Utah’s air: Not good for what ails you

Inversion

Brace yourself — The inversion is coming. This is the text of a bumper sticker.

Story and photos by SARAH SAIDYKHAN

On July 24, 1847, Brigham Young and the Mormon pioneers of what is now The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived on the outskirts of the Great Salt Lake Valley looking for a new place to corral their wagons and set up camp. The church’s archives state that as Young gazed over the vast and barren land sprawled out before him, he said, “This is the right place.”

City View

Salt Lake City.

Nowadays we know that what Brigham Young was looking at were massive mountain ranges surrounding a desert-valley landscape. This mountain range design creates a makeshift bowl that protects the valley from strong winds and other harsh elements. Along with adventurous recreation, the mountains assist in creating high- and low-pressure systems that trap toxic particulate matter in the air during winter inversions and smoke-filled haze pollution resulting from possible summertime fires.

Kellie McCleve lives in the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley and is a mom to five kids under the age of 14. From her home, she is able to see the smog pollution that covers the Valley. She said, “Sometimes the sky’s so gross you can’t see anything but like, a yucky, brownish haze. It covers the whole Valley.” McCleve said that when she takes her kids into the city, she has a mask for each of them to wear. “It’s so gross! We shouldn’t be breathing that in. No one should be breathing that in.”

Smog Lake City

Light haze covering the Salt Lake Valley.

But every day, hundreds of thousands of people do breathe it in. McCleve said that when she moved, the inversions were something she could see from a distance. But now she knows her home was never actually immune. “I worry because when we moved out of the city, I really thought we escaped it, we didn’t. We just see it now from a distance. It’s always around us but it’s worse down in the Valley.” McCleve believes that no one person can fix the depleted air quality and for now, she continually looks for ways to lower her carbon footprint saying, “We’re all responsible for the problem and that means, we’re all responsible for cleaning it up. If we don’t, we’re all in trouble.”

Today, Utah is home to over three million people and the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute projects that by 2065, Utah will be home to roughly six million people. Even as the state grows more diverse, there is still an environmental justice divide visible in the Valley.

The east side houses a predominantly white population. One can usually find new and remodeled schools and readily available public transportation. There are pricey coffee shops every few blocks and multiple grocery stores within walking distance where residents can purchase organic, fresh fruits and vegetables. The east side of the Valley also sits at a higher elevation and in a way, overlooks the west side. But even at higher elevations, the air is still filling with particulate matter from emissions, just not at the same levels as what accumulates in the air down on the Valley floor.

West Side Industry

Westside industry.

The west side of the Valley houses a large majority of Utah’s lower-income families. There’s more diversity in the communities and predominantly, most people of color live on the Valley’s west side. Grocery stores are spread miles apart from residents, creating food deserts, and there’s a significant lack of public transportation. Instead of coffee shops and farmers markets littered throughout the neighborhoods, there are factories, refineries and major transportation, and trucking hubs all contributing to the air quality.

With the depleted air quality in the Valley, who is affected the most? Anthony Sudweeks is one of the principals at Wallace Stegner Academy (WSA), located on Bending River Road on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. The school offers a free, college preparatory education for grades K-8. With over 600 students, the majority of kids attending WSA are Hispanic, students of color and/or from low-income families who reside in the neighborhoods surrounding the school.

Sudweeks said he is asked by parents frequently, “Can you keep all the kids inside for indoor activities?” As much as he wishes that were possible, it’s not a reality. A few days of inside play are OK, but kids need to run and expel their energy so they can pay attention and learn while the teacher is instructing. Instead of packing hundreds of energy-filled kids in a crowded lunchroom like sardines in a can, the school adheres to strict guidelines on how the red, orange and yellow days are handled.

utahblueskyslc

A “green day” in Utah.

Sudweeks said, “On red days, no kids play outside. On orange and yellow days, students with asthma or heart conditions, who have to have a doctor’s form filled out, don’t go outside.”

The school uses one of the state’s outdoor air quality monitoring websites to decide who or if any students go outside during the orange and yellow days. “There are air testing monitors that the state funds all over the place,” Sudweeks said. “There’s one about two blocks from here.” He and the other employees at WSA are vigilant in making sure that the kids are not outside when the inversions are happening and when the air quality monitors show that any unnecessary exposure to the air would not be safe.

WSA checks the air quality website multiple times daily because, even though the weather is not the culprit, the pressure systems may change from morning to afternoon. But Sudweeks said, “It’s not really dependent on the weather. High- and low-pressure fronts can change it, but the air quality’s not very unpredictable. It’s predictable. In the morning we know what it’s going to be like in the afternoon, it doesn’t randomly change. It doesn’t predict green and turn into a red.”

Sudweeks did say that during the winter inversions the forecast will sometimes show a yellow day in the morning, but by the afternoon it will have turned into a red day. Those days, he said, “It’s a constant check, constant.”

An inversion builds, trapping pollution.

The area of WSA is surrounded by four major freeways. Sudweeks explained that the neighborhoods around the school are some of the worst polluted spots in the state when it comes to bad air quality. So, why knowingly put a school in an area that suffers from some of the most polluted air in the state? “Because this is where our students live,” Sudweeks said. “This is Glendale, and most of our students live in Glendale. If we moved the school somewhere else, what we’d be saying is, these kids don’t deserve a good charter school.” Glendale is a suburb of Salt Lake City and according to Statistic Atlas, roughly 40 percent of the population living there is Hispanic.

