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Mixed feelings celebrating America this Fourth amidst political tensions

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As many in the United States celebrate the Fourth of July holiday, some minorities have mixed feelings about the revelry of fireworks and parades in an atmosphere of tension on several fronts.

How do you celebrate during what some people of color consider troubling times?

Blacks, Latinos and immigrant rights advocates say the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, recent non-convictions of police officers charged in the shootings of black men, and the stepped-up detentions of immigrants and refugees for deportation have them questioning equality and the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the United States.

Filmmaker Chris Phillips of Ferguson, Missouri, says he likely will attend a family barbecue just like every Fourth of July. But the 36-year-old black man says he can’t help but feel perplexed about honoring the birth of the nation after three officers were recently cleared in police shootings.

POLICE SHOOTINGS
Since the 2014 police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, officer shootings — of black males in particular — have drawn scrutiny, sparking protests nationwide. Few officers ever face charges, and convictions are rare. Despite video, suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was acquitted last month in the shooting of Philando Castile, a black man. The 32-year-old school cafeteria worker was killed during a traffic stop July 6, almost a year ago.

“Justice apparently doesn’t apply to all people,” said Phillips, who saw the protests that roiled his town for weeks following Brown’s death. His yet-unreleased documentary “Ferguson 365” focuses on the Brown shooting and its aftermath. “A lot of people have lost hope.”

Unlike Phillips, Janette McClelland, 55, a black musician in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said she has no intention of celebrating July Fourth.

“It’s a white man’s holiday to me. It’s just another day,” McClelland said. “I’m not going to even watch the fireworks. Not feeling it.”

McClelland, who grew up in Los Angeles before the urban unrest of the 1960s, said she fears cities may see more violence amid a feeling of helplessness. “I’m praying and trying to keep positive,” she said.

IMMIGRATION
Immigration was a key issue during the presidential campaign for both parties. Since then, Trump’s administration has stepped up enforcement and instituted a scaled-back partial travel ban that places new limits on entry to the U.S. for citizens of six Muslim-majority countries. The temporary ban requires people to prove a close family relationship in the U.S. or an existing relationship with an entity like a school or business. On Friday, the administration announced that Immigration and Customs Enforcement would arrest people – including relatives – who hire smugglers to bring children into the U.S. illegally.

Patricia Montes, a Boston resident and immigrant from Honduras, said she’s grateful for the opportunities and security the United States has given her. Yet this year, she doesn’t know how to approach the Fourth of July holiday.

“I fell very conflicted,” said Montes, an immigrant advocate. “I mean, what are we celebrating? Are we celebrating democracy?”

Montes said it pains her to see children fleeing violence get turned away and deported back to Central America without due process. She also is disturbed by recent immigration raids in Latino and Muslim communities that spark more fear and uncertainty.

In Texas, Latino activists have been protesting a state law that forces cities and towns to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. In New Mexico and Michigan, immigrant advocates have been rallying on behalf of Iraqi refugees facing deportation.

“There’s a lot not to be proud about when celebrating the Fourth of July,” said Janelle Astorga Ramos, a University of New Mexico student and daughter of a Mexican immigrant. “Even though it’s a time to celebrate as a country and (for) our unity, it’s definitely going to be on the back of our minds.”

Desspite those problems and concerns, Ramos said her family will recognize the holiday and visit Elephant Butte, New Mexico, a popular summer destination. “This is our home,” Ramos said.
Isabella Baker, a 17-old Latina from Bosque Farms, New Mexico, said she’ll celebrate the holiday based on her own views of patriotism.

“More people are standing up because of the political climate,” Baker said. “That makes me proud.”

PROTEST AGAINST PIPELINE
For months, members of the Standing Rock Sioux were at the center of a protest against an oil pipeline in North Dakota. A protest camp was set up. The tribe said the Dakota Access oil pipeline plan could pose a threat to water sources, if there were a leak, and cause cultural harm. Police made more than 700 arrests between August 2016 and February 2017. The Trump administration approved the final permit for the $3.8 billion pipeline, which began operating June 1. The pipeline moves oil from western North Dakota to a distribution point in Illinois. Four Sioux tribes are still fighting in federal court to get the line shut down.

Ruth Hopkins, a member of South Dakota’s Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe, said Native Americans have always viewed the Fourth of July with ambivalence, and this year will be no different.
However, there will be celebrations.

Her Lake Traverse Indian Reservation holds an annual powwow on July 4 to honor veterans as a way to take the holiday back, she said.

“Also, a lot of people up here use fireworks and the holiday to celebrate victory over Custer for Victory Day,” said Hopkins, referring to Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse defeating George Custer and his 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Still, the holiday comes after tribes and others gathered in North Dakota to support the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its fight against the pipeline, Hopkins said. Because of that, water and land rights remain on peoples’ mind, Hopkins said.

