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The Fining of Black America (priceonomics.com)
234 points by ryan_j_naughton on June 30, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 243 comments

The Finance Director wanted the police to generate more revenues from fines

If you've already criminalized so much of daily life that there's an essentially unlimited amount of "criminals" to go out and fine whenever you need a little extra cash, you've ceased to be "law enforcement" at all and have simply implemented a brutally regressive tax scheme, Sheriff of Nottingham style.

The thing that gets missed is that a ton of laws on the books are written with the expectation that they will not be applied evenly. Some examples:

- Nobody really expects the cops to sweep the dorms at NYU for marijuana, even though this would probably turn up a ton of arrests. Smoking a joint while looking like a minority and being in a minority part of town carries a much higher probability of being arrested.

- Crossing the street against the light at or around the front of MIT doesn't get you cited for jaywalking, ever.

- All of New York City has (had?) a prohibition on open containers of alcohol. This prohibition is generally unenforced in non-minority areas.

- Open carry laws in Georgia are not meant for dark-skinned Muslim men.

> Open carry laws in Georgia are not meant for dark-skinned Muslim men.

Funny you should bring that up, but not only it's true, there's some considerable history there. Few people are aware of it these days, but historically, South was actually very restrictive with respect to right to carry arms - most of it prohibited _all_ forms of carrying outright (look at this: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a8/Rtc.gif - and note where the red color is concentrated in mid-80s).

These laws mostly date to the post-Reconstruction era, and during Jim Crow (and later, but that's when it was most prominent) were effectively enforced or not enforced on the basis of race, and, to some extent, political affiliation (say, if you're a white dude who's travelling around the state to help blacks register in the 50s).

> Open carry laws in Georgia are not meant for dark-skinned Muslim men.

Nor for dark-skinned men in California: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulford_Act

Jaywalking isn't really a crime in MA* so no, you wouldn't get cited at MIT

* technically it is, but the fine was set to $1 many years ago in order to effectively make it legal

But does an offence of J walking for someone on probation breach that probation?

Genuine question as I don't know. But essentially laws like that become tools with which law enforcement can excercise malice toward individuals if they please.

I am reminded of a story of a man out on probation, who used a knife for his work. He had been out for a while, normally the knife was concealed as it's required to be. But it was visible when he was stopped on his way home from work. The state of New York has pretty strict laws at their disposal, and they chose to use them in this case, and the man who had been getting his life back together was thrown back in jail over what is essentially a technicality.

Laws that seem harmless and unenforced should be removed, less they be abused. Just like it is best to remove a deprecated function when it's no longer in use, lest it become a risk.

Potentially, but literally no one ever gets yanked for jaywalking. I used to live right down the street from MIT and all sorts of sketchy people stumble their way across streets whenever they feel like it, and that neighborhood has a decent police presence.

The original point is still valid, it was just a bad example. No one gets cited for jaywalking here.

One time while walking back from a bar in my mid 20s I ran across a street in front of a police cruiser as the light was yellow and they exerted their power by hassling me and telling my friends to watch out for me. This was Fullerton, CA and I am a short white guy with a shaved head. You may think they were watching out for me but there was significant belligerence.

The point is they enforce whatever, whenever. There are far too many laws and they are very unevenly enforced.

I didn't realize MIT was located in a lower-income, minority neighborhood.

It's right across the street from one, actually. It also borders Central Square which is home to a lot of derelicts. Things are more gentrified now than they were even 10-15 years ago but the Jaywalking thing has been around for 30ish years.

Richard Neal. His profile in the Village Voice came up in my Twitter feed the other day: http://www.villagevoice.com/news/how-a-50s-era-new-york-knif...

Its a long read but worth it.

Why is the knife supposed to be concealed? What difference does that make?

If it's the story I'm thinking of, GP has the details a little mixed up. But it's been a few years since the story broke so that's understandable.

The issue was the knife itself being illegal in New York -- a knife that could be bought at almost any hardware or art supply store in the city. Concealed or not, the guy was violating a poorly written law meant to criminalize switchblades in the mid 20th century. But cops had been using it to arrest African American men if they saw the telltale pocket clip while stopping them for something else.

They classified this certain kind of utility knife as a "gravity knife", even though it wasn't. The law outlaws knives opened with a flick of the wrist, and it took a cop five tries to flick one open in court once because they aren't designed to be opened that way. But that one time was all it took.

To bring this back to the original question: in a just world, an arrest for owning one of these knives -- again, one that you could buy at any hardware store shouldn't violate someone's probation. Neither should jaywalking, something I do countless times a day.

You are right, that was the story I was thinking of! Thank you for the correction.

Good catch. But it's still roundly unenforced, which was the point. One that still is illegal in Cambridge is underage drinking, and here again the police forces in Cambridge and Boston turn a blind eye instead of making mass arrests every weekend.

The point is that behavior is only effectively legal when it's actually legal and not only made so by convention, because relying on convention leads to selective prosecution.

By law, German police are required to engage with all crime they are aware off. (But prosecutors have more leeway, and even a mandate to consider the interest of the public when choosing whether to prosecute.)

I wonder whether removing the decision making from the police, or at least attempting to, helps in getting laws more evenly enforced.

In MA jaywalking is a violation of the law and not a crime.

Yeah your point was sound, the example just turned out to be a bad one :) I've literally never seen anyone cited in central square, but I have friends who have been cited in states where jaywalking is still a thing. As a Masshole I've been lucky as I forget it is illegal in some places and will just cross a street if it isn't dangerous for anyone involved.

The concept of "Campus Police" allows for Universities to insulate themselves from local laws. Crimes from underage drinking up to rape are generally dealt with internally, in what seems like understanding between the institution an their host cities.

We're in violent agreement.

We've decided to create special jurisdictions where certain laws are ignored for certain people. Campus Police are basically this practice codified into law and organization. Your student ID is a pass that gives you immunity from prosecution from certain violations.

Irony: campuses (at least a vast majority of the ones I've been to in urban areas) tend to border higher-crime parts of town and would thus otherwise likely be subject to the same police jurisdiction.

The University of Washington's campus police are King County Sheriff's deputies with a different paint job on their car. Is this anomalous for public schools?

No thats very common. Almost all campus police officers are deputized agents of their host city.

Ever wonder why they would leave a toothless law in place like this, rather than strike it from the books? Because it enables detention.

Now that the local constable has a legal reason to stop and detain due to the criminal act of jay-walking, a round of questioning and a search for other violations may begin in earnest. It's part of the shakedown machine.

Crossing against the signal is also legal in MA, as long as you're in a crosswalk.


While Georgia allows open carry of long-guns without a permit, white people walking around with AR-15 rifles would probably be stopped and questioned by the police regardless.

Open carry of handguns, and concealed carry of any weapon, in Georgia is only legal with a Georgia Weapons Carry License, which is only obtained after a background check and review by a local probate judge.

While someone of darker complexion might run into trouble with certain racists on certain police forces, I don't think it's fair to damn the whole state's laws based on that. So called "Terry" stops are not allowed, no matter what color someone's skin is.

> white people walking around with AR-15 rifles would probably be stopped and questioned by the police regardless.

Let's assume that's correct. It doesn't address the point that every citizen could not be expected to be afforded this treatment. A group of dark-skinned men who carry long guns into a store are likely to spend some time on the pavement, or worse. (It's a very big subject so I won't post citations, but there have been ample publications indicating that unarmed people of color are killed by police at a higher rate than white people. That's a long way from questioning.)

The right to carry long guns in public places is created by legislation that is dependent on our understanding that the police can figure out who should not be allowed to enjoy this right. If our shared understanding was that the outcome of these laws would be vast numbers of swarthy men carrying AR-15s in all public places, an armed minority teenager behind us at every ATM, our public debate around guns would be very different.

> So called "Terry" stops are not allowed, no matter what color someone's skin is.

If you believe this is how the law is actually enforced in America, you really should spend more time with people outside your current circle of acquaintances. If you don't believe that this is how our laws are currently enforced, then you are in agreement with my post.

> If our shared understanding was that the outcome of these laws would be vast numbers of swarthy men carrying AR-15s in all public places, an armed minority teenager behind us at every ATM, our public debate around guns would be very different.

I'd argue that this statement would stand, even without the racial qualifiers. I don't think I've seen an AR-15 outside of a shooting range or gun show. If "vast numbers" of people felt the need to carry them in all public places, I think I'd look for somewhere else to be, where I could feel safe without being armed.

> ... I think I'd look for somewhere else to be, where I could feel safe without being armed.

That's the beauty of open-carry, you don't have to be armed because everyone around you is! /half-ironicly, half-pointedly

As I've seen them exercised in my area and in others I've visited or lived in, I don't have problem with gun rights. I've been raised to see them as tools, though. I wouldn't want to stay somewhere where people carry around kitchen knives, large mallets, or tire irons, either. In my mind, you carry a tool when you intend to use it, or suspect that it may be necessary.

In a large group of people, there's also a good chance that a percentage of them wouldn't know what they're doing and just kill whatever kind of safety benefit everyone else imagines they've got.

If I recall correctly, there was a group of mixed race people walking around with rifles at various events, without incident.

