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Justice Department Issues Scathing Report on New Orleans Police Department

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By Lee A. Daniels, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

A U.S. Department of Justice report on the New Orleans Police department released last week has described it as wracked by a culture of incompetence and corruption that is “serious, systemic, wide-ranging and deeply rooted” and in need of complete reform.

The city’s police force, which nearly completely collapsed when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005, has been the subject of multiple city, state, and federal investigation since then. Some of these probes have led to criminal indictments and convictions of more than a dozen officers thus far for unprovoked lethal and deadly use of force against innocent citizens in the storm’s aftermath.

But, this investigation, conducted by the federal agency’s Office of Civil Rights, deliberately did not consider those cases. In one sense, it didn’t need to because, it stated, pointedly, “these serious deficiencies existed long before” Hurricane Katrina struck.

In fact, the department was enmeshed in scandal in the 1990s after a series of criminal convictions of police officers – including the conviction of two for murder – exposed widespread problems. But, its deterioration in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, with a wider national and even international audience looking on, has forced the concerted, multifaceted effort at reform now underway.

New Orleans Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu, elected in February 2010, last year asked the Justice Department for a “top to bottom review” of the beleaguered police force, one that would help him bring about its “complete transformation.”

Certainly, the resulting document leaves no doubt that a complete transformation is vital. For, believing its prosaic title, “Investigation of the New Orleans Police Department,” it is one of the most damning indictments of an entire police department – and, implicitly, of a city governmental structure responsible for its oversight – in the modern history of policing.

The report states that, bolstered by its unwillingness to adhere to seemingly basic rules and bureaucratic procedures, the New Orleans force indulged in “patterns or practices of unconstitutional conduct and/or violations of federal law” so pervasive and constant that they came to be routine. They include: unwarranted use of force; illegal stops, searches and arrests; rampant discriminatory behavior toward New Orleanians of color, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered citizens; and, often, women who reported that they has been sexually assaulted. Not surprisingly, sanctions against police officers who abused their positions were virtually non-existent.

One of the more striking indications of the depth of the department’s managerial incompetence cited in the report was that its canine unit was so badly mismanaged—the police dogs were so badly trained—that they often attacked their own handlers.

These attitudes and practices made New Orleans itself less safe for its law-abiding citizens, the federal report stated, in part because police officials had often failed to investigate actual crimes and because their behavior produced a widespread distrust of the department among many citizens that inhibited their calling on or cooperating with police officers when they witnessed a crime being committed.

In fact, the report states, New Orleans criminal courts have trouble empanelling juries because so many prospective jurors say they wouldn’t trust the sworn testimony of police officers.

“There is nobody in this room that is surprised by the general tenor and the tone of what this report has to say,” Mayor Landrieu said at a news conference in New Orleans.

He was flanked by Thomas E. Perez, the Assistant U.S. Attorney General in charge of the department’s Office of Civil Rights, and New Orleans’ police chief, Ronal Serpas, and other city and federal officials. The city and the Justice Department will sign a consent decree that maps out specific avenues of reform, which will be overseen by the federal court.

They said that Chief Serpas has already begun making substantive reforms of the department, aided by a revision of some civil service rules to give him more flexibility in hiring, shifting, and firing personnel within it and the report pointedly praises what it describes as “a remarkably strong shared commitment to the City [among New Orleanians] that spans race, class, and neighborhood … [and] provides a strong foundation upon which to transform” the police department.

Lee A. Daniels is Director of Communications for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and Editor-in-Chief of TheDefendersOnline.

More Red Light Cameras to be Placed in Heavily Black Communities in Florida

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

The Rev. Victor Gooden and his wife were involved in an accident in April 1991 on the corner of Orange Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Daytona Beach.

Both he and his wife were injured by someone who ran a red light at that intersection. At the time, there were no cameras and no way to identify who was driving the car.

Gooden, who is an advocate for cameras at intersections to catch red light runners, related this story to Daytona Beach commissioners at a meeting last October when they decided to approve installing cameras at selected intersections throughout the city.

The pastor said he is in support of the program because he believes that behavior can be controlled. "Behavior is controlled by guidelines and rules; the commission sets the rules to make it safer," he said.

Penalties imposed

The camera captures a picture of a car’s license plate while it’s running a red light. A fine is then mailed to the owner of the car.

The owner of a car caught driving through a red light where the cameras are installed will receive a $158 citation. The state gets $83 of the money and the city collects $75. Tickets will begin to be issued on April 4.

Daytona Beach city officials have received permission from the Florida Department of Transportation for five locations it requested to have red light cameras installed, according to the city’s public information officer.

