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AT&T Faces $10 Billion Race Discrimination Suit

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A group that advocates for economic inclusion and fair contracting for Black-owned media recently filed a $10 billion dollar lawsuit alleging racial discrimination against AT&T and DirecTV.

The National Association of African American Owned Media (NAAAOM) filed the lawsuit for an unnamed company that “owns seven original content, high definition television networks (channels), six of which were launched to public in 2009 and one in 2012” and according to the complaint “is the only 100 percent African American-owned video programming producer and multi-channel operator/owner in the United States.”

The suit alleges that AT&T and DirecTV violated a federal statute (Title 42 U.S. Code 1981) found in the Civil Rights Act of 1866, a law that was originally designed to protect freed slaves from discrimination as they joined the labor market and entered business contracts.

Marty Richter, a spokesman for AT&T, called the allegations ‘outlandish’ and ‘completely baseless,’ and said that the company spent $15.5 billion with diverse suppliers last year.”

Skip Miller, the lead trial counsel for the plaintiff and partner with the Miller Barondess, LLP law firm in Los Angeles, said his firm is going up against one of the largest corporations in the United States with vast resources, but it’s a lawsuit like any other lawsuit.

“The real deal is the money, that’s what this is about,” said Mark DeVitre, president of NAAAOM. “It’s about economic inclusion in mainstream America. The First Amendment requires diversity.”

According to the lawsuit, AT&T and DirecTV, collectively pay White-owned media companies approximately $16 billion combined, every year for channel carriage license fees, but don’t pay anything to 100 percent African American-owned media companies.

Even though AT&T executives admitted that they have a “black problem” to the company, according to the lawsuit, they have largely adopted a “wait and see” approach, refusing to increase the amount of business they do with the Black media company, unless it has a negative impact on their merger with DirecTV.

“They [AT&T], just said, ‘No,’” said Miller.  “‘We know you have good programming, but we don’t want to deal with you.’”

AT&T carries one of the unnamed company’s seven channels, but instead of paying carriage fees to the company, the telephone and media conglomerate requires that the company pay AT&T hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for the programming.

“Ultimately, AT&T stated that it would consider entering into a carriage agreement with the Company only if AT&T’s and DirecTV’s lack of 100 percent African-American owned channels interferes with approval of the acquisition,” states the complaint filed on December 3. “Otherwise, AT&T would continue to refuse to contract with the Company for its suite of channels, and would shut out the Company from its billions in channel carriage license fees and advertising and expenditures.”

The suit also alleges that AT&T and other White-owned media companies donate money to nationally-recognized civil rights groups in an effort to “buy” their support, actions the complaint calls “window dressing and a deceptive practice.”

“They can get up there say, ‘We support the Urban League.’ Those are all good organizations,” said Miller. “But what does that have to do with the media business?”

DeVitre said those contributions don’t have anything to do with getting African American voices and viewpoints on television.

According to the legal document, 100 percent African American-owned media receive less than $1.5 million of the approximately $4 billion that AT&T spends on advertising, every year.

“Likewise, DirecTV allegedly spends less than $1.5 million of its $2 billion in advertising costs each year on 100% African American-owned business,” according to the suit.

That amounts to fourteen thousandths of 1 percent spent annually with 100 percent African American-owned media.

The NAAAOM complaint stated: “This is an economic atrocity, illustrating the scope and magnitude of the racial discrimination in contracting by AT & T and DirecTV.”The suit alleges that AT&T’s racial discrimination in contracting will continue to perpetuate the economic exclusion of 100 percent African American-owned media from American television.

“But for AT&T’s and DirecTV’s refusal to contract with the Company, the Company would receive approximately $328 million in annual license fees for its seven channels – calculated using a conservative license fee of fifteen center per subscriber per month for each channel for AT & T’s and DirecTV’s combined 26 million subscribers. If Defendants contracted in good faith, the Company would also receive an estimated $100 million per year, per network, in national advertising sales revenue, or a total of $700 million per year,” according to the complaint.

