Civil rights


Jeffrey Rae, 28, was in Beijing, donating his time to Students for a Free Tibet to film their protest efforts at the Olympics. He was with Brian Conley, a video blogger and four SFT activists. They apparently planned to shine a big old laser beam on an Olympics Village building.

Read the full story here.

Rae was an intern here in summer 2002. He is a 2003 graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology with a photojournalism degree who was living in eastern Pennsylvania. He was working as a graphic designer for the Transport Workers Union as a graphic artist because, his father says, he “couldn’t find a newspaper job.”

I’m sure, if the State Department can manage to get him out of Chinese jail, that dry streak will dry right up.

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I set out Thursday afternoon to tell the story of the thousands of people who are being paid $10 an hour (some maybe more, many much less) to clean out all the nasty, smelly crap left behind after the flood. The most obvious gathering place for day laborers was the parking lot behind Wells Fargo Bank, where Able Body Labor has its big brown motorhome parked, so I started there. Many of those workers coming downtown are parking in the lots underneath the Interstate 380 bridge, where a few who have come from far away are still sleeping in their vehicles. Those lots are filthy because the rain hasn’t washed away all the muck, and garbage bags are hanging from some of the parking meters to hold the overflowing amount of trash. Some trash is still not making it into the bags, though. And to think there was a veritable village of day laborers sleeping on mattresses and cardboard on the ground there…

I met Nancy Martinez of Dobson, N.C., who told me of her experience on camera (video will be back after editing):

But to get the full effect of what it is like to be a day laborer (for one day, at least), I got up at 4:30 a.m. to go down and watch how the selection process is done. I wanted to see if there was any curious activity (i.e. under the table labor), and we ran into a woman running such an operation out of a van underneath Interstate 380. Her workers, all Latino, were already awake and ready to go by 5:30 a.m., hard hats on and plastic bags over their bodies to keep out the hammering rain. She told us she was from Florida, but wouldn’t provide any other details. I’m hoping those workers are getting paid well, but probably not.

Able Body’s selection process was much more above board. They had new workers filling out applications and providing Social Security cards, and provided everyone with sanitized cleaning gear. They pay their employees $10 an hour, minus taxes, by check every day.

These are the workers who are cleaning out Quaker, Penford Products, the Paramount Theatre, the Linn County Jail. These are the workers who are working hard 10- to 12-hour days for our community so we can rebuild.

Spencer Blakey’s brother thinks so.

Blakey, 45, was stabbed twice in the left side at his girlfriend, Shelly Marquette’s, apartment at Raintree Apartments, 4850 16th Ave. SW, last Tuesday. Police believe it was possibly a domestic situation, and they are still looking for her to talk to her about the incident. No arrest warrant has been issued. She has been gone for a week.

Stan Blakey of Cedar Rapids, Spencer’s older brother, called me today very upset because he said detectives told him they were “mad” he talked to The Gazette about Marquette’s connection to the stabbing. “Why are they so up in arms about me bringing this to the public’s attention? You’d think they’d want to work together with the newspaper and the TV stations to find suspects,” he said. “That’s crazy. My brother damn near died.” Spencer was released from the hospital on Friday, but is still recovering.

He said other black people he knows in the community from church and elsewhere have noticed the relative difference between this case and that of Thomas Horvath, shot to death outside the same apartment complex April 15. Jacovan Bush, 19, of Fairfax, was arrested the day after Horvath’s shooting. Horvath is white; Bush is black. But in this case, Spencer Blakey — the victim — is black. Marquette is white. Otherwise, the circumstances are about the same, he said. “A couple of my friends who are also black said ‘If it was you or me who stabbed him, we’d be in jail right now.’ If this isn’t racial, then why aren’t they doing something about it, why aren’t they saying anything?”

He also pointed out that Nancy Listman, former Science Station accountant, was put on probation for stealing more than $300,000 from the business, and that “someone else he knew” was convicted of a couple thousand dollar forgery charge and sentenced to 5 years in prison. However, after an Iowa courts search, I found Stan Blakey himself served 85 days of that 5-year forgery sentence. Regardless of his past convictions, I can understand where he’s coming from — her crime was a likely more serious. What do you think?