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Faith leaders call for Puerto Rico pension protection, debt and disaster relief

Brandon Moseley

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Archbishop Roberto González, the Secretary General of the Puerto Rico Bible Society Reverend Heriberto Martínez and the island’s Catholic Charities head, Reverend Enrique Camacho, released a statement Friday calling for pension guarantees, debt relief and disaster assistance for the island on Friday.

“This week, as the oversight board met and workers voted on new pension proposals, we appreciate that the oversight board kept the promise to protect the pensions,” the three said in a statement. “We stand with labor leaders in urging the passage of pension plans that protect the vulnerable and protect the pensions of most of our people.”

González, Martínez and Camacho announced their position in a statement at a press conference in the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista. This is one of the oldest cathedrals in the hemisphere.

The head of the religious development group Jubilee USA, Eric LeCompte, joined the San Juan press conference along with Catholic, United Church of Christ, Lutheran and Disciple religious leaders from the United States.

“For the first time in any debt restructuring for a U.S. city, territory or country, we are seeing pensions being protected,” noted Jubilee USA director and United Nations debt expert, Eric LeCompte. “While we are extremely pleased by the pension proposals, we also must see Puerto Rico’s debt cut by at least 80 percent.”

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. They have $72 billion in debt and are struggling to recover from the 2017 Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The major Puerto Rico religious leaders assert their ability to resolve disaster and debt crises are hampered by their relationship with the United States.

“Our ability for resiliency, recovery and resolving our own challenges is tied to our political and colonial status. We call on our people and our officials to begin a new and creative dialogue to resolve our political status,” asserted González, Martínez and Camacho in their statement.

Since 2015, with the support and advice of the religious Jubilee USA Network, we called on decision makers, our people and the faithful to work toward a Jubilee for Puerto Rico.

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“In the face of a debt crisis and a 60 percent child poverty rate, we called for debt relief, stopping austerity policies, protecting public pensions and reducing child poverty on our island,” Gonzalez, Martinez and Camacho wrote. “We’ve been concerned about corruption in our own government. Congress made a promise that in exchange for debt relief and a ‘super bankruptcy process,’ a fiscal oversight board would be imposed on Puerto Rico.”

“After Congress passed emergency debt relief legislation in 2016, we felt debt relief was in sight,” the three wrote. “Early plans created by Puerto Rico’s oversight board saw debt payments cut by 80 percent. Congress passed protections for the pensions and the official audit process. Congress began to move forward measures to reduce child poverty. We hoped that the promises made to our people would be kept.”

“Sadly, in the fall of 2017 when Hurricanes Maria and Irma ravaged our island, our hopes for debt relief and child poverty reduction became additional victims of the hurricanes,” González, Martínez and Camacho continued. “Because of rosy economic growth projections from potential federal aid and construction monies, the oversight board negotiated to pay more debt. While there were some innovations in PREPA and COFINA debt proposals, they fell short in delivering enough debt relief — they fell short in the promise of a Jubilee.”

They said if there is failure to provide the island with enough debt relief, “the cost is paid by our people — especially by our children.”

They stated that Congress has failed to pass all of their recommendations to reduce child poverty, but did acknowledge that President Donald Trump last week signed a bill to deliver more than $50 billion for recovery and called on congress and the White House to continue this effort and deliver the additional $70 billion that’s still needed to recover.

“Because of the work of noted economists and our partners at Jubilee USA, we know we cannot risk an overall debt cut of less than 80 percent,” González, Martínez and Camacho said.

The United States invaded and seized Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898 during the Spanish American War. All Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth.

The current population of the island is 3,177,000, which is down considerably from 2010, when 3,722,000 still lived on the island. The high unemployment, poverty and crippling debt crisis had already begun an exodus from the island. The hurricanes have hastened that process.

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Sewell implores Alabamians “to speak out and demand change without violence”

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama U.S. Rep.Terri Sewell said that her heart aches for George Floyd and that anger should be directed not to violence but to action.

“The heroes of the Civil Rights Movement showed us it is possible to change history without damaging property and torching businesses that our community members depend on, so I implore all Alabamians to speak out and demand change without violence,” Sewell said. “We cannot let violence distract from the legitimate anger and frustration that we must channel toward action. I pray for both peace and justice.”

Sewell posted a video message Monday in response to protests across the country, which have at some points, turned violent and chaotic. On Sunday, several reporters were attacked in Birmingham, and some businesses were vandalized.

The representative’s video message comes after Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed also called peaceful demonstration. Birmingham implemented a curfew in response to the riotous demonstrations Sunday evening, but the city also removed a Confederate monument from Linn Park.

“To all those who feel marginalized because of the color of your skin: I see you and I hear you,” Sewell said. “Your pain and hopelessness is legitimate — since the founding of our nation, our criminal justice system has failed our black and brown communities. My heart aches for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the countless others whose senseless deaths have not made the national news cycle.”

