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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.

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.”

 

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