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Florida ends ‘gator bait’ cheer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The University of Florida is ending its “gator bait” cheer at football games and other sports events because of its racial connotations, the school’s president announced Thursday in a letter making several other similar changes on campus. Florida president Kent Fuchs said in a letter to the university’s faculty, students and staff that the cheer has a “horrific historic racist imagery” involving African American people, especially children, being used as bait for alligators. “Accordingly, university athletics and the Gator Band will discontinue the use of the cheer,” Fuchs wrote. The university’s sports teams in the Southeastern Conference are nicknamed the Gators, for the ubiquitous Florida reptile. In the past, the school’s band would strike up a “gator bait” tune and fans would respond with their arms doing a chomping motion while shouting the slogan. The link to racism is borne out by news articles in years past. For example, in 1923, Time Magazine published a story about how “colored babies were being used for alligator bait” in Chipley, Florida. “The infants are allowed to play in the shallow water while expert riflemen watch from concealment nearby,” the article said. “When a saurian (alligator) approaches this prey, he is shot by the riflemen.” The Chipley Chamber of Commerce responded to the Time article by calling it a “silly lie, false and absurd.”

A day of joy, pain and action

In just about any other year, Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the day in 1865 that the last enslaved black people learned they had been freed from bondage, would be marked by African American families across the nation with a cookout, a parade, a community festival, a soulful rendition of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” But in 2020, as the coronavirus ravishes black America disproportionately, as economic uncertainty wrought by the pandemic strains black pocketbooks, and as police brutality continues to devastate black families, Juneteenth is a day of protest. Red velvet cake, barbecued ribs and fruit punch are optional. For many white Americans, recent protests over police brutality have driven their awareness of Juneteenth’s significance. “This is one of the first times since the ’60s, where the global demand, the inter-generational demand, the multiracial demand is for systemic change,” said Cornell University professor Noliwe Rooks, a segregation expert. “There is some understanding and acknowledgement at this point that there’s something in the DNA of the country that has to be undone.” Friday’s celebrations will be marked from coast to coast with marches and demonstrations of civil disobedience, along with expressions of black joy in spite of an especially traumatic time for the nation. And like the nationwide protests that followed the police involved deaths of black men and women in Minnesota, Kentucky and Georgia, Juneteenth celebrations are likely to be remarkably more multiracial.

Atlanta police call out in protest

ATLANTA — Atlanta’s police department reassured residents Thursday that it can still protect the city even though officers are calling out to protest a member of the force being charged with murder for shooting a man in the back. Prosecutors brought felony murder and other charges against the white officer who shot Rayshard Brooks, saying that Brooks was not a deadly threat and that the officer kicked the wounded black man and offered no medical treatment for over two minutes as he lay dying on the ground. Another officer is being charged with aggravated assault. Hours later, the Atlanta Police Department tweeted late Wednesday that it had more officers calling out than normal but that it had “enough resources to maintain operations & remain able to respond to incidents.” “The Atlanta Police Department is able to respond effectively to 911 calls. Please don’t hesitate to call if you have an emergency,” the department tweeted Thursday. It’s not clear how many officers have called out, but just one officer showed up for work Thursday morning in Zone 6, which covers much of Atlanta’s east side and which several dozen are assigned to patrol.

Federal agent shot in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH — A federal agent was shot and wounded early Thursday while taking part in a raid in a Pittsburgh neighborhood. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed one of its agents was shot around 6 a.m. and he was treated at the scene by ATF medics. The agent was hospitalized in stable condition. A suspect was taken into custody at the scene.

PG&E fined $4M for fire deaths

Pacific Gas & Electric on Thursday was fined $4 million for the deaths of 84 people killed in a nightmarish Northern California wildfire ignited by the its long-neglected electrical grid. The sentencing comes as the nation’s largest utility prepares to end a 17-month bankruptcy proceeding triggered by the catastrophe. The maximum penalty assessed by Butte County Superior Court Judge Michael Deems was a mere formality, given that PG&E reached a plea agreement three months ago to resolve manslaughter and other charges. They stemmed from a November 2018 inferno that wiped out Paradise, California, a town located 170 miles (275 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco. Deems rebuked PG&E for its “callous disregard” for human life and pointed out that if an individual had confessed to the same crimes as the company did, he would have been able to order a sentence of 90 years in state prison. But as a corporation, PG&E can not be imprisoned, forcing the judge to issue the maximum fine allowed under California law. Although PG&E has been in bankruptcy since early last year, the penalty won’t leave a big financial dent, given that it brought in $17 billion in revenue last year.

