Before the legislative session concludes, Beacon Hill lawmakers will pass Governor Baker’s CARE Act, an important bill boosting services connecting overdose patients in the ER to recovery services. But the Care Act suffers from a critical omission: it leaves broken the Commonwealth’s limited Good Samaritan Law, which has failed to protect those who seek help during an overdose. Reforming the law is needed to ensure that patients call 911 in the first place.

The Good Samaritan Law is intended to protect people who call 911 from legal punishment, since studies show that fear of arrest stops bystanders from calling for help.  Politicians around the state have touted the law as doing just that. In May 2016,  Attorney General Healey and Governor Baker unveiled a $250,000 campaign encouraging bystanders who witnessed an overdose to “Make the Right Call.” The state distributed posters promising those who call 911 that “The Law Protects You.”

mtc_c

[Image: MA’s Department of Public Health  “Make the Right Call Poster”. Poster Text: “You might be high. You might be afraid. If you see an overdose call 911. The Law protects you.”]

Unfortunately, this is not true. The Good Samaritan Law that took effect on August 2nd, 2012 only narrowly exempts bystanders who call 911 and those who need medical attention from charge or prosecution for drug possession. What it does not do is protect bystanders or patients from being arrested, charged, or prosecuted for any offense other than drug possession. According to the Network for Public Health Laws, the Good Samaritan Law in Massachusetts—unlike progressive bastions like Nevada and Tennessee—does not preclude  arrest or prosecution for other crimes including, mindbogglingly, possessing drug paraphernalia. Nor does it confer protection from civil asset forfeiture, prosecution under any outstanding warrants, or violations of probation or parole.

Indeed, under the Massachusetts law, a person can still be arrested for simple drug possession, but not charged or prosecuted. The problem is, once a person is arrested for drug possession, that contact with the criminal justice system can lead to interviews, searches, and sanctions for unrelated crimes, including unpaid court fees or parole violations. What’s more, it is up to a prosecutor to determine whether you were a worthy Good Samaritan or not—something which can hinge on whether or not your drug possession was with intent to distribute. In our criminal justice system, such discretion usually leads to unequal outcomes across zipcodes, races, and economic strata.

Moreover, several cases illustrate how calling 911 for an overdose can lead to arrest, despite the Good Samaritan Law. In Attleboro, January 2013, a man who called 911 to report an overdose was arrested on drug possession charges. Though the drug possession charges were dropped under the Good Samaritan Law, he faced a three year sentence on an outstanding warrant in another state. In Swampscott, August 2014, police responding to a heroin overdose 911 call found that the residents were manufacturing cannabis oil (hash) in their house. Detectives shared pictures of the hash with the DEA and then arrested the residents on charges related to hash, heroin, and an unlicensed firearm. In Taunton, March 2016, a man called 911 to seek medical assistance for a woman who overdosed. When police arrived, the caller himself was protected by the Good Samaritan Law. But police arrested another person at the house—who hid under a blanket  in the bathroom—on an outstanding warrant. In Brockton, in April 2017, someone called 911 to report an apparent overdose of an unconscious man. When police arrived, he had woken up. Officers searched his truck and arrested him for drug possession and driving without a license.

Newspapers document these and many, many, other such cases where a witness’s call for help  is met with punishment. These cases of what can go wrong if you call for help fuel the apprehension about police that discourages calling 911 at all, a concern which is acute among Blacks, who may be especially wary of calling the police. (In Massachusetts, overdose mortality is rapidly increasing among Blacks). Undocumented residents and those close to them may also have reason to worry.

Expanding the protections of the Good Samaritan Law is essential to ensuring that medical emergencies are not treated like crime scenes. Though politicians around the Commonwealth promise that the law will protect you if you call 911, the experiences of some of our most vulnerable disagree.

