The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Indiana Drafts Amended Religious Law To Protect Gays Against Discrimination

By Michael Muskal and Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers on Thursday presented new legislation designed to answer critics who say the state’s new law on religious beliefs allows discrimination against gays and lesbians and to ease the political and business pressure that has tightened around the state.

The proposed amendment, hammered out in recent days in meetings among top officials and business leaders, explicitly says the law cannot be used as a legal defense by those who deny goods and services to customers because of their sexual orientation or gender.

The amendment would be the first time the state has offered any protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but it stops short of a separate antidiscrimination law that some critics of the religious law had sought.

Indiana has antidiscrimination laws, but they do not cover cases involving sexual orientation.

The amended language was formally presented at a news conference Thursday morning.

“We are pleased,” House Speaker Brian Bosma told reporters at the news conference. The amendments are “a very strong statement to assure that every Hoosier’s right will be protected.”

The amended language is expected to work its way to the governor’s desk in time to meet the self-imposed deadline of acting by the end of the week.

Proponents of the original version of the law said it protected religious freedom by allowing individuals to act on their beliefs. Critics had contended it would also allow providers to deny service to gays and lesbians.

Led by business and sports leaders, critics have been fighting the law, arguing that it portrayed a poor image of Indiana and threatened economic development.

Indiana was the 20th state to pass such a law.

A similar law is pending in Arkansas, where the Legislature is also seeking a fix after Governor Asa Hutchinson refused to sign the measure and sent it back to lawmakers.

Photo: WFIU Public Radio via Flickr

Ferguson Calms Down; Protests Continue Elsewhere

By Michael Muskal and Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

FERGUSON, Mo. — Protests outside Missouri seemed to surpass the number of demonstrations in this St. Louis suburb where the Thanksgiving holiday and cold weather continued to keep tensions below the boil after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer who shot an unarmed black man to death.

The decision not to charge Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown touched off violent protests, looting and arson in Ferguson and less violent demonstrations across the country, especially in Los Angeles and New York. Hundreds of people have been arrested on protest-related charges since the grand jury’s decision was announced on Monday.

On Thursday, at least seven people were arrested in New York as they were heading to the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, police said. The parade, which moves down the west side of Central Park through Times Square and on to Herald Square and the iconic Macy’s store, drew several million spectators and was unaffected by the arrests or protests, authorities said.

The protesters chanted, “Justice for Mike Brown!” and “No justice, no peace!” when they were confronted by police who refused to let the group disrupt the parade, known for its huge balloons.

There were no reports of major confrontations or damage to property overnight in Ferguson, where about 100 people marched in a light snow. St. Louis County police said Thursday there had been just two arrests, a sharp drop from earlier in the week when more than 100 people were arrested in the area over several days.

After days of unrest, Ferguson still bore the scars. West Florissant Avenue, where a dozen buildings burned and gunfire broke out on Monday, remained blocked off by police cruisers.

Most of the businesses along South Florissant Road, which on Tuesday night was the scene of the last in a series of rolling battles between demonstrators and police, remained boarded up and closed.

Outside the Ferguson Police Department headquarters, Houston resident Randy Doxley was one of only a few pedestrians and reporters standing in the bitter cold. Doxley said he, his son and his nephew arrived in Ferguson on Thursday morning to visit family for Thanksgiving and felt compelled to visit the locations that have become synonymous with Brown’s death.

“This is my first time being here, we got right off the freeway and came here,” Doxley said. “It’s part of history, man.”

Doxley said many of his relatives are concerned that the unrest of previous days might again erupt after Thanksgiving dinner. “A lot of them are worried because at night you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

Doxley’s nephew, 22-year-old Justin Jones, said that as a young black man not much older than Brown, he felt compelled to visit the scene that has touched off a national discussion about race and police practices.

“It’s definitely huge to me. What happened is very tragic,” Jones said. “I needed to be down here and show face.”

National Guard troops with rifles remained posted at intersections and parking lots on Thursday.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon who has been criticized for not initially deploying the Guard in sufficient numbers, thanked the soldiers.

“I appreciate the sacrifice that these law enforcement officers and citizen-soldiers are making, especially during this holiday weekend, in order to protect lives and property,” he said in a statement emailed to reporters. “I would ask Missourians to join me in thanking these officers and guardsmen as they spend time away from their families this Thanksgiving weekend.”

Photo: Protesters for Michael Brown march in solidarity with LGBT activists eastward down Manchester Avenue in the Grove neighborhood on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014, as peaceful but fervent demonstrations erupted all over the St. Louis area. (Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

2 Dead, Student And Shooter, At Oregon High School

By Michael Muskal and Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times

One student has been killed and the shooter is also dead at Reynolds High School near Portland, Oregon, police said Tuesday morning.

At a televised news conference, Troutdale Police Chief Scott Anderson told reporters that the violent situation, which began at 8 a.m., was contained and over.

The chief said one student was fatally shot in the campus attack. No names were given.

