Month: May 2019

Police kill alleged attacker on Paris anniversary

Paris police have shot dead a man allegedly wielding a knife who tried to enter a police station shouting “Allahu Akbar” — “God is great” — and wearing a fake suicide belt.

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A piece of paper with a flag of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or IS, and the man’s claim for the attack in Arabic was found on his body.

The incident took place on the anniversary of the fatal attacks at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Brianna Roberts reports.

Police say the man tried to force entry into the police station in Paris’s 18th arrondisement, a district IS claimed it had planned to hit in deadly attacks in the city in November.

Officials have named the gunman as a convicted thief, Moroccan-born Sallah Ali.

A woman named Reeka Polonyi says she witnessed the incident.

“I looked out the window when I heard shouts. I saw two policemen shouting at a man who was advancing towards them quite fast. And when the man didn’t stop, they started shooting.”

Another witness says the man was warned twice before being shot.

(Translated)”They told him to get back, and he did, but then he stepped towards them again. They warned him once more, he lifted his arms, and they shot him three times.”

The incident came only minutes after President Francois Hollande had given a speech to mark the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

In his speech, the French leader emphasised the impact he says terrorism has had on France.

(Translated)”We are now facing hardened fighters who have decided to kill even at the cost of their own lives. Their attacks are coordinated from abroad, ordered by the organisation called Islamic State. That is why I say that we are at war.”

It has been one year since gunmen murdered 17 people in attacks centred around the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket.

France is also still reeling from attacks in November, including at the Bataclan concert hall, that killed 130 people.

One Paris citizen, Pascale Foucault, says the French people have made adjustments due to the terrorist threats and have become more vigilant.

(Translated) “The attack and those gunshots left deep traces. We should commemorate the victims of the attack, because we should never forget it. The attack was so brutal and difficult for people to accept.”

President Hollande says more than 25 crimes connected with terrorism activities have been uncovered.

A three-month state of emergency was imposed on November 13.

 

 

 

Obama and Roberts: Supreme Court ruling further entwines two legacies

Though both men are Harvard Law School graduates, they occupy nearly opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.

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Obama, as a senator, had voted against Roberts’s confirmation the court, saying the judge lacked sufficient empathy for the powerless and could not be counted on to vote the right way in the most important cases.

But in Thursday’s Supreme Court decision upholding federal subsidies offered under the Affordable Care Act, Roberts again helped sustain the president’s policy legacy in a way that few could have anticipated when Obama took office. In voting with the majority and writing the opinion, the chief justice has assured that the legacies of both the Obama presidency and the Roberts court are forever intertwined.

Roberts on Thursday disappointed conservatives who hoped he would “atone” for 2012, when he saved Obamacare from an earlier constitutional challenge by providing the decisive vote. Instead, he doubled down, his tone deferential to an effort of the president and Congress that “grew out of a long history of failed health insurance reform.”

Roberts even brought along Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had agreed with the court’s three most conservative justices the first time around that the entire act should be junked as unconstitutional.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he would “reserve comment” on whether Obama had rethought his initial assessment of Roberts given the two men’s “unique relationship.” But he added, “It seems like there are a lot of areas, at least with regard to this case, where the two men agree.”

But the decision was blasted by Roberts’s fellow conservatives, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a presidential candidate who like Roberts had clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

“What this court has become is heartbreaking,” Cruz said. “If Chief Justice Rehnquist could see this court today, he would be filled with sorrow at what has become of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

If Roberts’s goal is to make the court appear nonpartisan, being scolded by the right in addition to the left might help.

But to Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general during Obama’s first term, Thursday’s decision was proof that Roberts was sincere when he told the Senate during his confirmation hearing that he would serve as “an umpire” whose job was “to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”

“That’s what he said,” Katyal recalled, noting that the comment “got a lot of derision from the left” at the time. “I don’t think we should be surprised at the end of the day that he meant what he said.”

There have been visible strains between the president and the chief justice over the years, most notably during Obama’s first two years in office.

The flubbing of the oath at Obama’s swearing — when Roberts paused mid-sentence, Obama prematurely broke in to repeat the words, and then Roberts lost his place — sparked recrimination from both camps. Some White House aides privately groused, while Roberts told friends his requests to practice the oath with Obama had been rebuffed.

After an internal debate, the president’s aides asked the chief justice to deliver the oath of office again two days later, in the White House’s Map Room.

