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Blacks Now Finishing High School at Record Levels

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – After 30 years of little to no progress, Black youth are completing high school at the highest rates in history.

This is the finding in a new issue brief titled, “Young Black America Part One: High School Completion Rates are at their Highest Ever,” published by the Center for Economic Policy Research, a Washington-based think-tank. The report examines Census Bureau data for 20 to 24 year-olds, and compares high school completion rates around the country over the past 30 to 40 years.

“All in all, young blacks have experienced significant gains in high school completion rates during the past 13 years,” the report reads. “Given the importance of educational attainment in determining future wages, higher completion rates should, in theory, translate to higher wages.”

In 1975, Black Americans finished high school at a 75 percent rate, compared to 88 percent for Whites and the overall 86 percent rate. In 2000, Blacks completed high school at a 14 percent lower rate than their White counterparts. However, by 2013, the Black completion rate rose to 86 percent, its highest-ever level, shrinking the Black-White gap to less than 7 percent.

“I’m a young Black woman and I wanted to answer the question of what’s going on with young Blacks in America,” says Cherrie Bucknor, a Center for Economic Policy Research assistant and author of the paper. “Sometimes there are too many negative portrayals and negative stereotypes on young Blacks, and I like the fact this was something positive to focus on.”

The gender break down also shows a noteworthy trajectory. In addition to slightly outpacing the rate for Black boys (a trend that holds for all girls, across race), the completion rate for Black girls is 89 percent, only five points lower than the rate for White girls.

While the gains of Black girls were more gradual, Black boys have experienced a rocky road to improvement in helping close the Black-White high school completion gap.

“The completion rate for black males followed the same trajectory, but 3 to 8 percentage points lower. Although black males experienced noticeable gains in completion rates during this century (an increase of 18.1 percent since 2000), their gains were not enough to offset the gains of other groups, leaving noticeable gaps in completion rates between black males and other groups,” the report stated.

“In 2013, the completion rate for black males (83.5 percent) was 5.9 percentage points lower than black females and 8.8 percentage points lower than white males.”

Regional analysis also shows a different trend. At 10 percent higher than the national rate for Black students, the West has held the most promise for Black students since 1975. But the other regions have caught up in recent years. As of 2013, Black students in both the Northeast and the West have the highest completion rates (88.2 and 88.1 percent, respectively). Further, all of the regions now have comparable rates for Black students, all within three percentage points of one another.

Although the report does not examine or speculate on causes for this breaks in these trends, Bucknor has a few theories.

“One factor that might be in play is increasing the graduation requirements for students in general, which makes the decision to drop out or stay in school a little bit different than before then,” Bucknor explains, adding that test scores for entering freshmen also been improving. “And since 2000, some of the plausible factors that I’ve read about include declining teenage birth rates…[which] makes them more likely to be in school.”

The teenage birth rate is also at a historic low, particularly for Black teens. According to 2012 data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the maternity rate for Black girls age 15 to 17 has dropped 45 percent since 2000; for 18 and 19-year olds it has dropped 30 percent.

This report is the first part in a series that explores measures of success (or lack thereof) among Black people under 40.

“I feel like there’s a lot of attention on Blacks in general, but I wanted to focus on young Blacks like me,” Bucknor says. “So I’m hoping to look at several issues related to education, jobs, and inequality as a way to answer that question.”

Ferguson Increased Revenue by Targeting Blacks

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The Justice Department’s recent investigation of the Ferguson, Mo. Police Department not only revealed widespread racism in its operation, but described how poor Blacks were targeted to boost the sagging revenues of small municipalities.

“Ferguson police officers issued nearly 50 percent more citations in the last year than they did in 2010 – an increase that has not been driven, or even accompanied, by a rise in crime,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder said at a press conference to release finding of its investigation of Ferguson. “Along with taxes and other revenue streams, in 2010, the city collected over $1.3 million in fines and fees collected by the court. For fiscal year 2015, Ferguson’s city budget anticipates fine revenues to exceed $3 million – more than double the total from just five years prior.”

Holder said that Ferguson police officers were pressured to deliver on those revenue goals, some even competed to see who could write the most citations in a single stop.

“Once the system is primed for maximizing revenue – starting with fines and fine- enforcement – the city relies on the police force to serve, essentially, as a collection agency for the municipal court rather than a law enforcement entity,” Holder explained.

