A Path To Peace: How A Former Navy Corpsman Honors His Fallen Friends On Memorial Day – Dustin Jones May 28, 2021 6:00 AM ET

Ralph “AK” Angkiangco enlisted in the Navy in April 2008 one year after graduating high school. He was an 18-year-old kid uncertain about what he wanted in life, apart from fleeing his parent’s place in San Diego. He had initially considered joining the Marine Corps, but with America’s Global War on Terror in full swing, his father persuaded him to become a hospital corpsman in the Navy instead.

A medical career, his father argued, would provide him the opportunity to get an education while serving alongside Marines in combat. And AK didn’t fantasize about firefights or a chest weighted down by medals, ribbons and awards—each complete with a story of grandeur and heroism—so he took his father’s advice.

The Navy trains its corpsmen at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in Texas. It was there that AK learned the basics of combat medicine. Instructors taught him how to treat and prevent infections in the field, splint a broken bone and how to stop an arterial bleed.

But there are some things that cannot be learned in a classroom.

“We were told that as a corpsman you will save lives. There’s no ifs, ands or buts,” AK said. “But the fact that obviously you can’t save all lives, they don’t really go over that or explain that. I had to figure that out on my own.”

Each year, Memorial Day brings that home. For AK – who measured his success by the number of lives saved – it’s a reminder that his best wasn’t good enough.

The new corpsman deployed to one of Afghanistan’s harshest battle spaces

When AK joined 1st Battalion 3rd Marine Regiment—an infantry unit out of Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii—he nonchalantly fell into his place. Five days a week AK showed up to work, where he often taught the Marines of Bravo Company’s 3rdPlatoon basic life-saving techniques.

Other days AK administered vaccines or knocked out paperwork. It wasn’t immediately apparent to the young corpsman just how important his role would be.

But then he deployed to Afghanistan for the first time, to Helmand province, one of the country’s most fought-over regions.

The outpost known as ManBearPig was was the westernmost patrol base for Bravo Company for the majority of their deployment.
Dustin Jones/NPR

A portion of the Bravo Marines were based at a small outpost, dubbed ManBearPig, a shipping container retrofitted into a command center that housed a handful of radios and maps. A guard tower in the center of the post stood maybe 20 feet tall with room enough for two; a bunker covered with sandbags doubled as a sleeping quarters for some; two stationary Humvees with automatic weapons provided fire support to the north and west.

ManBearPig was the westernmost post in the battle space. Everything to the west belonged to the Taliban, who made their presence known by frequently firing upon Marines returning to base at the tail end of a patrol. One thing was for certain: they were watching.

AK was the corpsman for 3rd Platoon’s 1st squad, a close-knit group of Marines just over a dozen in size with Sgt. Steven Habon at the lead. The sergeant was a Fallujah veteran, and his time spent clearing house-to-house in one of the bloodiest battles in recent memory instilled in him a rigid sense of responsibility for the lives of his men.

To say that he was hard on his squad is an understatement. Before every patrol, Habon had the Marines clean their weapons. After every patrol, they cleaned their weapons. Every Marine under his command had to be capable of filling every and any position. Everyone, including AK, had to know how the radios worked, how to operate each weapons system, how to call for support and how to save a life. The success of the mission and the safety of the group should never hinge on any one person, he said.

“I think he did that because he cared for us, obviously,” AK said. “He just wants us to have all the possible tools at our disposal. If s*** ever happened to us, God forbid, you know, that maybe he can rely on all of us to step up.”

The Marines of 1st Battalion 3rd Marine Regiment, Bravo Company, 3rd Platoon, 1st Squad. The squad was led by Sgt. Steven Habon, standing middle row second from left, who held his Marines to a high standard. Navy Hospital Corpsman Ralph “AK” Angkiangco is standing top row far left.Courtesy Ralph Angkiangco

An early afternoon patrol takes a life

In the early afternoon hours of Jan. 10, 2010, Habon and his squad made their way west as they had done dozens of times before. And like many of their previous patrols, they took fire as they began making their way back to base.

The landscape resembled parts of America’s Midwest, farmland lined with irrigation canals that compelled the Marines to walk along small, narrow berms that ran along the edge of the fields. This limited the number of routes the Marines could take outbound on patrols as well as ways to return home. For this reason, the Marines routinely switched up their routes and never took the same path twice on the same patrol.

As they returned to base, Lance Cpl. Jacob “Slim” Meinert was on point. AK fell in line behind Slim as they led the patrol back, slowly making their way home while taking cover in a dried irrigation canal, one step at a time.

AK was only a handful of meters behind Slim when the young Marine stepped on a pressure plate, detonating a hidden bomb beneath his feet. The blast launched him as high at 15 feet, clear out of the canal, AK explained. The pressure knocked AK backwards, stunning him for a moment before the gravity of the situation set in.

“Don’t move!” Habon yelled.

But AK couldn’t hear him; his ears were ringing, he was disoriented.

On patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 2009.Dustin Jones/NPR

He looked to his right and saw Slim on the ground. Without hesitation AK crawled out of the canal, heart thumping in his chest, his feet desperately searching for stable terrain as he sprinted toward the downed Marine.

Slim was alive, but the explosion had severed multiple limbs. He was bleeding to death.

“Why me?” Slim repeatedly called out.

“I got you, you’re going to be fine,” AK responded, trying to reassure his friend as he worked.

He fastened a tourniquet on Slim’s upper thigh to stop the bleeding from a missing leg. AK determined the Marine had a collapsed lung, so he inserted a needle between the ribs to release the pressure. He was on autopilot, doing his best to remain calm while frantically fighting to save his friend.

AK was alone. Habon had told his squad not to move because more often than not, the Taliban place a secondary charge nearby, in hopes the Marines will rush in to aid the wounded and take more casualties. Every step between the Marines and AK had to be carefully placed, one painstakingly slow step at a time, as they swept for additional traps.

Eventually, two more corpsman came to AK’s aid before the casualty evacuation arrived. It had been maybe 30 minutes since the blast when the helicopter finally touched down.

Slim was loaded up and the Marines watched as the aircraft slowly disappeared from sight, the sounds of the rotors gradually fading away. AK stood up, exhausted, trying to make sense of what had just happened. The patrol made its way back to base, the Marines walking in silence, alone with their thoughts.

Shortly after they got back, AK was told that Slim made it all the way to the field hospital, but he died on the operating table.

That was 10 years ago.

Lance Cpl. Jacob “Slim” Meinert was the radio operator and then a team leader for Sgt. Habon’s squad.
Courtesy Krista Meinert

The pain of loss can be pushed aside for only so long

Seldom does a day go by that AK doesn’t question whether he did everything he could, whether he did it right, or did it wrong.

After returning home from Afghanistan, AK began drinking excessively. He and the Marines went out to the bars to celebrate their return home, but that celebration, AK explained, never seemed to stop. And it wasn’t just him, it seemed like it was the entire battalion. Drinking to forget, disguised as “having a good time.”

When it came time for his post-deployment health assessment, designed to gauge an individual’s physical and mental health following time overseas, AK lied. Instead of admitting that he had developed a drinking problem, sufferedongoing feelings of self-doubt, that he needed help, AK gave the textbook answers he knew would allow him to continue working alongside his friends.

