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Dropped Off and Left for Dead? African American Mother Claims HPD Officers Used Excessive Force

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By Jeffrey L. Boney
Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward-Times

An African American mother encountered a situation that no parent should experience – having to receive a phone call from your child informing you they were in the hospital after being brutally beaten by law enforcement officials.

That is what 42-year old Sonja Lewis endured when she received a call from her son, a full day after he had a run in with members of law enforcement. Lewis is demanding justice after accusing the Houston Police Department (HPD) of using excessive force and inhumane tactics to manhandle her son back on April 16th in southwest Houston.

Joseph Roberts, 21, had asked a gentleman to drop him off at his girlfriend’s home earlier in the day and after spending time with her, he called the guy to come back and pick him up to take him back home. The guy he called to give him a ride was taking an extraordinary amount of time to come back and pick him up, so Roberts contemplated walking back home, but because he has asthma, he didn’t want to walk because he didn’t have his asthma pump with him.

After some time passed, the person that Roberts called for a ride showed up and he got in the car. As soon as Roberts got into the vehicle, Roberts stated that a police car got behind them. Because the gentleman’s car had specialized rims and tinted windows on it, Roberts believed that they were being followed because of that, so he did not become concerned. After a period of time of having the police follow the vehicle, Roberts noticed that the guy seemed nervous, so he struck up a conversation with him and asked what was wrong. The gentleman proceeded to tell him that he had warrants and said that he felt if they stopped him he would go back to jail. Roberts repeatedly asked to be let out of the car, but instead of stopping, the young man took off and tried to get away from the police. That is when things escalated.

As a passenger in the vehicle, Roberts could not escape, so he was captive until the driver ended up crashing the car in a small ditch in a residential neighborhood. The driver jumped out of the car and was tasered as soon as he tried to escape. Roberts, however, got out the car and closed the door and put his hands in the air. Roberts immediately found himself having to jump over the hood of the car he was riding in to avoid getting hit, after seeing another police car heading his way at full speed. After jumping over the hood, a police car came barreling in, according to Roberts, and slammed into the young man, causing some serious and life-threatening injuries.

It is what happened next that has Lewis upset and confused.

Roberts claims that HPD officers rolled the police car over his body, leaving him with major internal injuries, including a broken pelvis, along with lacerations and skin being ripped from his back from the tires. Roberts says that he was serious pain and informed HPD officers that he didn’t have any movement in his lower body and claims that officers pulled him out from under the police car and began to beat him, after hog-tying him.

Roberts says that a lady witness came out and saw what happened and the cop asked her if the cameras she had at her house were functional and she informed them that they weren’t, to which he said they replied, “Good!”

No ambulance was ever called to scene; instead, Roberts was thrown in the back of the police car and taken to Ben Taub Hospital. With no explanation that has been provided to date, police removed him from Ben Taub and dropped him off at Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Medical Center, where he wasn’t admitted under his own name, but under a fake alias name – James Rogers. The Houston Forward Times (HFT) has seen the wrist band that was attached to Roberts’ wrist, where he had been admitted to Memorial Hermann under the fake alias name.

It was only when Roberts was able to call his mother from the hospital, that he was able to tell her what happened to him. When Roberts told his mother all that had happened, Lewis was upset, but when she made her way to the hospital, her anger turned into sadness, because of the severity of her son’s injuries.

“They didn’t have to treat my son like this,” said Lewis. “I have so many questions and no one is providing answers and as a mother, I’m just trying to get justice for my son. This was wrong.”

When asked why he was booked under an alias name, Lewis says that a Memorial Hermann representative told her that when a person comes in under police custody as a gunshot victim, they will be admitted under an alias and then handcuffed to the bed, where a guard would be placed there to watch them. Roberts was not a gunshot victim, nor were any of those protocols following concerning him.

Lewis has gone to the HPD Internal Affairs Department seeking answers and Memorial Hermann, and says she has been getting nothing but the run-around. Lewis tried to file an Internal Affairs complaint with HPD, but was told she could not, but rather her son had to file the complaint because he is 21-years old.

The HFT reached out to HPD Internal Affairs department and was told that all they show in their system is that Roberts has been charged with those two crimes, but nothing more.

