Category: Press Releases

Pre-Election Letter to Citizens

Dear citizen,

If you are looking for a councilmember that has passion and is willing to do what it takes to get community members organized and stand up for THEMSELVES against injustices by holding our local institutions accountable, then I’m your candidate! The primary reason that I’m running for Ward 1 city council is that I’m tired of politicians using poverty as an excuse to not engage disenfranchised communities.

Prior to election day, I have been indiscriminately doorknocking for the last 21 days straight reaching out to some of the disenfranchised communities in ward 1 (while wearing my frog hat! 🐸) While other politicians virtue signal/advertise to politically active people and seek the endorsements of other politicians/citizens, I have been reaching out to all citizens directly including those that have been ignored, forgotten, and have given up on local politics entirely.

From these discussions with residents from all background, I was able to synthesize a simple message. The government’s primary role is to provide public service and improve the “quality of life” for ALL residents, with the core values being community safety, personal security, belonging, and civic engagement (i.e. your voice is being heard). Majority of citizens can grasp that the government CANNOT give you belonging (or ‘buy’ it), but it has to come from their own participation. In addition, citizens are able to acknowledge their own personal benefits, and how they contribute to the larger picture by building relationships because “YOU MATTER!”

In disenfranchised communities, the first and foremost priority is community safety. I am appalled by the living conditions that residents have to endure, an apt metaphor is that these people/families are living in cages. It should be safe for citizens to go outside, especially for children to be able to play outside. If residents do not “take back the streets”, the residents/families will become further isolated from each other, which will prevent community bonds from forming (likely replaced with resentment, often racial), which is crucial for diverse first generation families. Long-term exposure to violence have numerous detrimental impacts on individual resident, and how the community develops. Many of the residents I have spoken to are apathetic and/or frustrated toward local politics because their community is becoming less safe (or at least perceived), while their property taxes continue to increase!? The primary solution that I advocate for the residents is take back the streets, by residents working together, and being intentional in putting “eyes on the street”. Community safety is just one example of community members getting together to advocate for a cause. Though how do we accomplish this?

For the more educated, I have done the data analysis of our local elections, outlined the systemic inequities, and provided the appropriate solution within the attached infographic (blue). In one sentence, I would like to create an application that facilitates community engagement and civic engagement and it is citizen-centered designed for ALL ages and languages. Young people are despondent trying to change national politics, while there is a lot of local victories that can be achieved. The groundwork for organizing and institutional support will be provided by the district planning councils.

Finally, let’s talk about the ‘amphibian’ in the room.  I’m running as self-proclaimed superhero to connect intergenerationally by appealing to both parents and children. For children, they often enjoy superheroes on tv, and the movies. We can role model to youth on what a local superhero does and how their actions impact people. Finally, it is absolutely amazing to be able to connect with both the adults and children at the same time while doorknocking as you are connecting with the entire family. I have reached the point, that people do not recognize me without the frog hat, it has become my identity. We need to transform how we do elections if we want to attract a wider range of audiences and empower people that don’t fit the ‘traditional’ role to run for office.

If my vision, charisma, and/or message resonates with you, please vote for me as your #1 choice (#2 is okay too). Please share to others with friends; the grassroots method is by word of mouth i.e. VOTE FOR THE FROGMAN!

Website Letter Link: http://abunayeem.com/2019/11/05/election-letter-to-citizen/

My report on local inequities in elections:  https://abunayeem.com/2019/11/02/how-can-we-make-local-elections-matter-to-people-in-saint-paul/

Cheers,
Abu Nayeem aka Frogtown Crusader

P.S. I also advocate ‘No Vote” for the trash referendum, you can read more about my position on the website.

How Can We Make Local Elections Matter to ALL People in Saint Paul?

My Platform in one sentence: I want to solve systemic failures in our local election/politics with a transformative/feasible solution that connect inter-generations with a message that resonates and activates the vast majority of people. 

The primary reason that I’m running for city council in Ward 1, is that I’m tired of politicians using poverty as an excuse to not engage disenfranchised communities. In 2015, only 13% of registered voters voted in Ward 1. In part of the Saint Paul Data Initiative,  I did a thorough analysis breaking down the Minnesota voting records from the past city council elections highlighting the voting inequities/discrepancies respect to age/poverty, and how the actions of our leaders reinforce the status quo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my campaign, for the last three weeks prior to election day, I made a pledge to myself to spend everyday door-knocking in Ward 1, this involves reaching out to disenfranchised communities whom had been ignored for decades. Though it may not equate to much votes directly, I hope you spread my message to others that can vote. Let’s address each of the inequities, and I provide the solutions via campaign platform. 

Inequity #1 Age 

The following chart above shows the age distribution of voters in Saint Paul, and notice the discrepancy between the mayor and national races. Older people vote in greater volume and proportion in the city council election. In addition, if we look at the voting rate for young people from age 18-20, the numbers for Ward 1 was around 1% of registered voters.

