Jaeah is a former reporter at Mother Jones. Her writings have appeared in The Atlantic, the Guardian, Wired, Christian Science Monitor,Global Post,Huffington Post,Talking Points Memo, and Grist. She tweets at @jaeahjlee.
Listen to the House speaker explain why the GOP killed research on gun violence yet again.
Jaeah LeeJul. 2, 2015 5:34 PM
House Speaker John Boehner.
Last week, after a shooter killed nine parishioners at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, the House Appropriations Committee quietly voted on a bill to effectively block any funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the causes of gun violence in America. At a press conference last Thursday, a reporter from WNYC's The Takeawayasked House Speaker John Boehner about the committee's vote, which was just part of a decades-long string ofRepublican rejections of official efforts to study gun violence. Boehner responded with this familiar argument:
Listen, the CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect the public health. I'm sorry, but a gun is not a disease. And guns don't kill people; people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual, not blame the action on some weapon. Listen, there are hundreds of millions of weapons in America. They're there. And they're going to be there. They're protected under the Second Amendment. But people who use weapons in an inappropriate or illegal way ought to be dealt with severely.
In the wake of the mass shooting in Charleston, President Obama expressed frustration with Congress for not passing gun safety reforms, and underscored the immense and untold cost of gun violence. "Whether it's a mass shooting like the one in Charleston, or individual attacks of violence that add up over time, it tears at the fabric of the community," Obama told a room full of mayors two weeks ago. "It costs you money, and it costs resources. It costs this country dearly."
The ballerina just became the American Ballet Theatre's first female black principal dancer.
Jaeah LeeJun. 30, 2015 5:22 PM
On Tuesday, Misty Copeland, the 32-year-old soloist at the renowned American Ballet Theatre, made history as she became the first female black principal dancer in the company's 75-year life span. The news of her promotion comes at a time of wide discussion about the lack of diversity in ballet, and Copeland, who beat unlikely odds at a successful career as a black ballerina, has been known for her advocacy for more racial diversity in the predominantly white industry. And that's not all: During Copeland's 14-year career at the company, she has published a memoir, presented at the Tony Awards, starred in a biographical documentary, and amassed a half-million-strong Instagram following. It's no wonder that this past April, Timenamed her one of its "100 Most Influential People."
To celebrate this badass ballerina, here are eight videos of Copeland that will get you inspired:
Earlier this year, the Girl Scouts offices in Queen Anne, Washington, erupted into cheers after a donor's generous contribution of $100,000—a full quarter of their annual fundraising goal, and enough money to send 500 girls to camp. But then things took a bitter turn. Just as Caitlyn Jenner—formally Bruce—was preparing to make her public debut on the cover of Vanity Fair, and national attention turned to transgender issues, the unidentified donor contacted Girl Scouts with a request: please guarantee that the money won't be used to support transgender girls. "If you can't, please return the money," the note read.
That was a deal-breaker. "Girl Scouts is for every girl," Megan Ferland, head of the Girl Scouts of Western Washington, told the Seattle Met. So the Girl Scouts gave back the money.
It wasn't the first time Ferland had to deal with transphobia in the Girl Scouts. From the Seattle Met:
This is the second time in less than five years that a Girl Scouts council has taken a public stand to support transgender girls, and both times Ferland was at the center of the story. In 2012, when she headed the organization's Colorado council, a 7-year-old transgender girl in Denver was denied entry to a troop. Although the council had never specifically said that it accepted transgender girls, the national organization had always made inclusivity the foundation of its mission. So after checking with the council's attorney, Ferland issued a public statement welcoming transgender girls and explaining that the council was working to find a troop for the girl who'd been rejected. "Every girl that is a Girl Scout is a Girl Scout because her parent or guardian brings her to us and says, 'I want my child to participate,'" Ferland says. "And I don't question whether or not they're a girl."
On Monday, Ferland's office launched a campaign on Indiegogo, a crowd-sourced funding platform, to make up for the loss. "Help us raise back the $100,000 a donor asked us to return because we welcome transgender girls," the group stated on the campaign website. As of this writing, the group had already raised $112,865—and it's only one day into the campaign.
Experts say attacks like the mass shooting in Charleston have been a growing threat.
Jaeah Lee, Brandon Ellington Patterson, and Gabrielle CanonJun. 30, 2015 6:00 AM
Surveillance footage shows Dylann Roof entering the Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015.
