Political leaders across party lines on Wednesday expressed grief and outrage over the death of a 19-year-old Dalit woman from Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district and the way she was cremated. Two weeks ago, the woman was tortured and raped by four men. The woman’s family has said that the police forcibly cremated her body at around 3 am and that they were not allowed to take her body home.
Videos on social media show the family arguing with policemen and weeping as the police insisted on cremating the body without allowing them to take it home.
Swaraj India President Yogendra Yadav called the incident India’s “George Floyd” moment. George Floyd was an African-American man who was killed by the Minneapolis police in May, triggering huge anti-racism protests across the United States and the world.
“Even criminals are allowed dignified cremation,” Yadav said in a tweet. “Here is a rape victim being cremated by police at 2:30 am without family members. Could this happen if the family was not dalit? This is a matter of national shame. Our own George Floyd moment.”
Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who has been demanding that the Uttar Pradesh government take strict steps to reduce crimes against women, asked for Chief Minister Adityanath’s resignation. “I was on the phone with the Hathras victim’s father when he was informed that his daughter had passed away. I heard him cry out in despair,” she says. “He had just been telling me that all he wanted was justice for his child. Last night he was robbed of the chance to take his daughter home for the last time and perform her last rites.”
“Instead of protecting the victim and her family, your government became complicit in depriving her of every single human right, even in death. You have no moral right to continue as chief minister.”
— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra
Her brother, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, said that the way the woman was cremated was “insulting and unjust.” “A daughter of India has been raped and murdered,” he said in a tweet. “Facts are suppressed and in the end, her family’s rights to perform the last rights are snatched away. This is insulting and unjust.”
Dalit leader and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati condemned the state police. She tweeted that the police’s actions have created resentment and doubt. Mayawati is a former Uttar Pradesh chief minister. She also asked for the Supreme Court to take cognisance of what happened with the police.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen President Asaduddin Owaisi also expressed outrage over the way the Hathras victim was cremated. “Even a ‘loathsome gangster [Vikas Dubey] was extended the basic dignity of being cremated in presence of his family members,” he tweeted. “Why did Hathras victim’s parents have to face such mistreatment? What is this if not PATENT caste and class discrimination?”
Delhi Commission for Women Chairperson Swati Maliwal, meanwhile, requested Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and other top court judges to take cognisance of the Hathras gangrape case, take immediate action against erring officials, give strict punishment to the accused and to frame laws to stop crimes against women, ANI reported.
Several other women rights groups said the victim was robbed of dignity even in her death, PTI reported. “This horror gives you the full picture of what this crime is all about,” All India Progressive Women’s Association Secretary Kavita Krishnan said. “The refusal of the UP government and its machinery to allow a Dalit family the right to grieve their daughter and bid her farewell in keeping with their own emotions and customs reeks of caste supremacy.”
“When the family found her and she was taken to the police station, the police said she is trying to trap people and then she was hospitalised and not kept in the ICU for six days and then on her death the police blamed the victim’s family and they are denying this Dalit family and victim dignity even in death and mourning.”
— All India Progressive Women’s Association Secretary Kavita Krishnan.
Women rights Activist Shamina Shafiq compared the case to the 2012 Delhi gangrape. “The government then took it sensitively,” she said. “She [Nirbhaya] was airlifted to Singapore so that her life could be saved. Then prime minister Manmohan Singh and UPA [United Progressive Alliance] Chairperson Sonia Gandhi actually went to the airport to receiveher body.”
Shafiq added: “When this girl was gang-raped, why she was not airlifted to AIIMS [All India Institute Of Medical Sciences]? These people do not care about giving respect to women. It is just sloganeering happening.”
“It is happening because she is a Dalit girl. Just because there are no elections in Uttar Pradesh and she was a Dalit girl this happened.”
— Women rights Activist Shamina Shafiq .
Adityanath on Wednesday formed a three-member Special Investigation Team to probe the Hathras gangrape amid outrage over the case. The team has been directed to submit a report within seven days. He has also directed that the case should be tried in a fast-track court. Adityanath said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had inquired about the gangrape and urged strict action against the accused.
Protests and outrage
The woman’s death evoked anger across the nation. Members of the Hathras victim’s community staged a protest in the city on Wednesday, ANI reported.
The Congress and Bhim Army had staged protests outside the Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi after the woman’s death on Tuesday.
Four men had raped and tortured the woman a fortnight ago, causing her severe injuries, including multiple fractures. The woman had been initially admitted to the Jawahar Lal Nehru Medical College And Hospital at the Aligarh Muslim University, but was moved to the Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi on Monday. She died on Tuesday morning. The four men have been arrested.
During times of turbulence in politics, culture, and religious life, it’s tempting to hold tightly to current convictions. Allowing a change of one’s mind or heart can be difficult work. With this in mind, we have resumed a Century series published at intervals since 1939, in which we ask leading thinkers to reflect on their own struggles, disappointments, and hopes as they address the topic, “How my mind has changed.” This essay is the fourth in the new series.
