March 14, 2013
By Thandisizwe Chimurenga
LAWT Contributing Writer
The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior on Mar. 11, 2013, acknowledging its symbolism which “… contributed to the introduction and passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, considered to be the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by the US Congress.” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis made the announcement as the U.S. Supreme Court continues its deliberations in the case of Shelby [County, Alabama] v. [Eric] Holder, where a county in Alabama wants the court to rule that Section 5 of the Act is unnecessary and therefore, obsolete.
Section 5 of the Act requires that, prior to any elections, certain states, counties, parishes, etc., must submit proposed changes to their voting procedures to the U.S. Department of Justice or the Federal District Court in Washington, DC. Changing the locations of polling places or the hours that the polls will be open are two examples of the kinds of proposed changes that the counties and other jurisdictions would have to submit to the Justice Department or the Court. Known as “preclearance,” the procedure is to insure that the proposed changes will not violate the constitutional rights of any group of people to participate in free and fair elections.
At the time the Act was signed into law, preclearance focused on the states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia, and 40 counties in North Carolina. Later, in 1975, the states of Texas, Arizona, and Alaska were added to protect persons who were considered members of “minority language groups.”
The historic landmark designation of the Pettus Bridge also occurred just days after the culmination of activities marking the 48th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” the incident that occurred at the bridge that led President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law in August of that year.
During the height of organizing around African American access to the ballot in Alabama, Alabama State Troopers attacked a peaceful civil rights demonstration on the evening of Feb. 18, 1965, that was being held in Marion in the southwestern portion of the state. The troopers began beating and chasing the attendees when one young man named Jimmie Lee Jackson attempted to shield his mother and grandfather from the swings of a state trooper’s baton. Jackson was shot at point blank range by another trooper and died eight days later. Activists, including workers in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, were galvanized to confront the state over Jackson’s murder and the numerous legal and extra legal attempts to keep Black people from voting. A decision was made to march from Selma, a few miles South of Marion, to the state capitol in Montgomery. In order to get to Montgomery, marchers would have to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was initially in favor of the march but at the last moment, declined to endorse it, opting to wait for signs from Johnson that the federal government would do something to acknowledge and safeguard the voting rights of African Americans. The march was held anyway, on Mar. 7, 1965, with dozens of activists walking across the bridge that would take them over the Alabama River on their way to Montgomery.
At the foot of the bridge leading into Montgomery, state troopers blocked the marchers, ordering them to turn around and return to Selma. Though unarmed and peaceful, the marchers refused to retreat. The order was given to disperse the crowd and troopers, some on horseback, began beating the marchers with batons and chasing them back across the bridge into Selma. Future United States Congressman John Lewis was among the many marchers attacked that day suffering a severe head wound. And thus “Bloody Sunday,” as Mar. 7 came to be known, graphically visualized the lengths that white racism would go to keep African Americans from seeking to vote in the State of Alabama.
The Selma-to-Montgomery March is commemorated every year in Alabama by activists who once again cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge and head towards the state capitol. In light of the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case of Shelby v. Holder, civil rights attorney and co-founder of the annual commemoration Rose Sanders stated that this year’s activities were more than a commemoration; they were a protest march against the efforts of Alabama to repeal the Voting Rights Act. “The act is under attack,” said Sanders.
According to Sanders hundreds of marchers from eight of the states covered in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 participated as the march retraced the route into downtown Montgomery to the state capitol. Sanders said that a protest was necessary because of the current climate in the country.
“Especially after [President] Obama was elected, there was an increase in attacks on Black voting rights … history is repeating itself. This attack on the Voting Rights Act is a carefully designed effort to take us back; it’s happened before. The right [of Blacks] to vote was restored in 1965 after white terror had been unleashed [following the ratification of the] 15th amendment back in the late 1800s. They find ways to circumvent that gain, to maintain the white status quo … the election of a Black president, to the average Southerner was intolerable; goes against everything that white supremacy has taught them. It’s in blatant conflict with that principle,” said Sanders.
Francis Fox Piven’s 2008 work Keeping Down the Black Vote: Race and the Demobilization of American Voters, states that although women, immigrants, Jews, laborers and the poor have all had efforts directed towards restricting their right to vote, “The struggle of Black Americans to win the right to vote – not merely in law, but in reality – has been the most difficult.” Sanders says that the election of a Black president was the catalyst for what she calls “the Tea Baggers and the Wrong Wing movement (“not the ‘right wing’ “) to unleash a plethora of voting suppression laws and “attacks on immigrants and labor/unions, every institution that supports progressives and progressive elections.”