Sudweeks quickly affirmed, “This is their neighborhood and these kids absolutely deserve to have a great school in their own neighborhood.” He said that one of the reasons why the school’s location was decided was “to make sure that the kids living in some of the most polluted and lower-income parts of the city still have access to the best education possible.”

Sudweeks explained the environmental justice issues the school and area are facing. “It’s a nationwide phenomenon where the lower the income neighborhoods are, the more likely they are to live in bad air quality. Nearer to freeways and industrial areas.” He said that’s also particularly true in Utah. The area is economically growing and with that growth brings large diesel-fueled trucks, more traffic, congestion and, overall increased pollution.

Winter Smog

Eastside winter smog — University of Utah’s family housing.

Sudweeks also ran for state legislature in 2018. One of his platforms was Utah’s air quality, more specifically, the air quality monitors and their need to be updated. He said, “They need about $3 million invested into them because they’re falling apart. The session before the last, they voted to not put any money into them and this last session they put $1 million. But they are in desperate need of upgrades on the monitors themselves.”

Sudweeks said he feels like the majority of the legislature just doesn’t care because it would mean truly facing the air pollution problem. “They just pretend like it’s an issue we have no control over, which is not true.” Sudweeks said the state could completely move to Tier 3 fuel, which is low in sulfur and according to the EPA, reduces carbon dioxide emissions into the air.

Sudweeks said the state is also needing a revamp of the public transit system to meet the needs of the people. “Buses don’t get people on public transits, trains do,” he said. “We’re a big enough county where we could justify a large investment into public transits. Because of our air quality needs, we have no business not investing heavily in public transits.” Sudweeks referenced the recent legislature and said, “No money for public transit, but a lot of money for widening and expanding roads.”

He said Utah’s inversions give residents a false sense of security in believing the air is only bad when inversions are happening. A large study by Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health agrees. The study found that EPA standards may not be strict enough in preventing premature deaths from air pollution. The research showed that if particle pollutions in the air could be lowered by roughly 10 percent, the death rates of people 65 and older would be lowered, possibly saving 7,000 to 10,000 lives each year.

Hazy City

Haze building over the Salt Lake Valley.

Improvements to the air quality in Utah have been made over the years. Technological advancements created cars that run on natural gas and batteries. Electric vehicles, trains and buses are carrying more people around the Salt Lake Valley, reducing the need to get in a gas-operated vehicle for a quick drive to the store. More homes are being powered through renewable solar energy, and in general, more people are aware of the issues of air pollution and what contributes to it. Still, with all the improvements, there is a visible racial divide when it comes to air we breathe.

Rep. Angela Romero represents Salt Lake Valley’s House District 26. She is also one of the many advocates fighting for clean air in Utah. Of the roughly 39,000 people living in her district, almost 60 percent are Hispanic and people of color.

Romero said in a phone interview that when the topic of air pollution comes up, people have to realize there’s more to it than just air pollution. “There’s an environmental justice concern for those affected the most.” The EPA recognizes environmental justice as the fair treatment of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, and income with regard to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulation, and policies. This means that every person living has a right to a fair and meaningful life and protection from environmental and health hazards. This is not the case for hundreds of thousands of people living in the most polluted parts of the Valley bowl.

Romero said, “Most working-class communities and communities of color, live in areas that are more industrial, so they’re going to be exposed to more toxins in the air than others.” She and her colleagues are looking at the intersectionality of all issues facing people of color and marginalized communities. “We’re not looking at how they collide and how they displace people, it’s how they all work together,” Romero said.

As the Valley becomes denser in population, Utahns must continue being vigilant in finding and implementing ways to stay ahead of the added pollution. Romero said, “It’s kind of hard for us to solve the problem if we’re not coming up with innovative ways to address it [air pollution].”

Public Transportation

Riding public transit lowers dependence on fossil fuels.

Cleaning up the air is not a one-person job. It’s everyone’s job to work together to make it better. Romero said that a lot of time people want to put all the blame on industry and other heavy air polluters. But, she said, “We don’t look at ourselves and what small things we can do when we’re looking at air quality and energy. How do we play a role in that? What are some practices that we can change in our own lives?”

Romero said she’d like to see the state focus on using more renewable energy sources like adding roof-top solar panels to all state-run buildings and offering higher discounts to homes using solar panels. Businesses and homes can also update their heating and air-conditioning units to function more efficiently. Romero said it comes down to all residents making the commitment to change the habits that are contributing to the depleted air quality.

Utah has over 200 sunny days a year. Roof-top solar is an important investment for Utah’s future economy. More importantly, using a 100 percent renewable and clean energy source can help to improve the long-term health of all residents.

In the Salt Lake Valley’s mountain landscape environment, there will always be air pollution concerns. “We have inversions,” Romero said, “and they’re never going to go away, but what can we do to be more proactive, so we don’t make them worse?” Romero said that people can make little changes like taking public transit. Even though it may take a bit longer to get somewhere, plan for it and make it part of the routine. Walk or ride a bike if only going short distances and carpool whenever possible. The more we drive, the more we’re creating dirtier air with our cars. Romero said, “Getting people out of their vehicles and onto public transportation is a great way to start.”

Bikes are readily available around the city.

