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Black Businesses Help Reduce Black Youth Crime

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WASHINGTON (NNPA) – One of the most powerful agents in curtailing Black youth crime in major cities is the presence of Black business owners, according to Karen Parker, professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware.

“Not only have [criminologists] not looked at all the aspects of the urban economy by focusing on unemployment and poverty and joblessness, but then we also present this picture that African Americans are not invested, are detached, are not involved with the community. This article suggests that they very much are,” says Parker, author of the study, “The African American Entrepreneur – Crime Drop Relationship: Growing African American Business Ownership and Declining Youth Violence.”

She explained, “By looking at business ownership, we’re seeing [Black business owners’] presence in their neighborhoods…and how they are having a very positive impact on the violence there, specifically among youth.”

Her research appears in last month’s Urban Affairs Review and analyzes the growth in Black entrepreneurship compared to Black juvenile arrests in large cities, as well as a few independent variables such as deindustrialization and income inequality.

The data comes from the beginning of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s. Both periods saw specific job losses (manufacturing jobs in the ‘90s, professional jobs in the 2000s) and rises in Black entrepreneurship. According to the report, the number of Black-owned businesses increased by more than 32 percent between 1992 and 1997; Black-owned businesses that employed others increased 43 percent.

During the weak economic times following the September 11 attacks, the number of Black-owned businesses rose more than 60 percent – “more than triple the national rate of 18 percent for all U.S. businesses according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners,” Parker points out in the study.

At the same time, violent offenses involving Black youth dropped about 29 percent in large cities across the nation.

“The thing that was surprising – and it came from [criminologists’] view that look, maybe it’s not the African American owned businesses at all. Maybe it’s just that there are jobs now when jobs weren’t there before, and that’s what leading to the [drop in] crime rate,” Parker said. “But I actually tested for that. I tested for employment of African Americans in business and service and manufacturing, and that did not explain away the presence of the African American businesses specifically. It wasn’t the fact that they were simply there to employ, it was more than that.”

By her analysis, the positive influence of visible Black business owners seems to flow in two ways. “First, minority-owned businesses, through the lives of their owners, employees, and families, can serve an important function – as role models to urban youth in the community,” she writes.

“Business growth also means an inflow of resources into the community, reducing the level of economic disadvantage that has been linked to urban violence.”

Culturally, the presence of Black business owners in a community, particularly if there is poverty or other socioeconomic disadvantage, often raises morale and staves off the cynicism that social scientists have tied to high crime among youth. The study also asserts that Black business owners tend to be involved in maintaining other positive areas of their communities, such as schools, churches, and recreation centers.

Although Parker’s study did not conclusively find that employing other Black people had an affect on youth crime, it did cite other research that Black business owners hire other people of color almost always, whether their business is situated in non-White communities. Black-owned businesses also offer culturally relevant services and products to their Black and brown neighbors, and recycle Black dollars within their communities longer.

The study summarizes, “Thus, their presence in the community is critically important, providing jobs, social networks, and increasing the economic base, particularly during recent times of deindustrialization and elevating levels of Black concentrated disadvantage.”

Parker says, “Rarely in the work that I do as a criminologist looking at urban crime, is there a positive message. There’s something so positive about saying, look at the presence of these individuals and the positive [impact] they’re having and they’re contributing significantly to the crime rate.”

There were more than 1.9 million Black-owned businesses in the most recent Census Survey of Business Owners (2007), up from 1.1 million in the 2002 survey. This growth is despite poor access to financial services, weaker professional networks, and a host of other challenges that hinder Black Americans from using traditional routes to entrepreneurship.

“Given all the odds of lack of resources, lack of support, lack of survivability – the impact on their own families in terms of having to use their own incomes, their own family money, their own personal credit cards – let’s acknowledge the role they’re serving,” Parker said.

“For a policymaker…let’s not just acknowledge them, let’s support them. Just in access to capital, provide business loans to them, give them access to business credit and other things… and training programs to maintain their businesses. Because empirically, they’re having an amazing impact on their communities and the youth there.”