I think groups might be less likely to stir trouble than a single individual, for a variety of reasons. But I could be wrong, it would depend largely on the responding officers, I imagine. If the citizens are being peaceful and do not act in threatening ways, I would not expect trouble.

I talked to a guy holding a gun once who politely asked for my wallet. He didn't point the gun at me, yell, stand too close, or act aggressive. The mere act of holding a gun was all the threat he needed.

NYC still has its open container prohibition. It's very classist -- it's OK to drink a beer outdoors if you paid $7 for it at a "sidewalk cafe" you're sitting at, but not OK if you paid $2 for it at the grocery store. Drinking outdoors in NYC is legal if you pay more for it.

You're also not allowed to build a house on a random piece of property, so you must be able to afford to buy property to build a house there. Very classist.

I'm confused -- building a house indefinitely consumes an expensive and scarce resource (land). Which expensive and scarce resource is used up when someone drinks a beer outdoors?

Generally speaking, cops won't bother you for jaywalking in the Northeast as long as you don't obstruct traffic. They'll sit and watch you cross against the light. As long as cars don't have to jam on their brakes, the cops won't bother with you. As soon as you cause a hazardous situation, you'll get at the least a tongue-lashing.

In the same vein, pedestrians in the city of Providence have the right of way at all crosswalks unless a walk signal is present, in which case the jaywalking rule above applies.

> Generally speaking, cops won't bother you for jaywalking in the Northeast as long as you don't obstruct traffic.

Again, the point of TFA was that minor ordinances are selectively applied ("generally"). What you say is true only in some neighborhoods. But in neighborhoods where the police are looking for a pretext to stop someone, jaywalking ordinances are a handy tool.

Selective enforcement of the law has been written about quite frequently, and is a well-studied phenomenon. As such, I won't try to rehash the body of work, but here's an example from NYC I found in a few seconds:


"A look at the precincts that report comparatively significant numbers of jaywalking citations over the past few years reveals a pattern: the South Bronx, Harlem, north Brooklyn."

(TL;DR; those areas were not selected due to particularly high accident fatality rates.)

Sorry. Didn't mean to obscure or contradict that point. I was trying to demonstrate a cultural norm in the Northeast, which as you point out, gets selectively applied.

I'm not sure about jaywalking citation stats in Boston and Providence, but random stops have been a part of life in poorer neighborhoods in both cities.

You. Are so. White.

"Nobody really expects the cops to sweep the dorms at NYU for marijuana, even though this would probably turn up a ton of arrests."

Switch out "NYU" with "ghetto" and your statement is instantly absurd. These laws you're sleaking of are intended to be enforced, selectively. This is HN, we all love statistics. What is the probability that a person standing trial for possession marijuana who was apprehended in their home and where the primary reason provided in seeking the exercised warrant or reasoning provided explaining exigent circumstances was suspicion of possession or use of marijuana and the person on trial is white? Black?

You can't be evidence based when it suits your world view, but not when it doesn't. The term for that is confirmation bias.

The first sentence of their post was:

The thing that gets missed is that a ton of laws on the books are written with the expectation that they will not be applied evenly.

You should read before jumping down someone's throat.

I can't edit on this device. So, yeah, you're right. Change what I said to,

"I totally agree..."

And everything else is pretty much still good to go. Sorry. I'm pretty opinionated on this topic. As someone with dual degrees in political science and economics, followed by 15 years of all this great country has to offer the white male, and then living in Baltimore during the uprising, listening to my neighbors, marching with fellow Baltimoreans (?), almost getting arrested for holding a sign while on a public sidewalk during a march, staring down rows of cops 10 deep, having motorcycle cops rev their engines with protestors just feet on front of them laid out on the ground, having the National Guard lock down our city for a week, having government sigint airplanes flying overhead, and then riding my bicycle home, to a safe, warm meal and going to my good paying job with benefits the next day, while some black kid follows his mother's advice and walks into a police station on his own volition to surrender to the ppolice for vandalizing a cop car and then having his bail set higher than what was set for the police officers who where arraigned for manslaughter. But yeah, i blew it all out proportion in that comment.

Full disclosure. I'm a middle aged, middle income, college educated, male, and am white.

> a brutally regressive tax scheme

I would argue it's borderline racketeering, since the police are trying to "solve" a problem that doesn't exist.

Sure they are, it's just not the problem you want them to solve. They problem they are solving is a lack of money at city hall.

It's the lack of political will to acknowledge that you've got to pay taxes.

A lack of political will isn't the problem; the problem is the form the political will takes. Usually when towns rely heavily on ticket revenue they're citing people who don't actually live there. These are places that get a lot of commuters moving through, or they're on a highway in the middle of nowhere.

It's literally highway robbery.

Racketeering and policing have only ever been at different coordinates on the same spectrum.

When you see stories like this, it's hard to argue with the theory that the government is simply a stationary bandit.

It's not government that's the real problem here, it's racism.

> It's not government that's the real problem here, it's racism.

Is it though, or is that just the hook being used to drive traffic?

They found a correlation between the size of the African American population and the percentage of government revenue from fines, but what evidence is there that the cause is actually racism? The article essentially explains the cause -- African Americans tend to live in higher crime areas, which leads to more police presence in those areas and thus more fines.

In other words, the real problem is that the cops can fine anybody for no real reason (and some municipalities use this for revenue generation), and that problem disproportionately affects African Americans because they have more proximity to more cops.

The problem with framing it as racism is that support for a cause is generally motivated primarily by self-interest, and if you paint it as "this is a problem for black people" then the majority of voters hear that as "this is not a problem for you" when in actual fact it is a problem that affects everyone.

If they weren’t bandits, their racism would be less of a problem.

And corruption/

It's not racism. It's never been about race.

It's always been about money. The people who have it and the people who don't.

I don't disagree. But it seems to me that if you're trying to generate revenue quickly, you ticket the people who are most likely to pay quickly.

Why would they write more tickets on a population that doesn't respond to them (context: according to TFA some already have fines for "missed court dates" etc)?

If you want to generate revenue, wouldn't you go hard on writing tickets in a middle-class neighborhood, where the population makes enough money to pay the fines but not enough to have the time/resources to fight?

Michael Wood, an ex-marine and ex-Baltimore Police Sgt explained this.... the logic goes that if you were to stop random people in a middle/upper-middle class neighborhood, it's significantly more likely you were to grab the son or daughter of your judge or your doctor.[0]

[0] please Google the name - information is readily available, but the links are too politically charged for this particular discussion.

> a stationary bandit.

And a many-armed one, at that!

sounds more like government is not doing its job

That's pretty much what speed limits are.

I don't think that's a fair comparison, no.

A car is a multiton killing machine if used improperly. Speeding is substantially more dangerous than jaywalking, and it moves the risk to other people.

In the US on major roads, "everyone" drives 10-15mph over most of the time. Some roads that are physically identical to interstate highways marked 55-70, are actually marked 35-45, so people are generally speeding by quite a bit.

Actually driving the speed limit would be quite dangerous - the speed differential between lanes, coupled with the impetus for those behind you to do a lot of lane-changing, is not pleasant.

If we genuinely believed the speed limits mattered, we could enforce them uniformly against everyone using ANPR cameras and timestamps. Instead, squad cars pick a few random unlucky souls (out of the hundreds of people going roughly the same speed in their vicinity) to be slapped with a fine.

They are more likely to do this at the end of the month, when ticket quotas are due. In some random jurisdictions you may pass through on a road trip, they are more likely to ticket travelers passing through, who aren't voting on the next sheriff. And yes, in some cases they are more likely to pick you if you're black (particularly if also driving a nice car).

I'm not objecting to ticketing of drivers who are going substantially faster than traffic, weaving through lanes, etc. I am objecting to the fact that the normal daily driving behavior required to not cause an accident (i.e. go with the flow, 10-15mph over the speed limit) is criminal and enforcement is "random" with some opportunity for bias against people the local cops don't like.

Speeding is a chicken-and-egg problem due to the culture of driving 10-15 over whatever the speed limit is. It's generally safe (weather permitting) because the speed limits are low enough to offset it, but it creates an atmosphere where police can pick and choose who to pull over.

If the speed limits were raised to a level where speeders were genuinely unsafe without a major attitude adjustment among drivers, the roads would be considerably more dangerous.

To offer one example - in Poland, the motorway limit is very high, 140km/h(90mph), highest in Europe I believe if we ignore the unrestricted sections of the Autobahn. That leads to two things:

1) most people actually drive slightly below the limit, since vast majority of cars are not comfortable cruisers at 90mph, sure you can get to 90mph in your 1.4 Polo but it will be very loud inside and uncomfortable.

2) Even less people drive significantly above the speed limit, so the police does not see patrolling motorways as worth their time - even if you were doing an otherwise crazy 120mph(200kmh) the largest ticket they could give you would be like ~$100 and a few points on your licence(you need 21 to lose it). So it's not worth their time.

As a result, when I drive there I don't have to worry about constantly being 5-10mph over the limit, since 90mph is fast enough. Setting the speed limit on a 4-5 lane highway to 50mph like in some places in the States is just asking for trouble,and I'm sure it's an excellent source of revenue for the local law enforcement.

Before we rush to the Polish model: http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/06/20/road-saf...

