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History as It Happens: Contributors part IV

This is the fourth batch of those who contributed works to History as It Happens: Community Bloggers in Lowell, Mass. our forthcoming book of community writing by more than 40 contributors to this website over the past ten years. (Earlier posts on contributor biographies are  here and here and here.

History as It Happens will be released at a book launch event on Saturday, August 5, 2017, from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm at Lowell Telecommunications Corporation at 246 Market Street. Thereafter, the book will be available locally and online.

History as It Happens: Contributors part IV

Dave Perry is a senior writer at UMass Lowell and the founder of Vinyl Destination, a record store in Lowell’s Mill No. 5. A one-time Lowell Sun reporter, he was nominated in 1991 for a Grammy Award for best liner notes on The Jack Kerouac Collection. Dave contributed Willie from 2010.

Chath Piersath, poet, painter, and humanitarian, is the author of After (poems) and Sinat and the Instrument of the Heart (children’s book). He lives in Massachusetts and Cambodia. Chath’s poem The Way I Want to Remember My Cambodia is in the poetry section.

James Peters is the creator of the “Peters’ Principles” program at Lowell Telecommunications Corporation and a former history teacher at Lowell High School. Jim contributed Open Campus: 1970s Lowell High from 2014.

Mary (Boutselis) Sampas was a lifelong journalist beginning in high school as a reporter for the Lowell Sun, where her articles and columns provided a running account of life in the city for decades. Mary’s poem, Memory of an Afternoon, is in the poetry section

Tony Sampas, a librarian at UMass Lowell, has organized programs such as a “Lowell Walks” exhibit and a panel talk about journalist Charles G. Sampas. He has an MFA from Lesley University College of Art and Design. Tony has a portfolio of Lowell photos in the book.

Tom Sexton, a poet and former editor of Alaska Quarterly Review, was Poet Laureate of Alaska in 1995. He is a distinquished alumnus of Lowell High School He taught for many years at the University of Alaska. His many books of poetry include A Ladder of Cranes, A Clock with No Hands, and Bridge Street at Dusk. Tom has two poems, Lowell’s Irish Micky Ward and Manny, and one essay, On the Road with Apologies to Everyone, in the book.

Francey Slater is a seasoned educator and gardener who co-founded Mill City Grows, which is dedicated to creating urban food production in Lowell. Francey has Remarks at Lowell Plan Breakfast (co-authored with Colleen Brady) from 2013 in the book.

Joseph Smith is a community activist in Lowell who is retired from the Raytheon Company, headquartered in Waltham, Mass. Joe contributed Hamilton Canal Planning Meeting from 2009.

Marie Sweeney is a member of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee, founder of Greater Lowell Area Democrats, and a former English teacher at Lowell High School. Marie has a dozen posts in the book.

Nancye Tuttle is a freelance writer who formerly wrote for the Lowell Sun and Merrimack Valley Magazine. She lives in Maine. Nancye’s essay Maine Musings from 2010 is in the book.

John Wooding, professor of political science at UMass Lowell, is the co-author, with Kristin G. Esterberg, of Divided Conversations, about leadership and change in public higher education. He has served on the boards of the Cultural Organization of Lowell (COOL), the SayDaNa Burmese Community Coalition, Lowell Earth Day, and others. John contributed Holding onto Those Self-Evident Truths from 2013 and For Cassie from 2014 to the book.

Lowell City Council Meeting: July 25, 2017

Councilors touch upon various motion responses. Full written responses are available for viewing on city council meeting agenda site.

Councilors specifically mention June 21, 2017 Open House at Hamilton Canal Innovation District which attracted 130 people. The next big date is August 11, 2017, which is when RFP responses are due. Presence of UMass Lowell M2D2 Business Incubator space at 110 Canal Place has been a big help.

Council Motions

Mercier – Req. City Council recognize Fru Nkimbeng and his letter of thanks from the Secretary General of Republic of Southern Cameroons regarding our resolution of May 2, 2017.

