Ecology + Justice + Culture in the American South

Hate maps, hemp, & thriving manatees

Yesterday, President Donald Trump’s administration revoked Obama’s guidelines on transgender bathrooms, which allowed public schools to let transgender students use the bathroom of their choice. The issue was thrust into the spotlight early last year when North Carolina made a law that people can only use the bathroom of the sex assigned on their birth certificates. In 2017, 14 more states have introducedsimilar bills that would restrict access to restrooms; Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia are some of them.

Whether intentional or not, Trump’s decision comes at a moment of chaos over how to handle the spike in hate crimes, discrimination, and vandalization across the country against not only the LGBTQ community, but also against Muslims, immigrants, Jews, African Americans, and Hispanics. For instance, a few days ago, a church in North Carolina that openly supports the LGBTQ community said their building was vandalized with hateful graffiti (state legislators have since introduced a law to expand the state’s hate crime law to protect the LGBT community). Also in North Carolina, a Muslim civil rights group is calling on the FBI to look into death threats made against the Muslim community by conservative activists. Last week, a South Carolina man with connections to white supremacists was arrested for ranting about Jews and planning an attack “in the spirit of” Dylann Roof, who killed nine people at a black church in Charleston. Earlier this month, a Johnson City, Tennessee woman said a cow carcass was dumped on her front lawn in what she said was an act of intimidation for flying rainbow flags and supporting LGBTQ rights.

Most alarming was the fact that those examples were so easy to find. It took me five minutes, maybe. And that’s just in a few states in one region of America. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recently released a thorough explanation of these types of threats and crimes and where they stem from following the election, as well as a profile of hate groups and what they stand for. According to the report, the number of hate groups went from 892 in 2015 to 917 in 2016. The number of anti-Muslim hate groups increased three-fold.

SPLC also has a map of hate groups throughout the country. This week, Alabama Public Radio interviewed Mark Potok, a senior fellow who edits the SPLC’s HateWatch list. Undoubtedly, many of these groups are concentrated in the Southeast, and Potok discusses the radicalization trends of certain Southern hate groups like the League of the South.

It is a responsibility to learn how the revocation of transgender bathroom choice will affect vulnerable populations. It’s also a responsibility to learn about the rise of hate crimes, the volume of tiny hate-icons on the map above, and why they are there. The decisions of elected officials, the contexts of those decisions, and how different populations internalize them or act on them are inextricably linked and ever more relevant.

Stories worth your time

Mississippi Today dissects the state’s energy economy, which lawmakers have been overestimating for years. Since natural gas projects on land and in the Gulf of Mexico didn’t deliver as much revenue as the state said they would, some groups are looking to other sources, like hydropower and a new electricity transmission line.

Alabama is the only state that still has “judicial override,” which means a judge can overrule a jury’s recommendation for a life or death sentence, according to Pacific Standard. That’s part of the reason the state has the highest death penalty rate per capita in the nation. A new bill would require a unanimous jury to determine the death penalty and strip that power from judges. This Q&A with an Alabama civil rights attorney dives into judicial override: “In Alabama it has always been the case that most overrides are from life to death and that judges use that power as something they campaign on in political campaigns, and use that to appear tough on crime.”

Route Fifty looks at Miami’s resilience strategies, including technological ones like 3-D urban mapping, and infrastructure improvements for storm systems and roads. It’s a solid look at a city trying really hard to prepare for — or really, react to — to the inevitable sea level rise.

In West Virginia, hemp is making a triumphant return, according to The Cannabist. Farmers are moving forward to pioneer commercial hemp growth, despite state lawmakers trying to kill research before it begins and despite all the red tape that research brings.

News flying under the radar

Two protestors wedged themselves inside the Sabal Trail Pipeline in northern Florida. They were extracted, arrested, and charged with grand theft, trespassing, and criminal mischief. One was charged with resisting arrest.

Rural hospitals are closing all over America, and a lot of them are in the South. Since 2010, more than 75 rural hospitals have closed and another 673 are vulnerable and at risk of closing, reports the National Rural Hospital Association. In South Georgia, a hospital that is still treating tornado victims will close soon. Fourteen of Louisiana’s hospitals are closing at the end of February.

Hundreds of dams in North Carolina lack emergency action plans in case of emergency flooding or damage. Officials report 828 dams in the state haven’t sent in their plans, which were due in 2015.

There are already elections to watch in districts in Georgia and South Carolina. Georgia’s 6th District was Tom Price’s (Trump’s secretary of health and human services) stomping grounds, but Trump barely won it in the election.

Some good news: Florida wildlife officials reported the manatee census is the highest since 1991. Manatees were taken off the endangered list last year and are now listed as threatened. This is the third straight year more than 6,000 manatees were spotted.