Anselm’s dictum that theology is “faith seeking understanding” perfectly describes my theological journey. Even before I knew the word theology, I struggled to understand the meaning of my faith in relationship to my Blackness. This struggle continues for me today, although perhaps in a more focused way. While I initially wondered about the propriety of faith in what I believed then to be a “White Jesus,” I now struggle with the efficacy of faith at all.
James Baldwin once said that there comes a time in the life of every Black person in America when they must face the “shock . . . that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance . . . has not pledged allegiance to you.” And now, as the mother of a six-foot-tall, loc-wearing, 27-year-old Black man—fearing for his life in this nation as much as I did when he was born, and realizing the gravity of sin in this country that is a mortal threat to all Black life—I find myself facing the shock that perhaps the “God of Jesus Christ,” in whom Black people have pledged faith, has not really pledged allegiance to us.
In light of that reality, I find myself reflecting not primarily upon how my theological mind has changed but upon how my journey to understand my faith continues. This journey is marked by two books, my first, The Black Christ, and my most recent, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God.
The origins of The Black Christ began in my childhood. When I was six, I heard the whispers of the adults around me talking about how awful it was that a church was bombed and four little girls were killed. I can remember hearing someone say that “the White man” who did it would probably never be caught, and if he were caught nothing was likely to happen to him. I now know they were talking about the 1963 Birmingham church bombing.
Around that same time in my childhood, I remember seeing pictures on the news of White policemen with dogs attacking Black people, and what struck me most were images of dogs attacking Black children. I didn’t know what I was watching, but those images were seared into my mind. I also remember eavesdropping as my parents talked about a man in Mississippi, Medgar Evers, who was killed in his driveway in front of his family. My parents discussed what a shame it was, but I also heard them say that nothing would probably happen to the perpetrator (if he was even caught).
I have no doubt that these whispered conversations and violent images are what prompted me around that time to ask my father why White people didn’t like us. I don’t recall his answer, but I remember thinking that if I could figure out the reason, then maybe we could do something about it and then White people would stop treating us so badly. I was certain that we must have done something to warrant such treatment.
After some time had passed, I picked up the conversation with my father. As we were leaving our home one afternoon, I stopped on the porch and said, “Daddy, I figured out the answer to my question” (as if he and I had been having this continuous conversation).
He asked, “The answer to what question?”
I responded, “To what we did that made White people not like us and treat us so badly.”
“Oh, what did you figure out?”
“We didn’t do anything. They just treat us like this because they want to. It could be anybody; it just happens to be us.”
Amid images of Black children dying, Jesus’ death came to the forefront of my faith.
I didn’t realize then that it wasn’t just us, or that it was more than simply a question of whether White people liked us. What was important for me at the time was the discovery that there was nothing wrong with Black people; rather, there was something wrong with White people. This was my first understanding of White racism—the notion of a problem with White people, the enforcers of the color line.
It was also around that time that I first became aware of the realities of racialized economic injustice. When I was about seven years old, I remember riding with my parents through the inner city of my hometown, Dayton, Ohio. It was a rainy evening. I looked out the window of the car and noticed a little girl and boy crossing the street. They were about my age and Black like me. I presumed them to be sister and brother. They were a bit disheveled and not properly dressed for the cold rainy weather. From my perspective they looked poor and hungry. Tears filled my eyes as I imagined for them a life of struggle. In the midst of my tears I made a silent vow to one day come back and rescue those two children from the blight of Dayton’s inner city.
Initially, I fantasized that I would grow up while they remained young. I would become a teacher and somehow change their life options. As I got older, the thought of those children never left me. They created within me a deep sense of accountability to the poor and marginalized people of our society, especially those who looked like me. I was determined to find a vocation that makes a just difference in the lives of Black people, particularly those who were trapped in life-negating conditions.
My sense of vocation didn’t come only from the memory of those children. I was also motivated by my love for Jesus. I grew up in St. Margaret’s, the only Black Episcopal church in Dayton. Nearly every Sunday I would awaken my parents and ask them to take me to church, even if they weren’t planning to go that day. Most weeks I attended both the 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. services, plus Sunday school in between.
One of the reasons I liked going to church, especially as a young child, was that I loved hearing stories about Jesus. One of the most compelling yet saddest stories I heard was about his birth. I simply could not understand how people allowed a baby to be born in a cold barn and laid in a manger. I cried every time we sang, “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed / The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head.” Those words reminded me of the girl and boy I’d seen that rainy evening. Somehow, I instinctively knew that there was a connection between Jesus’ manger birth and those children’s inner-city life. As time went on, I would try to figure out this connection—but not before a period of profound doubt.
I entered college with a deep pride in my Blackness, along with an intense understanding of what W. E. B. Du Bois meant when he wrote in The Souls of Black Folk that “the problem of the Twentieth Century [in America] is the problem of the color line.” My experiences of growing up in Dayton—a city with a history of segregation and race riots—and of being called the N-word schooled me in the violence of White racism. These experiences also made me very wary of White people.
