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Blacks in Florida still Victimized by 'Stand Your Ground'

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Two years ago, 14-year-old Trayvon Martin was returning from a trip from a nearby 7-Eleven store in Sanford, Fla. to purchase a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona tea when he was confronted by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman.

Instead of making it back to the house to watch the tip-off of an NBA All-Star game, the unarmed Black teenager was fatally shot in the heart by Zimmerman, who was later acquitted of first-degree murder charges.

The not guilty verdict triggered protests across the country and calls for a review of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law that justifies the use of deadly force by anyone who believes their action was necessary to prevent “imminent death or great bodily harm’ to them. The killer gets a free pass even if the person on the receiving end of a deadly bullet is unarmed. Even if that person is not breaking any laws. Even if that person happens to be a frightened Black teenager. Especially if that person is a frightened Black teenager.

Wednesday, Feb. 26, will mark the 2-year anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death. Two years after the fatal slaying, Florida and more than 20 other states still have Stand Your Ground statues in place, which have led to other incidents with racial overtones.

Standing on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, Zimmerman, who identified himself as Hispanic, was acquitted July 13, 2013 of first-degree murder.

On Saturday, six months later, a jury failed to reach a first degree murder verdict against Michael Dunn, a White computer programmer, in connection with the death of Jordan Davis, a Black teenager, at a Jacksonville, Fla. convenience store. Upset over the loud music coming from of a vehicle occupied by 17-year-old Davis and his friends – whom Dunn instantly characterized as “gangsters” and “thugs” – an enraged Dunn fired 10 shots into their Dodge Durango SUV. He continued to shoot into the vehicle even after it sped away, according to witnesses.

A jury composed of four White males, four White females, two Black females, a Hispanic male and an Asian female found Dunn guilty on three attempted second-degree murder charges, which could land him in jail for at least 60 years. However, a verdict could not be reached on first-degree murder charges, the most serious offense.

Al Sharpton called for the civil rights community to redouble its efforts in Florida, a state he described as “ground zero” for the battle against Stand Your Ground laws. Sharpton stated, “From Trayvon Martin to Jordan Davis enough is enough.”

But the Stand Your Ground law in Florida is not enough when the assailant is Black.

For example, in 2010, a year before Trayvon Martin was killed by Zimmerman, Michael Giles, who was on active duty with the U.S. Air Force, and some friends were attending a party at a local nightclub in Tallahassee when a fight broke out between Florida A&M University fraternities.

Giles, who was licensed to carry a concealed weapon, went to his vehicle and retrieved a pistol and stuck it in his pants pocket. Giles testified – and other witnesses confirmed – that he was punched in the face. Lying on the floor and fearing for his life, Giles drew his gun and shot his alleged assailant one time in the leg; two others were injured by stray bullet fragments. For that, Giles, who had no criminal record, received a 25-year sentence for attempted murder, which he is still serving.

And it’s hard to forget the case of Marissa Alexander, the Florida woman who was sentenced to a mandatory 20 years in prison after she fired a warning shot to hold off her abusive husband. No one was injured yet Alexander received a mandatory 20-year-sentence under Florida’s 10-20-Life law. After serving three years, she was released shortly before Thanksgiving after an appeals judge vacated the verdict, ruling the jury had been improperly instructed. Her new trial has been set for March 31.

In 2005, Florida was the first state to adopt Stand Your Ground legislation, nicknamed “The Shoot First” law. It states, “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

Blacks see a double-standard applied when Blacks who fire into the air or shoot an assailant in the leg receive serious prison time yet Whites and Hispanics who kill Black teenagers are not found guilty of first-degree murder.

Moreover, according to the Urban Institute, an independent nonpartisan think tank focused on economic and social problems affecting Americans, “White-on-Black homicides were most likely to be ruled justified (11.4 percent), and Black-on-White homicides were least likely to be ruled justified (1.2 percent).”

When the Urban Institute looked a justifiable homicides matching many of the common details found in the Martin-Zimmerman case, the institute found that rate of justifiable homicides is almost six times higher in case with attributes that match the Martin case.”

The Urban Institute report on Stand Your Ground laws stated: “With respect to race, controlling for all other case attributes, the odds a white-on-black homicide is found justified is 281 percent greater than the odds a white-on-white homicide is found justified.”

What should be done to hold Florida accountable the same way Arizona was punished with a national boycott in 1990 after it refused to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday?

Following the not guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial, Sharpton’s National Action Network and other civil rights groups called for peaceful protests in 100 cities.

Sharpton said, “We gave people a way to express themselves and not just explode. One of the things, going back to Dr. King, media never gives credit to people when there is organized protests it in many ways channels to make sure that justice can be achieved but also gives order in society so that you don’t have mass bedlam.”