The US law enforcement community regards homegrown violent extremists, not radicalized Islamists, as the most severe threat from political violence in the country, according to a new study from the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. Released late last week, the report comes amid renewed focus on the problem ever since a 21-year-old avowed white supremacist carried out a mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. There is a growing body of research highlighting the threat from right-wing extremists, but who or what exactly does that term encompass, and how big really is the problem? Mother Jones examined various reports and contacted experts to find out more.
What are "far-right" or "right-wing" extremists?
While there is no uniform definition, these terms loosely encompass individuals or groups associated with white supremacist, anti-government, sovereign citizen, patriot, militia, or other ideologies that target specific religious, ethnic, or other minority groups. (Meanwhile, how to determine which violent attacks constitute an act of terrorism has been a subject of renewed debate.)
Registered users on one white supremacist website tripled to 300,000 after Barack Obama was elected president.
The various studies have all led to the same general conclusion: The threat from homegrown right-wing extremists has grown in recent years. "Since 2007, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of attacks and violent plots originating in the far-right of American politics," Arie Perliger, the director of terrorism studies at the Combating Terrorism Center, wrote in a 2012 report.
How often do right-wing violent extremists attack?
The University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database registered 65 attacks on American soil associated with right-wing ideologies since 9/11, versus 24 attacks by jihadist extremists. The New America Foundation, meanwhile, tallied 48 deaths from attacks by non-jihadist extremists over the same time period—including the Charleston shooting—compared with 26 deaths from attacks by jihadist extremists, including the one at Fort Hood in 2009, in which 13 people were killed.
The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, which compiles data on "all violent attacks that were perpetrated by groups or individuals affiliated with far-right associations," counted an average of 337 annual attacks by right-wing extremists in the decade after 9/11, including a total of 254 fatalities, or an annual average of about 18 deaths.
Daryl Johnson, a former domestic terrorism intelligence analyst at the Department of Homeland Security who now heads the consulting firm DT Analytics, says attacks from far-right extremists "increased dramatically" after 2008. Johnson, who began tracking domestic terrorism while at DHS, estimates there is currently an average of one plot or attack every 40 to 45 days. "We are in a heightened period right now," he says.
Johnson's view is supported by a 2012 report from Perliger at the Combating Terrorism Center: "Since 2007, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of attacks and violent plots originating in the far-right of American politics," it notes.
How organized are these extremists?
As former Mother Jones staffer Adam Serwer reported in August 2012 when a neo-Nazi carried out a massacre at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the number of American extremist groups has also risen overall in recent years:
How is law enforcement responding?
About three quarters of the 382 state and local law enforcement agencies surveyed by the Triangle Center listed anti-government extremism as a top threat in their jurisdiction, compared with 39 percent that listed violence connected with Al Qaeda or related groups.
In 2014, the Anti-Defamation League documented an upswing in far-right attacks against law enforcement:
But those numbers should be put into perspective, the report's authors Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer note, since terrorism of all kinds represents a small fraction of total violent crime in the United States. The number of homicides in the United States since 9/11 totaled more than 215,000.
And because the data on right-wing violence varies so much, "it's hard to get a true understanding of the threat," German says, adding that the FBI—whose No. 1 priority is to protect the United States from a terrorist attack—does not publish data on domestic terrorism. "Instead, we rely on these private groups that are doing a public service by compiling and publishing information," he says. The FBI does collect and publish limited data on hate crimes, which it defines as criminal offenses "against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation." But German as well as researchers at the Southern Poverty Law Center point out that data relies on voluntary reporting and thus undercounts those numbers.
So what is the government doing about it?
The federal and local governments ramped up efforts to combat domestic terrorism of all kinds in the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people. A few months following the 9/11 attacks, FBI official Dale Watson testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that "right-wing groups continue to represent a serious terrorist threat." But Johnson, German, and others assert that federal counterterrorism programs since 9/11 have focused overwhelmingly on the perceived threat from Islamic extremism. That includes the Obama administration's "countering violent extremism" strategy, which "revolves around impeding the radicalization of violent jihadists," according to a 2014 Congressional Research Service report.
The attack in Charleston underscored "the failure of the federal government to keep closer tabs" on right-wing extremists, argues Gerald Horne, a historian and civil rights activist at the University of Houston.
But the focus may soon increase. In February, CNN reported that DHS circulated an intelligence assessment that focused on the domestic terror threat posed by right-wing extremists. Kurzman and Schanzer also point to a handout from a training program sponsored by the Department of Justice, cautioning that the threat from antigovernment extremism "is real."
