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DOJ Prohibits Police from Wearing "I am Darren Wilson" Bracelets

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

The U.S. Department of Justice ordered Ferguson police officers to stop wearing “I am Darren Wilson” bracelets while in uniform and on duty, according to a letter sent to Police Chief Thomas Jackson on Friday.

“There is no question that police departments can and should closely regulate officers’ professional appearance and behavior, particularly where, as here, the expressive accessory itself is exacerbating an already tense atmosphere between law enforcement and residents in Ferguson,” wrote Christy Lopez, duty chief of the Special Litigation Section for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division.

“The bracelets reinforce the very ‘us versus’ them mentality that many residents of Ferguson believe exists.”

During the department’s interviews with community members on Wednesday night, Lopez said several Ferguson residents told DOJ representatives that police patrolling the protest sites in Ferguson on Tuesday were wearing the Darren Wilson wristbands. Residents said the wristbands “upset and agitated people.”

Some officers who were wearing the bracelets had black tape over their name plates, residents told the DOJ at the Wednesday community meeting.

“The practice of not wearing, or obscuring, name plates violates your own department’s policies, which we advised you earlier this week when we requested that you end the practice immediately,” Lopez wrote.

Some residents took pictures of the bracelets, but Lopez said she could not identify which law enforcement agency the officers wearing the wristbands were from. For this reason, Lopez said the department’s COPS office has spoken with St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar and State Highway Patrol Superintendent Colonel Ron Replogle about prohibiting the bracelets as well.

“As you are all too aware, the actions of other police officers while in Ferguson can impact your community as much as the actions of your own police officers,” she stated.

Click here to view letter that was sent to Ferguson Police Chief Jackson ordering his officers to stop wearing “I am Darren Wilson” bracelets.

NFL Case Sparks Debate on Spanking

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As the NFL’s 2014 season warms up, Minnesota Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson, prepares to face charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. A week prior, news surfaced that he had spanked his 4-year-old son with a switch, resulting in major bruises and lacerations on his legs, thighs, and scrotum.

When the news broke, NBA’s Charles Barkley happened to be a guest on an NFL sportscasting show, where he explained, “Whipping – we do that all the time. Every Black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.”

Mainstream news coverage of the charges have been defining what a switch is for their audiences, a fact that highlights the wide racial divide in child rearing. But even Black parents and scholars are beginning to publicly question whether corporal punishment—spankings, beatings, whoopings, whatever you want to call it – is the best way to discipline children.

Commentary sprouted up earlier this month from Black thinkers such as Brittney Cooper, professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University, who writes for online publication, Salon.com:

“Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that the loving intent and sincerity behind these violent modes of discipline makes them no less violent, no more acceptable,” said Brittney Cooper, a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University, who writes for online publication, Salon.com. “ Some of our ideas about discipline are unproductive, dangerous and wrong. It’s time we had courage to say that.”

In a New York Times op-ed, Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson called the cultural belief that spankings build character “a sad and bleak justification for the continuation of the practice.”

Times columnist Charles Blow said, “When we promulgate the notion that our success is directly measurable to the violence visited on our bodies as children, we reinforce a societal supposition that pain is an instrument of love, and establish a false binary between the streets and the strap.”

At the end of his conversation, Barkley conceded that, “maybe we need to rethink it.”

Nowadays, the issue of physical punishment as part of child rearing brings heavy debate, both in social and academic spheres. Some believe that hitting children amounts to good parenting, some even citing the Bible.

Some point to Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”

Proverbs 23:13 says, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with a rod, he will not die.”

As a Pew study showed, “…African Americans stand out as the most religiously committed racial or ethnic group in the nation.”

Even those who believe in not sparing the rod, think there should be limits.

“I think that children need to be spanked,” says communications entrepreneur, Leris Bernard. “I’m not saying that welts on a 3-year old is okay, but sometimes it just takes one little pop.”

Generally, research finds that corporal punishment is at best, ineffective in the long term, and at worst, abusive and detrimental. It is legal in all 50 states. In 31 states, however, it is illegal for schools to administer corporal punishment; the other 19 explicitly allow schools this authority.

“There’s a more gentle and productive way to discipline children,” says Yvette Harris, professor of psychology at Miami University and co-author of The African American Child: Development and Challenges. “I’m not a supporter of the physical ‘switch method’ [Peterson] used. Children get so caught up in the physical pain of the discipline that they really forget what they need to do to change their behavior.”

