Tag Archives: park

Milwaukee legislators offer ‘Sleeping in the Park’ bill

State Reps. Frederick Kessler, Jonathan Brostoff and David Bowen and Rep.-elect David Crowley are proposing legislation to prevent law enforcement officers from arresting or attempting to arrest a person for simply sleeping in a county park.

The measure is a response to the shooting death of Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee on April 30, 2014, by a Milwaukee police officer. The officer had been responding to concern that Hamilton was sleeping in Red Arrow Park. Hamilton had been questioned by two other officers and was found to have been doing nothing more than sleeping.

He was questioned a third time in a situation that escalated to a fatal confrontation.

“Given the tragic death of Dontre Hamilton, it raises questions about the alleged violation he committed by simply sleeping in Red Arrow Park,” Kessler said in a press statement. “For that simple concern, Mr. Hamilton was confronted by two officers initially, on two occasions, and then later, after being questioned by a third officer, lost his life.”

Brostoff stated, “Public parks are for people, period. This legislation will help members of our community who simply want to enjoy a public park and decrease the sort of harassment that led to Donte Hamilton’s terrible demise.”

“If we do not govern to prevent this kind of human rights violation, who will?” asked Crowley. “For too long we have seen an erosion of human rights, especially in communities of color. We need to take proactive steps with legislation like this to ensure the rights of all citizens, without stifling the honorable work of law enforcement.”

The legislation would allow for police to arrest someone sleeping in a county park if that person is known to be wanted for arrest on other charges or the officer believes the individual is a threat to public health or safety. The measure also would provide for county ordinances that prohibit sleeping in a park, but limit the penalty for doing so to a forfeiture of not less than $10 and no more than $200, plus costs.

“There has to be more common sense,” Kessler said. “If you are merely sleeping in a county park, and an officer has no reason to believe you have committed another crime and there is no warrant for your arrest, then there is no reason to be arrested or questioned if all you are doing is sleeping. This legislation is a simple proposal and will hopefully prevent a tragedy such as that involving Dontre Hamilton from happening again.”

The bar where it all started is to become a National Monument

The Stonewall Inn is slated to become the first national monument dedicated to gay rights.

The monument would comprise the inn and land adjacent to the tavern, the site of a 1969 uprising that is viewed as the symbolic start of the modern-day gay rights movement.

“Stonewall was the spark that ignited the movement for LGBT civil rights, a spark which continues to burn around the world today,” said U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat. “We must ensure that the events of Stonewall, the persecution of the LGBT community, and the brave individuals who fought — and continue to fight — to overcome it are given the place they deserve in our nation’s history.”

The bar in the Stonewall building closed in 1969, just months after patrons resisted the police raid. The space was occupied by other businesses, including a bagel shop and a Chinese restaurant, before it reopened as a bar in the 1990s. In Stonewall’s current incarnation, under new owners since 2006, half the original space occupied by the bar is now a nail salon.

Co-owner Stacy Lentz said she and her partners bought the bar “to preserve history and make sure it wasn’t made into a Starbucks.” She said she is thrilled by the national monument discussions.

“This solidifies everything we have worked for to keep the legacy alive for generations to come,” Lentz said.

Nadler, who has been pressing for a national monument at Stonewall for years, said the spot is worth recognizing because it would “tell the story of the United States,” as do park sites in Seneca Falls, New York, dedicated to the women’s rights movement, and Selma, Alabama, named for the civil rights movement.

U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand added, “The Stonewall Inn is an icon in American history and a national monument designation at this site would help tell the story of the equal rights movement in America for generations to come. Every recent victory for the community, from the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ to the Supreme Court decision about the right to marry, is a result of the movement that began at Stonewall more than four decades ago.”

The Stonewall Inn already is already a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Also, it was designated a New York City landmark last year, the first time a site had received the designation because of its significance to LGBT history.

Originally built as stables in the 1840s, adjoining buildings at 51 Christopher Street still have the brick-and-stucco facade that greeted bar-goers June 28, 1969, the night of the protests.

What began as a police raid escalated into days of street demonstrations that triggered an activist movement and prompted gay New Yorkers to stop hiding their identities and speak out publicly.

“The Stonewall Rebellion is a rarity — a tipping point in history where we know, with absolute clarity, that everything changed,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer.

