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Democrats May Block Obama's Judicial Nominees

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Democrats and civil rights advocates continue to express concerns over two of President Barack Obama’s federal judicial nominees for Georgia’s northern district who have suspect civil rights backgrounds.

In a package deal with Republican United States senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson from Georgia, President Obama nominated Julie Carnes and Jill A. Pryor to the United States Eleventh Circuit Court, Leslie Abrams to the United States court of the Middle District of Georgia, and Michael Boggs, Mark Cohen, Leigh May, and Eleanor Ross to the court of the United States Northern District of Georgia.

If confirmed, Abrams and Ross would become the first Black women to serve lifetime appointments as federal judges in Georgia.

But Democrats and some progressive groups have objected to the nominations of Boggs and Cohen.

Last week, the United States Senate judiciary committee held a hearing for the nominees where Democratic senators grilled Michael Boggs, who is currently a judge on Georgia’s appeals court, over his voting record while he served in the Georgia state legislature.

When questioned about his votes against removing the Confederate battle emblem from the Georgia state flag, Boggs said that although he found the Confederate symbol personally offensive, he said that his constituents wanted the opportunity to vote on any changes to the state flag.

Boggs also voted for legislation requiring doctors to list how often they provided abortion services. When senators questioned him about the public safety concerns associated with publishing such a list following decades of violence against doctors who performed abortions, Boggs said that at the time of the vote, he was unaware of that history.

The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, a pro-choice advocacy group, said that they also found “personhood” legislation that Boggs supported during his time as a state legislator that the group said “is one step away from overturning Roe v. Wade.”

A day before the hearing on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) said, “Here you have the architect and the attorney that defended photo ID voter suppression laws in Georgia, the very same laws the president is fighting all across the country” nominated to the federal bench in Atlanta where most of the Black people are.

To have this being done by the first African American president is shameful, it’s painful, and it hurts deeply.”

Scott continued: “The president should have stood up to those Republicans and said, ‘No, I can’t do this to my people. You wouldn’t do it to George Bush. You wouldn’t have done it to Bill Clinton. Why are you doing it to me?’”

George State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, who championed the law to change the state’s flag, said he doesn’t hold the vote over the Georgia state flag or any one vote against Boggs.

Brooks, who has served in Georgia’s House of Representatives for more than 30 years and was president of Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials (GABEO for two decades, said that Boggs voted with him “90 percent of the time,” helped him secure funding for the Morehouse College School of Medicine and worked to the reform the state’s criminal justice system.

Brooks also said that Cohen’s civil rights record has been misrepresented in the media.

When White students sued the University of Georgia over the school’s freshman admissions policy that used race as factor, Cohen scored a court victory in 2001 for affirmative action proponents who supported the university’s program, according to Brooks.

Nearly a decade later, then Georgia state Attorney General Thurbert Baker, asked Cohen to defend Georgia’s photo identification law for in-person voting that many voter’s rights advocates say discriminates against Blacks and the poor. Brooks said it was a move that likely provided Baker, who is Black, political cover.

Brooks called Boggs and Cohen friends and said that he had no reason to oppose their nominations.

“This isn’t the perfect deal, but I trust the president,” said Brooks. “If [the president] had a different hand of cards, the package would look different, but he’s doing the best that can do under these circumstances.”

Mary Frances Berry, former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said that President Obama held his nose and nominated Boggs and Cohen and assumed that the civil rights groups and Democrats in the Senate would go along with his decision.

“The problem with that is that the advocacy groups believe that the president should fight harder to get the nominees that he wants. The president has a lot of power to make horse trades with people on things other than appointments,” said Berry. “There are always things that Senators want.

Obama made the deal but some think the price is too high, said Berry.

In an interview with BuzzFeed, an online news portal, Majority-leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that he can’t support the Michael Boggs nomination.

“Unless I have a better explanation, I can’t vote for him,” said Reid “This is a lifetime appointment. He’s said some things and made some decisions I think are not very good.”

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), an initial critic of the nominations, had been unusually quiet recently, which some saw as an indication he may be reversing his position. Through his press secretary, he turned down requests from the NNPA News Service for comment.

Georgia Rep. David Scott had some strong words for Lewis.

He tweeted Sunday, “if this is true, then Rep Lewis is a turncoat who has betrayed African Americans, women and gays.”

However, Lewis broke his silence Monday afternoon.

