‘Newswire: Suspicious fires’ fires burn three churches in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana

From CNN and KLFY-TV in Lafayette reports

Three historically Black churches in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana were burned between March 26 and April 4, 2019. State Fire marshals 

and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are investigating the cause of the fires.

The fires destroyed St. Mary Baptist Church in the community of Port Barre, and Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, the parish seat.

   The churches in rural St. Landry Parish -- about 30 miles north of Lafayette -- have burned since March 26 in what officials have described as "suspicious circumstances."

"There is clearly something happening in this community," State Fire Marshal H. Browning said in a statement.

Standing outside the charred remains of the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas — which burned on Tuesday — Pastor Harry Richard said he looked forward to meeting elsewhere with his congregation on Sunday.

"Quite naturally, something like this would shake us up," he told CNN affiliate KLFY. "I'm very concerned but I'm very optimistic because of our faith in God and, no matter what happens, I feel like this is his plan," Richard said. "He's going to bring me through this."

The first fire occurred March 26 at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre. Greater Union burned on Tuesday and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, also in Opelousas, suffered a fire on Thursday.

"We believe these three fires are suspicious," Browning said. "We are falling short of talking about what caused the fires, falling short of saying they are related, however cognizant that there is a problem and no coincidence that there are three fires."

Officials were also investigating a fourth, smaller fire last Sunday at the predominantly white Vivian United Pentecostal Church in Caddo Parish more than 200 miles north of St. Landry. The blaze was intentionally set
"The three fires in St. Landry Parish contain suspicious elements, but we have not yet classified them," said Ashley Rodrigue, a spokeswoman for the state fire marshal.

Gov. John Bell Edwards this week appealed for the public's help with the investigations. "Our churches are sacred, central parts of our communities and everyone should feel safe in their place of worship, " he said in a statement. "We do not know the cause of these fires in St. Landry and Caddo parishes, but my heart goes out to each of the congregations and all of those who call these churches home."

Law enforcement presence increases at houses of worship

Browning said the remains of the three historically black churches in St. Landry Parish are considered crime scenes.

“Investigating a fire is a very lengthy process,” he said. “It’s one of the most complicated and unconventional crime scenes you’ll ever enter because most of the evidence is burned away.

The FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were assisting in the investigations. “It’s imperative that the citizens of this community be part of our effort to figure out what it is,” Browning said.

St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said authorities were "doing everything we can" to protect churches and determine the cause of the fires. Law enforcement presence at houses of worship has increased.

"You got to have a certain degree of anger because there's no reason for this," Deacon Earnest Hines of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas told CNN affiliate WBRZ.

"You know the history of our country. During the civil rights struggle, they had all these incidents that would happen and sometimes that happens again," he said.

Richard told CNN affiliate KATC Greater Union Baptist Church embodied more than 100 years of history. "Our parents, grandparents went here," he said. "Buried in the back there, some of them are."

On Sunday, he told KLFY he planned to preach about God’s grace to his displaced congregation.

This incident of burning Black churches reminds people in Greene County, Alabama of 1995 when five Black churches in rural parts of the county were burned.  

Newswire : Aid slow to come to the rescue of Mozambicans adrift since Idai

Flooding in Mozambique

Mar. 25, 2019 (GIN) – Since Cyclone Idai roared into the Mozambican port city of Beira on Mar. 14, devastating losses are mounting exponentially yet international aid has been slow to reach all survivors.

Severe flooding produced by Idai’s strong winds and heavy rains caused the rivers Pungwe and Buzi to break their banks. In the district of Buzi, thousands clung for their lives on trees and rooftops, as their villages turned into an ocean. Even as the rains have subsided and the waters are receding, the risk of flooding remains, as dams upstream reach full capacity.

At least 656 people have died across three countries, according to local estimates.

Dire shortages of food, water and other necessities were reported by the head of a South African rescue operation. Around 15,000 people are still missing, Land and Environment Minister Celso Correia said just before last weekend.

But delays in the arrival of assistance were fueling anger and desperation, acknowledged Connor Hartnady, rescue operations task force leader for Rescue South Africa.

“There have been three security incidents today, all food related,” he told his team, without giving further details.

The U.N. has made an emergency appeal for $282 million for the next three months to help Mozambique start rebuilding their communities.