Miller said it would be hard for his client to survive without doing business with AT&T and access to their roughly 26 million subscribers after the DirecTV deal, which would account for nearly 30 percent of the pay TV market. The proposed AT&T/DirecTV deal and the Comcast/NBC Universal deal have received lukewarm receptions from industry watchers.

DeVitre said that AT&T’s refusal to increase the business they do with 100 percent Black-owned companies is a form of economic genocide for African American-owned media, a sector that continues to shrink instead of grow.

DeVitre continued: “These companies either have to give away a tremendous amount of equity or make exorbitant ‘ransom’ payments in order to get carried and you can end up bankrupting yourself with this stuff or losing control of your own company and the system is designed to keep perpetuating it.”

Zimbabwe VP Loses Bid for Central Committee Seat

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By Craig D. Frazier
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

According to state media reports last week, the Zanu-PF party decided to “defend” President Robert Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader, by rejecting Zimbabwe Vice President Joice Mujuru’s bid for a seat on the powerful central committee after she was accused of plotting to assassinate Mugabe.

The central committee is Zanu-PF’s most powerful organ outside congress and consists of members drawn from the party’s 10 provinces. It acts on behalf of congress when it is not in session. Among other things, it implements all policies, resolutions, directives, decisions and programs enunciated by congress.

A provincial executive committee refused to accept Mujuru’s election papers ahead of a key Zanu-PF party congress next week following a campaign against her, which was led by Mugabe’s wife, Grace. The power struggle began after Grace Mugabe’s surprise nomination to lead the powerful women’s wing of the Zanu-PF, prompting speculation that she wanted the top job herself.

Mujuru’s home district “rejected her application in elections that saw a number of other Zanu-PF bigwigs linked to her nefarious activities to oust President Robert Mugabe also failing to make it,” reports say. Mujuru and powerful Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa were seen as the leading contenders to replace Mugabe, who has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980.

Mugabe is expected to be confirmed as the party’s leader early in December, but the fight for positions on the powerful politburo could be decisive for the campaign to succeed him. Mujuru’s failure to win a place in the central committee means she ceases to be in the party’s top leadership even before the congress starts Dec. 3.

Other politburo members who suffered the same fate include Cdes Dzikamai Mavhaire in Masvingo, Tendai Savanhu in Harare, Francis Nhema, Flora Buka and Simbarashe Mumbengegwi in the Midlands and Naison Khutshwekhaya Ndlovu in Matabeleland South.

Technology and the Continuing Civil Rights Movement

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive and dreaming today, his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech might be broadened to include technology equality along with racial parity, according to some civil rights activists.

“Dr. King could not have predicted what was next. But we now see what was next and that is technology. Just as we had been left out of the economic avenues in Dr. King’s day, we’ve been left out of the economic avenues today, except now that’s technology,” says Rev. Grainger Browning, pastor of Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, Md.

Last week, Browning spoke on a panel as part of a symposium titled, “The Future of Civil Rights: Moving Towards First Class Economic, Political and Digital Citizenship.” The symposium was sponsored by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, which has spent the past year urging Silicon Valley giants such as Microsoft, Apple, and Yahoo! to disclose workforce diversity data and make a commitment to increasing diversity at all levels. Among those corporations, Rainbow PUSH Coalition found that Black people accounted for 3 percent or less of their tech and non-tech workforces.

Technology is playing a central role in what may be a resurgence of the Civil Rights Movement in the protests over grand jury decisions not to indict White police officers in the death of unarmed African Americans in Ferguson, Mo. and Staten Island, N.Y.

According to research from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, less than 4 percent of those employed in science and engineering fields are Black, compared to White Americans who account for 71 percent.

As advances in technology give rise to new fields and accelerate existing ones, the lack of representation within STEM professions is resulting in a shortage of qualified Americans to fill these new roles. People of color are already the majority among the youngest generation of Americans—and without adequate STEM education, the generation may not be prepared.  This lack of training already disqualifies many Americans from one of the most entrepreneurial, lucrative, and fast-growing sectors.

