06 Nov Post a paragraph (5 or so strong sentences) discussing how Bloch approaches the concept of ‘bias’ AND Respond (respectfully!) to one of your classmates’ posts In your response feel free t
In order to earn full points on this assignment you'll need to:
- Post a paragraph (5 or so strong sentences) discussing how Bloch approaches the concept of "bias" AND
- Respond (respectfully!) to one of your classmates' posts
In your response feel free to broaden the discussion. Does Bloch's analysis feel true or accurate to you? Are there claims you take issue with or claims that you feel are missing that you might add to Bloch's argument?
In order to participate in this discussion you will first need to read Reading 2: "Are You in a Gang Database?" here It'll be hugely beneficial to look over the "Analyzing for Bias" powerpoint I've uploaded in week 2, as well
Are You in a Gang Database? The bar for being labeled a gang member is low, and the consequences are serious.
Feb. 3, 2020
By Stefano Bloch Dr. Bloch is an assistant professor at the University of Arizona.
I found out I was in a gang database — a shared criminal intelligence system used by policing agencies to store information on identified gang members — in 1996 after a dozen members of the Los Angeles Police Department crashed through my front door. The officers were from an anti-gang and graffiti task force and the arrest warrant identified me as a leader of not one, but two, graffiti gangs. When I found out that officers had torn through my family’s apartment looking for spray paint and markers as per the search warrant, it reminded me of the actual gang members who had done the same just a few years earlier.
As a local graffiti writer I had spent my adolescence running from gangs that resented how “taggers” like me wrote in the neighborhoods they claimed as their own. Now I was labeled a gang member. I had been labeled a gang member because I must have looked like one. Or it may have been because a judge is more likely to issue a warrant for a kid in a gang than a kid who writes on walls. I will never be sure. I was a vandal, but I was not in a gang, and the legal consequences for each are vastly different.
At my arraignment, my “gang” identity was brought up to frame the many charges for vandalism I was facing. Like the more than 94 percent of state-level felony defendants in America, I plea-bargained and received a fine, probation and community service, but avoided jail time. It was the gang label, not the criminal charges, that scared me most. I realized then, as I understand now, that gang categorization is often more of a legal tactic than a matter of identity.
Recent accusations of Los Angeles Police Department officers falsely identifying people as gang members are nothing new, and the problem is certainly not just a local issue. The Los Angeles Times reported last month that 20 officers from the Metropolitan Division assigned to crime suppression duties were suspected of having willfully falsified information on field interview cards during traffic stops. Information on such cards is relied upon later to determine who should be entered into a gang database. Self-identifying as a gang member, in addition to tattoos and officers’ descriptions of “gang related” clothing, are used to make a gang distinction.
Such gang member categorization sometimes based on superficial if not completely fabricated indicators is part of a longstanding campaign of deportation of young people supported at the federal level, and increasingly so under the Trump administration.
The Department of Homeland Security and a subsidiary agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, rely on gang databases that pull together local law enforcement determinations about gang membership. The Obama administration did the same.
From Los Angeles to Long Island, where Operation Matador was announced in 2017 to target suspected members of La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS13, federal officials, with the help of local police, have actively and often erroneously targeted immigrant minors based on purported gang affiliation.
The “gang member” label that federal authorities have been gleaning from gang databases is not based on the determination of a court, and is applied without due process. A local officer’s observation about attire, tattoos, affiliation or in my case, vandalism, can set a life-altering legal process in motion. While entry into a gang database alone does not automatically trigger deportation proceedings or incarceration, being identified as a gang member does embolden federal agents to selectively carry out deportation procedures and allows prosecutors to call for sentence enhancements.
In Los Angeles, such gang categorization has gone on since a year before the passage of the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention (STEP) Act in 1988. The legislation sought to reduce gang-related violence through targeted anti-gang policing. But a lot has changed since three decades ago when there was an all-time highs in crime across the city.