Bernard asserts that children are looking for boundaries, and those boundaries can be better established with spanking as opposed to words a child may not believe or understand.

“You can’t negotiate with a child with limited reasoning skills,” Bernard says. “They’re trying to find boundaries and learn is this a ‘no-no,’ a ‘no-maybe,’ a ‘no, not right now,’ or a ‘no, normally yes, but I’m in a bad mood.’ Basically, kids need to know where the line is, and a little smack puts an ‘X’ on the spot.”

Physical discipline has several roots in the Black community. There’s respect for elders, which inherently means that children are not equal to adults.

Some who object to spanking links the practice to slavery.

“I wish I could tell you that it originated in slavery, but there’s a part of me that has to say that not all African American parents resorted to that form of discipline,” Harris says, adding that it is more likely that Black parenting mirrors the social peak of corporal punishment from the 1940s through the 1960s.

“When I think of the context of slavery…I can’t speak to parenting strategies among slaves because there’s not a lot of historical data on that,” Harris stated.

And there’s also the argument that Black children cannot afford the luxury of carelessness and disobedience in a society that considers Blacks a threat.

But Harris says that message can be conveyed without using pain and fear.

“You don’t want to instill fear in African American children. I think African American parents do a great job raising their children. We have to walk them through issues of race, that’s our reality,” she says. She also points out that the world offers up many teachable moments on the subject.

“But you want to do it in a self-affirming way – a way that gives them power in their lives. Resorting to corporal punishment is not the way to do that.”

For all the data and scholarship that links childhood spankings to less-than stellar adulthood outcomes, experiential data can’t be ignored. For every person who was spanked and became a poorly adjusted adult, there’s another with bittersweet memories of belts and hairbrushes who maintains great relationships with their parents and well-adjusted lives. It begs the question: Is there a ‘right’ way to incorporate physical discipline or consequences that is both effective and harmless?

The professional consensus seems to be that one could strike a balance—but one could also be more effective without inflicting pain.

Harris recommends treating children with equal respect and including them in the discipline process. This plays out in different ways at different ages. For toddlers and young children who can’t reason yet, stern explanation of expectations coupled with repetitive, consistent consequences is enough. By middle school, children can be included in a more “democratic” way – parents lay down the boundaries, and the punishments (often in the form of revoked privileges) can be negotiated and agreed upon.

“It sounds weird but it makes for a more healthy child. If they’re part of the discipline process, they already know what they’ve done wrong and what the consequences are,” Harris says.

Harris says our past plays a role in how we view corporal punishment.

“I think maybe it’s something African Americans hear and sort of struggle with. Because we feel that if [spanking] worked for us, it should work for our children but that’s not necessarily the case,” she says. “The ecology of raising children today is quite different than it was when [Peterson] was a child, and definitely different from when I was a child.”

Justice Department Urged to Stay Focused on Police Killings

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Officials from the National Action Network, the National Urban League the National Bar Association, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil rights groups have urged the Justice Department to remain focused on the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases and to make sure that the police officers involved are held responsible for their deaths.

During a press conference attended by the parents of Brown and Garner, Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League said, “In recent weeks and months confidence around the concept of justice for all in our nation has plunged to the lowest levels that we have seen in a generation.”

On July 17, Eric Garner, 43, was choked to death by Officer Daniel Pantaleo in Staten Island, N.Y. Moments before his death, officers had attempted to arrest Garner, who was unarmed, for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. Although Garner’s death has been ruled a homicide, no charges have been filed against the officer involved.

On August 9, Michael Brown, 18, was shot to death by Darren Wilson, a White police officer in Ferguson, Mo., following a brief confrontation. Moments before Wilson fatally shot Brown, the officer had asked the teenager, who was also unarmed, and another young man to stop walking in the street.

Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, said that although her son wasn’t perfect, he didn’t deserve to die.

“Our children might have made mistakes in their lives, but at the time that they were being killed, they weren’t doing – the sentence wasn’t death,” Carr said. “For selling cigarettes, the sentence wasn’t death. For the children walking in the street, the sentence wasn’t death.”

Morial said that the group demands justice, fairness and a full and complete investigation by the United States Department of Justice into Michael Brown’s death and Eric Garner’s murder.

