They came from Thailand and Australia and around the world and maybe even from the ends of the earth. I came from Jacksonville.
Former Clevelanders and Believelanders made their way in droves unrivaled to see the transcendental transformation that Lebron and the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA basketball team built for my hometown. The World Championship that seemed Biblical in proportion. The magical and memorable reversal of fortunes for a city forever ridiculed for a trash-covered burning lake, an unappreciated and neglected police department and a kidnapping-serial-killer surplus all within a few zip codes. All In became an Earned to a greater Cleveland area where it truly seems that Nothing has ever been Given. It took the Love of one man for a city and its people and their reciprocation to make the Impossible Dream Come True. A perfect team in a perfect year on a perfect day for a perfect parade for all the world to see and remember. A white cloud of hope and victory replacing the black cloud, the curse that had been my city’s legacy.
As the gods continued to align, they shone on the underestimated Cleveland Plain Dealer staff as they performed a Pulitzer Prize Worthy Quality performance as well. From photos to stories to headlines to unprecedented distribution by every member of the inside staff, they Delivered.
The massive crowd of 1.3 million fans -celebrity, native and gangsta- crowded the city to celebrate their hometown heroes in person. Shirtless JR, Kyrie and Iman, wrestling-championship-belt bedazzled Love, crowd-walking Mo and Rolls-Royce convertible throned Lebron, (with his newly franchised presidential protection detail), led the rest of the not-so-familiar famous members of the Cleveland team through the sometimes fan-blocked path in the streets of a confetti-gold downtown.
The eternal glow also enveloped the embattled Cleveland Police Department officers encompassed by Homeland Security Special Forces Detail as they served and protected all. Even little lost children came to them.
It ended with a grateful and comfortable Lebron and company inviting his newly-noticed international family to celebrate in traditional locker-room style. Fortunately, the 500,000 people transported to downtown via an all day $5 ticket on over-capacity RTA trains weren’t that angry when they couldn’t find their way home. My brother and I were among the tens of thousands of other stranded travelers who walked out of downtown 9/11-style from a five-hour-long parade spent in the homestyle heat enduring no loaves, no fishes and no water shortly before shots rang out. It was one for the record books that memories are made of.
I just couldn’t wrap my head around the tragic unfolding of events in Orlando last weekend, so I got in my car and drove two hours to the place some call the happiest city in the world.
As I watched the neatly manicured lawns of the neighborhoods pass by my window, I thought of how small the city seems when you get away from Disney and the amusement park area. In the Sodo neighborhood, that spans several small city blocks near one of the outdoor malls, I was again surprised to see the size of the tight-knit, usually quiet walking community. The place where some stores are open 24 hours and neighbors check on neighbors, that was caught up in the worst mass shooting by a lone gunman in US History.
The bar at the center of the tragedy, Pulse Lounge, was at the end of a small road called West Esther Street, close to a fire station and a few blocks from a children’s hospital that became instrumental in caring for the injured and saving lives during and after the gunfire. Resident Donald Ato recalls having a pleasant short conversation on his birthday with one of the victims as the unwary patron left a car parked on the street across from his home and walked down to the club that fateful night. After the tragedy the car remained for days.
As FBI, local law enforcement, and other state investigators combed through the crime scene, removed bodies, and went through a complex but organized system of identification and family notification, a large entourage of media with their vans, huge transmission satellites, and tents blocked off roads outside of the police-taped area.
Less than five miles away, located next to another outdoor mall, was a second sidewalk tribute with heart balloons, notes, and candles marking the location of the other headline shooting tragedy to come out of Orlando last weekend: The Voice star and Adam Levine favorite, Christina Grimmie, was shot by another lone gunman as she eagerly greeted autograph seekers after a well-received concert in a little converted theater called The Plaza. This just one night before the mass shooting. I walked up to the door and saw a sign that read no concealed weapons are allowed on these premises. As I approached the makeshift memorial to yet another young life lost that weekend, Sophia Sullivan, age 9, and her grandmother, Susan, arrived to pay their respects. She placed balloons and read some of the messages, and then the two told me they had been at Christina’s concert. Sophia had wanted to stay for an autograph, but her grandmother said no, and they left moments before the fatal shooting.
