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NOW IN RACIAL JUSTICE

An Open Letter From Assata Shakur: ‘I Am Only One Woman’

An Open Letter From Assata Shakur: 'I Am Only One Woman'

Correction on 5/6/13 at 2:37pm EST: This morning we published an open letter from Assata Shakur, who was recently placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List. We reported that the letter was published on May 3. However, the letter actually dates back several years. The University of Texas’ Digital Repository dates the letter to 1998. Apologies for the error. 

In her letter, Shakur provides her own account of the events leading up to her arrest and 1977 conviction. She also details the extent to which the media played a role in her prosecution. Shakur was sentenced to life in prison plus 33 years before she escaped to Cuba.

The U.S. Senate’s 1976 Church Commission report on intelligence operations inside the USA, revealed that “The FBI has attempted covertly to influence the public’s perception of persons and organizations by disseminating derogatory information to the press, either anonymously or through “friendly” news contacts.” This same policy is evidently still very much in effect today.

[snip]

Like most poor and oppressed people in the United States, I do not have a voice. Black people, poor people in the U.S. have no real freedom of speech, no real freedom of expression and very little freedom of the press. The black press and the progressive media has historically played an essential role in the struggle for social justice. We need to continue and to expand that tradition. We need to create media outlets that help to educate our people and our children, and not annihilate their minds. I am only one woman. I own no TV stations, or Radio Stations or Newspapers. But I feel that people need to be educated as to what is going on, and to understand the connection between the news media and the instruments of repression in Amerika. All I have is my voice, my spirit and the will to tell the truth.

Last week, the New Jersey State Police and the FBI announced a $2 million reward for information leading to Shakur’s capture. The FBI has also put up billboards across New Jersey asking for the public’s help in her arrest. Since her exile, Shakur has remained outspoken about racial and economic injustice in the United States and, as a result, has become one of the most widely recognized and admired names in the struggle for black liberation. While her supporters are not surprised by the FBI’s continued diligence in the case, many were taken aback by timing  and prominence of the agency’s renewed efforts.

Renowned scholar and activist Angela Davis, who was once on the FBI’s List of the 10 Most Wanted Fugitives and labeled by President Richard Nixon as a “dangerous terrorist” in 1970 before being exonerated, appeared on Democracy Now last week to talk about the timing of the agency’s new pursuit of Shakur. 

You know, certainly, Assata continues to advocate radical transformation of this country, as many of us do. You know, I continues to say that we need revolutionary change. This is why it seems to me that the attack on her reflects the logic of terrorism, because it precisely is designed to frighten young people, especially today, who would be involved in the kind of radical activism that might lead to change.

Davis appeared in a segment that also included Shakur’s longtime attorney Lennox Hinds. You can see video and a full transcript of that segment over at Democracy Now.



North Carolina Election Board Drops 56 HBCU Students From Voter Rolls Under Dubious Cause

Close to 60 students at the historically black Elizabeth City State University were targeted by a county Republican Party chair who challenged their voter status for questionable reasons. Of the group, 56 students were dropped from voter rolls for no better reason than having a voter registration address that was different their parents’ home addresses. They used their college campus addresses instead.

Two students were kept on the rolls after they showed up at a hearing on April 19 with lawyers from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to defend their registration status. Some of the notices for that hearing that went out to the rest of the students came back as undeliverable, while others failed to show for unknown reasons. The board decided that the students’ absence was evidence that they should be dropped.

Southern Coalition executive director Anita Earls told Colorlines that dropping people from voter rolls due to undeliverable mail may be a violation of the National Voter Registration Act. They plan to sue the county and today sent a letter to the elections board indicating their intent to do so. The two students who they saved from being dropped are resident advisors who live on campus. It’s not known how many of the other 56 who were purged were also university employees.

Earls also tells us that the Republican Party county leader who made the challenges, Richard Gilbert, only targeted the black college students, that he filed no other challenges at any other universities. Pasquotank County, where the challenges occurred, is also a Section 5-protected jurisdiction under the Voting Rights Act.

