i am

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harlem, usa
same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. mjt975@msn.com.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Mo'Ne Davis: 2014 AP Female Athlete of the Year

13 year-old mo'ne davis on monday was named female athlete of the year by the associated press. the award is voted on by news directors and u.s. editors, and davis became the youngest winner in history. she beat out mount saint joseph freshman lauren hill - who played her first college basketball game while battling terminal cancer - and 18-time major tennis champion serena williams.

davis tossed a two-hitter to help philadelphia beat nashville 4-0 in the little league world series opener for both teams. davis, the first girl to play for a u.s. team in south williamsport since 2004, had eight strikeouts and no walks. her team was later eliminated after losing to teams from las vegas and chicago. but that was only the beginning...

davis appeared on the cover of sports illustrated. her jersey is displayed in baseball's hall of fame and was named sports kid of the year by sports illustrated kids. she met the obamas at the white house, starred in a spike lee directed car commercial (the ncaa said it wouldn't hurt her eligibility), marched in the macy's thanksgiving day parade with her teammates, and presented soul train's song of the year award to pharell williams.   

the personable teenager is a gifted three-sport athlete. just an eighth-grader, davis is a point guard for her high school varsity basketball team, and plays soccer. also, she's an honor student who handled the media attention with grace, maturity and poise. she said, "a lot of adults around me help me out, taught me to be respectful, to be calm during everything and not let anything get to you." 

davis hurled whiffle balls to jimmy fallon on nbc's tonight show, threw out the first pitch at game four of the world series, and signed a book deal. "it's been really fun, got to do a lot of things, meet a lot of cool people," she said. "my favorite thing to do was playing in williamsport or going to the white house. the obamas just seemed like a regular couple, no different from anyone else," davis said. 

while most folks still talk about her baseball feats, davis concentrates on basketball. "it's making me a lot better, helping me make decisions. in middle school i can get away with small things. the girls now are a lot taller so i'm working on my jump shot and ball handling a lot." she aspires to play for the university of connecticut, and, eventually, the wnba.

steve bandura, a recreation leader for the philadelphia parks and recreation department, and director of the anderson monarchs sports programs, has helped coach davis since she started playing sports. his son, scott, was the catcher for the taney dragons - their now-famous little league team. bandura says davis has maintained her "natural personality" with the celebrity status and media onslaught.

"she's still the same person, still a kid who wants to do kid things. she has fun meeting celebrities and all that but the bottom line is she loves to play sports, go to school and have fun. the adults make a bigger deal out of it. her teammates understand she's breaking down barriers and they're proud of her. they've been together so long, it's like she's their sister," bandura said.

on the pitching mound, davis embodied the confidence of a veteran. her demeanor, focus and presence delighted baseball fans young and old from all walks of life. davis is clearly aware of her newfound place in society as a role model. her message to people - especially girls: "always follow your dreams. if there's something people tell you that you can't do it, go for it."   



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

South Carolina Judge vacates 1944 conviction of black male teen

a south carolina judge on wednesday vacated the 1944 conviction of a 14 year-old black teenager. judge carmen tevis mullen said the boy, george stinney, jr., did not receive a fair trial in the murders of two white girls. 

stinney was convicted by an all-white jury after a one-day trial and a ten-minute jury deliberation. he died in the electric chair less than 90 days after the killings of betty june binnicker, 11, and mary emma thames, 7. stinney was the youngest person executed in america in the past century.

judge mullen said she was not overturning the case on its merits, although scant records made the case almost impossible to relitigate. the judge said few or no defense witnesses testified and it was "highly likely," the boy's confession to white police officers - amidst prevailing racial segregation - was coerced.   

"from time to time we are called to look back to examine our still-recent history and correct injustice where possible. i can think of no greater injustice than a violation of one's constitutional rights, which has been proven to me in this case by a preponderance of the evidence standard," judge mullen wrote.

the girls disappeared on march 23, 1944, after leaving home in the small mill town of alcolu on their bicycles to look for wildflowers. they were found the next morning in a ditch with their skulls crushed. stinney was taken into custody the same day and confessed within hours, according to the ruling.

last year, members of stinney's family petitioned for a new trial. his sister, anne ruffner, 77, testified in a january hearing: her brother could not have killed the girls because he was with her that day. citing the lack of a transcript from the original trial, no surviving physical evidence and only a handful of official documents, judge mullen firmly overturned the conviction.

ruffner, and two other siblings - both were run out of town shortly after stinney's arrest - were pleased with the judge's ruling, said the family attorney matthew burgess. "this is something that's been weighing on them for seven decades now. they are happy to hear that their brother has been exonerated," burgess said.      

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Kobe Bryant passes Michael Jordan for third place on all-time NBA scoring list

kobe bryant on sunday night hit two free throws at the 5:24 mark of the second quarter during the los angeles lakers game against the minnesota timberwolves. bryant surpassed hall-of-famer michael jordan - his idol and mentor - for third place on the nba's all-time scoring list with 32,293 points.

bryant was immediately hugged by his teammates, his coaches and his opponents. the fans in minnesota showed their appreciation with a standing ovation. timberwolves owner glen taylor presented him with a game ball and kobe waved to the crowd with a warm smile. he finished with 26 points in their win. ironically, minnesota is where bryant played his first nba game.

jordan, in a statement to the associated press, said, "i congratulate kobe on reaching this milestone. he's obviously a great player, with a strong work ethic and has an equally strong passion for the game of basketball. i've enjoyed watching his game evolve over the years, and i look forward to seeing what he accomplishes next."

bryant is a little over 4,600 points behind hall-of-famer and longtime utah jazz power forward karl malone, who is in second place. hall-of-famer and six-time nba champion kareem abdul-jabbar is the league's all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points. afterwards, kobe was asked on nba-tv if he wanted to eclipse the record. bryant said, "thinking about 38,000 points makes my back spasm."

the lakers honored bryant by decking the team's charter plane with some garland, congratulatory signs and a chocolate-frosted cake. bryant, 36, is a five-time nba champion, 16-time all-star, 15-time all-nba team member and 12-time all-defensive team member. but the lakers are 8-17: on pace to win just 25 games. bryant's two-year, $48.5 million contract runs out in 2016. 



Friday, December 05, 2014

Family of Black male teen in Cleveland Fatally Shot by White male police officer Files Lawsuit

the family of a young boy slain last month by a police officer in cleveland, ohio filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on friday. the suit names the city, and two officers involved, a day after the u.s. department of justice (doj) found the city's police systematically uses excessive force against civilians.

tamir rice, 12, was tragically shot on november 22 while carrying a replica gun - which typically fires plastic pellets. officer timothy loehmann killed rice just two seconds after his police car pulled up beside rice at a park. frank garmback, the second officer named in the suit, was driving the car.

both officers are white. rice is black.

the officers confronted rice "in a surprise fashion and fired multiple shots at him without any adequate investigation," the suit said. rice was described as an african-american sixth grader who loves basketball. the lawsuit also noted loehmann had resigned from a suburban police department after a bad review which cited his immaturity and "dismal" handgun performance.

the doj report on thursday highlighted more than a dozen incidents to uncover a troubling pattern of departmental misconduct. u.s. attorney general eric holder launder the investigation: it revealed officers shooting at low-risk suspects, using chemical spray and tasers on handcuffed people and employing unreasonable force on the impaired or mentally ill.

jeffrey follmer, president of the cleveland police patrolman's association, said he hoped the federal investigation would result in more training and more officers on the street. ohio governor john kasich on friday announced the creation of a state task force to improve relations between communities and their police departments.        



Wednesday, December 03, 2014

No Indictment for the NYPD officer whose illegal chokehold killed Eric Garner

a staten island grand jury chose today not to indict the policeman whose illegal chokehold ultimately killed eric garner july 17, 2014. daniel pantaleo, the 29 year-old white officer who murdered garner, a black male father of six, made his first public statement since garner's death. pantaleo said, "it was never my intention to harm anyone."

upon learning of the grand jury decision, eric garner's widow, esaw, told the new york daily news, "oh my god. are you serious? i'm very disappointed. you can see in the video that he (the cop) was wrong. garner's 19 year-old son, eric snipes, said, "oh man, this is not fair. it's not fair how he could get away with murder. i feel disgusted. i'm never going to see my pops again."

the grand jury consisted of 15 white and eight black or latino jurors. grand juries, by law, operate in secrecy and hear only evidence presented by prosecutors. defense lawyers are barred from the process and 12 of the jurors have to agree for a final decision to be made. 

staten island district attorney daniel m. donovan, jr. impaneled the grand jury in september and they heard testimony from the officers involved in garner's arrest. but an indictment was only considered against officer pantaleo; the other cops received immunity.  

president obama weighed-in after consulting with u.s. attorney general eric holder. obama said, "this is an issue we've been dealing with for too long and it's time for us to make more progress than we've made. we're seeing too many instances where people do not have confidence that folks are being treated fairly. when anybody in the country is not being treated equally under the law, it is my job as president to solve it. 

cops approached garner, 43, in front of a tompkinsville beauty supply store accusing him of selling loose cigarettes. a cellphone video showed garner arguing with the cops when pantaleo jumps him from behind and place him in a chokehold - banned by the nypd in 1994 after the killing of anthony baez who was placed in one - while dragging him to the ground with his knee firmly on garner's neck.

garner suffered from asthma. he screamed repeatedly, "i can't breathe, i can't breathe, i can't breathe." the next day pantaleo and his partner, officer justin d'amico, were put on desk duty. police commissioner william bratton on july 22 ordered all 35,000 nypd officers be retrained in the use of force. state senator bill perkins declared at a city hall rally, "this was a murder."

on july 31 new york city mayor bill de blasio joined rev. al sharpton and other community leaders in a round-table discussion on historically oppressive relationships between the black and latino communities in nyc, and the police. bratton was also in attendance. on the following day, the city medical examiner rules garner's death was a homicide.

in october, garner's family announced they plan to file a $75 million wrongful death lawsuit. they intend to name the city, the nypd and eight police officers as defendants. embattled attorney sanford rubenstein will represent the garner family in court. 

mayor de blasio called wednesday "a painful day for so many new yorkers." but after speaking with holder, the mayor said the justice department will look into pantaleo's actions. de blasio said, "the federal government is engaged and clearly poised to act." esaw garner also spoke with holder, who assured her the feds would investigate her husband's senseless killing.      


