Mississippi school district pulls ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ because it ‘makes people uncomfortable’

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Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was removed from a Mississippi school district lesson plan because the book’s language made some people feel uneasy.

Administrators at the Biloxi School District announced early this week they were pulling the novel from the 8th-grade curriculum, saying they received complaints that some of the book’s language “makes people uncomfortable.”

The Sun Herald reported that the book was pulled from the lesson plan because the novel contained “the N word.”

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A message on the school’s website says “To Kill A Mockingbird” teaches students that compassion and empathy don’t depend upon race or education.

School board vice president Kenny Holloway says other books can teach the same lessons.

However, the book will still be available in Biloxi school libraries.

The novel, published in 1960, chronicled the adventures of Jean Louise Finch aka Scout and her brother Jeremy aka Jem and the racial inequality that existed in their small Alabama town. The book followed a court case their father, Atticus, was involved in.

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In the story, Atticus defended Tom Robinson, a black man who was accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a young white woman. Despite strong evidence of Robinson’s innocence, he was found guilty of raping Ewell.

The book was adapted into a movie in 1962, starring Gregory Peck, who won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Atticus Finch. 

The Sun Herald reported the novel was listed at No. 21 on the American Library Association’s most “banned or challenged books list in the last decade.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Puerto Rico raises Hurricane Maria death toll to 48

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Authorities in Puerto Rico raised the death toll from Hurricane Maria by 3 to 48 on Saturday based on a review of medical records.

The medical examiner concluded that the hurricane was the deciding factor in the three newly disclosed deaths, Secretary of Public Security Hector Pesquera said.

Precise details were not available, but one occurred in the central town of Caguas when a person was unable to get dialysis treatment after the storm knocked out power.

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Another happened in nearby Juncos when a person with undisclosed respiratory problems could not get treatment.

The third occurred in the northern city of Carolina when a person suffering a heart attack was also unable to get treatment.

Pesquera said that the medical examiner is still reviewing all deaths that occurred in island hospitals around the time of the storm and the toll could rise further.

“We are reviewing each and every case to see if the storm was a direct or indirect cause,” he said following a news conference in the capital. “I doubt seriously that we will have any direct at this juncture.”

Maria hit the U.S. island territory Sept. 20 as a category 4 hurricane. The government says about 85 percent of the island remains without power.

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Gov. Ricardo Rossello says he is pushing for outside aid to restore electricity and his goal is to have it back for half the island by Nov. 15 and for 95 percent by Dec. 31. But he conceded the task of rebuilding the transmission and distribution network is enormous.

“These are aggressive goals,” Rossello told reporters.

Previously, officials had said it could take as long as March to reach that goal. 

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Attacker with knife flees after woman reveals her concealed carry gun, police say

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A woman in Illinois was reportedly able to protect herself with her concealed carry firearm after a stranger with a knife jumped into her car.

Police said a woman who was parked near a shopping mall in Moline on Sunday was attacked by a man who fought his way into her car, according to WQAD 8.

During the fight, the man reportedly slashed the woman’s arm with a knife. He then ordered the woman to drive to Rock Island County, a rural area, according to police.

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Once the woman stopped the car, she was able to reach her gun, which she had a concealed carry firearm permit for, WQAD 8 reported.

After the attacker saw the weapon, he reportedly ran off and she was able to drive herself to the hospital.

Police subsequently opened an investigation and arrested Floyd R. May, 61.

May was charged with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated battery with a weapon, unlawful use of a weapon by a felon and aggravated assault.

He is reportedly in Rock Island County Jail on $550,000 bond.

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Teacher-teen sex tryst case won’t be dismissed

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An Alabama judge has refused to dismiss a sexual assault case against a teacher until another state court decides whether the law used to charge the teacher is constitutional.

Lawrence County Circuit Judge Mark Craig denied a motion to dismiss on Thursday in the case against Taylor Brooks Boyles, 27, a Moulton Middle School teacher who allegedly had a sexual relationship with a student during the student’s senior year at Lawrence County High School, the Decatur Daily reported.

She was arrested in May and charged with being a school employee engaging in a sex act or deviant sexual intercourse with a student under the age of 19, court records said.

Craig stayed the case until a separate court made a decision in two other trials concerning a similar matter, the report said.

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Boyles’ lawyer reportedly expressed disappointment with the decision, considering the circumstances.

“This is a peculiar situation because we have a statute designed to protect students,” Attorney Mark Dutton said. “As a father, I’m proud of that. But I believe when this code section was adopted, (the Legislature) failed to consider the conflict that was created versus the law in Alabama that a 16-year-old and above is able to consent to sexual contact if the consent is freely and voluntarily given… I don’t believe what (Boyles) is accused of doing may be right. But I believe what she is accused of doing is not criminal.”

The law in question was passed in 2010 and prohibits school employees from having sex with students under the age of 19, the Decatur Daily reported. But defense attorneys argued that this regulation ran against a state law that deems 16 to be the legal age of consent.

In the cases Craig referenced, two teachers were separately accused of having sexual relationships with students, all of whom were reportedly older than 16.

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Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson deemed the 2010 law unconstitutional arguing that the students were legally old enough to consent to sex, the Decatur Daily reported.

“This Court acknowledges that a disparity of power may inherently exist in a teacher/student relationship, but it clearly does not exist between every school employee and every student regardless of where the student is enrolled,” he wrote. “By eliminating the requirement that the state show a position of authority, grooming, abuse, coercion, or lack of consent, the state criminalizes behaviors outside the state’s legitimate purpose.”

The ruling by Thompson is reportedly under appeal by the district attorney and state attorney general.

