2021
May
03
Monday

Monitor Daily Podcast

May 03, 2021
Loading the player...

TODAY’S INTRO

When rising stars turn gratitude into givebacks

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

The National Football League’s draft is both a commodification of talent and a career gateway. Follow the safety protocols, guard those finances, and a player might carry family and friends into better lives. 

This year’s draft wrapped up over the weekend and delivered, as always, some warm backstories about athletes already honoring the places from which they came.

Najee Harris, a standout running back at the University of Alabama, dropped in on a watch party at a homeless shelter in Richmond, California, before the first round – in which he’d go to the Pittsburgh Steelers – got underway. He brought food and gratitude. He and his parents and four siblings had lived at the shelter for a few years when he was growing up.

“There was a time I needed a helping hand,” he told Sports Illustrated. “They gave us an opportunity to get back on our feet. So it is my job to give back.”

Kwity Paye, a defensive end from the University of Michigan, was born in a refugee camp in Guinea to a Liberian mother who’d witnessed atrocities and escaped a refugee camp in Sierra Leone on foot – eventually making it to Rhode Island where she worked double shifts in nursing homes.

Mr. Paye got to play at a Catholic high school, approaching the game “with a monklike gravity,” as an ESPN profile put it. A first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts, Mr. Paye has a goal beyond NFL success – to make it easier for other people who want to become U.S. citizens.

“Being able to become someone of status and then go back to my community, and ... uplift them?” he told ESPN. “That’s something I look forward to.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

On the Supreme Court docket: Fairness, textualism, and crack cocaine

Tomorrow the high court takes up a case that, for many, epitomizes the racial injustice bound up in sentencing rules left over from the war on drugs. Will its decision herald reform?

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

Tarahrick Terry’s case is, broadly, a story about regret and redemption. But it’s also a story about how the specific wording in a law can quickly breed confusion in the courts.

The sentencing rule that treated crack cocaine 100 times worse than powder had been in effect for 20 years by the time Mr. Terry was sentenced in 2008.

The disparity has come to be viewed, by critics spanning the political spectrum, as one of the great injustices of the war on drugs. It’s been one of the key drivers of mass incarceration, those critics say, in particular subjecting thousands of low-level offenders – the vast majority young people of color – to long prison terms.

In the past decade Congress has reduced almost all of those sentences – all except for Mr. Terry and thousands of low-level crack offenders like him.

It’s a deferral of justice that has brought him into an unlikely alliance with congressional leaders from both parties, as well as former federal judges, prosecutors, and, latterly, the Biden administration.

On Tuesday it will bring him to the U.S. Supreme Court, when the justices will hear arguments on whether this vestige of another era should be eliminated.

Collapse

On the Supreme Court docket: Fairness, textualism, and crack cocaine

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
People stand in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has a barrier keeping visitors away from the building, in Washington April 26, 2021.

It was 2008, and coming off his second run-in with the law, Tarahrick Terry wanted to make some money.

A week shy of his 21st birthday, he had four grams of crack cocaine in his pocket – something of an early present. But two undercover Miami cops ensured he couldn’t cash in.

He pleaded guilty and asked the judge for forgiveness. The judge sentenced him to 188 months in federal prison, and Mr. Terry’s been there ever since.

If he’d had four grams of powder cocaine, he could have been released by now. But Mr. Terry’s punishment followed war-on-drugs-era federal guidelines that treated a gram of crack cocaine 100 times worse than a gram of powder cocaine.

The sentencing disparity has come to be viewed, by critics spanning the political spectrum, as one of the great injustices of the war on drugs. It’s been one of the key drivers of mass incarceration, those critics say, in particular subjecting thousands of low-level offenders – the vast majority young people of color – to long prison terms.

In the past decade Congress has reduced almost all of those sentences – all except for Mr. Terry, and thousands of low-level crack offenders like him. It’s a deferral of justice that has brought him into an unlikely alliance with congressional leaders from both parties, as well as former federal judges, prosecutors, and, latterly, the Biden administration.

On Tuesday it will bring him to the U.S. Supreme Court, when the justices will hear arguments on whether this vestige of the tough-on-crime era should be eliminated. His case is relatively narrow and technical, but in a country – and a Congress – that has come to roundly condemn drug policies like the crack powder sentencing disparity, it’s significant.

“Crack cocaine has really been the example for the injustices of the entire criminal justice system,” says Kara Gotsch, deputy director of The Sentencing Project.

“Despite the symbolic enormity of this problem, we continue to struggle with ending racial disparity and racial injustice in our justice system,” she adds. “This case is a reminder of how far we still have to go.”

Regret and redemption

Mr. Terry’s case is, broadly, a story about regret and redemption. But it’s also a story about how the specific wording in a law can quickly breed confusion in the courts.

By 2002, the 100-to-1 sentencing rule had been in effect for 14 years, and the unintended consequences were becoming apparent.

The federal prison population had more than tripled to over 163,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The average sentence for a federal crack offense was almost 60% longer than the average sentence for a federal powder cocaine offense, the U.S. Sentencing Commission reported. And those sentences disproportionately impacted racial minorities, in particular Black Americans.

