Why President Obama Liked The Wire

Whitehouse.gov Screenshot
Whitehouse.gov Screenshot

President: Emulate "Humanizing" of Drug Criminals

President Obama told the creator of the legendary HBO drama "The Wire" on Thursday that efforts to reform the criminal justice system should include local newscasts showing the humanity of those charged with nonviolent drug crimes.

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"Part of the challenge is going to be making sure, number one, we humanize what so often on the local news is just a bunch of shadowy characters, and tell their stories," Obama told David Simon in a conversation that the White House distributed as a video. "That's why the work you've done is so important." Their talk was shown at the #Cut50 Bipartisan Criminal Justice Summit in Washington.

Obama also told Simon that his favorite character on "The Wire" was Omar Little, described by the Huffington Post as "a gay, shotgun-toting stick-up man who robbed from drugdealers to give to the poor" and by Bloomberg News as "the magical realist Robin Hood played by Michael K. Williams."

Simon, a onetime Baltimore Sun reporter, told the president, "The guy who was the model for the character Omar in 'The Wire' was a real guy named Donny Anders. I never thought I'd be saying his name in the White House. He's a guy who lived the life on the street; he spent years robbing drug dealers, he lived hard. And he eventually caught a 17-year bid and he deserved it. But he wasn't caught, he actually went in on conscience, cause it finally got to him. And he did everything that the prosecutors wanted him to do.

"He came out 17 years later and all he wanted to do was give back to West Baltimore; he'd taken so much, he'd been in for 17 years, he just wanted to address himself to the disaster. And on paper that man — who is an extraordinary man, he's one of the most extraordinary men I've met in my life — on paper he was a convicted felon and a convicted murderer. There was nothing that could get him from that extremity. Multiply that by hundreds of thousands of lives that have been disconnected and have no way to channel back in."

Obama: "And part of what — Omar's, by the way, my favorite character."

Simon: "I was worried about that when you said it."

Obama isn't the first to call for the humanization of men of color who have been incarcerated. Nearly a year ago, for example, Sherrilyn A. Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., appealed to the Journalists Roundtable, an informal dinner group of Washington journalists, to present people of color, especially those caught up in the criminal justice system, as three-dimensional figures. She pointed to such fictional white criminals as those in "The Godfather" movies or television's "The Sopranos" as examples of  multidimensional representations.

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"Too often race and class block that recognition," Ifill said.

Obama also told Simon that "in the same way you've got to be able to humanize those involved in the drug trade, we have to remind ourselves that the police, they've got a scary, tough, difficult job. And if the rest of society is saying 'just go deal with this, we don't want to hear about it,' and you're just on the front lines, and 'just keep it out of our sight lines and it's not our problem,' we're betraying them as well. And ultimately you're going to have to address some of the environmental issues.

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"And I know that's not fashionable because the notion is, 'oh, you don't want to make excuses for criminals,' but what we understand, and what perhaps one of the most moving sections of 'The Wire' was, that whole depiction of the schools in Baltimore and public schools, was if kids are left so far behind that they don't have recourse, they're going to see what else is available to survive. . . ."

Justin Fenton and Jessica Anderson, Baltimore Sun: Donnie Andrews, inspiration for Omar character on 'The Wire,' dies (Dec. 14, 2012)

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Anna Silman, Salon: Obama geeks out to "The Wire": The complete transcript of his interview with David Simon

Daniel E. Slotnik, New York Times: Donnie Andrews, the real-life Omar Little, Dies at 58 (Dec. 14, 2012)

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Tanya Somanader, the White House Blog: WATCH: The President Interviews the Creator of "The Wire" About the War on Drugs (video)

Ex-N.Y. Times "Race Beat" Reporter Leaves for CNN

Two months after being reassigned from the national race beat at the New York Times in favor of opening the Times' first fulltime Bronx courthouse beat, Tanzina Vega is leaving the newspaper to join CNN Politics as a digital correspondent.

