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Holder Endorses Shorter Terms of Imprisoned Drug Offenders

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By James Wright
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that the Justice Department supports a proposal to allow some people serving time in federal prison for nonviolent drug offenses to be eligible for reduced sentences.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission approved a proposal in April to significantly lower the base offense associated with various drug quantities involved in drug trafficking crimes. The Justice Department wants the revised sentencing guidelines to be retroactive for convicts without significant criminal histories and whose offenses did not include aggravating factors, such as the possession of a dangerous weapon or the use of violence.

“Under the department’s proposal, if your offense was nonviolent, did not involve a weapon, and you do not have a significant criminal history, you would be eligible to apply for a reduced sentence in accordance with the new rules approved by the commission in April,” Holder said. “Not everyone in prison for a drug-related offense would be eligible. Nor would everyone who is eligible be guaranteed a reduced sentence.”

The commission will vote next month on whether the change, which is estimated to reduce the average sentence by 23 months, should be applied retroactively to those currently incarcerated.

Holder said a retroactive change “strikes the best balance between protecting public safety and addressing the overcrowding of our prison system that has been exacerbated by unnecessarily long sentences.”

Civil Rights Leaders Push for More Diversity in NBA Team Ownership

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – During a closed door meeting with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, a coalition of civil rights groups commended the basketball chief for making a strong statement with the lifetime ban of Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling and expressed the need for greater diversity in the NBA’s business behind the scenes.

On April 25, TMZ, an entertainment website dedicated to celebrity gossip, leaked secretly-recorded audio of Donald Sterling making disparaging comments about Blacks during a conversation with Vanessa Stiviano, his mistress.

Following the release of the tape, NBA players, including players from the Miami Heat, the reigning NBA champs, joined in silent protests during the playoffs over Sterling’s comments.

Just four days later, Silver, who called Sterling’s words “truly offensive and disturbing,” dropped the hammer on the Clippers owner, banning him from the league indefinitely and fining him $2.5 million, the maximum allowed under NBA regulations. Silver also moved to force the Sterling family to sell the team.

Beyond the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers, the civil rights leaders discussed a range of topics with the NBA commissioner, including African American team ownership, the conduct of the owners, and the need for greater community engagement.

As former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer prepares to purchase the team for an estimated $2 billion, civil rights leaders who attended the meeting vowed to stay on the case to promote diversity in the league and not just on the bench or the owner’s box, but throughout the league.

“We talked very strongly about African American entrepreneurship and making sure that throughout the NBA and WNBA that there are strong opportunities to have women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses to benefit from all of the enterprises that surround the NBA,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

That includes everything from team ownership to vendor opportunities and procurement to stadium contracting.

Arnwine said that minority ownership in the league is important, because that’s where the money is.

“There’s nobody playing ball that’s making $2 billion dollars,” said Arnwine in reference to the impending sale. “It’s important in an industry where 80 percent of the players are African Americans, that African American communities should be beneficiaries of the fruits of that sweat and that labor, because those are the communities that they come from and our youth from those communities look up to those players.”

A 2013 study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports reported that Blacks account for nearly 80 percent (76.3 percent) of all players and more than 43 percent of all coaches in the NBA, but only 2 percent of all owners. Michael Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets (formerly the Bobcats), is the only Black majority owner in the league. In contrast, 19 percent of all players, 53 percent of all coaches and 98 percent of all owners in the NBA are White.

“Thinking long range, it’s about the empowerment of the communities,” said Arnwine. “The NBA should have a voice and have a role in taking away some of the pain that is felt in the Black community and opening the doors to opportunity for African American youth who want to go to college and for Black business owners.”

Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said that if the Ballmer deal goes through, that the new Los Angeles Clippers ownership group should include Blacks.

“The new ownership group needs to be a broad diverse group and the NBA needs to make sure that no more Sterlings ever come into the league and that no more Sterlings grow in the league,” said Morial. “Because the actions, the activities, and the statements of the owners, even in their private business dealings, are important.”

Morial said that the group wants to learn more about the procurement process for the league and they want to see how teams stack up when it comes business diversity.

“The NBA is heavily subsidized by the public through arena deals,” said Morial. “Many of the arenas are owned by the public, rented to owners, with terms heavily favorable to the team owners.”

That means they get to pocket most of the revenue coming in from concessions, parking and sponsorships.

During the owner initiated player lockout in 2011, CBS Sports reported that Time Warner Arena where the Charlotte Hornets play and the New Orleans Arena where the Pelicans play “were 100 percent publicly financed” and the city of Orlando “sold $311 million in bonds in 2008 to help finance the Amway Center,” home of the Orlando Magic basketball team.

