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26 Dec 2015

The Year The Circus Came To Town

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December 26, 2015 Category: Local Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Emanuel Episcopal Church shootings [top] (Wade Spees/The Post And Courier via AP) and Paris terrorism protests (Stacey Newman/Shutterstock)

You may have wanted to call 2015 a variety of things, but you couldn’t call it boring.

By Denise Clay

You know what city I’m pretty sure is glad to see 2015 come to an end?

The city of Paris.

Sure, it was the setting of the 21st Conference of Parties where a groundbreaking climate change agreement was forged, and it’s the home of a really forgiving Fashion Week that lets Kanye West showcase the kind of fashions that scream “I ought to stick to music”…but for most of 2015, “Paris” in a dateline usually meant something pretty heinous had happened.

(And I don’t just mean West’s gawdawful outfits…)

For example, 2015 was barely a week old when Said and Cherif Kouachi walked into the offices of French magazine “Charlie Hebdo”, killed 12 people and wounded 11 in an attack designed to punish the publication for cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

On Friday, Nov. 13, Parisians attending soccer matches, dining out, and attending an Eagles of Death Metal show at the Bataclan Theater were attacked by the Islamic State, or ISIS as it’s more commonly known, that left 130 dead, including an American exchange student, hundreds wounded, and folks, at least folks with a xenophobic bent, looking for a reason to blame the entire Muslim world for it.

And between those two events, two American soldiers, a friend on college vacation that had met them to hang out in Paris, and a British dude just minding his own business wound up winning the French Legion d’Honneur Medal for stopping a guy from shooting up a train bound for Thalys that had 550 people on it. The shooter was on a terrorist watch list and was a ISIS partisan. 

While dealing with all of that, Parisians tried to live their lives. Which couldn’t have been easy considering that there seemed to be this “Where is the next attack coming from?” thing that had to be going on.

But the fact that Paris, the most romantic city in the world, became the Center of the Terrorism Universe in 2015 tells you everything you need to know about the year we’ll be putting in our rear view mirror come New Year’s Eve.

It was a year where bad things happened in good places.

It was a year when a man could walk into a prayer meeting at a South Carolina church and shoot nine people… after worshipping with them first.

It was a year when a man could walk into a college classroom and start shooting his classmates… and have the relatives of the victims complain when the words “gun control” were mentioned.

It was a year where a man could kill two reporters on live television without blinking an eye…

And it was a year where a major party Presidential candidate could call for closing the nation’s borders, banning people from the country because of the religion they practice, and encourage his followers to beat up those who dare to challenge him and not only be taken seriously, but lead in national polls.

The circus came to town in 2015… and we’re going to be cleaning elephant droppings off of our shoes for a while.

Terrorism, both foreign and domestic, took center stage in 2015.

On the foreign front, Paris wasn’t the only place where Muslim extremists made the population miserable. In Syria, Iraq and other spots in the Middle East, ISIS took over cities, decapitated foreign workers, and made themselves the one terrorist group that al-Quada wants no part of.

Not to be outdone, their fellow travelers in attempting to create the kind of state where the most dangerous person in the country is a woman who knows how to read, Boko Haram, another group that made life unnecessarily hard for the vast majority of Muslims, kidnapped more than 100 Chibok girls from the school that was trying to help them learn that whole reading thing in the name of “liberating them from western education”.

Some of them managed to escape. Others were forced into marriage with much older men. The fate of many of them is still unknown and while it was a trending topic on Twitter, no one has demanded that they #BringBackOurGirls in a long time.

But while Americans, particularly the American media, can identify terrorism when it’s a bomb thrown by extremists in a foreign land or a group of girls kidnapped and held hostage for the crime of wanting to learn how to read, we’re not as good at recognizing terrorism when it’s homegrown.

For example, a group of Muslim students at the University of North Carolina—Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha—were shot in the head because the guy that shot them, Craig Hicks, had a problem with Muslims. He also had a problem with Christians, Jews, or anyone else that practiced any religion at all. President Barack Obama ended up angering some of the family members of the victims of a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon when he did what he usually does when a mass shooting happens: call for tighter controls on guns.

The act of domestic terrorism that seemed to anger everyone the most, however, was the shooting of nine churchgoers in South Carolina by a young man with a really bad haircut and White supremacist leanings. Dylann Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a Wednesday night prayer meeting, worshipped with the parishioners, and after telling them that they had to go because they were all Black, opened fire, killing nine.

But while we had plenty to be both proud of and repulsed by on the national level, Pennsylvania kept things interesting in 2015 as well.

In November, Pennsylvanians made Gov. Tom Corbett a trivia question: Name the only Pennsylvania Governor in the Modern Era who lost a second term by angering Penn State alumni?

In January, new Governor Tom Wolf took the oath of office.

