2019
August
30
Friday

In today’s edition, our five stories explore globalism (the Amazon fires), deterrence (Iran vs. Israel), equal treatment (the racial politics of justice), urban wildlife (raccoons in Toronto), and whimsy (competitive whistling).

With Hurricane Dorian barreling toward Florida, we’re seeing predictable news coverage: Long lines at grocery stores from Miami to Jacksonville. Political leaders urging residents to stay out of harm’s way. Emergency responders preparing for the onslaught. 

Floridians are battle-tested when it comes to hurricanes, and some even embrace the challenge in the spirit of the old saying, “Out of crisis comes opportunity.”

In Lake Worth Beach, Florida, Julian Concepcion has started a business called Tribal Cocos, in which he’ll climb your coconut tree and cut off the coconuts before the high winds turn them into projectiles. 

“It’s just me, a machete, and sometimes a rope,” Mr. Concepcion told WPLX-TV. Those who can’t afford to pay, he adds, won’t be charged. 

Neighbor helping neighbor is a constant during hurricane season – from hanging storm shutters to delivering food and water to underserved communities. After a storm passes, some neighborhoods have a big cookout. Because, why not? After a power outage, some food that has gone unrefrigerated must be eaten right away or get thrown out. 

We’re also reminded of Monitor writer Patrik Jonsson’s story out of coastal North Carolina last year after Hurricane Florence struck. There, neighbors put aside differences over politics and global warming to find a solution to chronic flooding. 

Heading into the holiday weekend, we wish Florida well. 

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1. Can Europe make trade into a tool for fighting climate change?

Many people increasingly see environmental crises like the fires in the Amazon as global concerns. But how can remote actors like the EU make a difference, especially when regional players seem uninterested?

Linda
Ricardo Moraes/Reuters
A child plays while a tract of Amazon jungle is burned by loggers and farmers near Porto Velho, Brazil, on Aug. 27.

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The European Union is a world away from the Amazon rainforest. But when Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro responded to the fires ravaging the Amazon with a seemingly blasé attitude, EU officials made it their business to force him to act.

For the bloc, environmental crises are not regional issues, but global ones. And the EU is testing new tactics to foment action – especially via the use of its massive trade clout.

To send a clear message to Mr. Bolsonaro, French President Emmanuel Macron threatened to block the Mercosur trade agreement between the EU and South America’s common market. The deal took two decades to complete and still faces several hurdles. The pressure produced results. Mr. Bolsonaro has now deployed the army to tackle the flames and banned land-clearing fires for 60 days. At a minimum, Mr. Macron’s surprise move succeeded in creating a well-warranted sense of urgency.

“Environment and trade are actually two sides of the same coin,” says climate policy analyst Dennis Tänzler. “Sustainable use of resources is key and needs to be at the heart of such an important trade agreement.”

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Can Europe make trade into a tool for fighting climate change?

The fires ravaging the Amazon are so large you can see them from space. But to the countries in which the rainforest lies, the crisis is a domestic problem. “The majority of the countries that integrate the Amazon [need a joint response] to guarantee our sovereignty and natural wealth,” said Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday.

The European Union, however, sees the Amazon fires as a global problem that affects it too. And the bloc is using its influence to try and bring about an end to the blazes and to address climate change more broadly.

As the United States steps back its leadership on environmental issues, the EU is moving into the breach. It is testing new tactics to foment action – especially via the use of its massive trade clout.

“Most countries around the world want to sell their goods on the European market,” says Céline Charveriat, the executive director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, “so the EU is able to exert considerable influence through its own policies and standards.”

Trade as leverage

French President Emmanuel Macron tried to do just that by putting the forest fires and climate change on the agenda at the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France. According to Brazil’s space agency, fires in Brazil increased by 85% in 2019 and are large enough to be visible from orbit, a development linked to illegal logging to open farmland. 

To send a clear message to Mr. Bolsonaro, a far-right climate-change skeptic with close ties to agribusiness, Mr. Macron threatened to block the Mercosur trade agreement between the European Union and South America’s common market. The deal took two decades to complete and still faces several hurdles to its ratification. (The EU is Brazil’s second largest trading partner and Brazil is the single biggest exporter of agricultural products to the EU worldwide.)

The pressure produced some results. Mr. Bolsonaro, who in the eyes of climate-change experts proved alarmingly blasé in the face of record fires, has now deployed the army to tackle the flames and banned land-clearing fires for 60 days. At a minimum, Mr. Macron’s surprise move succeeded in creating a well-warranted sense of urgency.

Antonio Cruz/Agencia Brasil/AP
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (center) says Brazil will only accept an offer of international aid to fight Amazon fires if French leader Emmanuel Macron retracts comments that Mr. Bolsonaro finds offensive.

“Environment and trade are actually two sides of the same coin,” says Dennis Tänzler, director of international climate policy at Adelphi, a Berlin-based think tank focused on climate, environment, and development issues. “Sustainable use of resources is key and needs to be at the heart of such an important trade agreement.“

Peru and Colombia, which make up Mercosur along with Argentina and Brazil, have called a meeting on Sept. 6 to craft a long-term plan to stop deforestation.

“Bolsonaro is relatively fresh in office,” notes Fariborz Zelli, a political science lecturer at Lund University, Sweden. “It is important psychologically to show that certain things will not go down well. The ecological argument might not matter to him. He is a free trade guy. … If Mercosur gets canceled or questioned it hits him where it hurts. I can’t think of a better option in the short run.”