“The challenge is that we are primarily consumers and not creators,” says Navarrow Wright, president and CEO of the Close the Divide Project, which seeks to increased STEM opportunity awareness among women and people of color. Wright also served as a panelist during the Rainbow PUSH symposium. “There’s no light bulb that this is a business opportunity. When you consume, you don’t recognize you have power.”

Additionally, business and society are now globalized thanks to the Internet, but people of color are less likely than their White counterparts to have access to high-speed Internet in their homes. The Pew Research Center found that 64 percent of Black adults have broadband at home, compared to 74 percent of White adults. Further, Blacks and Latinos are more likely to access the Internet only through smartphones – 74 percent of Black people who own a smartphone use it as their primary access to the Internet as opposed to a computer or laptop at home. Poor Internet access can create a range of barriers, from difficulty with online forms and job applications, to lowered academic performance, to increased costs for financial and administrative transactions via mail or in-person visits.

Paradoxically, the Internet has also given voice to the least heard members of society.

“It’s true that there is a digital divide. However…cell phone is our main access to the Internet,” says entrepreneur and scholar, Avis Jones-DeWeever, who also served as a panelist.

“We tend to be overrepresented on a lot of these [mobile] platforms, on Twitter especially, but others as well. I think it’s amplifying those activists who were already there, already in the trenches, already doing this work…but it’s also I think motivated others to become involved and become changes agents themselves in a way they hadn’t really thought of.”

Social media sites such as Twitter, Vine, and Facebook, have enabled marginalized groups to bypass gatekeepers and communicate, organize, and draw attention to their issues. For most of the demonstrations around the nation in response to police killings—the roadway shutdowns, die-ins, and marches—the word was spread via the Internet. Additionally, online petitions and fundraisers lend financial support and political weight to the cause.

“When the Ferguson grand jury decision came out, that was the first time I watched TV to get information on Ferguson,” says Wright, adding that he followed the story via videos on Vine and first-person reports on Twitter from Ferguson protesters and residents. “I think we see instances of people using social media as part of [using their] power, and we actually have gotten further along with that. But the challenge here is that it’s not sustained.”

As an uprising continues to boil over police brutality, racial discrimination, and condoned police shootings, technology may become the bridge between the Civil Rights Movement and today’s youth-led agitation.

“From Civil Rights elders there’s a lot to be learned as relates to strategizing, as well as coming up with a specific plan for policy action and seeing it through. But I also think young people bring an energy and a new methodology or reaching masses in a very short time,” says Jones-DeWeever.

“The power and potential of [technology] is extraordinary, and we need to continue to use it as a weapon in our arsenal. But we also need to remember the other side of the coin regarding strategy. It needs to be a both-and approach.”

Blacks Still Trail Whites and Latinos in Getting Treated for HIV

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Blacks who have been diagnosed with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) continue to lag behind Whites and Latinos when it comes to getting linked to care, increasing the chances that they could spread the disease to others.

Just 76 percent of Blacks, who have been diagnosed, are linked to care for HIV, the lowest rate of all racial and ethnic groups. Eighty-five percent of Whites who are living with HIV are receiving treatment.

“Engaging and retaining people in HIV care has to be a top priority in our HIV response, said Jonathan Mermin, the director the National Center for HIV, Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention at the CDC.

There are more than 1.2 million people living with HIV and 70 percent (839,336) of them have not achieved viral suppression, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s why the CDC has stepped up efforts to get more people who are living with HIV the healthcare they need.

Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, said that because most people achieve viral suppression with the proper medication, it’s important that people start treatment as soon as they’re diagnosed. Viral suppression is suppressing or reducing the function and replication of a virus.

“HIV care and treatment not only work to improve health and prolong lives, but also to prevent new infections,” said Frieden. “Yet, we’re not reaching nearly enough people.”

