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Black Farmers Still Waiting to Collect on USDA Race Settlement

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By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Like many Black farmers around the country, Willard Tillman is waiting. He's been waiting for more than a decade to collect on a settlement from the government for being discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture. But waiting is all he can do for now because the government that owes him is still dragging its feet to pay him.

Tillman is one of thousands of African-American farmers who is due to collect part of a $1.25 billion dollar settlement from the government but is unable to collect because Congress has yet to appropriate the payout. Congress had until the March 31 congressional recess to appropriate the amount before plaintiffs could opt out of the settlement and pursue individual litigation. No farmers, including Tillman, have opted out as of yet.

"I believe the system will work in our best interests because this is supposed to be law,” said the a 63-year-old Tillman from Seminole County, Okla. “I really believe this administration has this thing at heart and that they will do what's right with this."

The case in which Tillman is a litigant, widely known as “Pigford II”, is an extension of the “Pigford case”, a 1999 class action lawsuit against the USDA that stem from decades of discrimination against Black farmers with its services and credits. The $2.4 billion dollar settlement in the Pigford case was the largest in civil rights history. Class members of the original case had a certain amount of time to file a claim and have it adjudicated in order to collect their payout. But because of a failed notification process an estimated 65,000 eligible farmers filed late and were left out in the cold simply because they were improperly notified.

“What happened was that the notice of this particular case was not properly distributed into our communities,” Tillman said. “And as a result of that, we ended up filing after the October cutoff date.”

Pigford II is set to correct that by giving another opportunity for late filers to collect their payout. The case of the Black farmers, wronged by the federal government simply because of their race, has dragged on for years. Several times recently it appeared to finally be over, but has now fallen back to struggle. President Obama and agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack announced in February that a $1.25 billion settlement has been reached for Pigford II. But, as of now, only $100 million dollars from the 2008 Farm Bill is available. The rest of the funding must be appropriated by Congress.

"We're talking about much more than the money,” said Ralph Paige, executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol. “We're talking about remedying past discrimination and going further with a stronger and better agricultural system and country."

Paige called the uncollected settlement a "small amount of money" that will, in effect, be used to help sustain the American agricultural system.

Paige and Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association president Gary Grant called the press conference to urge Congress to include the remaining $1.15 billion dollars in the next fiscal budget.

Grant said that it's going to take more than just Black farmers to convince Congress on this issue. He said that “People who eat food need to understand that this is about them as well.”

He continues, “We spend a billion dollars on a jet to bomb somebody … We're talking about a billion dollars to help feed our country. So I just don't see why Congress and the president can't go ahead find it.”

Meanwhile, the offenses by the federal government continue to mount. Even though some claimants never collected on their portion of the settlement they were still taxed on the interest that their award accrued. They are getting taxed on income they have yet to receive.

"No one explained the process to them and so basically, they went from being indebted to the USDA to being indebted to the Internal Revenue Service," Grant said.

According to Grant, since the payout has been delayed Black farmers have been put off their lands, lost their homes and their credit has been ruined.

“The leadership is very aware of the urgency of this matter. I predict to you that it will happen sooner than later,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C). Butterfield represents Timothy Pigford's congressional district. He filed the 1999 class-action lawsuit against the USDA.

When asked about why Congress is dragging their feet Butterfield raised the nation's fiscal concerns as the reason.

“We are $12 trillion dollars in debt,” Butterfield said. “This fiscal year we are looking at $1.5 trillion dollars in deficit. We cannot be unmindful of our principle dilemma. And nor can we unmindful on the need to settle with the Black farmers. Hopefully, we can accomplish both of those results.”

Butterfield said that if Congress wasn't able to find an appropriate vehicle to get the funding then he would support declaring the settlement as a national emergency in order to add it to the next supplemental budget when it hits the House floor. Funding for the Pigford II settlement is held back by the congressional PAYGO rule, which, in an effort to control new spending, mandates that Congress finance expenditures with funds that are already available rather than borrow.

