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White House Celebrates American Poetry

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(NNPA) First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a workshop for students from California to New York at the White House to celebrate American poetry, which she said “helps us see the world in an entirely different way.”

The workshop was designed to educate and inspire talented young people, who met and worked with the First Lady’s invited guests, including prominent writers, including former poets laureate Rita Dove and Billy Collins, Elizabeth Alexander, who wrote and delivered the poem at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, musician Jill Scott, and Grammy Award winning rapper and actor Common, who drew strong criticism from Republicans, who contended the rapper advocated violence against former President George W. Bush and the police.

Common later tweeted: “… The one thing that shouldn’t be questioned is my support for the police officers and troops that protect us every day.”

The Birthers: Déjà vu All Over Again

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By Lee A. Daniels, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

If you think the Birthers have been chastened into silence, think again – and look to the past.

If you want to view the spiritual parents of the Birthers and their “carnival barkers,” look to the early 1960s – the years before the legislative victories of the Civil Rights Movement, when democracy in America was on the line.

If you want to understand how the carnival barkers can fool some people all of the time, look to the career of the most notorious of the race-mongering politicians of those years, the oily, cynical Alabama Governor George Wallace. Celebrity narcissist Donald Trump’s quick two-step away from the birther scam once the President produced the long form of his birth certificate to denigrating his superb academic achievements precisely echoes the “flexibility” of the 1960’s racist demagogues’ flim-flam that so bedazzled those Whites, North as well as South, who desperately based their sense of self-worth on feeling “superior” to Blacks.

In doing so, it powerfully illuminates the fundamental principle of 20th century White racist practices. As Boston Globe columnist James Carroll wrote this week, that is to make sure “The burden is always on blacks to prove what, in the case of whites, goes without saying. Prove innocence. Prove eligibility. Prove rights. Prove competence. Prove that proof is genuine.”

So, I am grateful to the Birthers. They have performed a valuable service in puncturing the anesthetizing myth that the U.S. has somehow reached a “post-racial” stage of development. And, their antics and virulent anti-Obama rhetoric have also shattered an equally false myth that had gained currency during the last decade or so: that the civil rights struggle of the 60’s had great support among Whites, and that it was only a few “yahoos” and other “ignorant” Whites who were the problem.

It’s an extraordinary twist of fate that the Birthers would emerge to oppose the nation’s first Black president – who took office on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the final stage of Black Americans’ campaign for full citizenship – spouting loony conspiracy theories and fears of “socialism” that echo central tenets of the White-racist canon of the Jim Crow years. The allegation of those years against the Civil Rights Movement were as patently ridiculous – and pathetic – then as the ones put forward against Obama now. But, they were the reason why the immoral campaign of “massive resistance” fashioned by White Southern politicians and civic leaders in the wake of the 1954 Brown decision was so heavily dependent on the threat of and the carrying out of murderous assaults against southern Blacks and the Black and White “outside agitators” like the Freedom Rider who came to their aid.

For part of the wellspring of “massive resistance,” as of the entire doctrine of White supremacy, was a multi-layered fear. One layer of that fear was fear of Black Americans’ success – which meant that in White racism’s zero-sum framework, the success of any Black American had to be denigrated lest it undermine the very notion of White supremacy.

It stands to reason, then, that for those Whites still clinging to that bundle of pathology, Barack Obama (and Michelle Obama, too) represents the ultimate “threatening” Black American: no one better epitomizes the progress Black Americans have made since the civil rights victories of the 1960s expanded “opportunity” across the Color Line.

But, I say one ought to be inspired by the racist questioning of the President’s academic credentials – his matriculation at the Occidental College in California before transferring to finish college at Columbia; and then on to Harvard Law School, where he was elected president of the Harvard Law Review. I’m inspired because it will give us the opportunity to demand that all of his inquisitors and all candidates for the Presidency present their academic credentials – transcripts, significant undergraduate papers, and master’s and doctoral theses, and positions of honor attained.

That’s only fair, isn’t it?

In that way, this bit of “silliness” will show that Karl Marx’s adage about what happens when history repeats itself still obtains.

