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What the Dunn Verdict Says About Us

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“Jordan had no guns. He had no drugs. There was no alcohol. They were coming from the mall. They were being kids.” -Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis

Another mother’s anguish. Another unarmed Black teenager in Florida shot dead for no good reason. Another indefensible instance of Stand Your Ground rearing its ugly head. Eight months after the stunning acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, justice again has been compromised in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

On November 23, 2012, Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old White man, fired 10 rounds into a SUV after arguing over loud rap music coming from the vehicle with Jordan and three other unarmed African American teenagers.

Three of the bullets struck and killed Jordan Davis. Like George Zimmerman, Michael Dunn claimed self-defense and used Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law to bolster his justification of the killing, as his lawyer stated in his closing argument, “His honor will further tell you that if Michael Dunn was in a public place where he had a legal right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.”

Dunn claims Jordan Davis brandished a gun so Dunn shot first. But there is one big problem with his story. Jordan Davis had no gun and neither did anyone else in the SUV.

Two weeks ago, a jury found Dunn guilty of three counts of attempted murder, one for each of Jordan’s three friends, and shooting into a vehicle. But they deadlocked on the fifth count – first-degree murder in the killing of Jordan. Dunn could get at least 60 years and may spend the rest of his life in prison for the four lesser counts.

But the failure to convict him of murdering Jordan Davis raises critical questions about the devaluing of the lives of young Black males in America and confirms the need for a repeal of Florida’s repugnant Stand Your Ground law that sanctions the use of deadly force by anyone who merely thinks – or claims – they are in danger from a perceived assailant.

Regardless of whether Dunn or Zimmerman chose to fully exercise Stand Your Ground provisions in their defense, this law was very clearly at the center of both cases. It is even clearer that the “shoot first” laws across the country are contributing to needless bloodshed and are ripe for unequal application based on race.

A recent Urban Institute analysis found that in Stand Your Ground states, “When the shooter is white and the victim is black, the justifiable homicide rate is 34 percent. When the situation is reversed and the shooter is black and the victim is white, shootings are ruled to be justifiable in only slightly more than 3 percent of cases.”

Last September, the National Urban League, in collaboration with the bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition and VoteVets, issued a report showing that in the 22 states with “Stand Your Ground” laws, the justifiable homicide rate has risen by an average of 53 percent in the five years following their passage. In Florida, justifiable homicides have increased by 200 percent since the law took effect in 2005.

These statistics and their underlying racial disparities, tell us that expansive self-defense laws such as Stand Your Ground are doing more harm than good, and when coupled with implicit racial bias and unfounded preconceptions, young Black males are especially at risk. Dunn’s own bigoted words in letters from jail clearly show his disregard for their lives, as he wrote: “The jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs. This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these (expletive) idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.” and “The fear is that we may get a predominantly black jury and therefore, unlikely to get a favorable verdict. Sad, but that’s where this country is still at. The good news is that the surrounding counties are predominantly white and republican and supporters of gun rights!” This view and those like it are why we must commit today to action against the devaluing of our young Black lives.

Even as the Michael Dunn trial was getting underway, we learned that Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, had planned to capitalize on the death of a young Black male by participating in a “celebrity” boxing match – when his only claim to fame is killing an unarmed Black teenager – and getting off (The bout was later cancelled). Such a blatant disregard for the value of a Black male’s life should be a wake-up call to all Americans. We must intensify our fight against Stand Your Ground laws – and the underlying mentality – that justify the killing of young Black men whose only “offense” is being Black.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Can the Dominican Republic and Haiti Resolve Citizenship Dispute?

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(NNPA) Haiti and the Dominican Republic are locked in negotiations aimed at resolving a dispute that potentially has hemispheric implications. This all revolves around a court decision last September in the Dominican Republic that retroactively stripped thousands of their Dominican citizenship if they or their families entered the Dominican Republic illegally even if they, as children born in the Dominican Republic, have no relationship to their ethnic homeland. Based on a 2010 Constitutional change, the court’s rulings places people who may have been in the Dominican Republic since 1929 into a legal twilight zone. The main victims of this ruling are Haitians and people of Haitian descent. This action continues a long list of anti-Haitian moves over the years by various governments of the Dominican Republic.