So until Congress passes an appropriation, all farmers like Tillman can do is wait, continue pushing and keep their faith in hoping this issue eventually shakes itself out.

"My philosophy is that you can't miss something that you never had,” Tillman said. “I can't put a time line on how policy and the government works. If the president wants it and he's asked for it than I'm pretty sure that it will eventually happen. It's taken ten years just to get here. Nothing is going to happen overnight."

Observers Notice Clear Increase in Black Tourism Since Obama Presidency

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By Briana Mosley, NNPA Special Correspondent –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - The national Park Service is prohibited from gathering race-connected activity or numbers; so anything that its employees might observe about the people visiting Washington, D.C. monuments would be unscientific and just based on personal anecdotes.

That’s why Bill Line, a spokesman for the National Parks Service who has worked for NPS for nearly a decade, was strongly reserved about commenting when asked by a reporter whether he could confirm speculations that African-American tourists have begun to flock to the Nation’s Capital to see the White House, monuments and museums that have been more often visited by White Americans over the years. But, ultimately, he said the obvious:

“The short answer is yes, I would say that to the eye – to my eye and probably other people as well - I think that we have seen an increase in the number of African-Americans that are coming to visit the sites on the National Mall whether it’s the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the World War II Memorial or also to visit the White House,” he said in an interview with the NNPA News Service. “Can I prove anything,? No. But my guess is that it may well be as a direct result of Barack Obama being president. I can’t prove anything, but it’s a guest at best on my part.”

Line is not alone in his observations. As Washington welcomed spring at the National Cherry Blossom Festival that attracts thousands to D.C.’s National Mall every year, African-Americans were clearly there in greater numbers, say long-time observers who agreed that increase is being seen across the board.

Chriss Portella, a 35-year-old native of Paris, France, has been living in the District for 10 years and manages Bistro Franca restaurant at M and Wisconsin in Georgetown. Every spring, Portella visits the flowering trees festival, but lately he has also noticed the colorful diversity in the throngs of people. More Black folks are now visiting the National Mall and the Cherry Blossoms than before Obama’s inauguration, he said.

Virginia Johnson, a roads crossing guard for the National Mall, said, she has seen a change, too.

“Forty percent of the tourists are Black that I have noticed,” she said. “The rest are a diverse group.”

African-American tourists and international tourists are not distinguished by the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, but an increase in visitors overall has been noticed. Tom Fontana, the Marketing and Communications Director for the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center said, “Since 2008 there has been double the amount of visitors. We welcomed 2.5 million visitors last year compared to half that in prior years.” Fontana credits the increase to the accessibility of the visitor center.

The change is being welcomed by those who work the tourist industry and enjoyed by those who are partaking.

It was a balmy Spring Saturday afternoon and Loris Ayierebi watched as her three grandchildren made an Eco-vase at one of the exhibit tables at the National Building Museum in the District.

Ayierebi was one of the thousands of Cherry Blossom revelers who flocked to the Tidal Basin at the beginning of the two-week long annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

“I needed something fabulous and fun to go to for my grandkids and I couldn’t be happier,” said Ayierebi, a Silver Spring resident, bobbing her head to the tunes of salsa music in the background. “This is my first time coming, but it was the best choice we could have made. I will definitely come back next year and maybe even be a volunteer!”

The Cherry Blossom Festival began in 1935 to commemorate the friendship between the United States and Japan, which gave the city cherry blossom trees in 1912. Organizers said they expect one million visitors, 45 percent of whom will be tourists from the nation and the world.

Gaithersburg resident Katrina Thomas was also among the first-time African-Americans at the festival. She brought her son with her and both would be coming back next year, she said.

“There is a lack of exposure in our communities,” Thomas said. “You must be open to exposing yourself to different cultures. I would have still come to the celebration even without a Black president in office.”

