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Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson to Probe Death of Police Shooting Victim Akai Gurley

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By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Daily News

To the New York Police Department the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley in the dark stairwell of a public housing project in Brooklyn was an accident but Brooklyn’s District attorney, Ken Thompson, wants to find out for himself what really happened last month.

As at least 150 mourners were getting ready for a funeral service at the Brown Memorial Baptist Church and to bury the victim hours later, the newly elected DA promised Gurley’s relatives, civil rights activists and others interested in the spate of fatal shootings of young Black men in New York and the rest of the country by white police officers that his office would conduct a thorough and independent probe into what led to the fatal shooting of the 28 year old father by a rookie cop, Peter Liang. Thompson is expected to call Liang before a grand jury the DA plans to impanel to hear evidence. The cop claimed his gun went off accidentally while he was holding a flashlight in one hand in the pitch-dark stairwell of the Pink Houses project while carrying his upholstered gun in another on the night of November 20th.

“An unfortunate accident,” was the way Police Commissioner Bill Bratton described the shooting which was on a list of several police killings of Black males in New York and other parts of the country this year.

Hundreds of thousands of people in many of the nation’s major cities have taken to the streets to protest the killings, Gurley’s among them, calling for justice for the victims’ families.

Sylvia Palmer, the dead man’s mother, has joined those calling for a probe of the shooting and an indictment of the police officer, saying, “there’s nothing in this world that can heal my pain and my heartache. I need justice for my son because my son didn’t deserve to die like that.”

Kimberley Ballinger, the mother of Gurley’s two year old daughter, added her voice to the calls for justice.

“”We want justice. I want to see an indictment,” said Ballinger.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, leader of the National Action Network, a major civil rights organization with headquarters in Harlem has joined in the demands for an investigation, even after he dropped plans to attend the Saturday morning funeral service that was also attended by Public Advocate Letitia James, New York City Council member Inez Barron, and her husband, Charles Barron, the newly elected East New York State Assemblyman.

“It’s very painful for the family,” the Assemblyman-elect Barron told a City newspaper a few days ago.

The Rev. Sharpton, who was originally scheduled to address mourners at the funeral service decided to bow out of the proceedings after his announced involvement triggered a split in the Gurley family. He had been invited to speak at Ballinger’s invitation but he withdrew after some relatives objected.

“I don’t want to get in the middle of it,” meaning a family dispute, said the Rev. Sharpton who has vowed to continue speaking for justice for the family

The Rev. Dennis Dillon, a prominent church leader and publisher of the Christian Times newspaper described Gurley’s death as a real tragedy.

Spelman College Suspends Bill Cosby Chair in Wake of Rape Allegations

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By Terry Shropshire
Special to the NNPA from the Atlanta Daily World

Iconic HBCU powerhouse Spelman College, which once receive a $20 million gift from comedy legend Bill Cosby, has now suspended The Cosby Chair for the Humanities indefinitely until the score of rape allegations get resolved.

The Cosby Chair is an endowed professorship at the all-female, predominantly-black college in Atlanta, which was subsidized by the Bill and Camille Cosby honorarium to the school in the 1980s.

Spelman had previously refused to comment nor suspend the chair previously, despite the almost daily allegations of sexual assault claims against the venerated comedian and former star behind the record-breaking “Cosby Show.” However, the stakes were raised exponentially when former supermodel Beverly Johnson gave a painstakingly detailed account to a major magazine stating that Cosby allegedly drugged her at his home in an effort to rape her.

The accumulation of allegations against Cosby has proven to be too much for the esteemed all-female black college in Atlanta.

“The William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship was established to bring positive attention and accomplished visiting scholars to Spelman College in order to enhance our intellectual, cultural and creative life,” a school spokeswoman said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The current context prevents us from continuing to meet these objectives fully. Consequently, we will suspend the program until such time that the original goals can again be met.”

The deconstruction of Cosby’s legend and seemingly infallible image has been spectacular as it has been tragic. Spelman suspension of the Cosby Chair follows his resignation from the board of trustees at Temple University after 32 years and as an honorary co-chair of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s capital campaign. High Point University in North Carolina removed Cosby from its national board of advisers, and the Berklee School of Music stopped granting a scholarship in his name.

The donation subsidized the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby, Ed.D. Academic Center, which houses the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, the college archives and offices.

