Holder Releases Millions for Criminal Defense of the Poor

Holder Releases Millions for Criminal Defense of the Poor

Today, Attorney General Eric Holder announced $6.7 million in grant money for the often underfunded and understaffed work of representing defendents of low income in court. This is one of Holder’s latest reform moves as he continues to attempt to upend the criminal justice system that has led to mass incarceration, particularly of black and Latino men and women. 

“Everyone accused of a serious crime has the right to legal representation - even if she or he cannot afford it,” said Attorney General Holder by press statement today.  

“These awards, in conjunction with other efforts we’re making to strengthen indigent defense, will fortify our public defender system and help us to meet our constitutional and moral obligation to administer a justice system that matches its demands for accountability with a commitment to fair, due process for poor defendants,” said Associate Attorney General Tony West.

Holder has often publicly lamented that the justice system is undermined by all of the budget cuts the federal government has suffered lately. The sequestration ax earlier this year took a huge chunk of the Justice Department’s budget. In a Washington Post op-ed in August he wrote that “draconian cuts have forced layoffs, furloughs … and personnel reductions through attrition. Across the country, these cuts threaten the integrity of our criminal justice system and impede the ability of our dedicated professionals to ensure due process, provide fair outcomes and guarantee the constitutionally protected rights of every criminal defendant.”

The Justice Department took another hard hit during the government shutdown, when it had to furlough over 70 percent of its staff in its Civil Rights division. 

Meanwhile, Holder, who has hedged that his last days as AG may be near (though probably not anytime soon) has made criminal justice reform and ending over-incarceration a priority in the second term of the Obama administration. In similar news, former Newark mayor Cory Booker, who will be a sworn in as a U.S. Senator tomorrow, has said that he will push for new criminal justice legislation, specifically around ending private prisons and eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent, petty drug dealers. Amanda Terkel reported at The Huffington Post that Holder has already taken a liking to Booker’s ideas. 

Settlement Reached to Block Key Parts of Alabama Immigration Law

Settlement Reached to Block Key Parts of Alabama Immigration Law

Alabama’s HB 56, widely considered the toughest immigration law in the country, has been fiercely opposed since it took effect in 2011. The so-called “show me your papers” law has been legally challenged multiple times, but yesterday a coaltion of civil rights groups agreed to a settlement that will permanently block some of the most controversial provisions in the immigration law.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the following will no longer be enforced in Alabama: 

  • Requiring schools to verify the immigration status of newly enrolled K-12 students.
  • Criminalizing the solicitation of work by unauthorized immigrants.
  • A provision that made it a crime to provide a ride to undocumented immigrants or to rent to them.
  • A provision that infringed on the ability of individuals to contract with someone who was undocumented.
  • A provision that criminalized failing to register one’s immigration status.

In addition, the state is now required to pay $350,000 towards legal expenses for the coalition filing the lawsuit. 

A Brief Halloween History on Why Blackface Is Always a Bad Idea

A Brief Halloween History on Why Blackface Is Always a Bad Idea

Over the past week or so we’ve covered a good number of blackface Halloween costumes. They’re always wicked and it’s not just because racism makes people feel bad. Over at The Grio, Blair L.M. Kelley gives a brief history of blackface:

Blackface minstrelsy first became nationally popular in the late 1820s when white male performers portrayed African-American characters using burnt cork to blacken their skin. Wearing tattered clothes, the performances mocked black behavior, playing racial stereotypes for laughs. Although Jim Crow was probably born in the folklore of the enslaved in the Georgia Sea Islands, one of the most famous minstrel performers, a white man named Thomas “Daddy” Rice brought the character to the stage for the first time. Rice said that on a trip through the South he met a runaway slave, who performed a signature song and dance called jump Jim Crow. Rice’s performances, with skin blackened and drawn on distended blood red lips surrounded by white paint, were said to be just Rice’s attempt to depict the realities of black life.

Jim Crow grew to be minstrelsy’s most famous character, in the hands of Rice and other performers Jim Crow was depicted as a runaway: “the wheeling stranger” and “traveling intruder.” The gag in Jim Crow performances was that Crow would show up and disturb white passengers in otherwise peaceful first class rail cars, hotels, restaurants, and steamships. Jim Crow performances served as an object lesson about the dangers of free black people, so much so that the segregated spaces first created in northern states in the 1850s were popularly called Jim Crow cars.  Jim Crow became synonymous with white desires to keep black people out of white, middle-class spaces.

Read the rest over at The Grio.