The two week annual Cherry Blossom Festival is kicked off in late March with a Family Day in the National Building Museum which this year crowded with young families of different backgrounds and cultures, including a sprinkle of Black families. They engaged in activities, performances, and displays throughout the expansive hall decorated with origami and Japanese pastel pink and green umbrellas. A warm family atmosphere arose as the hum of chatter and laughter echoed throughout the building.

It was a bit overwhelming for the 4-year-old daughter of Lorna Mccandless-Moss, who moved to DC from Tennessee three years ago.

“She’s having a hard time adjusting to the crowds,” said Mccandless-Moss, a first-time visitor to the festival. “In Tennessee, there were seldom free events. I see a lot more diversity here; it’s not just Black and White.”

Meanwhile, Ayierebi could not contain her enthusiasm for the festival.

“The children are fascinated to be here; kids love this and it’s great for all families!” she said.

Line, at the National Park Service, enthusiastically speculates that the increase in African-American will continue as exhibits grow to include racial history.

“In about two years, when the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is completed and finished and open to the general public, we would further suspect that that would be yet another reason for an increase in African-Americans visiting the National Mall and that the MLK Memorial will cause a spill over affect [to other exhibits], for example, because its located in such close proximately to the FDR Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam Vets Memorial and the World War II Memorial,” Line said.

Line says the apparent growth in diversity among the 25 million annual visitors to the National Mall is a positive change that the NPS embraces.

“We the National Park Service, as we always have - and we always will - we welcome every body here,” he said. “We believe there are reasons for all Americans and international visitors that come here.”

NNPA Editor-in-Chief Hazel Trice Edney contributed to this story.

Guards Not Charged in Beating Death of Martin Lee Anderson, 14

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspapers –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Federal officials will not file charges against seven guards and a nurse in the Florida boot camp death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson.

Anderson died on January 6, 2006, a day after he was attacked by the guards, while the nurse looked on. The entire incident was caught on videotape.

The video showed the seven guards punching and kicking Anderson, pushing ammonia capsules into his nose and dragging his body around the camp’s yard.

The eight people involved were acquitted of manslaughter charges by an all-White jury in 2007, but Florida closed all boot camps for juvenile offenders in the aftermath.

Officials from the Justice Department say that after an extensive investigation, there was insufficient evidence to file charges. “Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights laws, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that an official "willfully" deprived an individual of a constitutional right, meaning that the official acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids,” the Justice Department said in a press release. “Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation.”

Despite the ruling, Anderson’s family says they will continue to fight for justice.

"It's not over," Gina Jones, Anderson‘s mother, told the Associated Press. "It's not closed and I'm going to make sure it stays open. That was my baby. There was no reason to be beaten like that."

Ben Crump, the attorney representing Anderson’s parents said the family will travel to Washington, D.C. to speak U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Only Holder or President Obama can allow charges to be pursued.

"We need our civil rights division to give people faith in the system that there is equal justice for everybody," Crump told the Tallahassee Democrat. "The people are just so desperate to believe in our system.

"If there was ever one time we thought that they were going to hold the system accountable for killing a loved minority, it was this."

A lawsuit filed by Anderson’s parents against Florida and Bay County resulted in a $7.4 million settlement.

Community Still Grappling With Gang Rape of 7-Year-Old

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By Nisa Islam Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

TRENTON, N.J. (NNPA) - What was promoted as a “Stop the Violence” rally at the First Baptist Church of Pennington to respond to the alleged rape of a 7-year-old girl in a housing complex quickly became the largest recruitment of community men to join the Peace Keepers, a neighborhood watch program to protect women and children.

“The reason we have the Peace Keepers is because there is a problem across America with crime and violence. But crime and violence is not everywhere. There's no crime and violence in Crown Heights (a section of New York City). You won't hear about a drive by or police coming to beat up Jews in Crown Heights,” Peace Keepers founder Dennis Muhammad told the standing room only crowd of several hundred people. “You can't go into a community that loves itself and brutalize it. You can only do it in a community that doesn't love itself.”

