Book Review #91: “Just Mercy”

I was fortunate enough to find my copy through a friend’s store on eBay. I’d heard about the book for a good while, and knew I wanted to see the movie. But, I’m the type of person that likes to read the book before seeing the movie.

Bryan Stevenson is an incredible man. This book is not only a memoir, but a history lesson.

Stevenson graduated from Harvard Law School, moved to Atlanta, and then heard about a man on death row named Walter McMillan. He moved to Alabama to run the Southern Center for Human Rights operation in Montgomery. He is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). As of August 2016, EJI has saved 125 men from death.

It took me a lot longer than usual to finish this book. I wanted to take my time with it. Ever since the murder of George Floyd in May, I’ve wanted to learn as much as I can about people of color. This book is no exception – Stevenson writes about the appalling history of slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, disproportionate arrests and heavy sentences, and the struggle of getting relief and overturned convictions for significant sentences, along with wrongfully imprisoned people.

Stevenson’s stories of these people on death row in multiple states, mostly men, but also a few women, were heartbreaking. Some were sentenced to death for crimes that were committed when they were children. Others were prosecuted to the maximum, when the laws that should have shielded them were blatantly ignored. There are more than a few people with physical and intellectual disabilities on death row in the United States.

This is a book that I think everyone should read. Even though it was published in 2014, it is definitely still relevant today.

I’m looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation soon.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #31: Reforming The Police

First of all, I want to say that the word “defund” in this context is inflammatory and a poor word choice. I do not plan to use that word here when I am communicating my intentions. Feel free to reach out in the comments if you have questions.

John Oliver just covered this for Last Week Tonight: Police

There are so many analogies that I can make. The biggest thing that I’ve learned in my research is that we need to lighten the load of the police. Everything has been dumped on them. No wonder they’re overwhelmed and scared.


The following was written by Father Nathan Monk, posted to his Facebook page earlier this month.

“Imagine this with me for a moment. A guy falls asleep after drinking. He’s in line for Wendy’s because he’s needing some late night greasy food. He’s been out with his friends all night and he’s super tired. He falls asleep. An employee notices and goes inside.

They call 911.

The driver wakes up to a gentle tap on the window. He rolls it down. He’s a little confused and disoriented.

“Hi. My name is Stacy. I’m a social worker and I just wanted to make sure you are alright?”

“I just fell asleep.”

“I understand. This is my colleague, their name is Dominque. They want to go order your meal for you while we talk. What did you want?”

“A number four with a coke.”

“Would you mind pulling your car over there so we can talk? Dominique will be getting that meal for you.”

“Ok, just a second. Am I in trouble?”

“No, we just want to make sure you are safe and that everyone else on the road is safe. Can we do that together?”

“I can do that!”

After a conversation, Stacy and Dominique decide that they are pretty sure they can confirm that the driver has been drinking. They ask a lot of questions about his drinking habits. They determine that he clearly doesn’t have a drinking problem. He just rarely drinks, didn’t know his limits, and made a mistake to get behind the wheel.

After his meal, the driver is feeling much better. The social workers offer to have his car towed to his house and an Uber comes to pick him up.

In this scenario, Rayshard Brooks is still alive. He’s given compassionate and reasonable care. This is what community should look like. This is a way we could re-envision what our response could be as a society. This is what it would look like to defund the police.”


What Father Nathan Monk has imagined is perfectly reasonable. Putting it into practice, however, is a different story.

Do I think it can happen?

With the right people involved, the right resources, and the proper allocation and adjustments of funding, YES.

But, it’s not just reforming the police.

It’s reforming mental health services, social services, education, and the list goes on and on.


A lot more work needs to be done. That’s the one thing that is crystal clear.

So, what can you, as a resident of your community, do?

Get involved with your city leaders. Find out who oversees the police department. Here in Portsmouth, Virginia, the police chief’s boss is our city manager.

Participate, productively, in city council meetings. Demand change. Send emails to those directly responsible.

