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Omahans celebrate Juneteenth with prayer, food and music as they reflect on history

Hours before hundreds stopped by a venue just south of downtown Omaha for free food and live music Friday, Preston Love Jr. offered a lesson on the context of Juneteenth.

The activist, university instructor and leader of Black Votes Matter spoke at a morning prayer gathering at the Salvation Army on Pratt Street.

Juneteenth is a celebration that marks the day in 1865 when a quarter-million slaves in Texas learned of their freedom more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

“The context of Juneteenth is that we still are fighting the Civil War, and to understand this celebration is to celebrate the idea that we can be free and that we should be free,” Love said. “And that we should not be slain by law enforcement and we should not be mass incarcerated, and we should not have low homeownership, and we should not have the high disparities in health care, and on and on, and we should have some investment in our poverty-stricken communities.”

Love said that just like in 1865, there’s work to be done.

“Yes, we know the history,” he said, “but you need to know the context.”


A group sings “Lean on Me” during a Juneteenth prayer gathering at the Salvation Army on Pratt Street on Friday. Preston Love Jr. spoke at the event.

On Friday night, Philip Brown also reflected on the significance of the holiday while greeting guests and organizing a music lineup alongside fellow organizer Daric Heard. The friends put together a Juneteenth festival, and, as Brown put it, “we got a really big response.”

Volunteers cooked donated hot dogs and hamburgers in the space next to Le Ventre at 1458 S. 16th St. Inside the venue, artist Ricky Powell Jr. was selling his paintings, and musical artists were set to perform through the night.

“(Juneteenth) is important because we’re all in this together, and it’s the perfect time for us all to understand each other,” Brown said. “For us to build our community up instead of tearing it down or separating it, or dividing it up. Instead, it’s time for us to come together and strengthen our community.”

Guest speaker Anthony Smith, an inspirational speaker, also talked about history while looking to the future.

Smith said he is only two generations away from slavery. “My great-grandfather was born into slavery, my grandfather was not,” he said.

“This time, unlike any other time in history, people are being heard, and all I ask for is for you to respect one another. … I am most proud, not of myself, but of all of you because you know what? You being here now is proof that as long as you move intelligently, with love, wisdom and respect, we can fix anything that is wrong in this country.”

The parade that has marked the occasion in Omaha for years was postponed because of the coronavirus.

It will be rescheduled by the Omaha NAACP for sometime in August.

“We were all looking forward to this parade, but we have to see how the virus pans out,” said Vickie Young, president of the Omaha NAACP.

A table with masks and hand sanitizer sat just inside Le Ventre, and a few attendees wore masks they brought.

The Omaha Freedom Festival, originally planned for Saturday, has been moved to Sept. 5 and 6 at the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation. The celebration is an all-day, family-friendly event that will provide a cultural and historical celebration in addition to education and entertainment from noon to midnight.

Photos: Juneteenth observances in Omaha

Douglas County reported 654 new coronavirus cases in last week, 20 deaths

Douglas County added 654 cases of COVID-19 during the seven days ending Friday, bringing the county’s total during the pandemic to 6,240.

The weekly tallies have been declining since a peak of 1,112 during the week ending May 30, according to the county’s data dashboard.

Testing has also decreased since that week, when 8,153 tests were conducted. The total for this week stood at 5,023 tests as of Thursday night. To provide additional opportunities for testing, a new drive-thru COVID-19 testing site was set up during the week at a former grocery store parking lot near 50th and G Streets.

The county reported 20 deaths this week, bringing the total during the pandemic to 76. That includes four deaths reported Friday, a man in his 40s and a man and two women older than 75. The Douglas County Health Department confirmed that 2,240 residents have recovered from the illness.

On Friday, 104 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the metro area, with 28 confirmed coronavirus patients on ventilators.

Also this week, the county reported a second case of a rare inflammatory condition in children that’s associated with COVID-19. The teen, who was hospitalized, has since been discharged and is recovering.

