February 20, 2014
By George J. Bryjak
Special to the NNPA from The Milwaukee Courier
Black Americans have a long and distinguished history of military service.
They participated in every colonial war from 1690 through the French and Indian War (1754-1763) as soldiers, sailors, laborers, scouts, and spies.
Blacks generally served in integrated units and earned the same pay as whites.
Even slaves served in the army and were paid although their enlistment compelled them to surrender some portion of this money to their owners.
In the early Revolutionary War battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, free and enslaved Blacks fought shoulder to shoulder with white patriots.
However, by the summer of 1775, under pressure from Southern plantation owners, General George Washington and the Continental Congress opposed the further enlistment of free blacks and slaves.
Historians James and Lois Horton state that southern planters were “well aware of African- Americans’ desire for freedom, and most feared insurrection should slaves gain access to guns.”
The British were more willing to accept blacks both as soldiers and non combatants.
Historian Kait Picco notes the British saw at least three advantages to channeling the “enthusiasm for rebellion” on the part of slaves: 1) they hoped the very thought of a slave uprising might pacify the colonists; 2) that the desertion of slaves would prove to be a significant economic hardship; and 3) that escaped slaves could be an asset to the British military in its campaign to defeat the rebels.
For example, runaway slaves with an intimate knowledge of the back country were invaluable to the British Army.
Historians estimate that during the war between 75,000 and 100,000 slaves sought freedom via going over to the British.
Most came from Virginia (at least 30 from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation), South Carolina, and Georgia.
Approximately one thousand of these men and women served in the British military with females typically working as nurses and cooks.
On November 7th, 1775, Governor John Murray of Virginia (whose title was Lord Dunmore) issued a proclamation stating that he would free Black and White “bondsmen” (slaves) who would fight for the British.
A slave owner himself, Dunmore offered freedom only to those slaves belonging to rebel planters.
Within a month approximately 300 men had joined Lord Dunmore’s “Ethiopian Regiment” and wore uniforms inscribed with “Liberty to Slaves.”
By the summer of 1776, the regiment had grown to 800 men, most of whom would die of disease (primarily smallpox) on Gwynn’s Island where they were stationed.
Historian Robert Selig argues the slaves who responded to Dunmore’s offer “were not necessarily pro-British; first and foremost they were problack, prepared to support the side that held out the greatest hope for them to improve their lot.
That side was the British…” No doubt many of the slaves who fought for King George asked themselves the same question the great English writer Samuel Johnson posed: “How is it we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of Negroes?”
This contradiction between the goal of political freedom for the colonies and the reality of black slavery was recognized by many individuals, including Abigail Adams.
In 1774 the future First Lady wrote to husband, John: “It always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right o freedom as we have.”
George Washington thought Dunmore’s decree encouraging slaves to fight for the British made him “the most dangerous man in America.”
As a consequence of this decree and some early British victories, on December 31st, 1775, Washington partially reversed his stance and stated that he was permitting the enlistment of free blacks but not slaves.
By 1777, most states either as result of specific legislation or the reversal of existing policies, began to enlist both free blacks and slaves.
A 1776 New York law permitted blacks to take the place of whites who had been drafted.
In 1778, Rhode Island was having difficulty meeting its quota of troops set by the Continental Congress.
The state Assembly voted to allow “every ablebodied negro, mulatto, or Indian man slave” to enlist, and “immediately upon discharge from the service of his master or mistress, be absolutely free…” Slave owners would be compensated by the state for the market value of the slave.
Approximately 140 of the 225 men who enlisted in the First Rhode Island Regiment (FRIR) under this statute were black.
This was one of the few racially segregated military units during the Revolutionary War.
In service for five years, the FRIR was part of Continental forces at the battles of Fort Oswego, Red Bank, Saratoga, and Yorktown among others.
At the Battle of Newport in 1778, reinforcements failed to arrive and the Continental Army retreated under a fierce enemy attack.
The FRIR positioned itself between retreating American units and advancing Hessian mercenary forces repelling three enemy charges.
The all black unit inflicted five casualties upon Hessian forces for every one casualty its members suffered.
When the FRIR was demobilized in Saratoga in June, 1783, its commander, Lt. Colonel Jeremiah Olney praised his troops for their “valor and good conduct.”
Olney stated that he regretted these men for whom he felt “the most affectionate regard and esteem” would leave the military without the pay still owed to them.
After the war Olney fought attempts to reenslave some of his former soldiers.
He also supported claims for the recovery of their back pay and pensions.
Other all black units included two companies from Massachusetts (one called the “Bucks of America”) and one from Connecticut.
These black units were commanded by white officers.
