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Broader Hiring Practices for Ex-Offenders Receive Bipartisan Support

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By Freddie Allen
Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As the economy recovers and violent crime hits 30-year lows, lawmakers continue to trade in their tough on crime rhetoric for smarter measures, joining ex-offenders and workers rights advocates to advance fair hiring practices for the 70 million adults in the U.S. that have arrests or conviction records.

Recently, a diverse coalition of 181 groups wrote a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to take executive action to address discrimination in hiring practices.

The group was led by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a non-partisan group that researches issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers, All of Us or None, an organizing initiative started by formerly-incarcerated people to fight against discrimination faced by ex-offenders after their release, and the People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO) Network, a collective of faith-based community organizations.

“Almost one in three adults in the United States has a record that will show up on a routine criminal background check,” the letter said. “This creates a serious barrier to employment for millions of workers, especially in communities of color hardest hit by decades of over-criminalization.”

According to The Sentencing Project, a research and training group that promotes criminal justice reform, even though Blacks account for about 13 percent of the U.S. population, almost 40 percent of people in state or federal prison were Black compared to 35 percent who were White. Black males have a 32 percent chance of serving time in prison and White males have a 6 percent chance.

Not only are African American men over-represented in the criminal justice system, they are also disparately impacted by discrimination in labor market, if they are convicted of a crime.

The January 2015 NELP report on fair hiring practices called those convictions a “modern scarlet letter” that have negatively impacted communities of color devastated by the “War on Drugs” and suffer higher rates of unemployment compared to Whites.

The report also noted that African-American men with a conviction are 40 percent less likely than whites with a conviction to receive a job callback.

In the press release about the groups letter, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national rights groups stated, “Decades of over-criminalization have disproportionately harmed communities of color, leaving millions of Americans with lifelong barriers to economic security.”

The unemployment rate for Black men over 20 years old was 10.4 percent in February was more than double the jobless rate for White men (4.5 percent).

That economic insecurity doesn’t just linger in those communities of color, the damage has a ripple effect, spreading across the nation.

“Economists estimated that because people with felony records and formerly incarcerated people have poor job prospects, the nation’s gross domestic product in 2008 was between $57 and $65 billion lower than it would have been had they been gainfully employed,” stated the NELP report.

A 2013 NELP report found that 17 million FBI checks were conducted for employment screening purposes in 2012, but half of those records lacked updated information. Despite the high-level of inaccuracy, nine in 10 employers still conduct criminal background checks.

The NELP report on fair hiring recommended that President Obama issue a Fair Chance Hiring executive order “that incorporates the best practices implemented by private- and public-sector employers,” and also requires federal contractors to remove the criminal history question from the application and delaying the background check until the company offers the applicant the job.

“A federal-level fair-chance hiring policy would have far-reaching impact, as nearly one in four U.S. workers is employed by a federal contractor, a subcontractor, or the federal government. Major national corporations, such as Walmart, Target, and Home Depot, have already adopted fair-chance hiring policies. President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force also endorsed fair-chance hiring policies,” stated the press release.

The report said that the number of jurisdictions that have adopted “fair-chance” reforms is jumped from 20 in 2013 to 42 in 2014.

“Senators Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have introduced the REDEEM Act (S. 2567), which allows for the sealing and expungement of a range of federal juvenile and non-violent offenses, while also addressing the flaws in the FBI’s criminal records systems,” stated the report. “Congressmembers Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) have introduced companion bills (H.R. 2865/H.R. 2999) to improve the integrity of the FBI background checks conducted for employment screening purposes.”

During a recent conversation with David Simon, the creator of “The Wire,” President Obama said that even though the economy is recovering and unemployment is coming down drastically, low participation rates in the labor market continue to be a concern.

“When you breakdown why people are not getting back into the labor force even as jobs are being created a big chunk of that is the young male population with felony histories,” said President Obama. “Now where we have the opportunity to give them a pathway, they’re foreclosed.”