As this wariness grew, I became increasingly impatient with the color line that circumscribed and threatened Black life. Moreover, I recognized that as long as the color line existed, far too many Black children would be born into social conditions that fostered death—not life. My accountability to those two children I’d seen crossing the street became a passionate commitment to dismantle the White racist color line. Ironically, as that commitment grew, my belief in Jesus waned.
Whiteness prevents those who refuse to let go of its privileges from living into who they are.
By my junior year of college, my childhood love for Jesus was slowly being replaced by a deep skepticism. I wanted to know if the Jesus I’d loved unconditionally as a child loved me back unconditionally. I wondered if my Blackness made a difference. After all, the Jesus of my Sunday school lessons was always pictured as White. This fact alone made me skeptical of his love for me—and it led me to question the propriety of my love for him.
How could a White Jesus ever care about me, not to speak of caring for poor Black children? And how could I, a Black person, ever have faith in a White Jesus? I didn’t want to abandon the church—or Jesus—but I needed answers to these questions. I was experiencing an agonizing crisis of faith. And then my college chaplain, David Woodyard, introduced me to James Cone’s book A Black Theology of Liberation.
When I opened the book, I could not believe what I was reading. Cone pronounces, “Jesus is the black Christ!” He further explains, “The definition of Christ as black means that he represents the complete opposite of the values of white culture . . . [and] leads the warfare against the white assault on blackness.” When I read these words, my questions were answered. I could be Black with a love for Jesus without contradiction, because in fact Jesus was Black like me. And most significantly, as Cone made clear, because Jesus “was born in a stable and cradled in a manger (the equivalent of a beer case in a ghetto alley),” he was one with all those Black children who were trapped behind the life-draining color line of inner-city realities.
Essentially, Cone’s declaration of Jesus’ Blackness opened me to a whole new appreciation of my faith, the faith of my grandmother. My love for Jesus was renewed. My angst turned to excitement. This discovery marked the beginning of my purposeful theological journey. I wanted to learn as much as I could about my Black faith and the Black Christ that was at its center. Writing The Black Christ was the first step of that journey.
During this part of my journey, it was Jesus’ manger birth that held the most meaning for me. That he was born in the starkness of a manger allowed me to see his connection to that Black girl and boy who had made such an imprint upon my childhood imagination. His manger birth convinced me that he understood the struggles, if not the hopes and dreams, of Black children who were trapped in manger-like conditions of living.
Jesus’ manger birth continues to have theological significance for me as an indicator of his intrinsic bond with those on the outside, that is, on the wrong side of the color line. Nevertheless, as my youthful images of Black children crossing the street were steadily overtaken with images of Black children dying in the street, it was Jesus’ crucifixion death that came to the forefront of my faith.
Some 50 years after asking my father why White people treated Black people so badly, I found myself asking that question again. And once again, images of Black children in the street were haunting me. They were the faces of Trayvon, Jordan, Renisha, Jonathan, Tamir, Sandra, Michael, and so many more. These were young Black men and women being murdered at the hands of White people, for no apparent reason other than being Black. Worse yet, the White people who killed them were getting away with it. My father’s words, “nothing will happen to the White man who did it,” were echoing in my mind. History was repeating itself, and I wanted to know why.
Why were our Black children’s lives as much at risk—if not more so—as they’d ever been in our nation’s history? After all, the nation had just elected its first Black president, which signaled to some the advent of a postracial society. What was going on? I had to know, for now more was at stake for me than the relief that Black people did nothing to deserve such treatment. Our children’s lives were at stake. My son’s life was at stake. I needed answers.
Those answers began with the recognition that the problem was about more than White racism and whether or not White people liked Black people. It was about the lethal and insidious reality of White supremacy that is endemic to the very fabric of this nation. White supremacy is the system of structural, cultural, and ideological realities that protect and privilege Whiteness. Whiteness, therefore, is not a benign social-racial construct. It is both the foundation and the capital of White supremacy.
Recognizing this further complicated my understanding of the color line in America. The problem of the color line is not a matter of White people being overtly racist. Rather, it is about White people benefiting from White supremacist realities—whether or not they acknowledge these benefits. And the more they benefit from White supremacy, the more Black life is socially, economically, and physically endangered. What therefore became clear to me in this part of my theological journey was that White supremacy is the original sin to which this nation is still held captive.
Ironically, this recognition only caused my appreciation for the faith of my grandmother to grow. I felt indebted to a faith that was forged in the midst of one of the most perverse and inhumane realities of Black life: slavery. This was a faith, as Howard Thurman says, that “has had to fight against the disillusionment, despair, and the vicissitudes of American history.” This was a faith in the Jesus who, in being crucified, revealed his utter solidarity with Black people as they struggled to survive the crucifying cross of White supremacy. That Jesus was crucified affirmed his absolute identification with the Trayvons, the Jordans, the Renishas, and all the other Black men and women whose lives were lost to White supremacist violence. It was in their faces that I could see Jesus.