But help has been coming in dribs and drabs – especially from those with the most resources. U.S. military personnel, for example, were en route to Mozambique on Monday, over a week after the cyclone hit, to assess damage and plan a relief mission aided by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).

The Pentagon has authorized AFRICOM to expend up to $6.5 million in relief funds to provide logistics support for up to 10 days. The military’s role will be to assist the U.S. Agency for International Development in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Two Portuguese Airforce C130 transport planes were due to depart Thursday to the region. The first one was taking 35 soldiers, medical personnel and a disaster relief team from the National Republican Guard.

Mozambique is home to thousands of nationals from Portugal. Santos Silva said that 30 of the country’s citizens had not yet been contacted.

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said funds for cyclone victims are starting to come through, including 29 million dollars from the United Kingdom, but this is far exceeded by the need.

Finally, ExxonMobil, which earned $6 billion in quarterly profits from African oil, is donating $300,000 for disaster relief. “The devastation has been widespread,” the company tweeted, “and this funding will help provide relief during a difficult time. Our thoughts are with everyone affected.”

Newswire : Thousands gather in Nairobi to clean up the Earth

Joyce Msuya, UN Environment Program Director

Mar. 11, 2019 (GIN) – Heads of state, government ministers, business leaders, senior UN officials and grassroots activists are gathering in Nairobi this week for the fourth UN Environment Assembly – the world’s top body on the environment.

This year’s theme is “Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production.”

The assembly is expected to draw the largest gathering in the group’s short history – with attendance almost double the last event in December 2017. Prominent world leaders will attend, including the Presidents of France and Kenya, Emmanuel Macron and Uhuru Kenyatta, and CEOs from major corporations.

Resolutions on the table will address sustainable consumption and production patterns, protection of the marine environment from plastic pollution, food waste, and technological innovation that combats climate change, and reduces resource use and biodiversity loss.

Decisions have a profound impact on the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as paving the way towards the UN Climate Change Summit 2019 and impacting the overall UN agenda.

UN Environment’s Acting Executive Director, Joyce Msuya of Tanzania, appealed to nations to step up and start delivering real change.

“Time is running short. We are past pledging and politicking. We are past commitments with little accountability. What’s at stake is life, and society, as the majority of us know it and enjoy it today,” she wrote in a policy letter.

“It’s clear that we need to transform the way our economies work, and the way we value the things that we consume,” said Msuya. “The goal is to break the link between growth and increased resource use, and end our throwaway culture.”

This year, it is reported that India will be leading two global resolutions at the assembly: one on nitrogen pollution and the other on the use of plastics. It will be a historic event as India has not pushed for such important resolutions at the UN in recent times.

India is the third region to have assessed the environmental implications of nitrogen pollution after the U.S. and the European Union. In 2017, India completed this assessment under the leadership of N. Raghuram, the current chairman of the International Nitrogen Initiative.

Agriculture has been the main source of nitrogen pollution as cereals like rice and wheat use only one-third of the nitrogen applied through fertilizers discharging the rest into the surrounding environment.

Pakistan may raise the issue of Indian air strikes at the assembly calling it ‘eco-terrorism’. The air strikes carried on February 26 have allegedly damaged around 15 pine trees.

The UN Environment’s report highlights five major issues of emerging global concern: synthetic biology, permafrost peatlands, ecological connectivity, the nitrogen fix, and maladaptation to climate change. If not addressed urgently, these issues can accelerate climate change and compromise ecosystem resilience—having detrimental impacts on our economy.

The meeting opened with a statement by organizers on the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302. It was a terrible loss for the United Nations, for our member states and for the environmental community.

“The environmental community is in mourning today. Many of those that lost their lives were en-route to provide support and participate in the UN Environment Assembly. We lost UN staff, youth delegates travelling to the Assembly, seasoned scientists, members of academia and other partners.

“We join the Secretary-General in expressing our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all the victims who perished in this tragedy.
“The entire UN Environment Assembly will honor them in our efforts this week.”

