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Last week, a friend gave me the book “A Stronger Kinship” by historian Anna-Lisa Cox. It tells of Covert, Michigan, a small town 30 miles from my friend’s childhood home.
His nearly all-white high school had played them in sports, yet only now was he learning that more than a century ago, Black and white residents in Covert had “lived as equal citizens,” as the book puts it.
As far back as the 1860s, they treated each other as neighbors regardless of race, farming side by side and educating their children together, despite laws that forbade it. Black men not only voted with white men but ran for office and won. And women helped one another in their domestic spheres.
But it wasn’t all about work. Black and white residents worshipped and socialized together too. Covert was even a safe place to love, with a handful of people marrying across the color line.
The town wasn’t founded by abolitionists or intended as a utopia. It wasn’t perfect either, yet it rejected both slavery’s grip on the North and the nation’s post-bellum oppression: Jim Crow laws, lynchings, court-sanctioned segregation.
Against all odds, it remained “a community of radical equality” where, on a daily basis, people followed the Golden Rule.
As Dr. Cox suggests, the correct question may not be “Why did Covert happen?” but “Why not?”
“Our puzzlement over Covert reveals a hidden assumption that racism is the norm,” she writes.
That’s understandable given the nation’s history of race relations, but as she notes, “Covert reminds us that that terrible history was a choice … not a given.”
As momentum to defund the police dissipates, a view from Atlanta suggests more than a crime-fueled backlash. There’s acknowledgment of the good police do, even amid urgent calls to improve.
Less than a year ago, amid massive social justice protests across the United States, the idea of fundamentally reducing the role of police rose from nonstarter to distinct possibility. Voters in Minneapolis will in November consider whether to ax the city’s entire department, and Atlanta came within one city council vote of cutting $72 million from its police department.
Now, however, the mood across the country has changed as a crime wave has underscored the essential role of policing. Atlanta was at the forefront of efforts to rein in policing last year. But as the crime spike drives one affluent part of the city to consider secession, talk through the city has turned to a different goal: pushing police to do their jobs better.
“The movement was growing and growing – and then it just died,” says Risaiah Osborne, who participated in last year’s protests. His own personal evolution is part of the change, he adds.
“The more I think about this, I think we need to change American culture more than we need to change the cops. ... It’s the culture and the values” that are important.
Social justice activist Kelsea Bond spends a lot of time canvassing Atlanta’s highest-crime neighborhoods.
Her mission: Convince residents that, if core social and economic inequities were resolved, crime would abate and the city wouldn’t need a police department.
Less than a year ago, amid massive social justice protests across the United States, the idea of fundamentally reducing the role of police rose from nonstarter to distinct possibility.
Minneapolis voters will in November consider whether to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety, which would include some component of law enforcement. New York cut $1 billion from the nation’s largest police force. Atlanta came within one city council vote of cutting $72 million from its police department.
Today, however, that momentum has almost completely reversed. Ms. Bond says there has been “a doubling down on policing, increasing surveillance, and building a massive training center, which is in such stark contrast to the conversation we were trying to begin over the summer. What happened? What changed?”
The simple answer is crime. Like other cities, Atlanta has witnessed a new crime wave – bad enough that one affluent part of the city is considering secession. Yet in talking to residents across Atlanta, even those sympathetic to the defund movement now say it overreached. The way forward, many say, is not in getting rid of the police, but helping them do a better job.
“‘Defund the police’ was a slogan that really backfired ... because across the country – not only in Atlanta – people living in those neighborhoods who aren’t necessarily activists don’t want the police gone, especially with crime spiking,” says Ron Bayor, a historian at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “What people do want is police reform.”
The question of how hard to push police hit home quickly for Atlanta. The killing of Rayshard Brooks a few weeks after George Floyd’s murder further fueled protests, and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms immediately called for the arrest of the officer.
The response from local cops: 170 officers called out sick as morale plummeted. In the past year, more than 200 officers have left the force and only 60 have been hired. Arrests nose-dived in the months after the protests, according to internal Atlanta Police Department records provided to the Monitor last year.
For Risaiah Osborne, a 20-something student who lives near where Mr. Brooks was killed, gunfire has been a weekly occurrence outside his home.
A participant in last year’s protests, he says, “the movement was growing and growing – and then it just died.”
He admits his own personal evolution is part of it. Though he believes that the city can invest more resources into its toughest neighborhoods, he says, “the fact is, defund the police was never a winning message. Without the cops, I know folks would be up running into my house.”
He now believes the answer is what he saw during an afternoon run. He spotted two Black officers on bicycles, talking to locals. “As a Black man, I just breathe a little easier when I see cops that look like me. It’s easier to stop and talk.”
“The more I think about this, I think we need to change American culture more than we need to change the cops,” he says. “If you think about sports, it feels like this country is a losing team right now. It’s not the players who need to be changed. It’s the culture and the values of the team.”
The crime spike has had a political impact, here and beyond. Mayor Lance Bottoms recently announced, with few details, that she was not seeking a second term. In New York City, front-runner Eric Adams, a former officer who wants to see more officers on the street, took a strong early lead in the city’s working-class boroughs while struggling in Manhattan.
Last year, nine city council members in Minneapolis stood on a stage set with a “defund the police” banner. Voters will face one charter proposal in November that would eliminate the department altogether.