President Obama continued: “Here’s the good news: there is an increasing realization on the left, but also on the right, politically, that what we’re doing is counterproductive. Either from a libertarian perspective, the way we treat non-violent drug crimes is problematic, and from a fiscal perspective, it’s breaking the bank. You end up spending so much more on prison than you would with these kids being in school or even going to college, it’s counterproductive. We’re all responsible for finding a solution to this.”

Black Women Protest Delay in Confirming Loretta Lynch

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Hundreds of Black women and girls representing the Black Women’s Roundtable descended on the nation’s capital last week to petition the Senate to confirm U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch as the next attorney general.

“Loretta Lynch has been waiting over 140 days to get a vote on the floor. That’s never happened in the history of this country,” says Melanie Campbell, convener of the Roundtable, and president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation NCBCP).

The Black Women Roundtable is the intergenerational arm of the NCBCP.

“They’re holding her up because they’re having a partisan battle,” said Campbell. “…. Why is this happening to a Black woman? The American people believe in fair play. It’s not fair, and it’s not correct.”

Campbell was one of about two-dozen members of the Roundtable who visited Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office on Thursday and attempted to meet with him on the matter. They were told he was busy and would not be able to meet with them, or greet them.

The women held a prayer vigil outside his office; security was called, but did not escort them out. They were able to meet with McConnell’s chief of staff; Campbell describes his response as “on-message stock answers.”

In addition to meeting with representatives, the Black Women Roundtable (BWR) released its 2015 Black Women in the United States report.

“This report is a little bit different than the last one in that it gives both the 50,000-foot view by providing data analysis across a variety of areas and indicators,” said the report’s editor, Avis Jones-DeWeever. “But in addition to that, it’s augmented by the stories from women…who are BWR members in states all across this country, whose voices are literally infused into this report. So you not only get the data, you also get the narratives behind the numbers.”

A similarity it shares with last year’s inaugural edition is the mix of celebration and concern.

And the concerns are many. First, every state with a large Black population, with the exception of Maryland and Delaware, plus Washington, D.C., is home to high numbers of uninsured Black women. All of the states in question have refused to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. At the same time, reproductive services are disappearing in these states, resulting in a rising maternal mortality rate among Black women, from 30 to 42 deaths out of 100,000 live births (compared to 12 deaths for White women).

“Already as it stands, Black women have maternal mortality rates that are frankly unheard of anywhere else in the industrialized world,” Jones-DeWeever said at the report release event. “If you are a Black woman in America, you have a better chance of surviving childbirth if you gave birth in Libya than in the United States of America. Our women are dying because of lack of care, and there’s no excuse for that.”

Black women also experience violence at disproportionately high rates; they’re more than twice as likely as all women, and three times as likely as White women, to be murdered. More than half of Black women who knew their murderers were romantically involved with them.

Economic success is another uphill battle. Despite national gains, Black women’s unemployment has remained the highest among all women – 8.9 percent compared to the national rate of 5.5 percent. While that’s lower than last year, the rate has been on a slow rise, contrary to unemployment stats for other women.

In the report, wage disparities play out across income categories, and especially across education levels. For example, Black women with master’s degrees earn slightly less than Black men with bachelor’s, and White men, Asians, and Latinos with associates or post-secondary degrees.

The good news, though, is that Black women are seizing political power as never before.

This year, Alma Adams (D-N.C.) became the 100th Black woman elected to Congress. There are two new Black-woman mayors of major cities. Two new congressional representatives became the first Black congresswomen elected from their states (New Jersey and Utah), and Mia Love became the first Black woman ever elected to Congress as a Republican. There are two Black women running for Senate in 2016 – It’s been 17 years since a Black woman has occupied a Senate seat.

Three Black women representatives, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), and Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), were also present at the launch and spoke on the need to be involved in the reproductive, civil, and human rights, and other political conversations that impact Black women most.

The Black Women in the United States report is released each year as part of the BWR’s National Women of Power Summit, which brings girls and women from all over the nation to exercise their civil rights, develop solutions for sociopolitical problems, and honor Black women making strides in these areas.