Sewell represents Alabama’s 7th Congressional District and is the only black member of Alabama’s congressional delegation.

“As a daughter of Selma, I myself have struggled to reconcile with the moment in which we continue to find ourselves, over and over,” Sewell said in the video statement. “The Foot Soldiers who came before us fought to create a better future, but every day we are reminded that that fight is far from over. They sacrificed their lives in pursuit of an America that lives up to its ideals – an America that we have not yet reached more than 55 years later.”

Sewell said the racism that causes pain can be seen plainly in police brutality and in the staggering health disparities black communities have endured before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“It can be seen in thinly-veiled attempts to put African Americans in our place, holding on to and idolizing a time when our bodies were not our own,” she said. “And it can be seen in the state-sanctioned holidays and monuments that honor the leaders of the Confederacy, including today, ‘Jefferson Davis Day.’”

Sewell said she also knows that the vast majority of Americans across the country and in Birmingham are peacefully protesting for social justice.

“I wish I had all the answers and I could give us all the solutions we need,” Sewell concluded. “For now, I promise that I will work tirelessly to do absolutely everything within my power to bring peace and justice to our communities.”

“My Administration is fully committed that for George and his family, justice will be served,” President Donald Trump said on Monday. “He will not have died in vain. But we cannot allow the righteous cries of peaceful protesters to be drowned out by an angry mob.”

Floyd was killed while being arrested by the Minneapolis Police Department on suspicion of counterfeiting. The police officer who killed Floyd has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Activists say more widespread reform of policing and the criminal justice system needs to happen, and the other officers involved in Floyd’s homicide should also be charged.

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ACLU of Alabama backs right to protest

Eddie Burkhalter

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The ACLU of Alabama in a statement Tuesday expressed support for the Constitutionally protected right to protest and called for an end to racist policing. 

“We support protesters in Alabama and across the nation who are expressing their grief at the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all of the many Black men, women, and children who have been killed at the hands of police,” the statement reads. “We stand with those who are demanding justice from a system that has both historically abused and too often abuses Black communities to this day. Black people should not live in fear of being shot and killed by the police.

The ACLU said these times of unrest compel us to examine what will make our communities safer and more equitable.

“Police, sheriffs, and other government officials have discretion in how they use their time and resources,” the organization said in their statement. “Now is the time to question how they use that discretion around the role that law enforcement possesses in our communities, especially given the disproportionate harm inflicted upon communities of color, particularly Black communities, caused by enhanced militarization of law enforcement in this country. We cannot effectively address police violence without completely reimagining the role of police.  We must significantly reduce the responsibilities and presence of police in the everyday lives of people in heavily policed communities. We will not rest until there is an end to racist policing.”

“The ACLU’s commitment to ending racist and violent policing goes back decades, from confronting the police violence that fueled protests in Los Angeles, Detroit, and Newark in the 1960s, through Ferguson. Sadly, those efforts  have not worked. We must do more.

“Rather than spend taxpayer dollars on enforcing restrictions on the constitutionally protected right to protests, police and government officials should focus on seeking justice and holding themselves accountable to the people they are supposed to protect and serve.”

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin on Monday declared a state of emergency and enacted a city-wide curfew after a peaceful protest Sunday turned violent early Monday morning. 

Protests across Alabama on Monday were peaceful, with few arrests reported, according to news accounts.

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Alabama leaders remember Auburn head football Coach Pat Dye

Brandon Moseley

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via Madison Ogletree / The Auburn Plainsman

On Monday, former Auburn football head Coach and Athletic Director Pat Dye died from kidney and liver failure. He had recently tested positive for COVID-19 as well. He was age 80. Many Alabama leaders commented fondly on the legendary Auburn football Coach from 1981 to 1992.

Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) said in a statement, “If there was a college football version of Mount Rushmore, Pat Dye could be there among the greats. Not only did he bring Auburn football back into prominence by winning games, SEC Championships, and what probably should have been a 1983 National Championship, he was a wonderful molder of young men. While he will long be remembered for the games he won and the contributions he made to the great Auburn-Alabama rivalry, there are hundreds of people who were touched by him who will carry on his legacy for decades to come.”

U.S. Senate candidate former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville said, “Today is a sad day for the Auburn community with the loss of Coach Pat Dye. Coach Dye was a true Auburn man and believed in the value of hard work and “a sound mind, in a sound body and a spirit that is not afraid, and in clean sports that develop these qualities.” He helped to instill these Auburn principles in players and fans alike. He was one of the coaching greats of the game, and many including myself learned invaluable lessons from watching him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family for peace and comfort during this time.”

U.S. Senate candidate former Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “The state of Alabama has lost one of its legendary coaches in Pat Dye. The field at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn is named for him. He won four SEC championships at Auburn University, and he coached my choice for the world’s greatest athlete, Bo Jackson, and others like Tracy Rocker, the tremendous Outland Award winner. Coach Dye’s teams were famous for their toughness and fighting spirit and for never quitting. He brought the Iron Bowl to Auburn and won an upset victory in that historic first game at Auburn in 1989. Pat Dye never lost his country roots or his common touch. My condolences to Coach Dye’s family, and to the entire Auburn family.”

