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Lawyers: Emergency Manager Law Targets Black Cities

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By Eric T. Campbell, Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Citizen –

DETROIT — As a ballot petition to repeal Public Act 4, the Emergency Manager law, circulates throughout the state, a broad coalition of labor and civil rights attorneys has already initiated legal action to defeat the bill in court.

Filed in Ingham County Circuit court June 22, the lawsuit states that Public Act 4 illegally establishes a new form of local government, violating the constitutional rights of Michigan residents.

Attorney William Goodman of the Detroit Lawyers Guild told a National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) forum, held July last week at Fellowship Chapel, that putting together a legal strategy against a law so unjust proved challenging.

“The courts are controlled by reactionary, right-wing train of thought,” Goodman said. “But we have drafted a lawsuit that is very strong and powerful.”

In addition to legal aspects, over 100 in attendance heard testimony on what happens when an emergency manager takes over an entire city, such as Pontiac.

Pontiac’s elected city officials have had their political power stripped completely since the state of Michigan appointed Emergency Manager Michael Stampfler to run the city of Pontiac March 19.

Pontiac City Council member Donald Watkins told the forum that the EM has been unresponsive to potential business investors, especially African American businesses.

“The emergency manager law is an elimination of the system of checks and balances — he does whatever he wants,” Watkins told forum attendees. “There’s no separation of powers — he’s the executive, the judicial and the legislative branch.”

Watkins told the Michigan Citizen that Stampfler has eliminated the entire department of public works, outsourced the water department and prevented council members from seeing the city budget until it was posted online.

Faced with a $12 million deficit, Stampfler disbanded the Pontiac police department late last year and turned over police patrols to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department.

“This is the way they destroyed reconstruction and instituted segregation,” said attorney George Washington, who has represented BAMN and the Detroit School Board in trying to curtail DPS Emergency Manager Robert Bobb’s illegal activities.

“If you look at what’s occurred as a result of what has happened to our children since emergency financial manager Bobb, you can see exactly what the agenda is — this is a law that is deliberately aimed at Blacks in Detroit.”

Gov. Rick Snyder signed Michigan Public Act 4 into law after it passed through the Republican-led legislature in March 2011.

The new law gives the governor the ability to appoint emergency managers to replace elected officials and run local municipalities and school districts. PA 4 allows emergency managers to lay off union workers, suspend collective bargaining agreements and sell off public assets among other powers. At the time, Congressman John Conyers issued a statement questioning the new law as a violation of civil rights since Black cities are disproportionately affected.

Current Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts is exercising powers under the act; he ignored the Board of Education and appointed his own person to the Library Board, an apparent non-financial action. He also announced this week a 10 percent pay cut for all union and non-union DPS employees.

In Benton Harbor, EM Joe Harris tried to reduce usage of the Lake Michigan beach and issued an order to city staff that they were not to attend any city commission meetings. He directed the commission to limit themselves to convening and adjourning meetings and reading the minutes.

“We want to go into court as soon as possible and say, on its face, this act is a violation of the law under the constitution,” said attorney Herb Sanders at the forum, which was moderated by Detroit City Council member JoAnn Watson.

Local taxpayers pay the emergency managers’ salaries, raising the issue of taxation without representation. The fact that majority-Black communities have been targeted by the governor’s office was not lost on the NCBL symposium panelists.

“This was aimed at Africans, and it is Africans that have to resist,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Mark Fancher. “If they say we’re playing the race card, then I’m playing it every chance I get.”

The Sugar Law Center is the lead counsel in the PA 4 lawsuit, representing 28 Michigan plaintiffs. Sugar Law legal director John Philo told the Michigan Citizen that soon after PA 4 legislation was signed into law, councilmember Watson hosted grassroots discussions to initiate a legal and community challenge. Watson put the word out that potential plaintiffs were needed and the effort spread throughout the city.

“We really wanted a cross section of plaintiffs who were interested in challenging the law,” Philo told the Michigan Citizen. “We decided there were legal grounds for a suit, constitutionally and otherwise.

Increase in Black Advanced Placement Students Sought

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By Rebecca Nuttall, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –

According to a study done by the College Board, in 2007, African-American students made up 7.4 percent of all students participating in advanced placement programs. The study also found that White students were more than twice as likely as Blacks to receive a qualifying grade on AP tests.

Last year in the Pittsburgh Public School District, 27 percent of the students taking AP classes were African-American, yet Blacks make up 57 percent of the total student body. In an effort to increase this number and to help prepare all students taking AP classes, the Pittsburgh Public Schools created the first AP Summer Academy.

