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Black Farmers Finally Getting Paid

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By Valencia Mohammed, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

The U.S. District Court approved a settlement in the ongoing saga between Black farmers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) providing an additional $1.2 billion for housands of plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit.

The Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation, decided Oct. 27 by Judge Paul L. Friedman, was derived from a class action suit initiated in 1997, Pigford v. Glickman, in which African-American farmers (initially James Copeland, Earl Moorer and Marshallene McNeil) joined to allege a pattern of systemic exclusion from USDA grant and lease programs.

It was alleged that USDA discriminated on the basis of race in various federal programs denying Black farmers loans and other benefits that were granted to White farmers. It was noted, when the Black farmers filed complaints to USDA, the allegations were not investigated. In addition, no remedies were sought to correct egregious violations of civil rights laws. USDA’s failure to act deprived countless farmers of credits and payments under various federal programs which resulted in financial and real estate losses.

“This agreement will provide overdue relief and justice to African American farmers, and bring us closer to the ideals of freedom and equality that this country was founded on,” said President Barack Obama at a recent press conference.

The resulting consent decree was soon enlarged to include about 40,000 persons after Congress acknowledged the historical validity of the claims by expanding the statute of limitations. This allowed the litigation to proceed unhindered by the 1981 to 1996 time span.

Uncertainty about who qualified as a “Pigford complainant” persisted as thousands more submitted claims. The number reached 61,252 by 2000, and most of these claims were allowed for consideration after passage of the 2008 Farm Bill. By 2010, about 16,000 complainants received over $1 billion in “direct payments, loan payments, and tax relief.” These direct payments threatened to deplete the $100 million in funds allocated under the Farm Bill to make the remaining qualified complainants whole. Additional relief was sought.

“I am glad to see that this day has finally come. For years, Black farmers have faced discrimination – not only from businesses, but from the very government that was meant to protect them. The U.S. District Court’s approval of the settlement is a major step forward in closing an ugly chapter of USDA’s civil rights history. Not only will this agreement provide overdue relief; but it will provide justice to African American farmers who have been disenfranchised,” said chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D- Mo.

John W. Boyd Jr., founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association, hailed the ruling granting the motion to certify and approve the settlement in this historic discrimination case.

"Today, because of a Congress that was willing to once again waive the statute of limitations and to appropriate $1.25 billion to help further redress the historic discrimination against African-American farmers, the court is pleased to approve the settlement agreement proposed by the moving plaintiffs, and endorsed by the United States, as fair, reasonable, and adequate."

Boyd added, "Today is an important day, in fact a truly historic day for the nation's Black farmers and for all of those who worked so hard to give every farmer their day in court so they may be compensated for the government's discrimination.”

Boyd reminded the farmers there is still more work to do. “It is also important for the farmers to know that all cases must be adjudicated before the payments go out to the farmers. After all we have been through – justice always finds its way home. I have been praying for this day.

“The settlement isn’t perfect but we’re glad the judge finally resolved the situation. The farmers need their money. But it’s unfortunate it took so long. Many of them have died waiting while this struggle played out.”

Researcher DeRutter Jones contributed additional material to this story.

Herman Cain Under Fire After Third Woman Alleges Sexual Harassment

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

The Republican Party’s leading candidate is on the defensive after it was reported that a third woman came forward Nov. 2 alleging that GOP front-runner Herman Cain sexually harassed her.

According to a report published by The Politico Oct. 30 two women alleged that Cain engaged in inappropriate conduct while he headed the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, eventually paying each a five-figure settlement. A third woman came forward, telling the Associated Press that Cain made sexually-suggestive remarks and gestures when she worked for the organization.

The allegations of sexual harassment have been roundly denied by both Cain and his campaign since they became public, with Cain accusing the campaign of rival candidate Rick Perry of planting the allegations. But the candidate’s responses on other questions have differed slightly since the claims became public. On Oct. 31, Cain said he was “not aware of any [legal] settlement,” according to CNN. Later, he said he was in fact aware of a separation agreement in one of the cases.

Despite the turmoil, Cain’s campaign said the controversy has solidified support behind him, saying that he has raised $1.2 million since the Politico story was published.

