July 11, 2013

By KENNETH MILLER

Assistant Managing Editor

 

Veteran Congresswoman Max­ine Waters and Congresswoman Karen Bass praised former United States Rep. William H. Gray III who died this week. A powerful and influential former Congressman, Gray was the first Black to become majority whip. He was 71.

“I am deeply saddened by the sudden passing of my friend and former colleague, Congressman Bill Gray,” said Waters in a statement.

“Everyone loved him, and his legacy will continue to inspire all who knew him. I feel fortunate to have had the distinct honor of working with him over the years, as both a colleague and a friend. I join the people of Philadelphia and Americans across the nation in mourning the loss of an effective leader and passionate advocate of the public good. Bill Gray will certainly be missed.”

Gray passed away suddenly Monday July 8 while in London with one of his sons to attend the Wimbledon tennis championships, according William Epstein, a former aide to Gray.

Born in Baton Rouge, La., Gray graduated from Franklin & Mar­shall College and Drew Theo­logical Seminary in Madison, N.J., before being elected as a Democrat to Congress in 1978. He served as chairman of the budget committee and became the first African-American in the 20th century to become majority whip of the U.S. House. During his tenure, he authored legislation implementing economic sanctions against South Africa.

“Representative Gray’s leadership was made apparent by being the first African American to serve as Chair of the Budget Committee and later as the Majority Whip,” Bass said.

“He gained a reputation as a consensus builder and his legacy reminds us of the importance of working together for the good of country over politics.”

In 1991, he surprised colleagues by resigning to run the United Negro College Fund, for which a biography on his company website says he raised more than $2.3 billion for minority institutions. In 1994, President Bill Clin­ton tapped him as a temporary special adviser on Haiti.

“During his tenure, Con­gressman Gray also wrote legislation that implemented economic sanctions South Africa during apartheid,” said Waters.

“As our thoughts and prayers are with Nelson Mandela, we must remember and appreciate the fact that Congressman Gray spearheaded federal efforts to eradicate apartheid.”

Succeeding his father as pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in 1972, he continued in that position until 2007. Epstein said he commuted back to the city on weekends to deliver Sunday sermons.

“Representative Gray dedicated his life to serving members of his community in Philadelphia as well as poor and middle-class citizens across the country and the globe.  From his years as pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church to his chairmanship of the Democratic Caucus and his successful efforts to end apartheid in South Africa, Bill Gray showed true leadership and left an indelible mark on the world,” offered Bass.

Gray also founded Gray Global Advisors, a business and consulting firm of which he was chairman emeritus at the time of his death.

His mother, his wife and three sons survive him.

The Associated Press Contributed to this Story.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 11, 2013

By Freddie Allen

NNPA Washington Correspondent

 

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The failure to invest in Black males threatens America’s real-world economic future and national security, experts say.

“We have to realize that we are moving backwards and the country has to realize that the greatest national security and economic security threat is not from some outside enemy, it is from our failure to invest in these children and spending all this money on prisons instead of schools,” said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s  Defense Fund, a nonprofit organization that advocates for children with a focus on poor and minority children. “The Black community has to raise a ruckus nobody is going to do it for us.”

David Banks, president of the Eagle Academy Foundation, said leaders don’t realize the gravity of marginalizing Black males.

“They have to begin to understand, economically, that their failure to invest in this represents their own demise,” said Banks. “This country will not continue to be globally competitive if they’re wasting this human capital. It’s not going to work.”

According to a statistical profile compiled by Educational Training Services and the Children’s Defense Fund, Black males enter high school with great expectations, only to see them dashed in resource-starved classrooms.

“As African American students begin 9th grade, 62 percent of them expect to attain at least a bachelor’s degree. However, only 18.5 percent of Black men between the ages of 25-29 reached that goal in 2012,” according to the ETS/CDF profile.

A 2012 study by The Schott Foundation for Public Education found that barely half (52 percent) of Black males who started ninth grade in the 2006-2007 school year graduated on time. According to the study, 78 percent of White male students graduated in four years that started in the 2006-2007 school year.