Most importantly – Vote in the election this November. Research the candidates that will be on your ballot. Exercise your constitutional right. Request a mail-in ballot if you don’t feel comfortable voting in person. This is the one big thing that EVERYONE can do, and it’s one of the easiest things. Look up your State Board of Elections for more information.


Resources

Reforming Police | American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Police Reform | The New York Times Magazine

The Change We Need: 5 Issues that Should Be Part of Efforts to Reform Policing in Local Communities | Advancement Project

Police Reform | The Marshall Project

How to reform American police, according to experts | Vox

The City that Really Did Abolish the Police | Politico

These New Jersey cities reformed their police – what happened next? | The Guardian

Fixing the Force | PBS FRONTLINE


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #102: “More Pizza And Fries? USDA Proposes To ‘Simplify’ Obama-Era School Lunch Rules”

Image Credit: Politico

NPR is one of my go-to sources. I’ve written several posts on articles from them. When I read this headline a while ago, I knew I needed to write about it: More Pizza And Fries? USDA Proposes To ‘Simplify’ Obama-Era School Lunch Rules


I also saw this article as a challenge to myself.

I’m not a parent.

I grew up with eating some school lunches, but most of the time I brought food from home, since my mom made big meals that turned into leftovers.

In elementary school, we learned about the food pyramid and how junk food was “bad.”

Since I graduated from high school in 2007, the rules and guidelines around school nutrition have changed. In addition, the United States weathered the worst economic downturn, among other things.

So, I wanted to dive in, do my research, and educate myself. And then share that education with you!


I’m not going to go into the entire history of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but know that the USDA is the government agency that sets the rules for school nutrition. These rules apply to breakfast and lunch served in U.S. schools.

One of most landmark pieces of legislation on nutrition and schools has been the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. It became Public Law on December 13, 2010. It has not been amended since it was passed by the Senate on August 5, 2010.

However, at the end of 2018, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced changes. The idea was to give schools “more flexibility in serving meals that kids will eat,” according to another article from NPR published on December 7, 2018.

Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)

USDA FNS – Nutrition Standards for School Meals

One of the biggest issues that people have with the new proposal is allowing any entree at any school could be served as an a la carte item for students. This means, if the proposal is made into a final rule, schools can offer pizza and burgers as an option every single day, if they choose. It’s a potential loophole to the previous rules that have mandated balanced school meals.

NOTE: While starting to write this post, I clicked on the link to the proposal from the Food and Nutrition Service on the Federal Register. I couldn’t access the Proposed Rule. There was an Editorial Note in its place, stating, “This document was withdrawn by the Office of the Federal Register because it was inadvertently placed on public inspection. The record will remain on public inspection through the close of business on Wednesday, January 22, 2020.”

This post is nowhere near finished. My research continues!

Book Review #68: “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”

evicted

Image Credit: Amazon

I think I first heard about this book from friends on Facebook, who all said what a powerful book it was.

Then, author Matthew Desmond was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air in April 2018. My local area, Hampton Roads in Virginia, was specifically mentioned in the interview regarding high numbers of evictions in three separate cities. It stung, and propelled me to want to learn more. As soon as possible.


I bought the book in August, and finally started it in late December. But once I started, I could not put it down. By the time we came home from the farm on December 26th, I’d flown through Part One. I was itching to go to bed that night, eager to dive in to Part Two. It only took me a few more nights of intense reading to finish it. I came away from it with a greater understanding, and appreciation, for being able to own my own home with my husband. It’s one of those books that makes me realize how good I have it, especially as a white woman with no children.

I’m drawn to books like this because of the human interest. I was reminded of the term “ethnography,” which is the systematic study of people and cultures. Author Matthew Desmond settled in Milwaukee, in the trailer park and other low-income neighborhoods, to not only interview people for the book, but to learn about their lives, and specifically what they go through day by day. The housing crisis and recession of the late-2000s began while he was conducting interviews, and it’s referenced in the book as well.

