2020
August
28
Friday

Monitor Daily Podcast

August 28, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

After a hurricane, helping hands and open hearts

The places change, the images do not. The wrecked homes, flooded streets, downed power lines left in the wake of Laura’s landfall early Thursday will look all too familiar to the survivors of powerful storms of the past like Harvey, Andrew, and especially Katrina, which also hit the Louisiana coast 15 years ago this week. And while the worst predictions of destruction did not come to pass, Laura is still linked to at least six fatalities.

What’s less visible is the human response to such disasters. You can glimpse it with videos of the nurses who rode out the storm at Lake Charles, Louisiana, hospital to care for 19 babies in neonatal intensive care, the volunteers manning emergency feeding stations, and the woman in Texas leading a llama to safety.

Even more powerful are the acts we don’t see. Neighbors making sure everyone is safe. People sharing with strangers food that otherwise would go bad in a refrigerator without power. The collective cleanup that begins even before the emergency crews arrive. I’ve witnessed it firsthand covering hurricanes and tornadoes, starting with Andrew in south Florida three decades ago. It’s as if the winds that tear down walls also break down the mental barriers that keep us separate.

When all that is familiar is twisted beyond recognition, we reach out and reaffirm our common bond. Hurricane recovery is a long hard slog. But just as Miami, Houston, and New Orleans rebuilt, so will Lake Charles and the surrounding countryside.

America the fearful: What follows summer of unrest?

What happens when fear becomes the engine driving both sides of America’s social upheaval? Fear can sharpen attention. It motivates action. It’s an emotion that can drive change. But that action isn’t always good.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Law enforcement officers stand guard during a protest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Aug. 25, 2020.

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Today fear confronts fear in America’s cities.

On one side are Black people afraid of police, protesters afraid of tear gas, citizens afraid the nation’s long struggle with racism isn’t improving.

On the other are police afraid of the job’s dangers, business owners afraid for their stores, city and suburban residents worried about the spread of unrest.

Fear drives irrational response and creates division, widening perceived gaps between “us” and “them.” It can create a whirlwind of bad decisions and worse consequences.

“We are in a real bad state,” says Cephus Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant, who was shot dead by BART police at the Fruitvale station in Oakland, California, in 2009.

On one hand, says Mr. Johnson, the social upheaval over police killings of Black people via protests and daily discourse has raised the national consciousness of white supremacy, white privilege, and the fact that Black people can be unjustly targeted by law enforcement, says Mr. Johnson, who founded the Love Not Blood Campaign in his nephew’s memory.

On the other hand, the cycle of violence and protest continues to explode.

“It becomes so obvious that [this cycle] creates not just a lot of pain and anger, but fear on both sides,” he says.

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1. America the fearful: What follows summer of unrest?

Today fear confronts fear in America’s cities.

On one side are Black people afraid of police, protesters afraid of tear gas, citizens afraid the nation’s long struggle with racism isn’t improving.

On the other are police afraid of the job’s dangers, business owners afraid for their stores, city and suburban residents worried about the spread of unrest.

Fear can sharpen attention. It motivates action. It’s an emotion that can drive change.

But that action isn’t always good. Fear drives irrational response and creates division, widening perceived gaps between “us” and “them.” It can create a whirlwind of bad decisions and worse consequences, particularly if one side has the power advantage of firearms – as tragic recent events in Kenosha, Wisconsin, too plainly show.

“We are in a real bad state,” says Cephus Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant, who was shot dead by BART police at the Fruitvale station in Oakland, California, in 2009.

On one hand, says Mr. Johnson, the social upheaval over police killings of Black people via protests and daily discourse has raised the national consciousness of white supremacy, white privilege, and the fact that Black people can be unjustly targeted by law enforcement, says Mr. Johnson, who founded the Love Not Blood Campaign in his nephew’s memory.

But on the other hand, the cycle of violence and protest continues to explode.

“It becomes so obvious that [this cycle] creates not just a lot of pain and anger, but fear on both sides,” he says.

Kenosha as flashpoint

In 2020 this phenomenon has centered on Minneapolis; Portland, Oregon; and now Kenosha, Wisconsin, after a white police officer shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, in the back seven times Sunday. His family has said he is now paralyzed.

Protests quickly erupted in the small city in the southeast corner of a critical swing state. Most were peaceful but not all; some businesses were burned and at least four looted.

Armed civilians, some from out of state, appeared on the streets as self-proclaimed auxiliaries to law enforcement. Late Tuesday night a group of the vigilantes clashed with protesters in a wild melee in which two protesters died from gunfire and another was wounded. 

The next day, police arrested and charged a white Illinois teenager – Kyle Rittenhouse – with first-degree intentional homicide in connection with the shootings.  

Reactions to these events have, if anything, highlighted the split between the opposing sides of a fearful America.

In an extraordinary move, many professional athletes stayed off courts and fields in rippling boycotts on Wednesday and Thursday. The effort began in pro basketball, which has a high percentage of Black athletes and a relatively liberal fan base, then ricocheted through tennis and soccer and even into Major League Baseball.

“We are scared as Black people in America,” said Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James.

The athletes and other protesters appeared particularly incensed over what they saw as the revealing differences in the way police treated Mr. Blake and Mr. Rittenhouse. Mr. Blake was shot during an arrest. Mr. Rittenhouse – illegally carrying a semi-automatic rifle into a protest – was given a water bottle by a police patrol prior to his alleged deadly encounter with demonstrators. He was taken into custody the next day at his Illinois home without incident. (On Fox News, host Tucker Carlson defended Mr. Rittenhouse’s alleged shootings as necessary to preserve law and order “when no one else would.”)