But the effort also captured the EU’s ongoing struggle to project a united front. Ireland, which shares France’s concerns over what Mercosur would mean for its farmers, was the only nation to back the Mercosur threat (though German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze also made a warning). To come into force, the free trade agreement still needs the green light of EU governments, the European parliament, and national legislatures on both sides of the Atlantic.

The summit closed with an offer to provide $20 million in emergency funding to deal with the Amazon fires and no further mention of Mercosur. But the funding is seen by many environmentalists as ineffectual given the scale of the crisis. Mr. Bolsonaro initially snubbed the offer, before setting conditions on it and calling it interference in the country’s internal affairs in line with a colonialist mindset. (U.S. President Donald Trump expressed support for Mr. Bolsonaro on Twitter, further undermining Europe’s criticism.)

“We need to address the root causes”

The Amazon fires that have been burning for the past two weeks are the most serious in recent years and could affect a region of 2.6 million square miles, extending to parts of Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay. But experts have been warning about the devastating consequences of such fires for decades.

“Twenty million [dollars] pledged to the Amazon is not good enough,” says Dr. Zelli. “Withholding a trade deal per se is not good enough. We need to address the root causes.”

Victor R. Caivano/AP
A lush forest sits next to a field of charred trees in Vila Nova Samuel, Brazil, on Aug. 27.

Major drivers of deforestation in Brazil are cattle ranching and soy farming. European consumers, says Dr. Zelli, could do more to pressure their governments to consider complementary measures – including clear labeling and certification of origin schemes for soy and beef products. There are some reasons for optimism. The environment is a core competence of the EU and success stories include protection of biodiversity and banning pesticides. Since Mr. Bolsonaro is uncooperative, solutions could be found with nongovernmental organizations, like-minded authorities in the region, and other local actors, particularly indigenous groups.

As the second-largest economy in the world, the EU has leverage. Indeed, the bloc has made environmental considerations a tenet in multilateral negotiations and its foreign aid budget. It has also emerged as a standard setter in key domains and is increasingly exploring ways to link environmental performance and economic rewards. The woes of the World Trade Organization have led to an uptick of mega national and bilateral deals. The EU, adds Dr. Zelli, has proven largely consistent in terms of including safeguards for the environment.

Ms. Charveriat of the IEEP notes that EU chemical and car emission regulations have now become international standards. The bloc has also declared that it will not conclude trade deals with countries that have failed to ratify the Paris agreement. This and the European parliament’s scrutiny around the implementation of the EU-Canada free trade agreement leads her to expect greater linking between trade policies and environmental performance in the future.

”That being said, it has decided to reopen trade negotiations with the United States, so it is still unclear what the new rhetoric will mean in reality,” she notes. “With the transfer of economic power towards emerging countries, Europe will also need to find common ground and forge alliances with key emerging economies if it wants to influence green policies and standards beyond its borders.

Another beacon of hope is the European Commission’s new president, Ursula von der Leyen, who has proposed an ambitious European Green Deal to reduce the continent’s emissions.

“There is a window of opportunity,” says Mr. Tänzler. “With the U.K. heading for Brexit, the remaining states have the chance to show renewed capacity to act. In the field of climate diplomacy, it is of utmost importance to do the homework in order to enter into convincing discussions with partners such as the United States and Brazil.”

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2. Why Iran and Israel are crossing each other’s red lines

Unintended consequences? Outside pressure from a major power can upset the equilibrium of a local conflict. That could explain why Israel and Iran are ratcheting up the pressure on each other. 

Linda

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Israel and Iran are avowed enemies. But despite the often bellicose utterances of their leaders, the consensus among analysts has long been that neither side really wants war. The same has been said of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, one of Iran’s main allies in the region.

Despite more than 200 Israeli airstrikes against Iranian or Hezbollah targets in Syria in recent years, most with minimal Iranian response, a strategic balance has prevailed. But as U.S. pressure on Iran has intensified, so too has Iran deepened its ties to and reliance on its allied militias. Its goal: to increase its own strategic depth and its deterrence against Israeli and U.S. military action.

Accordingly, Israel’s cross-regional strikes – starting with a July 19 bombing of an Iran-backed Shiite militia base in Iraq – are designed to prevent the growth of what Israeli officials call Iran’s “war machine” in Syria.

“Iran is trying to build an effective deterrence against Israelis, in Lebanon and Syria – this is the main part – and to a much lesser extent in Iraq,” says Nasser Hadian, a political scientist at Tehran University. “So naturally, it’s very clear that what Israel wants is to prevent that.”

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Why Iran and Israel are crossing each other’s red lines

Just hours after Israel said it had launched airstrikes in Syria to stop an Iranian “killer drone” attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured the occupied Golan Heights ­– the supposed target of the foiled Iranian barrage.

The premier’s visit last weekend came amid a two-day whirlwind of strikes that were either claimed by Israel or were attributed to it and were aimed at Iranian forces or their allies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip.

As Israel and Iran surge past each other’s red lines, analysts are raising questions about how far such fresh escalations can go, short of all-out war. The region is already buckling under an array of proxy conflicts, the U.S.-Iran standoff in the Persian Gulf, and Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.

Mr. Netanyahu explained why Israel is now striking further afield than ever before, to thwart Iran:

“If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first,” he said, invoking a line from the Talmud long embraced by Israel’s security services. “Any country that allows its territory to be used for attacks against Israel will bear the consequences.”

Until now a strategic balance between Israel and Iran has prevailed – despite more than 200 Israeli airstrikes against Iranian or Iran-linked targets in Syria in recent years, most with modest or no Iranian response.

