Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Without Sanctuary

We start this morning with Robin Givhan of The Washington Post pondering whether pictures of the murdered and mutilated bodies of 19 children in Uvalde, Texas should be seen in the public.

It’s an extraordinary human being who can, in the midst of profound grief, make the decision to transform their child into a symbol, into a motivating factor. Mamie Till did that when her 14-year-old son Emmett was lynched in Mississippi during the early days of the civil rights movement. When his body was returned to Chicago for the funeral, Till left his casket open with his beaten, swollen and disfigured face visible. She allowed his body to be photographed and the image published by Jet magazine so the world could see the kind of systemic brutality that too many of her fellow citizens knew about but had been responding to with a shrug.

Too many Americans are shrugging in the aftermath of the mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo. They’re shrugging off the massacres before them and the ones that have already happened in their wake. The shootings in Michigan and Oklahoma, Florida and Tennessee didn’t turn into multiday, we-interrupt-the-scheduled-programming stories because the victims didn’t reach into the double digits and they were teenagers and adults instead of children — and because these things happen so often that it now takes some novel kind of mayhem to break through all the routine deadly chaos.

Do we need the sight of a body, damaged beyond recognition, to force us to focus and take action? Would that even do it? It’s not a certainty that we are salvageable.

OK, since everybody “and their mama” feels the need to bring the decision of Ms. Mamie Till into this present-day discussion, let’s do it.

Follow me over the break and I’ll, first, show the picture that Ms. Mamie Till wanted you to see of her son, Emmett Till.

Historian Elliot J. Gorn, author of Let the People See, a book about the Emmett Till case, wrote that the casket photograph of Emmett Till was not seen by most white Americans until decades after the 1955 murder. I found this quote from a book review by Maureen Corrigan of Boston’s NPR station, WBUR.

Years later, many white Americans remembered — falsely remembered — the epiphany of Till’s ruined face in 1955. [But] few white people saw the photos until thirty years later when the documentary Eyes on the Prize opened with the Emmett Till story. Only then did [his mother’s] words, “Let the people see what they did to my boy” begin to be fully realized.

The overwhelming majority of the nearly 100 thousand people that saw Till’s body in the open casket at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ on Chicago’s South Side over a period of 4 days in 1955 were Black. The overwhelming majority of those that saw the publication the Till casket photograph in Jet magazine and the Chicago Defender were Black. And a overwhelming majority of those that were spurred into action by seeing that photograph were Black.

To the extent that however many white Americans knew of the Till lynching or had seen the casket photograph, I suspect that most of them “shrugged.”

Of course, many white people had already become accustomed to much more than “shrugging” in such situations.

Thousands upon thousands saw and posed for photographs depicting murderous brutality: remember those lynching postcards?

(Caution: The photographs, postcards, and text at the above link with text written by Nhaya Viadaya and Sara Wiatrak for the Howard Center of Investigative Journalism are extraordinarily graphic.)

Although the images of racist terror lynchings were widely distributed within white communities across the country, the Howard Center found that these lynching photos were rarely published in white-owned newspapers, even those that incited racist terror and lynchings.

White-owned newspapers were careful not to sensationalize lynching photos, said Amy Louise Wood, author of “Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940.”

“The community gets to see the criminal be executed,” Wood said. “That would have been part of their culture. They wouldn’t have been disgusted by that. They would have seen it as a right.”

If photos of lynchings were published in white newspapers, they were typically inserted toward the middle of the issue and were sized to be small, only taking up a quarter of the page or less, Wood said.

I took a particular interest in the photographs of the June 19, 1935 lynching of Reuben Stacy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; one photograph of the Stacy lynching became the visual support of a 1937 NAACP campaign in support of a federal anti-lynching bill.

(Those little girls in that 1935 photograph of the Stacy lynching would range in age now from their late 80’s to early 90’s; in other words, it is very possible that one or a few or even all of them are still living.)

At best, I think that the tactic of showing photographs of the murdered and mutilated bodies might have been effective with the Sandy Hook massacre and I don’t think that I need to explain why that is…and even then…

Probably too many white Americans would have “shrugged” even then, as they “shrug” now. They always have. And they’ve done worse. Much worse.

Jon Allsop of Columbia Journalism Review also looks at the issue of publishing the murdered and mutilated bodies of the 19 children of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

This debate might seem, at its simplest, to concern a simple, if agonizing, choice: to publish or not. Break it down, though, and it quickly becomes devilishly complicated. It’s reasonable to assess the calls for publication, first and foremost, in terms of impact on public opinion and policy, as this seems to be the explicit rationale of most proponents. Here, it strikes me, there is reason to be deeply skeptical. Policy does not reliably follow opinion—especially in such a dysfunctional democracy as the US. And even on the opinion front, and thinking globally, there is no clear formula by which a shocking image might move the needle. In 2015, a photo showing the body of Alan Kurdi, a young Syrian refugee who washed up dead on a beach in Turkey, sparked an outpouring of emotion and donations to refugee causes, but it did not lead to any longer-term reset in European migration discourse. Other horrifying images have had even less impact. In 2019, various observers said that a photo showing Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his young daughter Valeria, two migrants from El Salvador, drowned in the Rio Grande was America’s version of the Kurdi image. Less than three years later, do you even remember it?