For what we’re now watching is farce.

Lee A. Daniels is Director of Communications for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and Editor-in-Chief of TheDefendersOnline.

Atlantans Get Preview of King Memorial in D.C.

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By M. Alexis Scott, Special to the NNPA from the Atlanta Daily World –

WASHINGTON -- Visitors from Atlanta, including Martin Luther King III and his wife, Arndrea, recently joined Ambassador and Mrs. Andrew Young for a special private tour of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Harry E. Johnson Sr., president and CEO of the King Memorial Project, led the tour through the memorial, which is still under construction.

Johnson said the memorial is scheduled to open to the public on Aug. 28, 2011.

"All of us here at the Foundation are working tirelessly to ensure this will be an event to remember," Johnson said. "Together, with President Obama as our keynote speaker, we will stand on the new Memorial's beautiful grounds on the National Mall, and we will celebrate this momentous achievement.

"It's taken many years for us to reach this point, and I can't tell you how exciting it is for us to be so close to completion." Johnson said. "Together, we've raised an incredible $112 million and we have just $9 million more to go to reach our final goal."

In addition to Johnson, Lisa Anders, senior program director of the memorial construction firm McKissack & McKissack, gave background on elements of the memorial. She has overall responsibility for the management of the construction, a singular distinction for an African-American woman. She said the memorial uses varied treatments and textures of water, stone and landscape to create an environment that is inviting and creates a sense of the diversity of the Civil Rights Movement.

Some 14 quotes from King will be used across a circular stone wall that surrounds the 30-foot statue of King that faces the Thomas Jefferson Memorial across the Tidal Basin. The composition of the memorial utilizes landscape elements to convey three fundamental and recurring themes of King's life: justice, democracy, and hope. The circular geometry of the memorial, juxtaposed within the triangular configuration of the site, engages the Tidal Basin and frames views to the water.

As the group toured the memorial, members took turns touching the quotes which are still to be etched onto the walls, and said "awesome" as they took in the 30-foot statue of King carved into the backside of the stone monument facing the Tidal Basin. Young gathered everyone at the base of the enormous King statue for a group prayer. The Rev. Whalem of Memphis, Tennessess, led the prayer of thanksgiving for the lives of the participants in the Civil Rights Movement, including Young and King.

During course of the tour, it was noted that the other memorials on the Mall are dedicated to U.S. presidents and wars in which Americans fought. The King Memorial is the only one dedicated to peace.

Scott Sisters' Suffering a Sign of Criminal Justice Failures

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By Saeed Shabazz, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

NEW YORK - “After we are pardoned we want to go out across the country and speak out about abuse of Blacks in prison,” Jamie Scott, 38, told a gathering of supporters who braved strong winds and a constant downpour to hear from her and her sister.

In January, the Scott Sisters from Mississippi were granted “indefinite suspension” of 1993 life sentences for an alleged $11 robbery. The women served 16 years before a strong grassroots effort won attention of mainstream groups and their freedom.

“We are grateful for all of the letters that were sent in our behalf, and all of the support,” said Gladys Scott, 36, adding, “I can say we are grateful to Black folks.”

A diverse crowd gathered in a basement conference room in Restoration Plaza in Brooklyn to talk to and listen to the sisters via Skype. “Free the Land!” shouted Jamie Scott. “We dedicate our lives to all prisoners—we are their voice,” she said.

The event was sponsored by the National Conference of Black Lawyers and the Malcolm X Grassroots Coalition, and moderated by April R. Silver, founder and president of Akila Worksongs, Inc., a Brooklyn-based public relations firm.

A panel comprised of Rukia Lumumba, of the Center for Community Alternatives for Women, who also specializes in helping Black women with reentry issues; Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Columbia University professor and author; activist attorney Michael Tarif Warren; and attorney Chokwe Lumumba, the lawyer for the Scott Sisters, discussed the sisters' case and how it was connected to other issues.

Ms. Silver explained that each panelist, while speaking on separate subject matter, would connect to the Scott Sisters' case, and the oppression of Blacks in American society and in the criminal justice system.

