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NAACP Legal Defense Fund Joins Abu-Jamal Defense Team

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers –

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund has joined Mumia Abu-Jamal’s defense team to represent him in his ongoing appeal of his capital murder conviction.

“Mumia Abu-Jamal’s conviction and death sentence are relics of a time and place that was notorious for police abuse and racial discrimination,” said John Payton, director-counsel of the LDF in a statement. “Unless and until courts acknowledge and correct these historic injustices, death sentences like Mr. Abu-Jamal’s will invite continued skepticism of the criminal justice system by the African American community.”

Abu-Jamal was convicted in 1981 for the killing of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. He was sentenced to death. He and his defense team have been fighting to initially, get him off of death row, but now to get him out of prison.

His sentence was vacated in 2001 when a federal court found error in the jury instructions and verdict form used in his initial trial.

In 2008, a formal petition from Abu-Jamal seeking reconsideration of the conviction was denied by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, while the United States Supreme Court also denied his appeal.

However, on Jan. 19, 2010, the Supreme Court ordered the appeals court to reconsider its decision.

LDF will serve as co-counsel with Judy Ritter of Widener Law School.

South Carolina Historic Treasure to Receive Rehabilitation

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Special to the NNPA from the South Carolina Black News –

Columbia, SC – One of the Columbia, South Carolina’s significant historical treasures will receive much-needed rehabilitation this spring. Historic Columbia Foundation recently received a $150,000 matching grant for the dependency building of the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House, located at 2025 Marion Street. This exciting project will be funded through a Save America’s Treasures grant, administered through the National Park Service, as well as support from the City of Columbia and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of South Carolina.

Owned by the City of Columbia and managed by Historic Columbia Foundation, the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House and Dependency are significant for their association with the life and work of Modjeska Monteith Simkins (1899-1992), a leader in African-American public health reform, the Civil Rights movement, and subsequent social justice movements in South Carolina. Throughout her career as a social reformer and civil rights activist, Simkins used the main house and dependency as a residence, lodging for guests, an office and a meeting space. Local and national civil rights leaders met in the house, prepared lawsuits and stayed in the dependency building while working in Columbia.

The dependency’s rehabilitation will be comprehensive with work being performed on exterior and interior carpentry, electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems. While adapting the building for use as a work/live space for a scholar-in-residence, Historic Columbia Foundation will ensure that the property’s historic integrity is maintained by adhering to the Department of the Interior’s standards for historic structures.

Republican Led House Blocks D.C. Delegate from Testifying

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By Richette L. Haywood, NNPA Contributor –

(NNPA) WASHINGTON, DC – Congressional Black Caucus Chair, Emanuel Cleaver, II, (D-MO), was outraged over the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives refusal to hear testimony from Washington, D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton on spending local taxpayer-raised funds to provide abortions for low-income residents.

“I am extremely concerned that Congresswoman Norton was shut out of a very important hearing that affects the community in which she represents. Not only is it unfair, it’s disrespectful and I plan on speaking with Chairman Franks about this matter,” said Cleaver.

Congresswoman Norton also released a statement strongly objecting to being denied the opportunity to testify during the House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing on a Bill targeting Washington, D.C. Norton was denied the opportunity to testify by Chairman Trent Franks (R-AZ), although Ranking Democratic Member Jerrold Nadler, of New York, submitted Norton’s request to give testimony in advance, and although members of Congress are routinely given the courtesy to testify at any hearing of their choosing.

“Not only do Republicans seek to trample on D.C.’s rights as a self-governing jurisdiction, they apparently seek to trample on my right as a Member of Congress to participate in the legislative process by giving testimony on a bill that directly affects the District,” Norton said. “We will not give up on our efforts to use every legitimate means to stop all anti-home rule attempts to roll back the progress the District has made over the past four years, including today’s attempt to prevent D.C. from funding abortions for low-income residents.”

A 20-year veteran of the legislative body, Norton said, she has never seen a Member of Congress turned away from testifying, particularly when the bill under consideration directly impacts the representative’s district.

“I strongly oppose the harsh anti-choice H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, in its entirety, but I am specifically compelled to discuss an unprecedented provision of the bill, Section 310, “Application to District of Columbia,” said Norton, in a prepared statement. “This provision is entirely unrelated to the purposes of the bill, which seeks not only to write the Hyde amendment into federal law and extend it permanently, but to go much further, threatening the health of millions of women.”

