Five Teens Arrested In Homophobic Attack On London Bus

A lesbian couple was attacked on a douple-decker London bus late last month.

Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Five teenagers have been arrested in connection with a homophobic attack on a London bus late last month, London police say.

Melania Geymonat posted about the violent incident on her Facebook page last week, describing what began as a date night with her partner Chris. On the way home, a group of young men began harassing them. “They started behaving like hooligans, demanding that we kissed so they could enjoy watching, calling us ‘lesbians’ and describing sexual positions,” she wrote. The couple was beaten and bloodied by the group, who allegedly stole their belongings.

Her post went to express frustration at the violence the LGBTQ community has had to endure. “I’m tired of being taken as a SEXUAL OBJECT, of finding out that these situations are usual, of gay friends who were beaten up JUST BECAUSE.”

Four suspects were arrested Friday, and just as the month-long Pride celebration kicked off in London on Saturday, police arrested a fifth teenager in connection to the incident. All five are young men between 15 and 18 years old.

Geymonat’s post has prompted an outcry against homophobic violence on social media. London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted about the incident:

This was a disgusting, misogynistic attack. Hate crimes against the LGBT+ community will not be tolerated in London.

The @metpoliceuk are investigating and appealing for witnesses. If you have any information – call 101. https://t.co/4zSqxyE6IP

— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) June 7, 2019

According to government data, hate crimes in England and Wales targeting victims’ sexual orientation rose 27% in 2017-2018 to a total of 11,638 incidents. Hate crimes targeting trans folks rose 32%. Police estimate that those numbers are getting larger, at least in part, because of improved protocol for reporting these crimes to police — but they still likely don’t reflect the reality of hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community.

A 2017 study conducted by Stonewall, a U.K.-based advocacy organization, showed that one in every 5 LGBT individuals polled in Britain had experienced a hate crime or incident in the 12 months before the survey. Four out of every 5 of those victims, however, didn’t report it to police. Many who did report said they weren’t taken seriously.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Wu-Tang Clan Set To Make History As First Hip-Hop Act To Headline Ryman Auditorium

Wu-Tang Clan is set to be the first hip-hop group to headline at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.

Kyle Christy/Courtesy of the artists


hide caption

toggle caption

Kyle Christy/Courtesy of the artists

Since opening its doors in 1892, Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville has hosted a huge array of events, from church revivals to boxing matches. Figures like Johnny Cash, Helen Keller and Harry Houdini have visited the legendary venue for various gatherings and performances. It even housed the Grand Ole Opry in the radio show’s early years.

But one kind of show has never topped the bill at the Ryman — hip-hop. That changes on June 9, when the Wu-Tang Clan is set to play a sold-out show at the historic venue. The theater, nicknamed “The Mother Church of Country Music,” will be a leg on Wu-Tang’s international tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of its breakout album, Enter the Wu-Tang. It’s an historic moment, not the least because this will be the first time a hip-hop act has headlined.

“It’s just not intuitive to have necessarily a hip-hop show at the Ryman,” Eric Holt, a Nashville concert promoter and Belmont University professor, says. “It’s going to be interesting. I mean, the energy, I think is going to be different.”

The Ryman is a well-loved venue for artists of a few genres today, but it hasn’t always been a desirable performance destination. In fact, after the Grand Ole Opry moved out and into a custom-built theater in the 1970s the auditorium fell into disrepair and was close to being torn down.

Then, in 1991, Emmylou Harris recorded a live album there that captured the spirit of the space. At the Ryman won a Grammy and sparked a sort of Ryman revival. The theater was soon renovated and many musicians started to see it as a prestige venue. Rock, soul and R&B acts from India Arie to The Foo Fighters all wanted to play there.

“This isn’t your grandparents’ Ryman,” says Shannon Sanders, a Grammy-winning musician and record producer. In the 1980s, Sanders was a member of one of Nashville’s first hip-hop groups, and he says the hip-hop scene here has long lived in the shadow of country: “It’s just been hard to be part of the narrative of the city’s musical story.”