Angela Davis, Attorney Defend Assata Shakur Amid New FBI Efforts

Angela Davis, Attorney Defend Assata Shakur Amid New FBI Efforts

One day after the FBI and the state of New Jersey announced that former Black Panther Assata Shakur had become the first woman on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List, Angela Davis and Shakur’s longtime attorney Lennox Hinds went on Democracy Now in the exile’s defense. Like many of Shakur’s supporters in the U.S. and abroad, both Davis and Hinds questioned why the FBI has suddenly renewed its interest in the Shakur’s capture; currently, Shakur is 66-years-old and has been living in exile for over three decades.

Davis’ explanation:

Well, see, there’s always this slippage between what should be protected free speech—that is to say, the advocacy of revolution, the advocacy of radical change—and what theFBI represents as terrorism. You know, certainly, Assata continues to advocate radical transformation of this country, as many of us do. You know, I continue to say that we need revolutionary change. This is why it seems to me that the attack on her reflects the logic of terrorism, because it precisely is designed to frighten young people, especially today, who would be involved in the kind of radical activism that might lead to change.

And Hinds’:

Now, why today is Assata Shakur now being branded a terrorist? If we look at the definition of terrorism, what is it? It is the use or the threat of use of force against a civilian population to achieve political ends. What happened in the case of Assata Shakur? You have heard, in her own words, this woman was a political activist. She was targeted by whom? J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI in a program that was called COINTELPRO. That program was unveiled by whom? Frank Church, Senator Frank Church, in the 1970s. He chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee. That committee determined that the FBI was using both legal, but mostly illegal, methods—to do what? In the FBI’s own words, they wanted to discredit, to stop the rise of a black messiah—that was the fear of the FBI—so that there would not be a Mau Mau, in their words, uprising in the United States.

You can see the entire interview and transcript over at Democracy Now.

At this point, one can only speculate about why the state has renewed its efforts to capture Shakur. But what’s clear is that they’re serious about it. In addition to offering a $2 million reward for her capture, the FBI has also put up billboards around New Jersey.

AssataBillboards.jpg

How Public Policy Built The Racial Wealth Divide

How Public Policy Built The Racial Wealth Divide

The racial wealth gap never ceases to amaze. Black and Latino families hold pennies of accumulated assets compared to every dollar of the average white family’s investments, retirement savings and home equity. Wealth matters a lot. It’s what families use to buttress against hard times—say a period of joblessness—and it’s what parents pass onto their kids to pay for college and avoid taking out big loans. This means that families without wealth actually pass on a future of debt.

So it’s particularly enraging to observe, once again, that the racial wealth gap is the product of very clear and deliberate public policy. Ta-Nehisi Coates has a post at the Atlantic on a foul 1950’s housing market practice that sprang up because the federal government refused to insure loans for black families. In the space left by this legal exclusion, housing speculators bought cheap properties, jacked up the prices and sold the homes to black families. If the families missed a single payment, the broker could terminate the contract, take all the money the family already invested and kick them out of the home. Coates explains:

Buying on contract meant that you made a down-payment to a speculator. The speculator kept the deed and only turned it over to you after you’d paid the full value of the house — a value determined by the speculator. In the meantime, you were responsible for monthly payments, keeping the house up, and taking care of any problems springing from inspection. If you missed one payment, the speculator could move to evict you and keep all the payments you’d made. Building up equity was impossible, unless — through some Herculean effort — you managed to pay off the entire contract. Very few people did this. The system was set up to keep them from doing it, and allow speculators to get rich through a cycle of evicting and flipping.

Coates posted a chart mocked up by 1960s advocates to show the kinds of markups we’re taking about. The first column reads, “Documented Price Paid By Speculator.” The second: “Documented Price Change To Negro Buyer.” In one case, a home listed on the chart is sold to a black family at nearly three times the purchase price, not including interest.

“In that chart you can literally see black wealth leaving one neighborhood and migrating to another,” Coates writes. “It was not just legal. It was the whole point.”

It’s a prime example, Coates writes, of why “the wealth gap is not a mistake. It is the logical outcome of policy.” And it’s upon this policy history that new forms of predation emerged. The subprime loans of the last decade were targeted to black families who’d been denied affordable and regulated lending services. These losses are part of the reason the wealth gap is now growing. And as I wrote earlier this week, the very same communities appear to be the targets of new schemes, this time in the form of totally unregulated “pension advances” that saddle elderly folks with mammoth interest rates. Some of these borrowers are pushed to advance companies because an earlier foreclosure tanked their credit score and all hope of getting a bank loan.

