Thursday, August 11, 2016

"City at a Crossroads"

"City at a Crossroads", my article to be published in La Voz Latina, covers thoughts on Savannah, Georgia's growth and history. This article was inspired by a walking tour sponsored by Savannah State University and Historic Savannah Foundation. The main focus was urban planning in regards to Savannah’s projected growth, its residents, historical sites, and retaining small businesses downtown.

At the end of the tour, I thought, In 20 years, will Savannah still have soul? Or will work together now in a way that makes a future redemption unnecessary?
Thank you very much to the interviewees. I appreciate your time and words.
Joe Bell- Executive Director of Chatham Association of Educators and a former Executive Vice-President of Carver State Bank
Andy Cabistan - Co-Founder of Watson Works
Daniel Carey - President and CEO of Historic Savannah Foundation
Jamie Credle - Director of Davenport House Museum
Dj Lil G (Conrad Gonzalez) Owner of Life Music Inc
Tania Smith-Jones - Site Administrator for Pin Point Heritage Museum
Melody Rodriguez - owner and business partner of  Rancho Alegre Cuban Restaurant

A special thanks to Lisette Dominguez. She is a well-known independent marketing coordinator, specializing in Latino and Hispanic events who can be heard each Thursday on Ernesto Espinoza's radio broadcast between 10:00 am - 12:00 noon. She has a talent for identifying and connecting talented people. Dominguez was instrumental in preparing this article.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Population Health Re-post

These tiny organisms don’t have an intellectual IQ. They don’t plot or scheme. They don’t mount marketing campaigns. They don’t have an ideology or political plan. They can’t develop opinions of whether someone is right or wrong about how they spread. Social media rhetoric or videos, religion, national borders, who’s fighting for a “righteous” cause don’t matter. People, organizations, businesses, governments, and political actors only need to behave in a manner that allows those organisms to thrive and spread in the most primordial means to perpetuate its existence. And now Zika

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


     22,574 Temporary Protective Orders (TPO) were issued in the state of Georgia in 2014. Cheryl Branch is the director of SAFEShelter Center for Domestic Violence Services of Savannah, GA.  Her agency helps residents of Chatham County file TPOs related to Family Violence. They also provide counseling services and emergency shelter to victims of Domestic Violence, which is defined as Intimate Partner Violence.  Branch pointed out there were six intimate partner fatalities in 2015 as of November.
     Branch explained how and why the definition of Intimate Partner Violence has changed over time.  “The definition of domestic violence had always been Intimate Partner Violence.  But, we didn’t get involved in mother, daughter, brother types of incidents.  We would refer them to somebody else.  But the look of households has changed.  A couple of years ago, the definition was broadened to include those.  So, we may have a sister in our shelter who lived with her brother and he beat her up.  Now, she qualifies to be in our shelter. Asking for help initiates our service.  That’s the one thing that I cannot stress enough.  Another is ‘find a way out’.  In our thirty-five year history, each time there is a domestic homicide, we get in touch with the lead detective and do an informal fatality review,” she said.
     Part of that review is to find out whether the victim had ever requested help from the shelter.  “That answer has always been no,” Branch continued.  “No one who has ever been involved in any of our services has ever been killed.  Having that intervention, that first phone call... whether it’s to 911 or through our crisis line, you are taking your control back.  You are putting people on notice that you are in trouble and that you need help.  That first phone call may be the hardest one to make but you are getting law enforcement and social services involved.  That’s what saves lives.”
     ”Violence has no zip code and is not restricted to a demographic,” she continued.  “These families involved in Intimate Partner Violence go on vacations together.  They go to church.  Their kids play in Little League.  We have had clients from every single zip code in Savannah.”
     According to Branch, a victim’s social status often plays a role in their willingness to seek help. “Women in public housing tend to be aware of and get the support available to them,” she said.  “The more affluent tend not to do that.  For women in more affluent communities, it tends to be about status and who has the financial power to drive an outcome.  I have seen some of the most horrific violence coming out of affluent communities.  To those women I say be honest about how your injuries occurred.”
     Jennifer Sotomayor, Bilingual Legal Advocate at Safe Shelter, stated, “The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that it takes seven to nine incidents before the first call is made.”
“There are always barriers to complicate people seeking help,” Sotomayor said.  “For one set of clients, immigration status is that complication.  There are language barriers and other hurdles for those victims as well, including psychological leverage.  Abusers will use the threat of ruining the victim’s immigration status whether they are properly documented or undocumented, including separation from their children.  There are times when the abuser speaks English but the victim does not.  When the police respond, if there is no neutral interpreter, the abuser retains the power.”
     Sotomayor went on to say that the prosecution of men for the homicides of women tends to be low in Mexico and other Central American countries.  It builds fear of retribution in the victim with no fear of punishment for the abuser.  “So it can be very difficult to get victims to come forward… we believe our service’s capability doesn’t reflect the population growth.  It’s difficult.  We want to expand our outreach into the outlying communities.”
     Branch added, “The protective order is a civil matter.  The best-case scenario is that she gets a Temporary Protective Order.  One of the best things you can do is have a paper trail.  Call the police.  Be honest about the injuries you received.  It doesn’t matter what the abuser tells the judge, there must be proof.  So, have medical reports, police reports, and witnesses.  These are tangible things the judge can see to determine who is telling the truth. The judge hears the victim’s complaint, signs an order stating the abuser has to stay away, which may include being removed from the home.  She retains temporary custody of the children.  The victim has those protections regardless of immigration status.  If that TPO is broken, then the abuser’s immigration status may become an issue, not the victim’s.  Deportation becomes the abuser’s worry.  The abuser is made aware of this when the order is served. 
     “Once she leaves the shelter, a case manager can follow a victim with up to two years of home visits,” Branch said.  “We can assist with rent and utility deposits.  95% of the women in that program have not gone back to their abuser.  We do as much as we can but we are a band-aid for re-establishing victims back into the community.  Some of them cannot go back to other family.  Child-care is expensive. Transportation can be an issue.  Employment is an issue.  Part-time employment is insufficient.” 
     “We have seen some kids come through our shelter with mothers with whom there is no connection,” Branch said. “We have adults who have burned bridges with parents and cannot go home.  We have elderly clients who must come to the shelter because they cannot live with their grown children.  This is especially bad because the abuser is normally the caretaker.  The oldest client for a protective order was a woman from the Landings in her 80s.  She was the victim of her husband’s abuse. We have assisted with women in human trafficking.”

     Two local clergy agreed to provide written comments.
     Pastor of Overcoming ByFaith Ministries, Dr. Ricky Temple, Savannah, GA: “It is very difficult to watch families you have known for years face the devastating results of violence. Watching young men and women die or be severely damaged physically and emotionally is the hardest part of my job. Early intervention is the key to helping families identify the traps that lead to most of these issues. It's important to create support tools that teach parents to have time for their kids so they are not left bored and drawn to unhealthy relationships to fill up their lonely moments. Another step for families would be to create a safe, fun, and transparent family environment. If the kids can come home and share their pains it's the best place for them to find healing and mature guidance. It's when they are left alone that they wander off into or are recruited into relationships that lead to violent crime.  I try to accomplish these goals by providing practical sermons, activities, and events that inspire families to follow this kind of approach to family life.”
     “It drives me to encourage parents to stay with and engage their children,” he said.  “Proverbs 29:15, in the Message Version of the Bible says, "Wise discipline imparts wisdom; spoiled adolescents embarrass their parents. The King James Version has a nice poetic sound to the same verse, "a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” The key phrase is "left to himself."
     Fr. Joseph Smith, Pastor of Saint AnneCatholic Church, Richmond Hill, GA: “Any crime against another human being lessens the dignity and humanity of all that are, hope, education, prayer, awareness and stronger homes with good modeling behavior are essential to ending “family violence” and hopefully lessening and eventually wiping out most criminal behavior. I would not be surprised if the number of “domestic violence crimes” were considerably under-reported, not due to the agencies, but due to many personal factors connected to this type crime. It is in the nature of people to want it to go away or to pretend on some level that it would never happen again. So very much pain...the fact that children learn so much within the walls of their homes, often picking up things that the adults around them never intended.”
     “Sadly we live in a time where the “culture of anger” and angry, immediate response is the unfortunate norm,” he said.  “To break the cycle of “domestic violence” I honestly think that education and information is the key and is essential to stopping the negative, violent, hurtful behaviors learned firsthand.”
     Law Enforcement and SAFE Shelter deal with family relationships that spiral out of control.  Threats and violence build out of the public eye until they spill into the streets and make the news.  The press doesn’t necessarily provide a follow-up on each incident to reveal the motive or connection behind a fatal injury, gun or knife wound, rape, or sexual assault, but the data points to a family connection in a large number of cases.
     So how do local mayors or heads of law enforcement tackle the 40% to 78% of the violent crime connected to family violence?  How much more difficult is it to address when public perceptions conflict with the true sources of most violent crime? There are no easy answers. But there is no denying that, by the time law enforcement gets involved in crimes related to domestic violence, it may be too late to prevent anything... except for an escalation of even more violence.