SRN - US News

US envoy to the UN vows support for families of Japanese who were abducted and taken to North Korea

TOKYO (AP) — America stands with Japan until all the Japanese abducted by North Korea decades ago return home to end their painful separation, United States ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Thursday in Tokyo.

Japan says North Korea abducted at least 17 Japanese citizens, possibly many more, to train them as agents during the 1970s and 1980s. Twelve remain missing. They include teenage students and others living along Japan’s coasts, and many were bundled into small boats and taken across the sea to North Korea.

Thomas-Greenfield began her Japan visit by meeting with families of those kidnapped.

“The United Stats stands with all the families, with all of Japan and with the international community in pressing for a resolution that will allow all families separated by the regime’s policies to be reunited,” she said at the outset of her meeting with five relatives of the abductees and a representative from their support group at the Prime Minister’s Office.

“I’m all too familiar with the pain and the loss and the suffering that you family members here are experiencing,” she said. “I know how painful it is for you, and then how long you have had to endure this pain.”

Thomas-Greenfield noted she has worked with North Korea-related issues throughout her career.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is committed to raising the abduction issue “at every opportunity and calling for the return of abducted Japanese citizens to their family,” the ambassador said, adding that America sticks to that policy regardless of the leadership.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has repeatedly stated his determination and effort toward holding a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to achieve the return of the abductees.

Experts say Kim wants improved ties with Japan to drive a wedge between the United States and its allies, while Kishida, stung by a major corruption scandal of his governing party, wants to use possible progress in the abduction issue to turn around his dwindling support ratings at home. They say a summit, however, would be difficult because Japan cannot accept the preconditions set by Pyongyang in order to resolve the abduction issues.

Sakie Yokota, 88, whose then-13-year-old daughter, Megumi, was abducted in 1977 from Japan’s northern coast on her way home from school, told Thomas-Greenfield that she, her husband and Megumi’s brothers searched for her for 20 years until they found out she was abducted. They are still waiting, she said.

“All I want is to see her, while I’m still well,” Yokota said, beseeching the ambassador for continued support toward resolving the problem.

Thomas-Greenfield arrived in Tokyo after her earlier visit to Seoul, where she and South Korean officials discussed a new mechanism for monitoring North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Russia and China have thwarted U.S.-led efforts to step up U.N. sanctions on North Korea over its ballistic missile testing since 2022, underscoring a deepening divide between permanent Security Council members over Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The United States, South Korea and Japan have been deepening security ties amid growing tensions in the region from North Korea and China. The three countries have expanded their combined military exercises and their deterrence strategies built around U.S. strategic assets.


Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

Brought to you by

Takeaways from this week’s reports on the deadly 2023 Maui fire that destroyed Lahaina

HONOLULU (AP) — More than half a year after the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century burned through a historic Maui town, officials are still trying to determine exactly what went wrong and how to prevent similar catastrophes in the future. But two reports released this week are filling in some of the blanks.

The most recent is a detailed timeline of the fire that tore through the heart of Lahaina on Aug. 8, 2023, killing 101 people. Released Wednesday by Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez, it is the first phase of a three-part comprehensive investigation being conducted by the Fire Safety Research Institute, or FSRI, with more coming in the next several months.

The previous day, the Maui Fire Department put out an after-action report produced by the Western Fire Chiefs Association. It detailed the challenges the department faced, as well as more than 100 recommendations for improvements.

Here are the key takeaways from the reports:

A major windstorm was toppling power lines and utility poles throughout Lahaina, and the first fire of the day sparked when a live power line snapped and hit dry brush. But firefighters and police received mixed messages about whether Hawaiian Electric had de-energized the lines, according to the FSRI report.

In the early afternoon — before the initial fire flared back up and began overtaking the town — a utility worker told fire crews that he could not confirm if the lines were de-energized. It wasn’t until after homes began catching fire that dispatchers reached Hawaiian Electric and got confirmation that the power was out.

The report also described a communications breakdown between police, firefighters and other emergency officials. Cellular networks were down, and the police and fire agencies used separate channels that public officials and others couldn’t listen to. Overwhelmed dispatchers had single operators trying to monitor as many as five or six channels at once.

Residents and tourists had no way to get emergency alerts or communicate with loved ones, and 911 operators were inundated with calls. One of the operators was off-island and wasn’t getting geographical location information with calls, and thus didn’t know where to send people fleeing the flames.

Meanwhile the head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, Herman Andaya, was off-island at a work conference and getting regular text messages and calls from staffers about the rapidly changing fires. After a series of evacuations in Lahaina, he asked his assistant if he should come home but was told that “it may look OK,” according to the report. A few hours later, after much of the town had burned, Andaya said he would come home the following morning.

An after-action report from police earlier this year also identified communication challenges and recommended that a high-ranking officer be placed in the island’s communication center during future emergencies.

Firefighters thought they had extinguished the morning blaze, which started near a part of town that is far from the ocean. But less than 40 minutes after they left the scene, the flames reerupted, quickly spreading from home to home in a nearby neighborhood.

Wind gusts that were still toppling power lines pushed embers and burning debris farther into Lahaina.

