shadow
binoculars
Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

2018
August
16
Thursday
Kim Campbell
Education Editor

Back-to-school season has begun, and with it are a number of “firsts.”

One Alabama county opened its first integrated school this week, almost 50 years after the state was ordered to desegregate by federal courts. Of the more than 300 students at University Charter School in Livingston, more than half are black. Only 24 percent of Sumter County’s residents are white, but just under half of the students in the school are. That racial balance is an accomplishment, considering that white flight has thwarted past desegregation efforts in the area. "This is an historic day and an historic mission," principal John Cameron said on Monday. The Monitor is keeping track of other approaches to integration in its Learning Together series

Unlike in Alabama, where parents hope the new school will bring the community together, some parents in Puerto Rico – where school also started this week – are concerned about a plan to use charter schools there having the opposite effect.

The US territory’s first charter school will open on Monday in San Juan, after a court battle over constitutionality was recently resolved. One parent, from the central mountainous town of Guaynabo, spoke with Monitor correspondent Whitney Eulich in March. Evelyn Ortiz explained how the school her special-needs daughter attended before it closed was the “heart” of the community. Will a charter prioritize local unity and needs, educators and parents wonder?

Charter schools are a tinderbox issue, perhaps more so now with the current administration pushing for more parent choice. These two examples offer fodder for the debate – for while charters may prove to be the answer to more equity in Alabama, they may not in Puerto Rico.

~

Now to our five stories for Thursday. 

1. Tallying the economic cost of climate change

Climate change, which many skeptics argue is more bark than bite, is starting to demonstrate an impact on economies – and perceptions.

Kim
Jae C. Hong/AP
Police officers walk a road coated with fire retardant as firefighters battle a wildfire Aug. 8 in Lake Elsinore, Calif. Evacuations have been ordered for several small mountain communities near where a forest fire continues to grow in southern California.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 4 Min. )

With wildfires raging in the American West and hurricane season gathering steam on the East Coast, the economic impacts of climate change are beginning to hit home in certain communities. So far, the proven consequences are relatively mild. But if natural disasters become increasingly destructive and these economic effects become more severe, the perception of climate risk could change. Hints of such a shift are already starting to appear in areas most affected by recent natural disasters. In California, the financial burden of managing wildfires has ignited a political brawl over who should shoulder the liability. In the Southeast, five coastal states have seen $7.4 billion in potential appreciation drain from flood-prone coastal properties since 2005. For now, homeowners enjoy some level of insulation from the financial risk associated with climate-driven natural disasters in the form of insurance subsidies. But as risks have risen, the ability of the federal government and other entities to serve as a financial buffer is becoming less certain.

Collapse

Tallying the economic cost of climate change

Climate change is starting to pack an economic punch.

In California this summer, severe wildfires have intensified a political brawl over who should shoulder the liability. Utility companies, which carry most of the risk if their equipment starts a fire, charge that they could go bankrupt if the legislature doesn’t alleviate their legal liability. Insurance companies, which would have to shoulder the risk, argue that climate risk is still manageable.

And as hurricane season begins for the United States, low-lying Miami is beginning to see the value of flood-prone coastal properties grow more slowly than real estate on higher ground.

The links between these natural disasters and climate change are complicated and nuanced. Further clouding the discussion, many conservative politicians still argue there’s no such link. On Sunday, before touring northern California’s deadly Carr fire, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told a local California TV station that the wildfire “has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management.”

Slowly, despite the ongoing political debates over climate change’s causes and effects, the economic impacts are beginning to hit home in certain communities. For example: Flood-prone coastal properties in five Southeastern states have lost $7.4 billion in potential value since 2005 because they appreciated at a slower rate than coastal real estate at higher elevations, according to one study released last month.

So far, the proven economic impacts of climate change are relatively mild. But if natural disasters become increasingly destructive and these economic effects become more severe, the perception of climate risk could change quickly.

“If there’s water in your street, no one really cares if you’re a Republican or a Democrat,” says Matthew Eby, the executive director of First Street Foundation, the New York nonprofit that published the five-state study on coastal real estate. “They just care about how to get a solution. And if that water continues to rise year over year and the frequency [of flooding] is going up, they’re going to care even more.”

The nonprofit has set up a website, FloodIQ, so coastal homeowners can determine their risk of hurricane and tidal flooding.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Property and homes are for sale along the Louisiana coastline where residents elevate buildings to protect from flooding on May 23, 2017 in Cocodrie, Louisiana. The Louisiana coastline has lost more than 1500 square miles in the past 50 years.

Subsidized risk

Of course, living on the ocean is such a powerful draw for many homeowners that they might be willing to endure a little flooding and give up some property appreciation. And while rising risks would normally raise insurance rates – as they have for wind-damage insurance – flood insurance is effectively subsidized by the federal government.

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) keeps racking up losses to the tune of some $1.4 billion annually, according to a Congressional Budget Office report last year – and it was already $20.5 billion in the red even after President Trump forgave $16 billion of its debt last fall. Its yearly shortfall largely stems from claims in 284 coastal counties (premiums from inland counties actually produce a small surplus). 

“If it was priced fairly, many fewer people ... would be able to afford its coverage,” Donald Hornstein, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and disaster insurance expert, writes in an email.

As losses mount, calls for reform of the 50-year-old program have grown louder. But Democratic and Republican congressmen representing coastal districts worry that changes would bankrupt many of their constituents’ skyrocketing premiums. Two weeks ago, Mr. Trump signed an extension of the NFIP through hurricane season and the midterm elections in November – the seventh such extension since long-term authorization expired in 2017.

Adrees Latif/Reuters
An insurance claims adjuster climbs the entrance to a house in the Breezy Point neighborhood which was left devastated by hurricane Sandy in the New York borough of Queens on Nov. 12, 2012.

Shifting responsibilities?