Overall it was hard and challenging, but my teacher helped me get through it,” said 17-year-old Hasaun Blair. “Not every student wants to be out in the streets. There are kids who want to do well in school. This helps them better their life before school starts.”

The program, which ran July 11-29, was free to all students in the PPS and offered morning and afternoon sessions. Of the students involved in the program approximately 50 percent were African-American, nearly two times the number of students enrolled in AP classes during the 2010-2011 school year.

“It was a good experience for when I go back to school because I’ll already know everything for my AP class and I just have to improve on some things,” said Caitlyn Brown, 16. “You’re still learning in the summer so that’s good because some people aren’t learning anything.”

Students attended their AP course four days a week and were given the opportunity to participate in “College Activity Days” sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh. Activities included campus tours, student panels, and college seminars.

“It’s different because I was taking college classes,” said Brea Saunders, 16. “I learned a lot and this program helped me learn it before I even got to college.”

Approximately 200 rising juniors and seniors participated in the program funded in its first year by the Target Corporation. Students were given the option to take classes in biology, statistics, calculus, psychology, history, English among others.

“The purpose of the program is to prepare students for the AP classes they’re going to take next school year,” Allison McCarthy, coordinator K-12 gifted and talented education. “So when these students walk into that AP class, they’re going to be ready; they’ve already seen the material.”

The program is part of a continuous effort by McCarthy to increase interest and involvement in AP classes through the district’s “AP=College” campaign. Other initiatives include offering test review sessions and increasing professional development for teachers as it relates to preparing students and identifying students for AP classes.

“For kids in high school, there’s nothing for high achieving high school students. There’s nothing for them to get ahead,” McCarthy said. “Without having done anything over the summer, it’s hard for the teachers to move forward.”

Alleged Strauss-Kahn Rape Victim Tells Her Story

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Special to the NNPA from The Final Call –

NEW YORK - The hotel housekeeper accusing Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her is telling her story publicly, she says, because she wants the former International Monetary Fund leader behind bars. But it's hard to say whether her striking move will help or hobble her goal.

Nafissatou Diallo's decision to speak out in media interviews is an unusual and risky move for an accuser at this point in a criminal case, legal experts said.

It gives her an empowering chance to tell her side of the story as prosecutors weigh whether to press ahead with the case amid their concerns about her credibility. But it also enshrines a version of events that defense lawyers could mine for discrepancies with her grand jury testimony or use as fodder to argue she was seeking money or public attention.

After staying silent for nearly two months about an alleged attack that Mr. Strauss-Kahn vehemently denies, Diallo gave her account to Newsweek and ABC News.

Adding details and her own voice to the basics authorities have given, Diallo said the former IMF leader grabbed and attacked her “like a crazy man” in his $3,000-a-night Manhattan hotel suite on May 14 as she implored him to stop and feared for her job.

“I push him. I get up. I wanted to scare him. I said, ‘Look, there is my supervisor right there,' ” she told Newsweek in an interview in her lawyer's office. But Mr. Strauss-Kahn said no one was there to hear, she said, and he went on to yank up her uniform dress, tear down her pantyhose, forcefully grab her crotch and then grip her head and force her to perform oral sex.

Strauss-Kahn's lawyers called the interviews “an unseemly circus” designed to inflame public opinion.

The interviews come with the case against Strauss-Kahn in limbo after Manhattan prosecutors raised doubts about the housekeeper's overall credibility. They said on July 1 that she had lied about her life story and gave inconsistent descriptions about what she did right after the alleged attack.

The disclosures prompted her lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, to criticize the district attorney, press prosecutors to keep going with the case and even call for a special prosecutor to take over.

Diallo told her interviewers she wants Strauss-Kahn held accountable, and she was going public to tell a story she said had never wavered, to counter misleading portrayals of her and to address doubts about her trustworthiness.

“I want him to go to jail. I want him to know there are some places you cannot use your power, you cannot use your money,” she told Newsweek.

Diallo told ABC she didn't know Strauss-Kahn was a high-profile French politician until later.

“I was watching the news and they said he's going to be the next president of France,” she said. “I said, ‘Oh, my God.' I was crying. ‘They're going to kill me. I'm going to die.' ”

Before July 24, the 32-year-old Guinean immigrant's name had been reported by some French media outlets but not by major U.S. media, which generally protect the identities of people who say they've been sexually assaulted.

“I never want to be in public, but I have no choice,” she said, according to ABC News. “God is my witness, I'm telling the truth.”

But against the backdrop of uncertainty about her believability and motives, the interviews may raise as many questions as they answer, legal observers said.

