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A Police Killing Without a Hint of Racism

Posted: 03 Dec 2017 03:00 AM PST

On January 18, 2016, Daniel Shaver, a traveling pest-control worker, finished his shift and returned to his motel, a La Quinta Inn and Suites in Mesa, Arizona. In the elevator, he met a man and woman who'd just finished their own workdays, the two later testified in court. Did they want to join the 26-year-old Texan for Bacardi shots in his room?

They'd already begun drinking when one of the guests asked about an unmarked case in the corner. Was it musical instrument? No, a pellet gun. He used it at work. His job was to go hunt down birds that had flown into a Wal-Mart.

Soon he was standing by his room's window showing off his pellet gun to the man. Down below, two motel guests in the La Quinta Inn and Suites hot tub looked up and saw a man with a gun near a fifth-floor window. Someone called 911.  

By the time six police officers gathered in the fifth-floor hallway, Daniel Shaver was intoxicated. The other man had already left and gone back to his own room. The woman was still there. When they were ordered out of the room by cops, Shaver appeared confused.

Still, Shaver exited unarmed, put his hands up, and did his best to comply with the demands of police, who ordered him to lay down on the ground. Soon after that, Officer Philip Brailsford, 26, shot and killed him with a service weapon on which he had etched, "You're fucked." Brailsford is now on trial for second-degree murder.

The case hasn't attracted the higher degree of attention from the press, the public, or policing reform activists, partly because body-cam footage of the killing has been withheld from the media and partly because the cop and the dead man were both white, rendering the killing less controversial than one possibly animated by racism. But it warrants more attention than it has received.

* * *

Police killings in the U.S. have come under intensified scrutiny since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent rise of Black Lives Matter, a protest movement that seeks numerous policy reforms to stop unjust uses of deadly force. Although a Department of Justice investigation later cleared Ferguson cop Darren Wilson, it also documented decades of racist policing in the St. Louis suburbs; and a disproportionate number of the most egregious police killings involve black victims: Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Laquan McDonald, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, and more. African Americans make up a disproportionate percentage of all police killings, too.

Given the historic abuses African Americans have suffered at the hands of police and the disproportionate ways they are affected even today by racist or inept police officers, many find the racial framing of Black Lives Matter is essential. At minimum, it is both understandable and substantively defensible. And in my estimation, the race-neutral policy reforms that the movement advances are long overdue.

Its protests have certainly helped mobilize support for police reform among the subset of Americans who believe that fighting racism should be a high priority. Unfortunately, its explicitly racial focus has been alienating to others, including those who don't believe that racism is a significant factor in police killings; those who put fighting racism low on their priority list; and anti-black racists. In debates that ensue, critics of Black Lives Matter often try to argue that African Americans are not in fact disproportionately victimized by police killings. Here is a representative example.

Rather than engage that debate, though, I want to argue that it is largely irrelevant. Even if Black Lives Matter critics were right that police killings in America are not racially suspect, that would not be a sufficient argument against police reforms. It would still remain the case that American police officers kill many more people overall––and many more unarmed and mentally ill people in particular––than do police officers in other democratic countries.

Why isn't that enough to warrant serious, systemic reform?

Black Lives Matter and its progressive allies who want to advance its reform agenda, believing that it will save innocents of all races and that it will disproportionately save lives in black communities, display a laudable commitment to speaking out every time the police killing of a black person illustrates a flaw of the status quo. But publicizing and protesting egregious instances of white people being killed would do as much to advance its agenda agenda.

Daniel Shaver's case is instructive. His killing deserves more journalistic coverage as a matter of substance and more activist attention as a matter of strategy. Here is how Mark Geragos, an attorney in the case, describes the body-cam footage, which has been shown in court but not released to the public:

I know why they have not released it. It's not bloody. It's the most chilling, horrific thing you've seen in your life. This kid was begging for his life. He raised his hands, did everything the cops told him to do. And then they just executed him. It's bone chilling. One of the worst experiences I've ever had in my life is sitting in a court room with his widow, who watched it for the second time, and she literally went into convulsions. I had to grab her to hold her in a bear hug. It was just awful.

Ben has been with me for eight years and does nothing but the civil rights practice. I've been doing criminal and civil rights for 35 years. I've seen thousands of tapes. This is light years beyond anything I've ever seen… it burns a hole in your brain. I literally had nightmares about it.

And here is an excerpt from the incident report produced by a Mesa police officer, who watched the body-cam footage of the encounter and described what happened from beginning to end. Throughout the events about to be described, Daniel Shaver is totally unarmed, and wearing basketball shorts and a t-shirt:

Shaver could be partially seen walking from the alcove into the hallway a split second after Sgt. Langley shouted for them to stop. Shaver raised his hands in the air prior to any further command, round the alcove into the hallway and immediately dropped to his knees with his hands in the air facing the officers ... Sgt. Lanley shouted for both of them to get on the ground. Shaver placed his hands in front of him and laid down on the ground on the south side of the hallway with his hands extended above his head. In the video, Shaver appeared to be wearing a dark colored shirt and dark shorts. No weapon was visible in the video, but also it was not clear Shaver did not have a weapon from the camera view. Shaver was, however, obviously compliant and offered no resistance at that point.

Sgt. Langley asked Shaver if there was anyone else in the room and Shaver answered that there was no one else in the room ... Sgt. Langley then calmly asked if both of them could understand him ... Sgt. Langley then stated, "Alright, if you make another mistake, there is a very severe possibility you are both going to get shot, do you understand?"

Shaver responded "Yes" to this question ... Sgt. Langley then began to talk when Shaver started to ask a question by saying "what's––". Sgt. Langley told Shaver to shut up and stated that he was not there to be tactful and diplomatic with Shaver and they need to obey his commands. At that point, Shaver's outstretched arms had both palms facing up so the officers could see his hands. As Sgt. Langley was saying they needed to obey his commands. Shaver moved both his arms in front of his face in a similar manner to what would occur when someone is lying on their stomach and intending to rest their head in their crossed arms. Sgt. Langley took note of this and asked Shaver if he had told Shaver to move. Shaver immediately moved his hand back out in front of him with his palms facing up and said, "I'm sorry. No, sir."

Sgt. Langley then ordered Shaver to place his hands on the back of his head and interlace his fingers. Shaver was again compliant. Sgt. Langley then told Shaver to cross his left foot over his right foot. Shaver complied with this but appeared confused as to which foot Sgt. Langley had ordered him to cross. He crossed his feet both ways before finally crossing his feet as Sgt. Langley had instructed. Sgt. Langley then asked again who else was in the room and Shaver responded with "nobody."

Sgt. Langley then asked if both of them were drunk and they both responded that they were not ... He then told Shaver that he turn his eyes down and look at the carpet and not move. He further instructed that Shaver needed to keep his fingers interlaced on his head and his legs crossed. Sgt. Langley then told Shaver that if he moved, it would be considered a threat and the officers would have to deal with that and Shaver "may not survive it." Shaver acknowledged with "yes sir" when asked if he understood this.

This is already vexing. A guy who had done nothing illegal is ordered into a motel hallway. Six cops are there with their weapons drawn; he is presumably a bit drunk, which would only add to his alarm and confusion; he is clearly trying to cooperate from the start; but the cops are hostile, yelling at him for trying to ask a question, adding to his fear by shouting that he may not survive, and giving lots of complicated instructions—it isn't enough for the six men with guns that the man is laying on the ground with his hands outstretched and his palms up. They're ordering him to cross his legs with specific instructions for which leg goes on top; they want his eyes closed; they want fingers interlaced on his head.  

At this point, the woman crawls to police, who get her out of the way. The other individual had already left the room by the time the cops arrived on scene.

Now back to the incident report:

Shaver remained compliant and was not moving … Sgt. Langley told Shaver to listen to his instructions and "do not make a mistake." Portillo's purse was clearly visible in the middle of the hallway approximately three feet in front of Shaver.

Sgt. Langley told Shaver to keep his legs crossed and to place his hands out in front of him and push himself up into a kneeling position. Shaver moved his hands in front of him and then when he started to push himself into a kneeling position, he uncrossed his legs. Sgt. Langley immediately shouted at Shaver to keep his legs crossed. Shaver crossed his legs and was now on all fours on his hands and knees on the floor. Shaver's head was down and he could be heard saying he is sorry and continued to mumble something I could not understand. Shaver then attempted to raise his body into a kneeling position as he had originally been instructed and brought both of his hands behind his back. This did not appear to be an exaggerated movement and looked similar from the vantage point of the video as when someone is handcuffed with officers behind them.

I invite readers to lay face down on the floor, hands outstretched, legs crossed; and then attempt rising to a kneeling position without uncrossing your legs or drawing your hands toward your waistband. Do not make a mistake or you die.

Sgt. Langley began to tell Shaver that he was not interested in a conversation as Shaver pushed himself up and placed his hands behind his back. Sgt. Langley stopped mid-sentence and began loudly screaming at Shaver about his hands. The initial command of what to do with his hands was loud and indiscernible on the recording as to what is being asked of Shaver. Sgt. Langley then followed up with shouting for Shaver to place his hands in the air. Shaver complied and rapidly put his hands above his head.

At approximately sixteen minutes and forty seconds on the recording Sgt. Langley shouted at Shaver, "If you do that again, we are shooting you. Do you understand?" Shaver immediately responded with the statement, "No, please don't shoot me." Shaver's voice appeared to be panicked and Sgt. Langley shouted that Shaver needs to listen to instructions. At that point, Shaver's arms were above his head with his elbows at approximately 90 degree angles. Shaver was ordered to put his hands in the air again by Sgt. Langley and he pushed his hands high above his head in compliance.

Sgt. Langley then shouted to Shaver that he was to keep his hands high in the air and that if he puts them in the small of his back again that they will shoot him. Shaver could audibly be heard sobbing at that point and Sgt.Langley asked if he understood. Shaver again said, "Yes, sir," but could now be audibly heard sobbing as he said this.

Sgt. Langley could then be heard telling Shaver to crawl towards him. Sgt. Langley shouted this command and Shaver again dropped to his hands and knees and again can audibly be heard sobbing "Yes,sir," as he began to crawl forward. Shaver reached the area where Portillo's purse was and his left hand moved across his body and around the purse in order to crawl past it. Shaver was audibly sobbing as he crawled. Officer Brailsford's rifle was primarily pointed down the hall until this movement was made. Officer Brailsford then swung his rifle back towards Shaver where Shaver could be seen with his braced left hand and his right hand moving back towards his waist with his elbow raised behind him. Shaver's head appeared to be down with his face looking at the carpet. What appeared to be multiple voices, including Sgt. Langley's, then began to say "Don't" as Shaver's hand moved back toward the front of his body. When his hand moves toward the front it is very slightly balled and his thumb is towards the top. Officer Brailsford fired his first shot as Shaver's hand was moving toward the front of his body and as at least one officer was heard saying, "Don't."

The incident report recounts that "the movement of Shaver's right arm in the recording was a very similar motion to someone drawing a pistol from their waist band. Officer Brailsford rapidly fired five shots at Shaver and Shaver slumps to the ground on Portillo's purse. Shaver's underwear were clearly visible and it appeared his shorts had fallen partially down his legs at that point. Shaver's motion was also consistent with attempting to pull his shorts up as they were falling off. No other purposes for this movement appear to be viable."

Only one of the six police officers chose to shoot.

* * *

Even if police killings were rare in America, this case would warrant more attention, not only because of the deadly shots fired by Brailsford, but also due to the confounding commands issued by Langley. It would warrant more attention regardless of the race of the victim.