> Poland has one of the highest death rates for traffic accidents in the European Union, with 93 deaths per million persons per year, compared with the EU average of 55.

EDIT: hang on.


Road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants per year

Poland: 10.3

US: 10.6

Maybe people in Poland use mass transportation a lot. That would reduce the death rate for traffic accidents regardless of the speed limits.

The right way to reason about traffic safety is to put "miles driven" in the denominator, not population.

Are the numbers of on-motorway deaths particularly high?

The non-motorway roads may be death traps.

Fatalities/km corrects for differrences in per person driving habits.

It actually is. In Washington state there are signs along parts of the freeway reminding motorists to 'Keep right except to pass'; this is a friendly re-wording of state law.

I have -never- seen a police officer pull someone over for violating this law.

I also agree with the sibling poster that points out that the speed limits on roadways seem low.

I know of a few residential areas where the roads are improperly not arterial (but should be due to traffic volume) leading to lower speed limits than they would otherwise appear to support.

Highways should also have condition based speed limits; but really I'd prefer the HOV lanes are replaced with 'self driving car' lanes that have a speed limit in law, but based on the evaluation of the automated vehicles. Probably carpools should be given a kick-back based on occupancy volume.

If speeding were really a problem the US government wanted to solve, then they could compel Google to hand over Maps location data, effectively identifying 100% of speeders.

Thinking out loud here...

In a world of self-driving cars, maybe speeding will be less like a fine and more like a toll. So if you want to go over the speed limit, you pay a toll to the local municipality for the right to do so.

> It seems unlikely that the connection between fines and large African American populations—a connection that cannot be explained by poverty—is the result of African Americans across the United States committing more finable offenses.

I'm not sure why that seems unlikely. African Americans commit a disproportionately large amount of violent crimes. It seems reasonable to expect that they also commit a larger amount of misdemeanors and minor infractions. It would be far more surprising if they had a higher propensity to break the law, but only when the violation is serious and the penalty heavy.

They give some data to back up that statement.

> Although African Americans and Whites report smoking marijuana at the same rates, African Americans are 3.7 times more likely get arrested for marijuana possession.

> An analysis of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 6.6% of White people between the ages of 12 and 25 have sold drugs compared to 5.0% of Blacks. Yet Black people are 3.6 times more likely get arrested for selling drugs.

Those numbers conflate "ever sold" with "sold in the last N days", and yearly vs. weekly usage rates. For regular usage (which would be expected to track sales, and possession) the numbers are substantially higher for blacks.


Is a good meta-analysis, which on this particular data point leads to:


And in the OP's substantive point about "violent crimes", the FBI's crime stats prove them definitively correct.

How many of those are arrested in high crime areas? What is the arrest rate like in comparison to poor white areas?

The discrepancy may be explainable simply by the police presence in the area.

> The discrepancy may be explainable simply by the police presence in the area.

I'd take it one step further:

I live in a medium to medium class neighborhood with a few lower priced apartments dotted throughout. One is actually next door to me. I had to call 911 last weekend when a bbq at the apt building next to me was close to violence. I listened through an open window as one calm male tried to disuade his friend from starting a fight as the latter ranted for 45 minutes in the street sometime after midnight. I heard male number one mention an open arrest warrant as an attempt to reason with male number two that violence was not going to end well. Male number two repeatedly dismissed this and periodically became hysterical with anger.

Between my initial call to 911 and the time when police arrived, I heard a new voice arrive, alerting the hostile guy that he (male number three) had called his cousin for backup and reminding everyone that his cousin is a Crip (a west coast gang, for those who are unfamiliar). I made a second 911 call to update the officers that the situation appeared to be escalating.

So, what I'm driving towards is the additional possibility that this type of behavior sticks out terribly in a quiet neighborhood where most residents have families and go to sleep by 10pm. The likelihood of someone notifying authorities is probably greater than in a high crime area because this is an extremely rare occurrence here.

Edit: yes, I live in a predominantly white neighborhood and the bbq attendees were all black, but that seemed less relevant until I remembered that someone is likely to ask.

> heard male number one mention an open arrest warrant as an attempt to reason with male number two that violence was not going to end well. Male number two repeatedly dismissed this

This is exactly what I was talking about in my post above.

The instinct or intuition to notice danger is totally different. Call it paranoia, call it introspection, it doesn't matter, it is there and it is real.

> this type of behavior sticks out terribly in a quiet neighborhood where most residents have families and go to sleep by 10pm. The likelihood of someone notifying authorities is probably greater

This is why the recent migration from MENA to Germany is going to go very wrong. Combining Germans, a people notoriously for being 'societal correct' with young men from MENA is perfectly calibrated to result in violence. There are no two ways about it.

A Chipotle exec just got busted for cocaine possession. Guess what the charge was, and guess what the proposed punishment is. Guess his skin color (or culture, if you prefer).

There are so many factors that arise in something like that. For example, the Chipotle executive has access to better lawyers whereas a young black man may only have duty counsel. The Chipotle executive can better speak for himself, knows not to answer police questions, can get character references, is likely under first offense. I'm not saying it's okay, but certainly there are so many factors at play here it would be impossible to distill it to just one and name it as the most prominent single factor.

Cue Dave Chapelle singing "I plead the fifth! I plead the fifth!"

He was charged with "criminal possession of a controlled substance". Your point?

And most importantly, guess how wealthy they were and ask yourself if a poor person with the same skin color would get the same sentence.

In my experience working with a black coworker (doesn't smoke), he would seemingly ignore signals that he needed to modify his behavior example: once he wanted to go into a shop to browse but the shop owner was closing. He talked his way past her, but I distinctly remember feeling uncomfortable; thinking that was something I would never do in a million years, and I'm not the most socially adroit person either. Other than this boorish behavior he is a perfectly reasonable human being who is well known to be very friendly in the community, but I doubt he'd even recognize the existence of the possibility she could have called the police on him.

If people act like boors, it makes sense they are more likely to get arrested.

Another occasion he installed a wooden shed behind the council house (housing for the poor) he lived in. The council predictably told him they would kick his family out of the house if they didn't take it down. Again; another thing I would never have done in a million years because I would have assumed it was obvious I needed permission before building sheds on a property I do not own. Shit, I probably even need planning permission from the government, let alone the property owner in lots of cases.

I strongly suspect it is the same thing with smoking drugs. Some groups act in ways which are far more likely to get them arrested even if they commit those crimes at comparable rates to the native population example: smoking illegal drugs in the street vs smoking them in your own home.

I don't have an explanation for the underlying mechanism but I've seen the same thing time and time again in (five) black persons I've been working with. They're not bad people or stupid, certainly not the ones I work with, but their 'boundaries' just aren't the same as mine and other white coworkers. What is an immediate and definite red flag for trouble ahead to me is invisible to them, it is like there is a communication band they don't access. Which is weird because the five people I worked with were certainly more socially adaptive than I.

My rough guess is that I and other natives have, let us call it: a residual paranoia instinct that black foreigners do not. I expect different groups have different social relations and this is an invisible wall dividing people that hardly anybody feels comfortable thinking or talking about.

That is, at least to a certain extent, because of the violent crime rate. That's why more police are in their neighborhoods to begin with.

And yet, we end up with swarms of minorities in prison for drug use, while many homicides go unsolved.

The definition of "selling drugs" needs to be better refined for this question. I'd like to see the percent of "sold drugs for profit" and "sold drugs to strangers".

Those numbers are based on surveys. It's junk science.

Blacks get arrested for drugs in about the same ratio to whites as they commit violent crime.

My sister has twin girls that are 15 and a few years ago they stole some booze from the house. They took the booze and snuck out at 3AM. They went to their schools playground with a bunch of kids from high school. They got fucked up and the cops came. Both of them ran and hid in bushes and were caught.

They were running from the cops and dove into bushes. But pretty white girls that lived in a place where the average house is over a million. No ticket or anything. Cops took them home and woke up their mom and they had their iPhones taken away for a month. That was all.

If they were black males doing the same the situation would have ended very differently.

If they were men of any color, you mean. Welcome to the real world.

What are the worse things that could happen to a minor who runs from a cop and hides in the US?

It could easily be spun into resisting arrest, which is a Class A Misdemeanor in most jurisdictions.


> African Americans commit a disproportionately large amount of violent crimes. It seems reasonable to expect that they also commit a larger amount of misdemeanors and minor infractions.

There is no obvious causal reason to link violent offenses and non-violent offenses. In fact, in my experience, I would expect an inverse causal relationship. I know quite a few ... people ... who would pick your pocket, steal from your house, etc. but would never actually physically assault somebody.

Your statement might be true, but some data is required.

And I see no obvious causal link.

In addition, non-violent offenses concerning alcohol are heavily skewed toward a racial component of white yet seem to not related to violent offenses at all.

You're going to have to work a lot harder to show causality.

The African-American crime rate is something like 2 time's the population rate.

The article data indicates that the fine rates are as high as 21 times the normal rate.

It does not look like the crime rate is enough to explain the fine rate.


