Series

A problematic junkyard

By the time by internship ended, I had written four stories about one junkyard and its battle against the city to re-open despite a fire and 71 violations. 

Firefighters knock down 4-alarm scrapyard blaze in Kensington

Note: The first story was about an out-of-control fire that left the air in the neighborhood smelling like burnt chemicals.

Firefighters Wednesday afternoon remained at the scene pouring water on the smoldering embers of a Kensington junk yard fire that burned out of control for three hours Tuesday, spewing smoke that could be seen for miles around before darkness fell and flames that lit up the night.

One firefighter reportedly suffered a non-life-threatening injury — a fall at the fire site. No fatalities were reported.

The cause of the fire at Tulip and Somerset Streets is under investigation.

The blaze was reported just after 8:35 p.m. and climbed to four alarms before being declared under control shortly after 11:35 p.m.

Officials said the massive scrap pile — on property that is bounded on one side by train tracks that lead to freight terminals along the Delaware River —  consisted mainly of metal, wood and paper. The property has been a source of neighborhood complaints but was not directly adjacent to any homes and firefighters contained the blaze to the site.

The smoke was visible for miles before sunset.

The business is named Philadelphia Metal and Resource Recovery and is owned by a company operated by Theresa Hamilton and Denna Hodak, both of Titusville, Pa. The owners declined to comment.

In a separate blaze overnight, two people were found dead after a fire in a North Philadelphia rowhome.

(Published on Philly.com on July 10, 2018)


City says scene of Kensington junkyard fire cited multiple times, owners taken to court

Note: The next day, I discovered that the city had cited the junkyard 71 times for violations and had taken the owners to court twice already. A third court date was scheduled for August before the fire happened.

The Kensington junkyard that was the site of a spectacular fire that burned out of control for three hours Tuesday night has been cited for code violations multiple times during the last 10 years, according to public records, and is the subject of a court case in which the city is seeking “strict” fines and penalties, city officials said Wednesday.

The citations by the Department of Licenses and Inspections included alleged violations for “mislabeled storage containers” and “excessive collection of tires,” a city spokeswoman said. Two hearings  have been held since the city filed the action in Common Pleas Court in February, and a third hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30.

Owners of the junkyard, Philadelphia Metal & Resource Recovery, declined to comment.

Neighborhood residents said the junkyard, at Tulip and Somerset Streets, has been a longstanding problem.

“This junkyard has been a nuisance,” said Jamie Moffett, adding that it attracts homeless people who sell scrap to the yard. “I’m really sad it happened this way, but I’m glad people are finally paying attention.” 

The fire, which was still burning Wednesday afternoon, created billows of dark smoke that could be seen for miles, and gave off the stench of burning chemicals and fouled the air.

The Clean Air Council called the fire a “preventable pollution disaster,” saying hourly concentrations of fine particulate matter in the area rose far above federal standards.

Rebekah Wilcox, who lives in the neighborhood with her 5-year-old daughter, who has asthma, said she didn’t realize a fire of this magnitude could happen there.

“I’m concerned about everything,” she said after hearing explosions from what she thinks were cars with gas still in the tanks. “I want the junkyard shut down.”

Officials said the 30-foot-high scrap pile — on property bounded on one side by train tracks that lead to freight terminals along the Delaware River — consisted mainly of metal, wood, plastic, and paper. The property was not directly adjacent to any homes and firefighters contained the blaze to the site.

The cause of the fire is still unknown.

During several inspections by L&I this year, the site was cited numerous times for the mislabeled storage containers, excessive collection of tires, and a fence that required repair, according to the city.

The city believes those violations did not directly lead to the fire but was “exceedingly concerned with the excessive storage, which, if there was a fire, could lead to a more intense and substantial conflagration.”

There were no fatalities, but one firefighter reportedly suffered a non-life-threatening injury from a fall at the site. The investigation is continuing, said Battalion 10 Chief Joseph Montague.

Not everyone wants to see the junkyard go.

Carlos Mosley, 47, a former garbage man who said he has been homeless for four months, said he makes regular trips to the junkyard, selling scraps of metal and other items for money. He can make up to $60 a day doing that.

