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Kaiser's Black Professionals Honor Students

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By BVN Staff –

37-year Kaiser employee EVS Supervisor Gloria A. Hutchins with Bernard Tyson.Kaiser Permanente African American Professionals Association recently held their 10th annual scholarship awards banquet themed “It Takes A Village to Raise a Child” at the Sheraton Fairplex in Pomona.

During the banquet, keynote speaker Bernard Tyson, Executive Vice President, Health Plan and Hospital Operations, Chairman of the Board of Kaiser Foundation and key principle behind Kaiser Permanente’s “Thrive” campaign spoke to the scholarship students, encouraging them to own their world. He admonished the students that “when you own your world, you do whatever you want to do. To the scholarship students, ‘own your world.”

This year’s scholarship recipients were: John H. Clark, III, Ariel Hudgens, Tristan Lovell, Nedra Chijioke, Martice Brumfield, Hope Miller, Apostle Alicia Norton, and Ashleigh Clark.

 

ACLU Lawsuit: Joint Barber Raids Recurring Practice

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By Chris Levister –

Attorneys representing a group of Moreno Valley barbers raided by police and state Board of Barbering & Cosmetology (BBC) agents in 2008 say the practice of local law enforcement using state agents to conduct intrusive and unjustifiable searches that skirt the Constitution is not isolated to the Riverside County enclave.

“During the course of this litigation, we discovered that these joint actions happen across the state,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California attorney Peter Bibring, who filed the case along with the Los Angeles law firm Seyfarth Shaw. “It’s clear that police departments have repeatedly worked with board inspectors presumably as a way to skirt getting a warrant.” said Bibring in announcing a partial settlement in the civil rights lawsuit filed by the ACLU in April. “This agreement stops that practice.”

The lawsuit alleges that a group of Black barbers and their patrons were targets of racial profiling when five or six police officers wearing body armor and carrying guns rushed through the businesses under the pretense that they were conducting health and safety inspections. The case watched closely by Constitution experts is the first to challenge how the state board conducts joint inspections with outside law enforcement agencies.

The settlement requires the board to adopt stringent new rules against discrimination and limit joint inspections with local police.

The BBC thinks the agreement is “fair and a good thing,” said Luis Farias, the director of communications for the state Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the board.

Farias said it is routine for police to assist state inspectors, but denied inspectors were serving as proxies of local police. Officials at the state admitted no wrong doing but said they are improving inspection practices.

“I think the settlement is a matter of clarifying things and now it’s clear,” said Farias.

The City of Moreno Valley, its Police Department – whose services are contracted from the Riverside Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Stanley Sniff were also named in the federal case.

Plaintiff’s attorneys Bibring and Rishi Puri of Seyfarth Shaw stressed that the BBC agreement is a partial settlement. The complaint is seeking monetary damages and similar anti-discrimination protections from the City of Moreno Valley.

“This is a problem one sees across the country—the use of these joint inspections for doing what really amounts to drug sweeps,” said Jamie S. an Oakland barber and retired attorney.

“I think the way they are using state inspectors is unconstitutional.

I think it’s just a way to get around the Fourth Amendment,” he said. “People cited with so called business code violations are compelled to give the city inspector or police officer personal data that is entered into the police department computer base and used for routine criminal investigations. The personal information includes race, marital status, birthdates, home and work telephone numbers, criminal history and even a description of scars and tattoos. Sometimes police simply walk in, explains Atlanta barber Wesley Dennison.

Dennison was standing in his break room in August when he heard a noise at 7:00 am and found a police officer standing in his shop. “I wanted to know who walked in without permission,” he said. “The officer didn’t answer me. He just started walking through the place.”

He said such overly aggressive enforcement of city codes might violate the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unlawful search and seizure.

“If inspectors or police suspect you of something, then they can go to a judge and get an affidavit and then get a search warrant.” Dennison says barbers around the country are watching this case.

“There is a prevailing belief among many of us that what happens in California sets the bar for other states.”

The Moreno Valley Police Department and the city have denied any racial profiling, saying a wide variety of barbershops were raided that week, not just those owned by African-Americans.

They say the raids were prompted by complaints that some barbers were working without licenses and that enforcement of business licenses and building codes is crucial to public safety and help prevent unsanitary and unsafe conditions. “Local municipalities and police departments often adopt their own interpretation of search and seizure laws, and those interpretations are allowed to stand because no one challenges them,” explains Chicago employment and human rights expert Leah Mitka.