Thus, as my youthful images of Black children crossing the street became overtaken with images of Black children dying in the street, Jesus’ crucifixion death came to the forefront of my faith. At the end of that part of my journey, marked by the publication of Stand Your Ground, I was able to echo the words of Trayvon Martin’s father: “My heart was broken, but my faith was not shattered.”
But now here I am, five years after Stand Your Ground, calling out more names of Black lives lost, seeking to understand not just the what but perhaps the why of Black faith.
I am Trayvon. Say her name. Hands up, don’t shoot. I can’t breathe. Black lives matter. These mantras filled my mind recently as I ran 2.23 miles to honor and demand justice for Ahmaud Arbery, who was gunned down by two White men while jogging in a Georgia suburb. By the time I completed the run, I was breathless, but not because my legs were tired or my lungs were winded. I was breathless because my heart was heavy and my spirit was troubled. Ahmaud had become the latest in a long list of young Black lives lost to the hate of White racist violence. Then there was Breonna Taylor. Then George Floyd.
In response to President John Kennedy’s assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “While the question of ‘Who killed President Kennedy?’ is important, the question, ‘What killed him?’ is more important.” Inasmuch as what is killing Black people in this country is about the systemic, structural, and cultural realities of White supremacy, I have become increasingly aware that it is also about much more than that. It is about the collective soul of America.
The soul—that which connects human beings to our aspirational selves, animating and propelling us to do better, pushing us toward the fullest potential of what it means to be good—reflects the essence of our humanity. The soul of who we are as divinely made creatures, therefore, is not defined by the mercurial and compromising protestations of human beings, nor is it accountable to the politics and biases of human history. Rather, it is inextricably bound to the transcendent arc of the universe that bends toward justice—that perfect goodness which is the loving justice of God. Our soul connects us to the beloved community, which God promises for all of us, a community where all persons are treated as the sacred creations that they are.
The bodies of Black people in the streets raise the question: What has alienated America from its very soul, thereby normalizing violence against Black lives and preventing all people from reaching for their best selves? The answer: Whiteness itself.
Whiteness is an inherently oppositional and violent construct. Not only does it stand in opposition to all those who are not White, but most insidiously, it opposes the very humanity of a people. Whiteness is soul-crushing, as it prevents those who refuse to name and let go of its privileges from living into who they are—sacred beings created in the image of a loving and just God. White America is alienated from its very soul, that is, its humanity. This fact has dire consequences for Black lives—and for Black faith.
In fighting against the White supremacist realities of his time, King noted that “the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me. . . . So while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. And when you change the habits of men, pretty soon the attitudes and the hearts will be changed.” But as the “Make America great again” politics of this nation has recently revealed, changing laws is not enough—because a heartless and soulless people will defy just laws and create inhumane ones.
In this regard, Whiteness has a profound spiritual impact upon this nation. It renders it without the moral leadership to lead it back to its better angels, that is, to be reconciled with its soul. And as long as the soul of this nation is compromised by Whiteness, then Black lives will be at risk. This means that the realities of prison, poverty, policing, and “greatness” politics will continue to obscure the compassionate, loving, and healing justice that is the grace of a crucified Christ.
It is with this recognition that I have come full circle on my theological journey. More than 25 years after The Black Christ, I am in the midst of another crisis of faith as I seek to discern God’s presence and power during an unrelenting war on Black lives.
But now, I am pushed not by my questions alone but mostly by my son’s questions to me: “How do we really know that God cares when Black people are still getting killed? How long do we have to wait for the justice of God?” he asks. “I get it, that Christ is Black, but that doesn’t seem to be helping us right now.” These are the questions that I now seek to answer. Left to be determined is how those answers will change my theological mind.
A version of this article appears in the print edition under the title “Struggling with Black faith in America.”
For Bianca L. McGraw’s latest masterpiece, she used LEGO blocks —more than 16,000 of them — all carefully color-coded.
“I think it’s like if you’re into really detailed work. It can be fun,” McGraw said.
What You Need To Know
Local artist Bianca L. McGraw created a Black Lives Matter sculpture using more than 16,000 LEGOs
It was on display as part of the PLAY/GROUND, a series of outdoor art exhibits
The blocks will be broken down and be part of creation boxes for kids
But the painstaking process started on the computer where she created an image of a female Black Lives Matter activist, born of McGraw’s own hurt and frustration about social and racial injustice.
“The idea that Black Lives Matter to people is an evil organization when I’m Black and I have a life and I think that’s what I hope matters,” she said. “And I think that’s been hard, so it’s tiring.”
So she took that picture and made it pop with all those LEGOs, some donated from people in the community.
After nearly 100 hours of work, the end result was on display earlier this month in Buffalo’s Larkinville district as part of PLAY/GROUND 2022 — a series of outdoor art projects around Western New York.
For McGraw, it was all about opening up a conversation through her project, called “Reclaim & Redistribute.”
“We talked about issues that do happen within the Black community and that we’re facing, especially with the police situation, the area’s disenfranchisement,” she said. “Different other issues that that are happening within the cities, not just Buffalo, but all over the U.S.”
