In This Episode
- This year’s Olympics is like no other, taking place in the midst of a pandemic, and in a city under a state of emergency in response to rising COVID-19 cases. We talked to The Washington Post’s Ava Wallace about what it’s like to report on the games this year, but also, the overall experience for her, for athletes, and for Tokyo residents at-large.
- Democratic donor Ed Buck was convicted in federal court on Tuesday in connection with the death-by-overdose of two Black gay men who he injected with methamphetamine. We discuss the significance of the conviction, and what the long road to accountability says about the way our justice system treats Black gay men.
- And in headlines: Tunisia’s president seizes judicial power, Activision Blizzard employees stage a walkout, and Hobby Lobby’s $1.6M Gilgamesh tablet is confiscated by the government.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Thursday, July 29th. I’m Gideon Resnick.
Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
Gideon Resnick: And this is What A Day, where we’re looking for a new apartment in a sports stadium that we can live in like Kanye.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yes. You know, the smell of a locker room after the game is what I need to motivate me to be my most creative self.
Gideon Resnick: If I am not within 30 feet of a Nathan’s hot dog, I can’t work. Sorry. OK, first things first here, Tre’vell, you have been with us regularly for the past month, that is not a coincidence because let’s go ahead and make this thing official. You are a permanent part of the WAD squad. It is time for the ceremonial tattoo and our regular blood sacrifice.
Tre’vell Anderson: Well, I don’t remember that being in the contract, but I am excited to be here. Also excited for you, Gideon, and all the folks that are listening because you will be able to get some of my brilliance every Thursday for the foreseeable future. So buckle up.
Gideon Resnick: That is what we are looking for. It has been truly amazing to have you join us and we are excited for that brilliance to be with us regularly. OK, on today’s show, Congress has apparently come together on an infrastructure deal. Plus, employees at Activision Blizzard staged a walkout.
Tre’vell Anderson: But first, a dispatch from the Tokyo Olympics:
[clip of Ava Wallace] I spit in a tube now every four days. Yeah, it’s the thing I look forward to the most.
Gideon Resnick: Yes. So context there. That is my dear friend Ava Wallace, an amazing reporter for The Washington Post who has been in Tokyo covering the Olympics and doing what she just said. And I caught up with her yesterday to learn about the protocols that she’s had to take to cover the games, like frequent testing, but also the overall experience for her, for athletes, and the city at large. To refresh here, Tokyo is currently in a state of emergency in response to rising COVID cases. And just yesterday, the city logged its highest number of new positive cases ever, even as no Olympic athletes did. And Tre’vell, for people like Wallace, there are a lot of precautions that are in place, of course—some that are adhered to strictly, others that are less so. She told me, for instance, about this Japanese government app on her phone that has her medical info and where she is supposed to record her temperature, and another app actually, that tracks her movement at all times. But Wallace also said these rules that she follows put her in a kind of fragile bubble while the rest of Tokyo suffers.
[clip of Ava Wallace] I was talking to one of my friends who’s a Japanese reporter last night, and she was saying, so basically they’ve jacked up highway tolls to try to dissuade people from adding to Olympic traffic and stuff like that. And she was like, yeah, so I got on the subway and everybody’s on the subway! Because we can’t drive anywhere. Yeah. So it’s just, it seems to be this, like dichotomy that kind of doesn’t really square of like you’re doing all these COVID measures that don’t seem to be that well-enforced or seem to be protecting the people in this country
Tre’vell Anderson: Wow. Governments not knowing how to protect people? What a concept. So if that’s what she goes through as a reporter, what does this mean for the athletes? Because they obviously have had to go through testing, too, but there have been no spectators to provide them that, you know, outside joy and energy either.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, one example that she talked about was how much of a bummer it was for people to miss out in person on Japanese athletes that are winning all these medals.
