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Black Unemployment Dips Below 10 Percent

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

 

WASHINGNTON (NNPA) – The Black unemployment rate fell to single digits (9.6 percent) in April, for the first time since President Barack Obama was elected in 2008.

Despite the improvement, the Black jobless rate is still double the unemployment rate of White workers, which has remained flat since February at 4.7 percent.

Valerie Wilson, the director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank focused on low- and middle-income families, said that said that the gradual decline in the Black unemployment rate is the result of strong job growth over the past year.

As the economic recovery in the United States continued its slow, uneven climb in April there were still clear disparities, even among adult Black workers.

Wilson said that, since December, Black men have enjoyed most of the larger employment gains compared to Black women.

The unemployment rate for Black men over 20 years old was 11 percent in December 2014 and 9.2 percent in April 2015, while the unemployment rate for Black women increased 0.6 percent over the same period.

Since last April, the labor force participation rate, which is the share of the population that is either employed or looking for work, increased from 66.5 percent to 68.7 percent in April 2015 among Black men. The labor force rate for Black women only increased 0.7 percent since April 2014.

Wilson said that a renewed focus on targeted jobs programs and infrastructure investments would enable the economy to get closer to full employment, but cuts to public sector employment, especially at the state and local levels, may prolong the sluggish recovery.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy group that designs policies aimed at reducing poverty and inequality, the economy has shed nearly 570,000 government jobs, more than 360,000 jobs in local government alone, since February 2010.

“The other part of that is that wage growth isn’t anything to cheer about,” said Wilson, adding that wage growth is still below any indication that the economy has really heated up.

According to the Labor Department, average hourly earnings have only increased 2.2 percent since April 2014.

During recoveries in the past, falling unemployment rates meant that companies were forced to raise wages to compete for available workers

This recovery is different, Wilson said, in part because there’s still a decent amount of slack in the labor market.

In a state-by-state analysis of the unemployment rates, Wilson found that the African American unemployment rate was “lowest in Virginia (7.4 percent) and highest in the District of Columbia (15.8 percent) in the first quarter of 2015, surpassing Michigan, which had the highest black unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2014.”

Wilson also noted that, “although 7.4 percent is the lowest Black unemployment rate in the country, it is still over 1 percentage point above the highest White unemployment rate (Tennessee). Virginia was one of only eight states where the African American unemployment rate was below 10 percent in the first quarter of 2015.”

Wilson’s research also revealed that the Black unemployment rate, “is at or below its pre-recession level in six states: Connecticut, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee. But this numerical recovery must be put in proper context because each of these states also had Black unemployment rates that were among the highest in the nation before the recession.”

The national unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in April down from 5.5 percent in March and the economy added 223,000 jobs in April for a three-month average of 191,000 jobs per month.

In a recent blog post for EPI, Josh Bivens, the research and policy director at EPI, wrote that returning the labor market to pre-Great Recession levels is too unambitious a goal.

“After all, 2007 could hardly be described as a year with the kind of high-pressure labor market that would boost wages across the board,” said Bivens.

Bivens continued: “Instead, we need to target the kind of high-pressure labor market that we haven’t seen since the late 1990s. Anything less than this will leave the majority of American workers frozen out of sharing in economic growth through wage gains.”

After Charges Filed and Curfew Lifted, Baltimore Regroups

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

BALTIMORE (NNPA) – Friday afternoon was clear and cool enough for a light jacket, although most people wore T-shirts and shorts in Baltimore, Md. The Inner Harbor and much of city hall grounds were barricaded with low metal gates and by 6 pm, the Inner Harbor was free from the lively weekend energy that a normal spring Friday after work crowd would bring. National guardsmen milled about, weapons down, some with stern gazes others talking in hushed, but relaxed tones.

Waiting for a CNN interview at City Hall, Neill Franklin, the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former members of the criminal justice system that advocates for drug policy reform, said that the Baltimore city police officers charged Friday had multiple attempts to render aid and they failed to so even though Freddie Gray requested it.

