Centennial celebration planned Saturday for historic Duncan Park

August 25, 2015
A cyclist rode up North Limestone Street past an entrance to Duncan Park at the corner of Fifth Street. Many young people are moving into neighborhoods around the park and fixing up long-neglected old houses. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

A cyclist rode up North Limestone Street past an entrance to Duncan Park at the corner of Fifth Street. The park originally was a wealthy merchant’s estate. Photos by Tom Eblen


There’s a party Saturday to celebrate the centennial of Duncan Park, a piece of land that has reflected the changing character of Lexington for more than twice that long.

Four nearby neighborhood associations are sponsoring the public celebration from 3 to 7 p.m. at the five-acre park at North Limestone and East Fifth Street. There will be live music, food trucks, family activities and exhibits by community organizations.

“We just want people to come out and enjoy the park,” said James Brown, the new First District member of the Urban County Council.

Duncan Park has a fascinating history.

It was part of 20 acres that William Morton acquired in the early 1790s. He built one of Lexington’s first mansions there in 1810, and that mansion dominates the park. The federal-style house has oversized proportions to make it look good from a distance.

The Englishman, who came here in 1787 and opened a store, became a wealthy merchant and financier. Because of his aristocratic bearing, everyone called him “Lord” Morton, but probably not to his face.

Morton gave away a lot of his money, creating Lexington’s first public school. He also was a benefactor of what is now Eastern State Hospital and Christ Church Episcopal.

Two years after Morton died in 1836, his property was bought by Cassius Marcellus Clay, the fiery emancipationist who published an anti-slavery newspaper, The True American, and was Lincoln’s ambassador to Russia during the Civil War.

Clay sold the place in 1850 to his wife’s uncle, Dr. Lloyd Warfield, who subdivided three-fourths of it to create the neighborhoods now north and east of the park.

The house and five acres were bought in 1873 by Henry T. Duncan, editor of the Lexington Daily Press and the city’s mayor. Because of how well he and his wife maintained the grounds, it was known as “Duncan Park” long before their daughter, Lucy Duncan Draper, sold it to the city as a park in 1913.

A month before the park officially opened, it was the site of a May 1915 rally by women seeking the right to vote. That was fitting: Clay’s daughter, Laura, was a national leader in the women’s suffrage movement.

Duncan Park was a happening place for more than four decades, with a baseball field, tennis courts, ping-pong tables and playgrounds.

The Lexington Leader reported in 1925 that three young girls were forming a girls’ club at Duncan Park. One of them was Elizabeth Hardwick, 8, who lived on nearby Rand Avenue. She later moved to New York and became a famous literary critic, novelist and founder of The New York Review of Books.

City officials have always struggled over what to do with the Morton house. Early plans called for it to become a museum or a girls school. More recent proposals have included a black history museum and an official home for Lexington’s mayor.

Instead, the mansion has always housed social service agencies. In 1914, it became a “milk depot” for Baby Milk Supply, a new charity. Now called Baby Health Service, the organization cares for uninsured children at a clinic beside St. Joseph Hospital.

The Morton house was a Junior League “day nursery” in the 1930s and then was the city children’s home until better accommodations were built on Cisco Road in 1950. In recent years, it has housed The Nest Center for Women and Children.

Until the 1950s, Duncan Park was only for white people. The city built Douglass Park on Georgetown Street for black residents in 1916. By the time city parks were legally integrated, a different kind of segregation was taking place.

Lexington’s suburban sprawl contributed to white flight from the neighborhood. In August 1972, 200 black people marched from Duncan Park to city hall to protest the closing of inner-city schools and the busing of black children to the suburbs.

As owner-occupied homes surrounding Duncan Park became poorly maintained rentals, crime soared. Things have slowly gotten better, especially since last year’s fatal shooting of Antonio Franklin in the park prompted his mother, Anita Franklin, to organize well-attended monthly “peace walks.”

Many people attribute the drop in crime to a renaissance in the North Limestone area. Many old houses are being restored and reconverted from low-income rentals to owner-occupied homes.

The Martin Luther King Neighborhood Association has focused on improving Duncan Park since 2001. Discussions are now under way about adding more features to the playground and basketball courts.

Travis Robinson, the association’s president, said the park is becoming safer thanks to better policing and more use by area residents. Regular activities include potluck suppers and story-telling programs for kids.

“It’s a community asset that has been underutilized,” said Vice Mayor Steve Kay, who lives nearby. “More people are coming to live in the neighborhood, and that is making a difference.”

A cyclist rode up North Limestone Street past the old columned entrance to the 1810 Morton House in Duncan Park. Many young people are moving into neighborhoods around the park and fixing up long-neglected old houses. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

A cyclist rode up North Limestone Street past the old entrance to the 1810 Morton House in Duncan Park. Many people are moving into nearby neighborhoods and fixing up long-neglected houses.

