Month: July 2019

Baltimore schools’ mission: Help students cope with trauma

BALTIMORE — When she transferred to a new K-8 school two years ago, Tinazsha Johnson was in deep distress. The Baltimore sixth grader was crushed by the death of her mother. Her father was in and out of lockups. She’d witnessed searing violence in her neighbourhood and felt overwhelmed helping her grandparents raise her younger siblings.

Fast forward to today: Daily life is still tough, but after about two years as a student at one of Baltimore’s new “trauma-sensitive” schools, she’s learning to manage the cumulative effects of stress and grief that were so relentless they made her developing brain feel like a revving engine. As the 15-year-old prepares to graduate from eighth grade, she’s gained a better understanding of working out conflicts, understanding emotions and regulating her behaviour.

“I used to always be fighting, fussing and cussing people out. But this last year, I’ve been doing a lot better ’cause I’ve been learning how to control my anger in a lot of ways and think positive thoughts to get me through,” Tinazsha said in an interview at the year-round school, which she says has become her sanctuary from streets where the names of young crossfire victims are spray-painted on walls as tributes.

In crime-plagued Baltimore and other cities, school officials are increasingly realizing that chronic childhood trauma affects brain development and creates the risk of physical and behavioural health problems down the line. Districts have responded by creating the trauma-sensitive schools, both in big systems such as Chicago and San Francisco and smaller ones in states such as Iowa and Wisconsin.

Baltimore’s problems drew national attention when President Donald Trump tweeted Saturday that U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings’ majority-black Maryland district — which includes the West Baltimore area where Tinazsha’s family resides — is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want” to live.

Trump was roundly criticized by opponents who blamed him, as head of the federal government, for not helping Baltimore with its challenges. Indeed, the “trauma-sensitive” schools effort — made possible in part with federal funds — can help only a fraction of those who need it.

In Baltimore, the need to address childhood trauma and students’ mental health was underscored in 2015, when the death of a young black man in police custody sparked massive protests and the city’s worst rioting in decades. Freddie Gray’s death brought renewed attention to the poverty, inequity and crime that have festered in large swaths of Baltimore for decades.

“It increased the urgency and helped us to see that our whole city is in crisis,” said James Padden, an education official in Baltimore, a majority-black city where the poverty rate is roughly double the national figure.

With the help of a $2.3 million federal grant in 2016, officials have transformed 13 public schools in troubled West Baltimore into the trauma-sensitive schools where students have access to full-time mental health clinicians, mindfulness and breathing exercises, and “peace corners” with pillows and exercise books where they can retreat and compose themselves. Staff members have reached out into the community to build relationships with students’ guardians.

The New Song Community Learning Center that Tinazsha attends is in the heart of Sandtown-Winchester, Gray’s former neighbourhood, where open-air drug markets fill an economic vacuum and police helicopters routinely buzzes overhead. The school is one of West Baltimore’s anchor institutions, a warm but structured environment where college-bound alumni help out during summer breaks.

The need is still greater than the supply. When officials applied for the federal grant, about 4,600 students attended the future trauma-sensitive schools — about 5.5 per cent of Baltimore’s 84,000 public school students.

There’s widespread agreement more students would benefit from trauma-sensitive schools, amid research showing many of Baltimore’s youngest citizens are repeatedly exposed to trauma. In a May Baltimore Sun opinion piece , a leader of a behavioural health non-profit wrote that the children of Maryland’s biggest city face a “mental health crisis.” Last week, a city councilman announced in another opinion piece his plan to make trauma response a focus of all city agencies that deal with children.

The federal grant for trauma-sensitive schools expires this year. With remaining funds, officials are focusing on training everyone from teachers and administrators to cafeteria workers on recognizing and responding to traumatized students. Experts from Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland are contributing services.

Padden said the district will have a full-time social worker in all schools for the 2019-20 year, and the city has created “calming spaces” and “wholeness” sites for students in schools that aren’t designated trauma-sensitive centres.

New Song’s executive director, Mark Carter, is acutely aware of the need. He marvels at his students’ resiliency. Many had to negotiate childhoods framed by chronic poverty, crime and other challenges. In recent weeks, the school system held a ceremony to memorialize the dozen Baltimore students ranging from ages 7 to 18 who were gunned down this academic year.

