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Blacks Underrepresented in Stem Classes

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Many young African Americans will be shut out of the high paying jobs of the future, if they don’t earn a degree in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), according to a new report.

The new report by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 advocacy and outreach groups, said that less than 3 percent of Blacks have earned a degree in the natural sciences or engineering fields by the age of 24 and that the STEM labor force is projected to grow by 2.6 million jobs over the next five years. Researchers said that more than half of those jobs will go to people with bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

In a press release about the report Wade Henderson, president and CEO of both the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, said that equal access to a STEM education is crucial to the future of our country and economy, and to the lives of millions of minority and women students.

“We must – all of us – examine what systemic changes are necessary to ensuring that STEM learning is inclusive, engaging, and equally accessible, so that all of our children have the same opportunities to adequately prepare for college and for careers that will allow them to support themselves and their families,” said Henderson.

According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM workers, specifically in computer and math careers, make more than $80,000 per year. Even workers that graduate with associate’s degrees earn about 10 percent more than those working in non-STEM jobs.

“Yet, right now, all across America, there are nearly 40 million adults – disproportionately people of color and those who grew up in poverty – who do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent,” stated the report. “And they are effectively locked into the lowest rungs of the occupational ladder.”

The majority of poor children don’t know enough words or have enough math skills when they start kindergarten and confronted with less experienced teachers and limited resources are ill-equipped for Algebra, a prerequisite for higher-level math courses, by the time they reach the 8th grade.

Some states failed to provide minority students access to those high-level math and English courses altogether.

“In 2013, there were 11 states where not one Black student took the Advanced Placement (AP) computer science exam, which allows high school students to earn college credit: Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming,” stated the report. “Nearly 20 percent of African-American high school students attend a high school that does not offer any AP courses.”

The report included a number of policy proposals and necessary actions for federal, state, and local lawmakers as well the private sector and philanthropic groups designed to encourage diversity in STEM careers and to raise the awareness of opportunities in STEM in the Black community. Those proposals included provided access to STEM courses as early as elementary school, investing more resources into training teachers, developing technical job programs for an evolving workforce, and asking business and industry leaders to collaborate with colleges to make sure that students are gaining skills to fill vacant STEM jobs.

The report noted that, “The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) warned that 300,000 or so college students graduating each year with bachelor’s and associate’s degrees in STEM fields is one million off the mark.

The Department of Education launched The Equity and Excellence Commission, in an effort to eliminate the racial and socioeconomic disparities in education. That group recommended ensuring high-quality early learning programs for low-income students, distributing highly effective teachers equitably, incentivizing the development of racially and socioeconomically diverse schools, and strengthening parent engagement programs.

The Leadership Conference report said that it’s time for the United States to the examine the pressures that squeeze minority children out of the STEM pipeline and to accelerate the reforms that work to close the opportunity and achievement gaps.

“STEM education isn’t merely a new feel-good fad,” stated the report. “It is now – and will continue to be – the backbone of our dynamic and constantly changing world. And it’s critical that we make sure that it’s equally available to every child.”

Black Unemployment Dips to 10.3 percent

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The Black unemployment rate fell slightly from 10.4 percent in December to 10.3 percent in January and is still on track to hit single digits by the middle of the year.

Last month, Valerie Wilson, the director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy for the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a nonpartisan think tank focused on low- and middle-income workers, made the prediction that the Black jobless rate would fall below 10 percent, adding that the economy is recovering gradually and lawmakers shouldn’t do anything that would stall that progress.

Wilson warned that more spending cuts or raising interest rates could slow down the economy.

“If there are no signs of inflationary pressures, I don’t see the rush to do it,” said Wilson.

Economists attributed the slight uptick in the national unemployment rate, from 5.6 percent in December to 5.7 percent in January, to workers feeling more confident about their job prospects and rejoining the labor force.

With revisions to the number of jobs added in November and December, the Labor Department reported that more than 1 million jobs were added to the United States economy over the past three months, the best 3-month average since 1997.

Following the national trend, the White unemployment rate rose from 4.8 percent in December to 4.9 percent in January and the labor force participation rate, the share of workers who are employed or currently looking for jobs, also increased from 59.8 percent to 60.1 percent.

Even though, the Black labor force participation rate fell from 61.3 in December to 61 percent in January, it still remains higher than it was in January 2014. The participation rate for Black men over 20 years-old also decreased in January, but was one percentage point higher last month than it was this time last year.

