Monday, August 31, 2020

On the intersection of medical and legal need in rural Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Examiner reports today from Polk County, Wisconsin, population 44,205, in far northwestern Wisconsin.  There. a nonprofit law firm, ABC for Health, which is based in far away Madison, the state capital, helps people get healthcare access.  Here's an excerpt from the story: 
The effects on healthcare access when legal services aren‘t available is the topic of an article published this month by Michele Statz and Paula Termuhlen, professors at the University of Minnesota, Duluth Medical School. The research in the article is largely based on rural areas in Northern Minnesota and Northern Wisconsin.

The article, “Rural Legal Deserts Are a Critical Health Determinant” states that the most common type of legal problem for poor rural residents is healthcare access. What is not as obvious is that not having access to lawyers and legal services ultimately harms the health of people in these communities.
“It doesn’t take much to think about how if you don’t have housing security or you’re experiencing intimate partner violence and you don’t have access to legal representation, those physical and mental health needs are exacerbated,” Statz tells the Wisconsin Examiner.

But increasingly, there are fewer lawyers practicing in rural areas and even fewer that have the expertise and partnerships to navigate the health needs of the community. Often civil lawyers in these places focus on family or housing law, and ABC for Rural Health is in just one of the state’s 72 counties.
A quote from the article follows: 
Despite meaningful attention to social and structural determinants of health — many of which are intrinsically legal — and to physician–attorney collaboration, there has so far been little, if any, formal recognition of this unique rural disparity among public health researchers.  This is surprising, given that the same U.S. regions experiencing hospital closures and physician shortages, often characterized as rural health care deserts, are largely also classified as rural legal deserts.
And then the Examiner story continues: 
There’s a strong body of research on medical-legal partnerships, and a body of research on the justice gap in rural areas, Statz says. The problem, she says, is that the research too often focuses on just urban areas or just the criminal-legal system — when civil law needs in rural areas are desperately lacking.
Here's a direct quote from Statz who is, as the story notes, a Wisconsin native:
There’s a pretty strong literature on medical-legal partnerships; the problem is they focus almost exclusively on urban contexts. One thing that has been phenomenally frustrating to me is that overwhelmingly … access to healthcare or issues involving health insurance or medical benefits, [are] identified as the top legal needs among rural community members.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Literary Ruralism (Part XXVII): Ibram Kendi's How to be an Anti-Racist

I've been reading How to be an Anti-Racist  (2019) this summer as part of a book group offered by my son's school, and I've learned a lot and been impressed by the book.  It has nothing to do with rurality, but I can't resist mentioning that I appreciate that Kendi defines his terms, a practice all too uncommon these days when discussing the very divisive issue of racism and what, specifically, what constitutes racism.  You can agree or disagree with his definitions, but at least he gives them to you.

But to get to the reason I'm posting this on Legal Ruralism, Kendi begins the book's penultimate chapter by talking about time he spent in SUNY Oneonta--State University of New York in Oneonta, as a dissertation fellow.  He was coming from Temple University in Philadelphia, having studied undergrad at Florida A & M.  He grew up in New York and suburban Virginia, near DC. 

Kendi writes:
Caridad was probably the one who ushered me to the lecture at SUNY Oneonta, our state college in the town of Oneonta, in upstate New York.  Forgive me for calling Oneonta a town.  Rural White people from surrounding areas labeled Oneonta "the city." 
At Oneonta, Whiteness surrounded me like clouds from a plane's window, which didn't mean I found no White colleagues who were genial and caring.  But it was Caridad, and all her Puerto Rican feminism and antiracism, who took me by the arm when I arrived as a dissertation fellow in 2008 and brought me closer when I stayed in 2009.  
The first paragraph reminds me that, in defining rural, it often comes down to the old cliche, "it's all relative."   The second reminds me how often we conflate rurality with whiteness, which may be close to accurate regarding Oneonta.  The Census Bureau reports that the population of Oneonta is 86% white (82% white alone, not Hispanic) and 4.6% black, 3.1% Asian and 8.1% Hispanic or Latino

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXXXVIII): update on my hometown

Screenshot from New York Times 7:12 am (PST) August 28, 2020
A month ago, I wrote about a coronavirus outbreak in the nursing home in Newton County, Arkansas, where I grew up. That story indicated a severe outbreak--very high incidence per capita--but/and centered at the county nursing home, which is owned by the county, an unusual arrangement.  Since then, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on August 1 a follow up to its initial story: 
The nursing home accounts for 85% of all virus cases in the county, based on numbers released Friday by the Arkansas Department of Health. 
The Newton County Nursing Home is the only such facility in the county, which has a population of 8,330. 
A worker at the nursing home tested positive March 31, according to the Health Department, but that employee was sent home and the virus was kept at bay until last week, when the first patient tested positive. 
By July 24, the Health Department said, there were 50-60 positive cases at the nursing home, but exact numbers didn’t show up in the department’s “nursing homes and congregate settings” list until Thursday — 50 positive patients and 27 positive health care workers. However, two of those workers have recovered. 
[Rachel] Bunch [executive director of the Arkansas Health Care Association] said the number 50 for patients includes three people who had been living at the nursing home but died at hospitals.
Bunch's statement is a little confusing since the story doesn't specify the number of COVID-19 deaths at the nursing home, just other data points, e.g., 50-60 positive cases.  Also, Bunch says she doesn't now how many folks in the nursing home are symptomatic, nor how the "virus got in." 

Here's what the state's long-term care facility map and chart looks like currently

Screenshot from Arkansasonline.com 7:20 am (PST) August 28, 2020
Newton County is the county, three east of Oklahoma,
second south from Missouri, with the large dot indicating number of cases
in long-term care facilities.  
This chart shows 59 positive residents, 30 positive staff members, but no "resident deaths" at the Newton County nursing home.  This is in spite of that August 1 story from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette which alluded to three deaths, albeit occurring at a hospital after the patient was moved from the nursing home.  That story also includes this paragraph deeper in the report:
Late Friday [July 31], the Health Department updated its online coronavirus count to show 91 total positive cases in Newton County. Nineteen people had recovered and three died. That means 85% of the county’s total positive virus cases can be traced to the nursing home.
Were the three deaths nursing home deaths, I wondered?  It isn't clear from the story.

The chart above is also inconsistent with what I see reported in the Newton County Times.  The August 19, 2020 issue of that local paper shows two nursing home deaths in the obituaries section, Iva Jean Berry, 88, and Christine Robie, age 85.  The obituary for the former says she died at the Newton County Nursing Home on August 12, 2020, and the one for the latter says she died the day before, August 11, 2020, also at the Newton County Nursing Home in Jasper.  Meanwhile, the August 12, 2020, issue of the Newton County Times reports that 84-year-old Alice Tenison and 63-year-old Dale Rocole, died at the Newton County Nursing Home.  Both died on August 5, 2020.  The August 26, 2020 issue arrived today, and it reports no nursing home deaths. 

With all of these deaths, one can't help wonder if deaths were due to COVID, as has been reported in national media given the higher volume of deaths (than usual) in 2020.  Plus, nothing in the obituaries indicates cause of death, which is typical of obituaries in this newspaper, even if the cause of death is traumatic, like a car accident.  So, these four early August nursing home deaths may well be--are likely to be--COVID caused.  One thing I do find odd--especially if these are COVID deaths and therefore of patients known to have tested positive for COVID--is that the nursing home residents had not been transferred to area hospitals for treatment.  Why did they die at the nursing home, assuming that fact was reported accurately in the obituaries?