Now, Sanders says, listeners have become more diverse in their tastes, switching seamlessly from country to rock to hip-hop.

Still, hip-hop artists have seemingly hesitated to visit the Ryman based on its size — a 2300-person capacity with screwed-down rows of pews.

The Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville has been open since 1892.

Neil Brake/AFP/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Neil Brake/AFP/Getty Images

Pam Matthews, the venue’s previous general manager says that this, and not reluctance on the Ryman’s part, accounts for the lack of hip-hop acts at the Ryman so far. “I did make an offer on 50 Cent,” Matthews says. “And I also feel it’s possible I made an offer on Insane Clown Posse.”

Matthews says the hip-hop acts instead tended to go to small nightclubs or big arenas. They also often want spaces where their fans can get up and move. But hip-hop fans are starting to change — particularly the ones who came of age listening to Wu-Tang Clan in the 1990s. They’re now older now. They have a little more money and, maybe, a little more interested in sitting.

Regardless of awkward pew placement and past attempts to bring hip-hop to the Ryman, this Wu-Tang show will be a historic moment for the audience, theater and performers alike.

“You know, the Ryman has had to grow up too, and had to grow up into what the city is,” Sanders says. “You know, the Wu-Tang is ready for the Ryman, but also the Ryman is ready for the Wu-Tang.”

Listen to the full aired story at the audio link.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Trump Says He Thinks U.S. And Mexican Officials Can Reach A Deal On Migrants

Mexican and U.S. negotiators are working out a deal to manage the surge of Central American migrants. President Trump says if talks fail, he will impose 5% tariffs on all goods coming from Mexico.



ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump says he thinks there’s a good chance that U.S. and Mexican officials can hammer out a deal on migrants. Tweeting from Air Force One today, he again said that if the talks fail, 5% tariffs would go into effect starting Monday.

In talks this week, Mexico has agreed to send National Guard troops to its southern border with Guatemala to try to slow people coming north. There has also been some talk about what’s known as a Safe Third Country Agreement, and we’ll have more on that in a moment.

For more on the talks, we are joined by NPR Mexico correspondent Carrie Kahn and diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Hello to both of you.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Ari.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Michele, let’s start with you. What do we know about the talks, and what is under discussion?

KELEMEN: Well, the big thing that’s under discussion now, it seems, is this idea that you just mentioned of a Safe Third Country Agreement. Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, explained it this way today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARC SHORT: They would say that if you’re from a country south of Mexico and you step into Mexico, it’d require that that’s where your asylum proceedings have to take place as opposed to the United States because our asylum laws are so broken.

KELEMEN: So that’s what he says they’re working on right now – this idea of keeping asylum-seekers further south down in Mexico before they come here. He says Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put this demand on the table on Wednesday when these big negotiations started here in Washington. And he says that the Mexicans have been receptive, but there’s a long way to go.

SHAPIRO: Do you know what the sticking points are?

KELEMEN: Well, the Mexicans initially opposed this big change in how the asylum rules work. They came here with their own ideas. And they’ve been arguing that the U.S. and Mexico should be working together to address the root causes of migration – poverty and violence in Central America. Those are all longer-term solutions, but the White House is really pushing for something more immediate. And they seem to be getting down to the nitty-gritty here. I mean, legal teams and experts at the State Department have been hard at work all day here.

SHAPIRO: Mexico has made some concessions this week. And, Carrie Kahn, tell us a little bit more about those – for example, these 6,000 National Guard troops that are going to Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. What do you know about that?

KAHN: Well, I think there’s a lot of questions about those troops. Foremost, where are they going to get these troops from? This National Guard was just created by the new president, and it hasn’t even gotten up and running. And estimates of it doing – at full strength aren’t until 2021. But the – also a bigger question is, where and what public security situation will they take the troops away from to send them to the border?

You know, Mexico is dealing with record rates of homicides and violence. So are they going to pull resources from fighting drug traffickers, organized crime? You know, where are they going to get these troops, and what’s going to be left out while they move them?