“We try to bill the summit as an organizing summit…we’re going to take our key priority issues, delve deep, and then…get into smaller groups and talk strategy,” Campbell said. ““We’re not a research institute, but we know we have to have good data to be able to quantify what we’re doing [and] to understand what’s going on with us. We try make sure we tell the story about the challenges, but also what we’re doing well.”

All Eyes Fixed on Ferguson’s April 7 Election

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – If the Black residents of Ferguson, Mo., want to radically reform the political climate that encouraged police to disproportionately ticket, fine and arrest them to collect revenue for the city coffers, they’ll have to do more than embrace non-violent acts of civil disobedience and peaceful protests – they will have to vote.

In the north St. Louis suburb that is nearly 70 percent Black, five of six city councilmembers are White and the mayor is a White Republican. The police force is almost 95 percent White.

On April 7, voters in Ferguson will go to the polls in a round of highly-anticipated elections for three out of the six of the city council seats.

“We are in the process now of preparing people to go to polls so that we can turn the tide of the council, where the real power lies in Ferguson,” said Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King Church of Christ in Florissant, Mo., adding that four residents who have been actively involved in the protests are running for those three open seats.

The city council selects the city manager, who supervises every department in Ferguson. While Mayor James Knowles brings home $350 a month for serving as mayor of the St. Louis suburb. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Ferguson city manager, John Shaw’s annual salary soared to $120,000 after he was hired in 2007 at $85,000. Shaw resigned shortly after the release of two separate Justice Department reports, one of which painted him as one of the chief architects of a plan that turned the Ferguson police into collection agents for the city.

Getting voters to turn out will be an uphill battle for the activists that have led protests in Ferguson for more than 200 days since Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager.

CNN reported that roughly 42 percent of Ferguson voters cast ballots during last November’s midterm elections and that only a few hundred residents had registered to vote between August 11 and October 8.

In 2013, even though Blacks account for nearly 70 percent of the population in Ferguson, Whites made up more than half of the Ferguson electorate, according to voter data analyzed by the Washington Post. Less than 20 percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls when Ferguson Mayor James Knowles was elected in 2011.

Blackmon said that low voter turnout in local elections is not unique to Ferguson. Municipal elections are often held separately from national elections and in some jurisdictions party affiliation is left off of the ballot completely. Blackmon said that economic depravity and educational inequality have caused some to turn away from the political process.

Denise Lieberman, an attorney with the Advancement Project who also co-chairs the Don’t Shoot Coalition, a network of more than 50 diverse local organizations that came together in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown, said that the epidemics of police violence and voter suppression add to that malaise.

Police investigating the shooting left Brown’s body in the middle of the road for more than four hours, then responded with military-style weapons and gear when residents began to protest. The events were chronicled on social media and transmitted across the world. Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson to underscore the Justice Department’s commitment to investigate the shooting and the police response. Activists from Ferguson met with President Barack Obama at the White House.

Following two separate reports from the Justice Department, a slew of resignations including the city manager and the chief of police and the shootings of two police officers, with local elections rapidly approaching, activists say that protests will continue.

Rev. Traci Blackmon, the pastor of Christ the King Church of Christ in Florissant, Mo., said that the activists were praying for the police and their families just like they continue to pray for the victims of police violence in the region.

“We must not let the rogue actions of a few derail the positive path that the Department of Justice has placed us on,” said Blackmon. “We will continue to pray with our feet until there is no more blood in the streets.”

After an extensive investigation into the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, the Justice Department released a report that stated, “Under the law, it was not unreasonable for Wilson to perceive that Brown posed a threat of serious physical harm, either to him or to others. When Brown turned around and moved toward Wilson, the applicable law and evidence do not support finding that Wilson was unreasonable in his fear that Brown would once again attempt to harm him and gain control of his gun.”

The report also stated that, “There are no credible witness accounts that state that Brown was clearly attempting to surrender when Wilson shot him,” and that witnesses who said that the teenager was trying to surrender when he was fatally shot, “could not be relied upon in a prosecution because they are irreconcilable with the physical evidence, inconsistent with the credible accounts of other eyewitnesses, inconsistent with the witness’s own prior statements, or in some instances, because the witnesses have acknowledged that their initial accounts were untrue.”