Frieden continued, “Treatment is particularly important, because people with HIV who achieve viral suppression aren’t just healthier, they are also less likely to infect others.”

Blacks account for almost half of all new infections in the United States each year (44 percent) and more than one third of all people living with HIV (41 percent), according to the CDC.

“Among Blacks, men account for 70 percent of new HIV infections and women account for 30 percent,” stated the CDC.

Eugene McCray, the director of the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, said that within the Black community the disease really doesn’t show any favoritism.

“It affects men, women, gay and straight, young and old,” said McCray, adding that gay and bisexual men are the most affected, followed by heterosexual women. “But young Black, gay and bisexual men are by far the hardest hit.”

  • The CDC reported that young Black men who have sex with men (MSM) account for more new HIV infections than any other subgroup of MSM.
  • African American women accounted for 64 percent of AIDS diagnoses among all women in 2010, compared with 17 percent of Latino women 15 percent of White women.
  • Although Black teens represent only 17 percent of the American teenager population, they account for 70 percent of new AIDS diagnoses among all teens.

McCray said that one of the greatest challenges to getting young Blacks into treatment is the lack of a diagnosis.

“Many don’t know that they’re infected,” said McCray.

A lack of a strong social support system, lack of health insurance, lack of adequate youth friendly-services, especially for Black youth, can all lead to poor access to care, McCray said.

In an effort, to increase linkage and retention to care and access to prevention services and to decrease HIV/AIDS related deaths among people of color, the CDC launched the Care and Prevention in the United States (CAPUS) Demonstration Project. CAPUS provides $44.2 million through eight state health departments in Georgia, Illinois Louisiana Mississippi, Missouri North Carolina Tennessee and Virginia.

McCray said that by targeting these states the CDC also hoped to have a particularly positive impact on the Black community, because with the exception of Missouri, each state has a higher population of Black residence than the national average.

In order to qualify for grants, jurisdictions had to have an AIDS diagnosis rate of more than 6 per 100,000 in 2010.

In FY 2012, more than $14 million was awarded through CAPUS, the first year of the three-year project.

CAPUS program was designed to increase the number of people with HIV receiving ongoing medical treatment while reducing social, clinical and economic barriers to preventing HIV.

“The key to controlling the HIV epidemic is controlling the virus and that’s true for all communities,” said McCray. “Just 30 percent of people living with HIV have achieved viral suppression in all communities, Black and White. We need to improve our health outcomes along the entire continuum.”

McCray added: “African Americans still bear the brunt of the HIV crisis in the U.S. When people get tested, if they learn that are HIV positive, it’s important that they get linked to care and retained in care.”

Failure to Indict White Cop in Ferguson will Not Derail Movement for Justice

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The failure of a St. Louis County grand jury to indict Ferguson, Mo. Police Officer Darren Wilson of the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown will not halt the movement for police accountability, key activists say.

A mass meeting was held on Saturday at a church in Ferguson to define and chart a course toward these broader goals. But the overall goal is already outlined in an open letter supported by “numerous” unnamed citizens, but bearing the sole signature of DeRay McKesson, one of the more prominent protesters in Ferguson.

The letter reads: “So you will likely ask yourself, now that the announcement has been made, why we will still take to the streets? …Until this system is dismantled, until the status quo that deems us less valuable than others is no longer acceptable or profitable, we will struggle. We will fight. We will protest.”

In August, McKesson helped create a daily Ferguson newsletter, and a website that lists nine demands. The evolving list currently includes “political accountability” for Brown’s death; the creation of an assessment tool to gauge racial bias within police departments; and an end to “provocative police behaviors” that suppress First Amendment rights.

No timeline has been placed on agitating for these demands. There is also little sign that Missouri authorities are interested in considering them.

Faith leaders plan to continue using their unique positions in society to advocate for peaceful solutions. Rev. Cassandra Gould, for example, has been active in Ferguson since August and was in front of the Ferguson Police Department with protesters and Brown’s family when the grand jury decision was announced.

