Archive for News

Nonviolence is Everywhere

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

Last weekend I stood with forty women and a few good men in a training maneuver called a “Hassle Line.” We’d just enough time to share our names before we began playing our roles. My partner in the opposing line, a social work student named Faye, played a Donald Trump supporter. I  was an activist the Women’s March on Washington, just trying to get along the Mall, with Faye harassing me.

We The People poster by Shepard Fairey

We The People poster by Shepard Fairey

We were practicing how to defuse confrontation, because it’s likely that some of the estimated 100,000 peaceful demonstrators will be heckled by sideliners or people wishing to cause destruction.

Faye and I tried to mix it up, but the fact was, we were too polite by nature. Although one of the best comebacks to hurled abuse proved to be: “Hi. And how are you today?”

With so many passionate conversations going across the Hassle Line, our Peacekeeper Training made quite a racket. That much much noise was unusual for our location, the Stony Run Friends Meeting House in North Baltimore. Members of the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, worship in silence. I’m a longtime member of Stony Run, which grew out of Baltimore’s original Friends Meeting established in 1785.

Gary Gillespie, our training leader, was introducing us to Strategic Nonviolent Conflict, which is different than nonviolence, which has a reputation for passivity. SNC is a philosophy that regards nonviolence as a strategy because its thought to be more likely to work than violence could.

Gary is a Quaker member of Homewood Friends Meeting who serves as the executive director of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council, a group of Baltimore Christian organizations working for social, economic and environmental justice. He’s been protesting since the Viet Nam war and has a very calm approach. He reminded us that when engaging in activism, it’s important to still have fun with each other.

By then, we had started to smile. The group that came had a wide variety of backgrounds, but it seemed to me that we were all concerned about the future of the environment and people in our country. Many women said the January 21 March would be the start of more political activity.

I signed up for the Women’s March because I want to make a public statement about my commitment to fighting for human rights. I didn’t think the march could do more than grab headlines for a day. But at the Peacekeeper Training, I began thinking our March has longer legs.

A regular Friday vigil held outside Homewood Friends Meeting in Baltimore

A regular Friday vigil held outside Homewood Friends Meeting in Baltimore

Chenoweth graph showing efficacy of nonviolent community action

Chenoweth graph showing efficacy of nonviolent community action

Erika Chenoweth, a Denver University professor of international studies, entered her field skeptical that nonviolent movements could succeed against big guns. When she collected data on hundreds of uprisings from 1900 through the present, she was stunned to see that that nonviolent protests and diversionary civil disobedience succeeded twice as often as violent uprisings. Nonviolent civil disobedience often includes women and children and thus was more representative of the whole society and was accepted by more people. Her research proved the tipping point for success in a people-led movement involves just 3.5% active involvement. In the U.S., that translates to 11 million people.

At the training, we watched Erika’s Ted X Talk in which she spoke about the value of large demonstrations. Apparently, large events provide an entry point for risk-averse people to become engaged in a movement. People naturally feel safer in numbers. When many citizens are drawn to a march, it almost guarantees key players will join the movement: educators, security forces, civilian bureaucrats, and the business elites. And as far as the other side goes, the officers serving in a bad government regime all have family members. Some of these may become protestors—and that makes the ruling party less likely to shoot.

A couple of the best-known recent successes in nonviolent protest are the Filipinos who deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and the Serbians who ended the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. And not every nonviolent protest succeeds. Consider the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, and the current bloodshed in Syria. However, Erika Chenoweth thinks the Syrian opposition movement didn’t have enough time to plan their campaign; it didn’t turn into Strategic Nonviolent Conflict.

Shepard Fairey's prints to commemorate the 2017 Inaugural

Shepard Fairey’s prints to commemorate the 2017 Inaugural

At the Women’s March, I’m sure there will wonderful signs and political protest posters, including the beautiful ones above by Shepard Fairey. You may recognize his style because he drew the iconic Barack Obama poster. Shepard Fairey and his fellow artists Jessica Sabogai and Ernesta Yerena have raised over a million dollars on their Kickstarter campaign for a public art project called We The People. They will disrupt the inauguration with a flood of art. I don’t know how it’s all going to come down, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

High on “The Man in the High Castle”

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

One of my holiday traditions is to indulge in a television binge watch—ideally, a series that gives me that delightful, reckless feeling of wasting time. To enhance the celebration, I watch on my laptop in bed. With tea.

