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Murder Probe of Civil Rights Activist Walter Rodney to Resume

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By Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

A commission of inquiry probing the June 1980 assassination of Caribbean and American civil rights activist Walter Rodney is to resume hearings after a short break later this month. However, it has become quite clear from emerging testimony that the party that Rodney had led in his native Guyana was on a collision course with the then administration of Prime Minister Forbes Burnham.

Various witnesses who have testified at the hearings have indicated that Rodney, the man best known for the book, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” had made up his mind that the only way to rid the country of Burnham and the then governing People’s National Congress (PNC) was to stage a revolution, and that might have led to his death.

Barbadian jurist Sir Richard Cheltenham is leading the three-person commission of Caribbean attorneys probing the bomb blast that killed Rodney and seriously injured his brother, Donald, as they drove near the main city jailhouse in Georgetown June 13, 1980.

The Working People’s Alliance, which Rodney had cofounded with other radical academics in the 1970s, immediately blamed the PNC and state agencies, such as the military and police, for his death, but it is unclear whether the hearings will conclusively determine how he ended up with a two-way radio bomb in his lap.

Former army sergeant Gregory Smith, aka Cyril Johnson, the man who is supposed to have best known how Rodney was killed, himself succumbed to cancer in French Guiana a few years back. He had moved there after Rodney’s death but blamed Rodney’s own party for stashing him there after realizing that the plot to bring down Burnham’s regime had gone terribly wrong.

At least three witnesses, including Walter’s older brother Eddy, have testified that he had grown increasingly disenchanted with the policies of the Burnham administration at the time and had come to the conclusion that the only way to effect change was through armed revolution, “by any means necessary.”

Smith had argued in a book he wrote before his death that he was asked to pack explosives into two-way radios to sabotage various state agencies, such as the radio station, to undermine Burnham and trigger a popular uprising.

However, others have alleged that the military and police were used to infiltrate the WPA, plant listening devices and sell them guns, and then snitch on them and, in the end, double-cross party activists on behalf of the state. The book has been accepted as evidence.

Rodney and senior party functionaries had never disputed the fact that they had possessed a stash of two-way radios but had argued that the radios were being used to build an alternative communication system to get around planted listening devices. How a bomb ended up in the radio Rodney had in his lap on that fateful night remains the big question for the commission.

Rodney had been active in the U.S. civil rights movement and had taught in East Africa and the Caribbean. Boston University has an academic chair in his name. He was only 37 years old when he died.

New Yorkers/Nigerians Host Panel on State of Girls in Nigeria

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By Nayaba Arinde
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

The kidnapped 276 Nigerian girls have not been returned to their homes in Chibok, Borno State, but neither have they been forgotten. While mothers, men and young people have gathered up their meager resources to trapse through the dense and deadly Sambisi Forest, where the abducted school girls were thought to be held initially, and the military tries to coordinate an adequate retrieval effort, people in other parts of the world are doing their part to keep the genuine #bringbackourgirls movement going.

Twice a week, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry and his Interfaith Clergy group hold a daily prayer vigil at the United Nations. On June 26, the Rev. Cheryl Anthony will be among a group of clergy heading to Nigeria to address the issue.

On Monday, June 9, Nkechie Ogbodo, president of Kechi’s Project, presented a forum with a host of organizations, individual activists and everyday people, gathered at 777 United Nations Plaza to discuss the “State of Girls in Nigeria.”

Kechie’s Project is a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to the education of Nigerian girls and is at the forefront of the effort to rescue the missing girls of Chibok. This forum addressed why Nigerian girls are under attack not only from the likes of Boko Haram but also from other cultural, religious and social entities that, Ogbodo said, keeps them perpetually at risk for situations such as “forced underage marriage, sexual and domestic abuse, the likelihood of becoming a victim of human trafficking, higher infection rate of AIDS/HIV and other STDs and little or no access to education.”

Featured panelists were guest speaker Stacey Scarpone, executive director, Women’s Fund of Long Island; our own Nana Brew-Hammond; Rahama Kassim of Civil Society of Nigeria (who flew in from Kano that same day); Nana Afsou-Randal of Voices of African Mothers; Dahiru Tahir Biu (with at least one Boko Haram family member) of the Nigerian American Leadership Council; and Bobby Diggy of Island Voice (Staten Island). It was a riveting and informative presentation and discussion.

“At our panel discussion events, we are about collective processes to get things done, one young girl at a time, both in Africa and internationally,” Ogbodo stated. “It was such a good thing to get together to be inspired as we did today. We are not asking for favors from the Nigerian government, but we only try to tell the truth about the Chibok girls and beyond. Truth is not politics, as we have all seen. Politics is just a means to an end but not always the desired end.”

With issues such as Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s 2015 re-election bid being bandied about as a possible cause for a calculated destabilizing effort, to the speculation as to possible underhanded international collusion in the funding and supplying of the notorious Boko Haram, Ogbodo stresses that Kechie’s Project is not about politics. “We are about movements, changes and working together. We promise to fight on until the Chibok girls are found.”