More substantively, the two men clashed when Obama, during his 2010 State of the Union address, criticized the court’s 5-to-4 decision in the campaign finance case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commissionwhile several justices sat in the front row of the audience.

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates,” the president said, referring to the decision eliminating the limit on the total amount of money wealthy donors can contribute to candidates and political committees.

Justice Samuel Alito was seen to murmur “Not true” as he sat in the House chamber that night. Six weeks later, Roberts told an audience at the University of Alabama Law School that he was “very troubled” by the “setting, circumstance and decorum” that now marked the president’s annual address to Congress.

“To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I’m not sure why we are there,” Roberts said.

White House officials — who had debated before the State of the Union whether the president should make his criticism during that speech or in another forum — were unapologetic.

“What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections — drowning out the voices of average Americans,” then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement, adding that the president was determined to curb the influence of special interests and lobbyists in Washington. “That is why he spoke out to condemn the decision and is working with Congress on a legislative response.”

Still, Roberts believes in his ceremonial duties; he has not skipped a State of the Union address, though other justices often do.

Differences emerged again when Roberts pressed the court to scale back a key part of the Voting Rights Act in the 2012 decision Shelby County v. Holder. Many who know Roberts say he is more interested in undoing race-based programs than health-care legislation.

On Tuesday, the court gave the administration a big win not only on health care but in a second major case, concerning a tool that civil rights groups see as essential in combating racial discrimination in housing. In that case, Roberts dissented.

Even if the two do not agree on much, Roberts is often on Obama’s mind when it comes to judicial scrutiny, aides say.

When administration lawyers were preparing their defense of the health-care law’s constitutionality, several of the president’s aides were focused on how to sway Kennedy, the court’s traditional swing vote. But Obama and his then-White House counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, were focused on how to win Roberts over to their side.

“We were very conscious of the chief justice’s view of his own role as a steward of the court, as an institutional matter,” recalled a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “As an advocate thinking about how to present your case, you have to think about individual justices and their past jurisprudence. It is all about, at the end of the day, getting five votes in your favor.”

In 2005, Obama made it clear to those close to him he never doubted Roberts had the skill to serve on the nation’s highest court, but Obama was aware an aye vote for his confirmation could jeopardize his standing within the Democratic Party. Publicly, he said of his concern about “the depth and breadth” of Roberts’s empathy for the weak, “I hope that I am wrong.”

And while Thursday’s decision did not turn on the question of compassion — Katyal called it “just straightforward Law 101” — it is now conservatives who are wondering whether they had misjudged Roberts a decade ago when he was nominated for the court.

Asked whether he still considers Roberts a conservative, Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said in an interview, “I don’t know that you can label the guy in any way, shape or form right now.”

Carrie Severino, chief counsel with the Judicial Crisis Network and former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, was more blunt, mocking Roberts’s decision that exchanges “established by the state,” as part of the law reads, could also refer to federal marketplaces:

“The two biggest losers today are the English language and the legacy of Chief Justice Roberts.”

– – – –

Washington Post staff writers Mike DeBonis and Katie Zezima contributed to this report.

For Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church, shooting is another painful chapter in rich history

This historic congregation, the oldest of its kind in the South, had already seen more than its fair share of tumult and hate.

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It was founded by worshippers fleeing racism and burned to the ground for its connection with a thwarted slave revolt. For years its meetings were conducted in secret to evade laws that banned all-black services. It was jolted by an earthquake in 1886. Civil rights luminaries spoke from its pulpit and led marches from its steps. For nearly 200 years it had been the site of struggle, resistance and change.

On Wednesday, the church was a crime scene — the street outside aglow with the flashing red lights of police cars and echoing with the screech of sirens. Nine people had been killed there, reportedly including the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, though police had not confirmed his death.

“I do believe this was a hate crime,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said at a press conference early Thursday morning.

To those watching in Charleston and from afar, it was devastating.

“It’s not just a church. It’s also a symbol . . . of black freedom,” said Robert Greene, who studies the 20th century South at the University of South Carolina. “That’s why so many folks are so upset tonight, because it’s a church that represents so much about the rich history and tradition of African Americans in Charleston.”

In Charleston, the church is affectionately known as “Mother Emanuel,” a nod to its age and its eminence in the community. It is a place people take pride in, said the Rev. Stephen Singleton, who was pastor there from 2006 to 2010 — all soaring ceilings and fine pinewood floors, with an antique pipe organ that had been shipped from Europe more than a century ago.