The profile notes that, “Over the course of the childhood, two out of three Black children (66 percent) born from 1985 through 2000 were raised in neighborhoods with at least a 20 percent poverty rate, compared to just 6 percent of White children.”

Many researchers say that economic and educational disparities force Black males to make tough life decisions without desperately needed parental guidance.

“They come in behind the curve and keep losing ground,” said  Edelman. “Then, they have schools that are separate and still, mostly, unequal. They’ve got the least experienced teachers.”

Edelman said that kids that need the most should get the most, but it’s just the opposite.

According to the Educational Testing Service profile, “18 percent of Black secondary school students attend high-poverty schools compared to 2 percent of White secondary school students.”

And when minorities make up 90 percent of the student body, those schools spend $733 less per student annually than schools where 90 percent of the students are White.

“In high schools with a student population that is at least half Black, 25 percent of math teachers do not have a college degree in math and are not certified to teach math. For predominately Whites schools, this figure is 8 percent,” the profile reported.

Twenty-five percent of Black students go to schools that are dubbed “dropout factories,” where less than 60 percent of 9th graders are enrolled in the 12th grade four years later. Five percent of White students attend such schools.

Edelman said that the lure of the streets coupled with the absence of enough positive opportunities and good role models pose unique challenges for young Black men at a time when, like most teenagers, they are testing the limits.

“They navigate to gangs and peers for family and on top of that, they have all of these external cultural messages from the TV and the Internet about violence,” said Edelman. “You have to have all of this bling and you don’t have the means to get it, because there are no jobs.”

According to the latest jobs report, Black youth (16-19 years of age) face a 43.6 percent unemployment rate compared to White youth at 20.4 percent.

“It’s the absence of mediating adults in our churches, in our families, in our neighborhoods, we’re scared of these kids you overlay that with drugs and violence and guns everywhere and you’ve got a pretty combustible thing,” said Edelman.

The ETS/CDF profile stated: “Black male high school students are twice as likely as their White peers to report that they did not go to school because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to and from school on at least one day during the 30 days before the survey.”

The profile continued: “In 2010, there were 3.5 more White males ages 15-19 than Black males of the same age. 114 White young men were killed in gun homicides, while 903 Black young men lost their lives in gun homicides.”

During a recent conference, a number of programs focused on high school-aged young Black men were held up as models for success. One program led by David Banks in New York City features a network of all-boys public schools and has managed to improve graduation rates among young Black males.

According to their website, “The Eagle Academy Model is a maximized educational approach to nurture the ‘whole’ child so that each Eagle Academy student is successful in the classroom and in life.”

The academy teaches the young men the importance of holding each other accountable “as students, as family members, and as engaged citizens in their communities.”

David Banks, president of the Eagle Academy Foundation said, “It’s the kind of culture that we have been able to build that helps young men really understand who they are.”

Banks said that getting parents engaged in the educational process often meant doing things like scheduling weekend meetings with parents may be less convenient for teachers, but it works for parents who are extremely busy, sometimes single, juggling jobs and chores at home.

“We figured out how to get parents to really be involved and to buy-in and that’s critically important when it comes to young men and how you get them to be fully engaged in their own education,” said Banks. “Wednesday night meetings at six o’clock and seven o’clock are good for school people, but they’re not good for parents.”

Banks said that Saturday morning meetings when you start on time and end on time appeal to parents.

School officials say that The Eagle Academy in Bronx, N.Y. boasts an 87 percent graduation rate.

The Children’s Defense Fund also offers summer enrichment programs that provide positive mentoring and role models for at-risk youth and works to foster constructive attitudes towards learning, increased parental and family involvement.

Currently, CDF operates 197 Freedom School programs that serve 12,000 children in 29 states.