Students, who had been locked in place at the school, were evacuated from Reynolds High School and were being reunited with their parents in a nearby supermarket parking lot.

Police and emergency personnel responded Tuesday to reports of a shooting at the school, about 16 miles east of Portland.

“Every officer we have is out on that call,” a spokeswoman for the Troutdale Police Department told the Los Angeles Times.

In addition to those officers, officials from as many as 13 surrounding communities have responded, Troutdale Mayor Doug Daust told MSNBC.

The Clark County, Washington, Sheriff’s Department is among those responding, an official told the Los Angeles Times.

Televised images from the scene showed parents anxiously waiting outside the grades 9 through 12 school. It is finals week at the school, the mayor said.

Social media have been on fire over the incident with one student tweeting the school is in lockdown and a number of police cars have rolled up. A second student has tweeted she heard gunfire. A third reported a police officer racing toward the school’s gymnasium.

Jacob Saldana, 16, a junior, told the Times he saw a teacher who had apparently been shot and “skimmed” in the hip, but who was not seriously wounded.

Saldana said he was walking in the school as classes were about to start when a school secretary pulled him into the front office and said there was a lockdown. He thought it was just another drill, but as the secretary hurried him into a back room away from windows.

“When I got into the room and I saw one of the teachers had a wound, I knew this was not a joke, it was real,” Saldana said, adding, “He was definitely bleeding … (But) he was really strong for somebody who had a wound, he was kind of walking it off.”

Eventually a police officer came to the front doors of the school and administrators unlocked the door after the officer slipped a card under the door.

They led Saldana and the others out. As Saldana ran out of the school, he said he ran past “dozens” of cop cars.

“There is literally cop cars here from every surrounding city,” Saldana said. “We ran through the cops, then we got to the church across the street, and we were patted down.”

Saldana added, “It is still surreal right now,” as he was surrounded by hundreds of students at the church, unclear about what happened and what happens next.

Another student, Hannah Amerson, 17, a junior, said she was on her way to school “when I saw at least six or seven cop cars head up the road. I got a really bad feeling so I asked my friends if everything was OK and they said they heard gunshots.”

One of those friends said he had heard about seven gunshots, she said.

“So I turned the other way and went to a friend’s house,” Amerson said. “While walking to my friend’s house, I saw more and more and more cop cars. More than I had ever seen in our town at one time.

“Now I’m safe at home watching the news and talking to whoever I can to make sure I know what’s going on.”

Savannah Bottenfield, 16, a junior, said she was in the arts building in the bathroom when a girl came in and said they were on lockdown. A teacher came in and they barricaded their door with a trash can because the bathroom door didn’t have a lock.

“We had to be quiet, and the doors to the arts building and the bathroom were unlocked, so I felt really scared and very unsafe because I knew there would be nothing we could do if someone walked in the building,” Bottenfield wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Times. “I sat there for over an hour and a half listening to sirens non-stop in fear because we didn’t know what was going on or if our friends were safe.”

Bottenfield added: “Never in a million years would I think this would happen at Reynolds. You never think something tragic and terrifying like this will happen to you until it does.”

Photo: KcdsTM via Flickr

Gunman Reported Dead After Shooting At Oregon High School

By Michael Muskal and Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times

A gunman is dead at a Troutdale, Oregon, high school and the situation has been brought under control, according to the Multnomah County sheriff’s office.

Students, who had been locked in place, were evacuated from Reynolds High School and were being reunited with their parents in a nearby supermarket parking lot.

Police and emergency personnel responded on Tuesday to reports of a shooting at the school, about an hour away from Portland.

The reports of shots fired came in about 8 a.m. at the school, officials said.

Local television reported injuries, but the conditions were not available.

“Every officer we have is out on that call,” a spokeswoman for the Troutdale Police Department told the Los Angeles Times.

In addition to those officers, officials from as many as 13 surrounding communities have responded, Troutdale Mayor Doug Daust told MSNBC.

The Clark County, Wash., Sheriff’s Department is among those responding, an official told the Los Angeles Times.

Televised images from the scene showed parents anxiously waiting outside the grade 9 through 12 school. It is finals week at the school, the mayor said.

Social media have been on fire over the incident with one student tweeting the school is in lockdown and a number of police cars have rolled up. A second student has tweeted she heard gunfire. A third reported a police officer racing toward the school’s gymnasium.

Jacob Saldana, 16, a junior, told The Times he saw a teacher who had apparently been shot and “skimmed” in the hip, but who was not seriously wounded.

Saldana said he was walking in the school as classes were about to start when a school secretary pulled him into the front office and said there was a lockdown. He thought it was just another drill, but as the secretary hurried him into a back room away from windows.

“When I got into the room and I saw one of the teachers had a wound, I knew this was not a joke, it was real,” Saldana said, adding, “He was definitely bleeding … (But) he was really strong for somebody who had a wound, he was kind of walking it off.”

