Monthly Archives: August 2019

Lunch lady rises to teachers union leader

Lily Eskelsen García, 59, a telegenic, guitar-slinging firebrand, has made her unlikely rise to the top of the National Education Association as the union faces the most daunting political challenges in its 157-year history.

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She is already fighting back with blunt talk, urging teachers nationwide to revolt against “stupid” education reforms and telling politicians to leave teaching to the professionals.

Her first priority: Putting the brakes on standardized testing, an issue she believes will resonate not only with her members but also with parents — important potential allies for the political clashes she sees ahead. García believes the country is in the grip of testing mania, the quest for high scores killing joy, narrowing curriculums and perverting the learning process.

“I’ll be damned if I will sit quietly and play nice and say diplomatic things about something that has corrupted the profession I love,” García said.

Stepping in as the first new president in six years, García is taking over a union that is at war with old antagonists and increasingly sparring with its longtime allies.

While Republicans are aiming to weaken teachers unions through policies such as private-school vouchers and legal battles over dues collection, the unions also are colliding with Democrats who are challenging bedrock labor rights such as seniority and teacher tenure. High-profile Democrats, such as Rep. George Miller, D-California, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, shocked teachers in June when they applauded a Los Angeles judge’s ruling that found California’s teacher tenure laws were unconstitutional. Last month, former CNN anchor Campbell Brown organized a similar lawsuit in New York and has pledged more to come in other states.

The NEA, which represents about one out of every 100 Americans, has been increasingly at odds with the Obama administration over testing and teacher evaluations, among other issues. That tension reached a boil in July, when the NEA — historically the more reticent of the two major teachers unions — demanded Duncan’s resignation.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a time when conditions surrounding teacher unionism have been as threatening as they are now,”said Charles Taylor Kerchner, a professor at Claremont Graduate University who has written extensively about teachers unions.

Opponents of the unions have claimed the moral high ground, accusing the two main national teachers unions, the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), of protecting teachers’ interests at the expense of children, charges that have damaged their image.

Now, in steps García, a loquacious longtime resident of Utah who began her education career as a cafeteria lunch lady soon after graduating from high school.

“That’s padding my résumé,” she said dryly from her office at the NEA’s headquarters, four blocks from the White House. “I was actually the salad girl. They wouldn’t let me near the hot food.”

Daughter of a Panamanian mother and granddaughter of a Mississippi sharecropper, García was the first in her family to graduate from college. She paid her way through the University of Utah with student loans and by singing in bars and coffeehouses, accompanied on the guitar by her first husband, Ruel Eskelsen.

She graduated magna cum laude and earned a master’s degree before going to teach at Orchard Elementary in West Valley City. Nine years later, she was named the Utah Teacher of the Year.

“I was a very good teacher,” said García, who taught at the school for 16 years.

That same year, the teachers union was dueling with the governor over school funding. The union held a rally in Salt Lake City and invited the Teacher of the Year to speak. García strummed her guitar and sang an original composition: “I’m-a-Teacher-and-I-Got-To-Work-In-Utah Blues.” In short order, she was elected president of the Utah Education Association.

She rose up the ranks and was propelled to the executive committee of the NEA in 1996. Two years later, García took a leave of absence to run for Congress in an ill-fated attempt to unseat a Republican.

In 2011, García’s personal life took a tragic turn when her husband committed suicide in their Washington home. She found his body when she returned from an NEA business trip. They had been married 38 years.

“Depression took Ruel the way cancer takes some people,” García said. “There are no bad guys in this, no villains. He didn’t do this to us. His sickness did this. His sickness took him away. Once you understand that, it doesn’t take away the pain but it takes away the anger.”

She has found strength in talking. Trying to protect García, co-workers at the union wanted to post a notice that Ruel “died suddenly.”

“And I said, ‘No, you won’t,’ ” she said. García dictated a new version: “After a lifelong struggle with depression, he took his life.”

Her voicemail and email inboxes filled.

“People were thanking me for being that clear and telling me their own stories,” García said. “They would tell me about their mother, or their son, or their own attempt. I knew it meant something to them that I didn’t hide this and that I wasn’t angry and I wasn’t embarrassed.”

