Cartoons of the Day: 5/31/19

Stange Brew: Think about it.

Speaks for itself.

I’m having trouble being interested in professional sports. I seem to be more interested in watching the College Women’s World Series more that PGA Golf. Part of it is the issue raised in the cartoon below.

Tom the Dancing Bug is really good. I had to censor part of today’s strip, but you can go to the website to see it.

Article of the Day: 5/31/19 Friendship v Politics

This is a very interesting article on several points:

  1. Who is Cory Booker and what is his character?
  2. How have we personally experienced the political divide?
  3. How can we continue to live in harmony with people whom we disagree on fundamental issues like politics and faith.

Cory Booker and the Orthodox rabbi were like brothers. Now they don’t speak.

Their bond bridged religious and racial divides, but it collapsed in an increasingly divided country.

Kevin SullivanMay 31, 2019

OXFORD, England — The Jewish festival of Purim was in full swing: Music was blasting, family and friends were bouncing to the beat, and 6-foot-3 Cory Booker was laughing and dancing while carrying a 5-foot-6 Orthodox rabbi in a clown suit on his back.

It was March 1993 at Oxford University, where Booker, then 23, was studying for two years on a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. The man on his back was Shmuley Boteach, an American rabbi who was his close friend and spiritual mentor during what Booker describes as a “profoundly shaping” period of his life.

“My spiritual life really took off at Oxford, and just so many things about that experience were profound to me,” said Booker, who credits the Rhodes program with nurturing the politics of “common ground” and “love” that he now espouses as a Democratic presidential candidate.First in a series on the 2020 presidential candidates.

Booker’s intense and unlikely friendship with Boteach, who was sent by the ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect to establish a presence at Oxford, was a main pillar of his time in England, from 1992 to 1994.

The two men in their 20s seemed to be always together — often with Booker in a yarmulke and Boteach in a Malcolm X baseball cap — and were energized by each other’s outsize charisma and shared passion for religious study, according to interviews with them and more than a dozen people who were close to them at Oxford.

Booker, an African American Baptist, became co-president of the L’Chaim Society, an Orthodox Jewish student group started by Boteach.

They spent virtually every Friday evening together with other students studying and debating Torah and often eating “kosher soul food” cooked by Booker and by Boteach’s wife, Debbie.

Judaism became a lifelong passion for Booker, and he still quotes Torah passages he learned from Boteach, in Hebrew, from memory on the campaign trail. But after two decades, Booker, 50, and Boteach, 52, are no longer on speaking terms.

They disagree about what cratered an interfaith bond that had inspired blacks and whites, Christians and Jews, on two continents. They both call it betrayal. But Boteach says it was political while Booker says it was personal.

Booker has made overcoming differences the hallmark of his presidential run. During the 2016 campaign, he responded to a Twitter attack from then-candidate Donald Trump by refusing to “answer his hate with hate” and proclaiming, “I love Donald Trump.”

But the chill between Booker and Boteach — a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican who once considered each other family — shows how hard it is to distinguish between the political and personal in today’s divided America.

“We shared common values, and there was this deep-seated love between us that made us feel like we were brothers,” Boteach said. “It was a much more innocent time.”

1993: Cory Booker dances at Purim celebration

‘Mahatma Booker’

Booker rolled into Oxford in the fall of 1992, one of 32 U.S. Rhodes scholars in a class of 93 from around the world, as a man who seemed to his peers destined for greatness. Rhodes alumnus Bill Clinton was about to be elected president, which had the super-high-achieving scholars sizing one another up to guess who would be next.

“Within about five minutes of meeting Cory, I went over to someone and said, ‘Let me introduce you to the guy who is going to be the first black president of the United States,’ ” said Noah Feldman, now a Harvard Law School professor.

Michael T. Benson, now president of Eastern Kentucky University, said people immediately referred to their new colleague — an all-American high school football player from New Jersey who also played tight end at Stanford University — as “Senator Booker.”

Others jokingly called him “Mahatma Booker” because of his habit of quoting Mohandas Gandhi and what his peers describe as his over-the-top, earnest optimism.

“He loves people,” said Jodi Evans, now an executive with Deloitte in Vancouver, B.C., who dated Booker for most of his time at Oxford and played on the Canadian women’s basketball team in the 1996 Summer Olympics. “You can’t go out for dinner with Cory without having dinner with the people beside you.”

Booker recalled feeling liberated when he arrived at Oxford. During eight years of highly competitive football, spending up to 80 hours a week on the game at Division I Stanford, “so much of my identity was giving my life to this sport,” he said.

Booker said Oxford gave him the time to “go deep” in his reading as he worked toward a degree in American history. He said he read more books in two years at Oxford than he did in five years at Stanford, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

He studied the Federalist Papers and the writings of African American scholars such as W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin and Cornel West. “It was like a gift to have two years to shift into a different gear,” he said. “Oxford had no restraints. It was this place where you could go where your curiosity led you.”

He was surrounded by Rhodes scholars who were future stars of U.S. government: Eric Garcetti, now Los Angeles mayor; Gina Raimondo, who is governor of Rhode Island; and Bobby Jindal, who would become Louisiana governor and was a 2016 GOP presidential hopeful. Future Supreme Court justice Neil M. Gorsuch was at Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship at the same time.

“I didn’t know back then if I would run for office, but we knew that Cory was definitely going to run,” Garcetti said.

Booker’s only international travel had been to the Caribbean as a child, and now the Rhodes Scholarship funded his trips to more than three dozen countries in two years, from Asia to Africa to Israel.

He played on the Oxford Blues varsity basketball team, which won the U.K. intercollegiate championship. He volunteered with underprivileged youths in a tough Oxford neighborhood that had suffered riots the year before. He became a vegetarian; he is still a vegan and doesn’t drink alcohol.

“It was just an incredibly broadening time for me intellectually, and it helped to clarify and deepen a lot of my intellectual, moral and spiritual values,” Booker said. “It shaped my worldview.”

Booker said Oxford focused him on “what was driving me, this idea that we live on a planet of such savage injustice.”

It also introduced him to an unexpected new passion: Judaism.

Boteach speaks at a L’Chaim Society event during his time at Oxford. Seated are Booker and, two seats to Booker’s right, former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke.

Booker and Toba Friedman, co-presidents of the L’Chaim Society at Oxford, introduce former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the Oxford Town Hall in December 1993. Gorbachev is seated, mostly obscured by Booker. Boteach is at right. (Courtesy of Boteach)

Booker and Boteach at a dinner together in 2013. (Courtesy of Boteach)

‘One human family’

Booker and Boteach met in October 1992, when a date stood Booker up.

He had arranged an evening out with a young woman, who was Jewish, and she asked to meet at a place he had never heard of: the L’Chaim Society.

When he arrived at the society’s second-floor office in the heart of Oxford, she wasn’t there. Debbie Boteach invited him to stay for a big dinner that was already underway, celebrating the Jewish holiday of Simhat Torah.

The table was packed with friends and students, and the only empty seat was next to Boteach. Booker said they immediately fell into “deep conversation.”

“A few hours later he and I were actually dancing on tables,” Boteach said. “The next day he came back. And for the next two years we saw each other nearly every day and studied together.”

Booker recalled those days, especially Shabbat dinners on Friday evenings, as filled with “incredible intellectual discussion and debate” about the Torah and writings that Boteach recommended, from Viktor E. Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” about Nazi concentration camps to ancient Jewish scholars Hillel and Maimonides. He said the “camaraderie” and religious study at L’Chaim was “sharpening my purpose in life.”

“Cory’s a Christian, but he found great spiritual nourishment in Judaism,” Boteach said. “He loved the universality and the global nature of the Jewish texts we studied. His whole presidential campaign is about that, about going beyond politics to find a common humanity.”

Booker read Christian, Hindu and Islamic scholars, but his deepest religious study was of Judaism. He recited one Torah passage in Hebrew and English in a recent CNN town hall: “May my house be a house of prayer for many nations.”

It was a verse about celebrating diversity that he had learned from Boteach.

“I wanted to have a deeper understanding of some of the great theologians in the Christian faith,” Booker said. “But I also found myself just fascinated by Jewish history. Studying the Torah was really soothing for two years. It showed me there really is just one human family.”

It was Booker and Boteach’s shared philosophy — that people of different backgrounds could come together as “a community of communities, where you could keep your own identity while embracing others,” Boteach said.

George Stroup, an American student who knew both men and is now a businessman in Oxford, said, “Becoming president of a Jewish organization allowed Cory to develop the inclusive approach that he was naturally inclined towards.”

He said the friendship between the two served Booker and Boteach in different ways: “Shmuley wanted to communicate and articulate the ideals of Judaism, and Cory wanted to explore. It worked. L’Chaim wouldn’t have been L’Chaim without Cory. There wouldn’t have been a L’Chaim without Shmuley.”

Some Rhodes colleagues were skeptical. More-liberal Jews at Oxford found Boteach self-promoting and suspected he was courting Booker, a popular rising star with obvious political ambitions, to attract attention to himself and his mission.

The friendship surprised some because the 1991 Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn still felt like an open wound. Violence between blacks and Orthodox Jews had broken out after a black child was killed in an accident involving the motorcade of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the Orthodox sect that had sent Boteach to Oxford.

Now Booker was best pals with Schneerson’s personal emissary.

“Cory and Shmuley realized they’d probably not have met in America. Their worlds were not worlds that would have mixed,” said Richard Grayson, a British student who knew both men at Oxford and now teaches history at Goldsmiths, University of London. “It took Oxford to create a space where they could discover the things they had in common and explore their differences.”

Some Rhodes colleagues recall other black classmates urging Booker to use his talents to organize black students. They noted the tiny numbers of blacks in Oxford in those days; a photo of the 1992 Rhodes scholars has about nine black faces — less than 10 percent of the class.

Booker said he doesn’t recall that pressure, and neither do two other African Americans who were Rhodes scholars at the time: Christopher B. Howard, now president of Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania, and Christopher L. Brown, now a history professor at Columbia University.

“I never thought he was doing it at the exclusion of the African American community,” Howard said.

Brown said he thought Booker and Boteach’s friendship made sense because they were both so gregarious and shared “a real sense of the possibilities in life.”

“But nothing in my experience predicted a black American Christian leader of a Jewish student organization,” he said. “Honestly, I didn’t know what to make of it. I still don’t know what to make of it.”

Booker became as much a face of the L’Chaim Society as Boteach. Booker became co-president in his second year at Oxford, insisting on sharing the position with a Jewish student.

In December 1993, Booker, wearing a yarmulke, stood before 1,200 people in Oxford Town Hall and introduced former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a guest of the L’Chaim Society during a speaking tour of Britain. Onstage, Booker, Boteach and Gorbachev lit a Hanukkah menorah together.

The L’Chaim Society grew to be the second-largest student group on campus, attracting thousands of members, most of them non-Jews, with its high-profile events.

Ultimately, the group’s Orthodox patrons became concerned with the high percentage of non-Jews in the society — including a Baptist co-president — and they ordered Boteach to remove them. Boteach refused, and the L’Chaim Society became an independent organization.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) at a Machinists Union conference on May 7 in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach speaks in January during a lunch for comedian Roseanne Barr in Jerusalem. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post) 

‘Stunning unfaithfulness’

Booker and Boteach remained friends for two decades as Booker graduated from Yale Law School (where he helped found a Jewish society similar to L’Chaim), became mayor of Newark and then, in 2013, became a U.S. senator.

In the summer of 1995, Booker returned to Oxford and spent several weeks living with Boteach’s family. They started writing a book together about their childhoods and friendship. Boteach said they shopped the book unsuccessfully to publishers in New York. They also met with Barbra Streisand, who was interested in making a film about their friendship. Eventually the project was shelved.

While their friendship continued, Booker and Boteach were gravitating toward opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Booker is a liberal Democrat who was an early supporter of Barack Obama.

Announcing his support for Obama’s Iran nuclear deal in 2015, Booker said it was a flawed agreement but the best option for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon that would threaten Israel and the West.

“While I may differ with many friends on the choice this deal presents us . . . we share precisely the same goal,” Booker wrote. “I am united with all who are determined to ensure that we never again see genocide in the world.”

Booker is running for president as a virtual anti-Trump, slamming the president’s treatment of immigrants and his “hateful hypocrisy” in referring to “very fine people on both sides” during the deadly white-nationalist march in Charlottesville in 2017.

Boteach is a conservative Republican who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012 and calls President Trump as “the most pro-Israel president in history.”

“Much has been made of Trump’s failure to fully condemn neo-Nazis in Charlottesville,” Boteach wrote recently. “Far less has been mentioned of how the president has made up for it in spades.”

Boteach said Trump’s character is less important than his policies toward Israel, including pulling out of the Iran deal — an agreement Boteach said threatened Israel with an Iranian “genocide.”

Boteach also became a high-profile and often controversial celebrity rabbi and TV host, close to Michael Jackson and, more recently, Roseanne Barr. He is a best-selling author who has written attention-grabbing books with titles such as “Kosher Jesus,” “Kosher Sex” and “Lust for Love,” which he wrote with Playboy model and “Baywatch” actress Pamela Anderson.