“The law enforcement responses to these two people is the problem ... the overly violent and excessive response to Blake and the very measured and almost compassionate response to the 17-year-old with a gun,” says Theodore R. Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.

Meanwhile, at the Republican National Convention this week President Donald Trump signaled that he would run for reelection as a crusader for “law and order” – a phrase he sometimes tweets in all caps. The St. Louis couple charged with one felony each for brandishing guns at Black Lives Matter demonstrators marching past their mansion were featured convention speakers the first night.

President Trump has not been subtle on this subject. His target is white suburban voters turned off by the urban looting and arson they see on their screens.

“If you want a vision of your life under a Biden presidency, think of the smoldering ruins in Minneapolis, the violent anarchy of Portland, the bloodstained sidewalks of Chicago, and imagine the mayhem coming to your town, and every single town in America,” Mr. Trump said in a Pennsylvania speech earlier this month.

That might seem a bad electoral play in an America where protests have drawn large, racially diverse crowds. It’s not 1968, when there also was widespread civil unrest in American cities. But the Trump campaign appears to believe that resorting to barely cloaked language in attacks on his rival could win back the sliver of voters it needs to pull within the polling margin of error in key Rust Belt swing states such as Wisconsin. Indeed, prior to the incidents in Kenosha, the public opinion effect of the protests on white voters had begun to recede, according to data compiled by FiveThirtyEight. White support for Black Lives Matter dropped 16 percentage points from June through early August, for instance.

Previous racial justice movements in America inevitably produced backlashes, and the U.S. is now in the midst of the backlash to Black Lives Matter and 2020 protests, says Jody Allen, a professor of history at the College of William & Mary.

Backlashes to change, especially when it comes to racism, are caused by fear of change, says Dr. Allen. In Kenosha, she adds, this is visible in this probable throughline: The police officer who shot Mr. Blake was likely afraid. Militia groups went to the city because they were afraid. Protesters were afraid of the militia, and attacked them. Mr. Rittenhouse pulled the trigger because he was afraid.

Responding to such fear requires resilience, she says: “We have to keep talking and keep working at this. There were definitely moments of hopefulness this summer. Now I think there is a possibility of losing hope. And I’m hoping people don’t lose hope.”

An equal opportunity emotion

Fear may be an equal opportunity emotion, affecting both sides of a conflict. But does it affect both sides in equal measure?

Many Black Americans are taught from a young age to be wary of law enforcement officers. Their parents give them versions of a basic talk: Don’t run, be respectful, keep your hands in view, and don’t make abrupt moves.

People of color are born into their race and can’t take off their skin color, says Travis Dixon, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author of “Teaching You to Love Fear: Television News and Racial Stereotypes in a Punishing Democracy.”

For these and other reasons he rejects the notion of a duality of fear between Black Americans and American police.

“That officers get shot is tragic, but it’s tragic in the way that a soldier gets shot: Both sign up to put their lives at risk,” says Dr. Dixon.

Dr. Dixon says he has had an officer point a gun at him, been wrongfully arrested, and pulled over repeatedly. Virtually every Black man has similar stories, he says.

“That’s where you get the lack of trust, that’s where you get the fear,” Dr. Dixon says.

Jessica Burke sees things differently. A clinical psychologist and wife of a police officer, she says police cannot take off their skin, but neither can they really take off their profession. They can shed their uniform but not their responsibilities, she says.

“They’re expected to intervene ... even when they’re off-duty. Being a police officer is drilled into them,” she says.

Dr. Burke teaches anti-stress and anti-anxiety classes to police families. Turning generalized anxiety into rational action is at the core of what she calls her “tactical thinking” program.

If an officer comes home with, say, a black eye from an on-duty fight with a suspect, their spouse, rather than freaking out and asking them not to return, needs to take rational steps to understand what happened. They can ask questions and design strategies to help them see the officer is in an organized group designed to protect them and knows what they’re doing.

“There’s always that [feeling in] general, ‘He’s leaving for work, he might not come back, something bad might happen,’ given that there’s a higher likelihood of something bad happening to our spouses than if we were married to stockbrokers,” says Dr. Burke. “Every one of these shootings and protests ramps the anxiety up even higher.”

Civility is a companion of justice

Division is the nature of politics. It’s how we process those divisions that matter, says Olusoji A. Akomolafe, executive director of the Center for African American Public Policy at Norfolk State University, a historically Black college.

You can see that in the political framing of the protests, he says. One side says the response must be “law and order.” The other insists it is a matter of “racial justice.”

Both have a point, but they have to acknowledge each other, says Dr. Akomolafe. The protesters should embrace a future of civility. Republicans should embrace that civility is the companion of justice.

But in general, it is the protests that have clearly succeeded, he says. If you compare them to the protests of the 1960s-era civil rights movement, you cannot miss what he calls the “silver lining”: the diversity of the protesters themselves, with more young people and more white Americans.

They’re not going away anytime soon, he says.

“The fact that the people who are on the streets now are not just Black and brown, but Black, brown, and white – that is hope for the future of this country,” says Dr. Akomolafe.

Police taught a simple rule: ‘You don’t shoot a perp in his back’

Is it ever appropriate to shoot someone in the back? The stigma stems from a general code of honor (it’s seen as cowardly) or ethical principle of engagement. A noted exception: if the fleeing person poses a serious threat.

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It’s one of the most wrenching focal points in the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In video captured by bystanders, a Kenosha police officer can be seen grabbing Mr. Blake’s shirt and shooting him in the back seven times.

