- Created on 28 December 2012
A new study from the Pew Research Center suggests that the 2012 presidential election marks the first time in history where African-Americans were voting at a higher rate than their white peers, reports The Grio.
"Unlike other minority groups whose increasing electoral muscle has been driven mainly by population growth, blacks' rising share of the vote in the past four presidential elections has been the result of rising turnout rates," reports the study.
Although blacks make up 12 percent of the so-called "eligible electorate", 13 percent of the ballots cast for president were African-American voters.
"Did the turnout rate of blacks exceed that of whites this year for the first time ever? For now, there's circumstantial evidence but no conclusive proof," the Pew report says. "And there'll be no clear verdict until next spring, when the U.S. Census Bureau publishes findings from its biannual post-election survey on voter turnout."
The study also acknowledges that "in all previous presidential elections for which there are reliable data, blacks had accounted for a smaller share of votes than eligible voters."
Whether it was voter ID laws, the chance to re-elect the first African-American president or economic insecurity — one this is clear — black voters were motivated to return to the polls this November.
- Created on 27 December 2012
CHICAGO (AP) — It was February, the middle of lunch hour on a busy South Side street. The gunman approached his victim in a White Castle parking lot, shot him in the head, then fled down an alley.
The next month, one block away, also on West 79th Street: Two men in hooded sweatshirts opened fire at the Bishop Golden convenience store. They killed one young man and wounded five others, including a nephew of basketball superstar Dwyane Wade. The shooters got away in a silver SUV.
In July, a Saturday night, two men were walking on 79th when they were approached by a man who killed one and injured the other. This shooting resulted in a quick arrest; police had a witness, and a security camera caught the shooting.
These three violent snapshots of a single Chicago street are not exceptional. It's been a bloody year in the nation's third-largest city.
A spike in murders and shootings — much of it gang-related — shocked Chicagoans, spurred new crime-fighting strategies and left indelible images: Mayor Rahm Emanuel voicing outrage about gang crossfire that killed a 7-year-old named Heaven selling candy in her front yard. Panicked mourners scrambling as shots ring out on the church steps at a funeral for a reputed gang leader. Girls wearing red high school basketball uniforms, filing by the casket of a 16-year-old teammate shot on her porch.
A handful of neighborhoods were especially hard hit, among them Auburn-Gresham; the police district's 43 homicides (as of Dec. 21) ranked highest in the city, and represent an increase of about 20 percent over 2011. The outbreak, fueled partly by feuds among rival factions of Chicago's largest gang, the Gangster Disciples, rippled along 79th street, the main commercial drag. That single corridor offers a window into the wider mayhem that claimed lives, shattered families and left authorities scrambling for answers.
The scars aren't obvious, at first. Drive down West 79th and there's Salaam, a pristine white building of Islamic design, and The Final Call, the restaurant and newspaper operated by the Nation of Islam. Leo Catholic High School for young men. A health clinic. A beauty supply store. Around the corners, neat brick bungalows and block club signs warning: "No Littering. No Loitering. No Loud Music."
Look closer, though, and there are signs of distress and fear: Boarded-up storefronts. Heavy security gates on barber shops and food marts. Thick partitions separating cash registers from customers at the Jamaican jerk and fish joints. Police cars watching kids board city buses at the end of the school day.
Go a few blocks south of 79th to a food market where a sign bears a hand-scrawled message: "R.I.P. We Love You Eli," honoring a clerk killed in November in an apparent robbery. Or a block north to the front lawn of St. Sabina church where photos were added this year to a glass-enclosed memorial for young victims of deadly violence over the years.
Then go back to a corner of 79th, across the street and down the block from where two killings occurred, both gang-related.
There, in an empty lot, a wooden cross stands tall in the winter night. Painted in red is a plea:
THE TOLL: Chicago's murder rate is approaching 500, compared with 435 in 2011. More than 2,400 shootings occurred (as of Dec. 21), an 11 percent increase over last year at the same time. Gang-related arrests are about 7,000 higher than in 2011.
Gang violence isn't new, but it became a major theme in the Chicago narrative this year.
Maybe it was because of the audacity of gang members posting YouTube videos in which they flashed wads of cash and guns. The sight of police brandishing automatic weapons, standing watch outside gang funerals. The sting of one more smiling young face on a funeral program. Or dramatic headlines in spring and summer, such as: "13 people shot in Chicago in 30-minute period."