“They’re just God-fearing people,” Singleton said of his former congregation. “People who lived in modesty in light of the history of the congregation they called home.”

“Where you are is a very special place in Charleston,” the most recent pastor, Clementa Pinckney, told a group of visitors two years ago. “It’s a very special place because this site, this area, has been tied to the history and life of African-Americans since about the early 1800s.”

That history is a long and storied one. The congregation was founded in the era of slavery by Morris Brown, a founding pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1816, frustrated with the racism he encountered in Charleston’s segregated churches, Brown decided to form a church of his own. About 4,000 parishioners followed him — more than 75 percent of the city’s black community, according to a history published by the College of Charleston.

From the beginning, the congregation was a focal point of community organizing and anti-slavery activism — provoking fears and intense distrust among the city’s white population. According to a PBS documentary, white Charlestonians constantly monitored the church, sometimes disrupting services and arresting worshippers.

They had some reason for alarm: Denmark Vesey, the organizer of one of the nation’s most notable failed slave uprisings, was a leader in the church. He fiercely and insistently preached that African-Americans were the new Israelites, that their enslavement would be punished with death, and in 1822 he and other leaders began plotting a rebellion.

The revolt was planned for June 16 — 193 years and one day before the shooting Wednesday night. But another member of the church, a slave named George Wilson, told his master about the plot. Nearly three dozen organizers — including Vesey — were put on trial and executed, while another 60 were banished from the city. Believing that “black religion” had caused the uprising, South Carolina instituted a series of draconian measures against African-American churches and communities, including a ban on services conducted without a white person present. The Charleston A.M.E. congregation was dispersed and their building set ablaze.

After the end of the Civil War, the A.M.E. congregation — which had been conducting services in secret for decades and worked as part of the Underground Railroad — was formally re-established and adopted the name Emanuel. Parishioners rebuilt their church on Calhoun Street, a half mile away from Fort Sumter, where the Civil War’s first shots were fired and, a block from the square that had been a military marching ground during the Civil War and the site of a celebratory parade of African-American residents once the conflict ended.

When that wooden building was destroyed in a 1886 earthquake, the congregation replaced it with the stately gothic revival structure seen today.

The church’s activism resumed along with services, and by the 20th century it had become a focal point of South Carolina’s civil rights movement.

Booker T. Washington spoke there in 1909 to a large audience of both white and black admirers. In 1962, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speach about voting rights and making the “American dream a reality.” So did Roy Wilkins, as executive secretary of the NAACP. In 1969, as Charleston was in the midst of a massive strike aimed at creating a union for the state’s mostly black hospital workers, Coretta Scott King led a march from Emanuel A.M.E.’s steps while 1,000 state troopers and national guardsmen looked on.

“If there was any sort of civil rights protest or activity in Charleston it was almost always centered around that church,” Greene said.

Singleton, the former pastor of Emanuel A.M.E., said the church was still a place for political organizing when he was there. Politicians often dropped in, he recalled. Parishioners organized for community issues.

Pinckney, 41, the current pastor who was in the church when the gunman opened fire, was even more active. For more than a decade he’d served as a member of the South Carolina State Senate. He was an advocate for a bill in the state legislature that would require police officers to wear body cameras, calling it “our No. 1 priority,” according to the Charleston Post and Courier.

For many, the initial response was one of shock.

“If we’re not safe in the church, God, you tell us where we are safe,” mourners at a prayer circle told a reporter for MSNBC.

But Robert Mickey, a University of Michigan political scientist who studies race and politics in the post-War South, noted that activist African-American churches have been targeted before.

“They’ve been sites of black protest and community organizing, and they have long been targets as well,” he said, noting the long list of racist attacks on black churches, particularly the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

The gunman on Wednesday, who police said was about 21 years old, may not have been aware of that history, Mickey added. But the congregation at Emanuel A.M.E., as well as the thousands of people who watched the news of the killings there in horror, certainly did.

“When you’re on the receiving end of the violence, it’s pretty hard not to put it in that context,” Mickey said. “You can’t help but notice the continuities, the violence and fear that constantly these revisit these same communities.”

But Singleton said that the attack on his old church “should be dealt with as an individual,” not as part of some broader trend.

“I think the comparison that you can draw from it is, evil is real and it’s prevalent all over the place,” he said, adding, “I want to encourage people of faith to be prayerful. Embrace our faith and embrace each other.”

