what happened last week (whlw) | Subscribe

whlw: no. 269

June 21 – 27, 2021

Choni, this is Sham, your very own news curator. Simi also says hello. In this issue, we'll talk about
  • Police brutality in the Czech Republic and Stanislav Tomáš
  • The intense work culture in Japan
  • What the president of Nicaragua is doing to the country's democracy
  • Another discovery at a 'residential school' in Canada
  • A giant skull in China that could be a new species of human
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P.S., here's the audio version of this issue (read by Simi, again).

Now without further ado, here's what happened last week,

what happened last week

We have to talk about police brutality against the Roma in the Czech Republic and Stanislav Tomáš
Last week, a man named Stanislav Tomáš died in Teplice, Czech Republic moments after a police officer was kneeling on his neck for at least six minutes as others also tried to hold him down. This was caught on a video that went viral. It’s not clear at what point he died or what caused it. ‘This is the Czech George Floyd,’ say people.

Tell me more about Tomáš
He was around 46 years old. Family and friends say that he had been
looking forward to his new job as a security guard. Tomáš was also a member of the Roma community in the Czech Republic.

So, what do we know?
The government and police say, ‘
he had taken drugs. We wanted to calm him down. We weren’t too brutal with him.’ Even if Tomáš was on drugs, cardiologist Dr. Petr Neužil is like, ‘the heart can stop in situations like these.’ As a result, the Council of Europe and representatives of the Roma community have demanded an independent investigation, ‘what really happened?!’.
  • In context: Police are actually trained to use that knee-on-neck position. This was an argument the defence used in the Derek Chauvin trial, for instance (which didn’t work for him because a lot of cops then said, ‘you’re trained to get off of the person when they stop resisting). 
Zoom out: Tomáš is not the first Romani man to die during an arrest in the Czech Republic. Read what happened to Miroslav Demeter in Žatec five years ago.

But police brutality against the Roma community is all over Europe. For example, in 2013, more than 60 police officers physically and verbally attacked 21 Romani men and women in a small town in
Slovakia in 2013. Then for years, they lied about who started what and put some of them in jail even. The government last week officially apologized for it.
WATCH People in Teplice came together in memoriam of Stanislav Tomáš last week. News server ROMEA TV broadcasted the entire event.
What’s the mood like in the Czech Republic now?
The government supports the police officers, including prime minister
Andrej Babiš, interior minister Jan Hamáček, and police president Jan Švejdar. Plus, they said, ‘all was fine. Nobody did anything wrong,’ before the investigation even began. But the people say, ‘Sus.’ 

Why this matters: The Roma and Sinti community is one of the most discriminated against minority groups in the Czech Republic and worldwide. It’s called antiziganism. Plus, on a bigger scale, this starts the conversation of ‘what do we do when the people who are supposed to protect us are actively hurting us?’ In the age of viral police violence videos, absolute trust in the police is becoming rare. 

Zoom out-out: This reminds me of another recent case of police brutality in
Canada. Two weeks ago, two white police officers knelt on a Black teenager in Montréal. The police were called to break up a fight at a high school. 

On a personal note: I would like to educate myself a lot more on this issue of police brutality and the argument of abolition; with you perhaps? If you want to start a ‘curious group’ to read related books and articles together, get together in maybe-at-first-awkward Google Meets, etc., hit ‘reply to this mail’. I’ll think of a way to organize something.

In related news, last week, former police officer Derek Chauvin was
sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, United States on May 25, 2020 last week.
We are recommending a four-day work week in Japan now
Japan just said ‘hey, maybe people should only work four days a week?’ in a new policy guide put out by the country’s prime minister. 

How come?
One of the reasons is because Japan’s working population is getting smaller and smaller (they're getting older). So, the government is looking for ways to boost productivity.

