We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Many Companies Are Now Observing Juneteenth
A growing movement in corporate America has many workplaces closing early or canceling work all together today, June 19th. They’re closing to mark “Juneteenth,” which is not a new holiday, although widespread business observance of it is.
Juneteenth celebrates the day in 1865 when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached slaves in Galveston, Texas, where a Union general made it public. President Lincoln had signed the Proclamation in January 1862, but it took years for the news to spread throughout the war-torn United States. It must be noted that the Proclamation explicitly only freed slaves in Confederate states as a war tactic, and didn’t apply to victims of slavery in “loyal” Union states like Kentucky and Maryland. Still, it kicked off a process of liberation that ended with slavery’s abolishment in the 13th amendment to the Constitution.
Juneteenth celebrations have traditionally been vibrant in Texas and in Southeastern states, marked by parades and public gatherings. Among the companies giving employees time off to mark the holiday this year include financial services firms like PNC and Mastercard, tech companies such as Google and Lyft, retailers like J.C. Penney, and sports-related organizations like Nike and the NFL, among many others. Although the pandemic quarantine means most will be marking the day at home, it can still be an occasion for remembering the past and reflecting on how far we still have to go. —Margaret Brady
“Uncle Ben” and “Aunt Jemima” Announce Changes
Two major brands are announcing major changes as the United States continues to grapple with a reckoning over race issues. Quaker Oats Company, a subsidiary of PepsiCo that makes Aunt Jemima pancake products, and Mars, which produces Uncle Ben’s rice, announced this week that they will take rapid action to change their branding. Both products have been marketed for decades with racial imagery.
Aunt Jemima, a black female character, has appeared on pancake syrups and mixes since the 19th century. Over the years, her picture has changed from a straightforward caricature to a more modern image complete with pearl earrings. The fact remained, though, that the name and imagery were originally intended to call to mind a character from a blackface minstrel show.
While the Quaker Oats Company has pledged to drop both the name and image of Aunt Jemima, Mars is still considering what changes to make. According to the company, the “Uncle Ben’s” name comes from a successful farmer, and the image on the box represents a Chicago chef. The “Uncle” honorific itself, however, stems from its usage for African Americans whom whites didn’t want to address as “Mr.”
Back in April, the Land o’ Lakes company of Minnesota canned its classic brand imagery of a kneeling Native American maiden. The new logo on the butter emphasizes the Lakes in the name and the fact the company is farmer-owned. —MB
Police-less Zone in Seattle Gains Attention as President Mandates Police Reforms
Fueled by tension between local police officers and George Floyd protesters, a Seattle, Washington neighborhood has declared itself autonomous and titled itself the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ). Among growing cries to “Defund the Police,” Capitol Hill officers ultimately chose to temporarily withdraw their services from the precinct.
In the couple weeks since, much debate has raged about the nature of the newly established police-free zone. The New York Times characterized it as “a homeland for racial justice,” while one conservative writer called it “a tourist attraction by day and lawlessness by night.” Within the movement itself (which some are concerned has drawn Antifa activists, who promote anarchy and violence as a means of deconstruction existing systems), factions have emerged, both over the goals of the protests and what power structure, if any, to implement within neighborhood.
On Tuesday President Trump signed into law an executive order mandating reforms such as a ban on chokeholds as well as incentives for greater victim advocacy and mental health awareness. Additional bipartisan reforms are expected in the near future. Some argue that the reforms do not do enough to dismantle the existing structure. At the same time, police across the country find themselves fearing retaliation by those seeking vigilante justice for the crimes of other officers, with media outlets reporting record numbers of resignations. —Mariel Lindsay
Fired Atlanta Police Officer Is Charged with Felony Murder
Following the death of Rayshard Brooks on June 12, former Atlanta officer Garret Rolfe was charged with 11 counts, which include aggravated assault with a weapon, felony murder, and more. Brooks’ death continues a litany of Black Americans who have died following police altercations in the last few weeks, and occurs amid national protests and outcries for police reform and justice for racial violence.
