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Jamaica Records Decline in Murders in First Quarter of 2014

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

CMC – Jamaica recorded a 12 per cent decline in murders during the first quarter of this year, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen has said.

Last year, Jamaica recorded 1,200 murders as compared to 1,097 in 2012.

Delivering the traditional Throne Speech at the start of the new Parliament on Thursday, Sir Patrick said that there had also been a 13 per cent decline in the overall category of serious crimes.

According to the head of state, fatal police shootings for the first quarter of 2014 had dropped by over 50 percent, reflecting better operational planning and improved community co-operation.

Speaking under the theme, “Going for Growth: Creating Opportunities”, Sir Patrick said that the long contemplated merger of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF) had been approved by Cabinet and will be implemented this fiscal year.

He said the merger would eliminate duplication in the command structure and release more personnel for operational duty.

Additionally, the Governor-General noted that significant capital investment would be made this fiscal year to upgrade the technology available for the investigations and operations of the police.

This will include communication, palm and fingerprint identification, and cyber forensic systems.

The Governor-General made special mention of the Unite for Change (UFC) initiative, which was implemented in December 2013. It is aimed at building a national movement to encourage positive social behaviour and promote a safer, gentler society.

“This important prevention initiative was born out of the realisation that violence is the outcome of dysfunction at many different levels in the society, including family, school, community, social services, and popular culture,” he told legislators.

Does Long-Term Trouble Loom for African National Congress?

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By Jehron Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

(FinalCall.com) – “A weak African National Congress threatens to strengthen the radical populists” is how a recent Financial Times editorial framed President Jacob Zuma’s increasing woes and the ANC’s apparent complacency. Not that South Africa’s ruling party has anything to fear. According to the FT, for all the criticism of his administration, President Zuma “can speak assuredly of victory on May 7.

Not having a strong opposition has its merits. But winning an election won’t stem a growing tide of dissatisfaction among the electorate. Whether it’s passing legislation that requires those with limited means to pay an “e-toll,” or the president addressing the 100th anniversary of the South African Land Act with a broken promise of proposed land redistribution, dissatisfaction—evidenced by booing of President Zuma at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service—is on the rise.

To add insult to injury, a March 19 report by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela Nkandia report brought more bad news. According to eNews Channel Africa, “allegations of impropriety and unethical conduct relating to the implementation of security measures by the Department of Public Works at the private residence of the president” were made and the news quickly spread.

Concerning $21 million in government funds spent to upgrade President Zuma’s private residence that included construction of a swimming pool, an amphitheater, a cattle “kraal” and chicken “run” were beyond measures “required for his security,” said the author of the report. “The construction of these as well as extensive paving involves unlawful action and constitutes improper conduct and maladministration,” he said.

Actions required by the Public Protector include President Zuma paying a reasonable percentage of the total cost incurred by the State for construction that didn’t relate to security.

Justified criticism of President Zuma, including questions from opposition leaders Julius Malema and Helen Zille, will do limited damage in the upcoming election May 7. Democratic Alliance leader Zille’s challenge to President Zuma for a one-on-one public debate on the state of the nation fell on death ears. President Zuma declined the invitation reported Business Day, as did previous president Thabo Mbeki when the Democratic Alliance proposed similar debates in 2004, 2006, and 2009.

Explaining his decision, President Zuma said, “There is no president in the DA. She must ask other premiers at her level to have a debate.” Business Day responded by such “logic, the only person Zuma would be willing to debate is himself, because there can only ever be one president at a time.”

Business Day thinks the debate would be good for the country, but “politically, however, the idea is fairly loaded with problems, and all of them for the ANC.”

While Zillie’s campaign seems to focus on highlighting Zuma shortcomings, Economic Freedom Fighters Party leader Malema appears to be shoring up support on the Left. In an unprecedented almost-marriage the EFF and the historic Pan African Congress formed a partnership. Alton Mphethi, who received a court ruling putting him in charge of the PAC, recently announced a formal “agreement of cooperation” between the two parties.

