AI by 2030 and to leave the “factory for the world” image behind for good.
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