Chart Of The Day

Grand Juries

Aaron Blake highlights a poll finding “that 60 percent of Americans disagree with the lack of an indictment against officer Daniel Pantaleo”:

Although 40 percent disagree “strongly” with there being no indictment in Garner’s case, just 24 percent say the same about the case in Ferguson. And in Ferguson, there’s majority support — 52 percent — for no indictment. So basically, Americans as a whole favor no indictment in Ferguson. In Garner’s case, they overwhelmingly think there should have been one. And in fact, just one-quarter of Americans agree with the grand jury’s decision not to indict.

This suggests, does it not, that the gloomiest assessments of America’s ability to see through race are too dire. If we were truly racially polarized, we’d see similar responses to similar white-cop-black-victim scenarios. Which means we have some common ground to stand on.

Chart Of The Day

Minor Crimes

Ben Casselman and Andrew Flowers examine police stats on Eric Garner’s neighborhood:

The New York City Police Department collects data on criminal complaints by precinct, broken down by the level of the alleged offense — felonies, misdemeanors and “violations,” which are minor crimes such as harassment, disorderly conduct and possession of marijuana. We can use felonies per capita as a measure of the serious crimes people are most concerned about. Violations per capita, meanwhile, is a measure of broken windows-type offenses, which usually involve more discretion from the police. (The data we’re using lumps together cases where a police officer witnesses a crime directly and cases where a member of the public calls in a complaint. A police spokesman said most violation-level offenses are witnessed by an officer.) As the chart [above] shows, there’s a strong relationship between the two: Neighborhoods with more felonies also have more minor violations. That’s what we’d expect in a city using the broken windows approach.

But look at the red dot representing Staten Island’s 120th precinct, which includes Tompkinsville. It’s significantly above the trend line, meaning it has a higher rate of violations than expected based on its underlying crime rate. From 2008 to 2012, the precinct averaged 11 violations annually per 1,000 residents; based on its felony rate, we’d only expect about seven. Only one of New York’s 76 precincts has a larger disparity.

Chart Of The Day

Crime Perception

Ana Swanson flags a 2012 paper in which “researchers argued that black people commit a much lower share of crimes than whites assume”:

The paper compares two surveys of people’s perceptions about violent crime with actual statistics. The “mean perceived percentage” figures are based on responses of white people in two telephone surveys: A random telephone survey of 1,575 adults conducted in Florida by the Research Network in 2005, and a nationally representative sample of 961 respondents directed by Oppenheimer Research in the summer of 2010. The “actual percentage” figures are drawn from various annual statistics published by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Chart Of The Day


Update from a reader:

I’m a lawyer and I studied Epidemiology at Harvard, so I know bad and misleading statistics when I see them. Yes, failures to indict are rare, because under normal circumstances prosecutors only seek indictments when they have strong cases!

This is what we call “selection bias.” If Michael Brown had been white, there would have been no media outcry, and no protests (google “Dillon Taylor,” a white guy shot by police in Utah at the same time Ferguson was going down). Under normal circumstances, a prosecutor would have determined very quickly that Darren Wilson hadn’t done anything wrong, and the case would never have been presented to a grand jury.

In this case, because of outcry (stoked largely by early reporting that seemed to suggest that Wilson had gunned down Brown in cold blood for no reason,) the prosecutor had to take the case to a grand jury to appease the crowd. But the facts never supported an indictment.

We saw this before with Trayvon Martin; a prosecutor tries a fatally weak case under political pressure and inevitably fails. Paradoxically, this makes people more angry, because they don’t understand that these cases would never have been brought in the first place absent outcry.

Even Nate Silver has been passing around the rarity of failures to indict as if that tells us something about the current case. He should know better.

Another reader:

As the website admits, it is a chart of federal indictments, not state indictments. State and county grand juries fail to bring indictments in Missouri at a far higher rate, a quick perusal of Nexis shows.

More feedback “from a former criminal defense attorney”:

I think a lot of folks are missing the multitude of ways this grand jury was handled abnormally. Remember, it isn’t an adversarial proceeding; it is entirely under the control of the prosecutors. In a typical grand jury, the prosecutors do not present evidence that is obviously incorrect, such as the witnesses who said Wilson fired at a running Brown from inside the car. That’s obvious mistaken and therefore not evidence of anything.