Both her sons have struggled with drug addiction. Her younger son, Jared, has a lengthy criminal record, mostly for theft and burglary.

“He’s probably been in prison more than he’s been out,” said García, who adopted Jared when he was 4, rescuing him from an early childhood of abuse. “I thought: ‘I’m a great teacher. I’ve got all this love.’ But that’s not how it works.”

García pressed on. “Life is good when you think about it,” she said.

García is as plain-spoken about her work as she is about her personal life. When she addressed the NEA’s annual convention in July, she attacked those who consider standardized tests an all-important measure of student and teacher success.

“It’s the testing, stupid!” García said, riffing on the slogan linked to Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. “Better yet, it’s the stupid testing!” she shouted, calling standardized testing a “phony” accountability system that has hurt public education.

Now the NEA’s vice president, García will take the top over post from Dennis Van Roekel, a one-time high school math teacher who was decidedly more measured in his manner and speech. In her new role, García will earn an annual salary of $283,124, and other compensation can add an additional $100,000.

García also faces internal problems at the NEA, with membership plummeting more than 7 percent between 2010 and 2013 to a total of about 3 million educators.

Union officials have blamed the drop on reduced education spending, the growth of charter schools — which are largely not unionized — and the increased use of technology in the classroom.

Union members are divided about the best way to regain footing, with a more militant faction known as the Badass Teachers Association arguing that the NEA has been too complacent in its dealings with the Obama administration.

“Teachers are very disillusioned with some of the things that both unions have done,” said Marla Kilfoyle, a high school teacher who is general manager of Badass Teachers, which has about 50,000 members. “But the anger toward the NEA seems to be more palpable.”

That group and others want the unions to dump the Common Core State Standards, the national K-12 math and reading standards that have been adopted in most states. But leaders of both unions remain committed to the Common Core.

“I read the standards, and I love them,” said García, who has a Common Core app on her phone.

García’s tightrope challenge is to respond to the concerns of members while offering concrete ways to improve schools that will win support from the public and repair fraying ties to longtime allies, observers said.

“As talented as she is, that’s really hard to do,” said Frederick M. Hess, a political scientist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Last year, in a civil ceremony, García married Alberto García, a Mexican artist. Her Spanish is spotty and his English is minimal, but they managed to work together on a book for young adults, titled “Rabble Rousers,” about social-justice heroes. “I wrote it at a seventh-grade level, so members of Congress could understand it,” García quipped.

García — who has written a humor column about parenting and maintains a blog called “Lily’s Blackboard” — often injects such wit into the matters she takes most seriously. She once penned a protest song about No Child Left Behind, with lyrics that included the line: “If we have to test their butts off, there will be no child’s behind left.”

She and her husband held a wedding ceremony in July before family and friends at the NEA’s convention. It was officiated by Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, the partner of AFT President Randi Weingarten, who also attended. García is working with Weingarten to forge more collaboration between the unions, which have frequently worked in isolation.

“Can’t you just see this scene in the made-for-TV Lifetime movie about my life?” García said.

While he is awaiting an immigrant visa, Alberto García lives in Mexico and his wife lives in Washington.

That leaves her free time to concentrate on the battles ahead. The NEA presidency is term-limited to six years. As García considers the union’s challenges, she sounds every bit the elementary school teacher.

“It all comes down to building personal relationships,” she said, smiling. “Personal relationships with someone who’s not always your friend, or maybe you didn’t think could be your friend. But you try. . . . I just started. And I’ve got six years to get something done.”

How hummingbirds use their tongues to extract nectar

Until now, the general consensus was that hummingbirds used capillary action to sip tiny bursts of nectar.

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Capillary action is a force you can observe by putting a long, thin tube in a glass of water: The water will travel up through the narrow space without any suction. Scientists thought that the long, narrow grooves they saw on hummingbird tongues accomplished the same feat.

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, researchers uncovered the truth: Their tongues work like tiny mechanical pumps.