Monday, December 01, 2014

ACLU files lawsuit against Iowa regarding felons' voting rights

the american civil liberties union (aclu) of iowa recently filed a lawsuit against the state of iowa. the suit challenges the constitutionality of the state's disenfranchisement laws prohibiting anyone convicted of a felon from voting.

earlier this year, the iowa supreme court questioned whether all felonies necessarily constitute an "infamous crime," which the iowa constitution states would disqualify a person from voting. the court previously ruled any crime punishable by a prison sentence should be considered as such; the legislature in 1994 defined the term as a felony.

the lawsuit asks the court "to declare that the iowa constitution prohibits the disenfranchisement of people convicted of lower-level felonies (such as non-violent drug offenses); and seeks an injunction to stop the state from bringing criminal charges against iowans with past lower-level felonies who register to vote."

aclu filed the lawsuit on behalf of kelli jo griffin, an iowa woman who lost her right to vote in 2008 following a non-violent drug conviction. griffin's lawyers told her once she completed probation in january 2013 she'd be allowed to vote - which was the state's policy under former governor, democrat tom vilsack after he issued an executive order.

griffin says she didn't know this policy had been reversed in 2011 by republican governor terry branstad when she cast her ballot last year. the state charged griffin with voter fraud, and she could have faced up to 15 years in prison. after three months and $10,000 in legal fees, the jury acquitted her of all charges: yet she remains blocked from voting under current state law.

iowa is one of four states banning all felons from voting unless they receive clemency from the governor. when branstad took office he required an application to the governor, including a credit check. since his felony disenfranchisement policy went into effect, about 8,000 iowans have completed their felony sentences. 

but only 12 had their voting rights restored.

the provision is breeding confusion among bureaucrats and former offenders. new data released friday revealed iowa disenfranchised at least 12 legitimate voters because of errors maintaining the felon database. secretary of state matt schultz said the data is so "filled with so many inaccuracies that it could take years to fix."

u.s. attorney general eric holder spoke on criminal justice reform at georgetown university law center in february. holder weighed in on the policy reversal of branstad. regarding the governor's actions, holder said, "that's moving backwards, not forward. it is unwise, it is unjust and it is not in keeping with our democratic values. these laws deserve to not only be considered, but repealed."


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Grand Jury Decision: No Indictment for Police Officer Darren Wilson

a grand jury on monday decided not to indict police officer darren wilson. on august 9, wilson, a white male, shot and killed michael brown, an unarmed 18 year-old black male in ferguson, a suburb of st. louis, missouri. 

the announcement was made last night by st. louis county prosecutor robert mcculloch. most grand jury proceedings are swift and simple: a few witnesses are called, the prosecutor makes a case for an indictment and the jurors vote. but this grand jury met for an extraordinary long session, hearing what mcculloch said was "absolutely everything," which could be considered evidence or testimony.

what happens in the grand jury room is almost always kept secret. but the controversial prosecutor insisted on making the transcripts of the proceedings available to the public immediately after the session concluded. unlike most defendants, wilson testified before the grand jury.
the grand jurors met in a st.louis county courthouse on 25 separate days. they heard 70 hours of testimony from about 60 witnesses. they reviewed forensic reports, medical documents, police radio logs and tapes of f.b.i. interviews with bystanders.

after three months of hearing evidence, the grand jury began its deliberations last friday at 3:04 pm. by monday afternoon, they were finished. the jury was comprised of nine whites and three blacks - seven women and five men. mcculloch released thousands of pages of documents to the public last night. he said the testimony and many eyewitnesses did not match the physical evidence.  

wilson testified in september. wilson said brown's face, after being stopped on canfield drive, "looked like a demon." he said brown reached into his vehicle, fought him for his gun and was so physically overpowering he "felt like a five year-old holding onto hulk hogan." wilson said brown made "a grunting, like aggravated sound," as he ran towards him. wilson fired seven shots: one was fatal.

in 2011, the number of times the new york police department stopped young black men exceeded the number of young black men in the city. young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police than their white peers - mainly at the hands of white police officers.

michele alexander is an acclaimed civil rights lawyer and legal scholar. alexander is also the author of 'the new jim crow.' she says the u.s. today has a "system of social control unparalleled in world history." no other country imprisons as much as its ethnic or racial people. in fact, the u.s. currently incarcerates a greater percentage of its black population than south africa did - under apartheid.

alexander poignantly writes in her book, "the fact that more than half of the young black men in many large american cities are currently under the control of the criminal justice system (or saddled with criminal records) is not - as many argue - just a symptom of poverty or poor choices, but rather evidence of a new racial caste system at work."

melissa harris-perry is a renowed author, cultural critic, msnbc talk show host, political commentator and wake university professor of politics and international affairs. perry said, "from 2006 to 2012, a white police officer killed a black person at least twice a week in this country." can you imagine this country's reaction if black police officers killed white boys at all - or, in similar numbers?

black men encounter constant surveillance (jordan dunn, eric garner, treyvon martin), violence (sean bell, amadou diallo, michael griffith) and shockingly high chances of correctional supervision for matters the rest of the population does not. black men also face discrimination in education, financial services, housing, political and voting rights after exiting prison. 

marcus garvey said, "people who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it." the world will never know if and/or how michael brown would have evolved from teenager into manhood. the brown family will have to endure the coming holiday season with one less member. this writer feels michael brown was wrong for stealing cigars...

and darren wilson was wrong for killing him. 



Saturday, November 22, 2014

Who inspires this NFL player to advocate for domestic violence today?

pittsburgh steelers veteran cornerback william gay vividly remembers arriving at the hospital and not knowing why his family members were crying uncontrollably. gay was just seven years old, but he sensed there was something wrong.

gay soon learned his mother had been shot in the back three times. her assailant was gay's stepfather, who shot himself in the head, as the .38 caliber revolver landed between the bodies. sadly, he died instantly, while gay's mother, carolyn hall, pased five hours after being in the hospital.

although he grew up in a challenging tallahassee, florida housing project, gay was unaware of the problems at home between his mother and stepfather. there was no fighting or visible bruises on his mother. the painful stigma of domestic violence inherits a community-based, don't ask, don't tell policy - by default. 

gay, 29, says, "i dealt with a lot of anger because i felt like, why me? i threw out that question a lot. i got to a point where i didn't care. i felt like no one cared about me. didn't care about school. i lashed out at people."

on march 14, 1992, gay lost his mother to domestic violence. gay was unequivocally shattered but his uncle, army veteran ronald hall, offered him guidance, direction and tough love. hall said, "william, you cannot blame the world for what is happening. in order for you to be a better person, you better let it go. you're going to end up in jail or dead. he took it to heart."

gay received a scholarship to the university of louisville before entering the national football league as a fifth-round draft pick for the steelers in 2007. just one year later, pittsburgh won the super bowl and gay was now part of a championship team.

in the spirit of humility, gay has worked at the women's center and shelter of greater pittsburgh for many years. he speaks to mothers about domestic abuse. "to hear it from someone who was a child whose mother was murdered really resonates," said shirl regan, chief executive officer at the shelter. "those talks are done off-camera. nobody sees that. that's on his time. he does that because it comes from his heart."

the nfl - and their embattled commissioner roger goodell - has zero credibility with past domestic violence policies. most players, among them jovonnie belcher, greg hardy, ray mcdonald, adrian peterson and ray rice have seen their arrests, charges and/or indictments handled either lightly, or without sanction. gay is in the unique position of helping players avoid violence against wives, partners or children.

many nfl players use pink cleats, towels and wristbands in october to raise breast cancer awareness. but gay faces a possible fine: he wore purple shoes in honor of domestic violence awareness month. he proudly bears a tattoo on his arm reminding him of his mother's tragic death. gay says, "even though she wasn't here, my mom molded me into the man i am today. i still pray to her all the time."            

