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Aussie model gets off easy for drunken attack on flight attendant

An Australian model got off with a slap on the wrist for drunkenly slugging a flight attendant on Monday when she delivered a sob story to a federal judge in Los Angeles. Adau Mornyang, 25, faced up to 21 years behind bars for assaulting the United Airlines attendant in January — but was instead given...
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Seth Rogen Almost Smoked Weed With Himself in ‘An American Pickle’
"There actually was a scene where they smoke weed together," Rogen told Decider. 
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nypost.com
Escalating US-China tensions spark fresh market fears
The escalating fight between Washington and Beijing poses a big threat to markets, just as the S&P 500 is climbing back toward its all-time high.
edition.cnn.com
US Space Force to sponsor Ed Carpenter Racing at Indy 500
New military branch will be represented at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
foxnews.com
Beirut blast probe to consider ‘external interference’: Lebanon president
Lebanon’s president on Friday said the investigation into the massive explosion in Beirut that killed at least 154 people and wounded some 5,000 would seek to determine whether “external interference” had a role in the disaster, according to a report. “The cause has not been determined yet. There is a possibility of external interference through...
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How cities can tackle violent crime without relying on police
An anti-violence cookout is held to celebrate the life of 11-year-old Davon McNeal, who was fatally shot by a stray bullet on July 4, 2020, and persuade the community to put down their firearms. | Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images “Police are effective at reducing violence, but they aren’t the only ones who are effective.” One of the most robust findings in criminology is that putting more police officers on the streets leads to less violent crime. Yet, as recent police killings and violence against protestors have reminded us, policing also produces staggering costs that many communities are no longer willing to bear. These seemingly incongruous views represent a tension at the core of any efforts to reform, defund, or abolish policing. Few scholars have wrestled with this tension as rigorously as Princeton University sociologist Patrick Sharkey. In his 2018 book, Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence, Sharkey makes the case that the decline in violent crime in America over the past three decades is one of the most important social transformations of our time. At the same time, he argues the US’s chosen methods for responding to violence have become far too destructive, and offers an alternative vision for public safety that relies primarily on communities and residents, not law enforcement. We are currently being forced to confront a question that has animated Sharkey’s work for years: How can we continue to reduce violence, but do so using a model that relies far less on police and prisons? That’s a much harder question than simply asking whether some of the jobs police currently perform can be replaced — and it demands an even more rigorous answer, especially considering the extent to which high levels of violence can devastate disadvantaged communities. I recently spoke to Sharkey about what’s causing the uptick in gun violence in big US cities, whether there is an inevitable trade-off between reducing police presence and reducing violence, his vision for a community-driven approach to public safety (and the evidence base behind that vision), what he thinks the “defund the police” campaign gets right (and wrong), and more. Our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows. Roge Karma Can you describe the “uneasy peace” that we are currently living through? Patrick Sharkey Since the 1990s, violence has fallen by roughly half across the country. In a number of cities like New York, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Dallas, San Diego, and San Francisco, violence has fallen by 70 or 80 percent. Even places we still think of as violent — Chicago, Philadelphia, Oakland — have seen violence fall by between a third and a half. These changes have transformed city life as we know it. As violence falls, public life starts to return. Parents let their kids play outside, libraries fill up, shopping districts become more lively. Academic performance rises; young people are less likely to drop out. Families invest in neighborhoods as they become safe, and businesses return. There’s causal evidence that children growing up in cities where violence is declining are more likely to rise up in the income distribution when they reach adulthood and move out of poverty. In short, when violence falls, cities start to return to life, and the greatest benefits are experienced by the most disadvantaged segments of the population. But the paradox is that the methods we’ve relied on to deal with violence — primarily aggressive policing and mass incarceration — have had staggering costs. They have left millions of Americans enmeshed in the prison system with consequences that affect not only the people who are involved in the system but also their families and the next generation. For several decades now, we’ve asked police departments to dominate public spaces through any means necessary. The police violence that has become so visible recently is a function of that task; the controversy, the attention, the unrest, the anger toward policing is a response to a strategy to reduce violence that has been intact for several decades now. That’s what I mean when I’m talking about the peace being uneasy: Violence has fallen, but we need a new method to address it going forward. B.A. Van Sise/NurPhoto via Getty Images A protestor demonstrates against police brutality in New York City on May 11 following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Roge Karma That’s a good segue into our current moment. Multiple cities are currently experiencing a sharp uptick in shootings and homicides — some of which is being blamed on efforts to delegitimize police authority and reduce police presence. So I’m wondering: Is that the trade-off we face? If we try to scale back policing, is rising violence the inevitable byproduct? Patrick Sharkey It’s not an inevitable trade-off. To be clear, there is a pattern of violence rising in the aftermath of these kinds of high-profile protests against police brutality. This happened after Freddie Gray in Baltimore, after Michael Brown in Ferguson, and it’s clearly happening now. But that doesn’t mean that protests against police cause violence to rise. It also doesn’t mean police are the only institution capable of confronting violence. It means that when we rely primarily on police to respond to all forms of violence and then police stop playing that role, neighborhoods become destabilized. That happens for a few different reasons. One is that police make a conscious decision to step back from their role in being the primary institution responsible for public safety. That might happen due to increased scrutiny on policing. It might happen due to shifts in policy, like the fact that NYPD dismantled their plainclothes anti-crime units that respond to many serious forms of violent crime. It also may happen because law enforcement is slowing down intentionally to make a statement. A second piece is that residents may be less likely to work with the police, defer to the police, or cooperate with investigations. Young people may come to the conclusion that this city doesn’t care about me — I’m not playing by the rules anymore. People obey the law when they believe it’s legitimate; when the belief in the legitimacy of this institution is undermined, that can result in a rise of violence. None of this implies people should stop protesting police brutality. It means that the methods we’ve historically used to reduce violence are unsustainable, and we need to start thinking of a strategy for confronting violence that relies a lot less on those methods. Roge Karma Let’s talk about that strategy. Can you paint me a picture of what an alternative model of public safety would look like that didn’t rely so heavily on police? Patrick Sharkey There’s a basic conclusion from the research on what creates safe neighborhoods: Police are effective at reducing violence, but they aren’t the only ones who are effective. There’s lots of evidence telling us that other core institutions in a community — institutions that are driven by residents and local organizations — can play a central role in controlling violence. But we’ve never thought of these organizations and residents as the central actors responsible for creating safe streets, so we’ve never given them the same commitment and the same resources that we give to law enforcement and the