After his rousing words, he quickly organized dozens of men from Trenton and surrounding areas to march out of the church and into the neighborhood where the alleged rape occurred.

“I think it's a good beginning,” Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer told reporters as he and hip hop legend and businessman Russell Simmons marched alongside the men—which included a contingent of the Nation of Islam's Fruit of Islam. Thrilled residents watched and waved from their homes.

“The proof will be if we can get more men together in this and other sustaining activities,” said the mayor, regarding follow up efforts.

The mayor was initially reluctant to come to the rally but changed his mind when the Peace Keepers got involved.

“I'm sick and tired of marches and didn't want to participate in another one. I prayed on it this week. I believe that this time it will be different. The whole world is watching. I've gotten calls from all over the world from people saying ‘how can I help,'” said Mayor Palmer, when he spoke at the rally. “Folks, I believe it will be different because people are working together. The blame game is over. We're going to work together. I've been in constant contact with this family on a daily basis. This is a family crisis. They are going through hell. Pray for this seven-year-old. She's a baby.”

It was a rally reminiscent of a summer church revival full of spirit, rousing songs from a choir and speakers that had the crowd stomping and standing on their feet.

New York radio legend Bob Law said, “We can't deny the conditions that contribute to the violence in our communities but how can the government declare a war on violence and they don't declare war against the conditions of poverty that produce the violence?” he asked.

Connie Watson, wife of community activist, rally organizer and mayoral candidate Shahid Watson, said it was important to teach women and girls how to dress themselves and respect themselves. “We have to march our children out of the foolishness they're into today,” she said.

According to police, a 15-year-old girl took her 7-year-old stepsister to a party and had sex with men for money. For more money she allowed the men to touch her sister. That touching led to gang rape, police said.

The Rowan Towers high-rise community just blocks from the church is all too familiar with crime and violence associated with inner city life—but the alleged gang rape, which took place in a vacant apartment, has motivated residents to demand change.

The rally and demand for action was “way overdue for this community. The Peace Keepers give order and structure to our community. Their coming out of New York was very uplifting and inspiring. It gives us hope that if it can happen in New York it can happen here. We are happy to have them,” said Rev. Melvin Brown, president of the Trenton Youth Crusade.

Organizers say the Peace Keepers have had success records in New Orleans, New York, Houston and Wilmington, Del. Mr. Simmons was instrumental in bringing the group to Queens, New York.

“We sit back sometimes and allow just a few bad eggs in our community to scare us off our own corners,” Mr. Simmons said. He told the audience some of his history. “I stood on the corner. I sold drugs. But I went back and saw what it felt like when we launched our Queens Peace Keepers movement.

“We must show that we love our community. The eyes of the world are on Trenton and how this movement progresses. We can inspire other communities around the world,” he said. “Trenton's going to make a huge statement. It's a shame we had such a terrible event to bring us together.”

The Peace Keepers come into communities with a rally, recruitment, training and then a street corner Hour of Power, which started last February in New Orleans.

“A four year old had just been murdered by his dad because he didn't want to pay child support,” said Willie Muhammad, who runs the program in New Orleans. “That crime motivated us to do something. We brought the Peace Keepers and began patrolling. Things have changed since then.”

“We started with one Hour of Power but our goal is to keep increasing it. We offer more than just neighborhood patrols. We connect residents to GED programs and let them know about jobs. The program is beneficial to the residents but it also helps the men who walk. They have a better sense about the neighborhood.”

Change for Trenton began April 24 with an orientation session followed by six weeks of training.

“We were in negotiations to bring the Peace Keepers to Trenton before the rape. This crime just escalated the process. Russell was the financial supporter that got New York started. He's committed to half of the money for Trenton and the mayor has committed to the other half,” Dennis Muhammad told The Final Call.