Sherman Alexie, and the ‘Homoerotic Extravaganza’ of Sports

Sherman Alexie, and the 'Homoerotic Extravaganza' of Sports

So what’s so scary about having an openly gay man like Jason Collins in a professional sports locker room? Straight men may have to start recognizing basketball as the “homoerotic extravaganza that it is”, according to Indian writer and lifelong basketball enthusiast Sherman Alexie.

In a piece for The Stranger, Alexie names what so many sports fans have been tip-toeing around in the aftermath of Collins’ historic coming out.

So who are the best-looking men in the USA? The answer, obviously, is professional athletes. I mean, Jesus, Google-Image Adrian Peterson. Study how cut, shredded, and jacked he is.

Cut. Shredded. Jacked. Those are violent straight-boy adjectives that mean “beautiful.” But we straight boys aren’t supposed to think of other men as beautiful. We’re supposed to think of the most physically gifted men as warrior soldiers, as dangerous demigods.

And there’s the rub: When we’re talking about professional athletes, we are mostly talking about males passionately admiring the physical attributes and abilities of other males. It might not be homosexual, but it certainly is homoerotic.

There are strict social rules governing sexuality and gender, and nowhere is that more evident than in the world of sports. Read Alexie’s entire essay over at The Stranger.

More Dying Prisoners Could Be Released To End Life

Federal inmates diagnosed with terminal illness may now have a better chance of release so they can die outside of prison walls. A report released yesterday by the Department of Justice urged the Bureau of Prisons to expand policies to release terminally ill inmates. The report notes that the BOP plans to release new guidelines to streamline its release protocols for prisoners expected to die within 18 months.

The federal prison system currently lacks clear standards and protocols for requests for “compassionate release,” the DOJ Office of the Inspector General report finds. Petitions for release can take as long as 7 months before administrators reach a decision. As a result, in 13 percent of cases the DOJ reviewed, prisoners died before they receive a response to a release request. And because only 8 of the Bureau’s 111 prisoner handbooks reviewed inform inmates about the policy, many don’t know they can apply in the first place.

“The BOP…provide[s] no criteria or standards to use in evaluating whether a medical or nonmedical circumstance qualifies for consideration,” the report says. It recommends that the Bureau of Prisons expand the compassionate release practices to other “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances beyond terminal illness.

A shift in BOP practice in this regard could have a significant impact on the rapidly growing population of elderly prisoners. A 2012 Human Rights Watch report revealed that between 2007 and 2010 the number of prisoners in federal and state facilities who are older than 64 grew at 94 times the rate of the overall prison population. About 45 percent of prisoners who died behind bars in 2007 were over the age of 55.

Assata Shakur Becomes First Woman to be on FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 12.28.07 PM.pngThe FBI announced today that former Black Panther Party member Assata Shakur is the first woman to be added to its most wanted terrorist watch list. Shakur was convicted of the 1973 murder of a New Jersey State Trooper and sentenced to life in prison. In 1979, she escaped from prison and has since sought refuge in Cuba as a political exile. Shakur still professes her innocence in the case, and her name has since become synonymous with the ongoing political struggles of Black Power Era activists who supporters say were falsely accused of crimes during the 1970s.

The FBI and the state of New Jersey also announced Thursday that the reward for Shakur’s capture has been doubled to $2 million.

Los Angeles Times Drops ‘Illegal Immigrant’

Los Angeles Times Drops 'Illegal Immigrant'

Great news from the Los Angeles Times. One month after the Associated Press and USA Today announced that they will no longer describe undocumented immigrants as “illegal”, the fourth most widely distributed paper in the country says that it will do the same.

From the L.A. Times:

Immigration is one of the most contentious and compelling subjects of our time. In our coverage, we aim to report with authority and balance — to be fair, nuanced and precise. We know that language matters and that our word choices must likewise be fair, nuanced and precise.

The Times adopted its current style on immigration-related language in 1995, recommending the use of “illegal immigrants” or “undocumented immigrants” in lieu of “illegal aliens.” Those phrases have become highly politicized since then, prompting the Standards and Practices Committee to consider an update. The committee has been consulting with reporters and editors from across the newsroom since last fall, as well as meeting with advocates seeking an end to the media’s use of “illegal immigrant.” After hearing strong arguments for and against the current Times style, we concluded that it was time for a new approach.

