Kick em when they're down

They don't help you when you're going through it but we can

It’s been another stupid week, and I know the big thing everyone’s talking about is a bunch of nerds on Reddit making the hedge fund people call their mommy and say ‘the incels hit me make it stop!’ And mommy did make it stop because the game is rigged but we all knew this. I did put $100 into DogeCoin though, because I’m so, so stupid, and I’ve lost half of it already. Subscribe to save me from myself haha. My friend says the stock is going back up “after hours” but I don’t know what that means, and yes I only invested because of the meme. 

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Here in Worcester things have been just as dumb and there’s not much to say on that front that hasn’t been said, but I’ll say a little more toward the bottom of this post. First, though, there are a few online fundraising efforts floating around for local folks that are going through it, and I’d like to use my platform to give ‘em a little boost. 

First is a classic story of the local powers that be colluding in mundanely cruel ways to ruin the life of a down-and-out person of color. Em Quiles, of Pa’Lante, has launched a GoFundMe to support a guy who was (allegedly, for the lawyers) robbed by local towing company/criminal enterprise Early’s Towing and then arrested by the police when he protested. 

Here’s what happened. 

This guy, who we’ll call John, got his car towed for violating the winter parking ban during Tuesday’s storm. He goes to Early’s to get his car out on Wednesday and notices the rent money he had in his car is missing, as in stolen, by the guys who towed his car. Quiles was there for an unrelated reason and caught the proceedings and put a video of the encounter on YouTube. 

The guy tried to get his rent money back, he was pointing to where it was in the car and he said please, just give it back. He’s under threat of eviction, apparently, and that money that just happened to magically disappear after the tow guys were done with his car is gone forever. 

Early, instead of cooperating with the man, had him arrested for trespassing. The cops showed up and took him away. His car was still there though. The Quiles crew tried to go pay to get it out and the Early’s people wouldn’t let them. They said John’s car smelled like weed so they weren’t going to let them pay to get the car out which makes sense if you’re actively trying to be as unhelpful as possible. 

Tow guys shake down and rob people all the time, and they usually have the cooperation of the police, or at least the police turn a blind eye. This is just one of those things That Is Known. I have a friend with a similar story; it just happened a couple days ago. That this person was of color and on the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum likely further justified the robbery in the eyes of the tow truck driver who did it (allegedly). 

So throw this guy some bones if you can. He didn’t deserve to be treated this way by Early’s or the police, and I have it on good authority a judge threw out whatever sort of charge the cops slapped on him, but he still had to go to court. I reached out to the police for more information on the arrest and they were unhelpful as always. They only confirmed that he was arraigned for his crime. How you can be charged with trespassing when you’re in the same tow lot as your car trying to get your car out is beyond me. That’s some fuzzy maths. 

And secondly there’s a new fund called Worcester Families Feeding Families that aims to directly help people who’ve been impacted by COVID-19 and are experiencing food insecurity. Well worth a few bones if you have a few to spare.

Meanwhile in Worcester, the big story is obviously that the Worcester Police are trying to get the city to buy them some new artificial intelligence software to help “forecast crime” which should alarm you to no end. It’s called ShotSpotter Connect. I wrote about that earlier this week. On Monday afternoon there’s a very important subcommittee meeting on the subject, and people should watch and call in and let their voices be heard. Head over to Defund WPD for more information on how. 

Fuel to the fire is this recent documentary from CBS, about as centrist a news source as you could possibly find, about the dangers of programs like Shotspotter Connect and how they have failed disastrously in other cities. Predictably, the AI only sharpened already racist policing patterns like a 5000-grit whetstone. 

The police department really wants this program though. They want it so bad they’ve started justifying the Shotspotter technology they already have in police press releases. This, from earlier in the week, is a great example of how police can easily twist something to support their agenda. 

The press release is titled “Arrest made after ShotSpotter alert.” For background, ShotSpotter is the program which purports to pick up gunshot sounds from around the city and alert the police. The new AI component, the Connect, is an extension of the program which maps the city’s crime history and geography in an attempt to predict where crime will happen next, and appropriately send the cops in to look for it. 

On January 26, 2021 at approximately 12:10 AM Worcester Police responded to a ShotSpotter alert in the area of 61 South Street. Upon arrival, officers observed a male bend down and place something near the tire of a vehicle. Officers approached the area and located a firearm in the location that the male placed the object.

The male was identified as 23-year-old [NAME REDACTED BY ME*****] of Worcester.

[Redacted] was charged with carrying a firearm without a license and carrying a loaded firearm without a license.

Moments later, police were notified that a 29-year-old male gunshot victim arrived at a local hospital. The male was suffering from non-life threatening injuries.

