Opinion: One reader’s profile in courage in a time of powerful men dodging accountability

Protester carrying a #MeToo sign
A protester carries a sign with the #MeToo hashtag during the Women’s March in Seattle in 2018.
(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
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Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion. First, a warning before reading further: This newsletter discusses an incident of sexual assault.

Once in a while a person comes along who is so dramatically different from the unsavory names drawing news coverage — think the Donald Trumps of the world, and sadly, more on him in a bit — that she deserves a bright spotlight for being such a strong profile in courage. One of those people made herself known to us in Opinion recently, so we gave her a platform in our “Hear Me Out” video series.

Make no mistake: What prompted Shira Scott Astrof of Los Angeles to sit down at her keyboard and write a letter asking us to help her tell her story was the worst kind of trauma. She told us she had been raped years ago and wanted to speak out and write about her experience trying to testify against her alleged attacker. My colleague Karen Foshay interviewed her on camera and accompanied Astrof to court the day she was set to testify in a preliminary hearing in Los Angeles.


What came from that was a “Hear Me Out” video showing one of the most moving displays of strength, bravery and determination I’ve ever seen. Her story contrasts sharply with the pettiness and dishonesty put on display by the men dominating our attention now, and it gives hope that determined, caring people can bring accountability where it’s desperately needed. You can watch Astrof’s video and read her full letter here. Below is an excerpt of Astrof’s letter:

“The morning I testified, I was trembling from head to toe. I was terrified that I would leave the courtroom in tears and regret from being told repeatedly how scary it would be.

“But that’s not what happened at all. I was questioned for two hours and I could have stayed on the stand for even longer because it felt so good to finally be heard — so much so that when the attorney for the defense said ‘no further questions,’ I was disappointed.

“It may shock people to hear this, but I am glad this happened to me. Because predators need to be stopped. I want to use my personal experience to embolden survivors to testify. I am proof that you can leave that courtroom feeling empowered.

“We all banded together under the #MeToo banner; now let us stand up to our rapists and say #NoMore.”

Trump’s outlandish legal maneuvers are backfiring with the federal judge in the Jan. 6 case. When the former president’s lawyer responded to the Justice Department’s request to start the trial next January, he absurdly suggested April ... of 2026. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan wisely set a start date of March 4, 2024, after entertaining Trump’s specious argument about the volume of discovery in this case. The Trump attorney’s “saber-rattling this early in the case might please the client, but it will do nothing to mend bridges with the judge,” writes former U.S. attorney Harry Litman.


Her family kept secrets. “Oppenheimer” drives home how complex those secrets were. When a historian at the Los Alamos Historical Society contacted her out of the blue in 2011, writer Francesca Smithwick-Driver was dumbfounded by what she was told: that she was descended from settlers of the Pajarito Plateau in northern New Mexico. She went on to discover that her Irish grandparents settled on the site of today’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, land that was “by no means vacant when the government chose the area for the Los Alamos facility and evicted the people” in 1942.

She can’t afford to pay parking tickets, so her car got towed and it upended her life. The week Lesley Turner moved into her L.A. apartment, the parking citations arrived — $58 for an expired meter here, $95 for a no-stopping violation there. The debt built quickly, and the city eventually towed her car — which she discovered when she was leaving to pick up her daughter for a possible medical emergency. Turner hopes that Assembly Bill 1082, which would end so-called poverty towing, passes in California, and people who depend on their cars don’t have to worry about suddenly losing their livelihoods.

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How L.A. can build more housing without looking like New York. Density-wise, Los Angeles is between a rock and a hard place: It’s too spread out to make rail transit self-sufficient but too packed-in for efficient, trouble-free car travel. UCLA urban planning professor Michael Lens suggests another way: “We don’t need to build condo towers or skyscraper apartment buildings to house everyone. The path to a more livable and equitable future is clear: Allow more housing in a diversity of well-connected neighborhoods, and L.A. can still remain L.A.”

There’s no place like America for gun violence. A racist man shoots three Black shoppers dead at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Fla. Five members of a family — three children and their parents — are found dead in their home in Ohio, victims of an apparent murder-suicide. A retired police sergeant tries to kill his wife but ends up shooting three others dead at a roadhouse in Orange County. In each case, the guns used to kill were believed to have been acquired lawfully. Says The Times’ editorial board: “The American people, their politicians, their courts and their culture have made this nation the planet’s preeminent place to target people for death because of their race — or for any other reason.”

More from this week in opinion

From our columnists

From the Op-Ed desk

From the Editorial Board

Letters to the Editor

A final note: If you’ve made it this far and are still reading, there’s a good chance you were one of the readers who sent their condolences in response to last week’s newsletter. So many emails arrived that I couldn’t get back to the writers individually, but know that I did read the messages and appreciate them immensely. Thank you for your kindness.

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