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Obama: Let's Finish the Unfinished Work

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Though the U.S. has made tremendous progress since the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, there is plenty of unfinished work to be done in order to make the nation a more perfect union, President Barack Obama says.

“Our high school graduation rate is at a record high, the dropout rate is falling, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before,” Obama told those attending Saturday night’s Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner. “Last year, the number of children living in poverty fell by 1.4 million – the largest decline since 1966.  Since I took office, the overall crime rate and the overall incarceration rate has gone down by about 10 percent.  That’s the first time they’ve declined at the same time in more than 40 years.  Fewer folks in jail.  Crime still going down.

“But our work is not done when too many children live in crumbling neighborhoods, cycling through substandard schools, traumatized by daily violence.  Our work is not done when working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate, even as corporate profits soar; when African-American unemployment is still twice as high as white unemployment; when income inequality, on the rise for decades, continues to hold back hardworking communities, especially communities of color.  We’ve got unfinished work.”

Speaking just days after Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., the administration’s point man on race, submitted his resignation, Obama spoke more directly about race than perhaps anytime since he has been in office.

In past CBC appearances, Obama was sometimes viewed as lecturing CBC members about personal responsibility while failing to do the same to White audiences. In his speech before the CBC dinner Saturday night, Obama dropped his reluctance to speak boldly about the racial atmosphere in America.

“… We still have to close these opportunity gaps,” he said. “And we have to close the justice gap – how justice is applied, but also how it is perceived, how it is experienced.  Eric Holder understands this. That’s what we saw in Ferguson this summer, when Michael Brown was killed and a community was divided.  We know that the unrest continues. And Eric spent some time with the residents and police of Ferguson, and the Department of Justice has indicated that its civil rights investigation is ongoing.

“Now, I won’t comment on the investigation. I know that Michael’s family is here tonight. I know that nothing any of us can say can ease the grief of losing a child so soon. But the anger and the emotion that followed his death awakened our nation once again to the reality that people in this room have long understood, which is, in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.”

Obama spoke to the everyday experiences of being a Black man in America.

“Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness. We know that, statistically, in everything from enforcing drug policy to applying the death penalty to pulling people over, there are significant racial disparities. That’s just the statistics.  One recent poll showed that the majority of Americans think the criminal justice system doesn’t treat people of all races equally. Think about that. That’s not just blacks, not just Latinos or Asians or Native Americans saying things may not be unfair. That’s most Americans.”

It is unclear what poll the president was referencing. Most polls show a majority of Whites feel the criminal justice system is color blind. For example, a Pew Research Center survey last year found that 70 percent of Blacks feel they are treated less fairly than Whites in their dealings with police. Only 37 percent of Whites said they think Blacks are treated less fairly by police.

The mistreatment of African Americans harms Whites as well as Blacks, the president said.

“And that has a corrosive effect – not just on the black community; it has a corrosive effect on America,” Obama said. “It harms the communities that need law enforcement the most. It makes folks who are victimized by crime and need strong policing reluctant to go to the police because they may not trust them. And the worst part of it is it scars the hearts of our children. It scars the hearts of the white kids who grow unnecessarily fearful of somebody who doesn’t look like them. It stains the heart of black children who feel as if no matter what he does, he will always be under suspicion.  That is not the society we want.  It’s not the society that our children deserve. Whether you’re black or white, you don’t want that for America.”

Three countries – Russia, Iran and Egypt – have cited America’s mistreatment of African Americans as evidence of U.S. hypocrisy on human rights.

Obama retorted, “…As I said this week at the United Nations, America is special not because we’re perfect; America is special because we work to address our problems, to make our union more perfect [a reference to the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution]. We fight for more justice. We fight to cure what ails us.  We fight for our ideals, and we’re willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short.  And we address our differences in the open space of democracy – with respect for the rule of law; with a place for people of every race and religion; and with an unyielding belief that people who love their country can change it.  That’s what makes us special – not because we don’t have problems, but because we work to fix them.  And we will continue to work to fix this.”

Obama, under fire to the limited scope of My Brother’s Keeper, which targets Black and Latino males, said this week he will announce My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, a program to develop strategies to help all youth.

“And we’re not forgetting about the girls, by the way.  I got two daughters – I don’t know if you noticed. African American girls are more likely than their white peers also to be suspended, incarcerated, physically harassed.  Black women struggle every day with biases that perpetuate oppressive standards for how they’re supposed to look and how they’re supposed to act.  Too often, they’re either left under the hard light of scrutiny, or cloaked in a kind of invisibility.

“So in addition to the new efforts on My Brother’s Keeper, the White House Council for Women and Girls has for years been working on issues affecting women and girls of color, from violence against women, to pay equity, to access to health care.  And you know Michelle has been working on that. Because she doesn’t think our daughters should be treated differently than anybody else’s son. I’ve got a vested interest in making sure that our daughters have the same opportunities as boys do.”