Black women and White men and women over 20 years-old had higher participation rates in January 2015, compared to December 2014, but among the adult worker groups, only Black men had a higher labor force participation rate in January 2015 compared to January 2014.

The unemployment rate for Black men over 20 years old decreased from 11 percent in December to 10.6 percent in January, and the jobless rate for White men over 20 years old also increased from 4.4 percent to 4.5 percent in January.

The jobless rate for Black women rose from 8.2 percent in December to 8.7 percent in January and for the second month in a row, the jobless rate for White women was 4.4 percent.

In a statement on January’s jobs report Chad Stone, Chief Economist for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research and analysis group that works on federal and state fiscal policy, said that as the labor market continues to improve “significant slack” still lingers.

“Ongoing labor market slack is particularly hard on the long-term unemployed, whose skills tend to erode while they remain jobless and who often seem stigmatized for being out of work so long when they apply for a job,” said Stone. “It’s unfortunate that federal UI [unemployment insurance] benefits for the long-term unemployed expired at the end of 2013; it’s even more unfortunate that in recent years, several states have made it harder for people who lose their job through no fault of their own to qualify for any UI.”

Blacks disproportionately suffer from long-term unemployment and in an effort to address this crisis, Stone said that President Barack Obama has acknowledged these problems by including “a set of major UI proposals in his new budget request that would both shore up UI financing for the long term and reform the federal Extended Benefits program to make additional weeks of UI available automatically in states with high or rapidly rising unemployment rates.”

During a speech in Indianapolis, Ind., President Obama celebrated the latest jobs numbers and touted his middle-class economic philosophy crafted to help more working families afford higher education, get paid sick leave at work and save for retirement. Obama said “while we’ve come a long way, we’ve got more work to do to make sure that our recovery reaches more Americans, not just those at the top.”

Repeating a familiar theme, he said, “That’s what middle-class economics is all about – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”

Police Killings Underscore Need for Reform

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNNPA) – Blacks and Latinos are incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates in part because police target them for minor crimes, according a report titled, “Black Lives Matter: Eliminating Racial Inequity in the Criminal Justice System” by the Sentencing Project, a national, nonprofit group that advocates for criminal justice issues.

Researchers said disparities are punitive and can turn deadly over minor violations.

For example, Eric Garner, 43, was stopped and accused of selling untaxed cigarettes, a misdemeanor, before Officer Daniel Pantaleo choked him to death on a sidewalk of a Staten Island neighborhood. Officer Darren Wilson stopped 19-year-old Ferguson resident Michael Brown for jaywalking, before a disputed confrontation led to Wilson fatally shooting Brown.

Targeting low-level lawbreakers epitomizes “broken windows” popularized during William Bratton’s first tenure as commissioner of the New York Police Department under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Mayor Bill de Blasio reappointed Bratton to that position and he remains “committed to this style of order-maintenance policing,” even though only spurious correlations to its efficacy in crime prevention remain.

The report said that “flawed research” plagued an early study cited by proponents of the “broken windows” policies.

“More recent studies have found that high misdemeanor arrest volume, high summons volume, and other factors, have had only a modest association or no association at all with the city’s violent crime drop,” stated the report. “‘Stop and frisk’ activity has also been shown to have no impact on precincts’ robbery and burglary rates.”

Racial disparities that exist at every step in the criminal justice system, the report noted. That helpsexplain why Blacks and Latinos account for about 30 percent of the United States population, but 56 percent of the incarcerated population.

In Ferguson, police stopped White drivers for moving violations 68 percent of the time, and the majority of Black drivers were stopped for license or equipment problems, the report said. Once they were stopped, Black drivers were searched at almost twice the rate as White drivers (12 percent vs. 7 percent), but White drivers were more likely to have contraband than Blacks (34 percent vs. 22 percent).

“Yet blacks were twice as likely as whites to be arrested during a traffic stop (10 percent versus 5 percent),” the report continued, partly because, “black drivers were more likely to have arrest warrants compared to their white counterparts. Black drivers were more likely to have these warrants in part because of unpaid fines related to their disproportionate exposure to traffic enforcement.”

Nationally, Blacks and Hispanics are three times as likely to be searched by police during traffic stops.

Blacks were twice as likely as whites to be arrested during a traffic stop,” state the report. “These patterns hold even though police officers generally have a lower ‘contraband hit rate’ when they search Black versus White drivers.”

“Almost 1 in 3 people arrested for drug law violations is black, although drug use rates do not differ by race and ethnicity. An ACLU report found that blacks were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites in 2010,” stated the report. “This disparity expands at later stages of the criminal justice system so that 57% of people in state prisons for drug offenses are people of color, even though whites comprise over two-thirds of drug users, and are likely a similar proportion of sellers.”

