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NAACP Supports Wilmington Ten Petition

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By Cash Michaels
Special to the NNPA from The Wilmington Journal

WILMINGTON, N.C. (NNPA) – The national NAACP has now joined its North Carolina conference of chapters in supporting pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten.

Meanwhile sources maintain that there is opposition to the proposed pardons, primarily from former law enforcement and state officials who still believe – despite no evidence proving that the Wilmington Ten had anything to do with the 1971 firebombing of a White-owned grocery store, or sniper shots at responding firemen – that they are guilty.

With the deadline for petitions and support letters looming, last week the national NAACP tweeted out an appeal to its 32,000-plus followers on Twitter to sign a new petition in support of the Wilmington Ten pardons effort.

“Wrongfully framed by the courts, we ask that North Carolina clear the names of these ten innocent people – four of whom are now deceased – who deserve their justice forty years later,” the NAACP petition states.

“Forty years later we stand together in the name of justice for the Wilmington Ten and their families. Let us put such issues to rest and move forward from the days of racial tensions and injustices,” the NAACP petition statement continues. “Pardon the Wilmington Ten and declare them their warranted innocence. They deserve nothing less than to get an opportunity to put this experience behind them, and have their names cleared for history, once and for all.”

The NAACP petition can be found at http://www.naacp.org/pages/naacp-petitions. It should be signed by Nov. 30.

“There are still too many Black activists who are still being mistreated in this country, who carry badges of shame, if you will, for spending time in prison, who at the end of the day, their only crime was standing up for the people,” NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous told The Carolinian last March. “In the case of the Wilmington Ten, we will push [for pardons] and support our state conference in their push to ensure that finally, their names are cleared.”

Two days after the pardons of innocence effort was made public last May, and with the blessings of NAACP Board Chairwoman Roslyn Brock, the North Carolina NAACP president, Rev. William Barber, along with civil rights attorney Al McSurely, and NAACP Board Executive Committee member Carolyn Coleman, pushed through a resolution supporting the Wilmington Ten that was unanimously adopted by the national NAACP Board of Directors.

Rev. Barber also facilitated having the Pardon Project’s hard copy petitions setup during the national convention in Houston, Texas last summer, and was the keynote speaker during the June 26 prayer rally at St. Stephen’s Church in Wilmington.

Support from the nation’s oldest civil rights organization and its leaders hasn’t stopped there.

In an effort to make sure that North Carolina’s major newspapers were fully apprised of both the moral and legal implications of the Wilmington Ten case, the state NAACP, joined by area ministers, along with Pardon Project attorney Irving Joyner, and civil rights attorney Al McSurely, held a press conference last week in Raleigh, urging the governor to grant the pardons.

The legal argument hinged not only on the Ten’s innocence and the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals 1980 ruling overturning the convictions, but also on the newly discovered handwritten notes of state prosecutor James “Jay” Stroud.

The prosecutor’s notes document how he not only attempted to hand-pick a “KKK” and “Uncle Tom” type jury to assure convictions of the Wilmington Ten, but deliberately calculated a mistrial in the first trial because a jury of 10 Blacks and two Whites had been selected.

When the second trial commenced in September 1972, Stroud was able to engineer a jury of 10 Whites and two Blacks, in addition to three witnesses he coerced into committing perjury. The Wilmington Ten were ultimately convicted.

“I believe when the governor studies this evidence, she will do the right thing and sign the pardons,” said attorney McSurely.

The state of North Carolina has let the false convictions stand for 40 years, allowing the Wilmington Ten to remain convicted felons ever since. Four of the Ten have since died, and three of the remaining six are in poor health.

With Gov. Beverly Perdue leaving office on Dec. 31, the push is on deliver all petitions and support letters to her by the first week in December.

University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill School of Law Professor Richard Rosen, a national expert in criminal law, has agreed to join the other legal scholars, elected officials and members of Congress in formally asking Gov. Perdue to grant pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten.

For Rosen, this case is more than just what he’s read in a law book.

“I actually attended a few days of the trial, and when I was a law student I worked with [Wilmington ten lead defense attorney] James Ferguson on the appeals,” Prof. Rosen said in a statement. “I also was involved in some of the post-trial organizing. So I’m willing to do whatever I can to help.”

(To sign the Change.Org online petition asking Gov. Beverly Perdue to grant pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten, please go to https://www.change.org/petitions/nc-governor-bev-perdue-pardon-the-wilmington-ten by Nov. 30.)