According to news reports, the negotiations have been progressing, though the Dominican government is alleged to be arguing that the numbers of people affected by this ruling are far less than those suggested by the High Commissioner for Refugees for the United Nations: 200,000 people.

Though there has been some media attention in the U.S. the Dominican court ruling and subsequent talks, the gravity of the court’s ruling has been largely understated. Not to be melodramatic but the stripping of the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of people is not dissimilar to the actions that the Nazis took against Jews in Germany in the 1930s. And, while no one is suggesting that a mass extermination of Haitians or Haitian-Dominicans is in the works, the Dominican Republic is the land that perpetrated genocide against Haitians living in the Dominican Republic in the 1930s. The memory of that genocide and the on-going anti-Black sentiment in much of Dominican society is an ever present reality.

Permitting the Dominican Republic to remove from citizenship even the small numbers of people that the Dominican government projects – let alone the 200,000 that the United Nations’ Commissioner suggests – sets a precedent within the entire hemisphere. Migration is a reality throughout the hemisphere. Retroactively implementing constitutional changes is wrong legally and equally wrong morally. It is, however, precisely what some right-wing and wrong-headed individuals want to do in the U.S.

Specifically, there have been efforts afoot to alter the Constitution of the United States such that birth in the U.S.A. no longer guarantees citizenship. Efforts such as these and what we are witnessing in the Dominican Republic inevitably and, in fact, quite consciously pit populations against one another, blaming one racial or ethnic group for the problems faced by others. In the case of the Dominican Republic, it is fairly clear that this court decision is, more than anything else, a cynical political move rather than a considered, reasonable and fair decision.

The peoples and nations of the Western Hemisphere must stand up to this sort of xenophobic behavior. No country should be permitted to ride roughshod over human rights as will be the reality with the implementation of this court decision. There are certain moments in history where one can simply no longer be silent. This is one such moment.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and atwww.billfletcherjr.com.

Coverage of Gay Football Player Goes into Overtime

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(NNPA) Michael Sam, the All-American defensive end for the University of Missouri, is making more news off the field than on. According to Sports Illustrated, “Sam came out to his Missouri teammates last August. Coaches and classmates also knew he was gay well before today. Multiple sources have told SI that Sam strongly considered making an announcement late last summer and was willing to play his senior season as an openly homosexual athlete. (He decided against it at the last minute.).”

Wow! Stop the presses! This is earth-shattering news! Or, so people will tell you.

People have lost their minds over this issue. Let a heterosexual go to his job and tell co-workers that he likes women and he will be reprimanded by the human resources department (HR) or even fired. But if you announce that you are homosexual, you get statements from Obama, Michelle, Pelosi, Sharpton, and Jesse.

All because Sam MAY be the first known homosexual to be drafted by a professional sports team. Pro-homosexuals have used adjectives like historic and courageous to describe Sam. Of course, he is neither.

His homosexuality is his story, but not history; nor is it historic. Historic is defined as an event that is well-known or important in history. Sam and his announcement will be neither in the annals of history.

Courageous is signified by a member of the military who faces bullets from the enemy in a war zone. Courageous is announcing you are homosexual in Saudi Arabia. Or, Nigeria.

On Sam’s worst day, his life will never be in jeopardy. The worst case for Sam will be that he doesn’t get drafted by an NFL team and doesn’t get the chance to play professional football.

Asking a chicken for some eggs is asking for a contribution; but asking a pig for bacon is a total commitment. Sam is making a contribution to the homosexual movement; but not a commitment.

Mother Teresa, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. all gave bacon for their beliefs – their lives. At most, Sam will not have a football career – eggs.