“On the one hand, there's an upside that perhaps it will encourage the prosecutors to move forward with their case. On the other hand, there's the risk that whatever she says can be used against her in a civil or criminal case, especially with respect to any inconsistencies,” said Sanford Rubenstein, a New York lawyer who has represented victims in noted cases—and advised them not to give interviews while the case was ongoing, he said. His clients have included Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who was tortured in a New York City police station bathroom in 1997.

Prosecutors generally discourage potential witnesses in criminal cases from speaking outside court while a case is pending, partly to avoid creating multiple accounts that could diverge, even slightly. In a trial, such gaps can become thin edges of a wedge for adversaries to drive doubts about an accuser's veracity into jurors' minds.

“The more that's out there, the more you're susceptible on cross-examination,” said Elizabeth Crotty, a defense lawyer and former Manhattan assistant district attorney.

The housekeeper's interviews also could provide an avenue for Strauss-Kahn's lawyers to suggest she was out for publicity or cash, a notion that already has shadowed the case. A day after the Strauss-Kahn arrest, she was recorded alluding to his wealth on a phone call with an incarcerated friend, a law enforcement official has said.

Newsweek said she had not ruled out trying to make some money from her situation, a suggestion that a civil lawsuit could be forthcoming, though she told the magazine, “I don't think about money.”

The interviews nonetheless could tempt prosecutors to bow out rather than go forward with the case because “she's already trying it in the court of public opinion,” Gershman said.

The DA's office has said its investigation, not external factors, will determine the outcome. Communications chief Erin Duggan said July 24 the investigation was continuing and declined to discuss the case further.

In the interviews, Diallo addresses some of the inconsistencies that already have rocked the case.

She testified to a grand jury that after the alleged attack, she cowered in a hallway and watched Strauss-Kahn leave, then told a supervisor. Prosecutors said earlier this month that she later told them she actually had gone on cleaning rooms before consulting her boss. Diallo told Newsweek she was disoriented and went into the rooms briefly before a supervisor appeared and asked why she was upset, but the maid denied changing her account.

Missing Black Children: A Crisis of Media Neglect

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By Nicole Lockley, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

Ke’Shaun Vanderhorst, Jeanine Barnwell, Jaycee Dugard and Caylee Anthony.

All four individuals have something in common: their lives were ended or altered tragically.

Philadelphia natives Ke’Shaun and Jeanine, however, differ from Jaycee and Caylee in three ways— they’re both Black, still missing and didn’t receive any national coverage compared to Jaycee and Caylee.“ As with anything, the media is based on sales. Black children aren’t just as valued,” said Gaetane Borders, president of Peas in Their Pods, a non-profit organization that educates the public about missing minority children. “Most people don’t realize how many children of color are missing, and make assumptions because they don’t see them on television.”

According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, more than 2,000 children are reported missing in the United States each day. Nearly 20 percent of those reported missing are African-American — that’s 146,000 Black children reported missing each year.

Not often, though, do missing Black children and teens get national news coverage like North Carolina teen Phylicia Barnes. She was found dead in Maryland in April. While her death received some buzz in the news, it was too late.

“It’s definitely related to bias against African-American children,” said Borders. “They don’t think they will sell or are newsworthy enough.”

Borders said her organization created the Rilya Alert, similar to the Ambler Alert but for minority children, to counter the institutional biases in this country. Email alerts are sent to people who sign up for the Rilya Alert. Peas in Their Pods also hosts a weekly online radio show allowing affected families to tell their stories.

Michael Coard, Philadelphia criminal defense attorney and founder of Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, sees the biases in the media as well.

Regarding to the Casey Anthony trial, he wrote the following in a July essay on the Avenging our Ancestors website: “I am compelled to condemn the media for its racism. Why did they make this such a big deal… The answer is racism or at least racial indifference.”

Coard then notes the 2007 strangling and stabbings of four sisters by their mother in Washington, D.C.

“You didn't hear anything about this, did you? I wonder why?” he wrote.

Natalie Wilson, co-founder of Black and Missing Foundation, Inc., puts some of the blame on the lack of diversity in the newsroom.

“African Americans need to speak out and say we need to hear of people of color who are missing too, because we matter too,” she said.

Wilson notes the lack of national news coverage on the recent indictment of Antoinette Nicole Davis, who sold her 5-year-old daughter, Shaniya Nicole Davis, in 2009 into sexual servitude.

“Unfortunately the media has focused so much on Casey that they haven’t given any focus to other stories that really need attention. Shaniya matters too.”

Soroya Bacchus, a triple board certified psychiatrist based in Los Angeles, puts much of the blame on leaders of news organizations.

“National media is white male media, so they pay attention to issues in their tribe — white young girls and white women,” said Bacchus. “It’s not biased or racist, but it’s their comfort zone; it’s their cultural background.”

Bacchus said if there were more diversity in the newsroom, more minority stories would be heard.

