When Medgar Evers was murdered on June 12, 1963 by Byron De La Beckwith the motive was the fact that he had been relentlessly working to secure the right to vote for Blacks in the state of Mississippi.
Of course, Evers wasn’t the only victim of white racists who wanted the keep the power of the vote out of the hands of African Americans. Again, in Mississippi, in 1964, FBI agents investigated the murders of four Civil Rights workers who were educating Blacks about how to exercise their right to vote.
But in 2013, the right and responsibility to vote has been coming under greater debate, scrutiny and defense. The United States Supreme Court is debating whether or not key provisions of the Voting Rights Act; specifically Section 5, is necessary and in Pennsylvania and other states, Republican lawmakers have implemented controversial Voter ID laws. Under the cloak of protecting the integrity of elections and preventing voter fraud, Republican lawmakers have successfully pushed through legislation that would require voters to show a state issued picture identification card before they can cast a ballot.
Opponents of such laws – and they are legion – have successfully fought back; saying such laws are discriminatory. In some states Voter ID laws have been repealed, in others, their implantation has been deferred. In the 2012 Presidential election, Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law was not implemented and although some poll workers did ask some voters to show their official identification, it was not a requirement.
During the upcoming May 21 primary election the Voter ID law will still not be in effect. Again, although poll workers might as for official identification, the voters don’t have to produce it but first time voters must show either a photo or non-photo identification. Research has shown that voter fraud is an extremely rare occurrence – even in cities like Philadelphia, where emotions over local elections sometime get a little messy.
Investigations conducted by the United States Department of Justice turned up no evidence of voter fraud and failed to show voter fraud was a problem anywhere in the nation. Opponents of Voter ID laws call them voter suppression laws.
“This year, in this country, we have seen more states pass laws to push voters of the polls than in the past 100 years,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous regarding Voter ID laws. “Turning the tide, we have won in Texas and we have even won in the Republican states of Michigan and Virginia. We won in Wisconsin and Minnesota. This is not a Republican thing or a Democratic thing. It is an extremist thing. All of us should have the right to vote.”
The Pennsylvania Voter ID law was enacted on May 14, 2012 and required that all Pennsylvania voters produce a valid, state issued identification card; either a PA drivers or non-drivers license. Voters could also use a valid passport or student identification. Before Governor Tom Corbett put pen to paper to sign the measure into law, it met with increasing opposition; so much that the NAACP and ACLU filed a lawsuit to block it from going into effect.
The basis for the lawsuit was that implementing the law was discriminatory and meant to stack the 2012 Presidential Election in favor of Republican Mitt Romney. Opponents stated that the Voter ID law would place unconstitutional burdens on over 100,000 voters in the city. At least 186,000 registered voters in Philadelphia had no form of PennDOT identification, one of the only types of identification acceptable as proof of the right to vote. At least 175,000 registered voters had expired PennDOT identification.
Full implementation of the law was blocked for the General Election and it won’t be in effect for the May 2013 Primary Election. Opponents of the law pointed out that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – which has also seen increasing questioning regarding whether or not it’s necessary any more – prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis or race or color. Discrimination in voting applies to any voting standard, practice or procedures that result in either the denial or abridgement of the right to vote of any citizen because of their race or color.
Judge Robert Simpson, who finally issued a partial preliminary injunction that allowed voters without proper identification to vote in the 2012 General Election, has yet to rule on the issue any further. A trial on a permanent injunction will begin on July 15, 2013 in Harrisburg.
“The question is why you really had to change the law?” said the Rev. Kevin, R. Johnson, pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church. “Did you change the law because you knew that people lack photo ID in poor black and brown communities? We have to vote because people died for out right to vote. We have to vote because Medgar Evers died for us. We have to vote because hundreds of thousands marched for us.”
When Congress returns from recess on April 7, it is expected that lawmakers will also be returning to the controversial issues of stronger gun control legislation, a political hot potato that has significant support and opposition on both sides of the aisle.
Although Senate Democrats dropped the controversial proposal to ban assault weapons from a gun control bill, onlookers say it will still be introduced for a vote on the floor. Also on the list is a proposal to stiffen the penalties for straw purchasing and another bill calling for universal background checks.
Stronger gun control laws are being seen in a harsher light with the murders of Kaufmann County, Texas District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia over the weekend. Those killing came two months after the shooting death of McLelland’s assistant district attorney, Mark Hasse, who was gunned down in a parking lot on Jan. 31. Authorities are investigating links between the cases and the alleged involvement of white supremacist prison gangs.
Shira Goodman, executive director of CeasefirePA said constituents will see more arguing but speculates there will be thumbs-up votes on some of the proposed measures.
“Well, I think we’ll see a lot more wrangling back and forth, but I think we’ll see a ‘yes’ vote on the universal background checks. The gun trafficking bill also has a very good chance of passing; it’s a crime bill and it’s a good bill. Crime bills usually pass. The assault weapons ban could still get in, because I think we’ll see a vote on the proposal and maybe they’ll look at ways to split the provisions in the bill,” said Goodman.