The contractor recently began installing cameras at International Speedway Boulevard and Clyde Morris. It takes about two weeks to install five cameras, which includes running cable and pouring concrete for the bases, said Susan Cerbone, spokesman for the city of Daytona Beach.

"There is a 30-day warning period before notice of violations is issued. The intersections were selected based on crash data," she explained.

Cameras pose concerns

The first five intersections are: Nova Road and US 92, Nova Road and George Engram Boulevard, Nova Road and Mason Avenue, Ridgewood Avenue (US 1) and US 92; and Clyde Morris Boulevard and US 92.

Four of the five intersections are located in the majority Black section of the city.

Some critics have raised concerns about drivers who may be ticketed unfairly due to the sensitivity of the cameras.

"It’s about behavior modification. We are looking for people that are blowing the red lights. The objective is to reduce crashes," Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood told the commissioners.

Chitwood said the red light cameras also would help catch criminals. "If you do a drug deal or rob a bank, you are not stopping at that red light and sometimes we don’t get any information other than it was a blue car. If the car goes through a red light, it gets the license plate number... it gives us a starting point that we may not have had to begin with," he said.

Bill opposes law

Daytona Beach City commissioners approved the installation of the cameras last October with a vote of 5-2.

At least one Florida senator Rene Garcia wants the red light law approved last year repealed and has filed a bill to do so.

The law is an "unwarranted, big-brother initiative," said Garcia, R-Hialeah in a statement last month announcing he had filed the bill (SB 672).

If Garcia’s bill were to pass, the measure would require cameras be removed from state roads by next July. At least 50 communities in Florida had red light cameras last year.

The main objections have been that the cameras violate drivers’ civil liberties, a fear of wrongful ticketing, and that they gouge unsuspecting residents.

A study released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that red light cameras saved 159 lives during a four-year period ending in 2008 in a study of 14 major U.S. cities.

 

Obama as Hitler Image Angers Store Patrons in Florida

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By Nicolas Grizzle, Special to the NNPA from The Community Voice –

A protest outside a Rohnert Park supermarket drew police involvement last week thanks to a controversial sign featuring President Obama with a Hitler-style moustache.

"Obama has done so much for us," said Rita Stedman, a German woman who was upset by the sight of the poster. "This is a nice town, Rohnert Park, why here?"

Activists for the LaRouche Political Action Committee set up tables and signs outside Raley's and refused to budge, despite multiple requests to vacate by the market's staff and shoppers.

Police were on scene, but told Store Director Brian King they had a legal right to be there.

The shopping center is owned by Codding Enterprises, and King said police were looking into the legality of the gathering.

"This is killing our business right now," said another employee.

The protestors were not involved with, or cleared by Raley's management. "It's not Raley's at all," the employee said.

The reason for the attention-grabbing poster is Obama's health care bill, said Nicole James, who was one of the two women gathering signatures for the LaRouche Political Action Committee. "Hitler's health care bill... is an exact replica of Obama's health care bill," she said.

James, 28, is an African-American woman from Los Angeles. Her partner, Myhoa Steger, is 34 and has worked full time gathering signatures for the committee for the past eight years.

Steger said she was surprised at the opposition to the images, saying the response was not as negative in other cities she had been. "This is a really strange town, it's messed up."

James said about 15 people had signed up to receive more information in the four hours they were in front of the store.

Shopper Mary Jane Guerra was offended by the image on the poster. She said the two women started singing the National Anthem when she asked them to leave. "This is just not right," she said.

"Some people have an emotional response instead of thinking things through," said James.

Nicole James, left, and Myhoa Steger drew the ire of several Raley's customers in Rohnert Park with their image of President Obama with a Hitler mustache on Tuesday. They are activists for the ultra-right LaRouche Policital Action Committee.

Duncan: Ban Schools with Poor Graduation Rates from NCAA Tournament

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By Perry Green, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

If a school can’t keep at least half of its athletes on pace to graduate, it should not compete for a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship and be cut out of the multi-million dollar post-season pay-out, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said last week.

In a crusade launched in the early stages of the NCAA basketball championship tournaments, Duncan zeroed in on the failure of 10 of the 68 schools in the Division I men’s tournament to be on track to graduate half of their players, noting that Black players are particularly ill-served.

“If you can't manage to graduate half of your players, how serious is the institution and the coach and the program about their players' academic success?,” Duncan told reporters. “Teams with academic progress rates below [that level] should be ineligible for post-season glory.”

His remarks came hours after writing on the Washington Post’s opinion page that schools “need to stop trotting out tired excuses for basketball teams with poor academic records and indefensible disparities in the graduation rates of white and black players.”

