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Racism by Design: 2nd Lawsuit for Little Haiti Apartments

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By Erick Johnson
Special to the NNPA from The Miami Times

For the second time, Design Place Apartments in Little Haiti has been sued for racial discrimination by Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence Inc. (HOPE), a housing watchdog group.

The latest suit filed Tuesday alleges that Design Place again turned away Blacks seeking apartments at the complex, located at 5175 NE 2nd Court. The complaint, filed in the 11th Judicial Circuit Court, names SPV Realty, the owners of Design Place Apartments, as the sole defendant. HOPE has retained attorney Rachel Goldstein from the Disability Independence Group, an organization that advocates housing rights on behalf of plaintiffs.

Design Place had failed HOPE’s random housing test in 2012, was sued and settled a housing discrimination suit in 2013. In September, HOPE decided to follow up to see whether Design Place Apartments remained in compliance.

On Sept. 15, HOPE sent Alexandra Del Rosario, a Hispanic, to Design Place to seek a two-bedroom unit. She was told an apartment was available.

But an hour earlier, Zipporah Hayes, a Black applicant, was allegedly told by General Manager Frank Leonor that there were no two-bedroom units available.

In another test, Jason Rose visited the Design Place on Oct. 4. He asked about the availability of a two bedroom apartment that he needed to rent “as soon as possible.” Rose was shown a model two bedroom and told that it cost $1,700 per month but that none were available. When he returned home, Rose called the complex and was told that he would have to provide two pay stubs to show an annual income of at least $31,000 a year. He was also told that he would have to complete a background and credit check, a process that would take at least one week.

Nearly one hour after Rose’s visit, Christopher Marrero, a Hispanic, was told that two bedrooms were currently available for only $1,250 a month, according to the lawsuit. He was also told that there would be a credit check but the application process would take only 24 to 48 hours to complete.

HOPE seeks compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of Hayes, Rose and another Black tester, Dietra Young. According to the suit, Young was also allegedly told that there were no two bedroom apartments available. Reyni Salnave, a Hispanic tester, went after Young and was allegedly was told apartments were available.

The suit accuses SPV Realty of violating the Fair Housing Act of 1964 by “denying Black persons the opportunity to rent available apartments while at the same time offering White persons the opportunity to rent available apartments.”

The suit also accuses SPV Realty of giving “false and inaccurate information” as Blacks were told a higher rent rate than whites.

The suit also demands the Court provide injunctive relief to other Black applicants who were unable to rent because of the alleged discriminatory practices.

The suit comes as HOPE settled another discrimination case Nov. 5 against Elite Riverview Apartments in Miami. Hope sued Riverview in May after Black testers were denied tours to view units.

In the new lawsuit, HOPE alleges that the defendant’s “discriminatory actions have interfered with the efforts and programs of HOPE which are intended to bring about equality of opportunity for all persons regardless of race and color.”

No one from Design Place was available for comment Tuesday.

Marchers Demand President Obama Address Core Racism, Police Misconduct

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By La Risa Lynch
Special to the NNPA from The Chicago Defender

CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) - The non-indictments of two White police officers in the killings of Eric Garner and Mike Brown left the nation reeling. Massive protests sprouted up in Seattle, Wash., Washington, D.C. and New York and Berkeley, Calif., blasting ongoing police brutality that seemingly targets young Black lives often with fatal consequences.

Chicago was no different. Protests and marches clogged downtown streets and snarled traffic on major thoroughfares including the city’s scenic Lakeshore Drive.

One of those protests landed at President Obama’s door.  Chicago activist Jedidiah Brown led a two-night rally near the president’s South Side home. There Mr. Brown demanded greater action from the nation’s first Black president to acknowledge what Mr. Brown called a war against Black and Brown lives.

“Warfare is typical over freedom or control, and we are in a war where we feel like it is time for America to stop the battles against Black and Brown peoples that don’t allow freedom to truly be experienced at its full capacity,” said Mr. Brown of the Young Leaders Alliance, a multicultural direct action group.