Booker and Boteach, both now living in New Jersey, continued to meet frequently for years. Booker actively courted Jewish political support, often with Boteach’s help. The largest donor to his 2014 Senate race was Norpac, a pro-Israel political action committee that gave him nearly $159,000, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions.

Then the friendship crashed in a fireball.

Boteach said it happened in September 2015, when Booker announced his support for the Iran deal, which Boteach said was an unforgivable betrayal of Israel.

Boteach also said Booker is “trying to erase” his Jewish connections to satisfy the Democratic Party’s increasingly assertive left, which is often at odds with Israel. He noted that in his 2016 book, “United,” Booker makes no mention of their friendship or his connection to Judaism: “It’s like he’s almost embarrassed.”

Boteach has repeatedly and publicly criticized Booker with brutal intensity, writing recently in the Jerusalem Post: “I will always love Cory as the man who became my closest friend. But I cannot overlook his stunning unfaithfulness to the Jewish people.”

“What you see on that Purim video is a man dancing with utter abandon, with his Jewish friends, not being concerned about how that’s going to play politically,” Boteach said in an interview. “There’s no such thing as unity without living it. You can’t preach it; it has to be lived.”

Booker sighed heavily when told of Boteach’s contentions. He said the falling-out was not over Iran: “I have lots of friends I disagree with over the Iran deal, and we’re still friends.”

He said he withdrew from Boteach long before the Iran deal, because, he said, Boteach had begun using their friendship for self-promotion.

“Friendships are based on trust,” Booker said. “This was somebody who was using the personal in public in a way that was deeply unfortunate.”

Booker has rarely criticized Boteach publicly and declined to provide specifics.

But someone who knows both men well offered one example he said was “part of a pattern.”

He said Booker felt betrayed in October 2013 when Boteach publicized what was meant to be a private, after-midnight visit to Schneerson’s grave in Queens.

Booker’s father had died days earlier, just before his son was elected to the Senate. Booker and a small group, including Boteach, went to Schneerson’s grave on election eve to pay respects and pray for his father.

Boteach insists the visit to the grave was not intended to be private. Two days later, he wrote a story about it in the Observer newspaper, featuring two photos of him and Booker.

Booker rejected Boteach’s suggestion that he has played down his connections to Judaism. He said “United” was primarily about what he learned during his years in Newark, not a comprehensive memoir.

“If I’m not talking about Shmuley, then he thinks I’m not honoring my experience,” Booker said. “I speak about my Jewish connections and my connections to L’Chaim often still to this day.”

Booker made a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March, criticizing Trump’s immigration policies by quoting the Torah he and Boteach had studied: “Love strangers, for you were once a stranger in a strange land.”

“Israel is not political to me,” Booker told the AIPAC gathering. “I was a supporter of Israel well before I was in the United States Senate. . . . If I forget thee, O Israel, may I cut off my right hand.”

Boteach said the loss of Booker’s friendship “hurts to this day.”

He said he was sad that Booker’s philosophy of seeking unity across differences, which brought them so close together in Oxford, no longer works for them.

Article of the Day: 5/29/19 “They Persisted: What we don’t know can kill us.”


  1. Is government regulation of environmental safety good or bad?
  2. If the government doesn’t watch over our environment, who should?
  3. How should responsible companies balance the equation between the bottom line and public safety?
  4. Why is the text colored blue and linked to a website?

They persisted

In Michigan, concerned citizens have helped reveal contamination by long-lasting nonstick chemicals.

A small group of Michigan residents, including (right to left) Lynn McIntosh, A. J. Birkbeck, Janice Tompkins, and Rick Rediske, tracked widespread contamination from a former tannery.PHOTO: REX LARSON

For more than a century, a sprawling tannery here on the banks of the Rogue River churned out leather used to make some of the country’s most popular shoes. The factory emitted a putrid stink, but it enabled this city of roughly 6000 people to thrive. “That’s the smell of money,” some locals used to say.

In 2009, however, shifts in the shoe trade prompted the tannery’s owner, Wolverine Worldwide, which is based here, to close the facility. In a 2010 request for state funds to help redevelop the 6-hectare site, which sits astride a picturesque business district, lawyers representing the company stated: “There is no known contamination on the property.”

Lynn McIntosh, a piano teacher and writer who has lived just a block from the tannery for more than 25 years, was skeptical. The statement was “legalese laced with hogwash,” she recalls thinking when she read it. Tanneries use a stew of hazardous chemicals to transform raw hides into leather, she knew, and sometimes left contamination behind. For that and other reasons, McIntosh and others asked city and state officials to require a comprehensive environmental study of the site before it was redeveloped.

Their plea was rebuffed, so she and a small band of allies launched their own investigation. The group, which ultimately named itself Concerned Citizens for Responsible Remediation (CCRR), collected maps, dug into newspaper archives, and filed requests for public records. Members spoke with scientists knowledgeable about tannery chemicals and hired an environmental attorney with a background in geology to help them strategize. McIntosh even staked out and photographed the demolition of tannery buildings, followed waste trucks to dump sites, and interviewed retired tannery workers. The years of effort yielded stacks of documents that McIntosh—who prefers a simple clamshell cellphone to modern smart screens and paper files to the digital cloud—lugged to meetings in heavy bags.

Now, that sleuthing is having far-reaching impacts in Michigan and beyond. The concerned citizens uncovered evidence that the tannery had contaminated large swaths of land and water with chemicals known as a per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), which researchers have linked to an array of human health problems. More than 4000 such compounds exist, and they are widely used in products such as firefighting foams, nonstick coatings, carpeting, food packaging, and even dental floss. The tannery used two PFASs by the ton to waterproof shoe leather. In a statement to Science, Wolverine said that when it submitted its application for state redevelopment funds in 2010, it did not know any of the chemicals had leaked. “There was no testing or other environmental data for the former tannery, and no basis to conclude that there was contamination on the property.”

CCRR’s work led to the detection of some of the highest levels of PFAS contamination in U.S. drinking water, and the effort helped trigger an unprecedented statewide survey of PFAS contamination in Michigan. The work has led to hundreds of lawsuits against Wolverine and other entities linked to the chemicals. And it has made Michigan a high-profile, closely watched battleground in a rapidly expanding scientific, political, and legal dispute over the threat that PFASs pose to millions of people in the United States.

The events in Michigan show “that when you look hard … you’re going to start finding [PFASs] showing up everywhere,” says attorney Erik Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C. Around the country, evidence of PFAS contamination has anxious residents demanding to know how exposure could affect their health. Regulators are struggling to balance cost and risk as they set safety limits. And companies, fire departments, water utilities, and the U.S. military are facing cleanup and liability costs that could total tens of billions of dollars or more.

McIntosh and her colleagues—including a toxicologist who works at a nearby university—now find themselves in the public spotlight in ways they never imagined nearly a decade ago. “I had no idea,” McIntosh says, “this would be so big.”

AT THE HEART of the PFAS controversy is the carbon-fluorine bond, among the strongest of all chemical bonds. Enzymes can’t break it. Sunlight can’t break it. Water can’t break it. That durability explains the commercial appeal of PFASs, but it makes them problematic pollutants. They’ve been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they don’t degrade naturally. And because the molecules have a water-soluble head, water and airborne droplets can carry them for long distances.

The U.S. chemists who discovered how to synthesize PFASs in the 1930s, however, were beguiled by their advantages. Use of the chemicals in the United States began to expand rapidly during the 1950s, when the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, a Saint Paul–based firm now called 3M, began to sell two compounds: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). PFOA became the basis for Teflon, the ubiquitous nonstick cookware coating manufactured by DuPont. PFOS became a key ingredient in firefighting foams used at airports and military bases and in the popular Scotchgard protectant, which enabled fabrics and other materials to resist water and oils.

At Wolverine, Scotchgard played a notable role in the success of one of the company’s iconic shoe lines: Hush Puppies. Thanks to PFASs, the casual pigskin shoes, introduced in the 1950s, were waterproof. They were a best-seller, helping transform Wolverine into a multibillion-dollar company that today holds a portfolio of shoe brands that includes Merrell, Saucony, Stride Rite, and Keds.

Even as sales of PFOA and PFOS boomed, however, 3M and DuPont researchers were amassing evidence that the chemicals accumulated in people and other animals and could have toxic effects. Much of that evidence became public only because of a lawsuit. In 1980, DuPont purchased farmland in West Virginia and began to dump waste laced with PFOA there. Cattle that grazed nearby began to die, and in 1999 a local family sued the company. The proceeding forced DuPont to hand over internal files, which the family’s attorney, Rob Bilott of Taft Stettinius & Hollister in Cincinnati, Ohio, shared with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2001, DuPont paid an undisclosed sum to settle the case, and EPA fined the company in 2005 for violating rules for toxic waste. Under pressure from EPA, U.S. manufacturers agreed in 2006 to phase out production of PFOA by 2015. (They ended PFOS production in 2002.) Often, the two chemicals were replaced by related PFASs that manufacturers have asserted are safer and break down faster.

Bilott also helped launch a major study of PFASs’ potential health effects. In 2001, he sued DuPont again on behalf of 80,000 people in Ohio and West Virginia served by water sources contaminated with PFOA. In a settlement, DuPont agreed to pay up to $70 million for the study, dubbed the C8 Health Project because PFOA was once called C8 after the molecule’s chain of eight carbon atoms. Beginning in 2005, a team led by a local physician recruited more than 69,000 participants, who answered interview questions, filled out questionnaires, and gave blood samples. In 2011 and 2012, three independent epidemiologists who analyzed the data issued reports indicating a probable link between PFAS exposure and six conditions: high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced high blood pressure.

The Wolverine Worldwide tannery (top, in 1960) helped produce popular shoes and was an economic mainstay in the town of Rockford, Michigan.PHOTOS: (TOP TO BOTTOM) ROCKFORD HISTORIC SOCIETY; MLIVE/ADVANCE MEDIA

The C8 study was a gold mine, says Richard DeGrandchamp, a toxicologist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, who was not involved in the work. “I’m not aware of any major studies in the history of epidemiology and toxicology where we’ve had such a large … group of people who have been exposed.”

Meanwhile, other researchers were finding that almost all people living in the United States carry detectable levels of PFASs in their blood (although levels of PFOA and PFOS have declined since they were phased out). And the more researchers looked for PFAS contamination around industrial sites, airports, and military bases, the more they found. But when the concerned citizens began to investigate the tannery here in 2010, they’d never heard of forever chemicals.

RICK REDISKE WAS HESITANT. The environmental chemist had listened intently as two members of CCRR—McIntosh and Janice Tompkins, formerly of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality—described their investigations into the tannery, just a 30-minute drive from his office at the Allendale campus of Grand Valley State University. “I was impressed with the level of detail they had amassed,” he recalls about the 2012 meeting.

The two women offered photographs of hides and leather scraps embedded in the bank of the Rogue River, where their chemical contents could leach into soil and water. The pair also had pictures of potentially contaminated stormwater flowing off the tannery site during demolition and into the river. They shared CCRR’s interviews with former tannery workers about the facility’s use of chemicals and waste disposal practices. McIntosh showed Rediske a map of potential problem areas that she had drawn based on the interviews, including spots where chemicals might have leaked from the tannery through cracked floors and broken pipes. (During her first interview, with a former tannery employee in his 80s, McIntosh learned that Scotchgard had been used to treat the leather.)

When the two women asked Rediske whether he could help test for contaminants from the tannery, however, the 66-year-old professor hesitated. He didn’t have funding to conduct such expensive studies. More important, he wasn’t eager to tangle with the law firm representing Wolverine. In the 1990s, after he documented pollution at a Michigan tannery owned by a different company, the same law firm had used public records requests to obtain his emails, technical memos, and laboratory notebooks—and hired consultants to aggressively challenge his findings. His work had withstood the scrutiny and helped state officials win a $3 million cleanup settlement. But the experience was taxing. “Scientists spend their careers building their reputations,” he says. “Providing contrary opinions against powerful business and governmental interests has both monetary and professional costs.” Still, he offered to advise CCRR.

After that meeting, Tompkins learned through a public records request that the tannery had once stored Scotchgard and other chemicals in tanks without secondary containment. And after hearing that state officials planned to sample for PFASs at other Michigan sites, CCRR asked whether they could also check the Rogue River. The officials agreed and, in 2015, reported finding elevated levels of PFOS in smallmouth bass and white suckers living downstream of the tannery.

“The fish study was seminal for us” because it suggested the tannery had contaminated offsite areas, says A. J. Birkbeck, a Grand Rapids, Michigan–based environmental attorney and hydrogeologist who represents CCRR. The study also gave Rediske the data needed to build a case for action. “I decided I’d really get involved when I got those results,” he recalls. (Wolverine says it is now collecting environmental data at the tannery site and is working on a filtration system to treat groundwater at the site before it reaches the Rogue River.)

The group suspected the river wasn’t the only off-site area touched by tannery waste. McIntosh, for instance, had interviewed a former waste hauler named Earl Tefft, who told her that in the 1960s he had spent every day for a year hauling large containers of sludge from the tannery to nearby dump sites. One was on a Wolverine-owned property about 8 kilometers from Rockford on House Street, a woodsy lane dotted with homes that drew their drinking water from private wells. In early 2017, CCRR alerted state officials to the historic dump, fearful that the waste could be contaminating nearby wells.

