August 22, 2013
By FREDERIC J. FROMMER
A divided federal appeals court has ruled that government employees involved in sensitive but noncritical national security work aren’t entitled to a key civil service protection available to other government workers.
The 7-3 ruling Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington said the Merit Systems Protection Board can’t review dismissals and demotions of government employees who hold sensitive national security positions that aren’t deemed critical — even if their jobs don’t require access to classified information.
Critics said the decision would significantly erode civil service protections for federal workers.
In a case involving Defense Department employees, the merit systems board said a 1988 Supreme Court ruling limiting board review of national security cases applied only if classified information was involved. But the appeals court ruled that the Supreme Court decision was broader.
“Its principles instead require that courts refrain from second-guessing DOD national security determinations concerning eligibility of an individual to occupy a sensitive position, which may not necessarily involve access to classified information,” wrote Judge Evan Wallach.
“Courts have long recognized that sensitive but unclassified material can be vital to national security,” he wrote.
Wallach added that it was “naive” to say that employees without direct access to classified information can’t affect national security.
In a dissent, Judge Timothy Dyk said the majority opinion will deny merit systems board review for “hundreds of thousands of federal employees — a number that is likely to increase as more positions are designated as noncritical sensitive.”
Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, a whistle-blower advocacy group, said that the court had “created a loophole to remove the civil service rule of law from virtually the entire federal workforce.”
The American Federation of Government Employees said it would likely seek review by the Supreme Court.
“Due process rights are the very foundation of our civil service system,” said the group’s president, David Cox Sr. “That system itself has been undermined by the court today, if this ruling is allowed to stand.”
Carolyn Lerner, head of the federal Office of Special Counsel, which investigates retaliation against government whistle-blowers, said the ruling poses a significant threat to whistle-blower protections for hundreds of thousands of federal employees in sensitive positions.
Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson, a Defense Department spokeswoman for personnel and readiness, said the agency was reviewing the decision.
August 22, 2013
By Charlene Muhammad
LAWT Contributing Writer
On August 17, Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin, and family attorney Benjamin Crump, led a community conversation on racial profiling at Steele Indian School Park’s Memorial Hall.
Attorney Charlene Tarver of the Tarver Law Group and Fatimah Halim, a community organizer, coordinated the program, which examined the systemic impact of racial bias and profiling on communities of color. The day’s highlights were a Q&A with Fulton, Crump, and Tarver, moderated by Halim, and a private reception hosted at a residence in Scottsdale.
The discussion is just one of many town hall meetings, rallies, or protests still occurring across the country since a Sanford, Florida jury of five White and one Hispanic women found George Zimmerman, not guilty of second degree murder charges on July 13.
Fulton said she feels the prosecutors did the best job they could and that everything rested in the jury’s hands. “They couldn’t understand or maybe they didn’t have the understanding of Trayvon’s point of view, which is very sad because they can’t take away certain facts: that he was unarmed, that he was a minor, that he was not committing any crime,” Fulton said.
“They have to live with some things, which is going to cause them problems with sleeping at night,” she added, as the audience exploded into applause.
Fulton and Crump also came to raise awareness about the Trayvon Martin Foundation and the Trayvon Martin Amendment, which would change Stand Your Ground Laws to prohibit people from profiling, following, and killing someone, and then claim they were standing their ground, Ms. Fulton explained to a host of concerned residents, lawyers, educators, activists, artists, politicians, and community and religious leaders.
Fulton shared that the ordeal has thrust her — a regular woman, with a regular income and a regular life — into a spotlight she nor her family have asked for and that no family would want. But, she will continue to fight because the Stand Your Ground law must be reversed, she said.
Her attorney said the people’s continued engagement in the Justice for Trayvon Martin movement is multi-layered and phenomenal, and the program reminded him of how the case impacted him early on.
“Everybody has a ‘Trayvon moment’ and the moment for me was when his father called me and the lawyers on the phone, trying to get me to represent them and I said you don’t need me because he killed him on the street. He was unarmed. Of course they’re going to arrest him,” Crump told this writer in a private interview.