Eventually a police officer came to the front doors of the school and administrators unlocked the door after the officer slipped a card under the door.

They led Saldana and the others out. As Saldana ran out of the school, he said he ran past “dozens” of cop cars.

“There is literally cop cars here from every surrounding city,” Saldana said. “We ran through the cops, then we got to the church across the street, and we were patted down.”

Saldana added, “It is still surreal right now,” as he was surrounded by hundreds of students at the church, unclear about what happened and what happens next.

AFP Photo/Scott Olson

Tornadoes Kill 34 As Storm System Heads East

By Michael Muskal and Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times

As a deadly storm system continued its eastward trek Tuesday, the South began tallying its losses from a tornado outbreak that killed at least 34 people in a swath from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Iowa to Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.

The harsh weather carved a wound from the Midwest and eastward, bringing severe thunderstorms, fierce winds and large hail, with the latest tornadoes damaging homes in North Carolina on Tuesday evening. Significant portions of Alabama and Mississippi remained under tornado watch.

Hundreds of injuries have been reported since Sunday as homes and buildings toppled, mobile homes were tossed like toys and heavy vehicles twisted in the wind.

This week’s tornadoes occurred near the anniversary of a 2011 outbreak that left more than 350 people dead across the South. In Alabama, more than 250 people died April 27, 2011, from more than 60 twisters.

This year’s tornado season had a much less severe start but it was still deadly. Dozens of tornadoes have touched down in recent days, with the majority scouring central Mississippi and northern Alabama on Monday.

Arkansas, especially in the Little Rock-area towns of Vilonia and Mayflower, was especially hard hit Sunday with 15 deaths in three counties. A sequence of at least two tornadoes scoured a nearly straight line of damage through the central part of the state, bringing winds in excess of 136 mph and carving a track more than half a mile wide in places.

Speaking in Washington on Tuesday, Arkansas Republican Rep. Steve Womack said: “The state’s in a state of shock right now.” Womack, whose district northwest of Little Rock was spared much of the damage, added: “These will try your souls.”

The dangerous storms moved through Mississippi, where tornadoes began to strike Monday afternoon through the evening. Tupelo, a community of about 35,000 people in northeastern Mississippi, was hard hit and every building in a two-block area was damaged, officials told television reporters.

Officials said nine people died in Mississippi’s Winston County, where Louisville is the county seat, with about 6,600 people. An apparent EF-4 tornado with winds stronger than 160 mph swept the area, severely damaging a medical center and a nursing home.

As of Tuesday, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency confirmed at least 12 deaths across the state.

Ruth Bennett, 53, died saving a child at her Ruth’s Child Care Center when the tornado hit Louisville. A firefighter who came upon her body gently pulled the toddler from her arms, according to The Associated Press.

“It makes you just take a breath now,” said next-door neighbor Kenneth Billingsley, who witnessed the scene at what was left of the center. “It makes you pay attention to life.”

Bennett’s niece, Tanisha Lockett, said she had worked at Ruth’s Child Care since it opened seven years ago. She said that all but the one child had been picked up before the storm. The 4-year-old, whose name was not released, was taken to a Jackson hospital.

“We’re just trying to keep a smile on our faces,” said Jackie Ivy, an employee who was helping with the cleanup Tuesday. “I cried all last night.”

Mississippi Republican state Sen. Giles Ward huddled in a bathroom with his wife, four other family members and their dog Monday as a tornado destroyed his two-story brick house and flipped his son-in-law’s SUV upside-down onto the patio in Louisville.

“For about 30 seconds, it was unbelievable,” Ward told reporters. “It’s about as awful as anything we’ve gone through.”

Another person died in Mississippi when her car either hydroplaned or was blown off a road during the storm in Verona, south of Tupelo.

Three weather-related deaths were confirmed in Alabama, with 19 counties reporting storm damage. One of those tornadoes destroyed the Kimberly Church of God in Kimberly, Ala. Pastor Stan Cooke was using the church as a community shelter, keeping about 25 people safe underground.

“I cried. I cried,” Cooke said to television reporters. “The church is not the people; the people are the church.”

In southern Tennessee, two people were killed in a home when a suspected tornado hit Monday night, Lincoln County Emergency Management Director Mike Hall told The Associated Press. The winds destroyed several other homes as well as a middle school in the county that borders Alabama, Hall said.

The storm even sent the staff at a TV news station running for cover. Chief meteorologist Matt Laubhan at NBC affiliate WTVA-TV in Tupelo, Miss., was reporting live on the air about 3 p.m. when he realized that the twister was approaching. He warned viewers and his 35 co-workers to get to safety.

“This is a tornado ripping through the city of Tupelo as we speak. And this could be deadly,” he said in a video widely tweeted and broadcast on YouTube.

Moments later he added, “A damaging tornado. On the ground. Right now.”

“Basement, now!” he yelled to the staff before disappearing off camera.

AFP Photo/Tasos Katopodis