Wolverine tested the wells later that year, and the results were explosive. One water sample had a combined concentration of PFOA and PFOS of 27,600 parts per trillion (ppt), nearly 400 times greater than EPA’s suggested level of concern at the time. It was the highest concentration state toxicologists had ever seen in a well, reported journalist Garret Ellison of the Grand Rapids Press team at MLive, who has extensively covered PFAS contamination in Michigan.

The House Street contamination garnered national attention. It appeared to explain why federal officials had found PFAS contamination at a nearby military facility, also on House Street, which had no history of using the chemicals. “Had CCRR not essentially supplied all of the connective tissue … it would have been quite some time before [regulators] put the pieces together” and identified the likely source of the distant pollution, Ellison says.

Wolverine declined to comment when asked whether it believes the PFAS contamination in the House Street wells stems from its nearby dump. But the company did outline actions it has taken to ensure safe drinking water for residents. It says it has given water filters to more than 700 homeowners, has sampled more than 1500 residential wells, and is monitoring water contaminant levels at more than 500 homes.


In November 2017, Michigan officials responded to the results from House Street and elsewhere by launching the most comprehensive statewide survey of PFAS contamination. It analyzed samples from every public water system, as well as groundwater, surface waters, soils, sediments, foam, fish, and other wildlife. The survey showed nearly 1.4 million residents were drinking water from sources contaminated with PFASs. In Parchment, a city in southwestern Michigan, PFAS concentrations in drinking water were so high—1600 ppt—that the governor declared a state of emergency.

As public and official concern escalated, Rediske emerged as a go-to expert for journalists and community groups wanting to learn more about PFASs. He was willing to appear on television, Birkbeck says, “and he had the expertise to say, ‘We’ve got a real issue here.’” U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D–MI) even invited Rediske to testify at a public field summit that a committee Peters serves on held in Michigan. Rediske’s testimony, Peters says, “was important [in] assessing what more needs to be done to support local and state efforts” to address PFASs.

Michigan wasn’t the only state grappling with the issue. And in Washington, D.C., Congress and newly elected President Donald Trump’s administration were struggling to answer an increasingly urgent question: What is a safe PFAS level, especially in water people drink every day?

SO FAR, NO ONE IS CERTAIN. In 2016, after reviewing studies on the possible health impacts of PFASs, EPA lowered its nonbinding advisory standard for drinking water from 400 ppt for PFOA and 200 ppt for PFOS to 70 ppt for both combined. But some researchers and public health advocates argue that level is too lax. Their views got a boost in June 2018, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a long-awaited assessment of 14 PFASs. It recommended “minimal risk” levels for PFOA and PFOS, which the agency later converted to recommendations for drinking water limits. For children, those levels are 21 ppt for PFOA and 14 ppt for PFOS—notably lower than EPA’s advisory level. (Trump administration officials discussed trying to block release of the CDC report, fearing it would create a political firestorm.)

CDC’s assessment was based, in part, on prospective studies in which researchers monitored people with known PFAS blood levels to see whether exposure was statistically linked to health issues. In one such study, published in PLOS Medicine in February 2018, higher PFAS levels were associated with greater weight regain among participants in a 2-year weight loss trial. In a second prospective study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives in March 2018, researchers found that women with higher blood levels of PFOS and PFOA were at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Researchers don’t fully understand the biological mechanisms that might explain such findings, and that uncertainty has helped fuel debate over safe PFAS limits. At the federal level, for instance, EPA has so far declined to embrace the CDC recommendations. Yet at least one researcher, environmental health specialist Philippe Grandjean of Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, says even CDC’s recommendations are too high. He believes protecting children’s immune systems would require a drinking water limit of just 1 ppt or less.

Political and economic considerations also are coloring the debate. In general, EPA is not supposed to consider cost in setting pollution limits. But when the agency proposed its 70-ppt advisory level, its own surveys suggested the real-world impact would be minimal because few drinking water supplies were known to have concentrations exceeding that level. Newer surveys suggest many water supplies have some level of PFAS contamination, however, which could create pressure for expensive cleanups if limits are lowered.

Industry groups question the need for stricter regulation. In Michigan, for example, Wolverine hired a toxicologist who downplayed the risks associated with PFASs. “Human health effects from exposure … are unknown,” wrote Janet Anderson of Integral Consulting in San Antonio, Texas, in a November 2017 Wolverine blog post. “No human study … has been conducted that proves exposure of an individual to any PFAS … causes any illness.”

An angler tries his luck in the Rogue River near the site of a former tannery in Rockford, Michigan. The river’s fish and foam carry chemicals used at the tannery.PHOTO: REX LARSEN

After the CDC report became public, however, the Trump administration—under growing pressure from Congress and state officials—promised to take action. And in February, EPA released a plan that calls for formally setting regulatory limits for PFOA and PFOS and for launching a nationwide program to monitor PFASs in water systems. The agency said it will beef up research into detection and cleanup methods, consider requiring companies to report PFAS releases, and even consider banning certain compounds.

EPA also is planning to intensively examine about 125 of the thousands of newer, less studied PFASs, in collaboration with the National Toxicology Program. One goal is to test the assumption that the newer compounds are safer because they have shorter lives. “We all need to remember that because something doesn’t bioaccumulate doesn’t mean it won’t be a problem if you’re exposed to it, say, in your drinking water every day,” said Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Durham, North Carolina, at a recent press briefing.

In the absence of swift federal action, many states are taking charge. New York has proposed setting a maximum level of 10 ppt for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water, whereas New Jersey is considering slightly higher limits. Vermont lawmakers passed a bill that would set a 20-ppt limit for a combination of five PFASs. Pennsylvania has launched a statewide contamination survey, having already identified more than 300 public water supplies with “an elevated potential for contamination.” And in Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) in March declared that she could “no longer wait for the Trump administration to act” and will propose state drinking water standards for some PFASs.

Meeting such new standards could be costly. In New York, officials have estimated that compliance, including equipping water utilities with treatment systems, will cost from $900 million to $1.5 billion. To help defray expenses, some states are suing PFAS polluters. Last year, Minnesota settled a case against 3M for $850 million, which will be used to help provide clean water to affected residents.

HERE IN MICHIGAN, lawsuits also are underway. More than 200 families living on and near House Street, for instance, are suing Wolverine and 3M. Among the many legal questions is whether the plaintiffs can show they were harmed by exposure to PFAS-contaminated water. If the families win, it could open “the floodgates to more lawsuits and the ability of private citizens and states to sue,” says attorney Paul Albarran of Varnum, the Grand Rapids–based law firm representing the families.

In March, state and federal regulators formally validated the sleuthing by McIntosh and CCRR: They officially confirmed that the former tannery site and nearby waste disposal areas are laced with PFASs. The announcement was made at a town hall meeting at Rockford High School. McIntosh and Birkbeck sat in the front row. Rediske, Tompkins, and other CCRR members were also in the crowd. As McIntosh listened, she was struck by how closely the contamination maps that officials presented matched the informal maps she’d drawn based on interviews with former tannery workers.

During the meeting, Rediske urged residents to become involved in a new community advisory group that will help oversee the next chapter in the tannery’s history: a long, complex cleanup. Given the role that concerned citizens have already played in resolving past contamination problems in Michigan and beyond, Rediske said he was confident they could also rise to the new challenge: “It can be done.”

Article of the Day: May 25, 2019: My High School Head Coach

Coach Yoast was the head coach of my high school football team in Alexandria, Virginia in the 1964-65 school year. Our record was 2-7-1, good defense/no offense. As the story below tells, he was the assitant coach featured in the movie, Remember the Titans.

I had never seen the film, and didn’t know its subject matter. Several years after its release I was on a bus trip with my students in fifth grade and the film was shown. The travails of the football team were familiar, but I began to make a connection with the names of the coaches featured–“Coach Yoast, Coach East…those were my coaches!” It’s a good movie about the integration of the high schools in Alexandria. Interestingly, our team at Hammond was already integrated back in 1965.

Bill Yoast, assistant coach from T.C. Williams ‘Remember the Titans’ football team, dies at 94

Jacob Bogage

Bill Yoast, a former high school football coach portrayed in the 2000 film “Remember the Titans” as an opponent of racism and a savvy on-field tactician, died Thursday at age 94 at an assisted living facility in Springfield, Va., his daughter, Dee Dee Fox confirmed. No cause of death was provided.

Yoast coached at T.C. Williams High in Alexandria, Va., from 1971 to 1996. He also coached track and field and golf in addition to football, where he led the Titans’ defense. The story of the team’s 1971 undefeated state championship season inspired the movie, in which Denzel Washington played head coach Herman Boone and Will Patton played Yoast.

That year, the Alexandria school district consolidated its three high schools — T.C. Williams, Francis Hammond and George Washington — sending the upperclassmen to T.C. Williams and converting the other two into junior high schools.You have a little extra money in your pocket. Should you knock out your debt or save for retirement? It doesn’t have to be an either-or question.  Read More 

Yoast, who had a successful run at Hammond, was the favorite to win the job at T.C. Williams, but school officials instead chose Boone, the only African American coach in the area. Yoast agreed to join his staff as the defensive coordinator and principal lieutenant, convincing players from his entirely white Hammond squad to go out for what would be an integrated team.

“No doubt, the beginning of our relationship was rocky,” said Boone, who coached the Titans from 1971 to 1979. “I didn’t know Yoast. Yoast didn’t know me. I knew that Hammond had no black athletes and I didn’t know if coach Yoast had anything to do with that. But we got to [training camp] and became roommates and found a way to talk to one another.

“I think that’s the formula for race relations throughout the world. People have to learn to talk to one another. You have to learn to talk to that individual, and when you talk to that individual, you learn to trust that individual, and that’s the greatest gift God to give to man.”

Players said they made the perfect pairing. Boone was loud and imposing, sometimes abrasive, cursing during practice so much, his wife said she didn’t recognize him during the movie because the screenwriters kept most of his profanity out of the script.

Yoast was placid and stoic. He told players he never cursed or drank. When Boone would holler at players until they reached their breaking point, Yoast would cajole them back to practice. When his defense — still considered one of the fiercest in Virginia high school football history — laid hits on teammates in practice, he made sure to compliment players on the offensive side of the ball.

“He was just so soft-spoken, so concerned and so caring,” Collin Arrington, a fullback on the 1971 team, said. “He was so easy to talk to. You’d look at Coach Boone. He was intimidating. Nobody wanted to talk to him. But Coach Yoast, we all loved him, and we’re going to miss him.”

Yoast is the second member of the ’71 Titans team to die in recent months. Julius Campbell, a defensive end played in the film by Wood Harris, died in January at age 65.

[Julius Campbell, a key player from the T.C. Williams ‘Remember the Titans’ team, dies at 65]

William Yoast was born in Nov. 16, 1924 in Florence, Ala., the oldest of two children to a poor family with an absentee father. To help his family make ends meet, he worked as a child picking cotton among sharecroppers, according to his 2005 book “Remember this Titan,” co-authored by Steve Sullivan. He and his father reconciled years later.

After a three-year stint in the Army Air Corps, the precursor to the Air Force as an independent branch of the military, and graduating from Georgia Military College, Yoast began teaching and coaching football, basketball, baseball and track in Sparta, Ga. He left for Roswell, 120 miles west, in 1954 after being chastised for allowing a baseball team comprised of black players to use the showers at his high school.

He moved with his third wife, Betty — Dorothy, his second wife, died during childbirth in Sparta — and two daughters to Alexandria in 1960 and became the coach at Hammond in 1965. His 1969 team won the Northern Region championship, and when T.C. Williams needed a new coach, many considered him the obvious choice for the job, compared to Boone, who was an assistant at the school after a successful career as a head coach in North Carolina.

“All of that was politics. I did not get involved then and I don’t like to get involved with politics now,” Boone said. “But my wife woke me up one morning and said, ‘You better read The Washington Post,’ and when I read the paper, it assumed coach Yoast would be the first head coach at T.C. Williams.

“And it wasn’t surprising, because all the head coaches in the area were white. But why would you fight for integration if all the head coaches were white? So I decided to fight, being the only black coach in the area, and I was qualified.”

“I don’t know whether I was more hurt or disappointed,” Yoast told The Post in 1971 during the middle of the Titans’ state championship run. “I wasn’t bitter. I knew Herman and admired him. I guess my pride was the main thing that was hurt.”

Yoast spurned two other head coaching offers in Northern Virginia and coached the Titan defense to nine shutouts in 13 games, including a 27-0 win in the state title game against now-defunct Andrew Lewis High School of Salem.

Said Arrington of practicing against the defense: “It was hell.”

Yoast retired from teaching in 1990. He took up fishing and enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren in his later years in Bethany Beach, Del., and stayed involved with T.C. Williams football when the film came out, finding an enduring audience with sports fans and often visiting the team’s practices. He traveled the country speaking about the Titans’ championship season and overcoming racism.

“In ‘Remember the Titans,’ the story of Herman Boone is remarkable. But what Bill Yoast did was equally remarkable,” said Eric Henderson, who coached at the school during the movie’s heyday. “There were a lot of heroes in that story, but Bill’s acquiesce to the situation and how he fostered healing and united some disparate groups was something to be admired. You have those moments in life where you have to make a decision to do the right thing, and I think he did.”

