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Settlement Reached in Hurricane Katrina Housing Discrimination Case

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By Jesse Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from The Final Call –

(FinalCall.com) - In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Gulf Coast, a federally-funded program has drawn criticism due to accusations of discriminating against Blacks in the distribution of recovery funds.

On July 6, a settlement was reached in a lawsuit brought against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the State of Louisiana regarding the highly criticized Road Home program.

The federal government awarded $62 million in Road Home funds to 1,460 homeowners and an additional year to rebuild their storm-torn homes without fear of fines or foreclosures by the state.

With an establishing budget of $11 billion in federal dollars, the Road Home program was led by HUD and the Louisiana Recovery Authority to aid residents affected by both hurricanes.

“Regrettably, the Road Home program became a road block for many,” said James Perry, Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. The center, along with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, led the charge on the lawsuit filed in November 2008 on behalf of five individual plaintiffs representing over 20,000 Black homeowners.

“This settlement is a step in the right direction toward getting more hurricane-affected homeowners back into their homes. HUD and Louisiana must keep America's promise to build a better New Orleans. And they must do so in a manner that is fair and equitable for all people regardless of their race,” said Mr. Perry.

Nation of Islam Student Minister Willie Muhammad and his family were among those forced to evacuate New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina flooded nearly 80 percent of the city in 2005.

“If inquiries were made in other areas that involve recovery after Katrina, I believe more discrepancies in how Black people were treated would be uncovered,” said Muhammad.

John Payton, Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), said, “People who had similar homes and suffered the same type of damage should not have been treated differently simply because of the neighborhoods in which they live. All New Orleanians, and all Louisianans, deserve a fair chance at rebuilding their homes and communities.”

According to the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, pre-storm values in Black neighborhoods across New Orleans are lower than pre-storm values in predominantly White neighborhoods due to “decades of institutionalized discrimination.”

The lawsuit alleged that the Road Home grant calculations were based on the pre-storm value of hurricane affected houses rather than the cost of repair. The plaintiffs and their legal team argued that this was a direct violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

The website for the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center paints a mathematical picture of what that discrimination looked like.

Consider two identical homes, with identical hurricane damage, and identical repair cost of $150,000. One home is in a predominately White area and worth $150,000 while the second home located in a predominately Black area is worth only $100,000.

Under the discriminatory formula, the White homeowner was eligible to receive $150,000 while the Black homeowner would be eligible to receive only $100,000—in spite of the fact that the homes are identical. Because of the discriminatory formula, the Black homeowner was $50,000 short of the amount needed to get back into their home.

“This fact pattern has played out thousands of times leaving Black homeowners far short of the amount they need to rebuild their homes,” the center says.

“In addition to providing significant relief for individual homeowners, the Road Home lawsuit will serve as a warning to HUD and state officials nationwide to avoid the future use of pre-storm market value or similar market-driven criteria that have an obvious discriminatory impact on low-income and minority homeowners,” said Shanna Smith, President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance.

In a decision last September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued an injunction to place a freeze on the remaining funds in Louisiana's Road Home Program. This gave the plaintiffs an opportunity to present proof that the state and HUD did in fact engage in discriminatory practices.

Inmates on Hunger Strike Say They Would Rather Die Than Suffer Inhumane Treatment

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By Charlene Muhammad and Jamo Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from The Final Call –

(FinalCall.com) - National and international support for California inmates who initiated a hunger strike to protest inhumane treatment has increased with urgency following reports of deteriorating health conditions.

Inmates housed in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at the super maximum Pelican Bay Prison have refused food for 19 days thus far, declaring that they were prepared to die rather than suffer inhumane conditions behind bars.

They told loved ones they simply want to serve their time in dignity and issued their five core demands by letter to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), Governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown and G.D. Lewis, Pelican Bay warden:

• Eliminate group punishments.

• Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.

• Comply with the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement.

• Provide adequate food.

• Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.

“The message we should receive is the fact that these guys are united around this issue and also the type of torture that's been going on for decades within not only California prisons, but other prisons as well.

America puts forth this face that it's this humane society that doesn't abuse any of its citizens when in actuality that's not the case,” said Jitu Sadiki, of the Black Awareness Community Development Organization, which works to eradicate violence impacting youth and communities.

What's also important to note is that the strike was organized under extreme isolation across racial lines and geographic lines, said Isaac Ontiveros of Critical Resistance and a spokesperson for the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.