Study authors Alejandro Rico-Guevara and Kristiina Hurme (both of the University of Connecticut) explained the process in an article for the Conversation:

[begin ital]

The grooves in the hummingbird tongue don’t reach the throat, so the bird cannot use them as tiny straws. For this reason, instead of using vacuum to generate suction – imagine drinking lemonade out of a straw – the system works like a tiny pump, powered by the springiness of the tongue. The bird squashes the tongue flat, and when it springs open, this expansion rapidly pulls the nectar into the grooves in its tongue. It turns out it’s elastic energy – potential mechanical energy stored by the flattening of the tongue – that lets hummingbirds collect nectar much faster than if they relied on capillarity.

[end ital]

In other words, the bird rapidly reshapes its tongue, and that change in tension draws sweet nectar into their mouths.

This allows them to drain an entire flower in under a second — a process much too quick for capillary action.

Apple Watch: You’ll want one, but you don’t need one

A version of this happens dozens of times throughout the day-for messages, emails, activity achievements, tweets, etc.

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Wait — isn’t the promise of the Apple Watch to help me stay in the moment, undisturbed by the mesmerizing void of my iPhone?

Let’s back up. The Apple Watch is an epic product release. It’s the company’s first new product category since the iPad and the first new product since Steve Jobs died. It was created almost entirely under the guidance of Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, and it’s the first device from Apple that was designed-hardware and software-by Jony Ive. Apple has sunk money into new retail experiences and positioned the device, which starts at $349 and climbs above $10,000, as both the latest must-have gadget and a bona fide luxury item. To say it’s a major moment for Apple would be an understatement.

No one is questioning Apple’s ability to mint money with its gadgets and services (see: $178 billion in the company’s cash reserves), but the ambitions of the watch speak to Apple’s broader ambitions. With a possible entry into the auto market on the horizon, Apple’s success at getting into-and winning-a whole new category is a big deal.

Apple faces two huge challenges with the watch. It has to make a beautiful gadget that hews to the company’s history of groundbreaking design and technology. And because it’s a brand-new product category, the company has to make a case for the very existence of not just its watch, but any watch. It has to persuade people they need technology on their wrists.

As to looks, the watch’s hardware is beautiful in a surgical way. The little cube of metal and glass is very much an Apple product: clean, sleek, remarkably solid. But as a piece of jewelry, it’s similar to other digital and smartwatches. The design doesn’t compete with Rolex or Breitling for sheer style, but the more I wore the inconspicuous thing, the more I liked it on my wrist.

It’s loaded with cutting- edge technology. The tiny Retina display has a new form of pressure sensitivity Apple calls Force Touch, which responds to not only where but how hard you touch the screen. The watch notifies you with extremely nuanced vibrations via its Taptic Engine, which can produce strikingly realistic sensations, almost like a bell tapping on your wrist. Perhaps most important, the watch’s “digital crown” helps you navigate long menus, set options, and zoom in and out of maps and photos.

The speedy software and motion tracking is controlled by the company’s new S1 processor, which packs multiple components on a single chip. I have no doubt the Apple Watch is the most advanced piece of wearable technology available today.

The Apple Watch does function as a watch, with literally millions of different dial combinations. Its timekeeping is so precise, it’s within 50 milliseconds of the global Coordinated Universal Time. Apple has had some fun with this: If you’re in a room full of Mickey Mouse faces, Mickey will tap his foot in perfect sync on every watch. It’s incredibly cool.

Apple allows you customize the watch face, with not only Mickey and other designs but widgets it’s calling Complications. These items dotting the edges of the display can tell the temperature, signal your next calendar appointment, show the phases of the moon, and so on, offering information that elevates the device beyond a simple timepiece.

Still, it is a timepiece, and one problem makes it somewhat inferior to a conventional wristwatch: It activates its screen only when it thinks you’re looking at it. Sometimes a subtle twist of your wrist will do, but I often had to swing my wrist in an exaggerated upward motion to bring the display to life. Even so, sometimes the screen doesn’t turn on. Sometimes you tap it and nothing happens. For all Apple’s touting of its remarkable time-telling device, I found it lacking for this reason alone.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to wrap your head around is the way the watch extends-and often replicates-your phone’s functions. You can receive and send text messages, for instance, but doing so on the small screen with your hand cocked in the appropriate position isn’t ideal if you’re working on something longer than a one-line reply.