It was alarming enough for President Barack Obama to mention it during the campaign, noting murders near his South Side home. Then, addressing gun violence in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, he cited Chicago again.
As grim as it is, Chicago's murder rate was almost double in the early 1990s — averaging around 900 — before violent crime began dropping in cities across America. This year's increase, though, is a sharp contrast to New York, where homicides fell 21 percent from 2011, as of early December.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says while murders and shootings are up, overall crime citywide is down 10 percent. He says crime strategies — some just put into place this year — are working, but they take time.
"The city didn't get in this shape overnight," he says. "I think that we're doing ourselves a disservice by advertising a Vietnam-type body count. I've got to tell you when I speak to people ... they generally say, 'You know what? We don't even hear that anymore. It's white noise.'... The fascination unfortunately seems to be in the media and it's become a national obsession."
McCarthy also notes the pace of homicides has slowed sharply since early 2012. Murders skyrocketed 66 percent during an unusually warm March. "We got it down to 20 percent, which isn't good, but it's progress," he says. "I refuse to declare failure from progress."
Up to 80 percent of Chicago's murders and shootings are gang-related, according to police. By one estimate, the city has almost 70,000 gang members. A police audit last spring identified 59 gangs and 625 factions; most are on the South and West sides.
Gangs in Chicago have a long, dangerous history, some operating with the sophistication and hierarchy of corporations. In the 1980s, the leaders of the El Rukns were convicted of conspiring in a terrorism-for-hire scheme designed to collect millions from the Libyan government. Before the feds took down the leadership of the Gangster Disciples in the 1990s, the group had its own clothing line and political arm.
Nowadays, gangs are less structured and disputes more personal, says Eric Carter, commander of the Gresham district, home to 11 factions of the Gangster Disciples. "It's strictly who can help me make money," he says. "Lines have become blurred and alliances have become very fragile."
Carter says a gang narcotics dispute that started about six years ago is at the root of a lot of violence in his district.
Another change among gangs is the widespread use of YouTube, Facebook and other social media to taunt one another and spread incendiary messages. "One insult thrown on Facebook and Twitter becomes the next potential for a shooting incident on the street," Carter says.
McCarthy, who has consulted with criminologists, has implemented several plans, including an audit that identifies every gang member and establishing a long-term police presence in heavy drug-dealing areas, aimed at drying up business.
In two districts, police also have partnered controversially with CeaseFire Illinois, an anti-violence group that has hired convicted felons, including former gang members, to mediate street conflicts. McCarthy, who has expressed reservations about the organization, is taking a wait-and-see attitude.
"It's a work in progress," he says. "It hasn't shown a lot of success yet."
AMONG THE DEAD: An 18-year-old walking on a sidewalk. A 36-year-old at a backyard party. A 28-year-old in a car two blocks from the police station. A 40-year-old convenience store clerk, on the job just two months.
In a storefront on 79th, Curtis Toler has a map of the street and surrounding area with 10 stick pins. Each represents a homicide in 2012.
Toler, a former gang member, spent much of his life causing chaos. Now, he's preaching calm. As a supervisor at CeaseFire, his job is to ease tensions and defuse disputes before they explode.
Violence, he says, has become so commonplace, people are desensitized to death.
"I don't think we take it as hard as we should," he says. "When someone gets killed, there should be an uproar. But the ambulance comes, scoops them up, nobody says anything and it's back to business."
Toler's own life was shaped by guns and drugs. "In the early '90s, I was going to funerals back to back to back," he says. "When you're out there, you think you pretty much got it coming. It's a kill-or-be-killed mentality."
As he tells it, he was in a gang (in another neighborhood) from ages 9 to 30, including a six-year prison stint for involuntary manslaughter. He was shot six times, he says; he lifts a gray stocking cap pulled low over his head and presses a thumb over his right eyebrow to show the spot where a bullet struck. "I was blessed" to survive, he says, with a gap-toothed smile.
He was once so notorious, Toler says, that one day about a decade ago his grandmother returned from a community policing gathering and began crying. "She said, 'The whole meeting was about you. ... You and your friends are destroying the whole community. ... You're my grandson, but they're talking about you like you're an animal.'"
Now a 35-year-old father of four, Toler says he decided to go straight about five years ago. He knows some police don't believe his transformation. He regrets things he's done, he says, and for a time had trouble sleeping. "Life has its way of getting back at you one way or another," he says. "I believe in the law of reciprocity."
