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Housing Tussle Continues in St. Bernard Parish

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By Zoe Sullivan, Special to the NNPA from The Louisiana Weekly –

After Katrina, St. Bernard Parish issued an ordinance restricting rental of single-family dwellings to people related by blood. It also put a moratorium on the construction of multi-family dwellings. Both of these steps were perceived as efforts to prevent African-Americans from moving into the Parish, and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) won federal injunctions to overturn both of these policies.

Last week, the fight heated up again. After St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro urged council members to "stand with him" while adopting a "resolution to this challenge that incorporates the concerns of the federal agencies while maintaining our ability to govern locally." The Parish President's office told The Louisiana Weekly that the multi-family housing development being planned for the parish is of a high-density type that doesn't fit with the agency for Housing and Urban Development's current policies. "They tore down high-density housing in New Orleans," the Parish President's office said, questioning why similar housing would then be built in St. Bernard.

A press release from the GNOFHAC said that the organization filed a temporary restraining order against the parish because "St. Bernard Parish officials clearly stated their intent to violate the Fair Housing Act and the Consent Order by impeding the development of four mixed-income apartment complexes."

GNOFHAC Executive Director James Perry comments, "We are profoundly disappointed in Mr. Taffaro and other parish leaders for what is another backwards and wrongheaded step by the Parish to limit housing opportunities for people of color. We will continue to advocate in court and through HUD's processes until there is fair housing choice in St. Bernard Parish."

In his statement to the parish council earlier last week, Taffaro "acknowlede[d] and rebuke[d] discrimination both past and present.” But, he said, "The timing of the Provident project is wrong, the agenda is flawed, and the implementation is skewed. At the end of the day, the developers walk away with their profit, the tenants are herded away from home ownership opportunities in a recovering community, and the parish is left with the burden of being left with additional properties expanding the glut of existing rental and for sale housing."

Perry countered the assertion of surplus housing, citing statistics that 40 percent of pre-Katrina St. Bernard residents say that lack of housing is one of the factors that prevent them from returning to the parish. Additionally, Perry argued, a "state-of-the-art" hospital is being built within walking distance of the Provident development, which means that the new homes would be suitable for the facility's staff.

Parish officials say that they were forced by the federal government to re-issue a building permit to Provident Realty Advisors, Inc. although the original permit had expired and the firm didn't follow any re-application procedures.

According to the GNOFHAC, the current situation follows on the heels of a fifth motion for contempt that it filed against the parish in January, sustaining that the parish's actions violated the terms of a February 2008 Consent Order and the Fair Housing Act. The previous decree was extended through the end of this year by Judge Berrigan, who said that allegations against the parish, "if true, indicate that the parish is prepared to deviate from normal procedures in an effort to harass and delay Provident's ongoing construction."

Some of the steps Taffaro suggested in last week's council meeting for Provident include obtaining a wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, a release from the State Fire Marshal, and a review by the Water and Sewer Division.

"Their assertions are laughable," said Perry. "Provident Housing has done everything they have been obligated to do under the permitting process. ...they intend to stop the project regardless of whether [Provi­dent] do[es] anything right or wrong."

Perry also pointed out that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is considering withdrawing hurricane recovery funds from the parish as a result of this situation. Additionally, in an extremely rare move, HUD's Secretary has initiated a complaint process. Perry says that Secretary Shaun Donovan "saw activities that were so egregious that he decided to launch the complaint process against St. Bernard Parish."

Baltimore's 'Snoop' Drug Sting Raises Questions about War on Drugs

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

A federal drug trafficking sting, which netted 64 arrests in Baltimore, was lauded by federal officials but has introduced new arguments questioning the effectiveness of America’s war on drugs.

“Wherever criminal gangs bring violence to our streets, that is where we will direct the resources needed to send them to prison,” Baltimore U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement. “We must persist in this coordinated effort, because every American deserves to live in a safe neighborhood.”

A total of 40 people were charged by the state while 24 were charged federally. Authorities also seized marijuana, heroin, guns, and $69,000 in cash.

Among those charged was Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, 30, an actress on HBO’s “The Wire,” whose involvement made the case especially newsworthy. Pearson’s difficult upbringing led her to prior brushes with the law, including a murder conviction in 1996.