About the future of Utah’s air quality, Romero said, “We’re trying to be more proactive. We’re looking at inversions and air quality and we’re looking at it more from a public health perspective.” She also said, “If we truly want to change the route we’re going, we have to reevaluate systems that are in current existence. It’s not only about communities of color and marginalized communities. It’s about us as an entire community.”

Romero said all it takes are small changes in everyday routines to help improve air quality. Any day is a great day, to start a new and healthy habit.

To make improvements to Utah’s air quality, follow the CLEAN AIR plan:

C: Carpool whenever possible
L: Limit cold starts on cars and combine trips
E: Engage in clean air advocacy
A: Access public transportation
N: Navigate smog ratings and engine types
A: Avoid unnecessary commutes
I: Idle less or not at all
R: Ride a bike or walk when possible

To learn more ways to help clean up Utah’s air, visit the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Utah Department of Health, or Air Now.

 

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Salt Lake County’s inland port: Helpful or harmful for the Latinx community?

Story and photos by KATHERINE ROGERS

Elitzer stood in the doorway of Franklin Elementary School’s gym on Feb. 28.
That evening, the gym hosted a panel about the proposed inland port that is to be built in Salt Lake County. She was watching the proceedings, but not participating in the questioning.

“I wish they would do something in Spanish,” says Elitzer, who asked that her last name not be used. She speaks English well, but it’s not her first language. Spanish is much more comfortable for her.

She is just one of many Latinx people who live near where the inland port is proposed to be built but know very little about it — even though this port could affect them the most, for better or for worse.

The proposed site heavily overlaps with Utah House District 23. This district belongs to Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City. It also has the highest Latinx population in the state, with 47 percent of the district identifying as Hispanic or Latino, according to the demographic profile of the district.

An inland port is essentially a dry port. It is a place for trucks, planes and trains to meet to exchange and deliver cargo. In the age of online shopping and one-day shipping, a junction like this is helpful.

In the 2018 legislative session, the state passed a bill that would provide funding for an inland port to be built in northern Utah. This inland port is to be built in the northwest quadrant of Salt Lake County, west of Interstate 215 and on both sides of Interstate 80. The area is just north of 2700 South and creeps toward the Great Salt Lake. This would put the port near Salt Lake International Airport and the Union Pacific Rail line, according to the boundary map.

IP 1

Trucks driving down 5600 West, just south of Interstate 80, where the Inland Port is proposed to go.

In the most recent development in this story, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski just filed a lawsuit against the Inland Port Authority (IPA).

Hollins has concerns about the port. She worries that increased truck, plane and train traffic could mean worse air quality.

Questions about how transparent the IPA has been in this process have come up. It has held many meetings that are closed to the public. Hollins says she doesn’t feel like the IPA has been listening to the public like it should.

The state representative does recognize there is good that could come from the port.

A provision has been provided in the Inland Port Bill that requires part of the funding for the project to go toward affordable housing.

The inland port also, of course, could provide potential job growth for the nearby communities, including House District 23.

According to the demographic profile, Hollins’ district has many people who work in construction and the service industry. This port could create more jobs in those areas.

Thomas Wadsworth, director of corporate growth and business development for the governor’s office, reported at the meeting on Feb. 28, that there are incentives in place that would encourage businesses to provide wages at least 110 percent of the average wage in that industry in Salt Lake County.

 

IP 2.JPG

R.C. Willey and Dematic warehouses along 5300 West, near the proposed location.

 

However, Hollins expresses that she is concerned about how good those jobs will be. An incentive is not a guarantee. And even if these jobs provide livable wages, there is no promise that there will be room for the employees to grow and move up in the company.

The question that Hollins asks for the good of her constituents is, “Do the economic benefits outweigh the ecological problems?”

The IPA is aware that not everyone supports the port. Envision Utah, a group dedicated to helping Utah grow in a healthy way, has been hired to run public meetings and report back how people are feeling.

These meetings have been well attended. But most of the attendees at the Feb. 28 meeting were white. Even though the neighborhoods closest to the port are heavily Latinx, few of those residents are seen at this meeting.

Elitzer, the Latina woman who was there that night, said this was the first meeting about the inland port that she had attended.

She had heard about it through Hollins when Elitzer had taken a trip to the capitol with her West Side Leadership Institute class. Before that, she didn’t know about the port. Hearing about it now alarmed her.

She has a daughter who is asthmatic. She said she wants her daughter to be able to play outside and run around with the other kids. Utah already struggles with poor air quality. Increased air pollution could keep Elitzer’s little girl from being able to do that.

The potential for worse air quality near their home makes Elitzer worry, not just for her daughter, but for other children as well.

She had recently been to Primary Children’s Hospital and seeing all those children who have similar afflictions as her daughter broke her heart. “They shouldn’t have to live like that,” she said.

It was pointed out during the meeting that the inland port could provide job growth for the community. Elizter just shook her head. “We can get other jobs, in a healthy way,” she said.

Elitzer wants to make a difference in her community. Learning about this port is part of that. She plans to share this information with her friends, family and neighbors. She thinks that they need to know.

She believes that this inland port project is just focused on money. She said she also feels that the IPA does not care about what the people nearest the project think. If it did, Elitzer points out, wouldn’t it have provided some information in Spanish?

