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Putting people in the technology equation

March 14, 2019

Panel at Future of Humane Technology event in Washington explores power of narratives to shape what we do with climate change

There are two narratives in climate change right now. One is the day-to-day drumbeat of news stories, usually a new scientific study, and usually put aside with the day’s second cup of coffee.

The second is the latest natural disaster: Houston, Puerto Rico, Northern California. The disaster memory half-life is very short.

“In about nine months, people forget,” said Jeffery Mount, a panelist at Arizona State University’s Future of Humane Technology symposium Thursday at the Barrett & O’Connor Washington Center in the nation's capital. Forgetting drives political entropy, he said. “When a natural disaster occurs, you must leverage it to the best of your ability.”

The panel discussion, one of three centered around placing the human element in technology, revolved around narratives of climate change.

“Tensions between story and data,” it was described by the moderator, Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU. The symposium was sponsored by ASU’s Institute for Humanities Research.

Panelist Mount discussed the forgetfulness of people when it comes to climate change and its visible effects. Mount has many titles — senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, emeritus professor of Earth and planetary sciences, founding director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California at Davis — but his most memorable has been bestowed upon him by the media: “Dr. Doom.”

“We are seeing climate change unfold before our eyes,” Mount said. “The humanities do narratives better than anyone.”

A professor reads a statement during a panel on climate change

During the Future of Humane Technology symposium Thursday at the Barrett & O’Connor Washington Center, ASU Regents' Professor and Director of Jewish studies Hava Samuelson said that religion, with its moral imperatives, is well-suited to address and communicate climate change. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Hava Samuelson, Regents’ Professor and director of Jewish studies at ASU, came at the problem from the perspective of religion. Her interdisciplinary research explores potentially complementary relationships between science and religion.

Religion, with its moral imperatives, is well-suited to address and communicate climate change.

“The kind of stories we tell about the AnthropoceneThe Anthropocene is considered the period of time during which human activities have had an environmental impact on the Earth, regarded as constituting a distinct geological age, according to Merriam-Webster. will determine whether we survive,” Samuelson said.

“It is within religious worldview ... that people organize their lives,” she said. “Diverse communities will need to develop a shared language. ... Our future survival depends on being able to listen to what is being said.”

All world religions have inspired activism in climate change, she said. What’s needed are narratives that see humanity as part of the web of life.

“Put the value of care at the center of everything,” she said.

Gary Dirks, director of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and LightWorks at ASU and a former oil company executive, said the war over climate change is over. The only thing that is left to do now is negotiate the surrender.

“The energy system is going to transform,” Dirks said. “That is inevitable.” It is transforming not only because of climate change, but because of technology and market forces.

“We are rapidly entering into a point in time where humanities can play a really outside role in how this all comes out,” he said.

The transformation will accelerate because of investment opportunities in renewable energy. The existing tension is between a swift transition to renewable energy and a slower transition cradling legacy industries.

“We can’t know today what the final system will look like or how we’ll get there,” Dirks said, adding that the current narrative is polarized and unhelpful.

How does justice get built into this transition? “How we do that is completely unclear,” he said. 

People on a panel sit at tables

During the first panel of the day Thursday, (from left) Chris Kelty, Craig Calhoun, Sareeta Amrute, Brett Bobley, Gaymon Bennett and G. Pascal Zachary discuss humane intelligence. Photo by Lauren Whitby/ASU

Melissa Kenney came to the discussion from backgrounds in both academia and the federal government.  

“What is possible within the governance and cultural systems set up?” Kenney asked. She is both an associate research professor at the University of Maryland and associate director for knowledge initiatives at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment.

“I’ve never worked on a complex problem with a win-win solution,” she said. “What are the ethical and moral dimensions of solutions?”

She characterized adaptive environmental management — decision-making in the face of uncertainty — as “more aspirational.”

“Alarm bells are being set off, and it really shows us the criticality of the situation,” Kenney said. “We all created this; now we all have to solve it. We’re all in this together. ... We are creating the future of people who haven’t arrived yet. ... We need all hands on deck. It’s a problem, but it’s a problem we can solve.”

Asked about their visions of the world in 2050, panelists were optimistic.

“We will not deal with these issues from the standpoint of pessimism,” Dirks said. He predicted the world will not be at zero net emissions, but well advanced. Outstanding technical barriers, like long-term energy storage, will be solved by then.

“Where are the possibilities for things to go right?” said Kenney, who talked about the U.S. Virgin Islands, where 95 percent of everything was destroyed by hurricane and is now being rebuilt with a view towards resilience and sustainability

“Look at what the Dutch are doing,” said Mount, referring to the elaborate flood-control measures the Netherlands has built over the past 30 years.

Earlier in the day, the symposium featured a keynote by ASU President Michael M. Crow, as well as two other panels: “Humane Intelligence in the Age of AI, Algorithms and Autonomous Systems,” moderated by Gaymon Bennett, associate professor of religion, science, and technology at ASU; and “Preserving the Person in Personalized Medicine,” moderated by Deborah Helitzer, dean of the College of Health Solutions at ASU.

Top photo: (From left) ASU Regents’ Professor Hava Samuelson, Senior Fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California Jeffrey Mount and University of Maryland Associate Research Professor Melissa Kenney listen as Gary Dirks, director of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU, makes a point during the Future of Humane Technology symposium in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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African-American law enforcement officers balance dual identities

African-American law-enforcement professionals talk about racism, reform.
March 14, 2019

Criminal justice system professionals talk about racism, reform during panel at ASU

African-American law enforcement officers must balance two identities simultaneously during these complicated times, and each identity serves the other, according to a panel discussion at Arizona State University on Thursday night.