That case brought to three the state’s count of people with the condition, known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C.

Statewide, the number of deaths this week increased by 28, bringing the total to 244. The number of cases in Nebraska increased by 1,078 for a total of 17,591.

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special report
NU system faces $43 million shortfall; cuts planned at all major campuses

LINCOLN — University of Nebraska President Ted Carter sent a message of hope and harsh reality Friday, announcing priorities to strengthen the university as it cuts $43 million over three years.

“We are planning to make changes to be stronger in the future,” said Carter, the head of a system with institutions in Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney and Curtis.

Carter made specific plans for campus budget cuts over a three-year period, despite the fact that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has created uncertainty regarding even the next three months. Enrollment and state appropriations are wild cards at this time because of the virus, but Carter said he would rather plan and prioritize than stand still.

“We have a bias for action,” he said at a press conference in Lincoln. “The truth is, we will adjust accordingly.”

He expects a $43 million budget gap to be covered by cuts of 5.5% at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; 3.9% each at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska at Kearney; 2.9% at the NU Medical Center; and no cut at the small Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis.

The NU Board of Regents is expected to approve a budget for 2020-21 next Friday. The next two years of budgeting are strictly for planning purposes.

UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen said in a message to his campus that “a long-term view is important to emerge following these challenges in a position of strength.” He said the “critical decisions that face UNK must not become overwhelming.”

UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green said the situation is even worse than described for his university because of a $12 million shortfall that has been carried over. Considering that, he said, UNL faces a cut of about 8.2%. But Green said UNL and the NU system are far from alone in this crisis.

“Very few have escaped personal impacts as businesses and other institutions have dealt with the deep and widespread financial” challenges associated with the pandemic, Green said in a message to his institution. “We know that this is a difficult and uncertain time for our society.”

Carter said he aims to allocate a total of $20 million in 2021-22 and 2022-23 for “strategic initiatives” identified by him and the chancellors. Some priorities include improving retention and graduation rates through mentoring and tutoring, and repairs to rundown buildings.

He said he will also invest $5.3 million in 2020-21 to create the Nebraska Promise program, which calls for free tuition for those from families that earn less than $60,000 a year. That program, plus freezing tuition for 2021-22 and 2022-23 and discounts for summer tuition, has led to a spike in applications since mid-April that should benefit enrollment at the NU institutions, he said.

Budget cuts would be higher if not for the tuition initiatives that will pump up enrollment, he said. “This could have been so much worse,” he said after the press conference.

But the NU system, especially UNL, expects a serious hit from a reduction in out-of-state and international students. International student enrollments are expected to be down because of travel restrictions, worries over the virus and political tensions, experts say.

A drop of close to $16 million in revenue is expected in 2020-21 from enrollment reductions in out-of-state and international students.

Faculty salaries will be frozen in the coming year at UNL and the NU Medical Center, but collective bargaining among faculty at UNK and UNO will lift their salaries somewhat. Carter said he intends to raise salaries at UNL and UNMC by 1.5% the following year and 3% the next.

Carter did not detail specific cuts. Rather, he said, chancellors and faculty members will collaborate to make decisions on cuts in the months ahead.

UNL’s athletic department also announced a plan Friday to cut expenses by 10% for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. Among the cost-saving measures: a 10% reduction in administrative positions and no merit raises.

Carter said Friday that he will not accept any merit pay, which can be up to 15% of his base pay on top of his salary of about $950,000. No campus chancellors have taken a pay cut.

Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor of UNO and UNMC, said he expects the budget reductions to be spread over the three-year stretch. He said layoffs and cuts to academic programs are a last resort.

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Trump rally can go on tonight without masks, social distancing

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Friday rejected a request to require everyone attending President Donald Trump's rally in Tulsa this weekend to wear a face mask and maintain social distancing inside the arena to guard against the spread of the coronavirus.

