Connecting the dots on environmental racism

You may have read in The Boston Globe that the city has concocted an insane plan to cut down more than 100 mature shade trees along Melnea Cass Boulevard in Roxbury in order to pave (see what I did there?) the way for a road improvement project.

Now The New York Times reports that redlining across the country has resulted in communities of color being shortchanged of trees and other green space — resulting in temperatures that can be as much as 5 to 20 degrees hotter.

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One day, two heartbreaking stories about racism in the Boston area

Two stories about racism in the news today show the heartbreaking reality of racism in the Boston area.

The first involves a 21-year-old Black woman in Groveland named Julia Santos, who was chased and harassed by a middle-aged white man in a BMW convertible as she was picking up food for her dog. Steve Annear and Maria Lovato report in The Boston Globe that the man only stopped berating her after a neighbor intervened.

It’s a sickening story, and it easily could have have escalated into something much worse. Fortunately, Santos reacted calmly and recorded the encounter on her phone.

By the way, the Globe didn’t identify the the man who stalked Santos because the reporters were unable to verify it. But she named him on Facebook, and it sounds like local police are all over the story. Let’s hope he gets what’s coming to him.

The second, by Globe reporter (and distinguished Northeastern journalism alum) Meghan Irons, concerns a Suffolk Law School study showing that Black renters are subjected to horrendous discrimination. Among other things, the undercover operation revealed that would-be renters who identified themselves by names such as Lakisha, Tyrone or Kareem were, more often than not, immediately shot down, whereas those who seemed to be white had no problems.

“In subtle and overt ways, Black renters experienced discrimination by real estate brokers and landlords in 71 percent of the cases tested,” Irons writes.

One of the first in-depth investigative reports I remember reading was in The Boston Phoenix or The Real Paper sometime in the early 1970s. The topic: landlords who discriminate against Black people looking for apartments. And here we are nearly 50 years later.

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At Whole Foods, a failure of the imagination over Black Lives Matter face masks

A Whole Foods store in West Hartford, Connecticut. Photo (cc) 2014 by Mike Mozart.

The Boston Globe reports that Whole Foods is sending employees home if they show up to work wearing face masks emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter.” Katie Johnston writes:

After seeing reports of Whole Foods workers in other states being sent home for refusing to take off Black Lives Matter face masks, Savannah Kinzer decided to bring the movement to Cambridge. And, sure enough, when she and her colleagues put on masks emblazoned with the phrase Wednesday afternoon, the manager told them they either had to remove the masks or go home. So seven of them walked out.

As is often the case with such public-relations disasters, at root is a failure of the imagination. How can management not understand that this will end with them apologizing and backing down?

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More than 1,000 turn out for Black Lives Matter rally in Medford

Grace Episcopal Church. Photos (cc) 2020 by Dan Kennedy.

We just got back from a huge Black Lives Matter protest and march organized by Mobilize Medford. A crowd that I’d estimate at well over 1,000 people gathered in front of City Hall to protest against racism and police brutality. Afterwards, the protesters marched and chanted along High Street — Paul Revere’s route — to West Medford. We left the march at Grace Episcopal Church, where we’d parked our car. It was an impressive turnout for an important cause.

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President Bush and Judge Tauro were champions of disability rights

President Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Two giants in fighting for the dignity of people with disabilities have died. The better known is President George H.W. Bush, whose long list of accomplishments includes championing the Americans with Disabilities Act, which he signed into law on July 26, 1990. Here’s an excerpt from his remarks that day:

Three weeks ago we celebrated our nation’s Independence Day. Today we’re here to rejoice in and celebrate another “independence day,” one that is long overdue. With today’s signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom. As I look around at all these joyous faces, I remember clearly how many years of dedicated commitment have gone into making this historic new civil rights act a reality. It’s been the work of a true coalition, a strong and inspiring coalition of people who have shared both a dream and a passionate determination to make that dream come true. It’s been a coalition in the finest spirit — a joining of Democrats and Republicans, of the legislative and the executive branches, of Federal and State agencies, of public officials and private citizens, of people with disabilities and without.

Judge Tauro. Via Open Jurist.

The other champion of disability rights is retired federal judge Joseph Tauro, who, as Bryan Marquard put it in The Boston Globe, “issued rulings that forced the state to spend millions more to care for the developmentally disabled and to create lifetime individual treatment plans for patients.”

As a district court judge, Tauro presided over lawsuits aimed at calling attention to the horrendous and shameful treatment of the developmentally disabled at our state hospitals. He was involved in those cases for more than two decades. I was especially struck by this from the Globe obit:

In 1973, Judge Tauro first toured the Belchertown facility with Benjamin Ricci, a college professor whose son was at the school. Before letting the judge leave, Ricci brought him to a remote part of the grounds “where there was a graveyard that had no gravestones, just plugs on the ground with numbers on it,” Judge Tauro recalled in a 2006 Globe interview.

