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Judge Upholds Election of Kevin Johnson in Black Mayors' Rift

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – After intense internal fighting, court battles and competing board of directors that have characterized Sacramento, Calif. Kevin Johnson’s term as president of the National Conference of Black Mayors since last May, his first month in office, a judge has ruled decidedly in Johnson’s favor, effectively firing Executive Director Vanessa R. Williams and nullifying all actions of the rump board challenging Johnson’s right to remain in office.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Christopher S. Brasher issued his ruling in Atlanta last week.

”We’re gratified that the court has validated the election of our leadership and vindicated our efforts to take the necessary steps to restore accountability and fiscal integrity to this venerable and critical organization,” Johnson said in a statement. “Now we can move forward by taking the actions that will address any outstanding problems we have in order to ensure that the NCBM will benefit current and future mayors and their constituents.”

In some ways, it may be a Pyrrhic victory for Johnson. He is limited to one term, which expires in May. Johnson is also vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and is a leading candidate to become president of the group in June.

When he was elected president of the Black mayors last May, many members thought he was just what the group needed. After all, it was still reeling from its previous president, George L. Grace, Sr. of tiny St. Gabriel, La., being sentenced to 22 years in prison for stealing from the organization. Grace, who set up secret NCBM bank accounts in his name in Louisiana, was convicted of bribery, obstruction of justice, mail fraud, wire fraud, making false statements and violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations ACT (RICO) and use of an interstate facility in the aid of racketeering.

In addition to illegally diverting money from the Black mayors’ group, Grace was also found guilty of extorting businessmen seeking to do business with the city and demanding kickbacks from operators setting up temporary housing in his city for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Former President Robert Bowser, who had preceded Grace in the top job, was called back into temporary service to help stabilize the organization, Bowser, mayor of East Orange, N.J., was initially convinced that Kevin Johnson provided the fresh face and name recognition that would help the organization recover from George Grace’s disgraceful conduct.

And Bowser was not alone. Johnson was unanimously elected president by voice vote on May 30, 2013. The former Phoenix Suns point guard vowed to “shake up things” and called a business meeting for the next day. It was clear that unlike presidents who viewed their role as largely ceremonial, Johnson was going to be different.

According to minutes of the meeting, “Upon a motion made by Mayor Johnny Ford, which was seconded by Mayor Oliver Gilbert, the Board of Directors voted to delegate to the Special Task Force, the power of the Board for the following purposes: (1) to comprehensively investigate facts concerning NCBM’s 501 ( c ) (3) status, any litigation involving NCBM, and the financial and business affairs, obligations and duties of NCBM; (2) to supervise the management of the ordinary affairs of NCBM; and (3) to engage Ballard Spahr LLP, as its counsel, and such other professionals, and to take such other actions as the Special Task Force deems necessary and appropriate to accomplish these purposes.”

The motion passed unanimously.

Realizing that they had ceded their power to the Special Task Force headed by Johnson, board members loyal to Executive Director Vanessa Williams, whom Johnson made no secret about his intent to fire, began a counterinsurgency movement.

On June 13, just two weeks into Johnson’s term, General Counsel Susan “Sue” Winchester sent a memo saying that acting on a request from Otis Wallace, the parliamentarian, she had examined the record of the May 30th election and determined that it was invalid because it did not comply with the organization’s bylaws.

Specifically, Winchester said several provisions of the bylaws were violated, including the establishment of a nominating committee, the requirement for secret balloting and making sure that only eligible members voted.


And for more than eight months, two boards held themselves out to the public as the sole governing body.

Johnson and Treasurer Patrick Green of Normandy, Mo. went to court to force Vanessa Williams and Mayor Bowser to turn over documents needed to conduct a forensic audit. When Williams refused, Judge Brasher issued an injunction compelling her to comply.

With records in hand – and leaked to the local news media – supporters of Johnson found not just a smoking gun but what they consider a whole gun show. Williams, the executive director, had written numerous checks to herself, to her husband and to a Christian academy for her son’s tuition. And there were checks to high-end stores: Tiffany & Co., Saks Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, Nordstrom and St. John Knits. There were repeated ATM withdrawals, money spent on toys and nail salons.

A memo written by an accounting firm hired by the Special Task Force noted on Aug. 14, 2013: “Our analysis identified a number of expenditures that appear to be questionable business expenses of NCBM. In summary, based on our analysis of the above-referenced banking records, we identified approximately $623,000 of questionable payments….”

