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Sunday, September 28, 2014

AG Holder Remarks During Congressional Black Caucus Voting Rights Panel

Days after Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he is resigning his post (for reasons many are uncertain of), Holder spoke during the Congressional Black Caucus' panel on voting rights.

Holder was the first African American, and longest tenured Attorney General in U.S. history. He has agreed to stay in his post until a successor has been named.  The Department of Justice, which Holder heads, is leading the investigation in Ferguson, Missouri where eighteen year-old Michael Brown was murdered by Darren Wilson of the Ferguson police department.



Residents are in awe of Holder's resignation and have become increasingly concerned that justice may not prevail without Holders leadership in ensuring a fair and honest investigation.

Holder announced his resignation as the nation celebrates the 50th anniversity of the Civil Rights Act.

His remarks during the CBC Voting Rights panel are below.

Thank you, Representative [Marcia] Fudge, for those kind words – and thank you all not only for that warm welcome, but for your steadfast friendship over the years – in times both good and bad; for your partnership on so many critical challenges we’ve faced together; and for your tireless efforts, today and every day, on behalf of those whom the law protects and empowers.

I have been privileged to work closely with many of you throughout my tenure as Attorney General – and I’m deeply proud of all that we have achieved.  Although my time at the Justice Department will draw to a close in the coming months – once my successor has been nominated and confirmed – I want you to know that my commitment to this work will never waver.  And in the meantime, there remains a great deal to be done.  I have no intention of letting up or slowing down.  I am honored to discuss our ongoing efforts with you once again today.  And I am proud, as ever, to stand with so many dedicated public servants, devoted advocates, and passionate leaders of our ongoing fight for equal rights and equal justice.

I would particularly like to thank the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation for organizing this important event – and for your decades of service in our struggle to secure the civil rights of everyone in this country.  Many years ago, during my first days here in Washington, I had the opportunity to attend a Congressional Black Caucus dinner with my aunt.  It was in some ways a foundational experience.  And in the years since then, I have been consistently inspired by your leadership over the years.  From education, to healthcare, to economic development – in our efforts to address racial disparities and reform criminal justice – you have done critical work to bring stakeholders together, to advocate for understanding, and to build a more just society.

As you know, this year marks the50th anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which President Lyndon Johnson signed into law to codify vital and long-overdue protections for all Americans.  In the decades since then, thanks to leaders like you, our nation has made remarkable, once-unimaginable progress in expanding economic opportunity, overturning legal discrimination, and expanding access to the ballot box for every eligible citizen.

All of this progress is laudable – and all of it is worth celebrating.  Yet there can be no question, as we gather today, that a great deal of work remains to be done: not only to defend those advances, but to expand on the progress of our forebears – and to continue the march they began.

Over the past six years, my colleagues and I have proven that – at every level of today’s Department of Justice – we are firmly committed to doing our part.  As part of the Smart on Crime initiative I launched just over a year ago, we have implemented important reforms and evidence-based strategies to make America’s criminal justice system both fairer and more effective.  Through the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, which I announced earlier this month, we are striving to eliminate mistrust and build strong relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve – so we can defuse tensions that simmer just under the surface in too many cities and towns across the country, and that too often give rise to tragic events like those that captured our national attention last month in Ferguson, Missouri.

Beyond these efforts, as part of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, we are working to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color – and to ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.  In fact, I can announce today that we stand poised to take this work to a new level – and complement our data-driven approach under Smart on Crime and My Brother’s Keeper – by launching a new Smart on Juvenile Justice initiative, which will promote system-wide reform and bolster our efforts to end racial and ethnic disparities.

Under this brand-new initiative, three states – Georgia, Hawaii, and Kentucky – are working with the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project to provide diversion alternatives, community-based options, and other reforms aimed at reducing recidivism, decreasing correctional spending, and improving public safety – all while reducing the number of youth who come into contact with the criminal justice system.  To support this work, I’m pleased to announce that our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is awarding funding to the Crime and Justice Institute to provide training and technical assistance that will help these three states implement important policy changes.

In addition, we are awarding more than $1 million to the W. Haywood Burns Institute and the Development Services Group to reduce racial and ethnic disparities throughout the juvenile justice system.  And with a third set of Smart on Juvenile Justice awards, we are supporting comprehensive training for juvenile justice prosecutors – to acquaint them with the very latest information in forensic science, adolescent development, the neurosciences, and the prosecution of sexual assault cases.

These are promising new steps that will help us to advance our important – and in many cases life-changing – work in the juvenile justice arena.  These efforts go to the heart of who we are, and who we aspire to be, both as a nation and as a people.  But, as this group has rightly recognized over the years – and as you reaffirm today, by convening this critical forum – few of the challenges we face as a country are more fundamental, more complex, or more urgent than the need to preserve what President Johnson once called the “most basic” right to which every American is entitled: the right to vote.

As you’re discussing, through the unrelenting efforts of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division – under the leadership of Acting Assistant Attorney General Molly Moran, from whom you’ll be hearing this afternoon – my colleagues and I are acting aggressively to ensure that every American can exercise his or her right to participate in the democratic process, unencumbered by unnecessary restrictions that discourage, discriminate, or disenfranchise.  We’re advancing this fight – as we speak – along a number of fronts in communities across the nation.  This work has been a top priority since the moment I took office, nearly six years ago.  And these efforts show significant promise.

For instance – just this week – a federal appeals court in Cincinnati held that plaintiffs challenging the State of Ohio’s changes to its in-person early voting rules likely will be able to prove that those changes are unconstitutional.  This outcome was a milestone in the effort to protect voting rights even after the Supreme Court’s deeply misguided decision in Shelby County.  The Justice Department filed an amicus brief supporting those who brought this challenge under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.  The appeals court’s ruling means that early voting can begin in Ohio on Tuesday, just as it had in prior election cycles.

