How do people cope with crushing rents? USC’s Sean Angst, Soledad DeGregorio, Gary Painter and Jovanna Rosen discuss their findings

Rent burden describes much of a person’s or family’s income goes towards paying the rent. We have maps that show rent burden, we have data; we assume we know what we are talking about when we say the “rent burden is too high.”

But we really don’t. That’s why this research is so important: instead of burden being an abstraction, the survey conducted at the Center for Social Innovation delves into how rent burden dampens peoples’s ability to flourish in health and employment as well. Rent burden is a long-term barrier to community development and empowerment. These effects were in place even before the coronavirus, so that calls for extending an enforcing eviction bans are even more important now.

You can watch the researchers here in a highlights video if you are short on time.

Here is the link to the full talk.

Wonderful reads 2020: Dories and Harjo on indigenous feminist conceptions/practices of security in JPER

OMG YAYYYYYYYYYYYY this is a wonderful paper in so many regards. I have struggled in my undergraduate class, and in my own writing about perceptions of security, that planning has a deeply impoverished view of security: rejecting surveillance cameras (sure, no problem but then what? acting like bad things don’t happen is not an option) and then often glossing security as being unimportant, or just responding “Oh, the way to be safe is eyes on the street”, echoing Jane Jacobs, which again, is fine, but white shopkeepers and white eyes on the street are calling the cops on Black people and that doesn’t seem to be keeping people particularly safe, now does it?

This paper is both a wonderful theoretical contribution that recasts security as embedded in community and in “generative refusal” and it also is a fine case study on art and organizing to undo the erasure of settler colonial violence in urban locales.

Read it, just read it.

Here is the citation and the link. It’s behind a paywall, but I suspect we can find you a copy of it:

Dorries H, Harjo L. Beyond Safety: Refusing Colonial Violence Through Indigenous Feminist Planning. Journal of Planning Education and Research. 2020;40(2):210-219. doi:10.1177/0739456X19894382

Settler colonial violence targets Indigenous women in specific ways. While urban planning has attended to issues of women’s safety, the physical dimensions of safety tend to be emphasized over the social and political causes of women’s vulnerability to violence. In this paper, we trace the relationship between settler colonialism and violence against Indigenous women. Drawing on examples from community activism and organizing, we consider how Indigenous feminism might be applied to planning and point toward approaches to planning that do not replicate settler colonial violence.

Wonderful reads 2020: Amoako and Frimpong Boamah on becoming vulnerable to flooding in PT&P

Ok, I know diddly squat about Ghana other than I enjoyed my visit, and I also know diddly squat about flooding, but I LOVE how these authors use assemblage as both a theoretical approach and *almost* a method in constructing the comparative case studies of Agbogbloshie and Old Fadama, two informal settlements.

Assemblage theory is an ontological approach developed by Giles Deleuze Félix Guattari in their book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. I do not feel qualified to really present the approach, but it seems to me that Amoaka and Frimpong Boamah do a great job of taking it down from the clouds, as it were, and really unlocking the potential of the approach to help us understand how and why vulnerability to flooding happens. It releases the research from the demands of a paradigm: you don’t have to have supply or demand variables. You just examine the variables, knowing they are mutually constituted and influencing, and explore how they are assembling in the context.

My PhD students read the paper with me. There are a couple places in the cases where I think the narrative gets a muddled, but that happens to all of us and it doesn’t negate the fact that this is a very nice exemplar of really using theory to deepen empirical work.

Here is the citation and the link. It’s behind a paywall, but , I suspect we can find you a copy of it if you request it:

Clifford Amoako & Emmanuel Frimpong Boamah (2020) Becoming Vulnerable to Flooding: An Urban Assemblage View of Flooding in an African City, Planning Theory & Practice, 21:3, 371-391, DOI: 10.1080/14649357.2020.1776377

Assemblage thinking has emerged over the last two decades as an important theoretical framework to interrogate emerging complex socio-material phenomenon in cities. This paper deploys the assemblage lens to unpack the vulnerability of informal communities to flood hazards in an African city. Focusing on Agbogbloshie and Old Fadama, the largest informal settlements in Accra, Ghana, this paper employs multiple methods including archival analysis, institutional surveys, focus group discussions, and mini-workshops to study the processes of exposure and vulnerability to flood hazards in these two communities. We find that being vulnerable to flood hazards in these informal settlements emerges from historically contingent, co-constitutive processes and actants: the city officials’ modernist imaginaries and socio-cultural identities of residents in informal settlements; the social material conditions experienced by residents in these settlements; and the translocal learning networks of government and non-government actors that simultaneously (re)produce oppressive urban planning policies and grassroots resistance to these policies. The paper concludes with a call to urban planners and allied built environment practitioners to understand flood vulnerability as both a process and product of these complex interactions.