But as U.S. diplomatic, economic, and military pressure on Iran has intensified, so too has Iran deepened its ties to and reliance on its allied militias. Its goal: to increase its own strategic depth and its deterrence against Israeli and U.S. military action.

Iran’s moves have given it enhanced freedom of action on Israel’s doorstep – despite Russian assurances that it would keep Iranian forces back from the border in southern Syria – and an improved capacity to upgrade the missile arsenal of Hezbollah, its ally in Lebanon.

But if Iran’s threat perception encompasses both Israel and its superpower ally the U.S., Israel’s gaze is focused on regional hegemon Iran and its lesser proxies.

Israeli strikes in Iraq

Its cross-regional strikes – starting with a July 19 bombing of an Iran-backed Shiite militia base near Baghdad, which reportedly struck guided missiles bound for Syria – are designed to limit Iran’s influence, raise the cost of foreign adventures for Tehran, and prevent the growth of what Israeli officials call Iran’s “war machine” in Syria.

Besides four strikes in Iraq this summer – the first Israeli attacks in Iraq since its 1981 destruction of a nuclear reactor – Israel was behind a drone attack in Beirut last Sunday, which is reported to have destroyed key Iranian-made equipment for upgrading Hezbollah missile guidance systems.

Bilal Hussein/AP
People listen to a speech by the Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah at a coffee shop in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Aug. 25, 2019. Sheikh Nasrallah said Hezbollah will confront and shoot down Israeli drones that fly over Lebanon from now on.

“The game is relatively clear for both parties,” says Nasser Hadian, a political scientist at Tehran University.

“Iran is trying to build an effective deterrence against Israelis, in Lebanon and Syria – this is the main part – and to a much lesser extent in Iraq,” says Mr. Hadian. “That puts Iran in an advantageous position regarding Israel, because Iranian forces and proxies – if you want to use the term – are close to Israel’s border, but the Israelis are far away from Iranian borders.

“So naturally, it’s very clear that what Israel wants is to prevent that,” he says.

Indeed, from the Israeli perspective it is military pressure against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Syria that has prompted Tehran to shift operations inside the country northward and to increasingly use Lebanese and Iraqi territory.

“Israel has been quite successful in delaying or acting against Iranian attempts to come up with a strategic military infrastructure inside Syria,” says Raz Zimmt, an Iran expert with the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), a think tank at Tel Aviv University.

“The Iranians are trying to adapt their strategy to the constraints in Syria and moving more activity to Lebanon and Iraq, [which] makes Israel realize that is has to expand its activity as well to [those] other fronts,” he says.

“Iran is not ready to give up Syria. It has spent too much money, and given too many Iranian soldiers until now, and it’s not ready to give up this opportunity,” Mr. Zimmt says. “Iran considers Syria its strategic depth, vis-a-vis Israel.”

Threats, but no interest in war

The result of Israel’s expansion of strikes has been outrage in parts of the Arab world. Both Iraq and Lebanon, as well as the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, called Israel’s actions a “declaration of war.”

Pointing to one possible constraint on Israeli action in Iraq, the Pentagon on Aug. 26 issued a statement denying any role in the attacks there and said it was “fully cooperating” with an Iraqi investigation.

A Twitter account believed to belong to IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani said Israel’s “insane operations are the last desperate moves” by Israel. A top Iranian official tweeted that Iran’s response would be “shocking and crippling.”

And Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said retribution for Israel’s strike in Beirut would come.

Such threats are a “rhetorical” part of the game, but no side wants war, says Mr. Hadian in Tehran.

“No doubt Israel thinks that Iran is building an effective force,” he says, ticking off the names of pro-Iranian militias, most of them Shiite Muslims, from Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan, and even Pakistan.

Both the benefits to Israel of demonstrating its prowess, and the risks of Iran moving away from its past modest responses to a determined counter-escalation, are laid out in an analysis this week from the Israeli INSS.

“For the long term, Israel displays boldness, initiative, and proof of effectiveness of its long arm,” the INSS said. But it added: “The Iranian attempt to carry out weaponized drone attacks against northern Israel is testimony to Iran’s arrival at a critical point, forcing it to change the nature of its response to Israeli actions.”

Further improvement of Hezbollah weapons, the analysis noted, “and a crossing of the escalation threshold by Israel, will push Iran to react differently than it has done so far.”

Thwarted drone attack

The Israeli strike to prevent Iran’s alleged drone attack last weekend has received particular attention in the Israeli media, after military and intelligence officials released details that included video footage that, they said, showed a Hezbollah team led by Iranians preparing to launch drones against Israeli targets.

Israel said it had tracked some of the would-be bombers for weeks, and that the operation had been ordered specifically by Maj. Gen. Soleimani.

That attempted drone attack was “certainly a reaction” to Israel’s purported actions in Iraq, says Mr. Zimmt in Tel Aviv.

Israel’s thwarting of the attack “again shows that, at least in the last two years, whenever there was a confrontation, Israel has clearly shown that it has both the intelligence and operational superiority, and it is certainly ready to use it,” says Mr. Zimmt.

Yet Iran may have time on its side, he adds.

“If I were Soleimani, despite all the failures, I would say: ‘OK, even if Israel manages to hit 50%, 60% or 70% of what I’ve been trying to do’ – and I have to be quite skeptical about those percentages – ‘so it won’t take me one year to make it, it will take me three or four years to make it. But eventually we’ll get there,’” says Mr. Zimmt.

“It’s not like Iran and Israel are right now on the verge of a confrontation, so they have the time, and they have the patience,” he says.