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The abandonment of the race beat prompted commentary on the pros and cons of such an assignment, and the slot has remained unfilled. Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet said in January that Vega's transfer was "not a cosmic decision about how we cover race." He told Public Editor Margaret Sullivan "that he would be having discussions with masthead editors, as well as editors on the national and metro desks, about how to broaden the coverage of race beyond a single beat."

A CNN spokeswoman told Journal-isms Friday that the network had approached Vega. She "will focus on the intersection of technology and politics," Rachel Smolkin, executive editor of CNN Politics, wrote to staff members in a memo. "She'll look at innovative ways the 2016 campaigns are using technology, the evolution of micro targeting and new twists in voter registration. She'll also mine the blending of technology and politics beyond the beltway, from grassroots movements to civil rights to hashtag activism on social media.

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"She'll build on the work that she has done so well at the Times, including her smart coverage of race and ethnicity. This is an important area where we will distinguish ourselves going into 2016. As previously announced, Nia-Malika Henderson joins us April 6 as a national political reporter focusing on identity politics, and we're excited for the collaboration between these rock-star reporters.

"Tanzina will be based in our New York office — along with the fabulous duo of Ashley Codianni and MJ Lee — and will be looking for opportunities to partner with our friends in CNNMoney as well. . . ."

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Vega wrote on Facebook, "Working at The New York Times has been an honor and I consider myself blessed to have been able to cover subjects including digital media and advertising from Madison Avenue to Washington D.C., race and ethnicity in the United States including the events in Ferguson, Mo., and, most recently, the New York City court system.

"I started at The Times as a news clerk and freelance reporter for the Metro section and rose through the ranks to become a producer and staff reporter. I am extremely grateful to the editors, producers and fellow reporters who have supported me along the way."

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Times Metro Editor Wendell Jamieson told staffers, "Tanzina, clearly struggling with her decision, said it was an 'offer she couldn't refuse.'

"It's bitter because I'm sorry to lose her, but sweet because I'm happy for her.

"After her much talked-about race beat in National, Tanzina embraced the Bronx courts beat with both hands and her sleeves rolled up. She made a lot of fast friends in Metro, which, of course, is where she started as a clerk 8 years ago. . . ."

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Ellen Murphy, a Times spokeswoman, told Journal-isms there were no new developments on the future of the race beat.

Dori Maynard Service Scheduled May 4 in D.C.

The East Coast memorial service for Dori J. Maynard, the president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education who died on Feb. 24 after battling lung cancer, is scheduled for May 4 at the Newseum in Washington, the institute announced on Thursday.

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The service is planned for 6:30 p.m. at the Newseum's Knight Conference Center on what would have been Maynard's 57th birthday. Those who plan to attend are urged to RSVP on the Institute's website.

A standing-room-only service was held March 1 in Oakland, Calif., in a chapel holding about 200 people. The Knight conference center holds about 250, according to Pam Galloway-Tabb, senior vice president/conferences & special services at the Newseum.

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Evelyn Hsu, acting executive director of the institute, said the list of speakers is being developed. Hsu is part of a planning committee that includes Dorothy Gilliam, a member of the Maynard board; this columnist; Jeanne Fox-Alston, a Maynard alumna and retired media association executive; and Sonya Ross, a news editor at the Associated Press Washington bureau.

The institute is seeking media sponsors for the commemoration. Those interested may contact Hsu at ehsu (at) mije.org.

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Mary C. Curtis, Nieman Notes: Dori J. Maynard Believed 'Journalism and Life Demand All Voices' (Feb. 26)

Shawn Dove, Campaign for Black Male Achievement: In Remembrance of Our Beloved Colleague, Dori J. Maynard (Feb. 25)

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Jon Funabiki, mediaimpactfunders.org: A Tribute to Dori J. Maynard (March 4)

Emil Guillermo, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education: Dori Maynard Was a Champion for Diversity in Journalism (March 1)

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Sally Lehrman, Maynard Institute: Dori J. Maynard: A Legacy of Fierce Love (March 3)

Dori J. Maynard, "Investing in Black Male Achievement: Accelerating What Works" (video)

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Geneva Overholser, Nieman Notes: Dori Maynard 'saw the possibility of change in almost everyone' (March 4)