Singleton, who preaches in Columbia, S.C., now, said he’ll heading back to Charleston in the next few days. He wants to visit his old congregation, he said, to pay his respects to those who were killed and the church that has had another painful chapter added to its history.

“That church has a legacy, and it won’t be destroyed because of this,” he said, firmly. “Chances are it’ll probably come out stronger.”

Video: A prayer circle formed following the shooting that left nine dead at an historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C.

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How doxing went from a cheap hacker trick to a presidential campaign tactic

Alas for Trump, he’s not exactly a pioneer here: Small-time hackers, message-board flamers and other low-life Internet bullies have made exactly this sort of grand “statement” for more than 20 years.

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In Internet parlance, it’s called doxing: the strategic outing of an opponent’s real name, home address, or other private information, published with the intention of inconveniencing, frightening or straight-up endangering them.

But lately, it seems, the dox is society’s immediate, unthinking reaction to any character or news event with which it doesn’t agree. In the past three weeks alone, vigilantes have doxed Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who shot Cecil the lion; Brian Encina, the Texas police officer who arrested Sandra Black; and more than 300 employees of Planned Parenthood, which was purportedly hacked.

In a predictable karmic twist, even Trump himself got the dox treatment: Gawker published the candidate’s personal phone number on Aug. 3, only too “happy” to add it “to the body of public knowledge.”

“Doxing is not a new thing — far from it,” explains Whitney Phillips, an expert in online trolling and an assistant professor of liberal studies at Penfield College of Mercer University. What is new, Phillips says, is this counterintuitive concept of “doxing for good”: exposing other people’s personal information “as a stand against ‘bad’ behavior, or as a sort of public service.”

The big question, of course, is whether doxing “for good” ever actually does any.

To understand what makes this question so very complicated, you have to first know a little bit about the history of doxing. Phillips cautions that the tactic is a tool: Like a switchblade or a Kalashnikov, it’s not inherently evil — though it’s used for evil more often than not.

The earliest recorded instances of doxing, before “doxing” was even the preferred term, went down in Usenet newsgroups and online bulletin boards, where rabble-rousers wielded real names and addresses like weapons against more vulnerable users.

Later, in the mid-’90s, “dropping docs” — short for documents — became trendy among rival hackers: Not only was digging up an opponent’s identity a good show of skill, but publishing it could also potentially do serious harm to someone, up to landing them in jail.

By the time 4chan and its band of lunatic pranksters emerged from the edges of the Internet in 2003, the dox was well-established as the ultimate “life-ruin tactic”: the absolute height of malevolent Internet prankery. 4chan’s /b/ board, and later Anonymous — the hacker collective it spawned — rejoiced in a good, life-ruining dox, the kind that sent victims scurrying for cover.

Anonymous doxed Hal Turner, the white supremacist radio host, before setting their sights on a range of minor Internet personalities. In 2008, seeking greater laughs and infamy, they doxed the senior leadership of the Church of Scientology.

In hindsight, experts say, that episode may have changed everything.

“Like most previous raids, many expected this hearty ‘f— you’ would run its course and then peter out after a few days of brutal and playful shenanigans,” the anthropologist Gabriella Coleman wrote in her seminal history of Anonymous.

But the raid didn’t peter out: On the contrary, the Scientology scandal struck a rare chord with the mainstream, launching a tidal wave of international press attention. Within days, there were anti-Scientology protests in 127 cities. And overnight, Anonymous — a fringe group of puckish Internet provocateurs — had become “hacktivists.”

You gotta admit: The neologism had a nice ring to it. Even better, anyone with a moral ax to grind could claim to be part of the movement. Since Anonymous is a very loose collective, with no leaders or official membership, joining is as easy as saying you’re in. And as Anonymous became associated with progressive activism, lots of non-hackers were interested.

“I don’t want to say there was ever a watershed moment,” Phillips cautions. “But as Anonymous began to work with progressive causes, social justice campaigns and events also began to integrate its tactics.”

Doxing was chief among these tactics, and Anonymous deployed its full strength on the Steubenville, Ohio, high school football players accused of rape in 2012; many pundits say there would have been no action taken in this case if it wasn’t for Anonymous.

They then went on to dox the man accused of bullying Canadian teenager Amanda Todd to death.

And the police officer who they said shot Michael Brown in Ferguson.