The Mail & Guardian reports that the “partnership isn’t quite a merger however, but there are hints of one in the future.” Mphethi says there isn’t time ahead of the election for the two parties to merge, but for now each party will “be the eyes and ears of each other in voting stations to ensure free and fair elections.”

Malema noted during a press conference to release his party’s candidate list for elections, that the “EFF and PAC share a common passion about the policy of land expropriation.”

According to the FT, the challenge that Mr. Malema poses at just 33-years-old is not at the electoral ballot box. By his own admission, his party lacks resources and some pollsters predict EFF will pick up no more than 8-10 percent of votes. What he represents instead is a generational challenge. “He is a clear warning sign of the looming battle for the hearts of young South Africans for whom opportunity—or the lack of it—is the priority,” said the newspaper.

In a damaging and just-released study, “Strengthening Governance in South Africa: Building on Mandela’s Legacy,” by the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, the ANC’s apparent complacency is taken to task.The Wall Street Journal said the report found “that during the country’s 20-year stewardship by the ruling ANC, almost no net new jobs have been created.

Unemployment runs at an official level of 25%, but a widely accepted unofficial level is 40%.”To highlight how critical conditions are in South Africa on March 19 Numsa (the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa), which broke with the ANC, launched its United Front against neo-liberalism across the country in “what could be months of rolling mass action for working-class struggles,” reported South Africa’s IOL News. The marches and one-day strike will mark “a significant move in what may be Numsa’s inevitable exit from the trade union federation Cosatu and the ANC-led tripartite alliance,” it added.

Jehron Muhammad, who writes from Philadelphia, can be reached at Jehronn@msn.com. Follow him on Twitter @JehronnMuhammad.

Obamacare Still Faces Uncertainty, Opposition

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By Starla Muhammad and Eric Ture Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

CHICAGO – The March 31 deadline for uninsured Americans to enroll in health insurance through the Affordable Healthcare Act dubbed “Obamacare” has come and gone. But questions about President Barack Obama’s signature legislation remain along with criticism about “extensions” to mid-April for those who did not meet the March deadline.

At Final Call presstime, over 6 million people had signed up for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace website, according to HealthCare.gov. Obama administration officials set an original goal of 7 million.

Up until midnight March 31 the administration and individual state operated health care online marketplaces worked at a blistering pace to enroll as many people as possible. Celebrity tweets, social media postings, print ads and endless commercials targeting Black and Latino communities announced the final days and benefits of enrolling. New campaigns, goals and eventually deadlines were revamped in efforts to make healthcare a reality for many who were previously shut out.

“African-Americans will benefit greatly from the Affordable Care Act as a disproportionate percentage of Blacks will become newly eligible for health care coverage,” said Thomas Duncan, CEO of Trusted Health Plans, Inc. in Washington, D.C. Trusted Health Plans is the only operating majority-owned Black Medicaid managed care organization in the U.S.

“But now, Obamacare will open the door to preventive care, primary care, and strategic specialty care for millions of African-Americans and others,” added Mr. Duncan.

Those who are already insured through employers or federal programs like Medicare or Medicaid are not required to sign up for the Affordable Care Act.

Those who are uninsured, but can afford health insurance and choose not to buy it through the ACA will face an “individual shared responsibility payment” penalty. The penalty in 2014 is 1 percent of yearly income or $95 per person for the year, whichever is greater and the fee increases each year, according to Healthcare.gov. Payment would be due when federal taxes are filed.

Certain factors may offer exemptions from penalties including: The lowest-priced coverage available to you would cost more than 8 percent of your household income or you’re uninsured for less than 3 months of the year.

There are also hardship exemptions for those that missed the March 31 deadline including: You were homeless, you received a shut-off notice from a utility company or you were determined ineligible for Medicaid because your state didn’t expand eligibility for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. A complete list of exemptions and how to apply for exemptions is available onwww.healthcare.gov/exemptions.

The next opportunity for open enrollment is not until November.

Reactions from critics of the ACA, coming mainly from Republicans since the rollout of the program, remained divisive and combative. “What the hell is this, a joke?” Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) was quoted as saying at a March 26 press conference. He was responding to the Obama administration decision to extend the deadline for those who began signing up for the ACA by phone or online but are not able to complete the process by March 31. They will not lose their place “in line” for coverage.