But Mayor Jacob Frey has put forward his own proposal. He wants to reduce traffic stops, boost internal affairs, and give rank-and-file officers the power to intervene when they see professionalism slip among other officers. Yet crucially, Mayor Frey also wants to build the decimated department back to its full 888 members by 2023.
“If we were having [the defund] discussion when violent crime was kind of at historic lows, it would be a different debate,” says Wesley Skogan, author of “Community Policing: Can it work?” “The question now is: ‘What am I, as the mayor, going to do right now?’ Fixing the police and getting them paid enough and getting them deployed smartly by tomorrow night is what you come back to.”
For her part, Ms. Bond, the activist, worries that police were able to change the conversation by not doing their jobs.
“If you claim to be somebody who cares about public safety and keeping communities safe, and then you fail to show up just because you’re having a bad day, well, what would happen if a teacher did that or a doctor?” says Ms. Bond of Defund APD, Refund Communities (DARC). “It takes a lot of audacity and sense of self-importance to say that you stand for one thing and then not show up to supposedly do that thing.”
But those dynamics only illustrate that police reform is about more than “hard, green dollars,” says Robbie Friedmann, a policing expert at Georgia State University. When a profession that is ostensibly built on service and honor is cast as immoral, the consequences can be severe.
“What the implications are is that officers are resigning, they’re retiring early, and new cadets are not coming in at the numbers police need them,” says Mr. Friedmann, who runs an international police officer exchange program. “When you erode the moral basis of police authority and police deterrent powers, that is a boomerang [that is] counterproductive to policing itself and detrimental to the society that we live in.”
Those stakes are on full display in the Buckhead neighborhood. Atlanta annexed Buckhead in the 1950s in a bid to bring economic and racial diversity to a largely Black city. Today, Buckhead is part of the urban-suburban coalition in Georgia that elected Joe Biden and two Democratic senators in 2020. But some in the area want to secede from Atlanta.
In the past year, Buckhead has seen robberies increase by 39%, aggravated assaults by 52%, and larceny by 40%. If Buckhead seceded, it would take 40% of Atlanta’s tax base.
“It would destroy Atlanta,” says Mike Gunter, a record store clerk who has lived and worked in Buckhead for 40 years.
Mr. Gunter links the secession movement directly to the defund movement and mayor’s crackdown on policing. He points to a no-chase policy instituted under Mayor Lance Bottoms that has allowed street racers to tear up the streets with impunity, setting a lawless tone.
“We’ve had crime waves before,” he says. “But nothing quite this sustained and intense.”
Yet secession is a terrible idea, he says. “Let’s be clear: The annexation of Buckhead was about race. But this is not about race. It’s about crime and equitable policing. All our neighborhoods should be equally safe, and it’s up to the city to make that happen. But secession would be counterproductive.”
Leaders in Atlanta now are trying to address these concerns. Officers have received a $2,500 bonus for staying put. The proposed police budget is up significantly. And city leaders want to incorporate new ideas and protocols for officers at a proposed police training center.
The shift seems to reflect a prevailing attitude among residents, including Ted Jamison, a retiree out cleaning his truck in the Edgewood neighborhood.
To Mr. Jamison, the defund idea became a starting point in a necessary negotiation. But as an answer to the city’s problems, it falls short, he says. After all, “it’s not the police who are committing all this crime,” he notes.
He wants a strong, but respectful police force trained to de-escalate conflict, and focused on tackling serious criminality before it gets worse.
Despite prominent and tragic confrontations between police and the Black community, there has been progress, says Professor Bayor, author of “Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta.”
“Police are much better here than they were years ago. There’s diversity in terms of people and practice,” he says. “But you’ve had a few outstanding incidents where the violence could have been de-escalated and nobody had to be shot. That’s what police have to work on.”
Debra Flowers agrees.
The Atlanta retiree carries her ID in a shoulder bag just in case police approach her and her friends as they hang out in a park in the Mechanicsville neighborhood.
“Sometimes it’s annoying to be hassled by them, and sometimes they threaten you with a ticket,” she says. “But they are just doing their job. They are keeping watch. They are protecting us. I’m old, but I’m a tough lady. Ain’t nobody going to rob me, if I can help it. But I don’t think we need fewer cops. We need more of them.”
As for officers who break the law, discriminate and hurt, even kill, people without reason, she says: “That’s what lawyers are for.”
An oft-repeated reason for America’s 20-year presence in Afghanistan is fueling fear about U.S. troops’ departure from the country. But analysts doubt there’s reason for that worry.
The U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan comes with a raft of worries, but one of them can likely be laid to rest: that without American troops on the ground, terrorist groups, like Al Qaeda, will establish hidden safe havens for plotting 9/11-style attacks on America.
It’s true that, in the late 1990s, Afghanistan allowed “tremendous freedom of action” for terrorists, says Daniel Byman, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. But as the 9/11 Commission Report notes, the three-pronged attack on American soil 20 years ago was hatched in Manila, not Afghanistan.
American ability to locate and strike terrorists, even those hiding in remote locations, has only improved since then, thanks to multibillion-dollar reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence systems, including drones.
More important, the U.S. has become quite good at monitoring terrorist movements, and it partners with other countries who are too, Mr. Byman notes. Such widespread information sharing across continents has sent terrorist networks underground.
