Greene County Commission approves funds for roads, bridges, equipment and support for the ambulance service

At its regular monthly meeting on August 8, 2022, the Greene County Commission approved funding and solicitation of bids for several road and bridge projects as well as the purchase of needed equipment to support the work of the Highway Department.

Willie Branch, County Engineer brought many of these issues to the attention of the Commission at its work session on August 3 and many of these items were placed on the regular monthly meeting agenda for action.

At Engineer Branch’s suggestion, the Commission approved projects to be funded under the County Transportation Plan in conjunction with the ALDOT Rebuild Alabama Program. These projects include repairs on  CR 100, CR 174, CR 148, and a bridge on CR220.

The Commission approved advertising bids for renovation of the William M. Branch Courthouse including bathrooms, flooring and lighting in the courtroom, and some additional work on the walls in the courtroom.

In the work session, Engineer Branch reported mechanical difficulties with the garbage truck in picking up garbage on schedule. At the meeting the Commission approved advertising for bids on a truck for the Solid Waste Department. Branch also recommended giving all county solid waste customers a two-month credit on their garbage bills to cover the period of
delayed or missed services. The Commission approved this credit for all garbage customers.

The Commission also approved Branch’s request for additional equipment to have two crews for road repairs and grass cutting on the roadways. He was authorized to purchase two spreader boxes for gravel, four tractors, a single drum roller and a replacement for the current backhoe. Mac Underwood, CFO, said this equipment could be purchased with monies saved from earlier refinancing the County’s bond issues as well as funds in the Capital Improvements Account from bingo.

The Commissioners also approved a resolution to close the 2007 Bond Warranty Account and to close two CD accounts in Robertson Bank at maturity and deposit funds in the Gasoline Fund to be used for purchase of construction equipment.

The Commission voted to give the Greene County Emergency Medical Services, which administers the ambulance in the county $18,000 towards one month’s payroll expenses. The GEMS had requested a year’s worth of subsidy of its payroll and expenses, of $40,000 a month, prorated on a population basis from the County and four municipalities.

The Commission choose between two options of giving $54,000 for a quarter or $18.000 for a month and allowing the ambulance service to report back before allocating additional funds. Commissioners Brown and Smith voted for the quarterly option which was voted down by the other three Commissioners – Turner, Summerville, and Cockrell. Chair Turner voted with Brown and Smith to approve the one-month option. Cockrell said, “We need to use our funds for things the people really want like recreation and a water park, or they will all move away from Greene County and then you won’t need an ambulance service anyway.” Commissioners Brown and Smith said ambulance services were a necessary service for everyone.

The Commission approved a resolution to support settlement of an opioid lawsuit and agreed to sell ten acres of land on Choctaw Road to Mercy and Grace for an assisted living project.

The Commission received a financial report from CFO Mac Underwood and agreed to pay all bids and claims for July 2022.The Commission reappointed three members of the DHR Board and appointed Gavin Edgar to the E-911 Board from District 2. All other available board nominations were tabled.

National Voting Rights Museum in Selma sponsors ‘Remembrance and Recommitment Ceremony’ for
the 57th anniversary of the passage of the 1965
Voting Rights Act

Voting Rights foot soldiers tell stories of the Selma Movement as part of the 57th anniversary
of the 1965 Voting Right Act.
Voting Rights foot soldiers honored by young people. L to R: Margaret Howard, Jeanette Howard, Jimmy Reynolds., Betty Boynton and Charles Mauldin.

Special to the Democrat by John Zippert, Co-Publisher

The National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Alabama, on August 6, 2022 sponsored a ‘Remembrance and Recommitment Ceremony’ for the 57th anniversary of the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The program included a slow-ride of about fifty vehicles from Browns Chapel Church, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to a rally on the eastern side in the Memorial Park. The rally stressed the importance of recommitting to voter registration, education, and involvement to overcome the efforts at voter suppression and gutting of the Voter Rights Act in recent years by the U. S. Supreme Court.

The rally ended with a litany dedicated to revitalizing the voting rights struggle and passage of the John Lewis Voter Advancement Act which has thus far been blocked in the U. S. Senate by a Republican filibuster.

The program then moved across Highway 80 to the National Voting Rights Museum Building for an afternoon of story telling by the veteran foot-soldiers who participated in the Selma Voting Rights Movement of the 1960’s and were part of the Bloody Sunday March in 1965.

