Newswire : Rapper Meek Mill calls for criminal justice reform

By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

meek-mill-mugshot_pdc_web120.jpgRapper Meek Mill

Rapper Meek Mill sat down with NBC’s Lester Holt to talk about his experiences in the criminal justice system for a Dateline interview aired on Sunday, May 6.
“I had eight years of probation that turned [into] 16 years of probation,” Mill said in a preview of the interview. “Something is not working,” in the criminal justice system.
TMZ.com reported that Judge Genece Brinkley amended the order regarding Mill’s bail conditions, “and he now has approval to travel outside of Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County for scheduled business activities.”
According to TMZ.com, “The amended order also gives Meek approval to live in Montgomery Co. The original bail conditions required him to live in neighboring Philadelphia County. Meek still has to submit to at least one urine test per month.”
After being sentenced for violating probation and spending almost five months in prison, Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill was released on April 24.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered an immediate release for Mill, whose real name is Robert Rihmeek Williams, and also instructed the judge in his case to assign an “unsecured bail.”
On Twitter, Mill thanked God, his family and his public advocates for their love, support and encouragement.
“While the past five months have been a nightmare, the prayers, visits, calls, letters and rallies have helped me stay positive,” Mill tweeted.

Mill added that he planned, “to work closely with my legal team to overturn this unwarranted conviction and look forward to reuniting with my family and resuming my music career.”

Mill was given a two- to four-year prison sentence in November 2017 for violating his probation stemming from a 2008 gun and drug case.

According to Pitchfork.com, when Judge Genece E. Brinkley sentenced Mill, she “cited a failed drug test, violation of court-ordered travel restrictions, and two misdemeanor arrests: for reckless driving involving a motorcycle in Manhattan and for an alleged altercation at the St. Louis airport.”

Pitchfork.com also reported that, “Charges in the New York case are set to be scrubbed from Meek’s record in April, if he avoids further violations; the St. Louis charge was reportedly dropped. Regardless, she gave him the two- to four-year sentence.”
Mill’s case garnered the attention of civil rights activists across the nation, and was cited as an example of a broken criminal justice system. Celebrities including Jay-Z, Colin Kaepernick, T.I. and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft also took interest in the case.
On the same day he was released, Mill was spotted at the Philadelphia 76ers playoff game against the Miami Heat. Mill sat next to comedian Kevin Hart and 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin, another supporter. The 76ers won the game, which marked the team’s first playoff series win since 2012.

“We applaud the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for directing Judge Genece Brinkley to immediately release Meek Mill from prison, underscoring what we already knew, he did not deserve to be imprisoned in the first place,” stated Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change. “This decision sets an important precedent against the unjust jailing of so many Black and Brown people for petty probation violations.”

Robinson continued: “Meek’s case is just one example of how the excessively punitive criminal justice system targets Black people every day and turns prisons into profit-generating institutions.”
Robinson noted that thousands of people are illegally detained in Philadelphia jails on unjust probation and parole violations every day without a hearing or the possibility of posting bail.
“Together with money bail, probation detainers are one of the largest drivers of mass incarceration,” Robinson said. “With the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision, we proved that when our communities hold those in power accountable, we can expose our racist criminal justice system and stop its disproportionate impact on the lives of Black people.”
This article was originally published at BlackPressUSA.com.

Newswire : Civil Rights groups sue Department of Homeland Security over targeted surveillance

By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
On March 19, several civil rights groups filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to release the contents of the agency’s redacted memo referred to in government documents as the “Race Paper.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights along with Color of Change first uncovered the existence of the “Race Paper” after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The advocates maintain that the existence of the “Race Paper,” and other documents confirm that the government has used targeted surveillance on many Black activists and organizers. The groups also said the document will confirm there was a violation by the government regarding the basic activity of Black people engaging in First Amendment activity.
“The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are at war with Black activists,” said Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change, in a March 19 press statement. “The documents we’ve forced the federal government to release expose how these agencies are demonizing and intimidating Black activists—people who are rightly demanding that our country be more just—through coordinated and systemic surveillance.”
The redacted “Race Paper” is “the newest of a slew of documents the groups have obtained that reveal how DHS and the FBI have both monitored and surveillance the Movement for Black Lives and pushed a state-sanctioned narrative that criminalizes Black protestors,” their release to the press asserted.
“Black and brown activists and the public in general should not be left to speculate as to why DHS prepared a document called the ‘Race Paper,’ circulated multiple versions of it, and called for in-person meetings to discuss its contents, but now fights to keep every word from seeing the light of day,” said Omar Farah, the senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “But given the long-standing and unconstitutional pattern of state surveillance of Black-led political movements, it bears repeating that FOIA is about transparency, not protecting government agencies from embarrassment.”
The Color of Change and the Center for Constitutional Rights first filed the FOIA request to the agencies in October 2016 to uncover how DHS and the FBI were monitoring the Movement for Black Lives as well as Black protestors and organizers exercising their First Amendment constitutional rights at protests across the country.

Has Trump helped Black America in his first 100 days?