In California, wildfire insurance is also subsidized, but in a different way. Under state law, utilities are liable if their power lines or other equipment causes a fire, even if they are not negligent. Found responsible for 12 fires last fall, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has seen its stock fall 40 percent and could be on the hook for up to $12 billion. California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has created a commission to come up with a solution by the end of August, saying bankrupting utilities would only hamper the state’s green-energy initiatives aimed at combating global warming.

Shifting the liability from utilities would expose insurance companies to sharply increased climate risk. They claim that PG&E’s $12-billion liability estimate is overblown, citing a Wall Street analyst’s report suggesting a payout of about half that amount. “If we thought climate change was making the risk uninsurable, we would be saying it,” says Rex Frazier, the president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California. “But we’re not saying that.”

Even if some of the liability did shift to insurance companies, California laws make it difficult and slow for insurers to raise their rates.

With homeowners in flood- and fire-prone areas insulated from the true cost of insurance, it’s not clear that the nation is close to a tipping point where the public would demand more stringent rules for building in such areas, says Michael Wara, director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University. But “social perception – once that changes, things are going to happen very very fast.” 

And the catalyst might not be a natural disaster, but an economic one, such as the bankruptcy of a big utility, a failure to pay federal flood-insurance claims, or the inability of homeowners to get insurance or a mortgage for risky properties.  

“Long before the environmental impacts are significant, you're going to see people making dollars and cents decisions,” says Anthony Williams, the special projects director for Bendixen & Amandi International, a Miami research firm that conducts an annual Miami real estate study.

Share this article

shadow

2. Stark revelations: For Catholics, an excruciating new test of faith

For Catholics, the past two decades have forced the faithful to grapple with wide-spread sexual abuse among clergy. Now, as other traditions discover similar predators among their ranks, a new report still has the power to shock the nation, as well as those still seeking solace in the church.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

As a survivor of sexual abuse from a Roman Catholic priest, Jaime Romo says trauma leaves the kind of “wounds where there is no blood.” It cuts to the “foundational things of who we are.” But there are other wounds. “On top of that, to have this ethos, this layer ... where somehow, what was supposed to be sacred and safe is not? It is so profoundly damaging,” says Dr. Romo, now the president of The Child-Friendly Faith Project, a national network working to protect children from abuse. While such damage has been an issue for decades, with scores of investigative reports and even an Academy Award-winning film, a grand jury report out of Pennsylvania this week has brought to the fore an issue still fraught with the depths of human vulnerability. Other faiths, including evangelical Protestants, have seen some of their most high-profile ministers implicated in harassment and abuse. Distrust of traditional institutions has defined the current era, and one of the fastest-growing religious groups is the “Nones,” those who have abandoned religion but maintained a belief in God. Romo is now a hospice chaplain in another faith. He no longer seeks meaning in doctrine or rituals, he says. But as a seeker of a spiritual community for most of his life, he still finds hope and spiritual solace in church. 

Collapse

Stark revelations: For Catholics, an excruciating new test of faith

“We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this.”

It was an extraordinary opening for a grand jury report. The investigative commission in Pennsylvania, setting aside in many ways the sober-minded law enforcement tone of “just-the-facts,” could only express its own horror and sense of urgency at the catalog of abuses they presented, and the relentless and widespread culture of casual cover-ups within one of the globe’s most powerful religions.

“We know some of you have heard some of it before,” continued the nearly 900-page report. “There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church. But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.”

Indeed, it’s been a story in the public eye for nearly 20 years. Scores of investigative reports. An Academy Award-winning Best Picture. Promises of transparency. Millions of dollars paid in damages. Programs of restitution from the church hierarchy.

But the numerous stories the members of the grand jury reported on Tuesday – children raped, victims made objects of pornography passed among priests, teens impregnated and then forced to undergo abortions, and other crimes by more than 300 priests over 70 years, and more than 1,000 documented victims – has brought to the fore an issue fraught with the depths of human vulnerability.

Survivors are still struggling to find wholeness out of childhood trauma. Spiritual seekers, those who, across time and cultures, have searched for meaning and comfort through the divine, are once again seeing their faith shaken, if not shattered.

“There's an expression about trauma, that it wounds where there is no blood,” says Jaime Romo, president of The Child-Friendly Faith Project, a national network of individuals who work to protect children from abuse in religious contexts. “And I think sexual abuse has a profound, damaging impact on any individual, because it's our bodies, in places where we're losing our boundaries, we're losing our sense of trust, safety, control, all these different foundational things of who we are.”

“And then on top of that, to have this ethos, this layer that this is God somehow working,” continues Dr. Romo, who also tells his story of abuse at the hands of a well-known monsignor in Los Angeles, when he was a young teenager with a “very zealous” Roman Catholic faith. “You know, this is a person who is somehow special? Where somehow, what was supposed to be sacred and safe is not? It is so profoundly damaging.”

The Pennsylvania grand jury’s report, too, comes during a particular cultural moment in the United States. The #MeToo era has offered many examples – from Hollywood to locker rooms to board rooms – of powerful men engaging in sexual predation.

Other faiths, including Evangelical Protestants, have seen some of their most high-profile ministers implicated in harassment, abuse, and coerced sex, including with underaged teens. This also includes a number of Buddhist institutions in the US, which have had to deal with sexual abuse by teachers.

But the revelations on Tuesday were especially stark. “As a consequence of the cover up, almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted,” members of the Pennsylvania grand jury said.

“They protected their institution at all costs,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro at a news conference. “As the grand jury found, the Church showed a complete disdain for victims,” adding that the cover up “stretched in some cases all the way up to the Vatican.”

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh denied there was a cover up at a Tuesday news conference. As of Thursday, the Vatican has declined to respond.

“These scandals are devastating to the institutions involved,” says Christopher Parr, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Webster University in St. Louis, Mo. “How can one trust anything about the faith, in the face of such betrayals? Which of course was exactly the one concern of the curators of the Church – hence their toxic commitment to secrecy and denial,” says Professor Parr.

