From Other Sources: News for and About Amherst.  This Week: Catching up on Local News and the Health of our Democracy


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It was a busy news week so we’ve come up with this brief extra edition of “From Other Sources”. Here are links to some local stories from the last week that we didn’t have a chance to cover and a few important pieces on the health of our democracy.

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Battery Fire Risk a Charged Issue for Regulators by Sarah Robertson (5/24/24). As energy companies eye western Mass’ cheap land, communities and fire regulators find themselves at odds with climate goals. (The Shoestring)

UMass, Town Advocacy Could Boost Palmer Train Stop by Scott Merzbach (5/24/24). An effort to bring a train platform to Palmer could mean the return of passenger rail service to Amherst, which lost its direct to access to trains when the Springfield to Greenfield Knowledge Corridor tracks opened at the end of 2014. Anne Miller and Ben Hood, who coordinate Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop, told Amherst’s Transportation Advisory Committee last week that they will need support from Amherst and the University of Massachusetts. “We feel if there was enough advocacy coming from Amherst and UMass that the state would be more sensitive about placing the future Palmer station in the correct location for revival of service on the Central Corridor,” Miller said. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Was the Black Owned Hazel’s Blue Lagoon Treated the Same as a Rival Nightclub in Amherst by Aprell May Mumford (5/23/24). Two nightclubs opened during the pandemic down the street from each other in this college town. Several years later, one is thriving. The other, Hazel’s Blue Lagoon, closed. The survivor, The Drake, offers a crowded and occasionally soldout series of musical events. Junior Williams and nephew Patrick Chapman, co-owners of Hazel’s Blue Lagoon, said they, too, had dreams of being a part of the cultural fabric of downtown, but struggled to get their nightclub off the ground. Was the playing field a level one? Williams alleges the town of Amherst used discriminatory practices during the licensing and permitting process and when it distributed federal pandemic relief funding. The Drake got money. Hazel’s Blue Lagoon did not. The town’s Human Rights Commission and Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion conducted an investigation into whether one business was favored over another. Pamela Nolan Young, who oversees those offices, said in a report last year that actions by town employees and by the Business Improvement District were “not discriminatory.” And yet she called in her report for Amherst to take steps to help ensure that all would-be members of the business community get the help they need from the town when applying for permits. (MassLive)

Arrested UMass Protestor Files Complaint with StateAbout Alleged Mistreatment by University Police by Greta Jochem (5/21/24) Reports continue to arise about the ill treatment of arrestees from a pro-Palestinian protest at UMass, with one student filing a complaint with the state after being bound by zip-ties so tight that they caused serious injuries. “I lost feeling and watched my hands become severely discolored over the hours, but was refused help when I raised concerns for my safety to officers,” reads a recent complaint filed with the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. “Since being released, I have visited a medical doctor and been diagnosed with nerve damage.” The student’s complaint against University of Massachusetts Amherst Police includes allegations of misconduct, specifically excessive force, unprofessionalism and gender discrimination. The protester, who provided The Republican with a copy of their complaint and confirmation from the commission that it was received, requested they not be named because they worried about implications on their and others’ legal cases pending in the court. The graduate student is one of 134 people arrested earlier this month at a May 7 demonstration. University Chancellor Javier Reyes called police to dismantle an encampment demonstrators made. His decision has sparked controversy and led university faculty Monday to issue a vote of no confidence in his leadership. Reyes has defended his decision, saying it was a safety matter, and that school officials gave the group multiple warnings before calling police. (MassLive)

Hampshire Mall Set to Hit Auction Foreclosure Block by Olivia Hickey and Ryan Trowbridge (5/22/24). Hampshire Mall in Hadley is set to be on the foreclosure auction block at time when many area malls are undergoing change. Just last week, a new buyer expressed interest in buying and giving a facelift to the Enfield Square Mall in Connecticut. “I hope they don’t close it. It’s a very important part of the community here, very busy area,” said Michael Lamontagne of South Hadley. Lamontagne is a regular shopper at the Hampshire Mall. He told Western Mass News that he was shocked to learn the property is headed to the auction block. An attorney with Shatz Schwartz and Fentin confirmed Wednesday that a foreclosure auction is scheduled next month for the 40-plus acre property that houses a gym, a movie theatre, and several stores. However, customers aren’t the only ones surprised. “They’ve always been on time with their taxes and we have a good working relationship with the mall manager, so definitely seeing that headline was a little bit shocking,” added Molly Keegan, member of the Hadley selectboard and chair of the town’s housing and economic development committee. (Western Mass News)

