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New Stop and Frisk Law Signed, Questions Still Linger

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By Nayaba Arinde, Special to the NNPA from the Amsterdam News –

“People are tried of getting stopped,” Governor David Paterson told the Amsterdam News in an exclusive interview. “It is disturbing that you have parents, grandparents and relatives sitting around the dining table trading stories about being stopped by the police.”

Speaking as the paper was going to press last week, he added that the new legislation signed into law July 14 “means that the personal data of individuals stopped, questioned and frisked will no longer be able to maintained by the police department and used against people who did not do anything wrong and to monitor them as if did.”

In the wake of last year’s record number of 575,304 people stopped and frisked by the NYPD - 87 percent of them being Black or Latino - last week’s historic signing at the governor’s Manhattan office came with lots of fanfare.

But, when the Amsterdam News asked how the community could be assured that the database will truly be discarded, Paterson replied, “That’s a very good question. Nobody has asked me that profound question before. Ask the police department. I would assume that police would comply.”

The police department did not respond to AmNews requests for comment.

“First of all, it’s the law—it’s not a recommendation,” declared State Senator Eric Adams, who introduced the stop and frisk legislation in the senate. “We are making it clear that if they violate the law, they will be in trouble; it would be a very serious action. The commissioner wanted to just do a policy change internally, and we said no because he could just change it or the next commissioner could change it. That’s why we wanted it to be a law.”

The former police officer, who retired a lieutenant before becoming an elected official, revealed that sources in the police department have said they issued an internal memo stating that the database will no longer be used.

“They can keep the data on those who were issued a summons or arrested, but for the majority: These were innocent Americans that they were keeping personal information on. They are only going to keep the data about the ethnicity and the location where a person was stopped to monitor profiling. It’s unfortunate that we have to treat the NYPD like a mischievous child, but we have had to because of what has been going on.”

Asked if he had any response, post-signing, from the NYPD, Paterson said, “I spoke to them, and the mayor disagrees, but Commissioner Kelly was shrill and guaranteed that there will be an increase in murder, rape and robberies. But, he had no evidence—not at all—that the police department has been able use this data in stopping crime.”

Paterson said that statistical and factual distortions are not helpful and that Kelly cited 170 cases in which information “helped solved crimes when, in fact, these were names and addresses of people already in the system.”

Paterson said regarding the police using the database: “Let’s say there was a mugging in the area, they could go to the database, and find someone who fit the description.”

But in reality, with the stop and frisks, Paterson noted only “one out of every 2,000 people had a gun. Over 90 percent of the people stopped were found to be not doing anything at all.”

But once someone’s name and information had been collected and stored, the governor stated that people were open to further scrutiny.

Paterson balked at Commissioner Ray Kelly’s response that folk can’t say they didn’t do anything wrong because they were initially stopped because a police officer had a suspicion that they were doing something wrong.

The governor said that he has asked the Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights to monitor the situation.

Despite the hopefully positive effect on the majority Black and Latino communities who endure the bulk of these unproductive stop and frisks, Paterson said the “biggest beneficiary is the New York City Police Department, who were starting to gain the reputation they had 20 years ago.”

This legislation could prevent a deteriorating police-community relationship.

With a 20-year decline in the crime rate, even the Police Benevolent Association said the database did not help stop crimes, said the governor.

The question about whether or not all the intel in the database will actually be thrown away is a heavy one.

“Nobody has covered that issue,” said Paterson. “Certainly, lawyers that I have known have said that they have gotten information back on their clients, but the data stayed in the system. I can’t monitor the NYPD, but I will assume that the commissioner will comply with the law and that data will be expunged.”

He said it was interesting that “Kelly wondered out loud why people aren’t as upset about crime as being stopped by police.” It’s really no mystery; it is “because the majority of people stopped and frisked are innocent.”

Echoing the cry of community activists over the decades, Paterson stated, “Police practices need to be looked into further.”

Sweeping Wall Street and Finance Reform Passes Senate, Heads for Obama Signature

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By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - The U. S. Congress last week finally passed the most sweeping legislation on bank and Wall Street reform in 70 years. The financial reform bill provides tougher regulations on banks and financial institutions and additional protections for consumers, many of which directly benefit African-Americans.

The bill was a response to the severe downturn of the U.S. economy during which “too big to fail” institutions like AIG and Lehman Brothers nearly uprooted America's whole financial system two years ago with underhanded business practices. Under the new legislation, the federal government now has the power to break up large failing financial companies and banks. It establishes an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion to ensure diversity, and introduces a new oversight agency that will regulate the industry and establish consumer safeguards.