C. Elliott/C. Mercier – Req. City Mgr. meet with Finance SC to create financing plan to minimize impact of debt service of high school to senior citizens and those on fixed income. Council Mercier says there are different ways to structure how a city pays off a bond. She wants to know the best, most advantageous way to pay the debt for the high school when it comes to lessening the impact on the finances of senior citizens and others on fixed income. She says she is nervous for seniors and people on fixed income. Councilor Elliott says that is the crux of the issue. Says at previous finances subcommittee meetings, he has raised this issue. He says now that the plan for the high school has been selected, we have to look at the impact on people who are on fixed income and seniors. So maybe we should lessen the amount of the overall debt that has to be paid back so that the burden is heavier later so that people who make use of the high school will be the ones paying for the bulk of it. He wants to remove the anxiety that people may have that they might lose their homes because of higher taxes due to the high school. Says the next generation should be able to pay more of the burden. Councilor Belanger thinks this is a great motion. He’s in favor of anything that reduces the tax burden on the elderly. Asks Conor Baldwin if city can use creative financing to pay for the high school, say with debt exclusion, so that there are lower payments in the beginning and higher payments in the end. Baldwin says the finance team will look into a number of options like short term financing at the beginning to meet cash flow needs. That would push back the biggest payments until later. Councilor Milinazzo says he’ll support the motion in the hope something good comes out of it, but he says he views this as pandering of votes by the makers of the motion. He can’t believe the gall or the audacity of the makers of the motion. He says he hopes that Councilor Mercier who is in this protected class exempts herself from this. He says he’s insulted by this because it is only pandering for votes. Councilor Mercier defends herself, challenges Milinazzo to run and not hide from the voters by not running. Councilor Leahy says he’ll support the motion because of all the debt that the city has to take on for the new high school, repairs to the existing high school, and the police station. And it’s not just the elderly, it effects everyone, people putting kids through college, first time home owners, everyone. Councilor Elliott says it is incumbent on us to raise the bar and not make it personal. Addressing Milinazzo, he says I understand you’re on the losing end of this, but you shouldn’t belittle this motion. Councilor Mercier and I are at the Senior Center all the time and that’s what people there are concerned about. Says we are all looking for votes. That’s what we do. But the personal attacks have to stop.

C Elliott – Req. City Mgr. look into developing a 311 App to allow residents to report issues.

C Milinazzo – Req. City Mgr. contact representatives of UMass-Lowell to discuss the status of the dormitory preparations at Perkins Loft and to inform the abutters as to the status.

C Samaras – Req. City Mgr. have DPD create a plan to revitalize the Mammoth Road and University Avenue business corridor similar to Cupples Square and Bridge Street corridor.

C Samaras – Req. City Mgr. have DPD create a plan to revitalize the High Street business corridor similar to Cupples Square and Bridge Street corridor.

C Samaras – Req. City Mgr. have proper department outline plans for crosswalks on lower Andover Street between Lawrence and Central Streets after road has been hard topped.

C Rourke – Req. City Mgr. have Traffic Engineer look into a four way stop at the intersection of Riverside and Sparks Streets.

C Leary – Req. City Mgr. provide an update regarding the flooding/drainage issues on Alcott Street and Douglas Road. Adds Windward. Councilor Leahy says he believes the Water Department has a handle on this, but when we do get a tremendous amount of one time people suffer backflow into their homes which we’d like to prevent.

C Kennedy – Req. City Mgr. provide update regarding establishing a translation bureau in the lobby of City Hall as per motion request of March 28, 2017.

Announcements: Councilor Mercier says tomorrow at 630 pm at Clemente Park is a sidewalk meeting of the police, Lower Highlands group, and the Clemente Park group. She also mentions National Night Out which is Tuesday, August 1 in the evening. There will be events at North Common, Morey School and St Louis School.

Executive Session – Council goes into Executive Session to discuss pending litigation.

Escape from Trump 3.0 – real fiction by Marjorie Arons-Barron

On a rainy October-like day, there’s nothing like settling in with good fiction to escape from the Trumpian travails of our time. Here, in no particular order, are some of the books I’ve been reading over the past months.

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks is what The New York Times called “thundering, gritty, emotionally devastating.”  With her enormously expansive imagination and use of language equal to her compelling vision, Brooks retells the story of King David,  a fierce warrior, nation builder, carnal exploiter,  and gifted musician and composer.  The story is told through the eyes of Natan (Nathan), a prophet in David’s court through whom God supposedly speaks to David. It’s worth the effort to suspend disbelief and open oneself to Brook’s riveting writing.

Another high impact book is Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, winner of the National Book Award for Fiction.  It follows the escape of Cora, a slave and grandchild of slaves, from Georgia to South Carolina and beyond. Life for slaves is not sugar-coated, nor is the physical deprivation, brutality,  sexual abuse, hunger and despair. Yet the effort to escape drives the story, even while, as Whitehead explained to NPR’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air, elements of the old horrors still resonate today in the experience of many poor blacks across our country.

The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis is a highly autobiographical novel, portraying the harsh reality experienced by a gay boy in a poor town in France in the 1990’s.  He was the lowest of the low, more despised by the town than even hated Jews or Arabs.  Regular beatings in the corridors of his elementary school are just part of the tapestry of a fading town colored by working class rage, testosterone-driven violence and alcoholism.  That he emerged from that childhood of unrelenting cruelty to become a successful author reminds me of J. D. Vance, writer of Hillbilly Elegy.

