Ousted Black Google Researcher: ‘They Wanted To Have My Presence, But Not Me Exactly’

More on the Google controversy (whose initial code included “Don’t do evil,” removed in 2018):

When Google unceremoniously ousted Black researcher Timnit Gebru, she felt targeted.

“My theory is that they had wanted me out for a while because I spoke up a lot about issues related to black people, women, and marginalization,” Gebru said in an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition.

At Google, Gebru was the co-lead of the company’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence team, where she was able to parlay her passion for highlighting the societal effects of AI into academic papers that could shape Google’s largest products, like search.

Gebru co-founded Black in AI, a group formed to encourage people of color to pursue careers in artificial intelligence research.

For Google, bringing on Gebru lent credibility to the tech giant’s efforts in examining how technology can exacerbate systemic bias and discrimination. Yet she says Google’s support for Gebru only went so far.

“They wanted to have my presence, but not me exactly. They wanted to have the idea of me being at Google, but not the reality of me being at Google,” Gebru said.

On Wednesday, several of her former colleagues wrote a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking that Gebru be reinstated, saying her departure has “had a demoralizing effect on the whole of our team.” The researchers also asked that they not be subject to retaliation for supporting Gebru.

That fear is not unfounded. Google has a history of demoting and firing dissenting employees.

In 2018, tens of thousands of employees walked off the job to protest how Google handled sexual harassment cases, among other issues. Organizers say the company pushed them out.

More recently, the National Labor Relations Board accused Google of breaking the law by sacking employees who tried to unionize.

“Google built this whole company up on the idea that we’ll give you free food and a free coffee and pay you well and give you comfortable bean bags to work on as long as you toe the company line,” said William Fitzgerald, who spent a decade at Google working on communications.

Google’s official company policy is: “if you see something that you think isn’t right – speak up!”

What the policy does not state, according to Fitzgerald, is that speaking up can also mean being shown the door.

“Anyone who continues to challenge their power will get squashed or pushed out, and this is something that’s been happening at Google for years now and we’re only now hearing about it,” he said.

Inside Google, women of color and other underrepresented groups who looked up to Gebru have been especially shaken, said former Google employee Ifeoma Ozoma.

“There are serious concerns around her identity as a Black woman and the concerns she raised around diversity as being the main driver for both the firing and the way it was done and the speed,” Ozoma said.

Google CEO Pichai wrote to staff that he is aware the episode has “seeded doubts and led some in our community to question their place at Google.” He apologized for that. And committed to fix it.

Google declined to be interviewed for this story. It points to emails in which executives say they vigorously support free thinking and independent research.

But now even that is up for debate. Before she left Google, the company abruptly asked Gebru to retract a research paper critical of Google’s technology.

Linguist Emily Bender at the University of Washington, who was one of her co-authors, said she feels for researchers inside Google right now.

“I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t have a chilling effect on people who are working there trying to work on this but now looking over their shoulder wondering, ‘When is something all of a sudden going to be retracted?’ and their work going to be basically taken away from them?” Bender said.

After Google demanded that Gebru retract the paper for not meeting the company’s bar for publication, Gebru asked that the process be explained to her, including a list of everyone who was part of the decision. If Google refused, Gebru said she would talk to her manager about “a last date.”

Google took that to mean Gebru offered to resign, and Google leadership say they accepted, but Gebru herself said no such offer was ever extended, only threatened.

Gebru learned that Google had let her go while she was on a vacation road trip across the country.

Former Googler Leslie Miley said he does not believe Google would have handled it the same way if Gebru were a white man.

“You fired a Black woman over her private email while she was on vacation,” Miley said. “This is how tech treats Black women and other underrepresented people.”

At Google, Gebru’s former team laid out in their letter to Pichai what is needed: “swift and structural changes if this work is to continue, and if the legitimacy of the field as a whole is to persevere.”