Friday, November 21, 2014

National Basketball Players Association Prepared to Appeal Jeff Taylor 24-Game Suspension

national basketball players association executive director michele roberts wrote a firm statement on thursday suggesting the union is prepared to appeal the recent 24-game suspension of charlotte hornets small forward jeffrey taylor. 

roberts said the suspension is "excessive, without precedent and a violation of the collective bargaining agreement (cba)." nba commissioner adam silver on wednesday announced taylor would serve his suspension after he plead guilty to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in michigan. taylor is currently on paid leave.

under terms silver established, taylor would get credit for the 11 games he's already missed this season, but would have to forfeit salary for all 24 games. roberts contends the ruling exceeds silver's power under the cba.

roberts said, "the cba contemplates a minimum 10-game suspension in any case involving a conviction for a violent felony, including domestic violence. in contrast, jeff taylor was charged with a misdemeanor that is likely going to be dismissed at the end of a probationary period." she said the union appreciates the societal overtones of domestic violence, but "the commissioner is not entitled to rewrite the rules," under the cba. 

silver said, "it is appropriate in light of mr. taylor's conduct, the need to deter similar conduct going forward and the evolving social consensus - with which we fully concur - that professional sports leagues like the nba must respond to such incidents in a more rigorous way."

according to the nba's investigation, on sept. 24 taylor was in an east lansing hotel with a woman he had a romantic relationship with. taylor was drinking heavily, and they argued loud enough for the hotel security to be called. he shoved her out of their room and into the hallway, which caused her to hit her head on a door.

taylor grabbed her by the arm. the woman had a bump on her head, and marks on her arm - which police later verified - but she refused medical attention. taylor punched a hole in the wall, and was arrested by east lansing police, whom called him "belligerent and uncooperative." he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence and destruction of hotel property oct. 29, and was sentenced to 18 months probation.  



Sunday, November 16, 2014

2014 Major League Baseball Year-End Awards

listed below are the major league baseball year-end award winners for 2014:

rookie of the year, american league - jose abreu, chicago white sox.
rookie of the year, national league - jacob degrum, new york mets.

manager of the year, american league - buck showalter, baltimore orioles. 
manager of the year, national league - matt williams, washington nationals.

cy young, american league - corey kluber, cleveland indians.
cy young, national league - clayton kershaw, los angeles dodgers.

most valuable player, american league - mike trout, los angeles angels.
most valuable player, national league - clayton kershaw, l.a. dodgers.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

California Voters Pass Proposition 47 on Sentencing Reform

voters in california on tuesday passed proposition 47, a progressive ballot measure re-classifying six low-level property and drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. these offenses include check fraud under $950, shoplifting and theft, as well as personal use of most illegal drugs.

state savings resulting from this initiative are estimated to be $150 million annually. the money will be used to support mental health and drug treatment, school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, and other programs designed to expand alternatives to incarceration. 

this historic vote allows individuals currently serving prison terms for eligible offenses to apply to have their felony sentences reduced to misdemeanors, and persons who have completed their felony sentence to apply to the court to have their conviction changed to a misdemeanor. about 10,000 incarcerated people will be eligible for resentencing under the new law.

since california reached its peak prison population in 2006, prisoner counts have decreased every year. this dramatic change was primarily driven by the state's efforts to comply with a court order to reduce prison overcrowding. 

in a landmark 2011 decision, the u.s. supreme court in brown v. plata found the provision of health care in the california prison system to be constitutionally inadequate due to severe overcrowding. the state was required to reduce this figure to 137.5% of design capacity within two years.

also in 2011, california governor jerry brown signed assembly bill 109, commonly referred to as "prison realignment," which shifted to counties the responsibility for monitoring, tracking and incarcerating lower-level offenders previously bound for state prison. 

through assembly bill 109, california has made substantial reductions in its prison population, but has yet to reach the court-stipulated level. changes in policy and practice have resulted in higher jail populations, nonetheless, significant numbers of people are now under community service - rather than state prison.      

over 40,000 individuals are serving life prison terms in california. most were convicted of serious offenses, but research shows upon release many have low levels of recidivism. long-term sentencing reform works when focused on enacting policies and practices to provide opportunities to distinguish among individual circumstances, accomplishments in prison and degree of risk to public safety.   

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Voters in San Francisco Approve Minimum Wage Hike For $15 An Hour

voters in san francisco on tuesday approved a minimum wage of $15 across the city, joining seattle, which raised it's pay to the same amount in june. like folks in seattle, workers in san francisco will see their wages augmented incrementally. by next may it'll be $12.25, and climb to $13 in 2016. in 2018, it will be $15: or, $31,000 a year for a full-time minimum wage employees.

minimum wage also got a boost in four traditionally conservative states after the midterm elections yesterday. in alaska, the hourly pay rate for low-wage workers increases to $9.75 by 2016. in arkansas, their pay is boosted to $8.50, while nebraska voters approved a new hourly salary of $9.00. south dakota workers next year will get $8.50.

the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. fast food workers and low-wage retail employees over the last two years organized living wage campaigns across the country. their advocacy led to strikes, protests and arrests for some. president obama supported a bill to raise wages to $10.10 per hour but it died on the senate floor in april. 

some large retail chains have raised hourly wages for their employees. gap, inc. - the parent company of the gap, banana republic and old navy - announced a new $10 minimum wage back in february. obama showed his appreciation the following month when he bought sweaters for the first lady and their daughters at a new york store.

workers at walmart, however, continue to advocate for a raise in salary. last month, 42 low-wage retail workers and their allies were arrested outside walmart heiress alice walton's park avenue co-op apartment in manhattan. inspired by voters in san francisco and seattle, they demand $15 an hour for their services.

some of their overworked and undervalued employees carried signs which read, 'walmart stole my american dream.' they're supported by members of unions, including the ufcw 888 local. the 888 local boasts a membership of over 10,000 workers in connecticut, new jersey, new york and pennsylvania. before marching, union organizers made sure only workers and allies without prior arrest records engaged in civil disobedience.


Saturday, November 01, 2014

Former Florida A&M Band Member Convicted in Hazing Death

a former florida a&m band member accused of being the ringleader of a brutal hazing ritual known as "crossing bus c," which ultimately led to the senseless death of a drum major, was convicted on friday of manslaughter and felony hazing. 

prosecutors said dante martin, 27, was known as the "president of bus c." they said martin organized initiations requiring fellow band members to try and make their way through a pounding gauntlet of drumsticks, fists and mallets from the front of the bus to the back of the bus.   

after a football game in november 2011, two other band members went through the bus - and the hazing - before robert champion, 26, of decatur, georgia. after the ritual, champion said he had trouble breathing. he subsequently vomited, collapsed and died in a parking lot.

martin was convicted of misdemeanor hazing counts in their beatings. he will be sentenced january 9, and he was taken into custody. champion's parents sat silently as the verdicts were read. martin sat with his head down. manslaughter is punishable by up to 15 years in prison in florida.

the senseless death of champion eventually cast an ominous cloud over the school's nationally acclaimed band, which played at super bowls, and before u.s. presidents. the band was suspended for more than a year after his death; a number of school officials resigned in the aftermath. several other former band members have pleaded guilty to lesser charges, and three others await trial.

defense attorneys told jurors the ritual was more akin to a competition, and there was no actual hazing. they said champion and the others voluntarily participated. during closing arguments, defense attorney richard escobar said, "you can't take it in isolation and act like it was just any other band. brutal as it was, foolish as it was...it was competitive."

but prosecutor jeff ashton said testimony made it clear band members sought a certain measure of acceptance, brotherhood and respect when "crossing bus c." ashton humbly challenged the defense's argument. he said, "tradition didn't kill robert champion, tradition isn't to blame. tradition is not an excuse...it's not a defense to those that got caught."            

Thursday, October 30, 2014

San Francisco Giants Win 2014 World Series

the san francisco giants beat the kansas city royals 3-2 in a thrilling game seven to win their third world series in five years. the giants are the first road team since the pittsburgh pirates in 1979 to win a game seven; they did so in front of a sellout crowd of 40,535 fans at kauffman stadium in missouri. 

giants left-hander madison bumgarner was named world series most valuable player. bumgarner won two of the four games, saved one and threw more innings this postseason than any pitcher in history. he has the lowest career earned runs average (era) in world series history at 0.25, and, after his five shutout innings of relief in game seven, lowered his era in this series to 0.43 - the lowest since hall of famer sandy kaufax in 1965.

bumgarner said, "i wasn't thinking about innings or pitch count, i was just thinking of making outs. i thank the team for leaving me in there and trusting me to go out there." giants manager bruce bochy said, "it's incredible what he did. truly, it's historic. there's no way i would take him out. i just jumped on that horse and rode it." 

royals manager ned yost said, "yeah, it was hopeless." royals designated hitter billy butler said, "he's definitely the difference in this world series. if there's one guy who separated himself, and carried his team, it's bumgarner." giants starting pitcher and injured teammate matt cain said, "he didn't lose a bit of energy. sometimes you wonder if he's got a pulse."