Deteriorating health

“They say they are slowly dying anyway by virtue of the conditions that they live under, that they might as well die for a cause, die to put the prison and the CDCR in the position where there is a clamor, a demand statewide, nationwide, and worldwide for change,” said Barbara Becnel, activist, author and film maker who is also part of a five-member mediation team for the Pelican Bay SHU inmates.

By the 12th day of the strike, their health had rapidly worsened, Ms. Becnel told The Final Call.

“We just got word from connections we have at the prison that the prisoners are not even drinking water so as a consequence, they're in bad shape. Some of them are on the verge of renal failure,” she continued.

According to the Coalition, some prisoners have been unable to make urine for three days and some are having measured blood sugars in the 30 range, which can be fatal if not treated.

“The men are going to start dying and my son could be one of them and I'm terrified. I'm sick at work, not even working to my full capability because I'm so distraught with the mental anguish of what they're going through,” said Dolores Canalas, who's 36-year-old son John Martinez authored the June 12 demand letter to prison officials. He has been in the SHU for more than 10 years, she said.

Prison officials refuted reports of deteriorating health conditions.

“No one has died. No one's in critical condition, no renal failure, no transfer to a CTC (critical unit inside the prison). For the most part, everyone seems to be fine,” said Nancy Kincaid, a spokesperson for the CDCR's California Prison Healthcare Services.

Kincaid continued that no inmates are refusing fluids or medications and that nurses conduct visual checks, sometimes two-to-four times a day, depending on the institution, to ensure people are not in conditions that require treatment.

“They have the right to refuse food. They have the right to refuse treatment. They have the right to starve themselves to death if they choose to ... physicians are bound by their ethics which means they have to do what the patient requires of them and if the patient refused treatment, they won't treat them ... they will not force feed anybody,” Kincaid added.

Demand negotiations

When asked if CDCR officials were negotiating or planned to begin talks with the inmates about their concerns, Terry Thornton, CDCR deputy press secretary, told The Final Call that it received the demands quite some time ago and evaluated each of them thoroughly. There were just some things it could do nothing about, like an extra day of visiting, a combined TV/radio unit or additional cable TV, for instance, she said.

But activists argue that the inmates' demands are not trivial as prison officials have made them out to be and they've launched an online petition to raise awareness and support. The petition had garnered 6,000 signatures at Final Call press time.

“If a person is guilty of some crime, they're paying for that through their incarceration but to enhance that by subjecting them to inhumane conditions, it may make some people feel good that they're being punished but that extracurricular stuff that goes on is beyond what their original sentence was,” Sadiki cautioned. He said that CDCR claims that inmates in the SHU are the worst of the worst, non-rehabilitative, amounts to misinformation and propaganda. Prison officials say the cells are used to house inmates who commit crimes that endanger the safety of others or the security of institutions, such as prison gang members accused of murder or attempted murder of another inmate.

Sadiki said that, like himself, many inmates are put in the SHU because of their political views, not a propensity to any violence. He served approximately five years in the SHU at Soledad State Prison in the 1970s.

“I've lived with these men and the misinformation that the CDCR is putting out is not factual ... these are brothers that would stand up to abuse and not accept (it) and as a result, our time was extended to an indeterminate sentence in the SHU program,” Sadiki countered. He said Pelican Bay is a new monster that is designed to break men's spirits. “Many of the men in the SHU have been there for over 30 years. To say there's no redemptive factors about them is untrue. A lot of them have supported me since I've been home. I've been deeply entrenched. I've adopted and raised three young children who are now adults and I'm raising my biological children. What I represent is much of what they represent but because they made the decision not to allow themselves to be abused, they've come up with a new game plan that if they can't break them physically, they'll break them emotionally and mentally.”

When Sadiki went in (around 1977), a typical day was waking up at 5:00 a.m. to exercise, and spend approximately three hours confined to his cell studying because back then they were allowed some books. Not today, according to Ms. Becnel.

She likened the Pelican Bay SHU to a mausoleum or graveyard with all concrete and hardly any windows. She said the cells are soundproof, causing sensory deprivation because they cannot communicate or hear. Inmates are allowed out of the SHU for one-and-a-half hours a day to walk around by themselves and when they receive mail, it's displayed on a monitor for reading.