The August 19, 2020 issue of the Newton County Times also mentions on the cover page the death of a physician, 84-year-old Roy Lee, who lived in Newton County but worked in Boone County and southern Missouri.  This story is explicit about the cause of death:  COVID-19.  I'm not sure why the distinction unless his family wanted it that way.  Also, I guess because he is a physician--an important figure in the community?--his death runs as a front-page story, with a separate obituary for him also on the front page.  Or maybe it is the fact he died of COVID that caused the editor to run this as a front page story.  The story quotes

At the other end of the age spectrum, Arkansas has sent its public school students back to school.  Here's what the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported yesterday, on that front:
Yesterday, the Health Department released a report showing that 1,126 public school students and 356 employees at the schools had tested positive for the coronavirus since June 15.

Among students and employees, 411 of the infections remained active as of Thursday, meaning the person had not yet recovered.

At his briefing, Hutchinson presented a lower set of statewide school numbers that included only cases from districts with five or more active cases.

He said that “seems like a very modest number” relative to the state’s 480,000 public school students.

“Why it’s important for us to have this starting point, and that’s really what I’m most interested in, is that this is a number really before school activity has started,” Hutchinson said.

“If there was an infection, the students would have got that outside of the school activities to be a statistic right now, and so we’ll be able to measure from that two weeks from now, three weeks, four weeks from now, and I expect that number to go up, but we’ll see.”
Several weeks ago, the governor announced that the state would use a $10 million CARES Act grant to provide hot spots and other means of digital access for Arkansas's public school students

Friday, August 28, 2020

What liability is at stake when a county sheriff deputizes citizens, who then get badly hurt?

That's the question the Sacramento Bee story asked two years ago here, and today the California Supreme Court finally made a decision in the case.  Here's an excerpt from Ryan Sabalow's story today:
Nine years ago, a rural California sheriff’s corporal called Jim and Norma Gund and asked them to check on their neighbor, who had called 911 and hung up. When the Gunds arrived, a murderer armed with a Taser and hunting knife attacked the couple and almost killed them. 
Did the Gunds become de facto deputies when they agreed to help Cpl. Ron Whitman, or were they just being good neighbors? 
On Thursday, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office in a case that sought to answer whether people who volunteer to help law enforcement should be entitled to sue for damages if they get hurt, or if they’re merely eligible for workers’ compensation as employees.
“We conclude the Gunds were indeed engaged in ‘active law enforcement service,’” the Supreme Court wrote Thursday. “When the Gunds provided the requested assistance, they delivered an active response to the 911 call of a local resident pleading for help. A response of this kind unquestionably falls within the scope of a police officer’s law enforcement duties.” 
The sheriff’s attorneys argued the Gunds were volunteers and only entitled to workers’ compensation for their injuries.
This part of Sabalow's story sketches the remote context in which these events took place:
The Gunds’ story, which raises troubling questions about the lack of law enforcement in the vast rural reaches of California, began March 13, 2011, in the remote former timber town of Kettenpom, about 250 miles north of San Francisco.
The California Supreme Court decision uses the word rural only twice, both when referring to the Amicus Brief of the Rural County Representatives of California (who filed with California League of Cities on behalf of defendants/respondent, Trinity County.  One of those mentions is in the text of the opinion and another is in the listing of attorneys and briefs.     

Here's the salient excerpt with the word "rural" highlighted:
We have good reasons to embrace, in this context, a more capacious understanding of what “law enforcement service” means. For reasons detailed below, we conclude that the term “active law enforcement service” — as used in section 3366 — falls short of encompassing every conceivable function a peace officer can perform. But neither is it quite so narrow that we are compelled to hold it only applies to the arrest and detention of criminals, or the direct suppression of crime. We conclude that “active law enforcement service” includes a peace officer’s duties directly concerned with functions such as enforcing laws, investigating and preventing crime, and protecting the public. Whatever the outer limits of the term, “active law enforcement” certainly includes the arrest and detention of criminals, as well as — given the range of reasons that ordinarily trigger emergency calls to police — responses to emergency calls for unspecified assistance, such as Kristine’s 911 call for help. (See, e.g., Livingston, Police Discretion and the Quality of Life in Public Places: Courts, Communities, and the New Policing (1997) 97 Colum. L.Rev. 551, 559 [investigation, arrest, and prosecution of those committing serious crimes is “straightforward” police intervention]; see also id. at p. 567 [the modern “ ‘crime-fighting’ ” strategy of policing includes rapid response to 911 calls for service].)  
Consider at the outset the structure of section 3366. It applies when an individual is injured while engaged in active law enforcement service, either on command or voluntarily at the request of a peace officer. Government Code section 26604 indicates that sheriffs “shall command the aid” of inhabitants as they think necessary to execute their duties. This authority for calling forth citizens to aid in law enforcement is the posse comitatus power. (Kopel, The Posse Comitatus and the Office of Sheriff: Armed Citizens Summoned to the Aid of Law Enforcement (2015) 104 J.Crim. L. & Criminology 761, 769– 806.) The posse comitatus power predates the nation’s founding and has a complicated history. (Id. at pp. 792–793.) At the federal level, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 contained posse comitatus provisions enabling federal law enforcement officers to compel northerners to assist in the capture of enslaved people who had escaped bondage. (Id. at pp. 798–800.) After the Civil War, the power was used in reverse to enforce civil rights legislation in the Reconstruction south. (Id. at pp. 800–801.) But the more familiar use of the posse comitatus power was the western frontier version: where a sheriff summoned the posse to pursue an escaped outlaw or confront a violent gang. (Id. at p. 802.) During this era, preservation of the peace did not fall exclusively to peace officers. (Pressel, The Western Peace Officer (1972) pp. 30–31.) On the frontier, preserving the peace was public duty. (Ibid.) Amicus curiae Rural County Representatives of California explains that unlike with the large, organized police forces for urban centers, peace officers in remote areas — like Trinity County — still rely on community members to assist in ensuring community safety.
That last line has me querying:  Is this sort of rural or frontier "policing" the original "community policing" we hear so much about today?

This case also reminds me of my 2014 book chapter:  The Rural Lawscape:  Space Tames Law Tames Space.  There I argue that law enforcement agencies struggle to adequately police  remote and sparsely populated places.  That is the sense in which "space" tames or resists the authority of law/the state.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Rural poverty and disability as peril in the California wildfires

The Los Angeles Times today ran a feature story about the three civilians (by that I means not fire fighters or PG & E employees) killed in the LNU Complex Fire spanning Solano, Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties as fires have raged there for the past 8 days.  This is the fire that's been declared the second largest in California history.

The dateline for this story is Lake Berryessa, but that is not even a Census Designated Place.  It is just a lake.  The lake is, however, surrounded by some settlements, not all even Census Designated Places, including Spanish Flat, one of the communities hardest hit by the recent wildfire.  That is where this iconic photo was taken, and here's an excerpt from the New York Times description of what happened to the folks who live there:
Much of the lakefront community of retirees and young families who commute to landscaping, winery and service jobs in wealthier corners of Napa County had been reduced to a thicket of tangled steel and ash.
In any event, the LA Times story by Anita Chabria (formerly of the Sacramento Bee) features, compassionately, these rural fire victims, their precautions and their demise.  (They are also named but described in much less detail in the New York Times coverage.)  What I also see here, though, is a depiction of rural vulnerability intersecting with other vulnerabilities:  disability, low-income, elderly, spatial isolation.  Here's an excerpt from Chabria's story:
Normally, there is no cellphone signal in these parched hills that form the basin for Lake Berryessa, a reservoir that runs 15 miles across Napa County’s Vaca Mountains. But that evening, [70-year old Mary Hintemeyer] was able to reach her oldest child, Robert McNeal, who lives 13 miles away in the closest town, Winters. He told her to get out. 
As they spoke, she turned back toward the mobile home where she lived with her disabled boyfriend, Leo McDermott, and his son, Thomas. Behind it, on the ridge that loomed above her, she saw smoke — another fire coming out of nearby Wragg Canyon, which she thought had been contained. 
“She said, ‘Oh my God, it’s coming over the other side toward me,’” said McNeal, remembering his last conversation with his mother. “‘I have to go.’”
Among other things, this story is a reminder that places thought of as rich in the national imaginary--Napa Valley, for example--are also home to low-income folks, sometimes eking out a living in their own little slice of the American dream.   Hintemeyer had worked the customer service desk at the Vallejo Times Herald, but also cleaning homes.  Belly dancing was a hobby.  Her 71-year-old boyfriend, Leo McDermott, was wheelchair bound.