Why did they bring out all that garbage before the grand jury? For the same reason that Fox News goes on a tirade over everything Obama, in the hopes that a cumulative impression will be formed that the witnesses were making things up, even as the individual elements of that narrative don’t hold up. And there’s no one in the grand jury room to say “well if you know this guy is wrong, why is he here?” But it was even worse than that. In the transcript, when witnesses testified that rather than running toward Wilson, Brown was actually staggering to the ground, the prosecutor said – in front of the grand jury! – “But that physical evidence contradicts your testimony.” (Which isn’t true – the physical evidence in this case is neutral on this critical point.) In other words, this was not, as McCulloch claimed, a presenting of all evidence, neutrally, to the grand jury. This was out and out advocacy for no indictment.

This is how its supposed to work: If the prosecutor does not believe he can win a conviction, the case ends there and doesn’t go to a grand jury. He exercises prosecutorial discretion. This happens ALL the time. If the prosecutor thinks he has a case, he goes to the grand jury and presents his case. He doesn’t present both sides because this isn’t an adversarial trial that can probe conflicting evidence. The sole question is whether the prosecutor can make his case. If there are witnesses who see a crime contradicted by witnesses who don’t, the trial jury decides after both sides question the witnesses. In the grand jury, the decision is merely whether the prosecutor can proceed. Then the indictment (or, more rarely, no indictment) is released during business hours, even in high profile cases. There are rarely press conferences, but when they occur the prosecutors lay out the charges. They do not advocate their case. They do not whine about social media. They do not speculate farther than the question at hand (In other words, all McCulloch had to say was that the grand jury found no basis for an indictment, yet he went farther and claimed the shooting was justified, an entirely different question.) They do not parade out discredited evidence.

I am open to the possibility that this was not a case that could end in conviction. But we cannot draw any conclusions about the facts from this travesty of a proceeding. It has no credibility. And I’m not even getting to the timing of the announcement – waiting hours and then 20 minutes more as the tension built and built, as if they wanted a riot.

(Chart via Philip Bump)

Chart Of The Day

Marijuana Kids

Poison control centers don’t get many calls about pot:

What you can see is that for kids 12-and-under, cases of marijuana poisoning are incredibly rare. There were 254 such calls in 2012. By contrast, there were about 1,000 calls related to kids ingesting energy drinks, 1,600 for kids drinking contact lens fluid, and over 4,000 for children who ate birth control pills.

Calls for caterpillar stings were twice as common as calls for marijuana exposure, and ingestions of liquid fabric softener were nearly three times as common.

Chart Of The Day


Dara Lind shares an important one:

An analysis by the Pew Public Safety Performance Project found that the states that shrunk their incarceration rates the most over the last five years experienced a slightly bigger drop in crime as the states where incarceration rates grew: 12 percent versus 10 percent. What about all fifty states? We made a scatterplot based on Pew’s data, mapping how a state’s imprisonment rate changed from 2008-2013 on the horizontal x axis, and how its crime rate changed on the vertical y axis. The result is, well, a scatter – there’s no clear relationship at all between prison and crime. That makes it a lot harder to justify the US’ current level of incarceration.

Meanwhile, Stephen Lurie urges Obama to cut off the money for mass incarceration:

The most pressing task is to address the enabler of incarceration: money. Policy experts from leading liberal and conservative justice-reform think tanks told me that spending is the single most important avenue for reform. Money determines outcomes; change that and you can change the whole system. In fact, as Inimai Chettiar, director of Justice Program at NYU Law School’s Brennan Center, explained to me, the current system arose out of expanded federal spending. “The federal government enacted several laws that basically gave states more money if they would increase their prison population,” she said. Truth-in-sentencing guidelines, for example, disbursed billions of dollars to “ensure that people would spend 85 percent of their sentences in prison even though those sentences were already … overly harsh.” That flow of cash, a product of the War on Drugs, also came with a series of designated metrics – like arrests or drug seizures – that incentivized states to gear performance towards what they saw to be lucrative outcomes. If the Justice Department revised its interpretation of many of these laws, it could reshape the system.