The profile compiled by Educational Training Services and the Children’s Defense Fund reported that, “Over the course of his or her lifetime, a single high school dropout costs the nation approximately $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes and productivity.” And because high school dropouts often end up behind bars, the failure to invest in young Black men drains resources from the cradle to the prison.

Banks added, “So, even if you don’t love these little Black boys but if you love your own economic condition you’ll recognize that you have to invest in them to protect your own investment.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 11, 2013

By Jennifer Bihm

Editor

 

As the fate of George Zimmerman, accused of killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin plays out in a Florida court this week, the African American community braces itself for his possible acquittal.  A gunshot wound expert testified that Zimmerman’s claim of self defense against Martin was justifiable and witnesses testified that screams on a 911 call from the night Martin was murdered definitely belonged to Zimmerman, two key specifics that could sway the jury in his favor. Now, the Internet is abuzz with comments and essays comparing the case to others where killers and abusers of Black American men like Rodney King and Oscar Grant have gone free, pointing to a nationwide system of inherent racism and injustice.

“There’s a specific thing about young black men being murdered by the people who say they’re protecting us,” said a man identified as “Brother Ali” during a video interview posted last week on hardknock.tv. 

“They find a way to blame the victim, ‘he did something he wasn’t supposed to be doing.’ And they find a way to let the killers go free under some little weird loophole. This case is part of that legacy.”

Last week, a judge denied the prosecution’s request to disallow toxicology reports indicating that Martin had drugs in his system the night he was killed. As of press time the judge had not yet ruled on whether the defense would be allowed to use an animated reenactment of Zimmerman and Martin’s altercation. Also, Rachel Jeantel who had been talking to Martin on the phone moments before he died, was ridiculed profusely in social media after she took the stand for bad grammar and “sounding ignorant and uneducated.”

“If Trayvon Martin’s trial is about his hoodie, his gold teeth, his ominous middle finger, his possible marijuana use, Rachel Jeantel’s trial is about her appearance, her ‘bad attitude,’ and her use of language,” wrote George Ciccariello-Maher in his article “The Racial Politics of Guilt: Black Skin, White Justice” posted on counterpunch.org.

“It’s about bullying a black man,” the late Rodney King told USA Today last year.

“This time, a young man was bullied to death. I’m still alive; Trayvon Martin is not here.”

Since Martin’s death, many have pointed to similarities between his, King’s and Grant’s scenarios. All were unarmed when attacked and in all three cases no arrests were made for the crimes against them until angry cries for justice became loud and persistent. The perpetrators in King and Grant’s cases were found not guilty.

“George Zimmerman may be convicted, but then again he may not,” predicts Charles Richard Brown in an article posted on uptownmagazine.com.

“It’s not clear which outcome is better, more ‘just.’ Of course he should be convicted, but any conviction will only become fodder for the argument, pernicious as it is pervasive, that ours is a “post-racial” society…  There is nothing but racism and white privilege here. Zimmer­man felt privileged enough to be able to gun down a black teenager, and he knew the police wouldn't do anything about it. Zimmerman wasn't stupid. He knew very well what he was doing... protecting his white world from ‘one of them…”

“In this particular case when we start talking about these things, people are looking for some way to make this not a racial issue,” Ali said.

“You know, ‘let’s wait until all the facts come out,’ etc. The major facts are out. This guy approached a black kid who was unarmed and wasn’t doing anything wrong. There may or may not have been a scuffle and he shot and killed him. And, the police took him at his word that he was defending himself, that the grown man with a gun was defending himself against the kid with the skittles and the iced tea... People are looking for ways kind of fortify in our minds that George Zimmerman had a reason to be suspicious of Trayvon or that we as a society have a reason to suspicious of Trayvon.”

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 11, 2013

By Charlene Muhammad

Special to the NNPA from

The Final Call

 

As Afro-Colombian women leaders work to expose violence and human rights violations, grassroots activists are mobilizing for a historic conference to address their issues, gain and protect the rights of Blacks in the country and to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of a law that was supposed to grant freedom.

