31 Local News Stories Hidden Below the Fold in 2020

by Joseph Green in February 2nd, 2021

Here at Below the Fold, we have a soft spot for local news. Unfortunately, studies show that few Americans pay for local news. To make matters more strenuous, modern search engines makes it difficult for these local publications, even when they're first to report, to compete against national news sources who then pick up the story.

As a result, many local stories get overlooked in the cycle. We've dedicated ourselves to surfacing these stories weekly in our newsletter, and wanted to surface all the local news stories we dug up in 2020 for our subscribers. Here are all 31 summarized.

Boy invites entire kindergarten class to his adoption hearing — and it’s adorable

Where: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Below the Fold Edition: 2

The Local Story: In a particularly heartwarming story, Michigan kindergartener Michael Clark Jr. brought his entire class to witness a hearing celebrating his adoption by foster parents Andrea Melvin and Dave Eaton. Clark was just one of 37 children adopted in Grand Rapids that day, marking Kent County's 23rd annual Adoption Day. "There is not a dry eye on Judge Patrica Gardner's courtroom," wrote one county official in a Facebook post.

Sources: New York Daily News (Nelson Oliveira)

Generous neighbor pays off 36 families’ utility bills just in time for the holidays

Where: Gulf Breeze, Florida

Below the Fold Edition: 4

The Local Story: Michael Esmond, a business-owner and resident of Gulf Breeze, Florida embodied the spirit of giving this holiday season: he paid the utility bills for 36 families in his community just in time for Christmas. Recalling a time in the 1980s when his own family had their gas shut off due to an unpaid bill, Esmond gifted a total of $4,600 to his overjoyed neighbors so they could have "a happier Christmas."

Sources: CNN (Gianluca Mezzofiore)

Only 700 people speak this language … and 50 live in the same building

Where: Brooklyn, New York

Below the Fold Edition: 6

The Local Story: An apartment building in Brooklyn's Flatbush neighborhood has become a hub for the preservation of Nepal's Seke language; out of 700 estimated speakers in the world, 50 of them live in the building. Originating in the mountainous Mustang region of Nepal, Seke is just one of over 600 "endangered languages" that the New York-based Endangered Language Alliance has identified in the culturally diverse city.

Sources: New York Times (Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura)

High schoolers are sleeping in and getting better grades

Where: Lansing, Michigan

Below the Fold Edition: 9

The Local Story: Students at Eastern High School in Lansing, Michigan have the option to attend classes later than their peers, from 3:00 in the afternoon until 8:00 at night. The experimental program provides flexibility to students with extracurricular responsibilities and part-time jobs, and also gives the tired teens the chance to get a full night of sleep. Teachers and students have responded positively to the program, and the Lansing School district already has plans to expand the program to neighboring schools.

Sources: NPR/WKAR (Kevin Lavery)

Coronavirus fears take toll on chinatown businesses

Where: Boston, Massachusetts

Below the Fold Edition: 11

The Local Story: The normally-bustling streets of Boston's Chinatown were conspicuously empty a week after the Chinese New Year. The sudden drop in traffic, due to fears around the outbreak of COVID-19, threatens the livelihood of many local business-owners and employees. "It's a very hard, very difficult time right now," said one restaurant cashier, whose business is one of many negatively affected by COVID-related fears.

Sources: NPR/WBUR (Adrian Ma)

Black student sues police officers after they threatened him at gunpoint

Where: Charleston, Illinois

Below the Fold Edition: 12

The Local Story: Jaylan Butler, a black college student at Eastern Illinois University, has filed a lawsuit against six police officers one year after an incident in which one officer pointed a gun at him without cause. The police chief of the department, whose officers erroneously identified Jaylan as an armed suspect, has denied any wrongdoing; the state's governor, however, has given his support to an investigation of the incident.

Sources: New York Times (Johnny Diaz)

Disney tells Berkeley parents they owe $250 for screening ‘The Lion King’

Where: Berkeley, California

Below the Fold Edition: 12

The Local Story: What started as a fun movie night has turned into a headache for parents at Emerson Elementary School in Berkeley; attorneys from Disney have issued the school with a $250 fine for playing The Lion King at a PTA fundraiser event. Disney lawyers argue that the public showing of their films requires a special license, but many outraged locals have called the lawsuit draconian, especially in light of generous tax credits the company enjoys in the state.

Sources: Berkeleyside (Natalie Orenstein)

Inmate populations decrease as a coronavirus measures call for fewer arrests and more early releases

Where: Los Angeles County, California

Below the Fold Edition: 16

The Local Story: Police departments across LA County are making fewer arrests and releasing more inmates, hoping to avoid Coronavirus outbreaks in prison populations. The measure has reduced the average number of arrests from 300 a day to just 60, with many offenders receiving citations instead of being detained in local jails. 600 inmates have also been released already, putting a small dent in the population of over 17,000 inmates at heightened risk of coronavirus exposure in LA County jails.

