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Wednesday
Aug162017

Woman arrested for helping to topple Confederate statue in North Carolina

iStock/Thinkstock(DURHAM, N.C.) -- Deputies in North Carolina arrested a woman on Tuesday, who says she helped pull down a Confederate statue in Durham.

According to ABC affiliate WTVD, Takiyah Thompson, 22, is charged with disorderly conduct by injury to a statue, damage to real property, participation in a riot with property damage in excess of $1,500 and inciting others to riot where there is property damage in excess of $1,500.


Thompson said her actions were justified because Confederate statues represent white supremacy.

She climbed a ladder to the top of the statue to tie a rope around its neck before the crowd tore it down.

A video showing protesters pulling down the statue in downtown Durham, North Carolina, went viral Monday.

Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews on Tuesday referred to the action as "civil disobedience that is no longer civil."

“I am grateful the events that unfolded Monday evening did not result in serious injury or the loss of life, but the planned demonstration should serve as a sobering example of the price we all pay when civil disobedience is no longer civil," Andrews said in a statement.

 The sheriff said his office focused on "restraint and public safety" during the protest, but it would use the video to investigate the incident as an act of vandalism.

"As the sheriff, I am not blind to the offensive conduct of some demonstrators nor will I ignore their criminal conduct," the statement said. "With the help of video captured at the scene, my investigators are working to identify those responsible for the removal and vandalism of the statue."

Andrews said restraint does not mean inaction, adding that if had he instructed his deputies to engage with the hostile crowd, there would have been injuries and further chaos.

Damaging the Confederate statue was a blatant violation of the law, he said, and his department plans to pursue felony charges against those who did it.

The statue, which had sat in front of the city's old courthouse since 1924, depicts a Confederate soldier wielding a muzzle rifle and lugging a canteen and bedroll, and is dedicated "in memory of the boys who wore gray."

It is unclear if Thompson has an attorney.

 

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Wednesday
Aug162017

94-year-old retired judge builds pool to bring joy to his home and neighbors

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A retired judge, whose home seemed empty and quiet since the death of his wife, came up with an unusual and generous way to fill the void.

He built a custom, in-ground pool for his neighbors and their children to enjoy.

"The house was pretty darn quiet when she was gone," Keith Davison, 94, told ABC News about his wife, Evy, who died in April 2016.

"She was the most important thing in my life and always was for years. So I went through the initial grieving process and I felt like I needed to do something more," Davison said.

He decided he could reinvigorate his own home and bring a bit of joy to his small Minnesota neighborhood by building one thing the community lacked -- a pool.

"We live in a nice neighborhood with a lot of good friends, and they have quite a few kiddies, I thought it'd be a neat thing to do," he said.

A neighbor of seven years, Jessica Huebner, told ABC News that the Davisons always treated her four kids like adopted grandchildren and loved to spend time with them, sharing stories and enjoying their company.

"He and his late wife Evy have always been the most gracious, kind, loving neighbors, and he loves children and having kids play out in the yard," Huebner said.

Davison contacted a family-run company in Hopkins, Minnesota, that had built a pool for his previous house 40 years ago. "They were still in business and did such a great job before, so they came out and planned it," Davison said.

Kevin Mulvaney who works on new pools for the company helped Davison with everything, from initial planning and completing contracts back in March to teaching him how to filter the water once the pool was finished in July.

"We got the crew assembled, had the pool excavator and utilities in there -- it's probably a monthlong process and before you know it you're filling the pool with water," Mulvaney told ABC News. "Keith is a fantastic man, he's just so pleasant to be around and it was just a real nice atmosphere, he even had pictures and shared stories of my dad [Virgil 'Red' Mulvaney] building their first pool," he added.

 And Davison's neighbors were ecstatic to see the plans come to life.

"One day he said, 'I'm going to put a pool in, Jess,' and I thought he may just be talking, but then sure enough he marked his yard for utilities, a cement truck came in and before we knew it, in goes this amazing pool," Huebner recalled.

The 16-by-32-foot pool has a shallow end that slopes down to a eight-foot deep end complete with a six-foot diving board.

"The pool opened up around the first part July and we’ve been over there a handful of times," Huebner said, adding that many of the neighborhood kids have had a chance to go play and swim there this summer.

"Sometimes he’ll sit out there and visit, other times he’ll be in his house doing his own thing, but he really enjoys it," she said.

Davison said, "They love to swim, I just require that a parent or a grandparent come with."

"I have my rules, I was a lawyer and a judge," he said.

Besides giving children a place to swim, Huebner said Davison has offered something far more valuable.