Auditors said that amount “does not include significant amounts of payments we identified for travel, fuel, restaurants, general merchandise stores (including Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, etc.), grocery stores, specialty retailers (Hobby Lobby, Haverty’s Furniture, Best Buy, Apple Store, etc.) or purchases for less than $100 at locations not identified above (including Apple iTunes, Hollywood Video, bookstores, drug stores, etc.).”

Williams has contended that NCBM owed her a considerable amount of back pay. In lieu of paying her, Williams asserts, the board allowed her to use the association’s credit card for personal expenses until the charges equal her back pay.

On Sept. 6, 2013, the board headed by Mayor Johnson fired Williams “due to your failure over a sustained period of several years to fulfil core duties and responsibilities of the Executive Director of NCBM and your recent admissions regarding your use of the bank accounts of NCBM and the NCBM Title Company for personal expenditures totaling at least $632,000 without board approval.”

But the other board that did not recognize Johnson as president voted to retain Williams and ignore any actions taken by the group headed by Kevin Johnson.

As both groups remained divided, it created awkward moments. At a world conference of mayors in Colombia last year, both factions were claiming to legitimately represent the Black mayors. A conference planned for Bermuda next October was cancelled because of the conflict.

“NCBM Executive Director Vanessa Williams spent five days in Bermuda earlier this month on a fact-finding mission to ensure that the Island had suitable facilities to host the conference,” the Royal Gazette newspaper reported. The island paper continued, “The trip was paid for by the Corporation [of Hamilton], which held a reception at City Hall in Ms. Williams honour…

“A spokesman for the NCBM has since confirmed to The Royal Gazette that Ms. Williams was dismissed by the NCBM Board last year, and that she no longer has any association with the NCBM. The spokesman added that the NCBM had no knowledge of any conference being held in Bermuda.”

The story continued, “And last night Mayor Graeme Outerbridge acknowledged that the success of the conference hinged on the participation of the NCBM – and that, with Ms. Williams’ credibility now under question, the future of the conference was in doubt.”

Mayor Browser lost his re-election bid in East Orange, N.J. As of Jan. 1, 2014, he was out of office and thus ineligible for continued membership in NCBM. Even if he had been recognized as the duly elected president of the organization, he would have been forced to resign when he was defeated in New Jersey.

Unless reversed, Judge Brasher’s ruling will settle the dispute between the two factions for good.

“The record shows that Mayor Johnson was both nominated by the Committee on Nominations, and from the floor by an eligible member,” the judge wrote in his opinion. “No other nominations were made. Though it is possible that ineligible members voted, a sufficient number of eligible voters voted, a sufficient number of eligible members also voted in an oral vote presided over by the Chair of the Nominating Committee. Mayor Bowser could have required that the vote be cast by secret ballot, but he did not. In the end, Mayor Johnson was unanimously elected President of the NCBM.”

He also said, “Through his actions, Mayor Bowser, indeed the entire electorate, waived compliance with the Bylaws’ requirement that a secret ballot be held to elect the new President, and that an election supervisor handle the election…The Court finds that Mayor Johnson was validly elected as President of the NCBM on May 30, 2013.”

Conservative Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly Blasts Black Caucus Members as 'Race Hustlers'

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By Zenitha Prince
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

In his March 24 “The O’Reilly Factor” broadcast, O’Reilly supported Ryan’s latest apparent put-down of Blacks and came out firing against Ryan detractors, calling Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) a “notorious race hustler.”

“There is a cultural problem…. And that problem holds certain Americans back from competing in the marketplace.

“But as you may know, if you say that, you become a target. You are called a racist, as I have been many, many times,” O’Reilly said.

George Will, author and Fox News contributor who was a guest on O’Reilly’s show, added, “It’s a reflex on their part to call people racist, just as it was for Joe McCarthy to call people communist in 1954. People stopped listening to him. People stopped listening to these people.”

Ryan has been vilified for statements he made about poverty and the culture of inner cities in an interview on Bill Bennett’s “Morning In America” radio show on March 12.

“We have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work. And so, there’s a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” Ryan said, according to a recording of the show.

CBC members immediately fired back, saying Ryan’s comments were uninformed and repugnant.

Lee characterized Ryan’s comments as “a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated.

“His assertions about the racial dynamics of poverty are not only statistically inaccurate, but deeply offensive,” she added in the statement.