Newswire : NBA legend Abdul-Jabbar holds auction to support foundation to help youth

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar left the NBA in 1989 at age 42, no NBA player had ever scored more points, blocked more shots, won more Most Valuable Player Awards, played in more All-Star Games or logged more seasons.
NBA.com reported that Jabbar’s list of personal and team accomplishments is perhaps the most awesome in league history: Rookie of the Year, member of six NBA championship teams, six-time NBA MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP, 19-time All-Star, two-time scoring champion, and a member of the NBA 35th and 50th Anniversary All-Time Teams.
He also owned eight playoff records and seven All-Star records. No player achieved as much individual and team success as did Abdul-Jabbar.
On Saturday, March 2, Jabbar auctioned off his championship rings, MVP and All-Star trophies and other rare items to benefit Jabbar’s Skyhook Foundation, whose mission per Jabbar, is to “give kids a shot that can’t be blocked.”
“We do this by sending children from economically challenged schools to five days in the Angeles National Forest to experience the wonders of nature and learn the basics about science, technology and engineering, Jabbar told NNPA Newswire in an exclusive interview.
He said the children participate in an “immersive hands-on experience that takes kids out of school for five days and four nights.”
They go from auditory learning to utilizing all of their senses in the great outdoors.
“Our hope is not just to get them out of the city to commune with the outdoors, but to stimulate an interest in the sciences that might lead them to fulfilling careers,” Jabbar said.
He said he decided to sell the items because his foundation has struggled for a number of years and can use the funds.
“I need to keep it working and I have these wonderful mementos of my career and they take up space, need to be insured and you have to take care of them,” Jabbar said.
“I’d rather use these to make sure the foundation gets the funding,” he said.
At auction, Jabbar’s 1971-72 NBA MVP Trophy sold for more than $76,000 while his 1987 NBA Championship went fetched more than $260,000.
When final accounting is performed, the auction should easily net more than $1 million for the foundation.
The funds will keep the foundation afloat, allowing underprivileged children a chance at an education in the STEM field.
“So many young people think they have to be extremely talented like a LeBron James, Stevie Wonder, or Beyoncé. They don’t have realistic ideas on what their potential is and giving them this opportunity is showing them where the best jobs will be in the 21st century,” Jabbar said.
“It gives them a leg up and hopefully [helps them] make connections,” he said.
Foundation officials have discovered recent research that shows that 97 percent of girls and 92 percent of boys give up on science because of peer pressure and what’s hot in popular culture, Jabbar said.
His mission is the change that.
“When it comes to choosing between storing a championship ring or providing kids with an opportunity to change their lives, the choice is pretty simple – sell it. Besides I was there, I lived it,” Jabbar said.
“Instead of gazing at the sparkle of jewels or gold plating and celebrating something I did a long time ago, I’d rather look into the delighted face of a child. Everybody has an ego and I’m no different,” he said, laughing.
“But, I can’t take this stuff with me so it’s better that I share it in a way that enables me to do something really neat and the benefits I think far outweigh anything else.”

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Julian Castro, Sherrod Brown and Cory Booker will all attend the Sunday Unity Breakfast Democratic Presidential candidates to attend Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma this weekend

SELMA, AL – “The Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast is power-packed this year. In fact, it is more power-packed than any breakfast we have ever had,” said former Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders. The Breakfast is this Sunday, March 3rd, at 7:30 a.m. on the campus of Wallace Community College Selma.
Dr. James Mitchell, President of Wallace Community College Selma, said: “It is great for this college to host the Annual Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast on our campus. It is great for the students, faculty, community, and all those connected with the college to see and hear from national and world-recognized leaders up close. This is always a powerful event, and this year promises to be even more powerful.”
“The world-renowned Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for President in 2016 and who received three million more popular votes than her opponent, is being honored. She is known all over the world for her work as U.S. Secretary of State and her advancement of women’s rights. She will be inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame at the National Voting Rights Museum and will receive the International Unity Award at the King Unity Breakfast,” said Sanders.
At this same breakfast, we will have U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who was Secretary Clinton’s chief competitor for the Democratic nomination in 2016 and is running again for President in 2020. We will also have three other 2020 presidential candidates speaking at the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast: U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio; former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Mayor of San Antonio Julian Castro; and U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.
“Other speakers will include Martin Luther King, III; Reverend Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition; Dr. Charles Steele, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); and Barbara Arnwine, President of the Transformative Justice Coalition. There will also be powerful singing performances by the original SNCC Freedom Singers and mutli-award winner and gospel legend Dottie Peoples,” said Sanders.
The 2019 Bridge Crossing Jubilee begins this Thursday, February 28th, at 7:00 p.m. with an Old Fashion Mass Meeting with Reverend Jamal Bryant, of Atlanta and formerly of Baltimore, at Tabernacle Baptist Church. There are 40-50 events during the Jubilee, most of which are free to the public, from Thursday, February 28th, through Sunday, March 3rd.
Friday includes many workshops, including an all day Education Summit starting at 8:00 AM at the Hank Sanders Technology Building at Wallace Community College; the 5:00 p.m. Mock Trial at the Dallas County Courthouse; children and youth activities; the annual A Public Conversation with Mark Thompson, host of Make It Plain on SiriusXM Channel 127 and MSNBC Contributor, and others; and other events. MSNBC will be in Selma from Friday through Sunday providing coverage.
Saturday morning are two work sessions at Wallace Community College Selma to kick off a national nonpartisan voting initiative, Lift Our Vote 2020. National Bridge Crossing Jubilee Coordinator Faya Toure said: “The Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee Festival takes place Saturday and Sunday afternoon in downtown Selma with diverse musical performances, arts, food and so much more.
Saturday also includes the Hip Hop Youth Summit, the annual parade and more. The Annual Freedom Flame Awards Gala, which is filled with nationally and internationally renowned honorees, on Saturday at 7:00 p.m., culminates a day overflowing with events that include something for all, no matter your age, race, gender,

