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A Long Shadow of Doubt: The Execution of Troy Davis

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“When ... the Supreme Court gave its seal of approval to capital punishment, this endorsement was premised on the promise that capital punishment would be administered with fairness and justice. Instead, the promise has become a cruel and empty mockery. If not remedied, the scandalous state of our present system of capital punishment will cast a pall of shame over our society for years to come. We cannot let it continue.” -Former United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall

(NNPA) Last Wednesday, September 21, 2011 was a sad day for American justice. On that date at 11:08 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, the State of Georgia administered a lethal injection into the body of 42-year-old Troy Davis and put him to death. With his dying breath, Troy Davis maintained his innocence in the 1989 shooting death of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail. For 20 years, the shadow of doubt that hung over Davis’ conviction grew so large that it galvanized anti-death penalty advocates around the world, including hundreds of citizens wearing “I am Troy Davis” T-shirts who kept a solemn vigil outside the Jackson, Georgia prison until the final hour.

Over the last 20 years, the National Urban League and dozens of other prominent organizations and leaders argued that Davis’s conviction was in serious doubt. Seven of the nine witnesses who originally identified Troy Davis as the murderer, later recanted their testimony. And no murder weapon or other physical evidence was ever found linking Davis to the crime. That is why we joined the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, Amnesty International, former president Jimmy Carter, Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, Al Sharpton, former FBI Director William Sessions, Pope Benedict, former Georgia Congressman, Bob Barr and others in calling for Davis’ exoneration or at least further investigation.

The racial subtext of this case cannot be ignored. Davis, a Black man, was convicted of killing MacPhail, a white police officer. While African Americans make up only 13 percent of the population, more than 42 percent of death row inmates are Black. Over 75 percent of the murder victims in cases resulting in an execution were white, even though nationally, only 50 percent of murder victims were white.

Since 1973, a total of 138 man and women have been exonerated or had their death sentences commuted based on post-conviction findings that proved their innocence -- five of them in the state of Georgia. And, according to the Innocence Project, “Seventeen people have been proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the United States after serving time on death row. They were convicted in 11 states and served a combined 209 years in prison – including 187 years on death row – for crimes they didn’t commit.” These disparities and problems cast a long shadow of doubt over our criminal justice system.

People of conscience can disagree on the death penalty, but it is unconscionable by every standard to execute someone who very well might be innocent. Our hearts go out not only to Mr. Davis’ family, but also to the family of Mark MacPhail who will never know for sure that his killer was brought to justice.

Legendary Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall was unequivocally against the death penalty and would have been a dissenter in last week’s 11th-hour Supreme Court decision allowing the execution of Troy Davis. Justice Marshall felt, as we do, that as long as questions of equity, fairness and fallibility persist, we must stop executions and give death row inmates every chance to prove their innocence.

Marc H. Morial is the President and CEO of the National Urban League.

National Urban League Helping Mortgage Scam Victims

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"The thought of my home being taken away is consuming, I can't get to sleep at night, and it’s the first thing I think of when I wake up." -Doris Tinson, of Los Angeles, CA

(NNPA) Doris Tinson is just one of a growing number of American homeowners, desperate to save their homes from foreclosure, who are being duped by mortgage loan scam artists. Doris was falling behind on her refinanced high mortgage payments and was looking for help. On the way home from church she saw a sign in the median promising loan modification for a fee. But after forking over $2000 of her hard earned money, after months of waiting for action, and finally receiving a notice that her house was being sold, it became clear that Doris was the victim of a scam.

As the mortgage crisis sweeps the nation, it is unfortunately being accompanied by a rise in mortgage fraud. But you don’t have to be a victim. The National Urban League’s network of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved housing counselors has been offering FREE mortgage counseling services for years. Last year, Urban League affiliates provided housing counseling to over 42,000 clients, including more than 15,000 clients who benefited from default mitigation and foreclosure prevention counseling..

The Urban League is also part of a coalition with the federal government, and some 235 community-based partners in the “Loan Scam Alert Campaign,” a nation-wide effort that is empowering homeowners to protect themselves against loan modification scams, find trusted help, and report illegal activity to authorities.

Scam artists may pose as lawyers or real estate agents, promising loan modifications and charging large fees – then disappearing without helping anyone but themselves. If you are a homeowner facing foreclosure, you may unknowingly become a victim of such a fraud, costing your home, thousands of dollars and a damaged credit score.

