Louisville-area university presidents pledge to do better for their African-American students Friday, Jun 5 2020 

By Eli Hughes–

Louisville-area university presidents co-signed a letter to their students and community members on June 3, addressing the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

“We, as leaders of higher education institutions in greater Louisville and Kentuckiana, are aware both of the promise of higher education as a transformative force in society, and of the problematic history of these very institutions in perpetuating racial inequity,” the presidents said in the letter.

They went on to pledge to five actions that they could take as leaders of their institutions:

  1. “We pledge to educate ourselves and our own college and university communities to recognize and work against structural racism.
  2. We pledge to work together to improve access to higher education for our African-American and other students of color.
  3. We pledge to create pathways for African-American and other students of color to meaningful and high-demand jobs and careers and acknowledge the need for more Black professionals in healthcare and education and engineering and law as in many other spheres.
  4. We pledge to engage fully and meaningfully in the life of West Louisville.
  5. With our institutional privileges of knowledge, reach, resources, legacy, and more, we pledge to consistently demonstrate our commitment to the objective fact that Black Lives Matter.”

The eight university presidents that signed the letter were University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi, Bellarmine University President Susan Donovan, Ivy Tech President Travis Haire, Jefferson Community and Technical College President Ty Handy, Sullivan University President Jay Marr,  Spalding University President Tori McClure, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary President Alton Pollard III, and Indiana University President Ray Wallace.

The same day the letter was sent out, Bendapudi joined some of the other university leaders at a protest in downtown Louisville to stand in solidarity with the protesters.

Photo by Joseph Garcia // The Louisville Cardinal

The post Louisville-area university presidents pledge to do better for their African-American students appeared first on The Louisville Cardinal.

In David McAtee Video, New Evidence And New Questions Wednesday, Jun 3 2020 

Representatives of the Louisville Metro Police Department declined to elaborate on the chain of events in a newly released video they said showed David McAtee fired his gun at officers before he was killed.

McAtee died Monday morning after being shot at by police and National Guard members who arrived at 26th Street and Broadway to break up a large gathering that was violating the citywide curfew in place because of anti-police violence protests. Officials said a shot was fired and officers and Guard members shot back, striking and killing McAtee.

The response Monday from officials and community members was one of mourning.

In a tweet, Mayor Greg Fischer offered his “deepest, deepest condolences” to McAtee’s family and friends. Later that day, he cried during a news conference before revealing there was some surveillance video but no body camera footage of the shooting because the officers who fired did not wear or did not activate their cameras.

“For him to be caught up in this and for him not to be with us today is a tragedy,” Fischer said of McAtee at the time.

Because of the missing body camera footage, Fischer fired police chief Steve Conrad — who last month announced plans to retire at the end of June, in the wake of national outcry over the death of Breonna Taylor.

Taylor was killed by police in March during a middle-of-the-night raid related to a drug investigation in which she was not a primary target. Calls for police accountability and justice in this case are part of the motivation for ongoing protests in Louisville. At the same time, demonstrations across the country aim to fight unjustified killings of Black people.

By Tuesday, the message had changed, even as Fischer continued to describe McAtee’s death as tragic. LMPD and the mayor announced they had obtained new video footage from McAtee’s restaurant and a nearby building.

Acting Chief Robert Schroeder acknowledged there were shortcomings in the silent videos released Tuesday, which show two angles of the incident but do not capture both McAtee and law enforcement simultaneously while the shooting occurs.

“This video appears to show Mr. McAtee fire a gun outside of his business door and officers who were using pepper balls to clear the Dino’s lot were approaching his business,” Schroeder said. “This video does not provide all the answers, but we are releasing it to provide transparency. It does not answer every question, including why did he fire and where were police at the time he fired?”

None of the video shared by police has any audio. Officials also released police radio transmissions related to the incident.

LMPD Training Division Commander Maj. Paul Humphrey said during that news conference details about whether a gun was recovered on McAtee would come out in the investigation. Later that evening, when Assistant Chief of Police LaVita Chavous addressed the media, she said she could confirm McAtee had a firearm and that one was found near his body.