Newswire : Alabama Press Association censures Goodloe Sutton and Democrat-Reporter for editorial urging revival of the Klan to “clean-up” socialism in Washington D. C.

   The Alabama Press Association (APA) Board of Directors voted Tuesday to censure Goodloe Sutton and suspend the association membership of The Democrat-Reporter. Sutton wrote an editorial last week calling for the Klan to ride again to rid the nation’s capital of socialism. The APA members have a right under the bylaws to address the question of expulsion of the newspaper at their next membership meeting.
 Goodloe Sutton, the editor and publisher of the Democrat-Reporter in Linden, Ala., wrote the editorial titled “Klan needs to ride again” that ran in the paper last week.
        “Time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again,” read the Feb. 14 editorial. “Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama. They do not understand how to eliminate expenses when money is needed in other areas. This socialist-communist idealogy [sic] sounds good to the ignorant, and uneducated, and the simple minded-people.”
        “Seems like the Klan would be welcome to raid the gated communities up there,” concluded Sutton. “They call them compounds now. Truly, they are the ruling class.”
        Linden, the county seat of Marengo County, is a town of about 2,100 in the western part of the state, near the Mississippi border. The newspaper, a weekly that has won awards for investigative journalism, had a reported circulation of 3,000 in 2015.
        Melissa Brown, a reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser, spoke to Sutton Monday to confirm he had written the editorial and to clarify his comments.
        “If we could get the Klan to go up there and clean out D.C., we’d all been better off,” Sutton told the Advertiser. When asked what he meant by “clean out,” Sutton suggested lynching, saying, “We’ll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them.”
        When the Advertiser asked whether it was appropriate to call for the lynchings of Americans, Sutton was not swayed. “It’s not calling for the lynchings of Americans,” said Sutton, whose family has owned the newspaper since 1917. “These are socialist-communists we’re talking about. Do you know what socialism and communism is?”
        When asked if he recognized the Ku Klux Klan as a violent and racist organization, the Advertiser reported that Sutton compared it to the NAACP. “A violent organization? Well, they didn’t kill but a few people,” Sutton said. “The Klan wasn’t violent until they needed to be.”
        `Democratic Sen. Doug Jones and Rep. Teri Sewell, whose district includes Linden, called for Sutton to step down on Monday evening.
        “OMG! What rock did this guy crawl out from under?” wrote Jones on Twitter. “This editorial is absolutely disgusting & he should resign — NOW! I have seen what happens when we stand by while people — especially those with influence — publish racist, hateful views. Words matter. Actions matter. Resign now!”
        “For the millions of people of color who have been terrorized by white supremacy, this kind of ‘editorializing’ about lynching is not a joke — it is a threat,” wrote Sewell, who is African-American. “These comments are deeply offensive and inappropriate, especially in 2019. Mr. Sutton should apologize and resign.”
        Republican Richard Shelby, Alabama’s senior U.S. senator, urged Sutton to apologize and resign in a Tuesday-morning statement to Yahoo News.
        “The rhetoric displayed by the Democrat-Reporter is disturbing, disgusting and entirely unacceptable,” said Shelby through a spokesperson. “I urge the newspaper to issue an apology and the publisher to resign from his duties. We cannot tolerate this sort of repulsive speech, particularly from our fourth estate.”
        The Democrat-Reporter did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the calls for a resignation. “This is not the first racist editorial coming from Goodloe Sutton and the Democrat Reporter. He railed against the Obama Administration on a weekly basis and he has written articles and editorials that were uncomplimentary toward local Black elected officials or many years,” said John Zippert, Editor and Co-Publisher of the Greene County Democrat 
        In December, the Senate passed its first-ever anti-lynching bill, making the act a federal crime. Estimates suggest that more than 4,000 Americans, most of them African-American, were lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968.