“A lot of people rely on this place,” Mosley said. “I’m sad to see something like this happen.”

(Published on Philly.com on July 11, 2018)


Kensington junkyard, site of spectacular fire, violations, reopens for business

Note: Just two weeks later, the junkyard reopened for business. 

The junkyard in Kensington that was the site of a spectacular four-alarm fire two weeks ago has reopened for business and begun accepting new materials, its owner said.

The junkyard, which has been cited multiple times for violations by the Department of Licenses and Inspections in the last 10 years, opened last week and was operating at 50 percent capacity as of Monday, said owner David Feinberg.

Despite numerous violations, a pending Common Pleas Court case prevents the city from closing the facility at Somerset and Tulip Streets, said L&I spokesperson Karen Guss.

“It is disturbing but not illegal for Philadelphia Metal to be accepting new materials,” she said.

The July 10 blaze, which created billows of dark smoke that could be seen for miles, gave off the stench of burning chemicals. It also fouled the air, according to the Clean Air Council.

“The fire looked a lot worse than it really was,” Feinberg said, adding that Philadelphia firefighters “did a terrific job.”

Jamie Moffett, who lives in the neighborhood, said he was stunned that the business, run by Philadelphia Metal & Resource Recovery, was able to operate again.

“It’s like nothing ever happened,” he said. “It’s unreasonable to allow that to happen.” 

The violations over the last decade include “mislabeled storage containers” and “excessive collection of tires,” according to public records.

Two hearings have been held since the city filed the action in Common Pleas Court in February, and a third hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30.

The city is concerned about the further deterioration of the junkyard as a result of the fire and the thousands of gallons of water used to extinguish it, Guss said. It is looking at what additional enforcement measures can and should be taken against the continuously code-violating business, she said.

“It’s pretty troubling and brings into question how the city deals with these things,” said Russell Zerbo of the Clean Air Council, who attended the May hearing.

Philadelphia Metal & Resource Recovery hasn’t been the only problematic junkyard in Philly, according to Zerbo. He said that the city needs junkyards but that some of them present hazards.

“We’re aware of the situation,” Zerbo said. “But it’s up to L&I and a judge to do these things,” like shut it down.

(Published on Philly.com on July 24, 2018)


Fire-damaged Kensington junkyard ordered to shut down by city

Note: Two days later, the city ordered the junkyard to temporarily shut down.

The Kensington junkyard that reopened just two weeks after a spectacular fire has been ordered to shut down by the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

Until the junkyard, Philadelphia Metal & Resource Recovery, drastically reduces its scrap piles to 10 feet and creates clear fire lanes between piles, it cannot legally accept new materials, L&I spokesperson Karen Guss said late Wednesday. At the time of the fire, its scrap piles were as high as 30 feet.

Guss said the order to cease operations comes as a result of the blaze two weeks ago that she said caused “further deterioration” of the property.

L&I has cited it multiple times in the last 10 years for violations including “mislabeled storage containers” and an “excessive collection of tires,” according to public records. The city has taken the junkyard to court twice, and a Common Pleas Court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30.

The owner could not be reached for comment on the order to close.

Rebekah Wilcox, who lives in the neighborhood, said she was glad the city issued the shutdown order but was skeptical the company would comply.

“After I learned all of the violations they’ve been written up for, it makes me wonder if they’re really going to make the changes,” Wilcox said. “I’ll  be watching, for sure.”

(Published on Philly.com on July 26, 2018)


Kensington junkyard, site of spectacular fire, code violations, must stay closed, judge rules

Note: The junkyard took the city to court, requesting that they be able to reopen immediately. But, the judge ruled that it must stay closed until it adheres to code.

The Kensington junkyard that was the scene of a spectacular fire last month will have to remain closed until it resolves multiple code violations, a judge ruled Thursday.

Rejecting a request by Philadelphia Metal & Resource Recovery to reopen its junkyard at Tulip and Somerset Streets, Common Pleas Court Judge Paula A. Patrick gave owner David Feinberg a week to prepare for an inspection by the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

If it fails, the junkyard will have to stay shut until it complies. If needed, the Aug. 30 hearing scheduled before the blaze happened will go forward.