“I’m not surprised, this is business as usual, unfortunately for many of the neighborhoods in Baltimore city,” said Franklin. “This time someone died, which has brought the attention to this type of behavior of our police officers.”

Franklin said that in 2005, after Baltimore police officers arrested more than 108,000 people, the state’s attorney’s office was forced to vacate roughly 20 percent of the arrest without filing charges because there was no probable cause for the arrest, similar to what happened with Freddie Gray.

“Hopefully, this is a turning point, I hope it is, but I think the Fraternal Order of Police missed an opportunity today,” said Franklin, referring to a statement that the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) made shortly after State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced charges would be filed against six police officers. “They can still say we support our officers and their families, but at the same time they should have said and yes we want to partner with you community to figure out a path forward to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Franklin said that he feels bad for those police officers standing in the wings who want to to good and who are thinking maybe this is a turning point.

“Then you have the FOP say this nonsense,” said Franklin.

Franklin said that he hopes that residents come together with city officials and members of law enforcement to do an assessment of the police department, body-worn cameras and ways to protect officers who want to come forward when they witness fellow officers behaving badly.

Jhanee Braswell, 26, a resident of Baltimore’s east side, said that Baltimore needed the riots and the national media attention because the policed officers simply don’t care.

Braswell said that she was surprised that the state’s attorney’s office filed charges so soon. So many people get shot and killed everyday.

Braswell said that this is just another situation where things would have blown over without the cell phone footage of Gray’s arrest and the riots last Monday.

The last time Braswell was in a paddy wagon was for fighting downtown. All three times Braswell was in the paddy wagon, she said that a police officer walked her up the steps and secured in the back of the vehicle.

“I’ve been in the back of a paddy wagon and there’s no way that you can do all of that, because it’s too small to jerk yourself around like that to hurt yourself,” said Braswell.

That’s why she believes that either Gray was injured before he was placed in the wagon unsecured or that transport officer was driving erratically and contributed to Gray’s injury.

“I’m kind of glad that they did start a riot and they did start all of that stuff,” said Braswell, even though she recognized that residents like her will likely foot some of the bill for clean up and to repair the damaged properties via tax dollars. If they hadn’t burned the CVS and looted businesses, Braswell said, no one would have been held accountable for Gray’s death.

“I hope [the officers] go to jail and that this won’t be a recurring thing, because everyone should be treated fairly,” said Braswell.

“If your protocol is to walk the person up into the paddy wagon and sit them down and make sure that they are secured safely,” then you have to do that for everyone, because everyone deserves the same treatment, because their safety matters, Braswell said.

Rev. Jamal Bryant, the pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, said it was a great thing for the city of Baltimore and the Black community to turn on the nightly news and see the mug shots and names of the six police officers involved in the wrongful arrest of Gray that ultimately contributed to his death, said Bryant.

“I’m excited about the new page that American history is on,” said Bryant. “All these cameras out here is the fruit of the work of the people that marched day and day out,” said Bryant motioning to the myriad camera crews and news tents that littered the grassy mall in front of city hall.

“The national news media came, because Freddie died if he had lived and walked away with a cane or on crutches or [rolled away] in a wheelchair, they would have swept it away,” said Bryant.

Bryant added that the fact that Gray’s arrest and anguished screams were caught on camera as police officers dragged him to the transport vehicle also contributed to the national news coverage. “It was too eerie and too out of order,” said Bryant.

Police in Baltimore need body cameras right now and turned on with audio, said Bryant, adding that he didn’t understand why the city was still under curfew on Friday.

“I’m confused and perplexed why the Inner Harbor closed at 6 pm,” said Bryant. “There’s nothing open on Light Street. There’s nothing open on Pratt Street.

“It says that there is a reduced expectation of the civility of Black folks even in victory,” said Bryant. “You think if the [Baltimore] Ravens had won tonight they would have shut it down? No.

Because Black people won they don’t know how to respond, because they are used to us losing.”