Looking back on it now, he admits that had he been honest, things might have turned out differently.

“I probably would have gotten some help or actual treatment for it and maybe my career might’ve hit a roadblock because of it, because being put on [limited duty] for that, we all know is just, horrible for your [evaluations],” AK said. “But I might’ve, probably been put in a better place mentally from there on out, at least have tools for me to decompress rather than alcohol, and learn about what I have rather than ignore it for like, I don’t even know, six or seven years.”

But like many of his peers, he didn’t seek help. Rather, he chose to carry his guilt and afflictions alone. Furthermore, he began distancing himself. He got it in his head that Marines around him would die, and to avoid more pain, he put up a wall so he wouldn’t get close to anyone. Even family was kept at one arm’s distance.

He spent the next five years bouncing from one duty station to the next, from Hawaii to San Diego and then to Twentynine Palms in the California desert. AK continued putting his problems on the back burner, kicking the can down the road year after year until a neglected training injury to his ACL forced him to return home halfway through a deployment to Kuwait in early 2016.

AK was barely mobile following his reconstructive surgery, so his parents brought him home to recover after he was discharged from the hospital. But after a few short weeks he had to return to base and the barracks. The building was typically bustling with activity, but everyone was still on deployment, and once again, AK found himself alone.

Back at base he fell into a self-destructive routine. AK would wake up, play video games, eat some chow, more video games, start drinking, attend his physical therapy appointment then crutch back to his room where he continued drinking until he eventually passed out.

Ralph “AK” Angkiangco used to drink through the pain of remembering his fallen friends. He said he hid behind the guise of celebration because it was easier than dealing with his PTSD.
Courtesy Ralph Angkiangco

Repeat five days a week for two months.

Broken glass breaks the downward spiral

The thing about mental health, AK explained, is that issues always make their way to the surface. Not a matter of if, but when. One night, in a drunken fit, AK started throwing glass bottles into the street from the barracks.

He said he doesn’t remember exactly why he did what he did, but he does remember getting in trouble for it the next day because it was the first time someone had checked in on him in over a month.

“I just broke down crying because that was like the first time anyone really asked me what was going on, you know what I mean? Like, just a simple question, ‘what’s going on?’ ” AK explained.

He was ordered to see a mental health specialist once a week. He was also prescribed Valium, but it didn’t help much. Side effects can include depression, thoughts of suicide, confusion, trouble sleeping and irritability, to name a few. It also doesn’t mix well with alcohol.

Just over one month later AK checked into his new duty station at the hospital unit at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms. He didn’t make it through the end of his first day before he found himself in trouble again. While working on a computer he became frustrated and as a result said he was going to burn the building down. AK said he said it to himself, more or less under his breath, but someone had overheard and reported him.

“I just told them everything: ‘I’m having flashbacks, I’m hearing things, seeing things,’ ” he said. “Everything around my life was just not working.”

AK was treated twice for PTSD before he finally left the Navy in January 2017. But he wasn’t cured; that’s not how it works. Instead, he spent months working with specialists that equipped him with the tools he needed to learn to live with it.

The former corpsman becomes a different kind of healer

This spring AK will graduate from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego with a bachelor’s degree in social work. He was recently accepted to Columbia University for his master’s. He chose to pursue a career in social work because he wants to help other veterans who are struggling as he once did.

Memorial Day is still painful, and he says to some degree it will more than likely always be that way. AK still harbors guilt for Slim’s death, even though he knows it’s not his fault. But he doesn’t drink himself into oblivion to make it through the holiday weekend anymore.

And that’s a good place to start, working to find ways to celebrate the lives of friends lost.

This year AK plans to spend Memorial Day with Habon and another Marine from his time in Bravo Company. The three of them live in Southern California these days and make serious efforts to see each other often. When they get together they catch up about their lives’ latest twists and turns. Sometimes they reminisce about their time in Afghanistan, about Slim and the other Marines come and gone.

“It’s still difficult, but I’m going into it with a positive mindset, at least that’s what I’m telling myself….’cause there’s no justice in getting [blacked out] for them, because the whole point of the day is to remember, and not drink to forget,” AK said.

“I just kept thinking more on what they would have wanted, if they were able to tell me.”

Former Cpl. Dustin Jones served with Bravo Company, 3rd Platoon, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, with Ralph “AK” Angkiangco.


Why it took 100 years for America to learn about the Tulsa massacre – Fabiola Cineas May 30, 2021, 1:00pm EDT

The long-hidden racist attack on “Black Wall Street” and its residents is finally in the open — and raising questions about all that Americans don’t know and have tried to hide.

An intersection of two streets in Tulsa showing burned-out houses.
Devastation of the Greenwood District seen after the Tulsa massacre in June 1921.

The sky above Tulsa, Oklahoma, swelled with a thick, dark smoke on the evening of May 31, 1921. 

That night and over the next 14 hours, white Tulsans, aided by local law enforcement officials and National Guard troops, destroyed 35 square blocks of segregated Black Tulsa and its affluent Greenwood community, which stretched for more than a mile and was home to an estimated 10,000 Black residents. When groups of hostile white invaders entered the area — incensed by a rumored assault of a white girl by a young Black man, which was later proven false — they looted and set more than 1,250 homes ablaze, according to an official government report commissioned almost 80 years later.

They razed what had been considered a promised land for Black Americans who traveled from afar to reach it. The elite enclave included doctor’s offices, butcher shops, drugstores, tailor shops, shoeshine parlors, cafes, restaurants, beauty parlors, barbershops, newspaper headquarters, a confectionery, a theater, hotels, billiards halls, dry cleaners, and grocery stores that were all burned down. Essential community spaces — a library, Dunbar Grade School, Frissell Memorial Hospital, and churches — were charred to bits, and even the trees that lined the once-bustling streets became sooty figures drooping over a wasteland. 

Many of the people who had toiled for years to build Greenwood Avenue into what Booker T. Washington reportedly called the “Negro’s Wall Street” were shot and burned beyond recognition. Some reasonable estimates put the number of people killed between 70 and 300, historians told Vox. According to the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 report, bodies were dropped into unmarked graves in a city cemetery, while others, according to some oral histories, were thrown into the Arkansas River, and still others were hauled off to unknown locations. More than 800 people were treated for wounds and 8,000 were left homeless. 

Five years ago, the Tulsa massacre was virtually unknown to the broader public — and even to people living in Tulsa. That a Black metropolis was destroyed in a matter of hours, let alone that it existed at the top of the 20th century, could sound like fiction to the most imaginative listener. 

The Tulsa massacre remained buried under fear — Black families too afraid of a repeat event — and a conspiracy of silence as white perpetrators covered up their deeds so quickly that, 100 years later, many officials and historians believe some of the bodies of buried victims still haven’t been found. For generations, the pogrom of Black people in the heart of the Sooner State was absent from Oklahoma school curricula. 

For decades, the story of the massacre remained untold so as not to deviate from the narrative that America is exceptional and founded on democratic ideals. But the Tulsa massacre is no longer a secret. The story is being told locally and nationally, in the media, on television, and before Congress: Two award-winning HBO series — Watchmen, which aired in 2019, and Lovecraft Country, which aired in 2020 — depicted the event for millions of viewers. Theater productions such as Tulsa ’21: Black Wall Street will soon open to Oklahoma audiences, following the earlier play Big Mama Speaks. The Bitter Root comic book series recently illustrated the massacre on its pages. Two upcoming documentariesone executive-produced by NBA star Russell Westbrook and co-directed by Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams, will be released on the 100th anniversary of the massacre. 