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A deeper look

3. Black lawyer, white killer, and the principles of US justice

Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy might have been an unlikely attorney for Michael Drejka, a white man accused of killing an unarmed black man. The lawyer says she did it to uphold the principle that justice for all makes the system fairer for all.

Linda
Courtesy of Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy
Defense attorney Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy defends Michael Drejka in Florida's Pinellas County. Police initially declined to arrest Mr. Drejka after he killed an unarmed black man in an argument over a parking space. Forcing the state to prove its case protects all Americans, especially those in heavily policed minority communities, says Ms. Jean-Pierre Coy, who received some criticism for her decision to defend Mr. Drejka.

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Tampa attorney Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy knew she’d get criticized for helping defend Michael Drejka. She is an African American, and her client was a white man accused of fatally shooting a black man in a parking lot argument.

She did it anyway, she says, on grounds of principle: Upholding equal treatment for all is the only way to advance the rule of law for all.

“It’s about making sure the government makes their case,” says Ms. Jean-Pierre Coy.

The government did. Last week a Florida jury found Mr. Drejka guilty of manslaughter in the killing of Markeis McGlockton outside a convenience store in Clearwater, Florida.

The case was racially fraught from the beginning. But the guilty verdict, and the recent firing of the New York policeman whose chokehold contributed to the death of Eric Garner, are signs of hope in the fight against racial disparities in the legal system, say experts.

Should Ms. Jean-Pierre Coy have helped Mr. Drejka? She was surprised by critical pushback from some African American attorneys, who she felt should know better. Some legal ethicists sided with her.

“We always want to win a fair fight [rather] than an unfair one,” says Louis Virelli III, a Stetson University law professor.

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Black lawyer, white killer, and the principles of US justice

Tampa attorney Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy marched into America’s identity wars knowing she risked being called an opportunist, and perhaps even a traitor to her race.

After all, prosecutors described her client Michael Drejka as a “parking lot vigilante” – an angry white man who shot and killed an unarmed black man during an argument over a handicapped-reserved parking spot.

But for Ms. Jean-Pierre Coy, who is black, upholding the core value of the United States justice system – equal treatment for all – is the only way to advance the rule of law for all. So she volunteered as co-counsel for the defense in a case where the invocation of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, as well as the races of defendant and victim, reminded many of the fatal shooting of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in 2012.

The politics of race, guns, and “stand your ground” did indeed get mixed up in Mr. Drejka’s case.

But she says she kept pushing for the trial to focus on the facts and the law, not surrounding distractions. In her view, a defense lawyer who challenges the system is not condoning a crime or a defendant’s actions, but trying to make that system fairer for those it seeks to imprison.

“It’s about making sure the government makes their case, which only benefits the community in the long run, since our [African American and other minorities] community makes up most of the people that the system tries to convict,” Ms. Jean-Pierre Coy says.

Ms. Jean-Pierre Coy was indeed criticized by some African Americans – including, she says, members of the bar – for her representation. But legal experts, begging to differ, reiterated her point that the system works best when the accused have vigorous, competent defenders – especially in cases where they are ultimately convicted, as Mr. Drejka was last week when a jury found him guilty of manslaughter.

“It’s a great thing that a defense lawyer was willing to put on a quality, honest representation of a defendant who then the system judged guilty,” says Louis Virelli III, an expert on constitutional law at Stetson University Law School in Gulfport, Florida. “Then we have more reason to believe beyond the outcome that this was a just result that benefits the victim. We always want to win a fair fight [rather] than an unfair one.”

Fatal confrontation

The shooting of Markeis McGlockton by Mr. Drejka last summer outside a Circle A convenience store in north Clearwater, Florida, resonated far beyond Tampa Bay. It was yet another entry in the list of unarmed black men slain by a gun-carrying white man with either a badge or vigilante leanings.

The incident occurred on a literal racial fault line, along a street that divides a black neighborhood from a white one. It came at a time of racial unease, with white supremacy apparently rising and America’s political parties increasingly racially polarized.

Witness testimony and grainy video footage showed Mr. Drejka confronting Mr. McGlockton’s girlfriend over a handicapped-accessible parking space. As tensions rose, Mr. McGlockton emerged from the store and shoved Mr. Drejka away, knocking him over.

Immediately, experts noted similarities to the Martin shooting in 2012, where a self-appointed neighborhood watchman pursued an unarmed teenager and killed him when the teenager turned on his pursuer.

As with the Martin case, despite evidence that the gunman started the conflict, police refused to immediately arrest Mr. Drejka, citing the state’s pioneering “stand your ground” law. Under such statutes, a person has no duty to retreat to avoid confrontation if threatened with force.

The state attorney brought charges nearly a month later after a black truck driver told investigators that Mr. Drejka had threatened him, too, over the same parking space.

At trial, the defense argued that Mr. McGlockton’s body became his weapon and that the young father “caused his own death” by pushing Mr. Drejka away from his family. Mr. McGlockton’s size, appearance, and attitude presented an imminent deadly threat, defense attorneys said.

Prosecutors said those arguments drew on old racist tropes.

“He was a human being in our world,” prosecutor Fred Schaub shot back during closing arguments. “What have we come to in this country?”

Floridians “wanted to take this seriously”

The quest for empathy in the justice system amid shifting self-defense laws has engrossed the U.S. for nearly a decade. That tension has been particularly evident in Florida, which pioneered the expansion of the “castle doctrine” to public areas in 2005. Nearly all states now have similar laws. (Under the castle doctrine, people have certain rights to use force, including deadly force, to defend themselves against intruders into their space.)