Protest Movement Goes Global

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By Rebecca Rivas
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American

Growing up in Brooklyn, 20-year-old Keeshan Harley has been frisked more than 150 times since he was 13, he said. He often chooses to stay home rather than chance an encounter with police, he said, where he could be stuck in the back of a cop car for an hour. Even a walk down the block to the corner store can end in being roughed up by police for no reason, he said.

When the Brooklyn college student heard that Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, he immediately felt drawn to come to Ferguson.

“Everything in my body said it’s where I needed to be,” said Harley, youth leader with the New York-based nonprofit Make the Road. “There was that innate sense of urgency. Being a young black male, I understand what that’s like. That could have been me just walking home from the store.”

Harley came to St. Louis in October for the Weekend of Resistance. What he experienced, he said, helped prepare him and other New York organizers for this week of protests following the December 3 grand jury’s non-indictment decision of a New York City police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

The importance of spontaneity was one of the crucial things they learned in Ferguson, he said.

“Understanding that things don’t have to be followed in a rigid way, where there’s one person speaking,” he said. “In Ferguson, there was a profound sense of responsibility. The people were fed up. If someone said, ‘Meet up at 9 p.m. in Shaw,’ the people just knew they needed to go.”

The Ferguson movement’s hallmark element of spontaneity hit new levels last week as thousands of protestors worldwide walked out of schools, shut down highways, occupied retail spaces and took to the streets to demand police accountability.

The day of the grand jury’s announcement in the Garner case, thousands poured into the streets and marched throughout Manhattan. They caused lanes to be closed on the Brooklyn Bridge, West Side Highway and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels.

“None of that was planned,” said Carl Dix, co-founder of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. “People came out in anger and figured out what they were going to do.”

Several groups also staged mass die-ins in other parts of New York City, drawing from what they’ve seen in Ferguson, said Dix, who also participated in Ferguson October.

The St. Louis activist group Tribe X – which has since splintered into Black Souljahz – orchestrated the first Ferguson die-in action on November 16 in the University City Loop. It has now spread nationally as a staple of the movement.

Tribe X president Alisha Sonnier said in all the actions they have led, including the historic occupation of Saint Louis University’s campus, “You have to be flexible and let the action take its course. Spontaneity is our friend.”

This week, New York organizers have called for a “Week of Outrage.” On Monday morning, activists stormed the Verrazano Bridge during rush hour and carrying banners that read “Eric Garner,” “Mike Brown” and “Black Lives Matter.” They also laid coffins on the freeway, which connects Staten Island to Brooklyn. The shutdown was symbolic because many NYPD officers travel to work from Staten Island, where Garner was killed.

“Someone can tweet, ‘Meet me at Union Square at 6 p.m.,’ and even that has been a successful tool,” said Jose Lopez, lead organizer with Make the Road. “There have been so many groups and individuals organizing actions daily. There are folks using different tactics. It’s partially why we will be able to sustain the movement.”

Lopez was among a handful of young organizers who met with President Barack Obama on December 1 regarding issues of police brutality. In New York, the public safety conversation has largely been focused on investing money into the police department and precincts.

“And that’s the wrong conversation to be had,” Lopez said. “If we have funding that could be spent, is it not better to resource individuals and organizations and cultural institutions that are more responsible for the safety of the community than a local precinct might be? How do we deal with the fact that people of color are targeted, stopped and frisked daily?”

Dante Barry, executive director of the New York-based Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, has traveled to Ferguson about seven times since Brown’s death. NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner in a chokehold on July 17, less than a month before Brown’s shooting death. However, the reaction that New York witnessed in Ferguson “helped propel” their own response, said Barry. Million Hoodies was started after Trayvon Martin’s death.

“Ferguson provides a model for what resistance can look like,” Barry said. “We are seeing a collective response all across this country that is recognizing that direct action is the avenue to go to change culture but also to have a conversation.”

Barry is fighting for two things. First, he wants an end to “broken-windows policing,” where police arrest people of color for petty crimes, such as selling loose cigarettes or falling asleep on the subway. And second, he wants demilitarization of police.

“In every sense, Ferguson is everywhere,” he said. “You can see conditions that you see in Ferguson all across the country.”

DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie were among two Ferguson protestors who traveled to New York after the grand jury’s decision, as a way to return the support they received in Ferguson. Mckesson said it was humbling to see Ferguson-originated actions play out among thousands of people and amid the city’s skyscrapers. He learned a lot from New Yorkers, as well, he said.

Like many activists, Mckesson expressed the importance of a decentralized movement.