In recent weeks the Justice Department has announced plans to investigate the Ferguson police department to determine if they violated the rights of Black residents in the past.

On September 18, Attorney General Eric Holder launched the National Initiative for Building Community Trust, a program that “will create a substantial investment in training, evidence-based strategies, policy development and research to combat distrust and hostility between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” according to a press release issued by the Justice Department.

Holder said that the events in Ferguson reminds us that we can’t allow tensions, which are present in so many neighborhoods across America, to go unresolved.

“As law enforcement leaders, each of us has an essential obligation – and a unique opportunity – to ensure fairness, eliminate bias, and build community engagement,” said Holder. “The National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice represents a major step forward in resolving long standing tensions in many of America’s communities and it will allow us to build on the pioneering work that the Justice Department and our law enforcement partners across the country are already doing to strengthen some of our nation’s most challenged areas.”

The project, funded with $4.75 million grant, will also provide research and technical support to law enforcement officials and others who work in the criminal justice system.

Al Sharpton, civil rights activist and founder of the National Action Network, said that talking about sensitivity and training is good, before adding that you don’t need people who would choke a man when he says 11 times on tape, ‘I can’t breathe.’

He does not need training, Sharpton said. He needs to be held accountable.

Sharpton said that the coalition of civil rights groups and community stakeholders is not anti-police, and the group doesn’t believe that all police are bad.

“But acting as though that no police is wrong none of the time is moving this country towards a police state where we don’t have the right to question police under any circumstances,” said Sharpton.

Sharpton described a recent case in South Carolina where a state trooper shot an unarmed man.

On, September 4, just outside of Columbia, S.C. Sean Groubert, South Carolina Highway Patrol trooper pulled Levar Jones over allegedly for not wearing his seat belt. Groubert asked Jones to exit his vehicle then asked him for his driver’s license. As Jones reached back into his vehicle to retrieve his license, Groubert opened fired, striking Jones at least once. The incident was captured on Groubert’s dash-camera.

“Well, I raise this question to the Justice Department: if that police officer in South Carolina was arrested, why isn’t the police officer that shot Michael Brown arrested? Why isn’t the police officer that choked Eric Garner arrested?” Sharpton asked. “Does probable cause not work all work the country? You don’t need a grand jury indictment to make arrest you need what you had in South Carolina. But what we seem to have is different strokes for different folks.”

Groubert was subsequently fired and arrested on charges of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, which could lead to his serving up to 20 years in prison.

Most law enforcement agencies have not been as decisive in South Carolina in handling wayward officers. Instead, there is an “intrinsic relationship” between local prosecutors and the local police that makes less likely that police officer will be prosecuted, Sharpton state.

He said the federal government can place a key role in making sure justice is served.

“If you have the federal government, that does not depend on local police, you have a more objective and fair investigation,” said Sharpton. “It protects everyone.”

During the press conference, Michael Brown’s parents, spoke briefly about the frustration they have felt in dealing with law enforcement officials in Missouri.

An emotional Leslie McSpadden, Michael’s mother said, “Missouri has not shown us anything that we are looking for.”

The father, Michael Brown, Sr., said, “This is very terrible for us and for everyone else that has lost. e’re here to get justice. We need your help.”

Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that within 12 hours of Michael Brown’s death, civil rights group were on the ground in Ferguson, Mo., trying to keep peace while seeking justice in the community. Brooks said that the NAACP has worked with the Justice Department to locate witnesses.

“Where you have communities under siege, where you have communities that feel, based upon their experience and empirical evidence that they are in the midst of a pandemic of police misconduct, they have every reason to be afraid of coming forward,” said Brooks.

Brooks continued: “We want to honor these families with our service and commitment. [We will] see it to the very end.”

Companies 'Steal' Billions from Low-Income Workers

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Employers pickpocket billions of dollars from low-wage workers, a crime that disproportionately hurts Blacks and often goes underreported, according to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Researchers at EPI, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on economic issues that effect low- and middle-income families, said that employers steal wages from their workers by paying sub-minimum wages, failing to pay for overtime, writing bad payroll checks and cheating workers out of their tips.

“When a worker earns only a minimum wage ($290 for a 40-hour week), shaving a mere half hour a day from the paycheck means a loss of more than $1,400 a year, including overtime premiums,” stated the report. “That could be nearly 10 percent of a minimum-wage employee’s annual earnings – the difference between paying the rent and utilities or risking eviction and the loss of gas, water, or electric service.”