The problem is that the castle doctrine and “stand your ground” laws don’t exist in a perfect, neutral context. Racial prejudice, other biases, and subjective fears of injury on the part of police officers and other shooters make it more difficult to interpret such statutes in real-world situations.

The bottom line: Evidence suggests that black men are still being shot and killed by police at higher rates than white men, and use of force rules often disfavor black individuals, especially men. This has led minorities to have less trust than white people in the legal system. Black individuals are only about half as likely as white people to have a positive view of the job their local police are doing, according to Pew Research statistics.

However, there seems to be movement toward greater awareness of possible institutional biases, experts say. The officer who contributed to the death of Eric Garner by putting the man into an illegal chokehold was just fired from the New York Police Department. The last year saw two U.S. police offers tried for and convicted of murder – compared with only one over the span of nearly 20 years before that.

The Drejka verdict was further evidence that at least Floridians, often the “butt of jokes nationally ... wanted to take this seriously and be taken seriously,” says Kenneth Nunn, an expert on race relations and the law at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Racial overtones

To some, Ms. Jean-Pierre Coy’s presence on Mr. Drejka’s defense team suggested a ploy to defuse the racial overtones of the case in front of a majority-white jury.

Mr. Nunn recalled a similar image during the trial of George Zimmerman for the Martin shooting: a young black law clerk who sat at Mr. Zimmerman’s defense table.

“I’m not mad at [Ms. Jean-Pierre Coy], because I have defended some unsavory characters in my career,” says Mr. Nunn. “What I do think is wrong is to look at these cases, and because your own ideology is that we live in a post-racial society, think that race should not matter. You have to be aware that the optics and theatrics that impact race are significant in cases of this type.”

Clearwater defense attorney Roger Futerman, who in 2017 oversaw another landmark “stand your ground” case, knows Ms. Jean-Pierre Coy. He calls her “a very talented attorney” and deems her response to the criticism she’s received about the Drejka case as “classy.”

But he also says he wouldn’t have taken the case, noting that some defense attorneys in a competitive market take tough-to-win cases for publicity as much as principle.

“This was an easy case for the prosecution to win,” says Mr. Futerman, noting that he doesn’t take cases he doesn’t think he can win. “Once he pulls the gun out and the man is backing away, unarmed, ... [now] you’re looking at the man, you’ve got the gun aimed at him, the threat is over, you don’t need to kill.”

No regrets

Ms. Jean-Pierre Coy has received awards for trial advocacy from Stetson University and served as an assistant public defender in Florida’s Pinellas County, according to her law firm bio. Her own brother was convicted of a crime in 1998 and sentenced to 21 years in state prison.

She approached the Drejka defense team about joining it pro bono. Before final agreement, she consulted well-regarded African American defense attorneys, including Delano Stewart, the first black public defender in Florida’s Hillsborough County.

“I talked to them about what it would look like,” she says.

Having been away from trial work for several years, Ms. Jean-Pierre Coy decided she would love to try the case in a courtroom.

“It’s not really about whether Drejka was right,” she says. “I felt like there were a lot of other outside things that could impact this man’s constitutional right [to a fair trial] ... and would affect him when the jury was picked, given all the media.”

She knew there would be pushback about her participating in a prominent case where a white man shot and killed a black man. Still, she was taken by some of the criticism – particularly, she says, criticism from some African American attorneys. She spoke up about this in a public manner, posting a response on her public Facebook page after Mr. Drejka was found guilty.

“I thought that my almost 15-year career of defending faces that look like me and those of my two sons, as well as some of the worst types of crimes known to man, would cast [away] any doubt about my firm commitment to the rule of law,” she wrote on Facebook. 

“I would be lying if I said that I was not hurt [by the pushback],” she continued. “But with all things this too shall pass. I have overcome much greater and more important challenges in life and this is no different.”

She responded publicly in part because she wanted to emphasize that it does not matter whom she represents, she says.

“This was an atypical case. I have no regrets of being involved in this case, though I will say it was the weirdest case ever,” says Ms. Jean-Pierre Coy.

Her presence at Mr. Drejka’s table struck some experts as an example of lawyerly courage.

“In this day and age, appearances of our institutions are as important as the actual machinations of them,” says Mr. Virelli at Stetson University. By providing both solid lawyering and a racial contrast on the defense team, he says, Ms. Jean-Pierre Coy’s decision to defend Mr. Drejka “provides an opportunity to move the law forward in a way that we can all trust and understand.”

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4. Invasion of urbanite raccoons: Toronto grapples with wild residents

Cities are built for people, but should they be welcoming for wildlife too? Animals are making a home for themselves and adapting to urban life, raising questions about human-wildlife symbiosis.

Linda
Newscom/File
A mother with three baby raccoons peers out of a residential garden in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2018. Raccoons are a common pest in the suburbs of Vancouver, too.

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Peeking out from behind a Willie Nelson sleeve in the window of a record store in Toronto, a raccoon surprised some passersby earlier this summer – and it’s not alone. Animals are popping up everywhere in cities. And that has engendered questions and ambivalence about the distinctions between human spaces and the wild. 

Some human urbanites love the wildlife, and see it as something to protect. But others are more concerned for themselves or their pets and property. 

Encounters can be unnerving, especially as the blurring of the human-wild boundary has left its mark on animals. In Toronto, the raccoons have learned how to knock over compost bins to get around raccoon-resistant locks that the city spent millions of dollars installing. Coyotes there are also becoming numb to loud noises humans make to scare them off.

