We’re back after a few weeks with another Extra, Extra! It’s been a busy few weeks with heartrending news developments centered around the violence of residential schools in Canada against Indigenous people, many major decisions from the US Supreme Court, ongoing crises in Texas, and the continuing spread of COVID-19 and deadly variants around the world. Here’s our aggregation and analysis!
Mourning Horrific Discovery of Indigenous Children’s Deaths at Residential Schools
Himani: There’s honestly very little I can say about this because I feel like no words can sufficiently capture how horrifying and how cruel everything about this has been up through the present day. I was discussing this with some friends recently, and one of the many things that’s striking about this is just how ubiquitous it was and — at the same time — how completely it’s been wiped from history. Off the top of my head, this recalls the atrocities committed against mostly Black boys at Florida’s Dozier school. I know that there are endless other stories like this, and yet it seems that society more broadly only learns about these horrors piecemeal, as if these things occurred in isolation of each other. And the commonality, in both of these cases at least, is that the survivors ask for more than empty acknowledgement. They want real, meaningful reparations for the harm that has reverberated across decades and across generations because of these types of “schools.” That shouldn’t be a question and yet, somehow, in the minds of those who have always held the power, it is.
Not a Banner Week for Texas
Rachel: I want to quickly draw some connections between the latter two articles – the first, which explicates how the corporate hunger for further fossil fuels extraction from Texas risks dangerous levels of methane emissions, and the latter, which explains how the record heat in Texas (and other parts of the American west, like California and Arizona) is causing power companies to ask residents to ‘conserve energy,’ sometimes as extreme as not using ovens or ACs, out of concern about whether the power grid can handle the heat and energy load. I think we have to explicitly acknowledge that these issues are compounding each other – this record heat is linked to climate change and is only going to get worse, not better, and greed for Texas oil will make it even more extreme even faster – worsening the climate effect for Texas’ poor while making its rich richer.
We talk sometimes about how the first and most extreme victims of climate change will be the global poor and in the global south, and it’s important we name this happening in the US too, and avoid our US-centric thinking of “this is a problem that will happen elsewhere.” We’re watching it happen to the working class and wildlife of Texas and other parts of the American south already — the people whose communities are targeted for resource extraction are suffering the worst and most immediate environmental consequences of that, without actually seeing any benefit from the resources being harvested.
Natalie: While Abbott prioritized signing this bill — at the Alamo of all places — the citizens of his state were conserving energy (in a heat wave) to avoid overtaxing their private electrical grid. Texas is a mess…an absolute mess.
Wins & Losses in the Supreme Court
Natalie: It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Attorney General Merrick Garland: first the criticism of the DOJ’s response in Hunter v. Department of Education and then revelations about the DOJ’s politicization under the last administration. While I think some of the criticism is misplaced, I think the overall sentiment that the Attorney General needs to do more and he needs to do it faster is spot-on. Garland’s use of his certification power to undo some of the anti-immigration rules of the Trump era are a welcome sight. As Blaine Bookey of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies told NPR: “The attorney general’s action today will restore fairness to the asylum process. It will save lives.”
It’s not nearly enough — Garland’s decision reverts immigration courts back to pre-Trump rules until Homeland Security and the DOJ can craft new rules — but it’s progress.
(Related Sidenote: this week, the Senate approved Merrick Garland’s replacement on the DC Court of Appeals: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. She’s widely considered the likely candidate for the Supreme Court, should a seat become available. Her appointment was supported by three Republicans: Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.)
Natalie: Would I have preferred that the outcome of this case had gone the other way? Yes, absolutely. Am I surprised that the Court ultimately sided with Catholic Social Services? Not at all. I listened to oral arguments back in November and the writing was on the proverbial wall. Justices Roberts and Gorsuch seemed to believe that the ability of the Department of Human Services commissioner to grant individual exemptions to the nondiscrimination policy — thus, tacitly permitting discrimination — rendered the objections to the discrimination by Catholic Social Services, moot (even though the exemptions were never utilized).