As firefighters and other emergency crews scrambled to evacuate houses and get people to safety, dark smoke dropped visibility to near-zero at times. Those roads that weren’t blocked by trees, utility poles or power lines became jammed with traffic that sometimes ground to a standstill.

But the time people had to escape would likely have been tight even if the roads were all clear: Within 90 minutes, spot fires were burning all the way to the ocean, according to the FSRI report, and spreading north and south.

Some people died in their cars. Others leaped into the ocean to escape the flames. Still others abandoned vehicles and fled on foot.

Firefighters risked their lives again and again — packing survivors into fire trucks to get them to safety, physically carrying victims away from danger, and taking shelter behind their own disabled vehicles — according to Tuesday’s report.

Many of the department’s crews and engines were already deployed to fight other wildfires on a different part of the island when Lahaina began to burn. The back-up fire engines used in emergencies weren’t fully stocked with equipment, and valuable minutes were lost restocking them before they could be put into action.

The report also highlighted a lack of mutual aid agreements between Hawaii counties, which meant that there was no standard way to request help from neighboring islands. The agencies also lacked a plan for evacuating tourists and residents who did not speak English — and language barriers made it difficult for the firefighters to warn some people of the need to flee.

FSRI investigators are still trying to get some records from the Maui Emergency Management Agency. Research program manager Derek Alkonis said Wednesday that they requested incident activity logs and other records from MEMA on multiple occasions but still had not received all the data.

Alkonis did not go into detail about what he called “a difficulty with gaining information” from the agency, but said the reason is “going to be analyzed in subsequent reports.”

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is working on a report about the origin and cause of the fire on behalf of the Maui Fire Department. That report is not yet complete but is expected to be released in the next few months.


Boone reported from Boise, Idaho; Keller from Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Lauer from Philadelphia. Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu, Claire Rush in Portland, Oregon, Hallie Golden in Seattle, Anita Snow in Phoenix and Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed.

Brought to you by

New Black congressional district in Louisiana bows to politics, not race, backers say

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Politics and race are both factors in a pending court challenge of Louisiana’s new congressional maps. How much weight each carries is a major question before three federal judges whose ruling could affect the balance of power in the next Congress.

At issue is a congressional map that was approved this year with the backing of the state’s new governor, Jeff Landry — to the consternation of at least some of his fellow Republicans.

The map creates a new mostly Black congressional district in Louisiana, at the expense of a white Republican incumbent, Rep. Garret Graves, who backed another Republican in the governor’s election last fall. Given voting patterns in Louisiana, a mostly Black district would be more likely to send a Democrat to Congress.

Twelve self-described non-African American voters argued in a lawsuit that the new mostly Black district constitutes illegal “textbook racial gerrymandering.”

Not so, argue the new map’s backers. Politics, they argue, was the major influence in drawing the new district boundary lines. They say the new map protects most incumbents and draws together Black populations in a way that will comply with the federal Voting Rights Act, giving Louisiana, which is roughly one-third Black, a second majority Black district among six.

They also pointed to Republican backers of the plan, who said during legislative debates in January that they wanted to safeguard four GOP-held House districts, including those of House Speaker Mike Johnson and Majority Leader Steve Scalise.

That the new map put Graves in political peril by placing him in the new mostly Black district is further evidence race wasn’t the sole motivating factor, the map’s backers said in briefs and in testimony last week at a hearing in Shreveport.

“We all know that one of the main reasons it was drawn the way it was, was because Gov. Jeff Landry wants to get rid of Congressman Graves,” state Rep. Mandie Landry, a New Orleans Democrat who testified at the hearing, said in a social media post. Landry is no relation to the governor.

State Sen. Cleo Fields, a Black Democrat from the Baton Rouge area who served in Congress in the 1990s, has already declared his candidacy in the newly configured district.

Whatever the three judges decide will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s unclear when the judges will rule, but time is growing short. State election officials say they need to know the configuration of the districts by May 15 to prepare for the fall elections.

The controversy in Louisiana, as in other states, arose because new government district boundary lines are redrawn by legislatures every 10 years to account for population shifts reflected in census data. Louisiana’s Republican-dominated Legislature drew a new map in 2022 that, despite some boundary shifts, was favorable to all six current incumbents: five white Republicans and a Black Democrat. Then-Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, vetoed the map but the majority-Republican Legislature overrode the veto, leading to a court challenge filed in Baton Rouge.

In June 2022, Baton Rouge-based U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick issued an injunction against the map, saying challengers would likely win their suit claiming it violated the Voting Rights Act. As the case was appealed, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an unexpected ruling in June that favored Black voters in a congressional redistricting case in Alabama.

Dick sided with challengers who said the 2022 map packed a significant number of voters in one district — District 2 which stretches from New Orleans to the Baton Rouge area — while “cracking” the remaining Black population by apportioning it to other mostly white districts.

In November, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave the state a January deadline for drawing a new congressional district. Landry, who was the state’s attorney general when he was elected to succeed the term-limited Edwards, called a special session to redraw the map, saying the Legislature should do it rather than a federal judge.

The new map does not resemble the sample maps that supporters of a new majority Black district had suggested earlier, which would have created a new district largely covering the northeastern part of the state.