Toler's message to a new generation on the streets: I keep asking them,' What's the net worth on your life? There is no price.... You only get one. It's not a video game.'"
"You get some guys who listen," Toler says, "and some who really don't care. ... They say, 'I'm going to die anyway.'"
Two blocks east in another storefront on 79th, Carlos Nelson works to bring a different kind of stability to Gresham.
As head of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corp., he lures businesses to a community that despite its problems, has well-established merchants and middle-class residents who've lived here for decades.
But Nelson, a 49-year-old engineering graduate raised in Gresham, sees changes since he was a kid, most notably the easy access to guns. "These aren't six-shooters," he says. "These are automatic weapons."
Police say they've seized more than 7,000 guns in arrests this year. Strict gun control measures in Chicago and Illinois have been tossed out by federal courts, most recently the state ban on carrying concealed weapons.
Nelson says he sees limited progress despite new crime-fighting approaches. "The Chicago police department is a lot like a rat on a wheel," he says. "They're getting nowhere. They put metal detectors in the schools but they don't put that same amount of money in to educate our kids."
But Nelson also believes the problem goes beyond policing. A cultural shift is needed, he says, to break the cycle of generations of young men seeing no options.
"It's almost like the walking dead," he says. "They're emotionless about shootings or death or drugs. They think that's all that's expected of them ... that they will die or end up in jail. That's a hell of an existence. That's truly sad."
AMONG THE LIVING: A 17-year-old hit in the leg, wrist and foot while in a park. A 13-year-old struck in the back while riding his bicycle, A 38-year-old shot in the face while driving.
Cerria McComb tried to run when the bullet exploded in her leg, but she didn't get far.
Someone heard her screams, her mother says, and rushed outside to help her make a call.
"Mommy, mommy, I've been shot!" Cerria cried into the phone.
Bobbie McComb ran six blocks, her husband outpacing her. "I'm panicking," she recalls. "I can't catch my breath. All I could think of was I didn't want it to be the last time I heard her voice, the last time I saw her."
Cerria and a 14-year-old male friend were wounded. The bullet lodged just an inch from an artery in the back of Cerria's right knee, according to her mother, who says her daughter is afraid to go out since the early December shooting.
Police questioned a reputed gang member they believe was the intended target; Cerria, they say, just happened to be in the wrong place.
"I'm angry," McComb says. "I'm frustrated. I'm tired of them shooting our kids, killing our kids, thinking they can get away with it. ... If it was my son or my daughter standing out there with a gun, I would call the police on them."
A few blocks west, on 78th Place, another mother, Pam Bosley, sits at the youth center of St. Sabina Church, trying to keep teens on track. The parish is run by the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a firebrand white priest in an overwhelmingly black congregation whose crusades against violence, drugs and liquor and cigarette billboards are a staple of local news.
Bosley's 18-year-old son, Terrell, a college freshman and gospel bass player, was killed in 2006 when he and friends were shot while unloading musical equipment outside a church on the far South Side. A man charged was acquitted.
"I think about him all day and all night," Bosley says of her son. "If I stop, I'll lose my mind."
Bosley works with kids 14 to 21, teaching them life and leadership skills and ways to reduce violence. Sometimes, she says, neglectful parents are the problem; often it's gangs who just don't value life.
"You know how you have duck (hunting) season in the woods?" she asks. "In urban communities, it's duck season for us every day. You never know when you're going to get shot."
In December, Bosley phoned to console the grieving mother of Porshe Foster, 15, who was shot a few miles away while standing outside with other kids. A young man in the group has said he believed the gunman was aiming at him.
"I know how it feels to wake up in your house without your child, and you don't want to get out of bed, you don't feel like living," Bosley says.
St. Sabina is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Bosley sent balloons to the girl's funeral.
On Dec. 6, hundreds celebrated the A-student who liked architecture and played on her school's volleyball and basketball teams.
Her brother, Robert, 22, says his sister "knew what was going on in the streets as well as we did," but he didn't worry because she was either at school, home or church.
"She was always a good girl," he says. "She didn't have to look over her shoulder. She was a 15-year-old girl. She didn't ever do any wrong to anybody."
In March, St. Sabina parishioners, led by the Rev. Pfleger, marched through the streets in protest, calling out gang factions by name. They planted the "Stop Killing" cross on 79th.
