Not All Police Are Bad 


According to the nonprofit organization Mapping Police Violence, 27 percent of the people shot and killed by police officers in 2021 were Black. (Only about 13 percent of the overall United States population is Black.) It seems like we’re not even finished grieving one innocent Black or Brown person killed at the hands of police somewhere, then we’re confronted with another somewhere else. 

It would be nice to think that the murder of George Floyd under a Minneapolis police officer’s knee would have changed some of that. But not even Floyd’s death, which galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement, has moved the needle in favor of more justice and peace for anyone.  

Experts who’ve tracked officer-involved shootings since 2013 note that 2022 is (so far) the deadliest year on record, with 1,176 people killed by law enforcement nationwide. As in previous years, about one-quarter of the victims of this police violence were Black. 

And one-fifth of the total number of killings in 2022 took place against victims who were never alleged to have done anything wrong, or in the course of police conducting a mental health or welfare check. In about one-third of officer-involved killings, the victim was running away from police when shot and killed. 

The race of the officers involved doesn’t even matter, as we saw in the case of the five Memphis police charged with second-degree murder for beating Tyre Nichols to a bloody pulp during a traffic stop. The type of “elite” unit to which these officers belonged is common across the country, using often brutal tactics in an effort to suppress crime in “hot spot” urban areas.  

Being the change 

Given all this, it’s hard right now to accept that there are good police officers out there. But it’s true. 

Police who work a community beat can be very in tune with what their community members want and need—if they make the effort.  

In 2022, the Lansing State Journal in Michigan published firsthand guest editorials by some of these public servants—many of whom were men and women of color—who really do care. One wrote about consistently walking up and down streets and through neighborhoods to get to know local residents and business owners, just focusing on people and having conversations. 

Several others discussed participating in programs for youth, where officers share their professional and personal struggles with young people in the community, and listen as the youth express their own struggles, as well. There is frank dialogue about the nature of policing and what it means in these young lives and in their communities.  

Another officer spoke of this “Exchange for Change” program in terms of how important it is for police to let themselves be vulnerable in talking with young people. He emphasized that through their discussions, he and the young people he serves have come to see one another as individuals. This officer noted that a young man who never previously would have spoken with him before actually came up after the program to initiate a conversation.  

Taking the time 

On night-shift duty in 2019, in a part of Alabama with an unusually high drug use rate, a 20-year veteran officer responded to a call involving an extremely disoriented woman at a gas station. The woman admitted she was a longtime drug user.  

The officer could have slapped the cuffs on her and dragged her off to jail. Instead, he sat down beside the woman and talked with her. He later said it was obvious that what she really needed was help. He ensured that the woman reached a hospital for treatment and connected her with a local organization specializing in helping people overcome addictions.  

Risking everything to help 

In 2020, a woman in Ogden, Utah, called 911 to ask for help. Her husband had threatened to kill her. The two responding officers found the man on his front porch, and when they arrived, he barricaded himself inside his home. They tried to get to him, but he fired at them through the door, killing the 24-year-old, second-generation officer who was just trying to keep a member of the public safe. The officer was hailed as a hero in the community. 

Giving a child a chance at life 

In 2023, a female officer in Georgia received a departmental award after successfully administering a life-saving maneuver that stopped a four-week-old baby from choking.  

Modeling the right decisions 

It’s obvious that officers like these take their responsibility to “protect and serve” seriously, that they genuinely care about the people in their communities, up to putting their own lives at risk on a daily basis.  

It’s important to note that, in each of these cases, the officers were faced with a decision: to arrest or to help. To jump into action or remain passive. To talk or put up a wall of silence. To put themselves on the line or to back away from danger. A different officer’s decision could have led to a very different outcome.  

For sure, they’re part of a system that’s often corrupt and in need of vast reforms, but front-line officers like these are dedicated to doing a hard, dangerous job while staying grounded and real. If we want real change, it’s time to leverage these perspectives to help make it happen.  

Celebrating Black Resistance for Black History Month 


From the very beginnings of American history, we’ve had to push back against systemic oppression to fulfill the mandates of democracy. 

The theme for Black History Month 2023 is Black Resistance. Chosen by Black History Month’s founding organization, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), it could not be timelier.  

In suggesting community-level events around this theme, the ASALH is looking to illuminate the many ways Black people in America have resisted oppression. There’s a particular focus on resistance to lynchings, mass murder motivated by racism, and murders at the hands of police. This resistance has taken on many forms—from marching and peaceful protests, to artistic works and journalism, to physical revolt.   


Resistance means refusing to comply with orders from authority figures that could be deadly to people of color. It means stepping up and standing out to challenge—and rework—the system.  

Peaceful resistance to Jim Crow laws in the 1950s and ‘60s involved sit-ins, marches, strikes, and other methods. Black people and their allies refused to stop insisting on equality in education, housing, the justice system, and economic opportunity.  


Black writers like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Baldwin used lyrical language to capture the spirit and substance of African American resistance. Today, writers like Angie Thomas, author of the popular young adult novel The Hate U Give, are making powerful statements calling out the still deep-rooted sins of racism.  

Painter Jacob Lawrence was among the artists who depicted the Black American experience of escape from bondage, from the days of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass to the Great Migration.  

Musicians like Billie Holiday put their pain into the world in the form of song and saw it transformed into anthems of freedom. For example, Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit” was a bleak but evocative verbal depiction of lynching, so controversial in its day that the FBI targeted her for persecution.  


Physical revolts against the oppression of slavery and injustice included the Haitian revolution against French colonialism from 1791 to 1804, when Haiti became the first independent Black republic in the modern world.  

Revolts also included the times Black communities, refusing to be cowed by white mobs threatening violence, armed themselves and fought back.  