In Garner v. Tennessee in 1985, the Supreme Court set a high bar for police using deadly force against a fleeing suspect, ruling 6-3 that a police officer must have “probable cause” to believe the suspect poses “a significant threat of death or serious injury.” Kenosha’s police manual echoes that high bar, stating deadly force can only be used as “a last resort.”

“In the police academy – and I’ve attended three – all of that could become a bit dense for most to take in, so we just simplified it and said, ‘You don’t shoot a perp in his back,’” says Kalfani Turè, a former police officer who is now a professor of criminal justice.

Dr. Turè, who is African American, says he found himself a bit emotionally unsteady after seeing the shooting. “Sometimes communities see these incidents, see a Black man being shot in the back, and they explode. And I think the subsequent civil unrest in the issue is just that kind of explosion.”

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2. Police taught a simple rule: ‘You don’t shoot a perp in his back’

When Kalfani Turè was learning how to be a cop in Georgia nearly 20 years ago, the question of whether an officer could shoot a suspect in the back often sparked animated conversations in the police academy, he says, both within the classroom and without.

He and fellow cadets sat in lecture halls learning about the department’s liability issues, the particulars of Georgia’s use-of-force laws, and the 1985 Supreme Court decision limiting the use of lethal force on fleeing suspects only to those who “pose a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.” 

“In the police academy – and I’ve attended three – all of that could become a bit dense for most to take in, so we just simplified it and said, ‘You don’t shoot a perp in his back,’” says Dr. Turè, now a professor of criminal justice at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

Before becoming a scholar, he took five years to serve as a police officer in stints at state, municipal, and county sheriff police departments. “I wanted to have just a more informed and local insight into policing, as opposed to textbook knowledge,” says Dr. Turé, also a researcher at Yale University’s Urban Ethnography Project. And for him, “the ongoing tensions between police and the African American community – my community – continue to take place at the local level.”

But in the discussions at the police academies he attended, he also felt the weight of a more generalized code among those who carry firearms. “The second part of those discussions we had about shooting perps in the back was, it’s just cowardly. You just don’t do it.”

There has long been a certain stigma associated with shooting someone in the back in the United States, following a general code of honor or ethical principle of engagement that has hovered over the use of lethal force in a variety of contexts, experts say.

A red flag

It’s also become one of the most wrenching focal points in the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last Sunday. In the partial moments of the shooting captured by bystander videos, Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey, who has worked on the force for seven years, can be seen grabbing Mr. Blake’s shirt and shooting him in the back seven times, even as Mr. Blake’s three young children sat inside the car.

On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation announced agents had recovered a knife from the driver’s side floorboards of the car Mr. Blake was trying to enter as he tried to walk away, and observers such as Dr. Turè and others emphasize that these videos leave many questions unanswered.

And as a legal matter, there are in fact a number of contexts in which police officers are permitted to use lethal force against suspects who are trying to flee, especially when they believe the person poses a threat.

“As a matter of state law or as a matter of constitutional law, the location where someone is shot is not legally relevant,” says Seth W. Stoughton, law professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. “But it is factually relevant. When someone is shot in the back, it is a red flag.”

“It doesn’t mean for sure that officers did something wrong,” continues Professor Stoughton, who recently co-wrote a book that evaluates the complicated legal landscape surrounding an array of use-of-force rules throughout various states. “But it does mean we should look especially hard at the facts and whether that suspect really did present the type of threat that would justify the use of deadly force.”

Some states, including Florida and Mississippi, maintain a more permissive “fleeing felon” principle long enshrined in common law, which allows officers to use lethal force to prevent the escape of any kind of felon. Other states, however, limit the use of lethal force to specific felonies with threats of violence.

In Kenosha, it’s a “last resort”

In a civil case in 1985, the Supreme Court ruled that a Tennessee police officer violated the Constitution when he shot a 15-year-old in the back as he tried to escape arrest for stealing $10 from a wallet during a burglary. Setting the bar high, the 6-3 decision in Garner v. Tennessee held that a police officer must have “probable cause” to believe that a fleeing suspect poses “a significant threat of death or serious injury” before deciding to use deadly force.

The Kenosha Police Department’s Policy and Procedure manual echoes the high bar set in the Garner decision, stating that deadly force can only be used as “a last resort” when an officer has probable cause to believe the suspect fleeing “has used deadly force in the commission of a felony and the officer reasonably believes there is no other way to make the arrest.” Officers can also use deadly force when they reasonably believe the fleeing suspect is “intent on endangering human life” or “inflicting serious bodily harm.”

In 2016, the Massachusetts Supreme Court held that because of “the recurring indignity of being racially profiled,” Black men who run from police shouldn’t necessarily be considered suspicious. Simply avoiding contact with or fleeing from police officers “should be given little, if any, weight” when it comes to reasonable suspicion, the court said.

“It gets murky when you start talking about what a ‘reasonable officer’ would do in these circumstances,” says Ayesha Bell Hardaway, a former prosecutor in Ohio who now teaches law at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. As part of the “qualified immunity” also provided to police officers by federal courts, “we’re not allowed to second guess them or use hindsight to judge their behavior, but only base the determination of whether what they did was right or wrong within the bounds of their authority under the law.”

“I think, number one, that there’s obviously some merit to that position,” Professor Hardaway says of this Massachusetts decision. “But number two, when we get to this place where any sort of use of lethal force by an officer gets a pass, or is deemed to be acceptable, there’s really nothing that a Black person can do to find shelter or safety under the law. And I wonder whether mere Blackness in and of itself seems to justify any sort of fear or perceived threat.”