criminal legal system. When we talk about how to respond to violence, the default response in the US is always to focus on the police and the prison. The next model should be one driven primarily by residents and local organizations as the central actors. Police still certainly have a role to play, but responding to violent crime takes up only a tiny fraction of police officers’ time. So the idea here is that we can rely on residents and local organizations to take over most of the duties that [officers] currently handle and make sure neighborhoods are safe. Roge Karma The critique you’ll often hear on this is that the evidence base for some of these community-based methods for reducing violent crime is not nearly as robust as the evidence base behind policing as a way to reduce violent crime. How do you respond to that? Patrick Sharkey I agree that the research on the effectiveness of policing on crime is strong. But the motivation for developing a new model for how to deal with violence is the observation that while police may have been effective in controlling violence, that has come with significant costs, which aren’t accounted for in any of those studies. It’s come with the type of aggressive, and sometimes violent, policing that I think most of the country is no longer willing to tolerate. Policing as a method to confront violence is now seen as unacceptable by a large chunk of the population. I would also dispute that the evidence base for the alternative approach focused on community actors and institutions is not as strong. We now have a pretty well-established base of evidence telling us that residents and local organizations are at least as effective as the police in controlling violence. The programs run out of the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago, all of which are run as randomized controlled trials, are extraordinarily effective. The Becoming a Man and Choose to Change programs, which rely on a combination of mentoring and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), reduce participants’ involvement in violence by about 50 percent. Summer jobs programs have led to over 40 percent decreases in violence. The READI program, which provides adults most at risk of becoming a victim or perpetrator of gun violence with transitional employment and CBT, is currently under evaluation, but the early results have shown extraordinary potential. Community-based programs that redesigned randomized abandoned lots in Philadelphia to become public spaces reduced violence in and around those lots by around 30 percent. The Cure Violence programs, which have been cited as if they always work, do have a more mixed evidence base. I think it is important to be very transparent about that — they don’t work every single time. Still, this can be a very effective model. Programs in New York, Baltimore, and elsewhere have been rigorously evaluated and shown to be extremely effective at reducing violence. There’s also national data on this. I carried out a study on the role that the expansion of the nonprofit sector played in contributing to the crime drop. What we found was that in a given city with 100,000 people, every new organization formed to confront violence and build stronger neighborhoods led to about a 1 percent drop in violent crime and murder. So the expansion nonprofits focused on building stronger communities and working against violence played a big role in contributing to the crime drop. The evidence base for a community response to violence is at least as strong as the evidence base for policing. That’s why I don’t really think it’s about the evidence base — I think it’s about a mindset. In America, policy discussions about violence focus so intently on the police and the prison as the default responses. We’ve been investing in these methods for so long, it’s all we know — it’s hard to even imagine a different response to violence. Andre Chung/Washington Post via Getty Images A group of violence interrupters head into a neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland, to greet residents and raise awareness about the city’s Safe Streets program to reduce gun violence. Roge Karma I want to talk about that mindset. In Uneasy Peace, you talk about our historic approach to issues like violence, poverty, and inequality as one of “punishment and abandonment” and warn that if we focus on only addressing the “punishment” side of things but ignore making investments in abandoned communities, then reform efforts will ultimately fail. I think this framework applies to conversations around “defunding the police.” If the goal is to just reduce the injustices that come with policing, then slashing police budgets works great. But it strikes me that this strategy could also lead to an uptick in overall violence levels if it’s not paired with investments in alternative mechanisms for reducing violence. Can you walk us through that broader framework and how it may apply today? Patrick Sharkey Calls to defund or dismantle the police are really about how we deal with an institution that is seen as racist and anti-democratic; what I’ve argued for is to shift the focus toward how we can most effectively create safe and strong communities. When we make that shift, it forces us to think about not just how to scale back police shootings but what active steps need to be taken to make sure that communities are safe and everyone is welcomed. For the past 50 years, our model of responding to concentrated urban poverty has been abandonment and punishment. We’ve ignored the challenges of urban inequality and responded by scaling up the policing and prison systems. Over time, there has been a recognition of the injustice those systems, so we’ve moved toward a model that is trying to gradually scale them back. That means we have moved away from a focus on punishment and toward a focus on justice. But if we just focus solely on justice, then we’re going to end up with a situation where communities don’t have the basic investments that they need to be strong, stable, and safe. That’s my motivation for a different approach: to focus not only on justice but also on the investments that are needed to create safe neighborhoods. I agree entirely that just scaling back the budgets of police departments is going to leave us with neighborhoods that are more vulnerable to a rise in violence. That’s why I make the case for investments in a different set of institutions driven by residents and local organizations that can play a central role in creating safe streets and strong communities. That’s the step we haven’t taken. We started the conversation about scaling back the excesses of law enforcement and the criminal legal system. But we haven’t had the conversations about the investments that are needed to make sure neighborhoods are safe and no one falls through the cracks. Roge Karma Let’s have that conversation. You’ve called for “a demonstration project that is both more cautious and more radical than the call to defund the police.” Can you outline that for me? Patrick Sharkey Instead of calling for a rapid change where we dismantle police departments and immediately shift all police responses to other entities, the idea here is to try to maintain stability in communities at a time when violence is rising, but also start to plan for what an alternative model for dealing with violence might look like. There are a few steps. Begin with a community within a city where the police are not seen as a legitimate institution — where residents are looking for an alternative to law enforcement. There has to be buy-in from the community where this is implemented and it has to be driven by members of that community. Second, establish a “community quarterback”: a single coalition of organizations that are brought together and see it as their responsibility to make sure all public spaces are safe in their community. Third, provide funding to that organization equal to what law enforcement would be provided in that precinct. For instance, each of Washington, DC’s 50-plus police service areas receives, on average, about $10 million per year to fund a workforce of roughly 80 full-time employees for a population of around 12,000. That’s the kind of commitment I’m asking for: the same level of commitment that we give law enforcement. For far too long, we’ve asked community groups to mobilize to respond to violence on the cheap, often without any resources or compensation. Then allow this new organization to decide how it wants to hire, train, and deploy its resources to deal with all of the incidents that that police departments currently deal with: mental health crises, young people dealing drugs, small-scale altercations that occur outside bars or other hot spots, drug addiction. Lastly, make a long-term commitment to this new coalition; I’m calling for a 10-year commitment. Give it a chance to fail. Give it a chance to go through scandals and mishaps and bumps along the way, and know that it’s still going to be there in 10 years. There’s no easy way to respond to every challenge in a community. There’s gonna be problems along the way. So it’s really a mayor and a funder that have to be willing to go through these challenges and stick with an organization. Now, communities may decide that there are places where armed responders are still necessary, like gun violence, and could choose what kind of relationship they want with the local police department accordingly. But in those places, we could imagine a model where even for situations where police are first to respond, they would need to respond with a member of this community coalition with them. Then, for all other 99 percent of incidents, the members of this coalition would be the first to respond to incidents in public space. That’s the proposal: Give an alternative coalition of residents and organizations a chance to play a central role in creating a safe community and give them the resources that we devote to law enforcement. I just have to believe that, based on the evidence we have, that coalition would be at least as effective as law enforcement, and controlling violence and would come without the costs of law enforcement. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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How to Write an Imperfect Black Woman
America has been talking a lot about Black women lately. The deaths of Breonna Taylor, Oluwatoyin Salau, and Dominique Fells, among many others, have reignited conversations about the women who inhabit a strange space between invisibility and hypervisibility, for whom safety is rare. These discussions have turned into calls to protect their bodies in life and to say their names in death, but they have also led to a kind of deification that assuages feelings of guilt more than it honors lives. And amid the chatter, the identities of Black women get sanitized, oversimplified, and sometimes lost.In a 2019 episode about Nina Simone on Revolutionary Left Radio, a leftist podcast about philosophy, history, and politics, the writer Zoé Samudzi reflects on this revisionism by analyzing the gap between the High Priestess of Soul’s brutal reality and her golden legacy. She attributes the chasm to a collective inability to accept parts of a Black woman’s life that do not fit into a prescribed narrative. “Nina was incredibly fucking messy,” Samudzi says of the singer, whose life was marked by racism, mental-health challenges, and physical abuse. “But it is the recognition of this messiness that forces you to understand the full humanity of Black women.” In other words, in order for Black women to be seen, their stories must include the good, the bad, and the ugly.There are no perfect Black women in Raven Leilani’s debut novel, Luster, and that is by design. In a recent interview, Leilani said that she wanted to write the story of a Black woman who was not a “pristine, neatly moral character.” And in Luster, she succeeds. Through Edie, her 23-year-old protagonist, Leilani tries to liberate the Black woman figure’s range of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings from an inherent virtuousness or exceptionalism. This choice challenges readers to recognize Edie’s agency and see her as a young Black woman in progress.FSGLike most Millennials and older Gen Zers, Edie is barely getting by. Her low-paying job at a publishing house sucks; her apartment, a dilapidated space in Brooklyn that she shares with one roommate and a family of mice, also sucks; and her love life … well that, too, is complicated. Although she dreams of becoming an artist, her relationship to painting is avoidant, and she has spent the past two years moving her paints and brushes out of view. From the beginning, Edie admits her foibles and questionable judgment, especially when it comes to men. “This is not a statement of self-pity … It always goes well initially, but then I talk too explicitly about my ovarian torsion or my rent,” she says. Edie’s matter-of-fact confessions, underscored by Leilani’s caustic prose, are on-brand for Millennial literature of the past few years (see: Sally Rooney, Halle Butler, Ling Ma). But they also establish Edie’s unapologetic, albeit clumsy, self-awareness, coaxing readers to abandon whatever shame or secondhand embarrassment they might feel on her behalf.[Read: The small rebellions of ‘Normal People’]Edie’s adventures begin when she starts an affair with Eric, a middle-aged white man who has an open marriage, an adopted daughter, and a mortgage. They meet online and their courtship blends old-school charm and new-age technology: “He follows me on Instagram and leaves lengthy comments on my posts. Retired internet slang interspersed with earnest remarks about how the light falls on my face.” As their relationship picks up, rules—set by Eric’s wife, Rebecca—are swiftly established (and then broken). Edie and Eric have sex in Eric’s New Jersey home, which leads to a confrontation between Rebecca and Edie that forces the two to acknowledge each other. When Edie is fired from her job and finds herself on the verge of homelessness, she moves in with Eric and Rebecca, forming a friendship with the latter and becoming a kind of babysitter to the couple’s adopted Black daughter, Akila.Edie’s informal residence in their home requires her to constantly renegotiate her relationship to them. Yes, she is still sleeping with Eric, but she is also Rebecca’s friend (sort of) and Akila’s mentor in all things Black. Edie makes the family her home base as she tries to figure out her life, searching for a new job and apartment. When she starts doing small chores around the home, envelopes of money begin appearing on her dresser. The money, she thinks at one point, “feels finite, tethered to the source in a way that makes it explicitly transactional, and so of course it is demeaning. But it is also demeaning to be broke.” Although Edie is not devoid of personal shame, she also understands the condition of her life in relation to this wealthy family enough to not overthink the exchange. She takes the money for what it is and uses it to support herself and her dream of being a painter, buying raw canvas and primer.The most interesting moments in Luster are those between Edie and other Black women and girls, especially Akila, because they subvert expectations of what Black women should mean to one another. While Eric and Rebecca both hope that Edie will somehow get through to their adopted daughter, neither Akila nor Edie holds such a ridiculous fantasy. Their connection forms slowly and candidly. After Edie moves in, Akila, acutely aware of her delicate family balance, confronts her: “Please don’t mess this up,” she says. “Because if I’m going to have to move again, I just want to know. I have an insecure attachment style, and I just started calling them Mom and Dad. School is terrible, but I have my own room, and they let me close the door.” Edie, in turn, begins to recognize herself in the preteen. “I remember … the pride I took in being alone. But from the outside, the loneliness is palpable, and I think, She is too young.” Edie takes Akila to get her hair braided and helps her get ready for Comic-Con. Their relationship is not perfect, but it is tender.[Read: ‘Housegirl’ complicates the diaspora narrative]When the time comes for Edie to leave Rebecca and Eric’s home, she thinks of Akila. “I know her life has been shaped principally by the sudden departure of people she trusts, and I am not going to buck the trend.” The statement feels harsh only if the expectation is that Akila and Edie’s happenstance meeting must lead to something transformational. What they do offer each other is proof that the other exists, which Edie ultimately realizes she needs. “It is not that I want company,” she thinks while sitting in her new apartment. “But that I want to be affirmed by another pair of eyes.” Edie spends the novel searching for confirmation of parts of herself and, in short, trying to be seen by those around her. Although this desire is not atypical of a young adult trying to figure herself out in the world, her status as a young Black woman complicates the question of who might finally offer her that affirmation.
theatlantic.com
40 million Americans are at risk of eviction without a stimulus bill
Up to 40 million Americans could be evicted by the end of this year, according to a new report published Friday by the Aspen Institute.
edition.cnn.com
Judge dismisses lawsuit to invalidate proxy voting in the House
House Republicans attempted to block the change in House rules to allow proxy voting due to the coronavirus.
cbsnews.com
Cuomo expected to announce New York's school reopening plan amid coronavirus pandemic
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is slated to announce Friday whether the state’s public schools will reopen this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, while noting that the final decision is not his alone.
