Wendy’s The Epicenter of Atlanta Violence–What’s The Beef?

Customers at the Wendy’s on University Avenue in southwest Atlanta last Friday night got an unexpected side with their burgers; they witnessed an arrest gone awry that led to police shooting 27 year old Rayshard Brooks. But that incident was just the beginning of a terrible weekend. People protesting the event gathered the next evening on the interstate adjacent to the Wendy’s temporarily shutting down the I-75 in both directions. Then the Wendy’s was torched and burned to the ground adding new meaning to the idea of a flame-grilled burger. Forget asking where’s the beef. We need to know what’s the beef for these current events.

This sad chain of events began around 10:30 p.m. Friday night. Atlanta police received a call from a Wendy’s employee reporting a customer had fallen asleep in his car in the drive-through lane. The vehicle was blocking traffic and causing customers to have to drive around him to get to the pickup window. Actually, I’m surprised that police had to be called. Weren’t those people in the drive through line behind Brooks hangry? Certainly one of them had to think about getting out of their vehicle and knocking on the window to rouse the weary fast food patron. 

Responding to the call from Wendy’s, Officer Devin Bronsan showed up at the scene. After interacting with Brooks, he called for backup. Officer Garret Rolfe, a six year police veteran, subsequently joined Bronsan. Video released by the police show the officers talking with Brooks for 27 minutes before trying to arrest him after he failed a field sobriety test. While Brooks cooperated with the sobriety test, he balked at being handcuffed and tried to bolt. A struggle ensued in which Brooks punched Officer Rolfe; in a shocking development (pun intended), he also wrestled a Taser from one of the officers.

Breaking free, Brooks took off running. As he hoofed it, he turned and pointed the Taser at the pursuing police officer. In reaction, Officer Rolfe pulled his gun and fired at Brooks right there in the Wendy’s parking lot. Brooks suffered two gunshot wounds to his back because of course he was running away from the officer attempting to arrest him. The injured Brooks was taken to the hospital where he was later pronounced dead after undergoing surgery.

Medically, Brooks’ death resulted from blood loss and organ injuries from two gunshot wounds. In the big picture, though, his death resulted from some poor decisions made by all involved. Mr. Brooks should never have been behind the wheel of a car while inebriated. To compound the problem, he resisted arrest and punched a police officer; hitting someone is not nice whether or not they are a LEO. Finally Brooks grabbed one of the officer’s Tasers and aimed it at Officer Rolfe. After having punched and wrestled a Taser from an officer, the police could reasonably have assumed Brooks meant them harm. Um, more harm that is.

Now comes the poor decision making on the part of the police. A Taser, while it can deliver a painful blast, isn’t considered a lethal weapon. So why respond with pulling a lethal weapon and taking shots at the Taser holder? The officer was in a parking lot. He could have dashed behind a car or taken evasive action to avoid a Taser hit. But, he only had a split second to make a decision. And the decision he made resulted in Brooks’ death, a result many claim was from an unjustified use of deadly force.

According to the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office, this death was a homicide from gunshot wounds to the back. Officer Rolfe was fired within 24 hours of the shooting and is facing felony murder charges. His fellow responding officer has been placed on administrative leave and is facing aggravated assault and other charges. Doesn’t look like a good outcome for anyone, does it? But wait! There’s more! 

Brooks’ death was met with outrage and protests. So, not only was Wendy’s the place to be Friday night (or not), it was the place to be the following night as well. Only folks weren’t there for a burger or to snooze in the drive-through lane. They wanted to express their concern about police brutality. Unfortunately, that expression was not limited to shouting, waving placards, and crying. Protesters wanted to do more, so they swarmed onto the adjacent interstate via the University Avenue exit and shut down I-75 in both directions for a few hours. I grew up in Atlanta, so I know how horrible traffic can be there any time of day or night. And that’s before protesters appear to impede traffic.

