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Racial Killings, Selma, Streaming Music

The Morning Show
  • Jan 14, 2015
  • 1:44:21
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DOCUMENTING JIM CROW-ERA DEATHS NOTE: After this interview aired on 1/14/15, Margaret Burnham notified us that she had misspoken. She indicated the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University had "four or five cases" where they'd identified living perpetrators and sent the cases on to the FBI.  The actual number is three cases.  In the coming week, Americans will commemorate the assassination for Martin Luther King Junior. His is the most well-known death of the Civil Rights era. Emmett Till and Medgar Evers are oft-mentioned, too. But hundreds of African Americans were the target of racial violence – even murder during the Civil Rights movement and the years leading up to it.  In the majority of those cases, law enforcement and the courts turned a blind eye. Killers went free while the victims’ families suffered in silence – often without a clear image of exactly what happened to their loved one.  The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University Law School is racing to set the record straight on racially-motivated killing in the American South between 1930 and 1970. Students, under the direction of professor Margaret Burnham, comb through aging court documents and track down the rapidly dwindling pool of witnesses in these cold cases. They’ve documented about 350, so far. “Surprisingly enough, we really don’t have any sense of what the final number will be,” adds Burnham.   The goal of the project is not criminal charges, says Burnham (in many of the cases from the 1930s and 40s, identifying the killers is no longer possible.) Instead, the goal of the project is to get apologies, in some cases. But the main point, says Burnham, is to acknowledge that these deaths happened, to acknowledge the pain the families of the victims experienced.  Students in the Northeastern University Law School’s Civil Rights and Restoratives Justice Project start their work, often, with a newspaper article – often from the black press. The details are often inaccurate and not comprehensive. The students then go to the Justice Department, the FBI and local law enforcement departments to collect “as much primary information as we can get.”   Often the victims were veterans, notes Burnham. “They’d come back from the war with a new sense of pride and a little bolder than they were before the war.”  The project conducts oral interviews with family members of the victims: “We try to restore the victim’s life and dignity so long after the event. Most families in these cases don’t know the complete story. Helping families understand what actually happened represents a real high-point in our work.”  “The better picture we get on these cases, the better we’ll understand that piece of our history and the coercive relationship between the social aspects of Jim Crow and the coercive aspects of the legal system that kept it enforced and kept blacks subordinated,” says Burnham.  The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project is focusing primarily on cases from the 1940s, because witnesses and family members in those cases are still a live and their memories are intact. Burnham says there are still many cases in which all of the people who could speak about it have died. “This work should have been done long ago, and it simply wasn’t.”  As Burnham looks at the current racial tension fueled by encounters between black men and white police officers in cities across the country, she says, “History is an important lens into current realities and understanding into what it means when people of color are confronted by police officers. What kinds of fears they and their parents and families may have for them with respect to those interactions – the expectations that they won’t be treated with fairness. Where does that come from? Is it myth? Or does it come from a history of bad, regrettable and really horrific practices in the past?”  “To really fully understand the coercive aspects of Jim Crow, we have to get those numbers and stories straight and understand how they create a kind of intergenerational alienation from civil participation, civic life and from engaging with a police department which should be there for all of us,” says Burnham.  PARENT PREVIEWS: SELMA  While Margaret Burnham and her students at Northeastern University Law’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project are working on the never-before-told stories of murders during the Civil Rights era, a new film called “Selma” chronicles a larger story of the campaign for the Voting Rights Act.   British actor David Oyelowo portrays Martin Luther King in “Selma.”  It’s a dramatic-telling, but not a word-for-word documentary, says Kerry Bennett of Parent Previews: “The director was unable to get rights to King’s famous speeches, so she had to rewrite the speeches and capture the essence without using the actual words.”  Rod Gustafson of Parent Previews says the graphic violence of the era is handled “excellently” in “Selma.” “It brings across the tragedy of the event, but makes it accessible for many age groups to watch – even down to middle school-aged kids.”  “It’s a wonderful film we enjoyed and are recommending, but the emotion wasn’t quite there as powerfully as I expected to feel,” notes Gustafson.  A REAL-LIFE INVISIBILITY CLOAK  Who hasn’t wished – at least once – that they could be invisible? Researchers in the University of Rochester’s Physics and Advanced Optics have developed technology that can make objects invisible to the naked eye. And it’s a surprisingly low-tech solution to something Harry Potter needed magic to accomplish.  Rochester PhD Joe Choi developed the cloaking device with his physics professor John Howell.  (Watch it work here) The device entails four lenses spaced apart that makes the whole device see-through (invisible), including anything you put between the lenses, which also disappears. Choi says the lenses are standard ones available from any optical shop. They’re mounted one after the other in a row. When you look through, you can see what’s at the end of the row – what’s beyond the line of lenses. But you can’t see something placed between the first and second lenses. That’s a location where the light is being bent, so it goes around the object, explains Choi.  The potential applications for this are interesting, adds Choi. Surgeons could put the device on their arms so they can see through their hands during an operation. A truck driver might be able to see through a blind spot with the device.   AMERICAN HERITAGE  Why do societies look the way they do? That’s the first question BYU history professor Grant Madsen puts to his new group of American Heritage students at the start of the semester. “I try to get them to step back and ask, “Where do my beliefs and habits come from?”  The key is our human aversion to uncertainty, says Madsen.  “What we’re always trying to do when we solve problems is solve not just that problem, but every problem like it in the future.  . . The point to thought is to not have to think - for our minds to push as much as it can into the realm of habit so we can free up the mind to think about other things.”  “We can sort of understand why people do what they do by asking, ‘What problem are they trying to solve?’” explains Madsen. “And you can kind of do the same thing with societies. The problems they grapple with shape the way they are formed.”  As societies emerge, they “tend to solve very big problems in the same way” which becomes an identifying characteristic of that society.  STREAMING MUSIC  Nobody buys records anymore – unless you’re a hipster music aficionado. And CDs are nearly passé. Even downloading songs is on the decline.  These days, when people – especially youngsters – want to listen to a song, they’ll use a streaming service that serves it up over the internet on a mobile device. Tracking data from Nielsen SoundScan showed a 54 percent increase during 2013 in people listening to music through streaming.  Spotify is among the most-used of these streaming music services. It’s also attracted the most ire from top-selling pop star Taylor Swift, who created a stir late last year when she pulled all her music from the service. She wrote an op-ed defending the move:  “Music is art . . . Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free.”  Digital analyst and author of “The End of Business as Usual” Brian Solis says Swift has “the luxury and the authority” to demand more for her music. But, Solis warns that consumers today are increasingly interested in “borrowing” or “renting” products and services, rather than owning them. Taxi and limo companies are facing it with Uber, Lyft and SideCar. The hotel industry is facing it with AirBnB. Solis says traditional business models in music and elsewhere will be “decimated” by “borrowing,” unless they find a way to work with it.  “Taylor Swift is forcing us to have these conversations – strange is it sounds to say that out loud,” says Solis. Millennials are willing to settle for hearing music in lower quality on something like Spotify’s free streaming service, in exchange for the instant gratification of being able to listen to it immediately on any device. Solis says traditional businesses have to find a way to work within the “sharing” and “borrowing” model if they don’t want to get left behind. Show More...