“Industry analysts estimate that about two-thirds of current NBA arenas received some form of public financing. Even some of the privately owned buildings (in Sacramento, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Denver, Philadelphia, Toronto, Utah and Washington, D.C.) received some indirect public benefit such as land grants, tax breaks or both,” according to CBS Sports.

Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation said, “I don’t know any professional sports teams that didn’t need municipal support, that’s our tax dollars. If you have to have a stadium built for a football team, a baseball team, or a basketball team, guess what, that is municipalities putting in our tax dollars.”

Morial said that the coalition of civil rights groups that met with Silver wants to learn more about the procurement process for the league and they want to see how teams stack up when it comes to business diversity.

“Getting rid of Sterling is just one step,” said Morial. “We have to be more engaged in all of the broader issues related to sports, including ownership diversity and procurement.”

Still, the civil rights leaders recognized the great strides in diversity that the NBA has made compared to professional football and baseball. Not a single team in the National Football League is Black-owned and it’s the same story for Major League Baseball. Only 9 percent of coaches in the NFL and 10 percent of the managers in MLB are Black.

“We want to give the NBA credit where it’s due and push them where they need to be push,” Morial said.

He explained, “You now have a community of players, whether it’s a Magic Johnson or a Michael Jordan and other African American business people, like [Bob Johnson] and Oprah Winfrey, who have the financial wherewithal to be primary owners or parts of ownership groups. The argument that they just aren’t out there, just doesn’t hold weight anymore.”

My Brother's Keeper Moves Forward with New Report

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Though still in the early stages, President Obama’s special task force on Black and Latino males has discovered that part of their challenge will be to get males of color to reject negative images others have of them, according to a 60-page report detailing recommendations and policy proposals aimed at improving life experiences for the group.

“Though disproving the prevalent negative narrative about boys and young men of color with their own example, these young men often made two heartbreaking admissions,” stated the report. “First, that they had internalized parts of the negative narrative and thus (at times) felt the shame of being fearful of other boys and young men of color; and second, that they often diminish themselves as they go through their daily lives to be less threatening to others. The prevailing narrative is pernicious and corrosive. It feeds and excuses bias.”

The My Brother’s Keeper task force (MBK) hosted listening sessions in Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, Houston and Los Angeles.

“One of the compelling lessons we’ve learned from these sessions is that these boys and young men of color want to be heard and they deeply appreciate the fact that this president and his administration are listening to them,” said Broderick Johnson, cabinet secretary of the White House and the chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force.

According to the MBK report, Blacks raised by single moms are 75 percent more likely to drop out of school.

The plight of Black males has been heavily documented.

A 2012 report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education said that 52 percent of Black males completed high school in four years compared to 78 percent of White males. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) reported that each high school dropout costs the nation about $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes and productivity. ETS also found that 23 percent of Black male high school dropouts between ages 16–24 are incarcerated or in detention.

“In 2012, Black males were 6 times more likely to be imprisoned than White males,” stated the MBK report.

Despite research that shows that Blacks and Whites use and sell drugs at similar rates a disproportionate number of Black males are arrested, sentenced and serve time in prison for non-violent drug offenses.

Even though Black males account for just 6 percent of the population, they account for 40 percent of murder victims in the United States.

The MBK report identified six major milestones that can affect the life trajectory of minority boys and men, including:entering school ready to learn, reading at grade level by third grad, graduating from high school ready for college, completing postsecondary education, entering the workforce and reducing neighborhood violence.

The report offered many common sense recommendations such as encouraging parents and caregivers to read more to young children, universal pre-kindergarten, getting more experienced teachers into poor schools and promoting fair school discipline practices.

The report said that working with employers, mayors and others to expand successful summer jobs efforts, would help teenagers and young adults build “soft skills,” including punctuality, teamwork and interpersonal communication that enhance future job prospects.

The report also suggested reforming juvenile and criminal justice systems and a “Ban the Box” proposal to make it easier for ex-offenders to find employment.

President Obama recently announced that Magic Johnson would assist the task force in crafting private sector strategies for the MBK initiative.

As the My Brother’s Keeper program moves forward, the outcry for a similar initiative focused on the needs of girls and young women of color has grown louder.

Suspension rates for Black girls are far greater than their White counterparts. By the time they reach their 18th birthday, more than half of all Black women have been sexually assaulted. Black women also suffer higher rates of domestic violence and murder than other women.

Recently, more than 200 Black men – scholars, pastors, educators and civil rights advocates – signed an open letter to President Obama expressing their concerns about the need for a similar program dedicated to the unique plight of girls and young women of color.

The letter said that the men were “surprised and disappointed” that the president’s commitments and special focus on the young Black boys and men only focused on half of the community, seemingly leaving Black girls and young women to fight their own battles.

”Simply put, as Black men we cannot afford to turn away from the very sense of a shared fate that has been vital to our quest for racial equality across the course of American history,” stated the letter.