Her kids see him "doing something out of the goodness of his heart and in return they learn to be kind and respect him as an adult and have conversations and share their life with him," she said.

Davison, however, said his gesture is "not a big deal."

"You know it turned out to be a great idea, but it’s really not a big deal, I just thought it’d be something fun for them and bring some joy, and it has," he said.

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Tuesday
Aug152017

Lincoln Memorial vandalized with explicit graffiti

National Park Service(WASHINGTON) -- The Lincoln Memorial was vandalized with bright-red graffiti early Tuesday morning at around 4.30 a.m.

Officials with the National Park Service (NPS) said the red spray paint appears to state “[expletive] law” on one of the memorial’s columns overlooking the National Mall. Another instance in silver spray paint was also discovered on a Smithsonian wayfinding sign in the 1400 block of Constitution Avenue.

Work to remove the graffiti is already underway using a mild, gel-type architectural paint stripper, according to the NPS. The gel won’t affect the preservation of the memorial’s historic stone.

 

 

The crew will apply the treatment and let it set on the stone for approximately an hour, then rinse it with “clean, potable” water, according to the NPS. The process is repeated until “all evidence of the graffiti is gone.”

This isn’t the first instance of vandalism on the Lincoln Memorial or other national monuments.

In July 2013, the giant statue of the 16th president was splashed with green paint on the left pant leg. The Washington Post reported that this was the first incident of vandalism on the monument since its dedication in 1922.

More recently, over the President's Day weekend in February 2017, the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and World War II Memorial, three of D.C.’s most popular monuments, were vandalized with marker pen. Local ABC affiliate WJLA-TV reported that the graffiti included small phrases that appeared to be conspiracy theories, such as "Jackie shot JFK," "blood test is a lie, leukemia, cancer HIV get 2nd opinion" and "9/11/01 Misty pilots fly planes into WTC 1, 2, P, F."

The World War II Memorial’s North Dakota column was also defaced with spray paint in November 2016, in what was believed to be a sign of protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, according to The Washington Post.

The United States Park Police has asked anyone with information to contact the agency at 202-610-7515.

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Tuesday
Aug152017

How Taylor Swift's victory could affect sexual assault cases

Theo Stroomer/Getty Images(DENVER) -- Taylor Swift was awarded exactly $1 for her victory in civil court Monday, but the award could represent much more for victims of sexual assault.

After a Denver jury found that a preponderance of evidence showed that former radio DJ David Mueller had groped the pop star, Swift said in a statement that her four-year ordeal, which included a two-year-long trial process, was for "anyone who feels silenced by a sexual assault."

"I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this," the 27-year-old singer said in a statement obtained by ABC News. "My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard. Therefore, I will be making donations in the near future to multiple organizations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves."

Two organizations working with victims of assault told ABC News that they have already benefited from Swift taking on Mueller in court.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, reported that its national hotline saw a 35 percent increase in use from Friday to Monday.

Swift's victory is "a great demonstration to other victims that there is strength in coming forward and pursing justice," RAINN's president Scott Berkowitz told ABC News.

While acknowledging that Swift had the resources to pursue a civil case in court, Berkowitz said one of the biggest challenges for victims of sexual violence is not financial, it's their reluctance to tell anyone that they've been assaulted.

"So seeing someone that they respect, that they identify with [state they've been assaulted], has a big impact," he said. "I think that will encourage others to come forward."

Changing the idea that sexual assault is associated with shame could also be a positive result of the ruling.

"We try to convey the message that there is nothing to be ashamed of," Berkowitz added, "that the victim of assault is never the one who is at fault."

Swift did not appear to show fear or shame when she took the stand last week, in one of the highlights of the trial. She was at turns sarcastic, defiant and funny, but never wavering in her testimony that Mueller groped her.

Berkowitz calls Swift the "hero" of the case for her unabashed testimony and the positive outcome that resulted.

"I think this could have a long-term impact and help shape the conversation," he said. "While the circumstances of assault are different, [Swift] can still serve as a symbol for sexual assault -- that you don't have to take it."

Mike Domitrz, founder of The Date Safe Project, whose mission is to "create a culture of consent and respect," told ABC News that Swift is broadening the conversation about what constitutes assault.

"What she did on the stand is to help people realize the gravity, that touching someone against their will, is a big deal," he said. "That’s what she made very clear -- this is outrageous and horrifying."

When The Date Safe Project first posted about the case on its Facebook page, Domitrz said they received dozens of responses from people who said, in their experiences working in bars and restaurants, these kind of groping incidents are not uncommon.