After questions continued to arise, Memorial Hermann abruptly discharged him out of the hospital, even when Roberts continued to complain of pain in his body and while still having staples in his stomach. He was discharged from Memorial Hermann on Wednesday, April 23rd and his mother was told by the hospital that she needed to give him shots in his stomach once a day, but didn’t fully explain why. She was given the name of a doctor, but doesn’t know what’s supposed to happen next or if her son is properly healing.

In addition to that, Lewis had to find a bonding company, because she kept receiving letters in the mail saying that her son had warrants out for his arrest for not appearing in court. Of course, there was no way that Roberts could have appeared in court, because the whole time he was sitting in a Memorial Hermann hospital, where he was admitted under a fake alias name.

When Lewis reached out to a bonding company, they searched the records and found that Roberts had been booked in the City of Houston jail; under his real name. Records show that HPD charged Roberts with burglary of a motor vehicle and evading arrest, but have not indicated what vehicle was allegedly stolen or how he evaded arrest. Since the incident, Roberts has never been taken to jail and has never spent a minute in jail concerning this case.

So, in essence, Roberts was forcibly discharged from Memorial Hermann as a free man, although the system shows him as a fugitive on the run.

Lewis says her son can’t get a bond because the city jail is saying that he is booked in the county jail and the county jail is saying that he is booked in the city jail. She says the experience is frustrating and she wants justice.

“When I went to HPD Internal Affairs to inquire about my son’s case, the Lieutenant was very nasty with us and had the nerve to ask me what hospital my son was in,” said Lewis. “I said, you mean to tell me you don’t know and all you did was just drop my son off at any hospital in Houston without having any documentation of where he is? I started crying and had to leave.”

Lewis has hired an attorney on behalf of her son and while seeking justice for Roberts, they are really hoping for some much needed answers, so it doesn’t happen to anyone else in Houston.

The HFT will stay on top of this story and make sure our readers know the latest.

Hip Hop Leaders Form Partnership with NNPA

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By Jimmie Davis, Jr.
Special to the NNPA from the Miami Times

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Upcoming hip-hop artists may find it challenging to get a DJ to play their songs or a mainstream media critic to review their music, but if they belong to Core DJs World Wide, they have nothing to worry about.

Last week, leaders of the group representing, representing more than 500 of the nation’s most influential DJs, met with National Newspaper Publishers Association Chairman Cloves Campbell and a partnership was established that will give them access to approximately 200 Black newspapers. In turn, NNPA will have a strong connection with a new generation of readers.

“We want to merge the hip hop community with the Black media,” Tony Neal, CEO and founder of Core DJs World Wide said in an exclusive interview with the Miami Times. “Now we have two well-defined voices reaching the people.”

Core DJs World Wide instructs young executives on how to polish their talent and business skills. That was done during a 3-day that ended Monday at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel on South Beach amid celebrating the group’s 10-year anniversary.

A third – and perhaps most important – factor was Jineea Butler, president of Hip Hop Union. She was responsible for forming the union between Hip Hop Union, Core DJs World Wide and the NNPA.

“There was no type of conversation taking place between the Black Press and the hip hop community,” Butler said. “We have to support one another.”

In addition to creating the unique alliance, Butler is a columnist for the NNPA News Service, reaching nearly 19 million readers.

Whether you’re a DJ, singer, rapper or model – Core DJs is the team to belong to, because as the premier coalition of DJs, they have the inside track on the goings and comings of the industry.

Getting air play is the number one concern for rappers and R&B singers, and Neal has made this course of action relatively simple for his members. Throughout the conference, artists had opportunities to network and establish a rapport with DJ’s and producers.

Once the DJ’s listens to the music – the artist’s stands a better a chance of getting their music played in clubs and on the radio.

“I’m trying to push my entertainment career to the next level,” said Rapper Pedro “Bizz” Juan Julio, who travelled from Topeka, Kansas to attend the conference. “I want to sign with a label, so I can feed my family.” His debut CD is entitled “Count Me In”.

These days it takes more than charisma to get noticed by a DJ. Musicians have to promote their strengths through establishing what’s called a “brand.”

“Your brand is your image,” Bizz said. “It’s who you are.”