Distrust of traditional institutions has in many ways defined the current era, and one of the fastest growing religious groups in the United States, demographers say, is the so-called “Nones,” those who have abandoned religion but maintain belief in God and their own self-defined faiths.

“It's been devastating because people are leaving the church in droves,” says C. Colt Anderson, a church historian and theologian at Fordham University in New York. “Even the people who remain, the credibility of the leadership is undermined for basically everyone.”

Citing Church reformers in the Medieval period who were trying to address similar problems of clergy sexual misconduct, Professor Anderson notes that a papal decree in the 11th century basically ended any kind of oversight role for the laity. And as the former dean of Mundelein Seminary, a Catholic institution near Chicago, he notes that during his tenure there, a similar decree from Pope Benedict took away any vote a lay person like him could have in approving a man for the priesthood.  

But now Anderson, a committed Catholic who studies past and current sexual abuse in the Church, says he feels “it's the challenge that God has put before me, to be faithful and to try to work to make the church better. But I have to say, I'm holding on by my fingernails at this point.”

For him, this means not just calling for transparency, but restoring a leadership role for the laity in the Church’s closed-off and often secretive magisterium.  

“I’m in a church, in a community, that has really awful, terrible problems,” says Anderson. “But it is still a community that does a tremendous amount of good around the world. You know Catholic Relief Services helps probably more people than any other single organization on the planet.”

“And I hate to see all of the good that is being done – and there is a lot of good that's being done – completely tarnished by the behavior of the leadership.”

For Romo, too, his own process toward healing needed to be rooted in a community, he says.

Still a faithful Catholic 20 years ago, he was among those who began to speak out after the first reports of abuse in Boston broke. He reported his abuser to the police and to his Catholic diocese. But before he could confront him, the monsignor, long retired, died.

“I was just so, kind of spiritually dead,” Romo says, describing how his own speaking out fell on mostly deaf ears. “I had never been so miserable, and I reached out so many times, in so many different ways. Part of it was through my rage, demanding that people pay attention, but part it was really just asking, would somebody please listen and talk to me and do something constructive with this?”

But he later encountered a congregational minister, he says, who changed the course of his life.

“This pastor was the first religious person ever to say to me, ‘I'm so so profoundly sorry that this happened to you. I don't know what to say, but to stand with you.’ That was a huge acknowledgement.”

And now Romo is a commissioned minister in this pastor’s more liberal tradition, the United Church of Christ, and a chaplain in a local hospice.

“My spiritual practice has to do with meditation and a lot of different integration practices, but I’m not really religious,” says Romo. “And that's kind of strange because I'm a hospice chaplain. And a lot of people here don't want to talk religion, and I can honestly say, neither do I really.”

He no longer seeks meaning in doctrine or rituals, he says. But as a seeker of a spiritual community for most of his life, he says, he still finds hope and spiritual solace in church.  

“To me, spirituality and healing are all about wholeness and integration, and that should be a significant part of a faith community,” Romo says.

But many faiths are losing their moral credibility now, he says. “The disillusionment now is because churches have not been speaking, have not been acting really to recognize, and to reconcile with this problem,” he says, “or to be in solidarity with the people who have been sexually abused in particular.”

shadow

3. What's behind Saudi Arabia's summer of discontent

Saudi Arabia's young and powerful crown prince has billed himself as a reformer, modernizer, and liberal. So the kingdom's summer of jailed activists and a feud with Canada is a puzzlement.

Kim

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

This spring, Saudi Arabia’s young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, went on a triumphant, four-week, coast-to-coast goodwill tour of the United States. Here was the leader who would usher the conservative, oil-rich US ally into a dramatically more modern and moderate era. In addition to distancing Saudi power structures from the strict Wahhabi strain of Islam, he has pursued an agenda billed as the “future for the young generation,” allowing cinemas to open, opening the military to women, and ending a decades-long women’s driving ban. But then came summer: women’s activists jailed, dissident clerics silenced, and a diplomatic row with Canada. The events have left some wondering if this is a prince with a surprisingly fragile grip on power or a savvy ruler navigating competing local, regional, and international politics. Or, more darkly, in an era of strongmen with thin skin, are his actions a symptom of the Saudi system of checks and balances not working? “This could just come down to personalities,” says Texas A&M Prof. F. Gregory Gause, a longtime Saudi observer. “Perhaps it is a case of where you get the crown prince on a bad day.”

Collapse

What's behind Saudi Arabia's summer of discontent

For Saudi watchers, the headlines out of the kingdom this summer – women’s activists jailed, clerics silenced, a diplomatic row with Canada – have been perplexing, even jarring.

After all, despite Saudi Arabia’s failing war in Yemen, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has an iron grip on power in the oil-rich kingdom and no serious internal rivals and remains in control over one of the wealthiest economies in the world.

Within the Saudi government, the crown prince controls the economy, defense, military, and foreign policy portfolios. It is a direct, top-down power structure; a one-man show.

And from the moment his father, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, made him crown prince a year ago, ending a power struggle within his generation of the Saudi royal family, the young prince, MBS as he is known, has signaled that he is ushering the conservative kingdom into a dramatically more modern, and moderate, era.

In addition to distancing Saudi power structures from the strict Wahhabi strain of Islam that is associated with extremism and terrorism, he has pursued an agenda billed as the “future for the young generation,” allowing cinemas to open, opening the military to women, easing regulations for opening businesses, and ending a decades-long women’s driving ban.

This spring, moreover, MBS took a triumphant, four-week, coast-to-coast goodwill tour of the United States during which he sold himself as a reformer, a modernizer, and a liberal.

But for critics and analysts, contradictions between his centralized hold on power and his presumed reformist inclinations have existed from the beginning.

