Understand Our Biases

From the American Press Institute

Paul Taylor, former chief political correspondent at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Washington Post, says that if you are covering a political campaign or any other ongoing, long-term story in which you could find yourself gravitating toward one side or one person:

  • Periodically examine yourself for bias building up — understanding what your views are and why you have them is the best way to keep them under control.
  • Who do you personally like or dislike? Why?
  • How might that be coloring your judgment?
  • Read through some of your stories and be self-critical.

New York Times Story About Brooklyn Hospital

Crossing the Border

by Melanie Ramos

“I know what it’s like to have hopes and dreams when coming to the United States and to have them torn down at the border. I lived that experience not once but twice. What they are doing is just inhumane,” Julio A. said. The detention of immigrants, the policy of separating children from parents and the hostility towards immigrants upsets him, “Seeing that on TV had to break my heart,” he told us

The twenty-seven-year-old came to the United States from Mexico seven years ago, and his struggle to get here remains fresh in his mind. He works two jobs, including one as a busboy at a restaurant in lower Manhattan. His fiancée Jessica G. says, “He is honestly a great guy and the most hard-working man I know. He works six days a week, two jobs to be able to live decently.”

The news stories about President Trump’s effort to stop migrants at the U.S. border bring back memories of his own dramatic story, of his failed attempts to enter the U.S., and how he finally made it. He described it as “…the most terrifying experience I have ever lived, the worst part was there was no turning back.”

From the time he was thirteen, it was common to hear people talk about crossing the border with friends and relatives paying “coyotes” to help get them to the U.S. In 2012, when he turned 18, he became curious about the opportunities he could have if he crossed the border. His parents in Pueblo, Mexico, opposed the idea, but it did not stop Julio from pursing his dream. He and a friend found a coyote willing to help them cross for $8,000.

They flew from Puebla to Reynosa, Mexico where they expected to meet a coyote at the airport. “Getting off the airplane, there was already an off feeling. I felt my heart sink and breath getting shorter. Not only because of what I was about to do but because Reynosa is a very dangerous city owned by cartels and drug lords,” Julio recalled.

The coyote did not show up and Julio and his friend rented a motel room. Four days later, the coyote contacted them. He told the young men to go to the neighboring village where he would pick them up. Julio and his friend were taken to a house with about thirty others who hoped to cross. Four or five days later, unaware of how they were going to cross, Julio, his friend and ten others hopped into a van. Three hours later, they were at the Rio Grande, the river between Mexico and the United States.

When it comes to crossing, immigrants describe it two ways: wet and dry. Wet is when one crosses through the river and dry is when one crosses through the desert.

“At this point, I am regretting everything. The only thing I can think of is of what I am leaving behind, which is my family,” Julio said. At the river, Julio and another twenty people were herded on to a boat. He said, “It’s pitch black and around 10 p.m. I can see the moon’s reflection perfectly on the river as we start. It’s like a twenty or thirty minute cross when finally we reach the American side.”

Once they got out of the boat, trouble started. “Not two minutes have passed when suddenly, two, three, four immigration vans from all over start popping up with their sirens. Everybody started running for their life. I ran into a bush but tripped over and the helicopter light spotted me, making the ground guards catch me. Somehow, I managed to escape, ran for two minutes, but tripped over again and got caught again,” he explained in sorrow.

In the span of seven to eight days, Julio was in three different jail facilities until finally U.S. law enforcement officers set him free in Mexicali, Mexico. There he managed to get in contact with a coyote who told him he had no other choice but to try to cross again, if not he would lose the money he paid. Scared and worried, Julio returned to the refugee house where he had stayed before.

Three days later, he and ten other people returned to the Rio Grande. When they arrived on the American side, they walked until they reached a wall.  Julio said he felt excited, “At this point, I had made it much farther than the first time. In my head I said, I am finally going to make it. As we start crossing that damn wall, the migration vans are hiding on the left and right side on the other side of the wall ready to catch you. Sirens go on and I run back to the river but the boat was gone.”

He felt frightened but determined not to get caught again. He managed to hide under a bush. A couple of hours later, he heard two other men from his group talking nearby. Once all three united, one of them called the coyote and asked him to send someone to take them back to Mexico. The coyote did not want to risk sending a boat. So he sent a floating tire instead. Julio and the two men grabbed on and swam back across the river to Mexico.

They swam for an hour and when they reached Reynosa, the coyote’s men took them back to the house where they started. Julio was ready to give up, go home and stay in Mexico. The coyote, again, told him he had no choice but to cross or lose all the money he had paid. Julio decided to try it again rather than lose $8,000.

