The Douglass Equation

In reflecting on the complexities of past and present protracted global conflicts, please analyze what singular global conflict most puzzles you personally, and discuss why.

(Maximum 500 words)

One-hundred-and-ninety-nine candles blow out on February 14, 2017.¹

For two weeks, Frederick Douglass has been trending on Twitter; he’s recognized more and more these days² — particularly for his attempts to regress the eponymous equation he formulated in 1886:³

Violence = denied justice + enforced poverty + prevailing ignorance + a sense of an organized conspiracy to oppress a social class + ε.

Today, Douglass explores another variable: distrust of authorities.

He recalls the injustices faced by Colombians in Medellín, occupied by cartel-running paramilitaries;⁴ ⁵ thinks of the deferred Liberian dreams⁶ in Monrovia, where cops extort locals in the streets;⁷ sees the cultural incompetencies of the police in Thunder Bay,⁸ a city facing one-third of Ontario’s Indigenous murders;⁹ and remembers the bribe-reaching judges¹⁰ of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, who sold kids for cash.¹¹

Arrows litter Douglass’s notes, pointing from regressor to regressor, to error term and back,¹² and all to violence.

The world, he thinks, has this lesson to learn: distrust of authorities is an omitted and endogenous variable in the Douglass equation.¹³

Strolling through Jackson Park, Douglass recalls wishing for more from the White City.¹⁴ “I hope and trust,” he once said, “all will come out right in the end, but the immediate future looks dark and troubled.”¹⁵

Yet, dark and troubled have been the one-hundred-and-twenty-three years since he uttered those words.

It’s astounding, he thinks, how humans can now soar across oceans — even send ships beyond Earth! And still, at the core of the precincts, courts, and city hall remains this… putrid… sticky… tar.

Tar sticky enough to leave apples to rot and spoil the bunches that followed. Sticky as the blood on the leaves of Southern poplars.¹⁶

Tar in the form of the sticky culture — the harmful assumptions, toxic values, and deadly behaviours¹⁷ — that perpetuates apathy and villainy, rightfully deserving distrust, and, unsurprisingly, a hindrance to peace!

What removes the tar?

Better training?¹⁸ New laws on civil forfeiture?¹⁹ Federal investigations?²⁰ ²¹ “Independent” accountability offices?²² Douglass has seen it all, but he knows not even CompStat reaches deep enough.²³

Shallow interventions wouldn’t purify the CPD from its tar. They certainly didn’t stop that wretched Burge and Co from committing their harrowing atrocities as recent as 1991!²⁴ So, what a surprise it was that a carousel of chiefs could do naught to gain trust and legitimacy²⁵ for a now-one-hundred-and-eighty-one-year-old institution²⁶ in desperate need of cultural reform.²⁷

Until this tar is scorched off, Douglass knows neither persons nor property will be safe… just as he warned one-hundred-and-thirty-one years ago!²⁸

In anguished rage, he glares at the mocking words on that Jackson Park plaque:²⁹

Author. Editor. Orator. Statesman. Leader.

Both ashamed and betrayed, Douglass asks what more he could have done for the Jonylahs³⁰ and Laquans.³¹ For the Kings and Shabazzes. And for all the dreamers who hoped for better than this land of the bereaved and home of the depraved.

But whether or not he takes himself for a failure or a fool, Frederick Douglass demands still to know how.

How in the heavens does one make bleach?