Mr. Brown called the war subliminal, but systemic that takes the form of mass incarceration of Black and Brown people, income inequity between Blacks and Whites, poor neighborhood schools in minority communities and the school-to-prison pipeline affecting Black neighborhoods.

Mr. Obama, he said, must address those issues. Holding White House summits on community-police relations, or sending outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to meet with select community leaders or even proposing buying body cameras for this nation’s police force is not enough, said Mr. Brown, who is also a pastor.

“We are not ignoring that he has made attempts. We actually applaud him for the steps he’s made. But we don’t need a Band-Aid,” said Mr. Brown, who said he was abused by Chicago police.

Mr. Brown said he was racially profiled in a 2008 traffic stop where police drew guns on him. He was charged with impersonating a police officer, an offense he later beat. At that time Mr. Brown said he was a registered security guard.

The demonstration near Obama’s home drew nearly 270 people over the two night period. Many of the protesters included mothers who lost loved ones to police involved shootings.

They signed a banner demanding a response from President Obama. That banner will travel to Ferguson, Mo., New York and then the White House collecting more signatures along the way.  Mr. Brown vowed to chain himself to a fence outside Mr. Obama’s home until he gets some kind of response.

“The fabric of American society has been conditioned to view the Black man as a subjugated individual that is less than and not worthy of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Mr. Brown said. “That’s why we have the concept of White privilege. There shouldn’t be any privilege. That right should be extended to all races.”


The protest in front of Mr. Obama’s house drew an eclectic mix of people—mostly young and multi-cultural. Many of the protests sweeping the nation follow that same demographic.

John Beacham, the Chicago coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, said many of the multi-ethnic participants recognized the oppressive tactics of the Ferguson police department used against protesters as wrong.

The police response to the protesters in the days following the Mike Brown no indictment decision has been criticized as overly militarized. Ferguson police squared off with marchers with drawn weapons and the use of tear gas.

“You don’t raise a rifle unless you are ready to kill people,” said Mr. Beacham, who is White and a member of ANSWER Chicago. That, he added, encouraged people of conscience to stand in solidarity with Blacks in their struggles for more police accountability and an end to racial oppression.

“If people stand up for their own lives and say, ‘We are not going to be killed anymore,’ people in the country understand that,” Mr. Beacham said. “People of conscious have to. It’s not a terribly complicated thing. What else is there for people of conscious to do than to rush out and join the protests, regardless of skin color.”

The ongoing demonstration brought much attention to the often hidden problem of police brutality in Black communities, said Tashika Eubanks, also with ANSWER Chicago. “There is no cut and dry” solutions in curbing police brutality, but the awareness the marches bring “continue to let America know that this is not OK,” she said.

“What America needs to realize in a lot of these communities—like how Mike Brown laid on the ground for four hours with no ambulance—that happens all the time. I’ve seen that my whole life living in Chicago,” said Ms. Eubanks, who at age 12 saw her brother killed in 1991.

“I think America had a chance to see that this happens every day. Police don’t always treat people like they are human,” she added.

“If we are not in the streets who is going to listen to us? Who’s going to know that we are there [and] who’s even going to know we have these grievances?” asked Todd St. Hill, 30.

Mr. St. Hill was one of eight young adults who traveled to Geneva, Switzerland in November. He’s part of the group We Charge Genocide, a grassroots inter-generational group that gives voice to young people impacted by police violence.

The group presented a report on police brutality experienced by Chicago youth to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. For its part, the UN chastised the U.S. government for a variety of criminal justice-related issues, including treatment of suspected terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. But it also singled out the Chicago Police Department for frequent “police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed Black individuals.”

Being in the streets, Mr. St. Hill said, works in concert with their presentation to the United Nations. He said the document they presented is important but it must be followed up by some action.

“I think the point that folks are trying to get across is that Black lives matter,” he said. “We are human beings. We deserve to be treated like human beings and we will not be silenced or remain silenced anymore. We need changes in policing.”

Study: Cuts Pushed by Funder Spurred Ebola Crisis in West Africa

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Spending cuts, pushed by an international lender, “weakened health-care systems in the West African region,” leaving the countries “underfunded, insufficiently staffed and poorly prepared.”

