August 23, 2012

Associated Press

 

More than 3,000 lots flooded by Hurricane Katrina and bought with federal money in an emergency bailout sit idle across this city — a multimillion-dollar drain on federal, state and city coffers that lends itself to no easy solution.

An Associated Press examination of the properties sold to the government by homeowners abandoning New Orleans after the catastrophic 2005 flood has found that about $86 million has been spent on 5,100 abandoned parcels. And there’s no end in sight to maintenance costs for perhaps most of the 3,100 properties that remain unsold.

This portfolio of urban wasteland and blight represents part of the storm’s difficult legacy that persists nearly seven years later.

And with federal funding for maintenance running out, there’s concern the lots could fall into deeper neglect when this cash-strapped city is forced to pay for upkeep and that they could contribute to New Orleans’s staggering blight. At last count the city found an estimated 43,000 blighted properties, according to a city-sponsored analysis of U.S. Postal Service data.

“Right now nobody on those 3,000-plus properties is contributing. It’s costing the city and state government to maintain them. Police got to go out there, run kids out of there, drug-users,” said Errol Williams, the tax assessor in New Orleans.

Until now, the properties have been managed by the Louisiana Land Trust, an agency set up using federal funds.

Donald Vallee, a longtime New Orleans developer, complained that city officials had not acted fast enough.

He advocated selling the lots at auction. Sitting on the properties, he said, was a “pure waste of money.”

Every month, LLT spends about $88 to cut the grass at each location. Other expenses range from insurance to pest control.

Since 2007, when the first homes were bought, $34 million has been spent on maintenance, $4.5 million on security and $9.1 million on overhead costs in New Orleans, according to LLT. In addition, some $38 million has been spent on demolishing 3,607 homes beyond repair and tearing up 1,256 slabs.

In the Lower 9th Ward, 739 homeowners sold to the state. About 570 of those properties remain unsold and entire blocks sit undeveloped.

The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority has said it’s sitting on many properties at the request of neighborhood groups to avoid flooding the market and hurting home prices.

Nicole Heyman, a New Orleans-based expert on vacant and blighted property with the nonprofit Center for Community Progress, said holding onto the property is the right choice. She is advising the city on its plans.

When a city sells cheaply they end up “just putting properties in the hands of investors who drive the properties’ values down,” she said. Buyers often sit on vacant properties hoping for a market turnaround, and when that doesn’t happen the properties end back up in the hands of a city, she said.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

August 23, 2012

By BRADLEY KLAPPER Associated Press

 

For the first time in its 80-year history, Augusta National Golf Club has female members.

The home of the Masters, under increasing criticism the last decade because of its all-male membership, invited former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore to become the first women in green jackets when the club opens for a new season in October.

Both women accepted.

“This is a joyous occasion,” said Augusta National chairman Billy Payne.

The move likely ends a debate that intensified in 2002 when Martha Burk of the National Council of Women’s Organizations urged the club to include women among its members. Former club chairman Hootie Johnson stood his ground, even at the cost of losing Masters television sponsors for two years, when he famously said Augusta National might one day have a woman in a green jacket, “but not at the point of a bayonet.”

The comment took on a life of its own, becoming either a slogan of the club’s resolve not to give in to public pressure or a sign of its sexism, depending on which side of the debate was interpreting it.

“Oh my God. We won,” Burk said. “It’s about 10 years too late for the boys to come into the 20th century, never mind the 21st century. But it’s a milestone for women in business.”

Payne, who took over as chairman in 2006 when Johnson retired, said consideration for new members is deliberate and private, and that Rice and Moore were not treated differently from other new members. Even so, he took the rare step of announcing two of the latest members to join because of the historical significance.

Tiger Woods, who knows Rice through a mutual connection to Stanford, applauded the move.

“I think the decision by the Augusta National membership is important to golf,” Woods said. “The Club continues to demonstrate its commitment to impacting the game in positive ways. I would like to congratulate both new members, especially my friend Condi Rice.”

A person with knowledge of club operations said Rice and Moore first were considered as members five years ago. That would be four years after the 2003 Masters, when Burk’s protest in a grass lot down the street from the club attracted only about 30 supporters, and one year after Payne became chairman.

Moore and Johnson are close friends, both with roots in South Carolina and banking, and the person said Payne and Johnson agreed on the timing of a female member. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the club typically does not discuss membership issues, said it was important to Payne to be respectful of the membership process.

