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Black Leaders Push for Nationwide Police Reform

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Barbara Arnwine

Barbara Arnwine

By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In the wake of the tragic death of Freddie Gray and the protests that followed in Baltimore, Black civic leaders continue to call for wholesale changes in policing and an end to police brutality in urban and predominately Black communities across the nation.

Barbara Arnwine, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan group that works to end racial discrimination and inequality, said that when the Civil Rights Coalition on Police Reform was formed, American society was long overdue for a concerted push to restructure policing in America and to prevent the killing of unarmed African Americans.

“We have been reactive, but we have also been proactively advancing a platform of policy reforms and recommendations for change,” said Arnwine.

Those recommendations include the passage of the “End Racial Profiling Act,” the mandatory use of police body cameras, better accountability of the use and distribution of federal military weapons and equipment to local law enforcement and reform to grand jury process.

Cornell Brooks, the president and CEO of the NAACP, said that the conversations happening around police killings in Baltimore, Ferguson, Mo. and beyond are painful reminders of how this whole issue hits home.

The NAACP is headquartered in Baltimore and Thurgood Marshall, “one of our greatest heroes,” lived in the Sandtown-Winchester community where Gray was arrested, said Brooks.

“We know that when an African American man is 21 times more likely to lose his life at the hands of police than his White counterpart, this is a reason to be fearful and a reason to think about running, but it is certainly not a crime,” said Brooks. “Freddie Gray is not just one victim. He stands in a long tragic line of victims that stretches across the length and the breadth of this country.”

Brooks expressed confidence in Marilyn Mosby, the Baltimore state’s attorney who filed formal charges against six police officers who were involved in Gray’s arrest and transport to Baltimore’s Western District police station.

“She did not punt this to a grand jury, which she could have done, but she chose instead as the prosecutor to take responsibility in bringing these charges which prosecutors in jurisdictions all over this country are quite able to do, but too often are unwilling to do,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., a legal group that fights for racial justice and raises awareness of disparities. “This is a beginning, this is not a conviction.”

Ifill said that the Freddie Gray case allows community stakeholders, civic leaders and law enforcement officials to have a deeper and richer conversation about this issue that has roiled the country since last year.

“This year the tide has shifted,” said Ifill. “Why has it shifted? It has shifted, because cell phone videos have shown the entire the country the kind of brutality that many residents of this country live with in terms of their relationship with the police.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has made it harder for police to suppress the record of that brutality by offering a free software application for smartphones that allows users to save video files remotely, so that even if the file is deleted or their phone is destroyed, a record of the encounter still exists.

The Missouri branch of the nonprofit group that defends constitutional rights of individuals and organizations in the U.S. released the iPhone app that enables users to record “exchanges between police officers and themselves or other community members in audio and video files that are automatically sent to the ACLU of Missouri,” according to a press release about the software.

The software, called “Mobile Justice,” also lets users send out alerts to notify others users nearby so that they can come to the scene and record the interaction.

The “Mobile Justice” app is available through the iPhone app store and for the Android platform through the Google Play store.

Pamela Meanes, the president, National Bar Association, a network of predominately Black lawyers and judges,called for changing the laws associated with policing at the state, local and federal levels.

Brooks said that a fundamental shift in the culture and modality of policing in this country is needed.

“It has been said that it’s hard to do or that this can’t be done or that this is something that might be done at some distant point in the future,” said Brooks. “The fact of the matter is there are police departments across the country that have brought down crime increased trust with the community made their police officers safer, prosecutions easier and made it more likely that witnesses will come forward by effectively deploying community policing.”

Pamela Meanes said that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department must be appropriately funded to be able to do the type of patterns and practices investigation that they did following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. That investigation uncovered deep-rooted racial discrimination in law enforcement and the courts that led to resignation of the city manager, court officials and eventually the police chief in the small North St. Louis County town.

On May 8, Attorney General Loretta Lynch opened a civil pattern or practice investigation into Baltimore Police Department (BPD) at the request of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

“Our goal is to work with the community, public officials, and law enforcement alike to create a stronger, better Baltimore,” said Lynch.  “The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has conducted dozens of these pattern or practice investigations, and we have seen from our work in jurisdictions across the country that communities that have gone through this process are experiencing improved policing practices and increased trust between the police and the community.

Lynch continued: “In fact, I encourage other cities to study our past recommendations and see whether they can be applied in their own communities.  Ultimately, this process is meant to ensure that officers are being provided with the tools they need – including training, policy guidance and equipment – to be more effective, to partner with civilians, and to strengthen public safety.”

Arnwine said that, since the beginning, the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore was rife with injustice.

“We have been saying to the Department of Justice that the reason that a patterns and practice case needs to be opened against the police department in Baltimore. This case of Freddie Gray is systematic of deep and abiding culture within that department that has to be investigated fully and reversed,” said Arnwine. “This is just one step. Every officer needs to be held accountable and the racism that has infected our policing must be stopped.”