foxnews.com
Major U.S. cities see elevated jobless rates amid pandemic
As the pandemic continues, the nation's major cities are seeing elevated jobless levels, and Americans across the country are feeling the financial strain. Mark Strassmann has the story of two women who are fearful for their futures.
cbsnews.com
Yankees manager Aaron Boone confronts umpires about Phillies fans using air horns outside stadium
New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone confronted umpires Thursday due to the noise coming from Philadelphia Phillies' fans outside of the stadium.       
usatoday.com
This day in sports: Hal Sutton beats Jack Nicklaus to win PGA Championship
A look at some of the greatest moments in sports history to have occurred on August 7.
latimes.com
Column: Facing a wave of evictions, California is about to make thousands of kids homeless
In weeks, as many as 1 million families across California could find themselves at risk of being forced out of their homes, pushed off the "eviction cliff."
latimes.com
Feedback: Gloria Steinem and Eleanor Smeal fact check 'Mrs. America'
Readers share opinions on Steinem and Smeal's ERA reality check, Kurt Andersen's review of Mary Trump's book, Emmy nominations and more.
latimes.com
Editorial: Let's not make sidewalk cleanings an excuse to force homeless people off the sidewalks
There's a good reason not to force homeless people to move off a sidewalk for deep cleaning. It means they move somewhere else and increase their chances of getting COVID. If we are going to do cleanings, let's be careful.
latimes.com
Tim Graham: Biden's basement strategy remains unchallenged — why liberal media are terrified of his gaffes
All this media acceptance of Biden's basement strategy masks their terror over the possibility of another Trump win.
foxnews.com
Scammers could be targeting unemployment benefits in California, state warns
Hit with a flood of more than 9 million applications for unemployment benefits, California is trying to identify which of them may be fraudulent.
latimes.com
Eviction protections are expiring. What does this mean for struggling California tenants?
Expanded federal jobless benefits and an eviction moratorium have already expired. And the biggest state protection against evictions could go away this month.
latimes.com
California's agency for protecting workers can't protect its own — even amid a pandemic, officials say
Current and former employees at Cal/OSHA say dysfunction and vacancies have hobbled agency during ongoing crisis
latimes.com
Shia LaBeouf in 'The Tax Collector': His 5 essential roles, from 'Holes' to 'Honey Boy'
Amid various off-screen distractions, Shia LaBeouf has crafted an impressive career. In honor of 'The Tax Collector,' here are his essential roles.        
usatoday.com
Column: Trump says he has a healthcare plan (yeah, sure). I have a better idea
Trump is promising (yet again) a comprehensive healthcare plan. While we await that, how about a greater commitment to price transparency?
latimes.com
From veepstakes to Cabinet? Where Biden's running mate contenders might land if he wins
Cabinet posts under Biden could be filled by women he declines to put on the Democratic ticket
latimes.com
Children with disabilities are regressing. How much is distance learning to blame?
California has mandated that school districts continue to provide special education to students with disabilities during the pandemic, but has waived key timelines that allow students to receive assessments and services quickly.
latimes.com
How California is preparing for in-person voting this year due to coronavirus
California elections officials are scrambling to determine how many voting locations they can muster, and how they'll find enough short-term workers to enforce coronavirus safety measures.
latimes.com
New Movies + Shows to Watch this Weekend: ‘Selling Sunset’ on Netflix + More
...Plus Work It, The Fight, Howard and more!
nypost.com
After first being spared, rural California now being ravaged by the coronavirus
The coronavirus is now hitting California's Central Valley the hardest.
latimes.com
The pandemic hasn’t stopped Native Hawaiians’ fight to protect Maunakea
Kai’i, or protectors, form a line blocking the access road to Maunakea on the Big Island of Hawaii on July 15, 2019, the day TMT was to begin construction of one the largest telescopes in the world. The mountain, sacred to Native Hawaiians, is known as “where the gods reside.” | Kapulei Flores Protectors are no longer on the sacred mountain, but they are still working to prevent the construction of a massive telescope. “It almost seems like it never happened,” Pua Case tells Vox about her time in the encampment at the foot of Maunakea, a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii and the tallest mountain in the world. While she lives only a 30-minute drive away, she says, “I have to go back and look at videos or pictures to remind myself that we were really up there.” For nearly nine months, she and other kiaʻi, or protectors, were sleeping in a parking lot over a lava field that marks the beginning of the access road up to Maunakea’s summit. From the Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu camp, protectors kept watch for construction crews for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) — planned to be the largest telescope in the Northern Hemisphere — through windstorms, hail, and overnight temperatures that dipped well below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. In Hawaiian traditions of creation, the mountain is an ancestor and shares genealogical ties with Native Hawaiians, or Kanaka Maoli. It is one of the most sacred sites — if not the most sacred — in Hawaiian culture. For kiaʻi, protecting the mountain from desecration is more than a cultural responsibility; it’s a lineal duty to those who came before them and the generations who will succeed them. Mauna Media For nine months, kia’i encamped on Maunakea, watching for TMT construction crews. Their Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu camp was equipped with a kitchen, solar trailers, and even a “university” grounded in Native Hawaiian science and culture. When the pandemic hit, kiaʻi were already assessing the threat of construction and considering the impact on resources. After determining that there was no imminent threat, they decided to pack up their site, which hosted anywhere between 30 and 3,000 people at any given time. Should an attempt be made to initiate the project, they knew they could be back up there in half an hour. Still, their departure from the mountain was marked by emotional exhaustion and trepidation for what was to come. It also presented familiar challenges. Before the latest standoff on the mountain, many kiaʻi had spent years tirelessly writing letters, submitting testimony to city council meetings, combing over management plans, and trying to monitor the movements of multiple parties with vastly more power and resources than they’ll ever have. Today, they continue that labor from their homes. At least on the mountain, they could offer their physical presence to inspire supporters, who could be shielded from the invisible — and, certainly, less romantic — work kiaʻi had been doing behind the scenes. The movement has a robust social media presence that acts as a direct line of communication between the front line and its supporters abroad. The Protect Mauna a Wākea Instagram account, one of two accounts that had been operating from the camp, has 136,000 followers who rely on photos and videos of kiaʻi to draw inspiration and feel plugged into the action.Under lockdown, the movement is challenged with keeping supporters, who are used to seeing dispatches from the mountain, engaged and connected to it. “It’s constant,” Case says. “You have to be a presence or you’re going to disappear. And you can’t afford to disappear when you’re talking about your lifeways, your culture, and the very continuance and protection of the places that are connected to you.” A timeline of resistance Kiaʻi have opposed the telescope’s construction in a string of legal challenges, petitions, and protests over the past decade.But the fight for Maunakea gained national attention a year ago, after Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced that construction would be cleared to begin on July 15. That morning, kiaʻi awaited the construction crews. Some had locked themselves to a cattle guard that was built