The new mostly Black district crosses the state diagonally, linking Shreveport in the northwest to parts of the Baton Rouge area in the southeast. And while its backers hail the creation of a new majority Black district, the plaintiffs say it results in “explicit, racial segregation of voters.”

The judges hearing the case are U.S. District Judges David Joseph and Robert Summerhays, both nominated to the court by former President Donald Trump; and Judge Carl Stewart of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, nominated by former Democratic President Bill Clinton.

The judges have given no indication when they will rule. “We’re going to have to know soon,” Mandie Landry said, citing the upcoming elections.

Brought to you by

Closing arguments set in case against Arizona rancher charged in fatal shooting of unarmed migrant

NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) — Closing arguments are expected Thursday in the trial against an Arizona rancher charged with fatally shooting an unarmed migrant on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border last year.

George Alan Kelly, 75, was charged with second-degree murder in the January 30, 2023, shooting of Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, who lived just south of the border in Nogales, Mexico.

The more than two-week trial included jurors visiting Kelly’s nearly 170-acre (69-hectare) cattle ranch in Nogales, Arizona. Cuen-Buitimea, 48, was in a group of men that Kelly encountered. The other migrants weren’t injured and managed to escape back to Mexico.

The case has attracted national attention as border security continues to be a top issue this election year and garnered sympathy for the rancher from some on the political right. Court records show Cuen-Buitimea had previously entered the U.S. illegally several times and was deported, most recently in 2016.

Prosecutors maintained that Kelly recklessly fired an AK-47 rifle toward the group that was about 100 yards (90 meters) away. Kelly said he fired warning shots in the air, but he didn’t shoot directly at anyone, and he feared for his safety and that of his wife and property.

Defense attorney Brenna Larkin has characterized groups of migrants crossing through Kelly’s property were an increasing concern over the years, prompting him to arm himself constantly for protection.

Kelly had earlier rejected an agreement with prosecutors that would have reduced the charge to one count of negligent homicide if he pleaded guilty.

Kelly was also charged with aggravated assault against another person in the group of about eight people, including a man from Honduras who was living in Mexico and who testified during the trial that he was seeking work in the U.S. that day.

Brought to you by

Congress moving swiftly on bipartisan action to punish Iran after revenge attack on Israel

WASHINGTON (AP) — Iran’s attack against Israel over the weekend has spurred a flurry of bipartisan legislative action in Congress, uniting lawmakers against the country even as the risk of a larger regional war looms.

Several measures introduced and passed in the House and Senate seek to both publicly condemn Iran and punish the Islamic Republic financially. Lawmakers have denounced Iran’s actions, which came in response to a suspected Israeli strike weeks earlier on an Iranian consular building in Syria that killed two Iranian generals.

“The world is on fire, and history will judge us for our action,” said Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, during a news conference Tuesday.

The swift, bipartisan condemnation of Iran has put on sharp display the durability of American support for Israel, even amid growing partisan division over how the country is handling its more than six-month war with Hamas.

The House passed nearly a dozen bills by Wednesday that would, among other things, issue a slate of new sanctions and other financial restrictions against Iran and its leaders. Other legislation looks to prevent current Iranian officials sanctioned from evading those penalties and urge the European Union to “expeditiously” designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization as the U.S. has already done.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday advanced five bills, including ones that targeted Iran for its human rights record and would require sanctions on ports and refineries that receive and process Iranian oil.

“Iran’s direct attack on Israel this week underscores the need to further cut off the Iranian regime’s key revenue streams,” Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire said in a statement. “I urge my colleagues in the Senate to support this bill — which has already passed the House — so that we can send it to President Biden’s desk immediately.”

A number of the bills had passed the House weeks before Hamas’ deadly attack on Israel in October but have been stalled in the Senate committee. An Israeli offensive in Gaza has since caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials. Israel’s conduct of the war has revealed the depth of unease among U.S. lawmakers as concerns over the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza have caused even some of President Joe Biden’s closest allies to threaten conditioning future aid to Israel.

Congressional Democrats have been reluctant to challenge Biden’s handling of the ongoing conflict and related regional tensions that have taken shape, mindful that criticism could further weaken Biden in his reelection campaign against former President Donald Trump.

But the attack on Saturday has proven to consolidate public support for the Biden administration’s quick response as it ordered U.S. forces to help Israel down “nearly all” the 300 drones and missiles that were headed its way.

It also comes as House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., released legislation Wednesday that would provide $95 billion in aid collectively to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. The aid package had been held up for months over Republican opposition to continuing wartime funding for Ukraine as it battles Russia. Iran’s attack on Israel added urgency to Johnson’s plans to bring the issue to the floor for a vote.

While the measures targeting Iran have received overwhelming support — with the series of House bills mostly passing with at least 300 votes — there has been a quiet but growing dissent among progressive Democratic lawmakers in both chambers, who warn that legislative efforts could risk further escalation in the Middle East.

“Following last weekend’s unprecedented response by Iran to Israel’s attack on its consulate, the Republican Majority is explicitly leveraging a series of bills to further escalate tensions in the Middle East,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said in a statement Tuesday. “This is a blatant attempt to distract from their own incompetence.”

