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Michelle Obama Joins Food Desert Fight

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By Wendell Hutson, Special to the NNPA from the Chicago Crusader –

Keisha Abrams, a 43-year-old diabetic, has shopped at a South Side Walgreens for 20 years and now shops there even more since the drugstore chain sells fresh fruits and vegetables. “I spend just about as much time here (at Walgreens) as I do at home. The employees know me well and I know them and I am thankful to Walgreens for offering fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said, emotionally. “And I thank First Lady Michelle Obama for bringing awareness to this problem that has attached itself to the Black community.”

On Tuesday Abrams joined First Lady Michelle Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at her favorite Walgreens, 11 East 75th Street, to talk about the need to end food deserts. The Walgreens stop was one of three for the first lady who also visited Iron Street Urban Farm and later attended an evening fundraiser in the West Loop. Earlier Obama attended a mayoral summit at City Hall, which consisted of eight mayors from across the country along with executives from major grocery store chains, such as Jewel, Dominick’s, Save-A-Lot, and Aldi.

As a result of the summit, grocery store executives committed to opening 17 new stores in Chicago over the next few years. They include a new Save-A-Lot store in the North Lawndale community on the West Side by year-end and one in the Grand Boulevard, West Pullman, Morgan Park, Calumet Heights, West Englewood, and Englewood communities on the South Side and one in the Austin community on the West Side, all by spring 2012. For Obama, the homecoming brought back memories of when she observed people buying groceries at unusual places. “I can remember seeing people buy their groceries at gas stations at ridiculous prices because there were no stores that sold healthy foods,” Obama recalled. “A lot of people don’t have the time or money to travel outside their community to reach stores that do sell fresh produce, fruits and vegetables, so they go to the closest store and buy whatever is there.”

And when it comes to healthy eating, especially for children, Obama said America should to do more than just give ‘lip service.’ “We can talk all we want about making healthy choices about the food we serve our kids, but if parents don’t have anywhere to buy those foods, then that’s all it is - it’s just talk,” explained Obama. “Imagine what we could achieve if mayors across the country started taking on this issue. Think about all the jobs we could create, all the neighborhoods we could begin to transform and what it means when our children finally get the nutrition they need to grow up healthy. I am confident that - one neighborhood, one community, one city at a time - we can ensure that all our kids have the happy, healthy futures they deserve.”

The first lady’s appearance was closed to the public but well attended by Black elected officials including Alderman Roderick Sawyer, whose Sixth Ward includes the Walgreens Obama visited. “Healthy eating is very important to the Black community because studies have shown that those who eat healthy live longer,” Sawyer told the Crusader. “And at a time when Black males are being murdered or sent to prison at alarming rates, we need to make sure that there are stores like Walgreens in the Black community that sell food items to keep us healthy.” Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell also attended and said “I spoke with several CEOs today about possibly opening up stores in my ward and they were generally interested in exploring ways to do so,” she said. “In my ward there are very few obstacles that would prevent more grocery stores from opening. Available land is not a problem. And financial incentives are not a problem.”

One problem Alderman Leslie Hairston (Fifth Ward) said that she sees is the misconception by corporate America that there is no money to be made in the Black community. “There is plenty of money to be made in the Black community,” Hairston added. “I think if corporations can overcome this perception that there is no money to be made in the Black community then we can start to move forward in getting more businesses to operate in our communities.” And Emanuel pledged to continue fighting to eliminate food deserts, which he said exist primarily in underserved, economically deprived communities.

“It is unacceptable that a half-million Chicagoans do not have access to healthy, fresh foods for their family and I am committed to the elimination of these food deserts in our city,” said Emanuel, just before he introduced the first lady. “I am grateful to First Lady Michelle Obama, grocery executives and mayors who joined us today for their commitment to working together to ensure that residents have access to the foods they need to make healthy choices for themselves and their families.”

'Guinness' Names Samuel L. Jackson Highest Grossing Actor of All Time

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

With over 100 films under his belt, actor Samuel L. Jackson can now add another amazing facet to his résumé. According to the New York Daily News, The Guinness Book of World Records recently named him the highest grossing actor of all time.

The 62-year-old’s body of film work has brought in a staggering $7.42 billion He averages three to four films a year.

Jackson got his big break in the 1991 Spike Lee "joint" Jungle Fever. He later appeared in numerous Hollywood blockbusters including Pulp Fiction, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Currently, Jackson portrays Martin Luther King Jr. in the Broadway production "The Mountaintop." According to CBS News, the play also stars actress Angela Bassett and focuses on King's last hours before his assassination.

On the big screen, Jackson will have appeared in a total of four films at the close of the year, and has already signed on to appear in three in 2012.

