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Georgia Remains Center of Death Penalty Controversy

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By George E. Curry, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

Ray Charles sings about Georgia being on his mind. But, as Troy Davis was laid to rest last Saturday in Savannah, Georgia is also on the minds of distraught death penalty opponents who saw him executed on the basis of questionable evidence and despite an array of witnesses who had recanted their original testimony.

Georgia has been at the epicenter of the death penalty debate for almost four decades. It was a case from Georgia – Furman v. Georgia – that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in 1972 that the death penalty was unconstitutional because it was being administered in an arbitrary and capricious manner.

After declaring a moratorium on executions, many states rushed to overhaul their capital punishment statues to comply with the new Supreme Court’s standard. In 1976 – Gregg v. Georgia – the court approved the modified death penalty statues of Georgia, along with those of Florida and Texas, while rejecting the approach adopted by North Carolina and Louisiana that required all people convicted of murder to be executed.

But it was the case of Troy Anthony Davis, an African-American from Savannah, that became Exhibit A in the re-energized movement to permanently outlaw the death penalty. His plight drew international attention as well as support from such unlikely sources as former President Jimmy Carter, conservative former U.S. Representative Bob Barr [R-GA] and former FBI director William Sessions.

Davis was convicted of murdering Mark MacPhail, an off-duty Savannah policeman moonlighting as a security guard. According to prosecutors, McPhail rushed to the aid of a homeless man who was being pistol-whipped by Davis. However, no gun was ever found, there was no DNA test linking Davis to the crime and more than a half-dozen witnesses have recanted or changed their original testimony.

One of the witnesses, Antoine Williams, signed an affidavit saying, “…After the officers talked to me, they gave me a statement to sign and told me to sign it. I signed it. I did not read it because I cannot read.”

When it comes to the death penalty, race matters.

In 1990, a U.S. General Accounting Office report concluded, “In 82% of studies [reviewed], the race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e., those who murdered whites were found more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks.”

According to the Death Penalty Information Center (PDF), 76 percent of the murder victims in cases that resulted in executions were White, although only 50 percent of murder victims are White. Of defendants executed for murdering someone of the opposite race, 17 were White – including Lawrence Russell Brewer, who was executed in Texas the same night as Troy Davis for the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd, Jr. in Jasper, Texas – and 254 were Black.

A study of 2,000 potential death penalty cases in Georgia led by Professor David Baldus of the University of Iowa found that the odds of receiving the death penalty in Georgia were 4.3 times greater if the defendant killed a White person than if he had killed an African-American. A report prepared for the American Bar Association found the multiplier was 4.4 in North Carolina and 5.5 in Mississippi.

While race matters, it’s not the only thing that matters.

A 2007 investigation by the Cincinnati Enquirer found that judges on the U.S. court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which covers Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, voted consistently along party lines. Judge Nathaniel Jones, who retired from the circuit, told the Enquirer: “It’s a roll of the dice. When I look at a lineup of a panel in this kind of case, you can almost go to the bank on what the result is going to be.”

And the numbers support that view.

The newspaper figures show that federal judges appointed by George H.W. Bush voted 50-4 against granting inmates’ capital murder appeals. Appointees of George W. Bush voted 34-5 against granting such appeals. Reagan judges voted 39-13 against the requests. By contrast, Carter appointees voted 31-4 in favor of granting inmates’ appeals. Bill Clinton’s appointees were not as firm, voting 75-32 in favor of the appeals.

“Statistics like these do not prove that judges’ decisions are influenced by their political leanings, but the stark contrast in outcomes strongly suggests that judgments in death penalty cases are subjective and influenced by other factors that interject a high degree of arbitrariness into the process,” concluded a report by the Death Penalty Information Center titled, “Struck by Lightning: The Continuing Arbitrariness of the Death Penalty.”

Still other factors also determine the fate of murder suspects.

“The system is too fraught with variables to survive,” observed H. Lee Sarokin, a retired federal appeals court judge. “Whether or not one receives the death penalty depends upon the discretion of the prosecutor who initiates the proceeding, the competence of counsel who represents the defendant, the race of the victim, the race of the defendant, the make-up of the jury, the attitude of the judge, and the attitude and make-up of the appellate courts that review the verdict.”

The next execution in Georgia is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 12, exactly two weeks after Troy Davis was put to death in Jackson, Georgia. Both Angela Sizemore, the victim in that case, and Marcus Ray Johnson, the man convicted of murdering her, are White.

Don’t expect any all-night vigils in support of Johnson. Do not look for any signs proclaiming, “I am Marcus Johnson.” And don’t expect protests in Paris or anywhere else proclaiming Johnson’s innocence.

According to a summary of the case filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in the early morning hours of March 24, 1994 Johnson met Sizemore at Fundamentals, a west Albany bar. Sizemore had attended a memorial for an acquaintance the previous day and had been drinking so heavily that the bartender stopped serving her. Witnesses said Johnson was deeply upset that another woman had spurned his advances early in the evening.

A court filing said, “The bar owner and its security officer (who both knew Johnson) testified that they saw Johnson and Ms. Sizemore kissing and behaving amorously.” The couple left the bar around 2:30 a.m.

