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raceAhead: A Mass Shooting In California Claims at Least Twelve Lives

Last night, a gunman opened fire in the Borderline Bar and Grill last night in Thousand Oaks, Calif. At least twelve people are dead, including Ventura County Sherrif Sgt. Ron Helus, and up to fifteen more were injured.

The shooter was Ian David Long, and he was a Marine Corps veteran. He was found dead at the scene. He seemed deeply troubled.

The bar was packed with happy line-dancers; Wednesday is college night at this popular live music venue. Long was wearing all black. He may have used a smoke bomb, we just don’t know. What were his motives? We just don’t know. What drives a person to do this kind of thing? Shrug.

What will happen next? This we may know. Probably, not much.

I say this because we’re in a period of time when this kind of mass violence fails to shock for very long. The most deadly mass shooting in modern US history only gets mentioned as a footnote in stories about a current one, or as a sad nod on an anniversary. And a meaningful political conversation about guns, one that reflects the true concerns of all constituents, and which includes support for people who should not have access to guns, does not appear to be happening any time soon.

But we’re also in a period where hate speech and the violence it inspires has been on the rise.

Here’s one data point. White supremacists and other far-right extremists have killed far more people in the US since Sept. 11, 2001, than any other type of extremist group. By far. According to the Anti-Defamation League, some 71 percent of the extremist-related fatalities in the United States between 2008 and 2017 were committed by members of the far right or white-supremacist movements, compared to just 26 percent committed by people associated with Muslim groups.

And yet, official counter-terrorism efforts focus only on potential “jihadists” and not on the white supremacists who are now organizing in similar ways.

“We’re actually seeing all the same phenomena of what was happening with groups like ISIS, same tactics, but no one talks about it because it’s far-right extremism,” P. W. Singer, a national-security strategist with the New America think tank tells Janet Reitman in a deeply reported piece for The New York Times. Even before the Trump administration, he says, “we willingly turned the other way on white supremacy because there were real political costs to talking about white supremacy.”

As a result, more trouble is coming.

“In this atmosphere of apparent indifference on the part of government officials and law enforcement, a virulent, and violent, far-right movement has grown and metastasized,” says Reitman.

Here’s another data point. We are on the eve of the 80th anniversary of Krystallnacht, or Crystal Night, the night of the broken glass, the wave of state-sanctioned violence against Jewish communities in Germany, Austria, and parts of then-Czechoslovakia that began on November 9, 1938. Thousands of Jewish businesses were destroyed, as were 267 synagogues. Torahs were destroyed, cemeteries desecrated, homes ransacked, scores were killed, many more men and boys were detained. Most historians believe it was the start of what was to become the Holocaust.

It was widely reported as it was happening.

The anniversary comes just as Pittsburgh and Jewish communities around the country are still recovering from the mass shooting at The Tree of Life Synagogue. Robert Bowers, a virulent anti-Semite, has been charged with multiple hate crimes for his role in what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.

That was not even two weeks ago.

We still don’t know what motivated Ian Long, so once again, we are left in the familiar position of waiting, worrying, and wondering.

And then, bracing for what comes next.

But Pittsburgh’s Ruth Drescher offers a healing balm. The 84-year-old Holocaust survivor is a member of the Tree of Life Synagogue; her husband had pulled into the parking lot that fateful day, heard the shooting, and managed to escape. At a recent Holocaust memorial event, she told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that it’s time for everyone to talk about these things and face history directly, to better understand what hate is, how it works, and how people have suffered.

“I just think people need to know more,” she says.

Then, she counsels, open your mind to new ideas and your heart to other cultures. If you can travel, get out there and see the world.

“The message is love, not hate,” says Drescher. “And it’s hard in the face of what happened.”