“I don’t pursue ... I don’t have to”

When he teaches civilians his noted self-defense techniques, victim’s rights activist Tim Larkin, a former military intelligence officer who helped redesign how special operations personnel trained for close combat, says the general ethical principle against shooting someone in the back is quite clear.

“To me, if somebody disengages or runs away, then that’s it – I’m done,” says Mr. Larkin, who has taught his self-defense techniques in a number of civilian, military, and law enforcement contexts. “I don’t pursue, I don’t keep shooting at their back, because I don’t have to.”

The job of police officers, however, is indeed to maintain order and ensure the safety of law-abiding citizens. In his view, more and more police departments are failing to train their officers how to physically control suspects with non-lethal methods, emphasizing instead tools such as Tasers. Officials said police attempted to subdue Mr. Blake with such means before he was subsequently shot.

“You have to learn how to effectively use the tool of non-lethal violence, because if not, the only option for these cops is to just shoot people,” says Mr. Larkin, who calls firearms “the remote control” for self-protection.

Like many who saw the bystander videos, Dr. Turè says he found himself a bit emotionally unsteady after seeing Mr. Blake shot in the back.

“I can tell you something that I know, and something that Black folk know,” he says. “There’s always an officer on your six, behind you, tapping at your sense of humanity, stoking the flames, if you will.”

“And so we exchange stories about negative contacts with police in passing and in stride because part of it is a release valve, to say, OK, this is an experience in community,” Dr. Turè continues. “But sometimes that release valve doesn’t work. Sometimes communities see these incidents, see a Black man being shot in the back, and they explode. And I think the subsequent civil unrest in the issue is just that kind of explosion.”

Pay tuition in a pandemic? Private schools woo families to stay afloat.

As the pandemic makes waves in the education ecosystem, more attention is being paid to which models will survive. Some private schools find themselves in sink-or-swim situations that may affect options for families post-crisis. 

Jessie Wardarski/AP
Dozens of students and their family members gather outside St. Francis Xavier School in Newark, New Jersey, on Aug. 6, 2020, a week after the Archdiocese of Newark announced its permanent closure. This year, some 140 Roman Catholic schools have closed permanently.

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In May, parents and alumni of Seneca Academy in Darnestown, Maryland, rallied to save the small private school after the shift to remote learning caused an exodus of families.

An emergency loan under the CARES Act helped ease cash-flow problems. Now, in a sign of rising interest in some private schools, Seneca’s elementary program “will be bigger than it was last year,” says school head Michelle Parker. Students return Sept. 1 for half-day classes held outdoors.

Private schools have more leeway than their public counterparts in this fall’s key education dilemma: to return to classrooms or not. But even with that flexibility, private school closures are on the rise in 2020, and recently a local health official in Maryland tried to include them in a ban of in-person teaching. At stake for parents are options for educating their children at a time of pandemic-related upheaval. 

Penny Bortnick, with children attending both public and private schools, is not yet sold on either. But what better time to reevaluate, she says, than when both models are put to the test.

“It feels good to be involved with the conversation and maybe make changes,” she says. “Maybe we should question how education is done in this country to begin with.”

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3. Pay tuition in a pandemic? Private schools woo families to stay afloat.

Penny Bortnick of Rockville, Maryland, is in an unusual position: Her twin daughters are in different schools – one public, one private.

She plans to closely watch both in the coming months, as she weighs whether paying for school is worth it.

“I enrolled my child in a private school for specific reasons,” says Ms. Bortnick, referring to smaller class size, among other things. “And on a virtual model, those needs are no longer being satisfied.”

Not shackled by district rules like their public counterparts, private schools have more leeway in this fall’s key education dilemma: to return to classrooms or not. But even with that flexibility, private school closures are on the rise in 2020, and recently a local health official in Maryland tried to include them in a ban of in-person teaching. Those private schools already educating remotely are hoping to convince parents that paying a premium is still worth it, even above popular alternatives like home schooling or hiring a teacher to oversee an education “pod.” 

“The jury’s out on whether [private schools will] be able to manage the situation any better than the public school system would have,” says Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia.

At stake for parents, as these schools eye survival, are options for educating their children at a time of pandemic-related upheaval. Symbolically, at least, this moment may mark a new phase in a politically charged battle over U.S. education. It’s a battle in which private schools – which educate about 10% of K-12 students nationwide – are viewed alternately as models of success or as threats to the public school ideal of equity in serving students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Wealthier families leaving public schools, taking precious resources with them, raises concerns about equity among some observers. But others say preserving a choice of schools is most important. Already, some 140 Roman Catholic schools, often another option for families of color, have closed permanently, adding fuel to advocates’ concerns. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has used the pandemic to advocate for expanded voucher programs and federal aid to private schools. Earlier this year, the CARES Act allocated money to private schools through microgrants, and the Trump administration is pushing for more funding for these schools in its negotiations with Congress. 

Secretary DeVos also proposed changes to a federal program under Title I meant to support low-income students in private schools – effectively shifting money away from the public system. Her changes are now being challenged in court, says Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Currently, the private school mix is tilted more toward an in-person or hybrid reopening than public schools are. “They’re a little bit of an experiment right now in this notion of in-person opening,” says Professor Pianta.

He and others worry that if in-person learning ends up confined mainly to private schools, it could create a privileged class of families that can afford the premium cost. “All of these COVID-related pressures just exacerbate the vulnerabilities of the existing system and the inequalities that exist within it,” says Professor Pianta.

A public-private battle played out here in Montgomery County, which includes Rockville, when the local public health officer banned all in-person schooling through at least Oct. 1 due to COVID-19 concerns. He later rescinded the order after parent protests, pushback from the governor, and a call by the state’s health secretary for private school plans to be evaluated case by case. The county’s public schools are planning, for now, to be entirely online at least through January.  