Last month, one of the first acts of the Republican-controlled House was to strip the floor voting rights of six delegates representing areas such as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa. Five of those delegates are Democrats, while one, from the Northern Marianas Islands, is an independent.

The Republican-led decision to rescind the delegates’ ability to vote on amendments on the House floor was no surprise considering Democrats extended the voting rights in 1993 when they controlled the House, Republicans took it away when they regained control of the House in 1995 and Democrats restored it in 2007.

When stripped of the voting rights, Virgin Islands Del. Donna Christensen, told the Associated Press, "This is a very undemocratic way to start the 112th Congress.” In January, Norton’s offer to establish a special committee to study the delegate voting rights issue was defeated along party lines.

Last week, after being denied the opportunity to testify before the committee, Norton said, “The District of Columbia is not a colony of the Congress. We refuse to submit the funds we alone raise and decisions about how to spend our own local funds to Members of the House. We will not let the Majority get away with supporting democracy everywhere on earth except its own nation’s capital. The House [Republican] Majority goes many steps too far when they introduce a bill with such potential harm to all women and then try to make it worse for the women of the District of Columbia by taking down part of the local government’s authority in the process with such potential harm to all women and then try to make it worse for the women of the District of Columbia by taking down part of the local government’s authority in the process. The new House [Republican] majority says it supports limiting the federal government’s power and devolving that power to the states and localities. This bill does the opposite by using federal power to snatch local authority from the District of Columbia and its people. The time has come to practice what the House Majority preaches.”

Investigating Houston Police Department Police Brutality

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By ReShonda Tate Billingsley, Special to the NNPA from the Houston Defender –

The investigation into alleged police brutality by the Houston Police Department is heating up as community and political leaders call for swift justice, and one congressional leader is going so far as seeking federal intervention. The issue has even garnered the attention of national civil rights leaders.

The Houston Chapter of the NAACP is among those civic and community leaders asking for stiffer penalties for the accused officers, more transparency in the justice system, and a civilian review board to investigate claims of police brutality.

“There is a problem with police brutality and use of excessive force that will no longer be tolerated,” said Rev. D.Z. Cofield, president of the Houston chapter of the NAACP.

Cofield hosted a townhall meeting at his church, Good Hope Baptist, where hundreds of people attended to protest against the videotaped beating of 16-year-old burglary suspect Chad Holley.

Caught on Tape

Authorities said police suspected several young men of breaking and entering, and then fleeing the scene in a pickup truck. After a short chase, police caught Holley, then an Elsik High School sophomore, near a self-storage facility on Cook Road and allegedly handcuffed him on the ground and began hitting and kicking him.

The controversial tape shows several Houston Police Department officers punching and kicking Holley, who was later convicted. The video showed one officer delivering at least seven kicks to Holley while another officer punched Holley five times. Holley is not seen on tape struggling with the officers or resisting arrest.

Defense attorney Dick DeGuerin, who represents one of four officers indicted, said the release of the tape has him considering whether to request a change of venue for the trial. Seven police officers were terminated in connection with the incident. Four officers were also charged in connection with the incident

Former officers Andrew T. Blomberg and Drew Ryser were indicted on official oppression. Former officer Phillip Bryan and Raad M. Hassan were indicted on official oppression and violation of the civil rights of a prisoner.

For months, rumors swirled as to exactly what was on that video, which had been recorded on a surveillance camera at a nearby storage facility. An employee of that facility, Cindy Paxton, gave the video to activist Quanell X. Paxton was later fired.

“You had a right to see that tape,” Quanell X said. Quanell X decided to release the tape after he obtained a copy as part of a defamation lawsuit filed against him by one of the officers.

Initially, Mayor Parker didn’t want the tape released. She, District Attorney Pat Lykos, and Police Chief Charles McClelland said they wanted to keep the tape from airing before the trials of the charged officers to ensure fair trails. A federal judge also banned the tape from being released to the public.

Mayor Parker has since apologized for her initial reaction. “There is no explanation for what in fact, is criminal behavior,” she said.

A community enraged

Since the release of the tape, community leaders have taken their complaints about police brutality to Houston City Hall.

“After the event, not one single officer filed a report of excessive force upon any other officer,” said Randal Kallinen with the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice.