The next day, Ryan denied any racial insinuation, saying only that his wording was “inarticulate.”

“After reading the transcript of yesterday morning’s interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make,” he said in a statement. “I was not implicating the culture of one community—but of society as a whole. We have allowed our society to isolate or quarantine the poor rather than integrate people into our communities [and] the predictable result has been multi-generational poverty and little opportunity.”

Still, CBC Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), another CBC member, sent Ryan a letter assailing him about his assessments.

“The problem many people in poverty face is not isolation, but rather the lack of resources to help ensure all people have the opportunity to succeed and contribute to society, such as adequate transportation, infrastructure, job training programs and other resources to search for jobs and become gainfully employed,” the letter read.

“A serious policy conversation on poverty should not begin with assumptions or stereotypes. Poverty in our nation is a critical problem that must be approached with diligence and the utmost respect for those who are trapped by poverty’s grasp,” the Black lawmakers said.

Danziger Cop Awaiting New Trial Asks to be Moved to Local Jail

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Special to the NNPA from The Louisiana Weekly

Attorneys for a former New Orleans police sergeant who is awaiting a new trial on charges stemming from deadly shootings that took place on an eastern New Orleans bridge less than a week after Hurricane Katrina have asked a federal judge to move him to a local jail, The Associated Press reported last week.

Kenneth Bowen and three other former NOPD officers have been in custody since their indictment in 2010.

The Danziger Bridge shootings took place on September 4, 2005 and resulted in the deaths of two unarmed civilians and the wound ing of four others. The two civilians killed were 17-year-old James Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison, a mentally disabled man. Former NOPD Sgt. Kenneth Bow­en, former Sgt. Robert Gise­vius, former Officer Robert Faulcon and former Officer Anthony Villavaso were tried and convicted of federal civil rights charges stemming from the shootings and an attempt to cover up the deadly incident.

A fifth former NOPD officer, Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, was convicted of charges that he orchestrated the cover-up. Kaufman, who wasn’t charged in the shootings themselves, was serving a six-year prison sentence when Engelhardt agreed in October 2014 to free him on bond pending a new trial.

Five other officers — Michael Lohman, Jeffery Lehrmann, Michael Hunter, Robert Barrios and Ignatis Hill — pleaded guilty on a variety of federal charges and agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Justice as it continued its probe of the 2005 incident.

Bowen was sentenced to 40 years in prison for his part in the Danziger Bridge shootings.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt ordered new trials for them in September 2013, citing prosecutorial misconduct, but did not free them. In a filing Monday, Bowen’s attorneys claim his confinement in a maximum security prison — where the most violent inmates are housed — puts him in danger because of his history as a police officer.

“Bowen is scheduled to move to the Florence SHU (Special Housing Unit) on or about Thursday, March 20,” attorney Robin Schulberg wrote in court papers. “As a result, his living conditions will be restricted in the same manner as inmates on disciplinary segregation: his telephone calls to his family will be confined to one 15-minute call a month, he will not have access to email, and he will have little, if any, access to the law library.”

Schulberg told the judge in papers filed last week that Bowen will also have limited access to his attorney through U.S. mail.

“National Action Now continues to support the families impacted by the Danziger and Glover cases and will continue to fight for justice alongside them,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, a New Orleans-based community activist and president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday. “Of course, we oppose Kenneth Bowen having the freedom to move closer to the city…We also are disappointed by the judge’s decision to grant him and all of the other officers a new trial. There is overwhelming evidence showing him violating these victims’ civil rights. The civil rights community is united in the belief and conviction that Kenneth Bowen should remain in jail and should not be transferred closer to New Orleans.

“Why is the justice system bending over backwards to accommodate these convicted police officers but doing so little to help these families to get justice?” Brown continued. “The Justice Dept. is showing favoritism toward these convicted cops. They’re being released from jail quicker than civilians ever have been. It usually takes an individual many years to get a conviction overturned, but these cops have been in jail only two or three years and are getting their convictions overturned and getting out of jail on bond. …Why is the judge allowing these murderers to go free? The appeals process is working in their favor despite all of the evidence that shows that these officers are guilty. … The Jim Letten (online posting) scandal has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that these cops shot and murdered innocent human beings.”

Brown encouraged concerned residents to stand up and be heard on the issue in New Orleans. “National Action Now is calling for people to organize and rally against it,” he said. “If we sit back and don’t say anything, we’re giving them a green light to allow the cops to keep murdering innocent people and violating our constitutional rights.”

