2020
July
03
Friday

Monitor Daily Podcast

July 03, 2020
Loading the player...

TODAY’S INTRO

July Fourth, history, and ‘The other side of liberty’

Some metaphors, Walter Robinson told me, write themselves.

At Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center, the historic homesite of James Dexter, a former enslaved person who co-founded the Free African Society in 1787, was nearly paved over to be a bus drop-off. It was saved by African American activists.

“What could be a more amazing metaphor than to cover over something so key to Black self-determination?” asks the Black composer, writer, and activist.

His article “The other side of liberty” ran in the Monitor on July 3, 2003. Its examination of how freedom and slavery have been interlinked since the country’s founding – and the need for Americans to fully understand their history – echoes now. To Mr. Robinson, “the entire Atlantic Basin could be yellow taped as a 360-year crime scene.”

Yet he is an optimist, citing progress including the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

As the article notes, at the same moment they declared that all men were created equal, many of America’s Founding Fathers enslaved others.

“Can we accept our venerated Founding Fathers like George Washington as complex people who owned slaves and extended the length of the Atlantic Slave Trade in our Constitution?” Mr. Robinson asks. America acknowledges Washington as a freedom fighter. “Can we accept and lift up Black freedom fighters who broke the existing laws, like Harriet Tubman or Denmark Vesey, as patriots and true defenders of the precious ideals of our democracy? These are challenges to be overcome and resolved.”

Mr. Robinson, who composed a musical about Vesey and the Charleston Slave Conspiracy of 1822, quotes the words of a co-conspirator sentenced to hang in a trial closed to the public. A white minister urged him to repent. “Sin? What sin? … Washington was a white man and you idolized him; but I, alas, am a black man, and you hang me for the very act you applauded in him.”  

If you listen to today’s audio edition, you can hear an excerpt from “Preamble,” from Mr. Robinson’s musical, “Look What a Wonder.”

Share this article

A deeper look

On America’s most political holiday, clashing visions are nothing new

Historically, the Fourth of July has been as much about toppling statues as about grilling hot dogs, as presidents and various groups have used the holiday to advance different views of American citizenship.

Yvonne

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 9 Min. )

A holiday rooted in the celebration of American freedom and unity is today producing sharply divergent scenes. Even as President Donald Trump celebrates with a fireworks extravaganza at Mount Rushmore and a speech from the White House, Black Lives Matter protests are continuing in U.S. cities, and small-town parades and celebrations across the country have been canceled due to the pandemic. 

Yet the Fourth has not always been a relaxed entrance to high summer, a time of hot dogs, bottle rockets, and all things red, white, and blue. At various points in history, it has been a day for divisive political expression. 

The holiday shows how Black and white Americans, immigrants and the native-born, have over decades battled over the meaning of freedom and to whom it applies.

“Freedom is never given; it’s always demanded,” says novelist Tina McElroy Ansa of St. Simons Island, Georgia, talking about this particular moment in American race relations. “We are not asking the government for something. We are moving ahead and changing and improving and getting glitches out.”

Collapse

1. On America’s most political holiday, clashing visions are nothing new

A fireworks extravaganza at Mount Rushmore. Continued Black Lives Matter protests in U.S. cities. 

A “Salute to America” featuring music and a presidential speech from the White House. Canceled small town parades across the country – and a plea from Washington, D.C.’s mayor for city residents to stay safe by just staying home.

Welcome to the fractured landscape of 2020’s July Fourth holiday weekend. A holiday rooted in the celebration of American freedom and unity is today producing clashing images of differences over the dangers of the coronavirus, the nation’s continuing struggle for racial equality, and the political fissures those battles reveal.

But is that kind of dissonance at the heart of the Fourth’s true purpose? It is, after all, arguably the most political of U.S. holidays. It commemorates a political act – the signing of the Declaration of Independence. At its beginning in 1776, New York City residents tore down an equestrian statue of King George III and hacked it to pieces.

At various points in history, the Fourth has been a day for divisive political expression. It has not always been a relaxed entrance to high summer, a time of hot dogs, bottle rockets, and all things red, white, and blue.

The holiday shows how Black and white Americans, immigrants and the native-born, have over decades battled over the meaning of freedom and to whom it applies, says Blain Roberts, a history professor at California State University, Fresno, and co-author of “Denmark Vesey’s Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy.”

“In that way, the Fourth of July is really a window into that long political struggle about what it means to be an American,” Dr. Roberts says.

“What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”

In the sweep of national history, many Black Americans have had different attitudes toward the Fourth of July than their white counterparts.

“To be clear, Fourth of July means different things to different people, and so does ‘Americanness’ depending on the color one ‘wears’,” says Soji Akomolafe, chair of political science at Norfolk State University, an HBCU (historically black college or university).

When white America gained independence in 1776, Black America remained persona non grata, Dr. Akomolafe says.

Before the Civil War, the basic reason for this split was obvious: the glaring hypocrisy between the Declaration’s words “all men are created equal” and the reality of the existence of slavery.

This was eloquently expressed in Frederick Douglass’s famous 1852 address to the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester, New York. Speaking, pointedly, on July 5, Douglass asked, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” and answered: “The Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

What Douglass was trying to do in his speech was point out that the Fourth isn’t just a celebration of American food and fireworks and freedom, says Keidrick Roy, a doctoral candidate in American literature and intellectual history at Harvard University.

“For Douglass, the Fourth of July is a time for us to reflect, and to be critical about ourselves and how we reflect on our institutions that govern us,” says Mr. Roy.

Douglass points out the ideals of the Declaration and the Constitution are things to which we should aspire, Mr. Roy adds.

“And what we see now in America conflicts with those ideals. So we need to endeavor to reconcile that contradiction,” he says.

Elizabeth Rice-Johnson was a civil rights activist starting in her college days, when she was a member of the Richmond 34 – a group of students who sat-in at an all-white lunch counter in Richmond in 1960. They were one of the first mass arrests of the civil rights era and helped lead to the city’s desegregation.

“The founding fathers at the time [of the Declaration of Independence] really weren’t thinking about me,” she says.

“They were looking at us like chattel. They weren’t looking at us like human beings when this whole thing was drafted,” she adds.

Remembering the Fourth only in the red-white-and-blue imagery of tricorn hats and bewigged signers of the Declaration focuses too little on the contributions of Black Americans, who weren’t treated equally at the time yet whose labor still was a backbone of the country’s growth, says Ms. Rice-Johnson.

Ironically, there was a short period in U.S. history when, in the South in particular, the Fourth of July was a true Black holiday. 

The Civil War’s outcome flipped attitudes around. Defeated white Confederates did not want to celebrate the Union. Meanwhile, African Americans embraced it as a symbol of the new order.

They gathered in small towns and big cities to picnic, hear orators read the Emancipation Proclamation and the Declaration of Independence, and see fireworks, says Ethan Kytle, a California State University, Fresno, historian and co-author with spouse Dr. Roberts of “Denmark Vesey’s Garden,” which recounts some of these celebrations.

The most elaborate took place in Charleston, South Carolina. Black militia units with names like the “Douglass Light Infantry” marched through the streets of a city known as the capital of Southern slavery. They ended at White Point Garden, a park at the base of the Charleston peninsula.