Congress responded in 2010 with the Fair Sentencing Act. The law shrank the disparity from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1 – but it only applied to future offenses, leaving anyone sentenced prior to 2010 unaffected. In 2018, with the First Step Act, Congress made the sentencing amendments in the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive.

As people began to ask for sentence reductions under the First Step Act, however, a problem began to emerge.

The 2010 law had amended sentences for mid- and high-level crack offenses, but never explicitly amended sentences for low-level offenses. So despite the 2018 law, sentences for low-level offenses – according to some courts – are still unchanged from when Congress implemented the 100-to-1 rule in 1986.

Essentially, people convicted of trafficking large amounts of crack cocaine are eligible for a reduced sentence under the First Step Act, but people convicted of trafficking small amounts aren’t.

“That position is not only peculiar; it is textually untenable,” wrote Mr. Terry’s lawyers in his brief. By amending the other two tiers, the act effectively modified the lowest tier too, they argue. “This case is that simple.”

Progressive and conservative legal organizations have filed briefs backing him; the lead sponsors of the First Step Act – two Democratic and two Republican U.S. senators – filed a brief emphasizing that their law applied “for crack-cocaine offenses across the board.” And after the Trump administration initially opposed Mr. Terry, the Biden administration reversed the government’s position in March.

Dueling definitions of textualism

With the withdrawal of the Justice Department in March, an amicus curiae lawyer is now opposing Mr. Terry. He argues that the First Step Act clearly excludes people like Mr. Terry, and that they have other mechanisms available to ask for reduced sentences.

Indeed, the justices will likely scrutinize the specific wording of the statutes at issue. And the case is likely to bring into play an ongoing debate between the justices – particularly the six conservatives: how they apply textualism, a judicial method of interpreting laws based on the “ordinary meaning” of the text. 

For example, the case could reignite the kind of quarrels seen in a landmark gay rights ruling last year.

In that ruling, Justice Neil Gorsuch – a conservative appointed by then-President Donald Trump – used textualism to conclude that employees could not be fired simply because they’re gay or transgender. In a dissent, his conservative colleague Justice Samuel Alito said the ruling “sails under a textualist flag” but was, perversely, “legislation.”

“It’ll be interesting to see how this range of justices sort through where the policy clearly points in one direction and the text sort of points in another,” says Douglas Berman, a professor at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and author of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog.

And on criminal justice policy generally, this case could indicate if the Supreme Court is shifting in a similar direction as the public, which now favors a softer hand with criminal defendants.

“The court’s criminal justice work this term, and in terms to come, are going to be a development of a narrative about whether the Trump justices are going to redefine what it means to be conservative when it comes to criminal justice cases,” says Professor Berman.

A question of equal justice

In the 1980s, crack cocaine was the fast nickel drug business to powder cocaine’s slow dime – cheap and quick to make, and easy to sell for profit.

By the mid-’80s there were open-air markets in cities around the country, igniting violent turf wars between gangs. The mistaken belief that crack was more dangerous and addictive than other drugs drove the country to demand a punitive response.

Black communities voiced those demands as well, but as the law enforcement response focused increasingly on young, low-level dealers in their communities, the cure soon became as bad as the disease.

“It rent the fabric, economically and socially, of the [Black] community,” says Donna Murch, a professor of history at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. “It led to lifelong economic marginalization.”

It rent apart the small community around William Curtis.

He was selling pizzas in the late 1990s, and getting beat up and robbed for it, when he decided he could face the same risk but make more money selling crack. He became a low-level dealer, selling $20 and $50 rocks in southern Illinois. He hadn’t heard of the 100-to-1 rule until he was sentenced under it in 1999.

He regrets his actions, he says – the children of the parents he supplied are whom he feels for most – but he feels the punishment he deserved has become injustice.

He’s out on home confinement now, due to the pandemic, but still has over a year on his sentence. He’s missed his brother’s funeral, and watching his children grow up and graduate. He’s watched violent criminals enter and leave, and he’s watched others with crack sentences get their prison time reduced.

“My family has missed out on a whole lot of life and being with me, and I’ve missed out on a whole lot of life and being with them,” says Mr. Curtis.

“I know I wronged, I know I deserved to go to prison,” he adds. “But the criminal justice system should be just that – just – and it wasn’t.”

Mr. Terry has similar regrets. He’d been taught how to sell drugs “from an early age,” he told the judge in 2008, and he would never sell or use drugs again. While in prison, he earned his GED certificate and took classes on parenting, real estate, and creative writing – all things that would weigh in his favor if a judge considers reducing his sentence.

But whether he is allowed to ask a judge to make that consideration now lies with the Supreme Court. As the country seeks to heal itself of the excesses of the war on drugs, the justices are in a position to deliver a telling blow, or a telling victory, to those aims.

A victory for Mr. Terry “would be progress in a larger [justice reform] movement, but also relief for the people who are serving these sentences,” says Ms. Gotsch.

“At the end of the day this is about people,” she adds, “and making sure our system of justice is fair and proportional.”

Moscow cyclists are getting new bike paths. Do Muscovites get a say?

A top-down commitment to improving public works could make Moscow, a legendarily snarled city, easier to get around in, and greener too. We look at the complex roots of a priority shift.