Activism

Following More Mass Shootings Democrats Introduce Assault Weapons Ban

On January 22, a gunman opened fire on a crowd celebrating the Lunar New Year in Monterey Park, California, killing 11 and wounding 9. The Democrats’ proposed Age 21 Act would make it illegal to sell or buy an assault weapon to anybody under 21, bringing it in line with the legal age for purchasing handguns. President Joe Biden has publicly stated his support for the legislation.

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The assault weapons prohibition “passed the House last year with bipartisan backing, but was blocked by Senate Republicans
The assault weapons prohibition “passed the House last year with bipartisan backing, but was blocked by Senate Republicans.

By Stacy M. Brown,NNPA Newswire

Two proposals aimed at curbing the spread of assault rifles were submitted today by Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein of California, and Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

The Assault Weapons Ban seeks to prohibit the commercialization, distribution, production, and importation of assault rifles and other firearms designed for use in military operations, as well as high-capacity magazines and similar devices.

On January 22, a gunman opened fire on a crowd celebrating the Lunar New Year in Monterey Park, California, killing 11 and wounding 9.

The Democrats’ proposed Age 21 Act would make it illegal to sell or buy an assault weapon to anybody under 21, bringing it in line with the legal age for purchasing handguns.

President Joe Biden has publicly stated his support for the legislation.

Biden said that the number of mass shootings declined during the decade that the Assault Weapons Ban was in effect.

“In the 10 years that the Assault Weapons Ban was on the books, mass shootings went down,” Biden remarked.

“After Republicans let the law expire in 2004 and those weapons were allowed to be sold again, mass shootings tripled,” he declared.

Both houses of Congress were urged to take quick action by the president.

According to Biden, “the majority of American people agree with this rational measure.”

“There can be no greater responsibility than to do all we can to ensure the safety of our children, our communities and our nation,” he insisted.

In the House of Representatives, Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline said he plans to introduce a companion bill to the Senate’s Assault Weapons Ban.

Feinstein said assault rifles “seem to be the unifying denominator in the seemingly endless number of horrific shootings.”

“Because these firearms were created for maximum efficiency in mass murder,” the senator noted.

“They have no place in our society or educational institutions. It’s time to take a stand against the gun lobby and do something about getting these lethal weapons off the streets, or at the absolute least, out of the hands of our youth.”

Blumenthal added, as the gunman at the Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park demonstrated just days ago, assault weapons are designed for one and one purpose only: to murder or hurt human beings.

“These military-style combat weapons – built for the battlefield and designed to maximize death and destruction – have brought bloodshed and carnage to our streets and continue to be the weapon of choice in countless mass shootings,” Blumenthal said.

“Guns don’t respect state boundaries, which is why we need a national solution to restricting the ownership and use of assault weapons. Now is the time to honor gun violence victims and survivors with this commonsense action.”

Rep. Ciciline argued that it is long past due to reinstate an assault weapon ban and remove these “weapons of war” from civilian areas.

The assault weapons prohibition “passed the House last year with bipartisan backing, but was blocked by Senate Republicans,” Ciciline noted.

“We need to come together to enact this commonsense, effective, and proven policy to reduce gun violence and save lives. I thank Senator Feinstein for her partnership in this fight and look forward to introducing the House companion bill in the coming weeks.”

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. Named National Co-Chair of No Labels

“As a veteran of the civil rights movement, during the last six decades, I’ve learned a few things about the importance of people working together across lines of race, ethnicity, language, geography, and the things that divide us. I want to work on things that unite us as Americans. I believe No Labels offers that opportunity but also that responsibility to move forward,” Dr. Chavis said.

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

No Labels, a nonprofit think tank that describes itself as a national movement of Democrats, Republicans, and independents working to solve the country’s most complex problems, has named Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. as its national co-chair.

The formal announcement occurred during a Zoom news conference on January 22.

It included welcome messages from Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), and former Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, among others.

Recording star Deborah Cox opened the introductory news conference by performing a spirited song about No Labels, who created the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus and an allied Senate group that led passage of some of the most important legislation of recent years, including the CHIPS Act, a gun safety bill, and a rewrite of the Electoral Count Act in 2022.

Voiceovers were woven in of former U.S. Presidents from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.

The organization then played a tribute video that included Dr. Chavis’ family and his legendary career as a civil rights leader.

“I’m very pleased to join Sen. Lieberman and Gov. Hogan as co-chairs of No Labels,” Dr. Chavis exclaimed.

“As a veteran of the civil rights movement, during the last six decades, I’ve learned a few things about the importance of people working together across lines of race, ethnicity, language, geography, and the things that divide us. I want to work on things that unite us as Americans. I believe No Labels offers that opportunity but also that responsibility to move forward,” Dr. Chavis said.