Officers Garret Rolfe and Devin Brosnan arrived on the scene after a call about Brooks being asleep in the drive-thru lane of a fast food restaurant. After accounts of the interaction emerged, the Fulton County District Attorney states that Rolfe and Brosnan did not tell Brooks that he was being arrested for driving under the influence, nor did either officer seek medical attention after shooting Brooks twice in the back. The DA’s office also asserts that Brooks “never displayed any aggressive behavior,” which strongly informed the charges laid on both Rolfe, who shot Brooks, and Brosnan, who has acknowledged standing on Brooks’ body after the shooting. Rolfe was fired two days after the incident, and Brosnan is on administrative leave and is cooperating as a state witness.
The Wendy’s restaurant where Brooks was killed has been burned down since the incident, and police are looking for arson suspects who appear in footage to be two women who stand apart from the majority of protesters.
In the wake of the event, an unusually high number of officers called off work. Following these reports, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms insisted that while morale is down, personnel were reallocated to cover the shifts. In an interview with CNN, Bottoms explained, "We do have enough officers to cover us through the night. Our streets won't be any less safe because of the number of officers who called out. But it is just my hope again that our officers will remember the commitment that they made when they held up their hand and they were sworn in as police officers." —Maggie Sicilia Bickerstaff
Twilight’s Kristen Stewart to Star as Princess Diana in New Movie
A new movie is coming out about the late Princess of Wales, and Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame has been selected to play the title role. According to reports, the movie is called Spencer. Prior to her marriage, the princess was known as Lady Diana Spencer. She was the 19-year-old daughter of a noble family that descends from royalty (she and Prince Charles were actually 16th cousins).
Spencer will reportedly cover the events of a single weekend in the early 1990s when the princess realized her marriage to the heir to the British throne wasn’t salvageable.
"We all grew up, at least I did in my generation, reading and understanding what a fairy tale is. Usually, the prince comes and finds the princess, invites her to become his wife and eventually she becomes queen. That is the fairy tale,” director Pablo Larraín is quoted as saying. “When someone decides not to be the queen, and says, I'd rather go and be myself, it's a big big decision, a fairy tale upside down. I've always been very surprised by that and thought it must have been very hard to do. That is the heart of the movie,” he said.
While the director praised Stewart as “one of the great actors around today,” the response from the U.K., at least, has been mixed, with some questions about why an American actress was chosen. —MB
Supreme Court Justices Rule LGBT+ People Are Protected from Job Discrimination
A Monday Supreme Court ruling declared protection for lesbian, gay, and transgender individuals from employment discrimination based on gender or sexuality. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, known as Title VII, prohibits discrimination based on sex, and the court decided in a 6-3 vote that this protection extends to LGBT+ employees. The impact of this vote is anticipated to affect more than 8.1 million individuals, as most states currently do not offer LGBT+ workers protection from discrimination.
Justice Neil Gorsuch led the majority in the decision, stating, “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.” As a result, Gorsuch concluded, such an employer is in violation of the Civil Rights Act. Still, Gorsuch noted this is only part of the issue, addressing pending lawsuits regarding transgender individuals’ participation in school sports and use of sex-segregated bathrooms and locker rooms, and the possibility of employers with religious objections raising concerns in future cases as well.
Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas dissented, with Alito writing, “Even as understood today, the concept of discrimination because of ‘sex’ is different from discrimination because of ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity.’” Kavanaugh shared a separate dissent, stating that the court was rewriting the law, a job that belongs to Congress. In recent years, there has been discussion of whether LGBT rights are a subset of sex discrimination, but efforts by Congress to change the law have failed. —MSB
There Will be MLB Baseball This Year
For the past five weeks Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Rob Manfred has been negotiating with the head of the Players Association Tony Clark about a plan to salvage the 2020 season. MLB Opening Day, originally scheduled for March 26, was supposed to kick off the 162-game season.
Discussions about players’ salaries have been heated. Last week, the players union rejected Manfred’s offer of a reduced 72-game schedule with 80 percent of the players’ salaries prorated. Going into that meeting, Manfred thought that the likelihood of a 2020 season would be “100 percent.” After the rejection, team owners offered to pay players their full salaries in exchange for a 60-game season that would begin on July 19.