Cars horns blared some in support others in frustration over the hundreds of people gathered at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and W. North Avenue The burned out CVS was boarded up and police officers in riot gear blocked the street adjacent to the CVS. Some people danced others held “#BlackLivesMatter” signs. The crowd was very diverse as all ages, races and ethnic groups were out celebrating Mosby’s announcement and calling for police reform.

Timeeka Addison, a resident of Southwest Baltimore who works at CEASE (an acronym for “Communities Engaged and Advocating for a Smoke-Free Environments”), an organization that helps residents to stop smoking, danced in street with friends and said that the curfew should have been lifted sooner.

“We should be able to celebrate all night long, this is a victory,” said Addison. “There’s no need to shut the city down right now.”

She doesn’t believe that if people hadn’t looted the stores and burned buildings and police cars that Mosby’s announcement would have been the same.

“People have been marching for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s sad that it happened, I’m upset that it happened, but it needed to happen,” said Addison. “Everywhere else that this happens it just goes away, [officials] brush everything under the rug and say, ‘just take what we do.’

Baltimore actually made a statement and said, ‘We’re not just accepting that. You have to do something.’ Everybody said that, ‘You did it Ferguson, you did it in Florida, you can not do that here.’”

Follow Freddie Allen on Twitter at @freddieallenjr.

Problems Linger in Baltimore

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Baltimore’s curfew has been lifted, the officers have been charged, and Freddie Gray has been laid to rest. But the underlying causes of the protests around his homicide remain.

“I think that people need to understand the history of poverty, negligence, and police brutality in the city of Baltimore,” says Jocelyn Providence, a math teacher at Digital Harbor High School in Baltimore’s Riverside area.

Last week, she said, there were more absences than usual and her students were more emotional. Many expressed fear, anger, worry, and frustration with the riots that have negatively impacted their communities.

She continued, “There are students and residents who are fed up and angered by the continued violence on their lives, whether it be by police, poor education, and poverty.”

As the city turns its attention to addressing these issues and securing justice for Freddie Gray, several opportunities to support the youth and longstanding community groups have surfaced.

Baltimore United, a coalition of Baltimore city community groups and concerned citizens, is keeping a list of organizations and churches serving as safe spaces for youth and activists, with free hot lunches each day and opportunities to volunteer. The list, which can be accessed on their website (www.bmoreunited.org), includes contact information for people who are directing incoming support.

The coalition is also trying to raise a $100,000 bailout fund for protesters and other wrongfully imprisoned people (donations accepted online at www.crowdrise.com/legalbailsupportforbaltimore). A legal assistance and information hotline is also in operation (443-814-9160).

Some of the efforts in Baltimore are spillovers from Ferguson, Mo. Operation Help or Hush, for example, began as a conversation on Twitter. Its mission, “taking social media to the streets,” is an answer to those who critique the legitimacy of “hashtag activism,” or, calling attention to injustices and relaying on-the-ground information on social media.

So far, the group has served daily hot lunch to youth and protesters of all ages, and has been helping coordinate lodging, and demonstrations between Baltimore natives and visiting protesters.

This week the group is going mobile, taking these lunches plus items for babies and toiletries for seniors, to social service sites around town. Items can be sent to 655 N Bentalou St., Baltimore, Md. 21216; monetary donations are accepted via its website www.operationhelporhush.org or PayPal. The funds also go toward travel for those who want to be on the front line, and to purchase protester supplies such as boards for signs, food, and water.

Other efforts are focused on uplifting the youth who have been on the front lines since Freddie Gray’s homicide.

“When we saw the protests start to turn somewhat negative down there in Baltimore out of people’s frustration, we knew that we had try to pull something together for the young people so that they could vent their frustrations, and tell us what some of their issues are. And so that we could provide some solutions, along with some caring adults and some local programs that they might be involved in beyond this,” says Seandra Sims, a Philadelphia-based public relations professional working to coordinate efforts in Baltimore between partners across the Northeast.