Also, practically speaking, if the Taliban take over Afghanistan after the Americans’ departure, it’s unclear they would even allow Al Qaeda to hide out there, since that could be the one thing that might bring the Biden administration back into the country, which the Taliban do not want.
In the 20 years since the U.S. war in Afghanistan began, there has been debate about the desirability of nation building, sufficient troop levels – from tens of thousands to none at all – and the right time and way to leave.
But as the U.S. completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan in the coming weeks, well in advance of the planned Sept. 11 deadline, there is no daylight on either side of the political aisle on one point: the danger that Afghanistan could “once again become a safe haven for terrorists.”
It’s a stock phrase repeated in nearly every turning-point speech about the way forward for the nation since 2001. President George W. Bush decried safe havens in advance of the invasion. In announcing the 2009 surge of U.S. forces into Afghanistan, President Barack Obama said it was the specter of “an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans” that convinced him to override his skepticism about more boots on the ground.
And just last month, the acting assistant secretary of defense for the region, David Helvey, assured lawmakers that in the midst of the withdrawal, the Pentagon is doing its best to make sure the country “cannot again become a safe haven for terrorists who threaten our security.”
But while it has reached near-mythic status in U.S. military culture, the threat of violent extremists creating another safe haven in Afghanistan – particularly when used to justify prolonged U.S. troop presence – is overblown, analysts increasingly argue. And though concerns about the fate of women, their children, and military interpreters in the face of potential Taliban rule are very real, the menace of terrorist sanctuary may be one area, at least, in which Americans with an interest in the war’s outcome might rest a bit more easily, they add.
For starters, the 9/11 attacks didn’t happen because Al Qaeda had a safe space in Afghanistan, but rather because the U.S. failed to implement effective homeland security measures – a series of tragic oversights that have long since been remedied, argues retired Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, now a senior fellow at Defense Priorities, a Washington think tank.
“Americans have been warned repeatedly over the years that the quote ‘loss’ of Afghanistan is going to result in a terrorist safe haven and have disastrous consequences for U.S. security. There are 72 designated foreign terror organizations in vast areas all over the globe, and you’re telling me that our country is being kept safe by having 2,500 troops in Afghanistan?” he says. “Somebody’s got to pull out the flag and say it’s just not logical.”
True, in the late 1990s, Afghanistan was “quite remarkable” in terms of “tremendous freedom of action” for terrorist groups, says Daniel Byman, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “There was money, specialized training – more than just target practice,” as well as “bureaucratic potential,” which might involve leaders crossing paths with, say, a would-be fighter speaking excellent French. They could buttonhole him, thinking, “‘Oh, we can use him in an operation in a French-speaking country,’” Mr. Byman notes.
For the most part, though, rather than painting a picture of an around-the-water-cooler sort of planning synergy forged in Afghan training camps, the 9/11 Commission Report notes that attack mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed hatched the idea of using aircraft as weapons while sharing an apartment in Manila, Philippines, with his nephew, who also enjoyed planning terrorist attacks.
While Osama bin Laden did initially invite him to move to Afghanistan, KSM, as he is sometimes known, declined early on, preferring to remain an independent freelancer of plots while traveling from Brazil to India to Indonesia and back. It was in Karachi that KSM taught potential hijackers how to read phone books, interpret airline timetables, use the internet, and make travel arrangements. They also played a lot of computer games, the commission report adds.
While the 9/11 attackers used box cutters as their weapons of choice, it’s certainly undesirable to have terrorists practicing shooting maneuvers and mass-attack techniques in safe havens. But such places have become far easier to spot and strike.
Even before 9/11, U.S. officials had little problem knowing where Mr. bin Laden was, and they had a number of chances to kill him, though they chose not to. Since then, the U.S. ability to locate and strike terrorists, even those hiding in remote locations, has only improved, thanks to multibillion-dollar reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence systems, including drones.
It’s also unclear that the Taliban would allow Al Qaeda the chance to hide out in Afghanistan. There’s considerable intelligence showing that the Taliban were not cheering Al Qaeda’s terror attacks but rather asking “What’s going on with them?” says Mr. Byman. But if they do, the U.S. can strike them. Allowing Al Qaeda sanctuary is also the one thing that might bring the Biden administration back into the country, which the Taliban do not want.
In the meantime, and even more important, the U.S. has become quite good at monitoring terrorist movements, and it partners with other countries who are too, Mr. Byman notes. If Moroccan police disrupt a terrorist plot, for example, they might share a Parisian mobile number used by a plotter with French authorities, who may in turn trace money transfers from the owner of that phone to Saudi Arabia, which they then share with Saudi authorities. “Most counterterrorism is global intelligence cooperation,” he says. “It’s just massive sharing throughout.”
These measures have sent terrorist networks underground. “It’s made it dangerous to talk on the phone, use emails, gather in large groups – and without that it’s tough to run a global clandestine organization,” Mr. Byman says. During the Syrian War, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was getting messages from subordinates along the lines of “What’s going on? You haven’t answered your emails for three months,” he notes. “All that hunting makes them a much less relevant organization.”
During his House Armed Services Committee testimony in May, Mr. Helvey alluded to these U.S. capabilities. “We’ve learned a lot over the past 20 years in how to address transnational terrorist threats,” he said. “I mean, you know that every time you take a commercial flight or open a bank account, there’s a lot of things we’ve been able to do across the government to better understand, prosecute, and characterize those terrorist threats.”