The first thing you should know is that you should never have to pay for counseling. If anyone requests money up front or guarantees they can keep you in your home, these are warning signs of a scam and they should be reported. There are no promises that anyone can give you. But trained counselors from HUD-approved counseling agencies will work with you and your lender to get the best results at no cost. HUD lists these six warning signs of a foreclosure scam:

  • Beware of anyone who asks you to pay a fee up front in exchange for a counseling service or modification of a delinquent loan. Assistance from a HUD approved housing counselor is FREE.
  • Beware of anyone who guarantees they can stop a foreclosure or get your loan modified. Nobody can make this guarantee.
  • Beware of people who pressure you to sign papers immediately, or who claim they can “save” your home if you sign or transfer over the property deed.
  • Beware of a company that claims to provide government-approved” or “official government” loan modifications. They may be scam artists posing as legitimate organizations.
  • Beware of a company or person you don’t know who asks you to release personal financial information online or over the phone.
  • Beware of anyone who advises you to stop paying your mortgage company and pay them instead. Never make a mortgage payment to anyone other than your mortgage company/lender.
  • To learn more or to report a scam visit http://www.iamempowered.com/loanscams

Marc H. Morial is the President and CEO of the National Urban League.

Republicans Complain about Class Warfare? You have got to be Kidding!!

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By Bill Fletcher, Jr., NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) It always amazes me when the Republicans start yelling about how liberals and progressives are engaged in class warfare. Think about it for a minute. Since about 30 seconds after Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, the Republicans have been waging what can only be described as a bitter class war against middle income and poor people. Tax cuts for the rich; cuts in social services; increased taxes on the middle income and poor hidden as "fees." It has been relentless. And in the current period, we have been hearing time and again how it is somehow unfair for the rich and super-rich to pay their fair share of taxes. Yet for Republicans it is important that the middle income and poor pay more. On top of this, Congressman Ryan and his cabal of Republicans want to undermine Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Am I missing something? If this is not class warfare against working people I have no idea how to otherwise describe it.

Yet in this case when President Obama, who has not exactly torched Wall Street, proposed to make the rich pay their fair share of taxes in order for us to move forward with job creation and the protection of the social safety net, suddenly the Republicans yell 'class war' and want to create a national panic. For this reason, it is critical for us to understand what the Republican game-plan is. It comes down to something that we began seeing glimpses of during the 2008 financial collapse: blame the middle income and poor people for the state of the economy. Rather than admitting that the antics of Wall Street and their wild financial speculation brought about the creation of an unsustainable investment bubble (otherwise known as a pyramid scheme or Ponzi scheme) they want to deflect any and all criticisms and create scapegoats. We started seeing this in the fall of 2008 and we have continued hearing it, including suggestions recently by some conservative political theorists that poor people voting is a bad idea.

Yes, there is and has been a class war underway. It has been waged against middle income and poor people since at least 1981. It has focused on increasing the wealth and power of the upper levels of this society, i.e., the upper 10 percent (millionaires and billionaires). In order to carry out this class war, the Republicans have to create the illusion that it is actually not happening. Instead they have promoted ideas that suggest that the various means through which the wealth created by working people ends up in the hands of the super-rich is the normal course of events and is a path open to us all. But it does not work that way. You and i are not getting any richer. Instead we are watching our futures vanish as the super-rich take more and more of everything that we have built.

Regardless of what you may think about the Obama presidency, don't be hoodwinked into believing that he is advocating class war. He is actually advocating fairness, and the last time I checked, that was supposed to be a noble virtue.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-author of "Solidarity Divided." He can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.

City Attorney's Continuous Abuse of Power

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The City of San Bernardino recently launched its Hometown Heroes Military Banner Program with unanimous support from the City Council. On Tuesday, September 6th a press conference was held to introduce the program that would recognize and honor the brave men and women of San Bernardino currently serving in the United States Armed Forces. In an event which should have been above politics, politics non-the-less was introduced by the City Attorney’s office. At a time when a nation stopped to recognize the ten year anniversary of 9/11, the day that forever changed America, the City Attorney stooped to a new level of political deception and chicanery.

Since an item regarding the Hometown Heroes Military Banner Program was to be heard on the council agenda following the press conference, the City Attorney’s office waited until two hours prior to the press conference to issue a legal memo citing potential “Brown Act Issues”. The memo stated, “Had this office been consulted beforehand, we would have recommended adding the press conference to the agenda, thus starting the meeting thirty minutes prior to the commencement of closed session. Had that been done there probably would have been no Brown Act issue.”

The merits of his memo could be highly debated on its loose interpretation of the Government Code. But that’s another point entirely. The fact of the matter is the City Attorney’s office had enough time to positively intervene if it felt the press conference was in jeopardy of violating the Brown Act.

On Thursday, September 1st at 11:59 a.m. the Assistant City Attorney opened the ‘military banner press release’. Later that same day at 3:22 p.m. the City Attorney opened the press release. Somewhere between those two ‘learned’ attorneys the potential Brown Act violation red flag should have went up.