This graph really doesn't seem to support their hypothesis AT ALL - the correlation looks really weak, and they give no strength statistics for it at all. Of the municipalities with the lowest revenue from fines, all of those with the highest percentages (from 80% up to around 100%) of African Americans are represented. On the other hand, in the scattering of municipalities with high revenue from fines (say, over 20%) the percentage of African Americans is anything from less than 5% to 80% with no clear pattern. I'm not convinced...

Agreed, although http://pix-media.s3.amazonaws.com/blog/1190/image04.png is more indicative of a pattern.

I think it would be interesting to look at the ethnic distribution of the police force vs that of local population, in case it offers a stronger signal? One needs the data to do it though and I can't see a link to a clean download.

Based on what's shown in the other graph, there are a few cities that are extreme outliers (such as Stone Mountain and Clarkston). Doing an average on such data won't show a trend so much as it will reflect on how much these outliers sway the average.

It's like proving that everybody got rich in a town overnight since the average income shot up while Bill Gates came for a visit.

The one pattern is at least some of the 38-100 outlier cities are quite likely engaging in a pattern of something akin to racketeering and should be thoroughly investigated. Further, states need to put limits on cities leaning on fine-income in the way that they earlier put limits on speed-traps, since these places seem to basically operate on similar principles.

100% agreed.

Rotate the image to the left (i.e. swap the X and Y axis).

And you can clearly see that the larger the black population the less they rely on fines.

There are some outliers, and those should be stopped.

This matches my experiences in Chicago. A FOIA request got me all of Chicago's parking ticket data from Jan 2009 to March 2016 and I did some quick awk commands to find the most ticketed spots. I found some pretty interesting ones and even went to one of the spots to figure out why so many tickets happen in these spots - it's mostly just from signage issues and bad parking meters that let you pay after parking hours. In particular, a three car-length spot received 2.2 million dollars and a LOT of tows.

I called and emailed the alderman office that would handle that spot and got zero results. Tried contacting media outlets, etc, but nobody wants to help out in fixing the spot. Hell, I even posted on reddit and got downvoted for "trying to help dumb people".

It's incredibly frustrating that it's seemingly impossible to get anything done in any large city as an individual who just wants to help out.

I seem to recall a news story similar to this out of Chicago in the past year or so. Hot spots for fines and stuff.

Keep kicking that story around, someone will eventually pick up on it.

This is interesting. Maybe blog on this and some media may pick it up? Getting it into the local Chicago media would get some attention from officials.

I'm going to take a long break from this project, I think.

Working with the data has been fun and all and has probably been the biggest learning experience of anything I've ever done... but doing it all on my own has been pretty stressful, especially after trying really, really hard to get some attention through conventional ways. It's really disheartening to have next to zero traction from the city and the local "open gov hack" groups. Many journalists and tech folks who want to help out have their own goals, but I've been finding more and more that their goals are (at the risk of the obvious) largely attention seeking, so "unsexy" stories don't get much attention.

It's a very strange dynamic where so many folk are interested in visualization of data over actually solving problems. I really don't get it. Taking a break from this sort of work will be nice.

Sex the story up, and get some graphics.

Having a random Internet guy make a Sankey diagram to show G+ user numbers helped the hell in promoting that story.


If you're on Reddit, drop a request at /r/MKaTS

Can you share this data?

For all the people in this thread who don't feel like they have solid ground to stand on one way or another (more specifically, other me's, middle class white dudes who are bothered by this but don't even know how to start approaching the situation), this book is single-handedly the best resource I've ever come across - "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates.


Give it a read/listen. It's incredible how many things will click into place, how drastically different you'll perceive the world before and after.

I think the "middle class white dudes" issue is this: Unless you (like me) had parents who had some bad things happen to them financially, if you're parents knew what they were doing and had some form of means, you were probably successfully isolated from poverty growing up.

This means that you're understanding of poverty will lack nuance. If you're one kind of person, you'll think its just bad parenting and bad culture. If you're another kind of person, you'll think it's external causes from racism, bad schools, etc.

The fact of the matter is that most people I've encountered who actually grew up in and around poverty understand that Coates portrayal is heavily biased towards the "external" causes, as opposed to the other forms of literature heavily biased towards the "it's their fault they are poor."

Why is this? Because there isn't really a market for the nuanced truth: It's a mix of both. I grew up in an extremely poor county with about 50% white/black, and most of both were poor. I went to the same schools, and watched some of my friends go down one path, while most went down the other, very bad path.

The problem is people like you, whose parents did what I'm doing with my kids (keeping them away from these failing schools and bad neighborhoods), have no clue what's going on and are limited in your information to the two extremes of WHY this is happening.

Why did two of the extremely smart, black male friends of mine growing up go down such extremely different paths? They both were poor, both highly intelligent, but one decided he wanted to fit in with the overly masculine cultural norms in black youth culture, while the other went down the path of escaping the trap of poverty by getting financial aid and going to a great public university. Their paths diverged in 8th grade.

What book out there explains this, and if it exists, is there a market for it? Probably not.

And here I was thinking HN didn't have much soul. I'm so glad that you shared this. I will definitely give this a read or listen.

I was born and raised in San Francisco and am first generation Chinese-American. However, as a son of working class parents, my friends and I have spent most of our lives growing up through the inner-city school system dominated by minorities -- black, Hispanic, Asian (mostly Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, but no Korean or Japanese). While at the time, I couldn't understand the plights of those I went to school with, looking back, I can now see how difficult it was for them, particularly those who were African-American.

And for those that make it out of the "hood," they face institutional racism. It's like an uphill battle. Even if somebody were to be in good spirits about it, only to be shot down over and over again, they'll eventually become frustrated. They begin to feel trapped in a nation they were born into that they, too, consider their own, but have parents that don't want them and/or hate them.

I know how fortunate I am to be lumped into a group of "Asians" or "Chinese," where in this country, people discriminate across all lines -- be it racial, socioeconomic, attitudes, beliefs, etc.

Whenever I see things like this and seeing people argue that their plights are just "sour grapes", and to, "stop playing the race card", really has no idea. And it's even more difficult to institute change in a system run by the privileged who have no idea what the lives of the poor are like. Nobody choose to be born black or into poverty. It's easy to say, "play the hand that you're dealt, when you've started with aces in the hole, or a favorable hand."

Thanks, this is a great suggestion


Reading the article and looking at their chart[1], something stood out to me. The 38 municipalities they list appear to be extreme outliers with another 100 municipalities looking like relative outliers. It appears that if you remove those cities, trends would look quite different. For example, it actually appears that the median reliance on fine of high-percentage African American cities is lower than average.

Basically, it looks like most of the action is in a few place. Thus, it seems like Federal Government should be investigating those 38 or 100 city governments, just as they investigated Ferguson's government.

[1] http://pix-media.s3.amazonaws.com/blog/1190/image02.png

If law-enforcement is for-profit and a necessary piece of the budgeted income, doesn't that demand that laws be broken? If the city is going to in the red unless it meets ticket quotas, then aren't people who break the law providing a service to the government?

For-profit prisons create similar problems. It becomes in the best interest of those profiting from these systems to encourage systemic crime. The problem was exposed years ago in the media, why hasn't it been dealt with?

I think this is evidence that the people running those local governments are insane. Would a rational minded person ever support such a system? It doesn't take a genius to look at the long term consequences and think "Maybe this plan needs adjustment."

Law enforcement in the U.S. is almost exclusively served by public agencies, so I'm not really sure what you mean when you bring up for-profit. They certainly aren't for-profit in any traditional sense (i.e. engaging in voluntary trade of goods/services in an open market). They're only "for-profit" in the same sense as mafia, in the same sense as government, in that they use violence (or the threat of it) in order to sustain themselves.

For an interesting perspective on private prisons, you should see what Gary Johnson has to say on the matter based on his experience as Governor of New Mexico: http://govgaryjohnson.tumblr.com/post/139039414105/private-p...

If you want to see some serious influence (for the worse), take a look at the prison guard and law enforcement unions. At least the private organizations are accountable, liable. They aren't bestowed with any magical priviledges or powers. Deals can be renegotiated, people can be fired, competitors can be pursued.

Who knows what we could achieve under private (wholly volunatary) policing. Organizations could actually compete on budget, effectiveness, community-fit, supplemental charity services. Don't like the service? Hire someone else.

Great analysis! I'd be interested to see an analysis of the demographics of the police departments in cities with a high percentage of revenue coming from fines. It might also be interesting to look at the historical demographics of that city. I wonder if a city "in transition" (either becoming more or less diverse) is more fine happy as the dominant population loses or gains power.

That would be interesting. Also voter turned out as another dimension to go along the same line of thinking. I am going to take a guess that a local government that preys on its citizens has low voter turn out either by apathy or disenfranchisement or maybe a combo of both. Wonder if exit polls track race which would be another helpful bit of information.

> Lies, damned lies, and statistics

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the lack of statistical significance, std deviation, p-values, etc. Opinions are great and charts are fun but I don't really know that the conclusion is justified outside of Ferguson and other specific municipalities.

What if police were funded at the state level and all revenues from fines went to the central gov't? Ration of officers per 1,000 people would be distributed where they are statistically needed more --that way you avoid wealthy areas with cops who sit around pulling over out of towners because they have little else to do and locales that need a police force to deal with the crime can have more officers to police the locale.

