March 06, 2014
City News Service
California Gov. Jerry Brown expressed worry recently about “potheads” running the nation, and said California should see how legalized marijuana affects other states before liberalizing pot laws here. Brown was interviewed March 3 on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” and host David Gregory asked him if it was a good idea to legalize marijuana in the Golden State.
“Well, we have medical marijuana,” the governor said. “And that’s very similar to what they have in Colorado and Washington. I’d like those two states to show us how it's going to work.
“The problem with anything (is), a certain amount is okay,” he continued. “But there is a tendency to go to extremes.
“And all of a sudden, if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or nation? The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive.
“I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together,” he said.
Gregory, a graduate of Birmingham High School in the San Fernando Valley, laughed and said “as a TV guy, I know a good sound bite when I’ve heard (one), and I think I’ve just heard one.”
March 06, 2014
By Kara Brandeisky
Special to the NNPA from ProPublica
When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act last June, justices left it to Congress to decide how to fix the law. But while Congress deliberates, activists are turning again to the courts: At least 10 lawsuits have the potential to bring states and some local jurisdictions back under federal oversight – essentially doing an end-run around the Supreme Court’s ruling.
A quick refresher: The Voting Rights Act outlaws racial discrimination against voters. But the law’s real strength comes from its “preclearance” provision, which forces jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to submit new voting measures to the federal government for approval.
In last summer’s Shelby County v. Holder ruling, the Supreme Court threw out the part of the law that spelled out when states were automatically subject to federal oversight. States that have been released from preclearance have already passed a rash of new restrictive voting measures, as ProPublica reported earlier.
Enter the lawsuits, which hinge on a different part of the Voting Rights Act, the so-called“bail-in” provision. It lets federal courts impose preclearance if a state or local jurisdiction violates the Constitution’s 14th or 15th amendments, which guarantee equal protection and the right to vote.
While the “bail-in” provision has emerged as the new tool of choice for voting rights activists, it is not as sweeping a remedy as the oversight authority the Supreme Court dismantled.
Before the ruling, states, counties and other jurisdictions that were subject to preclearance had to get every single voting change approved – whether they wanted to require a photo ID to vote, change voting hours on Election Day or move even a single polling place. Under “bail-in,” the court can tailor oversight to the situation. A state that enacts an unfair redistricting map, for example, may only need to submit its next map for federal approval.
To prevail in court, plaintiffs must prove a jurisdiction intentionally crafted laws or rules to discriminate against minorities. Although that’s not an easy standard to meet, it’s been done before: In the nearly 50 years before Shelby County v.Holder, courts imposed federal oversight requirements at least 18 times after finding that minority rights had been violated.
So far, the Justice Department has joined two lawsuits against Texas and has launched its own case against North Carolina. Following is a rundown on all the lawsuits, and an update on the effort in Congress to amend the Voting Rights Act after last year’s court ruling.
Michael Li, a Dallas election law lawyer who runs a blog that exhaustively tracks Texas election news, thinks “there’s a decent chance” Texas will be put under federal supervision— since a federal court already ruled that the state’s Congressional and state Senate redistricting maps were intentionally discriminatory. But ultimately, he expects the question will be kicked up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Perez et al. v. Perry et al.: Hispanics accounted for 65 percent of population growth between 2000 and 2010 in Texas. But when the Republican-led legislature drew congressional boundaries after the 2010 census, a federal court found that the maps favored white Republican incumbents and had a “discriminatory intent.” After Shelby County v. Holder, Texas said it would use the contested maps anyway. A coalition of voting rights advocates has asked the court to put Texas back under supervision, and the Justice Department joined in.
Veasey et al. v. Perry et al.: The day the Supreme Court freed Texas from federal oversight, Gov. Rick Perry announced his intent to enact a photo ID law that the Justice Department and a federal court had refused to approve. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, sued the next day. Veasey and supporters – including the League of United Latin American Citizens and Dallas County – say the law discriminates against minority voters, who, by the state’s own admission, are less likely to possess an eligible ID. The plaintiffs want to put the entire state back under preclearance, and the Justice Department’s photo ID lawsuit was merged with this case.
Petteway et al. v. Galveston County: Five local elected officials, led by Constable Terry Petteway, sued Galveston County, arguing that the county gerrymandered their districts to discriminate against Latino and African-American candidates. The officials have asked a federal court to throw out the map and put Galveston County back under federal oversight.