“When they move into the city, they live kind of like we do,” says Suzanne MacDonald, a psychology professor at York University and an authority on raccoon behavior. “So, you know, high density, they get along where they wouldn’t in the country, they eat junk.”

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Invasion of urbanite raccoons: Toronto grapples with wild residents

He was spotted in the most hipster of locales: a vinyl record store in downtown Toronto.

But our friend bore none of the other markings of today’s urbanites like, say, a knitted cap in summer or an oat-milk latte in hand. In fact “he” (or “she”) was a black-masked raccoon, discovered next to a Willie Nelson sleeve in the storefront of Kops Records on Queen Street in June.

For an animal seeking its place in the urban landscape, it was just another day. But the presence of wildlife in cities has engendered questions and ambivalence about the distinctions between human spaces and the wild. And the blurring of those boundaries has left its mark on animals.

Although raccoon cousins in rural Ontario surely could never enjoy such an urban excursion, city-dwelling animals regularly interact with our built environment, like coyotes navigating train tracks or geese at street crossings. In some cases, animals seem to be evolving into new, more urban-adapted creatures altogether, like city spiders that scientists say are no longer fearful of light.

The rise of the urbanite raccoon is bringing questions about what it means to share space with wildlife to the fore. Some people love the animals, and want to feed or nurture them, while others just want them gone. And that hints at questions around how we see cities: Are they places just for humans, or human-built environments for all?

In Toronto, which likes to hail itself the world capital of the raccoon, the black-masked creatures know when to cross busy streets (at dawn) in the approximately 3 square blocks that they each generally navigate (unlike the 20 square miles their rural peers can roam) and how to knock over compost bins to get around raccoon-resistant locks that the city spent $31 million (Canadian; U.S.$23.3 million) installing, as a Toronto Star investigation last summer found.

“When they move into the city, they live kind of like we do,” says Suzanne MacDonald, a psychology professor at York University and long the authority here on raccoon behavior. “So, you know, high density, they get along where they wouldn’t in the country, they eat junk.”

In general, this has made the city creature much bigger, something I can confirm: my daughter has lovingly dubbed the raccoon that frequently waddles between our back porch and the tree behind our house “Chubs.”

Dr. MacDonald’s major finding is about urban raccoons’ tenacity. Where the rural ones are less likely to persist in a strategy that doesn’t work, the urban ones keep working until they have it figured out. Now she’s setting out to determine whether that’s innate or learned, by studying orphaned raccoons in each place. “I want to know if the city animals are actually becoming a different subspecies than the rural ones,” she says.

Raccoons aren’t learning the ways of the city alone. Coyote “incidents” have increased in the past decade, says Danny Moro, a senior project manager at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. 

Coyotes are quite adaptable, he says. And urban environments provide a lot of their necessities: prey, or plentiful food scraps on garbage day, and sheds or industrial spaces to den. They’ve learned if they go back north, they face predators like wolves, Mr. Moro adds. “I guess the closest thing you could call a predator in an urban environment would be a vehicle.”

For some human urbanites, interactions with wildlife can raise questions of responsibility. Animals injured and orphaned by cars, for example, are a prime concern for some city residents. Others are more concerned for themselves or their pets and property.

Direct encounters can be unnerving. One morning this past winter, waking up feeling invincible, I went for a predawn run with friends in a heavy snowfall in Toronto’s High Park. The park is full of backcountry tracks, but given the conditions, we took to the main road.

Yet even there, a coyote neared our path, stopping us in our tracks. Two of us did exactly what you shouldn’t – we turned our backs and walked briskly away. But our running leader knew how to handle this. She raised her arms in the air to make herself bigger while making loud sounds. Except that didn’t work. The coyote didn’t budge. Then we noticed another nearby, unmoving. There was a moment of fright, and then a police officer pulled up, and told us all to get in the back of her car, bringing us to safety: the main artery of Lakeshore Boulevard. The coyotes had won.

Mr. Moro says he’s been getting a lot more calls about coyotes that are unfussed by loud humans. Some blame, he says, goes to people who put out food to feed them.

In the case of raccoons, surveys have long shown Toronto’s attitude toward them is love/hate, and sometimes it’s love/hate in the same person, changing throughout the course of a single day. Feelings about raccoons are particularly intense, says Dr. MacDonald, because humans mistakenly attribute intention to the animals. They might surmise that a raccoon is waiting for the human to leave before breaking into the house, or taunting a human by looking straight into their eyes.

Raccoons drive her crazy too, she says, but “they are just trying to make a living.” 

As raccoons are getting smarter, sci fi-ish fears about their “takeover” have ballooned. But there is really no competition, Dr. MacDonald reassures. “It’s not going to be like ‘Planet of the Raccoons.’” In fact, “I always say, ‘look it’s the mark of a healthy city if we have wildlife living with us,’” she says. “That means our city is pretty darn good.”

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5. ‘Whistling changed my life:’ The competitive world of rockstar whistlers

Even seemingly frivolous hobbies can become a source of passion. At this international festival, master whistlers find joy – and community – in competition.

Linda

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Carole Anne Kaufman is on a mission: to bring recognition and respect to whistling as a musical art form. The Whistling Diva, as she is known, found her calling in 2014 when the International Whistlers Convention dissolved. She threw herself into its reestablishment. Today, her biennial Masters of Musical Whistling festival and competition draws dozens of competitive whistlers from around the world.

“Whistling changed my life,” she says, about turning her hobby into a competitive passion.

More than 60 contestants from 11 countries gathered outside of Los Angeles last weekend to vie for the world title. Several contestants talked about being discouraged from whistling as a child.