“There was an incredible amount of pain, and also some agitation,” she said. “To see young people screaming out in agony…young people were coming up to us, hugging me – because I was wearing my collar – when they see us [clergy], we are kind of a sign of hope. But that night, I felt more helpless than I’ve ever felt in this role.”

Gould, who serves as pastor of Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Jefferson City, Mo., spent the rest of that night tending to tired and tear-gassed demonstrators at a few church-based sanctuaries around town. Despite a deal between clergy and police to leave the sanctuaries undisturbed, she says, police raided several, confiscating supplies and dispersing those inside.

“I’ve spent my life in St. Louis. I don’t remember much about the Civil Rights Movement…my mom marched to Selma. I thought that was part of a historical narrative, and I never thought I would see anything close to it,” she says.

Gould is also a member of the PICO National Network, a nonpartisan faith-based social justice organizing network working with 1,000 religious congregations across the United States. Its members, and other unaffiliated clergy, have been working behind the scenes in Ferguson to protect protesters’ safety and First Amendment rights. Gould says that moving forward, people of the cloth will continue to support the movement by bearing witness to police response, holding vigils and providing spiritual support, and meeting with authorities to advocate for policy reform and just solutions.

“We as clergy have an opportunity for a particular number of reasons…we have access…our voice is able to be heard where many others are not. There’s no agenda, it’s just about right and wrong. It’s about what is equitable,” she explained. “I’m encouraged by the number of my Caucasian colleagues that show up with us, and care as much as we care. I’ve gotten calls from people around the country…they realize this is an American problem, not just a Ferguson problem.”

Human rights activists are also documenting militarized police responses around the country to build a human rights violation case against the United States. The Ferguson to Geneva delegation, which presented testimony to the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Switzerland last month, has invited United Nations investigators (called Special Rapporteurs) to launch their own investigations into the matter.

“The UN rapporteurs are from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. They’re independent investigators tasked with looking into human rights issues all across the world. Citizens often request their presence, and the Office has to agree to visit,” says Meena Jagannath, a human rights attorney and member of the Ferguson to Geneva delegation.

The investigators are akin to the Justice Department lawyers who monitored civil rights marches and voter registration in the South in the 1960s. The delegation is funneling their eyewitness accounts to the rapporteurs to encourage United Nations involvement.

“One [rapporteur] wrote us a long letter talking about how he has sympathy for us. Another one, we have a meeting with him in New York in early December,” says Justin Hansford, human rights law professor at Saint Louis University and lead organizer for Ferguson to Geneva. “We have countries around the world speaking out about Ferguson. We tried the local level, the state, and federal government. We have to take this to the court of global opinion now.”

Jagannath adds, “Michael Brown’s killing really catalyzed a movement to change how police interact with people, especially people of color. Moving forward, people are not looking at this thing like let’s switch out the police chief or let’s switch out the governor. People are not naïve, they know that the structure is the problem.”

Those who are unwilling or unable to join the protests also have a forum to impact the ongoing movement. Six publications, led by U.K.-based The Guardian, have collaborated to call for solutions from the public via FergusonNext.com. The project has collected thousands of citizen suggestions so far, ranging from police body cameras to better inner-city schools.

While the state of Missouri will not indict Darren Wilson for any crime in connection to the shooting, Gov. Jay Nixon has created an independent 16-member commission to study the “underlying social and economic conditions” fueling the community’s response. The committee is scheduled to release its findings next year.

The U.S. Department of Justice has two investigations underway, one into whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights and a second one into the larger practices of the Ferguson Police Department. Brown’s parents are also considering bringing a civil action against Wilson.

“The end game…has to be accountability,” Justin Hansford says. “Michael Brown’s killing was a flashpoint, but the end goal is not just a resolution of this case. We’re tying to make sure future Mike Browns don’t happen again.”

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BVN National News Wire