“In a statement, Johnson said he and the victim had sex in the vacant lot and he ‘kind of lost it.’ According to Johnson, the victim became angry because he did not want to ‘snuggle’ after sex and he punched her in the face…”

That’s not all he did.

“Johnson sexually assaulted Sizemore with the limb of a pecan tree, which was shoved into her vagina until it tore through the back wall of her vagina into her rectum,” the court filing recounted. “…Jackson also cut and stabbed Sizemore 41 times with a small, dull knife.”

Johnson’s trial lasted from March 23 to April 7, 1998. He was found guilty of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery and rape. He was sentenced to death on the malice murder charge, life imprisonment for rape and 20 years for aggravated battery.

In an unusual twist, the prosecutor was Gregory W. Edwards, who later became the first Black District Attorney in Dougherty County, and the presiding judge was another African-American, Willie Earl Lockette, now the Chief Judge on Dougherty Superior Court in Albany.

As of January, 3,251 persons were on death row. There were 103 in Georgia, including Troy Davis and Marcus Johnson. Nationally, 42 percent of those on death row are Black, although African-Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population. Latinos represent 12 percent of those awaiting execution.

The American Bar Association (ABA) called for a moratorium on all executions in 1997, a resolution that remains in effect.

“Two decades after Gregg, it is apparent that the efforts to forge a fair capital punishment jurisprudence have failed,” the ABA resolution stated. “Today, administration of the death penalty, far from being fair and consistent, is instead a haphazard maze of unfair practices with no internal consistency.”

Even Ray Charles can see that.

Georgia,
Georgia,
No peace, no peace I find
Just this old sweet song,
Keeps Georgia on my mind.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

More African Americans Needed in Technology Sector

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

If TechAmerica, technology’s largest advocacy organization, would send a banquet invitation to all African-American CEOs of public technology companies, the International Business Times said, the response would be so small that the tech organization would cancel the event.

There are several prominent Blacks right below the CEO level who may be future CEOs, according to IBTimes, including Google's David Drummond, EVP and general counsel; IBM's Rod Adkins, Senior VP for Systems and Technology, and General Electric's Lloyd Trotter, president of GE Industrial Systems, but overall the number is small.

“The important thing is not to be the CEO of Xerox,” eAccess founder John W. Templeton told IBTimes. “The important thing is to be the one who creates the next imaging device.”

Templeton said that the Black community must groom young engineers and scientists in order to expand diversity in the technology sector, but admitted a lack of contracts, financing and access to venture capital has been a challenge to turn dreams into reality.

The number of African Americans who hold jobs in Silicon Valley, the southern part of the San Francisco Bay region that holds the world’s largest technology companies, has tremendously declined. In 2008, only 1.8 African Americans were hired at the 15 largest companies including eBay, Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard.

Templeton said “offshoring” in Latin America and Asia has contributed to the decline of diversity.

The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) has a current membership of 35,800, most are college students who are studying engineering and mathematics.

“The best way to interest young African Americans in technology is by setting a personal example,” said NSBE Chairman Calvin Phelps.

At Cornell University, only six percent of the engineering faculty is minorities and only three percent are African Americans, the IBTimes reports.

A report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workface found that overall, engineering majors of all disciplines reported the highest median earnings at $75,000.

Foreclosure Crisis Becoming Health Hazard in Queens

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By Cyril Josh Barker, Special to the NNPA from The New York Amsterdam News –

As the foreclosure crisis continues to sweep across the country, in New York City, Queens has been the hardest hit of the five boroughs. And in the predominately middle-class neighborhoods of Southeast Queens, where many African-Americans live, people are feeling the devastating effects of the financial crisis, the economic downturn and the overall recession, which may have hit their communities even harder than other Queens neighborhoods.

As communities from Far Rockaway to South Ozone Park and Jamaica have been struggling to cope with the economics, City Council Member Leroy Comrie has identified another problem.

Over the last few years, homes abandoned due to foreclosures have fallen into disrepair and become dumping grounds for garbage, debris and drug-related activities-problems these communities have worked extremely hard to minimize in recent years.

Residents recently brought two specific locations to Comrie's attention, and his office reached out to NYC Community Clean-Up to assist with addressing potentially dangerous and hazardous conditions.

"Abandoned homes in Southeast Queens have become a growing quality of life crisis," said Comrie. "As the center of the foreclosure epidemic, this community has seen many homes seized by financial institutions and negligent landlords, who make no effort to keep the properties cleaned and properly secured. This behavior results in the growth of vagrancy, drug dealing and garbage dumping, thereby negatively impacting the quality of life in these communities."

The two homes in Comrie's district that drew attention to the issue in Southeast Queens held by U.S. Bank National Association. Comrie called the practice by financial institutions of leaving properties to decay "outrageous."

"Left unchecked, these foreclosed properties are quality-of-life time bombs in our community," he said. "It contributes to the kind of urban decay that invariably damages neighborhoods and makes them unsafe on many levels. It is my hope that potential federal and state legislation will force these ‘landlords' to be responsible corporate citizens and maintain their properties."