Honestly, the only thing that surprised me about the outcome was that it was a unanimous decision…that somehow the Chief Justice had managed to get Justices Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor to sign onto the opinion. Here’s how Mark Joseph Stern described it at Slate:
it’s easy to see why the three liberal justices signed onto his opinion. First and foremost, the decision does not imperil most LGBTQ non-discrimination laws, which usually lack an exception that would trigger strict scrutiny. (When they do contain exceptions, it’s often for religious conduct.) Roberts confirmed that ending anti-gay discrimination is a “weighty” state interest, quoting Masterpiece Cakeshop for the proposition that “our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth.” So lower courts can continue to uphold run-of-the-mill civil rights laws that protect LGBTQ people. Moreover, as Gorsuch noted in his concurrence, Philadelphia can get around this decision by abolishing discretion at every stage of the foster care process.
By signing onto the opinion, the Court’s liberal justices prevented the worst from happening…and with the Court’s current composition, that’s probably the best that we can hope for.
Natalie: Two things struck me about this case: first, the portion of Justice Sotomayor’s opinion where she absolutely dismantles Justice Thomas’ “sanitized history of the 100-to-1 [crack to cocaine] ratio.” We’ve seen this is so many cases since Justice Sotomayor took the bench…this, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the DACA case or affirmative action, just to name a few…about how clear-eyed she is about the history of this country and about the role that race has had in shaping that history. For now she’s confined to penning the extraordinary dissent, but one day, the world will recognize how brilliant (and right!) she’s been.
The other thing that struck me? Sotomayor says “Congress has numerous tools to right this injustice” but, despite their amicus brief in the case, I haven’t seen any movement from Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Cory Booker and Republican Sens. Charles Grassley and Mike Lee to correct this wrong that, they say, was never their intent in the first place. It seems like it should be an easy fix…and yet….
COVID Around the World
Natalie: This was such an interesting piece… Ed Yong’s work throughout this pandemic has been essential. He makes the forthcoming crisis as plain as possible: “In the U.S., unvaccinated people might be less likely to encounter someone infectious. But on each such encounter, their odds of catching COVID-19 are now greater than they were last year.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about what Yong talks about here — about collectivism vs. individualism — beyond the current moment to the future and the broader question of public health. The pandemic has affirmed (and strengthened) my belief that a true government run health care system is essential. As Ed Yong notes in his piece, “in the U.S., only the federal government has the power and financial freedom to define and defend the collective good,” and why does it matter if the threat to the collective good is an infectious disease like COVID or cancer?
But, as Yong makes clear, there are so many ways in which the United States didn’t embrace a collective solution to the pandemic and, instead, leaders have signaled “to vaccinated people that they can tap out of the collective problem.” Yong grapples with what that means for the present moment but I wonder what it means for the future. While I remain more convinced about the necessity of publicly funded health care, should I take the response to the pandemic as evidence that we’re further away from that possibility than, perhaps, we’ve ever been?
Himani: I really appreciated this piece by Ed Yong, but one connection he didn’t make (which I’m surprised about) that I want to draw is to this piece published in the Atlantic at the end of April: India Is What Happens When Rich People Do Nothing. Yong’s thesis is driving to this point exactly, and we need only look to the other side of the world to see what the outcome will be. Let me tell you, it’s not pretty.
Himani: File this under the pandemic category of things that are unsurprising but did not have to be inevitable. As America moves forward with reopening — Cuomo just lifted all restrictions in New York State this week to, I think, pretty much everyone’s dismay — the rest of the world is living through unimaginable horrors. Again and again, the answer has been before us in terms of handling the pandemic as a global pandemic. And again and again, we have failed to, reinforcing the structural inequalities built into every level of human existence from the global down to the hyper local and also — ultimately — to our own detriment.
We’re Still Dealing with Trump’s Aftermath
Himani: Garland is really proving to be the disappointment I think we all expected him to be. It’s shocking how many mediocre white people are truly failing to read the moment we are in (also looking at Manchin, Sinema and Breyer). They can’t be that blind to what’s happening around them which leaves open only one other possible explanation, which doesn’t reflect well on any of them: they are deeply committed to enshrining white power while claiming otherwise. In some ways, that level of hypocrisy feels worse than the plays of the likes of Trump, McConnell, Graham, Cruz, Rubio, Roberts and all the rest.
Natalie: There’s a great scene from The Wire where Stringer Bell’s hosting a meeting of Baltimore’s top drug kingpins at a local hotel. As the meeting’s wrapping up, Stringer looks over and spots one of his underlings, Shamrock, writing feverishly on a yellow pad. Stringer asks what he’s doing and Shamrock, earnestly, says that he’s taking the meeting minutes, as required by Robert’s Rules of Order. Dumbfounded, Stringer blasts him, “…is you takin’ notes on a criminal fuckin’ conspiracy? What the fuck is you thinking, man?”
