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San Francisco To Expunge Over 9,300 Marijuana Convictions

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  • San Francisco’s District Attorney announced he will expunge 9,362 marijuana convictions dating as far back as 1975.
  • The DA’s office teamed up with a nonprofit called Code for America, which developed technology that helped identify cases that are eligible for expungement.
  • The city took this proactive approach to clear cases themselves because they say the traditional process is expensive and tedious, making it both challenging and rare for eligible people to do so themselves.

Past Convictions to be Expunged

San Francisco officials announced Monday that they will dismiss 9,362 marijuana convictions dating back to 1975, making San Francisco the first city in the U.S. to clear all eligible marijuana convictions.

The announcement from San Francisco’s District Attorney, George Gascón, comes just over two years after California passed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in California for people 21 and older.

Prop. 64 was approved by voters in 2016, and also allows those convicted of marijuana possession to petition to have their convictions expunged.

It also allow people to petition to have marijuana-related crimes reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. The expungements also include marijuana convictions that are tied to other crimes.

Code for America

After Prop 64 passed, San Francisco became the first county to announce that it would clear old marijuana convictions.

For about a year, the San Francisco DA’s office went through old marijuana cases to determine which ones were eligible for dismissal and found about 1,200 cases to clear on their own.



However, that process proved to be time-consuming, which lead the DA to team up with a nonprofit called Code for America, a group that uses open-source technology to improve government efficiency.

Code for America used a computer algorithm it created called “Clear My Record” which sorts through marijuana convictions and determined which were eligible for expungement under Prop. 64.

According to a Medium article written by Code for America: “The Clear My Record technology can automatically and securely evaluate eligibility for convictions by reading and interpreting conviction data. It can evaluate eligibility for thousands of convictions in just a few minutes.”

The program also automatically fills out the required paperwork that can be turned in to the court for processing these cases.

People could request expungements themselves even before the DA and Code for America took on the project. However, before the city began to look for people who were eligible, only 23 people had actually petitioned the city to do something about their convictions because it is a confusing and tedious task.

Gascón said in a statement, “You have to hire an attorney. You have to petition the court. You have to come for a hearing,” continuing:

“It’s a very expensive and very cumbersome process. And the reality is that the majority of the people that were punished and were the ones that suffered in this war on marijuana, war on drugs nationally, were people that can ill afford to pay an attorney.”

Impact on People of Color & Low Income Communities

The DA’s office also noted that people who have marijuana convictions on their records often have trouble finding employment, noting that these people can face barriers when trying to get access to education, housing, loans, and public assistance.

Gascón also noted that there were racial disparities in marijuana arrests in the city.

A study done by ACLU in 2013 found that in San Francisco, African Americans were more than four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.

Source: ACLU

In a press briefing, Gascón said: “Take San Francisco for instance, our African American population is under 5 percent. But if you look at our convictions for marijuana offenses, 33 percent of people we convicted were African American, 27 percent were Latino.”

Due to the push from these factors, the city decided to take a proactive approach to clear past convictions themselves to help people who they say, “needed the most relief.”

Spillover Effect

Now that the DA has made the announcement, all that has to be done is for the courts to process the requests.

With this unprecedented move from San Francisco, many are wondering what implications this has for the rest of the country.

San Francisco’s actions have already prompted several other cities to follow their lead, and many believe that both the expungements and the technology used by Code for America will have a positive spillover effect.

Code for America intends on expanding it’s pilot program to other California counties, and has already set the goal of clearing 250,000 eligible convictions nationwide by 2019.

In California, other counties including Los Angeles are considering similar efforts. The Los Angeles County DA’s office estimates that there have been 40,000 felony marijuana convictions offenses since 1993. However, prosecutors have not said how many of those cases could be eligible for expungement.

The Code for America technology could also help a California with Assembly Bill 1793 which was signed into law last year. The bill mandates that the state build a list of all individuals eligible to have crimes expunged under Prop 64, with the end goal of having all past marijuana-related crimes reduced or cleared by 2020.