“We really believed and that was the thing that was most heartbreaking because you allowed yourself to believe. You knew about the Oscar Grants. You knew about the the Emmett Tills, the Medgar Evers, but you wanted to believe. You thought in a post-racial society, with a Black president, with this evidence they’ve got to arrest him,” Crump continued.
Tarver urged the audience to get involved. “As lawyers, as business owners, as professionals, I think it is incumbent on us to begin to create a voice for Stand Your Ground and I think as long as we remain afraid to address it, it will never be dealt with,” Tarver stated.
A morning panel, moderated by Lasana Hotep, an educator and researcher, explored the criminal justice system and racial profiling’s impact on youth. Presenters included Judge Penny Willrich of the Phoenix School of Law, Alex Munoz, founder of Films By Youth, Rampage, a multi-platinum rap artist, and Ja’han Jones, a student activist.
“African American males are constantly subjected to powerlessness and that brings into question our personalities, the kind of people who we are. The acquittal of George Zimmerman brings into question America’s value of Black life,” Jones said. As a result, he’s spent the last few months trying to reconcile the value his mom assigns to him and the value America assigns to him. “There’s a formidable gap between worthless and priceless,” Jones added.
Munoz highlighted the role of arts on incarcerated youth. Most of the men he works with are Black or Latino he said, and filmmaking is just one of many tools society can use to empower them in a world that’s already determined their worth as zero, he offered.
An afternoon panel comprised of Crump, Dr. Ray Winbush of Morgan State University, Attorney Daniel Ortega of the Ortega Law Firm, and Tarver, highlighted the law and human rights through a historical lens.
There’s always been a restriction on the plain, old locomotion of Black men, and that is a 400 year old mentality, Dr. Winbush noted. He denounced society’s historical line that if Black males and females fight back against injustices, they are wrong. “Black men and boys when attacked do have a right to fight back,” he said, encouraging the audience to broaden their understanding of the criminal justice system, racial profiling, and their legal rights.
“Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere and if we allow one group to be subject to injustice, it applies to all,” Ortega said. He advocates a restructuring of police culture. “The only way we’re going to do it is if all of us fight together and challenge it together,” he continued.
Student Minister Charles Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 32 thought the program was much needed. “It was very inspiring to see Sybrina Fulton at the event and that actually capped the event with her spirit and her strength. Even though she’s mourning the death of her son, she’s inspiring people and letting them know it could happen to any one of us, especially youth,” he stated.
August 22, 2013
By Charlene Muhammad
LAWT Contributing Writer
It’s been more than a month since a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of killing Sybrina Fulton’s son, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The Florida teen’s smile captured the world. It glistened as the future and promise of millions of young Black men across America. But in addition to his death on February 26, 2012, after Zimmerman profiled, followed, and shot him at point blank range, the not-guilty verdict shattered the hearts of everyone endeared to him by photos that graced newspapers and TV sets alike. His killing has also revealed the strength and courage of Sybrina Fulton, who says before the tragedy, she was just a regular woman, with a regular job, a regular car, and regular children. In an interview with award-winning journalist Sister Charlene Muhammad in Phoenix, Arizona on August 18, Fulton talked about her life after the verdict, the faith that carries her, and she encouraged other mothers fighting similar battles for justice.
Sister Charlene Muhammad (SCM): Thank you for taking time to speak with me. As we see you on the move, traveling across the country to raise awareness about the Trayvon Martin Foundation, how do you also pass your days when the lights, the cameras, the people are not there? What gives you comfort after something of this magnitude when you're alone?
Sybrina Fulton (SF): I just like spending time with my family and my friends, who are very positive. And they kind of uplift me. They kind of help me pray my way through this. When the cameras are off, when I'm not doing interviews, when I'm not traveling, I spend a lot of time with my family and friends.
SCM: What role do you see Black media playing in terms of the Trayvon Martin Amendment and this level of the justice movement for your son?