After the training, which includes teaching the proper handling of people, first aid and self-defense a community in need is targeted with weekly patrols.

“If we are consistent, it's like taking an antibiotic. We will eventually change the community. This program is about long-term sustainability. We'll be back in two weeks for our first training. If most of these men come back it will be our largest group in America....They can see making this happen. We want to duplicate the success of the program in New Orleans where they've received proclamations from the city for reducing crime. My goal is to make Trenton the best in the country because of the worst tragedy that happened here,” Dennis Muhammad explained.

Shahid Watson organized the rally and suspended his campaign in response to the tragedy. “I was molested at seven,” he told the shocked crowd. “For years I wanted to take the life of my molester. It's one thing to be violated as a girl, it's a whole other thing to be violated as a boy. It's not only our daughters but our boys are being molested too.

“The pain and hurt looking at what happened to her and my personal experience motivated me. We have to do something about this. The Trenton community has responded positively,” he said.

Rowan Towers housing management, Interstate Realty, met with residents April 7 and promised greater security. The alleged gang rape, which police say involved some seven men and boys, was reported on March 28. Four minors, including the seven-year-old's step sister, and two adults had been charged in the case at Final Call presstime.

FBI Agrees to Probe Another New Orleans Police Department Shooting

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Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly –

(NNPA) - The U.S. Department of Justice has confirmed that it is considering taking an active role in reforming the New Orleans Police Department.

Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, called the NOPD "one of the most troubled departments in the country."

Perez added that federal civil rights investigators were in New Orleans last week and that their presence continues to grow as the probe of the New Orleans Police Department and its role in more than a half-dozen post-Katrina shootings expands. Monitoring the department and playing an active role in the operation of the department are just two of several options the Justice Department is considering, he added.

"You can't reform a department simply by using the hammer of criminal prosecutions," Perez said.

"Those alone are not going to allow you to implement broader systemic reforms...If there were ever a circumstance when it would be justified, with what we are seeing and hearing in court, it certainly indicates it's appropriate," former assistant U.S. attorney Julian Murray told FOX8 News last week.

The Department of Justice is investigating at least eight incidents in New Orleans, including the Danziger Bridge shootings that have already led to three NOPD convictions.

The FBI also said that it will investigate the recent shooting of a man inside his eastern New Orleans home. The NOPD actually requested the FBI review after "great concern" expressed by the family of Brian Harris, 39, who was shot and killed by police on April 9 by Officer Stephen McGee, a department spokesman said. McGee has been assigned to administrative duty.

FBI spokeswoman Sheila Thorne said Wednesday that the bureau received the request and will review the incident. The police reported that on Friday night, April 9, Harris' wife called to report that her husband was threatening suicide, armed with a knife and may have taken a sleeping pill overdose.

Harris allegedly barricaded himself in a bedroom and was in bed, holding a knife, when officers entered the room.

"Several commands were given for Mr. Harris to disarm himself and he refused to comply," police said in a statement. "He was tased by two different officers and those attempts were unsuccessful. The armed male moved toward the officers when one officer drew his weapon and fired twice, hitting the adult in the torso."

Deputy Superintendent Marlon Defillo said he requested the FBI's assistance given the current climate.

"The family was crying foul and I felt it was in the best interest of the community, the police department and the family that a third entity review this case," Defillo said. "I'm looking for transparency in this investigation. I want the public to know that this case is going to be conducted fairly, thoroughly and completely."

Attorney Jason Williams, who has been retained by the Harris family, said he's glad the department has opened an investigation.

"We think it's a good move for the department," he said. "They need help, desperately in terms of rooting out overly aggressive police officers. I am candidly pleading to any officer involved to be honest and cooperate ... to do the right thing. If it is a mistake, say it is a mistake; If it is a wrongdoing, then say so."

Williams said when officers arrived at the Harris' house they ordered his wife and children outside.