This happened in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1892. Three Black men armed themselves inside the People’s Grocery, a popular store owned by one of them, in response to menacing behavior from a white rival proprietor. In the resulting gunfight, three of the white storekeeper’s supporters were injured. Neither local police nor white-owned newspapers would support Thomas Moss, the Black storeowner, and his employees. Conspiracy theories proliferated suggesting Memphis’ Black community was planning a “race war,” but this was a lie. 

With white mobs calling for their blood, Moss and his employees turned themselves in to prevent bloodshed in their community. A few days later, about 75 white men stormed the Shelby County Jail, kidnapped the three men, and brutally lynched them. Months afterward, the white grocer who had instigated the murders purchased the People’s Grocery for pennies on every dollar it was worth.  

But the story doesn’t end there.  


Memphis was journalist Ida B. Wells’ hometown. She knew Thomas Moss and his family, and the murders galvanized her to devote more time to documenting racist attacks on Black people across the country. She became a pioneer in investigative journalism, vividly evoking the horrors and injustices of the Jim Crow era and the need for resistance. Her autobiography, Crusade for Justice, details how she sought to create substantive change through her investigative work.  


Another case of Black resistance that deserves to be remembered took place in the town of Rosewood, Florida, in 1923. It began, as so many assaults on entire Black communities have, with an accusation that a local Black man had attacked a white woman. A white mob descended on the Black town of Rosewood while residents concealed themselves in swamps, along with a few in the house of an empathetic white businessman.  

One Black man, Sylvester Carrier, decided he had no choice but to arm himself in self-defense. He ended up killing two of the white men who had attacked him in a shootout. When the news got out, white residents from nearby towns swelled the mob’s numbers into the hundreds, and a days-long spree of killing and destruction followed.  

Estimates of the number of dead vary, with many historians today citing six African Americans murdered. Some chroniclers say there were hundreds. But the entire population was displaced, since Rosewood had been burned to the ground by the attackers. One month later, a grand jury found insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution, and no one was ever charged.  

It wasn’t until the 1980s that survivors told their stories to a reporter at the St. Petersburg Times. In 1994, the Florida state legislature approved compensation in the amount of $150,000 to the handful of former Rosewood residents then still alive.  

Descendants of the survivors spoke at centenary events in early 2023, and historians noted that the generational trauma they carry: Families were devastated, emotionally and financially, after the Rosewood massacre. Against their pain, the $150,000 doled out by the legislature seemed like a joke.  

In 1997, director John Singleton premiered his movie Rosewood based on these events. The film offers a searing portrait of the racism and hatred inflicted on that Black community. But, as with all the late director’s work, Rosewood also raises the flag of proud defiance and resistance that has characterized the African American community since its beginnings. 

The Black-Jewish Alliance – As Strong and Real As We Want It to Be


A famous photograph of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, on March 21, 1965, shows a conspicuously white-maned, bespectacled, white man walking arm-in-arm with the great Black Civil Rights leaders Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and Ralph Bunche, on the other side of whom marched Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (It’s worth noting that a young John Lewis also made up part of that row of heroes.) 

Many don’t remember that white man today, but they should. He was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the foremost American Jewish Leaders to put their faith—and indeed their lives—on the line for the cause of racial justice at King’s side.  

In describing his support for the movement to foster complete equality for Black Americans, Heschel once said that when he marched with King, he was “praying with my feet.” 

Jewish moral passion lit up the Civil Rights movement 

It’s well-documented that Jews were overrepresented among Civil Rights workers who marched, signed up Black voters, and fought for justice throughout the segregated South, all based on their community’s deeply held ethical and cultural values. Among all the groups of white Americans who became involved, the percentage of Jews in the movement soared far above their small percentage in the overall population. 

Rabbi Joachim Prinz, a refugee from Nazi Germany, was among the prominent speakers at the 1963 March on Washington. Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, young Freedom Summer workers murdered by white supremacists in Mississippi in 1964, alongside their African American colleague James Chaney, were Jewish. The list goes on and on. 

Martin Luther King, Jr., said of anti-Semitism: “It’s wrong, it’s unjust, and it’s evil.” King’s insights drawn from his deep study of history and human nature gave him the ability to easily see through the lies told about Jews through the centuries, even into his own time. And his unsurpassed empathy enabled him to relate to people outwardly unlike himself with whom he nevertheless found moral common ground.  

The same was true for Abraham Heschel. In a speech delivered at the 1963 event where he first met King, Heschel said, “Let us yield no inch to bigotry…Racism is worse than idolatry.” It is, the rabbi said, “unmitigated evil.”  

Evolution and divergence 

So what ever happened to that great Black-Jewish Civil Rights era alliance, based on common histories of persecution, and anchored in common moral values? 

Conventional wisdom often tells us that Black and Jewish Americans grew apart as Black nationalism took center stage in the late 1960s and Jews felt marginalized from the movement. In truth, the reasons are complex. 

Historian Marc Dollinger, in his book Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s, points out new angles to the relationship. He shows how, as a more outspoken Black leadership came to the fore of the host of civil rights groups in the late ‘60s, many Jewish activists turned to activism on behalf of Jewish causes, including the emergent State of Israel. And indeed Jews learned from the Black Power movement to reinvigorate the Jewish community as one willing to more vocally champion its own civil rights and freedom. In this view, we might look at the eventual divergence as not so much alienation as mutual education toward self-advocacy and empowerment.  

Today, though, what with a few ill-informed African American celebrities throwing their weight around spreading anti-Semitic garbage in the community, we could sorely use some of that Heschel-King energy. 

Blind spots and bigotry  

As Black sports columnist Mike Freeman pointed out in a thoughtful November 2 USA Today editorial, the Black community does have a “terrible blind spot” toward Jews. Freeman recounts talking to Black Americans who have told him they’re sure Jews control the media, are out to oppress Black people, are conspiring in some way or another against someone, and worse. 

And yes, some white Jews—especially among older folks, or those in tight-knit traditional religious communities—harbor personal feelings of disdain or animus toward African Americans. Even though the best estimates point to about 15 percent of today’s American Jews being Jews of Color, with their numbers growing. 