Kyle Lanterman

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ABOUT ME: Kyle Lanterman is currently a student-athlete at the University of Utah enrolled in the College of Humanities and is studying Communication. Some of his research interests include different theories of communication, interpersonal communication and issues with relationships, and journalism. Kyle hails from Long Beach, California where he earned his high school degree at Woodrow Wilson High School. In the city of Long Beach, Kyle spent time as a member of Long Beach Search & Rescue. He enjoys to reading, video games, and various outdoor activities.

Misrepresentations of Pacific Islands culture in Disney movies

Story by DAYNA BAE

Cultural delineation in media frequently involves praises and criticisms at the same time. The Pacific Islands culture could not avoid such portrayal.

The Walt Disney Company Co., one of the major entertainment companies in the world, has depicted various cultures through its film productions.

As a result, Disney’s animated films gained large popularity and reputation for their diverse cultural representations. Up to the present, Disney has released numerous films including “Aladdin,” “Mulan” and “Pocahontas” based on different cultural backgrounds around the world.

With success of prior films, Disney released two animated films “Lilo and Stitch” and “Moana,” both of which describe Pacific Islands culture.

Two films depicted culture and stories of indigenous people in the Pacific Islands. The films starred a number of actual artists and professionals with Pacific Islands background.

Jacob Fitisemanu Jr., a clinical manager with Health Clinics of Utah and an associate instructor of ethnic studies at the University of Utah, said in an email interview, “Lots of Pacific Islander artists got into the production of the films and movies, and it became a good opportunity for them.”

The production and release of movies about the Pacific Islands not only aroused public attention about its mysterious and veiled culture, but also provided a good opportunity for Pacific Islanders working in the field of animation production.

“The major positive aspect of those films is the showcasing of the incredible potential and abilities of the Pacific Islander artists who lent their expertise and talents to the films,” Fitisemanu said.

According to the Guardian, the writer-director team of Disney’s “Moana” conducted a five-year research trip to Polynesia to interview elders and people living in Samoa, Tahiti and Fiji to have a better understanding about Pacific Islands cultures.

Despite the efforts of the research team, the public reactions to “Moana” varied. Some people showed optimism about the movie for displaying unique features of a minority culture, while others, reported the Guardian, criticized the movie for misrepresenting the culture and history of Pacific Islands.

Fitisemanu said, “Some people are very upset about Maui’s depiction and the way his legendary exploits are shown in the animation.” Maui is a main character who is a demigod in the movie. He also said that some people are uncomfortable with the fact that Maui is not put into context. According to Fitisemanu, Pacific Islands legends are in fact metaphors of actual historical events, unlike how the movie portrays them as mythological and fantastical ones.

Dr. Malie Arvin, an assistant professor of history and gender studies at the University of Utah, said, “The movie was not making sense to me, because Maui was described as a braggart, comical, and arrogant person in the movie.” She said that Pacific Islanders criticize the movie because many of the legendary stories of Maui’s are missing. “Maui has lots of stories such as slowing down the sun and fishing up islands,” Arvin said.

Another criticism of “Moana” deals with tourism. According to the Guardian, “Moana” caused a flurry of travel articles about the Pacific Islands triggered by the movie’s depiction of vibrant landscapes. Disney partnered with Hawaiian Airlines to promote the film and tourism catalyzed by “Moana” led to more ecological destruction of the Pacific Islands. The Guardian reported that the problem is due to the “merchandise and tourism machine [which] operates in direct opposition to the morals of Moana, a young girl who cares fiercely for her people and her island.”

According to the Huffington Post, one of the major flaws of the movie is its failure to mention Hina, a companion goddess of the god Maui. “In Polynesian lore, a goddess with a god creates symmetry that gives harmony and beauty to the story.” In this regard, “Moana” lacks a critical concept of “symmetry” in the story.

However, this is not Disney’s first time to be criticized for its misrepresentation of indigenous cultures. “Lilo and Stitch,” an animated film released in 2006, was also blamed for using inappropriate lyrics for a Hawaiian traditional song.

According to Arvin, “There is an aboriginal song about King Kalākaua, who was the last monarch of the Hawaiian kingdom before he was overthrown by the U.S. government.” The lyrics are a dedication to his honor, which is very respectful about his legacy. “However, ‘Lilo and Stitch’ just took that song and replaced his name with Lilo’s name. It was disrespectful and painful to see,” Arvin said. “And that was really depreciative of the history of Hawaii,” she added.

Although there are fierce criticisms toward Disney’s films about Pacific Islands culture, there are still positive voices that compliment the works for their valiant efforts and attempts.

Fitisemanu said, “If the Disney movie inspired Pacific Islanders to learn more by doing their own research, opening dialogue with family elders and cultural custodians, and increasing the sharing of our own stories with the next generation, then I think that is a good thing.”

To prevent and correct cultural misconceptions created by major film production and entertainment industry, Arvin said that there should be more Pacific Islands directors. “One of the most famous Pacific Islander directors is Taika Waititi. He is a Maori film director who directed Marvel’s ‘Thor: Ragnarok’,” Arvin said.

 

AARP classes can make older drivers smarter and give discounts too

Story and photos by IAN SMITH

AARP Utah is located at 6975 S. Union Park Center in Midvale.

AARP Utah is located at 6975 S. Union Park Center in Midvale.

We’ve all been in this situation: we are driving and then we get cut off or start tailing another car and we get frustrated. You don’t have to think hard because most people automatically think it’s an older driver.