The financial reform bill cleared the senate with 60-39 vote two weeks after the House passed the legislation. It now goes to President Obama's desk ot be signed into law.

"It’s designed to make sure that everyone follows the same set of rules, so that firms compete on price and quality, not on tricks and traps," Obama said at a press conference on the White House south driveway. "It demands accountability and responsibility from everybody. It provides certainty to everyone from bankers to farmers to business owners to consumers. And unless your business model depends on cutting corners or bilking your customers, you have nothing to fear from this reform.”

The president called the resolutions in the reform bill the strongest consumer financial protections in history.

"For all those Americans who are wondering what Wall Street reform means for you, here’s what you should expect. If you’ve ever applied for a credit card, a student loan, a mortgage, you know the feeling of signing your name to pages of barely understandable fine print. It’s a big step for most families, and one that’s often filled with unnecessary confusion and apprehension. As a result, many Americans are simply duped into hidden fees and loans they just can’t afford by companies who know exactly what they’re doing."

According to Obama, the bill will crack down on abusive practices of unscrupulous mortgage lenders and will ensure that consumers who are denied loans and insurance receive a free credit score.

Provisions of the bill also include:

-The creation of the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion;

- Additional assistance for homeowners;

- More funding for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which helps homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure and provides low interest loans to unemployed homeowners who are having a difficult time keeping up with their mortgage payments. Under the legislation, the program will receive an additional $1 billion in funding and an additional $2 billion in funding from the Treasury Department;

- Safeguards that ensure fair access, treatment and regulations for racial minorities, women and low-income workers, including ensuring diversity in hiring and job promotions at federal financial regulatory agencies and in their contracting with the creation of the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion.

National Urban League President and chief executive officer Marc Morial praised the congress for passing the legislation.

“The bill, passed by the Senate and sent to President Obama, will help protect America’s families from predatory lending practices and guard against the risky practices that landed the nation in its current financial crisis,” Morial said in a statement.

Communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the financial crisis, and stand to gain the most from provisions like the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the additional investments in the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, as well as the creation of the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion, Morial noted.

Three Republicans voted for the bill. But those that did not held that the legislation represents more government overreach that will lead to less jobs. The House Republican leader John Boehner called for its repeal.

“Obstructionists in the Senate are working overtime to protect the wealthy and influential at the expense of average Americans who are struggling to get by,” Morial said. “We desperately need to change the legislative culture and work together to stabilize our economy and support the working class.”

Oscar Grant's Family Vows to Fight 'Garbarge' Verdict, Sentencing This Fall

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By Stephon Johnson, Special to the NNPA from the Amsterdam News –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Officer Johannes Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Oscar Grant in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009 on a train platform. Mehserle shot Grant in the back while he was handcuffed on the ground.

The ruling sparked outrage among many in the Black community and beyond. Grant’s family, local activists and even the mayor of Oakland had something to say after the verdict.

According to the court’s public information office, Mehserle’s sentencing has been pushed back to the fall (October or November), with no exact date given.

“We will continue to fight for our equal rights,” said Wanda Johnson, Oscar Grant’s mother. “Certainly, we have seen how this judicial system has worked. To my family in Oakland, this battle is not over. We will be a people who are heads and not tail. We will be a people who are first and not last. We will be a people who are respected. Equal!”

Many questions arose in the aftermath of the verdict. Los Angeles, where the trail was held, is 25 percent white, but the jury in Mehserle’s trial was 75 percent white. According to Grant’s family attorney John Burris, potential Black jurors weren’t selected if they had had encounters with police, positive or negative, but white jurors who had relatives or friends in law enforcement were allowed on the jury.

Judge Robert Perry had instructed the jury to leave when the video of the incident in question was broken down. He didn’t want the tears of Grant’s friends in the audience to impact the jury. But the jury was allowed to stay in court when Mehserle broke down and cried on the stand. Also, guards would not let Grant’s family in the courtroom when the jury had reached a verdict. While local political officers and the mainstream media didn’t report these things, some were more prepared for the aftermath of the verdict. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums discussed his feelings hours after the Grant verdict.

“This community has waited with bated breath for this moment in anticipation of this verdict and have come to this moment with pain, passion, anger, fear and hope,” said Dellums. “Many voices in the community are crying out for justice. Why so much attention on this particular case? This is not the first young African-American male that has lost his life to this kind of tragedy.”