“The American people are starting to see through this stuff, and they are sick of gutter politics,” Cain declared in a radio interview with conservative commentator Sean Hannity, CNN reported. “This will not deter me.”

The candidate and his supporters have also suggested that Cain has been targeted because of his race. Conservative pundit Ann Coulter called the allegations an example of “high-tech lynching,” referencing the sexual harassment allegations of Anita Hill against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings in the early 1990s.

“I’m a Black conservative, and it is causing their [critics’] heads to explode,” Cain said on Hannity’s show.

When news first hit of sexual harassment allegations in “the Politico” Cain denied them the next day. A few days later he came forward and admitted he knew about the allegations but still denied touching the women in question. The women have not previously released statements due to a confidentiality agreement each woman is stated to have signed at the end of the settlement.

One of the women’s lawyers, John Bennett, is seeking for his client’s statement to be released soon through the National Restaurant Association, which could mean trouble for Cain. He is already dodging questions from the press, telling them, “don’t even bother” asking about the allegations. And Cain’s camp is also pointing fingers, saying that Rick Perry’s camp had something to do with the leak of the information. With this slippery slope, however, GOP chairman Reince Priebus remains optimistic, believing that this scandal will not affect the GOP chances of beating President Obama in the race next year.

Howard University Adds Its Voice to Occupy Movement

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By Barrington M. Salmon, Special to the NNPA from the Washington Informer –

Howard University alumnus Maria Ellis is one face of the Occupy D.C. movement. She has a graduate degree in International Relations and wanted to go to law school but couldn't afford it.

And as a homeowner, she, like other Americans, feels squeezed by the recession. She is among a vocal group who hold politicians, corporate interests, and others responsible for the declining state of the nation's economy.

Ellis' concerns are what prompted her to join scores of Howard University alumnae, students and faculty on the university's campus Fri., October 28 and to march to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at 16th an H Street, N.W. to rally for a change.

The protestors joined the growing numbers of people who are using Occupy D.C. and Occupy Wall Street to express their extreme dissatisfaction with the status quo.

"I'm a homeowner or I'd be in dire straits. I feel very uncertain of what these [conditions] will bring," said Ellis, 34, who says she is underemployed. "People are upset. I'm not surprised they're out here. I see a great need for justice to even things out."

The marchers trekked along a circuitous route that took them down Georgia Avenue in Northwest, along Rhode Island Avenue, and 11th Street into the heart of downtown. They ended up in front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Led by march organizer Talib Karim, a lawyer and community organizer, the group of about 25 chanted, handed out fliers and encouraged passersby to join them on their March for Jobs and Justice.

They stopped briefly at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza, the sites of two public spaces taken over by Occupy D.C. and by the time marchers stood on the steps of the Chamber of Commerce, the crowd had swelled to about 60 people.

Along the route, protestors talked to those who paused to watch, engaged others who offered vocal support or other comments, and seemed to draw strength from the energy of passersby.

"Send them to jail, send them to jail, they're bank robbers," one Hispanic man shouted in support.

Howard University professor Bridget Todd, 26, said the issues publicized by the Occupy movement are as important to African-Americans as they are for anyone else. "I'm out here as a young person. I support all of this," said Bridget Todd, 26, who has been teaching for two years at Howard. "We are the 99 percent. Economic injustice is racial injustice. This is our issue."

Occupy Wall Street and its D.C. offshoot is an amalgam of students, retirees, war veterans, the unemployed, the homeless and even children who say they will no longer tolerate inequality and a political and economic system that marginalizes the poor and middle class. In Washington, D.C. and elsewhere, people have set up tent cities with the intention of occupying public spaces until big business, pharmaceutical companies, bankers, and politicians dismantle the cozy relationship that often produces unfair advantages for the rich and privileged.

What began as a group of 2,000 protestors camped out in New York's Financial District in Lower Manhattan giving voice to anger at the antics of the nation's political and economic elite, is now a wildfire that has hop scotched from the United States to Australia, the Philippines, London, Ireland and Rome.

Occupy Wall Street continues to gain momentum and credibility in the U.S. and around the world even in the face of questions about what the group really wants, how it hopes to achieve that and the derisive, smug and condescending remarks and comments from politicians and media alike. Occupy Wall Street's increasing popularity can be traced to the fact that its message resonates so deeply with the disaffected.

