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Jamaica: Help for Schools in Drought Stricken Areas

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

CMC – Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has instructed that action be taken to help schools cope as the dry spell continues to affect the country.

With the countdown now on to the start of the new academic year, a meeting will held with several Government Ministries, and a plan of action will be outlined early next week.

Water Minister, Robert Pickersgill, says schools in parishes experiencing severe drought could be could be impacted and as a result the ministry will also focus on hospitals and infirmaries in areas adversely affected by the reduction in rainfall.

The National Water Commission (NWC) in collaboration with the Local Government Ministry will be supplying water to schools in affected areas.

The NWC has already assisted some schools in the Corporate Area, that are experiencing challenges with their supply, by providing water tanks.

PIckersgill has urged school administrators to place importance on establishing catchment and storage facilities.

“I am encouraging all schools to establish additional facilities for storage, so that in the absence of regular supplies, water may be supplied to them and stored. After all, we are all aware that ‘water is life’,” he said.

Although the island has been experiencing some rainfall in recent days corporate communications manager for the NWC, Charles Buchanan, says there has not been much improvement in the country’s water supply.

“It is still severe, and, in some places, worsening ,” he said.

Buchanan said both rural and Corporate Area water systems were under pressure and this was likely to increase for the reopening of schools.

Beyond Ferguson: Time for Young Black Leaders

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – During a rousing, standing-room only town hall discussion dedicated to the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and police killings of young, Black men across the nation, Ron Daniels, declared, “a state of emergency in Black America.”

Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW), a group devoted to the social, political and economic empowerment of the Black community, said that there are two Black Americas.

“Some Black people are doing quite well, unless they get stopped for driving while Black, they’re living in the suburbs and exurbs,” said Daniels. “But in the urban inner city areas, America’s dark ghettos, as Malcolm X would say, ‘people are catching more hell than ever before.’”

One of those people was Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager who was shot to death in the middle of the road in Ferguson, Mo., by Darren Wilson, a White police officer. Brown’s lifeless body was left face down in the street for more than four hours as onlookers snapped photos and videos with their smartphones and news of the shooting spread on social media.

During the town hall discussion, Hilary Shelton, Washington, D.C. bureau chief for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said that he grew up in St. Louis and knows Ferguson very well and saw it transition from a town that was majority White to one that is 67 percent Black.

Shelton noted that only three of the 53 policemen that serve Ferguson are Black. The mayor is a White Republican and five out of six councilmembers are also White.

“When you have a scenario where everything is set up as if it were some occupying force and that occupying force is suppressing rather than protecting those communities, you end up with the kind of response that we got with Michael Brown,” explained Shelton.

Ron Hampton, a former executive director of the National Black Police Association, said that the Black community can’t look at the Michael Brown killing as a single incident in time.

“[The Michael Brown shooting] is the continuation of the assault and the attack on Black men and women in the Black community,” stated Hampton. “The militarization of police departments started after Vietnam. Police departments received military equipment after the Vietnam War, after Desert Storm, and after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

And now that equipment is being used in the War on Drugs waged in the Black communities.

Adding Black men and women to the police department is not enough, said Hampton.

“You can add six more police officers or 20 more Black police officers to the Ferguson police, but if we don’t address the systemic issues around the culture the policies and practices of the police department, residents will continue to be brutalized by police officers,” he said.

Nkechi Taifa, senior policy analyst for the Open Society Foundations, said that the treatment of Brown’s body after he was shot and killed was reminiscent of how Blacks were treated after they were lynched, a tactic used to instill fear in the hearts of slaves and later freed Blacks following the Civil War.

“It was terrorism then and it is terrorism now,” said Taifa.

Jasiri X, a hip hop artist and activist who traveled to Ferguson to protest the killing of Michael Brown, said that George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager in Sanford, Fla., and although Michael Dunn was found guilty of attempted murder, he was not found guilty in the killing of Jordan Davis, an unarmed Black teenager in Jacksonville, Fla.

