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Weekend Reading: Hurricane Ida's Destruction, Racial Justice in America, Texas' Abortion Law, and More
The best reporting and writing from the past week, and context to understand it.
There’s a lot of great journalism out there. Every week, in a format short enough that it won’t be clipped by your inbox, we aim to share some of the best, with additional context for understanding the biggest news of the day. This is a weekly digest of stories you can savor and reporting you can rely on.
The Enduring Legacy of Elijah McClain’s Tragic Death
Robert Sanchez, 5280
Elijah McClain was 23 years old when he was killed by the police in Aurora, Colorado. He’d committed no crime, yet, as a Black man, he was tackled by the police, accused of resisting arrest, and he was injected with ketamine, which caused him to have multiple heart attacks from which he died. Letters poured in from across the nation, urging the governor of Colorado to make examples out of those who were responsible. This is the story of the power of those letters, which one writer read through one by one, even when the State of Colorado could not say the same.
🖥️ Corporate America’s $50 Billion Promise — Tracy Jan, Jena McGregor & Meghan Hoyer, The Washington Post: Elijah McClain’s death did not receive much national attention until the brutal murder of George Floyd ignited a discussion on police brutality. In the wake of Floyd’s death, some of the biggest companies in the world sought to show the world their commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement. They promised to help and pledged almost $50 billion to the cause. This in-depth report from the Washington Post shows the status of some of those pledges.
So far, 37 companies have confirmed disbursing at least $1.7 billion of the $49.5 billion pledged. Seven of the companies that provided data on their racial justice commitments refused to outline how much they had already spent.
📖 ‘Defund the Police’ Was a Rallying Cry in 2020. Minneapolis Is About to Vote on What That Means. — Samantha Michaels, Mother Jones: An in-depth look at the campaign to “defund the police” in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and its supporters’ struggle to overcome the lack of nuance in its name.
By talking more deeply with voters in this way, Minneapolis organizers are betting they can gain allies. Because while only 18 percent of respondents in the Ipsos/USA Today survey claimed to support the defund movement when asked directly about the term, a much higher number (43 percent) said they supported redirecting police funds to social services in the community — which is exactly what the defund movement calls for.
🗄️ From 2020: Twelve Minutes and a Life — Mitchell S. Jackson, Runner’s World: It was a big week for charging decisions in some of the too-numerous cases of police brutality. On Wednesday, charges were brought against those responsible for Elijah McClain’s death in Colorado. On Thursday, misconduct charges were brought against the former Georgia prosecutor for allegedly using her position to shield the men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery from being charged with crimes immediately after the shootings. The latter decision made for a perfect reason to remind readers that Mitchell S. Jackson won not only a National Magazine Award but also a Pulitzer Prize for his feature on Abrery and running.
🖥️ A Profile of Ahmaud Arbery Reveals the Dangers of ‘Running While Black’ — Chip Scanlan, Nieman Storyboard: For those who love to peek behind the curtain of great journalism, here’s an interview with Mitchell S. Jackson as well as an annotated version of his Runner’s World story with his comments and background information provided.
Overlapping Disasters Expose Harsh Climate Reality: The U.S. Is Not Ready
Christopher Flavelle, Anne Barnard, Brad Plumer & Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times
It’s no secret that climate change and extreme weather events have dominated the news. It’s been a topic of discussion in numerous editions of Weekend Reading (like this one, this one, and this one) as well as The Postscript’s most-recent Essential Reading List. But the lede of this New York Times story pretty well sums things up:
In Louisiana and Mississippi, nearly one million people lack electricity and drinking water after a hurricane obliterated power lines. In California, wildfire menaces Lake Tahoe, forcing tens of thousands to flee. In Tennessee, flash floods killed at least 20; hundreds more perished in a heat wave in the Northwest. And in New York City, seven inches of rain fell in just hours Wednesday, drowning people in their basements.
Disasters cascading across the country this summer have exposed a harsh reality: The United States is not ready for the extreme weather that is now becoming frequent as a result of a warming planet.
📖 Fleeing Disaster Is Hard. Climate Change Is Making It Harder. — Matt Simon, Wired: Incredibly dry conditions are ravaging the West, while the East is seeing the complete opposite problem: excessive rainfall. It’s not just that there are worsening extreme weather events, like the Times suggested. It’s that there are numerous kinds of extreme weather events affecting different parts of the country simultaneously, and it’s leaving Americans with very few places to go to find relief.
📖 The Levees Worked in New Orleans — This Time — Jake Bittle, Curbed: Did you know that, after Hurricane Katrina, the Army Corps of Engineers rebuilt the levee system around New Orleans at a cost of $14 billion? The terrible flooding, which accounted for the worst of Katrina’s damage, didn’t happen this time, despite the fact that Ida was an even stronger storm when it made landfall. Conventional wisdom said the levees had worked; the investment was a success. For some, that the levees withstood the worst Ida had to offer does not mean it’s guaranteed to withstand the next big storm.
