From one end of Philadelphia to the other, virtually no neighborhood — from Society Hill to Grays Ferry and from University City to Strawberry Mansion — is exempt from the senseless violence that seems to have a vice-like grip on Philadelphia.
According to law enforcement experts, among the top ten cities in the nation, Philadelphia’s homicide rate remains among the worst, with young Black males between the ages of 17 to 25 consistently being the majority of the victims and perpetrators. After a 20 percent decline in homicide over the last three years, the numbers are starting to inch up again. To put the figures in context, there have been 183 murders in Philadelphia as of Tribune press time. By contrast, one U.S. serviceman was killed in Iraq in 2012. In 2011, there were 324 murder victims in Philadelphia, again, mostly Black males. In Iraq for that same year, 54 U.S. servicemen were killed.
The numbers illustrate the glaring and frightening reality that a young Black man is safer in Iraq fighting insurgents than he is walking around the streets of Philadelphia’s African American neighborhoods.
The contributing causes of what drives the senseless violence in Philadelphia seem to defy the best efforts of lawmakers, community leaders and anti-violence advocates to curtail it. Mentoring has been shown to work, but is there enough funding to sustain a major effort to reach the at-risk population? The at-risk population needs living wage jobs, but statistics show that most of the perpetrators of the violence are high school, or even junior high school dropouts with long records of arrests and incarcerations. Then there are the illegal guns. The Gun Violence Task Force has confiscated thousands of illegal weapons since its inception, and still the violence continues. Over and over the refrain is heard from residents and government representatives alike – “We must do something about the violence in our neighborhoods.”
The question is what?
At the ninth Annual Summit on Race, Culture and Human Relation, Mayor Michael Nutter put the issue in context when he compared the country’s reaction to Black on Black crime and its response to terrorism.
“Black men are becoming an endangered species in America — locked up or dead,” Nutter said. “Crime also breeds upon itself. After serving their time, many of the individuals who are released from our prisons cannot find work, and do not have the training or literacy skills to keep a job. In the United States today, one in three African American men will have contact with the criminal justice system at some point during their lives. Of the 316 people who were murdered in Philadelphia last year, nearly 75 percent of those killed were Black men. Around 80 percent of those doing the killing are Black men. Black on Black crime is not an isolated problem. It affects every member of every community. This is a national problem with national implications, and there needs to be a national conversation.”
In 2004, on the morning of Feb. 11, 10-year old Faheem Thomas-Childs was caught in the crossfire of a gunfight at the T.M. Peirce Elementary School in North Philadelphia. The killing of Thomas-Childs touched off citywide outrage - and he was only one of 330 people killed that year in the city.
During military operations in Iraq from 2007 to 2012, 1,482 American service members were killed. In Philadelphia for the same years, 1,654 people were killed — mostly Black males. To color that number even more, according to Philadelphia Police Department figures, 645 Black males between the ages of 17 and 25 were murdered in Philadelphia during those years. By contrast, 27 Black males between the same ages were fatally shot by police officers in the commission of their duties.
“There are combinations of different causes behind this senseless bloodshed,” said Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. “Many times these are petty disputes that rise to the level of violence. Some of the reports I’ve seen indicate drug turf wars in some instances, but all of it has a negative impact on the community, and most of the victims are young Black males. The reality is that we cannot give up and just sit on the sidelines; we have to keep working aggressively to change the mindset of these young men.”
Chad Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn, said a major part of the problem lies in young Black men returning to their communities from prison and finding limited or no resources in helping them secure living wage jobs.
“We’re not doing nearly enough from an economic standpoint, and we have to truly level the economic and educational playing fields. In both areas, we see what we can almost define as a kind of apartheid,” Lassiter said. “We have major corporations here and major sports franchises - but no training programs to move workers into employment within them. Also, there’s not enough being done in the construction industry in terms of apprenticeships. Are there mentoring programs? Attorney General Eric Holder giving $3 million to hire twenty five police officers doesn’t excite me. I’d like to see that money used to target and prosecute the traffickers of illegal guns.”
Bilal Qayyum, Executive Director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, Inc., said his organization is in the planning stages of setting up a national level conference on Black on Black crime. Call to Action: Black on Black Violence Conference will be hosted by St. Joseph’s University and will take place from August 10 through August 13. The purpose is to bring African American leaders together from across the country to see what works and what doesn’t, and how to apply successful anti-violence approaches in their cities and communities.
