A Q&A with Dennis A. HeniganCertainly the horror of the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which twenty first graders and six adults were struck down, has been a key turning point in the national gun debate. The loss of those innocent young children shocked the conscience of the nation. Prior to Sandy Hook, the conventional wisdom in the Democratic Party was that advocacy of gun control was simply not worth the political risk, although this thinking was based on an exaggeration of the NRA’s actual influence over election results.
By Melinda ChateauvertThree decades before “Nothing about us, without us” became the axiom for policymaking by the sex workers’ rights movement, the national prostitutes’ rights organization COYOTE conducted a “Prostitute Study” which demonstrated that community-based participatory research had the power to revolutionize scientific paradigms. At the start of the AIDS epidemic, almost no one used community-based research to study critical health issues. But San Francisco sex workers, working as peer researchers interviewing and testing marginalized women like themselves, mapped the epidemiology of HIV in 1985. This forgotten study by sex workers on HIV/AIDS was an essential element of their political activism, using evidence-based research for making public policy, designing future medical research and changing public attitudes about the sex industry.
By Michael BronskiThe HIV/AIDS epidemic and the success of the battle for marriage equality have been, over the past thirty-five years, the two events that have most affected LGBT lives. These two phenomena—first the spread of a deadly virus that has killed thirty-four million people worldwide and close to 660,000 in the United States, and second a prolonged, well-funded, culturally bitter fight to grant a basic right of legal contact to same-sex couples—are rarely linked in the political or public imagination. Yet, numerous cultural and social interconnections, resonances, and ramifications link these events.
By Karl GibersonThe flamboyant creationist and enthusiastic biblical literalist Ken Ham has just opened his controversial and long-awaited “Ark Encounter” theme park in Williamstown, Kentucky. At a cost of almost 100 million dollars, the park promises visitors—who pay $60 for admission—an encounter with “one of the greatest reminders we have of salvation.” In Ham’s view, Christians must accept all the stories in the Bible, no matter how fanciful, as literal history. Compromising on one Bible story compromises everything else.
By Dina Gilio-WhitakerWhen a thirteen-year-old member of the Mississippi Choctaw Band of Indians entered into a job-training program with Dollar General, no one could have foreseen how it would turn out. Referred to as John Doe to protect his identity, the boy alleged that he’d been sexually molested and harassed by Dollar General manager Dale Townsend. Ordinarily, a case like this involving a crime on an Indian reservation would fall under federal jurisdiction, but the US Attorney’s office in Jackson failed to file a lawsuit, and the boy’s parents sued Townsend and Dollar General for damages in tribal court.
By Atef Abu SaifToday is Eid. After a month of fasting, Eid is like a long sigh of relief. The kids get up early, woken by the hymns and chanting from the minarets of all the surrounding mosques, whilst the sun is still struggling to get out of bed in the east. Normally at Eid, the kids play in the streets, excited by the pocket money they’ve just received from their parents. This is always the single largest amount of money they’ll receive all year. They rush out and buy toys, go to the fairground, fly between the heaven and earth. Eid is what every child waits for all the year. It was always a favorite moment for me when I was growing up. It’s exactly the same for my kids.
By Amanda BeinerWhen associate publisher Tom Hallock first suggested that Beacon publish a myth-busting book about gun control, we knew we had to move quickly. The urgency of this issue put the new book on a sped-up schedule. While discussing the idea with other staff members, it seemed everyone could rattle off countless gun “myths” that pop up time and again in conversations about the epidemic of gun violence in the US. I set about researching books covering gun policy and came across Dennis Henigan’s Lethal Logic.
By Caroline LightThis week we shoulder the weight of our grief and outrage after yet another mass shooting by a heavily-armed gunman, this one directed at patrons of an LGBTQ night club in Orlando on Latin night. Forty-nine innocent people are dead and more than fifty wounded. Once again we struggle to make sense of the senseless, asking how we keep following the same nightmarish script. But just as the loss feels most raw, and some of us may be tempted by reductionist appeals to xenophobia, it is urgent for us to take stock of the cumulative effects of our nation’s violent past.
By Rashod OllisonFresh-cut watermelon smelling like rain and ribs sizzling on a grill bring the music back. The songs complement the food and the weather and Technicolor the memories of when we were all just kids with nothing in our pockets but waxy penny candy. We thought we knew everything. We knew nothing. All that mattered was that my cousins and I in Arkansas—with our Jheri curls and short sets, scarred knees and Tabasco tongues—were all together and that Cousin Rodney’s boom box had fresh batteries.
By Dennis A. HeniganI am sitting here, in my only orange shirt, in observation of National Gun Violence Awareness Day, and my thoughts turn to the New York Times’ remarkable recent study of 358 shootings last year in which four or more people were killed or wounded. As the Times noted, these were not the high-profile mass shootings in unlikely places like schools, churches and movie theatres that capture national attention, but rather “a pencil sketch of everyday America at its most violent.” The Times’ reporters penetrated beyond the body count to describe the circumstances of these shootings, in which 462 died and over 1300 were injured. The scenarios were varied, but the terrifying descriptions point to a conclusion common to all: if no guns were available, violence may have ensued, but countless lives would have been saved and serious injuries avoided.