Suspects doused bar with liquid

HOUSTON — Surveillance video captured four people dousing chairs and tables at a Houston bar with a flammable liquid, leading to an explosion that heavily damaged the business and surrounding homes but caused no serious injuries. Video released by Houston Fire Department arson investigators shows the unidentified males pouring the liquid from 5 gallon containers over furniture on the deck at Bar 5015 near the Houston Museum District at around 5 a.m. on June 12. The liquid ran between the wooden slats on the deck and the fumes accumulated underneath. When the liquid was ignited, the accumulated fumes exploded. Investigators said they are hunting for the culprits, who hid their faces from the cameras with cloth coverings and hoodies. “The intent is obvious. I believe they were trying to burn the thing down and for whatever reason, it didn’t happen, but it did cause an explosion,” said Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena.

Brown’s dying wish approved

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Godfather of Soul’s dying wish to help educate needy children is a big step closer to being fulfilled, now that South Carolina’s Supreme Court — wading into a 14-year-old legal saga yet again — has ruled that James Brown’s last partner was not legally married to him. In an unanimous ruling on Wednesday, the state’s justices wrote that Tomi Rae Hynie, a former partner of Brown’s who claimed to be his wife, failed to annul a previous marriage, and therefore did not have a right to his multimillion-dollar estate. Brown’s union with Hynie has long been the center of the evolving legal troubles following his death at the age of 73 on Christmas Day 2006. The performer’s death touched off years of bizarre headlines, beginning with Hynie being locked out of his 60-acre estate, while photographers captured her sobbing and shaking its iron gates, begging to be let in. Brown was renowned for hundreds of iconic musical works including hits like “I Feel Good” and “A Man’s World,” and was known around the world for his flashy performances and dynamic stage presence. But years of drug problems and financial mismanagement caused his estate to dwindle. More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed over the years by people trying to lay claim to what’s left, which courts have estimated to be worth anything from $5 million to more than $100 million.

Couple claims $410M Mega

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A married couple from this Phoenix suburb has claimed the $410 million Mega Millions jackpot after purchasing a ticket from a Circle K store. The couple, a 70-year-old man and 63-year-old woman, chose to remain anonymous under state law but told lottery officials they have played the lottery regularly for 38 years, KNXV-TV reported. They chose their own numbers based on family birthdays. “My birthday is next month, and my left hand had been itching for two weeks, which meant money was coming my way,” the wife said, according to lottery officials. “I also found a shiny new heads-up penny just before I bought our tickets, so I just knew I’d be lucky.” The Arizona Lottery has said it was the 11th largest jackpot in Mega Millions history and the largest payout in Arizona lottery history. The pair chose the lump-sum cash option which pays out $319.9 million, KPHO-TV reported. After $76 million is paid in federal taxes and $15.3 million goes to state taxes, the couple will take home $227.8 million. The couple plans to pay off their mortgage, set aside money to provide for their children and grandchildren, invest, and enjoy the rest, lottery officials said. “I feel lighter now and it’s incredible to know that there will never be another bill that I can’t pay,” the husband said. Circle K will also receive a $50,000 sales incentive from the Arizona Lottery for selling the winning ticket, which it has pledged to donate to United Cerebral Palsy of Central Arizona.

Pitt student struck, killed

PITTSBURGH — Authorities have charged a Port Authority bus driver with involuntary manslaughter months after she struck and killed a University of Pittsburgh student. Police on Wednesday also charged 33-year-old Shavonne James with reckless driving, failure to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and operating an improperly equipped vehicle. James was behind the wheel of the bus on Jan. 18 when she turned and hit 20-year-old Barbara Como of Chester Springs. The college senior studied anthropology and psychology. The incident was caught on surveillance video.