Duncan also recommended the NCAA restructure its post-season tournament revenue-distribution formula, which currently pays the conference of each school $1.4 million for every game their team plays in the tournament.

“Right now the formula handsomely rewards teams for winning games in the tournament, but does little to reward teams for meeting minimal academic benchmarks,” said Duncan. “I simply cannot understand why we continue to reward teams for failing to meet the most basic of academic standards off the court.”

He was citing the findings of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. That group, formed in 1989 to combat college sports scandals by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, called for tougher standards for schools and student-athletes a decade ago.

He also cited the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports’ annual study report that found that 10 of the 68 schools currently involved in the NCAA Tournament carry academic progress rates (APR) of less than 925, which would create a graduation rate of less than 50 percent. The academic progress rate is an NCAA measure of the progress toward graduation of student-athletes.

Dr. Richard Lapchick, the primary author of the study, noted that only 59 percent of Black basketball players graduate, far less than the graduation percentage of Whites at 91 percent. The reports show percentages are even lower among schools such Kansas State University, where 100 percent of White players graduate, yet only 14 percent of Black players graduate. The University of Akron also graduates every White player, but has a zero percent Black player’s graduation rate.

According to the Knight Commission, in the last five years, teams that had graduation rates of less than 50% or an APR standard of less than 925 earned 44 percent of the total $409 million distributed.

NAACP President Ben Jealous agreed with Duncan, but also acknowledged the high graduation rates made by the other 58 schools in the NCAA Tournament.

“When you are coaching student-athletes, you have a responsibility to them both as an athlete and a student,” said Jealous, who highlighted programs like those at Xavier University, which sends designated personnel to check on players frequently to make sure they attend class and study regularly. “It happens because coaches decide to make sure that the young men are prepared for victory in life and not just on the court.”

Duncan suggested that barring schools with poor graduation rates from the NCAA tournament would motivate more programs to follow Xavier’s lead.

“The dream of playing in the NCAA tournament is what brings so many student-athletes on to these college campuses,” he said. “If the right behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is punished, you would see all of these schools doing things in a very different way, very quickly.”

Libya's Gaddafi: Is There Method in the Madness?

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By Gregg Reese, Special to the NNPA from Our Weekly –

On Saturday, March 12, an American naval battle group anchored around the aircraft carrier Enterprise gathered in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of civil-war-torn Libya, ready to provide either humanitarian aid or military intervention as the drama in that polarizing nation unfolds.

This staging of military force is reminiscent of another assembly that occurred in the same region on a March day in 1986 as the United States faced off against Muammar Gaddafi (alternately spelled Gadhafi, Khaddafy, or Kaddafi, etc.) who at 41 years in office is the longest ruling non-royal head of state.

By virtue of his garish wardrobe, his act of granting asylum to notorious Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, his elite force of 40 virgin bodyguards (known unofficially as the Amazonian Guard), his voluptuous blonde Ukrainian nurse, his provocative proclamations, rumors of his complicity in terrorist violence, his verbal provocations to the West and overall eccentricity, he has never remained out of the media spotlight.

Gaddafi first came to power when he and a cadre of junior officers overthrew King Idris I in 1969. In staging this coup, they emulated Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egyptian Revolution of 1952, which is viewed as a pivotal point in both Arab history and Third World politics because it inspired the subsequent overthrow of several governments in the Middle East. Gaddafi quickly adopted a policy of opposition to the West, and to America especially, earning the enmity of no less than President Ronald Reagan, who dubbed him “the mad dog of the Middle East.” Throughout his reign, questions have been raised about his sanity, but he is undoubtedly a wily manipulator and a master of political presentation, alternately adopting the causes of Pan-Africanism, Pan-Arabism, and pro-socialism, as the needs fit the situation to achieve his own ends.

Islamic socialism

The production of oil in the 1960s transformed this traditionally impoverished nation into one of the most affluent in the region, and Gaddafi used this jackpot to finance such radical military outfits as the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and any group considered oppositional to imperialism. He also earned American loathing, because of his suspected culpability in a rash of 1981 terrorist bombings in France and Italy.

Allegations of Libyan involvement in a series of airport firefights and hijackings spurred the U.S. deployment of warships off Libya’s coast, leading to a series of armed engagements between aircraft and ships from both forces on March 23, 1986. Libya suffered the loss of several vessels and dozens of personnel. Additionally, on April 5, 1986, a 2-kilogram bomb exploded in “La Belle,” a West Berlin discotheque frequented by off-duty African American servicemen, which prompted a U.S. airstrike in which several Libyans died and one American aircraft was shot down.