“There was a female inside that was pointing towards a gun, so the object on the floor after the shooting took place was a firearm,” she said. “I can confirm that McAtee had a weapon in his hand, that he had a gun in his hand. If you look at the video, the gun was found close to the body.”

But the lack of audio and limited camera angles make it hard to determine the difference between pepper ball shots and gunshots, or what may have been happening outside before a group of people began rushing into Yaya’s BBQ.

“If you watch the video from inside the store, you can see Mr. McAtee come in the door at one point and he’s wearing a gun on a holster and you see him reach for it,” said LMPD spokesperson Jessie Halladay in an email. “After he is shot, he comes back in and collapses, dropping a gun in front of him. You can see the woman right there point to it at one point in the video.”

Separately on Tuesday, McAtee’s nephew Marvin told WFPL David had been armed.

“He keeps his gun on him,” Marvin said, describing his uncle’s typical behavior.

The video shows the moments leading up to and following his being shot, and he appears to remove a gun from his right hip. But it does not show what McAtee did with his hands or what direction they were pointing during the seconds he was outside the door of his barbecue shop.

But Chavous said the video is conclusive.

“This video does show that he fired his weapon out the door of his business as police approach,” she said. “And it also confirms he was shot by either a National Guard member or an LMPD officer.”

In response to a followup question, spokeswoman Halladay declined to provide the time stamps for the points in the video that confirm those details.

“We are not providing time stamps as it is our practice not to narrate too much about the videos we release as we let the [sic] speak for themselves and don’t want to influence how they are viewed,” she wrote in an email.

Earlier in the day, another police spokesperson, Lamont Washington, declined to share timestamps that would indicate when in the silent videos police believed the first shot was fired and when officers returned fire.

“We will let the video speak for itself at this point,” he wrote in an email to WFPL.

Gov. Andy Beshear on Tuesday afternoon said he had seen the videos that were released that day.

“That’s just one data point that you have to match up to everything else that happened and every other piece of evidence that’s there,” he said. “In the end, I just want the truth.”

The morning after McAtee’s death, Beshear ordered the Kentucky State Police to independently investigate the incident.

Reporter Jacob Ryan contributed to this story. 

After Police Shoot Man In West End, Calls For Justice, Body Camera Footage Monday, Jun 1 2020 

In the wake of the fatal shooting of a man in the Russell neighborhood by law enforcement, Gov. Andy Beshear has called on Louisville officials to release body camera footage as quickly as possible.

David McAtee was killed early Monday after Louisville police and National Guard opened fire at a gas station at 26th and Broadway.

There was no protest there Sunday night; most of the activity was 20 blocks away, downtown. But the National Guard and Louisville Metro Police were called into the West End to respond to a large gathering and enforce the 9 p.m. curfew, Beshear said.

Beshear said he knows he is adding to the pressure to get the footage out to the public, and he intends to.

“I’m not asking people to trust our account,” Beshear said.

Beshear led his press conference by inviting Tamika Palmer, mother of Breonna Taylor, to speak. Taylor was killed March 13 by LMPD officers executing a “no-knock” warrant at her home. Her boyfriend said he believed the apartment was being broken into by the plain-clothes officers and he fired one shot that struck an officer in the leg. Police returned fire, killing Taylor, 26. The protests that began Thursday in Louisville were largely in her honor, with the crowd chanting, “Say her name: Breonna Taylor.”

When the protesters grew larger and property destruction began, the state called in the National Guard and enforced a curfew. Beshear said he prays that was the right choice.

Palmer rekindled her demand: that the officers who shot her daughter be fired and prosecuted.

“I don’t think I’m asking too much,” Palmer said. “Just justice for her.”

David McAtee Sold Barbeque, Remembered As Generous

According to LMPD, their officers and National Guard responded just after midnight to the West End gas station. Chief Steve Conrad said the officers were shot at and they shot back, striking and killing McAtee.

Carolyn Wilder said she is like family with McAtee. She said he was always giving away food to anyone at his barbecue stand even LMPD officers. “Why are they downtown with rubber bullets and here with real bullets?” she asked.

