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The Atlantic
The Atlantic Daily: Vaccinated Parents Aren’t Home Free
Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.As of this week, people ages 16 and older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in all U.S. states. But as adults and older teens reclaim a bit of normalcy, children could be left out.That means parents are entering a weird limbo. “In their strange world, a dinner party with their adult friends is fine, but a birthday party for their 5-year-old could still spread the virus,” my colleague Sarah Zhang points out. Our vaccine order is turning COVID-19 into a young person’s disease. This summer, while cases may drop this summer overall, Sarah reports, a disproportionate number of those still getting sick could end up being children. Vaccinating kids is essential to reaching herd immunity. But some parents still misunderstand the risks the virus poses to them. “Kids are not like vaccinated adults. This is a myth that keeps coming up,” one professor and pediatric-infectious-disease specialist told our staff writer James Hamblin. Further reading: How can schools help children catch up after this year’s learning loss? Summer programs can help, but they aren’t enough, our staff writer Adam Harris reports. What to read if you’re still processing the conviction of Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd: “There will be more Derek Chauvins, because his conviction alters nothing” about the system of American policing, our staff writer Adam Serwer warns.George Floyd was also a father, Clint Smith reminds us: “For many of us, when we see the Floyds, we see our family.”One question, answered: My menstrual cycle got weird after I got my COVID-19 vaccine. Was it because of my shot?Very possibly, yes, our staff writer Katherine J. Wu reports. She explains: In recent weeks, a growing number of people have shared anecdotes about their periods getting a little wonky in the days after their COVID-19 shots. Unfortunately, this pattern wasn’t noticed or addressed during clinical trials, so there’s not clear-cut data to establish what might be going on. Still, for now, it’s no cause for alarm: Menstruation is a fickle beast, and stressful events, including, perhaps, vaccination, can easily set hormones off kilter. (I’ll point out here that a slight blip in a menstrual cycle should not be misinterpreted as evidence that vaccines negatively impact fertility. They don’t.) Last week, I talked to Kate Clancy, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Katharine Lee, a public-health researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, who are leading a charge to collect data on this trend, and hopefully come up with clearer answers. Some people appear to be experiencing heavier flows after their shots; others have breakthrough bleeding, or surprising postmenopausal menstruation. The causes could really run the gamut. Clancy told me she’s been frustrated to see a lot of people dismissing these early reports as inconsequential or even unscientific; the real crux of the matter, she said, is that people haven’t taken periods, and reproductive health in general, very seriously before. Vaccines could be our next shot, if you will, at flipping that narrative on its head. Tonight’s Atlantic-approved activity:Start a new (blissfully short) TV show. Chewing Gum, on Netflix, is “a raucously funny, frequently cringeworthy, sharply written coming-of-age story.”Find more half-hour-long TV options on our list from last year.A break from the news: A new poetry collection, Hoarders, has what the A&E reality show of the same name lacks: “a nuanced understanding of how consumerism might shape compulsions.”Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.
theatlantic.com
George Floyd Was Also a Father
BEN CRUMP LAW FIRM An image of George Floyd and his daughter Gianna has been circulating around social media since yesterday. George is sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, wearing a black T-shirt and black baseball cap with the word Houston emblazoned in cursive letters above the brim.In the passenger seat is Gianna, who is now 7 years old, but in the photo—taken a few years ago—looks as if she isn’t more than 3 or 4. She is wearing a purple-and-pink shirt and matching pants and a small plastic bracelet on her right wrist, and has several silver and pink bobbles tied into her hair. Her right hand is holding a pair of plastic blue-and-black sunglasses—the sort made for children with the expectation that they will not last very long—and she looks as if she has pulled the large glasses down from her face and to her chin specifically for the picture.I find the photo compelling for a couple of reasons. George and his daughter share a striking resemblance. The image has captured them in a moment of uncanny synchrony—bodies facing forward, heads turned toward the camera to their left, each of their mouths slightly ajar. The photo also draws you in to both pairs of eyes. Eyes that are still, direct, calm, and so clearly built from the same blocks of DNA.The photo is striking, too, because Gianna here reminds me so much of my own daughter. My daughter is 2 years old and has worn those same sorts of sunglasses around our house. I’m pretty sure that we have several scattered under couches, behind teddy bears, and at the bottom of our toy chest. They are the kind of toddler accessory that begs you to take a photo because the sunglasses are half the size of the child’s small face. My daughter wears her hair the same way, with ties that have colorful balls so that when she runs toward the slide at the park, they rattle against one another and create a chorus of tiny cackles. My sister wore her hair the same way as a child, the way my cousins did, the way my nieces do, the way little Black girls we meet at the park also do. “My hair!” my daughter will say, pointing toward another child with the same style, and then touching the top of her head as if to make sure that someone had not in fact taken her hair and put it on someone else’s head.This similarity and connection, along with many others, have made many Black people feel a level of intimate proximity to the Floyd family and deeply distressed by what happened to George. Saying you can see yourself in another person can sometimes sound trite. But for many of us, when we see the Floyds, we see our family.[Clint Smith: Becoming a parent in the age of Black Lives Matter]I watched the Floyd family’s press conference yesterday, after the verdict was announced. Members of his family came up to the podium to share their thoughts, appreciation, and reflections, and I heard many of the voices and saw many of the dynamics that exist in my own family. Alongside the sense of relief was the banter, the playfulness, the lilt in their voices.Even if we are of a different socioeconomic status, we see those same bobbles in Gianna’s hair that we put into the hair of our own children. Even if we have never experienced addiction as George did, chances are we are close to a friend or family member who did. In this photo, you see a small Black child and her Black father sitting together in a car on a day that probably felt like any other day. Perhaps they were preparing for a trip to the playground and thinking of getting a Happy Meal from McDonald’s, or perhaps she simply hopped in the front seat of the car to say hello to her daddy and show him her new sunglasses.Yesterday, I watched the judge read the verdict of the trial alongside my wife in our home. I could feel my heart thumping against my chest; I could see her legs shaking as she leaned toward the TV, hands covering her mouth. The judge read the jury’s verdict: We, the jury, in the above entitled matter as to count one, unintentional second-degree murder while committing a felony, find the defendant guilty. …We, the jury, in the above entitled matter as to count two, third-degree murder perpetrating an eminently dangerous act, find the defendant guilty. …We, the jury, in the above entitled matter as to count three, second-degree manslaughter, culpable negligence creating an unreasonable risk, find the defendant guilty. Each of us took a deep breath, a wave of something like relief moving through us. As we found our way back into our bodies, both of our children sauntered over. My almost-4-year-old son was carrying a plastic dinosaur and had a mouth painted in patches of purple from his peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, and my daughter was bobbing her head back and forth as if music were playing all around that only she could hear. I picked up my son, and my daughter crawled into my wife’s lap on the couch. I kissed my son on the cheek and looked at my daughter and made a funny face. She laughed and said, “Daddy silly.”[David A. Graham: Chauvin’s conviction is the exception that proves the rule]These small moments with our children make parenthood what it is. George and his daughter no longer have these moments. To say that I feel “good” about the verdict wouldn’t be right. I feel hope that Floyd’s family will be able to find some peace. I hope that Gianna’s memories of her father, to the extent possible, are shaped not only by the symbol he has become to the world, but by those small moments of laughter and joy the two of them shared. George has become a symbol, but he was also a father. And in so many ways, the latter is far more important.
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theatlantic.com
Winners of the 2021 Sony World Photography Awards
The top entries in the 2021 Sony World Photography Awards have been announced, and the organizers were once more kind enough to share some of the winning and shortlisted photos from the Professional, Open, Student, and Youth competitions with us, gathered here. Captions below provided by the photographers.