And even though the display is over, the LEGOs will go to good use. As she takes apart the sculpture in her Main Street studio, the building blocks will be included in creativity boxes that will go to kids around the city of Buffalo.
“The best way to give back to the community, especially if it’s community-engaged art, is to provide to it to the community itself. Especially when the community was giving LEGOs to help make the piece,” she said.
Piece by piece, block by block, to send a message and make a difference.
(JTA) — From the coronavirus pandemic to the fires that have ravaged California to the anxiety of our politically polarized moment, there was no shortage of current events for rabbis to mine in their High Holiday sermons this year.
But the topic that stood out this year on Yom Kippur, the day of atoning for one’s sins, was racial injustice and the worldwide protest movement trying to eradicate it that exploded following the death of George Floyd in May.
On Zoom and other online platforms necessitated by pandemic social distancing guidelines, rabbis across the country tackled the topic eloquently in a Jewish context, calling on their white congregants to do more than stand by and acknowledge the racism problem in America.
Here are just a few moving sermon selections from Monday found online by the time of publication. (Note that most Orthodox congregations do not permit the use of technology to record services, so they aren’t represented here.)
Rabbi Erin Glazer, Temple Sinai in Summit, New Jersey
Glazer cites famous texts by Yaa Gyasi and Ta-Nehisi Coates to get at the enormity of the history of racism in America — what Gyasi terms in her novel “Homecoming” as something “that stretched so far back, was so impossibly large.” Glazer also talks about her own journey with coming to terms with the fact that she has been privileged to “feel as if issues of race and racism were periodic episodes, demanding my attention intermittently, rather than ongoing, daily realities.”
“For us to change, for our country to change, we must engage in true teshuvah [repentance], beginning with an acknowledgement of the sin and our part in it,” she says.
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, Central Synagogue in New York City
The Korean-American Buchdahl is among the few Jews of color helming an American Jewish pulpit, let alone a large one such as Central Synagogue — and her physical appearance remains a topic of confusion and discussion for some in her community. Her sermon this year focuses on defining Judaism as a religion rather than a race.
“The notion of Judaism as a ‘race’ is a construct — one created by our enemies— to justify anti-Semitism, violence and even genocide. And yet, we Jews still cling to this idea that there is something immutable about us — a genetic type, ‘a look’ — that makes us what we are,” she says. “But we Jews have never been just one color, or one cluster of chromosomes.”
Rabbi Michael Holzman, Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation in Reston, Virginia
Katz recalls a biblical story involving Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, who one day stops in front of a palace that is on fire while others pass it by. When Abraham asks “Who is the master of this house?” God realizes that Abraham cares about the owner of the home, while others do not, and chooses him to lead the chosen people.
Recognizing a fire — in this case, racism — is intrinsically Jewish, Katz argues. And being Black in the U.S., he says, “is to live in a perpetually burning house.”
Rabbi Robert Levine, Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City
Jews know from painful lived experience what it feels like “to be right in front of people and not to be noticed,” Levine says.
“I would hope that the events over the past months would help all of us open our eyes to profound injustice affecting people of color in this and every other country. Now to be honest, when we see African-Americans, in our own eyes there may be concern, fear even. How fast do we look away or get away? George Floyd begs us to do otherwise.”
Rabbi Sharon Brous with Bryan Stevenson, IKAR in Los Angeles
Brous doesn’t focus specifically on racial justice in her Yom Kippur sermon, but the prominent spiritual leader held an online conversation just before the holiday with Bryan Stevenson — the Black lawyer and activist behind the Legacy Museum in Alabama on the history of racist lynching (who has also been inspired by Holocaust commemoration). In a wide-ranging conversation, the pair discuss the history of slavery and the ways that different faiths can come together to spur change.
1. St. Johnsbury School to go remote following positive COVID-19 test
A positive COVID-19 case at the St. Johnsbury School led school officials to go fully remote for Kindergarten-through-eighth grades Monday.
The Caledonian Record reports Superintendent Brian Ricca announced Sunday a member of the school community had tested positive for the coronavirus. Due to medical privacy laws, the school can not release the name of the individual with COVID-19, nor did school officials say if the positive test was a student or staff member.
This makes St. Johnsbury School one of only a few schools in the state to have a school member test positive for the disease.
The Vermont Department of Health is conducting contact tracing and school officials are expected to release more information on Monday on the plan for the remainder of the school year.
Statewide, the health department reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. No one is currently hospitalized with a confirmed case in Vermont. To date, 1,745 people have tested positive for the virus in Vermont, and 1,590 people have recovered from confirmed cases in the state. 58 people have died.
The state reports it has tested 161,925 people. Today, one new cases was identified in Chittenden County, one was identified in Franklin County and one was identified in Washington County.
– Karen Anderson and Abagael Giles
2. State officials have yet to name a restart date for Amtrak service
State officials say they hope to restart Amtrak service in Vermont soon, but have yet to commit to a specific date.
Passenger rail service has been shut down in the state since March 26, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. State transportation leaders say they are reviewing case numbers in the areas where Amtrak passes through to reach Vermont, but have not said what level of virus transmission would be acceptable in those areas to bring Amtrak back.