Happily, my paper “Does ‘right to work’ imperil the right to health? The effect of labour unions on workplace fatalities” is attracting a lot of attention, which makes me feel good as an academic who cares at least a little about producing things that others find valuable (we will see how the sheriff stuff is received, once it’s finally done, though it seems like there’s something both quaint and gripping about them!). Although I wrote that short article in August 2017 — and had really no sense of the Janus case at that time — it’s really seemed to have caught the moment. It helps that there’s yet a non-trivial, vested constituency in organized labor that finds something useful, or reassuring, in these results. Anyway, in response to a journalist query about, essentially, what “14.1%” (the coefficient of the reduced form regression of the RTW variable) means exactly,  I wrote something like this:

predicted_annualfatalities_rtw

There were 138,736 total deaths on the job in the 50 states over 1992-2016 recorded in the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Using a negative binomial regression (with the same predictors as the “reduced form” regression in the paper, but with the number of workers as an offset variable and the state/annual count of workplace deaths as the dependent variable) to model the incidence of occupational deaths,  the expected count of occupational deaths in a state during this time-period is about 118.7 in a right to work state and about 104.9 in an otherwise similar state without RTW (figure above; Stata margins command with coefplot for figure). Reassuringly, this 13.1% increase in RTW states in the negative binomial model is essentially the same result as in the “reduced form” model in the paper (about a 14% increase in RTW states relative to others). The Incident Rate Ratio on the right-to-work coefficient is also  1.1314 — which makes sense, as that is the ratio of the predicted values!

Over this same 1992-2016 period, 529 state-year dyads had right to work legislation (721 did not). Therefore, the model-implied count of occupational fatalities attributable to RTW  (assuming no confounders) is (118.7-104.9)*529 or about 7,300.That is, if no states had RTW over these years, the model implied counterfactual is that about 131,436 occupational deaths would have occurred instead of the observed 138,736 occupational deaths.

Semi-related: Using the original (non-logged) rate of fatalities, here’s a predicted effects plot of occupational fatality rate at different levels of unionization; I shared this on Twitter previously. This was used with an OLS model containing all the parameters of model 3 in the paper (or replication code), but with the non-logged dv (in the replication code labeled “robustness check using original unscaled variable”). This shows how the actual, observed decreases in unionization rates we’ve seen in states like Wisconsin in recent years may translate into meaningful increases in occupational mortality.

marginaleffects_origdv

[Cover Image from Jim Crow Songbook, 1847, admonishing Black people not to laugh at “them who happen to be white,” a rather strange play at victimhood in a year when almost all Blacks in America were enslaved.]

Of course, white supremacist prohibited Blacks from voting, holding office, serving on juries, having sex with or marrying whites, attending school with whites, eating at restaurants with whites, sharing street cars with whites (at issue in Plessy v. Ferguson), and so-on and so forth (Oregon just straight up banned Black people for many years). But I have only recently come to learn the depth, breadth, and sheer pettiness of Jim Crow and white supremacists, who must be among the most fragile people the world has ever seen. Deep down this brutal history really isn’t funny, but the fact that white racists felt it necessary to ban these things is at least a little bit funny–These people had really thin skin. Here are just some of the activities that so perturbed the White Supremacists that they sanctioned them with the law (and the lynch):

Like extreme conservatives in the US today, who have passed laws banning CDC research on guns, banning doctors from talking about guns with their patients, banning the promotion of non-binary pronouns, increasing penalties for protesting, and believe football players should face economic reprisals for protest, white supremacists during Jim Crow shared this belief in restricting the rights of people who disagree with them. Mississippi banned “printing, publishing or circulating printed, typewritten or written matter urging or presenting for public acceptance or general information, arguments or suggestions in favor of social equality or of intermarriage between whites and negroes.” Mississippi also had in its vagrancy law (a racist Jim Crow statute that allowed the police to arrest and “lease out” unemployed Blacks, often to plantation owners) a provision banning whites from “assembling themselves” with blacks “on terms of equality.”

 

While a student, I wrote several articles for Vanderbilt’s campus newspaper, but all of these were lost from the Vanderbilt Hustler website (along with all historic website content) sometime in the summer of 2016. I’m going to try to upload these articles here while I can still find scanned PDFs of the print issues that existed at the time. Since this particular article only appeared on the website, I found it through some crawling through the Wayback Machine with a url found on Facebook. Amazingly, this preserved the original links.

