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Ex-Offenders Want Job Applications Revised

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By Ben Koconis, Special to the NNPA from the Washington Informer –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Individuals with criminal records insist they get short shrift when it comes to job opportunities, and now they’re trying to change hiring practices by mounting a campaign to promote new legislation.

A movement -- “Ban the Box”— seeks to pressure politicians and employers to remove criminal history questions from job applications. To date, it has proven effective in several states and appears to be gaining momentum in the District. However, controversy persists on both sides of the hot button issue.

Advocates want a bill that will include both public and private sector employers, but organizations that include the D.C Chamber of Commerce, are uncertain as to whether legislation is the silver bullet that will solve the offender employment issue.

“We have tried to get a bill [that includes both the public and private sectors] passed for four years,” said Philip Fornaci, 51, director of the D.C. Prisoners Project of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

Fornaci said that the D.C version of “Ban the Box” [that he is currently drafting] would initially stop employers from asking about a person’s criminal history until after they have been through the initial interview. If the applicant is qualified and offered a job, an employer could indicate that the position is contingent based on a background check. Employers would then be legally required to inform applicants who were denied employment, in writing, if their decision was based on the applicant’s criminal history.

The bill, if passed, would also mandate that employers consider how long ago an applicant committed an offense, how old they were at the time the offense was committed, and if the offense is in direct conflict with the position. The bill would stop employers from screening applicants based on one question, Fornaci said.

Several advocates of “Ban the Box” have said off the record that both the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Washington Board of Trade are attempting to block passage of the bill.

The Greater Washington Board of Trade refused to comment and referred the matter to the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. Janene Jackson, vice president of Government Affairs for the D.C. Chamber of Commerce said, that she could not comment on “Ban the Box” until after the Executive Committee of the Board votes, but added, she does not think the claims of “Ban the Box” advocates are accurate.

“The D.C Chamber of Commerce supports the employment of all D.C residents regardless of their criminal record as long as they are qualified for the position…We know if you have a criminal record that it may be difficult to find a job—we do not dispute that.”

Jackson further said she is not sure that a legislative solution will be beneficial to the offender employment issue.

“We need to figure out what kind of challenges these people face—is it substance abuse, are there child care issues?" Jackson said substance abuse remains a primary concern of the D.C Chamber of Commerce.

“Sixty-seven percent of people who enter the system, with a substance abuse problem, come out with one. Just because someone is away from drugs [in prison] doesn’t mean they won’t go back to it when they get out. Ban the Box is not going to guarantee jobs,” she said.

Leonard A. Sipes, 59, a senior public affairs specialist for the Court Services and Offender Agency for the District of Columbia, which oversees parole and probation said, his agency is legally forbidden to comment on specific legislation that is being introduced, but said that the offender employment issue is “crucial” to his agency’s agenda.

“One in 45 people nationwide are on criminal supervision whether it is Rockville, Md., the District of Columbia, or Manassas, Va. Criminology statistics estimate that 1 out of 20 people have a criminal record. The question we need to ask is, if you are going to see hundreds of people a day with criminal records, do you want those people employed?”

Sipes said, "It is unusual to see a probation and parole agency take on an employment issue, but we feel this is a public safety issue. The evidence is abundantly clear that people who are working commit fewer crimes."

Debra Rowe, 51, acting executive director of Returning Citizens United, Inc., an organization that is pushing for all encompassing “Ban the Box” legislation, and the rights of ex-offenders, has firsthand experience with difficulties obtaining employment. She said that she thinks it’s directly related to a criminal offense she committed 21 years ago.

“I applied for a government job last night [June 7],” said Rowe who lives in Upper Marlboro, Md. “The problem is that they ask you in the first five or six questions if you have a criminal history. Some [applications] ask if you have been convicted of a criminal offense in the last 10 years, some ask have you ever been convicted.”

Rowe, who earned a M.A. in Human Services, from Lincoln University, in Lincoln, Pa., said she is a certified grant management specialist and a certified correctional health care professional. She hasn’t had any brush-ins with the law in more than 20 years, but her record continues to prevent her from being hired for positions that she feels qualified to fill. Rowe said she’s not alone. There are countless others who are qualified for jobs but who are denied based on their criminal records, she said.

But the bottom line remains -- any version of “Ban the Box” legislation must first be presented to the D.C Council. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) said that the bill he plans to submit to the Council will only apply to District government positions until it has been determined that “Ban the Box” legislation is beneficial.