New Book on Thurgood Marshall Details Early Life

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By Avis Thomas-Lester
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

An unusual testament to the quality of the new biography of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall by Baltimore attorney and University of Maryland law school professor Larry S. Gibson is cited on the back cover.

“The most accurate book ever published about my husband,” Marshall’s widow, Cecelia S. Marshall, wrote about Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice, which is scheduled to be released Dec. 4.

The foreword to the book contains more praise from Marshall’s family.

“Professor Larry S. Gibson has crafted a unique and engrossing portrait,” said Marshall’s oldest son, Thurgood Marshall Jr.

“Through the rich collection of childhood anecdotes, the insights into the colorful assemblage of relatives, mentors, and legal clients who shaped my father’s development; and the recounting of the challenges and opportunities my father encountered…this book weaves together the events that formed the foundation for my father’s career.”

Having endorsements from the widow and namesake of a subject you are profiling is the desire of many a biographer. In Gibson’s case, the kudos came after Marshall’s relatives witnessed, firsthand, the care he took in researching the civil rights icon’s life. He had spent thousands of hours poring over material on Marshall before he even approached the family. Gibson, a practicing lawyer at the law firm of Shapiro, Sher, Guinot, and Sandler, first met Marshall in 1975 as a young lawyer who went to the Supreme Court justice’s Falls Church, Va., home in the middle of the night seeking a signature on an emergency order. That meeting stoked an interest in Marshall that was the foundation for the research that would be published 37 years later as Young Thurgood.

After sporadically researching Marshall for so many years, Gibson grew frustrated with the misinformation he saw in other books. Some described him as moody and curmudgeonly, when Marshall was known for his sense of humor. Some described him as lacking in intellect when his work and the opinions of many of the great legal minds of the 20th century call him a talented legal strategist and masterful litigator. Some got details of his childhood wrong, others falsely claimed he had grown to loathe his hometown. Most of the books Gibson had seen repeated the same misinformation about Marshall’s early years, when it was included at all.

After hearing him grumble for years, the dean at the University of Maryland law school, Karen Rothenberg, suggested that he “write a book that sets the record straight.” Gibson decided, in 2002 at age 60, to respond to that challenge.

“My goal in writing the book was to tell the truth, to point out what is correct and to say what was wrong and to correct it,” he said in an interview.

He did not, however, call out other biographers. Instead, he presented what he knew to be the facts, gleaned from untold hours of interviews with people who knew Marshall or from credible information from Marshall’s writings, official records, court documents, magazines and newspapers. Point of full disclosure: Gibson credits the AFRO-American Newspapers with providing some of the best and most thorough information on Marshall, from his days on the debating team at Colored High School, later Frederick Douglass, to his time at Lincoln University in southeastern Pennsylvania, where he roomed with James H. Murphy, a descendant of AFRO founder John H. Murphy Sr. His ascension in the legal world was chronicled by AFRO publisher Carl J. Murphy, who, as Gibson noted in his book, took an early interest in Marshall’s career. The tradition of the AFRO reporting on Marshall continued throughout his life.

The book demonstrates the depth of Gibson’s research. He didn’t just read what others had written and talk to people in the present. He reached back to Marshall’s early years in Old West Baltimore working at his grandfather’s store, to his college days as a member of the debate team and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, where he was once suspended for hazing. Gibson details the struggle Thurgood had as a young lawyer looking for office space in a city that openly discriminated against Blacks, even those who could personally file suit against them, before settling into offices with the formidable Baltimore attorney Warner T. McGuinn in the old Phoenix Building at 4 East Redwood Street in downtown Baltimore.

“Part of my objective was to show, not mainly what Thurgood did, but what he was like,” said Gibson, 70. “Clearly he was the product of his environment both physically and historically and the people around him all described certain traits, like his work habits. I needed to place him in that environment, to describe the events, people and circumstances.”

Gibson said acquaintances described Marshall as an industrious and confident boy who loved his family and worked “with almost no break” from elementary school to the end of his life.

“He had a part time job from age 7,” Gibson said.

His father, William Marshall, was well-read, bright with strong opinions, but had a difficult time maintaining well-paying work. His mother, Norma, was a doting mother who was steadfast in her determination for Thurgood, and his older brother William Aubrey, called Aubrey, to be well educated. The book contains letters written by Marshall’s mother each year pleading for her sons to be admitted to college despite having unpaid bills. She was rewarded when Aubrey chose medicine as a career and Thurgood reached the highest position in the legal profession years after her death.