The strike on Saturday marked the first time Iran has launched a direct military assault on Israel despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Israel has vowed to retaliate against Iran, risking further expanding the shadow war between the two foes into a direct conflict.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, condemned Iran’s attack in a statement but called on his colleagues to respond cautiously. He warned that further U.S. action against Iran could lead to a dangerous escalation that could drag America into a war in the Middle East.

“Cooler heads must now prevail to ensure peace in the region and security for Israel,” Sanders said.

Brought to you by

Trump trial jury selection process follows a familiar pattern with an unpredictable outcome

NEW YORK (AP) — When the first batch of potential jurors was brought in for Donald Trump’s criminal trial this week, all the lawyers had to go on to size them up — at first — were their names and the answers they gave in court to a set of screening questions.

Then the lawyers went to work, scouring social media for posts that might reveal whether people in the jury pool had hidden biases or extreme views.

One potential juror was dismissed by the judge after the former president’s lawyers found a 2017 online post about Trump that said “Lock him up!” Trump’s lawyers rejected another potential juror after discovering she had posted a video of New Yorkers celebrating President Joe Biden’s election win.

It’s all part of an effort by both sides to get a competent jury that — just maybe — might slant slightly in their favor.

Even experts in the art of jury selection say there are limits to what any lawyer can do.

“We never pick a jury. We unpick jurors,” said Tama Kudman, a veteran West Palm Beach, Florida, criminal defense lawyer who also practices in New Jersey and New York.

“We never get who we want. We are just careful to get rid of who we think are dangerous to our clients,” she said. “You know you’ve picked a good jury when nobody’s happy. The prosecution hasn’t gotten who they want. The defense hasn’t gotten who they want. But everybody’s kind of gotten rid of the people who really raise the hair on the back of our neck.”

Jury selection in Trump’s trial resumes Thursday. So far, seven jurors have been chosen for the trial over allegations that Trump falsified business records to cover up a sex scandal during his 2016 campaign. Ultimately, 12 jurors will determine the verdict, with six alternates on standby.

Nearly 200 potential jurors have been brought in so far. All potential jurors will be asked whether they can serve and be fair and impartial. Those who have said “no” so far have all been sent home.

Lawyers on both sides then comb through answers prospective jurors provide orally in court to a set of 42 questions that probe whether they have been part of various extremist groups, have attended pro- or anti-Trump rallies, or have been involved with Trump’s political campaigns, among other things.

The judge can dismiss people that don’t seem likely to be impartial. Under state law, each side also gets to “strike” up to 10 potential jurors they don’t like.

A jury consultant has helped Trump’s lawyers research the backgrounds of prospective jurors whose names are provided to lawyers on both sides, but not to the public.

Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, a jury consultant who worked on the O.J. Simpson trial team in the mid-1990s and remains employed in that capacity today, said a social media check has become critical in recent years. She likened it to a “juror polygraph” that can reveal whether a potential juror’s answers to questions in court are false.

Still, Dimitrius said, such checks aren’t foolproof. Potential jurors can scrub their online footprint before they show up or make their social media accounts private.

Some people considered but not selected for Trump’s jury had things on their social media that looked problematic. Some had shared inflammatory posts, including a meme showing Trump beheaded.

In each case, the person was brought into the courtroom alone to confirm the posts indeed appeared or originated on their account — and, in one case, the account of a spouse. They were asked again about their feelings about Trump and whether they could act impartially.

A bookseller who’d previously declined to share his feelings about the former president admitted to holding a “highly unfavorable overall impression” of him after being confronted by a series of Facebook posts, including a video mocking Trump.

In those cases, the judge agreed with Trump’s attorneys that the prospective jurors should be dismissed with cause. But in other instances, Judge Juan M. Merchan said the posts did not rise to that level, forcing Trump’s attorneys to use their limited number of strikes to have the prospective jurors removed.

“The question is not whether someone agrees with your client politically or not, the question is whether or not they can be fair and impartial,” Merchan told Trump’s attorneys.

The process led Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee in this year’s presidential race, to say in a Truth Social post Wednesday that he thought strikes were supposed to be unlimited, not capped at 10, “as the Witch Hunt continues! ELECTION INTERFERENCE!”

Among six people struck by the Manhattan district attorney’s office was a prosecutor who works for the district attorney in the Bronx and a man who works in real estate and said he read Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal.”

Perhaps the most memorable was a former corrections officer who said he may have once served on a jury for a case involving Trump and Merv Griffin. He was dismissed by prosecutors after acknowledging that he appreciated Trump’s style of humor.

That man had also expressed reservations about Trump, noting that he’d known relatives of the wrongly accused teenagers in the Central Park Five case — a group that Trump famously said should face the death penalty.

Sabrina Shroff, a criminal defense attorney, said she considers the jury selection process one of the “most stressful and fun” parts of any trial.

“It’s like setting up a blind date with 12 people and you’re hoping that the blind date is at least a friendship at the end. It’s such a roll of the dice,” she said.

Shroff said she goes by her gut when choosing jurors. Scrutinizing social media profiles, she said, can be challenging because what people put online “isn’t who they are.”