The demonstrators locked arms on the interstate and faced off with the police. A CNN crew covering the scene was attacked by protesters. Not only was the news crew on the scene, they were in it. Police used tear gas to break up the demonstration. Some protesters were arrested on the scene prior to one lane on the interstate re-opening; by midnight, 36 protesters had been arrested.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, er Wendy’s, disgruntled protesters turned violent late Saturday night. They broke the windows of the fast food restaurant and threw fireworks inside setting it ablaze. Yeah! That’ll teach Wendy’s to have a drive-through open in the evening that someone might fall asleep sitting in. 

Although firefighters were summoned, it took them over an hour to get to the scene because of the swarm of protesters, an estimated 1,000 or so. In the meantime, the blaze grew. Police had to clear a path for the firefighters using tear gas. The fire burned until Sunday morning reducing Wendy’s to rubble and any meat stored therein to charred hockey pucks.

The Wendy’s fire will go down in history as another sad time for Georgia’s state capital, fondly known as Hotlanta. The fast food blaze may not be as famous as General Sherman’s burning of the city, but it does have an air of mystery. Videos from the scene show an unidentified masked light-skinned woman in a black baseball cap (team not identified–Go Braves??) somehow connected to the flames. A $10,000 reward has been offered by the Atlanta P.D. for information about the fire. That amount will allow the recipient to buy a lot of burgers if he is brave enough to venture to a Wendy’s that is still standing.

The events which unfolded at and around Wendy’s over the weekend can be described as hot and cold. They are a hot and juicy story for the media. But their consequences are a frosty (the adjective not the Wendy’s treat) relationship between the police and black citizens. Legitimate beefs have been raised by protesters, but taking out the fast food establishment which was merely the scene of the crime doesn’t solve the problem. Maybe everyone should take a breath and calmly discuss how to move forward over a delicious Wendy’s burger with a side of tolerance.

Just WONDER-ing:

Does being engaged in a protest give a protester carte blanche to destroy property and interfere with the activities of others? How can the use of excessive force by the police be curtailed or at least diminished? Is timing everything, i.e., would the response to Brooks’ shooting have been so intense if it had not come on the heels of the death of George Floyd?  

 

 

 

 

 

Just Fire Up The Barbie–Not The Whole Continent!

It’s summer Down Under. What better time to kick back and throw some shrimp on the barbie, eh? On second thought, maybe not. Australia’s on fire, literally, with bushfires raging during the country’s worst drought in decades. Aussies need to douse fires, not start new ones. Ongoing efforts to fight the out of control flames are a hot news topic, and I have a burning desire to bring folks up to speed about this catastrophic current event.

Bushfires are a regular occurrence during Australian summers, so what’s the big deal with the fires currently being battled? Well, the fire season typically begins in December, but some fires have been burning for about five months now and millions of acres have been scorched. The extent and intensity of these fires has led to New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state,  declaring a state of emergency. New South Wales and Victoria have both been declared disaster areas.

Fires are burning in places where they have never before been experienced. These include the rain forests in northern New South Wales, tropical areas of Queensland, and wet old-growth forests of Tasmania. The U.S. Embassy has even warned tourists to leave the country because of the danger from the fires. Holy smokes!

And there is no end in sight to this disaster. Authorities say these fires will continue for months. The weather forecast is for below average rainfall and above average temperatures for the foreseeable future. Believe me, the Aussies are not chanting, “Rain, rain, go away. Come again some other day.”

While the bushfires burn, political fires are raging as well. A hot button issue is whether climate change has contributed to these infernos. Lending credence to this conclusion is the fact that 2019 was the hottest year on record for Australia. On December 17th the average temperature in Australia set a new record of 105.6 degrees. Whew! Additionally, 2018 and 2017 were the third and fourth hottest years on record for Autstralia. In fact, eight of Australia’s ten hottest years on record have occurred since 2005. Record breaking heat waves led to drier conditions making Australia vulnerable to a longer and much more dangerous fire season. Drought plus record heat plus blustery winds have been the formula for a perfect fire storm.

