Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Texas town prepares for protests in dragging case

DALLAS — Police and residents of an eastern Texas town are bracing for dueling protests between black and white extremists over a prosecutor's decision to drop murder charges against two white men accused in the death of a black friend who was run over by a vehicle and dragged beneath it.

The protests Tuesday in Paris are expected to pit members of the New Black Panthers and Ku Klux Klan against one another. Others, including members of the Nation of Islam and a local group, the Concerned Citizens for Racial Equality, also will take part.

Like a demonstration staged last month to protest the dismissal of charges, Tuesday's rallies are sure to include the black power salutes and Nazi symbols typical of such clashes. The angry rhetoric has already begun.

"Caucasians in Paris must understand that they are the reason for Paris being the center of unsavory attention," one black protest leader, Jimmy Blackwell of the Tarrant County Local Organizing Committee, wrote in an editorial published last week in The Paris News. "We welcome the KKK because we want the world to see how real Americans act."

One rally flier said "suspected hate crime killers" were set free by "racist Texas courts."

But most of Paris' 26,000 residents have tired of the negative publicity the case has brought, and are likely to steer clear of the courthouse steps on Tuesday, said Marva Joe, who helps chair a diversity task force set up to address racial issues in the community.

"I guess I am like most people in Paris," Joe said. "The majority of people in Paris don't agree with the way they do things. Most people are not happy about the groups, about the people who are coming."

The protests focus on the death of 24-year-old Brandon McClelland, whose body was found Sept. 16 on a country road outside of Paris, which is about 90 miles northeast of Dallas.

Prosecutors initially charged two of McClelland's white friends, Shannon Finley and Charles Crostley, with murdering him by running him over in Finley's pickup. They estimated that McClelland's body was dragged more than 70 feet beneath their vehicle. But a special prosecutor dismissed the charges last month, citing a lack of evidence, after a truck driver came forward and said he might have accidentally run over McClelland.

Demonstrators on Tuesday will be separated into protest zones outside the courthouse. Authorities said there have been hints that skinhead groups might show up.

Lamar County Judge Chuck Superville said he resisted pressure to force the protest elsewhere, and that allowing the rallies would be "a wonderful opportunity to show we support democracy. We are not an intolerant, racist community," he said.

Previous protests about the case by the Panthers and the Nation of Islam were mostly peaceful and resulted in no arrests. A handful of white supremacists led by Rock Banks, a self-professed grand titan of the East Texas Ku Klux Klan, have showed up each time.

Protesters have said the McClelland case echoes the murder of James Byrd, a black man who was chained by the ankles to a pickup by three white men and dragged to death in 1998 in the east Texas town of Jasper.

Authorities, however, have denied there was a racial angle in the McClelland death, pointing out that that he was friends with Finley and Crostley. Authorities had said the trio were returning from a late-night beer run when McClelland died. They alleged the three were arguing about whether Finley was too drunk to drive, and that McClelland decided to walk home. Authorities said Finley then ran over McClelland.

Finley and Crostley, who were released after eight months in jail, have maintained their innocence.

Paris, which is about 73 percent white and 22 percent black, has been tied to other recent incidents in which race was alleged to have played a role.

Superville, who is white, sentenced a black girl to up to seven years in a juvenile prison in 2007 for shoving a teacher's aide at school. He sentenced a white girl to probation for burning down her parents' house.

This year, two black factory workers in Paris alleged widespread racism and said supervisors at their plant failed to respond to complaints about racist graffiti, nooses and slurs.

Joe called the rhetoric coming from the protest groups hateful and said it doesn't jibe with the town she has lived in for 46 years.

"It's distorted," she said of Blackwell's editorial last week. "I'm not saying there isn't racism here. But I don't agree with the way they are doing things."

Saving black marriages: An Alternative

Shanna and Johnny Woodbury enrolled in an eight-week relationship program to get their marriage back on track.