Cantue et al. v. Beaumont Independent School District: This case targets a school district. After years of legal battles over voting maps, a group of Beaumont citizens who believe the district has discriminated against black voters wantpreclearance of all election changes.
Under bills in the House and Senate to amend the Voting Rights Act, four states and two counties would face federal oversight because they’ve committed too many “voting rights violations” over the past 15 years
Almost two months after the Shelby County v. Holder ruling, North Carolina passed a bill that requires voters to show photo ID, shortens the early voting period, eliminates same-day registration and instructs election officials to throw out any ballots cast in the wrong precinct, among other restrictions. Now three different lawsuits ask to put North Carolina back under preclearance.
North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP et al. v. McCrory et al.: The plaintiffs say the law discriminates against African-American voters, who are less likely to have a photo ID, more likely to vote earlyand who historically have cast more out-of-precinct ballots.
League of Women Voters et al. v. North Carolina et al.: The League of Women Voters is particularly concerned about the law’s early voting restrictions. The complaint says that in 2012, almost 20 percent of the electorate cast ballots during the early voting days that the legislature eliminated in 2013. The League contends that shortening the early voting period unfairly burdens poor and minority voters and will increase waiting times for all.
U.S. v. North Carolina et al.: In September, the Justice Department filed its own lawsuit. The complaint notes that from 1980 to 2013, the Justice Department objected to 60 of the 155 voting changes that North Carolina submitted for preclearance.
Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP et al. v. Jindal et al.: Five judges on the 32nd Judicial District Court are elected at-large by majority vote. A Black candidate has never won. Now, the Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP argues that the at-large scheme dilutes the Black vote and that racial discrimination continues to the current day. As an example, the plaintiffs assert that in 2004, a sitting judge was suspended for attending a Halloween party dressed in blackface and an orange prison jumpsuit – only to be re-elected in 2008. The plaintiffs ask the court to require preclearance for the 32nd Judicial District.
Toyukuk et al. v. Treadwell et al.: In 1975, Congress expanded the Voting Rights Act’s coverage formula to include places that offered English-only election materials when at least 5 percent of voting-age citizens spoke a different language. Now, a group of Native Americans says Alaska failed to provide voting materials and voting assistance in their native language Yup’ik and its dialect Cup’ik. The group wants the Justice Department to oversee language assistance procedures in the Dillingham and Wade Hampton census areas.
Jackson et al. v. Wolf Point et al.: Since Shelby County v. Holder, voting rights advocates have tried to sanction one jurisdiction that has never been under federal oversight – a school district in Montana. Voters in Wolf Point School District 45A say that the county superintendent’s office packed Native Americans into one malapportioned district to dilute their vote. They ask a federal judge to force the school district to create a new redistricting plan and require that the school districtsubmit its 2020 redistricting plan to the Justice Department for approval.
Congress and Voting Rights Act
While the lawsuits play out in the states, Congress is considering a new proposal to rewrite the Voting Rights Act provisions that trigger federal oversight.
Legislation in both the House and Senate would make it easier to “bail-in” new states: Courts could institute preclearance if a jurisdiction violated any federal prohibition on voting discrimination, not just the Constitution. That way, plaintiffs would not have to prove the discrimination was intentional.
In addition, the bills would change which states are automatically subject to federal oversight. States that are sanctioned for five “voting rights violations” in 15 years would need to submit new voting measures for federal approval. “Voting rights violations” would include any time a voting measure violates the 14th or 15th amendments or Voting Rights Act, and any time the Justice Department or a federal court rejects a voting measure that had been submitted for preclearance.
The new formula would also cover counties, townships and other political subdivisions that have three violations over the 15 years, or just one violation combined with consistently low minority turnout.
Under those criteria, four states and two counties would be subject to preclearance today: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Charleston County, S.C., and Northampton County, Va.
The bill’s prospects are uncertain. The House version, introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., has support from seven Republicans and 13 Democrats. But so far, the identical Senate version, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has no Republican co-sponsors. A Leahy aide said the senator “continues reaching out to Senate Republicans to join these important efforts.”
March 06, 2014
By Corey Arvin
Special to the NNPA from Black Voice News
Contrary to popular belief, today’s young African-Americans are not more skeptical of their value in the eyes of the U.S. justice system compared with previous generations. There is no reignited understanding of civil rights inequities in modern society, nor any renewed sense of duty to overcome systematic failures.
