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$18.5 Million Lawsuit Taken From Wrongfully Convicted Man

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By Stacey Patton, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

In 1985 Alan Newton, a Bronx man, was convicted for rape, robbery, and assault and was imprisoned for 22 years of a 40-year sentence before being cleared by DNA evidence and finally released in 2006. Four years later, thanks to litigation support from the Innocence Project, a Manhattan Federal District Court jury ruled that the city had violated his civil rights and found two police officers liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress by denying his right to gain access to DNA evidence.

For his trouble, Newton was awarded $18.5 million in damages, the largest compensation sum of its kind ever awarded — $96 for every hour of the 22 years he spent in prison. Newton’s lawyers argued that the city had shown a reckless disregard for Newton’s rights because the system for safeguarding DNA evidence and a defendant’s access to it was slipshod.

But last week, federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin took away Newton’s compensation, ruling that Newton had not proved that any city employees “withheld evidence in deliberate contravention or disregard of his right to due process.” Showing of negligence was not enough, she wrote in her opinion. “Newton’s due process claim cannot be sustained absent proof that a city official acted with the requisite constitutional culpability in withholding evidence.”

Scheindlin noted that the courts “repeatedly granted Newton the right to test the DNA evidence,” but it took years for the police to find the rape kit.

According to her 31-page decision, the city did not intentionally violate his civil rights. “It is not enough for Newton to have shown that the city’s post-trial evidence management system is disorganized. As disturbing as such negligence may be, in the end that is what it is: mere negligence.”

“I’m totally shocked,” Newton told the News after the decision came down. “The city’s saying I’m not entitled to anything, and no one has to answer for what happened to me anymore. … This is the last thing I expected.” Newton’s lawyer says he plans to appeal the decision. Meanwhile, a case against the state is still pending.

Stacey Patton is a writer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.


Congressional Black Caucus Celebrates 40th Anniversary

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By Ofield Dukes, Special the NNPA –

Washington, D.C. – This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

The contributions of CBC members in ushering a new era of Black political empowerment are enormous. Unfortunately, these history-making legislative accomplishments of Black members of the U.S. Congress are not as well known by their constituents and the new generation of young Black Americans as they should be.

So, in a classic contemporary alliance between Black politicians and Black publishers, Danny Bakewell, the chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), has invited present and former CBC members to submit commentaries that will appear in local NNPA newspapers about the challenges they faced across America, and especially in the U.S. Congress, in responding to legislative and societal issues relevant to African Americans.

I had the privileged of assisting in organizing and coordinating public relations for the first CBC dinner, held on June 18, 1971.

Rep. Charles Diggs, Jr. (D-MI) as the senior Black member of Congress, began a deliberate process of organizing the CBC.

Having a prior friendship with Rep. Diggs, a Democrat who was a popular Detroit funeral home director, I was aware of his concern that President Richard Milhous Nixon might try to dismantle the historic civil rights legislation and Great Society programs passed under the courageous leadership of President Lyndon Baines Jonson. Diggs also took umbrage that President Nixon refused to meet with the 13 Blacks that were in the Congress at that time.

Ms. Carolyn P. DuBose, a former press secretary to Rep. Diggs, described in her well-researched book, “The Untold Story of Charles Diggs,” how Diggs began organizing the CBC by establishing a Democratic Select Committee in l969. She quoted Rep. Diggs as saying: “They did not call me. I am the one who called them. I am the guy that called the meetings.”

Added Diggs, according to Ms. DuBose, “I deliberately did not come in there Pharaoh-style. I wanted things to come up through the group to set the pattern about what they wanted to do.”

In addition to a climate of White House hostility, in the civil rights movement, there emerged a militant Black power movement led by Stokely Carmichael and H. Rapp Brown. They both advocated meeting White with Black violence, contrary to the non-violent approach of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

There was also fear and anxiety in the White community in linking such a radical effort by Black members in the U.S. Congress with the Black power movement.

I was in the second year of operating my public relations firm out of the National Press building when Rep. Diggs called me out of great concern for White and even Black perceptions associating the newly formed Congressional Black Caucus with the Black power movement.

Diggs and I discussed a strategy of my firm convening a press conference at the National Press Club to clarify the objectives of the CBC. At the press conference, CBC members Rep. Louis Stokes and Rep. Williams Clay eloquently explained the political objectives of the Black Caucus and the planned first dinner that June.

A White syndicated columnist had written that the CBC dinner in June could be raising funds in support of a CBC member planning to run for president. The suggested candidate was Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) although Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) actually ran for president in l972.

In my initial news release on the CBC dinner, I wrote: “Funds from the $100 per plate banquet will be used by the Caucus to finance a permanent, independent staff to conduct in-depth analysis of issues and polices relevant to Black and poor America.”

The news release continued, “In a formal statement, the Caucus said, ‘Rumors, news reports, editorials and other media statements are appearing frequently, implying sponsorship of the dinner is related to secret plans in support of a black member of Congress for the presidency in the l972 elections. The Congressional Black Caucus categorically denies that any money raised by us at this affair will go to support one black or white, Democrat, Republican, 3rd party or 4th party who is a candidate for the presidency.”

