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Dig Investigative nuggets from the staff of Reveal

Austin stops selling police guns after Texas Standard/Reveal investigation

The City of Austin will stop selling used police guns to the public through gun dealers.

The decision comes in the wake of an investigation by Texas Standard and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, which disclosed that 21 of the 50 largest law enforcement agencies in Texas had sold weapons to the public over the last decade. The investigation identified more than 10,000 weapons sold in that timeframe.

That included firearms sold by the Austin Police Department, which offloaded over 1,100 handguns to Bailey’s House of Guns, a Houston-area gun store. Money from those sales went toward the department’s acquisition of new duty weapons.

The investigative report raised a host of concerns from city officials, chief among them the possibility that former Austin police weapons could slip into the hands of criminals. In a city council session Tuesday, Council Member Alison Alter described her issues with the process.

“The concern that drove this resolution was one that we did not want our police department to be contributing guns out into the community … guns that could then be turned to and be used on our police and on our community,” she said.

While former Austin police guns are released to licensed gun dealers who are required by federal law to run background checks on prospective buyers, the city resolution states the current background check system may not be adequate.

The council resolution cites holes in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which came to light after Sutherland Springs shooter Devin... Read More >

The Hate Report: 4 million anti-Semitic tweets and counting

A new report from the Anti-Defamation League puts some numbers to Twitter’s abuse problem, showing that the social media platform plays host to millions of anti-Semitic messages a year.

The league found that in one year, from the end of January 2017 to the end of January 2018, Twitter users sent or retweeted at least 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets. League researchers used automated searches, combined with human statistical analysis, to draw their conclusions.

Starting in late 2017, Twitter began a significant crackdown on personalities who share hateful speech. The American Nazi Party and white supremacist group Vanguard America were both kicked off the platform in December.

This purge has seemingly done little to tackle the problem of rampant anti-Semitism on Twitter, however. A quick search just now for the word “holohoax,” a euphemism used by anti-Semites who are Holocaust deniers, yielded dozens of vile results from the past 24 hours, including tweets like this.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said Twitter isn’t doing enough to stop harassment of the Jewish people.

“This new data shows that even with the steps Twitter has taken to remove hate speech and to deal with those accounts disseminating it, users are still spreading a shocking amount of anti-Semitism and using Twitter as a megaphone to harass and intimidate Jews,” Greenblatt said in a press release.

Hate blotter

  • A white South Carolina man was arrested and charged with attempting to hire an undercover FBI agent to murder his African American neighbor. For $500, the man allegedly wanted the agent to “hang his... Read More >

3 lessons we learned from Voting Block NJ

Collaborative journalism is having a moment right now, but it’s more than just a buzzword. As budgets and staff sizes continue to shrink in local newsrooms, collaboration has become one crucial way to expand coverage and reach.

Last year, in partnership with the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University and New America Media, we launched Voting Block NJ, a collaborative initiative that brought together 25 newsrooms that serve New Jersey to cover the state’s gubernatorial election. Our effort resulted in more than 70 stories and over two dozen community events, called Political Potlucks, that invited the public into the conversation and reporting process.

Since wrapping up Voting Block NJ, we’ve published a step-by-step guide on launching Voting Block projects for the 2018 midterm elections and have been working with Lindsay Green-Barber of The Impact Architects to evaluate the project’s impact.

Her full report on Voting Block is now NJ Voting Bock Report

If you’re interested in doing something like this, the report provides insight into how the project was organized, its effect on newsrooms and audiences, and key lessons and recommendations.

We’re hoping to take the lessons from our work in New Jersey to other communities with Reveal Local Labs, our new initiative aimed at supporting local investigative reporting and fostering collaboration. As we move into this next phase of our work, here are three key takeaways from Voting Block NJ:

Relationships matter.

Voting Block partners said they joined the collaborative due to a pre-existing relationship with the coordinating partners. When launching... Read More >

The Hate Report: Help us investigate hate

In this week’s report: We’re launching a crowdsourcing effort to improve our reporting on hate in America.

We recently completed a big project outlining how, across the country, people have been invoking the name of President Donald Trump in hate speech and hate-fueled attacks.

Reporting that story, we interviewed dozens of people of different ages, races, religions and sexual identities. By scouring the Documenting Hate database, we heard experiences that we, as individuals, never have lived or even fully understood. By listening to so many voices, we heard a pattern, and that pattern became an investigation, which then became a story.   