Wonderful reads 2020: Duminy and Parnell on city science in PT&P

I admit, I am one of those people who does all the eye-rolling when city science comes up because it way-too-often comes in the following form: Planners Have Failed to Solve the City, and Thus SCIENTISTS with their RIGOR are here to help. And then it boils down to a bunch of atheoretical and dehumanized equations, sometimes with BIG DATA attached.

In this “debate” piece, James Duminy and Susan Parnell say “not so fast, and don’t be so darn biased in your thinking” and they are, in general, right that knee-jerk dismissals are lazy and, over time, likely to be wrong. Now, I have to say, I am not convinced ulitimately by what they have here–they have reconceptualized science in ways that I suspect are really useful in order that there might be a possibility of city science, which is theoretically intereting but I suspect would make many a scientist get squinky. (That doesn’t disqualify the reconceptualization.) I do think they are onto something when they say perhaps the general model for a city science could come from citizen science (interesting). That releases the possibiities from the strangulation of academic hierachies in the first place. And they are right; if you dismiss it as impossible, you miss what it is possible to show with it.

I always like essays that make me examine my own intellectual biases and this one did it.

This baby does NOT have a paywall so you can go ahead and read it from here.

James Duminy & Susan Parnell (2020) City Science: A Chaotic Concept – And an Enduring Imperative, Planning Theory & Practice, 21:4, 648-655, DOI: 10.1080/14649357.2020.1802155

Debates surrounding the ‘new’ city sciences are polarized. On the one hand, a new generation of tech-savvy data scientists, spatial modellers, and analysts confidently express their ability to predict and explain city processes at unprecedented scales of complexity. On the other hand, those trained to see the world as fundamentally shaped by contingent meanings and subjectivities may see in such approaches little more than old positivism in new bottles, or perhaps a hubristic overstep of urban non-specialists onto their turf (Derudder & Van Meeteren, 2019).

Wonderful reads 2020: Kontokosta, Reina, and Bonczak on utility cost burdens for low-income households in JAPA

A few years back, I honestly told journal editors I couldn’t review any more housing voucher studies. The field was crowded, lots of people could review the papers in question, and virtually all of them would be more qualified and more interested than me in housing vouchers. I think vouchers are solid policy, but I”ve run out things to say about them. If we aren’t going to fund them generously, there are hard limits as to what they can do for affordability, granted the wage and housing scarcity environments of large cities. (A true statement about any income support policy.)

Thus it always makes me happy to see housing research that reaches into the greater social and economic context of affordability as a context. Now, I am economically very lucky, but every time I open my utility bill in southern California, I have to take several deep breaths and sit down because my head *swims*. Utilitie are expensive, and while I know my specific context is special, utilties for rental houses can’t be that much less mine. Furthermore, one of the ways that climate change is going to hurt people is through their utility bills, where at least some are going to have to make choices between paying more and letting Grandma struggle during heat waves.

Kontokosta, Reina, and Bonczak take up this question about how utility costs factor into the transportation-housing cost nexus using a dataset that planners don’t tend to use much.

Here is the citation and the link. It’s behind a paywall, but if you ask me or the author, I suspect we can find you a copy of it between the two of us.

Constantine E. Kontokosta, Vincent J. Reina & Bartosz Bonczak (2020) Energy Cost Burdens for Low-Income and Minority Households, Journal of the American Planning Association, 86:1, 89-105, DOI: 10.1080/01944363.2019.1647446

Problem, research strategy, and findings: Of the three primary components of housing affordability measures—rent, transportation, and utilities—utility costs are the least understood yet are the one area where the cost burden can be reduced without household relocation. Existing data sources to estimate energy costs are limited to surveys with small samples and low spatial and temporal resolution, such as the American Housing Survey and the Residential Energy Consumption Survey. In this study, we present a new method for small-area estimates of household energy cost burdens (ECBs) that leverages actual building energy use data for approximately 13,000 multifamily properties across five U.S. cities and links energy costs to savings opportunities by analyzing 3,000 energy audit reports. We examine differentials in cost burdens across household demographic and socioeconomic characteristics and analyze spatial, regional, and building-level variations in energy use and expenditures. Our results show the average low-income household has an ECB of 7%, whereas higher income households have an average burden of 2%. Notably, even within defined income bands, minority households experience higher ECBs than non-Hispanic White households. For lower income households, low-cost energy improvements could reduce energy costs by as much as $1,500 per year.