So what explains the discrepancy between local and national elections? Does local elections matter less than state/national elections? I would claim that it is self-evident that local elections matter more than the state/national elections because it impact people’s daily lives, but it may not be necessarily perceived this way by the general public for several factors.   

From my own experience, and talking to residents across the age spectrum  there seems to be two factors: technology/information gap, and to a lesser extent, maturity/experience gap. In regards to maturity, there is a clear connection that homeowners/landlords have greater awareness of city policies than compared to younger renters because they have greater responsibility in navigating those systems, and paying various taxes and fees. For example, we are oblivious and take for granted on all the activities/services our parents provide us, until we have to do it on our own. This maturity can take longer for some than others, but usually sped up when living on their own. Student housing has insulated many students from interacting with locales from different lived experiences. They are effectively living within a bubble. Though it could be argued that the vast majority of people preside in a bubble of some sort. I digress.

I think the most pronounced effect is the technology/information gap. Different generations of people get information through different mediums.  A marketing analysis from Nielsen, have shown that older people get their information from printed newspapers, TV, and radio whereas younger generations are getting information from social media, internet, and other streaming services. For younger people, social media content is easier to access, and there is bias toward state/national news/ entertainment because it is more relevant to a bigger audience, and there are underlying algorithms promoting it.

For example, I do not personally watch/own any local TV/entertainment. Though I get my information on local issues through different activist friends and Facebook pages. The participants on these forums are not young people. When I talked to college-age students, the vast majority were completely clueless on what is happening at the local level and/or how it can impact them, even though organized trash was going to impact them directly (i.e. maybe a maturity gap for not paying?). I don’t blame these students as I was oblivious as well during their age. What we do know is that young people are politically active given their participation of numerous movements. So it’s not apathy, its exposure.

We can place the fault on our education system (definitely civics!), adults, and politicians, though I think the greatest causal impact is making it easier to engage civically. One of my campaign lines is, “why are we using technology of 200 years ago, when we live in the modern digital age?”. The simple answer to this is that it keeps the current power intact. In fact, many young people are depressed and feel powerless, as a result of their inability to influence state/national/global politics. By obtaining local victories, they can shape the world around them, and create a collective force to transform our community. 

Inequity #2 Poverty 

Both voter registration AND voter turnout is low in disenfranchised communities, but why what are some possible explanations?  The first communities that I doorknocked were in the isolated and disenfranchised communities within Ward 1 including Rice Street, Frogtown, and North End. I was mostly listening because people the people had a lot to say (in comparison to wealthier counterparts). There was common themes that came up: community safety, belonging, isolation, and pride. Each community/block area can have unique situations/partnerships then the block near them. Even though I will be sharing the negative themes on the report, it is important to take a moment to dispel the myth that people in poverty are by default, lazy. Some of these people are working hard everyday, and want to be a good role model to their kids and community around them. In third-world countries, the poor people are not able to adequately rely on local governance for support, so residents have developed their own communal support system, which are relationship based.

For lower voter registration, there are many direct, and indirect factors why residents don’t vote. For direct factors, 1) there are greater concentration of felons that cannot vote. Some are unfamiliar with opportunity to expungment. 2) there are greater concentrations of immigrant whom do not have citizenship and/or face language barriers to be effectively engaged in the process. 3) there is a higher concentration of renters and/or other temporary housing arrangements. There is less affinity to register if just moved in, and/or will be temporarily staying or moving out of the apartment. The indirect factors is that there is cultural expectations of civic engagement associated with social class.

For low voter turnout, which are people that are registered to vote, but choose not to vote in local elections. I’m able to synthesize their responses into two categories: lack of government responsiveness and overall alienation/isolation in their community. Long-time active residents have endured being ignored by city government, and the change in leadership both at city council and mayoral election has not amounted to any change, as the everyday violence has continued to rise in these communities. Several residents have explicitly stated their frustration on why they do not vote. In response to community safety, residents are frustrated that local government is speaking on their behalf, and ignoring their voices. In some cases, when residents expressed their complaint to the district planning councils, they are personally attacked and called racist for expressing their concern.

There are several structural factors that exacerbate isolation in disenfranchised communities: 1) These communities are often diverse with different cultures and ethnicities, which creates language and cultural barriers that make it harder for residents to connect; 2) Their community is NOT SAFE; if residents and their kids are inside and/or don’t get to play outside, they lose meaningful opportunities to build friendships outside their culture. With the introduction of charter schools catered to specific ethnic minorities, the division between neighbors may expand; 3) Lack of authentic outreach of neighborhood organizations and doorknocking in these communities to understand their needs; 4) Finally, we are in the digital age, so we can meet our emotional and friendship needs through digital forums, and/or media; leading to loneliness as the essential basic need for connection are met.. I contend, we cannot build community pride if we do not build relationships within our community.

In summary, residents in disenfranchised communities have been systematically ignored by the government, which lead to disillusionment toward elections, and these communities face isolation due to many structural barriers. The most noteworthy is community safety because it prevents the opportunity for residents and kids to interact with each other and support local businesses in their area.