The person said prospective members often are not aware they are being considered. Augusta National does not say how much it costs to join or provide figures on annual dues.

Augusta National, which opened in December 1932 and did not have a black member until 1990, is believed to have about 300 members. While the club until now had no female members, women were allowed to play the golf course as guests, including on the Sunday before the Masters week began in April.

Most players at the Masters steered clear of the issue when it was raised, citing the private nature of the club. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem also tried to stay out of it. In some of his strongest comments in May, he said the Masters was “too important” for the tour not to recognize the tournament as an official part of the schedule.

Finchem commended the club on Monday.

“At a time when women represent one of the fastest growing segments in both playing and following the game of golf, this sends a positive and inclusive message for our sport,” Finchem said.

Moore, 58, first rose to prominence in the 1980s with Chemical Bank, where she became the highest-paid woman in the banking industry. She is vice president of Rainwater, Inc., a private investment company founded by her husband, Richard Rainwater, and she was the first woman to be profiled on the cover of Fortune Magazine.

Rice, 57, was the national security adviser under former President George W. Bush and became secretary of state in his second term. The first black woman to be a Stanford provost in 1993, she now is a professor of political economy at Stanford's Graduate School of Business.

“I have visited Augusta National on several occasions and look forward to playing golf, renewing friendships and forming new ones through this very special opportunity,” Rice said in a statement released by the club. “I have long admired the important role Augusta National has played in the traditions and history of golf. I also have an immense respect for the Masters Tournament and its commitment to grow the game of golf, particularly with youth, here in the United States and throughout the world.”

Rice recently was appointed to the U.S. Golf Association’s nominating committee.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

August 23, 2012

By JEANNIE NUSS

Associated Press

 

Chavis Carter’s family hasn’t accepted the official explanation for his death: that he was on meth when he fatally shot himself while his hands were cuffed behind him in the backseat of a patrol car in Arkansas.

The family portrays the 21-year-old as a bright, young man who aspired to be a veterinarian, who liked shopping for sneakers and playing basketball. As questions swirl about how and why Carter died, his family also has been demanding more answers from authorities.

“If he did it, I want to know how it happened,” his grandmother, Anne Winters Carter, said in an interview. “And if he didn’t do it, then we want justice.”

Jonesboro, Ark., police have faced criticism because they say officers searched Carter twice but didn’t find a gun before they noticed him slumped over and bleeding in the back of a patrol car July 28. Questions about race have cropped up too, because Carter was black and police said the two officers who stopped the truck he was in are white, as were the other people in the vehicle.

The local branch of the NAACP has called for a thorough investigation, and the FBI has said it’s monitoring the case. Carter’s grandmother and his mom, Teresa Carter, are also working with a high-profile legal firm that represented O.J. Simpson.

Some of the family’s supporters marched through Jonesboro earlier this week on August 20. One woman had a sign that read, “Stop the lies!! No suicide.” That march came a day after a candlelight vigil was held for Carter in Memphis and police released an autopsy report from the Arkansas state crime lab that deemed his death a suicide.

Carter had a past — court records show he had an arrest warrant stemming from a drug charge in Mississippi — but his family says there was more to his story. They described him as a good kid who liked bugs and animals.

“He used to always say, ‘The world gonna know my name,’ ” said Bianca Tipton, one of Carter’s friends. “Now the world do know his name.”

After graduating from high school in 2010, Carter got some general courses out of the way and was planning on taking classes at a college in Arkansas this fall.

He used to go shopping for sneakers with his grandma. Jordans were his favorite, especially a blue and white pair.

“Everything had to match,” Winters Carter said.

The ruling that his death was a suicide was confounding to her and others who knew Carter. It’s not just that he was searched and handcuffed. They note that Carter was left-handed but was shot in his right temple.

“If he’s double-locked and ... he’s shot in his right temple, but he is left-handed, that’s the part I don’t understand,” Winters Carter said.

Police have released video showing how a man could put a gun to his temple while his hands were cuffed behind his back. They shared footage recorded by dashboard cameras the night of the shooting and sent out a copy of the autopsy report.

“There’s no other explanation to this ... other than that he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger and that’s what we call a suicide,” said Stephen Erickson, a medical examiner who conducted the autopsy.