In 2014, the holiday binge was Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, a light-weight crime series set in 1920s Australia. In 2015, I escaped with Underwear, a series about life at a lingerie design house in contemporary Tokyo.

This year, I found a speculative/suspense series on Amazon Video set in 1962 America: The Man in The High Castle. And my indulgence in comfort TV has turned discomforting.

Vintage paperback edition of the book

An early edition of the novel

The Man in The High Castle was inspired by a Hugo-Award winning novel of the same name published in 1963 by the late Philip Dick. This talented author’s science fiction has formed the inspiration for other films including Blade Runner, Total Recall, and The Minority Report. Dick was a tortured genius, with mental health issues and a deep interest in philosophy. He believed that different worlds can exist because of people’s mind-states. The possibility of multiple realities flows through his works, including this series.

The Man in The High Castle hurtles us into a world where the Axis prevailed in World War II. In 1962, the former United States are dived into Pacific States (the west), the Greater Nazi Reich (the East Coast, South and Midwest). The Rocky Mountain states lie in the Neutral Zone, but it is far from a safe haven. In Japanese-occupied San Francisco, a degenerate artist named Frank and an aikido teacher named Juliana (they were married in Dick’s novel) live together in a dank San Francisco basement. They are thrown into danger when Juliana’s half-sister Trudy flings a film reel at her just before she is executed by the Japanese police.

Juliana Crane, played by Alexa Davalos, lives in Japanese-governed San Francisco

Juliana’s efforts to deliver the film to the person Trudy intended brings her into contact with the resistance, and throws Frank and his relatives, who have a fraction of Jewish blood, into danger. The situation is complicated when Juliana is aided by an attractive young man, Joe Blake, working for the Nazis. Not going to say any more on the plot, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

While the TV series is action-packed and suspenseful, the creepiest moments show the subtle ways  the foreign powers reshaped the lives of the Americans following the atomic bombing of Washington DC. In the Pacific States, many bus and street signs are in Japanese, and people routinely eat with chopsticks and fall into deep bows when faced by their rulers. In New York suburbs, families look “Father Knows Best” perfect, but the kids wear Hitler Youth uniforms to school, the textbooks are all about allegiance to the Führer, muesli is on the breakfast table and people use fork and knife in the German fashion. Costumes and sets and the cinematography are top-notch.

Backyard baseball on Long Island, played by Nazi-American characters

Before viewing the first episode, I wondered if Germans and Japanese would feel disheartened by seeing their worst moments in history glorified.  I was relieved to discover humane characters among all the communities portrayed.  A pair of German and Japanese government men, Rudolf Wegener and Nobosuke Tagomi, scheme together to keep power balanced between the two sides to avoid a war. And the Americans subject to rule—the “pawns” who work for the occupying forces, and those in the resistance—have to weigh whether their fight for freedom will bring death to innocents around them.

Japanese Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi, played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

This series was shot in 2014 and premiered in 2015 with season 1 (you must watch Season 1 in order to understand Season 2). The US presidential race hadn’t yet begun, which meant that white supremacists were lurkers, rather than a much-publicized, blatant force. The Man in The High Castle feels like the canary in the coal mine: the harbinger of disaster.

Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith of the American Reich

In the first month after the  presidential election, we have witnessed almost more than 1000 hate incidents. The president-elect said nothing against these acts until he was coaxed to make a statement by a journalist, at which time he looked into a TV camera and said, “Stop it.”

But they won’t stop.  The KKK marched through North Carolina to celebrate Donald Trump’s victory. Trump appointed Steve Bannon, his election strategist and a founder of the racist Breitbart News website, as White House chief of staff. Richard Spencer, a young man who heads a white nationalist group called The National Policy Institute, held a conference of followers in Washington DC where Sieg Heil saluting was widespread in the audience.

