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George Curry

The Justice Department After Holder

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(NNPA) Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. hasn’t left the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building yet, but civil rights activists are worried about whether a strong advocate in Holder’s mold will succeed him.

Holder recently submitted his resignation after nearly six years on the job, making him the fourth-longest serving U.S. attorney general in history.

The news of Holder’s resignation was so significant that civil rights leaders Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, National Urban League CEO Marc H. Morial, NAACP President Cornell William Brooks and others, upon reading about Holder’s impending departure on an iPad that was being circulated, interrupted a press conference with the parents of slain Ferguson, Mo. youth Michael Brown and the mother of New York chokehold victim Eric Gardner, to praise Holder.

Sharpton said, “The civil rights community has lost, in effect, the most effective civil rights attorney general in the history of this country.”

In a statement issued later, former NAACP Board Chair Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, said: “There has been no greater ally in the fight for justice, civil rights, equal rights, and voting rights than Attorney General Holder.”

Several high-profile decisions will greet Holder’s successor, including whether to file federal civil rights suits in the cases of:

  • Off-duty security guard George Zimmerman in connection with his killing Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager, in Sanford, Fla. In a state trial two years ago, Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter;
  • Staten Island, N.Y. Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo choked Eric Gardner, 43, to death on July 17, as the victim said, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” Garner, who was unarmed, was under suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. No state charges were filed against the officer. The choking and the failure of paramedics to administer CPR was captured on cellphone video and.
  • Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, 18, to death on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. In a brief confrontation, Wilson had asked Brown, who was unarmed, to stop walking in the street. Brown had his hands in the air at the time he was shot at least six times by Wilson, according to witnesses.

Although it has not been announced, some news reports say that the Justice Department has decided to not pursue civil rights charges against Zimmerman.

Though there is always much excitement surrounding announcements that the Justice Department is considering filing civil rights suits, it is not a simple matter of taking a suspected wrongdoer to trial.

In order to be successful under federal hate crime laws, prosecutors must show that Officer Daniel Pantaleo, in the case of Eric Gardner, and Officer Darren Wilson, in the case of Michael Brown, intentionally killed the victims because they were African American. That is a high standard that is tough to meet, regardless of who is attorney general.

In addition to watching how Holder’s successor address high-profile police misconduct cases, eyes will also be on other key areas such as voting rights.

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Holder made it clear that states would not have a green light to reinstate obstacles that make it more difficult for people of color to vote. He sued Texas and North Carolina to underscore that point.

The November mid-term elections will be extremely important because it will be the first time in nearly 50 years that 15 states with a history of racial discrimination, most of them in the South, will be conducting elections without the Voting Rights Act requirement that they pre-clear any major voting changes with the Justice Department or a federal judge.

In addition, the next attorney general will be evaluated on whether he or she is aggressive in seeking criminal justice reform.

Earlier this year, Holder said, “Our criminal justice system works only when all Americans are treated equally under the law. That’s why, in 2010, Congress passed the landmark Fair Sentencing Act, marking the culmination of persistent efforts – with the leadership of President Obama – to reduce unjust disparities in sentencing for similar offenses involving different types of drugs.”

He also said, “Today, I’m urging Congress to pass common-sense reforms like the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced by Senators Dick Durbin and Mike Lee – which would give judges more discretion in determining appropriate sentences for people convicted of certain federal drug crimes.

“This bill would also provide a new mechanism for some individuals – who were sentenced under outdated laws and guidelines – to petition judges for sentencing reductions that are consistent with the Fair Sentencing Act.”

Holder did more than resuscitate a civil rights division that had been highly politicized and packed with lawyers with little or no civil rights experience. He began the long process of restoring faith in the criminal justice system. His successor should be equally committed. If not, instead of reflecting justice, our prisons and jails will be filled with, in the words of comedian Richard Pryor: Just-us.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Eric Holder's Legacy: No Coward on Race

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(NNPA) After being confirmed as the nation’s first African American U.S. attorney general, Eric H. Holder, Jr. wasted little time putting everyone on notice that he would not tip-toe around the volatile subject of race.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder declared in a speech at the Justice Department.

There was the predictable uproar on the right and President Obama, while not repudiating his new appointee, told the New York Times, “I think it’s fair to say that if I had been advising my attorney general, we would have used different language.”

And that’s precisely the point. Holder was courageous in directly taking on the issue of race while Obama, in the words of Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson, “runs from race like a Black man runs from a cop.”

Holder’s deeds, not his words, are what made him such an exceptional attorney general.

He fought for criminal-justice reform, saying the overrepresentation of Blacks in the criminal justice system “isn’t just unacceptable; it’s shameful.” He said, “Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason.”