Case in Point: The Trash Referendum


I have been an advocate for the ‘Vote No’ campaign since after reading Judge Castro’s legal memorandum. I’m aware of the initial supporters of the lawsuit/referendum and the citizens supporting it. They are predominantly white and older residents. Since the referendum has expanded on the ballot, the scope and race of supporters has expanded; though not necessarily younger votes. While I was doorknocking, I’ve noticed it was older people that had much stronger opinion on the issue and, I predict, the reason behind this is that the maturity/experience gap is much greater for older folks as they have repeated interactions with trash service, and follow the locals news more deeply. On the other hand, I suspect the turnout for the Vote Yes campaign will be disproportionately younger people because younger people are less involved in local politics and the message is communicated and delivered in the medium that they commonly use such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. (i.e. the information gap). An effective tool to get young people within progressive circles to get out to vote is outrage toward an injustice; there are many organizer books that will state this. I’ve noticed that some current political campaigns manufacture outrage to get people out to vote. This may produce immediate results in increasing the vote; this is deceptive and in the long-run it can lead to disillusionment because nothing has truly changed. Many of the admins in the neighborhood groups in social media place a rigid lockdown on discussion on the trash topic; preventing a generational exchange on what the trash referendum is truly about… You can view my position here

Solution:

To effectively solve the inequities presented above: we need to create a platform that addresses in the information gap across generations, and create strong enough message to get people actively engaged.

My assessment of the current issues is that we using centuries-old technology for civic engagement even thoguh everyone especially young people are using digital tools. Let’s design an app/ digital service separate from existing social media services that facilitates civic engagement and community engagement for all ages, INCLUDING youth. Being a local frog superhero,  I can connect with children on the importance of local community. Often young people look up to superheroes on tv,  and the movies, though it will be important for them to see what a local superhero can do. In addition, it will be a positive role model as I am spreading love, and joy, while deemed as an important person.  

From talking to residents, we need to simplify the role of government that every single person can understand AND would want to participate.  How can we improve the quality of life for ALL residents? Here are three qualities that resonates with people more readily:

  • Community Safety: Create a safe environment with residents taking an active role… so adults and children can play outside
  • Belonging: Residents foster friendships with each other… so they feel loved and have community pride
  • Civic Engagement:  Simplify access and remove barriers… so peoples’ voices can be heard.

For accountability, I’ll be advocating that the district planning councils actively engage the community as they receive $1.4 million of taxpayers money for the Community Engagement Fund. There are some other creative options to reform the district planning council. You can read them here

Final Remark:

I want give power to the powerless. This can be only achieved by building the infrastructure for community members to engage, and  support each other. Ultimately, it is the individuals members of the community that hold the power to make collective action, not the politician nor the special interest groups.

Campaign Lit (Summary):

 

 

The Need of Legitimacy of District Planning Councils: Case of District 7 Elections

Saint Paul City Council Candidate for Ward 1: Abu Nayeem

Published: 09/18/19

 

This is an informative post briefly explaining why district planning councils matter and their role in citizen engagement. The content is relevant to residents in other neighborhoods, not just within District Planning Council 7. In addition, this post is putting on public record that the district planning council 7 (D7), i.e. Frogtown Neighborhood Association (FNA), is proceeding to pursue board elections on September 17th, 2019, without abiding to their own by-laws. I have reached out to them** on their Facebook page publicly asking questions about the election, which has been deleted and further discussion about D7 is barred from the Frogtown community page.

Disclaimer: I am a former boardmember of D7, and I spoken out against the internal culture of the organization.  This led me to voted off the board, and, effectively, barred from ever joining the council via change of the by-laws, aka “No Abu rule”. You can read my public rebuttal of my resignation, and my posting on the legitimacy of election over three months ago; so there was ample time for them to respond accordingly.

In this post, I will proceed accordingly:

  1. Explain the importance of district planning council providing an example within D7
  2. The challenge of filling boardmember seats for district planning councils and what needs to change
  3. Provide a brief outline on the illegitimacy of the current District 7 board elections.
  4. Accountability/ Action Steps

 

** Executive staff are Co-directors Tia Williams, Caty Royce, and contract community organizer and Ward 6 city council candidate, Danielle Swift.

1)  Why does district planning councils matter?

The primary roles of district planning councils is local economic development and community/citizen engagement. My strongest criticism of District Planning Council 7 under a community lens is its hypocritical stance toward community safety, and lack of community engagement. The organization advocates strongly for community based solutions, while taking minimal actions and priority (See 2019 Workplan**) on engaging and building relationships with community members in respect to safety. In addition, they prioritize on anti-displacement and resisting gentrification, without recognizing the integral role that community safety plays in creating a stable community and reduce displacement.

