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'Central Park Five' rally at City Hall for 25th Anniversary of Injustice

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By Nayada Arinbe
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

On April 19, 1989, Trisha Meili, 28, was beaten and raped while she jogged through Central Park. In the shadow of a frenzied mainstream media, five young Black and Latino youths were arrested, and they have always said they were manipulated by the NYPD into confessing. Attorney Michael Tarif Warren maintains that investigators always knew that no DNA evidence linked the five youngsters to the crime, yet they tried and convicted them in order to satisfy something like a press-whipped up bloodlust.

In 2002, while serving a life sentence for rape and murder, Matias Reyes confessed to the crime when he just happened to bump into Kharey Wise, a member of the accused group. His DNA was a match with the attack on Meili. Yet, despite evidence that exonerated them, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Police Commissioner Kelly and lead prosecutors in the case like Elizabeth Lederer, and Manhattan ADA Linda Fairstein, and cop Mike Sheehan still said that the five had to be involved.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio, we are still waiting for you to honor your word–spoken both during and after campaign–to settle the Central Park case, in an appropriate manner which is commiserate to the suffering of these young men who had their youth snatched from them,” attorney Michael Tarif Warren told the AmNews. “The Central Park settlement case is emblematic of his credibility. It has been four months since Mayor de Blasio has been in office, yet there still is no settlement.”

“As we approach the 25th anniversary of this gross injustice, we patiently wait for the wheels of justice–newly oiled with the coming of our Mayor Bill de Blasio–to turn again. Our hope is that a speedy response will be forthcoming and favorable,” said Yusef Salaam, one of the five young men wrongfully convicted in the notorious Central Park jogger case. “It has been said justice delayed is justice denied … this has been the case. There was a speedy process to convict us, there has yet to be a speedy process of complete restorative justice.”

The five teenagers that spent between 6-13 years in prison and are now grown men with families, are: Raymond Santana, Salaam, Antron McCray, Wise, and Kevin Richardson.

“We have been patient, we want to finally move on with our lives and put this ugly nightmare to bed,” Salaam told the AmNews. “One day in prison for a crime you didn’t commit is one day too long! For my comrades and I, we collectively spent 41 years in prison for crimes we didn’t commit. The time is now for justice to be swift and favorable. We and our families have suffered for far too long.”

In a December 2013 news conference where he announced former U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter as the city’s head of corporation counsel, then Mayor-elect de Blasio affirmed, “We will settle the Central Park Five case because a huge injustice was done.” He declared that he is “committed to making that settlement quickly.”

The words sounded so promising when they were spoken with such conviction and resolution. Yet, months later, crickets.

Tragedy at Fort Hood: Will violence increase as more war weary veterans return?

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By Charlene Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

(FinalCall.com) – The mental and emotional toll of combat from America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on military service personnel is once again center stage after the latest shooting by an Army specialist on a U.S. military base. Army Specialist Ivan Lopez, 34, has been identified as the gunman in the April 2 shooting that left four dead and 16 wounded, including the shooter in Fort Hood, Texas.

Investigators are blaming unstable mental health as a fundamental cause of the shooting.

But Spc. Ivan Lopez’ actions have spun America into yet another national debate on gun violence when the dialogue belongs on quality mental health treatment in the military, argue activists.

Veterans’ advocates and activists say the incessant refusal by some politicians and corporate media to acknowledge the untreated mental illness soldiers experience during and after war combat feeds the violent fall-out caused by wars undergirded by America’s foreign policy.

An Army truck driver from Puerto Rico, Spc. Lopez was undergoing treatment for depression and anxiety while being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder, base officials said.

Mr. Lopez walked into a base building around 4 p.m., April 2 and began firing a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol. He then got into a vehicle and continued shooting before entering another building on the Army post. He eventually was confronted by military police in a parking lot, Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, senior officer at the nation’s largest Army base, said.

As he came within 20 feet of a police officer, Mr. Lopez put his hands up but then reached under his jacket and pulled out his gun. The officer drew her own weapon, and the suspect put his gun to his head and pulled the trigger a final time, Lt. Gen. Milley said.