Sometimes Anonymous doxed the wrong people; increasingly, the people would dox on their own, no longer dependent on Anonymous’ skills. Doxing no longer requires a large degree of Internet savvy. We all release so much information online under our real names that, at least for a rudimentary dox, the detective work is as easy as a reverse domain look-up, a public-records check or a quick Google search.

Doxing Walter Palmer was so simple, in fact, that even the actress Mia Farrow got into it the game: “CecilTheLion -Gentle protector of 6 cubs. Loved by many. Killed by Dentist Walter Palmer,” she tweeted casually on July 29, with a screengrab of Palmer’s home address.

There you have it, in black-and-white plain text: The pinnacle of Internet justice.

A year ago this week, at the height of Ferguson’s meltdown, a 14-year-old hacker named David obtained the name, home address and Social Security number of the police officer he believed had shot Michael Brown.

It was a masterpiece of a vigilante dox, a proud fulfillment of the exhortation to only “dox the powerful.” It was also 100 percent, entirely, totally mistaken. David not only had the wrong guy, but he felt absolutely no remorse for any harm or collateral damage that resulted from the actions he’d taken.

“Even if someone has done something objectively terrible, doxing is a problematic response,” Phillips sighs. “You can get information wrong. You can harm people who have nothing to do with it. Your actions can have further repercussions than you expect.”

In short: “Anything that relies on the mob mentality is a powder keg.”

It’s not just that the mob tends toward error and disproportionate responses, either: A group of highly motivated, partisan people can convince themselves that almost any sort of dox qualifies as a strike for the “right” side: Just ask the dozens of journalists who were doxed for merely covering divisive stories this year, or the gamers, designers and critics whose deeply frightening cases are currently in the hands of the FBI.

According to the strain of logic popular in those doxers’ IRC channels and message boards, they’re not actually harassing anyone: They’re just “watching the watchers.”

Incidentally, that’s the basic justification Trump used when he handed out Senator Graham’s phone number in late July: “Your local politician, you know?” he quipped, implying the move was some kind of pro-social, pro-government-transparency strike.

There’s no dressing up a dox, though — even a dox intended for good.

“Even when they come from a good place,” Phillips said, “they open too many cans of worms.”

Dewey writes The Post’s The Intersect web channel covering digital and Internet culture. 杭州桑拿网,杭州桑拿,washingtonpost杭州桑拿会所,/news/the-intersect/

Can a former corrections official help integrate our national parklands?

“There,” he said, wiping his hands on his pants.

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“Those tents are so easy, anyone can do it. Even me.”

He crawled inside and in minutes was sleeping, his snores joining the cacophony created by birds and crickets. It was the end of an exhausting day.

That morning, York had joined volunteers from across the country who were attending a two-week wilderness skills program focused on maintaining trails, which is a massive ongoing project that costs the Forest Service $75 million annually but is necessary to keep visitors on the paths and away from animal habitats.

Getting to the training location would require a steep hike straight up the mountain. York had looked up at the blue sky, its puffs of white clouds held in place by the stagnant heat of the day, and removed his baseball cap to wipe the sweat dripping down his bearded face. Although the title “leader of wilderness programs” might conjure a rugged image, York, dressed in a brown and green plaid shirt and tan pants, looked more paper-pusher than outdoorsman.

Rather than working his way up through the Forest Service, the 59-year-old came to the position after a controversial tenure as a corrections official, including a stint as interim head of the D.C. jails. The first African-American leader of wilderness programs, he had never been to a wilderness in the United States before his hiring.

He peppers his speech with sayings like, “To walk the yard is to own the yard,” and says he has “no clue” why the Forest Service chose him. But following decades in law enforcement and corrections, York believes nature can be a positive force in the lives of at-risk kids, and he has made it part of his job to encourage young people from troubled and low-income neighborhoods to find purpose in the wilderness.

York put the cap back on. “OK, let’s do it,” he said in his deep Southern drawl and started following the trail, slick from the previous night’s heavy rains, past thick branches of mountain laurel with pink-tinged white blossoms.

After a few teetering stops and starts, York slowly reached a dip in the trail, where volunteers were building and repairing retaining walls under the guidance of the Jolly Rovers, an Upstate New York-based band of experts that travels the country teaching others the art of constructing stone walls and staircases.

York sat on a large flat rock, surveying the workers. Once again, despite the fact that the training program was advertised widely, he was the only black person in the crowd of white. Part of the Forest Service’s mandate is to improve diversity within both the workforce and the visiting public – and here was just one more example of the challenge facing him.