Chart Of The Day

Pew finds that men and women experience different sorts of online harassment:

Online Harassment

Jake Swearingen sees how “men, on the whole, report higher rates of less severe types of harassment (with the exception of physical threats), while women are more likely to be the focus of the two most frightening forms of it: sexual harassment and stalking.” Elise Hu connects the Pew survey to Gamergate:

The Pew research supports the notion that women are less welcome in the world of online gaming. Survey respondents, who were both men and women, were asked about a series of online platforms — social networks and online commenting forums, for example — and whether they thought those platforms were more welcoming to women, equally welcome to both sexes or more welcoming toward men. The findings show that while most online environments are viewed as equally welcoming, gaming is not. “The starkest results were for online gaming,” the researchers write, where 44 percent of respondents said the platform was more welcoming to men.

But Amanda Hess acknowledges the limits of Pew’s survey:

Pew asked respondents to elaborate on their experiences with harassment, and the resulting collection of anonymous accounts speaks to the difficulty of arriving at a shared definition of what “harassment” even is.

One respondent said that they were “told that someone should rape me which was horrific since it’s one of the things I fear most”; another “was called a racist on a blog for criticizing administration lies.” One said that a “man I went to high school with was sending me inappropriate photos and comments of a sexual nature”; another experienced “Chiding … for their likes and dislikes in things such as sports, cars, athletes, colleges football teams, things of that nature.” One was “told that if I stopped communicating with this man he would find me and rape me”; another reported that “any feminist who doesn’t already know me has been quick to characterize me as a privileged, misogynistic rape apologist.”

Is being called a rape apologist the same as being threated with rape? No, but it’s all harassment here. Whatever it is, it affects women and men differently; the study found that 38 percent of harassed women said their most recent experience with harassment was “extremely or very upsetting,” compared with 17 percent of harassed men. …

This is not to say that we know that women have it worse on the Internet. It’s to say that, so far, we just don’t know. What the Pew study does show is that the Internet is producing a lot of garbage, and men and women are served different flavors. Understanding exactly how that works will require better definitions and more dedicated study.

Timothy B. Lee recently interviewed legal scholar Danielle Citron, who suggests that things have gotten better:

TBL: You’ve been writing about this issue [of online harassment] since 2009. How do you see public attitudes shifting on this issue since you started?

DC: It’s been amazing, I have to say. I’m still not totally sold on the idea that we all agree this stuff is bad. But social attitudes have really shifted in the last two years. I gave a presentation at Yale in early 2008 about the problem of cybermobs and online harassment, and at the time the pushback to do anything about this was so profound. It was like “look, don’t touch the internet, you’re going to break it. Regulating it is going to cause more problems than good.” In the last couple of years, this phenomenon of revenge porn has brought alive the harm — maybe just because people can envision people they care about experiencing it.

Chart Of The Day

Wealth one percent

Yglesias eyes the wealthiest Americans:

The basic punchline is that wealth — accumulated asset ownership — is very, very concentrated and has been growing more concentrated for a generation. Back in 1980, 0.01 percent of the population owned three percent of national wealth. Today that top 0.01 percent, about 32,000 people, owns about 11 percent of national wealth. That’s a staggering increase from an already high base.

Chart Of The Day

Gallup asked “registered voters to rate the importance of 13 issues to their vote for Congress, and then to indicate which party would do a better job on each issue.” Republicans came out ahead:

Midterm Issues

Aaron Blake captions:

The GOP has an advantage on eight of the nine most important issues tested by Gallup, while Democrats lead on the four least-important. Among the issues the GOP leads on: the economy, the Islamic State (ISIS), the budget deficit, foreign affairs and even immigration.

Democrats, meanwhile, have finally gained an advantage on the Affordable Care Act — a.k.a. Obamacare — only to see it wane in importance as an issue. The lone big issue on which Democrats have an advantage (and a big one, at that) is equal pay for women.