“And he said, ‘I know you can only do so much, but do you think you can make them give all these people gravestones?’ I came very close to crying when he made that request. I just nodded at him, and of course I had that burned in the back of my head,” Judge Tauro added. “And we, fortunately, did a lot more than that.”

RIP to both President Bush and Judge Tauro, who dedicated themselves to a life of public service.

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Barry Crimmins, 1953-2018

Barry Crimmins in “Call Me Lucky”

On Thursday came the sad news that the comedian and writer Barry Crimmins, who virtually invented Boston’s comedy scene, had died at the age of 64. Barry was a man of several careers. Among other things, he was an activist against child sexual abuse  and a towering figure at The Boston Phoenix, which is how I got to know him.

Barry was one of the most thoroughly decent human beings I have ever met. We were all hoping that Bobcat Goldthwait’s 2015 documentary “Call Me Lucky” would relaunch his career. Unfortunately, it never really happened. Barry announced in January that he had terminal cancer. His wife, Helen Crimmins, is also ill.

Jim Sullivan writes about Barry’s legacy for The Artery at WBUR.org. At the time of its release I wrote about “Call Me Lucky” for WGBH News. Barry will be hugely missed. Wherever he is today, I hope he is given what he publicly asked for so many times: excommunication from the Catholic Church, whose leadership he detested for its role in covering up the crimes of pedophile priests.

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Bernard Law’s legacy of evil

Bernard Law in the 1980s. Photo (cc) via City of Boston Archives.

In late 1990 and early 1991 I spent four and a half months as the production manager for The Pilot, the Archdiocese of Boston’s venerable weekly newspaper. It was a difficult time in my life, and I was happy to take the job. They didn’t ask if I was a Catholic; I didn’t tell them I wasn’t.

One of my responsibilities was to proofread and lay out Cardinal Bernard Law’s weekly column. There wasn’t much to that particular task. As I was reminded in reading Law’s obituary this morning, he had spent the early part of his career as the editor of a Catholic newspaper.

Of course, Law’s facility with a typewriter is not the first thing we think of when we look back upon his legacy. Law was an evil man — evil in the way of people who accept the realities of whatever bureaucratic environment they happen to find themselves in, carrying out their tasks without regard for morality or humanity. Law facilitated the serial rape of children, and if that made him not much different from others in his position, that doesn’t exonerate him, either.

In 2001 I had the privilege of sharing a pod at The Boston Phoenix with Kristen Lombardi, one of the country’s great investigative reporters. Kristen, who’s now with the Center for Public Integrity, wrote a series of detailed articles showing that Law was reassigning and covering up for the pedophile priests under his command. The following year, The Boston Globe began its remarkable Spotlight series, which resulted in Law’s resignation and a well-deserved Pulitzer for the Globe — not to mention the movie “Spotlight.” (Walter Robinson, who oversaw the Spotlight Team’s coverage of pedophile priests, spoke with WGBH Radio earlier today.)

After fleeing Boston 15 years ago, Law lived the good life in the Vatican. I don’t know if he understood the horror of what he had done, but surely he understood that he was a reviled figure. It’s too bad that, when he was still alive and healthy, Pope Francis didn’t fly him back to Boston under armed guard and order him to fend for himself in the city where he did so much harm. But not only did Francis not take such action, he’s honoring him with his presence at the funeral.

The phrase “banality of evil” is unavoidable in thinking about Law. I doubt he even realized he was doing anything wrong until it was too late. His life demonstrates the importance of exercising our individual conscience and of never putting the needs of an institution ahead of human lives. It would be easy to describe his fall as a tragedy, and I’m sure it was to him. The real tragedy, though, was in the suffering of his victims.

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This post has been banned by the CDC

The following post would be banned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Whenever I criticize some action by government officials, I try to make sure that what I’m writing is evidence-based. Otherwise I might be vulnerable to charges that I was motivated mainly by political bias and was acting with a sense of entitlement. Fortunately, this post is grounded in reporting by The Washington Post, so I think I should be fine.

Of course, not every post needs to be science-based. For instance, in writing about issues involving transgender people, it is perfectly valid to argue for their inclusion in mainstream society simply on the grounds of diversity without getting into the technical aspects of whether sex selection takes place at the level of a fetus or if it is something that happens with children as they get older.

In any event, I hope you have enjoyed my small attempt at keeping myself entertained. Perhaps it will help you take your mind off the horror of having a CDC that can no longer be taken seriously.

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The real target of the Boston counter-protest was Trump

Bonita Yarboro traveled with three friends from Hamden, Connecticut, to protest against “racism, anti-Semitism, every -ism out there.” Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy.

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

There’s been so much written and said about free speech and the lack thereof at Saturday’s rally on the Boston Common that the big picture is in danger of being lost. So let me try to bring it back into focus. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people turned out not to protest what a few right-wingers had to say or to rumble with the police. Rather, they came to express their anger and disgust with President Trump.