“Illegal immigrants” is overly broad and does not accurately apply in every situation. The alternative suggested by the 1995 guidelines, “undocumented immigrants,” similarly falls short of our goal of precision. It is also untrue in many cases, as with immigrants who possess passports or other documentation but lack valid visas.

Read more at the Times.

The announcement is another major victory for the Drop the I-Word campaign, which Colorlines.com launched in 2010. The campaign is now calling on the New York Times to stop referring to undocumented immigrants as “illegal”, and recently delivered a petition to the New York Times’ doorstep with 70,000 signatures.

Odd Future Feels Bad That You’re So Sensitive About Its Mountain Dew Ad

Odd Future Feels Bad That You're So Sensitive About Its Mountain Dew Ad

Los Angeles-based hip-hop collective Odd Future isn’t afraid of a little controversy. That much became clear on Wednesday amid outrage over a series of Mountain Dew commercials created by frontman Tyler, the Creator. One of the ads features a battered white woman at a police station line-up trying to identify her attacker. The suspects are all men (members of Odd Future) and a menacing goat, which spends its time whispering threats to the frightened woman. Another ad shows how the woman got there: she was assaulted by the goat at a restaurant where she worked as a waitress. Critic Dr. Boyce Watkins called the ad “arguably the most racist commercial in history.

PepsiCo, which owns Mountain Dew, pulled the ad on Wednesday. Tyler, the Creator also yanked it from the group’s YouTube page. Odd Future’s manager Christian Clancy issued a lukewarm statement on Tumblr that falls pretty much in line with how Tyler, the Creator usually responds to critics: If you’re offended, you just don’t get good art. Here’s an excerpt:

It was never Tyler’s intention to offend however, offense is personal and valid to anyone who is offended. Out of respect to those that were offended and the ad was taken down. For those who know and respect Tyler he is known for pushing boundaries and challenging stereotypes thru humor. This is someone who grew up on David Chappelle. This situation is layered with context and is a discussion that Tyler would love to address in the right forum as he does have a point of view. As someone who hasn’t had the experience of being discriminated against I choose to respect the opinion of those who have… what I can speak to is Tyler who represents much more than the current narrative this story suggests. Contrary to what many may discern from this Tyler is the embodiment of not judging others, his delivery may not be for everyone (which is true for anyone who pushes boundaries) but his voice is nonetheless important to the conversation since his demographic understands what he ultimately stands for and sees the irony of it all.

As Cord Jefferson pointed out at Gawker, Mountain Dew is having a particularly bad week at the intersection of race and rap.

Unfortunately, the cowering white woman vs. black men and goat was only half of Mountain Dew’s image-management problems today. Its recently hospitalized spokesperson Lil Wayne issued an apology for the verse he’d contributed in February to the Future song “Karate Chop (Remix),” in which he said that he would “beat the pussy up like Emmett Till.”

To Wayne’s credit, he did issue a heartfelt apology to Emmett Till’s family.

RIP Chris Kelly: Watch This 1992 Kris Kross Performance at the Billboard Music Awards

Hip-hop fans are in shock this morning over the news that 34-year-old Chris Kelly died last night at an Atlanta-area hospital. Kelly is known as one half of the popular early ’90s hip-hop duo Kris Kross, whose hit single “Jump” became one of the most popular songs of the decade.

In honor of Kelly, here’s a look back at the 1992 Billboard Music Awards, where the Kris Kross beat out Billy Ray Cyrus (father of current star Miley), TLC, and Nirvana to win the award of debut artist of 1992.

TAGS: Kris Kross

Major Companies Rely On Underground Labor Brokers That Charge Workers High Fees

Some of the country’s biggest temp agencies and high profile companies regularly delegate hiring and employment services to a network of underground labor brokers that charge workers obligatory fees for rides to their jobs and to cash checks. The fees push workers incomes below the minimum wage. That’s according to a new investigation by ProPublica and Marketplace, which ran a multi-part series this week on the practice.

The labor brokers, called “raiteros,” are often informally subcontracted by major temp agencies that have contracts with companies including Fresh Espress, Sony, Marlboro and Ty Inc. to deliver temporary workers to warehouses and factories. The raiteros control access to the jobs from start to finish, determine who gets jobs and who doesn’t and charge workers $5 to fill out job applications and $8 for a ride to work. “If you don’t pay for a ride, raiteros won’t find you a job,” Marketplace reports. Workers said that if they drive to work themselves they’ll lose the job.