The junkyard caught fire on July 10 but reopened a week later. L&I ordered it closed on July 25 after inspectors visited the property and gave Feinberg three hours to fix violations, which included a lack of fire lanes between scrap piles.

That demand was unreasonable, said Feinberg’s attorney, Darlene Threatt, who said Feinberg has “diligently been working to clear these violations.”

“These violations are punitive in nature and are aimed at shutting my client down permanently, not aimed at protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the community,” Threatt said.

She said that it would take at least 30 days to get the junkyard into compliance and that its 30 employees wouldn’t be paid in the meantime.

City attorney Edward Jefferson said the absence of fire lanes inhibited firefighters who were battling the blaze. One firefighter was injured.

L&I has cited the junkyard 71 times in the last 10 years for violations including “mislabeled storage containers” and an “excessive collection of tires,” according to public records.

“The key [to reopening] is totally in [Feinberg’s] hand, and it’s been in his hand the whole time,” Jefferson said.

Threatt pointed out that Feinberg had owned the yard only since 2016, but the judge said “he was aware of the certain violations” and didn’t try to fix them.

(Published on Philly.com on Aug. 2, 2018)



Eye on Your Dollar Column

As mentioned on the homepage of my website, I wrote an investigative news column about the uses of taxpayer money in high school. In an effort to monitor power, I ended every column with my recommendation about whether the use of funds should be maintained. Here are some of the best articles — including one that placed second in a national competition.

After-hours library program under scrutiny

Note: My debut article questioned whether an underutilized after-school library program was worth the money it was costing the district.

Today we introduce a new feature that looks into the school district’s use of funds. We try to answer the question: is this the best use of taxpayer money? In the first installment, we look at an under-utilized library program at DHS and Montgomery Elementary. 

Students walking past the DHS library after 5 p.m. on most weekdays might notice a portable sign advertising free computer and internet access. 

The After-Hours program keeps the library open to students and their families Monday through Thursday from 5-7:15 p.m. every week during the school year. It is staffed by a district employee. Less than a five-minute walk away is the Mary L. Stephens Davis Library which is open until 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Public Information Officer Maria Clayton said that DJUSD spends about $13,000 annually to staff the “Library after-hours program.” 

The DHS After-Hours program began in April 2015. UC Davis student Rafael Frias is the lone library technician who works the two hour and fifteen minute shift four nights a week. 

He thinks the program is an underutilized resource for students.

“I think it is worth keeping it open even though there is not a lot of people. I think the problem is that people don’t know about it. I think that is what the issue is,” Frias said.

Access to Chromebooks ,the conference room and free printing are a few of the tools offered at DHS that are not offered at the public library. The Chromebooks give the option of logging on as a guest as opposed to the public library computers that require an active account or obtaining a temporary guest pass. 

The After-Hours program does not limit computer usage whereas students can only access public library computers for an hour at a time. 

Students are not the only people who can take advantage of the services; parents and school faculty can, too.

“Here, the idea of the program is to make it more welcoming. They don’t have to be as quiet. It’s supposed to be a welcoming space,” Frias said. “There’s free printing for families, so sometimes they come in here and print. For example, I had a parent come in here and print out tax forms.”

DHS librarian Bruce Cummings said that most attendance logs have been misplaced but he did find a few from last year. On Jan. 26, 2016, 12 students, three instructors, one tutor and one parent utilized the library services — the most that had used the program on a single day during that school year. 

But there were days when the library remained empty and Frias sat patiently at his desk, waiting to check in students.

For example, on Jan. 6, 2016, Feb. 11, 2016, and March 3, 2016, no one came.

Since Sept. 6 this year, 112 people have made use of the library after-hours — a spike from the 2015-16 school year.

DHS librarian Bruce Cummings said at least one person has attended the program every day it has been open this school year.

“It does seem to be growing now that I am looking at the data usage. Probably it will grow as it gets more publicity,” he said.

Cummings named word of mouth as an effective way to learn about the program. 

“But if you’re an isolated family, word of mouth is not going to reach you. So we can do better publicizing it,” he said.

The same After-Hours program exists at Marguerite Montgomery Elementary School in south Davis with different hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. 