They aren't allowed telephone calls, and according to what inmates have told her during previous visits. “When they eat tonight's meal, they're also eating yesterday's meal. The plates are brought to them with remnants of the previous day's meal still on the plate, so it's wet with old food and new foods piled on top of the old food,” Becnel said.

She said they have genuine human rights violations according to the international definition of torture.

Growing support

Canalas fasted for five days to show support for her son and the other inmates. She also helped to organize a host of events in Los Angeles between July 9-17, including an encampment at the KRST Unity Center and a rally in front of men's central jail.

“He said it's not something that they want to do but at this point people have been trying to get the message out for years and they feel it's important that they do their part, whatever it takes. It's not one culture, one individual, one group, but in solidarity and unity and they wanted it to be peaceful above all,” Canalas told The Final Call.

Also on July 9, in San Francisco, approximately 150 family members, activists and other supporters held a rally at the U.N. Plaza.

Dorsey Nunn of the All Of Us Or None Prison Advocacy Organization and executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, helped to organize the rally.

“This event is real significant in reframing what they are doing to human beings. Though the hunger strike itself will not make the California Department of Corrections bend, it's our voices that will,” Nunn said.

Nunn told The Final Call, “For those of you who have seen the movie ‘Roots,' Pelican Bay is where they send people to teach them how to stop calling themselves ‘Kunta Kinte' and begin referring to themselves as ‘Toby.' It's where they try to break the spirit of men.”

“I know personally what's happening in those prisons and I've protested myself many times in solidarity with other inmates while I was in there. I would advise people to stay vigilant in their efforts to see justice done for all those who are suffering in there,” stated Caramad Conley, recently released after serving 18 years for a wrongful conviction.

Crisis at Bethune-Cookman University, Part 4

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The Florida Courier investigates the turmoil at Florida’s largest private HBCU. This week – Eight instructors fired; eight lawsuits filed against the school. A common theme: Lack of due process.

By The Florida Courier Staff –

(NNPA) A Florida Courier search of federal and state courts in which Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) has been sued reveals that at least eight lawsuits have been filed in less than two years against the school – and personally against B-CU President Trudie Kibbe Reed – by instructors or former high-level employees.

The Florida Courier also has learned that B-CU has been put on notice that two additional lawsuits are forthcoming – one by a female student who said she was raped on the college campus, but refused to press charges; and one by former B-CU Head Basketball Coach Clifford Reed, who was fired for allegedly refusing to cooperate with the school’s investigation into those same rape allegations levied against Reed’s son C.J. – a star on the men’s team – and C.J.’s B-CU teammates.

Various reasons, same theme

The plaintiffs filing the lawsuits were terminated for various justifiable reasons, at least from the school’s perspective – for criminal activity, for having sex with students, for abandoning the job, for poor performance, for falsifying academic credentials.

But the eight current lawsuits have common themes – that the individuals filing the lawsuit were all terminated from B-CU improperly, either in violation of the school’s own procedure, their employment contracts – or both.

Consistent with report

As the Florida Courier has reported for the last three weeks, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a non-profit group that represents the interests of college and university instructors around America, harshly criticized President Reed after she terminated seven B-CU instructors in 2009.

In October 2010, AAUP issued an extensive report that resulted in B-CU being listed as one of 49 institutions nationwide where conditions for academic freedom and tenure are considered to be "unsatisfactory." The report concluded that B-CU denied terminated instructors "virtually all aspects of academic due process" – a charge that virtually all of the lawsuits make.

Five of the seven instructors mentioned in that report sued the school – and Reed personally.

What and where

Two lawsuits were filed in federal court and allege violations of federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Leave Medical Act.

Six were filed in the state circuit court in the Daytona Beach-Volusia County area and allege violations of state law, including the Florida Whistleblower’s Act.

As to the "whistleblower" allegations, Reed is accused of firing instructors who allegedly "blew the whistle" on illegal acts they witnessed on campus: students with guns, sexual harassment, unsafe environmental conditions, embezzlement of funds and grants, campus theft, "ghost’’ workers, and unauthorized sale of school property – among other things.

Reputations destroyed?

The fact that five of the lawsuits were filed personally against Reed means that she may be personally liable for payment of money damages to the former instructors who filed the actions – if they win. Six of the eight lawsuits claim that as a result of how they were terminated, B-CU, Reed, or both destroyed their academic reputations to the point where they can no longer find work as teachers.