Toxicology tests showed Carter’s blood tested positive for at least trace amounts of the anti-anxiety medication diazepam and the painkiller oxycodone in addition to a larger amount of methamphetamine. His urine test also returned a positive result for marijuana.

Erickson said Carter was under the intoxicating effects of meth at the time of his death. It wasn’t clear if he was under the influence of marijuana or if the positive test came from a past use.

“The methamphetamine is going to play a large role in his mental status,” Erickson said, adding that he couldn’t tell how it affected his behavior because people react differently.

Winters Carter said she was surprised by the toxicology results. She didn’t know whether he was on any medication recently and she didn’t know of any drug problems with her grandson.

“When he got to Jonesboro, I can’t really say,” she said. “But with me, no. And if he did, I didn’t see it.”

At the candlelight vigil for Carter outside the National Civil Rights Museum, family members and supporters focused on his accomplishments and passions, not the drugs found in his system.

Kia Granberry held up a stone before she prayed with the small crowd.

“People brought to Jesus a woman who may have had a troubled past and when they asked Jesus what to do to the woman, he said, ‘Cast the first stone,’ ” she said. “So I want to remind you when people judge you or people say what they want to say about your son and your brother and your cousin, you remind them to cast the first stone.”

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

August 23, 2012

Yussuf J. Simmonds

Co-Managing Editor and

Ashley Nash  LAWT Intern

 

Attorney Benjamin Crump, hired by the family of alleged police brutality victim Ronald Weekley Jr. is demanding that the Los Angeles District Attorney drop the charges against his client, stating that he did nothing wrong to warrant them.

“We not only based that on the video tape, but also the eye witnesses that were present there,” said Crump.

“And, the fact that they (the police) stopped him …they say that he was on the wrong side of the road … but we really think it was more about he was the wrong skin color… and that’s why they assaulted this young man…”

Crump is also representing slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, whose murder has been viewed by many across the country as a racist issue.

Weekley Jr., a student at Xavier University in Louisiana, was arrested Saturday, August 18, on the front lawn of his Venice home. Upon returning from breakfast and errands, Weekley said that he was reaching into his front gate (with his skateboard in his hand) when he heard footsteps rapidly ap­proach­ing. Following a loud yell he said, he was grabbed by his hair, shoulders and shirt and immediately thrown to the ground.

“I didn’t know what was going on at first so I was just trying to control my body,” Weekley re­called.

He was completey compliant however, when he realized he was being arrested, he said.  Despite his obedience, Weekley said that the officer to his right, reached over, grabbed his shoulder, took a step back and punched him in the face.

“Right then is when I realized that they didn’t care about my well-being at all,” he told the Sentinel in a recent interview.

Following the blow, he stated that the cop released his hold and he fell to the ground. Subsequently, two officers jumped on top of him. As he explained, “one detained my legs and hands and the other put his knee on the back of my neck, as he continued to punch my face three more times.”

 

It was then that Weekley said he began to cry for help and recognized that the cops were doing something wrong. Holding back tears, Weekley said that the police beat him until he was unconscious. When he finally came to, Weekley was in the back of the police car, asking to speak with family or friends.

“They never told me why I was being arrested,” said the Venice resident who was taken to Los Angeles County Jail’s Twin Towers and read his Miranda Rights.

Later news reports revealed that LAPD officers stopped Weekley Jr. for skateboarding in traffic on Sunset Avenue in Venice, which is a violation there. A spokesman from the department acknowledged that there was a use of force during the arrest and said Weekley was being charged with obstructing and resisting a police officer. The twenty year old science major, was found to have three outstanding warrants.

But Crump is dismissing the seriousness of those warrants, saying the claim is a weak attempt by officers to justify their actions.

“Here’s what those warrants are about,” he explained.

 “He is 20 years old … he’s had a warrant for a curfew violation … at 16, he was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk … and for driving without a license.  Furthermore, they did not stop him for any of those reasons. It’s ridiculous for them to try to offer that up, but that’s what they’re doing so it’s important that we get on the record of what these so-called warrants were for.”

Weekley said he suffered a concussion, broken nose and broken cheekbone. He was not properly treated until an African American officer noticed his injuries, he said. Before that, he was given Vicodin and sent back to his cell.

Weekley Jr. and his father Ronald Weekley Sr. joined Crump at a press conference this week demanding that the officers involved be held accountable.