In the years following, a number of international incidents further strained international relations, especially the 1989 detonation of a bomb on a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all its passengers and crew, along with 11 townspeople hit by debris as the plane plunged to the earth. The bomb contained Semtex, a Czechoslovakia-manufactured plastic explosive heavily exported to Libya, raising suspicions that Gaddafi was behind the attacks, although the Libyan government has always denied responsibility.

Regardless of the veracity of these claims, Gaddafi has significant ties within the American infrastructure. The best known of these is arguably the one with another controversial figure, Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. Farrakhan visited Libya and Gaddafi in 1984, with a delegation that included Jeremiah Wright, President Barack Obama’s former pastor. Gaddafi, in turn, made overtures to Farrakhan with a $5 million interest-free loan, and in 1996, the promise of an outright gift of $1 billion. The Clinton administration quickly moved to block the donation, in keeping with U.S. policy preventing financial ties between this country and Libya.

These provocative behaviors may be balanced by the memory of a $220,000 loan extended to presidential sibling Billy Carter in 1979, a man who, aside from his famous brother, Jimmy Carter, was most prominently known for the prodigious amounts of beer he drank. The loan was in exchange for Billy’s role as a lobbyist for unspecified Libyan business ventures within the U.S.

A more troubling association is the one alleged by American law enforcement involving ties to a South Side Chicago-based street gang led by Jeff Fort. Starting out as the Black Stone Rangers in the late 1950s, the group metamorphosed over the years into the Black P. Stone Nation, and became affiliated with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. It also became one of the early beneficiaries of affirmative action projects, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty program. By the mid-1980s, the group adopted an Islamic faction that called itself the “El Rukn Tribe of the Moorish Science Temple of America,” or El Rukns for short. Through police wiretaps, they were linked to Gaddafi, who allegedly financed them and supplied them with weapons, in a scheme to carry out attacks on police stations, military bases, and other targets within the United States. A contingent of El Rukn leaders supposedly made trips to Panama and Libya to meet with Gaddafi’s delegates.

An enduring bond

American businessman Jomo Salade (not his real name), a longtime exporter of African artifacts, proclaims that much of the bad press Gaddafi receives is a result of the pro-African ties the Libyan has pursued, noting his long support of post-colonial rebels, especially in South Africa. Before one accepts the precept that Gaddafi is Satan incarnate, the possibility must be considered that much of this reputation has been fostered by a biased media and the American tendency to denigrate any regime not acting within the parameters of Yankee benefits and American interests.

Salade urged the perusal of media outlets outside the sphere of U.S. influence, including Chinese and Russian news sources. Notably, iconic activist Nelson Mandela still fondly refers to Gaddafi as “brother leader.” Mandela is said to have been instrumental in smoothing things diplomatically in the aftermath of the Lockerbie disaster, famously bypassing a United Nations-sponsored air embargo to visit that beleaguered nation in 1997.

Mandela has remained steadfast in his support of Gaddafi and Libya, in remembrance of their previous support of him in his country’s struggle against apartheid. This allegiance has continued in the presence of considerable criticism from normally cordial allies, including the United States. Mandela has summed up this position with the following statement: “This man helped us at a time when we were all alone, when those who say we should not come here were helping the enemy.”

End game?

Salade believes that much of the dissent in Libya challenging the Gaddafi regime comes from two major factions. Many within the younger generation have long been dissatisfied with the slow process of promised social reform. On the other end of the spectrum, are the hard-line Muslim fundamentalists, who resent Gaddafi’s efforts to make Libya a secular state. This latter statement is an intriguing idea, since it presents the novel notion of Gaddafi as a moderate. It should also be noted that Gaddafi has recently blamed al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden for the current uprising.

In keeping with his proclamations of Pan-African solidarity, Gaddafi has intervened to prevent the mistreatment of Black Africans who come to find employment in Libya as “guest workers,” and counts mercenaries from the dark-skinned Tuareg nomadic tribesmen as a vital part of his security force.

The outcome of the internal strife within Libya is still up in the air. In spite of a moratorium freezing much of this volatile head of state’s assets across the globe, he is by all accounts beating back the opposition and retaking the territory initially lost.

Gaddafi reportedly still has vast fortunes in the currency of various nations socked away in the country, at banks and covert locations, along with substantial funds in the accounts of family members and trusted minions throughout the world. The accessibility of such a fluid war chest will likely impact this resilient Middle Eastern strongman’s ability to sustain national control.

