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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.”

BBC Faces New Attacks Over Rwandan Genocide

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

(GIN) — Pressure continues to build over a BBC documentary that challenges the generally accepted story of the Rwandan genocide, and questions whether Rwandan President Paul Kagame was a peacemaker or contributor to a horrific mass murder.

Last weekend, hundreds of protestors in Rwanda’s Eastern Province marched in their respective districts to denounce “Rwanda’s Untold Story,” a film which aired on the BBC on Oct. 1, saying it promoted the views of genocide deniers.

Press freedom groups such as the International Federation of Journalists came to the defense of the film, which discusses the events leading up to — and during — the genocide of Rwandan Tutsi in 1994. “The film interviews a number of people who argue the widely accepted narrative of the tragedy is inaccurate,” wrote the IFJ in a press statement.

“It is understandable that reporting on a sensitive topic such as the genocide can give rise to strong views from members of the affected communities,” said Gabriel Baglo, IFJ Africa Director.

“But, the ban on BBC radio programs (imposed by Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency) not only denies people access to information but also undermines the trust between the BBC and the Rwandan government, which is necessary to work through their differences.”

One of the central points of the film is that the official ending of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 did not end mass killings both in Rwanda and outside of Rwanda (i.e. in the Democratic Republic of Congo). The BBC goes deep and finds Rwandans who live in hiding in order to get answers to what happened in 1994 and to the continued mass killings, assassinations, imprisonment, and forced exiles, writes author and historian Yaa-Lengi Ngemi.

But one of the film’s harsher critics, researcher Andrew Wallis, writing on the website Open Democracy, called it so fatally flawed that it raised serious questions over the BBC’s ethics and standards.

“It is not often a documentary comes along that totally reattributes the historical reality of a genocide in a mere one hour,” Wallis wrote. “Twenty years of scholarly research was pushed aside.”

The uproar has escalated in the U.K., where the Parliament on Nov. 6 accused the BBC of denying the 1994 genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda and called for an investigation.

Still, there is very little that is “new” in the film, said human rights lawyer Peter Erlinder. “Most of the sources and documentary evidence has been available for years and has been hiding in plain sight.”

“Much of it can be found in the records of the U.N. Tribunal for Rwanda, although this database has been made virtually impenetrable for the untrained.”

“We should think for ourselves and reach our own conclusions when faced with what BBC calls ‘extremely painful issues,’” said Yaa-Lengi, president of the N.Y.-based Congo Coalition. “The only way to do this is to contemplate different points of views with an expanded field of facts and of proofs.”

Blacks Outraged by Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Long after the St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert M. McCulloch announced Officer Darren Wilson will not be prosecuted in connection with the killing of unarmed Ferguson, Mo. teenager Michael Brown and burning tempers and flames had subsided,  African American leaders were still expressing their disappointment in a criminal justice system that failed Brown.

“It has been fairly obvious from the beginning that the predominate belief in Ferguson and St. Louis was that Darren Wilson, the killer of Michael Brown, was not going to be indicted by a Bob McCullough-led grand jury,” Jesse Jackson said in a statement. “In a rambling statement of the grand jury’s process and conclusion – which did little to inform – Bob McCullough acted in the capacity of a defense attorney who misused the grand jury process ‘as a trial’ without professional legal cross-examination.”

Jackson continued, “The issue is not the unfortunate and unwise violent protests that followed.  The issue is the lack of federal uplift for the community even now.  The issue is the lack of federal enforcement of civil rights laws.  The issue is that Ferguson’s police and fire departments do not represent the people, are in violation of the law, yet it continues to receive federal funds.  Ferguson’s police department, fire department and contracts issued are all subsidized by the federal government –  including the equipment that was used to put down the protests – yet the federal government is still not enforcing its own civil rights laws.”

In a Huffington Post blog, Al Sharpton said: “If a grand jury is hearing evidence tantamount to what they would hear in a jury trial, then what is the point of a grand jury? In Ferguson, there are witnesses who say Brown had his hands up when he was shot. That should be enough probable cause to go to trial to then determine if Officer Wilson is guilty or not. It is at trial that he can then defend himself and his attorneys can present their own witnesses and their own defense.”