Sources: BuzzFeed News (Salvador Hernandez), CNN (Allen Kim and Anna Sturla)

Lab in Cleveland can produce COVID-19 test results in two hours

Where: Cleveland, Ohio

Below the Fold Edition: 16

The Local Story: MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio has become the first hospital in the state that can test COVID-19 in just two hours. Although supplies of the tests are limited, the hospital has encouraged Cleveland citizens with mild-to-moderate symptoms to call their hotline at 440-592-6843.

Sources: ABC News Cleveland (Kaylyn Hlavaty), Bloomberg (Jacquie Lee)

Newark residents may *still* be drinking lead-contaminated water

Where: Newark, New Jersey

Below the Fold Edition: 17

The Local Story: Citizens in Newark continue to deal with lead-contaminated water despite the city's attempts to solve the issue, The Intercept reports. Although state and federal funds were allocated to replace lead service lines, a recent city report reveals that lead levels in water supplies are still dangerously high. Activists continue to pressure the government to prioritize the issue, reminding them that "people are still drinking water that they shouldn't be drinking."

Sources: The Intercept (Rebecca Nathanson), Newark Water Coalition

Five-year-old boy hijacks his mother’s SUV

Where: Ogden, Utah

Below the Fold Edition: 23

The Local Story: Utah Highway Patrol pulled over a 5-year-old boy driving his parents' car to California to purchase a Lamborghini. The officers, who initially thought the car was being driven by an impaired driver, learned from the boy of his plans to travel to California and purchase a luxury vehicle with the three dollars in his pocket. Nobody was hurt, but it remains up to the local prosecutor to decide whether the child's parents will face charges for the incident.

Sources: CNN (Amir Vera)

Escaped peacock is lured back by mating call from police officer’s phone

Where: Boston, Massachusetts

Below the Fold Edition: 24

The Local Story: A quick-thinking Boston police officer used his cell phone to capture a peacock that had escaped from a nearby zoo; the officer tracked down a peacock mating call on his phone, and successfully lured the bird into a nearby yard. The peacock, Snowbank, has been safely returned to his habitat in the Franklin Park Zoo.

Sources: New York Times (Neil Vigdor)

An 11-year-old battle over wind power and birds in Ohio

Where: Cleveland, Ohio

Below the Fold Edition: 24

The Local Story: Two nonprofit conservation organizations have filed a lawsuit to halt the construction of the Icebreaker Wind Farm on Lake Erie, just off the coast of Cleveland. The lawsuit is a last ditch effort by environmentalists to stop the project, which they see as a threat to local wildlife populations. The developers of Icebreaker, LEEDCo, hope to move forward on construction in order to increase renewable energy production and bring approximately 500 jobs to Ohio.

Sources: Belt Magazine (Nina Misuraca Ignaczak)

Small town loses millions of dollars on unfilled promises of new jobs

Where: Youngstown, Ohio

Below the Fold Edition: 24

The Local Story: Companies promising new jobs in Youngstown, Ohio have largely failed to deliver, reports ProPublica, despite massive tax breaks granted to them by the city government going back to the early 90s. Even with tax breaks often estimated in the millions, many of these companies have not created a single job for the city.

Sources: ProPublica (Dan O'Brien)

The police killing you probably didn’t hear about this week

Where: Tallahassee, Florida

Below the Fold Edition: 27

The Local Story: Mourners held a candlelight vigil in Tallahassee for Tony McDade, a black trans-masculine person shot and killed by local police officers. McDade is the third black person killed by Tallahassee police officers since March, and the details around their death remain unclear. McDade's death comes amid a nationwide protest movement against racist police violence following the similar deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Sources: Mother Jones (Laura Thompson), Tallahassee Democrat (Karl Etters)

Ferguson elects its first Black, female mayor

Where: Ferguson, Missouri

Below the Fold Edition: 27

The Local Story: Ella Jones has become the first woman and the first black person to be elected as mayor of Ferguson, Missouri. Jones has served on the Ferguson city council since 2015; her historic victory comes six years after Ferguson became a center of national protests against racially motivated police violence following the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson.

Sources: CNN (Andy Rose)

Virginia city removes 176-year-old slave auction block

Where: Fredericksburg, Virginia

Below the Fold Edition: 28

The Local Story: A former slave auction block has been removed from the downtown area of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Although a local chapter of the NAACP called for the block's removal in 2017, calling it a relic of "a time of hatred and degradation," the process was delayed until recently by legal appeals and Coronavirus restrictions. The decision to move the stone to a museum comes as many cities reckon with their histories of racism and violence in response to Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the nation.