What is he sacrificing as a result of being homosexual or what is he risking? Absolutely nothing.

If all he wants, as he claims, is to play professional football; then what is the relevance of his being homosexual? He reminds me of women sportscasters who claim they want to be taken seriously as a journalist, then they do a photo spread of themselves in a bikini for a magazine.

If it’s about football, then go tackle and keep your homosexuality to yourself. If it’s about the career, then why do you feel the need to be seen in a bikini?

This is all about the homosexual community seizing on an opportunity to further force their agenda on the American people. They have strategically put America and the NFL in a box that neither can get out of. If for whatever reason Sam does not make an NFL team, the cause will be blamed on him being a homosexual. Should that happen, just watch GLAAD, HRC and the White House pressure the NFL to hire Sam in the NFL’s corporate office as a liaison to the homosexual community. Just watch.

There are two parts of this story that the media has conveniently decided to ignore.

The media has been willfully negligent in finding active and retired players in the NFL and other sports who object to playing with an openly homosexual teammate. From media reports, you would think there is universal acceptance and agreement on this issue, but it isn’t. But since the opponents don’t fit the desired media narrative, these athletes have been excluded from being interviewed. So much for equality and tolerance.

The other ignored issue and in my view, very disturbing is the fact that Sam actually lied about his parents on ESPN; and there has been no media coverage of this issue.

Sam said on ESPN, “I told my mom and dad last week, and they just pretty much said, “We knew and we love you and support you…” Sam continued, “I’m their baby boy. I’m the first to go to college. I’m the first to graduate college. Something like this is just another milestone.”

The only problem is, what Sam said is not true. His father, Michael Sr., said in a New York Times interview, “he (Sam, Sr.) was celebrating his birthday at a Denny’s near his home in Texas when he received a text from his son that read, “Dad, I’m gay.” Sam Sr. continued, “I couldn’t eat no more, so I went to Applebee’s to have drinks…I don’t want my grandkids raised in that kind of environment…I’m old-school. I’m a man and a woman type of guy.”

This whole story has nothing to do with football and more to do with promoting a cause. While Sam Jr. getting drafted as an openly homosexual football player may be a first, it does not merit saturated news coverage it is receiving.

Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site, www.raynardjackson.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at raynard1223.

One thing that I wish that President Obama had Said

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(NNPA) I was pleased that President Obama spent so much time on the matter of economic inequality and the need to raise the minimum wage in his State of the Union address. Better late than never. But there was something that he did not address that I wish that he had taken up. Stated simply, if you want to overcome economic inequality and raise wages, you need labor unions.

Yes, at one point the president did mention the term “labor leaders,” but what has been striking throughout most of his presidency is that he is neither an advocate for labor unions nor one who figures out a way to slip in the basic fact that labor unions are the single most effective route to raising the living standard of working people. This, by the way, is not a disputable point. Study after study demonstrates that unionized workers earn more in wages and benefits than do non-union workers. There is also sufficient real-life experience to know that it was through good-paying, unionized employment – whether private sector or public sector – that workers were able to earn enough to buy homes and send their children to college.

While I certainly support the president’s call for an increase in the minimum wage and his appeal to employers to voluntarily ensure that their employees are making at least $10.10/hour, such a wage is clearly insufficient. How many of us can live, these days, on $10.10/hour ($21,008 a year)? No, the answer is that the economic inequality in this country must be addressed by putting more wealth into the hands of the people who create the wealth in the first place – the people who work, who produce things, who keep this country running.

But the president should know this. Yet, year after year it is as if labor unions are an afterthought, unless he is addressing a union audience.

There is a famous quote from President Franklin Roosevelt, where he stated that were he to go to work in a factory, the first thing that he would do would be to join a labor union. I cannot imagine President Obama saying something like that, as much as I would like to hear it in one of his eloquent speeches. The bottom line, however, is that regardless of what he may think about unions, he certainly does not feel compelled to say anything approximating FDR’s words because there is little pressure on him to do so.