“Maybe their affiliations are telling,” she said. “You’re still guessing. We make the wrong call all the time. Sometimes, you really think the juror was pulling for you and then you find he was leading the charge to convict.”

Shroff added: “You’re always worried you have it wrong. You’ve misread the scowl or the smile. Maybe they aren’t smiling at you; just thinking about a movie they saw and liked.”


Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.

Brought to you by

A Georgia beach aims to disrupt Black students’ spring bash after big crowds brought chaos in 2023

TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (AP) — Thousands of Black college students expected this weekend for an annual spring bash at Georgia’s largest public beach will be greeted by dozens of extra police officers and barricades closing off neighborhood streets. While the beach will remain open, officials are blocking access to nearby parking.

Tybee Island east of Savannah has grappled with the April beach party known as Orange Crush since students at Savannah State University, a historically Black school, started it more than 30 years ago. Residents regularly groused about loud music, trash littering the sand and revelers urinating in yards.

Those complaints boiled over into fear and outrage a year ago when record crowds estimated at more than 100,000 people overwhelmed the 3-mile (4.8 kilometer) island. That left a small police force scrambling to handle a flood of emergency calls reporting gunfire, drug overdoses, traffic jams and fist fights.

Mayor Brian West, elected last fall by Tybee Island’s 3,100 residents, said roadblocks and added police aren’t just for limiting crowds. He hopes the crackdown will drive Orange Crush away for good.

“This has to stop. We can’t have this crowd anymore,” West said. “My goal is to end it.”

Critics say local officials are overreacting and appear to be singling out Black visitors to a Southern beach that only white people could use until 1963. They note Tybee Island attracts vast crowds for the Fourth of July and other summer weekends when visitors are largely white, as are 92% of the island’s residents.

“Our weekends are packed with people all season, but when Orange Crush comes they shut down the parking, bring extra police and act like they have to take charge,” said Julia Pearce, one of the island’s few Black residents and leader of a group called the Tybee MLK Human Rights Organization. She added: “They believe Black folks to be criminals.”

During the week, workers placed metal barricades to block off parking meters and residential streets along the main road parallel to the beach. Two large parking lots near a popular pier are being closed. And Tybee Island’s roughly two dozen police officers will be augmented by about 100 sheriff’s deputies, Georgia state troopers and other officers.

Security plans were influenced by tactics used last month to reduce crowds and violence at spring break in Miami Beach, which was observed by Tybee Island’s police chief.

Officials insist they’re acting to avoid a repeat of last year’s Orange Crush party, which they say became a public safety crisis with crowds at least double their typical size.

“To me, it has nothing to do with race,” said West, who believes city officials previously haven’t taken a stronger stand against Orange Crush because they feared being called racist. “We can’t let that be a reason to let our citizens be unsafe and so we’re not.”

Tybee Island police reported 26 total arrests during Orange Crush last year. Charges included one armed robbery with a firearm, four counts of fighting in public and five DUIs. Two officers reported being pelted with bottles, and two women told police they were beaten and robbed of a purse.

On a gridlocked highway about a mile off the island, someone fired a gun a into a car and injured one person. A white man was charged in the shooting, which officials blamed on road rage.

Orange Crush’s supporters and detractors alike say it’s not college students causing the worst problems.

Joshua Miller, a 22-year-old Savannah State University senior who plans to attend this weekend, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the crackdown was at least partly motivated by race.

“I don’t know what they have in store,” Miller said. ”I’m not going down there with any ill intent. I’m just going out there to have fun.”

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson was one of the Black students from Savannah State who helped launch Orange Crush in 1988. The university dropped involvement in the 1990s, and Johnson said that over time the celebration “got off the rails.” But he also told reporters he’s concerned about “over-representation of police” at the beach party.

At Nickie’s 1971 Bar & Grill near the beach, general manager Sean Ensign said many neighboring shops and eateries will close for Orange Crush though his will stay open, selling to-go food orders like last year. But with nearby parking spaces closed, Ensign said his profits might take a hit, “possibly a few thousand dollars.”

It’s not the first time Tybee Island has targeted the Black beach party. In 2017, the city council banned alcohol and amplified music on the beach only during Orange Crush weekend. A discrimination complaint to the U.S. Justice Department resulted in city officials signing a non-binding agreement to impose uniform rules for large events.

West says Orange Crush is different because it’s promoted on social media by people who haven’t obtained permits. A new state law lets local governments recoup public safety expenses from organizers of unpermitted events.

In February, Britain Wigfall was denied an permit for space on the island for food trucks during Orange Crush. The mayor said Wigfall has continued to promote events on the island.

Wigfall, 30, said he’s promoting a concert this weekend in Savannah, but nothing on Tybee Island involving Orange Crush.

“I don’t control it,” Wigfall said. “Nobody controls the date that people go down there.”

Brought to you by

Climate change concerns grow, but few think Biden’s climate law will help, AP-NORC poll finds

Like many Americans, Ron Theusch is getting more worried about climate change.

A resident of Alden, Minnesota, Theusch has noticed increasingly dry and mild winters punctuated by short periods of severe cold — symptoms of a warming planet.