SHAPIRO: Up until now, what has Mexico been doing to manage the flow of migrants from Central America? The way President Trump describes it, they sort of turn a blind eye. Is that actually what Mexico’s policy has been?

KAHN: Well, I think at the border right there with Guatemala, it’s pretty wide – pretty much wide open. Migrants cross in freely. But then you come in about 20, 30 miles north in the southern town of Tapachula and a bit further. Mexican officials do attempt to round migrants up. They have been deterring them, insisting they register with authorities. It’s just – the immigration institute in Mexico has always been chronically under-resourced and underfunded and also rife with corruption. And it just had its budget slashed, too.

So – but despite that, in the last few days, Mexico has been stepping up enforcement in the south. They’ve been detaining large groups of migrants walking northward. They arrested two high-profile immigrant rights advocates who’ve been very visible in aiding migrant caravans in the past. And they also said they froze the bank accounts of 26 other individuals who are responsible for funding migrant caravans.

SHAPIRO: Michele, President Trump sometimes moves the goalposts in these kinds of negotiations. Do we know what would be required, what Mexico would have to do to satisfy the president that this emergency, as he describes it, has been addressed and the tariffs would not need to take effect?

KELEMEN: Well, that’s been a huge question hanging over all of these talks These have been discussions with lower-level officials who don’t really know what exactly the goalposts are going to be. We’re going to hear that from the president himself.

And, you know, he’s also saying he’s going to move forward with this notification of import of putting on the tariffs starting on Monday. Aides today were saying that, well, he can turn that off over the weekend if the negotiations get somewhere. But again, Ari, these are very big and problematic areas, thorny issues that take a long time to negotiate, as we’ve seen this week.

SHAPIRO: That’s NPR’s diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen and also NPR’s Carrie Kahn in Mexico. Thanks to both of you.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

KAHN: You’re welcome.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Russian Investigative Journalist Hospitalized After Arrest On Alleged Drug Crimes

Russian journalist Ivan Golunov in Moscow on October 27, 2018.

Reuters


hide caption

toggle caption

Reuters

Well-known Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov was hospitalized Saturday after two days in police custody. He was detained on Thursday and charged with attempting to sell drugs on Saturday, according to Meduza, the online news site where Golunov, 36, works.

According to police, authorities found mephedrone, a narcotic, on the journalist during a search Thursday. They say they also found additional drugs, including cocaine, along with scales, in Golunov’s apartment.

Supporters of detained journalist Ivan Golunov rally at the Moscow police headquarters on Friday, June 7.

Dmitry Serebryakov/AP


hide caption

toggle caption

Dmitry Serebryakov/AP

Golunov says the drugs were planted, according to a statement from Meduza’s CEO and editor-in-chief. The site also wrote that its correspondent was beaten in police custody and that he had to wait almost 14 hours to see his lawyer.

Russian authorities denied beating Golunov during his arrest. But on Saturday, officials announced that he was taken to a hospital after a medical examination in police custody. Independent Russian news agency Interfax reported that Golunov left the hospital Saturday and taken to a court in Moscow.

News of Golunov’s arrest prompted an outcry in Moscow, especially among journalists. Dozens gathered outside Moscow’s police headquarters on Friday.

News of Ivan’s arrest sparked a truly unprecedented outpouring of solidarity among Russian journalists. This is a picket line at Petrovka 38, Russia’s police HQ. People stand for a chance to join a rolling single-person picket — all that’s allowed by Russian law w/o a permit pic.twitter.com/qIweaZMBnH

— Alexey Kovalev (@Alexey__Kovalev) June 7, 2019

“Russia has a long history of politically motivated charges against independent reporters. Investigative journalism is treated as a crime where it ought to be viewed as a public service,” said a representative from Committee to Protect Journalists, Gulnoza Said. “We are convinced that Ivan Golunov is innocent. Moreover, we have reason to believe he’s been targeted because of his work as a journalist.”

