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Anti-prison Gerrymandering Bill Passes in New York

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By Stephon Johnson, Special to the NNPA from the Amsterdam News –

NEW YORK (NNPA) - The New York State Senate has passed legislation that could end prison gerrymandering once and for all. Passed as part of the revenue bill, the legislation states that people in prison be counted in their home communities and not the communities where they’re incarcerated for the purpose of redrawing district lines. The bill awaits Gov. David Paterson’s signature.

“I’m really just excited,” said State Sen. Eric Schneiderman when speaking with the AmNews. “I spoke to the governor and the governor’s council and I’m sure he’ll sign it. Once it’s signed, I will work with him and I will also work with the incoming administration to make sure that the ball doesn’t get dropped.”

Across the country, sentiments have been expressed that prisoners being counted at institutional addresses is unfair to their home communities. Redistricting lines can determine the racial and economic balance of a political district. Also, census counts determine funding to specifical neighborhoods.

“It’s not a complicated process,” Schneiderman said. “It’s about making sure the [Department of Correctional Services] enters the right information into the new census blocks.... The politics are hard. The technology’s easy."

Schneiderman couldn’t help but redirect the attention to the amount of time that he and a coalition of groups and individuals put in to help this bill see the light of day. He also mentioned promoting the idea of prison gerrymandering bills with other states in time for reapportionment.

“The other thing is that we have a coalition that we built over the past five or six years that includes the NAACP, David Jones and the Hip Hop Action Network, and Eddie Ellis and Edith Wagner from the Prison Policy Initiative,” said Schneiderman. “What we’re going to do is get together and figure out how to use this and try to get other states in on this as well before the 2012 [redistricting] lines are drawn.”

The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund released a statement praising the passing of the bill and marking the vote as a new day in New York State.

“The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund congratulates the New York State Senate for passing legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering in New York,” read the statement. “Their courageous decision will bring New York’s redistricting process in line with basic principles of democracy and will serve as a model for other states in the effort to count incarcerated populations correctly in the next round of redistricting. ... Prison-based gerrymandering artificially inflates population numbers—and thus, political influence—in districts where prisons are located at the expense of all other districts,” continued the statement. “With approximately 60,000 incarcerated persons in New York State, the proper counting of incarcerated individuals is critical to ensuring fair representation throughout the state.”

Schneiderman believes that Andrew Cuomo, the reported front-runner for New York State governor, will carry the torch that this bill lit to ensure its enforcement.

“I think Cuomo understands this and he will come through,” said Schneiderman. “If [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Carl Paladino became governor, I’d be worried. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.

“This is a big deal,” Schneiderman stated. “Things like this and repealing the Rockefeller Drug Laws makes me feel like banging my head against the wall in Albany for all these years and suffering in the Senate was worth it.”

After Death of 13-Year-old: Jackson, Other Pastors Call for Federal Intervention in Cities

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By Wendell Hutson, Special to the NNPA from the Chicago Defender –

CHICAGO (NNPA) - The last time Robert Freeman Sr. saw his son the 13-year-old looked happy and was full of joy. On July 28 the teen was gunned down in the 11500 block of South Perry Avenue.

“He was a good son and lived life to its fullest. I loved him very much and now he is gone,” Freeman said. Robert Jr. was the oldest of his three children.

According to Chicago police, the son was shot more than 20 times by an unknown assailant during the day as he stood with friends on the street. Freeman Sr. lives one block away on 115th Street and Lafayette Avenue and has lived there since 1970.

“Even though I have another son (and a daughter) there is something special about your first born,” he told the Defender. “I now know how other parents feel when they have to bury their kids. Parents should not out-live their children but when you live in a violent community things like this are bound to happen.”

On Aug. 2, Freeman, 44, joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and two-dozen Black ministers gathered at the corner of 116th Street and Perry Avenue to pray for the community and call for federal intervention on the plight of urban areas.

Jackson said that Black-on-Black crime is a long standing problem in the Black community but reminded those attending the press conference that Blacks do not manufacture guns or illegal drugs.

“The Black community is a target market for drugs and violence,” he added. “As a community we must love and protect our children to prevent more Robert Freeman’s from being brutality murdered.”

Solutions offered by Jackson to slow down the escalating violence in many Black communities are more jobs and better public transportation.

“In this community the unemployment rate for adults is 30 percent and 50 percent for teenagers. We need jobs and job training so people can go back to work,” the civil rights leader explained.

The Rev. Walter Turner, pastor of New Spiritual Light Baptist Church on the South Side, said he agrees that Blacks suffer from more than just violence.

“This is more than violence with guns but violence with economics,” he said. “We need to find a way to make living in economically depressed areas safer.”

The young Freeman’s slaying and the violent weekend that came in its wake ¬– over 20 shootings, with six of them fatal – also had Mayor Richard Daley speaking out.

Daley announced new initiatives to deal with the violence, which he called “our most immediate and pressing challenge” and he agreed that the solution requires many answers.