So, once again, it is up to us to actually write his script. And that means changing the so-called facts on the ground, and creating enough mass pressure around economic inequality; around workplace health and safety; around job discrimination; and rights at work, that the president has no choice but to publicly stand with working people in insisting on their right and necessity to join or form unions if we are to turn things around.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies. He is the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and atwww.billfletcherjr.com.

Reducing the Risk of HIV by 90 Percent

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By Phill Wilson
NNPA Columnist

(NNPA) This Friday, February 7th, is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD). It’s an opportunity for the nation to take a look at the AIDS epidemic in Black America from a uniquely and unapologetically Black point of view. Given the demographics of the AIDS epidemic in this country, this is a very important day.

The Black AIDS Institute’s Black treatment advocate networks (BTANS) are hosting Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) forums around the country (Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Ft. Lauderdale, Jackson, Little Rock, Los Angles, Minneapolis, and Oakland) to raise awareness and educate our communities about PrEP.

Here’s why Pre-exposure Prophylaxis of HIV is important to Black people: 35 years into this epidemic and with all we know about HIV, we still have alarming rates of new HIV infections in this country. Roughly 50,000 Americans are infected with HIV every year and 44 percent are Black. In many parts of the country, 1 in 2 Black gay men are already HIV infected – and many of them don’t know it.

Think about are you in a committed monogamous relationship? Are all your friends and family in committed monogamous relationships? If not, do you and do you think all your friends and love ones use condoms with every sexual encounter. If not, you need to know about PrEP.

PrEP is a treatment for people who are not infected with HIV (that is, they are HIV negative, or HIV-), that uses one of the antiretroviral treatments that people with HIV/AIDS use, to prevent acquisition of the HIV virus. In clinical trials, when used properly, PrEP reduces the risk of acquiring the virus by more than 90 percent. Yes, 90 percent!

If you look at the AIDS epidemic in Black communities, you would not know that that we have the tools to end the AIDS epidemic in America. Most Black folks are unaware or have misinformation about the new tools that could change the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic in our community and dramatically reduce their risk of HIV infection. PrEP is one of them.

Those attending the PrEP forums will learn what PrEP is, who it’s for, how you use it, and what the risks and benefits are. We will look at the possible impact of using PreP on condom usage.

Current guidelines recommend PrEP be used with condoms. But for people who have already chosen not to use condoms or are unable to use condoms on a consistent basis, using PrEP may provide some level of protection.

Given the epidemic in Black communities, we need to know everything we can possibly know about all of the potential tools available to us in order to make informed, rational decisions about which tools to use in which circumstances.

The combination of treatment as prevention – with the possibility of reducing transmission of HIV by more than 90 percent – and PrEP – with the possibility of reducing acquisition of HIV by more than 90 percent – has the promise to break the back of the HIV epidemic in our community. That’s a conversation we must have.

We look forward to seeing you at one of our forums on Friday. Check out the www.BlackAIDS.org to find the BTAN PrEP forum nearest you. You can also follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Finally, if you want to help in the fight against AIDS in Black communities, please enter the “Drive Out AIDS raffle” at www.AIDSraffle.org for a chance to win a 2014 Kia Forte. If you enter the Drive Out AIDS raffle before Friday, February 7th, you get entered into the four day Carnival Cruise raffle for free.

Phill Wilson is the President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute. He can be reached by email at Phill Wilson AT BlackAIDS.org

About the Black AIDS Institute
Founded in May of 1999, the Black AIDS Institute (www.blackaids.org) is the only national HIV/AIDS think tank in the United States focused exclusively on Black people. The Institute’s Mission is to stop the AIDS pandemic in Black communities by engaging and mobilizing Black institutions and individuals in efforts to confront HIV. The Institute interprets public and private sector HIV policies, conducts trainings, offers technical assistance, disseminates information and provides advocacy and mobilization from a uniquely and unapologetically Black point of view. www.blackaids.org

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