Tell me more about the work culture in Japan
The country’s intense work culture is actually working people to death. In 2020,
1,918 people died by suicide because of work. There’s a word for it: karoshi (translates to ‘overwork death’) which could mean suicide or could mean work-related illness. It’s so bad that there is even a national hotline for ‘victims of karoshi’ which apparently gets 100 to 300 calls a year. Working 100+ overtime hours a month is the norm, and taking holidays isn’t Didn’t Japan try this before? 
Sort of. In 2019, technology company Microsoft in Japan gave their workers a four-day work week (they still got paid for five) and said ‘
productivity went up 40%.’ And it's not clear at all if this will work. Many people are skeptical, 'this is wishful thinking. It's just a recommendation for companies, not a must. Plus, this is another reason to be more polite by coming into work even on your day off.'

Why this matters: The idea of a four-day work week is a hot topic. Since the coronavirus pandemic and more ‘work-from-home’ life,’ it’s become a lot more popular. Now, people are asking, ‘what if we did design a post-pandemic working culture that allowed us to have more free time?’ Now, some other countries are trying out the four-day-work-week too, like Spain and New Zealand

Zoom out: Japan isn’t the only country with a ‘work-til-we-die’ culture. For example, people in the
United States work longer hours. And worldwide, the World Health Organization said in 2016, 745,000 people died because of ‘work-stress related illness.’ 

Disclaimer: This idea only works in countries that have organized, fixed work structures and not in countries like
India, for instance, where most of the workforce is ‘unorganized’ meaning they don’t get paid leave, fixed timing, contracts, etc. 

Fun fact: The ‘weekend’, the five-day work week and even
sleeping eight hours a day are capitalist inventions from the 19th century. For example, during the Industrial Revolution, a lot of factories in England started giving their workers a break on Saturdays so they could maximize profit. This concept of a rest day also exists in some religious texts; see ‘Sabbath’ or ‘Shabat.’
We are afraid that democracy is taking a wrong turn in Nicaragua
It looks like President Daniel Ortega is afraid of losing the next election in Nicaragua in November. Last week, police arrested a presidential candidate and a really famous journalist. This month alone, about 20 prominent people (including five presidential candidates) who criticize the government have been detained.

OK, wow. Why are they being arrested?
Human rights groups say, ‘
this is so obvious. Daniel Ortega thinks he'll lose in the next election.’ If he wins, it would be his fourth term. He was in power between 1979 to 1990 and returned to power in 2007. So, a long time. Oh and btw, his vice-president is his wife, Rosario Murillo. The 75-year-old is like, ‘I’m only arresting and prosecuting criminals who were plotting a coup against me’. This is actually ‘legal’ because of a law introduced by his own government just last year.

Why this matters: Some seven million people live in this small Central American country. It’s the region's poorest country. But nowhere in Latin America have so many activists, business leaders, independent journalists and presidential candidates been arrested in such a short span as here. All this because a president is afraid to lose an election. 

Refresher: What is a democracy? As political scientist
Adam Przeworski has put it, democracy is, basically, a system where parties lose elections and are willing to accept it.

Tell me more about politics in Nicaragua
In the past ten years, it’s become the ‘Ortega show.’ Meaning (in simple terms), he wants more and more control of the country and anyone that opposes him is basically f*cked. 
  • Dig deeper: Kevin Casas-Zamora, the former vice president of Costa Rica, wrote about the situation in Americas Quarterly last week. Back in 2008, he even warned that this would happen. ‘Nicaragua will turn into the Western Hemisphere’s Zimbabwe, and Daniel Ortega will become Robert Mugabe.’ 
  • Reminder: 2018 was a dark year for democracy in Nicaragua. Over 300 protesters were killed by police at anti-Ortega) protests. More than 107,000 Nicaraguans fled the country, most of them to neighbouring Costa Rica.
What does the international community say to this?
Last week,
Mexico and Argentina were like, ‘uhm, we’re calling back our ambassadors.’ The United States blocked some members of Ortega's government (even his daughter) from any diplomatic or financial activities with them. And Spain was like, ‘release these people already. What are you doing?!’ (Reminder: Spain used to colonize Nicaragua.) Plus, ‘we should just kick Nicaragua out of international agreements for becoming anti-democratic (reminder, something similar happened to Mali in West Africa when there was a military coup there in May).