Rail advocate Carl Fowler would like to see more specifics.
“What I’m not getting from them is a definition of what is safe, and that’s kind of my frustration,” Fowler said.
Fowler said he hopes the state brings Amtrak back before Thanksgiving, to give college students the option to take the train home for the holiday break.
Speaking to the state’s rail council earlier this month, Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn told members the administration is committed to passenger rail.
“I’d like to put to rest any thought, rumor, conjecture that this administration doesn’t support passenger rail or that our delay in restarting Amtrak is some way of trying to kill Amtrak,” he said.
3. Health department unlikely to add flu shot to list of mandatory vaccines for K-12 students
It’s now very unlikely that the Vermont Health Department will add a flu shot to the list of vaccines that students must have before attending K-12 schools in the state.
Last month, the state of Massachusetts added this vaccine mandate, and Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said his department would take a close look at this plan.
Levine said there was a lot of public opposition to the bill in Vermont, and he’s decided at this time not to pursue this proposal.
“I don’t think you could mandate it for just school-aged children and young adults and not for the whole population because, again, they’re all part of the same greater community,” Levine said. “And so it would have to be pretty much across the board, but we’ve had no such intention at this point in time to mandate the flu vaccine.”
Levine is urging all Vermonters to voluntarily get a flu vaccine in the coming weeks.
But many Vermonters are struggling to find availability of flu shots, and Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan told Vermont Edition the state is receiving the vaccines as manufacturers develop them.
“We’ve ordered 132,000 doses,” Dolan said Monday. “We have 57,000 that have been distributed. Pharmacies may not have them yet; not all of the pharmacies have them.”
Dolan said pharmacies should have more vaccines soon. She recommends reaching out to your primary care provider to get vaccines for children.
More information on how to get a flu vaccine can be found on the health department’s website.
4. USDA awards new contract for Farmers to Families Food Boxes to Mass. company
The USDA has awarded the contract for distributing the next round of Farmers To Families Food Boxes in Vermont to a Massachusetts company.
Distribution will now shift from The Abbey Group, a Vermont company, to Costa Fruit & Produce, based in Boston.
The food box program was designed with the dual purpose of helping farmers and feeding people during the pandemic.
And while food will continue to reach people in need, John Sayles of the Vermont Foodbank regrets the decision.
“It’s really disappointing, because first of all, we had a great relationship with the Abbey Group. And there won’t be any Vermont food in the boxes,” Sayles said. “So Vermont farmers and dairy producers are kind of being left in the lurch here.”
Sayles adds that the food bank hopes to offset some of the resulting loss to Vermont producers by increasing its own efforts to buy local.
5. Farmers should apply for federal COVID-19 relief before Oct. 1
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets wants farmers and food businesses to apply for COVID relief money before an Oct. 1 deadline.
The agency has $25 million available in federal funds to help dairy farmers and processors deal with the economic impact of the pandemic.
Abbey Willard directs the agency’s development division. She said some operations have been slow to apply, or just too busy to complete their applications.
“I think there have been many businesses that have either been just barely getting by, in certain categories,” Willard said. “There have been others that have been totally swamped by the shifts and pivots that they made as a business and have just barely had a breath.”
Willard said the amount to be awarded varies according to the farm’s total production, but the goal is to get all 630 dairy farms some money. Another $8.5 million is available for other agriculture and working lands businesses.
– John Dillon
6. Vermont has made progress in responding to the 2020 census
Gov. Phil Scott said the state has made huge progress in responding to the 2020 census.
Last month, Vermont had one of the worst participation rates of any state in the country.
Gov. Scott was concerned because the census is often used to allocate federal funds.
Scott urged Vermonters to sign up for the census and he says many people have responded.
“I’m pleased to report, while we previously lagged behind the rest of the country, we’re now fifth in the rankings and on track to match our 2010 response. But we can do even better,” he said.
The deadline for completing the census forms was going to be the end of this month, but a federal judge extended the date until the end of October.
However, that ruling is expected to be challenged by the Census Bureau.
7. The Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium is planning an expansion
The Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury is planning its first expansion in 125 years.
The plans call for a three-story, 6,000-square-foot addition of glass and wood framing. The addition would house space for modern, hands-on exhibits focused on meteorology and astronomy, and an elevator to provide access to the museum’s balcony.
Museum Executive Director Adam Kane said the museum has received $600,000 in funding for part of the project. Officials are awaiting word on a $2 million grant application. Kane said the museum originally developed plans for a much larger addition more than a decade ago, but over the years many of the museum’s needs were addressed in other ways.
– The Associated Press
8. New Hampshire weighs reopening retail at 100% capacity
The New Hampshire governor’s economic reopening task force has approved updated guidance allowing full capacity at retail stores, which have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Retailers have been limited to half capacity, and while some sectors like garden centers have done well, some clothing stores have seen sales drop by 80%.
Nancy Kyle, head of the state’s retail association, says allowing stores to return to 100% capacity will be critical to the holiday shopping season. The task force sent its recommendations to the governor and public health officials for approval.