Takeaway for practice: In this study we attempt to shift the focus of energy efficiency investments to their impact on household cost burdens and overall housing affordability. Our analysis explores new and unique data generated from measurement-driven urban energy policies and shows low-income households disproportionately bear the burden of poor-quality and energy-inefficient housing. Cities can use these new data resources and methods to develop equity-based energy policies that treat energy efficiency and climate mitigation as issues of environmental justice and that apply data-driven, targeted policies to improve quality of life for the most vulnerable urban residents.

Wonderful reads 2020: Carole Turley Voulgaris @turleyvoulgaris on transit forecasting in JAPA

I’m interested in forecasting in the same way I am interested in divination. If planning is really about trying to create future imaginaries and understanding futures, forecasting is its quantitive arm. Today’s entry in the stuff I’ve enjoyed reading this year is about how experts who work with forecasts understand them. Transit New Start project forecasts have improved over time—which makes sense. The more people do, the better we get at it; the more projects we start, the more data on passenger behavior we get.

(People used to get mad at me because I was appalled at the CA HSR cost projections and not the ridership projections, but I stand my ground on that. HSR in CA would be an entirely new service. But we should know full damn well how much it costs to pour concrete in California. Passenger forecasts are extremely hard in my mind, for a lot of reasons that not the fault of either the analysts or the project promoters. That said, the incentive to diddle them is real and there’s a reason for the upward bias.)

This is a neat paper because she’s able to interview at least one person associated with all of the 82 New Start Projects that have been funded. It’s nice to see them all examined in retrospect. I look forward to seeing more of Voulgaris’ ideas here. One thing I’ve really wished for is that planners are not the only people who introduce new services, and I wonder sometimes if the world of market research and social marketing would yield some interesting insights on the field of passenger forecasts in transit and in influencing people to try transit.

Here is the citation and the link. It’s behind a paywall, but if you ask me or the author, I suspect we can find you a copy of it between the two of us.

Carole Turley Voulgaris (2020) What Is a Forecast for?, Journal of the American Planning Association, 86:4, 458-469, DOI: 10.1080/01944363.2020.1746191

The forecasts transit agencies submit in support of applications for federal New Starts funding have historically overestimated ridership, as have ridership forecasts for rail projects in several countries and contexts. Forecast accuracy for New Starts projects has improved over time. Understanding the motivations of forecasters to produce accurate or biased forecasts can help forecast users determine whether to trust new forecasts. For this study I interviewed 13 transit professionals who have helped prepare or evaluate applications for federal New Starts funds. This sample includes interviewees who have had varying levels of involvement in all 82 New Starts projects that opened between 1976 and 2016. I recruited interviewees through a snowball sampling method; my interviews focus on the interviewees’ perspectives on how New Starts project evaluation and ridership forecasting has changed over time. Interview results suggest that ridership forecasters’ motivations to produce accurate forecasts may have increased with increased transparency, increased influence on local decision making, and decreased influence on external (federal) funding.

Takeaway for practice: Planners can evaluate the likely trustworthiness of forecasts based on transparency, internal influence, and external influence. If forecast users cannot easily determine a forecast’s key inputs and assumptions, if the forecaster has been tasked with producing a forecast to justify a predetermined action, and if an unfavorable forecast would circumvent decisions by the forecaster’s immediate client, forecasts should viewed with skepticism. Planners should seek to alter conditions that may create these conflicts of interest. Forecasters seem to be willing and able to improve forecast accuracy when the demand for accurate forecasts increases.

Wonderful reads, 2020: Patsy Healey on Judy Innes

I have been struggling in 2020 with keeping up this blog, and one thing I wanted to get to was really discussing Judy Innes’ legacy. I tended to be a bit on deliberative planning theory, as I fall more into the grumpy Neo-Marxist camp than in the “let’s talk things through” camp. But Judy Innes exerted an important influence on planning theory, and her contributions deserve to be recognized.