The result of this coordinating is Bmore Youth Rise, a free community event that will serve as an outlet for the city’s young people. The event takes place this Saturday, and will include a youth town hall where rappers and local leaders will respond to concerns the young people present express. Earlier in the week, young residents of Gilmor Homes housing projects, where Freddie Gray lived and was arrested, will be creating a mural on one wall of a nearby recreation center; it will be publicly dedicated as part of Saturday’s events. After the town hall, there will be a peace walk to Harlem Square Park for a free hip-hop concert and rally.

“We pulled this together in four days. We got every single piece of this event for free, just by calling and saying ‘the kids need you.’ What we’re trying to encourage the young people to do is calm down,” Sims says. “These kids are upset about problems that were existing long before Freddie Gray was murdered in their community. It’s been festering and festering. It’s OK to be civilly disobedient. It’s not OK to destroy property, but it is OK to get mad. But the goal is that we can move from being reactionary to being proactive.”

At the rally, Justice League NYC, a community-based criminal justice task force, will issue a call to action for support of three pieces of legislation that will address police brutality. The Justice League is an offshoot of Harry Belafonte’s organization, Gathering for Justice, and one of the event’s major sponsors.

In addition to these community efforts, demonstrations are ongoing across the country – some in solidarity with Baltimore, some as part of continuing action against police violence, and others as part of the larger Black Lives Matter movement. WeTheProtesters.org and NationalStoptheKilling.com are two resources for finding opportunities around the country to get involved.

Jocelyn Providence protested on three occasions last week, and says that each action was student led. In talking to her students, she expressed that they need support in making themselves heard. “My students need to know that they are supported by a national movement. I think there are a lot of times where they feel very small and alone, and it is hard for them to see the big picture,” says Providence.

“People can help and support form afar by continuing to promote youth leaders and tell the true story of Baltimore, which is not solely riots, but students coming together to change their city for the better.”

Follow Jazelle Hunt on Twitter at @JazelleAH.

New AG Meets with Baltimore Leaders, Police and Activists

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Keeping her promise to ensure, “both strength and fairness, for the protection of both the needs of victims and the rights of all” in the criminal justice system, Attorney General Loretta Lynch traveled to Baltimore Tuesday to meet with city officials, law enforcement and community stakeholders to encourage closer ties between police and the residents that they are sworn to protect.

The same day Lynch was sworn-in and just a few hours after Freddie Gray’s funeral, dozens of people, most described as teenagers and students, looted shoe stores and burned local businesses and police vehicles. On April 12, Gray, a 25 year-old Black man, was chased and arrested by police officers. While in police custody, Gray suffered a severed spinal cord and a crushed voice box and died a week later. Gray’s death and viral cell phone footage of his encounter with police, sparked nationwide protests.

Last week, the Justice Department dispatched Vanita Gupta, the head of the Civil Rights Division, and Ronald Davis, the director of Community Oriented Policing Services, to Baltimore for a series of meetings with faith and civic leaders and community stakeholders to discuss the best path forward to mend the fractured relationship between Baltimore’s police force and the majority Black communities that they serve in city’s poorest neighborhoods.

On Friday, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby filed charges against six Baltimore police officers that ranged from second-degree assault to “depraved heart murder.”

During a meeting with Maryland United States Senators Barbara Mikulski (D) and Ben Cardin (D) and Congressmen Elijah Cummings, John Sarbanes and Dutch Ruppersberger, Lynch said it was inspiring to see people come together to reclaim the city.

“We’re here to hold your hands and provide support,” said Lynch to the group that also included William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr., the Gray family’s attorney, and Rev. Donté L. Hickman, Sr., the pastor of Southern Baptist Church, whose community resource center and senior housing complex were destroyed by fire while still under construction during the riots on April 27. She also vowed that the Justice Department was there to help the city move forward and work to improve the Baltimore Police Department (B.P.D.).

Lynch then met with Police Commissioner Anthony Batts privately and then with a small group of police officers who she called the “the hardest-working police officers in America.” Lynch added: “To all of you on the front lines, I want to thank you. You really have become the face of law enforcement.”

Last fall, the Justice Department partnered with Baltimore officials to address concerns about abuse in the city’s police department.

“I have worked on this issue for years,” said Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore. “We can’t afford to fail. The relationship between police and the community is like a marriage.”

