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Black Homicide Rates are Down, but Still High

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By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –

(NNPA) - The story of Germane Harris' murder has been told many times before. So many times in fact that many newspapers no longer prominently run stories like his. Unfortunately, Harris' story, like so many other Black men who were killed in a major city, became nothing more than an easily missed news blurb buried under dozens of others.

Harris was killed in San Francisco almost two years ago after leaving his bar job where he worked as a bouncer part-time. The 33-year-old father of one was talking on the phone with his fiancée Krystal Thomas as he was headed to his car when the line suddenly went dead.

"When his phone disconnected I didn't know what happened," Thomas said of her fiancé’s still unsolved murder. "He didn't try to call back and I was kind of waiting for him to get home. It wasn't until the next morning when he didn't come home that we figured out that he had been shot in a drive by shooting and, apparently, it was just something random."

With the country's current bleak job and economic situation, some experts predicted a rise in crime rates. But so far, that hasn't been the case in most places. The number of murders is declining across the country, and has been for at least a decade.

Experts are contributing the decline to a variety of factors depending on the city and community. Policing has become more strategic. Policing agencies are focusing more on how drugs enter into communities. In others, there are more reentry services provided for ex-felons coming out of prison to get them reconnected with housing, employment, counseling and other necessities.

"We see that there is a lot of violence now. Yet we see that the rates are down," said Dr. Anne Baird, a professor of sociology at Morehouse College who heads the school's Criminal Justice department. “One thing we've found is that since 1976 the intimate partner homicide rate for African-American men has gone way down in comparison to what it was. People are more likely to murder people they know and with intimate partners, that is especially the case with women."

The national murder rate has been steadily decreasing since the 1990s. The nationwide average was more than eight homicides for every 100,000 residents in the 1990s. But it has dropped to an average of five and a half murders per 100,000 residents through the first eight years of the 2000s. Even while homicides trend downward, a majority of the murder victims are still almost always Black and male. And so are the suspects.

In 2008, Blacks, who make up only 12 percent of the country's population, accounted for nearly half of the nation's 14,180 murder victims, according to the FBI.

In that same year, four out of five of all murder victims were male. A study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that from 2001 to 2005 more than nine out of 10 Black murder victims were killed by other Blacks.

Washington, D.C. reported the fewest homicides in nearly a half of a century last year.

Still, toward the end of March, the Nation’s Capitol experienced its worst shooting since 1994 when a retaliatory shooting in South East Washington left four people murdered and five others wounded. A van with two men and a teenager sprayed bullets into a group of people mourning a person who was killed in what is reported to be a related murder. Two men and a teenage boy were arrested. The suspects and all victims were African-American.

"They have been left out, left out of the economy, and left behind," Baird said on why the Black community is affected by homicides and other violent crimes at such a disparate rate. "You could talk about the sub-culture of using violence and so, they may have not ever learned ways [of] communicating with other people well so they don't learn good ways of coping."

What seems to be racial on the surface tends to be more so socio-economic class, said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a non-profit that advocates for criminal justice system reform.

"It's a reflection of poverty, concentrated poverty," said Mauer. "African-Americans are more likely to live in low-income neighborhoods than other groups. Therefore, they are more likely to be subjected to its disadvantages."

Notoriously violent cities with large percentages of Black people have also been seeing dramatic drops in their homicide numbers. Detroit and Baltimore have reported decreases of 25 percent or more less homicides from the previous year. Chicago has reported less than 600 homicides in their city since 2004. That is almost 45 percent less than what the city experienced in 1991 alone when 928 people were murdered. Also, Newark, N.J. celebrated its first homicide-free calendar month in 44 years.

Unfortunately, statistics show that states with sizable Black and Latino populations such as Louisiana and Maryland, which lead the nation in murder rates among states with 11.9 and 8.9 per 100,000, respectively, still have much higher homicide rates than states with a very low racial minority presence such as Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, New Hampshire and North Dakota, which all rank at the bottom of the list with rates below 2.0 per 100,000.

In 2008, the latest year that the FBI releases the data contained in their yearly published Uniform Crime Report, the national murder rate was 5.4. The national homicide rate has been hovering well under 6.0 since 1999. By contrast, the national murder rate in the previous 30 years before 1999 rarely fell below 8.0 and in 1980 even rose above 10.0. And the preliminary figures for the first six months of 2009 shows a 10 percent drop in homicides from the previous year.

Mauer said that the spike in crime and homicide rates of the eighties and nineties were due to the crack cocaine drug markets that were thriving at that time. Murder rates started spiking in the late seventies and continued to rise until 1993.