“I have tried to refrain from making public statements out of respect for my colleagues and the Senate process,” he said in a written statement. “I believe it is important to allow each candidate to be evaluated according to his or her own merits and to allow the Senate judicial nomination process to take its course. This willingness to permit due process is all that I have indicated in any conversation I may have had with my colleagues. I did not at any time indicate my support for the Boggs nomination or say that he had the backing of the African American community in Georgia.”

Lewis said, “Based on the evidence revealed during this hearing, I do not support the confirmation of Michael Boggs to the federal bench. His record is in direct opposition to everything I have stood for during my career, and his misrepresentation of that record to the committee is even more troubling. The testimony suggests Boggs may allow his personal political leanings to influence his impartiality on the bench. I do not have a vote in the Senate, but if I did I would vote against the confirmation of Michael Boggs.”

Berry, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said she would rather see the seats empty instead of having Boggs and Cohen in the pipeline later for higher appointments.

“I don’t believe that castor oil taste better when you put orange juice in it,” said Berry. “If it’s bad medicine it’s bad medicine. I hope that the Democrats will refuse to support these two people.”

Charter Schools Present Post-'Brown' Challenge

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In 1954, Lucinda Todd was one of 13 plaintiffs in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that declared “separate but equal” unconstitutional. Last week, her granddaughter Lucinda Noches Talbert, stood on the steps of Supreme Court and continued making the argument for equal public education under the law.

“I’ve seen what happens to communities when schools are closed. What once was the heart of the community becomes a rotting eyesore of the community, forcing children to faraway schools,” she told a crowd of parents, students, labor union members, activists, and concerned citizens who had gathered to rally for what they called educational justice. “To my grandmother, the Brown case was about equality, access to opportunity, and access to the American Dream. We still have not realized my grandmother’s dream.”

Speakers included American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, National Education Association President, Dennis Van Roekel, and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.).

In the 60 years since Brown, a perfect storm of factors has eroded public education, most visibly through school closings and the charter school boom, particularly in communities of color. As of fall 2014 in New Orleans, for example, all but five of the city’s 89 public schools have been closed or converted to charters. Houston has closed 32 public schools since 2003. Washington, D.C. has closed 39 since 2008. Chicago closed 49 public schools last year alone, and 111 in total since 2001.

The case against closings is presented—and storm of factors dissected—in a new report titled “Death by a Thousand Cuts.” It is presented by Journey for Justice Alliance, a national network of 36 grassroots organizations led by parents, youth, and ordinary community members working for community-driven school improvement.

“This is institutional racism…and Journey for Justice is your mirror,” said Jitu Brown, national director of Journey for Justice Alliance, as he officially released the report during the rally. “We will not sit by while you steal our schools, and steal our children. This is not going to be a report that’s going to sit on somebody’s desk. This report is going to be backed by boots on the ground.”

The report points out that charter schools were intended to be community-based alternatives, but instead have manifested as corporate franchises.

“The core premise of charter schools was that they were to be given increased freedom from rules and regulations in exchange for improves academic achievement and yet we now have over 20 years of data demonstrating that they are no more effective, on average, than public schools, (even if we judge them by the extremely-limited, standardized-test-based metrics they prefer),” it states.

There’s also the trend toward charters refusing special education, disabled, and English-language-learning students. In 2012 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that charter schools were enrolling significantly less children with these characteristics and that about half of charter schools reported having insufficient resources to serve students with disabilities.

Charters usually appear in communities of color, using public dollars and competing with established public schools. Charters promise newer facilities and alternative education methods, and public school enrollment falls.

Detroit Public Schools, for example, is the district serving the highest ratio of children of color in the country, according to the report (98 percent of students). Between 2005 and 2012, enrollment has fallen 63 percent; at the same time, area charter schools saw an enrollment increase of 53 percent.

In the Houston Independent School District, where 92 percent of students are of color, enrollment is down only 11 percent—but charter schools have seen a nearly 200 percent increase in students.

According to the report, lack of enrollment is one of three common reasons for closing a public school; bBudget cuts and low academic performance are the other two reasons.

Neighborhood school closures often affect the surrounding community.

“Residents lose community services housed in schools, such as pre-K programs, before- and after-school programming, adult education classes, and health clinics,” the report explains. “Property values in the neighborhood often declines, residents moves away, and new residents become much harder to attract because a boarded-up school is a sure sign of neighborhood instability and deterioration.”

