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Failure to Indict White Cop in Ferguson will Not Derail Movement for Justice

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The failure of a St. Louis County grand jury to indict Ferguson, Mo. Police Officer Darren Wilson of the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown will not halt the movement for police accountability, key activists say.

A mass meeting was held on Saturday at a church in Ferguson to define and chart a course toward these broader goals. But the overall goal is already outlined in an open letter supported by “numerous” unnamed citizens, but bearing the sole signature of DeRay McKesson, one of the more prominent protesters in Ferguson.

The letter reads: “So you will likely ask yourself, now that the announcement has been made, why we will still take to the streets? …Until this system is dismantled, until the status quo that deems us less valuable than others is no longer acceptable or profitable, we will struggle. We will fight. We will protest.”

In August, McKesson helped create a daily Ferguson newsletter, and a website that lists nine demands. The evolving list currently includes “political accountability” for Brown’s death; the creation of an assessment tool to gauge racial bias within police departments; and an end to “provocative police behaviors” that suppress First Amendment rights.

No timeline has been placed on agitating for these demands. There is also little sign that Missouri authorities are interested in considering them.

Faith leaders plan to continue using their unique positions in society to advocate for peaceful solutions. Rev. Cassandra Gould, for example, has been active in Ferguson since August and was in front of the Ferguson Police Department with protesters and Brown’s family when the grand jury decision was announced.

“There was an incredible amount of pain, and also some agitation,” she said. “To see young people screaming out in agony…young people were coming up to us, hugging me – because I was wearing my collar – when they see us [clergy], we are kind of a sign of hope. But that night, I felt more helpless than I’ve ever felt in this role.”

Gould, who serves as pastor of Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Jefferson City, Mo., spent the rest of that night tending to tired and tear-gassed demonstrators at a few church-based sanctuaries around town. Despite a deal between clergy and police to leave the sanctuaries undisturbed, she says, police raided several, confiscating supplies and dispersing those inside.

“I’ve spent my life in St. Louis. I don’t remember much about the Civil Rights Movement…my mom marched to Selma. I thought that was part of a historical narrative, and I never thought I would see anything close to it,” she says.

Gould is also a member of the PICO National Network, a nonpartisan faith-based social justice organizing network working with 1,000 religious congregations across the United States. Its members, and other unaffiliated clergy, have been working behind the scenes in Ferguson to protect protesters’ safety and First Amendment rights. Gould says that moving forward, people of the cloth will continue to support the movement by bearing witness to police response, holding vigils and providing spiritual support, and meeting with authorities to advocate for policy reform and just solutions.

“We as clergy have an opportunity for a particular number of reasons…we have access…our voice is able to be heard where many others are not. There’s no agenda, it’s just about right and wrong. It’s about what is equitable,” she explained. “I’m encouraged by the number of my Caucasian colleagues that show up with us, and care as much as we care. I’ve gotten calls from people around the country…they realize this is an American problem, not just a Ferguson problem.”

Human rights activists are also documenting militarized police responses around the country to build a human rights violation case against the United States. The Ferguson to Geneva delegation, which presented testimony to the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Switzerland last month, has invited United Nations investigators (called Special Rapporteurs) to launch their own investigations into the matter.

“The UN rapporteurs are from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. They’re independent investigators tasked with looking into human rights issues all across the world. Citizens often request their presence, and the Office has to agree to visit,” says Meena Jagannath, a human rights attorney and member of the Ferguson to Geneva delegation.

The investigators are akin to the Justice Department lawyers who monitored civil rights marches and voter registration in the South in the 1960s. The delegation is funneling their eyewitness accounts to the rapporteurs to encourage United Nations involvement.

“One [rapporteur] wrote us a long letter talking about how he has sympathy for us. Another one, we have a meeting with him in New York in early December,” says Justin Hansford, human rights law professor at Saint Louis University and lead organizer for Ferguson to Geneva. “We have countries around the world speaking out about Ferguson. We tried the local level, the state, and federal government. We have to take this to the court of global opinion now.”

