Virtual memorial set for 1963 church bombing in Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Crowds gather every year at 16th Street Baptist Church to mark the anniversary of the horrific day when a bomb planted by Ku Klux Klansmen went off just before worship, killing four Black girls.

This year’s 57th observance will be virtual because of the coronavirus pandemic that has gripped the world. reported that the downtown church is asking people to watch a video replay of the 2019 memorial service, which included an appearance by former Vice President Joe Biden, now the Democratic nominee opposing President Donald Trump.

The replay will begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday on the church’s Facebook page to coincide with the day of the bombing on Sept. 15, 1963. Afterward, Pastor Arthur Price will lay a wreath at the site of the bombing, which happened on a side of the building.

The church discontinued in-person worship in March because of the pandemic. “All of our services are virtual,” Price said.

The bombing killed 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, 11-year-old Denise McNair, 14-year-old Carole Rosamond Robertson and 14-year-old Cynthia Wesley. Three KKK members were convicted in the blast years later and went to prison.

— The Associated Press

Baltimore reports on test of police aerial surveillance

The Baltimore Police Department revealed Friday that an aerial surveillance system being tested across the city since May has given officers information in 81 criminal cases, including 19 homicides, but acknowledged it does not have enough data yet to determine the program’s effectiveness.

Of the cases backed by aerial imagery, 21% have been closed with an arrest compared to 16% of similar incidents that were not captured by the wide-angle cameras mounted on airplanes sweeping Baltimore. The figures, which are provisional, are contained in a report covering the first half of the six-month pilot program.

“This report provides an extensive review of the program’s progress, while fulfilling our commitment to transparency in sharing data on where the program is at its halfway mark,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said in a statement.

Throughout the test, the cameras are taking photos of at a rate of one per second as the airplanes fly above the city. The images can then be stitched together to create a continuous visual record to assist police investigate only homicides, nonfatal shootings, armed robberies and carjackings.

Police have said the resolution of the images is not sharp enough to identify a person’s face, ethnicity, gender and clothing or a vehicle’s color, make, model and license plate. Instead, people and vehicles appear on the imagery as dots, which can then be identified when the visual record is paired up with street-level cameras, license plate readers and gunfire sound detectors.

Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems is operating the surveillance technology and analyzing the images for police. The project is being funded with about $3.7 million from the nonprofit of Texas billionaires Laura and John Arnold.

— The Associated Press

Sheriff’s office defend response to online toy gun incident

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Authorities are defending their decision to send two school resource officers to a Colorado home where a 12-year-old Black boy pointed a gun that turned out to be a toy at a friend during an online class they were taking together.

Following criticism from the boy’s mother about how the school and El Paso County Sheriff’s Office handled the Aug. 27 situation, the sheriff’s office on Thursday released body camera video of the officers’ visit as well as a quick clip showing the boy briefly aiming the gun at the other as they appear to be horsing around.

In a statement, the sheriff’s office said the school contacted them out of concern for the welfare of the students and said the teacher did not know if the gun was real or not.

The body camera footage shows officers talking to the father of one of the boys, and then speaking with the boys. The officer who mainly spoke said they were not going to charge the boys with the crime of interfering with a school but said they would if it happened again.

Authorities said they wanted to the boys to know how serious the situation was.

“The School Resource Officer took the appropriate action and was kind and respectful throughout the interaction. His goal was to educate the involved parties,” the office said.

In a Facebook video, the mother of the boy with the toy gun, Dani Elliott, said the school called the sheriff’s office after she told school officials that it was a toy. When she later learned that the officers were going to her house, Elliott, who was not home, said she was afraid for her son’s safety and called him to tell him to put the gun on the counter and hide in the basement.

— The Associated Press

Democratic critic appointed co-chair of police task force

MADISON, Wis. — Assembly Republican Speaker Robin Vos last week tapped one of his most outspoken Black critics to help lead his new task force on racial disparities and police policies.

Democratic state Rep. Shelia Stubbs will co-chair the task force along with Republican Majority Leader Jim Steineke, who is white.

Stubbs has been a vocal critic of GOP legislators’ lack of action to address racial disparities and police brutality. She blasted Republicans recently for taking no action during a special session Gov. Tony Evers called to pass Democratic-authored legislation scaling back use-of-force policies. Evers called the session after a white officer shot Jacob Blake, who is Black, in the back in Kenosha in August. The shooting sparked days of protests, some of which became violent.

Republicans, who control the state legislature, rejected Evers’ bills.

Steineke said the task force will likely hold its first meeting in late September or early October and then meet every two to three weeks to prepare a bipartisan package of legislation for the next session, set to begin in January. He said the task force will show the nation that government isn’t “broken.”

— The Associated Press

California enacts ban on flavored tobacco products

CALIFORNIA — Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 793 into law on Aug. 28, imposing one of the nation’s strongest restrictions on flavored tobacco.

The bill makes it a crime for any retailer or individual to sell a flavored tobacco product or any tobacco product flavor enhancer in the state. Violation will be punishable by a fine of $250 for each infraction. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021, reported Antonio Ray Harvey for California Black Media.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 7 in 10 Black youth between ages 12 and 17 who smoke prefer menthol cigarettes. In addition, African American adults have the highest percentage of menthol cigarette use compared to other racial and ethnic groups.

— Bakersfield News Observer

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