“What works in Baltimore might not work in Philadelphia. What works in Philadelphia may not work in Newark. We are 13 percent of the population of America, but cause 50 percent of the homicides - and we’ve been trying to get a hold on this for years. It requires a response on the national level. What we hope to achieve with the conference is create a national movement to help end the violence. We need to look at fresh models and create a national network of groups to work on the problem,” Qayyum said.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report, the number of violent crimes in the United States has continued to decline in 2010.
The UCR also showed that the number of property crimes also fell for the eighth straight year, said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
“Our federal law enforcement agents continue to make progress on one of our core objectives, which is fighting violent crime across this country,” Holder said in a press release on Monday. “Working with our state, local and tribal partners, federal prosecutors and agents have increased community participation in our shared efforts to hold accountable those whose illegal actions bring fear into neighborhoods. We’ve targeted gang leadership in communities from Florida to New York, and from Tennessee to North Carolina. We’ve renewed our commitment to fighting organized crime, whether it is traditional La Cosa Nostra or Mexican drug cartels. Each crime that is solved, each victim that is helped and each criminal act that is prevented before it even occurs — all combine to create better law enforcement and most importantly, safer communities.”
According to the report, in 2010, murder and non-negligent manslaughter declined 4.2 percent. Forcible rape declined by 5 percent. Robbery declined by 10 percent and aggravated assault decreased by 4.1 percent. For the year 2010 there were an estimated 1,246,248 violent crimes in the U.S.
In an unrelated criminal investigation, Philadelphia police are on the hunt for a pair of robbers who hit a Metro PCS cell phone store back on September 16.
Investigators are looking for two young Black males who entered the store, located on the 3700 block of North Broad Street around 4 p.m.
Investigators said the two suspects asked to see a phone and when the attendant turned around, one of the suspects had pulled a handgun and demanded money. The suspects stole $130 in cash and fled the store on foot.
The first suspect is described as a Black male, approximately 21 years old, 5 feet 5 inches in height and is between 140 and 150 lbs. He was wearing a light Polo hat and a dark hoodie. The second suspect is a described as a Black male, approximately 21 years old, standing 6 feet tall and approximately 160 lbs. He was wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans. Anyone with knowledge of these suspects is urged to call police. You do not have to give your name.
In another unrelated criminal investigation police with Philadelphia’s Special Victims Unit reported they have arrested a pair of teens in connection with a robbery and rape in Southwest Philadelphia last Tuesday.
One of the suspects, originally thought to have been a 13-year-old boy turned out to be an 18-year-old female. Authorities have not released the names of the suspects yet.
Authorities said the suspects robbed a couple in the vicinity of 48th Street and Springfield Avenue around 10 p.m. at gunpoint. The male suspect then forced the couple into an alley where he allegedly raped the woman. The female suspect, after asking that he stop, fled the scene.
Capt. John Darby said an intensive investigation by a joint task force is responsible for the arrests. The male suspect is believed to be responsible for at least 19 other robberies.
Overshadowed by the political posturing of an epic Capitol Hill battle over funding priorities was news of an agreement between federal officials and rouge mortgage agency Countrywide Financial.
That announced agreement produced a historic $335 million settlement regarding massive discrimination by Countrywide against minorities seeking mortgages.
According to U.S. Justice Department officials Countrywide — once America’s largest single-family mortgage lender — charged non-whites higher fees and shunted them into costlier mortgages than whites from 2004 to 2008.
Now, under the standard terms of civil settlements, Countrywide does not admit that it did what it did: discriminate against minorities.
But excluding ugly race-based discrimination as Countrywide pretends, what explains that firm persistently slamming high income earning non-whites with solid credit into predatory adjustable rate mortgages while giving more favorable treatment to whites with lesser income and worse credit histories?
The time frame of Countrywide’s alleged skullduggery covers the period of the greatest loss of wealth in the histories of America’s Black and Latino communities.
During that time frame Blacks and Hispanics lost in excess of $350 billion in wealth from just foreclosures and home value depreciations triggered by foreclosures, according to an array of expert examinations.
Other consequences roiling within this wealth loss is a widening of the wealth gaps between whites and non-whites in America.
In 2005 that gap was ten times while by 2010 that gap increased to nearly twenty times with the average white family having $113,000 in wealth compared to $6,300 for Hispanics and $5,700 for black families.
While Countrywide, now owned by Bank of America, was not the sole cause of that historically high wealth loss (a.k.a. fraudulent theft), it was a major player.
And as a major player, here’s a major rub: Few, if any, responsible for that wealth loss have faced prosecution, much less endured imprisonment for their misdeeds.
Yet, during that 2004-to-2008 time frame tens of thousands of non-whites ended up in federal and state prisons across America for crimes (and false convictions) of far less devastation than those committed by economic fraudsters.