Given this, Lieutenant Colonel Davis is puzzled by concerns that withdrawing troops from Afghanistan could open the door to terrorist attacks on America, particularly as he thinks back to his time traveling the country as chief of the rapid equipping force during the height of the surge.
It was out on a foot patrol with an infantry platoon in dangerous and far-flung Kunar province that Lieutenant Colonel Davis began to question the concept that troops were keeping America safe by disrupting terrorist safe havens. “We were trekking up the side of a mountain, and this lieutenant says, ‘We control maybe 100 meters on either side of this goat trail.’ Then he corrected himself. ‘We periodically influence 100 meters on either side.’”
Along the way, the troops passed locals eying them. “Those guys could’ve been the biggest terrorist commanders that ever existed. They could have been actively discussing a plot to attack America, and we never would have known it,” Lieutenant Colonel Davis says. “The idea that it was our patrol stopping a terrorist attack on America was laughable.”
Beyond that, such narratives obscure some very positive counterterrorism developments since 9/11, he adds. “There’s been a real success story for the U.S. in being able to keep us safe no matter where these divergent threats come from. The frustrating part to me is that we haven’t translated that to say, ‘So now why do we need troops on this one tiny stretch of dirt in Afghanistan?’”
The latest hack comes as the government steps up its digital defense, with a new national cyber director. Officials are taking aim at cybercriminals, as well as businesses with lax cybersecurity.
As the U.S. private sector scrambles to fend off a growing number of ransomware attacks, the federal government is stepping up its efforts as well. Last month, the Senate approved Chris Inglis, a former deputy director of the National Security Agency, as the nation’s first-ever national cyber director, tasked with coordinating the government’s cyber portfolio and digital defense strategy. A second key post, director of the primary domestic cybersecurity agency, is expected to be filled shortly.
Officials are making clear they will seek not just to hold cybercriminals to account – but also companies whose inadequate cybersecurity measures have put them and their customers at risk.
With 2,354 U.S. schools, governments, and healthcare facilities impacted by ransomware last year alone, according to a study from antivirus software firm Emsisoft, “a team effort” is needed to address the problem, Mr. Inglis said during his nomination hearing.
“What you’re starting to see from the Biden administration already is a little bit more of a wariness around leaving [cybersecurity] in the hands of the private sector,” says Josephine Wolff, an associate professor of cybersecurity policy at The Fletcher School of Tufts University.
Holidays are not time off for hackers. Over the July 4th weekend, a sophisticated cyberattack on a software supplier sent multiple ransomware notices to companies across the world.
Prior to Memorial Day, it was the meat supply that hackers put in jeopardy. In response to that attack, the company JBS Foods USA decided to pay an $11 million ransom – but now, what appears to be the same cybercriminal group has broadened its scope and upped the ante, initially demanding $70 million to restore services after a hack of the Miami-based software company Kaseya and roughly 60 of its customers.
Kaseya supplies software to managed service providers, which then operate smaller organizations’ information technology systems, ranging from dentists to grocers. Hundreds of stores of the Swedish grocer Coop closed over the weekend when their cash registers became inoperable. The managed service provider for the grocery chain is a Kaseya customer, and with the malware attacking Kaseya at the source, that left Coop and some 1,500 other businesses around the world scrambling over the weekend to get back online.
The hack comes during what one cyber expert calls a “period of adjustment” for the federal government. After struggling to keep pace with cyberthreats, the government has moved to place leadership on the issue with a single official who has enhanced authorities. It's a step toward greater coordination, oversight, and accountability on large and fast-evolving risks.
Last month, senators approved Chris Inglis, a former deputy director of the National Security Agency, as the nation’s first-ever national cyber director. A similar role was eliminated in 2018, but now the newly strengthened position – along with an office of up to 75 staff members – will coordinate the government’s cyber portfolio and digital defense strategy. A second key post, director of the primary domestic cybersecurity agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), is expected to be filled shortly.
Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent, called these posts as vital in the digital age as the secretary of Defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We have to reimagine conflict,” Senator King said. “The front line of this conflict can take place in a server farm on Wall Street, in a pipeline company or in an electric company or in a water service utility anywhere in America.”
Under this new leadership, the U.S. is looking to better protect government systems as well as businesses. And officials are making clear they will seek not just to hold cybercriminals to account, but also companies whose inadequate cybersecurity measures have put them and their customers at risk. Even when a company, like Kaseya, does many things right, the lack of criminal consequences for hackers and success so far in obtaining ransom payments causes the cycle of cyber malfeasance to continue.
JBS’s ransom payment came just weeks after another company, Colonial Pipeline, made a similar payment in May. The gas pipeline company, which provides nearly half the fuel for the East Coast, paid a $4.4 million ransom to a different criminal group. The multi-day shutdown sparked fears of a shortage, causing long lines at gas stations along parts of the East Coast. While some of that ransom was ultimately recovered by the FBI, U.S.-based companies still paid out millions to cybercriminals in a matter of weeks.
Asked about the ethics of ransom payments during his nomination hearing on June 10, Mr. Inglis said the U.S. ought to hold companies accountable “not so much for paying the ransom – but for being in a position where they had to pay the ransom in the first place, for the failure to prepare for that.”
