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Civil Rights Groups Push Ferguson Residents to the Polls

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNNPA) – In the aftermath of the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed, Black teenager by a White police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and the social and political unrest that followed, civil rights leaders have urged citizens of the St. Louis County suburb to transform their community at the ballot box.

The revelation that Ferguson, a town that’s nearly 70 percent Black, was represented by a White Republican mayor and a city council that was more than 80 percent White, shocked outsiders and many believed the lack of political voices contributed to the largely non-violent protests that erupted in Ferguson. Darren Wilson, the six-year veteran police officer who shot and killed Brown on August 9, served on a Ferguson police department that is more than 90 percent White.

“What is troubling about Ferguson is the lack of voting representation of African Americans within that government and that has to change,” said Barbara Arnwine, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law.

Less than 12 percent of eligible voters in Ferguson cast ballots in 2013.

“Turnout is especially low among Ferguson’s African American residents, however. In 2013, for example, just 6 percent of eligible black voters cast a ballot in Ferguson’s municipal elections, as compared to 17 percent of white voters,” according to ThinkProgress.Org.

Even the voter turnout rates for the national midterm elections in 2010, which are usually lower than the turnout numbers for presidential elections, were nearly nine times higher than Black voter turnout in Ferguson, Mo., during the last election cycle.

According to the Associated Press, Blacks outvoted Whites in both 2008 and 2012.

“We are all wholeheartedly committed to making sure that political power, meaning voting, by people of color in the city of Ferguson becomes a vital energetic and strong reality and that the next election, including November 2014, will see a new day in African American voter turnout and participation,” said Arnwine.

After President Obama drew sharp criticism from political pundits on the right and the left for his response to the killing of Michael Brown, and the disconcerting images of St. Louis County police firing rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters,

Pamela Meanes, the president-elect of the National Bar Association, said that President Obama can’t win for losing.

“If he was too passionate, individuals would say, ‘he’s [interfering] with the investigation,’” explained Meanes. “If he’s too calm, people would say, ‘he’s not passionate enough.’”

Meanes added: “The real issue is whether or not his words touched the people of Ferguson. I think they did.”

Last week, more than a dozen civil and human rights groups released a statement and list of recommendations for community stakeholders, law enforcement officials and lawmakers in an effort to address the killing of Black men at the hands of police officers across the nation.

The group called for “an independent and comprehensive federal investigation by the Department of Justice of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager shot by police in Ferguson, Mo.”

The recommendations, crafted by the civil rights groups, included comprehensive reviews of excessive use of force reports and killings by police officers on unarmed minorities and the adoption of national standards on use of force for all law enforcement officers.

“The tragic killing of Michael Brown is not an isolated incident. This is emblematic of deficiencies disparities and discrimination in the American criminal justice system,” said Janai Nelson, the associate director-counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “ It’s a system that has been marred by racial profiling, by over-policing by excessive force by law enforcement and the killing and the extreme frustration that we see surrounding not only Michael Brown’s death but the deaths of three other unarmed persons in little over a month.”

A New York City police officer killed Eric Garner, 43, with a chokehold during an attempted arrest in July. On August 5, John Crawford III, 21, was fatally shot by police as he walked around a Wal-Mart talking on his cellphone and carrying a toy gun in Beavercreek, Ohio. Two days after Michael Brown was killed, police shot and killed Ezell Ford, 25, a mentally disabled man in Los Angeles, Calif.

Nelson said, “We call on the Department of Justice not only to conduct a formal and independent investigation, but also to enact much needed structural reform of the United States criminal justice system and to address the pervasive and long-standing deficiencies in police practices and supervision and the widespread failure to deal with issues of racial bias in the criminal justice system, both implicit and explicit that result in the tragic deaths and mass incarceration of Americans of color.”

An Eyewitness Account of Violence in Ferguson, Mo.

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – At noon on Saturday, August 9, Michael Brown, 18, and his friend, Dorian Johnson, crossed paths with Ferguson, Mo. Police Officer, Darren Wilson. By 12:04 p.m., Wilson had fatally shot Brown six times. His body was left out for hours as other officers responded to the scene.

The next evening, his family and community gathered at the site of his death for a vigil in his honor. After a while, they decided to march down West Florissant Ave. to a QuikTrip gas station/convenience store.