Mehserle wrote a letter dated Sunday, July 4, just four days before the jury found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter, that mainstream media labeled an “apology” to the family of Oscar Grant. In the letter, Mehserle stated that Grant’s death with follow him everywhere he goes and pleaded for forgiveness.

“Please try to get this message to the public,” Mehserle wrote. “I have and will continue to live every day of my life knowing that Mr. Grant should not have been shot. I know a daughter has a lost father and a mother has a lost son. It saddens me knowing that my actions cost Mr. Grant his life. No words express how truly sorry I am.

“For now and forever, I will live, breathe, sleep and not sleep with the memory of Mr. Grant screaming, ‘You shot me,’ and putting my hands on the bullet wound, thinking the pressure would help while I kept telling him, ‘You’ll be okay!’”

But Cephus Johnson, Grant’s uncle, didn’t buy Mehserle’s words. While speaking to the media upon the Grant family’s return to Oakland, Johnson noticed something missing from Mehserle’s letter.

“This letter—let’s be clear—was not address to us,” said Johnson. “He states in the very beginning of the letter, ‘Please let this message get to the public.’ I didn’t see my name or my sister’s name at the top of that letter. It’s very painful that the media portray this as a letter of apology to the family of Oscar Grant. This letter is not titled to us. Let’s be clear.

“This is a letter that was perfectly designed to influence the judge, as well as the jury, to affect his sentencing,” said Johnson. “It’s garbage.” Johnson also stated that the surveillance video of the incident showed Mehserle putting his knee in Grant’s back after he was shot.

“He states that because of the public and death threats on his life [that] he wanted to have some dialogue and couldn’t and he was forced to leave the state [of California],” said Johnson. “He can write this letter after he’s served 14 years in prison, and maybe we’ll believe him.”

Minister Keith Muhammad, who’s worked alongside and counseled the family of Oscar Grant, expressed a similar reaction to Mehserle’s letter.

“While we understand the process of atonement, the very first step in atonement is to be truthful,” said Muhammad, “to point out what is wrong and ultimately deal with the party that you have offended. A letter to the press is not a letter to the family of Oscar Grant. That is a political letter.

“This apology should have been delivered on January 1, 2009,” Muhammad said.

Hope may be on the horizon in the form of federal government. The U.S. Department of Justice has decided to step in and investigate the case as a civil rights crime. Any federal time Mehserle receives from a civil rights conviction wouldn’t be served until he completes his time for involuntary manslaughter. The last time the Department of Justice intervened in a high-profile case was the Rodney King trial.

First Lady Obama Tells NAACP Not to Rest

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By Hazel Trice Edney, NNPA Editor-in-Chief –

(NNPA) - Those who struggled and many who died in battles for freedom, justice, and racial equality during the Civil Rights Movement left a legacy that must yet be fulfilled - even in caring for the health of Black children, First Lady Michelle Obama reminded thousands at the NAACP Annual Convention in Kansas City, Mo., this week.

“I know that I stand here today, and I know that my husband stands where he is today, because of this organization - and because of the struggles and the sacrifices of all those who came before us,” Obama said in a passionate speech punctuated with applause. “But I also know that their legacy isn’t an entitlement to be taken for granted. And I know it is not simply a gift to be enjoyed. Instead, it is an obligation to be fulfilled.”

Remarkably, her speech on Monday nearly echoed earlier sentiments expressed by NAACP Chairman Roslyn Brock on Sunday evening, who also listed the sins of inequality that still plague African-Americans. This commonality of vision from the grassroots to the White House indicates both the distance that African-Americans have come and the distance that must still be endured.

“When so many of our children still attend crumbling schools, and a Black child is still far more likely to go to prison than a White child, I think the founders of this organization would agree that our work is not yet done,” Obama said.

She continued, “When African-American communities are still hit harder than just about anywhere by this economic downturn, and so many families are just barely scraping by, I think the founders would tell us that now is not the time to rest on our laurels.

“When stubborn inequalities still persist - in education and health, in income and wealth - I think those founders would urge us to increase our intensity, and to increase our discipline and our focus and keep fighting for a better future for our children and our grandchildren.”

Obama, who grew up humbly on the South Side of Chicago, is especially sensitized to economic inequities and overcoming them. Among her foremost issues as First Lady has been childhood obesity which often results from economic inequities.

“And that’s why I really wanted to come here today - because I wanted to talk with you about an issue that I believe cries out for our attention - one that is of particular concern to me, not just as First Lady, but as a mother who believes that we owe it to our kids to prepare them for the challenges that we know lie ahead. And that issue is the epidemic of childhood obesity in America today,” she said.