And although it connects deeply with the phone, the watch has a completely new way of doing things. Because navigation is split between swipes of your finger, scrolling with the crown, and taps of varying pressure, it takes a while to get oriented.

The notification scheme is a little maddening at first. Apple sends a push notification every time you get a corporate email, personal email, direct message on Twitter, message on Facebook, and interactions in countless other services. Each notification pings the watch with a sound, vibration or both (which can be muted). This quickly gets overwhelming. I found myself turning off notifications from entire apps, which seems to defeat the watch’s purpose. Mercifully, Apple included a way to clear all those notifications: Just Force Touch on the list.

Getting the watch to work for you requires work. I pruned a list of VIP contacts in my mail app to make email notifications more tolerable; I killed several app notifications that were consistently interruptive; and I streamlined my applications to the truly vital.

In many ways, the watch functions much like a small iPhone. Though there are new ways of getting to your apps and interacting with them, much of the phone’s model interface has carried over. So often you end up not only having to take action but deciding where to take action. Still, I found some balance between the two devices. Checking text messages and emails by quickly glancing at the watch saved time and was helpful when I was deeply engaged in an important activity.

Within Apple’s new suite of functions, I found both hits and misses.

On the plus side is Apple’s new Activity app, which presents three basic sets of achievements to hit every day and makes hitting them almost frictionless. One metric watches how many calories you burn; a second is for exercise that elevates your heart rate; and a third is a notification for standing, to ensure you get up at least once an hour.

Setting these up was painless, and I immediately started seeing the results of being made so aware of my activity levels. I have no idea if this will have any lasting impact on my health, but Apple’s frictionless approach to teaching people about exercise habits is a leap in the right direction.

There are rough spots. Apple hopes to reinvent how we communicate with friends and family by adding three new methods of messaging. The first allows you to essentially “sample” your heartbeat and send it off, but the novelty wears off quickly. The second, Sketch, allows you to draw or tap some symbols and send them to another Apple Watch user, but you don’t have much space you have to work with.

The third new message concept is 3D, animated emojis. That sounds great until you realize the emojis are really more like neutered, animated GIFs from the late ’90s Internet. We already have emojis, and Snapchat, Instagram, Periscope, GroupMe, Twitter, Facebook, WeChat, and on and on. There’s something forced and inauthentic about Apple in this space.

I’m split on one feature Apple includes on the watch: Glances act like little cards hiding underneath your watch that give you a glimpse of information from first- and third-party apps. Twitter will display the latest tweet in your timeline, there’s a controller for your music app, or you can see a detailed description of your next calendar appointment. In theory, these screens should be wildly useful for quick access to information. In practice, the watch must pull information from the phone, leaving you with a spinning wheel that indicates data loading, rather than a quick hit of info.

The watch is not life-changing. It is, however, excellent. It is more seamless and simple than any of its counterparts in the marketplace. It is, without question, the best smartwatch in the world.

So Apple has succeeded in its first big task with its watch. It made something that lives up to the company’s reputation as an innovator and raised the bar for a whole new class of devices.

Its second task-making me feel I need this on my wrist every day-is not quite there yet. It’s still another screen, another distraction, another way to disconnect, as much as it is the opposite. The Apple Watch is cool, it’s beautiful, it’s powerful, and it’s easy to use. But it’s not essential. Not yet.

Clinton camp says longshot Democratic challengers still pose a real threat

All of the possible challengers are long shots against Clinton and would face a steep climb against the well-known former secretary of state.

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Many Clinton supporters also say competition would help her by honing her campaigning skills and discouraging the sense of entitlement that damaged her White House bid in 2008.

But each of the emerging challengers also appeals to a constituency within the Democratic Party that Clinton has struggled with in the past. And unlike Clinton — who has yet to formulate a clear message for a potential campaign — each has distinct issues to build a campaign around.

