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Trayvon Martin’s Friend Rachel Jeantel: 'I’m Still Standing'

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As Rachel Jeantel inched toward a high school diploma, she tried to keep in mind that she had a promise to keep. Her slain friend, Trayvon Martin, would have wanted her to finish school, and she had promised his parents and other supporters that she would.

Now, she has kept that promise.

The world met Jeantel last year, when it was disclosed that she was the last person to speak to Trayvon Martin before he was killed by George Zimmerman. Over two days of testifying as a key witness in the Zimmerman trial—in which she was questioned for six hours—a storm of opinions, analyses, and judgments were made about her – some on target, some not.

At the time, she was just a teenager thrown into the spotlight in the midst of a personal and national tragedy.

It’s a chapter of her life she doesn’t like to talk about, mostly referring to it in solemn tones as “the situation.” Bringing it up immediately deflates her cheery, laugh-filled conversation.

“I’m grateful for Trayvon and everyday when I work hard or have the smack-down on me, I just say if he was here he would say ‘keep going,’” Jeantel said in an interview.

“The situation was a learning experience for me, and for everyone. As everyone was watching the trial, we were all learning things about the United States. But I’m still standing. You don’t need to be afraid of me, and you don’t need to feel bad about the situation. Justice will still be served.”

Last year, Jeantel wanted nothing more than to be left alone. She was grieving and feeling guilty, choosing not to attend Martin’s funeral.

“I was running from Sybrina [Fulton], “she says referring to Martin’s mother. “I wasn’t ready to face her. I didn’t want to talk about it.”

She was traveling constantly, for questioning as part of FBI, law enforcement, and legal investigations. She was missing a lot of school. Only her closest friends knew that she had been on the phone with Martin when Zimmerman first spotted him.

“Nobody knew where I was. I’d lie about where I’d been every time somebody brought up Trayvon, and they would always bring it up in school [that he had been on the phone]. I’d deny saying it was me,” Jeantel says. “All the traveling and talking to the FBI was too much on me, and I was doing it by myself. I still wanted my normal life.”

That normalcy never quite returned. She still gets recognized at Wal-Mart, where people ask her why she shops there “now that [she’s] a celebrity.” They want to take pictures. Sometimes they’re too nervous to approach her, and send their children to ask instead.

She shrugs off the attention, often responding to strangers that she still needs clothes and make-up just as they do. “For now, I just deal with it,” she says.

Another adjustment has been the tidal wave of Black men and women who emerged to teach, steer, and coach Jeantel, now 20, as she transitions to college and womanhood. It began with her attorney, Roderick Vereen, who ushered Jeantel through the media spotlight after Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

He remains “like a father figure.” Vereen’s assistant, Rose Reeder, manages Jeantel’s scheduling. His friend, Karen Andre, also a lawyer, stepped up as a mentor. Miami-Dade School Board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall arranged for her to transfer to the Academy for Community Education, a small, attentive alternative high school where principal, Deborah Carter took Jeantel under her wing.

During an interview on his radio show, Tom Joyner offered Jeantel a full scholarship to any Black college she chooses, and also hired a team of tutors to help improve her math and reading proficiency to college-ready levels.

“I was not used to that. It was a lot of people. I could never sneak around, I couldn’t go no place!” She says, laughing and sighing with appreciative resignation. Once, one of her tutors came to pick her up at home and she invited him in to say hello to her parents, who speak limited English. He greeted them in fluent Creole, much to Jeantel’s chagrin. For the self-proclaimed “spoiled-brat daddy’s girl” who was “used to having her way,” this new team of no-nonsense adults – who could report directly to her parents without her translation – was not exactly welcome.

It’s something they all laugh about now. Though her new normal is a challenge rooted in tragedy, it’s bearing good fruit, too. Jeantel explains, for example, that her friends often draw inspiration from her life. One in particular, at her new school, confided that she was considering dropping out.

“I showed her my schedule of all my tutoring, and my calendar, and I told her she better not quit,” she says. “And she graduated and got her diploma with me. I’ve been through my worst. Everybody’s been through their worst times, but mine was in the public eye. If I could deal with millions of insults, you can deal with two.”