From my experience reaching out to community members on safety within Sherburne Street and Victoria Ave, the residents from that area has been consistently ignored for years by their local leaders, and, if they are immigrants/first-generation, they may restrict their children playing outside/travel. If we do not address community safety adequately, the property values of homes will go down, and people will move away from the community, increasing the number of vacant properties, which leads to more crime and displacement. Note: eventually gentrification will occur, but that would be years later.

** If it is not altered retroactively. Also not available on their website anymore.

2)  The Challenge of Citizen Engagement within District Planning Councils

Many district planning councils have difficulty filling board seats, and/or finding active boardmembers. Often the elections are not competitive and there is no reason given to residents to pay attention. This poses a risk where certain individuals join the board to directly benefit themselves and/or boardmembers are hand-picked by the executive director (or prominent figures) leading to group-think; i.e. lack of diversity of ideas.

Who is responsible for citizen inaction? Is it the citizens and/or the organization?

There is responsibility from both parties. However, one of the primary functions of district planning councils is community/citizen engagement. If the organization is “intentionally” inadequate in reaching out to the  community,  it creates a negative feedback loop leading to inaction indefinitely. For example, the organization will say residents are not interested in being involved, while residents may be unaware that they even exist and/or do meaningful action. Impoverished and/or transitory neighborhoods are more likely inactive, as residents have less leisure and education than their wealthier counterparts, but it should be not wielded as an excuse. This setup tends to strongly benefit the persons in charge because they can stay in power indefinitely and seek more funding, while having no accountability.

The district planning council should be the nexus (i.e. connector) between residents and the city, among other duties. I believe, its the responsibility of the city council to build relationships with district planning councils and create some basic performance standards that district planning councils should abide to. The effectiveness of policy, and utilization/access of resources by community members is dependent on the efficacy of the district planning councils.

3)  The Illegitimacy of the District 7 Board elections:

Within in the last seven years, District 7 has considerable challenges keeping boardmembers. From 2014, the retention rate of completing a 3-year term was 16% or 5 out 31 board members. Three months prior, I did a detailed post highlighting the concerns of the election with accountability diagrams, and how the by-laws in favoring the executive director. For brevity, I will summarize the results. The following table below displays the number of years that currently board members served and the board make-up using the IRS document form 990:

According to by-laws (unless new changes being made), boardmembers can only serve 2 three-year terms. There should be at 11 vacancies, and currently only 3 new boardmembers are joining.  You can see the boardmember list here on FNA website.

Here are some basic questions not being addressed by the organization:

  • How is Christine Chapman (At-Large) re-running for the board again, after her two terms has expired?
  • Why is Walter Battle re-running for election?
  • How much total vacancies are on the board?
  • Should the board chair, Tong Thao, re-run for election?
  • How is the conflict of interest of a boardmember, Joyce Williams, having direct familial member related to the co-executive director resolved?
  • As of now, there are still vacancies for Subdistrict 3 & 4? Why has the organization not outreach to those areas for years, and more important what are they doing about it?

Finally, there is financial incentives for the co-executive director to maintain the status quo as illustrated on the chart below, which is not even considering the compensation of the co-director, Tia Williams.

4) Next Steps/ Accountability

There are two approaches in creating change within a district planning council. The traditional approach is joining the board, and slowly shape the direction of the board (path I took). In my opinion, this path is ineffective especially because the existing power structure will not stand down without a fight. Also why should residents be exposed to toxic board environment? Another option is for a bunch of boardmembers to join, but there will be significant community tension and conflict.

The other approach is seeking accountability from external measures. If there is evidence to suggest financial malfeasance, then the organization could be audited by the state. The district planning council is a private non-profit organization giving the organization considerable control in writing the by-laws, and not subject to laws related to public agencies. However, the city provides necessary guidelines for a non-profit to be recognized as a district planning council: (More Info)

1. That the organization is broadly representative of the area that it covers and involves a majority of all the groups and all major interests in the community (business, non-profit, religious, etc.).
2. That accountability is assured in the form of a mechanism such as recall, together with term limits for members of the Executive Committee, to make sure that the organization is controlled by the entire community that it represents.
3. That all activities are totally accessible including open, widely publicized meetings, where the greatest possible degree of community participation is encouraged and maintained.

In the case for District 7, they seem to have failed, at least, one of the guidelines via violations of by-laws and the lack of geographical representation within the board. Currently, the district planning councils receive funding from the city through Community Engagement Program of roughly $1.4 million dollars, you can view the breakdown here. Residents can hold their district councils accountable, in risk of them losing their designation and thus their funding from the city. There is also the other option of creating another non-profit that is more legitimate than the existing district council. This approach will be hard to gain traction if the neighborhood has been excluded for many years and residents are disenfranchised, such as in District 7.

In frankness, the executive directors/ boardmembers within the district planning councils may have built complex partnerships with city officials, and councilmembers.  Compliance is often rewarded with power and protection. Throughout the entire fiasco of district council 7 lasting for several months, there was no response from Ward 1 councilmember Dai Thao, while still partnering with D7 as if everything is normal. Feel free to contact your councilmember to file a complaint, but don’t expect much to change and/or expect them to place the burden of work upon you, even though they have an expansive network/influence.