Marcia Bernard, who is in charge of the program, explains why the program is essential at both DHS and Montgomery. 

“This program directly supports our focus on access and equity in our district’s LCAP and Strategic Plan,” Bernard said.

And how is she working with the district to promote the program?

“We market the program on the district Facebook page, the district website, and also by hanging posters and periodically handing out flyers families in the Bridge and English Language Learners programs,” Bernard said.

Is this the best use of taxpayer money?

The HUB says: There are two options: raise awareness about the program and help more students utilize it, or shut the program down and direct students to the public library. It is illogical to devote money to the program if few students take advantage of it, so spread the word.

(Published in the Oct. 21 2016 edition of The HUB)


Davis pays substitute teachers significantly less than other districts

Note: I co-wrote this article with a younger student journalist who I was mentoring at the time. I taught him how to request and attend meetings with officials at the district office, access nearby district’s varying substitute pay rates, cite data from credible sources and approach teachers who might hold bias. This article placed second in the National Scholastic Press Assocation’s 2017 Best News Story of the Year contest.

This news feature is the third in a series of articles that looks into the school district’s use of funds. We try to answer the question: Is this the best use of taxpayer money? In this edition, we investigate substitute teacher daily rates and the current substitute shortage.

According to the most up-to-date documents on respective district websites, the Davis Joint Unified School District pays its day-to-day substitute teachers up to 18 percent less than the average salary of neighboring school districts such as Woodland, Vacaville and Natomas.

These competing districts make attracting and maintaining a sufficient number of substitutes difficult for DJUSD, leading to a recent substitute shortage.

“When the economy was bad, we had lots of substitutes. We rarely had a day where the jobs went unfilled,”said Matt Best, DJUSD Associate Superintendent of Administrative Services.

“Since the economy has turned around, almost all those substitutes have jobs now. Our substitute pool is about the same size, but we’re competing with all the other districts to a greater degree.”

According to Best, DJUSD generally has five or less unfilled substitute positions on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, which escalates to ten vacant substitute positions on Mondays and Fridays.

This lack of substitutes forces teachers, administrators and librarians to fill in the gap.

“I would say probably 95 percent of the time, one-hour [substitute positions] get filled by [teachers] because usually it’s like ‘I gotta go to the doctor or I gotta pick up my kid,’ and you’ll talk to your colleague,” Best said.

This creates a stressful dilemma for teachers.

“There are times when you have to go photocopy something or you have a student that’s requesting something and you have to get it done. So when you’re asked to sub in another class, it can make a teacher’s life more stressful because you want to help out a colleague, but then you’re sacrificing what you need to do,” social studies teacher Fern O’Brien said. “We do it with a smile on our face when necessary, but there’s really a hidden cost there that we end up paying for in our own stress load.”

DJUSD pays its substitutes based on how many days they have worked in the district for the current school year―incentivizing loyalty and commitment to Davis.

After 20 days at schools in DJUSD, substitutes receive a $5 pay raise. Compensation grows by $5 again after 40 days and 80 days of work. An additional $7 hike in the daily raise occurs after 100 days, though Best said that few substitutes reach this step on the pay schedule.

However, even with DJUSD’s salary based on days worked in the school year, a substitute would need to work at least 101 days just to match the Woodland Joint Unified School District’s or Vacaville Unified School District’s flat rate of $130 per day.

According to Best, only three substitutes even come close to working every day in the district―most do it part time. This means that by the time DJUSD substitutes finally earn the same amount as substitutes in other districts, the school year (184 days) would already be close to over―causing a substitute’s daily rate to reset.

As a result, Richard Bruce, a dedicated DJUSD substitute with over 20 years of experience, states that substitutes with financial difficulties prefer to sub in other districts for the higher pay and for the neighborhoods with cheaper rent.

However, Best affirms that there is a “non-monetary value” to subbing at Davis High, due to the more friendly and supportive community in addition to a potential opportunity for future employment as a teacher.

Bruce agrees that Davis is “a good place to start subbing […] because the students are easier to handle.” He believes this is a strong incentive for new substitutes to begin their career in Davis. However, according to Bruce, once these new substitutes gather enough experience from Davis, they will move to another district for the higher pay, making DJUSD the district that “train[s] everyone else’s employees.”