By 2050, U.S. Census figures predict, the United States will be mostly a brown and black country. Yet hundreds of millions of acres of public land are rarely used by this portion of the citizenry. According to the Forest Service, which manages 193 million acres in 44 states and territories, only about 1 percent of visitors from 2010 through 2014 were black, and less than 6 percent were Hispanic. The other federal agencies that manage public lands report similar numbers. (See below.)

Addressing such disparity is “critical,” said Mary Ellen Sprenkel, chief executive of the Corps Network, which supports national service programs. “We need to make sure people from other backgrounds and cultures understand the importance of natural space, or we won’t have the ability to preserve these places for future generations.”

The low number of minority visitors to the outdoors is a long-term issue that has moved toward the forefront of the nation’s consciousness only in the past decade or so, as demographic change has accelerated.

“People of color for many years were deterred from taking advantage of their public lands,” said Reginald “Flip” Hagood, chairman of the diversity committee for the governing council of the Wilderness Society. “There is a long history there.”

According to Hagood, integration of the outdoors has been hampered by discrimination (in certain areas, people of color were denied access through segregation), as well as cultural differences and economic issues.

“Most blacks of my generation are scared to go into the woods because they don’t know if they are going to come out,” York said. “It would be a great shame if we allowed this feeling to continue. People need to know the land is also for them.”

According to Denise Ottaviano of the public affairs office, “It is part of the Forest Service mission to employ individuals from diverse groups, encourage diverse groups to utilize their public lands, and also partner with organizations from diverse backgrounds to take care of Forest Service land. In some way, all Forest Service employees play a role in diversity.”

In its minority outreach, the Forest Service has especially focused on urban youths, who traditionally have not participated in environmental stewardship. (Rural kids are also a concern; they no longer can be counted on to become the next generation of foresters and firefighters as video games have replaced their interest in the outdoors.)

To that end, it manages Children’s Forests, areas where youths can connect with and learn about the outdoors, and urban field stations, including one in Baltimore, where scientists and researchers work with the community to enhance the natural environment. (Among the issues the Baltimore station is addressing is the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.)

The other agencies – including the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – fund or partner with similar programs geared toward kids, such as the Obama administration’s Every Kid in a Park.That initiative debuted in September and provides free passes to encourage fourth-graders and their families to visit public lands during the school year.

York believes his role is bigger than simply introducing young minorities to the outdoors. “We don’t want to bring kids in for a one-time photo op,” he said; he wants them to learn from an experience. The wilderness, he added, is “an equal-opportunity provider. There is no discrimination. If you don’t chop wood for the fire, you are cold; if you don’t boil hard water, you are thirsty.”

Born in 1956 to a mother who was a teacher and a father who owned a construction company, York grew up in Richmond, his life straddling the vestiges of the Jim Crow era. Weekends and summers were spent in Chesterfield, Virginia, with his cousins, swimming in the pond, chasing ducks and picking blackberries. York would sleep outside during the hazy summer nights, staring at the stars above, and although Chesterfield wasn’t far from Richmond, it felt worlds away.

Back in town, York’s mother taught in housing projects, often pillaging clothes from his closet to bring to the poorer students. His grandfather was head maitre’d at Richmond’s famed Jefferson Hotel. He taught York about personal responsibility and taking pride in work, and sometimes sneaked in his beloved grandson to see the alligators swimming in the Palm Court lobby.

“He worked there his whole life,” York said. “But he was never allowed through the front door.”

The local park had a sign that said, “No Coloreds, No Dogs Allowed.” He and friends went there anyway. At movies, they sat in the balcony.

But for York – who says, “I understood oppression but never felt oppressed” – there also was playing in the woods and the all-black Boy Scout troop run by his church. “I didn’t know we were poor until I got to college,” he said.

His mother, who fiercely loved her only child, wanted him to have broad cultural experiences. She made York take ballet and tap dancing and taught him to talk “of cabbages and kings.” But perhaps most important, she scrimped to send him to a summer camp that catered to the children of black professionals. York attended Camp Atwater in East Brookfield, Massachusetts, from age 8 to 15, and memories of those years helped him maintain his affinity with the outdoors.

York’s life changed forever in the early 1970s, when Richmond schools were forced to desegregate. On the first day, as a bus took him and other city kids out to the suburbs, the children lay on the floor while rocks were thrown through the windows. “Going to an integrated school wasn’t as much about fear as it was about anger,” said York. “What I did learn from integration was that white schools had more equipment and privilege.”