Just before 11:30 a.m., when he was scheduled to speak at a live “day of reflection” ceremony, Mayor Greg Fischer arrived at Dino’s. Surrounded by police, he spoke with and hugged McAtee’s mother. Fischer didn’t speak to the assembled crowd.

Sadiqa Reynolds of the Urban League came through after Fischer and passed out masks to the crowd.

Mayor: ‘The country is in flames’

Fischer did appear, albeit late, at his virtual ceremony for reflection, where he gave a short briefing on Facebook to address the chaos that’s engulfed the city, from the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent protests that have erupted to denounce police violence and systemic racism.

He held a moment of silence, and then read from prepared remarks and said the nation is “grieving on many levels.” Fischer did not directly address the shooting, and he only briefly discussed the recent protests that have erupted across the city in response to the March police killing of Taylor.

“On the streets of our city I saw a diverse group of people gathered to honor Breonna Taylor and condemn racial injustice,” he said. “People who recognize that this was never about Black versus white, but right versus wrong.”

He also questioned how the city moves forward amid the current unrest.

“What do we do now?” he asked. “The country is in flames, what city will be the first city to put out those flames?”

He offered no specific plan, but said he prays “our city can be the city to find the strength to put out that flame.”

A Crowd Mourns, Waits

At 26th and Broadway, where McAtee owned and operated a barbecue stand, more than 100 people were congregated, and the crowd was growing.

Organizers on the scene with a microphone and speaker spoke to the crowd, and urged nonviolence. Metro Council candidate Jecorey Arthur said 100 organizers would be joining him to call for Fischer’s resignation. Arthur was armed with a rifle.

Some gave speeches, but people at Dino’s were mostly grieving and talking to each other about how angry they are. A man brought in water and passed out bottles to the crowd.

At the center of many of their conversations: that they knew this was going to happen, and it did.

At the center of their anger: that McAtee’s body was still on the scene, nearly 12 hours after he was killed.

U.S. Senate Candidate and State Rep. Charles Booker said in a statement that he was devastated by the killing a mile from his home that he said was “absolutely avoidable.”

“The decision to send an armed military force into the West End of Louisville is a clear escalation of an already tense situation,” Booker said. “I have not heard a reasonable explanation for why the National Guard was deployed to 26th and Broadway, or how their presence was intended to make our city any safer.”

Booker, a Democrat, called on leadership to stop using the National Guard, immediately release body camera footage, appoint a citizen review panel with subpoena power to investigate this killing — and to start that review immediately.

He arrived at 26th and Broadway shortly before 12:30 p.m., as local officials appeared to be preparing to remove McAtee’s body from the scene.

He asked the crowd to stay peaceful on the sidewalk and not run across the street as police prepare to remove body from the scene.

“But if you guys run,” he said, “I’m running with you. I’m with you.”

 

 

In Second Night Of Protests Downtown, Police Bracing For Action Friday, May 29 2020 

Protesters and police in riot gear faced off at Fifth and Jefferson streets Friday night around 9:30 p.m. during a second night of protests in downtown Louisville.

The protest was again centered around Jefferson and Sixth streets, near Metro Hall, LMPD headquarters, the jail and the Hall of Justice. Last night, the block was the center of a largely peaceful protest until gunfire broke out before 11:30 p.m. and seven people were shot.

Tonight, protesters pulled down American and Louisville flags and lit the American flag on fire before spray-painting it black.

Eleanor Klibanoff | wfpl.org

As the sunset around 9 p.m. Friday, protesters broke out a window at the Hall of Justice and a small fire was lit inside the window.

Kentucky State Police troopers were stationed throughout downtown Friday evening as Louisville officials braced for a second night of protests related to the death of Breonna Taylor.

An LMPD quick response team moved into the area around the Hall of Justice around 9:30 p.m. and deployed tear gas to push protesters out of the area.

This story will be updated.

‘Bloody Harlan’ Revisited: Blackjewel Miners Draw On Labor History While Facing Uncertain Future Monday, Aug 12 2019 

Curtis Cress sat in the gravel beside a railroad track in Harlan County, Kentucky. Tall and thin with a long, black beard, Cress is every bit a coal miner, or, he was until a month ago.

