Jacob Blake was shot multiple times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as his three young children watched. He may never walk again. "What justified all those shots?" Blake's father asked the Chicago Sun-Times. "What justified doing that in front of my grandsons? What are we doing?" Days later, two families lost their loved ones after calls went out on social media encouraging the use of violence againstthose protesting Blake’s shooting. As details of the incident begin to emerge, along with criticism of how state and local officials have handled the situation in Kenosha, we as a country have yet another example of the need for wide-ranging reforms to our criminal justice and policing systems. As Arnold Ventures writes in a statement on Blake's shooting: "Yet again, a Black man in America has suffered violence at the hands of an officer charged with protecting him. Yet again, Americans are calling for fundamental reforms to policing and a national reckoning with the legacy of racism that stains our criminal justice system." A supermajority of Americans — from across the political spectrum — want to see action, including limits on unnecessary police force, transparency in law enforcement, and alternatives to arrest, according to a new poll by the Justice Action Network and #Cut50. You'll read more about that below.
And my thoughts are with our neighbors in Southeast Texas and Louisiana, who are picking up the pieces after Hurricane Laura cut a path of destruction along the Gulf Coast. Having been through Hurricanes Ike and Harvey, I know how devastating it can be to see your city in tatters in the aftermath of a powerful storm. But I also know the people of the Gulf Coast have a long history of resilience and rebuilding.
A Nation United on Policing Reform
By Evan Mintz, Communications Manager
Actions of police violence, including the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minnesota officer and the recent police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, continue to escalate the volume and intensity of the country’s debate over policing reform. However, a new poll by the Justice Action Network and #Cut50 shows this intensity doesn’t mean disagreement: An overwhelming majority of Americans want to see wide-ranging reforms to the criminal justice system.
What the polling shows: Conducted jointly by Democratic and Republican firms, the polling identified 11 specific reforms that had particularly strong bipartisan support — backed by at least 80 percent of Democrats, two-thirds of Independents, and two-thirds of Republicans — including limits on unnecessary police force, more transparency in law enforcement, and more alternatives to arrest. Voters also support reforms aimed at reducing prison populations in the face of COVID-19 and rollbacks to qualified immunity. As the 2020 campaign heats up, criminal justice reform — including policing reforms — stands out one of the few remaining bipartisan issues.
Also of note: Polling showed that these top reforms had support from policing professionals. More than 70 percent of voters in households with someone who worked in law enforcement supported each of the 11 policies. “You can obviously support law enforcement and also support reforms that make law enforcement and the communities they serve safer,” said Holly Harris, Executive Director of JAN. “You can be both of these things at once — a supporter of law enforcement and a supporter of policing reform.”
Related: This Washington Post editorial calls for the compassionate release of people in U.S. prisons and jails, where coronavirus cases are exploding. “Even before the pandemic, the United States was shockingly out of sync with the rest of the world in the share of its population behind bars. No one is advocating the release of people who would endanger the community, but a large share of the inmate population does not meet that description.”
'I Can Kill You in Here
and No One Would Know It'
By Ashley Winstead, Director of Strategic Communications
Johnny Perez knows all too well that behind prison walls exists a culture of brutality that can erupt at the slightest provocation. Upon his arrival at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Upstate New York, Perez realized two things: He’d better get a knife like everyone else, and he may not make it home. After Perez was told by a correctional officer, “I can kill you in here and no one would know it,” he wrote to his mother, “Mom, if I don’t write you at least once a week or once a month, something happened.”
Bottom line: Despite such firsthand accounts from people incarcerated, as well as correctional staff — and what we see in the news when the violence escalates to such a fever pitch it attracts the media's attention — this culture has largely gone unstudied and unaddressed, at least systemically. Not only do stints in prison often inflict deep, and sometimes irreparable, physical and mental trauma, but allowing a culture of brutality to go largely unchecked undermines one of the key functions of correctional facilities: helping people leave violence behind and re-enter society capable of leading more productive and healthy lives.
What's being done: UC Irvine Professor Nancy Rodriguez will lead a three-year, seven-state study on prison violence that will — for the first time in U.S. history — dig into the data and set up a uniform system of documenting the sources of violence, how often it occurs, and the effects it has. The work is being funded with a $2.7 million grant from Arnold Ventures. “It’s a landmark study — an examination of an important dynamic where lives are at stake,” said Jeremy Travis, AV’s Executive Vice President of Criminal Justice. “We thought it was worth a big investment.”
Read the two-part series, where we hear from people who have lived in prison environments where “violence is the language of the land, and you need to learn to speak it quick,” as well as those trying to reform the system.
Epidemiologist Alex Kral from RTI International about his work combatting opioid use disorder. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim lives, so does the nation’s opioid epidemic. More than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder. “The COVID-19 pandemic might not be increasing the number of overdoses, but it's increasing the number of overdoses that end in death,” says Kral. Just this past month, the American Medical Association called for increased research in evidence-based harm reduction services. Kral is researching new approaches that could help combat America's opioid overdose epidemic and save lives.
Related: Listen to “American Rehab,” an eight-episode podcast series from Reveal News that explores the dark history of an exploitive industry. Those looking for substance use disorder treatment were instead turned into an unpaid labor force. An eight-month program was really two years. No family contact. Odd punishments. And the pandemic has only added another dangerous layer to the scheme.