Jacqueline Edwards, a mother and grandmother from Newark, N.J., who travelled to the rally by bus with approximately 75 other parents and community members, has felt these effects.

“Our students have to go into communities they don’t know, and it’s dangerous. We have a lot of sex offenders in our area, abandoned buildings, and dangerous traffic,” she explains. Newark has closed 13 schools in five years, with 11 more expected, according to the report. Edwards’ 12-year-old daughter and 9 year-old son attend Newark public schools.

“When they closed the 15th Avenue School, my two kids were in that school, and were diverted to [South 17th Street School], which was a significant distance from my home,” she says. “We relocated so their school was just around the block, but what if next year it’s going to be something different? My daughter will have to go two miles walking to school. It’s not fair.”

The students themselves were front and center at the rally, both at the makeshift podium and in the crowd.

Aquila Griffin was one of several teens who took to the microphone to rail against the school closings that affected her attendance at Dyett High School in Chicago. Griffin described having to take the mandatory physical education and art classes online, being without college-prep Advanced Placement classes, and having only two years of Spanish to choose from while better-resourced schools studied Spanish, French, Mandarin, and German, and enjoy music and art classes.

Students from organizations across the country were also present, such as Boston Area Youth Organizing Project, which seeks to promote social change through social and political youth empowerment. Kaylia Green, a high school senior and member of the BYOP, felt her public school education had been inadequate.

“I’m from Miami, and the schools there are worse. Boston schools are not as [segregated], but their education is off. I’m a senior and I don’t feel prepared for college,” she shared. “I feel like I’m being spoon-fed. I’m going to go to college and do what I’ve got to do because education is everything, but…I’ll just go to my resources and get the help I need.”

Her friend Andy Juerakhan was also present, despite being, in her words, “pushed out” of school.

Juerakhan, who has been trying to resume his education, says he was repeatedly (and unfairly) suspended from school, which led to chronic truancy on his part. With his record and dwindling public school options (Boston has closed 18 schools in the last six years), he is unable to find a school that will allow him to enroll.

“When you don’t come to school enough, the school basically forces you to drop out. Since I’m a push-out, getting back into school has been one big process. Sometimes schools won’t take you just because you’ve been out,” he says. “I’ve tried the Re-Engagement Center but there’s only so much they can do. I have to get a lawyer…I’ve been to three [school] interviews, and they didn’t accept me. It’s not school anymore, it’s like prison.”

College-Educated Blacks Have Harder Times than Whites

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Blacks with college degrees continue to fare worse than college-educated Whites in the labor market, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The report titled, “The Class of 2014: The Weak Economy Is Idling Too Many Young Graduates,” looked at the job prospects for high school graduates and college graduates during the Great Recession and the current economic recovery.

“Unemployment of young graduates is extremely high today, not because of something unique about the Great Recession and its aftermath that has affected young people in particular,” stated the report written by Heidi Shierholz, Alyssa Davis and Will Kimball of EPI. “Rather, it is high because young workers always experience disproportionate increases in unemployment during periods of labor market weakness.”

The report said that the unemployment rate for Black high school graduates (17-20 years-old) rose from 30.4 percent in 2007 to 41.2 percent in 2011 and decreased to 34.7 percent. The jobless rate for young, White high school graduates was 13.1 percent in 2007, peaked at 24 percent in 2010, and edged down to 19.4 percent.

Young Black college graduates also suffered high rates of unemployment following the Great Recession. In 2007, the jobless rate for young college-educated Blacks was 8.1 percent, but by 2010, a year after the official end of the recession, that rate ballooned to 20 percent. The report said that the jobless rate for this group of workers has improved to 13.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for White college graduates never reached double digits, even during the Great Recession.

“Among young, White non-Hispanic college graduates, the unemployment rate was 5.1 percent in 2007, rose to 8.6 percent in 2011, and improved to 8.0 percent,” stated the report.

The report said that high unemployment among recent college graduates is not because of a lack of education or skills for available jobs, “rather it stems from weak demand for goods and services, which makes it unnecessary for employers to significantly ramp up hiring.”

High school graduates and college graduates also earn less than they did nearly 15 years ago.

“The real (inflation-adjusted) wages of young high school graduates have dropped 10.8 percent, and those of young college graduates have dropped 7.7 percent,” stated the report.

That means that, high school graduates lost about $2,500 in annual earnings and young college graduates lost approximately $3,000 since 2000.

