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S.C. Cop Charged with Shooting Black Man in Back

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By Barney Blakeney
Special to the NNPA from The Charleston Chronicle

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Leaders of local civil rights organizations had been taking a wait-and- see approach to the April 4 North Charleston police shooting death of 50-year-old Walter Scott, but voiced concern that Scott was unarmed when he was shot and that police said Scott had run away from the officer attempting to arrest him. Officer Michael Slager was charged on Tuesday with murder after a video of the incident revealed he wantonly shot Scott in the back.

The video shows Slager drawing his service weapon and firing eight times as Scott runs away, eventually falling after the final round struck him.

“We’ve lost another Black man shot by the police,” North Charleston Branch NAACP President Ed Bryant said on Monday before the video’s existence was made public. “We have Ferguson right here,” he said alluding to the nationally protested police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson Mo.

Police had not released much information about the North Charleston incident. It was being investigated by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), which follows protocol in such incidents.

On Monday, North Charleston police said 33-year-old Michael Slager shot Scott after a traffic stop because of a faulty brake light. According to a police report made public Monday, Slager called for backup during a foot pursuit before saying he had deployed his taser. Later, however, he said shots had been fired and the suspect was down.

Scott was pronounced dead at the scene by EMS paramedics.

“My thing is Scott did not have to die,” Bryant said Monday. “I think it is the unwarranted killing of another Black man.”

North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers agreed.

In a statement delivered Tuesday afternoon, Driggers said the video obtained by the victim’s family that later was turned over to SLED revealed there was no struggle with Slager. It shows Scott running away from Slager and the officer drawing his weapon and firing at Scott’s back multiple times.

Initially, Slager claimeded that Scott had tried to wrestle the taser from him and use it against him before he shot Scott. Driggers said that version of the incident was proven to be inaccurate by the video that was recorded by a witness.

“Surely some questions must be answered,” said Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott Monday before the contents of the video was made public. “It makes no sense that the officer could get close enough to someone running away and fight over a taser and the man ends up dead. Tragically, another unarmed Black man has been shot by the police.”

S.C. National Action Network President James Johnson said he was present when the witness gave Scott’s family the video, but did not know what it showed. At the time, he agreed that a lot of questions remained unanswered. “We’re asking for transparency,” he said.

That request was met Tuesday. “I knew the tape was damaging although I didn’t know what was on it,” Johnson said after North Charleston police held the press conference to reveal the new development. “North Charleston police made a quick response and the right response,” he said. “The arrest was the right thing to do. Now we hope the solicitor will prosecute.”

Black Women Face Challenges in Building Wealth

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WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Black women are the only group that has not recovered the jobs they lost in the recession. Five years into national recovery, the unemployment rate for Black women has even risen a little since December, from 8.2 percent to 9.2 percent.

On the flip side, employment brings its own unique difficulties for Black women, too. According to a new report commissioned by Essence magazine, 80 percent of Black women surveyed believed that they could not advance in their careers without altering aspects of their identities. Additionally, 57 percent believed that they had to “look a certain way” to be promoted, compared to 39 percent of White women who thought similarly.

And while Black women are more optimistic, ambitious, and self-confident in their careers than their White counterparts, they are much more likely to say they are different at home than they are at work.

“…[T]he additional hurdle of real or perceived stereotypes complicates the work experience. The conversation around work/life balance for Black women also impacted by the reality of pay inequities and higher levels of unemployment in our communities which may necessitate working multiple jobs to make ends meet,” says Essence editor-in-chief Vanessa K. De Luca.

“We know that African-American women are three times as likely to be head of household in comparison to the general population, therefore success at work is both a personal and an economic priority.”

One thing that holds true for Black is the challenge of building wealth.

The median wealth, or net worth, among single Black women is just $100; and if they are raising minors they have no wealth at all, according to a recent analysis of data from the federal Survey of Consumer Finances. In fact, nearly half of all households headed by a single Black woman in 2007 had zero or negative wealth.

The median wealth among single White women is $41,500 and only climbs as they age. Meanwhile, 1 in 4 Black women over the age of 65 who receives Social Security benefits rely on it as their only source of income.

“Wealth is something like a security package,” says William Darity, economics professor at Duke University, speaking on a panel sponsored by the African American Policy Foundation (AAPF). “For those who lack wealth, they find themselves in precarious, vulnerable situations…and those faced by Black women are perhaps more severe.”

Recession job losses hit Black women especially hard, since most of the downsizing took place in the service and public sectors where Black women are overrepresented. Additionally, wages have stagnated as the cost of living continues to rise, from housing to childcare to education.

Even if wages had been growing, the wage gap persists – and not even education can bridge the chasm. Consider: 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, according to data from the 2013 Census Current Population Survey.

And even without the gap, wages alone are not enough to build wealth.

“The major way in which people acquire significant wealth in this country is through inheritances or gifts,” Darity says. “When people say Black people are somehow inferior, or are doing something wrong as to why they don’t have wealth, that is completely wrong.”

Alternatively, wealth can be generated through strategic investments, such as land ownership, stock, appreciating valuables (such as wines and collectibles), and even creating or backing successful start-ups. Black people tend to have poor access to these avenues. Wage disparities do not leave much disposable income for these options, and traditional lenders are notoriously predatory and/or discriminatory to Black people seeking funding.

A high net worth offers cushion from unexpected emergencies, and allows families to rely less on individual paychecks for financial stability. Because of this, social safety net programs are often the only thing keeping middle- and lower-class Black families from sliding into destitution when living check-to-check fails.

“The cruelty is… in these same policies that purport to help,” says George Lipsitz, chair of the AAPF board and board member of the National Fair Housing Alliance, also speaking on the panel. “They prosecute Black women for their poverty…deprive them of their parental rights, and it’s all made possible by the litany that people who have problems are the problem.”

As justice movements bubble up around the country, issues affecting Black women are gaining more attention. With recent reports such as “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected”; “Black Women in the United States, 2015”; and “In Our Own Voice: Black Women on Abortion, Contraception and Reproductive Justice,” researchers are laying the tracks for change with conclusive, targeted data.

“We have to challenge the narrative that because we have historically overcome obstacles, there is no need to remove these obstacles,” says Janine Jackson, program director for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting and moderator of the AAPF panel. “We have to figure out, what would a new economic agenda that addresses these obstacles look like?”

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.”

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