An Analysis by NBC News – Michael Cottman

“Today and every day of my presidency I pledge to do everything I can to continue that promise of freedom for African-Americans and for every American…We’re going to bring this country together.”- President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump has offered grand gestures, questionable policies, and a litany of promises to skeptical African Americans.
He promised to rid inner cities of crime. He promised to invest in education for black public school students and historically black colleges. He promised to rebuild boarded-up urban neighborhoods. He promised to heal a racially polarized America.
When Trump toured The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. last month, he pledged to confront racism and create a bridge of unity for what he called a “divided country.”
But 100 days into Trump’s chaotic presidency, there are few signs – at least publicly – that Trump is focused on racial healing or any of the pre-election commitments to the nation’s citizens of color.
“President Trump’s promises to African-Americans were nothing more than vapid campaign promises,” Neil Foote, a journalism professor at North Texas University and Editor of PoliticsInColor.com, told NBCBLK.
Consider Trump’s position on criminal justice: Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to stall a federal review of police departments where racial profiling, excessive use of force and racially discriminatory police practices have been exposed.
During the Obama Administration, the Justice Department began 25 investigations into police departments and sheriff’s offices and resolved civil rights lawsuits filed against police departments in more than 15 cities.
Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said Sessions has a legal obligation to investigate troubled police departments. “He can’t just cherry pick the cases he wants to investigate,” Ifill told NBCBLK.
Ifill said the Trump administration threatens progress to criminal justice reform, education, health care and a myriad of social programs that are on Trump’s chopping block.
“Our first priority is voting rights,” Ifill said. “Voting ensures that African Americans fully participate in the political process—and not just during presidential elections.”
But Katrina Pierson, a spokeswoman for America First, a conservative organization that supports Trump’s legislative agenda urged black folks to give Trump a chance.
Pierson said Trump will help improve the quality of life for African Americans through education, jobs, health care – and building the border wall to crack down on crime, drugs and human trafficking.
“Illegal immigration impacts the black community,” Pierson said. “When illegal immigrants settle in the United States, they don’t settle in gated communities, they settle in black communities and poor communities. You can’t have an honest discussion about illegal immigration without talking about the cost of illegal immigration, financially, socially and culturally.”
Civil rights organizations take issue with Pierson and her conservative views. They believe Trump’s policies are detrimental to the prosperity of African Americans and they are distrustful of black conservatives.
Marc Morial, president of The National Urban League, said Trump wants to cut social programs that benefit black Americans instead of making good on his campaign promise to rebuild urban communities.
“We will resist any effort to cut funding for human programs,” Morial told NBCBLK. “This is not good public policy to gut these programs and shift funding to the military. We will resist cuts to community development programs, housing programs, workforce programs. These are job killers and dream killers.”
Morial said he believes there is a great opportunity to create a bipartisan jobs initiative. “People – blacks, whites, Latinos – are all dealing with wage stagnation and a jobs initiative could unite America,” he said. “It’s a challenge for urban America. It’s a challenge for rural America.”
This week the Congressional Black Caucus released a report, What Did Trump Do? The First 100 Days #StayWoke List, to make sure African Americans stay informed about the Trump administration policies that impact citizens of color.

“In general, “stay woke” or “stay awake” means to stay focused on what is really being said and done to and around you, especially as it relates to police brutality and other elements of African-Americans’ years-long struggle to fully achieve the American Dream,” Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana, said in the report.
Highlights from the CBC report pull out key budget cuts that would:
· “… cut the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) budget by $6 billion. HUD is responsible for providing housing assistance to extremely low-income families and the homeless, and reinvesting in America’s cities and counties.”
· “… eliminate programs that help limit children’s exposure to lead paint. According to the CDC, African-American children are three times more likely to have elevated blood-lead levels.”
· “… eliminate the Minority Business Development Agency, which funds a nationwide network of business centers to help minority-owned business stay competitive and create jobs.”
The Congressional Black Caucus has also underscored how racially polarized America has become since Trump won the White House. While Trump promises a new order for black America, hate groups have risen across the nation. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported that more than 400 incidents of harassment or intimidation against blacks, Jews, gays and Muslims occurred in the early days of Trump’s presidency.
Many civil rights activists are also concerned about Trump’s attempts to roll back education initiatives designed to assist students of color. Trump has pledged to make education a priority for black Americans but Besty DeVos, his Secretary of Education, has been criticized for her steadfast support for privatizing public schools.
Two weeks ago, DeVos further angered educators and parents by appointing Candice Jackson as the acting head of the department’s Office for Civil Rights. Jackson, as a student at Stanford University, once complained of racial discrimination because she is white. She said affirmative action promotes racial discrimination.
Critics of the Trump administration question how Jackson can objectively oversee claims of racial discrimination from African Americans and other people of color.
Tracey Winbush, the Ohio Republican Party Treasurer, said DeVos is simply trying to fix underperforming schools – many of them, she said, are located in low-income black communities. She said most African Americans are being overly critical of the president instead of trying to work with him.
“President Trump is doing his best to reach out to all people and especially African Americans,” Winbush, who is African American, told NBCBLK. “The president is making good on his campaign promise to move the African American community forward and get the black community out of its present situation.”
Winbush said too many African Americans “are hating on Trump because he’s a billionaire.” “As an African American Republican, I don’t mind that Trump is a billionaire and his cabinet is the wealthiest cabinet in history, they know how to make money and we can learn from them,” Winbush said. “We have been taught to hate success. Trump is trying to reach out to African Americans but they don’t want to talk to him. We’re losing political clout. Are we moving forward or backward?”
Wilson and other black college presidents met with the new President early in his term. They were hoping that Trump would set aside additional funding for historically black colleges. Instead of a substantive meeting, some said, black college presidents were lured into the Oval Office for a hastily arranged photo-op with Trump.
“Showing up and sitting at the table doesn’t always mean you get what you want,” Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of ColorofChange.org, told NBCBLK. “Every invitation isn’t necessarily an invitation that you want.”
“There is a deep threat to civil rights policies and we have to respond differently,” Robinson said. “These folks are dismantling the ideals of American democracy. We can’t wait for meetings at the White House.”
Trump, who received eight percent of the black vote during the presidential election, has tried to convince black Americans that he is a champion for their concerns. [Trump fared a bit better than Mitt Romney, who only garnered six percent of the black vote when he ran for president in 2012.]
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