Some observers see political motives behind Montgomery County Health Officer Travis Gayles’ attempt to keep private schools shut – perhaps seeking to stem an outflow of students from the public school system just ahead of an October enrollment tally that affects public funding.

But others say they support Dr. Gayles’ stated rationale – that the pandemic is not yet controlled enough to allow for safe reopening of schools, even private ones where students may be arriving by car rather than bus.  

“We have to work together in order to [overcome] this,” while also addressing the needs of a diverse student population in the county, says Sunil Dasgupta, a parent who is also a University of Maryland political scientist and a candidate for the local school board. 

Amid this debate, private schools that plan on reopening are feeling the costs of the pandemic.

Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, who heads the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, cites “significant cost” over the summer for things like improved air filtration, higher tech for distance learning, and professional development for faculty – all with uncertainty about whether enrollment will be up or down.  

For now, the school will begin with only distance learning for those above kindergarten – in keeping with recommendations from local health authorities. “I’m not questioning” the advice of Dr. Gayles, says Rabbi Malkus, calling the recent tensions here “unfortunate.”

Mary Beth Albertini, of Rockville, joined in one of the early August rallies opposing the health commissioner’s order. Her daughters are students at the Bullis School in Potomac, which will begin the fall with some in-person and some remote learning. She says the relative agility of private schools is a plus.

“I saw the difference last spring. ... I was so impressed by how Bullis adapted to the circumstances and transitioned to online learning compared to the way the public schools were just so ill-equipped to do,” she says. “That’s part of why we pay the tuition that we do.”

Private school tuition varies widely, with religious schools often at the lower end of the spectrum. Meanwhile, the median for independent day schools last year was $26,866, according to the National Association of Independent Schools. Even so, these schools typically aren’t swimming in cash.

In May, parents and alumni of the small Seneca Academy in Darnestown, just north of Rockville, rallied to save it from closure after an exodus of families when learning went remote in the spring. An emergency loan under the CARES Act helped ease the cash-flow problems. Now, in a sign of rising interest as the new school year dawns, Seneca’s elementary program “will be bigger than it was last year,” says school head Michelle Parker. “We’ve opened a new section of first grade.” Students return on Sept. 1, starting with half days of in-person outdoor learning.

Regardless of other schools’ plans to reopen, concerns about parent choice linger for Ms. Bortnick, parent of the twin daughters.

Earlier this month, she joined five other families in a lawsuit against the county, petitioning against the blanket ban on private schools reopening in-person. Despite the rescinded order, their lawsuit remains active as a contingency, she says. For her, the issue is about choice – something she felt the county took away without sufficient reason.

She’s not yet sold on public or private education, but what better time to reevaluate, she says, than when both models are put to the test.

“It feels good to be involved with the conversation and maybe make changes,” she says. “Maybe we should question how education is done in this country to begin with.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, we have removed our paywall for all pandemic-related stories.

‘We’re not dead yet’: Big Basin redwoods scorched, but not lost.

Resilience can be hard to muster in the face of devastation. In Big Basin State Park, California’s beloved redwoods offer a lesson in hope and rebirth.

Courtesy of Mark Finney
Six months after a prescribed burn of high intensity by the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the University of California, Berkeley, young-growth coast redwood trees in Annadel State Park sprout at their bases in March 1990.

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The news was heartbreaking. California’s oldest state park, home to coast redwood trees as tall as skyscrapers and dating back to the Roman Empire, suffered extensive damage in this month’s massive fires.

A pang of sorrow rippled across the United States, as Americans faced the possibility that one of the nation’s most beloved natural treasures could be gone forever. But despite the apparent devastation, most of the redwood conifers are not actually dead, say scientists.

The trees of Big Basin Redwoods State Park “will very quickly recover,” says Mark Finney, a research forester at the U.S. Forest Service’s Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula, Montana. He’s seen it happen before.

As a graduate student, Dr. Finney took part in prescribed burnings to see how coast redwoods would react under different fire circumstances. “It was really surprising,” he says, “but pretty much all of the trees came back with a flush of green growth within months.”

By spring, he says, the redwoods of Big Basin will already be showing signs of rebirth. “Within three or four years,” he says, “the redwoods will look completely normal.”

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4. ‘We’re not dead yet’: Big Basin redwoods scorched, but not lost.

The news was heartbreaking. California’s oldest state park, home to coast redwood trees as tall as skyscrapers and dating back to the Roman Empire, suffered extensive damage in this month’s massive fires.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, as it has been known and loved for generations, “is gone,” reported the Sempervirens Fund, a redwood conservancy that helped found the park in 1902. “We feel like we have lost an old friend.”

That sorrow rippled across the United States, as Americans faced the possibility that one of the country’s most beloved natural treasures could be gone forever, one more tragedy in a year filled with turmoil, uncertainty, and loss. But despite the apparent devastation, most of the redwood conifers are not actually dead, say scientists. These Sequoia sempervirens, or “ever-living sequoia,” have endured for centuries. And this spring, they will undoubtedly sprout mini-trees around their bases and start to leaf out. The blackened sentinels, towering in the park about 45 miles south of San Francisco, “will very quickly recover,” says Mark Finney, a research forester at the U.S. Forest Service’s Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula, Montana.

In an interview with the Monitor, Dr. Finney explains why these trees are so resilient and what this 18,000-acre park cascading down the mountains toward the Pacific Ocean will soon look like. It’s something he’s seen before. Or close to it.