The irony of stereotyping an entire fellow group of wronged and oppressed people apparently hasn’t impressed itself enough on some in our country. 

Bringing out the best in one another 

But the legendary Black-Jewish moral partnership is still around. You just have to know where to look. 

In 2020, a coalition of 600 American Jewish organizations—representing more than half the Jews in the country—took out a full-page New York Times ad saying: “Unequivocally: Black Lives Matter.”  

Sherilynn Ifill, former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, is among numerous Black Americans to publicly repudiate anti-Semitism and call ill-informed Black influencers to account. Incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York issued a statement against anti-Semitism with fellow Democratic leaders, calling it “unacceptable and unconscionable.”  

Synagogue and Jewish community groups across the nation continue to work for racial and social justice, often in partnership with Black churches. 

One example: In Boca Raton, Florida, Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church and Congregation B’nai Israel jointly host an annual Thanksgiving season Feed the Community initiative. In January, the congregations come together to observe Martin Luther King, Jr., Day with Shabbat services on Friday night and church services Sunday morning.  

Are there fair numbers of both Jews and African Americans who, either through ignorance or lack of empathy, view the other group with hostility? Of course. Orneriness, clannishness, and fear of “the other” are unfortunately universal human traits. Keep in mind that members of both groups have been on the receiving end of centuries of some of the worst hatred and violence the world has ever produced. It can be so easy to submerge yourself in individual and generational trauma that it’s hard to see when you’re safe enough to come back up for air.  

But for every racist white Jewish person, for every African American addicted to anti-Semitic stereotypes, for every well-publicized incident involving Black-Jewish tensions in Crown Heights or other cultural flashpoints, there are numerous Black and Jewish people with open minds and open hearts working together to heal our broken world. And there are many more who may just need to learn a little more about each other to see how much we have in common—and how overcoming our own prejudices can make both communities safer and stronger. 

This Is How Brittney Griner’s Homecoming Is Being Celebrated 


“She’s on the ground.” With those words, President Joe Biden told Cherelle Griner that her wife, WNBA star Brittney Griner, was on her way home after a prisoner exchange in Abu Dhabi on December 9. Griner spent more than nine months being held prisoner in Russia. In moments of sheer joy captured on video, Cherelle Griner embraced the President and First Lady Jill Biden in what should go down in history as one of the most emotionally moving moments of 2022. 

“It’s just such a good day,” Cherelle Griner said, beaming as she sat beside Biden, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris standing nearby.  

About the Exchange 

On December 8, the Biden Administration orchestrated the prisoner swap. In return for Griner, it gave the Russian government charge of Viktor Bout, the notorious arms dealer and ex-Soviet army lieutenant with the sobriquet the “Merchant of Death.” The United States spent months negotiating for Griner’s release, always with Bout, who was about halfway through serving a 25-year sentence, as her likely counterpart.  

Announcing Griner’s release in an address to the American people on December 8, Biden noted that she was safe and in “good spirits” after the months of “needless trauma” inflicted on her by the Russian government. Her wife and family, and certainly her millions of fans and supporters, had worked toward and hoped for her release after her arrest on February 17. 

About Griner’s Detention 

It was only a week before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Griner, an all-star center with the Phoenix Mercury and an Olympic gold medalist, was arriving at a Moscow airport, as she often has. Russian officials detained her, alleging that she was smuggling an illegal substance described as cannabis oil contained inside vape cartridges. Griner was in Russia for work. Because WNBA players are compensated at a rate far below that of NBA players, many female players work the European circuit during the off-season. Griner has played off-season with the UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014.  

At her hearing in July, her attorneys told judges that the cannabis oil had been prescribed by a doctor for chronic pain, and that she had not intended to break any laws. But Griner pleaded guilty to the charges anyway. Experts have said that the guilty plea, and thus her conviction, was likely the only way to move along negotiations toward a prisoner swap.  

Griner’s Transfer to a Penal Colony 

After months of detention under brutal and humiliating conditions, her nine-year sentence led to her transfer to an even more brutal penal colony. For Griner, a non-Russian speaker who stands out for her very identity as a Black, American, gay woman who physically towers above most people, the experience also had to be traumatic because of the isolation she experienced. At one point early in her detention, her jailers transported her on the five-hour round trip to and from the courtroom in a cage so small she had to scrunch up her knees.   

On October 6, Cherelle Griner told news media that, in only the second call Russia had permitted her to have with Brittney, she heard things that deeply worried her. In their first phone conversation, months before, Brittney Griner had told her wife she’d be fine and would get through what she needed to. But that second conversation caused Cherelle to cry for “two, three days straight.”  

“You could hear that she was not okay,” Cherelle said of the “most disturbing” call she’d ever experienced. In that conversation, she said Brittney told her, “‘My life just don’t even matter no more.’”  

About Paul Weeden, the Prisoner Left Behind 

Despite the widely reported mistreatment Griner suffered in Russian captivity, there were of course naysayers upon her release. Republican politicians said the swap of a basketball star for a convicted arms dealer was disproportionate. They argued that Biden should have done more to at least secure the release of another American captive, Paul Whelan.  

Whelan and Griner had often been proposed as a package deal in exchange for Bout. But Biden seized the opportunity to bring one American home, even if it was ultimately unable to bring home two. Whelan, also held under excruciating conditions in a maximum-security penal colony, is accused of espionage, a charge he vehemently denies. That makes his case infinitely more complicated than Griner’s, experts say.  

Biden said that when the chance to free Griner alone emerged, it would have been wrong not to take it. He spoke to Whelan’s family beforehand, to prepare them for the news. David Whelan, Paul Whelan’s brother, spoke for the family when he said they were deeply disappointed, but that they did not fault the Biden Administration for taking “the deal that was possible.” Whelan’s and Griner’s families have expressed mutual support throughout their common ordeal. 