The Morton House, built in 1810 and once owned by emancipationist Cassius Clay, sits in the middle of Duncan Park. Since the city bought the property in 1913, it has housed social service agencies. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The Morton House, built in 1810 and once owned by emancipationist Cassius Clay, sits in the middle of Duncan Park. Since the city bought the property in 1913, it has housed social service agencies.

Concerns about militarized police ignore bigger, underlying issues

September 27, 2014

Should Andy Taylor and Barney Fife be equipped like Rambo?

That has been a much-debated topic since police in Ferguson, Mo., responded with paramilitary aggressiveness to protesters after one of their white officers shot and killed a black teenager.

The situation focused public attention on the U.S. Defense Department’s 1033 program, which has given away hundreds of millions of dollars worth of “surplus” military equipment to state and local police forces, whether they need it or not.

Kentucky’s House Local Government Committee held a hearing last week on this issue. The 1033 program has furnished 33,000 military weapons and supplies, valued at more than $44 million, to Kentucky police agencies over the past decade.

That includes the Lexington Police Department’s two helicopters, hundreds of automatic rifles for the Kentucky State Police and a $689,000 mine-resistant vehicle for the Owensboro Police Department. And you know who is paying to buy, operate and take care of all these goodies. You are.

This trend raises many issues, but I haven’t seen some of the biggest ones discussed.

Access to this kind of firepower only increases the chances for abuse of power and tragedy among badly managed police forces. But problems such as those in Ferguson have more to do with what is in officers’ hearts than what is in their hands. Bull Connor’s Birmingham cops needed only fire hoses to show their moral bankruptcy in the 1960s.

Besides, I understand why police officers want and sometimes need military-style weapons. Thanks to the NRA and other gun-rights radicals, any Tom, Dick or lunatic now has easy access to military-style weapons, and many think they have a constitutional right to flaunt them in public.

It is no wonder the FBI reported last week that the number of mass shootings has increased dramatically in recent years. Authorities studied 160 shootings that killed or wounded 1,000 people, many of which occurred in schools or businesses. In one-fourth of those cases, the shooter committed suicide before police arrived.

Do we really have more crazy people than in the past? Or is it simply that society’s gun lust has made it easier for them to inflict maximum carnage? Until the United States is mature enough to enact common-sense gun control measures, police will sometimes need serious firepower to keep themselves and the public safe.

But the issues go much deeper. When I read about the Defense Department doling out all of this “surplus” equipment, I wonder why they have it all to give away.

As Dwight Eisenhower was leaving the presidency in 1961, he gave a famous farewell speech that warned about the corrupting influence he saw in the rise of America’s “military industrial complex.”

Eisenhower, a Republican and the greatest general of World War II, was no wild-eyed pacifist. But he clearly saw what was happening.

“The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” Eisenhower warned. “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Eisenhower’s fears have been realized, and the 1033 program is just a small example.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies in 2012 estimated U.S. military spending at $645 billion, more than half the government’s discretionary spending. It was 40 percent of the world’s total military spending — more than six times China’s $102 billion and 10 times Russia’s $59 billion.

Stories of wasteful, unnecessary and even fraudulent military spending are legion. In an unholy alliance with corporate “defense” contractors, Congress continues to appropriate billions for high-tech planes, ships, weapons systems and equipment the military doesn’t need and may never use.

In another speech, in 1952, Eisenhower said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

So the next time your congressman tells you we can’t afford better health care, better schools and better infrastructure, you will know why. That $689,000 mine-resistant vehicle in Owensboro is only the tip of the iceberg.

State Street lessons could help city, UK save other neighborhoods

April 12, 2014

StateStreetCrowds celebrate March 28 in the State Street area. Photo by Jonathan Palmer


How much longer must national acclaim on the basketball court be accompanied by national embarrassment in neighborhoods around the University of Kentucky campus?

Thanks to good preparation and policing, the mayhem on State Street after UK’s NCAA tournament games this year wasn’t as bad as in 2012. But it was still unacceptably violent and destructive.

This year’s toll is an embarrassment to both UK and Lexington: more than 60 injuries requiring treatment; more than 50 arrests; more than 125 fires, including a couple dozen couches.

“It’s a miracle that more people and property didn’t get hurt,” said Diane Lawless, who has represented that area on the Urban County Council since 2009. “This isn’t a spontaneous celebration. Goodwill says they come in and buy every piece of upholstered furniture they have. This is a planned riot, period.”

UK sports celebrations started getting out of hand in 1996, when some of the 10,000 fans gathered at Woodland and Euclid avenues to celebrate the national basketball championship smashed car windows and overturned a TV news van, which caught fire. There were fewer problems after the 1998 championship.

Things got ugly in 2007, when crowds in the student rental neighborhood around State Street celebrated UK’s football victories over Louisville and LSU by adopting West Virginia University’s noxious tradition of couch burning.

Five years later, when Kentucky beat Kansas for the NCAA championship, State Street went wild. There were dozens of injuries from fires and flying beer bottles, damaged vehicles and nearly 100 arrests.

It is worth noting that the vast majority of students and others who celebrate after UK games don’t hurt people or damage property. The crowd that partied this year along South Limestone didn’t become destructive.