“The bill, as it stands now, will cover only D.C government positions. If we feel that this process is working we will add additional legislation [that would cover the private sector] in phases. We feel that this is the best approach to this issue,” Thomas said.

“What you have here, [are] people who are on two extreme ends of the spectrum,” he added, referring to the D.C. Chamber and “Ban the Box” advocates.

Rev. Jesse Jackson Calls on BP to Help Black Fishermen

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By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –

NEW YORK (NNPA) - After returning from a recent trip from the Gulf Coast region Rev. Jesse Jackson called on British Petroleum to do more to help Black fishermen affected by the enormous oil spill currently consuming the region during an address to Black newspaper publishers June 18.

"So long as British Petroleum is in charge of the information flow about damages done and in control of who is able to be a claimant they control both bookends of the situation," Jackson said during a speech at the National Newspaper Publishers Association's summer conference in New York.

Jackson said as long as Americans are dependent on BP for information, they will also control who will be claimants for the damages. That process must be economically as well as racially inclusive, Jackson said.

The White House announced last week that President Obama has brokered a $20 billion dollar deal with the oil giant to set up a claimant fund to cover residents and workers in the area. Jackson said that for BP the money is the “cost of doing business ... That's $20 billion dollars for five states over five years, which is $4 billion dollars a year. Yet they make $32 billion dollars a year,” Jackson said.

The civil rights leader said there is dire need to address and close the disparities that remain between Blacks and Whites.

"What we used to call segregation we now call disparities,” he said.

The face of segregation has changed but its infrastructure has not changed, he said. Now, instead of legal segregation there is health care, economic, access, ownership and educational segregation. Ten percent of the population owns 85 percent of the land and 65 percent of the income. He called it “vertical segregation", Jackson said.

“Fifty years ago we were jailed because we did not have freedom of horizontal access to each other,” Jackson said. “We could not sit side-by-side [with White people] at the library, work side-by-side to each to sell clothes on Main street, we could not use public parks, sit in a hospital or die and be buried in a graveyard side-by-side. Fifty years ago we marched to tear down those walls ending horizontal segregation. Fifty years later the walls are down between us and we are now able to celebrate side-by-side. A wall no longer separates us but a ford does. We're no longer in horizontal segregation, we are now in a vertical segregation.”

Jackson also based his observations on recent history.

While Wall street was being bailed out by billions of dollars in no interest subsidies, African-Americans endured the largest loss of wealth in American history over the last two years because of predatory lending practices and the meltdown that ensued from the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Rev. Jackson said that the post-Civil Rights struggle is a battle for equality.

“I'm going to break some news to you-- our goal was never freedom,” Jackson said. “Freedom was the prerequisite to get the quality. You can't get equal unless you get free but if you get free and stop right there than you would be free but unequal. Free and ignorant. Free and broke. Free and homeless. Freedom was not our goal. It was a precondition for equality. Freedom is taking the chains off but equality is catching up. We are in the catching up stage.”

Black Leaders Announce Move Against Conservative Attempt to Distort King Dream

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By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –

NEW YORK (NNPA) - Black Civil Rights leaders are furious that they will not be able to organize a march to commemorate the 47th anniversary of the historic March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King's famed “I Have A Dream” speech at the location where it happened this year because infamous right wing Fox News personality and radio host Glenn Beck already booked the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28th to hold his own rally.

“We're going to get together because we are not going to let Glenn Beck own the symbolism of Aug. 28th, 2010,” National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial said during a National Newspaper Publishers Association breakfast at NNPA’s 70th Anniversary Celebration at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers on Friday. “Someone said to me, ‘Maybe we shouldn't challenge him. Maybe we should just let him have it. “I was like,’ Brother, where have you been? Where is your courage? Where is your sense of outrage?” We need to collaborate and bring together all people of good will, not just Black people, on Aug. 28 to send a message that Glenn Beck's vision of America is not our vision of America.

As both a solution and response to what the leaders perceive as an attack on the legacy of King, NAACP President Ben Jealous announced at the conference that a national march for jobs and justice will be held on October 2 instead.

“A group of White males wealthier than their peers called the Tea Party has risen up in the land," said Jealous. "They say that they want to take the country back. And take it back they surely will. They will take it back to 1963 if we let them.”

Last week, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, or AFL-CIO, the country's largest federation of labor unions, announced that they were going to endorse a march for jobs that Jealous will be co-leading in Washington on Oct. 2. Other national civil rights leaders and organizations are also endorsing the Oct. jobs march as a follow up to an Aug. 28 protest of Beck.