the giants' popular and charismatic third baseman pablo sandoval, affectionately known as "the panda," tied his teammate and right fielder hunter pence for the most runs batted in during the 2014 postseason with 12. also, sandoval raised his career world series batting average to .427, which is the highest in major league baseball history among players with at least 45 at-bats.

home teams had won nine straight game sevens. teams hosting the first two games, as did kansas city, had won 23 of the last 28 titles. 1985 was the last year the royals were in the fall classic, and they were down three games to two. but they emerged victorious, playing at home, winning game seven with a shutout pitched by bret saberhagen, who threw out the first pitch on sunday.

eight players, including bumgarner and cain, have been on all three world series rosters for the giants: whom some are now calling a dynasty. before this run, manager john mcgraw (1905, 1921-22) was the only giant with three titles. last night, bochy became the 10th manager to win three world series championships - the other nine are in the hall of fame.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Serena Williams Captures Year-End Championship Trophy at the WTA Finals

serena williams defeated world #3 simona halep of romania 6-3, 6-0 on sunday to win the wta finals in singapore, japan. williams finished the year as the world's top-ranked woman, claimed the title for the fifth time and became the first player since monica seles in 1992 to emerge victorious three consecutive years at the year-end championships.

the 18-time grand slam winner sought revenge after being dominated 6-2, 6-0 by halep four days earlier. because of the unique format, halep, in her semi-final match with ana ivanovic of serbia, could have eliminated williams from advancing if she lost in straight sets. but the confident 22 year-old decided to give it her best effort, regardless of the dynamics involved.

williams said after the win, "i had to play more serena-style tennis, and just do what i do best: enforce myself. that's what i was trying to do." halep said, "i gave everything today, and, you know, that was my level today. wasn't my best day, but i'm still happy and i'm still enjoying this moment because it's a good moment for me."

the 33 year-old american was forced to withdraw from the china open earlier this month due to a left knee injury: leaving her on painkillers. williams said, "i didn't expect this. i just started training because i had such a knee in beijing so i wasn't even sure if i would play here. and now i've won the billie jean king trophy again so for me it's just really amazing, i'm so excited." 

during the ceremony, williams proudly lifted the trophy, received a winner's check for $2,047,000 and was given a specially cultivated orchid. she finished 2014 with a 52-8 record and seven tournament victories, including an historic win at the u.s. open - tying chris evert and martina navratilova with 18 major singles titles. king, evert and navratilova were all on hand to watch the match.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to Review Felony Disenfranchisement Reforms

florida and tennessee are two of 11 states which restrict people with felony convictions from voting, even after they served their prison sentence, and no longer are on parole or probation. in both states, voting rights may only be restored through an individual application or petition. recently, the florida and tennessee state advisory committees (sac) each prepared reports on felony disenfranchisement to the u.s. commission on civil rights. 

in 2007, former republican governor - and the current democratic candidate for governor - charlie crist revised florida's rules of executive clemency to automatically restore voting rights for most people convicted of non-violent offenses. about 25,000 people were granted clemency in 2009. 

"this is four times the number of persons receiving clemency in that year than the average number of clemencies on an annual basis since the mid-1990s," reported the sac.

but in 2011, florida's new governor, republican incumbent rick scott, amended the new rules: forcing the clemency board to review all cases of voter restoration individually. also, the 2011 rules added more paperwork for each case, regardless of the level of offense. at the time of this change, over 95,000 cases were pending review for automatic restoration.

the florida sac asserts if the 2007 clemency rules were brought back, it would allow people who have made full restitution to participate in the democratic process. they also said this would assist in the successful reintegration into society.   

tennessee has complex disenfranchisement laws. due to a series of amendments in the last 30 years, restoration of voting rights depends on the year a person was convicted, as well as the type of offense. in 2006, new legislation was passed to streamline the process, allowing most people - upon completing their felony sentence - to apply for a "certificate of restoration," from the board of probation and parole.        

the aclu of tennessee noted in the sac report though, burdensome multi-step paperwork and the requirement to pay all court-ordered restitution and child support fees before applying may deter many people from seeking voter restoration.

the tennessee sac recommends the general assembly and the governor learn from states with less restrictive disenfranchisement laws, and remove any unnecessary barriers to restoring voting rights in order to cultivate productive members of society.  


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Supreme Court Upholds Controversial Voter ID Law in Texas

the supreme court said on saturday texas can use their new voter identification law for the november election. a majority of the justices rejected an emergency request from the justice department and civil rights groups to prohibit the state from requiring voters to produce certain forms of photo identification to cast their ballots.

the law was struck down by a federal judge last week, but a federal appeals court put that ruling on hold. the judge found almost 600,000 voters - many of them black and latino - could be turned away at the polls because they lack acceptable identification. early voting in texas begins monday. 

the supreme court's order was unsigned, as it typically is in these situations. justices ruth bader ginsburg, sonia sotomayor and elena kagan dissented. each of them said they would have left the district court decision in place. 

the controversial law sets out seven forms of approved identification. the list includes concealed handgun licenses, but not college student id's, which are accepted in other states with similar legislative measures.

the 143-page opinion from u.s. district judge nelva gonzales ramos called the law an "unconstitutional burden on the right to vote." ramos also said the law is the equivalent of a poll tax: she found the republican-led texas legislature purposely discriminated against non-white voters.   

ramos issued her ruling october 9. five days later, the fifth u.s. circuit court of appeals in new orleans put her decision on hold. they cited a 2006 supreme court opinion warning judges not to change the rules too close to election day. 

the challengers in texas said the last time the supreme court allowed a voting law to be used in a subsequent election after it had been found unconstitutional was in 1982. that case from georgia involved an at-large election system which existed since 1911.

texas urged the supreme court to let the state enforce voter id at the polls in a court filing which took aim at the ruling by ramos, an appointee of president obama. attorney general greg abbott, a republican who's favored in the gubernatorial race, called ramos' findings "preposterous," accusing the judge of ignoring evidence favorable to the state.

the court intervened in three other disputes in recent weeks over republican-fueled restrictions on voter access. in wisconsin, the justices blocked a voter id law from being used in november. in north carolina and ohio, the justices allowed limits on early voting, provisional ballots and same-day registration to remain in, or take effect.

in june 2013, the court eliminated the heart of the voting rights act, which prevented texas and eight other states with histories of racial oppression from changing election laws without permission. critics of the texas measure said the new id requirement has not been used for congressional or senatorial elections, or a high-turnout statewide election for governor.      

Monday, October 06, 2014

Supreme Court decides not to review previously banned same-sex marriage rulings

the supreme court on monday chose not to review previously banned same-sex marriage rulings in indiana, oklahoma, utah, virginia and wisconsin. the court's historic decision came without explanation; delaying the need to determine the constitutionality of gay marriage in all 50 states.

clerks in marion county, indiana and dane county, wisconsin began issuing licenses to same-sex couples before noon. the u.s. court of appeals for the fourth circuit issued an order to allow same-sex marriages to begin in virginia at 1:00 pm. colorado, oklahoma and utah were expected to follow suit as soon as the 10th circuit court of appeals ordered the states to issue licenses.

virginia governor terry mcauliffe said, "this is a historic and long overdue moment for our commonwealth and our country." james esseks, a lawyer who heads the american civil liberties union's legal efforts concerning gay marriage said,"i'm blown away by this. it is a watershed moment for the entire country."

despite the court's surprising decision to not take federal action, there are challenges to same-sex marriage in every state. two appeals courts - in cincinnati, and san francisco - have heard challenges and could rule at any time. furthermore, the court may still take up the issue later in this term after more states weigh in.

in june 2013 the court struck down part of the defense of marriage act, which denied federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in states where it was legal. their decision didn't rule on whether state bans were unconstitutional, but a number of federal court decisions have since ruled the reasoning of the opinion written by justice anthony kennedy commands such a finding.

the split in federal and state courts since last year's ruling in u.s. vs. windsor has been 40 to 2: state prohibitions violate the constitution's guarantees of due process and equal protection. the windsor case was decided on a five-to-four vote, with justices stephen g. breyer, ruth bader ginsburg, elena kagen and sonia sotomayor joining kennedy.

however, it only takes four votes to grant review of lower court decisions. as such, one of those who voted no in the windsor case - chief justice john g. roberts, jr., and justices samuel a. alito, jr., antonin scalia and clarence thomas - were unwilling to force the court to take up the issue of same-sex marriage now.  


Monday, September 29, 2014

California Signs Amended Sexual Assault Bill

california governor jerry brown will sign a bill to define when 'yes means yes,' and adopt requirements for colleges to follow when investigating sexual assault reports. the historic announcement on sunday makes california the first state in the nation to unequivocally protect students by changing the language and law of consent.

state lawmakers approved senate bill 967 by senator kevin de leon (d-la) last month, as states and universities across the country are under pressure to change how they handle rape allegations. campus sexual assault victims and women's advocacy groups delivered petitions to brown's office on september 16 demanding he sign the bill.

de leon said the progressive legislation begins a paradigm shift in how college campuses in california prevent and investigate sexual assaults. the familiar refrain of 'no means no,' is no longer the definition of consent - the new bill requires "an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity."

