- Created on 24 October 2012
By Sean Murphy
(AP) — While the nation's highest court ponders the use of race in college admissions, Oklahoma voters will decide next month whether to prohibit any affirmative action programs in state government.
State Question 759, a Republican-backed proposal approved by Oklahoma lawmakers last year, would specifically ban any programs in government employment, education or contracting that give preferred treatment based on race, gender, ethnicity or national origin. Supporters say affirmative action programs, first implemented in the 1960s to provide equal opportunities for minorities and women, are no longer needed, while opponents maintain racism and sexism still exists and that eliminating such programs would move the state backward.
"The only way we're going to get past racism and get people not to see the color difference is to get our government to lead by example," said state Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher, who sponsored the proposal in the Legislature.
Ryan Kiesel, the director of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the group opposes the ban and questioned whether Republicans placed the question on the ballot in part to help drive white, conservative voters to the polls.
"You have to wonder if politics are behind the motivation to put this on the ballot," Kiesel said. "I think this is an unnecessary state question. I think the negative impacts of it are much greater than any of the purported positives that the supporters are putting on the table."
The ballot question in Oklahoma comes as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a case involving a white Texas student, Abigail Fisher, who contends she was discriminated against when the University of Texas did not offer her a spot in 2008 because of its program that considers race in college admissions. The high court, which is expected to rule on the case next summer, heard arguments in the case Oct. 10.
But in Oklahoma, state officials say racial preference programs like those in place at the University of Texas already have been abolished and that passage of the state question here will have little effect, other than to eliminate a handful of scholarships at public universities that target women and minorities. The question specifically allows exemptions for programs in place because of existing court orders or consent decrees or when affirmative action is needed to keep or obtain federal funds.
"Our practices will stay the same regardless," said Shelley Reeves, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, the state agency that oversees both state hiring and contracting. "In practice, we're comfortable with the hiring practices that we employ in providing the state with a diverse workforce ... and based on the way that we interpret the resolution, there would be no change in the bidding practice."
The ballot measure in Oklahoma is based on similar proposals that already have passed in California, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington and, most recently, Arizona in 2010.
The measures have been spearheaded by Ward Connerly, the founder and president of the nonprofit American Civil Rights Institute, who argues that the time for affirmative action programs, implemented in the 1960s under President John F. Kennedy, has ended.
"I think that the initiative in Oklahoma is one whose time has come," said Connerly, who recently visited with civic organizations in Oklahoma City to build support for the proposal.
Most of the studies into how these measures affect states come from California and Washington, which put the bans in place in the 1990s. According to a 2012 study by the Henderson Center for Social Justice at the University of California's Berkeley School of Law, state contracts to women and minority-owned businesses in California dropped by more than 50 percent after the affirmative action ban was implemented.
The study also notes that data from Washington shows a similar decline in transportation construction awards after that state passed its ban in 1998 and that there was a dramatic drop in minority applicants at the University of Washington. The number of African American, Hispanic and Native American students applying to elite law schools in several states that banned affirmative action, including California and Washington, also declined, the study notes.
And while those impacts may not be felt in a state like Oklahoma, which doesn't use racial or gender preferences in college admissions or contracting, the proposal could still have negative implications for race relations in the state, said Michael Sumner, who helped author the 2012 study.
"One of the things we've found in our research is that people become afraid of both violating the law accidentally as well as just becoming afraid to talk about race and ethnicity and gender," Sumner said. "Part of this chilling impact is that it creates an environment where even bringing up these issues at all, people become fearful."
- Created on 18 October 2012
By Jason Keyser
(AP) — A group of attorneys filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday to demand new hearings for scores of imprisoned men who claim their confessions were extracted through torture at the hands of Chicago police officers.
The lawsuit gives new hope to more than 100 people who filed claims of torture with a commission of inquiry before its work was halted this summer due to state budget cuts. Only six of those cases have been referred to a judge for further action.
The suit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, is also a chance to learn the true extent of a scandal in which dozens of men — almost all of them black — claim that, starting in the 1970s, police Lt. Jon Burge and his officers beat or shocked them into confessing to crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder.
"It is time — it is past time — for there to be closure in the Burge scandal," said Locke Bowman, one of the attorneys on the case and legal director of the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center. "That closure will come about in one way and one way only — full, fair hearings for each and every one of the victims with a credible claim that his conviction rests in part or in whole on a confession produced by torture."
The mother of one of the petitioners, Johnnie Plummer, said at a news conference about the filing that she hoped the suit would be the beginning of a journey home for her son, who was arrested at age 15 for two killings and has spent the past 21 years behind bars. He claims officers beat him with a flashlight, struck him in the face and pulled his hair so he would confess.
"It's not fair," said Jeanette Plummer. "Twenty-one years is wasted. My son needs to come home. So do the other men. And I hope this petition that they filed will give my son a fair hearing, so I can see my baby come home. It's long overdue. I hope we get justice for Johnnie."