In a recent interview with CBS News, Jackson reflected on his career and his presence in Hollywood.

"I've been fortunate," he said during the interview. "There's a handful of movies that have made enormous amounts of money, and that just means that the other movies that I'd done have made the kind of money that allows me to continue to work, that people see me as viable as a box office draw to people. People come and see my movies.

NYC Police Officer Allegedly Says 'Fried Another Nigger'

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By Lee A. Daniels, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

The words allegedly spoken by a New York City police officer accused of illegally arresting a Black New York City resident – “fried another nigger,” – are shocking.

But not if you’re familiar with the long, infuriating history of police racial profiling. Not if you’re among the millions – yes, millions – of citizens who’ve been unfairly stopped by the police over the past decade. Not if you’re familiar with the details of the two separate, current federal lawsuits which charge that two different New York City Police Department practices are racially discriminatory and unconstitutional.

One, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, claims that the city in implementing its street-level stop-and-frisk tactic has engaged in widespread and unjustified stops and racial profiling.

The second, brought against the New York City government and the New York City Housing Authority by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the Legal Aid Society of New York City, and the private law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP. contends that the city’s policing practices in its public housing developments – most notably, its “vertical sweeps” of buildings — “routinely” subject residents and those who visit them to illegal stops and false arrests that serve no lawful purpose. The lawsuit charges that the number of these vertical patrols, which are conducted by both Housing Authority police officers and the New York City police officers, has approached 200,000 a year in recent years and has resulted in thousands of residents of these buildings and visitors to them being stopped and/or arrested on trespass charges.

The incident involving Officer Michael Daragjati, who is white, occurred in Staten Island in April. Daragjati was in plain clothes and driving an unmarked police car when he stopped and searched the citizen, a Black man, without cause. He found no contraband; but when the man complained that he should never have been stopped and asked for Daragjati’s badge number, the officer arrested him for resisting arrest. At the precinct house, Daragjati lied about the incident on the required documents, claiming the man had become physically belligerent. As a result, the man spent a day and a half in the police station lockup.

But the officer’s lie began to unravel that very night, according to the criminal complaint against him, when the government intercepted telephone calls and text messages he made bragging about the incident. The telephone call to his friend in which he used the racial slur occurred the next day. Investigators were shadowing Daragjati’s communications because he was suspected of extortion and insurance fraud. He is now under indictment for those charges as well.

Of course it is to the credit of the federal prosecutor’s office and the police department that they have pursued this case against an officer intent on harassing people of color. Officer Daragjati acted alone.

Nonetheless, the sworn testimony of individuals involved in the federal lawsuits as well as the accounts of individuals interviewed for news stories recently and over the years make it clear that the wrong he perpetrated isn’t an isolated incident.

On the contrary, their words underscore the human cost of the astonishing statistics showing that each year the hundreds of thousands of police stops of ordinary citizens in New York City lead to only a small number of arrests and a miniscule number of convictions – and those are usually for minor offenses.

It’s long past time for the New York Police Department’s street-level stop-and-frisk policy and its housing development illegal stops policy to just stop.

Lee A. Daniels is Director of Communications for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Editor In Chief of TheDefendersOnline.com.

Michigan Legislator, Community Calls for Investigator of Wayne County Executive

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By Zenobia Jeffries, Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Citizen –

DETROIT — Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and his administration will not only be investigated by the FBI, but the county executive and three of his officials may have their law licenses revoked.

On Oct. 19, Attorney Leland McRae, on behalf of State Rep. John Olumba, filed complaints with the Attorney Grievance Commission to investigate Ficano, former County Director of Economic and Neighborhood Development Turkia Mullin, former deputy County Executive Azzam Elder and former County Assistant Corporate Counsel Chief Marianne Talon. The four have been accused of professional misconduct and failure to report professional misconduct. Mullin has additionally been accused of prohibited conflict of interest.

At issue is a $200,000 severance payout to Mullin, which many believe is unethical if not illegal. Reacting to community outrage and allegations of misappropriation of county funds, Ficano suspended Elder and Talon for 30 days without pay.

Yet, this may only be the beginning for county executive Ficano and his administration.

Last week, Olumba sent a letter to Attorney General Bill Schutte requesting an investigation into Mullin’s severance pay and other allegations of corruption at the County’s office.

The AG responded to Olumba’s request with a prepared media statement, stating he would allow the Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council (PACC) to carry out an investigation.

Olumba says the council is a “body with no teeth.”

“They have no power to delegate to any prosecuting body,” said Olumba, who submitted a resolution to the House Oversight, Reform and Ethics Committee requesting the Attorney General begin investigation of the Wayne County Executive and “other entities related to the severance payment scandal.”