Yoast is survived by his ex-wife and lifelong friend Betty Yoast, daughters Dee Dee Fox, Angie Garrison of Springfield and Susan Gail Greeson of Fernandina Beach, Fla., nine grandchildren and many more great grandchildren.

Visitation is scheduled for May 31 from 6 to 8 p.m., at Demaine Funeral Home in Springfield. A funeral is set for June 1 at 2 p.m. at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Springfield. The family will hold a private cremation ceremony at a later date.

Article of the Day 5/24/19: Memorial Day is Coming

Memorial Day is dedicated to remembering members of the armed services who have died while serving. While its origins are disputed, the special day was observed by the decoration of graves of soldiers who had served in the Civil War. Today’s article is a remembrance of a soldier who served in Afghanistan.


  1. In a representative democracy who should make the decision about the involvement of the USA in foreign wars? (See the Constitution)
  2. What influence should individual citizens have in the decision-making process?
  3. As folowers of Jesus, what is the source of our ideas about right and wrong about war? Should our ideas be any different than that of citizens who are not followers of Jesus?
  4. What are our county’s goals in regard to involvement in foreign wars?
  5. How can we best serve our soldiers who are sent off to fight in our name?

My Best Friend and I Did Everything Together — Until He Was Killed in Afghanistan

By Luke RyanMay 24, 2019

Patrick Hawkins (left) and Luke Ryan on their third deployment in January 2013.via Luke Ryan

Patrick Hawkins (left) and Luke Ryan on their third deployment in January 2013.via Luke Ryan

As explosions echoed through the Afghan mountains, I knew that each blast that tore through the night was also tearing through the flesh of my friends. It was October 2013; we had been caught in an ambush, and though the Taliban in the area had been killed quickly, the explosives they left behind for us were still detonating.

My fellow Rangers and I had arrived by helicopter and surrounded a small building in an open field; I.E.D.s had been buried, then armed by the enemy once we were in the middle of them. Any movement from that point onward threatened all of us.

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I had just returned from chasing down one of the insurgents, who had tried to bait us into another deadly ambush in a nearby gully, where an explosive was triggered that almost killed me and my teammates. Instead, Jany, our military working dog, raced ahead of us toward the enemy and was killed, trading his life for ours. When I returned to my platoon from that secondary ambush site, they had already suffered multiple casualties, and the dead and wounded were scattered on the ground under the moonlight. Explosions spat fire and rock at us.

A medic’s gloved hands moved with trained precision from casualty to casualty. He dashed from one to the next with intense purpose; I think that if he could have poured his own life into the veins of the men lying on the ground, he would have.

As the detonations continued, our explosive ordnance disposal technicians cleared paths to safety, avoiding patches of disturbed earth and checking the rest with metal detectors. Blasts like that are like an earthquake to your soul; after the flash, they rattle your rib cage and wash through you like a tidal wave made of invisible heat. Cold sweat was pooled under my armor as a bomb tech cleared a route toward me, and then a passage out. These bombs had been designed to be hard to detect, so no step was certain.

Patrick (right) and Luke (left) loading a moving truck with their roommate, Wayne Capacillo, in April 2012.via Luke Ryan

Patrick (right) and Luke (left) loading a moving truck with their roommate, Wayne Capacillo, in April 2012.via Luke Ryan

Another explosion; more service members wounded or killed.

Despite the desperate cries of pain in the darkness, despite the dead friends and the injuries we sustained, we all moved forward. We picked up the living and the dead, and we fought through the last moments of the mission, because that is what needed to be done. No one broke down. Everyone did their job.

Before long, I found myself kneeling in the back of the MH-47 Chinook helicopter, a large tandem-rotor aircraft that thundered back toward our forward operating base. We had a total of four dead and more than 30 wounded, with injuries ranging in severity from minor to life-altering. Around a dozen explosions had gone off. Of the three fire team leaders to step onto that mission, I was the only one stepping off.

My gaze drifted toward the rear of the aircraft, where the other Rangers sat quietly, many with blood on their faces or hands. The metal floor was a mess of red fluid, bandages and damaged equipment. The wounded were strapped into their stretchers, the medics checking and rechecking them in the dim, crimson light of the helicopter’s interior. Some people carried rolled American flags on their backs through their deployments — when we ran out of stretchers, they used these flags to carry out what was left of the dead. Broken flesh, tattered and bloodied flags, the faces of iron men whose bones and spirit had been terribly shaken — that image was branded into my mind and has remained there ever since.

We were all torn up when we returned to base, though physically I had been barely touched in comparison to the others. I tried to keep myself busy. We needed to do an inventory check of our soldiers, weapons and equipment and assess exactly what had been saved and what had been lost, so that’s what I did. With forward momentum propping me up, I got on with it.

Just as the sun was peeking over the mountains, I headed to the field hospital in Kandahar to visit some of the wounded. It was there that I was asked to escort the body of Sgt. Patrick Hawkins, who had been killed that night, back to the United States. Patrick was a fellow team leader. He had just turned 25. He was my best friend. I packed a bag, and a few hours later I got on a plane. His wife and parents were waiting for him; he would have wanted me there with them for his return.

From left: Special Agent Joseph Peters, Sgt. Patrick Hawkins, Pfc. Cody Patterson and First Lt. Jennifer Moreno. They were killed on Oct. 6, 2013, by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.U.S. ArmyFrom left: Special Agent Joseph Peters, Sgt. Patrick Hawkins, Pfc. Cody Patterson and First Lt. Jennifer Moreno. They were killed on Oct. 6, 2013, by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.U.S. Army

I boarded the C-17 transport aircraft with three other escorts, one for each soldier who had been killed. This was our new mission: to bring them home. Since the first explosion had been triggered that night, I had been using momentum as a crutch. Adrenaline had kept me moving. On that cargo plane, soaring over the Atlantic Ocean, I had no choice but to sit amid the hum and whine of the aircraft and confront my own thoughts. I remember that moment clearly — I was sitting with my head resting against the cold metal behind it. Before me lay the four boxes, each wrapped tightly in an American flag, in stark contrast to the olive drab and black military equipment around us.

Patrick Hawkins, Cody Patterson, Jennifer Moreno, Joseph Peters. I said the names in my head over and over as if they were in danger of slipping away, as if they weren’t permanently etched into my heart and mind.

Cody had been relatively new to the platoon, and it was his second deployment. He was capable, smart and proficient, and I wished I had been more like him when I was a newcomer. Young Rangers are the little brothers in our small platoons, and Cody was the type you would be proud to call family.

Jenny was a 25-year-old first lieutenant and served as a Cultural Support Team member, though she had initially joined the Army as a nurse. C.S.T. members supported our missions and primarily dealt with civilian women and children after an assault was over, gathering valuable and actionable intelligence and defusing many volatile situations. On a few occasions, Jenny and her teammates met up with me and another Ranger in an abandoned building near our camp. We laughed together, spoke of home and shared the snacks sent by our loved ones.

Joe was an Army special agent with the 286th Military Police Detachment, and he was 24 years old, with a wife and a young son waiting for him back home. I met him for the first time that deployment, but we worked closely on the missions where he joined us. He understood the essence of servanthood — of a job whose true purpose was to help the people around you — and when we were together in the field we were always on the same page.

Luke (left) and Patrick on their fourth and last deployment to Afghanistan in September 2013.via Luke RyanLuke (left) and Patrick on their fourth and last deployment to Afghanistan in September 2013.via Luke Ryan

Then there was Patrick, my dear friend and Ranger brother. We entered the same squad just after the Ranger selection course, grew into young leaders and traveled the world and into combat four times together. We were roommates back home and overseas, and we were seldom apart. We laughed at the same jokes and recited the same lines from our favorite movies. When we cleared rooms or took fire, we knew exactly how the other would move. As I sat in the cargo plane, my thoughts drifted gently to his wedding, and to his wife and parents. I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t terrified, I was just sad. Sad that it happened and sad that for Patrick’s loved ones the years ahead would be filled with so much pain.

Patrick and I had never gone on a mission without each other, and we never would. (Though my injuries from that night were not severe, they kept me from returning to that deployment, and I left the military soon after.) There was some dark poetry to that; on paper, our military careers were alike in almost every way, and yet for some reason I left with my life and he did not. I wondered how the future could possibly look without him in it.

I wanted to melt into the metal and rubber of the C-17 and remain there forever. The lives of those in these coffins had ended so abruptly — how could mine simply go on? Images of 21-gun salutes, folded flags and grieving families flashed through my head; the thoughts made me feel sick, but they were better than trying to think of what might come after. It felt like some enormous, empty thing looming ahead that would surely swallow me whole. I wondered if this was the start of my transformation from an Army Ranger to a nameless veteran, drinking alone at the back of some seedy bar.

The tires kissed the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base. The plane taxied to a stop, and the jaws of the C-17’s rear door opened up to announce our arrival. Then the sun poured in, illuminating the flags draped over the coffins. It shone on those dark corners of my mind, and a part of me knew that beyond the nights of heavy drinking and the throbbing headaches afterward lay a whole host of other things, both good and bad. If I just put one foot in front of the other, I could move toward an education and countless books, to having my heart wrenched by rejection, to having it restored as I fell in love, to hiking mountains and to holding precious things. My legs understood what needed to happen, so they stood me up and carried me forward.

Weeks later, as I watched Patrick’s coffin being lowered into his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery, I wondered if he would just disappear. Life was demanding that I move forward, and yet there he lay, forever still.

Everyone in that ambush lost a part of themselves in the fight that stole our friends. My fellow team leader Tom Block was seriously wounded on that same mission. He required skin grafts on his face, along with some reconstructive surgery. It felt to me as though I followed a similar path to recovery: I grasped onto my memories of Patrick, and I grafted them over the hole that had been torn into my soul.

Luke Ryan is a former Army Ranger who grew up overseas, the son of missionary aid workers in Pakistan and Thailand. He is an American poet, author of “The Gun and the Scythe” and lives in upstate New York.

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Article of the Day: 5/21/19 A Beautiful Rattlesnake

This is a park just south of Nashville. I have never seen a rattlesnake in Tennessee, but I’ve walked this trail many times in the past. If you go to the link above, there’s a video of the snake. It was completely unconcerned with the people on the trail. I guess that’s the way it is for an apex predator.

Former Vanderbilt quarterback encounters rattlesnake on Warner Parks trail

Mike OrganUpdated 2:34 p.m. CT May 20, 2019

Gary Kimball, a Vanderbilt professor, has happened upon two rattlesnakes while hiking at Warner Parks. Mike Organ, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee

When Gary Kimball played football at Vanderbilt, he got used to running for his life.

He was a quarterback who often found himself having to elude angry linebackers.

Kimball, who played from 1980-84 and is now a Vanderbilt finance professor, still has to watch his step when he hikes the trails at Nashville’s Warner Parks.

Kimball has now twice encountered a rattlesnake on the Mossy Ridge trail.

Vanderbilt professor Gary Kimball and his wife Carroll came upon this 4-foot timber rattlesnake on a hike last week at Warner Parks.

Vanderbilt professor Gary Kimball and his wife Carroll came upon this 4-foot timber rattlesnake on a hike last week at Warner Parks. (Photo: Submitted)

His latest episode came Friday when Kimball and his wife Carroll happened upon a slithery serpent on the trail.

“Carroll was a couple of steps ahead of me and about a step-and-a-half from stepping on (the snake),” Kimball said. “I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back. She didn’t see it. She was looking down and looking for her next step and I just happened to be looking ahead and saw it.”

In 2016 Kimball was setting out on a hike with a buddy when they encountered a rattlesnake in the parking lot at the trailhead.

After his initial scare Kimball gathered himself and videotaped both snakes, which he estimated to be about 4 feet in length.

Timber rattlesnakes are also known as canebrake or banded rattlesnakes. They are venomous.

Chicken snakes are actually harmless, but they can mimic the venomous rattlesnake as a defense mechanism, so it’s good to know some differences between it and what it’s pretending to be. Wochit

The snake the Kimballs found last week was about a mile and a half from the trailhead had 10 or 11 rattles.

It was resting and stretched from one side to the trail to the other. 

“He was very docile. He wasn’t moving a bit and seemed to be minding his own business,” Kimball said. “Eventually I guess he thought better of us standing there and he kind of slithered off. You can see him on the video go up over the log and off into the woods.”

Gary Kimball found this four-foot rattlesnake in the parking lot at the trail head at Warner Parks in 2016.

Gary Kimball found this four-foot rattlesnake in the parking lot at the trail head at Warner Parks in 2016. (Photo: Submitted)

The first snake Kimball encountered reacted differently. It curled into a ball and used its rattle to try to chase Kimball and his friend away.

“He wasn’t happy that we were there,” Kimball said. “This one was different.”

Kimball, who is director of Vanderbilt’s undergraduate business program, hikes four to five times each week, covering a total of about 25 miles.

Timber rattlesnakes are found throughout Tennessee. They prefer remote, rocky, wooded slopes where there are few humans and they are seldom disturbed, according to the Tennessee Herpetological Society.

“They’ve got plenty of dense cover and I guess there’s still enough wildlife in the park that they can make a decent living for themselves,” Kimball said.”

► Snakebite: Spring Hill firefighter in intensive care after rattlesnake bite

Reach Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 or on Twitter @MikeOrganWriter. 