Erica Valkren says she whistles for the levity it gives her, no matter how she’s feeling. She has been delighted to find a community who feels the same way. “Usually I’m the only one incessantly whistling everywhere,” she says. “This is like a whole new world for me!”

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‘Whistling changed my life:’ The competitive world of rockstar whistlers

Ryan Engstrom admits he was “horribly nervous” before he took his turn at the microphone. But you would never know it. The young man performed with joy and artistry, perfectly hitting his high notes, moving with ease through well-placed riffs, and leaving at least one person in the audience whistling his selection – Édith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” – long after he took his bow.

Which is exactly the desired effect. Mr. Engstrom is part of a small but growing group of competitive musical whistlers around the globe. Not content to simply whistle while they work, more than 60 contestants from 11 countries recently gathered outside of Los Angeles to vie for the world title in the Masters of Musical Whistling international festival and competition.

They whistled a happy tune – and much more than that.

“Whistling doesn’t have to be just how you call your dog. It can be a great instrument, that has really been overlooked,” says Carole Anne Kaufman, a two-time world champion whistler who organized the event at the Pasadena Convention Center last weekend.

“Whistling changed my life,” she says, about turning her hobby into a competitive passion.

Ms. Kaufman, aka The Whistling Diva, is determined to bring recognition and respect to whistling as a musical art form. The two-day competition offered a master class (improvisation and self-accompaniment – known by its Japanese term, hikifuki), and different stages of competition, culminating in an awards ceremony with winged golden trophies hoisted like Oscars. Competitors, including one who was just 9 years old, varied in age, ethnicity, and, admittedly, talent.

While a few first-timers stood stiffly or wandered off key, most of the contestants opened up a world unimagined by those who think of musical whistling as the theme song from television’s “The Andy Griffith Show” or Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”

One college student puckered up and took off in a jazzy number sounding like a flute, while others impressed with concertos and arias. In a concert of “masters,” champion Ryosuke Takeuchi transported listeners to a soft-edged romantic someplace with his rendition of “Misty.” A finale of five whistlers performing George Gershwin’s “Summertime” brought down the house with cheers and, not surprisingly, finger whistles.

Several contestants talked about being discouraged from whistling as a child, or thinking that they were the only ones who really loved to put their lips together and blow. At the championship, festooned with hot-pink, kissy-lip balloons, they found instant family, fist bumped with strangers, and reveled in jokes (“Was that the French or the English version of ‘La Vie en Rose’?”).

“This is so fun!” one contestant whispered to another during the master class, which included a tour through whistling history by Mitch Hider, a world champion and historian of the craft from Eugene, Oregon.

Francine Kiefer/The Christian Science Monitor
Ryan Engstrom of Sherman Oaks, California, won the first round at the musical whistling world competition with Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose,” in Pasadena, California, on Aug. 24.

Birds were the first whistlers, he likes to remind people. But the art’s heyday among humans was the Vaudeville era, when RCA produced hundreds of records of whistlers. Then it moved to the Big Band stage, which featured whistler soloists. Ironically, too much imitation bird warbling had a detrimental effect. Mr. Hider regrets that bird whistling has fallen by the wayside, and in an interview burst forth with a few notes to rival Snow White’s blue birds.

Modern whistling competitions got started in the 1970s, crowning world champions. But when the International Whistlers Convention dissolved in 2014, Ms. Kaufman found her calling. She threw herself into its reestablishment. Today, her biennial production in the L.A. area and a world championship in Japan trade off each year. Her first effort had just 15 contestants, then 30, and now more than 60 – many of them young people.

They can thank the internet for that.

“I figured there must be a competition for whistlers so I googled it,” says Mr. Engstrom, who recently moved to L.A. and does stand-up and open mic. He won the first level of competition for newcomers.

Erica Valkren, who teaches the tango and other ballroom dances in Seattle, also discovered the competition through an internet search.

“Usually I’m the only one incessantly whistling everywhere,” says Ms. Valkren, who arrived with a small entourage of friends to cheer her on. “Here, wow, we all do this!” She says she whistles for the “levity” it gives her, no matter how she’s feeling.

Alas, Ms. Valkren did not take home the championship. That honor went to Japan’s Akiko Shibata, who charmed listeners in the masters concert with her skillful maneuvering of a seaman marionette as she whistled “Under the Sea,” from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

Still, Ms. Valkren is so enthused about the competition that she’s thinking of auditioning for Japan next year.

“This is like a whole new world for me!”

And for folks who may have never before heard a world-class whistler.

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The Monitor's View

In Britain’s Brexit brawl, time for restraint and consent

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In a Britain already divided over Brexit, a new prime minister, Boris Johnson, has decided to shorten the time for Parliament to consider an alternative to his path to leaving the European Union. His unusual tactic has created an uproar, notably among those who lost the referendum on Brexit in 2016.

For them, the issue now is the prime minister’s apparent assault on democracy itself. For Mr. Johnson, his opponents’ outrage and delay tactics are also an assault on democracy, largely because the losing side in the referendum has yet to consent to the official outcome.

For democracies facing sharp divisions and a decline in trust of institutions, Britain provides an example of the need for two things after a vote with high stakes: losers’ consent and winners’ restraint. The real threat to democracy is not having enough of both.

At times like these, patience, reason, and humility from both politicians and engaged citizens can sometimes open up unexpected avenues and lead to consensus. Democracy cannot survive if it produces oppressive winners and sore losers. Its very legitimacy starts with the idea that we’re all in this together.