He expects more people to be talking about the issue when he begins visiting college campuses in the fall.

"People are going to debate, 'Is this sexual assault or is that just someone trying to be boorish?'" he said. "This is the definition of sexual assault -- touching someone sexually without their consent. When we can get to that conversation, it opens up a whole new realm."

Mueller first sued Swift in 2015, claiming that she falsely accused him of grabbing her backside at a 2013 meet-and-greet, causing him to lose his job. The pop star then filed a countersuit for assault and battery, claiming that Mueller "took his hand and put it up my dress," according to court documents obtained by ABC News.

On Monday, the Denver jury, comprised of six women and two men, also found that the singer's mother, Andrea Swift, and her radio manager, Frank Bell, did not intentionally interfere with Mueller's contract and were not responsible for his firing after the 2013 incident.

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Tuesday
Aug152017

Woman, three children injured after large elm tree uproots in Central Park

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Dramatic video shows bystanders and first responders coming to the rescue of a mother and her three young children after they were injured by a fallen tree in Central Park Tuesday morning.

A large elm tree uprooted and fell on the woman, 39, as she was pushing two children, ages 4 and 2, in a stroller while carrying an infant in her arms near 62nd Street and Central Park West, ABC New York station WABC-TV reported.

The woman was trying to shield the kids when the tree knocked her in the head, according to the FDNY. She was pinned on the ground for about 10 minutes before firefighters freed her, authorities said.

The woman and three children were taken to a local hospital to be treated for their injuries, the FDNY said. The woman suffered head trauma and is listed in critical condition, while the children were listed in serious condition due to their ages, authorities said. All of the injuries were described as non-life threatening.

The identity of the woman -- New York resident Anne Goldman -- was confirmed to ABC News by her family. She also suffered a fractured vertebra, the family said.

One bystander told WABC that the children were alert and crying as police approached the scene.

"She didn't see it coming, and it just fell right on top of her," the man said of the woman. He described hearing the crack of the tree as a "big log snapping" that "fell real fast."

The roots of the tree stretched 6 to 7 feet long, WABC-TV reported. Crews then chopped it up to remove it from the park.

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Tuesday
Aug152017

Man caught on video urinating on Philadelphia synagogue, giving lewd hand gesture to camera

Philadelphia Police(PHILADELPHIA) -- Police in Philadelphia are searching for a man caught on surveillance video giving a lewd hand gesture to the camera and then urinating on the walls of a synagogue.

On Sunday at about 12:30 a.m., the unknown man was seen on surveillance video approaching the front doors of the Congregation Beth Solomon, the Philadelphia Police Department said.

The suspect "gave an obscene hand gesture in the direction of the camera, then began to urinate on the walls, and sidewalk directly in front of the doors of the Synagogue," police said in a statement.

Police said the suspect then got into the passenger seat of a white four-door sedan and left the scene. Police said the car was possibly a BMW.

The suspect is described as a man in his 20s with a thin build and a light complexion, police said. He has black hair and a short beard, and was wearing a white shirt and jeans at the time of the incident.

Philadelphia Police Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum told ABC News Tuesday that while no arrests have been made, police received about five or six tips on Monday.

"Some people came forward and pointed us in the right direction," he said. "Hopefully it pans out and we get an arrest."

Rosenbaum said that while police believe the synagogue was targeted, authorities think this was vandalism, not a hate crime.

Rosenbaum said a rabbi of the synagogue was in the building at the time of the vandalism. Rosenbaum said the rabbi noticed activity on the surveillance screen, and that's when he checked the tape and saw the suspect's actions.

"Otherwise he might not have even known it happened," Rosenbaum said.

Rosenbaum said the synagogue has a high-resolution camera as the congregation has faced theft and vandalism in the past. Rosenbaum said the menorah seen in the background of the surveillance video was previously stolen and then returned.

The synagogue declined to comment.

Rosenbaum said the suspect would likely face charges of harassment, disorderly conduct and institutional vandalism.

Rosenbaum said anyone with information can call the police at 215-686-3153.

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Tuesday
Aug152017

The state of the white supremacy and neo-Nazi groups in the US

ABCNews.com(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- The weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, underscored the re-emergence of white supremacy and nationalist groups in the United States, some experts say.

Racist hate groups have been a part of U.S. history for much of the country’s existence, but their recent revival has reached a startling point, according to one expert.

“Since the era of formal white supremacy -- right before the Civil Rights Act when we ended [legal] segregation -- since that time, this is the most enlivened that we've seen the white supremacist movement,” said Heidi Beirich, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a legal advocacy organization that monitors such extremist groups.

