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Jill Scott to be Honored at Essence Grammy Celebration

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Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

Essence will kick off a yearlong commemoration of the 45th anniversary of its magazine in 2015 with a Black Women in Music Grammy Awards Week celebration that will honor recording artist Jill Scott.

Now in its sixth year, Black Women in Music will honor the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter for her incredible achievement, singular artistry and powerful storytelling.

“Jill Scott is the quintessential Essence woman. Like many of the female artists who inspired her — she has touched the collective soul of women across generations,” said Vanessa K. DeLuca, Essence editor-in-chief.

For the first time, Essence will invite fans to join a host of industry influencers for the invitation-only event on Feb. 5, 2015, which will include an exclusive performance from Scott as well as several featured performances representing the classic eras in music — ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and beyond.

“Essence was groundbreaking in its founding 45 years ago, as is Jill Scott in her impact on music and the arts,” said Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence. She is a fearless innovator, and it is our honor to continue to build community by bringing together music industry influencers and fans during Grammy Week for an epic celebration.”

Established in 2010, Essence Black Women in Music heralds the accomplishments of both emerging and established artists and influencers during Grammy Week. Previous celebrants include Mary J. Blige, Kelly Rowland, Janelle Monae, music industry veteran Sylvia Rhone and singer-songwriters Solange, Lianne La Havas and Emeli Sande.

The 2015 Essence Black Women in Music event is sponsored by Lincoln, Colgate Optic White and Glade. Stay tuned to essence.com for highlights and behind-the-scenes access. Follow on Twitter and Instagram @essencemag #EssenceRedCarpet. Join in the discussion on Facebook.

Feds Seeking Expanded Education for Incarcerated Youth

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA)  – In an effort to provide sufficient educational opportunities for incarcerated youth,  the Department of Justice and the Department of Education have released a joint corrections guidance for state educational agencies, a move expected to help Black youth, a group confined to juvenile correctional facilities at higher rates than their White peers.

Taking cues from the “My Brother’s Keeper” Task Force report released earlier this year that recommended reforming “the juvenile and criminal justice systems to reduce unnecessary interactions for youth and enforce the rights of incarcerated youth to a quality education,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that students in juvenile justice facilities need a world-class education and rigorous coursework to help them successfully transition out of facilities and back into the classroom or the workforce becoming productive members of society.

“Young people should not fall off track for life just because they come into contact with the justice system,” Duncan said, during a recent visit to the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center Alexandria, Va.

The Education Department said that “60,000 young people face confinement in juvenile justice or secure-care facilities nationally every day,” costing nearly $90,000 per person annually.

According to The Sentencing Project, a group that advocates for criminal justice reform and seeks to address unjust racial disparities and practices in the criminal justice system, “Despite a drop in overall arrest rates nationally, Black youth are still twice as likely to be arrested as White youth.”

Even though Black youth comprise just 14 percent of the juvenile population, the Sentencing Project reported that young Blacks represent 40 percent of young people locked behind bars. White youth account for 53 percent of all youth and 33 percent of incarcerated youth.

The Correctional Education Guidance calls for education services for detained youth to be similar to programs found for students in community schools equitable accommodations for children with disabilities housed in correctional facilities and access to some types of federal financial aid, including Pell grants for incarcerated students that meet the eligibility requirements and clarification on civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination “students in traditional public schools also apply to educational services and supports provided to youth in juvenile justice residential facilities.”

The guidance also said that states and state educational agencies need to work to identify students who may have undiagnosed disabilities in order to get them the academic support that fits their needs.

A report by the National Center for Education Statistics found that between 1998 – 2007, 12 percent of Black students, 6 to 21 years old received support under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), compared to 8 percent of White students.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter that was released with the guidance package, Education Department officials wrote: “Absent a specific exception, all IDEA protections apply to students with disabilities in correctional facilities and their parents.  Supporting effective and accountable education for incarcerated and at-risk youth can result in cost savings to the public and enable troubled youth to obtain an education and enhance their future employment options and life choices.”

Even though students can’t receive Title IV student loans while incarcerated they can still apply for federal Pell grants as long as they’re confined to juvenile justice facilities that fall under local and county jurisdictions.

Students that are convicted of drug crimes as adults (possession and sales) risk suspension of their federal financial aid if the offense occurred while they were receiving assistance. This provision may disproportionately have a negative impact on Blacks who are arrested and convicted of drug crimes at higher rates than their White peers. Students that serve time for “a forcible or non-forcible sexual offense” and still face civil penalties once they are released are ineligible to receive Pell Grants.

During the announcement about the corrections guidance package, Attorney General Eric H. Holder said that all children deserve equal access to a high-quality public education and that includes children in the juvenile justice system.