So you slam on the brakes and press the horn as you fly around the car. You might give them a gesture or something of that nature.

But, older adults who feel like their skills are slipping can be proactive. AARP offers classes that can help aging drivers revive and reboot their skills behind the wheel.

“It provides the focus on the important thing that driving is the most dangerous thing we do every day,” said Paulette Welch, Utah state coordinator for driver’s safety in a phone interview.

The four-hour classes aren’t held on a specific schedule. It varies depending on the demand for classes, which are held at different senior centers all around Utah.

The price for a class varies depending on membership. It’s $15 for AARP members and $20 for non-members. It also offers an online version of the class that costs members $17.95 and non-members $21.95.

The number of participants also varies. Laura Polacheck, communications director for AARP Utah, said there may be as few as two students in a certain class or as many as 30.

“It’s a safety concern, and it’s difficult because people want to keep their independence,” she said in a phone interview. “That shouldn’t be the prevailing reasons to keep their keys.”

The classes consist of a lot of questions. This helps instructors, who are certified to teach the course by AARP, find out where participants may be lacking in focus or skill. For example, do they place their hands on the steering wheel correctly? When a pedestrian is in the cross walk and you need to turn, when can you go?

Polacheck said aging adults hit the point where they don’t see problems that others may see. They may ignore stop signs and other road signs. As a result, they may receive tickets or have an accident. She said people develop bad habits but no one informs them. Also, they don’t see the problem because they are so used to what they’ve been doing for so long. “We really ask them to reflect,” she said.

Pamphlets contain more information about the driving program.

Pamphlets contain more information about the driving program.

The class reviews the safety of the road and aspects such as reaction time and vision. Instructors also teach participants about new technology that can help them keep their keys in their possession.

“We talk about changing vehicle technology,” said Welch, the state coordinator for driver’s safety. “Many of them know less than younger drivers do.” In fact, she said, people are often surprised by how much they don’t know.

Welch said participants have a great reaction to the class and think more carefully about driving before they get inside of a car. All the information that pours into their ears makes them better drivers once they leave.

Another reward for taking the class is that some insurance companies offer discounts on policies.

“It’s a bit of an incentive,” said Polacheck, AARP Utah’s communications director. “You might not think about signing up for a safe driving course. Insurance companies believe it works otherwise they wouldn’t give the discount.”

However, AARP also recognizes that some older adults are unable to drive safely or consistently. It encourages those individuals to consider alternate mode of transportation.

“You don’t process the information the same [as you age],” said Peter Hebertson, information and referral program manager of Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services.

Hebertson said it can be difficult for people to give up driving because it affects their independence. This will become an even greater problem as Utah’s population ages.

 

 

 

 

 

Shades of grey: understanding African-American voices on gun control.

Story and graphics by TREVOR RAPP

Break downs of the demographics of shooters in school shootings show the vast majority are not ethnic minorities.

What does a gun in a hand of a black man symbolize?

Three highly publicized photographs demonstrate the complexity and disparity of portrayals of the African-American gun culture.

In one, an African-American man stands alone in an apartment facing away from the camera, his head slightly bowed, enough to make out an outline but no details of his face. An AR-15 assault rifle with custom grips, a 30-round magazine and collapsible stock hangs from a sling off his back. His left hand grips a pistol of unknown make and caliber that he points at the ground.

In another, smoke explodes from the barrel of a shotgun being held by an African-American man with salt-and-pepper hair wearing a black Nike polo tucked neatly into blue jeans. He wears black sunglasses and ear protection.

In a third, a young African-American man’s face and upper torso fill the camera frame. Graffiti lines the background and tight braids slip out from underneath his black bandana. His chest is bare and he curls his bottom lip under to better show off the two rows of gold-capped teeth. Both his hands, with his index and middle fingers, form imaginary guns pointed at his head.

The first is of Colion Noir, a self-proclaimed “YouTube Personality, Gun Enthusiast, Budding Attorney, Regular Guy who happens to love Guns.” Noir is also a correspondent for the National Rifle Association.

The second is a photo released on the White House’s Photo Stream on Flickr with the caption, “President Barack Obama shoots clay targets on the range at Camp David, Md., Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).” Much debate followed as to whether the photo was genuine or a staged photo-op to appeal to gun rights advocates.

The third is of rapper A$AP Rocky, who was praised by the New York Times for his debut album, “Long.Live.Asap.” the Times described him as being “a Harlem native with an expansive ear … one of hip-hop’s brightest new stars,” and, “a peacock, [rapping] with flair and authority.” One of the hit songs on the album, titled “F**kin Problems,” describes putting “your chrome to your dome,” a reference to putting a gun to your head. Other descriptions include acts of fellatio as making “it pop like an automatic or a nine,” references to automatic weapons and 9 mm pistols.

So what does it symbolize? Does the image of the average Joe portray a means of protection or a sign of paranoia? Is the image of a politician a depiction of high-class recreation or calculated propaganda? And for young, black males and females struggling to create their own identity, does this “art-imitates-life” photo provide insight and inspiration surrounding a successful artist, or social commentary on the numbing allure of becoming someone by racking up “street cred” points?

The answer is multi-faceted, with similar local and national conversations but quite different realities. Most importantly though, it’s a complicated answer that must be looked at through the lens of history, socio-economic factors and influences of the African-American family culture and African-American pop culture.