[clip of Ava Wallace] It’s definitely very sad, mainly because Japan keeps like, they keep winning really incredible stuff like the softball game versus the USA. I mean, we, all of us were saying like, oh, my God, the crowd would be going insane. Like I covered Japan men’s basketball’s first game since 1976. Like that would have been so awesome to have fans in that arena. I guess the thing that makes me a little weepy is like you still see the emotion on the athlete’s faces. Like, yes, it would be very different, but like, it’s so awesome to watch people win Olympic medals. Like, it’s still really, really cool. So you definitely wish people could be there to see it.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, there definitely seems to be a different energy to the Olympic Games this year because of that. And the challenge, right, of these Olympics is that these pandemic-driven factors are coming on top of the enormous pressure that is already there for these athletes. That led to this big conversation about mental health, driven largely by gymnast Simone Biles. She withdrew from the team finals earlier this week and from today’s individual all-around competition.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s right. And in some of the comments that Biles was making, she talked about having a case of the, quote unquote, “twisties.” And in gymnastics, that’s basically losing where you physically are mid-air, which is obviously terrifying and really dangerous for Boles, who already performs some of the sport’s most challenging skills. And then that kind of gets inside your head and is sometimes also random in terms of when it can actually happen. And Wallace told me that the Olympic community overall rallied around Biles, and that they felt like they could easily relate to that sentiment.
[clip of Ava Wallace] Was there some sort of mental block where all of a sudden she’s just starting to overthink all of the moves that she’s done, you know, for the previous however many years of her life. Like kind of shocking amount, number of Olympians that I was talking today, other Olympians brought that up, like, yeah, that’s happened to me a lot. Where the things that you do every day over and over and over again, one little tweak can go wrong, one minor circumstance can change and all of a sudden it’s completely different, or you’re just thinking way too much about it, or you’re feeling so much about it. So I think that kind of folds into this cauldron of pressure that is the Olympic Games, and like just what these athletes kind of have to do day in and day out.
Tre’vell Anderson: I’m definitely not sure I would want to, you know, shoulder that level of pressure.
Gideon Resnick: No, absolutely not. And one more thing that Wallace told me that I thought was kind of interesting, or her view on this whole thing—she was talking about the fact that on top of all that extraordinary pressure, if there could be even more for all of these athletes, she was mentioning that Biles and other Black female athletes are under even more.
[clip of Ava Wallace] I also thought about Samon Manual, the Black U.S. swimmer, who said, you know, she had an awful time with the pandemic and just kind of like couldn’t train, and has been forcing herself to swim and still doing it. I thought about Sha’Carri Richardson, who, you know, was dealing with the loss of her mother and smoked a joint and got, you know, the 30-day suspension that got her kicked off the team. It’s like we now as a society latch on to a lot of these Black women in the way that we didn’t before for a multitude of reasons. But we haven’t caught up in giving Black women better access to mental health resources or to getting Black women in the upper echelon of national sporting federations so that, you know, there are higher-ups and people with actual power in your sport who were advocating for you and stuff like that, like there’s no safety net. But more and more, we’re kind of elevating these Black athletes and Black women in particular as the saviors of their sport.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, there definitely has been a lot of conversation lately about this particular aspect, the ways in which we uplift these Black women, but like don’t provide necessary support for them.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. So we’re going to have a link in our show notes to a story about what those twisties are, as well as Ava’s reporting and her social media. And hopefully have her back on soon. Turning back to the U.S., Tre’vell, there’s a story that you’ve been following out of Los Angeles—it is pretty grisly—and it’s about the deaths of two Black men. So tell us what happened there.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yes. So on Tuesday, well-known Democratic donor Ed Buck was convicted in federal court in connection with the death-by-overdose of two Black gay men, 26-year old Gemmel Moore, who died in 2017, and 55-year old Timothy Dean, who died in 2019. A jury found Buck guilty of supplying the methamphetamine that killed Moore and Dean in his West Hollywood apartment.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and this is a really, really shocking story, also because of how much it took to get justice for these victims. And Ed Buck just seemed to sort of evade the law for so long. So can you give us more of the backstory?
Tre’vell Anderson: For sure. So Ed Buck, prior to this case, was known in the L.A. area and beyond as a vocal activist for various causes. Back in the ’80s, for example, he gained national attention for successfully spearheading the effort to impeach Arizona’s then-governor, Evan Mecham. He eventually made his way to West Hollywood and unsuccessfully ran for city council back in 2007, but still maintained a presence in relevant political circles. According to the Los Angeles Times, from 2009 to 2019, Buck donated more than $525,000 to local, state and federal campaigns, with his main focus on LGBTQ rights and animal rights. Apparently, he really loves golden retrievers or something like that. Turns out, though, he also has an obsession with exploiting and abusing Black gay men.
