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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.

Why Blacks Didn't Celebrate Bin Laden's Killing

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

Understandably, the killing of Osama bin Laden unleashed strong emotions among Americans – relief, satisfaction, fears of retribution, denial, and even exuberance.

But, there was something distasteful about the raucous celebrations that took place outside the White House, in Times Square and at Ground Zero. The late night news coverage gave us a one-night affair of fists pumping in the air, jubilant cries of “USA! USA!,” and demonstrators singing that famous post-game victory song “Na Na Na, Hey, Hey, Hey, Good-bye!”

The next morning, a Muslim Community Center in Portland, Maine reported that it had been attacked by graffiti artists overnight. Scrawled across the base of the building, which serves mainly Somali Muslims, were the words: “Osama Today, Islam Tomorrow” and “Long live the West.” Those hateful words underscore the fact the war on terror is not over. And, neither is the war on ignorance and hate.

A week later, American Muslims have been given a chance to respond with a mix of relief, anxiety, and perhaps naïve hope that anti-Muslim sentiment will let up. There has also been a great deal of media buzz about whether or not the public celebrations among a small minority of people were appropriate.

One obvious point that has been missed in the commentary is that those celebrations were mostly devoid of Black people. The fact is that in Harlem and the Black sections of Brooklyn there were no spontaneous gatherings full of chanting, cussing, flag waving, chest bumping, carousing, and singing with strangers. There was no loud collective orgy of national pride and triumphalism in any other Black public squares across America.

Now, why is that?

It’s not that Black Americans, whose patriotism is often undervalued, do not feel some of the same emotions as those who took to the streets last Sunday night. Our quiet response speaks to our long-held understanding of what struggle is – our domestic struggle as a marginalized community is ongoing. We know that the war is not over and that neutralizing Osama bin Laden was a goal but only as part of a war that is not over.

Perhaps Black America took its cue from President Obama’s coolness about the ordeal. He did not, unlike his predecessor, descend atop a naval ship and declare “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.” Thursday’s ceremony and quiet conversations with those directly affected by the 9-11 attacks speak to this fact. In fact, Black America’s rather solemn response is actually congruent not only to the President, but of most White Americans.

I have to give the majority of White America its due. Those frat party celebrations overwhelming do not represent the norm reaction among most Americans, many of whom have been vocally critical of those spectacles. A plethora of outspoken liberal voices have aptly described what those scenes really represent – opportunistic pockets of America that see bin Laden’s death as a reason to boost American exceptionalism and to reclaim hegemony on the world stage at a time of domestic instability and uncertainty.

Yet some pundits have that the raucous celebrations aren’t a bad thing and that their triumphant nationalism is somehow healthy for our national psyche.

Garrett Quinn, a writer for the Boston Globe, illustrates my point:

“As Americans we’ve been down and out for a few years. The economy is in the tank, we’re involved in three wars, we’re in a severe budget crisis, and for the first time we are uncertain about our future as the world’s lone superpower. This victory over our national enemy gave us a moment, however brief, to thump our chests, wave our flags, and shoot off fireworks. It gave us a moment to carouse with strangers and sing songs in crowded public spaces. Public Enemy Number One was vanquished and it was time to celebrate and feel good about ourselves. And there isn’t a damn thing wrong with that.”

Thankfully, our President, Black America and most of White America see it differently. The “triumphant nationalism” and arrogance is coming mostly from armchair pundits who haven’t set foot on the battlefield or near a uniform. For the rest of us, we are resolute in our understanding that the struggle continues. We will have to battle the terrorists and those who wrongfully want to set us up as masters of the universe and thereby hated targets.

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

Congressman John Lewis Receives Joint Center's Louis E. Martin Award

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspaper –

On May 3rd, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies recognized U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) with the 2011 Louis E. Martin Great American Award. The Joint Center’s highest honor was given to Lewis for his decades of service as an advocate of civil and human rights and for strengthening the American community.

Lewis received the award at the Joint Center's annual Gala Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, D.C. The event drew more than 500 people including government officials, members of Congress and business, and civic and community pioneers from across the nation.

For more than 50 years, the group noted, Lewis has been a pioneering community and political leader and civil rights advocate.

The presentation was given on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the day the first Freedom Riders left Washington by bus on a trip to the south to exercise their right to interstate travel and to fight laws that enforced segregation. Lewis was among the first riders and was severely beaten during the event.

“Congressman Lewis continues to lead by his example, working for racial harmony and inspiring all Americans to make the most of their right to engage in the process of shaping our nation's future,” Joint Center President and CEO Ralph B. Everett said at the event, according to a press release.

Lewis reflected on the turbulent events at the gala, and said that the first violent encounter occurred in Rock Hill, S.C., where he and his co-riders attempted to enter a bus station waiting room that was reserved for Whites. But, he explained that one of the men who beat him came to his office and apologized to him two years ago. Lewis added that while times have definitely changed, America still has work to do.

“Some people ask me these days whether the election of President Obama is the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream,” the congressman said at the event, according to a press release. “I’m quick to say ‘no.’ It’s just a major down payment. There are still too many people in America that are left behind.”

The award, named after celebrated journalist, presidential advisor, and co-founder of the Joint Center Louis E. Martin, is given to individuals who epitomize King's dream for justice, compassion, and racial unification.

Past recipients of the award include former presidents Jimmy Carter and William J. Clinton, Muhammad Ali, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and civil rights icon Dr. Dorothy I. Height.

Founded in 1970, the Joint Center is one of the nation's leading research and public policy institutions and the sole one whose work focuses on African Americans and other people of color.

Nigerian Citizen Journalist Receives Major Press Freedom Award

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the Omidyar Network of Redwood City, California, announced the award of nearly $5 million in funding to four media-related groups involved in investigative and citizen journalism in the developing world.

The four groups are: African Media Initiative (Kenya): the SaharaReporters project (Nigeria); Media Development Loan Fund (U.S.); and the Committee to Protect Journalists (Africa programs).

Announcing the grant to Sahara Reporters, an online network of underground and citizen journalists operating inside Nigeria, Omidyar’s Stephen King said: “They put a lens on the Nigerian government by covering corruption, disbursement of oil revenues, and graft on a massive scale. [SaharaReporters.com] provides much more [information] than a newspaper or news outlet might. It’s a forum where controversial stories can be aired.”

Sowore Omoyele, founder and publisher of the NY-based Sahara Reporters, described the work of his group as far-reaching. “We had 1,700 reporters on Blackberry alone who volunteered to cover the [recent Nigerian] elections for us," he said. "They took smartphone photos of police repression and election violence.”

“We report events, news, and write reports of real time issues. It is our response to the failure – the refusal or lack of will on the part of professional journalists – to report real news to the people … SR is doing well in that regard. We have broken the sound and speed barriers of reporting authentic, evidence-based news.

“Omidyar Network believes a healthy government – one that is responsive to its citizens -- requires a healthy, robust fourth estate. By focusing additional efforts on fostering investigative and citizen journalism, we believe we will be catalyzing transparency efforts that will positively affect millions of people,” said King, who heads Omidyar’s global government transparency programs.

To date, Omidyar Network has committed more than $400 million to for-profit companies and non-profit organizations that foster economic advancement and encourage individual participation in the areas of microfinance, entrepreneurship, property rights, government transparency, consumer Internet, and mobile. To learn more about Omidyar Network, visit www.omidyar.com.

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