Sophia told me she wanted to come so that she could make sure Christina’s loss wasn’t overlooked in the shadow of the Plush Lounge headlines.
As I spoke to more people, both those present at these tragedies and those who came in for the cleanup, I was left with two questions: Will love ever overcome hate? And in places where guns are not allowed, how will we protect ourselves? Long after the ringing of the victims’ unanswered cell phones has gone silent, I hope we will remember that life is finite and love is endless.
I hope we’ll also remember-and appreciate-that ongoing efforts to keep us safe are a full-time and dangerous job undertaken by many who tirelessly spend their whole lives in that endeavor, and that they do so in an environment often totally hidden from view.
Ever since I was old enough to lick an envelope or slide a curled up George Voinovich information card between the knob and the door of each house on the streets of a westside neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, I have been involved in political campaigns. My father, Hugh, a long time Republican supporter, had the benefit of six kids to help. So my childhood was filled with picnics where I met lots of candidates along the way. When I grew up and became a photojournalist for newspapers I was no longer allowed to participate but covered all the campaigns even riding through Cleveland in a limo as part of Vice President Dan Quayle’s motorcade.
When I moved to Florida as a journalist the paper I worked for considered working on campaigns a conflict of interest although they themselves endorsed party candidates. After leaving newspapers behind and working for magazines and private clients around the world I was again drawn to the familiar territory. However, I had the benefit of twenty some years of covering campaigns. This year that path led me to try to be a Florida Delegate to the Republican Convention this summer in my hometown.
I thought back to my high school civics class about how we elect a president. I remembered thinking how delegates were ordinary citizens who were elected to represent us and fulfill the role of placing our vote in the ballot box for our selected party candidate. Then something called the Electoral College would then again do the same thing at the final level to choose POTUS. I barely remember much else from that class but I do recall that I had an idea in my head that in a Democracy each of us had a vote and our votes collectively counted. Somehow with the happy ending that we the people elected the president of our choice.
So when I was told that the delegates were chosen as a perk for specific volunteers within the Republican party I still sent my application Fedex overnight as required to Tallahassee and waited with just a little bit of enthusiasm. Then I and the present 35 out of 40 other applicants met at a closed door meeting to pick the delegates in Jacksonville. Only registered Republicans were allowed to enter and cel phones were checked at the door. I was told that each of us would be given a chance to speak publicly to the eight chair people who would be choosing the delegates.
After every applicant spoke the eight people voted. A specific party member collected their index cards and took them in a back room. A few minutes later he came out and said “Ander Crenshaw.” Thus the first delegate was chosen. I couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t just open each index card and read off how many votes were for whom. This same process happened five more times with four of the board members basically being elected by themselves. I thought for sure the former military officer who had worked the makeshift morgue on September 11th, 2001 at the Pentagon would be chosen. I hoped I would be too. Instead the additional person to round out the six was a former elected official. I overheard two women behind me say something like if this is how the Republican Party runs things no wonder no one wants to join them anymore. I left that meeting with the feeling that although these people chosen would probably do a good job as delegates, it was definitely predetermined who would go based on their allegiance to the Republican Party and not necessarily their obligation to the voters of Florida. I also felt that when they got to the convention they were not going to pick Donald Trump if they could help it.
Ironically I got a call this past week asking me to donate $75 to the Republican Party. I said I have a wait and see attitude. I want to see if the American people’s vote counts or if a back door decision denies the voters their choice. I recall a conversation I had years ago with a Washington beltway insider. ” No matter who is president the same people run the country,” I was told.
I will be in Cleveland to see how this all really plays out, but I wanted to end with comments I remember from two of my Kent State University professors. If you don’t want to be in the newsroom on election day get out of the business; and It’s not what you look at but what you see that matters.