PEN America, which advocates for free expression around the world, also weighed in: “These questionable accusations reflect the Russian government’s long-standing practice of harassing its critics via both legalistic and clearly extra-legal means, which appear to have widened as regional elections are coming in September.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Is YouTube Doing Enough To Stop Harassment Of LGBTQ Content Creators?

YouTube’s decision not to ban a right-wing vlogger for targeting a gay journalist has rekindled debates around hate speech, censorship, and whether companies “walk the walk” of supporting LGBTQ people during Pride Month.

Chris McGrath/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Editor’s note: This story contains terms that many will find offensive.

YouTube has announced it will be taking steps to remove supremacist content and will re-examine its anti-harassment policy — following days of backlash surrounding its decision not to ban a right-wing YouTuber for targeting a gay journalist.

The initial announcement came after Vox host Carlos Maza tweeted a viral thread on May 30 highlighting the racist and homophobic abuse he’s faced. Over the past few days, the company has released two blog posts saying it would review its existing policies, as well as take steps to ban content that tries to justify discrimination based on traits like sexual orientation, race and gender.

The back-and-forth tapped into a broader discussion around social media companies and what their obligation is to prevent harassment and hate speech on their platforms.

The controversy also comes at the start of LGBTQ Pride Month. So while YouTube’s support team announced that the homophobic language by right-wing YouTuber Steven Crowder — who has more than 3.8 million subscribers — against Maza didn’t violate its terms of service, the platform was also promoting rainbow and Pride-themed marketing.

That apparent disconnect touches on an ongoing criticism that social media giants benefit from the LGBTQ community without doing enough to protect those creators — many of whom say that marginalized people disproportionately shoulder the consequences when a platform doesn’t enforce its policies.

Some employees at Google, YouTube’s parent company, also seem to have indicated that they’re troubled by that dissonance, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik told Here & Now.

Since I started working at Vox, Steven Crowder has been making video after video “debunking” Strikethrough. Every single video has included repeated, overt attacks on my sexual orientation and ethnicity. Here’s a sample: pic.twitter.com/UReCcQ2Elj

— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) May 31, 2019

In his Twitter thread last week, Maza posted a montage of personal attacks he’s faced over the past two years, both from Crowder and his fans. In videos responding to Maza’s work for Vox, Crowder has repeatedly referred to Maza in derogatory ways, including calling him a “lispy sprite,” an “angry little queer” and a “gay Mexican.” (Maza is Cuban American.)

Maza has since received waves of vitriol, and had his personal phone number published online. In his store, Crowder sold a T-shirt depicting Che Guevara with a limp wrist, and a homophobic slur printed underneath. A version of that shirt with Maza’s name on it appeared on a separate online store this week.

YouTube’s support team initially replied to the thread on Tuesday, saying that although Crowder’s videos were “clearly hurtful,” he hadn’t violated the company’s policies against hate speech and harassment. The company argued that it’s vital for users to be able to express their opinions, even if they’re “deeply offensive.”

(1/4) Thanks again for taking the time to share all of this information with us. We take allegations of harassment very seriously–we know this is important and impacts a lot of people.

— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 4, 2019

As NPR’s Folkenflik explained: “As [Maza] brought up pressure, as other journalists looked at it, as a lot of them teased out inconsistencies in the way in which YouTube had enacted its policies — YouTube said we’re gonna demonetize [Crowder].”

YouTube followed up to say the decision to demonetize — or remove ads from his videos — could be reversed, if Crowder addresses “all of the issues” with his channel, which includes linking to his store that sells the Guevara T-shirt.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment further on the Crowder decision.

Update on our continued review–we have suspended this channel’s monetization. We came to this decision because a pattern of egregious actions has harmed the broader community and is against our YouTube Partner Program policies. More here: https://t.co/VmOce5nbGy

— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 5, 2019

This debate has opened up a few cans of worms.

Every minute, hundreds of hours of video is uploaded to YouTube, and the site relies heavily on algorithms and user reporting to flag inappropriate content.

Some argue that banning users for perceived harassment or hate speech amounts to censorship, and that enforcing those policies might inadvertently sweep up other content — satire, comedy, videos addressing actual hate speech.