Substitute teachers at Davis High must have a 30 day subbing credential, a teaching credential or be a DJUSD retiree.

The most common substitutes are those with a 30 day credential, which requires a Bachelor’s Degree, passing of the California Basic Educational Skills Test and clean fingerprints, Best said.

Districts stagger their rates of pay for substitutes based on credentials and legacy. In Davis, substitutes with a full teaching credential receive about $10 more per day than substitutes with a 30 day credential. DJUSD retirees are also allotted their own increased daily rate.

However, across the board, neighboring school districts provide a higher rate of pay―regardless of credentials.

The starting rate per day for 30 day credentialed substitutes in Davis is a meager $104; compared to $130 for Woodland and Vacaville, and $120 for Natomas. In Davis, this rate increases to $114 for fully credentialed substitutes; while in Woodland and Vacaville, the pay rises to a flat $150 and $140, respectively.

In Davis, retired DJUSD teachers start with a salary of $136, while in Natomas, retired teachers can earn an extra $25 a day, equating to $145. For retirees in Woodland and Vacaville, their rate rises to $170 and $160, respectively.

Looking forward, Best explains DJUSD’s current plan to make its substitute rate more competitive with neighboring districts.

“[The daily] rate has gone up 2 percent each year just like the [pay for full-time] employees. It didn’t before. We basically got authorization from the board to say if employees get a raise, the sub rates go up also. That was [in] 2014.”

However, according to CNN Money, this 2 percent raise is below the average 3 percent raise that most employees across America receive per year. In fact, it is only just high enough to keep up with America’s inflation rate, which is currently about 1.6 percent, according to U.S. Inflation Calculator.

The HUB was not able to locate the previous rates of pay for substitutes in neighboring districts, and thus was not able to determine if substitutes in other districts experience a yearly pay increase as well.

Is this the best use of taxpayer money? The HUB says:
Yes―properly compensating substitute teachers is essential in making sure schools run as smoothly as possible without placing additional burdens on teachers or other staff. The district should allocate more funds to substitute pay to be more competitive with other districts in order to ensure all substitute positions are filled.

(Published  in the Dec. 16, 2016 edition of The HUB and online)


Athletics funded through many different outlets

Note: I teamed up with a three sport athlete to investigate the athletics department budget. We had several meetings with the athletic director, athletic secretary and public information officer to delve into the various pools of money. Afterwards, we broke down the complicated finances for students to understand.

This news feature is the fourth in a series of articles that looks into Davis High’s use of funds. We try to answer the question: Is this the best use of the school’s money? In this edition, we dive into the specifics of the athletic department’s budget.

DHS is home to 60 sports teams; however, each of those teams does not receive an allocated dollar amount from the district, according to Athletic Director Jeff Lorenson.

Instead, the school uses its approximated $70,000—obtained from ASB card sales and collecting money at the entrance at all football, basketball and volleyball games—to finance the hidden costs of the sports. These expenditures include referees, California Interscholastic Federation dues, playoff entry fees and substitutes for teachers who double as coaches.

“There’s a lot of things in a program this size that happen, but people don’t necessarily understand or realize what it takes to support the success of the program outside of putting the students out there with a coach,” Lorenson said.

Prices for officials vary by sport and can cost up to $108 per official for varsity football Section playoffs. Last year, athletics spent $33,541 on officials alone, athletic department secretary Laurie Williams said.

However, the cost can be offset by charging an additional fee at the gate for postseason games. Playoff ticket prices range from $4 for students at home baseball, soccer, softball, track and field and water polo games to $15 for adults at the Wrestling Masters Competition at Stockton Arena.

Athletics is required by the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section to charge a gate at these games and can be fined if they do not comply. Last year’s women’s varsity soccer team opted to pay the $250 fine because it was too difficult to collect a gate on an open field, Lorenson said.

But since women’s and men’s soccer were moved to the winter season this year, charging a gate for all games has become an option as some games are played on the turf field in the Ron and Mary Brown Stadium. However, there is one setback to this plan.