“African Americans felt for the first time that it was a holiday that included them,” says Dr. Kytle.

But white Southerners resented the celebrations. Beginning in the 1880s they pushed back, reclaiming local political power as Reconstruction waned, and then passing ordinances restricting the Black gatherings. Eventually Southern whites stripped Black Americans of citizenship in all but name.

By the turn of the century, Fourth of July celebrations in the South were white affairs that would pair renditions of “Dixie” with the “Star-Spangled Banner.” In the Jim Crow era, cities erected many memorials to Confederate soldiers – the same memorials that protesters are toppling today.

“It’s not that Black people aren’t patriotic. They have a different sense and understanding of what that means and how we want to express and celebrate that,” says Hasan Kwame Jeffries, a historian at The Ohio State University and author of “Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt.” “Here’s the thing. Black people have a blood investment in the nation, in the soil, in the land. People recognize that, ‘This is my country,’ but what does it mean to not be a full citizen in this country? That limits the real joyousness of the Fourth of July.”

Presidents and symbolism

U.S. presidents have long used July Fourth as a means to promote their particular visions of what being an American means.

In 1964, for instance, Lyndon Baines Johnson pointedly signed the Civil Rights Act on July 2, the actual date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

“One hundred eighty-eight years ago this week, a small band of valiant men began a struggle for freedom,” President Johnson said in a nationally-televised speech from the White House. “Yet those who founded America knew that freedom would be secure only if each generation fought to renew and enlarge its meaning.” 

AP/File
President Lyndon B. Johnson reaches to shake hands with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after presenting the civil rights leader with one of the 72 pens used to sign the Civil Rights Act in Washington on July 2, 1964. Surrounding the president, from left, are, Rep. Roland Libonati, D-Ill., Rep. Peter Rodino, D-N.J., Dr. King, Emanuel Celler, D-N.Y., and behind Celler is Whitney Young, executive director of the National Urban League.

Eight years later, with the country riven by protests against the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon and conservative supporters organized a giant “Honor America Day” for July Fourth on the Washington Mall. Evangelist Billy Graham gave the keynote address. Comedian Bob Hope served as co-host of the entertainment.

But the day didn’t end as planned. It attracted droves of protesters, some of whom stripped naked and cooled off in the Reflecting Pool. To keep them at bay, the Park Police eventually resorted to tear gas, which blew back and wafted over the celebration itself as the Navy Band wrapped up with “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

In recent years, President Donald Trump has used the holiday to invoke symbols of military strength and national grandeur.

In 2019, he headlined a “Salute to America” event with a speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by military band performances, a military flyover, and a fireworks display. According to a recently-released General Accounting Office Report, the event cost about $13 million, double that of previous years.

For 2020, the president opted for the sweeping stage of Mount Rushmore, where on July 3 he is scheduled to give remarks and attend a firework display in front of sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s giant carved faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. On July Fourth he will host this year’s “Salute to America” from the White House South Lawn and the Ellipse. It will include music, military demonstrations, and a flyover of military aircraft along the East Coast from Boston to D.C.

Typically, presidents use patriotic holidays like the Fourth of July to reaffirm communal values – to remind us what being American entails and how our national values serve the greater good in the U.S. and around the world, says Jennifer Mercieca, a historian of American political rhetoric at Texas A&M and author of “Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump.”

President Trump has famously shown little interest in acting the role of a traditional, unifying U.S. chief executive. His version of July 4 showmanship, says Dr. Mercieca in an email, seems to define American exceptionalism as “winning” – depicting the nation as a first-class military and economic power, as opposed to a symbol of liberty and justice for the world.

The majestic backdrops are meant to link President Trump to his greatest predecessors, she says. He’s like Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial. He’s like Washington, Jefferson, et al, at Mt. Rushmore.

“It’s convenient staging that is meant to bolster Trump’s claims to being American exceptionalism personified,” says Dr. Mercieca.

A political holiday 

Has President Trump politicized national July Fourth celebrations? Critics complain that his recent predecessors didn’t make themselves the keynote speaker of the Washington celebrations. D.C. residents bemoan the loss of what used to be a relaxing local break from politics – a concert on the Mall, followed by spectacular fireworks, with nary a partisan word to be heard from the podium.

“This is a show of pageantry, and it really is not getting down to the root of the issues for the minority communities, the Black and brown communities that are suffering indiscriminately and unequally due to COVID-19, and to all of the unjust murders of people of color,” says Dr. Sharlene Sinegal-DeCuir, department chair and associate professor of history at Xavier University of Louisiana. “That’s a really, really big thing.”

But in a basic sense, the celebrations around July Fourth really have always been political, notes David Waldstreicher, a historian of early America at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. The question, he says, is which vision of American citizenship it’s being used to advance.

President Trump, for his part, has charged that the current push to remove Confederate memorials is, in its own way, a politicization of American history. On Wednesday, the president went so far as to threaten to veto the annual defense authorization bill if it includes a provision that would lead to the renaming of Fort Bragg and other U.S. military bases that bear Confederate names.

On this issue Dr. Waldstreicher points back to the original July Fourth, when stripping the new nation of the symbols of its old colonial overlords, such as statues of the English king, was a part of, indeed central to, the meaning of the day.

“Nothing is more American than tearing down statues in the name of the people’s right to decide what is an apt symbol of popular rule,” he says in an email. “In that sense, even with some accompanying flag-burnings, every day is the Fourth of July.”

Indeed, protests might be as much a Fourth of July celebration as picnics.

“Freedom is never given, it’s always demanded,” says novelist Tina McElroy Ansa of St. Simons Island, Georgia, talking about this particular moment in American race relations. “We are not asking the government for something. We are moving ahead and changing and improving and getting glitches out.”

Staff writers Patrik Jonsson, Noah Robertson, and Sophie Hills contributed to this report.

One pandemic, many safety nets

Germany’s recipe for lockdown: Reduced hours, not layoffs

In an economic crisis, there are more options than the extremes of full-time work and layoffs. Germany is using a middle ground – letting people work shorter hours, with government paying the difference. Part 5 of “One pandemic, many safety nets: A global series.

Yvonne
Andreas Gebert/Reuters
Employees work on Audi's production line in Ingolstadt, Germany, June 3, 2020. Auto manufacturers are among those taking advantage of Germany's "Kurzarbeit" program to shorten workers' hours while keeping them employed at near full pay.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

As the global pandemic prompts an uncertain economic future, employers in Germany have tapped an important patch in the country’s social safety net to help avoid mass layoffs and stay afloat. Translated as “short work,” Kurzarbeit allows companies to whittle down employees’ working hours to as little as zero if needed, and have the government chip in to restore salaries to a certain level.

Under Kurzarbeit, employers can reduce workers’ hours to any fraction of a normal workweek and pay accordingly. Germany’s Federal Employment Agency, flush from 10 years of building up reserves, then plugs the remaining salary gap up to a certain percentage of an individual’s usual salary.