“We would like our children to have childhoods. And yet the neighbourhood and sometimes their family circumstances don’t permit that,” Carter said in his office, decorated with photos of civil rights leaders including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. “So we straddle this world between creating high academic expectations but also realizing, for instance, at the age of 9 you shouldn’t have to take care of all your brothers and sisters because of family disintegration.”

Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at Princeton University, said children “enter their classrooms carrying the burden of violence with them,” which harms their ability to get a good night’s sleep and concentrate.

Programs like those underway in Baltimore that calm the school environment and teach children to be mindful of emotions can help, he said. He added it’s important to acknowledge “the most effective way to improve academic achievement is to confront the problem of community violence.”

“While other cities have completely transformed, Baltimore hasn’t been able to,” Sharkey said.

David McFadden, The Associated Press




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North York church leader appeals DNA test that proved he fathered parishioner’s baby boy

North York church leader appeals DNA test that proved he fathered parishioner’s baby boy

Kofi Danso of Miracle Arena for All Nations asked for the test last summer as part of an ongoing child support case in which he falsely claimed he never had an intimate relationship with the baby’s mother.

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Dad charged after boy dies in apparent accidental shooting

CHICAGO — Authorities say a man is facing charges after his 3-year-old son died after apparently accidentally shooting himself in the head at a Chicago home.

Chicago police say 29-year-old Ronald Davis of Chicago is charged with endangerment leading to death and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. He’s scheduled to appear Tuesday in bond court. It wasn’t immediately known whether he had a lawyer who could comment on his behalf.

Police say Davis left a loaded gun in a place where the child, identified as Mikah Davis, was able to access the weapon.

Police have said Mikah’s family told police they heard a gunshot Sunday afternoon while in another room at the home on the city’s South Side and found a gun near the boy.

The Associated Press

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AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

Accused of racism, Trump blasts black congressman as racist

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing growing accusations of racism for his incendiary tweets, President Donald Trump lashed out at his critics Monday and sought to deflect the criticism by labeling a leading black congressman as himself racist.

In the latest rhetorical shot at lawmakers of colour, Trump said his weekend comments referring to Rep. Elijah Cummings’ majority-black Baltimore district as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live” were not racist. Instead, Trump argued, “if racist Elijah Cummings would focus more of his energy on helping the good people of his district, and Baltimore itself, perhaps progress could be made in fixing the mess.”

“His radical ‘oversight’ is a joke!” Trump tweeted Sunday.

After a weekend of attacks on Cummings, the son of former sharecroppers who rose to become the powerful chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Trump expanded his attacks Monday to include a prominent Cummings defender, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who held a press conference in Baltimore to condemn the president.

“Al is a con man, a troublemaker, always looking for a score,” Trump tweeted ahead of the press conference, adding that the civil rights activist and MSNBC host “Hates Whites & Cops!”

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Gunman posted online minutes before killing 3 at festival

GILROY, Calif. (AP) — Before a 19-year-old gunman opened fire on a famed garlic festival in his California hometown, he urged his Instagram followers to read a 19th century book popular with white supremacists on extremist websites, but his motives for killing two children and another young man were still a mystery Monday.

Santino William Legan posted the caption about the book “Might is Right,” which claims race determines behaviour. It appeared with a photo of Smokey the Bear in front of a “fire danger” sign and also complained about overcrowding towns and paving open space to make room for “hordes” of Latinos and Silicon Valley whites.

In his last Instagram post Sunday, Legan sent a photo from the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Minutes later, he shot into the crowd with an AK-47 style weapon, killing a 6-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl and a man in his mid-20s.

Under it, he wrote: “Ayyy garlic festival time” and “Come get wasted on overpriced” items. Legan’s since-deleted Instagram account says he is Italian and Iranian.

The postings are among the first details that have emerged about Legan since authorities say he appeared to fire at random, sending people running and diving under tables. Police patrolling the event responded within a minute and killed Legan as he turned the weapon on them.

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Capital One target of massive data breach

SEATTLE (AP) — A hacker gained access to personal information from more than 100 million Capital One credit applications, the bank said Monday as federal authorities arrested a suspect in the case .

Paige A. Thompson — who also goes by the handle “erratic” — was charged with a single count of computer fraud and abuse in U.S. District Court in Seattle. Thompson made an initial appearance in court and was ordered to remain in custody pending a detention hearing Thursday.

