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Elsa strengthens into season's 1st hurricane in Caribbean

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Elsa strengthened into the first hurricane of the Atlantic season on Friday as it blew off roofs and snapped trees in the eastern Caribbean, where officials closed schools, businesses and airports. It appeared headed eventually in the general direction of Florida.

The Category 1 storm is the first hurricane to hit Barbados in more than 60 years, unleashing heavy rains and winds on the island and then on St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which are struggling to recover from recent massive volcanic eruptions.

Elsa was centered about 580 miles (935 kilometers) east-southeast of Santo Domingo and was moving west-northwest at 29 mph (46 kph) as it continued to strengthen. It had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

“That level of sustained wind can blow down a lot of buildings and cause a lot of damage,” said St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. “I am pleading with you. Let us not take this hurricane lightly. This is not the time to play the fool.”

The long-term forecast track showed it heading toward Florida as a tropical storm by Tuesday morning, but some models would carry it into the Gulf or up the Atlantic Coast.

Authorities in Barbados said they received calls about families trapped in their homes, collapsed houses and power and water outages, but no reports of serious injuries or deaths. Wilfred Abrahams, minister of home affairs, information and public affairs, urged people to open their homes to those in need.

“We are getting a lot of reports of damage,” he said.

A hurricane warning was in effect from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to Punta Palenque in the Dominican Republic. A hurricane watch was issued for Jamaica.

The forecast track showed the fast-moving storm rolling toward Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as a hurricane before reaching Cuba and weakening back to tropical storm force.

Authorities opened dozens of shelters in St. Vincent and urged people to evacuate if they lived near a valley, given the threat of flash flooding, mudslides and lahars, especially in the northern part of the island where La Soufrière volcano is located.

Gonsalves said 94 shelters are open, a smaller number than in previous years because some 2,000 people remain in other shelters following massive volcanic eruptions that began in early April.

Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record, beating out last year’s Eduardo which formed on July 6, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. He also noted that it’s the farthest east that a hurricane has formed this early in the tropical Atlantic since 1933. The 1991-2020 average date for the first Atlantic hurricane formation is mid-August.

The storm was forecast to bring 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of rain with maximum totals of 15 inches (38 centimeters) inches on Friday across the Windward and southern Leeward Islands. The rain could unleash isolated flash flooding and mudslides.


Highlands_news-sun
July 4, Juneteenth and the meaning of national holidays

NEW YORK (AP) — On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress formally endorsed the Declaration of Independence. Celebrations began within days: parades and public readings, bonfires and candles and the firing of 13 musket rounds, one for each of the original states.

Nearly a century passed before the country officially named its founding a holiday.

With the recent passage of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, the country now has 12 federal holidays. Many are fixtures in the American calendar, but their presence isn’t only a story of continuity. They reflect how the U.S. has evolved — from an affiliation of states with a relatively small federal government to a more centralized nation.

Statewide and local gatherings for Independence Day and other holidays are as old as the country itself. But the first round of federal holidays, identified as such because federal employees (initially only federal employees in Washington, D.C.) were given the day off, was only signed into law in 1870, by President Ulysses S. Grant, five years after the Civil War ended.

“The Civil War consolidated national power in all sorts of ways, and national holidays are an illustration of that,” says the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Eric Foner. “There were many, many firsts after the Civil War.”

Juneteenth and other federal holidays have passed with substantial majorities in Congress, suggesting broad, bipartisan consensus. The first holidays, notes Grant biographer Ron Chernow, were the safest ones at the time — New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and George Washington’s birthday (enacted in 1879).

“They followed the Civil War, but, by no accident, they had nothing to do with the Civil War. The war wounds were still deep and irrevocable, and any commemoration of the war itself would have been seen as divisive,” Chernow says. He notes that Memorial Day, the honoring of those who died in war, did not become a federal holiday until 1888.

“The first five federal holidays ... attempted to restore common ground between North and South,” Chernow says. “Both sides in the Civil War claimed to have fought in the spirit of the American Revolution. It was therefore easy for both sides to honor Washington’s birthday and Independence Day.”

Whether statements of patriotism or social justice, federal holidays mirror a part of the country’s sense of itself and how it changes.

Public support to make the Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday was so strong that it was signed into law in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, who had opposed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act in the 1960s and privately believed the late civil rights leader’s standing was “based on an image, not reality.” Even then, Arizona, New Hampshire and South Carolina resisted making it a state holiday, with South Carolina waiting until 2000. Alabama and Mississippi still pair King’s birthday with the birthday of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Columbus Day became a national holiday in 1968, endorsed by Congress and President Lyndon Johnson as a tribute to immigrants and as a “declaration of willingness to face with confidence the imponderables of unknown tomorrows,” according to a Senate report at the time. But over the past 40 years, as Columbus’ image has shifted from the “discoverer of America” to that of a racist and imperialist, cities and states have either changed the holiday’s name (Hawaii calls it “Discovery Day”) or used the day to honor others; since 1989, South Dakoka has called it “Native American Day.”

“You can think of federal holidays as being like monuments erected in parks,” says Matthew Dennis, author of “Red, White, and Blue Letter Days,” a 2002 book on American holidays. “With a monument, you try to set the meaning of the past in stone. But that can change, and people might say, ‘Wait, who is this guy?’”