In the Salt Lake City area the true story for African-American gun violence, or crime for that matter, is not much different than the story for whites, said Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Shawn Josephson.

“It actually is one of those misnomers,” he said. “People tend to think that there is a significant difference [in crime] in the east side [a more densely white-populated area] to the west side [a more densely minority-populated area] and there really hasn’t been over the course of the history of the police department.”

However, the African-American population in Salt Lake City is extremely low. According to the United States Census Bureau, only a mere 2.7 percent of the population of Salt Lake City is African-American compared to 75.1 percent white. When taken in the context of the entire state the amount drops to 1.1 percent.

This makes it very difficult to get a statistical perspective on things like gun violence in the African-American community, Josephson said.

“As far as African-American [population], we are very, very low as far as our percentages go. … One person that’s a bad person can skew the whole percentages,” Josephson said. “I don’t believe [statistics] tell the true story most of the time.”

The same story seems to hold true in local school districts.

Jason Olsen, communication officer for the Salt Lake City School District, said, “We don’t see a greater propensity for violence in schools with a lot of minority students or schools without a lot of minority students. Our concern for school safety spreads across the entire district. It’s not really based on the ethnic diversity of certain schools.”

Olsen admits that concern for school safety was heightened in minority communities post-Sandy Hook, but also says it’s hard to gauge how much.

For example, though an astounding 200 Utah teachers poured into a single concealed weapons class right after the Sandy Hook incidents, Olsen has no way of knowing which teachers have concealed-carry permits, much less how the demographic breakdown is.

“In the Salt Lake School District we abide by the state law, that teachers with a concealed-carry permit are allowed to bring their weapon to school, but that weapon has to remain concealed and in their control at all times,” Olsen said. “Also the key point of what a concealed-carry permit is, is that it is concealed. We don’t necessarily know who would have a weapon and who wouldn’t.”

Later Olsen said, “Were there concerns in those [minority] communities? Yes. Were they greater than any concerns in any other communities? I didn’t get the feeling they were. I think the one thing that especially Sandy Hook has taught us is that acts of violence like this can happen anywhere. … It’s going to take the districts, the students, the community, community leaders, businesses, organizations, it’s going to take everybody to end this problem.”

But even in the apparent lack of a local problem, some Salt Lake City groups have expressed deep concerns about a very different reality of the effect of gun violence on the African-American community on the national level.

Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch and tri-state conference of Idaho, Nevada and Utah, wrote a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch detailing the epidemic proportions of gun-related deaths.

“The leading cause of death among African-American teens ages 15 to 19 in 2008 and 2009 was gun related homicide,” Williams wrote on April 12, 2013. “African-American children and teens accounted for 45 percent of all child and teen gun related deaths in 2008 and 2009 but were only 15 percent of the total child population. Clearly we have a stake in the debate.”

Earlier in the same letter, Williams “strongly” urged Hatch to “support the strongest policies possible, including implementation of a universal background check system; a ban on military-style assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips; and tough new penalties for ‘straw purchasers’ of any size.”

But the presence of strong African-American voices like Williams’ hasn’t been seen much on the national stages. Since the Sandy Hook massacre of 20 children, the debate over gun control has raged like a white man’s Nor’easter blizzard, causing a whiteout in the mainstream media that has marginalized the African-American community. It’s a sea of Caucasian talking-heads with only a Black “blip” here and there. It leaves many wondering not just what is the African-American perspective, but where is it?

President Barrack Obama has probably been the most visible African-American in the debate. He made similar comments when he returned to Newtown on April 8, 2013, the place of the Sandy Hook massacre, to drum up support for more active gun control measures.

“I know many of you in Newtown wondered if the rest of us would live up to the promises we made in those dark days … once the television trucks left, once the candles flickered out, once the teddy bears were gathered up,” the Huffington Post quoted Obama as saying. “We will not walk away from the promise we’ve made.”

Since the attacks on Columbine rocked the nation until realizations of the Sandy Hook massacre, hundreds of people have been injured or died.

Since the attacks on Columbine rocked the nation until the more recent horrors of the Sandy Hook massacre, hundreds of people have been injured or died in school shootings.

Those promises included 12 Congressional proposals and 23 executive actions, according to a Jan. 16, 2013, New York Times story, “What’s in Obama’s Gun Control Proposal.” Some of the more controversial points included universal background checks, a ban on assault rifles and pistols that have more than one military characteristic (such as pistol grips, forward grips, detachable or telescoping stocks and threaded barrels), a ban on all rifles or pistols that have a fixed magazine that can take more than 10 rounds and a ban on all magazines or clips that hold more than 10 rounds.

In stark contrast to this opinion are other African-Americans like Colion Noir.

“No one wants to fight for their protection, they want the government to do it,” Noir said in a video posted on the NRANews YouTube channel on March 1, 2013. “The same government who at one point hosed us down with water, attacked us with dogs, and wouldn’t allow us to eat at their restaurant, and told us we couldn’t own guns when bumbling fools with sheets on their heads were riding around burning crosses on our lawns and murdering us.”

But all Noir’s bluster hasn’t necessarily allowed him to break through any publicity ceilings. Noir’s YouTube videos for the past month have averaged 60,000 total views, while Piers Morgan, a white male and frequent gun control advocate and commentator on CNN, still beat out those numbers in spite of drawing an all-time low of 87,000 viewers in the 25-54 demographic for his show “Piers Morgan Tonight.”