The investigation found that the mostly Latino and largely undocumented folks locked into these relationships with the brokers don’t get paychecks directly from the companies, but rather through the raiteros themselves. The brokers distribute checks at check cashing shops that charge workers one to two percent. “Even immigrants with their own bank account are obligated to use a check cashing service,” Marketplace reports.

In the end, workers end up getting paid below minimum wage after the fees are deducted.

Several workers in Chicago, where the investigation is based, told Marketplace and ProPublica that when they complained to the temp agency Select Remedy that they had not received checks, the agency referred the workers back to the brokers.

In Illinois, state laws passed in 2006 made it illegal for temp agencies to require workers to pay for transportation to and from work or force them to pay fees to cash checks. After the law changed, the entirely underground and unregulated raiteros popped up around the city and broke all the rules without notice.

Some advocates interviewed for the story say the raiteros insulate employers and temp staffing agencies from dealing with complaints from workers and from legal concerns about hiring undocumented immigrants.

This May Day, Support Bangladeshi Workers With More Than Just Boycotts

This year’s International Workers Day coincides with ongoing fallout from the latest Bangladeshi factory accident, which killed at least 386 people when a garment factory collapsed.

The annual day celebrates the international labor movement. And this year it’s an especially poignant May 1st. As multinational corporations heed, or ignore, calls to demand better worker conditions in the poorly constructed and accident-prone factories, and as people revive talk of boycotting retailers like Wal-mart, what’s needed from consumers in the global north is not simply boycotts, writes Vijay Prashad.

Prashad, over at the Guardian, argues:

What is needed is robust support for the workers as they try to build their own organisations at the point of production. Pressure on north Atlantic governments that mollycoddle multinational firms would create a breathing space for workers who otherwise suffer the full wrath of firms that couch their repression in the syrupy language of hard work and growth rates.

The Bangladeshis are capable of doing their own labour organising; what they need is political backing to do so. What is also needed, then, is clear-cut opposition not to this or that retailer, but to the system that produces pockets of low-wage economies in the south in order to feed a system of debt-fuelled consumption in the north. None among us is against global connections, but it is high time we put our minds to work to reject neoliberal globalisation.

What is needed, in other words, is an international labor movement.

Is Facebook’s Push for Immigration Reform More Sinister Than It Seems?

Is Facebook's Push for Immigration Reform More Sinister Than It Seems?

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg made a big splash last month when he launched Fwd.us, a pro-immigration reform organization. The young tycoon pulled together a rock star list of silicon valley elites to “”continue to promote innovation and meet our workforce needs.” The group’s current raison d’etre is to ensure that the immigration bill provides tech companies with enough visas for foreign workers to fill jobs they say can’t fill with U.S. workers.

But as might be expected from an outfit whose members include a number of the country’s most successful businessmen from across the political spectrum, Zuckerberg’s new outfit may have some rather sinister motivations. Fwd.us appears most interested in securing tech companies’ access to lower-paid foreign workers.

The Gang of Eight immigration bill is set to expand visas for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, so called STEM jobs and Zuckerberg’s is jumping into the fray to lobby for fewer strings attached to hiring foreign workers.

Gawker’s Adrian Chen reports:

As FWD.us promotes high-minded ideals of openness and opportunity, Facebook’s lobbying firms have been doing the dirty work of making sure immigration reform means they can freely hire high-skilled immigrants for less money than their American counterparts. Specifically, Facebook has been trying to insert language into the Senate immigration bill to eliminate a requirement that American companies make a “good faith” effort to hire Americans before looking abroad, according to the Washington Post. And Facebook wants to axe rules that would require companies to pay these foreign workers more.

Facebook and other advocates for more so-called high skilled visas—the H1B and L-1 visas—argue that their companies suffer because there simply aren’t enough U.S. workers with the right skills to fill jobs. Indeed, there’s been far more demand for these visas in recent years than there are visas available.

But there’s also new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, that finds that the U.S. actually has enough tech workers to fill jobs here. If that’s the case then why do companies like Facebook want so many easily accessible guest workers? According to EPI and others, it’s because firms can pay these workers less than they can pay U.S. workers for the same jobs.