Article of the Day 5/20/19: Trouble in My Hometown

Fifty years ago, when I was graduating from the University of North Carolina, my hometown, Greensboro, was in turmoil. I was mostly oblivious to what was going on. Here’s a long article about an important part of US history.

Three days in May: A look back at the 1969 disturbances that rocked a college campus and a city

A portion of the exterior wall of Scott Hall that was shot up during the disturbance. The dorm was torn down in 2004. Portions of the wall are part of a reflecting pool at N.C. A&T in Greensboro, N.C., on Wednesday, May 9, 2019.

  • Khadejeh Nikouyeh/News & Record

Greensboro police stand guard on the edge of the N.C. A&T campus on May 23, 1969. Cooper Hall, an A&T dormitory, stands in the background.

  • News & Record 

GREENSBORO — The 1960s started in the city when four black college students protested racial segregation by sitting down at a whites-only lunch counter.

It ended nine years later when hundreds of N.C. A&T students hid in their dorm rooms and tried not to get shot by the National Guard.

The events of May 21 to May 23, 1969, sparked by a disputed high school government election, rank among the darkest chapters in the city’s history.

Over those three long and bloody days 50 years ago, one student was fatally shot on the A&T campus, and eight other people were wounded by gunfire. Dozens more were hurt by debris hurled in anger and frustration. More than 300 people were arrested. National Guard troops shot up two A&T dorms.

The death of that A&T student, Willie Grimes, remains the city’s oldest unsolved homicide. A journalist writing for a New York newspaper shortly after those events called the National Guard deployment at A&T the largest armed assault ever seen against an American college campus.

Despite dominating the local and national headlines for a brief moment, the events of 1969 seem barely remembered except by those who survived the rocks and bullets.

Fifty years later, here is a look back at those turbulent times.


Greensboro and college campuses across the country were no strangers to protests and violence during the 1960s.

For nearly three weeks in 1963, young black Greensboro residents filled the streets and then the jails to demand the integration of local restaurants, cafeterias and movie theaters. When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated five years later, peaceful marches in Greensboro gave way to gunfire. Police and soldiers used tear gas to flush out snipers hiding in A&T buildings. Six people, including four Greensboro police officers and a National Guardsman, were wounded by bricks or shotgun blasts.

Also in 1968, students at Columbia and Howard universities occupied administration buildings. In February of that year, highway patrol troopers killed three and wounded 27 when they fired into a crowd at South Carolina State University, the historically black school in Orangeburg. Students there had been protesting a local bowling alley that refused to admit black customers.

In early 1969, several A&T students briefly took over the administration building to protest grading practices and their treatment by some professors. A student-supported cafeteria-workers strike that started at UNC-Chapel Hill in February spread to A&T and UNCG in March.

A protest at Duke University served as a template for what was to come at A&T. In 1968, when white students occupied the president’s house and then a campus quad, Duke leaders let the protest go on for eight days.

When black students took over the administration building a year later, police used tear gas to end the protest.

“What that suggests to me is that there was an attitude when dealing with black protesters,” said William Chase, a Duke University historian whose books include an overview of Greensboro during the Civil Rights era. “You didn’t have the same obstacles in front of you as you did with white students.”

May 1969

By May 1969, the spring semester was winding down at A&T, but nearby Dudley High School was nearing a crisis.

Dudley’s administration ran a tight ship, and some students wanted the rules to be loosened. They wanted to wear longer hair and jeans to school. They asked to be able to leave campus for lunch, something that students at other Greensboro high schools could do. They wanted classes on African American history and repairs made to their aging school buildings.

The main student leader was the junior class president, Claude Barnes, a popular athlete and honors student. Off campus, he belonged to Black Power groups and led youth efforts to fight for the rights of black people.

When Barnes decided to run for student body president, the school said no. They saw Barnes as a militant under the thumb of outside forces.

“That wasn’t true, of course,” Barnes, now a retired A&T professor, told the News & Record in 1999. “They (school administrators) believed anyone who wore black belonged to the Black Panther Party. I dressed in black, like a lot of black kids at that time.”

The election was held May 2. The candidate who got 200 votes was declared the winner. Barnes said later that 600 Dudley students wrote his name on their ballots.

After the election results were announced, Barnes and four other Dudley students walked out of the high school in protest and over to A&T. There, they sought help from an A&T junior who had just been elected student body vice president, an Air Force veteran named Nelson Johnson. The summer before, Johnson had started the Greensboro Association of Poor People to help black city residents fight for better housing and jobs and against racial discrimination. Barnes had been the group’s youth leader. 

Later on May 2, Johnson went to Dudley to try to talk with the principal. But events were already starting to spiral out of control. The week after the election, the five students who had left campus were suspended, but later reinstated. Dozens and then hundreds of Dudley students walked out of class. A&T students joined the protest.

The Greensboro school district, meanwhile, sent its public relations director to Dudley to deal with reporters and advise the principal. Black leaders believed the all-white school board didn’t trust the principal of its all-black high school, so it sent in their own man to run things.

Community gatherings, city commissions, secret negotiations — nothing was working.

Johnson and two others were arrested May 13 and charged with interfering with the operations of a public school. Dudley students picketed their school.

On May 19, a Monday, 17 students were arrested and school let out early. The protests continued the next day.

Wednesday, May 21

Dudley High School opened at its usual time Wednesday morning. By 9:30 a.m., some students were picketing the school. Inside, community leaders tried to arrange a meeting so students could air their complaints.

By about 1:30 p.m., the ranks of protesters had grown to more than 100. Police and school officials asked them to leave. Students agreed to if police would withdraw, too. Students left. Officers left.

Fifteen minutes later, students ran back to campus and threw rocks that shattered some school windows. Officers returned in riot gear and with tear gas.

It was chaos.

The Dudley principal closed the school and told students to go home. Several hundred A&T students marched over from their campus. High school and college students threw rock and bottles at police and the school.

Some Dudley students tried to get back into the high school to escape the smoke and the police. Still others ran for home. People who lived near the school complained they couldn’t sit on their front porches because the gas was so thick. A woman fainted and was carried inside a nearby house.

“Talk about brutal,” one woman told the Greensboro Daily News. “Here (the police) come with their guns and their gas and their helmets and their billies. It was brutality if ever I saw it.”

The violence boiled over into the neighborhoods. Black youths threw rocks at police cars and vehicles driven by whites along McConnell Road and East Market Street. A local judge barred 40 people from Dudley’s campus or risk arrest. At least 15 people were reported hurt.

That night, Greensboro Mayor Jack Elam went on TV and declared, “We no longer have good order in our community.” He asked the governor to send in the N.C. National Guard. About 150 soldiers arrived in jeeps and armored vehicles to help police patrol the city.

As fires and shots were reported throughout the city, things were quiet at A&T, the state university of about 4,000 students. About 10 p.m., after a campuswide meeting, some students wandered over to The Block, the stretch of stores that once lined East Market Street near campus, and joined the crowd of other black youth watching the parade of police cars and military vehicles. People threw rocks and bottles. Police responded with tear gas and pepper spray.

There was gunfire police said had come from A&T buildings. Officers shot back. Male students seeking refuge crawled over to the nearby women’s dorms. The college ordered the women’s residence halls to be locked down, so the young men ran and crawled to their dorms on the north side of campus.

Things would only get worse.

Thursday, May 22

Thursday was only about an hour old when Willie Grimes was killed.

Grimes, an A&T sophomore, was fatally shot while walking from campus to a fast-food restaurant on Summit Avenue.

Almost immediately, many students and black city residents blamed Greensboro police for Grimes’ death. Police department leaders said neither their officers nor the National Guard used weapons that fired the single small-caliber bullet that killed Grimes. Students charged that some police officers had brought their own rifles from home.

An FBI agent based in Greensboro blamed Grimes’ death on a stray bullet. A Greensboro police detective told the News & Record in 2006: “It’s like he was a casualty of war.”

No one was arrested, much less tried, in connection with Grimes’ killing. Fifty years later, his death remains the city’s oldest unsolved homicide.

As Grimes lay dead in the hospital, the violence continued. Shooting, rock-throwing and small fires were reported all over the city, but the locus of much of the violence was the A&T campus.

Police said snipers were hiding in several A&T buildings, including W. Kerr Scott Hall, the 1,000-bed fortress of a dorm named for a former N.C. governor whose son was now governor. Police shot back. Officers also arrested nine people overnight for disorderly conduct and carrying concealed weapons.

At a 10 a.m. news conference, the mayor declared a state of emergency in Greensboro. A curfew would start at 8 that night and last until 5 the next morning. The city’s liquor stores would close. All marches and demonstrations would be banned. Anyone caught with weapons or explosives would be arrested.

As the mayor spoke, black youths stopped a linen truck near the A&T campus, dragged the white driver from behind the wheel, turned over the vehicle and set it on fire.

The university held classes as normal Thursday morning. By that afternoon, police had blocked all the roads leading into the college, and parts of the campus were off-limits to students.

About 4 p.m., A&T President Lewis Dowdy closed the school and canceled exams scheduled for the following week “in the interest of the safety of our students and members of the university community.” Dorms and dining halls would remain open until 6 p.m. Friday to give students a chance to pack up and get out without violating the city’s curfew. Dowdy canceled the next week’s exams and all campus activities except for commencement June 1.

The citywide curfew took effect at 8 p.m. In that first hour, police arrested eight people — seven blacks, one white — for violating that curfew.

On campus, it was a stalemate. Police ringed the campus. Students slept under their beds as they waited to go home. And shots rang out all over.

Friday, May 23

The worst was yet to come.

Around 1 a.m., five Greensboro police officers patrolling a dead-end street near campus were hit by pistol bullets and shotgun pellets. The wounded officers were pinned down by gunfire for about 10 minutes before two armored troop carriers could arrive. An A&T student was wounded in the exchange of gunfire.    SKIP AD

Police called it an ambush. No one was arrested or charged in this assault.

As the sun rose, police retreated from campus and A&T students emerged from their dorms to get breakfast. A dining hall TV reported that National Guard soldiers were awaiting orders somewhere near campus.

Jessie James Jr., an A&T senior, knew those reports weren’t true. Outside the dining hall, he and other students watched as many of the 650 National Guard soldiers now in Greensboro marched down Bluford Street and past the Holland Bowl. A machine gunner took aim at Scott Hall.

“We were watching out the window, and there they were,” James, now a Virginia attorney, recalled earlier this month. “And they were shooting.”

Bullets thudded into the western wall of Scott Hall. As windows shattered, students dropped to the floor to avoid getting hit. A helicopter and airplane flying overhead dropped smoke and tear gas.

Ronald Harris, another A&T senior, remembers that soldiers held him and other students at gunpoint outside Brown Hall.

“I heard one of them say, ‘If anybody in this crowd moves a muscle, level them’ — that’s the word they used,” said Harris, a retired Atlanta school principal, said this month. “I’m lucky to be alive.”

At 6:45 a.m., the National Guard ordered students to leave both Scott and nearby Cooper Hall. Fifteen minutes later, soldiers started to clear the dorms, hall by hall, room by room.

Royall Mack, a senior and baseball team captain, told the News & Record in 2004 that after 20 minutes of gunfire, he remembers hearing the slap of boots on the tiled hall floors and soldiers shouting, “Stay down! Stay down!”

Soldiers in gas masks kicked in some doors and shot the locks off of others. Students emerged with their hands up, crying and vomiting from fear and gas. Soldiers looking for weapons turned over mattresses and broke open the students’ trunks, packed and locked for the trip home. It took the National Guard about four hours to clear out both dorms.

The only injury that day was to a National Guard sergeant, shot in the arm as he frisked a student. Police loaded about 300 students into prison buses to take them downtown for fingerprinting. Later that afternoon, they were all set free. The same buses brought students back to campus so they could go home.

That night, the military action at A&T made the national news. TV cameras caught Army trucks and armored vehicles rolling through Greensboro, soldiers with helmets and rifles charging across the A&T campus and students being frisked outside their dorms. An NBC reporter called it an “invasion.”

The next morning, the curfew and state of emergency were lifted, and the National Guard began to leave town. “Good order,” Mayor Jack Elam declared, “has been restored in our city.”

The shooting had ended. The shouting would continue.


Three days of violence came with a heavy toll. One A&T student was dead, and eight others — two students, five police officers and a National Guard soldier — had been wounded by gunfire. Rocks, bricks and bottles had hurt dozens more and damaged vehicles and buildings throughout Greensboro.

The A&T campus was in shambles. There were at least 50 bullet holes in the western wall of Scott Hall. Those holes remained until A&T razed the dorm in 2004.

Inside Scott and Cooper halls, furniture had been turned over, and clothing, books, radios and other belongings were scattered and damaged. Many rooms were covered in broken glass and a fine plaster dust. There were bullet holes in the windows, bullet holes in the doors, bullet holes in the windows. The entire campus stank of tear gas.

Students complained of missing belongings — money, watches, radios, class rings. (The National Guard commander denied that his soldiers looted the dorms.) A&T estimated the damage to its dorms at nearly $57,000 — almost $400,000 today.

To this day, it’s unclear who shot at authorities and with what.