From the outside, Johnny and Shanna Woodbury looked like the perfect couple. They had been married 13 years, owned multiple properties and were successful managers. They also had four beautiful children -- a son and a daughter fresh out of college they had prior to getting married and a 12-year-old daughter on the cheerleading team and an 8-year-old son on the honor roll.

Together they had built and moved into their 7,200-square-foot dream home in Prince George's County, Maryland, with five bedrooms, six bathrooms, two sunrooms and a basement. Both were Christians who regularly attended the New Samaritan Baptist Church.

But privately, the Woodburys' marriage was in turmoil.

"I love my husband" said Shanna Woodbury of their marriage. "But I feel so overworked and underappreciated. I work full-time like my husband, but if I don't maintain the domestic responsibilities of the house, nothing gets done. Added to that, I manage our rental properties and take care of everything for our kids, alone."

Her husband started to echo similar frustrations.

"I'm faithful to my wife, I give her my whole paycheck but I work the late shift and my job is demanding. When I come home, I don't need to hear her mouth -- I just need to watch my favorite football game in peace."

Shanna grows more overwhelmed, tempers flare and the two begin arguing more and listening less. Tension took over their home and their fighting began to take a toll on the rest of the family, resulting in disciplinary issues with the kids.

"I realized my family was dysfunctional," says Shanna Woodbury. "But we also knew that divorce was not an option."

The Woodburys knew they needed help. So a friend introduced them to Basic Training for Couples -- a class that had helped pull their friends' marriage back from the brink of divorce.

Shanna and Johnny Woodbury enrolled.

"Marriage is one of those entities that you have to know going in, it will be hard, but you're not alone," says Dr. Rozario Slack, speaking to an audience at a couples graduation.

Slack, a pastor and relationship consultant, is the co-creator of the "Basic Training for Couples Curriculum" and co-author of "10 Great Dates for Black Couples."

"I grew tired of the statistics and when I look at my children, I knew I had to do something to prevent marriage from becoming a dinosaur in our community," says Slack.

There are many influences that have shaped, affected or strained black marriages, according to marriage and family experts. Among them: African tribal traditions, the horrors of slavery, racial integration in the U.S. that paved the way to more freedoms and the migrations of thousands of African-Americans that fractured or reshaped communities. Trace the historic migrations of black Americans

"Moving from one community to another could affect marriage because it disrupts social ties," says Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University and author of the landmark book, "The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today."

"Migration separates people from friends and relatives who could help them through family crisis," says Cherlin.

Black couples in crisis inspired Slack and Nisa Muhammad to create Basic Training for Couples. The free eight-week program educates dating, engaged or married couples in groups of five to 15. The lessons cover the value of commitment, responsibility to the black community, psychological differences between the sexes, sexual intimacy and conflict resolution.

Slack created the male-friendly portion while Muhammad, who founded National Black Marriage Day and the Wedded Bliss Foundation, created the female-friendly portion.

"Marriage belongs to the community," says Muhammad. "An unhealthy marriage relationship gives children an inaccurate representation of marriage, which they in turn replicate for generations."

In the program, couples also learn about the history of the African-American marriage and many for the first time plot their family tree to trace marriage and divorces.

"We do this to help them understand: Is there any support for their marriage in their family?" says Muhammad. "Who are the role models? Do they see women who are great successful wives? Are there men that are great successful husbands or a brotherhood of husbands? If not, the members of the class become their community of support because we all want the same thing -- successful marriages."

The group support is key in Basic Training. Occasionally the facilitators divide the class into gender groups. This encourages the men and women to openly express their struggles without inhibitions and gives them the opportunity to offer advice and hold each other accountable.

And, the lessons don't end after the eight-week course. The couples are empowered to go back to their communities and bring awareness to other couples. They also plan outings, from game nights to sleepovers for the women.

Since taking the class, the Woodburys have gone from co-existing with each other to having a marriage that is stronger than it has ever been. They have also met friends and other couples that will help them stay strong.

