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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.”


Obama Should Consider First Black Woman for Supreme Court, Jurists Say

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By Hazel Trice Edney, NNPA Washington Correspondent –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - President Barack Obama needs only to turn over in his bed to be reminded of all the Black women who are powerfully qualified to be U. S. Supreme Court justices. If First Lady Michelle Obama was not his wife, some legal scholars say she would be clearly and obviously qualified for the short list to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

Yet, since Stevens’ announcement his retirement April 9, not one Black woman had surfaced as a so-called “short-list” candidate despite the fact that no Black woman has ever served on the high court.

Solicitor General Elena Kagan, a White female; D.C. Appeals Court Judge Merrick B. Garland, a White male; and U.S. Appeals Court Judge Diane Wood of Chicago, also a White female, surfaced among early speculations as so-called shot-list candidates. The Washington Post reported this week that the President has actually widened his search to include as many as 10 jurists from across the nation. Some hope that at least one of many superbly qualified Black women is among them.

“I think that President Obama has an enormous task and a wonderful opportunity to find a person with the combination of talents that will help solidify a great choice,” says Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree in an interview. “The fact of the matter is that you can look at profiles in Ebony Magazine or some of the women in Jet or Essence Magazine or just look at the National Bar Association, which has a contingent of Black women judges and lawyers, to see some of the stars we have who are not well known to a large extent, but clearly have every one of the qualities and qualifications necessary for the job.”

Ogletree declined to name some of those in his mind. But, Penn State constitutional scholar Mary Frances Berry, former chair of the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights, quickly ticked off several names of qualified Black women. They included Elaine Jones, former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Jacqueline A. Berrien, chair of the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Berry also agreed that Children’s Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman, a Yale Law School graduate and the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, would make a great candidate. Lani Guinier, Harvard Law School’s first African-American tenured professor, is another name that Berry agreed could be considered.

Fourteen years ago, President Clinton nominated; then withdrew from nomination Guinier as assistant attorney general. Amidst that 1993 blaze of controversy over her positions on proportional representation, Guinier stood prepared to fight when Clinton submitted to counsel to withdraw the nomination.

“I think that it would be a good thing if a Black woman could be appointed since there’s never been one,” said Berry. “Michelle, if she weren’t the President’s wife, is full of qualifications. And there are many qualified Black women.”

Michelle Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law School like her husband, was actually his mentor in the Chicago law firm of Sidley & Austin.

Asked to consider herself, Berry scoffed at the suggestion that she is also a qualified candidate for the high court. She said that she is “too old.” But, then she shot down her own argument by recalling that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed by Clinton at the age of 64.

As Stevens will retire at the end of the court session in late spring, Obama is now in the process of exploring the backgrounds and qualifications of prospective candidates. He will likely announce only one person who will then go under extreme scrutiny by the U. S. Senate Judiciary Committee before an up or down confirmation vote by the entire U. S. Senate.

"We hope and expect President Obama would consider candidates from a variety of backgrounds, as he has indicated,” said John Payton, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. “Certainly, it would be wonderful to have an African-American -- male or female -- appointed to the Supreme Court. And, yes, it would be nice to hear more African--American women mentioned on the short list of candidates."

Regardless of the race or gender, Black jurists agree that there is certain criterion that is clearly necessary at this point to balance out the strong bent of conservatism still on the court – including Black Justice Clarence Thomas.

“There is definitely need for someone who has a progressive sense about the role of the Supreme Court Justice and someone who has a sense that the Constitution has to serve everyone in the country,” Ogletree says.

Justice Stevens, 90, considered a moderate centrist, was appointed by President Gerald Ford in 1975. Ogletree describes him as someone “who changed his mind and understood the Constitution better over time and leaves with a legacy of someone defending the broad interests of everyday people.”

Berry says workers rights should be a foremost consideration in the candidate’s portfolio.

“One of our major problems in the Black community is that the number of contracts that minority business receive from state and local governments have gone down” since the court decided Croson v. City of Richmond among other so-called set-aside cases. College admissions policies are also issues to be considered, she said.

“We want judges who have knowledge and information and positions on these positions who are progressive no matter what color they are.”

Lauding Stevens as “a stalwart in the protection of civil rights”, Payton says the court needs a replacement who “will continue Justice Stevens' approach to upholding the Constitution in a way that has guaranteed equality for all Americans. LDF urges President Obama to seek the qualities that made Justice Stevens such an outstanding jurist such as a willingness to uphold fundamental principles of fairness and equality and to ensure that even the powerless have access to our justice system.”

Ogletree agrees, adding that Black women should not be among the invisible.

“When you think about the success of Black women running universities, running corporations being involved as leaders in religion … you see that we have talents in every conceivable place. It doesn’t take rocket science to know that there are exceptionally qualified people.”


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