During the Oct. 18 hearing, Olumba testified that the law “unequivocally” states that the council carries none of the sovereign powers of the state. Olumba said that power rests with the attorney general.

Tom Robertson, PACC’s CEO, confirmed the council does not have legal powers; it simply finds a prosecutor to take a case at the request of the AG.

“If we find somebody to agree, then the Attorney General decides if they want to assign a prosecutor to investigate,” Robertson said.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy cited a conflict of interest in the case and filed a petition with the AG’s office.

The AG has stated, in news reports, that the FBI is conducting an investigation.

FBI spokesperson Sandra Berchtold, in accordance with bureau policy, could not confirm or deny a federal investigation. As this paper went to press, the FBI served subpoeanas to Wayne County officials.

Olumba says once the resolution is passed, the AG doesn’t have a choice but to investigate. The investigations can be simultaneous.

The committee, chaired by Tim McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, postponed voting on the resolution until they received clarity of the PACC’s role and powers.

Internal investigation

Wayne County Commissioner Chairman Gary Woronchak, who leads the committee investigating the Mullins scandal, says Ficano’s office is cooperating with the committee’s requests and denied rumors they will issue a subpoena for documents.

“I’m hopeful in a couple of weeks we’ll have some remedies before us,” said Woronchak. “We’ll know the more questions we ask.”

Regarding other entities conducting investigations, Woronchak says each agency has a different role.

“My goal is to find out how this happened and to keep it from happening,” he said in a telephone interview. “The more people who look at [this] is fine with me.”

Woronchak says the commission needs to consider ordinance changes and submit laws “so that this cannot happen again. We want to get focus back on providing services [to citizens].”

When asked if the commission finds there was illegal action on behalf of the county executive he said, “I don’t know if we’re in the position to determine what’s legal or not. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. I wouldn’t make a leap to that point right now.”

Community outrage

What’s good enough for Kilpatrick is good enough for Ficano, was the message a group of Detroit protestors sent as they marched Oct. 17 outside of the Guardian Building, where the county executive’s office is located.

“We don’t want anybody who is unethical,” said community activist Sandra Hines, on behalf of the newly formed Coalition Against Corruption in Wayne County Government (CACWCG).

“He’s already apologized so evidently he did something wrong,” she said. “If he didn’t …why would he apologize?”

During a press conference called by the CACWCG, Hines declared, “the people are outraged …We want transparency.”

The group of about 50 citizens and growing is calling for the Oversight, Reform, and Ethics committee to approve Olumba’s resolution; Elder and Talon’s permanent termination; Mullin’s termination from her new position as Wayne County Airport Authority CEO, and the termination of Ficano’s appointee Michael Grundy; along with an independent investigation into the Office of Wayne County Executive, and other entities involved in the severance payment scandal.

“The community will no longer accept Ficano’s misuse of the people’s money,” Hines said. “This is about accountability and responsibility.”

Detroit Delegation responds

Responding to criticisms of being self-serving and disloyal, Olumba told the Michigan Citizen that he was acting at the behest of his constituency. Olumba was accused by several Democrats of breaking party ranks to end Ficano’s Democratic administration. Olumba said he called for an investigation because it was the right thing to do for the citizens.

“I’ve received hundreds of calls and e-mails [from across the state],” he said. “There’s no representative that I’ve seen serve with vigor on behalf of the people from around this area … I think this situation shows that. Here’s a man stealing money and they can’t ask for a simple investigation?”

Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) was the only legislator to support Olumba’s resolution.

In a telephone interview, Rep. David Nathan (D-Detroit) said it’s not unusual that there are no supporters of a resolution that goes before a committee. He says support usually comes when the resolution comes out of committee.

“If the resolution comes out of committee, I’ll support it,” he said.

Lisa Howze ( D-Detroit) says any action on the part of the state would be premature.

She says she doesn’t think the resolution will come out of committee and therefore makes the state’s involvement a moot point.

 

Innocent Man Freed After 17 Years in Prison for Nothing

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By Charlene Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from The Final Call –

LOS ANGELES - After serving 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Obie Anthony walked out of a Los Angeles County Jail Oct. 4 and joined the ranks of many men and women across the U.S., who were incarcerated on the basis of flawed or false eyewitness testimony.

“It's really overwhelming at this point. It's going to take a couple of days before everything really sets all the way in but the fact of the matter is, like I said, I never lost faith. I knew that this day would come so I just stood fast in that and I knew that it would happen,” Anthony told the throng of supporters and media that greeted him during an early celebration immediately after he was released.