There are also other efforts happening outside of California.

In Missouri, lawmakers are considering a bill that would expunge convictions for medical marijuana patients, which is legal in the state.

New Jersey residents can also have their convictions expunged, but like in San Francisco, the process is reportedly challenging.

Additionally, in New York, the governor has proposed legalizing recreational marijuana use, and officials are exploring the possibly expunging or sealing conviction records.

Some law enforcement groups are not thrilled about the move to expunge convictions.

John Lovell, legislative counsel to the California Narcotic Officers’ Association, who was one of the leading voices against the legalization of marijuana in CA, told the Los Angeles Times: “To simply embark on an across-the-board expungement of 9,300 without looking at any of the surrounding factors on any of those cases strikes us as cavalier irresponsibility.”

In contrast, Gascón has said:

“This isn’t a political thing. This is about dignity. People pay their debt to society. People pay the consequences for something we no longer consider a crime. They should not be jumping through hoops for this. They should just get it.”

See what others are saying: (San Francisco Chronicle) (Los Angeles Times) (NPR)

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UCLA Drops Controversial Facial Recognition Plan

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  • After backlash from students and activist groups, UCLA is dropping its plans to use facial recognition on campus.
  • Critics said the software often fails when recognizing women and people of color, and could lead to racial profiling. 
  • UCLA released a statement, just over a week before a National Day of Action to Ban Facial Recognition from College Campuses is set to be held, saying that the school longer thinks the technology would be effective at the school.
  • The use of facial recognition software on college campuses and on a national level has long been a subject of debate. Several cities have already banned it, and last week, two Senators proposed legislation banning it on a federal level unless Congressional guidelines are enacted. 

UCLA Stops Plans to Use Facial Recognition

After backlash from students and activists, the University of California, Los Angeles has dropped its plans to use facial recognition technology on its campus.

UCLA announced plans to potentially use it in its security systems. Students were concerned that this technology could interfere with students’ privacy and lead to racial profiling on campus. 

“We have determined that the potential benefits are limited and are vastly outweighed by the concerns of the campus community,” Michael Beck, the Administrative Vice-Chancellor of the school said in a statement to Fight for the Future, a group advocating for freedom in the digital age.

Fight for the Future is holding a National Day of Action to Ban Facial Recognition from College Campuses on March 2. The group had been very vocal when encouraging UCLA not to adopt facial recognition. They did a test on how effective it would be at the school and found racial biases in its algorithm.

Inaccuracies in Facial Recognition

Fight for the Future used Rekognition, a software made available by Amazon, and scanned publicly available photos of UCLA athletes and faculty and compared them to a mugshot database. They scanned 400 faces in total and said that 58 were falsely matched. 

“The vast majority of incorrect matches were of people of color,” Fight for the Future said of their findings. “In many cases, the software matched two individuals who had almost nothing in common beyond their race, and claimed they were the same person with ‘100% confidence.’”

They are not the only group to find this. According to a study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in terms of one-to-one matching, there are higher rates of false positives for Asian and African American faces in comparison to white faces. They specifically noticed increased false positives when it came to African American females.

Student Concerns

Students at UCLA expressed their concerns about this. An editorial in the school’s paper, the Daily Bruin, warned against using facial recognition because of the potential inaccuracies and profiling of people of color.

“For students belonging to these groups, facial recognition technology would simply reinforce the biases that are already stacked against them,” the piece said. The editorial listed privacy as a concern as well.

“Facial recognition technology would present a major breach of students’ privacy and make students feel unsafe on a campus they are supposed to call home,” the Daily Bruin editorial staff wrote. “It is one thing to monitor campus activity with security cameras, but it’s another entirely to automatically identify individuals and track their every move on campus.”

Students and advocacy groups like Fight for the Future were pleased with UCLA’s ultimate decision to not use facial recognition.