Rev. Bernard Lafayette, a SNCC organizer who choose to come to Selma to work on voting rights in 1963 after the Freedom Rides and serving three weeks in the infamous Parchman Prison in Mississippi, said, “We started organizing young people  because they were available and willing; they could not be fired from a job for agitating and marching because they didn’t have a job. We recruited in the high schools and held classes with young people on their rights, non-violence, and social change theory. When the time came, we had a ready group of people who were the key to the movement in Selma.”

Charles Mauldin, a teenager at 15, was one of the students that Rev. Lafayette reached in 1963 and 1964. He and other student leaders, Terry Shaw, Betty Fikes, and others started boycotting the schools and working for justice in Selma. “My parents were among the first to register to vote in Selma after 1965. They encouraged me and other young people to fight in the movement. It was not an option to be scared. We knew we were taking on the power of the State of Alabama, but we did what we had to do. Mauldin can be seen near the front of the 1965 march, in pictures of Bloody Sunday.

Jimmy Reynolds, another sixties foot soldier said, “I had trouble at first with non-violence. I was not going to turn away when I was hit but after attending mass meetings with my aunt, I joined the movement. I was part of the strategy committee. Dallas County Sheriff, Jim Clarke arrested us in 1963 demonstrations and took us to three jails. We wound up at Camp Camden for about three weeks.

Betty White Boynton, wife of Bruce Boynton and daughter-in-law of Amelia Boynton Robinson, who invited Dr. King to Selma, said she was active as well as a teenager in 1963-65. “I was arrested several times and went to Camp Selma on Highway 80. The conditions were not suitable for human beings, but we kept on working for change,” she said. On Bloody Sunday, she came to Brown’s Chapel at the end of the march to assist people who were beaten and teargassed.

Dr. Joe Reed, head of the Alabama Democratic Conference and state Black teachers’ association said he started activities in his home county of Conecuh and was a student sit in leader at Alabama State in the 1960’s. He participated in the founding meetings for SNCC. By 1965, he was already leading the Black teachers in the state, and he helped Rev. Fred Reese and Marie Foster to help teachers who were involved in the movement.

Two sisters from Marion, Alabama, Margaret, and Jeanette Howard, also gave testimony on the fatal shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson, by a state trooper, while he was protecting his grandfather from attack by the police in February 1965, in the Perry County seat of Marion, Alabama. Both sisters were recruited out of high school by Albert Turner, legendary SCLC Alabama State Director. Both sisters said they were on the bridge on Bloody Sunday.
Margaret said, “I could run a little faster than my sister, so I was not beaten. But we both went to Camp Selma. We had grits for breakfast, bologna sandwiches for lunch, and peas for dinner. It was a pretty tough place to be for teenagers.”

The program concluded with young people placing medals of achievement around the necks of the foot soldiers to honor them for their courage and bravery in the battle for civil and voting rights.

Newswire:Study finds nearly 90 Percent of Black homicide victims were killed with guns

 Handgun with ammunition

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

According to a new and comprehensive study on gun violence, Black men, women, boys, and girls remain the most impacted victims of homicide in America, yet year after year this shocking and unacceptable toll is allowed to continue.
The study published by the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center, revealed that in 2019, the United States recorded 7,441 Black homicide victims.
African Americans represent 14 percent of the U.S. population, but accounted for 52 percent of all homicide victims, the study authors found.
The annual study, Black Homicide Victimization in the United States: An Analysis of 2019 Homicide Data, also ranks the states according to their Black homicide victimization rates. Officials said it’s based on unpublished data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Supplementary Homicide Report.