The Alabama-based nonprofit’s statistics for hate groups in 2017 are not yet available, but it reported finding 917 of the groups across the country last year.

The SPLC breaks down the groups by category, noting that there were 99 neo-Nazi groups, 130 outposts of the Ku Klux Klan, 43 neo-Confederate groups, 78 racist skinhead groups and 100 white nationalist groups. Various other groups – those classified as anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, Christian identity or general hate groups – could also share some ideology with white supremacist or white nationalist groups.

The overall number of U.S. hate groups jumped about 17 percent in 2016 from 784 in 2014 , according to SPLC research.

Beirich noted that there has been “massive growth” in recent years, and pointed to the expansion of groups that are associated with neo-Nazi news website the Daily Stormer.

“The Daily Stormer went from one chapter in 2015 to about 30 in 2016,” she said, noting that many of the new groups were having in-person meetings and not just communicating online.

GoDaddy, the web hosting company, posted on Twitter that it notified the Daily Stormer that it had 24 hours to find a new domain hosting service after the site mocked the woman who died at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally when a car rammed into a crowd of counterprotesters.

The Daily Stormer then switched to Google, which canceled the site’s “registration with Google Domains for violating our terms of service,” according to a Goggle statement.

The website, which is no longer accessible online, has not issued a public response but a cached version states that, “We here at the Daily Stormer are opposed to violence.”

Beyond the groups, a number of self-described white supremacists such as Richard Spencer and David Duke, a former Louisiana lawmaker who was once imperial wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, have re-emerged in the spotlight since last year’s presidential campaign. Both were in Charlottesville this weekend, and Duke spoke about how many attendees of the “Unite the Right” rally felt emboldened by the election of President Donald Trump.

"This rally represents a turning point for the people of this country,” Duke said in Charlottesville Saturday. “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That's what we believed in, that's why we voted for Donald Trump because he said we're going to take our country, back and that's what we got to do.”

Trump disavowed Duke last year but only after criticism of the president’s initial statement that he needed “to look into” Duke’s group before distancing himself from the former lawmaker’s endorsement.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism, said the difference this year is that white supremacists and nationalists seem to sense that “this was a moment of opportunity to move from the margins to the mainstream.”

“Trump harnessed this movement and also injected energy into it,” Greenblatt told reporters on a call Monday.

Greenblatt alleged that Trump has been “sort of winking and nodding to them with tweets and racist statements.”

Trump’s campaign raised questions about the state of the KKK in the United States after neo-Nazis and white supremacists were sometimes spotted at his events and a white nationalist super PAC not associated with the Trump campaign made robocalls on Trump's behalf, among other incidents.

Trump received criticism from a number of Republicans and Democrats over the weekend after he initially condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” on Saturday. Two days later, Trump made more forceful comments.

"Racism is evil,” he said in remarks from the White House Monday. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

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Tuesday
Aug152017

Recent flashpoints in the controversy over Confederate symbols

ABC News(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- As of 2016, the U.S. was home to more than 700 Confederate monuments or statues on public property, according to a study by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

But Confederate symbols, such as the Confederate flag and statues of leaders of the Confederacy during the Civil War, have often been the source of controversy for their perceived racial ties. As part of a groundswell calling for the removal of these symbols, many have come down since 2016 -- often stirring conflict.

This weekend's rally over a Confederate statue in Virginia that turned deadly joins a list of recent incidents sparked by Confederate symbols on public grounds.

Columbia, South Carolina

In July 2015, capping an emotional and long debate, South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its post on the state Capitol grounds in Columbia, a change approved by then-Gov. Nikki Haley.

The flag had been a source of contention for years. Opponents of the flag contended it is a symbol of segregation and fuels racism, while some supporters called it an important relic of history that does not symbolize hate. The debate returned to the forefront in June 2015 after nine black parishioners were shot and killed at a church in Charleston.

The state decided to remove the Confederate flag from its state capitol on July 10, 2015, and cheers of "U.S.A." erupted as the color guard took it down.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Following a 2015 City Council vote, New Orleans' four Confederate monuments were removed.

The City Council vote was on a proposal by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who also cited the June 2015 Charleston church shooting.

The last monument removed was the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee that towered over the center of what was commonly called Lee Circle along St. Charles Avenue. The removal on May 19, 2017, was met with cheers from an attending crowd.

St. Louis, Missouri

A Confederate monument in a St. Louis park was removed in June, 2017. In the weeks leading up to the removal, it was the site of protests.