Maksim Blinov/Sputnik/AP
Electric buses in Moscow's new environmentally friendly fleet are lined up during the launching ceremony in Moscow Dec. 25, 2020. The new buses are just one of the projects the city has rolled out to try to fight its horrible traffic problems.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

Getting from place to place in Moscow often requires an exhausting and demoralizing effort.

Lately the city’s urban planners have put on their green caps. Their latest project is to construct a “green ring” of bicycle paths and hiking trails to connect the city’s giant parks, and also a network of bicycle lanes and parking areas throughout the city that will enable Muscovites to go to work, do their shopping, or just get around by electric scooter or bicycle, much as people already do in modern European cities.

What makes this remarkable is that, unlike Western green programs, these initiatives are coming from the top, spawned by a largely unaccountable bureaucracy that faces little pressure from civil society or elected legislators.

This form of urban government might be described as authoritarian technocracy, a Moscow-scale version of the system created by Vladimir Putin.

“The city’s leadership is making Moscow into the showcase of a modern authoritarian state,” says Nikolai Petrov, a senior researcher at Chatham House in London. “They’re sure they know what they are doing, and they don’t need to listen to ordinary inhabitants. It’s not a praiseworthy model.”

Collapse

Moscow cyclists are getting new bike paths. Do Muscovites get a say?

Few descriptions of Moscow, even by admirers, have ever called this huge, overpowering metropolis “user-friendly.”

Its efficient but crowded metro and choking traffic streams move its 12 million inhabitants every day, but somehow make getting from place to place an exhausting and demoralizing effort.

But all that has been rapidly changing over the past decade, as an activist mayor backed by a professional bureaucracy has channeled the city’s resources into huge public works programs.

And lately the city’s urban planners have put on their green caps, replacing many of Moscow’s creaking old buses with brand new, Russian-made electric-powered ones, the largest such fleet in Europe. Their latest project is to construct a “green ring” of bicycle paths and hiking trails to connect the city’s giant parks, and also a network of bicycle lanes and parking areas throughout the city that will enable Muscovites to go to work, do their shopping or just get around by electric scooter or bicycle, much as people already do in modern European cities.

What makes this remarkable is that, unlike Western green programs, these initiatives are coming from the top, spawned by a largely unaccountable bureaucracy that faces little pressure from civil society or elected legislators.

Mayor Sergei Sobyanin is an elected figure, but elections for the largely toothless city council in 2019 were so severely limited by official manipulations that they triggered mass protests that went on for weeks. Though Moscow does have a small but active civil society sector, recent campaigns to halt a luxury housing development in a historic brewery and to prevent artists from being evicted from their formerly protected city-provided studios have been handily ignored by city planners.

Dmitry Oreshkin, head of the Mercator group, a liberal think tank, says that in general a post-Soviet generation of well-traveled, fitness-conscious Russians are coming into their own, and even if it’s not quite democracy in action, officials know they have to respond to changing public needs if they want to keep their jobs.

“Mayor Sobyanin, with all his defects, knows what he has to do. He had a taste for innovation even before he became mayor, and now he is focusing on ecology, the European tendency to promote bicycles over cars, to make the city center more livable and the air cleaner. ... It’s his job, and he’s doing it.”

Pedal power in Moscow

The new bicycle lanes, which will make the entire city accessible by bike within five years, should complement new traffic rules that make it harder to drive cars downtown and almost impossible to find a parking spot. It will also be a huge boon for thousands of food delivery workers, whose numbers have ballooned since the pandemic, and who are a ubiquitous sight as they struggle through traffic and careen down sidewalks, even in the dead of winter.

“We are responding to growing demand for cycling infrastructure, which has become much stronger since the pandemic,” says Anastasia Gracheva, a project leader at the Traffic Center of Moscow’s Transport Department. “Our main goal is to create the means that enable people to change their old habits toward green, healthful, and safe ways of getting around. This is not just for recreation, or only for the summer time. We see this as a practical, year-round option that people can rely upon.”

“Until recently city authorities were oriented toward the needs of automobile drivers, and they have built an impressive amount of new infrastructure for them,” says Alexei Sidorov, a member of a downtown cycling club. “But international experience has shown that bicycles can often be a better option.

“Statistics show that the average trip inside Moscow is less than five miles. If the infrastructure were in place to make it practicable and safe, a lot of people would choose to ride a bicycle or scooter rather than take the car. I am very glad if Moscow authorities have the political will to implement this.”

One factor driving the introduction of new green ideas into the Moscow civil service, which is dominated by middle-aged people, might be the influx of educated younger people who, until recently, did not find a bureaucratic career very attractive. Pay scales have improved a lot in recent years, experts say, and the chances to get hands-on experience with interesting new projects have multiplied.

“More and more younger people are coming into Moscow government lately,” says Ms. Gracheva, who fits that description herself. “I’ve traveled to Europe, and seen some very interesting examples. I have also read a lot about new ways to improve city life through green development. I really enjoy being part of that.”

“It’s not a praiseworthy model”

The green ring project is just one of many efforts that the Moscow government has rolled out to overhaul the city's gridlock. In recent years it has relieved the city’s traffic problems with new expressways and flyovers, hugely extended the underground metro system, and introduced a new city-girdling rapid transport route and other innovations that have won global attention for Moscow. They have even streamlined the notoriously cumbersome bureaucratic machine that traditionally enveloped the average Russian in a web of red tape, bringing praise even from some staunch liberal critics of the government.

Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters/File
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin attends a military parade in central Moscow Nov. 7, 2019.

This form of urban government might be described as authoritarian technocracy, a Moscow-scale version of the system created by Vladimir Putin, who has also embarked on a nationwide program of infrastructure renewal, revamped public services, and technical modernization, which he updated in a major address in mid-April.

Some experts argue that while the unelected bureaucracies that run Russia no longer have a grand ideological justification for their hold on power, such as building communism, they are acutely aware of their lack of democratic legitimacy and thus devote themselves to public works for the sake of political survival.

“It’s not about transparency or legitimacy. This drive to improve things started after the cycle of major protests over fraudulent parliamentary elections in 2011,” says Nikolai Petrov, a senior researcher at Chatham House in London. “Officials recognized that there are growing demands from the creative class, the youth and others who want to live in a cleaner, healthier city. The message from the top is that you can have these improvements, but don’t try to do anything in politics.”

Mr. Petrov says it’s all very well when these big projects turn out to be beneficial, but that isn’t necessarily always the case, he argues. And he points out that there's no public input on what sort of urban planning should go on – it's all handed down from above, without public debate. “Moscow authorities do have a lot of money to spend. But if you asked average Muscovites whether they prefer that money to be spent on improving the pavements or something else, I have a feeling they might mention other priorities,” since the plans have never been tested in a democratic election.

“The city’s leadership is making Moscow into the showcase of a modern authoritarian state. They’re sure they know what they are doing, and they don’t need to listen to ordinary inhabitants. It’s not a praiseworthy model.”

Still, those like Dmitry Mendeleyev, a scientist who bikes about 10 miles to work every day, whatever the weather, says they're happy with the modernization projects in Moscow.

“Just a couple decades ago a cyclist on the streets of Moscow looked like a freak, and a suicidal one at that,” he says. “Ten years ago it was still an unusual sight. Now you see people on bicycles all over the place, and soon it will be the most normal form of transport.”

Orchid Island became Taiwan’s tourist hotspot. Does it want to be?

The pandemic has put many tourism hot spots in peril. We found one that’s thriving, but one where locals also have a message for visitors: More important than your money is your respect.

Ralph Jennings
Boats used to catch flying fish sit ready to launch at Yayo Village on Orchid Island, Taiwan, April 10, 2021. Flying fish are a staple of local cuisine.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

Residents on Taiwan’s Orchid Island are used to solitude. The island lies a jet-prop flight or wavy ferry ride away from Taiwan’s main island, and residents are mostly Tao, an Indigenous Austronesian group that was here thousands of years before the Chinese arrived. 

But Orchid’s azure and emerald shores draw snorkelers, and the community has seen a dramatic surge in domestic tourism during the pandemic. Suddenly, the remote island was the closest thing Taiwanese tourists could get to an overseas vacation. Today, visitors rent motor scooters to cruise along the bumpy island road, stopping for snaps at rocky overlooks and beaches lined with boats for catching flying fish.

At a time when global tourism stands to lose $1.2 trillion, many residents are excited about the influx. But it has prompted tough questions for the Tao about how their culture and environment can coexist with so many visitors. Tourists often treat locals like an exotic curiosity, shooting photos of them and their homes from the street without asking first or offering to pay.

“Tourists must do their homework before coming over,” says resident Si Ngalopkop. “I want to make money, but I want to protect my culture.”

Collapse

Orchid Island became Taiwan’s tourist hotspot. Does it want to be?

Si Ngalopkop is tiring of the motor scooters and construction trucks rushing past the breakfast bar where he fries up small hot dogs and egg crepes for children on their way to the village school. His oceanside hamlet with just one through street never saw so much congestion, trash, or intrusion until the pandemic – when Orchid Island became the closest thing Taiwanese tourists could get to an overseas vacation.

“They bring in money from the diving and snorkeling but affect the rhythms of our normal life,” says Mr. Ngalopkop one morning, as the engine of a truck bound for a guesthouse construction site vies with the more familiar crows of rooster.

“It’s really loud,” he says. “We welcome the improvement in living standards, but our culture is slowing fading away. There’s no more sense of order.”

Mr. Ngalopkop belongs to the Indigenous Tao people, an Austronesian group that has called Orchid home for thousands of years. The volcanic island lies at the most remote corner of Taiwan’s territory, a prop-jet flight or wavy ferry ride from the mainland’s southeast coast. Its azure and emerald shores are dotted with villages where elders visit outside, sipping energy drinks and chatting in Tao while friendly black dogs – some wearing collars crafted with traditional patterns – run through the alleys between houses.

Karen Norris/Staff

Orchid’s few thousand residents had grown used to solitude; a travel ban in the name of cultural research stayed in place until 1967. But its tropical waters had gained cachet among Taiwanese divers. That value surged last year as COVID-19 closed borders and drove Taiwanese to look for scenic getaways at home. Today, tourists rent motor scooters to cruise along the bumpy island road, stopping for snaps at rocky overlooks and beaches lined with boats for catching flying fish and the flowers that give Orchid its name. Some snorkel in the emerald waters sheltered by spiky, grassy seaside rock outcroppings that invite free-roaming goats.