Issa Rae Pokes Fun at Miley Cyrus in ‘Orange is the New Black and Sexy’

Issa Rae Pokes Fun at Miley Cyrus in 'Orange is the New Black and Sexy'

Funny lady Issa Rae is starring in a new parody called “Orange is the New Black & Sexy.” Taking aim at this year’s big Netflix series based on the real life experiences of Piper Kerman, Rae and company even manage to get in a dig at Miley Cyrus. Shadow and Act has the details:

Jessa Zarubica (It’s not Porn…it’s HBO) and Issa Rae (Awkward Black Girl) star in Orange Is The New Black & Sexy, a satire on the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black. The parody pokes fun at Piper (Zarubica) as she becomes enchanted by the black prison clique led by Taystee (Issa Rae) and experiences her own metamorphosis. Other current cultural trends (Miley CyrusJulianna Hough) are referenced while paying homage to the hit series in this hysterical mash up. Orange is the New Black & Sexy is aBlack&Sexy.TV and Dayna Lynne North/Loud Sista Production, co directed by Dennis Dortch and Numa Perrier.

Rae’s been pretty prolific since she became popular from the YouTube series “Awkward Black Girl.” In addition to working with Shonda Rhimes on a pilot for ABC called “I Hate L.A. Dudes,” she’s also kept up with a steady stream of short web series’ “The Choir” and a spoof on a Black Twitter party.

Ray Kelly Gets Booed Off Stage by Brown University Students

Ray Kelly Gets Booed Off Stage by Brown University Students

Instead of giving a lecture yesterday on “Proactive Policing in America’s Biggest City,” NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly was booed off of stage by students who oppose the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy. For 30 minutes students in the audience shouted out comments such as “Racism is not up for debate,” and “How about you stop stopping and frisking people?,” effectively preventing Kelly from giving his scheduled talk. Brown’s president, Christina Paxson, sent a letter to the student body yesterday expressing regret that Kelly had not be able to speak, saying the protest prevented students interested in the topic from asking questions. But in addition to their opposition to stop-and-frisk, student protesters also opposed the honorarium Kelly was to be paid, which they requested be donated instead to organizations working to end police brutality and racial profiling.

The New York City Council passed Local Law 31 earlier this year to amend stop-and-frisk policies following a federal judge’s ruling that the practice violates people’s rights. But a lawsuit filed by exiting Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which has been endorsed by the NYPD’s largest police union, is still under consideration. 

Kerry Washington Will Host SNL This Weekend

Kerry Washington Will Host SNL This Weekend

Kerry Washington, who just announced that’s she’s pregnant (yay!),  will host this weekend’s episode of “Saturday Night Live.” The actress, who earned an Emmy nod for her role on the hit ABC series “Scandal,” has never hosted a sketch comedy show before, but there’s a first time for everything. Eminem will be the show’s musical guest and make his sixth appearance on the show to promote his new album “The Marshall Mathers LP 2,” which will be released on November 5.

Katherine Dunham Museum Faces Closure Over Unpaid Bills

Katherine Dunham Museum Faces Closure Over Unpaid Bills

There’s a museum in East St. Louis, Ill., that’s dedicated to pioneering African-American dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham. Known largely for developing a dance pedagogy that later became known as “the Dunham Technique” that’s now become a staple of modern dance classes, Dunham was also a committed social activist.

But the museum that captures that legacy is in danger of closing due to the mounting cost of its utility bills. “Ms. Dunham could’ve left her legacy anywhere. The artifacts, memorabilia it’s all here for the world to see. The risk is [real]. If I don’t have $486 by Thursday the lights will be turned off,” says Curator Laverve Backstrom, who spoke with Fox 2 Now St. Louis

Backstrom notes that the museum is staffed by volunteers and money provided by the state of Illinois can only be used to fix the building’s infrastructure and cannot be spent on its operations.

“The Dunham museum is a well- kept secret. It needs to be out there, people need to know the building is here. I started this job and intend to see it through,” Backstrom said.


Donald Glover Talks About His New FX Show ‘Atlanta’

Donald Glover Talks About His New FX Show 'Atlanta'

Donald Glover sat down for an interview with Vibe TV to talk about his decision to leave the hit NBC comedy “Community” and his plans for a new show called “Atlanta” on FX. Glover says that he wanted to be his own boss and be more in charge of his creativity, but admits that his ideas for a new series are still pretty vague. “I don’t really know what it is, I just know it’s going to be personal,” he says of the new show.