R&B singer and song writer Sincere Grant, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma performed his hot new single “Red Carpet Ready.” He has a very delightful CD that’s going to catch the eyes of a major record label. Don’t be surprised, because has a very productive future in the entertainment field.

There was also a “Wrap” Session moderated by George E. Curry, editor of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com .

“The “Wrap” session was all about the role that the NNPA is going to play at bridging the gap between the hip hop community and the Black Press. “We are here to let the collective know that the Black Press is a means of communication that they need to take advantage of,” said Cloves C. Campbell, Jr., Chairman NNPA. “Our role as the Black Press is to give them positive exposure in the community they serve.”

Entertainer, Owner and CEO of Pack Rat Productions Sheryl Underwood is also a member of Core DJs World Wide and she says the gathering made a tremendous impact on the lives of individuals striving to get their foot in the door.

“I just love what I’m seeing here because there’s so much unity,” Underwood said. “This is how you select the next president.”

Neal, Butler and Campbell all agree that by utilizing the principles set forth during the civil rights era a movement has flourished where Core DJs Worldwide, the NNPA and Hip Hop Union is a powerful political unit.

“We have created a political interest group,” said Brooklyn Recording artist and Producer Jazo. “Musicians as well as members of the community will benefit from this partnership.”

Community Rallied for Brave Teen Gun Violence Victim

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By Cyril Rose Barker
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Teen gun violence victim Gama Droiville has become a symbol of survival in recent weeks after being shot in the eye in Brooklyn. The 13-year-old was an innocent bystander during a shootout in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

On Monday, the community welcomed Gama back to school since being released from the hospital. City Council Member Jumaane Williams discussed the financial difficulties placed on Gama’s family and the need to help Gama’s family attain permanent residency, and made a direct appeal for the public to contribute to an established fund recently created at youcaring.com/helpgama to help aid in his rehabilitation.

“Gama’s family needs our community’s assistance. Parts of this story was originally untold, so I want to make sure the community understands the entire situation so we can continue to support Gama with all of the assistance he is going to need,” Williams said.

Cheers and celebration filled the halls of Kings County Hospital, where he spent nine days being treated for the injury. Gama was released yesterday, and when he spoke to the press, he was wearing a plastic patch over his eye being held by medical tape. He spent Easter Sunday in the hospital.

At a press conference at the hospital, Gama said that he’s going to strive to lead a normal life and not be afraid to go outside. Doctors said that it’s early to tell if he will be able to see out of his right eye. Gama will continue to recover at home and hopes to go back soon to singing in his church choir.

While Gama has Medicaid, that may not cover all of his medical expenses. In addition to financial aid, Gama needs special furniture to relieve the tension when he sits and lies down. The family needs a La-Z-Boy sofa bed and Tempurpedic bed to help keep Gama’s head elevated.

“I’d like to say thank you for all the support,” Gama said. “Thank you for all the prayers. I am in the healing process. I would like to say thank you to my choir members and my church just for still keeping me in prayer.”

Wearing an NYPD hat, Gama thanked the force for catching his shooter. The NYPD also gave the teen awards for his bravery during the ordeal.

A dedicated church member, the teen added that he will try to forgive the person who shot him. The incident happened on Beverly Road and Flatbush Avenue, where Gama was waiting for the bus with his aunt.

His doctor, Douglas Lazzaro, said that Gama still has inflammation and that he is in the healing process.

The shooter, 21-year-old Kareem Potomont, was charged with two counts each of attempted murder, assault, criminal possession of a weapon, criminal use of a firearm and reckless endangerment. He shot his intended target in the leg.

“Violence destroys too many families, too many lives,” said City Council Member Mathieu Eugene. “He didn’t do anything bad [or] wrong to deserve what he went through. We are so happy to see that Gama is going home after this horrible tragedy. Gama is a wonderful young person.”

Eugene also said that violence is a big problem in his district and that Gama is an example of what can happen if something isn’t done.

Reports indicate that the area where Gama was shot is seeing a dangerous increase in violence. Shootings, according to CompStat data, have gone up 30 to 40 percent over the last month.