Source: Ousted Black Google Researcher: ‘They Wanted To Have My Presence, But Not Me Exactly’

Racial disparity in Vancouver drug charges revealed by new data

Nuanced analysis of the data and disparities:

Black and Indigenous people are dramatically overrepresented in drug charges recommended by Vancouver police, an analysis of new data shows.

The police say, and some experts agree, that these findings are not evidence of racial bias in the Vancouver Police Department, but instead reflect inequalities and failings in broader Canadian society. Others say those wider problems don’t absolve police in Vancouver or elsewhere of a need to confront racism within their own institutions.

These findings emerge from data obtained from the VPD and provided to Postmedia by a University of B.C. PhD student, Ryan Moyer, who said he filed the FOI request “to better investigate the disproportionate impacts of punitive drug policy.”

“While we cannot infer that the overrepresentation of Indigenous and Black communities in drug-related crimes is due to racism specifically,” Moyer said, the “disproportionately frequent interactions” with these populations is concerning and shows the need for more cultural training and more dialogue with leaders of these communities.

In B.C., police do not decide on charges. Instead they make recommendations to Crown counsels, who then decide whether to approve charges. Moyer’s FOI records include 1,268 files where VPD recommended a range of drug charges, 76 per cent of which were approved and went to court, 17 per cent were pending or unknown and seven per cent were not approved by Crown.

In mid-June, Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer talked to Postmedia about racism and policing. Palmer said that while he believes systemic racism doesn’t exist in Canadian policing, racism is still a problem in Canada.

VPD officers undergo more extensive training than other B.C. police agencies on issues including implicit bias, cultural competency and sensitivity, and Indigenous culture, Palmer said then.

Palmer also pointed to broader societal problems that can precede the point in a person’s life when they encounter a cop: “The police officer (is) sometimes dealing with the end result of 20 years of trouble that that person has gone through.”

Palmer is not wrong there, said University of Toronto criminologist Akwasi Owusu-Bempah.

“The chief makes a great point: The police are left to deal with many of society’s failures, and if those societal failures have racially disparate outcomes, then policing is going to have racially disparate outcomes as well,” said Owusu-Bempah.

However, he was surprised Palmer so forcefully denied systemic racism in Canadian policing, considering “the police are a microcosm of society.”

The stakes are high, Owusu-Bempah said, because drug charges, even those resulting in acquittals, can have long-lasting affects on a person’s prospects for employment, education and housing. This adds urgency, he said, to calls to decriminalize, or as he’d prefer, fully legalize all drugs in Canada.

On that point, the data show drug possession charges in Vancouver have fallen sharply in recent years: VPD recommended 142 possession charges in 2015 but only 36 last year, a 75 per cent reduction. In the first half of this year, only 10 possession charges recommended.

“I think (the VPD) should be commended for that approach. But it raises questions of who doesn’t benefit from that?” Owusu-Bempah said. “It seems like decriminalization’s in practice for some, but not for others.”

It’s a good thing this data has now been made public through Moyer’s FOI request, Owusu-Bempah said, “because if they don’t make it public, we can’t identify problems.”

The public should be careful of drawing the wrong conclusions from this data, said VPD spokeswoman Simi Heer.

“It’s simplistic to compare the percentages related to the data in the spreadsheet based on ethnicity,” without taking into account several “long-standing, complex issues,” Heer said.

“Canada has a troubling history of systemic discrimination against Indigenous Peoples,” Heer said. “We recognize that this discrimination continues to perpetuate significant problems today, including overrepresentation in all aspects of the criminal justice system, the homeless population, and more recently, the number of overdoses during the fentanyl crisis.”

“The VPD’s approach on drug issues has been to target the most serious harms to society, as the number of deaths in our communities related to the fentanyl crisis have reached crisis proportions,” Heer said. “This means we’ve been targeting drug trafficking, drug production and organized crime.”

Heer also pointed to the preliminary findings of Metro Vancouver’s homeless count released this week, showing Black and Indigenous people were significantly overrepresented in the region’s homeless population.

The overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous people in both drug charges and homeless populations are “totally connected,” said Neil Boyd, a lawyer and Simon Fraser University professor of criminology.