This Scholar Created a Brilliant Interactive Map of Slave Rebellions

This Scholar Created a Brilliant Interactive Map of Slave Rebellions Interactive

Vincent Brown, a professor of African and African-American History at Harvard, has made study of the Transatlantic Slave Trade accessible in a new way. Brown has created an interactive map of Jamaican slave uprisings in the 18th century called, “Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761, A Cartographic Narrative.” 

Brown teamed up with Axis Maps to do the project. “An emerging alliance between historians and mapmakers promises to enlighten public perceptions of black insurrection…As with more recent disturbances, people at the time debated whether the slave insurrection in Jamaica in 1760-61 was a spontaneous eruption or a carefully planned affair,” Brown said to a British newspaper. “Historians still debate the question, their task made more difficult by the lack of written records produced by the insurgents. Cartographic evidence developed in collaboration with Axis Maps shows that the rebellion was in fact a well-planned affair that posed a genuine strategic threat, not an indiscriminate outburst.”

David Heyman, managing director of Axis Maps, said that he hopes the maps will offer users a new and compelling way to l learn about slavery. “Interactive cartography provides a completely new method through which to interpret existing demographic and event data into a more rounded historical narrative, revealing surprising and unprecedented patterns that were previously hidden.”

To see the interactive map, go to

Expect South African ‘Kwaito’ House Music on Little Dragon’s Next Album

Expect South African 'Kwaito' House Music on Little Dragon's Next Album

Swedish electronic band Little Dragon has been busy making new music and are expected to release a new album next spring. Their new sound was heavily influenced by a trip to South Africa and the band’s immersion in that country’s popular house music, called kwaito. In the above video, lead singer Yukimi Nagano performs some of the band’s new music at this year’s Treasure Island Music Festival in San Francisco.


1. Do It Blek Sem - Dj Cleo
2. Kuyafiwa - Dj Cleo
3. Ruthless - Dj Cleo
4. Jezebel - Professor feat. Oskido & Dj Tira
5. Mambotjie - TKZee
6. unknown name - Abafana Bovenvane from their cassette SIBALI. label is USM and the cassette no is ZGAL 2080
7. Africa Natives (silly willy) - Mzee
8. Mono T Jam - Oskido & Master Wakes
9. Akhonto feat. Lelethu - Dj Clock
10. Terminator - Dj Gukwa
11. Ndiya Ndiya feat. Zulu Naja - Dj Cleo
12. Track 7 - Dj Christos from Afrodessia mp3 disc1 …. LOL (sorry this is all i got)
13. Djs Manifesto - Oskido
14. Banane Mavoko - Black Motion feat. Jah Rich

Listen to the 47-minute mix over at The Fader.

FBI Launches Independent Investigation Into Andy Lopez Shooting

FBI Launches Independent Investigation Into Andy Lopez Shooting

Thirteen-year-old Andy Lopez’s death has sparked demonstrations and vigils across Sonoma County, Calif., as details emerge surrounding the police shooting. According to eyewitness accounts, Lopez, who was carrying a toy assault rifle, was only verbally warned once before deputy Erick Gelhaus, 48, opened fire. NBC Bay Area reports Gelhaus has substantial weapons training.

The Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy who fired the shots that killed a 13-year-old  boy carrying a replica assault rifle last week is a firearms expert, Iraq War veteran, and a regular contributor to magazines and blogs, where in one article, he wrote about needing to have a “mean gene” to stay alive in the “kill zone.”

Police reports also revealed that only 10 seconds elapsed between the deputy’s initial call regarding a suspect and when they opened fire. The FBI has launched an independent investigation into the Lopez case, which the local police chief says they will cooperate with fully. 

A demonstration in Santa Rosa is currently being live-streamed, with supporters raising awareness on Twitter with the hashtag #JusticeForAndy

Steve McQueen Working With Russell Simmons on HBO Drama

Steve McQueen Working With Russell Simmons on HBO Drama

While Steve McQueen’s latest film, “12 Years a Slave,” gets ready for its national theater debut on November 1, news is already surfacing about the director’s next project. According to Deadline, McQueen is working with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, “World War Z” co-writer Matthew Michael Carnahan, and Oscar-winning producers Canning and Emile Sherman on a drama that explores a young black man’s experiences navigating New York City’s high society. The project is reportedly in development with HBO.

More from Deadline:

We hear the project, described by some as “Six Degrees Of Separation meets Shame” [McQueen’s second feature film]is being fast tracked, with casting choices already being explored for a potential shoot before McQueen starts his next movie. McQueen, Carnahan and Simmons executive produce with Canning and Sherman.