David Simon, producer of “The Wire,” said her arrest should be enough to prompt authorities to take a further look at the war on drugs.

“In an essay published in Time two years ago, the writers of ‘The Wire’ made the argument that we believe the war on drugs has devolved into a war on the underclass, that in places like West and East Baltimore, where the drug economy is now the only factory still hiring and where the educational system is so crippled that the vast majority of children are trained only for the corners, a legal campaign to imprison our most vulnerable and damaged citizens is little more than amoral,” he said in a statement.

He said that Pearson’s vastly different upbringing and environment from his own is one that makes him incapable of judgment.

“I, for one, do not qualify as a peer to Felicia Pearson,” he said. “The opportunities and experiences of her life do not correspond in any way with my own, and her America is different from my own.”

Despite Simon’s opinion, authorities say the arrests were necessary to further eliminate the scourge of drugs and violence on Baltimore’s streets.

“These arrests are representative of law enforcement’s commitment to keep this city safe from the violence and crimes associated with drug trafficking,” DEA Special Agent in-charge Ava Cooper-Davis said in a statement.

Education Secretary: 82 Percent of Schools May Miss 'No Child Left Behind' Goals

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapapers –

Changes to the No Child Left Behind program must be made before the abandonment of America’s at-risk children to failure becomes more deeply engrained, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a House committee last week.

“No Child Left Behind is broken and we need to fix it now,” Duncan told the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Duncan said that 82 percent of U.S. schools could fail to meet the education goals set by No Child Left Behind—up 45 percent from last year. Duncan wants Congress to examine the Bush-era law to make sure students are getting the best education possible.

“This law has created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed,” Duncan said. “We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible, and focused on the schools and students most at risk.”

Duncan argued that the law requires all states to use uniform standards in how they meet Adequate Yearly Progress; a measure he said prevents states and local jurisdictions from tailoring their curriculum to meet the needs of students.

However, some disagree with Duncan’s assessment, claiming that changing the law would give underperforming schools a free pass.

“If we're going to try, in the name of closing the achievement gap, to whitewash the underperformance of schools, that's really regrettable,” Bush administration Education Secretary Margaret Spellings told The Washington Post.

Duncan has seen resistance on his own education policies. Duncan’s “Race to the Top” plan tied federal compensation to academic achievement, but many officials at at-risk school districts said education should be funded on the basis of need and not achievement.

“There’s a tremendous problem with “Race to the Top” and it’s fundamental,” Nathan A. Saunders, president of the Washington Teacher’s Union, told the AFRO last year. “The structure is that we are going to reward achievement. The problem is not all children achieve at the same level or at the same time.”

At last week’s hearing, committee members largely listened to Duncan without offering criticism, and agreed with the need for change to the American educational system.

“Although we may not always see eye-to-eye, you and I share a belief that the current system is broken and in desperate need of repair,” Rep. John Line, (R-MN), told Duncan during the hearing

Angry Workers March, Fight Back as Wages Fall and Rights Threatened

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By Saeed Shabazz, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) - William Peterson, 46, the son of a Hartsville, South Carolina, brick mason, has worked at the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx for the past four years.

Now he is in a fight to keep his $24.50 an hour union job. Management wants to lay him and 23 other workers off, saying it is cheaper to outsource their work to a private contractor.

“My father was good at what he did, but he made little money to feed his family,” Peterson told The Final Call after a rally and march against his Woodlawn Cemetery bosses. “We are taking a stand —fighting for what is ours —because if we don't, workers will be returned to the days of slavery,” he said.

The conversation quickly turned to what was going on in Madison, Wisconsin, where pro-labor activists had started street protests and marches to the state house to protect the right to organize and fair treatment for young, poor, and working class Americans. “Seeing people in the struggle, standing up for the rights of all workers to organize, means a lot to us here in New York,” Peterson said.

“It's time for the labor movement here in the U.S. to grow up; the rank-in-file here in New York and in Wisconsin have been held in check by union leadership for too long,” said Chris Silvera, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local 808, the local union negotiating the new contract for the Woodlawn workers.

“A movement has emerged; we are seeing it in the streets of Wisconsin—in the actions of public employees—who are standing against the destruction of their right to organize,” Silvera told The Final Call.