Kurzarbeit keeps most people working, says Johannes Jakob, head of labor market policy at Germany’s leading trade union. And “short work” costs governments roughly the same as putting people on unemployment, he notes, yet it reaps much greater rewards. Employers can get help to keep workers on payrolls, while those workers can feel more secure in their financial and career outlooks.

“We’re proud in Germany we have a good social security system,” says Mr. Jakob. “It helps us get out of the crisis as quickly as possible.”

Collapse

2. Germany’s recipe for lockdown: Reduced hours, not layoffs

Annette Brinkman was only 4 when she took her first trip out of Germany.

That trip to the sun-soaked island of Mallorca, Spain, with her parents inspired a love for travel, and by her teens she was collecting destination brochures 50 at a time. By high school, she knew she wanted a career in tourism.

Today, the coronavirus pandemic has decimated revenues at the company that’s employed her for four decades as a travel booking agent and office manager.

Yet, even as the travel industry has been gutted, Ms. Brinkman collects more than half of her original salary as she cooks, gardens, takes a breather, and waits for the signal to return to work at her company’s local office in Dortmund, a medium-sized city in western Germany. Thanks to a German government program known as Kurzarbeit, which taps government coffers to help employers pay worker salaries, the company hasn’t let go a single employee.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

“This is the first time I’ve not been working in 40 years,” says Ms. Brinkman. “It’s a shock. But without Kurzarbeit, we would all be unemployed right now. That would be 100 times worse.”

Courtesy of Annette Brinkman
Annette Brinkman, a career travel agent in Germany, is staying home as her company whittles down employee hours to try to stay afloat. But she says that without “Kurzarbeit,” “we would all be unemployed right now. That would be 100 times worse.”

As the global pandemic prompts an uncertain economic future, employers in Germany have tapped an important patch in the country’s social safety net to help avoid mass layoffs and stay afloat. Translated as “short work,” Kurzarbeit allows companies to whittle down employees’ working hours to as little as zero if needed, and have the government chip in to restore salaries to a certain level.

Deployed during the 2008-09 global recession, the program took about 3.5 million applications in 2009 and assisted nearly 1.5 million workers at its peak. During the current crisis, applications for more than 11 million workers are winding their way through the Federal Employment Agency.

“We’re proud in Germany we have a good social security system,” says Johannes Jakob, head of labor market policy at DGB, Germany’s leading trade union. “It may be a little more expensive, but during the 2008-09 crisis skilled workers could stay in place, and when the economy improved they were able to start again the next day. It helps us get out of the crisis as quickly as possible.”

Keeping people working

Under Kurzarbeit, employers can reduce workers’ hours to any fraction of a normal workweek and pay accordingly. Germany’s Federal Employment Agency, flush from 10 years of building up reserves, then plugs the remaining salary gap up to a certain percentage of an individual’s usual salary.

Two years from retirement, Ms. Brinkman volunteered to work zero hours, with the thought that younger colleagues might need hours that would have been allocated to her. Without working, she’s still able to collect 60% of her pay, but she’s cut out frills including once-weekly dinners and thermal baths.

Kurzarbeit does keep most people working, according to Mr. Jakob. During the 2009 financial crisis, about 3 of 4 employees continued to work even in Kurzarbeit. And, “short work” costs governments roughly the same as putting people on unemployment, Mr. Jakob notes, yet it reaps much greater rewards. Employers can get help to keep workers on payrolls, while those workers can feel more secure in their financial and career outlooks.

The U.S. situation, where nearly 40 million filed for unemployment during the coronavirus shutdown, would be a catastrophe in Germany, says Mr. Jakob. “The equivalent in Germany would be roughly 14 million unemployed without Kurzarbeit. [With the program] we actually only have 500,000 unemployed.”

Enzo Weber, a macroeconomist with the University of Regensburg, points out that retaining workers is much more important in a market like Germany’s. In short, companies are slow to hire. “In Germany if we had 30 million additional unemployed, it would take us 20 years or so to get back to the pre-crisis level,” says Mr. Weber. “The U.S. market sheds quickly, but also brings back workers much more quickly. We are slower than the U.S. in both directions.”

A drag on reform?

Kurzarbeit isn’t a perfect system. It’s relatively expensive and doesn’t fully benefit certain workers such as hospitality employees since overtime and tips make up a large proportion of take-home pay. Such line items aren’t typically calculated into Kurzarbeit.

The program also requires the right combination of factors to prompt employers to apply, such as an “exogenous” market shock that appears temporary, and a skilled-worker shortage that makes it difficult to fill positions.

So far, those factors have neatly lined up. A coronavirus is an external shock, and Germany suffers from a shortage of qualified labor. “This makes firms ready to keep people on board, because they might never get them back,” says Mr. Weber. “Kurzarbeit saves them the ‘match capital’ so they can restart quickly when they need.”

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Yet, Kurzarbeit can also slow progress should industries need restructuring, “because it keeps everything and everyone where it is,” says Mr. Weber.

Indeed, the pandemic has prompted changes in supply chains and industries such as mobile, transportation, and digitization. “Jobs after the recession aren’t necessarily going to be the same as before the recession,” says Mr. Weber. That means retraining and investment in skills is important to keep the workforce agile and adaptable, he says.

Uncertainty in the future

Ms. Brinkman is aware that the travel industry could be radically changed once the economy gets back to normal. “Longtime clients will always be with us,” says Ms. Brinkman, “but will others book online? Or will they say the travel agencies really helped us through this time?”

In short, she wonders if all the 24 colleagues in her local office will be needed in the future.

For Robert Helbig, four weeks on Kurzarbeit was a blessing, as he’d just welcomed a newborn son. A worker at a car factory, he stayed home as the plant was shuttered, and the Federal Employment Agency covered 60% of his salary while his employer topped up the rest. “Enjoying that time with the family is amazing,” he says.

Mr. Helbig is back at work now as Germany has reopened for business. He’s thankful that he’s survived the crisis financially intact.

“I think a lot of people don’t really know how good Kurzarbeit is,” says Mr. Helbig. “For some people it’s hard to survive on 60% pay. But we shouldn’t be complaining in Germany. Especially if you look at what’s happening in America.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

A deeper look

Conservation vs. copper: Minnesota town debates its future with a mine

The controversy of a proposed mine in Minnesota is about more than jobs or the environment. It’s about the identity of a region, one with a long history of mining that lies near an iconic wilderness area.

Yvonne
Newscom/File
An aerial view shows the dense forests and interlocking lakes that make the Boundary Waters one of the country’s premier wilderness areas.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 16 Min. )

Mining is in the DNA of most people in Ely, Minnesota. 

The state used to be the center of U.S. iron ore mining, though no mines have operated around Ely for more than 50 years. That’s why the billion-dollar mining project proposed by foreign-owned Twin Metals is so coveted – along with hundreds of promised jobs.

Those against the mine want to protect the vast Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, one of the crown jewels of the American outdoors. A necklace of interconnected lakes and streams, it encompasses more than a million acres of federally protected land. As a result, the controversy over Twin Metals is about more than copper or conservation. At stake is the essence of a region. 

Yet even as the debate has come to dominate the town, both sides have Ely’s best interests at heart. 