According to the Los Angeles Police Department’s website, the criteria used to determine one’s gang identity today can include “fingernails painted a certain color, certain undergarments … and specific hairstyles,” in addition to wearing jewelry that is “expensive or cheap,” or shirts that are “worn loosely and untucked.”
In 2016, an audit by the California State Auditor of CalGang, a database used to keep track of gang members across California, revealed that the system even included 42 “gang members” under the age of one. According to the justification entered into CalGang by law enforcement officers, 28 of these babies had “admitted to being gang members.”
Classification mistakes like this are certainly costly, especially for those without the benefits of citizenship. Attorneys surveyed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in 2018, reported “the increased use of gang allegations in adjudications involving cases of immigrant youth seeking protection through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).”
In 2019, the matter of misidentification became more widely known after a mother brought her case to the attention of the L.A.P.D. A supervisor looked back at body camera footage that supported her claim that her son had been falsely categorized as a gang member.
People in minority communities have been misidentified as gang members for years, but until recently, individuals on CalGang were not notified of the designation. Neither were the parents of minors. Many people who were added before Jan. 1, 2017 still do not realize they are in a gang database until they reach a criminal or immigration judge or are considered for a job in government. Most other state gang databases do not require notification.
Although it happened to me personally, it was not until I had earned my Ph.D and began researching the insidious forms of gang abatement and the legality of anti-gang policing that I realized how low the bar was for being labeled a gang member, and how high the stakes could be.
The allegations against officers out of the Los Angeles Police Department’s elite Metro Division concerning “gang framing” are troubling. Not only because, as the department’s chief, Michel Moore, puts it, “falsifying information on a department report is a crime,” but because such crimes of misidentification have been going on for years with untold consequences.
Stefano Bloch, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, is the author of “Going All City: Struggle and Survival in L.A.̓s Graffiti Subculture.”
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Analyzing for Bias
Identifying implicit arguments and acknowledging a creator’s background
People are Biased Against Bias
Bias has a bad reputation, and while there are many good reasons for this, some of them are misguided. How come? Well, we are all biased in one way or another – we all have our own backgrounds, economic, racial, social and so on, and those things make up who we are, influence our preferences, and color how we see the world, which is generally pretty great!
If you’re waiting for a “however…” you’re in luck! HOWEVER, the problem with bias is that it involves a prejudice that is usually unfair or skews the truth so that it aligns with a person’s worldview. This isn’t much of a problem if it influences your personal preferences for things like the kinds of fruit you like, your favorite sports team, or music, etc. HOWEVER…
The Problem with Bias
When it gets applied to concepts like “the truth” or influences someone’s perception of whole groups of people unfairly, that’s prejudice (literally, judging someone in advance, without the facts).
Bias is at the root of all kinds of problems: politicians lying to their supporters, journalists skewing facts, police saying someone committed a crime (when they have no proof), redlining, discrimination in hiring – these actions are all influenced by bias.
Let’s Focus on Bias in the Media
Bias in the media is often (not always!) one of the easier forms of bias to identify. As media outlets become more polarized, they’ve developed biases that let them appeal to certain groups of consumers. This is fairly apparent in news outlets like MSNBC and Fox News.
In the following chart, taken from “AllSides Media Bias Ratings,” we see a spectrum from left to right. What’s interesting to note is that even the chart is biased! Why? Because a person or group of people made it. That doesn’t mean we have to toss it out or that it’s “wrong.” It’s a matter of perspective. Have a look:
Many people mistakenly read “center” as meaning “no bias.” It’s an easy trap to fall into, but the center also has a point of view it’s championing.
It might help to think of it this way: the left and the right are biased in favor of some kind of change, while the center caters to the status quo, or the way things currently are.
Where’s the Center?
What one person views as “the center” might be the same as another person. For example, someone from Europe, which has a different media ecosystem, might view many of the outlets in “the center” as being further right, ditto the two “left” columns.
But for the most part, all of these outlets report more or less “the facts.” It’s actually fairly uncommon to find something totally made up in any of these types of major sources. That doesn’t, however, mean they are always reliable!