Advocates Hope Obama's Clemencies will Pave Way for Other Releases

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Prisoners’ advocate groups hope President Barack Obama’s decision to grant clemency to nearly two dozen, non-violent drug offenders is just the beginning of a wave of future commutations that would disproportionately impact African Americans held in federal prisons.

“For some years we have needed reform in our criminal justice system,” said Cynthia Roseberry, project manager for the Clemency Project 2014, a network of lawyers and prisoners’ advocates that assist federal prisoners seeking sentence reductions. “This move by the president is one way to fix some of these draconian sentences that were handed down and not corrected through retroactive application of new law and new guidelines.”

In 2014, the Department of Justice announced a new clemency initiative designed to improve the perception of the criminal justice system and promote parity in sentencing. The Justice Department will use six criteria as they prioritize which clemency applications to review. Applicants have to meet the following requirements:

  • They are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;
  • They are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels;
  • They have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;
  • They do not have a significant criminal history;
  • They have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and
  • They have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.

According to The Sentencing Project, a research group that advocates for criminal justice reform, nearly half of the inmates in federal prisons were convicted of drug crimes.

In an issue brief on the drivers of growth in the prison population, researchers with the Urban Institute, an independent research and policy think tank, reported that, “The biggest driver of growth in the prison population is in federally sentenced drug offenders, almost all of whom were convicted of drug trafficking.”

The report continued: “Incarceration for drug offenses disproportionately affects nonwhite offenders: in FY 2013, over 75 percent of all drug offenders in federal prison were black or Hispanic.” Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that advocates for reforms to sentencing laws that protect public safety, said that she was thrilled that President Obama was making good on his promise to provide relief for federal prisoners serving excessively long mandatory minimum sentences.

Donel Marcel Clark, a member of FAMM, who received clemency last week, had already served more than 20 years of a 30-year prison sentence, “for participating in a nonviolent drug conspiracy, his first and only offense, during a time when his family was facing financial hardship,” FAMM officials noted in a press release.

The release continued: “During his time in prison, Donel has maintained a perfect disciplinary record, earned outstanding work reviews, taken numerous classes, and worked to maintain strong relationships with his children.”

In a letter to Terry Barnes, one of the prisoner’s granted clemency last week, President Obama wrote that the power to grant pardons and commutations embodies the basic belief in our democracy, that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws. The president also reminded Barnes that he had the capacity to make good choices, even in the face of self-doubt and people that question whether or not he can change.

By making good choices, the president said, that Barnes would not only affect his life and those closest to him, but also the possibility that others in his circumstance could get the same second chance that Barnes’ received.

“We hope and expect to see more commutations granted through the end of his term,” said Stewart. Neil Eggleston, the assistant and counsel to the president, wrote in a blog post that President Obama was building on his commitment to address instances of unfairness in sentencing, Eggleston wrote that President Obama has granted 43 commutations, compared to President George W. Bush who only commuted 11 sentences during his two terms in the White House.

Roseberry said that if you look back at history, there haven’t been many other presidents to grant clemency in this way, noting that the president’s most recent order more than doubled the number of sentences that he had commuted earlier during his tenure as president.

“This is historic,” she added. “By doing this the president has restored hope to so many people and their families who never thought that they would be able to sit down for a meal with each other again or to embrace each other again or to re-enter society as a family again. That hope is priceless.”

Supreme Court to Decide Pollution Standards for Black Communities

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As fossil fuel companies and environmental groups fight over the future of American energy, people of color suffer the casualties.

The latest battle is occurring in the Supreme Court with National Mining Association v. Environmental Protection Agency and its accompanying cases, in which coal mining companies and coal-fired power plants have sued the EPA over new regulations on the air pollution that overwhelmingly settles on communities of color.

The suit focuses on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) the EPA issued to coal- and oil-fueled power plants in 2011. It’s the first-ever federal rule to limit toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants, which would be required to reduce emissions by upgrading their facilities to more public health-friendly systems.