Biden said, “We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” and that negotiations for his release will continue. 

About Griner’s Homecoming 

For Griner and her family, the pain, the agonizing wait, the terror for her safety, have all come to an end. On Friday night, December 9, she was with her wife in her home state of Texas for a medical evaluation. That’s something that can and should unite Americans and lift spirits across political divides. An American captive has come home. 

How Do We Make Our Country Less Extreme? 


At this point in the American story, it’s a cliché to say that we as a country are politically polarized. It seems like relatively few of us want to leave our own media echo chambers and our own groups of like-minded voters to discuss genuine differences civilly and productively.  

Moving beyond extremes 

Historians tell us that extremist beliefs, political arguments, and even acts of political violence, are nothing new in the United States. In 1787, James Madison was already warning about the dangers when there is “violence of faction.” 

But it feels to many of us that, thanks to pervasive cynicism and lack of trust in institutions, our increasingly shorter fuses in a time of economic and social upheavals, and the ability of social media to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories, things have never been worse.  

Signs of polarization in a society include suspicion; volatility, in which even casual interactions across divides can erupt into angry confrontations; and the fallacy of over-simplifying complex people and issues into an “us” versus “them” situation. 

Is there a realistic path forward where Americans with opposing views can come together in peaceful dialogue, reach workable compromises, leave some of our collective emotional baggage behind, and create a better future for the next generation? The most viable solution centers on building understanding and educating for democracy. 

Right-wing extremism takes center stage 

We should first take note that, at least in today’s political climate, right-wing extremism has become far more violent and dangerous than the left-of-center variety. While individuals or groups espousing virtually any cause are capable of spewing violent rhetoric, and may even commit acts of violence, recent studies show that the weight of the most violent extremism in the U.S. today leans heavily to the right.  

A 2022 poll conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that extremist right-wing beliefs are becoming more prevalent through the general population. An increasing number of respondents actually said that violence toward political opponents is acceptable, and that LGBTQ people and other persecuted minority groups present a danger to others.  

The survey additionally revealed a growing number of people on the right who support the conspiracy theory belief in the “great replacement theory.” This is the unfounded white supremacist concept that there exists a deliberate policy of encouraging immigration and demographic change in order to reduce the white, conservative-voting population in the U.S. Almost 7 out of every 10 Republicans who took the survey said they agree to some extent with this idea. This dangerous notion has fueled recent mass shootings in the U.S. and abroad. 

Extremism on the right typically attacks more vulnerable groups, notably including LGBTQ people simply trying to live their lives in peace. Right-wing individuals and groups have also targeted numerous poll workers and elections officials with violent threats merely for doing their jobs.  

But also startling and disturbing to liberals will be the survey’s finding that Democratic-leaning men under age 50 were the most likely of any group to accept the idea of political assassination of a person “threatening” the nation or democracy. So none of us is immune from the dangerous human tendency to allow anger and distrust to overcome basic decency. 

Turning down the heat 

Some experts point out that it isn’t polarization per se that’s destroying us, but rather “affective polarization,” in which negative feelings toward perceived enemies become so strong that they make it impossible to work together to solve common problems. Affective polarization also makes it more likely that people with extreme sentiments will flout laws designed to preserve the common good, as we saw in the horrific spectacle of January 6, 2021.  

We can’t go on this way. But what can we do to turn down the heat on extremism and potential violence? 

Political scientists have noted several important long-term solutions. 

One insight encourages us to understand the power of influence. Studies show that people’s opinions can be strongly influenced by others whom they view as being part of their own culture, with enough in common to merit emulation even if they differ on some issues. On the other hand, if people view others as diametrically opposed to themselves in terms of culture, they are more likely to completely reject the possibility of learning from these “others.” Keep this in mind when well-meaning commentators encourage exchanges of opposing views among groups who already view one another with hostility or distrust. 

A recent Brookings Institution study found that, when people are “stubbornly intolerant,” greater exposure to views they find offensive can actually increase polarization.  

One way to decrease polarization might therefore involve educating moderate members of particular communities on the practical value of tolerance, dialogue, and compromise in a democracy, allowing them to serve as influencers and stabilizing forces among people in their own social networks. In its efforts to combat polarization locally, the City of Albuquerque recommends supporting the “non-polarized middle,” people who can serve as voices of reason and moderation, who can help build connections. 

The vital role of education 

Education is of the utmost importance in minimizing polarization. An overhaul of our civics curricula is obviously in order. And, since the 2016 election of the supremely polarizing Donald Trump as president, some social teachers have stepped out of carefully cultivated “neutral” roles in order to avoid the facile “both-sidesing” of issues that affect our ability to continue to function as a democracy. For example, they are countering misinformation, disinformation, and racism head-on in the classroom.  

Teachers who choose this path believe it’s important to develop students’ critical thinking skills. And the only way to do that is to teach a healthy respect for the facts of history and current events, regardless of whether those facts show existing power structures in a less-than-rosy light.  

A 2019 paper published by the University at Albany, State University of New York, describes how high school students in an enhanced government studies class requiring them to research, debate, then vote on controversial issues became more open-minded politically when encouraged to explore a diversity of viewpoints. Students who received more encouragement to be partisan were less likely to adopt an attitude of political open-mindedness. 

Part of the hard work of educating people of every age for democracy, other experts report, involves learning—often with the help of neutral facilitators—to talk across differences and recalibrate distorted opinions about people on the “opposite” side. It involves becoming more in tune with our own biases in order to question and modify them. And it includes developing the wisdom to realize that narratives about extreme polarization can in themselves become self-fulfilling prophecies.  

There will always be some people who choose to live—and, tragically, to die or to harm others—in service to their extremist views. It’s up to the rest of us to move the needle back toward tolerance by living and modeling it—and by not backing away from a frank discussion of both our polarization and our common humanity. 