“You do need a test case to bring clarity to these things,” Mitka said.

“There’s a huge degree of intimidation at play here. It’s like when you get stopped by a cop, you say ‘yes, sir’ even though you haven’t uttered those words since you were in trouble with your dad or the principal when you were in high school,” she said. “When police show up, people often panic and agree to just about anything.”

Foreclosure Worries Make For Blue Kwanzaa

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By Chris Levister –

The annual December 26 to January 1 celebration of Kwanzaa represents the harvest of the first fruits and vegetables, a time when African-Americans pause to confront the principles of faith, direction, purpose and self-determination. But the sense of direction is not so clear for thousands of African American homeowners this year who are bracing for a ‘Foreclosure Kwanzaa’.

“People like me aren’t in the holiday mode.” That’s Fontana mother Marcella Berry wrapping and boxing her traditional Kwanzaa candles along with dozens of family photographs, books and Christmas ornaments. “I’m worried about what’s going to happen to my house. How much longer am I going to be able to stay here?”

Berry says that much of the joy of Christmas and Kwanzaa is missing this year as she fights to hang on to her home in Fontana.

The single mother and laid off insurance adjustor may live in an epicenter of the U.S. housing crisis, but she is far from any stereotype conjured up in coverage of the record number of Americans whose homes are in foreclosure.

She is not a real estate speculator, house flipper or rental property investor. She did not lie about her income or buy more house than she could afford. She was not lured into home.

What happened to Marcella Berry could happen to anyone: She got sick, lost her job and fell behind on her house payments.

“Frankly some days it hurts to wake up,” she said. Since January, 2008, life for Berry has been a rollercoaster of nerves and frustration, failed loan modifications, broken promises made by realtors and bankers, hours of financial counseling and at least three legislative hearings like the one she attended in Van Nuys this week.

“You come away feeling pumped. You see others in the same boat. But at the end of the day it’s every man and woman for themselves.” Berry says she’s been turned down twice for loan modification and the realtor who promised to help won’t return her calls.

Berry says it’s not a coincidence law enforcement officers delivered a final eviction notice on the same day President Barack Obama expressed frustration to the leaders of the nation’s banks.

“They are ‘fat cats’,” referring to the comments the President made Sunday on “60 Minutes”.

“I believe Obama really wants to help homeowners, but if the banks are arrogant enough to thumb their noses at him after they got $78 billion in bail out money, there’s not a lot of hope for the people suffering on Main Street.”

Still there are glimmers of hope on the economic and housing fronts. Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo have repaid billions in Tarp funds and Inland Empire home foreclosures in November declined for the fourth consecutive month as banks continued to work with borrowers to avert repossessions.

However, default rates in the region remain among the highest in the nation.

One in every 101 Riverside County homes and 1 in every 104 San Bernardino properties were in some stage of default, according to figures released by Irvine-based RealtyTrac. Daren Blomquest, a spokesman for the online foreclosure tracking service, said overall Inland foreclosurerelated actions dropped 19 percent from October to November. That’s up 6.7% from a year ago.

Berry isn’t ready to throw in the towel however, she remains optimistic she will hang on to her home.

“I’m in talks with a “last ditch” lender.” If all else fails she says, “I’ll light a candle and stake my claim on the Seventh Principle of Kwanzaa: ‘Imani’ – Faith.”

Smart Phone Technology helps African-Americans, Hispanics Close Digital Divide

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By Chris Levister –

When Riverside Community College students Shelia Wellington and Daniel Garrett purchased Christmas gifts for friends and loved ones last week, they escaped the parking lot hassles and holiday crowds at local malls.

Rather, they completed their holiday shopping over a steamy latte at the local Starbucks.

“All you need is Wi-Fi, a mobile device and a credit card.” That’s Daniel Garrett, about to make a major holiday purchase using his cellphone. “Okay I’m on Best Buy’s website. Go to the TV section, click on the one I want to buy, plug in my credit card number and walah! I just spent $682.92 on a Sony flat panel television,” says Garrett. “Christmas Day that baby is going be under my mom’s tree.”

“Goodbye wireline, hello wireless,” says Wellington. “When I want to access the Internet my iPhone is all I need.” This weekend she text messaged her Christmas shopping order from her phone to Victoria Secret.