After that, the details of what is happening in Ferguson become murky, depending on the source.

“We are on a whole other level now, people don’t even know. Don’t believe what you’re seeing on mainstream TV. We are in a state of emergency here in Ferguson, so the government basically has the right to make the rules up as they go,” says Danie Rae, a St. Louis resident. Rae has been demonstrating on and off in Ferguson since the initial vigil.

On that day, she arrived just before sunset. Rae remembers officers were already in place in full riot gear, trying to constrain the peaceful crowd of about 2,000, by her estimate.

“The police were threatening the crowd, they wouldn’t let us move,” Rae says. “The city limit of Ferguson is Ferguson Ave. [at the intersection of West Florissant Ave.], and maybe they were trying to keep us from going into [neighboring] Jennings, is the only logic I can come up with. But who says we can’t demonstrate in Jennings?”

After nightfall, someone broke into the QuikTrip. Police grew more aggressive, directing the crowd to disperse. At this point, Rae attempted to return to her car to go home.

“When I got to my car, where the police barricade was, there were about 50 or 60 police cars blocking you in,” she says. “So you couldn’t get out.”

According to her, the police then began a methodic advance, with officers firing gas at the front, and armored, gas-masked officers bringing up the rear. No one was allowed to move in the opposite direction of police, even if that was their way home. Anyone caught between the two police groups, would be stuck in the acrid cloud.
Rae was one of those people stuck.

“[Tear gas] burns instantly. It burns your face, your eyes, and your throat when you breathe in,” she says. “You can’t get away because the cops are threatening you. There’s no choice but to go into the tear gas.”

By the end of that first night, 32 people were arrested (some for looting), two officers were injured, the QuikTrip was a charred hull, several stores in the area had been broken into, and West Florissant Ave. was strewn with debris. Starting the next morning, Monday August 11, demonstrations and gatherings resumed, most notably in front of the police department headquarters. The first day of school was postponed for the Ferguson-Florissant School District.

The schools would remain closed for the rest of the week as protests continued. Throughout the week, West Florissant Ave. in general, and the QuikTrip in particular, remained the central meeting point for demonstrations. Several blocks north, the Ferguson McDonald’s served as a relief point.

On Sunday, August, 17, Yaya Bey, an artist and teacher who lives in Alexandria, Va., and Erika Totten, a stay-at-home-mom and activist and former teacher in Washington, D.C., arrived in Ferguson. They had come with a group of three others from the D.C. metro area to help organize and agitate with Ferguson/St. Louis community leaders and social justice groups.

“When we were there, it was like a family reunion at the QuikTrip,” Bey says. “There were activities for the children, people giving away food, people asking people to register to vote…it was a really peaceful protest.”

After dark, she and Totten walked through the crowds to McDonald’s so Totten could call her mother.

“As we were on our way to McDonald’s we passed a line of police with sticks, and I walked up to one and asked, ‘What are the sticks for?’ He said, ‘To beat people.’”

Still, Totten says things at the McDonald’s were calm at that point. But around 8:30, well before the mandated midnight curfew, police attempted to disperse crowds by using force.

“This is when they say some looters smashed the windows, but…they were tear-gassing block by block,” Totten recalls. “People were so caught off guard and didn’t have anywhere to go. Someone just wanted to get in because they were choking.”

At this, she and Bey prepared themselves to leave the McDonald’s and return to the foggy streets to help the injured, “spraying them down” with a milk- or Maalox-and-water mixture said to relieve the burning.

“There were a lot of young people out there, a lot of people from the hood out there, willing to be on the front lines. Not only that, but they’re there without information…didn’t know anything about how to diffuse tear gas,” Bey says. “We ran into two kids, they were 15…[one] said, ‘I didn’t even plan to be here, I was on my way home and got trapped out here.’”

At some point, police began firing into the crowd. No one knew the bullets were rubber. People ran from the gunfire, some hiding in residential yards, garages, and sheds. In the melee, Bey was assaulted.

“I was running from gun shots…running for my life at the time. [Totten] was a few feet in front of me. A White man came in between us, and it took me a while to realize he was running toward me,” she says. “By the time I realized it was too late. He hit me in the face and told me to sit the f— down.”

She clarifies that he wasn’t an officer. Totten adds that there was a group of people down there “not down for the cause,” taking advantage of the chaos to stir trouble.