Gideon Resnick: Right. And this was the focus of the trial. So tell us more about the events that led to his conviction.
Tre’vell Anderson: So in 2017, the body of Gemmel Moore was found in Buck’s apartment, along with nearly two grams of meth, syringes and other drug paraphernalia. Though his death was initially ruled accidental, Moore’s family and local activists raised concerns that Buck might have administered the drugs himself. Those allegations were confirmed by a journal that was found in Gemmel’s belongings, in which he wrote, quote, “I’ve become addicted to drugs and the worst one at that. Ed Buck is the one to thank. He gave me my first injection of crystal meth.”
Gideon Resnick: That is horrifying and so sad.
Tre’vell Anderson: And none of this, by the way, seemingly was enough to charge Ed Buck at the time. Then two years later, another Black gay man was found dead in Buck’s apartment: Timothy Dean. He also died from a drug overdose. Mind you, Buck was apparently known for soliciting men, often targeting those who engaged in survival sex work or houseless. And he advertised his interest in ‘party and play’ on the gay hookup site, Adam4Adam. ‘Party and play’ for the straights listening is a term in community to mean like the use of drugs during sexual encounters.
Gideon Resnick: Right. And so despite these deaths, it still took so much public pressure for Buck to get charged. I think I know why, but tell us why.
Tre’vell Anderson: According to activists, they say it’s because Buck was a well-connected white man. Surprise, surprise. Not to mention, in case folks haven’t been paying attention over the last year in particular, there are a lot of people who don’t really care about Black folks, especially if you’re queer or a sex worker or houseless or poor. Here’s journalist and advocate Jasmyne Cannick, who has kept this story alive for the past four years, just moments after the verdict was read out.
[clip of Jasmyne Cannick] We have a council member behind you at city hall named Paul Koretz, who told a group of people that all of Ed Buck’s victims were nothing but disadvantaged Black hustlers. And that is how a lot of the politicians looked at his victims, which is why they, like Paul Koretz, never returned his money, never even tried to acknowledge this case. Boo on the Democratic Party, of which I’m a member of, because like Sammy said, it wasn’t just the investigators and the sheriff’s department, it was the politicians, it was the media worried about getting sued by Ed Buck. It was everybody. And so I think we all feel vindicated today.
Gideon Resnick: Wow.
Tre’vell Anderson: Ed Buck’s victims, by the way, include numerous Black gay men beyond Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean—those are just the names of the folks who died that we know of. I should also note that local prosecutors declined to charge Ed Buck at a point. It was only after a third man’s near-fatal overdose at the hands of Buck in 2019 that he was arrested and eventually charged by federal prosecutors with a total of nine felonies.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, wow. And he was convicted on all of those counts earlier this week. So what did protesters and the victim’s friends and family have to say?
Gideon Resnick: Let’s take a listen to Gemmel Moore’s mother and Timothy Dean’s sisters moments after the verdict was read out.
[clip of Gemmel Moore’s mother]] Today is bittersweet. Today is the date that my son was murdered when he left my house four years ago. But we got a victory today . . . as I leave L.A. going back home, I thank everybody that has helped keep us strong throughout the three weeks that we’ve been here.
[voice clip] Ed Buck, I’m so happy that he will never see the light of day again. This trial was overwhelming and it was grueling. This man did some terrible things to human beings.
Gideon Resnick: As you can hear, they were happy with the case’s outcome, and that book is finally being held accountable. Though a sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled, Buck faces between 20 years to life in federal prison.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and Tre’vell, this is a story that you followed for many years now. So what are your own thoughts about all of this?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I was still working at the L.A. Times during Gemmel Moore’s death, and I remember how difficult it was to get any sort of substantive coverage of this story.