"We have become better parents because for the first time we are on one accord, and there is far less arguing for our children to witness," Shanna Woodbury told CNN. "At the end, our children have been the biggest benefactors and for that we are grateful."





Obama Administration Misses Deadline for Report on Detainees

In yet another failure to honor its promises to civil libertarians, the Obama Administration has failed to honor its own deadline for the submission of a report on its policy for the detention of terror suspects. The report was expected to give details on Obama’s promise to shutdown the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Obama has reportedly decided to give his Administration another six months.

The delay occurs at a time when the Administration has been adopting, and in some cases expanding, Bush terror policies. This includes the statement of Administration officials that, even if a detainee is acquitted in court, President Obama retained the right to hold the detainee indefinitely under his own authority.

Obama officials insist that they are making progress but simply need more time. However, when combined with the failure to order an investigation into the torture program (without outcome determinative limitations), the delay is seen as additional evidence of the reluctance of the Obama Administration to follow its clear legal obligations in this area. These detainees should not have been placed in a make-shift legal system in the first place. They should be transferred to our legal system and charged with any crimes alleged by the Administration. Instead, the Administration continues the Bush approach of rigging the system — creating special rules for detainees who would likely prevail in a fair trial.

Jimmy Carter Leaves Church Over Treatment of Women

After more than 60 years together, Jimmy Carter has announced himself at odds with the Southern Baptist Church -- and he's decided it's time they go their separate ways. Via Feministing, the former president called the decision "unavoidable" after church leaders prohibited women from being ordained and insisted women be "subservient to their husbands." Said Carter in an essay in The Age:

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

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The truth is that male religious leaders have had -- and still have -- an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world.

After watching everyone from philandering politicians to Iran's president taking a sudden look heavenwards when the roof starts to come down on them, it's refreshing to see Carter calling out the role of religion in the mistreatment of women.

The question for Carter -- and for others who find themselves at odds with leadership -- is, when a group you're deeply involved in starts to move away from your own core beliefs, do you stay and try to change from within or, at some point, do you have to look for the exit? Carter did give the former a shot -- in recent years publicly criticizing and distancing himself from church leadership, while staying involved with his church. Now, he's seeing if absence might do what presence did not.

Should a young alcoholic be denied a life-saving transplant?

A young man who began binge-drinking at 13 has died after being denied a life-saving liver transplant. Gary Reinbach, 22, from Dagenham, was given only a few weeks to live after developing cirrhosis of the liver.

Specialists denied him a donor organ because applicants must prove they can remain sober outside hospital for six months before the operation. Tragically for Gary, his condition was so severe that doctors were unable to discharge him — preventing him from fulfiling the criteria for the surgery he longed for.

Gary is one of the youngest people in the UK to die of advanced cirrhosis brought on by bingedrinking. His parents split up when he was 11 and just two years later he turned to booze after falling in with a bad crowd.

Do you think he should have been given a second chance instead of being left to die? And why are so many young people dying prematurely after drinking too much?

Roethlisberger accused of sex assault in lawsuit

RENO, Nev. — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault in a civil lawsuit, his lawyer said, denying the claim.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in Washoe County District Court accusing Roethlisberger of assaulting a woman in July 2008.

Roethlisberger is one of nine defendants listed in the online court docket report. Further details of the lawsuit were not available Tuesday morning.

"Ben has never sexually assaulted anyone ... The timing of the lawsuit and the absence of a criminal complaint and a criminal investigation are the most compelling evidence of the absence of any criminal conduct. If an investigation is commenced, Ben will cooperate fully and Ben will be fully exonerated," David Cornwell, Roethlisberger's lawyer, said in a statement released early Tuesday.

A phone message and e-mail from the AP to Cornwell were not returned.

Attorney Calvin R. Dunlap, of Reno, filed the lawsuit, according to court documents. A telephone message left for him was not returned.

Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett said Tuesday the team is aware of the lawsuit, and "we are gathering information."