At a time when the global tourism sector stands to lose $1.2 trillion, many residents are excited about the influx. The island’s agriculture and tourism office tabulated 313,166 arrivals in 2020, up from about 230,000 a year earlier. But it has prompted tough questions for the Tao about how their culture and environment can coexist with so many visitors. Tourists often treat locals like an exotic curiosity, shooting photos of them and their homes from the street without asking first or offering to pay.

Mr. Ngalopkop is used to Taiwan’s main isle, having lived there 20 years before moving back to Orchid a decade ago. But he’s not used to Taiwan merging with Orchid.

“Tourists must do their homework before coming over,” Mr. Ngalopkop says. “I want to make money, but I want to protect my culture.”

Ralph Jennings
Tourists photograph the sunset on April 10, 2021, on Orchid Island, Taiwan. The island has seen an influx of domestic tourism during the pandemic as international borders shut down.

Open for business

A block away, in an alley of single-story houses just off Yayo Village’s boat launch, Lin Chih-yuan is visiting his hometown for the first time in five years. Like many Tao people in his age group, the 23-year-old moved to Taiwan’s more prosperous, 24-million-population main island, where he works at a convenience store.

Mr. Lin welcomed the two 7-Elevens that have popped up on Orchid since 2014, meaning people can buy toys and daily goods rather than just food from a farmers cooperative – the chief option before. He’s weighing whether to spend his earnings to open an Orchid guesthouse after fixing up his grandparents’ home along the alley.

“If Orchid develops, overall that’s a good thing for it,” he says. “We were really lagging in the past.” But he advises tourists to learn local customs in honor of elders, and to keep Orchid clean.

“When it comes to the local ways of doing things, people like my grandmother are more conservative,” Mr. Lin adds.

Overall, just 2% of Taiwan’s population is Indigenous, with ancestors who were here before the Han Chinese started sailing east several centuries ago. Unstudied tourists arrive knowing little about the Tao. They don’t know passersby aren’t supposed to touch locals’ hand-carved boats, built to withstand heavy waves as they chase flying fish, the island’s staple food. They don’t know that the black-roofed stone houses dug into the earth to protect against typhoons once dominated Orchid, or that men wearing loincloths, whom travelers often ask to photograph, are donning the island’s traditional attire.

Some tourists upset Tao elders by wearing bikinis, or running their hands over painted boats that younger men have built and will row hundreds of miles as a rite of passage. Tour guides who have moved to Orchid, rather than being born there, miss those cues, Tao people fear.

“Capitalism came in when the government built an airport and seaport,” Mr. Ngalopkop says. “The tourists have upset the balance of our lives and traditions. They shoot photos of boats and might destroy something that our elders have spent up to 10 years making. That’s disrespectful.”

Adding to people’s resentment of Taiwan at large, government-owned Taiwan Power Company deposited 100,000 barrels of nuclear waste on Orchid’s otherwise undeveloped eastern coast in 1982. Plans to remove it are on hold for lack of a willing taker elsewhere. Some Orchid dwellers are convinced the waste is harming people’s health.

Ralph Jennings
Lin Chih-yuan (left) and a friend barbecue in the alley where his family live in Yayo Village on Orchid Island on April 10, 2021. Mr. Lin, who now works on Taiwan's main island, is visiting his hometown for the first time in five years.

Cautious welcome

Not every local minds tourists’ transgressions, says Diveholic Hostel operator Hu Ken-huo, who is a Tao elder. More than half the island’s rooms fill up easily on weekends, and “they’re coming to look at the special character of Orchid Island.”

That’s true of Chien Chu-you, a service worker who spent four days here with a group of friends. He’s excited about his arrival, but acknowledges not knowing much about Tao culture.

“I usually go to Japan and South Korea. Coming here is actually quite similar to overseas travel, though if you don’t hire a guide you won’t know where the attractions are,” Mr. Chien says. “I’ve honestly never studied the culture. We’re just looking at the map and figuring out where to go.”

Helping tourists like Mr. Chien experience Orchid earns Hsieh Lin-shan up to $10,700 in the high season. The Orchid native, who is a member of the Tao group, guides people around a neighborhood of 15 preserved underground houses. It’s an enviable income for the island, he says, but it’s never certain. And he resents tourists’ invasive photography, as well as their trash. Crushed soda cans and plastic shopping bags thrown from tourists’ scooters mix on the roadsides with the brown glass bottles of the energy drinks that locals prefer.

Tourism will likely expand, but a government agency may intervene at some point to help the Tao protect their culture and keep Orchid clean, says Linda Arrigo, an American-born academic researcher in Taiwan who studies Indigenous issues. She points to the eventual cleanup of metal scraps strewn along the coast after Orchid’s road construction. But once COVID-19 passes, she warns, Orchid Island tourism may lose momentum. “It’s like amusement parks – they deteriorate and they’re left with a stack of twisted metal.”

Visitors are “welcome to look around and buy souvenirs,” Mr. Hsieh says between guide shifts, when he co-manages a Tao fishing boat replica shop. “But please don’t throw your trash everywhere. Look to see if there’s a trash can or take it back to Taiwan. If you want to take photos of someone, ask first. You must respect everyone’s personal stance.”