As for many rural residents in California, there was no effective system to warn them of the wildfire danger.  These are also the themes from the 2017 and 2018 wildfires in, among other places, Mendocino, Butte, and Sonoma counties. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Catching up on bad news for rural Americans about the 2020 Census

The New York Times published this today, which reminded me of this story about 10 days ago out of USA Today, headlined "2020 census 'emergency' threatens to leave out communities of color and rural Americans."  Marco della Cava reports, and here are two excerpts that implicate both rural places and people of color: 
Texas stands out: A majority of its counties show fewer than 50% of residents self-reporting their census information. Edwards County, by the Rio Grande, is at just 14.8%. Other undercounted areas include almost all of New Mexico; California's Central Valley; the southern half of Georgia; and the largely Native American Four Corners region where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona meet.
* * *  
[Howard] Fienberg [co-director of the Census Project, the nation's largest census advocacy group] notes that a big undercount is likely to affect rural areas that already face limited commercial and federal resources, places such as Big Horn County, Montana, where 82% of the population of 13,000 is uncounted by the 2020 census, or Rich County, Utah, where 88% of 1,800 have yet to respond.
Today's New York Times story also mentioned Big Horn County as an illustration of what is going wrong with this year's Census.  Again, that report conflates rurality with the American Indian count.

But rural whites will be undercounted, too.  This story that came out in my hometown newspaper, the Newton County Times, today, "Residents report difficulty responding to Census" by Staff Reports (which in this case means some was picked up from Census Bureau press releases).  My home county is nearly all white, and the current response rate there is just 31.1%, while the response rate in the county seat is 40%.  Here's the story: 
Jasper and Newton County residents are reporting difficulty filing their information for the 2020 US Census, said Jasper Mayor Jan Larson during Thursday's city council meeting.

Larson wants residents to participate in the census because population data is important for the city to be considered favorably for state and federal grants. People want to help and fill in their census forms, she said, but they say their information is not being received and recorded. 
Council Member Michael Thomas agreed, saying he filled out census forms three times, the first two times were done online, but they did not register with the Census Bureau, he said. The third time he filled out the questionnaire presented by a census canvasser, but he still doesn't know if the information was saved on the bureau's reporting system.

Council Member Todd Parker said he went online to fill out the census form, but he had trouble getting the computer program to accept his city street address. He had to modify the address in order for the information to be accepted.

Others point to the county's 911 addressing system as the problem.

Larson said that about 40% of the city has taken the census.

A press release received by the Newton County Times earlier this week states that census takers in Newton County are following up with households that have not yet responded to the 2020 Census.

The current self-response rate in Newton County is 31.1%. The Census Bureau will need to visit the remaining addresses to collect responses in person.

Households can still respond now by completing and mailing back the paper questionnaire they received, by responding online at 2020census.gov, or by phone at 844-330-2020. Households can also respond online or by phone in one of 13 languages and find assistance in many more. Those that respond will not need to be visited to obtain their census response.

What Households Can Expect

The Census Bureau will provide face masks to census takers and requires that census takers wear a mask while conducting their work. They will follow CDC and local public health guidelines when they visit. Census takers must complete a virtual COVID-19 training on social distancing protocols and other health and safety guidance before beginning their work in neighborhoods. 
Census takers are hired from local communities. All census takers speak English, and many are bilingual. If a census taker does not speak the householder’s language, the household may request a return visit from a census taker who does. Census takers will also have materials on hand to help identify the household’s language.

If no one is home when the census taker visits, the census taker will leave a notice of their visit with information about how to respond online, by phone or by mail. People are encouraged to cooperate with census takers and ensure that everyone who was living in their household as of April 1, 2020, is counted.

How to Identify Census Takers

Census takers can be easily identified by a valid government ID badge with their photograph, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark, and an expiration date on the badge. To confirm a census taker’s identity, the public may contact their regional census center to speak with a Census Bureau representative.

About the 2020 Census 
The U.S. Constitution mandates a census of the population every 10 years. The goal of the 2020 Census is to count everyone who lives in the United States on April 1, 2020 (Census Day). Census statistics are used to determine the number of seats each state holds in the U.S. House of Representatives and informs how billions of dollars in federal funds will be allocated by state, local and federal lawmakers annually for the next 10 years.
This all reminds me that my mom told me back in March when she completed and returned her  Census Form.  Being home from work early in the pandemic gave her time to do so.  That's about when my household here in California also returned ours. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

How student debt contributes to the rural lawyer shortage

The Daily Journal, a trade publication covering the legal profession, reported a few weeks ago on the link between high law student debt in California and the rural lawyer shortage here in the Golden State.  You can read the story here.

My favorite parts are journalist Henrik Nilsson's interviews with a rural practitioner and a UCLA law student interested in rural practice.  Here's the excerpt about the former, Darryl E. Young, who practices in Merced:
As tuition prices have gone up, the cost of living is much lower, especially in rural counties.  So salaries are usually lower as well.  It's very difficult for attorneys starting in a rural area because they have a lot of debt. And your potential income is usually a lot lower.  
And then there is a quote from a long-established attorney in Kings County, the state's most acute legal desert.  Michael Dias says
We've not had any problem getting qualified individuals come and practice here in King's County.  ...  In our practice, we don't see a lawyer shortage.  
Easy to say for the guy who is fat and happy off the limited practice in Kings County, which is lucrative for him, presumably representing rich ranchers.  You see that everywhere:  the message that the existing rural lawyers are doing fine.  No time for or acknowledgement of the people who can't afford them or who are not being served by them.

Nilsson also tracked down a UCLA law student, Christopher Galeano, who is interested in practicing in a rural part of LA County, in the Palmdale/Lancaster area.
Many students often say they want to first pay off their debt and then go and do the work they want to do.  So essentially, they say "Let me go get this high-paying job and pay all this debt that I owe, and then I'll go do that work."  I have gone through that experience as well.  I've taken on some debt to go to law school, and I didn't get that awesome financial aid package or scholarship that pays my whole tuition or something like that. ...  UCLA and other schools in the UC system are publicly funded.  Those dollars are also tax dollars from rural communities, and they do come from folks who need legal services one way or another.   
It's an important perspective that Galeano offers.

Oh, and don't miss the quote from me (including my honest opinion that law school--especially in California--is way to expensive and the contrasting/responsive quote from Dean Jennifer Mnookin of UCLA Law states, among other things,"I think there's a perception that larger metropolitan areas may offer more career mobility down the line."  I want to focus on "perception."  I mean, Mnookin is probably right not only re perception, but reality.  But shouldn't we be resisting both and re-defining success?  Isn't that an appropriate and key role for legal educators in this age of burgeoning inequality?