Brenda Payton, Inside Bay Area News: For Dori Maynard, diversity in journalism just made sense (Feb. 25)

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Ishmael Reed, CounterPunch: She Challenged the Colonial Media's Control of the Minority Image (March 13-15)

Frank O. Sotomayor, Nieman Notes: Dori Maynard helped 'to make race and diversity a greater part of the national dialogue' (Feb. 25)

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"60 Minutes," Critic of Africa Coverage in Standoff

The executive editor of CBS-TV's "60 Minutes" responded Friday to Howard W. French, who produced the signatures of 150 journalists and academics on an "open letter" critical of the program's Africa coverage, by seconding an invitation forwarded by a "60 Minutes" spokesman Wednesday.

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"Historically, 60 Minutes has taken great pride in our coverage of the African continent," Bill Owens wrote, adding that Executive Producer Jeff Fager, to whom French addressed his letter, was out of the country on assignment. "That being said, we would be very happy to invite you to our offices to discuss your concerns," Owens wrote. "Please let me know if you are interested and some dates that might be convenient. I look forward to hearing from you."

French, who teaches journalism at Columbia University and has covered Africa for the New York Times, replied by message that "the appropriate way forward, indeed the only gauge of sincerity, would be for you, or for the program, to address the specific issues raised in my letter. Saying merely that you have great pride in your Africa coverage frankly does not do so."

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Journal-isms asked Owens for his response to the way French defined the appropriate way to deal with his concerns. Owens messaged, "We have very high standards here at 60 Minutes and work to make each story, in every week's broadcast, as good as it can be. We are very proud of all of our international reporting, including the decades of work we have done in Africa. I have never met Mr. French but I know of his work and asked if he would like to come here to discuss the stories that he highlights in his 'open letter' to our Executive Producer Jeff Fager. That invitation remains open."

French and the other signatories to his letter complained that "In a series of recent segments from the continent, 60 Minutes has managed, quite extraordinarily, to render people of black African ancestry voiceless and all but invisible. . . ."

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French told Journal-isms on Friday, "the very language of Owen's letter confirms a lack of importance attached to the subject of Africa. Had it been something they really cared about, such a dull and almost insultingly pro forma reply would never have been issued. I've not heard back from them, by the way. And I'm willing to wait for Fager's return, if they really want to talk."

He added, "I think finding a way to get African American journalists more involved in African coverage and foreign correspondence generally is critically important to all of this."

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Chicago Radio Hosts Apologize for Tweets About Breasts

"A pair of Chicago radio hosts from 670 AM The Score, Dan Bernstein and Matt Spiegel, showed off some impressive sexism and unprofessionalism on Twitter Wednesday night, turning a conversation about CSN Chicago reporter Aiyana Cristal's work into one about her breasts," Andrew Bucholtz wrote Thursday for awfulannouncing.com

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Bucholtz also wrote, "Both have since apologized, with Spiegel doing so on Twitter and on the air and Bernstein talking about it on the air. However, they've taken a lot of criticism for this, and deservedly so. . . ."

The National Association of Black Journalists issued a statement. "NABJ President Bob Butler said he hopes CBS takes appropriate action and uses this as a teaching moment of how not to use social media.

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" 'I've known Cristal since she graduated from college and I know she has paid a lot of dues to get where she is today,' Butler said. 'She does not deserve this, nor does any other woman who works in our industry.' . . ."

Robert Feder blog: Comcast SportsNet extracts apology for Score's sexist tweets

Samer Kalaf, Deadspin: Chicago Sports Radio Guys Take To Twitter To Discuss Reporter's Breasts

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John Shurr Dies, A.P. Bureau Chief, FOI Hero, Cherokee

John C. Shurr, a champion of the public's right to know, former longtime South Carolina Associated Press bureau chief and an enrolled Oklahoma Cherokee who advised the Cherokee Phoenix, newspaper of the Cherokee nation, was buried March 20 in Beaufort, S.C., a spokesman for Beaufort National Cemetery told Journal-isms on Friday.