Concluding Thoughts:
If we want community-based solutions, then we need to design systems that enable community success,  which means a district planning council that actively engage citizens to participate on things that matter. For Saint Paul citizens, I recommend either electing council members that understand this principally and/or demand accountability/action from progressive leaders/positions in power. i.e. Practice what you preach!

Sincerely,
Abu Nayeem

 

 

Letter to Mayor Carter: Please Renegotiate the Trash Contract Now

Saint Paul City Council Candidate for Ward 1: Abu Nayeem

Published: 09/05/19; Last Edit: 09/08/19

Dear Mayor Carter,

I beg you to tell the truth that the city is NOT legally required to follow the current contract with the trash consortium on behalf of Saint Paul residents. In the lawsuit that allow the referendum to be on the ballot, Judge Castro’s ruling instituted a “Force Majeure” clause (on page 10) that nullified the current contract, in which, the ruling was later supported by the Minnesota Supreme Court. In layman terms, the city can renegotiate the contract with the trash consortium to get cheaper prices, options for opt-out/sharing garbage bins, and quality control measures. Finally, this process can be initiated before the referendum vote on November 5th.

On the other hand, if you continue to insist that the contract is locked under the threat of increasing the city tax levy by 17%, there will be long-lasting frustration among residents. This will undermine any new proposals, such as organized plowing in alleys. Suppose if the referendum does pass, public relations will worsen even further, and there will be additional lawsuits to challenge the current contract costing taxpayers more money and anxiety on our city’s future. 

Personally, as a citizen, I am for an organized trash service. The benefits of reduced trucks in the alleyways, less damage on the roads, and reduced psychic costs of seeking a hauler is more favorable than the old system of choosing a hauler, which would be more expensive than prior years. Though I think we can get a much better deal. However, for organized trash to be viable in the long-term future, even if the referendum fails to pass, you need to treat residents with respect and dignity. Otherwise, a renewed contract will likely fail, and the headache of Saint Paul trash will persist for years.

It should be clear to everyone, even allies for organized trash, that the best option for Saint Paul is for you to renegotiate the contract as soon as possible. Please make the right decision, otherwise I’ll be voting NO on  the referendum this November 5th and will advise others to do the same.

Sincerely,
Abu Nayeem

P.S. I am running for Saint Paul city council candidate for Ward 1, and it’s essential that our council members build trust with residents, forward thinking, and effectively collaborate with the mayoral administration.

PSA: Data Literacy and Deeper Insight on Saint Paul Crime Data

Saint Paul City Council Candidate for Ward 1: Abu Nayeem

Published: 09/03/19

Abstract:

This is an educational post explaining and promoting data literacy among citizens/ local leaders AND “a call for action”. This knowledge is essential because people/institutions can use selective data i.e. facts to push/counter a narrative, which can create considerable harm to community members as their personal experiences could be invalidated. I will be focusing primarily on Saint Paul Crime data, and show how valuable information is lost in the reports. I offer, and already built some practical solutions to increase data transparency and accessibility for citizens. However, the systemic impacts can only be actualized by citizens via  sharing this information to others, actively engaging/participating, AND holding our local leaders/institutions to a higher standard. As the city council elections are coming up, we can elevate community discourse.

Audience Disclaimer:

  • For some, the content may be hard to accept because it goes against your current worldview, and may be an unpopular opinion within your social circle. Do not be complicit to group think.
  • For those spreading/ benefiting from misinformation, take a moment of self-reflection. If you are unintentional participant, then you are not responsible. If you are directly responsible, there is always an opportunity to be forthright, otherwise people will stand up for themselves. Be part of the solution.
  • For those that have strong dislike toward government/ institutions, don’t blindly accept my premise. Please understand, and challenge it. Furthermore, the aim is not abolition of the government, but design data structures that are efficient, transparent, and engage citizens to take action.

 

Personal Disclaimer:

I am running for Saint Paul city council in Ward 1, promoting with a platform promoting data-driven solutions.

Context :

On August 24th, I attended the Minnesota Republican Party city council candidate forum. Ward 6 city council candidate, Danielle Swift, stated that crime had decreased last year, according to the Saint Paul Police Department (SPPD) data. Several other council candidates proceeded sharing their experience afterward (not in response to Danielle’s statistic) that they had experienced increased crime in their area. From Ward 2 city council candidate Bill Hosko’s public statement against Danielle’s Facebook post, I found out that she posted this publicly on Facebook:

        “I was on a panel organized by the Republican Party yesterday. When I said crime was down I was scoffed at by              some other candidates. They replied they didn’t “FEEL or BELIEVE that was true.” Well I knew I read that                          information somewhere. Speak from facts people. Not from your biased (and frankly racists) opinions. K? Thx.”