The study details homicide rates for 2019, the most recent year for which comprehensive national data is available. For homicides in which authorities could identify the weapon used, 88 percent of Black victims (6,190 out of 7,056) were shot and killed with guns. Of those, 64 percent (3,935 victims) were killed with handguns.
On average, more than 20 Black Americans died each day from homicide – 17 were known to have died from gunshots.
“These deaths almost always involve a gun, and the resulting devastation ravages families, friends, and community members,” Violence Policy Center Executive Director Josh Sugarmann stated in a news release.
“The goal of our research is to help support advocates and organizations working on the ground to stop this lethal violence while, at the same time, continuing to educate and engage the public and policymakers on the need to address this ongoing national crisis,” Sugarmann said.
The study also revealed that the Black homicide victimization rate in the United States was nearly four times the overall national victimization rate and nearly seven times the white homicide victimization rate.
In 2019, the Black homicide victimization rate was 18.08 per 100,000. In comparison, the overall national homicide victimization rate was 4.79 per 100,000. For whites, the national homicide victimization rate was 2.69 per 100,000.Further, 87 percent of Black homicide victims were male (6,454 of 7,441) and 13 percent were female (986 of 7,441).
The authors noted that Black male homicide victimization rate in the United States was “more than four times the overall male victimization rate and more than eight times the white male homicide victimization rate.”
In 2019, the homicide victimization rate for Black male victims was 32.49 per 100,000. In comparison, the overall rate for male homicide victims was 7.68 per 100,000 and the rate for white male homicide victims was 3.88 per 100,000.

For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 77 percent of Black victims (2,282 out of 2,954) were killed by someone they knew.The number of victims killed by strangers was 672.
For homicides in which the circumstances could be identified, 70 percent (2,856 out of 4,102) were not related to the commission of any other felony. Of these, 56 percent (1,591 homicides) involved arguments between the victim and the offender.
With a homicide rate of 50.64 per 100,000 residents, Missouri ranked the highest. Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, Arkansas, Michigan, and Oklahoma rounded out the top 10.
The authors said individuals living in communities where violence is prevalent are at higher risk for a broad range of negative health and behavior outcomes.
An increased understanding of how trauma resulting from community violence influences development, health, and behavior can lead to improvements in the way many social services are delivered as well as policy changes at the local and federal levels.
“At the same time, the firearms industry, looking to expand beyond its shrinking base of white male gun owners, has launched an organized marketing campaign focusing on Black and Latino Americans,” the study authors wrote.“If successful, such efforts can only increase gun death and injury in these communities.”
The full study is available at

Newswire: Four police officers federally charged with civil rights violations in Breonna Taylor’s death

Breonna Taylor

By Antonio Planas, NBC News
Two current and two former police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, have been charged with violating Breonna Taylor’s civil rights in the 2020 botched raid that led to the young Black woman’s death, federal officials said Thursday.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, in announcing the charges, said the Department of Justice alleges that the violations “resulted in Ms. Taylor’s death.”
Detective Joshua Jaynes, with the Louisville Metro Police Department, obtained the warrant used in the March 13, 2020, search of the 26-year-old medical worker’s apartment. 
Kelly Goodlett, who along with Jaynes was a detective in the Place-Based Investigations unit that investigated drug trafficking, and Sgt. Kyle Meany, who supervised the unit, were charged with falsifying an affidavit. 
Jaynes and Goodlett are accused of misleading investigators probing the deadly shooting. Meany allegedly lied to the FBI, Garland said.
In a separate indictment, Brett Hankison was charged with using excessive force while executing the search warrant.
Hankison was terminated from the department in June 2020, while Jaynes was terminated in January 2021, Louisville police said in a statement Thursday. The department is also seeking to terminate Goodlett and Meany, the statement said.
“Today Chief Erika Shields began termination procedures of Sgt. Kyle Meany and Officer Kelly Goodlett. While we must refer all questions about this federal investigation to the FBI, it is critical that any illegal or inappropriate actions by law enforcement be addressed comprehensively in order to continue our efforts to build police-community trust,” police said.
A lawyer believed to be representing Jaynes could not be immediately reached Thursday. Attorney Stew Mathews, who has previously represented Hankison, said he did not know yet whether he would be representing him in the federal case.
Mathews said he spoke to Hankison on Thursday morning while he was “on his way to turn himself in” but has not spoken to him since then. 
An attorney representing Meany could not be reached. It was unclear if Goodlett had retained an attorney.
Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump said in a statement Thursday it’s been a difficult two years since Taylor’s death for her family and advocates fighting for her.