Fortunately, Patsy Healey, one of my favorite theory writers, didn’t share my inability to get some good, constructive thoughts together, and she put together this lovely retrospective for Planning Theory & Practice, which is available to all without paywall. My favorite comment is a rebuke to my own grump tendencies:

Judy’s 1995 paper generated intense debate among the ‘planning theory’ community, as it competed for attention with those developing an alternative challenge to the positivist hegemony, based in a development of neo-Marxist political economy. This was evolving strongly in Europe at the time and was represented in the US by scholars such as Susan Fainstein and Micky Lauria. The result was a critique which argued that the communicative planning theorists failed to recognise the dominant capitalist forces structuring policy-making and planning practices. Judy’s search for improved decision-making within the current structure was merely fixing a system which generated gross injustices and needed to be fundamentally changed. Any search for ‘consensus’ among stakeholders masked major divisions within social formations. At one level, this debate was implicitly about whether to accept or reject the core axioms of liberal democracy. Judy herself never lost her commitment to the founding principles of American democracy. But it was also about how power is distributed in social formations and about how change in governing practices comes about.

It’s a perpetual tension that Healey doesn’t resolve, either. Making the incremental best of a crummy situation is quite often better, however marginal, than the notion that the revolution is forthcoming if we only pound the table hard enough for it. (Or, that those we assume the revolution would benefit actually share that belief or want a revolution.)

Forget Jeffrey Toobin, the REAL scandal was Lisa’s Green Tights (a story about Himpathy and how professional standards are about punishing women)

If you have been fortunate the past few weeks, you will have missed the news that New Yorker legal correspondent Jeffrey Toobin, was suspended for being caught masturbating during a Zoom meeting. This caused quite a stir, including the inevitable backlash of “stop being so prudish, everybody masterbates, get over it!” nonsense epitomized by essays like this little testimony to male privilege right here. (Where, naturally, we can just put aside Toobin’s history of bad conduct. No, actually, friend, we can’t.

Toobin was fired, leading inevitably to the comments about cancel culture, and honestly if people had the same level of angst about right-to-work laws as they do about whether Toobin’s firing, the world would be a better place. People are in general right in that we should stop being collectively shocked about masturbation, but I don’t think anybody in the collective is actually shocked by masturbation. I think a lot of us are instead shocked at Toobin’s judgment in a world where people are fired and/or treated like garbage professionally for much, much less.

To wit, everybody masterbates, but it’s not good professional conduct. Nobody really wants to watch Toobin do his thing, just like everybody poops, and absolutely nobody wants a to watch you do it.

What we have here around Toobin, more than any real prudery-busting, is what Kate Manne called “himpathy” in her wonderful book, Down Girl. Himpathy is the process society uses to make excuses for men’s bad conduct. The problem with himpathy is that it’s a built-in safety net for men that is simply not applied to rest of us. Imagine if Michelle Obama had been caught masturbating during a Zoom. The result is that men remain less accountable for their bad conduct, while the rest of us, particularly women and Black people, get punished again and again and again for our mistakes with no mercy at all.

A further example may help illustrate. Once, when I was a young consultant, I wore green tights to a client meeting. OMG! My dusty old white boy dinosaur boss said he when he saw what was an objectively cute outfit with green tights. THAT is SO unprofessional, we’ll stop on the way and get you PROPER NYLONS , but alas, Other Moldy Dude was 20 minutes late meeting us so that we could arrive to the meeting as a group (something Dinosaur insisted on, largely so that he could control our interactions with the clients lest they get to thinking (rightly) that Dinosaur didn’t in fact know how to do all the technical stuff he was charging his gigantic salary to them for “managing” us as we actually do the work they needed.)

So because Dude was 20 minutes late, we couldn’t stop to get pantyhose to correct my OUTRAGEOUS professional lapse of my green tights. It was a disaster before the meeting even started. My luck being what it is, the clients were really unhappy with the project—not my part of it, but various different parts, including that of the Dude who had been 20 minutes late. As we rode back in car together, I was roundly blamed for the disaster of the meeting. The clients, undoubtedly seeing my green tights, had taken us for “kids” and “amateurs” instead of the SURIOUS EXPERTS we were, and it was all my fault for not looking “professional” that day. (Keep in mind: I was a wearing knee-length skirt, a blazer, a shirt, and a scarf in addition to the INSUBORDINATE tights.)