Last week, in a written statement, Reed seems to give little credence to the due process argument, saying "...our priority is to protect the welfare and safety of our students," especially with regard to protecting students against sexual harassment by teachers.

In the lawsuits the school has formally answered, the plaintiffs’ allegations have all been denied.

Florida Courier reporters Andreas Butler, Ashley Thomas, James Harper and Jenise G. Morgan all contributed to this report.

Kappa Alpha Psi Converge on Indiana to Celebrate 100 Years of Achievement

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Danny J. Bakewell, Jr., Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –

The Noble Men of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated celebrated their 80th Grand Chapter Meeting and the 100th year of their founding by going home to the founding place of the Fraternity (Indiana University). More than 20,000 members of Kappa Alpha Psi spent a week in Indianapolis, Indiana fellowshipping, paying tribute to the 10 Great Founders of the Fraternity and re-uniting with other members of the fraternity some they had not seen since their college days and others they had just met for the first time.

"This is a conclave like no other, this is a celebration of the achievements of our fraternity, its individual members and the brotherhood that we have all shared in Kappa" noted Fresno City Councilmember, Oliver Baines who was there representing the Fresno Alumni Chapter of the fraternity.

The week started off with 4th of July festivities for the members coming in to participate in the 80th Grand Chapter meeting and continued throughout the week with such notable events as an all star comedy show lead by famed members of the fraternity Cedric The Entertainer and Nephew Tommie of the Steve Harvey Show. It also featured a concert by Grammy award winning songstress Toni Braxton, who noted during her show "She Loved a Kappa Man."

Brothers from all over the world converged on Indianapolis to celebrate this noted occasion, Gil Brown, Vice Polemarch of the Western Province of Kappa, which represents all of the Western United States and Japan said of the 100th year anniversary of the fraternity: "The 80th Grand Chapter Meeting was a life changer. Walking on the campus of Indiana University one could visualize what it was like for our Founders, the 10 visionaries that formed an organization as relevant now as it was 100 years ago. "

The Grand Chapter meeting was not all fun and games, the brothers of Kappa also came to handle much of the business of the fraternity. Outgoing Grand Polemarch Dewayne M. Murray recapped his four years of overseeing the fraternity's operations by noting a number of the fraternity's accomplishments including raising more than $1 Million Dollars for St. Jude's Hospital, which focuses on providing free medical treatment for children. During Murray's tenure as Polemarch, it was also noted that Kappa had raised tens of thousands of dollars for Haiti relief victims, and hundreds of thousands of dollars for Piney Woods School, a boarding school adopted by Kappa Alpha Psi, which has a remarkably high rate of sending their students (predominantly African American Males) on to four year colleges and universities throughout the nation. It was also noted that Kappa Alpha Psi through its members played a major role in the campaign and operations of getting President Barack Obama and other key political figures throughout the nation elected during the past several years.

Grand Polemarch Dewayne Murray's administration lead a variety of community initiatives which under his administration has been called "One Kappa." The Murray administration also celebrated that this 30th administration of the fraternity has guided the fraternity into an outstanding financial position where during the meeting Kappa Alpha Psi Grand Keeper of Records & Exchequer Alfred "Al" White ceremonially burned the fraternities last note (line of credit) and celebrated that the fraternity was now moving into the next 100 years 100% debt free and in a very strong financial position. I was certainly noted and received by thunderous applause that this is an incredible accomplishment during these very challenging economic times.

After celebrating and honoring the past four years - and two terms - of now Past Grand Polemarch Dewayne M. Murray, the fraternity elected unanimously its 32nd Grand Polemarch William Randy Bates, Jr., Esq. who will now serve as the leader, and spokesman of the fraternity as it moves into its next century.

In his address to the members upon assuming this leadership post Polemarch Bates stated, "When a person ascends to a high office like the Grand Polemarch, he is compelled to reflect on the lives of those who were instrumental in their achievements. My humility takes me swiftly to that place, where a few people whose shoulders I have stood on, must be recognized."

To the members of the fraternity he charged, "My Brothers, we are on the Sesquicentennial train, filled with memories of a people who survived the middle passage, and the brutal aftermath of oppression; it's filled by elders and brothers continuing to implement our founder's vision; and the greatest anticipation that boys yet unborn, will hear the clarion call of Kappa, bidding them to meet us somewhere along the track in years to come, where they will crave to sit at the Kappa table.

