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Death Toll Rises While Outrage Boils Over Conditions at Mississippi’s Parchman Prison

NNPA NEWSWIRE — For some time, concerns about Parchman have rankled inmates, family members, and others, including hip-hop superstar Jay-Z who is suing the state demanding better conditions at the prison. Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, and others, have lobbied for officials to shut down the controversial prison. The conditions at Parchman, which once was a plantation that contained hundreds of slaves, were highlighted in January when cell phone video made its way to the internet displaying a cache of problems.

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The Entrance to Mississippi State Penitentiary. Today, of the more than 5,000 inmates at Parchman, more than 60 percent are African American. The prison has an 11-to-1 inmate to guard ratio, and no one is safe.

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

The crisis at Parchman Prison, the former slave plantation where more than two-thirds of inmates are African American, continued with the February 16, 2020 death of David Lee May.

The death was the 18th at the penitentiary since December 29, 2019, and it was the second in 24 hours. Inmate Bobby Vance, 54, died a day earlier from what officials called natural causes.

May, 42, was found unresponsive in his cell and was pronounced dead after prison officials said they said attempts to resuscitate him failed.

“I don’t suspect foul play,” Rankin County, Mississippi, Coroner David Ruth said in a statement about May, who had been housed in a cell by himself. Serving a life sentence for two aggravated assault convictions, May escaped in January but police captured him two days later.

Ruth stated that he’s awaiting results from an autopsy to confirm the cause of May’s death.

For some time, concerns about Parchman have rankled inmates, family members, and others, including hip-hop superstar Jay-Z who is suing the state demanding better conditions at the prison. Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, and others, have lobbied for officials to shut down the controversial prison.

The conditions at Parchman, which once was a plantation that contained hundreds of slaves, were highlighted in January when cell phone video made its way to the internet displaying a cache of problems.

Reform advocates and human rights organizations have labeled the prison one of the worst detention facilities in the world.

Reports indicate that death and violence are rampant, many inmates are without beds, and electricity, plumbing, and fundamental human rights are absent. At the same time, mold, roaches, mosquitos, and rodents far outnumber the more than 5,000 inmates.

“This is unacceptable,” rap star T.I., who is among those calling for the prison’s closure, wrote on his Instagram page.

“The conditions in the prisons operated by the Mississippi Department of Corrections are absolutely inhumane and unconstitutional,” Yo Gotti wrote in a letter to the governor Phil Bryant, a Republican.

“To see this happen so close to my hometown of Memphis is truly devastating. That’s why we’re calling on Mississippi state leaders to take immediate action and rectify this issue. If they don’t right this wrong, we’re prepared to take legal action to provide relief for those that are incarcerated and their families,” Gotti stated.

In an alarming 2019 report on Parchman and other Mississippi prisons, The Marshall Project found that gang activity isn’t limited to some of the people incarcerated. They discovered that some prison employees, including some high ranking officers and managers, are affiliated with one of two gangs, the Vice Lords or Gangster Disciples. The reasons vary.

“Some staffers said gang loyalty gives some officers a measure of protection; since gangs have a lot of control, they can prevent certain attacks,” The Marshall Project reported. “Others say gang affiliation began before employment; according to lawsuits, testimony, and interviews, gangs directly recruit women to apply for correctional officer jobs.”

In a tweet, Pro Publica officials stated, “Understaffed and underfunded, Mississippi’s #ParchmanPrison recently received media attention for its grisly violence, gang control, and subhuman living conditions. Lawmakers have known about these issues for years — and have done nothing to fix it.”

In addition to the deaths of May and Vance, James Allen Brown, 54, and Jesus Garcia, 39, have also died this month at Parchman. Each of those deaths was characterized as being of natural causes.

In January, Nora Ducksworth, 53, died of “apparent natural causes” at the prison. Two days earlier, Limarion Reaves, 28, collapsed and died while talking to a relative on a prison phone. On January 26, Joshua Norman, 26, was found hanging in his cell during a security check. One day earlier, Jermaine Tyler, 38, was found unresponsive in his housing unit and, on January 22, Thomas Lee, 49, died of an “apparent suicide.”

James Talley, 36, and Timothy Hudspeth, 35, both died on January 21, due to injuries suffered during an altercation with other inmates.

Authorities said Gabriel Carmen, 31, was found hanging in his cell at Parchman on January 18, while A.D. Mills, 42, died of “natural causes on January 8 after being taken to a local hospital.

