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.

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.

whew.

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.