He told the story of one woman, who received two parking tickets in 2007 for $152 and has paid more than $500 in fines and fees to Ferguson. She was arrested twice for failure to pay tickets and even spent time in jail and she still owes Ferguson $541.

Beyond the compounding fines and frequent traffic stops, Ferguson police, charged with upholding the law, ran roughshod all over it, routinely violated the civil rights of African American residents.

Holder said that the Justice Department’s investigation found “a community where deep distrust and hostility often characterized interactions between police and area residents.”

He said that the Justice Department’s investigation showed that Ferguson police officers “routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force against them. According to the Police Department’s own records, its officers frequently infringe on residents’ First Amendment rights.”

Holder added: “And even in cases where police encounters start off as constitutionally defensible, we found that they frequently and rapidly escalate – and end up blatantly and unnecessarily crossing the line.”

Holder recounted a 2012 arrest in which a Ferguson police officer approached a 32-year-old African American man while he sat in his car after playing basketball at a park.

“The car’s windows appeared to be more heavily tinted than Ferguson’s code allowed, so the officer did have legitimate grounds to question him,” said Holder. “But, with no apparent justification, the officer proceeded to accuse the man of being a pedophile. He prohibited the man from using his cell phone and ordered him out of his car for a pat-down search, even though he had no reason to suspect that the man was armed. And when the man objected – citing his constitutional rights – the police officer drew his service weapon, pointed it at the man’s head, and arrested him on eight different counts. The arrest caused the man to lose his job.”

These types of incidents were anything but isolated, according to Holder.

Even though Blacks account for 67 percent of the population in Ferguson, they comprised more than 85 percent of the traffic stops, between October 2012 and October 2014. Once they were stopped, Blacks were twice as likely to be searched than Whites, but 26 percent less likely to possess contraband or illegal substances.

Nearly 90 percent of the incidents where police officers used force involved Blacks, and in all 14 uses of force involving a canine bite in which the race of the person bitten was reported, the person was African American. Between October 2012 and July 2014.

“This deeply alarming statistic points to one of the most pernicious aspects of the conduct our investigation uncovered: that these policing practices disproportionately harm African American residents,” said Holder. “In fact, our review of the evidence found no alternative explanation for the disproportionate impact on African American residents other than implicit and explicit racial bias.”

Even though city officials and Ferguson Police Department (FPD) officers attributed the individual experiences of residents trapped in the maze of the municipal enforcement system to a lack of personal responsibility, they seemed to ignore the gaps in their own professional accountability to the system.

The Justice Department reported that, Ferguson police omitted critical information from the citations, making it impossible for a person to know what offense they are being charged for, “the amount of the fine owed, or whether a court appearance is required or some alternative method of payment is available,” the report said.

“In some cases, citations fail to indicate the offense charged altogether; in November 2013, for instance, court staff wrote FPD patrol to ‘see what [a] ticket was for’ because ‘it does not have a charge on it.’ In other cases, a ticket will indicate a charge, but omit other crucial information. For example, speeding tickets often fail to indicate the alleged speed observed, even though both the fine owed and whether a court appearance is mandatory depends upon the specific speed alleged.”

Not only did Ferguson police officers submit incomplete citations they also gave people the wrong dates and times for court appearances, increasing the likelihood that they would face additional fines for failing to appear at the correct time.

“It is often difficult for an individual who receives a municipal citation or summons in Ferguson to know how much is owed, where and how to pay the ticket, what the options for payment are, what rights the individual has, and what the consequences are for various actions or oversights,” said the report. “The initial information provided to people who are cited for violating Ferguson’s municipal code is often incomplete or inconsistent. Communication with municipal court defendants is haphazard and known by the court to be unreliable. And the court’s procedures and operations are ambiguous, are not written down, and are not transparent or even available to the public on the court’s website or elsewhere.”

The Justice Department recommended that Ferguson implement a robust system of community policing, prohibit the use of formal or informal ticketing and arrest quotas, and encourage de-escalation and the use of minimal force necessary. The department also recommended that police officers seek supervisory approval before issuing multiple citations and making arrests in certain cases.

In the wake of the report, two Ferguson police officers were forced to resign. The fate of Tom Jackson, the chief of police, is still uncertain.

Holder said that dialogue, by itself, will not be sufficient to address these issues, because concrete action is needed. However, initiating a broad, frank, and inclusive conversation is a necessary and productive first step.