“Everyone is trying to do what they feel is right for their community and their family,” says Harold Langowski, Ely’s clerk-treasurer and operations director. “Pretty hard to fault anyone for that.”

Collapse

3. Conservation vs. copper: Minnesota town debates its future with a mine

This story was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

Becky Rom grew up in a family of well-known environmental advocates who ran an outfitting company in this tiny town on the edge of the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) in northern Minnesota. She led wilderness trips from a young age and received national attention on television shows and in magazines as the “girl guide.”

In seventh grade, she famously defended the preservation of the BWCA in a public debate before 150 of her classmates. All but one – her boyfriend – voted against her. Today, nearly 60 years later, Ms. Rom is still championing the safeguarding of the wilderness area, and her entreaties are still being rejected by locals. 

Which is why at an Ely City Council meeting in early March she appears to be the most reviled person in the room. Once again, she has turned the topic to Twin Metals, a proposed billion-dollar mining project to be located a few miles away from the BWCA. Ms. Rom fiercely opposes it. Most of the people in the room – many of the people in town – support it. No one wants to hear from Ms. Rom, including the mayor, Chuck Novak, who nevertheless bangs his gavel dutifully and warns the growling crowd to quiet down. The diminutive Ms. Rom, who has forded raging rivers and survived weekslong treks through the Alaska bush, remains unfazed.

With her forceful trial lawyer’s voice, she urges town leaders to denounce attacks on business owners who voice opposition to Twin Metals, the massive mining project that would tap into one of the largest undeveloped copper, nickel, and cobalt reserves in the world. Businesspeople who have spoken out against the mine have faced repercussions. Earlier this year, after the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe echoed concerns that Twin Metals would pollute the Boundary Waters, the mayor called on organizations to stop hosting events at a Native American casino.

Jack Brook
“It’s one or the other. [Mining] brought us here. But that’s the past. And we are something different than that now.” – Becky Rom, leader of the Save the Boundary Waters campaign who has been guiding wilderness trips in the area since she was a teenager

On this night, Ely’s elected leaders unanimously defend the mayor’s actions, cheered on by the crowd. The unsubtle subtext is that anyone against Twin Metals is against “our way of life” – mining. “I do not want the City Council kowtowing to these environmental bullies,” one resident warns.

The impassioned council meeting is just the latest in a prolonged clash reverberating through the north woods over the fate of one of the most controversial mining projects in the United States.

In many ways, it is a classic development-versus-environment dispute that has played out elsewhere across the country. Supporters see the project as a form of economic salvation, believing the mine can operate safely while bringing hundreds of well-paying jobs – at least for the 25 years Twin Metals is projected to stay open. Critics worry about sullying a natural treasure and ruining a regional economy increasingly built on recreation and outdoor splendor.

“It’s one or the other,” Ms. Rom says. “[Mining] brought us here. But that’s the past. And we are something different than that now.”

Yet there are deeper forces at work that make the fight here more fraught than most. Mining is in the DNA of most people in Ely and the surrounding towns that lie in or near the state’s three iron ranges, diagonal streaks of ore-laced land running parallel with the shore of Lake Superior as they converge upward into Canada. Historically, Minnesota was the center of U.S. iron ore mining and supplied the raw material for almost three-quarters of America’s iron during World War II. Generations of families worked the massive open pits and rabbit-warren underground tunnels that helped defeat Hitler and buoy local economies. Yet no mines have operated around Ely for more than 50 years, which is why the project by foreign-owned Twin Metals is so coveted.

Jack Brook
Ely, Minnesota, a town of 3,500 people, is a gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and near the site of a proposed copper-nickel mine.

At the same time, however, the vast BWCA is one of the crown jewels of American wilderness. A necklace of interconnected lakes and streams, it encompasses more than a million acres of federally protected land that draws tens of thousands of visitors a year. Campers venture out into the untrammeled waters for days without seeing another person or hearing anything but the soprano trill of a loon.

As a result, the controversy over Twin Metals is about more than copper or conservation. It’s about the identity of a region. And at this point at least one thing seems certain: In the land of Minnesota nice, nothing is convivial about Twin Metals.

Bygone boomtown

Ely is a hard place to earn a living, especially for young people and particularly during the long winter before the summer crowds arrive. “We are not a sustainable town year round, no matter how you candy coat it,” reads a note posted on the door of a closed liquor store in March, explaining that the business would reopen in the summer. 

Many shops and restaurants practically hibernate through the winter, and on the main road into town several buildings stand vacant, including a former Shopko store and the failed Mexican joint Two Gringos. A water tower with blue cursive letters spelling out Ely draws visitors into a downtown of cafes and outfitting shops for canoe trips, their windows pitching Boundary Waters paraphernalia. Nearby Miner’s Lake affords residents a pleasant view, but to old-timers it symbolizes something more poignant. Before it filled with water, Miner’s Lake was a huge pit from which five mines excavated millions of tons of iron ore, beginning in the 1880s and running until 1967, when the last one, the Pioneer, shut down and 450 people lost their jobs. 

These days remnants of the Pioneer stand as a museum run by a handful of former miners, including Bill Erzar, who serves as a volunteer tour guide. Sturdy from three decades in mining, Mr. Erzar is the grandson of a Slovenian immigrant who arrived in Ely in 1909 and worked underground for 45 years. 

Courtesy of Ely Winton Historical Society
An image of early miners in Ely, who worked by candlelight and braved cave-ins to extract iron ore deep underground, is on display at the Ely Winton Historical Society.

At the turn of the century, Finns, Slavs, and other immigrants dug the ore by candlelight, and it took 24 hours for a team of men to advance a tunnel six feet horizontally, chipping away with pickaxes and sledgehammers. Mr. Erzar’s father worked in the Pioneer, and escaped death one night 1,300 feet below ground when a torrent of mud broke through a wall and nearly swept him away; he grabbed a handrail and was rescued. 

A sign in the Pioneer mine museum reads, “Grampa, tell me about the good old days.” But not all of it was good: Mr. Erzar’s grandfather was fired three times, twice for organizing workers and once for trying to build a Slovenian library. The mining companies at the time ran towns like Ely with fists of iron and preferred their laborers unorganized.

The mine companies did, however, pour funding into excellent schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure, and Ely’s mix of clannish immigrants implanted a lasting culture of saunas and stable family life. Like his fellow miners, Mr. Erzar earned high wages with health benefits and retired on a comfortable pension.

“Let me tell you Ely was booming during those days and it was going good,” Mr. Erzar says from behind a white beard. “Ely was a heck of a nice town.”

Ely’s current population of 3,500 is only about half of what it was during the mining heyday.

Ely Native

For decades, Mr. Erzar relished waking up at 4 a.m. to get out on the water with a buddy by sunrise. Six hours of canoe paddling and many portages later, they’d be at a favorite spot fishing for walleye. He’s traveled to dozens of lakes in the region, and recites their names like old friends.

“It’s a big part of us, you know?” he says. “And we certainly don’t want it screwed up.”

Ely’s Chamber of Commerce markets the Boundary Waters as “the last great pure experience” and everyone who visits seems awed by its interconnected lakes and the solitude found within them. 