From my experience, none of the candidates said anything inherently racist, and, in fact, it was rather disingenuous to disparage candidates afterward, rather than bringing the issue up to the entire panel, during open-discussion. I would have explained to her that there is geo-spatial variation for crime and I have personally analyzed the SPPD crime data, and she has the burden of proof to prove  localized crime did not increase in their respective area.

I find her facebook post disheartening because it invalidates the candidates and their respective constituents lived experiences, which is then distributed to her social network. In her defense, wasn’t she just stating a fact? Yes, but she was not stating and/or aware of all the facts, when it comes to analyzing crime data. Prior to delving into data, take a moment to reflect:

  • How does people/politicians use selective data to reinforcing an existing narrative and/or push a policy?
  • Why “data literacy” is important for expanding/ challenging facts?
  • Why is it essential for our elected officials to be data competent in facilitating community discussions?
  • Can we trust institutions to provide objective and unbiased analysis?

 

Crime Discourse in our Neighborhoods:

EVERY YEAR after winter, when crimes start to pick up, people have the same disagreements in the neighborhood forums regarding how unsafe their community is. It becomes very combative because some community members lived experiences and/or observations are invalidated by the data/research and/or others own personal experience. This experience would be similar to that of the abusive tactic of gaslighting; i.e. manipulate someone to question their sanity. In addition, the emotional tension is high with the intense scrutiny against law enforcement and the appropriate funding of the Saint Paul Police Department (SPPD). Instead of placing the energy defending oneself, and attacking others, can we be more proactive in reducing crime in the area. During early spring of 2019, I’ve noticed the same repeated messages over and over again on the Frogtown Neighbors Group: 

  • “Official reports from the SPPD says that crime decreased, so stop complaining people.” 
  • Someone claiming from personal experiences that crime in their area has increased/decreased, often extrapolating to the larger neighborhood.

 

What if I told you that all these responses could be factually correct? Why would you trust me especially if it goes against your narrative/worldview? Well, with some basic understanding of data analysis you will see how that is possible, and how selective data can influence people’s worldview. Prior to discussing the limitations on how we process data results, it will be useful to understand my data background and experience.

My Data Experience: 

I have a researcher background and I’m an experienced data practitioner, data scientist, and programmer. I have MS in Agricultural & Resource Economics from UC Berkeley and I was the Education Data Analyst for South Washington County District Schools for over two and half years. My research background provides the analytical and critical thinking skills to measure and evaluate actions. As a data practitioner, I design reports for the intended audience with greater focus in creating proactive action.

Most agencies and policy groups approach data passively in the form of an annual report, which has value to the politicians/administrators, but not for regular citizens and/or service workers. Furthermore, these reports are relevant for only a short period of time. Instead, how can we design reports for administrators/ audience to actively address a concern rather than be a passive onlooker, which might have long-term impacts. To address these issues, I have founded the Saint Paul Open Data Initiative to assist community members to dig into the data in a less biased, objective, and open manner. More on this later.

Why is data important?

Data/facts are important because it plays a central role in reinforcing an existing position. There is an assumption that data/statistics is the objective truth and it drives decision. In actuality, it’s often emotions that drive decisions and facts are used to justify/ defend those positions. That methodology seems reasonable, but how do we know if the fact is true and/or the fact is selectively chosen to support the position. Case in point, Donald Trump lies all the time, including those of his own written and spoken words, and uses “alternative facts” to defend his position.

Despite being a data scientist, I have learned that facts, in itself, is ineffective in persuading others that share different viewpoint, because the respondent could experience cognitive dissonance and/or respond belligerently. It is more effective to communicate initially through emotions and then use the appropriate data that can expand their values, perspective, AND compassion. These are the data design principles that I advocate for.

Keep in mind that data is a powerful tool. Some institutions/parties/leaders can use data to manipulate people to take/support an action i.e. propaganda. By default, people are vulnerable to confirmation bias, where they can immediately accept/reject facts depending it’s relation to your worldview. When facts are aligned to their worldview, they are complicit in response. This can be based on personal lack of time, implicit trust of the reporting institution, and lack of expertise to challenge the facts.  Even for researchers, many would admit not reading/vetting out the studies they use for citations in their own paper. Researchers have a finite amount of time when publishing papers, and limited access in viewing previous studies.

As illustrated above, there are systemic challenges on the veracity of data, and the accountability tools/knowledge available to citizens. To guard against this, we need to demand greater integrity of our institutions, citizens have basic knowledge of data literacy, and design reports catered to citizens.

What are the data processes and how can it be misinterpreted?

As mentioned earlier, I will be using Saint Paul crime data in this report. The misinterpretation of data research can be attributed to four categories: technical expertise, research methods, institutional bias, and structural bias. For simplicity, we will assume the personnel interpreting and handling the data are qualified. For research methods, we will assume that the data is collected, properly maintained, and categorized**. If there is systemic bias on how data is selected and is not taken to account for, the results will not be accurate.