Another major story overshadowed by the recent Washington wrangling over extending payroll tax cuts (really siphoning money from Social Security) and extending unemployment benefits to those still eligible involved news that federal prosecutors back away from pressing cases against financial big-shots because it’s allegedly too hard to prove “criminal intent.”
The same feds that can find (and/or manufacture) criminal intent from the most innocent of acts among the poor to facilitate criminal charges suddenly fall stupid when it comes to finding comparable intent among fraudsters who can afford the best defense money can buy to exploit a presumption unavailable to the poor.
That presumption respected by judges and juries is that the wealthy are innocent even when proven guilty.
The entrenchment of extreme economic inequities symbolized by the 99 percent vs. 1 percent is one of the things clearly exposed during Year 2011.
The subtle and in-your-face favoring of the wealthy prompted unprecedented resistance in 2011.
In Philadelphia criticisms were raised by a few (unfortunately too few) over this city government’s failure to collect the School Income Tax with the same aggressiveness as property taxes for public school funding.
That Income Tax impacting “toys’” of the wealthy like bonds, stocks and trusts raked in less income that the city’s liquor-by-the-drink tax, another income sources siphoning revenue disproportionately from the less wealthy.
That exposure of economic inequities and companion political corruption during 2011 drove the “Occupy” movements across the U.S. and other countries plus spurring pro-democracy revolts in many Arab nations.
“People are trying to take power from the government because the government is just about helping the rich make more money,” said Nuage Noire, a Black man participating in Occupy Paris, during an interview a few weeks ago.
“The way the government operates is not good for people because it costs too much just to live,” said Noire, as fellow Occupy participates cleaned their site at La Defense, the showcase major business district containing most of the tallest buildings in the French capital.
But while folks finally started hearing the realities of economic inequities they still were not listening to the race-based rhythms of those inequities cited for decades by Blacks.
The 1951 petition to the United Nations charging the U.S. government with genocide against African-Americans pointedly identified “monopoly capital [as] the prime mover” in the mammoth conspiracy of genocide.
“While monopoly’s immediate interest is profit, its long term aim is keeping the political and economic control it now enjoys over the American people and the American government through emasculating democratic mass movements by disfranchising millions and setting one group of Americans over and against others.”
Those behind that genocide petition, progressive Blacks and whites, endured cavalier dismissal then and now with critics blasting them as communists.
Even earlier this year a Princeton Black History professor who should know better use communist to demean when referencing petitioners who included respected activist Mary Church Terrell and then lawyer/later U.S. Congressman George Crockett.
In 2011 with millions of dollars now legally flowing into political campaigns to sway outcomes, authorities unleashing SWAT cops on peaceful Occupy protestors and media pundits aligned with the wealthy purveying racist divisiveness the accuracy of assertions in the 1951 genocide petition remain evident…for those who want to see…
Hopefully, clarity will continue in 2012…
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Fellowship Program.
Pennsylvania’s newly signed voter identification law is an attempt to disenfranchise minority, poor and older voters; and block President Barack Obama’s re-election bid, contend a number of local officials.
Conversely, the local tea party applauded the measure.
Gov. Tom Corbett signed H.B. 934 Wednesday evening, just after the state House approved it, making the commonwealth the sixteenth state to pass such legislation.
“This is nothing more than an attempt by Republican leadership to keep seniors, minorities and low-income citizens from their constitutional right to vote,” said Rep. Ron Waters, head of the Legislative Black Caucus, who voted against the law. “Pennsylvania will have the distinction of moving backwards with this discriminatory bill. It is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and it will eventually be overturned at taxpayer expense.”
The bill, which passed in the Senate last week, was approved by the House in a 104-88 vote, dividing members along partisan lines.
It will not affect voting in the April 24 primary, but thereafter all Pennsylvanians to show photo identification before voting.
Corbett said the legislation is meant to prevent voter fraud.
“I am signing this bill because it protects a sacred principle, one shared by every citizen of this nation,” Corbett said in a statement. “That principle is: one person, one vote. It sets a simple and clear standard to protect the integrity of our elections.”
State Rep. Rosita Youngblood scoffed at that notion.
“Give us proof of recent instance of voter fraud,” she said, predicting “chaos” at the polls. “To me the whole crux of this is this — this is a format to stop Barack Obama. Look at the states that have passed this draconian measure, either the legislature is Republican controlled or the governor is Republican.”
“They want to make sure that Barack Obama is a one-term president,” he said. “This measure violates not only the Constitution, but our own state constitution that says elections must be free and clear and without government interference. This is the same as instituting a poll tax or requiring literacy tests, and will have a detrimental impact on voters.”
Not everyone opposed the law.