But we live in a country where 963 people were shot by police in 2016; where at least 48 unarmed people were shot; and where there was confirmed body camera footage in 144 cases. What's more, we live in a country where many reasonably suspect that neither the president nor the attorney general are as committed to protecting the civil rights of black people as the civil rights of white people; where Congress is controlled by a political party antagonistic to the Black Lives Matter movement; where some citizens are racist against blacks; where others don't believe racism is a significant factor in police killings; and where still others rank fighting or remedying racism low on their priority list.

Given all that—and understanding that police kill roughly twice as many white as black people every year, with some killings of whites among the most egregious and best-documented unjust killings—the tendency of some journalists and activists to put less emphasis on unjust killings of white people, whether because they are less controversial or less illustrative of disparities, undermines both the journalist's task of informing the public about the scope of the police-killing problem and the activist's task of building a winning coalition.

Those who believe that America is a racist country should be most persuaded that if the public more fully grasped how many white people police unjustly kill, that might move public opinion more than knowing that an identical number of black people were killed. That's awful. I find it depressing that some people are racists and others are unable to extend as much empathy or concern to those they perceive as different. Unjust killings of black people alone should have been enough to prompt significant, nationwide reforms years ago. But it hasn't been enough.

That is just reality.

Now think of those who are not yet persuaded that police reforms are needed, but who could be brought on board. On average, are they more likely to be won over by today's approach, or one that highlights egregious police killings even when they don't implicate the newsworthy problems of racial bias and inequality?

Among police officers asked about killings of African Americans, "about seven-in-ten white officers (72%) but fewer than half of all black officers see these encounters as isolated incidents," Pew found in January. "By contrast, majorities of black officers (57%) as well as the public overall (60%) say the incidents are signs of a broader problem between police and the black community."

I suspect that 72 percent of white cops would be more easily persuaded that there is a training problem or a "bad apple" problem than a race problem. I further suspect that even some straightforward racists would be converted to supporting significant police reforms if they knew about Daniel Shaver and other cases like his. And even if the most deplorable of all Americans pushed policing reform efforts over the edge, their passage would help people of all races, and would disproportionately help demographic groups whose members are most likely to be killed, like African Americans, men, and the mentally ill.

All killings by police are worthy of attention, at least until American law-enforcement officers kills fewer rather than many more of the citizens they're sworn to protect than police in other countries. No unjust killing of a black person should go uncovered. But I suspect it would be in everyone's interest if journalists and activists paid more attention to egregious police killings of white people. If you're horrified by Daniel Shaver's untimely death, yet against Black Lives Matter, consider that Shaver might well be alive if only the Mesa police department had long ago adopted reforms of the sort that Black Lives Matter suggests.

Running for His Life

Posted: 03 Dec 2017 03:00 AM PST

A thick fog hung over Mission Bay. Still dark out, it was early morning in San Diego, and Ryan Leighton was nervous. A lot was on the line that December day in 2013.

Chaos broke out in the frigid water a short while later. People climbed over each other. Feet and elbows flew. Leighton was claustrophobic as the sprint triathlon got underway; a blow to the face disoriented him. He thought of tapping out but silently talked himself into continuing. Quitting, he knew, would haunt him.

A bunch of bikes were still sitting around when he got to the first transition area. Leighton was freezing. His feet were numb and his hands wouldn't work as he struggled to rinse sand off and put socks on. Wheeling away, he made his first mistake. He had forgotten to take off his wetsuit and had to stop and change. Finally ready to go, the then-40-year-old pedaled off.

Two laps around Fiesta Island zipped by. Leighton passed one cyclist after another. By the third lap, his mind was racing.

This is for everyone who said it would never happen.

This is for everything I fought for.

In his excitement, he forgot to take off his helmet before the five-kilometer run, his second miscue. It was understandable; besides, his goal had been just to finish.

His feet were still numb from the water. His legs felt like Jell-O. Compared with the cycling, the first half of the run was like slow motion. The triathlon was the most sustained exercise Leighton had done since the night he nearly died more than a year earlier. Leighton started worrying: Maybe that was it. Maybe he had hit his breaking point. Maybe he had nothing left.

Just don't walk.

Now, Leighton was the one getting picked off. Somehow he wasn't done, though. There was a little something left in his legs. He all-out sprinted the last quarter-mile. Tears flowed down Leighton's cheeks when he crossed the finish line. He placed third in his age group at San Diego's Beach Blast Sprint Triathlon. After a decade of pain and self-destruction, Leighton was finally one step closer to getting his life back.

Ryan Leighton is 6-foot-1 and built like a lumberjack. He has short brown hair, a disarming personality, and a thing for crawfish étouffée and old-school punk—the band Fugazi is a favorite.

Leighton is a guy's guy. He's someone you'd want to spend a Saturday afternoon with barbecuing and drinking a beer. And if you were in trouble, you'd definitely want him in your corner because he's quick to offer a hand.

Born in 1973 and originally from Bradenton, Florida, Leighton was a self-described "military brat" who grew up hopping around the southeastern United States and parts of Canada. Both his father and grandfather served in the military, and Leighton followed suit in 1992 after graduating from high school.

The Marine Corps was his pick. Over time, Leighton found his calling as a crew chief on Bell UH-1 Iroquois "Huey" helicopters. "You're kind of like a flight engineer," he says. "You're a mechanic. You're a door gunner. You're basically anything they need."

After four years in the Marines, Leighton returned to civilian life in 1996. But he re-upped just two years later when he heard the Marines needed crew chiefs. In 2002, Leighton was sent to Arizona as a weapons and tactics instructor at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. In 2003, he deployed to Iraq—that same month he turned 30.

Ryan lost four close friends while in Iraq. They died in a crash at the end of a runway. The deaths got to him. At the time, Leighton says, "it was probably the worst thing that ever happened [to me]."

The first time Leighton thought of suicide was during his final month of that tour in Iraq. He didn't think about it often over there. But when he did, he grew desensitized to the idea—as long as nobody else got hurt, it seemed like a reasonable option. Also on Leighton's mind was what life would be like back home. It wasn't going to be good. A divorce with his then-wife of about five years was looming, and Leighton was scared of losing custody of his daughter. It would be really convenient, he thought, if something just happened to him and he was killed during the final days of his deployment. However, as his time in the Middle East ran out, he switched to thinking about how he'd take his own life.

In August 2016, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a report on veteran suicide rates from 2001 to 2014. The department dubbed the report part of the culmination of "the most comprehensive analysis of Veteran suicide in our nation's history." Using 1979 to 2014 as its time span for the overall study, the department looked at more than 55 million veterans' records. The information in the sub-study that examined 2001 to 2014 is sobering.

During that period, there was a 31 percent increase in veterans killing themselves compared with 24 percent for adult civilians. When taking differences in age and gender into account in 2014, veterans faced a 22 percent greater risk of suicide than their nonmilitary peers. In 2014, veterans between 18 and 29 years old had the highest suicide rates. Those aged 60 to 80 experienced the lowest rates that year. On average, 20 veterans took their own lives each day in 2014.

Suicide is a serious issue for active-duty and reserve-component (reserve and National Guard) personnel, too. According to a report from the Department of Defense, in 2012, 525 active-duty and reserve-component members of the military took their own lives. That number fell to 476 in 2013 and then to 446 the following year. In 2015, the number increased to 480 and then rose slightly to 483 in 2016. Through two quarters of 2017, 246 active or reserve service members committed suicide.

Put another way, more than 7,000 military personnel past and present kill themselves each year. They are sons and daughters; brothers and sisters; fathers and mothers; relatives and significant others; old classmates and best friends.

"This is a huge public-health problem," says Dr. Charles Nemeroff, a professor and the chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "Also, remember that for each suicide that occurs, there are a very substantial number of suicide attempts."

That's something Leighton knows all too well. Like so many soldiers, his story is both unique and somehow familiar. It is also just one story among thousands.

Back stateside in Yuma, Leighton was in trouble almost immediately. He felt empty at the homecoming reception. Loved ones, wives, and children excitedly greeted their Marines. Nobody showed up for him. Leighton bummed a ride home. On the way, he prayed that his wife would be there, that things weren't as bad as he feared.

It was midafternoon when he arrived at his house, a hunter-green, triple-wide modular structure that looked abandoned. A half-hour or so came and went before he screwed up the courage to go inside. The place was empty. Furniture was gone. Bars of soap were gone. The only things Leighton found were his clothes. Seeing the home so barren, Leighton realized that some of his worst fears had been made real. He snapped.

"Just trashing the place—I went in and just destroyed the house, you know?" he says. "Punching walls; throwing things; complete and utter temper tantrum. I did a lot of damage—I did quite a bit of damage just losing my shit on the house because it was all true." As he continues to speak, his matter-of-fact tone disappears, replaced by raw emotion that still hasn't healed. "I don't know if I can put weight on the enormity of that, like, when it's like no one's fucking there," he says. "Like: I went to combat, you know? Could've been killed."

After trashing the house, Leighton briefly changed out of his uniform and into civilian clothes—Marines are not allowed to wear desert camouflage in town—and walked down the road to buy alcohol. Being in civilian clothes felt weird. So when he got home, he put his cammo back on, plopped onto his Marine Corps sea bag in the living room, and drank everything he had. Life sank in. Leighton was done. He thought about suicide again—but he wasn't carrying a weapon. Leighton says he probably would have taken his life that night if he'd had anything to use—like gasoline to light himself on fire.

Leighton started running to get away from his nightmares. Almost immediately after returning to Yuma, Leighton began to wake up from graphic nightmares of his friends dying in the Middle East. In them, Leighton could catch the smell of burning flesh. He often would wake up from the violent nightmares covered in sweat and hyperventilating. He tried desperately to scrub off the dream's burning-body smell. Afterward, he'd run on base in the middle of the night.

"I couldn't talk to anyone about it," he says of the nightmares and lets out a sigh. "Because even at the schoolhouse [Marine Corps Air Station Yuma], there wasn't just Huey guys, there was other aircraft guys who just didn't have the experiences that I had. So, I just started running as a way to get rid of nervous energy."

Leighton's introduction to running came thanks to the Marine Corps' routine mandatory fitness tests. Competitive by nature, Leighton pushed himself to beat his peers. In the process, he got hooked. He never ran less than nine miles. It was an arbitrary rule Leighton made for himself, but one he followed religiously. Running shifted his focus from his nightmares to what was on his agenda for the day. He says those middle-of-the-night outings were the only times he felt normal.

That said, Leighton describes himself as somewhat of a "sadist." Take his go-to music: the soundtrack to the movie Black Hawk Down—on repeat. It was the element in his runs that would put him over the edge emotionally and compel him to push himself further physically. "I wore that sucker out," he says. Other times, it was music from Gladiator. Both brought back memories from Iraq. It was as though some part of him insisted on remembering. Even when he tried to run away from what haunted him, his brain couldn't let go completely.

At least twice, he suffered stress fractures from running too much. Even that didn't stop him—not at first. Sure, he felt the physical pain of his injuries, but running was still the best escape he had. When Leighton finally got to the point where it became difficult just to walk, he temporarily switched to long-distance biking.

Leighton calls 2003 to 2006 his "downward spiral." Before Iraq, he hadn't been a big drinker. But once stateside again, Leighton downed anything he could get his hands on. And like so many others who need to feel in control, he had rules when it came to drinking. One was that his daughter, Sara, had to be in bed asleep. His divorce became official in 2004, when Sara was not even 5 years old. With her, Leighton tried to act like everything was fine. But around 8 p.m., he'd hole up in his home office—where framed 8-by-10 pictures of his military friends who had died hung on the wall. Staring at the photos, Leighton would drink until one or two in the morning.