🎧 New Orleans in the Aftermath of Hurricane Ida — Kevin Roose, The Daily/The New York Times: Hearing from those directly affected by the storm, still without electricity, brings to mind the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Audio, arguably, is the most intimate medium, and it’s impossible to hear the New Orleans residents in this podcast and not feel, if only for a second, like you were there.
🎧 Floodlines — Vann R. Newkirk II, The Atlantic: One of the best podcasts of any genre to come out in recent years, this in-depth look at Hurricane Katrina will make you sad and then mad and then thankful that Ida didn’t bring this same level of disaster to the Crescent City.
67 Abortions in 17 Hours: Inside a Texas Clinic’s Race to Beat New 6-Week Abortion Ban
Chabeli Carrazana, The 19th
A short-but-powerful piece from The 19th, which has been covering the fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to block Texas’ six-week abortion ban. The saddest part of the clinic’s story was that, despite its success in serving those 67 patients on Tuesday, there were another 77 appointments for Wednesday, and because the law had already gone into effect, those women could not be helped.
📖 Texas Abortion Case Highlights Concern Over Supreme Court’s ‘Shadow Docket’ — Charlie Savage, The New York Times: The U.S. Supreme Court prompted outrage when it did nothing to allow the most restrictive abortion law in the land, proffered by Texas and in flagrant violation of constitutional law, to go into effect on Wednesday. But it brought even more disrepute down on itself with its mealy mouthed reasoning for not blocking the law on procedural grounds and how the majority reached this decision without the usual trappings of the judicial process.
📖 The Deviousness of Texas’ New Abortion Law — Mary Ziegler, The Atlantic: The part of the Texas abortion law that’s easiest to understand is for whom it makes abortions illegal: anyone more than six weeks pregnant (at which point a doctor can typically detect a fetal heartbeat), which is often before many women even know they’re pregnant. What’s a bit more complicated to understand is how Texas got around existing precedents when such laws have failed before. The short version of the state’s solution is this: It doesn’t make the state the enforcement arm of the law. Instead, it allows private citizens to sue anyone who performs or aids and abets an abortion performed after six weeks. As this Atlantic piece explains:
Someone challenging the constitutionality of a law can sue the state officer charged with enforcing it. But in Texas, there arguably is no such officer, because only private citizens can sue to enforce the law.
📖 The Conservative Justices’ Reasoning in the Texas Abortion Case Is Legal Mansplaining — Dahlia Lithwick, Slate: There were numerous articles linked in last week’s Weekend Reading on the topic of abortion, but most were prompted by the case on the Supreme Court’s docket from Mississippi. Dahlia Lithwick is a fantastic read on all issues involving the highest court in the land, but she’s especially good on the topic of abortion. She burns with a white-hot indignity at the way the majority in the Texas abortion law decision just did not seem to care about the real-world ramifications of its decision but instead dithered behind tired procedural posturing.
📖 Two Frontline Workers on Day 1 of Texas’ New Abortion Ban — Annie Geng & Esther Wang, The New Republic: An OB-GYN and abortion-services hotline operator share the realities of the new Texas abortion law.
Today [Wednesday], I also talked to somebody who was at a doctor’s office getting an ultrasound, and I was like, let me know what the ultrasound says, and maybe you can stay in your city and get an abortion. We had been texting earlier in the week, but it was the first time I had spoken to them about their appointment. She’s going to be traveling out of state. Everybody’s leaving. We’ve had primarily people going to New Mexico or Oklahoma. We’ve had requests for people to go as far away as Seattle or the D.C. area. So we’re starting to get people going further away, probably as closer states start to be booked up. I think it means that people are maybe just throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks.
More of Our Favorites From the Past Week
The Heart-Wrenching History of the Breakup Album — Gracie Anderson, Smithsonian
Castles in the Sky — Christina Lalanne, The Atavist
The Surprisingly Big Business of Library E-Books — Daniel A. Gross, The New Yorker
Long-Haulers Are Fighting for Their Future — Ed Yong, The Atlantic
The Untold Story of IRAK, Downtown New York’s Most Legendary Graffiti Crew — Noah Johnson, GQ
The news doesn’t stop. If you checked out last week’s edition and found the topics interesting, here’s a collection of stories published since.
Health Care in America
📖 Teachers, Police, Other Public Workers Left Out of Mental Health Coverage — Reed Abelson, The New York Times
📖 How Elizabeth Holmes’ Abuse Allegations Could Affect Her Fraud Trial — Eliana Dockterman, Time
This week, elsewhere on The Postscript.
Kendra Pierre-Louis, a climate reporter for Gimlet Media who is shifting the conversation from problems to solutions, shares some of the stories she’s found most inspiring.
Stories That Matter: How High Country News Exposed the Dark Origin Stories of Some of Our Greatest Universities
A team of journalists and scholars was able to draw a direct line between the taking of Indigenous land and the founding of some of America’s preeminent institutions of higher learning.