Professor Stella Okereke, chairperson of Daughters of Africa in Diaspora, spoke on how to move Nigeria forward. She emphasized her organization’s priority: “To increase the awareness of gender wrongs and advocate action for essential human progress, transformation that adds value to life and puts a lid on unjust policies and discriminatory acts aimed at retarding the girl-child.”

U.S. Justice Department Heeds Call for Legal Representation for Undocumented Immigrants Facing Deportation

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City Council to consider providing $2.9 million for special legal services program in five boroughs

By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

At least 1,650 New Yorkers in the five boroughs, many of them parents with young children face deportation to foreign countries every year and when the fateful day arrives families are routinely ripped apart, deprived of their breadwinners.

The tragedy, say lawmakers and immigration advocates, is that much of the pain and suffering could be avoided if the victims of this ordeal had legal representation when they appear in immigration court to fight deportation.

The same thing is happening across the country, affecting hundreds of thousands of people facing the dim prospect of being forced to leave the country and return to more than 100 nations and territories.

“It’s an unfortunate situation that should be remedied, “ said Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, a Brooklyn Democrat after participating in an immigration forum sponsored by the Black Institute and held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. “People facing deportation doesn’t have the right to have a lawyer in immigration court. Not many people realize this.”

Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigration Affairs in New York, agreed.

“When you are in deportation proceedings you are not entitled to legal representation but three of four persons in such proceedings are successful when they have legal representation,” said Agarwal, the offspring of immigrants. “Those who can afford an attorney rarely win.”

Now, the Obama Administration is moving to change that situation. It is moving to help immigrants, especially young undocumented people, navigate the complicated web of immigration court. The U.S. Justice Department is linking arms with federal Corporation for National and Community Service and will put up $ 2 million to finance a program designed to encourage attorneys and para-legals to represent immigrants facing deportation when they appear in court.

“We’re taking a historic step to strengthen our justice system and protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society,” asserted Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney-General, himself the son of Caribbean immigrants. “How we treat those in need, particularly young people who must appear in immigration proceedings – many of whom are fleeing violence persecution, abuse or trafficking – goes to the core of who we are as a nation.”

Although the new initiative will reach out to the growing number of children, their parents and other adults are also expected to benefit from it. The program will run through AmeriCorps, a federal domestic service program. Its aim is to enroll 100 new attorney and paralegals across the country.” They will work in about 30 cities.

Meanwhile, the New York City Council and its Speaker, Melissa Mark Viverito, are negotiating with Mayor Bill de Blasio to include almost $ 3 million in the City budget to finance a broader legal services program for almost 1,000 undocumented immigrants who must appear in court.

“If this program doesn’t go on, immigration families will find themselves again without legal protection and will be railroaded into accepting deportation when many of them could have remained in their homes,” warned Angela Fernandez, executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

The Immigration forum at the Schomburg Center in Harlem attracted more than 200 participants and a blue ribbon panel of advocates, led by U.S. Congressional representatives Clarke and Hakeem Jeffries, co-chairs of the Congressional Black Caucus’ Immigration Task Force; Agarwall, a former Deputy Director of the Center for Popular Democracy, an advocacy group that promote immigrant rights; Julio Chavez Rodriguez, the Deputy Director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement; Michael Blake, a former White House aide who is Director of Public Policy and External affairs for Green for All; Dr. Van Tran, assistant professor of sociology at Columbia University; Imam Souleimame Konatae of the New York City Masjid Aspa, a 1,500 strong congregation of West African immigrants; Reggie Reg, a prominent hip-hop artist; and Edward Hille, an award winning photographer.

“We are seeking through these immigration forums to mobilize wide public support for the comprehensive immigration reform initiative now stalled in the House of Representatives in Washington,” said Bertha Lewis, founder And head of the Black Institute.

Holder Endorses Shorter Terms of Imprisoned Drug Offenders

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By James Wright
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that the Justice Department supports a proposal to allow some people serving time in federal prison for nonviolent drug offenses to be eligible for reduced sentences.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission approved a proposal in April to significantly lower the base offense associated with various drug quantities involved in drug trafficking crimes. The Justice Department wants the revised sentencing guidelines to be retroactive for convicts without significant criminal histories and whose offenses did not include aggravating factors, such as the possession of a dangerous weapon or the use of violence.

“Under the department’s proposal, if your offense was nonviolent, did not involve a weapon, and you do not have a significant criminal history, you would be eligible to apply for a reduced sentence in accordance with the new rules approved by the commission in April,” Holder said. “Not everyone in prison for a drug-related offense would be eligible. Nor would everyone who is eligible be guaranteed a reduced sentence.”

The commission will vote next month on whether the change, which is estimated to reduce the average sentence by 23 months, should be applied retroactively to those currently incarcerated.

Holder said a retroactive change “strikes the best balance between protecting public safety and addressing the overcrowding of our prison system that has been exacerbated by unnecessarily long sentences.”