“It goes back to the white male establishment — who are interested in what is happening to their women.”

Tracy Everbach, a journalism professor at the University of North Texas who teaches a class called “Race, Gender and Media,” agrees with Bacchus.

“The make-up of the media and most people in media are white and they may not be aware of what they’re doing,” said Everbach.

More open discussions about this issue and teaching young journalists to be aware of the content in the news are the answer, according to Everbach.

Additionally, a Kansas man has made it his mission for minority missing children stories to be told. After the 2001 beheading of a Kansas City girl, Alonzo Washington began to advocate for missing minority children across the country.

“If this was in a suburb it would be a national story,” he said. “It’s clear that there’s a disparity. And even in this day and age when we have an African-American president, these are issues that are not addressed.”

Washington and Borders said the old stereotypes of African Americans are factors in why Blacks don’t make national news.

“It’s the national image and the local image that the mass media promotes of crime. Crime is acceptable in the inner-city, and in most major cities, and it’s something that nobody deems as important,” said Washington.

“Many of our kids that go missing, the first thing that happens is they are listed as a runaway,” said Borders. “News stations don’t want to cover a runaway.”

Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele Defends His Past Role

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By John N. Mitchell, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

Many in the African-American community have wondered why Michael Steele remained a member of the Republican Party after he was unceremoniously dismissed as the party chair after leading a historic rout of the Democrats in 2010.

Recently, before a group of African-American journalists, he answered that question.

“My job was to stir the pot from within; to be a reflection of America to them; to be a reflection of unity to them,” Steele said. “You’re going to have to deal with me now that I run the entire show as national chair. Defeats, yeah. Push backs, maybe. No matter if it’s me, Herman Cain or whoever it may be, you are going to have to look Black America in the eye at some point and deal with us. Otherwise, remember the Whig Party? Well, there you go. That is the reality right now that this party faces. I’m just a moment in time; there are a hell of a lot more moments to come.”

Steele made the statement on a panel at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Philadelphia, addressing the upcoming 2012 elections. The panel was moderated by Roland Martin. Steele, the first African American to head up the Republican Party, was joined by author and scholar Cornel West, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and journalist and author Sophia Nelson. The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, was scheduled to appear, but did not.

Steele was elected Republican National Committee chairman in January 2009, just two months after Barack Obama became the country’s first African-American president. His election was viewed by many as a reflexive move by a party that has, since the days of the southern strategy, become less and less welcoming to African Americans.

Steele led his party to a 64-seat gain in the House in the 2010 elections, the biggest gain since the Republicans picked up a whopping 81 in 1939.

However, he clumsily navigated the racial terrain in that capacity, and was as unable to increase African-American participation in the party. While many African Americans wanted him to acquit himself with dignity in that role, most lost faith in him when he suggested to a blogger that he would bring “fried chicken and potato salad” if it would help bring African Americans to the party.

The reinforcement of this racist stereotype only served to distance Steele further from the African-American community. He later sidestepped the racist legacies of Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, who once praised the work of segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond.

Much of the fiery and flavorful debate centered on whether or not it was acceptable by African Americans to critique Obama, who faces a tough re-election challenge in 2012. West has been very critical of Obama, but he has also been supportive of the president.

However, he said that Obama must address the plight of poor people, most of whom are Black and brown.

“We are trying to humbly keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King, who was shot down and killed like a dog organizing poor people, not just in Memphis, but also in Washington, D.C.,” West said. “Both parties are guilty of rendering poor people invisible. We will continue to confront the president and anyone else who is not paying attention to those needs.”

Reed said that Obama simply is not in a position to be able to talk about issues that directly impact African Americans alone.

“If Barack Obama were to go into a press conference and begin to go item by item about what this country needs to do for Black America, let’s be honest about this, he would be out of office faster than you can bat an eye,” Reed said.

Countered Martin: “You have to wonder why the debate can’t be public. He speaks directly to the gay and lesbian community with ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ He speaks directly to the Latino community on issues of immigration. He speaks to all of these groups. Doesn’t he have an obligation to have this conversation with the Black community?”

Unfortunately, the panel did not get to the issue of jobs, which might be the most pressing issue on the Black community during this recession. According to the most recent numbers of the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, the June national average unemployment rate is 9.2. Philadelphia’s overall average was 10.7 percent. However, the numbers for African Americans are significantly worse. Last year the country’s overall average unemployment number was 9.6 percent. However, for African Americans it was a depression era-like 16.0 percent.

Philadelphia’s overall African-American unemployment rate in 2010 averaged out to 15.1 percent. However, during that same time period, the unemployment rate for African-American men was just under 20 percent.

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