Bonus, one pension one authority to negotiate contracts, etc.

In Australia police are funded at the state level, and most fines go to the state, but parking fines etc. go to the local councils.

The benefit is that you get more consistency between police training across the state and pooled resources. Certainly I think the police are more trusted here.

That is a recipe for centralized power unaccountable to the population they are theoretically protecting.

Well, from what I gather here, decentralized power isn't faring vary fairly for at least some of the pop.

The current decentralization is resulting in abuse an lack of accountability. I'm sure we could devise community oversight over the state police force. At least the police could have less variance and without the pressure to raise funds from citing locals, provide a fairer police force.

That's only true because of the minimal participation of the population in state level elections/politics.

no, it's not

Wouldn't the solution to this problem be simple. So you have black individuals being disproportionately charged under the law - so why not include an extra set of inquries in court for black individuals to ensure that they are not being unfairly discriminated against. We can just have the judge ask

1. During sentencing, does the sentence we are imposing on this man/woman markedly deviate from the sentence imposed on similar offenders in similar circumstances who come from different racial backgrounds.

2. Initially - would a reasonable person, giving rise to the circumstances have cause to believe that the defendant would not have been subject to scrutiny were he of a different race (and allow defense counsel to bring in statistical evidence to try and prove this.)

All we are trying to do here is to prevent differential treatment under the law, which seems like a very easy problem to fix.

I suspect that will work as effectively as it currently does when a judge gets involved in a police shooting to the back of an unarmed civilian... which is to say, kangaroo court oversight, at best. The courts are far too often lenient when they needn't be because the officers and the judiciary are ostensibly on "the same side", ergo a broad degree of latitude is afforded the police that would otherwise be reserved for the ruling class for infractions that would almost certainly land either of us in prison.

Let Black Police/Judge deal with Black Suspects;



Your guess is probably wrong. My wife had a black friend in a small town (~5k) without many black people. There weren't enough to have a "black part" of town but her friend was still constantly pulled over by the police. Driving while black might sound like a joke but it isn't.

Newsflash: a distinct accent and unassimilated culture is a pretty predictable result of government-enforced segregation, a policy which still has not ended. Voluntary segregation on top of that makes it worse.

Single-family zoning is explicit segregation, yet it's popular across America. You can only build the most expensive kind of home in those neighborhoods. A majority of white families live in that type of home. A minority of black families do. Surprise! Segregated neighborhoods!

We culturally define "good schools" not as schools that increase a child's chances of success relative to other schools, but as schools that rich white people attend. We buy homes in segregated neighborhoods so we can send our kids to segregated schools, and we fight against cheaper housing options like apartments because they will make our schools less segregated and reduce our property values as a result. Surprise! Segregation!

Wealthy selfish people use our governments as weapons against black families, yet it's their fault that there's an unintegrated subculture. God bless America, a nation that will never allow black families to thrive.

Everything you described is simply ways that rich people avoid living around poor people. Yes, it generally excludes blacks, but that's incidental and only because blacks tend to be poor.

On the flipside, these policies keep out poor whites as much as poor blacks, for the exact same reasons.

Rich black basketball players, musicians, doctors and politicians have no problem living in mostly-white neighborhoods. Of course, rich Asians also have no trouble living in white neighborhoods, because there are no racial segregation policies.

I find it amazing how you attribute the simple dynamics of people sorting themselves by wealth, which have been very strong in all urban societies everywhere ever, and make them out as though they're some sort of racial targeting system. e.g. 19th century Paris was almost all white French and had the same wealth clustering patterns for the same fundamental reasons.

Black people being poor is not incidental, but the results of systematic oppression and discrimination, for work, credit, housing, and other resources.

Go look at the wikipedia article on redlining.

And this is not a past problem, banks were charging higher interest rates for loans to blacks than whites before the recent recession.

Housing discrimination may be illegal, but that doesn't mean it's not still an issue. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/racism-alive-and-well-in-housing...

systemic racial injustice doesn't mean a racial targeting system. It doesn't even have to be conscious. It is the result of tiny acts of discrimination that add up to disadvantage people of color.

As for 19th century France, it wasn't until the 1840's that France outlawed slavery, and then it continued to discriminate against french colonial citizens of color, such as Algerians.

That's not to say that class and wealth have no role in affecting black people. But being discriminated against because one is black and being discriminated against because one is poor are not mutually exclusive; they are, if anything, mutually reinforced.

I'm not asking anyone to undo the injustices that have walled off generations of black families from wealth. I mean, you should, but I don't think y'all are up for it. What I'm asking is that you not pile injustices on top of each other.

"It's just economic segregation" is the worst excuse I've ever heard. Yes, some level of segregation is inevitable and acceptable. That's not what I'm talking about. Repeal our segregation laws. Repeal them! Stop forcing families with less money out of your neighborhoods by law! Stop pretending this isn't a terrible thing!

What segregation laws are you talking about? Zoning?


You've been using HN primarily to post inflammatory ideological rhetoric. That's not a legit use of this site, so please stop doing it.

The circle of hell that is the IQ race war is particularly unwelcome here, in all its idee-fixedness.

Rich black people actually do get discriminated against. I have no idea why you think people only discriminate against poor blacks.

Or are you trying to say that people just assume most blacks are poor, and that's why discrimination on the basis of skin color isn't actually based on skin color?

This is a stellar response. I'm kind of appalled at some of these replies, but as was noted earlier today it's nice to have a forum where differing views are espoused (even if some are broadly ignorant)

How does single family zoning work? How do they even define family? I'm not at all familiar with how zoning works in the US.

It's basically a set of rules that forces you to buy a big piece of land and only build one home on it. There are many cities where entire neighborhoods have no apartments or row homes because they're illegal to build. We've made homes intentionally expensive, but people pretend to be surprised by our affordability crisis.

the 'black part of town' is always some rundown ghetto compared to the rest.

Yes, that is the case with redlining, disinvestment, and lets not even get started with them being treated as a nonentity. Interstates and highways were built over and through predominantly black/minority neighbourhoods. White neighbourhoods did not want them because property values, black neighbourhoods weren't even asked.

It's the only race that seems have its own unintegrated subculture

It's so unintegrated white America can't stop adopting it. Rock and Roll was black. Today, you wouldn't be able to tell.

If I were a police officer interested in fining people, I'd head to the rundown parts of the city where the "broken window theory" says more crimes will be committed. And there seems to be more black people there. So I'd probably end up fining more black people than not.

If all you do is look for black criminals, yes that is exactly what you will find.

whatever gives black people a 'black accent' or voice is also what's responsible for the fining and bad subculture.

¿Wait, what!?

black children adopted by middle-class white families don't have this problem.

Oh, they find out soon enough, when being pulled over for "XXXXing while black" the police aren't concerned with who raised you, just the colour of your skin.

My hunch is that "what gives black people a 'back accent'" is continued segregation into the "black part of town".

Not legal segregation (at least not anymore), but unbroken feedback loops that keep them there.

As a non-politically tinged example, look at black expats in China. They dis-proportionally go into the entertainment industry. Why is that? They usually come over as students (Sino-African friendship and all). Now most Caucasian foreign students find jobs as English teachers. However, many Chinese parents want white teachers as a bragging token, so most schools will not hire black English teachers. With the easiest option out, most of the circle of black friends you'd acquire as a black foreign student partying is involved in the entertainment industry, and suddenly you're a promoter too.

There's a barrier to entry in that example (for English teaching), and a self-perpetuating feedback loop (if you have predominantly black friends in China, your network is mostly in entertainment or leaves after finishing their studies).

Now back to Compton. Worse barriers to entry, and most of your network has shot someone. What color is your parachute?

"I've lived in a few areas ..." - anecdotal.

"can talk back more aggressively than the others" - opinion.

"only race that seems have" - opinion.

"If I were a police officer" - I'm glad you aren't.

"I'd probably end up fining more black people" - clearly.

"My guess is that whatever gives black people a 'black accent' or voice is also what's responsible for the fining and bad subculture." - history is recorded so you don't have to guess. To fine someone for an accent is discrimination and illegal.

"they wouldn't be fined as much" - evidence please.

"I would also guess ..." - guessing is the basis of discrimination.

Rather than guess, I recommend researching for facts, ask why, make sure your facts are right, repeat. Bonus points for optimism, empathy, and assuming others want the same from life as you.

"...is discrimination and illegal..."

Ain't that exactly what TFA is about, though? Doesn't seem to matter when the people in charge of upholding the law flagrantly break it themselves.

> "Asian, Jewish, or Mexican after 1 or 2 generations ..."

African-American's after 1 or 2 generations were slaves, after 15 generations were still slaves, after 20 generations didn't have rights, after 23 generations are over-policed and incarcerated at rates unprecedented in developed countries.

Maybe there is a difference between descendants of slavery and those who came to America voluntarily, with every legal protection, and without the assumptions that come with a 'black accent' or being from a 'black part of town'.

The Broken Window Theory will find crime in places with broken windows. Like going through your innocent looking girlfriend's phone - surveil, search, stop and frisk any neighborhood and you will find what you are looking for.