The problem is that State Street is a very different kind of neighborhood. Some students and outside trouble-makers see it as a place where they can become violent and destructive without consequences.

Both UK and the city helped create this problem. Demand for student housing in recent decades led investors to buy former single-family houses in older neighborhoods around campus. Those houses were demolished and replaced by cheaply built apartment complexes, or they were fitted with barn-like additions and crammed with students. Yards were graveled for parking lots.

Some neighborhoods fought back, using tools including historic overlays to limit the damage. But State, Crescent, Elizabeth and other streets north of Waller Avenue and west of Limestone were overwhelmed. Homeowners and families that were stabilizing influences in those neighborhood fled. City officials took more than a decade to limit further damage to the neighborhoods by student-rental landlords.

UK officials made the problems worse in 1997 by banning alcohol from fraternity and sorority houses. With students essentially prohibited from drinking on campus, they rented “party houses” in adjacent neighborhoods. Social media made it easier for students to find those parties and evade police efforts to shut them down.

Police have refined their tactics, both to try to prevent destructive behavior and violence and to document lawbreaking for prosecution. From all accounts, they handled this year’s State Street mayhem as well as could be expected.

City code enforcement officers have tried to crack down on violations in student-rental neighborhoods, but sanctions remain minimal. The city also is working on better data collection and sharing methods to make it easier to spot troubling trends in neighborhoods before they become problems.

Because existing student-rental properties were grandfathered in when city restrictions were tightened, it’s hard to reverse much of the damage, said Derek Paulsen, the city’s planning commissioner.

“I hate to say State Street is lost, but when it gets to that level, about the only thing you can do is call the police in,” Paulsen said. “From a planning perspective, the question may be, how do we transition that neighborhood out of what it is now to something more productive?”

UK officials have taken some positive steps, including construction of new on-campus residence halls. Last May, President Eli Capilouto appointed a work group of UK and city officials to look at student alcohol habits and policies and their effect on the campus and surrounding neighborhoods. The group completed its report in December, but UK has not yet released its findings and recommendations.

Because sports-related mayhem is largely fueled by alcohol, UK’s next steps will be crucial. But there is more the city could do as well. These safety and town-gown issues are hardly unique to Lexington; other places have dealt with them for years. Here are some things UK and the city should consider:

■ Accept the fact that college students drink. Make campus alcohol policies more lenient in ways that teach students who choose to drink and are of legal age to do it responsibly.

■ Extend the student code of conduct to off-campus behavior, as is done with UK athletes. That would require more information-sharing and coordination between UK and the city, but students might be less likely to engage in destructive behavior off-campus if they knew the consequences would be more serious. When expectations are high, most people will rise to meet them.

■ UK, city and neighborhood residents should put more emphasis on integrating students into the neighborhoods, from social events to beautification projects. If students feel as if they belong in a neighborhood, they will be less likely to destroy it.

■ City officials and police should more aggressively channel celebrations away from State Street to South Limestone or other commercial districts, which can be more effectively policed. Maybe State Street should be closed on big game nights to people who can’t prove they live there.

■ The city must get tough with problem landlords. That could include stricter rules on zoning, building permits and code requirements, with bigger penalties for violations. There also might be ways to hold landlords accountable for tenants’ destructive behavior.

“There are some good landlords out there,” Lawless said. “But there also are a lot of student landlords who couldn’t care less except for stuffing their pockets.”

■ UK and the city should buy some houses in campus neighborhoods that are near the tipping point of too many student rentals. Those houses could be rented or sold with restrictions to faculty, staff and city employees. That would help stabilize those neighborhoods, and it would provide affordable housing for lower-paid employees near their workplaces.

“We still have some very good, viable neighborhoods around the university,” Paulsen said. “We need to learn the lessons of State Street to keep them that way.”  

Former Disney exec highlights value of natural beauty in cities

October 27, 2013


Katy Moss Warner, center, who once led the American Horticulture Society, was in Lexington last week to promote the economic and aesthetic benefits to city landscape beautification. At a workshop with Lexington leaders Thursday, she talked with Kay Cannon, left, and Ellen Karpf. Photo by Tom Eblen


Beautiful landscapes enrich a city — well-tended flowers, trees, gardens and lawns. But when money is tight, it is easy to see them as frills, as costs to be cut.

What is the value of beauty? What is the cost of ugly?

The answer to both questions, says Katy Moss Warner, former president of the American Horticulture Society, is a lot.

Warner spent last week touring Lexington, speaking and meeting with people as an unpaid guest of Friends of the Arboretum and the Fayette County Master Gardeners.

Warner has a degree in landscape architecture and was a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. But she said she learned the economic value of beautiful landscapes during the 24 years she spent supervising a staff of 700 as director of horticulture and environmental initiatives at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Disney spends millions each year on advertising and new attractions to lure new visitors. Warner said she struggled to prove the economic return on investing in landscape until visitor surveys revealed some interesting facts: 75 percent of Disney World’s visitors were repeat customers. Why did they keep returning?