The three known remaining survivors of the disaster — Viola Ford Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis, and Lessie Benningfield Randle — petitioned Congress for justice this month, justice that includes reparations and an acknowledgment of the harm done. And President Joe Biden will make his way to Tulsa on June 1 to commemorate the massacre’s centennial. 

Even as the pogrom becomes common knowledge, there are many truths about it that likely won’t ever be known. Tulsa is forcing the nation to keep questioning all that it doesn’t know — and all that it has tried to hide. 

“The irony of Oklahoma is that it’s one of the most — if not the most — conservative state in the country. Yet Tulsa, because it has such a big skeleton in its closet, has been wrestling with how to view its past. In some ways, it’s ahead of the country,” says Scott Ellsworth, historian and author of the recent book The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice, the first comprehensive book about the massacre. “Tulsa has a new chance — the story is out. But there’s still a dark shadow of the massacre hanging over the city. So how will the city move forward for the next 100 years?” 

It was Mary E. Jones Parrish’s young daughter, Florence Mary Parrish Bruner, who peeled her away from the novel she was reading that night. Mary watched in fear for hours, crouched by the window as her daughter hid, before she decided it was best to flee. She was desperate to believe that a tragedy couldn’t happen in a haven like Greenwood: “One could hear firing in quick succession and it was hours before the horror of it all dawned upon me […] I waited and watched. Waited and watched, for what — I do not know,” she wrote in the 1923 book Events of the Tulsa Disaster, where she collected the stories of many survivors. 

When she eventually fled with her daughter, she wrote, they dodged bullets that sprayed out of machine guns and turpentine bombs that rained down from aircraft. (The National Guard denies having machine guns at the time, but headlines from the time and the state commission report have acknowledged their use in the massacre.) They traveled more than a dozen miles outside the city before they could find safety.

Parrish was hired by the Inter-Racial Commission, as it was called at the time,after the massacre to “do some reporting,” she wrote in the book. As the commission pointed out, it was survivors and eyewitnesses like Parrish who laid the foundation for a record in the early days to ensure that the massacre wouldn’t be erased from history. 

“The reason we understand how the massacre happened is because those people told us how it happened,” Ellsworth said. “It’s important to remember that for 50 years the story of the riot was actively suppressed in the white community. Documents disappeared all the time. People had their lives threatened. In the African American community, it also wasn’t really discussed publicly. Massacre survivors were like Holocaust survivors in that they didn’t want to burden their children with these horrible stories.”

Parrish’s great-granddaughter, writer Anneliese M. Bruner, didn’t learn about the massacre until she was in her 30s, when her father, William Bruner Jr., handed her an original copy of his grandmother’s book in 1994. Bruner’s father, typically a gregarious and boisterous man, quietly gave her a slim volume one night, a red cloth-bound book that was worn around the edges, and assumed a somber tone. 

“He said he had something to give me,” Bruner told Vox, “and he told me he hoped I could ‘do something with it.’” Bruner recalls being confused and stunned: “Here I am, a descendant of two survivors, and this had never been mentioned to me. Why had no one ever said anything?” 

More than 1,250 homes were set on fire, along with doctor’s offices, butcher shops, drug stores, tailor shops, shoeshine parlors, cafes, restaurants, beauty parlors, and hotels.
The Tulsa massacre remained buried under fear — Black families too afraid of a repeat event — and a conspiracy of silence as white perpetrators covered up their deeds.
Many of the people who had toiled for years to build Greenwood Avenue were murdered.

Bruner says she felt a weight of responsibility over the years, between deciding how to honor her great-grandmother’s groundbreaking journalism and feeling like her great-grandmother hasn’t gotten her due. For the centennial, Bruner is publishing an updated edition of Parrish’s book. She hopes the new edition can continue to keep the story, and her grandmother’s role in it, alive. 

The stories Parrish collected provide details strong enough to haunt:

At about 5:30 am on June 1, 1921, high school teacher James T.A. West was in his home when white men with drawn guns entered and ordered all of the men out of the house. Outside, they were forced into a group of about 30 Black men, searched, and forced to walk down the streets to the Convention Hall with their hands in the air. The white men pursued them, shot at their heels as they ran forward, and drove a car into the group, before finally leaving the victims at the hall, wounded and unable to walk. 

“This is the worst scene I have ever witnessed in my 92 years,” Jack Thomas told Parrish in her book. Thomas nearly died under the weight of smoke after fleeing his home, where a white man had killed a Black man with a shot to the back. Thomas was spared because of his age, he was certain. 

One survivor in Parrish’s reporting who spoke on condition of anonymity recalled seeing white women with shopping bags enter homes and take everything from clothing to silverware to jewelry. “These d— Negroes have better things than lots of white people,” the survivor heard a white man say as he hauled furniture out of a home. 

Though summoned, the fire department never arrived to help. Law enforcement officials deputized the white men, giving them weapons and ammunition, and contributed to the violence themselves, according to the commission’s report and firsthand accounts. Oklahoma National Guard members arrested Greenwood residents en masse and detained them, and many weren’t released until a white person had vouched for them. “We were made to feel that our struggles were unworthy of justice. That we were less valued than whites, that we weren’t fully American.”

The survivors of the massacre were left to pick up the pieces and restore Greenwood over time — not a single person or entity has been held responsible for the systemic destruction that obliterated the heart of Black progress and sacrifice. A whole way of life was rendered unsalvageable, by design. As massacre survivor and World War II veteran Hughes Van Ellis testified before Congress in May, “You may have been taught that when something is stolen from you, you can go to the courts to be made whole. You can go to the courts to get justice. This wasn’t the case for us. The courts in Oklahoma wouldn’t hear us. The federal courts said we were too late.

“We were made to feel that our struggles were unworthy of justice. That we were less valued than whites, that we weren’t fully American. We were shown that in the United States, not all men were equal under law. We were shown that when Black voices called out for justice, no one cared.” 

Why new generations will know about the Tulsa massacre

Though the 1921 ethnic cleansing in Tulsa is only now getting widespread attention, there were other major breakthrough periods, according to scholar and Tulsa native Hannibal Johnson, author of Images of America: Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District and Black Wall Street: From Riot to Renaissance in Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District.

The first significant opening came in 1971 when a Tulsan named Ed Wheeler published an article titled “Profile of a Race Riot” on the 50th anniversary of the event. About 10 years later, in 1982, Ellsworth published his comprehensive book, Death in the Promised Land, further bringing the events of the massacre to light. Perhaps the biggest breakthrough came in 1997, when the state created the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. The commission’s report, issued in 2001, received international attention because it created an official historical record for the event and addressed mass graves and reparations.

Ellsworth would add a few other significant milestones to the list: A series of 1968 articles in the Black newspaper the Oklahoma Eagle by civil rights activist and former Oklahoma legislator Don Ross was an early effort to publicly contend with the massacre; the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 gave Ross another opening. When national news outlets traveled to Oklahoma to cover the domestic terrorist incident, he told them that there was another Oklahoma story that rivaled the bombing. As a result, the Today show aired a special on the 75th anniversary of the massacre, a report that subsequently prompted coverage from the New York Times, NPR, and other outlets. It was these national stories that led the governor and state legislature to create the commission in 1997. 