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) said, “I am saddened to hear of the passing of Coach Pat Dye — a great man, coach and member of the Auburn family. Not only was he a phenomenal football coach, but an even better person. For years, I have known Pat personally and have always valued his friendship and colorful commentary. He had great takes on both football and life. Coach Dye truly embodied the Auburn spirit. He will be missed not only by the Auburn family, but the entire state of Alabama. War Eagle, Coach. Your life and legacy lives on.”

Former State Rep. Perry O. Hooper Jr (R-Montgomery) said, “We lost a great Coach and a Great American today!Coach Pat Dye passed away this morning.”

U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) said, “Coach Dye was larger than life-a true legend. Not only did he win countless Auburn football games at the helm of championship teams, but more importantly he won the hearts of so many in Alabama and beyond. He truly was a man of great character and my heart is heavy hearing the news of his recent passing. Louise and I will be keeping his loved ones in our prayers.”

U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) said, “‪Coach Dye was always so friendly, encouraging, and just a true joy to be around. Rebecca and I join so many others in mourning his passing and remembering a life most certainly well lived.”

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Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan said, “Moments I’ll always remember and be grateful for- celebrating my birthday with an Auburn man and legend. Wings up Coach as he walks humbly with God. “I believe in my Country, because it is a land of freedom and because it is my own home, and that I can best serve that country by doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God.”-Auburn creed.”

“I was saddened to hear about Coach Dye’s passing this morning,” said Second Congressional District candidate Barry Moore. “Everyone in Alabama knew him, and those who knew him well knew what a fine person he was.”

Auburn Athletics Director Allen Greene said, “For four decades, Coach Dye showed all of us what it looks like to be an Auburn person. His coaching exploits are well known, securing his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. His skills as an administrator were equally formidable, resulting most notably in bringing the Iron Bowl to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Just like his football teams, Pat Dye the athletic director was tenacious, never backing down from a fight when he believed Auburn’s good name and best interests demanded it. Thanks to his tenacity, I’ll always treasure my first home Iron Bowl, celebrating victory on the field that bears his name.”

Current Auburn Head Football Coach Gus Malzahn said, “Coach Dye was much more than a hall of fame coach and administrator at Auburn. He was an Auburn leader and visionary. He not only returned the football program back to national prominence during his tenure, but was a key figure in bringing the Iron Bowl to Auburn and made an impact on the university and in the community. He embodied what Auburn is about: hard work, toughness and a blue collar mentality. Coach Dye’s impact on Auburn is endless and will stand the test of time. “

Dye also coached for six seasons at East Carolina University and one season with the University of Wyoming. Dye played football at the University of Georgia and was an assistant football coach under legendary University of Alabama head football Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Dye’s overall record as a head coach was 163-62-5. He was 99-39-4 at Auburn where he is the third winningest coach in the history of the program.

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Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed asks public to stay home for “next few nights” amid protests

Eddie Burkhalter

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Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed at a Monday afternoon press conference asked the public to stay at home for the next few nights, if they can. 

Reed’s words came after peaceful protests in Birmingham turned into a riot early Monday morning. Numerous businesses were burned, and two reporters were attacked. Protests were likely to begin Monday evening, according to accounts on social media. 

“I want you to know that I share your outrage over the killing of George Floyd. I share your anger about the callus action that ended his life,” Reed said. 

But Reed said “we must not further inflict damage upon ourselves and our community in a short-sighted effort to express our understandable frustration and anger.” 

Reed asked that those who can do so “stay at home for the next few nights.” 

“Talk with your family. Talk with your friends. Talk with others about what we can do together for the betterment of each other,” Reed said. 

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin earlier on Monday declared a state of emergency and a city-wide curfew that begins today. 

Moments before Reed spoke, President Donald Trump gave a speech at the White House and said he is an ally of all peaceful protestors and “your president of law and order.” 

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“But in recent days our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, antifa and others,” Trump said. 

Trump said he was mobilizing the U.S. military to stop the rioting, and that he strongly recommended to governors that they “deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets.” 

If governors don’t get rioting under control, Trump said “I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.” 

Gov. Kay Ivey earlier on Monday announced that she authorized the Alabama National Guard to activate as many as 1,000 guardsmen, but said there was no immediate need to deploy them. Woodfin said in a separate press conference Monday that there was no immediate need for assistance from the Alabama National Guard.

Just as Trump began speaking at the White House, police fired tear gas and advanced on a group of peaceful protestors at Lafeyette Park near the White House, according to video coverage by several news outlets. 

After his speech, Trump left the White House on foot and traveled under heavy security to Lafeyette Park, where he held up a Bible outside St. John’s Church alongside White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany while photographers clicked away.

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