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Black Juveniles Tried as Adults at Alarming Rate in Missouri

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By Kenneth J. Cooper, Special to the NNPA from Thedefendersonline.com –

Despite an unusual state law requiring judges to consider racial disparity when deciding whether to try juveniles as adults, Missouri prosecutes a disproportionate number of Black youth accused of serious crimes in regular courts, where they can be sentenced to prison alongside hardened criminals.

In recent years, African-American teenagers have faced trials in adult courts at a rate three to four times higher than their proportion of Missouri’s youth population. They were defendants in 57 percent of such prosecutions in 2008, the latest year statistics are available, even though they make up only 14 percent of state residents between ages 12 and 17.

One possible reason for “the high amount of disparity,” the wording of a free legal clinic at Washington University in St. Louis that defends lower-income juveniles, is that Missouri does not require juvenile judges to hold a probable cause hearing before transferring a case. Nor do a dozen other states, including California and Maryland, and also Washington, D.C. The nation’s courts have a long history of meting out harsher punishment to African Americans when judicial discretion is relatively unfettered.

Juvenile courts in those 13 states and the nation’s capital could be violating a Supreme Court ruling, Kent v. United States, which states judges must determine, before transferring cases to adult court, that they are strong enough to secure a grand jury indictment. That 1966 decision requires that such criminal complaints against juveniles must have “prosecutive merit” and “measure up to the essentials of due process and fair treatment.”

Mae Quinn, the legal clinic’s co-director, suspects that Missouri prosecutors actually have an incentive to take weak cases into adult court, where young defendants can feel pressured to accept a plea bargain. Even though probation is often the result, she says the threat of prison time represents a form of punishment in itself.

“That’s actually the perverse reality for some of these cases,” explains Quinn, a law professor at Washington University and co-director of its Civil Justice Clinic. “This is a case that was weak, and no one screened it for probable cause in a significant way.”

Quinn and law students in the clinic represent young defendants in St. Louis County Juvenile Court, whose jurisdiction is separate from the city of St. Louis. The county is 22 percent Black, according to latest census estimate, and encompasses a number of predominately Black suburbs.

Last fall, the clinic focused on challenging Missouri’s loose system for certifying juveniles to be tried as adults. Alexandra Rieck, a third-year law student, researched and wrote a “user’s guide” on that part of the state juvenile code and the racial disparity it has permitted.

“I did not find comparable data about racial disparity in certification for other states, because I believe that Missouri is one of the only states, if not the only one, to have a requirement about ensuring there is no racial disparity,” Rieck says.

Missouri law requires juvenile judges to consider 10 factors when making those decisions, such as the severity of the alleged crime, any personal injury done, and the defendant’s age and record. Racial disparity is the tenth factor. The user’s guide published in December concludes that proof of disparity “should weigh against” prosecuting a juvenile as an adult.

The state has some evidence of the racial disparity. The Missouri Division of Youth Services has published statistics showing that Black youth were defendants in nearly half of the cases tried as adults during an eight-year period ending in 2008.

The disparity has been generally on an upward trend, from a low 33 percent in 2001 to a high of 57 percent in 2008. Black youth faced the possibility of going to prison with adults about 400 times during that time.

The state agency warns on its website that the numbers reflect a count of cases, not children prosecuted as adults, because more than one court may have tried the same youth using a different identifying number. Annual figures for each court show St. Louis City, which is 48 percent Black, has treated juveniles as adults most often, followed by St. Louis County. Together, those two courts have tried about 70 percent of the cases statewide.

Last fall, Washington University’s clinic succeeded in getting cases dismissed against two youth who faced the possibility of punishment as adults. In one case, the law students convinced the prosecutor to drop the charges “for lack of evidence,” Quinn says, and in the other, “after a full-blown hearing and rehearing on this probable cause issue, the court decided to dismiss the charges entirely—and it ’s very unusual.”

In the user’s guide, Rieck encourages other juvenile defenders in Missouri to raise the lack of a probable cause requirement to increase pressure for changes in the juvenile code.