Jagannath adds, “Michael Brown’s killing really catalyzed a movement to change how police interact with people, especially people of color. Moving forward, people are not looking at this thing like let’s switch out the police chief or let’s switch out the governor. People are not naïve, they know that the structure is the problem.”

Those who are unwilling or unable to join the protests also have a forum to impact the ongoing movement. Six publications, led by U.K.-based The Guardian, have collaborated to call for solutions from the public via FergusonNext.com. The project has collected thousands of citizen suggestions so far, ranging from police body cameras to better inner-city schools.

While the state of Missouri will not indict Darren Wilson for any crime in connection to the shooting, Gov. Jay Nixon has created an independent 16-member commission to study the “underlying social and economic conditions” fueling the community’s response. The committee is scheduled to release its findings next year.

The U.S. Department of Justice has two investigations underway, one into whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights and a second one into the larger practices of the Ferguson Police Department. Brown’s parents are also considering bringing a civil action against Wilson.

“The end game…has to be accountability,” Justin Hansford says. “Michael Brown’s killing was a flashpoint, but the end goal is not just a resolution of this case. We’re tying to make sure future Mike Browns don’t happen again.”

BBC Faces New Attacks Over Rwandan Genocide

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

(GIN) — Pressure continues to build over a BBC documentary that challenges the generally accepted story of the Rwandan genocide, and questions whether Rwandan President Paul Kagame was a peacemaker or contributor to a horrific mass murder.

Last weekend, hundreds of protestors in Rwanda’s Eastern Province marched in their respective districts to denounce “Rwanda’s Untold Story,” a film which aired on the BBC on Oct. 1, saying it promoted the views of genocide deniers.

Press freedom groups such as the International Federation of Journalists came to the defense of the film, which discusses the events leading up to — and during — the genocide of Rwandan Tutsi in 1994. “The film interviews a number of people who argue the widely accepted narrative of the tragedy is inaccurate,” wrote the IFJ in a press statement.

“It is understandable that reporting on a sensitive topic such as the genocide can give rise to strong views from members of the affected communities,” said Gabriel Baglo, IFJ Africa Director.

“But, the ban on BBC radio programs (imposed by Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency) not only denies people access to information but also undermines the trust between the BBC and the Rwandan government, which is necessary to work through their differences.”

One of the central points of the film is that the official ending of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 did not end mass killings both in Rwanda and outside of Rwanda (i.e. in the Democratic Republic of Congo). The BBC goes deep and finds Rwandans who live in hiding in order to get answers to what happened in 1994 and to the continued mass killings, assassinations, imprisonment, and forced exiles, writes author and historian Yaa-Lengi Ngemi.

But one of the film’s harsher critics, researcher Andrew Wallis, writing on the website Open Democracy, called it so fatally flawed that it raised serious questions over the BBC’s ethics and standards.

“It is not often a documentary comes along that totally reattributes the historical reality of a genocide in a mere one hour,” Wallis wrote. “Twenty years of scholarly research was pushed aside.”

The uproar has escalated in the U.K., where the Parliament on Nov. 6 accused the BBC of denying the 1994 genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda and called for an investigation.

Still, there is very little that is “new” in the film, said human rights lawyer Peter Erlinder. “Most of the sources and documentary evidence has been available for years and has been hiding in plain sight.”

“Much of it can be found in the records of the U.N. Tribunal for Rwanda, although this database has been made virtually impenetrable for the untrained.”

“We should think for ourselves and reach our own conclusions when faced with what BBC calls ‘extremely painful issues,’” said Yaa-Lengi, president of the N.Y.-based Congo Coalition. “The only way to do this is to contemplate different points of views with an expanded field of facts and of proofs.”

Blacks Outraged by Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Long after the St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert M. McCulloch announced Officer Darren Wilson will not be prosecuted in connection with the killing of unarmed Ferguson, Mo. teenager Michael Brown and burning tempers and flames had subsided,  African American leaders were still expressing their disappointment in a criminal justice system that failed Brown.