Spurred by his mother and his peers at Camp Atwater, he channeled his emotions toward his education. York graduated from Howard University in Washington, then went to Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. He spent his early career, which included a stint as a municipal judge, in Houston. He has been married twice; his wife, Michelle “Angie” Davis-York, lives in Florida, where she had been caring for her mother, who died recently. He has no children.

In 1993, York moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands to train prosecutors before becoming principal assistant attorney general. He then became acting corrections director for a department that, following a class-action lawsuit, was under court order to fix dangerous and inhumane conditions at its jail.

In 1996, jail inmates complained that the conditions had not been improved. But before a judge could rule, York quit, returning to Richmond to take care of his mother, who had had a stroke. Remaining jail officials were found in contempt.

In 1997, he was hired by the D.C. Corrections Department as an attorney, then in 2005 became interim corrections director. Before assuming the directorship, he had been in charge of inmate transfers during the tumultuous closing of the infamous Lorton Reformatory, a process stemming from lawsuits about overcrowding that led to more lawsuits and abuse investigations.

York contends that he inherited problems in both the Virgin Islands and the District, and should have been credited for taking steps to resolve them. Although he had supporters, he was not confirmed as permanent director. He moved to Key West, Florida, to work as the head of pretrial services for the 16th Judicial Circuit.

By then, York said, he was tired of the violence and lack of rehabilitation in the justice system. He wanted, and needed, something different. He heard about the Forest Service’s wilderness leader position in 2011, and it got him thinking: His undergraduate degree was in zoology, and he remembered his Camp Atwater days fondly, though he hadn’t continued outdoor activities; maybe he could make a change by introducing troubled minority youths to public lands.

“I think they saw something that they liked or thought worked best for the agency, took a chance to invest time and training to bring me up to their expectations,” he said. “So far it is working, as best as I can tell. I like what I do and I like the folks I work with.”

No one at the Forest Service would comment directly on York’s hiring, saying it is a personnel issue covered by the Privacy Act. But “someone with Elwood’s background and network” is able to make different connections than “many of us born and raised and moving through the ranks of the conservation community,” said Leslie Weldon, deputy chief of the National Forest System and York’s boss. The first female African-American in her position, Weldon understands the diversity struggle and has often been the only person of color out in the field.

“Elwood has done a great job of building additional bridges and opportunities,” she said.

When they heard about his new job, his friends thought he had lost his mind. “We did the Boy Scouts, but we are urban people,” said his childhood best friend James McCollum, now a lawyer in Washington. But in a way, York said, the change has saved him: “My only wish is that I got this job when I was 40 years old.” Now, he says, the purpose in his life is clear and hopeful.

York has sent five groups of inner-city youths to the wilderness through the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, which has partnered with the federal government and local organizations across the country to recruit 100,000 youths and veterans over 10 years to protect and restore the country’s great outdoors.

“Very easily in another life I could be looking at the same kid through a set of bars,” York said. Wilderness experiences, he added, “can be a lifesaver.”

But they aren’t necessarily easy to set up. York has had to battle barriers including lack of proper gear and families’ unfamiliarity with the tradition of camping.He has held a shoe drive to ensure all kids had the correct footwear and personally persuaded parents to let their kids visit the wilderness.

One of the five Corps wilderness trips he organized included boys from Baltimore and Washington who were so frightened by the total darkness in Taos, New Mexico, that they couldn’t sleep. Another involved the first Native American wilderness corps program, outside Phoenix. And York traveled to the San Bernardino Forest with the Urban Conservation Corps of the Inland Empire, which is made up mostly of Latino, Asian and African-American youths from high-crime neighborhoods. Their work “restores broken lives and prevents catastrophic wildfire disasters,” according to its director, Sandy Bonilla.

York coordinates with groups promoting National Public Lands Day, an annual September tradition to encourage people to get outdoors. This year it was Sept. 26; in the run-up he planned to celebrate Sept. 18 on the Anacostia River with the Earth Conservation Corps and Sept. 19 at an Urban Kids Fishing Derby at the Mall’s Constitution Gardens. He spent last year’s Public Lands Day by the San Gorgonio Wilderness area, about an hour from Los Angeles, where he met some older women who fell asleep in their lawn chairs, lulled by the peace.