**In the SPPD Open data, there were some grid locations that were incorrectly categorized.

Institutional Bias:

For the average citizen, I will place greater focus on the institutional and structural bias. For institutional bias, let’s consider the following broad questions: 

  • Who is performing the analysis?
    • Does the institution get benefits/harms from the result?
    • Is the study independent?
    • Who funds the study?
    • Is the institution financially dependent
  • Who is reporting on the analysis?
    • Does the reporter have a slant and/or desired audience?
    • Who own/funds the reporting angency?
  • Who is the report designed for?
    • What information is being excluded and/or not expanded up?

 

For the Saint Paul Police Department (SPPD) & city administration, they desire for crime to go down, because it indicates progress and downgrades the impact of decreasing the police force. While activist groups, may highlight specific trends/data of the crime data to highlight their concerns. All these facts could be true, but many would be misleading because they are not showing citizens the complete picture.  According to the SPPD, total crime has decreased by 7% from 2017 to 2018**; thus creating an image that our city has become safer despite the lower priority to police budget.

**There are some data inconsistencies that I will look into

Structural Bias:

First, when using crime data, it is difficult to determine general causality of a numerical results because criminal activities and law enforcement strategies are time dependent on each other. Suppose within a policing district, there was a decrease in crime this year compared to last year, what could of caused it? Could it be community efforts, random chance there is no crime spree, a longer winter (curbing people from going outside), and/or increase local police presence in that area? To answer these questions accurately, we would need some institutional knowledge. However, this does not prevent citizens to try to make causal links to numbers without any knowledge

Majority of information is lost and/or not accessible due to data aggregation (regressions will be excluded in this post). Data Aggregation is the process where raw data is gathered and expressed in summary form.  For example, you can aggregate the crime data within a year by months, which would result in 12 groups.
For the report, I’ll be “removing layers of aggregation.”

Note: My analysis uses the Open Portal Crime Data, and you can view the full report here. 

Zero Layer: Aggregation by City/Year and all crimes

 

From the chart above, crime has increased starting at 2017 for the specific time period and there is slight decrease in crime this year compared to last year. It’s worth mentioning that these facts have the lowest explanatory power, but has the greatest reach (i.e. Headliner)

First Layer: Aggregation by Community and combining all categories

The following chart below shows that in 2019 there seems to be less total crimes in the city of Saint Paul in comparison to 2018, but it is not uniform across the neighborhoods. Though if compare current crime numbers to 2017 then there was certainly an increase in crime in the city, in all the respective neighborhoods. As you can imagine, different advocacy groups can use the facts that strengthen their position. Finally, the chart below does not break the type of crime below, as some individual categories may increase/decrease. 

From the chart above, we see that the Thomas-Frogtown area had a decrease in crime, but was it uniform across the polices grids? We can break down the neighborhood by respective grid.

Second Layer: Aggregation by Police Grid 

From the chart above, it seems that total crime in Frogtown has decreased across all the grids. Though as a Frogtown resident living near University and Victoria, in 2019, there was a flurry of gun discharges in my area, and there was considerable commotion on how safe the neighborhood was. The chart below breaks down the grid data, selecting for gun discharges. You can see that there increase shooting at grid 87, though this was not captured when it was aggregated at neighborhood level!

Third Layer: Dis-Aggregation

The aggregation based on police grid in the chart above does not capture boundary effects, and localized within the police grid. The boundary effect is when there is a cluster of crimes at the boundary of a police grid. The total crime numbers is spread across the grid, but in reality there is a clear hot spot there, which most local residents are aware about. The map below shows the gun discharges at the boundary points. 

Finally, there can be localized variation within a police grid, that is not being captured at all when aggregated. The map below shows the gun discharges in the last three year (color-coded as above) within police grid 107. Notice the concentration of shooting were different each year; thus neighbors within this area can both experience a decline in shooting and an uptick of gun discharges within the same police grid!

Advanced Layer: Aggregation with Intentionality- Hotspot Map

For the original data, the data was aggregated by geographical boundaries. Suppose instead, we want to find the crime hotspots in the community. To get the appropriate visual/ data, we should aggregate by density. The hotspot below shows the location where there is high crime density. This method is not available if you do not have access to the raw data.

Bringing it back together:

If we had restricted our data analysis to specific aggregated level and/or only use the available data by the police department, there would have no way to determine the localized effects/facts. Congratulations, you now have a deeper understanding (basic knowledge of statistics help too) how to evaluate data and how it can be “manipulated” to either support and/or invalidate a claim by adjusting the scope of the analysis, while still being technically true. If we don’t educate people and leaders to be “data literate”, and create systems that promote data transparency and accessibility, then we are at the mercy of individuals/organizations. 

Solutions:

To improve data literacy and reliability of data we need to address institutional/ structural bias, and create reporting that is citizen friendly. First, we need to create an independent group/agency that perform data analysis and make the coding for data cleaning, preparation, and reporting publicly accessible to everyone (i.e open source). This assures all reporting can be replicated, verified, and expanded upon by community members. In addition, this can create accountability of our public services and institutions. Second, the data reports/ applications themselves can be designed for citizens; to get informed and take proactive actions.