Karen Norris/Staff

Difference-maker

This community garden in Southeast Washington grows far more than food

Nourishment takes different forms. Planting a community oasis in a food desert is about much more than nutrition. It’s also about opportunity, and healing.

Noah Robertson/The Christian Science Monitor
Kwesi Billups (right) and volunteers at Project Eden hold homegrown Swiss chard at the greenhouse in Southeast Washington, April 17, 2021. Project Eden distributes its produce, along with donations from the Capital Area Food Bank, at a nearby church.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

Almost 10 years ago, Cheryl Gaines, a pastor, started the Project Eden community garden as a response to the South Capitol Street massacre, one of Washington’s worst mass shootings in decades. Her idea then, as now, was that no community chooses violence when it has another option. Since then Ms. Gaines, her son, and hundreds of local employees and volunteers have offered such an option.

Project Eden sources its produce in the form of seeds through donations, grants, and community partnerships. While the selection depends on what’s available, volunteers follow a loose crop rotation of roots, legumes, fruits, and greens – like the lush Swiss chard growing tall this season. They also distribute the food, along with donations from a food bank, to the community. 

On a mid-April Saturday, the day of weeding, watering, and other scattered work began with an a cappella rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black national anthem. Volunteers, who regularly call each other “brother” and “sister,” stood in a circle and sang together.

Project Eden isn’t just resisting material challenges of nutrition and income, says Caroline Brewer of the Audubon Naturalist Society. It’s helping the community resist despair. 

“It’s a constant battle,” she says, “and they’re winning that battle.”

Collapse

This community garden in Southeast Washington grows far more than food

Three years ago, when Jevael German received his assignment through Washington’s Summer Youth Employment Program, he wanted nothing to do with it. He would be working with Project Eden, a community garden in the city’s troubled Southeast – known for police sirens much more than produce.

A Washington native himself, Mr. German dreaded the months of labor in the district’s humidity. He didn’t even like vegetables. While meeting his supervisors on his first day, Mr. German laid his head facedown on the desk. 

“Sir, if you don’t want to be here, you’re welcome to leave,” he heard back. “But you can’t put your head on the desk.”

Mr. German stayed, and the summer surprised him. He enjoyed the outdoor work, which reminded him of childhood gardening with his grandmother. As an older member of the summer group, he began mentoring some of his younger co-workers. He even started eating greens. 

At the program’s end, Mr. German asked to continue with Project Eden for another summer. After returning, he learned that a former summer employee at the garden had died in a shooting. Mr. German, who was still living with one foot in the streets at that time, saw in that tragic death a version of himself if he didn’t change. 

“Right then and there, I was like, I’ve got to leave the streets alone,” he says. 

Mr. German is one of hundreds of young people who have worked with Project Eden, and been an embodiment of its mission: to be a source of opportunity and healing in a community so often defined by limits and loss. 

Almost 10 years ago, Cheryl Gaines, a local pastor, started the garden as a response to the South Capitol Street massacre, one of Washington’s worst mass shootings in decades. Her idea then, as now, was that no community chooses violence when it has another option. Since then Ms. Gaines, her son Kwesi Billups, and hundreds of local employees and volunteers have sought to offer such an option.

While simultaneously addressing challenges of health, food insecurity, and unemployment, Project Eden is at its roots an alternative. The work is rarely convenient, and resources are often low. But the garden’s legacy is that seeds can grow on what may seem like rocky soil – if only there’s a sower.

“This garden gives back to you what you give to it,” says Mr. Billups. 

Helping a community resist despair

In 2012, Ms. Gaines was Project Eden’s sower, though an unlikely one at that. 

She grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father in public housing outside New Orleans, only to trade that past for a career in law, and later the ministry. While at seminary in Rochester, New York, she had a persistent vision that God was calling her to live in Southeast Washington, begin a church, and plant a community garden. 

In 2010, after having lived in the Washington area for years, she felt the time had come.

Leaving four dead and six more injured, the South Capitol Street massacre rattled Southeast, and brought the community together to mourn. At a vigil, Ms. Gaines met the owner of an apartment building just blocks away from the the shooting. In that conversation, she eventually shared her vision. Before long, the owner told her she could use her building’s backyard.

On that land two years later, Project Eden (“Eden” stands for Everyone Deserves to Eat Naturally) began as a 10-by-20-foot patch of dirt, with only rows of tilled soil. The next year Ms. Gaines and her team turned that plot into a 28-by-48-foot greenhouse, complete with aquaponics, and have since expanded to another location at nearby Faith Presbyterian Church. 

Noah Robertson/The Christian Science Monitor
Ervin Bias, standing in Project Eden's greenhouse in Southeast Washington on April 17, 2021, holds his specially grown mint. Mr. Bias uses the mint in a secret recipe to brew tea.

A community garden may seem like a boutique project in some areas, but not in Southeast, says Caroline Brewer, director of marketing and communications at the Audubon Naturalist Society, which recently named Mr. Billups its yearly Taking Nature Black youth environmental champion.