In my firm’s handling the public relations for the first dinner, there was concern about people coming to the nation’s capital paying as much as $100 to attend a dinner. That was quite a sum of money at that time. But at the dinner, there was an overwhelming crowd. The hotel ballroom had a capacity of 2, 400, 10 persons at 24 tables. However,tThere were 2,800 excited people squeezed into the ballroom, a standing room only crowd.

We had an anxious moment at the hotel when the fire marshal threatened to do something about the unsafely of such an overflow crowd. That could have led to a riot and a public relations disaster.

The dinner, itself, was a huge success, with entertainment by singers Nancy Wilson and Billy Eckstein, humor by Dick Gregory and Bill Cosby, and an electrifying speech by actor/orator Ossie Davis.

Davis told the audience that “It’s not the man; it’s the plan; it’s not the rap; It’s the map.

Davis went on to say, “At the time when Dr. King died in l958, he was in the process of organizing his forces and calling upon his people to come one more time to Washington, D.C. And, I have a feeling that had he come that time he would not have said, ‘I have a dream.’ He would have said, ‘I have a plan.” And, I feel that that plan that he might have made a difference.”

Ossie Davis’ profound remarks that inspired the founding 13 members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the thousands who attuned that first dinner 40 years ago are as relevant today. And, so is the work of the Congressional Black Caucus.

South African Unions Grill Wal-Mart Over Jobs

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

South African unions are throwing cold water on Wal-Mart Stores $2.4 billion takeover plans of Massmart, a major African retailer.

Union leaders say the move by Wal-Mart could cause thousands of job losses and worsen labor conditions. A new report, commissioned by South Africa's economic development and agricultural departments, warned that if the new owner shifted just 1% of merchandise purchases from domestic to foreign suppliers, it could lead to the loss of some 4,000 jobs.

The Competition Tribunal of South Africa, an independent body, must approve or reject the plan.

While sustained economic growth in Africa has produced for the first time a broad middle class, one that cuts across the continent and is on par with the size of the middle classes in the billion-person emerging markets of China and India, there are still not enough jobs for those of working age.

According to one report, there are roughly four million South Africans unemployed or a quarter of all those able to work.

Meanwhile, a consortium of unions including the South Africa Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union, UNI Global Union, and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union have been grilling Wal-Mart concerning their perceived hostility to unions.

"We have prepared a clear case that shows that Wal-Mart has a history around the world of suppressing union and worker rights," said Christy Hoffman of UNI Global Union, the worldwide union federation representing 20 million workers.

Researcher Kenneth Jacobs of the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, provided an affidavit noting that Wal-Mart has depressed retail wages in the communities where it operates.

Former Wal-Mart VP, Andrew Bond, said it was "premature" to predict what impact a merger would have on job creation in South Africa, but stressed that it was expected to be "positive."

Gay Ugandan Activist Receives Major Human Rights Award

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

The founder of Freedom and Roam Uganda, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights organization, who faces death threats in her own country, has won a major human rights prize.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera was chosen for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, announced a jury meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

Nabagesera was described as "an exceptional woman of ... rare courage, fighting under death threat for human dignity and the rights of homosexuals and marginalized people in Africa."

“This is a fitting tribute to the courage of one woman, Kasha Nabagesera, and to all activists working under conditions of extreme threat," said Dipika Nath, LGBT researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Gays face official persecution in Uganda where a harsh anti-gay bill is currently before legislators. In its original form, the bill called for the death penalty for gays. The current bill would increase penalties for homosexual acts from 14 years in prison to life.

“I don't think there's anything that can stop me from this struggle," said Nabagesera in a press interview, "except the liberty that I'm struggling for. I don’t think you can give up on human rights in any way.”

Atrocities of Rwanda Genocide Recalled in Kansas Trial of U.S. Citizen

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

A courtroom in Kansas has become the unlikely stage for an eyewitness retelling of some of the horrific crimes that led 800,000 to perish in the central African nation of Rwanda. More than 50 witnesses from five countries have been called to testify, including some who also killed and tortured during the genocide.

In the case of U.S. vs. Lazare Kobagaya, a federal court jury will be asked to decide if the former Rwandan teacher and mill owner, now a Topeka, Kansas resident and U.S. citizen, incited local Hutu farmers to turn on their Tutsi neighbors in the turbulent days of April 1994.

Prosecutors say Kobagaya ordered the deaths of hundreds of people in the Nyakizu region of the southern Rwanda.

Testifying for the prosecution, Valens Murindangabo told of an order to kill two Tutsi teens. “‘Wipe them out, kill them,’ ” Murindangabo said Kobagaya had commanded. The boys were hacked to death with a machete, Murindangabo said, while Kobagaya watched from a few yards away.

Murindangabo, a former sixth-grade teacher, further said he had slashed the legs of a Tutsi woman so another man could bash in her head and how he had hacked a second young woman to death after she asked him for protection.

“Humanity was almost gone in me…” Murindangabo said.

The U.S. has no criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed abroad, but it can prosecute someone for lying on a naturalization form, which specifically asks applicants if they have participated in genocide.

Prosecutors say Kobagaya lied on immigration and citizenship documents, checking a box saying he had not participated in genocide. If convicted, the 84 year old Kobagaya faces deportation.

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BVN National News Wire