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Hudson River Tragedy Puts Mental Health in the Black Community Into Focus

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

The recent tragic death of a woman who drove herself and her children into the Hudson River in Newburgh, N.Y., still has people asking, “How could she?” And, while there are no easy answers for this terrible act, it is increasing the conversation on depression and mental health in the Black community.

Reports indicate that LaShanda Armstrong, 25, drove herself and her four children into the Hudson River after an incident at her and her boyfriend's apartment. Armstrong was upset because she thought her boyfriend was cheating on her.

The children in the minivan were 10-year-old La’Shaun Armstrong, 5-year-old Landen Pierre, 2-year-old Lance Pierre, and 11-month-old Lainaina Pierre.

“If I'm going to die, we're all going to die,” Armstrong reportedly said before driving her family into the Hudson River.

As the car sank into the river, La’Shaun was able to swim out of the vehicle to safety, leaving his siblings and mother behind. La'Shaun, who knew how to swim, feels a heavy load of guilt for not being able to save his siblings who could not.

Upon reaching the shore, La’Shaun went into the street and flagged down a car for help. Soaking wet, he quickly got the attention of motorist Meave Ryan. La'Shaun explained to her what happened and Ryan called the police.

After an hour, the City of Newburgh fire and police departments found the minivan under 10 feet of water, 25 yards from the shore. La’Shaun told police officers what had happened, and spoke of his regret and guilt over not being able to save his young siblings. The guilt-stricken boy said that, during the final moments as the water began to fill the minivan, his mother began to scream words of regret, but it was too late.

The family’s tragic story is actually just the face of mental illness and the depression that often results from it that so many African-Americans are dealing with. According to statistics, 63 percent of African-Americans view depression as a “personal weakness.” Only seven percent of African-American women seek treatment for depression, while 92 percent of African-American men do not seek any help for depression.

Factors that can lead to depression include financial issues, traumatic life experiences, health problems and being a victim of abuse, violence or poverty. Left untreated, depression can be fatal.

Terrie Williams, author of the acclaimed book, “Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting,” said that there is a stigma in the Black community around mental illness. It is perceived that a person is insane, which prevents many Black people from seeking the help they need.

“We're all very fragile,” Williams said. “A lot of depression begins from a basic place. All of us move through the world with unresolved wounds from our childhood. Many of us have not opened up and we don't have any coping skills.”

Williams added that in Armstrong’s case, things most likely became too much for her and she felt a sense of worthlessness. While she was probably aware of the anger and rage that she felt, Williams said it was not a case of her not loving her children—she was probably pushed over edge by dealing with issues in her relationship without seeking outside help.

As for 10-year-old La’Shaun, Armstrong’s only surviving child, Williams said she believes that, with the right help, he will be alright.

“He's mourning the loss and dealing with the trauma from what was going on,” she said. “He's going to need some help because he can't do that by himself. We just can't leave him to his own devices and expect he's going to be ok.”

Famed psychologist Dr. Jeffery Gardere added that several factors may have come into play in the lead-up to Armstrong's actions. Stress from motherhood could have been a likely factor. Armstrong was 25 years old at the time of her death—her oldest child was 10 years old, making her only 15 when she first became a mother.

The financial and emotional stress of having four children might have been too much for her to bear. Coupled with an already fragile personality, Gardere said, Armstrong likely had a nervous breakdown that ended in tragedy.

“She loved her kids, and for her to do something so heinous to herself and her children—this is someone who had lost touch with reality,” he said. “With the lack of emotional support, and financial issues, she felt very alone in her misery. This was an unhappy woman.”

Gardere said that La’Shaun is going to need at least 15 to 20 years of therapy and that the traumatic experience he went through might lead to difficulties with relationships with others later in life.

“He'll have flashbacks for years. This will stay with him forever and impact his life and whoever he is involved with—he's going to be unable to make a full commitment [to a relationship] only because he feels she's going to leave him the way his mother left him. There is hope for him and he may become a much stronger individual, but he may become so strong that he shuts out other people,” Gardere said.