She’s even worked her way back toward Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, who she now calls her “number one supporters.” Fulton was one of the people cheering her across the stage as she accepted her diploma.

“I love them because one thing about my village is they keep it real. I’m telling you, I was bad,” Jeantel says. “I would see them every day and sometimes I’d get five different lectures a day. I’m down to two, so I’m working on it.”

In fact, Jeantel is working on a number of things. With her tutors she’s focused on vocabulary, grammar, and mathematic skills. With her mentors, she’s focused on wellbeing and gaining the necessary life skills to become independent. This summer she hopes to get a job. When her academic skills are up to par, she’ll enroll in college. In the far future, she sees a college degree and a creative career, ideally in fashion design.

“I want to thank everyone who was standing behind me during and after the trial – every single person who ever supported me. Trayvon, his family, my family, even President Obama,” Jeantel says. “I’m still standing, still smiling. [Zimmerman’s acquittal] was a disappointing day. But justice will be served, and I will get my degree, and we will continue.”

Report: NYPD Inspector General Should Investigate Police Practices Now

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By Stephon Johnson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

A new report by a police watchdog group is calling on the NYPD’s new inspector general to open investigations into police policies and practices that they consider to be “problematic.”

Titled “Priorities for the New NYPD Inspector General: Promoting Safety, Dignity and Rights for All New Yorkers,” the report by Communities United for Police Reform (the same group responsible for advocating for an inspector general in the first place) wants the new appointee to investigate “discriminatory marijuana arrests, unlawful searches, surveillance of Muslim communities, low-level enforcement, use of excessive and deadly force, and disciplinary policies and outcomes in cases of misconduct.”

A section of the report, focused on selective enforcement of minor offenses, suggests that summonses and arrests for infractions like riding a bike on the sidewalk are disproportionately doled out in communities of color and not enforced similarly in elsewhere. Communities United for Police Reform also alleges that the increase in enforcement for minor infractions has replaced stop-and-frisk, which has decreased significantly. The report states that the focus on minor offenses takes away man power in addressing major crimes.

Another focus of the report involved the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses. While the NYPD announced a slight change in that policy last month, New York City Anti-Violence Project Co-Director of Community Organizing and Public Advocacy Shelby Chestnut wants an outright ban on the practice.

“The New York City Anti-Violence Project’s latest Hate Violence Report documents the pervasive issue of police violence against LGBTQ

[lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer] and HIV-affected New Yorkers, including a multi-year trend of police misconduct, with 68 reports of police misconduct in 2013 and 78 in 2012,” said Chestnut in a statement. “We hope to work alongside Inspector General Philip Eure to ban the use of condoms as evidence in all cases including prostitution, prostitution in school zones, loitering for the purposes of prostitution, promoting prostitution and sex trafficking cases.”

Once again, Communities United for Police Reform also called for investigations into what they feel is overaggressive and discriminatory work by the police that has resulted in the deaths of people like Ramarley Graham, Reynaldo Cuevas, Noel Polanco and Tamon Robinson. Communities United for Police Reform believes that the practices aren’t always based on race, as they also affect people with psychiatric and/or mental disabilities.

According to statistics from the Civilian Complaint Review Board, excessive physical force is the highest force-related complaint against NYPD officers, making up 70 percent (3,695) of the total of force allegations brought against them.

Monifa Bandele of Communities United for Police Reform said that the report shows the need for the new inspector general to act immediately.

“In order for interactions between communities and the police to improve, and for real public safety to be achieved, there must be public accountability. It is also essential that abusive, discriminatory and ineffective policies and practices are eliminated—that is where this report is focused,” said Bandele in a statement. “Whether it is the persistence of discriminatory arrests of Black and Brown New Yorkers for possession of small amounts of marijuana—in part caused by unlawful searches—or the continued attempts to broadly surveil Muslim communities, there is a range of policing policies and practices that continue to be harmful to communities throughout our city and counterproductive to public safety.”

Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson agrees.

