Amidst the flurry of coverage about Michael Brown's death and the reaction in Ferguson, Mo., journalists have been unpacking St. Louis' long, tense history of racial unrest. In some of these stories, the parallels between the events of years past and those of the past few weeks are striking.
There aren't many clear details surrounding Donnell Dortch's death on Sept. 23, 1962 — at least, not from the newspapers that wrote about it.
It was 11:40 a.m. on a Sunday. Donnell Dortch was driving a car in Kinloch, the predominantly black St. Louis suburb where he and his family lived. And as United Press International told the story, at some point in the 19-year-old's drive, a black police officer named Israel Mason stopped Dortch, who was also black.
This is where the details get fuzzy.
The Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune, a small Missouri newspaper, reported that the 74-year-old Mason tried to give Dortch a "traffic warrant" for careless and reckless driving. UPI described Dortch's driving as "drag racing," though no other contemporary newspapers mentioned this detail.
Dortch refused the warrant. It's hard to glean why or how he refused it, but UPI wrote — very pointedly — that he did. As the Constitution-Tribune described it, "Officer Mason said he and Dortch wrestled for his pistol while the policeman was trying to free it from his holster."
Then, the officer said, the pistol discharged by accident.
Here the details get fuzzier.
According to the county coroner, three witnesses recounted seeing a starkly different string of events, one without accidents, with what seemed like more intention.
"According to the witnesses," the Constitution-Tribune writes, "Mason pulled Dortch from his car and struck the youth twice with the revolver. Then Mason stepped back five feet and fired, the witnesses said."
Donnell Dortch's death certificate tells the rest of his story with much more certainty and accuracy than the media's reports. As was common with very public, very contentious deaths, the wire services and local newspapers focused more on the protests and riots that followed Dortch's killing than on the death itself — or the altercation leading up to it.
Hours after his run-in with the police, Dortch died in a county hospital in Clayton, Mo., bleeding profusely from where a bullet, or bullets — it wasn't made clear how many — pierced his stomach. He was unmarried, survived by his father, Lonnie Dortch, and his mother, Mable Marable Dortch.
Kinloch exploded with anxiety and protest.
UPI describes Kinloch as a small, 6,500 person town, "one of several predominantly Negro suburbs in the St. Louis area which date back to Civil War days." (For some comparison, Kinloch, which shares a border with Ferguson, had about 298 residents during the 2010 U.S. Census — most of whom were black.)
Crowds of hundreds assembled before Kinloch's city hall in the days after Dortch's death, chanting "We want Mason! We Want Mason!" (The police officer was suspended from his post and eventually resigned.)
Some people were setting the town ablaze, razing an elementary school and a string of empty houses in the process, trying to light the police chief's new home on fire. (UPI writes that the police chief, "acting on a hunch, drove home, discovered the blaze and extinguished it himself.") The same UPI article reports that there were two shotgun blasts fired into the Kinloch police station, and that a bomb threat was called into a high school. Residents carried signs, inscribed with phrases like "Was Murder Necessary?" and "How Much Training Have Our Officers Had?" and "Will Our Son Be Next?" One resident who spoke to the UPI writer described the town police as "Kinloch cowboys" and "village police," and said that they wanted the "St. Louis county police to protect the area."
Local officials stepped up their reaction. Almost a hundred county and town police were ordered to man Kinloch's streets and were equipped, according to UPI, with machine guns and police dogs. Fifty people were rounded up and questioned about the violence that had unfolded following Dortch's death. Missouri Gov. John Dalton assured folks that he'd do whatever necessary to "preserve the peace." He consulted with the Missouri highway patrol, and debated whether or not send in the National Guard.
Kinloch's mayor, Clarence Lee, enacted a curfew and denied that this situation — the hordes of people rioting in the streets, the violence — stemmed from any sort of racial tension. It was, UPI quotes him saying, "wholly a problem of police enforcement, resulting in a misunderstanding between the citizens and the police."
The UPI account, like so many from that era, leaves it at that.
How History Was Buried In The Press
Back in the mid-1900s, the civil rights movement was just gaining momentum, and there was a spate of stories similar to Donnell Dortch's that unfolded like his, that were retold like his. It seems obvious now, looking back 50 years, that this sort of unrest was ubiquitous. But did it feel that way then?
I came across Dortch's story when doing a more general flick through newspaper archives from 1950 to 1970. There were a handful of headlines in these newspapers related to racial discord, mostly clustered together in one section dedicated to that type of coverage, like: "Racial Clash" and "Negro Picket Slugged at Black Muslim Rally" and "Race Hikers Choose Jail Over Bonds."
The AP headline "8 Fires Set in Negro Suburb Of St. Louis After Shooting" stood out. Not just because of the story's physical proximity to what we're watching unfold today, but also because of its brevity. It was followed by four brief paragraphs about a string of fires and violence in Kinloch, perhaps triggered by the death of a black teen.
(The AP wrote, as if explanation enough, that "The Negro community has been the scene of violence since an elderly policeman killed a young man Sunday.")