Coming to grips with the fact that he wasn't in control of things was a struggle. Nighttime led to anxiety about going to bed. He knew a nightmare would find him in his sleep. So, he'd try to drink away his nerves. "Could you imagine every night if you were going to go to sleep knowing you're going to dream that?" he asks. "It was the worst thing in the world for me, knowing I'd eventually have to go to sleep." And as the nightmares piled up, so did his mileage.

Leighton thought he was doing okay. Work was fine—great, even. Leighton was happy with his job; it helped keep his mind off his anxiety. While instructing, he was extremely careful to hide what he was going through. In fact, he became downright reclusive about his personal life. When it came to drinking, Leighton diligently followed the rules restricting alcohol consumption prior to flying. He also only drank at home. That way, nobody in small-town Yuma would ever catch him.

But, really, life was far from okay.

The graphic nightmares fueled Leighton's desire to take his own life. If only it were possible to trade places with those who were lost, he thought. To him, they were better human beings than he was. After just two or three months stateside, Leighton's suicidal thoughts became overwhelming—going from occasional to daily.

But thinking about Sara, and how selfish it would be to kill himself, stopped Leighton from taking his own life. "It's like you want to—you really, really want to—but you feel like you can't," Leighton explains. "It's sort of like purgatory every day. You wake and you're stuck. You're stuck in your life, and you don't want to be there, but you don't have any other choice."

This isn't uncommon. According to Nemeroff, just as there are risk factors that can push someone closer to taking one's own life, there are protective factors that can hold a person back from suicide. "Having a very strong religious faith can be protective," Nemeroff says. But there's something else: "most importantly, psychosocial support—connectedness—including family members."

And so Leighton plodded through his life and his nightmares: drinking, running, teaching—over and over again—during his three-year stint in Arizona after Iraq.

That's not to say he didn't get close to suicide. Twice during the final months of his stay in Yuma, he pointed a loaded gun to his head.

Orders next sent him to Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans in April 2006, where at first he kept up his exercise routine. Eventually, Leighton's drinking got even worse. He started trying to drink himself past his mental purgatory—to summon the liquid courage to commit suicide. It happened about once a month—until his next deployment in 2007. Drinking wasn't allowed during deployment.

The return to Iraq lasted less than a year.

Over there, Leighton was protected from himself. When he had time, a running club and his bike relaxed him. More importantly, he felt like he had a support system. There were people he could talk to and work out with. For once, his nightmares weren't that big a problem.

A dangerous flight during the deployment had also helped his self-esteem. Leighton's helicopter expertise had been vital. If it weren't for him being on that flight, he says, the helicopter would have gone down. The incident gave Leighton more pride in his abilities. People, he began to realize, respected him.

The thought of returning to the United States in 2008 was scary. His time in Iraq had been meaningful, and given his first disastrous homecoming, Leighton had a pretty solid idea of what life looked like stateside. He was right to be scared. At home, Leighton returned to drinking. Run-of-the-mill nonmilitary activities made him uncomfortable, and his support system had vanished. Alcohol was his coping mechanism.

But, Leighton stuck with cycling and running after returning home. He was in good shape and decided to test himself: He signed up for his first triathlon in New Orleans.

Max Temescu

Leighton didn't have a road bike to use in the triathlon, so he jerry-rigged his mountain bike into one by throwing on road tires. Boy, did he get some funny looks the day of the competition. But Leighton wasn't deterred. He did very well, finishing around 26th overall out of more than 200 competitors. "For me, that was a crowning achievement," he says, looking back. His goal was just to finish; he crushed it. "It did a lot for my self-confidence at the time."

Leighton was excited. He thought maybe if he got into the triathlon scene, it would help keep him from giving in to his vices. There's also plenty of evidence that physical exercise can help combat mild-to-moderate levels of depression. Nemeroff says this occurs through a process called neurogenesis, in which the hippocampus can create new brain cells, even in adulthood. Nemeroff added, however, that exercise is not enough to cure the kind of severe depression that Leighton had. But research suggests it could certainly help him deal with the everyday stress that might lead him there.

Sure enough, exercise worked. Until it didn't. Leighton put his triathlon kick on the backburner and started drinking again. Without the thin line of defense fitness had given him, Leighton was easy game for his demons.

One night, Leighton was out on his old beat-up deck with a .45-caliber. Despite being only two or three beers in, he was worked up. He had had enough with life and was daring himself to end everything. He raised the gun to his head. The safety was off.

"I just remember letting off the trigger, feeling all the slack go out of the trigger, and wondering how the fuck it never went off," he says. "How it didn't go off—I don't know … There was no problem with that gun."

Whatever happened, Leighton had seriously scared himself. Something needed to change. But instead of asking for help, Leighton put in a request for orders. He needed a fresh start, he told himself. In May 2009, he went to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in Southern California.

There, Leighton met a woman named Jacquie, a former Marine Corps helicopter mechanic and an avid runner who roped Leighton back into the habit. "That's what actually our first date was, you know, shit-talking over who was a better runner," he remembers. One date became two. Two became three. Eventually, the couple got married. Finally, Leighton saw a glimmer of light in his life.

It didn't last. Leighton lost seven more friends on February 22, 2012. That day, after Leighton got back from flying, the crew who replaced him died when their helicopter and another collided.

Shortly afterward, Leighton deployed again, this time to Afghanistan.

It was pitch-black. The edge of road surrounding the perimeter of Camp Bastion's runway was gravelly and littered with debris and rubble. It was late August 2012, almost exactly six months since the tragedy back home. Leighton, then a gunnery sergeant, had woken up early and was getting a run in prior to his night shift. The Afghanistan edition of the Marine Corps Marathon was coming up, and Leighton wasn't going to miss it. He knocked out his nine miles that evening and mentally prepared for work. It was quiet. Military traffic motoring by was the only thing that broke the silence.

Leighton and a host of other troops were supporting NATO that night. They were traveling to an "NAI," or Named Area of Interest, 60 to 70 miles north of Tarin Kowt to verify the location of a person tied to narcotics and believed to be associated with the Taliban.

Leighton reported for duty by 11:30 p.m. local—early. He wasn't flying with his usual crew that night, and he wanted to make sure everything was just right heading into the operation. He also knew that the mountainous area he and the others were headed into had recently seen an uptick in hostility. Aircraft had been getting shot at more than normal. There had also been an unusual increase in ground activity. "They were getting a lot better," he says of the enemy. "These weren't your normal farmers [who] just pick up an AK and fire into the air. These guys really knew what they were doing."

Taking off under the cloak of the Afghan night, Leighton was the most-senior Marine in his UH-1Y Yankee—he won't say how many helicopters were involved in the op—and he felt he had brought his A-game.

It took about 30 to 40 minutes for Leighton's helicopter to get from Camp Bastion—a since-vacated United Kingdom base located in a sea of poppy fields in Helmand Province—to Tarin Kowt. There, they picked up five or so members of Task Force 66, an Australian Special Operations Task Group; they refueled; and they addressed some minor electrical issues, setting their schedule back a bit.

Conscious of time, Leighton's helicopter made its final approach to the NAI around one or two in the morning. The area didn't look right to Leighton compared with what he saw on his map. The pilot disagreed.

At around the one-minute-to-go mark, Leighton turned to the two Task Force 66 members on his side of the Yankee and told them to be careful during their mission. That's when he noticed the helicopter was coming in faster than normal. Seconds later, the Yankee lost reference to the ground. The helicopter had gotten too close to it, kicking up loose desert sand high into the air and engulfing the Yankee.

Leighton issued a wave-off. A wave-off is a command to abort a landing; it is supposed to be honored on the spot. Except this time, it wasn't. As best as he can remember, and despite the whirl of sand around them, Leighton recalls the pilot saying that he did in fact have a ground reference.

Leighton looked back again to determine where the helicopter's tail rotor was compared with the physical environment. He saw massive boulders. As calmly as possible, Leighton checked in again with the pilot. He gave another wave-off. The Yankee's tail was low and its nose was up—the helicopter was almost perpendicular to the ground. Leighton gave yet another wave-off.

"I got it," Leighton remembers the pilot saying. "I've got the ground." But Leighton wasn't budging and again issued a wave-off. Once more, Leighton looked toward the back of the helicopter.

"Basically, that's when we hit," he says. Sparks flew as the tail rotor hit the rocks. "The whole aircraft flipped over really, really quick, and as soon as it did, I got ejected."

Leighton momentarily landed in an elevated valley between a pair of mountains. Still strapped into his gunner's belt, he felt himself slingshot back into the air before flying down to the rocky, sandy earth like a yo-yo. This time, the impact knocked him out. He isn't sure for how long. When he eventually came to, the Yankee's engines were roaring uncontrollably above him. He was pinned underneath the helicopter. Leighton was facedown in the dirt with the weight of the aircraft on top of him. He couldn't breathe.

"It was the scariest thing in the world, and everything hurt," he says. "And then, I think the realization hits, it's like, 'Holy shit, we just crashed.'"

His mouth was full of blood, dirt, and helicopter fuel. He scooped out a hole with his left hand to spit into. There was also the gunner's belt to worry about. It was still strapped around Leighton and stretched beyond its usual limit; a gunner's belt only has so much slack before it can become a strangulation device. The belt was pulling so hard, Leighton felt like he was being bear-hugged. He couldn't breathe and started to feel like he was going to pass out again. If he did, he thought, he would die from lack of oxygen. As he started to lose consciousness, he reached up and hit the release. The belt went flying away.

He started to breathe more normally.

As he did, though, his back began to break. One bone snapped after another, starting from the L2 to the T10.

Two people died in the crash. Both were from Task Force 66.

Leighton was sent to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He stayed for about three weeks.

The injuries he sustained were extensive. He had a traumatic brain injury. He had nerve damage and couldn't feel anything in his arms. He had speech and memory issues. An infection in one of his legs made his shin bone so soggy that it was basically memory foam. Then there was his back. Leighton's spine was more smashed than broken. There wasn't much that could be done for it other than a back brace and time.

After his stint at Walter Reed, Leighton returned to California. In December 2012, he was assigned to Wounded Warrior Battalion West's Alpha Company at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, a regiment that provides medical care as Marines transition back to their units or back to civilian life. There, he continued his recovery, suspecting that his flying days were over as vision and hearing problems were added to his list of injuries. But something else happened, too. Leighton's wife, Jacquie, noticed a change in her husband's personality.

"He had a dark side before his accident," Jacquie says. "It just, it wasn't there every waking minute of every day." And then the crash happened. "It was like watching a light switch get flipped."

The crash tormented Leighton. In his mind, the Australians' deaths were his fault. He blames himself to this day. "We were the flight crew," he says of the Americans on the helicopter. "We were the ones that were supposed to get 'em where they're going … I couldn't save 'em when they needed me. That was my fucking job. I was put specifically on that aircrew—you know, I was pulled from my crew, put on that crew to mitigate fuckin' problems, and if anything went wrong, I would know what to do. And I was the one person who couldn't do anything."

The slow slog of recovery also tortured him. In February 2013, he briefly decided to stop taking his medication, only to wind up getting intensely sick and having to go to the emergency room. Worse, he soon tried it again. Things got bad in a hurry.