“Our league by law says that if you don’t charge for all of [the games for a particular sport], you can’t charge for any of them because we don’t want to be dialing in, only charging certain teams that we know might have a larger crowd,” Lorenson said.

And since some games are still being played at Yudin Field, charging a gate at all league games is not an option this year.

So how do teams finance their other expenses if not through the district?

Track and field head coach and DHS English teacher Spencer Elliott explains that athletes on the track team—if they are able to—are asked to make a suggested donation of around $185 to the team each year and purchase their own uniforms. This money funds the bus rides to weekday meets, uniforms for team members who cannot afford them and a few of the 12 coaches’ stipends.

In addition, the 200-person team hosts the annual Halden Invitational in mid-April in which they collect a gate from spectators, charge team entry fees from various schools, sell t-shirts and have a concession stand, Elliott said. Last year, the team made almost $10,000 from the track meet.

This sum helped lower last year’s total operational cost of $43,264.18. Elliott planned accordingly for the expenses of prestigious, far-away track meets, and the team account held $553.49 at the close of the season.

The track team nearly breaks even every year, but does not have any extra funds for new equipment to replace worn-out pole vault pits and missing hurdles. This year, a new pole vault pit is needed, which costs around $15,000, Elliott said.

“I’m not sure what to do because I’m not going to ask everyone for $600. What I really want to do is coach, but what I end up doing is running a small business.”

Men’s varsity basketball head coach Dan Gonzalez asks for a suggested donation of $150 from the estimated 15 players each year, but emphasizes that the money is not required to be a part of the team.

The donations cover the uniforms that belong to the team and are loaned out to players, tournament fees, team sweatshirts for the players to keep and the catered end-of-year banquet.

“It’s purely something that parents volunteer. No one is expected to pay a certain amount. Even if they don’t donate, they still get all this stuff,” he said.

Similar to track and field, the basketball team hosts the three-day Les Curry tournament in mid-December every year. This year, the tournament was held Dec. 15-17, included 16 teams and made $3,000 for the basketball program.

The basketball team also receives money from sponsors who pay to have their business advertised on the north wall in the north gym. The ads change depending on the players and parents that are part of the program, Gonzalez said.

“There’s regulars, and some that are new. The sponsor money helps offset [the remaining operational costs],” Gonzalez said.

Lorenson asks each sports team to do one to two fundraisers each season and hopes to find a large scale fundraiser benefitting all teams in the future. He also acknowledges that some teams have an easier time raising money than others.

“If you get 1,000 people showing up to your game, it’s easier to have a spirit sales booth than if there’s only 20 people showing up. I would always encourage our programs to fundraise rather than just ask for money.”

Some assistant coaches are funded through suggested donations while all head coaches are paid for by Measure H, the parcel tax which was passed once again in November. Level I coaches (i.e. varsity football, cross country and varsity tennis) receive $4,298; level II coaches (i.e. varsity swim, varsity golf and varsity lacrosse) receive $2,957 and level III coaches (i.e. football field and junior varsity lacrosse) receive $1,614.

According to Lorenson, the athletic department has ended the school year with a positive balance for the past two years by asking these questions before spending any money: How much does it cost to run an athletic program here? How do we fund it? Are we ending in the red or are we ending in the black?

“That’s our goal: to never end in the red. Obviously if there was a year where all of a sudden there’s a massive amount of either low attendance at games or ASB cards not being sold, it would have a huge effect and there would be areas that we would have to say ‘I’m sorry we can’t fund this,’” Lorenson said.

Is this the best use of school money? The HUB says:
Yes, the athletic department is being responsible by only funding what it can afford; however, the school should make an effort to organize fundraisers for sports teams to lower the cost of the suggested donation that families pay each season, and help in purchasing and repairing sports equipment.

(Published in the Jan. 27, 2017 edition of The HUB and online)



Hate crime on local mosque

A DHS graduate committed a hate crime on a local mosque. I followed the story closely with other reporters from my high school as we competed against the local newspaper to give the best coverage. 

Students respond to hate crime directed at Islamic Center of Davis

Note: Because we are a student-run newspaper with an audience of mostly students, we used the angle of how students were responding to the incident.

