2020
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05
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Monitor Daily Podcast

August 05, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

An explosion that echoes beyond Beirut

When our Scott Peterson went to Lebanon to report on protests last November, something seemed different. In a country so riven by strife among its religious sects, there was a new resolve. Those divisions must be overcome. They only fueled incompetence and corruption. In that fight, the protesters had “nothing left to lose,” said one observer.

The direct causes of the massive explosion in Beirut on Tuesday are not yet confirmed. Early indications point to an accidental fire igniting 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. (The Oklahoma City bomber used 2 tons.)

But the deeper causes are well known. Attempts to manage Lebanon’s divisions have instead set them in concrete, creating sectarian fiefdoms enshrined in the constitution itself. Why did the government allow a gigantic would-be bomb to sit in the heart of the city for six years? Because Lebanon has in some ways become a failed state. Beirut often can’t collect its trash for weeks on end. Inflation is rampant. And the country is defaulting on loans. Now, an explosion has torn through Beirut, destroying grain silos essential to the nation’s food security.

Lebanon is a cautionary tale – a graphic picture of what division can do to a country. More protests are surely coming. But the seeds for change have already been planted. “You can’t just in [a few] days get these [sectarian] thoughts out of their minds,” one protester told Scott last fall. “But we’re trying our best to keep people awake, to spread awareness, so people can get rid of this thing.”

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A deeper look

Two cities, a spike in crime, and a federal response

Federal agents have been deployed in Portland, Oregon, and Chicago for very different reasons. Here we look at the different dynamics. 

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The country’s third-largest city recorded 440 homicides through July, 150 more than at the same point last year, and the president has dispatched federal officers to assist Chicago police.

“Given the homicide numbers, something has to be done,” says Vaughn Bryant, executive director of Communities Partnering 4 Peace. “But people are worried about federal agents casting a wider net and overreaching.”

President Donald Trump announced plans to send hundreds of federal law enforcement personnel to Chicago, Detroit, and several other cities run by “liberal Democrats” whom he accuses of failing to corral violent crime.

Democrats deride the president’s self-proclaimed “law and order” campaign as an attempt to boost his reelection chances against Democratic rival Joe Biden. A half-dozen mayors petitioned Congress to pass legislation to limit the administration’s authority to deploy federal officers to their cities.

Mr. Bryant grew up playing football for police officers moonlighting as coaches, and he works closely with cops to stanch violence. He relates to them as individuals, as more than a gun and a badge, and he senses a historic opportunity for police to become part of the community, to no longer stand apart from those they serve.

“There’s no doubt the department has its problems,” he says. “But people see there’s still definitely a need for police, that they have a rightful place. It’s a matter of collaborating.”

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1. Two cities, a spike in crime, and a federal response

A city’s tensions erupted into a national spectacle last month when federal tactical teams appeared on the streets of Portland, Oregon. Heavily armed officers clad in camouflage uniforms targeted demonstrators with tear gas, batons, and less lethal munitions, a show of force countered by the “wall of moms” and “leaf-blower dads.” President Donald Trump, a Republican, blamed the upheaval on “anarchists and agitators” as Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, faulted the “Trump troops.”

The spectacle subsided late last week. The tactical teams ceded the duty of guarding a federal courthouse downtown to state police under an agreement between Governor Brown and Trump administration officials. Meanwhile, the city’s tensions persist, with community frustration toward the Portland Police Bureau – sparked after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd on Memorial Day – intensifying during July’s unrest.

Videos captured police working alongside federal officers to disrupt protests near the courthouse. If the scenes provoked surprise among white residents, who make up more than 70% of the city’s population of 655,000, Lakayana Drury suggests that people of color saw the Portland police they long have known.

“If you’re white, the three blocks around the courthouse have been a war zone. If you’re Black, the whole city is a war zone,” says Mr. Drury, executive director of Word is Bond, a nonprofit that seeks to cultivate rapport between young Black men and law enforcement. The apparent coordination with federal authorities “hurts the ability of police to build trust,” he adds. “It takes away from the reputation of officers who do good community work.”

Some 2,100 miles away in Chicago, Vaughn Bryant echoes Mr. Drury’s concern about the impact of federal agents on local policing. The country’s third-largest city had recorded 440 homicides through July, 150 more than at the same point last year, and the president has dispatched federal officers to assist Chicago police.

“Given the homicide numbers, something has to be done,” says Mr. Bryant, executive director of Communities Partnering 4 Peace, an alliance of organizations devoted to reducing gun and gang violence. “But people are worried about federal agents casting a wider net and overreaching.”

Mr. Trump announced plans last month to send hundreds of federal law enforcement personnel to Chicago, Detroit, and several other cities run by “liberal Democrats” whom he accuses of failing to corral violent crime.

Democrats deride the president’s self-proclaimed “law and order” campaign as an attempt to boost his reelection chances against Democratic rival Joe Biden. A half-dozen mayors, including those in Portland, Chicago, and Seattle, petitioned Congress last week to pass legislation to limit the administration’s authority to deploy federal officers to their cities.

Anti-violence advocates in Portland and Chicago contend that Mr. Trump’s moves have diverted attention from redressing deep-rooted problems in cities – police brutality, racial injustice, social inequality – that inspired protests nationwide following Mr. Floyd’s death. At the same time, the actions of federal agents threaten to widen the rift between residents and local officers, explains Dave Franco, a 30-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department who retired in January.

“Federal agents are not part of the community,” he says. “And if they’re not following local strategy and they’re using aggressive tactics, that’s going to make it even harder for the police to build relationships with the community.”