And to say that he hasn’t had an easy time of it would be an understatement. One of the things he campaigned on was restoring the $1 million in school funding that Corbett took out during his four years in office.

The problem is, while he wants to do this by taxing the folks who drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, the Republicans that control the House and Senate since the rising tide that lifted his boat to the Governor’s office didn’t lift the boats of Democrats that might have readily adapted his agenda, want to restore the funding by changing pensions for state workers, privatizing the Commonwealth’s liquor stores, and adding sales taxes to such things as movie tickets.

Thus, the two groups have spent the entirety of 2015 working on the fiscal budget. There was talk as of press time that we might get a budget for Christmas, but chances are that the New Year Baby will arrive before the state’s budget does.

Meanwhile, school districts, non-profits, and senior centers have tightened their belts and taken out loans, something that probably won’t be sustainable for much longer.

The fight between Attorney Gen. Kathleen Kane and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams over the fates of a group of Black Philadelphia-based lawmakers caught up in a sting that began when former Gov. Tom Corbett was Attorney General also heated up this year.

Kane decided not to bring charges against Reps. Ron Waters, Louise Williams Bishop, Vanessa Lowery Brown and Michelle Brownlee and former State Rep. Harold James when she took the oath of office two years ago, calling the sting, which also enveloped former Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes (who is currently serving time on conflict of interest charges) racially motivated.

Williams had no such concerns. He not only brought the charges, but by the end of 2015, Waters, Bishop, Brownlee and James had pled guilty, with the three current lawmakers resigning their offices. Bishop, who had planned to go to trial with her lawyer A. Charles Peruto, pled guilty to misdemeanor offenses and will have the entire incident stripped from her record if she behaves herself for six months.

Kane, however, has her own legal demons haunting her. She was charged with leaking grand jury information connected to the sting case to the Philadelphia Inquirer and her law license has been suspended. Since it helps to have an active license to practice law if you’re the attorney general, she’s been asked to resign the office several times by a committee in the Statehouse designed to look at what can be done in her case and by Gov. Wolf himself.

Instead, Kane, in a move that probably has many old school Philadelphia politicians thinking “Where has she been all my life?!” decided that if she’s going out, she’s taking a few of the good old boys with her.

How? She did it by showing that Hillary Clinton isn’t the only one who will eventually wish that email was never invented.

Kane said that the reason that folks were coming after her regarding the grand jury leak was because she was about to take them down due to some questionable email activity.

It seems that folks in the Attorney General’s office, the Supreme Court’s offices, and other state officials that should know better than to use office computers to send this kind of stuff, were exchanging the kind of emails that you wouldn’t show to your Mom…because she’d pimp slap you.

Among the worst offenders were Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin, who was suspended for sending the emails, which included a healthy dose of racism along with the already present misogyny and pornography, and three former employees of the Attorney General’s office that had moved to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office—Frank Fina, Patrick Blessington and Marc Costanzo—otherwise known as the folks who were prosecuting the political sting that Kane shut down.

A whole lot of people, including prominent female members of Philadelphia City Council and the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women have been calling on Williams to show his office’s Three Musketeers of Porn the door, but so far all they’ve gotten is sensitivity training and a stint covering civil court.

Speaking of court, probably the most unintentionally amusing court cases to come to Philadelphia in a long time was decided this year.

Chaka “Chip” Fattah Jr. became the embodiment of the saying “A lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client” when he decided to defend himself against 23 federal counts of bank and tax fraud. He was charged with all of this in connection to the disappearance of nearly $1 million in educational funds that he had gotten as a subcontractor for the School District of Philadelphia, an entity that had enough financial problems without these shenanigans. He was also charged with obtaining business loans and education contracts to finance a lifestyle that included a $70,000 Range Rover (something you really need to traverse the mountains of Philadelphia), a condo in the Ritz-Carlton building on South Broad Street and expensive bar tabs. (Unless you count that tab he had at the Captiol Grill at Broad and Chestnut. He had a little trouble paying that according to prosecutors.)

You would think that someone with that kind of money would have spent it on a lawyer to keep himself out of jail. But he didn’t. So despite calling high profile witnesses like former Mayor John Street and former Gov. Ed Rendell, neither of whom could quite understand why they were there by the way, Fattah was convicted on 22 of the 23 counts leveled against him. He faces sentencing in the New Year.

Part of Chip Fattah’s defense, the part he didn’t get to use, is that the Feds were using him to go after his father, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.

Eventually, the U.S. Attorney’s Office showed us all that they didn’t need the son to go after the father. Rep. Fattah was indicted on charges connected to an alleged racketeering scheme that appears to center on a loan that was obtained during Fattah’s 2007 Mayoral campaign, and was used to pay a lot of things it shouldn’t have, including some of Chip Fattah’s student loans.