On the same day, the Justice Department also released a searing report that found Ferguson Police Department not only violated First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, and federal statutory, law officials routinely urged Thomas Jackson, the police chief, to generate more revenue through law enforcement and disproportionately targeted discriminated African American residents for searches and use of excessive force.

Montague Simmons, the executive director of the Organization for Black Struggle, a group founded in 1980 that advocates for a society free of exploitation and oppression, said that the realities exposed in the Justice Department’s report on the Ferguson police department are realities that community members have known for a very long time.

“Even with the findings being revealed, we have yet to really see clear action that there is going to be an effective transformation of the way that policing authorities are allowed to operate in our communities,” said Montague. “We’ve seen some resignations, but no real commitment toward change officially coming from Ferguson or the [surrounding] St. Louis County municipalities who are guilty of the same things.”

Rev. Osagyefo Sekou agreed.

Sekou of the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, Mass., said that the events that occurred in Ferguson follow a familiar pattern of injustice that is happening around the country.

“Throughout the nation Black communities see Ferguson in their own experiences with police,” Sekou. “The resignations and recent shake ups in Ferguson are simply not enough. We need wholesale change.”

Lieberman said that Ferguson groups have had many meetings with members of the Justice Department and other members of the administration about necessary reforms for police departments, local communities and the statehouses.

Lieberman also led a group to Missouri’s statehouse to advocate for legislation that called for greater accountability for police actions and reporting of interactions with residents, greater civilian input and oversight for local police departments.

“This is a movement that is deeply-rooted in principles of nonviolent civil disobedience. And it works,” said Lieberman. “There is no indication that anything would be changing in Ferguson if it weren’t for the people that have taken to the streets for more than 200 days demanding change, forcing government actors to step in.”

Middle East Conflicts Give Hefty Boost to Arms Merchants

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By Thalif Deen
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – The ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen have helped spiral arms sales upwards to the Middle East, according to a study released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The primary beneficiaries were the United States and Russia, whose overall arms exports show a marked increase through 2014, with China lagging behind, according to the latest figures.

Arms sales to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states—Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—increased by 71 percent from 2005–2009 to 2010–14, accounting for 54 percent of imports to the Middle East in the latter period.

Saudi Arabia rose to become the second largest importer of major weapons worldwide in 2010–14, increasing the volume of its arms imports four times compared to 2005–2009.

Several of the GCC states, specifically Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, are significant suppliers of weapons, mostly unofficial and clandestine, to some of the warring factions in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen.

Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher at SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Program, said GCC states have rapidly expanded and modernized their militaries—primarily with arms from the United States and Europe.

“The GCC states, along with Egypt, Iraq, Israel and Turkey in the wider Middle East, are scheduled to receive further large orders of major arms in the coming years,” he added.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union provide ready markets for arms transfers.

But those transfers, she pointed out, aren’t always reflected in the SIPRI data. SIPRI’s database focuses on major conventional weapons.

“This means that the light weapons and small arms often featured in recent conflicts are not captured in the SIPRI totals,” said Ms. Golding, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

She said the drop in crude oil prices since September 2014 reduces the revenues available to oil-rich nations.

According to the International Monetary Fund, the oil price cuts have had strong effects across the oil-producing nations because of their dependence on oil exports.

For the short term, those effects can be moderated by using the financial buffers that are available to countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

In the past, however, financial pressures have only slowed weapons acquisitions for as long as they have persisted, Ms. Goldring said.

“As the oil-supplier countries have recovered economically, they have resumed their arms purchases. Financial pressures are not an effective long-term control measure,” she noted.

According to the most recent SIPRI data, roughly three-quarters of all countries in the world imported major conventional weapons between 2010-2014. Just 10 countries accounted for roughly half of all imports of major conventional weapons during this period.

Of the top 10 largest importers of major weapons during the five-year period 2010–14, five are in Asia: India (15 percent of global arms imports), China (5 percent), Pakistan (4 percent), South Korea (3 percent) and Singapore (3 percent).