– The Associated Press
9. Quebec, Montreal heighten restrictions as COVID-19 cases climb
Quebec health officials say Montreal and Quebec City will enter the highest alert level in response to COVID-19, likely bringing new restrictions for bars and restaurants.
According to CBC News, Premier Francois Legault is expected to hold a news conference Monday at 5:30 p.m. to outline the restrictions. Officials say they hope to keep schools open.
Last week, provincial health officials urged the public to stop socializing for the next month in order to slow the spread of the virus.
Quebec reported 750 new cases of COVID-19 Monday.
– Karen Anderson
10. Deputy health commissioner says Vt. schools will shift towards more in-person learning
Vermont’s deputy health commissioner says she thinks schools will begin to move toward more in person learning. Tracy Dolan told Vermont Edition Monday that continued low cases of COVID-19 will help schools move students into classrooms.
Over the weekend, schools moved to Step 3, which allows gymnasiums and cafeterias to be used as intended. Athletic competitions between schools can also be held.
Dolan said Monday the department has not seen cases spread in schools with in-person learning.
“Even as of today, so far we’ve seen no transmission from student-to-student in a school, which really says to me that the teachers, administrators and students are doing a great job with the guidelines they’ve been given,” Dolan said.
Dolan said she hopes Step 3 will make those who are going to school in-person more comfortable in the buildings.
SALT LAKE CITY — The man seen pointing a bow and arrow at Salt Lake City protesters as they rallied against racial injustice in May admitted Monday to two criminal charges stemming from the confrontation, contending he made a poor choice while at a low point.
Defense attorney Zoraya Gappmaier said Brandon Earl McCormick lost his job in the pandemic and turned to liquor to ease his stress, a departure from years of good behavior.
Law enforcers see it differently, saying McCormick’s conduct on May 30 fit a pattern of dangerous crimes that have landed him in prison repeatedly over most of his adult life. Prosecutors contend it was not his first racially motivated aggression.
McCormick, 58, pleaded guilty Monday in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court to possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person and aggravated assault, both third-degree felonies.
Video taken at a protest outside Salt Lake City’s downtown library on May 30 shows McCormick quickly raising and lowering the weapon in multiple directions at those protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
He did not injure anyone before a group swarmed and attacked him, and was later pulled away by police as blood streamed down his face.
Several demonstrators then overturned his SUV and lit it on fire not far from a police car that also erupted in flames. Police said they recovered a separate crossbow from McCormick’s charred SUV.
At a preliminary hearing in July, another driver, Reggie Wilson, testified that McCormick was lunging at protesters with a knife, yelling “all lives matter” and using the N-word before training the bow and arrow at several people there.
On Monday, McCormick wore a yellow jail uniform and black face mask in the hearing held over video conference. He replied, “guilty, your honor” when a judge asked for his pleas.
The guilty pleas reflect that he attempted to cause injury that day, using a show of force with the bow and arrow; and that he had a knife despite felony convictions that barred him from lawfully possessing one, said his defense attorney Zoraya Gappmaier.
Third District Judge Paul Parker denied McCormick’s request to be released to a halfway house ahead of sentencing.
McCormick was doing well for three years but began drinking again in the spring after the events company he worked for laid him off because of the pandemic.
“During the months that he was not working, he was self-medicating his anxiety and fears about not being able to make ends meet, or see a supportive community at work,” Gappmaier said. Her client “suffered from a lot of anxiety and depression,” she added.
Gappmaier argued that time in rehabilitation could allow her client to show he can follow rules, interact calmly with others and address the issues that cause his alcohol dependency.
Although her client has spent 27 years in and out of prison in other states, he had been sober from meth for 20 years, she said.
He has the support of a tight-knit congregation, Gappmaier said without elaborating. His church has offered to cover the cost of treatment, she said.
Deputy Salt Lake County district attorney Alex Stoedter said McCormick poses too great a risk to the public and should not be released from jail before he is sentenced, in part because he has violated parole and carried out several violent crimes in the past.
“He’s got convictions in five different states,” Stoedter said, including in California and Arizona. The crimes included home-invasion burglaries and battery on a police officer.
Prosecutors believe a separate assault charge he faces in a Taylorsville road-rage incident is also racially motivated, Stoedter said, “where he’s using vicious slurs against minorities.” Gappmaier responded saying the two involved are alleged to have pushed each other.
“In this case, he very nearly could have seriously injured or killed someone, and luckily that did not happen,” Stoedter said.
The judge said he may grant the request in the future but declined to do so Monday, saying he needed to balance McCormick’s need for treatment against public safety.
As part of the deal and in exchange for his guilty pleas, two other charges were dismissed. They were another count of weapons possession by a restricted person and threatening to use a weapon during a fight, both third-degree felonies.
McCormick faces up to five years in prison on each conviction and a maximum fine of $5,000 when he is sentenced Nov. 2.
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated McCormick’s preliminary hearing happened in June. It actually took place in July.
