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War Fires Burning Again in Nigeria's Oil-Rich Southern Delta

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Heavily armed soldiers and aerial bombing runs have reportedly killed as many as 150 people in the southern delta, a human rights activist said.

Oghebejabor Ikim, national coordinator for the Forum of Justice and Human Rights Defense, described devastation in the village of Ayakoromo in Delta state with houses destroyed, civilians killed, and women raped. Soldiers are said to be looking for a militant leader called John Togo.

"I can describe it as a killing spree of innocent civilians," Mr. Ikim said. "Houses have been burnt. Women are raped. There are killings. Is that how to get at John Togo?" Nigerian officials say they are looking to reach a truce with militants in the Niger Delta who have turned to militancy over failed government pledges to clean up the environment, share oil incomes, build schools, and health care centers. The “rebels” have turned to attacks on pipelines, kidnapping of petroleum company employees, and fighting with government troops.

The attacks have cut drastically into crude production in Nigeria, an OPEC-member nation that is one of the top suppliers of crude oil to the U.S.

The Nigerian Red Cross and other activists have been unable to reach the targeted communities as the military has sealed off the winding muddy creeks that lead to the region. Activists say they continue to see smoke rising from the area and can hear gunfire.

Meanwhile, in a related development, Nigerian environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey recently received the “Alternative Nobel Prize” in Stockholm, for his effort to “reveal the full ecological and human horror of oil production.”

In his acceptance speech, Bassey, who heads Friends of the Earth International, said he represented 'suffering peoples in the oil fields' in Nigeria and other parts of the world. Polluters, he said, should face trial for 'crimes against humanity'. Last year, Bassey was named “Hero of the Environment” by Time magazine.

South Africa Chemicals Co. Sued For U.S. Spying

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

The U.S. division of South Africa’s Sasol chemical plant is facing a lawsuit for industrial espionage and sabotage, filed by environmental activists Greenpeace.

The case, which also involves the Dow Chemical Co. and two public relations firms, was filed in Federal Court in Washington, DC.

Greenpeace claims the two companies hired private investigators to steal its documents, tap its phones, and hack into its computers. Central to the complaint is a community's battle against the pollution of Lake Charles, in Louisiana, near the Sasol plant.

Local residents suffer high rates of cancer and respiratory problems linked to the company's production processes, Greenpeace maintains.

According to Sasol's website, the Lake Charles plant produces commodity and specialty chemicals for soaps, detergents, and personal care products. At the time of the Greenpeace complaint, it was manufacturing ethylene dichloride, a suspected carcinogen, and vinyl chloride.

Sasol has denied the charges.

Meanwhile, in a related development, the primarily African-American town of Mossville, Louisiana, on Lake Charles has won a hearing by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights on their claim that racism allowed 14 heavily polluting industries to be built in their residential community. It marks the first time that an international human rights tribunal has taken jurisdiction over a case of environmental racism in the United States, according to Monique Harden of Advocates for Environment Human Rights.

Judge Donald Nominated for Court of Appeals

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Special to the NNPA from the Tri-State Defender –

President Barack Obama last week announced his nomination of Judge Bernice Donald for the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Donald, who serves as federal bankruptcy judge in Memphis, has a history of trailblazing.

In 1982, Donald was elected to serve as a judge on the Court of General Sessions in Shelby County, making her the first female African-American judge in the history of Tennessee. Six years later, she became the first female African-American federal bankruptcy judge in the nation when she was appointed to that position by the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Congressman Steve Cohen said he congratulated Donald on the nomination during a call last week. “I’ve known Judge Donald for over 30 years, including when she presented cases before me as an attorney during my brief tenure as Shelby County General Sessions Court Judge in 1980. I’ve known her to be fair, honest and just,” said Cohen. “As I told her when we spoke today, she has served Memphis proud.”

Judge Donald will now face the confirmation process in the U.S. Senate.

Donald received both her undergraduate degree and her J.D. from the University of Memphis. Her broad range of legal experience also includes private practice and the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office.

Pittsburgh Assistant Chief of Police: Crack Cocaine a Key to Community Breakdown

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By Karen Harris Brooks, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –

The overwhelming existence of drugs within many African-American neighborhoods has taken a toll on the once close-knit communities. The influx of these illicit narcotics could not have been predicted by the people who live within the boundaries of once thriving and safe environments. Communities have witnessed a decline in the value of lives of the young, the care of the elderly, and trust among each other.

Assistant Pittsburgh Chief of Police Maurita Bryant, a native Pittsburgher, remembers all too well the initial breakdown of the African-American family, as a result of the infiltration of the highly addictive crack cocaine. When you watch the assistant chief of investigations update crucial crime information to the local audience, one is assured that she is both qualified and sagacious. Among those enviable attributes, you will also find a deep sense of commitment to her native Pittsburgh.

Aware of the various communities she is inherently concerned about the troubling turmoil that exists within the neighborhoods she knows so well.

While she admits there are many contributing factors, she remembers the influx of crack, relating it to the beginning of the destruction of Black communities. While heroin was always a problem, she said. It was the inducement of crack that brought about a victimization of families and communities, she said. Bryant speaks with the wisdom that has come from her 33 years in law enforcement.