In April, the priest and other pastors returned to 79th to successfully stop the reopening of a store where there was a mass shooting; they condemned it as a haven for gangs.
In December, Pfleger stood in his church gym, watching gang members hustle down the basketball court.
On this Monday night, in this gym, it was hard to tell who was who.
The basketball teams wore different colored T-shirts with the same word: Peacemaker. They're all part of Pfleger's 12-week basketball league, aimed at cooling gang hostilities by having rivals face each other on the court. Many players, from 16 to 27, have criminal records.
The league grew out of a single successful game this fall and has high-profile supporters, including Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls.
Pfleger says the games have helped players build relationships, see beyond gang affiliation and stop shooting each other, at least for now.
"I have people tell me I'm naive, I'm stupid, I should be ashamed of myself working with these gangs," he says. "I could care less. We've demonized them so much we forget they're human beings."
But Pfleger also says games alone won't change anything. These young men need jobs and an education, and he's working on that.
"When there's no alternative," he says, "you'll continue to do what you do."
- Created on 26 December 2012
(AP) — Thousands of previously unpublished Boy Scouts of America files that detail suspected sexual abuse by employees and volunteers have been posted online.
The Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/TiA546 ) published the database containing redacted victims' names on Tuesday, including material that was released earlier by an Oregon Supreme Court judge's ruling. The names of the alleged abusers — including doctors, teachers, priests — are included.
The newspaper's heavily pocked database map depicts alleged incidents of abuse that affected, or in some way connected to, Scouts in every state in the nation, as well as South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
The Boy Scouts kept the files for internal use for nearly a century and have said they've improved youth protection policies. The group has conducted criminal background checks on volunteers since 2008. In 2010, the organization mandated any suspected abuse be reported to police.
In an analysis of the records, the Times found that reports increased over time, which may be the result of greater awareness of child sexual abuse. The reports are not believed to account for all abuse, because the Scouts say an unknown number of files were destroyed over the years and not all victims report crime.
The organization's inaction, and its efforts to keep allegations from police, parents and the public, allowed molesters to continue sexually abusing children, according to The Times.
The newly released files span from 1985 to 1991, and reveal that a Scouts committee chairman of four years, Samuel J. Becker of Canoga Park, had a record of child molestation, had served prison time and was on probation for exposing himself.
In another file, a Scoutmaster said he had reported suspicions of abuse about Scout Leader Gary L. Findlay of Illinois, but he was ignored by a superior. Findlay was later accused of abusing a 15-year-old in 1986, convicted of sexual abuse and expelled from the Scouts.
Most of the files opened after 1991 haven't been released. Various pending lawsuits were seeking those files.
- Created on 26 December 2012
(AP) — The Rev. Jesse Jackson advocated anti-violence and gun control Tuesday during his traditional Christmas Day sermon at a Chicago jail, where he challenged inmates to help get weapons off the streets.
Jackson has long been a supporter of gun control, including an assault weapons ban. He called the deadly Dec. 14 shootings at a Connecticut elementary school a tipping point for the nation when it comes to gun control.
"We've all been grieving about the violence in Newtown, Connecticut, the last few days," he told reporters after addressing inmates at the Cook County Jail. "Most of those here today ... have either shot somebody or been shot. We're recruiting them to help us stop the flow of guns ... We need their awareness of the dangers of more guns and more drugs."
The civil rights leader didn't further detail his plan to involve inmates, saying only that inmates could provide insight.
Jackson walked around the jail auditorium and shook hands with inmates before taking the stage to deliver a rousing sermon. Gospel singers and a band performed as Jackson covered a range of topics, including crime and guns. He encouraged the hundreds of inmates to get tested for HIV, register to vote and pray for forgiveness.
At one emotional point, Jackson called on inmates to get on their knees and ask for guidance to turn their lives around.
"You want to turn your jail cell into a classroom," he told them. "Turn your jail cell into a prayer closet."
Several inmates, with heads bowed, wiped away tears.
Jackson, 71, has delivered Christmas Day sermons at jails for years. He says the idea is to inspire and invest in inmates so they don't return to jail. He was joined by other Chicago pastors and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, a Chicago Democrat who also supports an assault weapons ban.
Davis has attended Christmas services at jails for more than two decades.
"It's a highlight of the day," Davis said. "I leave with a renewed spirit."
- Created on 24 December 2012
Huffington Post's Janelle Ross documents this disturbing report on the actual number of child gun deaths nationwide, which are not reported.