Weighing the History and Utility of the Death Penalty


Legally sanctioned executions were taking place in the American colonies by the early 1600s. The first recorded execution in the colonies, for treason, took place in Virginia in 1608. Since those days, some 14,000 people have been legally executed in the United States. Most of these executions took place in the 20th century.  

In colonial days, application of capital punishment paralleled that in England, in which even minor offenses, such as theft, could be punishable by death. Into the 19th century in Great Britain, hundreds of offenses carried the possibility of punishment by death, and public hangings were community events that drew hundreds or thousands of spectators. 

Over the centuries both the United Kingdom and the United States became more “civilized,” taking executions of criminals out of the public square and behind prison walls, and clearing minor offenses from the list punishable by death. That left only first-degree murder, and for a time treason, on the books as a capital crime. 

Racial and social disparities 

There are currently about 2,500 prisoners on death row in the U.S. Of them, 41 percent are Black, 16 percent Latino, and 42 percent white. The racial disparities are obvious: Estimates from 2021 show the general population of the U.S. as just under 60 percent non-Hispanic white, about 13 percent Black, and about 19 percent Latino/Hispanic. 

Most of these death row inmates are poor or mentally disabled. Where states have the death penalty, those sentenced wait an average of 14 years, eight months between sentence and execution. 

Differing perspectives on opposition 

Some scholars point out disparities between opposition to the death penalty in the U.S. and in Europe. American death penalty abolitionists have tended to emphasize the unfairness of the policy: innocents unjustly executed; racial disparities in policing, sentencing, and execution; arbitrary procedures; and steeply rising costs to the state. European opponents more consistently point to the inhumaneness of capital punishment per se.  

But this wasn’t always the case. Scholars also point out that this moral division came about relatively recently: In the 1800s, death penalty abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic highlighted their opposition on both practical and purely ethical grounds, and in terms strikingly aligning with the concerns of human rights activists today. It wasn’t until the 1970s and ‘80s, as public discussion around the issue turned steadily more punitive, that American activists put practical points ahead of moral ones.  

Opposition to capital punishment began to gather force in the 19th century, in both Europe and the U.S. In the 1840s, Michigan abolished the death penalty, and Wisconsin achieved statehood without a death penalty on its books. The horrific mass deaths in the wars of the 20th century led to a groundswell of public opinion in opposition to capital punishment as just one more needless cruelty. 

But now, long after Canada and all the nations of the current European Union have done away with the death penalty, the U.S. remains the only developed nation to continue it. In 1983, the Council of Europe adopted Protocol Number 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which abolished the death penalty among member states. Canada had already abolished the death penalty in 1976, although not without strenuous opposition, even though it had not executed a prisoner since 1962.  

A nation divided 

Today, 24 U.S. states continue to permit the death penalty for first-degree murder. These include 10 of the 11 former states of the Confederacy. Three states—California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania—still maintain the death penalty as a legal option in their statues, but their governors have placed it under moratorium.  

In New York, state high court rulings in 1977 and 1984 effectively struck down the death penalty. But in 1995, Republican Governor George Pataki signed legislation reinstating it. Almost a decade later, the New York Court of Appeals found that legislation unconstitutional, and the last inmate on the state’s Death Row saw his sentence reduced to life in prison in 2007. Even during the years New York maintained a death penalty, no prisoner had been executed since 1963. 

Within five years, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, and Connecticut followed New York in abolishing capital punishment.  

Most recently, Colorado abolished its death penalty in 2020, and in 2021 Virginia became the first state of the Old Confederacy to do so.  

Costs, benefits, and ethics 

So, is it time for the country as a whole to just let the death penalty go? Proponents of this view cite, among other concerns, the cost of carrying out executions, which includes the cost of protracted appeals.  

In the estimation of the think tank Interrogating Justice, it costs about $37,500 annually to maintain a prisoner in the federal system. On the other hand, the cost of maintaining a death row inmate soars to $60,000 to $70,000 per year.  

The American Civil Liberties Union estimates that the overall cost of the first five federal executions carried out in the year 2020 approached $4.7 million, exclusive of incarceration and pretrial expenditures. And the cost of the average execution in a federal prison is about $1 million.  

But does the death penalty deter homicides? Studies show, both historically and today, that murder rates actually trend lower in non-death penalty states than in those that do allow capital punishment. In the 1980s, experts also determined that abolition had not caused Canadian crime rates to rise.  

Most chilling to the moral sense, since 1973 about 190 people wrongfully convicted and sent to death row have been exonerated.  

Should we allow for capital punishment, though, in the case of certain especially heinous crimes, where there is no possible doubt as to the killer’s identity? School shootings, child murder, serial killings, and other crimes that put a perpetrator outside the normal range of what we think of as the human community? 

That may depend on whether you think someone who commits these brutal acts is capable of redemption, or not. There remains justified outrage that the Parkland school shooter in Florida received a sentence of life in prison due to a non-unanimous jury. Maybe we shouldn’t completely take the death penalty out of consideration. But there are plenty of ways we can make the criminal justice system more fair, more equitable, and more sensible. 

And that’s where every one of us has to really examine both the evidence and our moral compass. 

If the Death Penalty Doesn’t Apply to Mass Shooters, Then Who?


If the Parkland shooter didn’t receive the death penalty, who should? 

On October 13, 2022, after a three-month-long trial that agonized the families of the 17 people he murdered, the Parkland school shooter received a sentence of life in prison. The death penalty was also a possible outcome, but three of the jurors voted against it. Without unanimity on the jury on the question of capital punishment, the shooter automatically got life without parole.  

Fred Guttenberg, father of 14-year-old murder victim Jaime Guttenberg, wrote on his Twitter account after the verdict, “I have been asked if I have closure. I do not.” There is nothing, this grieving father wrote, that can ever bring closure to the fact that the only way he can visit his daughter is “at the cemetery.” Guttenberg has become an eloquent voice of moral clarity in the fight for justice for the victims of gun violence, and for sensible gun control laws to protect all of us. 

