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New York Attorney General Settles Agreement with Bank in Fight to End Discrimination

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Special to the New York Amsterdam News

Prompted by concerns of New York banks not lending to minority groups after the mortgage and financial crisis in 2008, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Civil Rights Bureau launched an investigation into the claims.

The investigation found that Five Star Bank’s lending area included most of the surrounding area around the city of Rochester, N.Y., but not the city itself or any area that consisted of predominantly minority residents. This went on from at least 2009 to 2013. During this time, the bank also enacted a policy that pronounced any property outside of their lending areas as an “undesirable loan type,” which discouraged borrowers from mostly minority areas.

It was also found that the bank rejected borrowers who were looking for a mortgage of $75,000 or less for seven out of 12 of the mortgage products they offered. Since the mortgage in the predominantly minority neighborhoods averaged less than Five Star’s cap, the policy was discouraging for residents who hailed from those communities.

This agreement between the attorney general and Five Star requires the bank to open two new branches in areas with at least a 30 percent minority population. One of the offices will be within at least two miles of a majority minority neighborhood, the second will be within one mile. Additionally, $250,000 will be devoted to advertising directed to minority communities, and $500,000 in discounts and subsidies on loans for minority neighborhood residents in the Rochester metro area is also included in the agreement.

The bank also has agreed to maintain its extended lending area, eliminate its minimum mortgage amount requirement, pay $15,000 in costs to the state of New York, provide live-fair training to its employees and submit to monitoring for the next three years.

The attorney general stated, “All New Yorkers, regardless of the color of their skin or the racial composition of their neighborhood, must be afforded an equal opportunity to obtain credit.” Hopefully this agreement will help actualize this sentiment.

District 9 Councilwomen Inez Dickens commented that she was “glad the attorney general was able to seek social and economic justice for the people of Rochester.”

Schneiderman continued, “My office will continue to fight for equal justice under law for all New Yorkers and to ensure that lenders treat people fairly in the marketplace. It’s truly disheartening that in 2015, we are still confronting the systematic racial discrimination that has persisted throughout our nation’s history.”

“Home ownership is the major dream of most Rochesterians. It usually is the single largest investment made by a family,” said William G. Clark, president and CEO of the Urban League of Rochester. “To deny this dream through unfair lending practices not only prevents these families from building wealth through home equity, it also leads to a decline of housing values in the impacted neighborhoods. We applaud the attorney general’s efforts and commitment to ensuring that all families are afforded a fair and equal opportunity for home ownership in the communities of their choice.”

New Orleans Experiences Historic Lows in Murder

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By Mason Harrison
Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly

Three years after kicking off the much-ballyhooed NOLA for Life murder reduction strategy, Mayor Mitch Landrieu is touting the program’s success in the new year as the city witnesses a sharp decline in its decades-long recalcitrant murder rate, yielding the city’s oft-repeated moniker as the nation’s murder capital. Landrieu praises the effort as an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to crime intervention through public-private partnerships crafted to prevent violence, beef up gang prosecutions and increase job opportunities for thousands of mostly young Black men operating at the margins of the city’s economy.

In 2014, the city tallied 150 murders, a number not seen since 1971. When adjusted for population size, the figure is the lowest total number of murders in New Orleans since 1999, says Charles West, director of the city’s innovation delivery team. Last year’s drop in murders comes on the heels of previous crime figures stemming from 2012 and 2013, something, West says, is tied to NOLA for Life. “Looking at the path we’ve taken, we’re experiencing three straight years of reduced murders,” West says.

Landrieu hails the historic murder lows, but cautions stakeholders to be aware that “we have a long way to go,” according to an early January statement from his office touting the 40-year low. The mayor, who won office in 2010 promising to tackle the city’s nationally known murder rate, says he remains “fully committed” to decreasing murders while not neglecting efforts to reduce overall crime in the city.

But the challenge of beating back crime in general remains a sore spot for many residents. “A drop in the number of murders is good,” says Rafael Goyeneche, head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, but that only reflects one percent of the crime in the city.” Goyeneche says most of the city’s 300,000 residents are not faced with an everyday threat of being murdered, but remain at risk for being victims of other crimes. “Violent crime remains a problem,” he says, such as armed robberies and sexual assaults, “and it shouldn’t matter where you live, we want a city where, ultimately, there is no crime.”

Susan Guidry, chair of the City Council’s criminal justice committee, echoes the crime commission. “I am grateful for the progress we have seen so far, though we face serious challenges in combating violent crime that will continue as long as NOPD remains woefully understaffed.” Guidry has been at the epicenter of efforts to boost manpower at a time when the department is shrinking.