Organizers of the letter are hosting a Webinar 2:30 p.m. Friday, June 13. More details can be found at http://aapf.org/2014/06/mbk-webinar-invite/

Jarrett, who chairs the Council on Women and Girls, created in March of 2009 shortly after President Obama took office, said that addressing the challenges facing girls and young women is a very personal issue for the president and that many of the issues that are important to women of color have been tackled in the course of the council’s work. Jarrett added that the administration has been focusing on girls since practically day one and for the president it is very personal because he’s the father of two daughters.

“We have been working over the last five and a half years on issues that are important to women and girls in all of our programs all of our policies and all of the legislation that we support,” said Jarrett.

“If we’re going to be successful for all kids, we have to pay deliberate attention to young men and boys of color, because that’s what the data shows,” said Cecilia Muñoz, White House Director of Domestic Policy.

Muñoz said that the strength of the nation, domestically and globally depends on the full participation and contributions of young men and boys of color and that notion fits right in line with the broader economic agenda that the president has laid out.

However, critics say that even with the work done by the council, no major program has emerged for Black women and girls and certainly none on par with My Brother’s Keeper.

The administrations officials argue that even MBK should be vieweded in the context of other work.

Muñoz explained, “So, when we’re advancing things like ladders of opportunity in Promise Zones, investing in infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, job training and raising the minimum wage that pays dividends for the country, it pays dividends for all of us as a whole and it will improve prospects for boys and young men of color.”

Black Unemployment Rate Continues to Fall

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – For the second month in a row, the Black unemployment rate decreased, and the economy added more than 200,000 jobs, according to the Labor Department.

The unemployment rate for Blacks decreased slightly from 11.6 percent in April to 11.5 percent in May and was two percentage points lower than the 13.5 percent rate recorded a year ago. Meanwhile, the jobless rate for Whites barely rose from 5.3 percent in April to 5.4 percent in May.

While the jobless rate for Black men over 20 years old increased from 10.8 percent to 11.5 percent in May, the unemployment rate for White men decreased from 5.1 percent to 5.0 percent.

Black women continued to make modest gains in the job market this year. The unemployment rate Black women fell from 10.4 percent to 10 percent in May, compared to White women who saw their jobless rate climb from 4.7 percent to 4.9 percent last month.

Last year, more Blacks and Whites were either working on looking for jobs, a measure recorded as the labor force participation rate. In May 2013, that rate was 61.7 percent for Blacks and 63.8 percent for Whites. Now, the participation rate is 60.8 percent for Blacks and 63.1 percent for Whites.

Even though the national unemployment remained flat at 6.3 percent from April to May, 217,000 people found work.

According to the Labor Department, the health care and social assistance industries experienced big gains in May.

“The health care industry added 34,000 jobs over the month, twice its average monthly gain for the prior 12 months,” stated the Labor Department’s monthly report. “Employment rose by 21,000 in social assistance, compared with an average gain of 7,000 per month over the prior 12 months.”

Even as the nation limps through the current economic recovery, Black unemployment remains much higher than it was before the Great Recession.

During December 2007, as jobs evaporated from the economy and the Great Recession began, the Black unemployment rate was 9 percent and the labor force participation rate was 63.3 percent.

In a statement on the latest jobs report, Chad Stone, chief economist for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that the job losses suffered during the Great Recession have been erased.

“There are now 620,000 more jobs on private payrolls and 113,000 more jobs on total payrolls than there were at the start of the recession in December 2007,” wrote Stone. “Because the working-age population has grown over the past six and a half years, however, the number of jobs remains far short of the number of jobs needed to restore full employment.”

Stone said that long-term unemployment, roughly a third of all people who are unemployed, remains a significant concern. Blacks are more likely to suffer long periods of unemployment, compared to Whites.

Many economists have called for Washington lawmakers to restore emergency federal unemployment insurance, a critical resource for millions of Americans that ended abruptly in December 2013 amidst partisan gridlock. Last year, almost 1 million Blacks received benefits through the unemployment insurance program. This is money that families use to buy groceries, help pay rent and get to job interviews.

“Emergency UI [unemployment insurance] not only provides needed financial support to jobless workers and their families, but also keeps long-term unemployed workers in the labor force looking for work rather than dropping out,” said Stone. “On a bang-for-the-buck basis, it’s also one of the best ways to stimulate demand and strengthen the job market. That policymakers let it lapse was a tragedy.”

Trayvon Martin’s Friend Rachel Jeantel: 'I’m Still Standing'

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As Rachel Jeantel inched toward a high school diploma, she tried to keep in mind that she had a promise to keep. Her slain friend, Trayvon Martin, would have wanted her to finish school, and she had promised his parents and other supporters that she would.

Now, she has kept that promise.