“Voter fraud … is a big problem in our state — especially in urban areas like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia,” said Teri Adams, president of the Independence Tea Party Association. “We can no longer tolerate imposters voting for dead people, or fraudulent votes being cast by individuals claiming to live in non-existent residences,” said Adams.
Already the law faces the threat of legal action.
State Sen. Anthony H. Williams was among those who voted against the bill when it went to the Senate last week, and said the fight against the new law is not over. Opponents may take their fight to the courts. In Wisconsin, a judge issued an injunction against a similar law in that state; and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder moved to block voter ID bills in Texas and South Carolina.
“While I’m disappointed that the state House has continued this march toward voter disenfranchisement, the battle is not over. The Constitutional right to vote is too important to institute disingenuous hurdles at the ballot box, period,” said Williams. “States that already have gone down this road have seen the error of their ways, as injunctions in Wisconsin and Texas demonstrate. There will be a lawsuit filed on behalf of those voters, who, though today eligible, tomorrow would not have their vote counted once HB 934 is enacted.”
Acceptable forms of identification include a Pennsylvania driver’s license or non-driver license photo ID, a military ID, valid U.S. passport, county or municipal employee identification, college ID or personal care home ID.
A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said the organization is planning legal action against the law.
Some citizens will lose the vote if this becomes law,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “But those who want to block the vote should not be fooled into thinking that this is over once the governor signs it. The next stop for this bad idea is in a court of law, and we are prepared to challenge it vigorously. Our legal team is currently mapping a strategy for overturning this voter suppression bill. In the week since the Senate passed the bill, the phone calls and emails from citizens who are concerned they or a loved one will lose the vote have increased dramatically. We are confident that we can show how this bill will disenfranchise citizens.”
Implementing the new law is expected to cost about $4 million, money that would be better spent elsewhere, said Waters.
“It astounds me that there is no money for public education, colleges, universities, the disabled or poor — but there is money for a non-existent voter fraud problem,” he said.
According to Corbett’s office, studies show that 99 percent of Pennsylvania’s eligible voters already have acceptable photo IDs. They also said a recent poll determined that 87 percent of Pennsylvania voters favor a law requiring identification at the polls.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes, who also voted against the legislation, called it a “Voter Suppression Bill” and said that even on the national level, based on a study conducted by the United States Department of Justice during the presidency of George Bush, only 86 cases of voter fraud were committed between 2002 and 2007 out of 300 million votes. Hughes also said that in Pennsylvania during the 2008 election, there were only four cases of voter fraud reported.
“We will not allow the voice of so many voters to be silenced because this legislation has been signed into law. We will continue to voice our opposition and fight to see that this erroneous law is stopped, just like in Texas and Wisconsin,” Hughes said.
In city council Thursday morning, members blasted the law with a resolution condemning the state Senate for its approval last week. The resolution passed 15-2, with two Republicans voting against it.
Members Brian O’Neill and David Oh voted against, saying they too disapproved of the law, but that the word “condemn” was too strong.
“It’s too strong for me, and I think it’s unwise,” O’Neill said.
Others had no problem with the language.
“There is no question that this was done during a presidential election year in an attempt to suppress votes,” said Councilwoman Cindy Bass. “It’s just a terrible piece of legislation. It’s been a waste of our legislators time.”
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said voters should use an absentee ballot.
“This whole issue is just unfortunate and unfair,” she said. “I hope people will consider absentee ballot applications, which certainly is our right.”
The Committee of Seventy is planning a massive public education campaign to counter the possible effects of the law and to make sure people know their rights and what types of identification will be acceptable when they go to the polls.
This enormous undertaking must start right now and continue every day until the Nov. 6 general election.” said Zack Stalberg, President and CEO of the Committee of Seventy. “Every possible resource will be tapped — from convenience stores to banks to media outlets to libraries — to let voters know which IDs will be accepted at the polls and where to go if they don’t have one. “If necessary, we’ll drive voters to PennDOT offices to get ID.”
J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Pennsylvania NAACP has joined with the coalition forming with the ACLU to oppose the new law. In the meantime, registered voters should show up at the nearest PennDOT center on Wednesday, March 21, to receive the free photo identification cards. Normally they cost $13.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was in Philadelphia on Monday with Mayor Michael Nutter to announce the awarding of a Justice Department grant that would put additional police officers on the city’s streets.