The distinguished African-American historian, John Franklin Hope, notes that by 1778 George Washington had “completely accepted the idea of blacks as soldiers…”
February 20, 2014
Special to the NNPA from The Florida Courier
JACKSONVILLE- State Attorney Angela Corey says her office will retry 47-year-old Michael Dunn, a software developer charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, and shooting into a vehicle in the November 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Jordan Davis outside a Jacksonville convenience store.
Dunn was convicted of attempting to murder three occupants in the vehicle he shot up, and of shooting into the vehicle. Davis was killed, but the other occupants were unhurt. Dunn faces a possibility of 75 years in prison.
Authorities say an argument over loud music led to the shooting. Davis was parked in a vehicle with three friends outside the store. Dunn and his fiancée had just left a wedding reception and were heading back home when they stopped at the store and pulled up next to the sport utility vehicle that Davis was sitting in.
An argument began after Dunn told them to turn the music down, police said. One of Davis’ friends turned the music down, but Davis then told him to turn it back up.
According to authorities, Dunn became enraged and he and Davis began arguing. One person walking out of the convenience store said he heard Dunn say, “You are not going to talk to me like that.”
Dunn, who had a concealed weapons permit, pulled a 9mm handgun from the glove compartment, according to an affidavit, and fired multiple shots into the SUV, killing Davis.
Dunn told officers that Davis threatened him and he thought he saw someone point a shotgun at him from inside the SUV or maybe it was a stick to make him think it was a gun. Under Florida’s self-defense law, Dunn could fire if he believed his life was in danger.
But police recovered no weapon from the crime scene, and witnesses said they never saw a weapon. There was no surveillance video taken outside the store.
February 20, 2014
LAWT Wire Services
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The FBI says a black civil rights activist was killed during the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, and it suspects militant members of the American Indian Movement are responsible, according to recently released documents.
The hundreds of pages of reports provided to Buffalo, N.Y., attorney Michael Kuzma and shared with The Associated Press Wednesday shed new light on the 40-year-old case of Ray Robinson, an activist and follower of Martin Luther King Jr. But the documents fall short of pinpointing where Robinson was buried and do little to fulfill his family’s wish to have the remains brought home to Detroit.
Desiree Marks, who’s held out hope for 40 years that she’d see her father again, said she was crushed by the FBI’s confirmation of his death.
“I’ve always thought that might not be the case. He may come home. He may be alive. He may, he may, he may,” Marks told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “And yesterday, when I was reading the documents it was very difficult. It made it real final.”
AIM co-founder Clyde Bellecourt said Wednesday that he was only in Wounded Knee for 51 days and knew nothing of Robinson.
“I don’t know who he is,” Bellecourt said. “I never met him. I don’t know what he looks like.”
Robinson, a father of three from Bogue Chitto, Ala., traveled to South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in April 1973 to stand alongside Native Americans in their fight against social injustice. The 71-day standoff between AIM members and federal agents at Wounded Knee left at least two tribal members dead and a federal agent seriously wounded. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation occupation is credited with raising awareness about Native American struggles.
The documents were released in response to Kuzma’s June lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department to help Robinson's widow, Cheryl Buswell-Robinson, and their children get some closure.
Buswell-Robinson, of Detroit, said her husband’s nonviolent approach conflicted with the violent situation at Wounded Knee and that it’s possible AIM members suspected he was a federal informant. The personable, 6-foot-2 black man with a deep baritone voice would have stood out on a Midwest American Indian reservation, she said.
Robinson’s family just wants to bring his remains home for a proper burial.
“I’d just like to have my dad. I’d like to have a place where I can sit down and talk to him and know he’s there,” said Marks, who also lives in Detroit.
The Robinson case, which has been opened, closed and reopened over the years, was most recently closed again in July, said Greg Boosalis, an FBI spokesman in Minneapolis.
“If new information comes forward that is substantial, we will reopen it,” Boosalis said.
According to the FBI documents, an unidentified cooperating witness told agents that “Robinson had been tortured and murdered within the AIM occupation perimeter, and then his remains were buried ‘in the hills.’”
Any search or excavation attempts would likely be complicated by the reservation’s sovereign status. Buswell-Robinson and her two daughters traveled to Wounded Knee in 2004 to walk areas that Robinson likely walked, but they came back without answers.
Another witness told agents that Robinson was in Wounded Knee for about a week and had difficulty adjusting to the lack of food, the chaos of the scene and the unilateral AIM command. That witness said Robinson immediately wanted to open discussion in the bunker about AIM’s strategies but no one listened or took him seriously.