He favored a 2010 law that eliminated the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine. And he led a successful effort to reduce prison sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenders.

Arguably his most lasting imprint was in the area of voting rights. When the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Holder said the ruling could not be used for the wholesale disenfranchisement of people of color. He sued Texas over its voter ID law and challenged North Carolina in court over its law to restrict early voting and same-day registration.

Holder further revitalized a sector of the Democratic Party by supporting same-sex marriage and his refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which holds that marriage is strictly between a woman and a man.

There were some disappointments as well.

He supported the FBI’s right to track U.S. citizens without obtaining a warrant. He also approved of the National Security Agency’s authority to collect millions of phone records of Americans not accused of any crime

In his zeal to plug national security leaks, the Justice Department obtained the phone records of journalists performing their jobs. Last year, Holder backtracked, promising that the Justice Department “will not prosecute any reporter doing his or her job.”

Republicans highlighted the failure of Operation Fast and Furious, an Arizona-based Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) project to track weapons purchased by Mexican drug cartels. Not only did ATF fail to account for more than 1,000 firearms that had been purchased by straw buyers, two of the missing weapons were linked to the killing of Brian Terry, a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

When Holder, citing executive privilege, refused to turn over certain Fast and Furious records to Congress, the House held him in contempt, the first for a sitting cabinet member.

Both conservatives and liberals criticized Holder for his failure to prosecute individuals connected to the Wall Street financial crisis in 2008. While some firms deemed “too big to fail” were subjected to record fines, no Wall Street executives were prosecuted. They were derisively labeled “too big to jail.Most African Americans will remember the bold stances and actions Holder took following killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Florida and the Aug. 9 killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, Jr. by Darren Wilson, a White police officer, in Ferguson, Mo. Brown was shot at least six times.

Holder criticized Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, telling NAACP delegates, “These laws try to fix something that was never broken.” Holder visited Ferguson, sharing his own personal experiences of being profiled by police. Following his visit to Ferguson, Holder ordered a federal civil rights investigation of the predominantly White police department. He said the investigation would determine whether Ferguson officers had “engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the U.S. Constitution or federal law.”

In a speech earlier this month at New York University, Holder said that as a former U.S. attorney and the brother of a longtime police officer, he has nothing but respect for police officers. But he said he is also an African American man “who has been stopped and searched by police in situations where such action was not warranted.” Consequently, he said, “I also carry with me the mistrust that some citizens harbor for those who wear the badge.”

Under Holder, the Justice Department has initiated twice as many police reviews for possible constitutional violations than any other attorney general. At least 34 other departments are under federal investigation for possible civil rights violations.

Conservatives have pilloried Holder for being so aggressive on civil rights. But he has not backed down for one simple reason – he is no coward.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

NFL Domestic Abusers Get Tap on Wrist

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The NFL – which has been referred to as everything from the National Felons League to, in the cases of players, Not For Long – has imposed a lifetime ban on Ray Rice yet rarely disciplines other brazen offenders. And when a team takes the rare action of disciplining a player for striking a woman, it usually results in a tap on the wrist.

The National Football League initially imposed a two-game suspension of Rice after it was disclosed that he had abused his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City, N.J. casino hotel elevator. But after the celebrity website TMZ aired the full video showing Rice knocking out his future wife with a strong blow to the face, rendering her unconscious, the Baltimore Ravens voided Rice’s contract and the NFL banned him from pro football for life.

Commissioner Roger Goodell, who is in charge of protecting the nation’s most popular sport’s  $10 billion in annual revenue, acknowledged that the NFL “got it wrong” when it imposed only a two-game suspension on Rice.

But what Goodell, who earns $44 million a year, didn’t admit was the NFL continues to get it wrong while serving as a high-profile enabler for other domestic abusers in the league. For example:

Rice’s teammate, All-Pro Linebacker Terrell Suggs, continued playing after Candace Williams, the mother of his three children and his future wife, filed for two protective orders against him in the last five years. The first was in December 2009. The Baltimore Sun reported, “According to the complaint …Williams said Suggs threw a soap dispenser at her head, hit her in the chest with his hand, and held a bottle of bleach over her and their 1-year-old son, which spilled on them and caused a rash. Baltimore City District Court Judge Ronald Alan Karasic wrote that a laceration was visible on Williams’ chest.” Though the protective order was granted, Suggs was never charged with a crime. Three years later, Williams filed for another protective order, alleging that Suggs “punched her in the neck and drove a car containing their two children at a ‘high rate of speed’ while she was being dragged alongside.” The couple later married. In neither case did the Ravens or the NFL take any action against Suggs.