Obama ended his 23-minute speech, which was interrupted 34 times by applause, with an appeal for greater voter participation in November.

“Because people refused to give in when it was hard, we get to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act next year,” President Obama stated. “Until then, we’ve got to protect it.  We can’t just celebrate it; we’ve got to protect it.  Because there are people still trying to pass voter ID laws to make it harder for folks to vote. And we’ve got to get back to our schools and our offices and our churches, our beauty shops, barber shops, and make sure folks know there’s an election coming up, they need to know how to register, and they need to know how and when to vote.”

Strip Mines, Pollution and De-foresting Linked to Ebola's Deadly Spread

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Pits in the ground from mining, forests stripped of trees and water poisoned by toxic materials are among the lesser known culprits in the current outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease. In less than a year’s time, the virus has migrated from its “reservoir” in fruit bats to humans who may have supplemented their diets and income with infected animals recovered from the forest floor.

With wildlife squeezed into ever-smaller parcels by the expansion of foreign corporations, fruit bats carrying Zaire ebola virus are suspected of migrating from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the virus first appeared in 1976, to the West African nation of Guinea and from there to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The bats’ habitat in the former Zaire was also disrupted by long periods of conflict. Thus, the devastation of African natural resources, combined with recurrent war, could be considered among the triggers of the now rampant epidemic.

Another possible link to the spread of the virus is believed to be unsterile medical injections. Injectable drugs, syringes and needles are available in rural villages, where injection by traditional healers and self-injection are common practice. But between 50 percent and 90 percent of these injections are deemed unsafe, according to an article in the publication Viewpoint.

These insights were among those gained from a discussion lead by a panel of experts at a recent Africa Roundtable discussion titled “We Could Have Stopped This,” organized by the Global Information Network.

Speakers at the roundtable included Stephanie Rupp, noted anthropologist and researcher in the Congo River Basin; Ernest Drucker, epidemiologist with prior experience in Africa and a researcher in HIV/AIDS; and Nvasekie Konneh, Liberian writer, author and community activist just returned from Liberia.

Despite a link to Ebola, any effort to eliminate bats would be “an ecological disaster,” according to Fabian Leendertz, a disease ecologist at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. “Bats pollinate plants and devour insects. And bat hunts would also only increase human contact with potentially infected animals.”

Meanwhile, efforts to provide the three endangered countries with medical supplies are increasing. Humanitarian groups sent nearly $6 million in medical supplies to West Africa, including gloves, masks, gowns, goggles, saline, antibiotics, oral rehydration solution and pain killers. Charities contributing to the airlift include the Clinton Foundation, Direct Relief, Last Mile Health, Africare and the Wellbody Alliance.

The United Nations has said that controlling the epidemic will require the world to increase its efforts twentyfold and to spend $1 billion in the next six months. The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously last week to launch a medical mission to West Africa to fight Ebola, and President Barack Obama announced that he is sending 3,000 American troops.

New Report Finds Gender-Based Violence 'Too Costly to Ignore'

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

On the heels of the Ray Rice scandal in the U.S., a new report by the accounting firm KPMG says that violence against women in South Africa costs the country between $2 and $4 billion yearly. The lost funds could pay wage subsidies for all unemployed youths, build half a million houses or give health care to a quarter of all South Africans, the report says.

“We aren’t always able to put a number to human suffering, and it is controversial to do so,” said KPMG staffer Laura Brooks. “But this [figure] puts gender-based violence in a language that people can understand. If we can try put a number to it, it at least draws attention to it.”

The report, “The Economic Impact of Violence Against Women,” also follows the manslaughter conviction of Olympian “Blade Runner” Oscar Pretorius, who claimed to have shot his girlfriend four times by mistake.

In South Africa, a woman is killed by domestic violence on average every eight hours. The rate of intimate femicide, the killing of women by their partners, is five times higher than the global average.

To put that figure into perspective, more than seven times as many murders are committed in South Africa than in the U.S., and South Africa has a population of just 51 million, compared with 317 million in the U.S.

The cost to government of $45 million a year includes expenses associated with preventative programs, medical and aftercare services and police and judicial services.

A related study by researchers at Stanford and Oxford universities found that domestic violence, mainly against women and children worldwide, kills far more people than wars and is an often overlooked scourge that costs the world economy more than $8 trillion a year.

The authors urged the United Nations to pay more attention to abuse at home that gets less attention than armed conflicts such as those in Syria and Ukraine.

“For every civil war battlefield death, roughly nine people … are killed in inter-personal disputes,” Anke Hoeffler of Oxford University and James Fearon of Stanford University wrote in the report.

From domestic disputes to wars, they estimated that all violence worldwide cost $9.5 trillion a year, mainly in lost economic output and equivalent to 11.2 percent of world gross domestic product.