“The craving for this drug was, not only more intense, but it was a continual addiction. Unfortunately, more females became victims of the addictive crack cocaine. The impact was extreme. This led to more prostitution to acquire the drug. As a result, children were left alone. Women were always the ones holding things together within the family, but with this addiction, there was no one to take care of the home or the kids,” she said. In particular, when both parties fell prey to the lure of the addictive substance,” she said.

Employed as a police officer at the time, Bryant remembers the gradual transition of crack addiction occurring in the early 1980’s. The manufacture, accessibility, and sale of the cocaine derivative became an intensifying path for many unwilling victims, leading to a new wave of rising crimes that did not previously exist within the African-American community. “Most of these crimes,” she said, “are caused by someone under the influence. Somewhere in the mix, drugs have been a contributing factor to the crime itself.”

The quest for drugs and the love of money is a force that fuels the crime rate, including the rash of violent shootings and homicides, she said. The problems exist within every community and neighborhood across the country, and Bryant is active in educating others as she resolves to do everything she can to help solve this issue.

While it is difficult to pull out concrete numbers regarding drug arrests, the numbers are high among both juveniles and adults. Adults, negotiating sales, are using more and more children to deliver the product because the sentencing guidelines for youth are not as harsh, she said. Anytime of the day or night in many neighborhoods, young men possess identifiable street corners, claiming the territorial boundaries. They are well aware of the circumstances surrounding the mother or father who ignores the security and well-being of their children for the euphoric exchange. She said although many sales are conducted with non-minorities who drive to the minority neighborhood to make a purchase, the desire for the drug or subsequent money from the sale outweighs the risks as they expose themselves to arrest or robbery, or even death.

The vicious cycle between the seller, the addict, the enabler, and family is all too familiar to Bryant. She acknowledges that there is a crucial need to touch not only the addicted, but also the young men and women on the corners and those incarcerated, her views regarding alcohol and drug addiction is empathetic.

She is easily recognizable and greets members of the community with a sincere acknowledgement and a smile. Her demeanor is reserved and concise; her schedule is engaging. She said she is dedicated to the education of herself and her peers, travelling across the country seeking and sharing knowledge that aids her in her own community. Her wisdom and skills have been acquired throughout her impressive career within the Bureau. Recently Bryant served as one of the panel experts at a Town Hall meeting addressing addiction in the Pittsburgh area, and continues to travel across the country lecturing and sharing with other communities the problems of drug addiction.

It is difficult to separate professionalism from personal sentiment, but the Assistant Chief manages to do so in a very unique and concrete manner. Because of her desire to make the streets of Pittsburgh safer, Bryant’s heart remains in the communities she serves each day.

From the addict to the boy on the corner to those incarcerated, Bryant passionately says that the solution lies in the “need to touch one individual at a time. I don’t think the young men involved in criminal activity or the drugs plaguing our communities constitute a state of hopelessness. We can do better and be better. I think we just have to work harder at lifting people up far enough, so they can see a way out of the holes they’ve dug for themselves. A state of hopelessness is when it is easier to condemn someone rather than to help them.”

Former New Orleans Police Officer Sentenced for Role in Danziger Bridge Shootings

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Special to the NNPA from theDefendersonline.com –

A former New Orleans police officer was sentenced to a maximum of eight years in prison for his role in the notorious Danziger Bridge police shooting in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina five years ago.

The shooting, in which a group of police officers launched an unprovoked attack on unarmed civilians who were crossing the bridge, left two men dead, and four people wounded.

The officers initially claimed they had come under fire and were only defending themselves. But that claim and the cover-up the officers concocted slowly unraveled under the weight of multiple local, state, and federal investigations of the conduct of the city’s beleaguered police department after the hurricane struck.

Michael Hunter, 33, who had pleaded guilty in April to obstruction of justice and misprision of a felony — failing to report a crime — apologized to the families of the victims in a hushed courtroom of the U.S. District Court in New Orleans. He said he was sorry for “not having the courage” to admit the crime that had occurred and his own role in it.

Hunter was the driver of the rented van that delivered a group of police officers to the bridge on September 4, 2005. When their fusillade ended, James Brissette, 17, lay dead, and Ronald Madison, 40, lay fatally wounded. Four family members of the two men were wounded. The families did not know each other and were not walking together on the bridge. They had simply crossed the bridge in search of food and medical help.

The shooting immediately produced a firestorm of controversy. Hunter eventually struck a plea deal with Justice Department investigators, providing a detailed description of what had happened at the Bridge after the officers arrived, including which police officers fired the shots that killed Madison and Brissette.

The pressure to pursue justice in the case was such that when the federal indictments against the police officers were announced last July, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. traveled to the city to participate in the news conference with the U.S. Attorney for New Orleans.

U.S. District Court Judge Sarah S. Vance brushed aside Hunter’s apology, excoriating him and the other officers involved for their “profound breach of public trust” and “appalling perversion” and savagery.”

She sentenced him to the maximum amount of time in prison for his guilty plea. His sentence could be reduced, depending on his testimony at the upcoming trials of his former brother officers.

Hunter is expected to testify at the trials of the six other indicted officers in the case. Those trials are scheduled to begin in June.

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