Nigerian Election Tears the Country in Two

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Religious and political loyalties appear to have determined the outcome of Nigeria’s presidential poll during the past weekend with northern states throwing their support to former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari of the predominantly Muslim north, while the southern states backed incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, of the predominantly Christian south.

Jonathan, who was accused of spreading billions in “walking around money” as it is called in the U.S., was declared the winner after a recent landmark vote. He allegedly garnered 31% of the vote total or 22.5 million votes to Buhari, who received 12.2 million votes or just under 60 percent.

Buhari’s loss could sound the death knell to an unwritten power-sharing arrangement, which had handed the presidency back and forth between the Muslim north and Christian and animist south every two years.

A president from the north should have been in power until 2015 but plans went awry when the previous president Umaru Yar'Adua, died in office. Jonathan, a vice-president from the south, should have stepped down after completing his predecessor's term of office. He did not, and went on to defeat a northern Muslim challenger, former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, for the party's presidential nomination.

Buhari’s party is rejecting the vote totals and has filed a challenge. They have also issued a call to law and order as deadly riots spread through several northern cities in an apparent protest of the result.

Meanwhile, social media groups that monitored reports of electoral abuse, mostly gave thumbs up to the vote. “Nigerians need to be commended, along with elected/appointed officials who were saddled with delivering hitch-free elections,” wrote the watchdog Enough is Enough on their website. “We look forward to the last set of elections on Tuesday, April 26, so that we can have a honest review of the impact of our work – and also plan for the journey ahead.

“This is 2011, our votes will count!”

Supporters Tell City: 'Compensate the Central Park Jogger 5'

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By Nayaba Arinde, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

The Central Park Jogger case has hit the headlines again.

Raymond Santana, Khary Wise, two of the five young men falsely accused and wrongfully imprisoned in the notorious case, last week, gathered on the steps of New York City Hall to demand that the city address the issue of their compensation.

“We call on Mayor Bloomberg to authorize the immediate settlement of this case,” said Roger Wareham, one of the lawyers in the case. “We call on the City Council to hold hearings on the city’s refusal to settle this matter. And, as our history demonstrates, we will be in the streets to mobilize our community to create whatever pressure is necessary to bring long overdue justice to the Central Park 5 and their families. Almost 10 years ago next April, Councilman Charles Barron introduced a resolution in the chambers at City Hall to that end.”

While jogging in Central Park on April 19, 1989, Trisha Meili was raped and beaten. Five Harlem teens—Raymond Santana, Khary Wise, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, and Yusef Salaam—were charged and tried for the crime, first in the media and eventually in court, where they were convicted of the assault. The case had current so-called potential presidential candidate Donald Trump taking out full-page ads in New York City papers demanding the death penalty for the young men.

In 2002, the convictions were overturned when DNA evidence and a confession proved that Matias Reyes committed the crime alone.

The evidence proved what the the teens—now men—had always maintained: they were not guilty of the assault. In the wake of the subsequent civil suit, supporters, families, and attorneys for the exonerated men demanded that the city not put them through another trial, but rather step up and compensate them for their unlawful imprisonment.

Santana said, “Today marks 22 years since Kharey, Yusef, Kevin, Antron and myself were taken from our homes, robbed of our youth, and given labels of ‘rapists,’ ‘monsters,’ ‘animals’ and ’wolf pack.’

“We come here every year. We stand on these steps. We demand justice,” he continued. “The media does a small article and puts it in the back of the paper. TV doesn't even acknowledge us. Where is our justice? Twenty-two years is a very long time. We have lost family members. We have lost time. We have lost our foundations.

“We have difficulties when it comes to functioning on a higher level as productive individuals because we never had the opportunity to grow naturally, make mistakes, live life. We didn't have the chances to become lawyers, doctors, police officers, firefighters or Duke lacrosse players.

“I was charged, convicted and sent to prison in 17 months...I think that's a record!” said Santana. “I wasn't given any type of chances. I was sent to the worst prisons. I had to sit in meetings listening to the stories of real sexual predators. Even to my friends I was ‘Raymond Santana from the Central Park case.’ I was a child abandoned by everyone, even my family.