And companies like Facebook and YouTube, both of which provide some financial support to NPR, have long argued that they’re neutral platforms, committed to free speech.

Maza says his conflict with Crowder illustrates a key problem at YouTube.

“That is not a bug in the system,” Maza says. “That’s YouTube working as it’s supposed to work. YouTube rewards engaging content. Hate speech is engaging. So YouTube rewards hate speech.”

But Maza says the issue isn’t that someone is saying mean things; it’s that others are being incited to continue harassing targets of abuse — and that platforms like YouTube continue to profit from LGBTQ people and people of color without adequately supporting them.

“It wants to create an impression that it’s a company that cares about marginalized groups, but it doesn’t want to implement policies that actually deal with the realities of how marginalized groups operate on speech platforms,” Maza said.

“When social media giants don’t enforce anti-abuse policies, the people who suffer the most are the ones who most badly need access to speech platforms. So marginalized groups, people of color, queer people,” he said.

Waves of high-profile LGBTQ creators have posted their support for Maza, including Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon and Tyler Oakley, who rose to fame on YouTube and has 7.4 million subscribers.

queer creators deserve better. shame on you, @YouTube. https://t.co/R3sozhc2zT

— tyler oakley (@tyleroakley) June 5, 2019

Other LGBTQ YouTubers have also continued to speak out about the harassment they have faced on the platform — and their frustration with its lack of response.

“We’ve seen with other platforms that if you don’t enforce these kinds of policies, what ends up happening is not that the targets of abuse and the abusers end up living in harmony,” Maza says. “It’s that the targets of the abuse leave, and the abusers end up running the platform.”

This week, activists reportedly lobbied San Francisco Pride to exclude Google from this year’s parade over the ongoing controversy.

Spokesperson Fred Lopez told NPR that San Francisco Pride is monitoring the situation and has “raised these concerns with our contacts at Google” — but said the company is a sponsor of the 2019 parade and is still a “registered contingent.”

YouTube has previously drawn criticism in 2017 and 2018, when gay and transgender creators claimed the platform was demonetizing and placing unnecessary age restrictions on their videos.

The company published a blog post in 2017 addressing the concerns, saying its algorithms “sometimes make mistakes in understanding context and nuances” when determining what videos to restrict. The company said it would update its system and promised to do better.

But reports of LGBTQ YouTubers having their content restricted surfaced again the following year. Several creators, including Chase Ross and Hank Green, said the platform was adding homophobic advertisements to videos with LGBTQ content.

The company publicly apologized for the ads in June 2018, tweeting: “It’s critical to us that the LGBTQ community feels safe, welcome, equal, and supported on YouTube. … we are committed to working with you to get this right.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Columbine Survivors Divided Over Proposal To Demolish Site Of 1999 Shooting

A proposal to demolish Columbine High School in response to a steady influx of visitors obsessed with the school’s dark past has sparked a backlash among those who survived the tragedy.

Joe Mahoney/AP


hide caption

toggle caption

Joe Mahoney/AP

In the 20 years since two gunman attacked Columbine High School, ushering in a new era in which mass shootings have become commonplace in America, the building has turned into a tourism magnet and even a source of inspiration for copycat killings.

Over the past few months, visitors hoping to glimpse the school have been coming in droves, hitting record levels.

Perhaps, it is time to demolish the school.

That is a proposal now being explored by school officials, who say visits from so-called Columbiners obsessed with the school have been growing over the years, putting security personnel on high alert. Plus, officials say, experts recommend tearing down a structure after a massacre, as many sites since Columbine have done.

“In 1999, no guidance existed on what to do with a building such as Columbine High School,” Jason Glass, the superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools, wrote in an open letter called “A New Columbine?”

“The morbid fascination with Columbine has been increasing over the years,” Glass said. “We believe it is time for our community to consider this option.”

Glass cited Sol Pais, the Columbine-obsessed Florida teen, who made her way to Colorado with a shotgun ahead of the 20-year mark since the massacre. Law enforcement launched a manhunt for her, eventually finding her after she took her own life. School districts statewide including those in Denver and Jefferson County were closed as authorities investigated the threat.