“Atmosphere,” she said. “The beauty of the landscape. This is helpful information not just for Walt Disney World but for cities. If cities are beautiful, people will come back. Horticulture can drive revenue.”

At a lecture Wednesday, Warner said many people have “plant blindness” — they often don’t notice the plants around them or realize their value. We move so fast in our daily lives that we fail to notice “the subtle music that truly is the beauty of nature.”

Many cities think plants are nice, but not necessary. Study after study shows they are wrong, she said.

When a city’s public and private spaces are clean and well-landscaped, people tend to be happier, healthier and care more about their neighbors and community. Urban tree canopies reduce energy costs and calm traffic. Indoor plants filter pollution and make people feel better. Good landscaping increases property values.

In places that are ugly, barren or junky, where there is a lot of noise and artificial light pollution, crime goes up and private investment goes down. People understand, consciously or subconsciously, that they don’t want to be there.

“Schools are probably the most derelict landscapes we have,” Warner said. “We design them like prisons.”

But schools are a perfect place to teach children the importance of natural beauty with school vegetable and flower gardens, and planting trees as legacies.

Studies have shown that gardens make good learning environments, especially for students who struggle in structured classrooms. Warner said the most popular attraction at Disney’s Epcot is the vegetable and hydroponic gardens at the Land Pavilion.

Warner is a board member and volunteer for the non-profit organization America in Bloom, which helps cities learn beautification strategies from one another. At a Thursday workshop, she made a pitch for Lexington to participate.

The workshop at the University of Kentucky was attended by Vice Mayor Linda Gorton; three more Urban County Council members; Sally Hamilton, the city’s chief administrative officer; and more than 40 leaders in Lexington’s landscape, horticulture and sustainable agriculture movements. Earlier in the week, Warner met with Mayor Jim Gray.

This was Warner’s first visit to Lexington. She remarked on what a clean city it is for its size, in both affluent and not-so-affluent neighborhoods. She also was impressed by local food and recycling programs, and by good examples of historic preservation and adaptive reuse of old buildings.

In an interview afterward, I asked Warner what she would do to improve Lexington. Her observations were perceptive, especially considering she had spent only three days looking around.

“I think it’s a shame that so much of the historic fabric has been lost downtown, but those spaces offer an opportunity to bring back character through horticulture,” she said, adding that she thinks the Town Branch Commons plan is brilliant. “That could really be a signature for the city.”

Warner thinks Lexington also has a lot of opportunity for beautification by planting native plants, community gardens, installing rooftop greenhouses and by protecting existing assets such as the majestic, centuries-old trees that dot the landscape.

Lexington seems to have fewer walking paths and biking trails than other cities its size, Warner said, so there is an opportunity to create more of them to get people outside and closer to the landscape.

“As a community you also seem to have amazing talent, an amazing spirit, an amazing history,” she said. “I do believe that it takes the whole community to make the community beautiful.”

Winchester man caught up in FBI’s ‘Anonymous’ Internet probe

June 16, 2013

Real life has been hard for Deric Lostutter. But with public attention focused on the shadowy worlds of government surveillance and online vigilantism, the tattooed rapper and computer geek from Winchester has become an unlikely celebrity.

Lostutter, 26, who goes by KYAnonymous online and records hip-hop music under the name Shadow, spent last week juggling interviews with major magazines, newspapers and websites from as far away as Britain and Australia.

The media frenzy followed his disclosure that federal law enforcement agents in tactical gear with weapons drawn raided his Clark County farmhouse April 15 and hauled off his and his girlfriend’s computer equipment, as well as his brother’s Xbox.

“Why was I raided in the first place?” he asked last week as we talked in a suburban Lexington bar. “They want to make an example out of me, going, ‘Don’t you question us!’ That’s what it is.”

kyanonKYAnonymous played a key role in spreading tweets, photos and videos on social media that helped draw national attention to a rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, that involved a 16-year-old girl who passed out drunk and a high school football team.

Last December, online vigilantes hacked into the Steubenville team’s website and posted a note and video threatening to release the personal data of coaches, school officials and every player unless those who were involved or witnessed the rape came forward and apologized. Two players were convicted of rape in March.

Another activist actually hacked the site, Lostutter said. But he made and appeared in the video with his voice altered and wearing a mask styled after Guy Fawkes, an Englishman who tried to blow up Parliament with gunpowder in 1605.

The federal search warrant Lostutter posted on his website  said authorities raided his home seeking evidence of, among other things, computer intrusion, identity theft and conspiracy. They also were looking for a Guy Fawkes mask.

Lostutter said that during the two hours he was handcuffed and questioned by FBI agents during the raid he was told they also were looking for anti-American propaganda.

“I was like, you’re in Kentucky, man!” he said he told the agents. “I just got done turkey hunting. I drink Bud Light. I live on a farm. How much more American can you get?”

Lostutter said his lawyer has told him he faces possible indictment on three felony counts. Conviction could land him in prison for as long as 10 years — a much harsher penalty than the two teen-aged rapists received. That has been the headline in some international news reports about Lostutter’s case.