Steve Karnowski/AP/File
Prospecting rigs like this one have found rich deposits of copper, nickel, and precious metals in the geologic formation around Ely.

But as many Twin Metals supporters will explain with a knowing smile, it wasn’t always this way. The Boundary Waters used to be lined with resorts and homes, and power boats prowled its waterways. As conservation efforts picked up, the area became protected from development through the sweeping 1964 Wilderness Act, which was refined further in 1978 with a federal law that officially designated it the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. During this time, logging was banned, motor transport severely reduced, and all resorts within the BWCA removed. 

The resorts were owned by people Mr. Erzar knew, many of whom invested their life savings in them. They felt they didn’t receive fair compensation from the government. “It was devastating to this community,” he says. “Lots of my friends’ families lost everything fighting the government to keep their property.” 

Ms. Rom’s father had been at the center of the battle to protect the Boundary Waters for good. Residents burned effigies of environmentalists in protest and picketed the Roms’ outfitting company. The resentment lingers. “Is there a bad taste in my mouth? Absolutely,” says former Ely Mayor Roger Skraba. “Will it go away? When I’m dead.”

Mr. Skraba wears a custom-made sweatshirt that reads “Ely Native.” He makes his living as a local wilderness guide and carpenter, and has a reputation for gleefully flouting Boundary Waters rules (while mayor he was once caught stealing a Forest Service toilet). He sees the current campaign against Twin Metals as another instance of Ms. Rom and liberal environmentalists trying to impose their values on others. 

Early in the mine’s development, Mr. Skraba met with Jean Paul Luksic, the Chilean billionaire whose family owns Antofagasta Minerals, the parent company of Twin Metals Minnesota. Even though Antofagasta has long been accused of flouting environmental regulations in Chile, Mr. Skraba says “the big cheese” left a good impression, leading him to believe the company will respect the Boundary Waters.

Jack Brook
“Is there a bad taste in my mouth? Absolutely. Will it go away? When I’m dead.” – Roger Skraba, former Ely mayor, on the conservation laws that banned development and limited motor transport in the Boundary Waters

 

Like other Twin Metals supporters, Mr. Skraba is unconvinced that harmful pollution from the mine is inevitable, especially since mining has long existed in the region. Yet there are no active copper mines in Minnesota, and Twin Metals opponents note that all of Ely’s mines produced high grade iron ore, a much cleaner process than Twin Metals’ copper mining would be. The iron ore dug up in Ely’s old mines was generally so pure it required no further refinement and could be sent directly to steel mills. In contrast, less than 4% of the millions of tons of raw material the mine will dig up from the ground here will be copper, nickel, or a valuable mineral.

Twin Metals will mine underground – unlike open-pit copper mines that generate bigger footprints – and the ore will be processed on site, leaving the rest as waste. The ore contains sulfide, which when exposed to oxygen and water, leaches acid, a major problem for copper mines. While extracting the valuable minerals, Twin Metals plans to remove most of the sulfide and then store the remaining crushed ore as “dry stack tailings” – finely ground, low-moisture piles of waste contained with lining. Around half the tailings will be used to refill the mine, and the other half will be stored above ground, on land reclaimed by vegetation over time and close to the shore of a river flowing into the Boundary Waters.

In an email, Twin Metals spokesperson Kathy Graul calls dry stack “the gold standard” for dealing with mining waste, explaining that “we know based on years of research and data collected that our tailings will be non-acid-generating.”

On its website, Twin Metals says dry stack has “proven successful” in several other mines in cold, wet climates similar to Minnesota’s. But near one of those mines, Greens Creek in Alaska, there have been reports of high levels of mercury in the surrounding area. So there remain concerns of whether a similar storage system will work effectively near the Boundary Waters.

For Mr. Skraba, the former mayor, it’s a risk worth taking. “I just think there is a higher purpose for this project,” he says. 

Political pushback

The former manager of special projects at Twin Metals, David Oliver, sips a drink inside his Ely home and confides that despite being born in Minnesota it was “the last state I ever, ever, ever wanted to come back to.” It’s the land of labor activists and Gus Hall, the late longtime chairman of the Communist Party USA. But, Mr. Oliver says, he was compensated well and the work appealed to him.

Jack Brook
A mural depicts Ely’s venerated mining heritage. The last mine in the area closed in 1967.

In 2007, when Mr. Oliver first started test drilling in the Duluth Complex, the geologic site Twin Metals plans to mine, he and his team couldn’t miss hitting rich mineral deposits for months. Twin Metals claims its site contains 99% of U.S. nickel reserves, 88% of its cobalt reserves, and a third of the nation’s copper reserves. Everything from wires to solar power requires copper, and cobalt is used for lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. Mr. Oliver points out these materials are used by everyone, including critics of the mine, and are going to have to come from somewhere. 

“They hate the country,” he says of liberals, or the “anti’s” as they are known in Ely (as in anti-development of any kind). “They hate the flag. They hate the military. They hate God. They hate anything that has to do with resource extraction.” 

Mr. Oliver was chairman of the Ely area Republican caucus, which met in late February in a room where residents used Twin Metals’ pens to sign in and a poster on a stand read: “We support mining and clean water, we can have both!”

As chairman, Mr. Oliver read a message from Ely’s congressional representative, Pete Stauber, reminding attendees that “our way of life is still under attack” and asking for their help in “unleashing the economic engine” in the district by supporting the mine. In 2018, Mr. Stauber, a Republican, flipped Minnesota’s northeast 8th Congressional District campaigning in favor of Twin Metals. Most of the people in the state’s biggest iron range, the Mesabi, backed him, but he was solidly defeated in the county encompassing Ely and the two other counties containing the Boundary Waters.

The GOP caucus also made a point of renouncing a federal bill introduced this year by Democratic Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum, which would ban copper-nickel mining within the watershed of the Boundary Waters, including where Twin Metals would operate. Though the bill does not affect taconite mining – the most prevalent form of mining in the state – it has been portrayed as designed to shut down all resource extraction in Minnesota.  

Twin Metals first became politicized in the last days of the Obama administration, when the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management declined to renew Twin Metals’ leases to operate on federal land, saying the inherent risks of copper-nickel mining near the Boundary Waters were too great. Ms. Rom’s national Save the Boundary Waters campaign played a major role in convincing the government to block the mine before it could go through the standard environmental review processes, which drew criticism from the Star Tribune, Minnesota’s largest newspaper and no fan of Twin Metals, in its editorial pages. It warned the decision could “backfire,” leading to more egregious political interference under the incoming administration of Donald Trump. 

Jack Brook
A magazine story depicts Becky Rom canoeing in 1965.

Ms. Rom is unapologetic about her hard-line stance on Twin Metals. “If you believed that there is no way the Boundary Waters would be protected with a mine no matter how good it is, you say no mining,” she says.

She believes state and federal mining regulations are not sufficient to maintain the integrity of the Boundary Waters, an opinion shared by the former head of Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources, which conducts environmental reviews of proposed mining projects. Both note that existing regulations permit some degradation and fail to address the specific risks of Twin Metals. Since the mine would be located mere miles downstream from the Boundary Waters, Ms. Rom argues any pollution is unacceptable for a federally protected wilderness. 