The witness said Robinson got into a heated exchange with another person and was taken to a house by a security team. When Robinson grabbed a knife from a table, he was circled by AIM security guards, according to the witness. A shot rang out, and Robinson’s eyes “rolled up as he went down.”
Buswell-Robinson, 69, questions that account and believes Robinson was in the Wounded Knee occupation area for hours, not weeks. She said the most likely account of her husband’s death is one passed on to her by Barbara Deming, a writer and political activist who was asked by Buswell-Robinson in the mid-1970s to look into the killing. She relayed the story to Buswell-Robinson in letters years after the disappearance.
According to Deming’s account, Robinson was eating oatmeal one day but hadn’t yet checked in with an AIM leader. He was ordered to report to the leader immediately but said the check-in had to wait until he was finished eating. He was then shot, according to the story.
“Ray did not respond well to that authoritative direction,” Buswell-Robinson said.
The wounded Robinson was taken to a clinic, but the FBI hasn’t pinned down what happened next.
For decades, AIM leaders have denied knowledge of Robinson’s death. One witness told agents that AIM leader Vernon Bellecourt, who died in 2007, knew Robinson had been killed and “made a statement to the effect that AIM had ‘really managed to keep a tight lid on that one' over the years.’”
AIM leader Dennis Banks did not return a message left by The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Clyde Bellecourt questioned why the FBI wasn’t spending its time investigating the many unsolved Native American deaths during Wounded Knee.
“There’s never been a grand jury hearing on any of them,” he said.
February 20, 2014
By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – If America is ever to end the revolving door of prison recidivism, it needs to ease the re-entry of former offenders back into society by allowing them to vote, Attorney General Eric Holder believes.
Holder announced his position during a recent conference on criminal justice reform at Georgetown University Law Center at Washington, D.C. He called on state officials, state leaders and other elected officials to reform or repeal laws that block ex-felons from voting, more than two million of them Black.
Holder said that some of the laws dating back to the Reconstruction Era were specifically crafted to target Blacks and weaken their voting power, especially in Southern states where most Blacks live.
According to The Sentencing Project, 1 of every 13 African Americans can’t cast a ballot, due to felony disenfranchisement. In Florida, Kentucky and Virginia more than 20 percent of the Blacks are barred from voting.
Last summer Holder announced the Justice Department’s “Smart on Crime” initiative that includes provisions to reform sentencing guidelines, eliminate unfair disparities and reduce overcrowding in prisons by seeking alternatives to prison time for low-level non-violent crimes.
Holder said that felony disenfranchisement laws often undermine the reentry process and defy the principles – of accountability and rehabilitation – that guide our criminal justice policies.
“And however well-intentioned current advocates of felony disenfranchisement may be – the reality is that these measures are, at best, profoundly outdated,” said Holder. “At worst, these laws, with their disparate impact on minority communities, echo policies enacted during a deeply troubled period in America’s past – a time of post-Civil War repression. And they have their roots in centuries-old conceptions of justice that were too often based on exclusion, animus, and fear.”
Civil rights leaders and criminal justice advocates applauded Holder’s call to lift the ban on voting rights for ex-felons.
“The attorney general’s strong leadership in calling for the repeal of felony disenfranchisement laws across the country is an extraordinary signal to states and the American people,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under the Law. “This is the latest in a series of instances in the past year in which the administration has taken great leadership on criminal justice issues. From the statements of Attorney General Holder to the American Bar Association in August, to the implementation of their policies, it shows that they have heard the cries for reforms within the nation’s over-racialized criminal justice system.”
Tanya Clay House, the public policy director at Arnwine’s organization, said that passing the Democracy Restoration Act, a bill co-sponsored by Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in 2009, would restore the voting rights in federal elections to those disenfranchised because of criminal convictions.
“The Lawyers’ Committee advocates for legislative efforts that restore equality to both the criminal justice system and voting rights,” said House. “Congress can answer the attorney general’s call to action, and lead the nation by example, by reintroducing the Democracy Restoration Act. This bill would restore the voting rights in federal elections to those disenfranchised because of criminal convictions.”
During the same conference, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) repeated his support for repealing felony voting restrictions in his state. Alabama Republican Gov. Robert Bentley also expressed support for restoring voting rights for felons who completed their sentences. In 2003, state officials in Alabama passed legislation streamlining the process to restore voting rights for most ex-felons. Nearly 15 percent of Blacks are disenfranchised in the state.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said, there is undeniable bipartisan momentum for criminal justice reform that would update inhumane sentencing laws and return people to society with dignity.