The deal is this: nobody but my dinosaur of a boss was likely looking at my legs or if they had, they probably thought “huh, tights. Smart. It’s February in Chicago, after all.” The Dude was responsible for making us late; The Dinosaur was responsible for demanding we all show up together and for demanding we do so that we could brief him on the way so that he could take credit for our work. The Dude was responsible for the work they didn’t like; the Dinosaur, as the “manager” was supposed to be “managing” the Dude to what the client wanted. NONE of ANY of that, supposedly, made us unprofessional, except that, of course, it did.

Instead, it was the green tights, the tights that granted a hint of individuality to me in a world where pantyhose were the done thing.

When my yearly performance assessment came up SEVERAL MONTHS LATER the green tights came up AGAIN “you need be more aware of your professional appearance.” Professional dress is about making people spend money and controlling them, and it’s especially controlling and punishing to women of color whose bodies do not conform to white expectations. I feel a great deal of empathy for this. I can’t tell you how often, as a busty woman, my Dinosaur of a boss stared and glared if button went wonky or my shirt shifted so that a bit cleave showed. I LITERALLY CAN NOT HELP THAT BUTTONS AND SHIRTS shift.

So you will need forgive all of us women whom have been bludgeoned for years and years and years for our “failures to be profesh” if we don’t think Toobin merits all the grace in the world. You see, at the same time that people are lecturing us on how we simply mustn’t, mustn’t be judgey about Toobin and his needs, we are still being subjected to horsepoop from the WSJ (not linking; they can get their own damn clicks) lecturing us on how it’s not longer “cute” when children and pets interrupt Zoom, and now professional conduct demands children be put away. One wonders what those without live-in help do: it’s generally frowned upon to handcuff children to the water heater in the basement to preserve one’s professional image, but I dunno we wouldn’t wanna be unprofessional. Rolls eyes.

Look, women are already working themselves to death during the pandemic. They are doing the best they can to keep kids/dogs from interrupting your precious PowerPoint presentation that nobody is listening to anyway. Telling us we need “understand” some old guy’s showing his junk while granting us NO allowances for the same natural, meaningful homelike interruptions is gaslighting a major scale.

The Four Seasons Total Landscaping Company parking lot is everywhere/nowhere, and that should interest us (at least for a moment)

I have to admit, like many an urban eeeelleette, I enjoyed the utter shitshow of Rudy Giuliani rolling up a presser to announce the president completely and totally magotally won the election by a lot of legal votes in the suburban parking lot of a landscaping company. There was something so delicious about Donald Trump, the silver-spoon billionaire faux-populist who swanked around luxury hotels and resorts at every opportunity having to have his bananas-as-a-basket-full-of-fruit-bats personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, speak to the press from a scubby parking lot.

There has been much speculation about how, exactly, this came about. The Trump campaign, trying to save face, hints that they intended to have the presser not in glitzy downtowns, the stronghold of elites (yeah, right, like the corporate developers that have gotten rich off downtown developments are Democrats) but in a good, wholesome Republican stronghold. I think it’s more likely that they assumed the Four Seasons Hotel would simply drop everything and book the presser for them when they said they wanted it. I’ve stayed there; it’s gorgeous (the whole plaza space is) and it’s way more along the lines of the gold escalator vista that Trump used as an accessory for when he announced his candidacy.

Then when the Four Seasons hotel staff had to say “no” because they likely have 18 wedding parties and/or they just didn’t want a Trumpers/Biden mess outside their lobby (I wouldn’t), I suspect that everybody in the PR squad was “unavailable” and probably left Intern Jeff alone, who had neither the experience or the authority to just call the whole damn thing off, combined with campaign teams who have no more f*cks to give, scrambling to make something work. With nobody wanting to be the one person to say to Giuliani and/or Trump “no” the dominoes just kept falling so that Rudy is, once again, the object of jokes, giving a nonsense of a presser in parking lot by a sex shop named “Fantasy Island.” (Thank you forever to whoever came up with that business name, I haven’t laughed like that in years.) With, notably, a crematorium across the street.

The thing is, Four Seasons Landscaping is an insult to Donald Trump because it’s so utterly ordinary. There’s nothing really wrong with it as a place, unless you are really snobby about your places. It’s just not a space of any kind of statement or distinction—not a space of poverty, ethnicity, luxury or distinction. It’s a place that could be, and is, everywhere because it is planned only by toss away zoning and cheap rents. We could (and I will, a bit) scold planning for being so utterly disinterested in these unsightly but necessary places because, honestly, the sustainable city of the future is likely to require at least sex shops and crematoria if not landscaping businesses.