With 2,354 U.S. schools, governments, and healthcare facilities impacted by ransomware last year alone, according to a study from antivirus software firm Emsisoft, “a team effort” is needed to address the problem, Mr. Inglis said.
In May, President Joe Biden issued an executive order intended to shore up federal networks against cyberattacks. Among other things, it requires federal contractors to meet new cybersecurity standards and share information about any breaches. The order also established a year-long process for “enhancing software supply chain security” in advance of the Kaseya hack.
“What you’re starting to see from the Biden Administration already is a little bit more of a wariness around leaving [cybersecurity] in the hands of the private sector,” says Josephine Wolff, an associate professor of cybersecurity policy at The Fletcher School of Tufts University.
The new national cyber director is responsible for coordinating cyber components of the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Treasury in battling ransomware. The CISA director will be the primary conduit between the federal government and private sector.
Jen Easterly, the nominee to lead CISA, called the national cyber director the “coach of the team,” during the same June 10 hearing. The Army veteran and former NSA official likened her prospective organization, CISA, whose role includes protecting civilian networks and critical infrastructure, to the “quarterback” of federal cybersecurity.
Congress, too, is pushing for the federal government and private sector to work more in concert to defend against ransomware. A bipartisan cadre of senators have drafted legislation that would require certain private sector entities, including critical infrastructure operators, to report cyber intrusions within 24 hours to the federal government. Such reporting has historically been voluntary, and companies have often been hesitant to disclose breaches. The information shared would be exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests and from use as evidence in lawsuits. The Senate Homeland Security Committee is also working on drafting legislation to address ransomware.
While all this might seem to portend conflict between the business community and the government, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Christopher Roberti says he’s expecting a fruitful partnership.
The relationship between government and the private sector in cybersecurity has been “strong for a long time,” says Mr. Roberti, senior vice president for cyber, intelligence, and supply chain security policy at the Chamber. “We have to stay together and avoid the tendency to try to say, ‘It’s not my fault, it’s your fault,’ because that just benefits the adversaries.”
The Chamber wrote a letter of recommendation last summer in support of the new position of national cyber director. Mr. Roberti says conversations with Mr. Inglis were a part of the reason why.
“He’s a person who really does value collaboration, cohesion, and working together to identify the critical problems that we face – and then help to come up with solutions,” Mr. Roberti says.
Canada faces deep questions after the discovery of unmarked graves at schools for Indigenous children. But the U.S. had similar schools, and there’s hope an investigation could begin a long-awaited process of reconciliation.
The schools that forcibly and sometimes fatally sought to assimilate Canada’s Indigenous children were based on a model. That model came from across the border in the United States.
Through the Civil War, the United States’ approach to Native people was to conquer and subjugate them through warfare. The turn to “Indian industrial schools” was meant to wipe their cultural traditions and languages out of existence.
Little is known about Indian industrial schools. There were 367 boarding schools, run by 14 different Christian denominations, that operated in the U.S. between approximately 1870 and 1970, according to the nonprofit National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. Allegations of abuse were common.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold that post, has launched an investigation into the Indian industrial schools. The hope is the initiative will begin a proactive, long-term reconciliation process, similar to what has been undertaken between governments and Indigenous populations in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.
“It’s the first time [the federal government] has done anything with respect to reconciling,” says Brett Shelton, a staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund. “It’s hugely significant.”
The discovery of unmarked burial sites in Canada holding the remains of nearly 1,000 people, mainly Indigenous children, has reverberated worldwide. But it has hit a particularly resonant note in the United States.
The burial sites were discovered last month near former residential schools – government-sponsored religious institutions created to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children into white society. More than 130 such schools operated in Canada from the 1870s to the 1990s; an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and placed in them.
As part of our coverage, the Monitor has written an Explainer on the Canadian schools and an article about the mounting desire for the Roman Catholic church to apologize. Here, we look at American schools.
The United States had a similar, and larger, network of institutions known as boarding schools, named “Indian industrial schools.” The discovery of one of the burial sites in Canada in June prompted Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, to launch an investigation into the federal government’s boarding school program.
The architect of Canada’s residential school system, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, drew direct inspiration from the United States. With both countries facing a supposed “Indian problem” in 1878, he sent Nicholas Flood Davin to America to study a central feature of the federal government’s new policy: industrial schools.
The previous policy had been, effectively, extermination. Boarding schools represented a shift to a “policy of cultural genocide,” the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) wrote in a 2013 legal review. “This approach was thought to be less costly than wars against the tribes or eradication of Native populations.”
There were 367 boarding schools, run by 14 different Christian denominations, that operated in the U.S. between approximately 1870 and 1970, according to the nonprofit National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS). Children were banned from speaking their Native languages, wearing traditional clothing and hairstyles, and practicing traditional religions. They were taught that being Native American was sinful and something to be ashamed of, and were frequently abused physically, sexually, and emotionally, according to NARF and NABS reports. Many children ran away from the schools. Some died there.
Specifics are thin, however. Because they’ve only been able to locate records from 38% of the boarding schools they know of, NABS said in a recent statement, “it is still unknown how many Native American children attended, died, or went missing from Indian boarding schools.”