But her uncompromising approach has alienated many local residents, including fellow Democrats like Mr. Erzar, the museum guide and outdoor enthusiast. 

“I think it’s counterproductive,” he says. “If that happens all over the country, what good are any of the rules and regulations if you can’t follow what’s been established to do what’s environmentally responsible?”

Even though northeastern Minnesota has long been a liberal, pro-labor stronghold, many people now back Mr. Trump, whose administration has aggressively supported Twin Metals. Shortly after taking over, the Trump administration reinstated the mine’s leases and removed regulatory obstacles in order to greenlight the project. This included halting and then refusing to release a Forest Service study assessing the environmental impact of copper-nickel mining on the Boundary Waters watershed.

Environmental groups have since sued the federal government, claiming it didn’t properly assess Twin Metals’ impact when renewing its leases. Meanwhile, last December, Twin Metals released its detailed plan of mining operations, triggering a multiyear environmental review process for federal and state agencies to study the mine.

“The truth is, the environmental review process is not intended to stop projects,” former Minnesota Senate minority leader and Twin Metals advocate Tom Bakk told Ely residents last year. “It’s intended to mitigate impacts, so once they [Twin Metals officials] start down that road of applying for those permits, it’s pretty hard to stop.” 

“Amenity migrant”

Lifelong Iron Range resident and well-known blogger Aaron Brown has watched the local economy struggle to diversify for decades. The region continues to fall back on mining, with all its inherent instability.

While mining jobs are some of the highest paid in the Iron Range – at upward of $25 an hour, well above minimum wage seasonal work – fewer than 4,000 people are now directly employed in the industry across the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Cutbacks in mining keep coming amid international competition and increasing automation. Even in major Iron Range towns like Virginia, which still have active iron ore mines, the poverty rate can be as high as a quarter of the population. It hasn’t helped that hundreds of miners have been laid off as companies have idled production amid the global pandemic – an all too familiar phenomenon for the region, where 10,000 miners lost jobs in the 1980s.

Jack Brook
“I was a classic case of someone who first came here on a Boundary Waters trip, realized I wanted to live here, and made it happen.” – Kris Hallberg, retired World Bank economist, who believes Ely is better off with an amenities-based than a mining-based economy

 

“We feel this existential threat to the culture and want to preserve ourselves,” Mr. Brown says. “The paradox is that the very act of preserving our culture is destroying our economy.”

Ely has a uniquely diversified economy that allows it to avoid the volatility of the rest of the Iron Range, argues retired World Bank economist Kris Hallberg, an Ely resident. She believes that the Boundary Waters provides the town an alternative economic pathway. This would tie in to a broader national trend that has seen recreation outpace mining in driving economic growth. And besides the vacant buildings, Ely exhibits a lot of vibrancy – it has a community college, a renowned wolf center, art galleries, hundreds of operating businesses, and a range of festivals that locals stage each year. 

During a public presentation for Ely residents in March, Ms. Hallberg shared the findings of an analysis by a Harvard University economics professor that projected Ely’s future with and without the mine.

Twin Metals estimates it will bring at least 700 direct jobs and 1,400 spin-off ones, and the analysis found this would undeniably benefit the region, Ms. Hallberg told her audience. But the gains would be short-lived once the mine shut down after its projected 25-year lifespan and would undercut the outdoors-based economy that, along with tourists, has drawn entrepreneurs and professionals to live and work near the Boundary Waters. (Ms. Graul, the Twin Metals spokesperson, says the study was “based on incorrect data and erroneous assumptions.”)

“I am a proud amenity migrant,” says Ms. Hallberg, who spent more than 10 years consulting remotely from her Ely home. “I was a classic case of someone who first came here on a Boundary Waters trip, realized I wanted to live here, and made it happen.” 

While there has been a decrease in visitors to the Boundary Waters in the past decade, people are still choosing to invest in Ely and tie their lives to the town because of the unique outdoor opportunities nearby. 

Jack Brook
“We can’t count on a mine. We’ve made these investments not knowing what’s going to happen. We feel like they’re good investments, no matter what.” – Tanner Ott, whose family is investing in revitalizing downtown Ely

Tanner Ott, originally from Missouri, hasn’t missed a summer in Ely. In the past few years, Mr. Ott and his family began investing in Ely real estate in an ambitious effort to revitalize the downtown. They’ve since bought about 15 buildings to rent to small businesses, including a successful coffee shop, wine bar, granola manufacturer, and theater. “We can’t count on a mine,” says Mr. Ott, who has not been involved in the mining debate. “We’ve made these investments not knowing what’s going to happen. We feel like they’re good investments, no matter what.”

Ely isn’t just sitting around waiting for the mine either, says Harold Langowski, clerk-treasurer and operations director of Ely. The town is busy stringing fiber optic cables to improve internet connectivity for businesses and professionals in its downtown, and constructing all-terrain vehicle and mountain biking trails to entice more visitors. And even though the conflict over mining has come to dominate the town, people on both sides have Ely’s best interests at heart, Mr. Langowski adds. 

“Everyone is trying to do what they feel is right for their community and their family,” he says. “Pretty hard to fault anyone for that.”

Watch

Coronavirus effect? For some small farms, it’s sales.

Farmers markets and CSAs have long (and deservedly) had a boutique reputation. In widening pockets, small-farm output is becoming a primary source for more grocery shoppers. That’s lifting some small farms.

Yvonne

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted society in unexpected ways and exposed the frailties of some systems – among them, corporate farming. As the coronavirus spread, large food manufacturing plants were forced to shut down, and for the first time many consumers faced empty grocery store shelves, causing them to think more critically about the sources of their food.

As a result, some small farms have seen a boost in clientele. CSAs (community supported agriculture), farmers markets, and local produce have widened their appeal this season as trips to the grocery store have become less convenient and more complicated.

“Since the pandemic has started, our business has improved quite a bit. It’s really welcome. I just wish that I could produce more,” says Skip Clark, owner of Ketonen Clark Farm in Rutland, Massachusetts. 

On the surface, the surge in demand is a much-needed stimulus for small farmers who are often struggling to make ends meet. On a deeper level, it shows how consumers are willing to rethink their habits, a behavioral shift that could last even after the pandemic ends. – Nate Richards, Staff writer

Television

As police face a public grilling, so do iconic cop shows

Television can be a tool for building social awareness, but recent protests against police brutality have some cop-show fans wondering if their favorite prime-time detectives are actually part of the problem.

Yvonne
Heidi Gutman/Courtesy of NBC
Ja'Siah Young and Ice-T perform in "The Things We Have to Lose" in Season 21 of "Law & Order: SVU." Police officers are ubiquitous in American media. but police procedurals are facing new heat, amid protests and calls to "defund the police."

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

Police officers are ubiquitous in American media, with crime shows pulling in more viewers than any other genre. But amid the surge of protests and calls to “defund the police,” these programs are facing heat.