“Now in order to receive some type of civil justice I have to wait. Wait for justice? It’s been 8 years! Lead detective Humberto Arroyo said ‘The system works.’ For real criminals, I guess it does! Trump wanted to give us the death penalty, now he wants to be president.”

He continued, “It saddens me when a city can brag and call itself ‘The Greatest City in the World,’ and talk of the American Dream, but when it comes to justice for the Central Park 5, justice for 5 innocent boys who lost their lives because the people who ran the justice system decided to take matters into their own hands—decided to ignore the scales of justice and make us scapegoats and sacrifice our lives so that they could go on to profit and live a wealthy life—it is there that lies the truth, there lie the facts on how far as a people we have truly come.

“Anniversaries are supposed to be joyous occasions, special events, celebrations. Instead my anniversary consists of struggle, hardship, pain, and suffering. You gave me all of this in exchange for my childhood, my progress, my life...Wow! Thank you, NYPD, thank you, New York City,” Santana said.

"This was an horrific miscarriage of justice which robbed these young brothers of their youth," said Councilman Charles Barron. “In 2002, after having served between 6 and 16 years in jail for this attack, the Central Park 6 [sic] were exonerated when the actual rapist came forward. While April 19 marks the 22nd anniversary of the rape of the Central Park Jogger and this unfortunate crime, the city of New York must do the right thing and compensate these six innocent, now adult, men and their families for being falsely accused and convicted.”

Last year, Barron sponsored Resolution 81, which called for compensation for the young men. Several members of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus and other council members have co-sponsored this bill. Barron added, “I encourage the entire city council and Speaker Christine Quinn to join in this effort to have the city make arrangements to settle this lawsuit. If the city of New York can settle out of court with a known drug dealer, surely it can compensate six men who lost much of their youth to a false accusation.”

The mayor’s office told the New York Amsterdam News that, “since this is ongoing litigation,” we would have to speak with the Law Department for a comment. Kate O'Brien Ahlers, Media & Communications Director said, “The lawsuit was brought by 15 people (not just five) and includes family members. Their current demand is for a quarter of a billion dollars. Also, while their convictions were vacated, the plaintiffs were not ‘cleared’ of any of the charges against the Central Park Jogger or the other victims. Having a conviction vacated does not mean they are innocent. It just means they were entitled to a new trial. But, because they had already served prison terms, the DA chose not to retry them.”

"The City stands by the decisions made by the detectives and prosecutors in bringing this case,” added Celeste Koeleveld, Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel for Public Safety, NYC Law Department. “The 'Central Park Jogger' was not the only victim that night; others were also brutally attacked, beaten and robbed. The charges against the plaintiffs and other youths were based on abundant probable cause, including confessions that withstood intense scrutiny, in full and fair pretrial hearings and at two lengthy public trials.

"Nothing unearthed since the trials, including Matias Reyes’s connection to the attack on the jogger - changes that fact. Indeed, it was well known at the time of the trials that an unidentified male’s DNA was present. Under the circumstances, the City is proceeding with a vigorous defense of the detectives and prosecutors, and the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that each of the five plaintiffs and their family members are seeking.

"The parties are actively engaged in lengthy and complex discovery, which was recently extended upon joint request by both sides. The plaintiffs themselves have already taken 20 depositions, and have recently noticed the depositions of several other NYPD personnel. The City has also turned over more than 60,000 pages of documents, plus videotapes and other evidence, in response to plaintiffs' demands."

“From April 19, 1989, through today, the December 12th Movement has maintained that the arrests, mistreatment, prosecution and incarceration of the Central Park 5 were motivated by racism, not reality,” said Wareham. “That in the wake of a cowardly, near fatal attack on a White female jogger in Central Park, any Black or Latino suspect would do as a sacrifice to a White community’s calls for revenge. And, that is precisely what happened.