This article reacts to the inflammatory comments made by then Vanderbilt Professor Carol Swain about American Muslims. 

Profiling is a reality for Muslims in the US

(Originally posted February 2, 2015; I had to disable Javascript to load the archived web page)

As we have all heard, Vanderbilt Professor Carol Swain disparaged Islam in The Tennessean, saying, “Islam … poses an absolute danger to us and our children unless it is monitored better than it has been under the Obama administration …” And later: “If America is to be safe, it must remove the foxes from the henhouses and institute serious monitoring of Islamic organizations.”

Amazingly, in an article bemoaning dangers to “freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association,” Professor Swain calls in the same breath for government intrusion into the speech, assembly and association of American citizens precisely because they exercise their constitutional right to practice a faith different from hers.

The campus appropriately erupted against her callous words, but the actions Swain prescribed – chiefly, “serious monitoring of Islamic organizations” – are not just the daydreams of a strident Islamophobe. They are reality. For law enforcement and intelligence agencies, profiling is policy and, for Muslim Americans, harassment is routine.

This has been most infamously on display in New York. An investigation by The Associated Press reported: The NYPD has implemented “wide-ranging programs to monitor life in Muslim neighborhoods since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Police officers have eavesdropped inside Muslim businesses, trained video cameras on mosques and collected license plates of worshippers. Informants who trawl the mosques — known informally as ‘mosque crawlers’ — tell police what the imam says at sermons and provide police lists of attendees, even when there’s no evidence they committed a crime.”

The NYPD has placed undercover officers at local schools and monitored their Muslim student associations, and even monitored the websites of Muslim student associations in other states. One bizarre NYPD report leaked to the AP describes “an undercover officer … accompanying 18 Muslim students from the City College of New York on a whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York on April 21, 2008. The officer noted the names of attendees who were officers of the Muslim Student Association” and tallied how often members prayed.

According to the AP, “in more than six years of spying on Muslim neighborhoods, eavesdropping on conversations and cataloguing mosques, the New York Police Department’s secret Demographics Unit never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation, the department acknowledged in court testimony.” Though the infamous “Demographics Unit” has been disbanded, discrimination against Muslims continues, wrote the Brennan Center, an outfit of New York University’s School of Law.

What has the Obama administration done about these kinds of surveillance? Nothing. Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan has praised profiling by the NYPD, saying it has been “responsible for keeping the city safe over the past decade.” The Obama administration’s 2014 DOJ guidelines nationwide authorize racial profiling by the TSA and border security and “allow the FBI to ‘map’ minority communities to place informants,” according to the Council on American-Islamic relations.

Most Muslims have experienced a “stressful event related to their Muslim identity” such as special airport searches, according to a report by the American Psychological Association. These instances of discrimination cause real psychological harm: The APA report linked them to higher rates of depression and anxiety among Muslims in the United States.

Discriminatory profiling also makes us less safe, since Muslim Americans reaching out to the police have helped stop several terrorist plots, and cooperation requires trust. As Sahar Aziz, a law professor and former policy advisor to the Department of Homeland Security, asked: “Can we reasonably expect Americans who are themselves targets of surveillance and suspicion to trust the very agencies spying on them?”

Not even public intellectuals who have condemned terrorism are safe. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden showed that the FBI and NSA have tracked the emails of several prominent Muslim American professors, civil rights attorneys and even a Republican political operative and former Homeland Security official named Faisal Gill.

In an interview with The Intercept, Gill was baffled by revelations that his AOL and Yahoo accounts were monitored while he was a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates: “I just don’t know why … I’ve done everything in my life to be patriotic. I served in the Navy, served in the government, was active in my community — I’ve done everything that a good citizen, in my opinion, should do.”

Gill’s only crime, like that of the overwhelming majority of Muslims who have been singled out, is to have practiced the wrong faith. To borrow Swain’s words, this reality is an insult to the freedoms that most of the world covets.

