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Judge Williams' 'White boys' Comment Spurs Action, DA Investigates

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By Christian Morrow, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –

Allegheny County (Pennsylvania) District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala said he would investigate concerns of racial bias raised after Common Pleas Judge Joseph K. Williams Jr. refused a plea agreement last week.

Williams made national headlines when he declined a plea deal for a first time offender because he said prosecutors only make those deals for “White boys.”

Williams, who recused himself from the case, declined to talk to the New Pittsburgh Courier regarding his statement.

“I don’t see a racial component here, but if a judge raises the issue, it’s incumbent upon me to look into it,” said Zappala.

“Judge Williams is in a responsible position, so we take this seriously.”

Williams made his comments Oct. 5 when presented with a plea deal for Jeffery McGowan, 24, of Franklin Park, who had initially been charged with aggravated assault for putting his hands on a police officer after a traffic stop. The plea was to reduce the charge to disorderly conduct.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, when presented with the plea agreement, Williams said prosecutor Brian Catanzarite “comes up with, I think, ridiculous pleas whenever it’s a young White guy.”

“I’m just telling you what my observation is,” said Williams. “If this had been a Black kid who did the same thing, we wouldn’t be talking about three months probation.” When defense attorney Giuseppe Roselli asked if he was rejecting the plea because McGowan is White, Williams reportedly said it wasn’t because he is White but because “it’s a ridiculous plea that only goes to White boys that come into this court for the same facts, and I’m not going for it.”

After Williams’ recusal, McGowan’s case was assigned to Judge Randy Todd, who approved the plea deal.

Zappala said as a result he has asked President Judge Jeffrey Manning to add a defendant’s race and gender to the criteria examined during the case review proceedings. Currently, he said, a committee that includes the president judge, administrative judges, representatives from Zappala’s office, county police Superintendent Charles Moffat’s office, and jail Warden Ramone Rustin’s office randomly selects cases to examine for errors. “They look at things like was there a line-up, fingerprints, was scientific evidence collected, were proper procedures followed,” Zappala said. “I’ve asked Judge Manning to add race and gender to those criteria.”

Williams’ remarks were reported by MSNBC, and shortly after it spread across the Internet. Though conservative website commenters generally chided Williams for the appearance of bias, Internet commentary was entirely negative. vA veteran Philadelphia police officer, who runs a blog using the name Wyatt Earp, said though Williams probably should not have made his remarks in open court, he is right: “Deals like these would usually be offered to White defendants before Black ones, but a district attorney worth his salt would ask the officer before offering the pleas—especially in an assault on police case. The district attorney in this case is not a racist; he’s just trying to raise his clearance rate. I don’t think Judge Williams is a racist, either.”

Most local attorneys and judges contacted by the New Pittsburgh Courier declined comment on Williams’ remarks. Attorney Paul Ellis, however, said he sees nothing wrong with Williams making his remarks in open court.

“The bias and adverse impact in the criminal justice system is well known and well documented, so he can’t be blamed for making an observation,” said Ellis. “I think it took courage to say it. I’ve known Joe for years, and there’s no way he’s racist. While people can debate the choice of venue for his remarks, the substance of what he said was accurate. If that’s where the injustice takes place, why not speak there.”

Likewise, Senior Magisterial District Judge Edward Tibbs doesn’t have a problem with Williams speaking out in court, recalling that former President Judge Robert Dauer complained about problems with the system in court all the time.

“I respect Judge Williams, it’s his opinion. I’m sure there are those who agree and those who don’t, but it’s a man-made system, so it needs some work from time to time,” he said. “If a judge sees a problem with any part of the system, it should be addressed. For him to have made that remarks, it must have been bothering him for some time.”

Williams, 58, is the only African-American judge in the Common Pleas Criminal Division. He won election to a full term last November after being appointed by Gov. Edward G. Rendell to fill the unexpired term of (now) Superior Court Judge Cheryl Allen.


Strong Black Turnout Could Determine Outcomes of Key Races

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Special to the NNPA from the Joint Center of Political and Economic Studies –

Less than three weeks before Election Day, a new analysis shows that African American voters are strategically located in states and districts where, if they turn out in substantial numbers, they could make a difference in who controls the House, the Senate, and up to 14 governorships.