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Tre’vell Anderson: This is one of those instances where classism and privilege and racism and homophobia all intersect, and is just but one example of the forms of violence and marginalization that Black LGBTQ+ people specifically sometimes experience. And so I’ll just leave it at a quote that Jasmyne Cannick recently tweeted, which was, quote, “I hope that Black gay men everywhere know that it doesn’t matter if they’re sex workers, escorts, gay, HIV+, poor, unhoused or even addicted to meth— their life matters.” And that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after a few ads.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Tre’vell Anderson: Tunisia is facing a lot of political uncertainty as the country’s president continues to oust even more top government officials. Over the weekend, President Kais Saied fired the country’s prime minister and suspended the elected parliament for a month. Just yesterday, Saied purged senior officials from office, including prosecutors and judges, clearing the way for him to take on certain judicial powers. His moves have been widely described as a coup, considering that he threatened the use of military force and used his authority to influence critical media outlets. But a majority of Tunisians have been supportive thus far. Before the political crackdown, hundreds of people took to the streets to protest against the government’s handling of the pandemic, SAID used this sentiment against the unpopular ruling party as a justification for his decisions.
Gideon Resnick: A bipartisan group of senators finally reached a deal on an infrastructure package, and they voted to take it up yesterday with 17 Republicans on board. The bill is expected to be around $1.2 trillion over the next eight years. Some of the items that are in it include 110 billion for roads, bridges and other projects, 73 billion for power and clean energy, and 66 billion for trains and rails. According to the senators involved, it will be partially paid for by funds from combating fraud in unemployment assistance programs. The Congressional Budget Office will also determine the price tag soon as well. In a separate bill, Senate Democrats are trying to come to an agreement on a $3.5 trillion spending package, which includes what Biden has been calling, quote, “human infrastructure,” things like health care programs, child care, and climate change provisions—the little things we have to think about.
Gideon Resnick: Activision Blizzard employees in Irvine, California, staged a walkout yesterday, demanding more equitable working conditions for women and other marginalized groups. The organizers have four demands for management, including ending mandatory arbitration clauses in employee contracts, improving diversity, equity and inclusion policies, publishing compensation data, and hiring third party H.R. auditors. This comes after California sued the company last week for the company’s, quote, “pervasive frat boy culture of sexual harassment and rampant discrimination.” Activision initially claimed that the lawsuit contained distorted descriptions of Blizzard’s past and its original response, but has since announced they will be investigating each claim and taking decisive action.
Gideon Resnick: The country’s nosiest arts and crafts store, Hobby Lobby, had to forfeit a religious artifact worth $1.6 million. In 2014, the company purchased a 3,500-year old clay tablet inscribed with part of the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is one of the earliest known works of literature. Hobby Lobby intended to display the piece in the Museum of the Bible, which is a project conceived by the company’s billionaire evangelical Christian president—as you all know. That wasn’t part of the divine plan, however, because the Department of Justice determined in 2020 that the tablet had been brought to the US illegally and actually belonged to the government of Iraq. Hobby Lobby handed over the tablet this Monday. Outside of watercolors, motivational cross stitches, things made out of wicker, and limiting women’s rights, Hobby Lobby has dabbled in stolen artifacts for a while. Back in 2017, the company paid a three million dollar fine and returned thousands of other artifacts to Iraq.
Tre’vell Anderson: I’m still stuck on the Museum of the Bible. Do we need that?
Gideon Resnick: I think that I’m personally good. I will not be getting tickets, but yeah, that’s just me. And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go, if you haven’t heard yet, somehow you haven’t been paying attention, we at What A Day want your opinions. We want to know more about you, what you think of our show, and what we can do to make it better for you. If you love it, tell us. If you hate it, yeah, OK, still tell us. And as a ‘thank you’ we are offering a 20% discount on any order from the Crooked store for everyone who fills out the survey. You can find the survey at Crooked.com/survey.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you’d like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, cheer for us if we are ever in the Olympics, and tell your friends to listen.
Tre’vell Anderson: And, if you’re into reading, and not just rental listings for apartments in stadiums like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And hands off my ancient artifacts, Hobby Lobby!
Gideon Resnick: We will not be going to this museum. We are totally good. I’m going to keep the artifacts.
Tre’vell Anderson: Well, Iraq is going to keep the artifacts, actually.
Gideon Resnick: [laughs] Yes, they will have the final say.
Akilah Hughes: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media.
Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded and mixed Charlotte Landes.
Akilah Hughes: Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers.
Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran, Akilah Hughes and me.
Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.