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Paramedic May Face Disciplinary Action Over Instagram Posting

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By Larry Miller
Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune

A Philadelphia Fire Department paramedic has apologized over the social media posting of a picture where two Black men were pointing pistols at the head of a white police officer, but Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer told the Tribune disciplinary actions might be taken.

The posting, a clip from a music video by rappers Uncle Murda and Maino, titled “Hands Up,” caused an uproar from city officials over what was seen as a slur against police officers. The picture was subsequently removed by the paramedic, Marcell Salters.

Any decision regarding discipline would be made by the fire commissioner after the completion of an investigation ordered by Mayor Michael Nutter.

“I’m still waiting on a report by my special investigations people,” Sawyer said. “But based on preliminary findings I would say yes, some form of disciplinary action would be taken.”

Sawyer personally apologized to Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey over the posting, he said.

Salters said on his Facebook page the posting, which appeared earlier this week, was an angry response to the national furor over the Eric Garner and Michael Brown killings and not an insult against police officers.

“I would like to deeply apologize to anyone I have offended,” Salters said. “That post was out of anger [at] what is going on around the world — Mike Brown, Eric Garner and past experiences that I have had with the police. My intention was not to slander or hurt anyone or my brothers in blue. Again I am sorry.”

Nutter called the posting reprehensible and said he condemns it in the strongest possible terms. He said while citizens should always exercise their First Amendment rights, the posting went beyond the standard of decency.

“I condemn the behavior of a paramedic in the Philadelphia Fire Department who used social media to post a reprehensible message and photo that targeted police officers, particularly at a time of emotional volatility and citizen protests in the wake of the tragedies in Ferguson and New York City,” Nutter said. “We celebrate the exercise of our First Amendment right [of] expression, but there are clear limits.

“Inflammatory speech or behavior like this is simply irresponsible and could potentially incite others to inappropriate actions.”

Joe Schulle, president of the International Association of Firefighters, Local 22, said fire fighters and the police work together and assured police officers his people will always assist them whenever needed.

“The members of the Philadelphia Fire Department have historically had a great working relationship with the Philadelphia Police Department,” Schulle said. “We are brothers and sisters in public safety and we often call upon each other for assistance.”

'Black Lives Matter' Heard 'Round the World

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

Across the world, people are taking different lessons from the nationwide uprising sparked by #BlackLivesMatter. Protests are capturing front-page headlines, are the topic of talk shows and are the buzz of social media from Peoria to Palestine.

Reuters opinion editor Amana Fontanella-Khan, in a recent piece, wrote, “In some countries, developments in Ferguson and Staten Island have led opinion makers to question the United States and what it stands for … Elsewhere, some use this moment to raise uncomfortable questions about their own imperfect democracies.”

Five opinion pieces from around the world were picked by the Reuters staff to illuminate the diverse reactions to “I Can’t Breathe” and other protests.

“Irony of America’s finger-pointing at China,” read a China Daily headline over recent U.S. criticisms of the Asian giant’s rights record. “The practice of finger-pointing is always tainted with a touch of irony. When you point the index finger at someone, inevitably you have three fingers pointing right back at yourself.

“After examining America’s staggering racial disparity, one cannot help wondering whether the U.S. accusation of the Chinese government this time was another political tactic of shunning criticism at itself. No one would be surprised if the assumption is true.”

The headline in the Hurriyet of Turkey read, “Obama sets examples of police state, not democracy.”

“[The cases of Ferguson and Eric Garner] damage and devalue the U.S.’s democracy and rule of law recommendations to other countries with democratic problems, which is bad for improving democracy and human rights standards around the world,” the article stated.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan took it a step further, challenging opposition deputies who criticized police brutality against protesters: “If you dare, try to throw a stone at police in America. You cannot.”

In France, the newspaper Le Monde railed, “Ferguson in Toulouse: when the license to kill and repression are commonplace.”

Last October, 21-year-old environmentalist activist Remi Fraisse was killed by a so-called offensive grenade during a protest near Toulouse. His death sparked protests and riots across the country, as protesters demanded an “end to the license to kill.”

In Israel, the newspaper Haaretz headlined a story, “What the conflicts in Ferguson and Israel have in common.”

“What does this [Ferguson and Staten Island deaths] have to do with Jews and Palestinians?” the paper posed in an op-ed. “Actually, quite a bit.”

“Traveling through Ben-Gurion Airport as a Jew is vastly different from traveling through it as a Palestinian,” the editorial continued, “just as getting stopped by the police can be vastly different, depending on whether you’re white or Black. But very few American Jews, and very few white Americans, have been told, face-to-face, what that alternative experience is like. America’s discourse about race, and the American Jewish community’s discourse about Israel, would be much better if they had.”

Blogger T.O. Molefe wrote in Africaisacountry.com #DeconstructingFerguson and lessons for Black South Africa in Black America, “Racist attacks [are] on the rise, affirmative action is often decried as ‘reverse racism’ and only 53 percent of white South Africans believe apartheid was a crime.

Jill Scott to be Honored at Essence Grammy Celebration

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Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feds Seeking Expanded Education for Incarcerated Youth

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Activists Push Obama on Police Reform

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BVN National News Wire