When the state-sanctioned commission completed its work in 2001, however, talk of Greenwood died down. “Nobody was talking about it. It still wasn’t being taught in schools across the state,” says Oklahoma state Sen. Kevin Matthews. 

The centennial of the massacre has given America another opportunity to assess what has changed and what is still left to be done. 

From 2015 to 2016, Matthews said, he started assembling a committee (which became the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission) to address how the story could be told and how they could bring resources — funding, community centers, research capacity — to Greenwood. It was a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, in 2017 that helped Williams see how they could share the story of the massacre in Tulsa. “It was amazing how our story was being displayed there, and we weren’t doing it at that level in Oklahoma,” Williams told me. 

After raising nearly $30 million, the centennial commission will soon unveil a flagship project, a $20 million Greenwood Rising History Center, at the gateway to Greenwood, celebrating the community that built Black Wall Street and memorializing the victims of the massacre. The project, which opens in June, will stand in stark contrast to the generational effort to keep the story of the massacre from the masses. 

The pandemic, which itself disproportionately harmed Black communitiesacross America, helped bring renewed focus to the slaughter of Black Tulsans. The killing of Black people at the hands of the police in Oklahoma and elsewhere in the past few years has, too. The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 “was a game changer,” Matthews told me. “This has happened across our country so many times, and particularly in Tulsa.” The police officer who shot Terence Crutcher in Tulsa in 2016 while Crutcher’s hands were in the air did not face charges. Monroe Bird was killed in 2015 while driving away from police officers. Eric Harris was also fatally shot that year while he was on the ground and unarmed. In 2017, a white former Tulsa police officer was convicted of fatally shooting Jeremy Lake, his daughter’s Black boyfriend. 

Popular representations of the massacre, such as Watchmen and Lovecraft Country, have also brought the story to a wider audience. 

Stanley Nelson, co-director of the forthcoming History Channel documentary Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre, however, says that the nation now needs art that centers the city and the community. “Both shows had segments on Greenwood and Tulsa and they really introduced the massacre to people for the first time,” he said. “They made people aware, but those shows weren’t about Tulsa. Tulsa was a background to them, and for us as African Americans, those stories are background to our lives. So we watch these shows and enjoy them, but you might not quite get the story.” 

Even with greater public consciousness, we likely won’t ever know exactly what happened

The newfound focus on the massacre is bringing up old questions — some that many have asked but can never be answered, historians said. For example, we will never know how many were killed, Black or white. Some estimates put the number of those killed at just a dozen. Others have recently come forward to say that as many as 450 people were slain, Ellsworth said. Tulsa’s white Republican mayor, G.T. Bynum, has even ordered a wide search for mass graves. 

“It’s a matter of perspective,” Matthews said. “There were many in the white community who were embarrassed and tried to sweep under the rug that so many Black people were killed. They wanted to minimize what happened, so they undercounted.”

Even the specifics of what led to the massacre are unclear, historians told Vox, though there are many theories. The most common story claims that on the morning of May 30, 1921, Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old Black shoeshiner, rode in the elevator in the Drexel Building at Third and Main with a 17-year-old white girl named Sarah Page, who was the elevator operator. Some accounts claim that Rowland stepped on Page’s foot by accident after he tripped, while others say he attempted to assault her, according to the commission’s report. The report also claims that some people believed they were lovers and having a lover’s quarrel in the elevator. Rumors of an attempted rape spread quickly among white people in the region, and Rowland was arrested the following morning. 

A story ran in that afternoon’s Tulsa Tribune under the headline “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator.” The story claimed Rowland scratched Page’s hands and face and tore off her clothes. Though exactly what happened in the elevator isn’t known, many claim it was this yellow journalism that caused tensions to boil over, tensions that were already high following the “Red Summer” of 1919, dozens of lynchings across the state in the two decades prior, and jealousy and land lust around the rise of Greenwood, which some white people called “Little Africa” and “Niggertown.” 

Fearing that Rowland would be lynched, a group of Black World War I veterans from Greenwood went down to the courthouse on the evening of May 31 to protect Rowland. There they found hundreds of white men, and when a gunshot rang out, what some initially called a “race war” broke loose. 

“There are going to be some historical loose ends. We have to be able to sit in a place of comfort with uncertainty. We won’t know certain things, and that’s fine,” Johnson said. “But we do know what happened, why it happened — and that’s what’s really critical. But the point is we don’t want to make the same mistake again.” 

Tulsa is in the process of a mass graves investigation to try to resolve some of these unanswered questions. Archaeologists uncovered at least 12 sets of remains at Oaklawn Cemetery in October 2020, but it’s unclear whether the burials are connected with the massacre, according to Tulsa World. But it’s likely they are some of the bodies of 18 Black men killed in the massacre, according to researchers and records. Once a committee gets legal authorization to exhume the remains, they’ll be DNA-tested. A next phase of excavation is expected to start in June, with experts estimating that 30 sets of remains may be buried across other parts of the cemetery. 

The Tulsa massacre reminds America of what it has always been. It also helps America see what it can be. 

National recognition of the massacre doesn’t mean that justice has been delivered for survivors, for their descendants, for the community, or for Black Americans at large. That the massacre has become mainstream presents its own challenges. 

For one, it has made people focus on the violence, without enough attention to the rebuilding that ensued in the years after the destruction. According to the commission’s report, $1.8 million (about $27 million in today’s dollars) in property damage claims were filed, though insurance companies refused to pay for the claims. Black Tulsans nevertheless rebuilt the city. The community rose from the ashes of the massacre, Johnson said, and was at its most economically successful in the early 1940s. “It’s not surprising that we’re attracted to the shiny object, the thing that is most dramatic, which is the massacre,” Johnson said. 

Tulsa, and the rest of the country, has the opportunity to focus on the people who built Greenwood, not just on the violence committed against them. The story should be one about the community and its people and about how indomitable the human spirit is, Johnson said. “If we want to make progress, that requires the kind of persistence and tedium that is not glamorous. What’s the point of telling the story of the massacre if we’re not going to address the issues and challenges that it raises?” Johnson told me.

Among those issues are racial reconciliation and retribution. “My hope is that people will begin to understand the history and delve more deeply into it, and that they are encouraged and inspired to use their own agency to make even an incremental dent in the progress that we need to make to get to a place of racial reconciliation,” Johnson said. 

That racial reconciliation will involve the acknowledgment of the wrong that’s been done, an apology, and atonement. Johnson notes that the conversation on reparations, which falls under atonement, needs to be expanded. There are different types of reparations — cash reparations for survivors and descendants, funds that boost the local economy and invest in education, public assets like history centers to help the community learn and move forward — that are complementary. 

There’s also an opportunity to give credit where credit is due. For Ellsworth, greater praise is due to the brave people who kept the story alive over generations, like Mary Jones Parrish, and the brave veterans who were willing to risk their lives to prevent Rowland’s lynching. “You have these 75 African American World War I vets who probably didn’t know Dick Rowland but they knew that a brother was in trouble. They risked their lives to go down and stop him from being lynched,” Ellsworth said. “If anyone is deserving of a memorial, it’s them.”