“If we are continually shot down and no one is to blame, then what do you think is going to happen if this happens over and over and over again?” asked Jasiri X. “Ferguson is simmering right now, but so is New York City, so is Chicago, and so is Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.”

Jasiri X continued: “If Darren Wilson is not indicted, what do you want us to do? If you’re not going to give us justice, we have to ask what’s wrong if we take justice?”

Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, asked a different question.

“The question is: What is the Justice Department going to do? The Justice Department can bring civil rights charges in this case, but if they’re going to do it, they can’t drag their feet,” said Arnwine. “Remember, this administration goes out in December 2016. It is imperative that charges are brought right now. All the elements that are required are there. The question of intent will be the hardest that they will have to deal with.”

Arnwine added: “We don’t want to be sitting here a year from now like we are with the [civil rights case against George Zimmerman] asking, ‘what happened?’”

The panelists presented a range of recommendations from mandating body-worn cameras and dashboard cameras for all police departments to police accountability review boards and building a comprehensive database of shootings involving law enforcement officials.

Taifa said the Black community has to be more creative in seeking justice, possibly turning to the United Nations and filing a petition under International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Daniels lamented the missed opportunity to use economic sanctions and boycotts to force reforms around the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida following the tragedy of the Martin shooting and the not guilt verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. Daniels said that no national leaders would call for an economic sanctions campaign in Florida and wondered aloud if their corporate ties had anything to do with their silence.

“The economic benefits from this chump change that [corporations] are giving us is not worth taking the fire out of our movement,” said Daniels.

Jasiri X said that he was concerned about the intergenerational divide that he observed during the protests in Ferguson.

“When night came and the young people had to face off against tanks, snipers, and tear gas, they felt abandoned by the elder leadership,” said Jasiri X.

Jasiri X stressed the importance for elders in the Civil Rights Movement to support young leaders as they organize new groups to fight for social justice and political reform.

Jasiri X said that actor and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte met with more than 40 hip hop artists last year to guide them in using their art to talk about mass incarceration, violence in the community, and violence against women.

“[Belafonte’s] not trying to grab the mic and get on the mic,” said Jasiri X. “He’s using his wisdom and knowledge to guide and direct us.”

Daniels agreed.

Daniels called on young civil rights activists such as Jasiri X to take the lead in the current movement around police violence, calling it a matter of principle.

“Those that are being most affected, those that are being stopped and frisked and shot down on the streets and harassed are young people. They should be at the center and the lead,” said Daniels. “We need to step back, we need step aside, we need to move over and let them speak.”

Black Voters in the South Face New Threats

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA) –Despite major advances to access to the ballot box nearly 50 years after the passage of Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), Blacks, living primarily in the South and Southwest, continued to face challenges at the ballot box, according to National Commission on Voting Rights (NCVR) report.

“Though protection under the Voting Rights Act has produced significant gains, African Americans are continually subjected to new threats to their full enfranchisement,” stated the report. “The ongoing protection of the Voting Rights Act is vital to the inclusion of this community.”

Last summer, the United States Supreme Court invalidated the Section 4 coverage formula in the Voting Rights Act that required jurisdictions with a demonstrated history of voter discrimination to “pre-clear” any changes in voting laws with the Justice Department of a federal court. The ruling effectively neutered Section 5 of the VRA.

“Four states formerly covered by Section 5 of the VRA – Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia – rank as the worst offenders,” according to the report. The study found that, when it comes to voting discrimination, Texas was the worst state in the country, “including multiple state-level violations.”

Last August, Attorney General Eric Holder filed a lawsuit against Texas over a restrictive voter ID law that went into effect after the Shelby decision, and also sought to support groups who took the Lone Star State to court over redistricting policies.

Following the Shelby v. Holder ruling, civil rights lawyers have increasingly used Section 2 of the VRA to defend voters’ rights across the nation, but the report acknowledged the limitations of Section 2 lawsuits.

“While Section 2 provides important and considerable safeguards against discrimination, it does not provide the same level of protection that Section 5 afforded minority voters,” stated the report. “Section 2 litigation is often complex and can be slow, time-consuming, and expensive,” especially for poor, minority voters with access to limited resources.

