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Black Lives Still Matters to Grassroots and Black Media

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The last several months have seen an outpouring of activism, with slogans coming in waves: “Justice for Mike Brown,” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” and “I Can’t Breathe.” But the phrase “Black Lives Matter” has emerged to bind each flashpoint into one cause.

The 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin and acquittal of George Zimmerman served as the first of these flashpoints, snowballing in August with the murder of Michael Brown.

“Ferguson is the birthplace of what’s happening right now. In many ways, Ferguson is like ground zero of these protests,” says DeRay McKesson, who has been protesting and organizing in Ferguson since August. He also co-produces a daily Ferguson newsletter with Johnetta Elzie.

“When I think of Black Lives Matter, that’s the way people talk about the work as it spreads. It’s easier to say, ‘Black lives matter,’ but I think the Ferguson Movement and Black Lives Matter are one in the same.”

Although McKesson is currently focused on ending police brutality and unaccountability, he believes in the importance of eventually dismantling all social and political oppression, particularly the types that target Black communities.

“If all lives mattered, we wouldn’t have to be here talking about Black lives matter,” he explained. “What we’re seeing is people confronting injustice. You see a collective confrontation against injustice…it’s a creating of a radical new space in Black politics.”

Black Lives Matter has also become an organization. Three activists, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi co-founded the project in the wake of the Zimmerman’s acquittal in 2013. Initially, the partners set up BlackLivesMatter.tumblr.com and encouraged activists and organizations to share tactics and broadcast their efforts to uplift Black communities via the website.

“[The website] was an interactive project and a way to really promote the need for Black organizing in our communities,” said Tometi, who also serves as the executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, based in Brooklyn, N.Y. “Even if you’re not working on police brutality explicitly, there are many other issues that are impacting our communities.”

Today, there are approximately 15 chapters of Black Lives Matter across the nation and one in Canada that are focused on a range of concerns in Black communities, including housing, youth activism, and LGBTQ rights. Its other website, BlackLivesMatter.com, allows Black organizations to meet, network, and collaborate. The project has also adopted a list of demands, including the arrest of Darren Wilson, an end to supplying law enforcement with military weapons, and reinvestment in Black communities devastated by poverty.

“Our lives are being systematically attacked all across the board…it is not just at the hands of police,” Tometi says. “Black Lives Matter is a movement about bringing some of those issues and people who are on the margins to the center, and not forgetting about the Black undocumented immigrants, the Black trans person or Black queer person, or disabled people. All Black lives matter. It’s not just having a movement that’s solely about Black heterosexual men, but about all of us.”

For Chinyere Tutashinda, founding member of the Bay Area-based BlackOUT Collective, the movement is about love for Black people and a desire for justice.

“It [started] around dealing with deaths, dealing with the murders, because that’s right there in your face – a life has been taken, there’s a sense of urgency to that,” she said. “But it is beyond that as well. It’s also really about how are we ending the war on Black people, and ending the way Black people are oppressed in this country.”

On November 28, members of the Collective chained themselves to a BART train as part of a series of actions to disrupt Black Friday consumerism. The Black Lives Matter movement had declared a national day of protest and economic boycott, with some groups successfully causing the closure of shopping malls, Wal-Marts, and other retailers.

The news of these protests, and the Black Lives Matter movement in general, has primarily spread through social media and Black media instead White-owned major mainstream outlets. Even when retailers saw an 11 percent drop in Black Friday sales, most mainstream media outlets did not include the movement’s efforts in their analyses of the profit loss.

“The media follows where the fire is. They have followed the fire really well… but I think that they’ve only done that because we made sure people were out on the streets,” Tutashinda explained. “The reason that Black media and Black journalism came to be was because we understood as a people and as a community that our stories weren’t being told. It’s ok [for Black journalists] to know that their role is to help this [movement] move forward.”

Black media has not only amplified the voices of those on the ground, but has also attempted to further conversations, most recently seen in Essence’s February 2015 issue.