Citing that one in three children is overweight or obese, Obama said the stats are even worse for Black children.

“Just like with so many other challenges that we face as a nation, the African American community is being hit even harder by this issue,” she said. “African-American children are significantly more likely to be obese than are White children. Nearly half of African-American children will develop diabetes at some point in their lives. People, that’s half of our children.”

Even as illnesses that derive from obesity such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, mental and emotional health and low self-esteem issues can result in economic crisis for many families, that crisis also costs the nation, Obama pointed out.

“And we’re already spending billions of dollars in this country a year to treat these conditions. And that number is only going to go up when these unhealthy children reach adulthood.”

Pleading for those in the audience to help reverse the trend, Obama framed childhood obesity as if it is another civil or human rights issue.

“So we need to take this issue seriously, as seriously as improving under-achieving schools, as seriously as eliminating youth violence or stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS or any of the other issues that we know are devastating our communities,” she said.

She illustrated the problem with statistics that the audience easily recognized:

“Studies have found that African-American children spend an average of nearly six hours a day watching TV - and that every extra hour of TV they watch is associated with the consumption of an additional 167 calories,” she said.

Referring to what is now known as food deserts – neighborhoods where nutritional foods cannot be found to purchase because of the absence of grocery stories – Obama pushed for parental action.

Drawing empathetic laughter from the audience as she pulled examples from her own life, she appealed for parents to put vegetables on every plate; limit treats like sodas, and cut back on sweets.

“Surely the men and women of the NAACP haven’t spent a century organizing and advocating and working day and night only to raise the first generation in history that might be on track to live shorter lives than their parents.”

Obama has planted a garden on the South Lawn of the White House and launched a “Let’s Move” campaign to promote exercise. She recommended that parents and children visit the new website, Letsmove.gov.

The movement must start with self-example, she said.

“Believe it or not, if you’re obese, there’s a 40 percent chance that your kids will be obese as well. And if you … and the child’s other parent are obese, that number jumps to 80 percent,” she said. “And this is more than just genetics at work. The fact is, we all know we are our children’s first and best teachers and role models. We teach them healthy habits not just by what we say but by how we live.”

Finally, Obama told the audience to look to others – even each other – for encouragement – the same way that they did and still do in the Civil Rights Movement.

“See, because back in 1958, folks right here in Kansas City saw what folks down in Montgomery had achieved with their bus boycott. So they were inspired by all those men and women who walked miles - walked miles home each day on aching feet because they knew there was a principle at stake.”

Whether it was fighting for a better economic lifestyle or better health, it was all about wanting “something better for their children and for their grandchildren. That’s why they did it,” she concluded. “And in the end, that’s what has driven this organization since its founding.”

Historic 'Burial Ground for Negroes' Believed to Be Under State-Owned Parking Lot in Virginia

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Special to the NNPA from the Richmond Free Press –

RICHMOND, Va. (NNPA) - Former Richmond City Councilman Sa’ad El-Amin is now seeking a second round in his bid to halt the desecration of a historic “Burial Ground for Negroes,” which he claims is now covered by a paved parking lot at North 15th and East Broad streets in Downtown. The property is owned by Virginia Commonwealth University.

The former city councilman and disbarred lawyer has begun his new push in Richmond Circuit Court. He has delivered a revamped version of his lawsuit that was dismissed July 1 by Circuit Judge Clarence N. Jenkins Jr. His new suit contains fresh wording aimed at overcoming the judge’s objections.

El-Amin’s purpose is the same: He is seeking a court order called a writ of mandamus to require Kathleen Kilpatrick, director of the state Department of Historic Resources, to excavate the site to determine the boundaries of the graveyard. His new wording alleges that Kilpatrick has shirked her mandatory duty to “properly identify, explore, evaluate, preserve and protect” the burial ground where he states his “ancestors are buried.”

Her failure, he states in the suit, has enabled VCU to repave the lot and park cars, despite “ample and credible evidence that the burial ground may well encompass” the entire property.

He alleges that without the court order, Kilpatrick “will not voluntarily carry out her statutorily mandated duties with regard to the burial ground.”

Assistant Attorney General Paul Kugelman Jr., who represents Kilpatrick, has another week to respond. He has previously argued that the court lacks authority to issue a writ of mandamus because Ms. Kilpatrick has discretion under state law in deciding how best to carry out her duties.

A new court date for a hearing on El-Amin’s revised motion has not yet been set.

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