That’s what I always think about when I read stories like this one…like they were so brazen about this conspiracy to overthrow an election, they decided to commit all the details to email? What the fuck were they thinking?
In Which Wealth Wins Out Once Again
Natalie: This really confirms everything we’ve always suspected about the wealthiest in this country. The idea that they’re paying their fair share — and thus cannot be burdened by an onerous wealth tax — is an absolute myth that’s being laid bare by ProPublica.
Himani: This is just truly shocking beyond words. As part of a bankruptcy filing, “dozens of family members, more than 160 financial trusts, and at least 170 companies, consultants and other entities associated with the Sacklers” will have legal immunity from all future lawsuits. Since when has bankruptcy law ever been applied in this way?
Legislation to Watch Out For
Natalie: I don’t even know what to say about this, honestly…it’s just so astounding how rapid and vicious the legislative attack on trans rights has become. I am awe of those working — in the courts, in legislatures and in communities — to battle these attacks because, honestly, it’s just so easy to be stunned silent by the withering nature of it all. That said, we must press on…we all must press on…because they’re attacking the rights of trans children — the rights of those children to play sports and the right to access gender-affirming health care — and they deserve our protection.
Freedom for All Americans maintains a legislative tracker for anti-trans legislation. Find out what’s happening in your state and reach out to your representative and let them know where you stand.
Himani: As we stand one year away from the complete elimination of abortion rights in this country, I found this article to be an incredibly informative and power compilation of how we get to this point. I appreciated the authors’ laying out the piece by piece long game that anti-abortion activists have been playing, both politically and socially. In the end, though, the authors are far more optimistic than I can be, particularly given the parallels they are drawing to civil rights and LGBTQ+ rights, which are being gutted as we speak at the state and federal levels.
Himani: I appreciated this article from Vox because it takes a nuanced and in-depth look at multiple data sources to come to it’s thesis: that murders increased in 2020 because of an increase in gun ownership during the pandemic. And yet, perhaps what’s most disturbing, is that gun control policy continues to move in the other direction. Earlier this month, a federal court reversed California’s assault weapon ban, and just this week, Missouri’s governor signed HB85 which declares that federal gun laws can’t be applied within the state. While the state can’t constitutionally invalidate federal laws within its jurisdiction, as journalist Laurel Wamsley explains, the law restricts state law enforcement agencies from passing on violations of federal gun laws to federal law enforcement agencies. Both of these recent moves are horrifying in isolation, but particularly in the context of the Vox article, which proves — once again — that more guns = more homicides, it almost becomes unfathomable. It’s also hard for me to think of gun laws in isolation of right-wing protests against COVID safety measures this past year and the insurrection on January 6, given how heavily armed all of those incidents have been and the clear intent of violence that was voiced each time.
It’s frustrating, and it’s shocking, and — once again — it feels like a minority of the country is dictating these policies so that they can continue to secure their own power.
Natalie: It is amazing how some forces — police unions and their allies, united in their support for white supremacy — have sought to cast blame on last summer’s protests for nearly every problem under the sun…and, yet, after an examination of the actual facts, we discover that’s hardly ever true. They just want a scapegoat for their inability to do their jobs effectively and, as Himani points out, to set a narrative to enable them to grab more power, as was done this week in Iowa.
Rachel: I appreciate both Natalie and Himani’s insights into this piece, and also have two other thoughts loosely related to Vox’s great questions and exploration on guns. First, I think it’s really interesting and crucial to directly address the “legitimacy crisis” of the police on this issue – as is clear, police are working hard to spin the murder rate as a pretext for their continued existence, and as Vox and Himani and Natalie make clear, that isn’t really earned.
I do want to share another abolitionist point I’ve been thinking through a lot from the public conversation – when we talk about the failure of most cities, even ones that publicly committed to it, to defund the police (scroll down for more), we have to remember that actually on the whole, most police departments in the US got MORE funding – “Even as the 50 largest U.S. cities reduced their 2021 police budgets by 5.2% in aggregate—often as part of broader pandemic cost-cutting initiatives—law enforcement spending as a share of general expenditures rose slightly to 13.7% from 13.6%… Police budgets will expand this year even in cities like Atlanta, Omaha and Phoenix, where Democrats picked up more votes in the 2020 presidential race versus 2016. Out of 42 major cities where Democrats gained share, 24 increased police spending for fiscal 2021, while 18 made cuts.” This means that not only is violence increasing without it being linked to defunding police, but actually, giving police MORE resources doesn’t lead to decreased violence – it directly contradicts the police talking point that they need to be invested in to keep us safe, because that’s… actually already what’s happening, and it clearly isn’t working.