Coronavirus in rural America (LXXXVII): Back to school in Trinity County, California

Counseling Office at Trinity High School, Weaverville
July 2018 (c) Lisa R. Pruitt
Hailey Branson-Potts reports for the Los Angeles Times from Weaverville, California, population 3,600, where schools have reopened.  The headline is catchy, "In a rural California town, schools try something extraordinary and risky: Classrooms with children."  Here's an excerpt:
Coffee Creek Elementary School, well north of Weaverville
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2018
While the vast majority of California students are starting the academic year online, something extraordinary happened in this public school district in rural Northern California: Students sat in classrooms.
Skateboarding teenager, Weaverville
July (c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2018
With the region’s low case count, school administrators and teachers said they are confident they can reopen safely and quickly adjust if infections emerge. If the district is successful, it could be a preview for other California schools, including in Los Angeles County, as infections begin to decline. 
Trinity County Office of Education, Weaverville
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2018
The start of in-person instruction in the Trinity Alps Unified School District felt both surreal and comfortingly routine, an act of desperate, fragile hope five months after the COVID-19 pandemic closed campuses across the Golden State.
But this is a story not only about the opening of a rural school district--in sharp contrast to urban ones--it is also about so many of the concerns we've heard expressed since children got sent home in March.  Another excerpt follows:
After schools closed in March, many isolated students here battled apathy and anxiety, witnessed increased drug and alcohol abuse by their parents, and fought more with their stressed-out families, the county noted in its school reopening plan. As in other rural areas, the district struggled to teach far-flung students who have less access to the internet and bad cellphone service and who rely on schools to feed them. 
“There’s a lot of despair,” said Sheree Beans, the school nurse for the Trinity County Office of Education who helped write the schools’ reopening plan. “I feel like COVID took away hope, and that lack of hope, it spans generations.”
College pennants hanging in Trinity County Office of Education
including Oregon State, Utah, Stanford, San Diego State
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2018
What a poignant quote, and one that reflects my own experiences growing up amidst rural poverty that is entrenched and intergenerational.

Some data points about Trinity County:
  • population is 82% white
  • poverty rate (before the pandemic) was 22%
  • officially, nearly 2/3 of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, though administrators suspect the percentage who qualify is actually higher
Weaverville Junior High School
Title I funds go to schools based
on student socioeconomic need
(c) Lisa R Pruitt 2018
Branson-Potts' story, accompanied by Kent Nishimura's photographs, cover not only the county seat, but also at least one outlying elementary school, at Burnt Ranch, population 291, in the northwestern part of the county. I drove through a community of a similar size, Coffee Creek, as I headed north on State Highway 3, toward Siskiyou County (see Coffee Creek Elementary photo, above).

Weaverville, California
Dollar General Stores are fixtures in the rural U.S.
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2018
Another terrific detail in this story regards the long bus rides some students endure.  One high school student who lives near Willow Creek, more than 50 miles from Weaverville, had gotten up at 5:30 am so his mom could get him to the farthest point the school bus goes, at 6:47 am.  The bus would arrive at Trinity High School after 8 am.

Other Legal Ruralism posts featuring Trinity County news and photos, several touching on rural poverty and related issues, are here, herehere, here, here, and here.
The western edge of Weaverville, Highway 299
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2018
I'll just say, as I've said before, the primary reason I subscribe to the Los Angeles Times (digital edition), at a rate now of about $25/month (more than I pay for any other digital subscription), is that they dedicate significant resources to covering rural far northern California. This piece is exhibit A, though I've blogged about many others in recent years.  
This office is right next to the Trinity County Sheriff's Office;
in fact, they may be in the same structure.  A sign says the building was built in 1981.
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2018

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Literary Ruralism (Part XXVI): The Tsar of Love and Techno

This post is going to seem to some folks like a stretch as far as rural goes.  However, a passage from Anthony Marra's The Tsar of Love and Techno (2015) struck me as rural in the sense of reminding me of rural attachment to place, even as the place declines and opportunity is lost. 

The "place" in Marra's book is a Siberian town north of the Arctic circle, Kirovsk, where nickel was mined and, as a consequence, pollution has been rife and its effects have accumulated over the years.  Yet, after several generations there, the descendants of those shipped there because they were disloyal to Stalin (or perceived to be), people are reluctant to leave.  Marra writes via the voice of a 30-something woman whose grandparents were exiled to Kirovsk by Stalin: 
The layoffs began shortly after the first war in Chechnya ended.  Automated machines mined nickel with greater efficiency than our husbands.  Pensions vanished in the fluctuations of foreign stock exchanges.  Even those who kept their jobs struggled.  With the collapsing ruble, the payments of wages and pensions delayed for months, no one could afford the imported products that replaced familiar Soviet brands.  We considered moving to a milder climate but couldn't manage relocation costs.  Besides, our children were the fourth generation to call the Arctic home.  This meant something even if we didn't know quite what. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Los Angeles Times features rural volunteer fire department in story about northern California wildfires

The report out of Ben Lomond, population 6,234 but unincorporated, in Santa Cruz County, California, is by Susanne Rust for the Los Angeles Times.  An excerpt follows:
On Friday night, the tired, equipment-strapped crew of Ben Lomond’s volunteer firefighting team was briefed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in the mountain town fire station’s airy and unfinished kitchen. 
A collection of lightning-sparked fires had merged into one blaze that was raging in the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west. 
The firefighters were told that Cal Fire’s models suggested in the next 48 to 72 hours, the fire would move into Boulder Creek’s downtown. If the crews were unable to stop the fire there, Cal Fire would pull its reinforcements and allow the fire to funnel down the valley — through Brookdale, Ben Lomond and Felton — toward Route 17, the high-speed mountain highway that connects San Jose and Santa Cruz. 
It was dispiriting news. But local firefighters planned to wage a stand to save the communities, even without the backup.
Rust's story features a couple of quotes from these volunteer firefighters, whose day jobs are fighting fires professionally or working as first responders for urban fire departments in the Bay Area.  This quote is from Todd Ellis, captain of Ben Lomond's volunteer fire district: 
This is my home. These are our neighbors. There’s no way I wouldn’t be here fighting.
Rust also quotes Carl Kustin, a volunteer with the Boulder Creek Fire District:  
We don’t do this for money. We do this because we love our neighbors. We love our crews. And for us, there’s nothing more inspiring than helping others and using everything we have to support people and communities.
Another LA Times story discussing the Ben Lomond fire is here.  Prior posts that feature volunteer fire departments, among others, are here and here

Multiple stories on impact of USPS slow down on rural America

These stories have been popping up for several days now, and I'm going to work through in the order in which they appeared or, if several appeared on the same day, the order in which they came to my attention.  Three of the four stories feature the death of baby chicks, shipped by mail and dying because of delivery delays.

The first is by the Portland Press-Herald (Maine), dateline New Sharon, population 1407, with the headline, "Chicks shipped by mail are arriving dead, costing Maine farmers thousands of dollars."  Here's the lede:
Last week Pauline Henderson was shocked when she picked up a shipment of what was supposed to be 800 live chicks from her post office in New Sharon. 
Henderson, who owns and operates Pine Tree Poultry, a family farm and chicken meat processing facility that specializes in chicken pot pies, said all 800 chicks sent from a hatchery in Pennsylvania were dead.