"We will be fighting Glenn Beck on Aug. 28th and we will be using that to leverage the second march,” Jealous said. “That march has to happen. Our people are dying right now, literally, from lack of access to jobs.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, who also spoke at the NNPA Conference, said Beck will distort King’s Legacy and his message.

“On the anniversary of the March on Washington, Glenn Beck is going to talk about the dream of Martin Luther King and how he was with them – not us. So, we’ve been traveling all over this country because there is no way in the world that I am going to allow him to have more people there than us. I hope every Black person in the country will help us to challenge this.

Everybody’s got to be in Washington. We can’t let them high jack Dr. King’s dream.”

Morial called Beck's right wing conservative vision “intolerant”.

“His vision is of an America of the past,” Morial said. “Our vision is of an America that understands its past but is of the future. Too many times we have become spectators. Some people thought that since Mr. Obama became president that they could go back to their couch to sit down and watch. Look at what have we witnessed - the resurgent voice of extremism. The 14th amendment has been incorrectly interpreted. They are talking in code talking about that we have to save our country. This is our country too.”

Morial added, "One of the things that is so curious to me is the way that groups on the right have been very, very observant and have begun to utilize the tactics of the civil rights movement- marching, organizing in churches, things that we're the backbone of civil rights advocacy in the 1950s and 1960s. Others have begun to use those techniques and use those tactics. It would be a mistake if we would treat it and didn't recognize that the people in our communities and people across the nation who believe as we do that the future of this nation has to be inclusive in a multi-racial fashion so that African-Americans are involved in the major things that take place in this country."

Upon the 70th anniversary of NNPA and the upcoming 100th anniversary of the NUL, Morial also spoke about the need to craft a new Black agenda in a “time of great contradictions”, referencing the 2000 presidential election that was decided by a 5-4 Supreme Court vote in favor of George W. Bush, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Hurricane Katrina, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the recent economic recession that was one of the worst in U.S. history and very recently, the unprecedented oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But he then countered with the historicity of this decade with the ascension of Black men as the president of the United States, as the head of the Department of Justice, and as Black chief executives of some the country's most powerful corporations such as Merrill Lynch, Xerox and American Express.

"Along the continuum of history, no one would have suggested or predicted that any of the above would occur in just a ten year period," Morial said. "These are times when the history books are being written and re-written. In 1999, Black America had a 7.2 percent unemployment rate, the lowest rate in the 50 years since kind of data have been recorded. And now, ten years plus later, our unemployment rate is twice as high and the real rate is even higher. Against this backdrop of difficult and tough times, that we have also witnessed, African-Americans achieve the highest places in American life. These are the times that you and I, as community and civic leaders, are bound to address the challenges."

He rallied for a new period of Black activism. He coined it “intelligent activism”, which he described as changing the conversation by “not raising hollow, holy” hell but, rather, making a pointed case with common sense facts and arguments.

“We have to be driven by our objective,” Morial said. “Dr. King, [Thurgood] Marshall and all of the great leaders of the 1960s had an objective, which was to end segregation in American life. And they achieved that objective as a matter of law. Our objective needs to be to end disparities in American life to achieve economic parity in the 21st century.”

Morial said that African-Americans, because of their size, are a force to be reckoned with. There are an estimated 40 million Black people that account for $800 billion dollars in spending in the U.S, according to Morial. There are also ten thousand Black elected officials in various local, state and national offices.

“We are a community that has assets and power as much as we want to organize it and use it,” Morial said. “I want us to think of ourselves as a community of assets that brings something to the economic table of America, not as a community of deficits and problems, so that we are not coming looking with a handout. We are looking as an investor in the American dream.”

Community Outraged Over Police Officer's Punch of Black Teen In The Face

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By Chris B. Bennett, Special to the NNPA from The Seattle Medium –

(NNPA) - Members of the African-American community woke up appalled and angered by the images of a young Black female being punched in the face by a Seattle Police officer. The video, aired on KOMO 4 TV, shows Seattle Police Officer Ian Walsh punching the Black teen in her face while struggling to handcuff another Black female.

The incident began, according to police reports, as the officer had stopped a young Black male for jaywalking across Martin Luther King, Jr. Way just south of the intersection of Rainier Avenue and MLK. The officer was explaining to the young man the need to use the pedestrian overpass that runs over the busy intersection instead of jaywalking.