In recent years, approximately 20 to 25 nations experienced civil wars, devastating many local economies and costing approximately $170 billion a year. Homicides, mainly of men, unrelated to domestic disputes, cost $650 billion. But those figures were dwarfed by the $8 trillion annual cost of domestic violence, mostly against women and children.

Bjorn Lomborg, head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which commissioned the report, said household violence was often overlooked, just as car crashes attract less attention than plane crashes even though many more die in road accidents.

“This is not just about saying ‘this is a big problem,’” he told Reuters. “It’s a way to start finding smart solutions.”

New HIV Treatment Program Launched in Southeast

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By D. Kevin McNeir
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

More than 1.1 million people are currently living with HIV in America, with an estimated 50,000 new infections each year across the nation.

In order to remain healthy and to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to their partners, those who are HIV-positive must take medications, remain in care and adhere to treatment.

“When the national strategy was released in 2010, it envisioned a future in which new infections would be rare, all citizens would have unfettered access to high-quality, life-extending care, and there would be a significant decline in the stigma attached to and the discrimination faced by those living with HIV,” said Douglas Brooks, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy.

Douglas, along with local and national health care experts, policymakers and grassroots activists, gathered at the United Medical Center in Southeast Sept. 17 for the launch of a new communication campaign, “HIV Treatment Works,” that will target residents of Wards 7 and 8 and bordering Prince George’s County communities.

In the two wards cumulatively, approximately 3.4 percent of residents are HIV-positive, but countless others do not know their status. And many who are infected have not been diligent in sticking to their regimen of life-saving medications.

“I’ve lived with HIV for almost 25 years, and I know the challenge of adhering to treatment – that’s why this campaign is so important,” said Douglas, who was tapped by President Barack Obama to oversee AIDS policy due to his extensive experience as an HIV/AIDS policy expert. “We’re targeting more susceptible communities and integrating prevention with care.”

The national HIV prevention campaign, under the Centers for Disease Control’s Act Against AIDS initiative, encourages individuals living with HIV to seek professional medical care and to follow the directives of their doctors.

One physician said advances in the treatment of HIV/AIDS have caused some people to ignore the severity of the virus and the complications it can cause.

“Education is still the key to reducing the number of those who become infected. Unfortunately, some people have grown complacent,” said Dr. Nickolas DeLuca, chief of the prevention communication branch in the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the CDC. “Since 2009, we’ve increased our [outreach efforts] from one to 10 campaigns with black gay men, black bisexual men and Latino men being specifically targeted because of their disproportionate infection rates.”

DeLuca added that out of 1.1 million Americans living with HIV, 82 percent have been diagnosed, but only 66 percent are linked to care and only 37 percent have been retained in care. Further discouraging numbers indicate that only 25 percent are virally suppressed.

One former drug addict now works in the black community to help others with issues of addiction and HIV infection.

“I used heroin for 32 years and tested positive for the virus in 1987. Back then I was both ignorant and apathetic, even homeless, and didn’t care about treatment,” said Vernial Batts, 60, a participant in the HIV Treatment Works program and a native Washingtonian. “I tell my story to encourage others, especially those who have been recently diagnosed.”

DOJ Prohibits Police from Wearing "I am Darren Wilson" Bracelets

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By Rebecca Rivas
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American

The U.S. Department of Justice ordered Ferguson police officers to stop wearing “I am Darren Wilson” bracelets while in uniform and on duty, according to a letter sent to Police Chief Thomas Jackson on Friday.

“There is no question that police departments can and should closely regulate officers’ professional appearance and behavior, particularly where, as here, the expressive accessory itself is exacerbating an already tense atmosphere between law enforcement and residents in Ferguson,” wrote Christy Lopez, duty chief of the Special Litigation Section for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division.

“The bracelets reinforce the very ‘us versus’ them mentality that many residents of Ferguson believe exists.”

During the department’s interviews with community members on Wednesday night, Lopez said several Ferguson residents told DOJ representatives that police patrolling the protest sites in Ferguson on Tuesday were wearing the Darren Wilson wristbands. Residents said the wristbands “upset and agitated people.”

Some officers who were wearing the bracelets had black tape over their name plates, residents told the DOJ at the Wednesday community meeting.

“The practice of not wearing, or obscuring, name plates violates your own department’s policies, which we advised you earlier this week when we requested that you end the practice immediately,” Lopez wrote.

Some residents took pictures of the bracelets, but Lopez said she could not identify which law enforcement agency the officers wearing the wristbands were from. For this reason, Lopez said the department’s COPS office has spoken with St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar and State Highway Patrol Superintendent Colonel Ron Replogle about prohibiting the bracelets as well.

“As you are all too aware, the actions of other police officers while in Ferguson can impact your community as much as the actions of your own police officers,” she stated.

Click here to view letter that was sent to Ferguson Police Chief Jackson ordering his officers to stop wearing “I am Darren Wilson” bracelets.

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BVN National News Wire