Tear gas and verbal salvos

Word is Bond brings together Black men ages 16 to 21 with officers from the Portland police force and other area law enforcement agencies to unravel misperceptions and nurture mutual understanding. Mr. Drury recruits white officers to participate owing to the wariness of people of color toward police.

An estimated 65% to 70% of officers nationwide are white, and police kill minorities at disproportionate rates compared with white men and women. Some 80% of Portland’s 525 officers are white, and the bureau has absorbed backlash for a series of fatal police shootings of Black residents and for higher rates of searching and arresting Black motorists and pedestrians.

Mr. Drury, who is biracial, condemns police for aiding tactical teams with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) during protests. But he levels his strongest criticism at successive police and city administrations for a lack of police reform that contrasts with Portland’s progressive image.

“The behavior of federal forces is no more egregious than what Portland cops have done to the Black community for decades,” he says. “The city had the opportunity for years to respond to community demands. They didn’t, and then federal agents came here and escalated the situation. That’s taken away from the message of Black Lives Matter.”

As federal agents and police fired tear gas at protesters last month, city officials traded verbal salvos with Daryl Turner, the outspoken president of the Portland Police Association, the union that represents the rank and file. City Council members denounced his decision to meet with the DHS acting secretary when he visited Portland, and they later banned police from cooperating with federal agents.

The union’s executive board issued a vote of “no confidence” in the council, and Mr. Turner, flanked by faith leaders and business owners during a press conference, described the city as “under siege by rioters” and claimed elected officials “condoned the destruction.” Neither he nor Police Chief Chuck Lovell joined Mayor Ted Wheeler and other city leaders in demanding that federal agents withdraw.

The police association has outlined a plan for reform that advocates a return to community policing, changes to recruitment and training, and pairing officers with social workers to handle crisis calls. The proposal appears on the union’s website beneath the words “You can’t have police reform without police funding” – a retort of sorts to the council voting in June to redirect $15 million of the bureau’s $244 million budget to other city agencies and programs.

“For policing to evolve, you have to listen to the community,” says Mr. Turner, a 29-year member of the Portland force. “We want to build that relationship, and city officials aren’t helping.”

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who in 2018 became the first Black woman elected to the City Council, began pushing for changes to policing three decades ago. She asserts that Portland officers engaging in “unfettered, state-sanctioned violence” yielded two related results.

“The actions of federal agents and our own police force have further fractured community trust,” she says. “They have made the public’s case for reform stronger.”

“Policing requires cooperation”

Violence has exploded in Chicago this summer. Police recorded 105 homicides in July, the most in a single month since 1992, and more than twice the total during the same month last year. Shootings rose to 584 from 308 last July, with 17 people killed and another 70 wounded over the July Fourth weekend.

Police Superintendent David Brown, who has ascribed the rise in bloodshed to gang turf wars, intends to form a rapid-response unit that will combine suppression tactics with community policing efforts to curb outbreaks of violence. He told reporters that Mr. Trump’s plan to send 200 agents from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and other agencies “will enhance our ability to hold our criminals accountable.”

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Chicago Police Department Superintendent David Brown speaks during a news conference in Chicago, July 27, 2020.

Mr. Bryant, with Communities Partnering 4 Peace, has heard concerns from residents about a possible replay of Portland, where federal officers in unmarked vehicles pulled people off the streets.

“Everyone wants perpetrators of violent crime to be caught. But what people saw in Portland wasn’t about violent crime,” says Mr. Bryant, who grew up the son of a police officer in Detroit. Communities Partnering 4 Peace, a coalition of more than a dozen organizations, mediates gang disputes, recruits former gang members to serve as nonviolence ambassadors, and works with police to reduce shootings and promote youth initiatives.

“We can’t arrest our way out of our problems,” he says. “Crime is a symptom of the root causes of racial inequity, and any federal action should be corrective action to address the systemic racism that has been inflicted on the community.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot explained to reporters last week that the incoming federal officers will support ongoing operations of their agencies in Chicago. She has vowed to pursue litigation if tactical teams show up on city streets.

The mayor has clashed with John Catanzara, head of the Chicago police union, who wrote an open letter to the president appealing for federal assistance to tame the city’s “chaos” that he blamed on “failing liberal policies.” Elected to the top post in May, Mr. Catanzara has accrued 50 misconduct complaints since joining the force in 1995, and the department has suspended his police powers as he faces an internal affairs investigation that began in 2018.

In the view of Edward Maguire, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University, overt alliances between police unions and federal agents hold potential risks amid a national reckoning on race. “By aligning with federal forces, unions are going to deepen the divide between police and communities,” he says. “They’re harming their own departments with that choice.”

Local and federal officials in Chicago announced the arrests last week of the reputed head of the Black Disciples street gang and more than 20 associates following a multiyear investigation.

Mr. Franco, the retired Chicago cop, offers the case as an example of collaboration that benefits authorities and residents alike. His three-decade career with the department included several years in the community policing unit and joint investigations with federal officers on gun trafficking, narcotics, and gang cases.

“Policing requires cooperation, and not just between law enforcement people,” he says. “You need the community’s cooperation. You can’t really help people if they see your uniform and think you’re the enemy.”

Shared responsibility

Norm Stamper retired as Seattle’s police chief in 2000 after 34 years in uniform. His career had imploded beneath criticism and controversy a year earlier, after he ordered officers to fire tear gas at demonstrators during massive protests against the World Trade Organization.

He has performed a self-imposed penance in the ensuing years, emerging as a leading advocate for police reform, and in the groundswell of outrage over George Floyd’s death, he finds hope for sweeping change.