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Shurr died on March 1 at 67. "He died at his home in the Columbia area, and his death was released by his family through the S.C. Press Association," John Monk reported March 2 for the State in Columbia, S.C., in an obituary later updated by the Island Packet in Hilton Head, S.C.

During the Vietnam War, "he was exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical used by the U.S. military to destroy vegetation where the Viet Cong were hiding but that also led to numerous debilitating health issues for Americans exposed to it. In his final years, Shurr was classified as disabled by the chemical. . . ."

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Monk also wrote, " 'If it weren't for John Shurr, we might not have cameras in courtrooms today,' said Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association, who praised Shurr's years-long crusade to bring more transparency to criminal and civil legal proceedings.

The obituary also said, " 'I'm an enrolled Oklahoma Cherokee and a student of native history. My mother, her parents and her brother were on the Dawes Commission rolls, a census of Cherokees taken before Oklahoma statehood,' Shurr wrote in a 1992 op-ed piece in The State newspaper.

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"Shurr had written the op-ed to take issue what he said were numerous factual errors in a State editorial praising Christopher Columbus as well as, Shurr believed, ignoring and misrepresenting Native American history. In his piece, Shurr pointed out that Native Americans were in America at least 12,000 years before Columbus and that European diseases and massacres had led to the deaths of millions of Native Americans. . . ."

When he retired in 2009, Shurr told Journal-isms, "I'm staying involved in things that have always been important to me: I remain chairman of the South Carolina Press Association's FOI Committee, a pro-bono role I've had now for 22 years, and I'm continuing to serve the Cherokee Nation as a member of the Editorial Board for The Cherokee Phoenix.

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"In those roles, I've been able to improve and ward off attacks on open government statutes in South Carolina and help the Cherokees with that mainstream experience by taking the SC FOI law and reworking it to fit an Indian tribe.

"Several of my bureau chief friends and others set up a scholarship fund with the tribe in my name and we now have our first recipient who's now working for The Phoenix this summer. I'm also planning to sponsor a scholarship for a Cherokee combat veteran from any branch of service who wants to get a college degree in his or her choice of areas. . . ."

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Gail Woolley Dies, Helped Finance Newhouse Students

Gail Campbell Woolley, a reporter for the old Washington Star, the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Times before joining the public relations department of the ExxonMobil Corp., died March 16 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, her husband, Howard Woolley, told Journal-isms on Friday.

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She suffered from sickle cell anemia, Woolley said. She was 58.

The couple donated $50,000 to endow a scholarship at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where they met, Woolley, a Verizon executive, said. They also sponsored an eye clinic at Johns Hopkins for research on the link between sickle cell anemia and eye problems. In addition, Newhouse hosts the Howard and Gail Campbell Woolley Broadcast Journalism Lab.

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"I knew Gail both as a colleague when we worked together at the Baltimore Sun and later as the dean of her alma mater," Lorraine Branham, dean of the Newhouse school, messaged Journal-isms on Friday. "It was great to reconnect with her when I became dean. She was outspoken, compassionate and dedicated to the cause of helping the next generation of African American journalists." Branham added, "Anyone who knows Gail will tell you that she did not tolerate fools."

A wake took place in Washington on Friday, with a memorial service to follow in April.

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"Gail loved doing exciting things like shark feeding in Tahiti, safaris in South Africa, or cruising on the Nile, . . ." according to the program for the wake.

"Gail was always courageous and optimistic while juggling a career, family, travel, and managing her Sickle Cell disease. After her 2012 diagnosis of Pulmonary Hypertension, Gail took up scuba diving so she could continue her aquatic activities while receiving oxygen support. Howard stood by her every step of the way."

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At the time of her death, Gail Woolley was working on her autobiography.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in her memory to: The Howard and Gail Campbell Woolley Endowed Scholarship Fund for Minority Students, Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University; Attention: Megan McAndrews, 820 Comstock Ave., Syracuse, NY 13244.

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Blackout on Child Sex Abuse by U.S. Troops in Colombia?

"An 800-page independent report commissioned by the US-friendly Colombian government and the radical left rebel group FARC found that US military soldiers and contractors had sexually abused at least 54 children in Colombia between 2003 and 2007 and, in all cases, the rapists were never punished — either in Colombia or stateside — due to American military personnel being immune from prosecution under diplomatic immunity agreements between the two countries," Adam Johnson reported Thursday for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting.