Very few power plants run on oil, but the United States relies on coal for nearly half of its electricity.

Leading coal mining corporations assert that the EPA should not be allowed to issue such regulations without first considering the upgrade and compliance costs they impose. In other words, the plaintiffs want to continue manufacturing without the available community health safeguards, arguing that these regulations present an unfair financial burden and infringe on their ability to make profits.

Coal-powered facilities spew literal tons of pollutants into the air each day. This cocktail of toxins causes cancer, chronic heart conditions, ADD/ADHD, and respiratory diseases ranging from asthma to lung cancer in the surrounding communities. Mercury, in particular, is a neurotoxin—long-term exposure is known to cause fetal birth defects, brain damage or delayed development, emotional disturbances and psychotic reactions, and more.

“Sixty-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of these coal-fire power plants,” said Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program. She said that African American children are two to three times as likely to miss school, be hospitalized, or die from asthma attacks than White children.

She said, “For us, it’s very much a civil rights issue if certain communities are being disproportionately impacted by the pollutants that come from these coal plants.”

The NAACP is one of several groups backing the EPA in the suit. The NAACP’s accompanying report titled, “Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People,” grades and ranks nearly 400 coal plants around the nation. It also documents the 75 worst-offending facilities, the worst-offending companies, the toll on local communities, and the national and global implications if the emissions from these plants are not improved.

“A total of four million people live within three miles of these 75 failing plants…out of these four million people, nearly 53 percent are people of color,” the report reads. “Living in such close proximity to coal plants has serious consequences for those communities. Coal plants are single-handedly responsible for a large proportion of toxic emissions that directly poison local communities in the United States.”

According to the report, the top five plants with the worst environmental justice performance were: Crawford Gen. Station and Fisk Gen. Station in Chicago; Hudson Gen. Station in Jersey City, N.J.; Valley Power Plant in Milwaukee, Wis.; and State Line Plant in Hammond, Ind.

Most of the top offenders are in the Midwest, which houses 32 percent of all of the nation’s coal-powered energy plants. Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Virginia, and Colorado are home to the most failing plants.

In addition to severe health problems, the Black communities will bear the worst of the effects of climate change that result from unchecked air pollution.

“Indeed, Hurricane Katrina and the tornadoes in Pratt City, AL have already vividly demonstrated that the shifts in weather patterns caused by climate change disproportionately affect African Americans and other communities of color in the United States—which is a particularly bitter irony, given that the average African American household emits 20 percent less [carbon dioxide] per year than the average white American household,” the report states.

“The six states with the largest proportion of African-Americans are all in the Atlantic hurricane zone, and all are expected to experience more severe storms as a consequence of global warming.”

EarthJustice, a nonprofit environmental justice organization, estimates that the MATS regulation would reduce mercury emissions by 75 percent, preventing up to 11,000 premature deaths, nearly 5,000 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks, and more than 540,000 missed work days each year. Some power plants have already adopted the latest methods for reducing impact on human health; the MATS regulation would require all power plants to match the best-practicing plants’ emission levels by a certain date.

The Supreme Court heard arguments for the case last week in a 90-minute hearing. A decision is expected by summer.

“Fifty percent of all coal-fired power plants are 40 years old or older. The coal industry is trying to protect its old clunkers,” said Lisa Garcia, vice president of Litigation for Healthy Communities for EarthJustice, and chief advisor to the EPA on the creation of the mercury standards.

“Interestingly, no one is saying, ‘don’t build it.’ Everyone is basically saying, ‘we can do this better.’ So you can operate and make your profits, but we can also do it in a healthier way that protects communities.”

Broader Hiring Practices for Ex-Offenders Receive Bipartisan Support

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By Freddie Allen
Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As the economy recovers and violent crime hits 30-year lows, lawmakers continue to trade in their tough on crime rhetoric for smarter measures, joining ex-offenders and workers rights advocates to advance fair hiring practices for the 70 million adults in the U.S. that have arrests or conviction records.