References

  1. Biography.com Editors (2020, January 13) Frederick Douglass Biography. A&E Television Networks, accessed at https://www.biography.com/activist/frederick-douglass on January 21, 2020.
  2. The White House (2017, February 1) Remarks by President Trump in African American History Month Listening Session. The White House, accessed at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-african-american-history-month-listening-session/ on January 21, 2020.
  3. Douglass F (1886, April 16) Southern Barbarism. Speech delivered on the occasion of the twenty-fourth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in Washington, DC.
  4. Harris Public Policy (2018, October 30) Pearson Research Profile: Chris Blattman. Video. Accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=decHnDX_ZBc on January 21, 2020.
  5. Alsema A (2017, July 25) Security crisis in Medellin: AGC takes on gangs and police alike. Colombia Reports. Accessed at https://colombiareports.com/security-crisis-medellin-agc-takes-gangs-police-alike/ on January 21, 2020.
  6. Hughes L (1951) Harlem. Accessed at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46548/harlem on January 21, 2020.
  7. Brender V (2013, August 22) No Money, No Justice: Police Corruption and Abuse in Liberia. Human Rights Watch. Accessed at https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/08/22/no-money-no-justice/police-corruption-and-abuse-liberia on January 21, 2020.
  8. Office of the Independent Police Review Director (2018, December) Broken Trust: Indigenous People and the Thunder Bay Police Service. Accessed at http://oiprd.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/OIPRD-BrokenTrust-Final-Accessible-E.pdf on January 21, 2020.
  9. Jago R (2019, July 8) The Deadly Racism of Thunder Bay. The Walrus. Accessed at https://thewalrus.ca/the-deadly-racism-of-thunder-bay/ on January 21, 2020.
  10. Hughes L (1938) Kids Who Die. Accessed at https://genius.com/Langston-hughes-kids-who-die-annotated on January 21, 2020.
  11. May R, Timmons L, Weekley J, Das P (Producers), May R (Director) (2013) Kids for Cash. Documentary. United States: SenArt Films.
  12. Angrist J, Pischke JS (2014) Mastering ‘Metrics: The Path from Cause to Effect (Princeton University Press, Princeton).
  13. Douglass F (1886, April 16) Southern Barbarism. Speech delivered on the occasion of the twenty-fourth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in Washington, DC.
  14. Douglass F (1893, January 2) Lecture on Haiti. Speech at the Haitian Pavilion, delivered at the dedication ceremonies at the World’s Colombian Exposition in Jackson Park, Chicago. Accessed at http://faculty.webster.edu/corbetre/haiti/history/1844-1915/douglass.htm on January 21, 2020.
  15. Douglass F (1894, January 9) The Lessons of the Hour. Speech in Washington, DC. Accessed at https://iowaculture.gov/sites/default/files/history-education-pss-areconstruction-douglass-transcription.pdf on January 21, 2020.
  16. Meeropol A (1937) Strange Fruit. Accessed at https://genius.com/Abel-meeropol-strange-fruit-annotated on January 21, 2020.
  17. Schein E (1984) Coming to a New Awareness of Organizational Culture. MIT Sloan Management Review. Accessed at https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/coming-to-a-new-awareness-of-organizational-culture/ on January 21, 2020.
  18. Lantigua-Williams J (2016, July 13) How Much Can Better Training Do to Improve Policing? The Atlantic. Accessed at https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/07/police-training/490556/ on January 21, 2020.
  19. Ruddell B (2018, August 15) Illinois Has a New Civil Asset Forfeiture Law. But Will It Stop ‘Policing For Profit’? American Civil Liberties Union Illinois. Accessed at https://www.aclu-il.org/en/news/illinois-has-new-civil-asset-forfeiture-law-will-it-stop-policing-profit on January 21, 2020.
  20. Boehm R (1997) Records of the Wickersham Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement: Part 1: Records of the Committee on Official Lawlessness. Guide to the microfilm edition of Records of the Wickersham Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement. Accessed at http://www.lexisnexis.com/documents/academic/upa_cis/1965_WickershamCommPt1.pdf on January 21, 2020.
  21. Caine P (2017, January 16) Will DOJ Report Finally Force Reform at the Chicago Police Department? WTTW (Chicago PBS). Accessed at https://news.wttw.com/2017/01/16/will-doj-report-finally-force-reform-chicago-police-department on January 21, 2020.
  22. Kalven J (2019, May 29) Chicago’s Police Accountability Office Fails a Major Test. The Intercept. Accessed at https://theintercept.com/2019/05/29/chicago-police-civilian-oversight-police-shooting-ricky-hayes/ on January 21, 2020.
  23. Neusteter SR, Subramanian Ram, Trone J, Khogali M, Reed C (2009, August). Gatekeepers: The Role of Police in Ending Mass Incarceration. Vera Institute of Justice. Accessed at https://www.vera.org/downloads/publications/gatekeepers-police-and-mass-incarceration.pdf on January 21, 2020.
  24. Amnesty International (2014, April) Chicago and Illinois: Torture and Ill-Treatment. Bringing Human Rights Home. Amnesty International. Accessed at https://www.amnestyusa.org/files/bringinghumanrightshome_torture.pdf on January 21, 2020.
  25. Graham DA (2015, December 1) The Firing of Chicago Police Chief Garry McCarthy. The Atlantic. Accessed at https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/12/garry-mccarthy-fired-chicago/418203/ on January 21, 2020.
  26. Chicago Police Department (2020) History. Chicago Police Department. Accessed at https://home.chicagopolice.org/about/history/ on January 21, 2020.
  27. Armacost B (2016, August 19) The Organizational Reasons Police Departments Don’t Change. Harvard Business Review. Accessed at https://hbr.org/2016/08/the-organizational-reasons-police-departments-dont-change on January 21, 2020.
  28. Douglass F (1886, April 16) Southern Barbarism. Speech delivered on the occasion of the twenty-fourth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in Washington, DC.
  29. Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference (2009) Memorial Marker to Frederick Douglass in Jackson Park. Accessed at http://www.hydepark.org/parks/jpac/FredDougMem.htm on January 21, 2020.
  30. Sege A, Garner J, Rhodes D (2013, May 28) 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins killed over video game system, Chicago police say. The Chicago Tribune. Accessed at https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2013-05-28-ct-met-jonylah-watkins-20130528-story.html on January 21, 2020.
  31. Rumore K, Yoder C (2019, January 18) Minute by minute: How Jason Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald. The Chicago Tribune. Accessed at https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/laquan-mcdonald/ct-jason-vandyke-laquan-mcdonald-timeline-htmlstory.html on January 21, 2020.