About 30 years ago, when he was a graduate student in forestry at the University of California, Berkeley, he took part in prescribed burnings of coast redwoods with California’s Department of Parks and Recreation. The goal was to see how the redwoods would react under different fire circumstances.

The burnings were “somewhat controversial” because redwoods are an “emotional issue,” given their near wipeout by lumber mills after the gold rush, and their incredible size and longevity. They are the tallest trees on Earth and some are more than 2,000 years old. The trees grow only along the coast of California, with a toehold in Oregon, though fossils that go back millions of years can be found around the world. 

The burns were conducted in 1989 and 1990 on plots of “young growth” forest – trees that were 150 years or newer – in two state parks north of San Francisco, in Humboldt and Sonoma counties. They tested for varying fuel consumption and fire intensity by burning in the spring and fall, and setting fires upslope with the wind, and downslope against it.

Courtesy of Mark Finney
A prescribed burn by the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the University of California, Berkeley courses through a forest of young-growth coast redwoods at Annadel State Park near Santa Rosa, California, on Oct. 17, 1989.

“It was really surprising,” says Dr. Finney. Under the most severe conditions, all the foliage was killed, the needles turned brown, and the trunks were scorched almost to the top. “But pretty much all of the trees came back with a flush of green growth within months,” he says. “They basically just didn’t die.” 

Most conifers do not sprout back when traumatized, but redwoods have “remarkable sprouting ability,” says Dr. Finney. Each tree is wrapped in a thick, insulating bark – several feet thick in old-growth groves such as in Big Basin. Beneath the bark lie buds that remain dormant until activated by some trauma – lightning, fire, or wind. The trees are also genetically built to resist rot, and are remarkably free from fatal enemies like fungus, defoliators, and bark beetles. And they grow extremely quickly.

“These forests are going to come through so much better than any of the fires of the Sierra Nevada or other forest types,” he says. “If those forests sustained the type of fire you see in these places, they would be dead, or suffer severe mortality.” 

Big Basin park, in the Santa Cruz mountains where the CZU Lightning Complex Fire began Aug. 16 during a lightning storm, is closed for the foreseeable future. The historic park headquarters burned to the ground and other buildings were torched, write reporters for The San Jose Mercury News and Associated Press who have hiked the park since the fire. The ground is covered in ash and blackened undergrowth. Some of the giant trees have fallen, but most remain upright, though scorched. Among the trees still standing is the “Mother of the Forest” – which once reached 329 feet into the sky. After a storm it’s now 293 feet high.

By spring, explains Dr. Finney, all the dead foliage will have fallen to the ground, replacing the blackened surface with a carpet of brown dried-up needles and leaves. Small redwoods will have already sprung up at the base of the trees, and greenery will break out up and down the trunks – resembling bright-green pipe cleaners.

“Within three or four years, the redwoods will look completely normal,” he says. The canopy will be intact, and visitors should be able to tilt their heads back and look up, up, up to see patches of blue sky. The bark, though, will stay darkened for a long time and will take some getting used to. Eventually, even that will slough off, pushed out by the growing inner layer. Two common trees at the park, Douglas fir and tan oak, don’t survive fire well and are likely dead, according to the Sempervirens Fund. Meanwhile, the Fund has begun a restoration fundraising campaign to assist the state park service in making Big Basin accessible and to help plan for long-term recovery.

The future of the redwood forest lies in its past, says Dr. Finney. Until the mid-1800s, Indigenous people burned the forests to cultivate various resources, such as hunting and sprouting shrubs for basket weaving. The last big fire to tear through the Santa Cruz Mountains was in 1948. 

“If we burn under mild and moderate conditions, just like the [American] Indians did, then the forest is protected against extreme fires.”

Essay

The day the sports world’s bubbles burst

The NBA tried to create a perfect bubble to return to play. But it all came crashing down with the shooting of Jacob Blake. And there’s a deeper lesson in that.

Mike Ehrmann/USA TODAY Sports NPStrans toppic
A detail of the jersey of Russell Westbrook, #0, of the Houston Rockets during the second half against the Dallas Mavericks at The Arena at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex on July 31, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

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When the National Basketball Association began planning to return from its pandemic-related hiatus, its hopes centered around a $170 million bubble. It would protect the players, and it would even amplify their voices. “Black Lives Matter” was printed on the floor, and the backs of players’ jerseys had social justice messages.

It appeared to be almost perfect. But it wasn’t bulletproof.

The shooting of Jacob Blake, an African American, by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, led to a strike by players of the NBA and Women’s NBA Wednesday. Other major sports teams and leagues followed suit.

In a country of deepening divisions – from Facebook bubbles to partisan bubbles – the NBA experiment was a poignant irony. No bubble can keep out the world. Indeed, the events of this week were decades in the making, from a teammate pleading with Michael Jordan to boycott Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals, to Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell protesting prejudice he faced at a Kentucky lunch counter in 1961. They are reminders that the spirit of revolt against prejudice and hate never dies.

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5. The day the sports world’s bubbles burst

When the National Basketball Association announced its plan to resume the season in early June, it provided a fitting bookend to the events that postponed the season in the first place.

Two Utah Jazz players tested positive for the coronavirus in March, and the NBA quickly suspended the season. The rest of the country soon followed. Not just professional sports. Not just March Madness. Everything.

The plan to resume centered around a $150 million bubble – keeping all NBA players and game staff at a Walt Disney World facility in Florida to play out the rest of the season and the playoffs. It was not just a construct, but an investment to protect the players (and the season). As the return to play neared, the bubble carried an Avalon-like mythos. It wasn’t just legendary, it seemed a safe haven with no reported cases of COVID-19.