Lynch also met with Baltimore United, a community group that advocates for police reform, and others who had lost loved ones to police violence.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing made a number of recommendations that included encouraging law enforcement officials to “establish a culture of transparency and accountability in order to build public trust and legitimacy” and to design “comprehensive policies on the use of force that include training, investigations, prosecutions, data collection, and information sharing.”

The report also recommended that police, “acknowledge the role of policing in past and present injustice and discrimination and how it is a hurdle to the promotion of community trust.”

But the letter from Gene Ryan, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3 in Baltimore, to Mosby may produce another hurdle to building community trust there. Ryan wrote that “none of the officers are involved are responsible for the death of Mr. Gray” and that Mosby should recuse herself from the case, because Murphy, the Gray family’s attorney, donated to her campaign and worked on her transition team.

Lawyers for Edward Nero, the Baltimore police officer who was charged with police misconduct, second-degree assault and false imprisonment, filed a motion to get a closer look at the knife officer’s found on Gray. City and state codes both contain language that say switchblades that open automatically, with some pressure applied to a button or spring, are illegal.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, wrote a letter to Ryan calling his request for a special prosecutor in the case “illogical and unfounded in the law.”

Butterfield continued: “You have damaged the good reputation of your organization in writing the letter, releasing it to the media, and making accusations that amount to nothing more than propaganda intended to interfere with the proper administration of justice.”

Follow Freddie Allen on Twitter at @freddieallenjr.

Hundreds Help Clean Up After Baltimore Riots

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By Stacey M. Brown
Special to the NNPA from The Baltimore Times

BALTIMORE — Students from Morgan State University, local teachers, individuals who were out of school because of the closings and members of several fraternities methodically began cleaning the city after a violent night of rioting and looting.

In all, about 3,000 individuals— many joining the efforts on an impromptu basis— worked from dusk until dawn to help Baltimore reclaim its Charm City moniker and to let the world know what Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake meant when she said, “We are One Baltimore.”

“We thought it was most important to let the community know that people are out cleaning,” said Kaeshawn Stewart, a Baltimore resident and a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. “This is encouraging to the community and it’s giving the community hope because we’ve had many come by and say thank you.”

Anita Wade, a school teacher and a member of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, worked arm-in-arm with Stewart as they cleaned a lot across from a playground and immediately around the corner from the flash point of activity at North and Pennsylvania Avenues.

Despite a low-hovering police helicopter and sounds of bullhorns and demonstrators clashing with police, Wade said cleanup efforts were important, particularly to set a positive example for young people.

“There are so many issues that are not being addressed, but our children need to see this [cleaning effort],” she said. “It makes things a little better.”

With a burned and destroyed CVS store, a multi-million dollar senior center destroyed and pure chaos serving as a most unfortunate backdrop, many residents displayed the spirit of true activism.

Melanie Diggs, the branch manager for the Pennsylvania Avenue branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library helped to keep as many as 30 individuals safe as demonstrations turned to riots and the local CVS store was looted and burned.

With a broom and a dustpan in his hand as he helped clean on Tuesday, April 28, Robert Stokes shook his head when asked about the effects of the riots: “You look around and see unemployment. Filling out job applications and being turned down because of where you live and your demographic. It’s so much bigger than the police department,” he said. “This is a powder keg that’s waiting to explode.”

But, Stokes and others attempted in earnest to diffuse that time bomb, simply by joining the efforts to show city pride, strength and solidarity by cleaning and otherwise lending a helping hand.

Baltimore City Public Schools were closed Tuesday due the previous night’s violence and many students had nowhere to go. A sign outside of Red Emma’s Book Store and Coffeehouse told students, “This is a safe place for Baltimore’s youth.”

Storeowners provided free lunch to all city children as efforts to restore peace and a sense of normalcy began.

CVS manager Haywood McMorris still lamented the fate of his store and told reporters that the destruction hurts those who work there and the residents of the area.

“It didn’t make sense, we work here and this is where we stand, and this is where people actually make a living,” McMorris said.

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