State Senator Arthur Orr requested a new draft of the legislation, modeled after other states’ constitutional versions of the law, in the event that the judge’s ruling is upheld, the Decatur Daily reported.

The goal remains to prevent inappropriate relations between teachers and students, Orr said.

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Convicted sex offender suing Big Tobacco for $50M, report says

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A 64-year-old registered sex offender in Philadelphia has reportedly filed a $50 million lawsuit against tobacco conglomerate R.J. Reynolds, as well as other cigarette makers and executives, claiming they are responsible for his health problems.

Ted McCracken claims he was recently diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and emphysema — conditions that all can be caused by cigarette smoking.

McCracken says he started smoking at age 15, and developed a one- to two-packs-per-day habit, Philadelphia Magazine reported.

The magazine says McCracken’s legal filing recounts the long legal history involving Big Tobacco, including the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, in which the Big Tobacco firms agreed to pay out $206 billion to cover states’ future health costs related to smoking and to educate the public.

The magazine also notes that McCracken is a convicted rapist, listed on the Megan’s Law registry as a Tier 3 sex offender.

Click here for more from Philadelphia Magazine.

 

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Family held captive by Taliban-linked group released

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An American woman, her Canadian husband and their three young children have been released after years held captive by a network with ties to the Taliban.

U.S. officials say Pakistan secured the release of Caitlan Coleman and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle. The two were abducted five years ago while traveling in Afghanistan and have been held by the Haqqani network.

Coleman was pregnant when she was captured. The couple had three children while in captivity.

The family’s current location, however, was unclear. And officials declined to say when the family planned to return to North America.

The U.S. has criticized Pakistan for failing to aggressively go after the Haqqanis.

A U.S. national security official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing operation, commended Pakistan for their assistance.

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China protests US Navy sailing near South China Sea claims

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China on Wednesday protested the sailing of a U.S. Navy ship near its territorial claims in the South China Sea, saying it would continue to take measures to protect Beijing’s interests in the vital waterway claimed by several nations.

A U.S. official said the destroyer USS Chafee sailed near the Paracel Islands on Tuesday, coming within 16 nautical miles (30 kilometers) of land. The Navy does not announce such missions in advance and the official spoke on condition of anonymity.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying denounced the mission as dangerous and a violation of China’s sovereignty. She said the military verified the presence of the U.S. ship by sea and air and warned it off.

“The Chinese government will continue to take firm measures to safeguard national territory, sovereignty and maritime interests,” Hua told reporters at a daily briefing.

China claims the South China Sea and its islands virtually in their entirety, and its military expelled Vietnamese forces from the Paracels in 1974. The U.S. does not take an official position on sovereignty claims, but the Navy regularly sails through the area to assert freedom of navigation.

China usually claims to have “expelled” Navy ships on such missions and its relatively mild response this time suggested the Chafee had not entered what it claims are its territorial waters.

The South China Sea has crucial shipping lanes, rich fishing grounds and potential oil, gas and other mineral deposits. China has carried out extensive land reclamation work on many of the islands and reefs it claims, equipping some with air strips and military installations.

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North Carolina man has survived 9/11 and Las Vegas shooting

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Mike Dempsey of Raleigh, N.C., has had the great misfortune to be nearby for two very tragic events.

And he’s been fortunate enough to survive both of them.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Dempsey was inside Tower 2 of the World Trade Center in New York City when a plane struck the building in the floors above him.

He was trampled by other people who were trying to flee the building, but he managed to get himself to safety.

On Oct. 1 of this year, Dempsey was inside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, when a gunman on the 32nd floor started firing bullets out of two smashed windows.

Dempsey thinks there might be a reason why he has survived two very dark days in American history.

“Maybe God has a plan for me, and I can help,” the 46-year-old father of two daughters recently told the Raleigh News & Observer. “Instead of being angry or upset, I’m going to try to find what the families and survivors are going to need.”

Dempsey told the newspaper that getting involved in charity work helped him overcome any 9/11-related trauma. Now he hopes the same will happen after his Las Vegas experience.

Click here for more from the Raleigh News & Observer.

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Three dead, two injured after shooting in crowded Kansas college town

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Gunfire erupted early Sunday in a popular downtown area of a Kansas college town, leaving three people dead and two wounded, police said.

The shooting happened around 1:45 a.m. not far from police headquarters in Lawrence, in an area crowded with people from concerts, bars and events at the nearby University of Kansas, which was celebrating the start of college basketball season.

Officers heard more than 20 gunshots, Interim Police Chief Anthony Brixius said. Brixius said responding officers found several people wounded in a large crowd.

Interim Police Chief Anthony Brixius said that responding officers found several wounded people in a large crowd.

The victims who died were identified as 22-year-old Leah Elizabeth Brown of Shawnee, and Topeka residents Colwin Lynn Henderson, 20, and Dupree Dean, 24. None was a student at the school, according to university spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson.

Police didn’t say what led to the shooting, and no arrests had been made as of Sunday afternoon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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Uber driver stabbed in New York City road rage case, police say

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Police in New York City are searching for a suspect who reportedly stabbed an Uber driver during a fit of road rage Thursday afternoon.

The victim, who had an Uber sticker in the windshield of his gray SUV, got into an altercation with the suspect around 3:45 p.m. in Midtown Manhattan.

The NYPD says the attacker got out of his vehicle and stabbed the Uber driver in his left arm before driving off toward Sixth Avenue.

The victim appeared to be in stable condition on the scene.

The suspect drove a gray GMC Acadia with New York Taxi and Limousine Commission plates, police said.

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