Julio made his third try to get to the United States at 10 p.m. the next night. He and 15 others huddled on the boat crossing the Rio Grande. When they reached American soil, they did not walk towards the wall. They headed in a different direction. Julio remembered, “It was a two-hour walk, and no signs of migration vans. I felt a sense of relief to know I had made this far this third time.”

They eventually found a fence and had to crawl under the electrified wire to get into McAllen, Texas. “From there on it was all farms and more farms, and just walking for hours until getting to Houston, Texas,” he said. It took two days to get to Houston, and then he got into a van that brought him to New York City

Seven years later, Julio reflected calmly and said, “The experience of crossing, of living on the edge, of starving and failing shapes you differently. You grow into a different person. Not even to mention once you get here, the starting over. Literally starting over, no clothes, no shoes, no knowledge of where you are or whom you are with. Learning a new language, looking for a job and starting in lowest of the lowest position. It’s not easy, but it makes you a much, much stronger person,” he said.

Julio’s Peso, Photo by Melanie Ramos

Julio carries around a Mexican peso he brought with him when he left Mexico. It is the only souvenir from that time. He says it reminds him of the struggle he had to go through and even though he suffered, it made him the man he is today.

Julio is just one of the thousands who have crossed the border. According to Pew Research center, as of 2016 there were 12.0 million immigrants from Mexico living in the United States. Roughly, 45 percent of them are illegal residents.

Genesis M., Julio’s coworker, and close friend, says, “Julio is one of the realest persons I know. I also know he went through a lot to get here, so to hear news stories about Mexicans being criminals and rapists, it boils my blood because not everybody is like that. People sometimes can be so ignorant…”

Resources for Stories About Immigration

Migration Policy Institute

https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

https://www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics

Center for Immigration Studies

https://cis.org/Immigration-Statistics-Data-Portal

The Myth of the Criminal Immigrant

By ANNA FLAGG MARCH 30, 2018

Immigrant population

Change since 1980

Violent crime rate

Change since 1980

The Trump administration’s first year of immigration policy has relied on claims that immigrants bring crime into America. President Trump’s latest target is sanctuary cities.

Read more

CUNY Professors March on Wall Street

CUNY Adjunct Professors Protest on Wall Street for Higher Pay.

By Laura Fotovich –

John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor, Katie Surrence stood, outside the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday, September 27 carrying a sign that read “CUNY needs competitive salaries.”  “I am an adjunct and I currently make $3,200 per course.  This is kind of obscene considering the amount of work and investment I put into [teaching],” she said.

CUNY faculty and students demonstrated in support of a Public Service Commission Public Staff Congress (PSC) contract that will grant adjunct professors a salary of $7,000 per course.

The demonstrators marched from the New York Stock Exchange to 100 Wall St., the office of CUNY Board of Trustees Chairperson, William Thompson. They chanted “Education is a right! Fight, fight fight!, as they marched.

“CUNY is a wonderful system, but it’s budget has been cut for decades,” said Abby Scher, an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College.  “I like teaching my one class a semester, but I would like to make a fair wage,” she added.

The demonstration began at 4 p.m. and lasted almost two hours.  Members of the CUNY faculty gave speeches throughout the afternoon.

According to the CUNY/PSC,  raising the adjunct salary to $7,000 will require additional funding.  Additionally, supporters pushed for granting tuition waivers for the students of full-time faculty and providing better support for the department chairs.

“We are almost a year out of contract and our salaries are not competitive, especially for adjuncts.  It’s really shameful what CUNY pays,” said John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Nivedita Majumdar.  “The reason we are fighting is because we believe in what we do and we believe that our students should have the best education,” she added.

“The work we do is really valuable and we’re drastically underpaid for it,” said Hunter College adjunct professor Emily Crandall.  “We have this two-tier class system at CUNY where we do a lot of the work and we receive very little reward or recognition for it.  It’s a disservice to us and our students,” she added.

The next formal bargaining session for the CUNY PSC is scheduled for October 4.  Contract negotiations will continue at this meeting.