On Point

Will a more diverse Congress mean a more diverse set of staffers?Honestly, it can’t get much worse. According to a study released by The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies this September, “Racial Diversity Among Top U.S. House Staff,” some 313 representatives—about three-quarters—having no people of color in their offices’ top three positions. “Members of Congress have a real opportunity to address the appalling lack of diversity among top staff in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate as they prepare for the 116th Congress,” Spencer Overton, president of The Joint Center said yesterday. As a reminder, Senate Democrats have already agreed to a version of the Rooney Rule.Diversity Inc

People of color care plenty about the environment, muchas gracias
CityLab reviews a new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that explores the persistent bias that certain groups—black, Latinx and Asian, in particular—don’t care about environmental issues. The bias is particularly troublesome since these communities, which often include low-income neighborhoods, are disproportionately affected by pollution, flooding, damage from catastrophic storms, and are poised to be the first to be displaced by looming climate change. Latinx respondents reported themselves as being most concerned of any group, and two-thirds of Latinx and Asian respondents said they thought of themselves as environmentalists.
City Lab

Scientists band together to debunk Trump’s anti-trans memo
More than 1,600 scientists have signed an open letter blasting the Trump administration’s memo proposing to erase protections for transgender people; specifically their claim that sex is determined by a genetic test or the genitalia someone was born with. “This proposal is fundamentally inconsistent not only with science, but also with ethical practices, human rights, and basic dignity,” says the letter. “The proposal is in no way ‘grounded in science’ as the administration claims. The relationship between sex chromosomes, genitalia, and gender identity is complex, and not fully understood.” The letter was signed by a who’s who of working scientists, including 700 biologists, 100 geneticists, and nine Nobel laureates. Click through for an example of allyship in action and a quick primer in gender science.

A white Texas poll worker has been charged with assault
Among the many problems reported with voting in Harris County, in North Houston, was the incident of an alternate election judge who was removed from duty and charged with misdemeanor criminal assault after she yelled at a voter and incorrectly accused her of  having an outdated address. “Maybe if I’d worn my blackface makeup today you could comprehend what I’m saying to you,” Juanita Barnes told Rolanda Anthony, who is black. After another volunteer intervened, Barnes butted Anthony with her shoulder before being relieved of her duties. “I think her purpose was to prevent me from voting,” Anthony said. 
Houston Chronicle


The Woke Leader

A look at preterm birth rates in the US
According to data from The March of Dimes, preterm birth rates in the US have gotten worse for the third year in a row. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and West Virginia have all earned an “F” rating from the organization. Preterm babies are more likely to die before their first birthday, or become chronically disabled. According to the data, the preterm birth rate is 51 percent higher for black women in Alabama and Louisiana than for all other women, and the infant mortality rate for black babies is three times as high. Click through for an interactive map that lets you see the preterm birth rate in your state. Spoiler alert: There’s only one state that gets an “A” rating.
March of Dimes

Franklin Leonard accidentally changed which movies get made
I met Franklin Leonard only a few years after he created the Black List, then, an annual list of un-signed movie scripts that were unlikely to fit narrow Hollywood parameters yet loved by industry insiders. It was clear from the start that he was extraordinary. Now, about 1,000 screenplays have appeared on the list since it was launched in 2005; some 325 have been produced earning 300 Oscar nods, 50 wins and $25 billion in revenue. If you liked Slum Dog Billionaire, Juno, or Spotlight, thank the List. It’s a testament to inclusivity, by circumventing the shortcuts that producers use to green light films, relying on been-there-already narrow standards of who is beautiful, strong, heroic; of who can direct, of what audiences will respond to. “How much of that conventional wisdom is all convention and no wisdom?” he asks.
TEDx Venice Beach

‘Camellias bloom’ today, soon it will be ‘land starts to freeze’
The Japanese calendar beautifully honors the moments in nature that mark the passing of time, with 72 , or microseasons, that last around five days. Although the seasons were inspired originally by the Chinese, they were re-written in 1685 by the court astronomer to, one assumes, more accurately reflect the Japanese aesthetic. It’s a lovely way to think about the world; for example, U.S. tax day falls during “first rainbows” and my birthday is right in the middle of “peonies bloom.” Please mark your calendars.


Film can be that balm of Gilead. Film can be that prescription for many ills of the world. Just like years ago, when Lenin said film is the most powerful mechanism of the 20th century. They certainly knew that you could turn a whole generation. You don’t need to fight wars anymore; just create a series of films that move and motivate and resonate with people and you could change a situation. Propaganda film is not always a bad thing. It can be used in a bad way, but if we go back to the films made during World War II, they were propaganda films to give the American people hope. There were lots of musicals and comedies. Today, films like The Big Short explained things to a lot of people who didn’t understand what was happening. Or last year’s 99 Homes. Or Spotlight.
Julie Dash