November 2014 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

November 2014

Why Did the Ferguson Prosecutor Wait Until After Dark to Announce the Grand Jury's Decision?

CNN legal analyst Jeff Toobin raises an important question: Why did authorities in Ferguson wait until 8:30pm CST to announce that the grand jury had declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown? The grand jury reached a decision around lunchtime and the news went out shortly thereafter. At first, the authorities said that the results would be announced at 4pm local time, but 4pm came and went with no announcement. 

It’s not like the authorities were caught off-guard. Everyone knew the decision was coming any day, and security preparations were already in place. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon had issued a state of emergency the previous Monday, in anticipation of the grand jury’s verdict.

So, what took them so long? Were they hoping to stifle protests by waiting until after dark? If so, that was a dubious decision. Everyone knew there would be protests. However, as Toobin points out, crowd control is more difficult at night.

I would add that waiting until after dark on a freezing November night is more likely to deter families with children and seniors–people who tend to have a moderating effect on protests. 

Now, the St. Louis County police chief is basically dismissing all the Ferguson protesters as violent:

“I really don’t have any hesitation in telling you that I didn’t see a lot of peaceful protest out there tonight, and I’m disappointed about that,” Jon Belmar, the St. Louis County police chief, said early Tuesday at a news conference. “I’m not saying there weren’t folks out there that were out there for the right reason — I’m not saying that wasn’t the case — but I am saying that, unfortunately, this spun out of control.” [NYT]

Well, what did he expect? By announcing at night, the authorities created conditions that would specifically suppress turnout by peaceful protesters and provide cover for others intent on committing violence.

Keeping the community waiting for hours for no apparent reason was a provocation in itself.


[Photo credit: Hourglass, Creative Commons.]

Ferguson Police Officer Avoids Criminal Charges; May Face Civil Suit

Officer Darren Wilson will face no criminal charges for killing Mike Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Authorities announced Monday that a grand jury had declined to criminally indict Wilson. However, as Simone Weichselbaum reports for the Marshall Project, Brown’s family might still be able to sue Wilson for damages in civil court. 

#Sidney's Picks: Walmart's Hunger Games; FBI's Stupid Reporter Trick


The Best of the Week’s News

  • “The rape accusations against Bill Cosby must not be ignored,” writes Hillman Judge Ta-Nehisi Coates.
  • Is that a media dangle or are you just happy to see me? FBI agent poses as AP reporter to nab suspect.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

NYC-Subsidized Construction Firms Owe Millions to Their Own Workers

The Daily News reveals that contractors recruited by New York City to build affordable housing owe their own workers millions of dollars in unpaid wages:

Some members of the team helping Mayor de Blasio reach his dream of increasing the supply of affordable apartments in New York have a dirty little secret — an $11.8 million one. That’s how much an elite group of 10 contractors and one developer now building affordable units across the city owed this year to workers cheated out of wages they were supposed to get, a Daily News investigation has found.

The group is building or renovating nearly 2,800 affordable apartments in 37 developments across the city, records obtained under the Freedom of Information Law show. These projects are receiving $41 million in city grants or low-interest loans plus $206 million worth of tax credits. When finished, the apartments they’re building will count toward de Blasio’s oft-stated goal of building or preserving 200,000 affordable units in 10 years — a cornerstone of his administration. [NYDN]

Hat tip to reader Elizabeth, who sent us this story.

Wage violations are rampant in the construction industry, and employers find other ways to cheat employees out of benefits, too. Last month’s Sidney-winners exposed the rampant misclassification of construction workers as independent contractors, a practice that denies them benefits and dodges taxes.

[Photo credit: vpickering, Creative Commons.]

Sidney's Picks: Walmart Workers Hold Historic Sit-Down Strike

The Best of the Week’s News:

  • The ex-CEO who presided over the worst mining disaster in 40 years has been indicted for allegedly violating safety regulations and lying to federal inspectors.
  • “Women’s Abortion Rights Trump Fetal Rights,” says Rebecca Traister of the New Republic.

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

"Pregnant and No Civil Rights"

This is a powerful recent op/ed from the New York Times about how the civil liberties of pregnant women are being eroded by anti-choice legislation. The authors, Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, have exhaustively researched cases in which pregnant women have been jailed for suspected suicide attempts, forced to remain in hospital against their will, and even forced to have unwanted c-sections because the state’s interest in the fetus was deemed more important than the woman’s civil rights. 


[Photo credit: JerryLai08, Creative Commons.]

Adrian Chen Wins November Sidney for Wired Feature on the FB Mods Fighting the Rising Tide of Dick Pics

Adrian Chen, a rising journalistic star known for his coverage of the digital world, is the winner of this month’s Sidney Award for his Wired feature, “Unseen,” which introduces the reader to a hidden army of content moderators who battle to keep dick pics, child porn, gory traffic accident footage, and beheading videos off Facebook and other social networking sites. 

Chen’s coverage combines the best of tech journalism and investigative reporting to give us a glimpse of the working lives of the 100,000 people who sift through the worst filth the internet can dish up every day. 

Read my Q&A with Adrian at The Backstory

Sidney's Picks: WTC Injuries; The Uses of Ridicule; and the Sleeper Hit "Serial"


The Best of the Week’s News 

  • If you’re not listening to This American Life’s weekly true crime podcast, Serial, you should be.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

2015 Hillman Prizes in Journalism: Call for Entries Now Open!

The Sidney Hillman Foundation is now accepting entries for the 2015 Hillman Prizes which honor investigative journalism and commentary in the public interest. Winners exemplify resourcefulness and courage in reporting, skilled storytelling, social impact and relevance to the ideals of Sidney Hillman.

$5000 prizes will be awarded in the following categories:

  • Book 
  • Newspaper 
  • Magazine 
  • Broadcast
  • Web 
  • Opinion & Analysis 

Click here for full application details and a link to our online submission form. 

Please help us reach as many journalists as possible by sharing the news about the 2015 Hillmans. Sample tweet: Call for entries for 2015 @SidneyHillman Prizes now open! $5000 journalism prizes. Enter online today:  

John Oliver on Why State Legislatures Matter More Than the U.S. Senate

John Oliver explains why state legislatures, aka “the meth labs of democracy,” matter more to the average American’s day-to-day life than which party controls the U.S. Senate.

Hint: Unlike our federal legislators, State leges pass a ton of laws…and ALEC writes them.