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Somali who was target of threats wins US municipal election
Wed, November 6, 2019 02:01 EST
LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — The second-largest city in Maine, home to thousands of African newcomers, has elected a Somali American to its city council.
Safiya Khalid, 23, soundly defeated a fellow Democrat on Tuesday for a seat on the Lewiston City Council in a campaign that was marred in the final days by nasty attacks and threats fueled by social media.
Shrugging off the attacks, Khalid declared that her victory is proof that “community organizers beat internet trolls.”
A photo of Khalid flipping off the camera when she was a high school freshman and references to her opponent being taunted were featured in the online attacks, most of which originated outside of Maine.
She said she was being silly with a friend who had a phone. “I was a child,” she said. “I was 15. I didn’t know any better.”
The hateful messages that poured in from across the country attacked her religion and her skin color, she said. Someone said she should be stoned. Another person shared her home address on a Facebook group.
“My reaction was how can people be so mean and full of hate? I was left speechless. It was all about intimidation,” she said.
She deleted the Facebook app from her phone and deactivated her Twitter account. Then she focused on continuing to knock on doors whenever she wasn’t at her job as a caseworker for a nonprofit agency.
Maine is the nation’s whitest state, but it is home to a growing population of Africans who’ve fled their homeland.
On Election Day, first- and second-generation candidates from four African countries — Somalia, Congo, Ghana and Nigeria — won seats on city councils and school committees across the state, said Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.
“It was a historic night for us,” she said. “We’re delighted.”
Somalis began moving to Lewiston two decades ago in search of affordable housing after many settled in Portland. The city of 36,000, second in population in Maine only to Portland, is now home to more than 5,000 Africans.
For her part, Khalid was born in Somalia and remembers living in a refugee camp before coming to the United States.
She said she’s excited about bringing greater diversity to city government. As a council member, she wants to ensure that there’s affordable housing that’s free from lead contamination, which is a problem in the city’s older housing stock. She wants to boost aging infrastructure, bring in investment, and support local businesses.
She also wants to boost schools. “When I came here, I didn’t know how to write my name or speak any word of English. I am who I am because of public education. Our children deserve the highest-quality education,” she said.
EarthLink – News
Kansas City votes to remove King’s name from historic street
By MARGARET STAFFORD | Wed, November 6, 2019 12:42 EST
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved removing Dr. Martin Luther King’s name from one of the city’s most historic boulevards, less than a year after the city council decided to rename The Paseo for the civil rights icon.
Unofficial results showed the proposal to remove King’s name received nearly 70% of the vote, with just over 30% voting to retain King’s name.
The debate over the name of the 10-mile (16.1 kilometer) boulevard on the city’s mostly black east side began shortly after the council’s decision in January to rename The Paseo for King. Civil rights leaders who pushed for the change celebrated when the street signs went up, believing they had finally won a decades-long battle to honor King, which appeared to end Kansas City’s reputation as one of the largest U.S. cities in the country without a street named for him.
But a group of residents intent on keeping The Paseo name began collecting petitions to put the name change on the ballot and achieved that goal in April.
The campaign has been divisive, with supporters of King’s name accusing opponents of being racist, while supporters of The Paseo name say city leaders pushed the name change through without following proper procedures and ignored The Paseo’s historic value.
Emotions reached a peak Sunday, when members of the “Save the Paseo” group staged a silent protest at a get-out-the-vote rally at a black church for people wanting to keep the King name. They walked into the Paseo Baptist Church and stood along its two aisles. The protesters stood silently and did not react to several speakers that accused them of being disrespectful in a church but they also refused requests from preachers to sit down.
The Save the Paseo group collected 2,857 signatures in April — far more than the 1,700 needed — to have the name change put to a public vote.
Many supporters of the Martin Luther King name suggested the opponents are racist, saying Save the Paseo is a mostly white group and that many of its members don’t live on the street, which runs north to south through a largely black area of the city. They said removing the name would send a negative image of Kansas City to the rest of the world, and could hurt business and tourism.
Supporters of the Paseo name rejected the allegations of racism, noting that many black residents backed their efforts and saying they have respect for King and want the city to find a way to honor him. They opposed the name change because they say the City Council did not follow city charter procedures when making the change and didn’t notify most residents on the street about the proposal. Former council member Alissa Canady, who is black, was among those who said the process disenfranchised the mostly black residents of the boulevard.
Supporters of the Paseo name said it is a historic name for the city’s first boulevard, which was completed in 1899. The north end of the boulevard is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The City Council voted in January to rename the boulevard for King, responding to a yearslong effort from the city’s black leaders and pressure from the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights organization that King helped start.
U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a minister and former Kansas City mayor who has pushed the city to rename a street for King for years, was at Sunday’s rally. He said the protesters were welcome, but he asked them to consider the damage that would be done if Kansas City removed King’s name.