The Trump and Pence campaign — along with the Joe Biden campaign — continue to spend massive amounts of money on ads here in Minnesota. Some of the claims in the ads are true, others are misleading or false. We put both campaigns’ claims to the Truth Test.
Meanwhile, our political analysts weigh in on the death of a candidate for Congress in Minnesota’s 2nd District. The death of Adam Weeks, the Legal Marijuana Now Party nominee, was challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Angie Craig (DFL). Now, the race for Craig’s seat, which includes Republican Tyler Kistner, will be pushed out to February.
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Warehouse retailer Costco has pulled Palmetto Cheese off of its shelves after the owner of the pimento cheese brand called Black Lives Matter a “terror organization,” according to CBS News.
Palmetto Cheese, which was being sold in more than 120 of its locations, will no longer be sold at Costco after founder Brian Henry, who also happens to be the mayor of Pawleys Island, South Carolina, wrote a scathing rebuke of the Black Lives Matter movement on Facebook on Aug. 25.
In the since-deleted post, he stated that he was “sickened by the senseless killings in Georgetown” following the deaths of two white people in Georgetown, South Carolina, in August, by a Black man who was accused of killing them in a dispute over a car crash.
Screenshots of his now-deleted post circulated on social media and called on shoppers to #BoycottPalmetto.
“2 innocent people murdered. Not 2 thugs or people wanted on multiple warrants. 2 white people defenselessly gunned down by a black man,” Henry wrote on Facebook. “So why do we stand by and allow BLM to lawlessly destroy great American cities and threaten their citizens on a daily basis … This BLM and Antifa movement must be treated like the terror organizations they are.
“Law and order, protection of liberty, and the right of peaceful enjoyment. If we don’t have that, we no longer have a country. My wife cried last night when she read about these murders. I’m sure their family is devastated. This did not have to happen. Does the senseless murder of these people not matter as much because it doesn’t fit the media narrative. You are damn right their lives matter. And we should all be outraged and engaged to demand action and stem the tide of lawless fringe. We can’t stay silent anymore. All lives matter. There I said it. So am I racist now? I think not. How about the POS who just gunned down 3 defenseless white people? You be the judge.”
“We need Law and Order. Now!” Henry ended his missive.
After calls for his resignation as mayor, according to Today, Henry released a statement.
“I am profoundly sorry to those I offended with my post last week. My comments were hurtful and insensitive,” Henry said. “I spent that past 10 days listening and learning. The conversations I’ve had with friends, our staff, the community and faith-based leaders provided me with a deeper understanding of racial inequality and the importance of diversity sensitivity, which is very much needed to heal Pawleys Island, Georgetown and our country.”
The attorney for the man arrested for going to a summer protest with a disassembled AR-15 in his backpack has filed a motion asking the General Sessions Court judge to dismiss the case ahead of the preliminary hearing.
Trevan Young, 29, was arrested in June after police said they received a credible tip that there was an armed individual with possible intent to do harm to people attending the ongoing demonstrations in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis.
In his motion, local attorney McCracken Poston argues that Tennessee’s firearms laws provide a caveat to the law with which Young, a Black man, is charged: possession of a firearm with intent to use it for harm.
According to Poston’s motion, the law that Young is accused of violating does not apply when the carrying of a weapon was due to “lawful hunting, trapping, fishing, camping, sport shooting or other lawful activity.”
Poston argues that protesting can be considered “other lawful activity.”
Young, who was “peacefully involved in protesting, was arguably participating in the most protected activity, his rights to free speech, assembly and to protest his government. As such, the charges regarding the carrying of a disassembled weapon should be dismissed,” Poston wrote in his motion.
Poston also is asking for his client’s remaining charges — disorderly conduct and resisting arrest — to be dropped.
Young was wearing headphones, Poston argues, because he was initially startled and confused by the first officer who approached him.
“The fact that tensions were unusually high should not be held against the defendant, who was protesting the treatment of multiple African-American suspects by police departments nationwide,” Poston wrote.
Young’s preliminary hearing, initially set for Sept. 24, was rescheduled for Nov. 10.
During that hearing, prosecutors will walk the judge through the evidence against Young, and the judge will then decide whether to dismiss the charges or send them to a grand jury.
A grand jury would take another look at the evidence and vote on whether to formally indict the defendants.
At the time of the arrest, police said they found a disassembled AR-15 concealed in Young’s backpack with multiple AR-15 magazines, two of which were loaded and easily accessible to him.
The arrest came just days before another man, 35-year-old Kevin Leko, was arrested for standing atop a building along the protesters’ route in the 1400 block of Market Street with an assault rifle.
Leko, a white man, was charged with possession of a firearm while under the influence.
Police said he had six beers in his bag and appeared to be very intoxicated, based on his speech, movement and the smell of beer on his breath. And in his bag, police said they found an AK-47 rifle, two 9 mm handguns and a revolver, all of which were loaded. They also reported finding a broken-down PA-224 and various loaded magazines for each weapon with the exception of the revolver.
Leko waived his preliminary hearing on Sept. 21, and his case was sent to the grand jury for potential indictment.