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The FBI is supposed to track how police use force – years later, it’s falling well short | US news

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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.

Asheville, North Carolina, police sent relatively detailed data.
Asheville, North Carolina, police sent relatively detailed data. Illustration: Asheville police department

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.

When asked for use of force data, Brockton, Massachusetts, police sent this document of a single incident.
When asked for use of force data, Brockton, Massachusetts, police sent this document of a single incident. Illustration: Brockton police department

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?”



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EU not evacuating staff from Kyiv

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The EU will not evacuate its staff from Kyiv, the bloc’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said on Monday before the meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers, who will have a video conference with US secretary of state Anthony Blinken. “Blinken will explain the reasons for this announcement, we are not going to do the same thing, […], we don’t have to dramatise, the negotiations are going on,” Borrell said.

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‘I’ve already sold my daughters; now, my kidney’: winter in Afghanistan’s slums | Global development

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The temperature is dropping to below zero in western Afghanistan and Delaram Rahmati is struggling to find food for her eight children.

Since leaving the family home in the country’s Badghis province four years ago, the Rahmatis have been living in a mud hut with a plastic roof in one of Herat city’s slums. Drought made their village unliveable and the land unworkable. Like an estimated 3.5 million Afghans who have been forced to leave their homes, the Rahmatis now live in a neighbourhood for internally displaced people (IDP).

There are no jobs. But the 50-year-old has hospital fees to pay for two of her sons, one of whom is paralysed and the other who has mental illness, as well as medicine for her husband.

“I was forced to sell two of my daughters, an eight- and six-year-old,” she says. Rahmati says she sold her daughters a few months ago for 100,000 afghani each (roughly £700), to families she doesn’t know. Her daughters will stay with her until they reach puberty and then be handed over to strangers.

It is not uncommon in Afghanistan to arrange the sale of a daughter into a future marriage but raise her at home until it is time for her to leave. However, as the country’s economic crisis deepens, families are reporting that they are handing children over at an increasingly young age because they cannot afford to feed them.

Delaram Rahmati
Delaram Rahmati, who sold a kidney to support her family. Photograph: Rukhshana Media

Yet, selling her daughters’ future was not the only agonising decision Rahmati was forced to make. “Because of debt and hunger I was forced to sell my kidney,” she tells Rukhshana Media from outside her home in the Herat slum.

Afghanistan is on the brink of “a humanitarian crisis and economic collapse”, according to the UN. The agency’s ambassador to Afghanistan has said it is “experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis of its contemporary history”. Drought, Covid-19 and the economic sanctions imposed after the Taliban seized power in August 2021 have had catastrophic consequences on the economy. Dramatic rises in inflation have resulted in soaring food prices.

The kidney trade has been growing in Afghanistan for some time. But since the Taliban took power, the price and conditions under which the illegal organ trade takes place has changed. The price of a kidney, which once ranged from $3,500 to $4,000 (£2,600 to £3,000), has dropped to less than $1,500 (£1,100). But the number of volunteers keeps rising.

Rahmati sold her right kidney for 150,000 afghani (£1,000). But her recovery from the operation has not been good and now, like her husband, she is also sick, with no money left to visit a doctor.

More than half of the country’s estimated 40 million population face “extreme levels of hunger, and nearly 9 million of them are at risk of famine”, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. For a growing number of Afghans, selling a kidney is their only way to get money to eat.

Herat city’s slums
Since leaving the family home in Badghis province four years ago, the Rahmatis have been living in a mud hut with a plastic roof in a camp in Herat city. Photograph: Rukhshana Media

“It has been months since we last ate rice. We hardly find bread and tea. Three nights a week, we can’t afford to eat dinner,” says Salahuddin Taheri, who lives in the same slum as the Rahmati family.

Taheri, a 27-year-old father of four, who scrapes together enough money for five loaves of bread each day by collecting and selling recycled rubbish, is looking for a buyer for his kidney. “I have been asking private hospitals in Herat for many days if they need any kidney. I even told them if they need it urgently, I can sell it below the market price, but I haven’t heard back,” Taheri says. “I need to feed my children, I have no other choice.”

In the past five years about 250 official kidney transplants have taken place in the hospitals in Herat province, with a very limited number being a family member donating their organ, says Asif Kabir, a public health official in the province. The cost of a kidney transplant is 400,000 afghani, plus the price of the kidney, according to Kabir.

But the true number of kidney operations may be far higher. A doctor working in one of the hospitals where most of the transplants take place, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says: “Recently the number of people who want to sell their kidney has increased in Herat and most of them live in the displaced camps, in Herat’s slums. The customers also go to the displaced camps to find a cheap kidney.”

Sayed Ashraf Sadat, a civil society activist in Herat, was a member of a delegation assigned by president Ashraf Ghani to investigate the illegal kidney trade in May 2021.

Chinar’s scar from kidney surgery.  Her husband is sick and she had to sell her kidney to feed their children
A nurse looks at Chinar’s scar from kidney removal surgery. Chinar, who lives in the Herat camp, said her husband is sick and she had to sell the organ to feed their four children. Photograph: Mstyslav Chernov/AP

“We found that the hospitals were not working according to the law. People are working inside and outside the country to encourage people to sell their kidneys. These people get them visas and send them to the other side of the border. There is more demand for kidney transplants outside Afghanistan. Countries like Iran need kidneys, and poor Afghans are forced to sell them.”

Sadat says the investigation he was part of identified two hospitals in Herat where kidney transplant operations take place; one of them said it had completed 194 operations and the other said 32, but more than 500 people were claiming to have sold their kidney, 100 from a single village in Herat. “This shows the kidneys were taken outside Afghanistan,” says Sadat.

“For example, a kidney is purchased for 300,000 afghani (£2,100) inside Afghanistan, and it is sold for more than £7,500 to £11,000 outside the country,” says Sadat.

“We found evidence that some are encouraged to sell their kidneys, taken outside the borders, and their kidneys are sold for 200,000 to 400,000 afghanis ,” says Sadat. “It seems that the doctors are involved in the illegal trade. But unfortunately, our investigation was stopped due to a worsening security situation.”

Sardar Muhammad, who sold his kidney, shows the scar
Another Herat camp resident, Sardar Muhammad, who sold his kidney, shows the scar from the surgery. Photograph: Mstyslav Chernov/AP

Two months have passed since Rahmati’s kidney operation, and the money has already gone to pay off medical debt. Her recovery from the operation continues to go badly.

“I am so sick. I couldn’t even walk because the wound has been infected. It is very painful,” she says, adding that the recipient of her kidney only paid for the operation fee, two nights in hospital and her first medicine bill.

On the day of the transplant, Rahmati was sick and the doctors refused to operate. “I couldn’t breathe properly, so the doctors took me down from the hospital bed, but I returned. I told them ‘I am happy with my own death, but I can’t tolerate seeing my children hungry and ill’,” she says.

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Airlines should start paying for CO2 sooner

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Airlines flying from one European destination to another should start paying for all their carbon emission from 2026, a year earlier than planned, according to a draft report by Croatian centre-right MEP Sunčana Glavak seen by Reuters. The Commission earlier proposed to phase out free CO2 permits by 2027. “We must support innovation in the sector and the use of sustainable aviation fuels,” she said.

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