Billie Eilish gets restraining order

LOS ANGELES — A judge has extended to three years a restraining order taken out by Billie Eilish against a man who repeatedly appeared at her Los Angeles home. In a hearing, Superior Court Judge Dianna Gould-Saltman agreed to the extension of the May 11 order preventing 24-year-old Prenell Rousseau of Farmingville, New York from attempting to contact or coming within 100 yards of the 18-year-old pop star or her parents. Eilish, her attorney and her parents phoned in to the hearing, held in a courtroom that was empty except for a reporter from The Associated Press reporter and court staff because of tight coronavirus restrictions. All including the judge wore face masks. The order also prohibits Rousseau from assaulting or harassing the family, or from coming near Eilish’s workplaces. Eilish said in court documents that Rousseau showed “erratic behavior” as he appeared at the home she shares with her parents seven times on May 4 and 5 until he was finally arrested for trespassing. Her attorney Mark D. Passin asked the judge for a five-year restraining order, but Gould-Saltman settled on three years after hearing that Rousseau had made no attempt to contact Eilish or her family outside of those two days.

Roaming mountain lion caught

SAN FRANCISCO — A young mountain lion that had been spotted sleeping in a planter box along a normally busy street and looking at his reflection in the glass of an office tower in downtown San Francisco was safely captured Thursday and will be released into the wild, officials said. The disoriented cougar roamed the streets for two days until he was spotted by a police officer near Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, said Officer Adam Lobsinger, a police spokesman. Officers set up a perimeter and waited for animal control officials to arrive. They safely captured the 50-pound cat in an apartment building’s green area with lots of shrubbery without the use of sedatives, Animal Care and Control spokeswoman Deb Campbell said. “In 24 hours, it only moved a few blocks. The poor guy really needed some help,” she said. Officials had been eyeing his movements since Tuesday, when a motorist first reported seeing it in Russian Hill, a neighborhood known for the famously crooked Lombard Street.

$10 million each for rebel chiefs

BOGOTA, Colombia — The United States is offering rewards of up to $10 million each for the arrests of two prominent Colombian rebels who were key figures in the nation’s historic peace process but have since returned to arms. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Department of State offered the prize Thursday for help in bringing Luciano Marin, alias Ivan Marquez, and Seuxis Hernandez, alias Jesus Santrich, to justice. Both men had been given seats in Colombia’s congress and were active proponents of the 2016 accord ending Latin America’s longest-running conflict but fled amidst accusations that they had continued drug trafficking. Hernandez was jailed in 2018 after prosecutors in New York ordered his arrest on drug charges, accusations he denied. He disappeared about a month after Colombia’s Supreme Court ordered him freed while the charges were investigated. U.S. officials were also investigating Marin when he went missing. Both men reappeared in August 2019 when they released a video showing them back in their olive-green uniforms alongside a small cadre of dissidents, accusing Colombia’s government of failing to uphold the peace accord. Colombia alleges Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is providing them shelter.

Counties can’t ban medical pot

Counties may not ban people on probation or parole from using prescription cannabis if they are registered in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday. In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court said that people holding a valid medical marijuana card are immune from “arrest, prosecution or penalty in any manner” under state law, even if they are under a court’s supervision. “In Pennsylvania, as elsewhere, the political branch has decided to permit patients — including probationers — to use medical marijuana for specified, serious medical conditions, upon a physician’s certification,” the court said in its opinion. Lebanon County’s court system had sought to prohibit medical marijuana use by people on probation and parole, though it later said that exemptions would be granted to patients who could prove that medical marijuana was a “medical necessity.”

New diversity efforts at papers

NEW YORK — The New York Times and The Washington Post both outlined new measures on Thursday aimed at improving diversity in their newsrooms and coverage. It’s the latest action taken by media organizations to address employees protesting racial inequities in hiring as well as in coverage — how stories are framed, and which stories are told. High-ranking editors have departed after protests by current and former staff at outlets including Bon Appetit magazine, the Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the women’s website Refinery29, owned by Vice. News organizations have also said changes are in store. Vice said it would overhaul its hiring practices. The Los Angeles Times admitted the paper had a history of feeding the city’s racism and said it must “recruit, promote and retain a more diverse staff.” Bon Appetit also said it would improve pay inequities and “prioritize people of color” as it sought a new top editor, and that its coverage would “center, rather than patronize, the contributions of marginalized people.”

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