Patrons at the Stonewall are ecstatic the area will be recognized as a national monument.

Jonathan Early called the Stonewall “the heart of the LGBT movement.”

And as he passed by the bar earlier this spring, Jesse Furman said, “It really says something. It is a place of so much happiness and acceptance. Think about it. This is America’s landmark for the gay community.”

To the register

The National Park Service in May announced that it would add two LGBT sites to the National Register of Historic Places:

• The Edificio Comunidad de Orgullo Gay de Puerto Rico in San Juan, which served as the meeting hall for the first LGBT organization in Puerto Rico.

• The Furies Collective house in Washington, D.C., which was home to a lesbian feminist collective in the early 1970s.

“The road to civil rights is a long one and adding these important places to the National Register will help recognize the LGBT communities’ fight for equality,” said Kristen Brengel of the National Parks Conservation Association.

— Lisa Neff

image pride stonewall plaque

FBI reviews hanging death of black teenager

The black teenager was found in a North Carolina trailer park, hanging from a swing set by a dog leash and a belt that were not his own. His mother said he showed no sign of suicidal thoughts, yet authorities quickly ruled that he had taken his own life.

Now the FBI is reviewing the investigation after Lennon Lacy’s relatives and the NAACP raised doubts about the official findings, which the county coroner also questions.

A 911 caller reported spotting the 17-year-old’s body Aug. 29 in the small town of Bladenboro, about 100 miles south of Raleigh. His feet were suspended 2 inches off the ground.

The state medical examiner ruled that the boy killed himself, but his mother said she does not believe it.

“When I saw him, I just knew automatically he didn’t do that to himself,” Claudia Lacy told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “If he was going to harm himself, his demeanor would have changed. His whole routine, everything, his attitude, everything would have changed.”

She last saw the youngest of her four sons alive as the middle linebacker prepared for a high school football game by putting together his uniform in the early hours of the day he died.

His father told him that he needed to get some sleep before the game, his first after his mother made him take a year off from the team to focus on his grades.

“OK, Daddy,” he said. They then heard a door close, which was not unusual, Claudia Lacy said, because her son liked to run at night when the air was cool.

About 13 hours later, she identified his body in the back of an ambulance. The swing set was in clear sight of about 10 trailers.

She said she felt let down when investigators ruled it a suicide and brought her concerns to the state chapter of the NAACP, which has organized a march Saturday in Bladenboro.

On Friday, federal officials confirmed they were reviewing the investigation. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Tom Walker said Walker’s office acted at the request of attorneys from the North Carolina NAACP representing the family.

“We don’t know what happened that terrible night,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP chapter. “It is possible that a 17-year-old excited about life could commit suicide. The family is prepared to accept the truth. They’re not prepared to accept this theory that’s been posited with a rush to a conclusion of suicide so quickly. We have said there are far too many unanswered questions.”

Bladen County District Attorney Jon David said Friday that he also asked the FBI to review the case because the family and the NAACP said they had information that they would provide only to federal authorities. He said he had seen no evidence of foul play.

“Not only is the case open, but our minds are open,” David said.

In the 911 call, the dispatcher advises the caller to try to get the person down in case he was still alive. When investigators arrived at the trailer park that the NAACP has described as predominantly white, the body was on the ground. Investigators told NAACP attorneys that one shoe was on the body and one was on the ground, said Al McSurely, a lawyer working for the NAACP.

The shoes were 1.5 sizes too small for Lacy and did not belong to him, his family said.

The family also questioned whether authorities took photos at the scene, and if they did, whether those photos were provided to the state medical examiner.

David said Friday that many photos were taken, but the NAACP attorneys said they were not aware of any.

Bladenboro Police Chief Chris Hunt referred all questions to the State Bureau of Investigation, North Carolina’s top law enforcement agency. A spokeswoman for the bureau has said agents addressed all viable leads.

Bladen County Coroner Hubert Kinlaw said he signed a death certificate calling the cause of death a suicide because that’s how the form came back from the medical examiner. Kinlaw, who went to the scene, said he now wonders whether Lennon really killed himself.

“How did it happen? How did he wind up there?” he said. “These are all questions that are out there.”

But the medical examiner, Dr. Deborah Radisch, said in a discussion with a pathologist hired by the NAACP that she based her ruling partially on Kinlaw’s conclusion that Lacy killed himself.