Spencer is married to a pro-Putin Russian propagandist Nina Kouprianova. Trump does business with Russia and praises Putin. Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is an ExxonMobil CEO who has been awarded a medal from Putin’s administration. New York looks to be the center of Trump’s government, just as it is for the Nazis in the series.

Well worth watching!

Sounds like a paranoid conspiracy—but people are dead serious about it, and many Republicans now view Putin’s actions favorably. Having grown up in the Cold War, this seems to me like a revised version of The Manchurian Candidate—or at the very least a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

What could happen nextafter the ten episodes of Season 2 of The Man in The High Castle are finished? There may be a Season 3, although it’s not official yet.

In the meantime, another program is in the works. The A&E Network plans a documentary series called “Generation KKK” that will follow young Americans choosing racism. This kind of programmingwhich is bound to attract fans who will connect to the real-life charactersseems like it could be another goose-step in normalizing racist behaviors. But I’ll wait to see.

An Unsolved Death in Baltimore

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

Freddie Gray

The Vidocq Society is a small but legendary group of experts who gather to solve mysteries of the ages. I wish they could find the answer to an unexplained death that took place a few miles from me, last spring. This is the death of 25-year-old named Freddie Carlos Gray, Jr.

On April 12, 2015, Freddie made eye contact with a police officer in his Baltimore neighborhood. He ran, and a group of cops that included some bicycle officers caught him. He was searched, found to have a small switchblade (legal for the state of Maryland but not for Baltimore City) and was taken into custody. Some spectators observed police sitting on his neck and bending his legs backward. A civilian-shot video shows him being dragged and loaded into the back of a police van. In the van, the police put him in wrist and ankle restraints—but the seatbelt that was also in this section of the van wasn’t used.

bal-recorded-freddie-gray-arrest

The van made five stops before reaching the Western District police station. Freddie asked for medical help several times. When the van reached the police station more than 45 minutes after loading up Freddie, he was unresponsive. Freddie was taken to hospital, where doctors discovered he was in a coma and had severe spinal cord injuries. He died April 19, 2015.

This death, coming on the heels of so many other police-on-civilian killings nationwide, was not going to fade into oblivion. For a few weeks, the city’s reaction was many protest marches, rallies and discussions. But the night following the funeral, a protest became aggressive, with bottles being thrown at police. Thirty-four arrests were made and fifteen police officers suffered injuries.

The next day, the Metro Transit Administration made the fateful decision to stop bus and light rail service in an area where several high schools converged. Some frustrated students grew into a bloc that began vandalizing cars. Earlier that day, some students had spread word through social media that there would be a “purge” with violent behavior.

The students’ riot was quickly augmented by other, older people, who joined in burning buildings and cars, looting stores, and attacking some drivers of cars. Throughout this, the police stood back, and the violence spread like wildfire throughout city neighborhoods. What was happening was about much more than the death of Freddie Gray. It had become an uprising of disenfranchised people frustrated by city government and a lack of opportunity.

The National Guard arrived and the city went under a 10 pm curfew for almost two weeks. The Baltimore State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, announced that her department had launched an independent investigation and would be prosecuting the six police involved on numerous charges. The most serious charge, depraved heart murder, was leveled at the driver. What was unusual about the prosecution was that Mosby announced the charges without waiting for results of the police department’s investigation or sharing the results of the autopsy, wherein an assistant medical examiner declared the death a homicide, due to injuries sustained through omission of safety procedures. The autopsy also revealed the presence of cannabis and opioids in Freddie’s system, which could be argued might have led to Freddie being restless and physically panicking in the back of the van. The autopsy was the only factor presented to convince a grand jury to bring the officers to trial.

west-baltimore-jtsuboike-0520-edit_custom-93a132c59f88d95638274897d4efd9e93cb0e541-s900-c85

The State’s Attorney’s thesis was the officers had conspired to give Gray a “rough ride” to prison, and that was equivalent to homicide. Yet as three officers of the six officers have come to trial over the last eight months—none of them testifying against each other—no evidence of violence has appeared. The result is one officer had a mistrial; and two were acquitted. The three officers remaining to be tried are asking for charges against them to be dropped.

With a supposed absence of violence, how did Freddie Gray die? Was it just a crazy accident in the van the man caused to himself by moving around?