Many of those protesting want the officers involved to face charges of aggravated assault instead of the official oppression charge some have received.

Seeking Justice

The issue is garnering national attention, with both Rev. Al Sharpton, of the National Action Network, and Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, pledging their support. Locally, political leaders say it is an issue they will definitely address.

U.S. Rep. Al Green has already requested that the U.S. Department of Justice review the incident to ensure fairness and transparency.

“We are shocked and we are dismayed,” Green said. “We are outraged at what occurred. That video speaks for itself, and because it speaks for itself, we want the Justice Department to review it and make a determination as to whether or not charges should be brought. There may be civil rights violations.

Parker said, while she apologized for trying to keep the video from being made public, she does think the city is properly investigating.

“The city acted swiftly and appropriately throughout. We notified the appropriate investigative agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, nine months ago. The FBI is the entity responsible for gathering information related to possible civil rights violations and forwarding that information to the U.S. Department of Justice.”

The FBI is monitoring the state prosecution of the case, but said if they were to launch their own investigation, they wouldn’t do so until the officers were tried in state court. That is standard procedure. District Attorney Lykos says her hands are tied.

“The Police Integrity Division of the Harris County District Attorney's Office conducted an independent and thorough investigation into the allegations. The investigation included trips to the crime scene, interviews with witnesses (including Chad Holley, his mother and another relative), and careful examination and reviews of surveillance videos and medical records. As part of the investigation, medical records were subpoenaed and obtained from West Houston Medical Center, the Juvenile Justice Center and Ben Taub Hospital,” she said in a statement.

Lykos stated that the investigators and prosecutors conducted a meticulous investigation, including a frame-by-frame analysis of the surveillance video. That evidence was presented to a Harris County Grand Jury to determine which charges, if any, should be filed against the officers. Grand jury proceedings are secret by their very nature, and the law does not allow public discussion of them. However, in order to indict the officers for a felony offense, there would have to be a finding that a deadly weapon was used in the commission of the offense, or that the assault caused serious bodily injury.

It’s that discrepancy that Rep. Reynolds hopes to change. “I strongly believe that the actions of the police officers should be subjected to a review that is equal to what would be expected of every citizen within the state of Texas. I truly believe that this has brought attention to a legislative loop hole that I am committed to change,” said State Rep. Ron Reynolds. “That discrepancy holds our police officers to a lesser standard when it pertains to police brutality. It is a standard that allows police officers to use excessive force and only face misdemeanor charges, but if a civilian strikes an officer it is a felony. The District Attorney's Office has brought (via indictment) misdemeanor charges against four of the officers shown in the video. The explanation for this is that in order for felony assault charges to be filed, a deadly weapon must be used during the assault and/or the victim must have suffered serious bodily injury,” he said.

On June 23, 2010, the Grand Jury indicted the four officers for Official Oppression. Two of them were also indicted for Violating the Civil Rights of a Prisoner. On each charge, the officers face up to one year in the Harris County Jail and up to a $4,000 fine. Trial is pending in each case.

Pride vs. Policy: Who Wins and Loses When More Choose Multi-racial Option?

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By TaRessa Stovall, Special to the NNPA from Thedefendersonline.com –

The growth of multi-racial people and their assertion that their Census choices should reflect their presence in the population is presenting an interesting quandary. After decades of loosely-organized lobbying by multi-racial people (and sometimes their families) nationwide, both the 2000 and the 2010 Census included a “Some Other Race” option to capture people who did not identify with single-race or ethnic group categories provided on the form.

While official figures haven’t yet been released, The New York Times January 30 story, “Black? White? Asian? More Young Americans Choose All of the Above,” reported that, “Multiracial and multiethnic Americans (usually grouped together as “mixed race”) are one of the country’s fastest-growing demographic groups. And, experts expect the racial results of the 2010 Census … to show the trend continuing or accelerating.”

The latest statistic comes from a February 8th Washington Post article which states that, “Preliminary census estimates also suggest the number of multiracial Americans jumped roughly 20 percent since 2000, to over 5 million … based on fresh government survey data, [which] offer a glimpse into 2010 census results that are being released on a state-by-state basis beginning this week.”