It’s really odd, actually, how the myth of the American founding that I learned in elementary school is reasonably transparent about the fact that this country was founded by thugs who had no respect for the rule of law or other people’s property.

The canonical example is the Boston Tea Party — Americans (disguised as Native Americans as they were too cowardly to show their faces) boarded British ships in the dead of night and threw their cargo into the harbor. In other words, rioting thugs destroyed an innocent capitalist’s property to advance their radical (maybe even revolutionary!) political agenda.

But turns out that’s not the only example. There’s also this lovely case of Americans literally burning a merchant’s ship in Maryland for trying to bring British Tea to shore (“The Annapolis Tea Party”).

Here’s a list of about ten other such incidents in which American rioters  vandalized tea merchants. From Charleston to Maine to Maryland to  New York City, the American way was to disobey the law and smuggle tea from the Dutch and loot and burn the British boats.

Also, there’s the whole, George Washington and the Continental Army crossing the Delaware to kill British soldiers while they celebrated Christmas. I remember learning this fact more or less as a testament to the cunning and bravery of Washington. But it’s hard for me to imagine that a person who really believed that Jesus’s Birth was the transformative moment in human history could disrespect Christmas so much.

(Godless thugs, I reckon.)

There’s a Facebook meme going around about white people’s attitudes towards destruction of property in reference to the Boston Tea Party, which of course prompted me to write this. I’m not really sure what the political ramifications of this are. I think riots are scary as hell, but they are also a foreign language to me. I don’t want anyone’s boats or CVS’s to be burned. But God damn, surely Black Bodies are worth some tea.

Operation Safer Streets (or OSS for short) has become the epicenter of Nashville’s debates over policing and racial justice. Every weekend, the MNPD funnels police officers to hotspots for gangs or crime, arguing that a visible police-presence deters crime. Since 2011, OSS has resulted in more than 5,000 arrests and 50,000 vehicle stops, according to WKLN.

Racial justice activists have criticized the program as disproportionately targeting black, immigrant, and low-income neighborhoods. As Nashville Black Lives Matter has said, Safer Streets “mostly targets innocent people for doing the same things that people in Green Hills do without punishment.”

MNPD touts OSS in regular press releases reporting the number of vehicle stops, arrests, and drug seizures they (in their words) “netted” each week. After extracting the text from these articles with some code, I identified which streets, blocks, and intersections have been targeted. [1]

And after looking at the numbers, what BLM and others have been saying is right: Nashville Safer Streets is not color-blind. Its burden falls disproportionately on communities of color.

In total, seventy-percent of Census Block Groups in Nashville are majority-white, according to the 5-year estimate of the American Community Survey. Yet 60% of areas targeted by Nashville Safer Streets were mostly non-white, and 25% of targeted areas were more than 90% non-white.

Plotting OSS actions alongside the racial composition of Nashville’s neighborhoods is striking. They are concentrated in three mostly black areas (North Nashville, the remaining black neighborhoods of East Nashville, and the Chestnut-Hill Area of South Nashville) and one mostly immigrant community (Antioch along Nolensville Pike).

Racial Burden of OSS

This matters. As Michelle Alexander notes, America’s syndrome of mass incarceration begins with overpolicing and ends with the economic and familial disruption of communities of color. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be stopped by the police, more likely to be arrested for drug-crimes despite lower drug use, and more likely to get jail time. They are more likely to be stopped in part because of policies like OSS.

My experiences as a Vanderbilt student highlight this disparity. On the weekends, I saw plenty of drug use. But the police didn’t regularly stop our vehicles and search us on the weekends, like they do in low-income, predominantly non-white neighborhoods.

And I’m glad they didn’t. Because plenty of us, who are now going to graduate school or law school or working good jobs, would have had our future prospects shattered if drug use was treated the same way on Greek Row as Lafayette Street, which has been targeted 77 times in the last few years by OSS.

The traditional response from the Police is that they target these predominantly black and low-income areas because they are known to be hubs of “gang-activity.”  But this is self-fulfilling. If police systematically stop cars in poor neighborhoods, that is where they will find cars with drugs.