Education remains an issue. Oklahoma didn’t include the massacre in state academic standards until 2002, but the massacre was only a vague mention, with schools instructed to cover the “evolution of race relations” in the state and “rising racial tensions,” the Oklahoman reported. But there’s still no way to actually measure whether schools are actually teaching the massacre. In May, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed HB 1775, a new law prohibiting the instruction of any material that would make an individual feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any form of psychological distress” on account of their identity. Stitt’s action was condemned by the centennial commission, which removed him from his role on the committee. 

“How can you teach anything as significant as women’s suffrage or the Trail of Tears? Those can be psychologically difficult,” Matthews said. “We’re passing bills based upon fear of what people may learn about the truth.” 

The emergence of truth about the Tulsa pogrom helps us realize how history stays with us. One hundred years later, Tulsa is pushing America to see that the truth can’t just be swept away, that injustice must be addressed. Greater recognition of the massacre doesn’t mean there’s been a reckoning. 

“This history isn’t history in the sense that it isn’t totally in the past,” Johnson said. “Why the massacre happened in Tulsa — white supremacy — is a great example of this. The whole philosophy that someone is better than or more deserving than someone else simply because of birth is absurd, irrational, and illogical. But that’s what racism is. And we’re still dealing with it.”


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Athletes Will Never Be Quiet Again – By Jemele Hill May 29, 2021

A year of activism after George Floyd’s murder reframed the role of sports in American public life.

A pair of basketball shoes with George Floyd drawn on them.
Mark J. Terrill / AP Photo

About the author: Jemele Hill is a contributing writer at The Atlantic.

George Floyd’s murder last Memorial Day persuaded a lot of people in sports to use their public profile to fight racism in America. So it was fitting that the NBA, its players’ union, and the WNBA players’ union joined together Tuesday, the first anniversary of Floyd’s death, to publicly challenge Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Among all of America’s professional sports leagues, the WNBA and the NBA have been the most visible in the social-justice fight in the year since the former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed Floyd. And while sports activism long predates Floyd’s death, the event imbued athletes and coaches with a new sense of purpose that remains strong a year later—and not just in pro basketball. In an uncharacteristically bold step, Major League Baseball chose to move this year’s all-star game from Atlanta to Denver in response to Georgia’s new voting laws, which many experts have flagged as textbook voter suppression. The NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s outspokenness led to NASCAR finally banning the Confederate flag at races and events.

The past year has permanently reframed the proper role of sports in public life. Athletes expect more of their leagues now, regardless of whether those leagues want to be willing participants in creating societal change. These players also expect more of themselves.

“It’s not an athlete’s job to speak out,” the Philadelphia 76ers coach, Doc Rivers—himself a former NBA point guard—said at a press conference on Tuesday. “It’s no one’s job to speak out. It’s our responsibility, if we want to make it that. You should speak out.”

Jemele Hill: The NBA put America on notice

Wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan call your senators, Rivers urged support for the justice-in-policing bill, which the House of Representatives passed in March. The legislation would ban choke holds and no-knock warrants at the federal level, lower a legal barrier to prosecuting police misconduct, and establish a national database of police misconduct. The NBA is the first major professional sports league to champion the bill. That stance isn’t surprising. The NBA has received high marks for the diversity among its management and coaching ranks; 74 percent of NBA players are Black; and many of those players—including the league’s biggest star, LeBron James—have spoken out against police brutality, which disproportionately kills Black people.

People who are affected by politics should be active in it, argued Rivers, one of two coaches in the Social Justice Coalition, which the NBA created in November. “I know one thing: Politics are involved in us every day,” Rivers said. “Everything you do, there’s been some kind of political bill in your life. And I always tell everyone, ‘Well, then you should be involved in it.’”

Not everyone sees the value in athletes leveraging their power to bring awareness to worthwhile causes. Conservative commentators have argued that social-justice messaging is ruining sports. Such claims are dubious. But even if players’ outspokenness were truly hurting ratings, players have been determined to use their voice no matter what.

Over the past year, many athletes participated in the nationwide protests sparked by Floyd’s death. After Jacob Blake, another Black man, was shot multiple times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the NBA and the WNBA decided not to play, which ignited boycotts in other sports. After Kelly Loeffler, then a U.S. senator from Georgia and co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, made dismissive remarks about the Black Lives Matter movement, players in the league banded together to oust her from both positions of power. They helped anoint Raphael Warnock as the best candidate to beat her in the general election—which he did, delivering the Senate to the Democrats—and their pressure forced Loeffler to sell her stake in the Dream.

WNBA players weren’t strangers to speaking out on matters of justice. Back in 2016, months before the San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem, the Minnesota Lynx wore T-shirts during a warm-up honoring Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two Black men who were killed by police. Four members of the Minneapolis police department who worked security at Lynx games walked off their post in response. After Floyd’s death, WNBA players—who also created the Say Her Name campaign last year in honor of Breonna Taylor, who was shot by Louisville police officers who entered her home on a no-knock warrant—enjoyed much broader support for their activism, especially from their male colleagues.

Across the sports world, Floyd’s death created an atmosphere of zero tolerance for excuses. Suddenly, power structures that had allowed racism to flourish were faced with the reality that athletes were going to hold them publicly accountable for their inaction.

Last June, Kylin Hill, a Mississippi State running back now with the Green Bay Packers, tweeted that he would no longer represent Mississippi if it didn’t change its flag, which carried a Confederate symbol.

From the June 2021 issue: Why Confederate lies live on

Even though both the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference had already announced that they would not hold any postseason events in Mississippi because of the flag, Hill’s tweet was a tipping point. With the leading rusher in the SEC threatening to cut ties with his home state, fans—including Mississippi lawmakers—could imagine the impact that might have on his team, its future recruiting efforts, and the state’s reputation. Hill’s stance also inspired his coach, Mike Leach, and the University of Mississippi football coach, Lane Kiffin, to lobby legislators to change the flag. Earlier in 2020, Governor Tate Reeves had designated April as Confederate Heritage Month in Mississippi; he did so again this year. But eight days after Hill’s tweet in June, Reeves signed a billthat didn’t just end the state’s 126-year relationship with the rebel flag, but also banned Confederate emblems from appearing on any public building.

Athletes working for racial justice did not win every fight they waged. The University of Texas decided to continue using its school anthem, “Eyes of Texas,” despite its origins in Confederate nostalgia and racist minstrel shows. Even though several Texas athletes wrote a letter demanding that the school replace the songThe Texas Tribune reported that a number of alumni donors wrote to the university’s president, Jay Hartzell, threatening to pull their financial support if the school song was changed. And speaking of Texas and anthems: Legislators there passed a bill that requires any professional sports team that has contracts with the state to play the national anthem before games.

Meanwhile, some initially promising developments yielded little progress in the end. Last June, for example, seven former and current NHL players formed the Hockey Diversity Alliance, to “eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey.” Within months, the group ended negotiations over a potential partnership with the NHL, accusing the league of being interested only in “performative public relations efforts.”