Under Section 5, covered jurisdictions had to prove that new laws didn’t create added hardships for poor and minority voters. Section 2 reverses that burden of proof, placing it squarely on the shoulders of the voters and civil rights lawyers.

Since the Shelby v. Holder decision, new, controversial voting laws have been passed, forcing civil rights and Justice Department lawyers to expend resources battling over whether those laws hurt thousands of voters.

The report covered a number of forms of voter discrimination, including minority vote dilution, voter challenges and intimidation, felony disenfranchisement, voter purges and restrictive photo ID requirements.

“The findings show that contrary to the court’s assertion voting discrimination is still rampant and that states and localities previously covered by Section 4 and Section 5, the [Voting Rights Act] provisions struck down by the court, continue to implement voting laws and procedures that disproportionately affect African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans voters,” said Arnwine.

From 1995-2013, redistricting changes made up 58 of 113 Section 5 preclearance denials, the report said.

“Redistricting plans that dilute minority voting strength typically submerge minority voters in overpopulated districts, divide minority population concentrations to prevent them from comprising the majority of a fairly-drawn district (“fragmentation” or “cracking”), or unnecessarily over concentrate them in a minimal number of districts (“packing”),” stated the report.

Robert Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that redistricting is the reallocation of political power and there is always a temptation to make minority voters the pawns in that process.

“Whether you’re talking about disputes between political parties or disputes between incumbents or one faction or another it’s tempting to dilute minority voter strength to achieve your political goals,” said Kengle.

Kengle added: “Sometimes it’s just as simple as saying, ‘We don’t want minority voters electing candidates,’ and the district lines are drawn to prevent that.”

Jurisdictions that pass plans are usually more discreet today than they were in the 1960s or 1970s, but when you look at the results, sometimes the results are very similar, observed Kengle.

Leon Russell, the vice chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors called redistricting ‘a partisan tool.’

“For legislatures that are dominated by one particular party, it’s that party that usually draws those lines to protect its political power,” said Russell. “If you can control who votes and where they vote, you can control the power.”

Following the Shelby decision, the Justice Department made severe cuts to its federal observer program.

“The federal observer program provided an important deterrence against voter discrimination with 10,702 observers deployed from 1995-2012,” the report said.

Kengle said that federal election observers serve multiple purposes and one of the most important purposes doesn’t result in litigation. Election officials often request federal election observers from the Justice Department to calm tense situations when there have been concerns about claims of voter intimidation or other misconduct at the polls.

Election observers monitor the polls “not so much with an eye toward bringing a lawsuit, but rather allowing people to vote without concerns for intimidation,” said Kengle, adding that, in recent years, observers have documented compliance with the language minority provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

Federal observers also keep an eye on the voting process on the ground and take notes in a way that attorneys or other election observers are not able to do, said Kengle, who worked in the Voting Section at the Justice Department for about 20 years and supervised election coverage.

Losing that monitoring power will be a huge loss for minority voters, said Kengle.

“Blacks are conscious of the history that produced the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and all the sacrifices that people made so that act could become law,” said Arnwine.

Arnwine disagreed with the majority decision in the Supreme Court Shelby County case that concluded that the rise in Black voter turnout and the number of minority elected officials signaled that the Section 4 pre-clearance formula in the VRA was outdated and that voter disenfranchisement was largely a problem of the past.

Arnwine sees if differently, noting that ncreased Black voter turnout doesn’t mean that it’s easier to vote, “it means that people are more determined to vote.”

Students of Color Now Match White School Enrollment

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As the nation’s families head back to school, they may notice that for the first time, elementary and middle school students of color will equal the percentage of White students, according to Department of Education projections.

White student enrollment has steadily declined, as have birth rates among White families. Hispanic-American students have, and will continue to have, the largest presence in public elementary and middle schools. Asian and multiracial student populations have also grown in that time, although much more modestly.