“Let this be a lesson to other school administrators: if you try to experiment on your campus with racist, invasive surveillance technology, we will come for you. And we don’t lose,” Deputy Director of Fight for the Future, Evan Greer, said in a statement.

Facial Recognition on a National Scale

UCLA is not the only college in the United States having a conversation about facial recognition. Fight for the Future has been keeping a scorecard of schools that have stated their intentions on using facial recognition. While big schools like Harvard, MIT, Michigan State, and NYU have said they do not intend on using it, other major colleges like Ohio State, Princeton, and the University of Georgia have stated that they might. 

Outside of colleges, other localities have already been working on fighting against facial recognition technology. In 2019, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban facial recognition technology. Somerville, MA, Oakland, CA and Berkeley, CA did the same months later. 

Still, this kind of technology is still used on a wide scale. According to Vox, in states like Texas, Florida, and Illinois, the FBI uses it to scan through DMV databases. In many U.S. airports, Customs and Border Protection uses it for screening passengers on international flights. 

Recently Proposed Legislation

The national use of this could be subject to change, though. In February, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-)R) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) proposed legislation that would ban federal use of facial recognition until proper regulations and rules had been established by Congress for it.

“Facial recognition is a technology that is increasingly being used and marketed to law enforcement agencies across the United States without appropriate debate or consideration of its impacts,” the bill said before describing that this technology has been used at protests, rallies, and other events where one’s’ freedom of speech is on display.

“It is critical that facial recognition not be used to suppress First Amendment related activities, violate privacy, or otherwise adversely impact individuals’ civil rights and civil liberties,” the legislation continued. 

This legislation would still allow law enforcement to use it if given a court order.

See what others are saying: (Vice) (USA Today) (TechCrunch)

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Fashion Institute Apologizes for ‘Racist’ Runway Look

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  • In a Feb. 7 Fashion Institute of Technology runway show, models were asked to wear oversized prosthetic lips and ears, along with bushy eyebrows. 
  • Amy Lefévre, a black model, refused to wear the accessories and called them racist for recalling offensive caricatures of black people. 
  • Many agreed with Lefévre and criticized the designer and the showrunners for the display.
  • Multiple leaders at FIT have issued apologies in the wake of the backlash.

Controversial Accessories

Several head figures at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology have issued apologies after a runway show featured designs that many have labeled “racist.”

The show was held on Feb. 7 to debut designs of graduating students. For one look, designed by Junkai Huang, models were asked to wear oversized prosthetic lips and ears, as well as bushy, large eyebrows. Amy Lefévre, a black model, was horrified at the request. 

“As soon as I saw the pieces, I started shaking. I felt it was very racist,” Lefévre told TODAY

Lefévre said she verbally expressed her discomfort with the accessories, which to her were reminiscent of offensive caricatures of black people that emphasize those features. But Richard Thornn, the producer of the show, allegedly brushed off her resistance.

According to TODAY, Lefévre claims that he told her, “it’s only 45 seconds. It’s fine to feel uncomfortable for 45 seconds.”

The 25-year-old refused to don the accessories and walked in the show without them. However, other models in the show wore the additions, and these looks were seen by an audience of about 100 people as well as captured by photographers.

Reactions and Responses

Upon seeing the pictures from the show and catching wind of Lefévre‘s protest, many Internet users supported the model and condemned both the designer and the institution for allowing it.  

“Junkai Huang should go back to school for something other than fashion because his designs are racist and this is unacceptable,” one person tweeted. “FIT how could you allow this?”

In the wake of the backlash, FIT President Joyce Brown issued a public letter on Tuesday. 

“As many of you now know, there was an unfortunate and disturbing reaction to the show that I want to address,” Joyce wrote.

She claimed that no offense was meant.

“Currently, it does not appear that the original intent of the design, the use of accessories or the creative direction of the show was to make a statement about race; however, it is now glaringly obvious that has been the outcome,” Brown added. “For that, we apologize—to those who participated in the show, to students, and to anybody who has been offended by what they saw.”