Jim Webb, the former senator from Virginia who just formed an exploratory committee, is a populist Appalachia native with potential appeal to working-class and Southern whites. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has been laying the groundwork of a campaign for months, focusing his energies on wooing the kind of progressive activists that view Clinton with suspicion. Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vermont, the gadfly socialist who is also pondering a run in the Democratic primary, represents the antiwar left still bitter with Clinton over the war in Iraq.

Longtime Clinton family political adviser Harold Ickes said it would be a mistake to dismiss such challengers and the dangers they pose.

“(What if) this were 2007 before Obama got into the race and you’d said, ‘Do you think Senator Obama is a threat to Hillary?'” Ickes asked rhetorically. The clear answer, he suggested, is that most would have dismissed Obama as little more than an annoyance.

But the biggest concern among many Clinton acolytes is someone who says she is not running — Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, an economic populist who has come to personify a longing among liberal Democrats for someone further to Clinton’s left.

Warren especially interests and worries Bill Clinton, the unofficial top strategist for his wife’s shadow campaign, according to two people who know the former president well. Bill Clinton admires Warren’s stemwinder speaking style, and Hillary Clinton echoed parts of Warren’s sticking-up-for-the-little guy economic message during midterm speeches this year.

During their one midterm appearance together, Clinton lavished praise on Warren and kept her own remarks brief. Elsewhere, she tried out appeals to working-class and underemployed voters that strategists expect to hear again if Clinton runs.

Many Clinton backers insist that some Democratic opposition is both inevitable and welcome, since it tends to toughen up the eventual winner for the head-to-head contest with a Republican in the general election. Looking at the lessons of Clinton’s bitter primary contest with Obama in 2008, Democrats also hope that Clinton will be polite, even deferential, to potential opponents such as Webb if she runs.

Loyalists to Obama and Clinton privately agree that Obama snatched the nomination away from Clinton in part because of her campaign’s failure to see the upstart as a real threat.

“I have never assumed, and I think anybody would have been in error to assume, that our party would just give its nomination to anyone,” said Craig Smith, a longtime adviser to both Clintons who is now working for the Ready for Hillary super PAC.

“That is not the history of our party. This isn’t how it works,” Smith told reporters in New York at a November gathering of potential donors and workers for a Clinton campaign. “You’ve got to go out there. You’ve got to work for it.”

Speaker after speaker at the Ready for Hillary-sponsored event tried to dispel the notion that Clinton will walk away with the nomination. Some strategists outside the group, however, note that its very existence reinforces the notion that she is the de facto choice. No other potential candidate has anything like the pro-Clinton machinery, which includes three major outside groups that have amassed money and an impressive list of potential supporters.

(Begin optional trim)

Webb — Navy secretary in the Reagan administration, a combat veteran, an author and a filmmaker — became the first Democrat to formally jump into the race with the release last month of a lengthy Internet video and the formation of an exploratory committee.

Webb did not mention Clinton in his video but appeared to take a few shots at her as the establishment favorite. Government is “paralyzed,” Webb said, and he wants to shake it up. He made a point of saying he is a public servant, not a “career politician.”

“In my view, the solutions are not simply political but those of leadership,” Webb said. “I learned long ago on the battlefields of Vietnam that in a crisis, there is no substitute for clear-eyed leadership.”

Like Clinton, Webb is considered considered a strong defender of American military power who is moderate on social and economic issues. They occupied similar political space in the Senate, but Webb,who has been critical of recent U.S. wars, may have special appeal to white working-class and Southern voters whose interests he has long championed. Webb’s exploratory committee did not respond to requests for comment.

O’Malley, who leaves office in January, touts himself as a can-do executive who oversaw a wave of progressive policies in Maryland, including legalizing same-sex marriage, abolishing the death penalty and raising the minimum wage.

Many analysts believe O’Malley would be likely to position himself as the second candidate, ready if Clinton stumbles. He has attended more than two dozen political events this year in the early caucus state of Iowa, where Clinton was trounced in 2008.

Sanders’s political niche would be as an antiwar conscience candidate, highlighting Clinton’s 2003 vote to approve the Iraq war, her support of the war in Afghanistan and her role in helping guide the campaign in Libya while secretary of state. U.S. military involvement in Syria came after Clinton had stepped down, but she has said publicly that she supported an intervention much earlier.