Jimmy Breslin’s Grave Digger Story

‘It’s An Honor’

New York Herald Tribune, November 1963

By Jimmy Breslin

WASHINGTON — Clifton Pollard was pretty sure he was going to be working on Sunday, so when he woke up at 9 a.m., in his three-room apartment on Corcoran Street, he put on khaki overalls before going into the kitchen for breakfast. His wife, Hettie, made bacon and eggs for him. Pollard was in the middle of eating them when he received the phone call he had been expecting. It was from Mazo Kawalchik, who is the foreman of the gravediggers at Arlington National Cemetery, which is where Pollard works for a living. “Polly, could you please be here by 11 o’clock this morning?” Kawalchik asked. “I guess you know what it’s for.” Pollard did. He hung up the phone, finished breakfast, and left his apartment so he could spend Sunday digging a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

When Pollard got to the row of yellow wooden garages where the cemetery equipment is stored, Kawalchik and John Metzler, the cemetery superintendent, were waiting for him. “Sorry to pull you out like this on a Sunday,” Metzler said. “Oh, don’t say that,” Pollard said. “Why, it’s an honor for me to be here.” Pollard got behind the wheel of a machine called a reverse hoe. Gravedigging is not done with men and shovels at Arlington. The reverse hoe is a green machine with a yellow bucket that scoops the earth toward the operator, not away from it as a crane does. At the bottom of the hill in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Pollard started the digging (Editor Note: At the bottom of the hill in front of the Custis-Lee Mansion).

Leaves covered the grass. When the yellow teeth of the reverse hoe first bit into the ground, the leaves made a threshing sound which could be heard above the motor of the machine. When the bucket came up with its first scoop of dirt, Metzler, the cemetery superintendent, walked over and looked at it. “That’s nice soil,” Metzler said. “I’d like to save a little of it,” Pollard said. “The machine made some tracks in the grass over here and I’d like to sort of fill them in and get some good grass growing there, I’d like to have everything, you know, nice.”

James Winners, another gravedigger, nodded. He said he would fill a couple of carts with this extra-good soil and take it back to the garage and grow good turf on it. “He was a good man,” Pollard said. “Yes, he was,” Metzler said. “Now they’re going to come and put him right here in this grave I’m making up,” Pollard said. “You know, it’s an honor just for me to do this.”

Pollard is 42. He is a slim man with a mustache who was born in Pittsburgh and served as a private in the 352nd Engineers battalion in Burma in World War II. He is an equipment operator, grade 10, which means he gets $3.01 an hour. One of the last to serve John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was the 35th president of this country, was a working man who earns $3.01 an hour and said it was an honor to dig the grave.

Yesterday morning, at 11:15, Jacqueline Kennedy started toward the grave. She came out from under the north portico of the White House and slowly followed the body of her husband, which was in a flag-covered coffin that was strapped with two black leather belts to a black caisson that had polished brass axles. She walked straight and her head was high. She walked down the bluestone and blacktop driveway and through shadows thrown by the branches of seven leafless oak trees. She walked slowly past the sailors who held up flags of the states of this country. She walked past silent people who strained to see her and then, seeing her, dropped their heads and put their hands over their eyes. She walked out the northwest gate and into the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. She walked with tight steps and her head was high and she followed the body of her murdered husband through the streets of Washington.

Everybody watched her while she walked. She is the mother of two fatherless children and she was walking into the history of this country because she was showing everybody who felt old and helpless and without hope that she had this terrible strength that everybody needed so badly. Even though they had killed her husband and his blood ran onto her lap while he died, she could walk through the streets and to his grave and help us all while she walked.

There was Mass, and then the procession to Arlington. When she came up to the grave at the cemetery, the casket already was in place. It was set between brass railings and it was ready to be lowered into the ground. This must be the worst time of all, when a woman sees the coffin with her husband inside and it is in place to be buried under the earth. Now she knows that it is forever. Now there is nothing. There is no casket to kiss or hold with your hands. Nothing material to cling to. But she walked up to the burial area and stood in front of a row of six green-covered chairs and she started to sit down, but then she got up quickly and stood straight because she was not going to sit down until the man directing the funeral told her what seat he wanted her to take.

The ceremonies began, with jet planes roaring overhead and leaves falling from the sky. On this hill behind the coffin, people prayed aloud. They were cameramen and writers and soldiers and Secret Service men and they were saying prayers out loud and choking. In front of the grave, Lyndon Johnson kept his head turned to his right. He is president and he had to remain composed. It was better that he did not look at the casket and grave of John Fitzgerald Kennedy too often. Then it was over and black limousines rushed under the cemetery trees and out onto the boulevard toward the White House. “What time is it?” a man standing on the hill was asked. He looked at his watch. “Twenty minutes past three,” he said.

Clifton Pollard wasn’t at the funeral. He was over behind the hill, digging graves for $3.01 an hour in another section of the cemetery. He didn’t know who the graves were for. He was just digging them and then covering them with boards. “They’ll be used,” he said. “We just don’t know when. I tried to go over to see the grave,” he said. “But it was so crowded a soldier told me I couldn’t get through. So I just stayed here and worked, sir. But I’ll get over there later a little bit. Just sort of look around and see how it is, you know. Like I told you, it’s an honor.”