Now this series of erratic – or what critics describe as over-reactive – policies has left analysts and diplomats alike wondering if we are witnessing the lashing out of a prince with a surprisingly fragile grip on power or the work of a savvy ruler outmaneuvering rivals while navigating competing local, regional, and international politics. Or, more darkly, the actions of a thin-skinned, but unchecked, strongman.

Crackdown on clerics

In September 2017, Saudi authorities quietly arrested several high-profile clerics, including Salman al-Odeh, an influential Islamic thinker with millions of social media followers.

This month, Riyadh renewed its crackdown on imams, jailing over one dozen prominent Islamic scholars and speakers including Safar al-Hawali and Nasser al-Omar.

A reason reportedly given by Saudi authorities to Western diplomats is that the jailed clerics were opposed to the liberal social reforms that the crown prince is trying to push through, including allowing women to drive, opening cinemas, and allowing mixed entertainment and sporting events.

Moreover, the Crown Prince’s office asserts, these clerics are opposed to his progressive view of a “moderate Islam” that rejects extremist tendencies associated with Wahhabism.

Observers and activists say the motivations are more Machiavellian.

Many of the jailed clerics such as Mr. Odeh and Mr. Hawali are leaders of the so-called Sahwa movement, a strain of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Islamism where clerics use Islamic theory to call for democracy and human rights. The movement opposes Western military intervention in the region, but also opposes terrorism against civilians. It was split over the Sunni uprising against US forces in Iraq.

The Sahwa movement, while socially conservative, is ideologically at odds with the Wahhabi school over fealty to monarchs and dictators, and in the 1990s was at odds with the royal family, calling for democracy and organizing protests. In 2011, amid the Arab Spring, scholars such as Odeh used Twitter to reach millions of followers with calls for a constitution, an elected parliament, and the formation of professional associations and unions.

By locking up clerics, the crown prince has removed the few voices who would and could dare to challenge his increasingly autocratic grip on Saudi society.

Gary Cameron/Reuters/File
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama congratulate Samar Badawi of Saudi Arabia during the State Department's 2012 International Women of Courage Award winners ceremony in Washington, March 8, 2012.

“These clerics are the only guys that have the ability to challenge the regime,” says Stéphane Lacroix, associate professor of political science at Sciences Po in Paris and an expert on Saudi Islamist movements.

“If any political challenge to the regime should come from anywhere, this is it. It is this potential that scares MBS.”

The Qatar factor

Another of this summer’s puzzling Saudi fare was the stunning arrest of women’s rights activists at the very same time the regime says it is increasing women’s role in the work force, military, and public life.  

In May, Saudi authorities rounded up 11 women’s rights activists, issuing travel bans and holding many without trial.

As part of an alleged state-sanctioned smear campaign, social media accounts began accusing these activists of crimes against the state; Saudi newspapers ran photos of women’s rights activists with the word “traitor” in a banner above their faces.

Oddly, the crackdown came one month before Riyadh’s announced an end to the ban on women driving, and only days after Mohammed bin Salman completed his much-hyped tour of the United States.

The Saudi regime has recently renewed its arrests of women activists, culminating in the July jailing of activist Samar Badawi, who was awarded the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award by then-first lady Michele Obama in 2012 for her fights for women’s suffrage.

“It basically cancels out a lot of the good publicity Bin Salman got on his US trip, which means it was almost certainly aimed at a domestic or regional audience,” says F. Gregory Gause, professor of international affairs at Texas A&M and a longtime Saudi observer.

Professor Gause says a prime explanation for the regime’s actions is the kingdom’s longstanding feud with Qatar, which is driven by a resentment of Qatar’s attempts to rival Saudi Arabia’s influence through backing Islamist groups during the Arab Spring, and the fact that it harbors Saudi dissidents and critics.

“Looking at these arrests, I think you must go back to the issue of Qatar, and the overestimation of Qatar’s power and reach by some within the ruling circle,” he says.

According to the accounts of Arab and Western diplomats, the feud drives much of Riyadh’s domestic and foreign policies. Riyadh and the United Arab Emirates implemented a blockade of the rich emirate in 2017 and have even called for “regime change.”

For Riyadh, the crackdown on human rights activists was both a message that dissent will not be allowed, and a pre-emptive strike immobilizing any potential human rights critics at home that Qatar may try and support in order to pressure Saudi Arabia to lift its blockade.

Canada gets dragged in

But why go after Canada?

The feud between Riyadh and Toronto came after the Canadian Foreign Ministry issued a Tweet Aug. 3 calling for the immediate release of Ms. Badawi, the acclaimed women’s activist, along with other human rights advocates.

In response, Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador, froze trade deals, unloaded Canadian assets, and canceled direct flights to Toronto by the state-owned Saudia Airlines. Even more surreal for some, the kingdom also cancelled scholarships for 8,000 Saudi students studying in Canadian universities, ordering them to return home.

This time, the feud cannot be explained away by power politics or regional scheming.

“There is absolutely no way that a tweet from the Canadian Foreign Ministry will have any effect domestically or regionally on Saudi Arabia,” says Gause.

“This could just come down to personalities. Perhaps it is a case of where you get the crown prince on a bad day.”

Rather than a power play, it may be a symptom of a deeper upset of the system in Saudi Arabia.

Although by no means a democracy, modern Saudi Arabia was built on a careful system of checks and balances within the royal family and between the rulers and Saudi society at large.

The royal family would rule by committee, with the various princes and branches of the family, elites, clerics, and technocrats playing a role in the decisionmaking process.

But in the past two years, Saudi insiders say, as Bin Salman takes policy decisions alone, other royals, clerics, elites, and technocrats are “left in the dark” – and none are allowed to criticize or challenge a decision.

Without those informal restraints to keep a ruler’s worst impulses in check, analysts say, we may now be witnessing the whims of an unfiltered and unbound Saudi royal.