Manfred and Clark met one-on-one in Phoenix on Wednesday, raising hopes that America’s favorite pastime would be restored, no matter the abbreviated schedule. Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, the world's second-most prominent baseball league, is scheduled to launch its season in July as well. —Melanie Wilcox
Astronaut Becomes First Woman to Reach Deepest Point in Ocean
Former NASA astronaut Kathryn Sullivan has made history—again! In 1978 she became the first American woman to walk in space. On Sunday, at age 68, she became the first woman to reach Challenger Deep, the deepest point of any ocean.
Raised by an aerospace engineer, Kathy was also fascinated by the sciences. Her career as an astronaut, however, began as somewhat of a fluke when her brother encouraged her to apply for a job with NASA. According to her retelling of it in a NASA interview, he told her, “They want women and minorities to apply, and how many 26-year-old female PhDs can there be in the world?”
She was accepted into the NASA Astronaut Corps and in 1984 became the first American woman to complete a spacewalk. She remained with NASA for 15 years before embarking on a new career at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), telling onlookers that she ultimately made the switch because of her interest in “improving life on Earth.”
Now, as of June 7, Kathy is increasingly closer to that goal after visiting one of the least known areas on the planet, an area within the Mariana Trench almost 7 miles below the surface of the West Pacific Ocean and roughly 200 miles southwest of Guam. Along with fellow adventurer Victor Vesoco, she dove from their submersible to the deepest point in the ocean. Upon their momentous return to the surface, she immediately called astronauts at the International Space Station. In a statement released soon thereafter, she further described their interaction, remarking that "as a hybrid oceanographer and astronaut, this was a once-in-a-lifetime day—seeing the moonscape of the Challenger Deep and then comparing notes with my colleagues on the ISS about our remarkable, reusable, inner-space outer-spacecraft.” —ML
2021 Oscars Are Delayed by Two Months
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences delayed the 93rd Academy Awards by two months, from February 28 to April 25, 2021, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The last time such the Academy postponed the Oscars was three decades ago, after the assassination attempt of President Reagan in 1981. In tandem with the postponement, the Academy extended the eligibility period from Dec. 31 to Feb. 28, in an attempt to compensate for the three-month closing of movie theaters between March and June.
The Academy has not announced whether or not the event, which generates about 83 percent of the Academy’s revenue, will include a red carpet and live audience. —MW
Leah Remini Says Scientology’s #MeToo Moment Is Just Beginning
This week That ‘70s Show actor Danny Masterson received several charges from women who claim he raped them in his home. Upon hearing the news, actress Leah Remini tweeted: “Finally, victims are being heard when it comes to Scientology! Praise the lord! This is just the beginning Scientology, your days of getting away with it is coming to an end!”
A former Scientologist who has been vocal since her departure, Remini interviewed women who shared rape allegations against Masterson in a two-hour A&E special in 2019 called Scientology and the Aftermath.
After Weinstein’s sentencing this February, and the takedown of Bill Cosby and others, it appears the entertainment industry is getting a much-needed cleanse. Alanis Morissette was recently quoted saying the #metoo movement for the music industry hasn’t even begun. Here’s to continuing to open up the windows and letting in more fresh air. —Mary Rose Somarriba
Good News of the Week
Virginia Kids Will Keep Reading Thanks to Drones That Will Drop Library Books
Middle school librarian Kelly Passek has been using a Google-spinoff drone service to have household goods and meals delivered right to her home.
Wing, the pilot drone service, has been delivering goods of up to three pounds to Virginia since 2019, and Passek soon considered how this service could benefit her students. She told the Washington Post, “I think kids are going to be just thrilled to learn that they are going to be the first in the world to receive a library book by drone.”
The company will start delivering books to as many as 600 Virginia students in the Montgomery County School District, free of charge. Books won’t be due back until school starts in the fall, giving kids plenty of time to read and enjoy their drone-delivered stories.
Passek has hopes that the novelty of drone delivery will get more kids excited about reading, and Wing’s own head of Virginia operations feels especially moved by the project, as his mother is a librarian. —MSB
Watch of the Week
Sometimes the most soothing things are what bring us back to basics.
Miss our “Articles of Note” section? Subscribe to Verily Daily emails and check out our new suggested reading at the bottom, in our new “May We Recommend” section.