Author Archives

Aaron Gilbreath
Aaron Gilbreath has written essays and articles for Harper's, The New York Times, Paris Review, Tin House, Kenyon Review, Vice, and The Morning News. Curbside Splendor published his essay collection, "Everything We Don't Know," in 2016. @AaronGilbreath

The Complicated Power of DIY Justice

Don’t you ever get tired of waiting for the system to deliver justice? In Esquire, Suzy Khimm enters the underworld of Canadian vigilantes who hunt pedophiles and make popular videos of busts. They have names like Creep Hunters and Creep Catchers. Some members were molested themselves, and they’re done waiting for authorities to help. But going rogue requires walking the line between avenger and criminal, and mistakes have led to widespread changes in the movement. Now some are asking what they want more: to be famous or effective?

When he took over the Creep Hunters last fall, Brady boasts, he created a culture of professionalism for their work: All chats and videos were required to be posted to the “head office” (a virtual workspace) and vetted by a “legal team” (a law student) before being published online. The group required members to sign a service agreement and complete a training program, using a manual called The Book of New Blood. The group even appointed an “office manager,” a 55-year-old former HR assistant who organized all the chat logs—the smutty propositions, the overwrought confessions of love, the dick pics—to send to the police.

So far, Creep Hunters hasn’t gotten anyone convicted, and only one catch—snaring a deputy sheriff in British Columbia—has resulted in charges of child sexual exploitation. But Brady insists that Creep Hunters could be the ideal complement to traditional law enforcement. Compared to the U.S., Canada has been slow to toughen its laws on child sexual exploitation: In 2008, it raised the age of consent from fourteen to sixteen years—the first time it had changed since 1892. Brady believes that the country needs to take America’s lead in cracking down on sex offenders, and that groups like his can help close the gap. Since predator catchers don’t have the ability to make arrests, they aren’t subject to the same entrapment laws that limit how police carry out their own sting operations; they can go where the police don’t, then turn their evidence over to the authorities.

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The Faces of Deportation in Southern California

José Mares was one of 161 undocumented immigrants netted in the L.A. sweeps that ICE conducted in early February, the first significant enforcement surge of the Trump presidency. The sweeps were part of a nationally coordinated surge of 680 arrests in 11 states. Yet it was not the size of the raid that’s notable but, rather, how abruptly ICE had jettisoned the “felons not families” guidelines for removal established under President Obama.

Trump appeared to endorse the sweeps a few days after Mares was deported, tweeting: “The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!” It is the “others” he mentions that most concern advocates for immigrant rights.

ICE under Trump is going after low-hanging fruit, migrants with final orders of removal for a petty misdemeanor offense, according to lawyers who work with the recently deported in Tijuana. Last month, the Department of Homeland Security issued new immigration enforcement guidelines that make a priority of following no priorities. The guidelines call for hiring 10,000 additional enforcement agents, increasing the holding capacity at detention centers and reactivating a program that deputizes local law enforcement to help make immigration arrests.

In LA WeeklyJason McGahan reports from the front lines of Trump’s immigration policy. where the administration isn’t deporting migrants who threaten public safety, but regular, tax-paying, working class people of Mexican-descent—often breaking up their families. With jobs and loved ones in California, the deportees linger in Tijuana, trying to figure out how to adapt to life in a country they’ve spent little time in, as their children are left in America with one less parent.

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When Innovation Fails: Doing Hard Time in the Offender-Monitoring Business

In Bloomberg Businessweek, Lauren Etter explores another problem with the privatization of law enforcement: technology. From scrambled signals and dead batteries to false violations, the electronic ankle bracelets 3M created failed to protect wearers’ civil liberties even though the process used to design them reflected the company’s way of thinking about innovation and experimentation. Unfortunately, creating monitors for human beings involves higher stakes than yellow stickies.

The sheer amount of data generated by GPS-tracking devices creates problems across the industry and in every state, but the number of alerts in Massachusetts has far exceeded the norm, experts say. Documents reviewed by Bloomberg show that in the 12 months ended in October 2015, 3M bracelets produced 612,492 violation alerts in Massachusetts—more than 50,000 per month, from about 2,800 individuals wearing the devices. Almost 40 percent of the alerts were due to a device not being able to connect to the network or the GPS not being detected. Roughly 1 percent of alerts resulted in an arrest warrant being issued. Tom Pasquarello, former director of the electronic monitoring program for Massachusetts, estimates that half those warrants were potentially based on faulty or incomplete data. That would be roughly 3,000 warrants. “There were people that were pulled from their house in the middle of the night, that lost their kids, people that lost their job,” he says.