Longtime activist Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, said there should have been a national boycott of Florida similar to the one mounted against Arizona.

After Arizona voters blocked observance of Dr. King’s birthday with a ballot initiative, local businesses reported losing more than $200 million as a result of the boycott. The National Football League refused to consider holding a Super Bowl in the state because of the vote. In 1992, voters reversed their decision and in 1996, Arizona hosted Super Bowl XXX.

At a panel discussion last summer at the National Urban League’s annual convention in Philadelphia, Jesse Jackson expressed support for a boycott of Florida, but failed to follow-up with a national movement. Sharpton said he could support a support of a boycott of Florida if it were limited. And Urban League President Marc H. Morial did not express an opinion. The National Urban League is holding its national convention next year in South Florida.

“We lack a spirit of resistance in Black America,” said Daniels. “Here was an opportunity for us to not only get justice for Trayvon Martin, but it was also an opportunity to imbue a spirit of resistance in Black America that we could use to go state by state and roll back these laws.”

Sharpton said when he and other civil rights leaders raised the possibility of a boycott with Florida state legislators they found that a boycott would not help them get the votes that they need to repeal the law.

“The governor’s race in Florida ought to be around the ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws in the same way we made the mayor’s race in New York about ‘Stop and Frisk,’” said Sharpton. “That’s how you get laws. You have to be able to pinpoint and punish somebody or reward somebody based off of what you want.”

All sides agree that the only way to get a different verdict in high-profile cases is to have more Blacks participate as jurors, which requires them to be registered voters.

“For the justice system to work, people have to respect each other diversity and cultures. We also got to make sure that we educate our community and let them know that jury selection is an equal justice issue,” said Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Trayvon Martin’s parents. “If we don’t sit on these juries, then shame on us, because no one is going to understand Trayvon like someone from his community.”

Black Women Still Penalized for Race and Gender

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed race- and gender-based discrimination. Now, 50 years later, Black women still suffer under the double-whammy of race and gender.

Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) and director of Research and Public Education, made that point at a symposium sponsored by the CCF, a nonprofit nonpartisan family research think-tank.

“One of the things we see with African American women is that they’ve actually made bigger gains in terms of their representation in college, in educational gains, and in professional work. The pay gap is lower between Black women and Black men than between White women and White men. All of these are certain kinds of gains,” Coontz explains. “But the other side of it is that the combination of Black womanhood leads to tremendous stereotypes. So there are ways in which Black women have gained in relation to men, but there are ways in which they go through life with the combination of difficulties that are caused by race, but that play out in their gender.”

To use the subject of wages, for example, Black women earn 10 percent less than African American males, and 36 percent less than White men, according to another CCF symposium. (In general, a quarter of the gains made in the wage gap are attributable to a decline in men’s wages rather than an increase in women’s income, according to one of the papers’ authors). At the same time, African American women’s professional success is on the rise, as Coontz points out. Still, these gains are accompanied by drastic losses among African American men.

“…Black and Hispanic men earn so much less than white men that the lower gender gap for Black women and Latinas does not produce economic security,” one paper finds. “Many of the gains that women have made are not as impressive as they seem at first sight. This is especially true for Black Americans, as low-income Black men in impoverished communities have not only experienced dramatic losses in real wages and job security but tremendous increases in incarceration rates.”

The CCF Civil Rights Online Symposium presents a collection of white papers from researchers across the country that examines America’s progress (or lack thereof) on religion-, race-, and gender-based discrimination since the Civil Rights Act.

Discrimination also manifests in a unique way for high-status African American women, says Joan C. Williams, a distinguished professor of law and at the University of California and one of the symposium’s featured researchers. She points out that Black women tend to lose workplace discrimination cases because of their blended experience of gender- and race-based discrimination. (According to Williams, it is difficult to bolster and win a discrimination case involving both race and gender).

“It appears that the experience of gender bias is really quite different as a Black woman,” says Williams, whose paper for the symposium is based on her co-authored book, What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know. Williams identifies four overall patterns of gender bias that high-achieving career women face. The first is dubbed “prove-it-again” bias, in which women are required to show more evidence of competence than men. Unlike the other women in Williams’ research, Black women often attributed this type bias to their race, as opposed to their gender.

There’s also “the tightrope” bias, which Williams describes as the balance between being feminine, attractive and well-liked, versus being masculine and respected, but disliked. Both hinder advancement in different ways. However, Black women involved in Williams’ research had less of a tightrope to walk. This dovetailed with another finding.

“[The Black women in the study] thought the option of being pretty, but not respected, was not an offer for Black women. So their only choice was to be respected,” Williams explains. “If you think about it, that fits…with data that suggests Black women are allowed to behave more dominant, so in a sense they have a little more room. Of course, there’s a sharp limit where, at a certain point, some will say, ‘Oh, you’re an angry Black woman.’ And then God help you.”

