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Official: Fire at South Carolina Black Church Wasn’t Arson

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Ashes lie by a cornerstone outside Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, Wednesday, July 1, 2015, in Greeleyville, S.C. The African-American church, which was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan in 1995, caught fire Tuesday night, but authorities said arson is not the cause. (Veasey Conway/The Morning News via AP)

Ashes lie by a cornerstone outside Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, Wednesday, July 1, 2015, in Greeleyville, S.C. The African-American church, which was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan in 1995, caught fire Tuesday night, but authorities said arson is not the cause. (Veasey Conway/The Morning News via AP)

BRUCE SMITH, Associated Press
MEG KINNARD, Associated Press

GREELEYVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Preliminary indications suggest arson was not the cause of a fire that destroyed a black church targeted by the Ku Klux Klan 20 years ago, a federal law enforcement official said Wednesday.

Local and regional officials said at a news conference that they haven’t ruled out any potential causes in the fire. But the federal official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly, told The Associated Press that preliminary indications show the fire at the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville was not intentionally set and was not arson.

The fire is still under investigation, all the officials said.

Greeleyville is a town of about 400 people around 50 miles north of Charleston, where a pastor and eight members of a historic black church were fatally shot June 17 in what authorities are investigating as a hate crime. Dylann Roof, who is white, has been charged.

The fire — reported about 9 p.m. Tuesday as storms moved through the area — occurred as federal authorities also investigate a series of fires at black churches in several Southern states. So far, there is no indication the fires are related.

On Wednesday morning, only the brick walls of the Greeleyville church remained. The roof had collapsed, and the long windows no longer had glass in them. The side of the church facing the rural highway had a white cross that appeared charred.

Investigators walked through the debris, taking pictures and examining the remains of the building. Yellow crime scene tape kept reporters and nearby residents away from the building.

“I can tell you we’re not going to leave any stone unturned,” said Craig Chillcott, assistant special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office that oversees North and South Carolina. “The facts will ultimately determine what occurred. … It’s a bit premature to say how long it will take to make this determination.”

Steve Gardner of the Williamsburg County Sheriff’s Office and other officials at the news conference would not give other details about the fire, possible causes or the investigation.

“I know the community is seeking those answers,” Gardner said. “Please bear with us.”

The Rev. Alice Parson Wright, a pastor at an AME church about 20 miles away, stopped by the scene of the fire Wednesday morning.

“When I got the message last night, my first thought was: ‘Not again. Not again. Not again,'” she said. “And then the second thought was: ‘I pray this is not arson but an act of God because of the weather.'”

Wright, who has preached at Mount Zion and knows the congregation, said the church won’t be defeated. “The way they rebuilt before … I can’t see them doing anything else but rebuilding,” she said.

Two members of the KKK pleaded guilty to starting the June 1995 fire.

The image of orange flames coming from that same church brought up painful memories, said Williamsburg County Councilman Eddie Woods Jr., who got out of bed Tuesday to drive to the church after hearing about the fire.

“That was a tough thing to see,” Woods said. “It is hurting those people again. But we’re going to rebuild.”

___

Kinnard reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Associated Press writer Jeffrey Collins also contributed.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Bay Area

Sept. 11, 2001, 20 years later: ‘Remembrance’ held aboard the USS Hornet Sea, Space & Air Museum

The USS Hornet Sea, Space & Air Museum, moored at the City of Alameda, hosted a “Remembrance” ceremony of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on board the ship on the 20th anniversary, Sept. 11, 2021.

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U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard, 23rd Marine Regiment: Sgt. Tristan Garivay, Sgt. Michael Her, Cpl. Adrian Chavez and Cpl. Quentavious Leeks. Photo by Russell Moore, USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum, Community Events & Outreach

Quintin Jones, Colonel, USMC, Commanding Officer, 23rd Marine Regiment. Photo by Russell Moore, USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum, Community Events & Outreach

The USS Hornet Sea, Space & Air Museum, moored at the City of Alameda, hosted a “Remembrance” ceremony of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on board the ship on the 20th anniversary, Sept. 11, 2021.