“I’ve never been more optimistic. This is the first time in my life that I’ve come to believe that a genuine community-police partnership is possible,” says Mr. Stamper, author of the 2016 book, “To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America’s Police.” He attributes his outlook to the sudden and sustained pressure that protests have exerted on police unions and administrators to listen to their communities.

“There can be no more of the ‘We’re the police and you’re not’ attitude,” he says. “There can be no more unilateral decision-making and crisis management by the police.”

The city of Portland accepted a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014 after a federal investigation identified a pattern of officers using excessive force against people diagnosed with mental illness. Federal attorneys announced in January that the police bureau has shown “substantial compliance” with 190 required reforms.

Commissioner Hardesty, a former president of Portland’s NAACP chapter, wants the city to enact future police reforms without the specter of litigation or tear gas. She has called for diverting more funding from the police to crisis responders and social services and creating a new system of civilian oversight for the bureau.

“We can repair the relationship with the community by listening to the demands of the community,” she says.

Portland police reported 15 homicides across the city in July, the highest monthly total in more than 30 years, and one month after the City Council voted to disband the bureau’s 34-member gun reduction violence team. Reform advocates regard the spike as evidence that police remain essential to public safety even as the city explores alternatives.

“Police have responsibilities placed upon them that are unreasonable and that reflect our failures as a society,” Commissioner Chloe Eudaly says. “We have shared responsibility – not just the council and the police, but the public.”

The Chicago Police Department entered into a federal consent decree last year after Justice Department investigators found a pattern of officers using excessive force, a lack of internal accountability, and inadequate training and supervision. The department has missed 70% of the initial deadlines for dozens of reforms laid out in the agreement.

Mr. Bryant grew up playing football for police officers moonlighting as coaches, and he works closely with cops to stanch violence in neighborhoods. He relates to them as individuals, as more than a gun and a badge, and he senses a historic opportunity for police to become part of the community, to no longer stand apart from those they serve.

“There’s no doubt the department has its problems,” he says. “But people see there’s still definitely a need for police, that they have a rightful place. It’s a matter of collaborating.”

Patterns

Tracing global connections

Saving the 'lockdown generation' from being locked out

By some measures, young people have been the hardest hit by the pandemic. How societies help them get on their feet could have long-term effects.

Mark
Ross D. Franklin/AP
Graduating seniors of Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, Arizona, wait to walk to the stage individually during Diploma Days. Worldwide, young people especially are suffering from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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When it comes to the lockdowns ordered to combat the pandemic, young people are bearing the brunt.

Schools, universities, and technical institutes have suspended their classes, or at best switched to distance learning methods over the internet. With 1 billion students missing school, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned this week of a “generational catastrophe.”

But the key problem is employment. The global economic slump is destroying all sorts of jobs everywhere, but particularly the sort of casual positions that young people take when they are just starting out. Businesses are having a hard enough time keeping their existing staff on, without hiring inexperienced youth.

The International Labor Organization is worried about the long-term impact on what it calls the “lockdown generation” if their first forays into the job market are fruitless. Post-pandemic economic recovery plans, the U.N. body says, must support the kinds of businesses that offer job opportunities to youth.

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2. Saving the 'lockdown generation' from being locked out

The term “generation gap” has a long history, dating back to the flower-power days and anti-war protests of 1960s America. But COVID-19 has given it a new meaning – with potentially life-changing implications for millions of young people around the world.

The meaning of this COVID-19 generation gap is now becoming increasingly clear to politicians and policymakers: Young people have suffered disproportionately – socially, personally, educationally, and above all economically – from the lockdowns that governments have ordered to keep the pandemic at bay.

That generational peril has so far been overshadowed in a public debate that has focused on the fact that young people are less likely to suffer severely from COVID-19, and on the reluctance of some to take precautions like masking and social distancing.

Criticism of this youthful insouciance in the United States and other economically advanced countries does carry echoes of the 1960s-era generation gap. “Narcissistic, entitled, spoiled” – those adjectives were the very ones used in an iconic cover story, “The Generation Gap,” published in Life magazine way back in the spring of 1968.

There are signs, though, that the political focus is shifting to the long-term price young people might have to pay for the pandemic’s social and economic dislocations.

Losing jobs, losing friends

These vary from country to country. In less developed countries, especially those with large numbers of young people, the effects could prove especially dire. In North Africa, for instance, the average age is barely 25. According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, about one-third of young North Africans were unemployed even before the coronavirus struck.

Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
An employee works in the disinfectant section inside a market in the Cairo suburb of Maadi. The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed many of the jobs that young people seek as they launch their careers.

Many of those who did have work – in that region and worldwide – were doing informal jobs. Those are the first kind to disappear in any economic downturn.

And given the scale of the worldwide economic slowdown due to the pandemic – the worst since the Great Depression – these young people are at risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods altogether.

In the U.S. and some other developed countries, there is also mounting concern about both the economic impact and the broader social and psychological effects of the pandemic on young people.

Teenagers have had to curtail or even eliminate face-to-face interactions with their friends at a time in their lives when such connections are key to personal growth. High schools, universities, and technical training institutions have been disrupted. And as COVID-19 makes a comeback, even in countries that successfully turned back the first wave of infection, it is unclear when students will be able to return to their classrooms.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres this week sounded a warning of a potential “generational catastrophe” in education. Last month more than 1 billion young people in some 160 countries had been affected by COVID-19-related school closures, he pointed out.

And the picture seems equally daunting when it comes to jobs.

A shadow for life?

A generation of young people leaving school, college, university, or technical courses has found itself in limbo. Before COVID-19 struck, they would have been taking their first steps into the job market, but traditional sources of first-time employment – service outlets like restaurants or shops – have been among the hardest hit by the economic shutdowns. Other businesses have found it hard enough to keep their existing staff, without making new hires.