According to Brenda Stevenson, Professor of History at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), recent high-profile judicial cases involving young black men underscored a disparity in the justice system that African-Americans have always been aware of—and never forgot.
Earlier this month, the parents of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black teen killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, organized a rally in memorial of his death two years ago. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder charges. The case returned to the national spotlight on Feb. 15 when Michael Dunn, a white man facing first-degree murder charges in Florida after fatally shooting a young black teen, Jordan Davis, received a mistrial on the first-degree charges due to a hung jury. Dunn was found guilty on four lesser counts, including attempted second-degree murder.
“These aren’t just the opening of new wounds, it’s a combination of fresh and old wounds for African-Americans,” said Stevenson.
Stevenson, whose areas of research and publication include African American history, is also author of “The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots”. Harlins, a 15-year-old black girl, who was fatally shot in the back of the head in 1991 by a Korean store owner in South Los Angeles. The owner was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, yet sentenced to five years of probation, community service, and a $500 fine. Similarities to Harlins’ death and Martin were frequently recalled in the media during the Zimmerman trial.
While the Zimmerman and Dunn trials have inspired a national discourse on racial equality – a necessary conversation to improve race relations in America, according to civil rights advocates –it has also contributed to young African-Americans inheriting the attitudes and perceptions their families have always maintained about authority figures and the judicial system, said Stevenson.
“Younger African-Americans coming of age see what has happened with Trayvon Martin, they see what happened with [Jordan] Davis. They talk about it with their parents and their parents will say ‘that is what happened with Rodney King’, or ‘that is what happened with Latasha Harlins’, and their grandparents will say ‘that’s what happened with Emmett Till’ and so on,” said Stevenson.
Young African-Americans, particularly men, are informed early in life that they are more susceptible to being regarded as guilty by nature – and the lessons are not necessarily learned in the home, but on the streets. A police officer can detain someone who is black and they witness the ordeal, wondering if it was because of their race. The also see the victimization of blacks at the hands of other races is largely disregarded compared to their white counterparts, she said.
‘I didn’t feel like any justice was served’
Devon Johnson never harbored any animosity to law enforcement or the justice system. He never stood subjectively in front of a judge before, nor found himself the target of police officers.
From first sight, Johnson may seem as harmless as the average young man. The 20-year-old college student maintains a virtually non-threatening demeanor, with a waify 5-foot, 10-inch frame and signature red bucket hat. Johnson is more inclined to smile at his peers and strangers in passing than to sneer or intimidate. But placing himself in “the wrong place at the wrong time” contributed to an unforgettable encounter with authorities.
Johnson didn’t realize that his innocuous stature could easily transform to a guilty target at night while idling with his friends last month. A typical party-hopping night that attracted Johnson and his friends to a Cal State University Northridge dormitory landed Johnson in jail after several young visitors were reported vandalizing one of the buildings. According to Johnson, he was unaware who exactly was to be blamed as the suspected individuals responsible had already fled. Johnson left the building and he saw five campus police officers “charging” at him and fled on foot into the street where a police officer detained him. According to Johnson, five girls, who he described as white, identified him from across the street to police as the vandal based on his clothes, not his face.
“They said they recognized my black jacket and red hat … there were a lot of people wearing black and red,” said Johnson.
According to Johnson, he was the only person arrested for vandalism that night and was transported to jail in Van Nuys. His jail was occupied by others, but felt desolate as he worried his family would wonder about his whereabouts. Johnson was released on bond, but recalls being told before he left to not “plead not guilty” to avoid more trouble. His family advised him to follow his instincts and plead not guilty, but his public defender insisted he plead no contest to “avoid more court appearances”, he said. Johnson felt confused about his alternatives and pressured to plead “no contest”, which he did to move forward. He was sentenced to 2 years of probation.
Within the span of a night, in a small jail cell where he slept to kill time, Johnson found himself a part of a distressing statistic for African-American men. African-Americans represent 26 percent of juvenile arrests, 44 percent of youths who are detained, 46 percent of the youths who are judicially sent to criminal court, and 58 percent of the youth admitted to state prisons, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.
“I have no court smarts whatsoever. I was looking for help and I thought that’s what the public defender was there for,” said Johnson.