The term “supposed” is used because, according to activists, the government of Colombia has yet to fully implement Law 70, which for the first time recognized the rights of Black Colombians to protect their land, culture and other important things.

To commemorate the law, issued in August 1993, activists plan to host the First Afro-Colombian National Congress of Community Councils and Organizations August 23-28 in Quibdo.

“Law 70 … gave African people the material foundation to protect themselves as a people by giving them the right to collective ownership of their ancestral lands. It is the commemoration of the victory by Afro-Colombians that will serve as backdrop to the National Congress,” stated activist Charo Mina-Rojas, coordinator of the Afro-Colombian women’s human rights defenders project.

Organizers want the Colombian government to respect and implement measures to actualize Black people’s right to participate in decision-making on issues that affect their lives, culture, environment and territories as provided for by the law.

Approximately 700 community leaders and state officials are expected to participate and outside observers are also invited to witness the historic gathering, which aims to increase international awareness of the deteriorating human rights conditions Black Colombians face.

Many of the deplorable conditions, displacement and death threats are occurring as part of armed combat between guerilla groups and the military, explained Gimena Sanchez, senior associate for the Andes for the Washington Office on Latin America. The organization promotes human rights, democracy, and social justice in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In 2012, Blacks were 20 percent of all new displacements in Colombia, Ms. Sanchez said. That same year, 36 percent of all new displacements took place along Colombia’s primarily Afro-descendant Pacific Coast. That marked a 22 percent increase in displacements compared to 2011, according to numbers provided by the Consul­tancy for Human Rights and Dis­placement.

“This situation is basically leading to a crisis, a humanitarian crisis as well a very difficult crisis for people because once a person is displaced, they lose their home, their livelihood, and they experience severe stigmatization, and they become second class citizens,” Ms. Sanchez told The Final Call.

Elusive em­ployment, poor treatment, and racism make it harder for people to put their lives back together, she added.

A growing number of U.S.-based organizations and indigenous groups are calling for an end to threats, attacks and murders of Afro-Colombians, including members of AFRODES, a coalition of some 89 groups for internally displaced Afro-Colombians.

AFRODES has suffered 35 death threats against members, had three assassination attempts, a break-in, and constant surveillance of its members, according to Ms. Sanchez.

The threats come in the wake of the deaths of several key leaders:  Miller Angulo of AFRODES, Deme­trio Lopez of Community Council of La Caucana, and Socrates Paz Patiño, the legal representative of the Community Council of Iscuande.

On June 20, a network of Afro-descendant women in the Caribbean announced they’ve been receiving death threats as well, Ms. Sanchez stated.

Due to a concerted joint inside and outside effort to raise awareness, the Colombian Attorney General’s Office intends to address high priority cases of violence and political persecution of Afro-descent women from Buenaventura, the Caribbean region and Tumaco, according to Ms. Mina-Rojas.

Buenaventura is a very dangerous, major port in Colombia, where women are heavily targeted, according to activists. In 2011, 13 women were killed, they reported.

“We have a case of woman that they tied to a pole in front of everybody … for three days. They tortured her in front of everybody and didn’t allow anybody to touch her. Then they buried her in the sand, up to the neck and left her there for the tide to come over and she drowned,” Ms. Mina-Rojas told The Final Call.

“We have cases of women that have been raped … killed and thrown in the water,” Ms. Mina-Rojas continued. It’s been difficult to count the number of women who have suffered but it’s just a small example of what women are facing, she explained.

People should be concerned about the United States’ role in what’s happening in Colombia, because it has a lot to do with the conflict, Ms. Sanchez said.

“The United States is the largest donor to Colombia in military assistance,” with approximately $8.5 billion to Colombia since 2000 and a signed free trade agreement with the country, she continued.

“A lot of areas where the commerce is being incentivized … are Afro-Colombian areas. For instance the Port of Buenaventura, where ultra-violence is taking place, is the same port that the United States is working with Colombia to help expand for economic interest. It’s also a port where the majority of the workers are Afro-descendants and the human rights and labor rights situation is abominable,” Ms. Sanchez said.