The more people we can speak with, and learn from — the more stories we can hear — the better we will understand hate’s complicated place within American society.

Now, we’re going to apply the open-source attitude to all of our hate coverage. And we want your help.

You’re smart, passionate people. That’s why you’ve taken the time to subscribe to, and (hopefully) read, our weekly reports. We think many of you have expertise, or experiences, or ideas, or all of the above, that can help us understand and explain the people and movements we write about.

So, we’re frequently going to be including a new section in this report called Help Wanted. This is exactly what it sounds like – a call for contributions of time, research, knowledge, data, contacts, sources and ideas from you, our readers. This is part of an effort we’re a part of called Join the Beat.... Read More >

This kind of civil rights lawsuit may be endangered under Trump

In announcing a $2.85 million settlement in an age discrimination lawsuit today, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s acting chairwoman congratulated her civil rights agency.

“I am very proud of the relief the EEOC has obtained here … to ensure that applicants and workers do not face this sort of discrimination in the future,” Victoria Lipnic, a longtime commissioner appointed as acting chairwoman by President Donald Trump last year, said in a statement.

But Lipnic actually voted against bringing the lawsuit in the first place.

It’s an example of the kind of ambitious civil rights lawsuit that may not happen once Trump’s other nominees are confirmed and the five-member commission swings from a Democratic majority to a Republican one.

Back in 2015, the commission’s general counsel wanted the go-ahead to sue Seasons 52, part of the Darden family of restaurants, for systematically discriminating against job applicants over the age of 40 at restaurants nationwide.

Lipnic and the other Republican commissioner voted against filing suit, while three Democrats voted for it, clearing the path that led to the nearly $3 million settlement.

In the end, more than 135 job applicants gave testimony that Seasons 52 managers asked them their age and made comments such as, “Seasons 52 girls are younger and fresh,” according to the commission. The settlement also requires the company to change its hiring processes and pay for a compliance monitor to make sure it doesn’t discriminate anymore.

A Seasons 52 spokesman said in an email: “We are pleased to resolve this EEOC matter. Putting this... Read More >

Here’s how ICE sent children seeking asylum to adult detention centers

One teen arrived in the United States in 2015 seeking asylum after his father was murdered in Somalia. Another fled Afghanistan last year after the Taliban killed his father and the Islamic State group killed his brother.

But instead of building new lives in the U.S., both ended up in adult detention centers based on the opinion of the same University of Texas dentist – who never met them or examined their teeth.

It’s the latest example of the Department of Homeland Security failing to abide by federal policies, laws and directives from both Congress and internal agency auditors about how to determine the age of unaccompanied immigrant youths, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found. 

For more than a decade, the department’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement has come under fire for its use of  dental and bone scans. Congressional committees twice have directed ICE to stop subjecting youths to the procedures. A federal audit questioned the scientific validity of bone and dental scans to determine age with much precision.

“Using radiographs of a person’s bones or teeth … cannot produce a specific age due to a range of factors affecting an individual’s growth,” the audit states. “These include normal biological variation, as well as cultural and ethnic differences.”

Mixing juveniles and adults in immigration detention centers violates a longstanding federal decree. But youths who arrive in the country unaccompanied often lack official documents such as birth certificates, and immigration authorities are legally required to make a determination on age within a... Read More >

How the ICE crackdown is affecting immigrant victims of crime

Lora Livingston, a district judge who handles civil and family court cases in Travis County, Texas, was in her chambers on a Friday last spring when a court staffer called her to tell her that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent was in the building.

After some confusion, the agent realized he had mistakenly gone looking for an undocumented immigrant in the civil family courthouse instead of the criminal court, which is located about 100 yards away. But by the time the family courts had resumed for the afternoon, the word about the agent’s presence had spread. No one showed up for court.

“Our Child Protective Services docket just crumbled,” Livingston said. “He wasn’t even looking for anyone in this building but his mere presence created an atmosphere of anxiety and fear and that led to the docket falling apart.”

With the Trump administration continuing to crackdown on immigrants across the country, a new survey of judges, prosecutors, law enforcement and advocates suggests immigrant victims are less willing to report crimes or go to court because they fear they’ll be deported.