(End optional trim)

One danger, several strategists said, is that Clinton might be lured into espousing base-friendly positions that would hurt her in a general election, as GOP nominee Mitt Romney did in advocating strict immigration measures during the 2012 Republican debates. Perhaps a bigger risk, they said, is that a savvy primary opponent with a sharply honed message or a fresh face could upstage her.

By comparison with those of Republicans, whose tea party wing tends to pull centrists to the right, the differences among Democrats are more on the margins, many Clinton supporters said. That will make it all the more important for her to take her opponents seriously — at least on the surface — and use them to show her strengths as a capable leader who is up to the challenge of pulling out a third Democratic general-election win in a row, according to the strategists.

Clinton is watching the potential field — both Democratic challengers and possible Republican opponents — but they are essentially irrelevant to her decision about running, friends said. They also said Clinton is genuinely undecided and is still mulling the decision of whether to run.

Focus on Clinton’s plans, already intense, will increase after Christmas. She has said she is likely to make a decision after Jan. 1.

That’s when other potential challengers to Clinton could also emerge. Although the November 2016 election is still far off, other hopefuls have less leeway to wait.

“I think there are people in the party who would like to know sooner rather than later” what Clinton is going to do, Ickes said, starting with Webb and O’Malley.

“Unlike Hillary, they don’t have … a national political apparatus, nor do they have a national money base,” Ickes said. “And you know, there are money people who are going to say, ‘I’m not giving to anybody until I know what Mrs. Clinton is going to do.’ “

(Optional add end)

One senior Democratic strategist who backs Clinton criticized Webb’s Internet announcement, dubbing it a “14-minute hostage video.” But that strategist and others also said that Webb elevates his stature simply by virtue of challenging Clinton.

“If it’s one-on-one, he will, by default, be a serious candidate,” said that strategist, who requested anonymity because Clinton has not yet said she is running.

“There will be an opposition, and that opposition needs some outlet,” he said. “He can be the vessel of that opposition, and then when Iowa falls apart for him, for example, that’s it.”

Racial questions in Missouri town have long dogged police

Since the shooting, the department has been criticized for how police have handled the response to the incident and for not disclosing key details, including the name of the officer involved.

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The department bears little demographic resemblance to the citizens of this St. Louis suburb, a mostly African American community whose suspicions of the law enforcement agency preceded Saturday afternoon’s shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old who this week had been headed to technical college.

But while the racial disparity between the public here and its protectors has come to define the violent aftermath of Brown’s death, the department’s problems stretch back years and include questions about its officers’ training and racial sensitivity.

The office of Missouri’s attorney general concluded in an annual report last year that Ferguson police were twice as likely to arrest African Americans during traffic stops as they were whites.

And late last year, the state chapter of the NAACP filed a federal complaint against the St. Louis County police department, whose officers are now assisting Ferguson’s force since the shooting, over racial disparities in traffic stops, arrests and other actions.

Tensions between residents and the police have shaped the aftermath of Brown’s death in unpredictable and alarming ways. Those include the nightly clashes between young residents, most of whom are African American, and a predominantly white police force dressed in full riot gear and armed with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets.

Early Wednesday morning, a St. Louis County police officer shot and critically wounded a man who pointed a gun at the officer, a police spokesman said. Police had responded to calls regarding four men armed with shotguns and wearing ski masks in St. Louis as well as calls about shots fired in the area. People fled the scene when police arrived, but one person pointed a handgun at an officer, who shot the man, spokesman Brian Schellman said.

Police officials have provided little information about Brown’s shooting and have withheld the name of the police officer involved, citing security reasons. The vacuum has been filled by social media, which has displayed in real time street confrontations between police and demonstrators, documenting the fraught interactions in images, videos and short dispatches.

On Wednesday, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson acknowledged the problems facing his department and asked the community for help in restoring its trust.

“Apparently, there has been this undertow that has bubbled to the surface,” Jackson said at a news conference. “It’s our priority to address it and to fix what’s been going wrong.”