TransAfrica President Lee Resigns

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By Margaret Summers
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

TransAfrica President Nicole Lee announced Thursday she will step down after eight years in the position.

Lee is the first woman to lead the D.C.-based nonprofit, which has advocated for Africa and the African diaspora since 1977.

“Upon assuming my role, and with the board’s encouragement and stated support, we set out to build upon TransAfrica’s legacy as a voice for social justice, and create a body of work that was true to its Pan African and civil rights history,” Lee wrote in a letter to actor Danny Glover, chair of TransAfrica’s board of directors. “Today, TransAfrica stands as a renowned thought leader on issues relating to the African diaspora, and serves as ‘the voice’ of advocacy with regards to matters of social, political and economic justice for members of the diaspora.”

The Buffalo, N.Y., native, who was a human rights attorney before joining TransAfrica, is credited with revamping the organization’s communications infrastructure and enhancing its social media platforms to better communicate with international nongovernmental organizations (NGO).

Recently, she was instrumental in bringing Ugandan civil rights leader Frank Mugisha to the U.S. to meet with rights leaders concerning the African nation’s anti-gay policies.

Lee said the death of Nelson Mandela influenced her decision to resign. She coordinated the memorial tribute to the former South African president in December at the Washington Cathedral, which was attended by Vice President Joe Biden, actress Alfre Woodard and South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool.

Lee said she is proud of what TransAfrica accomplished during her tenure.

“Now I want the opportunity to work more closely with other international movements and organizations and work with communities here at home in understanding international affairs,” she said.

The Silent Wars of African American Girls

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – March 1 was the last time eight year-old Relisha Rudd was seen, leaving a local hotel here with Kahlil Tatum, a 51-year-old custodian who had been tasked to babysit her. Exactly a month later, Tatum was found dead; Rudd remains missing and the trail has gone cold.

The same week Kahlil went missing, the body of 30-year-old, first-year medical resident Teleka Patrick was pulled from a lake in Indiana. In the days leading up to her December disappearance, she and others expressed concern over her mental health. The circumstances of her death remain unclear.

One week after Patrick’s body was found, 22-year-old Karyn Washington, founder of For Brown Girls, a well-known blog dedicated to combatting colorism and promoting self-love for Black women, was found dead in an apparent suicide.

The plight of Black boys garners well-deserved attention, even from the White House—but Black girls are fighting epic wars of their own, too.

“Black girls are under the radar,” says Monique Morris author and president of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute. “At this point, all of the conversations are geared toward men and boys, and now at least a billion dollars annually will be invested in ensuring that men and boys of color have services that are uniquely responsive to their condition. And we don’t see that similar investment in girls.”

This lack of investment may be because Black girls seem to be winning their wars, especially when compared to their male counterparts. On standardized math and reading tests, they outscore their male counterparts. They report lower levels of tobacco and alcohol use than their White counterparts, according to the Center for Disease Control’s youth surveillance survey. And 2012 National Education Statistics reports of gains in higher education, with African American women and girls coming from behind to outpace everyone in the rate of college enrollment.

At the same time, four in 10 Black girls don’t graduate from high school. Starting as early as preschool, they are more likely to be suspended than all other girls, and most other boys. In some states, such as Wisconsin, they are the group most likely to be disciplined in this way. Social justice organization Black Women’s Blueprint finds that nearly 60 percent of Black women have been sexually assaulted by age 18. And in 2009, University of Southern California researchers found that Black girls are actually 50 percent more likely than White girls to be bulimic.

Even ordinary growing pains can be magnified at the intersection of racial and gender discrimination.

For example, a 2012 study published in Sociology of Education points out that African American teen boys are more likely than African American girls to be embraced when bussed to predominantly White schools; Black boys gain social capital through the sports they are encouraged to play and through presumptions about street-cred and coolness, while Black girls are unable to use an equivalent stereotype or sport to ease their interactions.

In short, Black girls live in a state of limbo, where their race, their gender, or a combination of both can work against them.

“It’s important to have conversations with girls about patriarchy and about racism, so they understand the structures they’re living in and can develop the language and analysis on how to navigate these systems,” Morris explains “They get it. They know when they’re being victimized, and they understand that there are constructs of oppression. What they might not understand is the ways they’re internalizing it, and believing it, and reenacting it in ways that are destructive to their own wellbeing.”