(h/t Deadline via Shadow and Act)

Watch What People Say to Teenage Girls on the Street

Watch What People Say to Teenage Girls on the Street

The vast majority of women, at least 80 percent, will experience street harassment at some point in their lives. This harassment leads many women and girls to feel violated and unsafe in public spaces, and causes many LGBT people to avoid certain public spaces altogether. Young women from FAAN Mail (Fostering Activism and Alternatives Now!), a media literacy and advocacy group created by young women of color in Philadelphia, made a video to share some of the worst things people have said to them on the street. The video was shared in advance of an upcoming City Council hearing on street harassment in Philadelphia on November 7, coordinated by the group HollabackPHILLY, who is raising awareness about the issue on social media with the hashtag #EndSH.

(h/t NewBlackMan)

Queer Comics of Color Look at the Racism of Hipster Halloweens

Queer Comics of Color Look at the Racism of Hipster Halloweens

Julio Salgado and Tina Vasquez have an ongoing comic series over at CultureStrike called “Liberty for All” and this week’s focuses on racist Halloween costumes. It’s only Tuesday but this week’s already been filled with disgusting and racist get-ups that have popped up all over the Internet. “Liberty for All” offers up a refreshing take on things that, at the very least, shows that you’re not alone in your Halloween anxiety. Take a look.

Testimony at Senate ‘Stand Your Ground’ Hearing Gets Bizarre

Testimony at Senate 'Stand Your Ground' Hearing Gets Bizarre

This morning, the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, two unarmed African-American teenagers who were killed in Florida by men claiming they needed to defend themselves, testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. The hearing was about the role that “Stand Your Ground” laws played in the deaths of Martin and Davis. But Republicans on that committee stated that “Stand Your Ground” laws — which give immunity to a person who kills another when he or she feel his or her life is threatened — had nothing to do with those teens’ deaths, nor with their race. 

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said in his opening statement that criminal law enforcement is a states’ rights issue, and hence Congress has no jurisdiction presiding over a hearing that discusses laws like “Stand Your Ground.”

“It raises the question of, what is the purpose of this hearing?” asked Cruz. “It also raises the question of whether this hearing is part of a broader political agenda.”

That agenda, Cruz suggested, was about quelling free speech and blocking citizens’ constitutional rights to possess weapons. 

Cruz also said that the hearing was being used by people who want to “enflame racial tensions.”

Said Cruz, “I thought it a remarkable statement that…no one could reasonablly believe that Stand Your Ground laws protect those in the African-American communities who are victims of violent crimes. I think that’s a remarkable statement on many, many fronts, including the fact that a great many African-Americans find themselves victims of violent crime, and have asserted this defense to defend themselves, defend their families, defend their children.”

One of the people who testified in the hearing was John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, who stated that Stand Your Ground laws were biased against white people. Said Lott, “Blacks, who are most likely to be victims of violent crime, simply have to defend themselves more often. If there is any evidence that Stand Your Ground laws are applied with bias, it is that their application has been applied with bias against whites, not blacks.”

You should read Lott’s testimony where he provides his logic for why he reached this conclusion. 

Harvard professor Ronald Sullivan Jr., director of the Criminal Justice Institute, came to a different conclusion in his testimony, though, showing a clear bias in Stand Your Ground states when the shooter is white and the victim is black. From Sullivan’s testimony:

“In non-Stand Your Ground states, for example, whites are 250 percent more likely to prevail on a theory of justified homicide of a black person as compared to a white victim. By contrast, in Stand Your Ground states whites are 354 percent more likely to prevail when the victim is black.” (emphasis is mine)

What this meant in the trial for George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin: “Zimmerman’s acquittal was made possible because Florida’s Stand Your Ground and concealed weapons laws conspired to set the perfect background conditions for an acquittal,” said Sullivan. “To Zimmerman, Martin’s blackness served as a crude proxy for criminality. This is racial profiling in its purest and ugliest form. And, this ugly form of racial profiling led to the untimely and tragic death of an unarmed American child.”

Cruz later countered that the Zimmerman trial was not about Stand Your Ground nor about race. Said Cruz, “I recognize for the families, that you are simply mourning the loss of your son, but there are other players who are seeking to do a great deal more based on what happened that Florida night.”

But Davis’s mother Lucia McBath was not confused about what she was seeking to do at the hearing. 