Among national holidays, July 4 stands as the most complex and debated, a reflection of the questions and contradictions about the country’s origins and about the Declaration of Independence itself.

Independence Day has been caught up in the country’s divisions almost from the start. In the 1780s and 1790s, supporters of a stronger central government (Federalists) and those who worried about a return to British-style monarchy (sometimes called Jeffersonian Republicans), argued over the authorship of the Declaration of Independence, with Republicans giving sole credit to their own Thomas Jefferson and Federalists countering (correctly) that many others had worked on it.

In the decades before the Civil War, Black Americans were often excluded from official July 4 events and instead would celebrate on July 5, both acknowledging July 4 and their distance from it. Frederick Douglass delivered his famed 1852 speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July,” on July 5.

The Civil War itself was a time for competing interpretations. Southerners embraced the Declaration of Independence’s message of defiance against tyranny. The North looked to it as a blueprint. In a letter to Congress sent on July 4, 1861, just months after the Civil War began, President Abraham Lincoln spoke of Independence Day as inspiration for a new and more humane society.

“Our adversaries have adopted some declarations of independence in which, unlike the good old one penned by Jefferson, they omit the words ‘all men are created equal,’” Lincoln wrote, adding that the Union was upholding “government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men; to lift artificial weights from all shoulders; to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.”

The meaning of July 4 has continued to evolve, from president to president. Franklin D. Roosevelt and George W. Bush are among those who dedicated Independence Day speeches to the military, whether during World War II or in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. John F. Kennedy’s 1962 address, in the midst of the Cold War, called independence the “single issue that divides the world today” and invoked “the longing for independence behind the Iron Curtain.” In 2014, President Barack Obama cited the promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as a reason “immigrants from around the world dream of coming to our shores.”

For Independence Day in 2020, less than two months after the murder of George Floyd, President Donald Trump denounced Black Lives Matters protesters and what he called “a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.” His eventual successor, Joe Biden, issued a brief video saying the country had yet to live up to its promise of equality, noting that even Jefferson was a slaveholder.

“But once proposed, it (equality) was an idea that couldn’t be constrained,” he said. “It survived the rages of the Civil War, the dogs of Bull Connor, the assassination of Martin Luther King and more 200 years of systematic racism.”

“America is no fairy tale,” Biden added. “It’s been a constant push and pull between two parts of our character: the idea that all men and women — all people — are created equal and the racism that has torn us apart.”

Hillel Italie, the books and publishing writer for The Associated Press, writes frequently about culture and history.


Highlands_news-sun
Prosecutors start process to bring Collymore here
  • Updated

SEBRING — Moments after Marquay Desawn Rockmore got 45 years for killing Kyle Matthew Arjona Tuesday, the victim’s family gathered in a court house anteroom to express their relief, which was tinged with sadness.

“He’s done, he’s done,” Highlands County prosecutor Richard Castillo told the family, referring to Rockmore. Arjona’s mother and sister dabbed tears as they thanked Castillo for representing them through nearly five years of filings, motions and court appearances with justice seemingly always just out of reach.

Castillo then told the family, “Mr. Collymore, I’m going to work on getting him over here for trial.” The family knew he was talking about Dyshaun Q. Collymore, who stood right next to Rockmore in December 2017 as the two shot Arjona multiple times in the head and neck.

Prosecutors know what happened because both Rockmore and Collymore pled guilty to the shooting in exchange for their freedom and 10 and 12 years’ probation, respectively.

On Aug. 1, 2018, the 17-year-old Collymore pled guilty to manslaughter with a firearm, possession of a firearm and ammunition, and possessing a concealed weapon.

Prosecutors said uncooperative witnesses and evidentiary problems led them to offer the plea agreements.

Rockmore’s and Collymore’s freedoms were short-lived. In April 2019, Rockmore was pulled over in a car containing a .357 pistol with its serial number scored away. On May 11, Estrada ruled that Rockmore had violated his plea agreement by once again being in possession of a gun. That parole violation led the way for Circuit Court Judge Peter Estrada to sentence him for the killing, more than four years after the killing.

Now, it seems, Collymore, too has broken his plea agreement with Highlands County. Collymore, now 21, is serving time near Starke after being convicted in St. Lucie County for drug possession and other charges, Castillo said.

St. Lucie County court records show Collymore was convicted in 2019 of possessing the stimulant MDPV, for introducing contraband into a detention facility, and for giving a false name to police.

Collymore, however, also was charged with five counts of possessing pills without a prescription; four counts of possessing drug paraphernalia; and three counts of smuggling contraband into a detention facility. Those charges were dropped.

However, as Estrada explained before sentencing Rockmore, testimony that a defendant committed a crime is enough for a judge to determine a defendant has violated parole.

Which means Castillo wants to see him back in Highlands County for a parole violation hearing and sentencing for the killing of Arjona.

“Today, I initiated a transport order to have him brought back to Highlands County,” Castillo told the Highland News-Sun. “I have asked for a court date for a violation of probation hearing and will enter a certified copy of his conviction in St. Lucie County.

He said Collymore could be sentenced to even more time than Rockmore because Collymore also pled guilty to the concealed weapons charge connected to Arjona’s killing.

Castillo put it this way to the Arjona Family during the emotional meeting in the anteroom: “Rockmore’s sentence lays a good table for the judge to do the same to the codefendant.”


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