Saving Our Lives, Hearing Our Truths is one program that’s trying to help foster that understanding and sense of self-examination. Based in Illinois’ Champaign-Urbana metro area, SOLHOT creates safe spaces for Black girls through art, storytelling, camaraderie, and the support of the eight Black women (called “Homegirls”) who shepherd them.

“Black girlhood is rather complex,” says Claudine “Candy” Taaffe, a SOLHOT Homegirl and doctoral student in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Department of Education. “Because it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Black girls are not asking to be saved, and I’d argue that Black boys are saying the exact same thing.”

So what are Black girls asking?

“A lot of it is just not being understood, not being listened to, not being expected to be as smart as other people,” Taaffe says of the middle- and high-school girls she works with.

“They’re trying to figure out their relationships with their mothers. And sexuality is a big thing. They’re so into their intimate relationships, and not just with boys. We have queer and questioning girls in SOLHOT, just as we have heterosexual girls in our group.”

Black girls may not be asking to be saved, but as SOLHOT’s success suggests, the positive, judgment-free support of adults is helpful.

The National CARES Mentoring Movement brings this idea to life with a blend of education programs, community partnerships, mentor recruitment and training programs, and both one-to-one and group-mentoring programs. And although CARES Mentoring seeks to lift the boats of all Black children, Founder and CEO Susan Taylor has noticed specific challenges facing girls.

“What I have found, in listening to girls, is a profound loneliness. More than anything I would say that Black girls are saying that they need to speak,” she said. “I see a cry for guidance, and for the wings of more mature women to cover them. And to hear them.”

The National Council of Negro Women has also prioritized such work for nearly 80 years, through components such its Bethune Program Development Center. The initiative creates and supports community-based, empowerment and mentoring programs, particularly for Black girls.

The NCNW Los Angeles View Park section, for example, works with the girls of South-Central L.A.’s Imperial Courts housing projects. Through the eight-week Phoenix Leadership Academy, girls ages 8 to 14 enjoy etiquette class, cultural field trips, yoga, mentorship, and other activities designed to enrich their lives.

“It’s important to expose our girls to see other ways of life,” says Carolynn Martin, president of the NCNW Los Angeles View Park. “Because if I [for example] live in a disadvantaged community with parents who are also not exposed, it’s a very limited life. For example, some of the girls we work with have never been to the beach, even though it’s less than 10 miles away. Exposure to schools, colleges, careers, to give them ideas on what they might want to try.”

The importance of exposure, in tandem with providing sanctuaries where Black girls can be heard and understood, was continually echoed.

When girls aren’t exposed to talent and career possibilities (or are not trained for them), the result is underrepresentation across both industry, and career level. The science, technology, engineering, and math-related (STEM) fields, for example, are still facing a deep gender gap; correspondingly, these fields are nearly void of Black women, particularly in managerial and executive roles.

“It’s difficult, to say the least, growing up in tech as a woman of color,” says Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code. “It’s difficult to move through corporate settings, and it’s even harder to find mentors and sponsors to relate to on a cultural level. There’s simply not a lot of role models or mentors in leadership positions.”

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Black Girls Code offers workshops, after-school programs, and training camps to expose middle- to high-school Black girls to the varied world of technology. The activities teach everything from web design, to app creation, to robotics. Bryant explains that part of the mission of Black Girls Code (which has installations in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Las Vegas, and more), is to make sure that today’s middle school Black girls never have to get used to being the only one in the room.

On the other side of the country, Maura Hackett, teen program director at Science Club for Girls, is also trying to reach this goal. SCFG, an extracurricular STEM program aimed at K through 12 grade girls in the Greater Boston area, offers free hands-on workshops, mentorship, competitions, and field trips to foster interest in STEM fields.

“It’s hard to find Black women mentors for our girls, and it’s something we’re working toward [correcting],” she says. “The girls get really into [STEM forums] when they find and can talk to people who look like them; you see them open up a lot quicker. You can see the hesitation when we enter all-male rooms. One girl actually told me, ‘I can be that because there’s someone in there who looks like me.’”

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