Lest we forget, back in May a similar event drew just a few hundred people, with the two sides being kept apart by police officers. We might have seen a similar response this past weekend. But then a motley band of white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. A fellow-traveler was accused of driving into a crowd of people who had come to protest against such hate, killing one of them, Heather Heyer. And Trump, on his third attempt to address what had happened, threw a temper tantrum of a news conference in which he placed racists and those who oppose racism on the same moral plane.

It was that reality that was on the minds of those who showed up at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury on Saturday morning. I was among them, carrying a notebook and a smartphone with handmade press credentials around my neck so no one would think I was one of the protesters. The crowd reminded me of the folks who’d turned out in Copley Square last January to protest Trump’s first, botched Muslim ban: earnest liberals from the suburbs, Black Lives Matter activists, young people, LGBTQ people, lots of racial diversity, lots of ink (not visible last winter), and a large number of clergy. Mayor Marty Walsh, Police Commissioner Bill Evans, and Attorney General Maura Healey all put in appearances on Saturday.

There were, of course, a few political radicals on hand. Two older women who would only give me their first names held up a large banner that said “No Free Speech for Fascists” — and, in smaller type, “Progressive Labor Party,” a far-left group. I asked them if they thought their views contradicted the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. “There is no free speech,” Ruth instructed me. “Speech costs a lot of money.” Added Heidi: “We need to stop this hate speech.”

More typical was a young African-American woman named Bonita Yarboro of Hamden, Connecticut, who was holding a green sign that read “I am Black and I MATTER. Any questions?” I asked her what had brought her to Boston and what her hopes were for the counter-protest, dubbed “Fight Supremacy” by its organizers. “Four of us came up together in a Volkswagen Beetle,” she said. “I just want to stand up against racism, anti-Semitism, every -ism out there.”

We got under way a little before 11. The march down Tremont Street toward the Boston Common was a rolling celebration. The police officers who lined the route were professional and friendly. Charlie Pierce wrote in Esquire that Police Superintendent Willie Gross was posing for selfies with marchers.

By 1, with our destination still ahead of us, word started to ripple through the crowd that the rally was over and that the right-wing speakers had left. With the Common just ahead of me, I spotted state Rep. Byron Rushing, a South End Democrat, who told me he’d been prohibited from entering the 75-yard zone around the Parkman Bandstand that police had set up to protect the speakers. “I came down to hear them, and they wouldn’t let me in,” he said. “Freedom of speech should be reciprocal. If they can talk, I should be able to listen.”

In fact, there remain some legitimate concerns about how the authorities handled access to the bandstand. The police department had a genuine public-safety challenge on its hands, and the buffer zone was probably a necessity — but it wouldn’t have been as onerous if, say, a few pool reporters had been allowed in to hear what the speakers had to say. It didn’t help that Commissioner Evans issued a statement in which he said it was “a good thing” that the right-wingers couldn’t get their message out. The ACLU and others have expressed concern.

But the triumph of the counter-protest was not that it had silenced a few extremists (and it’s not even clear how extreme they were, given that some who had been scheduled didn’t show up). The triumph was that the crowd had expressed its opposition to the racism and hatred that these days is indulged, even amplified, by the president of the United States. I couldn’t help but feel a surge of patriotism in the face of such idealism.

Trump’s outrages come at us every day. But his sociopathic reaction to the events in Charlottesville seems like a watershed moment of the sort that greeted the “Access Hollywood” tape, on which he was heard profanely bragging about groping and sexually assaulting women. From business leaders to Republican officials, a new wave of people has begun moving away from him. Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, and investigative reporting legend Carl Bernstein are among the serious, careful folks who recently have questioned Trump’s mental stability. (Brinkley and Bernstein made their remarks on CNN.)

This can’t go on, but how will it end? Regardless of what comes next, I’m proud of my city for the stand it took this past weekend.

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Antifa is the right’s new bogeyman

Well put by The Boston Globe editorial page:

Saturday put the lie to a common whine of the so-called alt right — the loose movement of anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and freelance bigots emboldened by President Trump’s election — that they are somehow deprived of their free speech rights. Nonsense. If being mocked, booed, and heckled is the alt-right’s idea of censorship, it may be time to rethink who gets labeled a “snowflake” in today’s political environment.

The fears of “antifa” violence directed at conservatives also turned out to be overblown. A few counterprotesters in black outfits showed up, made some noise, and then went home. Sorry, but left-wing cosplay isn’t a security threat comparable to neo-Nazi violence.

I’m starting to see efforts by the right to transform antifa (for “anti-fascist”) activists into a massive, violent force determined to stamp out free speech and supported by everyone to the left of, say, Hillary Clinton. The reality is that they’re the new New Black Panther Party, a bogeyman trotted out to frighten viewers of Fox News but not especially visible anywhere else. Don’t be fooled.

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