“It’s part of my heritage, you know? My dad and papaws had always done it,” he said. “And I’m proud of that heritage.”

Cress had been at these railroad tracks for days, with little sleep. Not far down the rails sat a row of hopper cars filled with coal from his former employer, Blackjewel Coal.

In the last month, Cress and his fellow miners have gone from moving coal out of the ground to stopping coal in its tracks. Blackjewel’s chaotic bankruptcy filing on July 1 left about a thousand miners like Cress with bounced checks and unpaid bills, and largely in the dark about their future.

Aerials_Miners_On_Tracks-2Curren Sheldon

An aerial shot of the encampment that has grown up around the protest site.

Days turned into weeks, and miners had no way to know if they still had jobs, or health insurance, or access to their retirement savings.

On July 29, five miners saw an opportunity. A train full of coal was leaving a Harlan County loading facility. The five men clambered onto the railroad tracks to block the train. More than a week later, they hadn’t left.

“If they can move this train, they can give us our money!” miner Shane Smith said.

That rag-tag group quickly grew to a full-fledged protest camp, complete with solar showers, a chore list, and a rotating schedule of miners to hold the place down. Community members brought food. Politicians stopped by to make speeches.  Kids played cornhole on the tracks.

“We’re suffering, our kids are suffering, water’s getting cut off,” Austin Watts said. “As long as I gotta stay here, I’ll stay.”

Miners_On_Tracks-37Curren Sheldon

Protesting Blackjewel miners in Harlan Co., KY.

Arnold Shepherd, a miner from Leslie County, Kentucky, was among those who said the protest recalled an earlier period in Harlan County history.

“This thing here, it puts you in mind of ‘Bloody Harlan,’ back years ago,” Shepherd said.

Bloody Harlan. The name comes from the nearly century-long and sometimes violent struggle between coal companies and workers seeking to unionize.

“Harlan is one of the locations used to undercut wage stability for the rest of the country,” Northern Illinois Univ. labor historian Rosemary Feurer said. Harlan miners started to organize in the 1920s, a struggle that culminated in a long and violent strike in 1931. Miners picketed again in the early 1970s, again sparking violence. “What the miners were saying is, we can’t be basically just extraction engines and robots and tools left to die of black lung,” Feurer said.

Today, the protest is peaceful. The union is largely gone from Kentucky mines. And the entire coal industry is a fraction of what it was decades ago. Blackjewel’s bankruptcy, though more chaotic than most, is just one of many recent shocks to a declining coal industry. Dozens of companies went under in the past decade, and despite a coal-friendly president rolling back regulations more have followed. In 2019 alone, BlackHawk Group LLC, Cambrian Coal LLC, and Cloud Peak Energy Inc. all went bankrupt.

With lower union representation and an expectation of more bankruptcies to come, miners’ advocates and industry watchers worry that coal miners and mining communities will suffer the brunt of the industry’s decline. The Blackjewel miners who took to the tracks are following in a long history of worker protest in Harlan County. They are also stepping into an uncertain future for themselves and their community.

Scene Of Labor Struggles 

“You have to look at ‘Bloody Harlan’ in a long history of a bloody coal industry,” said labor historian Feurer, who has written about the region and legendary labor organizer Mother Jones.

Feurer said the coal industry pushes the full cost of coal onto workers’ health, on workers’ wages, and on the environment. The United Mine Workers of America, Feurer said, arose from workers’ demands for better treatment.

Robert Gumpert, from the Appalshop Archive

Women of the Brookside women’s support group talk with tow truck operator at a roadblock in 1974.

“It’s not only bloody for the labor violence, but for the death toll,” she said, from mining accidents and black lung disease. “It’s more than most wars.”

The UMWA negotiated its first successful wage increase in 1898, and went on to fight for eight-hour workdays and standard measurement for coal. The union helped miners weather the mining industry’s boom and bust cycles, and many of the union’s hard-won health and safety standards are still in place today.