“We’ve never had a problem like this before,” said Henderson, who has been running her farm for five years and regularly receives shipments of live birds. 
“Usually they arrive every three weeks like clockwork,” she said Wednesday. “And out of 100 birds you may have one or two that die in shipping.” 
The second story is by the Los Angeles Times, and it isn't especially rural focused.  The headline is "‘Like Armageddon’: Rotting food, dead animals and chaos at postal facilities amid cutbacks," and the dateline is Tehachapi, population 14,414, in the Inland Empire.  Laura Nelson and Maya Lau report.  Here's an excerpt that touches on the rural implications of goings on at the U.S.P.S., which I've already written about here last week:
Processing plants serve more than 1,000 California post offices, some of which deliver to far-flung, rural addresses that could be faced with high delivery costs if serviced by private mail carriers.
* * *  
The delays were particularly tragic for live animals, including baby chickens and crickets, that are transported through the U.S. Postal Service. Usually, mail handlers say, they can hear the birds peeping and rustling around in their boxes. 
This month, one worker said, she found a box with air holes in a pile of packages. Instead of hearing the gentle sounds of baby chicks, she heard nothing. 
Workers sometimes see shipments of crickets jumping around inside their packaging, said Eddie Cowan, a mail handler and the president of a local chapter of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union. Now, he said, “you can see in the packages those crickets are dead.”
Jack Healy's story for the New York Times on August 21, 2020, also featured baby chicks.   This story is also out of Maine, this time the coastal town of Thomaston, population 2,781.  An excerpt follows:
Rhiannon Hampson thought she would hear a cacophony of cheeping when she went to her post office in coastal Maine to fetch a delivery of newly hatched chicks. But the cardboard boxes addressed to her poultry farm were silent. 
“We could hear a few, very faint peeps,” Ms. Hampson said. “Out of 500, there were maybe 25 alive. They were staggering. It was terrible.” 
This is what happens when the mail suddenly becomes unreliable in rural towns and stretches of countryside where there are scant FedEx or UPS deliveries, and where people rely on the post office as an irreplaceable hub of commerce and connection.
The final story does not feature baby chicks.  But it does feature rural small businesses.   This story is by NPR's Kirk Siegler and is out of Wisconsin.  He includes a quote from Lois Davis, a senior policy researcher at Rand Corporation: 
More for many folks who live in rural areas, their only daily contact may be the mail carrier. 
A further excerpt follows: 
A recent study [Davis] led at the California-based security think tank showed that the Postal Service ranks high in terms of federal institutions that the public has trust in. In an era when, generally, faith in institutions seems to be eroding, this doesn't go unnoticed.
* * *
"If our mail isn't right, what other connections are we going to lose?" says Rich Judge, an organizer with the newly formed left-leaning group Rural America 2020. 
His group is fighting everything from the recent tariffs facing farmers to threatened shutdowns of post offices and routes in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. 
Judge runs a small communications business from his home in rural Sauk County, Wis., where, he says, small businesses and family dairy farmers are getting squeezed, working longer hours while also seeing their profits and savings decline. 
"You're telling people who already have to work harder than they did 20 years ago, 'By the way, we're going to impede your progress even more by hamstringing the Postal Service,' " Judge says.
You'll find many posts about post offices--and photographs of rural ones--here on Legal Ruralism.  Just type "post office" into the search bar.  

Friday, August 21, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXXXVI): Three NPR rural stories this Friday afternoon

The first is out of Orangeburg, South Carolina, population  13,964, reported by Victoria Hansen.  An excerpt follows: 
The county is one of the poorest in the state, and more than half of its population of 86,000 is Black. African Americans have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus. 
What's more, there is just one hospital for people in four counties. Pastor Greene says the virus has done more than just make people sick. It's highlighted decades of inequality. 
GREENE: We are living in a season of exposure. And when your infrastructure is not in place, everything's exposed. So all of our leaks, all of our cracks, everything that has been going on in our community is now - has come to the surface. 
* * *
HANSEN: Charles Williams is the CEO of the Regional Medical Center. 
CHARLES WILLIAMS: We really were about to pop. We had over 60 patients in house. And we said, OK, we have to have a valve. 
HANSEN: That's 60 coronavirus patients in a hospital that can handle no more than 162 beds. At times, they're almost all full. So the hospital has set up a giant white tent outside.
The second story is out of Aroostook County, population 71,870, in far northern Maine.  Robbie Feinberg reports from a school that's just opened, even as those in southern Maine have not.  Here's an excerpt:
Elaine Boulier is superintendent of the MSAD #42 school district. She says the decision to reopen has been easier here in Aroostook County along the Canadian border. The farming community is relatively isolated, and the county has had less than 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March. Also, the school district serves only about 400 students. But even in an area with no community spread, back to school looks a little different, beginning before students even arrive in the classroom.
The third story is the most poignant, about an elderly Cherokee woman in northeast Oklahoma who died from coronavirus in early July.   Her name is Edna Raper, and she was one of 2000 fluent Cherokee speakers in the country. 
SHAPIRO: Raper lived in Kenwood, Okla. Her lifelong dream was that her four children and 13 grandchildren learn Cherokee. So she came up with all sorts of ways to introduce them to the language. 
CORNISH: For instance, singing lullabies to them in Cherokee. 
SARAH PICKUP: (Singing in Cherokee). 
SHAPIRO: Here's Raper's daughter Sarah Pickup. 
PICKUP: She babysat both of my little girls, so any time it was naptime or bedtime, she was just - she'd started singing in Cherokee. And that's how she'd put them to sleep.
The population of Kenwood, Oklahoma, an unincorporated community is 1,224.  It is in the heart of the Cherokee nation.  Don't miss the entire story about this incredibly generous and community-minded woman, part of the NPR series on those who have died from the coronavirus.  You will be moved and humbled. 

Los Angeles Times feature on voting, race, and the U.S. mail, out of exurban Houston

Here's the lede for the story, by Molly Hennessy-Fiske, which is headlined "Freed slaves founded this town. Their descendants fear postal cuts threaten voting rights.":

To Black residents whose ancestors built this rural town amid cotton fields 50 miles southwest of Houston, 77451 is more than a ZIP Code.

“It’s very important for us to keep our identity. That’s our address, our ZIP Code,” said Mayor Darryl Humphrey Sr., because of “all the fighting and the work that my forefathers did.”

Kendleton began when slaves were freed in Texas in 1865 — more than two years after Emancipation. William Kendall sold them 100-acre plots of his plantation along the San Bernard River south of Houston. Many signed the land deeds with a mark because they were illiterate.

Those first settlers turned Kendleton into a “freedmen’s colony” with its own school, church, cemetery and a mercantile that contained a post office.

As the political fight over recent cuts to the U.S. Postal Service and changes to vote-by-mail plays out across the country ahead of the presidential election, it’s highlighting the vital role of post offices in rural communities such as Kendleton, where Black people have long had to fight for the right to vote.

 Kendleton's population is 380

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Rural Legal Scholarship: Rural Legal Deserts are a Critical Health Determinant

This commentary by Michele Statz, PhD, and Paula Termuhlen, MD, both of the University of Minnesota Medical School Duluth, was published in the American Journal of Public Health today.
This commentary introduces “rural legal deserts,” or rural areas experiencing attorney shortages, as a meaningful health determinant. We demonstrate that the absence of rural attorneys has significant impacts on public health—impacts that are rapidly exacerbated by COVID-19. Our work builds on recent scholarship that underscores the public health relevance of attorneys in civil and criminal contexts. It recognizes attorneys as crucial to interprofessional health care teams and to establishing equitable health-related laws and policies. Taken together, attorney interventions transform institutional practices and help facilitate the stability necessary for health maintenance and recovery. Yet critically, many rural residents cannot access legal supports.