However, the housing crisis and recession are not all to blame here. It’s just one factor. There are many other factors involved with eviction and those who struggle with it. Landlords have profited by buying cheap, often dilapidated houses or buildings, charging rent, and then sometimes refusing to fix inherent problems in these properties. The tenants complain, nothing gets fixed, and rent can go unpaid or withheld. There are certain processes for evictions, but they vary greatly. There are voluntary and involuntary procedures. It’s definitely not black-and-white.

When someone is evicted, that goes on their record. It’s exponentially harder for parents with children to find an affordable place to live, and eviction(s) exacerbate that problem. Multiple evictions are even more problematic. It’s a vicious cycle, where parents want to protect their kids from negative influences and crime, but can’t break out of those areas because of their eviction record. Welfare benefits can also be affected. If you’re lucky to have a job, getting evicted can cause immense stress, affecting job performance and more. Choices have to be made, painfully – Pay rent, or the utilities, or the car repair, or a need for your kids. Kids are uprooted, shuffled, changing schools, and also stressed. It’s a horrible experience all around.

Desmond’s dedication to these interviews, living in their space, researching the processes and procedures, and soaking up everything he could about eviction shines through this book. It’s depressing, in more ways than one, but incredibly informative, educational, and eye-opening.

This is one of those books, in my opinion, should be studied and taught in schools, especially upper levels of high schools and colleges/universities. It’s an important issue that needs more focus, discussion, and change.

My eyes were opened widely to the multiple problems regarding eviction. I thought I knew a few things, but this book turned my thinking completely on its head. The book focused specifically on Milwaukee during a set number of years, but there are eviction problems and issues throughout the entire U.S.

That was one of the focuses of Desmond’s interview with Terry Gross – Thanks to receiving a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 2015, Desmond has started The Eviction Lab, where a dedicated team of researchers and students from Princeton University are creating the first-ever eviction database in the U.S. At the time of the interview, in April 2018, the Lab had already collected 83 million records from 48 states and the District of Columbia.

The book was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2017. That says something, too.

“Stabilizing a home has all sorts of positive benefits for a family,” Desmond said in the interview.

Desmond has written two other books, and co-authored one on race. I look forward to reading and seeing more from him.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #22: A Week Since Charlottesville – Now What?

MLK

Image Credit: Notable Quotes

It’s taken me a full seven days to even begin to fully process what exactly happened in Charlottesville last week, especially since the historic city is only 2 1/2 hours from where I live.


Here’s a synopsis of what exactly happened, from Thursday, August 10th, through Monday, August 14th. I tried to write this in my own words, but I also used the timeline of events from news station WJLA.

On Thursday, August 10th, two days before the “Unite the Right” white nationalist demonstration is scheduled to occur, event organizer Jason Kessler files a federal lawsuit against the city of Charlottesville, Virginia. The city moved the planned rally from Emancipation Park to McIntire Park.

On Friday, August 11th, a federal judge rules in Kessler’s favor. The rally is moved back to Emancipation Park, still scheduled for the next day.

On Friday evening, a group of white nationalists, carrying lit torches, march through the University of Virginia (UVA) campus.

On Saturday, August 12th, several hours before the rally’s scheduled start time, the rallying white nationalists and a group of counter-protestors arrive at Emancipation Park. Shortly before noon, violence erupts. Law enforcement quickly declares “an unlawful assembly” and works to disperse the groups as peacefully and as swiftly as possible. The Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, declares a state of emergency.

Around 1:30 p.m., a silver Dodge Challenger plows into a group of counter-protestors. One woman, later identified as Heather Heyer, 32, succumbs to her injuries. Nineteen others are injured. After the collision, the car is put into reverse and speeds away, as a crowd chases after the driver.

A press conference is held at 6:00 p.m. Governor McAuliffe vehemently condemns the white supremacists, and commands them to “go home.”

By Saturday evening, the driver of the Dodge Challenger has been arrested. He is identified as 20-year-old James Alexander Fields, Jr. Law enforcement announces three other arrests – Jacob Smith is charged with assault and battery after punching a reporter in the face; Troy Dunigan is charged with disorderly conduct after throwing things into the crowd; and James O’Brien was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon.