The hacker got information including credit scores and balances plus the Social Security numbers of about 140,000 customers, the bank said. It will offer free credit monitoring services to those affected.

The FBI raided Thompson’s residence Monday and seized digital devices. An initial search turned up files that referenced Capital One and “other entities that may have been targets of attempted or actual network intrusions.”

A public defender appointed to represent Thompson did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

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Stakes rising for 2020 Dems ahead of 2nd presidential debate

DETROIT (AP) — Democrats gathering in Detroit for a pivotal presidential debate will have to decide, once again, how to respond to President Donald Trump while presenting their own vision for the country.

Candidates are sure to use the high-profile setting on Tuesday and Wednesday to blast Trump’s recent string of racist and incendiary tweets and comments, first about four congresswomen and more recently about Baltimore, a racially diverse U.S. city that, like Detroit, has faced challenges. But they’ll also be under pressure to provide specifics about how they would improve the lives of Americans by lowering the cost of health care or protecting jobs at a time when the economy is showing signs of sputtering.

The second debate of the Democratic primary has higher stakes for a historically large field of more than 20 candidates, 10 of whom will face off each night. For several candidates, the debates will likely offer a last chance to be considered a serious contender for the party’s nomination. Tougher rules set by the Democratic National Committee are expected to winnow the race. To qualify for the next debates in September, candidates must raise money from more donors and hit higher polling thresholds — a bar more than half of the candidates are at risk of missing.

“Everything’s at stake,” said Jill Alper, a Democratic strategist who has worked on seven presidential campaigns. She had simple and direct advice for the White House hopefuls confronting questions about Trump: “protest and pivot” — and “pivot quickly” — to what they can offer American families.

The two leading progressives in the field, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, will be at centre stage on Tuesday. Warren’s campaign has gained ground in recent weeks, partially at the expense of Sanders. The debate could offer a high-profile chance for Warren to prove to Sanders’ supporters that she’s worthy of their consideration.

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Analysis: Trump’s political and policy guardrails fall away

WASHINGTON (AP) — An unrepentant President Donald Trump has been testing the limits of the nation’s tolerance from the day he took office. Now he has cast off one of the few remaining voices trying to curtail his at times mercurial impulses.

Trump nudged out national intelligence director Dan Coats, a rare cautionary influence in his foreign policy apparatus, while he escalated his attacks on minority members of Congress and went so far as to call a majority-black U.S. city of 600,000 a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” on Twitter. Both moves underscored Trump’s longstanding belief that he is his own best political strategist.

The president’s volatile management style has shocked the nation before. But the drumbeat of provocation emanating from the White House has grown undeniably louder in recent months. Trump aides such as economic adviser Gary Cohn, who blocked impulsive actions by going so far as to remove rogue paperwork from the Resolute Desk, are gone.

The president has rid himself of many of the aides who once challenged him, either by attrition or replacement, and in doing so illustrated his preference for loyalty over know-how. He’s inflamed racial tensions, betting that such divisions will help ease his path to victory in 2020. And he’s replaced gut instinct and tweets for the sober analysis of professionals on matters of war and peace.

On Sunday, Trump had his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, defend the offensive tweets on national television and furthered his divisive attacks on a veteran African-American congressman, claiming without evidence that Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, a prominent administration critic, was himself “racist.”

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Italy judge: Teen claims he knifed officer in self-defence

ROME (AP) — Two American teenagers jailed in Rome in the slaying of an Italian police officer showed “total absence of self-control,” making them highly dangerous to society, a judge concluded in ordering them kept behind bars while the investigation continues.

Judge Chiara Gallo said in the ruling, obtained Monday by The Associated Press, that there were “grave” indications that the California teens carried out the slaying of Carabinieri Deputy Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega, who was stabbed 11 times Friday after he and a fellow plainclothes officer confronted the Americans as part of an investigation into a cocaine deal the two were allegedly involved in. He died shortly afterward at a hospital.

Gallo cited testimony from witnesses, including the officer’s surviving partner, as well as a porter and a doorman in the Rome hotel where the teens were staying and the Americans’ own, sometimes conflicting accounts, to investigators.

Finnegan Lee Elder, 19, and Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, 18, were taken into custody hours after the slaying by police who said a search of their hotel room found the alleged weapon, a military-style attack knife, hidden inside the room’s drop ceiling.