Sources: The Grio (Associated Press)

Man shoots employee, officers after refusing to wear a mask

Where: Bethlehem Township, Pennsylvania

Below the Fold Edition: 40

The Local Story: A Pennsylvania man is in the hospital after firing a gun at a cigar store clerk who refused him service for not wearing a mask. Adam Zaborowski, who fired two shots towards the clerk, was later shot himself after firing on police officers during a vehicle stop in his home town of Slatington. Still in the hospital, Zaborowski has been arraigned on seven counts of attempted homicide among other charges.

Sources: Lehigh Valley Live (Tony Rhodin), Washington Post (Tim Elfrink), WPVI-TV

Last Blockbuster store is now on Airbnb for a nostalgic '90s sleepover

Where: Bend, Oregon

Below the Fold Edition: 45

The Local Story: Forget five star hotels or cutesy bed-and-breakfasts; travelers in Bend, Oregon are booking their next vacation inside the nation's last remaining Blockbuster video store. Sandi Harding, the store's manager, is transforming her nostalgia-inducing business into an Airbnb for three nights this September as a gesture of appreciation to her local community. Guests can enjoy a one-of-a-kind, 90s-themed sleepover in the store – and yes, the candy aisle is up for grabs.

Sources: Mashable (Tim Marcin)

Amazon drivers are rigging the system to get more orders

Where: Chicago, Illinois

Below the Fold Edition: 49

The Local Story: A unique fruit has been spotted on the trees in certain Chicago suburbs: smartphones, dangling from the branches, placed there by enterprising Amazon delivery drivers. By placing their phones in trees close to the Amazon stations where delivery assignments are digitally sent out, drivers can receive more assignments than their competitors. The bizarre practice is indicative of the cutthroat nature of the gig economy; Amazon has declined to comment on the matter.

Sources: Bloomberg (Spencer Soper), Business Insider (Katie Canales), Yahoo (Jeff John Roberts)

Public housing authority aggressively sued its residents

Where: Annapolis, Maryland

Below the Fold Edition: 49

The Local Story: The Housing Authority in Annapolis, Maryland, has sued hundreds of the city's poorest residents for rent payments as small as $5, ProPublica reports. The practice is part of an effort by the city to bolster rent collection, and resulted in over 1,200 cases filed in 2018 alone. Although few cases result in eviction, they do appear on plaintiff's credit reports as well as a permanent legal record that may affect their ability to rent in the future.

Sources: ProPublica/Capital Gazette (Dannielle Ohl, Talia Buford, and Beena Raghavendran)

O`ahu’s beaches are disappearing because of rising sea levels

Where: Oahu, Hawaii

Below the Fold Edition: 54

The Local Story: A new study from the University of Hawaii Manoa spells a grim future for the beaches of Oahu. At current levels of erosion, researchers predict 40% of the island's beaches could disappear by the year 2050. Climate change, as well as the continued use of seawalls, are both factors that scientists say could drastically alter Oahu's landscape by the middle of the century.

Sources: KITV (Tom George), AccuWeather (Brett Anderson), Science Daily (Marcie Grabowski)

San Francisco police accessed hundreds of private surveillance cameras during BLM protests

Where: San Francisco, California

Below the Fold Edition: 55

The Local Story: The San Francisco Police Department used private security cameras to monitor Black Lives Matter protesters over the summer, according to a new report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The surveillance feed obtained by the SFPD – collected from cameras in the city's Union Square – monitored hundreds of citizens not charged with any crimes, many of them simply going about their daily lives. Although the police defend their actions as being in the interest of public safety, civil liberties defenders claim they violated a law designed to protect the rights of protesters in the city.

Sources: Coda (Caitlin Thompson), Electronic Frontier Foundation (Dave Maass and Matthew Guariglia), The Intercept (Micah Lee)

A trash incinerator has been creating air pollution and health problems in Baltimore

Where: Baltimore, Maryland

Below the Fold Edition: 56

The Local Story: A fight is breaking out in southern Baltimore over the future of a waste disposal facility that is the city's highest source of pollution. The Baltimore Refuse Energy Systems Co, or BRESCO, incinerates over 2,000 tons of garbage every day, and is blamed by many Baltimore residents for the high rates of asthma, cancer, and other diseases in surrounding neighborhoods. Community organizers are fighting city hall to shut down the facility as part of a city-wide "zero-waste" initiative, but face an uphill battle against the company that operates BRESCO.