Another possibility might be that his neck was broken by one or two of the officers before being loaded into the van, and the long delay in medical help proved the final death blow. Apparently, the prosecution had a piece of extra evidence they wanted to present in the recent trials. This information was ruled inadmissible, because prosecution apparently hadn’t gone through the standard process of sharing the information with the defense.

The mystery boils down to how a man who was fit enough to run away from the police without any trouble would lie unconscious with a broken spinal column, less than an hour later.

Year of the Journalist

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

Actors playing journalists in "Spotlight"

Actors playing journalists in “Spotlight”

People routinely denigrate the press for spreading falsehoods and looking for scandal. In recent years, many have traded in newspaper subscriptions for free online blogs where bloggers write pieces that are rarely fact-checked or vetted. Internet media is often all about enjoyment.

Therefore, I’ve been surprised to see traditional journalists resurfacing as heroes in popular culture. Spotlight, a 2015 movie about the Boston Globe’s reporting on Catholic priest sex abuse, won an Oscar for best picture. I’m impressed it was even possible to get a film made about a serious subject and the writers of a newspaper series from so long ago. Spotlight reveals how one newspaper’s reporters and editors built a big story over time gathering information from many sources and carefully verifying all details before breaking the news.

ftf-11806r_0.0

Last week, a journalism escape film arrived in U.S. theaters. I’ve labeled Whisky Tango Foxtrot an escape film for a couple of reasons. First, the ambitious but unseasoned correspondent played by Tina Fey is bored with her long career as a TV news producer in an American city, and trades it in to report from dangerous, exotic Afghanistan. The other reason is WTF absolutely revels in portraying foreign correspondents as hard-drinking, partying, fraternity members. The producers  made the choice to employ a number of non-South Asian actors to play Afghans; again, an easy escape.

51roj5HPtsL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

WTF is a celluloid version of a memoir, Taliban Shuffle, by the New York Times’ reporter Kim Barker, who was recast as a TV reporter called Kim Baker in the film. Tina Fey’s Kim character is one of only two women reporters living in a guest house; both of whom wind up having affairs with guys in the house. It’s a cheery, fraternity party sort of place, where the women are treated like the guys, for the most part. This “Ka-Bubble” of their Kabul seems ridiculously removed—but very intense and addicting.

Kim’s story takes pains to show the stupid things a reporter can do to endanger the lives of her “fixer” (a local man who’s a combination of editor and translator), as well as her driver, photographer and security guard. However, by taking the risks, she gets a great story. I appreciated the nuanced look at this issue. The foreign reporter always gets a byline or camera-time and fame; the local person who does the reporting work earns a small salary for a life-threatening job.

Whether they are unofficial “fixers” or byline journalists, too many reporters have died in recent years.

Newseum-Journalists-Memorial

One of my favorite museums in Washington DC is the Newseum. This modern museum is all about the best in media, past and present. The museum has daily displays of front pages of newspapers from around the globe, and dense exhibits focusing on huge American news stories of the past and present.

A particularly haunting stop is the Journalists Memorial. This is a massive wall with columns of dead writers’ names. Nearby is a colorful mosaic that, when you get closer, turns out to be hundreds of photos of these writers. The Newseum’s Journalists Memorial includes a searchable online database  that includes all the names. You can click on a face and name to learn more.

sai-reddy

This reporter, Sai Reddy, was a little-known rural journalist in central India with a tragic death. As a writer for the newspaper Deshbandu, Mr. Reddy spent 20 years  documenting the hardships of families struggling to live in a community where Maoists and police battled each other. Mr. Reddy,  who came from the very community he wrote about, had his home fire-bombed by the police, but was ultimately hacked to death with knives and machetes by Maoists in a city market.

In the late 1980s, I was a reporter for the features section at a daily city newspaper. I wrote mostly about people, the arts, fashion and food. You can deduce form this that I never had the kind of stories that ran on the front page. The gravest danger I encountered was when visiting  decaying, crime-ridden neighborhoods.