The following day, Monday the 18th, Bey and Totten attended a peaceful protest at the state building in downtown St. Louis, convened by the Organization for Black Struggle (OBS). It was also the event where 90-year-old Holocaust survivor and activist, Hedy Epstein was arrested. Totten says Epstein chose to lend herself to the front lines of this demonstration, in case police made arrests – which they did.

According to Totten, the OBS attempted to deliver a list of demands, which included: criminal charges against Officer Darren Wilson; the resignation of Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson; an end to police brutality; and a more diverse police force reflective of the Ferguson community.

Later in the week, police raided St. Mark’s Missionary Church, which had been offering trainings for demonstrators, as well as food, supplies, and shelter for displaced people.

The core group of people protesting were mostly young, mostly Black but with a significant number of White people present, and mostly people from the area. There are also journalists and a handful of elected officials who have inserted themselves into the fray.

“There’s three categories of people,” says Rae. “People who maybe came out because they’ve been affected…they’re angry at how Mike Brown was killed and are sick of the treatment, but they don’t really see the full picture, the structure of racism.

“Then you have the people who are apathetic. It’s easier for them to just go about their day. Not that they don’t care, but they say things like, ‘Oh, we [Black people] are wrong, look at Black-on-Black crime.’ Then you have people like myself who are trying to organize and mobilize. We are the minority. That middle group is the majority.”

Homeowners in the neighborhoods branching off West Florissant Ave. have also been helping from the sidelines. Rae escaped on the first night because a homeowner welcomed her and a few others inside, and then drove Rae back to her car a bit later. Totten and Bey’s group slept at a “safe house” in the area, and were able to hide in yards during police action.

“What I’ve seen is people sitting on their porches telling us to keep fighting. When we had to run, we were able to go into their garages,” says Totten. “I’m proud of the people of Ferguson.”

Currently, school has begun but street blockades, traffic reroutes, and ID checkpoints continue. Rae says that people are still organizing, protesting, and trying to decide next steps; visiting activists and journalists are still in the area. Bey and Totten say they have connected with Ferguson and St. Louis groups, and will return to the area when more foot soldiers are needed to relieve those who need a break.

Trotten says, “I felt like I just came out of a war zone. I feel like I was in a different country. I couldn’t believe this was in the United States.”

Jesse Jackson Will Expand Silicon Valley Initiative to Other Sectors

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. [NNPA] – After he completes his campaign for more diversity in Silicon Valley, Jesse Jackson plans to expand the pressure on technology companies in other regions of the country and then go after other sectors of private industry, including financial services, banking and advertising.

In an interview after speaking at the annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) here, the Atlanta-based civil rights organization co-founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that gave birth to Jackson’s Operation PUSH and Rainbow PUSH, the civil rights leader was already eyeing other targets.

“As I looked at everybody’s fight for who can make the smallest government, I thought about our being basically a government-created middle class – policemen, firemen, teachers. As you cut down on the civil service jobs, those jobs disappear. Where are the growth industries? Silicon Valley for starters, the automotive industry next, banking next – the whole private sector. You fish where the fish are.”

Jackson said getting high tech companies to disclose their employment data, EEO-1 forms that large companies must file with the federal government, was a major victory.
“We asked for their EEO-1 reports, but most of the big companies didn’t want to deal with that because they have 2 percent or 3 percent minority employment across the board,” Jackson told the NNPA News Service.

When Jackson first announced his Silicon Valley initiative at his Wall Street Project in New York, it was not known if he would follow through, as he has done in other campaigns in the past, or move on to other issues, which he has also done with equal frequency.

He lamented on the lack of Black board representation at Google or Facebook and said he would challenge the absence of people of color.

“One of the myths is that it’s [technology] is so sophisticated that we can’t do it,” Jackson said. “First of all, 70 percent of all of the jobs in Silicon Valley do not require high tech skills – lawyers, ad agencies, marketing, social services or engineering, though we can do that, too.”

He added, “When you look at Facebook’s board, the only engineer on its board is Mark Zuckerberg, its founder. Don Graham [former publisher of the Washington Post] is not an engineer. [Former White House chief of staff] Erskine Bowles is not an engineer yet he sits on the board. It’s just a tight, White circle.”