Burge was convicted in 2010 of lying under oath by testifying in a lawsuit that he'd never witnessed or participated in the torture of suspects. He is serving a 4½-year sentence in federal prison for perjury and obstruction of justice.
But Bowman said that until all of these "forgotten group of men" get hearings, the scandal will "continue to fester, it will continue to plague us."
Former prisoner Darrell Cannon, who also spoke at the news conference, said his story is proof that with a fair hearing, the wrongfully convicted can get justice.
"On behalf of all those who are still locked up, I say unto you, 'Continue to keep your hope alive,'" said Cannon, who was freed after 24 years in prison when a review board determined that evidence used to convict him was tainted.
Cannon said police pretended to load a shotgun, put it in his mouth and pulled the trigger to terrify him into confessing to a murder that he didn't commit. He said they also shocked him below the belt with an electric cattle prod.
The total number of torture victims is still unknown, Bowman said.
"It's fair to say there may well be scores," he said.
The petition filed Tuesday names 12 inmates who were first identified in 2006 in an investigation led by a special prosecutor.
The lawsuit says it also includes some or all of the 110 people who filed complaints with the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, which was effectively shut down in June by lawmakers who stripped it of all of its funding as they grappled with a budget shortfall.
The commission recently received a stopgap grant of federal money that will allow it to resume operations until the end of the year, when its director hopes the state will resume funding its work.
Bowman, however, believes the class action lawsuit will provide a more certain avenue to justice for those who have been wrongfully convicted because it comes with more clarity about the process and rules of evidence, and it clearly requires a judge to issue a decision in each case.
"Our view is that this is the only way that we can be assured that we will get definitively to the bottom of this scandal," Bowman said.
- Created on 12 October 2012
Defender Staff Report Jim Hobson, supervisor of the Chicago Park District’s Garfield Park, will be inducted into the State of Illinois Department on Aging’s Senior Hall of Fame Oct. 24. Hobson, employed with the park district for the past 31 years and supervisor of Garfield Park for the past 21 years, has a long history of working with children and young adults. Hobson is a decorated Vietnam Veteran and has received numerous civilian awards throughout his career.
- Created on 15 October 2012
Photos from the art exhibit, “Son of Man (book II): A reVision of the Christ “ at the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC) running now through November 3.
The exhibition is the second in a three-part series of acrylics, mixed media and collage works, by artist Raymond Thomas, former creative director for Johnson Publishing, who repurposes those images, stripping away dogma and traditionalized visual tenets to create a new vision of the Christ; a “re-vision” of personal spiritual relevance, not only for himself but for his community and for society as a whole. Thomas’ imagery for this series is set within a contemporary urbanized landscape that echoes the sentiment of Matthew 11:19 which reads: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” He uses abstraction and abstract expressionism to create “mini-series” within the larger concept. His hope is when experienced together, his works will convey the idea of the multiple planes of reality in which The Son of Man exists and operates in our minds, body’s and spirits. The exhibit runs through November 3 at SSCAC, 3831 S. Michigan Ave.
- Created on 06 October 2012
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United Negro College Fund has recruited a crop of celebrities to drive home the message that getting into college is one thing, but getting through it is another.
The 5th annual UNCF Empower Me Tour kicks off Saturday at George Washington University in the nation's capital. It is co-hosted by Grammy-nominated singer Ledisi, and actors Boris Kodjoe, Kim Coles and Lamman Rucker, among others.
The celebrities will participate in sessions on various topics such as seeking scholarships, financial aid, internships, networking and branding. There also will be professional resume critiques, healthy cooking demonstrations, interactive games, prizes and music by celebrity DJs.
"We're there to give, we're there to impart something to them, but the truth is I always leave inspired by them and by their view of the world," said Coles, who has participated in past UNCF tours.
The 10-city tour will travel through next spring to Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, Minneapolis, Charlotte, N.C. and Hampton, Va. Stars who will join the tour in other cities include actress Tatyana Ali, singer Kenny Lattimore, reality star Toya Wright, model-actress Kenya Moore, former Essence Magazine editor Susan L. Taylor and radio host Warren Ballentine.
Coles, who recently starred in TV Land's "Soul Man" and is best known for her stints on Fox's "Living Single" and "In Living Color," will lead her own workshop, "PMS: Power, Money and Success," which she said encourages students to define power and success before they pursue higher education, and gives them guidance on how money works, "so they don't get caught up in the credit trap that often happens in college."
Paulette Jackson, UNCF's vice president of development, said it's critically important to reach and prepare students— even those who are in middle school — so they don't waste resources or time taking the wrong courses in high school or remedial courses their first years of college. The tour will also educate parents on resources available to help them navigate their child through college, she said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.