October 24, 2013
By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – After a little more than two weeks, things have finally gotten back to normal in the nation’s capital. At least, normal by Washington standards. The main thoroughfares connecting the District of Columbia to Maryland and Virginia – I-66, I-95. I-295, I-395, I-495 and U.S Route 1, 29 and 50 – are again crowded with rush-hour traffic. Metro trains and buses are packed and the federal government, including museums and national parks, reopened for business.
After being labeled “non-essential,” federal workers have returned to the essential job of running the government after House Republicans forced a 16-day shutdown of the federal government by trying to defund the Affordable Care Act. Senate leaders from both parties reached a deal to raise the debt ceiling, the measure quickly passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Obama, allowing furloughed workers to return last Thursday.
The government shutdown had a disproportionate impact on Blacks who make up 13.6 percent of the U.S. population and 17.7 percent of the federal workforce. Overall, people of color represent 34 percent of the federal workforce.
Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Obama has this message for returning federal employees: “Thank you. Thanks for your service. Welcome back. What you do is important. It matters.”
Atlanta has the highest number of federal employees outside of Washington, D.C.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) visited federal employees in the Sam Nunn Cafeteria of the Richard Russell Federal Building in Atlanta on their first day back on the job.
“There was a huge turnout of employees,” said Lewis. “I apologized to them for what the Congress did, and I told them it must never, ever happen again. Many people came up to me. Some needed a hug, some needed a little encouragement, and some even broke down in tears because of all the stress they had been facing. I told them they would continue to have my support, and I thanked them for the good work and their commitment to public service.”
The shutdown, the first in nearly two decades, had a different impact on federal workers.
At one end was Rashonda Williams, a newlywed and the mother of a 2-year-old and a 4-month old.
“I was on edge, didn’t know what to expect,” said Williams, an employee at the General Services Administration (GSA). “We knew [Congress] would get it together, but we didn’t know if we would have retro pay.”
As has been the case in past shutdown, federal employees will receive retroactive pay for the time they lost from work through no fault of their own.
“Now I’m on track to pay my mortgage late. We would have been able to pay on time without the shutdown. We’re a new family, so we don’t have as much savings as older people might,” Williams explained.
One of those “older” people who didn’t feel as pressured by the temporary loss of wages is Penelope Dates, a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee just two years from retirement.
“I’m prepared for emergencies, and I’m really ready to retire. But I felt bad for people who were not prepared,” she said.
Being back at work, she said, is “like nothing ever happened.”
But something did happen. And creditors being creditors, were not interested in the excuses for late payment, however, legitimate or well-publicized.
The shutdown began Oct. 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year. A week later, the Department of Homeland Security provided a letter for furloughed employees to show their creditors. It stated, in part,: “…some of our employees may have difficulty in timely meeting their financial obligations…. We appreciate your organization’s understanding and flexibility toward DHS employees until this situation is resolved.”
The shutdown affected non-employees as well, including contractors and those whose businesses depended on federal workers.
Sammy Soliman, a food cart owner who has perched across the street from the Department of Transportation for the past 20 years, is one such person.
“Everyone is glad to come back, and I am glad they are back,” he said. “The whole city was dead. I lost about 70 percent of my income.”
Unlike federal workers, contractors will not be paid for the time they didn’t work.
Richard Nock, who works in materials handling at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, said his furloughed time amounted to a paid mini-vacation, which is fine with him.
Monte Wallace, an employee at the Administration for Children and Families, is happy about returning to work but worried about the future.
“It feels good to be back but it’s left a bad taste in my mouth,” said Wallace. “Especially since things are still unsettled – this could happen again. We shouldn’t bear the brunt of Congress’ lack of coming together.”
October 24, 2013
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer
President Obama has selected former top Pentagon lawyer and longtime Democratic Party fundraiser Jeh Johnson to head the Department of Homeland Security.
Obama announced the nomination Friday at the White House, calling Johnson a trusted “team player” with experience in effectively leading large and complex organizations.
“Jeh has a deep understanding of the threats and challenges facing the United States,” Obama said. “As the Pentagon’s top lawyer, he helped design and implement many of the policies that have kept our country safe, including our success at the dismantling of the core of al Qaeda.”
Johnson, 56, a Morehouse graduate who received a law degree from Columbia, served as general counsel at the Defense Department during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan before leaving in December to return to private practice.
Pending Senate confirmation, he will succeed Janet Napolitano, who since 2009 had been the first female in the position of DHS Secretary before resigning in August to become president of the University of California system.
Johnson would be the first African-American to head the department.
On Friday, Johnson called the nomination a “tremendous honor” and said he is dedicated to public safety.
“I am a New Yorker, and I was present in Manhattan on 9/11 — which happens to be my birthday — when that bright and beautiful day was shattered by the largest terror attack on our homeland in history,” he said. “I wandered the streets of New York that day and wondered ‘What can I do?’ Since then, I’ve tried to devote myself to answering that question.”