In an era of strongmen with thin skin, launching a trade war and a smear campaign to avenge a perceived personal slight is becoming a norm – and in Saudi Arabia there is no institution to moderate it.  

“It may just be that MBS has a prickly personality and takes these things as personal insults,” Gause says. “This is the new Saudi Arabia.”

shadow

Thin blue line

America confronts a police shortage

4. Teaching police to holster their emotions

How does policing change when officers are trained to think differently? This story looks at an approach that helps officers in Washington more safely interact with people exhibiting signs of mental illness.

Kim
Ted S. Warren/AP
Police officer Inci Yarkut (l.) and embedded social worker Kaitlyn Dowd make contact with a homeless man in Everett, Wash., in 2017. The number of unsheltered chronically homeless people with substance abuse and other challenges has risen sharply in the region, as elsewhere. Partnering social workers with police officers is helping the city to deal with the crisis.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 9 Min. )

Research suggests that a quarter to half of the people shot and killed by police every year struggle with mental illness. Intensified scrutiny of those shootings has led to the growth of training programs that teach officers methods for defusing encounters with people in the throes of a behavioral health crisis, emphasizing verbal tactics over the use of force. “Policing has to evolve,” says Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum, which has developed guidelines for de-escalation training. Common tactics include remaining at a distance from the person in crisis, attempting to persuade instead of demanding compliance, and posing open-ended questions to nurture conversation. “The idea is not to back off a situation, per se, but to slow down the action when it’s appropriate to do so,” says Sue Rahr, who leads the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. Critics deride de-escalation training as a “hug a thug” model of policing that could cause officers to hesitate in dangerous situations and risk injury or death. But advocates argue that law enforcement needs to adapt to the evolving nature of its mission. “It used to be that you just took a person to jail,” says Craig Dobson, a police lieutenant in Portland, Ore. “Now there’s very much a social work component to it.” Last in a three-part series.

Collapse

Teaching police to holster their emotions

The middle-aged man sat slumped on his living room sofa with a beer bottle in one hand and a 12-inch knife in the other. His roommate had called police fearing that his friend, despondent over his fiancée jilting him, might take his own life.

Officer Mat Kelly and his partner responded to the scene. They moved into the room and stood several feet away from the man to ensure their safety and to signal they wanted only to talk. Rather than yell commands, Mr. Kelly, with a gun and a Taser holstered on either hip, spoke in a low voice and asked about his problems. After the man mentioned the failed engagement, the officer replied less like a cop than a confidant.

“Oh, wow, that’s rough. I know the feeling,” Kelly said. “I once had a girlfriend call me at work and break up with me.”

Kelly went on to share that he recovered from the split and later met the woman he would marry. The exchange of heartbreak tales eased the man’s misery, and as the tension of the moment ebbed, he put down the knife and accepted a ride to meet with a counselor.

At that point, a police instructor halted the training exercise, praising Kelly and his partner for their calm approach to the mock emergency. The scene unfolded not inside a home but in a cinderblock room on the campus of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission in this Seattle suburb. A crisis actor played the part of the troubled man; the officers carried prop weapons.

Despite the simulated setup, Kelly realized the scenario’s real-world relevance. He and two dozen other officers from area police agencies had enrolled in a week-long course to learn methods for defusing encounters with people in the throes of a behavioral health crisis. The training, held last month at the state’s police academy, mirrors programs spreading nationwide amid intensified scrutiny of fatal shootings by police of people with mental illness.

“This is a tough time to be a cop,” says Kelly, an officer in Medina, a posh enclave near Seattle where Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates live. “We deal with the mentally ill all the time, and there’s also a lot of public criticism of us. So any tool that helps us do our job better and prevents these situations from escalating, that’s something you like to have.”

Police shot and killed almost 1,000 people last year, and The Washington Post found that a quarter of the victims had been diagnosed with mental illness. Research suggests that as many as half of those killed by officers every year struggle with mental health problems, and for people with untreated conditions, the risk of death when stopped by law enforcement runs 16 times above that of other citizens.

The figures illuminate the fraught interaction between the mentally ill and police officers, who fill the role of first responders to behavioral health crises, sometimes with tragic results.

The public outcry over police brutality has led more  agencies and states to embrace de-escalation training. Similarly, national law enforcement groups have adopted policies that emphasize verbal tactics over the use of force when officers encounter emotionally disturbed people. The guidelines draw on strategies devised by the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C., that has gained support for its ideas from police chiefs nationwide.

“Policing has to evolve,” says Chuck Wexler, the group’s executive director. “Everything used to be about getting to the call, barking orders, and resolving a situation as quickly as possible without regard for consequences. But if you defuse these situations without force, you’re going to save the lives of civilians and police officers.”

'Communities, not war zones'

A carved wooden sign propped on Sue Rahr’s desk reads, “Bring Back Common Sense.” The words serve as a motto of sorts for Mrs. Rahr, who as executive director of Washington’s training commission since 2012 has shown an unapologetic devotion to reform.

A policing ethos that has prevailed nationwide for decades known as “ask, tell, make” dictates that officers take increasingly aggressive action depending on a civilian’s willingness to obey their authority. Under that protocol, if a person fails to provide a driver’s license when asked, the officer responds with a command. If the person still resists, the officer applies force.

Rahr has sought to replace “ask, tell, make” with a model rooted in listening, empathy, and emotional restraint. The academy’s crisis-intervention training teaches officers to recognize symptoms of mental illness while conditioning them to decelerate their approach to someone in distress. Common tactics involve remaining at a distance to avoid startling or riling the person, attempting to persuade instead of demanding compliance, and posing open-ended questions to nurture conversation.

“The idea is not to back off a situation, per se, but to slow down the action when it’s appropriate to do so,” says Rahr, the former sheriff of King County, which includes Seattle. “Listening to someone for three minutes can seem like an eternity. We want to reinforce the idea that three minutes is not a lot of time, and you can use that time to bring a situation to a peaceful resolution.”