From January to April this year, 91 mutilated bodies have been found there, according to Ms. Sanchez. But the appalling events also present an opportunity to help improve the lives of Afro-Colombians through the U.S. Colombia Racial Action Plan, she added.

“What is needed is more U.S. citizens to follow this situation and get involved politically to help,” stated Ms. Sanchez.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 11, 2013

By STEPHEN BRAUN

Associated Press

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal oversight board directed by President Barack Obama to scrutinize the government's secret surveillance system is hearing from civil liberties activists, a retired federal judge and a former Bush administration lawyer in the board's first public event since the spying operations were revealed in news reports.

They were among 16 experts set to testify Tuesday before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board about the National Security Agency's surveillance. The board's five members include an Internet freedom advocate and two former Bush lawyers who helped expand the government's national security authority.

After former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden began exposing the NSA's operations in June, Obama instructed the board to lead a "national conversation" about the secret programs. The board has been given several secret briefings by national security officials and it plans a comprehensive inquiry and a public report on the matter.

"Our primary focus will be on the programs themselves," the board's chairman, David Medine, told the Associated Press last month. "Based on what we've learned so far, further questions are warranted."

American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who is expected to testify, warned the oversight board that the government's massive sweeps of cellphone and telephone call logs and other data on phone and Internet communications erode privacy protections guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

Snowden's disclosures revealed that the NSA collects phone "metadata" — records that omitted only the actual contents of conversations — from millions of Americans. A separate NSA surveillance program aimed solely at foreign terrorist suspects also sweeps up metadata about the Internet communications from smaller numbers of Americans, federal officials have acknowledged. Obama urged Americans not to worry about the secret programs because the contents of their communications are rarely targeted.

The president and the director of national intelligence "have been at pains to emphasize that the government is collecting metadata, not content," Jaffer said in advance remarks obtained by the AP. "But the suggestion that metadata is somehow beyond the reach of the Constitution is wrong. For Fourth Amendment purposes, the crucial question is not whether the government is collecting content or metadata but whether it is invading the reasonable expectation of privacy. Here, it clearly is."

Jaffer has urged stricter limits on government surveillance as well as new oversight mechanisms. One of the oversight board's members, James Dempsey, is a top official with the Center for Democracy and Technology, a civil liberties advocacy group.

Much of the NSA's surveillance is overseen by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose classified rulings also have been disclosed by several Snowden leaks. Testimony about the court was expected from former federal judge James Robertson, who served on the secret court. Robertson also ruled against the Bush administration in the landmark Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld case, which granted inmates at the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the right to challenge their detentions. That ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Steven Bradbury, a former top Bush administration lawyer who played a central role in national security decisions, also was to testify. Bradbury, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, wrote several legal memos backing the CIA's limited use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects, including simulated drowning. But he also signed other memos that placed legal brakes on some of the Bush administration's expanded national security authority.

Two of the oversight board's members also worked as Bush administration lawyers. Elisebeth Collins Cook is a former Justice Department lawyer who drafted revised guidelines in 2008 that expanded the FBI's ability to conduct domestic intelligence investigations. The guidelines gave FBI agents involved in national security probes new authority to conduct physical surveillance without a court order and to interview people without identifying themselves as federal agents.

Oversight board member Rachel Brand is another former Bush Justice lawyer who urged Congress to give the FBI expanded authority to use what are called national security letters and administrative subpoenas to obtain information in terrorism investigations. The use of such tools is limited but can allow federal investigators to demand data without direct judicial approval.

The oversight board is appointed by the president but reports to Congress. David Cole, a professor of constitutional and national security law at Georgetown University, said the board faces high expectations.

"Their very existence may make government officials more careful about their surveillance programs because they will know that a board empowered and obligated to report on privacy and civil liberties abuses exists," Cole said.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

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