“It is time for Ferguson’s leaders to take immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action,” Holder said. “Let me be clear: the United States Department of Justice reserves all its rights and abilities to force compliance and implement basic change.”

Supreme Court's Shelby Ruling Makes Selma a 'Footnote'

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As Washington lawmakers, local officials and activists prepare to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to observe the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Ala., some civil rights leaders want them to remember that voting rights are still under attack.

Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., the president and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, recently convened a meeting of voting rights advocates and community stakeholders in Washington, D.C. to review the past, present and future of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA).

When the United States Supreme Court invalidated the coverage formula (Section 4) of the law in Shelby County v. Holder in July 2013, the court’s ruling effectively neutered Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. States and jurisdictions with histories of voter discrimination would no longer be forced to pre-clear changes in their voting laws with the Department of Justice or in federal court in Washington, D.C.

In the aftermath of the ruling, Texas and North Carolina passed a series of restrictive voting laws that experts said will make it harder for poor people and Blacks to vote.

“My biggest fear with the movie ‘Selma’ and the excitement around the celebrations this year is that we will go to Selma and think Shelby is the footnote,” said Jackson. “Shelby is the deal, Selma is the footnote.”

In his typical fashion, Jackson said that events of Selma 50 year ago is in the rear view mirror and Shelby is in front of us and it’s getting bigger everyday.

Barbara Arnwine, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan group focused on ending racial discrimination, said that in the wake of the Shelby County decision, it’s much harder to monitor what happens at the local level and that’s really where voting rights advocates miss Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Arnwine expressed concerns that not enough is known about what local officials are doing to protect the right to vote in cities and municipalities that are holding elections for critically important county commission seats, city councils and school boards.

“So much is happening at the local level. Everyone monitors what happens at the state level, but what we don’t know with clarity is what is happening at the local level,” said Arnwine. “The beauty of [Section 5] was that it stopped discrimination before it happened, because it required covered jurisdictions to report any changes, and we were able to track those changes.”

Lawyers and voting rights advocates have turned to Section 2 of the voting law to defend voters, which is more costly and time consuming than bringing claims under Section 5.

Aggrieved parties not only have to wait until after the voting law takes effect before filing a lawsuit, they also have to prove that law is discriminatory, a high bar for voting rights lawyers and almost impossible for citizens to reach on their own.

According to research conducted by the Lawyers’ Committee, 72 percent of all successful discrimination claims under Section 2 were in jurisdictions formerly covered by Section 5. Two-thirds of those claims were in jurisdictions in only four states: Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Months before the Shelby County decision, Tanya Clay House, the public policy director for the Lawyers’ Committee, said that voting rights advocates planned for the possibility that the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts would strike down the landmark law.

“We have to let go of what we had in Section 5, because we’re not going to get that back,” said Clay House. “It’s unfortunate, but that is the reality we’re faced with right now.”

Clay House said that the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), a bipartisan bill introduced by Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.), isn’t perfect, but it’s better than what citizens have now.

The proposed bill includes a new requirement that all states would have to give notice to any voting rights changes and a “rolling trigger” for Department of Justice oversight for states with five voting rights violations, and political subdivisions with three violations in 15 years.

The Sensenbrenner-Convers bill, which never made it out of the Judiciary Committee during the last legislative session, also would allow federal observers in states outside of formerly covered jurisdictions.

But the proposal also includes a special exception for the controversial photo identification requirements some states have adopted. Further, it includes a carve out for the controversial photo identification requirements some states have adopted.

“We recognize that it’s a compromise bill that does strengthen our position and moves us from having nothing. We have no coverage compared to what we had under Section 5,” said Clay House.

She said that the Lawyers’ Committee will also join other groups to work on issues outside of the proposed bill, including long lines during elections, that have some have dubbed “the time tax” and challenges of early voting.

The most underutilized power that people of color have in this country that we have is economic boycotts, said Arnwine.

“For a nation that hates to talk about race, for a nation consumed by active racial denial, it has been fascinating to watch our nation be rocked by young people protesting the death of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and so many others, it has been fascinating to see this movement take to the streets,” said Arnwine. “Our challenge is to take that same level of energy to the streets on voting rights.”

The the Voting Rights Amendment Act has received less bipartisan support in the current Congress and Republicans in the United States House of Representatives have adopted the opinion that the Voting Rights Act worked so well that protections under Section 5 were no longer needed.