One area of discrimination that binds women across class and race is what’s known as the maternity wall. A 1978 amendment to the Civil Rights Act made it illegal for employers to exclude pregnancy and childbirth from sick leave and health benefits. There’s also the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which gives employees 12 weeks per year of paid leave for the birth or foster placement of a child, among other circumstances. But such protections haven’t stopped wage discrimination against mothers.

“The United States is still the only industrialized country that does not guarantee subsidized, job-protected leave for new mothers. As a result, many women are forced to quit or cut back on work when they give birth, creating a lifetime earnings penalty,” Coontz writes. “Even mothers who do not cut back are regarded with suspicion by employers, who are less likely to hire such women, and, if they do, offer them lower wages than other employees.”

Interestingly, new data indicates that men who request or take time to cater to their families face their own professional penalties. One paper suggests that caregiver status may become a new area of anti-discriminatory legislation.

“In government, academia, finances, medicine, law, and many other realms, issues of access and unequal treatment still prevail,” another researcher concludes. “The Civil Rights Act has helped women make many impressive gains, but further changes in policy and attitudes are needed to address these remaining inequalities.”

The issue of inequality affects all women, not just Blacks.

A mid-1960s Gallup poll found that only 55 percent of Americans would vote for a qualified woman president; today, that figure has risen to 95 percent. In 1960, mothers were the breadwinners in just 3.5 percent of homes with children. By 2011, that number had more than quadrupled to 15 percent.

Although women with degrees out earn men without them (which was not the case 50 years ago), women still earn less than their equally qualified male counterparts, despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Civil Rights Act of 1964. In fact, the first bill President Barack Obama signed into law was an amendment to the Civil Rights Act, which revised the statute of limitations for pay discrimination lawsuits.

Until passage of this law, claimants had 180 days from the initial wage decision to discover the discrimination and file a suit. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act resets that 180 days with each discriminatory paycheck.

“It‘s appropriate that we turn last to how women have fared since passage of the Civil Rights Act, because the addition of the word ‘sex’ was a last minute addition to the bill,” Stephanie Coontz of Research and Public Education writes in one introduction. “Women have also made impressive progress in entering high-status fields formerly dominated by men…. But women have not shattered the glass ceiling.”

Holder Favors Voting Rights for Ex-Felons

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – If America is ever to end the revolving door of prison recidivism, it needs to ease the re-entry of former offenders back into society by allowing them to vote, Attorney General Eric Holder believes.

Holder announced his position during a recent conference on criminal justice reform at Georgetown University Law Center at Washington, D.C. He called on state officials, state leaders and other elected officials to reform or repeal laws that block ex-felons from voting, more than two million of them Black.

Holder said that some of the laws dating back to the Reconstruction Era were specifically crafted to target Blacks and weaken their voting power, especially in Southern states where most Blacks live.

According to The Sentencing Project, 1 of every 13 African Americans can’t cast a ballot, due to felony disenfranchisement. In Florida, Kentucky and Virginia more than 20 percent of the Blacks are barred from voting.

Last summer Holder announced the Justice Department’s “Smart on Crime” initiative that includes provisions to reform sentencing guidelines, eliminate unfair disparities and reduce overcrowding in prisons by seeking alternatives to prison time for low-level non-violent crimes.

Holder said that felony disenfranchisement laws often undermine the reentry process and defy the principles – of accountability and rehabilitation – that guide our criminal justice policies.

“And however well-intentioned current advocates of felony disenfranchisement may be – the reality is that these measures are, at best, profoundly outdated,” said Holder. “At worst, these laws, with their disparate impact on minority communities, echo policies enacted during a deeply troubled period in America’s past – a time of post-Civil War repression. And they have their roots in centuries-old conceptions of justice that were too often based on exclusion, animus, and fear.”

Civil rights leaders and criminal justice advocates applauded Holder’s call to lift the ban on voting rights for ex-felons.

“The attorney general’s strong leadership in calling for the repeal of felony disenfranchisement laws across the country is an extraordinary signal to states and the American people,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under the Law. “This is the latest in a series of instances in the past year in which the administration has taken great leadership on criminal justice issues. From the statements of Attorney General Holder to the American Bar Association in August, to the implementation of their policies, it shows that they have heard the cries for reforms within the nation’s over-racialized criminal justice system.”

Tanya Clay House, the public policy director at Arnwine’s organization, said that passing the Democracy Restoration Act, a bill co-sponsored by Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in 2009, would restore the voting rights in federal elections to those disenfranchised because of criminal convictions.

“The Lawyers’ Committee advocates for legislative efforts that restore equality to both the criminal justice system and voting rights,” said House. “Congress can answer the attorney general’s call to action, and lead the nation by example, by reintroducing the Democracy Restoration Act. This bill would restore the voting rights in federal elections to those disenfranchised because of criminal convictions.”