"Within moments of that, you can hear them forcing their way into the bedroom (where Brian was) and shortly after that, gunshots rang out," he said.

Williams said it was evident from viewing the crime scene that "there was some searching of drawers, closets, or containers to possibly find something, anything, that would justify this horrible shooting."

Rafael Goyeneche, executive director of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, told FOX8 News last week that the current NOPD crisis is far worse than the one the department faced in the mid-1990s when it had officers like Len Davis and Antoinette Frank murdering innocent people.

"To me it's not a question of whether the Feds will step in and monitor. It's a question of to what extent will it be?"

Goyeneche, a former law enforcement officer, predicted that Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu's selection to replace outgoing NOPD superintendent Warren Riley will go a long way in determining the extent to which the U.S. Department of Justice will monitor the department's inner workings.

"I think the federal government is going to be very, very interested in who the appointee is," he said.

Not everyone agreed with Goyeneche's assessment of the need for federal oversight.

Michael Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Or leans, told FOX8 News that close monitoring by the Justice Depart ment might amount to overkill. "Federal intervention would create a fourth level of oversight. It would seem to me that would be terribly inefficient," Glasser said. "If there's a problem with the first or second level of oversight, then you change them. That would be the ideal solution and I think that's exactly what's happening."

Tulane University professor Dr Peter Scharf told projectnola.com that the federal probe of the NOPD and the possibility of a federal takeover of the department will ultimately lead to those seeking to become the department's next police chief to answer some tough questions about their ability to work well with the Feds.

"Can you change a culture? Can you document that you have changed a culture? Can you deal with astronomic violence and crime rates? Do you understand how to do that?" Scharf said.

Scharf also outlined some of the challenges the next police chief will face: "With NOPD, how do you change this culture? How do you change attitudes, values, procedures, practices? How do you change your core investigative strategies? If you can't do that, you can't have this job."

The process of finding a new police has become muddled in a dispute about Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu's willingness to share information with those he chose to aid in the superintendent search.

In a guest column in Thursday's local daily paper, Norris Henderson, founder of Voice of the Ex-Offender, and Baty Landis, co-founder of SilenceIsViolence, outlined their reasons for parting ways with the NOPD superintendent search committee.

1. We had no assurance that the public input we worked so hard to solicit was part of the applicant assessment process. No task force member was allowed to review initial recommendations by the search firm International Asso­ciation of Chiefs of Police, nor be privy to the IACP's assessment tools," they wrote.

2. Contrary to our instructions from Mayor-elect Landrieu, we did not have an opportunity to discuss and decide upon which search firm to use.

3. Most decisions were made by an executive committee, whose own members were surprised by their appointments, and whose make-up is far less representative of the community than the original task force as a whole. We felt that executive committee decisions should engage additional task force members.

4. Finally, even as meetings became bogged down in circular and redundant discussions, task force members did not receive minutes or meeting summaries, contracts or even informal updates regarding the process."

Henderson and Landis said that they were ultimately told that they couldn't ask any more questions about the search for a police chief, prompting them to leave, along with Gina Womack of Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children and Danatus King, president of the New Orleans branch of the NAACP.

"For months, speculation and rumors have spread about a predetermination of the police chief selection process," Henderson and Landis wrote. "Part of our accepted role as task force members was to dispel skepticism by representing the community to the task force, and by representing the task force back to the community.

"When it became impossible to endorse the proceedings in good faith from within the task force, as responsible stakeholders we had no choice but to become outside observers."

While a federal takeover of a city police department is not without precedent, it's not something you see every day.

Since the option was made available in 1994, only 21 of the nation's 17,000 state and local law enforcement agencies have been hit with "pattern or practice" lawsuits by the Justice Department, a step that is necessary for a federal takeover of a police department.

Former assistant U.S. Attorney Julian Murray told FOX8 News, "It's very unusual. Very unusual. It has to be an extreme situation such as you had with Rodney King when they went into the Los Angeles Police Dept."

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