The court ruled that the two local residents who asked that the thousands expected at Saturday night's rally be required to take the precautions couldn't establish that they had a clear legal right to the relief they sought. Oklahoma has had a recent spike in coronavirus cases, but in a concurring opinion, two justices noted that the state's plan to reopen its economy is "permissive, suggestive and discretionary."

"Therefore, for lack of any mandatory language in the (plan), we are compelled to deny the relief requested."

The request was made by John Hope Franklin for Reconciliation, a nonprofit that promotes racial equality, and the Greenwood Centre Ltd., which owns commercial real estate, on behalf of the two locals described as having compromised immune systems and being particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Tulsa's Republican mayor, G.T. Bynum, rescinded a day-old curfew he had imposed for the area around the BOK Center ahead of the rally. The curfew took effect Thursday night and was supposed to remain until Sunday morning, but Trump tweeted Friday that he had spoken to Bynum and that the mayor told him he would rescind it.

Bynum said he got rid of the curfew at the request of the U.S. Secret Service. In his executive order establishing the curfew, Bynum said he was doing so at the request of law enforcement who had intelligence that "individuals from organized groups who have been involved in destructive and violent behavior in other States are planning to travel to the City of Tulsa for purposes of causing unrest in and around the rally."

Bynum didn't elaborate as to which groups he meant, and police Capt. Richard Meulenberg declined to identify any. Although Trump has characterized those who have clashed with law enforcement after George Floyd's death in Minneapolis as organized, radical-left thugs engaging in domestic terrorism, an Associated Press analysis found that the vast majority of people arrested during recent protests in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., were locals.

Trump on Friday morning tweeted: "Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!"

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany clarified later that Trump's tweet did not refer to all protesters, rather only to those who are "violent."

Bynum's order said crowds of 100,000 or more were expected in the area around the rally.

Trump's campaign manager, Brad Parscale, told Fox News on Friday that those unable to get into the arena are expected to attend what he described as a "festival" outside where the president might also appear. He said he would "probably be wearing a mask" during the event, which Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt has said will be safe.

That has not reassured the arena's management, who requested a written health and safety plan from the Trump campaign on Thursday. In a statement to Oklahoma City television station KFOR, rally organizers appeared unimpressed but said they would review the request.

The Trump campaign said it takes "safety seriously," noting that organizers are providing masks and hand sanitizer and are doing temperature checks for all attendees.

McEnany said that she and many other White House staffers would be traveling with Trump to Tulsa and that she wouldn't wear a mask at the rally, calling it a personal decision and noting that she is regularly tested for COVID-19 because she works in close proximity to Trump. She declined to say whether Trump was taking any additional personal precautions ahead of the rally. The nation's top public health professionals strongly recommend wearing a mask when social distancing can't be maintained, as will be the case Saturday.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, the mayor confessed to feeling anxious about the potential spread of the coronavirus by people attending the rally.

The city's health director, Dr. Bruce Dart, has said he would like to see the rally postponed, noting that large indoor gatherings are partially to blame for the recent spread of the virus in Tulsa and Tulsa County.

The rally was originally scheduled for Friday, but it was moved back a day following an uproar that it otherwise would have happened on Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the U.S., and in a city where a 1921 white-onblack attack killed as many as 300 people.

Marc Lotter, the Trump campaign's strategic communications director, told MSNBC on Friday that the rally "is really a celebration of an America that's reopening."

He said the campaign asks that supporters stay away from the rally if they or a family member are in a high-risk category for serious complications from the coronavirus.

That message has not been widely echoed by the president or his campaign, which has encouraged supporters to attend, and Lotter said the campaign would not require wearing face coverings.

Oklahoma has seen a recent spike in coronavirus cases, setting a daily high on Thursday of 450. Health officials on Friday reported 125 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Tulsa County, which is the most of any county in Oklahoma. Statewide, there were 352 new cases and one new coronavirus death reported Friday, raising the state's total number of confirmed cases since the pandemic began to 9,706 and its death toll to 367.

The actual number of people who have contracted the virus is likely higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that people can be infected but not feel sick.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.