On Sunday, August 13th, dozens of rallies and vigils are held. The Governor of Virginia, along with other Virginia lawmakers, are seen worshiping in various churches throughout the state, and encourage others to do the same. “Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler attempts to hold a press conference. Kessler is heckled by the crowd, tackled to the ground, and one man is arrested for spitting in Kessler’s face.

Interviews are conducted with those associated with Fields. Former teachers and classmates state that he was obsessed with Nazism, and held those beliefs starting in high school.

On Monday, August 14th, Fields appeared in court. No bail was set. The Department of Justice opens a civil rights investigation into the car attack.


“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”

~ Heather Heyer

This was Heather’s last Facebook status before she died.


After the horrific events in Charlottesville, immediate attention was focused on the remaining Confederate monuments and statues around the country.

One of my former professors, Elizabeth Hall Magill, penned a powerful blog post:

My friend Becca posted this Facebook status on Wednesday, August 16th:

“You cannot claim to be a Christian yet worship these Confederate statues so much that keeping them up is more important to you than respecting that it pains your fellow humans to see oppressive people glorified. God said it best:

‘Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the Lord your God.’ –Leviticus 19:4

Every statue will come down. Anyone with compassion will support that.”


I wanted to include multiple sources of information surrounding these events:


There’s so much information to process.

Here’s what I personally believe:

  1. I’m sad that all of this has happened. I’m sad that Heather Heyer died. I’m sad the two Virginia State Troopers died in the helicopter crash outside of the city. I’m sad that many others were injured in the car attack. However, I’m also filled with hope. I feel like these events are a bit of a turning point for our country. In the last week, suspects have been identified and swiftly arrested, charged with crimes that they egregiously committed. People have come together, to stand together, and say, “Enough is enough. We will not tolerate this. Racism has no place in our country.”
  2. There’s a lot more work to do than just rallies and vigils and speeches. I hope the positive movements do not lose momentum. I hope people continue to push and press for change!
  3. The American people have a right to protest, but if, and only if, said protest is legal. Meaning, the proper permits have been obtained, and it is peaceful / non-violent. The second it becomes unlawful, law enforcement can and should step in and disband the group. In addition, protesters should meet with city officials and local law enforcement beforehand, if at all possible, to make sure everyone is aware of everyone’s intentions. Communication is key!
  4. All Confederate monuments and statues should be removed in a legal and peaceful manner. The city of Baltimore, Maryland, accomplished this successfully, just this past week. Other cities are beginning to follow suit. Confederate history belongs in museums, not in public places. The only exception that I personally make to “public places” is cemeteries where Confederate soldiers are buried and remembered. There’s more of those cemeteries in existence than you think.
  5. I encourage everyone to educate themselves. I don’t want people to follow a particular opinion just because it’s popular or it’s all over the news. I want people to look inside themselves, deep inside, and figure out how they’re feeling about all of this. If you’re angry, tell someone. If you’re sad, tell someone. Write about it – Like I am right now. Don’t be afraid to express yourself. Now is not the time to hold back. We need more voices, more actions, to make sure changes occur. If the American people don’t want another Charlottesville, we need to stand up. We need to stand up together and make change happen!

All that said, what I just wrote is my own opinion. These are my beliefs.

I am a Christian woman, and I strive every day to be more Christ-like. I want to do as much good in the world as possible. But, I also want to pay attention to the issues in my world, and in the world around me. Turning a blind eye does absolutely nothing. That’s part of the reason why I wrote this post. I believe in the power of prayer, but I also firmly believe in the age-old saying, “Action speak louder than words.”

Personally, I applaud my friends and colleagues who were in Charlottesville a week ago, determined to counter-protest against the white nationalists and white supremacists. I think that is a powerful and respectable statement to make. Not everyone has the strength and courage that you do.


To conclude, I want to try to answer the question I posed in the title of this blog post – Now What?

For me, I think changes are already occurring. Changes started on August 11th and August 12th. But, as I said earlier, I hope the positive movements do not lose momentum.