“I didn’t feel like any type of justice was served. I don’t feel angry towards it or sad, I just felt like I got the bottom part of the stick this time.”
Johnson tried to preserve an indifferent attitude toward the justice system, but said he understands first-hand the cliché of being “unfairly” treated.
“I always knew the law was kind of a mess. You hear all of these stories of people being wrongfully convicted for what they haven’t done and you are aware of what the cops can do. It just reassures you. It’s nothing we don’t already know,” he said.
Intervening Before the Problems Begin
There’s little doubt young African-American men are at-risk youth, susceptible to violence as both perpetrators and victims. This week, President Obama planned to introduce his executive program “My Brother’s Keeper” in attempt to intervene with at-risk African-American men.
According to the American Community Survey, nearly one in every three African-American men between 20 to 29 years of age are under some form of criminal justice supervision whether prison, jail, parole, or probation. In addition, according to the Justice Policy Institute, more black males are in prison than enrolled in colleges or universities. In 2000, there were 791,600 black men in prison and 603,032 enrolled in college compared with 1980, when there were 143,000 black men in prison and 463,700 enrolled in college.
Reaching at-risk youth early is integral to their future success, deterring crime, and sustaining healthy communities, according to Sgt. Barry Montgomery, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
LAPD is actively involved in community programs throughout Southern California aimed at juvenile men who could find themselves the victims or perpetrators of crime, said Montgomery. The programs, which include juveniles and parents, are even designed to address some of the nuances in approaching African-American at-risk youth compared to Hispanic youth, for example, he said.
The “Jeopardy Program” is one LAPD gang prevention and intervention program that targets children and teens from 8 to 17 years of age. The program is active in several communities that have high African-American populations, Montgomery said.
Montgomery, an African-American, credits the LAPD Cadets program, previously known as the Explorers, for inspiring him to become a police officer. He credits older African-American officers already employed with the department with motivating him to be directly involved with improving Los Angeles communities as a police officer.
I was taught “If you want to make change, you don’t make change on the outside, it’s on the inside,” said Montgomery.
Faith-based organizations, such as churches, have been a bedrock for African-Americans throughout U.S. history, used as an outlet to galvanize communities and educate congregations on civil rights issues. By-in-large, churches commitment to African-American social issues remains, but has expanded into educating and shaping young African-Americans.
West Angeles Church of God in Christ, founded in 1943, is one of the most prominent African-American churches in Los Angeles. The church’s outreach division, West Angeles Community Development Corporation (WACDC), hosts programs for at-risk, such as “Young N LA” and Manhood 101. LAPD has also worked in conjunction with the WACDC’s programs, said Irvin Shannon, program manager.
“Our calling is to ‘develop the beloved community’. As such, investing resources in our youth, specifically young men, is a part of developing our community. The vitality of South Los Angeles rests in the future success of our youth and it is our role to actively prepare them for success,” said Shannon.
“Historically, the church provided the African-American community with hope, a voice, and platform to advocate for social change. The opportunity is immense for other faith-based organizations to continue to engender change within our community.”
Johnson, who doesn’t believe he fits into the category of an “at-risk” youth, says his eyes are wide open to how “easy” it is for someone who shares his background to find himself in trouble with the law, even if it was inadvertent. He plans to avoid seeing history repeat itself.
“It was the realest scenario I’ve ever been in.”
March 06, 2014
By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Several new studies confirm what most people have suspected all along: No group is harmed more by gun violence than young Black males.
“While 13 percent of Americans are black, in 2010, 65 percent of gun murder victims between the ages of 15 and 24 were black,” revealed a report by the Center for American Progress (CAP). “Forty-two percent of the total gun deaths of individuals in this age group were of black males.”
This trend has continued, the report noted, even as crime rates decline.
Another report on gun violence by the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) mirrors the CAP findings.
“Between 1963 and 2010, 59,265 Black children and teens were killed by guns – more than 17 times the recorded lynchings of Black people of all ages in the 86 years from 1882 to 1968.”
The Children’s Defense Fund study also reported that, “Black males ages 15-19 were nearly 30 times more likely to die in a gun homicide than White males.”
Yet another study on Black homicides in the United States by the Violence Policy Center, shows that 8 percent of Black homicide victims never reached their 19th birthday and the average age of Black homicide victims was just 30 years old.