As soon as he could walk a little, Leighton started trying to sneak out of the house. The thing was, he wasn't fast—or coordinated. By now, Jacquie spent her nights sleeping on the couch or in the hallway, basically anywhere she'd be able to respond to and take care of Leighton. He didn't try to sneak out a whole lot, probably fewer than five times, but Jacquie caught him each time. They were trial runs, he explains. But Jacquie didn't realize what was going on. She was so focused on being her husband's personal nurse and attending to his physical needs that she didn't see that Leighton was preparing for something.

On March 5, 2013, the couple's anniversary, Leighton was eerily distant and calm, and Jacquie started to think she had to watch out for suicidal behavior. The following day, he came home later than usual from his doctors' appointments and work at Wounded Warrior Battalion West. Leighton was acting strange and wandering around the house. Eventually, he told his wife he was going out for a walk. Jacquie was confused. Her husband never went for walks. Plus, Jacquie noticed something: What was behind Leighton's back? "Nothing," he said. Jacquie knew better: He had a gun.

Leighton handed over the .45-caliber Glock 21 but was soon out the door anyway. Jacquie locked the gun and ammo up. She stashed the keys in her car's glove box. Then she took off on foot after her husband and eventually persuaded him to come home.

The next morning, she brought him to the naval hospital. Leighton admitted he had thoughts of hurting himself. "I didn't want to just end it," he says. "I wanted to suffer when I ended it … I just felt lower than low."

For the next two weeks or so, Leighton was so heavily medicated that he was basically in a blackout. But things started changing for the better after he woke up.

For a while, Leighton worked with a service dog: a black lab named Jobie. She was great at calming Leighton down, which allowed him to open up more at mental-health appointments. Leighton also took on the duties of first sergeant at Wounded Warrior Battalion West. He had been promoted to the rank after the crash, but until that spring, hadn't been well enough to serve in the role. The new administrative leadership position was vastly different compared with his aviation work, but he flourished. Leighton was responsible for a whole company, roughly 200 people.

And then he met Gary Hanson, the man who would finally help Leighton get back on track mentally and physically. Hanson, a California native in his early 50s, has decades of experience in the cycling industry. The pair met in spring 2013. Hanson, a lifelong civilian, was working as the cycling coach at Camp Pendleton for Wounded Warrior Battalion West. He also coached the Marine Corps' team in the annual Paralympic-style Department of Defense Warrior Games, held for wounded, ill, and injured members of the military. Hanson says, "It was 10 times more rewarding than any event I ever competed in."

About four to six weeks after Leighton first met Hanson, the two went for a late-morning ride around Camp Pendleton. By now, Leighton was on the mend. His balance had improved. He was more flexible, too, and his back was much stronger. Talking as they pedaled, they discussed the helicopter crash, the deaths, and how Leighton dealt with it—or didn't. That's when Leighton opened up. There were days he wanted to die, Leighton told Hanson. Days he wanted to fight everybody at Wounded Warrior Battalion West. Days he wanted to scream. It was the first time Leighton had ever volunteered to talk about his demons without being pressed. The conversation that day changed their relationship. Instead of being a Marine and trainer, the two became friends.

In addition to feeling connected to others—the way Leighton did with Hanson—research shows that while exercise is not a panacea, it can be "particularly effective for patients for whom more conventional psychological interventions are less acceptable." Certainly fitness had long been a touchstone for Leighton.

Unsurprisingly, when another Marine Corps patient at Wounded Warrior Battalion West floated the idea of doing a team sprint triathlon, Leighton was interested. A team sprint triathlon is a short-distance triathlon with a three-person team: in this case, one teammate does a 150-meter swim, another bikes 12 miles, and the third runs five kilometers. Leighton still couldn't walk perfectly, but he said he was in. Hanson approved.

The summer heat was giving way to autumn's chill when Leighton slowly began to train. It was painful. But the physical activity energized him and made him feel more engaged in his recovery. He was penciled-in for the cycling portion of the Tinsel Triathlon in Hemet, California, that December. While preparing, he added running back into his exercise mix. It was his little secret: He wasn't medically cleared to run. Nevertheless, he eventually worked his way up to running two miles.

On December 8, 2013, the day of the sprint triathlon, there was a switch in plans. Something had happened to one of Leighton's teammates, which brought last-minute changes. Leighton was asked to do the run instead of the bike. He was floored. He still hadn't been medically cleared to run. And now he was being asked to do a 5K? Some might have balked, but Leighton didn't shy away. That's not to say he wasn't nervous: Before the race started, he dry heaved in a Porta Potty.

Then, it was go time. Out on the course, Leighton looked at his GPS and did a triple take. His pace shocked him. "Which was like a 9:11—it was something horrible, but," he says with a laugh, "that was like blistering light speed for me at the time."

The back half of Leighton's 5K was even faster.

His success that day was personally transformational. In nothing flat, Leighton was talking to his non-medical case manager: He wanted to stay in the Marines. But he was told that just wasn't in the cards. Leighton says his medical case manager echoed the sentiment. Leighton was on limited duty while at Wounded Warrior Battalion West; he was nearing the point when the military would show him the door. Time was running out.

The Marine was frustrated. But he knew how to stay in the Corps. He needed to pass the Marine Corps' physical-fitness and combat-fitness tests and get his mental health cleared.

He wondered: What if he could finish all three components of a sprint triathlon? If he could do that, then surely he could pass the Marine Corps' fitness tests. He decided to try—the very next weekend.

Leighton, who was 40 at the time, took third place in his age group at the Beach Blast Sprint Triathlon—even after taking an elbow to the face in the frigid water of Mission Bay.

And it turned out Leighton was right. After finishing the sprint triathlon, he did indeed later pass the Marine Corps physical- and combat-fitness tests. He cleared his mental-health assessment, too. He was going to stay a Marine and return to full duty.

Of course, passing those fitness tests wasn't a cakewalk. "I went home that day and literally threw up blood all night and went back to every bit of pain patch and Motrin I could take," Leighton says. "Everything fuckin' hurt."

Jacquie was once a surfer. So, her husband picked Hawaii for his station assignment even though doing so would require him to transition from aviation to combat arms. It was Leighton's way of saying thank you to his wife for taking care of him and staying by his side.

Life after the accident was hard for Jacquie, but despite everything the couple had gone through, leaving Leighton never crossed her mind. "He's my husband," she says, getting emotional. "We got married. It's that simple. We're married."

More than 14 months after the crash, in January 2014, Leighton began serving in Hawaii as the company first sergeant for Combat Assault Company. At first, Leighton rode his bike every day. Hanson chipped in with training plans when needed. Meanwhile, back in California, Hanson's new nonprofit, WIRED Athletes (Warrior Integrating Reconditioning Educating Developing) had started taking shape. WIRED began as an outreach program to get former military service members connected to clubs for road biking, mountain biking, and triathlons in their hometowns, but then WIRED branched out and created a team of military athletes. Leighton was one of the first to join, and he represented WIRED at a sprint triathlon on base in Hawaii.

A brief trip to Quantico, Virginia, in April 2015, however, brought the Marine back a step. Quantico is where First Sergeants Course is taught. There, first sergeants learn how to carry out their duties by the book. While in Virginia, Leighton panicked. He beat himself up over imagined work-related failings. He felt like he didn't fit in with his classmates. He slept and ate less than he should have. Not having his bike with him didn't help. For those couple weeks at Quantico, running was once again his coping mechanism. Leighton gutted the course out and graduated. However, the experience—far from his support system and family—made Leighton realize that, despite being cleared to continue in the Marine Corps, he no longer had the mental wherewithal to fulfill his job responsibilities. It was time to retire after all.

But just when Leighton acknowledged that it was time to move on, a phone call complicated things. Leighton had been assigned to a different unit in Hawaii—and this new unit was going on deployment.

So, Leighton got ready for a non-combat strategic-positioning deployment to Asia. Still, prior to departure, Leighton made sure to file his retirement paperwork. Two months or so into the deployment, he found out his retirement had been approved. And, for the most part, the rest of his time in Asia was stress-free: "Everything's easy when you have a finish line."

Traffic was heavy westbound on Loop 1604 in San Antonio. It was after five o'clock in the evening on a Tuesday this past June. Leighton was driving home from work in his tan Toyota Tundra. His back hurt. It felt like four putty knives were in between his lower vertebrae, each knife turning in a different direction. Talking helped take his mind off the pain.

There were only 10 days or so left in Texas. After working as an aviation-maintenance supervisor there for nearly a year since getting out of the Marine Corps, Leighton had accepted an aircrew instructor position with a government contractor in Orlando, Florida. Once an instructor, always an instructor; it was his passion. Plus, the new gig would let him spend more time with his young family. Leighton and Jacquie now have a bustling household with three children under 7.

Leighton has moments when he second-guesses his decision to retire from the Marines. He misses flying and being a role model. "When you're overseas or in combat, and you have young guys looking at you for direction and complete trust and confidence that you're going to get them home … when they look at you like that, that's the best feeling in the world," he explained.

Yet, he said, officially retiring was the right call.

Civilian life has taken some getting used to. It's still weird when people call him by his first name. And there's the whole clothes thing. Now, he has had to think about what to wear.

There are of course more serious issues. The 44-year-old sometimes struggles to remember things. Post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder have been problems, too. And not being able to hear much of anything with his right ear makes loud, crowded settings uncomfortable. Same when his three little ones are noisy at home.

The nightmares haven't gone away. He gets them three or four times a week, but they're usually different now—less about the friends he lost during his 2003 deployment. Instead, the dreams have become replays of Leighton's own crash. When he has nightmares now, his black lab helps calm him down. The dog, not alcohol, is Leighton's crutch. An herbal supplement and being more connected to others have also helped take the edge off.

Every day, an average of more than 20 former military personnel take their own lives—a number that climbs higher if you include current service members. Leighton nearly became a part of that statistic a terrifying four times over the past 14 years as he deployed and returned and deployed and returned. He still occasionally thinks about suicide. The idea is an easy refuge, he said, for when he has what he calls a "setback"—a bad week or incident.

Running is too hard on his back these days, but Leighton still has his bike. And he knows that endurance isn't about blindly tolerating pain; it's about training for it, fighting it, and moving past it.

Leighton sat in his driveway on Palomino Path sometime after six that Tuesday night in June in front of the home he shared with his wife and three children. He cared about his family. He was their provider. They were counting on him.

The Volunteer Vigilantes of New York City

Posted: 03 Dec 2017 02:00 AM PST

Since their heyday 40 years ago, the Guardian Angels have become a figment of New Yorkers' collective memory. The volunteer vigilante squad, led by Curtis Sliwa, was a mainstay in the city in the late 1970s and '80s—a period when the police department coined the moniker "Fear City" for the five boroughs and warned tourists not to go out after sunset.

The charismatic and controversial Sliwa trained his red-capped followers—mostly young people of color from troubled neighborhoods—to patrol the streets and subways. At the time, crime was high: The rates of murder, theft, and assault all roughly doubled between 1965 and 1975. And by the mid-1970s, the police force was thinned out because of a fiscal crisis facing the city. The troupe's stated aim was to protect citizens and deter wrongdoing, and they'd physically fight individuals they deemed a threat.

But the Guardian Angels, and Sliwa himself, were not without critics, who said the members were inadequately trained, ineffective, and behaved no better than local gangs did. The most prominent critic was former Mayor Ed Koch, who accused Sliwa of being more interested in fame than stopping criminals. That accusation was partially corroborated in 1992 when Sliwa, whose group by then had expanded internationally, admitted to faking multiple crimes for publicity—a decision he's since said he regrets.