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Johnson also wrote, "Yet here we are, over 72 hours since the Colombian and foreign press first reported on the allegations, and there’s a virtual media blackout in America over the case. Nothing on CNN, nothing on MSNBC, nothing in the New York Times or Miami Herald. Nothing in Huffington Post. Nothing in Fusion or Vice. Why? . . ."

Newspaper Offices Sacked, Employees Kidnapped in Yemen

"I just got off the phone with Sameer Jubran, editor and co-founder of the independent Yemeni newspaper and website, Al Masdar. According to Jubran, the news organization's headquarters was just sacked by Houthi militants," Andy Carvin reported Thursday for medium.com.

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" 'Minutes ago, dozens of militants stormed the building that had the newspaper's headquarters,' he said. 'They kidnapped practically everyone who was there and took away all of our equipment.'

" 'For the past weeks, the staff at the paper has been harassed,' Jubran continued. 'I've been harassed and followed to my home.' Because of the threat, Jubran is currently outside of Yemen.

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Carvin also wrote, "Al Masdar was not the only news organization targeted. According to Jubran, Houthi militants also sacked independent satellite channel Yemen Shabab, which is located in the same building as Al Masdar. 'The same thing happened to them,' he said. Meanwhile, there are reports that other independent news outlets have been raided, but at the time of this writing, their status cannot be confirmed. . . ."

Nigeria Holding Two Al Jazeera Journalists

"Nigeria's military has detained two Al Jazeera journalists in the northeast city of Maiduguri since Tuesday, the television broadcaster said on Thursday, days ahead of the country's general elections," Julia Payne reported Thursday for Reuters.

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"Al Jazeera said the journalists, Ahmed Idris and Ali Mustafa, were being kept in their hotel rooms until further notice. Their camera equipment has been confiscated.

"It added that the two journalists had been accredited by the electoral authorities with 'clearance to report from anywhere'.

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"Northeastern Nigeria was effectively declared off limits to journalists in 2013 after the government imposed emergency rule in Yobe, Adamawa and Borno, the three states worst affected by Islamist jihadists Boko Haram. Maiduguri is the capital of Borno state, the heartland of the insurgency. . . ."

This Day, Lagos, Nigeria: Nigeria: Al Jazeera Demands Release of Their Journalists

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Short Takes

"About six-in-ten U.S. adult Hispanics (62%) speak English or are bilingual, according to an analysis of the Pew Research Center's 2013 National Survey of Latinos," Jens Manuel Krogstad and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera reported for the center on Tuesday. "Hispanics in the United States break down into three groups when it comes to their use of language: 36% are bilingual, 25% mainly use English and 38% mainly use Spanish. Among those who speak English, 59% are bilingual. . . . "

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Home Box Office and VICE announced Thursday "a major news partnership that will significantly expand VICE’s Emmy®-winning news programming to HBO subscribers over the next four years." The partnership includes launch of a daily VICE newscast, consisting of five half-hour shows per week, 48 weeks a year. A spokesman for Vice told Journal-isms by telephone that the new show will mean jobs for journalists, and forwarded a list of job openings. The list does not specify jobs for the new newscast, however. "We'll be updating this frequently as we staff up in the coming months," spokesman Jake Goldman said. Vice describes itself as "a global youth media company and content creation studio."

"Taking advantage of the unique learning opportunity that the 2016 election cycle offers, Washington Week with Gwen Ifill, seen Fridays at 8:00 pm on PBS stations nationwide, today announced a new fellowship initiative to train emerging journalists, especially those from diverse backgrounds," Washington's WETA-TV, the show's originator, announced Friday. "Funded by Newman's Own Foundation, this six-month, paid, entry-level program will select four promising journalists over the next two [years] who are pursuing a career in TV news production, digital media, or reporting and provide them with an immersive experience. . . ."