And that’s irony. While it might be tempting to yell at snobby planners like me who chortle with derision about the banality of suburban parking lot, nothing would be more mortifying to Donald Trump than to be associated with something so utterly ordinary. He has bulldozed and bribed his way into every luxury spot on the planet. He didn’t want an elite education; he wants to be seen as having obtained one. He is by all accounts an excellent golfer for a man his age, but he can’t just be that; he has to be the Ur Golfer, a Golfing God, winner of all winners. He wants his name in gold on the glitziest building on every urban skyline. Donald Trump is a uniquely potent candidate because he appeals simultaneously to the dirt poor culture warrior cursing the urban elite and the actual urban economic elite. The former see him as a Rodney Dangerfieldesque nouveau rich thumb in the eye to an imagined group of establishment rich libs like the Kennedy family. The urban and suburban millionaires know, for all his noise and crap, he’s fully one of them with their interests and nobody else’s.

The owners of Four Seasons Total Lanscaping are, unsurprisingly, Trump supporters; I suspect they have a tv in their waiting room (with mismatched chairs because they have so few office visitors) with FoxNews on. We’ve all been in these places. The campaign should suck up the mistake and do the symbolically smart thing—like having DJT call the business owners and thank them for their hospitality, reassuring one and all that DJT is really on their side and really really likes the Little People who vote for him. That won’t happen because the wounded bully is going to be too busy thinking about all the people he can hurt—needlessly, except to balm his sense of frustrated entitlement—on his way out. I see Esper was the first to go.

My father was a politician and, honestly, disinterested in his only daughter. He preferred men’s company; he used words like “women’s work” with absolute derision. But he did give me excellent advice in life and in politics. The first was “never get puking drunk on tequila”—advice which three decades later I still sincerely regret ignoring on my 21st birthday. The other advice he gave me (actually relevant) is that you have to know how to lose in politics if you want to stay in the game. We’ll see how the next 70 days go.

I suspect Donald Trump will enjoy being a past president so much that he will never run again. I still doubt he really wanted the job in the first place. Just like the first-rate education he could have had due to his wealth and privilege, he didn’t a actually want the work. He wanted the poshness of Wharton, and he wanted the power and trappings of the oval office, not an actual job with real responsibilities that require self-sacrifice. After all, he has the best job in the world already: getting rich by being famous for being a rich guy. But he’ll keep motioning that he’s going to run, to keep the focus on himself and to muddy the waters of anybody looking to investigate him.

I’m back, kids.

The anatomy of misinformation from a police (LA Sheriff’s Department) Twitter example

Ok, this post risks focusing on small things when there is, in fact, a terrible thing in play: two LASD deputies were ambushed in their car by a gunman who hospitalized them both. It looks like both deputies are hanging in there, and that is great. I wish them whole and well, soon, and the very best care possible so they can be with their loved ones for a long time.

But also, LASD officers killed two men in South LA recently, one in a firefight in Compton and another Dijon Kizzee, in south LA, who was riding his bicycle and was shot over 20 times. Their lives mattered, and the explainations from the LASD, in Mr. Kizzee’s case in particular, are not convincing.

These are the important issues, but I am not particularly qualified to speak to them. Instead, I want to present a little draft case study on misinformation and how it works using social media.

There are news stories circulating—not very many, but enough—that “protesters yelled that they want the deputies to die.” And that is a problem because it is a dangerous, de-humanizing idea, and I want to spend some time with it because it illustrates just how social media can generate misinformation, or last dodgy information, even without Russian trolls to help it along. TMZ’s headline:

Not even trying to be responsible. TMZ, you suck, you have always sucked.