Gates Arrest Brings Issues of Racism To The Forefront

by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA

Share this on Twitter - Gates Arrest Brings Issues of Racism To The Forefront Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 12:53:05 AM PDT
Is Cambridge, Massachusetts, the storied home of Harvard University, the new Selma, Alabama? Is there a racial backlash in Cambridge--long considered a bastion of liberalism--against having both a black governor and a black President simultaneously? Will liberalism in Massachusetts die when Ted Kennedy does? Will the late Boston anti-busing crusader Louise Day Hicks prove to the patron saint of 21st Century Massachusetts?

I am certain I am not alone in thinking about these kinds of questions in light of the recent news that the eminent Harvard Black Studies Professor Henry Louis Gates has been arrested for disorderly conduct after vehemently protesting his interrogation for breaking into his own home, a horrible nightmare in a land where the belief that one's home is one's castle is widespread.

State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA's diary :: ::
If the City of Cambridge is smart, by 8:00 a.m. today, the Mayor will have announced a 10:00 a.m. press conference to discuss the City of Cambridge's decision to drop charges against Professor Gates. A smart city would make sure top police and prosecutors were there to support the decision to drop the charges.

If the City of Cambridge is not smart, and lets the issue of Gate's absurd and likely racist arrest reverbate around the world for days or weeks or months, the Gates arrest will define what Cambridge is for many people around the world for many years to come.

Police of all kinds, like elected officials of all kinds and officers of the court of all kinds, have tremendous discretionary authority. When that authority is used well, cities prosper. When that authority is used poorly, cities get bogged down in painful issues that they could do without.

The arrest of an affluent internationally known self-made man for complaining loudly of his interrogation for breaking into his own home is a case of discetion run amuck. Yes, everyone in Cambridge will learn the valuable lesson of not arguing with a policeman. But, there will be a surprising number of Cambridge who march on City Hall, write angry letters to the editor, or put their homes up for sale.

I believe the Obama Presidency is an indication that we are moving towards a post-racial society, but we are not there yet. A children's day camp located in my legislative district in an increasingly black neighborhood that had long been a Jewish and Catholic enclave was denied admission to a private swim club in suburban Huntington Valley it had paid to get access to for an hour and a half a week after it became clear what the racial composition of the children was.

A lawsuit was recently filed against the City of Philadelphia by the Guardian Civic League, a longstanding organization of black police officers, seeking injunctive relief and damages against the city for allowing a website, Domelights.com, to post racist essays by police working on and off the job. The suit alleges that large numbers of police were making racist postings, and these were so widely discussed daily that they were creating a racially hostile work environment for minority policemen and policewomen.

Today's Washington Post notes an unexplained significant drop in crime in many cities this year, and wonders why. My guess is that the optimism generated by Barack Obama's election is part of the answer. I would also guess that those who see racial issues as a matter of winners and losers have gotten angrier and more anxious about Obama's election.

The late great Richardson Dilworth--once feared by President Kennedy as his main rival for the 1960 Democratic Presidential nomination if he could have gotten elected Governor of Pennsylvania in 1958-- served as President of the Philadelphia School Board after having served as city treasurer, district attorney, mayor and a two time Democratic gubernatorial nominee. Dilworth angrily fought issues of racism in education, and earned national notoriety by describing suburbs as a "white noose" around the nation's cities. (His anger at suburbs was likely increased by their voting overwhelmingly against him in his gubernatorial races in accordance with their party registration.)

Around the time of the 1968 release of the report of the Kerner Commission,the National Commission on Civil Disorders, Dilworth warned that problems of racism could not be solved immediately. "It will take thirty or forty years to solve these problems," he said.

Events in Cambridge, Huntington Valley, Philadelphia, and likely a lot of other places, show that more than fifty years after the Kerner Commission report we have not solved the problems of racism in our society. We have made great progress, but we still have a long way to go.