At the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the country’s flagship boarding school from 1879 to 1918, over 1,800 children ran away and nearly 500 died, according to NARF. In later years, students at many schools were doused with DDT upon arrival.*
In 1916, at the Rainy Mountain Boarding School in southwest Oklahoma, 163 of 168 students were diagnosed with dangerous eye infections, according to a 2019 NARF report. Over 20 years, the school’s enrollment more than tripled but no additional dormitory space was created.
Native groups say the schools’ legacy continues to be felt in their communities today, feeding issues like delinquency, addiction, and violence.
Abby Abinanti’s mother and aunts, members of the Yurok Tribe in Northern California, were sent as young girls to the Sherman Institute near Los Angeles. Between 1905 and 1955, some 67 children died and were buried at the school, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Judge Abinanti, head of the Yurok Tribal Court, knows her mother, the youngest of the siblings, would sometimes get them all in trouble by sneaking from her dorm into theirs. She knows almost nothing else about what her relatives experienced there. But she thinks it’s why they were always OK with her skipping school as a student.
“It made everything clear why they did certain things. But that [story] is the most I ever heard,” she says. “They would not, or could not, talk about it.”
Secretary Haaland’s initiative will be the first Interior Department examination of the industrial schools program since 1928.
Secretary Haaland and tribal advocates are hoping it will provide a full accounting of how many children died at boarding schools in the U.S. and where they’re buried. This would bring closure for families and the opportunity to bring relatives’ remains home.
But the government is also hoping the initiative will begin a proactive, long-term reconciliation process, similar to those undertaken between governments and Indigenous populations in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.
“It’s the first time [the federal government] has done anything with respect to reconciling,” says Brett Shelton, a staff attorney at NARF. “It’s hugely significant.”
Still, he has concerns – primarily that the initiative could end when Secretary Haaland, the first Native American cabinet member in U.S. history, leaves the department.
“We’re talking over 100 years of policy and practice,” he adds. “It will take a lot of work to come out with a full accounting of what happened during that time.”
At a time when the country is wrestling with how to teach and confront the darker periods of its history, this boarding school initiative could set an example.
“While it may be difficult to learn of the traumas suffered in the boarding school era, understanding its impacts on communities today cannot occur without acknowledging that painful history,” Secretary Haaland wrote in a memo announcing the initiative.
“Only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future we are all proud to embrace.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of John A. Macdonald’s last name. An earlier version of this article also inaccurately reported that the Carlisle Indian Industrial School sprayed new arrivals with DDT. That practice was associated with many schools in later years.
What does it mean to be a force of change in the community? For Otto Orondaam, it means “serving with your heart not because it is a job but because it is a responsibility you owe your society.”
Nigeria has one of the world’s highest rates of out-of-school children, according to UNICEF – around one-third – although primary education is free and compulsory. Learning during pandemic shutdowns has been especially challenging, since only around half the population has internet access.
Slum2School, a nonprofit based in Lagos, is one organization trying to change that. Set up by Otto Orondaam, the initiative aims to enroll and keep children in school, whether that means offering scholarships, or going door to door and asking parents to sign their kids up. And when the pandemic struck, Slum2School launched a virtual class for high schoolers, after distributing hundreds of tablets.
Mr. Orondaam’s passion project began when he first encountered Makoko, a low-income neighborhood in the Lagos Lagoon, through a documentary. The area, a poster child for urban poverty in the developing world, had been largely covered in international media in a way that he found unflattering – and he felt compelled to visit.
“There were kids there who had never been in school and had no plans to go. I loved the energy,” he recalls. “I knew they were happy, but I thought, ‘You can be happier with education; if you have an education, you can make better choices.’”
It was one of the few times Otto Orondaam was ever tempted to quit.
The year was 2012 and Mr. Orondaam’s passion project, Slum2School, was off to a bumpy start. Here in Makoko, a low-income neighborhood on the Lagos Lagoon, many fishing families need children to stay home and help with their trade. His brand-new nonprofit aimed to get those kids into school, and for weeks, he’d planned an event, hounding a medical company for mosquito nets to hand out as an incentive.
But just minutes before, the company called – it could not deliver the nets.
“I cried horribly,” the young reformer recalls, laughing, sitting in a well-lit office and sporting a deep-blue turtleneck. “The parents were waiting and this was going to be the highlight of the event, the only thing they could take home, but there were no nets. It was a heartbreaking moment for me.”
But Mr. Orondaam’s upbeat personality soon took over. He quickly called up friends, asking for donations. Two hours later, he zoomed in and out of a market, purchasing and distributing 200 mosquito nets – and ended up enrolling 114 children in existing public primary and high schools that the organization partnered with.
Fast-forward to 2021, and Slum2School says it has directly sponsored almost 2,000 children. Many are still from Makoko – including Hamdalat Hussein’s grandson, Abdulmalik. “What Slum2School is doing for us here is good,” she says in the local Yoruba language, sitting in a one-bedroom home she shares with two grandchildren. “He’s rarely home,” she adds of Abdulmalik – because he heads to the library with friends after school. “I am praying to see him become somebody after he finishes school.”
Nigeria has one of the world’s highest rates of out-of-school children, according to UNICEF – around one-third – although primary education is free and compulsory. Learning during pandemic shutdowns has been especially challenging, since only around half the population has internet access.