In Britain, a leading economic think tank is predicting youth unemployment will more than double this year, rising to more than 1 million. Speaking to parliamentarians last week, the chief economist of the Bank of England called youth unemployment the largest risk to the prospects of a post-pandemic recovery.

Sharing this concern, the U.K. government has announced a $2.5 billion program, dubbed Kickstart, paying employers to provide six-month work placements for young people.

Yet it’s still not clear whether such programs can head off the potential long-term effects on young people’s lives, especially if the pandemic continues to force shutdowns or delay the prospect of a recovery.

A survey by a group called The Global Initiative for Decent Jobs for Youth – part of the International Labor Organization – found that 1 in 6 young people had lost their jobs since the pandemic began. One-quarter of those who still had jobs said their hours had been cut back. Half of the students surveyed said they anticipated a delay in finishing their studies. One in 10 expected to have to abandon education altogether. 

Tony Dejak/AP
Christa Schall poses outside her cosmetology school in Austintown, Ohio. More than 8 million students in U.S. technical colleges are learning practical skills that cannot easily be taught over Zoom, and many will not graduate on time.

Overall, more than half of those surveyed reported feeling anxious or depressed. Indeed, a young person’s first foray into the world of work often defines his or her working life. Early experience of joblessness can make the prospect of long-term, stable employment less likely.

There is a danger, a recent ILO report warned, that the “lockdown generation” will survive the pandemic only to be “scarred throughout their working lives.”

If that is to be avoided, say the ILO and a range of youth charities and policy groups, governments around the globe will have to ensure that their post-pandemic recovery packages include money for reviving and improving education and training – what the U.N. secretary-general this week termed “inclusive, resilient, quality education systems fit for the future.”

And they will also have to support businesses with particular potential to provide new jobs for young people, to help them get their feet on the first rung of the employment ladder.

Reparations is a nonstarter in Congress. Not in this Southern city.

Reparations to Black Americans for slavery and centuries of discrimination is a thorny topic in national politics. How cities like Asheville, North Carolina, approach the issue could prove instructive.

Mark
Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Homeowner Amanuel Lytle stands on his porch in the South French Broad neighborhood of Asheville, North Carolina, on July 29, 2020. He benefited from an urban renewal project in the 1980s that helped mostly white residents to acquire housing in the city.

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Reparations to Black Americans for slavery is an old and fraught national topic. It has been taken up recently by activists seeking racial justice and police reform in cities, including Asheville, North Carolina, which styles itself as a progressive city but has a history of urban renewal that largely excluded Black people from sharing in the wealth created. 

In July, the Asheville City Council passed a reparations ordinance, one of only a handful enacted in the U.S. Among other measures, it pledges new investment in Black homeownership as a way to redress the racial wealth gap. As in other segregated cities, Black children in Asheville are far more likely to grow up in poor neighborhoods. 

Asheville’s ordinance doesn’t provide financial restitution for past discrimination and it’s unclear how much money will be committed. But advocates say it represents a potentially new approach to reparations, one that puts the emphasis on local actions as a building block toward a national effort to tackle structural racial inequities. 

Anthropologist Paul Mullins says Asheville is acknowledging its role in perpetuating injustices and providing a path forward. “And that’s deep-down what reparations are about: How can we have a measure of response to injustice that leads to some sort of racial reconciliation?”

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3. Reparations is a nonstarter in Congress. Not in this Southern city.

For all the funky exterior of a progressive mountain redoubt, this city has until now often looked the other way when it comes to racial inequity. 

Two months after days of intense racial justice protests, however, a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that had stood for nearly a century is gone. And an obelisk in the honor of Confederate-era Gov. Zeb Vance is now wrapped in black plastic, as the city considers its removal.

But those symbolic changes have been followed by something that could prove more concrete. Last month, the majority-white Asheville City Council unanimously passed a reparations ordinance aimed at righting not just historic injustice against Black Americans, but more recent wrongs against Asheville’s Black population.

In the past 40 years, residents say, urban renewal and discriminatory banking practices dispossessed especially older Black residents from historic Asheville neighborhoods. Today, 60% of public housing residents are Black, even though they only make up 12% of Asheville’s population, reflecting the national trend in which Black children are far more likely than their white peers to grow up in poor neighborhoods. 

“Asheville is a microcosm of the nation right now,” says John Hennon, a retired corporate executive turned pro-Black rights protester. “It’s done talking and it’s now acting.”

The city ordinance isn’t strictly reparations, which involve the direct redistribution of wealth. Its real contribution, though, may be to sharpen the optics for a national rethink of the concept: how laws and practices that were both explicitly and implicitly discriminatory have reinforced yawning gaps around wealth, health, even of hope.

Closing those racial gaps runs up against entrenched opposition. Even white liberals have balked at reforms like building public housing in gentrified neighborhoods. President Donald Trump has touted his save-the-suburbs campaign by undoing federal executive orders intended to add low-income housing in predominantly white middle-class districts.  

“These tensions aren’t going to go away magically if we ignore them, and frankly we’re in a historical moment where the [reparations] conversation is ... more publicly palatable,” says Indiana University anthropologist Paul Mullins, author of “Race and Affluence: An Archaeology of African America and Consumer Culture.”

He frames the Asheville ordinance as a political statement that acknowledges racial injustices around land ownership and dispossession after World War II. Moreover, it “outlines a first step toward some sort of reconciliation. And that’s deep-down what reparations are about: How can we have a measure of response to injustice that leads to some sort of racial reconciliation?”