Newswire : Congo’s Constitutional Court upholds election win for opposition leader

Felix Tshisekedi
     Jan. 21, 2019 (GIN) – The Democratic Republic of Congo finally has a president. Opposition figure Felix Tshisekedi was declared winner of the presidential race by the DR Congo’s top court on Jan. 20.

     The Constitutional Court said Tshisekedi had won by a simple majority, paving the way for him to take over from the current president, Joseph Kabila.

     The outcome was challenged by runner-up Martin Fayulu who claimed that the election had been stolen and called on the international community to reject the results.

     Election data leaked to some news organizations suggested that he won the vote.

     "I ask the entire international community not to recognize a power that has neither legitimacy nor legal standing to represent the Congolese people," he said of Tshisekedi, declaring himself "the only legitimate president".

     On Sunday, the Constitutional Court dismissed Fayulu's claims as "unfounded" and said he had failed to prove any inaccuracies in the figures, describing his call for a recount as "absurd". The ruling was not unexpected, with the court made up of Kabila's allies.

     Meanwhile, hundreds of supporters of Tshisekedi gathered outside the court holding placards saying "No to interference" and "Independent country" as riot police stood nearby.

     Despite unconfirmed reports that members of Tshisekedi’s camp had strategized with Kabila before the votes were in, the greater part of Congolese seems happy with the "semi-victory," as their main fears have been allayed, according to Israel Mutala, an analyst and editor in chief of the online news site 7sur7.

     "Above all the Congolese feared a third term for outgoing President Joseph Kabila," Mutala told the German news agency DW.

     Observers from other international bodies, including the European Union and the United Nations Organization, complained of irregularities at the polls. The African Union, after initially expressing "serious doubts" about the outcome of the elections, seems more willing to go alone with the accepted candidate.

     Speaking early Sunday, Tshisekedi said the court’s decision to reject claims of electoral fraud and declare him president was a victory for the entire country.

     “It is Congo that won,” said Tshisekedi. “It is not the victory of one camp against another. I am engaged in a campaign to reconcile all Congolese. … The Congo that we are going to form will not be a Congo of division, hatred or tribalism. It will be a reconciled Congo, a strong Congo that will be focused on development, peace and security.” 

Newswire: NAACP President Derrick Johnson responds to Federal Judge Jesse Furman’s ruling on the 2020 Census

Derrick Johnson, NAACP President
Derrick Johnson, President of NAACP, issued the following statement on federal Judge Jesse M. Furman’s ruling to block of the Trump Administration’s plan to put a question about citizenship on the 2020 census:
“The ruling by Judge Jesse M. Furman is a step in the right direction to stopping xenophobic rhetoric and policy at all levels of government. The addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census only increases the likelihood of a substantial undercount of immigrant communities, particularly immigrants of color including those from the African Diaspora who are essential todetermining U.S. elections, congressional seats and federal funding decisions for a decade.
“Any citizenship question compounds the already inadequate preparation for Census 2020 and further dilutes the votes of racial and ethnic minorities and deprive their communities of critical federal funds and undervalue their voices and interests in the political arena. We must continue to stay vigilant and not let this administration use yet another mechanism to devalue and stifle the voices of people of color.”
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. You can read more about the NAACP’s work and our six “Game Changer” issue areas at www.naacp.org.