“When it happened, I thought this was again the ghosts of the Iraq War showing themselves and I look at this in terms of the beginning of more of the problems we’ll see emerging since the Iraq War ended,” said Michael Prysner, an Iraq War veteran with the ANSWER (Act Now to End War and Racism) Coalition. He advocates for better health treatment for veterans.

The shootings occurred just five years after then Army psychiatrist Major Nidal M. Hasan, killed 13 and wounded 39 more at Fort Hood in November 2009. Mr. Nidal was convicted and sentenced to death last year in August.

Mr. Prysner said military officials and politicians are erroneously stating that since Mr. Lopez wasn’t really in combat in Iraq and that it’s not clear he had Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which may have contributed to his actions.

But all of this comes on the heels of the Army’s own study that the crisis in mental health care stems from soldiers joining with those issues, he said.

“All of this is an attempt to try to shift the blame, but the reality is it doesn’t matter what the source of someone’s trauma is. When you sign up for the military, you’re putting yourself in care of the military and you have no one else to care for you,” Mr. Prysner told The Final Call.

“Those in the care of the military’s mental health system are in such a desperate and humiliating situation that it’s driving many to suicide. It drives many to madness, and I think that as the facts come out, we’ll see that Ivan Lopez is tied into this type of unit or going through this process that probably played a factor in his psychological break,” he continued.

While mainstream media and politicians deny it, the Lopez shooting definitely stems from PTSD, activists say.

In a statement released by the family of Mr. Lopez, who live in Puerto Rico, he is described as a “calm family man who always looked out for the well-being of his home and a good son.”

According to Ivan Lopez, Sr. his father, the younger Mr. Lopez was under medical treatment said the statement. The death of his mother, grandfather, transferring military bases “surely affected his existing condition because of his experiences as a soldier,” the statement continued.

According to the PTSD Foundation of America, about 30 percent of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD and an additional 20 to 25 percent have had partial PTSD at some point in their lives.

Referred to as the “unseen wounds of war” by the foundation, PTSD occurs not just in military circumstances, but after life-threatening events including natural disasters, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault, whether as adults or children.

Those with the psychiatric disorder often relive a past trauma and become upset, avoid people or places that remind them of that trauma or they feel guarded, irritable or are easily startled, say experts.

The PTSD Foundation of America organization states on its website that PTSD has been detected among veterans of other several wars. “Estimates of PTSD from the Gulf War are as high as 10%. Estimates from the war in Afghanistan are between 6 and 11%. Current estimates of PTSD in military personnel who served in Iraq range from 12% to 20%,” notes ptsdusa.org.

Obviously Spc. Lopez had some psychological issues and shouldn’t have been in the Army, but that speaks to the great negligence of the Army with soldiers who have mental health issues, Mr. Prysner argued.

He noted that Spc. Lopez was in the Warrior Transition Brigade Unit at Fort Hood, which is a unit that exists for physically or psychologically wounded soldiers that are disabled and facing discharge from the military. They’re to receive treatment and care in the unit while they’re being processed out of the military, he explained.

But life in the brigade during that transition is abysmal, stated Mr. Prysner, who said he’s visited several such brigades across the country.

“It takes years and years and years possibly for the process to go through and so all the soldiers who are waiting to get their lives back on track and to move on from what they’ve been through are stuck in this system that seems like it has no end in sight,” he said.

Mr. Prysner argued the shootings stem from a type of terrorism that can be blamed on military commanders and soldiers’ chain of command for creating the conditions that cause such atrocities.

“There have been many, many thousands of young men and women who have joined the military with the best of intentions and were chewed up and spit out as completely different people, and we’re seeing record numbers kill themselves and smaller isolated incidents of extreme violence,” Mr. Prysner added.

The ANSWER Coalition is calling on President Barack Obama to declare an emergency situation to expedite those awaiting processing and begin a complete overhaul of the mental health system.

“That’s what’s needed and as long as the government is refusing to do that they’re going to continue to have massacres like this and they’re going to continue to have 22 veterans a day killing themselves,” Mr. Prysner told The Final Call, referring to a 2012 study released by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to the “Suicide Data Report, 2012,” 22 veterans a day committed suicide in 2010. The report was drafted by Dr. Janet Kemp, a registered nurse, and Dr. Robert Bossarte also under the auspices of Mental Health Services, and Suicide Prevention Program.