“Violence is a complex challenge,” Daley said at a news conference held at 15th District Police District Headquarters. “As reasonable people understand, making Chicago safer doesn't have one answer, it has many. That's why we're working on many fronts and in many ways to make our streets safer.”

Daley said that the gang bangers and drug dealers who are responsible for much of the city’s street violence are a “small but violent part” of Chicago.

“The problem is that they believe they're above the law and they don't care about the consequences of their violence,” Daley said. “As a city, we must stand up to them.”

Chicago police report that there were 57 homicides in Chicago last July, and 43 this July.

“But numbers don't provide much consolation if you've lost a family member or friend to violence or feel vulnerable to its awful grip,” Daley said. “The fight to protect Chicago's streets, and especially our children, must continue.”

Saint Paul's College Receives Largest Gift in School History

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspapers –

(NNPA) - Saint Paul’s College a historically Black college, located in Lawrenceville, Va., recently received the largest donation in the school’s history from the estate of former Washington, D.C. Councilwoman Hilda Mason, a St. Paul's alum, and Charles N. Mason, Jr.

The $1.4 million endowment will be used to create a scholarship fund available to students pursuing a degree in any major area at the college.

“My mother was determined, compassionate, and a fighter for all people,” Carolyn Nicholas, Mason’s daughter, said in a statement.

After graduating from Saint Paul’s, Mason began her career as a schoolteacher in the Campbell County public school system. She went on to an illustrious public service career with the D.C. Board of Education, D.C. Council, and the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

School officials said the donation will be invested and the return on those investments will be awarded to deserving students during their annual Honors Day program.

Founded in 1888 by an Episcopal priest as Saint Paul’s Normal and Industrial School, the college opened its doors to former slaves and their children. The school’s name was changed to Saint Paul’s College in 1957 when programs that led to a bachelor’s degree were added to the curriculum.

Security High as Polling Nears for Two Key Elections in Africa

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Special to the NNPA from GIN –

(GIN) – From colonial times to post-independence, Kenya’s food basket, the Rift Valley Province, has been key to Kenya’s politics.

Rift Valley is not just Kenya’s food basket, it is also the region where most of the flowers for the country’s lucrative export industry are grown - with extensive tea plantations, spectacular tourism sites and resorts and a few remaining rich white settler-owned farms and plantations.

It has also been the center of conflict over land ownership between groups dispossessed by white colonial settlers. The outcome of this week’s poll may settle some of these disputes.

Proposed changes to the Constitution include handing powers to Kenya’s 47 counties, such as responsibility for basic health services, agriculture, county roads and water. Public finances and authority over land would be audited by independent bodies to boost accountability.

Maximum leases on land would be reduced, retroactively, to 99 years from 999 years, making ownership accessible to more Kenyans, and property handed out by politicians to their supporters will become public land.

At least 68 percent of Kenyans back the proposed changes to the constitution, according to a recent poll by TNS Research International. About 25 percent plan to reject the document, according to the poll, which had a margin of error of 2.45 percentage points.

In Rwanda, current Pres. Paul Kagame is running for another term of seven years.

The poll was set to take place Aug. 9 amidst a crackdown on political freedoms, including media repression, jailings of opposition leaders, threats of war, attempted assassinations and several killings of political opponents.

The United Nations and U.S.-based Human Rights Watch have called for a full investigation into one of the recent killings, the near decapitation of an opposition leader.

A coalition of human rights groups, the International Humanitarian Law Institute of Minnesota, William Mitchell College of Law, and the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, among others issued a call to disregard the outcome of the election under these circumstances.

In an open letter published in The Black Star News, the group wrote: “We are calling on President Obama and the U.S. State Department not to recognize the legitimacy of Rwanda's upcoming August 9th election results and to stop militarizing Africa and supporting repressive regimes.”

French Police Captured on Video Assaulting African Women

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Special to the NNPA from GIN –

(GIN) – Videos of a police assault on a protest by African women and children have been widely circulating on the internet. The footage shows the officers trying to move African squatters from the north-east Parisian suburb of La Courneuve.

The group of about 60 women had been living in the street since being evicted from their tenement homes on July 8 to make way for a new housing project.

At one point, a woman is shown being pulled by her legs across the ground, her baby – which she had been carrying on her back – dragged along the concrete after her.

Most of the protesters were legal migrants from the Ivory Coast and had been in France for more than a decade, according to Michael Hoare, a spokesman for Droit au Logement (Right to Housing).

"Most of them have been in France for between 3 to 10 years. Some of them have papers, some of them don't. They have submitted demands to be legalized," Hoare told CNN.

The footage, shot on July 21, comes as President Nicolas Sarkozy targets gypsies and immigrants who he threatened to strip of their passports if they attack police.

Socialist Party member Benoit Hamon accused Mr Sarkozy of trying to ‘win over the far right vote’.

Police said there was no brutality and the operation was carried out ‘within the rules’.

The footage, captured on July 21 and viewed more than 500,000 times on the internet, has aroused strong condemnation by viewers and activists.

The video can be seen at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/7923190/Video-shows-French-police-dragging-pregnant-women-and-children-along-ground.html

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