Police said they found booby traps — bottles full of acid dangling from trees around campus — and seized about 10 rifles from Scott Hall. But only three of those guns actually worked. The rest had lead plugs in their barrels and appeared to be replicas used by student ROTC members in drills and parades. An informant had told police that students had stockpiled handguns, rifles and ammunition in Scott Hall. Rumors persist that before the National Guard assault, this arsenal was smuggled from the dorms through the steam tunnels that run underneath campus.

City leaders described the shooters as “snipers” and “militant students.” A documentary film and other witnesses tell how black Vietnam veterans — trained, armed and radicalized by their wartime experience — shot back at police and National Guard troops because they believed they were defending their campus from white authorities. Some of these former soldiers were A&T students. Others were veterans who came to campus to help. No one was ever charged with shooting at police or soldiers.

The finger-pointing continued long after the gunfire stopped.

On May 23, Gov. Robert Scott said the use of force was justified: “This was not a case of overreaction,” the governor told reporters in Greensboro. “Anytime you have officers wounded … you must face up to the responsibility to use the facilities at your command.”

Chafe, the Duke historian in his book “Civilities and Civil Rights,” called the armed assault of campus an overreaction. The official actions over these three days in May, he wrote, “all suggest the absence of a sense of balance.”

A&T held commencement on June 1 as scheduled in Moore Gymnasium on campus. The local newspapers reported that there were “a record 530 graduates.” But many of the graduating class didn’t return to campus once they left early the month before.

The next month, Greensboro’s police chief, A&T’s president and two others testified in Washington, D.C., before a Congressional subcommittee that was looking into campus disturbances. In 20 pages of testimony, the police chief held responsible lots of people — militants, Black Panthers, Nelson Johnson and especially outsiders for May’s racial unrest.

A short report compiled in 1970 for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights also ladled out plenty of blame: on public school officials who didn’t take seriously the concerns of Dudley students; on white city and school officials who made key decisions without consulting the black leaders at both Dudley and A&T; on the city’s traditional black leadership for doing little to influence events; on police and the National Guard for using too much force and way too much tear gas.

“It is difficult to justify the lawlessness and the disorder in which this operation was executed,” the report said about the National Guard’s assault on A&T.

A decade later, former mayor Jack Elam called the committee’s report a “joke.”

Only two people were convicted of crimes related to the events of May 1969. One was Nelson Johnson, now a local minister and longtime community and civil rights leader. Johnson and another Greensboro man were sentenced to six months in prison for disrupting classes at Dudley High School. They served about a month in 1971 before Gov. Robert Scott commuted their sentences.

Fifty years later, Johnson sees May 1969 as the result of years of frustration. All of black Greensboro — its colleges, its churches, its businesses, its residents, the NAACP — was working together to fight segregation and oppression in the waning days of the Jim Crow South. White Greensboro, Johnson said — by denying Claude Barnes his presidency and sending in the police and National Guard — struck back at that unified front.

“I think to tell the truth about this story is to indict the culture that produced it,” Johnson said last week. “It was a revolt against the domination undergirded by white supremacy.”

May 2019

Fifty years later, only a few people seem to know the whole story of what happened on May 1969. But that might be changing.

Soon after Dudley and A&T returned to what passed for normal in 1969, other events grabbed the headlines. A year later, National Guardsmen killed four college students when they fired into an anti-war protest at Kent State University in Ohio. And Greensboro residents turned their attention to the complicated business of desegregating the city’s public schools.

The A&T students who lived through those three turbulent days remember those events vividly. But current and recent A&T students, meanwhile, seem to know little about those days.

Filmmaker Michael Anthony said he knew nothing of the story until he happened upon someone cleaning a campus marker dedicated to Willie Grimes. That chance encounter spurred Anthony, an A&T alum, to put together a documentary, “Walls That Bleed,” about the events of May 1969.

There are only a couple of clues on the A&T campus as to what happened there in 1969. One is the Grimes monument that now stands near a memorial to Aggies killed in foreign wars. It lists the date of Grimes’ death and says only that his “life was taken while struggling for true freedom.”

The other is a portion of the bullet wall, preserved when Scott Hall was torn down in 2004 and replaced by a more modern dorm complex. Four bullet-scarred sections of that brick wall now stand sentinel on each corner of a reflection pool at the former site of Scott Hall. A plaque on each monolith gives a short history of A&T. One of those plaques mentions riots, Grimes’ death and the National Guard.

“The bullet holes, still lodged in the walls,” it reads in part, “are a piercing reminder of those turbulent times.”

At commencement every year, A&T celebrates the class that graduated 50 years earlier. This year’s honorees were the class of 1969, many of whom missed out on their commencement.

For this class, A&T produced and played a 5-minute video at commencement that told the story of that unforgettable spring of 50 years ago. In that short film, three members of the class of 1969 shared their memories of bullets, tear gas and terror.

“We certainly cannot turn back the hands of time. We cannot unshoot the bullet that carried (away) Willie Grimes’ life,” Chancellor Harold Martin told the commencement audience after the film played.

“We cannot undo the terror of our students, faculty and staff and what they felt as armed National Guardsmen swarmed campus and opened fire on Scott Hall, or undo the … detention of 300 A&T students who spent that day in jails and prisons.

“What we can do — what is our honor to do today — is to celebrate the students who persevered through that period of chaos and violence. What we can do is recognize the productive, successful lives that so many went on to live. …

“What we can do is recognize the injustice that so many of them suffered in 1969 and not being able to have a proper graduation to celebrate their academic accomplishments.”

More than 100 members of the class of 1969 shared the arena floor of the Greensboro Coliseum with this year’s graduates. As the audience clapped and cheered, the 1969 graduates stood tall and waved — “brave men and women,” Martin said, “who faced down injustice at a cost to each of them.”

A&T May 1969 National Guard

A&T student hands up

A&T May 1969 Scott Hall

A&T National Guard Cooper Hall

A&T May 1969 students outside

A&T May 1969 National Guard

A&T National Guard on campus

A&T May 1969 student in dorm

A&T May 1969 students detained

A&T May 1969 National Guard

A&T May 1969 Scott Hall

A&T May 1969 Scott Hall

A&T May 1969 Greensboro police

NC A&T 1969 graduation

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Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.​

Profile: Willie Grimes, 1949-1969

Profile: Willie Grimes, 1949-1969

The N.C. A&T sophomore was the lone fatality during the three days of violence in Greensboro in May 1969.


A glance at the sources used to produce this story:

• Newspaper accounts from May 1969 and thereafter in the Greensboro Daily News and the Greensboro Record, plus News & Record stories about Claude Barnes (1999), the Scott Hall dormitory (2004) and Willie Grimes (2006)

• “Trouble in Greensboro: A Report of an Open Meeting Concerning the Disturbances at Dudley High School and North Carolina A&T State University,” by the North Carolina State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights (1970)

• “Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina and the Black Struggle for Freedom,” by William H. Chafe (1980)

• “Walls that Bleed: The Story of the Dudley/A&T Uprising,” a documentary film directed by Michael Anthony (2008; revised in 2012)

• “The Black Revolution on Campus,” by Martha Biondi (2012)

• Interviews by News & Record staff writer John Newsom in April and May 2019

More online

See related video with the digital version of this article at

Articles of the Day 5/19/2019: Two articles about War–trails in the US and in Vietnam

What is our responsibility to those who serve in the military?

  1. For those who serve in war, it is likely that there lives are changed forever. Are we committed to helping them for the rest of their lives?
  2. Since the conseqences of war are so severe, should war always be a “last resort” ?
  3. Which is more “patriotic,”: a. to support the leadership of our country no matter what (My country right or wrong!); or b. to question our leadership to insure that our troops are not used incorrectly?

After 3 tours in Iraq, Appalachian Trail victim Ronnie Sanchez had set out to ‘find peace’ through nature

Tom Jackman

The physical injuries kept Ronnie Sanchez Jr. from moving as fast as he wanted on the Appalachian Trail, but it was the unseen wounds that almost made him quit.

After 16 years in the Army and three tours in Iraq as a combat engineer, it took the 43-year-old veteran years to emerge from a cloud of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder that had kept him locked up in his house in Oklahoma City and avoiding other people. 

But he did it, little by little, slow and determined, by rediscovering his love of the outdoors. He biked. He raced dragon boats. He learned how to ride horses. And in February, Sanchez decided to take on another challenge in a life full of them.

He would attempt a “thru-hike” of the Appalachian Trail — all 2,192 miles from Georgia to Maine — beginning the journey earlier than most because his pace would be slow. Of the 5,000 hikers who would register this season, Sanchez was No. 21 on the list. Partway in, problems with his knees and shoulders — the subject of repeated surgeries after years in the military — forced him off the trail for weeks. “We need a global, mobilized effort to understand where different species are and what’s happening with them.”  Read More 

“If you get discouraged, it’s hard to come back from that,” said hostel owner Colin Gooder, who persuaded Sanchez to take a break and work for him at his North Carolina shelter — a rest that gave Sanchez the strength to continue hiking.

Sanchez adopted the trail name “Stronghold.” And by early May, he had made it to southwestern Virginia — 545 miles into his odyssey.

Then, sometime early on the morning of May 11, a man who had frightened others along the trail with his erratic behavior allegedly invaded the camp that Sanchez and three others had set up in Wythe County. The man threatened to burn the hikers’ tents, and they decided to leave, the FBI said. But as they tried to leave the campsite, the man confronted the group with a long knife, and eventually stabbed two of them, killing Sanchez.

[Alleged Appalachian Trail attacked James L. Jordan threatened to burn hikers to death, FBI says]

The suspect, James Louis Jordan, 30, of Yarmouth, Mass., was charged with murder and assault, and ordered held for a psychiatric evaluation. Sanchez’s family, friends and the hiking community were left mourning.

“His heart was really big,” said Sanchez’s ex-wife, Elizabeth Sanchez, who said she had remained good friends with him even after their separation. “He would help anybody. He was excited to get to Maine.

“It’s so devastating he died like this,” Sanchez said, “after all those deployments.”

Ronnie Sanchez Jr. (Courtesy of Colin Gooder)

Ronald Sanchez Jr. was born and raised in Garden Grove, Calif., near Anaheim, along with three brothers and one sister, his ex-wife said. He graduated from Santiago High School in 1994 and entered the Army in April 1995, Army records show. He deployed to Iraq in 2003, 2005 and 2007, the Army said, and left the service in 2011. In Iraq, he worked on bridges and construction projects and was also tasked with driving top commanders around the country, Elizabeth Sanchez said.

After he left the Army, he lived in Missouri and fell into a deep depression. His ex-wife said he spent his days sleeping and his nights watching television and playing video games. Sanchez told the Oklahoman last year that he rarely went outside and did so only late at night to avoid being around people. “I sat around and ate junk food,” he said.

But Veterans Affairs suggested that he should move to Oklahoma City, where VA administers many recreation programs for recovering vets. He began cycling, and he told the Oklahoman, “These programs at the VA just kind of opened it up for me.” He had just finished a 64-mile ride, and Elizabeth Sanchez said he also had become involved with dragon boats, in addition to the hiking he had always done with his family and his ex-wife.

Elizabeth Sanchez said that in addition to hiking the Appalachian Trail, “he really wanted to ride a bike across the U.S., to raise veteran awareness. It meant a lot to him to help veterans.”

Gooder, owner of the Gooder Grove Adventure Hostel, said he was surprised by the number of veterans he’d encounter on the trail.

“When I first started operating a hostel, there were a number of veterans that came through that were trying to heal wounds,” he said. “The trail helps them heal. Nature deserves all the credit for that.”

Sanchez was no exception. The pain was intense when he first came to the hostel, and he was not sure he could continue. But Gooder said he wouldn’t let Sanchez give up. He offered Sanchez a place to stay in exchange for helping him run the place for a few weeks.

The hostel had only three rules: “Be kind. Be kind of clean and just be,” he said.

Sanchez helped Gooder turn over rooms. He said Sanchez took meditative walks to test his legs as he recovered. Gooder taught him some tai chi techniques he had learned to help him align his knees correctly when he hiked. But there were other problems that required more time.

“He was looking to find peace because he had what we call the ‘monkey mind’ in tai chi,” Gooder said. “He couldn’t shut his brain off and the memories kept coming through.”

After a time fortifying his mind and body, Sanchez set out again. 

They spoke for only a few minutes, but hiker Dawn Maxwell won’t soon forget her passing encounter with the veteran. It was Feb. 25, and Stronghold was pushing north. His build and gait signaled to Maxwell that he was ex-military. The braces on his knees told her he was suffering. And a soft smile beneath the black scruff of his mustache telegraphed the contentment of a man who had overcome.

The Appalachian Trail, near the scene of the fatal attack that happened on May 11, 2019. (Appalachian Trail Conservancy)

On that sunny, unseasonably warm winter day, he was the only person on the trail. Maxwell, a Chicago attorney known as Tinkerbell on the trail, was headed south. Sanchez was going in the other direction. When he saw her, the Army veteran moved to the side to let her pass and she stopped to talk.

“He was just a real gentleman,” Maxwell said. “I had a 15- to 20-minute conversation, and I just remember thinking it was a beautiful day and I was having the most pleasant conversation with this man.”

Sanchez confessed he was in pain. They talked about the terrain, the weather, what to expect next on the trail and shuttles he could catch to a hostel. It occurred to Maxwell to connect him to another hiker and soldier also suffering from PTSD.