The world met Jeantel last year, when it was disclosed that she was the last person to speak to Trayvon Martin before he was killed by George Zimmerman. Over two days of testifying as a key witness in the Zimmerman trial—in which she was questioned for six hours—a storm of opinions, analyses, and judgments were made about her – some on target, some not.

At the time, she was just a teenager thrown into the spotlight in the midst of a personal and national tragedy.

It’s a chapter of her life she doesn’t like to talk about, mostly referring to it in solemn tones as “the situation.” Bringing it up immediately deflates her cheery, laugh-filled conversation.

“I’m grateful for Trayvon and everyday when I work hard or have the smack-down on me, I just say if he was here he would say ‘keep going,’” Jeantel said in an interview.

“The situation was a learning experience for me, and for everyone. As everyone was watching the trial, we were all learning things about the United States. But I’m still standing. You don’t need to be afraid of me, and you don’t need to feel bad about the situation. Justice will still be served.”

Last year, Jeantel wanted nothing more than to be left alone. She was grieving and feeling guilty, choosing not to attend Martin’s funeral.

“I was running from Sybrina [Fulton], “she says referring to Martin’s mother. “I wasn’t ready to face her. I didn’t want to talk about it.”

She was traveling constantly, for questioning as part of FBI, law enforcement, and legal investigations. She was missing a lot of school. Only her closest friends knew that she had been on the phone with Martin when Zimmerman first spotted him.

“Nobody knew where I was. I’d lie about where I’d been every time somebody brought up Trayvon, and they would always bring it up in school [that he had been on the phone]. I’d deny saying it was me,” Jeantel says. “All the traveling and talking to the FBI was too much on me, and I was doing it by myself. I still wanted my normal life.”

That normalcy never quite returned. She still gets recognized at Wal-Mart, where people ask her why she shops there “now that [she’s] a celebrity.” They want to take pictures. Sometimes they’re too nervous to approach her, and send their children to ask instead.

She shrugs off the attention, often responding to strangers that she still needs clothes and make-up just as they do. “For now, I just deal with it,” she says.

Another adjustment has been the tidal wave of Black men and women who emerged to teach, steer, and coach Jeantel, now 20, as she transitions to college and womanhood. It began with her attorney, Roderick Vereen, who ushered Jeantel through the media spotlight after Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

He remains “like a father figure.” Vereen’s assistant, Rose Reeder, manages Jeantel’s scheduling. His friend, Karen Andre, also a lawyer, stepped up as a mentor. Miami-Dade School Board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall arranged for her to transfer to the Academy for Community Education, a small, attentive alternative high school where principal, Deborah Carter took Jeantel under her wing.

During an interview on his radio show, Tom Joyner offered Jeantel a full scholarship to any Black college she chooses, and also hired a team of tutors to help improve her math and reading proficiency to college-ready levels.

“I was not used to that. It was a lot of people. I could never sneak around, I couldn’t go no place!” She says, laughing and sighing with appreciative resignation. Once, one of her tutors came to pick her up at home and she invited him in to say hello to her parents, who speak limited English. He greeted them in fluent Creole, much to Jeantel’s chagrin. For the self-proclaimed “spoiled-brat daddy’s girl” who was “used to having her way,” this new team of no-nonsense adults – who could report directly to her parents without her translation – was not exactly welcome.

It’s something they all laugh about now. Though her new normal is a challenge rooted in tragedy, it’s bearing good fruit, too. Jeantel explains, for example, that her friends often draw inspiration from her life. One in particular, at her new school, confided that she was considering dropping out.

“I showed her my schedule of all my tutoring, and my calendar, and I told her she better not quit,” she says. “And she graduated and got her diploma with me. I’ve been through my worst. Everybody’s been through their worst times, but mine was in the public eye. If I could deal with millions of insults, you can deal with two.”

She’s even worked her way back toward Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, who she now calls her “number one supporters.” Fulton was one of the people cheering her across the stage as she accepted her diploma.

“I love them because one thing about my village is they keep it real. I’m telling you, I was bad,” Jeantel says. “I would see them every day and sometimes I’d get five different lectures a day. I’m down to two, so I’m working on it.”

In fact, Jeantel is working on a number of things. With her tutors she’s focused on vocabulary, grammar, and mathematic skills. With her mentors, she’s focused on wellbeing and gaining the necessary life skills to become independent. This summer she hopes to get a job. When her academic skills are up to par, she’ll enroll in college. In the far future, she sees a college degree and a creative career, ideally in fashion design.

“I want to thank everyone who was standing behind me during and after the trial – every single person who ever supported me. Trayvon, his family, my family, even President Obama,” Jeantel says. “I’m still standing, still smiling. [Zimmerman’s acquittal] was a disappointing day. But justice will be served, and I will get my degree, and we will continue.”

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