“After years of hard work by everyday New Yorkers who spoke out and raised their voices, the new office of the inspector general creates an incredible opportunity for a much-needed change of NYPD policies,” Robinson said in a statement. “Our communities deserve and demand a Police Department that values their lives and respects their dignity.”

Nigeria Tries to Stem Protests Over Abducted Girls

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

(GIN) – Police in Nigeria have issued a ban against further protests by Nigerian citizens, mostly women, who are demanding that government rescue the nearly 300 kidnapped schoolgirls whose whereabouts government claims to know.

National anger and frustration has turned on the government for its failure to rescue the teenage students and many others being targeted around the country. The girls had been studying in the remote northeastern village of Chibok near the Cameroon border when they were kidnapped on April 14.

The administration of Goodluck Jonathan appears to be growing defensive as an international spotlight remains focused on the country’s security failures. Last week a government-sponsored group appeared, calling itself “Release Our Girls” with the intention of turning attention away from government failures to blame the insurgent movement.

Former World Bank vice president for Africa Obiageli Ezekwesili, recently joined the protests in Abuja’s Maitama park.

In announcing the ban, Police Commissioner Joseph Mbu, called the protests dangerous and embarrassing. “As the Federal Capital Territory police boss, I cannot fold my hands and watch this lawlessness,” he told the state-run news agency… Dangerous elements are planning to join the groups under the guise of protest and detonate explosives aimed at embarrassing the government.”

Mbu further complained that the Fountain of Unity, the venue for protests in the capital Abuja, had become a place for “cooking and selling” by vendors to the protesters, becoming a nuisance and too near to the homes of diplomats.

Recently Peter Biyo, a legislator representing Chibok, called on federal officials to demolish the Sambisa forest – believed to be the Boko Haram hideout and so dense “you can only see the next person by your side with a flashlight. Lions, elephants and other animals roam freely,” he claimed. “Sambisa Forest must be destroyed. If the government can do that, the problem of insurgency will end”.

But Forest Management Professor Labode Popoola discounted Biyo’s remarks. In a published editorial, he wrote: “Sambisa Forest, now a National Park, has been heavily deforested… In fact, most of the animals have also migrated as a result of perturbation.

“Nigeria has lost her forest cover which as of 1979 represented about 20 per cent of its total land area…

With barely six per cent of her land area now under forest cover, the country is now at the mercy of ravaging negative climate scenarios, desertification, gully erosion, incidence of diseases and communal conflicts.

To now suggest that one of the few relics of forests in the northern part of Nigeria be destroyed because of a social problem accentuated by years of government insensitivity, mindless corruption and impunity in high places, is to say the least, a wrong approach to solving a self-inflicted problem. Why create more problems in an attempt to solve one?”

Bahamas Wants 'Satisfactory Answers' from United States on Spying Allegations

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

CMC – The Bahamas says it hopes to get “some satisfactory answers” from the United States later this week to reports that Washington had been spying and collecting the audio of mobile phone calls of Bahamians.

Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell, in a statement prior to his departure for Paraguay to attend the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), said the conference “will be the occasion for us to brief colleague ministers on the most recent developments here in The Bahamas with regard to the recent allegations of the recording of Bahamian mobile phone calls by the United States.
“There is to be a meeting between the two sides on this matter and it is my hope that some satisfactory answers will be obtained at that meeting,” he said.

Mitchell said that the Minustry of Foreign Affairs here is gathering “all the pertinent information that we can about the history of this matter and the facts as we know it.

“Following the OAS meeting and my return to the country, it is my expectation that I will be in position to brief Parliament by the time I am to speak on the Budget debate.”

Mitchell said he had also taken note of the position of the main opposition Free National Movement (FNM) on the issue and that the Perry Christie government “takes the matter seriously and will endavour to represent the best interests of Bahamians in this matter.

“We were elected on the theme Believe in Bahamians. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs accepts that as our mandate and marching orders,” he said.

Last month, Nassau described as “startling” reports that the United States had been spying and collecting the audio of mobile phone calls of Bahamians.