“Unscramble that egg”

The idea of compensating formerly enslaved Black Americans has been around since before the Declaration of Independence. Even some white Southerners urged the idea as an economic stimulus for the postwar South. More recently, the U.S. has paid reparations to Japanese Americans interned during World War II. 

Still, two-thirds of Americans regularly pan the proposal. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate’s only Black Republican, has likened reparations to trying to “unscramble that egg.” President Barack Obama in 2016 called the idea impractical.

Polls show most Black Americans agree with the concept of reparations. But even as support has grown in that community in recent months, overall white support has barely budged.

White people opposed to reparations say it would be unfair to force modern-day Americans to underwrite a wealth transfer for injustices they didn’t personally commit. Scholars have estimated that the price tag could be as much as $10 trillion, or nearly half the nation’s annual economic output.

Ruben Dejernette is one of those torn by the concept. The white Asheville homeowner bought a house four years ago in what used to be the city’s Black neighborhood on South French Broad.

“There is no escaping that we have been doing the Black community wrong, but every time I go over it in my head I don’t know what can actually be done to fix it,” says Mr. Dejernette.

Nearly all Democratic presidential candidates, including Joe Biden, have come out in favor of a national commission to study reparations. A House study bill that would do just that has gone nowhere in Congress for 30 years.

Conservative Black commentator Vince Ellison says the Black community would be foolish to expect progressive Democrats to remunerate them for slavery. He calls reparations “a lie.”

“Black people should look at white people who think they’re going to solve my problem and say, ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’” says Mr. Ellison, a Virginia-based pastor and author.

“Reparations just make you a slave looking for a master. Reparations is about making them pay, but you’ll never get enough. Forgiveness cannot be earned, and it shouldn’t be expected.”

Building a coalition

In 2014, the journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates penned a case for reparations in a widely-read cover story for The Atlantic. “[A]s surely as the creation of the [racial] wealth gap required the cooperation of every aspect of the society, bridging it will require the same,” he wrote.

Yet as the slow walk for the House study bill shows, even studying reparations is “deeply unpopular,” says David Bateman, co-author of “Southern Nation: Congress and White Supremacy After Reconstruction.”

“The question is, how do you actually amass a winning and enduring coalition that can sustain a particular vision? How do you define it and what would it look like? That might be easier done at the local level, though most localities don’t have the fiscal capacity or reach necessary to achieve a meaningful redistributive program.”

In June, the California Assembly voted to create a reparations task force, and in July, Providence, Rhode Island, embarked on a “truth telling and reparations process.” The effort in Rhode Island underscores the extent to which Northern cities also profited from slavery and segregation. 

In November, Evanston, Illinois, by an 8-1 vote, became the first entity to establish a reparations fund through a future recreational marijuana tax. How the money will be dispersed is still not clear.

Advocates for reparations say such efforts may ultimately nourish a broader national reparations bill by laying groundwork for what reparations look and feel like to Americans living in segregated areas, whether in the North or South.

“This is a situation where many different entities – states, cities, religious institutions, industries – are beginning to recognize and realize that each unjustly benefited from the stolen labor during the enslavement era and through continuing laws and practice like gerrymandering, redlining, the war on drugs, and mass incarceration,” says Washington, D.C., civil rights attorney Nkechi Taifa.

“They are looking in their own backyards to rectify some of these abuses they themselves – not personally, but institutionally – were responsible for.”

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Black rights activist John Hennon holds a sign next to the Zeb Vance monument in Asheville, North Carolina, on July 29, 2020. In response to racial justice protests, the city wrapped the obelisk, a monument to a Confederate-era governor, in plastic.

Urban renewal in Asheville

Through the 1960s and 1970s, a familiar pattern played out here in Asheville, which has become known as a beer brewing mecca.

Urban renewal brought the promise of a fresh start, and in some ways it laid the groundwork for the tourist destination the city is today. But renewal came at the expense of Black people. The cheapest properties to buy were targeted, with the city clearing out parts of the South French Broad neighborhood where Mr. Dejernette lives. Today, even a small home there can fetch $700,000.

But it wasn’t just white people who benefited from Asheville’s gentrification. Retired paper mill worker Amanuel Lytle, who is Black, bought his newly vacant lot for $1, with a promise that he would build a new house on it.

“A lot of the homes were falling down,” says Mr. Lytle. “The people who lived there didn’t have enough money for upkeep, and the taxes kept going up.”

A white builder agreed to cosign Mr. Lytle’s mortgage so that the bank would pay for the house that now stands there.

Many others, says Mr. Lytle, didn’t have such benefactors. Today, most Black people live in public housing. Rates of Black homeownership in the city have declined as housing values – and white wealth – have soared.

These disparities, rooted in economic and social policy, are now part of the reparations conversation here.

Asheville’s reparations ordinance offers an official apology and vows to create “policy and programs that will establish the creation of generational wealth and address reparations due in the black community.” It also asks the state legislature and federal government to do the same.

That process may involve replacing lost housing stock by using city-owned land and its bonding authority to create new housing that will boost Black wealth, Sheneika Smith, a Black city councilor, has said.

“If a community says we’re going to redevelop the urban core and we’re going to favor descendant communities ... you could dramatically and radically reshape a city that way through modest kinds of policies that don’t cost a ton of money,” says Professor Mullins.

Playwrights envision a post-pandemic future guided by hope

Major events tend to be reflected on museum walls and stages in the years after they occur. But even in the middle of the current pandemic, several new audio plays are already offering perspectives on what’s to come. 