Lumumba brought gasps of horror from the gathering when she noted there are 200,000 Black women in prisons or jails—an 800 percent spike during the past three decades. Two-thirds of the women were incarcerated for non-violent offenses, she added. “A 2005 study stated that 28 percent of the women were jailed for drug offenses,” Ms. Lumumba said.

Another telling statistic, according to Lumumba, came from a 2008 study that showed 45 percent of women in prison were White, 32.6 percent were Black, and 16 percent were Latino.

Many women fit the same description of the Scott Sisters as “community prisoners” who “for the rest of their lives they will have to call a parole officer,” she said.

Analysts complained that Governor Haley Barbour's decision to grant the Scott Sisters indefinite suspension, rather than grant a pardon or commutation of the sentence, has placed extra hardship on the women. They are required to undergo constant supervision, steer clear of any associates with criminal records, pay $52 a month to the state of Mississippi for upkeep and cannot travel without court permission.

Dr. Hill talked about the media's role in criminalizing Black women. “The media insists on using certain behaviors to criminalize Black women across the board,” he said. “There is a dominant message to the middle class in America that constructs an image that the reality for Black women is that they deserve to be caged in prisons.”

The Scott Sisters told the audience two White sisters would not have been sentenced to life for a simple robbery. “Black people don't have a chance in the state of Mississippi, we are going to all have to be willing to fight the injustice,” stated Jamie Scott.

Attorney Warren has been fighting for justice for the young Black men in New York known as the Central Park 5. The teens were convicted of the rape of a young White woman in 1990, but thanks to the work of attorneys and Black activists, the five were exonerated in 2002. A sex offender stepped forward saying he committed the rape alone.

Attorney Warren pointed to similarities in the Scott Sisters' case, such as a prosecutor who was willing to believe statements from the three Mississippi teens who actually committed the $11 robbery at gun point. The prosecutor believed the story, though one teen said the sisters had no hand in the crime, said Warren.

There are also questions about the trial judge, he said.

“The Central Park 5, just like the Scott Sisters, are victims of conspiratorial behavior throughout the criminal justice system,” Warren said.

The Scott Sisters ordeal is a tragedy that happens daily in America, said Lumumba. “We have to use the power of the people to stop the destabilizing of our community,” he said.

“The oppressors have created a police state, and the Scott Sisters case represents a clarion call. We must see the connectivity on the basis of the case and the situation facing all political prisoners languishing in U.S. prisons,” Attorney Lumumba said.

As tragic as the Scott Sisters' case may be, there are hundreds just like it throughout the South, he observed.

Jamie Scott told stories about daily oppression and racism the sisters witnessed while incarcerated. “If a Black woman slapped another Black woman, the prison guards would say, go sit down. You slap a White woman you are going to the hole,” she said.

Suzanne Ross, co-chairwoman of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition-NYC, told The Final Call the forum made sense.

It is “so important that we were able to connect to their pain of being framed, and also their horrid living conditions and daily abuse,” she said. “I found it very moving seeing them, and hearing from them. We must support these two sisters; and we must smash the prison/industrial complex,” Ross added.

“I am very impressed with the Scott Sisters. They represent the many victims of the criminal justice system who have been educated by the oppression of the system,” Warren told The Final Call.

Lumumba stressed that activists are still working to see the Scott Sisters pardoned. A rally for justice is planned for Sept. 30 in Jackson, Mississippi, and a two-day conference is scheduled for Sept. 14-15, he said.

Gun Violence Destroying Pennsylvania Cities' Black Community

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By Ashley N. Johnson, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –

Gun violence is a major issue in the Black community. Each day for youth gun violence has increasingly become a matter of life or death. Recently several community and national organizations have come together to petition stronger gun legislation to curb the amount of illegal guns making their way onto the streets and in the hands of young Black males.

While many are working for the solution, one cannot get to the solution without visiting the root of the problem. How are these guns getting into the wrong hands? Most of the violent crimes committed are done so with an illegal firearm, which is a gun that is not legally owned by the person using it.