Depravity and a gun 

The crime for which the now-24-year-old perpetrator was convicted was especially cruel and vicious. Nineteen years old on Valentine’s Day in 2018, he entered the grounds of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, near the close of the school day. He was armed with a legally purchased AK-15 rifle variant, additional ammunition, and smoke grenades. He pulled a fire alarm so students and teachers would pour out into the hallways. In the space of only a few minutes, he brutally shot 14 students and three adult instructors to death. His bullets injured 17 other people. 

In October 2021, the shooter entered a guilty plea to 17 counts of murder, along with 17 counts of attempted murder. The penalty phase of the trial began in summer 2022.  

Had the shooter been tried before 2016, he might have gotten the death penalty. That was the year Florida law stopped allowing judges to pronounce a death sentence, provided a majority of the jury concurred. For the past six years, a jury divided on whether a convicted murderer deserves to die automatically results in a sentence of life in prison without parole.  

Changed law brings agony 

After the Parkland decision, many of the victims’ family members publicly stated their disapproval of the jury’s failure to produce a unanimous death sentence, saying they felt their continuing pain and horror went unheard, despite their eloquent victim impact statements.  

Some Florida prosecutors are taking this side as well, saying they’d like to see the law revert to its pre-2016 status. If that were to happen, though, it would put Florida among only a handful of states to allow non-unanimous death sentences.  

Geography has a lot to do with sentencing 

There were a total of 1,363 victims killed in the 240 mass shootings of all types that took place in the United States from 2009 to 2021. In almost all of these incidents, the perpetrator was an adult male acting on his own. Across these 240 incidents, only 145 shooters were taken into custody, with the remainder dying by suicide, killed by police, or recorded as outcome unknown.  

The type of justice these perpetrators received depends in large part on where they committed their crimes.  

The Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism organization, published a study in 2021 that looked at exactly that issue. There are 23 states that have abolished the death penalty. But in the remaining 27, the researchers found that there are also wide disparities even from county to county.  

Tellingly, a person convicted of murder in a county where lynchings were common in the Jim Crow era is more likely to receive a death sentence today. The death penalty is also more likely where the victim was white. In addition, more populous counties are more likely to produce more death penalty verdicts just because of sheer numerical probability. And those with larger tax bases to support the cost of capital trials can more likely afford to mete out the death penalty.  

Common practice also enters into it. Although California has a death penalty on the books, Governor Gavin Newsom has called a moratorium on its enforcement. When a local prosecutor makes capital charges in California, the result of conviction is then typically life imprisonment. Even in Georgia, which we might assume to be quick to execute, has carried out the death sentence only once since 2015.  

In many cases, the most important deciding factors turn out to be the prosecutor and the precedent. Statistically speaking, every successful prosecutorial request for the death penalty makes it easier for prosecutors to file the next one. 

“What do we have the death penalty for?” 

The fact that capital punishment is applied so unevenly in this country makes it hard for many people to support the death penalty. But if it doesn’t apply in such a clear-cut case as that of the Parkland shooter, when does it apply? By all accounts, he remains unremorseful, and as a Florida Sun-Sentinel headline put it, filled with thoughts of “blood, murder, revenge.” 

After the verdict, Fred Guttenberg and other Parkland parents who spoke with the media expressed their justified disgust and anger.  

“What do we have the death penalty for?” asked one of the parents. Being spared a death sentence was “exactly what he wanted,” another wrote on social media, referring to the shooter.  

While they’ve shown more bravery and resilience than most of us will, we hope, ever have to muster, these families’ lives will never not be broken. At some point, we do have to ask ourselves as a country exactly what we have the death penalty for. 

Here Come the Midterms – Which Issues Are Most on Americans’ Minds?


What are American voters worried about most as the 2022 congressional midterm elections approach? Here’s what the polls say.  

  1. The economy and inflation loom large 

As in most election years, the economy and the need to control inflation remain at the top of most voters’ wish lists. Gallup polls from September found this to be the case in answers to both open-ended and targeted questions asking respondents to discuss their top concerns. Approximately 80 percent of the American adults surveyed said they view the current economy as either “poor” or “only fair.” Some two-thirds think things in America are getting worse, economically speaking. 

Aside from an obvious low point in 2008, the Gallup Economic Confidence Index recently tanked to one of its lowest levels in the past three decades.  

Even so, about 70 percent of poll respondents think now is a good time to get a good job. That reading in itself is among the highest ever recorded for this particular question. 

So, with contradictions like these, even experts are having a hard time figuring out what Americans are hoping to see in terms of economic policy. 

The problem with inflation is that it’s felt far more acutely by working class people in this country. According to a Forbes article from July, the steep rise in the cost of food, housing, gas, and other basic needs is exacerbating the preexisting wealth gap, which was wide enough already. Working class Americans typically don’t own assets like stocks, real property, and other investments that can appreciate in value. Meanwhile, their salaries can’t keep up with the cost of living, and it becomes harder and harder to feed and house their families. 

Even those who are better off financially are feeling the pinch, with middle class households now looking at cutting back on travel and other discretionary spending.  

  1. Climate change versus immigration – it depends on who you ask 

But let’s not make the mistake of thinking the economy is the only issue on voters’ minds. Other recent surveys show about half of Americans noting climate change as among their most important concerns as they head to the midterms.  

Although it’s important to note that responses to questions about many non-economic issues depend on the respondent’s political persuasion, the fact that climate change has risen as a concern shows a greater sense of urgency overall. A lot of this is due to the undeniable extreme weather events seen across the country this year: devastating hurricanes, floods, soaring temperatures, and extended droughts.  