I still recall driving to an almost completely deserted West Baltimore neighborhood to interview the city’s first South Asian grocer. I was writing a story about the city’s ethnic markets and was determined to move past the well-known standards. The Indian shop turned out to be in a neighborhood full of vacant houses. It was in a sliver of a dilapidated building, with a buzzer entry system and metal grills for protection from thieves and bulletproof glass around the cash register to protect the Indian grocer. Walking to and from the store, I had to pass a trio of teenagers who were staring appraisingly at me. Given the isolation, the poverty, and the intense scrutiny, I had that sixth sense that I might be robbed.

The young men didn’t touch me. Thinking back on their reaction—that seemingly brutal staring—I imagine they were probably curious why a stranger had come to their forgotten corner. And I was walking past them, carrying my own stereotypes, which fortunately did not make it into print.

My reporting experiences were nothing compared to the risky work of journalists reporting on conflict around the world. But just like the overseas correspondents, I wouldn’t never have said “I don’t feel comfortable driving to that place,” or  “Can I pass on this assignment?”

I understood the job requirement.

Teenagers May Hold the Key

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

If you read books set in other countries, you care about things that happen beyond your front door.

Funeral procession of Ados Termos, who died after tackling a suicide bomber in Beirut (CNN)

Funeral procession of Ados Termos, who died after tackling a suicide bomber in Beirut (CNN)

The recent blog posts by  Annamaria Alfieri and Cara Black as well as a poem by Karuna Ezara Parikh are powerful testimonies to read after Nov 12-13.

What’s on my mind are the young men and women themselves. What is it that enables a person to step away from social norms and slaughter people unknown to them?

A killer’s psyche is a question that crime writers have to face with every book they write. And in books, you can’t get away with a killing that doesn’t have motivation, such as greed, anger, heartbreak, envy.

But there are killings without cause. Young people affiliated with ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda and other organizations murder not out of animosity for victims, but at someone’s command. In most cases, they’ve left their families and friends for training camps that are advertised to teens as the equivalent as summer camp. If they want to leave, they can’t.

Experts say these departures happen for many reasons. Poor education, unemployment, cultural oppression, political alienation. And then there’s loneliness.

Measuring blood spilled at Baltimore's 300th homicide (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

Measuring blood spilled at Baltimore’s 300th homicide (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

As I write I realize this list sounds awfully similar to the forces leading to young North Americans who’ve been immortalized as mass murderers of the public and gang killers.

In Baltimore, we’ve had 300 people killed from Jan 1 to November 14 of this year. Most of these homicides aren’t solved. The killers remain on our streets, working away. Witnesses to these murders are too frightened to give evidence to the police.

I feel that the unending chain of deaths in my city—and the almost-weekly mass shootings in schools and businesses in the U.S.—is also terrorism.

This brings me back to the similarities between disaffected young people on all of our continents.  For a huge number of children, life is wretched and unstable due to the lack of a secure home. If you are a minor, you usually can’t do anything to change your situation. You must endure put hunger, extreme temperatures,  the school with bullies where nothing is taught, harassment on the street from others, the physical or verbal abuse.

What changes things for children growing up without a loving parent? Another person who notices them and cares.

What I think really counts is kinship. People you spend time with repeatedly who will give you a chance to part of their lives and help you move on to another place.

A young voice is heard at Marnita's Table

A young voice is heard at Marnita’s Table

In Minneapolis, there’s a family who’s hosted more than 15,000 dinner guests in the last ten years.  Before you write in saying I’ve made a typographical error, let me explain that Marnita Schroedel and her husband Carl Goldstein have an “open-table” policy that brings together people at an event known as Marnita’s Table. The dinner parties are delicious and free and mingle people of every religion, race, gender identity and economic and educational levels. The goal is to really listen to each other and get to the root of serious issues plaguing the city and its people. Teenagers are always honored guests at the table; and at the end of the evening, when a circle is formed and each person speaks, they’re listened to with respect.

There are many positive outcomes to these evenings, starting with the fact that at-risk teenagers who attend the table just once improve their grades dramatically. Most teenagers come many times. They finish high school and go to college. They’ve built a youth advisory council that gives them a chance to meet regularly and take on the task of improving our world.

I dream that all across the world, young people in tough times could have the experience of knocking on a door and be welcomed inside.