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Freedom Possible for Thousands of Crack Offenders

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By Valencia Mohammed, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

A recent Supreme Court ruling may soon send home thousands of federal inmates convicted on crack cocaine charges. In 2007, it was reported in the AFRO that nationwide 19,500 federal crack offenders were eligible for reduced sentences.

From that group only 269 federal inmates from the District would be eligible over the next 30 years. Four years later, an estimated 12,040 current prisoners will be eligible to request reduced sentences. Only 139 District offenders are eligible.

“Beginning today, thousands of individuals across the country will get another shot at justice,” said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, in a Nov. 1 press release. "These people were forced to serve excessive sentences under a scheme Congress has admitted was fundamentally flawed, but, today, they can ask for long overdue relief.”

The US Sentencing Commission reported recently that Black offenders received relief from a mandatory minimum penalty least often in 34.9 percent of their cases, compared to White - 46.5 percent, Hispanic - 55.7 percent and other races 58.9 percent offenders.

In August 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), which reduced from 100:1 to 18:1 the disparity between crack and powder cocaine mandatory minimum sentences. Congress directed the US Sentencing Commission to follow suit and it reduced the sentencing guideline for crack offenses in accordance with the new law. The Commission then voted in June 2011 to make the reduced penalties for crack offenses retroactive. Those already serving prison sentences under the old guideline are now eligible to seek sentence reductions in court.

Impacted family member, Karen Garrison, said once the Fair Sentencing Act was passed it should have made sentences retroactive. “They did it for marijuana. Why can’t it be done in this case? “

Her sons, Lawrence Garrison and his twin brother, Lamont, were convicted on cocaine conspiracy that changed to cocaine base which gave them more time. Howard University graduates, the twins represented themselves pro se after the 2007 decision came down and successfully reduced their sentences.

Lawrence spent 11 years and eight months in prison. His sentence was reduced by 36 months with five years of supervised release. He works several jobs; a real estate agent, car salesman and health care coding specialist. “I came home in the middle of a recession. I was determined to make it. With the help of my friends from Howard, good things will continue to happen.”

On the other hand, Lamont, a political science major, served 13 years and five months. His sentence was reduced by 46 months. He is currently living in a halfway house waiting to be released. His family hopes things go well.

“Both of them wanted to be lawyers but not anymore. They’ve had enough of the judicial system,” said their mother. “African Americans always get the blunt end of the stick. D.C. didn’t do anything to assist impacted families.”

The changing attitudes in the criminal justice circles regarding crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing, which reached its ultimate expression with the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), date back to 1995, when the United States Sentencing Commission concluded the mandatory sentencing guidelines imposed under the provisions of the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act were onerous.

Congress passed the act in reaction to the prevailing national fears generated by the unfolding crack cocaine epidemic. The act stipulated a 100 to 1 ratio in sentencing severity be applied to defendants convicted of trafficking in crack cocaine as opposed to those convicted of powder cocaine trafficking.

Judges were restrained from exercising discretion over this sentencing requirement while considering individual case circumstances, as exemplified by the situation of the Garrison twins.

The commission determined that the rigidity of these sentencing provisions was excessive and communities of color were disproportionately impacted. In 1997, the sentencing changed to 5 to 1 then again to 20 to 1, in 2002. Finally the commission unilaterally changed the sentencing ratio to 10 to 1 in 2006.

The U.S. Supreme Court untied the hands of judges in applying sentences with its 2005 decision. In 2007, with Congress pressed to develop a solution, the court stepped forward to definitively invalidate the entire mandatory crack sentencing regime with its Kimbrough v. United States decision.

Inevitably, the fair sentencing legislation was brought forth, passed and signed into law, putting to rest the dubious distinctions that had been made between powdered and processed cocaine, a legal framework now reduced to tatters.

“Although the justice system has a list of all eligible inmates, unfortunately, the individuals must apply to be considered. The decision is not like a get-out-of-jail free card,” said Nkechi Taifa, senior policy analyst for the Open Society Foundations. “We made great accomplishments, but the battle has not been won. There are still thousands that fall into other categories that have not been affected by the decision.”

Researcher DeRutter Jones contributed additional material to this story.

Rev.Jesse Jackson Headlines Leadership Forum and Awards Dinner

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By Yussuf J. Simmonds, Managing Editor, Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –

(NNPA) This year marks the 13th Annual Rainbow PUSH Citizenship Education Fund awards dinner.

In addition to a Leadership Luncheon Forum focusing on Jobs, Business and the Economy, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rainbow PUSH Citizenship Education Fund (CEF) will hold the 13th annual awards dinner to celebrate his 70th birthday and 50 years of service.