Newswire: Scholars and experts make case to expand Supreme Court; abolish Electoral College

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has raised concerns from women regarding bodily autonomy and palpable fear that other long-held rights may also be in jeopardy.
And with the ongoing hearings surrounding the January 6 insurrection and the attempt by former President Donald Trump to change the outcome of the 2020 election, momentum has increased in favor of abolishing the long-standing Electoral College.
A growing number of Americans reportedly believe that expanding the court and ridding elections of the Electoral College are keys to preserving democracy in America.
This month, a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Electoral Count Reform Act of 2022 (ECRA) to ensure that electoral votes tallied by Congress accurately reflect each state’s public vote for president.
“Adding more justices to Supreme Court and abolishing the Electoral College both help to give the majority of Americans the ability to have a say in what’s going on in their country,” said H.R. Bellicosa, the author of The Punishings, a novel about a world without abortion rights.
“We are headed toward minority rule if we’re not there already. Overturning Roe is a deeply unpopular opinion, but with a conservative majority on the court, the justices were able to further their theocratic agenda,” Bellicosa stated.
“More justices would combat that. The Electoral College has given us two recent presidents who did not win the popular vote – [George W. Bush and Trump]. America is under threat of being ruled by a deeply unpopular minority, and steps must be taken to mitigate that.”
A petition has garnered more than 103,000 signatures from individuals desiring to abolish the Electoral College, a system established in the 1800s and resulted in the infamous “three-fifths compromise” in which three-fifths of an enslaved Black person would count toward allocating electors and representatives.
The U.S. Constitution holds that whoever wins the electoral vote claims the presidency during presidential elections even if the candidate fails to win the popular vote.
Further, historians noted that officials created the Electoral College to give slave states more power and to keep an agent of England’s King George from becoming president. Neither situation rises as pertinent in the 21st Century, said historian and political scientist William S. Bike.
Bike said he believes it’s time to get rid of the Electoral College, and Democrats, while in the majority, should act. “Republicans use every weapon at their disposal against Democrats, but Democrats tend to behave like someone bringing a tennis racket to a knife fight,” stated Bike, the author of Winning Political Campaigns, a how-to guide on political campaigning.
“So, Democrats expanding the Supreme Court would be a weapon seldom used before in American history, but without it, the extreme right will continue taking away Americans’ rights,” Bike asserted. “They’re coming after Miranda, birth control, gay marriage, homosexuality, and possibly interracial marriage and racial equality.

Content Writer Elena Zimmerman added that the benefits of expanding the Supreme Court in its current state are impossible to miss. “Whatever the intentions were with the decision to appoint 9 judges, it would be difficult for anyone to argue the idea in mind was for one political party to appoint 66 percent of the justices of the most powerful judicial body in the country while systematically excluding the choices of elected presidents in the opposing party while in office,” Zimmerman stated.
“It would also be difficult for anyone to argue that it should be acceptable for new potential justices to lie during their confirmation hearings about their intentions to rule if appointed.
“Expanding the court during a democratic president’s tenure and with an evenly divided Senate could potentially balance this inequality of partisan power.”
Zimmerman further concluded that there’s “no longer a benefit to the Electoral College.”“Particularly when it can be used exclusively to the benefit of only one party to override the popular vote,” she insisted.

Other experts suggest putting an 18 year time limit on Supreme Court Justice terms. Every two years as a justice’s term ends, a new justice would be appointed by the sitting President and confirmed by the Senate. The current court would be replaced starting with those with the longest tenure. This would mean over time the Court would be more representative of the current political trands.

FEMA awards $64.8 million in funeral benefits to COVID-19 victims

What: FEMA Advisory | FEMA Monthly Update of State-Specific Funeral Assistance Information – FEMA has provided over $2.7 billion to more than 420,000 people to assist with COVID-19 related funeral costs for deaths occurring on or after January 20, 2020. Please see email message below and attachment for details.

Applicants may apply by calling 844-684-6333 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.Multilingual services are available. Please note, phone calls from FEMA may come from an unidentified number. Applicants who use a relay service, such as video relay service (VRS), captioned telephone service or others, should give FEMA the number for that service. Additional information about COVID-19 funeral assistance, including frequently asked questions, is available on See attachment.

Amount Approved
Number of Awards

*Funeral assistance data can/will change daily; the information reflects data as of 8 a.m. ET Monday, August 1, 2022.