Blacks account for 11 percent of the total work force, but more than 14 percent of the low-wage workforce, according to EPI. In Southern states, including Georgia and Louisiana, Blacks account for more than 40 percent of the low-wage workforce;  in Washington, D.C., Blacks hold more than half of all low-paying jobs. This worker status leaves Blacks vulnerable to wage theft at higher rates than their White counterparts who occupy low-wage jobs at lower rates compared to their share of the total workforce.

The study reported that two-thirds of low-wage workers deal with at least one pay-related violation in any given week.

It can start with a boss telling shift workers to wait on standby just in case they’re needed or asking them to work through a 10-minute break. Workers living hand-to-mouth and marginalized by society feel obligated to comply with these practices that are often illegal.

A worker that earns $17,616 annually may lose $2,634 due to wage theft.

Kentucky labor laws require that workers get a paid, 10-minute break for every four hours of work. A McDonald’s in Berea, Ky., violated the 10-minute break regulation and was forced to return $29,000 to 203 employees, the EPI report said.

In 2013, when all robberies in the Bluegrass State added up to $2.5 million, employers returned $4.4 million in stolen wages to employees, a criminal trend that ripples across the nation, according to the EPI report.

An investigation into the treatment of front-line workers in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles found that victims of wage theft lost $3 billion. EPI researchers used that figure to estimate that wage theft cost workers across the nation $50 billion, annually.

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports 2012 data showed that “All of the robberies, burglaries, larcenies, and motor vehicle thefts in the nation cost their victims less than $14 billion,” the report said.

Front-line workers are often the first point of contact between a company and the customer.

According to another recent EPI report on restaurant workers, “Blacks are disproportionately likely to be cashiers/counter attendants, the lowest-paid occupation in the industry.”

Blacks account for 27.1 percent restaurant workers living in poverty compared to Whites who make up less than 14 percent of restaurant workers who share the same fate.

Some employers skirt wage and overtime laws, because the relative penalties are so low. Currently, for employers who fail to pay minimum wage or overtime, the maximum civil money penalty is about $1,000.

“For giant corporations such as Wal-Mart and Dollar General, maximum civil money penalties per violation should probably be at least $25,000, while small businesses should be subject to smaller fines – perhaps $5,000 per violation,” said the report. “Clearly, the fines should be sufficient to deter violations and to make it economically unwise to violate the law.”

The United States Labor Department and state-level labor officials managed to recover close to $1 billion in stolen wages in 2012, according to data collected from 44 states. That “is only the tip of the wage-theft iceberg, since most victims never sue and never complain to the government,” stated the report.

In a blog post in April 2014, Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of EPI wrote: “Few local governments have any resources or staff to combat wage theft, and several states have closed down or so severely cut back their labor departments that workers are left mostly unprotected and vulnerable to exploitation.”

The EPI report on wage theft recommended adding hundreds of investigators to the staff of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division and prohibiting companies that have been convicted of wage theft from receiving federal contracts.

“No one knows precisely how many instances of wage theft occurred in the U.S. during 2012, nor do we know what the victims suffered in total dollars earned but not paid,” the report stated. “But we do know that the total amount of money recovered for the victims of wage theft who retained private lawyers or complained to federal or state agencies was at least $933 million – almost three times greater than all the money stolen in robberies that year.”

Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy: Disaster Inequality

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Columnist

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Just before Labor Day 2005, the world was stunned as images of Gulf Coast citizens, trudged through chaos and stagnant floodwaters, strewn with the debris of wrecked buildings and storm-tossed earth. The sights seemed to replay just before Halloween 2012, as coastal New York and New Jersey waded in icy waters and picked through the rubble of their destroyed property.

The incidents were separated by more than 1,300 miles, seven years, and two extreme weather events: Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. But a new Web media project titled, Katrina/Sandy, juxtaposes the storms to suggest that disastrous scenes like these may be on repeat, as extreme weather becomes a new global reality.

“We’re not trying to say they’re the same event…. But it’s definitely a worthy thing to put [them] in context with each other when we think about, how do we respond better, how do we prepare better?” says Rachel Falcone, filmmaker, co-founder of Sandy Storyline (along with multimedia artist, Michael Premo), and co-creator of the Katrina/Sandy project.