When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asserted that “we, the National Football League, believe that Black lives matter” and apologized for not listening to players when they had previously voiced their concerns about racial and social issues, it seemed to be a seminal moment for the league. But what followed were mere symbolic gestures: Empty slogans were painted in end zones, and before last year’s season-opening games, teams played a prerecorded performance by Alicia Keys of the so-called Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Jemele Hill: The NFL is suddenly worried about Black lives

Despite the NFL’s pledge to take inequality more seriously after Floyd’s death, the league is now currently investigating allegations by the former coach Eugene Chung that he was told while interviewing for a coaching job during the off-season that he was “really not a minority” and “not the right minority.” Chung, who also played in the NFL for five years, is Korean American. His account is especially credible because of the NFL’s terrible track record on hiring minority coaches. The alleged comments that Chung heard reveal both a contempt for coaches of color and an inclination to pit them against one another.

And let’s also not forget that Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job after speaking out against racial oppression and injustice.

Despite all the setbacks and empty platitudes, the atmosphere in sports has changed. The athletes who spoke up for racial justice deserve full credit. They have shown that they feel a purpose beyond just providing entertainment for legions of fans.

The many inequities in sports existed long before George Floyd was murdered, and they will continue to exist regardless of athletes’ activism. Even so, players’ courageous efforts over the past year have shown that staying neutral is no longer acceptable. Then again, it never was.Page 2 of 2

A young person wearing a mask receives a shot in the arm

When I was in medical school in the 1980s, a surgeon came to my clinical-medicine course to talk about how to guide patients in making decisions. He presented a scenario in which a patient with breast cancer had to decide between a lumpectomy and a mastectomy. The surgeon suggested that we cite statistics and discuss risk, but he advised us to resist answering a personal question: Tell me, doctor, if this were your wife, what would you do? I cringed at the assumed male doctor–female patient setup, but his bigger point was clear. Doctors need to listen carefully to the different issues and histories that parents bring with them to the clinic, to address their anxieties. They should be wary of talking about themselves.

However, as a pediatrician, sometimes I do want to say: Just so you know, if this were my child, this is what I would do, because it’s what all my training is telling me.

This moment in the pandemic is one of those instances. When it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, I want to say: If you were my 16-plus teenager, you’d be vaccinated. If you were my 12-to-15-year-old kid, you’d have your first shot by now. And if you were younger, I’d be counting the days until I could give you a vaccine.

Emily Oster: What’s safe for kids now?

Like most pediatricians, I love a vaccinated child. While researching my bookabout the decline of childhood mortality in the past century and a half, I tried to imagine what pediatric practice and parenthood were like when you had to accept that a whole slate of potentially fatal diseases—polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough—couldn’t be prevented or treated. Some children just wouldn’t survive. But by the time I was training, we had vaccines to prevent those illnesses, as well as antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. Even more vaccine-related progress has occurred since the ’80s, when I did my residency. Pediatricians back then were still admitting lots of children to the hospital for rotavirus infection and treating their dehydration with IV fluids (and those kids were lucky, because children all over the world were dying of that infection and of dehydration). Doctors were doing one spinal tap after another on children with high fevers, worrying about bacterial meningitis.

We vaccinate against rotavirus now. We perform many fewer spinal taps. And we vaccinate against diseases that are unpleasant but not usually deadly. I had a pretty miserable case of chicken pox when I was a child, in the ’60s, and I still have a couple of scars from it. My youngest got the chicken-pox vaccine. He never had to do the feverish scratching, never had to risk skin infections, never had to be sick with this disease. Instead, a vaccine activated all of his intricate defenses.

I love vaccines, but I also understand that parents have every right to think critically about decisions for their children, and that the story on COVID-19 vaccination has been evolving rapidly. Some parents wonder if the chances of serious illness in younger children are high enough to justify any risks associated with a new vaccine. Other parents worry that their kids are being vaccinated primarily for the sake of protecting more vulnerable adults. Some are scared of the vaccines because they’ve heard that they’re dangerous in some way that’s being covered up. And others say they’d just like to wait until more information is available.

Let me address those concerns one by one. Children 12 to 15 and even younger are at lower risk than older people of a serious case of COVID-19, that’s true. The great majority of people who have needed intensive care are adults. But according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 300 children in this country have died over the course of the pandemic. As a comparison, the CDC reported 188 flu-related deaths in children during the 2019–20 flu season. And the CDC has now recorded more than 3,700 cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, a serious condition associated with COVID-19. Children now account for more than 22 percent of all new COVID-19 cases, and even those children who aren’t very sick may have to deal with possible long-term complications. At the very least, those who test positive for the virus but are asymptomatic will still have to go through the hassle of quarantine. Compare all of those factors with what a vaccinated child may experience: brief acute reactions, including pain at the injection site, tiredness, fever, chills, and muscle aches—all signs of the immune system being activated.

Lucy McBride: I tell my patients not to mask their kids outside

Vaccinations help individuals, but they also help the community. And that’s a good thing. High vaccination rates drive down the amount of virus in circulation, which protects everyone, but especially those who are immunocompromised or have underlying medical problems. We vaccinate all children against chicken pox, even though most children quickly recover from the disease, because people with compromised immune systems may have serious complications. We vaccinate all children against rubella, which causes only mild illness in young people but is profoundly dangerous to a developing fetus if a pregnant person is exposed. So we already vaccinate kids for their own sake and to protect the most vulnerable.

As for the rumors about the vaccine, even the most level-headed adults can succumb to all the what-ifs when they start thinking about their children. We have been living through a real-time drama of vaccine trials, authorization discussions, and safety questions, relayed in the headlines with an urgency that isn’t typical of vaccine development. Genuine scientific concerns can get mixed up with unsubstantiated rumors in an atmosphere of general anxiety, and anti-vaccine activists are deliberately working to spread misinformation and foment fear.

For example, I’ve read about the persistent rumor that COVID-19 vaccination could have some long-term effect on a child’s fertility. This concern is not tied to any biological reality; mRNA vaccines have no effect on DNA, and never even get into the nucleus of a cell, where DNA is stored. Many vaccines have been targets of misinformation campaigns, and many of these campaigns have involved fertility concerns, because they are so effective at provoking parental anxiety. For example, in Nigeria in the early aughts, polio vaccination was hampered by rumors that the vaccine was a plot to sterilize Muslim children. In the U.S., anti-vaxxers were spreading false data that the HPV vaccine might cause infertility. The reality is that vaccinations protect children’s future reproductive health because they protect their overall health. A fully vaccinated child is defended by the strongest and most natural of defenses: the supreme intricacies of immunology.

And finally, the wait-and-see argument. Although the vaccines are new, we know a lot about how they work and how people react to them, because so many adults have received them already. We also have data from more than 1 million fully vaccinated 16-to-18-year-olds, which are very much applicable to younger adolescents. Researchers continue to monitor adolescents for any problems, looking for rare reactions and short-term side effects. Messenger RNA is used for these vaccines in part because it does not persist in the body; it is broken down by the cell after it carries its “message.” What lives on is the immune response and the protection.

Perhaps partly because we’re lucky enough to live in a world in which children are safe from so many of the dangerous diseases of the past, thinking rationally about risk is hard. And I’ve seen how sometimes making a positive, active decision (Let’s vaccinate!) can feel more stressful than passivity (Let’s just wait and see). Many years ago, when I was talking about the measles vaccine with a worried mother, she told me that if her child got measles, at least that wouldn’t be because she’d agreed to it, whereas if any problems happened after vaccination, well, that would be her fault. I tried to explain why that line of thinking was off, remembering another mother who had refused what was then the DTP vaccine, only to have her son battle a nasty bout of whooping cough, which the vaccine would have prevented. That mother was tortured by guilt and self-recrimination. Making a health decision for yourself is difficult; making it for someone else, particularly your child, can be even harder.