The problem of glitchy ankle monitors became so pronounced that the Massachusetts probation department set up an after-hours office in the lobby of a Boston police station so offenders could bring in their bracelets when problems occurred or batteries died. In August 2015, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Heidi Brieger became so frustrated with the devices that she vowed to stop sentencing anybody to them. “It is simply administratively improper to run a system in this fashion,” she said, according to a court transcript. “We don’t lose liberty in this country because somebody’s software is not working. It just isn’t right.”

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Kimberly, No Longer With the Good Hair

Rose Weitz, who writes about the importance of hair in the lives of women, says that we are sending a message with our locks; that hair—whether fine, kinky, purple, or cut close to the scalp—is “part of a broader language of appearance, which, whether or not we intend it, tells others about ourselves.”

Changing my hair transformed my relationships and my identity. When I changed it, it almost felt like I was being reborn, being given another chance to recast, re-create who I was—sassy, obedient, sexy, demure. But around my grandmother, I often followed her lead, walking with the weight of her expectations and the benefits of her struggle. She bought me clothes, jewelry, and gym memberships and mailed me newspaper clippings about which fruits and veggies I should eat to lose weight faster.

When hair is bound up with identity, history, and family, a hairstyle can bring women closer — or push them apart. In Oregon Humanities, Kimberly Melton tells how she finally styled hers in a way that reflected who she was, and demanded that her loving grandmother accept this as a sign of strength.

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The Conservative Movement to Get the GOP on Board With Global Warming

That’s not how all hunters approach climate change. Randy Newberg, a hunter and advocate for hunting on public lands, has no qualms about acknowledging the problem. “If you spend as much time in the hills as I do, I don’t know how you could deny that climate is changing,” he says. Deniers exist, “but honestly, I call them the flat-Earth society,” he adds. Many hunters see climate change as a serious threat to the wildlife and public lands they want to protect for future generations. That’s what’s been driving the conservation movement for decades in the US, and it should not be a liberal or a conservative issues, says Newberg, who identifies as an Independent. “Maybe I’m naive and too idealistic for today’s political world,” he says, “but I struggle to understand how is it that clean air and clean water and productive lands are a partisan issue. To me, they’re an American issue.”

For now, the White House hasn’t been very responsive, but it might be just too early to tell, says Bozmoski. Some proposals coming out of Washington — like the carbon tax and the climate change resolution — seem to bode well. “It really stokes our optimism on the Eco Right, that our family has gotten bigger and more powerful,” Bozmoski says. At the same time, he says, it will take time for Republicans to come together and put forward a climate change policy — they will need to get over the divisions within their own party and develop an actual policy. That’s what groups like republicEn are there for, Bozmoski says. And he has high hopes. “The prospects for a coalition of lawmakers moving forward with a solution is better now than it has been in any point since 2010,” Bozmoski says. “There’s no more pussyfooting around climate change out of fear.”

At The Verge, Alessandra Potenza describes conservatives, young and old, who are working to rally Republican voters around the issue of global warming in a way that gets GOP policy makers to finally listen. They’re doing this on multiple fronts, addressing fellow conservatives’ concern for national security, economics, hunting and fishing, and trying to get them on the right side of history.

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In the 1970s, It Was The Police That Made Made Detroit’s Streets Deadly

A man named Carl Ingram told the council that police officers had forced his fiancée to strip during an illegal search on December 7. “There ain’t no man hiding in her clothes!” he said. “If I had had a gun, I sure enough would have used it.” John Reynolds, the chair of a city task force dedicated to improving police-community relations, testified that his son had been stopped and beaten by police on New Year’s Eve. Kenneth Cockrel called on Mayor Gribbs to remove Nichols from his post and shut down STRESS.

But as with more recent debates over initiatives like stop and frisk, police brass countered with reams of crime statistics. The purpose of STRESS was to reduce robberies, they insisted, and the unit had been a resounding success. During their first year on the job, STRESS officers made 2,496 arrests and seized 600 guns. Robberies were down for the first time in a decade—by nearly 30 percent in two years.

Officers, meanwhile, discovered that killing unarmed civilians was a badge of honor within the department. “I was still lauded for what I was doing, even after the community started to get heavy on STRESS,” Peterson recalled. “They were happy with me. Whenever I shot someone, I would have to go to headquarters to fill out a report and the guys would cheer me when I walked in. The brass… went out of its way to encourage me. I was a proud boy, you know? I was the fair-haired boy—as long as everything worked their way. Who doesn’t like to be the fair-haired boy? Who doesn’t like applause?”

In The New RepublicMark Binelli describes the years when Detroit’s black community had to not only deal with street crime, but also the police’s special street crime unit, which terrorized the innocent, murdered the unarmed, and undermined the very meaning of law and order.

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How Should a German Be?

A number of countries, like the United States, have been multiethnic and multireligious since their founding. In the Hapsburg Empire or the Roman Empire or the Ottoman Empire, different cultures coexisted under the rule of a tolerant monarch, yet people mostly ate, lived, and married among those of the same ilk. What much of Europe is currently attempting is historically unique. Never before has a democracy that defined itself by its ethnic or religious homogeneity managed to broaden its self-conception and recognize millions of immigrants as members of the nation. No precedent suggests that it can be done.