Johnson said that before the president’s offer he had no plans to reenter public service.
“When I received the call, I could not refuse it,” he said.
October 24, 2013
By Brian W. Carter
LAWT Staff Writer
On Tuesday, October 22, the law firm of Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt (IMW) held a press conference announcing they will proceed in filing a civil rights/wrongful death suit against the Riverside Sheriff’s Department after excessive force resulted in the death of Raymond Johnson. Managing Director of IMW, Rickey Ivie, Rodney S. Diggs and Antonio K. Kizzie along with the Johnson family met with press and media to discuss the case.
“Mr. Johnson was beaten by several Riverside law enforcement officers and died as a direct result of the severe head and bodily injuries he sustained during an approximate 10-minute beating,” said Ivie during the press conference.
On Friday, October 11, Johnson, 41, was in the drive-thru exit at a Burger King located at 23125 Hemlock Ave. in Moreno Valley when 6 to 7 Riverside Sheriff’s pulled up began to forcefully remove Johnson from his 2012 Black Chevy Cruze. Multiple witnesses report and captured footage of deputies hitting Johnson with their fists, batons, kicking, tasing and stomping him—so much so that Ivie stated a boot imprint was left on his chest.
“Mr. Johnson was unarmed,” said Ivie. “We stand here today with Mr. Johnson’s family, his children and his parents as we’re in the process of filing a lawsuit in order to seek justice and vindication for Mr. Johnson’s family—a family who has lost a father, husband and son, who was unjustly taken away from them.
“Our objective is to hold the officers accountable for the excessive force used during the incident, which led to Mr. Johnson’s death and to bring closure for his family.”
When asked about autopsy results the Sheriff’s department released allegedly revealing that the injuries Johnson sustained during the altercation didn’t cause his death and revealed he had enlarged heart, Ivie replied that the “assessment is totally inaccurate.
“We have had an independent autopsy performed and that autopsy shows unquestionably that Mr. Johnson died as a result of the beating—primarily from the severe head injuries, which demonstrate there were several lethal blows.
“That [first] autopsy was not correct.”
When asked about the footage that hit the internet from multiple witnesses at the site, Diggs stated that it does help their case but there is room for further evidence.
“We believe that it helps but at this point, we’re still investigating,” said Diggs. “We do not have all the facts… the Youtube video… does show in the beginning, the officers beating Mr. Johnson with a baton at least seven or eight times and then you also see one of the officers stomping on Mr. Johnson, which is consistent with the autopsy report… which shows the footprint left in his chest.”
The graphic incident, which was posted on Youtube, shows officers trying to get Johnson out of his car. The deputies continue to struggle getting Johnson out of the car while other deputies arrive and based on the footage, pull Johnson out of his car on the passenger side. The altercation is then obstructed by the car but an officer can be seen stomping on the other side of the car.
As far as to why the deputies were trying to apprehend Mr. Johnson or what resulted in his fatal beating, nothing has been revealed. The current situation suggests Mr. Johnson was minding his own business, buying food for his family. It was stated that the Sheriff’s report claimed Mr. Johnson was holding onto his back seat and kicks were administered to force him to let go.
“We believe that the force that was used against Mr. Johnson was excessive and unreasonable,” said Diggs. “As you may know, the force allowed to be used by any law enforcement officer has to be objectively reasonable to overcome the resistance of another.
“In this case, the force that was used against Mr. Johnson was not objectively reasonable. They used deadly and lethal force, which resulted in his death.”
The Johnson family was advised not to speak to press and were observably shaken by the accounts of their family member’s ordeal and death. Raymond Johnson’s wife , Lawanda, acted as the pillar of strength and support of the family before and during the press conference. They are standing in support of each other waiting for justice on behalf of their loved one. Johnson was a father of five and had one grandchild.
“We believe law enforcement is an essential component of our community and that most law enforcement officers conduct themselves in a reasonable, honorable and professional manner,” said Ivie. “However, when individual officers who are trusted to uphold the law, violate a citizen’s rights, use excessive force and cause the unjustifiable death of a citizen, those officers must be held accountable.”
“We believe that we do have a solid case, however it’s still premature” said Diggs. “It’s still early, so the investigation is still continuing and we won’t know all the facts until we file the lawsuit and litigation actually begins.”
October 17, 2013
By Stafford L. Battle
Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier
(BlackNews.com) — October has been dubbed African American Speculative Fiction Month by a group of online enthusiasts. This was done to acknowledge the writers, artists, entertainers and independent publishers around the country and elsewhere who are producing science fiction narratives, performances and art featuring Afrocentric themes. African Americans also use October to celebrate the merger of science and the arts via AFROFuturism.