Still, Noir’s comments prompted a firestorm of blog and Twitter comments from various people. Among them was Russell Simmons, a business magnate who founded Def Jam recordings and Phat Farm clothing.

“Our community is not interested in a corporate sponsored gun group telling us what to do, when their real mission is to make more money for the corporations that line their dirty pockets with rolls of cash and silver bullets,”  Simmons wrote in “The NRA & Black People: Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That!” posted on globalgrind.

If the composition of the NRA board of directors is a reflection of its level of commitment to African-Americans, then perhaps Simmons’ mistrust is not off base. Of the 75 members, only four are African-American. Of these four, one is Karl Malone, the former NBA star who played for the Utah Jazz.

“We’re much smarter than that and certainly can see through their motives,” Simmons wrote. “Until they show a real interest in solving the violence problem in our community, they can keep their Yankee hat-wearing spokesman and their African-American ‘campaigns’ for themselves. In the words of another internet star, ‘ain’t nobody got time for that.'”

While Noir isn’t the only prominent African-American to reference historical violence enacted upon blacks to promote gun rights, such disparate opinions speak not just to the divisive nature of the debate, but also the depth and complexity that underlies the debate about the role guns should play in the African-American community.

Justice Clarence Thomas, the second African-American to serve on the United States Supreme Court, used various references to black history when he wrote in partial support of a 2010 court opinion. In the case involving a Second Amendment challenge to a Chicago ordinance that “effectively bann[ed] handgun possession by almost all private citizens,” Thomas observed that “organized terrorism … proliferated in the absence of federal enforcement of constitutional rights” following the Civil War. In particular, he addressed the Ku Klux Klan and its reign of terror. Thomas wrote that “the use of firearms for self-defense was often the only way black citizens could protect themselves from mob violence.” He added that Eli Cooper, “one target of such violence,” reportedly explained, “‘The Negro has been run over for fifty years, but it must stop now, and pistols and shotguns are the only weapons to stop a mob.”’

Thomas also quoted another man whose father had stood armed at a jail all night to ward off lynchers. That empowering experience, Thomas wrote, left the man feeling hopeful that mob violence could be halted by individual acts of “standing up to intimidation.”

Others have noted the necessity of being armed during the civil rights movement.

“It is a myth that the civil-rights movement was exclusively nonviolent,” wrote Akinyele Umoja, a professor in the Department of African-American Studies at Georgia State University, in “Black Ambivalence about Gun Control.”

Umoja detailed some of the provocations African-Americans suffered during the summer of 1964. Workers and volunteers in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a civil rights organization trying to register local African-Americans to vote, were being harassed by “night riders,” white vigilantes who terrorized the SNCC. One night as a posse of night riders followed SNCC workers from the registration office, an 89-year-old woman armed and organized her children, grandchildren and neighbors and formed an ambush which so surprised the night riders that they never returned.

Umoja said in a phone interview that there was a shift between the 1950s and ’60s in how children got guns. Where before the “elders” took an involved role in teaching their children how and for what purposes to use guns, shifts in the general American culture that made it easier to obtain a gun illegally put more guns in the hands of “unstable elements.”

“It was a rite of passage for rural black families to teach children to use arms as a means of survival, for both food and protection. And black girls were trained to shoot to protect themselves from white rapists,” Umoja wrote in the article, which was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But even deep-seated traditions of armed heroism don’t make for clear delineations among African-Americans on issues of gun control.

“There are some people in our community that don’t identify with either of the positions put out by the NRA or liberals,” Umoja said in the phone interview.

Though the rhetoric can be polarizing, the views certainly are not just black and white among the African-American community. Rather, the nuanced grey areas have to be understood through the many factors shaping and influencing the African-American community.

Umoja wrote in the article about social issues including the destabilization of families due to cuts in the federal government’s welfare system, increased individualism among blacks, declines in the manufacturing economy which employed many blacks, and increases in gang activity and the influx of drugs — all of which have led to an increase in cycles of poverty and gun violence, and by extension a motivation to support gun control.

But the fear of violence among under ground elements within the black community hasn’t erased the memory of violence from outside the black community, Umoja wrote. “Gun control for many black activists is at heart an issue of self-determination, self-reliance, and self-defense. But at the same time, we need to provide economic alternatives for black youths trapped in the drug economy; end the ‘war on drugs’ through decriminalization and the treatment of substance abuse as a public-health issue, and provide accessible and culturally relevant education that prepares black students for professions and entrepreneurship.”

 

From the Journalist’s Notebook, some reflections:

What does a gun in a hand of a black man symbolize?

For Utahns afraid of an overspill of violence from the 1 percent — a non-issue.

For those tired of being political puppets of a national white gentlemen’s club — white ignorance.

For those tired of being in the crosshairs of white oppressors — power.

And for those tired of looking down the wrong end of it — a call to find more peaceful way to build a community.

Getting Dirty: Why children need to be outdoors

Story and photos by KATIE HARRINGTON

A semi-weathered copy of Thoreau’s “Walden is perched on the top shelf of an IKEA bookcase in Nick Harrison’s bedroom, next to a collection of guidebooks, a stack of old climbing magazines and a French pocketknife — the handle made from the trunk of a cork tree. Harrison’s name is engraved on the blade.