Because his research took place over such an extended period of time, Gibson was able to speak with sources who are no longer living, like childhood friends and colleagues who provided first-hand information on the events of his life as Marshall rose from well-regarded Baltimore lawyer to a nationally-known civil rights advocate—all before he turned 30 years old.

Gibson said his aim was to present a book that would appeal to students and historians alike. An avid photographer, he included some 188 images that contribute significantly to the story.

“If you look at the photos and read the cutlines, you can get much of the book,” he said.

Gibson, who grew up and still lives in Baltimore, described the book as “easily readable,” adding that for “scholars and historians, there is an extensive collection of footnotes” that detail Marshall’s research, legal findings on many of his cases and personal correspondence.

Young Thurgood is a detail-rich story that unfolds like a novel, with intriguing characters and settings that come to life through the extensive collection of photos. From the image of Thurgood as an infant, to an advertisement for his grandfather’s store for which he posed as a youngster to the images of the lanky, disheveled youth who honed his skills as a litigator by excelling in debate in college, the photos provide an intriguing look inside young Marshall’s life.

The story of the man who would make history as the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court begins before he was born with a history lesson worthy of inclusion in a K-12 curriculum. Told against the rich backdrop of Baltimore, Md. and African-American history, Young Thurgood traces not only the life of the famous civil rights lawyer, but the plight and progress of Blacks in Maryland from Reconstruction to a few years before the United States entered World War II.

That history, Gibson said, influenced Marshall’s perception of the world and was the impetus for him to seek a career in the law. He grew up seeing discrimination against Blacks in everything from employment to the placement of housing restrictions that still influence the level of poverty among Blacks in Baltimore today. His parents were interested in politics and he grew up seeing how local churches, with the help of powerful lawyers, like W. Ashbie Hawkins, the first Black attorney for the Baltimore NAACP, organized protests to turn those discriminatory policies around or at least stand up against them.

The book weaves through Marshall’s early years as a civil litigator and civil rights attorney. It includes his victories and losses. It delves into his relationships with legal legends like Charles Hamilton Houston, the Howard law school administrator who served as special counsel to the NAACP, a titan who took an early interest in Marshall and brought him up to succeed him. The two worked together on the case of Murray v. Pearson, “the first major school desegregation victory in the nation,” according to Gibson’s book. Donald G. Murray was a 21-year-old graduate of Amherst who was denied admittance to the University of Maryland law school.

“It was a case that historians now regard as the first step on the road to Brown v. Board of Education,” Gibson said.

Gibson said he does not plan a sequel.

“This was the book I wanted to do and it is done,” he said. “I will let others tell the rest of the story.”

Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice, 413 pages, was published by Prometheus Books. It is available on Amazon.com and Barnes.com for $16. It will sell at signings and bookstores for $28.

Gibson will speak and sign his book in Baltimore at 7 p.m. on Thurs., Dec. 13 at the Enoch Pratt Library and at 5:30 p.m. on Fri., Dec. 14 at Union Baptist Church. He will sign and speak in Washington D.C. at 6 p.m. on Dec. 19 at the Thurgood Marshall Center on 12th Street NW. Thurgood Marshall Jr., Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Gibson’s law partner, Ronald Shapiro are expected to attend the Pratt library event. An ecumenical group of pastors are scheduled to attend at Union Street. Cecelia Marshall and Kurt Schmoke, former Baltimore mayor, are scheduled to attend the D.C. event.

Civil Rights Icon Lawrence Guyot Dies

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By Barrington Salmon
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

For the many years he lived in the District of Columbia, Lawrence Guyot could be counted on to be at the forefront of any issue that involved equality, justice and fair play.

The tall, husky, barrel-chested Mississippi native marched, agitated, confronted, and instigated for change. He was a common presence at D.C. Council meetings, challenging those he felt ignored or overlooked the needs of the poor and the vulnerable. And he served as an advisory neighborhood commissioner seeking to change from the inside as well as outside.

On Friday, Nov. 23, Guyot’s large heart, that embraced every righteous cause, was stilled. He died at age 73 after a long illness.

