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Nothing was delivered



Steve Lubet has tracked down the person who could well be Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s source for the off the record claim in this part of GLK’s profile of Alice Goffman:

When it comes to Goffman’s assertion that officers run IDs in maternity wards to arrest wanted fathers, another short Internet search produces corroborating examples in Dallas, New Orleans and Brockton, Mass., and a Philadelphia public defender and a deputy mayor told me that the practice does not at all seem beyond plausibility.

First, Lubet found GLK’s “corroborating examples,” and discovered that they in no way actually corroborated Goffman’s assertions (GLK emailed me about my earlier LGM post on his story, and when I replied I asked him to allow me to correct the record if Lubet was mistaken in assuming that the three internet stories Lubet found were the same stories GLK was referencing. GLK’s subsequent response to my reply did not do so).

Lubet then interviewed Everett Gillison. Gillison was Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter’s Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, and then his Chief of Staff. Gillison is also a former senior trial attorney in the Special Defense and Homicide Unit of Philadelphia’s public defender service; he spent a total of 28 years working for that agency. He is, as far as I have been able to determine, the only former deputy mayor of Philadelphia who was also a public defender.

Whether or not Gillison was GLK’s source (the quoted passage from his article may be referring to two separate people, but the article as a whole does not appear to have been edited for either content or style, so it’s difficult to say), he is, in regard to Philadelphia police practices, an impeccable source — one who is ideally situated to evaluate Goffman’s closely related and even more remarkable claim that “to round up enough young men to meet their informal quotas and satisfy their superiors, the [Philadelphia] police wait outside hospitals serving poor Black communities and run the IDs of the men walking inside.” [On the Run, p. 55).

Lubet asked him about that, and he replied:

The passage about hospitals is NOT in any way a standard practice. I spent almost 28 years as a public defender in Philadelphia and the last 8 years as Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff. This is not a practice, period. (Emphasis original.)

Goffman’s most offensive response to requests that she provide some evidence that On the Run isn’t chock full of her own creative confabulations, presented to her readers as actual social facts, is that such requests are calling into question the veracity of poor black people (Goffman herself is, to quote the noted ethnographer Marcellus Wallace, “pretty . . . far” from being either poor or black). Here is her response to GLK on this point:

‘‘The way to validate the claims in the book is by getting officials who are white men in power to corroborate them.’’ She went on: ‘‘The point of the book is for people who are written off and delegitimated to describe their own lives and to speak for themselves about the reality they face[.].

Everett Gillison and Michael Nutter — the man who appointed Gillison to be Philadelphia’s chief official overseeing the regulation of the city’s police force — are both African-American. As Lubet points out, Gillison “has dedicated virtually his entire professional life to public service, including almost three decades in defense of young men just like Goffman’s informants. He is well aware of actual police abuses and ‘improper excesses,’ as he put it in an email. ‘They are disturbing enough,’ he told me.””

But such excesses and abuses apparently weren’t disturbing enough for Goffman, who apparently fabricated various interviews with Philadelphia police, who “confirmed” to her that they wait outside hospitals and run the IDs of men walking inside. (That anyone ever believed Goffman actually extracted confirmation of such a supposed practice from the authorities indicate just how essentially non-existent the vetting process for this book was).

And even this wasn’t enough: She then had to go on to create an imaginary encounter with police in a maternity ward, who, in the midst of arresting one of her primary informamnts, helpfully paused to explain to her that they had done so after running a warrant check on the ward’s visitors list, and that this was a standard practice on their part.

If Gillison was GLK’s source it’s easy enough to imagine how a journalist with an unwavering faith in Alice Goffman’s veracity could have produced an off the record, paraphrased-rather-than-quoted observation that such a practice “does not at all seem beyond plausibility,” even though of course such an observation should be considered worthless for evidentiary purposes, to wit:

Journalist: Is this a standard practice?

Source: No.

Have you ever heard of anything like this happening?

Source: No.

Journalist: Is it possible it has happened at some point?

Source: Sure, anything’s possible.

At this point, does it at all seem beyond plausibility that the appropriate persons will page Margaret Sullivan? For example, some people might be curious about what role,if any, Alex Star, who acquired and edited On the Run for FS&G, and who is the former Senior Editor of the New York Times Book Review, as well as the Sunday Magazine, played in the commissioning and genesis of GKL’s article.

As for Goffman, I can’t say what her fate is going to be after telling all those lies, but it’s worth noting that Goffman’s fabrications regarding Philadelphia hospitals are already being cited widely in the literature, including:

Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law
Spring, 2015
The Failures of Gideon and New Paths Forward
Alexandra Natapoffa1

128 Harv. L. Rev. 1723
Harvard Law Review
April, 2015
Development in the Law Policing

Law and Society Review
September, 2013
Michael DeLanda1

68 Vand. L. Rev. 1055
Vanderbilt Law Review
May, 2015
Alexandra Natapoffa1

New Mexico Law Review
Fall 2011
Professional Articles
Christine S. Scott-Haywarda1

So what’s next? My guess is that sometime in the next year or two Goffman will decide, prior to her tenure file’s assembly, that academia is too constricting of an environment for the sort of work she wants to do. Meanwhile, the various people at Princeton, the University of Chicago Press, the American Sociological Review (which published an article by Goffman, which featured a probably made-up survey of hundreds of Sixth Street households, that has already been cited more than 200 times) will continue to maintain a decorous silence regarding their roles in this fiasco.

For now, Goffman is taking advantage of a year at the Institute for Advanced Study, working on the following project:

[A]n ethnographic inquiry into the formation of human bonds and human identity. What are the situations that generate, sustain, and end our bonds to people and things?What are the experiences, large and small, that make us who we are? The ideas come out of field notes, but most of the examples in the text come from novels and non-fiction.

I suppose that’s what poker players refer to as a “tell.”

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