At the end of the day, the question is, does Operation Safer Streets actually make us safer? I don’t think it does. OSS neglects the root causes of gang violence. It extracts tax revenue from the poorest neighborhoods in the form of citations and court fees. And it subjects tens of thousands of Nashvillians to arbitrary stops, undermining trust in law enforcement and, as recent events have shown, opening the door to a potentially violent encounter with law enforcement.

After all, what starts with a traffic stop ends too-often with a dead black man.


[1] I converted each street to a latitude-longitude coordinate that represents its central location, using the Google Maps API. (I deleted from this data some streets like Old Hickory Boulevard and Dickerson Pike that were too vague to make any real inferences about where police activity occurred.) Next I matched each of these areas with its Census Block Group (the smallest Census area with data, comprising, on average, about 2000 people) to see whether non-white communities were disproportionately affected.

Since I’m studying (or, really, am about to start studying) academic political science towards a PhD in Government, I get asked a lot if I want to become a politician, which seems like a strange question to me. Anyhow, it raises the interesting question of how often academics become politicians. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find other pre-compiled lists, so I made my own (obviously-incomplete) one.

Short answer: probably not that often, at least in electoral politics; there are tons of academics appointed to technocratic positions in government. As the Harvard Crimson writes in a piece about Elizabeth Warren:

As advisers and appointed officials, professors often lend expertise to a perpetually fluctuating brain trust that waxes and wanes with the fate of each party. They are the force behind many of the commissions and agencies that make the government run.

Very few, however, actually run for office. In the past 100 years, the list of prominent professors who ran and won national office is brief, and the list of those who ran and lost is not much longer.

For certain offices, it’s not hard to find academics; Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Condoleeza Rice, for examples, were political science academics, or Solicitor Generals like Elena Kagan who were law Professors (or Federal Reserve Bankers like Bernanke who were Economics Professors). According to this Economist article, academics comprise a fair-share of politicians, especially in Egypt (though the article doesn’t detail how it defines politician, such as whether high-level bureaucrats are counted).

Powered by some vigorous, if not terribly systematic, searching of the internet, I made the following list of academic-politicians.  Here are some academics who tried electoral politics:

  1. Elizabeth Warren – The liberal Senator from Massachusetts and a well-known brand, Warren was a prestigious Harvard Law Professor before entering politics. She was head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before her election as Senator.
  2. Barack Obama – Speaking of law Professors who became Senators, the President comes to mind.
  3. Pablo Iglesias – He was a political science lecturer at the University of Madrid, before becoming a member of the European Parliament and leader of the nascent leftist, anti-establishment party Podemos in 2014.
  4. Alexander Van der Bellen, the President-elect of Austria from the Green Party after winning a run-off election in May 2016, is a retired Economics Professor at the University of Vienna.
  5. Woodrow Wilson (American President in from 1913-1921) was a Professor of Political Science before entering politics.
  6. Harold Laski – A bit less impressive than the people so-far; Laski was an economist at LSE and chaired the British Labour Party in 1945-1946.
  7. Robert Reich, the liberal economist (affiliated with Brandeis and UC Berkley) and author, ran (and lost, placing second in a crowded field) in the Democratic-primary for governor of Massachusetts in 2002. (Reich was also Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton).
  8. H. Stuart Hughes, a liberal academic, ran and lost an election for Massachusetts senate seat in 1962.
  9. Phil Gramm, once a Professor of Economics, served as a Democratic Congressman (1979–1983), a Republican Congressman (1983–1985) and a Republican Senator (1985–2002) from Texas.
  10. Enrique Márquez Jaramillo – I don’t think he falls into the “boring academic technocratic appointees” category but neither was he elected. Jaramillo, a Mexican politician, poet, and academic, was involved in municipal government in San Luis Potosi and a professor of sociology, among other political projects. Seems pretty left of center.
  11. Greg Rabidoux, a political science Professor at Austin Peay State University, unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Marsha Blackburn (R, TN-7) in 2010.

Many of these people are quite new, which is probably a recency bias of some kind. Or we academics are only beginning to flex our muscles in the realm of state power, haha.