Slum2School, which is funded through donations and grants, works to enroll and keep children in school through advocacy and scholarships: going door to door and asking parents to sign their kids up, reenrolling dropouts, and providing students with scholarships and books. The organization works closely with the Lagos state government to “adopt” public schools. And when the pandemic struck, Slum2School launched a virtual class for high schoolers, after distributing hundreds of tablets.
“I was able to teach myself graphics design and many things like how to make logos and flyers,” says Habeebat Olatunde. Her siblings had skipped around her, fascinated, as she joined hundreds of children in class from their home in Iwaya, another low-income neighborhood bordering Makoko. Now in her final year of high school, Habeebat says she wants to be a human rights lawyer and fight for vulnerable teenage girls. “Teenagers like me, I see them being raped and no one fights for the girl for justice, so I have to do it when I grow up.”
Most dropouts leave school as adolescents, Mr. Orondaam says, and a big factor is high teenage pregnancy rates. Forty percent of girls in Iwaya have been pregnant by age 19, according to a report from the Nigerian nonprofit Action Health.
On a recent afternoon, Mr. Orondaam sat in Slum2School’s headquarters in the upscale Lekki area of Lagos, with outer walls shaped like colorful crayons. He flicked through old photos and chuckled at one of himself, thin and sunburned – one of the first times he went to Makoko, standing beside smiling parents holding nets, with the neighborhood’s wooden shacks as a backdrop.
Growing up in Port Harcourt, a city in southern Nigeria, Mr. Orondaam studied to be a doctor but pivoted to social work, influenced by his parents. His father was the first doctor from his village and would offer free services. His mother was basically “everyone’s mother,” he says. “Our classmates would not have sandals, and my mum would come and take yours and give them. The things I picked up from that was devotion to service, serving with your heart not because it is a job but because it is a responsibility you owe your society.”
He first encountered Makoko through a documentary. The area, a poster child for urban poverty in the developing world, had been largely covered in international media in a way that Mr. Orondaam found unflattering. He felt compelled to visit while completing his National Youth Service Corps in Lagos – a mandatory one-year program for Nigerian university graduates.
“It was the first time I was seeing that kind of community,” Mr. Orondaam remembers. “There were kids there who had never been in school and had no plans to go. I loved the energy. I knew they were happy, but I thought, ‘You can be happier with education; if you have an education, you can make better choices.’”
He resigned from his stifling bank job and started weekly visits to Makoko, updating friends via a blog. When he came up with the idea to send 100 children to school, they supported him through donations, and often came with him on visits.
Today, the Slum2School volunteer network is thousands strong. Some help with door-to-door checks, convincing parents to put their kids in school. Others organize events, or work in anything from communications to mentorship and technology.
From Lagos’ Third Mainland Bridge, the whole of Makoko, the floating fishing community, spreads out below. The overcrowded area has been inhabited by migrants from neighboring Benin for decades. As land ran out, people moved onto the water.
Tightly packed wooden homes on stilts fan out on the dark, murky lagoon for miles, and canoes slip in between them. Onshore, children kick around a football during school hours while others smoke fish.
In 2011, on one of Mr. Orondaam’s first visits, Tope Iroko, a high school dropout, watched him struggle to tell community members about his project in English, a language few understood. Mr. Iroko offered to translate. Now Slum2School’s community officer, Mr. Iroko says the past 10-plus years have brought change.
“Before, there used to be fighting every time because boys had no education and no employment,” Mr. Iroko explains. Today, Slum2School has engaged many young men as community volunteers.
Sunday Jlado, 26, is the first in the network to finish university. He started volunteering in 2013 after costs forced him to discontinue school. With Mr. Orondaam’s encouragement, he sat and passed college exams. The network helped fund his studies, and he is now looking to interview for a role in the organization.
“I feel privileged to be the first graduate,” Mr. Jlado tells the Monitor in a phone call. “I’ve had many challenges, but joining has helped me overcome them.”
The work being done by organizations like Slum2School in Lagos’ slums is “priceless,” says Betty Abah, founder of CEE-HOPE, a nonprofit that provides vulnerable children with mentorship and skills training. “But due to the huge population and enormity of the poverty-related issues, these efforts are still a far cry from solving the problems.”
Back in Makoko, Abdulmalik often helps his grandmother sell fish, juggling that with school. Thin and soft-spoken, Abdulmalik says he was once sorely shy, but has gained confidence through the network’s mentorship classes. During one class, he encountered renowned Lagos architect Jacqueline Aki. Now, he’s sure he’ll design big buildings in the city one day.
“I’m here for a purpose,” Abdulmalik says, hanging out with peers in the Makoko center. “I was brought up in Makoko to solve a problem.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to more accurately describe CEE-HOPE.
Almost by definition, entrepreneurs are known to set sky-high goals in business. Perhaps no other goal could be loftier than making space travel available to as many people as possible. In the next few days two billionaires, who made money in earthbound ventures, will show prospective space tourists that they won’t be asked to do anything these wealthy “astropreneurs,” as they are being called, wouldn’t do themselves. On July 11, Sir Richard Branson of Britain’s Virgin Group will ride into suborbital space aboard his Virgin Galactic spacecraft. Then on July 20, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos plans to make a suborbital flight aboard his Blue Origin spacecraft.
A space race between wealthy entrepreneurs may seem like mere spectacle. But it has accelerated progress in the space industry with a burst of innovation. Entrepreneurs are willing to risk it all, a skill that enables them to effectively cope with “uncertainty and unknowability …. and effectively take action,” notes Leonard Schlesinger, a professor at Harvard Business School.