Despite this climatic evidence, the Deputy Australian Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, is not convinced climate change has anything to do with the fires covering four of his country’s six states. He’s been quoted as saying that global warming is a concern of “raving inner city lunatics.” Well, don’t hold back, Mr. Deputy P.M.! Let’s just say Mr. McCormack is not a fan favorite of environmentalists and those whose homes are in the path of the raging fires.

And the Australian Prime Minister, a big promoter of the country’s coal industry, is also on the hot seat. His government has been criticized for not doing enough to fight climate change. And making the political pot boil over is Morrison’s recent apparent lack of concern for the disaster. What better time to take the family on a vacation than when your country is going up in flames? Yes, Scott Morrison beat a hasty retreat home from Hawaii in December. His constituents were none too happy he was lounging in a tropical paradise while deadly fires were ravaging his country. Is he distantly related to Nero, perhaps?

Scorched land is not the only result of these deadly fires. Thousands of homes have been burned to the ground and dozens of people have died. But those who are still alive are facing threats to their health from the smoke generated from these massive fires. So much smoke has been produced that the air quality in the capital city of Canberra is currently worse than any other major city in the world. Doctors have reported that babies are being delivered in smoky hospitals with poor air quality. And the air pollution from fires’ smoke, according to health studies, may be linked to premature births and lower birth weights. Adults in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, are also being affected by the pervasive smoke leading to related health problems for them.

The smoke from the Australian fires has negatively impacted the environment as well as humans. It has drifted over a thousand miles across the Tasman Sea where it has darkened glaciers located on New Zealand’s South Island. The glacial ice is now melting even faster as a result.

The fires have devastated wildlife. New South Wales authorities estimate 500 MILLION birds, reptiles, and other animals have perished. Tens of thousands of cuddly, cute koalas have been killed and much of their habitat has been burned. Koalas are at high risk from flames. They are slow moving and live in eucalyptus trees which are oily, highly flammable plants. Those koalas who survived face a burnt habitat and may be stranded in scorched areas with no water or food. As a result, they are likely to be listed on the endangered species list.

How is Australia combating these dire conditions? The Prime Minister has ordered 3,000 reservists to assist in battling the raging fires. Navy ships have been called into action to rescue thousands who took refuge on the beaches. Tens of thousands of others were urged to flee the affected areas.

Rescuers have mobilized to look for surviving animals, particularly on Kangaroo Island, home to a wildlife park with a population of around 50,000 koalas prior to the bushfires. Approximately one-third of Kangaroo Island has been burned, and it is estimated that over 50% of the koala population has been lost. Helping in the hunt for survivors is a “koala detection dog” named Bear who has achieved fame for his rescue efforts while wearing protective red socks.

Battling the fires is an uphill battle given the record breaking heat wave and the lack of rain to help quell them. In fact, having water to fight the blazes is an issue itself. Sydney is experiencing a water shortage with 5 million people in the greater Sydney area under restrictions on water use since June. Tighter restrictions are a distinct possibility.

Celebrities have used their influence to encourage people around the world to donate to firefighting efforts in Australia. Actress Nicole Kidman, singer Kyle Minogue, and the Hemsworth family (actors Liam, Chris, and Luke), all Australians, have pledged large amounts. Even American Kylie Jenner has poured $1 million into the effort.

Sadly, no matter how much money is raised, some things can’t be rectified. Dollars can’t undo the loss of lives and the devastation of wildlife and their habitat. The image of enjoying shrimp off the barbie while watching kangaroos hop by and koalas curiously peering down from eucalyptus trees is a pipe dream at this point. It has, literally, gone up in smoke.