Bingo facilities distribute $563,211 for month of June


On Tuesday, July 26, 2022, Greene County Sheriff Department issued a listing of the bingo distributions for June, totaling $563,211.34 from four of the five licensed bingo gaming facilities. The June distribution reported by the sheriff includes $24,000 from Greenetrack, Inc. and $51,000 from the Sheriff’s Supplemental Fund distributed to the Greene County Commission.
The bingo facilities regularly distributing through the sheriff include Frontier, River’s Edge, Palace and Bama Bingo. The recipients of the June distributions from bingo gaming include Greene County Sheriff’s Department, the cities of Eutaw, Forkland, Union, and Boligee, the Greene County Board of Education and the Greene County Hospital (Health System).
Sub charities include Children’s Policy Council, Guadalupan Multicultural Services, Greene County Golf Course, Housing Authority of Greene County (Branch Heights), Department of Human Resources, the Greene County Library, Eutaw Housing Authority, Historical Society, REACH, Inc., Headstart Community Service and This Belong To US.
Bama Bingo gave a total of $114,995.01 to the following: Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $48,070; City of Eutaw, $9,250; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,875; Greene County Board of Education, $10,500, and the Greene County Health System, $12,500. Sub Charities, each received $870.53, including REACH. Community Service received $395.69 and This Belong to Us received $79.14.
Frontier (Dream, Inc.) gave a total of $114,995.01 to the following: Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $48,070; City of Eutaw, $9,250; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,875; Greene County Board of Education, $10,500; Greene County Health System, $12,500. Sub Charities each received $870.53, including the Historical Society and REACH. Community Service received $395.69 and This Belong to Us received $79.14.
River’s Edge (Next Level Leaders and Tishabee Community Center Tutorial Program) gave a total of $118,288 to the following: Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $48,070; City of Eutaw, $12,543; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,875; Greene County Board of Education, $10,500; Greene County Health System, $12,500. Sub Charities each, $1,027, including the Historical Society and REACH. Community Service received $467 and This Belong to Us received $92.
Palace (TS Police Support League) gave a total of $214,933.32 to the following: Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $89.846.04; City of Eutaw, $17,288.87; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $7,242.63; Greene County Board of Education, $19,625.20 and the Greene County Health System, $23,363.33; Sub Charities received $1,726.02, including the Historical Society and REACH, Inc. Community Service received $784.55 and This Belong to Us received $156.91.

Eutaw City Council receives FY2021 Audit and detailed financial report showing progress but difficult decisions ahead

New police officer, Danny Morales, who is bi-lingual in Spanish and English, joined the Eutaw Police force. He is standing with Chief Tommy Johnson.

By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher

At last night’s regular Eutaw City Council meeting, the city received a 53-page audit report from Rick Harbin, CPA on the fiscal year ending September 30, 2021.

They also heard a report from Attorney Ralph Liverman, City Financial Advisor, on the first 9 months of the current fiscal year showing revenues over budget (104%) and expenses slightly over projections (88%) with a positive net cash position, with three months left in the fiscal year. Liverman also pointed out some long-term issues with the water, sewer and streets in the city which will require attention and increased expenditures in coming years.

Harbin presented the long-awaited audit report for last fiscal year ending on September 30, 2021. Harbin said he could not give an “unqualified” audit opinion because there were deposits made in the early part of the year, before the current mayoral administration took charge, which cannot be properly traced to their purpose.

He said he had to put a disclaimer on his opinion due to these concerns. “But as the year went on, the city set up a budget and an accounting system that can account for all income and expenditures,
so, I was able to provide an audit you can use for complying with agency conditions and seeking new funding,” said Harbin.

Harbin said the 2021 fiscal year, the City of Eutaw had $12.8 million in assets, with sufficient cash assets to meet current expenditures and have a new worth of about $3.2 million. Harbin distributed copies of the audit report and said he was willing to come back for a ”council work session” to explain things in more detail and answer any questions from the Mayor and Council.

Liverman reports on financial issues

The Council also heard a report from Ralph Liverman, Financial Advisor, on the nine months of the current fiscal year beginning October 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022, 75% of the year. He showed General Fund revenues from property taxes, sales taxes, privilege licenses, building permits, garbage fees, rent and other sources of income for the nine months was $2,493,338 (104%) of budget at $2,337, 716 for the year. This means the city in 9 months has already taken in more than its total annual projection of revenues with three months to go. There is a separate report for the Water and Sewage Department which was not reviewed.