And Claudia Lacy inadvertently contributed to the conclusion of suicide. When asked if Lennon had been depressed, she said yes, that his great-uncle had been buried the day before. She said she meant that Lennon was sad, grieving over the loss of a family member, not suicidal.

“Here’s a mother who knows at the end of the day she’s going to have to accept that either it was a suicide or it was a lynching,” Barber said. “And because of the history of the South and the history of this country, in some strange way, she would almost rather it be a suicide.”

O’Donnell Park sale leaves public out in the cold

Public parks are rarely sold to for-profit corporations. But Milwaukee County may soon sell the postcard-perfect Lakefront promontory O’Donnell Park to Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. On Dec. 18, county supervisors will vote to approve or reject the proposed sale.

This is a bad financial deal for taxpayers. It removes from the parks’ budget an annual $1.3-million-dollar income stream. It denies the public all future rights to a priceless park with some of downtown Milwaukee’s best views. 

O’Donnell Park is often dismissed as just a “parking garage.” At the east end of Wisconsin Avenue, Mark Di Suvero’s sunbeam sculpture boldly greets you. From there, you see the Milwaukee Art Museum’s soaring Calatrava-designed pavilion. Perhaps you’ve attended an event at the Miller Room or Coast restaurant, or you’ve taken young friends or family to the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. If this deal closes, all O’Donnell Park facilities will become Northwestern Mutual property, to use as the corporation wishes.  

So will the two garden plazas that extend from Mason to Michigan streets. Both are popular settings for weddings. (If you want to get married there, book soon, because a private buyer will have no obligation to rent out the gardens or pavilion venues.) O’Donnell Park may evolve into a private playground, a 9-acre extension of NML’s campus. 

In its proposed contract, NML guarantees only two things. A specified number of parking spaces will be made available to the public at certain times at market rates. People will also be able to walk through the site to get to the Milwaukee Art Museum. But those options end in 2033, when the “useful life” of O’Donnell’s parking structure will expire, according to the contract (or even sooner, if NM Ldecides).

A legal analysis by attorney William Lynch confirms that, despite vague reassurances by NML reps, the public will be left out in the cold with this sale. NML probably won’t raze the park immediately, but its officials acknowledge they will ultimately redevelop the site as they choose. The contract says nothing about keeping this prime Lakefront acreage a public park. The public will lose any future possibility to re-imagine O’Donnell.

The proposed selling price is jaw-dropping. Taxpayers and other donors invested $36 million to build O’Donnell in 1992. Based on the recent sale of the nearby Irgens’ site, O’Donnell’s land alone is worth about $40 million. Conservatively, the land and facilities are now worth perhaps $76 million. But Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has agreed to sell the park complex to NM, one of the richest companies in America, for $12.7 million. As a career real estate investor, I would never sell on those terms. But it’s a buyer’s dream.

NML is a terrific Milwaukee employer but does not deserve this kind of taxpayer subsidy. The City of Milwaukee already granted the corporation $73 million in tax credits to rebuild its headquarters. 

Urge your county supervisors to vote “no” on this pending sale (it’s easy to contact them online). Yes, it’s the season of giving, but we need not give away an irreplaceable community asset. Only a lease or conservancy arrangement will preserve this inherited gem for future generations.

Pat Small, a longtime landlord, believes in vigorously protecting public assets, such as parks, for the common good.

Feeding the homeless: Act of charity or a crime?

To Arnold Abbott, feeding the homeless in a public park in South Florida was an act of charity. To the city of Fort Lauderdale, the 90-year-old man in white chef’s apron serving up gourmet-styled meals was committing a crime.

For more than two decades, the man many call “Chef Arnold” has proudly fired up his ovens to serve up four-course meals for the downtrodden who wander the palm tree-lined beaches and parks of this sunny tourist destination.

Now a face-off over a new ordinance restricting public feedings of the homeless has pitted Abbott and others with compassionate aims against some officials, residents and businesses who say the growing homeless population has overrun local parks and that public spaces merit greater oversight.

Abbott and two South Florida ministers were arrested this fall as they served up food. They were charged with breaking an ordinance restricting public feeding of the homeless. Each faces up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“One of the police officers said, `Drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon,” Abbott recalled.

The arrests haven’t deterred Abbott, and pastors Dwayne Black and Mark Sims.