Mr. Boehner accused the president, a constitutional lawyer, of “manipulating the law.”

“For those who are considered ‘in-line’ we don’t know the number of consumers who may be in line so we’re planning enough flexibility to be able to handle everyone in line—it could take a few days, it could take a week or so to work through that. If a consumer is applying for a special enrollment, that will vary,” said an e-mail response from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to The Final Call.

In addition to bi-partisan splits on the ACA, views also vary along racial lines. According to the Pew Research Center 77 percent of Blacks approve of the law while only 18 percent disapprove. Yet among Whites only 33 percent approve compared to 62 percent disapproval. Latinos were evenly divided with 47 percent approving and disapproving of the ACA.

Much of the divide is blamed on lack of basic understanding about the law. But the constant undercurrent of a Black president enacting legislation that specifically expands health benefits to the poor is viewed by many as another reason for such fierce opposition.

“The reason that they (Republicans) are so opposed to it is because it moves toward leveling the playing field of life,” said Ava Muhammad, attorney and student national spokesperson of the Nation of Islam and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, during a March 28 presentation on the merits of the ACA.

The Student Executive Council of the Nation of Islam presented the special Friday evening presentation at Mosque Maryam to outline general information about the ACA to members of the Nation of Islam and the community. The program was also available via webcast.

“This is why the president is being called a Marxist and a Socialist by White extreme racists and by their Negro minions because what he is doing is taking a step toward the beginning of the end of the insurance industry,” added Atty. Muhammad

In addition to Atty. Muhammad presenters included Mustapha Farrakhan, student Supreme Captain of the Nation of Islam; and Derian King of the Robbins Insurance Agency, Inc., a Chicago-based Black female owned business started in 1947.

The ACA gives the chance for people who had no means to go to the doctor before, a chance for preventative healthcare for themselves and their families which is particularly critical for Blacks who suffer disproportionately from health problems, presenters noted.

For more information about the Affordable Care Act including eligibility, exemptions and penalties, visit http://www.healthcare.gov

Task Force of Ministers to Address Stand Your Ground Laws

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Rev. R.B. Holmes, a civil rights leader and pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla., is heading up a task force of 40 ministers to undertake a 12-point action plan to revitalize the Black community, taking on issues ranging from the repeal of controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws to supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Holmes made the announcement here last week at a news conference at the National Press Club.

“In our 12 Point Action Plan, we will take the leadership to save our boys and girls, to build schools in our own neighborhoods, to repeal and repair ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws across America, to support historically Black colleges and universities, and the importance of business ownership and the significance of marriage and the family,” said Holmes.

He said the action plan also includes evangelism, renewable energy and preservation, restoring voting rights for ex-offenders, social justice, advocating for veterans, health care support and increasing the minimum wage.

Holmes also announced plans to run for president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., “the nation’s oldest and largest African American religious convention with an estimated membership of 7.5 million,” according to the group’s website. The election is September 4.

“In a time when it seems more popular to be a celebrity than a servant, we stand behind Dr. Holmes with great expectations,” said Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore. “Jesus gave the clear indication that if you want to be great all you have to do is serve.”

Bryant said that historically, the Black church has always been on the front line, giving a voice to the voiceless.

“Historically, it has always been the voice of a Black Baptist preacher to correct America and to put us back on track, historically it has always been the voice of a Black Baptist preacher speak truth to power, uncompromising and in the words of Hosea Williams ‘unbought and unbossed.’”

(Unbought and Unbossed is also the title of former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s autobiography, published 40 years ago).

Bryant said that something has to be done to repeal “Stand Your Ground laws” that basically empowers a person to use deadly force if they merely perceive that their life is in danger.

“We hoped that government would do it, but they have not. We hoped that legislators would do it, but they would not. Whenever there has been real change in America it has whenever there has been real change in America it has always been under the leadership of a preacher,” said Bryant. “Under the leadership of a preacher who did not need banquet tickets to the governor’s mansion, who did not need a reserve parking spaces to be seen in front of the camera, because we understand that the real movement is not a sound bite, a real movement is about what we do after the benediction.”