However, a series of mid-2022 surveys conducted by the statistical news organization Five Thirty-Eight found climate change and immigration to be among the issues that showed the greatest split between self-identified Democrats and Republicans. Among the former, 36 percent consider climate change among the most serious problems facing the country, while only about 5 percent of Republicans agree.  

Concerns about the way the country handles immigration rose to the top in almost exactly the same percentages, but in reverse: About 38 percent of Republicans and 6 percent of Democrats expressed immigration-related concerns.  

In this vein, it’s also interesting to note that the same surveys found more than 60 percent of respondents overall said they supported three specific proposals to combat climate change in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act: expanding the use of alternative energy sources, providing tax credits to companies that lower their emissions of carbon dioxide, and strengthening regulations designed to curb carbon emissions.  

It’s also noteworthy that, among Republicans, levels of concern about climate change in these polls tended to depend on how much personal experience respondents had with it. About 45 percent of Republicans who said they had personally been affected by extreme climate events over the previous five years expressed concerns about climate change.  

  1. Abortion drives voter registration among women 

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade in June, abortion for many Americans has become one of the most important issues. For many young women, it’s the most important.  

There’s been a surge of new voter registrations among women, particularly in battleground states like Arizona and Georgia, since the decision. This was also the case in deep-red Kansas, after a referendum rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have declared no right to an abortion. Some 70 percent of the newly registered voters in the state are women. 

  1. Making an issue of crime  

In an apparent effort to shift public focus away from abortion, Republican candidates have gone all-in on ads claiming Democrats are soft on crime. Some polls and pundits have found a corresponding surge in the number of voters who agree crime is a significant issue for the midterms. Others say there’s less interest despite the barrage of attack ads. Again, these results likely are influenced by the respondents being polled.  

An early October POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found about 75 percent of responding voters saying violent crime is a big problem in the U.S. But other surveys gauged less of a concern.  

  1. Is this the push we need for gun control? 

There does seem to be some nuance here, with 60 percent of the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll respondents saying gun policies would play a big part in their voting this year. More than 50 percent said the rise in crime statistics is due to “too many guns” available. And 62 percent said that they especially want to see legislation passed to reform the nation’s gun control laws. 

Republicans should be concerned about these figures. Let’s hope they hold up, and that we get a 118th Congress with the will and the courage to produce sensible legislation that will support a strong economy, keep all our communities safe, ensure action on climate change, and guarantee everyone’s right to make personal decisions for themselves and their bodies.  

Has the NFL Become More Progressive in the Last Four Decades?


As the 2022 season moves forward, it’s probably worth taking a look back to see whether the National Football League, its leadership structures, and the fan culture that surrounds it have become any more progressive than they were 40 years ago.  

High school football hero lauded for silence 

In the early 1980s, football—high school, college, and the NFL—was as hugely popular as it is today, but its culture was also tied to some of the worst aspects of our country’s history: exclusion, bigotry, and racism.  

In 1980 Herschel Walker (the candidate for the United States Senate in the state of Georgia) was a high school senior who had already scored national fame for his extraordinary prowess on the football field and for his personal story of honing his athletic talent through grueling determination. For example, he would train by running barefoot down dirt roads with truck tires tied around his middle. 

That this most celebrated of high school football players chose the University of Georgia over more prestigious schools in more progressive states seemed to affirm the very culturally conservative football culture of his home state. The teenaged Walker also earned praise from his many white mentors and associates for his refusal to speak out on the numerous instances of bias and bigotry in Georgia, as well as in his rural hometown of Whitesville, where white people beat Black protesters, hoisted Confederate battle flags, and fired shots into the homes of Black families. This same neutrality—or passivity—in the face of so much hate also earned the antipathy of other Black students in his community.  

Social justice or whitewashing? 

Now that we’re in a post-Kaepernick age (free agent Colin Kaepernick still hasn’t been signed since 2016) has anything changed?  

For one thing, the NFL now sports a social justice initiative, working nationwide to inspire and facilitate “positive change” and “equal opportunity.” Created in the wake of Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem at a 49ers game, the Inspire Change program emerged out of discussions among a player-team owner group (a group that did not include Kaepernick).  

Kaepernick, along with fellow NFL player Eric Reid, filed a grievance in October 2017 against the NFL, claiming owners colluded to freeze them out of the league after their public acts of protest against racism and police brutality. That November, the NFL directed almost $90 million to the Players Coalition, the nonprofit from which Inspire Change emerged in early 2018. Kaepernick and Reid’s case wasn’t decided until 2019, when they reportedly received less than $10 million. 

Goodell speaks 

In summer 2020, players produced a video in which they confronted the NFL leadership over its hesitancy to issue meaningful condemnations of racism, requested a public declaration in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and called for the admission of bad-faith behavior regarding the concerns brought forward by players. At last, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell did the right thing, noting that the NFL condemned racism and admitted its errors in not listening to players when they first tried to address societal racism and brutality. And, Goodell said, “Black lives matter.” 

In a later radio appearance, Goodell addressed Kaepernick directly: “I wish we had listened earlier, Kap.” Goodell went on to address the unfair way some members of the media and fans had mischaracterized Kaepernick’s protests as “unpatriotic” or “disloyal.” Kaepernick and other players who protested, Goodell said, were only trying to “exercise their right” to focus attention on problems that urgently required real solutions. 

So in some ways, we have come a long way from 1982, when such an admission from the NFL commissioner would have been unimaginable.  

“Conservative” vs. “liberal” – Fans are all over the field 

But where are the fans in all this? Many criticize what they see as too much “wokeness” in the NFL today. A Newsweek op-ed from September 2021 declared that, along with COVID restrictions, “social justice” advocacy had driven fans away from attending games. Having players take the field that season with chosen slogans on their helmets such as “End Racism” or “Stop Hate” was too much for the columnist, who further said that “the Left” had “weaponized” the death of George Floyd to promote hostility to traditional patriotic ideals.  