The magazine dedicated its 45th anniversary issue to the Black Lives Matter movement, featuring 15 essays from luminaries such as Angela Davis, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Al Sharpton. It is the first time in the publication’s history that its cover did not feature an image, opting instead for bold words against an all-black cover.

“Black media has always brought attention to conversations that are happening throughout our community, and sometimes we’ve been the only source for some of the issues that are important. But what’s happening right now is that Black social media has not only been driving the conversation, but also the movement,” said Essence editor-in-chief Vanessa K. De Luca.

“A number of the people included in the package, they’re all saying that this isn’t just a movement emerging out of chaos. There really is a lot of organization and planning and thought around this whole movement,” she continues. “What I think is so important, especially for Black media, is that we can surface that information.”

In addition to the issue, the publication is launching a new Civil Rights Watch series to chronicle the movement’s developments, wins, and losses moving forward.

A few gains have already been made. The Justice Department is investigating police conduct in a few cities. Seven bills aimed at police regulation and accountability have been introduced in Congress. One was signed into law: the Death in Custody Reporting Act requires states receiving certain federal funds to record all citizen deaths in police custody, and for state Attorney Generals to analyze this information and develop a plan to reduce such deaths.

A handful of police indictments have also been attained, for the shootings of Rekia Boyd, Levar Jones, and recently Bernard Bailey, who was killed by a police officer four years ago in South Carolina.

“It’s great to see publications such as Essence magazine…have a special edition issue called Black Lives Matter. Media plays such a critical role in informing our people. And NNPA publications are so important for our communities especially in rural areas and big cities; this might be the only thing that they read about this movement for black lives,” Tometi says.

“[Media] thinks they have to do a balanced story… but in giving two sides equal platform it skews our understanding of how many people really agree with what. The way press culture operates provides a false sense of balance, when overwhelmingly, there’s support for the movement.”

Scholar Says Race-Neutral Approach Needed for Affirmative Action

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In the wake of unrelenting law suits seeking to abolish affirmative action coupled with nearly half of all universities dropping consideration of race as a factor in college admissions, it is time to shift gears and devise a less objectionable race-neutral approach that will diversify higher education, says a noted Black law professor.

During a recent discussion on affirmative action at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Sheryll Cashin, a professor of law at Georgetown University and author of Place, Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in America, said that as long as race-conscious affirmative action remains a factor in college admission, there will always be White students challenging affirmative action.

Cashin, who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, said “that law or politics will render race-based affirmative action extinct” and argued that it makes “sense to get started on race-neutral reforms that have the potential to create diversity and more social cohesion.”

She said that the percentage of four-year colleges that consider racial, ethnic or gender status in admissions has fallen from about 60 percent to 35 percent.

Others, however, do not favor a switch to de-emphasizing race and point to race-neutral affirmative programs in Texas and California that have not achieved the same results as previous race-conscious approaches. Even Texas’ 10 Percent Plan that guarantees the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class in Texas will be accepted at the University of Texas, the flagship campus, was challenged by a White applicant who had been rejected.

Backed by the Edward Blum’s Project for Fair Representation, a nonprofit group that wants to ban race-, gender- and ethnic-conscious affirmative action, Abigail Fisher a White woman, alleged that the University of Texas at Austin refused to accept her, because she was White, while Black and Latino students that she outperformed were admitted

Admission officials look at factors in addition to grade to determine the composition of an incoming class, not just grades.

In its “Brief of Opposition,” the university said: “The undisputed evidence demonstrated that Fisher would not have been offered fall admission in 2008 even if she had scored a perfect ‘6’ on her PAI – the portion of the admissions process where race is considered as ‘a factor of a factor of a factor.’”

Investigating Fisher’s claims, Pro Publica reported that 42 White students with less impressive grades than Fisher got in compared to just five Black and Latino students with similar academic achievement. Meanwhile, almost 170 Black and Latino students with the same or better grades as Fisher were also turned away.