Who and where are the perpetrators of far-right extremist attacks?
According to Perliger's research at West Point, 54 percent of such attacks since 1990 in which the perpetrators were caught or identified were carried out by a single individual. About 75 percent of all perpetrators identified were 29 years old or younger.
Perliger also notes that attacks have moved beyond states in the South—the birthplace of groups such as the KKK and the site of major attacks during the 1960s—to places including California, New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. "The existence of significant minority groups in the different states appears linked with the level of far-right violence they experience," Perliger says. In a recent editorial, the Southern Poverty Law Center's Morris Dees and J. Richard Cohen argued that far-right extremism is gaining ground beyond state boundaries: "Unlike those of the civil rights era, whose main goal was to maintain Jim Crow in the American South, today's white supremacists don't see borders; they see a white tribe under attack by people of color across the globe.…The days of thinking of domestic terrorism as the work of a few Klansmen or belligerent skinheads are over."
What factors might explain the latest rise in this kind of extremism?
Experts suggest several factors may have played into it. Researchers commonly attribute the spike in right-wing attacks, around 2008, to the election of an African American president. Around the time of Obama's election, Johnson notes how the white supremacist web forum Stormfront had less than 100,000 registered users. "Today, it is over 300,000," he says. Scholars have also debated the role the 2008 financial crisis, a heightening debate over immigration, and othersocioeconomic changes may have had. The Combating Terrorism Center's Perliger points out that past spikes in far-right attacks also corresponded with the passing of landmark legislation such as the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and firearm restrictions during the 1990s.
Was the Charleston shooting a hate crime or an act of terrorism?
It had the marks of both, according to Horne, German, and others. FBI Director James Comey came under fire for saying the Charleston shooting did not appear to be an act of terrorism based on the available evidence. German adds that Roof's racist comments about black people, his photos with flags invoking racist ideologies, and the fact that he killed a state senator, make clear that his attack on the church was both targeted and political.
Could the Charleston shooting have been prevented?
Violent attacks by extremists are difficult to predict, but both the government and researchers could be doing a better job of working to understand them, German says. "You have to understand both how the movement works and what parts are dangerous and what parts aren't, as well as understanding how the particular terrorist activity starts," he explains, adding that most research on terrorist attacks has fixated on their ideological roots, rather than their methodologies. "That's where you'll see terrorism studies completely lacking, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been thrown into terrorism research. They're not studying the right things."
Why weren't the cops told that Rice was thought to be a kid with a fake gun?
Jaeah LeeJun. 24, 2015 6:00 AM
Tamir Rice's sister and mother at the park where the 12-year-old was gunned down.
At 3:22 p.m. last November 22, just minutes before 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally wounded by a Cleveland police officer at a neighborhood park, a man called 911 to report "a guy in here with a pistol…pointing it at everybody." During the two-minute conversation, the caller described a person in a gray coat, "probably a juvenile," who was sitting on a swing and holding a gun that was "probably fake." Before hanging up, the caller reiterated his uncertainty about the gun: "I don't know if it's real or not."
Those presumably important details would never go past that call.
Constance Hollinger, a Cleveland police dispatcher of 19 years, was on the other end of the line that day. Hollinger entered information from the caller's description of the scene into the dispatch computer system, according to an official investigation of the case. A few minutes later, dispatcher Beth Mandl read Hollinger's notes from a computer screen as she transmitted the information to police officers over the radio: "In the park by the youth center is a black male sitting on the swings. He is wearing a camouflage hat, a gray jacket with black sleeves. He keeps pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people."
Mandl relayed it as a "code one," indicating the highest priority level and the need for immediate response. By 3:30 p.m., officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback pulled up in front of Rice in the park, and within two seconds Loehmann jumped out and fired his gun at Rice at close range, striking him in the abdomen. For the next several minutes, Rice lay bleeding on the ground while the two officers stood by without giving him aid—inaction that may have potentially been criminal according to one policing expert—until other responders arrived, tended to Rice, and took him to a hospital, where he died the next day.
Recordings of the initial 911 call and the radio dispatch to officers, released by the Cleveland police department in November (listen below), showed that the details about Rice's suspected age and fake gun never reached Loehmann and Garmback. After a five-month probe into the shooting by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department, which culminated in a 224-page report released in mid June, investigators concluded that these details did not make it from Hollinger to Mandl. The report did not specify why.