The “protesters want the police to die” story is covered in the news stories, here: story

NBC story


When I critically examine the evidence presented in the stories, I see the following things:

1) there are no photos of a huge crowd in any photo. All the shots are close-ups of individuals (stories where people actually turn out for a protest usually do not have to scramble for images; these are all lousy, even the LA Times which has excellent photogs);

2) once the click-baiting “protesters yell terrible things” is covered (quickly), the stories focus on content: the deputies or the arrest of a KPCC journalist, Josie Huang (which means, click-bait title notwithstanding, the events didn’t merit putting in tons of reporter time, unlike the latter two stories);

3) a report from one eyewitness who credibly relates what he saw, which I think basically describes the actions documented in

4) a cellphone video held by the “protesters” themselves (which I will get to in a second)

5) a tweet from the Sheriff’s office account, which I also need to discuss;

6) a Tweet from a KPCC reporter who was one of two people arrested at the scene because she supposedly failed to follow instructions, etc etc etc who refers to “a handful of protesters” and

7) our mayor condemning the sentiment expressed.

In terms of overlap, it seems pretty clear from reviewing all these bits that 3 through 6 seem to be relating, from different viewpoints, the activities shown in the video (#4). The last is our Mayor taking the easily picked fruit opportunity to reassure the police that he thinks saying they should die is bad. Not the wrong sentiment, for sure, and all part of political leadership, undoubtedly, but it’s along the lines of kissing babies.

The question becomes: when is a protest a protest, and when it is a man with a YouTube channel trying to increase social media hits? Because I see the latter, not the former, in just about all of this.

The video comes from a channel that has 419 subscribers (which is chicken feed in YouTube terms). It is a shaky, 40-minute long video from the “protesters” themselves where nothing much happens. We spend a lot of time watching them watching cars go by, which is itself an indictment of pedestrian amenities in LA more than anything else. There aren’t really any other people around them, so calling this a “protest” is bestowing dignity and intentionality that doesn’t seem merited based on what we got here.(1) The police they engage with handle themselves professionally as far as I can see. And then we get to hear the “protesters” saying various shitty things and insisting they want to enter the hospital. The things yelled are spelled out in this Fox News story:

“That’s why you’re dying one by one, you stupid f—s,” a man can be heard saying. “Y’all gonna die one by one. This ain’t gonna stop.”

“You’re next with the f—— hot pocket,” a man shouted.

“I want to deliver a message to the family of the [inaudible]: I hope they f—— die,” a man yelled.

“You’re next with the f—— hot pocket,” a man shouted.

“I want to deliver a message to the family of the [inaudible]: I hope they f—— die,” a man yelled.

Ok if these are protest chants, they are the worst ones I have ever heard. “A man said”….yes, but in at least two of these it sound like the same man. My hearing isn’t all that great, though, and I obviously wasn’t there, so let’s forget that and go big here. Yeah. Even if you treat these all as different people saying these things….there are maaaaaybe five people. Five.

Thanks to a FoxNews affiliate featuring the video, it has at the time of this writing over 160K views. Now, for a 419 subscriber YouTuber, that can be a big-ish deal. So far, i haven’t seen advertising, but this numbers are were companies begin to pay attention. For videos that do attract advertising, 100K and above can be decent-ish paydays, ranging towards $1500 depending on the advertisers. That isn’t bad granted that this is not polished content. YouTube videos like this are speculative: you won’t hit the 1 million views unless you are very very lucky and you likely won’t be very very lucky unless you make your own luck.

You might also get lucky and have your long, meandering video edited down to a much smaller, more menacing-sounding clip by a YouTube channel owned by the Chinese government. Gosh, that’s sure swell of them. I am sure whoever edited this bit for us was just being helpful and there was no other reason or anything. Cough.

It’s entirely possible that this YouTuber is sincere in their protest, as are his handful of peers. Trying to manipulate social media can be a political tactic instead of a profit strategy. That still doesn’t mean the action or the video is analogous to BLM protests, and it does not mean that BLM protesters share this guy’s feelings or support what he says.

So let’s get to how this likely got picked up by Fox in the first place. The Sheriff’s office tweeted this:

  1. Journalists and editors: Tweets are NOT evidence of anything other than what people say on Twitter; and
  2. I’m going to just say it: it’s a weird tweet. The LASD official feed seems almost never to divulge specifics about active law enforcement actions until they are resolved, and not even then. Their feed is usually very staid, PR, public information stuff: missing people, the Sheriff doing the kissing babies routine (giving out backpacks, wearing a mask, etc), general announcement “law enforcement at Melrose & 3rd, stay out of the area” etc. Useful, and, I’d argue, responsible communication for the most part. But this Tweet is a bad idea.

In all my perusing the feed, the department really doesn’t says things like “Hey dirtbags at Melrose and 3rd, PUT DOWN YOUR WEAPONS.” Because that would be weird. Just like this “hey protesters yelling ‘we hope they die’ ” tweet is weird.