In a report published this month in the journal, Lancet Global Health, UK-based researchers blamed policies of the Washington- based International Monetary Fund that hobbled the development of an effective health-care system in the three affected West African nations. The number of people who have died of Ebola has crossed the 7,500 mark, with more than 19,000 infected.

“Even though the IMF provided financial support to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the lending comes with strings attached—so called conditionalities—that require recipient governments to adopt policies that prioritize short-term economic objectives over investment in health and education,” said the report’s lead author, Alexander Kentikelenis.

By reviewing IMF policies from 1990 to 2014, the researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, identified three factors that weakened health-care systems. These factors were the IMF’s requirement for economic reforms, caps on public-sector wages and the decentralization of health-care providers.

Wage caps limit the capacity of these nations to hire and adequately pay key health-care workers, such as doctors and nurses, the researchers said. These caps are linked to the “brain drain” of health workers in countries that need them most.

The IMF push to decentralize health-care systems makes it difficult to mobilize coordinated responses to outbreaks of deadly diseases, such as Ebola, the researchers said.

“All these effects are cumulative, contributing to the lack of preparedness of health systems to cope with infectious disease outbreaks and other emergencies,” Kentikelenis said. “The IMF’s widely proclaimed concern about social issues has had little effect on health systems in low-income countries.”

An IMF spokesman denied the claims, calling them “completely untrue.”

In a letter to the Lancet, an IMF deputy director insisted that health outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa, including the three Ebola-hit countries “improved significantly” over the past decade or so, including improvements in mortality.

The deputy, Sanjeev Gupta, acknowledged that health-care systems were fragile in the three Ebola-hit countries. “The IMF recognized the urgency of the situation— and moved quickly to help, making available an additional $130 million to the three countries to fight Ebola.”

The money was approved in September of this year. The Ebola outbreak started in Guinea at the end of 2013 and intensified sharply from July, 2014.

The IMF, which lends money to financially strapped countries, came under strong criticism this year from African nations led by Nigeria’s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Ikweala.

The minister cited the underrepresentation of African nations on the IMF board (2 seats for 45 African countries), and an almost insignificant number of Africans in high decision-making bodies and among staff.

“We welcome efforts to address diversity,” she wrote. “However further progress is needed.”

With a Criminal Record, it's One Strike and You're Out

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

Ronald Lewis was standing on a street with his brother, who was selling drugs. When police were approaching, Lewis warned his brother. Both were arrested. That minor, almost reflexive reaction, led to Lewis sharing a drug possession charge with his brother as well as charges of being an instrument of a crime.

His lawyer advised him that he could win a trial. Later, that advice became a plea offer. Without being tried, Lewis accepted a B-class misdemeanor conviction, served no time in prison, and was released from probation early for steady compliance.

That was 10 years ago. Lewis, now 35, feels he is paying again for his past mistake.

“I paid that lawyer $10,000…I didn’t know what [the deal] entailed. I didn’t know the impact it would have on my life,” he says. After going through the criminal justice system, Lewis entered a vocational program and earned an engineering license.

He says, “I thought life would begin for me…but I have had so many doors slammed in my face, I know what wood tastes like.”

According to a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), as many as one in three Americans has a criminal record. Despite being commonplace, this status can cause lifelong socioeconomic challenges.

The report, titled, “One Strike and You’re Out: How We Can Eliminate Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records,” paints the picture with an array of numbers:

  • Ninety-five percent of people who are incarcerated at any level will be released.
  • Each day, this is the case for more than 600,000 Americans who served time in prison.
  • Each year, nearly 12 million people move through local jails.

As of 2012, more than 4.7 million Americans were on probation or parole. Most will be confronted with their record as they attempt to rejoin society.

Research cited in the CAP report estimates that 87 percent of employers, 80 percent of landlords, and 66 percent of colleges use criminal and credit background checks to screen applicants.