“I regard him as one of the real unsung heroes of the Civil Rights movement,” said Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who had known her friend, community activist and lawyer for 50 years. “Most of those who were as badly beaten as him didn’t live to tell it much less live a life of struggle. He was much respected for carrying on many different struggles in this town. He didn’t confine himself. He knew injustice when he saw it because he had seen it at its worst.”

Norton, 75, said she first met Guyot when he, famed Civil Rights Campaigner Fannie Lou Hamer and 14-year-old June Johnson were imprisoned in Winona, Miss., for registering black people to vote at a time when racist elements in the state and other parts of the South resorted to murder, intimidation and violence to ensure that blacks there would never have the opportunity to exercise their constitutional rights.

“I first met him when I was a law student in Mississippi, went to Greenwood, Miss., and was told that he’d been put in jail in Winona. I went there to try to get him out of jail,” Norton recalled. “They let him out of jail to allow him to be beaten by the White Citizens’ Councils. When you meet someone under those circumstances, you form a lasting bond. At that time there was almost no Civil Rights movement in Mississippi. It had spread throughout the South and the last place to go was Mississippi.”

“There was terrorist violence for anyone who threatened the regime – from the courts to the police to all parts of the community.”

Local political consultant, political analyst and commentator Chuck Thies said Guyot was a unique man and activist.

“He is an irreplaceable force in the District. I am saddened by his death,” said Thies, 47. “He was a civil rights warrior who used his background in D.C. politics. Lawrence was different from the civil rights leaders of that era who are still around today. He was jailed and beaten and risked his life for the cause of civil rights. Don’t get me wrong, people like Eleanor Holmes Norton, Marion Barry and Ivanhoe Donaldson were courageous, but Lawrence did not use his civil rights background as a way for upward mobility.”

Thies detailed just a small snapshot of Guyot’s activities in the city.

“In 2003, he worked with whites to have the District as the first Democratic primary in the 2004 presidential race. He legitimized the effort in the D.C. civil rights and black community. In 2004, at a discussion of a Ken Burns film, he said that D.C. is racially divided and the only thing that is bringing the people of the city together is Howard Dean and Kwame Brown. That is a classic Guyotism.”

Longtime Civil Rights Activist Dorie Ann Ladner said it will be hard not to be able to call Guyot every day to discuss politics and to get updates on scuttlebutt and the latest political information percolating not just in the city but nationwide.

“It really will be hard to not have those discussions. He was a fearless warrior in civil rights, housing, jobs, and justice,” said Ladner, who met Guyot as a teenager in 1961. “He was a political animal. I’d call him every day and ask what was on the agenda.”

Ladner said her friend was “always there advocating for the poor and downtrodden.”

“He supported group homes in D.C. neighborhoods when a lot of people were opposed to them,” said Ladner, 70. “We fell out when he supported [former Mayor Adrian] Fenty. I chased him across Turkey Thicket. He got up and started trotting and I was on a crutch after him. I told [Kwame] Brown I was looking for him.”

“And when he supported Carol Schwartz, I got up and gave him a piece of my mind and after that, I gave him a ride home. Our core beliefs were the same. That is where we were joined at the hip. You couldn’t separate us.”

Ladner said she met Guyot at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., in 1961 when she was a sophomore and he was an upperclassman. She said she and her sister Joyce became involved with Freedom Riders “in the body of Diane Nash, James Bevel, Paul Brooks, and Marion Barry, who remained in Mississippi around the right to vote.”

“When I met them, it was like Hallelujah. We wanted to get involved and those few of us went into Jackson to talk … about our rights,” said Ladner. “I asked Guyot if he wanted to go with us. We lived about 10 miles from the city limits. It was something he liked and he stayed with it.”

Ladner said Guyot wasn’t on the staff of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) but both of them worked with SNCC Project Director Bob Moses and others from the Congress of Racial Equality to register disenfranchised black voters and to integrate public accommodations.

Ladner was a founding member of the Council of Federal Organizations in Clarkesdale, Miss., an umbrella organization which included Civil Rights martyr Medgar Evers, SNCC, the NAACP, Congress on Racial Equality and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“We launched ‘Freedom Summer’ and in the summer of ’61, ’62, I went home and told my mother I was going back to Jackson to get my freedom,” she said.

Ladner said Guyot paid an awful price for his fight for freedom and equality.