On January 3, Denorris Howell, 36, died of neck injuries after an altercation with his cellmate.

Gregory Emary, 26, was reportedly killed in a fight on January 2, while on the same day, Roosevelt Holliman, 32, was stabbed to death in what officials called a gang fight.

Walter Gates, 25, died of multiple stab wounds on January 1, and Terrandance Dobbins, 40, was killed during what authorities called a major disturbance at the prison.

“We have been treating these people like animals for decades,” Paloma Wu, a senior staff attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, told reporters after visiting a client at Parchman. “Worse than animals, in fact. It is no exaggeration to say more lives will be lost absent immediate intervention.”

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Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Amari is one of these artists and Ghofrane is an activist. Exploring how racism has shaped her life in all aspects including her early school days, her romantic life and everyday activities, Amari’s film showcases how Ghofrane uses her experiences as impetus to work to bring change to her country for all people. A compassionate and hopeful exploration of the life and aspirations of Ghofrane, She Had A Dream sheds light on women’s roles in Tunisia’s changing society and one woman’s battle to create change for her community.
The post Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D, NNPA Newswire Entertainment and Culture Editor

The documentary She Had A Dream by Tunisian filmmaker Raja Amari premieres on AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange series tonight at 8 p.m. EST on WORLD CHANNEL. Season 14 of the acclaimed documentary series captures Black artists and activists shaping and reclaiming culture, advocating for change and mobilizing for brighter futures. She Had A Dream offers an intimate portrayal of one young Black Tunisian woman’s quest for political office and her fight against racism and oppression in a society that often seeks to overlook both.

The documentary follows Ghofrane, a 20-something Black woman from Tunisia as she walks the path of self-discovery of young adulthood while running for political office in a homeland where many still view her as an outsider.

Watch the trailer below:

A dedicated, charismatic activist and a modern, free-speaking woman, Ghofrane in many ways is the embodiment of contemporary Tunisian political hopes still alive years after the Arab Spring. She Had A Dream follows Ghofrane as she works to conquer her own self-doubts while attempting to persuade close friends and complete strangers to vote for her. As audiences follow her campaign, they also follow the dichotomies of her life as a woman striving for a role in politics in the Arab world and as a Black person in a country where racism is prevalent, yet often denied.

“The 14th season of AfroPoP shines a light on the collective power, strength and resilience of Black people and movements around the world,” said Leslie Fields-Cruz, AfroPoP executive producer. “Viewers will see artists use their platforms to push for progress and human rights and see ‘ordinary’ people do the remarkable in the interest of justice.”

Amari is one of these artists and Ghofrane is an activist. Exploring how racism has shaped her life in all aspects including her early school days, her romantic life and everyday activities, Amari’s film showcases how Ghofrane uses her experiences as impetus to work to bring change to her country for all people. A compassionate and hopeful exploration of the life and aspirations of Ghofrane, She Had A Dream sheds light on women’s roles in Tunisia’s changing society and one woman’s battle to create change for her community.

She Had A Dream airs on AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange Monday, April 11 at 8 p.m. ET on WORLD Channel and begins streaming on worldchannel.org at the same time.

AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange is presented by Black Public Media and WORLD Channel. For more information, visit worldchannel.org or blackpublicmedia.org.

This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter or Instagram @TheBurtonWire.

The post Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Sextortion” refers to sex being used as currency instead of money for services or products — in this case water. According to the Water Integrity Network (WIN), the testimonies collected from women over the past five years in Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Njenga, which are some of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, point towards an invisible, unspoken, and sinister consequence of corruption in the water sector i.e. sextortion. Sex for water is not a new phenomena.
The post Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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BBC Africa is reporting Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, is facing a water shortage because of changing weather patterns and aging water facilities. The article reports, “Residents in informal communities like Kibra pay private vendors for water, meaning they now control the supply and access to water in the community.” The privatization of water access has led to an increase in the exploitation of women and girls in exchange for water.

“Sextortion” refers to sex being used as currency instead of money for services or products — in this case water. According to the Water Integrity Network (WIN), the testimonies collected from women over the past five years in Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Njenga, which are some of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, point towards an invisible, unspoken, and sinister consequence of corruption in the water sector i.e. sextortion. Sex for water is not a new phenomena. Check out the 2018 ANEW documentary short below:

The water crisis and the sexual exploitation of girls and women as a result of the water crisis shows no signs of slowing down.