"Since the early 90s, murder rates have come down significantly, in part, because the crack epidemic was relatively short lived," Mauer said. "It was three to five years in most places. It certainly didn't go away but that initial surge of people using and the violence began to decline.”

 

Civil Rights Organizations Urge End to Separation of HIV Positive Inmates

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By Dorothy Rowley, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspapers –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - The American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Watch are calling on the state governments of South Carolina and Alabama to immediately end their practices of segregating prisoners infected with HIV.

In a new report entitled, “Sentenced to Stigma: Segregation of HIV-Positive Prisoners in Alabama and South Carolina” the two groups implore both states to end their policies of isolating such prisoners from the rest of their inmate populations. The report claims that the practice, which only those two states currently employ, ostracizes HIV-positive inmates and prevents them from accessing resources freely available to their peers. Mississippi had also engaged in the isolation, but ended its long-standing practice last month after reviewing the report’s findings. The change in that state now allows HIV-positive prisoners to participate in training programs and jobs like kitchen work.

Also, those prisoners do not have to risk public disclosure of their HIV status as a result of being housed in a separate unit.

“There is no medical or other justification for separating prisoners with HIV from the rest of the prison population,” Megan McLemore, an HRW health researcher, told Reuters.“Like past policies of racial segregation, segregating prisoners with HIV is discriminatory, and the harm it causes extends well beyond the person’s prison term.” According to the ACLU, prisoners housed in HIV units in South Carolina and Alabama must don armbands or other indicators of their HIV status. They are also forced to eat and, in some cases, worship separately from other prisoners. The ACLU claimed that those inmates are being denied equal opportunities of prison jobs and programs which help facilitate smoother transitions for re-entry back into society.

Officials in both states insist that segregation is a necessity in order to provide medical care and to avoid further HIV transmission. That claim was rejected by the report, which cites findings of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that there is no medical basis for keeping individuals with the virus from kitchen or food-service employment.

The report claims that the practice poses a threat to inmates’ civil rights, and negatively impacts the states’ budgets because of the higher cost of separately imprisoning inmates with HIV/AIDS rather than mixing them with the general population.

Paulette Nicholas, an HIV/AIDS educator who is HIV-positive and served four years at Tutwiler Women’s Prison in Alabama, told the Montgomery Advertiser that the isolation twice penalizes the infected inmates.

She said, “You should not be given a double-sentence because of your health."

 

Lawsuit Against L.A. for B.I.G.'s Death Dropped

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Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American –

(NNPA) - A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the mother of the later rapper Notorious B.I.G., which blamed the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD for her son’s death, according to Allhiphop.com.

Judge Jacqueline Nguyen, early this month, dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice, after an eight-year wrongful death lawsuit in federal court.

B.I.G, born Christopher Wallace, was gunned down in March of 1997, after attending an after party during the Soul Train Awards in Los Angeles.

Although it has never been proven, the wrongful death lawsuit claimed that Marion “Suge” Knight conspired with Amir Muhammad, the alleged triggerman and LAPD officers Rafael Perez and David Mack, to murder Notorious B.I.G.

B.I.G. had been feuding with Tupac Shakur, who was gunned down on the Las Vegas strip six months earlier, in September of 1996.

In March of 2006, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled in favor of B.I.G., awarding the family a $1.1 million dollar judgment against the city.

In May of 2006, Judge Cooper dismissed the previous ruling in the case, after discovering the family had information they told the court they did not have access to.

In June of 2006, the city of Los Angeles claimed B.I.G.‘s attorneys went to “absurd lengths” to "satisfy their ambition to extract hundreds of millions of dollars from the city.”

Information from Allhiphop.com contributed to this report.

 


Atlanta Bar Accused of Forcing Black Men to Give Up Seats for White Women

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspapers –

(NNPA) - A discrimination lawsuit filed against a popular Atlanta restaurant by two customers, a former NBA player and a prominent local lawyer, may soon go to trial.

Former NBA all-star Joe Barry Carroll and Atlanta lawyer Joseph Shaw say they were escorted out of the Tavern at Phipps restaurant in August 2006 for refusing to give up their seats to White women, EURweb.com reported.

According to court filings, Carroll and Shaw said they were eating and drinking at the restaurant’s bar when they were repeatedly asked to give up their seats to White women. Both men declined, saying they weren’t finished eating. They noticed that no White men had been asked to get up and there were also several vacant seats at the bar. Atlanta police arrived at the restaurant 20 minutes later and escorted the two men off of the premises.