So, from the streets of New York City, to the state house at Raleigh, N.C., to San Francisco, California, Des Moines, Iowa, and the Capital building in Madison, Wisconsin—angry workers were on the march, fed up with wage and pay concessions and angry over efforts to curtail collective action used to improve wages and working conditions.

For a moment, Clarence Thomas, an executive board member of the San Francisco-based International Longshoreman and Warehouse Association, Local 10 and a member of U.S. Labor Against the War revisited history. He recalled that in the 1880s, when workers held rallies, marches and strikes, the end result was the eight hour day and end to child labor. A four-day strike in 1934 in San Francisco ushered in ILWU, Local 10, he added.

“What is happening today in the Midwest has been working its way since the days of ‘Reaganomics' when organized labor was attacked—now it is the crisis of capitalism—but it must have been seen as a movement to basically lower the aspirations of America's working class,” Thomas argued.

“It takes time—and the conditions have to be right—which they are; and we are ready to push the ‘Tea Partyers' into the sea,” Silvera said. He was referring to the political alliance of conservatives that some analysts say are hiding union-bashing policies behind the threat of fiscal crises and are ready to “eviscerate” the middle-class in America.

“Make no mistake, the next election is the real target of this anti-public sector union movement,” said Dr. Ray Wimbush, of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

“The real issue for White conservatives is to knock out the unions, which are driven by Black membership, in particular AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees)—you know the janitors, the housekeepers—who contribute heavily to the Democratic Party, from being able to donate to President Barack Obama's second-term run,” he said.

All of this is also part of an effort to destroy any chance of American workers mounting a defense against the conservative onslaught—as the right wing pushes media stories claiming public sector unions pensions are bankrupting states, Dr. Winbush continued.

“It is easy to see that with just seven percent of American workers now in unions, there won't be any real public outcry when scab workers are brought in,” he added.

A well-financed, well-orchestrated, and well-coordinated campaign is being waged by Republicans, the Tea Party and other right-wing ideologues, with the backing of corporate dollars to the tune of $5,000 to $50,000 from businesses such as Wal-Mart, American Express, Coors, Texaco, GlaxoSmithKline, Philip Morris, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, the Corrections Corporation of America and the Koch Industries.

These practices have remained hidden from public view, but are now exposed for all to see, analysts said. “The genie is out of the bottle,” said Sharon Black of the Bail Out the People—Not the Banks/Baltimore Chapter, who is on the ground in Madison, Wisconsin.

People are starting to see corporations and politicians have been working together for some time now in effort to take away rights from workers, not just in the public sector, but also the private sector, she said. The Democrats have been “sending out mixed signals about their concern for the middle-class,” she said.

“I don't understand what middle-class the Democrats are talking about,” said Thomas. To be middle-class you have to be making between $100,000 a year to $250,000 a year, he said.

“The people that are being trampled on with this right-to-work aren't making $75,000 a year; so the politicians are blowing smoke about wanting to stand up for the middle-class worker.”

“Through what is happening here in Wisconsin a national movement is being structured, some 40 union representatives from both coasts are here,” Black said. “All of them are focused on stopping Gov. Scott Walker's bill that would dismantle the union rights of 1,000 public sector workers.”

In Virginia, Montana, Ohio, Iowa, and several other states, bills have been introduced to incorporate anti-collective bargaining laws into their respective state constitutions.

There is also a movement to end the dues-check off, which the right wing calls “paycheck protection” laws. This legislation passed in Alabama, Utah, Idaho—and is being pushed in Wisconsin as well as Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, and Missouri.

This “budget bill,” as the Wisconsin law is called, would deny public workers collective bargaining rights over anything except wages, according to activists.

Most of these workers, who work in state government and public jobs, are not high paid and privileged as the corporate media has portrayed, they added.

“Walker's actions are a signal to big business minded governors in all states that this is the way to go,” argued Saladin Muhammad, national chairman of the Black Workers for Justice and an executive member of the N.C. Public Service Workers Union-UE Local 150.

On Feb. 22, a coalition of labor activists, the NAACP, other civil rights organizations, and religious leaders rallied in front of the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh, calling for an end to N.C. law banning public employees from collective bargaining.

The law has been in place since 1959.

The protestors in North Carolina noted that Black workers earn higher wages and receive better workplace protections through bargaining.