DHS alumna Bismah Siddiqi goes to the Islamic Center of Davis one to three times a week, and has been attending prayers at mosques for as long as she can remember.

When Siddiqi heard about last Sunday’s vandalism attack on the Davis mosque through Facebook, she was sad but not surprised. “I think the social climate in America right now is validating the abuse of marginalized groups,” Siddiqi said.

Siddiqi still plans to attend the mosque as much as she can, claiming that someone else’s ignorance is not enough to scare her off from her peaceful place.

“I know to be careful when I go, but the mosque has always been a place where I feel secure and this incident doesn’t change that,” Siddiqi said. That being said, Siddiqi thinks “that what happened was terrible and disgusting.”

Community members learned of the hate crime on Sunday morning upon arrival at the mosque and watched video surveillance in hopes of finding the suspect.

“[The video] shows someone who appears to be female smashing multiple windows with what appears to be an ice pick and placing slices of bacon on the door handles. She was also seen slashing bike tires that were parked outside of the Masjid,” according to the Islamic Center’s website.

“In my opinion, when incidents like this occur, the response to it is more indicative of what the community stands for. People have been showing their support for the mosque through donations, flowers, letters, and coming in person and telling us that they care,” she said.

Siddiqi believes the person who committed the act of hate probably wanted to make Muslims in Davis feel scared and unwelcome, but the exact opposite happened.

In response to Saturday night’s hate crime on the Islamic Center of Davis, ‘08 DHS alumna Kate Mellon-Anibaba worked with “Statement of Love,” a community group that organizes demonstrations of support, to put together a gathering at Central Park today at 1:30 p.m. to protest the incident. She expects more than 1,000 people to attend.

The group will march to the mosque located near the intersection of Anderson Road and Russell Boulevard to “make a stand against Islamophobia and support our Muslim sisters, brothers and children,” according to Statement of Love’s Facebook page. Participants can hold signs outside the Islamic Center during Jumuah prayer, which begins at 1:15 p.m..

“I’m sad as a supporter that this happened in our community, but this is a wake up call for action. There have been undertones that we’ve ignored and this [hate crime] brought them to life,” Mellon-Anibaba said. “We can take this hate and turn it into something positive that will bring the community together.”

Following the hate crime, community members looked to Launch Good, a global crowdfunding platform to support Muslims, for help raising funds to repair the damage. As of Wednesday, $22,212 has been gathered from the community, exceeding the original goal of $9,000. Donations can be made online at launchgood.com or in person at today’s event.

Mellon-Anibaba said the money will go towards more surveillance, security systems and the Sunday school for young children.

Junior Zainab Alzubidi is not a regular attender of the Davis Islamic Center, but as a Muslim, she is extremely concerned about the events that took place.

“I feel unsafe because this was a crime fueled by hate and ignorance. This person clearly does not know that all Muslims are not terrorists and that puts everyone who is remotely related to Islam in danger, despite following American values and having done nothing wrong,” Alzubidi said.

Similarly, senior Zainub Balla also believes this hate crime was an act of ignorance. “I think it’s so disturbing and disrespectful. [The woman behind the attack was] not even bothering to learn about the religion,” Balla said.

Balla, who attends the mosque whenever she finds the time, shared that the president of the mosque informed the members not to be hateful to the woman responsible for the crime. Instead, the president believes that the woman should be educated on the topic to resolve her hate for a religion she may not know much about.

While Balla is not fearful like Alzubidi, she holds more anger. “I think she’s trying to get caught and trying to spread the message that ‘hey we don’t like you anymore,’” Balla said.

Balla has been attending the Davis Islamic Center since childhood, when she would go to Sunday school to learn Arabic and Islamic history and study the Quran. During the school year, Balla tries to make as much time for the mosque as she can, but typically spends more time at the center during Ramadan, when Taraweeh, long prayers, take place every night.

As a longtime member, Balla has witnessed multiple acts of hate towards the mosque including a robbery, and, more recently, a hate letter that was sent to the Davis Islamic Center as well as several other mosques.

The mosque and her culture has grown to be a big part of her life. As a result, Balla is more than willing to face the hatred and to continue attending prayers. “I’d rather address the problem than run away from it,” Balla said.