Newswire : U.S. Senator Tim Scott critical of GOP on racism and Rep. Steve King

By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor

Senator Tim Scott (R-SC)

Stating what has become even more of an issue for the GOP during the presidency of Donald Trump, Sen. Tim Scott, wrote, “We are often still struggling when it comes to civility and fairness. This was driven home once again Thursday as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) wondered aloud: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”’
In a blistering op-ed in The Washington Post, the U.S. Senate’s only African American Republican, took the Republican Party to task on the issue of racism. Sen. Scott has been openly reluctant to support Donald Trump. He notably skipped the Republican National Convention in 2016.
On January 10, Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa wondered out loud when the term “white supremacists” became a negative during an interview with The New York Times.
“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” King said during the interview.In a familiar pattern, Rep. King sought to “clarify” his comments a day later.But the U.S. Representative has a long history of comments that can easily be defined as racist.
“I want to make one thing abundantly clear; I reject those labels and the evil ideology that they define. Further, I condemn anyone that supports this evil and bigoted ideology which saw in its ultimate expression the systematic murder of 6 million innocent Jewish lives,” Rep. King said on January 11.
In July 2013, King said of Mexican immigrants that, “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds—and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Rep. King displayed the Confederate flag on his office desk in 2016 removing it later after a Confederate flag-waver shot two law enforcement officers in Iowa. In March 2017, he wrote “culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies” and, “you need to teach your children your values” and “with the inter-marriage, I’d like to see an America that is just so homogenous that we look a lot the same.”
Rep. King’s words are familiar to that of the rhetoric of David Duke and Richard Spencer and other prominent white supremacists. Though he was been criticized by Speaker Paul Ryan for his past comments, many Republicans have remained silent during Rep. King’s racial controversies.
Sen. Scott has become tired of that practice.
Sen. Scott cataloged recent racist incidents in the U.S. saying, “Three months ago, a white supremacist killed two black people in a parking lot in Kentucky. We are only 18 months from Charlottesville, where white nationalists killed a white woman with a car and severely beat multiple black people. Almost four years ago, a white supremacist murdered nine African Americans in a church in Charleston, S.C. In 1998, white supremacists dragged James Byrd Jr., behind a pickup truck through Jasper, Tex., decapitating him in the process.”
“I will admit I am unsure who is offended by the term “Western civilization” on its own, but anyone who needs “white nationalist” or “white supremacist” defined, described and defended does lack some pretty common knowledge,” Sen. Scott continued.
“When people with opinions similar to King’s open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but also our nation as a whole,” Sen. Scott continued. “Silence is no longer acceptable,” Sen. Scott concluded.
The backdrop of Rep. King’s latest racially-motivated comments is President Trump’s insistence on building a wall at the border of Mexico. Trump ran on a platform that defined Mexican immigrants as violent and dangerous. Noteably, after white supremacists marched with torches in Charlottesville, Va., President Trump was not only slow in denouncing their message but declared that — “both sides” — were “violent.”s
On Tuesday, January 15, the Republican Party in the U. S. House of Representatives stripped Rep. Steve King of his committee assignments in the 116thCongress. He served on the House Agriculture and Judiciary Committee

Bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill turns the tide for historically underserved farmers and ranchers

By: Lorette Picciano, Executive Director, Rural Coalition

The Rural Coalition and its members applaud the completion of the House and Senate conference report to the 2018 Farm Bill. The conference report was passed in the U. S. Senate by a vote of 86 to 12 and the U. S. House of Representatives by 334 to 47 last week. The 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law this week by President Donald J. Trump.
The 2018 Farm Bill is a strong indication of Congress’ legislative efforts to ensure that our nation’s African American, Asian Pacific, Latino, and Tribal Farmers and Ranchers and rural communities are well equipped to meet the growing demands for healthy foods and farm land preservation.
Rooted in the stronger Bipartisan Senate version of the bill crafted under the leadership of Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Senator Pat Roberts, and Ranking Member Senator Debbie Stabenow, the package ensures food access for all communities, and retains funding and authority for the crucial Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It also increases support for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives program and related initiatives to strengthen local food systems.
Of great significance to our communities, it makes critical new investments in tribal farmers and food systems and programs supporting the nation’s historically underserved, veteran and young farmers and ranchers, improves transparency in credit programs and removes barriers to cultivation of industrial hemp, strengthens local food and organic programs and establishes an Office of Urban Agriculture.
Some Specific Sections of the 2018 Farm Bill, we highlight are:

· Extends SNAP funding as in Nutrition Title in the Senate Bill without the very stiff and bureaucratic workfare requirements in the current House bill. Those provisions would create hunger and deepen poverty for vulnerable Americans, including children and families, and burden States with implementation and costs of constructing an underfunded bureaucratic infrastructure.

