Are Orlando cops out of control? If you answer "no" to that question, odds are you are not a resident of Parramore or Pine Hills. And there's a good chance that you are white. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
See, residents of those areas, many of whom are black, think the Orlando Police Department has adopted something of a gang mentality when it comes to policing their neighborhoods.
"There is huge police intimidation in Pine Hills," says resident Tamecka Pierce. "They've blocked streets. They bring guns and dogs. We don't need more money for police. We need more money for education."
Pierce, an organizer for ACORN's Orlando chapter, was speaking before a knot of cameras in front of OPD headquarters March 21. She was there — along with ACLU Central Chapter president George Crossley — to announce a new emphasis on surveilling the cops themselves to help curb aggressive, "renegade" policing. In a presser, Crossley wrote that the ACLU has received "dozens upon dozens of complaints" regarding racial profiling, excessive use of Tasers and verbal assaults from Orlando's finest.
The plan is to equip as many people as possible in Pine Hills and Parramore with video cameras and tape police when they cross the line. Film, as they say, at 11.
Here in the helium den of Happytown™ HQ, we like to ponder the big questions: How large are Ric Keller's feet? Is war stupid? Can one go camping in a giant colon replica? (Answers: not very, yes and sure, why the hell not.)
But when it came across our wires that the Campus Freethought Alliance out at the University of Central Florida would be one-upping our quizzical nature 1 p.m. Thursday, March 29, in the Pegasus Ballroom at the UCF Student Union by pondering the BIG question, we scoffed at their pretentiousness. Then we got curious.
"Does God Exist?" is a debate that will pit Edward Tabash from the international Center for Inquiry against Rev. Joel A. Reif of the First United Church of Christ in Orlando. You'd think they'd resort to fisticuffs after a few minutes. Guess they're more civilized then we are.
The Campus Freethought Alliance, by way of background, originated in 2003 with a gaggle of brainiac physics students engaging in the sort of dormitory conversations typically improved by substance abuse. But the group fizzled out in the fall semester of 2006 "through lack of interest by members and failure of leadership."
These days recruitment is back up, so much so that weekly meetings had to find a new home. There are scheduled speakers, heated discussions of morality, and hopefully soda and ice cream (not red wine and crackers). So it's like a social thing. Demented and sad, but social.
Show up and test your own philosophical endurance. If the God question is ever really going to be answered, you can just bet that it will happen right here in Orlando, the city genius.
The following announcement is for all Orlando-area Muslims: Please report to the city's unofficial speaker's corner promptly at 1 p.m. March 31, to join the United American Committee's Rally Against Islamofascism. Your absence will be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of terrorism and will be noted by authorities. Christians, Jews, atheists, Buddhists, nudists, Hindus, Rastafarians and Wiccans are excused.
Please note that, according to United American's literature, this will be a peaceful protest of Americans from "ALL ethnicities and ALL religious backgrounds."
If you belong to or support the Council on American-Islamic Relations, however, you may not be welcome at the rally. That's because United American believes CAIR supports extremists and wants to turn America into an Islamic nation.
Alan Kornman, who heads United American's Orlando chapter, supplied Happytown™ with pages of documents on the evils of Islam — including some fundamentalist countries' oppression of women, which is in fact quite disturbing — and e-mailed correspondence he traded with the director of CAIR Orlando, Sabiha Khan. It was really quite an impressive exchange. Kornman demanded Khan denounce Muslims who commit terrorism by signing what amounts to an oath of loyalty to America (from which non-Islamic religious extremists are apparently exempt). Khan responded that she doesn't associate with fringe extremist groups like United American. "Go fly a kite. It is fun and relaxing. Once done, go and get a real life," she wrote Kornman. Snap!
So we'll assume Khan's not coming. But for the rest of you "patriotic" Muslims, this is your chance to prove to some angry white guys — who really, really don't hate you … really! — that you love America. See you there!
And now it's time for another installment of What's Up With Ric?™, our attempt to keep you up to date on the comings and goings of Orlando's favorite congressman, U.S. Rep. Ric Keller!
This week's episode finds Ric spending taxpayer dollars to tell us that he's not going to spend as many taxpayer dollars telling us about all the wonderful things he's doing in Washington, D.C. On one side of a six-page (front and back) full-color cardboard mailer Keller sent his constituents recently — labeled "OFFICIAL BUSINESS" and stamped "This mailing was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense" — the congressman announces that he "has launched an e-newsletter to save taxpayer dollars on constituent mailings."
That doesn't mean he's never again going to send us those taxpayer-funded mailers for which he's taken so much flak over the years. Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell, for instance, has blasted Keller for not only using his franking privilege to help his political career, but also not reporting how much those mailers cost. Unlike other Florida representatives, Keller had a lawyer tell Maxwell that he didn't have to give up that info. Eventually, Keller relented, and we found out why he'd been so stingy with the numbers: According to news reports in late 2005, Keller had spent $115,000 on constituent mailings in a six-month period, more so than any other Florida congressman.
Thanks, Ric, for keeping our bottom line in mind!
What's the one thing Orlando needs more of? If you said "condos," you're right. And more condos is what you're getting; in fact, you'll be getting condos on the very spot where this ridiculously popular column originates.
On March 22, the city's Municipal Planning Board approved a plan to erect a mixed-use high-rise in place of our old two-story brick building on West Livingston Street. So, long story short, after the city council signs off on this puppy we'll be moving our little operation. Someday. And when we do, the people who move into their pricey new condos will get to enjoy a scenic view of I-4 and the deafening racket of a freight train rumbling by every hour or so! Luxurious!
This week's report by Jeffrey C. Billman, Billy Manes and Bob Whitby.firstname.lastname@example.org