Police reports about the final moments of Demetrius Cruz's life include the kind of information that is at once difficult to fathom and yet somehow part of the ordinary but tragic tapestry of life in the U.S.
Cruz was riding in a car with his cousin on a Denver street Saturday when the driver of a white car started bumping, following and then chasing the teens' car. Cruz called his aunt. He was scared. Someone in the white car fired several shots, striking and killing Cruz. He was just 15 years old. That same night in Kansas City, Mo., a bullet sliced through the body of 4-year-old Aydan Perea while he was sitting in a car with his dad. Police say Perea was the innocent and unsuspecting victim of a gang drive by. Days later, on Tuesday, Dalton Williams, 16, was killed in Pierre, S.D. with a shotgun wielded by a friend after a dispute over a paintball game.
In each case, local newspapers and television stations captured the shocking and sad details. But no national media camped outside the boys' homes, schools or places of worship. No satellite trucks were driven in to beam the faces of these human sacrifices to America's gun violence problem abroad. The president did not call to offer his condolences. Nor did he come to town to give a speech. And no professional athletes sent their jerseys or spoke publicly about the boys' deaths.
Beyond their families and friends, the deaths of Cruz, Perea and Williams and the hundreds of others like them across the country this year went largely unnoticed. The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. a week ago left 20 children and six adults dead, and millions of Americans distraught and, in some cases, interested anew in a conversation about gun control.
Cruz, Perea and Williams are just another string of child shooting victims whose deaths somehow seem not uncommon because they happened one at a time. Together though, child shooting fatalities in the U.S. last year alone amounted to more than two dozen Sandy Hook massacres -- and the country has scarcely reacted.
In 2011, guns were used to murder 8,583 people living in the U.S., according to the most recent FBI data available. Among those murdered by guns, there were 565 young people under the age of 18, and 119 children ages 12 or younger -- the latter number nearly equivalent to six Newtown mass shootings. And these figures include only homicides.
"It's staggering," said Lindsay Nichols, an attorney with the California-based public interest law firm and gun-control advocacy organization the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "We are all shocked by the news in Newtown, Conn., but when you think about it, it is equally tragic and equally horrific every day so many families suffer this loss and that every year there are so many funerals of children that family members have to attend."
Just Tuesday, Paul Sampleton Sr. found the body of his 14-year-old son, Paul Sampleton Jr., bound and shot dead in the family's Grayson, Ga. home. Police suspect the boy may have interrupted a robbery. The Sampleton family will mark a very different kind of Christmas this year, then bury their son next Friday.
Then there are the stories of children killed in gun accidents and suicides. In 2010, the most recent year for which detailed Centers for Disease Control data is available, 129 people between the ages of 1 and 19 died in gun accidents. Another 749 took their own lives using a firearm, most of which were owned by a parent.
This year, in the days leading up to the mass shooting in Newtown, 12-year-old Demetri Phillips was shot and killed by a friend while playing with a gun in their shared home on Dec. 6. Two days later, Craig Allen Loughrey, 7, died in a gun store parking lot. His father's gun went off inside the family truck and struck the boy, strapped into a booster seat, in the chest.
The problem isn't exactly new. In 1997, the Centers for Disease Control found that in the U.S. the rate of death among children 15 and under due to gunshot wounds was nearly 12 times higher than those in 15 other developed countries. Child deaths caused by guns have dropped since that time, along with other types of crime.
But the number of children and teens killed in 2008 and 2009 in the U.S. alone could fill 229 classroom with 25 students, according to a report released by the Children's Defense Fund this year. In 2009, of all the people 18 and under that died due to a firearm injury of any kind, 43 percent were black and 20 percent were Latino, making gun violence a disproportionately common event among teens of color, according to the Children's Defense Fund report.
On Friday, National Rifle Association vice president Wayne LaPierre proposed a program that would put armed guards and perhaps other adults with guns in every school, saying "good guys" with firearms were the surest way to protect the nation's children.
Nichols, of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, described the NRA's proposal as preposterous.
"I think it's an absurd and dangerous idea," Nichols said. "But as with so many of their proposals I think its real aim is to encourage the sale of more firearms. The biggest donors to the NRA are firearms manufacturers. Besides, arming and equipping all these people he wants to put in schools, having guns where kids see them daily is a tool to market weapons to the next generation."