Just WONDER-ing:

Have you been following the stories about the fires covering Australia? Do you think climate change caused, or at least contributed to, the deadly bushfires Australia is experiencing? Other than health problems and depleted wildlife, what issues might Australia be facing as a result of these fires?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burn, Baby, Burn — Rain Forest Inferno

The Amazon is hot right now, and I’m not talking about popularity. The world’s largest rain forest is literally hot as an unbelievable amount of fires are raging there. Burn, baby, burn. It’s a rain forest inferno! So vast are these blazes that NASA was able to capture images of Amazonian forest fire plumes from space. What’s going on and how does it affect you? The answers are surprising and very scary.

First of all, why are fires burning in a rain forest? Isn’t that a rather wet place where a fire would be unlikely to start? Fires are indeed rare in the Amazon most of the year because moisture keeps them down. July and August bring the dry season, and fires consequently increase during this time.

Fires this summer, though, are off the charts. Approximately 73.000 fires have been detected by Brazil’s space research center, INPE. The resulting smoke has drifted about 1,700 miles away and darkened the skies in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, during daylight hours. NASA has pictures of a resulting smoke layer from the fires more than 3.2 million square kilometers.  Holy smoke! The Brazilian state of Amazonas has even declared an emergency because of the fires.

It must be an extremely dry year for all these fires to be burning, right? Nope. The weather is normal this year, so Mother Nature isn’t the culprit for starting all these blazes. Who is? HUMANS. And these are not accidental fires, they are deliberately set. Humans are causing these fires by utilizing slash and burn tactics to clear land for farming and pasture.

Satellite images show an increase in deforestation in the Amazon during May, June, and July. Trees are being pulled down and then later burned after they have dried. Scientists have confirmed that the fires are linked to deforestation because the areas ablaze line up with areas of prior land clearing. The fact that such big columns of smoke are being produced, indicates enormous piles of wood are being burned. Scientists have basically concluded that where there’s lots of smoke there’s big fires as a result of deforestation.

And big fires are the result of BIG deforestation. The latest reported figures show deforestation increased in the Amazon area by 88% in June compared to the same period last year. By some estimates, more than a soccer field’s worth of the Amazon rain forest is being felled every MINUTE. Ain’t that a kick in the environment’s face?

Why such enormous land clearing? Blame the cows! Cattle ranching is the biggest reason behind deforestation in every Amazon country, accounting for 80% of current deforestation. Where’s the beef? Well about 200 million head of cattle are in the Amazon area of Brazil. Brazil is the largest cattle exporter in the world; it supplies 1/4 of the global market. And those cattle have to go somewhere. They can’t climb trees, so the rain forest trees are being cut down to accommodate cattle. Hmm! Maybe if we ate more chicken like the Chick-Fil-A cow urges, less deforestation would occur…

But cattle can’t take all the blame. Old MacDonald is guilty as well. Thousands of acres of Amazonian rain forest are being cleared at a time to benefit large-scale agriculture. Brazil also exports large amounts of soybeans. Given the current trade war between China and the U.S., China is turning to Brazil as an alternate source of soybeans.

And is Brazil’s government simply allowing all this deforestation to occur? Pretty much. The country’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who took office January 1, 2019, is known for his anti-environmental rhetoric. He has indicated he does not intend to go after farmers, loggers, and miners who take and clear forests.

Not only is Bolsonaro looking the other way when it comes to deforestation, he is actually encouraging it to bolster Brazil’s economy. The Brazilian president has been accused of harming the Amazon’s environment to benefit the loggers, farmers, and miners who helped get him elected. When the head of Brazil’s IPNE agency reported the 88% increase in deforestation from the past year, he was promptly fired. Bolsonaro stated that these deforestation figures were “lies.”

The Amazon rain forest fires have caused an international outcry and were a hot topic at the recent G7 Summit in France. French president Emmanuel Macron described these fires as an international crisis and squarely put the blame on the Brazilian president. He characterized the situation as an emergency which should be addressed at the G7 Summit because the Amazon rain forest, known as the plane’ts lungs, produces 20% of the world’s oxygen.