The City Attorney’s actions or lack of righteous actions caused some Council members not to attend an event that all members enthusiastically supported. If the man who brings up the Brown Act at almost every meeting wanted to really be of assistance, he had a day and a half to work preemptively instead of destructively.

This leads me to three conclusions. One, the City Attorney and his staff do not communicate well. The Assistant City Attorney knew around noon of potential “Brown Act Issues”, having been well versed regularly on a multitude of Brown Act violation scenarios. If the lines of communication flowed without blockage, then the press release legal issue would have been shared with the City Attorney.

Two, the City Attorney is an obstruction to good government. The San Bernardino City government is not often viewed in a good light by our neighbors, in which the constant shenanigans of the City Attorney factors immensely into that perception. This was an opportunity to shine, collectively, as a body. But the City Attorney worked passionately to disintegrate any opportunity for unity.

And three, the City Attorney made a conscious decision to behave un-patriotically at a time when our nation was honoring our heroes patriotism. Having observed numerous times first-hand, the City Attorney’s penchant to operate as the ‘Brown Act Police’, this malicious action cannot be perceived as a mere oversight.

Rikke Van Johnson is the 6th Ward Councilman of San Bernardino.

New Report Highlights Social Media, Other Consumer Habits

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By Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) Time for you to confess: How many Facebook friends do you have? How many people do you follow on Twitter? How many follow you?! How about LinkedIn connections – how many of those do you have? Don’t act as if you don’t know what I’m talking about. My 71-year-old mother is even talking about the number of friends she has and she can barely use the computer (Sorry Ma, but it’s true).

Social networks have exploded in popularity. Social networks and blogs reach almost 80% (4 in 5) of all active U.S. Internet users – and account for most of the time Americans spend online, according to Nielsen’s latest State of the Media: The Social Media Report, African-Americans spend 37% of their smartphone time on social networking sites. (Of course, none of us actually visit these sites during work hours, right? Shhhhh, I won’t tell a soul.)

I’ve been sharing various African-American consumer habits with you for a while now. The Social Media Report is an example of the type of study I pull information from to share with you. But, I have a secret (well, it’s a secret at least until Thursday, September 22 anyway). On that day, Nielsen will release, for the first time, The State of the African-American Consumer Report. Yes, that’s right – it’s a report focused exclusively on the buying and viewing habits of African-Americans. It’s the first time Nielsen has released a report solely devoted to a multi-cultural audience.

We’ve collaborated with The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) to be sure it is included in each Black newspaper – like this one you’re reading now because it’s a big deal. Just like this column, the purpose of the report is to further raise awareness in our community of our considerable economic clout – to the tune of $967 billion a year, and that figure is expected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2015. Both NNPA and Nielsen believe that when you as consumers are more aware of your buying power, it can help you make more informed decisions about the companies you support – or don’t support. You know my mantra: Knowledge is power.

Be sure to read the report, because I’ll be delving into specific areas of it in upcoming columns for the rest of this year. We’ll be discussing African-American population trends (e.g. income, education, marriage/divorce and children), media habits (e.g. television viewing and mobile phone usage) what we watch and how we watch it) and our shopping habits. It’s a lot to look forward to.

Okay, back to this week’s topic: social media. The top 10 U.S. social networks and blogs are: Facebook, Blogger, Twitter, Wordpress, MySpace, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Six Apart, Typepad, Yahoo!, Pulse and Wikia. (Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard about all of these, some of them were even new to me!) Here are some stats you might find interesting: 33% of all African-Americans own smartphones.

  • Americans spend more time on Facebook than they do on any other website (140 million visitors and 53.5 billion minutes in May 2011 alone).
  • African-Americans are 30% more likely to use Twitter than any of the nine other social networks.
  • Nearly 40% of adults (2 in 5) who are social media users access their sites of choice on their mobile phones.
  • People over 55 are driving the growth of social networking on their mobile phones. This group’s visits are up a whopping 109% this year over last.
  • Although all age groups visit social networks and blogs, the most frequent visitor is female and is 18-34 years old with a Bachelor’s degree.
  • 47 % of men are more likely to visit LinkedIn and Wikia.
  • 32% of adult social networkers follow a celebrity.
  • 28% of African-American social networking fans engage in giving advice or their opinions on entertainment

The bottom line: Your use of social media, as with your use of any other product, has tremendous influence and impact on the people and companies who want to reach you, either with their messages or for your business. I think you will find The State of the African-American Consumer Report, empowering as well as fascinating. So, read it from cover to cover and after you’ve read it, say it with me: “I’ve got the power.”

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for Nielsen. For more information and studies go to www.nielsenwire.com.

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