How This Essay Came to Be

I knew the moment I read the prompt that I wanted to write about the need for and difficulties in implementing institutional reform to prevent violence.

I rewrote this essay from scratch at least twice. The first set of drafts focused on Langston Hughes’s poems and didn’t mention Frederick Douglass at all.

After coming across a famous Frederick Douglass quote from his 1886 Southern Barbarism speech…

The American people have this lesson to learn: That where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

… I decided I wanted my essay to explore what I refer to as the “Douglass equation”. In some sort of sleep-drunk mentality some days/weeks later, the thought hit me: What if Frederick Douglass truly had been alive and kicking when he was being “recognized more and more” in 2017? Followed by: Omg, what if 2017 Frederick Douglass were an econometrician?!

And, thus, we have the final version (above): draft #10 or so in a 40-page document of drafts, half-drafts, and notes of heartbreaking research from what was yet a fun writing process.

There’s a bunch of things I’d like to edit even now (wording, flow, and whatnot), but I’m leaving the essay up exactly the way I submitted it in my application — in its still-too-clunky-but-excuse-me-do-you-know-how-difficult-it-was-to-condense-this-into-500-words state. It’s not perfect, but, hey, I still got in.

Disclaimer: Author is still a noob at econometrics (evidenced, for instance, by the fact that said author had mortifyingly forgotten to put betas — the actual regressors mentioned in the essay! — into the equation). A more econometric-looking equation would be like so:

Violence = β₀ + β₁ · denied justice + β₂ · enforced poverty + β₃ · prevailing ignorance + β₄ · a sense of an organized conspiracy to oppress a social class + ε.

Regarding endogenous variables, arrows could/would also point from violence (the outcome variable, also known as the regressand) to the regressors and/or the error terms (if I’m not mistaken).

And there’s gotta be a better name for the fourth variable….

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Harrista

Harrista

Thoughts of a policy student. Still learning…