In the 2012 term, the Supreme Court punted in Fisher v. University of Texas, sending the case back to the lower court for reconsideration. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 7-1 majority, said: “…Strict scrutiny imposes on the university the ultimate burden of demonstrating before turning to racial classifications, that available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice.”

In other words, the university had the burden of showing that show that gender- ethnicity- and race-conscious affirmative action admission policies are the only way to effectively achieve diversity on campus.

After the case was remanded, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit again ruled in favor of the University of Texas.

In 2003, the Supreme Court issued a pair of rulings involving University of Michigan that many thought had settled the issue.

By a vote of 6-3, the justices outlawed an undergraduate admissions process that, among other things, automatically awarded 20 points to people of color. But on a 5-4, the Supreme Court ruled that race could still be a factor in admissions as long as it is not given too much weight.

However, led by anti-affirmative action foe Ward Connerly, in 2006, Michigan voters banned the use of race in public education and employment, a state constitutional amendment that was later upheld by the Supreme Court.

In the May/June 2014 issue of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) journal, Cashin, who is also a PRRAC board member, wrote that “place rather than race in diversity programming will better approximate the structural disadvantages many children of color actually endure, while enhancing the possibility that we might one day move past the racial resentment affirmative action engenders.”

Cashin said that when college graduates sequester themselves it can lead to a phenomenon known as “opportunity hoarding,” when a well-resourced, educated ingroup sanctions practices that exclude outgroups.

“And the exclusion does not have to be intentional,” said Cashin.

Cashin said that place, or where you live, locks in advantages and disadvantages that are reinforced over time.

“What has happened increasingly is the affluent and the highly educated are separated from everyone else and that often determines who has access to high quality elementary and secondary education,” said Cashin.

“And when you have geographic concentration of highly educated affluent people in direct horizontal competition with people from lower-income impoverished settings for finite public resources you get savage inequality in the allocation of public resources,” said Cashin. “College-bound students from middle- and low-income environments, particularly African Americans students, disproportionately attend segregated schools and they have to be superhuman to overcome the structural disadvantages of place.”

In Cashin’s article on affirmative action published in the PRRAC journal, she concedes that, “Fewer African Americans may enter elite institutions under an affirmative action system based on structural disadvantage rather than under race-based affirmative action.” However, she argued that the social costs of racial-conscious programs outweigh any marginal benefits when race-neutral alternatives are available.

Lia Epperson, a law professor at the Washington College of Law at American University in Washington, D.C., said that addressing racial disparities is not about totally abandoning policies that use race. She said it’s about the robust enforcement of laws that bar discrimination and inequality, existing compliance reviews that have proven helpful at the elementary and secondary education levels and expanding the role of data collection and the dissemination of data.

“The reality is that we are in a time that is difficult, because we do have this societal indecision with respect to matters of race,” said Epperson, who formerly led the education law and policy group of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “The reality is also that we have a Constitution that supports remedying a history of slavery and Jim Crow. We have to expand our political imagination beyond the reality of the moment.”

Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute said on the panel:

“There’s no doubt that we need to pretend to be colorblind in the current legal climate, but it’s also very important to realize that we have a separate challenge from the challenge of enhancing equity. And that is the challenge of increasing justice.”

Rothstein added, “We have a constitutional obligation to undue centuries of slavery, segregation and exploitation. As recent events have demonstrated to everybody, we have made very little progress in undoing that unconstitutional placement of African Americans in a caste system in this society.”

Health Enrollment Numbers Up For 2015

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By Stacy M. Brown
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

The first detailed analysis of enrollment into the Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare – has yielded good news, particularly for those who may require financial assistance.

Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services in Southwest said 87 percent of those who selected 2015 plans through HealthCare.gov in the first month of open enrollment have received financial assistance to lower their monthly premiums.

“We’re pleased that nationwide, millions of people signed up for Marketplace coverage starting January 1. The vast majority were able to lower their costs even further by getting tax credits, making a difference in the bottom lines of so many families,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said.