A state law enacted three years ago requires every new police officer and sheriff’s deputy who passes through the training academy – the only one in Washington – to receive eight hours of crisis-intervention instruction. The state’s estimated 10,000 veteran officers and deputies must complete the course by 2021, and the law further urges the academy to offer the week-long de-escalation program to a quarter of the statewide patrol force.

Rahr mandated crisis-intervention training for cadets in 2013, two years before the law passed, and initiated a cultural shift at the academy that, among other changes, dropped the prevalent description of officers as “warriors” in favor of “guardians.” A year later, protests erupted in Ferguson, Mo., after an officer fatally shot Michael Brown, igniting a national debate about police militarization and use of force.

“Part of being a guardian is being a warrior. But we’re not training soldiers,” says Rahr, who belonged to a task force appointed by former President Barack Obama that proposed strategies to improve policing, including mandatory crisis-intervention instruction. “We want individuals who have a variety of skills in dealing with the public. They’re going into communities, not war zones.”

Studies reveal that 1 in 4 people with behavioral health disorders has faced arrest across the country, and law enforcement books some 2 million people with serious mental illness into jail each year. Meanwhile, researchers have found that crisis-intervention training lowers the likelihood that officers will use force against or arrest those with mental illness while improving the odds that police will refer them to behavioral health services.

The Washington academy instills in officers the need to bridle their biases and emotions when confronted by someone who acts irrationally and ignores questions or defies commands. During three decades as a King County sheriff’s deputy, Sam Shirley, who attended last month’s course, has learned the power of patience in cajoling someone in crisis.

“De-escalation helps you get your emotions under control and not just react,” he says. “If a person isn’t a threat to himself or others, if he’s in his house alone, then take the time to build rapport. Think about what other resources or assets you can bring in. Time is your friend.”

In the view of Joe Winters, a lead instructor of the de-escalation course, the program carries the added benefit of reducing public distrust and critical coverage of police. He considers that crucial at a time when video from police bodycams and bystanders’ cell phones lays bare the actions of officers for public dissection.

“The relationship between law enforcement and citizens has been deteriorating,” says Mr. Winters, a crisis negotiator with the King County Sheriff’s Office. “We need a serious upgrade, and part of that is you have to become one with your community. You can’t just sit in your car and assume everyone out there is bad. In many cases, people are dealing with mental illness or an emotional crisis of some kind, and if we want to be good cops, it’s up to us to engage them.”

Teaching empathy

A young man wearing a backpack rocked back and forth in his chair as his unblinking eyes fixed on the table before him. A few feet away, a man with windswept gray hair spit out a half-chewed piece of pizza. Elsewhere in the classroom, a middle-aged woman bent over a walker and shuffled toward her seat as she yelled “Leave me alone!” without provocation.

The trio were among a handful of adults diagnosed with developmental disabilities who visited the academy to eat lunch with the officers attending last month’s course. The program’s instructors invite behavioral health clinicians from a habilitation center south of Seattle to bring in a group of residents for each training class.

The experience gives human shape to the PowerPoint lessons of the course’s classroom training and cultivates awareness that a person with mental illness might need more time to answer a question or appear at once agitated and oblivious.

“Empathy is a skill; it can be taught,” Rahr says. “We absolutely don’t want officers to dehumanize other people, and having the residents come in makes their behavior more familiar and more personal.”

The academy’s training builds on the so-called “Memphis model” of crisis intervention created three decades ago after a police officer there shot and killed a man with a history of mental illness. Yet even with agencies in 35 states adopting de-escalation policies, police officials who advocate the tactics remain in the minority within law enforcement. “There are two things cops hate,” Rahr says. “The way things are, and change.”

Critics deride the training as a “hug a thug” model of policing that could cause officers to hesitate in dangerous situations and risk injury or death. Less than 20 percent of the country’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies require crisis-intervention instruction, and a recent survey found that police departments and academies dedicate an average of 58 hours to firearms training compared with eight hours to de-escalation tactics.

The Salt Lake City Police Department provides crisis-intervention instruction for officers when they join the force. But a series of fatal shootings by police of people with mental illness has provoked demands from activists for the agency to strengthen its training.

Detective Greg Wilking, a department spokesman, regards the criticism as misinformed. “People look for us to slow down the action and avoid using deadly force in all situations, and we want to avoid using deadly force at all costs,” Mr. Wilking says. “The reality is, we don’t always have that time.”  He adds that “de-escalation” has turned into a buzzword disconnected from the perils of policing.

“We think we do de-escalation pretty well, and there’s always room for improvement,” he says. “But sometimes, the best response is showing power and taking control of a situation by putting the cuffs on someone. The problem is, that doesn’t always look good.”

An increase in crisis-intervention training for officers has yielded fewer use of force incidents in several cities, including Portland, Ore. The police department there signed a consent decree with the Department of Justice in 2014 to reform its policies after a string of violent encounters between officers and people with mental health conditions.

Lt. Craig Dobson, who tracks the agency’s use-of-force data, explains that law enforcement needs to adapt to the evolving nature of its mission in an era when officers serve on the mental health front lines.

“Policing isn’t the same as it was 20, 30 years ago,” he says. “It used to be that you just took a person to jail. Now there’s very much a social work component to it. You’re trying to figure out how to get this person help and be a productive member of society.”

At the end of the week-long training at the Washington academy, Shirley, the longtime King County sheriff’s deputy, had filled a notebook with names and phone numbers of agencies and nonprofits that offer a range of social services.

He describes the notebook as essential to his work, perhaps even more vital than his gun and Taser. He has learned from decades of experience that, unlike the weapons, he pulls out the notebook every day on the job.

“I have no other resources to give people except a kind word and a ride,” he says. He pointed to a page covered with his writing. “But if I can get them to people who can help, then that’s a win for everybody.”