The reporters and newspapers that most closely covered these stories so tangled with race and segregation, were mostly black, mostly in Southern cities. It was easy for the local press to bury and avoid news that was uncomfortable.
Last year, NPR's Audie Cornish traveled to Alabama and spoke with Hank Klibanoff, co-author of The Race Beat. They talked about how the civil rights movement was covered in Birmingham — how differently Northern and Southern newspapers wrote about the strife. ("The South cannot help over time but see itself in the coverage. And over time, that is a picture that the South was not comfortable with," Klibanoff told Cornish about the lack of coverage in Southern media outlets. "No one likes to see themselves screaming and yelling and looking hideous and squaring off as a mob against one black person.")
Klibanoff and his co-author, Gene Roberts, wrote about the role that the national American media played in reporting about the civil rights movement. Ultimately, they write in The Race Beat, "the mainstream press — the white press — would have to discover racial discrimination and write about it so candidly and so repeatedly that white Americans outside the South could no longer look the other way."
Today, social media makes it so that these stories are harder to ignore, harder to avoid. Folks on Twitter — journalists and activists — who might not have gotten attention in an earlier era, are elevating these stories to a national level, and at times, becoming intertwined with these narratives. It's hard to look the other way when a hashtag is trending nationwide.
But the stream of information coming through social media channels carries a whole other set of questions. Amidst a flood of news about Michael Brown and the protests in Ferguson, sometimes it can still be hard to know what, exactly, we're seeing. It's the "tick tock," Klibanoff tells me — the specifics of who said what and what happened — that can get missed or muddied in the streams of tweets, in the constant flow of network news. "We're numbed by the barrage of news sources," he says.
The tiny amount of surviving coverage about Donnell Dortch leaves us with many questions about what happened. Yet even now — despite hundreds of reporters having descended on Ferguson, Mo., scouring for details on a similar St. Louis death — it's still difficult to know what we're seeing and missing. What most can agree on is this:
It was about noon on a Saturday. Michael Brown was taking a walk in Ferguson, the predominantly black St. Louis suburb where he and his family lived. And as news outlets tell the story, at some point in the 18-year-old's walk, a white police officer named Darren Wilson stopped Brown, who was black.
This is where the details get fuzzy.
Restaurants and hotels are posting new job openings faster than they can fill them. This is a promising sign for the economy.
Many jobs in the hospitality industry have low pay but don't require specialized skills. So they often serve as a stopgap for people between jobs. In periods when the broader job market is bleak, jobs in this sector tend to get snapped up quickly.
The growing number of unfilled restaurant and hotel jobs implies that many potential workers are finding other jobs or looking at these postings and saying, "Meh, maybe I can do better."
After adjusting for inflation, wages in the sector are lower today than they were four years ago. But that could change. If those job postings go unfilled for long enough, employers may offer higher salaries to lure more or better applicants.
It's worth noting that this territory hasn't yet been rigorously explored by economists because this particular data set only goes back to 2000, which isn't long enough to fully understand the relationships between job postings, hirings and wages.
This data set was brought to our attention by a blog post Dean Baker wrote a few days ago.
Join us for a First Listen Live video webcast with Interpol on August 26 at 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. PT). The New York band will play songs from its upcoming album, El Pintor (out Sept. 9), in public for the first time.
Brian Goldman is an emergency room physician who has worked at Mount Sinai Hospital in downtown Toronto for more than 20 years. He's also a prominent medical journalist and the host of CBC Radio's White Coat, Black Art. He says every doctor makes mistakes but medicine's culture of denial keeps doctors from talking about and learning from those mistakes. His new book, The Secret Language Of Doctors, examines the code of hospital slang.
Dr. Goldman was featured on the TED Radio Hour episode Making Mistakes.
Was there ever a time when making a mistake in the medical profession wasn't so taboo?
It wasn't all that long ago when making mistakes was neither unexpected nor taboo within the medical profession. If you want to see what I mean, check out The Knick, a new television drama series on Cinemax in the U.S. and on HBO Canada. The show stars Clive Owen who plays a surgeon at New York's Knickerbocker Hospital and is set during the early twentieth century. From practically the opening scene, doctors kill patients practically left and right. Back then, there were no antibiotics or blood pressure pills, and certainly no clot-busting drugs. Surgery was crude and often did more harm than good. But it didn't matter, because back then, society accepted that death was part of life and that illness was almost always followed by death. In those days, doctors were all bedside manner and little cure. You could make as many mistakes as you liked - provided you evinced the manner and bearing of a doctor. Medicine itself was simpler in those days. The pharmacopaeia was just a handful of medications. There were no CT scans that could emit cancer-causing radiation.
Fast forward more than 100 years. Doctors can unblock coronary arteries and replace worn out joints. Deep brain stimulation can make people with advance Parkinson's disease walk. Medicine has become much more dense and complex to practice. It is impossible to know every drug in the pharmacy. Side effects and interactions alone demand that extra staff be hired to navigate them.