In fact, on a recent evening, Abbott and Black went back out for a feeding along Fort Lauderdale beach as police videotaped them serving up fresh-cooked entrees: a chicken-and-vegetable dish with broccoli sauce and a cubed ham-and-pasta dish Abbott said he topped with a “beautiful white onion celery sauce.”

Nearly 100 mostly homeless people and volunteers cheered his arrival in the park.

“God bless you, Arnold!” some in the crowd shouted.

 “Thank God for Chef Arnold. I haven’t eaten all day. He feeds a lot of people from the heart,” said 56-year-old Eddie Hidalgo, who described himself as living on the streets since losing his job two years ago.

At one point, an Associated Press staffer said she watched as Abbott was called over beside a police car by officers where an officer wrote up something and handed Abbott a copy as he stood by.

Police spokeswoman DeAnna Greenlaw late told The Associated Press by email that Abbott was issued a citation on a charge of breaking the ordinance. She said no one else was cited and police had no further comment.

“I’m grateful that they allowed us to feed the people before they gave us the citation,” Abbott said afterward. He has said feeding the homeless is his life’s mission.

Fort Lauderdale is the latest U.S. city to pass restrictions on feeding homeless people in public places. Advocates for the homeless say that the cities are fighting to control increasing homeless populations but that simply passing ordinances doesn’t work.

In the past two years, more than 30 cities have tried to introduce laws similar to Fort Lauderdale’s, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. The efforts come as more veterans face homelessness and after two harsh winters drove homeless people southward, especially to Florida.

Mayor Jack Seiler said he thinks Abbott and the two pastors have good intentions, but that the city can’t discriminate in enforcing the ordinance. He said it was passed recently to ensure that public places are open to everyone and stressed that the city was working with local charities to help with the root causes of homelessness.

“The parks have just been overrun and were inaccessible to locals and businesses,” Seiler said.  

Black, a local pastor, noted that the ordinance passed after a long meeting after midnight, when many people had gone home. But he said he’s willing to stand up to the measure, even at the risk of arrest.

Fort Lauderdale’s ordinance took effect this fall, and the city passed a slew of other laws addressing homelessness in recent months. They ban people from leaving their belongings unattended, outlaw panhandling at medians, and strengthen defecation and urination laws, according to Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“I think cities have grown tired of the homeless situation, and businesses and residents complain about the homeless population,” Stoops said, citing the conflict between business needs and the needs of the homeless.

Fort Lauderdale police have said that the men were not taken into custody last weekend and that they were given notices to appear in court from that encounter, adding the matter will ultimately be decided by a judge. The police spokeswoman Greenlaw said those charged “were well aware of the changes to the ordinance and its effective date.”

Other cities are conducting routine homeless sweeps while some have launched anti-panhandling campaigns, according to the coalition. And many laws continue to target public feedings.

In Houston, groups need written consent to feed the homeless in public, or they face a $2,000 fine. Organizations in Columbia, South Carolina, must pay $150 for a permit more than two weeks in advance to feed the homeless in city parks.

In Orlando, an ordinance requires groups to get a permit to feed 25 or more people in parks in a downtown district. Groups are limited to two permits per year for each park. Since then, numerous activists have been arrested for violating the law. The arrests have drawn national attention, with some focusing on the contrast between the vacation destination of the Orlando area and the poverty in some surrounding areas.

How to honor Pete Seeger? A park? A bridge? A song?

Someday, it might be possible to take the Pete Seeger Bridge to Pete Seeger Park and listen to Pete Seeger music by the Pete Seeger statue.

Plans abound to honor the recently deceased folk icon — a few early events were held Saturday, on what would have been his 95th birthday. But trying to honor a hardcore egalitarian like Seeger raises some questions.

How do you single out a singer who revered the masses? Is it OK to bestow honors on Seeger that he declined during his life? And would the old eco-warrior want his name on a $3.9 billion bridge serving suburban car culture?

“He did everything possible to not take credit for anything. It was always a group effort,” said George Mansfield, a council member in Beacon, the Hudson River city near where Seeger and his late wife, Toshi, lived for decades. “People say `How do you best memorialize Pete?’ and everyone agrees the best way to memorialize him is to continue what he started.”

Seeger, who died in January at age 94, was known around the world for his activism and gentle voice on such signature songs as “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” He was also known closer to home for his deep connection to the Hudson River and his tireless efforts in the movement to clean it up.