Dr. John Penny, a criminologist at Southern University of New Orleans, calls the ongoing drop in the city’s murder rate encouraging, but stops short of linking the decrease to the mayor’s NOLA for Life program. “I think it’s really hard to make a definitive statement about whether the two things are related,” he says. “When you look at a statistical fall like that you have to look at other variables, such as population shifts. A lot of folks didn’t come back after Katrina. The murder rate was so high after the storm because many returning gang members were trying to reestablish their territories set before the hurricane.

Penny also says murder rates can fall due to changes in victim behavior. “Criminals look for people who are vulnerable. We can see an uptick in activity in the French Quarter, which is widely publicized. Things like that can cause people to not walk alone or to stay out as late, frustrating criminal behavior.” Penny says police statistics should not be ruled out as something affecting the city’s low murder rate. “If someone is shot, but dies later from his gunshot wounds, that may not be classified as a murder.”

Despite local criticism of the police department over crime reclassifications in recent weeks, the department touts the falling murder rate as the result of effective policing. “The progress we’ve made over the past three years is real and remarkable,” says police superintendent, Michael Harrison. The city’s new top cop says long-term crime reduction, coupled with the murder reduction strategy, includes moving desk officers to patrol and deploying reserve officers and creating task forces to tackle crime hot spots.

Targets of the murder reduction plan include the Central City, St. Roch, Behrman and Little Woods communities. Barbara Lacen-Keller, chair of the Central City Partnership, lauds the mayor’s efforts while defending an area she has championed for years. “I think when we talk about crime, we have to understand that there are pockets of crime in certain neighborhoods and I wouldn’t even call them hot spots. So, whether people feel safe or not really depends on where they live in a particular part of town.” She co-founded the partnership 20 years ago, in part, to work with residents to address housing, education, health, crime and economic development issues. “We created the comeback committee,” says Lacen-Keller, dubbed the “Mayor of Central City,” “which was a partnership with officers of the 6th District, to target high crime areas and we lobbied for the creation of the new district police station.”

Projects like CeaseFire New Orleans, a Central City-based murder reduction effort, complement decades of groundwork done to reduce crime in one of the city’s history-filled neighborhoods, says Lacen-Keller. “I support Cease­Fire; this is a program that has had success in Chicago and Boston and I am particularly glad to see that work is being done with boys and girls, especially the work to reach shooting victims while they are still hospitalized to decrease the number of retaliatory shootings that we see in our city.”

West calls CeaseFire, a component of NOLA for Life, “one of the most evidenced-based programs that’s been replicated elsewhere to be effective by involving outreach, violence interrupters, using a risk reduction plan, connecting participants to workforce training, and creating direct intervention.” In 2014, West says, Central City reported a 31 percent drop in shootings, along with a murder tally that fell by 11 percent compared to 2012, when the NOLA for Life campaign got underway. West says the program is on the verge of expanding to schools requesting the effort to reduce student violence.

But shootings in New Orleans remain high, says Penny. “We had 300 shootings last year. I don’t know if that’s because all of these guys are a bad shot or if people are just getting lucky. I can’t explain it—it’s an odd juxtaposition.” West, however, compares the city’s high number of shootings with its reduction in gun deaths to similar phenomena in other major cities. “We see the same thing in New York and Chicago. But our focus, of course, is maintaining the success we’ve experienced in the last three years.”

Portions of NOLA for Life include what organizers dub “call-ins,” where gang members meet with elected officials, law enforcement agents, and various social service providers who extend options other than a life of crime and repeat incarceration. In 2014, West says, 113 gang members or associates enrolled in various education, job training, housing assistance or substance abuse treatment programs. The programs come at no cost to those who choose to leave gang life and stem from public-private partnerships.

“We’re able to create these opportunities thanks to private partners like members of the New Orleans Business Alliance,” West says. “One of our partners is Ochsner Health System, which provides training, at no cost, to program participants interested in learning how to become a medical assistant.” West says commitments to job training and hiring are the lynchpins in helping the program reach success.

Landrieu has likewise hung the success of NOLA for Life on the program’s ability to create jobs. Yet, 52 percent of Black males, of working age, in New Orleans remain unemployed, excluding those who are underemployed or who have stopped looking for work. Landrieu hosted a symposium in December revealing, in part, the obstacles facing Black male job seekers, including figures demonstrating that just half of all Black male job applicants without barriers to employment secure interviews. “We’re keenly aware of this issue,” West says, “and we’re working to create ways to increase employment.”

Still, the city’s drop in gun deaths is well-received. “We’ve been doing this for a long time,” says Lacen-Keller. “So, am I pleased that we are turning a corner? Yes. Do I believe that we have a long way to go? Yes. Do I think that we can do even better than now? Yes. Do I think we’ll ever be Mayberry? No indeed.”