New York City is a wholly different town today: Crime rates are at historic lows and a crisis of gentrification has largely replaced that of urban blight. But to Sliwa, the Guardian Angels are still relevant, even if their ranks in New York are a shadow of what they once were. Last year, he found a reason to call his followers back to service: a series of subway slashings that then-NYPD Commissioner William Bratton called an "aberration." "There's an aggressiveness that's taking place in the subways that hasn't taken place for quite some time," Sliwa told Time. "My sense over the years is that we're beginning to slip back."

In hyping those events, Sliwa seems to be aiming for a Guardian Angels resurgence. His current focus is the subway system, which he claims is a dangerous place for women specifically. I spoke with Sliwa recently about his motivations; his legacy; and a new documentary, Vigilante, that chronicles his career, mostly through his own perspective. The conversation that follows, held over two phone calls, has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Maura Ewing: First, the red beret: You are wearing it in every scene. Is that your everyday attire?

Curtis Sliwa: It's like an appendage to my head. People think that I sleep with it.

Ewing: Do you?

Sliwa: Sometimes I do. I actually pull it over my head and it blocks out the light and I catch a few zzz's. You can do everything with that red beret.

Ewing: What's the current status of the Guardian Angels? Are you patrolling?

Sliwa: We're in 13 countries, 130 cities. We have an international membership of about 5,000. The main focus is always going to be the patrol. We also have ancillary things that we do now—for instance, we have Junior Guardian Angels. These are young girls, young boys, who are six to 15 years old. They do not patrol—we teach them martial arts. This way they can protect themselves, it teaches them discipline, and it gives them self-esteem. They also do community service.

Most recently I've spent a lot of time on two new groups. One is called the Perv Busters. It's mostly women who patrol. The program has had just a year in existence in New York City; now we're going to try to roll it out in some of our other chapters. They go after the [men] exposing themselves on the subways—very similar to what we've seen a lot of well-to-do guys be accused of and acknowledge, like the comedian Louis C.K. [These men] collect in mass transit because it's easy for them to rub up against women and violate women, particularly during rush hour.

Often, we are provided pictures of them that victims took with their cellphones. We'll do informational outreach in which we print up thousands of flyers and spread them throughout the system and then immediately begin pursuing them—something the local authorities just don't do. It's almost like out of sight, out of mind.

Ewing: With Perv Busters, are you trying to catch people in the act?

Sliwa: We have, but it's not the main focus. The predators underground in the subways are creatures of habit. They will ride the same trains at the same times, normally at peak hours, because if a woman objects to him [touching] her or accosting her, he can claim, "Oh, it's so crowded here, I'm sorry." We get their photographs, and we begin to hunt them. We have had some arrested, but it's mostly an informational campaign.

Ewing: Do you ever worry that you're going after an innocent person?

Sliwa: Of course. The checks and balances are that you don't act like Donald Trump and retweet something. You do due-diligence forensic research [to see] if you can come up with a name, an identity, other people who will likewise indicate that this person has been molesting women in the area. We've been doing this for over a year-and-a-half. We've probably leafletted 185 [men]. None of it has come back to haunt us because we didn't dot the i's and cross the t's.

Ewing: How do you do your research?

Sliwa: We try to go online, see if there are other women who likewise have seen this guy, or if he fits a description. A lot of times women will take pictures of these guys—you make sure it's not Photoshopped. If enough women have come forward and have IDed the guy and he seems to have a certain pattern, then we go with it without police verification.

Ewing: What is enough?

Sliwa: Enough is three or more people who have IDed the guy who aren't friends with each other and not related—independent sources.

Ewing: Is Perv Busters legal?

Sliwa: It's legal. But if you ID the wrong person, you yourself can be arrested because, remember, we have no special powers or privileges.

Ewing: Your group started patrolling the subways again in New York City about a year ago—is that right?

Sliwa: No, we have patrolled regularly since 1979. We've had patrols every day and every night since we began. But nowhere near to the effect that we had between 1979 and 1993, which is the period that the documentary covers.

Ewing: I read in a Time story that you came back last year because of a series of slashings on the subway.

Sliwa: That's true. We doubled down, we increased our recruitment, and we began to focus on those neighborhoods that were the feeding system for the slashings. They weren't taking place all over the subway system, but were in certain key junction areas, particularly up to Harlem, Washington Heights, Inwood, the South Bronx, and parts of Brooklyn. The NYPD didn't seem to have an answer to it at the time, so we helped to fill the void. [The NYPD did not reply to a request for comment on this story, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority declined to comment on Sliwa's campaign in the subways.]

People will get in contact with us if they haven't gotten relief from first going to the police. We're always the last choice that a person has when they're frustrated because they've tried all other measures, and they figure they've got nothing to lose. The Perv Busters is a classic example: Every time we're on the subway, we have women coming up, showing us pictures on their cellphones. We always ask, "Did you take it to the police?" They say, "Yeah." "What happened?" "Nothing."

Obviously, we were more needed in the '70s when they were laying off cops because the city was in fiscal distress. [In 1974] the city announced that at night there would be no more uniformed police patrolling [in the subway] during the off-peak hours, 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. That was a license to steal for thugs. You don't have that situation now. The police are fully staffed and they generally do a pretty good job. But there are still those pockets out there, situations that they chose not to get involved in. Or they've tried some methods and are just not successful. Or they don't seem to understand the problem.  

Ewing: It seems like you have an interest in convincing the public that crime is coming back. Is that an element of your approach?

Sliwa: No, I wouldn't say it is.

Ewing: But in New York, your group reemerged after the slashings. I read that you were convinced the city's slipping back. Is it part of your approach to tell people the city is getting more dangerous?

Sliwa: Definitely in the subways, the number of [reported] sexual assaults and sexual harassments has gone up each of the past two years by 20 percent. It's a major problem in the subway system, along with crime in general in the subway, whereas you can't really make the same case aboveground. But, still, it's a much better system than what we were introduced into when anarchy reigned between 1979 and 1992 in the subways.

Ewing: The new documentary alleges that you contributed to the decline of crime in the '90s. How?

Sliwa: There were three ways that we contributed: First, we destroyed the stereotype that existed in our city that young black and Latino men or women coming out of the hood had a predisposition to join gangs and be thugs or thugettes. That was a very prevalent stereotype. But here emerges the Guardian Angels, predominately black or Hispanic young people who were a total contrast to the gangs.

Secondly, we had a fight-back mentality. The acronym very common then was MYOB: Mind your own business. You had a lot of lawyers out there threatening to sue people, like us, who got physically involved. We spit in their eye and defied that.

The last thing was that we proved that one woman or one man could make a difference in a neighborhood. All it took was one person to start organizing; he or she could make a difference. You just had to do the heavy lifting and the hard work and know that change would come in slow increments.

Ewing: Some counter theories to why crime declined are that there was economic growth in the '90s and more people were incarcerated—what do you think about that?

Sliwa: Birthrate, that's another factor. I personally believe a lot of it had to do with an enormous drop in the youth population. All of those factors played in, too.

Ewing: Initially, how did you get community members to trust the Guardian Angels?

Sliwa: They were coming from poor and impoverished neighborhoods; they were fed up; they wanted to fight back but needed a vehicle and mechanism to do that. It's very hard to do that on your own.

Trump's Food Choices Grow More Disconcerting

Posted: 02 Dec 2017 05:08 PM PST

"Trump's appetite seems to know no bounds when it comes to McDonald's, with a dinner order consisting of two Big Macs, two Fillet-O-Fish, and a chocolate malted."

This 2,400-calorie meal is among the details in a forthcoming book by Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and aid David Bossie, as described in a preview by The Washington Post.

A dinner of that size would offer caloric energy for a full day. The 3,400 milligrams of sodium more than doubles the American Heart Association's recommendation of 1,500 milligrams per day. The meal provides almost no fiber—and also offers more white bread than anyone would do well to eat in a week. This is all ominous for the president's cardiovascular system.

So is the lack of variety. The book's authors, who traveled with Trump early in his presidency, write: "On Trump Force One there were four major food groups: McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, pizza, and Diet Coke."

Keeping the Coke sugar-free is an interesting line to draw—especially as a man who once said, "I have never seen a thin person drink Diet Coke."

The food enters the President not only in abundance, but with haste. Ivanka Trump said in a 2015 interview with Barbara Walters, "I wish he would eat healthier and maybe slow down. Sometimes I tell him, like, 'Oh, you have to, you know, slow down.' But it's the only speed he knows ..."

All of this could be taken as simple evidence of Trump's cultural vacuousness. He should know other speeds; he has dined with other people. He should enjoy a wide array of foods; he has been afforded the opportunity to have anything he wants.

If there's other insight to be had in gawking at these food habits—and I can't promise that there is—it may be related to the fact that Trump is at the earliest end of the Baby Boomers. He came up in a time when packaged food was the height of civilization. Uniformity and predictability in a burger or a fish sandwich was a virtue, not an eerie flaw.

The Post describes the plane's cupboards as being "stacked with Vienna Fingers, potato chips, pretzels, and many packages of Oreos" because the president is a "renowned germaphobe" who declines to eat from a previously opened package. This may also be the rationale for eating his steaks well-done.

There may be something to the fact of caring obsessively about contamination while caring not at all about nutrition. For a person whose primary concern is food being isolated from the world, hyper-processed sugar cookies are less of a threat to the self than would be a salad or an apple. Oreos are a paradigm of diabetes and obesity-inducing foods, and these conditions drive the country's leading cause of death.

There is no question that this diet is dangerous and is very likely to shorten a person's life. His dietary pattern adds to the picture of a 70-year-old man who has long been living against all health advice—who does not exercise, who barely sleeps, who has tumultuous relationships, who is frequently enraged. His lifestyle seems pulled from a question on a medical-school exam where the answer is "prepare the cath lab."

Decisions to live this way would seem to offer insight into Trump's ability to assess risk. In light of a nuclear standoff with North Korea, rapidly warming oceans, and a looming tax bill that would leave millions more Americans without health insurance, his approach to self-maintenance is not reassuring.

Reckoning With the Legacy of the Nuclear Reactor, 75 Years Later

Posted: 02 Dec 2017 05:30 AM PST

At the time, news of the breakthrough on December 2, 1942, was conveyed  only in code: "The Italian navigator has landed in the New World."

Our "Italian navigator" was Enrico Fermi, the physicist who had escaped fascist Italy for America. The "New World" was not a place but a time: the atomic age. On that day 75 years ago, Fermi's team set off the first controlled and sustained nuclear chain reaction.

It all happened under the bleachers of University of Chicago's Stagg Field. Fermi's nuclear reactor was a pile of graphite, henceforth known as Chicago Pile-1. It produced all of a half-watt of power. But it proved that a neutron emitted by a splitting uranium atom could indeed split another uranium atom, which could split another and another, releasing energy with each reaction. With enough atoms, the chain reaction could unleash inconceivable amounts of energy. It proved, in other words, that an atomic bomb could exist.

The rest of the story is well-known: Bombs were made. Bombs were dropped. Hundreds of thousands of people died. A war was won.

The Chicago Pile reactor under construction (Department of Energy)

As all of this receded into history, the anniversary of Fermi's experiment has became a time to reflect on the legacy of nuclear science. "It's always been a complicated story," says Rachel Bronson, president of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the journal founded by former Manhattan Project scientists concerned about atomic weapons. Over the past 75 years, as the specter of nuclear annihilation has grown and waned and grown again, newspapers reporting on the anniversary have tried to grapple with that legacy.