The report continued: “Once arrested, people of color are also likely to be charged more harshly than whites; once charged, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences – all after accounting for relevant legal differences such as crime severity and criminal history.”

According to the report, these trends are driven by race-neutral laws that still have a significant have racial impact, criminal justice professionals influenced by racial bias, an underfunded criminal justice system, and policies that impose strict “collateral consequences” that make it harder for ex-offenders to return their home after prison.

If current incarceration trends hold, one in three Black teenage boys can anticipate going to prison in his lifetime, compared to one in 17 White boys. One in 18 Black women face the prospects of incarceration, compared to 1 in 111 White women.

“Federal prosecutors, for example, are twice as likely to charge African Americans with offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences than otherwise-similar Whites,” the report said. “State prosecutors are also more likely to charge Black rather than similar White defendants under habitual offender laws.”

The report said that defense attorneys might show signs of racial bias in how they prioritize their caseloads, and all-White juries spend less time deliberating in cases than racially diverse ones. All-White juries are also more likely to seek the death penalty in capital trials.

“Because the criminal justice system is an institution that primarily reacts to – rather than prevents – crime, it is ill-equipped to address many of the underlying causes of crime,” stated the report. “But mass incarceration’s hold on vast public resources and the obstacles erected for people with criminal records further erode the economic and social buffers that prevent crime.”

The report recommended addressing the source of racial bias in the criminal justice system, revising draconian drug laws through reforms like the Fair Sentencing Act, establishing alternatives to incarceration for low-income youth, and redirecting public spending to crime prevention and drug treatment.

“The Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) of 2010 reduced from 100:1 to 18:1 the weight disparity in the amount of powder cocaine versus crack cocaine that triggers federal mandatory minimum sentences,” stated the report. “California recently eliminated the crack-cocaine sentencing disparity for certain offenses, and Missouri reduced its disparity. Thirteen states still impose different sentences for crack and cocaine offenses.”

More than 90 percent of ex-offenders complete their sentences and return to their communities, where they are often shut out of jobs and those with felony drug convictions are blocked from receiving federal aid like food stamps and publicly subsidized housing, the report said.

During a recent appearance on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal,” Marc Mauer, the executive director for The Sentencing Project, said that there are hundreds of laws on the books in every state that restrict the ability of people coming out of prison to make ends meet once they return home.

Mauer added that the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission issued guidance to employers asking them to take a more nuanced approach to hiring.

“If we want people to succeed, we have to reconsider how we approach all these issues and not just say, ‘one size fits all. You have a conviction, that is it for you,’” said Mauer. “That doesn’t get us very far.”

Record-level of Criminal Exonerations

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Black criminal defendants accounted for roughly 46 percent of the 125 known exonerations in 2014, the highest annual number of exonerations recorded since 1989, according to a national registry that tracks wrongful convictions.

According to a recent report by The National Registry of Exonerations, the next highest total for exonerations was 88 recorded in 2012 and 87 in 2013. Researchers said that prosecutors have increasingly taken a harder look at flawed cases, which contributed to jump in exonerations.

The powerful role that prosecutors play in the criminal justice system has increasingly drawn sharp public criticism following grand jury proceedings involving the highly publicized deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of White police officers.

In the chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. and shooting deaths of John Crawford in Beavercreek, Ohio and the teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., grand juries chose not to indict police officers.

Attorney General Eric Holder has called for reform in sentencing practices and urged federal prosecutors to exercise greater discretion in non-violent drug cases.

Researchers with the exonerations registry reported 716 exonerations of Black criminal defendants, compared to 624 Whites through February 6, 2015. That includes 330 exonerations for homicides, 167 for sexual assaults and another 179 for other crimes including drug crimes.

Blacks accounted for roughly 46 percent of the known exonerations in 2014. The number of Black criminal defendants exonerated in 2013 accounted for 47 percent of known cases, compared to 40 percent for Whites.

In a press release about the report, Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan and the editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, said that the big story is that more prosecutors are working hard to identify and investigate claims of innocence.

The report credited the rise of conviction integrity units (CIU), “long-term operations that work to prevent, to identify and to remedy false convictions” for contributing to an increase in criminal exonerations.

“There were 49 CIU exonerations in 2014, including 10 murder exonerations in Brooklyn, and 29 of the 33 Harris County (Texas) drug-crime exonerations,” stated the report.