As he thinks about that, future generations are on his mind. “We have four children that are in their 20s,” the 56-year-old truck driver and moderate Democrat said. “It’s like, what’s our grandkids’ world going to be like?”

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that 45% of adults in the United States say they have become more concerned about climate change over the past year, including roughly 6 in 10 Democrats and one-quarter of Republicans.

President Joe Biden’s signature climate change policy, the Inflation Reduction Act, was intended to address some of those fears, investing billions in incentives for consumers and businesses to move toward clean energy sources. Biden has pointed to this climate agenda as a major presidential success during his run for reelection. But the poll suggests that although the law has already affected some Americans, it’s not widely known among the general population — and may not be the electoral boost Biden is looking for.

About one-quarter of Americans say tax credits for renewable energy projects such as wind power have benefited people like them so far, with similar numbers for incentives for companies to manufacture clean energy technologies in the U.S. rather than abroad, tax credits for individuals to add solar panels to their homes, or subsidies and tax credits for electric vehicles and energy-efficient appliances like heat pumps. Those numbers are fairly substantial for a law that passed less than two years ago, where the benefits largely hinge on big-ticket purchases like cars or home improvements.

Promoting electric vehicles has also been a major focus for the Biden administration, and 15% of U.S. adults say electric vehicles have had a good impact on them personally.

“I totally agree with the act because it’s done so many things for people,” said Charles Lopez, a 65-year-old liberal Democrat from the Florida Keys. “They help everybody … I’m not ready for a full electric, but I’ll get there when there’s enough charging stations.”

But the people who have benefited from the law are disproportionately Democrats. And while only about 1 in 10 U.S. adults think the individual tax credits and subsidies have hurt people like them, those provisions of the law aren’t yet registering with the majority of Americans — roughly one-quarter say those credits haven’t made a difference to people like them. Nearly 4 in 10 in each instance don’t know enough to have an opinion about them.

“I still think that, as much as we’d like for them to be implemented in a way that we can actually see results, it’s not really happening in my eyes,” said Sandra Sherman, a 62-year-old resident of Vero Beach, Florida, who identifies as a liberal Democrat. “With solar panels, although it seems like a really good idea, I see very few people in the area in Florida that I live in that actually have them.”

Generally, U.S. adults also aren’t confident the IRA will have an impact even in more time. The poll found that only between 23% and 35% of U.S. adults say the law’s key components will eventually help address climate change. About 2 in 10 think the main provisions of the law will make no difference in addressing climate change, and about one-third don’t know enough to say.

“A lot of the public feeling on it is, ‘well something needs to be done,’ but not necessarily knowing what needs to be done or not even necessarily having strong feelings about what needs to be done,” said David Weakliem, a University of Connecticut professor emeritus.

Biden still has an advantage over his opponent, former President Donald Trump, when it comes to climate change generally. About 4 in 10 U.S. adults and two-thirds of Democrats have “a lot” or “some” trust in Biden on climate change. That includes 29-year-old Jaime Said, a moderate Republican.

Biden has “talked about it more and he has mentioned a few plans of things he wants to do. So even if he doesn’t do them, at the very least he’s thinking about them. That’s kind of headed in the right direction,” Said, a medical student in Panama City, Florida, said.

“I know already, right off the bat, (Trump is) not going to address it much,” Said added. “That’s why I don’t have too much faith in him doing anything about it.”

Only about 3 in 10 say they have “a lot” or “some” trust in Trump with regard to addressing climate change.

But one of Biden’s major pitches for the IRA — that it will help the American economy and U.S. workers — doesn’t seem to be resonating. According to the poll, only about 2 in 10 Americans say the law has done more to help the U.S. economy, while about one-quarter think it’s done more to hurt the economy, and about half think it either made no difference or don’t know enough to say.

And broadly, a majority of Americans say the federal government is currently doing “too little” to address climate change. They generally agree it’s important for the government to support climate solutions. About half say it’s extremely or very important to limit the use of products and technologies that harm the environment, and nearly half say it’s important for the government to pass stricter environmental laws and regulations. About 4 in 10 say it’s important for the government to build a national network of public charging stations for electric vehicles, which is another Biden administration priority.

Most say it’s extremely or very important for the federal government to invest in new, environmentally friendly technologies, and most, like 38-year-old Julio Carmona, a health program associate who lives in Stratford, Connecticut, and identifies as a moderate Democrat, say the same about enforcing current environmental regulations.

“We can all do our part when it comes to saving energy, recycling and all those other things,” said Carmona. “But if the big corporations aren’t doing it, I think that, for me, would be where the government should start.”


The poll of 1,204 adults was conducted April 4-8, 2024, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.


Alexa St. John is an Associated Press climate solutions reporter. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, @alexa_stjohn. Reach her at

___ The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at

Brought to you by

25 years after Columbine, trauma shadows survivors of the school shooting

DENVER (AP) — Hours after she escaped the Columbine High School shooting, 14-year-old Missy Mendo slept between her parents in bed, still wearing the shoes she had on when she fled her math class. She wanted to be ready to run.

Twenty-five years later, and with Mendo now a mother herself, the trauma from that horrific day remains close on her heels.