Mine operators viciously opposed miners’ efforts to unionize, particularly in Harlan County. In the bloody 1930s coal wars, miners known to be union members were fired and evicted from company-owned homes. Soon enough, most miners had gone on strike out of solidarity.

Conflict broke out again the 1970s in what was known as the Brookside strike. Two miners were shot, and one died in a strike that lasted over a year and resulted in a new contract.

Robert Gumpert, from the Appalshop Archive

Victory photo after the Highsplint mine voted to join the UMWA in 1974.

Labor Losses

But union membership is in decline across the country, and the miners’ union has declined faster than most. Between 1997 and 2017, overall mine employment in the Ohio Valley dropped by 50 percent. Union participation has declined much faster. Between 1997 and 2017, Ohio Valley miner participation in unions has dropped by 76 percent.

“The reason that unions have really been imperiled in the southern parts of the country,” said Feurer, “is because they’ve been told the only way the South can rise again is by being a non-union, anti-union reserve for companies that were moving from the unionized areas of the north.”

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Feurer said that even though the Blackjewel miners are acting without a union, their protest follows the tradition of labor action in the area.

“Putting their bodies on the lines is what I see is historically connected,” she said. “People who risk themselves, that is what has resonance to a long body of history.”

The Blackjewel miners still feel a strong sense of solidarity with their fellow workers. “If you work in the coal field, you spend more time underneath that mountain than you do with your own family,” said miner Shane Smith. “These men are like a brother to me.”

Some UMWA retirees and other union workers have joined the Blackjewel miners on the tracks in a show of solidarity.

UMWA spokesperson Phil Smith said he thinks Appalachian coal miners lost their sense for the power of unions in the coal slump in the 1970s. Mine employment was low for nearly a full generation of workers entering the labor force, Smith said, effectively breaking the chain of stories passed from father to son, stories of how unions improved working conditions and fought for better wages.

By 2017 there were no union miners left working in Harlan County, and only a handful in all of Kentucky.

Phil Smith worries that a weak union puts miners at risk of losing protections that previous generations of miners fought for. “The minute that a government who is intent on doing away with many of these worker protections feels like they can without there being any political blow-back from doing it, they’re going to do it,” he said.

Policies like so-called “Right to Work” laws, which have been passed in 28 states, including Kentucky and West Virginia, threaten the economic viability of unions. Still, Smith finds hope in teachers’ strikes around the country, and efforts to unionize other workplaces. “I think we’re seeing a resurgence in people making sure they have a voice at work.”

Curren Sheldon

A quiet moment for miners and their supporters.

Chris Lewis was one of the first five Blackjewel miners who blocked that train on July 29. The bankruptcy has been a struggle, he said, but he and his wife have it better than do workers with young children.

Lewis has complicated views on unions. “I was raised union, and I believe in the union. But I also believe in a man’s right to feed his family, you know what I’m saying?”

He resents miners who call strikebreakers “scabs.” Still, Lewis thinks he and his coworkers wouldn’t be in this predicament if they had been in a union.

After his experience with Blackjewel, Lewis isn’t ready to give up on the industry. But he is giving up on Kentucky. Lewis leaves Kentucky later this month for a job in a coal mine in Alabama. In that new job, he’ll be a part of a union.

‘The end game’

The uncertainty many Blackjewel miners feel about their future is true for the coal industry as a whole. Declining demand and competition from cheap natural gas from fracking has led to the closure of eight coal-fired power plants in the Ohio Valley since 2010, with more planned to shut down in the future.

“No matter what policies are developed and put forward in D.C.,” said the UMWA’s Phil Smith, “the fact of the matter is, coal-fired power plants are closing.”

Additionally, renewable energy makes up an increasing share of the nation’s energy portfolio. For the first time this year, renewable energy exceeded coal in percentage of energy generated in the United States.

In 1997, there were about 18,000 coal jobs in Kentucky. In 2017, there were about 6,200. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, coal production has fallen most sharply in Central Appalachia compared to other coal-producing regions.

Kentucky Coal Association spokesperson Tyler White said his group is committed to fighting for the longevity of the industry.