As we’ll see in the pop quiz in a few pages (ungraded!), bias can usually be found in how an outlet covers a story, and what they choose to cover. Sometimes facts are omitted, which isn’t quite the same as lying, but it’s definitely something to watch out for.
It’s not just limited to news media. We encounter bias in the movies watch (America: good; whoever we’re fighting: bad), the books we read, commercials, crazy uncles, video games, apps, and so on.
That’s all great. How do I identify it in a text / artifact?
If you’re lucky, they’ll tell you outright. Find an “about us” button or a masthead and you’ll usually learn a lot about a source, whether it’s news media, academic, or otherwise. Be careful though, some sites and outlets claim to be “fair and balanced” when they most certainly are not.
Compare. How does a media outlet portray an issue or an event compared to a sampling of other sources? Is there a consensus? Are there differences? If so, what do those differences suggest?
What kind of facts and evidence do writers use to back up their claims? Do they have any at all? If not, that’s a red flag. If a text includes quotes from a source—is that source reputable? For instance, are they an expert in their field or just someone wearing a suit?
It may seem obvious, but if the article is trying to convince you to think of something in a particular way, it’s biased.
Look up the author / writer / creator. What’s their background like? Where do they work / where have they worked in the past? For instance, if someone who worked for Chevron up until a month ago is writing about how great the oil industry is, you’d be right to be skeptical or more critical.
How do I identify (part 2)
Look Around! Are there ads on the site or in the pages? What sort of products are being advertised? For instance, if there are a bunch of ads for the NFL your source might lean conservative, because NFL watchers tend to be more conservative. If there are a bunch of ads for the NBA it might lean more liberal, as NBA watchers tend to be more liberal.
No ads? Well this is either a good thing or a bad thing. This could mean that no companies want to do business with this outlet because they don’t want to be associated with it. OR it could mean the source is member-supported, or part of an academic institution.
Time for a pop quiz
Let’s say there’s a news story about a farmer who dies when several crates of oranges fall on him.
Outlet A reports the story like this:
Local farmer, John Appleman, 72, died over the weekend when a tower of orange crates fell on him. Police have not named any persons of interest and do not suspect foul play. – By Alex Newsman
Outlet B reports the story like this:
Local farmer, John Appleman, 72, died a grizzly death when a tower of orange crates snuffed the life out of him. Untold numbers of hardworking farmers are dying in orange crate-related deaths, but Big Orange Industry doesn’t want the painful truth exposed. Police have not named any persons of interest and do not suspect foul play but that could change at any time, if new evidence comes to light. – By John Appleman Jr.
Which one is biased? If you went with “Outlet A” you might want to re-read this power point! “Outlet B” is definitely the “biased” one here, and not just because it seems like Mr. Appleman’s son wrote the article.
Artist’s rendering of the tragedy
What makes “Outlet B” biased?
A) It sensationalizes. By adding adjectives like “grizzly” and employing metaphors like “snuffed the life out” the goal is no longer to just provide information, it’s also trying to entertain readers and appeal to your emotions.
B) It editorializes. The article claims that “hard-working” farmers are dying because of orange crates. This seems highly unlikely, and without a source we’d be right to question this claim. Adding that the farmers are “hard-working” is meant to get us to sympathize more, i.e. the public generally sympathizes with people who work hard, at least on paper. A farmer’s work ethic is not relevant to the story here.
C) It’s vague. ”Untold numbers” is an imprecise phrase with slippery meanings. Taken literally, it means “numbers that are not told,” taken metaphorically, it means “thousands +.” Many readers who aren’t careful would default to the more common, metaphoric, understanding of the phrase instead of the literal one.
D) It speculates. Notice at the end of the sentence about police, the writer seems intent on leaving the door open that the police might change their mind and open a criminal investigation. While it’s technically true, they don’t offer any reasons or evidence for why the police might suddenly change their mind, which in this case, seems very unlikely.
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