I created the Saint Paul Open Data Initiative , in satisfying the conditions above, and giving community members the opportunity to interact with the data and come to their own conclusions.  I designed the interactive crime maps to answer community members concerns, and questions, including coming up with geo-proxy algorithm to get relative positions of incidents, a crime hotspot map, and creating an up-to-date feature that allows people to compare annual data to the same timeframe.

Conclusion: Next/ Immediate Steps

It should be clear now, that we should have healthy skepticism about the data/facts, even if they complies to your worldview. The proliferation of fake news is a result of citizens being data-illiterate and demanding integrity from the news sources. I have the following recommendations: 

  • Accountability/ Sign the Petition: You can hold yourself and community members accountable by taking the pro-truth pledge, which is an implicit agreement that the individual will spread truth, use data earnestly, and honestly. In addition, we can strongly encourage our local leaders to sign the pledge. I have created a petition demanding local officials to sign. Sign the petition!
    • Motto: “Show me the data!”
  • Support the Open Data Initiative: Our local institutions should provide raw data to the public and create tools/applications that are suited for citizens needs. This would also increase civic engagement, and increase community knowledge. See ways to contribute here.
  • Become a better Communicator:  Communicate initially through emotions and then use the appropriate data that expand their perspective, values, AND compassion.
  • SHARE THE MESSAGE!: People will continue to feel frustrated, defeated, and angry if our core institutions fail to listen, and invalidate peoples’ experiences. In fact, opportunistic groups will take advantage of these people, and use them to gain power. Without deeply diving into this, power is maintained through incivility (i.e. Us versus Them framework) and ignorance (i.e. the inability/lack of knowledge to question). If we are not intentional in addressing this, our community will continue to persist in a state of disharmony, where our energy is expended on fighting each other. 
  • Support the Campaign: I am dedicated to improve the livelihood of humanity by educating, elevating, and empowering people. Please feel free to volunteer my campaign, donate, and/or reach out to me. Once again, I implore you to share this message to your network.

Cheers, Abu Nayeem

P.S. I have signed the ProTruth Pledge and so should you.

Demand St. Paul Local Politicians to Sign the ProTruth Pledge!

City Council Candidate for Ward 1:  Abu Nayeem; Published 08/27/19

Time to keep it real! It shouldn’t take a superhero to explain the importance of truth and honesty from our local officials. The current average approval rating for Congress is 19% and a recent two year study/field experiments from Yale University of over 2,300 state legislators have shown that politicians do not care/respond to what constituents want. Within Saint Paul, the administrative leadership on the trash referendum, demolition of St. Andrew’s church, and other initiatives has the public lost confidence in our institutions. 

It is essential right now for our leaders to build trust between citizens and local institutions. A system is as corrupt as the people that are leading it. This may seem like an unfair characterization, but our current leaders have the power to be more transparent/ forthright on the decision making process. This is counterintuitive for politicians because the less transparent they are, the less people know what is going on, and thus less reasons to vote them out. Career politician knows this..     

I would like to ask citizens: what are we role-modelling to our kids and youth on the moral values of a local leader? 

If your immediate reaction to the term “honest politician” is disbelief, and the normalized expectation of them being self-serving, then the youth is able to pick this up! So why are we electing (if choose to vote) these people? The hard truth is that people select leaders that put their values over the expense of others and their personal characteristics is secondary. Case in point, President Trump openly bullies people, spreads hateful rhetoric, place family members in prominent positions, and spent $340 million taxpayer dollars for personal trips such as golfing to his own businesses; thus personally enriching himself at taxpayers expense. Despite all of this, there are citizens accusing Mayor Carter’s administration being corrupt, while siding/ defending Trump’s behavior. 

Our city needs good leadership to rebuild trust between citizens and governance. True leaders serve everyone with integrity, lead by example, and prioritize support to people in need. I have signed the ProTruth Pledge so my constituents and citizens can hold me accountable. The pledge is an implicit agreement that I will represent Saint Paul with integrity and facts. Let’s encourage our current administration and city council candidates to sign the ProTruth pledge so citizens are informed on the policies, and know which candidates will run with integrity. 

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION below demanding that are local leaders sign the ProTruth Pledge:

https://www.change.org/p/st-paul-city-council-mayor-demand-st-paul-city-council-mayor-to-sign-the-protruth-pledge

In addition, if you want to personally sign the pledge, you can click here.

Cheers,

Abu Nayeem

P.S. If you don’t sign, we risk the possibility of a dysfunctional city overrun by supervillians and masked vigilantes, though it would make a good origin story and, rest assured, I will stand for justice, unless a tragic accident…

Defender of Frogtown Gets Website

Photo of Abu

Abu Nayeem, a man with a new website!

Learn more about me. I’m in the process of building a superhero team! I would love to meet local community heroes and feature them.  Volunteer! Take the leap.
Special thanks to website- slinger Andre Guirard