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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Published with permission from Alternet.

As Black Lives Matter protests continue across the nation, a new study is complicating the debate around police violence.

The study, which comes out of Harvard, took data from a number of police departments across the country and looked at how different groups of people are treated by law enforcement.

As expected, the study found that police officers are more likely to use force when dealing with black people than they are when dealing with white people.

For example, police are 18 percent more likely to push black people against a wall, 16 percent more likely to put them in handcuffs, 19 percent more likely to draw their weapons, and so on.

These statistics are depressing for sure, but not really all that surprising given the reality of systemic racism in this country.

But what is surprising is what this study found about police officers use of lethal force, i.e. when they kill people. Contrary to what you’d expect, it found that police are just as likely to kill white people as they are black people.

Predictably, the right-wing media has jumped on this as proof—proof—that the Black Lives Matter movement is lying. For example, the Drudge Report linked to a New York Times story about the Harvard study with a headline that read, “STUDY: NO RACIAL BIAS in police shootings…”

But is this study really all that definitive?

No, it’s not.

The problem with the Harvard study is that it relies on data from just a handful of different police departments, most of which are located in big cities like Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles. This isn’t a bad idea on its own. After all, the bigger a city is, the more representative it is of the population as a whole. But in the context of studying police violence, relying on data from just a few big cities isn’t the best idea.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that some of the worst police violence occurs in smaller cities like Ferguson, Missouri or Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A truly accurate analysis of police use of force should therefore include data from these smaller cities, not just the big cities that are almost always better trained and better equipped than their local counterparts.

And that raises the question—why didn’t the author of the Harvard study use better data? Well, it’s probably not because he was trying to make it seem like there’s no racial bias in police violence. It’s because there’s not really any good police violence data out there.

Even after the reforms the FBI announced back in December, reporting of police violence to the federal government is still completely voluntary. Until reporting by police departments of their officers’ use of force is compulsory and countrywide, we’re never going to get an accurate picture of what’s going on.

But even if reporting police violence data were compulsory, there’d still be big obstacles to using that data in any sensible way. That’s because thanks to Republicans and the National Rifle Association, it’s been illegal for more than 20 years for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct any research on gun violence.

That’s right—illegal!

This ban began back in the 1990s after the CDC published some good, solid research into gun violence. One of the first studies they did found a clear relationship between increases in gun ownership and increased homicide rates.

The NRA didn’t like where this was going for obvious reasons, so it started pushing its bought-and-paid-for shills in Congress to do something about those pesky scientists at the CDC. The NRA got its wish in 1996 when Republican Congressman Jay Dickey introduced what’s now known as the Dickey Amendment.

It was a policy rider attached to a spending bill and it stated that, “None of the funds available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

Because it’s so broadly worded, the Dickey Amendment has had a chilling effect on gun research at the federal level.

No one wants to go to jail for doing their job, and CDC researchers live in fear that they’ll become the next Lois Lerner, dragged in front of a congressional kangaroo court and forced to testify for hours on end.

Tragically, we really need the information from good studies about police violence—but the Dickey Amendment has prevented them from being done.

Therefore, we don’t know what kind of connections there are between gun ownership and police violence, connections we should have known about years ago but haven’t because of the gun industry’s stranglehold over public policy.

The NRA, of course, couldn’t be happier with this situation. But this is just absurd. Even Jay Dickey thinks so. He’s now come out against his own amendment and thinks it should be repealed.

He’s right.

Thom Hartmann is an author and nationally syndicated daily talk show host. His newest book is “The Crash of 2016: The Plot to Destroy America — and What We Can Do to Stop It.

Photo: Flickr user DonkeyHotey

President Trump and former Vice President Biden at first 2020 presidential debate

Screenshot from C-Span YouTube

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Donald Trump is claiming that he will still debate despite the rule change that will cut off the candidates' microphones while their opponent delivers his initial two-minute response to each of the debate's topics. But everything else Trump and his campaign are saying sounds like they're laying the groundwork to back out.

"I will participate," Trump told reporters Monday night. "But it's very unfair that they changed the topics and it's very unfair that again we have an anchor who's totally biased." At his Arizona rally Monday, Trump attacked moderator Kristen Welker as a "radical Democrat" and claimed she had "deleted her entire account," which is false. Trump's campaign manager, Bill Stepien, went further in his whining about the debate.

Stepien touted a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates as "Our letter to the BDC (Biden Debate Commission)." That letter came before the CPD announced that it would mute microphones for portions of the debate in response to Trump's constant interruptions at the first debate, though Stepien knew such a decision was likely coming, writing, "It is our understanding from media reports that you will soon be holding an internal meeting to discuss other possible rule changes, such as granting an unnamed person the ability to shut off a candidate's microphone. It is completely unacceptable for anyone to wield such power, and a decision to proceed with that change amounts to turning further editorial control of the debate over to the Commission which has already demonstrated its partiality to Biden."

Shooooot, here I thought it was generous to Trump that the microphones will only be cut to give each candidate two uninterrupted minutes, leaving Trump the remainder of each 15-minute debate segment to interrupt.

But what did Stepien mean by "other possible rule changes," you ask? What was the first rule change? Well, it wasn't one. Stepien wrote to strongly complain that "We write with great concern over the announced topics for what was always billed as the 'Foreign Policy Debate' in the series of events agreed to by both the Trump campaign and the Biden campaign many months ago." Welker's announced topics include "Fighting COVID-19, American families, Race in America, Climate Change, National Security, and Leadership," Stepien complained, using this as a launching pad to attack Biden on foreign policy.

Except this debate was never billed as a foreign policy debate. It's true that in past years, the third debate has sometimes focused on foreign policy, but here in 2020, the CPD's original announcement of debate formats and moderators said of the third debate, "The format for the debate will be identical to the first presidential debate," and the first debate "will be divided into six segments of approximately 15 minutes each on major topics to be selected by the moderator."

So even before the CPD finalized the decision to prevent Trump from interrupting for two minutes in each of six segments, so 12 minutes out of a 90-minute debate, Team Trump was falsely complaining that the debate was rigged. No wonder—as a Biden campaign spokesman noted, the Trump campaign is upset "because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous Covid response."

Trump has lost one debate and backed out of one debate. If he goes into this one with the attitude he's showing now—attacking the moderator, attacking the topics, enraged that he can't interrupt for two entire minutes at a time—he's going to lose this one, badly, once again hurting his already weak reelection prospects. So which will it be? Back out and have that be the story, or alienate one of the largest audiences of the entire presidential campaign by showing what kind of person he is?