More than 750 people participated in the survey from the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project. It is the first to simultaneously seek out the perspectives of judges, police, prosecutors, victim advocates and attorneys, on questions related to their interactions with immigrant crime victims.

For example, the survey found that:

  • About one-third of the 108 judges and court staff surveyed said that the opposing party in a criminal, protection order or custody case... Read More >

PayPal gains in diversity, but top managers still mostly white, male

UPDATE, April 30, 2018: PayPal responded to the story by noting that the company added two women and an African American director to its board of directors in 2017.

PayPal publicly released its government-mandated diversity reports for the first time Friday, showing small gains for women and people of color in its executive ranks in the past year but still an overwhelmingly white and male top management.

Whites made up 75 percent of PayPal’s executives in 2017, down from 79 percent in 2016. That’s still slightly less diverse than the average for large Silicon Valley tech firms. The average for white executives across 177 major San Francisco Bay Area-based tech companies was 73 percent in 2016, according to Reveal’s analysis.   

For African Americans, PayPal counted four black women and one black man among 84 executives last year. Although that’s only 6 percent of PayPal’s executive ranks, it’s more than what a lot of the company’s peers can claim: The average for black executives in 2016 was 1.4 percent.

A delegation from the Congressional Black Caucus is visiting Silicon Valley this week – including PayPal’s headquarters – to push for equity in the tech sector. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., is part of the delegation and has urged companies to disclose their official diversity reports.

“If you’re not transparent, you’re hiding something,” she told Reveal in an interview last year.

The company also dropped some men and added some female executives, lowering its percentage of male executives from 76 percent to 69 percent last year. That’s better... Read More >

The Hate Report: Facebook pages glorified ‘incel’ mass killer

In this week’s Hate Report, we look at the online fandom around the “incel” mass killer the Toronto van attack suspect cited as an inspiration for his terrorism and a dispatch from our reporter from the scene of last weekend’s neo-Nazi rally in Georgia.

Shortly before Alek Minassian drove a van into a crowd of people in Toronto, killing 10 and injuring 15, he posted on Facebook. “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys!” Minassian wrote. “All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

The post was a reference to the 22-year-old Rodger’s 2014 killing spree in Isla Vista, California, that left six dead. Rodger, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the conclusion of his assault, posted an online rant, which has become a manifesto for some “incels.”

Incels are a community of men who see themselves as involuntarily celibate, blaming feminism’s influence on popular culture for their lack of sexual partners. In incel parlance, “Chads” are men who have frequent sexual partners, “Stacys” are promiscuous women, and “Supreme Gentleman” is a honorific bestowed upon Rodger.

In the years since Rodger’s attack, he has become a hero to many self-proclaimed incels.

Last month, we highlighted how social networks, like the gaming platform Steam, hosted hundreds of user-created groups glorifying mass shooters like Rodger. While Steam removed many of those groups in the wake of our report, fandom for Rodger continued to flourish online.

For example, we found dozens of groups on Facebook holding up Rodger as... Read More >

We sued the government for Silicon Valley diversity data

UPDATE, April 27, 2018: PayPal has posted its EEO-1 diversity numbers, which the company had claimed were confidential trade secrets, for 20152016 and 2017 on its website.

Major tech companies are withholding their diversity numbers by claiming they are trade secrets.

The federal government has been happy to help, blocking public records requests for the diversity figures at the request of companies, including Oracle, Palantir Technologies, Pandora Media and PayPal.

How did the companies justify labeling their workplace demographics as a trade secret? Several companies said that reasoning is a secret, too.

So Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting is suing for the records. Reveal filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month against the U.S. Department of Labor, alleging violations of the Freedom of Information Act.

Here’s how we ended up in federal court.

First, we asked the companies.

As part of an ongoing investigation into the lack of diversity at firms in California’s Silicon Valley, we surveyed 211 of the biggest San Francisco Bay Area tech companies, asking them to share their EEO-1 reports. These government-mandated forms show the number of employees broken down by race, gender and job category and are the only standardized way to compare one company with another.

A growing number of tech companies have made their EEO-1 reports public, responding to pressure from activists such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, diversity advocates in tech, news organizations, shareholders and members of Congress.

Reveal’s project yielded diversity data from 23 companies – just a little over 10 percent of those we asked – some of which released it for the... Read More >

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