There were no other reported victims.

Officers observed that a parked vehicle was damaged by gunfire in the vicinity of South Street.

The investigation continues.

****** I don’t think we should be publishing the names of people charged with crimes unless there is a serious case to be made that it is in the public’s interest. I do not personally believe that someone charged with two counts related to simply carrying a firearm deserves to have their name published and have it follow them around for the rest of their lives on Google. It’s an extra, lifelong punishment for which there is no due process, and journalists should not be in the position of doling out such punishments. Obviously, every other outlet that wrote about it published the name. This is a serious problem in journalism that some journalists are just now coming around to address.

What they don’t say about this incident is that multiple people called it in the old-fashioned way—dialing 911 on a telephone. Had the police not had ShotSpotter, they still would have known about this shooting. Yes, it did technically get picked up on ShotSpotter, if the press release is to be truly believed (ShotSpotter data is tightly, tightly protected by the company so there is no way to verify this), but it made no difference as the police would have known about this shooting whether or not we have this program. This program that, by the way, costs multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, money that could be better spent elsewhere, like maybe on a few homeless outreach coordinators or more caseworkers in our schools? 

It is also interesting and worth noting that the man here was not charged with anything related to the gunshot victim in the press release, at least not yet, but they still included that part. If a journalist were to take it upon themselves to connect two incidents like that, it would be malpractice. The cops, however, do what they want and if the cops say it you can dutifully report it free of repercussion. Those are the rules. 

On top of that, I learned this morning via a little birdie that the police are engaged in their own lobbying efforts around the ShotSpotter Connect program. At least one member of the department’s “neighborhood response team” is blasting out emails to people involved with local neighborhood watch meetings to call in on Monday and support the ShotSpotter Connect program. 

Officer Lisa Carson on Friday at 1:30 p.m. sent out an email with information on how to call in to the public safety subcommittee meeting. And also included this description of what ShotSpotter does through the eyes of a cop. 

A brief description on what ShotSpotter does:

Detect gunshots for consistent, rapid, precise police response

Detect highest crime risk areas for directed patrols to maximum crime deterrence

Protect your officers with enhanced situational awareness

Protect your community by disrupting crime cycles with data-driven solutions that limit bias

Connect with your community and build trust

Connect to data and insights to drive impactful and measurable outcomes

Worth pointing out here that all the academic research on predictive policing indicates that artificial intelligence absorbs and enhances the biases of police departments, because the bias is baked into the previous crime data that it analyses to produce its outcomes. I’d like to see some supporting evidence that AIs are “disrupting crime cycles with data-driven solutions that limit bias.” Spoiler alert there is none. The data is based on past biases of the department, like oh, arresting a black man for trespassing when he was just trying to get his car out of the tow lot from the tow drivers who stole his rent money. Therefore, the decisions it makes and the “outcomes” it provides are only a more efficient synthesis of the biases the department already has. We do not want the police department to be more efficiently biased against the groups of people and the neighborhoods that it already is. 

Also can you please explain to me how a piece of technology that maps gunshots and crimes and tries to predict where they happen next would ever help a police department “connect with your community and build trust”? That’s just nonsense words. 

But the cops are trying! They’re looking to counteract the good work of Defund WPD and company, and you know what that means? They’re a little scared. They’re thinking they might lose this one and that is a very, very good thing. So let’s keep the pressure up and I’ll see you on Monday at 5.

Also the meeting could get snowed out so be on the lookout for that.

~/~

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Really though, there’s not been much else going on in Worcester lately besides this whole ShotSpotter thing. 

Breens, which is a great dive bar especially for watching hockey in Webster Square, has been selected by the Barstool Fund for financial relief. Barstool Sports is mundane townie trash, we all know this, but it’s cool they’re helping Breens. Still, they don’t really say how much they’re giving the bar, they just say how much they’ve raised in general for their relief fund which is something like $30 million. Maybe worth a follow-up to see how much Breens actually gets.

And shouts out to Gari De Ramos, an old intern of mine at Worcester Mag (who was there for the bad times when they laid off everyone but me and still expected a paper every week and she helped tremendously) for doing big things. She launched a social justice oriented website called Radical In Progress and got a nice write-up in the Telegram for it. Check it out! Since she was my intern once, I get to take full credit for every good thing she does from here on out. I don’t make the rules and you’re welcome. 

COVID cases are continuing to drop in Worcester County, and I don’t want to jinx it so I won’t say anything more about it, but fingers crossed emoji. 

Bye for now!

Correction: An earlier version of this story misnamed the towing company. It is Early’s on Park Ave.