Smith College Pledges $500,000 Support for Northampton Public Schools by Gazette Staff (5/17/24). Smith College has pledged $500,000 to the city of Northampton to be given over two years, to be spread over the next three years to support the Northampton Public Schools in advancing its educational mission, Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra announced Friday “Smith College’s contribution is a welcome support for our schools,” said Sciarra in a statement. “While we continue to seek comprehensive solutions to our budgetary challenges, this donation highlights the importance of community partnerships. We will keep working together with Smith to maximize the impact of their giving and find sustainable ways to support our community.” Smith College President Sarah Willie-LeBreton emphasized the college’s commitment to the city. “Our decision to offer this support is rooted in our commitment to being good neighbors and responsible community members. We are pleased to contribute $500,000 and look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts with the city,” Willie-LeBreton said. The money will be used as additional operational funding for the public schools, with $166,666 designated for each of the next three year, providing consistent support. Smith also has committed to partnering with the city to support further collaborative efforts. (MasLive)

Five Takeaways from UCLA, Northwestern, Rutgers Antisemitism Hearings
by Katherine Knott and Jessica Blake (5/24/24). House Republicans spent a little over three hours Thursday admonishing the leaders of Northwestern University, Rutgers University and the University of California, Los Angeles for how they responded to antiwar protests and antisemitic incidents on their campuses, arguing they failed in their central obligation to protect students. “Each of you should be ashamed of your decisions that allowed antisemitic encampments to endanger Jewish students,” said Representative Virginia Foxx, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee, which held the hearing. But for all their attempts, the lawmakers didn’t appear to land any knock-out punches in the third hearing focused on campus antisemitism, though the committee seems undeterred in expanding its oversight of colleges and universities. Unlike past hearings, which helped to bring down the presidents of Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, the university leaders appeared to survive their turn before the House education committee without making any clear missteps that could go viral on social media. But their answers—or lack thereof—did frustrate Republicans on the committee. Lawmakers from both parties pressed the university leaders about whether students and faculty accused of antisemitism have faced discipline, whether Israel is a genocidal state, and how they plan to protect Jewish students in the coming academic year. (Inside Higher Education)

The Threat of Democracy on Campus at UMass by Kevin Young (5/21/24). The real danger posed by the Gaza solidarity encampments is their attack on unfettered autocratic governance by university administrations and wealthy benefactors. (The Nation)

How Yale Surveils Pro-Palestinian Students by Theia Chatelle (5/20/24). Documents reveal a pattern of targeted monitoring: administrator presence at rallies, police surveillance of social media, and coordination between campus, local, and state police. (The Nation)

States Dust off Obscure Anti-Mask Laws to Target Pro-Palestinian Protestors by Jay Stanley (5/15/24). Arcane laws banning people from wearing masks in public are now being used to target people who wear face coverings while peacefully protesting Israel’s war in Gaza. That’s a big problem. In the 1940s and 50s, many U.S. states passed anti-mask laws as a response to the Ku Klux Klan, whose members often hid their identities as they terrorized their victims. These laws were not enacted to protect those victims, but because political leaders wanted to defend segregation as part of a “modern South” and felt that the Klan’s violent racism was making them look bad. Now these laws are being used across the country to try and clamp down on disfavored groups and movements, raising questions about selective prosecution. Just this month, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sent a letter to the state’s 14 public universities alerting them that protesters could be charged with a felony under the state’s little-used anti-mask law, which carries penalties of between six to 18 months in prison. (ACLU News and Commentary)

The Friday Essay: Project 2025. The Policy Substance Behind Trump’s Showmanship Reveals a Radical Plan to Reshape the World by Emma Shortis (4/23/24) In April 2022, conservative American think tank the Heritage Foundation, working with a broad coalition of 50 conservative organizations, launched Project 2025: a plan for the next conservative president of the United States. The Project’s flagship publication, Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise, outlines in plain language and in granular detail, over 900-plus pages, what a second Trump administration (if it occurs) might look like. I’ve read it all, so you don’t have to. The Mandate’s veneer of exhausting technocratic detail, focused mostly on the federal bureaucracy, sits easily alongside a Trumpian project of revenge and retribution. It is the substance behind the showmanship of the Trump rallies. Developing transition plans for a presidential candidate is normal practice in the US. What is not normal about Project 2025, with its intertwined domestic and international agenda, are the plans themselves. Those for climate and the global environment, defense and security, the global economic system and the institutions of American democracy more broadly aim for nothing less than the total dismantling and restructure of both American life and the world as we know it. (The Conversation)

Project 2025 is Already Here by Gillan Kane (4/25/24).  Core aspects of the far-right plan to overhaul U.S. government are already being put into place, through an anti-abortion influence campaign overseas. (In These Times)

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