Paramount canceled the reality series “Cops” in early June. A&E has ceased production on its hit series “Live PD.” A subsequent report released Wednesday by The Marshall Project reveals that “Live PD” producers routinely accommodated requests from the Los Angeles Police Department to edit out footage of officers using violence and bad language. And some viewers have even called for the cancellation of Nickelodeon’s cartoon series “Paw Patrol,” which features a canine officer named Chase.

But many fans of the genre feel torn.

“I feel guilty because I still do want to watch the next season of ‘Law and Order: SVU,’” says Katherine Singh of Toronto. “If I do watch, I’ll just try to be more aware of how I approach the show and just do a little bit more work independent of the show to educate myself on violence and police brutality. I will try really hard not to just go so blindly into it.”

Collapse

5. As police face a public grilling, so do iconic cop shows

When Katherine Singh started watching “Law & Order: SVU” as an undergrad, she was fascinated by the “ripped from the headlines” stories, strong female leads, and the way the series validated victims of sexual assault. She quickly became a die-hard fan.

“I tried to get everyone I knew to watch it,” says Ms. Singh, who works in Toronto as an assistant editor at Flare magazine. 

But recent protests against police brutality have made her reconsider her love of the long-running procedural and its effect on her perception of law enforcement.

As a woman of color, Ms. Singh is not unfamiliar with racism, “but I’m not a Black woman; I’m not an Indigenous woman,” she says. “So I’ve never had to worry personally about my interactions with police. ... I think of them as like characters on my TV screen, as opposed to real people actually out there that can sometimes cause people harm.”

Police officers are ubiquitous in American media, with crime shows pulling in more viewers than any other television genre. Of the top 10 longest-running prime-time dramas, half are police procedurals. Now those programs are facing heat.

Paramount canceled the reality series “Cops” in early June. A&E ceased production on its hit series “Live PD” around the same time. A subsequent report released Wednesday by The Marshall Project reveals that “Live PD” producers routinely accommodated requests from the Los Angeles Police Department to edit out footage of officers using violence and bad language. “Law & Order” writer Craig Gore was fired for threatening protesters who were breaking curfew on Facebook, and people have even called for the cancellation of Nickelodeon’s cartoon series “Paw Patrol,” which features a canine officer named Chase. 

“There’s been a real shift in the consciousness about what policing does and how it operates in society,” says Steven Thrasher, a professor at Northwestern University’s journalism school who has studied marginalized communities as a reporter and an academic. “I think [the George Floyd video has] made people realize they’re not so comfortable glorifying police all the time.”

History of bad behavior

The alphabet soup of crime procedurals popular today can be traced back to “Dragnet,” a radio show turned TV series that portrayed LA detectives as level-headed heroes who kept city streets safe. The real LAPD loved it – they were also deeply involved in the production of every episode. As his department faced accusations of brutality and racism, Chief William H. Parker held veto power on “Dragnet” scripts, ensuring that the show’s 16.5 million viewers saw officers who were calm, honest, and acting by the book.

Since “Dragnet,” TV officers have become more nuanced. Adisa Iwa, a professor of television and film at Morehouse College, remembers watching “Hill Street Blues” in the 1980s. “That was the first time on the television when you had cops who were regulars on the show who were flawed, who were not paradigms of virtue all the time,” he says.

“Hill Street Blues,” in part, inspired him to become a screenwriter. He ended up writing episodes of “Law & Order: SVU” and “NYPD Blue” about 20 years later. “Back then, the concern primarily was telling an interesting story,” he says. “Now people are taking a much more critical eye.

It’s not necessarily the officers’ flaws that viewers are taking issue with – it’s the lack of accountability when those flaws turn into abuses of power.  

A recent Color of Change study of 26 scripted crime series found that in the 2017-18 season, most shows normalized bad behavior – coercion, lying and tampering, overt racism, etc. – by criminal justice professionals. The frequency of the protagonists’ violations makes such behavior seem natural or necessary in the pursuit of justice, say researchers, and the characters rarely receive any formal punishment for the offenses.

It’s a theme that’s bothered TV critic LaToya Ferguson throughout her career. “Internal affairs is always seen as the bad guy, which is insane to me,” she says. “I’ve never understood it. ... If you’re all afraid of IA, even if you’re a good cop, that says a lot.” 

In “Law & Order: SVU,” it was Detective Elliot Stabler who had the most to fear. He was a boundaryless, short-tempered cop who regularly abused suspects with little to no repercussions. But instead of condemnation, viewers are offered glances into his challenging family life as a way to explain his baggage.

20TH CENTURY FOX TV/Album/Newscom
Jimmy Smits, Dennis Franz, and James McDaniels perform in a scene from "NYPD Blue."

The character left the show in 2011, but will return in a new series, “Law & Order: Organized Crime,” debuting this fall. Christine Zimmer, who runs the popular fan blog “All Things Law & Order,” says that’s been concerning for some SVU fans. 

“As we haven’t even seen one episode of the new series yet, it’s unfair to pass judgment on what kind of person Stabler, or others working with him, will be,” she said in an email to the Monitor, adding, “Characters like this may not be tolerated much longer, unless they come to justice or change their ways.”

What can be saved?

Mrs. Zimmer says there’s still a strong desire for crime dramas, but “they will have to do something more substantial than covering the issues with law enforcement and racial injustice over just an episode or two. It’s great to have TV shows that highlight the ideal image of law enforcement, but that can’t be done without showing how we can get there.”

Tackling police brutality has been a challenge for many cop shows, including “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” a precinct sitcom that has been celebrated for challenging stereotypes.

In the fourth-season episode titled “Moo Moo,” Sgt. Terry Jeffords, played by Terry Crews, is racially profiled by another officer while searching for his child’s lost blanket. He’s released, but must decide whether to risk political backlash by filing a complaint. 

“It just didn’t work for me,” says Ms. Ferguson. “My biggest issue with the show is that it lives in this magical world where it will acknowledge there are a lot of bad cops, but our cops are the only good ones.”

It looks like the series will try again. In addition to donating $100,000 to the National Bail Fund Network, the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” team is rethinking its next season. Four episodes have already been scrapped after some “solemn conversations” about Mr. Floyd’s death, Mr. Crews told Access Hollywood last week. “We have an opportunity and we plan to use it in the best way possible,” he said.

Diverse writers’ room

Ms. Ferguson, meanwhile, references “Person of Interest,” which featured Taraji P. Henson as an NYPD detective, as one of her favorite shows. She says it’s “a very good story about an actual good cop in a sea of bad cops” who is killed while trying to “uncover and dismantle the very corrupt organization within the NYPD.”

She’s killed, she says, “because the rot is just from the top down, pretty much. It’s just an unflinchingly honest story about this. But a lot of cop shows aren’t going to do that.”

Mr. Iwa says if shows are going to wade into this subject matter, a diverse writers’ room is essential. According to the Color of Change report, 88% of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” writers during the 2017–18 season were white and “Law & Order: SVU” had no writers of color. To hit the right tone, Mr. Iwa says that needs to change. Long term, Ms. Ferguson thinks that we may also see more procedurals centered on private investigators and consultants to make “the cop of it all” more palatable.

But in the meantime, many fans will have a personal decision to make about how they engage with their favorite fictional cops.