I pray that God will sustain us throughout our journey, and that peace and love will abound, as we continue to walk by faith. Let us know for sure, that "the steps of a good man, are ordered by the Lord, obey His teachings and our journey will be safe and abounding with abundance."

California Brothers of the fraternity were well represented at this 80th Grand Chapter Meeting, Brothers from Los Angeles, Pasadena, Long Beach, Inglewood- South Bay, Anaheim-Irvine, Berkeley, Fresno, San Diego, Ventura, Vallejo-Fairfield and Monterey Alumni Chapters were all in attendance. Undergraduate members of the fraternity were equally represented by chapter members from USC, Loyola Marymount, Berkeley, Fresno State, UCLA, UCI, CSUMB, Occidental College and CSULB just to name a few.

James Batiste, Polemarch of Los Angeles Alumni Chapter when asked about his journey back to the home of Kappa stated, "The Los Angeles Alumni contingency of Kappa Alpha Psi was represented by over 80 members at this Centennial Celebration. The opportunity to reenact, reflect, and to return to where the Ten Founders started, all brought about a sense of gratitude and inspiration to all of us for their efforts. The experience truly touched every member present, from those who have been in the Fraternity for over 50 years, to those who have been in the Fraternity for only five Months. It was an experience which will never be forgotten, an experience which will inspire a vigorous reclamation effort, and one which will require all Kappa's to become vibrant community servants and contributors in Los Angeles and throughout our nation."

Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity was founded in 1911 at Indiana University (It should be noted that Indiana is home to the Ku Klux Klan) during a time when Black Men found life on a white campus like Indiana University very difficult. The men who founded Kappa Alpha Psi were: Elder Watson Diggs, Dr. Byron K. Armstrong, Dr. Ezra Dee Alexander, Atty. Henry Tourner Asher, Dr. Marcus Peter Blakemore, Paul Waymond Caine, Dr. Guy Levis Grant, Edward Giles Irvin, John Milton Lee and George Wesley Edmonds.

Will Black Unemployment Rates Affect Obama Re-Election Bid?

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

Recent U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) statistics show that Blacks are still the group hardest hit by the economic recession—showing a 16.2 percent unemployment rate in June. According to Politic365.com, it is unclear how Blacks will vote in 2012 and if Black joblessness will affect President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

Out of 14.1 million unemployed people, Hispanics are the second hardest hit with an 11.6 percent rate. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said that if Whites had the highest unemployment percentages, Congress would be outraged.

“Can you imagine a situation with any other group of workers… if 34 percent of white women were out there looking for work and couldn’t find it?” he said. “You would see congressional hearings and community gatherings. There would be rallies and protest marches. There is no way that this would be allowed to stand.”

The question remains whether unemployment rates will affect the Black presidential vote. According to Politic365, Black voting patterns will remain the same.

“…African Americans have remained loyal to the Democrat party, whether they’re economically prosperous or impoverished,” the article stated.

David Bositis, a senior researcher at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, agreed. He said Blacks understand Obama is struggling to get initiatives, such as health care reform, implemented because of the Congress divide.

“He’s not God. There’s a limit to what he can do while Republicans are in control,” Bositis said. “I doubt it’s going to have much effect on the election.”

But a New York Times, writer and statistician Nate Silver called the prediction of another Black vote sweep by Obama “quite fuzzy.”

In an article titled, “On the Maddeningly Inexact Relationship Between Unemployment and Re-Election” published June 2 in the Times, he wrote: “Historically, the relationship between the unemployment rate and a president’s performance on Election Day is complicated and tenuous.”

Silver’s analysis of presidential election results and unemployment rates show a correlation between voting and job rates.

“Unemployment increased by 1.9 percentage points over the course of Richard M. Nixon’s first term, but he won re-election easily,” he wrote. “The unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent from 5.3 percent, meanwhile, in Bill Clinton’s second term—but his vice president, Al Gore, could not beat Mr. Bush in the Electoral College.”

“…historically, the correlation between the unemployment rate and a president’s electoral performance has been essentially zero,” he said.

He also mentioned that presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush senior faced high unemployment rates when they lost their re-elections.

In the DOL report, unemployment rates have increased from March to June, with 545,000 being added to the jobless pool. At 9.2 percent, men had the highest unemployment rate over women, who were at an 8.1 percent rate.

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