The other thing I’m interested in is what *kind* of murders we’re seeing an increase in – the focus from police and reporting is in random stops of people in public for guns & violence, which tracks with a sort of “stranger danger” paradigm of homicide. Is that actually what we’re seeing, though? If you dig through the thread of Vox’s reporting on this, we see that “The increase in violence includes more mass shootings, defined by the Gun Violence Archive as a shooting in which four or more people were injured, including gang shootings and incidents of domestic violence.” I’m reading a book right now that includes some great sociocultural and feminist analysis of child abuse, discussing why there was so much interest in developing a medical model of child abuse rather than a cultural one.
I spent a lot of the pandemic, based on my own lived experience, really worried about children and adults who were effectively trapped by quarantine with their abusers at home, now robbed of even their previously limited options for escape, outside relationships and resources, or the ability to communicate with others or access resources without being monitored or surveilled by an abuser – if you’re in danger at home, the few hours when an abusive person goes out to go to work, or that you leave the house without them to go to school, are a major lifeline that hundreds of thousands of people lost access to in quarantine. Having other people over in shared spaces and experiences who your abuser knows care about your wellbeing, someone your abuser knows expects to see you at work the next day, and who they have to behave in front of can be life-saving. (And obviously, to Vox’s point, gun ownership is an incredibly key factor in when abuse progresses to murder.) It makes a ton of sense to me that murders would skyrocket when we see the pandemic as a perfect petri dish for domestic violence — but domestic violence is a problem that police are notoriously useless at addressing (and in fact often perpetrate themselves at disproportionately high rates), so of course this angle isn’t what’s being foregrounded, especially not by police themselves, who benefit from “stranger danger” mythology!
Police, Prisons & Abolition
Natalie: This is amazing to me. Policing, in its current form, has existed in this country for almost 200 years. The first, publicly funded, organized police force with officers on duty full-time was created in Boston in 1838. In the almost 200 years of this institution’s existence, they haven’t found a way to do it right…and yet the expectation placed on these community groups is that they operate perfectly, right away?
Natalie: I think what’s happening in San Francisco echoes what we’re seeing across the country: mayors who talk a big game but ultimately relent under pressure from police unions or when the spotlight falls off their city (*cough* Minneapolis *cough*)
Rachel: I have to be honest that I am starting to feel personally at a loss, or maybe more accurately cynical, about how to talk about living in Minneapolis to folks living elsewhere – the level of cyclical state violence and trauma and re-traumatization the people of the Twin Cities have been facing over the past two years is so constant that it starts to feel like a broken record talking about it, but also I’m not sure how much is common knowledge to people in other parts of the US.
Minneapolis police officers killed Winston “Boogie” Smith on June 3rd; they surrounded his car with 8 unmarked police cars filled with plainclothes, unidentified police officers and shot into it claiming they saw Smith with a gun, which his passenger never saw but which police claim they have ‘recovered’ from his vehicle. Minneapolis has refused to release even the names of the officers who killed Smith, saying it’s not possible since they work “undercover;” they wore no body cameras.
Police attempted to suppress subsequent protests and memorials responding to Smith’s death, and one white supremacist vigilante intentionally drove into a group of protesters at high speeds and succeed in killing one local woman, Deona Knajdek, on June 13th. Since then, protests and memorials have continued, with mass arrests on a nightly basis and mayor Jacob Frey asking the governor to put the National Guard on standby once again; the city of Minneapolis has been occupied by the National Guard “at least five times since the death of George Floyd in May 2020” according to local Star Tribune. My local social media channels are flooded with infographics on arrest support and gallows humor memes about how people were hoping for a hot girl summer but will spend it under military occupation once again.
The greater Twin Cities metro area has also been dealing for the past few months with police suppression and arrests related to organization against Line 3, a tar sands pipeline that would run through multiple Indigenous communities, including three different reservations. The encampments of unhoused people that have been established throughout the cities after 2020’s uprisings are also in need of continuous mutual aid and community support as well as defense from police, who have repeatedly tried to disperse them despite public city commitments to support unhoused neighbors.
