Weekly Review — April 4, 2018, 5:16 pm

Weekly Review

Departments of Justice

A 38-year-old animal rights activist and vegan-lifestyle advocate posted to her website accusations that YouTube had failed to properly compensate her for ad revenue generated by videos she uploaded to the site, then drove to the company’s headquarters, took out a pistol, shot three people, shouted, “Come at me,” and fatally shot herself.[1][2] A survivor of a mass shooting at a high school in Florida tweeted that the YouTube shooting was “proof” that children aren’t the only Americans who need to worry about being shot to death in their day-to-day lives, and US president Donald Trump proposed additional tariffs on Chinese-made flamethrowers.[3][4] Trump tweeted that the US “Department of ‘Justice’” was “an embarrassment” because it was “slow walking” the turnover of documents related to investigations of his political opponents, a 33-year-old white man and Trump campaign associate from the Netherlands was sentenced to 30 days in prison for lying to special prosecutors investigating state-sponsored interference in the US presidential election, and a 43-year-old black woman from Texas was sentenced to five years in prison because she unknowingly violated the conditions of her supervised release by voting in that election.[5][6][7] A police officer in Asheville, North Carolina, stopped a black man for jaywalking, forced him to the ground, repeatedly punched him in the face while he shouted, “I can’t breathe,” tased him multiple times, and called him a “bro” and a “tough boy”; a deputy sheriff in Sacramento, California, ran over a 61-year-old woman who was attending a demonstration for Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed black man who was holding his cell phone in his grandmother’s back yard when two officers approached him and shot him eight times, which they told investigators they did because he lunged at them; and an autopsy of Clark’s body revealed that the majority of shots were fired into his back.[8][9][10] In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, prosecutors announced that they would not charge a white police officer who was filmed shouting, “I’ll shoot your fucking ass” at a 37-year-old black man named Alton Sterling, whom he then shot six times and called a “stupid ass motherfucker,” which the officer later told investigators he said because he was “mad” at Sterling for “making” him kill him.[11][12] A 68-year-old white man in Kentucky assaulted his wife with a flashlight and then pointed a rifle at responding officers, opened fire, and was apprehended alive; and footage was released of a police officer in Houston shouting, “I’ll shoot your ass” at an unarmed black man named Danny Ray Thomas and then moments later firing a fatal shot into Thomas’s chest.[13][14] Police in Augusta, Georgia, apprehended alive a 22-year-old white man who fired multiple shots at the driver and the passenger of a nearby vehicle; police in Chicago apprehended alive a 21-year-old man in a train station who was carrying a loaded pistol, wearing body armor, and holding a duffel bag filled with SWAT equipment; and police in Elgin, Illinois, released more than 30 hours of footage of the traffic stop of a 34-year-old black woman named Decynthia Clements, which showed the officers agree that if force was necessary to apprehend her they would use rubber bullets and Tasers, and then order Clements from the car and shoot her with live ammunition, killing her. “She had a couple knives in her hands,” said one of the at least seven officers at the scene. “I don’t know what else we were going to do.”[15][16][17]

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The Gatekeepers·

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Toward the end of the Obama presidency, the work of James Baldwin began to enjoy a renaissance that was both much overdue and comfortless. Baldwin stands as one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century, and any celebration of his work is more than welcome. But it was less a reveling than a panic. The eight years of the first black president were giving way to some of the most blatant and vitriolic displays of racism in decades, while the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and others too numerous to list sparked a movement in defense of black lives. In Baldwin, people found a voice from the past so relevant that he seemed prophetic.

More than any other writer, Baldwin has become the model for black public-intellectual work. The role of the public intellectual is to proffer new ideas, encourage deep thinking, challenge norms, and model forms of debate that enrich our discourse. For black intellectuals, that work has revolved around the persistence of white supremacy. Black abolitionists, ministers, and poets theorized freedom and exposed the hypocrisy of American democracy throughout the period of slavery. After emancipation, black colleges began training generations of scholars, writers, and artists who broadened black intellectual life. They helped build movements toward racial justice during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whether through pathbreaking journalism, research, or activism.

