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raceAhead: Who Was Willie Horton?

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis poised podium-side, facing his point-making Republican opponent VP George Bush (L) in first debate.Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis poised podium-side, facing his point-making Republican opponent VP George Bush (L) in first debate.
Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis poised podium-side, facing his point-making Republican opponent VP George Bush (L) in first debate. The Trump Campaign's latest ad recalls a racist dogwhistle of an earlier era, but with more menacing overtones. Cynthia Johnson—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

A new, racially divisive ad focused loosely on immigration and created by the Trump campaign, recalls an earlier political ad designed to stoke the fear of white voters.

The current video, tweeted by President Trump yesterday afternoon, begins with film footage of Luis Bracamontes, a Mexican citizen who had re-entered the US after being deported and who was convicted of killing two California law enforcement officers earlier this year. It continues with shots of chaotic crowd scenes including images of the migrant “caravan” of Central American asylum seekers, and asks the question, “Who else would Democrats let in?”

The video has raised ugly comparisons with a previous ad created by a PAC advised by former Fox News chief Roger Ailes for the 1988 George H.W. Bush campaign, which used a similarly polarizing character to alarm white voters. His name was Willie Horton.

The Bush campaign was in a tough race that summer, down some seven points to the Democratic nominee, the former governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis. The ad featured Horton, a convicted murderer who had been temporarily released from prison as part of a furlough program that Dukakis had inherited. While on weekend furlough, Horton raped a woman and stabbed her fiancé. The imagery was terrifying and the message of the ad was clear: If you vote for the soft-on-crime Dukakis, good white people will be in mortal danger.

There is a long history of race-baiting in politics—even Thomas Jefferson was publicly smeared as “the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” It’s important to note these tactics do lasting damage.

John F. Pfaff, an author and professor at Fordham Law School, says “the Willie Horton Effect” continues to plague criminal justice reform efforts to this day.

“Horton was an outlier—more than 99% of those allowed to go home on leaves returned without incident,” he explains. But otherwise smart attempts to reduce prison populations are derailed when other outlier incidents occur. Here’s one example: “In 2011, Arkansas passed a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that caused its prison population to drop quickly by almost 10%.” When a single parolee committed a murder, the parole board ended reforms so aggressively that the prison population rose 17% to an all time high. “It didn’t matter that overall the reforms appeared to be safely addressing the state’s mass incarceration problem,” he says. It was just too politically costly.

Unpacking decades of racist policies abetted by political cynicism is bad enough. But in the aftermath of the Tree of Life shooting, the incendiary imagery in the latest video reads like an imminent threat, even more so because it comes with the full-throated endorsement of the Commander-in-chief.

As the days tick down to the mid-term elections, every inflammatory utterance adds to the feeling that we are being collectively pushed toward a very dangerous edge.



On Point

Today is Latina Equal Pay DayIt takes ten months and one day for Latinas in the workforce to earn as much as white men made last year. It’s also the worst of all the wage gaps broken down broadly by race or ethnicity. According to the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement on average, Latinas are paid 53 cents for every dollar that white, non-Hispanic men make. Worse, yet, that number shows no improvement over last year. Is there a Latina in your office who could benefit from your sponsorship? Asking for an amiga. Fortune

Google employees plan a protest over the company’s workplace culture 
This comes in the wake of a recent New York Times story outlining how the search giant had offered generous exit packages to men accused of sexual harassment while failing to provide redress to their accusers. An internal backlash of the company’s handling of harassment and workplace culture has continued to grow; as of today more than 1,500 employees plan a walkout of Google offices around the world to protest the inequities. “We don’t want to feel that we’re unequal or we’re not respected anymore,” Claire Stapleton, a product marketing manager at Google’s YouTube told The New York Times. “Google’s famous for its culture. But in reality we’re not even meeting the basics of respect, justice and fairness for every single person here.”
New York Times

Halloween update: Florida woman decorates home with a concentration camp theme
And it wasn’t subtle. The woman, who claims she’s been in a dispute with her home owner’s association, festooned her yard with numerous skeletons, each with a concentration camp “tattoo”, a Star of David, and arranged them all in a salute to Hitler. Susan Lamerton of Port Richey says she’s been receiving death threats over the display but refuses to remove it. “I have freedom of speech, they have freedom of speech,” she said, referring to her shocked neighbors. “They need to leave my property.”

Warner Bros. chairman and chief executive: “Diversity is good for business”
Kevin Tsujihara used the occasion of an award dinner to declare his commitment to diversity in entertainment. It’s the only way to stay relevant in front of a global audience, he said. “We all must ensure that there is greater inclusion of women, people of color, LGBT+ community, those with disabilities and underrepresented groups both in front of and behind the camera. We know it is right and we know it works.” Tsujihara is the first Asian American to head a major Hollywood studio. Last month, the company became the first major studio to adopt an inclusion rider policy company-wide.


The Woke Leader

A little known story of World War II resistance is poised to inspire during award season
The Resistance Banker is a new addition to the Netflix line-up, and tells the real-life story of a Dutch banker who concocts a scheme to underwrite the escape of his Jewish neighbors before they’re taken by Nazis soldiers. While the story is aided mightily by the fact that it is so little known, its themes resonate today. “The Resistance Banker is about a man of privilege, someone who is not in the immediate crosshairs of the Nazi extermination machine, but who recognizes what is happening around him,” says reviewer David Wharton. “More importantly, he’s a man who recognizes the moral imperative of using that privilege to help those who don’t have it, in whatever means he can manage.” The Resistance Banker has been selected as the Dutch entry for the best foreign language film at the 91st Academy Awards.
The Daily Dot

Are you an ethical leader?
Recognizing what the right thing to do is in any given situation is harder than it looks. Neil Malhotra and Ken Shotts, two political economists at Stanford Graduate School of Business, teach a class called Values-Based Leadership, designed to prepare future leaders to grapple with some of the big questions of the day—like what are values? How do you stay true to your own values while respecting the values of others in the organization? In this Q&A, they take on everything from the pitfalls of relying on your gut to make decisions, to the creeping rationalizations that produce the Theranos’s of the world. And then there is the leadership bubble. “Powerful people typically don’t perceive that other people are agreeing with them because of their role. They have to learn to recognize that,” cautions Malhotra.
Stanford GSB

A wedding dance for what ails you
I have no idea who Noah and PJ are, beyond the fact that they are lovely young gents with equally lovely friends and family, and who were recently married. Oh, and that they have a flair for the dramatic. Enjoy.


You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Lee Atwater