The incident is the subject of federal lawsuits filed by the two men, who claim they were humiliated by the situation and the restaurant violated public accommodation and civil rights laws.

A federal judge is expected to decide soon whether the case should be taken to trial, following two years of pretrial litigation.

The restaurant’s managers said the suit should be dropped because they believe they did nothing wrong.

“The plaintiffs’ allegations about racial discrimination are unfounded, unsubstantiated and specious,” Simon Bloom III, general counsel for the bar’s management company told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I can unequivocally say that the Tavern operates a color-blind business. It does not take race, color or creed into account for any aspect of its operations.”

Representatives from the Tavern at Phipps said the restaurant strives to maintain a courteous and chivalrous atmosphere and that, when all bar seats are occupied, it is an unwritten practice to ask male customers sitting at the bar who are not eating to offer their seats to female patrons.

“The evidence shows that Carroll and Shaw were asked to give up their seats solely because they are men, not because they are African-American,” representatives from the restaurant told the Journal-Constitution.

In pretrial testimony, former employees of the Tavern said the restaurant limited the number of African-American hostesses on busy nights, removed Heineken and Hennessey Cognac from the menu because they were popular among young black customers, and purposely delayed service to black patrons, especially in the bar area.

Political Heat in Harlem

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By Herb Boyd, Special to the NNPA from the Amsterdam News –

HARLEM (NNPA) - It is still a few months until the real political season arrives, but there’s already plenty of heat in Harlem as aspirants jockey for position while the incumbents rush to fortify their base.

Among the more significant rumors is that at least three candidates have floated intentions to take on Rep. Charles Rangel, a congressional seat he has held for 40 years.

During a press conference April 19, Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV announced his candidacy to unseat Rangel. “The fact that he is no longer chairman is significant,” Powell told the press. “If he were still chairman, I might not be running.”

Powell is basing his decision to run on Rangel’s temporary resignation from chairing the House Ways and Means Committee, a rationale he couldn’t use in 1994 when he was trounced in his bid to get a seat his father held from 1944 to 1970.

He tossed aside any notion that he was running to avenge his father’s defeat. “I’ve gotten that out of my system,” he said, apparently referring to his setback in 1994.

There are a number of differences between the current bid and the previous one, Powell explained during a recent interview. “I was very young, with only a little experience as a councilman back then,” he said, “but a lot of things have changed. Plus, I didn’t have a lot of money.”

The assemblyman admitted that Rangel remains a very formidable opponent, but he is no longer the chairman “and it’s time to turn the page,” he said.

As for the allegations and accusations that have been thrown at him, Powell countered, “That’s all they are, accusations and allegations,” he began. “I have never been convicted of any crime other than for protesting the bombing of Vieques, Puerto Rico.”

Powell is probably also banking on the fact that Rangel is under investigation by the House ethics committee and that the legal expenses will cut decisively into the incumbent’s coffers, which several months ago was reportedly at least a half million dollars. The challenger said he hopes to raise more than $350,000 and that he has reached out to the other undeclared contenders.

Fellow Assemblyman Keith Wright took umbrage that Powell invoked his name as he prepares to run against Rangel. “I have no idea why he chose to bring me into this,” Wright told the Amsterdam News on Wednesday. “He’s got to run on his own merits.”

Asked if he were interested in challenging Rangel, Wright said, “Only when he’s no longer our congressman,” he said. “But anyone who wouldn’t want to have the position is either brain-dead or lying.”

State Sen. Bill Perkins has also been mentioned as a possible candidate to take on Rangel, a man with whom he has had close ties.

“You’ll be among the first to know, if and when I announce,” Perkins promised.

Nor was the senator willing to expound on the recent hubbub about his being ousted by certain politicos. “Look, this is a very serious matter, and it would be easy just to take a cheap shot response,” he said. “But let’s put that on hold until I can sit down with you for a full discussion.”

Perkins said he feels good about how his reelection effort is shaping up, with a fundraiser planned this coming Sunday at a local restaurant.

During another recent fundraiser by Rep. Rangel, Perkins was conspicuous by his absence. “I was busy in Albany and couldn’t make it,” he said. That gridlock in Albany, he added, continues as the legislative body and the governor are “about $2 billion apart.”

Perkins began taking heat from his colleagues when he was the first among local Democrats to get behind Barack Obama. “The Obama administration is supportive,” he said, when asked about his relationship with the White House. “That’s not to say we agree on everything, but I am in touch and they have been encouraging.”

 

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