Macron’s comments brought the Amazon fires to the attention of many in the world who were not aware they were occurring. Due to the resulting international pressure that more action be taken, Brazil deployed its army to tackle the fires.

While the loss of rain forest land due to fire is regrettable, why is it a crisis and why should we be concerned? One of the main tenets of global climate policy is to curb deforestation.Such action is seen as vital to slowing global warming. Specifically, carbon stores in the rain forest serve to slow global warming.

As a result of the ongoing fires, millions of tons of carbon dioxide is being spewed into the air daily. The Amazon is a key part of Earth’s climate system because it absorbs about 5% of the carbon dioxide emitted. Less rain forest means more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

Damage to the Amazon isn’t cool because it could reduce the forest’s cooling effects. Tropical rain forests are like giant air conditioners for the local area and the world. Water evaporating from tree leaves removes heat from the atmosphere reducing the temperature..

A rain forest is also a rain factory. It generates rain to help crops grow. If land is cleared, you may be able to grow more crops, but will there be a successful harvest if there’s not enough rain to grow the crops?

The long-term outlook is extremely concerning. The Amazon has already been deforested by 15% of its original state. Scientists worry that a tipping point will be reached when the deforestation hits 25%. What happens when the tipping point is hit? There will not be enough trees recycling water, and the Amazon will degrade into dry grassland.

A rain forest is a magical place because it is lush, green, and wet. It produces oxygen for us to breath, absorbs carbon dioxide, generates rain to grow crops, and produces cooling effects. But it we abuse the forest by clearing too many trees, the magic will be lost. Brazil, and in fact all inhabitants of planet Earth, need to be nice to Mother Nature, and ultimately to ourselves, by ensuring rain forests are protected. If there has to be an inferno, let it be a disco inferno. Burn, baby, burn!

JUST WONDER-ing:

Is it nice to fool with Mother Nature by allowing rampant deforestation? Have you considered how the environmental policies of other countries may ultimately impact you by affecting the world as a whole? Is a government being responsible if deforestation is allowed to occur unchecked? Is is short-sighted?

 

Holy Smoke!

 

Look! Up in the sky above Paris. It’s smoke. No, it’s HOLY smoke! The historic Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames on Monday.

While people enjoy reading about hot topics, the cathedral fire is one hot topic which will not be pleasurable. Notre Dame is more than a tourist attraction or a religious site; it is a symbol of France itself. In fact, France owns Notre Dame, but the Catholic Church has  the exclusive right to use it for religious purposes in perpetuity. [“In perpetuity” is a fancy schmancy legal term meaning continuing forever.]

Because of the fire, there’s one less item on my bucket list. I won’t be able to travel to Paris and gaze upon this UNESCO World Heritage site which attracts approximately 13 million tourists every year. Notre Dame boasts nearly double the tourists visiting the Eiffel Tower–which at last report was still standing.

What’s so special about Notre Dame? Well, for one thing, it is old. Really old. Its cornerstone was laid in 1163, and the structure was built over the course of 200 years; it was completed in 1345. Notre Dame’s famous gargoyles were added in 1240 to serve a less scarier than might be expected purpose, i.e., to act as rain spouts. The Gothic cathedral’s wood and lead spire was built during a mid-19th century restoration. Its towers were the tallest structures in Paris until the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889.

Not only is Notre Dame extremely old, but it has seen and been a part of numerous historic events. The church was desecrated during the French Revolution. (Apparently eating cake and destroying holy sites were the thing back then.) Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor of France inside Notre Dame in 1804 and married in the cathedral as well. Notre Dame’s bells were rung to mark the end of both World War I and World War II.