“The bottom line is that these visas can be used for cheaper indentured work,” says Ron Hira, a Public Policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology who’s contributed to EPI analysis. Hira says that because companies control the H1-B and L-1 visas of their employees, workers are regularly exploited and subjected to terrible working conditions, under-paid and sometimes left without any work at all once they are arrive in the country.

Recently, a group of 350 teachers in Louisiana who were in the country on H1-B visas—the same kind Zuckerberg wants more of with fewer regulations—won a $4.5 million settlement after they were forced to pay illegal and exorbitant fees and subjected to workplace abuses by the contractor that brought them to the U.S. to teach.

While the current Senate bill does raise the wage floor for the H1-B visa program, it does not significantly extend Department of Labor oversight over wage and hour violations and critics say it leaves workers vulnerable to exploitation.

There’s Scientific ‘Proof’ that Jamestown Settlers Practiced Cannibalism

There's Scientific 'Proof' that Jamestown Settlers Practiced Cannibalism

From the laugh-to-keep-from-crying files, the BBC is reporting on scientific proof that Jamestown settlers practiced cannibalism during what it calls “the cruel winter of 1609-10.”

The evidence uncovered by Doug Owsley, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian’s natural history museum, is a 400-year-old skull and tibia of a teenage girl found in a James Fort, Va., excavation site.

An excerpt from the BBC article:

“The Starving Time was one of the most horrific periods of early colonial history. The Fort James settlers were under siege from the indigenous Indian population and had insufficient food to last the winter.

First they ate their horses, then dogs, cats, rats, mice and snakes. Some, to satisfy their cruel hunger, ate the leather of their shoes. […]

Relief came in the form of Lord De La Warr, who sailed into the settlement with food and new colonists. After six months of siege and starvation, only 60 of the original 300 settlers had survived.

“It’s somebody doing what they had to do,” said Dr Owsley of the cannibalism.”

Accusations of cannibalism have long been a European colonialist technique for dehumanizing indigenous peoples in what is now known as North and South America, in Asia and in Africa. In the contemporary United States context, films, cartoons, television shows and artifacts have reinforced the written accounts of a range of European explorers.

A recent Smithsonian magazine article explores “European hypocrisy” on the topic.

In medieval times, cultural enemies—not military or religious heroes—were commonly depicted as cannibals or giants, “especially in narratives of territorial invasion and conquest,” argues Geradine Heng, in Cannibalism, The First Crusade and the Genesis of Medieval Romance. “Witches, Jews, savages, Orientals, and pagans are conceivable as—indeed, must be—cannibals; but in the 12th-century medieval imaginary, the Christian European subject cannot.”

Smithsonian also notes that the word “cannibal” first entered the English language in the mid-16th century by means of Spanish explorers.

For more on what we refer to as scientific racism, check out “American Science’s Racist History Still Haunts the World” by Michelle Chen, and “The Pseudoscience of ‘Black Women Are Less Attractive” by me.

Father of Wrongly Accused Teen in Boston Bombing May Sue New York Post

Father of Wrongly Accused Teen in Boston Bombing May Sue New York Post

The New York Post may have to pay for its careless reporting. In the chaotic aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, the paper ran a photo on its cover misidentifying the two suspects. The title was “Bag Men: Feds seek these two pictures at Boston Marathon.”

One of the two men pictured was actually a 16-year-old track athlete named Salah Barhoum who had just run the marathon. What followed was a torrent of unwanted media attention for the teen, who pleaded his case to the New York Daily News and professed his innocence.

Now, Salah’s father, El Hussein Barhoum, wants to hold the paper accountable. The Washington Post reports that the elder Barhoum is talking with attorneys about his options to sue the paper. The 16-year-old is reportedly afraid to go to school because he does not want people to ask him questions about the bombings.

From the Washington Post:

Staffers from the New York Post, says El Houssein Barhoum, visited his home in Revere, Mass., on the same day that “Bag Men” appeared on the paper’s cover. “They come here at my home, check his real name and took some pictures,” he recalls. When asked if they’d apologized for the high-profile photograph, El Houssein Barhoum said they hadn’t. “If they won’t apologize, it’s not between me and the New York Post,” he says. “They should apologize on the newspaper. They should write something on the newspaper, not between us. If they make a bad image of your son, they should make a good image just to correct.

The Post did run a story later that said Salah and his acquaintance had been cleared, but that’s not enough, according to the boy’s father.