“He was in Parchment Prison at least two times that I know of,” she said. “In Greenwood, he looked like one of the Somali refugees. He’d lost 100 pounds and had his head shaved. They turned on the heat at night, tortured them. Once, they had to jump out of a window in Greenwood. I often joked with him about how he got out the window because he was always robust, but he said ‘you gotta do what you gotta do…’”

In 1962, Guyot began work with SNCC and two years later was named director of the Freedom Summer Project in Hattiesburg, Miss. He was also the founding chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which sought to include African Americans in the Democratic Party’s Mississippi delegation.

“He became the chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and went to Atlantic City in 1964 and challenged the seating of an all-white delegation. We had taken Miss Hamer from the cotton fields to Atlantic City.”

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1965, Ladner said she, Guyot and other Civil Rights pioneers had already been in the trenches fighting for these rights for years. And in later years, she said, Guyot always expressed concern that the act was constantly under threat.

Guyot said as much last year after watching PBS’ screening of ‘Freedom Riders’ at the Newseum with several hundred viewers.

After the show, at a watering hole in downtown Washington, Guyot was his usual boisterous, funny self as he explained in detail the ways that blacks and their allies needed to protect this cherished right.

He also recounted his days as a soldier on the forefront of the civil rights struggle, tying those struggles with D.C.’s statehood push and the scandals embroiling council members.

“I find this absolutely astounding,” Guyot said during an interview earlier this year. “If you’re going to do a criminal investigation, it’s good to start with a crime that has been committed. This is not a serious investigation; its intent is to inhibit this government’s operations,” Guyot said about the federal investigation into businessman Jeffrey Thompson’s involvement in political donations to elected officials. “It is an issue framed as if it’s only about purity. We should have as much concern for having a functioning government as a pure government.”

“I don’t want this government stymied by discussions of who’s the purest in the group. When I go to the polls, I go to elect politicians, not saints.”

Ladner said Guyot was an unabashed supporter of President Barack Obama. She said he went to North Carolina and elsewhere in 2008 to campaign for him and although he was unable to travel this year, he worked the phones. She and others who knew Guyot said he was a die-hard Democrat and predicted Obama’s victory on Nov. 6.

Local journalist Adrienne Washington said she is stunned by her friend’s passing.

“He said he was the president of my fan club,” said the former Washington Times columnist and writer. “He would come and lecture in my classes and talked a lot about the Civil Rights movement. He always repeated the quote about race relations: there was the USA, the South and then there was Mississippi.”

“He registered Fannie Lou Hamer to vote. He was beaten almost half to death for registering people to vote and he was very involved in the Mississippi Teaching Project – making civil rights relevant to children today.”

“It used to bother me that people thought he was stuck in the ’60s but they didn’t understand him. It was always a springboard to tie it to current issues. And he wasn’t as predictable as you would think. He supported Fenty. He never got his due. He should be up there with Hamer, [Ella] Baker and King. There’s a bunch of unsung heroes and soldiers. He was at the top of that list. He really cared about D.C. and poor people. He wore those people out at the city council.”

WI Staff Writer James Wright contributed to this story.

Scrambling to Provide a Good Education

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By Maya Rhodan
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Federal housing assistance recipients usually do not reside in areas near high performing schools, keeping many educational opportunities from reaching poor and minority students, according to a recent study by the D.C.-based Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC).

The study shows, the schools nearest a third of public housing and Section 8 tenants are ranked in the bottom tenth percentile based on performance, meaning 90 percent of schools perform better on standardized tests. Around 25 percent of Housing Choice Voucher holders, who are allowed to choose where they want to live through the program, reside near schools that perform at roughly the same level.

Phil Tegeler, the executive director of PRRAC, a civil rights advocacy organization, wasn’t surprised by the reports overall findings, but was taken aback by the findings among Choice Voucher holders.

“It’s supposed to be expanding choice for families, but many of the 100 largest metro areas are still placing students in areas with lower-performing schools and schools with high levels of poverty,” Tegeler says. “A study like this raises some interesting questions about assistance. Namely, is the purpose to put a roof over your head or provide access to opportunity?”

The schools nearest Housing Choice Voucher Households have a median proficiency of 26 percent with 74 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch. For Black households, the percentile rank drops 6 percent and the percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch increases to 80 percent.

While the majority of public housing recipients are White, the characteristics of schools near White households are less daunting with schools ranking in the 40th percentile and an average of 56 percent of students receiving free and reduced lunch.

But, what does that mean for the students?

Research by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance shows schools with high levels of poverty have been shown to have lower access to high-quality teachers and face issues like low-performance on standardized tests.