Speaking of bells, fire bells rang when the fire was first reported to emergency services as a blaze in the cathedral’s attic. More than 400 fireman ultimately responded in an attempt to extinguish the inferno. French President Emmanuel Macron even postponed a major speech to his nation to rush to the scene as rescue efforts were ongoing. Those efforts resulted in Notre Dame’s famous 18th century organ and its 8,000 pipes surviving the inferno.

Hopefully, Emmanuel, Marie, Gabriel, Anne Genevieve, Denis, Marcel, Etienne, Maurice, Jean-Marie, and Benoit-Joseph came through the disaster unscathed. No, those aren’t church employees, they are the cathedral’s ten bells. Given the extent of destruction, I am sure this was not simply a five alarm blaze but a ten bell blaze.

Notre Dame is not only old and historic, but it’s an architectural gem. Architects view Notre Dame as the finest example of French Gothic architecture. The structure is famed for its carved stone gargoyles, the flying buttresses which hold up its walls, and its stained glass windows. Thankfully, Notre Dame’s three thirteenth century rose windows survived the blaze, although they may be a bit rosier thanks to the heat of the fire.

In addition to its age, history, and architecture, Notre Dame is famed as a repository of religious relics and works of art.  In a testament to man’s determination, a human chain, which included the chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, formed to remove these items from the blazing structure. One relic saved was The Crown of Thorns which is believed to be a piece of what Jesus wore when he was crucified. Many rescued items were moved to the Louvre for safe keeping. Hopefully, the Louvre is more fireproof than the cathedral.

Notre Dame, situated on a small island in the Seine River in the center of Paris, is the setting for various creative works. It was the stomping grounds for Quasimodo, Notre Dame’s bell ringer in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a French Gothic novel published in 1831. Today the video game “Assassin’s Creed Unity” prominently features Notre Dame. I don’t know anything about the game, but hopefully it didn’t involve burning the structure down.

It’s too soon for the cause of the fire to have been pinpointed. The cathedral was undergoing an extensive $6.8 million renovation, so the fire potentially may be linked to that ongoing activity. Scenes from the fire clearly showed scaffolding around the structure. Those are two things I definitely want to avoid–being on a scaffold and in a fire! And forget doing both at the same time.

The flames have been extinguished, but a smoldering mess remains. The cathedral’s spire collapsed Monday evening, and its roof was ravaged. The medieval wooden interior of the structure was gutted. But in a vivid picture of hope and faith, the golden altar cross remained standing in the charred cathedral. The fires of hell and of  Notre Dame could not overcome it.

French President Macron has already vowed Notre Dame will be rebuilt. Actress Salma Hayek’s billionaire husband and his father announced plans to donate $113 million (of course, they’ll donate in Euros) towards that goal. Multiple millionaires have likewise pledged money for a rebuilding effort. Money towards rebuilding has poured in like water hoses turned on the burning cathedral; $600 million Euros were raised overnight.

The rebuilding effort will be aided by the latest and greatest technology. Before his death, art historian Andrew Tallon made 3-D laser maps of every detail on Notre Dame. Additionally, game artists and historians working on “Assassin’s Creed Unity” spent about two years getting the details of the cathedral just right, including where pictures hung on the walls.

While Notre Dame can be rebuilt, it will never be what it was before the fire. In a matter of a few hours, hundreds of years of history were wiped out. Let’s not take for granted sites of historical significance whether in Paris or somewhere in the U.S.A. Appreciate these sites while you can because you never know how long we will have them. Disaster can strike without warning at any time.

Notre Dame is a church, and a very important one, but the cathedral is just a building. People of faith make up the real church, and that church will withstand all sorts of disasters. A symbol of its endurance is the golden cross on the soot-tinged altar at Notre Dame. That cross survived the Notre Dame fire, but The Cross miraculously overcame death at Easter. Holy Smoke!

JUST WONDER-ing: Do people today value historical sites? Have you been to Notre Dame? If so, what about it spoke to you? Did you want to go to Notre Dame but never got the chance? Would you go if/when the cathedral is rebuilt?