Unregulated Lenders Now Target Pensioners

Unregulated Lenders Now Target Pensioners

Remember subprime loans? The ones that predatory lenders hawked to people of color, stripping communities of homes and wealth and tanking the economy? Well they’ve been pretty well regulated out of existence now. But that hasn’t stopped sketchy lenders from searching out new frontiers of financial predation.

The NY Times’ Jessica Silver-Greenberg reported on Sunday that the latest target of mass predation are aging pensioners who take cash advances on their retirement income and get saddled with sky-high interest rates. Consumer advocates say that like the subprime crisis, folks of color are more likely to find themselves the target of these unregulated financial services.

“Almost as a given, for every consumer scam, for every consumer abuse out there is always a racial component to it,” Stuart Rossman, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center told Colorlines.com. Though Rossman says there’s no good data on the racial demographics of those who rely on the pension advances, “[race and predation] go hand in hand. This abuse is bad and it’s worse when you take into account race or ethnicity.”

Silver-Greenberg reports that the advance companies advertise the services online and often aggressively target recipients of public pensioners including military veterans, teachers and others. Because people of color occupy public jobs at disproportionate rates they’re likely more vulnerable to these schemes from the start.

One of these pensioners is Ronald Govan, a 59-year-old black Marine veteran from Georgia whom Silver-Greenberg reports on. Govan needed a loan but couldn’t get one from the bank because a 2008 foreclosure and subsequent bankruptcy wrecked his credit. So he jumped when he got an email from a Delaware based pension advance company offering him $10,000 upfront against his disability pension. But with his signature, Govan agreed to pay $353 the company of his $1,033 monthly pension, according the Times. In all he was paying a 36 percent interest rate on the advance.

Others have paid interest rates as high as 106 percent, largely because the companies promise fast cash without revealing the long-term costs.

Govan’s story leads to a larger context: racial disparities in wealth are growing. A report from the Urban Institute released last week shows again that the wealth gap between white, Latino and black Americans has expanded significantly since the start of the recession. That’s in part because of the fallout of racially targeted subprime lending.

Now, some of the same people who lost generations of wealth in the foreclosure crisis may be the targets of an unregulated pension scheme. (A 2012 AARP report revealed that black and Latino elders were twice as likely as their peers to lose their homes.)

Take Govan: it was his foreclosure that killed his credit and made him vulnerable to pension advance in the first place.

This is often how structural racial inequality works: exclusion and discrimination from the past creates the conditions for new kinds of abuse in the present. That’s what happened in the subprime context where legacies of redlining that excluded black borrowers from regular financial services left the space wide open for predators to crawl in.

So why aren’t these pension loans regulated? Because the lenders pretend the loans are not loans. By calling the high interest products “cash advances” they’ve remained just outside the purview of federal regulators and credit reporting requirements and above state usury laws.

Sound familiar? It was in part because federal regulatory schemes did not cover non-bank lenders that these financial services went on a subprime feeding frenzy. In the subprime context, the securitized subprime loans tanked the market.

Now, Congress and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are taking notice, largely because of federal laws that make it illegal for military pensions to be written over to third parties, the Times reports. But for now, the advance companies continue the search for new borrowers.

After Dorner’s Allegations of Racism, LAPD Chief Now Says He Can’t Review Fired Cops’ Cases

After Dorner's Allegations of Racism, LAPD Chief Now Says He Can't Review Fired Cops' Cases

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck won’t be able to make good on his promises to re-examine the firings of Los Angeles Police Department officers who feel racism tainted their termination after 40 officers took him up on his offer earlier this year. The city charter, Beck now says, bars him from looking into cases older than three years, the Los Angeles Times reports.

In February former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner released a rambling but scathing manifesto charging the Los Angeles Police Department with corruption and racism, then went on a shooting rampage before apparently shooting himself after holing up in a mountain cabin east of Los Angeles. Dorner’s alleged death toll was three—including the daughter of a Los Angeles police officer who sat on the review board which called for Dorner’s termination.

Dorner’s attack put LAPD Chief Charlie Beck on the defensive, even as Beck was leading the manhunt to locate him. Many critics of the LAPD recognized in Dorner’s manifesto a cogent critique. He railed against racism he said was rampant throughout the department and which was responsible for his own firing in 2009. He called out former colleagues’ harassment and discrimination of civilians. Beck, hoping to regain legitimacy, extended an offer to other cops whose jobs had been terminated, and said he would reexamine their firing.