It caught up to her when 60 people were shot dead in 2017 at a country music festival in Las Vegas, a city she had visited a lot while working in the casino industry. Then again in 2022, when 19 students and two teachers were shot and killed in Uvalde, Texas.

Mendo had been filling out her daughter’s pre-kindergarten application when news of the elementary school shooting broke. She read a few lines of a news story about Uvalde, then put her head down and cried.

“It felt like nothing changed,” she recalls thinking.

In the quarter-century since two gunmen at Columbine shot and killed 12 fellow students and a teacher in suburban Denver — an attack that played out on live television and ushered in the modern era of school shootings — the traumas of that day have continued to shadow Mendo and others who were there.

Some needed years to view themselves as Columbine survivors since they were not physically wounded. Yet things like fireworks could still trigger disturbing memories. The aftershocks — often unacknowledged in the years before mental health struggles were more widely recognized — led to some survivors suffering insomnia, dropping out of school, or disengaging from their spouses or families.

Survivors and other members of the community plan to attend a candlelight vigil on the steps of the state’s capitol Friday night, the eve of the shooting’s anniversary.

April is particularly hard for Mendo, 39, whose “brain turns to mashed potatoes” each year. She shows up at dentist appointments early, misplaces her keys, forgets to close the refrigerator door.

She leans on therapy and the understanding of an expanding group of shooting survivors she has met through The Rebels Project, a support group founded by other Columbine survivors following a 2012 shooting when a gunman killed 12 people at a movie theater in the nearby suburb of Aurora. Mendo started seeing a therapist after her child’s first birthday, at the urging of fellow survivor moms.

After she broke down over Uvalde, Mendo, a single parent, said she talked to her mom, took a walk to get some fresh air, then finished her daughter’s pre-kindergarten application.

“Was I afraid of her going into the public school system? Absolutely,” Mendo said of her daughter. “I wanted her to have as normal of a life as possible.”

Researchers who’ve studied the long-term effects of gun violence in schools have quantified protracted struggles among survivors, including long-term academic effects like absenteeism and reduced college enrollment, and lower earnings later in life.

“Just counting lives lost is kind of an incorrect way to capture the full cost of these tragedies,” said Maya Rossin-Slater, an associate professor in the Stanford University School of Medicine’s Department of Health Policy.

Mass killings have recurred with numbing frequency in the years since Columbine, with almost 600 attacks in which four or more people have died, not including the perpetrator, since 2006, according to data compiled by The Associated Press.

More than 80% of the 3,045 victims in those attacks were killed by a firearm.

Nationwide hundreds of thousands of people have been exposed to school shootings that are often not mass-casualty events but still traumatic, Rossin-Slater said. The impacts can last a lifetime, she added, resulting in “kind of a persistent, reduced potential” for survivors.

Those who were present at Columbine say the years since have given them time to learn more about what happened to them and how to cope with it.

Heather Martin, now 42, was a Columbine senior in 1999. In college, she began crying during a fire drill, realizing later that a fire alarm had gone off for three hours when she and 60 other students hid in a barricaded office during the high school shooting. She couldn’t return to that class and was marked absent each time, and says she failed it after refusing to write a final paper on school violence, despite telling her professor of her experience at Columbine.

It took 10 years for her to see herself as a survivor, after she was invited back with the rest of the class of 1999 for an anniversary event. She saw fellow classmates having similar struggles and almost immediately decided to go back to college to become a teacher.

Martin, a co-founder of The Rebels Project, named after Columbine’s mascot, said 25 years has given her time to struggle and figure out how to work out of those struggles.

“I just know myself so well now and know how I respond to things and what might activate me and how I can bounce back and be OK. And most importantly I think I can recognize when I am not OK and when I do need to seek help,” she said.

Kiki Leyba, a first-year teacher at Columbine in 1999, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder soon after the shooting. He felt a strong sense of commitment to return to the school, where he threw himself into his work. But he continued to have panic attacks.

To help him cope, he had sleeping pills and some Xanax for anxiety, Leyba said. One therapist recommended chamomile tea.

Things got harder for him after the 2002 graduation of Mendo’s class, the last cohort of students who lived through the shooting since they had been through so much together.

By 2005, after years of not taking care of himself and suffering from lack of sleep, Leyba said he would often check out from family life, sleeping in on the weekends and turning into a “blob on the couch.” Finally, his wife Kallie enrolled him in a one-week trauma treatment program, arranging for him to take the time off from work without telling him.

“Thankfully that really gave me a kind of a foothold … to do the work to climb out of that,” said Leyba, who said breathing exercises, journaling, meditation and anti-depressants have helped him.

Like Mendo and Martin, he has traveled around the country to work with survivors of shootings.

“That worst day has transformed into something I can offer to others,” said Leyba, who is in Washington, D.C. this week meeting with officials about gun violence and promoting a new film about his trauma journey.

Mendo still lives in the area, and her 5-year-old daughter attends school near Columbine. When her daughter’s school locked down last year as police swarmed the neighborhood during a hostage situation, Mendo recalled worrying things like: What if my child is in danger? What if there is another school shooting like Columbine?