“Everybody in Venice has told me that they don’t stop anybody for skate boarding in Venice,” Crump said.

 “That’s part of the culture there … that’s what they do all day.  When he was in the car and he asked why did they do this to him, they say because he was a dumb ass, who was skating on the wrong side of the road…”

Weekley was supposed to return to school next week. His court date is in mid September.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

August 23, 2012

By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II

Associated Press

 

Stephon Tull was looking through dusty old boxes in his father's attic in Chattanooga a few months ago when he stumbled onto something startling: an audio reel labeled, “Dr. King interview, Dec. 21, 1960.”

He wasn’t sure what he had until he borrowed a friend’s reel-to-reel player and listened to the recording of his father interviewing Martin Luther King Jr. for a book project that never came to fruition. In clear audio, King discusses the importance of the civil rights movement, his definition of nonviolence and how a recent trip of his to Africa informed his views. Tull said the recording had been in the attic for years, and he wasn't sure who other than his father may have heard it.

“No words can describe. I couldn’t believe it,” he told The Associated Press this week in a phone interview from his home in Chattanooga. “I found ... a lost part of history.”

Many recordings of King are known to exist among hundreds of thousands of documents related to his life that have been catalogued and archived. But one historian said the newly discovered interview is unusual because there's little audio of King discussing his activities in Africa, while two of King's contemporaries said it's exciting to hear a little-known recording of their friend for the first time.

Tull plans to offer the recording at a private sale arranged by a New York broker and collector later this month.

Tull said his father, an insurance salesman, had planned to write a book about the racism he encountered growing up in Chattanooga and later as an adult. He said his dad interviewed King when he visited the city, but never completed the book and just stored the recording with some other interviews he had done. Tull’s father is now in his early 80s and under hospice care.

During part of the interview, King defines nonviolence and justifies its practice.

“I would ... say that it is a method which seeks to secure a moral end through moral means,” he said. “And it grows out of the whole concept of love, because if one is truly nonviolent that person has a loving spirit, he refuses to inflict injury upon the opponent because he loves the opponent.”

The interview was made four years before the Civil Rights Act became law, three years before King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and eight years before his assassination. At one point in the interview, King predicts the impact of the civil rights movement.

“I am convinced that when the history books are written in future years, historians will have to record this movement as one of the greatest epochs of our heritage,” he said.

King had visited Africa about a month before the interview, and he discusses with Tull’s father how leaders there viewed the racial unrest in the United States.

“I had the opportunity to talk with most of the major leaders of the new independent countries of Africa, and also leaders in countries that are moving toward independence,” he said. “And I think all of them agree that in the United States we must solve this problem of racial injustice if we expect to maintain our leadership in the world.”

Raymond Winbush, director of the Institute for Urban Research at Maryland's Morgan State University, said the tape is significant because there are very few recordings of King detailing his activity in Africa.

“It’s clear that in this tape when he’s talking ... about Africa, he saw this as a global human rights movement that would inspire other organizations, other nations, other groups around the world,” said Winbush, who is also a psychologist and historian.

“That to me is what’s remarkable about the tape.”

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Freedom Rider and lunch counter protester who worked with King while a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Com­mittee, said hearing King talk about the sit-ins took him back to the period when more than 100 restaurant counters were desegregated over several months.

“To ... hear his voice and listen to his words was so moving, so powerful,” said Lewis, adding that King’s principles of nonviolence are still relevant today.

“I wish people all over America, all over the world, can hear this message over and over again,” he said.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who founded the Southern Christian Leader­ship Conference with King, agreed.

“I can’t think of anything better to try,” Lowery said of nonviolence. “What we’re doing now is not working. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Matching violence with violence. We’ve got more guns than we’ve ever had, and more ammunition to go with it. And yet, the situation worsens.”

A spokeswoman for King’s daughter Bernice, head of The King Center in Atlanta, said she was traveling and couldn’t comment on the audio.

Tull is working with a New York-based collector and expert on historical artifacts to arrange a sale. The broker, Keya Morgan, said he believes that unpublished reel-to-reel audio of King is extremely rare and said he’s confident of the authenticity of the recording based on extensive interviews with Tull, his examination of the tape and his knowledge of King. He’s collected many of the civil rights icon’s letters and photos.

“I was like, wow! To hear him that crisp and clear,” Morgan said. “But beyond that, for him to speak of nonviolence, which is what he represented.”

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

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