These five countries accounted for 30 percent of the total volume of arms imports worldwide.

India accounted for 34 percent of the volume of arms imports to Asia, more than three times as much as China. China’s arms imports actually decreased by 42 percent between 2005–2009 and 2010–14.

The new SIPRI data make it clear that the United States and Russia continue to dominate the global arms trade in major conventional weapons.

The United States accounted for 31 percent of the market, up from 29 percent from 2005-2009. Russia’s share increased even more significantly, going from 22 percent of the world market in 2005-2009 to a 27 percent share of the international market from 2010-2014.

“The United States has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool, but in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure,” said Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of the SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Program.

He said Asian countries generally still depend on imports of major weapons, which have strongly increased and will remain high in the near future.

Goldring told IPS that although SIPRI notes the significant percentage increase in Chinese exports between the two periods, China is still a minor supplier in comparison to the United States and Russia.

Even with a large increase in its exports, China still only accounts for five percent of the global trade.

The United States and Russia alone account for nearly 60 percent of the world market. U.S. and Russian dominance of the world market is simply not threatened by China, she said.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com.

Barbados to Dump the Queen

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Tiny Barbados is preparing to dump Britain’s Queen Elizabeth after centuries of imperial colonial rule. The nation has decided to replace her with a local head of state and, like Guyana, Trinidad and a few other Caribbean trade bloc states, soon proclaim itself a republic.

Long regarded as the world’s best organized and most well run Afro state, leading authorities on the tourism-dependent island of 300,000 people said this week that the time has long passed for it to become a republic and fully govern its own affairs.

At no other place in the region do British citizens feel as comfortable as in Barbados, where they are treated as mini royals, but the country’s current generation of leaders, surprisingly led by conservative Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, says there is no reason for the aging Queen of Britain to still loom large over the island as its head of state and, as is the case now, have the final say as to who is appointed as the island’s governor and representative of Buckingham Palace.

On the 166-square-mile island near Trinidad and just below the Windward Islands, nearly every village has a recognizable British name, be it Bridgetown the capital or districts bearing such titles as Dover or St. Lawrence or St. Phillip. British rock stars such as Sir Cliff Richard maintain homes on the island and a string of English celebrities such as ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair and entertainment mogul Simon Cowell usually holiday there in full public view. Barbados is also the birthplace of Rihanna. Tiger Woods had his wedding at a posh island west coast facility a few years ago, and Oprah Winfrey has investments there.

“We cannot pat ourselves on the shoulder at having gone into independence, having de-colonized our politics. We cannot pat ourselves on the shoulders at having decolonized our jurisprudence by delinking from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and explain to anybody why we continue to have a monarchical system,” Stuart said.

The Privy Council he speaks about is Britain’s highest judicial court, which also serves as the final appeals court for much of the bloc’s member states barring Guyana, Belize, Barbados and Dominica. Others have pledged to join the Trinidad-based court in the future.

Stuart did not name a date when a local would become the ceremonial head of state, as is the case in neighboring Trinidad and Dominica, but said the entire changeover and abandonment of centuries of a British monarch as the island’s chief representative will come shortly. Guyana, Suriname and Haiti have executive heads of state.

“We respect [the queen] very highly as head of the Commonwealth and accept that she and all of her successors will continue to be at the apex of our political understanding. But in terms of Barbados’ constitutional status, we have to move from a monarchical system to a republican form of government in the very near future,” Stuart told party supporters at a function.

“A republican form of government stipulates that those who run the people’s affairs should be chosen directly or indirectly by the people themselves. We already do that. We have been doing that continuously since 1951, when we got universal adult suffrage.”

In announcing plans to overhaul the system of governance, Stuart appears on course to trump Portia Simpson-Miller, his Jamaican prime ministerial colleague who had vowed at the start of her 2011 term that she would lead the charge for Jamaica to also go down that road. Debate about such plans have since died down, as various developments in local politics have become major distractions to such political ambitions.

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