SF: They can make sure that they're doing productive stories, that they are listening to what we're saying and not just taking the negative away from what we're saying, but also taking the positive away. Usually we have action items like signing the petition, which is going on our website and just supporting the Trayvon Martin Foundation, and, making sure that they vote.
SCM: Were there ever moments during the trial when you just wanted to, scream out in the courtroom, and if so, when?
SF: Yes. There was a time but there was a room that we go into. And I would call it the meditation room because that was the room where we could have quiet time. That's the room where we could listen to music. We could pray. We could just close our eyes and get away from the environment. I was saying it was a bit much to be in the courtroom, listening to all the evidence, listening to the medical examiner's report, just physical pictures that we saw, it was just troublesome. It was good that we had the opportunity to get away and take a time out from the trial.
SCM: As you’re certainly aware, people, and not just youth, took to the streets after the verdict. In Los Angeles, in the Leimert Park area, they responded right away. Later some broke into rioting. What do you think about the people's response, especially the young men who, as a brother said during the panels, are just afraid and wanting to know where to go from here?
SF: I think they should have a concern. I'm not opposed to someone protesting, marching, attending rallies as long as it's peaceful because that's what we have been demonstrating, you know, peaceful protests, peaceful rallies and things like that. I don't have issues with that. Just keep in mind that for it to be productive it needs to be peaceful. The other thing is they were just speaking out to express themselves and how they felt about the verdict. They weren't satisfied. They were very disappointed and they were very saddened by the verdict, so of course they're going to do things. They're going to attend rallies and they're going to show up in numbers because they were upset.
SCM: Any message for the mothers out there, some already walking in your shoes and some, God forbid, whom we've yet to know as this brutality continues?
SF: I would just tell them to be encouraged, to connect themselves with something positive, connect themselves with some faith based organization. I would tell them to make sure they surround themselves with their family and friends. That's what's going to help them. Don't go in a shell. Don't be away from people because that's how depression sets in. I would just tell them as much as possible to talk it out. Find somebody they feel comfortable with talking to and tell that person how they're feeling because only when you tell somebody how you're feeling, and you get those feelings out, it's not festering within.
SCM: You’ve spoken about having a regular life as regular person. How has this ordeal changed you?
SF: I this this ordeal changed me. I felt like I had a purpose in life already. I worked for the housing agency in Miami so I felt like I was doing something purposeful by helping residents that were public housing and Section 8 participants so I felt like I was doing something meaningful. This has taken it to another level. Now, I'm reaching a much more broader community and more broader aspect of people. I think it's a purpose to everything.
SCM: Thank you again.
August 22, 2013
LAWT News Service
President Barack Obama has participated in a special program along with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) and other senior government officials that honored Korean War Veterans and commemorated the 60th Anniversary of the Signing of the Armistice that ended three years of fighting on the Korean Peninsula following North Korea’s invasion of the Republic of Korea in June 1950. President Obama provided keynote remarks at the event, held at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“The Republic of Korea today has one of the world’s strongest economies and is a staunch U.S. ally due to those service members who made the ultimate sacrifice and the service and sacrifice made by our Korean War Veterans,” said Colonel David J. Clark, Director of the Department of Defense (DoD) 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee. “What people need to understand is that the Korean War was a ‘Forgotten Victory’ and marked the end of Communist aggression in Northeast Asia.”
Of particular significance to the African American community is the fact that the Korean War was the first war in which America fought with a military force that was officially integrated, as authorized by the President of the United States. President Harry Truman signed an Executive Order that ended segregation in the U.S. Armed Forces in 1948; it took effect in 1950 while the Korean War was raging. That meant African American and white soldiers fought Communist forces, side-by-side, in horrible conditions and on challenging terrain.
Of the 600,000 African Americans who served in the Armed Forces during the Korean War, it’s estimated that more than 5,000 died in combat. During his remarks on July 27, President Obama made special note of these facts. He also alluded to the fact that the first government entity to be officially integrated was the U.S. Military and that the results of that action benefited the nation tremendously, once the Korean War had concluded.