The crux of the Shelby County (Alabama) argument is that, when Congress renewed the Voting Rights Act in 2006, this time for 25 more years, the nation’s legislative body “overstepped its constitutional bounds.” Forcing the counties – and in effect the states – to submit to preclearance interferes with the rights of the various states to be “sovereign,” which is a long-running conflict between most Southern states and the federal government.
Lawyers for Shelby County argued before the Supreme Court that, if there were any attempts to interfere with and infringe upon the rights of African Americans and others to participate in elections, that interference was “scattered” and “limited,” and therefore, a measure as harsh as “preclearance” was unnecessary.
While the Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter is not expected for several months, Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the Court’s conservative members, wondered whether the law was being continually renewed because it was actually needed or because it was viewed as a racial entitlement that Congress was afraid to do away with. His remarks, uttered on the same day as Pres. Obama unveiled a statue of Civil Rights organizer Rosa Parks in the United States Capitol Building, were seen as offensive to many. South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third-highest ranking Democrat in Congress and a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, told the Huffington Post that Scalia’s remarks were “rooted in the fact that he is ‘white and proud.’ ”
Monica Simpson is not buying Shelby County’s argument. Simpson is the Executive Director of SisterSong: Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. The Southern-based, national reproductive rights organization has scheduled a webinar for Mar. 28 as part of the current dialogue about the importance of the Voting Rights Act and in particular, how Section 5’s protections affect the rights of women.
“SisterSong became invested in discussing voter disenfranchisement after we experienced what we felt was a loss in Mississippi in 2011 when the personhood bill was defeated,” said Simpson. “That bill would have declared a fertilized egg a ‘person;’ it would have outlawed most contraception and in vitro fertilization, and it would have criminalized abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. And yet the Voter ID Initiative requiring government-issued identification in order to vote passed. It was a voter exclusion measure and a direct threat to the Voting Rights Act and it passed.”
Simpson says that while the voting rate of women of color in the U.S. has been increasing, the rights of women have remained steadily under attack with various state-based legislation efforts to restrict women’s reproductive rights.
“The decisions made around Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act will not only impact Black people, but all people of color – and especially women,” Simpson notes.
“With the fight for Medicaid expansion in the South, anti-abortion legislation popping up in record numbers, and the forced closure of most of the country’s abortion clinics, we need to make sure that every woman has the right to vote and is aware of the how important it is to vote for individuals that are committed to securing women’s rights.”
March 14, 2013
By Kenneth Miller
The phone line to Parlays Bar in New Orleans was busy in the early morning on Tuesday March 12. When it was clean no one answered and the voice mail was full.
The city of New Orleans Police flooded local television stations with emails pleading for the public’s assistance in locating a beautiful 26-year old school teacher who grew-up and attended high school in Long Beach and college in San Bernardino.
Public vigils were held in two bi-coastal cities where friends and family lit candles, held hands, cried and prayed for Terry Lyn Monnette who was reported missing on Saturday March 2 after a night of drinking in the Lakeview community near New Orleans.
Monnette’s mother advised police in New Orleans “That at approximately 3:30 A.M., Monnette had gone to the bar with a few acquaintances and was last seen sleeping in her 2012 Honda Accord in the rear parking lot,” according to a New Orleans police report acquired by the Sentinel.
“Monnette allegedly told her acquaintances that she was going to sleep in her car before driving home due to having consumed alcoholic beverages,” the statement read.
It continued; “Monnette is described as an African-American female, approximately 5’8” tall, weighing 180 pounds and has a light complexion with long brown hair. She was last seen wearing a pink and yellow sweater with blue jeans. Monnette has a tattoo on her left leg.”
The Sentinel managed to speak with Garry G. Flot who is the Public Information Officer for New Orleans Police late March 12.
When asked what the crime rate was in Lakeview, Flot said he “couldn’t answer that.”
Lakeview has a population of 9,871, which consists of primarily white residents with houses valued in the range of $468,088. The bar where Monnette was last seen is a place where locals indulge in crawfish and drink specials that are offered as inexpensive as $2.
Parlay's has been a favorite Lakeview neighborhood bar for over 25 years and continues the party generation after generation. Parlay's is the longest bar in Orleans parish, measuring at 60 feet in length, according to its website. The tavern has been described by others as being rowdy with lots of college students.
“This is so very sad, I feel so bad for her family, I am hoping everyday that she be found safe and brought back to her family. This story needs to be on CNN and Nancy Grace, because this is too weird, there needs to be more investigations about who she associated with and the story needs to be on the air more, it’s a shame to say this, but if she was white her story would be on air more,” wrote an anonymous blogger.
Such suspicions while police are still investigations are growing. The bar is frequented mostly by whites where lakes and large outdoor recreational centers are nearby.
No one has come forth to put a reward-up for the missing woman and aside from regions where Monnette lived and worked there doesn’t appear to be much concern of her whereabouts.