This bubble wouldn’t be only about sports, either. The NBA’s predominantly Black player base wanted to send a message. “Black Lives Matter” was printed on the floor. The backs of players’ jerseys had messages such as “Equality” and “Say Her Name,” a response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others.

The bubble appeared to be almost perfect. But it wasn’t bulletproof.

Late Sunday evening, two names entered the national consciousness: Jacob Blake and Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Mr. Blake, a 29-year-old African-American man, had been shot in the back seven times by police. He is now paralyzed, according to family members. The incident set Kenosha afire with protests. It felt like George Floyd and Minneapolis all over again.

For a few days, the NBA bubble held, with games continuing. Yet in the face of another police shooting, the on-the-court shots began to ring hollow.

The first sign came from the Milwaukee Bucks. For them, the shooting hit home not just because Kenosha is an hour’s drive from Milwaukee, but also because teammate Sterling Brown was tased and wrongly arrested by police in January 2018. Last October, he rejected a $400,000 settlement.

What happened to Mr. Blake didn’t just poke at conscience. It punctured the bubble.

“First of all, we shouldn’t have even came to this d— place, to be honest,” Milwaukee guard George Hill said in response to the Blake shooting. “Coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are. But we’re here. It is what it is.

Kevin C. Cox/AP
An empty court and bench are shown following the scheduled start time of Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, on Aug. 26, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. All three NBA playoff games scheduled for Wednesday were postponed, with players throughout the league choosing to boycott in their strongest statement yet against racial injustice.

“We can’t do anything from right here. But definitely when it’s all settled, some things need to be done.”

A nation of bubbles

In a country of deepening divisions, the NBA bubble was a poignant irony. From Facebook bubbles to partisan bubbles to news bubbles, Americans have been slowly separating themselves from those with whom they disagree, seeking comfort and reassurance in that distance. For the NBA, the primary goal of the bubble was to create an environment that virtually eliminated the threat of COVID-19. There was even the hope that it could become something more – an amplifier for a predominantly Black league’s collective message of social justice. Even if it wasn’t an ideal situation, it was an ideal.

What happened to Jacob Blake changed all that. It was the day the bubble burst.

On Wednesday, the urgency to do something resulted in a wildcat strike that shook the sports world. The Women’s National Basketball Association, whose players have been trailblazers on social justice issues, took up arms with the NBA. Other sports leagues – from Major League Soccer to the National Hockey League – followed. National Football League teams canceled practices. Several Major League Baseball teams refused to play.

All leagues are planning to return to play this weekend. But fittingly, the NBA/WNBA strikes occurred four years to the day that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during a preseason game to raise awareness about police brutality.

The events of this week were decades in the making. The NBA bubble was only the latest example of a sports world seeking to quarantine itself from issues of race and justice.

This week, Dr. Louis Moore, an associate professor of history at Grand Valley State University, shared a stunning timeline of Black athletes and police brutality.

But efforts to combat these incidents also have their own timeline.

Long thread of activism

Four years ago, before the world had even heard of George Floyd, the Minneapolis Lynx wore Black Lives Matter shirts in the aftermath of police shootings that left two Black men dead. Maya Moore, who was the face of that protest, is in the midst of a two-year sabbatical from the sport for the cause of social justice. Her activism was significant in the overturning of the conviction of Jonathan Irons.

Then there is the story about Chicago Bulls sharpshooter Craig Hodges, who lobbied basketball icons Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson to sit out Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals. Mr. Hodges wanted to protest the Rodney King beating, and he expressed the urgency of the moment in his autobiography, “Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter”:

Before game one, in warm-ups, I pulled Michael Jordan to the side and told him that I thought he and I should encourage our players to boycott the game. I cited the action at the 1964 All-Star game [when players threatened before tip-off to not take the floor unless they received pensions and better working conditions]. I said we could wait for everyone to fill the stadium, the cameras would begin to roll, and then we would stand in opposition to racism and economic inequality both in the Black community and in the NBA. I knew if I could get Michael on board the rest of the team would follow. We were a tight unit. Michael said I was crazy and quickly dismissed my idea.

Disappointed but undeterred, I approached Magic Johnson during warm-ups and said the same thing to him, knowing he would have the same kind of influence in the Lakers locker room. “That’s too extreme, man,” said Magic.

“What’s happening to our people in this country is extreme,” I replied. “We need to take advantage of this moment.”

In 1961, Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell led a boycott of an exhibition game in Louisville, Kentucky, after he had been refused service at a restaurant the day before. The white players went ahead and played. On Thursday, he posted an old news story on Twitter with this headline: “Russell Would Give Up Basketball For Rights.” The first paragraphs of the story were even more compelling:

Defensive genius Bill Russell said he would quit the Boston Celtics “without hesitation” to assist the civil rights movement if it would ease racial tension and aid Negroes.

The 6-foot-10 inch center, a Negro, when asked during a news conference whether he would leave the Celts to assist in the civil rights movement, said:

“Yes, but only if it would make a concrete contribution. There’d be no choice. It would be the duty of any American to fight for a cause he strongly believes in.

“But I really don’t think the situation will warrant me leaving the team,” he added quickly.

Mr. Russell applauded today’s players Thursday afternoon.

“I am one of the few people that knows what it felt like to make such an important decision,” Mr. Russell said. “I am so proud of these young guys.”

Mr. Russell’s encouragement not only bridges the generation gap, but also reminds us that the spirit of activism never dies. The promise of every revolution against prejudice and hate rests in every revolt, no matter how long or short.