"I'm here because I believe in humanity and human rights," said Danny Montes, 25, who comes to McPherson Square daily to offer his time and support. "Occupy D.C. is about justice, equality, and equity, not just for D.C. and New York residents but also for people all around the world. There's a lot of things that built up to this. I am very concerned about immigrant rights and migration because of my family history. People are getting screwed over not just by the government but by the way the system works."

"On a personal level, I want to make sure my little brother has a future," said Montes, a D.C. resident whose family came from Mexico. "I want an education, a good job as defined as a living wage, a protected job, like a union job. The American dream is defined as having a (good) job and being comfortable, but the reality is that is not the case. People don't have opportunities – there's a lot of work that needs to be done."

Local lawyer Franklyn Burke said when he heard that the march from Howard was taking place, he decided to take his place alongside his fellow demonstrators.

"I'm sure everyone knows someone who's been affected. It is the beginning of a movement. I hope it continues," said Burke, who is a HU alumnus and who has lived in the Washington D.C. area for 46 years. "Citizens united have opened the door. They control our politics quietly. In the last campaign, they even had money from overseas [influencing American politics]."

"This will be a long, hard task. It will be tough to defeat this entrenched set."

Freedom Possible for Thousands of Crack Offenders

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By Valencia Mohammed, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

A recent Supreme Court ruling may soon send home thousands of federal inmates convicted on crack cocaine charges. In 2007, it was reported in the AFRO that nationwide 19,500 federal crack offenders were eligible for reduced sentences.

From that group only 269 federal inmates from the District would be eligible over the next 30 years. Four years later, an estimated 12,040 current prisoners will be eligible to request reduced sentences. Only 139 District offenders are eligible.

“Beginning today, thousands of individuals across the country will get another shot at justice,” said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, in a Nov. 1 press release. "These people were forced to serve excessive sentences under a scheme Congress has admitted was fundamentally flawed, but, today, they can ask for long overdue relief.”

The US Sentencing Commission reported recently that Black offenders received relief from a mandatory minimum penalty least often in 34.9 percent of their cases, compared to White - 46.5 percent, Hispanic - 55.7 percent and other races 58.9 percent offenders.

In August 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), which reduced from 100:1 to 18:1 the disparity between crack and powder cocaine mandatory minimum sentences. Congress directed the US Sentencing Commission to follow suit and it reduced the sentencing guideline for crack offenses in accordance with the new law. The Commission then voted in June 2011 to make the reduced penalties for crack offenses retroactive. Those already serving prison sentences under the old guideline are now eligible to seek sentence reductions in court.

Impacted family member, Karen Garrison, said once the Fair Sentencing Act was passed it should have made sentences retroactive. “They did it for marijuana. Why can’t it be done in this case? “

Her sons, Lawrence Garrison and his twin brother, Lamont, were convicted on cocaine conspiracy that changed to cocaine base which gave them more time. Howard University graduates, the twins represented themselves pro se after the 2007 decision came down and successfully reduced their sentences.

Lawrence spent 11 years and eight months in prison. His sentence was reduced by 36 months with five years of supervised release. He works several jobs; a real estate agent, car salesman and health care coding specialist. “I came home in the middle of a recession. I was determined to make it. With the help of my friends from Howard, good things will continue to happen.”

On the other hand, Lamont, a political science major, served 13 years and five months. His sentence was reduced by 46 months. He is currently living in a halfway house waiting to be released. His family hopes things go well.

“Both of them wanted to be lawyers but not anymore. They’ve had enough of the judicial system,” said their mother. “African Americans always get the blunt end of the stick. D.C. didn’t do anything to assist impacted families.”

The changing attitudes in the criminal justice circles regarding crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing, which reached its ultimate expression with the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), date back to 1995, when the United States Sentencing Commission concluded the mandatory sentencing guidelines imposed under the provisions of the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act were onerous.

Congress passed the act in reaction to the prevailing national fears generated by the unfolding crack cocaine epidemic. The act stipulated a 100 to 1 ratio in sentencing severity be applied to defendants convicted of trafficking in crack cocaine as opposed to those convicted of powder cocaine trafficking.

Judges were restrained from exercising discretion over this sentencing requirement while considering individual case circumstances, as exemplified by the situation of the Garrison twins.