In some ways it feels like last year; in other ways everyone is much more tired, traumatized, and many people dealing with COVID-related disability than they were in the summer of 2020, plus new trauma around police and the military; there’s also the concern that the little progress organizers were able to fight hard for in 2020 was largely enabled by a national spotlight on Minneapolis; that doesn’t seem to be the case this time, and it’s not clear how many people outside of Minneapolis even know about the most recent murders (of Winston Smith but also Daunte Wright, Dolal Idd… the list goes on). If being globally shamed was what it took to get even nominal progress, and that’s no longer at play, where do we go from here?
Natalie: T. Greg Doucette, a lawyer from North Carolina, maintains a thread on twitter highlighting sex crimes by police officers are…it’s disturbing and disheartening to realize how common this sort of behavior is.
Natalie: This is such a heart-wrenching story…it’s devastating to know how many people were complicit in perpetuating the environment that led to Larry Earvin’s death. So many people were told, so many people knew…if they had only done something, perhaps Earvin would still be alive. I hope Larry Earvin’s family finds some measure of justice.
How can guards get away with not just beating Roger Latimer but also violating his constitutional right to counsel and the confidentiality between a patient and their medical team? To an extent, we allow it; there are far too many people willingly turning a blind eye to what’s going on in our prisons…we saw that clearly during the height of the pandemic. The Earvin family’s attorney, Jon Erickson, is spot-on in his assessment of the activist landscape: “We see an awakening, a spotlight shining on a national problem of the lack of police accountability when they engage in excessive force. But there is no spotlight shed on the…complete lack of accountability when it comes to correctional officers and wardens and what goes on in our prisons.” Our efforts to enact criminal justice reform has to extend to our prisons…and it has to include accountability measures for wardens and corrections officers, as well as establishing public access to police video. We have to reduce interactions between prisoners and guards and ensure that prisons are staffed with mental health professionals who can address the real issues underlying behavior.
Natalie: I really can’t believe they’re still planning to hold the Olympics.
Himani: Admittedly, I don’t know a whole lot about Colombia, but I’ve followed it a little bit the past couple of years. I think what really stands out to me — both in terms of the long history of violence that has plagued the country and (as this article from Vox covers) the multifaceted protests representing so many different issues — is that there is no single, easy answer to any of this. As far as I can tell, there was no one entity that was not complicit in the decades of violence. This stands out to me particularly because so often it seems like people in Western discourse talk about “the left” as offering this uncomplicated promise of an equal society while glossing over the real history of violence around the world committed in the name of leftist policy. And yes, the response to it from the right was always unfathomable in its violence and continues to be (as this Vox article covers, the militarization of the police force in Colombia which is responding to peaceful protests in the same way it has historically responded to guerrilla fighters, as well as the murders of ex-FARC members following the peace deal). At the same time, a question that I think often gets asked, is why the left (particularly in America) can’t seem to unify and secure power the way the right can. As we see unfolding with the Colombian protests, there’s a broad coalition of concerns which share some commonality but can’t be addressed with a single simple solution and which no single entity can claim to represent. All that being said, these protests have already led to some meaningful change in Colombia — the tax bill which led to the uprisings in the first place was walked back by the government in May — and hopefully more of the needed change follows.
Natalie: Earlier this month, The Daily Beast reported that Christian billionaires were bankrolling the opposition to the Equality Act. Among them? Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy. While Chick-fil-A has curtailed their donations to anti-LGBT organizations, Cathy continues to use dark money back channels to support anti-LGBT causes. Seeing a potential opportunity, Burger King stepped up and pledged to donate money to the Human Rights Campaign for every chicken sandwich purchased in June. The story blew up and garnered a lot of positive attention for the fast food chain.
The problem? During the last election cycle, the Burger King Franchisee PAC donated $113,500 to 31 members of Congress with a zero rating on HRC’s Congressional Scorecard. The PAC even donated money to Lauren Boebert, for chrissakes.
I mention all of that to say: 1. the work that Judd Legum is doing to ensure that dark money is brought into the light is indispensable and 2. don’t trust any of these corporations adding rainbows to their icons this June.
Rachel: So many people said this was a lost cause – I can’t emphasize enough how joyous it is that it’s over and how inspiring it is about future wins!