The monument showed a Confederate soldier leaving his family for the Civil War with an angel hovering above them.

Charlottesville, Virginia

Charlottesville's plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a local park became the center of the deadly incident on August 12, 2017.

The plan to remove the statue was protested by white nationalists, including neo-Nazis, skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members, who formed a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. The white nationalists were met in the college town by hundreds of counter-protesters, which led to street brawls and violent clashes.

A driver plowed into a group of people who were protesting the white nationalists, killing one and injuring many others. The suspected driver is in custody and facing charges.

Two Virginia State Troopers helping with the response to the clashes also died that day in a helicopter crash.

Durham, North Carolina

Two days after the Charlottesville violence, activists and protesters who attended a rally in Durham to coax officials to remove a Confederate soldier statue that's been in front of the city's courthouse since 1924 decided to remove it themselves.

During the rally on August 14, 2017, protesters surrounded the base of the statue, which depicts a Confederate soldier wielding a muzzle rifle and lugging a canteen and bedroll and is dedicated "in memory of the boys who wore gray."

Some protesters used a ladder and looped a rope around the statue before yanking the soldier from its concrete perch.

While dragging it to the ground, the angry demonstrators stomped on the statue repeatedly.

The Durham County Sheriff said his office will seek charges against those who pulled down the statue.

A renewed push to remove Confederate symbols


The violence in Charlottesville has put a new spotlight on Confederate symbols around the nation.

In New York, a member of Congress and the Brooklyn Borough President are renewing their calls for the names of Brooklyn streets General Lee Avenue and Stonewall Jackson Way to be changed, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

And in Kentucky, a rally is expected Wednesday to call for the removal of a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis at the Capitol, the Courier Journal reported.

The state's governor, Matt Bevin, condemned the recent violence in an interview with WVHU radio on Tuesday, but added that he "absolutely" disagrees with removing Confederate symbols and monuments from government property, calling it the "sanitization of history."

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Tuesday
Aug152017

Confederate-statue toppling in North Carolina may lead to criminal charges

iStock/Thinkstock(DURHAM, N.C.) -- Protesters who pulled down a Confederate statue in North Carolina in an apparent response to violence over the weekend in neighboring Virginia may be charged with vandalism, authorities said.

A video showing protesters pulling down the statue in downtown Durham, North Carolina, went viral Monday.

Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews referred to the action Tuesday as "civil disobedience that is no longer civil."

“I am grateful the events that unfolded Monday evening did not result in serious injury or the loss of life, but the planned demonstration should serve as a sobering example of the price we all pay when civil disobedience is no longer civil," Andrews said in a statement.

The sheriff said his office focused on "restraint and public safety" during the protest, but that they would use the video of the event to investigate the incident as an act of vandalism.

"As the sheriff, I am not blind to the offensive conduct of some demonstrators nor will I ignore their criminal conduct," the statement said. "With the help of video captured at the scene, my investigators are working to identify those responsible for the removal and vandalism of the statue."

The statue, which had sat in front of the city's old courthouse since 1924, depicts a Confederate soldier wielding a muzzle rifle and lugging a canteen and bedroll, and is dedicated "in memory of the boys who wore gray."

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Tuesday
Aug152017

School-bus driver shortage across the US sparks growing concern

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As a new school year nears for more than 50 million U.S. students, many districts worry how they will get children to school.

The country has a shortage of school-bus drivers which 22 percent of private bus contractors call "severe," according to a recent survey by School Bus Fleet Magazine.

Five percent of school-bus contractors are "desperate" to find drivers, the survey found.

"We're seeing some school districts having to cut school-bus routes or consolidate them, having fewer stops," said Thomas McMahon, the magazine's executive editor said.

The director of transportation for the Douglas County school district in Colorado said bus driving is not as attractive a job as it may have been recently.

"The economy's better so people are going back to jobs that they had done previously, or they find the need to stay at home," Donna Grattino told ABC News Denver affiliate KMGH.

The Denver-area district still needs at least 40 more school bus drivers and is considering enlisting stay-at-home parents to help fill the gap by allowing them to bring preschool-age children with them on the route, Grattino said.

"As long as they can walk up on a bus, we can get them into a car seat and make sure they're safe," she said.

But becoming a bus driver can take time.

The process to get a commercial drivers license, including obtaining a permit, training time and taking the test can in many states take up to 12 weeks, according to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. Drivers also often have to undergo extensive drug tests and background checks.

Average starting-pay at the 50 largest school-bus companies rose to $16.90 an hour in 2017, up from $16.24 in 2016, School Bus Fleet said.


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