into the Mauna Kea Access Road — the only road up to the summit. But then, a line of elders, or kupuna, formed farther down, at the start of the road. It was their blockade that inevitably became the front line. “I saw them sitting in lawn chairs and folding chairs on the road, all bundled up with blankets and sleeping bags,” said Andre Perez, one of the kiaʻi and a nonviolent direct action trainer for the Hawaiʻi Unity and Liberation Institute. He was the acting police liaison that day. “I knew that something powerful was happening. The elders were stepping into the fray and taking charge.” They held that line for two days before Ige issued a state of emergency on July 17, clearing a path for law enforcement to begin making arrests. Kapulei Flores Law enforcement on Maunkea on July 17, 2019. That day, 38 kupuna, or elders, many in their 70s and 80s, were arrested for blocking the access road. Multiple agencies arrived on the scene; there were officers brought in from other islands, three state agencies, and the National Guard. It wasn’t long before kiaʻi, hundreds of whom had gathered there around their kupuna, were sitting in front of a massive militarized police presence dressed in riot gear and armed with chemical dispersants and a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) — a sonic weapon developed for use by the US military that emits high-frequency sounds at extreme volumes to disperse crowds. Whatever aggression law enforcement expected from the crowd that day never materialized. Kia‘i sat in purposeful silence as 38 of their kupuna, many in their 70s and 80s, were arrestedand escorted — and, in several instances, carried — away to awaiting police vans, crying but resolute. The air above the crowd was periodically punctured by sobs, singing, and chanting. “We didn’t want to give the police any reason to escalate,” said Perez. “Our discipline was our safety.” Images and video footage of the arrests sparked public outcry across the island chain and overseas. It was the stark, visible disparity between the resistance and the state response that galvanized a native movement and brought supporters from around the world to their cause. For nearly nine months after, kupuna never left the spot they first occupied. A tent was erected to shelter them as they sat on the road, and a volunteer village formed overnight, equipped with a kitchen, solar trailers, and even a “university” grounded in Native Hawaiian science and culture. They hosted locals and musicians from neighboring islands, curious tourists, relatives from other Indigenous movements — the camp flew flags gifted to them from Palestine, Tibet, Guam, Standing Rock, Cherokee, and Navajo, Aotearoa, and the Indigenous Australian people, among others. Even Hollywood celebrities like Jason Momoa and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who felt connected to the movement through their Polynesian heritage,came to pay their respects. A team of medics was also on hand to assist kupuna, some of whom experienced altitude sickness and even mild strokes while keeping watch over their sacred mountain. Many kupuna had preexisting health conditions that made their taking a stand challenging — and yet, they stayed. After five months and$15 million spent on officers and supplies to manage the conflict, Ige withdrew state and county law enforcement from the mountain. At the same time, he requested additional funding from the House Finance Committee as a “contingency amount for any upcoming projects that may attract community activism, including but not limited to Maunakea.” In late December, kiaʻi reached a temporary agreement with Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim to clear the access road with his assurance that TMT would not attempt to begin construction until the end of February 2020. They caught a break when the deal expired; the observatory’s leadership had yet to determine when construction could begin. In the midst of the pandemic, the future is uncertain. Kiaʻi don’t know when or if they’ll return to the mountain to resume their standoff.Since the lockdown, some have returned to the mountain to stand at the ahu, the altar erected alongside where their camp once stood, and for years where many have offered prayers. It is ground that they hope someday to only have to hold in prayer, rather than resistance. A battle for the heavens The new giant telescope promises access to “the very edge of the observable Universe,” an opportunity to discover places that were previously unreachable to humankind. “It will enable a new frontier of discoveries about the contents, nature, and evolution of the universe, including the search for life on other planets,” the University of California, one of the project’s funders, said in a statement to Vox. “The potential for scientific discoveries is truly unlimited.” But kiaʻi say it’s precisely this argument that gives cause for opposition: There are some places that humans aren’t meant to go, and the summit of Maunakea is one of them. The summit is firmly the province of the gods. Historically, only select individuals — such as the kahuna, or priests, or the ali‘i, high chiefs — were permitted on the mountain in order to perform ceremonies of affairs, and they wouldn’t stay long. It is sacred not only in its religious capacity but also because of the lack of oxygen. At 13,796 feet, there is 40 percent less air pressure at the summit than at sea level. Visitors are advised to heed signs of altitude sickness and pulmonary and cerebral edemas. Even employees at existing observatories have reported feeling fatigued working at that elevation. “It’s a place where humans don’t belong,” says Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, one of the kupuna arrested that day. “Where gods reside.” Kapulei Flores Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, one of the 38 kupuna arrested for blocking the access road to Maunakea, on July 17, 2019. The area between Maunakea, Mauna Loa, and Hualālai volcanic mountains are sensitive environments and culturally significant landscapes. Roughly 20 miles from Kona to the west and almost 30 miles from Hilo to the east, the area is extremely remote. The only other substantial activity in that area is at the Pōhakuloa Training Area, the largest military installation in the Pacific, where the US Army conducts live-fire training a few miles down the road. On those rare nights when the harsh weather conditions would relent, kiaʻi still had to fall asleep to the sound of machine gun fire carried over the camp by an eastward wind. And as they laid their heads down in their tents, they could feel tremors underneath them from the impact of explosions. “It feels like a little earthquake,” says Wong-Wilson. “Every time, it just hurt our soul.” TMT proponents say they don’t understand why Kanaka and locals would go through the trouble to contest a telescope, an instrument of science that beckons humankind to reach for a higher purpose. Many have reasoned that the telescope must represent other longstanding issues for the Hawaiian people — such as the 1893 illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom by American and European businessmen, aided by the US military, which paved the way for US possession of the islands and, eventually, Hawaii’s induction into statehood. “I understand that talking about TMT is a way to express some frustration over these issues that have not been addressed in the past,” Gordon Squires, vice president of external affairs for the TMT International Observatory, told Hawaii News Now. It’s a position those in the movement have heard repeatedly from their opposition, and to Kamanamaikalani Beamer, a longtime advocate for the preservation of Maunakea and an associate professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa’s School of Law and School of Hawaiian Knowledge, the argument is entirely dismissive. “Trying to say, ‘Look, we’re sorry [about]the overthrow, but don’t make us hurt for it’ is so dislocated from the reality of the situation. The scale, the amount of degradation, and the density of the existing telescope facilities on Maunakea — it’s all too much.” Squires, meanwhile, has called the project — whose budget has now climbed from its initial projection of $1.4 billion to $2.4 billion — “a bargain for the people of Hawaii and the people of the world as we understand our place in the universe.” But what many onlookers find perplexing, and what opponents