Philadelphia was one of 220 cities and counties to receive a Community Oriented Policing Services or COPS grant. The grant of $3.125 million will partially fund salaries and benefits of 25 police officers through a three-year period. In addition, the officers must be individuals who are military veterans who have served their country for a minimum of 180 days since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“The recipients of the Community Oriented Policing Services hiring awards will strengthen law enforcement agencies across the country,” Holder said. “There are 220 cities and counties that will divide $111 billion dollars that will create and save jobs for police officers across the country. Two hundred will be saved from layoffs, and the new officers that are hired are military veterans — 600 of them have served abroad.”
In 2009, Holder was in Philadelphia announcing a similar grant that helped Philadelphia put 50 additional police officers on the streets to fight crime. Last Friday, the Philadelphia Police Academy graduated it 360th class of 30 new police officers, who will be serving in some of the city’s most crime troubled neighborhoods.
“Boots on the ground are part of the answer to keeping our communities safe. Officers on the beat are a welcome presence and if it’s done right, indispensible in making community policing a reality. The Department of Justice’s COPS grant will help Philadelphia to hire highly qualified, committed officers who will work in the neighborhoods that need their presence the most,” said Nutter. “This COPS grant will help the city improve public safety, lower the crime rate and continue the policies that work. I would like to thank our congressional delegation, Attorney General Holder, Director Melekian and the entire team at the Department of Justice for choosing to invest in the Philadelphia Police Department.”
Holder said that the $111 billion is being awarded nationally to local public safety agencies across the country. The list of this year’s grantees includes Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pa.; Chicago, Ill.; Boston, Mass.; Atlanta, Ga.; Trenton, N.J.; Alameda County and Los Angeles, Calif.; Akron, Ohio; and Tacoma, Wash. The COPS Office will work with Veteran Affairs transition service centers across the country to connect veterans with the new grant-funded law enforcement opportunities.
“This new opportunity for veterans is a commitment to support those who are coming home from their tour of duty,” said Bernard Melekian, COPS office director. “We sincerely hope this effort encourages our veterans to continue to protect and serve the United States through new law enforcement careers.”
The Community Oriented Policing Services Office came into being in 1994. That year, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act passed the House and Senate. The measure put in place an $8.8 billion dollar financial expenditure over a six-year period and the COPS office was created to disburse and monitor the money.
“As the ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee, overseeing the Department of Justice COPS program is one of my highest priorities,” said U.S. state Representative Chaka Fattah. “This national program will provide $111 billion to municipalities across the country, $3.125 million to Philadelphia specifically, bridging the gap between tight budgets and the need for a robust police force. Making communities safer is a responsibility that must be shared by all levels of government, and I’m pleased that Philadelphia is receiving this funding.”
The COPS Office is a federal agency responsible for advancing community policing nationwide. Since 1995, COPS has awarded more than $12 billion to advance community policing, including grants awarded to 13,000 state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to fund the hiring and redeployment of about 124,000 officers and provide a variety of knowledge resource products, including publications, training and technical assistance.
“As a proud supporter of the COPS Hiring Program and the Community Policing Program, I know that our city will be safer because of the new officers this grant will help Philadelphia hire. This competitively awarded grant confirms what Philadelphians all know. The men and women of the Philadelphia police department are among America’s best. It also shows the faith that national leadership has in Mayor Nutter, Commissioner Ramsey and the direction they have taken the department,” said U.S. Rep. Bob Brady.
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said it was a privilege to hire returning veterans, many of whom have had difficulty finding work after their military service has ended.
“The bottom line is that police matter. Our partnership with the COPS office has always been very strong, and we are extremely grateful for its support,” Ramsey said. “Our federal partners know that local police are vital to the health and growth of our cities. It is a privilege to be able to hire returning vets and enlist them into our crime fighting mission here in the Philadelphia Police Department.”
Bank pays for predatory racially-based lending
Wells Fargo has set aside $175 million to settle racial discrimination and predatory lending allegations for illegal practices that allegedly defrauded more than a thousand African-American homeowners.
The decision between Wells Fargo and the United States Department of Justice — the lead agency investigating the claims — effectively ends the investigation, according to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. The fund will include $2 million for city residents, and an additional $50 million for alleged victims living in eight metropolitan areas, including the Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington area.
“Fair housing is a right in Pennsylvania,” Commission Chairman Gerry Robinson said. “This settlement will help ensure that it is a reality.”
The settlement directly affects African-American homeowners who obtained home loans from Wells Fargo between January 1, 2004, and December 31, 2009. Rebates will also go to homeowners who may have qualified for prime loans, but were instead issued non-prime rates from Wells Fargo.
“I was shocked that there was enough of a ‘smoking gun’ that it ended up in a settlement, but the fact is that in this day and age that these discriminatory practices take place,” said Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania Executive Director Liz Hersh, who also mentioned that homeownership rates among African-American and Latinos is still significantly low. “If they can now make this right and give people a chance, that’s great.”