“What’s most devastating is, whether involved in the street life or an innocent bystander trying to find peace among this chaos, a numbers of young lives are being snuffed out before they’ve even had a chance to live,” Commander Cheryl Doubt of the City of Pittsburgh Narcotics and Vice Unit said.

While gun violence is a major issue in the community, several of the departments within the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, especially the department of Firearms and Tracking, could not answer questions about statistics for the number of illegal guns used in shootings and homicides within Pittsburgh communities.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives website, www.atf.gov, the latest trace data on firearms, which were from 2009, stated that Pennsylvania had a total of 8,946 firearms recovered and traced in that year and Pittsburgh was the second largest city for firearms recovery with 1,102, following Philadelphia with 3,992.

Although Doubt could not provide specific statistics, she was able to provide information on the types of patterns the police are seeing when it comes to illegal firearms and their use in shootings in Pittsburgh. The most common guns used on the streets are semi-automatic, 9mm and revolvers. She said, “…I can say with absolute assurance that the majority of the shootings that are done in the city are done so with illegal guns (guns that do not belong to the user). These guns are obtained by way of burglaries, theft from vehicles, traded for drugs on the street, and purchased legally from dealerships using ‘straw’ purchasers who obtain them for those not legally able to purchase them for themselves.”

She also said that they are seeing a rise in females engaging in “straw” purchases, girlfriends making gun purchases at authorized dealers and going through the background check, to obtain guns for their boyfriends who cannot pass the check due to certain criteria such as age or prior convictions. Once the male uses the gun in a crime, they tell the female to report it stolen to cover herself. If the gun is found and they trace it back to the female and find she was involved, she could face felony charges, even if she was not directly involved. This can affect their future when it comes to trying to get a job, because they have to explain why they have a record and often times, employers do not want to hire a person for those reasons. To put a stop to this, Doubt said that the city police are working with the ATF to crack down on this and when they can, they will prosecute incidents federally.

While there have been a number of illegal guns making their way on the streets through straw purchases, a number of guns are getting into the hands of the wrong individuals through thefts. Doubt said, “Out on the street there’s a lot of guns that are being purchased that have been stolen during burglaries, car thefts etc.” She added that, “A significant number of legal owners do not report these weapons as missing, for a variety of reasons they feel are justifiable. After a weapon comes into our possession, we review each case and determine if the weapon should be returned to the owner or destroyed.” In a previous interview she said, too often individuals don’t even know the gun has been stolen until they are contacted by the police.

That means that legal gun owners need to be mindful of their firearms if they want to own them. They have a responsibility not only to themselves but also to their communities, to keep track of their guns. The city of Pittsburgh does have a legislation where residents have a certain amount of time to report a firearm stolen or missing. If they do not, they then could face a fine and on repeat offenses a fine and jail time.

“The gun problem is starting to impact the community as a whole, not just the Black community,” said Doubt. Although this is true, the Allegheny County homicide list says different. In 2010, out of the 100 homicides, 77 of them were Black and 68 were Black men. And, out of the 26 so far this year, 22 were Black and 19 were Black men. African-Americans are continuously topping the list.

Like a few of the police departments in the city, Steve Bartholomew, Public Information Officer for the ATF, was also not able to provide specific statistics for firearms, other than the ones on their website. But, he said to address the issue of illegal guns, “the ATF addresses it routinely on a daily basis through the course of our investigations in regards to investigating crime guns, tracing of crime guns and investigating prohibited individuals that may possess those firearms. We also have an outreach with the federal firearm licensees, who are the gun store retailers.” He also added, “there are numerous programs that we have to regulate the firearm industry and to prevent repeat and violent offenders from possessing them.”

Although it is not completely known how and where people are getting these weapons and whether there are laws in the background check system, which some may say is a problem, play a major role in illegal guns getting on the streets, Doubt said, “there are checks in place to try to insure that people who want to and are legally able to own a gun can do so. But, like anything else there’s going to be people who try to get around the laws, which means that we (the police) have to work harder.” Which she says, the department is committed to doing.

While these may just be a few of the ways these guns that are destroying the Black communities are getting onto the street, they are major ones and possibly a beginning to coming up with a solution.

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