But the numbers tell only part of the story.
“More than 1 million years of potential life are lost due to gun deaths each year,” the CAP report found. “These are years of life that young people killed by guns would have achieved educational milestones, entered the workforce, had families, and contributed to the social, economic, and cultural advancement of society in untold ways – all erased by gunfire.” .
Neill Franklin, a 34-year law enforcement veteran of the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department, said that the proliferation of guns in the Black community is directly linked to the growth of illegal drug markets there and the failed War on Drugs.
Franklin worked as a narcotics agent early in his career and is now the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a nonprofit group of current and former law enforcement members that advocate for reform in existing drug policies in the United States. Franklin said that guns were tools of the trade for managing the drug territories.
Franklin said that there’s no major drug organizations controlling drug traffic in the cities anymore, just little independent drug dealers on the corners fighting for market share and the “stick up boys” robbing the drug dealers.
Part of the violence can be attributed to the way disputes are settled on the streets.
“Now whenever there is a dispute of any type, whether it’s over a girl or something that someone said, or if somebody’s shoe gets stepped on, the way to settle that argument is with a gun,” explained Franklin.
Add the easy availability of guns to that dangerous mix and the problem is compounded.
According to a report by the Children’s Defense Fund on youth gun violence “virtually anyone can buy a gun without a background check.”
A loophole in the federal law governing gun sales allows private sellers, even on the Internet, to peddle guns without submitting the buyer to a background check.
“In 2009, undercover stings at gun shows in Nevada, Ohio and Tennessee revealed that 63 percent of private sellers sold guns to purchasers who stated that they would be unable to pass a background check,” stated the CDF report.
It also found: “A 2011 study of internet gun sales found that 62 percent of sellers agreed to sell a gun to a buyer who said he probably couldn’t pass a background check.”
Researchers say that this is how guns often make it onto the black market – literally and figuratively – and it’s also the reason why many gun control advocates support background checks for every gun sale.
A law mandating universal background checks on all gun sales enjoys nearly unanimous support (92 percent) among with 18-29 year-olds.
According to the CAP report, 60 percent of people under the age of 30 were concerned that gun violence would affect them “personally or their communities in the future.” For people of color under 30 years old, that concern jumped to 73 percent.
“A vast majority of Americans support this idea: that every gun sale should have a background check,” said Chelsea Parsons, associate director of Crime and Firearms Policy at the Center for American Progress. “Without that, it’s meaningless to say that certain categories of people can’t buy guns.”
Although Franklin supports background checks on gun sales, he said that handgun laws don’t have anything to do with the massive gun violence in the Black community in cities like Baltimore.
“Criminals don’t care about the law,” said Franklin “They buy their guns illegally. They pay twice or triple what the gun is worth, because they have the money, because they are selling dope. These laws that we’re passing are only going to affect law-abiding citizens.”
Franklin said that background checks don’t get to the root of the problem: the continued drug war waged in our nation’s poorest communities.
The drug scene often attracts urban youth because they aren’t many attractive alternative economic opportunities for them, said Caroline Fichtenberg, research director for the Children’s Defense Fund.
“A smart, Black boy living in Southeast, Washington, D.C. may see the drug economy as the best way to get money and to be recognized as someone who has accomplished something,” said Fichtenberg. “And that is something we absolutely must change.”
Fichtenberg said that reducing the availability of illegal guns, teaching children that violence is not the way to resolve conflicts, making long term investments in communities and improving educational and economic opportunities for poor communities are just a few of the steps needed to change the tide of rampant gun violence that disproportionately affects young Blacks.
Franklin said that ending the drug war is paramount to stemming the tide of gun violence among Black youth.
“We have to end this drug war, we have to end drug prohibition,” said Neill Franklin, a 34-year law enforcement veteran of the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a nonprofit group of current and former law enforcement members that advocate for reform in existing drug policies in the United States. “That’s going to halt the cycle of mass incarceration of sending all these young boys to prison. Once we end the drug war, we have to take some of the money that we’re not spending on cops and court rooms and prisons and we have to beef up these organizations that have these wonderful mentoring programs.”
Franklin continued: “If we don’t start now, outlining a long term plan to deal with these children and their families, beginning with ending the drug war, we’re going to continue to lose generation after generation. It’s been decade after decade after decade. We should know that by now.”