Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday August 27th 2014

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The Buzz 8/8/13

Barbershop Talk:  Middleton Shooting Saturday morning sounds filled Farrow’s Barbershop. The hum of razors and conversation. Conversation about “trigger-happy police,” about how “Morgan is covering up his boys” and “Escambia is the most racist part of the state.”

“Have you ever been black in this country?” asked a man seated underneath a clock on the wall.

The conversation comes in the wake of the July 27 shooting of Roy Middleton. Escambia County Sheriff’s Office deputies responding to a possible carjacking shot the unarmed 60-year-old Warrington resident in his own driveway.

The officers unleashed a rain of bullets—17 or 15, depending on whom you ask—hitting Middleton twice in the legs. From his hospital bed, the man reported that the officers fired as he exited his car with his hands raised.

Sheriff David Morgan, however, has said the officers began firing because Middleton ignored commands, appeared to be holding a “metallic object” and made a “lunging motion.” It’s proving a tough sell, especially at the barbershop on West Gadsden Street.

“Common sense will tell you something,” noted the man near the clock. “If you don’t have a gun, who’s gonna leap on somebody? Maybe it was a broad jump? He was a broad jumper.”

The men in the barbershop crack up, taking a swipe at the tragedy with a joke.

“I bet he’ll give up cigarettes,” laughed another man, alluding to the fact that Middleton was apparently searching for a smoke in his car at the time of the incident.

This hot, July mess of a shooting has laid bare a raw nerve that is always pulsing just beneath the surface in Escambia County—a fear in the black community that pervasive racism within the ranks of local law enforcement leads to incidents such as the Middleton shooting.

Sheriff Morgan’s response—defending his officers and chalking up national attention to a misguided media—have done little to calm such fear.

“For him to blame it on the media, all you want to hear is, ‘I’m looking into it.’ You wonder how committed he is to looking into it when he makes a comment like that,” said one of the customers at Farrow’s. “You don’t expect that from your sheriff. We’re citizens of this town too, he’s supposed to protect us, too, black people.”

At their August 2 press conference at Englewood Baptist Church—just down the street from the sheriff’s office—a collective of civil rights organizations drew parallels to the killing of Trayvon Martin and described the local shooting as “attempted murder.”

The collective called for the involved officers—Deputy Jeremiah Meeks and Sgt. Matt White—to be fired. Middleton has returned home with a metal rod in his leg and hired a high-profile South Florida attorney. The ECSO, meanwhile, awaits the findings of the FDLE investigation.

At the barbershop, the Middleton shooting is seen as just the latest incident revealing a deeper issue. It’s a new chapter in an old story.

“We all know what’s going on—this color thing, it’s always been here, it’s not new,” said barber Franklin Farrow. “This is not news, what happened.”

Operation Toxic Gulf Update Ocean Alliance and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society announced recently that preliminary analysis of samples taken from sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico indicate higher levels of chromium and nickel than in sperm whales anywhere else in the world.

For the fourth consecutive year, Ocean Alliance collected tissue samples from Gulf sperm whales to study the effects of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, a study called “Operation Toxic Gulf.”

“Really, one of the key things we’re trying to do is understand threats to whales, but also the key thing here is [determining], was this massive use of dispersants the right approach to containing and controlling the spill from an ecological perspective,” Dr. Iain Kerr, CEO of Ocean Alliance, explained at a Pensacola press conference on Aug. 5.

As an apex predator, sperm whales are at the top of the food chain and by eating smaller animals ultimately wind up with the most toxins in their system. “Whales are actually quite good bio-indicators, they can tell us about a problem,” Kerr said. “The cautionary signs really are suggesting to us that these whales could be some of the most polluted we’ve found in the world.”

Kerr explained that Ocean Alliance is in an important position as researchers to put the data they collect in the Gulf within the context of sperm whale health globally.

“Ocean Alliance went around the world from 2000 to 2005, and we collected baseline data on sperm whales in 21 countries,” Kerr told reporters. “So we actually have a data set of what sperm whales look like around the world.”

Oil commonly releases metals such cadmium, chromium and nickel, but Kerr said their study is now predominantly focused on data collection, and is only beginning to hypothesize about the causality of what they’re seeing. “The most obvious place to look initially is from the crude oil and from the dispersants. That may not be the case,” he explained.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the conservation group featured on Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars,” assisted Ocean Alliance with sperm whale research in the Gulf for the first time this year. Together, the groups collaborated to complete non-lethal biological data collection as well as sampling oil slicks when they were encountered, and documented scarring on sperm whales that Kerr hasn’t seen in 20 years of studying the species.

Kerr would like to return to the Gulf for another six years, but acknowledged that the work is expensive. “I’d like to do a 10-year study,” he said. “This year, we couldn’t raise the money, and if it wasn’t for Sea Shepherd, we wouldn’t be here.”

Funding, like time, is critical to understanding the ongoing effects of the spill. “It’s really important now in the years after the spill to collect this data,” said Kerr. “Even if the analysis isn’t done tomorrow or next month or next year, once you’ve got that data you can then use it to understand the problem.”

How Bad Is Bad Escambia County Superintendent of Schools Malcolm Thomas has told the daily newspaper that changes have to be made in his schools after reviewing the district’s poor performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests this past school year.

The district has some of the lowest graded schools in the state of Florida, according to the Florida Department of Education. The state has 1,805 elementary schools. Escambia County had three schools in the bottom 10—Lincoln Park, A.A. Dixon and Montclair—and three more in the bottom 100 elementary schools—Navy Point, O.J. Semmes and West Pensacola.

Montclair and O.J. Semmes got “C” grades because the DOE wouldn’t allow any school to drop more than one letter grade. Navy Point got off with a “D” for the same reason.

The district had five middle schools graded in the bottom 100 of all middle schools in Florida. Warrington Middle was ranked 568 out of 578 schools. Other low performing middle schools included Bellview, Newpoint, Woodham and Workman.