Jackson said that he didn’t want politicians marching in Selma who should be marching in Shelby County, because that’s’ what they stand for.

“If you’re for Shelby, say you’re for Shelby,” said Jackson. “My fear is that those who are hyped up coming from Congress want their ‘I went to Selma’ [photo-op], who are against what we stand for. There should be some line of demarcation established in that situation.”

Alabama State Rep. Merika Coleman-Evans agreed.

“All the Repubs that will sing ‘Kumbayah’ we need to make sure that every voter in the state of Alabama is enfranchised not disenfranchised if they want to get on board with that I’m with them but I’m not for the show. I’m not for the pomp and circumstance. I’m for some real action.

“Selma is not trendy, Selma is not Hollywood, Selma is real and when everybody leaves there’s still going to be high unemployment rates in Selma along with the state of Alabama,” said Coleman-Evans, who was also an Alabama state surrogate for President Obama during his 2012 campaign. “We want people to recognize, especially the president of these United States of America, who I have supported wholeheartedly for all these years, that we need help and we want to make sure others don’t co-op an event that has been done the same way for the past 40 years.”

Racial Disparities in Early Childhood Hurts U.S.

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) –Increased investment in early childhood education and care can eradicate many of the racial success gaps that persist throughout society, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP).

Early childhood encompasses birth through 3 years old, and children of color are already the majority in this as-yet-unnamed generation.

The report, titled, “Investing in Infants and Toddlers to Combat Inequality,” shows that despite being the majority, children of color are generally faring poorly on a number of social and educational metrics. One -in-three toddlers of color lives in poverty. By 5 years old, children from low-income homes have heard millions of words fewer than their more affluent peers (a vocabulary deficit known as the word gap).

According to an earlier CAP report, even among middle- and upper-class families, 25 percent of all kindergarteners are not school-ready – they may not know any letters, numbers, or colors, for example.

“While the United States as a whole has become an increasingly educated country over time, very significant educational disparities exist between whites and people of color,” the report states. “Since the majority of infants are children of color, improving the continuum of early childhood programs available to children under age 3 and their families provides an opportunity to stifle these disparities before they begin.”

Data suggests that without intervention to beef up early education programs, this generation may not be able to meet economic demands to maintain the United States as a world leader. Among 25 to 29 year olds in 2012, only 37 percent of Whites, 17 percent of Blacks, and 13 percent of Hispanics held at least a bachelor’s degree.

According to the report, if current educational attainment trends continue, 5 million jobs over the next decade will go unfilled or be outsourced for lack of skilled, educated American workers.

Further, if racial income gaps had been closed in 2011, national GDP would have increased by $1.2 trillion and an additional $192 billion in taxes would have been generated.

“If the heart doesn’t get us – the importance of helping [the babies]…the other thing that should get us are the economic implications,” said David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, speaking as part of a panel event connected to the report release. “So many of our communities would be saved if we would just find the time to make intentional investments in children and families, early.”

The foundation for today’s early childhood programs were the result of largely successful social and educational experiments primarily tested with Black children and families. Generally, families of color now lack access to affordable, high quality programs. Part of it is cost. The report asserts that the cost of childcare is higher than the median rent in all 50 states. It also asserts that most of the nation’s childcare options are poor or mediocre in quality, despite this high cost.

The federal government offers several provisions for the youngest among us, and their parents. Some are more effective than others. The Child Care Development Block Grant, for example, allows states to give low-income families childcare subsidies. But, the report points out, while the subsidies free up low-income parents to attend school, work, or technical training, the subsidies don’t match the cost of high-quality programs; so such programs usually do not accept these vouchers.

There’s also Early Head Start (EHS) and the very popular Head Start program. These programs, which have benefitted Black families in particular, provide a spread of pre- and post-natal health services, child development, and educational services to low-income infants and toddlers.

“Research on the effectiveness of EHS shows positive effects on development for infants and toddlers, including a wide range of cognitive and social-behavioral out- comes, and on child-rearing practices for mothers,” the report explains. “These beneficial effects were markedly large for African American children, including an increase in parental support for early language and literacy, daily reading, and teaching activities through age 5.”

But, Head Start is “severely underfunded,” serving less than 5 percent of the nation’s infants and toddlers.

During the CAP panel, the speakers explained that parents can bolster early childhood development by spending a lot of face time with their children: talking, reading, and making up stories. The simple activities can go along way toward academic success later in life.