By 2012, the Federal Bureau of Investigations released six times as many background checks for employers as it had the previous decade. The federal law that regulates the criminal and credit background-check industry was enacted in 1970, before the Internet; it generally applies to credit screening, as opposed to criminal records.

Thus, millions of people who have been arrested – even for exercising their constitutional right to protest – and were never convicted or incarcerated, still carry the stain of having criminal charges come up in a background check.

“Even a minor criminal record can serve as an intractable barrier to employment as well as utter basics such as housing, such as building good credit, education, job training, and more,” said Rachel Vallas, co-author of the report.

Low-income and people of color with criminal records are often most likely to fall into a cycle of poverty as a result of their records. The transgression, plus a common lack of skills and/or education, often merge to bar them from employment, and then from the social safety net that keeps people from sliding into deep poverty.

In addition to the employment challenges, difficulties with housing, public assistance, education and training, and economic stability and mobility compound their predicament.

In the case of public housing, for example, federal guidelines bar people with certain convictions and criminal activity – mostly drug-related, but also violent and sexual offenses – from receiving assistance.

However, local agencies manage federal housing programs and have authority to create their own guidelines. In many areas, agencies go beyond the federal guidelines to evict or deny housing to entire families if any one member has an encounter with the criminal justice system, regardless of whether they were ever convicted.

Similar restrictions exist on receiving food assistance, federal grants, and need-based aid for college. There’s also the significant challenge of debt incurred from moving through the criminal justice system.

“Examples include various types of ‘user fees’ that get tacked onto a conviction, public defender fees for defendants who exercise their right to counsel, and ‘pay-to-stay’ fees to offset the costs of incarceration, among many, many others. Total criminal justice debts can rise into the hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of dollars,” the report reads, adding that in many states, one must clear all criminal justice debt before clearing his or her record.

The difficulties often extend past the person with the record. The report notes that as of 2012, more than half of incarcerated adults have minor children. Currently, more than one in four Black 20-somethings have had a parent incarcerated during their childhood.

“It affects everybody close to you,” says Lewis. “From the moment you get in trouble, it’s a disappointment, it affects your mom…. Then your family sees you trying to turn your life around and enduring rejection after rejection. Then that spills over to your wife and your kids because your mood is not the best, and your sense of self-worth is not the best.”

There’s a form from his daughter’s school that he still hasn’t signed and returned. It includes a question on criminal background.

He says, “I don’t want them to see her differently because of my record, or things that I did.”

The report makes several recommendations to both public and private sectors on improving outcomes for Americans with criminal records. Most recommendations center on new or updated legislation in employment, background check regulations, public assistance, criminal justice debts including child support, educational aid, and more.

“Providing a clean slate is the single most powerful tool to resolve the obstacles documented in this report,” the authors write. “Congress and the states should enact legislation to automatically seal low-level, nonviolent convictions after an individual has demonstrated his or her rehabilitation – meaning if he or she has not been rearrested within 10 years of conviction. Non-conviction records should be automatically sealed or expunged, at no charge to the individual and without their needing to apply or petition the court.”

Currently, Lewis is coming upon a year being employed in his field. At night he goes to school to earn an HVAC certification, which will be his third professional license. In the future, he hopes to start his own company to give people second chances.

“You have to give people something to do, something they can be proud of,” says the father of two. “You serve your time, and then it’s like double jeopardy because every time you apply for a job it comes up. It’s one strike and you’re out. Even in baseball there’s three strikes.”

Civil Rights Groups Counting on Accurate Census

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHING (NNPA) – The 2020 census is still more than five years away, but as the United States Census Bureau prepares for the crucial count of American households, civil rights groups are weighing in and offering recommendations to improve the accuracy of the process.

Wade Henderson, the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 civil rights groups, said that the 2020 census may seem distant, but the census bureau is in the process of making critical decisions about the design, methodology, and content of the census that will have a dramatic impact on the accuracy of the count in minority communities.

“The census is the most powerful tool that diverse communities have to secure equal access to the benefits of American life,” said Henderson. “If your community needs a bus stop, hospital bed, polling place, or school, or wants to adequately represented at all levels of government, it will be at a severe disadvantage if it wasn’t accurately counted by the census.”