That’s why Beacon plans to rename its riverside park for Seeger and his wife, who were instrumental in converting the former dump into Riverfront Park. And more controversially, some people want to put Seeger’s name on the massive span that will replace the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson just north of New York City.

“I just imagine a family driving across the bridge years from now and some kids says, ‘Who is Pete Seeger?’ That kind of thing. That would be cool,” said Bill Swersey, a New York City resident who liked the bridge-naming idea so much he created a Change.org petition that has more than 14,000 signatures.

Critics say naming a bridge for Seeger that carries some 140,000 cars a day between sprawling Westchester and Rockland counties would fly in the face of the singer’s live-simply ethos. One counterproposal has been to rename the more ecologically friendly Walkway Over the Hudson about 45 miles upriver.

Seeger declined such honors in his life, so the idea of lending his name to bridges sits uncomfortably with some.

“He hated the spotlight,” said family friend Thom Wolke, who believes living up to Seeger’s ideals is a more fitting remembrance.

Mansfield said Seeger’s family approved of renaming the Beacon park, provided Toshi was included. He said the family also will have a say in what sort of sculpture or plaque will grace the renamed “Pete and Toshi Seeger Riverfront Park,” which could be anything from a representational statue to something abstract. One Seeger family member, grandson Kitama Cahill-Jackson, said he’s for naming anything that keeps his grandfather’s name alive.

“Whenever someone wanted to name something after him I’d ask him, and he’d say, `Do it when I’m dead,” Cahill-Jackson recalled. “And he’s dead, so I think this is a good time to do it.”

Cahill-Jackson is among the people who will honor Seeger in the most obvious way: with song. He is raising money for Seeger Fest, a five-day series of music and events in the Hudson Valley and New York City —including a concert at Lincoln Center’s outdoor performance area — starting July 17.

Seeger’s birth date on Saturday will be marked with shows featuring his songs in Woodstock, New York and St. Paul, Minnesota, and Wolke organized a show in Fontenet, France. The shows will be held in different places with different artists, but the thought is the same.

“I think part of me is doing this because I want to keep them alive,” Cahill-Jackson said. “And I’m hoping that weekend, they’ll be alive.”

Kissing lesbian couple kicked out of Kentucky park

A lesbian couple and a photographer say they were asked to leave a park in Richmond, Ky., after the couple kissed.

WKYT-TV and The Richmond Register report that Cheri Chenault and her partner, Destiny Keith, were having maternity photos taken by photographer Jessica Miller-Poole when a gatekeeper at E.C. Million Memorial Park told them they had to leave due to inappropriate behavior.

A park employee told the newspaper this week that manager Adam Arvin was not available for comment.

Richmond Human Rights Commission Chairwoman Sandra Anez-Powell says there’s no law against telling the couple to leave because the city doesn’t have a non-discrimination ordinance. She said the commission has tried unsuccessfully for four years to get such an ordinance passed.

The Fairness Coalition said in a statement that local residents are planning to call attention to the need for protections in Madison County.

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ACLU: Cops bothering gays in Kent County, Mich., parks

Gay rights activists in western Michigan say sheriff’s deputies have been unfairly targeting gay men in Kent County parks by striking up conversations with them while working undercover.

Nearly three dozen men were arrested in the parks in 2010 under Michigan’s soliciting law but many simply were talking or holding hands, critics told county commissioners this week.

“In these cases, it’s the officers who are making the approaches. It’s the officers who are doing the accosting and soliciting,” said Miriam Aukerman of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Grand Rapids Press reports that Sheriff Larry Stelma defended his deputies and said they’re simply trying to keep parks safe.

“This is sensationalizing and a distortion of what’s happening,” Stelma said. “We do not arrest anybody, male or female, for holding hands.”

Michigan law makes it illegal for someone to use a public place to invite another to commit a “lewd or immoral act.”

“If you look at the exact language of the statute, you could apply it to what happens in bars and restaurants in Kent County on any Friday or Saturday night,” Aukerman said. “We have concerns about laws that limit the behavior of consenting adults.”

She said there’s nothing illegal about flirting.

Kent County attorney Dan Ophoff said changes in how deputies deal with such situations are already in the works, although authorities believe past arrests complied with the law. He said some cases were dropped before getting to court.