I hope that, eventually, all cities in the United States peacefully and legally remove their Confederate statues and monuments, or relocate them to Confederate cemeteries. I hope museums are able to further educate people about the Civil War and the role the Confederacy played. The war officially ended in 1865, but I feel like, some days, we’re still fighting a portion of it, in 2017.

Here’s a few resources that I found helpful:

Together, we can make a difference.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #21: The Confounding Congress

Congress

Image Credit: AZ Quotes

Disclaimer: This post contains strong language.


Hey there, readers. Bear with me. This post is probably going to be long-winded, basically a stream of consciousness, and likely have a significant amount of profanity in it.

You’ve been warned.


As a result of a spirited discussion with my wonderful husband last weekend (Note – Not spirited as in angry or anything. We typically tend to agree on most things, including politics and things going on in Washington), I’ve been inspired / motivated to write out some thoughts about our United States Congress.

Simply put – It’s completely fucked up.

And it has been for a LONG time.

Meanwhile in Congress

Image Credit: Meme Center


I decided to read through the entire U.S. Constitution.

Friends, it’s been way too long since I read this (I think the last time I read it in full was, begrudgingly, for my 10th grade IB Government class). I’m glad that I took the time to read it – It was like another education.

The Patriot Post

Image Credit: The Patriot Post

Here’s some highlights:

“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” (Article I, Section 1)

“The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.” (Article I, Section 2).

“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, [chosen by the Legislature thereof,]* for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.” (Article I, Section 3).

“The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.” (Article I, Section 6).

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” (The 16th Amendment – Passed by Congress July 2, 1909. Ratified February 3, 1913.)

“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.” (The 27th Amendment – Originally proposed Sept. 25, 1789. Ratified May 7, 1992.)


They’re fighting over healthcare, but they all know that they’re completely exempt from whatever legislation that eventually passes?

I say that every member of Congress should have to go through the same process that all of the other Americans in this country go through to sign up for healthcare. They should experience the hardships that so many others face!

There is no “employer-sponsored healthcare” in this instance – That’s only for people who work for businesses that offer health plans to them. Period!


Wouldn’t it be great if Congress also couldn’t vote for themselves?

I wish that every member of Congress could be knocked down a peg, so to speak. I wish we, the people, could mandate that every single member only makes $7.25 an hour. Yep, you got that right, make sure that those serving in Congress only make minimum wage.

Oh, and you’re capped at 40 hours a week. No overtime. Nothing extra. And during those 40 hours, you get your work done. If your work isn’t done … You can be fired. Kicked to the curb. If you’re kicked out, then you have to go back home and start all over. Plenty of Americans have gone through layoffs, corporate restructuring, and being fired. Why should members of Congress just be able to sail through?

You get two weeks of vacation per year – That’s it. No more ridiculous recesses that last WEEKS. Recess is for those in elementary school.

No more housing allowances – That’s only given to those who serve our country in our armed forces. Period.


Back to healthcare for a minute. Since you, as a member of Congress, only make $7.25 an hour – You have to choose your healthcare like anyone else who only makes minimum wage. Yep, that makes you have to take the time and go on Healthcare.gov or go through the exchanges to find your health plan.

Oh, and you have to make sure your spouse and all of your children are covered, too.

Not so easy now, is it?


Oh, and whatever happened to serving in Congress actually being a service to your constituents and this great nation?

If I remember correctly, not too long ago, there were no career politicians. None, zero. There were farmers who were elected in Kansas, businessmen elected in Arizona, dentists elected in California – Those men (and later women) maintained their households, jobs and/or businesses, and lives in their constituencies. When their work was done in Washington, they went back to their families and jobs and businesses at home, and worked with their constituents to help their districts change for the better. These men and women didn’t have apartments or houses in Washington, Virginia, or Maryland. They went home to Kansas, Arizona, California, and so on!

Congress_meem

Image Credit: PolitiFact — Based on numbers from 2014, this is nearly 100 percent accurate. *facepalm*


If you stuck with me through now, thanks for reading! I try really hard to not get political on the blog. But, sometimes, something makes me really mad, and the best way that I cope is to write about it!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