When Mendo picked up her daughter, she seemed a little scared, and she hugged her mom a little tighter. Mendo breathed deeply to stay calm, a technique she had learned in therapy, and put on a brave face.

“If I was putting down some fear, she would pick it up,” she said. “I didn’t want that for her.”


Associated Press writer Mead Gruver contributed to this report.

Brought to you by

UN agency helping Palestinians in Gaza seeks support against Israel’s demands for its dissolution

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The head of the U.N. agency that has helped millions of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank for decades urged the Security Council on Wednesday to ensure its survival as Israel again demanded its dissolution, accusing the agency of becoming part of Hamas’ “terror war machine.”

Philippe Lazzarini told the council that dismantling the agency known as UNRWA would deepen Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and speed up the onset of famine. International experts have warned of imminent famine in northern Gaza and said half the territory’s 2.3 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation if the six-month Israeli-Hamas war intensifies.

Lazzarini said ending the agency’s operations also would have other “lasting repercussions” on Gaza, leaving a half million children without education and “fueling anger, resentment and endless cycles of violence.” In addition, it would jeopardize the transition when the war ends by depriving Gaza’s population of essential services, including health care, food and other humanitarian aid, he said.

Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan claimed, without providing evidence, that UNRWA has been totally infiltrated by Hamas, which controlled Gaza before the war. He also accused UNRWA of being part of a Palestinian plot to annihilate Israel and becoming “the world’s biggest advocate for a one-state solution” run by Palestinians.

“Today in Gaza, UNRWA is Hamas and Hamas is UNRWA,” Erdan said.

”Israel cannot and will not allow UNRWA to continue in Gaza as it did in the past,” he said, telling the council there are alternative aid organizations and U.N. agencies that can help Palestinians in the territory. “The time has come to defund UNRWA,” he said.

The clash over UNRWA follows Israeli allegations that 12 of the agency’s 13,000 workers in Gaza participated in the surprise Oct. 7 Hamas attack into southern Israel that killed about 1,200 people and forced 250 others into captivity.

The allegations led to the suspension of contributions to UNRWA by the United States and more than a dozen other countries.

It also sparked two investigations — one by the U.N.’s internal watchdog of the 12 UNRWA staff who have been fired and a second, independent probe into how the U.N. agency ensures its neutrality.

A report on the second investigation is to be released Monday, and Lazzarini pledged to implement its recommendations and strengthen safeguards to ensure UNRWA is neutral.

He argued that the real aim of Israel’s efforts to end UNRWA’s operations is “about ending the refugee status of millions of Palestinians.” He called allegations that UNRWA is perpetuating their refugee status “false and dishonest.”

“The agency exists because a political solution does not,” Lazzarini said.

He accused the international community of containing rather than resolving the more than 75-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said when a Palestinian state that can deliver education, health care and social support is established, UNRWA’s role will be finished.

Israel got no support for getting rid of UNRWA at the Security Council meeting. All 15 council members, including the United States, Israel’s closest ally, voiced support for the agency along with Arab and European representatives.

The delighted Palestinian U.N. ambassador, Riyad Mansour, told reporters after the meeting: “Wasn’t today’s debate impressive? Everyone except one” backed UNRWA.

U.S. deputy ambassador Robert Wood said the United States recognizes “ UNRWA’s indispensable role in distributing humanitarian assistance and maintaining continuity of care in Gaza.” He called UNRWA “the bedrock of support for the most vulnerable Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank.”

Wood urged Israel to end its ban on UNRWA delivering desperately needed aid to Gazans, saying “the lifting of restrictions on its work” is critical to averting famine.

Lazzarini told the council that since Oct. 7, 178 UNRWA personnel have been killed and over 160 of its premises that were mostly used to shelter Palestinians have been damaged or destroyed, killing more than 400 people. He said some UNRWA premises vacated by the agency have been used by Israeli forces, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, and its headquarters has been occupied “militarily,” amid allegations of tunnels under the premises.

“We demand an independent investigation and accountability for the blatant disregard for the protected status of humanitarian workers, operations and facilities under international law,” he said.

At the start of the council meeting, members and diplomats in the chamber observed a minute of silence in tribute to all humanitarian workers who had been killed.

Wood said the United States is “deeply concerned Israel has not done enough to protect humanitarian aid workers or civilians.”

He reiterated demands from President Joe Biden to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 4 that Israel “implement a series of specific, concrete and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering and the safety of aid workers.”

Lazzarini told reporters after the meeting that he has never received any documents from Israel on its allegations about Hamas’ involvement in UNRWA.

“There is a lot of disinformation going on,” he said, and allegations must be substantiated so UNRWA can take proper action.

The U.S. Congress has suspended any money for the agency until March 2025. The United States was UNRWA’s biggest donor. Lazzarini said for the current U.S. fiscal year it contributed nearly $400 million, and the agency will have to compensate for that shortfall.

He said most countries have resumed funding UNRWA, with “just a handful” waiting for Monday’s report on its operations before taking a final decision. UNRWA now has funding until the end of June, he said.

Brought to you by

Townhall Top of the Hour News

Local Weather - Sponsored By:


Local News

DeWittDN on Facebook