Recently, a diverse coalition of 181 groups wrote a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to take executive action to address discrimination in hiring practices.

The group was led by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a non-partisan group that researches issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers, All of Us or None, an organizing initiative started by formerly-incarcerated people to fight against discrimination faced by ex-offenders after their release, and the People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO) Network, a collective of faith-based community organizations.

“Almost one in three adults in the United States has a record that will show up on a routine criminal background check,” the letter said. “This creates a serious barrier to employment for millions of workers, especially in communities of color hardest hit by decades of over-criminalization.”

According to The Sentencing Project, a research and training group that promotes criminal justice reform, even though Blacks account for about 13 percent of the U.S. population, almost 40 percent of people in state or federal prison were Black compared to 35 percent who were White. Black males have a 32 percent chance of serving time in prison and White males have a 6 percent chance.

Not only are African American men over-represented in the criminal justice system, they are also disparately impacted by discrimination in labor market, if they are convicted of a crime.

The January 2015 NELP report on fair hiring practices called those convictions a “modern scarlet letter” that have negatively impacted communities of color devastated by the “War on Drugs” and suffer higher rates of unemployment compared to Whites.

The report also noted that African-American men with a conviction are 40 percent less likely than whites with a conviction to receive a job callback.

In the press release about the groups letter, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national rights groups stated, “Decades of over-criminalization have disproportionately harmed communities of color, leaving millions of Americans with lifelong barriers to economic security.”

The unemployment rate for Black men over 20 years old was 10.4 percent in February was more than double the jobless rate for White men (4.5 percent).

That economic insecurity doesn’t just linger in those communities of color, the damage has a ripple effect, spreading across the nation.

“Economists estimated that because people with felony records and formerly incarcerated people have poor job prospects, the nation’s gross domestic product in 2008 was between $57 and $65 billion lower than it would have been had they been gainfully employed,” stated the NELP report.

A 2013 NELP report found that 17 million FBI checks were conducted for employment screening purposes in 2012, but half of those records lacked updated information. Despite the high-level of inaccuracy, nine in 10 employers still conduct criminal background checks.

The NELP report on fair hiring recommended that President Obama issue a Fair Chance Hiring executive order “that incorporates the best practices implemented by private- and public-sector employers,” and also requires federal contractors to remove the criminal history question from the application and delaying the background check until the company offers the applicant the job.

“A federal-level fair-chance hiring policy would have far-reaching impact, as nearly one in four U.S. workers is employed by a federal contractor, a subcontractor, or the federal government. Major national corporations, such as Walmart, Target, and Home Depot, have already adopted fair-chance hiring policies. President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force also endorsed fair-chance hiring policies,” stated the press release.

The report said that the number of jurisdictions that have adopted “fair-chance” reforms is jumped from 20 in 2013 to 42 in 2014.

“Senators Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have introduced the REDEEM Act (S. 2567), which allows for the sealing and expungement of a range of federal juvenile and non-violent offenses, while also addressing the flaws in the FBI’s criminal records systems,” stated the report. “Congressmembers Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) have introduced companion bills (H.R. 2865/H.R. 2999) to improve the integrity of the FBI background checks conducted for employment screening purposes.”

During a recent conversation with David Simon, the creator of “The Wire,” President Obama said that even though the economy is recovering and unemployment is coming down drastically, low participation rates in the labor market continue to be a concern.

“When you breakdown why people are not getting back into the labor force even as jobs are being created a big chunk of that is the young male population with felony histories,” said President Obama. “Now where we have the opportunity to give them a pathway, they’re foreclosed.”

President Obama continued: “Here’s the good news: there is an increasing realization on the left, but also on the right, politically, that what we’re doing is counterproductive. Either from a libertarian perspective, the way we treat non-violent drug crimes is problematic, and from a fiscal perspective, it’s breaking the bank. You end up spending so much more on prison than you would with these kids being in school or even going to college, it’s counterproductive. We’re all responsible for finding a solution to this.”