“It has been fairly obvious from the beginning that the predominate belief in Ferguson and St. Louis was that Darren Wilson, the killer of Michael Brown, was not going to be indicted by a Bob McCullough-led grand jury,” Jesse Jackson said in a statement. “In a rambling statement of the grand jury’s process and conclusion – which did little to inform – Bob McCullough acted in the capacity of a defense attorney who misused the grand jury process ‘as a trial’ without professional legal cross-examination.”

Jackson continued, “The issue is not the unfortunate and unwise violent protests that followed.  The issue is the lack of federal uplift for the community even now.  The issue is the lack of federal enforcement of civil rights laws.  The issue is that Ferguson’s police and fire departments do not represent the people, are in violation of the law, yet it continues to receive federal funds.  Ferguson’s police department, fire department and contracts issued are all subsidized by the federal government –  including the equipment that was used to put down the protests – yet the federal government is still not enforcing its own civil rights laws.”

In a Huffington Post blog, Al Sharpton said: “If a grand jury is hearing evidence tantamount to what they would hear in a jury trial, then what is the point of a grand jury? In Ferguson, there are witnesses who say Brown had his hands up when he was shot. That should be enough probable cause to go to trial to then determine if Officer Wilson is guilty or not. It is at trial that he can then defend himself and his attorneys can present their own witnesses and their own defense.”

Sharpton added, “Whether it is the death of Michael Brown, Eric Garner or the many others who die at the hands of police all across this country, it’s important to remember that we never get to hear their side of the story. The victims don’t have the ability to cross-examine or refute theories. They don’t have the ability to hide out somewhere for months while a grand jury deliberates. And they don’t have the ability to defend themselves as some may attempt to assassinate their character either in a courtroom or in the court of public opinion. They are dead, silenced forever.”

National Urban League President Mac H. Morial said, “We respect the grand jury’s decision in the course of due process of our legal system. We will, however, continue to fight for justice and accountability in the death of Michael Brown.  As such, we first and foremost urge the Department of Justice to continue a full and thorough investigation to determine whether federal civil rights charges should be filed against Officer Wilson, as well as to carry out federal reviews of police misconduct and implement key recommendations for police reform.  The excessive use of force by law enforcement in our communities is unacceptable, and we know that we cannot prevent future similar tragedies unless and until there is systemic change across the nation in the area of police reform.”

Charles Steele, Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), said, “The grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson is not an end but just another painful step in the long journey to justice, a journey that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., our founding president, and others walked with confidence and determination.

“Just as SCLC did not give up until the buses were desegregated in Montgomery, Ala. Under Dr. King’s leadership, we will not give quit until justice is the norm in America instead of the exception in the deaths of our unarmed Black men and women.”

Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a federation of approximately 200 Black Newspapers, said: “(The) announcement that the grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson, Mo. Police Officer Darren Wilson who killed unarmed 18 year-old Michael Brown in August 2014 is yet another systematic and tragic slap in the face of equal justice in the United States… We are the “Voice of the Black Community” and the NNPA will not be silent or rest until there is justice in the Michael Brown case and other cases of racially-motivated police killings and violence in our communities across the nation.”

The NAACP announced that will initiate a 7-day, 120-mile march from Ferguson, Mo. to Jefferson City, the state capital, on Saturday, Nov. 29.

“The death of Michael Brown and actions by the Ferguson Police Department is a distressing symptom of the untested and overaggressive policing culture that has become commonplace in communities of color all across the country, said NAACP President Cornell William Brooks.

“Our ‘Journey to Justice: Ferguson to Jefferson City’ march is the first of many demonstrations to show both the country and the world that the NAACP and our allies will not stand down until systemic change, accountability and justice in cases of police misconduct are served for Michael Brown and the countless other men and women who lost their lives to such police misconduct.”

Melanie L. Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, said, “(the)  decision by the grand jury in Ferguson, Mo. to not indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting and killing of Michael Brown who was unarmed is a travesty of justice.  Further, we believe the St. Louis County Prosecutor Attorney Robert McCulloch’s gross mishandling of this case is inexcusable…We join the civil rights and social justice community in a call for an end to racial profiling of our young Black men and women who are losing their lives across the country at alarming rates at the hands of police officers who are sworn to protect and serve.”