Who's Maximizing Opportunity
By Ashley Winstead, Director of Strategic Communications
Supporters of California’s YES on Proposition 25, which would replace California's predatory money bail system with a fairer system based on public safety. California Governor Gavin Newsom’s high-profile endorsement this week follows a wave of support from editorial boards up and down the state (see here, here, and here), giving bail reform advocates hope that Californians will make history Nov. 3 by voting to become the first state to abolish cash bail entirely.
Some background: The California Legislature in 2018 passed a law (SB 10) abolishing cash bail, instituting a presumption of release for people awaiting trial, and delineating certain cases where supervision or detention conditions could be imposed, based on public safety considerations. The bail industry promptly swung into action to undermine the bill, raising enough signatures to bring it to a referendum vote this November.
Bottom line: If Californians vote YES on Prop 25, they will reject a predatory cash bail system that determines release based on how much money people have in their pocketbook, rather than public safety. They will also help address a key driver of racial injustice in the criminal justice system — research shows money bail disproportionately harms people of color, particularly Black Americans, and can create a ripple effect of harmful consequences.
What We're Reading
Axios reporting on a new study that provides fresh evidence into how private equity’s expansion into health care is driving up costs.
New Orleans City Council passing a creative resolution drafted by Vera Institute of Justice that discourages judges from imposing fines and fees.
A call for federal regulators to look into PayPal’s role in education financing, via The Washington Post. An investigation by grantee Student Borrower Protection found that PayPal Credit offers tuition financing for for-profit institutions, many of which are unaccredited and largely unsupervised. The loans are four times higher than the most expensive federal student loan — for “unaccredited programs that in some cases offer courses in hypnosis, essential oils, and swordsmanship.”
Inside Philanthropy’s comprehensive look at how Arnold Ventures’ criminal justice grant-making has evolved in response to the pandemic and racial justice movement.
The RAND Corporation getting much-deserved accolades from Inside Philanthropy for its dedication to rigorous research. The piece delves into its evolution, fundraising, and new racial equity initiative. (Read more about a project dear to our hearts, the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research, which aims to inform effective gun policies.)
And breathing a sigh of relief for this sensible coverage of the asteroid heading toward Earth.
What We're Watching
I’ve never recommended something in this space that I haven’t watched, but today I’m making an exception and sharing something I want to watch (but sadly, I don’t have Apple TV+). Boys State follows 1,100 boys who head to Austin, Texas, to participate in an annual leadership program sponsored by the American Legion. (It’s held in states across the country, and there is also a girls’ version.) Their mission is to form a mock government, and the filmmakers focus on four teens. Of them, René Otero might have the snappiest one-liners in the trailer: “I feel like everybody has a secret, underlying need for bipartisanship,” and “I think he’s a fantastic politician, but I don’t think a fantastic politician is a compliment either.” It was the winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for Documentaries at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and has gotten overall favorable reviews. “It’s easy to be charmed by ‘Boys State,’ which is so good that you wish it were better,” the New York Times review opines. Variety calls it an “alternately encouraging and terrifying look at tomorrow’s politicians.” But not everyone is a fan. Still, this seems like a good way to end the two weeks of real-life political drama that’s filled our screens.
Also:“The Last Dance” is finally on Netflix. I know I’m late to the game here, and I’m definitely not a sports aficionado — I was once told in a performance review at my previous newspaper job that I needed to work on my sports knowledge — but I love a good documentary. And this is a great documentary. I found myself rewinding a lot to savor the best moments on the court, but it’s the off-court drama that's the most compelling.
What We're Listening To
Our Co-Founder and Co-Chair John Arnold in a wide-ranging, two-and-a-half hour discussion with Peter Attia on "The Drive" podcast. If you want to delve into the history and the why behind the Arnolds’ philanthropy, this is the podcast for you. Don’t have two hours to spare? Get a detailed breakdown of what he discusses (with timestamps) throughout the episode, including his early years trading baseball cards (geographic arbitrage), how he became a philanthropist, and a deep dive into AV's work in education, criminal justice, health care, climate change, and strategic philanthropy.
Also: The University of Arizona earlier this month announced a deal to acquire Ashford University, a fully online, for-profit institution enrolling roughly 35,000 students. Kelly McManus, AV's Director of Higher Education, sat down with Inside Higher Ed’s The Key Podcast to help make sense of what this "partnership" might mean for thousands of students, the controversy behind the deal, and the questions we should be asking to ensure students get a quality education.
Some Final Inspiration
Read the story behind the new album “Blackbirds” by Bettye LaVette. It was inspired by the Beatles tune “Blackbird,” which was about the Civil Rights movement, and includes songs popularized by Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and other Black female singers.
The kids are alright: Teenagers are stepping up in a big way to help their communities in the face of the pandemic.
And something to show the kids: The gratitude this sloth shows after being helped to safely cross the road is just priceless.
Stephanie DiCapua Getman develops and executes Arnold Ventures' digital communications strategy with a focus on multimedia storytelling and audience engagement and oversees daily editorial operations and design.
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