The area is a food desert, she says, with only one major grocery store for just over 80,000 residents. Many of those living in Southeast Washington have some of the lowest per capita incomes in the country, and the unemployment rate is 18%. The holes left by limited opportunity and education are often filled by crime and violence.

“When people have opportunities to give back ... that allows them to grow and develop and mature and make [an] even greater contribution to their families and their communities,” says Ms. Brewer.

Project Eden isn’t just resisting material challenges of nutrition and income, says Ms. Brewer. It’s helping the community resist despair. 

 “It’s a constant battle,” she says, “and they’re winning that battle.”

Seeds that keep growing

Winning involves sweat-stained shirts and dirty hands in the growing season from early spring to late autumn. To Mr. Billups, who has spent almost half his life working in the garden, those hours are part of his identity.

Project Eden sources its produce in the form of seeds through donations, grants, and community partnerships, including one with the Capital Area Food Bank. While the selection depends on what’s available, volunteers follow a loose crop rotation of roots, legumes, fruits, and greens – like the lush Swiss chard growing tall this season. Sometimes, all by themselves, last season’s crops will sprout back up, like a living legacy left in the soil. 

Volunteers distribute the food, along with donations from the food bank, to the community, using Faith Presbyterian as their distribution site. Thousands in the area have benefited from their work, says Mr. Billups, and, without prompting, many of them volunteer. One man offers to cut the grass. Another woman in a neighboring apartment building keeps watch, lest an intruder break in. 

“Project Eden was really founded as an engine of agency for people to be able to see that you can grow your own food and you can stake your own claim in your own environment,” says Mr. Billups, who recently graduated from American University and plans to continue his work with urban gardens when he starts a job in Baltimore.

Ervin Bias, a deacon at Ms. Gaines’ church, is one of the volunteers. He’s been with the project almost since its beginning and has worked so many hours that Mr. Billups calls him the “master gardener.”

Despite having two jobs, Mr. Bias visits the garden at least once a week. Getting his hands dirty reminds him of childhood moments in the garden with his father. On still mornings, tending to the crops alone – especially his fragrant mint – makes him think of God. 

Volunteers at the garden regularly call each other “brother” and “sister.” On a mid-April Saturday, the day of weeding, watering, and other scattered work began with an a cappella rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black national anthem. Everyone stood in a circle and sang together.

But the sense of community fostered in the greenhouse is fragile. The building whose yard houses Project Eden’s greenhouse recently went up for sale, and they couldn’t compete with an enormous bid from developers. 

While they hope to stay, they’ll move if they need to, says Ms. Gaines.

But even if their work at that location is done, it’s not over, Mr. Bias says. A seed planted in the garden is a seed planted in the gardener. In him, and in Mr. German, Ms. Gaines, Mr. Billups, and thousands of others who’ve passed through the greenhouse, eaten the food, and tasted the fruit of their land, that seed still grows. 

“I don’t know when this will ever end,” says Mr. Bias. “It’s something I can always take with me, to share with somebody else.”

Editor’s note: The name of Mr. Billups’ award has been clarified.

Other headline stories we’re watching

(Get live updates throughout the day.)

The Monitor's View

Why the world needs another food summit

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

India is now home to 1 in 3 new coronavirus cases. Yet despite the grim number, it has done something quite well over the past year. It has managed to feed most of its people, a result of more than a half-century of reforms aimed at ending the country’s history of famines.

A new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute gives one reason food kept flowing during the crisis. “India’s rapid policy actions and effective coordination across national, state, and local institutions helped buffer the initial shocks to health and nutrition programs. This success reflects India’s decades of investments in social-safety-net infrastructure,” the report states.

Such lessons will be needed in 2021. The United Nations estimates the number of people vulnerable to severe hunger will nearly double because of the pandemic. As a result, the U.N. plans to hold the Food Systems Summit 2021 in September to transform how the world produces and consumes food.

By then, India hopes to be on top of the pandemic. As it is, it can offer lessons on how it constantly innovates in agriculture and in other aspects of the food supply. In times of crisis, those lessons pay off.

Collapse

Why the world needs another food summit

AP
A farmer carries his harvest in Assam state, India.

India is now home to 1 in 3 new coronavirus cases around the globe. But that is not India’s only burden. It also accounts for nearly 60% of the global increase in poverty caused by the pandemic. The COVID-19 recession in India has increased the number of poor people – or those living on less than $2 a day – by 75 million.

Yet despite the grim numbers, the South Asian nation has done something quite well over the past year. It has managed to feed most of its 1.3 billion people, a result of more than a half-century of reforms aimed at ending the country’s history of famines.

While the world rushes to help India deal with the pandemic, it also has something to learn from India’s ability to find new ways to combat hunger.

A new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) gives one reason food kept flowing during the crisis. “India’s rapid policy actions and effective coordination across national, state, and local institutions helped buffer the initial shocks to health and nutrition programs. This success reflects India’s decades of investments in social-safety-net infrastructure, particularly recent investments in direct and cash benefit transfers,” the report states.

Such lessons will be needed in 2021. The United Nations estimates the number of people vulnerable to severe hunger will nearly double because of the pandemic. And the COVID-19 crisis has exposed many weaknesses in the global food system. As a result, the U.N. plans to hold the Food Systems Summit 2021 in September to transform how the world produces and consumes food.