Boyd said he can’t say racism definitely doesn’t exist in the VPD, but these statistics don’t definitively prove that it does.

“The disproportionate numbers, there might be people who would want to argue that reflects a kind of racism, but I think if it’s racism, it’s not racism within the police department, it’s the racism of our culture, in which we see such an overrepresentation of Indigenous and Black people on the street,” said Boyd.

People from all walks of Canadian society buy, sell, and use drugs, but the police are more likely to come into contact with people with fewer resources, and especially less access to private space, Boyd said. In other words, officers are far more likely to come across a homeless person selling opioids to support his own addiction than an affluent person in a Yaletown condo buying cocaine for a night out.

Others say these racial disparities underscore how much work remains to be done to combat racism and oppression in Canada.

“What we’re seeing is a continuation of oppression,” said Patricia Vickers, a psychotherapist and the First Nations Health Authority’s former director of mental health and wellness services. “Nothing has really changed all that much, as far as our relationships go. When we look at reconciliation, we’re not really seeing what that means in society.”

“The incarceration of Indigenous people is just another symptom of this continuation of domination, control, oppression,” Vickers said. “This is just one of the pieces of evidence we have.”

Harsha Walia, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said these numbers are “not surprising, but it’s still deeply disturbing.”

Racial inequalities exist in many aspects of Canadian society, including the economy, education, health care and more, Walia said. “It’s also not accurate that somehow the armed institutions of the state … are somehow immune from this either.”

“We have study after study that shows over-criminalization and over-incarceration of Black and Indigenous people is absolutely both a symptom and a cause of systemic racism in other institutions,” Walia said. “It’s not a linear A leads to B, it’s a cyclical process.”

In June, B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced the NDP government plans to modernize the province’s Police Act, “with a specific focus on systemic racism.”

Source: Racial disparity in Vancouver drug charges revealed by new data

New data to show that Ottawa police continue to disproportionately pull over Middle Eastern and black drivers

And so it continues. To its credit, the OPS continues to collect this data after the period mandated by the settlement:

Data from the continued collection of race data from all traffic stops conducted by Ottawa police continues to show disproportionate numbers of Middle Eastern and black drivers being stopped by police, according to an email sent to all officers by Chief Peter Sloly in advance of Wednesday’s public release of two studies.

Police were to hold a “technical briefing” for media Wednesday morning detailing the findings of the second set of race data collection during traffic stops. The original project was mandated as a result of a human rights settlement with the police service after a young black man alleged he was racially profiled when he was pulled over while driving a luxury vehicle. Though Ottawa police were only required to collect data on the perceived race of drivers that officers pulled over from 2013 to 2015, the force opted to continue the project.

The report details the second set of that data and “shows that while there are modest decreases in disproportionate rates, we continue to see high disproportionate rates of Black and Middle Eastern males being stopped,” Sloly told officers. In 2016, the findings from the first set of data was largely the same.

The service was also to release the results of a “diversity audit” on Wednesday that surveyed the state of the service’s own diversity. That audit “shows that, while we are making progress in many areas such as outreach recruitment and the new neighbourhood resource teams, we still have work to do on leadership and governance, policy, human resource management, promotional processes, and community policing and engagement,” Sloly wrote.

“These are not easy issues to face in any profession and I know that community comments and criticism are felt by front-line police officers first,” he said.

Sloly said the reports contain “difficult findings” but that he vows that the service will not blame officers and instead will work with them and the community to “improve our systems.”

The reports, too, contain “opportunities to address systemic barriers and make policing better for everyone.”

Sloly wrote that “bias, racial profiling and other forms of discrimination” can exist in policing as they do in the rest of society but that the documents are proof that there have been efforts to address both the community’s and officers’ concerns.

“We are going to continue to strive for professional and equitable policing,” the chief said. “We have to work together to move from reports and recommendations to greater action.”

Source: New data to show that Ottawa police continue to disproportionately pull over Middle Eastern and black drivers