With help from NYC Community Clean-Up, the problem is solved. The citywide initiative is designed to address neighborhood hot spots and eyesores. Using data from a variety of sources-the city's 311 system, foreclosure reports, crime maps-NYC Community Cleanup identifies neighborhoods across New York City that are struggling with visible signs of disorder.

The initiative also puts low-level offenders to work, repairing conditions of disorder or neglect throughout New York City. The goal is to create meaningful community service work-projects that emphasize the values of immediacy, visibility and accountability.

"When these situations are brought to my attention, my staff will reach out to the property owners, who in most cases are unresponsive to verbal and written communications, asking them to clean and secure the buildings," Comrie said. "Therefore, we are left with no alternative but to rely on organizations like NYC Community Clean-Up to address the unsanitary conditions. I want to thank NYC Community Clean-Up for their efforts today in helping these two blocks in Queens to momentarily clean up the blight in their neighborhood."

Philadelphia's FIGHT Organization Teaching HIV Prevention with Music, Dance

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By Ayana Jones, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

Philadelphia FIGHT’s Youth Health Empowerment Project is using dance as a way to educate young people about HIV.

Y-HEP is the first to partner with dance4life, a Netherlands-based program aimed at empowering young people around HIV.

The organization joined Victoria’s Secret angel Doutzen Kroes at a press conference to launch dance4life-USA.

“dance4life is effective because it breaks down the inhibitions to learning, helps young people remember the importance of HIV prevention, and is fun,” Kroes said during the press conference held at City Hall.

Kroes encouraged parents to talk to their children about safe sex and condom use.

“We must break the silence and we cannot be afraid to talk to our kids about sex, using condoms, and to answer their questions,” she said.

Y-HEP will take the dance4life program to students at various school and youth organizations throughout Philadelphia where they will encourage young people to take responsibility for their health and decision-making. dance4life Philadelphia has joined 28 countries in offering the global program that provides young people with the skills to join the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“What we have found with dance4life — more than any other program designed to help reach young people transition into adolescence — is that this has been the most successful,” said Jane Shull, executive director, Philadelphia FIGHT.

AIDS Activities Coordinating Office Executive Director Jane Baker hailed the dance4life initiative and said it’s another tool in the arsenal to fight the growing rates of sexually transmitted diseases amongst Philadelphia’s youth.

Last April, Philadelphia’s Department of Health launched a campaign to help combat the rise in STDs amid Philadelphia youth. During that launch, Health Commissioner Donald F. Schwarz said more than 19,000 cases of chlamydia were reported in 2010, with approximately 45 percent of those cases occurring in youths between the ages of 10 and 19 years, and 33 percent occurring in young adults ages 20 to 24 years. He also noted that 47 percent of the youth who were diagnosed with HIV at the city’s STD clinic had a prior history of gonorrhea, chlamydia or syphilis.

“Right now we have a public health emergency. This is a crisis. So anything you can do to bring these rates down, to make some impact on the rise of sexually transmitted diseases among young people in Philadelphia, you have to do it. This couldn’t be more timely,” said Baker.

dance4life International Founder Eveline Aendekerk says the organization’s goal is to facilitate a global youth movement of one million agents of change by 2014.

The push to expand the movement comes at a time when half of the new HIV infections are occurring in young people under 25 according to U.N. AIDS.

During the press conference, members of dance4life Philadelphia’s tour team chanted, “Take responsibility for life, let your voice be heard,” while showing off hip dance moves.

The dance4life program has four components, including a heart connection tour that encourages participation through music, drumming, dancing and education; skills4life, a workshop program where participants learn about HIV; and act4life, which encourages involvement in a volunteer project. The fourth component includes celebrate4life, a biannual celebration that is held on the Saturday before World AIDS Day. During the celebration, dance4life participants are connected via satellite where they dance together.

Over the coming months, Y-HEP will work to recruit students and student clubs to participate in the dance4life program, and will stage dance4life interventions in area schools.

Y-HEP is a community-based health and leadership development program for Philadelphia youth.

T.I. Released from Incarceration... Again

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

Grammy award winning rapper Clifford “T.I.” Harris was released from a halfway house on Sept. 29 to end his federal prison sentence for violating probation.

“He’s out, he’s good,” Jason Geter, who co-founded Grand Hustle Records with T.I., told the Associated Press.

T.I. has found himself in trouble consistently throughout his career. In 2009, he was convicted on federal weapons charges and served seven months in prison.

While on probation, he was arrested in Los Angeles for possession of drugs, a violation of probation. He served 11 months in a federal prison in Arkansas before being released to a halfway house.

His release to the halfway house didn’t go as planned. The rapper traveled to the halfway house on a luxury bus with a camera crew for a reality show. According to the AP, federal authorities claim that was a violation of prison rules and T.I. was sent to a federal prison in Georgia. He was released on Sept. 15.

A video posted by TMZ shows the rapper leaving federal prison with no cameras aside from the one through which he was taped, producers or tour buses. He simply got into a SUV and left.

In 2004, the rapper also spent time in a Cobb County, Ga., prison for a probation violation. He was sentenced to three years but allowed out on a work release program.

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