New Mexico lawyer Jason Flores-Williams, whose office calls itself the Whistleblower Defense League, has taken Lostutter’s case pro bono and has encouraged him to seek publicity and online donations, which he said now exceed $35,000.

“I’m trying to get vindicated in the court of public opinion,” Lostutter said. “They’ve finally found out that the Internet they have tried to monitor us with has actually granted us one huge sidewalk to protest on.”

Lostutter seems quite comfortable on the Internet, a virtual world where anyone can become whoever and whatever they say they are. It’s certainly more comfortable than real life.

Lostutter says he was born in Iowa and grew up in Illinois and North Carolina before moving to Winchester in 2007. He said his parents split when he was seven and he spent some time homeless.

While in high school, he discovered a talent for computers. He said he and his girlfriend now live in a farmhouse she inherited when her father died. Lostutter said he made money fixing computers and doing Internet vulnerability consulting for a company he declined to identify. But he has had bigger ambitions.

“I wanted to be SWAT team, and then a bounty hunter,” he said, adding that he studied for a semester at Strayer University in Lexington to learn more about computer forensics. “I wanted to be pretty much the hacker for the government.”

Then, last year, Lostutter saw the film We Are Legion, which profiled the loose network of radical computer-hacking activists who call themselves Anonymous.

“It was like mind-blowing,” he said of the film. “I was, like, there’s people out there with the same interests I have, so I’m not such a freak anymore. I just identified with that.”

Lostutter said he connected with Anonymous activists on Twitter and some Internet forums. He says he never hacked anything, but became a social-media maven skilled at attracting public attention by spreading material that others gathered.

His first effort was distributing emails legally obtained by citizens who last year were battling with former Clark County Schools Superintendent Elaine Farris, who has since retired. He next went after Hunter Moore, who operated a controversial Internet site with “revenge porn” — obscene photos people sent him of former sex partners with whom they had broken up.

Then Lostutter read about the Steubenville rape case and thought it looked like people in the town were covering up for a popular football team.

“I thought something fishy’s going on here,” he said, “And I’m going to get to the bottom of it.”

Lostutter made an online video, which prompted others to send him tweets, photos and videos posted by young people in Steubenville who were joking about and may have witnessed the rape. He publicized them and made the video that ended up on the team’s website. In January, he was interviewed about the case on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 show wearing his Guy Fawkes mask.

The crowd-sourced “investigation” that Lostutter began included a lot of wild and unsubstantiated allegations, death threats against football players and accusations against one person who Lostutter has since apologized to online.

The case has heightened public debate about the role of Anonymous and other so-called “hacktivists”. Are they heroes trying to hold the system accountable? Or are the out-of-control vigilantes trying to take justice into their own hands?

Lostutter sees his work as positive, and he compares himself to Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee and security contractor who leaked details of the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance programs to the media.

“The Constitution clearly defines that it’s a citizen’s right to step in if the government fails,” Lostutter said. “Vigilante is not a bad word. It’s been painted as a bad word over time. In Old West days, vigilantes were awesome, they were bounty hunters, they went after outlaws that the police couldn’t handle.”

Many others, of course, would disagree. But now that technology and the Internet have given a global megaphone to anyone who chooses to use it, the online Wild West is likely to keep getting wilder.

Last week, while doing interviews and replying to fans and critics on Twitter, Lostutter found time to have a new tattoo added to his much-tattooed arms: the logo of Anonymous. Although worried about the possibility of prosecution, trial and prison, he clearly seems to be enjoying himself.

“For the first time in a long time,” he said, “I’m doing what I think I was meant to do.”

‘Living With Guns’ author to speak about finding middle ground

March 23, 2013

Craig Whitney spent much of his long career with The New York Times as a reporter in Europe, where he got the same question over and over.

“People would often ask me in a baffled way, ‘What is it about you Americans and guns?’ especially after things like Columbine happened,” he said. “I would give the best answer I could, but then I realized I didn’t really know myself.”

After retiring as an assistant managing editor in 2009, Whitney decided to find out. The result of his research was the book, Living With Guns: A Liberal’s Case for the Second Amendment (Public Affairs Books, $28.99). It was published last November, a month before the school massacre in Newtown, Conn.

cwhitney_headshotWhitney will be in Lexington this week to talk about his findings, some of which surprised him. His book offers a path to finding sensible middle ground in the gun-control debate, balancing Second Amendment rights with public safety.

Whitney’s lecture is at 7 p.m. March 28 in the University of Kentucky’s Taylor Education Building, 597 South Upper Street. It is sponsored by UK’s College of Communication and Information, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

In an interview last week, Whitney said he began his research by looking at Colonial history to find out what the nation’s founders intended when they wrote the Constitution’s Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Many gun-control advocates argue that the Second Amendment is an anachronism, or that it was never meant to guarantee the right of individual gun ownership outside military service. But the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected that argument twice recently, in 5-4 rulings in 2008 and 2010 that struck down handgun bans in Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

“I found myself surprisingly agreeing with the conservative justices,” Whitney said. “That it is an individual right, not tied to militia service, and that the Second Amendment recognized a common-law right the colonists had had from the very beginning.”