Her research found at least 12 states besides Missouri and D.C. do not have a statute or court precedent requiring juvenile judges to assess probable cause before transferring a case to adult court. They include: Arkansas, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Kenneth J. Cooper, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, is a freelancer based in Boston. He also edits the Trotter Review at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

Sudan Seeks Debt Forgiveness Before Independence for the South

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Sudanese authorities hope to unload much of the country’s $38 billion foreign debt before Southern Sudan becomes independent in July.

Sudan has been barred from taking new loans from the World Bank since 1993 because of unpaid obligations on the old loans. This could leave the south, one of Africa’s poorest regions, ineligible to borrow from the bank.

A region the size of Texas with just 30 miles of paved roads, Southern Sudan has no steady power supply, large farms or factories. Half of its eight million people live on less than $1 a day and need food aid, according to the U.N. Money earned from oil extraction makes up 98 percent of the budget.

Of the $38 billion owed, $20 billion is interest, payable to lenders in England, the World Bank and affiliated institutions, Arab oil-producing states, the U.S. and other countries.

Meanwhile, the U.S. lost no time in coming to the aid of the new South Sudan. An electrification project in the village of Kapoeta, funded with U.S. aid, has installed power lines, electricity poles, and street lamps not far from rusting tanks and shot-up buildings.

The Kapoeta project is one of many USAID initiatives in the region. Another top project is the funding of a $200 million highway from Uganda to Juba, the southern capital of newly independent southern Sudan.

"The development needs of Southern Sudan are absolutely enormous," Barrie Walkley, the top U.S. diplomat in Southern Sudan, said at the opening last week of the electricity project. But, Juba activist Lorna Merekaje urged caution towards the incoming flood of American dollars.

"It is a great support to Southern Sudan but it needs to be managed well because if people are not careful then we end up implementing the donor agenda and not the agenda of the people."

President Zuma Gets Calls for Jobs on Twitter and Facebook

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

In a novel experiment with social media, South African President Jacob Zuma urged users of Facebook and Twitter to send input for his State of the Nation speech slated to take place later this week.

"How can we improve the lives of all South Africans? This is your platform, the president is listening," Mr. Zuma, known informally as “JZ” asked on social networking sites.

Hundreds of tweets and Facebook entries responded. Feedback ranged from “create jobs”, “fix potholes” to “end corruption” and “improve the schools.”

Zuma was told to get rid of the shacks in which 1.8-million South African families still live, and to crack down on graft and poor government services. "JZ - all we need is just water & electricity, the rest is fine. Our area is more than 30 yrs without Electricity," one citizen pleaded. "Jobs is what we NEED, I have a diploma and I'm unemployed".

This being an election year, Zuma is under pressure to show that earlier promises have been fulfilled. Unofficial estimates put the percent of workers without jobs at 40% or higher.

Meanwhile, newly-appointed labor minister Nelisiwe Oliphant outlined proposed rules intended to bring South Africans “decent work.” One rule would eliminate “labor brokers” or “temporary employment services” that provide short-term contracts, which Zwelinzima Vavi of the labor federation COSATU said “have condemned so many to new slavery by human traffickers."

Also proposed are new rights for unions, improved unemployment benefits and the criminalization of employer actions that defy the new rules.

Zuma’s speech will be broadcast live on television, on radio, on big screens and streamed live on Parliament’s website.

Vigilante Desegration: Ohio Mom Jailed for Sending her (Black) Children to a Better (White) School

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

While various states and the federal government play policy ping-pong on the issue of school desegregation/diversity, the plight of one mother has starkly symbolized the obstacles that often confront less-than-privileged parents who seek quality education for their children.

When Kelley Williams-Bolar, a single Black mother living in public housing in Akron, Ohio, was sentenced to 10 days in jail for sending her daughters to the Copley-Fairlawn school district outside of her educational jurisdiction, the issue of what parents—especially Black, low-income parents—will do to get their children a better education burst into the national consciousness.

“This is not the first time that a family has lied to get their children a better, safer education,” writes Lisa Belkin on The New York Times Parenting Blogs. “Throughout the country, financially strapped school districts have been increasing surveillance in the weakened economy … reluctant to spend money teaching students who are not legally entitled to be there.”