“The power structure doesn’t want to deal with all of us,” McKesson said. “You cannot co-op one person and say, ‘Stop the protests.’ It makes them responsible to the people en masse.”

What was so amazing about Ferguson, Barry said, was that so much of the community rose up.

“There’s always a role for someone in this movement,” Barry said. “It’s not about having a chairperson. It’s about having low ego and high impact. It’s an issue that affects a lot of folks, and it’s organic.”

And it will be the people who continue to lead the movement, Harley said.

“The community will escalate things until something systemic and substantive has changed, until we see our police officers are held to high esteem,” Harley said. “I don’t think there’s one young black male in Brooklyn who isn’t fed up and ready to yell through the streets. We are not going to be overlooked. And we are not going anywhere.”

Buju Banton Seeks Early Release from US Prison

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

CMC – Grammy winning reggae artist Buju Banton, who was convicted on cocaine trafficking charges in 2011, has filed a motion in court in an attempt to secure an earlier release date.

The Tampa Bay Tribune reports that Buju,whose given name is Mark Myrie, filed his own motion from prison asking to be released early based on a recent change in federal drug sentencing guidelines.

This would mean an earlier release date and deportation to Jamaica.

Buju is currently serving a mandatory ten-year sentence for his conviction on a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

He is scheduled to be released in 2019.

However, the amendments do not apply to those serving minimum mandatory sentences under the law.

This would only be possible where the convicts cooperate with investigators or at give a full confession to their crimes.

According to the paper, this is unlikely to happen, as Buju has maintained his innocence since being arrested.

Buju was convicted in February 2011, days after he won a Grammy award for his album, “Before the Dawn.”

Blacks Rejoining the Labor Market

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The Black unemployment rate rose to 11.1 percent in November, according to the latest jobs report from Labor Department, because of increasing optimism in the economy.

The Black unemployment rate rose from 10.9 percent in October to 11.1 percent and the jobless rate for Whites increased slightly from 4.8 percent to 4.9 percent in November.

The unemployment rate for Black men also increased from 10.7 percent in October to 11.2 percent. The share of Black men that either held jobs or looking for work in November, the labor force participation rate, fell from 67.7 percent in October to 67.1 percent last month.

The jobless rate for White men increased from 4.2 percent to 4.6 percent, the labor force rate was flat at 71.8, and the employment-population ratio declined from 68.7 percent to 68.6 percent.

Even though the unemployment rate for Black women increased from 9.4 percent in October to 9.6 percent in November, William Spriggs, an economics professor at Howard University and chief economist at AFL-CIO, a labor group that represents 12.5 million workers, said that that labor force participation rate for Black women over 20 years old continues to go up.

The employment-population ratio, the share of the population of Black women that hold jobs, was 55.1 percent in January 2014 and compared to 56.1 percent in November. The labor force rate for Black women was 61.5 percent in January. The unemployment rate for Black women was 10.4 percent.

Valerie Rawlston Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused fiscal policies that affect low- and middle-income families, said that as the economy continues to grow and the labor market continues to grow, we still have to make investments for those who face challenges with gaining employment.

“That includes providing adequate training, addressing the issue of re-entry and the barriers that ex-offenders face and the significant unemployment gap between Black youth and White youth,” said Wilson. “That includes providing adequate training, addressing the issue of re-entry and the barriers that ex-offenders face and the significant unemployment gap between Black youth and White youth.”

Wilson said that access to enter the labor force and to get early work experience, whether that’s a part-time job in retail or fast food or something more career directed like apprentice programs, will be essential for Black teenagers.

“We’re finally seeing enough jobs, where people are getting optimistic to pull them back into the labor market,” said Spriggs. “That’s a good sign.”

Spriggs explained, “The numbers are good because it means the labor market is on solid ground, it’s growing in a healthy way and the big worry is federal reserve policy. The [federal reserve bank] has to wait until real wages grow and savings get built back up the positive way.”

At 11.1 percent, the Black unemployment rate continues to hover around twice the national average (5.8 percent), a trend that goes back nearly 50 years.

“It’s caused in large by part by discrimination,” said Spriggs. He said part of the difficulty in the recovery for Black employment is that we had such a backlog of job needs.The surest cure of anti-discrimination is full employment, said Spriggs.

“‘If I think I can kill you, without giving a thought to that, do you think I’m going to be fair in hiring you?’” asked Spriggs. “I don’t even have to be fair about letting you live. If I don’t have to be fair about letting you breathe, why do you think I’m going to be fair about whether you need a job whether you need money?”

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BVN National News Wire