The 87 percent of individuals determined eligible for financial assistance to lower their monthly premiums counts as an improvement over the 80 percent of enrollees who selected plans during a similar period last year.

Additionally, more than 4 million people in both the state and federal Marketplaces signed up for the first time or re-enrolled in coverage for 2015 during the first month of open enrollment.

Burwell said the numbers include more than 3.4 million people who selected a plan in the 37 states that are using the HealthCare.gov platform for 2015 and more than 600,000 consumers who selected plans in the 14 states that are operating their own Marketplace platform for 2015.

The report also includes data for areas such as the District of Columbia, which use their own Marketplace platforms.

The report also revealed that the number of young adults signing up for coverage under the law remains low. Insurers rely on young people, who are generally healthier, to keep overall premiums low by offsetting the cost of older, sicker enrollees.

Last year, 23 percent of those who enrolled during the same time frame were adults age 18 to 34. This year during the first month, the number stands at 24 percent or “way below” where it needs to be, Robert Laszewski, president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates LLC, told the Wall Street Journal.

“We need to get the young invincibles showing up to this,” Laszewski said.

Almost 60 percent of those who enrolled in new health care coverage between Nov. 15 and Dec. 15 were women, which women’s groups greeted as promising news.

“For women, the Affordable Care Act means … greater peace of mind,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

In total, from November 15 to December 26, nearly 6.5 million consumers selected a plan or were automatically re-enrolled in health plans under Obamacare.

When the new law was rolled out in 2013, many cited its effect on college students, self-employed workers, small businesses, veterans and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions.

Further, officials at the Department of Health and Human Services said, because of the new law, the 92 percent of Washington, D.C. residents who already had insurance would now have more choices and stronger coverage.

For the 8 percent who do not or for District families and small businesses who buy their coverage but aren’t happy with it, promises of new options had arrived.

Update: MO Black Caucus and OBS Meet to Discuss Policing Initiative Proposal

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By Bridjes O’Neil
Special to the NNPA from The St. Louis American

Members of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus met with those from the Organization for Black Struggle on Friday at Greater St. Marks Family Church in Ferguson. They discussed legislative strategy for the upcoming session and ways to incorporate OBS’ Quality Policing Initiative into legislation at the state, county, and local levels.

OBS members hand-delivered the policy proposal to legislators in Jefferson City on Wednesday, January 7, along with an invite to attend Friday’s meeting. They had also disrupted the opening ceremony in the Senate chamber by chanting and dropping banners. One banner read, “You’ve got mail.”

“With the start of the year and a new legislative session,” the letter read,  “we, the people,  are committed to holding our elected officials accountable to us as  constituents.”

Signed by OBS Executive Director Montague Simmons, the letter went on to say that the “systematic lynching” of Black people at the hands of police has continued since the death of Michael Brown Jr. on Aug. 9 —and that the judicial system has failed to hold police to the same level of accountability. It warned that the community is dealing with a “structural problem” requiring a “structural solution.” That “structural solution” is the Quality Policing Initiative, a broad policy proposal that organizers demand lawmakers use as a blueprint to transform the state’s broken policing system.

Three months ago, back when protests were more frequent, state Rep. Michael Butler said he knew many of those same people would be in Jefferson City come January. From a list of 20 Caucus members invited to attend the meeting, Butler was among the handful that showed up. He was joined by state Reps. Courtney Curtis, Sharon Pace, Joe Adams, and Tommie Pierson. Pierson is also pastor of Greater St. Mark Family Church.  It seemed to be a disappointing number for OBS organizer Kayla Reed.

“When I think of where I live, I’m looking at my Representative right now,” Reed said. “When I think about who my Senator is and the fact that she’s not here is very concerning.”

Despite their absence, Senators Jamilah Nasheed and Maria Chappelle-Nadal have been outspoken throughout the protest movement. On Wednesday, Chappelle-Nadal filed a formal “remonstrance” against Governor Jay Nixon calling for his resignation or impeachment, citing “failed and incompetent leadership.” In December, she also introduced legislation governing police conduct.

