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10 biggest local stories of 2008

by Jordan Green

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THE YEAR IN REVIEW

10 biggest local stories of 2008

Economic pain

The nation’s economic crisis deepened in 2008, with a growing number of home foreclosures that culminated in the failure of a handful of banks and a federal government bailout passed by Congress weeks before the November election. It played out in the Triad and across North Carolina. In May, with gas prices creeping up towards $4 per gallon, Winston-Salem pawnshop owner Calvin Holcombe was doing a brisk business. More often than not the reason given by customers intent on exchanging their belongings for an immediate infusion of cash had to do with transportation costs. “In some way or another,” Holcombe said, “they’re all related back to gasoline.” By the end of the year the cost of the gasoline in Winston-Salem had dropped to about $1.50 per gallon. Charlotte-based Wachovia Corp., a bank founded in Winston-Salem, fired Chief Financial Officer Tim Wurtz in July after second-quarter reports showed a net loss of $8.9 billion. By early October, the bank was facing failure and agreed to be acquired by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo following an aborted merger with Citigroup. In October, NC Budget & Tax Center researcher John Quinterno declared unemployment across the state to be at recessionary levels. One would-be applicant for unemployment benefits, photographer Anthony Clinton, found that he wasn’t qualified because he had been previously self-employed. Clinton had been laid off by the High Point commercial studio Tribuzio-Hilliard in 2002, and then the studio periodically used him as a freelancer. That would prove to be a curse when work dried up altogether and the photographer found himself disqualified for unemployment benefits. “I was angry and shocked they had done that but I didn’t show no anger or shock when they handed me my slip,” he said. “I had to keep my calm when they told me. I said, ‘If you need me to come back, call me.’” Calling economic conditions “a depression not a recession,” Greensboro Urban Ministry Executive Director Mike Aiken issued an alarm in late October that he was “very concerned about having enough emergency shelter for this winter for our homeless friends.” A coalition that came to be known as WE, an acronym for Winter Emergency, stepped up to open temporary emergency shelters at churches and the Hive community center. And in December, Lutheran Family Services reduced the number of international refugees it plans to place in Greensboro in 2009 from 450 to 200 because of the increasing difficulty that clients from countries such as Iraq have had securing employment. Volunteers with the Islamic Center of the Triad have alleged that refugee families from Burma and other countries living at Brookfield Woods apartments in north Greensboro have faced hunger after their benefits ran out.

Travails of the Latin Kings

Days after the announcement that the US government had indicted 26 members of the Salvadoran street gang MS-13 in North Carolina Jorge Cornell, North Carolina inca of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation thrust himself into the public spotlight by announcing that he was seeking a peace agreement among organizations known as gangs. Two days later, surveillance footage captured a private security officer contracted by the city of Greensboro punching Russell Kilfoil, who is Cornell’s brother and a Latin King, in the face. A report by a Greensboro human relations administrator characterized the incident as an example of discrimination and the officer, Byron Wayne Meadows, was prohibited from working on city property. In early August, Cornell was shot multiple times outside an apartment complex in southwest Greensboro. The following day the Rev. Nelson Johnson, an ally, held a press conference and conveyed Cornell’s forgiveness to whomever was responsible for the shooting. “He is asking all those who love him, those who he is affiliated with, and all those who sense this injustice not to retaliate,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t believe that will be helpful.” The Latin Kings allege that they have been the target of an ongoing harassment campaign by the Greensboro Police Department’s gang enforcement unit. The police, in turn, deny that they have mistreated the group. In early December, Cornell was acquitted of a charge of assaulting a police officer. He and three other Latin Kings face trial felony charges of abduction of children next month, but reportedly turned down a plea deal because they believe themselves to be innocent.

Crackdown in Alamance

The arrest of Graham Public Library employee Marxavi Angel Martinez for using a false Social Security number in July underscored what undocumented residents already know about Alamance County: the jurisdiction along straddling Interstate 85/40 between the Triad and Triangle is a cruel place to be illegal. Another incident also brought unwelcome attention to the county: 26-yearold Maria Chavira Ventura was arrested by an Alamance County sheriff’s deputy in the wee hours of the morning on June 14 for a traffic violation and later processed for deportation, leaving her children unattended until their father came down from New Jersey to fetch them. In the midst of those two incidents, the State Bureau of Investigation, at the instigation of a county commission, looked into whether the county’s health department was operating in violation of the law by providing care to undocumented mothers who used aliases from false Social Security numbers to obtain maternal services. At its conclusion, no county employees were charged with any crime or determined to have done anything wrong. Meanwhile, Sheriff Terry Johnson vigorously defended his agency’s use of the federal partnership known as 287(g) to identify illegal immigrants and process them for deportation. The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office processed 31 people arrested for various offenses for deportation in August. Of those, only two had been

Democrat Barack Obama appeared in Greensboro with running-mate JoeBiden the day after his first presidential debate with opponent JohnMcCain. Obama went on to carry North Carolina in the Nov. 4 election bya narrow margin. (photo by Jordan Green)

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