Another woman who says that she is a friend of Monnette added to the suspense.
“My sister and Terrr Lyn are VERY CLOSE. In fact they consider themselves to be best friends,” said Gaynell Diamond Robinson-Watkins via an Internet post.
“The two plus other educators including her former principal are always out together. That night she chose to go out to hear her college friend who plays in a band. She did not go with her normal group of three to four but figured it was ok because he is a college friend that she looks at as a brother.
“Here's the issue, when Terri is out with her real friends she NEVER gets drunk. She's not a heavy drinker. 1 maybe 2 is always her max. She is always the one that reminds everyone that they are driving.
“Now true we all make bad choices from time to time but none of us who know her personally believes that she would say she's going to sleep in her car. If she was to ever think that then she would not broadcast it. She lives 5 minutes away from the bar 2 miles away.
“Believe me she is a very nice smart person she's been here two years... She knows about the crime here in the city... She would never tell a stranger she was going to sleep in her car. Never. She would never get drunk knowing she was driving. NEVER… VERY RESPONSIBLE. Now if she did those things then that's because something may have been added to her drink... And I am not talking about a lemon, lime nor cherry. Bottom line is that friend said he played with his band then he left her… Friends don't leave friends especially if she appeared to be drunk…”
March 07, 2013
By George E. Curry
In the oral arguments last week before the Supreme Court to determine whether a key section of the Voting Rights Act should be upheld, Justice Antonin Scalia referred to the provision as “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”
It was the kind of comment that could easily spark a demonstration in front of the court. But when Scalia made his comment about the pre-clearance provision of the 1965 law last Wednesday, there were already protesters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court marching in support of the Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Act was originally passed in 1965. When Section 5 was scheduled to expire, it was extended by Congress in 1970, 1975, 1982 and for another 25 years in 2006. It was approved the last time with broad bipartisan support. It passed the House by a 390-33 margin and the Senate 98-0.
Under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination must receive pre-clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court before they are allowed to make any changes in their voting procedures.
Inside the court, Scalia addressed the various extensions of the Voting Rights Act since its passage.
“…The initial enactment of this legislation in a—a time when the need for it was so much more abundantly clear—in the Senate, there—it was double-digits against it. And that was only a 5-year term. Then, it is reenacted five years later, again for a 5-year term. Double-digits against it in the Senate. Then it was reenacted for seven years, Single digits against it. Then enacted for 25 years, eight Senate votes against it. And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same.
Scalia then said, “Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political process.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not let Scalia’s entitlement comment go unchallenged.
She pressed Bert W. Rein, the lawyer representing Shelby County, Ala., four times on the issue. She asked, “Do you think that the right to vote is a racial entitlement in Section 5?” Rein finally answered, “…May I say Congress was reacting in 1964 to a problem of race discrimination which it thought was prevalent in certain jurisdictions. So to that extent, as the intervenor said, yes, it was intended to protect those who had been discriminated against.”
Stephen G. Breyer said the case should be looked up through a historical context.
“So in 1965, well, we have history,” he said. “We have 200 years or perhaps of slavery. We have 80 years or so of legal segregation. We have had 41 years of this statue. And this statue has helped a lot. So, therefore Congress in 2005 looks back and says don’t change horses in the middle of the stream, because we still have a ways to go.”
If Section 5 is upheld on this conservative-leaning court, it would probably be on the vote of Anthony M. Kennedy. The right-leaning justice hinted that the Voting Rights Act may have run its course.
After Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. praised the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act, Kennedy said, “Well, the Marshall Plan was very god, too, the Morale Act, the Northwest Ordinance, but times change.”
Sotomayor said Shelby County has not changed enough.
“Assuming I accept your premise, and there’s some question about that, that some portions of the South have changed, your country pretty much hasn’t.” she said. “In the period we’re talking about, it has many more discriminating—240 discriminatory voting laws that were blocked by Section 5 objections.”
Shelby County went to court after the Justice Department rejected a redistricting plan that evidently played a role in the defeat of Ernest Montgomery, the only Black member of the 5-member city council in Calera, Ala., a bedroom community of 12,000 people near Birmingham.
Montgomery was elected to the council in 2004 from a district that was nearly 71 percent Black. The district was redrawn two years later, reducing the Black presence to 23 percent. Montgomery narrowly lost his 2008 re-election bid to a White challenger. But the Justice Department invalidated the election because district changes had not been pre-cleared. Shelby County went to court to overturn the decision. In meantime, Montgomery won a newly-called election.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote an opinion in 2009 that might signal how he will vote in this case.
He said at the time, “Things have changed in the South. “The evil that Section 5 is meant to address may no longer be concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out for preclearance. The statute’s coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old, and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions.”