The ceremony recognized the impact and consequences of the series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks committed on 2001 by 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Queda against targets in New York City and Wash., D.C. Nearly 3,000 people died that day and 6,000 were injured.  This was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil in U.S. history. 

The ceremony aboard the USS Hornet began with the presentation of the colors by the U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard, 23rd Marine Regiment. (Pictured above.)

Leon Watkins, co-founder of The Walking Ghosts of Black History, was the Master of Ceremonies. He spoke about the extensive death and destruction which triggered the enormous U.S. effort to combat terrorism.

Daniel Costin, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, spoke of the lasting impact of 9/11 terrorists attack on first responders. He recounted incidents where first responders rushed into the scenes of the attacks, many at the sacrifice of their own lives. More than 400 police officers and firefighters were killed that day: 343 members of the New York City Fire Department and 71 members of their law enforcement agencies.

Quintin Jones, Colonel, USMC, commanding officer of the 23rd Marine Regiment, spoke about the recovery efforts at the Pentagon following the terrorists’ attack where 125 people perished. He reflected on the actions of three first responders who recovered the U.S. Marine Corps flag from the commandant of the Marine Corps’ office at the Pentagon. This flag was still standing after the attack. It was a symbol of America’s resolve.

At the end of the formal presentations, the Marine Corps Wreath Bearers went to the fantail of the Hornet. After the playing of ‘Taps,’ they tossed a wreath into the San Francisco Bay to give final honors.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Community

Many in Black Communities are Choosing Vaccination 

Inequities in health outcomes have always been with us. COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates among African Americans rival or exceed those in heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. Blacks sit atop most bad lists and at the bottom of most good lists. 

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Vaccination/Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

The trail of illness and death left amid the spread of COVID-19 in Black and African American communities should come as no surprise.

Inequities in health outcomes have always been with us. COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates among African Americans rival or exceed those in heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. Blacks sit atop most bad lists and at the bottom of most good lists.

COVID-19 vaccinations offer us an opportunity to better balance the scale.

Unfortunately, even with widely available testing, highly effective vaccines, and extraordinary efforts by health departments to educate and encourage people of color to get vaccinated, many Black Californians remain skeptical.

We can only hope that the FDA’s full regulatory approval of the Pfizer vaccine on August 23 for those 16 and up convinces more to get the vaccine.  It’s worth noting that emergency-use authorization also remains in place for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots, as well as Pfizer’s for 12- to 15-year-olds – and that all of these vaccines are safe and effective in protecting against COVID-19 and its highly contagious variants.

Eddie Fairchild and Steph Sanders were skeptical about the COVID-19 vaccine but came to understand why vaccination benefits our entire community.

Fairchild, a Sacramento insurance agent, said he knew of research that found Black and white people are often treated differently for the same health conditions leading to poorer health outcomes.

“I was hesitant,” he said. “I was going to wait and see how it panned out with everyone else.

But when a Black friend in the health care field told him he’d opted to get vaccinated, Fairchild asked him why.

“He said, ‘Risk-reward, and the risk is death.’ At that point I didn’t have to ask him what the reward was.”

With a finance degree and a belief that numbers don’t lie, Fairchild looked at the data. He learned that until 2020 the average number of Americans who died each year was about 2.6 million, but in 2020 that figure was 3.4 million. There was only one possible explanation for the death rate surge, he said.

“COVID is absolutely real,” he said, adding that three of his cousins died from the virus. “Taking all that into consideration, I decided that it’s risky to engage in the world and not be vaccinated. It made sense for me to get it.”

Racial gaps in vaccination have thankfully narrowed in recent weeks. But as of September 1, while Black people account for 6% of the state’s population, they account for 6.6% of COVID-19 deaths, which is 11% higher than the statewide rate, according to state department of public health data. Only about 55% of Black people in California have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Reasons for the discrepancies run the gamut, from conspiracy theories like Black people are getting a less effective vaccine than whites or that the vaccine will eventually be deadly, to challenges in health care access. 

Mostly, it’s based on a lack of trust in medical and scientific institutions, which have a long history of racism and mistreating Black people.

So even when it comes to good things like vaccines, which are scientifically proven to be good for the community, it always comes back to trust.