“It happens all the time on the trail,” Maxwell said. “People really open up to other hikers. People get lonely out there. And I’m a real talker, and he was very open.”

Other hikers who met Sanchez along the trail were effusive in describing his compassion and kindness. They posted their remembrances on the Hiker Yearbook Facebook page, echoing memories of a man who they imagine tried to protect those around him when the group was ambushed.

“If God had asked for someone to raise their hand to volunteer and save everyone else on the trail from being hurt or killed, Ron would’ve been the guy to raise his hand,” Gooder said. “It almost makes sense that it was him. He was that selfless.”

Elizabeth Sanchez said her ex-husband was an experienced camper and calm in dangerous situations. During one trip in California, a bear wandered into their campsite, taking food and making eye contact with him. It then turned and walked away.

“He was really cautious,” she said, noting that he carried a knife but never a gun on the trail. “He felt safe out there.”

Elizabeth Sanchez said she believed the woman who was also stabbed during the incident, who survived, was a recent acquaintance who had just met Sanchez. Canadian media have described her as being from Nova Scotia.

“You can’t help but try to picture it,” she said. “I just picture him telling the guy, ‘Get out of here, just leave us alone.’ ”

The FBI said in an affidavit that Sanchez, an unidentified woman and another man and woman were in the process of packing up their campsite to escape the threatening hiker when he attacked. The man and woman fled into the woods, and the man chased them but did not catch them, the affidavit said. Then the man returned to the campsite and repeatedly stabbed Sanchez while the unidentified woman fled, the FBI alleged. 

The attacker then tracked down the woman and stabbed her until she lay down and pretended to be dead, authorities said. She then fled into a neighboring county.

Local authorities said Sanchez had managed to send an SOS signal from his phone. But when sheriff’s deputies found him he was dead, with a 20-inch knife near his body. A short distance away, they found Jordan in bloody clothes.

The traumatized trail community — or the “AT tramily” — plans to gather this weekend to honor Stronghold in a vigil that will bring hundreds of hikers to Damascus, Va., for the annual Appalachian Trail Days Festival. 

Matthew “Odie” Norman is a trail angel — someone who helps hikers along their way — who met the suspect in early May, gave him a ride and bought him a bus ticket to get him away from the trail. On May 15, Norman posted a black-and-white photo on his well-read “Hiker Yearbook” page of three pairs of feet he said belonged to the survivors of the attack: “They are all doing well, a little broken, but no where near defeated.”

When tragedy strikes the Appalachian Trail, it is tradition for fellow hikers to find ways to continue the journey for those who can no longer walk. Sometimes, they carry a photo of their comrade. Sometimes they take a piece of gear to the peak of a mountain as a memorial. But there is only one true way to honor an Appalachian Trail hiker, they say.

Finish the trail.

Climbing Hamburger Hill 50 years after the Vietnam War’s brutal, haunting battle

Paul Schemm

DONG AP BIA, Vietnam — We climbed the worn stairs heading steeply up the mountain into the heavy jungle. They looked like the way to some forgotten temple complex a thousand years old but had actually been built just 10 years ago to ease the ascent to Dong Ap Bia, the Crouching Beast, Hill 937 — Hamburger Hill.

It is one of the most famous battles of the long Vietnam War. It inspired a movie and congressional hearings, symbolizing for some the incredible bravery of the American infantry in Vietnam and for others the futility and waste of the war.

We weren’t climbing those stairs to settle that question, though we had others. Where exactly on this hill had the battle been fought all those years ago? On May 10, 1969, the U.S. Army’s most decorated unit, the 3rd Battalion of the 187th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, known as the Rakkasans, spent 10 days taking this hill against a deeply entrenched enemy. Every year the veterans mark the anniversary of the battle in Fort Campbell, Ky., and this year it’s the 50th.

The approach from the east side of the hill was the easy way up. This terrain didn’t play much of a role in the battle; instead, accounts of the war describe most of the 10 days of brutal combat taking place on ridges to the north and west of the hill.

The stairs were still pretty arduous, but my companion Jonas Thorsell and I had been living in the high altitudes of Ethiopia for the past few years and powered up the slope, leaving behind our guide, Van Vu, as he stopped to suck down local cigarettes.

Thorsell, a 49-year-old Swedish entrepreneur now in the electric scooter business, used to live in Vietnam and became fascinated by the old bases and battlefields of the war. He began blogging about them on his website, giving tips to those interested in returning to visit. His work has increasingly put him in touch with veterans seeking news of their former haunts, and for the 50th anniversary, he was producing a video for the Rakkasans showing the actual location of their assaults up the hill for the first time.

“It is a rediscovery, it is a journey to remember our friends who did not come home,” wrote Mike Smith, 70, who was a private first class with Delta Company’s 2nd Platoon. “No one has been able to provide the time and dedication to understand the scope and conditions of the battle in which it was waged, then find it, without Jonas.”

I’d grown up in a military family myself and was raised on such 1980s films as “Platoon,” “Full Metal Jacket” and, embarrassingly, “Rambo,” so I had long wanted to climb the hill myself.

For the past 20 years, veterans have been coming back to Vietnam to rediscover the places where they lived and fought so long ago. Our guide Vu has gained an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the many bases in this area between Hue and the Laotian border.

[A Vietnam War photographer captured the bloody Tet offensive. Fifty years later, he bears witness again.]

“For most of your vets, they are really emotional when revisiting the sites where they were stationed and operated,” he said, adding that some were still bitter about the war after all these years.

He said his country’s veterans are proud of their struggle and suffering, too, but that most young Vietnamese aren’t particularly interested in hearing about their sacrifices. “They are looking forward to the future and making money.”

For all his knowledge, though, Vu was also unfamiliar with the actual site of the fighting on the hill and followed our rough maps cobbled together from satellite images, veteran memories and after-action reports.

The triple canopy jungle above us was peaceful as we trudged up the stairs. The air was filled with the chirping of birds and crickets, and snakes slithered out of our way as we walked past — a far cry from the wall of sound described by the veterans of the battle.

Near the summit is a memorial in Vietnamese and English erected around the same time as the steps. In the heavy, propaganda-rich language of Vietnamese officialdom, it describes the battle as a victory for the North Vietnamese in “the resistance war against America” and how this place became an “obsession” for U.S. forces.

‘Fear and agony’

The battle for Hill 937 was kind of a high-water mark of U.S. operations in Vietnam. At the time, there were more than 500,000 U.S. troops on the ground, and this was a rare moment when the North Vietnamese forces stood and fought. By the end of the year, President Richard Nixon began his drawdown of troops, and there was a shift in emphasis to getting South Vietnamese troops ready to bear the brunt of the fighting.

In this operation, however, some 2,000 U.S. troops sought to remove the infiltration routes of enemy troops and materiel from Laos into South Vietnam around the key city of Hue and the massive air base of Danang farther south.

[This brave ex-chaplain is still haunted by the Vietnam War’s most desperate siege]

The Tet Offensive the year before had been particularly hard-fought around Hue, and the North Vietnamese had moved their forces from Laos into Vietnam through the A Shau Valley. The Hamburger Hill battle, part of Operation Apache Snow, was designed to wrest the valley back from the North Vietnamese, who had held it ever since a Special Forces camp in the valley was overrun in 1966.

Most people stop at the memorial, but we kept going up to the summit, where the tall trees were replaced by six-foot-high, razor-sharp elephant grass, and the temperature soared as the sun beat down on us without the protection of the tree canopy.

From there, we worked our way back down the mountain, trying to figure the paths of the American assault in reverse.

We discovered trails that led off the summit onto ridges that plunged down the hill. This was where it happened 50 years ago. These were the routes the American soldiers charged up into the teeth of an entrenched enemy protected by layers of mines and massive log bunkers that were impervious to airstrikes.

There’s little evidence left of that awful violence from half a century ago — a torn bit of fabric from an army poncho liner, holes dug around boulders that could have been fighting positions. Vu noted that in the lean years after the war, many Vietnamese dug through the old battle sites looking for scrap metal to sell. His toys growing up were old bits of war materiel.

In his granular recounting of the battle, a book titled “The Crouching Beast,” Lt. Frank Boccia, who commanded Bravo Company’s 1st Platoon, described how his company was sent up the hill on a routine reconnaissance patrol with a vague mission to look for supply dumps, then ran into an ambush in a clearing.

“Hollow booms — claymores: two dull, flat slams — RPG. AK-47, like a stabbing icicle, the sounds registered. And then a vicious, mind-freezing deep thumping, a pounding, crushing sound I’d never heard before but recognized instantly: .51 caliber machine gun. . . . Then the screaming started. Yells for help, or a medic, and inarticulate screams of fear and agony.”

The men of 4th Platoon were hit by the massed fire from several bunkers and cut to pieces. Meanwhile the men of Charlie and Delta companies, making their own way up the hill, also were thrown back — a strange moment for the Americans who weren’t used to the enemy standing and fighting.

“We began to wonder about what kind of place this was and why they were defending it,” recalled Dennis Helms, now 70, the radio man for Bravo Company’s 1st platoon. “Over the course of the battle, we made a number of assaults up the hill, and we would come back down each time because we had limited space to move in, and it seemed as if all their weapons were trained on the clearing, and we just couldn’t seem to get past that,” he said in an audio recording of his recollections.

“Every assault was a somewhat different scene but had the same outcome. It just depended on where they wanted to hit us when we first came in the clearing or got past the clearing,” Helms added. “The noise level was also so unbearable.”

[The men killed on a single, bloody day in Vietnam, and the haunting wall that memorializes them]

Documents found on dead Vietnamese soldiers later revealed that the U.S. troops had stumbled upon North Vietnam’s 1,000-man 29th Regiment, known as the “Pride of Ho Chi Minh.”

For days they were sent back up that hill, each time thrown back — sometimes by the Vietnamese heavy machine guns, sometimes by the mines they sowed into the slopes and twice even by friendly fire, first when a fighter jet dropped a bomb too close and the second time after an attack helicopter accidentally rocketed their company headquarters.

“That broke our back that day,” Helms said. “The battle was bad enough, but having our own gunship fire us up was a hard pill to swallow — it was very demoralizing.”

Over the course of the fight, the U.S. troops faced counterattacks, called in airstrikes and tried to evacuate their wounded even as several of their helicopters were shot down. Through it all the enemy held their ground, even as nearly every bit of vegetation in the dense jungle on the summit was leveled.

Then on the 18th, yet another assault was defeated, this time by heavy rain.

“It rained hard, hard, hard. It was just a big mud bowl. You’d take a step forward and slide down four feet,” recalled Robert Harkins, now 75, then a captain and leader of Alpha Company. “There wasn’t a lot to grab on to. Most of the vegetation was gone by this time. We lost the support of all our helicopters because of the weather.”

On May 20, the much-mangled 3/187 Battalion, with help from other units, finally took the hill and mounted the summit, which by this time was a scene of near moon-like devastation.

About 70 U.S. soldiers died, and many more were wounded, with the 3/187 experiencing casualty rates of more than 50 percent in three of its four companies. Platoon leaders, the junior officers who charged into the fray with their men, were particularly hard hit. Only four out of a total of 14 made it through the battle relatively unscathed.

The U.S. troops didn’t stay long, and the hill was soon abandoned, an outcome that became the focus of congressional hearings featuring Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who called the battle “senseless and irresponsible.”

The 1987 film “Hamburger Hill,” in particular, struck an antiwar note that has long bothered the veterans, along with its historical inaccuracies.

“Had we faced the terrain shown in the movie, we’d have won the first day,” Boccia remarked bitterly once to Thorsell. “You’d think they’d have gotten something right by accident.”

“No girls, no hot tubs, no trucks. The movie was crap and did not relate to a real 3/187th soldier in the A Shau Valley that I experienced,” Smith agreed in an email.

For those who fought in it, the battle wasn’t about holding ground but about taking back control of a supply route that had been in the hands of the enemy for years.

“I believe we did what we were sent to do. We were to open up the valley; we opened up the valley. We were to kill the NVA; we killed as many of the NVA as we could. The hill had no tactical or strategic purpose other than the NVA were on the hill,” Harkins recalled. More than 600 North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers are estimated to have died in the fight.

‘Unselfish acts of bravery’

The central valley remained clear of North Vietnamese for several months afterward, until the United States began drawing down its forces.

Smith, one of the veterans, said he recalls his time in Vietnam every day. For him, what made the battle such a definitive moment were “the unselfish acts of bravery exhibited by so many soldiers, not to earn any awards but to take care of each other, help each other survive, and still continue the battle. “

Thorsell, Vu and I finally made our way back up the steep trail to the summit that took the Rakkasans 10 days to seize, and then we slowly made our way back down those worn steps off the mountain, our legs rubbery from the long day of climbing.

As we stepped back into our car, a small party of Montagnard tribesmen, the indigenous people of Vietnam’s Central Highlands, came down the mountain behind us. They had probably been trapping small animals in the forest, Vu explained.

Fifty years after the battle, Hamburger Hill, now at peace, belongs to them.

Articles of the Day 5/18/19

Actually these are two Articles of the Day, but they are related. The first is about abortion and the second is about the death penalty. These topics should be enough to get our blood boiling. More importantly, are the topics important enough to get us thinking seriously? One thing I like about the first article is that includes come factual data that is informative.