Gross said that many more innocent defendants were exonerated after pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit.

The report said that 47 of the 125 defendants (38 percent) who were exonerated in 2014 were cleared of criminal convictions to which they had pled guilty, also a record. In fact, in 58 of the 125 known exonerations from last year, no crime occurred, according to the report, and that number is likely to grow.

“The states with the most exonerations in 2014 are Texas (39), New York (17), Illinois (7), Michigan (7), Ohio (6), North Carolina (4), Louisiana (3), Maryland (3), Oregon (3), Pennsylvania (3), and Tennessee (3),” stated the report. “The states with the most recorded exonerations are not necessarily those where most false convictions have occurred.”

In Harris County, Texas defendants often pled guilty to drug crimes before evidenced was tested. When lab tests revealed that the evidence was not an illegal substance, the convictions were overturned. More than 90 percent of the drug-crime exonerations in 2014 were no-crime cases, including all 33 drug-crime exonerations in Harris County, the report said.

“Judging from known exonerations in 2014,” said Gross. “The legal system is increasingly willing to act on innocence claims that have often been ignored.”

Civil Rights Leaders Upset Over Non-Voting Rights Act Hearing

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By James Wright
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he sparked controversy on Jan. 14 saying that, “The Voting Rights Amendment Act” – which would restore the pre-clearance requirement by the Justice Department for states mainly in the South – “is not necessary.” He has decided not to hold a hearing on the bill that would restore key elements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and this has outraged African-American and civil rights leaders.

Goodlatte said the watered down Voting Rights Act (VRA) that is presently in effect protects voters from discrimination but Rep. George Butterfield (D-N.C.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, disagrees. “I am deeply troubled that Goodlatte doesn’t think it is necessary to restore the Voting Rights Act,” Butterfield said. “We began this Congress very hopeful to build upon the bipartisan work of Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). If this is indeed the position of the entire Republican Conference, then they have clearly drawn a line in the sand – one in which they are on the wrong side of.”

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat. It has been renewed with amendments by Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush – all Republicans. However, the Supreme Court gutted Section 4B and 5 of the VRA that required states and local jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to approve election law and practices with the Justice Department.

The court’s conservative majority said the VRA was outdated and that Congress should update it to reflect the changes that have taken place.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, also disagrees with Goodlatte’s decision. “Chairman Goodlatte has paid no attention to the rampant voting discrimination still happening throughout the country, most recently in the 2014 midterm elections,” Henderson said. “The now-weakened [VRA] lacks the ability to protect voters from discrimination before they are denied the right to vote. The remedies that the chairman says still exist are costly and time consuming to pursue through the courts and decisions in these cases often come long after voters have been excluded from elections that they have every right to participate in.”

Hilary Shelton, Washington NAACP bureau chief, said his group met with Goodlatte last year to discuss legislation to restore the VRA to its original form. “We made it clear that we supported hearings on the VRA and we have bipartisan support on this,” Shelton said. Shelton said that representatives of the Virginia NAACP, including those who live in Roanoke, a major city in Goodlatte’s district, met with him, too.

One of the arguments anti-VRA advocates make is the election and re-election of President Obama in 2008 and 2012, respectively. They say that minorities cannot be considered disenfranchised when the country, still majority White, elected an African-American to its top political position.

However, Kathleen Collier-Gonzalez, senior attorney and director of the voter protection for the Advancement Project, counters that view. “The measure of success is not the re-election of an African-American president,” she said. “You still have very serious problems in terms of people who don’t having ‘acceptable’ voting identification, and states reducing the early voting period and eliminating Sunday voting. As a matter of fact, I think there is a backlash because of our first African-American president.”

Shelton said it was because of the VRA that Obama became president and it should be preserved as a tool to help people become more involved in politics.

Collier-Gonzalez said government identification as the only acceptable form for citizens to be able to vote is similar to the poll taxes that some Southern states in the pre-Civil Rights era levied against its citizens with the subtle purpose of disenfranchising Blacks. She notes that many young people, seniors, and low-income citizens don’t have government identifications that are acceptable to voter registrars.

Butterfield is urging the House Republican leadership to override Goodlatte’s decision.

“I call on Speaker [John] Boehner, Majority Leader [Kevin] McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise to reverse this decision and make restoring the VRA a priority,” the representative said. “The weakening of the VRA left millions of Americans vulnerable to discriminatory state laws. To do nothing sends a terrible message, not only to minorities, but to anyone who believes the right to vote is essential to our democracy and way of life.”

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