In March, Jackson sent a letter to 20 companies, including Apple, Twitter, Facebook, Hewlett Packard, Google, and eBay saying, “Technology is supposed to be about inclusion, but sadly, patterns of exclusion remains the order of the day. When it comes to African Americans on Boards – ZERO. C-suites, ZERO. Minority firms in IPOs and financial transactions, advertising and professional services – ZERO. These ZEROES are contrary to the enlightened values exposed by the industry. Rainbow PUSH is seeking meetings with tech leaders to address these ZEROES head on.”

When Jackson met with companies, most initially resisted disclosing their employment data.

“Those companies all filed a lawsuit in court and won – they won the right not to expose their EEO records,” he said. “Their rationale was that if they tell their numbers, they would be giving up propriety information.”

Before going on attack, Jackson did what he always does when he targets a company – he purchased stock so that he could take his case to shareholders at their annual meeting. Then, one by one, the companies began disclosing employment data.

• eBay (61 percent White; 24 percent Asian; 5 percent Latino; 2 percent Black)
• Google (61 percent White; 30 percent Asian; 3 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Black)
• Facebook (57 percent White; 34 percent Asian; 4 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Black)

Twitter resisted until Jackson used Twitter and ColorofChange.org to launch an on-line petition drive demanding that Twitter reveal its employment data. Ironically, Blacks over index on Twitter (26 percent), according to a Pew Research Center study, followed by Hispanics (19 percent) and Whites (14 percent).

Twitter finally disclosed its data on July 23, showing: 59 percent of its staff in the U.S. is made up of Whites; 29 percent Asian; 3 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Black.

On the day Jackson addressed SCLC, Apple released its employment data showing 54 percent of its jobs were held by Whites, 23 percent by Asian, 11 percent Hispanic and 7 percent Black. Its employment of people of color appears to be highest among high tech companies.

“We have not demanded two-way trade and our government has not volunteered to initiate it,” Jackson said. “By now, the EEOC should be holding hearings. It’s so public that they are violating equal employment standards.”

He continued, “We feel diminished by corporate power. If we could fight the government, surely we can fight a corporation. This is just the first step with Silicon Valley. The next steps are for ad agencies, marketing, NNPA, Black lawyers – the whole range of things we do.”

Thousands March on Staten Island for Eric Garner

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By Herb Boyd
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Overwhelmed is a word that was repeatedly uttered by the family members of Eric Garner during the rally on Staten Island on Saturday. “I don’t know what to say,” said Esaw Garner, the widow of the man thousands had marched for, chanting his name and calling for justice. “This is so overwhelming; I don’t know what to say.”

She didn’t have to say anything, the marchers said it all. “I can’t breathe!” echoed from the crowd as it marched from Mt. Sinai Christian Church to Bay Street where the rally was held.

“Hands Up,” a caller screamed. “Don’t shoot!” the audience answered, summoning the recent killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

“If we have to march from Staten Island to Ferguson for justice we will do it,” one speaker told the crowd that stretched more than a quarter of a mile along the waterfront.

“I would say there are about 8,000 out here,” was the estimate from one police officer.

But it wasn’t about the numbers, said Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, one of the chief organizers of the march. “It’s about the struggle for justice,” he said. “We are not having a fit, this is a movement…and we are here marching for the family.”

“This is not about black or white and we are here not against the police, but against wrong,” said Kadiatou Diallo, the mother of Amadou Diallo who was killed by the police in the Bronx in 1999, all of whom were acquitted. “We want this to stop.”

Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, said “He was a good son. Never talked back to me and at the moment my heart is so full…I am so overwhelmed.”

Garner, who was affectionately known as the gentle giant, was killed on July 17, when an officer grabbed him from behind in a chokehold, wrestled him to the pavement, while other officers helped him press Garner’s body so hard that he couldn’t breathe. One of the officers, Daniel Pantaleo, who applied the illegal chokehold, was stripped of his badge and gun and assigned to desk duty.

The marchers passed the Staten Island District Attorney’s office, intensifying their demands for justice and the latest news is that a grand jury is in the process of being impaneled but it may take quite a while before they’ve heard all the evidence.

Bishop Victor Brown of Mt. Sinai Church agreed that they were trouble makers and “we will not go away until we have a sweeping reform of the police across the nation.”