Reed spoke of a shift in the protest movement – from identifying problems to finding solutions.

“Protesting is not a solution,” she said. “It’s a tactic to force a solution.”

Most at the meeting agreed that there should be a greater focus on accountability, which comprises a large portion of the Quality Policing Initiative. The proposal tackles five phases of policing authority: recruitment, training, deployment, accountability and advancement.

Parts of the proposal outlines the creation of “use of force” and “search and seizure” reports along with a media accountability system – in which body and dash camera data is controlled by a citizen’s review board.

With a pen in hand, Butler listened intently with an occasional head nod as he jotted down notes on the back of a piece of paper.

Legislators gave brief updates on sponsored bills, particularly those dealing with community policing.

“You already have changes to the racial profiling act, municipal reform, and some policing tweaks that we have tried in the past year. That I’m sure these guys will re-file this year,” Butler said.

Simmons said there’s no greater time than now to effect real change. Although he seemed a bit concerned with attempting to pass any legislation with a Republican super-majority in both the House and the Senate. All is not lost, according to Curtis.

“There are some good Republicans we can work with,” he said.

Haiti Revisited: Five Years After Earthquake

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By D. Kevin McNeir
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

The actual number of those killed when an earthquake of cataclysmic proportion struck the Caribbean country of Haiti just after rush hour on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010, may never be known. Estimates range from a low of 200,000 dead to as high as 300,000. In the aftermath, two million people found themselves homeless. The majority of those impacted by the earthquake lived in or near Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital, just 15 miles west of the quake’s epicenter.

Soon after the earthquake, Haiti faced an outbreak of cholera, resulting in the deaths of 8,173 men, women and children as of June 2013. Thousands of children faced life without their parents – orphaned and left on the streets to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, hunger gnawed at the stomachs of those young and old.

Now, as the five-year anniversary of this tragedy approaches, there will certainly be a plethora of discussions, exhibitions, silent vigils and commemorations honoring those who died as well as those who have since devoted their efforts to Haiti’s recovery. However, more work needs to be done in order to complete a full recovery.

One member of Congress, who represents a large number of Haitians, second only to New York City in population, has visited the country numerous times since the earthquake. In an earlier interview she spoke about the challenges still facing Haiti – the poorest country in the Americas.

“It is heartbreaking to experience any group of people who are suffering because you feel hopeless and helpless,” said Frederica Wilson (D-FL, 24th District), who has represented the citizens of Miami, Florida since 2001.

“One of the challenges was where to begin to rebuild. It took a lot of time and money to remove the rubble that remained following the earthquake and the aftershocks. But I can attest that things are slowly improving and change is happening. You can see it,” Wilson said.

Wilson added that internal issues have had a major impact on rebuilding efforts.

“How can you tell who owns a parcel of land when the office that held such records has been destroyed?” she asked. “Who has the right to speak when you have so many different political parties vying for power? And what about those who live in the tent cities? At one point there was a push to remove people from them but the Congressional Black Caucus pushed for a slower and more humane evacuation process. The rebuilding will continue for many years.”

In Wilson’s district, Haitian-Americans make up over 15 percent of the population – approximately 44,000 people.

But accusations of continued Haitian government corruption and mismanagement persist. Following the earthquake, donors from the international community pledged $16 billion in funding thorough 2020. In the first two years, $9.5 billion was dispersed – three times the Haitian government’s revenue in that same period. But some say only a fraction actually ended up in Haitian hands.

Haiti’s president, Michel Martelly, 53, has continuously asked members of Parliament to work with him to build a new, vibrant, post-earthquake nation. But he and other government officials continue to face accusations that millions of dollars donated towards the country’s recovery have not been wisely spent. Meanwhile, internal strife has slowed noticeable actions of recovery to a snail’s pace.

 

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BVN National News Wire