The so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws have been enacted in nearly two dozen states and research has shown that the laws disproportionately affects Blacks.

A study on justifiable homicides by the Urban Institute found that White-on-Black homicides are 281 percent more likely to be ruled justified than a Black-on-White homicide and is ‘Stand Your Ground’ states that disparity is greater.

In addition being accompanied by other ministers, Holmes was flanked by parents of high-profile children personally affected by Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws.

“[Stand Your Ground] laws target Black males. Black and brown boys do not benefit from the Stand Your Ground laws,” said Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teenager who was profiled, shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a White Hispanic neighborhood watchman in Sanford, Fla., in 2012.

Fulton applauded the work of the new task force.

“It’s bringing the conversation to the table. A lot of people don’t want to talk about it, because it’s an uncomfortable subject, but we need to bring it to the table, we need to talk about it, so that we can resolve these issues,” she said.

Phyllis Giles, mother of Michael Giles, said that the role that the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law plays in court cases is unfair and often carries racial undertones.

In 2010, Michael Giles, a 26-year-old active duty United States airmen went to a Tallahassee nightclub with some friends. When a brawl broke out at the club, Giles was separated from his friends. Giles had a concealed weapons permit for a gun he had in his car. As he searched the raucous crowd for his friends, someone punched Giles in the face knocking him to the ground. Fearing for his life, Giles pulled out his gun and fired, striking his attacker in the leg.

Giles was arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder. Witnesses supported Giles claim and his lawyers argued that he was justified in using deadly force. Even though the married father of three, who served two tours in the Middle East didn’t have a criminal record, the jury decided against him. Giles was convicted of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon that cost Giles his career and is serving a mandatory sentence of twenty years in prison.

Phyllis Giles said that it’s important for the community to come together to address the disparities associated with the “Stand Your Ground” law and Black ministers should lead the charge.

It starts in the church and it will end in the church and God will bring it all together, said Giles.

Ron Davis said that he hopes that Holmes’ efforts lead to reforms in the SYG laws in Florida.

“If you don’t file for ‘Stand Your Ground’ you shouldn’t get the benefit of ‘Stand Your Ground’ in a self-defense case in the jury instructions,” said Ron Davis, the father of Jordan Davis, the Jacksonville, Fla., teen who was shot and killed by Michael Dunn, a White computer programmer who objected to the volume of music playing in the SUV carrying Davis and his friends in November 2012.

Holmes’ group also wants to make sure that aggressors in deadly altercations can’t rely on murky ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws in court.

Like George Zimmerman, Michael Dunn claimed self-defense, but didn’t rely on the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law in court. Davis said that shooters often go free, because of confusing instructions that judges give to juries in self-defense cases that include ‘Stand Your Ground’ language.

A bill that would amend the current law in Florida is slowly working its way through the Florida state legislature. The bill seeks to clearly define who can use the “Stand Your Ground” defense and would also allow law enforcement to set policies governing neighborhood watch groups.

Davis said that it’s important that pastors get involved in the fight to repeal or repair ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws, because when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the other pastors stood up in the 1960s, it really made a difference.

“That’s why we don’t have to drink out of the ‘colored’ water fountains, that’s why we don’t have to sit on the back of the bus,” said Davis. “People forget that these were pastors getting their heads busted for better civil rights, so we need the pastors on the front line again.”

UNCF: A Mind is 'a Wonderful Thing to Invest In'

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – For the first time in 42 years, the United Negro College Fund has altered its signature phrase. Now, a mind is not only “a terrible thing to waste,” but “a wonderful thing to invest in.”

The change is part of a UNCF’s campaign to provide emergency support in the face of a financial aid crisis facing Historically Black Colleges and Universities and their students. UNCF President Michael Lomax selected the National Press Club as the venue to call for renewed financial support for the 37 HBCU member institutions.

“Today our member schools are facing a financial crisis as severe as any in UNCF history,” Lomax said. “The irony of this situation is that the financial crisis comes at a time when interest by African American high school students in attending HBCUs has been on the rise for over a decade.”