My heart skipped a beat yesterday as I heard the news that yet another American police officer had been shot in the Line of Duty. This time our thin blue line turning red was local. He was one of our off-duty undercover Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officers who had his son in the car with him doing a normal routine in America: a parent on the way to dropping off his son at school before going to work. But today he saw something on the road that caused him to make a traffic stop. Call it his gut or just good police training and instinct. According to JSO he went into action and first grabbed his tactical vest and put it on. The five shots that sprayed his windshield hitting him and barely missing his son in the passenger seat were real. Real bullets in broad daylight on a normal local American street. The officer shot nine shots back apparently missing the suspect who fled the scene and was apprehended a short time later.
The stop was near a train track and apparently some of the altercation took place on that active railroad track. So when the officer was shot and called for help local residents did just that. With a train coming in the distance they helped move the officer and his car out of the way and provided first aid while waiting for our fire department and a medical helicopter to arrive to transport him. As they should.
He is in critical but stable condition but will have a long way to go back to normal.
And so do we. You see it has become open season on cops lately with our current president’s apathy toward law enforcement. And that to me is personal. Throughout the last 20 + years here in Jacksonville I have had numerous ride alongs with many JSO officers. I have also gotten to know many of them through political campaigns and day to day life events. Many I am proud to call my friends. They are good people trying to make a difference through their life choices every day in Jacksonville. They have earned my trust. Together with our local military they are part of our first line of defense team that do their best to keep us safe. A difficult task this day in this week just after wrapping up the second workplace shooting incident.
Shootings that drive home to me in this season of presidential campaigning and terrorist attacks that the only one who has spoken in support of keeping us and those I most care about safe has been Donald Trump.
I watched the Grammy’s last night. Two moments stood out to me. The first one was the moving tribute to recently deceased Glen Fry by his Eagles surviving band members. We know their names and all their iconically beautiful music as well as Don Henley’s history of fighting for his musical rights and copyrights legacy. But what I especially noticed last night is nowhere was there a name of the photographer underneath the beautiful photograph of him encompassing the stage at the end of the performance. Why? Because the majority of photographers do not own the rights to keep their name on their photographs or the royalties made of from them. Even today if you want to sell your items on an app called OfferUp they have a clause that reads: ” …with the OfferUp Service. By submitting or posting User Content (their insulting name for photographer’s intellectual property), you hereby grant to OfferUp a non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, sublicensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, sell, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, and display the User Content, and your name, company name, location and any other information you submit with the User Content, in connection with the OfferUp Service. (the right to sell your own stuff on their internet line). The use of your name or any other User’s name, likeness, or identity in connection with the OfferUp Service does not imply any endorsement thereof unless explicitly stated otherwise. We also have the right to disclose your identity to any third party who is claiming that any content posted by you constitutes a violation of their intellectual property rights, or of their right to privacy.”
Their predatory Terms and Conditions go on and on and I’m sure most “users” (We the People) have never really read or understood what we are signing over to them or even cared. I chose to begrudgingly continue to sell my tables, chairs and other unneeded belongings that clutter up my life on their website but I will still protect the many documentary photos I took of real people acting out their lives within the view of my camera lens.
When I protested to the company their response was that they would show me how to delete my account if I don’t like it. A sure sign that we as Professional Photographers (one of the few creative arts national awards that have no television audience) have lost the war. The online sites have now become the new slave owners of tomorrow replacing the many newspapers of today.
Which brings me to the second moment that stood out to me. A pie chart photo-graph of a penny with the tiny portion cut out representing the miniscual amount of royalties collected by songwriters and performers for their craft when streaming online. I heard the artists pleading for their musical art to remain a viable professional career for the next generation. NO ONE is listening. Even though the U.S. Copyright Office still seems to be the tiniest and busiest office in our nations’ Library of Congress, the Silicone Valley Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg descendents still bathe in the unholy ill-gotten gains from royalties they have siphoned off the backs of the free world billions of creative artists intellectual property around the world. They are sooo rich that they give away all “their” money that they have collectively created all creative “Users” out of. No wonder Kanye West wants a loan from Mark Zuckerburg. Royalties are for everyone who creates content even those billions of housewives who are just posting a nice picture of a table in the their home they want to sell. And the billionaires should stop stealing them.
Maybe Donald Trump can address this disparity in trade too.