Another change in country, this time to Vietnam. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (born in Vietnam, raised in the United States) is a distinctly Vietnamese perspective of what it took to survive in Vietnam during the war. The narrator (writing his story from a jail cell) is a half-breed, born to a Vietnamese mother and Catholic priest. His political sympathies are similarly riven, his spy/ counter-spy roles facilitated by his ability to speak perfect English.  He is both an aide to the South Vietnamese police and a spy for the Communist north. The Pulitzer Prize-winning book is all about intrigue, murders and betrayals but also includes some grotesquely comic interludes when the unnamed narrator is living in California and working as a consultant to a director doing a film on Vietnam. The book’s complexities require a reader’s commitment and maybe even a second read, but it’s well worth it (at least the first reading).

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes is the fictionalized account of Dmitri Shostakovich’s life under Joseph Stalin, the daily crush of the heavy hand of the state on artistic expression.  Shostakovich’s music, melodic in the earliest years of his artistry, became more difficult and dissonant as he struggled to retain his independence and individuality. When it becomes unsafe for anyone to perform his music, Shostakovich accommodates, but struggles with his own cowardice. Forced by Stalin to deliver a speech in New York to the Congress on World Peace, Shostakovich would eventually submit even to becoming a member of the Communist Party.  Despite these concessions, the portrayal of the composer is a sympathetic one and a really absorbing read.

Finally, Siracusa by Delia Ephron, sister of the late, beloved writer Nora Ephron.  It’s about the relationships between and among two couples vacationing together in Italy, who they have been and who they might end up with.  It’s about feelings, families, flirtations, affairs and careers. There’s also an unfolding mystery. The chapters are told in their four alternating voices, and it took me half the book to be able to remember who is who and who is with whom. I stuck with it (perhaps out of inertia?) long enough for the mystery to start unfolding, and, by the end, I could conclude that it was actually a pretty good yarn. Not a prize winner, to be sure, but decent enough summer reading.

My next blog will reflect on some non-fiction that I’ve read over the last several months. Until then, I wish you extended summer days and hours of pleasurable reading and would appreciate your contributions to this list.

Big Immigration Case from Mass SJC today

Today the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court announced its decision in Sreynuon Lunn v Commonwealth (SJC-12276) which was argued back in April. The case has big implications for immigration enforcement in Massachusetts and could possibly influence procedures in other states.

Here are the basic facts. Lunn had been charged with a crime in Massachusetts, but when the case got to court for trial, it was dismissed. As soon as that happened, Lunn would normally have been free to leave the courthouse, however, court officers had been given a federal immigration detainer request in which federal immigration enforcement officers asked that Lunn be held for up to 48 hours so that the immigration authorities could come and take Lunn into custody for purposes of deportation since it was alleged that Lunn was in the United States illegally.

Based on the federal immigration detainer, the court officers returned Lunn to a cell in the courthouse and held him there for several hours until federal authorities arrived and took Lunn into their custody. The next day, his lawyers tried to get him released but he was already in the federal system and beyond the reach of Massachusetts courts.

Despite the issue being moot as far as Lunn was concerned, the single SJC justice who heard the emergency hearing thought it would be an issue likely to arise again and so referred the case to the full SJC for hearing.

The SJC took the case because it presented an important issue of Massachusetts law that had not been decided: do court officers (and probably by extension police and sheriffs) have the right to hold someone based solely on a federal immigration detainer.

Today the court held that there is no such authority in Massachusetts, either under statutory or common law. The court’s decision, which runs 34 pages, includes an extensive discussion of when and under what circumstances law enforcement officials may “arrest” someone. (I put arrest in quotes because the issue is not the formal “you’re under arrest” moment we all know from TV, but the “when is this person no longer free to leave” analysis used to determine whether a detention is lawful or not).

The court also pointed out that the type of behavior that prompts a federal immigration detainer – simply being in the country illegally – is not a crime under federal law, but merely a civil violation (like speeding or possessing a small amount of marijuana). The court pointed out that there are elevated federal warrants used when the person in question poses a greater risk and that those should be enforced by state authorities. Detainer “requests” like the one in this case, however, are just that – requests, but they request Massachusetts authorities to do something illegal, that being holding a person without due cause.

While the holding of this case specifies that court officers may not hold people in custody in court houses just on the basis of a federal immigration detainer, the language of the decision makes it pretty clear that holding someone in this manner by any state or local law enforcement official in Massachusetts would constitute an illegal arrest, so its implications are significant. I believe it will cause a statewide cessation of holding anyone by local police, state police, county sheriffs, Department of Corrections, and court officers solely on the basis of a federal civil immigration detainer.

The court did invite the state legislature to address this through passing or amending state law, but did not delay the impact of the decision.

The full text of the case is here (although this link will expire in two weeks).

So if you’ve ever said something like “illegal means illegal,” you probably won’t be happy with this decision. If you think sanctuary cities are a good idea, congratulations because I think the entire state just became one. But if you already had a pretty good understanding on Massachusetts criminal law and procedure, the outcome of this case shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, because it’s based on principals that have been recognized in Massachusetts since before the Revolution.

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