About half of the 40 cops who asked that their cases be reexamined won’t get that opportunity though, because the city charter bars it. “Therefore the Department does not have the power to reinstate officers whose terminations occurred more than three years ago,” Gerald Chaleff, the LAPD’s special assistant for constitutional policing wrote to the former officers, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“You are being informed of this to forestall any misconceptions about the power of the department.”

North Carolina Clergy Jailed While Praying for ’21st Century George Wallace’ Governor

North Carolina Clergy Jailed While Praying for '21st Century George Wallace' Governor

A “pray-in” in front of the North Carolina state Senate building ended with a group of 17 people — elderly ministers, college students and civil rights advocates — being handcuffed and jailed yesterday.

In the first of a series of planned nonviolent actions, Rev. William Barber, the North Carolina NAACP state conference president, led prayers and songs to protest a round of Republican-backed bills that would limit Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, reduce state funding of unemployment benefits by $700 million, and cut preschool access for mostly poor and working-class children. Barber’s group was also seeking national attention to legislation that, if passed, would make voting more burdensome for college-age, elderly, undocumented and previously incarcerated people.

Barber told reporters, before getting jailed, that “rightwing extremists in the state legislature and the governor’s office are acting as if they want to go down in history as the George Wallaces of 21st century by standing in the door of progress.”

The voter bills would impose a strict photo ID law, cut early voting, strip away voting rights for the formerly incarcerated and cause college students’ parents to pay a $2,500 tax if their kids vote at a different precinct than their home residence.

Barber called the voting restrictions unconstitutional and described them as “poll taxes”—a reference to Reconstruction-era fees specifically designed to prevent impoverished, recently emancipated black people from exercising their constitutional right to vote.

The proposed voter ID bill has already cleared the state House and will come to a vote in the state Senate soon. College students across the state began staging protests last week .

“The extreme ideology coming from the North Carolina legislature, with its attacks on the poor and working people, is alarming enough,” said Penda Hair, co-director of the civil rights organization Advancement Project. “Even more shameful is that the lawmakers who have taken control of the House and Senate are now trying to rig the rules, and disenfranchise certain voters, in order to remain in power far after this legislative session.”

These arrests came on the same day that President Obama nominated Charlotte mayor and North Carolina rising political star Anthony Foxx for Secretary of Department of Transportation. Also today, a Brookings study found that last year African-American voters turned out at a higher rate than white voters in November.

Magic Johnson’s TV Network Launching All Black ‘The View’ Like Talk Show

Magic Johnson's TV Network Launching All Black 'The View' Like Talk Show

Magic Johnson’s cable network “ASPiRE” is launching a talkshow similar to “The View” that will be co-hosted by five black women.

Variety has the details on the new program dubbed “Exhale:”

Weekly yakker aims to bring candid conversation to topics including family, relationships, career, money and faith. Co-hosts are journo Angela Burt-Murray, thesp and comedian Erin Jackson, helmer Issa Rae, author and TV anchor Rene Syler and actress Malinda Williams.

“Exhale,” produced by Lynne Robinson and Black Robin Media, will be Aspire’s third original series. Victoria Mahoney serves as director on “Exhale.”

“Exhale” launched in June 2012 through Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Johnson’s entry into the television arena came courtesy of communications giant Comcast Corp. as part of its agreement with the FCC and Department of Justice to diversify the cable landscape, the L.A. Times reports.

Ad Featuring Undocumented Immigrants Asks Whether They Deserve Healthcare Too

Ad Featuring Undocumented Immigrants Asks Whether They Deserve Healthcare Too

California has more uninsured people than other some states have people. It’s also home to the largest number of undocumented immigrants in the country.

The state is launching its insurance exchange program that will make health care more affordable for residents once Obamacare kicks in but it’s planning but it’s planning on leaving undocumented immigrants out.

The California Endowment, a health foundation, is running TV ads across the state to make sure undocumented have access to healthcare. The Endowment is pushing the state to keep county-run programs open and expand Medicaid on the government’s dime.

In the 60-second ad running across the state, several undocumented immigrants look into the camera and ask if California stands for universal coverage. “Does that mean everyone, everyone? Does everyone include me? Us too?”

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