Numerous advocates of showing photos of shooting victims—in the wake of Uvalde but also other tragedies—have pointed in particular to the images of Till’s open casket, given their powerful illustration, to a mass audience, of the horrors of lynching and subsequent galvanizing effect on the civil rights movement. The ongoing impact of the photos—a bill, named for Till, that made lynching a federal hate crime passed into law just two months ago—is proof that acts of bearing witness can help build change even in the (very) long term. But it also shows how thorny it can be to disaggregate the impact of images from a much broader-based struggle—and how rarely moments of collective shock are immediately transformational. Today’s information climate, of course, is very different from that of 1955. The online news cycle can coalesce our attention around horrifying images. It can also distract, manipulate, and bury.

Again, most white Americans were not galvanized by the casket picture of Emmett Till in 1955 simply  because the white press of the time did not show that photograph.

And even when many white Americans  finally saw the Till picture over three decades later, it still took over two decades for a POTUS to sign an anti-lynching bill.

Chile Oboe-Osuji of JustSecurity asks: Why not charge the murderers that cite “great replacement theory” as a primary motive for their actions with genocide?

The perpetrators of the BuffaloEl Paso, and Pittsburgh shootings—as well as other acts of racist violence—explicitly used language from the “replacement theory,” a racist and antisemitic conspiracy positing that non-whites are being brought into the United States, usually according to a Jewish-controlled plan, in order to “replace” the white and Christian population.

The Buffalo shooter framed his attack as “the White Man … fighting back.” He warned “non-whites on white lands” to leave, because “as long as the White man lives you will never be safe here.” The El Paso shooter wrote of a “Hispanic invasion” and “white people being replaced by foreigners” and echoed a chant from a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia: “Jews will not replace us.” The Pittsburgh shooter wrote on social media that Jewish people were “bringing in invaders to kill our people.”

A particularly dangerous feature of these killings inspired by the so-called “replacement theory” is the perverse claim of “genocide” or “slaughter” of white Americans, needing to be addressed by these mass shootings of innocent people. The danger comes from the cognitive distortion that the world has seen in American politics in the manner of the “Big Lie” technique. As Hannah Arendt once reminded the world, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.”

Significantly, Mr Eboe-Osuji enters into a discussion of 18 U.S. Code § 1091 and the “substantial part” bit. 

Steven Lee Myers and Stuart A. Thompson of The New York Times reports about the mainstreaming of racism and violent ideas.

As the number of mass shootings escalates, experts say many of the disturbing ideas that fuel the atrocities are no longer relegated to a handful of tricky-to-find dark corners of the web. More and more outlets, both fringe and mainstream, host bigoted content, often in the name of free speech. And the inability — or unwillingness — of online services to contain violent content threatens to draw more people toward hateful postings.

Many images and text that the young man had in his extensive writings, which included a diary and a 180-page “manifesto,” have circulated for years online. Often, they have infiltrated some of the world’s most popular sites, like Reddit and Twitter. His path to radicalization, illustrated in these documents, reveals the limits of the efforts by companies like Twitter and Google to moderate posts, images and videos that promote extremism and violence. Enough of that content remains that it can open a pipeline for users to find more extreme websites only a click or two away.

It’s quite prolific on the internet,” said Eric K. Ward, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center who is also executive director at the Western States Center, a nonprofit research organization. “It’s not just going to fall in your lap; you have to start looking for it. But once you start looking for it, the problem is that it starts to rain down on a person in abundance.”

Derek Thompson of The Atlantic attempts to explain why most Americans seem to feel that they are fundamentally doing well, personally, bu that the country seems to be doing so bad.

Yes, there was a pandemic. Yes, people were locked in their houses, reading news about a deadly virus. Yes, they were alerted to the closure of thousands of businesses and the flash-freezing of the U.S. economy, even as the federal government bailed out firms and households with loans, eviction moratoriums, suspended student-debt payments, and several rounds of checks. But then the economy improved in 2021, and Americans got even more pessimistic. This shift can’t be explained by the fact that evaluations of the national economy are highly partisan, and that Republicans, for example, lost confidence in the economy when their guy left office. No amount of Democratic optimism made up the difference.