Five African-American men discussed the complexity of race in their experiences as professionals in the criminal justice system in a talk titled “Being Blue from a Black Perspective” at the Beus Center for Law and Society on the Downtown Phoenix campus.

Kevin Robinson, a lecturer in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and a retired police officer, said that a student recently asked him: “Are you a black law enforcement officer or a law enforcement officer who happens to be black?”

“I didn’t answer right away, but I came to this conclusion: Being one makes me more acutely aware of being the other,” said Robinson (pictured above), who was assistant police chief in the Phoenix Police Department when he retired.

“As a police officer, I understand what happens to black males at stops sometimes. I get it. As a police officer I understand the concerns that police officers have in dealing with adverse situations. It goes both ways.”

Timothy Woods, a Phoenix Police Department patrol shift commander, said: “One thing I cannot escape from forever is the melanin in my skin.”

“Whether I have the uniform on or have the uniform off, I’m a black man. I’m proud to be a black man. I’m proud of my culture, and I’m proud to serve as a Phoenix police officer as well. It is a career path I’ve chosen,” he said.

The men described the discrimination they have faced on the job. Michael Powell, a former state trooper, deputy sheriff and retired senior manager in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, recalled how he was handcuffed by two troopers for speeding while working as an undercover agent in Miami.

“They didn’t believe I was a DEA agent, and I was locked in the back of the car,” he said. “About 15 minutes later, it didn’t turn out well for them.”

Robinson said that he more often faced racism from fellow officers on an individual basis than institutional racism.

“You have to go right to them,” he said of the racists. “And they were a real motivation for me to take promotional exams.”

Jocquese Blackwell, a criminal defense attorney in Phoenix, said he didn’t always have a good view of law enforcement. He worked in military intelligence for several years and then as an engineer before going to law school at ASU.

“I had dreads in law school, and I got pulled over all the time. I had dreads when I worked as an engineer, and I got pulled over all the time,” he said. “We need to address that.”

Cecil Patterson said that, besides being mistaken for a clerk, he also dealt with the “fishbowl syndrome.” He was the first black judge appointed to the Maricopa County Superior Court, the first black lawyer in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the state’s first black appeals court judge. He also was a graduate of the second class of ASU’s law school, in 1971.

“I had five major jobs in 32 years of practice, and every job I was the first and only African-American in the job. And that lasted a long time,” he said.

“I had the chance to influence, but it was on an individual level and what hurts is not having more African-Americans. If you have more people, you can have a community effort and more lasting positive change.”

Patterson said he has seen an evolution.

“One of the things that I was proud of and that has continued to happen is the presence of blacks in the system — defense attorneys, prosecutors, police officers, probation officers — and the numbers have increased,” he said.

The experts were asked what they would tell the current candidates who are running for president about the American criminal justice system and black people.

Robinson said that the next president needs to work with states to make sure that law enforcement has more training.

“If we look back at all the negative things we see occur in law enforcement with folks of color, it is lack of communication,” he said. “They don’t understand someone else or take the time to listen. You have to understand folks.”

Powell, who now owns a company that consults with law enforcement, said that accountability is critical.

“You have to hold police departments accountable, and it has to be transparent. All the action has to be transparent,” he said.

Woods said that law enforcement has often been on the wrong side of history and is now figuring out how to be on the right side.

“This goes back to slavery. When the slave ran away, who was entrusted to capture the slave? The sheriff was,” he said.

“We’ve had such a long ‘us versus them’ mentality. We’ve gone into a community and called it ‘the jungle’ or ‘the hood.’ We go in and wreak havoc and destroy and leave. But we’re entrusted to serve and protect, and a candidate needs to understand that dynamic.”

He also said that incarcerating people for nonviolent crimes is expensive and unhelpful.

“We need to be restoring the rights of people and if you don’t, you keep them in prison. And if you keep them in prison they won’t have any options to get resources, and if they don’t get them legally, they’ll get them illegally. We have to change that.”

Blackwell said that candidates who supported the 1994 federal crime bill must acknowledge that the result has been increased rates of incarceration for black people for nonviolent crimes.

“If they believed that crime was rampant and that black people and poor people were ‘superpredators,’ they need to own it and they need to apologize for it,” he said.

The talk was sponsored by the Sigma Pi Phi fraternity, the nation’s oldest African-American professional fraternity, and moderated by Greg Vincent, president of the international organization and a retired law professor.

Vincent said that the often-repeated statement that there are more black men in the criminal justice system than college is a myth.

“But what is true is that for black men in their 30s, on any given day, 1 in 10 is connected to the criminal justice system, many for nonviolent drug offenses,” he said. And although black men make up 13 percent of the population, they make up more than 30 percent of the victims of police shootings.

“We know there have been bipartisan efforts to reform the criminal justice system, and we think in the next election cycle, we’ll see this issue front and center,” he said.

Top photo: Kevin Robinson, an ASU lecturer and former assistant chief for the Phoenix Police Department, introduces the discussion "Being Blue from a Black Perspective" on Thursday evening at the Beus Center for Law and Society on the Downtown Phoenix campus. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now