Whitney said gun-control advocates must accept the Second Amendment, as well as the reality that gun ownership is a deeply ingrained aspect of American culture that isn’t going away. His book notes that more than 60 million Americans own more than 300 million firearms.

By the same token, gun-rights advocates should quit stoking fear that the federal government will somehow find a way to confiscate the weapons of law-abiding citizens. That would be clearly unconstitutional, Whitney said, and such paranoia stymies much-needed public safety measures like universal background checks.

The National Rifle Association has promoted gun-seizure fears since the 1970s. Whitney noted that it has been an effective fundraising strategy for the NRA and has dramatically increased gun sales.

Whitney doesn’t own guns, although he carried one while serving in the Navy in Vietnam. Legal gun ownership is difficult where he lives in New York City. But he is an NRA member.

img-living-with-guns“I joke in the book that I would never have believed half the things that the media report the NRA says if I hadn’t read them in the NRA’s monthly magazine,” he said.

Whitney is critical of the NRA, but he is just as critical of extreme gun-control advocates such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Violent crime has declined dramatically in America during the past two decades, but Whitney disputes NRA propaganda crediting that to more people carrying guns for self-defense.

“I also don’t buy Mayor Bloomberg’s argument that keeping people like me from buying guns or having them in New York City keeps crime down in New York City,” he said.

Whitney noted that more than half the nation’s 30,000 annual gun deaths are suicides — and half of those are done with rifles and shotguns. While so-called assault weapons have been used in high-profile massacres, most gun crimes are committed with handguns.

“Common sense is what we need to apply to the gun-control debate,” Whitney said.

“Not ideology, which on the one hand says that all regulations are unconstitutional and on the other hand says all guns should be illegal.”

Whitney’s book makes several sensible policy recommendations. History shows that guns have been regulated since the nation’s earliest days, and the Supreme Court has clearly stated that reasonable gun regulations are perfectly constitutional.

One of the most effective strategies, Whitney believes, would be state licensing of gun owners after they receive safety training and pass a proficiency test. Who should do the training and testing? Whitney suggests the NRA.

“Politically, they’ve gone off the deep end,” Whitney said of the NRA. “But I think they do excellent work in the firearms training and safety courses they have.”

Improving the public’s proficiency with firearms was the main reason the NRA was founded in 1871, Whitney noted in his book. And one of the two founders, William C. Church, was a former reporter for The New York Times.

Newtown shows we must search for sensible middle ground on guns

December 22, 2012

Guns don’t kill people; mentally disturbed people with easy access to guns kill people. The problem is simple and obvious. The solutions are anything but that.

After every senseless mass murder — Paducah, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and so many others — a predictable pattern emerges:

Gun-control advocates call for more gun control. Mental health advocates call for more diagnosis and treatment. Religious people say these tragedies wouldn’t happen if (their) religion were taught in public schools.

Then, this happens:

The gun lobby stirs up fear that any restrictions are a first step toward government confiscation of all firearms. That fear, plus a lot of money, allows the National Rifle Association to cow politicians into complacency.

Insurance companies and taxpayers decide that effective mental health care is too pricey.

Religious people decide it is too much trouble to work with other denominations and faiths — and those who profess no faith — to oppose elements in society that glorify violence. Many of them pay to see Hollywood’s shoot ’em up blockbusters, or turn a blind eye as their children play violent video games or listen to gangsta rap.

Will this time be different? Maybe.

The gun lobby’s response to the killing spree in Newtown, Conn., was predictable: blame everything except guns. The NRA called Friday for armed guards in schools. The gun lobby has always argued that America would be safer if more people carried guns — as if anyone wants to live in a society where everyone is armed to the teeth and any dispute can end in gunfire.

But other responses were different. Several pro-gun members of Congress and other conservatives acknowledged that some common-sense gun-control is needed. President Barack Obama said he would propose legislation early next year to curb gun violence, which killed more than 11,000 Americans last year.

The politics may have shifted because of the circumstances of this atrocity — 20 first-graders, six brave educators and the shooter’s mother murdered in cold blood in an affluent New England village.

Timing may be a factor, too. Newtown happened 11 days before Christmas. Members of Congress won’t stand for re-election for almost two years. The president just began his second and final term.

Here’s the challenge, though: finding sensible middle ground on gun control. The NRA has been wrong to oppose any gun restrictions. But those who want to ban most or all guns are wrong, too.

A sweeping gun ban wouldn’t solve the problem, any more than Prohibition stopped drunkenness or the “war on drugs” has stopped drug abuse. It would only punish and could even endanger law-abiding citizens. Still, limiting access to the most lethal weapons is essential to any solution.

That is why law-abiding gun owners must step up now and help figure out the sensible middle ground. That includes thousands of gun owners in Kentucky, which a recent study indicates may be the nation’s most heavily armed state.

I come from a family with many guns, none of which have ever hurt anyone. I have enjoyed hunting and target shooting. I’m a good shot, and I’m proud of it. I understand why people want guns for sport, collecting and protection.

But I don’t understand why anyone but soldiers and police officers should have combat-style weapons with high-capacity magazines like those used repeatedly to inflict mass carnage on innocent people.

I also don’t understand why all people owning semi-automatic weapons should not be screened to see if they or members of their household pose an obvious risk to public safety.

I don’t understand why guns should not be subject to licensing requirements at least as stringent as motor vehicles. (Spare me the anti-government paranoia.)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own guns. But the ruling was clear that gun rights are balanced against public safety rights, and lawmakers can impose restrictions.

“Like most rights,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.”

The time for stonewalling is over. Gun enthusiasts must stop hiding behind the Second Amendment, just as media moguls who pedal carnage as entertainment must stop hiding behind the First Amendment.

Responsible gun owners must engage in an honest public discussion about public safety and sensible gun control if they are to have any hope that the results will be sensible. Freedom isn’t free; it comes with responsibility.

Post-game mayhem highlighted neglected neighborhoods around UK’s campus

April 8, 2012

When the University of Kentucky beat Louisville and Kansas to win the NCAA championship last week, the media spotlight focused on more than the basketball team’s talent and Kentucky fans’ pride.

The nation got a vivid look at how far Lexington and UK still have to go in overcoming decades of neglect in some neighborhoods surrounding campus.

What should have been celebrations turned into near riots in the Elizabeth Street neighborhood off South Limestone. There were dozens of injuries and arrests as fires were set and vehicles damaged amid a hail of flying beer bottles.

Things could have been much worse, had not Lexington police and firefighters handled the situation with such skill and professionalism. And after the first and worst night of trouble, new UK President Eli Capilouto issued a stern statement. He urged students to “not be stupid,” and he warned that illegal behavior would result in criminal prosecution and university sanctions.

Some of the troublemakers weren’t UK students or even Lexington residents. Still, the national reputations of both UK and Lexington were tarnished. Will parents of prospective students wonder if UK is a safe environment for their children? Will people interested in moving their families or companies to Lexington wonder about the city’s quality of life?

Last week’s mayhem was a wake-up call to both UK and Lexington officials. They must redouble their efforts to clean up neighborhoods around campus that have been allowed to become little more than student-rental slums.

The problems began in the 1970s, when UK dormitory construction and maintenance began falling behind enrollment growth. About the same time, longtime residents of some nearby neighborhoods built between the early 1800s and early 1900s began dying off or moving away.

Many homes were sold to the university for campus expansion. Others were sold to student-rental entrepreneurs, who either cut up old homes into rental rooms or knocked them down to build boxy apartment complexes.

Once-lovely neighborhoods where many faculty and staff used to live fell into disrepair, as fewer and fewer homes were occupied by their owners. UK’s hands-off attitude reached its zenith in 1998 when officials banned alcohol from campus, which pushed student parties into the surrounding neighborhoods.

Landlords used zoning loopholes to build large dorm-like additions to bungalows and pave over yards, overwhelming those areas with people, cars, garbage and storm-water runoff. Those neighborhoods were not designed for such density.

Diane Lawless, the Urban County Council member who represents those neighborhoods, said the problems have been made worse by spot rezoning and years of building inspection that was “way beyond lax.”

City officials and neighborhood leaders have spent more than a decade trying to catch up to the problem. Studies by the Town-Gown Commission and Student Housing Task Force helped lead to new laws limiting off-campus parties, tightening zoning regulations and halting construction of the “vinyl box” additions. Mayor Jim Newberry’s administration launched a crackdown on code violations.

Still, about 75 percent of UK’s 28,000 students now live off-campus. That compares with only 25 percent of the 1,100 students at Transylvania University, where surrounding neighborhoods have experienced few student-rental problems.

Since Capilouto took office last June, he has made housing and neighborhood issues a priority. UK has launched an ambitious partnership with a private company to replace 6,000 aging dormitory beds and build 3,000 more.

“UK has been working much closer with us on neighborhood issues,” said Derek Paulsen, the city’s new planning commissioner. “But we’re going to be playing catch-up with this legacy for awhile.”

Paulsen’s appointment is another positive sign. For the first time, all city planning, zoning and building regulation will be under one department. Paulsen, an academic, has written several books about designing socially sustainable communities that deter crime.

New apartment complexes west of campus, built on sites once occupied by tobacco warehouses, have taken some of the pressure off older neighborhoods. But those developments bear watching, too. Any area dominated by transient rental property will be less stable than one that includes a good mix of owner-occupied housing.

The upcoming move of the Bluegrass Community and Technical College to the former Eastern State Hospital site could take pressure off the Elizabeth Street neighborhood. But without good planning, zoning, building inspection and code enforcement, Lexington risks the same pattern being repeated in older Northside neighborhoods.

In addition to better planning and zoning and more aggressive enforcement, city officials must clean up the damaged neighborhoods around UK. That will include significant investment in long-ignored infrastructure and more support for owner-occupied homes.

“It’s an economic development issue, because this is what visitors see when they see Lexington,” Lawless said. “What’s good for these neighborhoods and downtown is good for Lexington and the university.”

How to avoid contributing to modern slavery

February 23, 2011

GEORGETOWN — Slavery is a hot topic at Georgetown College, and it is not a history lesson.

A group of faculty and students is spreading the word that modern slavery can be an ingredient in the chocolate we eat and the coffee we drink. It can be found around the world — and, sometimes, around the corner.

Leaders at the Baptist-affiliated college say it is an issue of economics and faith, and the cause has captured students’ attention like few they have seen before.

The college’s Student Abolitionist Movement will sponsor a talk at 7 p.m. Monday by Dave Batstone, president of Not For Sale, a non-profit group that raises awareness of modern slavery. At 7 p.m. March 8, there is a talk by Soreyda Benedit Begley, a Lexington fashion designer who began her career at age 14, sewing garments in a sweatshop in her native Honduras. Both events at John Hill Chapel are free.

Last week, Dr. Jeffrey Barrows, a physician, spoke about a form of slavery that is shockingly close to home: child sex trafficking. The founder of Gracehaven ministry said that at least 100,000 American children are forced into the sex trade each year, including some his Columbus, Ohio, shelter gets from Central Kentucky. One way to stop it, he said, is to teach medical professionals, educators and social workers to look for the signs of abuse, because victims are often too ashamed to seek help.

These events are part of a yearlong series of Georgetown College programs on modern slavery. Six faculty members are working the subject into course curricula in several departments. Bryan Langlands, the campus minister, also is involved.

“This is not just something for liberal activists to get huffy about,” Langlands said. “It has very literal implications for our faith as Christians.”

This effort began about six years ago, when Regan Lookadoo, an associate professor of psychology, was teaching a course on the psychology of slavery. The more the discussions moved from historic to modern bondage, she said, the more she researched the subject.

About the same time, Alison Jackson Tabor, an assistant professor of education, was reflecting on her experiences studying in Ghana, West Africa, a decade ago.

“During that time, I saw some things I didn’t understand,” she said, such as why some children never went to school, because they worked for low wages on banana plantations.

“It wasn’t until I got back to the states that I began connecting some of the dots between labor issues and consumer choices,” she said.

Their passion for the issue has attracted many others. While slavery is a complex global issue, they say, individuals can make a difference.

Coffee, chocolate, cotton, fruit, tea, sugar, rice, wine, cell phones and gold are among the most common consumer goods sometimes produced overseas by people who are paid very low wages and exposed to hazardous chemicals. Child labor is sometimes used to make goods such as soccer balls and carpets.

The best thing consumers can do, the professors say, is to buy products labeled “fair trade.” Fairtrade International, a non-profit organization, certifies producers to ensure that workers are paid and treated fairly, and not exposed to dangerous working conditions.

“There’s a lot to be said for contacting the managers of stores where you shop and asking them to carry fair-trade products,” Lookadoo said. “A lot of them are willing to do it if you just ask. And that filters up. Companies will change the way they do business when they know there’s a consumer demand for it.”

The next best thing to fair-trade food is certified organic. It minimizes the chance that workers — and you — will be exposed to hazardous chemicals, Lookadoo said.

They acknowledge that fair trade and organic products often cost a little more, but there are other ways to economize. Besides, they say, this is about more than money.

“A lot of this is about helping people to make connections between our ethical values and the things we buy,” said Langlands, the campus minister. “It’s making people realize that we’re addicted to cheap stuff, and there are moral consequences to that.”

‘There’s a dead guy in a parachute,’ 25 years later

September 11, 2010

It is hard to believe it was 25 years today that former Lexington police officer Andrew Thornton parachuted to his death in Knoxville while smuggling drugs. In today’s Herald-Leader, reporter Jack Brammer tells about the case that became known as the “bluegrass conspiracy.”

I remember that day, because I was at home in Knoxville, just a few miles from where Thornton landed in an old man’s yard in a semi-rural neighborhood on the edge of town.

I had been The Associated Press correspondent in Knoxville, covering East Tennessee, and I was then a roving regional/national reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, covering Tennessee and Kentucky. A friend at the now-defuct Knoxville Journal called and told me about the incident a couple of hours after it was discovered.

By the time I got to the old man’s house, Thornton’s body had been removed and police were packing up to leave. The old man, who lived alone and was beginning to suffer from dementia, was in the front yard with his adult nephew, trying to figure out what to make of all the excitement.

The nephew told me that he stopped by to check on his uncle every day. Early that morning, he said, the old man had called him to say, “There’s a dead guy in a parachute in my yard.”

Yea, right, the nephew thought. So it was a couple of hours before he made it out to his uncle’s home. “And, by golly, there was a dead guy in a parachute in the yard!” the nephew said.