To read more about this crisis, visit BBC Africa‘s series of articles and videos on Kenya’s water crisis and the Water Integrity Network’s (WIN) study on sextortion.

This news brief was curated by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter or Instagram @TheBurtonWire.

The post Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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#WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright

THE AFRO — Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Black youths ages 15 to 24, according to the Office of Minority Health. The same report found Black high school-aged girls were 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide than their white peers. And, by June 2020, the CDC saw the rate of Black respondents who reported having “seriously considered suicide” was significantly higher.
The post #WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Maya Pottiger, Word in Black

It’s no surprise that we’re living through difficult times. After two years, we’re still in a global pandemic, which has predominantly impacted people of color. In addition, Book bans, attacks on critical race theory, and partisan political fights target everything from Black youths’ sexuality, to history, to health.

And we’re seeing the effects.

Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Black youths ages 15 to 24, according to the Office of Minority Health. The same report found Black high school-aged girls were 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide than their white peers. And, by June 2020, the CDC saw the rate of Black respondents who reported having “seriously considered suicide” was significantly higher.

For a variety of reasons — ongoing stigma, lack of insurance, most accessible — Black students often rely on the mental health services offered at school.Outside of a mental health-specific practice, Black students were nearly 600 times as likely to get mental health help in an academic setting compared to other options, according to 2020 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In fact, mental health services in schools have been steadily gaining popularity among students since 2009, before dropping slightly in 2020 when the school year was interrupted, according to the SAMHSA report. As a result, the rate of students receiving mental health care through school decreased by 14 percent in 2020 compared to 2019.

So how are schools changing the way they address and prioritize mental health — and the specific needs of Black students — since 2020?

The Renewed Focus on Mental Health

For school-aged people, the majority of their time is spent in a school building — about eight hours per day, 10 months out of the year. To help address mental health during academic hours, schools are trying to focus on social-emotional learning: self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills. This includes teaching kids how to be in touch with their emotions and protect against adverse mental health outcomes.

But it’s been difficult.

Though there’s been more conversation, the implementation is challenging, says Dr. Kizzy Albritton, an associate professor of school psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. There was already a shortage of school-based mental health professionals before the pandemic, which has now been exacerbated, as have mental health issues. In addition, though schools clearly recognize the importance of mental health, they aren’t always provided adequate resources.

“Unless there are more resources funneled into the school system, we’re going to see a continued catch-up issue across the board,” Albritton says. “And, unfortunately, our Black students are going to continue to suffer the most.”

In a survey of high school principals and students, Education Week Research Center found discrepancies in how principals and students viewed a school’s mental health services. While 86 percent of the principals said their schools provided services, only about 66 percent of students agreed. The survey did point out it’s possible the school offers these services and students aren’t aware. The survey also found Black and Latinx students were less likely than their peers to say their schools offered services.

Dr. Celeste Malone, the president-elect of the National Association for School Psychologists and a Howard University associate professor, says she hasn’t previously seen this degree of attention to mental health in schools.

“I see that a lot in my role for a school psychology graduate program: the outreach and people contacting me with openings where they didn’t exist previously,” Malone says. “With this increased push in funding to hire more, that’s definitely a very, very positive movement.”

Mental Health Is Not One Size Fits All

Just like with many aspects of health, Black youths need different mental health support from their peers of other races. They need a counselor who understands their lived experiences, like microaggressions and other forms of discrimination or racism, without the student having to explain.

For example, in order to best address the specific mental health needs of Black students, districts need to provide information breaking down mental health stigmas; focus on hiring Black counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals; and fund anti-racist and trauma-informed mental health practices, according to the Center for American Progress.

While she hears a lot of talk, Albritton says she isn’t seeing widespread evidence of these solutions in practice.

“There needs to be a willingness, first of all, to understand that our Black students, their needs look a lot different,” Albritton says. School officials need to understand where Black students are coming from — that their families and households experience systemic and structural racism, which are known to trigger anxiety and depression. The effects of the racial wealth gap also play a role, from the neighborhood kids are living in, to the schools they can attend to the impacts on their health. Students might be bringing worries about these challenges to school, which could be reflected in their behavior. This is why, Albritton says, it’s crucial to also work with students’ families.

The post #WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright appeared first on AFRO American Newspapers .

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