As more individuals experience unemployment, eviction, and insecure benefits amid COVID-19, there is a need for attorneys to address these social determinants of health as legal needs. Accordingly, the growing absence of attorneys in rural America proves particularly consequential, both because of this pandemic context but also owing to existing rural health disparities. We argue that unless a collaborative understanding of these interrelated phenomena is adopted, justice gaps will continue to compound existing rural health inequities.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

States and territories that mentioned "rural" in DNC roll call of states

I watched it last night late, and here's the list I made:

American Samoa (strengthen rural from New England to the Pacific)
Indiana
Kansas (farm focus)
Kentucky
Maine (small business)
Minnesota
Montana (rural broadband)

Other states I thought implied rural:

Alaska (Alaska Native, coastal concerns)
Iowa
Nebraska (meat-packing)
New Mexico (Native Americans)
North Dakota (education, small schools)

Monday, August 17, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXXXV): Rural Idaho school district prepares to welcome students

Kirk Siegler reports today for National Public Radio from the Bruneau-Grandview School District in southern Idaho.  Here's the lede:
At the Bruneau-Grandview School District in rural southern Idaho, a couple dozen teachers are crowded into the small library.
They're doing a refresher training for online teaching. In person-classes are scheduled to begin Monday, but with coronavirus cases continuing to rise in Idaho and other states, it's an open question for how long. 
Superintendent Ryan Cantrell, who's helping lead the Google Classroom training, is advising his staff that last-minute decisions will be the unfortunate normal this upcoming school year. Parents have the option of sending their kids to school this week, or staying fully online or some combination of both. 
A recent survey indicated that about three-quarters of the district's families were comfortable sending their kids back to school this fall. 
When the district abruptly went to online-only last Spring, Cantrell says some students dropped off the map, learning suffered, especially in outlying areas where there's little or no Internet. 
"There's a general consensus of let's get moving," Cantrell says. "Let's get the kids back in here so that we can find out where they're at, how we can help them."
The story features a teacher from Boise who commutes on hour each way to work in this rural school.  She wears a mask because she doesn't want to bring the virus to her students, a community that has had few coronavirus cases compared to Boise.

Siegler also quotes an Idaho State Senator, Steven Thayn, in a plea for local control, even if it means disregarding medical experts:
Listening to experts to set policy is an elitist approach. 

The story continues:   

At a recent legislative hearing, Thayn, vice chair of an education committee, pushed a bill that would take authority away from Idaho's local health districts so they can't enforce school closures or mandatory mask orders. Many Republicans argued that local school boards should have the final say, not public health experts. 
That bill and another that would limit a school's liability when it comes to coronavirus lawsuits is likely to be debated in a special session of the legislature later this month.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Literary Ruralism (Part XXV): Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Sierra City, California
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2017
I've been reading (or, more precisely, listening to the audiobook) Wild:  Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed (2012).  It is her memoir of hiking the "PCT," the common acronym for the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, through the Sierra Nevada Mountains (in its various iterations/sub-ranges) and then the Cascade Range.  Much of the "action" takes place in areas/places so remote as to not appear on any maps--that is, on any maps not of the PCT itself.

Others take places in the small towns where the trail crosses highways or where the trail is relatively near highways or settlements.  These are places where wilderness meets rural.  Here's just one, in Inyo County, specifically Lone Pine, population 2,035. Another is Ridgecrest, population 27,616, on the edge of sparsely populated Kern County, which includes the city of Bakersfield.

Interestingly, I recently wrote about Lone Pine in relation to the coronavirus, and I have recently written about Ridgecrest in relation to earthquakes, as in this post. I took some great photos when I passed through Sierra City (Sierra County) two summers ago.

Here's the salient excerpt from Wild (pp. 123-24):
Together we descended Trail Pass two miles down to a picnic area and campground at Horseshoe Meadows, where we met up with Doug and Tom and hitched a ride into Lone Pine. I hadn’t planned to go there. Some PCT hikers had resupply boxes sent to Lone Pone, but I’d planned to push through to the town of Independence, another fifty trail miles to the north. I still had a few days’ worth of food in my bag, but when we reached town I went immediately to a grocery store to replenish my stock. I needed enough to last for the ninety-six-mile section I’d be hiking once I made the bypass, from Sierra City to Belden Town. Afterwards, I found a pay phone and called Lisa and left a message on her answering machine, explaining my new plan as quickly as I could, asking her to send my box addressed to Belden Town immediately and hold all the others until I gave her the details of my new itinerary.
* * *  
I walked with Greg to the convenience store that doubled as the town’s Greyhound bus station. We passed bars that billed themselves as Old West saloons and shops that had cowboy hats and framed paintings of men astride bucking broncos displayed in their front windows. 
“You ever see High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart?” Greg asked.  
I shook my head. 
“That was made here. Plus lots of other movies. Westerns.” 
I nodded, unsurprised. The landscape did in fact look straight out of Hollywood—a high sage-covered flat that was more barren than now, rocky and treeless that went on for miles. The white peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the west cut so dramatically up into the blue sky that they seemed almost unreal to me, a gorgeous fa├žade. 
“There’s our ride,” Greg said, pointing to a big Greyhound bus in a parking lot of the store as we approached.
Sierra City Post Office, which serves many PCT hikers
 (c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2017
Cheryl and Greg take Greyhound from Lone Pine to Reno, and then they switch to take a bus to Truckee. From there, they hitchhike to Sierra City, population 221, which I wrote about here

From Sierra City (Sierra County), Cheryl heads to Belden Town (Plumas County), where her next box of supplies awaits her at the post office, with $20 cash she'll spend on a shower, some Snapple Lemonade and few other small luxuries.
Sierra City, California
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2017

Friday, August 14, 2020

Rural legal scholarship: Distributive Justice and Rural America

This piece is by Ann Eisenberg of the University of South Carolina, published in the Boston College Law Review:  
Today’s discourse on struggling rural communities insists they are “dying” or “forgotten.” Many point to globalization and automation as the culprits that made livelihoods in agriculture, natural resource extraction, and manufacturing obsolete, fueling social problems such as the opioid crisis. This narrative fails to offer a path forward; the status quo is no one’s fault, and this “natural” rural death inspires mourning rather than resuscitation. This Article offers a more illuminating account of the rural story, told through the lens of distributive justice principles. The Article argues that rural communities have not just “died.” They were sacrificed. Specifically, distributive justice theories question the morality of public measures that disadvantage discrete groups in the name of aggregate welfare. A critique of legal frameworks shaping rural livelihoods for the past several decades shows that policymakers consistently decided to trade rural welfare for some perceived societal benefit, violating distributive justice norms. In agriculture, policies favoring consolidated agribusiness hollowed out once-multidimensional farm communities. In the extractive sector, lackluster oversight enabled the environmental and economic devastation of fossil fuel communities. In manufacturing, trade adjustment programs’ inadequate mitigation of international competition facilitated whole towns’ dismantlement. Decisionmakers pointed to “the greater good” as their rationale. But benefits for rural communities that would offset these burdens and render their sacrifice “just” prove elusive. This alternate narrative reveals the rural story as not morally neutral, but one infused with value judgments that determined winners and losers, raising questions of what a fairer allocation of benefits and burdens should be.

Post offices in the news again, including as a rural issue

NPR interviewed U.S. Senator Jon Tester of Montana today about the abrupt disappearance of "blue boxes" from Montana. He mentioned the need for rural folks to get lots of things via the U.S.P.S. including prescriptions medicines, tractor parts, and ballots.  He suggests that the rural need for the Post Office is greater because of the distances rural residents must drive to get things if and when they can't get them by mail.