“I feel guilty because I still do want to watch the next season of ‘Law and Order: SVU,’” says Ms. Singh. “If I do watch, I’ll just try to be more aware of how I approach the show and just do a little bit more work independent of the show to educate myself on violence and police brutality. I will try really hard not to just go so blindly into it.”

Other headline stories we’re watching

(Get live updates throughout the day.)

The Monitor's View

The NFL’s test on Black quarterbacks

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

The National Football League has its hands full right now. It’s trying to construct a fall season as the United States attempts to tackle a pandemic to the ground. Sports fans would love the return of pro football, a symbol of normal American life. Yet a second issue also consumes the world of sports: racial inequity.

The NFL can argue it provides plenty of opportunity for Black players, who make up more than two-thirds of teams. But that diversity doesn’t extend to management. Only two of the 32 teams are owned by nonwhites. And only three of the 32 head coaches are Black.

Over the history of the league (Black players were first allowed in the NFL in 1946) the lack of Black people in leadership positions has extended onto the field, where quarterbacks, the “coaches on the field,” have been overwhelmingly white. In the 2019 season only 12 Black quarterbacks played in NFL games.

Meanwhile, former starting NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was widely criticized for taking a knee during the national anthem, remains unemployed in the NFL. Mr. Kaepernick’s reentry into the league would show that it now knows how to better handle dissent over race. It begins with tackling racial inequities within the sport, starting at the top.

Collapse

The NFL’s test on Black quarterbacks

The National Football League has its hands full right now. It’s trying to construct a fall season as the United States attempts to tackle a pandemic to the ground. Sports fans would love the return of pro football, a symbol of normal American life. Yet a second issue also consumes the world of sports: racial inequity.

The NFL can argue it provides plenty of opportunity for Black players, who make up more than two-thirds of teams. But that diversity doesn’t extend to management. Only two of the 32 teams are owned by nonwhites. And only three of the 32 head coaches are Black.

Over the history of the league (Black players were first allowed in the NFL in 1946) the lack of Black people in leadership positions has extended onto the field, where quarterbacks, the “coaches on the field,” have been overwhelmingly white. In the 2019 season only 12 Black quarterbacks played in NFL games.

A few of those Black quarterbacks who did play excelled at the position: Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens was named the league’s Most Valuable Player, Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals took home the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and Patrick Mahomes guided his Kansas City Chiefs to a Super Bowl championship. (Mr. Mahomes’ father is Black, his mother white.) Some called 2019 “the year of the Black quarterback.”

But one year doesn’t show that the issue is settled. Cam Newton won a national championship and Heisman Trophy in 2010 as a college quarterback. He was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2015, only the second Black quarterback to ever earn that honor. Yet when the Carolina Panthers cut him after the 2019 season, months drifted by without any NFL team trying to hire him.

True, his last couple of seasons had been virtual washouts due to injuries. But he has appeared to be fit again, and his athletic ability and record of success on the field seemed to demand interest.

Recently the New England Patriots finally gave him a “show me,” one-year contract, worth about $7.5 million if he achieves various incentives. That’s a fraction of the $50 million over two years that Tom Brady, who just departed the Patriots, will receive from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Too much shouldn’t be made of the single Newton contract. Time will tell when the contracts of lesser quarterbacks who are white come up for renewal. Maybe the market has changed.

Meanwhile former starting NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was widely criticized for taking a knee during the national anthem, first at a preseason game in 2016 and then later, remains unemployed by any NFL team. While many saw his protest as unpatriotic, Mr. Kaepernick, who is Black, insisted it was only meant as a gesture for racial justice.

Since the George Floyd killing in late May, citizens of all backgrounds, including some police officers, have taken a knee to end racial injustice. Mr. Kaepernick’s reentry into the NFL would show that the league now knows how to better handle dissent over race. It begins with tackling racial inequities within the sport, starting at the top. 

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.

Freedom from grief – a present possibility

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

After her father died, a woman was freed from grief as she gained a better understanding of man’s eternal, spiritual nature.

Collapse

1. Freedom from grief – a present possibility

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

Before my beloved dad passed on, I was quite concerned that when that time came, I might have to overcome deep grief. Well, that time did come. In my need I turned beseechingly to God for solace. I had learned, through my study of Christian Science, that God was my Father-Mother, my true heavenly Parent.

I was inspired to go to my computer, get still, listen in prayer, and type out any inspiration that came to me from God regarding my dad’s unique spiritual identity, his divine nature, including the many attributes that constituted this nature. As I sat typing and listening, the qualities he so distinctly expressed – qualities that have their source in God – surged into my consciousness. For example, his tender kindness when we needed his ear, heartfelt enthusiasm when he watched my brother play sports, unselfish generosity with friends and neighbors, abounding joy with our pets, and diligence and rectitude in his work.

Slowly but surely I was gaining a deeper understanding of what I knew to be my dad’s eternal, spiritual individuality. And along with that I actually began to understand a concept Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, articulates in one of her poems, that “loss is gain” (“Poems,” p. 4). As I persevered in my listening, I actually discovered strengths and gifts in my dad I’d never before realized were there! I was gaining an even more substantive and expansive sense of his true being.

As I saw that this true, spiritual identity of my precious dad was continuing right on, at one with his Maker, I was freed from suffering and sadness. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mrs. Eddy states these spiritual facts about everyone’s true being: “Man is deathless, spiritual. He is above sin or frailty. He does not cross the barriers of time into the vast forever of Life, but he coexists with God and the universe” (p. 266). I could see that this was true for my dad.

The Bible tells us that man is made in the image and likeness of God. It teaches that our creator is eternal Life and Love, Spirit, filling all space, omniscient and omnipotent. It instructs, too, that God is light; that He is righteous and holy. This being the reality of being, God’s children in His image must also express these immutable deific attributes without interruption.

Christ Jesus proved this truth following his crucifixion. Through his communion and prayer with his heavenly Father during his time in the tomb, he demonstrated that there is no death. Understanding his forever sonship with Life gave him dominion over the grave, and brought his ultimate resurrection and ascension. He showed that the “flesh is of no avail” (John 6:63, Revised Standard Version) – that Spirit is supreme and that man, wholly spiritual, could never be terminated or snuffed out. His ability to think, ponder, and commune with his Maker is indestructible.

If we’re feeling separation and loss from a loved one, we can find genuine comfort through a better understanding of their eternal, spiritual individuality. Because the very qualities our loved one so poignantly expressed on the human scene have their source in God, omnipresent Love, we can’t be deprived of any of the good they expressed. This understanding left me totally comforted – at peace – when faced with grief, and it can do the same for you. “And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life” (I John 2:25).

Viewfinder

Happy Birthday to U.S.

John Minchillo/AP
Photojournalists strive to capture moments that tell a full story, bringing news from the remotest corners of the globe in an instant. Through them we learn more about the world, and ourselves. Here is a roundup of photos from this week that Monitor photo editors found the most compelling.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us and have a happy July Fourth! On Monday, we’ll be looking at Europe’s approach to policing.

Finally, we’re looking for stories of women who challenged what society said was possible. We’d love to hear and share yours. Email us at engage@csps.com or fill out this form.

More issues

2020
July
03
Friday

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 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.