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"For the second year in a row, President Obama has been left off of Fortune's 'World's Greatest Leaders' list," Chris O'Shea reported Thursday for FishbowlNY. "That's… Something. The President didn't make the cut of 50 people 'judged on their leadership within their professional domains, industries, or fields of service or governance,' but Taylor Swift did. . . ."

"Karen Lincoln Michel has been named editor of Madison Magazine," WISC-TV in Madison reported on Friday. It noted that Michel has experience with such publications as the La Crosse (Wis.) Tribune, the Dallas Morning News, the New York Times Syndicate, the Green Bay (Wis.) Press-Gazette and most recently as executive editor of the Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, La. She also serves on the board of directors as vice president with the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, and is past president of both Unity: Journalists of Color, as it was then known, and the Native American Journalists Association.

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The Associated Press has clarified its style on the use of "Affordable Care Act" and "Obamacare." In stylebook revisions announced Thursday, the entry for "Affordable Care Act" now reads, "Shorthand for the formal title of the health care overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010. Its full name is Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Use President Barack Obama's health care law or the health care law on first reference. 'Obamacare' in quotation marks is acceptable on second reference. Affordable Care Act can be used on subsequent references when necessary to refer to the law, but should be used sparingly. Polling indicates that not all Americans know the law by its formal name." Previous style

"Editor and Publisher Paul Anger — who guided the Detroit Free Press as it accelerated into digital publication and did award-winning reporting of Detroit's historic last decade — announced today that he plans to retire in May after 10 years in Detroit and almost five decades in journalism," Christopher D. Kirkpatrick reported Thursday for the Free Press.

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"Earlier this week, Latino Rebels received an email from a freelancer writer looking for opportunities at LatinoRebels.com," Julio Ricardo Varela wrote Thursday for Latino Rebels. "Part of the email said the following: 'I used to write for the website VOXXI.com. Sadly, the website will be discontinued and I am looking for any freelance positions in other Latino websites.' After several emails and phone calls to VOXXI's Miami offices asking whether the site had indeed closed shop, Emilio Sánchez, the site's president and editor in chief, confirmed the news this afternoon via email, saying that it was a revenue problem. . . ."

"Edward Moody, who left Duluth in 2007, will be a weekend anchor and producer and weekday reporter for the local NBC affiliate," Christa Lawler reported Thursday for the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune. "His first day on-air is Wednesday, and he returns to the anchor seat on April 4." Lawler also wrote, "Moody was at WCCO-TV in Minneapolis for two years and left at the end of the summer. After 10 years in the business, Moody said, he re-evaluated his priorities and decided to put his personal life ahead of his career. . . ."

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"Creators [Syndicate] will suspend Dr. Ben Carson's syndicated column in 'about 30 days,' according to managing editor David Yontz, who told Media Matters the move follows Carson's description of himself as a presidential candidate in his latest column," Joe Strupp reported Wednesday for Media Matters for America. "Yontz said that Creators has removed the offending column from its website. . . ."

Joe Madison of SiriusXM was ranked No. 8 in the "The Talkers Magazine 2015 Heavy Hundred," the magazine announced. It touts the list as a tally of "the most important talk radio hosts in America."

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Nikole Hannah-Jones of ProPublica, Javier C. Hernandez of the New York Times and Dwayne Bray of ESPN were among the winners of national awards for education reporting for 2014 announced this week by the Education Writers Association.

"Every 26 hours, a journalist in Mexico gets attacked, according to statistics released this week by a London-based rights organization," Brianna Lee reported Wednesday for International Business Times. "That figure is part of a lengthier report detailing intimidations, assaults and killings of media workers in Mexico, which have increased by 80 percent under the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, the group found. . . . . "

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"Three journalists in the Maldives have been arrested while covering political demonstrations calling for the release of Mohamed Nasheed, the country's former president, who is serving a 13-year jail sentence on terrorism charges," Roy Greenslade reported Friday for Britain's Guardian.

Reporters Without Borders said Thursday that it is "alarmed by the continuing persecution of community radio stations in Guatemala, where the mayor of Santa Eulalia, in the western department of Huehuetenango, forcibly prevented members of the indigenous Mayan community from reopening their station last week. . . ."

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