* * *

The first time an anniversary of Chicago Pile-1 was commemorated publicly appears to be its fourth in 1946, and that was by proclamation of the War Department. In an October press release, Lieutenant General L.R. Groves, the commanding general of the Manhattan Project, suggested December 2 as the "birthday" of atomic energy.

(Manhattan District History / Department of Energy)

The War Department helpfully released a packet of materials for journalists who were not present at the once secretive Chicago Pile experiment. Two public-information officers interviewed more than a dozen of the 50 scientists, and many of the small but colorful details that would be retold in later commemorations originated in their report.

Details like the bottle of Chianti wine, brought in secretly by the Hungarian-born theoretical physicist Eugene P. Wigner. When the experiment succeeded, Wigner opened the bottle. The participants drank out of paper cups and signed their names on the bottle's straw wrapper.

And details like the graphite dust that blanketed everyone. (Graphite was used as a "moderator," to slow down neutrons so they could split uranium atoms.) Albert Wattenberg, one of the young physicists that helped build the pile, told his interviewers:

"We found out how coal miners feel. After eight hours of machining graphite, we looked as if we were made up for a minstrel. One shower would remove only the surface graphite dust. About a half-hour after the first shower the dust in the pores of your skin would start oozing. Walking around the room where we cut graphite was like walking on a dance floor. Graphite is a dry lubricant, you know, and the cement floor covered with graphite dust was slippery."

The Chicago Pile was a genuine scientific breakthrough, but other, more famous milestones like the Trinity test and the Hiroshima bombing have also been pegged as the beginning of the atomic age. Perhaps the War Department chose December 2, 1942, as the birthday of "atomic energy"—note: not "atomic bomb," a phrase that never appears in the press release—because it represented a purer scientific achievement. Nuclear science had not yet been used for destruction; it could just as well power our homes and save lives through medicine.

The New York Times' story on the fourth anniversary of the Chicago Pile experiment (The New York Times)

When The New York Times covered the fourth anniversary in December, science writer William L. Laurence hinted only vaguely at "incalculable potentialities for good and for evil." Laurence is credited with coining the term "atomic age" and he is a controversial figure in journalism. During the war, he worked for the Manhattan Project as its historian. Then he returned to the Times to continue reporting on the very project for which he worked, even winning a Pulitzer for his dispatches from Nagasaki. In 2004, journalists argued his Pulitzer Prize should be revoked because of his "uncritical parroting of propaganda." He dismissed, for example, Japanese reports that people were dying from radiation days after the bombings.

"We will probably never know the true extent to which William Laurence was co-opted, compromised, or corrupted by his military and governmental connections and involvements. It appears that in many ways, he was never really certain himself," Mark Wolverton recently wrote in Undark. But from the very beginning, the story of the birth of the atomic age was being written by the very people who ushered it in.

Headline from a 1952 Kentucky New Era article on the anniversary of the first nuclear reactor (Kentucky New Era / Google News)

In 1952—now the 10th anniversary of the experiment—the Kentucky New Era quoted Arthur Compton, the physicist who oversaw Fermi's work, speaking at a luncheon of the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry. (Compton was the one who spoke the words: "The Italian navigator has landed in the New World.") Compton defended the use of the bomb, but he was more eager to stress the civilian impacts of the experiment, emphasizing energy as the War Department's press release did:

As a scientific tool, the importance of the nuclear reactor is comparable with that of the cyclotron. As a means of improving health, it may reasonably be compared with the betatron, a new type of supervoltage instrument for producing X-rays and beta rays ... As a means of defense, I would rate the atomic weapons as comparable in importance with the airplane. But the great significance of nuclear energy seems to be as a source of useful power.

When the 25th anniversary came around in 1967, World War II was receding from memory and the Cold War had come startlingly close to turning hot. It was atomic weapons that Americans were thinking about again. Volney Wilson, another physicist who worked on the Chicago Pile, speaking to the Schenectady Gazette, was far less optimistic: "It's been a big disappointment to me ... I would have thought that the development of this horrible weapon would have been more of a force to bring the world together." Wilson was a pacifist who was always ambivalent about building a bomb, but his words now had a note of bitterness.

A plaque outside of Stagg Field (Department of Energy)

The 50th anniversary came at a more optimistic time: 1992. The Soviet Union had dissolved. The United States was the world's only superpower. The Soviet Union was not only dismantling its warheads, it was selling them to the United States for electricity. "Highly enriched uranium from former Soviet weapons once targeted on our cities will be used to light and heat those same cities as fuel in American nuclear power plants," William S. Lee, president of Duke Power, said at a November 1992 meeting of the American Nuclear Society.

But, it was not lost on journalists that this was still the atomic age.  Articles written for the 50th anniversary note that Russia and the United States still had enough nuclear weapons to kill millions, and several other countries were pursuing their own. "Fifty years later, the legacy of the Chicago Pile remains mixed," Earl Lane wrote in Newsday.

Which brings us to the75th anniversary of the Chicago Pile. Nuclear power is on the decline in the United States today. Nuclear weapons are ever present in the news again. Yet nuclear science has also produced real breakthroughs in science and medicine. The legacy of the Chicago Pile is mixed, and it probably always will be—until, and such is the nature of nuclear weapons, the day it is clearly not.

The GOP Tax Bill Could Forever Alter Alaska’s Indigenous Tribes

Posted: 02 Dec 2017 05:00 PM PST

When Bernadette Demientieff was in high school, she gave up her heritage. Demientieff is a member of the Gwich'in, an indigenous tribe of roughly 9,000 people that spans north-central Alaska and northern Canada. "The ways of living in this world that are being pushed on our people" got to her, she told me. She moved south to Fairbanks, Alaska, and grew disconnected from her people and their land. She had kids. She grew up.

And then, one day in 2014, something called to her, she says. She was in Arctic Village, a small Gwich'in settlement at the edge of Alaska's wilderness. She felt the urge to step out onto the tundra. She started walking, up and out of the center of town—and then she turned around and looked: In front of her stretched the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the largest area of untouched wilderness in the United States. The land, an open expanse of peaks and rivers, spanned hundreds of miles past the horizon to the unseen, icy flat of the Arctic Ocean.

"I started crying and crying," she said. "And I asked the Creator for forgiveness."

Now 42, Demientieff is the executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee. She has spent years trying to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR (pronounced AN-wahr), from oil and gas exploration. That fight suffered a major loss Saturday, the result of lawmakers voting on an expansive and quickly written bill several thousand miles away.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which the Senate passed early Saturday morning, will change federal law on a matter that has little to do with the tax code. The bill authorizes the sale of oil and gas leases in a section of the ANWR on Alaska's North Slope, the coastal plain that faces the Arctic Ocean. Soon, energy companies will be able to search for—and extract—oil and gas from the frozen tundra.

The Senate bill will now be reconciled with the House version in conference and go to President Donald Trump's desk for his signature.

It brings a quiet end to the battle over whether to drill in the ANWR, one of the longest-running and most acrimonious battles in U.S. environmental history. The question has been embedded in federal law for 40 years, nearly as long as Alaska has been a state.

No one will be more affected by the opening of ANWR than Alaska's indigenous people, who will live among—and work on—the rigs, drills, and pipelines that would follow the discovery of any oil or gas reserve. The discovery of oil or gas in the region could bring an economic windfall to the subsistence tribes that live on Alaska's North Slope, the coastal plain that faces the Arctic Ocean. But if a major disaster—like an oil spill or gas leak—were to occur in the area, it would devastate their only homeland.

The issue still divides villages, counties, and Native nations in Alaska. It also sets tribes with differing claims to Alaska's North Slope against each other. And both sides tend to assert that the overall public sides with them.

"The majority of Alaskans and majority of Alaksa Natives express their support for [drilling in ANWR]. It's an issue of economic self-determination for our community," said Richard Glenn, a member of the Inupiat tribe and the executive vice president of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, which owns nearly 5 million acres across Alaska's northern coast. "This has been the unchanging position of the majority of the residents of our region for more 30 years."

No recent polling data seems to be available on the issue. But even beyond public opinion, there's a basic conflict.

The Inupiat live across the North Slope, including within the part of the ANWR that would soon be opened for drilling. Oil exploration already brings jobs and funds infrastructure in their communities. And the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation holds mineral rights to pockets of private land within the ANWR. If oil is discovered there, the corporation and its shareholders—roughly 13,00 members of the Inupiat tribe—could profit from the wealth.

The Gwich'in people, meanwhile, live hundreds of miles south in west-central Alaska. Their regional corporation does not own land on the North Slope. But the Gwich'in are spiritually connected to the porcupine caribou, a herd of more than 160,000 creatures who migrate annually across the U.S. and Canadian tundra. The herd's calving grounds, the most sacred space to the Gwich'in, lies within the area which could soon be open to drilling. To many of them, drilling in the calving ground isn't just an attack on the Gwich'in way of life. It's an attack on the Gwich'in.

The immediate stakes of the fight go back to 1980, when Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The law protected more than 67,000 square miles of land (174,000 square km) across Alaska by establishing new national parks, national monuments, and wilderness areas. One part of the law, Section 1002, set aside 2,300 square miles of land (6,070 square km) on Alaska's North Slope. Though this parcel of land—dubbed the "Section 1002 area"—was made part of the ANWR, Congress did not endow it with full wilderness protections and reserved the right to open it to gas exploration in the future.

Every decade or so, the question of whether to open the 1002 area has made it onto Congress's agenda. In 2005, the Senate nearly opened ANWR to drilling before a Democratic filibuster turned the tide of public opinion. Ten years earlier, Bill Clinton vetoed a proposal to open ANWR. The closest Congress ever came to completing a deal was 1989, but the Exxon Valdez oil spill intervened, rendering the loosening of fossil-fuel rules in Alaska politically impossible.

While public opinion has always previously halted the opening of the ANWR, in today's supersaturated news environment, Senate Republicans have slipped the drilling provision into the tax-reform bill without attracting the same outcry. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican of Alaska, made drilling in ANWR a condition of her support for the tax bill, and it has been a de facto part of the legislative package since October.

It's unclear how Americans feel about the ANWR proposal. A Morning Consult poll in 2014 found that only 50 percent of voters want to drill in the area, even though many more—61 percent—support increasing oil extraction in the United States. Neither a majority of Democrats nor Independents supported drilling.*

A family of polar bears within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Reuters)

The modern history of the Gwich'in people is inseparable from drilling in the ANWR question.

In 1988, Congress began exploring how to open the refuge to drilling. The Gwich'in could not abide the thought. They held their first conference in 150 years, an unprecedented gathering of their people from across the United States and Canada. Demientieff remembers those early meetings—sitting on the floor as a little girl, hearing the fear and anguish of the adults. The elders gave her little tasks to keep her involved, like passing out crackers and dried fish to the members, as angry, passionate arguments raged around them.

No one ever sat her down and told her about the preciousness of ANWR. But just by growing up among the Gwich'in, she learned the importance of her people's generations-old circuit through the land, in pursuit of the porcupine-caribou herd. Every year, more than 160,000 porcupine caribou move across the high Arctic tundra. Their journey starts in the meadows around the Porcupine River, which flows through modern-day Yukon and Northwest Territories in Canada. Then the caribou come north, through the vast, peak-rimmed plains of the ANWR, until they arrive at their calving ground on Alaska's coastal plane, at the foot of the Arctic Ocean—and in the Section 1002 area.