Kenyan Children Tear Gassed by Police

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

Kenyan government officials are rushing to condemn the apparent brutality of police who attempted to disperse a protest of primary school children using tear gas, snarling dogs and clubs.

The children of Langa-ta Road Primary School were protesting the “playground grabbing” by a developer who claimed he owned the school property. That claim is now under investigation.

Wearing their green sweaters and school uniforms, the youngsters could be seen in videos posted online taking down the tall fence that blocked the play area. Some carried signs that read #OccupyPlayGround.

The school has approximately 1,000 students between the ages of 3 and 14, and is run by the Nairobi City Council.

According to local media, a group called Airport View Housing Ltd. says it has legally acquired the land and plans to build a parking lot that will be used by guests at an adjoining hotel. The City Council, however, says the playground is public land. It has not commented on the legal status of the apparent sale.

The Law Society of Kenya said it had named a team of 11 lawyers who will work with the director of public prosecution to charge the officers who tear gassed the pupils. Kenyans took to social media to criticize the police and mobilize support for the children. Earlier this week, more than 1,000 tweets had been shared and a hundred more were on Facebook under the hashtag #OccupyPlayGround.

“Last time I heard of children being gassed, hospitalized and tethered by dogs was apartheid South Africa,” @gitweeta wrote on Twitter.

Rising Anger in Muslim Africa Over Offending Cartoons

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Special to the NNPA from Global Information Network

While the president of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, marched in a Paris rally to support the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, anger was rising at home among the country’s majority Muslim population over cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed.

Over the weekend, anger exploded on the streets when approximately 1,000 young men turned on the institutions of the Catholic community, burning 45 churches. Ten people were reported killed in the violence.

Security forces in the capital, Niamey, used tear gas Sunday against a banned demonstration. Violence was also reported in Zinder, the country’s second largest city, as churches burned, and Christian homes and a French cultural center were looted by mobs.

“The French flag was burned,” said Adily Toro, a national police spokesman, adding that 189 people, including two minors, were arrested by police.

Demonstrators also pillaged and burned numerous premises, including five hotels and 36 bars.

French news agency AFP reported that a Muslim elder, Yaou Sonna, urged people to stop attacking Christians. “Don’t forget that Islam is against violence,” he said on state television. “I urge men and women, boys and girls, to calm down.”

The cartoons, defended as an exercise in freedom of speech, also set off riots in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Algeria and Gaza.

French President Francois Hollande refused to reconsider his support of the magazine, saying people did not understand France’s commitment to freedom of speech, even in the case of the controversial cartoons of Mohammed.

However, a growing movement has appeared among journalists and others who refuse to join the “I am Charlie Hebdo” supporters. One such journalist is New York Times opinion page writer David Brooks.

“Let’s face it,” Brooks wrote in a recent column. “If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the past two decades, it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.”

Brooks criticized the crowds that jumped to the defense of the cartoonists for their controversial attacks on the Muslim prophet. A lot of them would be a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home, he said.

He continued, “The University of Illinois fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality. The University of Kansas suspended a professor for writing a harsh tweet against the National Rifle Association. Vanderbilt University derecognized a Christian group that insisted that it be led by Christians.

“So this might be a teachable moment. As we are mortified by the slaughter of those writers and editors in Paris, it’s a good time to come up with a less hypocritical approach to our own controversial figures, provocateurs and satirists.”

With 'No More Campaigns to Run,' Obama Refuses to Back Down

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The strongest line in President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night was adlibbed. When he said toward the end of his one-hour speech, “I have no more campaigns to run,” Republicans laughed. He quickly shot back, “I know because I won both of them.”

That brief exchange tells us what we can expect in Obama’s final two years in office and reflects two different realities. A confident and relaxed Obama, making it very clear that he is not going to curl up in a corner and concede the next two years to Republicans, outlined his bold vision for the future, a vision that does not abandon his key policy positions.

Though Obama did indeed win both times his name was on the ballot, Democrats suffered major losses in the 2014 mid-term elections. Consequently, Republicans hold a 247-188 edge in the House. In the Senate, there are 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and two Independents who usually vote with Democrats.

On Tuesday night, President Obama seemed to be setting the stage for 2016 when in addition to the White House, there will be a major battle for control of the Senate, where 25 Republicans will be up re-election, compared to only 10 Democrats.

Though it will be difficult to get many of the proposals President Obama said will be in his budget when it is delivered to Capitol Hill in two weeks, he argued forcefully that his polices had worked, despite strident Republican opposition over the past six years.

“We are 15 years into this new century,” he began in his address to a joint session of Congress. “Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world. It has been, and still is, a hard time for many.

“But tonight, we turn the page. Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before. More of our people are insured than ever before. And we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.

“Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over. Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 15,000 remain. And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 Generation who has served to keep us safe. We are humbled and grateful for your service.

“America, for all that we have endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this: The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.”

As has become customary during State of the Union speeches, Democrats stood and applauded when Obama made a point that appealed to them while dour-faced Republicans remained seated. Unlike 2009 when Rep. Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina, violated congressional decorum by shouting, “You, Lie,” Republicans were mostly polite, while making it clear they were not endorsing Obama’s vision for his final two years in office.

Noticeably absent from Tuesday’s State of the Union were three of the most conservative members of the Supreme Court: Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Thomas has called the event so partisan that it makes him feel uncomfortable. Scalia has dismissed it as a “childish spectacle” and Roberts has likened it to “a political pep rally.” In modern years, regardless of a court member’s personal views, the robbed justices have attended the yearly event, most of the time displaying no emotions.

Reviewing his accomplishments over the past six years, Obama boasted, “We believed we could reverse the tide of outsourcing and draw new jobs to our shores. And over the past five years, our businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs.

“We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet. And today, America is number one in oil and gas. America is number one in wind power. Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008. And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save about $750 at the pump.”

With Democrats applauding, Obama continued, “We believed we could prepare our kids for a more competitive world. And today, our younger students have earned the highest math and reading scores on record. Our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high. More Americans finish college than ever before.

“We believed that sensible regulations could prevent another crisis, shield families from ruin, and encourage fair competition. Today, we have new tools to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts, and a new consumer watchdog to protect us from predatory lending and abusive credit card practices. And in the past year alone, about 10 million uninsured Americans finally gained the security of health coverage.”

Like most politicians, Obama cherry-picked some numbers, according to FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan project of the Annenberg Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania that describes itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.

For example, it noted, “It’s true that nearly 8.2 million private sector jobs have been added since February 2010, which was the low point of the great job slump that began a year before Obama took office and continued through his first year. But total employment has risen less – by 7.6 million – held back by layoffs of state and local government workers. Obama was technically correct, as he was careful to speak of jobs “’our businesses have created.’”

It also explained, “The president said that ‘because of the Affordable Care Act … more than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.’ But that total includes Medicaid renewals, not just new recipients that gained Medicaid coverage because of the health care law.

“The 9 million figure includes 3 million Americans who have chosen insurance plans on the federal or state marketplaces and 6.3 million who were determined eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. An estimated 3.1 million young adults under age 26 also joined their parents’ plans as a result of the Affordable Care Act’s requirements.”

There is a growing consensus that the economy has largely recovered under Obama’s stewardship – with little help from Republicans.

“At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits. Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in 50 years. This is good news, people,” he said to laughter and applause.

“So the verdict is clear. Middle-class economics works. Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work as long as politics don’t get in the way. We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns. We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got to fix a broken system. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, I will veto it. It will have earned my veto.”

Exercising the veto is one of the few tools Obama has except for issuing executive order in a Republican-controlled Congress. Until recently he has been reluctant to sign executive orders or veto bills that crossed his desk.

Obama has issued only two vetoes in six years. By contrast, George W. Bush issued 12; Bill Clinton, 37; George H.W. Bush, 44; Ronald Reagan, 78; Jimmy Carter, 31; Gerald R. Ford, 66; Richard Nixon, 43 and Lyndon B. Johnson, 30, according to Senate records. The last two-term president to approach Obama’s rate was James Monroe, who vetoed only one bill from 1817 to 1825.

There was a similar pattern with executive orders.

Despite Republican charges that Obama is a “socialist dictator” and operates an “imperial presidency,” he has issued the fewest executive orders since Grover Cleveland, who was in the White House from 1885 to 1889.

But Obama promised to be more combative his last two years, if necessary.

He outlined a broad agenda that, among other things, offers two years of free community college, shifts $320 billion in new taxes on the wealthy largely to the middle class, vetoes any legislation that would undermine his executive order on immigration or sanction Iran over its nuclear program while negotiations are underway, and mocks Republicans denials of climate change.

On the latter, he said, “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does: 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century. I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what, I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration], and at NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] , and at our major universities. And the best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration and conflict and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”

Before Obama delivered his State of the Union speech, new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made it clear that it didn’t matter what goals Obama articulates.

At a news conference before the speech, McConnell, who once said his goal was to make Obama a one-term president, said, “With all due respect to him, he doesn’t set the agenda in the Senate”

In his speech, Obama said he realizes Democrats and Republicans have different ideas on major issues, but urged cooperation where possible.

“Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. Imagine if we did something different,” he said. “Understand, a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine. A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears. A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues and values, and principles and facts, rather than ‘gotcha’ moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.”

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