“At the Department of Justice, we are working tirelessly to ensure that every young person who’s involved in the system retains access to the quality education they need to rebuild their lives and reclaim their futures,” said Holder. “We hope and expect this guidance will offer a roadmap for enhancing these young people’s academic and social skills, and reducing the likelihood of recidivism.”

Young Activists Push Obama on Police Reform

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In an oval office meeting that some have called “historic,” a group of young activists met with President Obama to discuss the crippling effects of police brutality in the Black community, the militarization of police departments and the need for systemic reform that sparked months of protests following the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, in Ferguson, Mo.

The young activists list of demands included: the demilitarization of local police departments, investing in community-led restorative justice programs, and enhancing data collection of police activity at the federal, state and local levels.

Tef-Poe, a St. Louis hip-hop artist said that the movement is gaining traction among young people and a bridge is also being built between the young activists and the older generation.

“People are starting to jump on board at an alarming rate and the next move is to sustain this and to push for real comprehensive accountability concerning racial profiling and police brutality,” said Tef-Poe.

Following his meeting with community stakeholders faith leaders and law enforcement officials on building trust between police and the community, President Obama said that when any part of the American family does not feel like it is being treated fairly, that’s a problem for all of us.

“It’s not just a problem for some. It’s not just a problem for a particular community or a particular demographic. It means that we are not as strong as a country as we can be,” Obama said.  “And when applied to the criminal justice system, it means we’re not as effective in fighting crime as we could be.”

The president announced a number of key proposals, including the creation of a task force that will identify best practices to build stronger ties between police departments and the communities they serve, reforming the controversial 1033 program and promoting the use of body cameras. The president said that he wants to invest $263 million, including $75 million to buy 50,000 such cameras.

According to a recent review of federal programs that send equipment to local law enforcement agencies (LEAs), “the programs reviewed do not necessarily foster or require civil rights/civil liberties training and they generally lack mechanisms to hold LEAs accountable for the misuse or misapplication of equipment. This variation among federal agencies makes tracking the overall effects, use and misuse of federal or federally-funded equipment difficult.”

Although the group was encouraged by some of the president’s proposals, Ashley Yates, co-founder of Millennial Activists United, a St. Louis-area civil rights group, said that there needs to be youth voices on the task force as well.

“There needs to be people of the Black community that are activists in that room, there needs to be people of the Black community who are most affected by this oppression in that room,” said Yates. “You have to allow space for people who are affected by this militarization and police brutality to define their oppression, so that we can actually frame the problem correctly.”

Jose Lopez, a lead organizer with Make the Road New York, a civil rights group focused on Latino and working class communities, said that collecting and sharing data on police activity is instrumental when it comes to holding police officers accountable when they break the law or violate a citizen’s rights. Right now, Lopez said, that data is either not being collected at the department level in municipalities across the country or the data being collected is not voluntarily shared.

Because the Justice Department relies on local police departments to self-report, police shootings and justifiable homicides, criminal justice experts believe those statistics don’t show a complete picture.

“It’s absurd that this is all voluntary,” said Lopez. “We need to set a precedent at the federal level so that states and cities fill the need to report.”

Lopez continued: “We need to make sure that we’re mandating reporting of police precincts the same way that we mandate reporting of schools in this country.”

Phillip Agnew, the executive director of the Dream Defenders, a diverse civil rights group founded by young people in the aftermath of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager in Sanford, Fla., said that the group of young activists appreciated the meeting with the president and that it was the result of decades and decades of work, organizing, and unrest.

“For it to be as historic as we believe it could be, we’ve got to deliver some meaningful policies,” said Agnew. “Until then, we and people across the country, are going to continue to take to the streets, we’re going to continue to disrupt the daily order, we’re going to continue to make sure that business does not happen as usual, until we see some meaningful reform and a clear indication, not only from the president’s office, but also from governors, mayors and police chiefs around this country that Black lives do truly matter.”

Yates said that the young people protesting police brutality and the militarization of state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide need to see President Obama use the power of his position to enact some real change.

“We have been on the ground making the changes that we can in our community, but these are high level changes that we need to see,” said Yates. “These are systemic issues and we need systemic solutions for them. We need policy and the backing of our Black president to say that this is a racial issue and that he stands behind us.”

Ferguson protesters scored a win in court last Thursday when Judge Carol Jackson of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri issued a temporary restraining order banning the use of “tear gas, smoke, pepper spray or other chemical agents against demonstrators without first giving a clear warning and a clear means of exit.”

The order also said that tear gas can’t be used against protesters to punish or frighten them for exercising their First Amendment rights, according to the press release.

In the press release, Denise Lieberman, a senior attorney with the Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights group, and one of the lawyers involved in the case said that the ruling sends a strong message that police acting under the Unified Command must respect the rights of protesters to demonstrate, and cannot use excessive tactics to curtail their message.