The Gwich'in have followed the caribou across much of this odyssey for tens of thousands of years. But they knew not to enter the calving ground, which is called Iizhik Gwats'an Gwnadaii Goodlit, "the sacred place where life begins." Even in the famines which followed first contact with the West, the Gwich'in did not trespass on the calving ground, Demientieff told me. "The porcupine caribou herd and the Gwich'in people are one," she said. "I'm not just making up numbers when I say that we migrated with them for 20,000 years. These caribou have been here for 2 million years."

Caribou aren't the only animals that live in the ANWR. Polar bears, brown bears, and black bears all trundle through its streams and meadows. Lynx, moose, Arctic fox, walrus, and ringed seal lounge on the Arctic coast. And migratory birds—including merlins, sandpipers, and peregrine falcons—summer in the reserve before returning to the continental United States for the winter.

A porcuine-caribou herd in the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, with the Brooks Range mountains in the distance to the south (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Even though the bill passed, Demientieff and a group of Gwich'in and Inupiat people who oppose the drilling plan to visit Washington, D.C., later this month, on the 57th anniversary of the creation of ANWR. They will drum and dance and sing and visit with members of Congress.

But they will shun Lisa Murkowski, their senator. The Murkowski family has pushed to open the ANWR as long as they've worked in politics. Frank Murkowski served in the U.S. Senate for more than 20 years. He led successive efforts to open ANWR to oil drilling, all of which failed. When he was elected governor in 2002, he resigned from the Senate and named the majority leader of the Alaska House of Representatives—his daughter, Lisa—to his old seat. She now chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The ANWR provisions were widely seen as the chit Murkowski needed to support the tax bill. "For Murkowski to just turn as soon as they put that in there—it's like they're doing that just for her vote, and she's falling for it," Demientieff argues.

Protest isn't the only way she is marking the anniversary. Demientieff is expecting a fourth grandchild due December 6, the anniversary of ANWR's creation. She has five children, all Gwich'in or Gwich'in-Yupik.** Her 9-year-old daughter, Lexine, is part of Our Children's Trust, the group of kids suing the federal government for its lack of a climate policy. Demientieff calls her "my little Gwich'in warrior."

I asked Demientieff what it would feel like to know drilling would go through at ANWR. "Just when you said that right now, I got a big lump in my throat," she told me. "We shouldn't have to be fighting for our human rights. We're not asking for anything, we're not asking for money, we just want to continue our identity as Gwich'in. And that identity—a big, huge part of it is the porcupine-caribou herd."

Men in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, prepare to head to work in the oil and gas industry in 2005. (Al Grillo / AP)

The history of drilling in ANWR arises from the history of the state of Alaska. When Alaska was a territory, the federal government owned virtually all of its land. Upon granting it statehood in 1959, the government transferred about a quarter of Alaska's total area to the state government. The next year, President Dwight Eisenhower also established federal protections on the area that would become ANWR.

Eleven years later, the U.S. government transferred more federal land—about a third of the state's area—to Native tribes in Alaska. But it didn't transfer the land to them directly. Instead, it established regional corporations to hold the land for tribal shareholders.

Glenn manages land and natural resources for one of those companies, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, which owns acreage across the northern coast. The corporation has fought for the right to drill for years, and he marveled at how speedily it had been approved now. "It's a faster-moving issue than it has been in the past 30 years," he said.

The Republican tax bill assumes that drilling in ANWR will generate $1 billion in federal revenue over the next 10 years. During its last survey of the region, the U.S. Geological Survey said that 12 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil may lie beneath the reserve.

Glenn brushed away the estimates. "The USGS has published potential reserves, and I'm sure the industry explorers have their own number," he told me. "I'm a geologist by training, and the only thing that proves a reserve is a drill bit."

What was important, he said, was that the process of looking for oil was allowed to continue. It was this search for oil that drove the Inupiat communities on the North Slope. "Our region basically depends on continued safe, responsible exploration and development," he told me. "It's improved the quality of life in our community only because we've been able to tax the presence of the oil industry in our region."

He pointed to Point Hope, a town of roughly 630 people on the western tip of Alaska's Lisburne peninsula. "The runway there, the roads, the schools, and the ability to flush a toilet are only because of the presence of taxable revenue in our region. We're all native folks, and we depend on our environment for our sustenance. But we also depend on having communities to come home to," he said.

Glenn grew up in the small city of Utqiaġvik, commonly known as Barrow, on Alaska's North Slope. The 54-year-old now lives in Anchorage, but remains active in Inupiat life on the North Slope: He is a subsistence hunter and fisher, and a whaling captain.

He described how he'll often encounter human skeletons on his hunt—a relic of the time when aging members of a community might wander away from a village or tent in the winter, because they had become too much of a burden to the community. Seeing the skeletons, he said, "means our whole region is sacred land." But he takes a decidedly pragmatic approach to the holiness of the land. "The environment is just as sacred to us as it is to everyone else, but you know what? We need an airstrip," he said. "Even the place where we built a sewage lagoon for our village is sacred land—but we needed a sewage lagoon."

These pieces of infrastructure were not just niceties, but the basis of their community, he told me. "When you get dropped off on the tundra in our region in winter or summer, you'll never be so happy to find a little bit of infrastructure."

Glenn believes the region can endure industry in part because it's done so before. From the 1950s to the 1980s, a chain of U.S. Air Force bases lined the North Slope of Alaska. Together they formed the Distant Early Warning system, a Christmas-light string of installations that linked Alaska to central Greenland, scanning the sky for missiles. Each DEW base brought "power plants and landing strips and people," says Glenn, but the region persevered. "The animals were there; the animals survived. The people were there; the national psyche survived," he said. "There's been industry and Natives all across the coastal plain." (Glenn is, in part, a product of the DEW line: His dad, a white American, met his Inupiat-Eskimo mom while stationed in the high Arctic.)

I asked Glenn how he, as a geologist who has studied Arctic sea ice, thinks about the climate consequences of extracting oil from the North Slope. "I think about it all the time," he said. "But the reality is that our region depends on oil and gas development. If we stop exploration, our communities dry up. And [by stopping exploration] we don't change the climate one bit—it just means someone's gonna open up the valve somewhere else."

Arctic Village, Alaska, is at the foot of the Brooks Range, about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. (Al Grillo / AP)

Not all Inupiat approve of drilling in ANWR, however.

"For me, it's disappointing. We should have an area that we're able to have added protections, where we don't change what's natural to our environment," said Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, an Inupiat woman and a public-health advocate who lives in Nuiqsut, Alaska.

Nuiqsut, a village of 500, sits on the North Slope, to the west of Prudhoe Bay. It is surrounded by the oil and gas industry. Ahtuangaruak told me that some nights the particulate-matter pollution from the natutal-gas flares gets so bad that she has to stay up all night, tending to people in respiratory distress.

She also mourned what the drilling would do to the caribou. "There are four major herds in our community. Three of the herds are in severe declines. The only herd that isn't is the porcupine-caribou herds," she said.

Ahtuangaruak doubted that ASRC always acted in the best interests of the tribe. They were a corporation, she said, and not a government. "Their priority is profitability at all costs. But when we're tribal people, our priority is our way of life and who we are in the future."

Sharon Lord also opposes the ANWR plan. She operates a bed-and-breakfast in Kaktovik, Alaska, a village of several hundred people that is the sole settlement within the Section 1002 area. Lord's father, Robert Thompson, is a famous anti-drilling activist. "This land is beautiful," she says. "And I like our lifestyle the way it is. I don't want it to change. If the oil company comes in here, they'll turn it into an industrial area. "

She adds: "There's always a potential for an oil spill. There's absolutely no way an oil spill can be cleaned up here. It would create an environment of irreversible damage."

Most of the community, she said, opposed the drilling.

If that's true, then it hasn't reached Matthew Rexford, the Inupiat tribal administrator of Kaktovik. In November, he endorsed the drilling plan in testimony to Congress. "The Arctic Inupiat will not become conservation refugees," he said at the time. "We do not approve of efforts to turn our homeland into one giant national park, which literally guarantees us a fate with no economy, no jobs, reduced subsistence and no hope for the future of our people."

He delivered those remarks sitting next to Richard Glenn. Weeks later, back in Anchorage, Glenn encouraged me to "find something to help you sort the wheat from the chaff" on the emotion behind the ANWR drilling plan.

"The habit of journalists tends to be to find Native folks on both sides of the issue, and leave it to the reader to decide," he said. "It would be nice if we could rise above that and say, what do those folks closest to the issue think?"

* This article previously misstated the proportion of Democrats and Independents that opposed drilling.

** This article previously misstated the tribal identity of Demientieff's children. We regret the errors.

Do Employers Overestimate the Value of a College Degree?

Posted: 02 Dec 2017 05:00 AM PST

It's dinnertime, and a teenager is seated with her immediate family. She looks around—everyone has at least a college degree and a stable job. What to look for in a college and what to major in and how to become a doctor are the topics of tonight's dinner conversation. Elsewhere, another high-schooler is seated with her younger brother chomping down on the meal she struggled to put together for the two of them. Her parents are away, working their second or third jobs. The girl is mulling over how to make money quickly and contribute to her family's household.

People in that second example typically lack a reliable means for entering the workforce outside of traditional college—and college can't address everyone's needs, especially those who have immediate fiscal obligations. Apprenticeships could be one solution. Apprenticeship programs enjoy bipartisan support, with the Democratic Obama administration investing millions of dollars in them and the Republican Trump administration prioritizing their expansion; Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has expressed support for skills-training programs, too, including apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships are programs that combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction about the job at hand. Participants also make money while they learn new skills, which means that, unlike college graduates, apprentices can learn and gain new skills without going into debt. Additionally, 87 percent of apprentices end up with a job after their program. Yet just 5 percent of Americans participated in apprenticeships in 2014, compared, for example, to 60 percent of Germans.

The United States has plenty of room for more apprenticeship programs, according to a new study co-published by Harvard Business School and the labor-market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies. While apprenticeships in the country are relatively common in 27 different occupations—mostly concentrated in construction and extraction (i.e., mining)—it is possible to develop them in nearly 50 others, the report, which was co-authored by Harvard's Joe Fuller and Burning Glass's Matthew Sigelman, said.

If apprenticeship programs were expanded to 74 occupations total, they conclude, people without college degrees could've had the opportunity to fill 3.3 million of last year's 23.4 million job openings. Some of the jobs that could be opened up to apprentices include those as billing and shipping clerks, chefs, head cooks, and nuclear medical technologists; the average salary is about $55,000 for college graduates in those positions now, according to the study.

New companies are often discouraged by the initial costs of creating apprenticeship programs, which include those needed to set up a process for identifying and interviewing candidates, to provide the actual training, and to pay the apprentice's salary. Many companies see these new expenditures as unnecessary fees that add on to the money they're already spending on their full-time employees.

Fuller thinks these employers are misguided. They're not taking into account failed hires, he argues, or employees who end up leaving because they aren't a good fit or find a better opportunity. Apprenticeship programs could minimize the number of failed hires because an employer would have had some time to see a laborer work before extending a full-time job offer. According to Fuller, the expansion of apprenticeship opportunities could lessen employers' total labor costs in the long-run: Apprentices' salaries tend to be lower than that for employees with bachelor's degrees.

According to the study,  20 percent to 80 percent of job postings ask for candidates with bachelor's degrees, depending on the occupation, but a lot of those positions don't actually require college experience. In other words, employers use college degrees as a proxy for a range of skills that can in fact be attained without a college degree. This practice is called degree inflation, and the result is that, depending on the occupation, "college graduates [will] find themselves recruited for jobs in which their colleagues don't have degrees," Fuller said, noting that those non-degreed colleagues were hired before such inflation became common practice. This educational-background difference "leads to [the college graduates having] higher turnover and [lower] job engagement than non-college graduates."