Superior Court Judge Kelvin Filer overturned Anthony's 1995 murder conviction on September 30, because the key witness against him had lied on the stand. There also was no evidence that linked Anthony to the 1994 murder of Felipe Gonzales Angeles.

A Loyola Law School chapter of The Project for the Innocent won Anthony's exoneration after picking up his case in 2008. Reggie Cole, a co-defendant who was also wrongfully convicted and sent to prison for the murder, was freed by another L.A. judge in May 2010.

“I'm just glad that they came and that they saved me from this situation,” Anthony said, referring to the 3-1/3 year battle waged by The Project for the Innocent and the Northern California Innocence Project.

“I want to be prosperous and do exactly what they've been doing, which is reach back and save somebody else, to help someone else that was in the same situation that I've been in; to be able to do what they've done for me,” Anthony said when asked what he wanted to do with his life now.

Anthony has always maintained his innocence and had alibis even back in 1995, when he was convicted, but they weren't enough to overcome the prosecution's case, according to Paige Kaneb, supervising attorney at the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University.

When the case was assigned to her for investigation in 2008, she said they learned that the main witness for the prosecution had actually received a great deal. “He escaped 12 years of prison, basically, for testifying against Anthony and he lied to the jury about it and the prosecution never corrected his testimony,” Kaneb said.

She continued that the Innocence Project's investigator interviewed John Jones, the key witness, and he admitted to never really seeing Anthony and Cole well enough to identify them and that he had been relying on information from others, including the detectives, to make his IDs.

“In his words, he knew that the detectives weren't going to let him go down as long as he cooperated with them and that's what they did. They made sure he didn't go to jail,” Kaneb said.

Judge Filer chastised prosecutors for withholding that evidence from jurors and ordered Anthony released immediately. Prosecutors have 60 days to decide whether to retry Anthony or appeal the judge's decision and they've been ordered back to court October 31 to announce their decision, Kaneb informed.

“They can't retry him. They have no evidence. Their one real witness the judge found to be completely unreliable and he's now admitted he never really saw anything,” she continued.

In “200 Exonerated: Too Many Wrongfully Convicted,” its report on DNA exonerations in the United States, the Innocence Project indicates that while nobody truly knows how many innocent people are in prison, the question itself is haunting, since it reflects the common knowledge that there are undoubtedly more.

The report features the stories of the first 200 people exonerated through DNA evidence. All except one were men. They each served an average of 12 years in prison and a combined total of nearly 2,500 years in prison.

Eyewitness misidentification accounted for 77 percent of the convictions, and, 48 percent of those misidentifications were cross-racial, meaning most commonly a Caucasian person incorrectly identifying a Black person, according to the report.

Kaneb said that while it's a scary thing that there are innocent people in jail, the problem isn't necessarily with the system, but it's with people within the system. “...When people don't do their jobs, when prosecutors don't turn over evidence, when defense attorneys don't investigate cases, and the beauty of the system is when you do eventually bring the truth in front of a good judge, he does the right thing, like in this case. He ordered Mr. Anthony's conviction overturned and that he be freed,” she said.

“I've cried lots of times together because of the time that he's lost and can't get back but the thing is we know that we have a future and we can move forward, but those 17 years that he lost is very sad,” said Denise Merchant, Anthony's fiance. She said she kept pace with his case, step by step, minute by minute, second by second, waiting for his release.

Although he was exonerated on May 15, 2010 after 16 years in prison for a crime he also didn't commit, Cole said he is still trying to rebuild his life, amid doubts that his freedom is real, and whether or not the police will take him back to prison.

“That's where I've been for so long, so I'm still trying to adjust to the fact that I am here and they can't take me back to jail because I haven't done anything wrong,” Cole said.

Cole said the criminal justice system didn't work for him, but the Innocence Project did. “I'm completely against them,” he emphatically declared when asked if he's been able to forgive those responsible for his imprisonment.

“I haven't forgiven anybody and I don't plan on it because this isn't a case of mistaken identity or accidental. This is a deliberate act that was committed by the Los Angeles Police Department, namely (detectives) Marcella Winn and Pete Razanskas. They deliberately did this. They deliberately fabricated evidence. They hid evidence. They set us up. Set us up!”

Cole said he has filed a lawsuit against the LAPD and it's not just about money. “Somebody has to pay retribution for what happened, namely, the officers who committed the crime. Basically they committed the crime because they covered up the actual shooter. They basically withheld and hid evidence ... The judge agreed with us,” he said.

Outside the jail, Cole said it had been a long time and his words for Anthony weren't scripted but the thoughts he could summon up for him were “Joy. Just joy!”

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