Rev. Jackson has often taken the lead in challenging America to do in deeds, what it says in words - to provide positive action to its pretty-sounding words. Following in the footsteps of his mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he has sought to be inclusive and to establish just and humane priorities for the benefit of all people together on common ground across lines of race, culture, class, gender and belief.

The consistency of his work, in providing for the downtrodden, is a hallmark of the Reverend and Rainbow PUSH CEF. In addition to his work in human and civil rights, and nonviolent social change, Rev. Jackson believes that education is a leveling force and through the CEF, he helps students to realize their dreams.

According to PUSH CEF's website, "A hallmark of Reverend Jackson's work has been his commitment to youth. He has visited thousands of high schools, colleges, universities and correctional facilities encouraging excellence, inspiring hope and challenging young people to study diligently and stay drug-free." And to that end, CEF is a force in helping accomplish those goals.

The Sentinel spoke with Rev. Jackson about the two upcoming events and he said:

"We've come full circle from where Dr. King left us. Dr. King last movement was about the 'Poor People's Campaign;' we occupied the mall in Washington and we called it ' Resurrection City .'

"Today, they're occupying Wall Street and really, the agenda is the same: economic justice; we're free but not equal. Too few people have too much concentrated wealth made possible by government gifts and breaks. Too many people have too little and are neglected by government policy."

He emphasized the theme of the upcoming leadership luncheon - jobs , business and the economy - and his focus seemed to be a prelude of what's-to-come at that leadership forum.

"There are too many expensive unnecessary wars; plants are closing and jobs are leaving. Therefore, we must now restructure our economic priorities.

"The coming election will be a big deal and will determine whether the nation goes forward or backwards. The right wing is trying to restore the Tenth Amendment about state's rights to undermine voting rights and workers' rights to collective bargaining.

"Meanwhile, the issue of racial justice must be put back on the front burner because Black people are usually the last hired and the first fired. So here we go again - lost the most jobs in the recession; the most foreclosed homes; number one in infant mortality; number one in short life expectancy ... so we must use our strength to fight against these odds."

Then speaking briefly on the possible second term of President Obama, the Reverend continued, "It (the possible second term) must produce some targeted focus on the disparities in healthcare, and employment, and denial of access to capital ... and more of our youth in jail. There must be some targeted focus."

At the upcoming awards dinner, celebrating Rev. Jackson's birthday, the 2011 honorees will include Al Davis (posthumously); Jenifer Lewis - Actress, Aunt from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Soul Food, The Brothers; Hill Harper - CSI New York - actor, motivational speaker and author; Tommie Smith - Mexico City Olympic Champion; and Harry Johnson - CEO King Memorial Foundation.

Let Consumers' Action Go Beyond Bank Transfer Day

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Actions still needed on bank payday, overdraft fees and more

By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) Dissatisfaction with banking practices and policies have irritated, alienated and obligated customers in ways that did not seem fair at all. Although complaints ranged from mortgage lending and servicing to credit cards, the proverbial straw that broke was a new fee for use of debit cards.

In a series of late September announcements, many major banks advised customers of new fees. While some banks preferred monthly fees ranged from $3 to $5, others would test or ‘assess’ fees per purchase.

In the throes of a lingering recessionary economy, high unemployment, growing poverty, and not enough jobs for millions of Americans to be financially self-sufficient, consumers revolted with a coordinated national effort called “Bank Transfer Day”. November 5 was the designated day for consumers across the country to leave their banks and join local credit unions.

Yet many consumers chose to act right away. Before “Bank Transfer Day”, the Washington Post recently reported that over the past month, the National Association of Federal Credit Unions recorded a 350 percent increase in web traffic to its online credit union locator. The portal, www.CULookup.com matches visitors with institutions they might be eligible to join based on affiliations, such as school, employer or church.

According to Bill Cheney, CEO of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), “If all of the people signed up to participate in "Bank Transfer Day" on Saturday do so, and remain credit union members over the year that follows, those consumers will save a combined $4.8 million. Combine that with the $5 per month that they WON'T be paying in debit card fees, and you're up to $5.1 million.”

With consumers everywhere needing to contain costs and stretch dollars further, it would be wonderful if November 5 marked the beginning rather than an end to consumers acting in concert to change bank practices. Consumers clearly understood the new debit card fee; far less clarity surrounds overdraft fees, a nagging consumer nemesis. All too often, consumers do not know of these mounting charges until they receive a bank statement. According to research by the Center for Responsible Lending, bank overdraft fees cost customers $24 billion each year.

Although the Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection Act guarantees that banks can only assess these fees once a customer opts in, there is still something inherently unfair about an average $35 fee per debit card transaction instead of just declining a purchase and avoiding the fee. CRL research also found overwhelming consumer support for the fee-free denial.