Its statistics are based on a four-year study (2009-2012) of cases where military service was reported, but only includes information from the first 21 states that contributed data. That excludes California and Texas, which have larger veteran populations, the authors explained.

Advocates like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is pushing for The Suicide Prevention for America’s Act, introduced by Senator John Walsh, the first Iraq veteran in the Senate.

In part, the act would improve access to care for troops and veterans by extending combat eligibility, review wrongful discharges (of troops who struggle with mental health issues and discharged for unseen issues), and improve mental health care and suicide prevention programs by requiring an annual review of programs in the Department of Defense and Veterans Association.

Without drastic changes, Dr. Umar Abdullah Johnson believes the problem will worsen. “I am not surprised. This is becoming a trend now, of individuals who are affiliated with one branch of the Armed Services or another,” he stated.

He said the problem stems from three reasons. America has a shortage of recruits so it’s targeting anyone it can to enter the military and ignoring people’s mental illness or their pre-disposition to mental illness.

Others develop mental illness because of the military’s unnatural nature, its isolated and strict culture, and own governance and court process. And, individuals coming back from combat, whether they participated directly or were exposed, affects the human brain, which isn’t designed to cope with that type of trauma on a regular basis said the noted author and activist.

“The sad thing about it is there are going to be more of them. The government, Congress, even the Senate, rarely investigates the military because the military is the bottom line,” Dr. Johnson said.

“When your whole status as a world superpower, as an international oppressor rests on the shoulders of your military and the people who lead it, you’re not likely to question or hear issues of human rights in the military,” he continued.

The government’s solution is giving speeches about pulling the troops but funding is funneled to defense contractors and the military industrial complex, activists contend.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined will be the most expensive wars in U.S. history, totaling between $4 to $6 trillion, according to Linda Bilmes, senior lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Those costs include long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs.

“The largest portion of that bill is yet to be paid,” Ms. Bilmes wrote in “The Financial Legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan: How Wartime Spending Decisions Will Constrain Future National Security Budgets,” released March 2013.

According to her report, since 2001, the U.S. has expanded the quality, quantity, availability and eligibility of benefits for military personnel and veterans, and that’s led to unprecedented growth in the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense budgets. And those benefits will increase over the next 40 years, Ms. Bilmes indicated.

“Additional funds are committed to replacing large quantities of basic war equipment and to support ongoing diplomatic presence and military assistance in the Iraq and Afghanistan region, and the large sums borrowed to finance operations there will impose substantial long-term debt servicing costs,” Ms. Bilmes continued.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Deportations for Minor Crimes: The Obama Administration's 'Shame'

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By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

“A crying shame and a painful truth”

Those words helped to sum up the reaction of immigration advocates, civil libertarians, elected officials, foreign consular representatives and immigrants to a mind-numbing appraisal of the Obama administration’s immigration policy which has resulted in almost two million people being deported in five years to the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Pacific and other regions of the world.

What a detailed analysis of government documents showed was that contrary to Obama Administration assertions that it was kicking out murderers, rapists, gang bangers, armed robbers, drug dealers and other serious criminals, two-thirds of those returned to their birthplaces had done nothing more than commit minor offences – such as traffic violence, jumping turnstiles and other acts that earned them no criminal records at all. Indeed, only 20 per cent or 394,000 immigrants were convicted of serious crimes, including drug-related offences, stated the New York Times, which conducted the study and published its results.

“This study only confirms the experiences of people in communities around the United States, who watched as their neighbors and members of their family were deported for minor infractions, such as violations of traffic rules,” charged U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, a Brooklyn Democrat. “We could not reasonably describe a person who has incurred a parking ticket as a criminal. Yet, the federal government has applied a policy of deportation that absurdly defines such men and women as criminals.

