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In Deepest South, Iconic Town's First Black Mayor Dreams Of Obama's Reelection

In the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, site of the infamous civil rights murders depicted in the movie "Mississippi Burning", the first African-American mayor looks to the future to heal wounds of the past.

Philadelphia, Mississippi (Stephen J Corn)
Philadelphia, Mississippi (Stephen J Corn)

PHILADELPHIA (Mississippi) - "I will never forget it," says James Young, almost choking up as he speaks. "My father used to sleep on the couch of our living room, holding a rifle, ready to defend us."

Young's father was just a farmer, but his mother was a sympathizer of the civil rights movement, which meant the Ku Klux Klan repeatedly targeted their home. "Still," he says, "here I am today, as mayor of Philadelphia. It is unbelievable even for me."

James Young was only eight years old, when on June 21, 1964, a group of Klan members kidnapped James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, three civil rights activists who had come to Philadelphia, in the most racist area of Mississippi, to register black people to vote. Chaney, a black man, was lynched. Goodman and Schwerner, two Jewish men from New York, were shot.

This heinous crime was depicted decades later in the movie Mississippi Burning. The deputy sheriff of Neshoba County, Cecil Ray Price, and Edgar Ray Killen, were behind the murders. The families of the three victims had to wait until 2005 for justice to be served: 80-year-old Killen was finally sentenced to 60 years in prison for manslaughter. He was not convicted for murder though, just for planning the murders.

Philadelphia, Mississippi has 7,477 inhabitants. According to Gallup, it is the geographic center of the most conservative state in America; in popular imagination, it is where people live with a Bible in one hand, a gun in the other.

For many in Mississippi, President Barack Obama is not hated -- he simply shouldn't exist at all. Here 46% of the inhabitants would like to forbid interracial marriages by law. More than 50% of people define themselves as "very conservative," don't believe in evolution and are convinced that Obama is a Muslim.

Poverty leads to ignorance. The average income is $26,000 a year. This is part of the reason why Boston billionaire Mitt Romney didn't win many votes in last week's Republican primary, which was won by Rick Santorum.

A stretch of Mississippi 19 South to Philadelphia was renamed the Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner Memorial Highway. A marker points to the small road in the woods were they were murdered. "We don't want to hide our past," says Mayor Young. "Those three kids brought hope. When they were killed we felt that we would lose everything. We were cornered, but we had to look to the future."

Insults and stitches

In the center of Philadelphia, there is a water tank like you see in James Dean movies, shops and small wooden houses -- some shuttered with plywood on the windows. "The economic crisis hit here too," says Young. "We survived thanks to agriculture, the lumber sector, and tax revenue from the casinos of the local Choctaw Indians."

The mayor himself is part of the town's history. As a child, James was the first and only black student to attend the public school. "The white kids insulted me, but I never suffered acts of violence. As you can see, I am a big guy. I was the already the biggest at school, which helped to fix many things, at least from a physical point of view," he says.

After high school graduation, Young mopped floors at Neshoba County General Hospital, until one of his bosses suggested he attend a nursing class. "I started working in the emergency room. There, I built the base which allowed me to win the elections," he said. In 2009, Young became the first black mayor of the town.

He won the white people's support with stitches, deliveries, and ambulance rides, edging his opponent by 46 votes. "A week after the election, some FBI agents came to me to ask if I had been threatened. Just one letter from Kentucky, which read, ‘Where is the Ku Klux Klan when we need it?"" Young says. "The other letters were all positive, because my election showed the desire to turn the page of History."

But work remains to be done. "Teachers of hatred still exist, and the Klan still operates, undercover. But I don't let them intimidate me, because this is the goal of racism: convincing you that you are worth less than others, reducing you to a third-class citizen. If tomorrow someone wanted to kill me, they know where I am. But I refuse to lower my head. I only think about doing my job."

In Meridian, 35 miles away, still lives the brother of James Chaney, the black victim of the civil rights murders. "Maybe something is changing. Killen's conviction was a positive thing, but some of the killers are still around. My life has gone on among violence and injustice. No one will be able to pay me back."

James Young wants to write a book about the story of his life. But he'll do it only if President Obama is reelected. "Now, many criticize him, but they forget that a single man cannot change the world. I am also a minister in the local Pentecostal church, and I leave to God the role of God. Obama has changed the rules of the game, and if he is reelected, his victory will not be an accident."

Larry Mill, who was working at the Trinity Baptist Church polling station for last week's GOP primary says: "No one admits it openly, but racism is still a fact."

A fellow polling station clerk named Sue, doesn't disagree. She is knitting a multi-colored sweater. I try to compliment her, saying that my daughter would love that rainbow of colors. Sue doesn't miss a second. "It's yours," she says, pushing it into my hand. "Keep it. Give it to your daughter. And please don't write that we all bad people here."

Read the original article in Italian

photo - Stephen J Corn

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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