“We’re trying to tell stories that can impact and improve the recovery after Sandy, or at least improve it so that…we learn from the mistakes we made during Sandy and especially during Katrina. And also the successes…not all the stories are sad stories. Communities are coming together to meet needs successfully and create solutions.”

Katrina/Sandy is the joint endeavor of two award-winning projects, Land of Opportunity and Sandy Storyline. Sandy Storyline is a crowd-sourced collection of Hurricane Sandy experiences, solicited and curated by a team of filmmakers. Land of Opportunity is a New Orleans-based multimedia project from a team of filmmakers that explores issues around housing; the Katrina/Sandy timeline is hosted as part of this larger project.

Created from donated footage and testimony from scores of local filmmakers and citizens around the country, Katrina/Sandy blends film, photography, and firsthand audio accounts into a powerful timeline before, during, and after the storms.

Viewers click points along the line and journey through footage of ravaging winds, relentless floodwaters, weatherworn residents, and weary homeowners. As the short films and accounts play, viewers can also segue to compelling documents, articles, and interviews that explore related issues.

In one scene from the Sandy accounts, a mother walks through her home, surveying gutted walls and detailing the bureaucratic ordeal of beginning the rebuilding process, as her young daughter wanders around calling out memories. In an accompanying scene from the Katrina footage, a father reflects on the 18 months he and his family have lived in a trailer on his property, waiting for the city to demolish his crumbling house so he can rebuild, as his young son plays nearby.

The similarities continue to unfold in straightforward, powerful vignettes. Notably, low-income residents share similar experiences of isolation and neglect. In Sandy’s wake, it is elderly and disabled people stuck in high-rise public housing units without electricity, heat, or medications. Post-Katrina, it is mostly Black people slogging through hazardous floodwaters, searching for food and dry clothing.

Scientists and researchers almost unanimously agree that extreme weather events like these have become and will continue to be commonplace, as a result of climate change. Low-income and underserved communities, often home to people of color, will continue to bear the brunt of the effects.

“Folks who don’t have resources are the hardest hit at every stage of disaster. Katrina continues to be an ongoing disaster for a lot of people, and that’s clearly the bulk of what’s going on on the ground in Sandy,” says Luisa Dantas, filmmaker, director of Land of Opportunity, and co-creator of Katrina/Sandy.

“When we talk about looking ahead, and learning, and preparing, it’s mostly around ensuring that folks who don’t have access to resources are protected, and cared for, and able to recover and rebuild their lives just like everyone else can.”

Marginalization of these communities continues in debates about land use, rebuilding, and the right to return in the aftermath of disasters. Outside this project, both Dantas and Falcone work on issues around housing rights; Dantas points out that this scenario plays out often around the country.

“Crisis isn’t just a disaster on the scale of Katrina, but we’ve been looking at stories all over the country of crisis being used as a real excuse for policies that displace people, that put a premium on development agendas that aren’t necessarily inclusive, and aren’t necessarily being directed by the communities where they’re set,” she says, citing Detroit’s economic crisis as an example and Katrina as an extreme case.

Sandy survivors are at the beginning stages of these issues.

“Right after the storm there was all these meetings the mayor convened around policy that were shocking,” Falcone says. “There were town hall meetings, there’s been a lot of discussion around policy…and around buyouts, and development, and who has a say in what’s happening to different areas that are trying to rebuild. So we definitely see similar issues. But for us we feel like it’s not yet written, so we wanted to invite people to help us tell that story.”

Viewers are invited to share their post-Sandy stories at Sandystoryline.com/participate/share-your-story, and the Katrina/Sandy timeline can be viewed at http://beta.landofopportunityinteractive.com/#/compare.

Dantas and Falcone hope the timeline will help inform how people and officials prepare for this new normal.

“One really important thing to talk about with Katrina and the relationship to Sandy…is when a natural disaster becomes a manmade catastrophe. In the case of Katrina, the storm itself did not cause the lion’s share of damage. It was the epic failure of manmade infrastructure. And similar situations happened in Sandy recovery,” says Dantas.

“The Sandy anniversary is coming up and the decade of Katrina coming up in a year. The value of reflection isn’t just looking at what’s happened but also thinking about how what’s happened can be applicable to your own community. We’re really hoping that this work is driving home to people that this could happen to them, and if it were to happen to them, could they be better prepared?”

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