Yet where there is promise, there is also pain for Black people in America, whether laymen or legend, regular or revered. The truth is this: There are no bubbles.

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The subtle power of nonviolent activism

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As protests go, the one in Washington today was perhaps the largest since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Thousands of people rallied in a call for criminal justice reform and racial equality. But crowd size was not the point. After weeks of marches across the United States that also saw violence committed largely by those not advocating for social change, the rally was remarkable for its peacefulness.

That is important as the rally was held on the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address in the same place. He left a legacy of using nonviolence as a tool for change. Lately, with violence around the protests, American society has been in need of a large display of civil behavior.

Protests by unarmed civilians remain critical for those who seek an end to unnecessary violence against Black people by police. Relying on the opposite of physical force carries moral authority. In itself, nonviolent activism creates social trust and a civic culture. And it puts a spotlight on those who keep resorting to violence.

Peace is an action. It not only helps bring democracy or improve on it, it can also sustain it.

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The subtle power of nonviolent activism

As protests go, the one in Washington today on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was perhaps the largest since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Thousands of people rallied in a call for criminal justice reform and racial equality. But crowd size was not the point. After weeks of marches across the United States that also saw violence committed largely by those not advocating for social change, the Washington rally was remarkable for its peacefulness.

That is important as the rally was held on the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address in the same place. He left a legacy of using nonviolence as a tool for change. Lately, with violence around the protests, American society has been in need of a large display of civil behavior.

Protests by unarmed civilians remain critical for those who seek an end to unnecessary violence against Black people by police. Relying on the opposite of physical force carries moral authority, or what the famous Czech dissident Václav Havel called “power of the powerless.” In itself, nonviolent activism creates social trust and a civic culture. It attracts others by signaling a value of love. It often melts the resistance of security forces or others trying to end legal protests with violence. And it puts a spotlight on those who keep resorting to violence.

Around the world, nonviolent resistance against nondemocratic authorities has been rising over the past few years even as authoritarianism is on an uptick. Digital organizing enables quicker assembly of street demonstrations and other civil dissent. Also a victory in one country for nonviolent protests is now more visible in other countries. 

Nonviolent resistance, writes scholar Jonathan Pinckney in a new book, “From Dissent to Democracy,” helps people envision a different order. “This makes it inherently creative, expressive, and empowering.” He says there have been 78 transitions to democracy by the use of peaceful protests between 1945 and 2011. Nonviolent campaigns are three times more likely to end in democracy than other challenges to a regime, such as through a military coup or a revolt by a powerful elite.

The latest country to enjoy a burst of peaceful pro-democracy protests is the former Soviet state of Belarus. Three weeks after the country’s dictator rigged an election, civic activism keeps growing. “Belarusians have gained a new-found sense of dignity and belief in the power of nonviolent collective action,” writes Mr. Pinckney. 

Peace is an action. It not only helps bring democracy or improve on it, it can also sustain it.

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.

Healing of sudden chest pains

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Struggling to breathe and starting to lose consciousness, a woman turned to God in heartfelt prayer. This brought a tangible feeling of God’s love for her, and in very short order she was completely well.

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1. Healing of sudden chest pains

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One day many years ago I was sitting outside, talking to a friend on the phone, when I was seized with an extreme pressure and pain in my heart. At first, I didn’t know what to think. As a lifelong Christian Scientist, I am not usually alarmed by pain, as I have always found turning to God in prayer an effective way to find healing. But in the next instant I also began to have trouble breathing.

While still holding the phone, I bent over and put my head between my knees to see if that would help relieve the pain and the constricted breathing, but it did not. Then, my vision started growing dark, and I realized I was starting to lose consciousness.

I reached out to God in prayer, affirming that God, and not a material heart or body, governs my life. But the situation did not change. So I quieted my thought, and soon the first part of a Bible passage that is read aloud every Sunday in Christian Science church services came to mind: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God” (I John 3:2).

I repeated this statement slowly to myself. “Beloved” meant that God loves me and that I am always in His care as a loved child. But the word in that sentence that was most important to me was “now.” God was telling me that right now – at that very moment, when there seemed to be a serious situation – as God’s child, I am spiritual because God is Spirit, and I can express only the nature of my creator.

A deep calm and sense of God’s love swept over me. I immediately sat up straight. The pain was gone, and my breathing was normal. The day was still bright and sunny, and to my amazement, my friend was still talking on the phone – and had no idea of either the difficulty or the healing!

The healing has remained complete and permanent. I am so grateful to know that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalms 46:1).

Adapted from a testimony published in the Aug. 17, 2020, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

Viewfinder

Things are looking up

Joe Giddens/PA Wire/AP/File
When I entered the Sistine Chapel for the first time, I couldn’t help but mimic every other visitor in the room – head tilted back, eyes opened wide, slack-jawed. That type of vertical viewing doesn’t make for the most dignified of poses, but in the presence of such lofty frescoes, did any of us have a choice? Vatican City’s famous ceiling is not the only work that demands an upward look. The interior of the Shah Mosque in Isfahan, Iran, offers a display just as stunning. The 16th-century calligrapher Rezza Abbasi designed its domed interior. The intricate mud-brick mosaic that covers the walls has unsurprisingly won the mosque a designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From Italy to Iran, there is no shortage of soaring works well worth the strain on your neck. – Ann Hermes, Staff
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

That’s it for today. Be sure to tune in Monday when we look at the movement to keep active seniors out of nursing homes.

In the meantime we’d like to point you to a special conversation with Monitor science writers Eva Botkin-Kowacki and Eoin O’Carroll on climate change on the podcast “Let’s Find Common Ground,” produced by the Common Ground Committee.

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