Nationally, African American students already underperform White students by as many as 29 points on standardized tests in math and 26 points in reading. However, research published in “Whither Opportunity?” a compilation of studies on economic inequality and education, has shown that the gap between poor and wealthy students is nearly twice that Black and White students.

Consequently, many of these policies, which inadvertently keep children from obtaining a quality education, could be hitting poor Black students twice as hard.

Dawn Hawk is a principal at a elementary school in southwestern Chicago where 96 percent of the students live in poverty.

“It’s just a cycle for a lot of kids in high poverty areas, you have to break the cycle and the way to break that cycle is to provide the same resources that are available to those kids who are privy to those resources from birth,” says Hawk.

Five years ago her school, McKay Elementary, was at 27 percent proficiency, now nearly 60 percent of students perform at or above their grade level.

Hawk strives to develop a safe school environment that students can feel comfortable in, but also provide a quality educational experience for students regardless of their economic background.

“Equity in education is lacking,” says Hawk. “If you have resources you can do so much more, you can take your students places they’ve never been before—you could push schools like mine to another level.”

“The idea that in this country we don’t provide excellence for every student is simply wrong,” says Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association, which advocates for quality public education. “Lack of education in the 21st century, not having a high school diploma and beyond that, will hurt students for the rest of their life.”

Despite the general findings of the report, there are glimmers of hope among the metropolitan areas where educational opportunities among federal housing recipients are close to the national average.

In parts of Texas and California, the percentile ranking of schools closest to public housing tenants reaches as high as 75 in places like Vallejo, Calif. and 58 in El Paso, Texas.

Tegeler says this could be attributed to lesser amounts of segregation in western areas.

“With this question of access I think you see more integration and access in western states in newer metro areas, “ Tegeler says. “The federal government knows what it needs to do get more balance so more families have access to better performing schools, but people will need to speak up and demand that these programs give kids access to better opportunities.“

Crime Down, Black Arrests Up

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Although crime is on the decline in the United States, the rate of arrest of Blacks continue to exceed that of Whites, according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute.

The Justice Policy Institute, a non-profit organization that advocates for reforms in the criminal justice system, examined the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2011 Uniform Crime Report and found that Blacks accounted for 28.4 percent of arrests in 2011 compared to 69.2 percent for Whites. In 2010, according to the FBI, 28 percent of those arrested were Black and 69.4 percent were White.

In other words, the arrest rate for Blacks was more than double that of Whites. At this point, researchers are unsure whether this trend will hold as crime continues to decline.

Violent offenses fell 3.8 percent and property crime decreased 0.5 percent in 2011 compared to 2010. Drug arrests plummeted 6.57 percent, but still account for 1.5 million arrests.

Spike Bradford, a researcher for the Justice policy Institute, said that, it’s hard to know what accounted for the drop in drug-related arrests.

“Hopefully, it reflects a growth in understanding of drug abuse as a problem better addressed through the public health systems,” he said. “It may also reflect shrinking federal funding for police, so law enforcement departments are focusing more on protecting public safety and less on meeting arrest quotas to get drug task force funding.”

JPI reported that federal, state and local government spending on law enforcement topped $100 billion in 2010, despite violent crime and property crime each falling more than 40 percent since 1991.

Criminal justice advocates say that ending the war on drugs is critical to decreasing the number of arrests in the Black community.

“The main thing we need to deal with is stopping the bleeding,” said Major Neill Franklin, a 34-year veteran in law enforcement and executive director of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). “We have to focus on first contact.”

If first contact is reduced, can prevent continuing arrests, Franklin said.

“As a cop in Baltimore, as a cop in any city, I can walk up to you and in three words have probable cause: ‘I smell marijuana,’” said Franklin. “They use it all the time, all day long.”

Franklin said young people should know their rights and learn how to exercise those rights.

During the State of the Black World Conference in Washington, D.C. last week, civil rights leaders and criminal justice advocates discussed strategies to get the churches, law enforcement officials and civil rights organizations involved in fighting mass incarceration and reducing arrests in the Black community.

Community policing, increased civic engagement to affect local public policy, and educating young people on their civil rights arrests were listed as possible solutions.

“It’s an old issue of community control of the police. Many of us have been struggling with this for decades,” said Khalid Raheem, president of the National Council for Urban Peace and Justice. “We need to fight to change public policy around what is appropriate police conduct and how they do the work that we pay them to do.”

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