Lieberman, a former U.S. Senator from Connecticut, who changed parties in 2006 and is now an Independent, said No Labels is fortunate to have Dr. Chavis on board.

“Based on his history as a civil rights leader and the kind of person he is, I’m thrilled. Dr. Chavis has always been a bridge-builder and will bring civility, which is sorely needed in our government and our country,” Lieberman asserted.

Hogan, who served two terms as Maryland governor, also congratulated Dr. Chavis.

“I’m thrilled to congratulate Dr. Chavis and welcome him to No Labels. I know Dr. Chavis will be a great addition to the leadership team of No Labels,” Hogan stated.

“He shares our commitment to bringing people together to achieve common sense solutions for all Americans. Having worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Chavis knows what it means to fight for freedom and respect for all Americans, and that’s exactly what No Labels stand for,” Hogan concluded.

Manchin, the conservative-leaning Democrat, said he got involved with No Labels more than 12 years ago because the organization works to unite America.

“We’re still working to unite this country,” Manchin declared.

“What we’ve done in the last two years in a bipartisan way because of No Labels has been [major].

“So, I’m thrilled to have the experience of Dr. Chavis and the wealth of knowledge he’s gained over the years that he’ll share with us to help make us a more perfect union.”

In welcoming Dr. Chavis, Senator Susan Collins, Maine’s longest-serving Senator, lent her voice.

“As a highly respected civil rights leader, his service alongside Sen. Lieberman and Gov. Hogan will help move our organization and nation forward,” Collins insisted.

“Dr. Chavis has dedicated his life to championing equality and encouraging our nation to live up to its ideals. He believes in American unity, democracy, and opportunity for all.”

Dr. Chavis said his life’s work had taught him that if everyone works together, divisions can be overcome.

“And when we overcome divisions, we make progress,” he insisted.

“I believe we need to restore bipartisanship in the American Congress. We need to restore bipartisanship at the state legislative level.

“We need to restore bipartisanship at the local and municipal level. Americans today are worn out with all the divisions and looking for a way forward. No Labels offer that way forward.”

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COMMENTARY: Prayer is Your Power

Terrible things happen to good people often. We live in an unjust world with people making decisions that are informed more by profit than people. We cannot take those principles into our relationship with God. We must believe that “… all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

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Prayer is about faith. It is believing that God hears us.
Prayer is about faith. It is believing that God hears us.

Faithful Utterances

By Dr. Froswa Booker-Drew | Texas Metro News

This week, a friend informed me that she was following the ambulance to the hospital with her husband. Her husband was going through a major health crisis. She wasn’t the only one who reached out—a friend’s mother had unexplained pain and another friend contacted me about her friend’s son who was hospitalized with pneumonia. Each of them asked that I pray for them.

I consider it an honor to pray for others. Prayer is powerful and I love that I have a group of friends who I can turn to that I call the “prayer warriors” that when I send a text to lift up the concerns and issues of others before God, they go into battle mode.

Prayer is a weapon and I think many of us don’t understand its power until we need it. For many of us, it’s a routine, something that’s more about religion than it is about relationship. We have gotten prayer twisted as some exchange solely for stuff. God is not a celestial Santa Claus dropping off gifts. Prayer is an opportunity to go before to God sincerely in relationship. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.

Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matthew 6:5–8)

Prayer is about faith. It is believing that God hears us. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) I realize that my prayers are even more powerful when I am in relationship with others seeking God: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). It’s dangerous when we see prayer as a way to manipulate God into doing what we want. There is nothing wrong with bringing your requests before God but it’s important to check our motivation and intention. It’s also important to know that just because God doesn’t answer our prayers in the way that we want does not mean that God doesn’t love us.

It doesn’t mean that God does not hear us. It does not negate the omnipotence or goodness of God, either. We must believe that God is able. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) It’s easy to blame God when things don’t go the way we want them to—”the rain falls on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).

Terrible things happen to good people often. We live in an unjust world with people making decisions that are informed more by profit than people. We cannot take those principles into our relationship with God. We must believe that “… all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) …. God is concerned with our hearts, with people and cares for us even when things don’t go the way we’d like. I can report that all of the individuals we prayed for had excellent results.

God is good! Yet, I realize that this isn’t always the case. Prayer is powerful. God wants us to have this daily form of communication. 1 John 5:14, tells us: “And this is the boldness we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Don’t use prayer just when you need something. Just as all relationships require consistent communication for growth and results, the same is even more important in our relationship with God. Prayer is a powerful partnership with God that can move mountains when we believe!

Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew is the host of the Tapestry Podcast and the author of three books for women. She is also the Vice President of Community Affairs for the State Fair of Texas. To learn more, visit drfroswa.com.

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