The commission determined that the rigidity of these sentencing provisions was excessive and communities of color were disproportionately impacted. In 1997, the sentencing changed to 5 to 1 then again to 20 to 1, in 2002. Finally the commission unilaterally changed the sentencing ratio to 10 to 1 in 2006.

The U.S. Supreme Court untied the hands of judges in applying sentences with its 2005 decision. In 2007, with Congress pressed to develop a solution, the court stepped forward to definitively invalidate the entire mandatory crack sentencing regime with its Kimbrough v. United States decision.

Inevitably, the fair sentencing legislation was brought forth, passed and signed into law, putting to rest the dubious distinctions that had been made between powdered and processed cocaine, a legal framework now reduced to tatters.

“Although the justice system has a list of all eligible inmates, unfortunately, the individuals must apply to be considered. The decision is not like a get-out-of-jail free card,” said Nkechi Taifa, senior policy analyst for the Open Society Foundations. “We made great accomplishments, but the battle has not been won. There are still thousands that fall into other categories that have not been affected by the decision.”

Researcher DeRutter Jones contributed additional material to this story.

Rev.Jesse Jackson Headlines Leadership Forum and Awards Dinner

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By Yussuf J. Simmonds, Managing Editor, Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –

(NNPA) This year marks the 13th Annual Rainbow PUSH Citizenship Education Fund awards dinner.

In addition to a Leadership Luncheon Forum focusing on Jobs, Business and the Economy, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rainbow PUSH Citizenship Education Fund (CEF) will hold the 13th annual awards dinner to celebrate his 70th birthday and 50 years of service.

Rev. Jackson has often taken the lead in challenging America to do in deeds, what it says in words - to provide positive action to its pretty-sounding words. Following in the footsteps of his mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he has sought to be inclusive and to establish just and humane priorities for the benefit of all people together on common ground across lines of race, culture, class, gender and belief.

The consistency of his work, in providing for the downtrodden, is a hallmark of the Reverend and Rainbow PUSH CEF. In addition to his work in human and civil rights, and nonviolent social change, Rev. Jackson believes that education is a leveling force and through the CEF, he helps students to realize their dreams.

According to PUSH CEF's website, "A hallmark of Reverend Jackson's work has been his commitment to youth. He has visited thousands of high schools, colleges, universities and correctional facilities encouraging excellence, inspiring hope and challenging young people to study diligently and stay drug-free." And to that end, CEF is a force in helping accomplish those goals.

The Sentinel spoke with Rev. Jackson about the two upcoming events and he said:

"We've come full circle from where Dr. King left us. Dr. King last movement was about the 'Poor People's Campaign;' we occupied the mall in Washington and we called it ' Resurrection City .'

"Today, they're occupying Wall Street and really, the agenda is the same: economic justice; we're free but not equal. Too few people have too much concentrated wealth made possible by government gifts and breaks. Too many people have too little and are neglected by government policy."

He emphasized the theme of the upcoming leadership luncheon - jobs , business and the economy - and his focus seemed to be a prelude of what's-to-come at that leadership forum.

"There are too many expensive unnecessary wars; plants are closing and jobs are leaving. Therefore, we must now restructure our economic priorities.

"The coming election will be a big deal and will determine whether the nation goes forward or backwards. The right wing is trying to restore the Tenth Amendment about state's rights to undermine voting rights and workers' rights to collective bargaining.

"Meanwhile, the issue of racial justice must be put back on the front burner because Black people are usually the last hired and the first fired. So here we go again - lost the most jobs in the recession; the most foreclosed homes; number one in infant mortality; number one in short life expectancy ... so we must use our strength to fight against these odds."

Then speaking briefly on the possible second term of President Obama, the Reverend continued, "It (the possible second term) must produce some targeted focus on the disparities in healthcare, and employment, and denial of access to capital ... and more of our youth in jail. There must be some targeted focus."

At the upcoming awards dinner, celebrating Rev. Jackson's birthday, the 2011 honorees will include Al Davis (posthumously); Jenifer Lewis - Actress, Aunt from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Soul Food, The Brothers; Hill Harper - CSI New York - actor, motivational speaker and author; Tommie Smith - Mexico City Olympic Champion; and Harry Johnson - CEO King Memorial Foundation.

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