A large, unfinished painting of southern Utah’s Castleton Tower is nestled into the corner of the room, near a box of paintbrushes and a piece of notebook paper with the title “2012 TO DO LIST” written across the top:

Keep a clear mind. Visit a different continent. Finish Castleton painting. Push my physical limits. Change someone’s life for the better.

Harrison, a 20-year-old student and a “liftie” at Alta Ski Area, grew up with the Wasatch Mountains in his backyard, inspired by their mystifying allure.

“I am drawn to the outdoors,” Harrison said. “These mountains are my constant source of motivation. I draw them. I climb them. But I didn’t fully appreciate what they had to offer until I got older. Survival, self-reliance, serenity: these are all things you can only truly learn by getting outside.”

But kids today don’t seem to see the outdoors the same way Harrison does.

Crowson (left) and Harrison pack their car for a climbing trip in April.

According to a national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids ages eight to 18 spend an average of 7.3 hours engaging in entertainment media in a typical day. This amounts to more than 53 hours per week.

Be Out There — a National Wildlife Federation campaign that hopes to reconnect children to the natural world — notes that a study in 2005 revealed that children are spending half as much time outdoors than they did 20 years ago.

Neil Crowson — Harrison’s roommate and adventurer counterpart — grew up down the street from Harrison, spending his childhood skiing in the Wasatch Mountains and rock climbing with his father.

“It’s really important for a kid to go out and get himself in the dirt, jump off rocks and cut his knees up, and get on the mountain at a young age,” Crowson said. “If kids do that, then they come to develop ambitions and learn to respect the mountains.”

Both Harrison and Crowson say they have — in one way or another — been defined by their outdoor surroundings, that growing up with the mountains as their playground has given them a sense of place and purpose in a seemingly uncertain world.

The walls of their living room are covered from ceiling to floor with personal photographs that share a common theme: being outside.

The gear room in the basement of their bungalow-style house is crammed with racks of ropes, climbing gear, bikes, skis, backpacks, tents and camp stoves—and a looming odor that can only be created from years of adventuring outdoors.

“I can’t ever see myself leaving the Wasatch completely,” Crowson said. “The people that founded these canyons, both in skiing and in climbing, have also founded tons of areas around the west coast. But you always see them coming back to Salt Lake and that’s because we hold the mountains with such high regard. They define us.”

But that defining power of the mountains — of the outdoors in general — is becoming increasingly sparse among today’s youth, as an increasingly technology-fueled lifestyle drives kids indoors — and keeps them there.

“It’s hard to learn a key set of morals as a kid when the world is changing so rapidly and technology is always advancing,” Crowson said. “It’s always hard to know how to become a man. But the beautiful thing about the outdoors is that it’s a constant. It’s timeless. So the same set of values that existed 100 years ago still exists today.”

Outdoor Nation — a community-based program created by young people, for young people — was founded in 2010 to address the growing disconnect between today’s youth and the outdoors.

“America is in a current state of crisis where its youth are choosing technology over nature, Xboxes (check the proper spelling on X box) over healthy lifestyles,” Outdoor Nation said on its website. “Green spaces in urban areas are either unsafe or non-existent. Families, schools, and media have failed to engage and excite youth about the benefits of the outdoors.”

Judy Brady, a licensed clinical social worker in Salt Lake City, said being outdoors is especially important for a child’s development because it fosters self-esteem.

“One of the ways in which we gain self-esteem is through task mastery,” Brady said. “When a child is outside, he or she gains personal self worth by problem solving, by completing new and challenging tasks.”

A series of studies published in a 2009 edition of Journal of Environmental Psychology found that being outside in nature makes people feel more alive.

“In vital states people demonstrate better coping and report greater health and wellness,” the study reported. “Being outdoors has been proposed to be good for health and well-being because when outdoors, people tend to both interact more with others and get more exercise.”

The sunlight also triggers serotonin and dopamine production, neurotransmitters that help maintain positive feelings in the brain, Brady said. Cases of seasonal depression are seen more often in the winter months because there is less sunlight and people spend less time outdoors.

“When we are surrounded by all man-made objects and man-made ideas — products of our own society — we become dysfunctional,” Crowson said. “We forget how to respond. We are alienated from each other because we are constantly around each other. When you are in the outdoors and there’s nothing but organic sounds, it gives you a chance to really bond with other humans.”

Allison Librett — a lawyer and fitness instructor in Salt Lake City — said that exposing her children to the outdoors at a young age has helped them establish and maintain relationships.

Librett has a nine-year-old and an 11-year-old, both of whom spend their summers at outdoor camps with children of diverse abilities and backgrounds.

“Fresh air, exercise, mental stimulation — these are all such important things for child’s development,” Librett said. “My kids have had the opportunity growing up to interact with the world around them, to know what their imprint is and that they have a purpose.”

Librett said that when her children spend long periods indoors — especially when they are on the computer or playing video games — she notices that they are much more anxious, emotional and frustrated.

Those emotions disappear when her children are engaged in outdoor activities.

Harrison said he hopes that today’s youth will realize what adventuring outdoors has to offer.

“Kids should be excited to get out, to be outside, to breathe fresh air, to see a full moon and a bunch of stars, and hear the coyotes,” Harrison said. “That’s the sickest thing to me: just hearing and seeing and feeling the world as it is. ”

And if Harrison’s convictions about the benefits of nature aren’t heartfelt and persuasive enough, then perhaps a passage marked in his copy of “Walden” is:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

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