According to the PHRC, the investigation, which began in July 2010, initially looked at the mortgage and foreclosure policies and practices with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage and Wells Fargo Financial Pa. Inc., and found the company liberally employed a “redlining” tactic — which targets African-American homeowners, regardless of ability to repay.
“The commission investigation was prompted by its statistical analysis of U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development statistics, conducted with HUD funding,” read a statement from the PHRC. “The study revealed substantial disparities in pricing and foreclosure rates between African-American and white borrowers. Such practices would violate the HUD enforced federal Fair Housing Act, and the PHRA, which the commission enforces.”
Congressman Chaka Fattah, a longtime proponent of equal housing causes, commended Attorney General Eric Holder and the U.S. Justice Department for battling to “right the wrongs of this national disgrace.”
“The $175 million settlement with Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s largest lenders, is an indication that aggressive investigation can result in justice for those victimized by patterns of discrimination on the basis of race or national origin. While instances of severe racial profiling and discrimination in home mortgage lending, predatory practices, misleading paperwork and hard-sell for sub-prime mortgages extend back at least to 2004, serious investigation of these allegations didn’t begin until after the Obama Administration took office in 2009,” Fattah said. “I have been urging the Department of Justice since 2009 to step up the pace of investigations, and led the fight in the House Appropriations Committee for the extra resources that have helped fund these probes.
“In addition, as a legislator who has won enactment for programs to assist distressed homeowners on the state and national level going back to the 1980s in Pennsylvania,” Fattah continued, “I’m gratified that today’s beneficiaries include about 1,030 African-American homebuyers in the Philadelphia area who may have been victims of illegal predatory lending.”
HOUSTON — The head of the NAACP on Monday likened the group’s fight against conservative-backed voter ID laws that have been passed in several states to the great civil rights battles of the 1960s.
Benjamin Todd Jealous, the CEO and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said these are “Selma and Montgomery times,” referring to historic Alabama civil rights confrontations. He challenged those attending the NAACP’s annual convention to redouble their efforts to get out the vote in November.
“We must overwhelm the rising tide of voting suppression with the high tide of registration and mobilization and motivation and protection,” he said.
“Simply put, the NAACP will never stand by as any state tries to encode discrimination into law,” Jealous said.
The power to vote will be a key theme of the weeklong 103rd convention, which was expected to host about 8,000 attendees. An appearance by Attorney General Eric Holder was postponed from Monday until Tuesday, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden were also expected to speak at some point.
Since 2010, at least 10 states, including Texas, have passed laws requiring people to show a government-issued photo identification card when they go to the polls.
Supporters of voter ID laws, including many conservative Republicans, contend they are necessary to protect against voter fraud. But opponents say instances of such voter fraud are extremely rare and that voter ID laws could suppress turnout among the elderly, poor and some racial minorities who are less likely to have driver’s licenses or passports and who might find it harder to miss work or lose pay to obtain proper ID.
George R. Brown Convention Center was only about half-full for Jealous’ hour-long speech, but by the end he had much of the crowd standing and shouting, “Forward ever, backward never!”
“Our democracy is literally under attack from within. We have wealthy interests seeking to buy elections and when that ain’t enough, suppress the vote,” Jealous said. “There is no battle that is more important or urgent to the NAACP right now than the battle to preserve democracy itself. Let me be very clear, our right to vote is the right upon which our ability to defend every other right is leveraged.”
He cited the group’s 103 years in existence as proof it wouldn’t cede ground on voting rights.
“If you let someone diminish the power of your vote you will already have lost a battle.”
Jealous said with 120 days remaining before the November elections, his organization’s members could allow the election to be stolen from them “or we can double down on democracy and overcome the tide of voter suppression.”
“If we simply accept things as they are and allow those who wish to turn back the clocks and tides of all that we have gained, and block the forward movement of our movement for human rights ... we will have failed in our mission and our calling,” he said. — (AP)
AUSTIN, Texas — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder vowed Tuesday to fully enforce civil rights protections in next year's elections amid a flurry of activity by states to redraw political boundaries and impose requirements that could reduce voting by minorities who enthusiastically supported Barack Obama in the 2008 election.
Giving his most expansive speech on civil rights since taking office, the chief U.S. law enforcement officer declared that "we need election systems that are free from fraud, discrimination and partisan influence — and that are more, not less, accessible to the citizens of this country."
He urged the country to "call on our political parties to resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success."
"Instead, encourage and work with the parties to achieve this success by appealing to more voters," Holder said during an appearance in Austin, Texas.