Pew Research Center data suggests that one in seven new marriages are between spouses of different races or ethnicities, based on 2008 and 2009 statistics. “The crop of students moving through college right now includes the largest group of mixed-race people ever to come of age in the United States; and they are only the vanguard: the country is in the midst of a demographic shift driven by immigration and intermarriage, ” The New York Times stated.

“According to estimates from the Census Bureau, the mixed-race population has grown by roughly 35 percent since 2000,” The New York Times reports. It’s not clear how much that growth is due to more multi-racial people being born or the increase in those who take advantage of the multi-racial option on the Census form.

“We’re working to figure out what are the ways in which we can further move forward so people can find themselves on the questionnaire, find themselves and their community to have a portrait of themselves,” said Nicholas Jones, Chief of the Racial Statistics Branch of the U.S. Census Bureau.

“There was no option for multi-racial people to respond to the Census until 2000,” Jones said, when there were 57 combinations of race tabulated, with white and black the most common. “Up until 2000, if you checked more than one box, only one would be tabulated,” he said.

Progress or Problems?

The issue of who checks multi-racial is a matter of policy as much as pride. Census data is used to determine a wide range of government activities; they include determining the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives and creating voting districts for Congress, state legislatures, school boards and city councils, to the allocation of billions of dollars of funds to communities for schools, roads, hospitals, senior centers, and other services.

“Pessimists say that a more powerful multiracial movement will lead to more stratification and come at the expense of the number and influence of other minority groups, particularly African-Americans,” according to The New York Times.

Every time the Census has been performed—even before there was a multi-racial option– the Census Bureau has failed to fully count Blacks and other people of color. During the 2000 Census, an incredible 628,000 Blacks, and a total of 1 million people of color, were not counted. In contrast, the 2000 Census double-counted the non-Hispanic White population by approximately 2.2 million. Communities that were under-counted in the 2000 Census lost more than 4.1 billion dollars in federal and local funding.

Official multi-racial designations—boxes to check—bring their own set of challenges. “This issue has come up recently in the context of our education cases, particularly desegregation cases that are in the enforcement stage,” said Kimberly Liu, Assistant Counsel, Education Practice Group, of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF).

“The federal scheme has changed recently to account for the increased existence of multi-racial persons in America,” Liu explained. In 1997, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a federal agency, revised the standards for federal data on race and ethnicity. Among the changes, OMB required federal agencies to allow individuals to identify themselves as more than one race, a reaction to increasing numbers of multiracial children and the desire to capture this increased diversity in a measurable way.”

“The new methodology was used on the Census 2000 questionnaire, and all federal agencies were supposed to adopt the new standards by January 1, 2003. So in sum, for federal purposes, school districts have to allow students to identify by more than one race,” Liu said. “The difficulty is that many of the remedies for our desegregation cases rely on single-race categories to monitor compliance. For example, let’s say 20 years ago, a court found that a school district was operating a segregated school system. In order to determine whether that school district is properly desegregating, the court would check on what percentage of black students and what percentage of white students are in each school. That was an easy calculation when students identified as a single race. But now the question has become how do you count a student who identifies as both black and white for purposes of this remedy?”

There are other considerations as well. “For criminal justice purposes, the thing to remember is that perception will dominate reality,” said Christina Swarns, Director of the Criminal Justice Practice Group at LDF. “So no matter what ‘box’ a person checks or what their racial heritage actually is, people are likely to be treated by law enforcement based on the way that they look. If they look black, they will be treated like they are black. If they look white, they will be treated like they are white. Thus, darker skinned people (even if half white/Asian/Latino/Indian/etc.) will continue to be subjected to a disproportionate number of stops, searches, seizures by the police; will continue to face harsher sentences in court; and will continue to be excluded from the opportunity to participate in jury service in disproportionate numbers.”

The complexities of the movement toward embracing and acknowledging multi-racial identity based on “and” rather than “either/or” will challenge our nation’s policies and politics for the foreseeable future. The biggest challenge is human nature vs. institutional efficiency. “I think it’s really important to acknowledge who you are and everything that makes you that,” Laura Wood, vice-president of the Multiracial and Biracial Student Association at the University of Maryland told The New York Times. “If someone tries to call me black I say, ‘yes—and white.’ People have the right not to acknowledge everything, but don’t do it because society tells you that you can’t.”

TaRessa Stovall is Managing Editor of TheDefendersOnline.

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