Gyasi Ross, a member of Montana’s Blackfeet Nation and a writer who lives on the Port Madison Indian Reservation near Seattle, said all the tensions this Fourth of July are a blessing because it has awakened a consciousness among people of color.

“The gloves are off,” Ross said. “We can’t ignore these things anymore.”

However, Ross said he wants his young son to be hopeful about the future. They will likely go fishing on the Fourth of July.

“I still worry about getting shot or something like that,” Ross said. “All this stuff is so heavy to be carrying around.”
___
This story has been corrected to say that Janette McClelland, a black musician in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is 55 years old, not 65. The story has also been corrected to say that McClelland grew up in Los Angeles before the urban unrest of the 1960s.

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Colorado, Arizona teachers pressure lawmakers for 2nd day

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Colorado and Arizona teachers plan to don red shirts and descend upon their respective Capitols for a second day in a growing educator uprising.

Educators in both states want more classroom resources and have received offers either for increased school funding or pay, but they say the money isn’t guaranteed and the efforts don’t go far enough. The walkouts are the latest in demonstrations that spread from West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky.

On the first day of the historic statewide walkout, around 50,000 educators and their supporters marched Thursday through downtown Phoenix in nearly 100-degree (38-Celsius) heat and swarmed the Capitol grounds.

In much cooler Colorado, several thousand educators rallied around the Capitol, with many using personal time to attend two days of protests expected to draw as many as 10,000 demonstrators.

Lawmakers in Colorado have agreed to give schools their largest budget increase since the Great Recession. But teachers say Colorado has a long way to go to recover lost ground because of strict tax and spending limits.

Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, has proposed 20 percent raises by 2020 and said he has no plans to meet with striking teachers or address other demands.

Teachers voted to walkout after Ducey unveiled his plan, saying that it failed to meet their other demands including about $1 billion to return school funding to pre-Great Recession levels and increased pay for support staff.

“We’re going to get this 20 percent pay increase, we’re going to get $100 million for support staff and other needs,” he said on KTAR radio. “And then if there’s still a teacher strike I don’t think that will make sense to parents, I don’t think that will make sense to kids.”

More than 840,000 students were out of school as a result of Thursday’s walkouts, according to figures from The Arizona Republic.

Most of Arizona’s public schools will be closed the rest of the week, and about half of all Colorado students will see their schools shuttered over the two days as teachers take up the Arizona movement’s #RedforEd mantle. In Oklahoma and West Virginia, teacher strikes stretched beyond the one-week mark.

Organizers say they haven’t decided how long their walkout will last.

“We want to make sure we can gauge the membership about what they want to do,” said Derek Harris, one of the organizers of grass-roots group Arizona Educators United.

At least one Arizona school district, the Chandler Unified School District, has said school will be held on Monday. The district said it polled staff and determined there are enough teachers to re-open.

___

Associated Press reporter Bob Christie contributed to this report.

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Robert Kennedy gets the Netflix treatment, new doc explores the the icon

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He was once called the most likely American in the 20th century to become president. But Robert F. Kennedy’s bid to follow in his older brother’s footsteps as commander in chief was cut short the same way John F. Kennedy’s White House term was: by a man with a gun.

Fifty years later, Bobby Kennedy’s life and transformation into a liberal hero is coming to Netflix in a new four-part documentary series available Friday. Through archival footage and interviews with friends and staffers, “Bobby Kennedy for President” takes an in-depth look at what drove him to seek public office, the events that shaped him and his legacy decades after his assassination.

“If we want to understand why Bobby Kennedy was so important to people, we have to understand all of it,” said Dawn Porter, director and executive producer, also known for “Gideon’s Army” and “Trapped.”

The series opens with a broadcaster’s prediction that “no American in this century has ever been so likely to be president as Robert Francis Kennedy.” It takes viewers through Kennedy’s combative time as attorney general, and his depression after his brother’s death, entry into the 1968 presidential race and assassination 83 days later.

The documentary explores Kennedy’s growth on issues like civil rights, through the guidance of black leaders like John Lewis, now a Democratic congressman. In documenting Kennedy’s journey from a “cop-at-heart” lawyer to polished politician, it highlights experiences that affected him, like a trip to the Mississippi Delta that opened his eyes to rural hunger.

Viewers hear from key figures in Kennedy’s life, including Paul Schrade, who was shot in the head when 24-year-old Sirhan Sirhan fired at Kennedy on June 5, 1968. The series, produced by RadicalMedia, Trilogy Films and LooksFilm, also features interviews from Sirhan’s brother, Munir Sirhan, and Juan Romero, the Ambassador Hotel busboy who was at Kennedy’s side as he uttered his last words: “Is everybody OK?”

For Romero, a Mexican immigrant, it was one of the few times he has openly spoken about Kennedy’s death — something he had felt guilty about for years since Kennedy stopped to shake his hand before the gunshots. Romero had met Kennedy the day before while delivering room service. Kennedy thanked him and shook his hand then, too.