Alzubidi agrees with Balla and thinks the community needs to work together to face the growing problem of Islamophobia.

“We must stand together and stay strong,” Alzubidi said.

(Published on BlueDevilHUB.com on Jan. 27, 2017)


DHS grad arrested in link to recent hate crime

Note: The suspect was arrested three weeks later, and I jumped in on the story with another editor.  I contacted Kate Mellon-Anibaba, who I interviewed for the first hate crime story, and she directed me to her husband Sule Anibaba who attended school with the suspect. The Davis Enterprise quoted our story.

Davis High alumna Lauren Kirk-Coehlo was arrested on Feb. 14 for “hate motivated vandalism” against the Islamic Center of Davis, but showed no signs of such behavior during her time at Davis High and for years after graduation, according to classmates.

In an arraignment on Feb. 16 Kirk-Coehlo pleaded “not guilty” to the felony charges.

Officer Daniel La Fond originally requested a $40,000 bail, but has now asked for a $1 million bond for Kirk-Coehlo in a bail document submitted to the court. The request was granted.

The officer’s declaration of arrest includes reports of several private messages and social media posts by Kirk-Coehlo that may have indicated her motives. Police say several of her posts glorified Dylann Roof, who was convicted of killing nine African-Americans after a Bible study in a church in Charleston, North Carolina in 2015.

According to La Fond, she also sent private messages saying she had “dreams and aspirations” to kill “many people” three separate times.

The document also stated that Kirk-Coelho used derogatory terms including the N-word.  According to the arresting officer, Kirk-Coelho “converses via text with her mother about her ‘mental problems.’” Kirk-Coehlo is allegedly the woman caught on tape on Jan. 22, smashing in the windows of the Davis Islamic Center and wrapping the door handles with pork.

According to the bail statement, Kirk-Coehlo also conducted several online searches about Alexandre Bissonnette, who killed six people and injured nine people at a mosque in Quebec, Canada on Jan. 31. Jacob Berman, who graduated with Kirk-Coehlo in 2004, said he last saw her about three years ago.

According to Berman, Kirk-Coehlo was a “pretty unremarkable Davis liberal,” and he had seen no anomalous behavior to note otherwise.

“When I knew her, I never noticed anything more eccentric than a weakness for marijuana and loud colored hair dye,” said Berman, now a lawyer living in New York City. According to Berman, Kirk-Coehlo has not been very active on social media since he has last seen her.

She took her Facebook page down and rarely uses her Twitter account. Berman was “disturbed” when he found out about her arrest.

“You never know what is in someone’s head, I guess. I never knew I was friends with a white supremacist,” Berman said.

According to the 2004 DHS yearbook, Kirk-Coehlo was co-president of the Environmental Club while at DHS.

“The Environmental Club is worth joining because preserving the environment is very satisfying, the club is continually reaching out and taking new projects,” Kirk-Coehlo told the yearbook.

Sherri Sandberg, a science teacher at Davis High, was the adviser for the club while Kirk-Coehlo was in it. Sandberg describes Kirk-Coehlo as “a very happy bubbly person” who, along with her co-president, gathered food scraps from the kitchen that prepared meals for the entire district and composted them.

“She was very welcoming to all kinds of people,” Sandberg said. 

Sule Anibaba also graduated from DHS in 2004 and while he did not have any personal interactions with her, he recognized her face. Anibaba attends the Davis Islamic Center regularly and was saddened when he learned who the suspect was.

“Seeing how far this young lady was willing to go — the hate — I am not surprised. I’m sure that she had hate in her,” Anibaba said.

Anibaba started the Muslim Student Union during his time at DHS, motivated by false assumptions that are still present today.

“We first started it after 9/11. There was so much tension and threats made towards Muslims. I remember discussing some of those,” Anibaba said.

He described Davis as “sheltered” and thinks Davis “could do much better making their young ones aware about differences.” Kirk-Coehlo graduated from UC Berkeley in May 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in English, according to University Media Relations Officer Yasmin Anwar.

(Published on BlueDevilHUB.com on Feb. 15, 2017)