Despite the common belief that college students often “shelter in school,” waiting until the economy improves, skyrocketing costs associated with higher education and enormous debt force many graduates to seek any work that they can find.

During the 2013-2014 academic year, the average total costs to attend a four-year in-state public school was $22,826. The average costs for a four-year private school was twice that at $44,750.

“From the 1983–1984 enrollment year to the 2012–2013 enrollment year, the inflation-adjusted cost of a four-year education, including tuition, fees, and room and board, increased 125.5 percent for private school and 129.1 percent for public school,” the report said. “Median family income only increased 15.6 percent over this period, leaving families and students unable to pay for most colleges and universities in full.”

College costs combined with a weak economy means that students that graduate in 2015, 2016, and 2017 will encounter similar high jobless rates and lost earnings.

“They’ll never get those lost earnings back, those 10-15 years of reduced earnings, said EPI’s Heidi Shierholz. “That’s just gone.”

She said that the high unemployment that young workers are facing right now is part and parcel of the high unemployment that’s going on in the labor market as a whole.

“That means the solutions that will bring the unemployment rate down more broadly are also the same solutions that will bring the unemployment rate of young workers down,” she said.

The report recommended restarting long-term emergency unemployment benefits, instituting work sharing programs to avoid layoffs, and allowing earlier access into Social Security and Medicare programs for older workers to improve job prospects for all workers, especially young workers.

The report concluded: “The bottom line is that policies that will generate demand for U.S. goods and services (and therefore demand for workers who provide them), or policies that would spread the total hours of work across more workers, are the keys to giving young people a fighting chance as they enter the labor market during the aftermath of the Great Recession.”

Changing Blacks’'Attitudes on Green Living

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A record-high 356 temperatures were tied or broken across the contiguous United States in 2012, marking the warmest year ever in American history. Over that same peiod, widespread droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, snowstorms, and superstorms put a nearly $110 billion dent in the economy.

And according to environmental activists, that’s something Blacks should be concerned about.

“If natural disasters happen, or heat waves, or prices go up for food and gas, then African Americans get the short end of the stick in those situations,” explained Bruce Strouele, director of operations for Citizens for a Sustainable Future, a think-tank dedicated to improving quality of life for African Americans through sustainable development and environmental justice. “When you look at research on sustainable development, before it can even take place you have to be economically situated to make those improvements. For a lot of our people it seems out of reach, or like it’s something that’s not for us.”

But it is.

Studies have shown that poor people and people of color are most vulnerable to pollution and its climate-altering effects. For example, research from the University of Minnesota released last found that people of color are exposed to 38 percent more polluted air than Whites, with the most stark disparities in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey.

But despite being disproportionately affected, experts say many African Americans are uninformed about or uninterested in sustainability, let alone climate change.

However, Strouele thinks that climate change and sustainability becomes more relevant when framed as an economic issue.

“Sustainability may look different for our community. When we talk about Black sustainability we have to talk about issues that are more practical… some may be focused on high-speed rail, but for us it might be as simple as getting fresh food to people in the community,” Strouele says. “So we focus on aspects that do relate, like food deserts, breastfeeding, and other little things that not only lessen your carbon footprint but also improve your health.”

Last week, President Obama turned his “pen-and-phone” power toward the deepening climate change crisis with a new climate change plan. The goals include maximizing sustainable, affordable and low-income housing, and reducing energy costs for ordinary Americans.

The plan directs the Department of Interior to approve permits for 100 megawatts of renewable energy capacity across federally-subsidized housing by 2020. Federally subsidized housing includes public housing, multi-family buildings using Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, apartments and homes that accept Section 8, housing choice vouchers, etc.

This is enough energy to power 10 such households for an entire year, without ever using costly fossil fuels. (In the United States, a majority of utility companies generate electricity and heat by burning coal). Today’s upgraded homes usually use renewables as a supplement for traditional energy, instead of a replacement.

Additionally, the plan sets aside a $23 million Multifamily Energy Innovation Fund, which offers grants to rental developers, universities, and organizations to test out new ways to make cost-effective, clean energy more commonplace. A separate $250 million fund program will offer loans and grants to help rural utility companies upgrade the homes and businesses they serve.

On a more privatized level, the administration is expanding its Better Building Challenge to include multi-family housing developers. With this initiative, developers are challenged to build more affordable and low-income housing with a commitment to sustainable and green living. The developers must publicly commit to a 20-percent reduction in energy use across their properties by 2020.