Carolina Panthers All-Pro Defensive End Greg Hardy was convicted last summer of assaulting and threatening to kill his former girlfriend, Nicole Holder, but no action was taken against him until the Ray Rice story exploded on the national scene. In her request for a protective order, Holder said Hardy threw her into a tile tub, pulled her from the tub by her hair, choked her with both hands and picked her up over his head and threw her onto a couch filled with assault rifles and shotguns. At the trial, Holder testified, “He looked me in my eyes and told me he was going to kill me. I was so scared I wanted to die. When he loosened his grip slightly, I said, ‘Just do it. Kill me.’” Hardy was found guilty of misdemeanor charges and sentenced to a 60-day suspended sentence and 18 months of probation. He is appealing the verdict. Hardy was deactivated for last Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions.

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald was allowed to play in last Sunday’s game, despite being arrested and charged with felony domestic violence connected with allegedly striking his pregnant fiancée. A hearing scheduled for Monday was postponed, pending further investigation.

These are not isolated cases. A database maintained by USA Today shows that there have been 713 arrests of NFL players since 2000 – 85 for domestic violence. The database covers only incidents reported by the media.

Of the 56 known domestic violence cases that occurred on Goodell’s watch, players were suspended only a combined total 13 games, excluding Ray Rice. Typically, players involved in domestic disputes had charges dismissed after they were placed in a diversion program for first-time offenders, completed anger management counseling or performed community service. In many cases, the abused woman refused to file charges.  Only 10 players were released by their team and three of those landed on other squads.

Overall, arrest rates among NFL players are lower than the national average for men in their age range. Among NFL teams, according to the New York Times, the Minnesota Vikings had the most players arrested since 2000, with 44, followed closely by the Cincinnati Bengals and the Denver Broncos. The Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams, with 11 each, tied for the lowest mark. Baltimore had 22 players arrested over that period, mirroring the league average.

Though the most common offense was driving while drunk, domestic violence has taken center stage.

The domestic cases are chronicled by Sidepin. The website stated, “Goodell is perceived as being tough on players. He’s an authoritarian, the likes of which the league has never seen!! But there’s one thing Goodell will tolerate, and that’s NFL players abusing women.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Differences in Black and White

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(NNPA) Public opinion polls confirm a fact that has been documented in instances ranging from the O.J. Simpson verdict to recent events in Ferguson: When it comes to race, Blacks and Whites largely view events through a different set of lenses.

Several recent polls provided yet more proof of this disheartening trend.

According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, more than half of Black Americans polled – 57 percent – said the killing of the unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson, Mo. Police Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9 was “not justified.” Among Whites, 25 percent said the shooting death was unjustified.

In addition, 31 percent of White Americans, and 71 percent of Blacks, said they think police are generally more likely to use deadly force against a person of color than a White person.

The performance of Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, also received mixed reviews, so to speak. He mobilized the Missouri State Highway Patrol and then activated the Missouri National Guard after declaring a state of emergency and imposing a curfew. Blacks were twice as likely as Whites to say involving the National Guard only made matters worse.

Only a quarter of Blacks nationally are satisfied with Gov. Nixon’s actions, while nearly half said Nixon’s performance in the aftermath of the shooting was unsatisfactory. In contrast, Whites were divided: A third were satisfied and a third dissatisfied

Not surprisingly, Blacks, Obama’s most loyal bloc, continue to back him by large margins.

Sixty percent of African Americans said they were satisfied with the president’s actions; 20 percent said they were dissatisfied. Whites were split, with 35 percent in support of President Obama and 39 percent dissatisfied.

The New York Times poll showed that 10 percent of those surveyed thought race relations have improved since Obama has been in office, 52 percent felt they are about the same as before and 35 percent said race relations have gotten worse under Obama. Of those saying things had gotten worse, 40 percent were White and 21 percent were African American.

There are many independent markers that indicate, in general, that race relations have improved over the last half century, including attitudes toward interracial marriages. Amid such progress, however, there is undeniable evidence that Blacks and Whites look at racially-tinged events from a different perspective.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 80 percent of African Americans say the shooting in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson raises important issues about race that merit discussion. By contrast, only 37 percent of Whites – less than half the ratio of Blacks – feel that way. In addition, among Whites, 47 percent feel race is getting more attention than it deserves in the Michael Brown case. But only 18 percent of Blacks share that view.

According to the poll, 65 percent of Blacks feel police have gone too far in reacting to Michael Brown’s death and 20 percent feel the response was about right. Again, Whites had a different reaction, with 33 percent saying police had gone too far and a roughly equal proportion, 32 percent saying authorities had acted properly.

More than half of all African Americans – 54 percent – reported they were following events in Ferguson very closely. Less than half of Whites –25 percent – and Latinos – 18 percent – said they were closely following the events in Missouri.