Currently, the Justice Department is reviewing new requirements in Texas and South Carolina requiring voters to produce a photo ID before casting ballots. The department also is examining changes that Florida has made to its electoral process — imposing financial penalties on third-party voter registration organizations like the League of Women Voters when they miss deadlines and shortening the number of days in the early voting period before elections.
Most of the changes have been promoted and approved by Republicans, who argue they are needed to avert voter fraud. Democrats, citing studies suggesting there is little voter fraud, say the measures are actually aimed at reducing votes by minorities for their candidates.
Where a state can't meet its legal burden in showing an absence of discriminatory impact, "we will object," the attorney general said in his speech at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. As president in 1965, Johnson was instrumental in passing the landmark law the Justice Department now uses to ensure voting rights in Texas, South Carolina and all or parts of 14 other states. Most of the 16 states are in the South and all of them with a history of discrimination against Blacks, American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaska Natives or Hispanics.
Besides Texas and South Carolina, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin have enacted more stringent voter ID laws this year.
"Over the years, we've seen all sorts of attempts to gain partisan advantage by keeping people away from the polls — from literacy tests and poll taxes, to misinformation campaigns telling people that Election Day has been moved, or that only one adult per household can cast a ballot," said Holder.
In light of that history, the attorney general announced he supports Democratic-sponsored legislation that would require stiff criminal penalties for distributing false communications such as the wrong date or time for elections, giving inaccurate information about voter eligibility or promoting false endorsements of candidates. The bill was to be introduced Wednesday by Sens. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Chuck Schumer of New York.
Among civil rights leaders on hand for Holder's speech was Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Henderson said the poll taxes and literacy tests of an earlier era "are today embodied in state laws that require photo IDs to vote and that limit early voting, provisional voting and voter registration."
Republican Sen. John Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general, said voter identification laws are constitutional and necessary to prevent fraud at the ballot box.
"Facing an election challenge next year, this administration has chosen to target efforts by the states to protect the democratic process," said Cornyn, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Johnson's two daughters, Lynda Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson, listened to Holder's speech from the front row of a packed auditorium with other family members.
Holder was appearing in a Republican-controlled state which has taken a redistricting dispute with civil rights groups all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Texas added four congressional seats based on population gains in the 2010 census. Minority groups sued in federal court in San Antonio, arguing the Legislature's redistricting maps did not reflect growth in the state's Hispanic and Black populations.
Currently, minorities are the majority in 10 of Texas' 32 congressional districts. A new map drawn by a three-judge federal court in San Antonio would raise that to 13 out of 36 districts, an outcome the judges said better reflected the growth in the state's Hispanic population.
The state went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case and blocked the court-drawn maps pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
Earlier, a federal court in Washington had refused to approve the Texas Legislature's redistricting plan without a trial, agreeing with the U.S. Justice Department that there was sufficient evidence to question whether the Legislature hurt minority representation.
"The most recent census data indicated that Texas has gained more than 4 million new residents — the vast majority of whom are Hispanic," said Holder. "However, this state has proposed adding zero additional seats in which Hispanics would have the electoral opportunity envisioned by the Voting Rights Act."
On the voter ID issue, Texas Democrats, voting-rights advocates and minority groups had harshly criticized the photo ID law, but were unable to block its passage in the Republican-controlled Legislature. -- (AP)
The battle waging right now in a Harrisburg courtroom over Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law is more than just a fight about voter fraud and clean elections.
It is a war of ideals, with no less at stake than the very foundation of our democracy — whether all legal citizens of the commonwealth are allowed to choose their leaders in a free and fair election, or whether we should allow one political party to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters out of fear they’d vote for the other party. (No Democratic legislator voted “yes” on voter ID. Not one.)
Forget the GOP smokescreen about clamping down on supposed fraud at the polls — they’ve already admitted freely that’s just something they made up.
The state’s defense is mounted by the attorney general’s office, acting in this case as the legal division of the Republican Party, who actually stipulated that it is “not aware of any incidents of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania, and has no direct knowledge of in-person voter fraud elsewhere.” The state’s lawyers also conceded they could offer no evidence that “in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the photo ID law.”
I’m sorry… what?
The whole basis of the voter ID law, or so they claimed, was to curb the runaway fraud which threatened to turn Pennsylvania’s electoral process into a useless sham. Didn’t they just trot out a report authored by Republican City Commissioner Al Schmidt that purported to outline shocking “irregularities” in Philadelphia voting? You mean to tell me with all the money and manpower these guys have invested to ramrod this law through, they couldn’t come up with even one concrete example of fraud?