Unlike his son, the elder Fattah has obtained a lawyer for his trial, which begins shortly after the May 2016 primary. He’s also obtained at least four challengers for his seat: State Reps. Dwight Evans (or the Kingmaker, as Mayor Elect Jim Kenney and Gov. Tom Wolf call him) and Brian Sims, ward leader Dan Muroff and Lower Merion Township Commissioner Brian Gordon.

While a lot of reporters will be covering this race, one very notable one won’t. Renee Chenault-Fattah, the Congressman’s wife, has been pulled off of the air at NBC-10 since the indictment was announced. There’s no word about her status at the station.

Philadelphia also served time as the center of the universe in 2015. For the first time ever, the World Meeting of Families was held in the United States and the City of Brotherly Love played host. It was also the first time since Pope John Paul came to town that a sitting Pope would be in the United States.

While the Papal visit on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway was memorable, the city is on the hook for $8 million in costs related to the visit, which included closing the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, and a whole lot of businesses with holes in their budgets…

Let’s just say that a lot of people have told at outgoing Mayor Michael Nutter that he’s got a lot of ‘splaining to do for this one… Maybe they’ll get it right when the Democratic National Convention makes us the center of the Political Universe for a week in 2016.

Despite few of us bothering to show up, Philadelphia elected a new mayor this year. Former City Councilman Jim Kenney will be filling the Big Chair In The Big Office On City Hall’s Second Floor starting in January. He’ll also be joined by some new council members including State Rep. Cherelle Parker, who will be filling the seat occupied by her mentor, Councilwoman Marian Tasco, who retired this year, another former Tasco aide, Derek Green, education activist Helen Gym and real estate magnate Alan Domb.

Missing from council will be City Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., who learned the hard way that in order to keep an elected office, you sometimes have to campaign for it.

In Entertainment news, there was a little history made this year when Viola Davis (“How To Get Away With Murder), Uzo Aduba (“Orange Is The New Black”) and Regina King (“American Crime”) took home Emmy Awards for Lead Actress In a Drama Series, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series and Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series, respectfully. Davis, who was vying with Taraji P. Henson of “Empire” for the award, became the first Black actress to take home the Lead Actress in a Drama award in Emmy history.

It was also a year in which the Queen of Soul came to sing for the Soul Of The Catholic Church. During September’s World Meeting of Families, Aretha Franklin brought a little church to the Celebration of Families concert, including an organ riff and a little praise dancing.

A star was also born that night in the person of 14-year-old Bobby Hill. The Philadelphia native with the angelic voice sang “Pie Jesu” a cappella for Pope Francis during the concert. He went on to be named one of “Ebony” Magazine’s “Power 100” and performed with Gospel legend Shirley Caesar in December.

Internationally, singer Akon launched Akon Lighting Africa, an organization designed to bring electricity to African villages through the use of solar energy by using a micro lending model. It may not get him on the cover of “Us Weekly”, but it’ll make life better for the people in the Motherland.

In sports, we met Riley Curry when her father, Stephen Curry, took the Golden State Warriors to the NBA Championship.

Floyd Mayweather decided to take his “money” and step out of the ring, retiring after defending his title in a long-awaited match against Manny Pacquiao.

We also learned that Serena Williams is an awesome tennis player as she came close to winning the Grand Slam in women’s tennis, something that hasn’t been done since Steffi Graf did it in 1988.

A fond farewell was also bid to more than a few notable people in 2015.

Those of us who remember when the Philadelphia 76ers were more than just an organization in search of lottery picks were saddened by the loss of two Sixers greats, Daryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins and Moses Malone, the man who helped the Sixers win the 1983 NBA Championship by helping the team go “fo-five-fo”.

Former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Brooke died this year at 95. He made history as the first Black to win a seat in the U.S. Senate by popular vote.

A little over a year after the world said goodbye to her mother, Whitney Houston, Bobbi Kristina Brown died six months after being discovered face down in a bathtub in her home. She was 22.

ESPN’s Stuart Scott, 49, lost his battle with cancer, and Delaware Attorney Gen. Joseph “Beau” Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, was lost to cancer as well at age 46.

Mr. Spock of “Star Trek”, Leonard Nimoy, told us all to “Live Long and Prosper” as he left us this year at age 83 and B.B. King, a man who taught us all to sing the Blues while strumming his guitar “Lucille” also left us this year.

Locally, former State Rep. John Myers died this year after a long illness.

J. Whyatt Mondesire

J. Whyatt Mondesire

And we here at the SUN suffered a very personal loss. Our publisher and founder, J. Whyatt Mondesire, left us this year. In addition to being the person who guided us to bringing you all the news that’s fit to print, he was also a community leader and activist who cast a long shadow over the City of Brotherly Love.

Next week: Civil Rights, The Oscars, and the Year in Police Brutality…

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