It shouldn’t be so hard: Now that we have safe and effective vaccines, COVID-19 is a vaccine-preventable disease in children 12 and up. Kids no longer need to get sick with the coronavirus, nor do they need to get MIS-C or long COVID. They should be out living their life, safe from the virus and posing no danger to others. What the vaccines give your child is immunity without disease.

If I were you, I’d vaccinate my child.


Voters should curb Mexico’s power-hungry president – The Economist MAY 29TH 2021

Andrés Manuel López Obrador pursues ruinous policies by improper means

May 27th 2021

IN A WORLD plagued by authoritarian populists, Mexico’s president has somehow escaped the limelight. Liberals furiously condemn the erosion of democratic norms under Hungary’s Viktor Orban, India’s Narendra Modi and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, but barely notice Andrés Manuel López Obrador. This is partly because he lacks some of the vices of his populist peers. He does not deride gay people, bash Muslims or spur his supporters to torch the Amazon. To his credit, he speaks out loudly and often for Mexico’s have-nots, and he is not personally corrupt. Nonetheless, he is a danger to Mexican democracy.Listen to this story

Mr López Obrador divides Mexicans into two groups: “the people”, by which he means those who support him; and the elite, whom he denounces, often by name, as crooks and traitors who are to blame for all Mexico’s problems. He says he is building a more authentic democracy. It is an odd creature. He calls a lot of votes, but not always on topics that are best resolved by voting. For example, when legal objections are raised to one of his pet projects—moving an airport, building a pipeline, blocking a factory—he calls a referendum. He picks a small electorate that he knows will side with him. When it does, he declares that the people have spoken. He has even called for a national referendum on whether to prosecute five of the six living ex-presidents of Mexico for corruption. As a stunt to remind voters of the shortcomings of previous regimes, it is ingenious. It is also a mockery of the rule of law.

The president’s scorn for rules is one reason the elections on June 6th matter. He is not on the ballot; his single six-year term expires in 2024. But the national legislature is up for grabs, as are 15 of 32 governorships, most state assemblies and thousands of local posts.

Voters have a chance to rein in their president by rejecting his party, Morena. It is not clear that they will. Most are dissatisfied with the way the country is being run, but 61% approve of Mr López Obrador himself. Many feel that he cares about ordinary people, even if he has not materially improved their lives. The opposition parties have failed to offer a coherent alternative. Morena is slipping in the polls, but may retain its majority in the lower house, with the help of its allies. The more levers he controls, the further Mr López Obrador can pursue his plan to transform Mexico.

He has done good things, such as bumping up pensions and subsidising apprenticeships for the young. Though a leftist, he has kept spending and debt under control, so Mexico’s credit rating remains tolerably firm. But he suffers from what Moisés Naím, a Venezuelan journalist, calls “ideological necrophilia”—a love of ideas that have been tried and proved not to work.

He has fond memories of the 1970s, when a government-owned oil monopoly spread largesse around his home state. He is trying to recreate something similar, by all but banning private investment in hydrocarbons and forcing the grid to buy power from state sources first, no matter how costly and filthy they are. He likes railways, so he is ploughing $7bn into a diesel-burning boondoggle in his home region. Frustrated with officials who fuss about rules and putting contracts out to tender, he enlists the army to build his railway, run ports and fight crime. In other countries, inviting the men with guns to handle huge sums of public money with scant supervision has proved catastrophic, as any Egyptian or Pakistani could warn him. But Mr López Obrador is notorious for not listening to advice. His catchphrase in cabinet meetings is “Cállate!” (Shut up).

His disdain for expertise has made government less competent. His tree-planting scheme has encouraged farmers to chop down old trees so as to be paid to plant new ones. His policy of “hugs, not bullets” for gangsters has failed to reduce a stratospheric murder rate. For all his railing against graft, Mexicans report as many demands for bribes from officials as before.

He was woefully slow to respond to covid-19 and spent far too little on cushioning its economic effects. According to The Economist’s estimates, Mexico has suffered 477,000 excess deaths from the pandemic, one of the worst rates in the world; and its GDP shrank by 8.5% last year. The country should be poised for galloping growth. Multinationals are eager to diversify their supply chains away from China, and Mexico is a manufacturing hub next to the United States, which is entering a stimulus-stoked post-covid boom. Yet investors are wary.

They fear the uncertainty of rule by presidential whimsy. Mr López Obrador is undermining checks on his power. He leans on advertisers not to support fault-finding media. He cuts the budgets of watchdogs, or stuffs them with his supporters. Last week he said he would replace the central-bank governor with someone who favours “a moral economy”. He has threatened the body that runs elections.

The next three years will determine the depth and duration of the damage he does to Mexico and its democracy. He is barred from seeking re-election, but is trying illegally to extend the term of a friendly supreme-court judge. Critics fear he wants to set a precedent for himself. Mexico’s institutions are strong, but may buckle under sustained assault by a zealot with popular support. The country escaped de facto one-party rule in 2000. Given the risk, voters on June 6th should support whichever opposition party is best placed to win, wherever they live. The opposition parties should work together to restrain the president.

Learn from your mistakes

They should learn from him, too. He is popular partly because they did a poor job of helping those left behind during the long boom that followed economic liberalisation in the 1980s; and also because much of the ruling class really is corrupt. Mr López Obrador’s ad hoc, lawless approach has not made Mexico cleaner, but he has highlighted the need for a clean-up.

The United States needs to pay attention. Donald Trump did not care about Mexican democracy. President Joe Biden should make clear that he does. He must be tactful: Mexicans are understandably allergic to being pushed around by their big neighbour. But America ought not to turn a blind eye to creeping authoritarianism in its backyard. As well as sending vaccines, unconditionally, Mr Biden should send quiet warnings. ■

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “The false messiah”


Migrant Women Allegedly Received Unnecessary Gynecologic Surgery, Then Were Deported – VICE News May 27, 2021

Countless women in ICE custody were allegedly given unneeded, non-consensual gynecologic surgeries and then scheduled for deportation. VICE News’ months-long investigation culminates with the incredible journey of one single mom as she fights to return to the US with her daughters.

Forget Art and Gems, Thieves Make Discreet Millions at the Library

Candida Moss Published May. 30, 2021 5:02AM ET 

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

Last September, New York City’s Swann Galleries were advertising the sale of an invaluable piece of Spanish and Mexican history: a 500-year-old letter involving Hernán Cortés, the Spanish military leader and colonizer. The letter was expected to sell for somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000 until a group of academics intervened. Reuters reports that the letter was one of a cluster of Cortés documents that had been stolen out of the National Archive of Mexico (AGN) and put up for sale. What’s even more shocking is that this is not the first time that important and valuable pieces of history have been stolen from a national archive, prominent library, or museum and ended up on the block at a prominent auction house.