“I am standing here simply begging you to sit down. This is not appropriate in a church of Jesus Christ,” Cleaver told the group.
Tim Smith, who organized the protest, said it was designed to force the black Christian leaders who had mischaracterized the Save the Paseo group as racist to “say it to our faces.”
“If tonight, someone wants to characterize what we did as hostile, violent, or uncivil, it’s a mischaracterization of what happened,” Smith said. “We didn’t say anything, we didn’t do anything, we just stood.”
The Rev. Vernon Howard, president of the Kansas City chapter of the SCLU, told The Associated Press that the King street sign is a powerful symbol for everyone but particularly for black children.
“I think that only if you are a black child growing up in the inner city lacking the kind of resources, lacking the kinds of images and models for mentoring, modeling, vocation and career, can you actually understand what that name on that sign can mean to a child in this community,” Howard said.
If the sign were taken down, “the reverse will be true,” he said.
“What people will wonder in their minds and hearts is why and how something so good, uplifting and edifying, how can something like that be taken away?” he said.
But Diane Euston, a leader of the Save the Paseo group, said that The Paseo “doesn’t just mean something to one community in Kansas City.”
“It means something to everyone in Kansas City,” she said. “It holds kind of a special place in so many people’s hearts and memories. It’s not just historical on paper, it’s historical in people’s memory. It’s very important to Kansas City.”
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Prosecutors charge man with hate crime in acid attack
By IVAN MORENO | Wed, November 6, 2019 06:35 EST
MILWAUKEE (AP) — A 61-year-old white Milwaukee man accused of throwing acid on a Hispanic man’s face will be charged with a hate crime, increasing the possible sentence he may receive if convicted, prosecutors announced Wednesday.
Prosecutors filed one charge against Clifton Blackwell — first-degree reckless injury — but added the sentencing enhancers of hate crime and use of a dangerous weapon. The two enhancers could add 10 years in prison if he’s convicted of first-degree reckless injury, which is punishable by up to 25 years.
The victim, Mahud Villalaz, 42, said his attacker approached him near a restaurant Friday night and confronted him about being parked too close to a bus stop, according to charging documents. Prosecutors said Blackwell then asked, “Why did you invade my country?” and “Why don’t you respect my laws?”
Villalaz said he moved his car but that Blackwell continued to berate him, calling him “illegal” and telling him to “go back, go back,” followed by an expletive. Villalaz said he called Blackwell a racist, also using an expletive. Villalaz said Blackwell threw the acid on him after Villalaz said “everyone come from somewhere first” and that American Indians had been in the country the longest.
Surveillance video from the restaurant recorded the attack, which left Villalaz with second-degree burns on his face.
Villalaz is a U.S. citizen who immigrated from Peru.
Blackwell made his first court appearance Wednesday to be advised of the charges he faces. Bond was set at $20,000 but it’s on the condition he wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. He’s still being held at the Milwaukee County jail and his public defender did not immediately return a call.
The attack on Villalaz comes at a time when the Anti-Defamation League says extreme anti-immigrant views have become part of the political mainstream in recent years through sharp rhetoric by anti-immigration groups and politicians, including President Donald Trump.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Monday that the Trump administration has repeatedly condemned racism and violence.
Investigators who searched Blackwell’s home found among other things four bottles of sulfuric acid, muriatic acid, and two bottles of Kleen-Out drain opener that was 100 % lye, according to the search warrant. Additional conditions for his bond are that he have no contact with acids or large batteries, or possess dangerous weapons or firearms. His next court appearance is Nov. 15.
Before filing the charge, Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm said during an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio that his office was looking to determine whether the attack was motivated “in whole or in part” based on the victim’s race. He said prosecutors would look “very closely first at the underlying offenses and then we’ll make a determination whether the facts support the hate crime.”
“But it’s obviously a concern to many people not just in this community but really around the country right now,” he said.
Just as Blackwell was in court, Villalaz spoke briefly to reporters to say he was pleased with the charges and thankful for “the people that have worried about me.” He said Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin called him to say she was “very sad” about what happened and offered to help however she can.
His mother, Jacqueline P. Blackwell, of California, told the Journal Sentinel he had sought care with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Milwaukee for post-traumatic stress.
“I was comfortable that he was getting good care with the VA,” she told the newspaper.
His brother, Arthur Eugene Blackwell of Evergreen, Colorado, told the AP that Clifton served nearly four years in the U.S. Marines and was stationed at the Panama Canal around the time Manuel Noriega was captured and removed in 1990. A Marine official told AP that the branch doesn’t have a record matching Blackwell’s name and birthdate.
State court records show Blackwell was convicted in a 2006 Rusk County case of false imprisonment and pointing a gun at a person in a case where he held four hunters at gunpoint because they were on his property.
Associated Press writer Jeff Baenen contributed from Minneapolis.