“The coal industry is still struggling with a lot of over-burdensome regulations that were put in place under the previous administration,” he said. Most energy analysts contest that view, and point instead to the market forces driving coal’s decline.

Similarly, the UMWA’s Smith said that he’s not ready to give up on coal. He fears significant regulation to prevent further climate climate could put the coal industry out of business, and he views the union’s role as advocating for policies that would promote clean, safe coal mining and keep miners employed for generations.

Blackjewel’s bankruptcy has been messier than most. But Clark Williams-Derry, the director of energy finance for Sightline Institute, a research organization based in Seattle, says we should expect more chaotic bankruptcies like it.

“We’re sort of in the early stages of the end game, I would say, of the coal economy,” he said.

Williams-Derry worries that in the chaos of Blackjewel’s bankruptcy, some mine lands may end up without money to pay for reclamation, and he thinks future bankruptcies may have the same result as fewer companies want to take on risky mines. The costs of worker pensions, land reclamation, and other debts may well be passed on to taxpayers, or left unpaid altogether.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” he said. “We don’t really know what happens when the industry is shrinking so rapidly that we see mines just simply abandoned.”

IMG_4328Brittany Patterson | Ohio Valley ReSource

Blackjewel miners and supporters enter the federal courthouse in Charleston, WV.

Down The Line

A marathon bankruptcy hearing in federal court brought mixed news for the Blackjewel miners. The auction of Blackjewel properties attracted enough buyers to generate money to go toward some of the wages owed, and lawyers representing the miners were able to win some concessions from other Blackjewel creditors.

Still, when attorney Ned Pillersdorf addressed the protesting miners on the tracks, he was clearly managing expectations.

“You know I’ve told you that bankruptcy is kind of like a funeral home,” he said. “Nobody leaves happy.”

Kopper Glo, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based mining company that purchased some of Blackjewel’s Kentucky properties, has committed to pay $450,000 to cover miners’ wages. That is expected to cover about 35 percent of the total amount owed to Blackjewel workers. Kopper Glo has also said it hopes to rehire many of Blackjewel’s workers, though it has made no legal commitment to do so. Blackjewel miners worry Kopper Glo will pay less than Blackjewel did.

“I was a roof bolter, I made $25 an hour,” said Shane Smith. “A belt man, they make $22. A different company comes in, what’s to say everybody won’t make $20?”

Kopper Glo said it could not answer specific questions, but said in a press release that the company “has a plan to re-start certain operations and is confident this plan will bring jobs back to many of the former Blackjewel employees. Kopper Glo is also committed to funding to the portion of the back wages due to the employees.”

Miners_On_Tracks-63 (1)Curren Sheldon

Near the scene of the miners’ protest in Harlan Co., KY.

In days spent occupying the train tracks, the Blackjewel miners have plenty of time to consider what their future holds. Do they return to work and hope their new employer doesn’t meet the same fate as the last? Do they try to retrain in a new industry? Or do they look for another job, knowing they may never make as much money as they did in the mines?

“This ain’t a game, we ain’t a bunch of kids,” said miner Caleb Blevins. “We’re grown men with families. Around here in the Appalachian mountains, this is all we got, the coal mines. We’re too far in to try to go to college for 12 years. Our kids need us now, not in 10 years.”

Miner Tim Madden also just wants to get back to business as usual. “I think if they’d roll up here and issue us all a check, I’d be out of here, end of story.”

But Curtis Cress said he’s done with the industry. “You never know from one day to the next if you’re going to have a job,” Cress said. “They’ll get you used to making a whole lot of money and then take it away.”

A father of four, Cress is at risk of losing his home. He says he feels hopeless about what comes next, both for him and for central Appalachia. He thinks his best bet is to find work in manufacturing. He hopes his kids leave the region when they’re old enough.

The miners occupying the Harlan County train tracks say they’ll stand down when they see Kopper Glo’s money in their bank accounts. With mining starting up again in some of Blackjewel’s former mines, some men will likely be headed back underground.

But for many miners, and for the coal industry as a whole, it’s hard to know what’s coming down the tracks.

Benny Becker, Brittany Patterson and Jeff Young contributed to this story.