Attorney General Eric H. Holder mentioned that there are two separate Ferguson-related investigations underway, one into the shooting of Michael Brown and one into the broader conduct of the Ferguson Police Department.

“I want to emphasize that we have two investigations that are ongoing,” Holder stated Tuesday. “As I’ve said many times before and reiterated in my statement last night, the department’s investigations will continue to be thorough, they will continue to be independent and they remain ongoing. They will be conducted rigorously and in a timely manner so we can move forward as expeditiously as we can to restore trust, to rebuild understanding and to foster cooperation between law enforcement and community members.”

Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, said:

“The grand jury’s decision does not negate the fact that Michael Brown’s tragic death is part of an alarming national trend of officers using excessive force against people of color, often during routine encounters. Yet in most cases, the officers and police departments are not held accountable. While many officers carry out their jobs with respect for the communities they serve, we must confront the profound disconnect and disrespect that many communities of color experience with their local law enforcement.

“The ACLU will continue to fight for racial justice. We must end the prevailing policing paradigm where police departments are more like occupying forces, imposing their will to control communities. This ‘us vs. them’ policing antagonizes communities by casting a blanket of suspicion over entire neighborhoods, often under the guise of preventing crime.”

SCLC President Joins Forces with Gorbachev in Peace Effort

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By Sherrel Wheeler Stewart
Special to the NNPA

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, leader in the transformational nonviolent Civil Rights Movement America in the 1960s, is poised for a major role in bringing international peace and equality with the recent signing of a historic proclamation with world leaders in Berlin.

Charles Steele, Jr., president of the Atlanta-based organization, presented the proclamation and secured support during a summit in Berlin November 8-9, commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. Steele, who was the only American participating in that summit, also met with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev who agreed to serve as the international chairman of the SCLC’s Global Roundtable on Peace, an initiative that expands the international work Dr. Martin Luther King launched before his death.

The international link with the SCLC and world leaders focused on solutions to global conflicts again shows how much the organization is still held in esteem around the world, said Steele. He arrived  for the summit just before thousands began commemorating the historic events at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate that changed the world.

“Just five hours before his assassination in Memphis in 1968, Dr. King told one of his lieutenants, [current SCLC board chairman] Dr. Bernard Lafayette, ‘Now is the time to internationalize and institutionalize the SCLC and the Civil Rights Movement all over the world. We must go international,’” Steele said. “The relationships the SCLC has established with world leaders, this proclamation and the Nonviolence Conflict Initiative are all a part of the dream of Dr. King.”

As chairman of the SCLC initiative, Gorbachev will serve as a major adviser, providing SCLC with more access to leading policy leaders who can help the organization fulfill its mission in eradicating poverty and achieving peaceful resolutions.

Dr. King, president and a founding member of the SCLC, had already made a significant impact on Berlin in a visit at the height of the American Civil Rights Movement in September 1964. His trip occurred 30 years after his father, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., known as “Daddy King,” travelled to Berlin with a delegation of Atlanta pastors to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Baptist congregations in Germany. It was also during the 1934 trip that the elder King decided to change his name and his son’s name from Michael to Martin after the 16th century German theologian Martin Luther, who initiated the Protestant Reformation.

The impact of Dr. King’s visit still resonates in Germany and many people there credit the iconic leader for being one of the heroes behind the scenes who helped bring an end to the Cold War and the wall coming down on November 9, 1989.

Twenty five years after the end of the Cold War, leaders gathered in Berlin confirmed by signing the SCLC’s proclamation that international conflicts can best be resolved through nonviolent peaceful solutions.  This is the same strategy that Dr. King employed during the turbulent 1960s.

The proclamation also calls leaders to work toward help for the poor and suffering, social justice and equity, stewardship of the planet, defense of global human rights, and economic equality and education.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and former President Mikhail Gorbachev are two of my greatest heroes,” Steele said. “I told him the SCLC is interested in addressing poverty and human rights around the world, and he is interested in collaborating with us – the organization co-founded by Dr. King.”