of the telescope certainly find frustrating, is that TMT already has the licenses and land required to develop on a backup site: La Palma in Spain’s Canary Islands. It is a far less contentious option, and yet Maunakea remains TMT’s first choice for the project; the summit’s higher altitude and cooler temperatures make it a “slightly better” site to capture infrared light, Harvard’s astronomy department chair, Avi Loeb, told the Associated Press, thereby enhancing the telescope’s imaging capabilities. “I think we can all agree that Maunakea is a great place to view the stars,” says Beamer. “But that’s not all Maunakea is.” TMT leadership and proponents have also vehemently denied that the project’s presence would disturb any cultural resources or sites at the summit. But historical mismanagement of the summit’s natural and cultural resources has been well documented since the first observatory was constructed; kia‘i have no doubt that the addition of an 18-story building — slated to be the largest building on the Big Island — will be any different. “In the Western perspective, people want to draw a line in the dirt and say, ‘It’s only sacred in this spot here, where you stand; therefore, we can build 500 feet to the left of that because that’s not sacred anymore.’ And we say that the landscape of the summit, which has no line drawn around it, is a spiritual landscape,” says Wong-Wilson. “Once they dig two stories into the ground and put in all the roads and outbuildings, and then the five-acre structure, they’ll have done damage that’s irreparable. The way that it looks now will never be recovered, and that, to me, is unacceptable. All the money in the world will not make up for that.” The fight ahead There’s no telling what the fight ahead looks like for the movement, other than that it will be difficult. While the TMT International Observatory has announced that construction will not likely begin until 2021, the project is pursuing significant funding from the National Science Foundation, which would present a new set of federal regulatory obstacles that could further postpone construction by at least another three years. Still, Squires says it isn’t a question of “if” construction would happen, but “when.” “We’re absolutely committed to finding a way forward in Hawaii,” he said to Hawaii News Now on July 15, exactly one year since the most recent standoff began. The University of California also doubled down on its commitment to the project, saying, “TMT remains committed to integrating science and culture, providing the best possible stewardship of Maunakea, enriching Hawaiian culture and heritage, and supporting educational opportunities as it enables this global scientific collaboration centered in Hawaii in the interest of humanity.” The governor’s office did not respond to Vox about the state’s involvement in the private project’s progress in the future. But in February, Ige traveled to Japan — one of two countries investing public funds into the project — and met with key TMT stakeholders there, signaling his commitment, as he stated in his emergency proclamation a year ago, “to seeing this project through.” As far as kiaʻi are concerned, though, they still have a job to do: protect the mountain; stop the project for good. In July, to commemorate a year since this latest standoff and the kupuna arrests, a slew of online events and actions was organized for their supporters to participate in “#TMTshutdown week,” including topic-focused talks via Zoom, film screenings, and a letter-signing campaign to TMT’s board of governors, project partners, and other affiliated stakeholders urging them to halt any further attempts at construction. Kiaʻi also recently submitted testimony at a UC Board of Regents meeting on July 30, where its chair John Pérez concluded that the board would continue discussions of the telescope at a later date. Meanwhile, charges against the 38 kupuna still stand. While kiaʻi can’t afford rest, they might spare a moment to marvel at what has transpired over the past year. “I think most people thought we would get squashed. We were up against a billion-dollar project,” says Beamer. “And yet we were able to turn the tide. Despite all that it takes to stand against something like this, to risk what we’ve spent our lives building, people did it anyway. And we did it out of courage.” On July 15, 2019, construction for TMT was scheduled to begin. One year later, it still hasn’t broken ground. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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Anti-maskers explain themselves
Supporters and members of Patriot Prayer and People’s Rights Washington take part in a rally against Washington state’s mask mandate on June 26, 2020, in Vancouver, Washington. | Karen Ducey/Getty Images “If I’m going to get Covid and die from it, then so be it”: What it’s like to be against masks. At the outset of the pandemic, Amy, a 48-year-old mother of two from Ohio, was afraid. When the government began recommending people wear masks, she not only complied but also made masks for others. “I was like, oh, this is scary, this could be really bad,” she said. But when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state would extend its lockdown for the month of May, she’d had it. Pandemic over or not, she was done. After that, Amy became vehemently anti-mask and began to doubt whether coronavirus was really that big of a deal. Her mother unfollowed her on Facebook over her “anger posts” about masks, and she hasn’t heard from her in a month. She carries a homemade mask with her, just in case, but she doesn’t believe in them. “It’s a violation of my freedom, I think, and then also I just don’t think they work,” Amy said. “A lot of stuff says it does, but then some doesn’t.” Masks have become an extremely heated point of contention during the Covid-19 outbreak. Viral videos of people having meltdowns over masks are commonplace, and in many parts of the country, it’s not abnormal for strangers to confront each other publicly over the issue. A small but vocal segment of the population has dug in and ignored the growing evidence that masks may make a difference in combating the coronavirus. For those who believe that at the very least, wearing a mask can’t hurt, it’s hard to not develop some animosity toward those who refuse. The question I keep hearing from pro-mask friends and family is always the same: What are these people thinking? In recent weeks, I spoke with nearly a dozen people who consider themselves anti-mask to find out just that. What I discovered is that there is certainly a broad spectrum of reasons — some find wearing a mask annoying or just aren’t convinced they work, and others have gone down a rabbit hole of conspiracies that often involve vaccines, Big Pharma, YouTube, and Bill Gates. One man told me he wears a mask when he goes to the store to be polite. A woman got kicked out of a Menards store for refusing to wear a mask amid what she calls the “Covid scam garbage.” But there are also many commonalities. Most people I talked to noted government officials’ confusing messaging on masks in the pandemic’s early days. They insist that they’re not conspiracy theorists and that they don’t believe the coronavirus is a hoax, but many also expressed doubts about the growing body of scientific knowledge around the virus, opting for cherry-picked and unverified sources of information found on social media rather than traditional news sources. They often said they weren’t political but acknowledged they leaned right. Most claimed not to know anyone who had contracted Covid-19 or died of it, and when I told them I did, the responses were the same: How old were they? Did they have preexisting conditions? They know their position is unpopular, and most spoke on condition of anonymity and will be referred to only by their first names. Amy told me people are “not very nice about this.” The mask debate is complex. As much as it’s about science, health, and risk, it’s also about empathy. If someone doesn’t personally know anyone who died from Covid-19, does it mean those lives don’t matter? Are older and immunocompromised people disposable? Does one person’s right to ignore public health advice really trump someone else’s right to live? “Death is happening in these wards where even family members can’t visit their loved ones when they’re sick with Covid, so the death and the severity of this disease are