In recent years, Black public school enrollment has remained steady at around 17 or 18 percent of all students. It began to decline in 2006, falling to 15.3 percent of all K-8 public school students in 2011. That’s the most recent actual enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES); but the Department of Education predicts Black enrollment continued to decline in 2012 and 2013, will plateau for the next few years, and will begin rising again in 2017.

This year’s “majority-minority” demographic shift is speculation for now – the Department of Education won’t have the actual enrollment figures for fall 2014 until at least 2016. Still, it is a matter of when – not if – schools will be the first sector of society to reflect changing American demographics.

But it doesn’t seem as though public education is in-step with the nation’s steady transformation.

“What’s concerning to me as a consultant is that we have an increasing student population of color and declining percentages of teachers of color,” says Jawanza Kunjufu, a Chicago-based education consultant and author. “Unfortunately, most school districts have one to three days of training for teachers, and most of that is not around multicultural training.”

Less than 7 percent of the nation’s public school teachers are Black. Taken together, teachers of color are only 18 percent.

Kunjufu says that some university education programs, particularly those in urban areas, are attempting to prepare incoming, mostly-White teachers for classroom diversity. But this alone may not be enough to create effective schools that reflect their students.

“We’re looking at 2014 when students are going to be 50 percent White and 50 percent nonwhite, but the curriculum is still Eurocentric. The learning styles are still more left-brained. We still have tracking – the AP, honors, Gifted and Talented, and IB classes are still predominantly White and Asian,” he explains.

Discrimination also remains a problem, despite increased diversity. In fact earlier this year, the Department of Justice stepped in to issue a set of school disciplinary policy guidelines in line with civil rights law. The guidelines were in response to widespread suspensions of Black students of all ages, and also in response to increased law enforcement in school settings.

Under-qualified teachers often end up in Black and brown schools, the same schools that are often underfunded. And there aren’t enough teachers to go around for English-language-learning (ELL) students. In 2012 there were 4.4 million public school students enrolled in ELL programs, or 9.2 percent of all kids. There are only 51,000 ESL/bilingual elementary school teachers—or, a national ratio of one bilingual teacher for every 86 ELL students.

The demographic changes that are now colliding to create this student body shift have been brewing for years.

According to the Pew Research Center, Latinos have been the largest non-White population since 2002, and have continued to increase by 36 percent since then. At the same time, Asians are on par with Latino in terms of growth rate. Between 2012 and 2013, 61 percent of the growth in Asian population was attributed to immigration. In recent years, the growth in Latino population has been from births, not immigration; there have been 9.6 million births from 2000 to 2010, and first-generation Latino-Americans are now becoming adults.

Additionally, public school closures in Black and brown communities are a factor. As student populations are merged across differing communities, the demographics at these schools are significantly altered. These closures have given rise to charter schools. Since the 2001-2002 school year, the number of charter schools has nearly tripled, according to NCES data.

It is worth noting, however, that public charters are only 5.7 percent of all public schools and 4.2 percent of all public school enrollment, as of 2012. On a related note, the student body at private schools remains largely White at nearly 72 percent in 2011 (although pre-K through eighth grade private school enrollment has been on a slow decline since 2002, for all races).

The Department of Education has a few efforts to recruit more teachers of color, particularly through public-private partnerships. It has also taken steps to create state-based teacher training program evaluations.

“We want to recruit that next generation of talent into education…. We also want to make sure that we’re not just bringing great talent, but bringing talent from a diversity of backgrounds,” says Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in a February video address. “Increasingly our teachers and administrators don’t reflect the great diversity of our nation’s public schools. And we’re working very hard to bring more Black and Latino teachers – particularly men – into the profession.”

Kunjufu says that in his experience, efforts to incentivize and recruit teachers on the basis of race are often blocked by unions, though unions often support these tactics for teachers who specialize. In lieu of this aggressive recruiting, Kunjufu’s book, Black Students: Middle Class Teachers, advises schools to compensate for the cultural gap through professional development workshops on bonding, raising expectations, and using culturally relevant tools and methods.