Part One: Desperate for officers, a Georgia police chief hits the road

Part Two: One city’s crime-fighting quandary: Where exactly to invest?

shadow

Books

5. Our 10 best reads of the month

The Silk Road from a bicycle seat. A satirical novel with Shakespeare as a character. Iraq and Afghanistan through the experiences of six service members. The genius of Chopin. All are among our picks for the great books of August. 

Kim
Collapse

Our 10 best reads of the month

1.  Lands of Lost Borders, by Kate Harris
Few have the guts or the stamina to bicycle the famed Silk Road, the ancient route of Marco Polo. Fewer still possess the considerable talent of Kate Harris that allowed her to write of her adventures – about everything from the hospitality of the Turkish people to the frustration of negotiating a visa to enter Azerbaijan. Harris shares her experiences, but she also explores the very concept of “borders,” both personal as well as geographic.
2.  Chesapeake Requiem, by Earl Swift
In a masterly narrative of place, people, and nature, journalist Earl Swift studies Tangier Island and its residents. Tangier Island is a dwindling pancake of land, surrounded by the unruly waters of the Chesapeake Bay, and perhaps doomed to be one of the first United States communities eliminated by climate change as waters climb higher and threaten to engulf the 1.3-square-mile island.

3.  The Shakespeare Requirement, by Julie Schumacher
Anyone with a soft spot for academia will discover familiar territory in Julie Schumacher’s satirical novel. Whether identifying with the chairman of the econ department who sees no value in a degree in English or with the view of the aging scholar who argues that one semester of Shakespeare is imperative for any learned person, readers will recognize everything they love and hate about these august institutions.
4.  The Fighters, by C.J. Chivers
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist C.J. Chivers tells the story of the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan through the experiences of six servicemen. Chivers did a massive amount of firsthand reporting, and the narrative he weaves is not only compelling but may change what you think you know about the American military experience in these two countries.
5.  A Life of My Own, by Claire Tomalin
Famed British biographer Claire Tomalin finally tells her own life story in this candid and revealing memoir. While some may find the book a bit too gossipy, it’s a literary treat and also offers insight into life in 20th-century Britain.
6.  Chopin’s Piano, by Paul Kildea
Composer and pianist Paul Kildea finds an original way to explore the genius of Chopin by considering the pianos he used as he created some of his great compositions. The book is a meditation not only on the life and work of Chopin but also on music itself.
7.  Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, by Anne Boyd Rioux
This delightful look at a great American  classic (Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”) tells the book’s history, explores its abiding appeal, and considers its influence on generations of readers and writers since. It goes without saying that lovers of that book will adore this book. But even those who haven’t read “Little Women” will enjoy learning about the literary history behind it.
8.  Our Homesick Songs, by Emma Hooper
Set mainly in an abandoned Newfoundland fishing village once occupied by quirky, tightknit folks, this beautifully rendered lyrical tale is told through the eyes of the Connor family. Shifting from present to past, the story weaves together fables, songs, mystery, and mermaids. Brave and romantic, the Connors’ journey is uniquely nostalgic and magical, illuminated with childhood wonder, ingenuity, and love.
9.  Dopesick, by Beth Macy
Author and journalist Beth Macy puts a human face on America’s opioid crisis by traveling the United States to meet its victims (both drug users and the grieving loved ones they have left behind). The stories she tells may shock, but her book is an important examination of the crisis – how it started, why it grew, who it has most damaged, and what can be done to prevent more tragedy.
10.  The Spy of Venice, by Benet Brandreth
This fast-paced and entertaining novel imagines a young Will Shakespeare as an (unwilling) spy for Her Majesty’s government in Venice in 1585. He trades barbs (verbal and otherwise) with countesses and assassins as he tries to decipher the plots and intrigues that threaten to engulf him. Brandreth, who is the rhetoric coach to the Royal Shakespeare Company, takes a risk by putting words in the mouth of Shakespeare, but he is successful here on all fronts: dialogue, plot, and characters.

shadow

The Monitor's View

The election’s ‘pink wave’ that is driving equality

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

Call it a pink wave. On average, women now occupy about one-fourth of the seats in the 50 state legislatures. A record 19 women have won major-party nominations for the US Senate. Eleven have been nominated for gubernatorial races. At least 185 have won nominations in House races. Some observers see no news here, saying that no gender “quota” is wanted or needed. But for others the importance of gender balance is obvious. When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked why he appointed an equal number of women and men to his cabinet, he replied: “Because it’s 2015.” Women who win elections this fall will have to persuade not a single leader but the majority of voters that they are best suited for the job. Can they change the nation’s direction or priorities? That remains to be seen. But just as the election of President Barack Obama assured racial minorities that they, too, were included in the political system, more women in office can assure the female half of the American public that the opportunity to serve in elected office is more open to them than ever.

Collapse

The election’s ‘pink wave’ that is driving equality

While political pundits debate the possibility of a “blue wave” – a Democratic Party landslide – in November’s elections, less has been said about a possible “pink wave” – the election of an unprecedented number of women to public office.

One recent survey showed that in as many as nine states, women could make up the majority of legislators, something no state has ever done. On average, women now occupy about one-fourth of the seats in the 50 state legislatures. In addition, a record 19 women have won major-party nominations for the US Senate while 11 women have been nominated for gubernatorial races and at least 185 women have won nominations in House races, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Some women have garnered national attention. Twenty-something Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gained attention when she upset a veteran incumbent congressman in a New York Democratic Party primary race. Less in the spotlight are others, such as Kristi Noem, a Republican expected to become the first woman governor of South Dakota.

And the list goes on. So many women are running for office that some have faced or are facing other women candidates in either their party primaries or in the general election.

Some observers see no news here. Voters should take a blind eye when it comes to the gender of a candidate, they argue. No “quota” by gender is wanted or needed. But for others the importance of gender balance is obvious. A few years back when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked why he appointed an equal number of women and men to his cabinet, he replied: “Because it’s 2015.”