About 25 leaders – former ambassadors, foreign ministers, renowned policy advisers –  assembled for the summit at Allianz Forum, overlooking the Brandenburg Gate, signed the proclamation, because they believe in the dream of peace championed by Dr. King and they respect the words of the Soviet Union’s last president.

“Mr. Gorbachev said: There should never be another crisis on the global community stage that we have to use war and violence in order to solve our problems. The only way to solve our problems is through peace and nonviolence.”

Prior to signing the proclamation, Gorbachev thanked the summit participants, including Steele and leaders from throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and North America and said: “The discussion we have had today shows that there are many ideas. The urgency we see here requires immediate attention.”

Martin Lees, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and secretary-general of the Club of Rome, called the summit significant and indicated it could be the start of major changes in the way Europe and the world addresses issues.

“You have people here from all over the world drawing on their expertise and wisdom. They are looking at today’s world and basically saying we are in trouble. We have to mobilize our forces and get together to build a better world,” Lees said in an interview following the close of the summit on November 9.

“Everyone has been saying that Europe has been looking inside for several decades. Now the world problems are so acute. I hope the leaders will wake up and see the scale of the problems and start acting to do something about it,” said Lees, who chaired one of the summit sessions.

He said President Gorbachev would soon meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to continue the discussion.

Anastasia Poliakova, the North America Coordinator for The Gorbachev Foundation, said President Gorbachev has devoted much of his career to bringing peace and eradicating poverty, so the association with the SCLC is a good match.

“Poverty is one of the biggest challenges we face right now. Social issues are still very, relevant all over the world,” she said. “Mr. Gorbachev is committed to using his name and his influence to inspire, inform and educate the global community in support of Dr. King’s ideas and support of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Dr. Steele in moving forward – connecting people together who are of the same mind.”

St. Louis Commits to Police Diversity

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By Rebecca Rivas
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American

St. Louis legislators will put $50,000 behind a police training program that black police officers created this year to recruit more African Americans into the police academy, said Mayor Francis Slay at a press conference on November 4.

The Ethical Society of Police – a long-standing organization for black officers – will lead the 10-week mentoring program that aims to identify and prepare potential minority recruits for careers in law enforcement and other public safety professions.

“The ethical society is glad to be spearheading this initiative,” said Srgt. Darren Wilson, an African-American 18-year veteran of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and president of the Ethical Society of Police.

In January, Wilson and other society members started mentoring potential candidates through an informal pilot program.

“We ran this for several months,” Wilson said. “We started with 10 and were only able to endorse two – to let you know the dynamics of the program and what we’re looking for as far as the caliber of the applicants we feel comfortable endorsing.”

Slay said his office is entering into an agreement with the Ethical Society of Police to help launch the program full force. The initiative will pay African-American officers to work, while off duty, to identify potential quality recruits and prepare them to go through the academy. The money for the program will come out of the Prop S fund, and aldermen will introduce a bill to allocate those funds soon, Slay said.

The 10-week course will include writing and interviewing skills, fitness, professional etiquette and community-oriented policing strategies.

Slay said, “We’ve seen the mistrust that can exist” when police officers do not reflect the people in the neighborhoods that they patrol.

In July, the Ethical Society released a statement criticizing the demographics of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department – saying that for the last 30 years, African-American officers have only made up 30 percent of the force.

Under Police Chief Sam Dotson and Slay’s leadership, the society said, “The department’s level of diversity has remained stagnant in regards to recruitment, promotion and representation: Police academy classes continue with five or six minority recruits in classes of 20 or more officers.”

Dotson said in the last two police academy classes, 50 percent of the cadets have been African Americans. And he will make sure future classes reflect those numbers as well.

“I will not do a police academy class that is not 50 percent African-American,” Dotson said. “I believe that that is reflective of the community. If that means I have to wait a couple of weeks to get qualified applicants on either side, I will. But I also have to make sure that it is reflective of the community.”

Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis City NAACP, said the program should be replicated throughout the region. He said the common excuse offered by police leaders – that they cannot find qualified black applicants – would no longer be tenable.

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