“The continued deportation of hundreds of thousands of people every year imposes serious harms on the families from which men and women are removed, as well as the community as a whole, without any benefit to our society,” added Clarke, who along with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat of Brooklyn has repeatedly called on President Obama to suspend deportations until the enactment of comprehensive immigration reform, which would open the door to a pathway to citizenship for almost 12 million people who had overstayed their allotted time in the country. “Who could imagine that the removal of a father or mother from their children – for the ‘crime of violating traffic regulations – would not undermine the faith of these children in the due process of law or the good sense of their representatives in government? I remain committed to the suspension of deportation and to a policy of immigration reform that recognizes the value of families.”

The study, based on government data covering more than 3.2 million deportations over a 10 year period, beginning with President George Bush found:

Immigrants with no criminal history and whose most serious offence was listed as a traffic violation accounted for the largest increases in deportation in recent years. High on that list was driving under the influence.

During President Obama’s five years in the White House, such traffic violation deportation cases skyrocketed from 43,000 during President Bush’s last five years to more than 188,000.

Although President Obama attacked the pace of deportations when he first ran for the White House in 2008, his administration kept the high deportation rates he inherited from his immediate predecessor.

More immigrants are being deported to their birthplaces without a hearing than before.

The Administration has expanded the use of expedited immigration proceedings which gave undocumented immigrants limited opportunities to turn to an attorney seek asylum or show there were extenuating circumstances to their presence in the country.

The Department of Homeland Security went after more people who hadn’t complied with deportation orders than Bush. Most of them didn’t have a criminal record.

In 2012, deportations reached 409,224, a historic high.

“What these findings indicate is that the focus of the Administration was never on criminals as the White House had said,” complained Bertha Lewis, head of the Black Institute, a prominent immigration advocate. “They also underscore something we have been saying all along and that is the administration’s policy is wrong, discriminatory and shameful. I am glad that people in New York and elsewhere are finally finding out that we have a major problem on our hands when it comes to deportations. They are also discovering that the removal of people from their country isn’t simply about Mexicans but about immigrants from the Caribbean, Africa and Latin America as well.”

Lewis saw an urgent need to shift the policy from deportation to comprehensive immigration reform that would fix the broken system. The Administration’s policy has been an abject failure. Washington has simply declined to give us accurate numbers on race, ethnicity and gender of persons being put out of the country.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, strongly criticized the White House’s deportation policy, calling for an “end to “mass deportations” of immigrants.

“The Obama administration should be ashamed of itself for deporting masses of people in the way it has been doing,” she told the Carib News. “We need immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship and we need a Dream Act in New York State, one that would provide financial assistance to undocumented youth attending colleges and universities.

Marsha Branch, Manhattan resident who has been living in the United States for more 20 years, said the situation had become “perilous” for immigrant families who were in danger of losing a major bread winner at any time, a “father or mother” to the deportation mill

“Deportations were never meant to be used in that way,” said the West Indian. “Yes, people who are dangerous and habitual criminals should be sent back to their homes. But they shouldn’t be removed for traffic violations.”

A Caribbean diplomat who requested anonymity said that the airing of the findings was important because it “took the lid off a cover-up.”

Prominent Caribbean Academic, Dr. Norman Girvan, 72, Dies in Cuba

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By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

Professor Norman Girvan, one of the Caribbean’s premier intellectuals, has died in Cuba where he was taken for treatment after he had become paralyzed as a result of a fall in Dominica.

Dr. Girvan, 72, the former Secretary-General of the Association of Caribbean States, fell while hiking in the Eastern Caribbean island. He was flown to Cuba because of excruciating back pain and the paralysis and was due to undergo surgery to ease the pain on his spine. But he died before the surgery could be performed, according the University of the West Indies where he had taught for decades.

“We were still hopeful that perhaps at some point he would have been strong enough to get the operation done and that would release the pressure on his spine,” said Professor Andy Knight, Director of the UWI’s Institute of International Relations. “From his neck down he was paralyzed and today we heard he passed away. We are very heavy hearted and felt Norman still had a lot to give to the region.”

A Jamaican, Prof. Girvan, served as professor of development studies and director of the UWI’s Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies. At one stage he headed Jamaica’s National Planning Agency. Four years ago he was appointed by the United Nations to be its representative on the Guyana-Venezuela border dispute panel.

Just last December, he co-signed a letter to the Caribbean Community warning of the negative impact of a decision by the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court which virtually declared tens of thousands of Haitians who were born in the DR non-citizens simply because their roots were in Haiti.