The below is an open letter sent to the Cultural Council of Jacksonville regarding Art in public places with reference to the new Duval County Courthouse Art planning:
I wasn’t able to figure out the #thing so I am sending this through email. First of all I would like to applaud all those stepping up to help with this awesome project. I attended a meeting yesterday on this and found it very informative.
However, not only as a local artist interested in submitting work but also as a not very connected community member, I was surprised and a little discouraged to see the trend leaning toward one sculpture type exterior design. With absolutely little to no local artwork on the inside of the building.
E Pluribus Unum From Many One
I think that the Courthouse artwork should be a unique body of work by many local artists reflecting the diversity of culture and talent living here in Jacksonville. I think we should keep it local. I also feel that our courthouse is a beacon of hope for all those victimized in society. A hope that they may find justice out of their tragedies. After all a large number of visitors to the courthouse are family and friends of murder victims and other victims of crime. Whatever artwork is chosen should be both inside and outside. It is after all about the People. The Community. Of the People By the People For the People.
Any art selected should be there not solely to attract people to come see it but to have them leave moved and inspired by what they will feel when they view it. It needs to hold the hearts and souls of this community and the tragedies endured here in a visionary way with respect for all.
I think a creative team should be put together by the committee to help any artists no matter what level of experience they have in a project like this so that all will be equally enabled to submit their work on a level playing field. it shouldn’t feel like going up against Northrupp Grumman for a government defense contract.
So as all go forward with the hard work ahead let’s not forget that all of the community spirit needs to be reflected in the final results and many diverse artists of Jacksonville should be given opportunity here. I look forward to the progression of this project.
It’s Happening. Small pockets of native and imported (possibly indoctrinated) killers creating random pockets of violence and death in cities in America. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure it all out. Right now the names of the people usually do it for us. I’m not even going to mention them. We just know. When you look at their names no one has to Scrabble it out for us. We are under attack. Time for the Triple A: Be Alert, Be Armed and Be American. We will fight for our country from all those Foreign and Domestic Terrorists who wish to harm us and the fabric of America. We the People. For the People. By the People.
Anytime, Anywhere, and with any weapon available. We’re not racist. we’re not Islamophobic. We are America Strong. and We Will Do Whatever is Necessary To Protect America from All Would Be Civilian and Suicide Assassins.
Gun Control? Pahleez! How about legal gun usage from the Good Guys on the Bad Guys (or Girls). Bang. Bang. Maybe next time you’re dead before you can kill us.
While the world powers gather in Paris to discuss solutions to Global Warming we can do our part to save our planet one decision at a time. Choose to re-use, recycle and re-think how you buy new purchases. We rush out to buy new items with all the waste of packaging when our country is choking in items that we already made, purchased and discarded. So much so that the clothing that does not sell at thrift stores is routinely bundled and pushed on other countries sometimes creating a negative cost to their own locally produced clothing industries. Not only is this not good for those countries or the planet but it is not good for our pocketbooks. Often it is a complete waste of money and resources. Next time you consider a new purchase online or in a brick and mortar think first: Is there some way I can get this item from someone else who already purchased it and doesn’t need it anymore or can I go to one of the hundreds of thousands of thrift and consignment stores and buy it?
Outside of plastic bags and diapers and water bottles (which some people are already coming up with creative solutions for) we don’t always think about our role in recycling. When we put items in the trash like furniture or toys that could be donated or sold we are wasting our resources. When we snub our noses at thrift store clothing or toys we are wasting our resources and contributing to part of the problem. Why buy something new when almost everything you are looking to buy new someone else has already thrown in the garbage or donated? Toys get dumped off and devalued by donation centers that are swamped with them. I have personally seen items get donated only to have those same people then buy the exact same items to replace them when they could have just worn the sweater longer or cleaned up Barbie for another year of use. Just because its Christmas doesn’t mean everything should have to come in a new package.
Vintage toys are making a comeback and sometimes are worth more than the new versions of the same item. Clothing that someone else had first can sometimes bring new life to your collection. Sometimes people dump brand new items in brand new packaging that they just don’t like anymore. I can tell you that people are buying these new items and letting you re-buy them on Ebay, Amazon and other sites. You may think they’re new from the store but they may have come by way of a thrift store after someone else got rid of it. So do your own research, think before you discard and make your little decisions be a positive part of a global reawakening to the many resources we are so fortunate to have an abundance of.