Elsewhere in Central America
Belize, there is now a public holiday called Emancipation Day to commemorate the end of slavery in 1888. Thank Afro-Belizean activist Yaya Marin Coleman for this.
We found 751 unknown graves at a 'residential school' in Canada
Last week, signs of 751 graves were found at the site of what used to be ‘Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, Canada. The Indigenous community of the Cowessess First Nation made the discovery but also said ‘we don’t know if everyone buried here went to the residential school.’

Why this matters: Indigenous people in Canada have been trying to tell the world about what happened at so-called ‘residential schools’ for decades. ‘So many kids went to these schools and never came home. There are likely more graves like this at other former schools.’ Communities are still dealing with deep-rooted trauma from what they went through. And no one has been held responsible yet.
  • Reminder: Last month, in a different province, the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia said they found remains of 215 children at the former ‘residential school’ there. 
I need a quick history lesson...What happened at those schools?
Back in the day, the government forced some
150,000 Indigenous kids to these schools between 1883-1996. A lot of the schools were run by the Catholic Church. Kids were separated from their parents, were physically and sexually abused and forced to forget their mother tongue. Why? To ‘assimilate’ them into a more ‘Euro-Canadian centric’ culture (whatever that means). Some 6,000 kids died (either by suicide, abuse and just bad living conditions). That number is likely higher. 

What’s the reaction inside these communities?
It’s getting tense. After these discoveries,
four Catholic churches on First Nations reserves in the British Columbia province have been burned to the ground. In Saskatchewan, the door of a Roman Catholic Church was covered in red paint and ‘we were children’ was written on it.

What now? 
The search begins for more of these grave sites and finding out who is buried there. Also, Indigenous leaders, advocates, and
even the prime minister of Canada are demanding that the Pope says ‘sorry for the crimes the Church committed in Canada’ and hand over any records the Church might have on these schools.

Canada has a long way to go when it comes to fixing these wrongs, but one small change they just made in reaction to these discoveries is changing the wording in the Canadian citizenship oath to actually acknowledge Indigenous rights. Watch a clip of that ceremony here, led by Suzanne Carrière, Canada's first Métis citizenship judge.
We ‘discovered’ a giant skull in China and it could be a new species of human
Scientists ‘discovered’ a giant skull in China and think it may be a new species of human from around 146,000 years ago. They are calling it ‘Dragon man’ or Homo longi

What do you mean, ‘discovered’?
Here’s the backstory: It was found by a man building a bridge in 1933 in Harbin, in China’s northernmost province, Heilongjiang. And then, he hid it for decades and just before he died in 2018, he told his grandson where to find it (someone make this man’s life a movie). The family donated it to Heibi GEO University where it was then studied by a team of researchers led by Prof. Qiang Ji.

What does it look like?
this. It’s bigger than the average head, with a heavy brow bone and huge eyes. From what scientists can tell, he could look like this maybe-50-year-old big boy.

Why this matters: This discovery will help scientists better understand human evolution. There is still a lot we don’t know about where we came from. And this skull could be signs of an entirely new species of human that we didn’t know about before. Chris Stringer, one of the researchers from the Natural History Museum in London even said this about the skull: “I think this is one of the most important finds of the past 50 years.”

In context (human evolution 101)
Humans or ‘Homo sapiens’
evolved four million years ago on the continent of Africa and then eventually spread throughout the planet. The species that's closest to us right now are the apes, so we probably had a common ancestor (love that for us). There were a lot of other human species but the exact number is a hot debate. 

Fun fact: The study of human evolution is called ‘paleoanthropology’ if any of you are still trying to figure out your major or just want to know how to spell paleoanthropology.

On a good note

Speaking of species, scientists in South America just named a new species of frog after Led Zeppelin because it looks kind of stoned, look.

It’s officially called Pristimantis ledzepplin and was found in
Ecuador's misty mountains (insert: Lord of the Rings reference). Plus, the iconic British band had a real soft-spot for Tolkien. Just listen a little more closely to Ramble On. So... many... connections. It's like destiny.
Please send us your recommendations for our Decolonize Weekly playlist. We add new songs every week. We'll stop deleting the old songs.  

Ok, that's it from Sham and Simi. 
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