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theatlantic.com
What Makes Mare of Easttown So Watchable
There’s a scene in the second episode of Mare of Easttown, HBO’s new crime series, that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since I watched it. Mare, the show’s titular police detective (played by Kate Winslet), visits a rural spot where a girl’s body has been found and prepares to inform the girl’s father. “I’m on my way over to Kenny’s right now to tell him, and I want John and Billy to meet me there,” she tells her best friend on the phone. “Probably good to have his cousins there for him, you know?” When Kenny (Patrick Murney) learns what has happened, he closes his eyes, shakes his head, then explodes, smashing random objects around him and shoving the other men as they half-hug, half-restrain him. Mare watches them from a distance, her gaze sympathetic but unsurprised. She knew exactly how Kenny would respond, and understood, too, that she would not have been safe with him and his grief.Crime dramas are frequently informed by their setting. Some of the superlative crime dramas of the past few years have shrewdly used their locale for dramatic impact: Think the relentlessly crashing waves of Broadchurch, or the oppressive midwestern humidity of Sharp Objects, or the moody, primitive mountains of Top of the Lake. But Mare of Easttown is something else, a drama that, in exploring the bonds between its characters and the nature of its crimes, tells a story richly defined by place. On a peeping-tom call early in the first episode, Mare tells a woman that she typically investigates “the burglaries and the overdoses and all the other really bad crap that’s been going on around here”—hallmarks of an exurban area where the opioid crisis has left its mark. Murder is uncommon, but violence is predictable, a fact of life that the show explores with understated specificity.[Read: 20 undersung crime shows to binge-watch]Set in the area just west of Philadelphia known as Delaware County, Mare mines its topography as intentionally as it casually drops in Eagles logos, hoagies, and references to Wawa. Its actors even mimic the forbidding accent, which my husband, who grew up in Delco, likens to speaking with a broad, fixed grin on your face, so “oh” becomes “eaux,” and “water” becomes “wooder.” As a character, Mare embodies her surroundings—she’s gloomy and stoic, mostly understated in appearance. Her propensity to reach for a Rolling Rock becomes one of the show’s running gags. But she also knows better than anyone else the fault lines of the town where she grew up—its hiding places and trouble spots and vulnerabilities.Mare is charged with investigating the death of a teenage mother named Erin (Cailee Spaeny), and paired with Colin, a young detective (Evan Peters) whose instincts pale in comparison with hers. More often than not, Mare knows before she begins a case who committed a crime, and why, and she has her own metric for deciding which transgressions merit a fiercer response. Chasing a burglary suspect who’s an old friend’s brother with a drug addiction, she exasperatedly waves away a fellow cop’s drawn gun and ends up taking the burglar to a shelter. But when footage leaks online of Erin being attacked before her death, Mare arrests the teenage suspect in full view of a restaurant crammed with people. “She beat the shit out of Erin in a forest full of kids,” Mare tells Colin. “Let ’em watch.” The flip side of Mare’s closeness with the people she polices is that she often positions herself as the arbiter of justice in a way that oversteps her role, and the show makes clear that she’s far from impartial.[Read: The crime drama that will enthrall and repel you]Detective characters like Mare—resolute, undemonstrative, frequently derailed by personal bias but intimately connected to their community—don’t come along often on American television, but they’re a staple in Britain. Sarah Lancashire’s Catherine Cawood, of the BBC series Happy Valley (which found an eager audience on Netflix), seems most reminiscent of Mare. Both characters are grieving children lost to the murky realities of the places they try to police, both are raising their grandchildren with stern affection, and both have a painful understanding of what addiction can do to families. Some early reviews of Mare of Easttown have focused on an egregious thing Mare does midway through the series that supposedly makes her hard to root for—a metric we tend to apply disproportionately to women. But the most interesting characters aren’t the ones who always do the right thing. Far from presenting Mare’s actions as defensible, the series nods at the countless ways in which cops can abuse their powers. It’s especially surprising to watch Winslet, with her history of inhabiting rosy ingenues, disappear into the colorless drudge of Mare, with the character’s six-inch dark roots and clumsy physicality. Never has the actor minimized herself in a role quite like this.Ironically, the town’s characters are so well developed, and the shading of the fictional Easttown so delicate, that some of the show’s more sensational elements—particularly a missing-persons plot that becomes central to the story—occasionally feel out of place. Mare’s mother, Helen (Jean Smart), provides comic relief by constantly needling her daughter; Colin is as brash and idealistic as Mare is cynical and tired; her best friend, Lori (Julianne Nicholson), is the softer foil to Mare’s abrasive edges. On the flip side, the series relies—as too many crime series do—on the death or abuse of young women for its plot. More novel, at this point, would be for a prestige crime show on HBO to not linger over the pooled blood surrounding a woman’s battered head (The Undoing), or an unclothed dead woman turned into a grisly tableau (True Detective), or the missing teeth of a schoolgirl’s corpse (Sharp Objects). Despite some semi-exploitative choices early on, Mare does an artful job of laying out the stories of other women who have disappeared, including how opioids stunted their promising lives. Without making addiction its hectoring focus, the show paints it as an ingrained reality for locals, as commonplace and impossible to avoid as guns and fists.Brad Ingelsby, who created the series and wrote all seven episodes, grew up near Delaware County, and Mare has a sense for the aesthetic details—crocheted blankets, screened-in porches, piney dive bars—that enhance the show’s verisimilitude without being distracting. More crucial, though, is the show’s choice to render a community without judgment. For a work about a neglected corner of America, there’s none of the sneering critique of Hillbilly Elegy or the ludicrous rivalries of Ozark. Instead, Mare of Easttown is just a subtle, textured portrait of a place where some people are suffering, and a woman is doing her imperfect and insufficient best to help them.
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theatlantic.com
The Suicide Wave That Never Was
In January, The New York Times published an alarming article about teen suicides during the pandemic. The story featured heartbreaking quotes from parents who had lost children, and was illustrated with photos of an empty classroom and a teenager sitting alone on his bed. The school district of Clark County, Nevada, the story said, had recorded the deaths of 18 students from suicide from mid-March 2020 to the end of December—twice as many as the district had in all of 2019. “There’s a sense of urgency,” the superintendent told NPR, when the same local crisis made national news again in February. “You know, we have a problem.” The prospect of a wave of suicides has loomed over the national debate about COVID-19 restrictions from their very beginning. Just days after the first stay-at-home orders were put in place, Donald Trump predicted “suicides by the thousands,” and reports emerged of increases in calls to suicide hotlines and emergency-room psychiatric visits. Fears about the mental-health toll on kids were particularly acute: What would happen if they couldn’t go to school, or play sports, or hang out with their friends? While the coronavirus appeared far more worrisome for adults, the harm that the shutdowns posed was another story: Teenagers seemed to be at the greatest risk.A year later, we’re starting to see signs of what actually occurred. Many parents say in surveys that the teenagers in their home have developed new or worsening symptoms of depression and anxiety since the start of the pandemic; a new report from the Department of Education states that, as schools begin to reopen, students will need “supports to address the isolation, anxiety, and trauma they have experienced.” Even just watching their kids sleepwalk through months of scholastic gloom and Zoom has given parents reason enough to be concerned.Youth suicide is already the second-leading cause of death among those ages 15 to 19, and the numbers have been inching upward for more than a decade. The reasons for that rise are much debated among suicide researchers, though they believe that a hard-to-unravel combination of factors is at play in each death. The recent testimony of parents and school officials suggests that the pandemic has, at least in certain cases, added new elements to that lethal mix. [Read: The millennial mental-health crisis]Deeply painful stories, combined with unsettling survey data, have made the connection between shutdowns and suicide seem like common knowledge at this point. President Joe Biden asserted not long ago that “suicides are up.” You'll hear the same presented as fact by news anchors, politicians on both sides of the aisle, and (as I did recently) on your neighborhood listserv. But the evidence supporting a broad, pandemic-driven suicide crisis among teens—or adults, for that matter—was always a narrative in search of data.For the record, there was no spike in teen suicides in Clark County last year.The county’s school district serves approximately 320,000 students in and around Las Vegas. You would expect, in a population of that size, to see minor year-to-year fluctuations in the number of suicides, as you would in the number of pregnancies, drug overdoses, or accidental deaths. Indeed, suicides did go up in 2020 compared with 2019, as The New York Times reported: The Clark County coroner’s office, according to the most recent tally, lists 16 youth suicides last year and 11 in 2019. (Those totals differ only slightly from the school district’s.) But that uptick tracks well within the county’s range in recent years. In 2017, the coroner’s office reported 12 suicides in this age group; in 2018, there were 20. The state numbers tell a similar story. Preliminary data from Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services indicate that the rate of suicides per 100,000 youths last year was 2.3. The state’s average rate across the five years prior was 2.7. That doesn’t in any way diminish the tragedy of the suicides that did occur, or prove that the pandemic played no role in individual deaths. Still, when it comes to suicide rates for teens in Clark County, and in Nevada as a whole, 2020 was a sadly typical year.Accounts of other supposed suicide hot spots also tend to fall apart on closer inspection. In November, The Washington Post published a lengthy article that examined both teen and adult suicide during the pandemic. It quoted unnamed experts who feared that a “toxic mix of isolation and economic devastation could generate a wave of suicides,” and the piece described some “troubling signs” that the wave had already begun. The Post said that in DuPage County, Illinois, for example, deaths from suicide had increased by 23 percent: 54 occurred in the first six months of 2020, compared with 44 during the same period in 2019. That may be a 23 percent increase, but given that more than 900,000 people live in DuPage, it shouldn’t be overinterpreted. In fact, when you look at deaths from suicide in the county for all of 2020 (as opposed to just the first half), there’s hardly any change at all: There were 94 suicides in total last year, compared with 90 the year before. (There were 107 in 2018.) As for teenagers and adolescents, six died by suicide in DuPage in 2020, compared with eight in 2019.With more than 3,000 counties in the United States, it would be easy, in any year, to pick out some where the number of deaths from suicide went up. It would also almost certainly be meaningless. Inevitably, some counties will record an increase, while others will record a decline. And if you wanted to find some place where youth suicides had doubled, like they did in the Clark County school district, that’s easy too: When the number of incidents is relatively small, you’re likely to find places where the total goes from 10 to 20. Or vice versa. Whatever narrative you’re trying to support, a county or a school district will provide the numbers you need.At times, evidence for the broader mental-health troubles teens have faced during the pandemic has been overstated too. The most recent round of dramatic headlines was prompted by a study of insurance claims for mental-health services from a nonprofit called FAIR Health. The numbers for teenagers had “skyrocketed,” according to the coverage: In just the first two months after schools closed, teens’ insurance claims for mental-health treatment were “approximately double” what they’d been during the same period in 2019. In a similar vein, reports about a CDC study from November emphasized that youth mental-health emergencies had soared during the pandemic, and that related ER visits among teens had gone up by nearly one-third from the year before. All of these data were said to reveal that the pandemic’s effect on kids’ mental health was “in some ways worse than the experts feared.”But what many news outlets called a rise in claims or an increase in emergency-room visits was actually a rise in the percentage of claims or visits. So, for instance, the number of insurance claims related to intentional self-harm among those ages 13 to 18 did almost double as a percentage of overall medical claims in March 2020 compared with March 2019. But the total number of medical claims dropped by about half that month, likely because people were postponing their less urgent trips to the doctor. Similarly, the total number of ER visits among teens went down by roughly one-third. At the same time, the absolute number of insurance claims related to intentional self-harm among teens decreased by 2 percent compared with the previous year, and the absolute number of teens’ mental-health ER visits decreased by 15 percent.The FAIR Health study did show a modest year-over-year increase—of less than 10 percent—in overall mental-health insurance claims for teenagers from March to November 2020. That’s worth taking seriously, but the stats did not skyrocket.In a column earlier this month, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, who writes the paper’s Fact Checker feature, dug into Biden’s claim that “suicides are up.” (He also referenced his own newspaper’s coverage of an apparent suicide crisis.) “Politicians should be wary about citing preliminary or partial data and declaring that it is a fact,” he concluded. It's possible that suicides were up last year, he wrote, in part because some deaths from drug overdoses may have been suicides in disguise, but we can’t know for sure, because some of the numbers are still being tabulated.It’s true that suicide tallies from around the country trickle in over months, and we don’t yet have a complete picture from last year. What we do know at this point, however, doesn’t suggest a new dimension of calamity. According to Tyler Black, a suicidologist and the medical director of emergency psychiatry at British Columbia Children’s Hospital, 2020 was, for all its many horrors, likely just an average year when it comes to suicide in both children and adults. “There was no wave from March to August—like, none—and we’re quite certain about that,” he told me. In fact, the preliminary data from the CDC show that deaths by suicide dropped by 5.6 percent in 2020 from the year before, reaching their lowest total since 2015. Other recent research seems to bear this out: A new paper in The Lancet Psychiatry found that in 21 countries, “suicide numbers ... remained largely unchanged or declined in the early months of the pandemic,” while an analysis of national mortality data for the U.S. concluded that suicide numbers went down during the first five months of the pandemic. Jeremy Faust, an author of both of those papers and a doctor in the emergency-medicine department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, says he’s noticed that any news of a drop in suicides, however welcome it might seem, leads to pushback. “There’s this knee-jerk reaction to say, ‘Ah, well, that doesn’t mean that everyone’s fine,’” Faust told me. Of course the pandemic has led to mental-health fallout, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that deaths by suicide went up.As for whether a spike in suicides might be hidden in other categories, such as drug overdoses, Faust calls that idea “extremely unlikely.” Deaths by suicide or overdose undergo medical investigation, and while some misclassification is inevitable, those determinations are considered largely reliable. Black noted, likewise, that the CDC’s final mortality numbers don’t usually differ by more than a percentage point or two from its preliminary numbers, so the suicide total from 2020 will “almost certainly be a decrease when all is said and done.”[Read: When will people get better at talking about suicide?]Surely the upheaval of the last year has exacted a psychological toll on young and old people alike, and we’re still in the midst of that trauma and disruption. Some have also clearly suffered more than others. But Jonathan Singer, the president of the American Association of Suicidology and an author of Suicide in Schools, cautions against drawing a straight line between pandemic shutdowns and suicide rates among teenagers. He believes there were indeed teens and adolescents at higher risk from suicide last year, or who died by suicide, because they felt cut off from their friends, or were in an abusive home, or found a parent’s firearm. But other kids might actually have been protected from harm by being out of school, because “their stressors were in-school bullying, or being misgendered, or maybe access to substances through peers,” Singer told me. He pointed out that school attendance is itself a known risk factor for suicide, as rates have dipped consistently during the summer months and over winter break.Meanwhile, on Twitter, Black has been skewering stories like the Times piece about Clark County, and likens the rhetoric regarding school closures and teen suicide to the moral panics linking video games and violence. And while he’s always annoyed when he sees suicide statistics either misunderstood or intentionally misconstrued, in this case he believes the stakes are much higher. “People are using that disinformation to advocate for, for example, ending lockdowns in schools where maybe the viral numbers support the school being locked down, or maybe it’s returning to work before we’re ready, or maybe ending a mask mandate,” Black said. “The part of it that bothers me the most is the fact that suicides were politicized as a tool to argue for particular outcomes.”The wrangling over school closures and other pandemic restrictions—whether they went on too long or not long enough, how much good they really did—will continue to play out for some time. And while it's reasonable to worry about the pandemic’s effect on teenagers, unfounded claims about a spike in suicides only muddle the important issues. The irony is that youth suicide is a vexing public-health situation that deserves our attention, says Julie Cerel, a social-work professor at the University of Kentucky and a past president of the American Association of Suicidology. Researchers like her will keep sifting through the data for explanations of the disturbing long-term trend, and they’ll keep searching for solutions, well after the threat of shutdowns to teenagers’ mental health has disappeared from the headlines. “It’s not a schools-are-closed, kids-are-killing-themselves problem,” Cerel told me. “That makes it look very simplistic, and like reopening schools is going to solve it. The problem is that there isn’t an easy fix.”
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theatlantic.com
There Will Be More Derek Chauvins
During his closing argument, Steve Schleicher, one of the prosecutors trying the former police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, insisted that jurors could convict Chauvin without convicting policing.“This is not an anti-police prosecution,” Schleicher told the jury. “It’s a pro-police prosecution.”For his part, Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, told the jury that “all of the evidence shows that Mr. Chauvin thought he was following his training. He was, in fact, following his training.”Both were correct.In May 2020, four days after the harrowing video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he begged for his life was first seen by the public, Chauvin became one of the few police officers ever indicted for killing someone in the line of duty. Yesterday, as my colleague David Graham wrote, he became one of the even fewer to be convicted.The video of Floyd’s murder sparked what may have been the largest civil-rights protests in American history; it was the most consequential entry in a thick catalog of police abuses recorded by cellphone cameras. But whatever verdict the jury rendered, police advocates would have claimed victory. Chauvin’s acquittal would have reinforced the presumption that any use of force by a white police officer against a Black man is reasonable. His conviction, though, was swiftly claimed as affirmation that the current system is capable of dispensing justice. Shortly after the verdict was handed down, Patrick Yoes, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, declared that “our system of justice worked as it should.”But the system seldom works this way. Police are rarely fired, let alone criminally convicted, for the use of force. Chauvin’s nonchalance in the video as Floyd begs for his life, and the apparent inaction of the officers around him, represent more than individual indifference to human life. They are a reflection of a system that rarely holds officers accountable for abusing their powers, and a society that expects police to dispense “rough justice.”Police unions have successfully instituted rules that make it tremendously difficult for officers who abuse their powers to be fired. The doctrine of qualified immunity means that officers are very rarely liable in civil court for violations of Americans’ constitutional rights. Officers themselves are discouraged from speaking up about colleagues who regularly engage in such behavior, because they may be labeled rats and feel ostracized, and the officers they name unlikely to face sanction anyway, rendering such courage both futile and self-destructive. Although courts sometimes correct egregious abuses—they may exclude evidence that is unlawfully obtained or disregard forced confessions—most interactions between the public and officers who abuse their authority never see the inside of a courtroom. Instead, they take place in a legal nether-realm, where people who have committed no crime at all can be abused with impunity so long as no one whips out a cellphone camera. Indeed, if not for the bravery of Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded the video of Floyd’s arrest, his death might have been falsely attributed in official records to his “physically resist[ing]” officers. It might have simply been another in the hundreds of incidents in which officers in Minnesota used neck restraints on suspects.There are significant systemic barriers to holding police accountable for misconduct, but there are also cultural ones. Many Americans want police to “rough up” those considered to be criminals or proximate to criminality—an expectation that has persisted for generations.“Progressive reformers of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century … took aim at police corruption but often saw nothing wrong with encouraging officers to use their nightsticks liberally against criminals and reprobates,” the Stanford Law professor and former prosecutor David Alan Sklansky writes in A Pattern of Violence. “Newspapers praised ‘beneficial clubbing’ by the police. Many reformers linked police corruption with toleration of vice; they wanted the police to get tough with lawbreakers.”That expectation swells during periods of rising crime. In the 1970s and ’80s, Sklansky writes, a “growing concern about violent crime” made “many people tolerant of, or even eager for, ‘rough tactics’ by the police. Just as in earlier eras, there was a growing sentiment that it was time for the police to take their gloves off.” When former President Donald Trump encouraged an audience of police in Long Island in 2017 to abuse suspects in their custody, the officers laughed because Trump was articulating that unstated expectation in his own blunt fashion.There will be more Derek Chauvins, because his conviction alters nothing about this system. It does not change the fact that police who engage in such behavior can expect to rely on the silence of their colleagues, the elaborate protections established by legal doctrine and collective bargaining, or the quiet expectation that hurting the “right” people is an admirable part of the job. To the contrary: Powerful political actors are committed to ensuring that this system remains unchanged, some of whom are praising Chauvin’s conviction as justice being served.After the verdict was announced, though, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson called Chauvin’s conviction an “attack on civilization.” And in this sense alone he was right: It is an attack on a certain idea of civilization when a white police officer is convicted for killing a Black man. America’s traditional racial hierarchy is eroded by the notion that the lives of two such people have equal value. For most of its existence, American law assumed, tacitly or explicitly, that such violence was how “civilization” was maintained, an assumption that shapes both politics and law enforcement to this day. The challenge for those disgusted by Chauvin’s conviction is to defend impunity for such violence as an essential part of their ideal society, without explicitly acknowledging its nature.When Chauvin’s defense attorney said Chauvin was merely following his training, he may not have been strictly correct about Chauvin’s use of a particular neck restraint. But he was probably right that Chauvin was doing what he believed he was both allowed and expected to do. The next Chauvin will feel the same way. But next time, there may not be a brave person with a camera to bear unimpeachable witness.
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theatlantic.com
Racism Has Always Been Part of the Asian American Experience
In the late 19th century, white Americans faced the prospect that Chinese and other Asians might become a significant portion of the population of the United States. In response, they passed a series of laws excluding Chinese from immigration and citizenship.The justification for exclusion was that Chinese were an “unassimilable” race and therefore could never become Americans. Exclusion soon extended to all Asians and remained in U.S. law until 1952. Its rationale—that Asians pose a racial danger to American society—has endured in our politics and culture to this day.Imagine, for a moment, that there had been no exclusion laws, and Chinese and other Asians had continued to freely immigrate to the United States. California, the West, indeed, the whole country would look radically different today. Not all of Asia’s “teeming masses” would have inundated the U.S.; migration does not work that way. The poorest do not migrate, because they can’t afford to, and the wealthiest don’t need to. Migration sets patterns, or chains, from certain areas and not others. Still, by 1950, there would have been many millions of Asian Americans building their lives in the United States, and, in the process, contributing to the country. Instead, that year there were a mere 320,000 Asian Americans, composing just two-tenths of 1 percent of the U.S. population. Since the immigration reforms of 1965, the number of Asian Americans has increased, but we are still barely 6 percent of the U.S. population. Yet too many Americans still believe there are too many Asians in the U.S. and that we don’t belong here.[Alex Wagner: Our Asian spring]For many Asian Americans, the policy of exclusion looms as large as Jim Crow does for Black people. The association is more than a metaphor. In the late 19th century, Jim Crow and Chinese exclusion were related projects of white supremacy, one in the South and one in the West. After the Civil War, the old planter class and the new industrialists in the South responded to the prospect of equality for the former slaves by relegating them to second-class status, stripped of the franchise and other civil rights. The dangers that white supremacists associated with Black citizenship provided an object lesson for why Chinese should be excluded. A reactionary political alliance of the West and the South pushed the exclusion laws through Congress.Asiatic exclusion and Jim Crow segregation were two modes of racial management necessary for white supremacy after the Civil War, when the West and the South were being integrated into a national economy based on corporate capital and a polity made up of white male voters. These policies relied on euphemisms and legal fictions—“aliens ineligible to citizenship” and “separate but equal”—to work around the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of equal protection and due process for all. Indeed, in the late 19th century, the Supreme Court would interpret the Fourteenth Amendment to favor the rights of capital, and not those of former slaves or Asian immigrants.Laws like these were not preordained, but resulted from a choice made between two competing visions: The nation could be built on the principle of white supremacy or on that of democracy. Frederick Douglass understood that the futures of the South and the West were entwined, and that together, they would determine the fate of the nation as a whole. “I want a home here not only for the Negro, the mulatto, and the Latin races,” he said in 1869, speaking out against Chinese exclusion, “but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both for his sake and for ours.”Americans today are slowly beginning to appreciate the nature of systemic racism against Black people. We need to expand the scope of our understanding; different historical dynamics have produced different racisms. But while distinct, their histories are connected and their legacies overlap, sometimes chaotically. And if we don’t understand the history of exclusion, we cannot understand the racist hatred that continues to be directed against Asian Americans in the present.Chinese first came to the United States in large numbers during the California Gold Rush of 1848 and ’49, which crowned the continental expansion of the U.S. Under the sign of “manifest destiny”—the idea that the West was God’s gift to white Protestant Americans—the United States had gone to war with Mexico and annexed its northern half, including California. Westward expansion absorbed the sectional conflict over slavery and brought the genocide of Indigenous peoples across the plains and the West.The idea of manifest destiny might seem quaint to our ears today, but its core imperative of a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant nation continued to define the dominant vision of the United States for a century. When Euro-American settlers arrived at the edge of the continent, they celebrated their conquest of the West and their closing of the frontier. From there, they looked out across the Pacific Ocean—the next frontier—with both excitement at the prospect of new conquests and anxiety over the new peoples that might come.[Read: The talk my Chinese parents never had with me]The Gold Rush is often celebrated for the individual daring, ingenuity, and male camaraderie of the 49ers, engaged in a bold experiment in democratic self-government. Less well remembered, but no less true, is that it was also violent and racist. Gold seekers and the fledgling state government of California pursued the extermination of Indigenous peoples. White, native-born Americans agitated against foreign miners, weaponizing manifest destiny for competitive gain, and driving many European, Australian, Chilean, Sonoran, and Chinese miners from the diggings.Hostility against Chinese took on a special cast in 1852. California Governor John Bigler, facing a tight race for reelection, made an incendiary speech before the state legislature, claiming that Chinese, a race of heathens and slaves, were invading the state and threatening its society of free producers. Leaflets printed by Bigler and newspaper accounts circulated copies of the speech around the state. Many miners were already anxious, because the easy gold in the rivers was being depleted and deep-pocketed capitalists were taking over the industry, replacing independent prospecting with wage labor in underground quartz mines. Bigler’s bigotry found a receptive audience. White miners passed resolutions to keep Chinese out of their districts and provided the votes Bigler needed to win a second term. He operated from the classic nativist playbook: Tap into popular grievances, offer a theory that blames an outsider group, and weaponize resentment for partisan gain. Chinese miners in California during the 1850s (Fotosearch / Getty) Chinese in California were voluntary emigrants and independent prospectors, not indentured workers. Bigler claimed that “coolies … are being sent here under contract … at merely nominal wages … [and] their families have been retained as hostages for the faithful performance of the contracts.” His argument that these were not bona fide contracts but were rooted in “moral turpitude” and coercion invoked two contemporary anxieties. One was the use, mainly by the British, of Indian indentured labor in the Caribbean plantation colonies after the abolition of slavery. The other was the more proximate example of slavery in the American South. These two associations—colonialism and slavery—inspired the racist theories against Chinese immigrants, and have haunted Chinese Americans ever since.Two Chinese American merchant leaders in San Francisco, Tong K. Achick and Hab Wa, wrote a letter to Bigler, refuting his claims. They explained that Chinese in California included laborers, tradesmen, mechanics, gentry, and teachers; “none are ‘Coolies’ if by that word you mean bound men or contract slaves.” They added, “In the important matters we are good men; we honor our parents; we take care of our children; we are industrious and peaceable; we trade much; we are trusted for small and large sums; we pay our debts and are honest; and of course we tell the truth.” Finally, Achick and Wa asserted that there was a positive relationship between migration and trade, that they were mutually supporting elements of foreign contact and exchange. “If you want to check immigration from Asia,” they argued, “you will have to do it by checking Asiatic commerce.”A resurgence of racism against Chinese engulfed San Francisco in the 1870s, including mob violence, arson, and discriminatory municipal ordinances. This hatred emerged after completion of the transcontinental railroad, which brought unforeseen consequences to the West. California’s new connection to the East Coast encouraged domestic migration and the importation of cheap manufactured goods, resulting in falling wages and unemployment. Integration into the national market brought the long tail of economic recession from the East. The “coolie” trope was remarkably adaptive to new conditions. The philosopher Henry George gave it theoretical heft, using what was then referred to as the “Chinese question” to test his emerging views about labor and monopoly. He argued that, unlike European immigrants, whose wages eventually rose to the level of native-born workers, Chinese were a permanent source of cheap labor because they were unassimilable coolies. George imagined a class struggle between workers and capitalists, with Chinese in the camp of the bosses.Anti-coolieism also targeted Chinese women. There weren’t many Chinese immigrant women in California, but some were wives of merchants and workers, or wives of fishermen who worked alongside their husbands as partners, while others were servants of wealthy Chinese. They also included sex workers who offered services to both Chinese and white men, but the anti-Chinese movement stereotyped all Chinese women as prostitutes, dubbing them “slave girls,” female counterparts to male coolie laborers. These attacks portrayed them as diseased and immoral, but that rhetoric was also laced with exoticism and desire. San Francisco’s most famous madam, Ah Toy, was said to be so beautiful that men paid an ounce of gold just to look at her.The Page Act of 1875, the first Chinese exclusion law in the U.S., barred “Mongolian prostitutes” from entering the country. The law required all women to be interrogated upon entry to prove they were not a prostitute; unsurprisingly, Chinese female immigration plummeted. That satisfied the real motive behind the Page Act, the prevention of Chinese population growth through natural reproduction. The legislation left a legacy of separated families, and helped establish the enduring stereotype of “Oriental” women as dangerous and desirable.The Page Act also barred foreign contract laborers, but it could not keep out Chinese men, because they were not indentured. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 took care of that—barring Chinese laborers from entering the United States, and all Chinese from naturalized citizenship. The exclusion laws codified the idea that Chinese were racially unassimilable. They could never be anything but a coolie race, controlled by despotic masters, without individual personality or will, never independent in thought or action. The U.S. Supreme Court layered another theory onto coolieism: that Chinese exclusion was necessary for national security. In Chae Chan Ping v. U.S. in 1889, the Court wrote, To preserve its independence, and give security against foreign aggression and encroachment, is the highest duty of every nation … If, therefore, the government of the United States … considers the presence of foreigners of a different race in this country, who will not assimilate with us, to be dangerous to its peace and security, their exclusion is not to be stayed because at the time there are no actual hostilities with the nation of which the foreigners are subjects. The existence of war would render the necessity of the proceeding only more obvious and pressing. Previously, federal regulation of immigration had been justified under the commerce clause of the Constitution. In upholding Chinese exclusion, the Court invoked national security to justify racist legislation. But in the 1880s, it was not the Chinese but the racism they faced that had proved dangerous to peace and security, bringing worsening violence against Chinese communities. In 1885 alone, the entire Chinese population of Tacoma, Washington, was violently expelled, and 128 Chinese coal miners from Rock Springs, Wyoming, were massacred.The Chinese exclusion laws were subsequently extended to people from the Philippines, India, and Japan (indeed, an entire “barred Asiatic zone” was established in 1917), lumping different national-origin groups into a single racial category, the “Asiatic.”Modern colonialism and global trade meant a greater integration of the global economy and, with it, mass migration, sparking struggles over race and immigration policy throughout the Anglophone world. As the Chinese merchants Tong K. Achick and Hab Wa pointed out in 1852, trade begets migration and vice versa. Thus American policy makers constructed an “open door” to China that would swing one way, allowing American products, missionaries, and capital to enter China while keeping Chinese people out of the United States. For all its talk about the equality of nations and the open door, the American approach was typically colonial, treating China as an object of commercial and missionary desire but Chinese people as degraded and backward, undesirable as immigrants.[Read: What it’s like when racism comes for you]The settler colonies of the British empire followed the example of the United States. Canada mimicked America’s Chinese exclusion law; Australia adopted an unapologetic “White Australia” policy in 1901. South Africa took inspiration from Jim Crow in the U.S. and from White Australia. In the early 20th century, American and British racists were publishing screeds like “The Passing of the Great Race,” “The Asiatic Danger in the Colonies,” and “The Rising Tide of Color” to promote the idea that the temperate zones of the world should be reserved for the white race.But not only white supremacists connected domestic and foreign policies. Anti-racists and anti-imperialists also found common cause and solidarities across the global color lines. The antislavery book Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a best seller in 1901, when it became the first American novel to be translated into Chinese. “The book is not really about the sufferings of the black race as it is about all races under the whites,” a book reviewer in Shanghai wrote. “The novel is a wake-up call to rouse us from a deep dream.”Racisms, while originating in specific contexts, must be continually reproduced in order to remain potent, as the late Afro-British sociologist Stuart Hall and other cultural theorists have emphasized. Because the exclusion laws could not eliminate all Asians from the United States (though that was the intention of violent “driving out” campaigns), the western states erected a legal edifice to ensure their subordination and marginalization. Racist laws forbade Asians from marrying whites, attending white schools, testifying in court against whites, owning agricultural property, and holding commercial and professional licenses. Restrictive covenants barred the sale of real estate to “Negroes, Jews and Orientals.” Exclusion underwrote the popular understanding that Asian Americans born in the United States were not true citizens, despite their birthright. The presumption of foreign loyalties most famously led to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II on grounds that they were an “enemy race.”Most of the racist laws against Asians remained in force until the late 1940s, when Black civil-rights activism defeated similar restrictions on African Americans. The Asiatic exclusion laws themselves fell between 1943 and 1952, the result of wartime foreign-policy imperatives. When Congress repealed the laws, however, it imposed miniscule annual quotas on Asian countries. Nevertheless, immigration opened a bit, and Asian Americans made small steps in socioeconomic and residential mobility, gaining access to professions and suburbs.During the Cold War, an ideological space opened up where Asian Americans could declare opposition to communism in East Asia as a way to assert their loyalty to the United States, as the historian Ellen Wu writes in her book The Color of Success. They also cannily promoted stereotyped cultural qualities—that Asian Americans are quiet, good workers, good students, and respectful of their parents—to advocate for their social inclusion. Journalists and sociologists weaponized these ideas to discipline Blacks and Latinos, and some Asian Americans believed they were better, too. Through these complex dynamics, Wu argues, Asian Americans’ place on the racial landscape went from being “definitively not white” to “definitively not Black.”But repeal of the exclusion laws, incremental socioeconomic mobility, and even the establishment of equal quotas in the 1965 immigration law were insufficient to eradicate racism against Asian Americans. That is, in part, because of the weight of history. But it’s also because racism found ample grounds for reproduction in the conduct of American colonialism and wars in the Asia-Pacific region, from the Opium Wars and gunboat diplomacy in the 19th century straight through the conflicts of the 20th century.While all wars entail the dehumanization of the enemy, the dehumanization of Asians is distinctive in its racial idiom and its persistence across time. It centers around the ideas that for Asians, “life is cheap” and that, as uncivilized peoples, they do not engage in “civilized” warfare and therefore must be fought with like means. During the Philippine-American War, which ran from 1899 to 1902, the United States invented waterboarding to torture Filipino guerilla fighters. The U.S. Army also burned villages and rounded up civilians into strategic hamlets, a practice it would later use in Vietnam. The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and napalm and Agent Orange on Vietnam. In truth, it was the U.S. military that considered Asian life cheap and engaged in barbaric warfare against them.The prostitution of Asian women for American servicemen is an enduring feature of the U.S. military experience in Asia. Sex markets have ringed U.S. Army and Navy bases, whether during wartime or Cold War occupation, in Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines, Okinawa, and Guam. The long history of military prostitution generated racist and misogynist stereotypes, in which Asian women were portrayed as exotic, subservient, and always available. As the Korean American author Marie Myong-Ok Lee writes, the “cultural attitudes and stereotypes about Asian women don’t end when a soldier returns home. They become incorporated into American culture … Just ask yourself, are these phrases familiar? ‘Me so horny.’ ‘Me love you long time.’”[Morgan Ome: Why this wave of anti-Asian racism feels different]Finally, to the hot and cold wars we must add the trade wars. In the 1980s, the introduction of Japanese electronics and automobiles into the U.S. market sparked a racially tinged protectionist movement. In the early 21st century, Americans’ anxiety about China’s rise as a global economic power has fueled a new round of “Yellow Peril” racism. The figure of the coolie has returned, embodied in factory assembly workers in China’s special economic zones and Chinese international and Chinese American university students in the United States. They are imagined to toil under slave-like conditions (ruled by the Communist Party or by tiger moms), their extreme labor posing unfair competition against white American workers and students. The stereotype of the high-achieving model minority, aside from obscuring vast differences in socioeconomic status among different Asian groups, is a pathology, not a compliment.Hall, the sociologist, famously wrote that we ought to understand “not racism in general but racisms.” According to Hall, racism might be everywhere a “deeply anti-human and anti-social practice,” but it is not “everywhere the same.” Specific histories, contexts, and environments produce particular racisms, he said. Hall understood, too, that there’s no such thing as “race” in a biological sense. Rather, racism is a way of thinking about social groups according to differences that are presumed to be natural and immutable.Racism is more than a series of stereotypes. It is ideological—a way of looking at the world that justifies and explains material structures of inequality and frames, if not determines, the life chances of racialized groups. In the United States, there’s much to unpack to understand the racisms that are shot through our history and our present, and how each strand of experience is unique as well as related to that of others. In the American context, racisms uphold the logics and practices of white supremacy.The Indigenous critic Jodi Byrd offers a useful approach that distinguishes between Native peoples, European settlers, and later “arrivants,” the latter a diverse category including enslaved people and immigrant workers. Byrd counsels us to recognize distinct racial formations, to acknowledge their respective historical weights and legacies, while resisting the impulse to create hierarchies or analogies of oppression.In the aftermath of the recent murder of eight people in Atlanta, including six Korean and Chinese women—Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng—which took place on top of a year of pandemic-related harassment and assaults against Asian Americans, I’ve been thinking about this country’s deep ignorance of Asian American communities. Why does it seem so difficult for many Americans to understand that racism is part of our experience, past and present? Some suggest that we remain invisible to Americans, perhaps because we’re perceived as quiet. But in fact, we’ve been speaking up and speaking out for a long time—it’s just that few people have been paying attention.Americans are still struggling over competing ideas of what this nation should be. Sadly, that debate still includes whether Asians belong, or whether racism against them even exists. While the white-supremacist vision of manifest destiny today animates Trumpism, we still have another choice. Frederick Douglass’s democratic vision offers us a path toward a more inclusive future, should we decide to stand in solidarity against all racisms.
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theatlantic.com
Can Democrats Make Peace With Louis DeJoy?
For Democrats starving for a villain in post-Trump Washington, Louis DeJoy seemed like an ideal candidate for the role. As postmaster general, he’s the most powerful holdover from the previous administration—a Trump campaign donor and logistics executive hired to run the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service. When DeJoy moved last summer to slow the mail, his critics charged that he was carrying out a Trump plot to help steal the presidential election and degrade a beloved American institution.DeJoy’s critics, however, were fretting about the wrong crisis. The Postal Service handled the deluge of ballots but not the crush of Christmas cards and packages that followed. The holiday season was a disaster for the agency, prompting many Democrats to renew their calls for his ouster. Yet as the fight turns to the future of the Postal Service, the party is divided over the leader it loves to hate, and some lawmakers are realizing that DeJoy’s vision is not radically different from their own.Despite the Democratic posturing at the height of last year’s campaign, the Postal Service’s problems predated both DeJoy and Trump. One of the biggest is obvious: People don’t use the mail as much in this century as they did in the last. The agency has recorded $87 billion in losses over the past 14 years and is projected to lose nearly twice that much in the next decade.Last month, DeJoy unveiled a 10-year strategic plan to put the Postal Service on solid financial footing that calls for hastening a shift away from traditional mail, where demand is down, and toward the package market, which is booming. The agency would ditch air transportation for mail, meaning that letters sent across the country would take four or five days to get to their destination, rather than the current promise of three days or less. The plan would prioritize reliability over speed, so that instead of improving timeliness, the agency would condition customers to expect the slower delivery times that currently exist—even while postage prices continue to rise.The tradeoffs have the backing of the Postal Service’s bipartisan board of governors, including its Democratic chair, Ron Bloom, who told me the proposal preserves the two most important calling cards of the Postal Service in its competition with higher-priced alternatives like FedEx and UPS: dependability and affordability. “As long as people can plan for when the mail will get there, we have a product that well serves the American people,” Bloom told me. “If it has to absolutely, positively be there overnight and you’re going from New York to L.A., we’re not your guys.”The reaction from some of DeJoy’s Democratic critics was predictable. Representative Gerry Connolly of Virginia, who chairs the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over the post office, told me the plan “codifies the deterioration” of the mail under DeJoy. But to others, the most surprising aspect about the strategic plan was that it wasn’t worse. Unlike two of his recent predecessors, DeJoy is recommitting the Postal Service to six-day mail delivery and seven days for packages. He endorses Democratic legislation that would fix one of the Postal Service’s biggest fiscal burdens by repealing a requirement that the agency pre-fund employee retirement accounts. The plan does not call for cuts to employee benefits, and it would place more temporary workers on a career track—a bid to reduce high turnover and a boon to postal unions.[Read: What really scares voting experts about the Postal Service]DeJoy also proposes a bevy of ideas to better equip the service to handle and transport packages, as well as to leverage its unparalleled reach to rural and remote areas—one of its top advantages over its competitors. He’s pledging to spend billions to upgrade local post offices and modernize the agency’s fleet of trucks; at an average age of 28 years, they’re some of the oldest vehicles on the road. “It’s a good plan on merit,” Democratic Representative Haley Stevens of Michigan told me.Whether DeJoy will get a chance to implement the proposal is an open question. Democrats began gunning for him almost from the moment he started last June, and he remains a popular fundraising tool for the party. “Louis DeJoy is destroying [the Postal Service] and Biden can’t fire him,” read one money-seeking email sent Monday by a senior House leader. The result is that opinions of the postmaster general—long an obscure government official—are now polarized along party lines. A poll conducted for The Atlantic by Leger found that Democratic respondents were significantly more likely than Republicans or independents to be aware of DeJoy. Of those Democrats who were, more than eight in 10 viewed him negatively.Many Democrats in Congress are still gunning for DeJoy, hoping that a new slate of appointees President Joe Biden has nominated to the board of governors will support removing DeJoy once the Senate confirms them. DeJoy has a combative relationship with Congress—“Get used to me,” he told lawmakers in February. But in conversations with lawmakers, union officials, and postal advocates over the past couple weeks, I could detect the faintest hint of sympathy for an executive who inherited an enormous mess and is trying to prove he wasn’t installed to make it worse. Members of both parties say he’s been more responsive now that Democrats run Washington. “I’m not sure that the DeJoy we have now is the DeJoy that got picked,” one critic told me. “I think he wants to keep his job.”The pandemic only exacerbated the Postal Service’s many challenges last year. Thousands of its employees were sick or quarantined, resulting in staff shortages. Mail volume dropped even further, and grounded commercial flights caused more delays. A surge in packages, although good for business, overwhelmed the agency’s fleet of trucks, which were built to carry letters rather than boxes. The crisis exploded during the holidays: A new COVID-19 wave sidelined workers just as a record number of packages inundated the system. Cards and gifts arrived late—many were showing up well after New Year’s—but the delays caused more significant problems as well. People didn’t get medication on time, or they received bills after payment was due; legal notifications missed their statutory deadlines, and retailers found that customers were receiving catalogs and coupons after sales had ended.Holiday performance was so bad that DeJoy, an executive not known for humility, apologized to customers during a congressional hearing in February. The past year also dealt a blow to the Postal Service’s standing with some of its best customers—the companies that send the bulk of the nation’s catalogs, coupons, and greeting cards. “The confidence of the industry in the Postal Service has been shaken,” Art Sackler, who runs both a trade association and an advocacy group called the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, told me. “There’s never been, at least in anyone’s memory, a similar kind of disruption.” Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union, put it more bluntly: “The most immediate thing is mail service stinks.”At the moment, the Democrat with the most say over DeJoy’s fate is not Biden—it’s Bloom, who became board chair in February. To the consternation of many in his party, Bloom is firmly in DeJoy’s corner. He joined the postmaster general for the rollout of the strategic plan in March and vouched for him in front of Congress a month earlier. “Right now, I think he’s the proper man for the job,” Bloom told me. “He’s earned my support, and he will have it until he doesn’t. And I have no particular reason to believe he will lose it.”Bloom is an investment banker, best known for advising labor unions during complex and fraught negotiations. He won acclaim for his role helping the Obama administration rescue the auto industry in 2009. Trump appointed him to the board of governors in 2019 with support from Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and the National Association of Letter Carriers, the largest and most politically influential of the four major postal unions. Bloom had advised the Letter Carriers during President Barack Obama’s second term, when the union feared that the struggling Postal Service would need the same bailout as Detroit had years earlier.Bloom’s support for DeJoy has made him almost as divisive a figure among Democrats as the postmaster general. “Whether he’s a Democrat or a Whig, I don’t care. He’s complicit,” Representative Connolly told me. He criticized Bloom for keeping silent during the uproar over DeJoy’s management ahead of the election. The congressman organized 50 House Democrats, including several powerful committee chairs, to write a letter calling on Biden to remove and replace the entire board of governors, including Bloom and another Democrat, Lee Moak.The Letter Carriers quickly rose to Bloom and Moak’s defense, writing a lengthy response to Connolly and his co-signers to tell them the union “strongly opposed” the removal of either Democrat from the board. Bloom also has allies in Congress, who say he played an integral role behind the scenes helping to ensure that the election went smoothly and later to deliver wins for labor in the strategic plan. “I couldn’t think of a better person for the job,” said Representative Stevens, who worked closely with Bloom in the Obama administration and hailed him as a restructuring expert. “He’s not interested in personalities. He’s interested in results,” said Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, the Democratic chair of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which oversees the Postal Service.Bloom’s term expires in December. He told me he hopes Biden will renominate him, but he declined to discuss whether he had spoken with the president about his status. “I think, immodestly, I’m making a bit of a difference,” he said. As to the Democrats who are calling for his immediate removal, Bloom seemed unconcerned. “They have every right to their opinion,” he told me. “Maybe they’ll persuade the president to do it.” (The White House declined to comment.)Although he described himself as a “partisan Democrat,” Bloom sharply criticized members of his party who have accused DeJoy of making changes to the mail in a deliberate attempt to sabotage the election. “Skepticism is proper, but people said we stole these collection boxes from poor neighborhoods,” he said. “It’s absolute BS.” The Postal Service’s handling of a record volume of election mail—ballots took an average of 1.6 days to get to election offices, and more than 99 percent were delivered within a week, the agency said—is a point of pride for Bloom, who served on a preelection task force. “It was awesome and amazing,” he told me, at one point comparing the Postal Service’s performance to the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Yet when other Democrats were making these charges last summer and into the fall, Bloom was silent. “I chose not to play that role,” he said. “Maybe I should have spoken up.”Democrats see Bloom’s fingerprints on parts of the strategic plan, which share elements with the report he helped write when he was working for the Letter Carriers. (“It has my fingerprints, but it has a lot of fingerprints on it,” Bloom said.) The Letter Carriers have spoken more favorably of DeJoy’s plan than has the American Postal Workers Union, whose members work inside post offices and mail-sorting facilities and would be more vulnerable to the plant closures envisioned by the proposal. Dimondstein, the Postal Workers president, characterized the plan as “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”None of the unions, however, wanted DeJoy to release a long-term strategy at all. Their top priority is for Congress to pass the legislation—which DeJoy supports—that would help solve the problems with the service’s retirement fund and relieve pressure on the agency to cut costs. The unions worried that any detailed proposal, which would inevitably draw criticism from Democratic lawmakers, would upset the delicate negotiations over the bill. Bloom told me he backed the plan’s release in part because he knew it would be better than some of DeJoy’s biggest critics expected.He’s now working on building support among Democrats both for the plan and, it seems, for DeJoy. Those conversations appear to be having an effect. Some Democrats now believe that it’s better to work with DeJoy than to waste time arguing about whether to fire him. (The Biden White House seems to have little interest in the fight.) It’s significant that Peters, unlike his Democratic counterparts in the House, hasn’t called for DeJoy’s ouster; instead, he told me he wants the postmaster general to help deliver votes for the retirement-fund bill among his Republican allies in the Senate. Such an alliance would have been unthinkable even six months ago: Democrats who once accused DeJoy of trying to destroy the Postal Service from within now see him as a potential partner in their effort to save it.
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theatlantic.com
Facebook Should Dial Down the Toxicity Much More Often
On Monday, Facebook vowed that its staff was “working around the clock” to identify and restrict posts that could lead to unrest or violence after a verdict was announced in the murder trial of the former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. In a blog post, the company promised to remove “content that praises, celebrates or mocks” the death of George Floyd. Most of the company’s statement amounted to pinky-swearing to really, really enforce its existing community standards, which have long prohibited bullying, hate speech, and incitements to violence.Buried in the post was something less humdrum, though: “As we have done in emergency situations in the past,” declared Monika Bickert, the company’s vice president of content policy, “we may also limit the spread of content that our systems predict is likely to violate our Community Standards in the areas of hate speech, graphic violence, and violence and incitement.” Translation: Facebook might turn down the dial on toxic content for a little while. Which raises some questions: Facebook has a toxic-content dial? If so, which level is it set at on a typical day? On a scale of one to 10, is the toxicity level usually a five—or does it go all the way up to 11?This is not the first time Facebook has talked about reducing the amplification of inflammatory posts to make its platform a better and safer place. In the run-up to and the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, Facebook talked about the “break glass” measures it was taking to limit the spread of misinformation and incitements to violence in the United States. Such steps had previously been reserved for “at-risk countries” such as Myanmar, Ethiopia, and Sri Lanka. Now these exceptional measures may be deployed in Minneapolis, which Facebook has “temporarily deemed to be a high-risk location” because of the Chauvin trial.[David A. Graham: Chauvin’s conviction is the exception that proves the rule]When Facebook detects heightened social tension, it puts in place policies to promote authoritative information and add “friction” so that content on the site moves more slowly and more calmly than usual. In short, the company reins in the virality that online platforms otherwise so spectacularly enable. Facebook largely avoided epic failure on Election Day, the New York Times columnist Kevin Roose asserted, by “dialing back the very features that have powered the platform’s growth for years.”These kinds of decisions—about what platforms choose to amplify or add friction to—are the most important in content moderation. Discussion about content moderation tends to focus on binary decisions concerning whether individual pieces of content are left up or taken down. But content moderation is much more about knobs and dials that regulate the overall flow of posts. An individual piece of content is a mere drop in the ocean of Facebook content; the underlying systems that move this content around are the tides. The public discussion about content moderation typically fixates on the drops—what should Facebook have done with Donald Trump’s posts?—but when you’re weathering a storm, what matters is the tides.Mark Zuckerberg agrees. In 2018, the Facebook CEO laid out a “blueprint for content governance” that included what the Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain has said should be the “most famous graphs in content moderation.” Stay with me—the graphs are interesting. Courtesy of Facebook The graph above shows what usually happens whenever Facebook draws a policy line. Posts that clearly fall beyond that line—overt and credible incitements to violence against police or protesters, to choose a hypothetical example—will be taken down. But posts that don’t cross the line will naturally gain more engagement as they tiptoe closer to it. In this default world, a post that uses hateful language targeted at police might stay up, because police are not a protected class, and attract more likes and shares than a post criticizing law enforcement on policy grounds. The more inflammatory post, in other words, would likely land on the upward curve of user engagement. (These examples are speculative, because Facebook does not provide specific details about what “approaching the line” means.)But platforms can train their systems to recognize this “borderline content” and make engagement look like the graph below: Courtesy of Facebook In this scenario, the more inflammatory a post is, the less distribution it gets. Posts describing police in hateful terms might stay up but be shown to fewer people. According to Zuckerberg, this strategy of reducing the “distribution and virality” of harmful content is the most effective way of dealing with it.He’s right: The strategy works! Facebook has recently touted reductions in the amount of hate speech and graphic content that users see on its platform. How did it make these improvements? Not by changing its rules on hate speech. Not by hiring more human content moderators. Not by refining artificial-intelligence tools that seek out rule-breaking content to take down. The progress was “mainly due to changes we made to reduce problematic content in News Feed.” The company used dials, not on-off switches.Facebook’s critics accuse it of spreading hate and violent content because such material increases users’ time on the site and therefore the company’s profits. That trope is probably overblown and too simplistic. Advertisers don’t like their ads running next to divisive content, and in the long term, users won’t keep coming back to a platform that makes them feel disgusted. Still, some leaks from employees have detailed projects to tamp down divisive or harmful content that were killed internally for business reasons. And the top 10 most-engaged-with posts after the election contained many more mainstream press accounts than before the break-glass measures took effect. The list looked so different from the usual fare of right-wing viral content that Facebook released a blog post trying to explain it. (The company conceded that the temporary measures had played a role, but suggested they were not the primary driver for the change.)[Read: Facebook is a doomsday machine]Without any independent access to internal data, outsiders can’t know how much of a difference Facebook’s break-glass measures make, or where its dials usually sit. But Facebook has a reason for announcing these steps. (To the company’s credit, it at least announced measures in anticipation of the Chauvin verdict; other platforms seemed to just keep their head down.) What the company hasn’t explained is why its anti-toxicity measures need to be exceptional at all. If there’s a reason turning down the dials on likely hate speech and incitement to violence all the time is a bad idea, I don’t see it.Facebook’s old internal motto “Move fast and break things” has become an albatross around its neck, symbolizing how the company prioritized growth and scale, leaving chaos behind it. But when confronted with inflammatory content, the platform should move faster and break more glass.The Chauvin trial may be a unique event, but racial tension and violence are clearly not. Content on social media leading to offline harm is not confined to Minneapolis or the U.S.; it is a global problem. Toxic online content is not an aberration, but a permanent feature of the internet. Platforms shouldn’t wait until the house is burning down to do something about it.
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Reforms That Can Help Revive the American Dream
In 1993, a few months after being sworn in as comptroller of the currency, I joined Representative Paul Kanjorski on a tour of his central Pennsylvania congressional district. The area around Scranton, perhaps best known today as home to the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company from The Office, was broadly akin to York, Pennsylvania, where I’d grown up two generations earlier, roughly 150 miles away. Both areas, rural landscapes dotted with pockets of industry, had been fairly prosperous in the postwar era of my youth. Now deteriorating, both seemed to be on the cusp of being forgotten amid the nation’s transition to the “new” information-based economy.Kanjorski, a warm-hearted, old-style liberal sitting on the House Financial Services Committee, had invited me up to see the state of the housing market firsthand—and specifically the way federal laws affected the opportunities Black families and people of modest means had to purchase homes. A quarter century earlier, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (FHA), many liberals had hoped that Washington was well on its way to eliminating prejudice from the housing marketplace altogether, ensuring, in the phrase popularized by President John F. Kennedy, that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Johnson himself believed that future generations would view the FHA as a breakthrough of equal importance to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But by the late 1970s, progressives were forced to admit that the new law had not had the impact Johnson envisioned. Through a practice known as redlining, banks were skirting the spirit of Johnson’s law simply by refusing to lend to lower-income, typically Black, neighborhoods altogether.[Read: The racist housing policy that made your neighborhood]Redlining was nearly ubiquitous. The three largest banks serving Hartford, Connecticut, for example, had made more than 1,300 loans in the city’s largely white suburbs—but only 85 in the city itself. In Chicago, the four largest savings and loan associations and the two largest commercial banks extended only 22 percent of their mortgage loans inside the city, the rest being directed to the much whiter suburbs. As Gale Cincotta, a well-respected community advocate working in Chicago told a Senate panel, “It’s easier to get a loan in Albania than on the West Side of Chicago.” So, in 1977, Congress passed, and President Jimmy Carter signed, the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which required financial institutions to serve customers everywhere the institutions had a physical presence, not just in neighborhoods where they thought they could derive the most profit.After Carter’s defeat in 1980, the Reagan and Bush administrations effectively nullified the law, and regulators refused in most cases to hold banks to the high standard laid out in the underlying legislation. Rather than forcing lenders to serve minority communities in earnest, Washington simply compelled lending officers to document why, in each case, they had chosen not to lend to lower-income applicants. The paltry impact was predictable. In 1960, 64 percent of white people owned their homes, compared with 38 percent of Black people—a racial gap of 27 percent. Thirty years later, in 1990, the gap still stood at 25 percent.Shortly after he was elected president in 1992, Bill Clinton nominated me to become comptroller of the currency, running the federal agency that regulates the nation’s largest banks. During my confirmation hearing, I promised senators that I would do everything in my power to end discrimination in the banking system, eliminating it “root and branch.” Beyond investigating clear violations of the FHA and referring cases to the Department of Justice for prosecution—something that had almost never been done before—that meant making the CRA more effective.Kanjorski had invited me up to Scranton to get a better sense of the blowback we would face if we began pressuring loan officers to accept applications that, left to their own devices, they would have been more likely to reject. Stopping into a local branch, we were ushered into a conference room with a table piled high with thick manila folders. Each folder, the branch manager explained, contained the reams of paperwork bankers were required to fill out when they rejected an application, for insufficient savings, bad credit, or whatever other reason.Walking out, Kanjorski argued that as skeptical as liberals might be of the banking community’s failure to serve minority communities, the paperwork problem was real. The CRA had been written to help underserved communities get loans—but banks had largely absolved themselves of having to extend credit to applicants by wrapping themselves in red tape. The system represented the worst of both worlds: reams of useless paperwork and nothing positive to show for it. So, after returning from Scranton, I took up the president’s directive to begin what became the first-ever comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s anti-redlining laws.The next two years were difficult. But after several rounds of tough negotiations between activists, bankers, and other regulators, we created a new regime. Rather than forcing lending officers to prepare piles of documentation to justify their decisions, we established procedures and examinations that would more comprehensively measure whether any bank was, in earnest, lending, serving, and investing across their whole “service area.” If a bank failed to meet this mandate, it would not receive regulatory approval to undertake a wide variety of corporate activities, including mergers, acquisitions, and branch openings and closings. In other words, banks that failed to meet their CRA obligations could be forced to abandon key parts of their business strategy.Our plan worked. From 1993 to 1998, lenders cumulatively made more than $1.2 trillion in CRA commitments, 125 times more than the $8.8 billion made from 1977 to 1991. And that pointed to an important model for regulatory success. Washington could use the various tools already at its disposal, when properly calibrated, to combat pernicious forms of prejudice in the banking system.Unfortunately, efforts to make loans more widely available did not solve the broader challenge. For one thing, the government’s leverage during the 1990s was predicated on bankers wanting to engage in the sorts of corporate transactions that regulators had the power to deny. When the decade-long stampede toward consolidation later slowed, banks had less incentive to comply. More important, in part because of a prevailing deregulatory impulse in Washington, unregulated companies and investors situated outside the banking system expanded their lending much more rapidly than banks themselves. And while at first this appeared to be a promising development, it turned out for the worst.[Read: A house you can buy, but never own]A number of these “shadow banks”—companies such as Countrywide, New Century, Ameriquest, and Northern Rock, which performed many banking services without a bank charter—were explicitly oriented toward serving lower-income communities, including minority communities. But, as soon became clear, they were much more interested in garnering profits than providing good service, and they embraced brazenly poor standards for controlling how loans would be made and administered. The shadow banks frequently offered loans to low-income borrowers that obscured exploding interest rates or hidden terms. Suddenly, the very communities that had been abused for years by the financial world’s refusal to lend were awash in loans that many residents could not afford to repay. When the bubble burst near the end of President George W. Bush’s second term, the ensuing wave of foreclosures wiped out millions of middle- and lower-income homeowners, triggering the Great Recession.For those of us who had spent years trying to use finance to fight inequality, the Great Recession was excruciating. Even today, some critics argue that a large number of the loans that went bad during the early 2000s were made to unworthy borrowers by lenders seeking to comply with the Clinton-era regulatory regime. But studies by the Federal Reserve found that a mere 6 percent of the defaulting loans had even been CRA-eligible. Instead, the housing bubble that emerged through the Bush years illustrated the dangers of allowing the market to get ahead of any regulatory regime. For decades, activists had spotlighted how bankers had excluded minority communities from building the generational wealth that comes from owning a home. Now the communities that had been iced out of the mortgage market were being victimized for finally having gotten in.The impact was particularly acute in the communities the CRA had been established to serve. In some places, the functional Black unemployment rate—the inability to obtain full-time employment or earn more than a poverty wage—rose to roughly 70 percent. Many good banks—institutions such as Chicago’s ShoreBank, which had served minority communities with integrity when their competitors were engaged in redlining—were forced out of business. Perhaps most distressing for those who had fought to extend the power of credit to lower-income Americans was the spectacle of a housing crisis that pierced any sense that the momentum of the 1990s would continue to drive progress. It turned out that a rising tide did not lift all boats for very long; some were left stranded when the tide went out. And so even after decades of activism, the communities most harmed by prejudice were, by many standards, no better off.The situation improved gradually through the Obama-era recovery and beyond—until the coronavirus pandemic hit. Today, a new cadre of financial regulators, many being appointed by President Joe Biden, face a fresh opportunity to transform the financial world’s role in the fight against prejudice and inequality. Three decades ago, our aim was to rip racism out of the banking sector “root and branch.” But now we know it’s not just overt discrimination that we have to combat. As the Great Recession demonstrated, the world of lending can actually exacerbate problems if it is not regulated both to prohibit what is effectively sanctioned loan sharking and to ensure that every financial institution (and not just banks) have affirmative obligations to serve lower-income Americans the right way. To that end, any new regulatory regime needs to incorporate the lessons of the past.First, as the Biden administration and various independent regulatory agencies begin to think more comprehensively about how to extend fair and equitable loans, they need to embrace clear and transparent metrics. The CRA, as it was initially understood in 1977, simply mandated that lenders make a good-faith effort to serve the communities in which they operated. In the 1980s and early 1990s, though, it became evident that paperwork is no substitute for real lending. By setting clear metrics, we can avoid the danger of forcing financial institutions to create another housing bubble, without letting lenders off the hook. No financier should be able to claim sympathy for merely having tried to lend to their whole community. Today, too many financial institutions have been given license to collect trillions of dollars in profit with no affirmative obligations other than to serve the most privileged members of society.Second, tomorrow’s regulations must extend further than federally regulated banks, applying to every business that provides financial services. When President Carter signed the CRA, banks were by far the largest part of the financial community and, as a rule, functionally prohibited from doing business beyond the places where they had physical branches. Today, a wider range of financial institutions has come to serve a much broader marketplace of prospective borrowers, and many have no real geographic footprint to be measured against. The CRA, as currently written, requires deposit-taking community banks based in York, Pennsylvania, to lend equitably to every neighborhood in and around York. But Rocket, presently the largest mortgage lender in the United States, is not subject to the CRA’s mandates because it is a “nonbank.” Perhaps more important, it has no real physical presence, yet lends across the country. So the metrics that are used to measure compliance need to change.[Read: The unfulfilled promise of fair housing]Third, the next generation of regulations must have real teeth. The Clinton administration’s success in combatting financial inequality during the 1990s was driven largely by the fact that unsatisfactory CRA ratings prevented banks from engaging in what promised to be profitable mergers and acquisitions. Whatever standards regulators craft for tomorrow’s financial institutions, those benchmarks need to be enforced with sanctions executives take seriously. When a financial executive meets with President Biden’s new comptroller or any other federal regulator, he or she must come away with a clear understanding of that firm’s regulatory responsibilities—and what the penalty will be if they fall short.Fourth, government at all levels should begin investing more heavily in the resilient (but often overlooked) category of lenders who balance the drive for profitability with a more wholesome mission to serve marginalized neighborhoods, lest those communities be compelled to depend on the sorts of unscrupulous lenders that were responsible for the housing bubble. More than a generation ago, Washington began seeding what are officially titled community development financial institutions, or CDFIs, which serve places and borrowers that banks typically ignore. Sunrise Banks in Minnesota, for example, and Southern Bank, headquartered in Arkansas, should be the lenders of first resort for borrowers who might otherwise depend on check cashers or loan sharks. Washington recently increased investment in CDFIs through a welcome provision championed by Senator Mark Warner in the COVID-19 relief bill signed in December. That should be just a down payment.Finally, when a borrower runs into trouble, as so many did a decade ago, regulators need to better discern who is truly culpable, and then specify where Old Testament justice might be unfair or counterproductive. When the housing bubble burst, many lenders foreclosed on helpless borrowers for fear that regulators would sanction them for showing what’s called “forbearance,” and well-intentioned institutions such as ShoreBank were forced to close, to the detriment of the lower-income communities they had long served. Untrammeled greed in one part of the financial system—in this case, among the shadow banks—should not be permitted to pull the rug out from under middle- and lower-income Americans who have largely made prudent financial decisions. Regulators should make room for lenders to work out distressed loans without helpless borrowers taking so much of a hit, and those with oversight responsibilities should be prohibited from slaughtering the sheep along with the wolves.Finance need not be a barrier to progress—it should be part of a broader effort to breathe new life into the American dream. These lessons of history, taken together, can help form the foundation for a regulatory regime that serves the goals articulated as far back as the FHA. In the absence of sufficient jobs, quality education, and a robust safety net equipped to connect those seeking opportunity with ways to harness it, better lending practices can go only so far. But that’s no excuse to let the prejudices that haunt certain corners of the financial world persist. Lending will never be a panacea. But these reforms would be indispensable pieces of any larger, more comprehensive path toward real equality.
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The Atlantic Daily: Questions About the Future of Policing Remain Unresolved
Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.A jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of murder in the death of George Floyd. America is still reckoning with police brutality.The conviction of the former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd is a win for justice, our staff writer David A. Graham says.But it’s also an exception. “There isn’t always video evidence so clear and compelling,” David explains. “If all of this is necessary to convict a former officer, convictions will remain rare—and reform will have to take place outside the courts.”Despite the jury’s swift ruling in this case, bigger questions about the future of policing and racial justice in America remain unresolved—particularly as the country continues to deal with the fallout from a spate of new killings at the hands of law enforcement. Compliance is not the solution. Our contributing writer Ibram X. Kendi explains: “For Black and brown people, this is the terror of American policing. When we do not comply, we die like Daunte Wright did. When we do comply, we die like Adam Toledo did.” A distinctly American problem needs systematic investigation. The United States needs a federal agency to investigate police killings the way the NTSB investigates plane crashes, our staff writer Conor Friedersdorf argues. One question, answered: A reader named Julia from Virginia wants their kid to be able to write an essay without having a meltdown. Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer respond in our latest “Homeroom” column: We appreciate your instinct to help, but neither leaving your daughter alone nor sitting there doing the work along with her is the right approach. What will help is taking an assignment that overwhelms her and breaking it down into a series of small, manageable steps that she can do on her own. Keep reading. Every Tuesday, Abby and Brian take questions from readers about their kids’ education. Have one? Email them at homeroom@theatlantic.com.Tonight’s Atlantic-approved activity:Read a poem: We recommend Kaveh Akbar’s “Against the Parts of Me That Think They Know Anything.”A break from the news: Nomadland’s Chloé Zhao is part of a cohort of women filmmakers who are “redrawing the boundaries” of the Western genre.Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.
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