really invisible to the public,” said Kumi Smith, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota who studies infectious diseases. It leads some people to brush the issue aside. “I’m empathetic that anyone has to die ever, but that’s the reality of our lives. And I almost feel like if I’m going to get Covid and die from it, then so be it,” said Gina, a Pennsylvania real estate agent who wears a mask at work but otherwise opposes mask mandates. “I’m empathetic that anyone has to die ever, but that’s the reality of our lives” But the empathy question also works the other way — attacking people for not wearing a mask doesn’t change minds. An open, more forgiving conversation might. That’s what happened with Scott Liftman, a 50-year-old man from Massachusetts who read a story in the Atlantic about men who won’t wear masks. He contacted the article’s author, Harvard epidemiologist Julia Marcus, and has come around — somewhat — on the idea of putting one on, at least in certain situations. “I want to be sensitive, I want to follow scientific principles, but I also want to exercise common sense, too,” Liftman told me. “You never want to read something that just shames you. I really think that no two people are so different that they can’t find some common ground.” “These people are part of our community, and they are putting other people at risk,” Marcus said. “If you can inch some people, you will see risk reduction overall.” Freedom, but for your face As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spin out of control in the United States, many states, localities, and businesses have turned to requiring people to wear masks in hopes the measure will slow the spread of infection. Currently, 34 states have mask mandates, and polls show a hefty majority of Americans would support a national mask mandate, as well. For those who disagree, that’s partially where the problem resides: They insist they’re not anti-mask, they’re anti-mandate. “If you want to wear a mask, great. I will never look down on you, have anything bad to say to you, do what you want. But the mandates are what I disagree with and I don’t think are right, especially now,” Gina said. Rallies against mask mandates have popped up across the country, much like the protests to reopen the economy that took place at state capitols earlier this year. People wanted the freedom to get a haircut; now they want the freedom to go to the grocery store without covering their face. Some of the people I spoke with drew the line, specifically, at government mandates. It’s one thing for a private business to require customers to wear a mask, they said, but another thing for a state government to do it. Private establishments “have a right to do so, and you should respect those rules,” Jason, a paramedic from Michigan, said. Others, however, chafed at rules from businesses, too. Members of one Facebook group circulated a list of stores with mask requirements, chatting about boycotting those retailers or visiting to try to challenge the rules. When I spoke with Jacqueline, who lives in Wyoming, she was upset over the mask requirement at her local Menards. She’d been to the home improvement store, sans mask, twice in recent days — the first time, she was allowed to make her purchase despite ignoring the rules, but the second time, she had no such luck. She was asked to leave the store after a physical altercation ensued — Jacqueline says a worker pushed her, the store says she rammed someone with a cart — and management called the police to file a report. She’s now banned from the store. “They don’t have to ban me because I’ll never go back again,” Jacqueline said. She told me she’ll go to Home Depot instead. (It also appears to require masks for customers.) As to why she believes she’s exempt from the rules, Jacqueline cited the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. “No states are allowed to make laws that take our freedoms and liberties away,” she said. But then she mentioned a mask exemption card she got — not from a doctor, but from a friend. It appears she has one of the fake cards some people are using to try to get out of wearing a mask by claiming they have a disability. “I get overheated really easy,” she explains. The issue with the freedom argument is that wearing a mask is about more than protecting yourself — there’s growing evidence masks are useful for protecting others from those who may have Covid-19 and not know it. Not wearing a mask may encroach on another person’s freedom to go out in relative safety. Megan Jelinger/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images An anti-mask protester holds an American flag during a rally July 18, 2020, at the Ohio Statehouse. Part of the problem is the facts have changed. Another part is where the facts are coming from. There is no denying that Covid-19 messaging from official channels has, at times, been confusing and contradictory. Early on, people were told not to wear a mask, but now that’s changed. Scientific consensus evolves with new information, this is a new disease, and like it or not, the world is full of uncertainty. Given that uncertainty, it makes sense people would have doubts. If officials changed their minds on masks before, what’s to stop them from doing it again? Some people also feel the pandemic isn’t as bad as it was made out to be in the spring. They don’t know very many people, if anyone, who have gotten sick, and in some places, especially more rural areas, masks just aren’t that common. Among those I spoke with, however, I noticed that while the conversation might begin with contradictory messaging and doubts about efficacy, it often devolved into conspiracy theories. The mainstream media was lying, they said, asking whether I’d seen this video on YouTube or followed that person on Twitter. Jacqueline’s Facebook timeline was filled with posts the platform had flagged as false, and with diatribes that the company was censoring her. She told me she hurt her hand several weeks prior, and that she had weighed going to the emergency room but decided against it: She’s 65 and believes she’d automatically be given a positive Covid-19 test and placed on a ventilator to likely die. Bryan, who lives in New Jersey, declined to speak on the phone for this story out of concern I might misconstrue his words. He opted to communicate via LinkedIn, sending over several days more than 4,000 words explaining his thoughts on masks and the pandemic. Initially, he said his main issue was the mandate. “What the mandates have done is scare people into believing they are a must if they are to avoid catching the virus. And because those scared few feel that way, they become angry and vile towards anyone who does not share in their fear,” he wrote. Bryan told me that he and his fellow “truth seekers” have always questioned the numbers on Covid-19’s mortality rate, and he expressed doubts about government officials’ advice and the media’s coverage of the pandemic. He acknowledged that some of what he was saying made him sound like a conspiracy theorist, but also leaned in: He believes masks are a step in “getting people into compliance so that they can make vaccines mandatory as well.” His theory: “Soon it will be, ‘take the vaccine,’ or you can’t travel, shop, etc.” Or worse, he said, digital IDs or “health care passports.” Certain theories and conspiracies came up over and over again. Nearly everyone I spoke with referenced a single Florida man whose death in a motorcycle crash was erroneously listed as a Covid-19 death, saying it was evidence the virus’s fatality count was vastly overstated. (Research has shown that coronavirus deaths are likely underreported.) Many said that hydroxychloroquine is the miracle cure for Covid-19, despite evidence it is likely ineffective, and that efforts to develop other drugs or a vaccine are simply a ploy by Big Pharma to make money. Sometimes Bill Gates was involved, though exactly why he was painted as a nefarious figure was somewhat unclear. Bryan mentioned an event related to pandemic preparedness, hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in October 2019, as evidence of activity that seems “strangely coincidental” given current events. “Who is one of the ones backing all of that ‘preparedness?’ Good ole Bill Gates, a man who not long ago had a huge image problem due to some monopolistic practices, etc. Now he seems to have revived his image because he is a ‘virus and vaccine expert?’” Bryan wrote. Most of the people I spoke with got their information from their own “independent investigations” or content they found on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. “YouTube is where alternative thinkers are going to do their thinking,” Mak, whose hot yoga studio in British Columbia was shut down due to the coronavirus, told me. “There’s definitely some sort of an agenda here to initiate control upon the people and to make people more obedient and compliant, and see which people are going to comply with some directives,” he said. “I know they’re lying to the masses” Some anti-maskers have turned to making content of their own. Tanya, also from British Columbia, had gone to local hospitals to try to record what was going on and prove that media stories about the outbreak were false. “I know they’re lying to the masses,” she told me. “I don’t know anybody who has had coronavirus, I don’t know anybody who knows anybody, and I know a lot of people.” “Anti-maskers will say masks are making you breathe in your own carbon dioxide,” said Eleanor Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University. “That’s not at all a thing, because we know ... there are plenty of people whose occupations require them to wear a mask.” Politics is part of it, but not all of it Like so many things, masks have become a politicized issue. President Donald Trump and many Republicans have spent months using them as a political lightning rod. Some have since changed their tune — the president has begun recommending masks, though his message hasn’t been consistent or wholehearted. “The challenge is that when you had political leaders early on saying we are not wearing masks, we don’t think it’s important, we don’t think it’s a good idea, there are a lot of people in the country who very, very seriously follow President Trump,” said Catherine Sanderson, a professor of psychology at Amherst College. “When you have somebody in that sort of a vivid role saying, ‘I’m not going to do this,’ it creates a norm people are motivated to follow.” Jacqueline told me she believes the pandemic death count has been inflated in an effort to undermine the president. “They’re all saying this so that they can make the president look bad, so they can cause the problems they are causing,” she said. Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images After months of refusing to wear a mask in public, President Donald Trump wears one on July 11, 2020, while visiting Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Politicization is playing out at a much more local level, too. I spoke with Anthony Sabatini, a member of the Florida House of Representatives who has filed multiple lawsuits over mask mandates. Ahead of our interview, he emphasized he’s worried about mandates and government overreach, not the masks themselves. During our discussion, he initially claimed that police would be going into businesses and homes, checking to see whether people were wearing a mask. When I asked for evidence, he referenced to an ordinance against gatherings of more than 10 people — not masks — but claimed they were “part and parcel” of the same issue. When I asked Sabatini whether he personally wears a mask, his initial response was, “Where? In my bed?” I clarified: when he goes out, like to the grocery store. Sabatini, who is 31, told me he doesn’t go to the grocery store because he’s “too busy” and “a millennial,” and therefore eats out all the time. He conceded he sometimes goes to the grocery store, so when I asked whether he wears a mask there, he insisted I name which specific store. Sabatini said older people are generally most at risk of dying of Covid-19, adding that he is “very careful” around them — specifically those 82 or older. The majority of deaths have been in nursing homes, he explained, and he doesn’t know anyone personally in a nursing home. “Anyone in my age group, it’s just rare that you know anybody that’s in that age group,” he said. According to the Florida House of Representatives’ website, there were more than 500 people residing in nursing facilities in Sabatini’s district as of the 2010 census, and about 5 percent of the population he represents is age 80 or older. “Grandmas and grandpas die all the time” Spring outside of my Brooklyn apartment had been a symphony of sirens. If there’s a chance wearing a piece of cloth over my face will do something to help, that’s fine by me. It was an issue I posed to many of the anti-maskers: If I’m wrong, the worst that happens is I was a little uncomfortable at the grocery store in July. If you’re wrong, you and others could get sick and die. Is that worth the risk? “I don’t want to be responsible for killing anybody,” Gina, the Pennsylvania real estate agent, told me, though she still insisted the virus is overblown. “If the cases weren’t reported on anymore and talked about, coronavirus would be gone.” “I hear all the time, people are like, ‘I’d rather be safe than sorry, I don’t want to be a grandma killer.’ I’m sorry to sound so harsh,” Mak said, chuckling. “I’m laughing because grandmas and grandpas die all the time. It’s sad. But here’s the thing: It’s about blind obedience and compliance.” “When there is a vaccine, these are the same group of people who are saying they’re not getting a vaccine” As tempting as it is for many people to write off the anti-mask crowd, it’s not that simple. As Lois Parshley recently outlined for Vox, enforcing a mask mandate is a difficult and complex task. But it’s an important one: A lot of anti-maskers also have doubts about a vaccine, which public health experts say will be a crucial part of moving past the pandemic. “Masks are actually probably a proxy for not believing in science, not believing in experts,” Amherst College’s Sanderson said. “The challenge, of course, is when there is a vaccine, these are the same group of people who are saying they’re not getting a vaccine.” So how do you break through? As enticing as it may be for some people to shame and attack people who won’t wear a mask, it’s probably not the answer. “One of the challenges is that you need to bring people to your side without saying, ‘You’re stupid,’ because when it’s, ‘You’re stupid,’ it’s very hard to convince someone,” said Sanderson, who’s also the author of Why We Act: Turning Bystanders Into Moral Rebels, a book about social norms. As difficult (and at times contentious) some of the conversations were, across the board, everyone was extremely nice. They also sent follow-up information to try to get me to see things their way. It’s easy to see how, for someone who’s on the fence, you might get sucked in: If pro-mask Bob tells you you’re a murderer but anti-mask Sue tells you she’s got a video you should see, you might prefer to deal with Sue. Masks aren’t a panacea, Smith, from the University of Minnesota, said. But that doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile. “We’re at this point where we are desperate in the United States,” she said. “I’m not about to argue anti-maskers down and say, ‘No, this will save everybody’s lives most definitely,’ but I think to reject it wholesale because some scientist changed their mind is really problematic.” Like it or not, we’re all in this together, mask on or mask off. And just like the science can change, minds can too. Liftman, the Massachusetts man who spoke with the Harvard epidemiologist who wrote about men who won’t wear masks, told me his conversation with the writer changed his mind. He felt like she showed compassion and didn’t condemn him. He’s still a little skeptical — he thinks it’s bad he’s supposed to wear a mask when ordering from the ice cream truck outside. But when he’s inside a store or in a crowded area, he gets it. While he still believes in individual liberty, he says it’s not just about himself, it’s also about the worker at the grocery store who doesn’t have a choice, and the person next to him in line. “I was kind of very skeptical about the whole thing. Is this about government control? Do we really need it? As the science has evolved, I’ve become more in line with the idea that we really should protect ourselves more often than I initially thought,” Liftman said. Speaking with Marcus, and another virologist he reached out to, made a difference. “It opened my eyes up to being a little bit more sensitive.” Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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