Black Women Protest Delay in Confirming Loretta Lynch

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Hundreds of Black women and girls representing the Black Women’s Roundtable descended on the nation’s capital last week to petition the Senate to confirm U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch as the next attorney general.

“Loretta Lynch has been waiting over 140 days to get a vote on the floor. That’s never happened in the history of this country,” says Melanie Campbell, convener of the Roundtable, and president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation NCBCP).

The Black Women Roundtable is the intergenerational arm of the NCBCP.

“They’re holding her up because they’re having a partisan battle,” said Campbell. “…. Why is this happening to a Black woman? The American people believe in fair play. It’s not fair, and it’s not correct.”

Campbell was one of about two-dozen members of the Roundtable who visited Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office on Thursday and attempted to meet with him on the matter. They were told he was busy and would not be able to meet with them, or greet them.

The women held a prayer vigil outside his office; security was called, but did not escort them out. They were able to meet with McConnell’s chief of staff; Campbell describes his response as “on-message stock answers.”

In addition to meeting with representatives, the Black Women Roundtable (BWR) released its 2015 Black Women in the United States report.

“This report is a little bit different than the last one in that it gives both the 50,000-foot view by providing data analysis across a variety of areas and indicators,” said the report’s editor, Avis Jones-DeWeever. “But in addition to that, it’s augmented by the stories from women…who are BWR members in states all across this country, whose voices are literally infused into this report. So you not only get the data, you also get the narratives behind the numbers.”

A similarity it shares with last year’s inaugural edition is the mix of celebration and concern.

And the concerns are many. First, every state with a large Black population, with the exception of Maryland and Delaware, plus Washington, D.C., is home to high numbers of uninsured Black women. All of the states in question have refused to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. At the same time, reproductive services are disappearing in these states, resulting in a rising maternal mortality rate among Black women, from 30 to 42 deaths out of 100,000 live births (compared to 12 deaths for White women).

“Already as it stands, Black women have maternal mortality rates that are frankly unheard of anywhere else in the industrialized world,” Jones-DeWeever said at the report release event. “If you are a Black woman in America, you have a better chance of surviving childbirth if you gave birth in Libya than in the United States of America. Our women are dying because of lack of care, and there’s no excuse for that.”

Black women also experience violence at disproportionately high rates; they’re more than twice as likely as all women, and three times as likely as White women, to be murdered. More than half of Black women who knew their murderers were romantically involved with them.

Economic success is another uphill battle. Despite national gains, Black women’s unemployment has remained the highest among all women – 8.9 percent compared to the national rate of 5.5 percent. While that’s lower than last year, the rate has been on a slow rise, contrary to unemployment stats for other women.

In the report, wage disparities play out across income categories, and especially across education levels. For example, Black women with master’s degrees earn slightly less than Black men with bachelor’s, and White men, Asians, and Latinos with associates or post-secondary degrees.

The good news, though, is that Black women are seizing political power as never before.

This year, Alma Adams (D-N.C.) became the 100th Black woman elected to Congress. There are two new Black-woman mayors of major cities. Two new congressional representatives became the first Black congresswomen elected from their states (New Jersey and Utah), and Mia Love became the first Black woman ever elected to Congress as a Republican. There are two Black women running for Senate in 2016 – It’s been 17 years since a Black woman has occupied a Senate seat.

Three Black women representatives, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), and Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), were also present at the launch and spoke on the need to be involved in the reproductive, civil, and human rights, and other political conversations that impact Black women most.

The Black Women in the United States report is released each year as part of the BWR’s National Women of Power Summit, which brings girls and women from all over the nation to exercise their civil rights, develop solutions for sociopolitical problems, and honor Black women making strides in these areas.

“We try to bill the summit as an organizing summit…we’re going to take our key priority issues, delve deep, and then…get into smaller groups and talk strategy,” Campbell said. ““We’re not a research institute, but we know we have to have good data to be able to quantify what we’re doing [and] to understand what’s going on with us. We try make sure we tell the story about the challenges, but also what we’re doing well.”

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