· Provides Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers who attempt to farm on “heirs property”.

  The conference report language ensures that more farmers — especially African-American farmers and farmers of color operating on land with undivided interests – can finally access USDA programs that enable them to protect the soil and water; and continue to operate viable farms that feed their communities.  

This language, sponsored with thanks to Senators Doug Jones, Tim Scott and Tom Udall in the Senate, and Reps. Marcia Fudge, Sanford Bishop and Alma Adams in the House, was developed in cooperation with Rural Coalition with its members including the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project, Inc., Land Loss Prevention Project, and Rural Advancement Fund of the National Sharecroppers Fund, with critical support from the Uniform Laws Commission, the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts and support from the National Association of Conservation Districts.
· Expands and Improves Opportunities for all Farmers to Access USDA Programs – The Conference Report includes language that creates the new Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) Program. FOTO strengthens the historic Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program and also links it closely to the related Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program. The improved program provides permanent authority and permanent funding of $50 million annually, shared equally between the two programs. We thank Senators Tina Smith, Chris Van Hollen, Tom Udall, Reps. Michelle Lujan-Grisham, Ben Ray Lujan, Sanford Bishop and many others who led the effort to make these changes. And we especially credit the Senators Stabenow and Roberts and their staffs for their diligent efforts to permanently secure and fund this landmark program.
· Legalizes and regulates cultivation of Industrial Hemp by removing it from the controlled substances list and allowing tribes, states, and territories to establish regulatory structures within their boundaries that allow farmers and ranchers to produce a high value cash crop while retaining federal farm program benefits that were previously not allowed.
· Provides critical improvements in USDA direct lending credit policy by including equitable relief servicing options in order to protect producers against errors or mistakes made within the USDA direct lending program.
· Authorizes the Farmer and Rancher Stress Assistance Network which supports mental health resources and services to farmers and farmworkers who need them;
· Creates a new Local Agricultural Market Program (LAMP) by merging authorities and providing baseline funding for a streamlined new program. Specifically the LAMP language links the previous Farmers Market Promotion Program, the Local Food Promotion Program and the Value-Added Producer Grants Program.
· Establishes an Office of Urban Agriculture
“This bill turns the tide for African American and all other historically underserved farmers and ranchers,” said Rural Coalition Vice Chairperson Georgia Good, Executive Director of the Rural Advancement Fund of the National Sharecroppers Fund, which has worked since 1937 to improve the quality of life in rural communities in the South. We are grateful to Senators Tim Scott (SC) and Doug Jones (AL) for opening a critical new door to allow families of multiple generations operating on inherited land to be allowed in to the programs of USDA that all farmers need to thrive with their bill. We further thank Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (KA) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (MI)for their patient and persistent leadership to work with us all to include these sections in a landmark package that values all rural communities and peoples.”

According to Rural Coalition Chairperson John Zippert of the Alabama Association of Cooperatives, “The Federation of Southern Cooperatives estimates more than 40% of black owned land is in heirs property status. Including the Fair Access Act in this bill enables people in states that have the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property laws to access USDA programs more directly with less red tape.”

“We have been working hard for decades to bring equity to the farm bill in terms of treatment for Black farmers and other farmers of color to build cooperatives and to uplift low-wealth communities. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 addresses continuing inequities and supports the quality hands-on assistance needed to make sure the 2018 farm bill reaches everyone,” he continued.

“Particular thanks are due to the Senators Stabenow and Roberts and their staffs for dedicated efforts to refine legislation and push it to the finish line, and to Rep. Conaway and Peterson’s staffs for working with them to make the important changes necessary to improve opportunities for all farmers. We also thank the many other Senators and members of Congress who led in developing key sections of this legislation.

“The Agricultural Improvement Act passed last week is a huge step forward,” said Rural Coalition Board Member Rudy Arredondo, President of the National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association. “We are extremely happy that the Agriculture Committee leaders were able to stay focused on the essentials of as good a bipartisan farm bill as we can get in this political climate.”

Everyone in our nation who cares about a future for diverse farmers, ranchers and rural communities needs to call upon Congress and the President to assure swift passage and signing, and final enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill.