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After Notre Dame, support for torched black churches swells

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The crowdfunding campaign to raise money for three African American churches gutted by arson in Louisiana began a week ago, but donations surged after flames engulfed the roof of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and the outcry provoked a conversation about the disparate reactions to the tragedies. Nearly $1 billion had been pledged to the Notre Dame rebuilding effort within hours of Monday's blaze. The massive attention focused on the French landmark prompted Megan Romer to take note and tweet: "My heart is broken over the loss of Notre Dame. The Catholic Church is also one of the world's wealthiest entities. If you are going to donate money to rebuild a church this week, I implore you to make it the black churches in St. Landry Parish." GoFundMe spokeswoman Aja Shepherd confirmed in an email that giving to the destroyed Louisiana churches increased Tuesday after Romer's tweet and a challenge from freelance journalist Yashar Ali to his nearly 400,000 Twitter followers. Other online reminders of the black churches' plight followed, including this Tuesday tweet from Hillary Clinton: "As we hold Paris in our hearts today, let's also send some love to our neighbors in Louisiana." Donations that totaled about $300,000 nearly a week into the campaign surged to $1.5 million by Wednesday night. The money is to be distributed equally among the three century-old churches to help them recover from the fires intentionally set from March 26 to April 4. White suspect Holden Matthews, 21, has been charged with arson and hate crimes. Among the calls for more giving to the black churches, there was concern that they were already being forgotten as flames leapt from the roof of Notre Dame. "It's terrible what happened to Notre Dame. ... But, 3 black churches in LA were purposely burnt down b/c of hate. Let's not...

Donations for burned black churches up after Notre Dame fire

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A crowdfunding campaign for three African American churches in Louisiana recently gutted by arson was climbing Tuesday after social media posts urging the public not to forget the plight of the small houses of worship as the eyes of the world were on the fire-ravaged Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. "As we hold Paris in our hearts today, let's also sent some love to our neighbors in Louisiana," a Tuesday tweet from Hillary Clinton read. Freelance journalist Yashar Ali, with 394,000 followers, struck a similar tone, tweeting that the Notre Dame restoration "will be well funded" and urging support for the Louisiana churches. "It's a blessing, truly a blessing," the Rev. Freddie Jack, president of the Seventh District Missionary Baptist Association, said of the fundraising campaign in a telephone interview Tuesday night. The three churches are members of the association. Suspect Holden Matthews, 21, is in custody in connection with the Louisiana fires and faces charges that include hate crimes. The fires happened in and around Opelousas beginning in late March. Matthews was arrested a week ago. The campaign hit $500,000 Tuesday evening, with contributions ranging from $5 to thousands of dollars. "It's all working out for the greater good," Jack said, when asked about the connection being made to the Notre Dame fire. The money raised is to be distributed equally among the three century-old churches: St. Mary Baptist Church, which burned on March 26 in Port Barre, a town just outside of Opelousas; and Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, which burned over the following 10 days.

Rats, leaks, urine: Life in New Orleans low-rent housing

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - One tenant catches rats in spring-loaded traps. Another tries to open her oven door - and it comes off in her hands. So goes another day at Peace Lake Towers. The complex in east New Orleans is one of 19 Louisiana sites that failed health and safety inspections in 2018 alone, according to an Associated Press review of federal housing data nationwide. Since 1999, 12% of Louisiana inspections ended in failing scores - the worst rate in the country, a January data release shows. Conditions at Peace Lake Towers are similar to those at many private, taxpayer-supported apartments for low-income tenants around the country. Michael Allen says he's caught five rats in the traps in his apartment in less than a week. Neighbor Angela LaSalle complained to a reporter that her kitchen range wasn't working right. When she tried to demonstrate the balky door, it fell off. Tenants also complain of unreliable air conditioners in the state's hothouse climate and limited hot water for bathing and washing clothes. They say strangers make their way into the building at night, sometimes sleeping in hallways or going to the bathroom in halls or elevators. Housing experts say apartment building owners in Southern communities with low rents can have trouble raising enough cash for repairs. Peace Lake Towers scored 24 out of a possible 100 in an inspection in January 2018 for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which subsidizes rents there. That's part of a national decline in inspection scores since 2007, AP found. Yet operators keep collecting payments and face few serious consequences, according to contract data released by HUD. The AP analyzed HUD's inspection data for privately owned apartments where needy tenants are assigned under the federal...

Audit: More than $17,000 improperly paid; $15,000 recovered

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Louisiana has recovered more than $15,000 that was improperly paid to a former Louisiana Tax Commission administrator who investigators saw playing golf, shopping and sitting in a bar at times when he was supposed to be at work for the commission, according to state officials. Tax Commission Chairman Lawrence Chehardy mentioned the recovered money in a letter that was included in the release of a state legislative auditor report outlining more than $17,600 in allegedly improper expenses and wages paid to Charles Abels III. Compiled in cooperation with state police, the report includes surveillance photographs of a man identified as Abels doing a variety of non-job-related things when the report says he was supposed to be at work for the commission, which oversees local tax assessors and handles taxpayer appeals. Abels resigned earlier this year and Chehardy said in a January interview that Abels had been suspended in November. Chehardy said he asked for assistance from the legislative auditor's office after complaints about Abels reached the governor's office and the state commissioner of administration. State police arrested Abels in January in connection with their investigation. However, formal charges have not been filed. East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore said in an email that his office has received the legislative auditor report but would not make a charging decision until it also had investigative reports from state police. Abels' attorney, Mary Olive Pierson, declined to comment on audit specifics but noted that Abels was a salaried employee. She said he was on call around the clock. "He wasn't an hourly employee," Pierson said. "He had to work when he had to work." She said the $15,288 that Chehardy said had been...

New Orleans to apologize for lynching of 11 Italians in 1891, among worst in American history

The mob assembled promptly at 10 a.m., crammed so tightly on the pavement that the streetcars couldn't run. Thousands of people, among them the most prominent businessmen, lawyers, merchants and politicians in New Orleans, marched in circles around a statue of Henry Clay. The crowd was "yelling itself hoarse," bent on a kind of justice that would be called murder today but that The Washington Post and numerous other newspapers called "vengeance" in 1891. The mob's victims awaited in the Orleans Parish jail, all of them Italian immigrants or children of immigrants who had just been acquitted in the shooting death of the New Orleans police chief; others still awaited trial. To this day, the chief's killer or killers have never been identified. But on the morning of March 14, 1891, despite the not-guilty verdicts, the mob seemed certain. "When the law is powerless," William Parkerson, the mob's leader and mayor's former campaign manager, yelled to the crowd, according to a 1991 New Orleans Times-Picayune article, "rights delegated by the people are relegated back to the people, and they are justified in doing that which the courts have failed to do." Once the speeches finished, The Post reported then, everyone stood still for a moment, quiet just long enough for one man's voice to catch the agitated crowd's attention: "Shall we get our guns?" The verdict was decisive. That morning, anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 vigilantes armed with Winchester rifles, axes and shotguns broke down the door of the parish jail and trampled past the passive sheriff's deputies until they captured 11 defenseless Italians and riddled their bodies with bullets. Two were dragged outside and hanged, one by a tree limb and the other by a lamp post. Historians have called the massacre the largest mass lynching in American history. The vigilante...

Ga State coach Hunter leaving to take over at Tulane

ATLANTA (AP) - Less than 48 hours after Georgia State was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, Ron Hunter decided Sunday to leave the Panthers to become Tulane's coach. Best known for tumbling to the court after his son hit a game-winning shot in the 2015 tournament, Hunter told The Associated Press that he had received other offers in the past but thought this was perhaps his final chance to make a move. Georgia State's season ended with an 84-55 loss to Houston on Friday. Hunter met the following day with Tulane officials for four hours and quickly realized it was time to move on after coaching the Panthers for eight seasons. "I wanted to sleep on it," he said in a telephone interview. "When I woke up this morning, I knew." Hunter plans to head to New Orleans on Monday, with a formal introduction to come the next day. His decision was first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The 54-year-old Hunter takes over a Tulane men's basketball program that fired Mike Dunleavy after the Green Wave failed to win a game in the American Athletic Conference. He has no doubts that he'll be able to turn things around, though he couldn't resist a joke about the low expectations. "I'll be a rock star if we win four games next year," Hunter said with a laugh. The biggest factor in leaving Georgia State, a sprawling school in downtown Atlanta that has struggled to carve a niche in the city's crowded sports scene, was its membership in one of those obscure leagues that never gets more than one NCAA Tournament bid. Hunter's best team in Atlanta may have been his 2013-14 squad, which went 17-1 in the Sun Belt Conference but lost the final of the league tournament in overtime, forcing the Panthers to settle for a spot in the NIT. The American, on the other hand, landed four...