During the same conference, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) repeated his support for repealing felony voting restrictions in his state. Alabama Republican Gov. Robert Bentley also expressed support for restoring voting rights for felons who completed their sentences. In 2003, state officials in Alabama passed legislation streamlining the process to restore voting rights for most ex-felons. Nearly 15 percent of Blacks are disenfranchised in the state.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said, there is undeniable bipartisan momentum for criminal justice reform that would update inhumane sentencing laws and return people to society with dignity.

“America is the world’s greatest democracy, yet felon disenfranchisement laws deny almost six million Americans the right to vote,” said Henderson. “These laws serve no purpose but to make it harder for returning citizens to reintegrate into their communities – to work, seek an education, and participate in our democracy. Successful reintegration and smarter sentencing are the keys to ensuring that our criminal justice system is more fair, more humane, and more fiscally responsible.”

In prepared remarks, Holder also addressed states that continue to “restrict voting rights, to varying degrees, even after a person has served his or her prison sentence and is no longer on probation or parole.”

In Florida, the state with the highest population of disenfranchised residents, almost 1 in 4 Blacks is disenfranchised and in Mississippi almost 14 percent of the Black population can’t vote because of a prior felony conviction. Iowa’s Republican governor reversed an automatic restoration order in 2011, placing an additional hurdle in the way of returning citizens. Two years later, Holder said less than 12 people out of 8,000 that have completed their sentences during the current governor’s tenure can vote in the next election.

“That’s moving backwards – not forward. It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values,” said Holder. “These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered, but repealed.”

U.S., Caribbean to Probe Terrorist Threat Aimed at CAL Out of Guyana

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

Investigators in the U.S., Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago have been asked by Guyana to help find out who made a terrorist threat aimed at a Caribbean Airlines flight out of Guyana to New York.

Guyana’s Minister of Transport, Robeson Benn, told the country’s National Assembly on Monday that Guyana had asked the three countries to probe the circumstances of a telephone threat made to Caribbean Airlines in Barbados by an unknown caller who was simply identified as someone with a Trinidadian accent.

“The person ran off immediately when he was pressed for more information,” Benn said in a statement about the incident which had triggered a warning to Americans and other passengers not to fly on CAL flights from Guyana. Both the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown and the Cheddi Jagan International Airport had issued the warning on Sunday. Guyana imposed a “red alert” on aircraft and passengers who planned to the U.S.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the embassy advises all U.S. citizens in Guyana traveling on Caribbean Airlines (CAL) to the United States from Monday, February 10 through Wednesday, February 12, 2014 to make alternative travel arrangements,” said the embassy in a notice on Facebook and on its website.

The Transport Minister made a statement to parliament about the incident, telling lawmakers there had been a 13 per cent cancellation by passengers leaving Guyana after the threat was made and the alert issued. An early morning flight left Guyana on Monday and a CAL representative had told Demerara Waves, a Guyana news organization that the flight mentioned in the threat had left with all the passengers who had been booked to depart.

“There were no cancellations. We had a very good showing of passengers. The U.S. citizens traveled as well,” a CAL representative had said shortly after the plane’s departure.

But Benn said later that the threat had affected airline travel out of the country as some people cancelled their bookings.

The flight targeted in the threat was BW 484 which subsequently landed safely at New York’s John Kennedy International Airport. Apart from some delays, the light left Guyana without any incident after the authorities had imposed a security “red alert” at the Guyana airport, according to Benn.

Haiti: President Offers to Open Government to Opponents

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

CMC – President Michel Martelly has offered to open his government to opponents who have been involved in political talks on ways to hold credible elections, but rejected calls to evict his Prime Minister, Laurent Lamothe.

Politicians who participated in recent talks with the president told the Haitian-Caribbean News Network (HCNN) on Wednesday that Martelly made the offer in a move to ease the political atmosphere as the country prepares to hold crucial legislative and local elections this year.

“President Martelly has offered to integrate opposition parties into the government, because he wants to show openness,” Rudy Herivaux, the leader of the opposition Confidence party said. “And this is a good thing,” he added.

However, a smaller group of opposition parties declined the offer to become part of the government, arguing that they only want to come to power through elections.

“President Martelly showed openness and flexibility in the discussions, and there are parties that want to integrate the government,” said Sauveur Pierre-Etienne, the leader of the People’s Struggle Party (OPL).

“But we are not interested in participating in the government because we want to remain an opposition party and we only want to come to power through credible elections,” he said.

During the discussions, government and legislative authorities along with representatives of a wide range of political parties have reached a consensus on the opportunity to organize one combined ballot to elect two thirds of the 30-member senate assembly and to renew the whole lower chamber and local government entities.

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