Henderson added: “Given how much is at stake for our communities, the Census Bureau must get it right.”

The Leadership Conference recently released a report titled, “Race and Ethnicity in the 2020 Census: Improving Data to Capture a Multiethnic America.” It traced key laws and policies that relied on race and ethnicity to establish violations and address discriminatory practices.

The report discussed the Census Bureau’s research and testing programs, how race and ethnicity data are used to protect civil rights and the strengths and weaknesses of the bureau’s current data collection efforts.

Terri Ann Lowenthal, author of the report and a consultant to the Leadership Conference, said that race and ethnicity data are essential, irreplaceable tools for administering anti-discrimination laws across all institutional sectors.

“Ensuring equality in access to education, employment, public contracting, housing and healthcare and ending disparities in the criminal justice system depends substantially on census data,” said Lowenthal.

Lowenthal noted that the Census Bureau does not capture detailed national origin data for Blacks or Whites.

Lowenthal also said that civil rights experts often point to a lack of comparability between census data and data collected by other federal agencies, including  the Education Department and the Labor Department, which makes evaluating trends much harder. The researcher added that race and ethnicity data for people who are currently incarcerated is often inaccurate and incomplete.

“Census data are central to understanding disparities in the criminal justice system, helping policymakers, law enforcement agencies, community leaders, and advocates devise remedies aimed at restoring equitable treatment and fostering constructive outcomes,” stated the report. “While criminal justice laws in the United States are neutral on their face, both enforcement and outcomes of many laws are substantially biased against certain race and ethnicity groups.”

Prison gerrymandering is just one of those practices that disproportionately affects Blacks.

“Prison gerrymandering occurs when states and localities draw representational districts that incorporate a significant percentage of people who are incarcerated and cannot vote, a circumstance stemming from the Census Bureau’s policy of counting all people at their “usual place of residence” on Census Day (April 1 of a decennial census year),” the report explained. “For example, prisons in rural areas of a state often house disproportionate numbers of inmates from far-away urban communities, resulting in some districts with far fewer eligible voters and undermining the principle of one-person, one-vote embodied in the U.S. Constitution.”

According to a 2012 report by Demos, non-partisan public policy and research group, “in the 2000 Census, almost one-third of the persons credited as having “moved” into upstate New York during the previous decade were persons sentenced to prison terms in upstate prisons.”

Henderson said that the Leadership Conference and other groups that are pushing census reform are deeply concerned about prison gerrymandering.

Henderson said that those rural communities where the prisons are located are often allowed to count individuals who happen to be in prisons located in their towns and benefit from the inflated population numbers. Henderson called the practice “inappropriate and improper” and said that his coalition is fighting to change it.

“Because so much of the Department of Justice’s budget is being consumed by prison incarceration-related activity, any data from the census that gives us a more particularized view of what we’re dealing with in terms of our population has great implications for those policies,” said Henderson.

The report offered 17 recommendations for the 2020 census from enhanced testing and analysis of existing data to improving communication between the Census Bureau and the civil rights community, ensuring that the same race and ethnicity options are available for the paper questionnaire and the proposed Internet survey, and adding a new ethnicity category for people of Middle Eastern and North African descent.

“Given the unprecedented growth in our nation’s diversity, it’s more important than ever that the next census collect detailed data that illuminate the lives of all Americans and give policymakers the tools necessary to understand and address the disparate needs of all communities” said Henderson.

Washington lawmakers just made reaching that goal a tougher climb when they passed a 2015 budget that slashed funding for planning the 2020 census by 50 percent.

“The Census Bureau’s funding level is extremely disappointing, essentially cutting the funding ramp-up for 2020 Census planning by half,” said Lowenthal in a statement about the budget deal. “2015 is a critical year for field testing that will inform the design selection for the next census. Congress wants a radically different census—accurate but lower cost—but it isn’t willing to invest in the groundwork needed to reach that goal. I think lawmakers are putting the accuracy of the next census at grave risk.”

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