“In terms of what’s happening in the commonwealth, we saw a big step when Attorney General Kathleen Kane closed the Florida loophole, and I think we’ll see movement on measures for reporting lost and stolen firearms,” Goodman said. “We really need to have hearings and debates on these issues, and public support for stronger gun legislation is clearly growing in Pennsylvania. People just want to see commonsense laws that don’t infringe the rights of law-abiding citizens to own firearms.”
The decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. to drop the assault weapons came as no surprise. The measure, originally introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. had minimal support and little chance of passing. However, it still remains significant that the measure will still receive a vote as a stand-alone proposal. The Senate Judiciary Committee previously passed the measure.
“Once debate begins, I will ensure that a ban on assault weapons, limits to high-capacity magazines, and mental health provisions receive votes, along with other amendments,” Reid said in a press statement. “In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for all of these provisions to receive votes, and I will ensure that they do.”
Also on the to-do-list is a measure calling for stronger penalties for gun trafficking or straw purchasing and a bill calling for universal background checks for all firearm sales.
“The time is now. Our leaders in Washington, D.C. must hear our demand for action,” Goodman said. “Background checks work. The only people who have reason to fear background checks are those who know they cannot pass a background check – and everyone agrees that these are the very people who should not have access to guns.”
In March the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-7 to approve the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013, a bill that would increase the penalties for straw purchasing from five years to up to 25 years in prison. The measure also makes straw purchasing a federal offense. Law enforcement authorities say that straw purchasing is a major component driving the excessive gun violence in America’s major cities. In Philadelphia, where over 300 murders were committed last year, close to 90 percent of the homicides were committed by illegally obtained handguns. District Attorney Seth Williams said he sees the bill as a major step forward in the gun control debate and that if it passes, would considerably help reduce gun violence.
“This is a big step, and I’m pleased to note that there’s bipartisan support for the bill. Anything that helps reduce straw purchasing will have an impact on gun violence,” Williams said. “There were 334 homicides committed in this city last year and not one was committed by a legal gun owner. We have to do all we can to stop straw purchasing.”
The legislation would: Prohibit firearms trafficking. The bill prohibits the purchase or transfer of a firearm if the intent is to deliver it to someone else who is prohibited by federal or state law from possessing one.
It would also strengthen penalties for straw purchasers. The bill strengthens penalties to up to 20 years imprisonment for “straw purchasers” who intentionally provide false or misleading material information when they purchase firearms from federal firearms licensees.
And the legislation would enhance penalties for kingpins and multiple illegal purchases. The bill provides enhanced penalties for organizers or managers of firearms trafficking networks and recommends that the Sentencing Commission increase penalties for multiple illegal gun purchases.
“Based on what I’m hearing there’s still a lot of opposition on universal background checks, which makes absolutely no sense to me. If that’s the reality then our lawmakers in Washington will have failed the American people,” said former Court of Common Pleas Judge Renee Cardwell-Hughes. “Is it too much to ask Washington to do what’s right when you have a district attorney and his wife murdered by assault weapons? It is unacceptable that our children aren’t safe because Congress and the Senate don’t have the courage to limit access to firearms. If they can’t work together on these issues, how can we expect them to pass legislation that will move our nation forward? They need to focus on fixing public education and our national infrastructure and access to health care. If they cannot do these things then perhaps they shouldn’t represent us.”
The new CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has been moving to institute sweeping changes within the organization following indictments of corruption and other criminal charges against former employees.
Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission CEO Mark Compton said he was personally offended by the alleged actions of former commissioners and employees and promised greater transparency and accountability within the commission. Compton has also brought in a former FBI agent David Gentile as its new chief compliance officer.
“I have reviewed the grand jury presentment in its entirety. Again, it is not appropriate for me or anyone else to address pending criminal charges — including those filed against former Turnpike employees,” Compton said in a press release. “But I am personally offended by the conduct that has been alleged. We will not stand for it, and it will not be tolerated. Our customers deserve better. Frankly, our employees deserve better. It is not acceptable. Two years ago, we began the process of changing this agency. We have revamped our procurement process to demand more transparency and greater accountability. And we intend to continue evaluating this process and making improvements where needed.
Compton said he had directed Gentile to launch a thorough review of all services contracts, especially those cited by State Attorney General Kathleen Kane in announcing last months indictments. Other steps include drafting a memo to each professional-service providers that includes the employee code of conduct. Compton said he would ensure that every member of the Commission signed the employee code of conduct and agreed to abide by all of its provisions.
“This is to make sure that every employee understands that they are encouraged to come forward if they witness inappropriate conduct — and will be supported for doing so,” Compton said. “I want to make it perfectly clear to every employee and to all customers and stakeholders: The measures introduced — along with the changes made over the past two years— signify a clean break from any past offenses. It is time for this commission to start moving forward, to restore the reputation of what I consider to be a great agency.”