"every student deserves a learning environment that is safe and healthy," de leon said in a statement sunday night. "the state of california will not allow schools to sweep rape cases under the rug. we've shifted the conversation regarding sexual assault to one of prevention, justice and healing," he said.

lawmakers say consent can be nonverbal, and universities with similar policies have outlined examples as a nod of the head or moving in closer to the person. the legislation says silence or lack of resistance does not constitute consent: someone who is asleep, drugged, drunk or unconscious cannot grant consent.      

advocates for victims of sexual assault support the change as empowering. savannah badalich, ucla student and founder of the group 7000 in solidarity, welcomes the new legislation. badalich said, "this is amazing. it's going to educate an entire new generation of students on what consent is and what consent is not...that the absence of a no is not a yes."

the bill requires training for faculty reviewing complaints so victims are neither asked insensitive questions nor made to feel shameful when filing grievances. the bill also provides much needed access to counseling, health care and other resources.  

sb 967 applies to all california postsecondary schools - public and private - receiving state money for student financial aid. the california state university and university of california systems are supporting the legislation; both adopted similar consent standards this year.

uc president janet napolitano recently announced the system will voluntarily establish an independent advocate to support sexual assault victims on every campus. an advocate office is a provision of the federal survivor outreach and support campus act proposed by u.s. senator barbara boxer and representative susan davis of san diego, both democrats.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ferguson Police Ordered To Stop Wearing 'I Am Darren Wilson' Bracelets

the department of justice (doj) on friday ordered police officers in ferguson, missouri to stop wearing bracelets in solidarity with darren wilson, the white cop who last month shot and killed michael brown, an unarmed black male. the bracelets say, i am darren wilson.

christy lopez, deputy chief of the special litigation section of the justice department's civil rights division, wrote a letter on friday to ferguson police chief thomas jackson. lopez writes, "these bracelets reinforce the very 'us versus them' mentality that many residents of ferguson believe exists."

lopez admits in the two-page letter she's unclear if ferguson officers specifically are now or have been wearing the bracelets. additionally, she understands jackson agreed to prohibit officers from wearing the bracelets while in uniform and on duty, and to ensure other officers from local agencies will observe the prohibition.

the letter comes after residents told a doj official about the bracelets this week at a community meeting. they complained officers wore the bracelets tuesday while patrolling folks' protests over the tragic death of 18 year-old brown august 9. protesters demand wilson's arrest. the doj has been investigating the shooting, while a grand jury is deliberating about whether to charge wilson.

residents said officers patrolled the community without name tags, or with their names covered by black tape. lopez, in the letter, asked the embattled police chief to ensure officers will follow department policy and wear their name tags.

"allowing officers to remain anonymous when they interact with the public contributes to mistrust and undermines accountability," says lopez, in a separate letter to jackson, written on tuesday. that letter was released on friday. lopez further writes, "the failure to wear name plates conveys a message to community members that, through anonymity, officers may seek to act with impunity."



Friday, September 26, 2014

Attorney General Eric Holder Announced He Will Resign Pending A Successor

attorney general eric holder announced his resignation on thursday at an emotional white house ceremony. president barack obama praised holder saying he did a "superb job," and mentioned holder will leave his post at the justice department once a successor is confirmed.

holder acknowledged his family and colleagues by saying, "i thank you all for joining me on a journey that now moves in another direction, but that will always be guided by the pursuit of justice and aimed at the north star." 

holder, 63, also expressed gratitude for obama, whom he called his colleague adding, "but the bonds between us are much deeper than that. in good times and bad, in things personal and professional, you have been there for me. i am proud to call you my friend."

holder is the first black to hold the nation's top law enforcement position. he's been in the job for nearly six years, since obama began his (own historic) reign as commander-in-chief. if holder remains in the position in december, he would be the third longest-serving attorney general. 

"i have loved the department of justice ever since as a young boy i watched robert kennedy prove during the civil rights movement how the department can - and must - always be a force for that which is right. i hope that i have done honor to the faith you placed in me, mr. president, and to the legacy of all those who served before me," said holder.    

under holder, the department of justice (doj) sought to protect voters' rights, women's rights and lgbt rights. obama said holder helped lower the crime rate and incarceration rate by 10% in six years. the doj also encouraged judges to use discretion in sentencing low-level drug offenders, reduced the disparity between crack and powder cocaine penalties from 100-1 to 18-1, and eliminate "draconian" mandatory minimums.

holder made criminal justice reform his top priority in 2014. he went to ferguson, missouri last month after michael brown, an unarmed black male, was killed by a white police officer, darren wilson. holder wants to restore trust between law enforcement and black and brown communities. he plans to go to scranton, pennsylvania on friday, and complete his goal of visiting all 93 u.s. attorney's offices.

before he was sworn in as the 82nd attorney general in february 2009, holder served as president bill clinton's deputy attorney general, the first black to hold to hold that position. the columbia law school graduate was previously u.s. attorney for the district of columbia and served during ronald reagan's administration as an associate judge at the superior court of the district of columbia.    



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Georgia's Incarceration Rate for Blacks drops 20% in five years

the incarceration rate among blacks in georgia dropped by 20% in five years. the change signals a shift in their approach to sentencing and offender treatment. driven to cut costs and improve outcomes, lawmakers increasingly reject tough-on-crime models which once defined the state.

instead, they're adopting public health-based solutions, including treatment centers for drug addicts and inmates with mental illness, as well as accountability courts offering alternatives to incarceration for offenders working to experience drug-free living and optimum mental health.

georgia's progressive reforms have improved outcomes for offenders of all ethnic groups. in fact, they've cut the state's overall incarceration rate by 15% since 2009, which is both remarkable and historic considering the state's dark past with black prisoners. 

though blacks are currently over-represented in georgia prisons - making up more than 60% of the state population but less than 32% of the overall state population - the encouraging decline affirms success towards fair sentencing practices and outcomes.      

Saturday, September 20, 2014

National Organization of Women President demands NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Resign Imnmediately

the national organization for women (now) president terry o'neill wants national football league (nfl) commissioner roger goodell to resign effective immediately. goodell held a hotly anticipated press conference on friday to address the maligned league's current stance on domestic violence issues.

goodell, in the almost 45-minute conference, admitted he 'made a mistake in the ray rice matter' and was 'sorry' for it. goodell asserted he would not resign, but would hire a personal conduct committee, before the 2015 super bowl, to establish a policy of higher standards and moral integrity. goodell also promised greater transparency in the league's handling of such issues in the future.

but o'neill questions goodell's leadership qualities. she said, "glaringly absent from mr. goodell's remarks is a commitment to conduct an independent investigation into all of the incidents of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking on his watch. roger goodell's steadfast refusal to broach these questions speaks a lot louder than his formulaic mea culpas and repeated promises that he's going to do better." 

o'neill said, "now continues to demand that he resign and that his successor appoint a thorough, independent investigator with full authority to unpack all relevant aspects of the nfl's response to incidents of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, and to make serious recommendations for change. the time for half measures and pr feints is long past. roger goodell must go."

Friday, September 19, 2014

Procter & Gamble Withdraws Breast Cancer Initiatives with the NFL

october is breast cancer month. during the last several years, the national football league (nfl) has become a popular supporter and powerful institution to effectively highlight the need for ongoing awareness, education and treatment of breast cancer.

nfl players across the league proudly wear pink shoes, pink socks, pink wristbands, and use pink towels. the field and footballs are adorned with the cause's pink ribbon, the coin used for the opening toss is pink, and fans can buy pink nfl gear to support breast cancer.  

but after several incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault involving nfl players - among them jonathan dwyer, greg hardy, ray mcdonald and ray rice - procter & gamble, a major sponsor who planned to partner with the nfl, has planned to pull out of their "significant league-wide" campaign for breast cancer awareness month.

the campaign, sponsored through the company's crest brand, was going to include "multiple players" on each of the league's 32 teams. one player would be deemed an official "ambassador" of the initiative. players would have worn pink mouth guards and interacted with fans on social media as part of the campaign.

the selected players were recently informed the prospective campaign has been cancelled. also, procter & gamble informed the players money slated to be contributed to cancer charities as part of the campaign would still be donated, even though no campaign is forthcoming.

pepsi & company, on thursday, became the latest sponsor to publicly express their displeasure with the nfl and its peripatetic approach to domestic violence cases and sexual assault issues with players. other sponsors voicing their concerns publicly include anheuser-busch, campbell soup company, mcdonald's, verizon and visa.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Phoenix Mercury Wins 2014 WNBA Title

the phoenix mercury defeated the chicago sky 87-82 on friday to win the 2014 wnba title. phoenix swept the sky in three games, earning the franchise a third championship. the detroit shock also have three titles. but the houston comets own a record four titles. 

all-star guard diana taurasi was named most valuable player for the second time in her illustrious career. she became the wnba all-time playoff leader in scoring. taurasi scored 24 points, as did their all-star forward candice dupree. the mercury clinched without all-star center 6'8" brittany griner, who sat on the bench after suffering an eye injury in the second game.

taurasi has three wins in the ncaa, olympics and wnba. she said, "college ones feel great because when you're in college you're really in a family atmosphere with people that are my friends for life. olympics is for your country. you wear that flag and there's no other feeling like that. and then, the wnba is the best competition in the world. so when you're champions here, you're champions. you've earned it."

phoenix finished the regular season with 29 wins - the most in wnba history. the mercury won their last 20 games at home. their 18.3 points per game margin is the third best in playoff history. dewana bonner and penny taylor averaged double figures in the finals. phoenix's high-powered offense led the league in scoring during the regular season.

chicago, led by all-star forward elena delle donne and all-star center sylvia fowles, reached the wnba finals for the first time in the team's short history. dubbed the comeback kids for their faith, grit and perseverance, the sky won both their first playoff game - and playoff series - in their first year reaching the playoffs.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

2014 U.S. Open Tennis Tournament Champions

listed below are the male and female champions of the 2014 u.s. open tennis tournament:

men's singles - marin cilic, croatia.
women's singles - serena williams, united states.

men's doubles - bob bryan & mike bryan, united states.
women's doubles - ekaterina makarova & elena vesnina, russia.
mixed doubles - sonia mirza, india & bruno soares, brazil.

junior boys singles - omar jasika, australia.
junior girls singles - marie bouzkova, czech republic.

junior boys doubles - omar jasika, australia & naoki nakagawa, japan.
junior girls doubles - ipek soylu, turkey & jil belen teichmann, switzerland. 

men's champions doubles - pat cash, australia & todd martin, united states.

women's champions doubles - martina navratilova, united states & jana novotna, czech republic.

exhibition doubles - james blake, united states & john mcenroe, united states.

men's collegiate invitational - marcos giron, united states.
women's collegiate invitational - jamie loeb, united states.


Monday, September 08, 2014

Cincinnati Bengals Re-sign Devon Still to financially support his daughter's cancer

the cincinnati bengals recently cut defensive tackle devon still from their roster. he understood, and harbored no animosity towards the team. but in the spirit of compassion, still was reassigned to the bengals' practice squad in order for him to pay for his daughter's cancer treatments.

as a practice squad player, the 25 year-old still will be paid $6,300 per week in salary, as well as much needed medical insurance. his beautiful four year-old daughter, leah, has stage four pediatric cancer. she was diagnosed in june.

still told abc news, "i completely understand where the bengals were coming from when they cut me because i couldn't give football 100% right now. they could have washed their hands with me and said they didn't care what i was going through off the field...it's like a blessing in disguise."

being on the practice squad also means still won't have to travel as much as other players. he'll have more time to spend with his daughter before and/or after her chemotherapy sessions. still said, "we're going to go to battle with cancer. she's willing to put up a fight to beat it."      

Saturday, August 30, 2014

2014 WNBA Year-End Awards

the 2014 wnba year-end awards celebrates the women best exemplifying the athletic integrity of the league. the following women and their impressive achievements showcasing the wnba at its finest are listed below:

most valuable player: maya moore, minnesota lynx.

defensive player of the year: brittney griner, phoenix mercury.

rookie of the year: chiney ogwumike, connecticut sun.

most improved player of the year: skyar diggins, tulsa shock.

sixth woman of the year: allie quigley, chicago sky.

coach of the year: sandy brondello, phoenix mercury.

sportswoman of the year: becky hammon, san antonio stars.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

NFL Suspends Josh Gordon for One Year

on wednesday the nfl upheld the 16-game suspension of cleveland browns all-pro wide receiver josh brown for violating the league's substance abuse policy. brown is a repeat offender, yet appealed the earlier ruling, hoping it would be reduced so he could play this season.

but the league announced arbitrator harold henderson supported gordon's year-long suspension for marijuana use. gordon, who was subject to more frequent testing, will begin serving his sentence immediately. he's not allowed to practice with the team, attend meetings or other club functions. the league said, "his eligibility for reinstatement will be determined following the 2014 season." 

gordon said, "i'd like to apologize to my teammates, coaches, the cleveland browns organization and our fans. i am very disappointed that the nfl and its hearing office didn't exercise better discretion and judgment in my case. i would like to sincerely thank the people who have been incredibly supportive of me during this challenging time, including my family, my agent, my union, my legal team, and the cleveland browns staff." 

browns general manager ray farmer said, "while we may have strong feelings on the timing and the process of this decision, we have also consistently communicated that we will focus on what we can control in our day to day approach. right now that is preparing our team for the 2014 season and at the same time, supporting josh however we are able under nfl guidelines during his suspension."

the gifted 23 year-old led all players with 1,646 receiving yards and 18.9 yards per catch last season. he caught a team-high 87 passes - nine for touchdowns. gordon was highly productive, despite being banned the first two games for a failed drug test. it was his second known violation as a pro: gordon said he had inadvertently taken codeine contained in a prescription cough syrup. he also failed three drug tests in college for marijuana use.

gordon hired attorney maurice suh to represent him at the appeal hearing. suh, whom successfully gotten a suspension reduced for seahawks all-pro cornerback richard sherman, argued gordon tested positive for marijuana due to secondhand smoke. gordon's representatives also said test results of his samples were inconsistent, and should be thrown out.

while he's out, gordon must pass drug tests, comply with treatment, and apply for reinstatement with commissioner roger goodell before he plays again. if he stays clean, its possible he could return within a year. recently, gordon posted an instagram of himself catching a pass on the practice field from their rookie quarterback johnny manziel. the caption reads, "only place i can find peace."  


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Black Male Teen Killed by White Male Police Officer Sparks Outrage in Ferguson, MO

michael brown, an unarmed black teenager, was fatally shot by a white, male police officer saturday in ferguson, missouri. according to two men who witnessed the murder, brown had his hands raised when the officer approached him with his weapon drawn and fired repeatedly.

the fbi opened an investigation on monday into the tragic death of the 18 year-old brown. ferguson is a 21,000 resident suburb of st. louis, and nearly 70% black. authorities were vague about what led to the shooting. investigators have refused to publicly disclose the race of the officer, who is now on administrative leave.

phillip walker said he was on the porch of an apartment complex overlooking the scene when he heard a shot and saw a white officer with brown on the street. walker told the associated press brown "was giving up in the sense of raising his arms and being subdued." he said the officer "had his gun raised and started shooting...stood over him and shot him."

dorian johnson told walb-tv he and brown were walking home from a convenience store when a police officer told them to get out of the street and onto the sidewalk. johnson said they kept walking, and he believes this prompted the officer to confront them once more after getting out of his car.

johnson said the first time the officer fired, he and brown got scared and ran away. johnson said, "he shot again, and once my friend felt that shot, he turned around and put his hands in the air, and he started to get down. but the officer still approached with his weapon drawn and fired more shots. we wasn't causing harm to nobody. we had no weapons at all."

brown's father, michael brown, visited the shooting site monday afternoon. he abruptly left after gunshots rang out a block away. brown's mother, lesley mcspadden, said she did not understand why police did not subdue her son with a club or stun gun. she said, "i would like to see him go to jail with the death penalty."

the killing drew criticism, ire and pain from some civil rights leaders. they immediately referred to the 2012 racially charged shooting in florida of 17 year-old trayvon martin - an unarmed black male - by george zimmerman, who was acquitted of murder charges by a predominantly white jury under the state's controversial stand your ground laws. 

brown's family planned to speak publicly later monday with their attorney, benjamin crump, who also represented the martin family. john gaskin, who serves on both the st. louis county and national boards of directors for the naacp, said the group was "outraged because yet again a young african-american man has been killed by law enforcement."


Saturday, August 02, 2014

Recent Study Highlights Racial Disparities in New York City Prosecutions

at the request of manhattan district attorney cyrus r. vance, jr., the vera institute of justice partnered on a two-year national institute of justice study on the relationship between prosecutorial decision-making and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

analyzing 222,542 cases resolved in 2010-2011, the 251-page report reveals blacks and latinos were at a disadvantage relative to whites in three key stages of criminal cases (pretrial detention, plea bargaining and incarceration sentence), but not in two (case acceptance and case dismissal). in fact, whites were less likely than blacks and latinos to have their cases dismissed.

authors nancy r. andiloro and besiki luka said, "this finding raises the question of whether having higher dismissal rates for defendants of color should be viewed as an indicator of leniency, or simply serve as a mechanism for declining to prosecute cases that could have been rejected at screening."

the starkest disparities were found in the prosecution of misdemeanor drug offenses. blacks were 27% more likely and latinos were 18% more likely to receive a custodial sentence offer than similarly situated white defendants. surprisingly, prior arrest record was more influential on sentence offers than prior sentence history, in accordance with this office's plea guidelines.

both authors recommend revising these guidelines. they said if the current guidelines were "based on poor sentences - as opposed to prior arrest - much of the difference between black and white, and latino and white defendants would have disappeared, at least in misdemeanor cases."

the new york times reports the study prompted the manhattan district attorney to request implicit bias training for his assistant prosecutors. the times' editorial board commends vance for inviting this analysis of his office. echoing the vera authors, they urge him to "reduce prosecutors' emphasis on prior arrests and work with his staff to accept fewer cases in the first place."

in brooklyn, the district attorney's office will stop prosecuting low-level marijuana cases, in an attempt to improve the administration of justice and put the office's resources to better use. district attorney kenneth p. thompson said - in a confidential memo - the policy was set up to keep nonviolent people, "and especially young people of color," out of the criminal justice system.

possession of marijuana is still illegal in the state, and brooklyn is the only borough to issue this policy. those arrested in brooklyn will undergo a case-by-case review and only those with no, or minimal criminal records, will qualify under the policy.


Friday, July 25, 2014

New Publication Acclaims Prison Population Reduction Without Harming Public Safety

the sentencing project works for a fair and effective u.s. justice system by addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, advocating for alternatives to incarceration and promoting reforms in sentencing policy.

their recent publication: fewer prisoners, less crime - a tale of three states, profiles the success of california, new jersey and new york. each of these states have reduced their prison population by about 25%, while seeing their prospective crime rates generally decline at a faster pace than the national average.   

some of the book's key findings include:

* new jersey and new york led the nation by reducing their prison population by 26% between 1999 and 2012, while the nationwide state prison population increased by 10%.

* california downsized its prison population by 23% between 2006 and 2012. during this period, the nationwide state prison population decreased by just 1%.

* during their periods of decarceration, violent crimes fell at a greater rate in these three states than they did nationwide. between 1999-2012, new york and new jersey's violent crime rate fell by 31% and 30% respectively, while the national rate decreased by 26%. between 2006-2012, california's violent crime rate drop of 21% exceeded the national decline of 21%.

* between 1999-2012, new york's property crime rate fell by 29% and new jersey's by 31%, compared to the national decline of 24%. between 2006-2012, california's property crime drop of 13% was slightly lower than the national reduction of 15%.

these astounding prison population reductions result from complimentary changes in policy and practice designed to reduce admissions to prison and lengths of stay.

each of these states' experiences affirm criminal justice policies - not crime rates - are the prime drivers of changes in prison populations. they also prove society can effectively reduce prison populations without harming public safety.        

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Stressful Day With MTA

last friday i was headed to queens to meet some friends around noon. i swiped my reduced fare, unlimited metro, ready to board the b train downtown. but there was a message which read: see agent. the agent informed me the card was cancelled. puzzled and embarrassed, I asked why. he suggested I phone customer service. 

I felt like florida after losing james on good times - damn, damn, damn...

normally i'd demand an explanation; as if i were innocent. at the beginning of this month, i noticed a $35 overdraft fee on my bank statement. yet there was no creditor listed. i quickly called to seek a refund. three days they returned the money. shortly thereafter, i received a notice from my bank stating mta was unable to charge $56 from my savings for my card.

this is (only) the second time i've been penalized by mta for neglecting to have money in my savings account. when i got the card i set up the agreement online. i don't drive and use the card regularly, but not daily. sometimes more than six weeks or two months go by without mta replenishing $56 for the monthly half-fare card.

initially i thought the card was cancelled because of the expiration date. however i realized i needed to make amends. i waited almost 15 minutes (!) to speak with a person, to no avail. i called again later, waiting almost ten minutes with the same result. finally, exasperated and worried about my future travel security, i called and spoke with someone who gave me three options.

1) mail the card in for a replacement card; 2) get a temporary card from a bus or subway agent; 3) come in to the office for a replacement card. sigh. i was tempted to ask her: can i buy a vowel? but she may have neither understood nor appreciated my daytime talk show reference at 5:15 pm on a friday afternoon. i couldn't bear going the weekend and not have some answers.

i got to the lower manhattan office around 8:45 am. there were about 25 people waiting outside. i surrendered my sense of entitlement and terminal uniqueness one prayer at a time. surprisingly, the line moved swiftly, as did my intolerance with people who don't speak english, forget why they're standing in line at 8:45 am, or lack adequate identification.

the customer service agent, a pleasant, older black man, informed me i could get a replacement card in the mail if i pay mta $81.27. they were also charging me $25.00 for the error. he said the card would be mailed in about three weeks, and i could use a temporary card until then.

he also suggested i "get out of the system and use a regular card like you used to." although he was looking at a computer screen and had access to my past, i felt violated. how do you, specifically you, know i once used a regular card? why do you want me to opt out of the system? i'm a customer, not a professional athlete.

my cynicism, distrust and resentment with authority began to resurface. clearly this would benefit the bureaucracy, one well documented with historical cash flow problems. he said i could pay $25.27 and simply put money on a temporary card whenever i needed to. and, they would mail me, in about three weeks, a replacement card with no money on it.

i just wanted them to take the $56 out of my savings account while i was at the office. can't they just push a button or something? i have $60.88 in the account, but i couldn't negotiate because i left my debit card at home. i didn't think i would need it. i thought they would give me a replacement card, like the agent said on friday. she said it would probably take about 15 minutes. she was wrong.

i don't like her right now.

i felt manipulated into doing what he wanted. the stress, worry and uncertainty began to overwhelm my sleepy brain. i became uber-conscious of the other people in line waiting to be served and didn't want this ordeal to go on much longer. I wanted to act like an adult, but felt like a child trying to make a grown up decision.

i thought if i only paid them $25.27 i'd have more cash to hold me over until my reparations check arrives. what's the big deal about the inconvenience of putting money on a card from time to time? besides, i need to address my laziness and procrastination issues anyway. i resigned myself to a couple of weeks of walking more and riding less. i told him to cancel the account.

as i went home to get a money order, i started to feel like i fell for the banana and the tail pipe. (note: if you haven't seen beverly hills cop, that joke will probably elude you. and that's okay). i reflected on the day's events and decided to follow my instinct and trust my spirit. even if his intentions were sincere, i was not going to let him influence my choices.

i returned in about 90 minutes with a money order for $81.27. i wanted to resolve this issue with the same agent. i did, yet he seemed disappointed i changed my mind about closing my account. he also admitted he kept my paperwork nearby just in case. he said he was confused about how to handle the situation but nonetheless offered to have the new card sent by fed ex no later than friday.


on my way out, i noticed a buddy sitting in the waiting area. he gave me a hug and probably sensed my distraught look. i told him the situation from start to finish. his compassionate ear, quiet reassurance and warm smile genuinely comforted me. but when he put a $10 bill in my hand, i was ready to cry. the kindness of god's angels continue to feed my spirit and restore my faith in humanity.      

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Rand Paul Seeks to Restore Voting Rights in Federal Elections

kentucky senator rand paul has introduced a bill which restores voting rights in federal elections to those convicted of non-violent felonies. this initiative is the newest addition to a series of criminal justice reforms backed by paul.

paul has supported legislation to scale back mandatory minimum sentencing for those convicted of drug offenses. he also supports various other reforms, including reclassifying some felony drug offenses as misdemeanors.

speaking on meet the press last sunday, paul said, "if we're the party of family values and keeping families together, and the party believes in redemption and second chances, we should be for letting people have the right to vote back."

voting rights advocates have praised the recent legal proposals made by paul. but human rights advocates prefer legislation introduced by senator ben cardin, which would extend voting rights to those convicted of any felony upon leaving prison.

paul is a staunch conservative, yet he drew some right-wing criticism. roger clegg, ceo of the center for equal opportunity, a conservative think tank focusing on race and ethnicity, strongly disagrees with paul's views. clegg said, "paul has shown himself to be someone who does not take the constitution seriously."  

paul says re-enfranchising people convicted of non-violent felonies would help reduce current racial disparities. at present, nearly eight percent of the black population cannot vote. similarly, under two percent of the non-black population cannot vote.

"there's a racial outcome to the war on drugs. three out of four people in prison for non-violent drug offenses are black and brown. white kids are using drugs at the same rate black kids are," paul said. 


Sunday, July 06, 2014

Petra Kvitova and Novak Djokovic Win 2014 Wimbledon Singles Titles

petra kvitova of the czech republic dominated eugenie bouchard of canada 6-3, 6-0 to capture the 2014 wimbledon singles crown. kvitova won her first and only major singles title at the all-england club in 2011. the 24 year-old lefty was brilliant from start to finish. she never let bouchard gain any rhythm and claimed her second major in 55 minutes.

kvitova plays better on grass than any other surface. her career record at wimbledon is 26-5, which give her an .839 winning percentage. her winning percentage at the other three major is .667. at all the other events kvitova's winning percentage is .681. she remains the only player born in the 1990s to win a major singles title.

after the match, kvitova was surprised at the high level of her tennis. she said, "this is the best tournament for me. i mean, a few shots was really incredible, and i really couldn't believe that i made it actually. i said, oh my god, this is good." bouchard said, "for sure, she was on. we know that when she's on, she's very tough to beat. especially on this surface." kvitova finished with 28 winners.

the previous time a runner-up won only three games in the wimbledon final was 1992, when steffi  graf beat monica seles. before that, it last happened in 1983, when martina navratilova - another czech lefty - beat andrea jeager. kvitova was thrilled to have navratilova, the nine-time wimbledon champion, present her with the prestigious trophy. 

novak djokovic of serbia defeated roger federer of switzerland 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4 to win the 2014 wimbledon singles championship. djokovic also emerged victorious at the all-england club in 2011. he now has seven major singles titles and regained the #1 ranking he lost to rafael nadal of spain last year. 

most of the centre court crowd of about 15,000 cheered raucously for the iconic federer. but the personable 27 year-old djokovic continued to believe in himself and play high quality tennis, despite his career setbacks. he lost his past three major finals, and five of his last six, including against nadal last month at the french open, and to andy murray last year at wimbledon.

djokovic said during the on-court ceremony, "it was a great match to be part of. he's a magnificent champion and a great example of a great athlete and great role model for many kids." djokovic then addressed federer directly and said, "i respect your career and everything you have done. thank you for letting me win." federer said, "it was close, you know. novak deserved it at the end, clearly, but it was extremely close."

boris becker, the three-time wimbledon champion who began coaching djokovic this season was relieved. becker said, "it could've gone either way in the fifth set." his old rival as a player, stefan edberg, a two-time wimbledon champion, now works with federer. djokovic later dedicated this victory to his pregnant fiancĂ©e "and our future baby," and to jelena gencic, his first tennis coach, who died last year.   