As a result of its specificity, I think this tweet, just like the eyewitness and the KPCC journalist, refers to activities of the small group in the video. Now, technically, they DO call themselves protesters. Should the LASD and subsequent media accounts take them at their word go forward with that language. After all, who can claim to represent “protest”? And yet….this is irresponsible social media and media.

If I called myself the Queen of England and walked naked down Crenshaw, the reports would be “woman calling herself the Queen of England walked naked down Crenshaw.” They wouldn’t say “The Queen of England walked down Crenshaw.” Even if I tweeted it.

It’s a bad idea–and bumping up against unethical–for the LASD to post off-the-cuff like this about active events: specifics are easy to get wrong in the moment. And once that happens, the information environment is corrupted.

Really read that tweet. What does it mean? To whom is it really addressed? Do they just want the people who are yelling “we hope they die” to move out of the way, or should all the people move out of the way? Do the people standing in front of the exits and entrances but saying nothing get to stay, then? Does the qualifier include all the protesters there because all the protesters are yelling that one thing? Or do the protesters yelling other, less rotten things get to block the ambulances?

Really, what is the “who are yelling ‘we hope they die’doing in that Tweet? (None of the video evidence we have so far shows anybody saying “we hope they die.” There’s no “we” in any of the statements I could find documented.)

Now, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but still. Who is tweeting this information? An officer at the scene? Somebody who heard this was happening from dispatch or command? Somebody who saw video that hasn’t as yet been released to the rest of us?

By referring to the people as “protesters” (a stretch by the available evidence) and including this little descriptor, this is a special kind of Tweet—a priming Tweet. With priming, the tweet is addressed to an audience, and not protesters. What the LASD tweeter wanted was to get it out there that some mean things were getting said—that information was for the rest of us, which is why the ‘who are yelling’ phrase plunked in there is so useless and confusing when it’s read as a real instruction to people actually there. It’s not. It’s theater.

I mean, if an officer tweets “hey stop or I”ll shoot” and blasts that into the world does that count as a caution so he doesn’t actually have to say it to the suspect? OF COURSE NOT.

Priming is a communication strategy that sets people up to think in a specific way about information: Look at the bad protestors saying the bad things about us and endangering human life by getting in the way of the ambulance.

Do I think this was some grand, sinister plot from the LASD? That’s actually the worse part of this– No, I don’t. Social media doesn’t need intent to work misinformation magic, even though there’s lot of manipulation going on here. (The Chinese government channel type knows exactly what they are doing and why.)

Instead, I think police officers and staffers are human beings, and when terrible things happen, human beings have emotions and social media trades on emotions—the more big-hearted you are, the better. The person running the account, feeling the things it’s natural to feel when colleagues and peers are gunned down, hears something that adds fuels to their emotions–there are people saying terrible things–and emotion fuels the tweet.

It’s also why this story got lodged so hard in the minds of the Facebook conservatives who brought it to my attention in their contempt for protesters. After all, what decent person actively hopes another one dies, especially not two young people with children like these two deputies? It’s a hateful thing, and hateful things stir up deep emotions, and when humans have deep emotions….they turn to their social support networks to…share. That is what I think happened here.

The misinformation is then out and circulating, replicating outrage.

Now, just because it’s not sinister or intentional doesn’t mean it should happen. This is the official account, and as much sympathy as I have for how much pain everybody at the SD’s office must have been in that night, this one is likely over the line in public ethics. That becomes more the case when the ONLY other Tweet that breaks the 4th wall, as it were…that I can find is here:

There are no “dear litterers” or “dear jaywalkers” or “dear drivers who have a tail light out” entries in this feed. The LASD has a standard public agency feed…..with these weird little anti-protester primes sifted in.

That’s what police union feeds are for, not official feeds. In US politics, in general, public communication channels are not supposed to be self-dealing or electioneering. Donald Trump has traduced those norms, and the lines often are not that bright, but that doesn’t mean the norms weren’t a good idea in the first place.

(1) Are we really, really supposed to believe that any of these people genuinely think they can walk into a hospital for a protest or any other non medical reason? Have they been to a hospital in the last 20 years? I mean with the lousy health care set up we have in the US, maybe they haven’t but there’s two armed security guards on the way to my boob doctor. (Maybe they are just really healthy. That woud be nice.)