Londoner Tom Lamont spent months reporting — talking to residents, grieving family members, firefighters and their families, community members, recovery workers, and more — to produce this GQ piece on the ins, outs, and aftermath of the the Grenfell Tower disaster. As London spends billions to strip the flammable cladding off other buildings around the city, the people involved with Grenfell Towers are still trying to find peace (or maybe absolution) for the decisions they made during the fire.
Firefighters that night led, carried, and dragged residents away from the fire. And they left residents behind to it. They made hundreds of no-win decisions on June 14, about whether to help those in peril in the stairwell or whether to push on past and try to make it to those farther up. The handing over of a firefighter’s breathing equipment to civilians (always a dangerous temptation) is forbidden by the London Fire Brigade—but it happened, I was told, and it was later forgiven, part of a brigade-wide amnesty on those everyday procedures ignored by firefighters in in this frenzied, dirty, impossible evacuation.
Outside, firefighters had to aim water hoses at one of their own trucks, which had been ignited by all the falling cladding. For many of the evacuating residents, the most terrifying parts of their escape took place once they were outside, running through the area directly in front of the building, which had become a no-man’s-land of tumbling metal. Firefighters began making shuttle runs back and forth, ferrying out evacuees under riot shields.
At 2 A.M., 3 A.M., 4 A.M., hours after the first firefighters had arrived, residents were still trapped. Still waving, still shouting: “Fucking help me.” By 5 A.M., hardly any people were visible in Grenfell’s windows. Firefighters on the ground held their heads, and panted, and were dismally honest with one another: “We’re not going to get everybody out.” When, earlier in the night, they saw a man on the 14th floor, hanging from a windowsill, knotted bedsheets trailing beneath him, they screamed at him to get back inside.
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Doug Bock Clark | Longreads | November 2017 | 6,868 words
From his tent in the illegal shantytown carved out of a Bangladeshi forest, 25-year-old Abdul watched as men, women, and children limped into the refugee camp, gaunt from not eating for days. They were his people, the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority that has been widely called the world’s most persecuted people. Abdul had arrived in the camps ten months earlier, when 66 thousand refugees fled the neighboring country of Myanmar in the last months of 2016. Nearly a year later, the Rohingya were once again on the run, with hundreds of thousands fleeing to Bangladesh through grooves worn in the swamps made by the more than 1 million refugees who had preceded them over seven decades.
The most recent violence began on August 25, 2017, when armed Rohingya groups attacked as many as 30 Burmese police and military posts near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. The army’s retaliation had been swift, with soldiers razing more than 200 villages, causing about 600 thousand Rohingya to flee. The refugees told stories of Burmese soldiers ambushing their villages, raping the women, and shooting the men or decapitating them with knives. They described landmines being laid along the well-known escape routes. Each morning, corpses of Rohingya who had drowned trying to cross the mile-wide Naf River, which divides Myanmar from Bangladesh, washed onto the shore where they had once sought safety.
Abdul called the new arrivals into his shelter, which was made of discarded plastic stretched over bamboo slats, though all he could offer them was a spot on the red-clay floor. Soon, 30 people were occupying just 80 square feet. But they counted themselves lucky: Most new arrivals slept under monsoon-season skies. Nearly a million Rohingya now crammed into a narrow peninsula on the southern tip of Bangladesh, almost all of them in squatter settlements ringing the U.N.-run camps, which have been at capacity for decades. Eventually, Abdul’s tent became so crowded that he had to bed down at a nearby mosque. But having made a similar escape with shrapnel embedded in his shoulder just 10 months earlier, Abdul felt he had to help.
For many, it seems like an easy choice: You check the donor box on your driver’s license and feel a vague sense of philanthropy. “If anything happens to me, at least what’s left will be used in a meaningful way.”
Two Reuters reporters traced what happens with those “donated to science” bodies. It’s gruesome and predatory and largely unregulated. Stop here if you’re squeamish.
Outside Southern Nevada’s suburban warehouse, the circumstances were far from comforting. In the fall of 2015, neighboring tenants began complaining about a mysterious stench and bloody boxes in a Dumpster. That December, local health records show, someone contacted authorities to report odd activity in the courtyard.
Health inspectors found a man in medical scrubs holding a garden hose. He was thawing a frozen human torso in the midday sun.
This is the “body broker” market. It’s different from the federally regulated tissue and organ donor market — the market that provides, say, a liver to a waiting patient.
The body broker market is a for profit industry selling body parts for medical training. Brokers often source those bodies — body parts, really — from the poor, offering partial cremation in exchange for the opportunity to sell off what’s left.
The industry’s business model hinges on access to a large supply of free bodies, which often come from the poor. In return for a body, brokers typically cremate a portion of the donor at no charge. By offering free cremation, some deathcare industry veterans say, brokers appeal to low-income families at their most vulnerable. Many have drained their savings paying for a loved one’s medical treatment and can’t afford a traditional funeral.
“People who have financial means get the chance to have the moral, ethical and spiritual debates about which method to choose,” said Dawn Vander Kolk, an Illinois hospice social worker. “But if they don’t have money, they may end up with the option of last resort: body donation.”
Few rules mean few consequences when bodies are mistreated. In the Southern Nevada case, officials found they could do little more than issue a minor pollution citation to one of the workers involved. Southern Nevada operator Joe Collazo, who wasn’t cited, said he regretted the incident. He said the industry would benefit from oversight that offers peace of mind to donors, brokers and researchers.
“To be honest with you, I think there should be regulation,” said Collazo. “There’s too much gray area.”
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From the evening of October 9, 2014 to the early morning of October 10, 35-year-old Cecilia Lam called the police eight times to report that an ex-boyfriend named Cedric Young, Jr. was harassing her. Officers showed up at Lam’s apartment multiple times but ultimately were unable to stop Young from killing Lam and turning the gun on himself. Why? In the San Francisco Chronicle, Vivian Ho investigates what happened during the nine hours that led to Lam’s senseless death:
At 8:37 p.m., Cecilia made her first call to 911.
“My boyfriend and I, we’re pretty much fighting right now and I’m asking him to leave my home,” she told the dispatcher. “And he will not leave. … It’s starting to escalate.”
Young had been drinking all day, she said, then quickly added, “He’s actually leaving now.”
“Do you want me to send the police?” the dispatcher asked.
“No,” Cecilia responded. “I think we’re OK.”
But by 9:14, she was on the phone to 911 again, and then again at 9:33 p.m., describing an “escalating domestic violence issue.” Young was back and ringing the doorbell, over and over again.
“I’m getting more scared,” Cecilia said in the third call. “I don’t know if he’s going to break in.”
Ramirez dialed 911 around the same time. “I’m calling to straight up say this guy is insane and he’s trying to get inside,” he reported.
Dispatchers flagged the incident as a “418 DV,” a domestic violence dispute. As Lam made her third call to 911, Officers Adam Lobsinger and Chhungmeng Tov from Southern Station pulled up to the building. They began talking with Young, who had halted his frenzied attempts to get into the apartment.
Lobsinger would write in his report that Young seemed calm and “in good spirits.” Young told him “it was nothing more than couples arguing.”
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