There was a political divide as well, with 68 percent of Democrats feeling the Michael Brown case raises important issues while only 22 percent of Republicans contending it raises racial issues that need to be discussed. Also, 61 percent of Republicans say the issue of race has gotten too much attention in the case; only 21 percent of Democrats support that view.

The 1996 murder trial of O.J. Simpson exposed this raw divide. A CNN/USA Today Poll showed that 62 percent of African-Americans supported the jury’s decision to acquit the former football star. However, only 20 percent of Whites agreed with the jury. There was a similar split in polls taken during Hank Aaron’s campaign to break Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record and Barry Bond overtaking Aaron.

Even on a supposedly race-neutral issue such as federal aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina, racial views were split. According to a CNN/USA Today poll, six in 10 African Americans said the federal government was slow to rescue residents of New Orleans because many of them were Black. However, only one in eight Whites concurred.

How can we narrow the racial divide when we can’t even agree if there is one?

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Democrats' Smart Butt White Boys Syndrome

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(NNPA) In 1984, former UN Ambassador Andrew Young described the inner circle of Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale as “smart a– White boys” who thought they knew everything.  Obviously, they didn’t because Mondale lost the general election by a large margin to Ronald Reagan.

Knowing that in a president’s second-term, the party in power usually loses 29 House seats, along with the real possibility of Democrats losing control of the Senate this year, some party leaders are trying to give the appearance they are in control and Democrats will buck that historical voting trend.

In an interview with a group of African American reporters last week, for example, Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee,  described how much better positioned Democrats are this year compared to past off-year elections. He spoke of the DCCC hiring a diversity director for the first time, adding a national voter training director, creating an Internet platform for vendors of color and allowing resumes to be dropped off in the field.

In other words, he talked about the kind of things smart butt White boys talk about. My fear is that another group of smart butt White boys will lead Democrats down the path of defeat unless the strategists reverse course.

The upcoming mid-term election may be yet another example of Black voters never getting the credit they deserve winning seats for the party but getting an overabundance of blame when Democrats get their heads handed to them.

The Washington Post, carried a story under the headline, “Will black voters be House Democrats’ midterm firewall?” In the story, Israel noted that in 15 of the top 25 districts being targeted by the DCCC, Blacks make up at least 10 percent of the voting-age population, enough to provide the margin of victory.

“We have a unique challenge in offsetting drop off with African American voters, with Hispanic voters, and with young female voters,” Israel said. “So we’re tackling those challenges head on.”

In the meeting with reporters, Israel mentioned efforts from getting commercials cut by First Lady Michelle Obama to getting Black voters to sign cards committing them to vote in November. As Election Day nears, those cards will be mailed back to prospective voters, hoping that action will get them to turn up at the polls.

The most troubling aspect of the exchange with Israel was that he appears to be putting more faith in such long-shot gimmicks as voter commitment cards than reaching the Black community through the Black Press.

In fact, when pressed on the issue of utilizing Black media,  Israel said while there may be some Black media buys, “The vast majority of our budget is spent on one thing – that is buying television time. That’s it.”

That may be “it” for Democrats in November if they think the best way to reach Black voters is to lump them in with everyone else who watches TV. Even if television reaches more Black voters than Black newspapers, radio stations, magazines and Internet sites, it is not as trusted by African Americans as the Black Press.

As a Nielsen study found, “Companies mistakenly believe there are no language barriers, that a general market ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy is an effective way to reach African-Americans. Just the opposite is true.”

If smart butt White boys are as smart as they think, they would recognize that in the Black community, the messenger is as important as the message. And that is not limited to the Black Press. It also applies to the largely White-controlled 527 organizations established in recent elections that acted as though they knew more about our community than grass root organizations that are on the ground every day, yet continue to struggle for funding.

Democrats face another hurdle – 67 percent of the Democratic base does not know there is a mid-term election in November, according to polling done for the DCCC by Cornel Belcher, an African American.

In addition, a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in July found: “Currently, 45% of registered voters who plan to support the Republican in their district say they are more enthusiastic about voting than in prior congressional elections; that compares with 37% of those who plan to vote for the Democratic candidate.”

Democrats need to give Blacks something to vote for rather than overly relying Republican calls for impeachment to motivate the Black base.

According to an analysis of the Black vote by the Associated Press, African Americans voted at a higher rate than Whites in 2008 and 2012. Obviously, having Barack Obama’s name on the ballot was a key factor.

Blacks can vote at high levels again in 2014 if they understand the success or failure Obama’s last two years in office will be determined by who gets elected in November. But if Democrats stubbornly stick to relying on television to reach Black voters, they will lose in 2014 just as smart butt White boys lost 30 years ago.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

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