According to Muhammad, the Black worker is the “800 pound gorilla” in the room.

“Across the country, about 30 percent of public sector workers are Black,” Muhammad said. “It was the civil rights and Black power movements that brought most Blacks into public sector jobs and now there is an attempt to portray the public sector as charity for Black people.”

Black and White workers are being pitted against each other, but this strategy is starting to backfire, he argued.

“In my opinion the term ‘middle-class' is a code word for White people,” said Ms. Black. “The media likes to portray White public sector workers as being better off, compared to the low-wage Blacks,” she said. “But, now White workers in places such as Wisconsin are being hit with the same red pen.”

Junious Ricardo Stanton, internet radio host and producer of the Digital Underground and The Cyberspace Sanctuary, told The Final Call class warfare in the U.S. is heating up.

“The goal of the super-rich and their flunkies in government is to accomplish in the U.S. what their totalitarian idols did in Germany and Russia, shut down or co-opt the union movement,” said Stanton. “This is part of their overarching plan to gut the middle class and usher in a neo-fascist police state in this country.”

Currently some 16 states are weighing laws to trim the power of unions, including New Jersey, Michigan, Idaho, Tennessee, Indiana, and Florida.

Brenda Stokely, the eastern regional organizer for the Million Worker March, said no one wants to talk about “the greatest rate of public sector workers has been Black African-descendent women,” who have risen up from the welfare movements into these unions—but the unions tend to want to overlook their role.

“The cosmetic face of union leadership must change in order to fight this public warfare,” Stokely said. “If a real movement is to be built, workers must realize they need a leadership that is militant.”

AIDS Network to Brothers: 'Man Up,' Attend Conference

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By James Harper, Special to the NNPA from the Daytona Times –

Black males in Volusia County are being asked to "man up’’ when it comes to learning about their HIV/AIDS status.

"More Blacks in Florida are living with HIV or have died from AIDS than any other racial or ethnic group," according to information provided by the Florida HIV/AIDS Minority Network.

"Man Up" is a Department of Health men’s initiative focusing on sexually active men who account for the majority of HIV/AIDS cases in Florida. The initiative encourages men to "Man Up" and become involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS and to accept responsibility for the consequences of their sexual actions.

Conference to be held at B-CU

The Volusia/Flagler Minority AIDS Network is hosting a "Man Up" Conference on Saturday, March 26 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Bethune-Cookman University’s L. Gale Lemerand School of Nursing. The event will include lunch.

The free conference will include breakout sessions about sexually transmitted diseases, misconceptions about HIV and HIV and the church. Free rapid HIV testing and flu shots will be available.

Tabitha Robinson is the Minority AIDS coordinator for this region based out of Jacksonville.

Women can attend

The Florida HIV/AIDS Minority Network was restructured in January 2007 to become more inclusive of all racial/ethnic minorities, improve communications, provide better coordination and eliminate duplication.

"We expect to be able to educate attendees and make them aware of what is going on in our community in reference to HIV/AIDS," Robinson said.

Robinson, who says women are also welcome to attend, added that those attending will be taught how to practice safe sex and can learn their HIV status.

HIV/AIDS has disproportionately impacted the African-American community because of the stigma, she stated.

She says many feel ashamed if diagnosed with the disease and "they are afraid of being associated with the disease."

In spite of the fact that HIV/AIDS has been around for decades, Robinson says there is still a lack of education.

"They (Black men) are not aware of how they can be infected and are afraid to be tested," she added.

Special presentation

Teresa White, also known as "Condom Miranda," will be one of the speakers at the event.

White, a Minority AIDS coordinator, created a character-based HIV prevention presentation called "Spicin’ up Prevention" with Condom Miranda."

White as Condom Miranda has received many awards from the community during the last eight years of performing throughout Florida and Georgia. She has received national media attention for her presentation.

She is an active volunteer in the community for the Gainesville Rosa Parks Quiet Courage Committee where she serves as the secretary for the committee; a member of the local NAACP branch in Gainesville; chairperson for the Alachua County Health Department Linguistic Access Resource committee; and an adjunct Medical Spanish instructor for University of Florida Medical School.

White is also the founder and facilitator of Positives Empowering Positives, an HIV/AIDS Support group that meets in Alachua County.

 

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