Mark

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Brenda Withers was jolted out of the helplessness she’d been feeling during quarantine when she was commissioned to write a play. 

Her work is one of several new audio performances being offered by Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company. Besides being set at local landmarks, these disparate stories also share something else: a sense of hope. 

Many songwriters, artists, and authors are creating art influenced by the pandemic but much of that work in progress has yet to be released. By contrast, the “Dream Boston” series offers an immediate reaction to the current moment. Its tone is more reflective than reflexive. The playwrights stand back to imagine a longer-term view of how the pandemic and the social justice protests might shape individual and collective relationships in the new normal. 

Like each of the writers, Kate Snodgrass is more buoyed by optimism after participating in the series. 

“We all live in hope for one thing or another,” says Ms. Snodgrass, artistic director of Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. “I don’t want the virus to stop me from moving forward with hope – hope for the future, hope for the better.”

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4. Playwrights envision a post-pandemic future guided by hope

What might post-pandemic life look like? 

When the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston posed that question to four local playwrights, they responded by writing inventive audio plays set a few years from now. 

Many songwriters, artists, and authors are creating art influenced by the pandemic but much of that work in progress has yet to be released. By contrast, the “Dream Boston” series offers an immediate reaction to the current moment. Its tone is more reflective than reflexive. The playwrights stand back to imagine a longer-term view of how the pandemic and the social justice protests might shape individual and collective relationships in the new normal. Besides being set at local landmarks, their disparate stories also share something else: a sense of hope. 

“Theater offers a chance to be transported somewhere,” says Melinda Lopez, the Huntington’s playwright-in-residence, who conceived the series with the director of new work, Charles Haugland. “We were very clear that we wanted to offer our listeners a moment in the future [when] our present struggles would not be so overwhelming.”   

The first four audio plays in the “Dream Boston” series, each less than 10 minutes, are available on major podcast platforms and at the theater’s website. Each production features voice actors, sound effects, and music. The Huntington is so enthused by the initial stories that it has commissioned seven other writers to produce more plays by Labor Day. The dramatists get to interpret the idea of hope in their own way.

Courtesy of Huntington Theater
Kirsten Greenidge (left) wrote “The 54th in ’22” for the Huntington Theatre's new audio series. Her new stage play “Our Daughters, Like Pillars” was delayed at the Huntington this spring. Brenda Withers (right) wrote “McKim” for the series, in which a woman visits the Boston Public Library in January 2023 to pick up a book she had placed on hold prior to the pandemic.

For Brenda Withers, that guideline jolted her out of the helplessness she’d been feeling during quarantine. In her play “McKim,” a woman visits the Boston Public Library in January 2023 to pick up a book she’d requested 34 months previously. Ms. Withers says she created a character who, much like the country, is hesitant to embrace the future because of what has transpired in recent times. That accounts for why the character arrives so late to the library’s McKim building to pick up the book she’d placed on hold prior to the pandemic. Ms. Withers says change is easier when you’re able to feel like who you were and who you will become at the same time.  

“I think books are often like that,” says the playwright, a founding member of Cape Cod’s Harbor Stage Company. “You start in one place with a physical object, and when you get to the other side of that object, you’re a different person if it was a good book. You’re still holding that same object. It looks the same and feels the same. And you feel different.”  

Kirsten Greenidge’s “The 54th in ’22” eavesdrops on a charged blind date on Boston Common. In the play, Greg and Nola’s first date gets off to a bad start. It’s not just because their interpersonal skills have become rusty during quarantine – or the annoying sound of someone constantly pinging Greg’s phone with text messages. When Nola sees the State House on the edge of the Boston Common, she laments that it doesn’t belong to her because it’s a part of white America. Moreover, she’s racked with guilt for not participating in the racial justice protests because her mother was at risk from the coronavirus. It turns out that Greg was one of the protesters, but he reveals a contrasting perspective to Nola’s. 

Courtesy of Huntington Theater
Kate Snodgrass, artistic director of Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, is one of the contributors to the Huntington Theatre's audio series "Dream Boston." Her play "Overture," set at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, features Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”

Ms. Greenidge says her older relatives seldom talked about the racism they’d endured. She rooted her story’s hopeful outlook in how family members who came before her viewed the march of progress.  

“They had to live with the current of hope infusing their lives, to be able to believe they were creating a world that was better for those that were coming up after them,” says Ms. Greenidge, a playwriting fellow at the Huntington whose new play “Our Daughters, Like Pillars” was delayed this spring. “We live in a time where I don’t think they could have imagined the amount of freedom and ‘upward mobility’ that my sisters, my children enjoy today.”

Ms. Lopez’s “By the Rude Bridge” follows a historical battle re-enactor at the Minute Man National Historical Park on Patriots’ Day in 2025. Like Ms. Greenidge, Ms. Lopez says that George Floyd’s death made her realize that it’s impossible to talk about the future without talking about the present. “What will we tell our children we fought for?” asks the narrator, a re-enactor who tells listeners he dressed as a British soldier. At the end of Ms. Lopez’s story, he amiably chats with participants who’d dressed as Minutemen for the mock battle. 

“He’s wearing red and they’re wearing blue,” she says. “For me, that was looking forward to a time when our country wouldn’t be so divided. And Republicans and Democrats could stand in the parking lot and drink a cup of coffee together. And won’t that be amazing? That was my vision of the most hopeful thing I could conceive.”

None of the plays mention the pandemic directly, but they allude to it in different ways. In Kate Snodgrass’ “Overture,” a woman makes her way to the top of the Great Dome at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where her father, who died during the quarantine, had taught as a professor. She’s accompanied by a custodian who knew him. It’s July 4, 2024, and the night sky is more colorful than a botanical garden as fireworks bloom and wilt. The tale of grief transforms into something joyous as the characters listen to the Boston Pops Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” on the banks of the Charles River. 