According to a county official familiar with the investigation who spoke to Mother Jones, the details were not relayed because Hollinger did not enter them into the dispatch computer system. Why she did not do so is one of several key questions still hanging over the case seven months later. The ongoing investigation is now in the hands of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, who took over the case on June 3.
In an interview with Cuyahoga County sheriff's detectives, Hollinger said that as a 911 call taker, she was responsible for retrieving "pertinent information" about each call—such as the caller's name, address, location, and reason for the call—and assigning the call a priority level. But Hollinger refused to answer investigators' questions about why she did not input the details about Rice's suspected age and possibly fake gun, per the advice of her union-provided attorney.
Hollinger declined to comment to Mother Jones about her role in the case, citing the ongoing investigation and the Cleveland police department's "stringent rules" about making public statements. Her attorney, Keith Wolgamuth, told Mother Jones that Hollinger "was advised to exercise her Fifth Amendment rights," and that her actions last November 22 were within protocol. Wolgamuth, who says he has represented police radio dispatchers in Cleveland for 30 years, said "a prudent call taker" views information about a possible fake gun "as immaterial to the necessary police response because any gun could be fake, as the responding officers know." As for the caller's comments about Rice's probable youth, he said, "the person could always be a 'juvenile' and, perhaps as importantly, there are plenty of juveniles that have real guns and use them, as police officers well know. A prudent call taker understands this information is not essential to the police response."
[Listen to excerpts from the 911 call and the dispatch to officers:]
Experts on police dispatch operations declined to comment specifically on Hollinger's handling of the 911 call. Speaking about industry best practices, they concurred that details about a juvenile or a possible fake gun would be important to relay to officers, both for their safety and tactical response.
Dave Warner, a former police officer who is a consultant for the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, said a call reporting an armed suspect should prompt call takers and dispatchers to ask a series of questions—covering the suspect's estimated age, whether medical assistance is required, whether the caller feels like he or she is in danger, and a description of the weapon. "If the caller says he thinks that it could possibly be fake, that should have been in there," he said.
Warner pointed out, however, that even if Hollinger had relayed the missing details about Rice, there's no way to know whether Loehmann and Garmback would have approached the scene differently or whether the fatal shooting would have been averted.
The two officers involved in the shooting still aren't speaking to investigators, their attorney told Mother Jones.
The precise level of detail required from a dispatcher depends on the police agency's policies, notes Chris Carver, an operations director at the National Emergency Number Association. "There is an unbelievable amount of variance" across agencies on how to handle 911 calls, Carver says, adding that there's no national standard on training for 911 personnel. "That is a critical issue we're trying to address all around the country."
In Cleveland, however, dispatchers are supposed to "relay all information included in an incident" to officers responding to a call, including a suspect's "physical characteristics" and a weapon type and description, according to the agency's policy for answering 911 calls.
"There is always the chance the witness is wrong, that the suspect has a real gun," acknowledges Seth Stoughton, a former police officer who now teaches at the University of South Carolina School of Law. "But a witness's description of a weapon as 'probably fake,' combined with a description of the suspect as a juvenile, is very different than a description of an adult holding a firearm that the witness is sure is real," he says. "Officers may take a very different approach" to each of those cases, he says.
According to the 224-page report, Hollinger and Mandl worked in the same "large room" housing multiple dispatch operations. In an interview with Cuyahoga County sheriff's investigators, Mandl said the only information known to dispatchers was what was entered into the dispatch computer system. Dispatchers have no other means to acquire information about a call, she said, and they have no direct contact with the caller, except in cases when an officer in the field requests additional information. There was no such request from Loehmann or Garmback on November 22 after Mandl broadcast the information from Hollinger.
According to a personnel file released by the city of Cleveland, a supervisor gave Hollinger a "satisfactory" performance rating in 2013, noting that Hollinger "tends to be abrupt, and disconnect the caller when they are attempting to provide additional info."
The investigation by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department did not include any testimony from Loehmann and Garmback, who declined investigators' repeated requests for interviews based on the advice of their union-provided attorneys. In an email to Mother Jones, Michael Maloney, an attorney representing the officers, said his clients also would not agree to an interview at this time with McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor. Maloney said his clients "have not ruled out the possibility of prepared written statements" for the prosecutor, and that they would make a decision about testifying before a grand jury "when the time comes."
McGinty's office declined to comment to Mother Jones about the case, including with regard to how much longer the investigation might take.