By Dina Gilio-WhitakerThe war that is Native American cultural appropriation rages on. And make no mistake, this is a war for the control of meaning on what constitutes cultural appropriation, and thus what is considered acceptable in the U.S. American mind when it comes to American Indian culture and even intellectual property rights. In the world of media those with the biggest platforms have a decided advantage when it comes to influencing public opinion. It’s something Dan Snyder, owner of the notorious Washington Redsk*ns, knows full well.
By Haley StaffordThis year, my class took part in National History Day, a program for middle-school students to put together a project on a historical topic of interest. I didn’t have a clue as to what I wanted to research. All I knew was that the theme was “Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange in History.” My teacher noticed my struggle and recommended I read Thousand Pieces of Gold by Ruthanne Lum McCunn. This biographical novel instantly had me hooked on Polly Bemis, born Lalu Nathoy, a Chinese-American Pioneer woman who encountered great hardships, explored new ideas and roles on the American frontier, and exchanged her hardships for generosity.
By Sharon Leslie MorganOn January 23, 1977, more than 100 million people across America tuned their television sets to ABC to watch one of the first and still few programs to truthfully tell the story of American slavery. The historic miniseries, based on the novel by Alex Haley, recounted the genealogical saga of one of the first black people in America to successfully trace his ancestry backwards from the tobacco fields of Virginia, through the Middle Passage, to the West African Gambia village of Juffure. Revolutionary in its content, it was a story that embodied extreme examples of both horror and hope, along with the emotionally wrenching roller coaster of events that tied those reactions together.
By Stefan Bechtel“In March, 1886, I received a severe shock, as if by a blow on the head with a well-placed mallet. I awoke, dazed and stunned, to a sudden realization of the fact that the buffalo hide-hunters of the United States had practically finished their work.” The writer was William Temple Hornaday, then a thirty-two-year-old taxidermist at the U.S. National Museum (later the Smithsonian). He’d been asked by his boss to put together a mounted display of the museum’s collection of Bison americanus, only to discover that “the people’s official museum was absolutely destitute of good bison specimens of any kind.” These great shambling creatures, with their magnificent prehistoric silhouettes, in their unimaginable numbers, symbolized the wildness and grandeur of America better than any other animal, perhaps even the bald eagle.
By Bernardine DohrnIn 1970, we received a “Letter from the Underground” from Father Daniel Berrigan, printed in the New York Review of Books. It was a note from a comrade, for Dan too was a “most wanted” fugitive from the FBI and federal law enforcement officials at that time. A Jesuit priest, an acclaimed poet, a committed anti-war activist, his “Letter” was delivered, as was much communication then, not by mail or (landline) telephone, but via the media.
By Melinda ChateauvertOver the last week and before the print edition appeared, Emily Bazelon’s cover story “Should Prostitution be a Crime?” for the New York Times Magazine, sex workers and their allies were sharing and discussing it widely through Facebook, Twitter, and their blogs. I was thrilled to see people I know, activists I’ve admired and worked with, being given a national platform to have their say. This was and is a phenomenal media moment for the sex workers’ rights movement.
By Artemis JoukowskyIt was 1976, and I was a freshman attending the Allen-Stevenson School in New York City. My history and social studies teacher, John Pariseau, assigned a class report on the subject of moral courage. Pariseau further instructed us to build our papers around a personal interview.
A Q&A with Margaret ReganStarting in the 1980s, we began to have a policy of detaining immigrants. We didn’t really have detention centers ever since we shut down Ellis Island and Angel Island in the 1950s. 1980s policy changed. We were going to do detention centers. So, what do you do? You suddenly start needing prisons. You go to the private sector because they’re agile, they can do things. Corrections Corporation of America began around 1983. Their first project was an immigration detention center in Houston, Texas. And they quickly moved into the regular prison sector also. So they are a for-profit corporation.
A Q&A with Erika JanikHappy publication day to Erika Janik and her new book Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction! Pistols and Petticoats is a lively exploration of the struggles women have faced in law enforcement and in mystery fiction since the late nineteenth century. Working in a profession considered to be strictly a man’s domain, investigating women were nearly always at odds with society. These sleuths and detectives refused to let that stop them, and paved the way to a modern professional life for women on the force and in popular culture. We caught up with Janik to ask her about the social implications of women joining the police force, “murder as entertainment,” and how the reality of policewomen compares with the stories told in the crime genre.
By Alondra NelsonGenetic genealogy testing aligns with an enduring human desire: the search for roots and identity. The appeal of genetic ancestry testing cannot be understood without also understanding the backdrop of the specific example author Alex Haley provided about how this should be accomplished and what effects it might produce. Roots, for which Haley received a Pulitzer Prize, tells the story of Haley’s colorful family genealogy, which he traces back to The Gambia. The story is framed as the author’s “epic quest”: his prodigious efforts across years and continents to uncover his family’s past. In 1977, when Haley’s work was transformed into a television miniseries, the story of his ancestors’ trials, tribulations, and resilience held the country in rapt attention for eight days.