Liverman also showed General Fund expenses for the City Administration (people in City Hall), Police Department, Streets and Sanitation, Parks and Recreation and the Fire Department which were budgeted for $2,195,962 for the year, had spent $1,953,378 or 88% of the budgeted amount for 75% of the time.

Liverman stated that the budget projections were based on limited information available and that the next budget would be more accurate. The budget had balances and surpluses built in to cover the spending incurred. For the year to date, with $2,494,338 in revenues and $1,953,378 in expenses, there is a surplus of $540,960, which may increase over the remaining three months of the year.

Liverman complimented the mayor, staff, and Council for a positive financial effort and moving the City in a positive direction. He then said there were some difficult and costly decisions ahead. First, the City must decide on how to deal with problems of the water system specifically in serving Boligee, where a major connecting waterline and lines in the town are leaking. The City has been offered a $3.5 million loan and grant combination by ADEM and USDA, but half is a grant and half is a loan, that the City cannot take on without assistance from the Town of Boligee.

There are also problems of the City providing water at no cost to the Greene County Water System, the City also provides water and sewer services to the Catfish plant at concessionary rates under a ten-year agreement, that expired in 2010 and has never been updated or renegotiated. The City may have to raise water rates and late fees, especially for those in Boligee.

Liverman also mentioned that the City’s sewage lagoon is 60-70 years old with many problems, which will take millions to repair. He also mentioned ten locations around the city where there are dangerous drainage problems. The City just spent $19,000 to repair a drainage ditch and curbing behind City Hall on Springfield Avenue. More expenditures are ahead to fix drainage throughout the city.

Other Business

The Council also heard a report from Brandon Broach, Assistant Fire Chief, on the condition of the city’s fire-fighting equipment. The Department has one certified and operable fire engine and a second engine that runs but is too old to be certified. The Fire Department has $150,000 in donated funds towards a second engine with a 40-foot ladder that can reach a third story building like some of the apartment complexes in Eutaw. A used fire truck that can be certified will cost $300,000, so more funds must be raised to get suitable equipment to save lives and retain a good rating for insurance purposes.

The Fire Department is all volunteer and needs younger members to get training and help fight fires, said Broach. There is also a need for a better budget for other equipment to fight fires.

The Eutaw City Council opened bids for caring for the roads and area around the Exit 40 intersection and going to Love’s Travel Center. Rev. William Webb’s -Total Care submitted a bid for $1,200 monthly, for services, twice a week. The bid was accepted by the City Council. The bid to maintain and care for the two city cemeteries – Mesopotamia and Thomas – was opened but the bid was not submitted properly on the form. This service was ordered rebid.

In other actions, the Eutaw City Council:
• Paid all bids and claims for June and July.
• Approved an agreement between the City of Eutaw and the Greene County Commission for the pavement of Choctaw Road, which is joint owned by both.
• Approved travel and per diem for staff to attend training.
• Approved a salary increase of $6,500 annual for Police Chief,
Tommy Johnson.
• Approved a Restaurant Retail Liquor License for the Cajun Café, LLC.

•Approved use of ARAP funds to give an incentive payment to city employees.



Newswire: California forest fire burns out of control near Yosemite

The Oak Fire burns behind a scorched pickup truck in the Jerseydale community of Mariposa County, Calif., on Sunday, July 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