Please keep in mind what won't show up in crime statistics because they weren't illegal:

Kidnapping 12.5 million Africans, enslaving them, raping them, taking their children, hanging them, burning their homes, terrorizing them, denying their right to language/religion/reading/home ownership/voting/education/use the same classroom, swimming pool, water fountain, bus seat, restaurant, hotel as white people, and being forced to live in the "'black part of town' is always some rundown ghetto compared to the rest" otherwise known as segregation.

The solution isn't adoption by middle-class white families but by treating black people fairly before the law tells you to do so.

Voluntary segregation is a two-way street. When black people move to white neighborhoods, white people don't have to move.

Crime statistics for black people are high, therefore black people are criminals.

Same argument rehashed since the 1860's -


Straw man.

"Visiting foreigners" stand out less than blacks (to whites) because America defines "black" as "Other". The racial division in America is often described as black v. white, and sometimes as white v. nonwhite, but is best described as black v. nonblack. Every other ethnicity has a chance, however slim, to sue for entry to whiteness. Attempts to compare the experience African Americans to other ethnicities are complicated because these groups are not similarly situated with respect to racial bias.

It is easy pickings for cops in many poor areas, driving older vehicles, having obvious damage, and worse a light out, its a freebie to the cops. Best of all, there is a good chance of no license, suspended license, drugs, or alcohol.

I am curious about studies of outlying areas, how much of their revenue is also disproportionately from minorities or do you just need to be poor?

The saddest part its not just fines that bury inner city poor, but all those little costs government imposes on people through fees and similar.

I do love your idea that all fines and confiscations must be refunded to the population as a whole. However I figure some communities might latch onto the local interstate for a boost.

Sounds like you're putting the blame on black people.

I recommend you read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisis Coates.

I leaned towards reading it as blaming the culture that rewards the behaviors that lead to trouble. Only "leaning" because the strongest support of it is the idea presented of moving a black child to a middle-class American family - that child will still be black, but he contends (rightly or wrongly) that the same issues would not be present.

At least to me, this suggest it's perception of a culture under discussion - a culture that is concomitantly dominated by black members.

Could just be I'm being to generous in my reading though :)

The thing is, the data clearly show that police are using skin color as a signal in deciding who to pull over, and furthermore the data show quite clearly that skin color does not correlate with illegal behavior. So even in your "charitable reading" the premise is faulty. Black culture is no more criminal than white culture.

For example, black people who are stopped and searched are less likely than white people to have drugs. (This doesn't mean that black people are less likely to have drugs, just that police are more likely to stop black people without probable cause.) [1]

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/25/us/racial-disparity-traffi...

Exactly, it's not skin color it's culture and behavior.

How many unarmed black people have to be gunned down by their own government before skin color makes a difference? I am beyond despair. A society that systematically oppresses black people still thinks skin color is irrelevant. There is no hope.

How does an armed police officer evaluate the culture of a person moving past in a vehicle, so that they know who comes from a bad culture and thus is okay to target?

By knowing the region they're working in.

"My guess is that whatever gives black people a 'black accent' or voice is also what's responsible for the fining and bad subculture. That is, a black person who cannot be easily distinguished over the telephone would be statistically similar to the population as a whole. In particular, they wouldn't be fined as much."


I'm describing a scientific experiment that goes something like this:

1. Collect N voice samples from N people, and ask M people to classify whether each sample is 'black' or 'not black'. Don't tell the N people exactly how the rest of the experiment is being run, to avoid people intentionally trying to sound different.

2. Define a 'black index' for each of the N people that is the percentage of M people who voted "Sounds like a black person" over (the average percentage of "Sounds like a black person" for the N candidates as a whole). The denominator is said to be the "baseline" percentage.

3. I predict that the black index is positively correlated with frequency-of-fines. I'll further predict that white people with a higher black index are fined more than black people with a lower black index.

Something like this was done with resumes from black- versus nonblack-sounding names [1]:

"Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback. This would suggest either employer prejudice or employer perception that race signals lower productivity.

The 50 percent gap in callback rates is statistically very significant...a white name yields as many more callbacks as an additional eight years of experience. Race, the authors add, also affects the reward to having a better resume. Whites with higher quality resumes received 30 percent more callbacks than whites with lower quality resumes. But the positive impact of a better resume for those with Africa-American names was much smaller."

[1] http://www.nber.org/digest/sep03/w9873.html

I agree that this is a problem, but are you sure it isn't simply a class issue? So someone with the name "Fiona" is probably middle-class and someone called "Tiara" is probably from a much lower class.

It might not say anything at all about the relative worth of the individuals concerned, but it is the kind of social cue that will be picked up (possibly sub-consciously) by those having to sift through a large pile of applicants in order to produce an interview short-list.

The fact that this reaction actually says more about those having the reaction is beside the point.

There have been similar studies showing that shorter/uglier people tend to get hired less than their taller/better looking counterparts - for the same skillset. Yet society, in the United States anyway, seem to be less concerned about this particular bias, even though it is just as "unfair". I think the exact things society pays attention to as unfair are largely arbitrary and cultural.

Racial biases don't nearly concern me nearly as much "incentive biases", which I feel does far more harm to society overall, yet most people strangely do not pay it much mind.

> There have been similar studies showing that shorter/uglier people tend to get hired less than their taller/better looking counterparts

This is a red herring, this is not relevant to a discussion about racism. That other forms of discrimination exist doesn't justify in any way racial discrimination.

I'm not sure what point you're arguing.

It sounds like you're suggesting (between this post and an ancestor) that it's okay for the power of the state to be wielded against people whose accents are not in favor. But you can't actually be suggesting that, so what's the actual point you're trying to make?

As a bonus, could you connect this to the types of fines primarily covered in TFA (traffic tickets)? These fines are not assessed via telephone calls. How is any of your argument relevant to the practice of armed police officers driving to predominantly African-American areas to pull over moving vehicles for minor infractions, for the explicit purpose of generating revenue?

You're seeing that black people are being fined, and proposing that things that make black people distinct from white people are the problem. Your evidence for this thesis is the faint voice wafting up from your own ass. Was slavery caused by the thickness of black people's lips, or the wideness of their noses?

I tried to keep away from this thread, but since my puzzled comment in lieu of a downvote was itself being furiously downvoted, I thought it might be important to tell you that your comment is controversial, yet supported by your average HN reader. You should probably follow it up with a comment on how the size of womens' breasts are what's keeping them out of tech, and how you predict that with testosterone treatments, they could be fixed of their fear of logical thinking.

That I continue to be hired in this industry is a miracle. It's probably just people afraid of being sued. No wonder I feel like I have to be twice as good as everyone else.

Congratulations, you just defined prejudice and racism, in case a few people in this thread weren't sure what it was.


Care to address the parent's postulates, rather than calling names?

It's so bad on so many levels that it is actually difficult to respond. Literally don't know where to begin or end.

But, your parent summed it up nicely. It's not just name-calling. It's a concise description of the thinking and attitudes that would produce such a misguided comment: pure racism.


You just keep nailing it. Wallowing is a good word.

Some people want to be racist, and for those who don't want to be, that fact may be difficult to understand. In their minds, it's just up to others to enlighten the racist. Perversely enough, it's frequently the targets of their isms that are expected to provide this enlightenment.

But, the happy (rac)ists need their hate and ignorance. It justifies them and gives them a worldview that makes them comfortable. It's a cozy blanket of tribalism via a shared mutual hate and, ironically, a posture of supreme victimhood. It's "I hate you because your existence is somehow harming me."

They cannot be educated because they don't want to be educated, and they are blisfully and willingly unaware that their current views are malformed.

The happy (rac)ists are a time, energy, and emotion sink--a lost cause.


There is a wide range of people on HN. This community is not defined by its worst actors—who inevitably appear in any place on the internet where the doors are left open, as ours are.

Rather, it's defined by an overwhelmingly decent majority of participants, whom you're not welcome to slander here.

I notice that of all of you complaining about how racist that comment was, not one of you bothered to flag it. If you won't even do that much to help the community, in my view you forfeit the right to complain about it.

No, that is not what I said. When people say overtly awful things, they are downvoted. No one defines HN by those.

The problem is the well intentioned but naive opinions that are upvoted and popular. Do you remember the popular comments from the GitHub diversity posts? Any diversity post for that matter.

The demographic here is mostly male. In a homogenous environment, regardless of which combination of race, gender or anything else, people have blindspots. This remains true when the majority of participants are decent. For example, a group of polite dudes can create an environment full of casual sexism.

Lastly, I flag insults and one line jokes. Maybe you can help us understand what gets flags and what gets downvotes.

However, I am happy the comment is removed. You are right, maybe I don't give the moderation enough credit.

If you believe, as I do, that subtle (and sometimes over) racism and sexism are real problems for the HN community, it's especially important:

(a) not to dismiss HN as a bastion of racism and sexism, as doing so concedes the whole site to those ideas

(b) to challenge racist and sexist arguments on the site both reliably and civilly.

Most of the people putting those arguments forward are trolls, and are seen as such by the site (watch what gets flagged). One of the most effective strategies race and gender trolls have is to rile up thoughtful people so that they make dumb, angry arguments. It creates a kind of autoimmune disorder on the site. Don't enable them.