Corporate medicine has brought expectations of McDonald's-like consistency to medicine, while reducing the amount of meaningful contact time between doctor and patient to a paltry 5-10 minutes. With great success has come rising expectations by patients and by the public. Mass media and social media run on biblical and other archetypal stories like "David and Goliath," the God-like doctor being cut down to size, the virtuous doctor with the sterling reputation revealed as a serial incompetent.
All of those factors and others have magnified the unhealthy shame that doctors feel when they make mistakes and the shame that is projected on them by colleagues and the public alike.
How can medical schools begin to address the culture of not talking about mistakes?
In my opinion, medical schools can and must play a constructive role in changing the culture of medicine as it pertains to errors. Instead of expecting perfection, educators must teach medical students that mistakes are inevitable in a high pressure field with increasing complexity and productivity pressure. Instead of being appalled when mistakes happen, educators should teach young doctors to become curious about how, when and why mistakes happen. I find that shame inhibits the exploration of medical error; curiosity induces a state of calm and even pleasure that facilitates such exploration.
Instead of asking, "oh how COULD you?" We would be far better off asking, how and why do well-trained and well-meaning professionals make mistakes? What roadblocks does the system put in place that make it harder for health professionals to make fewer mistakes?
I showed your talk to a physician who replied, "this will never catch on." With increasing legal liabilities, openly confessing to medical mistakes is not going to get easier. Would you support anonymized discussion of medical mistakes? If not, why not?
To a large extent, your comments are bang on! If I were a malpractice lawyer, I'd be looking to find a way to lurk in chat rooms and listservs to look for confessions of malpractice. The airline industry has gone much further with anonymized discussions of aviation mishaps. It's pretty clear that the current culture's lack of open discussion of mistakes inhibits us from discovering errors and dealing with them. I believe we have little option but to try and increase discussion before, during and after procedures in which errors occur. To do that, we need to change the culture so that everyone involved in patient care — from the person who cleans the patient's room and the OR to the hospital CEO — feels free and safe to point things out that don't look right.
To do that, we have to extricate the shame loaded into such discussions.
I would certainly be in favor of special legislation that protects reflective debriefs about errors from being used in a court of law.
Can medical whistleblowers play a larger role in changing the culture of medicine? If so, how would that work?
Medical whistleblowers can play a big role in reporting medical errors and substandard medical care. Look no further than the role whistleblowers have played in uncovering the recent Veterans Administration scandal. In the U.K., medical whistleblowers were instrumental in uncovering the scandal at Stafford Hospital, where between 400 and 1200 patients died needlessly as a result of poor care. That scandal and another involving poor outcomes in pediatric heart surgery led the British government to introduce a new hospital inspection regime and legislating for a duty of candor in National Health Service organizations so they have to be open with families and patients when things go wrong.
Unfortunately, health care whistleblowers are almost non-existent in Canada. In the U.S. and the U.K., whistleblowers continue to be subjected to harassment. The latter is a strong indication that the fundamental problem is within the culture of medicine. Whistleblowers call attention to fear and inertia within medical culture. Like an immune system, the culture sends antibodies to destroy whistleblowers. Whistleblowers won't change the culture, but they could destroy it if the public is roused to anger over the failure of medical leaders to address impediments to discovering and dealing with error.
Is it possible - or even a good idea - to make the general public more comfortable with the idea that doctors make mistakes?
It is imperative that the patients and the public accept that in a complex system, doctors will make mistakes. I blame the public in part for forcing doctors into the false goal of perfection. Far better for the public to accept that mistakes happen and to play a constructive role in prompting doctors to consider alternative diagnoses, to overcome cognitive biases, and — like other members of the health care team — to point out things in the course of medical care that "just don't look right."
Following violent protests, Ferguson experienced a night of relative calm after a grand jury began investigating whether criminal charges should be brought against the white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teen and a visit to the St. Louis suburb by Attorney General Eric Holder.
NPR's Elise Hu, reporting from Ferguson, tweeted this morning:
As St. Louis Public Radio's Chris McDaniel writes:
"As demonstrators made laps up and down the road (remaining in motion in accordance with law enforcement's rule), most of the policing was self-policing.
"A handful of demonstrators would yell out to 'Keep moving!' or 'Get out the streets' when a crowd would gather. And those same demonstrators would admonish journalists for backups as well.
" 'Y'all have nice gas masks, that's cool,' one demonstrator said to a stationary journalist. 'We don't, so please keep moving.' "
Holder met with dozens of leaders at a community college on Wednesday in hopes his visit would calm the troubled community, which erupted into anger and violence following the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of teen Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, reports NPR's Carrie Johnson.
Holder told college students about his personal experience with being racially profiled and asked them to start a conversation about how the justice system can change.
"I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me," Holder said at a gathering of dozens of community leaders at the St. Louis Community College.
Holder also met with Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, thanking him for taking control of a tough situation and telling him to get some rest.
Johnson, asked if he had confidence in the local investigation, said Holder's presence "is a guarantee on that."