No, they couldn’t. So what then are we left with as a reason for state Republicans pushing this law with such zeal and determination? Well, they admitted that too, just a few weeks ago when House Majority Leader Mike Turzai let it slip out when pandering to a gathering of GOP faithful.
“Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done,” Turzai boasted to the crowd, which promptly broke into thunderous applause.
On a side note, I haven’t seen hide or hair of Turzai since he let the cat out of the bag last month. He committed the only unforgivable sin in politics — telling the truth in an open venue — and right now he’s probably paying for it. My guess is that the GOP has him in a safe house somewhere for intensive reprogramming and indoctrination — sort of a Witless Protection Program.
I’m glad Turzai told tales out of school, even by accident, and I commend his lack of political judgment. In fact, I wish his Republican colleagues, starting with Gov. Corbett, would do the same.
Just say it out loud. Come out and admit that the Black people, brown people and old people likely to vote for President Obama’s re-election must be kept from the polls, and a draconian voter ID law is the closest you can legally come to enacting a good old Jim Crow “poll tax.” Explain to us how since “those people” don’t pay taxes, don’t own property, don’t run businesses and drain the state treasury through welfare and Medicare entitlements, they don’t deserve the same right to vote as hard-working American “job creators.”
Tell us how much better Blacks and other minorities will fare under the administration of President Willard Romney, who loves dark-skinned folks so much he pays them to do his cooking, cleaning and yard work.
And while you’re at it, why not come clean about your hatred for gays, women, immigrants, Muslims and anyone else that wouldn’t fit in at a skinhead rally?
Now, I’m not saying all Republicans are racist, homophobic misogynists. I happen to know quite a few whose values, compassion and common sense I greatly admire, even if I disagree with their politics. But what I am saying is that those decent, honorable conservatives have allowed their party to be hijacked by hate-filled dimwits.
Nothing else could explain Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s demand for an apology from Attorney General Eric Holder for calling the Texas voter ID law a “poll tax.” Perry, who you may recall came under some fire during the GOP primaries for his proud ownership of an offensively-named hunting ranch, said Holder’s remark was reprehensible for inciting racial tensions.
When Rick Perry is demanding apologies for inciting racial tension, you know the inmates have taken over the asylum. And you also know voter ID laws really are a poll tax after all.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
Attorney General Eric Holder was in Philadelphia yesterday to announce a Department of Justice strategy that applies federal agents and technology to assist local law enforcement in targeting and taking down some of the city’s worst criminals.
The Violent Crime Reduction Partnership is a joint effort by the FBI, the Philadelphia Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, along with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. Personnel from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service have also been working with local law enforcement to strategically target the city’s most violent criminals. Holder said that last month law enforcement authorities from the federal agencies began a “surge” to fight and prevent crime throughout the city.
As of Tribune press time, there have been 196 murders in the city; most of them directly attributed to gun violence.
“Despite the fact that the national violent crime rate has continued its downward trend, a number of major cities across the country — including Philadelphia — have experienced alarming increases in the number of homicides over the past year,” Holder said. “In response, the Department of Justice has developed a new initiative — known as the Violent Crime Reduction Partnership — to help target federal resources to areas in need of additional support. Early last month, more than 50 federal law enforcement officials — including agents, investigators and intelligence analysts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the United States Marshals Service; and representatives of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division — began a four-month surge of federal law enforcement resources in order to prevent and combat violent and drug-related crime across the Philadelphia metropolitan area.”
The Violent Crime Reduction Partnership came into being on June 4. Over a period of six weeks, the Partnership has made more than 300 arrests for violent crimes, drugs, illegal firearms and other offenses. The Partnership personnel have been using advanced technology to build intelligence on different crime organizations operating in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.
“Already, our agents have helped apprehend dangerous fugitives, investigate armed robberies, gather and process valuable intelligence, and bring criminals to justice,” Holder said. “They’ve deployed new, state-of-the-art equipment to support ballistics identification in gun-related crimes. And in the coming months — as they continue to work alongside, and reinforce relationships with key local partners like many of the leaders in this room — their activities will help to refine an innovative public safety approach that is beginning to show signs of tremendous promise.”
Last month $3 million in COPS grants were allocated to Philadelphia to hire 25 more police officers. Mayor Nutter said the Violent Crime Reduction Partnership represents the next step in the joint effort to make the streets of the city safer.
“The Violent Crime Reduction Partnership is the next stage in efforts by local and federal law enforcement to target the most violent offenders in our city and bring them to justice,” Nutter said. “We are grateful for the partnership and the support of the attorney general as we work together to make Philadelphia safer. To the violent criminals hiding in our city, I’m telling you, we are coming after you, we will find you. Your hiding days are over.”