Speculative fiction encourages people to look beyond their day-to-day existence and consider new possibilities that could benefit and enrich their lives. AFROFuturism incorporates novels, short stories, comic books, graphic arts, music, dance, video and other artistic forms that embrace science fiction and fantasy — for entertainment, encouragement and education.
The unofficial hub of African American speculative fiction is Atlanta, Georgia.
During October for the last three years, the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History has offered readings, panel discussions, music and art demonstrating the Afrocentric involvement in science fiction and fantasy.
Digital communities such as “The Afrofuturist Affair”, “The Black Science Fiction Society” and “The Black Author Showcase” have sponsored online and offline activities to promote Black sci-fi and fantasy not only during October but throughout the year.
Black writers, artists, and filmmakers are gaining popularity as well as earning a few extra dollars. Book sales are low compared to urban romance and celebrity authors. But profitability is improving as more readers are exposed to Black sci-fi and fantasy. New titles are being published traditionally and independently.
Conventions and special events are drawing larger, multicultural audiences who are anxious to meet new writers and artists as well as pay homage to established Black Science Fiction icons such as Samuel Delany, Steven Barnes, Walter Mosley, and LaVar Burton. There are several well attended Black oriented comic book conventions such as the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention in Philadelphia and ONYXCON in Atlanta.
According to public opinion and casual surveys at conferences and online, African Americans have moved beyond the desire to simply drink from a forbidden water fountain or live in a prestigious neighborhood outside of crowded urban centers; that was the past. People of African descent now can envision living on gravity-free space stations, traveling to distant planets or stars, building fantastic devices and molding new societies. Science and its literary kin, Speculative Fiction, is the catalyst for a dynamic and prosperous future.
Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to become a U.S. astronaut is currently working on humanity’s first starship. Her goal: “to help change the world by leading the effort to send and sustain humans in interstellar space travel within the next 100 years.” It has taken NASA’s Voyager spacecraft, the fastest man-made object to date, more than three decades just to penetrate the outer edge of the solar system to enter interstellar space. A conventional spaceship traveling to the nearest star, more than four light years away (25 trillion miles) would need 70,000 years to arrive at the destination. But the 100 Year Starship project is exploring techniques to reduce that travel time to a few decades or even hours.
In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Charles Frank Bolden, Jr., an African American, Marine Corps Major General, and an astronaut to be senior administrator of NASA that has a long-term ambition to land humans on the planet Mars. In a video published April 2010, titled “NASA’s New Era of Innovation and Discovery”, Bolden said, “We’re gonna turn science fiction into science fact.” Bolden told interviewers that one of the top goals he was tasked with by President Obama was to “help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math.”
What better way to influence students to pursue interplanetary and hi-tech careers, than by offering visions of individuals who mastered the challenges of space and technology at the end of each television episode or the closing credits of a movie. An ambitious Black student has a much better chance of becoming a highly paid, prestigious scientist than being recruited by the National Football League or any professional sports league.
Entertainers such as Will Smith (I, Robot), Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix), Avery Brooks (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) brought to the public eye, heroic figures deep in the sci-fi genre. In reality, Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson takes us to the edge of the universe and beyond. He appears frequently on television and among enthusiastic live audiences at conferences and special events. These and many other like-minded individuals are to be considered as AFROFuturists who are changing America’s expectations.
Black people are not strangers to speculative fiction.
In the early 1900s, writers such Pauline Hopkins, Sutton Griggs, Martin Delany and George Schuyler were publishing stories about people of color who were discovering lost civilizations, building ray guns and flying machines, conquering Europe and charting a revolutionary Black destiny. Their tales gave hope to communities that were suffering devastating racial inequalities purposely enforced to stunt progress and create a 2nd class citizenship.
In 2013, African Americans face new road blocks such as lack of satisfying employment and health disparities. AFROFuturists use art and science to encourage others to make dreams become reality.
Anyone can participate. Science fiction is not just a geeky, White male American concept. Women and men are writing, drawing and filmmaking. Africa has a new crop of science fiction writers. There are Islamic authors producing stories of the fantastic. Asian, Native American, and Latino graphic and literary artists are contributing. In fact, speculative fiction has probably been expressed in all human cultures.
Black Speculative Fiction Month for October 2013 has humble beginnings similar to the gestation of February’s Black History Month that began in the 1920s by Carter G. Woodson. But the Sci-fi movement is taking off – like a rocket. The payload includes “Sword and Soul”, “Steam Funk”, “Afro Sci-Fi”, “Weird Black Westerns” and other subgenres. Welcome aboard.
For more about the African American involvement in Speculative Fiction go to www.africanamericansciencefiction.com
Stafford Battle is a writer and blogger living in a quiet suburb just outside of Washington, DC. He is also an Instructional Designer creating online educational modules for Medical Students. He is currently working on his latest book, “The Architects of AFROFuturism”. He can be reached at sbattle@ sbattle.com or 202-607-3771 or via his web site at www.staffordbattle.com.