Williams-Bolar’s father lives in the Copley-Fairlawn district and in November, 2009, she was arrested and charged with two felony counts of tampering with official records for putting her father’s address on her daughters’ school records. “She was also charged with grand theft—the school wanted $30,000 in tuition for the two girls—but the jury could not reach a unanimous decision,” reported Newser.com.

“Williams-Bolar is not even the first parent accused of sneaking into this particular district during the particular years in question,” Belkin wrote on the Times blog. “As … noted in The Beacon Journal during the trial, ‘….school-district officials testified that some 30 to 40 similar residency issues had arisen with other families during the two years at issue in Williams-Bolar’s case. No one else faced criminal prosecution or civil court action, the school officials said.’”

The Superintendent admitted that similar cases are normally resolved without legal intervention. Ironically, the beleaguered mother was a semester away from completing an education degree at the University of Akron. She worked as a special needs teaching assistant at a local high school, but as a convicted felon, could no longer qualify for that position.

For days, the blogosphere was aflame with updates and opinions from all sides. Many debated whether race was an issue. Several wondered why the charges were so harsh but in spite of several pre-trial hearings, “the state would not move, would not budge, and offer Ms. Williams-Bolar to plead to a misdemeanor,” the Akron Beacon Journal stated.

The activist blogs Colorofchange.org and Change.org gathered more than 100,000 signatures on petitions in support of Williams-Bolar.

On January 27th, the notorious mother was released a day early, facing two years of probation and 80 hours of community service. In early February, Williams-Bolar met with the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton about her case. A rally is being planned in Ohio, and Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. “is working to secure a Constitutional Amendment to guarantee all children access to an equal and high-quality education,” according to Newser.com.

On February 1st, Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, issued a statement saying he was “really struck” by the issue. “Karen and I work hard to make a better future for our girls so when I first heard about Ms. Kelley Williams-Bolar’s case last week it really struck me, as it has many other people … Our laws exist for a reason and they must be enforced, but the idea that a woman would become a convicted felon for wanting a better future for her children is something that has rightly raised a lot of concern with people with people, including me.”

From the school district’s perspective, it boils down to dollars and cents. The school district spent about $6,000 to hire a private investigator to follow Williams-Bolar and her children and bring them to trial, according to NewsNet5 in Akron. “Copley-Fairlawn Superintendent Brian Poe said the district has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars because of children illegally enrolled in its schools. ‘If you’re paying taxes on a home here…those dollars need to stay home with our students,’” Poe reportedly told NewsNet5.

Which raises the question: what about those 30 to 40 other cases?

At the heart of the controversy is a parent’s drive to seek the best for their children, and the question of what parents will risk for better opportunities “I did this for them, so there it is,” Williams-Bolar told ABC News . “I did this for them.”

TaRessa Stovall is Managing Editor of TheDefendersOnline.

Upcoming Court Date Set in Medgar Evers College Case

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By Cyril Josh Barker, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

As the saga continues at Medgar Evers College, a judge recently granted a temporary restraining order stopping the City University of New York from evicting the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions at the college. The college had said that the center had to be out by Dec. 30, but a judge overturned the eviction, giving more time for the plaintiffs to prepare their case.

The four plaintiffs in the case, including Eddie Ellis and Dr. Divine Pryor, maintain their stance against CUNY's attempts to dissolve the center. In operation for the last seven years at Medgar Evers College, NuLeadership helps formerly incarcerated individuals through the use of education.

Ellis said he feels optimistic about the case and that CUNY will not be able to show just cause to shut down the program.

“I think it's going very well. I think we were encouraged by the fact that they did grant the temporary restraining order,” he said. “We have a good solid ground and there needed to be a full examination of the issues. All of the elements are in our favor. There is no legitimate reason why our center was evicted. We have been in Medgar Evers for seven years.”

According to the Medgar Evers College Coalition, the school's administration has also reduced support mechanisms and faculty resources, including the elimination of the Writing Center and the Center for Teaching and Learning, and the reduction of tutors and staff of the library computer lab and learning center.

The coalition held a public information meeting with students, faculty, and the community recently to discuss the coalition’s demands, the ongoing petition drive and next steps.

CUNY did not return a request for comment on the case. The Center for NuLeadership will appear back in court this week.

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