Hazel Dukes of the NAACP, activist Lenora Fulani, Rep. Jose Serrano, Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, Constance Malcolm, the mother of Ramarley Graham, former Governor David Paterson, and George Gresham of 1199SEIU were among the speakers at the peaceful rally.

“We are here by the thousands,” Sharpton declared, “and we are not here to cause violence; because violence has been caused by a chokehold. We are here to help the police get rid of the bad apples so they won’t affect the others.”

It was a very diverse gathering with marchers from all walks of life. Among some of the elected officials and dignitaries making the long trek were Ydanis Rodriguez, Melissa Mark Viverito, Jumaane Williams, Elinor Tatum, Cornelius Ricks, Michael Gartner, Fred Monderson, Shirley Smith, Michael Mulgrew, Abdul Hafeez Muhammad, and countless others.

Protests Continue in Support of Nigerian Girls

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By D. Kevin McNeir
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

Little girls should have the chance to get a quality education, frolic with friends and dream about becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers or engineers.

But in places of civil unrest, young women face more life-threatening obstacles – holding on to their innocence and not being exploited because of the whims of men.

While leaders from the Motherland painted the town during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in the District a few weeks ago, a group of protesters gathered outside of the Grand Hyatt Washington in Northwest in support of several hundred schoolgirls kidnapped in early April by a terrorist organization in their homeland of Nigeria.

“I asked Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan what he was doing to find the girls and he told me that while he was doing all he could that he didn’t want to rush in because he thought their captors might kill them,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, who represents Miami and other parts of South Florida. “More troubling is the fact that he waited over three months before meeting with the parents of the abducted girls and still has not visited their school [Government Second School in Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria] to express his solidarity or to share his action plan in securing the safe return of the young girls.”

Wilson, who has traveled to Nigeria and met with some of the girls who managed to escape, marched with close to 60 other protesters on Wednesday, August 6 to express both outrage and disappointment that more than 200 girls remain missing and presumed forced into marriages by members of Boko Haram, an Islamic Jihadist and terrorist group based in Northeast Nigeria.

Since 2010, Boko Haram has targeted schools, killing hundreds of children under the pretense that they object to education that isn’t Islamic based. On the night of April 14 and 15, the militants broke into the school and kidnapped approximately 276 girls, 53 of whom have since escaped.

One member of a grassroots organization comprised of citizens from the African diaspora said pressure and protests should continue against Nigeria’s leaders until the girls are returned home.

“The Nigerian government claims that they know where the girls are being held which begs the question what are they doing to retrieve them,” said Omolola Adele-Oso, founding member and leader of Act4Accountability, who lives in Bowie, Maryland and partners with groups along the Eastern Seaboard on issues of social justice. “Girls all over the world are undervalued and are most affected by policies impacting access to quality education, reproductive health and the allocation of adequate resources,” said Adelo-Oso, 35.

One supporter from Olney, Maryland said he fears that the girls will eventually be forgotten.

“This incident is not a flashpoint as the abduction and violation of the security of adolescent girls and women in Africa is a long-standing tradition,” said Adom M. Cooper. “Jonathan’s decision not to negotiate has more to do with his desire not to lose his current position of power in Nigeria than it does with 276 innocent girls in danger. I think it’s cowardice on his part. Tragically, the world does not value the lives of those with dark skin,” said Cooper, 27.

An educator from Brooklyn College, CUNY, said she hopes that nations with clout will force Nigeria’s leaders to act.

“The U.S., Israel and other more powerful states than Nigeria routinely negotiate with those who abduct their citizens,” said Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome, a resident of Brooklyn, New York and a professor of political science, African and women’s studies. “The U.S. promised to help locate the girls and recover them – it should live up to its promise.”

Since the kidnapping, people from across the globe, including first lady Michelle Obama, have given their support via social media hoping to influence the Nigerian government to free the girls, curb further abductions and protect other schoolchildren.

One member of the American Federation of Teachers said she participated in the protest because of her commitment to social justice.

“I understand [Jonathan’s] reluctance to negotiate with terrorists – it sets a bad precedent,” said Marjorie Brown, who lives in Falls Church, Virginia. “On the other hand this abduction was so outrageous and perpetrated on truly helpless victims and by not negotiating, as far as we know, he seems somewhat complicit in the act,” said Brown, 55.

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