I've seen similar reports about other blue collection box disappearances from more urban locales

It's not the first time this blog has taken up the rural implications of crises in the U.S.P.S.  Some earlier posts are here (2012), here (2011), here (2012) and, most recently in the coronavirus context, here (May 2020). 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXXXIV): Back to school

Here are two stories about what's happening in rural places as America goes back to school.  The first it about a private school in Nevada County, California, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.  Anita Chabria reports from Grass Valley, population 12,860:
Thursday morning, Principal Edee Wood wore a red paisley-printed mask as she wielded a digital thermometer intended to protect the 160 students at her school, one of the few in California attempting in-person classes this fall. At Mount St. Mary’s, life is going back to normal with crisp uniforms, sharp pencils and classes five days a week. 
While remote learning is the rule at nearly all public schools right now, Mount St. Mary’s is opening because it is in Nevada County, which is not on the state’s coronavirus watchlist, and also because its administrators believe it can do so safely. 
As parents across California struggle with plans for more at-home schooling, Mount St. Mary’s is engaging in an experiment it hopes will provide a model for other schools like it, said Lincoln Snyder, superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, which oversees 38 campuses enrolling about 13,000 students from the capital north to the Oregon border.
The second story, from the Washington Post, is about a public schools, the headline being, "Virus keeps spreading as schools begin to open, frightening parents and alarming public health officials."  The dateline is Columbus, Mississippi, population 23, 640, but the story actually covers news of school reopenings from Mississippi and Alabama to Ohio and California's Central Valley, a recent hot spot/region.

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXXXIII): Local governments struggling to pay for water systems

Kevin Griffin reports from Tyrell County, North Carolina, population 4,407.  This spring, Tyrrell County, with the smallest population in the state, came within 24 hours of defaulting on a bond issued to build one of its water plants.
The state stepped in and helped make the payment, but county leaders don’t know how they will make the next one. The county’s biggest water customer, a state prison, closed last fall.

Tyrrell County is one of dozens of small, rural governments managing utility systems teetering on bankruptcy. The cost of running an aging water system or paying vendors for needed electricity often outstrips the shrinking communities’ ability to pay.

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed some to the brink. Thousands of customers haven’t settled their bills — taking advantage of a four-month reprieve, extended by the governor, forbidding utility providers from shutting off service. Closed businesses, another casualty of the pandemic, also strained the systems.
Griffin quotes Scott Mooneyham of the North Carolina League of Municipalities: 
This crisis, this pandemic, has created its own set of problems but basically it's layered those problems on top of some already existing problems for a number of small, rural municipal systems out there. They’ve become overwhelming in some places.
All makes me wonder how the East Newton County Water District, in my home county in Arkansas, is faring.  That district began operating less than two decades ago. 
Griffin works for the Hickory Daily Record, and this story was apparently picked up the Greensboro, North Carolina newspaper.  It came across my radar screen because it was featured in a Pulitzer Center e-newsletter. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Black Lives Matter in rural America (Part VII): The flip side of the coin

I wrote this post in early June about the many rural and small town places where Black Lives Matters activists were taking the issue to the streets.

Among the small towns I was delighted to be able to mention in my June post was Harrison, Arkansas, population 12,943.  Harrison happens to be the place where I was born, and I grew up 20 miles south of there in neighboring Newton County, a place I've frequently written about here on the blog (see "my hometown" tag/label and the "Law and Order in the Ozarks" series).

Well, in contrast to that May protest in sympathy with Black Lives Matter, great obloquy fell on Harrison a few weeks ago when a YouTuber named Rob Bliss, having spent at least three days there, made and published a video about the place and its people--a video that has gone viral.  Bliss spent his time mostly holding a Black Lives Matter sign near the WalMart, and he had a go pro camera under his shirt, the lens peeking out from a hole or some such to record his interactions.  He then released a video montage of the most racist things people said in response to him and his sign.  After the video went viral, and the Washington Post picked it up, along with a number of other media outlets, including the nearby Springfield News-Leader, about 80 miles away in southwest Missouri.  The short video--just over 2 minutes--has now been viewed several million times on YouTube.  

Here's an excerpt from Gregory J. Holman's story for the News-Leader:
"Harrison, Arkansas is the most racist town in the United States," a man in the video says, characterizing Harrison as "Ku Klux Klan Headquarters." (According to public records databases, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan national director Thomas Robb uses at least three Harrison post office boxes, and the KKK website published makes reference to "The Knights Party whose national headquarters is in Harrison, AR.")
Then the video shifts to the parking lot of a Walmart and depicts a number of interactions between people visiting the store location — none of whom appeared dressed in stereotypical Klan hooded robes — and the man making the video.

"Have a little pride in your race, brother," shouted the male driver of a minivan. "White pride worldwide!"

"I wouldn't stay after dark, man," another man tells the filmmaker.

The video also shows several people making obscene hand gestures toward the camera and using profanity. In one brief conversation, a person says "(Expletive redacted) Black lives!" In another, a person uses a slur word typically intended to dehumanize Jewish people.

The video also shows a man wearing a Walmart employee badge asking the filmmaker to leave the store location.
The Washington Post story by Jaclyn Peiser includes this paragraph:
Bliss is a director and producer based in Los Angeles and is known for making viral stunts aimed at socially conscious messages — including a video from 2014 when he recorded a woman being constantly heckled while walking around New York. .... [Bliss] edited his [Harrison] footage down to a two-minute video, which he argues provides vivid firsthand evidence that racism is alive and well in parts of the country.
The Post story's link to the Bliss video shows the opening screen, which features Bliss standing in front of a billboard for two entities I'd never previously heard of "AltRightTV.com" and "WhitePride Radio.com."
Screenshot from Rob Bliss video taken in Harrison, Arkansas, July 2020
To me, the presence of this billboard is a big part of the story--a bigger deal than what folks said in Bliss's carefully curated video.  Here's my thinking:  I believe if Bliss stood for three days holding a Black Lives Matter sign, on virtually any street corner in America--or outside any Walmart in the country--he could gather an equivalent or greater number of racist or racially insensitive comments than appear in his Harrison video.  In fact, when I think about the Walmart closest to where I live in suburban Sacramento, the Walmart in Orangevale, California, I have no doubt of that.  This does not in any way justify what the people in the Harrison video said--nor what the ones in Orangevale might say given the chance.  My point is that these racist attitudes exist everywhere--not just in a place where a branch of the KKK has decided to set up shop, which is why Bliss selected that place.

What you would not see in Orangevale, California--or anywhere else in greater Sacramento--is a billboard like this one.  Why, I wondered, would the owners of the billboard, the Harrison Sign Company, permit this sort of advertising?  More on that below.

By the way, I did open the home pages of AltRightTV.com and WhitePrideRadio.com, and the headlines didn't look different from those you'd see on Fox News or OAN.   I'm not saying this makes these media outlets ok or unproblematic.  I'm saying that, on the surface, the only clear red flags the day I visited the sites were the names of the sites themselves.  I didn't click through to any content. 

Here's what the Mayor of Harrison said in response to this statement at the end of July:
On July 27 a video recorded in Harrison was released on various social media platforms. It has since been viewed by over 3 million people, who now know Harrison only through this distorted portrayal. On July 28, Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Bob Largent; Boone County Judge, Robert Hathaway; and I released a joint statement denouncing the video as unfairly representing Harrison and eroding decades of work to overcome our past racist reputation. I would like to take this opportunity to share some thoughts, feelings, and opinions I have about the situation.