Compared with food summits going back to the 1970s, this one offers a new conceptual shift, writes Julie Howard, an adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Instead of a focus on simply growing more food, it holds “the possibility of reshaping the global food system to become more productive, resilient, sustainable and healthy.”

Besides India, a number of countries have responded well in providing food during the crisis. “Although income losses caused serious, potentially persistent declines in food security and nutrition, food supply chains proved more resilient than expected,” states the IFPRI report. “Also importantly, as food systems’ central role and capacity for adaptation were demonstrated, the momentum needed to change our food systems for the better increased in 2020.”

That momentum will be on display this fall, when world leaders gather in New York for the food summit. By then, India hopes to be on top of the pandemic. As it is, it can offer lessons on how it constantly innovates in agriculture and in other aspects of the food supply. In times of crisis, those lessons pay off.

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.

Healed of addiction

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 4 Min. )

Is there a way out of substance abuse? A woman who persistently struggled with addiction and mental health problems found that getting to know God more deeply brought complete healing.

Collapse

Healed of addiction

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

In high school, I was an accomplished competitive swimmer, a pompom girl, and a good student. From the outside it appeared I had it all: success and popularity, and I seemed comfortable in my own skin. But nothing was further from the truth. I felt insecure and unsure of myself, as though I didn’t belong.

Throughout my childhood I had attended a Christian Science Sunday School. I loved reading Bible stories and learning about how much God loved me. But over time I felt singled out by my classmates in school because of my religious beliefs, such as relying on prayer for healing instead of traditional Western medicine. It seemed as if I never quite fit in. Not wanting to feel so different, I decided to follow the crowd and start drinking. I wanted to be liked.

My decision to drink seemed like part of a natural progression into adulthood as I went off to college. I stopped going to Sunday School. College life for me consisted of studying, working, and partying. During my time in college, I was a good employee and a good student, but my social life was fueled by alcohol and drugs. I put myself in dangerous situations while drunk, and it was not uncommon for me to black out.

Throughout my 20s and into my 30s, things were very difficult. I was admitted to and completed a 30-day treatment program. I attempted suicide. I was committed to numerous psychiatric holds due to dangerous behavior while drunk. For a time my son was cared for by my loving parents. My young family and I enjoyed long bouts of my sobriety during this time, but when some challenge in life came up, I was pulled back in by the false promise of relief through alcohol or drugs. Chaos and destruction ruled over my days, and during all of this, I always had a desire to stop drinking.

My complete healing of alcohol and drug use was the result of a gradual spiritual awakening into the reality of who I really am, the Cher who God had loved, does love, and is continually loving. It was after my final psychiatric hold that I really woke up. I would describe it as a surrendering to God that left me desiring to be healed above all else. I knew God loved me, and I knew I had a choice in how I lived my life. I started to once again pray to the God I had gotten to know in Sunday School, and I would eventually come to understand that He had never stopped knowing me as His spiritual, flawless, pure, loved child.

I prayed to know God more deeply and more completely. I reacquainted myself with the synonyms for God in the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy. This book includes a Glossary, which defines “God” as “the great I AM; the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-acting, all-wise, all-loving, and eternal; Principle; Mind; Soul; Spirit; Life; Truth; Love; all substance; intelligence” (p. 587).

As I grew spiritually, which was a natural movement of thought Spiritward, a much longer list of names for God started to become familiar to me – names that I could rely on: protector, comforter, Shepherd, healer, source of all good, the great Physician.

In the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible, we learn that God is all good – only good. “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (verse 31). This chapter also explains that God made us in His own image, which means we reflect God, including all of God’s qualities. For example, since God is Love and Truth, as God’s likeness we are loving and truthful. As I grew in my understanding of these spiritual facts, I was beginning to see that my real identity was spiritual and complete and perfect, made in God’s likeness.

God was becoming nearer and dearer in my thoughts, and my life choices started to show that. I was learning to trust God, my Father-Mother, in all of my affairs. “Not my will, but thine, be done” was a constant prayer, as I completely surrendered to divine Love. As a result of this, the substance abuse as well as a reliance on medications for mental health issues – and those underlying issues themselves – just naturally fell away; my healing was complete. “Love is the liberator,” as Science and Health states (p. 225).

My freedom from addiction to both alcohol and drugs has been permanent for well over a decade.

Jesus’ healing works speak to the fact that all of us are governed by God, Love, and are spiritual and eternal. Each of us can prove this reality for ourselves and others.

Adapted from a testimony published in the July 2020 issue of The Christian Science Journal.

Viewfinder

Shelter from conflict

Vladimir Pirogov/Reuters
A family that was evacuated after recent clashes on the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border is seen in a school that has been turned into a temporary shelter in the town of Batken in southern Kyrgyzstan, May 3, 2021. For the past 30 years, the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has been a site of recurring tensions related to land and water rights.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Thanks for kicking off another week with us. Tomorrow we’ll be back in the U.S. capital, and back on the subject of food aid, with an audio story (to give your eyes a screen break) about an organization that pivoted to serving first-time recipients – with special attention to preserving their dignity. 

More issues

2021
May
03
Monday

Give us your feedback

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