The program on July 27th paid tribute to all Korean War Veterans and commemorated the signing of the Armistice. In addition, United Nations Allies that provided combat troops, medical teams, and other support were also recognized.
Also in attendance were veterans and survivors from the first victorious battle during that war, won in July 1950 by the 24th Infantry Regiment, the nation’s oldest African American combat unit. In addition, members of the 231st Transportation Truck Battalion, another African American unit, attended the ceremonies. The 231st was the only Maryland National Guard unit ordered to active duty to support the Korean War.
The Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee, authorized in the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill, is dedicated to thanking and honoring all the Veterans of the Korean War, their families and especially those who lost loved ones in that war. Through 2013, the Committee will honor the service and sacrifice of Korean War Veterans, commemorate the key events of the war, and educate Americans of all ages about the historical significance of the Korean War.
For more information, visit our website at www.koreanwar60.com Keep connected with the Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee via Facebook and Twitter, through videos at YouTube or with photos on Flickr.
August 15, 2013
By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
In a stunning turn in criminal justice policy, Attorney General Eric Holder announced steps the Justice Department will take to address over population in federal prisons by changing mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and pushing non-violent drug offenders into rehab programs instead of prison cells.
In a speech Monday August 12 at an annual meeting of the American Bar Association in San Francisco, Holder said, “Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it.”
Holder also acknowledged, that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no good law enforcement reason.”
Nearly 219,000 Americans are locked up in federal prisons. Even though, Blacks account for 13.1 percent of the United States population, Blacks take up 37 percent of the beds in federal prisons, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons. Roughly 47 percent of prisoners are locked up for drug offenses, many of them non-violent offenders. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Department of Justice spent $6.6 billion housing federal prisoners in 2012.
Holder said that the Justice Department’s plans would mirror policies that worked to reduce prison populations and recidivism in Kentucky, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina. Ohio and other states. According to Holder, at least 17 states have improved recidivism rates and decreased prison populations without compromising public safety by shifting resources “from prison construction and toward evidence-based programs and services, like treatment and supervision, that are designed to reduce recidivism.”
Holder noted that while the federal prison population continues to increase, in 2012 state prison populations experienced the largest drop in a single year.
“The bottom line is that, while the aggressive enforcement of federal criminal statutes remains necessary, we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation,” said Holder. “To be effective, federal efforts must also focus on prevention and reentry.”
Holder also announced increased funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) that provides federal funding for advanced training and jobs for local law enforcement. Holder said that a new round of COPS grants would provide more than $110 million to hire military veterans and school resource officers.
The Obama administration placed more than $1.5 billion into the COPS program over the past four years, even as critics panned it and research that found it often contributed to over-policing in poor and minority communities and played only a limited role in the reduction of crime.
Still, members of Congress praised Holder’s announcement. In a press release, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said that she will introduce legislation that will “curb federal prosecutions of low-level and non-violent drug offenders; re-focus scarce federal resources to prosecute major drug kingpins, and give courts and judges greater discretion to place drug users on probation or suspend the sentence entirely.”
In a separate statement, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio) said that, “It is well documented that a disproportionate share of stiff mandatory sentences for low-level, non-violent crimes typically impact low income populations and communities of color.”
Fudge continued: “The measures introduced by the Attorney General will provide a fair and balanced approach to sentencing while improving protection of our nation’s vulnerable communities.”
The Justice Department’s “Smart on Crime” initiative will focus five key provisions:
• Prioritizing prosecutions to focus on the most serious cases
• Reforming sentencing to eliminate unfair disparities and reduce overcrowded prisons.
• Pursuing alternatives to incarceration and low-level, non-violent crimes.
• Improving reentry to curb repeat offenses and re-victimization.
• Surging resources to violence prevention and protecting the most vulnerable populations.
“We must never stop being tough on crime,” said Holder. “But we must also be smarter on crime.”