“We spend a lot of time and a lot of resources attempting to catch up, and to close both opportunity and achievement gaps that would not exist if we were to start early – at the time that baby is in utero, and at the time in which the foundation upon which all future learning and development is taking place and is actually being formed,” Johns said.

“There’s so much more work to do to ensure that everyone understand the importance of [early childhood] and then that they’re able to properly invest in it.”

Report: Incarceration Shows Little to No Effect on Crime

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By Freddie Allen NNPA
Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In the last two decades mass incarceration, a system that has a disproportionate negative impact on the Black community, has had little to no effect on crime, according to a new report.

The United States accounts for about 5 percent of the world’s population and one-quarter of the world’s incarcerated population, “nine to ten times that of many European countries,” the report said and roughly 40 percent of the 2.3 million people that are locked up in jail or prison are Black.

Researchers at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, a nonpartisan think tank that advocates for criminal justice reform, looked at 14 of the most common theories associated with the decline of crime, including incarceration, an aging population, decreased alcohol use, consumer confidence and even decreased lead in gasoline and found that the current levels of incarceration were ineffective in reducing crime.

Inimai Chettiar, the director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center, wrote that mass incarceration has been a vast, costly social experiment that has spanned four decades.

Chettiar said, “At current rates, one in three black males can expect to spend time behind bars. This archipelago of prisons and jails costs more than $80 billion annually – about equivalent to the budget of the federal Department of Education.”

The report said that from 1990-1999 an aging population, decreased alcohol consumption, decreased unemployment, growth in income, increased rates of incarceration and the number of police likely had an effect on crime.

“Since 2000, the effect on the crime rate of increasing incarceration, in other words, adding individuals to the prison population, has been essentially zero,” stated the report. “Increased incarceration accounted for approximately 6 percent of the reduction in property crime in the 1990s (this could vary statistically from 0 to 12 percent), and accounted for less than 1 percent of the decline in property crime this century.”

From 2000-2013 consumer confidence, decreased alcohol consumption, income growth, inflation and the introduction of CompStat (COMParative STATistics) contributed to falling crime rates.

The basic principles of CompStat include accurate, timely intelligence, effective tactics, rapid deployment, a targeted policing plan, and follow-up and assessment.

According to the report, CompStat-style programs accounted for about 5 to 15 percent decrease in crime in city urban police departments where they were employed. The report also noted that CompStat policies were different than policing tactics like broken windows, hot spots, or stop-and-frisk.

Researchers said that CompStat contributed to the sharp decline New York City’s from 1994 to 2012, a 63 percent fall vs. 27.2 percent nationwide.

When researchers examined state-level data, they found that slow-moving criminal justice reform contributed to diminishing returns of incarceration.

For years, mandatory minimum sentencing, “10-20-life” and “three strikes” laws contributed to incredible growth in Florida’s jail and prison population.

“By 2010, Florida’s incarceration rate was 38 percent higher than the national average,” the report said. “Since 1980, the effectiveness of increased incarceration in Florida has been declining. In 1980, the state’s prison population was 20,735. In 2002, when the prison population exceeded 75,000, the effectiveness of increased incarceration reached a level that was effectively zero. By 2013, Florida’s prison population skyrocketed to 103,028.”

Even though state lawmakers in Florida passed legislation to abolish mandatory minimums for some low-level drug offenders, the report said that “without major reforms, the state continues to suffer from high rates of recidivism, probation violations, and juveniles graduating to the adult system.”

Past felony convictions often make it difficult or impossible in some cases for ex-offenders to access federal housing, food and education aid and employers use criminal records to screen potential candidates. Limited opportunities on the outside often increase their chances of returning to prison. One in 9 Black children have a parent who is incarcerated increasing the likelihood that they will grow up poor with limited access to high quality education and opportunities continuing the cycle of poverty.

In the foreword to the Brennan Center report, Joseph Stiglitz, the former chairman of the United States Council of Economic Advisers and a 2001 recipient of Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences wrote that the United States needed to work on decreasing the effects of socioeconomic inequality instead of investing in policies that destroy human potential today and handicap the country in the future.

Stiglitz stated: “When high levels of incarceration provide scant public safety benefit, it is pointless to continue using – wasting – resources in this way. Instead, the country should shift priorities away from policies proven to be ineffective and focus our energies on truly beneficial initiatives that both reduce crime and reduce mass incarceration.”

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