“I never felt so American,” Romero told The Associated Press.

Filmmakers spent more than a year gathering footage from museums, news outlets and presidential archives that transports viewers to a different time. Some of the footage, which shows Kennedy from his college days to the last day of his life, had never before been digitized and was at risk of being lost forever, filmmakers say.

“I didn’t want this to be talking heads with pictures as the background,” Porter said. “We wanted the archive to play out, to not be window dressing, but to let people watch that and absorb it and hopefully be in the moment, be taken back to that time,” she said.

At a time when distrust of politicians is high, Porter said she hopes the series reminds viewers that people serving in public office can be human and flawed, but also inspirational.

“Without saying (Kennedy) was the perfect person, there’s something comforting and inspiring to me about his willingness to try, his willingness to learn, his willingness to not give up,” Porter said. “Right now we all need a little dose of not giving up.”

___

Associated Press reporter Russell Contreras in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to this report. Follow Alanna Durkin Richer at http://twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Read more of her work at http://bit.ly/2hIhzDb.

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Explained: Why Colorado, Arizona teachers are walking off the job

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Tens of thousands of schoolteachers plan to walk off the job in Arizona and Colorado on Thursday, shuttering classrooms in pursuit of better pay and school funding.

But there are key differences between the protests in the two states, which share below-average spending on public schools. The actions build on a movement that spread from West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in Arizona and Colorado:

WHAT ARE TEACHERS PLANNING AND WHAT WILL HAPPEN?

Teachers will walk off the job to hold rallies and other demonstrations at their respective state Capitols.

In Arizona, the first-ever statewide strike starts Thursday after educators voted overwhelmingly in favor of the action. There’s no end date scheduled, so it’s not clear how long classes might be interrupted.

Educators who are planning to participate could face consequences in the right-to-work state, where unions do not collectively bargain with school districts and representation is not mandatory.

The Arizona Education Association, the largest teacher membership group, has warned its 20,000 members about a 1971 Arizona attorney general opinion saying a statewide strike would be illegal under common law and participants could lose their teaching credentials.

But no school district has said they would fire educators who strike or revoke teaching certificates.

In Colorado, teachers in four suburban school districts, including two of the largest in the state, will hold protests Thursday. But the bulk of the widespread walkouts will happen as a single-day demonstration Friday.

No laws in Colorado prohibit strikes. In response to recent national protests, a Republican lawmaker proposed a measure docking teacher pay and threatening fines and jail time for striking. Democrats oppose it, and it’s not expected to pass the politically divided Legislature.

WHAT ARE THE DEMANDS?

Arizona teachers have a long list, including a 20 percent raise for teachers, who earn $47,403 annually compared with a national average of $59,660, according to 2017 data from the National Education Association. They also want yearly raises until their salaries reach the national average and competitive wages for classified staffers.

They are seeking a return to pre-Great Recession spending levels, which would be a roughly $1 billion increase annually, plus additional funding increases until Arizona reaches the national average in per-pupil spending.

In Colorado, teachers secured a $150 million annual boost to schools in this year’s budget negotiations but want to wipe out an annual school funding shortfall within the next four years. After next year’s boost, Colorado will underfund its schools by $672 million a year versus what’s required by the state Constitution.

Colorado teachers don’t have specific demands regarding salaries, because they are set at the local level. But the hope is that more state funding will trickle down in the form of better pay. The average Colorado teacher earned $51,808 in 2017, according to the national teacher salary data.

Complicating matters, lawmakers are negotiating sweeping changes to the state and school pension fund, which will likely cut teacher retirement benefits and could decrease their take-home pay. Educators say they hope their protests highlight that any changes to the pension fund could further erode their compensation.

HOW ARE STATE LEADERS RESPONDING?

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona has offered teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020 and pledged to see his proposal through despite concerns on how to fund it.

Ducey’s plan relies on higher-than-expected state revenue. Republican legislative leaders have questioned where the money might come from and are negotiating the plan this week.

Colorado lawmakers have secured a bipartisan deal to boost school funding but are negotiating on the pension changes. Republicans want public employees, including teachers, to put more of their own pay into the system to close a $32 billion funding gap. Democrats have countered with a plan to contribute $225 million in annual state funding to shore up the fund.

WHAT DOES THE WALKOUT MEAN FOR SCHOOLS, TEACHERS AND PARENTS?

In both states, school districts have been weighing whether to stay open or cancel classes.

Many in Arizona, including the state’s largest district in suburban Phoenix, will be closed at least Thursday and Friday. Some have said they will try to stay open if they have enough staff.

Many parents are scrambling to make child care plans. Community groups are organizing day camps, churches are opening for free care and some stay-at-home parents are volunteering to watch others’ children.

Colorado’s largest district, Denver Public Schools, will be closed Friday, along with more than a dozen others. Four others, including large suburban districts in Jefferson and Douglas counties, will be shuttered Thursday but are expected to reopen Friday.

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