Something deeper is happening. Even outside economics and finances, a record-high gap has opened up between Americans’ personal attitudes and their evaluations of the country. In early 2022, Gallup found that Americans’ satisfaction with “the way things are going in personal life” neared a 40-year high, even as their satisfaction with “the way things are going in the U.S.” neared a 40-year low. On top of the old and global tendency to assume most people are doing worse than they say they are is a growing American tendency to be catastrophically gloomy about the direction of this country, even as we’re resiliently sunny about our own household’s future.

This has some interesting implications for White House officials wondering why their popularity imploded even as the American consumer got stronger. Checking accounts bloomed, but our spirits soured. It might also provide a subtle warning for politicians who want to push Americans to a radically new place on policy. Sure, voters like to hate things at the national and abstract levels, which seems to open the door for bold change. But because most Americans say they’re personally fine, they might resist too much experimentation. This creates a confusing voting bloc, which is constantly angry about the state of things, but also fundamentally conservative about any change that overturns their “rather happy” life and “at least okay” finances.

Melody Schreiber of the Guardian reports that there could be a severe undercounting of COVID cases.

America is averaging about 94,000 new cases every day, and hospitalizations have been ticking upward since April, though they remain much lower than previous peaks.

But Covid cases could be undercounted by a factor of 30, an early survey of the surge in New York City indicates. “It would appear official case counts are under-estimating the true burden of infection by about 30-fold, which is a huge surprise,” said Denis Nash, an author of the study and a distinguished professor of epidemiology at the City University of New York School of Public Health.

About one in five – 22% – of adult New Yorkers likely had Covid between 23 April and 8 May, according to the preprint study, which has not been peer-reviewed or published. That would mean 1.5 million adults in the city had Covid in a single two-week period – far higher than official counts during that time.

While the study focused on New York, these findings may be true throughout the rest of the country, Nash said. In fact, New Yorkers likely have better access to testing than most of the country, which means undercounting could be even worse elsewhere.

With Russia appearing to make slow but steady advances in the Donbas region of Ukraine, BBC News diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams wonders how long can the West maintain consensus.

As he directs the fighting from the gleaming white halls of the Kremlin, what does Vladimir Putin make of the swirling Western debates over how best to support Ukraine, and the extent to which Russia should be punished?

In one corner, he sees governments in Britain, Poland and the Baltics calling for his unambiguous defeat.

“We need to make sure that Russia is driven out of Ukraine by the Ukrainians,” the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said last week.

“There can’t be any compromising over Ukrainian territory.”

But in the other corner, Mr Putin sees leaders in France, Germany and Italy calling for a different approach.

Matthew Karnitsching of POLITICO Europe explains German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s fascination with a grandson of Queen Victoria and its connection with German policy regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A grandson of Queen Victoria, Wilhelm is best remembered outside Germany for his elaborate whiskers, pointy headgear and — by the British upper class — for wearing the wrong yachting shoes at Cowes.

In Germany, however, he’s the man whose bumbling foreign policy, in particular an alliance with Austria-Hungary, triggered World War I and by extension the disastrous rise of Hitler. For Germans, Wilhelm is less caricature than cautionary tale.

At a time when Germany’s Western allies have been increasingly baffled by its tortured explanations for not sending more potent military aid to Ukraine, Scholz’s fixation on Wilhelm helps explain why the chancellor, as Andrij Melnyk, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, puts it, has left his country “in the lurch.”  

By invoking Wilhelm, Scholz is not just signaling to Germans that he won’t stumble into a wider conflict — he is also implying that he’s saving them from nuclear annihilation.

Foeke Postma reports for Bellingcat that sales of neo-Nazi and far-right merchandise are also becoming increasingly mainstream.

An investigation by Bellingcat has found that a number of far-right and neo-Nazi online stores are openly utilising the infrastructure provided by major payment processors, commercial content management systems and web domain registrars.

Bellingcat was also able to establish that some far-right web stores appeared to be purchasing garments from wholesale manufacturers, whose charters celebrate diversity and equality, before embossing their own hateful messaging onto the clothing and selling it at a profit.

Some of the far-right sites could even be seen using mainstream social media platforms to promote links to their own online shops and those of their far-right allies.

Several groups studied by Bellingcat maintained Instagram pages that were carefully curated to stay within the boundaries of the platform’s rules. However, some of these accounts linked out to Telegram channels and web stores where the same groups were promoting and selling fashion items that depict Nazi and racist symbols.

Finally today, I get to live forever and ever and ever!

People who drank moderate amounts of coffee, 1.5 to 3.5 cups per day, were up to 30% less likely to die during a multiple year study period than those who didn’t drink coffee, new research found. https://t.co/zfs5ayvggf pic.twitter.com/IIWD3S54gl

— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 1, 2022

Peace, everyone!

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