In March, State Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced that criminal charges were filed against five former Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission officials and employees, and two businessmen who had multi-million dollar contracts with the Turnpike. Kane alleges the defendants misused multi million dollars in public funds. Kane said the defendants wielded extraordinary power that was wrongfully used for self enrichment and their own political purposes rather than for the good of the Commonwealth. Charges were filed against former State Senator Robert Mellow, who is already serving federal time for corruption, former Turnpike Commissioner Mitchell Rubin, former Turnpike Chief Executive Officer Joseph Brimmeier, former Turnpike Chief Operating Officer George Hatalowich and former Turnpike employees Melvin Shelton and Raymond Zajicek, and Turnpike vendors Dennis Miller and Jeffrey Suzenski.
“They are charged with a variety of offenses including conspiracy, commercial bribery, bid-rigging, theft, conflict of interest and corrupt organization violations,” Kane said.
According to the indictment, the investigation uncovered extensive evidence to support the allegations against the defendants; secret gifts of money, travel, entertainment, substantial political contributions to public officials and peripheral political organizations.
“According to the charges, those who pay to play have sought and been rewarded with multi million dollar Turnpike contracts and the public has lost untold millions of dollars,” Kane said. “The former state officials charged wielded extraordinary power which they wrongfully used for self-enrichment and for their own political purposes, rather than for the good of the Commonwealth and its citizens. Their criminal acts resulted in the misdirection, misuse and theft of millions of dollars of public monies. Evidence demonstrates that the Turnpike operates under a pay-to-play system that is illegal and corrupt.”
Homicide detectives have released the identities of a husband and wife who died in an apparent murder suicide Sunday night.
At 8:19 p.m. police were called to a high rise apartment building in the 1800 block of Buttonwood Street in response to a request to check on the well being of the occupants in one of the units of the Museum Towers. Once inside, they found Rio Acosta Magden, 29, and Carlos Eugene Acosta, 30, dead from gunshot wounds. Magden had been shot multiple times and Acosta had a single gunshot wound to the head. Investigators believe Acosta killed Magden during a domestic dispute. Among the evidence police also found a suicide note but declined to offers details as the case is still under investigation.
Suspect Charged in Injuring Police Officer
On Monday morning the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office charged 20-year-old Naim Woodley with aggravated assault, possession of an instrument of crime, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and resisting arrest. On March 31, Woodley allegedly dragged a Philadelphia Police Officer several blocks with the car he was driving. The suspect is being held on $250,000.
Woodley, along with two other suspects was wanted in connection with a robbery that occurred on March 3, 2012, at 12:00 a.m.
On March 9, after viewing surveillance video of a robbery that occurred on the 1300 block of Wingohocking Street, officers of the 35th District observed a vehicle used in the robbery fitting the description on the 5900 block of Broad Street. During the investigation, they identified and arrested Woodley. On Saturday March 3, 2012, at 4:15pm, three unknown males stopped the victim on the 1300 block of Wingohocking Street. The suspects approached the victim from behind and struck him several times in the head. During the beating, one of the suspects reached in to the victim's pocket and took his money. The suspects then entered a four-door white vehicle and fled the scene southbound on Broad Street. Woodley is from the 4500 block of Old York Road. He is charged with robbery and related offenses.
On Tuesday, State Rep. J.P. Miranda hosted a salute to local women in celebration of National Women’s Month. The inaugural affair “Women of Roxanne Jones” breakfast honored 15 local women recognized as leaders in the North Philadelphia community.
The event’s Master of Ceremonies and keynote speaker was Mike Joynes, former Chief of Staff to Roxanne Jones. Rev. Pauline Moore, First Lady of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church also spoke at the event which w as held at The View, at 800 North Broad Street. Honorees included City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, State Sen. Shirley M. Kitchen, Denise Gauss of Denise Delicacies, Rev. Cathy Johnson, Rev. Pauline Moore, Zenobia Harris from City Councilman Darrel Clarke's office, Sylvia Simms of the School Reform Commission, Rose Cooper of the Ridge Allegheny and Hunting Park Community organization, State Representative Michelle Brownlee, Katherine Lakins of Mothers in Charge, and Verna Tyler from City Councilman Bill Greenlee's office.
“The legacy of Roxanne Jones is one which we in Philadelphia will never forget,” Miranda said. “Many of us believe she died fighting for the less fortunate. These women being honored have also been dedicating their lives to bettering their communities, North Philadelphia and the 197th legislative district.”
Jones was the first African-American woman elected to the Pennsylvania Senate and a former welfare recipient. She represented the 3rd Senatorial District of Philadelphia from 1986 until she died in office in 1996. Her death, from a heart attack, came just days after vehemently arguing against a plan to reduce the number of Pennsylvanians covered by medical assistance.
“I thank you in advance for continuing the dialogue and advocacy of the late senator for those in need, for those that are vulnerable, for those who need assistance, for those -- dare I say -- ‘poor’ for North Philadelphia and for the 197th District,” Miranda said. “You can see it, feel it and not forget it. I know those in this room have and together we will continue to get things done for our home; the great city of Philadelphia."