Sharpton added, “Whether it is the death of Michael Brown, Eric Garner or the many others who die at the hands of police all across this country, it’s important to remember that we never get to hear their side of the story. The victims don’t have the ability to cross-examine or refute theories. They don’t have the ability to hide out somewhere for months while a grand jury deliberates. And they don’t have the ability to defend themselves as some may attempt to assassinate their character either in a courtroom or in the court of public opinion. They are dead, silenced forever.”

National Urban League President Mac H. Morial said, “We respect the grand jury’s decision in the course of due process of our legal system. We will, however, continue to fight for justice and accountability in the death of Michael Brown.  As such, we first and foremost urge the Department of Justice to continue a full and thorough investigation to determine whether federal civil rights charges should be filed against Officer Wilson, as well as to carry out federal reviews of police misconduct and implement key recommendations for police reform.  The excessive use of force by law enforcement in our communities is unacceptable, and we know that we cannot prevent future similar tragedies unless and until there is systemic change across the nation in the area of police reform.”

Charles Steele, Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), said, “The grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson is not an end but just another painful step in the long journey to justice, a journey that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., our founding president, and others walked with confidence and determination.

“Just as SCLC did not give up until the buses were desegregated in Montgomery, Ala. Under Dr. King’s leadership, we will not give quit until justice is the norm in America instead of the exception in the deaths of our unarmed Black men and women.”

Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a federation of approximately 200 Black Newspapers, said: “(The) announcement that the grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson, Mo. Police Officer Darren Wilson who killed unarmed 18 year-old Michael Brown in August 2014 is yet another systematic and tragic slap in the face of equal justice in the United States… We are the “Voice of the Black Community” and the NNPA will not be silent or rest until there is justice in the Michael Brown case and other cases of racially-motivated police killings and violence in our communities across the nation.”

The NAACP announced that will initiate a 7-day, 120-mile march from Ferguson, Mo. to Jefferson City, the state capital, on Saturday, Nov. 29.

“The death of Michael Brown and actions by the Ferguson Police Department is a distressing symptom of the untested and overaggressive policing culture that has become commonplace in communities of color all across the country, said NAACP President Cornell William Brooks.

“Our ‘Journey to Justice: Ferguson to Jefferson City’ march is the first of many demonstrations to show both the country and the world that the NAACP and our allies will not stand down until systemic change, accountability and justice in cases of police misconduct are served for Michael Brown and the countless other men and women who lost their lives to such police misconduct.”

Melanie L. Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, said, “(the)  decision by the grand jury in Ferguson, Mo. to not indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting and killing of Michael Brown who was unarmed is a travesty of justice.  Further, we believe the St. Louis County Prosecutor Attorney Robert McCulloch’s gross mishandling of this case is inexcusable…We join the civil rights and social justice community in a call for an end to racial profiling of our young Black men and women who are losing their lives across the country at alarming rates at the hands of police officers who are sworn to protect and serve.”

Attorney General Eric H. Holder mentioned that there are two separate Ferguson-related investigations underway, one into the shooting of Michael Brown and one into the broader conduct of the Ferguson Police Department.

“I want to emphasize that we have two investigations that are ongoing,” Holder stated Tuesday. “As I’ve said many times before and reiterated in my statement last night, the department’s investigations will continue to be thorough, they will continue to be independent and they remain ongoing. They will be conducted rigorously and in a timely manner so we can move forward as expeditiously as we can to restore trust, to rebuild understanding and to foster cooperation between law enforcement and community members.”

Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, said:

“The grand jury’s decision does not negate the fact that Michael Brown’s tragic death is part of an alarming national trend of officers using excessive force against people of color, often during routine encounters. Yet in most cases, the officers and police departments are not held accountable. While many officers carry out their jobs with respect for the communities they serve, we must confront the profound disconnect and disrespect that many communities of color experience with their local law enforcement.

“The ACLU will continue to fight for racial justice. We must end the prevailing policing paradigm where police departments are more like occupying forces, imposing their will to control communities. This ‘us vs. them’ policing antagonizes communities by casting a blanket of suspicion over entire neighborhoods, often under the guise of preventing crime.”

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