“It is very discouraging to watch the unraveling of a justice system that claims to be the protector of the people it claims to serve,” W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change and host of local cable-access show “OurStory,” told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday. “After more than 140 years of fighting the NOPD, Blacks have remained the victims while the white establishment continues to follow laws they write as they go along their daily duties exhibiting ‘might is right’ and ‘do as I say not as I do’ philosophy. The politics of America is said to be found in the U.S. Constitution, yet the protections granted under the constitution are always being questioned when it comes to Blacks living in America.”

Johnson said that Black residents have learned the hard way that they cannot depend on the Feds to right the wrongs that have devastated the Black community in New Orleans as far back as anyone can remember.

“Blacks in New Orleans have never received any considerations from the federal government who allowed Len Davis to murder Kim Groves while the Feds listened in on conversations describing the instruction to kill Kim Groves,” W.C. Johnson said, “After three years of trying to get the federal government to impart their constitutional protections on the Black people of New Orleans, Blacks in New Orleans find themselves faced with bewilderment from the disenfranchisement of federal protections. It seems as if the American Black population is experiencing a return to third-class citizenship. All of this while under the tenure of a Black president.”

“It is the absolute height of injustice, disrespect and inhumanity for the cops in the Danziger and Henry Glover cases to be allowed to not only get away with murder but to even seek to be reimbursed for their legal expenses, get their old jobs back and to be moved to correctional facilities that are more comfortable and convenient for them as they await new trials,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly. “They have shown absolutely no remorse or concern for the innocent lives lost or the loved ones left behind to grieve in their wake. That says a lot about the caliber of men and women that make up the NOPD.

“Not only are they telling us that Blacks have no rights that white people are bound by law to respect, nike the Dred Scott decision,” Aha continued. “They are also telling us that they are not simply above the law — they are the law.” Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article originally published in the March 24, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Flame of Remembrance Crisscrosses Rwanda on 20th Anniversary of Genocide

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

Mar. 31 (GIN) – Ceremonies around Rwanda and abroad are underway to mark the 20th year since the devastating genocide which, according to the Genocide Memorial Center in Rwanda, took over a million lives during a three-month killing spree.

At a ceremony last Thursday in the town of Kirehe, thousands of residents gathered in a field to hear genocide memories. Nsengiyomva Apollinaise, a local official, said the memorials help Rwandans examine the causes and find a path on which to move forward.

The flame reaches Kigali, the capital, on April 7.

At Kirehe’s flame ceremony, Theopiste Mukanoheli recounted how as an 18-year-old she watched her neighbor dig a 10-foot grave to cram bodies in. She was inside Nyarubuye Catholic Church when attackers threw in grenades, killing hundreds. Most of her close family died there, she said.

Mike Nkuzumuwami, who helps look after the rebuilt red-brick church, says 35,000 people died in his hilltop community, a sea of green where tens of thousands of banana trees grow. One positive change since the genocide is a near erasure of the Hutu-Tutsi divide, he said, a principle directive of the Rwandan government, which wants Rwandans to see themselves as Rwandan, not an ethnic tribe.

“After the killings no one has called me a Tutsi, and those Hutus involved in the genocide regret what they have done,” the 45-year-old said.

School groups visit the church, mass grave and museum of death. Near the skulls and bones are tables of dusty brown clothes, sandals, slippers and shoes. The younger generation does not understand the genocide, Nkumuwami said, and Rwanda’s aging population doesn’t want them to repeat it.

At the Kwibuka 20 ceremony — a Rwandan word meaning “remember” and 20 for 20th anniversary — a large audience gazed at a film showing some of the genocide horror. A voice in English said the killings were a planned political campaign that came from an ideology called Hutu Power. Tutsis, the video says, were meant to be exterminated.

“This is something that happens every year, an event to help each Rwandan personally remember what happened, and examine the causes,” said Nsengiyomva Apollinaise, a local officials, who said his parents and siblings died in the genocide. “And also to see the path to move forward on.”

Other events can be seen on the website: http://www.kwibuka.rw/

Obama Teams up with Pro Athletes to Meet ACA Deadline

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In the final, frenzied push to boost health insurance enrollment numbers under the Affordable Care Act, President Obama turned to sports figures to promote the health care law on television and online.