Brown said the school is taking steps to “ensure that a situation like this will not happen again” by working with groups including their Diversity Council and Student Government.   

Jonathan Kyle Farmer, the chair of the MFA program at FIT who ran the show, posted an apology on Wednesday acknowledging Lefévre directly.

“It was never our intent for the show’s styling to be interpreted as racist or to make people feel uncomfortable but I now fully understand why this has happened,” Farmer said. “I take full responsibility and am committed to learning from this situation and taking steps to do better.”

//www.instagram.com/embed.js

This is by no means the first racially-insensitive blunder that the fashion industry has made. Last year, Gucci came under fire for releasing a black turtleneck with lips that could be pulled around the face, resembling blackface. Burberry faced backlash for a sweatshirt featuring a noose-like drawstring around the neck. In 2018, H&M was slammed for an ad featuring a black boy wearing a pullover that read “coolest monkey in the jungle.” 

Many seem to be fed up with these errors. 

“How do people not understand that this isn’t ok and keep doing it again and again and again?” one Instagram user commented on a picture of the show posted by a fashion industry watchdog account. 

See what others are saying: (USA Today) (BBC) (Washington Post)

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George Zimmerman Sues Warren and Buttigieg for Defamation Over Trayvon Martin Commemoration Tweets

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  • George Zimmerman is suing Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren for $265 million in a new defamation suit.
  • The lawsuit centers around tweets the two candidates posted on Trayvon Martin’s birthday commemorating him.
  • Zimmerman alleges that Warren and Buttigieg defamed him in the tweets “to bolster their standings amongst African-American voters.”

Zimmerman Files Lawsuit

George Zimmerman is suing 2020 presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg for $265 million, claiming they defamed him in order to “garner votes in the black community.”

Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in 2012, was later acquitted on murder charges after claiming he acted in self-defense when he killed the unarmed black teen.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, alleges that the candidates “defamed Zimmerman for political gain in misguided and malicious attempts to bolster their standings amongst African-American voters, all at Zimmerman’s expense.”

The accusations stem from two tweets posted by the candidates on Feb. 5, which would have been Martin’s 25th birthday.

“How many 25th birthdays have been stolen from us by white supremacy, gun violence, prejudice, and fear? #BlackLivesMatter,” Buttigieg wrote in his post.

In her tweet, Warren expressed her condolences to Martin’s friends and family.

He should still be with us today,” she wrote. “We need to end gun violence and racism. And we need to build a world where all of our children—especially young Black boys—can grow up safe and free.”

Defamation Claims

The lawsuit claims that both Warren and Buttigieg falsely represented Trayvon’s death as being a result of “gun violence” which it claims “is generally understood in the public arena to refer to the reckless and indiscriminate use of illegally owned firearms that causes the death of a random innocent victim.”

Zimmerman, the suit argues, acted in self-defense and had a registered legal weapon.

It also says that the tweets defamed Zimmerman because they implied that he acted out of racism or white supremacy, claiming that Buttigieg’s use of the term “white supremacy” in his tweet, “defamed Zimmerman by claiming without any basis whatsoever that the Hispanic minority advocate and Obama supporter Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in cold blood due to his ‘white supremacy.’”

The same argument was given for Warren’s use of the word “racism” in her tweet.

The lawsuit then goes on to say that Warren and Buttigieg’s tweets implied that Zimmerman was “directly responsible for ‘white supremacy,’ ‘gun violence,’ ‘prejudice,’ ‘fear’ and ‘racism,’ among other defamatory innuendos and statements as explained above; and thus murdered Trayvon Martin as a result.”

The suit against the two candidates is not only defamation claim Zimmerman has filed in the last few months. In December, Zimmerman sued Martin’s family and others for $100 million, claiming that he was the victim of defamation and a conspiracy.

See what others are saying: (Newsweek) (Fox News) (The Miami Herald)

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