“America is the world’s greatest democracy, yet felon disenfranchisement laws deny almost six million Americans the right to vote,” said Henderson. “These laws serve no purpose but to make it harder for returning citizens to reintegrate into their communities – to work, seek an education, and participate in our democracy. Successful reintegration and smarter sentencing are the keys to ensuring that our criminal justice system is more fair, more humane, and more fiscally responsible.”
In prepared remarks, Holder also addressed states that continue to “restrict voting rights, to varying degrees, even after a person has served his or her prison sentence and is no longer on probation or parole.”
In Florida, the state with the highest population of disenfranchised residents, almost 1 in 4 Blacks is disenfranchised and in Mississippi almost 14 percent of the Black population can’t vote because of a prior felony conviction. Iowa’s Republican governor reversed an automatic restoration order in 2011, placing an additional hurdle in the way of returning citizens. Two years later, Holder said less than 12 people out of 8,000 that have completed their sentences during the current governor’s tenure can vote in the next election.
“That’s moving backwards – not forward. It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values,” said Holder. “These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered, but repealed.”
February 13, 2014
NEW ORLEANS — Former News Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, best remembered for his impassioned pleas for help after the levees broke during Hurricane Katrina, was convicted Wednesday of accepting bribes in exchange for helping businessmen secure millions of dollars in city work, including after the devastating storm.
The federal jury found Nagin guilty of 20 of 21 counts against him, involving a string of crimes before and after the storm. He sat quietly at the defense table after the verdict was read and his wife, Seletha, was being consoled in the front row.
Before the verdict, the 57-year-old Ray Nagin said outside the New Orleans courtroom: “I’ve been at peace with this for a long time. I’m good.”
Sentencing was set for June 11. Nagin left the courthouse more than an hour after the verdict was read, and after U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan ordered that his bond be modified to provide for “additional conditions of electronic monitoring and home confinement.”
The Democrat, who left office in 2010 after eight years, was indicted in January 2013 on charges he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes — money, free vacation trips and truckloads of free granite for his family business — from businessmen who wanted work from the city or Nagin’s support for various projects.
The granite and some of the money came from developer Frank Fradella. More money came from another contractor, Rodney Williams, for Nagin’s help in securing city contracts. Convicted former city vendor Mark St. Pierre, who got a no-bid contract with the city in Nagin’s first term, provided trips to Jamaica and Hawaii.
A movie theater owner seeking tax breaks provided a trip to New York, prosecutors said. In a conspiracy count, prosecutors also said Nagin sought and got granite work for his business from a major retailer, identified in court as The Home Depot, while helping the retailer work out details related to the opening of a new store in post-Katrina new Orleans. The company was not accused of any wrongdoing.
Nagin had vehemently denied it all during several hours of testimony that spanned two days of trial. But the jury didn’t believe him. The only not-guilty verdict came on one count of bribery involving a portion of the money from Williams.
Nagin had testified that key witnesses lied and prosecutors misinterpreted evidence including emails, checks and pages from his appointment calendar linking him to businessmen who said they bribed him.
As Nagin and defense attorney Robert Jenkins left the courthouse Wednesday, walking with a throng of media, photographers and video cameras, Nagin could be heard saying: “I maintain my innocence.”
The defense repeatedly said prosecutors overstated Nagin’s authority to approve contracts. His lawyer said there is no proof money and material given to the granite business owned by Nagin and his sons, Stone Age LLC, was tied to city business.
The charges against Nagin included one overarching conspiracy count along with six counts of bribery, nine counts of wire fraud, one count of money laundering conspiracy and four counts of filing false tax returns.
The charges carry a variety of maximum sentences ranging from three to 20 years, but how long he would serve was unclear and will depend on a pre-sentence investigation and various sentencing guidelines.
Jenkins said Nagin’s testimony didn’t hurt the case and that an appeal would be filed after sentencing.
The conviction wasn’t a surprise to Rainelle Smith, 64, of New Orleans, who said she voted for Nagin.
“I don’t believe he served the city as well as he should have,” she said. “He was supposed to come in and prevent the corruption the city was known for. We, in my family, thought of him as the ‘cleanup man.’ Instead he gets in office and he soiled it more.”
The charges resulted from a City Hall corruption investigation that had resulted in several convictions or guilty pleas by former Nagin associates by the time trial started on Jan. 27.
Fradella and Williams, both awaiting sentencing for their roles in separate bribery schemes alleged in the case, each testified that they bribed Nagin.
Nagin’s former technology chief, Greg Meffert, who also is awaiting sentencing after a plea deal, told jurors he helped St. Pierre, bribe Nagin with lavish vacation trips. St. Pierre did not testify. He was convicted in the case in 2011.
Associated Press writers Janet McConnaughey and Chevel Johnson contributed to this report.