“These laws empowered [the killer’s] prejudiced beliefs and subsequent rage over my son’s own life, his liberty and pursuit of happiness,” said McBath. “There will be no sense made of any of it, unless I and the families of other victims speak out to assure this kind of predatory violence ends.”

Disney Media Set to Co-Produce ‘Desperate Housewives Africa’

Disney Media Set to Co-Produce 'Desperate Housewives Africa'

Desperate Housewives is going to Nollywood. The Associated Press reported this week that Disney Media Distribution EMEA is teaming up with Nigeria’s EbonyLife TV to produce a new series called “Desperate Housewives Africa.” The series is modeled after the long-running ABC series that starred Eva Longoria and followed the soap opera-esque travails of middle class women in suburbia.

EbonyLife TV’s CEO Mo Abudu told reporters that the new series will have “an African soul,” feature a pan-African cast and showcase fashion by Nigerian designers. It’s set to debut in the summer of 2014.

Disney EMA’s general manager Giovanni Mastrangelo said that the show is an opportunity to build on Desperate Housewives’ international brand and offers “the opportunity to engage African audiences through locally relevant and entertaining storytelling.” Versions of the show have already been produced in Turkey, Argentina and Brazil.

(h/t Huffpost Black Voices)

Federal Judge Blocks Portion of Texas Abortion Law

Federal Judge Blocks Portion of Texas Abortion Law

Today a federal judge dealt a blow to HB 2, Texas’s omnibus abortion law set to take effect tomorrow. Among other provisions, the law forced abortion providers to have (medically unnecessary) admitting privileges to local hospitals, a requirement that reproductive health advocates said would force them to stop providing abortions. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel found the provision unconstitutional. From ThinkProgress:

In his opinion, Yeakel noted that the “admitting-privileges provision is without a rational basis and places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.” Similar logic has led several federal judges to block identical provisions in other states. Yeakel did not strike down the provision related to medication-induced abortions.

The ruling also does not affect several of the other provisions in Texas’ omnibus law, such as the requirement that abortion clinics need to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers — which won’t take effect until 2014 — or the ban that outlaws abortion procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

A Black Man Won a Nascar National Race For the First Time in 50 Years

A Black Man Won a Nascar National Race For the First Time in 50 Years

Darrell Wallace Jr. became the first black man to win a national Nascar race in 50 years after at Martinsville Speedway in southern Virginia on Saturday.

Nascar has had its share of image problems and was quick to celebrate Wallace’s victory. “We congratulate Darrell Wallace Jr. on his first national series victory, one that will be remembered as a remarkable moment in our sport’s history,” said Nascar chairman and CEO Brian France.

CNN noted that no black driver had won a national Nascar race since December 1, 1963 when Wendell Scott became the first African-American to win at Nascar top level at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla.



North Dakota Town Keeps Battling White Supremacist

North Dakota Town Keeps Battling White Supremacist

Paul Craig Cobb’s plans to create a white power haven in Leith, N.D., are being thwarted by local residents. Two years ago he began buying up more than a dozen properties in Leith with the hopes of creating his white supremacist enclave, and currently lives in a house without running water or sewer service, along with three other white men and two children. Now, the townspeople are fighting back by trying to get two ordinances passed: one that would require him to put a water and sewer line on his property, and another which would prevent people from camping out on his properties for more than 10 consecutive days. 

Leith has only 23 residents, and the town’s sole black resident—Bobby Harper—says he and his wife will remain in the town even if the white supremacists do arrive, because it is his home. The townsfolk have been fiercely opposed to Cobb’s plans since they came to light, and recently a group of Native Lakota and Dakota women burned a Nazi flag in protest. Councilman Lee Cook said plainly they would do everything they could to prevent Cobb from seeing his plan through. 

In addition to his current white supremacist project, Cobb is also wanted in Canada for “willful promotion of hatred,” though the Canadian government will not extradite him for this crime. He has been explicit about his intentions to take over city government in Leith. 

Julianne Hough Apologizes for Blackface Halloween Costume

Julianne Hough Apologizes for Blackface Halloween Costume

Julianne Hough has offered up an apology for dressing up in blackface as the character “Crazy Eyes” from “Orange is the New Black.” The professional ballroom dance and champ of “Dancing With the Stars” issued the apology on Saturday after photos of her costume went viral. 

“I am a huge fan of the show Orange is the New Black, actress Uzo Aduba, and the character she has created. It certainly was never my intention to be disrespectful or demeaning to anyone in any way. I realize my costume hurt and offended people and I truly apologize,” Hough tweeted.

(h/t USA Today)

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