​When the video first aired, several people, including me, came together to look into the truth behind this video and its creator, Rob Bliss. I believe this was nothing less than a professional “hit job.” Our opinion became clear: Rob Bliss, and a partner, both from Los Angeles, are professional agitators who saw an opportunity to exploit Harrison. Bliss presents himself as an “agent of change” when, in fact, he is only interested in making money, and doesn’t actually care about the issue. He has done similar stunts in other places. After posting his highly edited videos, he immediately starts a “Go Fund Me” page where he collects thousands of dollars in donations, in addition to the money he is paid by YouTube and other social media for views. He promotes his video and “GoFundMe” page until he has eked out all the money he can, and then he moves on to his next project. If you doubt this, I challenge you to do your own investigation. The words of the people in the video were way beyond horrible and cannot be justified. 
Those individuals should be ashamed of themselves. However, it is important to know that Bliss and partner spent at least three days in Harrison on a very busy street and in front of a very busy Wal-Mart. We estimate that about 80,000 people would have passed by in those 3 days. They were able to, through provocative comments of their own, which they did not record, get just a couple dozen of those people to respond with disgusting comments, making up just two minutes of highly inflammatory video. We have a local Black Lives Matter group that have been leading peaceful and productive protests. Rob Bliss did not contact this group at all for a partnership. Quinn Foster, organizer of the local Black Lives Matter protests, denounces Rob Bliss as a profiteer, out to make money from a movement in which he has no real interest. Visit the Facebook page of Ozark Hate Watch for more information.

​Many other southern towns and Harrison’s distant past includes some well-documented racist acts of violence. The town and our local race relations group have worked over many decades to overcome our history of racism and its lingering reputation. We are not the racist town we have been made out to be. The fact that the Ku Klux Klan and leader, have settled in nearby Zinc Arkansas, and that a few supporters have rented billboards to display their hateful message has only added to Harrison’s undeserved notoriety. Our race relations task force has worked to successfully remove four of the five privately owned billboards. They continue trying to remove the last one. Neither Bliss, nor the media has contacted our task force or our Black Lives Matter group for comments or insight into the true nature of the majority of people in Harrison.

​Since the video went “viral,” over three million people have seen. The story has reached at least 14 major media outlets, including an article yesterday in the Washington Post. We have been flooded with emails, social media posts, and phone calls from people spewing hate, vile comments and vague threats. This is one of the most devastating things that I have been through as Mayor, and there have been many. I know that when we are attacked, our community can come together to fight this. We must pray that we can move beyond this and become a better community because of it. I urge you to combat hateful comments with something good. Your opinion is powerful. Please respectfully stand up for our town whenever you get the chance.

These comments made by some of our very own citizens were reprehensible and horrible beyond belief. Like many communities across the country, we do have racist people among us, but we are not going to let a few define our city going forward. In the last few decades, we have taken community efforts to denounce racism on all fronts and we are committed to doing more.
The Harrison Chamber of Commerce issued a statement on August 9 that included this language:
The Board of Directors of the Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce voted unanimously on August 7th to condemn racism in all forms and the hateful speech heard in a recent viral video filmed in the city. The Board’s action also formally requested the Boone County Quorum Court and Harrison City Council to do the same, as well as support legislation imposing enhanced sentencing for convictions associated with hate crimes. A proposed resolution for each body accompanied the Chamber’s letter. 
“To do what is right, our city and county must immediately address the legitimate concern of racism in Harrison and Boone County,” said Melissa Collins, principal broker at Weichert, Realtors-Market Edge, and chair of the Chamber Board. She continued, “Simply put, there should be zero tolerance for hate speech in our community. The Chamber’s unanimous vote on Friday, coupled with immediate action by the Court and Council, will be the largest show of community unity in anyone’s memory.”

Dr. Stewart Pratt, Superintendent of the Harrison Public Schools and a three-year Chamber Director, noted that the suggested resolutions reflect the core beliefs of area schools that all students are of equal value. Dr. Pratt stated, “I hope the Board’s action and suggested resolutions will encourage and assist our governmental entities to reflect the same beliefs about the importance of all persons and denounce the use of ‘Hate Speech’ and violence based on an individual’s race, sex, or socioeconomic status.”
A 2013 Democrat-Gazette story about a Harrison billboard that said "Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Anti-White," included this information about the history of Harrison as a "sundown town," as well as its current association with the KKK:
Harrison has been dogged by image problems since race riots more than a century ago. The problem was exacerbated in the 1980s when Thom Robb, leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, moved to Zinc in Boone County and began using a Harrison post office box for the group’s mailing address.

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture says, “Though nowhere near as murderous as other race riots across the state, the Harrison Race Riots of 1905 and 1909 drove all but one African American from Harrison, creating by violence an allwhite community similar to other such ‘sundown towns’ in northern and western Arkansas” where blacks were not welcome at night.

The passage of time hasn’t put to rest Harrison’s reputation as racially biased. Harrison’s City Advertising Tourist Promotion Commission continues to consider hiring a marketing firm at an initial cost of $30,000 to combat the bad image.
That 2013 Democrat-Gazette story also included this information about who paid for that prior billboard:
Claude West, who owns Harrison Sign Co., said he had the “wrap” — the printed material — put on the billboard but he’s “just the middleman.” West wouldn’t say who leased the 12-by-24-foot billboard at $200 a month for a year.

A young man leased the billboard about three weeks ago, saying the statement on the billboard referred to the government, West said. The man told West anyone who complains about the government is called a racist, apparently referring to the fact that President Barack Obama is black.

“I’m not a racist, but I don’t like Obamacare,” West said, paraphrasing the man’s explanation.

“Listening to him, I didn’t see anything wrong with this,” said West. “Would I do it again? Probably. I don’t know why it has exploded like this. I think there’s a tension. I think people are uncomfortable about where the country is going.”

People, including the man who leased the billboard, have a right to free speech, he said.

* * * 

He said he has taken calls from around the country about the billboard and has been called “racist” for allowing it, an accusation he denies. He plans to make himself available during the protest today to answer questions, he said.
Also on the point about Harrison, Arkansas as the headquarters  of the KKK, I note from this piece published in the Chronicle of Higher Education two years ago that a town in North Carolina also claimed that "distinction," or more precisely that it was the home of the KKK.  Those may be two different things:  current headquarters v. home.  Hmmm.  Anyway, as I have written earlier, it's interesting to have grown up so nearby and never to have heard in my youth that Harrison had this reputation and supposed distinction.

I did not see this YouTuber story covered at all by the Harrison Daily Times, but I don't subscribe and may have missed something.  I do get the Harrison Daily Times daily newsletter by email--a default because I subscribe to the sister publication, the Newton County Times.  I understand from a friend who writes for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that the statewide paper didn't cover vlogger Bliss's Harrison expedition because his intended audience was not local or Arkansas, but rather national.  Also, importantly, Mr. Bliss did not return the reporter's phone calls.  So, that statewide outlet did not run it as a news story, though Democrat-Gazette columnist Mike Masterson has written two columns about the matter.  I don't have access to them since I don't subscribe to the paper. 

In other "Black Lives Matter" news out of rural America, is this story, dateline Douglas County, Nevada (population 46,997), where the County Sheriff Daniel J. Coverley told the county library not to call 911 in case of an emergency.  Why was he miffed (and acting like a child)?  Because the library trustees had indicated their intention to discuss at an upcoming meeting a "statement supporting diversity and inclusion."  Here's what the sheriff wrote to the library:
Due to your support of Black Lives Matter and the obvious lack of support or trust with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, please do not feel the need to call 911 for help. I wish you good luck with disturbances and lewd behavior, since those are just some of the recent calls my office has assisted you with in the past.
The sheriff later recanted his threat.

Postscript August 23:  Re my comments above comparing Harrison, Arkansas to Orangevale, California, here's a headline from the Sacramento Bee a few days ago:  "Orangevale man accused of leading white supremacist group has gun order extended for year."  The judge commented in court in announcing the decision:
No one has the right to instill fear in other members of the community or act insidiously toward a targeted group such as a Jewish community or an African-American community. ... These are not jokes. He shouldn’t have the privilege of owing a firearm.
Like I said, sadly, white supremacists are everywhere.