The report, In Anticipation of November 2: Black Voters and Candidates and the 2010 Midterm Elections, was released by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a leading authority on the black electorate that has consistently surveyed and reported on the opinions of African Americans since 1970.

The analysis was conducted by David A. Bositis, Ph.D., Senior Political Analyst at the Joint Center, and discussed with a standing room only roundtable of journalists and other political organizations in Washington, D.C. Dr. Bositis said this election could echo mid-term elections in 1986, when significant Black turnout helped Democrats gain House seats and take control of the Senate, and again in 1998, when Democrats picked up governorships in Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia. “There are 20 House seats and 14 Senate seats in addition to 14 gubernatorial races where the Black vote has the potential to determine the outcome of this year’s elections,” Dr. Bositis said.

Widespread predictions that Democrats will endure sweeping losses may be premature, if party leaders are abel to play a strong ground game that includes persuading African Americans to go to the polls in greater numbers than they have in some other mid-term elections, added Dr. Bositis. “The extent of the Democrats' losses will depend on their ability to turn out their most loyal voters, and no voting bloc will be more important to them than African Americans. If they can mobilize a strong Black turnout, the Democrats can significantly reduce their potential losses,” Dr. Bositis said.

“It is clear from this analysis that we have not reached the final chapter of the election story in many key states and Congressional districts, and that African American voters could end up being the authors of events, if they match their turnout rates from other recent mid-term elections,” said Joint Center President and Chief Executive Officer Ralph B. Everett who moderated the roundtable discussion.

Dr. Ruy Teixeira, Senior Fellow with The Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress, a renowned political demographer who participated on the panel commented, “This election isn't over yet. While the so-called likely voter poll results look exceptionally bad for the Democrats, it should be remembered that likely voters at this point in the campaign are just a guess as to who will show up on Election Day.”

The report is available on the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies’ website at www.jointcenter.org.

President Obama Courts Black Votes for November Elections

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By Zenitha Prince, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspapers (DC) –

The ethics trials for U.S. Reps. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., have been set for after the elections on Nov. 15 and Nov. 29, respectively. The announcement, made late last week, prompted the ire of at least one Republican, who said it was motivated by politics.

“This is obviously being pushed back to avoid negative publicity before the Nov. 2 elections,” said Illinois Republican Timothy Johnson in a statement. “If the accused were Republicans, I have no doubt the timing would be different.”

But political analysts and observers said holding the hearings any earlier would have little to no impact on the incumbents’ success at the polls because their majority-Black constituencies would vote for them.

“Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters would have to get in an Eddie Long scandal for voters not to vote for them; they’re set,” said Jason Johnson, professor of political science at Hiram College in Ohio. And other members of the Congressional Black Caucus are also set, Johnson added. “Ultimately, it’s a very small bubble they’re operating in. Black people in these districts think, ‘These folks (lawmakers) may be old and [maybe] corrupt, but that’s all we have.”

The importance of the Black vote in re-electing Black Capitol Hill lawmakers or even adding to the ranks—there’s the potential to pick up House seats in states such as Louisiana, Arkansas, Illinois, Alabama and Florida—pales in comparison to its impact on several gubernatorial races, political experts say. Black voters can be the saviors of the Democratic Party in several of the 37 contests.

“If Black people don’t turn out and vote, a lot of Democrats don’t keep their jobs,” Johnson told the AFRO. He added, “The Mid-west is the most dangerous area for Democrats to lose governorships. [For example,] Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan all look like they can go Republican and these are critical ‘blue’ states.

“These are all places where Black voters are key.”

At stake for Democrats—especially the White House—is the political strength needed to enact policies at the federal and state level, said Democrat Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who represents the Fourth Congressional District in Maryland, another battleground where Black voters can determine whether Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is re-elected or usurped by Republican candidate, former Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

“An energized and activated Black electorate in the Fourth Congressional District in Maryland could make a difference in our election for governor; it could make a difference in the direction of our state,” Edwards said, using the 2010 census and its resulting redistricting process—which determines political representation—as an example. “What happens going into these governor’s races is important to how we’re represented and where these lines are drawn for our representation.”

The centrality of Black voters to Democratic hopes was confirmed last week by President Barack Obama’s personal appeal at a rally at Bowie State University, located in one of the state’s majority-Black counties.