Germany has become the most important test site in this grand experiment. For decades, the conditions for membership in the German nation were clear and rigid. A true German was a descendant of those brave warriors who roamed the Teutonic woods and intimidated Julius Caesar’s legions — or somebody who could at least pass for one.

There are some signs of change. Immigrants and their children, mostly invisible in the public sphere a few decades ago, are starting to find success in business, sports, music, journalism, and even politics. In the most mixed neighborhoods of the country’s biggest cities, it is starting to seem obvious that a true German might be Asian or African.

In Harper’s, German-born Yascha Mounk details the ways recent Islamic immigration has not only given rise to vocal anti-migrant factions, but challenges many Germans’ core idea of their national identity.

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Decolonizing Education in South Africa

Which is why he sometimes avoids his parents when they call him from home. He doesn’t know how to explain to them that daily he’s reminded of the fact he is temporarily inhabiting a space that was never meant for people like him — not just black, but poor too — and that, as a result, he constantly feels like he’s there on borrowed time.

There were the gut-wrenching moments that confront every black person. Like the October afternoon when the police had pelted him and other protesters with tear gas, and he’d rushed to shelter in another building. Two white students dashed in ahead of him. When he reached the entrance to safety, Tjie realized a man was blocking his way.

“Where’s your student card?” he recalled the man asking him.

He hadn’t asked the white students.

At BuzzFeed, West African correspondent Monica Mark reports on the South African students of color who have organized to try to improve the conditions of education in a country that, twenty years after apartheid ended, is still rigged for the white minority.

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Who Says Healthy Food Can’t Be Accessible and Affordable?

Patterson stepped out the back door onto a sunny patio where three neighborhood men worked as “ambassadors” — greeters, really, but also unofficial security guards and community liaisons tasked with convincing neighbors that Locol really was for them. Watts has such a deep history of economic betrayal and abandonment, such pervasive skepticism about outsiders making big promises, and such well-founded fear of gentrification — a billion-­dollar “urban transformation” plan has the support of Mayor Eric Garcetti — that acceptance of a splashy new restaurant created by two famous outsider chefs who are not African American was not a given.

Patterson embraced an ambassador named Anthony “Ant” Adams, a 44-year-old poet who was in the middle of telling a visitor about getting shot five times with an AK-47 during a 2007 attempt on his life a few yards from where he was currently standing. Patterson then walked past an ATM/lottery/tobacco shop where floor-to-ceiling bulletproof Plexiglas separated customers from the cashier and inventory. He entered a store called Donut Town & Water, where a young man sold doughnuts, water, and other convenience foods, also from behind Plexiglas. Patterson ordered coffee to go and said, as if exhilarated by the speed and audacity of his own thoughts, “I can’t remember if I told you that Roy and I might start a coffee company, too. We’re bringing back the great $1 cup. The fancy coffee industry is not going to be happy with us. We’re going into institutional food, too. We’re already talking about prisons and hospitals and schools. It all comes back to this question of ‘Why does our society always serve the worst food to the neediest people?’ It makes no sense. And everybody always says, ‘That’s just the way it is, there’s no other way,’ but we are going to prove that whole paradigm is fundamentally false.”

In the California Sunday Magazine, Daniel Duane narrates the difficulty of establishing a new way of serving fast healthy food in the impoverished neighborhoods that the conventional industry has helped trap in a food desert.

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Evolution and Chill: Survival Is No Longer Just About Competition

By studying the phylogenetic history of related species, we can begin to correlate the interplay of behaviors with evolutionary dynamics in the real world. This year scientists from Lund University, in Sweden, analyzed the breeding strategies of 4,000 bird species, tracking their movements into new ecosystems using known genetic relationships between the birds. It’s long been known that cooperative-breeding strategies are common in harsh environments. The assumption was that difficult conditions encouraged species to evolve sociable behaviors (at least toward relatives). But what if this presumed causality had it backward? By analyzing the historical migrations of birds, the researchers discovered that species that had already evolved cooperative behaviors in a benign environment were twice as likely to have moved into a harsh one than non-cooperative breeders. The researchers speculate that cooperation buffers against unpredictable breeding seasons, allowing already social populations to be more successful in invading new niches. The harsh environment didn’t drive the evolution of the behaviors—the behaviors enabled the colonization of harsh environments.

In Nautilus, neuroscientist and graphic designer Kelly Clancy challenges the traditional interpretation of Darwinian natural selection by arguing that, when organisms no longer have to perform in a competitive environment, a species’ fitness is no longer tested by being selected for or against, and evolution actually occurs according to very different factors: cooperation and mutation. It’s, like, really complicated, man.

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