“It’s frustrating for me because I’m primarily working with White, middle class, female teachers who did not grow up in communities of color, have not taken and multicultural courses, and are now teaching our children,” he says. “And it’s frustrating for them as well because they’re not being prepared. Yet, there seems to be resistance to making education more multicultural.”

Civil Rights Groups Push Ferguson Residents to the Polls

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNNPA) – In the aftermath of the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed, Black teenager by a White police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and the social and political unrest that followed, civil rights leaders have urged citizens of the St. Louis County suburb to transform their community at the ballot box.

The revelation that Ferguson, a town that’s nearly 70 percent Black, was represented by a White Republican mayor and a city council that was more than 80 percent White, shocked outsiders and many believed the lack of political voices contributed to the largely non-violent protests that erupted in Ferguson. Darren Wilson, the six-year veteran police officer who shot and killed Brown on August 9, served on a Ferguson police department that is more than 90 percent White.

“What is troubling about Ferguson is the lack of voting representation of African Americans within that government and that has to change,” said Barbara Arnwine, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law.

Less than 12 percent of eligible voters in Ferguson cast ballots in 2013.

“Turnout is especially low among Ferguson’s African American residents, however. In 2013, for example, just 6 percent of eligible black voters cast a ballot in Ferguson’s municipal elections, as compared to 17 percent of white voters,” according to ThinkProgress.Org.

Even the voter turnout rates for the national midterm elections in 2010, which are usually lower than the turnout numbers for presidential elections, were nearly nine times higher than Black voter turnout in Ferguson, Mo., during the last election cycle.

According to the Associated Press, Blacks outvoted Whites in both 2008 and 2012.

“We are all wholeheartedly committed to making sure that political power, meaning voting, by people of color in the city of Ferguson becomes a vital energetic and strong reality and that the next election, including November 2014, will see a new day in African American voter turnout and participation,” said Arnwine.

After President Obama drew sharp criticism from political pundits on the right and the left for his response to the killing of Michael Brown, and the disconcerting images of St. Louis County police firing rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters,

Pamela Meanes, the president-elect of the National Bar Association, said that President Obama can’t win for losing.

“If he was too passionate, individuals would say, ‘he’s [interfering] with the investigation,’” explained Meanes. “If he’s too calm, people would say, ‘he’s not passionate enough.’”

Meanes added: “The real issue is whether or not his words touched the people of Ferguson. I think they did.”

Last week, more than a dozen civil and human rights groups released a statement and list of recommendations for community stakeholders, law enforcement officials and lawmakers in an effort to address the killing of Black men at the hands of police officers across the nation.

The group called for “an independent and comprehensive federal investigation by the Department of Justice of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager shot by police in Ferguson, Mo.”

The recommendations, crafted by the civil rights groups, included comprehensive reviews of excessive use of force reports and killings by police officers on unarmed minorities and the adoption of national standards on use of force for all law enforcement officers.

“The tragic killing of Michael Brown is not an isolated incident. This is emblematic of deficiencies disparities and discrimination in the American criminal justice system,” said Janai Nelson, the associate director-counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “ It’s a system that has been marred by racial profiling, by over-policing by excessive force by law enforcement and the killing and the extreme frustration that we see surrounding not only Michael Brown’s death but the deaths of three other unarmed persons in little over a month.”

A New York City police officer killed Eric Garner, 43, with a chokehold during an attempted arrest in July. On August 5, John Crawford III, 21, was fatally shot by police as he walked around a Wal-Mart talking on his cellphone and carrying a toy gun in Beavercreek, Ohio. Two days after Michael Brown was killed, police shot and killed Ezell Ford, 25, a mentally disabled man in Los Angeles, Calif.

Nelson said, “We call on the Department of Justice not only to conduct a formal and independent investigation, but also to enact much needed structural reform of the United States criminal justice system and to address the pervasive and long-standing deficiencies in police practices and supervision and the widespread failure to deal with issues of racial bias in the criminal justice system, both implicit and explicit that result in the tragic deaths and mass incarceration of Americans of color.”

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