Between 2001 and 2013, UNCF member private colleges have seen a 78 percent rise in applications. But this rise in interest, plus lack of funds for scholarships and increased need among families who are just now recovering from the recession, have converged to form a perfect storm that threatens students’ ability to attend.

In his remarks, Lomax condemned recent changes to the Direct PLUS loan as one of the largest stumbling blocks for current and aspiring HBCU students. The Direct PLUS loan is a low-interest, credit-based, federal loan for parents to fund their children’s college education. The newly-required credit check bars only those with significant “adverse” credit issues, such as a tax lien, home foreclosure, or 90-day-late debt payment. The PLUS loan was particularly beneficial to families of color with little to no credit, as well as those with too much income to qualify for need-based aid, but too little to foot the bill.

In October 2011, the Department of Education toughened its definition of adverse credit, in response to an internal report warning against granting loans to those who may be incapable of repaying them. Now, parents with any accounts in collection within the last five years; any unpaid collection accounts (ever); any loan defaults, (ever, even if the claim has been paid); and any defaulted contracts or leases, are ineligible for a Direct PLUS loan.

Consequently, many Black colleges are complaining that they are losing students who otherwise would be on campus.

Parents and colleges were neither consulted during decision-making, nor informed of these changes in advance. Many families who had been initially awarded funds for the 2011-2012 school year were surprised to find themselves suddenly no longer eligible for the 2012-2013 year.

“We were blindsided by the changes that, literally, from one day to the next, made many thousands of these parents ineligible for parent PLUS loans,” Lomax said. “The impact on students who depended on PLUS loans was immediate, and devastating. Many who arrived at their college dorms after summer break, in fall 2012, were literally turned away at door.”

According to Lomax, approximately 28,000 HBCU students were affected, accounting for more than half the PLUS loan denials that school year. UNCF member schools reported a $155 million loss in revenue. As a result of public outcry, largely led by HBCUs and the Congressional Black Caucus, the Department of Education pledged a review of its credit requirements, and established a process for parents to appeal their loss of eligibility.

In the meantime, there is not enough money to go around among private aid organizations. UNCF, for example, has raised $3.6 billion in it existence to send more than 400,000 students to college. But for every student it awards today, nine more applicants are denied.

Those who are awarded are likelier to graduate, compared to African Americans students in general. According to a report, “Building Better Futures: The Value of the UNCF Investment,” 70 percent of UNCF scholarship awardees in 2006 were likely to graduate within six years.

Lomax elaborated, “The [national] six-year graduation rate for African Americans is 40 percent. If we could increase that rate by just 7 percentage points, we would graduate close to 16,000 more African Americans with bachelor’s degrees each year.”

Additionally, 94 percent of African American freshman who were awarded loans in 2006 re-enrolled the following year. Nationally, the retention rate was 78 percent for all students.

In addition to scholarships for Black students, HBCUs themselves are also valuable. African American students, particularly first generation and low-income students, tend to view HBCUs as a more affordable and more welcoming option for quality higher education. On average, tuition at UNCF member HBCUs is 30 percent less than that of comparable institutions.

And there are more intrinsic draws, Lomax said.

“First, [high school students] say [HBCUs] feel like home – they feel like family. Second, they believe HBCUs will help them explore themselves as an individual, rather than as a statistic. And finally, at an HBCU, they feel they can learn more about where they come from,” he explained. “This is a powerful set of motivations…but desire and high motivation however, are not the same as scholarship funding.”

Lomax also discussed the preparation level of today’s incoming freshmen, the value (and lack thereof) of for-profit colleges, and the balance between trade schools and college.

Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.) were also in attendance at the National Press Club event. Both Congressmen are HBCU alums, and took the opportunity to speak in support of renewed investment.

“If it hadn’t been for these colleges and universities, I wouldn’t be standing here today,” Lewis stated. “Without these colleges and universities, we wouldn’t have a modern-day Civil Rights Movement. These colleges and universities bring about a non-violent revolution, a revolution of values, a revolution of ideas.”

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