What makes an apprentice appealing to employers is that she is likely to be just as "productive and fast as a college graduate," Fuller said. Additionally, because apprentices have fewer overall opportunities than those with bachelor's degrees, their turnover rate is lower. Apprentices also have lower expectations about their starting salary: Employers pay those with bachelor's degrees 11 percent to 30 percent more than non-degree workers with experience to do the same job.

Still, some argue that there are positions for which a college-educated employee is better suited than an apprentice might be. George Anders, the author of You Can Do Anything, which explores the value of a liberal-arts education, said that while some jobs currently requiring a postsecondary degree could be opened up to non-college graduates, many positions do indeed require the "extra poise and promotability that a college student can bring." In other words, college students would not only understand how to do their job, but also have social and communication experiences that enhance their employability. Of course, the idea that a college education is essential to that broader understanding is much-contested. Apprentices, for instance, could acquire those skills on the job by observing how their colleagues conduct themselves.

Vocational education has a reputation for tracking low-income African-Americans and Latinos into low-wage jobs. This study, however, implies that apprenticeships could play a role in increasing that same population's chances of breaking out of poverty. Expanding apprenticeships to occupations that were previously reserved for college graduates would put individuals without degrees in entry-level positions that lead to more advanced careers by giving them in-demand work experience. It's a very "dangerous thing to get [into one's] mid-20s and have no degree and no full time job," Fuller said. "Now you're competing against two pools: those who are experienced or those who are new graduates."

All the Promises Republicans Cannot Keep

Posted: 02 Dec 2017 04:00 AM PST

The tax overhaul the Senate approved on Saturday rests on a shaky stack of promises Republicans will be hard-pressed to keep.

Foremost are the two central assurances GOP senators made to justify passage of the bill, which may be irreconcilable with each other. First, Republicans have insisted that the measure's $1.4 trillion cost would disappear under a bustle of economic activity—more jobs, higher wages, and buckets full of new tax revenue flowing into the government.

"The plan will pay for itself with growth," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declared this spring, a claim that he and other administration officials and Republicans repeated throughout the summer and fall. They made this assertion despite all available evidence to the contrary—the past experiences of the federal tax cuts enacted under George W. Bush and the more recent failure of tax cuts in Kansas; independent analyses by the Tax Foundation, the Tax Policy Center, and other outside arbiters; and, most flagrantly, by Congress's own in-house analysts at the Joint Committee on Taxation, who found that the Senate bill would provide a tepid boost to economic growth and would recoup barely one-third of its cost over 10 years.

Republicans are also promising that millions of families will never see the future tax increases that they wrote into the bill to make it work under the Senate's budget rules. The expiration in six years of most of the benefits for individuals is a fuse that will never be lit, the GOP insists, under the presumption that lawmakers would never abide a tax increase that large. Yet if that fiscal bomb never goes off, the bill's true cost would soar even higher still, making the party's first promise, that the bill would pay for itself, even more unattainable.

In addition to the major pledges they made to the public, GOP leaders made more discreet, shorter-term promises to round up the final votes for the bill, on issues far afield from tax policy. Those will be equally tough to keep, and a failure to follow through could jeopardize the tax legislation's final enactment after negotiations in a conference committee of the Senate and House.

To win over Senator Susan Collins of Maine, top Republicans committed to passing a pair of bipartisan health-care bills aimed at bolstering the Affordable Care Act's faltering individual-insurance market. Collins demanded those bills to mitigate the impact of repealing the law's individual mandate, which she supported as part of the tax plan despite voting against several earlier GOP proposals to do so. One bill would restore the payments to insurers that President Trump cancelled earlier this fall, while another written by Collins and Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida would fund reinsurance programs to offset the cost of covering the most expensive patients.

Collins had said she wants to see those measures signed into law before enactment of the tax bill, which would give her leverage in a final vote on the conference report. But that presumes passage by the House, where conservatives are warning their leadership against any legislation that would prop up Obamacare. In a statement announcing her support for the tax bill, Collins said only that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had promised his support for passing those bills by the end of the year—leaving open the possibility that her vote for the tax overhaul requires a leap of faith on health care. If the health bills stall, would she reverse her vote on tax cuts?

Similarly, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona said he secured a commitment from both the Senate leadership and the Trump administration on immigration in exchange for his vote. They agreed, he said in a statement, "to work with me on a growth-oriented legislative solution to enact fair and permanent protections for DACA recipients." In fairness to Flake, he's not quite saying Republicans promised to pass such a bill—only to help him try. But it's still a curious commitment on which to base his vote considering that Trump has been escalating his rhetoric against illegal immigrants of late and accusing Democrats allied with Flake on the issue of wanting undocumented immigrants "flooding into the country." Moreover, with Democrats and even some Republicans insisting that a DACA fix be attached to a year-end spending bill, the president is reportedly girding for a government shutdown to rally his base.

Perhaps Collins and Flake realize that the assurances they won were etched in something less than permanent ink, just as Republicans more broadly understand that their claims about the tax bill's potential for economic growth are optimistic guesses at best. Both senators cited other, more concrete provisions that helped sway their vote, and both all along indicated their desire to support a key pillar of the GOP agenda. But in their haste to pass their tax bill through the Senate, Republican leaders have put themselves on the hook with lawmakers and voters alike, and for commitments that could haunt them in the weeks and years to come.

<i>Voyeur</i>’s Queasy, Fascinating Exposure

Posted: 02 Dec 2017 04:00 AM PST

Gerald Foos, the story goes, is a man whose life was spent in the shadows, lurking in an attic above the Manor House Motel, where for more than 20 years he observed guests fight, sleep, watch TV, shower, and have sex. After purchasing the motel, Foos had—with the help of his wife—installed special air vents in the ceiling of most rooms, through which he scrutinized his customers, taking copious notes on the action within. Although Foos styles himself as a sociologist, describing his motel as a "laboratory" and his peeping space as "an observation platform," he also freely confesses that the act of watching others without their consent was a sexual predilection, and that he masturbated several times a night while doing so. He explains this to the directors of a new Netflix documentary debuting Friday because Foos has come to be that most contradictory of beings: a voyeur who wants to be seen.

Voyeur captures Foo's public uncovering at the hands of Gay Talese, the magazine writer and New Journalism pioneer who first met Foos in 1980, and who finally published his story in a 2016 New Yorker feature called "The Voyeur's Motel," followed by a book of the same name. "I'm a natural person to write about a voyeur because I'm a voyeur myself," Talese tells Myles Kane and Josh Koury, the documentarians, referring to his longtime curiosity as a journalist. But that doesn't quite begin to cover the strange synchronicity between writer and subject that unfurls in Voyeur—the metatextual layers of Foos unburdening himself to Talese, who in turn seems to divulge more about himself than he intends to the camera. The movie is built around the question of what could compel both men—studious longtime observers of human behavior—to turn themselves into subjects, given all the attendant risks of exposure.

Anyone who's read "The Voyeur's Motel" will be prepared for the more disturbing chronicles of Foos's behavior. But on camera he's stranger still, a burly man with dyed black hair and oversized tinted glasses. He's absurdly grandiose at times, apparently delusional at others, and yet almost pathetically needy for Talese's approval. "Nobody will ever be able to do what I did," Foos boasts early in the film. "I know a lot of people are gonna call me a pervert, a peeping tom, but I just had to tell somebody, because I didn't wanna die and have it be lost forever." It isn't enough for him to have the knowledge of what he got away with—he needs the world to understand how brilliant, how sly he was in doing so.

The arc of the film's narrative follows the publication of "The Voyeur's Motel," before which Talese and the directors meet Foos at his home and interview him about his personal history. Talese also welcomes the cameras into his brownstone on the Upper East Side, and to a meeting with his editor at The New Yorker, where he pitches the story. The directors dramatize some scenes of Foos's antics in the attic, and construct a dollhouse-like model of the motel itself to reveal how Foos toyed with his customers, planting sex toys and pornography in some rooms and empty suitcases in others. The metaphor is clear—"the voyeur," as Foos frequently refers to himself in his records, feels godlike, with a power over the mortals he observes that spurs his ever more entitled behavior.

And yet Talese, far from being repulsed by his subject, seems to connect with him on a multitude of levels. When he writes stories, he explains, he's being similarly omnipotent, setting the mood, the style, and the landscape, and choreographing the action to his liking. His too-close relationship with his subject seems to have been cemented in 1980, when Talese accompanied Foos to his viewing station and personally witnessed a woman engaged in oral sex in one of the motel bedrooms. When Talese's editor comments that she's glad he didn't see too much sexual activity because it could come across to readers as creepy, he redirects the criticism to Foos. "This guy isn't creepy," Talese explains. "He's everyman."

The links between the two don't stop there. Foos has large, professionally shot photographs of himself hung proudly in his stairwell; so does Talese. Both men are avid collectors—Foos of baseball cards, dolls, stamps, and other miscellanea; Talese of boxes of research regarding his various stories, all stored in folders that are covered in elaborate works of decoupage. Both men have spent large periods of their lives studying the oddities of sexual behavior, one from an attic, unseen, and the other as an active participant in the '70s swinging scene for his 1980 book Thy Neighbor's Wife. "What I really minded was the press about it," is how Talese's wife, Nan, responds when she's asked about her husband's sexual tourism. Mid-media storm in Voyeur, Foos's wife Anita stares hesitantly at a copy of The Denver Post on their driveway, as if afraid it's going to bite her.

Gerald Foos and Gay Talese are filmed on the former site of the Manor House Motel in Aurora, Colorado (Netflix)

And both men ultimately suffer life-upending scandal, as the camera captures it all. Foos is outed as a serial peeping tom in Talese's story, which creates a maelstrom of media attention, and subjects him and his wife to threatening phone calls. Talese's career is jeopardized when a reporter from The Washington Post finds sizable factual holes in Foos's various accounts. "This is the end, this is the end of me," a panicky Talese tells the camera. "I was lied to. I was interviewing a liar." In his kitchen, Foos laments that the whole world is going to "point fingers at the voyeur, saying that he's nothing but a creep." "Well?" his wife replies. "You are." But she isn't angry. She's long ago accepted what he is.

Voyeur is a fascinating, queasy portrait of exposure. Both Foos and Talese are inclined to talk, and the filmmakers give them space to do so rather than interject with follow-up questions. But this means the film sometimes suffers from a lack of pushback against its two primary characters. Just as "The Voyeur's Motel" declined to ask Foos how he thought his victims might feel about being so studiously spied upon, even for the purpose of scientific research, Voyeur doesn't compel him to do any soul-searching. Nor does it ask Talese how he felt after accompanying Foos long ago on his trip to the attic, or how he feels now about exposing him to so much public scrutiny years later. Maybe this is because to him it doesn't matter. The story is paramount. It's worth investing years of correspondence with Foos, and engaging in a dubiously personal relationship with his subject, to persuade him to finally go on the record.

What's less clear is why Talese agrees to expose himself. In the film's final scene, he marvels at how Foos responded to the cameras, given all the risks involved to his reputation. "He opened up his home to you, his bedroom to you, his wife to you," Talese says, as the camera pans over his home, his office, a photo of him with his wife. "He liked the publicity of the camera. The camera turned him on. And there you have the reverse procedure. He's now being watched." But Foos isn't the only one.