Black scholar's arrest raises profiling questions

Supporters of a prominent Harvard University black scholar who was arrested at his own home by police responding to a report of a break-in say he is the victim of racial profiling.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. had forced his way through the front door of his home because it was jammed, his lawyer said Monday.

Cambridge police say they responded to the well-maintained two-story home near campus after a woman reported seeing "two black males with backpacks on the porch," with one "wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry."

The woman, Lucia Whalen, is the circulation and fundraising manager at Harvard Magazine, a news and alumni magazine affiliated with the school. The magazine's offices are down the street from Gates' home.

By the time police arrived, Gates was already inside. Police say he refused to come outside to speak with an officer, who told him he was investigating a report of a break-in.

"Why, because I'm a black man in America?" Gates said, according to a police report written by Sgt. James Crowley. The Cambridge police refused to comment on the arrest Monday.

Gates — the director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research — initially refused to show the officer his identification, but then gave him a Harvard University ID card, according to police.

"Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him," the officer wrote.

Gates said he turned over his driver's license and Harvard ID — both with his photos — and repeatedly asked for the name and badge number of the officer, who refused. He said he then followed the officer as he left his house onto his front porch, where he was handcuffed in front of other officers, Gates said in a statement released by his attorney, fellow Harvard scholar Charles Ogletree, on a Web site Gates oversees, TheRoot.com

He was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge after police said he "exhibited loud and tumultuous behavior." He was released later that day on his own recognizance. An arraignment was scheduled for Aug. 26.

Gates, 58, also refused to speak publicly Monday, referring calls to Ogletree.

"He was shocked to find himself being questioned and shocked that the conversation continued after he showed his identification," Ogletree said.

Ogletree declined to say whether he believed the incident was racially motivated, saying "I think the incident speaks for itself."

Some of Gates' African-American colleagues say the arrest is part of a pattern of racial profiling in Cambridge.

Allen Counter, who has taught neuroscience at Harvard for 25 years, said he was stopped on campus by two Harvard police officers in 2004 after being mistaken for a robbery suspect. They threatened to arrest him when he could not produce identification.

"We do not believe that this arrest would have happened if professor Gates was white," Counter said. "It really has been very unsettling for African-Americans throughout Harvard and throughout Cambridge that this happened."

The Rev. Al Sharpton said he will attend Gates' arraignment.

"This arrest is indicative of at best police abuse of power or at worst the highest example of racial profiling I have seen," Sharpton said. "I have heard of driving while black and even shopping while black but now even going to your own home while black is a new low in police community affairs."

Ogletree said Gates had returned from a trip to China on Thursday with a driver, when he found his front door jammed. He went through the back door into the home — which he leases from Harvard — shut off an alarm and worked with the driver to get the door open. The driver left, and Gates was on the phone with the property's management company when police first arrived.

Ogletree also disputed the claim that Gates, who was wearing slacks and a polo shirt and carrying a cane, was yelling at the officer.

"He has an infection that has impacted his breathing since he came back from China, so he's been in a very delicate physical state," Ogletree said.

Lawrence D. Bobo, the W.E.B Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard, said he met with Gates at the police station and described his colleague as feeling humiliated and "emotionally devastated."

"It's just deeply disappointing but also a pointed reminder that there are serious problems that we have to wrestle with," he said.

Bobo said he hoped Cambridge police would drop the charges and called on the department to use the incident to review training and screening procedures it has in place.

The Middlesex district attorney's office said it could not do so until after Gates' arraignment. Whalen, the woman who reported the apparent break-in, did not return a message Tuesday.

Gates joined the Harvard faculty in 1991 and holds one of 20 prestigious "university professors" positions at the school. He also was host of "African American Lives," a PBS show about the family histories of prominent U.S. blacks, and was named by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential Americans in 1997.

"I was obviously very concerned when I learned on Thursday about the incident," Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust said in a statement. "He and I spoke directly and I have asked him to keep me apprised."