Riding on the wave of the highly-anticipated NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, also known as March Madness, the move could capture the attention of young Blacks, who often view celebrities and professional athletes as positive role models.

Visitors to the http://www.whitehouse.gov/acabracket web page can still download the president’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Bracket which exploded like thousands of other brackets last week when 14th ranked Mercer University upset 3rd ranked Duke University 78-71 in the second round.

Online viewers also voted on in a video GIF contest titled “The 16 Sweetest Reasons to Get Covered.” A video titled, “Women can’t be charged more than men” featuring First Lady Michelle Obama and NBA superstar Lebron James video bombing Miami Heat players Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra won the People’s Choice Award in the short video contest inspired by the Affordable Care Act.

When serious and casual college basketball fans tune in to ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBA-TV to catch up on March Madness action, they’ll see NBA superstar Lebron James in a 30-second television ad encouraging people, especially young, healthy people to get covered. NBA legend Magic Johnson and former NBA star Alonzo Mourning, each who have battled highly-publicized health problems, appeared in similar ads.

The ads, largely paid for by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services could go a long way in sparking conversations about the need for health insurance coverage in the Black community. According to a study by the Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity Black children and teens are exposed to at least 80 percent more ads than their White peers. Commercials often feature more positive portrayals of Black men when compared to prime time television.

According to a new report by the Department of Health and Human Services, almost 2 million Americans suffered sports-related injuries. including ankle and knee sprains that landed them in the emergency room, one of the most expensive places to get medical treatment.

“Some sports-related injuries, such as sprained ankles, may be relatively minor, while others, such as head or neck injuries, can be quite serious,” stated the HHS report.

The report sports-related injuries continued: “The most common of these were ankle or knee sprains and leg fractures. Estimated rates of sports-related injuries were even higher among children and young adults under the age of 25. An estimated 12 million individuals between the ages of 5 and 22 years suffer a sports related injury annually, and about 20 percent of all injury-related emergency room visits are among children 6 to 19 years of age.”

The most common basketball injuries for adults 25 to 40 years-old were ankle and knee sprains, then facial injuries and broken fingers.

NBA veteran and Miami Heat forward Shane Battier said that through 25 years of competitive basketball, he’s received over 90 stitches from elbows to the face, sprained his ankles more than 25 times, suffered broken elbows, reconstructive ankle surgery and arthritis in the knees and the hip.

“These injuries can happen to anyone,” said Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. “For those without health insurance they can be very expensive.”

According to the HHS report: “For 25- to 40-year-olds, the estimated average charges for a leg fracture were about $3,403, while the estimated average charges for an arm fracture were about $7,666 (2011 dollars), according to 2009-2011 pooled data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.”

In 2012, emergency departments treated nearly 600,000 basketball injuries. For adults, sprains cost on average $2,294 and broken arms cost $7,666, medical expenses that most people would struggle to pay out of pocket the report noted.

Emergency rooms reported almost 500,000 football injuries coming through their doors and about 10,000 of those required hospitalization.

The costs associated with treating a broken leg for someone 10- to 19 years-old was $4,700 and a broken arm cost almost $3,000. Charges for treating dislocations for the same age group averaged $6,900 and for 25 to 40 year-olds the average was roughly $4,600. The average cost for treated sprains and strains was about $2,300.

The rate of injuries in basketball and football may have a disproportionate impact in the Black community, where young Black men play basketball and football at higher rates than their White peers.

In a study on high school sports participation and educational attainment, researchers from the University of Minnesota reported that Black boys “are 1.6 times more likely than their White counterparts to play football, and 2.5 times more likely to play basketball.”

The University of Minnesota study observed: “When other factors are controlled for, Black males are actually 2.5 times more likely to play football and 5.7 times more likely to play basketball than White males.”

NBA veteran Shane Battier said that sooner or later, if you’re active and you play sports, chances are you’re going to get banged up at some point.

“The bottom line is this: you have to protect yourself and make sure that if you get hurt on the court or on the field that you’re covered,” said Battier.

In a blog post on the report at http://www.hhs.gov/healthcare/, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services wrote that six out of 10 uninsured Americans will pay about $100 a month or less for a health insurance plan.

“That broken arm would take almost 10 years to pay off at that rate without considering interest or harm to your credit,” wrote Sebelius.

Sebelius added: “Whether you’re out on the slopes or playing the boss in a pickup game of basketball after that stressful meeting, you don’t want to have to hold back because you aren’t covered in case of injury.”

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