“The whole process took about 12 minutes. They’ll holiday wrap my order and ship it in time for Christmas.”

Wellington and Garrett are part of a new generation of consumers, particularly young African Americans and Hispanics who are using cell phones, PDAs, smart phones and other hand held devices to access the Internet.

African-Americans are steadily gaining access to and ease with the Internet, signaling a remarkable closing of the “digital divide” that many experts had worried would be a crippling disadvantage in achieving success.

Civil rights leaders, educators and national policy makers warned for years that the Internet was bypassing African-Americans and some Hispanics as whites and Asian Americans were rapidly increasing their use of it.

Once thought to be on the wrong side of the Digital Divide African Americans and Hispanics are “leapfrogging” over wire line technology and instead using wireless devices in unprecedented numbers according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project study.

The study describes how wireless connections are helping to narrow the Digital Divide. Wireless technology is enabling many Americans to access the Internet for the first time and for many has allowed them to escape the cost of traditional hardwire phone service and installing personal computing equipment in the home.

Pew found that African Americans and English speaking Hispanics use their mobile devices to access the Internet far more than average. 48% of African Americans and 47% of Hispanics used the Internet from a mobile device, compared to an average of 32% among all adults nationwide. That’s huge, 141% jump from 2007, when only 12% of African Americans used the Internet on their mobiles on a given day.

The study found that wireless Internet use among the population as a whole has skyrocketed. A November 2009 study showed as many as 73% of Americans access the Internet at least twice a week. Much of that online activity is generated with the use of mobile devices.

The falling price of laptops, more computers in public schools and libraries and the third generation of cellphones and handheld devices that connect to the Internet have contributed to closing the divide, Internet experts say.

Those experts warn, make no mistake the Digital Divide persists. In recent years, there has been much discussion surrounding Black participation in digital technology. Shut out at the birth of digital technologies when wealth was created, studies and reports have exposed disparities and helped to close the gap between African-Americans and whites in computer ownership and Internet access.

Young African-Americans like Wellington and Garrett are reversing the “lock out” trend driving an explosion in online entertainment, social networking, shopping and online education. The notion of shopping from Starbucks is particularly encouraging news for retailers sweating over the effects of a sagging economy. This holiday online sales are expected to grow as much as 12% over 2008, outpacing so called traditional “brick and mortar” sales.

Garrett who is majoring in information technology at RCC sees an even greater benefit to closing the digital divide.

“Wireless is the only type of access that many Hispanics and African-Americans have, so embracing every aspect of the technology is critical to creating a level playing field,” he said. It’s not just about shopping, entertainment and social networking. “It’s the way of the future. Entering a global technology-driven workplace without technological skills is a recipe for unemployment.”

 

Lend More, Obama Tells Bankers

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By BVN Staff –

President Barack Obama challenged top bankers Monday to explore “every responsible way” to increase lending, saying they were obliged to help after being rescued by taxpayers.

In a statement after more than an hour-long meeting with the executives, Obama said he reminded them that much of the financial crisis that took the U.S. banking system to the brink of collapse had been “of their own making.” He also exhorted the executives— both in private and in public—to drop their opposition to an overhaul of the nation’s financial industry.

“If they wish to fight commonsense consumer protections, that’s a fight I’m more than willing to have, “ Obama told reporters at the White House.

He also urged lenders to find creative ways to free up lending.

Obama said banks have benefited from bailouts and should use that strength to lend more money to consumer and businesses.

“But given the difficulty business people are having as lending has declined and given the exceptional assistance banks received to get them through a difficult time, “ he said, “we expect them to explore every responsible way to help get our economy moving again. “

Delay, he said, was not an option he was willing to consider as his administration has focused on digging out an economy that has left more than 15 million Americans out of work. Many Americans resent the help the government gave to wealthy bankers while seeming to ignore their difficulties. Bank of America chief executive Kenneth Lewis pledged to Obama that his bank would lend $5 billion more to small- and mid-sized businesses in 2010 than it did in 2009, the bank said. It said the move is part of the bank’s broader effort to support an economic recovery.

JPMorgan said last month that it would boost such lending by $4 billion.

Obama’s stern lecture came hours after Citigroup said that it was repaying $20 billion in bailout money it received from the Treasury Department in an effort to reduce government influence over the banking giant. The government will also sell its stake in the company.

The slow economy has businesses reluctant to expand—and makes banks more grim about their prospects. Loan applications are down.

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