Then four young women jaywalked across the street – admittedly to find out why their friend (the Black male) had been stopped by the officer. The officer then attempted to stop the four females for jaywalking and gather their information in order to issue a verbal warning or a citation, when one of the females, age 19, began walking away. The officer told her that she was required to identify herself so he could issue her a citation, and if she refused to do so she would be arrested for obstruction. At this point, Walsh indicates that the young woman continued to walk away. Walsh then walked up to the young lady and “took hold of her upper left arm with his right hand,” and according to Walsh’s report she tensed up and began to resist.

The video shows the officer struggling with the young lady for some time, and then her friend steps in and attempts to help separate the other young lady from the officer. After she steps in and pushes the officer, the officer steps back, looks at the young lady, strides towards her and punches her in the face. “It’s appalling to me to see this,” said Rev. Robert Jeffrey, Sr. pastor of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church of the video. “If a man had done this in their home we would have put him under the jail.”

“The police walk around like they are exempt from the basic rules of decency and honor, if this is honor then we have sunk to the lowest level in this city,” added Jeffrey.

Nicole Gaines, president of the Loren Miller Bar Association, was equally disturbed by the video and the actions of the officer.

“It troubles me that an officer, who is trained, could allow a jaywalking incident to escalate into an incident where force and violence were used,” said Gaines. “He is the adult in this situation. He is trained to make sure that incidents like a jaywalking incident doesn’t escalate into violence.”

According to SPD, the incident will be reviewed by both internal affairs and a civilian review. However, they did indicate that the girls were being “verbally antagonistic” towards the officer, and that the 17-year-old girl intervened while Walsh was attempting to place the other teen in handcuffs and placed her hands on him causing the officer to believe that she was attempting to physically help the other teen to escape. SPD alleges that Walsh pushed back the second girl, but the girl came back at him, and Walsh then punched her.

“The provocation by this 17-year-old kid may have presented a confrontation situation, but the use of violence in the form of a full punch in the face was just plain wrong,” said James Kelly, President and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. “We thought the Police would have learned lessons about overreacting to non-violent situations based on the recent incident involving a Hispanic youth a month ago...Our police should be thinking that overreaction to a non-violent situation is a last resort — not the standard practice,” continued Kelly. “One can only wonder what would have happened if the video had not been made.”

However, SPD was not convinced that the officer handled the situation incorrectly.

“The issue we have to investigate is whether the force he used is reasonable given the combative resistance he was facing,” said Assistant Seattle Police Chief Nick Metz. “We’re not going to pass judgment on that until the matter has been thoroughly investigated.”

According to Metz, Walsh will be transferred to SPD’s training section.

“The officer is going to be transferred to the training section for a few days to review the tactics that he’s been taught,” Metz said.

While the police indicate that they’ve been proactive in reaching out to the African-American Community, African American leaders want action and accountability.

“At this time our community seems to be in an abusive relationship with law enforcement,” says Seattle/King County NAACP president James Bible. “We’re living in a hostile environment for people of color, and a hostile environment for people in poverty.”

Harriett Walden with Mothers for Police Accountability said, "We know that jaywalking is not an arrestable offense ... They [the police] are our employees, they are not volunteers. And I didn’t like how they used my money yesterday. I want to see him fired.”

The community has been increasingly enraged.

“This was an appalling act of injustice,” said pastor Reggie Witherspoon of Mt. Cavalry Christian Center. “There is no way it can be looked at as proper behavior and we are demanding that something be done about it.”

Both teens were cited for jaywalking. The 19-year-old was booked into the King County Jail for investigation of obstructing an officer. The 17-year-old girl was booked into the Youth Service Center for investigation of assault of an officer.

Haiti: Punished for Rebellion, Not Religion

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By Charles Hallman, Special to the NNPA from the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder –

(NNPA) - Haitian-Americans find local Black disinterest ‘disappointing’. A recent community forum offered an alternative view to the longstanding image of Haiti as a land of poverty, illiteracy, hunger and disease. About 30 people attended the June 6 event at the Rondo Community Library in St. Paul, where Haiti, its history and its future was discussed by Haitian-Americans.

The first major Black rebellion took place in Haiti in 1791, which left an estimated 10,000 Blacks and 2,000 Whites dead. Over 1,000 plantations were sacked and razed. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte later sent 34,000 troops to subdue the slave armies, but they were unsuccessful. Haiti instead became an independent nation in 1804.

“A little tiny nation was able to overcome larger nations with military might,” said University of Minnesota graduate student Barbara Pierre-Louis, one of five Haitian-American Minnesotans who were featured speakers at the forum.