Thanks for this well-put summary. I've been working on an enhancement of the HN guidelines and may plunder some of your wording.

Daniel, have you considered the other point of view? These comments affect members of HN differently?




I don't think they are trolls. The comments are similar to what I hear in real life and I assume they get ample upvotes from HNers because they are near the top.

If you always have the patience for a and b then god bless you!

It's a thousand strangers. My life doesn't get a scintilla better if I can accurately characterize the people who write misogynistic comments on HN as 68% troll or 49% troll.

But the task of reliably and civilly challenging prejudice here gets a lot easier the higher that percentage gets, so for my own benefit, I prefer to dial it up as high as it can go, and I'm happier for it.

You can relax on challenging racism on HN sometimes. It gets tiresome! You can even walk away entirely. But please don't trash the site on the way out --- that makes the job harder for everyone else taking the time to call out toxic bullshit here.

You can't relax on being calm and civil, even in response to comments that don't deserve it. Think about it this way, because this is probably true: every time we fuck up and write a nasty, shrill response to a racist comment, we generate a light-grey negative-rated rebuttal to racism. If we're particularly bad about responding, we'll park that comment next to a racist comment that keeps a neutral score just out of sympathy.

Please don't do that.

You can't relax on being calm and civil, even in response to comments that don't deserve it. Think about it this way, because this is probably true: every time we fuck up and write a nasty, shrill response to a racist comment, we generate a light-grey negative-rated rebuttal to racism. If we're particularly bad about responding, we'll park that comment next to a racist comment that keeps a neutral score just out of sympathy.

Hacker News! Where reacting to racism is worse than actual racism.

This is the sort of comment that violates the Principle of Charity (which we're about to add to the HN guidelines). You can construct that provocative an interpretation of tptacek's comment if you choose to—you can construct any interpretation of anything—but it doesn't come close to being the strongest plausible reading of what he said, and that's the only one you should be responding to here.


If you don't want to comment in that spirit, please don't comment. It diminishes mutual respect.

Are tp and you applying the principle of charity?

Here are two comments in this very thread that are downvoted. This is not unique to HN, this is a symptom in society that many women and PoCs have written about. I'd be happy to share some links if you are interested.



ps oriental? I would have chosen a different link. :) In all seriousness, this is the cultural sensitivity and empathy HN lacks. Having been to South Carolina, I'm not surprised by outdated language, but I hope HN mods know better.

You can't seem to see the difference between bad comment and bad argument. In a thread that could be fairly characterized as "Hacker News tearing to bits a racist comment", you found two bad comments on the thread whose authors happen to agree with you --- and, from what it looks like, the whole rest of the site --- and tried to spin that into a narrative. Why would you do that?

My posts reinforces your previous point. Instead of disagreeing with what I write, why not take a second to find common ground? Applying the principle of charity helps all of us. It is a better way.

Add another example from this thread. This is why tech forums are not inclusive.


You can call it whatever you want, but if you make uncivil arguments, it's a fact that:

(a) your posts are going to get flagged, and people are going to see that they got flagged, and your "anti-racist" comments are going be penalized, often farther than the racist ones, and

(b) you're eventually going to get banned from the site

You can huff off to Twitter like the rest of the cool kids when that happens, but I'll observe that there's already a sizable contingent of cool kids claiming that HN is a bastion of misogyny and racism, and Lobsters is no closer to taking over the world for their efforts --- would that it were otherwise!

I guess I would sum this up as follows:

This is a real problem, and it doesn't have to be about you.


If that's what you want to call moderation and the site guidelines, OK. I know you're not a troll. But you make lazy, weak arguments, and it seems to upset you that they're not winning simply because you're right. You don't have to stay upset and unhappy. There's a better way.

Now you are blatantly ignoring the principle of charity. I like HN because of its tight guidelines and moderation. Tone policing is a systematic problem in our society, one which you shouldn't dismiss as weak and lazy, especially since the culprits are typically privileged males. You will grow more as a person if you take the time to learn from people from different backgrounds.

Furthermore, assumptions about me aren't productive but I doubt dang will say anything.

You may have observed typical culprits as being privileged males, but that doesn't mean it is so in other contexts.

I do agree that moderation here is often out-of-line and I have perhaps seen (here and elsewhere) what could be termed "tone policing", which I agree is completely incompatible with the "principle of charity".

One problem I just discovered here is that you apparently cannot upmod 'flagged'/'dead' comments. So, an especially violent, and quick group can brigade posts completely out of the community discussion, with basically no hope of return except through an out-of-band appeal.

Also false. Search the site for posts about the "vouch" button.

Also? I have no idea what you are referring to.

I had never seen a vouch button before. Does it only appear when you have invoked "showdead"? I'd guess most have never invoked it.


It appears I am still correct. Vouch will only appear after being censored and can only be reinstated by others invoking an obscure option. I also cannot upmod a dead post (at least, not from /newest).

kamau is not calling anyone a name, they are correctly categorizing the parent post. The parent post is typical of the type of post that is written by racists. That is not name calling, that is the act of categorizing. If you give me a box full of cats and squid, and I pull out a creature that only has 4 legs, and I say "Typical cat" I'm not insulting the cat, I'm simply correctly separating it from the squid.

Whether referring to the post or the poster, the comment is vapid.

So if an argument is used by racists everyone else that uses it is racist, no matter how sound the argument is?

| If you give me a box full of cats and squid, and I pull out a creature that only has 4 legs, and I say "Typical cat" I'm not insulting the cat, I'm simply correctly separating it from the squid.

Now try it by changing squid to white and cat to black and see if you still think it's a good argument.

Where can I watch the flag feed?

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12023024 and marked it off-topic.

OK, we are told to watch what gets flagged, but no one can say how to do it? In fact, the question gets censored?

The API readme does not contain the word 'flag'.

Comments and submissions that are flagged will have the word [flagged] in the name/timestamp menubar, and will be greyed. You will see these if you set "showdead" in your profile to "on".

"Watch what gets flagged" just means look at the posts that get flag-killed.

Ah, thanks. Would be nice if the terminology were more consistent. Does 'dead' encompass more than flagged?

Did you downmod my question before responding? How do legit questions get -1 karma?

Where can I watch the downmod feed?

Go figure. :)

I wonder how many devs work on HN. There are a number of features on my wishlist.

kogir and dang are the only two I'm aware of, there may be more but I doubt there are many more. I think their general policy regarding feature requests is to ignore them and hope they go away.

You never seem to pass up an opportunity to slag us, usually with statements that are factually wrong.

Nick (kogir) left to work on a startup over a year ago. As for features, come back in a few days and review what you said here.

> You never seem to pass up an opportunity to slag us, usually with statements that are factually wrong.

It was a joke, I know you've put a lot of work into improving the site. And I'm usually the one pointing out that thread folding is coming every time it gets mentioned, as it does often, month after month, so it's not as if I don't defend you as well.

>As for features, come back in a few days and review what you said here.

I look forward to it. I seriously do.

Ok, I'm sorry for snapping at you! I do try to avoid that around here.

It's fine. I have ranted and made fun of this site once or twice.

Hey Dan, thanks for adding features! Looking forward to it. :)

Any chance of open sourcing and letting us contribute?

Why is this being downvoted? Parts of reddit are open sourced.

I'll be on the lookout for new features as well. I'm not sure I have detected one new feature here, so I'm a bit confused as to what others are talking about.

>Why is this being downvoted?

A very good question, particularly since this subthread is detached and off-topic. I actually think some have custom feeds (or at least, refresh a lot) largely just for delivering downvotes (w/ no other response).

Here is pg on open sourcing and features:

>pg 1272 days ago https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5025176

>I don't have time to manage such a project. I don't think it's necessary anyway. The reason HN lacks x cool feature is not that I expend no energy on the site, but that I expend all my energy on what users actually care about, which is not features but the content.

I know vote reversal is supposed to be coming soon, because it was accidentally mentioned in a thread.

>actually think some have custom feeds (or at least, refresh a lot) largely just for delivering downvotes (w/ no other response).

I don't complain about downvotes, but lately I have noticed some of my comments seem to get -2 downvotes almost as a group throughout a thread. It's odd. People have claimed to run networks of accounts specifically for downvoting, so maybe someone is trying to clean house, I don't know. Maybe off topic threads automatically get downvoted.

>>The reason HN lacks x cool feature is not that I expend no energy on the site, but that I expend all my energy on what users actually care about, which is not features but the content.

It's his site and he can have whatever priorities he likes, but I think it's obvious he's wrong about users not caring about both.

I get near immediate -1s on deeply nested replies sometimes (see recent history). Even on comments to detached threads. I'm near positive that multiple people have real-time feeds they monitor and downvote from. Unfortunately, this is pretty much impossible to know for sure without getting to know which accounts vote on a comment, but how else do you explain repeated occurrences of comments in detached threads getting multiple downvoted post immediately? The worst part is, the downvoted post almost never comes along with an actual response; it's just a drive-by karma docking. To what end though, I wonder?

Vote reversal is a badly needed feature. I often hit the wrong one on touchscreens because the characters are so small and close together.

As for off-topic threads, I'm still looking for where I can find them. I asked a moderator and was threatened with banishment because I am supposedly expected to know the answer to that question already.