The fearless imaginations of these astropreneurs have set new visions in space, where unknown challenges and opportunities await in abundance.
Almost by definition, entrepreneurs are known to set sky-high goals in business. Perhaps no other goal could be loftier than making space travel available to as many people as possible. But will their flights be safe?
In the next few days two billionaires, who made money in earthbound ventures, will show prospective space tourists that they won’t be asked to do anything these wealthy “astropreneurs,” as they are being called, wouldn’t do themselves. On July 11, Sir Richard Branson of Britain’s Virgin Group will ride into suborbital space aboard his Virgin Galactic spacecraft. Then on July 20, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos plans to make a suborbital flight aboard his Blue Origin spacecraft.
Not to be forgotten is entrepreneur Elon Musk. His SpaceX rocket has already made three trips into orbit delivering crews and supplies to the International Space Station. While Mr. Musk hasn’t announced if he will be aboard a flight anytime soon, SpaceX plans to launch private citizens into Earth orbit for a three-day experience as soon as this September.
A space race between wealthy entrepreneurs may seem like mere spectacle. But it is one that is serving a useful purpose. “It has been a long time since we have had this much interest and accelerated progress in the space industry,” notes Rob Meyerson, former president of Blue Origin, now at an investment firm.
Each of these astropreneurs is passionately carrying out a vision of what commercial space travel might become. Each brings different approaches to space technologies. The result has been a burst of innovation, including rockets that can lift a payload into space and then make a controlled flight back to Earth, and a space plane that takes off, not from the ground, but from an airplane acting as its launchpad.
Even as the governments of space-faring nations continue to pursue national goals in space, the market in unmanned commercial space launches has quietly increased some 400% during the last five years as entrepreneurs have flocked to the field. And by one estimate, the space-tourism market could reach $3 billion a year by the end of this decade.
NASA, using taxpayers’ money, and putting U.S. national prestige on the line, necessarily must take a somewhat cautious approach in space. Entrepreneurs are willing to risk it all, a skill that enables them to effectively cope with “uncertainty and unknowability …. and effectively take action,” notes Leonard Schlesinger, a professor at Harvard Business School and former president of Babson College, which emphasizes entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurs shrug off setbacks. “Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again,” Mr. Branson has advised.
Mr. Bezos, who has just stepped down as chief executive of Amazon, famously talks of needing to “lean into the future” despite the head winds “because complaining isn’t a strategy.” His Blue Origin motto is “Gradatim Ferociter” – step by step, ferociously.
The fearless imaginations of these astropreneurs have set new visions in space, where unknown challenges and opportunities await in abundance.
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.
Sometimes it can seem that goodness can run out. But as a family experienced after one of them lost his job, recognizing God as the source of unlimited good empowers us to experience that goodness more consistently in our everyday lives.
Does it ever seem as though good is limited and can come and go at any time?
There have certainly been times when I felt that way. But I’ve also found that even during tough times, we can look to God’s powerful goodness, which – similar to rays of sunshine bursting through dark clouds – reaches receptive hearts and homes everywhere.
For six months during the pandemic, my husband and I experienced the joy of having all three of our grown children home, and what had been an “empty nesting” period for us suddenly became a large household again. So when my husband was told that his work-from-home position would be ending, it felt like a threatening cloud.
We had experienced other challenging lapses in employment and income during our marriage, each time facing our fears with prayer, and each instance resulting in gainful employment or supply that always met our family’s needs. So it was again natural for us to turn to God for an answer.
But this time felt different. The prayers we had committed to similar issues in the past felt like pillars of strength holding us up above the waves of what-ifs and concern for the future.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible provided needed strength and comfort: “‘Try Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it’” (Malachi 3:10, New King James Version). This reassured me that God’s goodness is never not enough or almost enough, but overflowing and abundant for all.
Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy explains in the textbook of Christian Science, “Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 494). Material income can fluctuate or be limited, so it’s not a reliable source of supply. But divine Love, another name for God, expresses boundless inspiration, creativity, and purpose in all His children. God doesn’t only sometimes provide opportunities to put such qualities to use, but always has and always will.
This very column and other Christian Science publications are full of modern-day examples of this. There are also biblical accounts of this providence. For instance, the prophet Elijah proved God’s ever present goodness during a time of drought and food scarcity in his country (see I Kings, chap. 17). God tells him to go to a widow and essentially ask her to give him the last of her food.
This woman expresses a lot of trust when she agrees to share what she has even in the face of great scarcity and lack. Based on God’s guidance, Elijah promises the woman that she will not run out of food before the drought ends. And that proves to be the case.
Our consistent prayers during this time, inspired by ideas along these lines, removed the fear that can lead to discord in the home. Instead we felt buoyed by the peace and trust in God that come from recognizing that divine supply is not limited. Each time a specific concern arose, prayer would bring a solid conviction that I could remain joyful and hopeful and that my husband’s skills were both needed and valued. It wasn’t long before my husband was able to seamlessly move to a similar position, where he remains today.
Each of us can bear witness to the power of divine good that just keeps flowing and cannot be shut down. Whatever our need is today, we can let God show us how His goodness is pouring out its blessing.
Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow for a look at how the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is using executive-branch appointments as a way to flex its muscle.