Improving sustainability standards in affordable residential development also improves their quality, according to Bryan Howard, legislative director for the U.S. Green Building Council. Howard advocates for clean energy and sustainability among the nation’s lawmakers.

“In states that have taken an aggressive approach to adding sustainability, it enhances the quality of housing in those states. It’s not only sustainability, but walkability, healthiness—like making sure there are air filters, because there’s a high level of asthma and respiratory problems in public housing—making sure public housing isn’t situated in discarded areas of town,” he says. “I think the issue of sustainability has been a gateway conversation to start permeating discussions around public housing…and starting to address some of these issues.”

It provides an opportunity for developers…to talk to the communities about their needs and what they want out of new development projects.”

Further, the president’s plan strengthens federal efficiency standards for household appliances. In short, these efforts not only cut national pollution, but also cut energy bills for all Americans. The Obama administration says it has already upgraded 1 million homes for energy efficiency, saving families more than $400 on their heating and cooling bills per year.

Howard explains, “When we talk to people about wanting to save money on heat bills…people respond to that more than talking about climate change directly. It’s far more interesting, as opposed to [climate change], or something that may not feel as directly impactful.”

Tolan Family wants End to Racial Profiling

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By Cierra Duncan
Special to the NNPA from the Houston Defender

HOUSTON – Police shooting victim Robbie Tolan and his family want to see justice done, while ending the assault on young Black men.

“We all experienced this as a family, as a community, and as a culture but my prayer is that we have not missed the meaning,” Tolan said during a recent press conference in Houston. “This is bigger than Robbie Tolan. This is bigger than Trayvon Martin. This decision has undoubtedly been a blessing.”

The Tolan family was joined by their new attorney Benjamin Crump, who represented Trayvon’s family. Crump made reference to the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently reinstated a civil rights lawsuit filed by Tolan, who in 2008 was shot and seriously injured by a White police officer outside the Bellaire, Texas home he shared with his parents. Police said they thought Tolan was armed and had stolen a vehicle.

“The Supreme Court said that this [case] should go to a jury,” Crump said. “If this could happen to a model family like this, it could happen to anyone here.”

Marian Tolan, Robbie’s mother, said “I want laws changed. There are laws against racial profiling but they are not being enforced. It’s time for that to change.”

Crump said it was “incredible” that the Supreme Court even heard the Tolan case because of the overwhelmingly high number of cases they are presented with. He then said it is “miraculous” that the court ruled in their favor.

“It is historic when you get a unanimous decision from the United States Supreme Court,” Crump said. “For all nine justices to agree that what happened was wrong…all glory goes to God.”

Crump said that every mother would be “proud to call Robbie their son” and that there was no reason for him to be shot and his family to be victimized.

The Tolans say that their faith has helped them as they continue to pursue justice. Robbie was a 23-year-old aspiring pro baseball player when he was shot. His father, Bobby, played in the Major Leagues.

“Our pastor constructed a prayer just for this case and the Supreme Court,” Marian Tolan said. “In that prayer we prayed for each Supreme Court justice, we asked God to give them a clean heart so that they can do His will,” she said. “From the beginning, I’ve asked God to use this case for change. God saved Robbie for a reason. This decision has placed us in a position to bring that reason forth.”

Extended family, community members, church leaders and elected officials gathered in support of the Tolan family.

“There are a lot of people who can be inspired by the dogged determination that has been exuded by the Tolan family,” said Kirbyjon Caldwell, pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church. “We have to change these laws. This is not just about what happened six years ago. This is still happening today.”

U.S. Congressman Al Green (D-Texas) said there cannot be a law that allows police to shoot an unarmed person on their own property and go unpunished.

“I agree with the Supreme Court that it is important that this case be reviewed again,” said Green, whose district sits in Houston. “The circumstances of this case, the shooting of an unarmed young man in his parents’ yard, are deeply troubling and raise many questions. I trust that after a just review, a jury will be able to sort through the facts and come to a just resolution.”

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said she and Green will meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and ask for an investigation in the case based on civil rights violations and any “criminal aspects” in the case.

She urged the community to unite behind the Tolan family and support them as they pursue a new trial. “We must leave this place and demand a new trial for Robbie,” Jackson Lee said. “The trial he never had.”

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