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Protesters and supporters of immigration clash in California small town

demonstrators in murietta, california waited hours on friday for buses full of undocumented immigrants who may not arrive. there were chants, and at least one physical fight, between opponents of an expected transfer of undocumented immigrants and those who showed up to support them. one woman fainted from heat exhaustion; it was over 90 degrees.

"we need to stop these busloads of illegals," said liz herger, who was one of about 75 protesters opposing the expected transfer. "we are an economically depressed area and we already don't have jobs...who's gonna take care of them? we're not going to," herger said. three women and two men were arrested throughout the course of the day, police said.

protesters on both sides showed up after customs and border protection said it may transfer undocumented immigrants from overburdened facilities in texas to murietta every three days. the last time they tried to make a transfer was tuesday.

murietta, a town of about 103,000 people nearly 80 miles southeast of los angeles, became a flashpoint in the immigration crisis after protesters on tuesday blocked the road to an intake facility. they subsequently prevented three buses carrying about 140 migrants from getting through. the buses eventually turned around and went to another facility.

the controversial transfer is part of a federal plan to relieve texas facilities overwhelmed with over 50,000 unaccompanied children who poured across the border since october. a crowd supporting the migrants shouted at protesters across country roads. chants of "usa, go home," and "stop breaking the law," were met with "refugees are not illegal," "racists! racists!" and, "si si puede!" which means, yes we can, in english.

"this country is based on immigration and I cannot believe how kids aren't being welcomed. it blows my mind," said osvaldo delgado, of mexican descent. his parents came to the u.s. legally. delgado said, "they're fleeing for their lives." it isn't clear if - and/or when - the next attempt to transfer undocumented immigrants to the murietta facility will be made.


Monday, June 30, 2014

New York's Highest Court Says No To Fracking

the court of appeals in albany on monday upheld rulings allowing individual towns and cities to act using a principle known as home rule, under which they can vote to keep away industries they deem as threats to common resources. in the case of fracking, this can mean air and water, even if state and federal laws say otherwise.

the 5-2 decision applies specifically to challenges to bans in the upstate towns of dryden and middlefield, but means bans passed in about 170 other new york communities are also immune to similar challenges. the state now waits for new york governor andrew cuomo to decide on whether to life the moratorium on fracking, in place since july 2008.

governor cuomo said he first needs to see the results of a health impact review his office undertook in 2012. but now, even if he does decide to welcome frackers into the state, individual communities officially have a legal way to opt out - and, if enough do, the gas and oil industry could decide new york is no longer worth their while.  

the majority opinion was written by associate judge victoria graffeo, who said, "these appeals are not about whether hydrofracking is beneficial or detrimental to the economy, environment or energy needs of new york, and we pass no judgment on its merits. these are major policy questions for the coordinate branches of government to resolve."

graffeo also said, "the discrete issue before us, and the only one we resolve today, whether the state legislature eliminated the home rule capacity of municipalities to pass zoning laws that exclude oil, gas and hydrofracking activities in order to preserve the existing character of their communities." 

john armstrong of frack action and new yorkers against fracking said in a statement, "we applaud the court for once again affirming the right of new yorkers to ban fracking and its toxic effects from their communities. as chief judge lippman said, you don't bulldoze over the voice of the people."

armstrong further commented, "but water and contaminations don't stop at local boundaries, and governor cuomo must ban fracking statewide to protect our health and homes from the arrogant and inherently harmful fracking industry."   


Friday, June 20, 2014

Five Men Wrongly Convicted to Receive $40 Million Settlement from NYC

five men wrongly convicted, and later exonerated, of brutally raping a female jogger in central park in 1989 were awarded a $40 million settlement from new york city. the attack became known as the central park jogger case. it made national headlines, polarized communities and raised concerns about racism in the criminal justice system. 

the five men, all black and latino, were between age 14-16 when they confessed after lengthy police interrogations. antron mccray, kevin richardson, raymond santana, korey wise and yusef salaam each soon recanted, insisting they were coerced by nypd officers under duress, exhaustion and fear. in 2002, matias reyes confessed to the crime: dna tied him to the rape.

the jogger, trisha meili, a 28 year-old white investment banker, nearly died, was severely traumatized and has no memory of the experience. the settlement requires approval from the city's comptroller, and from deborah batts, the federal judge in manhattan who presided over the case, which polarized the nation at the time. 

jonathan moore, one of the lawyers for the men, declined to comment. a spokeswoman for the city's law department also declined to comment, citing pending litigation. the deal comes six months after mayor bill de blasio, who called for a settlement, took office. his predecessor, michael bloomberg, resisted settling the case, with city lawyers repeatedly saying the convictions withstood legal scrutiny regardless of whether they were later vacated.

an internal review by the manhattan district attorney's office, which moved to throw out the convictions in 2002, found the boys' original confessions included "troubling discrepancies." a judge vacated the convictions. by then, however, all five had been released from prison after serving between five and 13 years.

the five men sued the city in 2003 for wrongful conviction and violation of their civil rights. they sought $250 million in damages. the lawsuit gained renewed attention in 2012, when the critically-acclaimed documentary filmmaker ken burns released, "central park five." burns' film cast the men as victims of racial tension, and a rush to judgment by the city. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Spurs dominate Heat for 2014 NBA Title

the san antonio spurs defeated the miami heat 104-87 at home on sunday to win the 2014 nba championship. the spurs played brilliantly and dominated in all facets of the game, winning the series four games to one. they won their fifth title in franchise history, avenging last year's game seven loss to the defending champions in south beach.

san antonio forward kawhi leonard was named mvp. the 22 year-old leonard averaged 18 points on 61% shooting. he also had 6.4 rebounds, 1.6 steals and several key blocked shots in the last three games of the series. leonard is the youngest finals mvp since duncan in 1999. the soft-spoken leonard said afterwards, "right now, it's just surreal to me. i have a great group of guys behind me."  

spurs coach gregg popovich is currently the longest tenured coach in professional sports. popovich opened up the offense three years ago, turning a methodical half court unit into a team which thrives on relentless ball movement, savvy interior passing and three-point shooting. he won his third coach of the year award, led them to a league-best 62 wins - and a desired rematch with miami.  

popovich said of their turning point in last year's finals, "i've said many times, a day didn't go by where i didn't think about game six..so i think, just in general, for the group to have the fortitude that they showed to get back to this spot, i think speaks volumes about how they're constituted and what kind of fiber they have."  

tim duncan, manu ginobli and tony parker became the winningest trio in nba history. they have teamed for 117 postseason victories, breaking the old record set by kareem abdul-jabbar, michael cooper and magic johnson of the los angeles lakers in the late 80's. duncan said, "it makes last year ok." parker said, "we wanted to redeem ourselves. i'm just glad we were able to do that."

the spurs erased an early 16-point deficit in the first quarter. their defensive intensity went up a notch and the heat lost their offensive rhythm. san antonio lost game two by two points at home, but won three consecutive games by a total of 57 points. they denied the heat their quest for a third straight championship. miami's impressive fourth straight finals equaled the celtics run from 1984-1987.

san antonio shot 52.6% from the floor against miami, a finals record in the open shot clock era. the spurs averaged 105.6 points per game, the most since the lakers beat the nets in 2002. all four wins against the heat were by 15 or more points, and they also won 12 games by 15 or more points, another league playoff record.

15 years after winning their first title in 1999, when duncan was in his second season, the spurs remain the nba's model organization: they succeed in a small market, win 50 or more games regularly, and rarely benefit from high draft picks. san antonio found players overseas (or in other organizations) who affirm the spurs' selfless spirit. 

"you showed the world how beautiful this game is," said commissioner adam silver during the postgame award ceremony. heat coach erik spoelstra said, "they played exquisite basketball this series and in particular these last three games and they are the better team. there's no other way to say it." 

lebron james, who finished game five with 31 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks said, "we had a great first quarter, but from that point on they were the better team, and that's why they're the champions in 2014." the spurs won four titles in nine years - but their last came in 2007. as such, foreigner's "feels like the first time" was an appropriate song choice after the final buzzer.