“It can’t be forgotten that the two were looking for drugs in the course of the evening and that both had drunk alcohol as they themselves declared,” the judge said in in her ruling, issued late Saturday. “It’s a matter of circumstances which, evaluated together with their conduct, testifies to the total absence of self-control and critical ability of the two suspects, and, as a result, makes plain their elevated social danger.”

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Unmarked buildings, quiet legal help for accused priests

DRYDEN, Mich. (AP) — The visiting priests arrived discreetly, day and night.

Stripped of their collars and cassocks, they went unnoticed in this tiny Midwestern town as they were escorted into a dingy warehouse across from an elementary school playground. Neighbors had no idea some of the dressed-down clergymen dining at local restaurants might have been accused sexual predators.

They had been brought to town by a small, non-profit group called Opus Bono Sacerdotii. For nearly two decades, the group has operated out of a series of unmarked buildings in rural Michigan, providing money, shelter, transport, legal help and other support to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse across the country.

Again and again, Opus Bono has served as a rapid-response team for the accused.

When a serial pedophile was sent to jail for abusing dozens of minors, Opus Bono was there for him, with regular visits and commissary cash.

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Officials say 57 dead in Brazil prison riot; 16 decapitated

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — At least 57 prisoners were killed by other inmates during clashes between organized crime groups in the Altamira prison in northern Brazil Monday with 16 of the victims being decapitated, according to prison officials.

Para state prison authorities said a fight erupted around 7 a.m. between the Rio de Janeiro-based Comando Vermelho and a local criminal group known as Comando Classe A.

“Leaders of the (Comando Classe A) set fire to a cell belonging to one of the prison’s pavilions, where members of the (Comando Vermelho) were located,” the statement read.

State prisons chief Jarbas Vasconcelos said the fire had spread rapidly with inmates held in old container units that had been adapted for the prison while another building is under construction.

The fire prevented police forces from entering the building for several hours, he told a news conference.

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Jury: Katy Perry’s ‘Dark Horse’ copied Christian rap song

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A jury on Monday found that Katy Perry’s 2013 hit “Dark Horse” improperly copied a 2009 Christian rap song in a unanimous decision that represented a rare takedown of a pop superstar and her elite producer by a relatively unknown artist.

The verdict by a nine-member federal jury in a Los Angeles courtroom came five years after Marcus Gray and two co-authors, first sued in 2014 alleging “Dark Horse” stole from “Joyful Noise,” a song Gray released under the stage name Flame.

The case now goes to a penalty phase, where the jury will decide how much Perry and other defendants owe for copyright infringement.

Questions from the jury during their two full days of deliberations had suggested that they might find only some of the defendants liable for copyright infringement. The case focused on the notes and beats of the song, not its lyrics or recording, and the questions suggested that Perry might be off the hook.

But in a decision that left many in the courtroom surprised, jurors found all six songwriters and all four corporations that released and distributed the songs were liable, including Perry and Sarah Hudson, who wrote only the song’s words, and Juicy J, who only wrote the rap he provided for the song. Perry was not present when the verdict was read.

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Goodell, title game officials to face questions on ‘no-call’

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Louisiana judge ordered that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and three officials from January’s NFC title game be questioned under oath in September about the infamous “no-call” that helped the Los Angeles Rams beat the New Orleans Saints in January’s NFC title game, a lawyer said Monday.

Attorney Antonio LeMon, who filed a lawsuit over the game that advanced the Rams to the Super Bowl, said he and league attorneys will pick a mutually agreeable date for depositions in New Orleans — barring any league appeals that might delay or cancel the questioning.

A league spokesman declined comment.

LeMon’s lawsuit seeks $75,000 in damages — to be donated to charity — over the failure to flag a pass interference or roughness penalty against Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman for his helmet-to-helmet hit on receiver Tommylee Lewis well before a pass arrived. The no-call came at a crucial point in the game against the New Orleans Saints. The Rams won and advanced to the Super Bowl.

State Civil District Court Judge Nicole Sheppard of New Orleans ruled earlier this month that LeMon’s lawsuit could proceed. She also ruled then that LeMon can request documents and ask questions of NFL officials. She said Monday that depositions should take place in September. She also set Aug. 22 for the next hearing in the lawsuit, according to LeMon.

The Associated Press

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