A Middle East Brief: Revolt in the Desert

The current turmoil in the Middle East remains a focal point, because so much dissension is occurring within a small geographic region during a short period of time. Within a few weeks, instability has emerged in Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Tunisia, Yemen, and escalated into major insurrections in Egypt and now Libya.

Root factors behind this mass dissatisfaction vary from country to country, yet there is a commonality within this region, which was shaped by the aftermath of World War II, says James L. Gelvin, a professor of history at UCLA specializing in the Middle East.

Most of this region has teetered on crisis—when not stabilized by authoritarian rule, often imposed by outside influences or the dictates of global powers spurred by the allure of natural resources. Among the reasons for the present unrest: First and foremost is the breakdown of the social compact between governments and the population. Most of these governments, be they monarchies, populist regimes, etc., were shaped by the postwar machinations of western powers, because of the economic advantages the area offered, including admission to the region through the strategically important Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean and the Red seas. But, most important is ready access to the lucrative oil fields.

Internally, the populations of these countries benefited from extensive social support systems, in the way of government subsidies such as consumable goods and other financial assistance.

Governments provided staples including education, employment, healthcare, and so on. Gelvin elaborates: All the governments were committed to national planning, nationalism, strong state intervention into the economy, and were welfare states providing their citizens with a number of benefits, including universal education, healthcare, employment, and subsidies on food and fuel. For these benefits, the government demanded compliance.

This worked well until the economic crisis of the 1970s, initiated by the stock market downturn of 1973-1974, the 1973 Arab oil embargo (prompted by American support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War), an overall energy shortage, and a simultaneous rise in inflation and drop in economic growth. It was further complicated by the International Monetary Fund’s pressuring the Egyptians to increase privatization (a shift in control of private services and businesses from state of government management to private individuals or groups) and erosion of the social protections that previously served as a safety net for the masses.

The two factors specific to the Egyptian unrest are youth and the labor movement. Unlike the current trend in the U.S. population, where the median age is skewing toward middle age, 30 percent of the Egyptian citizenry range between ages 15 and 29, a percentage duplicated in Tunisia. These populations include a huge proportion that is highly educated but finds few employment prospects; they make up “the core leadership” of the rebellion. Compounding this is an economy that on the surface is expanding but only benefiting a select few at the top, while the general public must struggle without the assistance of the social safety net that previously served as a buffer from poverty.

Scorched earth and deluge

U.S. policy has always centered on two basic principles. First and foremost, it has been unwavering in its support of the Jewish state of Israel. This loyalty is arguably a major source of Arab hostility toward America specifically and the West overall. One might argue that America inherited this role of imperialist enemy from the British, who previously held sway throughout the area for much of the 20th Century.

Second, American policy has primarily focused on the security of its access to that region’s petroleum deposits. Toward that end, it has often turned a blind eye to the internal strife that has been a staple of many of these countries—provided they did not interfere with America’s two primary motivations. Any understanding of conflict within this area of North Africa and Central Asia must stem from these two concrete propositions/premises.

The oil-rich Arab world is more dependent on outside food sources than any other segment of the globe, according to a recent United Nations (U.N.) report. The global fixation on Middle Eastern petroleum is counterbalanced by that region’s dietary dependence on their neighbors’ cupboards. This appetite has recently been inhibited by the specter of drought in Russia, a major purveyor of groceries for North Africa and Western Asia.

Pakistan, another major wheat producer, has the opposite problem, because that area’s farmland has been flooded by torrential monsoon rains, resulting in price-gouging, while the Russian Federation has simply banned wheat exports altogether. Another U.N. report has speculated that these events might lead to a repeat of the 2006 spike in food prices and rioting throughout Africa.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S. acres of wheat and other grain fields are being plowed under to take advantage of congressional incentives encouraging the transition to corn for conversion to biofuels, a practice that is pursued in Europe as well, which means fewer sources of sustenance for the Near Eastern pantry.

Ramifications on the home front

America will be impacted by these proceedings, primarily because of its addiction to petrol. Although each of these individual countries has its own infrastructure, as noted by Professor Gelvin, this is balanced by shared similarities which will inform coming events.

Gelvin predicts that the telling factors in the region are:

1. What the military decides to do: Will it side with the protesters, the autocrats, or, as in the case of Libya, split apart?

2. What is the breadth and depth of the opposition? Does it represent a broad swath of society, particularly the young and workers?

3. What cleavages are there in society (sectarian, regional, tribal) that might divide the opposition movement or be exploited by governments?

This first point has manifested itself already with the Egyptian Army’s withdrawal of support for President Hosni Mubarak, who was forced to resign. The second factor was revealed with the progression of the Libyan civil war, where the opposition has been beaten back, after initial success in a few early battles.

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