St. Louis is among the most segregated metropolitan areas in the nation. Ferguson, one of the 91 municipalities in largely white St. Louis County, has seen its population shift in recent years. About two-thirds of the city’s 21,100 residents are black. That’s a significant increase from 2000, when blacks made up just over half of the population. White residents, who had accounted for 44 percent of the population, now make up just under 30 percent.

Yet the police force patrolling Ferguson has not changed along with the population. The police force has 53 members, and three of them are black. The city’s mayor and police chief are white, as are most of the members of the Ferguson City Council.

“I’ve been trying to increase the diversity of the department ever since I got here,” Jackson said Wednesday. He pointed out that he had promoted two black superintendents.

“Race relations is a top priority right now,” Jackson said. He said his force is working with the Department of Justice’s community relations office to improve how police interact with the citizens. “I’ve told them, ‘Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.’ “

Residents have described Brown’s death as a breaking point that finally pushed years of tension to the fore.

“People here are angry, frustrated,” said Corey Crawford, 36. “There needs to be justice. If you can find a single person in this community who trusts the police, that is like finding a four-leafed clover.”

It has been “very hostile” for years, said Anthony Ross, 26, who lives nearby. He called the relationship between residents and police nonexistent. “Everybody in this city has been a victim of DWB [driving while black],” he said.

For at least a decade, there have been complaints about racial tensions between police and black communities in the St. Louis County area. Communities, some residents say, can have less-experienced, poorly-equipped police departments and highly uneven levels of protection.

This year, St. Louis County invited researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles to help study complaints that county police had engaged in racial profiling and to help them improve protocols for everything from traffic stops to neighborhood monitoring.

This came after a former lieutenant with the county police who had been accused of ordering officers to target black people at stores was fired. An investigation determined that he had made “inappropriate racial references.”

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation in 2003 found that dozens of small police departments in the region suffered from poor training owing to a lack of funding, leading to inadequate investigations of complex crimes and an uneven use of force. The newspaper further found that this led to problematic officers moving easily between one city’s force to another without punishment.

As attention has shifted to the protests and nightly standoffs on Ferguson’s streets, key details regarding the shooting remain unclear. Authorities have yet to say how many times Brown was shot or where he was struck. Earlier in the week, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said that Brown was shot multiple times but did not elaborate.

But on Wednesday, Jackson, Ferguson’s police chief, would not say how many times Brown was shot. The only update regarding the confrontation came Wednesday, when Jackson said that the officer’s “face was swollen” after the encounter, so he required medical treatment. Police have said that Brown was shot after a physical confrontation with the officer, including a struggle over the officer’s gun, which witnesses have disputed.

During a separate news conference Wednesday, Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, also declined to say how many times Brown was shot.

“We want to test the veracity and accuracy of anybody who comes to us with a statement and says they saw something,” McCulloch said.

Jackson said in an interview Wednesday that he was driving with his children to lunch Saturday when a sergeant called him about the shooting. Before even arriving at the scene, Jackson called county police to take over the investigation.

But as protesters from the community and neighboring city flooded Ferguson’s streets for both prayer vigils and tense standoffs, Ferguson again called on the county for help. Hundreds of officers from St. Louis County Police, the city of St. Louis and the Missouri State Highway Patrol arrived to help deal with the looting that had broken out.

In audio recordings released Wednesday by the hacking collective Anonymous, a voice identified as belonging to a county police dispatcher indicated that Ferguson police were unaware that one of their officers had been involved in Saturday’s shooting.

The female dispatcher noted that she had received two calls about an “officer-related shooting” on Canfield Drive.

“We just got another call about an officer-involved shooting . . . there,” she said. “This came from the news, so [unintelligible] don’t know.”

A few seconds later, the dispatcher, apparently frustrated that the information appeared to be coming from news accounts, said she couldn’t get confirmation from the police in Ferguson.

“We just called Ferguson back again, and they don’t know anything about it,” she said.

County police did not respond to a request for comment regarding the dispatch tape’s veracity.

Anonymous became widely-known for its cyberattacks on government sites and credit card companies.

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Carol D. Leonnig and Mark Berman reported from Washington.