Civil Rights Leaders Push for More Diversity in NBA Team Ownership

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – During a closed door meeting with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, a coalition of civil rights groups commended the basketball chief for making a strong statement with the lifetime ban of Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling and expressed the need for greater diversity in the NBA’s business behind the scenes.

On April 25, TMZ, an entertainment website dedicated to celebrity gossip, leaked secretly-recorded audio of Donald Sterling making disparaging comments about Blacks during a conversation with Vanessa Stiviano, his mistress.

Following the release of the tape, NBA players, including players from the Miami Heat, the reigning NBA champs, joined in silent protests during the playoffs over Sterling’s comments.

Just four days later, Silver, who called Sterling’s words “truly offensive and disturbing,” dropped the hammer on the Clippers owner, banning him from the league indefinitely and fining him $2.5 million, the maximum allowed under NBA regulations. Silver also moved to force the Sterling family to sell the team.

Beyond the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers, the civil rights leaders discussed a range of topics with the NBA commissioner, including African American team ownership, the conduct of the owners, and the need for greater community engagement.

As former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer prepares to purchase the team for an estimated $2 billion, civil rights leaders who attended the meeting vowed to stay on the case to promote diversity in the league and not just on the bench or the owner’s box, but throughout the league.

“We talked very strongly about African American entrepreneurship and making sure that throughout the NBA and WNBA that there are strong opportunities to have women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses to benefit from all of the enterprises that surround the NBA,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

That includes everything from team ownership to vendor opportunities and procurement to stadium contracting.

Arnwine said that minority ownership in the league is important, because that’s where the money is.

“There’s nobody playing ball that’s making $2 billion dollars,” said Arnwine in reference to the impending sale. “It’s important in an industry where 80 percent of the players are African Americans, that African American communities should be beneficiaries of the fruits of that sweat and that labor, because those are the communities that they come from and our youth from those communities look up to those players.”

A 2013 study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports reported that Blacks account for nearly 80 percent (76.3 percent) of all players and more than 43 percent of all coaches in the NBA, but only 2 percent of all owners. Michael Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets (formerly the Bobcats), is the only Black majority owner in the league. In contrast, 19 percent of all players, 53 percent of all coaches and 98 percent of all owners in the NBA are White.

“Thinking long range, it’s about the empowerment of the communities,” said Arnwine. “The NBA should have a voice and have a role in taking away some of the pain that is felt in the Black community and opening the doors to opportunity for African American youth who want to go to college and for Black business owners.”

Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said that if the Ballmer deal goes through, that the new Los Angeles Clippers ownership group should include Blacks.

“The new ownership group needs to be a broad diverse group and the NBA needs to make sure that no more Sterlings ever come into the league and that no more Sterlings grow in the league,” said Morial. “Because the actions, the activities, and the statements of the owners, even in their private business dealings, are important.”

Morial said that the group wants to learn more about the procurement process for the league and they want to see how teams stack up when it comes business diversity.

“The NBA is heavily subsidized by the public through arena deals,” said Morial. “Many of the arenas are owned by the public, rented to owners, with terms heavily favorable to the team owners.”

That means they get to pocket most of the revenue coming in from concessions, parking and sponsorships.

During the owner initiated player lockout in 2011, CBS Sports reported that Time Warner Arena where the Charlotte Hornets play and the New Orleans Arena where the Pelicans play “were 100 percent publicly financed” and the city of Orlando “sold $311 million in bonds in 2008 to help finance the Amway Center,” home of the Orlando Magic basketball team.

“Industry analysts estimate that about two-thirds of current NBA arenas received some form of public financing. Even some of the privately owned buildings (in Sacramento, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Denver, Philadelphia, Toronto, Utah and Washington, D.C.) received some indirect public benefit such as land grants, tax breaks or both,” according to CBS Sports.

Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation said, “I don’t know any professional sports teams that didn’t need municipal support, that’s our tax dollars. If you have to have a stadium built for a football team, a baseball team, or a basketball team, guess what, that is municipalities putting in our tax dollars.”

Morial said that the coalition of civil rights groups that met with Silver wants to learn more about the procurement process for the league and they want to see how teams stack up when it comes to business diversity.

“Getting rid of Sterling is just one step,” said Morial. “We have to be more engaged in all of the broader issues related to sports, including ownership diversity and procurement.”

Still, the civil rights leaders recognized the great strides in diversity that the NBA has made compared to professional football and baseball. Not a single team in the National Football League is Black-owned and it’s the same story for Major League Baseball. Only 9 percent of coaches in the NFL and 10 percent of the managers in MLB are Black.

“We want to give the NBA credit where it’s due and push them where they need to be push,” Morial said.

He explained, “You now have a community of players, whether it’s a Magic Johnson or a Michael Jordan and other African American business people, like [Bob Johnson] and Oprah Winfrey, who have the financial wherewithal to be primary owners or parts of ownership groups. The argument that they just aren’t out there, just doesn’t hold weight anymore.”

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