Elena Kagan, an Obama appointee, referred to Senate support of the Voting Rights Act.
“Well, that sounds like a good argument to me, Justice Scalia,” she said. “It was clear to 98 Senators, including every Senator from a covered state, who decided that there was a continuing need for this piece of legislation.”
March 07, 2013
City News Service
A 72-year-old man pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that he murdered three women in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Samuel Little, who appeared in court in a wheelchair pushed by a sheriff’s deputy, is charged with three counts of murder for allegedly strangling:
– Carol Alford, 41, whose body was found July 13, 1987, in an alley off east 27th Street;
– Audrey Nelson, 35, whose body was discovered Aug. 14, 1989, inside a trash bin on East Seventh Street; and
– Guadalupe Apodaca, 46, who was found Sept. 3, 1989, inside a commercial garage in South Los Angeles.
The murder charges also include the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders. Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek the death penalty against Little. He was arrested in Louisville, Ky., in September on an unrelated narcotics charge out of Los Angeles, and extradited to California. Police said he was linked to the killings through DNA evidence examined by LAPD cold case detectives. A preliminary hearing is scheduled to be set on April 17.
March 07, 2013
By Maya Rhodan
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As Black History Month came to a close, a Civil Rights icon made history once again in the halls of the U.S. Capitol.
On Feb. 27, in a ceremony hosted by President Obama and members of Congress, Rosa Parks became the first Black woman to have her full-length likeness depicted in the National Statuary Hall.
The statue of Parks, which stands at 9-feet tall, depicts the Civil Rights icon seated and clutching her purse to commemorate her refusal to move to the back of a Montgomery, Ala. bus, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 that lasted more than a year.
During his speech, President Obama told the story of Parks’ encounter with the bus driver on Dec. 1, 1955 which led to the boycott.
Parks had been kicked off the bus by the same driver twelve years prior for entering through the front door when the back was too crowded.
“He grabbed her sleeve and he pushed her off the bus. It made her mad enough, she would recall, that she avoided riding his bus for a while,” President Obama said. “And when they met again that winter evening in 1955, Rosa Parks would not be pushed.”
Later, when Parks refused to move from her seat, even after the bus driver who had kicked her off the bus 12 years before threatened, and later delivered on his promise, to have her arrested, she remained.
“Some schoolchildren are taught that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat because her feet were tired,” then Sen. Obama remarked at Rosa Parks’ funeral in 2005.“ Our nation’s schoolbooks are only getting it half right. She once said: “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
For 385 days, Black people across Montgomery boycotted the bus system until it was desegregated; a feat President Obama said last Wednesday led to “the entire edifice of segregation” beginning to tumble like the “ancient walls of Jericho.”
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga), who grew up in Troy, Ala., only 40 miles from Montgomery, did not meet Parks until he was a student at Fisk University.
“I was only 15 years old during the Montgomery bus boycott,” Lewis said. “But I, like everyone else I knew in Alabama, had a deep admiration and respect for Rosa Parks because of her dignity, her courage and her integrity.”
President Obama referred to Parks as a woman who “defied the odds and defied injustice.”
Although known for sparking the bus boycott, Parks’ activism extended far beyond refusing to be removed from her seat. She was an eternal activist who served in her local NAACP, and worked with Congressman John Conyers of Michigan from 1965-1988.
At 74, Parks opened the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, an organization that educates and trains disadvantaged youth for employment. Twelve years later President Bill Clinton honored an 86-year-old Parks with a Congressional Gold Medal.
“Rosa Parks held no elected office. She possessed no fortune; lived her life far from the formal seats of power. And yet today, she takes her rightful place among those who’ve shaped this nation’s course,” President Obama said during the ceremony.
Parks, whose casket became the first of an African American to lie in the Capitol Rotunda when she died in 2005 at age 92, now stands among 100 of the most notable leaders in our nation’s history.
“Rosa Parks’ singular act of disobedience launched a movement. The tired feet of those who walked the dusty roads of Montgomery helped a nation see that to which it had once been blind,” President Obama said during the unveiling. “It is because of these men and women that I stand here today. It is because of them that our children grow up in a land more free and more fair; a land truer to its founding creed.”
The icon who would have turned 100 on Feb. 4, joins the likenesses of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sojourner Truth in the hall of more than 180 pieces of art that celebrate men and women who are “illustrious for their historic renown.”
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), the current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, released a statement on the unveiling praising Parks for her “dedication to ensuring no human being is treated like a second class citizen.”
She added, “I am grateful to Mrs. Parks for her contributions to our country. As the statue of Mrs. Parks will remind every person who walks through the halls of the U.S. Capitol, the sacrifices and the fight to secure civil rights in this country are far from over.”