The thefts would have gone unnoticed had it not been for the investigations of amateur sleuths and professional academics María Isabel Grañén Porrúa, a scholar of Spanish colonial books, Michel Oudijk, a Dutch philologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and María del Carmen Martínez, a Cortés scholar at the University of Valladolid in Spain. The suspicions of the group were aroused when a sudden flurry of Cortés papers emerged on the market in 2017. Grañén and Oudijk contacted Mexican antiquities authorities in 2018 and 2019 but when no action was taken by the government, they took matters into their own hands.

Together with Martínez, whose research involved taking thousands of photographs of AGN manuscripts, and the genealogical resources of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints they were able to trace the origins of 10 manuscripts that had come up for auction. The Mexican Foreign Ministry and U.S. Department of Justice are currently working together to repatriate the 10 missing manuscripts. Currently none of the auction houses involved—which include Swann, Bonhams, and Christie’s—have disclosed the names of buyers or sellers (as is common practice for auction houses) but it’s likely that the US government will subpoena this information as part of their investigation. At this point it should become clear who was responsible for surgically removing the documents from their bindings at the AGN and passing them on to other vendors. Grañén told Reuters, “We are very worried, not just by this theft, but also about all the other robberies and looting of national heritage.”

Sadly, this is anything but a one off.

In April 2020, Pennsylvania archivist Gregory Priore was ordered to three years home confinement and 12 years of probation for stealing more than $8.1 million worth of rare books and material from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Before his arrest, Priore had worked at the library for 30 years as an archivist and the sole manager of the William R. Oliver Special Collections Room. Over the course of nearly 25 years Priore stole roughly 320 items from the library, badly damaging many atlases and folios in the process. Priore would hide the items in manila envelopes or larger items but sometimes he simply hand-carried rare books out of the building. He would then deliver the objects to John Schulman, the proprietor of Caliban’s book shop and an occasional expert on PBS’s Antique Roadshow, who would sell them.

The thefts were discovered as part of a routine insurance appraisal conducted in 2017. Some of the more valuable items stolen included a 400-year-old Bible (later located in a museum in the Netherlands), a first edition of Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (since recovered), and a still-missing German version of Maximilian, Prince of Wied’s, Travels in the Interior of North America, which was valued at $1.2 million. Police called it the largest antique book art theft in the world. Alexander P. Bicket, the Allegheny County judge who presided over the trial, told Priore and Schulman that they had betrayed their professions and the library, he further indicated that had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic he would have sentenced them to time in prison.

The University of Oxford has also found itself embroiled in scandal. On March 2, 2020, student newspaper the Oxford Blue reported that Dr. Dirk Obbink, a MacArthur grant-winning associate professor in papyrology and Greek literature, was detained by Thames Valley Police in connection with the disappearance of papyrus fragments out of the University’s Sackler Library. It is alleged that priceless ancient papyri from the Oxyrhynchus Collection, which were housed at the Sackler and owned by the Egypt Exploration Society, had been sold to Hobby Lobby Inc. and the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.

As was the case with the recent Cortés papers, the unprovenanced character of the papyri in Museum of the Bible’s collection was first revealed by academics, who lobbied authorities and the Museum to reveal the origins of many of the items in their collection. In June 2019, a redacted contract, allegedly between Obbink and Hobby Lobby, for fragments of the four Gospels was released by the Museum of the Bible prompting the EES to review its holdings. It subsequently emerged that many other papyrus fragments in the 5000-piece collection were also missing.

Most of the items absent from the Sackler are early Christian papyri or fragments of the Bible, while a spokesperson for Museum of the Bible refused to disclose how much Hobby Lobby had paid for the artifacts, Dr. Carl Graves, director of the EES, has described them as “priceless and irreplaceable.” A statement posted on the Egypt Exploration Society website in February 2021 revealed that the Museum of the Bible fragments had been repatriated to Egypt and that the police investigation into their unauthorized removal was ongoing. Dr. Obbink is no longer employed by the University of Oxford and does enjoy any of the privileges of emeritus status. Obbink has denied any wrongdoing.

What makes the unauthorized removal of unstudied papyri or other unpublished documents from libraries so devastating is the impact that it has on our knowledge of the past. Brent Nongbri, a professor at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion, and Society and one of those to draw attention to the Oxyrhynchus thefts, told The Daily Beast “unpublished materials stolen from libraries and museums can fly under the radar on the market much more easily, since most of the academic community is unaware of the existence of unpublished pieces.” It’s less risky for the thief but “it’s the unpublished and unstudied pieces that have the most to teach us.” In the case of the Oxyrhynchus papyri, he said, the impact is huge. “As far as I know, some 120 papyri, all of them unpublished, were missing; about 40 have been recovered from American collectors. The contents of half of these have been identified, and they are all Christian (or possibly Jewish) literary texts. All told, about 160 Christian literary texts from Oxyrhynchus have been published. The EES hasn’t revealed the content of the 100 other missing pieces, but if that pattern holds, we may be talking about a loss of as much as 20% of the total number of Christian books found at Oxyrhynchus.”

When items go missing from public libraries or national archives, it’s not unusual for the theft to turn out to be an inside job. This was the case for the U.S. National Archives (then called the National Archive and Records Administration) in 2002 when Shawn Aubitz, a curator at the Archival Operations Branch in Philadelphia, was arrested for stealing hundreds of documents. The theft was discovered when an eagle-eyed National Park Service employee saw items up for sale on eBay. Aubitz subsequently served 21 months in a federal prison. In 2003 Samuel R. Berger, a former national security adviser during the Clinton administration, repeatedly removed classified documents from the National Archives: he did a hundred hours of community service and was fined $50,000. These are just two cases involving the National Archives, but there are many more. In 2008 Paul Brachfeld, then inspector general of the archives, told Smithsonian Magazine, “If I come to the National Archives today and I have larceny in my blood, I can probably walk out and make some good money.”

On other occasions it is emboldened experts, like East Coast map dealer Edward Forbes Smiley, who are to blame. Smiley sold his wares privately and was only discovered when a quick-thinking librarian found an X-Acto blade on the floor of the Beinecke, Yale University’s rare book and manuscript library. He was caught with seven maps on him, including a 500-year-old example worth more than $150,000. After Smalley was arrested, five other prestigious libraries realized that they had been robbed of nearly $3 million worth of maps. Smiley served 42 months and was released in January 2010.

The recent thefts from the National Archive of Mexico (AGN) highlight the vulnerability of public collections, archives, and university libraries. Even the community of experts who are charged with conserving, curating, and studying these artifacts have, Steve Twomey has put it sometimes failed “to treat rare collections as community property instead of as a cultural ATM.” The solution is not only the introduction of additional security and surveillance methods (such as those Yale introduced after the Smiley affair), but a shift in how libraries and institutions regard their experts. Greg Priore was the sole manager of the Collections room from which he stole; others were archivists, experts, or scholars who were implicitly trusted with valuable artifacts and had free rein in valuable collections.

Given how often it is that volunteers accidentally stumble across stolen material, the real worry is how many national archives are plundered without anyone noticing and how few questions are asked when artifacts reach auction houses. The Cortés papers and missing Oxyrhynchus pieces were identified because of academic intervention. While some auction houses report items they suspect are stolen, others don’t seem to be asking enough questions or, worse, ignoring the problem entirely. In the meantime, national archives are being plundered for personal profit.