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In Britain’s Brexit brawl, time for restraint and consent

In a Britain already divided over how – or whether – to leave the European Union, a new prime minister, Boris Johnson, has decided to shorten the time for Parliament to consider an alternative to his path to Brexit before an October deadline. His unusual tactic has created an uproar, notably among those who lost the referendum on Brexit in 2016.

For them, the issue now is the prime minister’s apparent assault on democracy itself. For Mr. Johnson, his opponents’ outrage and delay tactics are also an assault on democracy, largely because the losing side in the referendum has yet to consent to the official outcome.

For democracies facing sharp divisions and a decline in trust of institutions, Britain provides an example of the need for two things after a vote with high stakes: losers’ consent and winners’ restraint. The real threat to democracy is not having enough of both.

In elections, referendums, or legislative votes, not all losers are gracious and not all victors are magnanimous. Both may resort to maximal, dubious tactics when they should instead work on a consensus that will maintain the integrity of the democratic process.

Losers often either abandon the system or try to rip it down. Winners might rig it to stay in power even though democracies need a regular churn in parties and people assuming power to keep faith in democracy. In addition, not all vote victories are that clear-cut. In one study of stable democracies between 1950 and 1995, only around 45% of victors won with a majority. 

The process of voting is really a way to articulate both the concerns and the hopes of constituents, and these can often be at odds with each other. The previous prime minister, Theresa May, came up with a Brexit plan that attempted to keep Britain tied somewhat to Europe but not officially in the EU. She failed to get it approved by Parliament. Now both sides are desperate, perhaps regardless of the consequences.

At times like these, patience, reason, and humility by both politicians and engaged citizen can sometimes open up unexpected avenues and lead to consensus. Democracy cannot survive if it produces oppressive winners and sore losers. Its very legitimacy starts with the idea that we’re all in this together.

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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.

Mountain climbing with Spirit

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Concerned that she might no longer have the strength to complete a Smoky Mountains hike with her daughter, a woman turned to God for help. Step by step, the inspiration that God created us with dominion over fatigue and discouragement made all the difference.

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Mountain climbing with Spirit

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Sometimes life looks like an insurmountable mountain. But when the going gets rough, and fear haunts our path, I’ve found it helps to remember Christ Jesus’ statement, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20, New King James Version).

I took this promise to heart recently when my daughter and I hiked up Mount LeConte in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I had climbed the mountain a number of times over many decades. As kids we scampered up and down the trail with no fancy gear and no struggle at all. But this time I was afraid that at my age, weight, and fitness level, the hike would be a formidable challenge. And there are no roads on this mountain; supplies reach the top by llama, or once a year by helicopter. Nobody was going to carry me down if I got tired.

I had learned from my study of Christian Science that God, infinite Spirit, is the only creator of the universe, including man. Therefore, even though it may look as though a material body subject to frailties is our actual identity, the true identity of each of us is spiritual and as indestructible as our divine Maker.

In her foundational work, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” the discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, defines God as “the great I AM; the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-acting, all-wise, all-loving, and eternal; Principle; Mind; Soul; Spirit; Life; Truth; Love; all substance; intelligence” (p. 587). The spiritual qualities of God are the very substance of our identity, too, as God’s children. Science and Health defines man as “the compound idea of infinite Spirit; the spiritual image and likeness of God; the full representation of Mind” (p. 591).

I reasoned that since God has all power, I could not run out of steam on the trail. I could expect to have whatever strength I needed. Bolstered by this, I began the hike.

The ascent was steep and long, in weather that was hot and humid. I relied on strength from God all the way up, and it was a successful hike.

But then came the climb down two days later. Hiking downhill actually requires greater strength than an ascent. All went well for the first mile, but after that my strength seemed to disappear.

I thought of a beloved gospel song, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” The opening lyrics are, “I am weak, but Thou art strong.” The song played in my mind as I walked, but I changed the opening words to “I am strong because Thou art strong.”

During the final mile, I needed to drop many negative concepts that were coming to thought, just as I would cast off an unnecessary load weighing me down. Am I too fat? Too old? A weak mortal? No. I refused to hang on to any negativity, and instead accepted that I was forever strong, beautiful, immortal, and free. I woke up to my true identity as the spiritual image of God, endowed with dominion over fatigue and discouragement.

This verse I recalled from the Bible was also a big help: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; … they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31, King James Version).

These ideas inspired us and helped make our way perfect, especially during the difficult last mile. As my thought shifted, my steps picked up their pace, and I finished the hike much stronger than I had imagined possible. Then, just as my daughter and I got into our car to head home, the sky opened up with a blinding torrent of rain. But our trail time had been perfect!

If we see ourselves as material beings in a material world, there are endless problems to weigh us down and impede harmonious progress. But as we claim our true identity as God’s spiritual image, we realize we can never be separated from God, from good. And we find more and more that we have all the strength and ability we need, and there is nothing to fear.

Adapted from an article published in the Aug. 26, 2019, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Ice ice baby

Ann Hermes/Staff
Shades of brilliant blue surround visitors to the Mendenhall ice caves. The ice absorbs all other colors in the visible light spectrum, leaving behind a monochromatic scene. Along with the constant dripping of the ceiling and walls, a low rumble can be heard – the sound of the glacier shifting in an ice quake. It’s a reminder that the Mendenhall Glacier is in flux and is melting more rapidly in the past few years. The changing landscape of the ice has given rise to a new brand of “last chance tourists.”
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( September 3rd, 2019 )

Thanks for joining us today. We don’t publish on Monday, Labor Day in the United States – but do keep an eye out for a special email from us: an exploration of the challenges and triumphs seen by American workers.

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