Other countries have made similar efforts to balance governing cabinets, the members of which aren’t elected but chosen by a chief executive. In Spain, 11 of the 17 government ministries are now headed by women. In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet is made up of 11 women and 11 men. (President Trump has six women in his cabinet or in cabinet-level positions out of 23 total positions, 26 percent. That figure is roughly comparable to the previous two US presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, whose percentage of women cabinet members through their combined 16 years in office ranged between 19 and 35 percent.)

Women who win elections this fall will have to persuade not a single leader but the majority of voters that they are best suited to do the job.

Traditionally, women voters have largely ignored the sex of the candidate as a decisive issue in favor of party affiliation or other factors such as incumbency. In 2016 Hillary Clinton won only 54 percent of women’s votes; her male opponent, Mr. Trump, actually won 52 percent of white women voters.

But a recent survey shows younger women, ages 18 to 34, may be more ready to back candidates on the basis of gender. Nearly a third of these women say they’d prefer to vote for another woman, compared with 19 percent of all women. Another poll found 65 percent of women 18 to 44 say the United States would be better off if more women served in public office. Older women and men were much less likely to hold this view.

Would a greater percentage of women in office change the nation’s direction or priorities? That remains to be seen. But just as the election of President Obama assured racial minorities that they, too, were included in the political system, more women in office can assure the female half of the American public that the opportunity to serve in elected office is more open to them than ever.

shadow

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Toward more unity

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 3 Min. )

Amid a world scene in which the noise of derision and division headlines the news almost daily, today’s column considers the unifying power of understanding how God harmoniously governs us.

Collapse

Toward more unity

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
Loading the player...

I went to a meeting of a group of caring, dedicated people. But the scene at the meeting was very different: There were accusatory and intolerant words, people taking sides, verbal attacks on those who disagreed, and angry name-calling. Was there any way we could get beyond the heat of emotions to productive discussion and viable solutions?

With a deep desire to see how I could best help, I turned to God. I often study the Bible for the insightful, healing ideas I gain by doing so, and I thought of a passage that tells of “a poor wise man” who delivered a besieged city through his wisdom (see Ecclesiastes 9:14, 15).

The story doesn’t specify what this wisdom was, but Christian Science teaches that God is divine Life and infinite Mind, the sole source of true wisdom. Inspired by this, at the meeting and following it I quietly prayed, persistently acknowledging God’s supremacy and seeking the guidance of this Mind.

Through this prayer, I gained a clearer perception of what’s invisible to a merely surface, material view of things: the true nature of God as Spirit and of His creation as spiritual, perfect, harmonious – one with God, expressing His wisdom. Instead of focusing on the disunity or ruminating over the horrible things that had been said, I turned from being drawn to that outward view and instead held to this biblically based view of Spirit and its harmonious expression.

Doing this is more than just a mental exercise. It is a willingness to open our thought to a different perspective, a spiritual viewpoint, a better model for how we treat and think about one another. I have consistently found that doing so can make a practical difference in our experience. As we pray with divine Spirit and its expression as our starting point and live in accordance with God’s precepts, we can expect to see more of God’s harmony coming to light in our interactions.

That was proved true in my experience in an unexpected way. Although I had said nothing during the meeting, another member of the group called me later. She hadn’t said anything at the meeting either, but as we talked it came out that she held opinions opposite to my own. Rather than try to convince each other that our view was right, we agreed to disagree without rancor. Most important, we agreed to pray for calm, progress, and unity of spirit, refusing to be divided by differing opinions or distracted by the noise of contention.

Following our conversation, I called a few other members of the group – all of whom also valued the idea of prayer – to encourage them to join us in praying for wisdom. I learned later that she did the same. Within days, the group united as a whole with a fresh sense of purpose toward accomplishing our common goal. Many observed that there was a more honest respect and tolerance among the members as well as a stronger sense of brotherhood.

At the very time that many conflicting personalities seem to be holding sway, our prayers can reflect a growing conviction that there is just one Spirit, or divine Mind, that is entirely good, governing all in perfect harmony. A valuable lesson from the biblical story of the lone wise man who saved the city is that each one of us can contribute to unity by acknowledging and living our own unity with God, good. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote, “With one Father, even God, the whole family of man would be brethren; and with one Mind and that God, or good, the brotherhood of man would consist of Love and Truth, and have unity of Principle and spiritual power which constitute divine Science” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” pp. 469-470).

Amid a world scene in which the noise of derision and division headlines the news almost daily, it’s empowering to consider that progress and greater unity, although sometimes modest, will result from our deeply felt prayers anchored in the timeless spiritual truth of God’s harmonious government of all.

shadow

Viewfinder

Hailing a musical queen

AP/File
Aretha Franklin appears at a news conference in March 1973. The influential, powerful-voiced ‘Queen of Soul’ died Thursday and is being remembered for her dynamic career. Writing in a 1998 Monitor story marking the release of two new Franklin compilations, a reviewer said: 'This memorable collection … succeeds because of Franklin's intensely passionate soaring vocals, conveying a hauntingly upbeat interpretation of the blues, the music of spiritual endurance.'
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
shadow

In Our Next Issue

( August 17th, 2018 )

Kim Campbell
Education Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow when we'll look at Pakistan's next prime minister ahead of his swearing in. Many Pakistanis see Imran Khan as a new kind of leader for their country. But how much room for change will he really have?

News today of the death of Aretha Franklin had our staff comparing their favorite performances, from the time she stepped in with little notice for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti to perform "Nessun Dorma" at the 1998 Grammys to recording sessions in the music documentary "Muscle Shoals." Here's the "Queen of Soul" bringing former President Barack Obama to tears at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors.

Monitor Daily Podcast

August 16, 2018
Loading the player...

More issues

2018
August
16
Thursday

Give us your feedback

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

 
of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.