“Police overreach was exactly what people were protesting in the first place,” said Lieberman.

Justin Hansford, an assistant law professor at St. Louis University and a member of the Don’t Shoot Coalition, called the ruling an “important moment for the movement” that sprang up in the St. Louis suburb and spread across the nation.

“This sends a strong message to people here and across the country that tear gassing and assaulting peaceful demonstrators in the Unites States of America compromises our core values,” said Hansford. “The next step is holding police accountable for infringing on our vital human and constitutional rights.”

Americans Take to the Street to Protest Police Killings

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – On Saturday, thousands of Americans across the country registered their objection to police officers not being held accountable after killing unarmed citizens, many of them Blacks, by mounting massive demonstrations and rallies, the main one held here in the nation’s capital.

Organized by major civil rights organizations, the goal of the protest was to demand federal intervention in state prosecutorial systems that have failed to indict anyone in the police killings of victims such as Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and Pearlie Golden.

“We must have this nation deal with the fact that just like 50 years ago, the states have taken a position to rob the human rights and civil rights of citizens with states rights-protected laws,” said Al Sharpton, the rally’s chief organizer.

The demands by Sharpton included: expanding the powers for the Justice Department to investigate state prosecution procedures; national legislation to lower the threshold for grand jury indictments of police officers; and independent special prosecutors to examine potential cases of police brutality or misconduct.

The march drew a multiracial, intergenerational sea of sign-toting citizens from all over the nation.

Wanda Sharif, from Beaumont, Texas, had already been in Washington to help care for her grandchild, but extended her visit to attend the march. The grandmother of seven recalled marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at 11 years old, and attending all-White schools until enrolling at Spelman College in Atlanta.

“I’ve been doing this for three generations. I have to be here to document for my grandchildren, so they know I was here,” she says. “It’s important that everybody sees – not just America, but the whole world should see that we have not made all the progress and accomplished all that we thought we did. More and more eyes are opening. We’re still fighting for the same things we were fighting for in the ‘60s.”

Washington D.C. residents Albert and Andrea Elliott brought their 12-year-old grandson, Jeremiah, to use the march as a teachable moment.

“I brought my grandson to his first march so he understands that what he is doing is right. We’re teaching him solidarity…and that he can speak up and be nonviolent without being afraid,” she says. “We as a people have to stick together and be more involved…. We have to go to the source, where the laws are made, to put our foot on their necks.”

As they planned their attendance, Jeremiah asked about previous civil rights demonstrations, police violence, and tear gas.

“It’s not fair to kill Black people because you have the power and authority to do stuff like this that we can’t,” he says of his personal reasons for attending. “I don’t think it’s fair to kill Black people for no reason.”

University of Maryland students and Divine Nine fraternity members Marcus Davis, Justin Ferguson, and Akiel Pyant carried a “Black Lives Matter” banner.

“I’m here because I’m concerned about the future. If our grandparents went through this, and we’re going through this, Lord only knows what my grandchildren will go through,” says Davis, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

The light police presence blocked traffic and generally stayed out of the way as the loud but peaceful processional traveled six blocks to the main stage at the foot of the Capitol’s front lawn. Both national and international media were present, as well as union organizations, Black Greek letter organizations, civic and grassroots organizations, student groups, and families. Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ and ‘What’s Happening Brother’ met the marchers as they arrived at the main stage, where media trucks, government Suburbans, and a stilted press box overflowing with photographers flanked the crowds.

With the Capitol as a backdrop, the main stage featured a lineup of speakers including Representative Al Green (D-Texas), Newark, N.J. Mayor, Ras Baraka, Howard University Student Association President, Leighton Watson, and more. Activist and radio host, Joe “The Black Eagle” Madison served as master of ceremonies.

The lineup also featured the unexpected addition of a young contingent of Ferguson, Mo. protesters. At the gathering point before the march, where a different set of speakers addressed the crowd, about 15 members of the ad-hoc D.C. Ferguson group occupied the stage area, using chants and bullhorns to call attention to the fact that Ferguson protesters had not been invited as partners.

The group has been demonstrating since August, and was responsible for shutting down I-395 in protest last month.

Two DC Ferguson members and one Ferguson native and protester bypassed security and took to the stage. Security attempted to remove them without force. As the NAN speaker at the podium tried to speak over the commotion with calls for “respect for one another” and unity, Erika Totten, one of the D.C. Ferguson members onstage, used a bullhorn to say, “They have been out there for more than 100 days.”

After several minutes of heated exchange onstage between the contingent and several National Action Network organizers, the organizers allowed Totten to speak at the podium. She spoke very briefly then passed the microphone to St. Louis native and Ferguson protester, Johnetta Elzie.