Then there is the emergence of bank payday lending. This no-lose proposition for banks, deducts the full amount of an advance deposit loan -- plus fees from a customer’s next deposit. The result for the customer is the same turnstile of debt wrought from storefront payday lenders. Each year, the cycle of debt caused by payday loans – regardless of the lender – costs 12 million consumers $1.4 billion in fees alone.

Whatever results from Bank Transfer Day, one thing is as commendable as it is memorable: Consumers have moved from anger to direct actions in their own defense. The collective power of millions of nameless, faceless consumers was claimed.

Here’s hoping that power will be preserved and wielded to enact more progressive change.

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Black Reparations Update: More than Mere Chump Change!

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By William Reed, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) What do you think of reparations for the descendants of slaves? Over the next year African Americans will have an opportunity to illustrate their political priorities. Do you believe African Americans will yield to symbolism of re-electing Barack or rekindle the movement to be paid just reparations?

Who among us can disagree that racial discrimination, slavery and Jim Crow are the reasons for African Americans’ economic inequities? America ’s most contentious issue today is the same as it’s been for 150 years: That the descendants of American slaves should receive compensation for their ancestors’ bondage and unpaid labor. To most Americans it’s unfathomable that reparations be paid for slavery. But, “Slavery” is internationally recognized as a crime for which there is no statute of limitations. Slavery flourished in the United States from 1619 to 1865, in an inhumane deprivation of Africans’ lives under which they were held against their will, treated as property, and forced to work without compensation. American slavery was followed by 100 years of government-led-and-supported denial of equal and humane treatment that included Black Codes, convict lease, sharecropping, peonage, and Jim Crow practices of separate and unequal accommodations that lasted until the 1960s.

During the period of slavery the U.S. Capitol and White House were built for free and the nation became most prosperous in the world. Calculations of many of our ancestors’ coerced and uncompensated labor total more than $700 trillion in today’s money. Millions of contemporary African Americans suffer as a direct result of slavery and Jim Crow; yet Black Americans refuse to engage in conversations about reparations for slavery.

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and chattel slavery descendants continue to be denied their rights of inheritance and full economic opportunities. Mainstream Americans refuse to engage in discussions about reparations despite the fact that American laws and practices continue treating Blacks in unequal manners in virtually every area of life including law enforcement and penal system, healthcare and life expectancies, education and wealth.

More is owed to American descendants of slaves. What can be done to atone for the sustained and heinous crime that occurred? Who among us gained from the capture and sale of human beings? Who were their benefactors? What did past laws have to do with the fact that Black households of today still have barely one-tenth the net worth of White households? A comparison of the quality of life for Blacks and Whites in categories related to economics, health, education, civic participation and social justice shows the overall well-being of African Americans barely three-fourths that of Whites.

In January 1989, Detroit Congressman John Conyers (D) introduced House Resolution Bill 40, the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. The bill advocates for the federal government to undertake an official study of the social, political, and economic impact of slavery on our nation. It is designed to create formal dialogue on the issue of reparations through a national commission established to examine the impact of slavery and continuing discrimination against African-Americans and make recommendations concerning any form of apology and compensation.

As we move toward the 2012 election, the symbolism of having a Black in the White House pales in the light of what the payments of righting the wrongs of slavery and Jim Crow would total for descendants of American slaves. These injustices are the root cause of many critical issues affecting African-Americans today. The question is whether Black Americans will throw their political clout behind post-racial silliness, and not address the subject of reparations or initiate constructive dialogue on the role of slavery and racism in shaping present day conditions. Reparations can begin the healing process in a nation that has been divided on the basis of race for centuries.

Blacks need to note how the legacy of slavery and its vestiges contribute to current societal and economic inequality. Hopefully, this will lead more of us to support H.R. 40 and lend voice to demands that any and all political contenders commit to appropriate determination and allocation of reparations.

William Reed is available for speaking/seminar projects via BaileyGroup.org

Billboards Claim 'GOP Is The New Black'

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Special to the NNPA from the Florida Sentinel Bulletin –

Conservative activist, Apostle Claver Kamau-Imani, who recently said that Democrats are the party of the Klu Klux Klan is the prominent image on two of the four ads, which the group hopes will “stir up a storm on the plantation.”

The signs definitely have people talking. One sign in particular that hangs over Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard in East Austin is drawing mixed reviews from residents there. It says: Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Republican. But this is a controversial claim that has never been substantiated.

Austin NAACP president Nelson Linder said that he feels the signs are disrespectful and that Black voters should vote based on whether issues that affect the community, including unemployment and police brutality, are addressed by either party.

“Martin Luther King was about civil rights and social justice. That’s not the current Republican Party.”

The signs are also up in Houston, Ohio and South Carolina. These are areas where high concentrations of people of color typically vote democratic.

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