“Columbine High School has a gravitational-pull for these sorts of individuals,” Glass wrote. “Most of them are there to satisfy curiosity or a macabre, but harmless, interest in the school. For a small group of others, there is a potential intent to do harm.”

The idea has sparked a backlash from some survivors of the shooting, who say part of their healing process involves revisiting the site, whereas some longtime faculty, including the former principal, are leading the charge for the school’s destruction.

The debate has launched searching questions in Columbine that communities across the country have wrestled with regarding what to do with a place that endured such horrific memories.

Will Beck, 36, a Columbine survivor who now works as a financial adviser in Utah, said he recently took his three young children to the school to show them the bathroom he sought shelter in during the shooting. He pointed out the exact location where a teacher saved his life. And he showed them the fence he climbed to finally escape the violence.

“I was heartbroken over the thought of losing it,” Beck told NPR. “The school to me is a very special place.”

Revisiting the school shortly after the shooting, and even now with his children, helps him conquer the trauma.

“We can’t let the shooters rule our lives,” Beck said. He said he has been discussing the proposal with others in the tight-knit community of Columbine survivors.

Columbine schools officials are considering demolishing the school, but survivors of the 1999 shooting there are fighting back. “I was heartbroken of the thought of losing it,” said Will Beck, a survivor of the shooting.

Joe Mahoney/AP


hide caption

toggle caption

Joe Mahoney/AP

Others who witnessed the Columbine shooting echoed Beck’s sentiments.

“It’s not right,” Josh Lapp, 36, another survivor told NPR. “This community has had to deal with enough of a burden, to ask them to pay for this new construction isn’t fair, just because of what the shooters did.”

But Not everyone who survived the tragedy sees it the same way.

Frank DeAngelis, the principal at Columbine at the time of the shooting, is advocating for the school to be taken down.

“We are Columbine because of the people. They’re the ones with the hope and resiliency,” DeAngelis told NPR. “It’s not necessarily the bricks and the mortars.”

Demolition and relocation is how some communities have reshaped sites of mass tragedy, though others preserve memory-scarred structures and morph them into places where the lost can be remembered.

Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman killed 20 students and six adults, was demolished in 2013 and a whole new building was built on the property.

Workers use backhoes to dig through the rubble as the demolition of Sandy Hook Elementary School continues, Monday, Oct. 28, 2013. Supporters of demolishing Columbine are considering tearing tearing down the school where 13 were killed in 1999.

Jessica Hill/AP


hide caption

toggle caption

Jessica Hill/AP

Officials in Parkland, Fla., are moving toward replacing the three-story Marjory Stoneman Douglas building that was the site of the killing of 17 students and staff.

In Sutherland Springs, Texas, another approach was taken: the original site of the deadly shooting was preserved, serving now as a memorial. And officials this year opened a new church sanctuary to replace the site of a mass shooting that left two dozen people killed.

“It’s not about the building,” First Baptist Church Pastor Frank Pomeroy told NPR. “It’s about the provisions of God and what he’s done for us.”

In Orlando, the Pulse night club where 49 died is not being torn down. Instead, it is being transformed into a permanent memorial and museum.

As the Columbine community grapples with the school’s fate, the school district has released a survey to gauge whether residents are open to paying up to an estimated $70 million to finance the construction of a new high school. One option considers keeping the school’s library as the cornerstone of a new facility. The original library was where many students died in the massacre. Since then, the library has been renovated. The rest of the building, school officials say, would turn into empty fields.

The name of the school would stay the same. So would the blue and silver school colors and its Rebel mascot.

Beck, the Columbine survivor, said he hopes school officials decide to keep the 1970s-era building. News of mass shootings, he said, routinely remind him of the near-death experience he and his classmates had. When he first heard that the site might be torn down, it packed yet another emotional punch.

“There’s re-traumatizing stuff for us all the time,” Beck said. “But this was way closer to home.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

‘Magic For Liars’ Asks, What If You’re Actually Not Magic?