By: Noah Berger and Christopher Weber, Associated Press from the Skanner

JERSEYDALE, Calif. July 24(AP) — A destructive wildfire near Yosemite National Park that was burning out of control Sunday through tinder-dry forest land has grown into one of California’s biggest blazes of the year, forcing thousands of residents to flee remote mountain communities.
Some 2,000 firefighters battled the Oak Fire, along with aircraft and bulldozers, facing tough conditions that includes steep terrain, sweltering temperatures and low humidity, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
“It’s hot out there again today,” Cal Fire spokesperson Natasha Fouts said Sunday. “And the fuel moisture levels are critically low.”
Light winds were blowing embers ahead into tree branches “and because it’s so dry, it’s easy for the spot fires to get established and that’s what fuels the growth,” Fouts said.
The fire erupted Friday southwest of the park near the town of Midpines in Mariposa County. Officials described “explosive fire behavior” on Saturday as flames made runs through bone-dry vegetation caused by the worst drought in decades.
By Sunday the blaze had consumed more than 22 square miles (56 square km) of forest land, with no containment, Cal Fire said. The cause was under investigation.
Evacuations were in place for over 6,000 people living across a several-mile span of the sparsely populated area in the Sierra Nevada foothills, though a handful of residents defied the orders and stayed behind, said Adrienne Freeman with the U.S. Forest Service.
Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency for Mariposa County due to the fire’s effects.
Flames destroyed at least 10 residential and commercial structures and damaged five others, Cal Fire said. Assessment teams were moving through mountain towns to check for additional damage, Fouts said.
Numerous roads were closed, including a stretch of State Route 140 that’s one of the main routes into Yosemite.
California has experienced increasingly larger and deadlier wildfires in recent years as climate change has made the West much warmer and drier over the past 30 years. Scientists have said weather will continue to be more extreme and wildfires more frequent, destructive and unpredictable.
Pacific Gas & Electric said on its website that more than 3,100 homes and businesses in the area had lost power as of Sunday and there was no indication when it would be restored. “PG&E is unable to access the affected equipment,” the utility said as flames roared Friday.
The Oak Fire was sparked as firefighters made progress against an earlier blaze, the Washburn Fire, that burned to the edge of a grove of giant sequoias in the southernmost part of Yosemite National Park. The 7.5-square-mile (19-square-km) fire was nearly 80% contained after burning for two weeks and moving into the the Sierra National Forest.

Report: Human Rights Violations in prisons throughout southern United States cause disparate and lasting harm in Black communities 

NEW YORK – The Southern Prisons Coalition, a group of civil and human rights organizations, submitted a new report on Friday to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on the devastating consequences of incarceration on Black people throughout the southern United States.
With the long-term goal of eliminating all forms of racial discrimination in the criminal legal system, including the carceral system, the report describes the widespread, disparate harms resulting from the arrests, harsh prison sentences, and incarceration on Black communities.
The report also cites the devastating impacts of solitary confinement, prison labor, the school to prison pipeline, and incarceration of parents on Black families.
On August 8, 2022, the UN will review the United States’ compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination for the first time since 2014.
 Among the ongoing stark racial disparities throughout prisons in the southern United States, Black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated in state prisons.
In states like Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas, where Black communities comprise 38% of the total population, Black individuals account for as much as 67% of the total incarcerated population.
While incarcerated, Black people are more than eight times more likely to be placed in solitary confinement, and they are 10 times more likely to be held there for exceedingly long periods of time.
 By submitting the report to the United Nations, the Southern Prisons Coalition hopes to solicit concrete recommendations from the UN Committee as well as commitments from the United States delegation about their plans to address systemic issues in the United States prison system, particularly in the South.
 According to the report, several states in the United States have also failed to meet several of the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the treatment of incarcerated people, including:
• Work should help to prepare incarcerated people for their release from prison, including life and job skills;
• Safety measures and labor protections for incarcerated workers should be the same as those that cover workers who are not incarcerated;
• Incarcerated workers should receive equitable pay, be able to send money home to their families, and have a portion of their wages set aside to be given to them upon release.

“The U.S. has long failed to live up to its international human rights treaty obligations on eliminating racial discrimination, perhaps more so in the area of mass incarceration and prison conditions than in any other context,” said Lisa Borden, Senior Policy Counsel, International Advocacy at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“We hope the Committee will help to shine a light on these very dark truths and prompt the U.S. to take its obligation to make significant improvements more seriously.”
“The abuses of forced labor are inextricably tied to racial discrimination in our nation,” said Jamila Johnson, Deputy Director at the Promise of Justice Initiative.
“In Louisiana, for instance, people are still sent into the fields to labor by hand in dangerously high heat indexes, for little to no compensation, and with brutal enforcement reminiscent of slavery and the era of ‘convict leasing’.”
“This report reveals the suffering of Black people in southern U.S. prisons, whose stories of marginalization and discrimination echo the racial subjugation of slavery and convict leasing during our country’s most shameful past,” said Antonio L. Ingram II, Assistant Counsel at the Legal Defense Fund.
“Despite widespread knowledge of the longstanding racial inequalities in the criminal legal and carceral systems, the United States continues to allow egregious human rights violations to persist for Black incarcerated people in violation of international law. This report serves as a sobering reminder of how far we need to go.”