Sources: Vice (Harrison Jacobs), The Baltimore Sun (Talia Richman), Inside Climate News (Rachel Fritts)

Birds really did sound louder during lockdowns

Where: San Francisco, California

Below the Fold Edition: 62

The Local Story: The birds of San Francisco have been singing in a different tune since the outbreak of COVID-19, researchers in the Bay Area report. A recent study analyzing the songs of urban sparrow populations in the area shows that their songs have changed significantly since the pandemic reduced city sounds. With less noise pollution to compete with, the birds are able to "say more, and say it better," resulting in songs that are, in the words of the scientists, "sexier."

Sources: Bloomberg (Sarah Holder)

Oregon glaciers are dying

Where: Salem, Oregon

Below the Fold Edition: 62

The Local Story: Environmental activists held a funeral in Oregon's state capitol this last Sunday for the nearby Clark Glacier, which has been pronounced dead. Glaciers are only considered "alive" as long as they are actively growing and moving; temperature increases due to global warming have killed many glaciers around the world in recent years, with Clark as the latest victim.

Sources: Gizmodo (Brian Kahn), CNN (Francesca Giuliani-Hoffman), Business Insider (Marguerite Ward)

A dangerous plot to kill Biden ends with a teen arrested for child pornography

Where: Kannapolis, North Carolina

Below the Fold Edition: 64

The Local Story: A North Carolina man suspected of planning to assassinate Joe Biden has been indicted by a federal grand jury on child pornography charges. Hillel Treisman initally came to the attention of authorities after local police officers found firearms, explosives, and over $500,000 in cash inside his van – along with drawings of swastikas and planes crashing into buildings. Although Treisman is not yet facing charges related to his terrorism plans, federal investigators are confident they can build a case against him while he remains detained on separate charges.

Sources: NPR (Laurel Wamsley), Washington Post (Timothy Bella), ABC 7

A battle over comments for an offshore fish farm proposal

Where: Sarasota County, Florida

Below the Fold Edition: 67

The Local Story: A proposed fish farm off the coast of Florida stirred more controversy last week, when the agency overseeing the project admitted they had provided local citizens an incorrect email to send feedback to. While offshore fish farms have been proposed as a way to reduce seafood imports, they remain controversial with environmentalists and the domestic fishing industry. The feedback period for the Sarasota-adjacent facility has been extended an additional 15 days due to the error, with many local groups criticizing a lack of transparency around the project.

Sources: The Counter (Jessica Fu), New Orleans Advocate (Tristan Baurick), Herald Tribune (Timothy Fanning)

NYPD changes its policy to allow religious head coverings in mugshots

Where: New York, New York

Below the Fold Edition: 69

The Local Story: The New York Police Department will now allow citizens to wear religious head coverings in their booking photos following a lawsuit filed by two Muslim women against the department. The roots of the new ruling began in 2018, when two separate women complained of civil liberties violations after being forced to remove their hijabs. Lara Ibrahim, one of the plaintiffs, praises the decision and says she hopes the new policy will encourage the NYPD to "respect people's rights to their religious beliefs."

Sources: CNN (Ganesh Setty, Sahar Akbarzai, and Eric Levenson), USA Today (Ryan W. Miller), New York Times (Alan Feuer), CNBC (Charles Lam/Associated Press)

How garment workers are only paid an average of $6 an hour in Los Angeles

Where: Los Angeles, California

Below the Fold Edition: 75

The Local Story: Garment workers in Los Angeles receive an hourly rate of $6, far less than the state's minimum wage. The industry, according to a report by Fashionista, relies on a vulnerable workforce largely made up of undocumented immigrants who are subjected to wage theft and inadequate safety conditions. Several labor rights groups, including the Garment Worker Center, are fighting to improve the conditions for these mistreated and underpaid workers.

Sources: Fashionista (Aditi Mayer), New York Times (Natalie Kitroeff and Victoria Kim), UCLA

Former Arizona official sentenced for illegal adoption scheme

Where: Los Angeles, California

Below the Fold Edition: 76

The Local Story: An Arizona lawyer was sentenced to more than six years in prison in an adoption and smuggling scheme that led to at least 70 illegal adoptions. He used legal loopholes, lied to judges, and falsified documents to make it seem like the women were residents in various states so they could receive Medicaid benefits. He also would have the women say they were unmarried and that the fathers didn’t want the babies. Finally, he would sometimes take the women’s passports once they entered the U.S. to prevent them from being able to return home.

Sources: Washington Post (Jaclyn Peiser), USA Today (Jessica Boehm and Robert Anglen), New York Times (Neil Vigdor)

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