Mitchell said that the Bahamas had contacted the US Foreign Office for an explanation and that the representative of the United States Government’s interest in The Bahamas had been summoned to the foreign ministry to give an explanation.

Mitchell said that he had been givemn prior warning by US Chargé d’Affairs John Dinkelman, of the possibility of a story being released, based on the leaks of the former US Government employee Edward Snowden and that they would involve The Bahamas and the use of monitoring apparatus in The Bahamas.

“The Snowden allegations are believed to relate to a period in and around 2011,” Mitchell said, quoting from the article that indicated the “surveillance is part of a top-secret system — code-named SOMALGET — that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian Government.

“Instead, the agency appears to have used access legally obtained, in cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, to open a backdoor to the country’s cellular telephone network, enabling it to covertly record and store the ‘full-take audio’ of every mobile call made to, from and within The Bahamas and to replay those calls for up to a month,” the article noted.

Patterson: Jamaica Suffering from Severe Decline in Moral Values

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By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

Two decades after he launched a national ‘Values and Attitude’ campaign to arrest Jamaica’s moral declines, a former Prime Minister believes conditions have gotten worse instead of improving.

P.J. Patterson, who headed the government for 14 years, longer than anyone else in the past half century since independence in 1962 warned that the sharp decline in Jamaica’s moral fiber had pushed the country very close to the edge of the precipice.

And he has called for a renewed national effort to reverse the current disastrous trend.

“I spoke then of the growing incivility, discipline, disorder, disrespect for each other, the fight against corruption in all its forms and the critical need to promote integrity in every facet of endeavor,” he told the Rotary club at a meeting in Spanish Town a few days ago. “Every speaker at the launch of that original campaign emphasized the need to arrest the moral decline in our country and enunciated compelling reasons to stem the growing tide.

“Twenty years later, even those who doubted the validity of the (1994) plea or contended that the call was driven by partisan political motives, now openly admit its national urgency as our condition has deteriorated beyond belief,” said the former Prime Minister who served from 1992-2006.

“In spite of the efforts that began at that time, we have seen a massive increase in crime and violence, drug warfare is more rampant, the urban ghettos have spread across the countryside and elsewhere, our ethical standards have fallen,” he lamented. “Today, there is a growing sense of alienation and greater distrust of leadership in politics, in our legal system, our national institutions, corporate business, even in the church. This means, ladies and gentlemen, we are at the extreme edge of the precipice.”

He listed a catalogue of other ills, disturbing trends that ranged from the theft of electricity, the fire-bombing of the Tacky High School and the attacks on buses to the “purveyors of vulgarity and obscenities” in the entertainment industry. Even the new technology, he charged, was being used to undermine the country’s values and moral fiber. Just look at the lottery scamming and the situation would become clear, Patterson charged.

But none of that should be interpreted to mean the original campaign was so deeply flawed that it had borne no fruit, Patterson argued. For instance, he listed the establishment of the Jamaica Social Development Fund; the kick start of the National Youth Service; the introduction of the Program of Advancement through Health and Education, a social welfare system; the National Contracts Commission; and the distribution of scarce benefits, such as land and housing as evidence of some measure of progress.

“What we need now is … a new trajectory that spans the political, religious and social divide that avoids the mistrust and risk averse character of some in our society and the tensions which exist,” he insisted.

But Patterson didn’t stop there.

The former Prime Minister told the Rotarians assembled at Police Officers Club that there was an urgent need to pay more attention to transparency, especially during a time of tough economic conditions.

“The absence of criminal charges or the acquittal from a crime of moral turpitude cannot be a yardstick to which political parties and the electorate measure the suitability of those who seek public office,” he went.

Patterson also zeroed in on the contentious debate over proposed reforms to Jamaica’s buggery laws, which make anal sex between consulting adult males a crime. He said discussion on the hot button issue should be framed within a context of international trends and what he called the realities of different lifestyles.

“it is an issue, I know, where people have very strong positions, but we have to find a way of moving away from polarized positions into one that accepts differences of race or color, differences of class, differences even in terms of sexual preferences may have to be addressed in conformity with the prevailing global environment in which we live,” was the way he put it.

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