“I’ve been in Ferguson for 127 days. I got shot one time with a rubber bullet standing on my neighborhood street. I’ve been tear gassed nine times in a neighborhood where I pay taxes, because I decided to exercise my First Amendment rights and go protest for the death of Mike Brown,” Elzie said. “This movement was started by the young people. We started this. It should be young people all over this stage.”

Afterward, an NAN representative approached the group and spoke to Totten about building an alliance.

At the main stage after the march, Rep. Green, Madison, and Sharpton addressed the discord between youth and grassroots actions, and those organized by civil rights leaders.

“We who are a little older, a little grayer, are proud of the young people speaking out,” said Madison, referring to youth protesters as young John Lewises and Fanie Lou Hamer, two civil rights legends.

Green echoed similar statements, adding that elders were not here to lead, but to “get out of the way.”

Sharpton added, “We don’t all agree with each other. We don’t all have the same tactics. But we all have the same goal, and that is equal protection under the law. This is not a Black march, or a White march…it is an American march for the rights of all American people.”

The Washington march was also the only one attended by the families of well-known unarmed Black male victims: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Lavar Jones, Cory Ball Jr., Trayvon Martin, and Amadou Diallo. All of the families were given time to speak.

“We’ve been here so many times. I know in 2000, when the four White officers were acquitted of killing my son, of all charges, I thought the world was ending,” said Kadiatou Diallo. Her unarmed son Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times by four New York Police Department officers in 1999. “…We said stop police brutality then. And today, 16 years later, we’re here demanding the same thing.”

After the march, traffic slowly reopened and the crowd mingled, making connections, walking back to chartered buses, and taking photos. Waiting for police to allow buses through, Washington resident Hassan Furtick encouraged his son to record the passing demonstrators and thank them.

“I don’t like [police shootings]. That could be mine. There’s no justice for us, but if it was one of theirs, there would be justice,” he said. He hadn’t talked to his son about the shootings, but ideas were already forming.

“People feel unsafe and not comfortable going outside. When there is an emergency you’re supposed to call 911. There’s no reason for people to have to feel unsafe,” says 11-year-old Hassan Furtick Jr. “Black people should not be living like this. People say Black people are not going to make it in life, and bad things will always happen to us, but we try to make it work. And we will keep trying.”

Black Officers: White Culture Impairs Policing Blacks

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By Chloe Herring
Special to the NNPA from The Miami Times


The failed indictments of police officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown have unleashed ideas that the Jim Crow era of racism is still disguised in U.S. society.

Recent images of hostility displayed toward mourning protesters in Ferguson, Mo. rehashed parallels to violent police tactics during the civil rights movement.

Those images ripped the Band-Aid off a sore that festered openly after a white police officer killed unarmed Brown. And while many police publicly defend the actions of cops, Black people across the country are angered by what many view as aggressive mistreatment.

To many, it seemed as though the country had been set back six decades.

POLICING BLACK-ON-BLACK


It was 60 years ago that the career began for one police officer who served Miami’s Black neighborhoods on a segregated police force. Archie McKay, 89, has witnessed the evolution of policing Blacks — a task that before 1944 was restricted to white officers only.

McKay said white policemen would create havoc in Black areas then abandon them to return home to the white parts of town.

“Most time the only time you saw white police officers is when a politician wanted to raid a number house or something happened like a murder or robbery that a black was accused of and you saw them run through like they were Gestapos,” McKay said. “You had white police officers who would come in the neighborhood and run rough shod over the people and get back on the other side. There was no communication.”

The lopsided power exerted by police on Blacks during the Jim Crow era mirrors phenomena targeting the same demographic today and throughout history. Relations between Blacks and the police in Miami have also been historically tense. Racist practices were central to police operation and kept Black and white police separated even 20 years after the city of Miami hired its first Black police officers in 1944.

McKay became a police officer 10 years later. In 1954 McKay was a tall, lanky young man who barely made the cut for weight at 145 pounds. McKay said the community’s perception of Black police was initially shaped by abusive white officers.

“Everybody didn’t accept Black police officers readily because of the way they were treated by white police officers. You were an Uncle Tom and ‘you’re just a white man’s snitch’ and all these kinds of things that were said,” he said.

‘WE ARE A COMMUNITY’


It took time for Black police to build the trust of their own communities. But McKay said two things were instrumental: the interaction from living and working in Overtown, Liberty City and West Grove and understanding Black culture.

“Most of us grew up in the neighborhood, attended the local schools and therefore we knew the parents, comrades, students and playmates,” McKay said. “That’s why we were so cohesive because we were a community in a small area designated to Blacks.”

Community engagement was key to that interaction Black police had, especially with youth. The police precinct held an annual ball, the Orange Blossom Classic Parade and started up the Police Athletic League. Segregation created a familial atmosphere that included even the Black men in blue.

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