Certainly pg prioritizes as he pleases, but it seems like the content is very thin these days. Good content can be replicated in places with good features and good features allow good content to be produced.

I don't think any do. pg seems to have abandoned this a long time ago, but it still hobbles along. The uptime seems to be better than it was awhile ago though. Cloudflare supposedly takes a lot of the pressure off it.


Please don't make this thread even less substantive. Also, on HN, please don't do the internet thing of picking the worst thing you can find (or gin up) about somebody and hauling it around on a truck with speakers.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12026394 and marked it off-topic.

I hardly doubt this is the worst and if I were hauling this around on a truck with speakers you'd definitely be hearing it right now.

It's a shame that actual facts are removed and rebutted with hyperbolic metaphor.

Is there a link to view off-topic threads?

Are you able to downmod this comment?

> It's a shame that actual facts are removed and rebutted with hyperbolic metaphor.

If you keep posting comments like this and insincere questions that you know the answers to, I'm going to call your account a troll and ban it.

You've inundated HN with far too much of this low-quality noise, and it's time to stop.

I don't ask insincere questions. You assume a lot about me, without ever having met me, or even, I would say, conversing.

Ok, I'll take your word about sincerity, since I can't observe that directly.

You post a huge number of comments complaining about HN, accusing and insinuating, and posing questions that come across as rhetorical if not trollish. Such meta-litigation reminds me of the addiction some people have to filing frivolous lawsuits. There's no discussing any of it; each reply just leads to reams more. By doing this, you make HN a worse and more tedious place.

It's time this stopped, so please stop. If you can't or won't, we're going to ban you.

I agree the discussion is often non-existent. If you examine the comment history you will find it is typically because a respondent doesn't often address my points or answer questions (see the comments on this post), or it because I have been rate-limit'd.

Can you tell me where I can read more about frivolous lawsuit addiction? My cursory search has revealed nothing.

Your inability to find it is telling.

Here's one comment from tptacek that includes the words "vote" and "die".


It's still live, which is a criteria you included. It got upvotes, and there's no dang reply, so I'm not sure if it's the comment you meant. I'm not able to find any other comment that fits your description. Can you?

> The blub setter/getter comment really is the archetypical "dumb comment", isn't it? Nicely done.

> Users should live or die by their votes on that comment. If you vote up the blub comment, you should personally get the downvotes for it too. Upvotes should expose you to the karmic downside of superficial comments.

> Especially because the really good comments, the ones most deserving of upvotes, don't seem to get a lot of downvotes; watch the scores on a 'patio11 comment closely sometime to see an example.

I quoted the full thing because context. But it's really obvious that he's not talking about actually killing actual people. (Unlike some other HN users.)

Would flag this if I could.

My 'inability'? You have not even asked.

Search my history if you want to find it. Otherwise I'll bring it to you at my leisure.

You're the one making the claim, you should be the one to support it with a link.

Here's one: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12026820

Got rate-limit'd. Sorry for the delay.

I would like to see that comment, too. I bet it's amazing.


We banned this account for breaking the HN guidelines (see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12017903), and detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12013569 and marked it off-topic.

I actually winced reading this

News flash: your man Obama saved you from that evil pipeline, so it isn't actually an example that supports your argument. (Too bad for all of us who live near a train track. [0]) And yes, if they could have pieced together a route entirely through Indian reservations and Muslim farms, they would have. Although I think you may underestimate the difference between losing one's home and [EDIT, thanks Joe:] getting a pipe buried under one's field.

[0] http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2...

I've had a pipeline under my (rural) property for 40 years. No problems yet. Been planted in corn for 20 of those years - so I didn't even lose a strip. Never know it was there except for the boundary markers in the fenceline.

> His point is strong

No, merely slightly less racist than yours, which is basically don't act differently than white people or you're an animal. News flash, white isn't the only culture there is and speaking differently isn't a reason to be harassed by cops.

It's fantastic being called a racist by a fanatical racist. Your post drips with upper class privilege.

We've banned this account for repeatedly violating the HN guidelines.

Arguing civilly about a divisive issue is one thing, but throwing Molotov cocktails (e.g. reducing race relations to "act like an animal, get treated like an animal") and being personally nasty count as trolling, and you can't do that here.

What I didn't see in the article is the percentage of fines that come from each race. If Ferguson MO is 65% black then it would make sense that roughly 65% of the fines come from blacks, but if 80% comes from the black population then that would show a racial bias.

Read the FBI report. It's way past 80%, citations are 90%, arrests are 95%

from 2011 to 2013, African Americans accounted for 95% of Manner of Walking in Roadway charges, and 94% of all Failure to Comply charges.

Well? Were they walking in roadways, and not moving to the sidewalk when instructed to do so?

I don't know, spend 30 minutes and read the frigging report, like I did. Maybe it will have the exact answer you are looking for.

Those sound like good candidates for arbitrary, hard to defend, catch-all offenses for "I don't like you and am going to charge you with something."

Were they instructed to do so as frequently as white people?

Not necessarily. It could be that, say, poor people are more likely to get fined. If more black people are poor, then it could look like discrimination against blacks, when it's just discrimination against the poor.

Apologies if I'm missing your point (it's not clear who you meant to reply to), but the article went through that analysis and determined that there's no income correlation, but an obvious correlation by racial makeup.

That actually surprised me: I expected racially biased policing to be confirmed, but I also expected evidence of bias against poor people. (Though targeting them seems like a terrible way to increase revenue.)

Edit: since they're analyzing cities relying on revenue from fines, this makes sense. You can fine poor people all you want, but if you end up jailing them when they stop even showing up to court, they're now a cost and not a source of revenue. Though there are businesses that somehow make money through fees on payment plans that only exist because they're for fines people can't afford to pay.

A distinction without a difference. White people in USA spent 200 years intentonally creating a correlatio n between skin color and poverty, and then spent 50 years crying "correlarion is not causation"

Let's post some citations.

1) MLK jr. on turning working class whites against freed blacks.


2) Eleanor Rooselvet gets involved when Southern states give New Deal money disproportionally to whites.


As a Candian in Cali, I too, was fined rather large amounts for minor (though admittedly consistent) traffic violations.

I suggest this is mostly a problem with how law enforcement works across the board in America.

Also - going to see a 'judge' for a minor traffic ticket? That's crazy.

In Canada, you get a ticket, you pay it, done.

And there aren't crazy traps everywhere etc..

That African Americans happen to occupy the lower tier of the economic stratum (not saying this is right), means they are much more likely to be thrown by any disbursement of these fines: 'not showing to court' for tiny offenses can be worse than the offence itself.

Perhaps it's exasperated by racism, but it's more of a general problem.

You don't generally need to see a judge unless you want to challenge the ticket. Most tickets in California can be paid online or by mail. It differs by county.

in Atlanta, you have to go either way - the judge decides your penalty. it's ridiculous and a complete waste of time

But then they get to tack on "court costs" as increased fines.

You absolutely can challenge a Canadian traffic ticket in court. I have friends who have done so. We also do have the occasional questionable photo radar trap, though admittedly I know of none as egregious as the worst small American towns.

"You absolutely can challenge a Canadian traffic ticket in court. I have friends who have done so."

I did not indicate or imply that one could not challenge a ticket in Canadian court. Of course you can.

I'm pointing to the fact that in many places if America - if you get a speeding ticket you have to go to court. Literally a day off work to standing in line, wait your turn for a 30 second process in front of a judge wherein they give you your $120 fine - and then you can pay it.

The idea that you have to go to court just to pay a speeding ticket is insane.

Thanks for the clarification, but that's still incorrect. You don't need to go to court in California unless it's a serious violation like a DUI. http://www.dmv.org/ca-california/paying-traffic-tickets.php

I'm sorry dude, but I can speak from experience on this.

As someone who had to drive through Marin county daily - where there is a little gap where the speed limit is 50mph - and the cops pull over people all day long for $$, I can assure you that in many counties, you pretty much have to go to court.

They don't just 'give you a ticket' - they give you a summons.

Now - technically, you may be able to do a lot of stuff by mail, but it's a legal process.

Point being: they don't just 'give you a ticket you can pay' in many counties.

Because the court was on my way to work, I would stop in and spend a few hours waiting in line for my 'less than 30 seconds' in front of a judge. That's how it works.

It's absolutely nutjobs.

I should get the ticket, and pay online with my iphone 20 seconds later.

But the greater issue is the degree of enforcement: In the USA - the cops are crazy about ticketing and stopping for small stuff. Cops use tickets as a form of revenue. In most countries, it's not like that.

The likelihood of being arbitrarily stopped for some kind of small violation is 10x in California than it is in Ontario - and probably greater if you throw a little bit of racism in there.

Do you why AfricanAmericans- "happen" to occupy the lower tier? 200 years of slavery, lynching, redlining, forced unemployment, and segregation, and then letting the cycle of poverty run on autopilot.

"Do you why AfricanAmericans- "happen" to occupy the lower tier? 200 years of slavery, lynching, redlining, forced unemployment, and segregation, and then letting the cycle of poverty run on autopilot."

Yes, dude, I'm well aware of American history, thanks for the deep insight.

Also, it's much more complicated than 'slavery and oppression'.

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