Bloom, acrylic, ink, wood, and fabric on canvas, by David Shrobe © The artist. Courtesy Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco
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The Vanishing·

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On a Friday afternoon in the fall of 2017, a few months after the liberation of Mosul from the Islamic State, a group of neighbors gathered at Mar Mattai, a monastery founded in the fourth century. They unloaded baskets of food, and arranged themselves around a long table in a courtyard. A woman named Niser spread out a tablecloth and put down a plate of dolmas. “It’s a way of celebrating that we still exist,” she told me. More people were arriving—children, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and distant relations—members of one of the oldest Christian communities in the world who had not seen one another for three years.

Overlooking the village of Mergey from the old section of the Mar Mattai Monastery, Mount Maqlub, Iraq. All photographs from Iraq (October 2017) and Jerusalem (March 2018) by Nicole Tung (Detail)
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Investigating Hate·

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Around three in the morning on a cold December Sunday, brothers José and Romel Sucuzhañay began to walk home from a bar in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was a cloudy night, only a few degrees above freezing, and the houses and stores lining their route wore impassive, nighttime guises—shades drawn, metal grates locked down. Romel had only recently arrived from Ecuador. José, a thirty-­one-year-old father of two, ran a successful real estate agency in the neighborhood. The two had spent the evening eating and drinking at a quinceañera at St. Brigid Church, and afterward, they stopped at a local bar called Christopher’s Palace. They were feeling the alcohol as they headed back to José’s apartment. When they realized that José had left his coat behind in the bar, Romel took off his jacket and draped it around his younger brother’s shoulders. They continued to walk up Bushwick Avenue, swaying a bit, arms around each other for warmth and ballast.

As they approached the corner of Kossuth Place and Bushwick Avenue, a red SUV stopped at the traffic light. “Check out those faggots!” the driver yelled out the window. José may have said something in reply. Very rapidly, a man jumped out of the passenger side door and smashed José on the head with a bottle, dropping him to the ground. He then turned to attack Romel. As Romel fled from the man down Kossuth, the driver exited the car, grabbed an aluminum baseball bat out of the vehicle, and began to beat José until someone emerged from the back seat and called him off. The driver was walking away when he saw some movement from José, a twitch of his hand or his leg sliding across the pavement—trying to rise, perhaps—and he strode back, straddled him, and raised the bat high in the air. He brought it down on José’s head, again and again, as if he were chopping wood.

Illustration by Shonagh Rae (Detail)
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Preservation Acts·

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After eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Bergis Jules found himself worrying not only over the horrors of the present, but also over how little of the present was likely to be preserved for the future. The best reporting on the aftermath in Ferguson was being produced by activists on Twitter, a notoriously ephemeral medium. Jules, then an archivist at the University of California, Riverside, had the impulse to start saving tweets, but wasn’t sure how. “That whole weekend, watching things unfold, I thought, ‘This is a really amazing historical moment; we should think about capturing it,’ but I was just talking to myself,” he says. The following week, attending a Society of American Archivists conference in Washington, D.C., he voiced his fears en route to drinks at the hotel bar. He caught the ear of Ed Summers, a developer who just so happened to be the author of a Twitter archiving tool—and who promptly programmed it to va­cuum up #Ferguson tweets. Within two weeks, he had amassed more than 13 million.

Three weeks after the shooting, Summers blogged about the archive, which he and Jules were considering making public. Shortly thereafter, they received an inquiry from a data-mining company. When they pulled up the firm’s website, they read that its clients included the Department of Defense and, ominously, “the intelligence community.” What did the company want with the data? And what were the ethical implications of handing it over—perhaps indirectly to law enforcement—when the protesters’ tweets would otherwise evade collection? Using Twitter’s Application Programming Interface (API), the code that developers use to call up Twitter data, anyone can sift through tweets that were posted in the past week, but older posts disappear from the API’s search function, even if they still exist out on the web. The data-mining company was too late to nab a swath of the #Ferguson tweets. (Twitter has since unveiled a “premium” API that allows access to older data, for a substantial fee.) Newly mindful of the risks, Jules and Summers waited almost a year to publish their cache.

Illustration by Hanna Barczyk

Average life span, in years, of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon:

25

Researchers in California succeeded in teaching genetically engineered E. coli bacteria to communicate using a new chemical “language”; the research aims at turning cells into tiny robots.

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“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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