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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."

Guru of Gang Starr Dead at 43

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By BVN Staff –

Guru of famed hip-hop duo Gang Starr has died at the age of 43 following a long battle with cancer.

Born July 17, 1966 in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Keith Elam, also known as Guru, was the famed front man and lead rapper of Gang Starr. Guru founded the musical duo, working alongside DJ Premier for more than 10 years. Gang Starr was founded in 1987 and released six studio albums.

Guru had undergone numerous cancer treatments in the past year before succumbing to his illness on April 19.

Guru took on a solo career, releasing his first album Jazzmatazz Vol. 1 in 1993, followed up by his second album in the series called Jazzmatazz Vol. 2. He continued to collaborate with DJ Premier in the 90's.

The collaboration known as Gang Starr catapulted Guru and DJ Premier to success in the late 80’s and 90’s, garnering a positive reputation for bringing a spotlight to underground hip-hop.

With their combinations of turntable hip-hop music, jazz elements and Guru’s undeniable “monotone” sound, Gang Starr forged a notable, unique etch in the East Coast Hip-Hop music scene. This propelled the group, leading to chart-topping singles such as Mass Appeal, Work and ½ and ½.

According to various reports, Guru wrote a final letter while in a hospital before his death stating "I, Guru, am writing this letter to my fans, friends and loved ones around the world. I have had a long battle with cancer and have succumbed to the disease. I have suffered with this illness for over a year. I have exhausted all medical options.”

“I write this with tears in my eyes, not of sorrow but of joy for what a wonderful life I have enjoyed and how many great people I have had the pleasure of meeting,” the letter also stated.

More of the letter can be read here at AllHipHop.com.

Dr. Benjamin Hooks Remembered as Great American

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By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - The news of the death of former NAACP Executive Director and CEO Benjamin Hooks has reverberated to the very core of America's civil rights and political leadership, according to statements that poured into the NNPA News Service last week.

“Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks was among the greatest Americans of the 20th Century,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “He was a giant of hope and humanity who, as executive director and CEO of the NAACP, expanded the circle of opportunity in our nation for millions by greatly accelerating the desegregation of our largest corporations.”

Jealous described the 85-year-old Dr. Hooks as “simply the greatest living person to have served as Executive Director and CEO of the NAACP”.

Hooks was also a Baptist minister, a lawyer, an FCC commissioner, a businessman and a judge. But he was best known as a civil rights leader who resurrected the nation's oldest civil rights organization as its long-time executive director from 1977 to 1992.

A viewing for Hooks was scheduled for Monday, April 19 at Greater New Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Detroit. His funeral was set for Wednesday in Memphis.

Under Hooks' leadership, the organization led the way of pressuring Congress to pass the extension of such landmark legislation such the civil rights and voting rights bills. Also, NAACP's membership base reportedly grew by hundreds of thousands during his tenure.

“Dr. Hooks led this organization to new heights, and we will continue to honor his legacy by fighting on, in his words with truth, justice and righteousness on our side,” stated NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock. “…He was a civil rights icon and my mentor and personal friend. He taught me to stand up for what I believe in; even in the face of adversity, and that the struggle for civil and human rights for all Americans never ends.”

President Obama called Hooks a “true trailblazer” who, as the first African-American to serve as a criminal court judge in Tennessee and to serve on the Federal Communications Commission, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work. He received the medal from President Bush in 2007.

Obama said, “As I was running for this office, I had the honor of spending some time with Dr. Hooks, and hearing about his extraordinary place in our American story.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that Hooks helped shape the modern day civil rights movement.

“With great patriotism, he led the day-to-day efforts to root out discrimination and injustice and worked on behalf of equality and opportunity for all Americans for more than half of a century,” Pelosi said. “Dr. Hooks had a remarkable career: as a judge, an FCC Commissioner, and as a minister. He was a man of deep faith and bold convictions. He was also a man of action; in his calm yet determined way, he worked so that our nation would live up to the aspirations of all of its people.”

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that Hooks' “contributions resonate within the African-American community but will have a lasting impact on all Americans.”

NAACP created the Benjamin L. Hooks Distinguished Service Award, which is awarded to persons who promote equal opportunity through policies and programs.

National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial said, “He cautioned us never to forget the struggles of our forbearers, and never to take for granted our gains. He challenged us all to be our best, and in his memory we renew our commitment to social and economic justice and personal empowerment.”

Rwandans in a Memorial Remember Their Dead

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Special to the NNPA from the GIN –

(GIN) – A somber national memorial marked the 16th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide when close to a million people died in civil strife that pitted a Hutu-dominated government against majority Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Triggered by the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, at least 800,000 people were killed, or according to some estimates, as much as 20 percent of the total population.

The memorial witnessed an outpouring of anger by Rwandan President Paul Kagame who scolded local politicians and foreign critics for interference in the nation’s affairs.

Foreign governments, he charged, were pressing their political agendas on Rwanda. He also recalled the failures of the outside world at the country’s time of great need, and said they lacked credibility to interfere now.

The country is at a crossroads, with local genocide courts scheduled to end, the country ascending to the British Commonwealth, and pressure from ethnic Hutus seeking better treatment by a largely-Tutsi dominated government.

Meanwhile, according to a new study, over 28 percent of those who survived are still battling with trauma. Close to 60 percent of those affected are young women who also take care of households.

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