“She’s just acknowledging who her dad was, the joy of that, and how much he was giving to other people,” says Ms. Snodgrass, artistic director of Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. “He’s not dead. He’s with her. And that’s who she’s carrying with her.”  

The playwright knows several people who have died during the pandemic. And, like the other writers in the series, she expresses uncertainty about when their art form will return. But, like each of the writers, she’s more buoyed by optimism after participating in the series. 

“We all live in hope for one thing or another,” says Ms. Snodgrass. “I don’t want the virus to stop me from moving forward with hope – hope for the future, hope for the better.”

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

Books

The problem with the word ‘suffrage’: It excludes Black women activists

As part of our coverage of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, correspondent Candace McDuffie talks with author Martha S. Jones about Black women’s struggle for voting rights.

Mark
Will Kirk/Courtesy Johns Hopkins University
Historian Martha S. Jones' book “Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All,” is expected to be published on Sept. 8 by Basic Books.

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Martha S. Jones has a problem with the word “suffrage.” She has been seeing the word frequently in 2020, as Americans mark the 100th anniversary of women’s voting rights, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920. To her, “suffrage” calls to mind the protests led largely by white women, and builds on racist assumptions that relegated Black women activists to the margins. Her research portrays a fuller, more nuanced picture of a tumultuous time in United States history. 

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5. The problem with the word ‘suffrage’: It excludes Black women activists

Martha S. Jones is a historian, an author, and a professor at Johns Hopkins University. In her book “Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All,” expected to be published Sept. 8, she explores the complex political history of Black women in America and their collective struggle for voting rights. She spoke with the Monitor about her latest project, the problem with the term “suffrage,” and the importance of just doing the work.

Q: What was the most interesting part of your research for “Vanguard”?

You know, something that I’ve come to really cringe about – you have to forgive me – is the word “suffrage.” Every time we say it, we’re really invoking a very particular and very white middle-class political movement that led to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. However, it is not a term that captures the wholeness of African American women’s political activism or aspirations or visions. I use the phrase “voting rights” instead. 

There’s no way I will be able to extinguish the word “suffrage” through my conversations this year. But I learned what a loaded framing that is for thinking about women’s political power and how it carries with it a set of assumptions that Black women are on the margins. 

Q: Black women were erased from the suffrage movement, from #MeToo, and in a way, from the Black Lives Matter movement. #SayHerName was meant to specifically honor the lives of Black women. Why does this type of exclusion keep happening?

From my work, I would say that it requires our sustained vigilance. It also requires our courage, to be our own witnesses. I do think that it matters who is in charge, who holds the office, who sets the agenda. Black women need to have an opportunity to speak about our political agenda, which includes a history of sexual violence along with many other issues [such as police brutality] that are likely more familiar to our community. Really, from the origin of Black women’s political consciousness, there is an urgency to the issue of sexual violence. And we learn this through the testimony of enslaved women, like Harriet Jacobs, who pens her memoir in 1861 and gives voice to the fact that sexual predation ran through the lives of enslaved women. Then it comes all the way forward to Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement.

Q: Do you explore that particular history in your book?

With the women that I write about – and it’s 200 years of Black women’s political history – part of what I was struck by was the way nearly every woman tells a story of either being the victim of sexual violence or living under the threat of sexual violence. Yet we don’t claim that as an essential concern or central facet of our political objectives. Rape was a central instrument of violence and terror during the era of enslavement. 

Q: Do you think that history is a vicious cycle or are we actually going to change policing this time? 

There’s something to be said about the inevitability of change and the inevitability in any historical moment of the battle between good and evil. 

Yes, we will move through change. Some of it may even be laudable and slowly eat away at the scourge of white supremacy and anti-Black racism. But we will still live in a country where we, by necessity, have to be vigilant in the fight against all kinds of injustice, inequality, and xenophobic racism – even if somehow Black Americans are no longer the first target of that kind of evil.

Q: How do you stay hopeful at this particular moment in America?

For me, hope derives from being in the work. I’m a teacher, I’m a historian of the Black experience, I’m a writer. I find pieces of hope every day, whether it’s one of my students having a revelation or when I’ve written something and it speaks to someone. That’s one answer. 

On the wall of my home office hangs a portrait of my great, great, great grandmother, Nancy Belgraves, who was born in 1808, enslaved, in Danville, Kentucky.

Q: How does she inspire you?

She watches me work every day. She has a lot to say in my mind and one of the things is: “I survived for a reason. I survived for a purpose.” 

What gives me purpose is knowing that she survived so that I would be here to do the work in my own lifetime. I keep her picture right there so that I don’t forget that.

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A pandemic’s knock-it-off effect on war

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The fury of the pandemic, said António Guterres last March, “illustrates the folly of war.” Five months on, the words of the United Nations secretary-general have proved only partly right. World peace has yet to break out. But peace is peaking through the curtain in a few countries still in violent conflict. These conflicts have their own dynamics, but no doubt all are being reshaped to a degree by the fallout from COVID-19 in both lives and livelihood.

Globally, according to a research group called Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, political violence has dropped about 10% since the pandemic declaration.

Armed groups may be finding out that the people they claim to represent now prioritize ending the pandemic. A universal desire for health – or a life free of disease or other harm – is itself a force to be reckoned with. A new foe must be vanquished. Old feuds must step aside. Healing may be replacing hostility.