When flight attendants are going through the safety instructions every time you fly on an airplane, they always say put your oxygen mask on first before you help children or other passengers. Your safety first. Why? Because if you aren’t safe how can you help others be safe? This is the same principle facing our country in regard to Syrian refugees. We see Paris. We see Switzerland. We see what is happening in Turkey, Indonesia and all over Europe as those countries who tried to help refugees are now being victimized by some of those very people. Not all those helped are grateful. Some want to kill us.
We need to keep all American families (including those peaceful and legally immigrated Muslim Americans) safe. We need to protect our way of life too. We fought for women’s rights. We fought for gay rights. Workplace rights. Human rights. We are a country of people who want a certain standard QUALITY OF LIFE and we have fought battles around the world to maintain that. It is called Freedom. And it is unique in the world. And every day it is in jeopardy if we don’t continue to fight for it and protect it. Although we want to be a compassionate country-give me your tired, your poor….- we also realize that it takes a strong military and law enforcement circle perimeter around us to keep it that way. And good decisions by our elected leaders to protect our freedom through abiding by our constitution.
We are in a unique time where many are in conflict of what is the right thing to do about the Syrian refugees. Many looking to enter who appear to be disproportionately adult males may not have our best intentions at heart. Solutions are needed for the suffering. And much thought should be put into finding the right ones. However, before we open the door and welcome people to share our great resources, lets make sure they are not the wolf in disguise coming to kill us or impose sharia law on us.
In the Summer of 1997 I spent a month traveling in several countries in Europe. Paris was my favorite city. The beauty of it’s iconic landscape paled only in comparison to the warmth I found in it’s people. English was the primary language of many I spoke to as I walked along stopping at every place I wanted to see. I spent hours chatting with the artists who drew caricatures of tourists near Notre Dame Cathedral. I rolled my eyes at the public toilets where you had to put a quarter in the slot to use them and if time ran out well you sat in there in the dark. The artists taught me a game they played to pass the time and also showed me where the locals eat. The game was guess the country where the people walking by were from. At first I thought it would be difficult but the clothing, mannerisms and hairstyles I observed soon helped me become quite good at this game. An American couple were startled when I asked them in English which state they lived in.
But the things I noticed the most were the armed men with large weapons in various areas patrolling the streets and the lack of trash cans anywhere in the city. I had to police my own trash squirreled away in my backpack and wait til I stopped inside a restaurant to throw it away. I knew why then and I see why today on the national news. There are people out there who want to place bombs and blow people up and they find trash cans useful because any backpacks left on the sidewalk anywhere alone were seen as a threat that caused an immediate reaction by these French armed street security to suspect a bomb. But today we are in a new kind of war. One where any sociopathic Islamic radical idealist stays with the backpack and blows themselves up with it. Along with hundreds of other people. And risk factors among those pouring through our US borders illegally have drastically multiplied.
Initially I was skeptical of the crass and outspoken and not very PC presidential candidate Donald Trump. But his words are ringing true. And he is the only one with the guts to speak them. And its flipping out the real powers who actually run our country behind the scenes. The ones who like to control Washington and the president. The ones who we never elect but always win. The ones who hold the purse strings of We the People, By the People, For the People. And they know if Donald Trump wins they may well lose for the first time in history. And that has gotten them more scared than any radical Islamistic terrorist willing to blow us up and takeover our country. From the inside out.
By the way while I was in Paris I developed a terrible upper respiratory infection which left me with no voice trying to get across the country and get back to America. The kind people of France protected me with civilian escorts who passed me along to another protector and helped me get medicine too and on the right trains back to the airport so I could leave the country safely. You never realize how vulnerable you are until you are deathly sick in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. We owe it those good people of France to again stand with them a United Thin Blue Line of Law Enforcement. Vive La France. And God Bless America. If we don’t fight now for our country through our vote we just may not have a country or a way of life left to fight for.
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