If you want to see the Cartoon of the Day, click on the BLOG button at the top of the page.


  1. Who should have a voice in the debate? Are women’s voices more important than men’s?
  2. Are the two issues related?
  3. How do you make up your mind about your point of view on these issues–emotion, political point of view, theological point of view, other?

Should men have a say in abortion debate?

10 Alabama Republican State Senators

Most of the US state laws banning or severely restricting access to abortions have been voted on by male politicians. Should men have the right to rule on an issue that impacts women so intimately?

The corridors leading up to the Alabama Senate are lined with black-and-white photographs of past legislative sessions – each framed poster like a yearbook page from a distinctly male-only school. 

But inside the dim public gallery, looking down onto the Senate floor, many of the seats are filled by women. They are young and old, some in suits and some in bright shirts with pro-choice slogans emblazoned across the front. 

They watch the drama play out in the chamber below, as a handful of Democrats and an even smaller number of women make clear their outrage over the abortion ban that will pass in just a few hours, and in a day, will become law.

The activists next to me in the gallery laugh and gasp with each argument and reply. Some shout an ‘Amen!’ in agreement as the debate continues. 

When a female lawmaker steps up to the microphone, she says: We do not police men’s bodies the way we police women’s – and this decision about an issue concerning women so intimately is being made almost entirely by men. 

Though women make up 51% of Alabama’s population, its lawmakers are 85% male. There are only four women in the 35-seat Alabama Senate, and they are all Democrats. 

A new law in Alabama makes abortion illegal in almost all cases

Outside the stark white walls of the State House on Tuesday night, however, women were in the majority. Groups of pro-choice supporters chanted for hours in the courtyard, holding signs calling for abortion freedoms, for women alone to decide what happens to their own bodies.

Delaney Burlingame, one of the young pro-choice activists I met there, told me: “These people don’t care about protecting human rights. It’s about controlling women.”

“They just want to be able to say: ‘I control what happens in your body’.”

Short presentational grey line

So, should men be involved in this debate at all?

Alabama’s abortion ban – one of several in a Trump-era surge in anti-abortion legislation – has reignited the debate around another key question: Should men be involved in this battle at all?

Internet forums like Reddit and social platforms like Twitter and Facebook are saturated with arguments for both sides. Yes – these laws affect everyone, including men. No – only women get pregnant, so why should we let men decide?

Travis Jackson was one of the few men who joined in the protests outside of the Montgomery capitol building, donning a shirt that read: real men support women’s rights.

Travis, a pro-choice activist, protests in Alabama

But Mr Jackson would not offer his own opinion on abortion, exactly, saying instead he prefers to stay silent on the specifics since “women are the only experts when it comes to their bodies”.

“When it comes to the abortion debate, I think men should say it is a woman’s right to choose,” he explains. 

“That is their body, that is their choice, and that is their business. No man whatsoever has a right to tell a woman what’s right for their body.”

Jordan Kizer is against abortion but says he thinks Mr Jackson’s decision is “honourable”, and that men should “share their privilege”.

“Believe women, trust women. If they’re telling you they feel a certain way or that this is their experience, you [as a man] don’t get to say no, it’s not,” he says.

Mr Kizer is a part of the New Wave Feminists group in Austin, Texas, that seeks to promote women’s rights as a means of making abortion eventually “unthinkable and unnecessary”.

“I think a woman should absolutely have a say over her body, I just draw the line between her body and this different body that’s inside of her body,” he says. “I know that’s kind of a tricky distinction to make for some.”

On the other side of the debate, Oren Jacobson, a founder of the Men4Choice advocacy group, also believes the issue affects everyone – but that male allies should fight for women to have the freedom to make whatever decision they choose.

“Too many pro-choice men think this is just a ‘women’s issue’ and it’s not their place. This is an issue that impacts all of us, and will require all of us to engage if we want to create a society where all are free to pursue the life they envision for themselves and their family.”

Mr Jacobson tells me the issue really isn’t about abortion, but freedom and control.

“No person can be free if they don’t control their own body, their own healthcare, and their own reproductive decisions. The role of men is to advocate for the basic freedom and dignity of all people.”

Dina had to give birth to her rapist’s child – under Alabama’s abortion ban women would have no choice

Anti-abortion activists, however, argue that placing the burden of choice entirely on a woman alienates men and allows them to shirk the responsibilities of fatherhood. 

Derrick Jones, communications director for the oldest US anti-abortion group, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), told me men should be involved in the discussions because “statistically speaking, half of the children aborted every year are male”.

“To say that this is wholly a woman’s issue misses the point of it being much larger than that. It’s a human rights issue. To say, you’re a man, you’re not carrying this child, to dismiss the idea that men can have an opinion on human rights is insulting.”

Mr Jones adds that there should “absolutely” be more female representation when it comes to legislative bodies like Alabama’s, but notes that many of the anti-abortion movement’s leaders are women.

Short presentational grey line

Women are just as divided about men

Carol Clark was one of the first protesters to show up in front of the state house in Montgomery, and she stayed into the night, right until the bill passed the Senate. 

“Let a woman choose what she’s going to do with her body,” she told me, voice cracking with emotion. “It’s not his body. It’s her body.”

That view is echoed by most of the women I spoke with at the protests in Alabama; that women should dictate abortion laws because women must carry the baby, must deal with the social and medical repercussions of pregnancy and having a child.

“Abortion is not OK” – women in Alabama react to the bill passed there

But on the streets of downtown Montgomery – and many other US states with conservative leanings – there are many women against granting that choice.

Some are nuanced – like a mother who could only say she was against abortion but that it was “complicated” – but others are just as hard-line as some Republican lawmakers – like two young women who told me abortion should be banned even in cases involving rape, incest or the health of the mother.

Catherine Coyle, a psychologist and an advocate for men’s health and rights, says that giving women “unilateral power in abortion decisions is inconsistent with the notion of equality between the sexes”.

“As equal citizens [men] should surely have a right to voice their opinions on the topic of abortion,” Ms Coyle says. “As co-creators of life, they should be acknowledged as having a legitimate interest in the protection of that life.”

Short presentational grey line

Where do most Americans stand?

For all the debate, the views across the country on abortion are largely the same even along gender lines. 

According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, 60% of women say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 57% of men in agreement.

Around 60% of black and white Americans polled were also in support of legal abortion in most cases, though the support was lower among Hispanic Americans at 49%.

But along pro-choice or anti-abortion lines, a 2018 poll from Gallup found the country split evenly. Even among women, 48% identified as pro-choice and 47% as anti-abortion.

Gallup also reported that though around “eight in 10 Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or some circumstances, further probing of their attitudes finds the public favouring more restrictive rather than less restrictive laws”.

Short presentational grey line

Are men really making these laws?

It is true that in states with more conservative abortion laws, men make up a greater percentage of the legislative houses. 

In Alabama, though the governor who signed the abortion bill into law is a woman, The Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) still ranks Alabama as 47 out of 50 in terms of female representation in the legislature. 

And while women saw major gains in holding public office during the 2018 mid-term elections, the vast majority of those new female lawmakers were Democrats who support pro-choice laws.

A Washington Post analysis of the state legislative houses in Alabama, Missouri and Georgia found that out of 367 in favour votes on abortion bans, seven out of eight votes were from men – and mostly Republican men. Of the total 154 votes against in the chambers, over half were from women, though most women lawmakers even at the state level are Democrats. 

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signing the anti-abortion bill into law

In the four states that passed six-week abortion bans – “heartbeat bills” – this year, women make up an average of 23% of the state legislature, according to CAWP. Mississippi is the lowest of that group and the nation, with women holding just over 13% of seats.

Even so, anti-abortion activists are quick to point out that Alabama’s ban was sponsored by state congresswoman Terri Collins and signed into law by one of the nation’s few female governors, Kay Ivey. 

Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of New Wave Feminists, adds: “The irony is that it was older white men that gave us Roe [vs Wade] in the first place.”

“We tend to pick and choose which older white men we want to agree with. You have to get beyond that and realise that a lot of the people in this [anti-abortion] movement are very diverse, and we are females.”

Alabama Executes a Murderer a Day After Banning Abortions

By Adeel Hassan and Alan BlinderMay 16, 2019

Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama said she would allow the scheduled execution of a convicted murderer to go ahead on Thursday, a day after she signed into law a near-total ban on abortions.Blake Paterson/Associated Press

Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama said she would allow the scheduled execution of a convicted murderer to go ahead on Thursday, a day after she signed into law a near-total ban on abortions.Blake Paterson/Associated Press

Alabama executed a convicted murderer on Thursday, a day after the state enacted a near-total ban on abortions — two actions on contentious social issues that often have people across the political spectrum invoking the sanctity of human life.

“It’s a contradiction that I always observed,” said Hannah Cox, the national manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, an advocacy group. Approving of executions, Ms. Cox said, is “a stance that cheapens the pro-life argument.”

Ms. Cox, who is originally from Alabama and opposes both abortion and the death penalty, said that more conservatives were coming to feel the same way, offering as evidence Republican-sponsored bills to repealthe death penalty that have been introduced in 11 state legislatures.

Michael Brandon Samra was executed by lethal injection Thursday evening, according to the Alabama attorney general, Steven T. Marshall. Mr. Samra and a friend, Mark Duke, were convicted in 1997 of killing four people — Mr. Duke’s father, the father’s girlfriend and the girlfriend’s two young daughters — after a dispute over a pickup truck. Both defendants were sentenced to death, but Mr. Duke’s sentence was later overturned because he was 16 at the time of the killings; Mr. Samra was 19.

Though the timing was coincidental, the actions taken by Alabama on consecutive days served to highlight widely held positions on the political right that some people say are in conflict, with protecting human life held paramount in one context but not another.

Gov. Kay Ivey, who declined to halt the scheduled execution, has expressed some discomfort with her role in the death penalty. Early in her tenure, she said she did not “relish the responsibility that I hold” in capital cases, and she has repeatedly depicted it as an unwelcome duty of her office.

“How to proceed when faced with a potential execution is one of the most difficult decisions I will ever have to make as governor,” she said after one execution. “No governor covets the responsibility of weighing the merits of life or death; but it is a burden I accept as part of my pledge to uphold the laws of this state.”

Even so, Ms. Ivey has not used her authority under the state constitution to reprieve or commute any death sentence since she took office in April 2017. The state, which carries out executions at an aging prison near the Florida border, has executed six people during her tenure; Mr. Samra was the seventh.

A spokeswoman for the governor did not respond to messages on Thursday seeking comment, but Ms. Ivey issued a statement after Mr. Samra was put to death.

“Alabama will not stand for the loss of life in our state, and with this heinous crime, we must respond with punishment,” the statement said. “These four victims deserved a future, and Mr. Samra took that opportunity away from them and did so with no sense of remorse. This evening justice has been delivered to the loved ones of these victims, and it signals that Alabama does not tolerate murderous acts of any nature.”

Alabama currently has 176 more prisoners awaiting execution. All but two of them were convicted of murder; 65 have been on death row for more than 20 years.

While death penalty opponents like Ms. Cox wonder how Christian conservatives like the governor can oppose abortion but uphold execution, others say the two stances become coherent when viewed through a lens of innocence and guilt.

“In a sense, it’s perfectly comprehensible,” said Mark Silk, a professor of religion at Trinity College. “Their view is that unborn babies and fetuses are innocent life. They’ve done nothing to merit the death penalty. Whereas murderers have done something to merit the death penalty. It’s an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. It’s how they look at the world.”

Professor Silk said that white evangelicals in particular, who make up more than half the electorate in Alabama, may run into difficulty when men or women “find their way to Jesus” while on death row.

“So much of evangelicalism has to do with conversion,” he said. “That’s such a core experience for them. A murderer or rapist finding their way to God is as powerful a manifestation of conversion that you can find.”

Ms. Cox said she found the argument that life is something to be protected only when it is innocent to be “flimsy.”

“People should be still held accountable, but there should be more nuance,” she said. “You are not the sum of the worst thing you’ve ever done.”

The Catholic Church’s teachings oppose both abortion and capital punishment on similar grounds.

“Pro-life values are meaningless when they are inconsistent,” said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, a group working to end capital punishment. “The sanctity of human life applies to each and every person, innocent and guilty,” she said, adding that the church teaches that a person’s God-given dignity “is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.”

“As Pope Francis has said, ‘There is no just penalty that is not open to hope,’” Ms. Murphy said. “That is why the death penalty is neither Christian nor human.”

A scholar of evangelical Christianity said that most evangelicals in Alabama probably feel no tension between support for the death penalty and opposition to abortion.

“Most conservative evangelicals wouldn’t think twice about executing someone and then going to a pro-life march the next day,” said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College. He said their views have often been shaped by the political battles that have raged over social issues in recent decades, so that, for example, they also tend to oppose spending tax money on government programs that might reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

Progressive evangelicals see the issues differently, Mr. Fea said, but “they are a minority in the state of Alabama and most of the evangelical South.”

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical denomination, says its support of the death penalty has roots in biblical teachings. “Imposing the death penalty can help the murderer restore the broken relationship with their creator, not just with humankind,” says an article posted by an arm of the convention that addresses public issues. “While we have an interest in a criminal’s return to society, we should be even more concerned with the state of their soul.”