Haiti is the oldest Black republic in the world, but also the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. In the view of Pierre-Louis, the country essentially has been “punished” for decades by the West because it sought independence.

France only recognized it after demanding the country pay 150 million francs.

Most nations, including the United States, shunned Haiti for over four decades because of fear that its example could stir up more uprisings among slaveholding countries. After the U.S. did grant Haiti diplomatic recognition in 1862, it named Frederick Douglass the consular minister.

The U.S. invaded Haiti in 1915 and held veto power over all governmental decisions there until the military left in 1934. A commission appointed by President Herbert Hoover later concluded that Haitians were excluded from positions of real authority, and the U.S. presence helped create “poverty, ignorance, and the lack of a tradition or desire for orderly free government.”

Two decades later, in 1957, Francois Duvalier was elected Haiti’s president.

Duvalier, better known as “Papa Doc,” was a ruthless ruler who changed the constitution in 1964 so that he could be elected president for life. After his death in 1971, his 19-year-old son took over; Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier proved even more ruthless than his father until his regime finally collapsed in 1986.

After the 1791 revolution, “There was no one left to teach from the beginning trades, how to run a country…none of that ever happened,” local attorney and panelist Jacqueline Regis pointed out. “We have seen the aftermath of that some 200 years later.”

Evangelist Pat Robertson was quoted as saying that the Haitians once “got together and swore a pact to the devil… Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another.” In fact, Roman Catholicism is the official religion of Haiti. Most Haitians do believe in and practice some aspects of voodoo, which revolves around the belief in family spirits.

Hamline University French and Creole Professor Max Adrien explained that after Columbus arrived in Haiti in 1492, “The first thing they [did] is evangelize, and they started to capture [the residents] and enslaved them.” Voodoo was later seen by the slaves as a “liberator” as opposed to Christianity, which was practiced by the White slaveholders.

Adrien added that voodoo supposedly emerged during a secret gathering by the captive, enslaved Haitians. “Christianity told us that we had to suffer. The sky split in half, and suddenly a woman came down among them. That woman…stood among them, pulled out a sword and plunged it into [a] pig’s heart. When she did that…[the slaves] became mad dogs and went out and killed each master that they encountered in the road. For Haitians, this was the road to independence.”

The speakers also discussed ways to help Haiti’s recovery after an earthquake devastated the island country back in January. “It was like the end of the world,” said panelist Roulio Lundy, who was in Haiti when the quake stuck and recently returned to Minnesota after remaining in his home country to help family and others during the aftermath. Lundy told his account in Creole interpreted by his wife Maria Roseler-Lundy, a native Minnesotan who has lived and worked in Haiti.

Lundy said he was driving as the quake took place and walked almost 60 miles to return to his home. He vividly recalled the devastation while he and others helped victims.

“People looked like zombies with dust on [their] faces,” he continued. Many people cried in vain for help, but they were fatally overwhelmed by the rubble created by the collapsed buildings upon them. “People offered to give all their possessions [to us] if we could get them out. But there was no amount that could help [them],” he bemoaned.

In the aftermath of the January earthquake, Haiti continues to need help during its recovery — but not a handout, the speakers all say. Roesler-Lundy suggested, “For a long time, the international community has been giving to Haiti, and for a long time Haitians have learned how to receive. My challenge for you is not to give to Haitians, but to work together with them.”

Haiti must remain a “stable, democratic country,” said Regis, who moved to the U.S. at age 16. “I think it is in the best interest of the United States and the world to make sure that they are engaged in rebuilding Haiti, and not just the roads and the buildings, but also the culture.”

The country’s illiteracy rate is nearly 50 percent, she added. “The education that I believe is most crucial for Haitians [is] how to read and how to be leaders, how to produce the next generation of political leaders who are going to lead, and not in a narrow sense that enrich themselves and not the people.”

The Obama administration “is one of the best hopes that Haiti has had in its willingness to understand Haiti,” noted Regis.

Pierre-Louis, who also teaches languages at Metropolitan State University, expressed her disappointment afterwards about the low number of Blacks (around three or four) who attended the forum. “I’ve gone to many events where we are talking about what happened on January 12, and I haven’t seen much of a connection [with local Blacks],” she pointed out.

“Haiti is certainly a part of our history as a people who crossed the Atlantic several hundred years ago to come home,” surmised Pierre-Louis. “I would like to see a bit more involvement with Haiti from the African-American community. It’s a bit disappointing.”

Concluded Regis, “Our destiny is tied together, and we need to get up and tell the world that we are united."

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