“Right now you have pundits saying the other party’s supporters are more excited,” Obama said. “They’re saying they’ll turn out [to vote] in higher numbers. They’re saying that all of us who worked so hard in 2008 might not be as pumped up, might not be as energized or might not care as much. Maryland, I think the pundits are wrong, but it’s up to you to prove them wrong. Don’t make me look bad now.”

While Obama has a whopping approval rating of 87 percent among African-American voters, some political observers question whether the president can draw them to the polls as he did in 2008. Given the disproportionate toll the recession has wielded on Blacks—a community devastated by foreclosures and by a punishing 16.1 percent unemployment rate—many may feel like Velma Hart, who told President Obama in a town-hall meeting last month that she was "exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now."

Johnson said, “People are confusing and have confused a political campaign with a political movement—campaigns end. What people seemed to believe is that kind of excitement and fervor would continue forever, but it can’t. So, what you have is disaffected African Americans; White liberals who are angry because ‘he didn’t give us “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the public option [in health care]; ‘Black political elites, who are saying, ‘He lost us on that Shirley Sherrod thing’…. People’s expectations were way too high.”

Among her constituents and those of the other CBC members, Edwards said, “People are understandably frustrated with the pace of change and with the state of the economy and I think that has had a tremendous effect on concerns about voter turnout and the strength of the electorate going into the mid-term elections.”

However, she added, she believes voters will turn out and will vote to give the president a chance to live up to his promises.

“[Black voters] have been really concerned about the obvious backlash against this president and are looking at casting their vote in this mid-term election as a statement of support for President Obama,” she said. “We want to send a really strong message into Washington that we support the direction this president is going and we didn’t think it was just about 2008, we know it’s about 2010 and we also know it’s about continuing these policies.”

Hollywood Descends on Sudan as Date for Referendum Nears

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

(NNPA) Visitors, including veteran actor George Clooney, are flocking to Sudan, which in less than 100 days will give south Sudanese the choice whether to stay united with the North or become an independent country.

Clooney, a designated “U.N. Messenger for Peace” was among several U.N. officials, and the U.S. Holocaust Mem orial Museum, hoping to head off a resumption of fighting, if the scheduled plebiscite is delayed.

So far, preparations for the voting are seriously behind schedule - voter registration has not started and is unlikely to be ready on time for a January 9, 2011 vote, say local sources. There is not even a North-South border.

The referendum is a key provision of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended a decades-long north-south civil war, during which approximately two million people were killed.

At a recent meeting with parliament, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir gave assurances that the referendum was on track and predicted unity of the north and south would prevail.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed a widely-heard view that southerners will break away, and called independence “inevitable.”

One key point is the fate of the oil-rich Abyei border region which is claimed by both North and South.

As to the referendum, much will depend on final accord concerning the frontier; the sharing of major oil revenues and the citizenship of northerners and southerners, who live on the other side of the border.

British Banks in Cohoots with Corrupt Nigerian Politicians?

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Networks –

(NNPA) A new report by the watchdog group Global Witness charges British banks with accepting millions of dollars from Nigerian politicians accused of corruption.

One former governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, brought some $6 million into Britain and deposited it with the Royal Bank of Scotland. "This account received $4 million,” said a Global Witness spokesman. “Of that, $2 million was a corrupt bribe paid by a contractor to secure a contract."

The report, called International Thief, covers 1999 to 2005. It is based on court documents from cases brought by the Nigerian government to win back funds it said had been stolen by former governors.

By taking money from corrupt governors between 1999 and 2005, said the report, Barclays, NatWest, RBS, HSBC, and UBS helped to fuel corruption and entrench poverty in Nigeria.

"Banks are quick to penalize ordinary customers for minor infractions but seem to be less concerned about dirty money passing through their accounts," said Robert Palmer, a policy analyst at Global Witness. "Large scale corruption is simply not possible without a bank willing to process payments from dodgy sources or hold accounts for corrupt politicians," he added.

The banks have all denied the charges. A full copy of the report may be found online at www.globalwitness.org

Nuhu Ribadu, former head of Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency, estimates that corruption and mismanagement swallow about 40 percent of Nigeria’s annual oil income.

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BVN National News Wire