EarthLink – News
Dutch man shot in German border town in targeted attack
BERLIN (AP) — A Dutch lawyer living in a border town was shot and seriously wounded in what is believed to have been a targeted attack on him, German authorities and a Dutch attorneys’ organization said Wednesday.
The 43-year-old victim was struck Wednesday morning in Gronau when assailants opened fire from a white vehicle with Netherlands license plates, Muenster prosecutor Martin Botzenhardt, whose office is handling the investigation, told The Associated Press.
He said the victim was being treated in a hospital. He had no information on his condition, but said he was able to talk to authorities after the attack.
A photo from the scene showed medics tending to the victim in a suburban street and a police car parked nearby.
Botzenhardt wouldn’t comment on Dutch media reports that the victim was a lawyer, but said “there are indications the Gronau man was targeted.”
The Dutch Order of Attorneys said in a tweet it was shocked by what it called an attempted hit and identified the victim as lawyer Philippe Schol.
He is the second Dutch lawyer to be targeted by gunmen in recent weeks.
In September, Derk Wiersum, who represented a key witness in a major Dutch organized crime trial, was shot dead near his home in Amsterdam, a killing that sparked outrage and calls for a tougher crackdown on violent underworld gangs.
“The security of lawyers needs serious attention and appropriate measures,” the attorneys’ organization tweeted.
Police on both sides of the border were searching for the vehicle used in Wednesday’s shooting.
Dutch police appealed for witnesses and said they were investigating possible links to the border city of Enschede.
“We see that the incident has a major impact on society but also on people in the judicial system,” police said in a statement. “The police are aware and will take preventative measures if necessary.”
EarthLink – News
Official: 2 escaped inmates arrested at US-Mexico border
By OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ | Wed, November 6, 2019 03:31 EST
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Two murder suspects who escaped from a jail on California’s central coast eluded an intense manhunt, traveled hundreds of miles and crossed into Mexico but were arrested trying to walk back into the United States, authorities said Wednesday.
Jonathan Salazar, 20, and Santos Fonseca, 21, were arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials at a port of entry in San Ysidro — the nation’s largest border crossing — early Wednesday, said Monterey County Sheriff’s Office Capt. John Thornburg.
Thornburg said the two are in the custody of Monterey County officials and are on their way to a jail in Salinas.
Salazar and Fonseca escaped Sunday from the Monterey County jail in Salinas after climbing through a hole they made in the ceiling of a bathroom, squeezing through a hollow wall and kicking open a hatch.
Investigators have not yet determined how long they worked on making the hole or if anyone else helped them escape the jail in the farming city of about 160,000 people roughly 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of San Francisco. They were reported missing at 8:15 a.m. Sunday.
Thornburg said authorities received a tip that the pair, both born and raised in Salinas, had been spotted in the Mexican border city of Tijuana, around 400 miles (644 kilometers) south of Salinas, and alerted federal officials.
How the pair made it to Mexico, why they decided to return to the United States and what documents they used at the port of entry is under investigation, he said.
“The good news here is they are in custody again,” Thornburg said.
Salazar and Fonseca will be housed separately in a different housing unit from the one they escaped, Thornburg said, adding that officials had already made security improvements to the jail. He said he couldn’t provide details.
Before being spotted in Tijuana, investigators received a credible tip from an employee at a motel in Marina about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the jail who told authorities Salazar had checked in there Tuesday morning, but authorities found no one in the room after a nearly eight-hour standoff, Thornburg said.
“It all looked like we had Mr. Salazar in a motel,” he said. “Unfortunately, last night he wasn’t there.”
Both had been in custody since 2018 and were awaiting trial on murder counts and “numerous other felony charges” in separate cases.
Salazar was arrested in the shooting death of 20-year-old Jaime Martinez as the victim drove in Salinas with his girlfriend and 18-month-old son. The woman was shot and treated at a hospital, while the child wasn’t hurt.
Police investigated the Oct. 12, 2017, shooting as gang-related. Officers said his tattoos, including the letter P on his cheek, refer to his Sureño offshoot gang, La Posada Trece, the Californian reported. His trial was scheduled to begin in January.
Fonseca is charged with shooting Lorenzo Gomez Acosta, 37, to death on June 2, 2018, while the victim sat in his car on a video call with his wife in Mexico, the Californian reported.
She saw a scuffle, heard her husband screaming “no” and then gunshots rang out, Salinas police Officer Froylan Aranda said.
Fonseca told police that his gang leader told him to kill someone to prove he was still loyal to the “Boronda gang,” Detective Gabriela Contreras testified. Acosta was reportedly chosen at random.
Three days later, Fonseca shot and killed Ernesto Garcia Cruz, 27, in a Salinas park, authorities said. He told police that the gang leader also ordered the slaying and that he picked his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend “to send him a message,” Contreras said.