Advancement Project California The Best Resistance is Our Collective Success

Defend Data, Defend Democracy

By Yvonne Yen Liu and Diana Benitez

Trump and his appointed heads of government agencies demonstrate a willful disregard for facts. It is unsurprising, then, that through the vernacular of Trump staff Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer, “alternative facts” has been introduced into the lexicon. It is also unsurprising that before Trump took office, data advocates downloaded government data and created archives, for fear that the new administration would delete records.

This Saturday, millions are expected to throng Washington, DC and 500 cities around the world for March for Science, in defense of scientific evidence and its application in public policymaking

Researchers such as ourselves are concerned that federal data sources will suffer under the Trump administration. Already, the 2020 Census has been delayed, and plans to include LGBTQ categories were scrapped. Let’s look at two claims by the Trump administration that ignore research – the first claim by Jeff Sessions and second by Ben Carson.

Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, thinks overseeing police for civil rights violations is a harmful intrusion. Racism by police is not an institutional problem, according to Sessions, but merely the actions of a few “bad actors.” Instead, he suggests, we should lighten our scrutiny of the police force so they can do their job properly.

Sessions has ordered his department to review police reform efforts and consent decrees. Close to two-dozen cities have consent decrees in place, including Ferguson, MO. On August 9, 2014, an 18-year-old Black youth, Michael Brown, was shot by a White police officer while he was unarmed with his hands raised. The city erupted in an uprising for weeks afterward. The ensuing DOJ investigation found a pattern of racial bias by the local police against Blacks and ordered a change in practices. 

Let us turn to the data. Based on our investigation into fatalities by police, cops murdered 218 Californians in 2015. That’s one death per 200,000 residents. However, Blacks and Pacific Islanders were killed at a higher rate. Three Blacks died at the hands of police for every 200,000 Black residents, while four Pacific Islanders were killed for every 200,000. The evidence is too staggering to simply claim that a few “bad actors” were to blame. Only systemic reform, imposed by mechanisms such as a consent decree, can force a change and produce equitable outcomes.

Ben Carson, Trump’s Housing and Urban Development secretary, thinks fair housing programs are a form of “social engineering.” Legal requirements such as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) are not necessary, according to Carson, and can even prevent affordable housing. In essence, the head of HUD thinks that government should not try to legislate racial equality. Our GOP representatives in Congress agree and are actively working to repeal the AFFH ruling. This includes no longer funding, building, designing, maintaining, utilizing, or providing access to “geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.” 

Historically, as Ben Carson can attest, racial housing discrimination has prevented various families from owning property, having economic stability and security, and being able to choose where to live. This historic impact has affected generations of individuals and communities to this day, through restricting housing options, raising housing costs, and economic disinvestment. 

Our current research shows that between 2010-14, Blacks and Latinos in California were two times more likely than Whites to receive subprime loans. We also found that White-owner households in California have about $30,000 more left in income after housing costs when compared to Black-owner households. Therefore, the data shows that it is absolutely necessary to keep fair housing guidelines in place.

Our two examples show the danger of decision-making when not informed by research and data. Organizers of this Saturday’s march expect the event to spark a new movement. As a next-generation, civil rights organization, we at Advancement Project California support data-driven policy solutions in order to have a world where all communities have equitable access to public resources and opportunities to thrive.

Find a March for Science near you and join the movement.