Sanders, a Vallejo school principal, was hesitant because of the Tuskegee syphilis studies in which Black men who had the disease were intentionally not treated with penicillin. And he was dubious that an effective vaccine could be developed so quickly. 

In fact, the science and technology enabling development of the COVID-19 vaccines was in development for a more than decade before the virus emerged in 2020. The FDA authorized three vaccines for emergency use after they underwent a rigorous process and were proven through trials to be safe and effective at preventing severe COVID-19, hospitalization, and death.

He decided to get vaccinated when his school board decided last spring to bring students back into classrooms.

Today, he’s a fervent vaccine advocate. He holds “lunch and learn” forums for educators, encouraging vaccination.

“I’m a leader and people are relying on my knowledge,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t make this about you, but about the people you love and care about. It’s about protecting them.’”

There is still a long way to go before Blacks achieve true health equity, but vaccination against a virus that is taking a terrible toll on our communities is a critical step in the right direction.

 

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Activism

Bay Area Officials Condemn Texas Abortion Restrictions, U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

Bay Area and state officials lambasted both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas state government after the high court declined to approve an emergency petition to stop a Texas law banning abortions six weeks or more after conception.

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Law Books/Clarisse Meyer Via Unsplash

Bay Area and state officials lambasted both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas state government after the high court declined to approve an emergency petition to stop a Texas law banning abortions six weeks or more after conception.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law, Senate Bill 8, in May, but it went into effect September 1 at 12:01 a.m. local time.
Late that night, the court issued a 5-4 ruling, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s three liberal justices in the minority, declining to rule on the petition, which was filed by Texas abortion clinics.
The court could still strike the law down in the coming days as unconstitutional, but abortion rights activists expressed skepticism that the court would do so after letting the law go into effect in the first place.
The law effectively overwrites the precedent set in 1973 by the court’s ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade by preventing pregnant people from seeking an abortion after their sixth week of pregnancy, a time when many people are not yet even aware that they are pregnant.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, called SB 8 “one of the most severe attacks on reproductive rights” in U.S. history.
“SB 8 is an appalling violation of human rights and reproductive rights, and will put the health of millions of people in jeopardy, especially for low-income people and people of color,” Lee said in a statement.
SB 8 does not make exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest and allows people to sue doctors, medical staff and even a patient’s ride to a medical clinic if they suspect the patient has had an abortion after six weeks.
Plaintiffs also are not required to show damages or have a connection to the patient to file a lawsuit under SB 8, and are entitled to $10,000 and their legal fees if a judge rules in their favor.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said the law constructed a “vigilante bounty system” that could keep people from seeking reproductive health care of any kind.
“This provision is a cynical, backdoor attempt by partisan lawmakers to evade the Constitution and the law to destroy not only a woman’s right to health care but potentially any right or protection that partisan lawmakers target,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Vice President Kamala Harris echoed that sentiment.
“This decision is not the last word on Roe v. Wade, and we will not stand by and allow our nation to go back to the days of back-alley abortions,” Harris said in a statement. “We will not abide by cash incentives for virtual vigilantes and intimidation for patients.”
Jodi Hicks, the CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, argued in a statement that the Supreme Court’s decision will inevitably lead to other states passing their own abortion restrictions.
Nearly a dozen states have already passed so-called “abortion trigger laws” that would fully outlaw the practice in the first and second trimesters as soon as Roe v. Wade is overturned.
“The inaction by the Supreme Court on a blatantly unconstitutional ban has taken away a crucial right to millions of people in Texas and without a doubt threatens their ability to make decisions about their body, their lives, and their futures,” Hicks said.
On September 2, Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives will formally take up legislation to codify abortion rights in federal law instead of relying on the court decision alone.
However, that bill, the Women’s Health Protection Act, is unlikely to find enough support in the U.S. Senate to reach President Joe Biden’s desk for a signature.
Biden said in a statement on September 1 that SB 8 “blatantly violates” the decision in Roe v. Wade and pledged to defend abortion rights across the country, but did not elaborate on what that might entail.
California Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, argued in a Twitter post that the purpose of SB 8 is clear: “to intimidate women (and) providers.”
“It cannot stand,” she said.

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