You are not the chosen one. You don’t get to leave your humdrum life behind and go to the mysterious school where they teach magic. You will not discover powers you never dreamed you had. The reason you don’t fit in socially is not because you’re a once-in-a-generation sorcerer. Your blemishes and aches and colds and unfulfilled longings will not miraculously fade away as you become the marvelous creature you were always meant to be. You are not magic.

But your twin sister is.

Ivy Gamble, PI, protagonist of Sarah Gailey’s Magic For Liars, has lived with disappointment for years. She wasn’t the chosen one — single and solitary in her 40s, she couldn’t be less chosen if she tried. But she’s smart and damn good at her job, and she keeps going. Until one day, she’s called into the magicians’ school — Osthorne Academy, where her brilliant sister is now a faculty member — to investigate a case no magician can crack.

Sarah Gailey’s premise had me intrigued from the start, and though it took me a while to warm up to Ivy as a narrator, I found her worth the wait. Sure, she’s bitter and thorny, but Ivy has the mordantly hilarious humor of a woman who lives by her wits, as well as a private investigator’s talent for observation and for drawing people out. Gailey lets us see Ivy’s uncertainty as she uses the skills she’s spent her years building; we feel her fierce joy when she succeeds in uncovering pieces of the puzzle, and her frustration when she knows something vital eludes her. “There was something dark there,” Ivy muses while interviewing a student, “a big shadow under the surface of the water, and I needed to see if it was a log or a crocodile.”

I think Ivy succeeds as a protagonist because, like so many women, she’s a talented person who feels like a failure because she isn’t extraordinary. Then she’s unexpectedly introduced into the world she was denied, and finds that it too has its ordinariness. Osthorne Academy For Young Mages has worn linoleum in the hallways and graffiti on the dented lockers; it has overworked administrators and teachers with the sort of geeky charm, jaded resignation and petty grudges that anyone who’s spent time around academics will recognize. Then there are the students — one of whom just might be the Chosen One (capitalized this time for maximum drama).

Here Gailey faces the fantasy author’s challenge of letting the reader know how magic works in their world. They sidestep it neatly: Ivy doesn’t understand it, so we don’t either. Gailey avoids long explanations by having Ivy pretend, for the moment, to be the magician she never was — so she, and we, rely on what students and teachers let slip. Tabitha’s field, Theoretical Magic is, we are told, “like sticking your hand into a black box that may or may not have cobras in it … And Tabitha, well. She lives in the black box.”

As we read, we find that magic has limits; that it can be dangerous; that it can’t fix everything, even your relationship with your long-estranged sister. Nor can magic help a student escape being bullied, getting ogled by a creepy teacher or getting pregnant. (Although it does come in handy if you wish to fill the school hallway with clouds shaped like male genitalia.)

You’ll have gathered by now that this isn’t … that other magical school with which every author writing about magic in this century must contend. Ivy and the people she meets exist firmly in the now. They get mugged, drink too much, swear when they need to, and deal with everyday misogyny and racism. The world has little mercy; but it does have heart, and like Ivy, it carries on despite its scars.

I don’t know whether Magic For Liars works as a crime novel; Ivy is believable as a sharp investigator, but the narrative may hand her a few too many gifts. I think it does work as an emotional story that contains magic: a tale of two sisters, each at her own turning point, heading unavoidably towards collision. The worldbuilding is solid and done with care. I do have a few reservations: The principal love interest is perhaps a little too wonderful a person, and the only specifically African American character on the staff — the formidable Mrs. Webb — is a source of scalpel-sharp insight and unexpected power, whose portrayal skates perilously close to magical stereotype.

Ultimately, though, Magic For Liars is a good read. When any of us reads a story about magic, we’re always on the outside looking in, no matter how magical we wish we were. It’s refreshing to find a story in which the narrator is stuck out here with us.

Liza Graham is a mezzo-soprano, writer, translator and Shakespearean text coach, born in Washington, D.C., and living in London.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)