Girvan is survived by his wife and two children. Funeral arrangements would be announced later.

Water Shut-Offs Threaten Third-World Conditions in Michigan

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By Phreddy Wischusen
Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Citizen

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department officials recently announced water accounts over 60 days past due or owing $150 or more would be turned off. The shut-off program, which affects businesses and residences, is expected to have a far-reaching impact – almost half of the city’s accounts are currently delinquent, according to reports.

Lack of access to clean running water for bathing, cooking, cleaning clothes and dishes is both a private and public health concern, allowing the spread of infection and disease

DWSD Deputy Director Darryl Latimer said the shut-offs are “nothing new.”

“We do this every year. We’ve always shut people off for being delinquent in their water service,” Latimer said. “We’ve always in the winter suspended that because when the temperature gets below 32 degrees you have the propensity for lines to freeze up because of the weather, so we curtail our shutoffs for delinquencies because if someone comes and pays and then we turn the water back on you’ll sometimes find that the line has frozen.”

Keith Williams is currently unemployed and raising two teenaged sons as a single father. After hearing about the shut-offs he was able to pay his overdue bill, but is struggling financially. With skills in various trades, Williams was recently looking to buy a vacant home to fix up for his family. Every home he looked at, he says, had water leaking into the basement.

“They leave the water in these vacant homes running continuously,” he told the Michigan Citizen, “but they’ll turn yours off for $150.”

According to Latimer, DWSD can shut off leaks in vacant properties within 2-3 days, but asks citizens to call DWSD and report leaks in vacant properties. “A lot of times people assume someone has called, but nobody has,” he said.

Additionally, Latimer says the DWSD will sometimes work with people on reducing their rates if there has been a leak. DWSD now has technology available to monitor water usage that can alert homeowners if there is a spike in water usage indicating a leak.

He says the monitoring technology can help residents avoid exorbitant bills for wasted water they cannot afford. Customers can call 313.267.8000 to have DWSD install the monitoring device if they don’t already have it.

Marian Kramer, of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, has been fighting for decades to ensure equal and universal access to water — and residents’ basic human rights. She sees the shut-offs as part of the system of emergency management, of which she says all of their goals are the goals of corporations that profit at the people’s expense.

“I’m outraged,” Kramer told the Michigan Citizen about the shut-offs. “Our standard of living is under attack.” Both the mass shut-offs and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s plan to lease the DWSD to a private company constitute all out war.”

Kramer says water is the only necessity to “sustain and live on this planet.”

She calls the city’s water source “Detroit’s gold,” and says using the water and the water system — an inalienable right for humans — as an asset to be traded to settle bank debt is tantamount to “robbing us without a gun.”

Kramer says the 2013 transfer of Highland Park’s water services (at that time not under emergency management) to DWSD, “done without the proper procedures,” paves the way for the privatization of all community held assets by Governor Rick Snyder’s appointed emergency managers.

She calls on communities to fight the shut-offs and the privatization, organize their communities, protest and refuse to pay their bills.

Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management (D-REM) has called for a citywide shutdown on May 1 in response to the shut-offs, EM Orr’s proposed cuts to city workers’ pensions and statewide emergency management. The shutdown will commence with a prayer breakfast and rally at UAW 600 (10550 Dix Ave., Dearborn).

Kramer says the best way to stand up for water rights is to participate in the May 1 shutdown.

For now, if people have had their water turned off, she recommends calling the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization for advice and assistance at 313.964.0618.

Kramer believes preserving water rights for the future is just as important as keeping the water flowing today. “We’re not going to leave (our children) on a desert island,” she says.

In 2002, Klaus Töpfer, former chief of the U.N. Environment Program, said, “Without adequate clean water, there can be no escape from poverty.”

At an official 17.7 percent unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Detroit leads Michigan in unemployment. Some put the number closer to 50 percent, which includes individuals who are no longer in the labor database.

A public meeting will be held by the Detroit Socialists on April 23 at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Detroit (4605 Cass Ave.) to protest the shut soffs. Learn more about D-REM and how to participate in the May 1 shutdown at www.d-rem.org or call 313.782.3736.

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