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A pandemic’s knock-it-off effect on war

The fury of the pandemic, said António Guterres last March, “illustrates the folly of war.” Five months on, the words of the United Nations secretary-general have proved only partly right. World peace has yet to break out. But peace is peaking through the curtain in a few countries still in violent conflict. Note these recent news items:

In late July, Yemen’s leading separatist group, the Southern Transitional Council, said it will abandon its goal of self-rule. The move raises further hope for an end to a five-year war that has killed more than 112,000 people and created the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

In Europe, a cease-fire in Ukraine’s conflict with Russia began July 27 as both countries are forced to focus on the pandemic. Violent attacks in eastern Ukraine have fallen sharply, opening a door to a negotiated settlement.

Last month, Turkey and Greece almost came to blows over a set of islands. A violent conflict was avoided after German leader Angela Merkel intervened.

And in Afghanistan, the Taliban and the Afghan government halted hostilities for three days during the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday starting July 31. The truce added hope for a start to intra-Afghan peace talks.

These conflicts have their own dynamics, but no doubt all are being reshaped to a degree by the fallout from COVID-19 in both lives and livelihood. “The 2020 pandemic has highlighted how interconnected, fragile and complex the global socio-economic system is,” stated a June report from the Institute for Economics & Peace.

Globally, according to a research group called Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), political violence has dropped about 10% since the pandemic declaration. Much of that decline is attributed to a reduction in fighting in Syria and Afghanistan, where peace efforts began before this year. Also in countries that saw violent protests before COVID-19, demonstrations have fallen about 30%.

The pandemic has “abruptly shifted the political contexts that shape violence patterns in many countries – the long-term effects of which remain to be seen,” concludes the ACLED analysis.

Armed groups may be finding out that the people they claim to represent now prioritize ending the pandemic. A universal desire for health – or a life free of disease or other harm – is itself a force to be reckoned with. A new foe must be vanquished. Old feuds must step aside. Healing may be replacing hostility.

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.

Life’s master plan

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Struggling to find inner peace and his place in the world, a young man wondered whether it was even worthwhile to be alive. But turning to God for guidance brought increasing confidence, joy, and inspiration that led him to a meaningful career path that continues to this day.

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1. Life’s master plan

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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When I was in my early 20s, just out of college, I felt a great pressure to make something of myself. I don’t just mean finding a career or job that I loved. It was more than that. I felt a deep personal responsibility to do something with my life that would make the world a better place.

I’d already had some successes as an artist, and now I felt a great pressure to live up to those successes. When I wasn’t succeeding at this goal, I felt afraid and uncomfortable. As a result, I moved frequently, felt almost constantly agitated, and as much as I tried, couldn’t find a place where I fit in and felt at home.

After a few years of this, I began to realize that I would never find my peace just from a certain place or career. I began to see that this could only come through learning more about God and my relation to Him.

This marked the beginning of my real journey. But I won’t pretend it was easy. I still didn’t have a clear sense of who I was, or what I was supposed to be doing. Some mornings I would wake up so depressed that I wondered whether it was even worthwhile to be alive.

But during this time, I felt guided by a spiritual conviction I had gained when my father passed on a couple of years earlier. Through my prayers to address the grief I felt at that time, I had heard this very clear communication from God: “Nothing has changed.” Even though the human picture had changed, I knew in my heart that to God nothing had changed – my father lived on because God was his Life. And I really felt the spiritual, eternal nature of life in a way I hadn’t before.

This absolute conviction that you cannot kill life because its source is God, infinite Life itself, protected me from falling prey to demoralizing thoughts that suicide could provide me with some peace. Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, sheds some light on this subject on page 291 in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “As man falleth asleep, so shall he awake. As death findeth mortal man, so shall he be after death, until probation and growth shall effect the needed change.”

This inspired a powerful reality check. Even if I ended my life, I would still find myself with the same need to work out the same problems – to realize that God, divine Soul, is infinite Life, and therefore our life is entirely spiritual and eternal. Suicide wouldn’t provide any escape at all.

Over the next few years I prayed and listened for God’s guidance, gradually gaining confidence. Many times I looked to this line from Psalms for comfort and support: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well” (139:14). That was talking about me!

As I prayed through this experience, I gained some valuable insights. First, that spiritual answers provide the only permanent solutions in life. Second, that trying to avoid problems rather than facing them is like being in school and refusing to do the homework. I would just keep staying in the same grade. I also learned that when I approached challenges with humble gratitude and joy, I was able to see, feel, and hear God much more clearly.

Slowly the depressing and dark thoughts receded, and I began to feel a real sense of joy again. I ended up moving to a new city, only this time I didn’t feel as though I was running from anything. I got an apartment, met some wonderful people, and saw how my original goal to make a difference through my career was taking shape in new, exciting ways. Painting murals, something I loved to do, evolved from a personal venture into a community venture, involving whole neighborhoods. This was a career path I could never have outlined on my own. But it grew very naturally once I accepted my spiritual, pure, Soul-inspired identity. And it’s a path that continues to be meaningful and fruitful today.

We can spend years and years searching out ways to give meaning to our lives. But until we see clearly that God, eternal Love, is our Life, I don’t believe we will ever quite be home. When we do arrive at that understanding, we’ll see more clearly that each life is eternal, precious, and very much worth living.

Adapted from an article published in the June 12, 2006, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

Viewfinder

Shaken Beirut begins to pick up pieces

Aziz Taher/Reuters
A man removes broken glass scattered on the carpet of a mosque damaged in Tuesday's blast in Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 5, 2020. The explosion killed more than 135 people and injured thousands.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us today. Please come back tomorrow when our Linda Feldmann takes a deeper look at President Trump’s connection with evangelical Christians.

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