Politically, there are plenty of teams whose fan base largely identifies as liberal. One 2017 study reported that 31 percent of Houston Texans fans said they were “very liberal,” and 39 percent of both Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints fans said the same. Fans of the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, and Los Angeles Chargers also skewed heavily “liberal.”  

On the other side of the ledger, you have the New England Patriots, 18 percent of whose fans identified themselves as “very conservative.” The Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys, and Tennessee Titans also posted fair numbers of “very conservative” fans, but none of these measures reached the high percentages as shown for the “very liberal” fans of the other teams.  

Conservative outrage over Kaepernick notwithstanding, this maybe doesn’t indicate so much an overwhelming fan base of ultra-conservatives for the game as a whole as it does an overwhelmingly vocal base.  

Like anything else, it looks like we’re taking two baby steps forward and one backward as we try to inch toward a truly inclusive game, one in which all players are valued and equal. 

How to Improve Your Heat Wave Commute


It’s hot in America these days, and it’s getting hotter. In early July 2022, some 50 million people were under alert or advisory due to excessive heat, and weather forecasters labeled a big swath of land from Georgia to Texas “hot and humid” on their maps. 

In cities like New Orleans and Houston, temperatures were edging over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity through the roof. That’s the kind of weather that becomes especially unsafe for senior adults, and for people living with heart disease and other chronic conditions that suppress their bodies’ ability to adapt to the heat.  

By the second week in July, the dangerous “heat dome” was sweeping out of the South and into the Southern Plains and the Southwest. By then, it was already getting to well over 110 degrees in Phoenix. Even places as far north as Ohio have seen temperatures in the triple digits. 

The transportation Catch-22

Commuting isn’t fun for most of us at any time, and now the heat has put many in an even more untenable situation. 

If you are fortunate enough to have a car to get you to work, you’re paying a lot more for gas than you were even six months ago. Although gas prices have started to fall, the national average on July 9 was $4.68, more than $1.50 over the same date in 2021. That’s not all: According to AAA, triple-digit temps can actually damage your vehicle, causing nearly all its parts to have to work harder in order to achieve the same performance.

Bike to work to save gas and the environment? In many places, it’s too hot. Make the commute without a car? Many cities’ public transit systems are not equipped with air conditioning. And that’s not all: In June, a Bay Area BART train derailed when the extreme heat warped the tracks, sending one passenger to the hospital. 

As you weigh the pros and cons of your own heat wave commute, Here are a few of the ways car-free commuters across the country are attempting to beat the heat: 

Elevating carpooling

Carpooling is one increasingly recommended way to beat the heat and save the planet during your commute. State and local governments like it because it keeps pollution down and highways less congested. 

Los Angeles County has advised residents to carpool, take public transit, or drive less, simply to help address the smog, which is worsened by the heat. Elsewhere, in Allen County, Ohio, officials similarly asked residents to carpool or bike to work to help lower ozone levels. In southeastern Michigan, there’s a program called Commuter Connect that aims to encourage carpooling by matching people commuting in the same direction. Many other cities have such services. 

In addition to the structured Michigan model, there’s also casual carpooling. Commuters traveling from the suburbs into the city gather at designated locations to hop into someone else’s vehicle, giving the driver the benefit of using the faster carpool lanes on the freeway.

Taking the sting out of public transit

Public transit offers a similar benefit for those who don’t mind crowds. To avoid getting stuck straphanging in a heat wave, though, you could try catching a bus or train before rush hour. See if there’s a good coffee shop or gym open near your office so you can relax or work out before you’re on the clock. 

Getting real about biking to work

If you’re set on biking to work in a heat wave, make sure to put your well-being first. Like your car, your body is going to have to work harder during any kind of physical exertion in the heat. Hot weather makes it more likely you’ll get dehydrated, fatigued, or even become ill. Dehydration reduces your blood volume, forcing your heart to overwork itself and making it more difficult to regulate body temperature. 

Make sure before setting out that you have enough water with you, and mentally prepare for where you’ll stop for a refill if necessary. The best advice is to drink a little bit of water at a time, and to do it often, when biking. Remember to drink even if you’re not thirsty. It’s common for someone on a long bike ride to consume two full bottles of water. A Camelbak or other hydration backpack is a great investment here. 

You might also want to try drinks containing electrolytes to replace those lost due to sweating, and to put ice cubes into your water bottle. 

The expert bike-to-work crowd recommends adding either panniers or a rear rack to your bike. That way, you won’t be weighed down by your backpack in the heat, keeping you less sweaty and much more comfortable.

Cyclists should also never be without sunscreen in a heat wave. Make sure you use one with a broad-spectrum SPF that’s high enough for your skin. A sunscreen with zinc oxide is best for blocking the most UVA and UVB rays.

The best advice for dressing for the heat is to wear clothing that’s loose enough not to cling, while snug enough not to interfere with bike safety. Light colors absorb less heat. Long sleeves may sound counter-intuitive, but keeping more of your body covered will actually keep your skin cooler.  

If your climate isn’t humid, you can get away with light synthetic blends. If you’re in a muggy climate, you might even want to consider wool. Yes, wool. It’s great at wicking away moisture, and it breathes like cotton while being quicker to dry. In general, natural fabrics like cotton and linen allow for better air circulation.

If your company offers a shower room, bring travel-size body wash and a fast-drying towel. If it doesn’t, your best bet is to keep some dry shampoo and a pack of wet wipes in your desk drawer.

The long-range view

No matter the weather, commuting to work can be the worst part of anyone’s day. One study showed that, if a person’s commute were lengthened by 20 minutes, it would produce a level of dissatisfaction equivalent to a $19,000 pay cut. 

So, now might also be a good time to take stock of your priorities. Maybe you can move close enough to walk to work. Or maybe there’s another job or a different role in your current one that would keep you closer to home. Depending on your role, you can also ask about working from home one or more days a week. Most studies on the topic have found that remote workers are, on the whole, more productive than those in the office.