“To understand why, some nine years after their exoneration and eight years after filing a suit for compensation, this case is still not settled, one must acknowledge the lynch mob mentality that led to their unjust convictions and still persists today. Mayor Bloomberg could very simply resolve this matter with the stroke of a pen, authorizing the city to settle this case. Instead, these men and their families are faced with the New York City Law Department using its immense resources to employ every pre-trial maneuver procedure possible to stretch this case out as far as they can,” Wareham continued.

“The five are now rapidly approaching age 40. They have been incarcerated, had their teen years stolen from them, vilified as “wild animals” that should be put to death by Donald Trump, branded as sex offenders, had tremendous problems finding employment and experienced heart-breaking family disruptions. And, still apology and repair are in the distant future.”

ACLU Asks Michigan Police to Explain Use of Cellphone Device

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By T. Kelly, Special to the NNPA from the Michigan Citizen –

DETROIT -- The Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is questioning the Michigan State Police's use of devices that capture information from cellphones. Called "extraction" devices, the technology can access information “that many people consider to be private, to be beyond the reach of law enforcement and other government actors," said Mark Fancher, an ACLU attorney.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the ACLU is seeking information about the police use of the devices. The ACLU filed its first request in 2008, said Fancher, and have continued since with a series of requests.

Once we knew the MSP indeed had the devices and were using them, we followed up to discover under what circumstances the devices were used, Fancher said.

MSP have responded that it will cost a half a million dollars to gather the information and are refusing to provide it without the money.

"This should be something that they are handing over freely, and that they should be more than happy to share with the public -- the routines and the guidelines that they follow," Fancher said.

He noted that the MSP listed duplication costs as one of the main costs, yet when asked to produce documents, the MSP told the ACLU there were none.

The ACLU said the devices could violate Fourth Amendment rights.

The ACLU is also concerned that since generally law enforcement has more frequent contact with communities of color, whether the devices were being used disproportionately in communities of color.

"There is great potential for abuse here by a police officer or a state trooper who may not be monitored or supervised on the street," Fancher said.

The national ACLU has asked similar questions about the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's use of devices to gather information from travelers' computers and cellphones.

Louisiana Agencies Failed to Register Minority, Low-Income Voters Under Voter Registration Act

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Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

New Orleans, LA –The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc. (LDF), Project Vote, and New Orleans attorney Ronald Wilson filed a complaint in federal court on behalf of the state conference of the NAACP and several private individuals, alleging that Louisiana is disenfranchising minority and low-income voters by failing to offer them the opportunity to register to vote as required by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

“By failing to comply with the National Voter Registration Act, Louisiana is denying minority and low-income voters across the state equal access to the ballot box,” said Dale Ho, Assistant Counsel with LDF’s Political Participation Group.

The NVRA requires public assistance agencies that provide services to low-income residents to offer their clients the opportunity to register to vote with every application for benefits, renewal, recertification, or change of address transaction. The complaint cites evidence showing that Louisiana agencies are failing to carry out their responsibilities under this law.

Despite consistently high numbers of participants in Louisiana’s food stamp and Medicaid programs, voter registration applications originating from public assistance agencies have been surprisingly low. As of 2008, voter registration applications originating in these agencies had dropped 88 percent since 1995, despite increased participation in public assistance programs. The complaint also cites the results of agency investigations and interviews of public assistance recipients showing widespread non-compliance.

“Registration at public assistance agencies is important for reaching populations that are less likely to register through other means, including low-income residents, minorities, and persons with disabilities,” says Nicole Zeitler, director of the Public Agency Voter Registration Project at Project Vote. “By ignoring this vital law, Louisiana is denying this right to thousands of its residents every year.”

“Of course, we would have preferred to resolve this matter absent the need for litigation,” said New Orleans attorney Ronald Wilson. However, continued Wilson, “the State’s refusal to make the changes required to bring it into compliance with federal law, left us with no other alternative.”

In recent years, similar lawsuits in other states have resulted in tremendous increases in voter registration numbers. For example, the number of clients registering through public assistance agencies in Missouri and Ohio has increased more than tenfold following settlement of NVRA lawsuits in those states.

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