And he visits youth programs and schools monthly to encourage minority students to consider careers in the Forest Service. At all-black St. Augustine in Northwest Washington, he showed up with a “Buffalo Soldier” dressed in a navy blue uniform, with a yellow bandanna and the original Smoky Bear hat. The soldier got the children to stop squirming by telling them how members of these African-American regiments were among the first park rangers, enduring heat and disease to build some of the first wilderness trails.

“To see a person who looks like you and talks like you goes a long way,” York said.

Next on York’s list is bringing baby boomers into the wilderness and connecting them with younger people: “They have the resources to reach back a generation and bring people along.”

But it’s clear his passion is with urban kids in troubled neighborhoods. “We live in worlds of concrete and steel,” York said. “People must believe in something. They need to have hope. And what can be more hopeful than Mother Nature?”

On the last day of the wilderness skills institute, York drove down winding roads past the roaring waters of Looking Glass Falls to the Schenck Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center. The Forest Service-run center is one of 28 that are part of the larger federal Job Corps program and offer 40,000 low-income youth ages 16 to 24 training for jobs in natural resource management.

Nestled on the banks of the Davidson River, Schenck has a school, an auto shop, a welding building and a carpentry studio. But York was most interested in the advanced forestry and wilderness fire program run by Mickey Beland, a 75-year-old ranger with twinkling blue eyes.

“I’m an old-school forest guy, and I’m obsolete in some areas,” Beland said. “But if we can get students interested now, at this age, they have a bright future.” He said most of his trainees are fleeing something when they arrive at the center. “They don’t want to live in the city anymore. They want to find a connection that is not hostile.”

Two students, Oriente Lowe and Brian Davis Jr., both 21, later took a break from cutting bamboo roots to talk with York about how the forest had inspired a new direction in their lives.

“I was surrounded by negativity all the time. There was drug abuse and violence happening,” said Lowe of his hometown, Byron, Georgia. “But now I see I can have a career, not just a job. And I feel at home when I’m working in the woods. I’m at peace, I feel calm.”

Davis, too, was happy to be out of his home town: East Baltimore. “I couldn’t focus in school,” he said. “Every day, I woke up and thought this couldn’t be my life.”

Though it took him a while to get used to the quiet, the bugs and being unable to walk to a store, Davis, who wants to be a wilderness firefighter, said he feels “a whole lot safer” in the woods. “I don’t worry about my life in danger. I don’t have to deal with police or worry about the consequence of other people’s actions.”

Another new experience: being detailed to Redmond, Oregon, to fight a fire last year. Crowds waved at the firefighters as they drove through town, and a woman gave him a cup of coffee, refusing his money, he recalled. “People I’ve never met in my life thanked me.”

York listened to the young men, nodding. These were the faces he had hoped to see at the skills institute. He gave Davis his card and shook his hand, smiling and joking about getting him a firefighting job in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, his earlier fatigue gone, invigorated by the connection. The sun was poking through the clouds dotting the sky, and off in the background was the distinct but muted rushing sound of the river.

“We are just the seed planters, not the gardeners,” York said afterward. “We just can hope that something in them catches the fire. And grows.”

VISITORS TO PUBLIC LANDS

Four federal agencies – the Forest Service, Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management – administer more than 723 million acres of public land across all states and Puerto Rico. Three keep breakdowns of visitors by race and ethnicity:

– Fish and Wildlife Service*

American Indian or Alaska Native 4%

Asian 1%

Black or African-American 1%

Native Hawaiianor Pacific Islander 1%

White, non-Hispanic 96%

Hispanic or Latino(any race) 4%

*2010-11 survey of service’s 53 national wildlife refuges; numbers do not total 100% because respondents could select more than one race

– Forest Service**

American Indian or Alaska Native 2.3% national forests, 1.7% wilderness

Asian 2.3% forests, 3.1% wilderness

Black or African-American 1.2% forests, 0.7% wilderness

Hawaiian or Pacific Islander 1.2% forest, 0.7% wilderness

White 94.9% forest, 95.6% wilderness

Spanish, Hispanic or Latino (any race) 5.5% forest, 5.9% wilderness

** 2010-14 survey; numbers do not total 100% because respondents could select more than one race

– Park Service***

American Indian or Alaska Native 1%

Asian 3%

African-American 7%

White, non-Hispanic 78%

Hispanic (any race) 9%

***2008-09 survey of U.S. households; numbers do not total 100% because of rounding