Separately, in Wisconsin, we are carefully monitoring a challenge to that state’s voter identification law.  Although we were disappointed by the 7th Circuit’s action two weeks ago to lift the stay and allow the law to go into effect, we look forward to reviewing the court’s reasoning when it issues an opinion.

In Texas, we are currently awaiting a ruling on the department’s challenge to certain of the state’s redistricting maps, which were found by a federal court to be drawn with discriminatory intent.  And closing arguments concluded on Monday in our challenge to the Texas voter ID law – which our experts found would likely disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible voters who lack the requisite identification.

Finally – just yesterday – in a case that’s pending in North Carolina, the 4thCircuit heard oral arguments in a challenge to that state’s voter ID measure.  We joined several groups last year in challenging that law and, although we did not prevail at the preliminary injunction phase, we believe that the evidence at trial next summer will show a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Of course, these are only the most recent – and most visible – actions that the Justice Department has taken to protect the voting rights of every eligible American.  Earlier this week, the department helped secure a victory in a case brought to ensure the voting rights of Alaska Natives, obtaining an order that effectively overhauls the entire election system to make sure all information is translated into Native languages; that every village in the region is covered; and that official election pamphlets will be translated in writing.  This landmark result is emblematic of our continuing, broad-based commitment to stand for expanded access and against disenfranchisement whenever and wherever this struggle plays out.  And as we look toward the future of this work – and seek new ways to advance this struggle – the Justice Department will remain determined to use every tool at our disposal to secure the rights of every citizen.

We will continue this fight until all Americans have equal access to the ballot box – no matter who they are or where they live.  We will continue our efforts until allAmericans share the same opportunities for engagement in the democratic process.  And we will continue to look to groups like the CBC for leadership to advance the Voting Rights Act Amendments – and to continue your efforts until all Americans can make their voices heard in the halls of the federal government – including the more than 600,000 taxpayers who, like me, live in the District of Columbia and still have no voting representation in Congress.  It is long past time for every citizen to be afforded his or her full responsibilities and full rights.

In the months ahead – as we prepare for the upcoming elections – leaders from the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section will be coordinating with civil rights organizations, U.S. Attorneys, and others to dispatch federal election monitors to polling places around the country, just as we do routinely during every election season.  We will never waver, and never rest, in our determination to ensure the integrity and impartiality of this vital process.  And despite the myriad challenges that lie before us – and the long march that still stretches out ahead – I am confident that, with the leadership of passionate advocates in this room; with the lasting dedication of Justice Department officials across America; and with the advocacy and engagement of public servants like you – together, we will carry on the fight for equality.  We will build upon the progress that has led us to this moment.  And we will extend the legacy, and the proud record of achievement, that has been entrusted to each of us by generations that have gone before.

This is the imperative that has driven me over the last six years, and that will continue to shape our steps forward.  I want to thank you all, once again, for your partnership – and your leadership – of these important efforts.  And I look forward to everything we’ll achieve together in the months and years ahead – no matter where our paths may take us, or where this promising journey will lead.

Thank you all.

Related
President Obama's remarks at the CBC Phoenix Awards Dinner on Holder, "America's progress", and tells audience, "Keep praying, but get out and vote", even as the District's own voting rights remain non-existent.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

It's On Us To End Sexual Assault

As a college student, I receive texts and email alerts when there has been a sexual assault on campus.  Often times the message will begin like this… Notice of Sexual Assault:

In compliance with the provisions of the federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act of 1988 xxxxxxxx University is giving notice of a Sexual Assault.

On xxxxx, xxxx, 2014 xxx Police were notified of a reported Sexual Assault. The incident took place on or about September x, 2014 at a private residence in the xxx block of xxx Street. The suspect was an acquaintance to the survivor. xxxx Police are investigating this incident.

The notice is followed by a reminder from campus police suggesting dos and don’ts to stay safe:

Be on the lookout for suspicious people who may attempt to isolate someone that is intoxicated or has been drinking.  
Get involved, don’t allow that to happen; when consuming beverages, make or bring your own; Don’t ever accept open beverages or drink beverages that have been mixed by others; Never isolate yourself and let a friend know where you are and who you are with; Attend events with friends as a group; don’t ever leave your friends behind alone;  If you are ever in a situation where you are unsure or scared call xxx Police immediately; Be alert and aware at all times when you are with acquaintances; Be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts; Report all suspicious people and circumstances to the xxx Police Department. 

The email usually culminates with contact information and links to various sexual assault and DV services in the area.

It is estimated that one in five women, ages 16-24, will experience a sexual assault on a college campus.

Friday at the White House, both President Obama and Vice President Biden spoke passionately about the issue and announced the launch of ItsOnUs.gov, a personal pledge you can take to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault.



President Obama called for college fraternities, sororities, teachers and counselors to talk about the issue of campus sexual assault, as well as to “teach respect for women”. Obama also encouraged women to “speak up when something doesn’t look right”.  

"This is on all of us", the president said. "Every one of us, to fight campus sexual assault.  You're not alone, and we have your back", adding that campuses around the country are organizing to understand what campus assaults are about.   

"We're going to put a stop to it", the president said. 

Change the culture. Change the attitudes.

Vice President Biden, who has been at the forefront of the Violence Against Women Act, and the One Is Too Many (1is2Many) campaign admonishes men to "step up", and "take the lead" in the fight against sexual assault.  

"Violence against women isn't just a women's issue alone", Biden said. "It's a men's issue." 




The launch of ItsOnUs comes at a pivotal moment in our culture when sexual assault and domestic violence transcends college campuses, into the realm of everyday life, including law and sports.  

The NFL has been riddled lately with accounts of assaults and domestic violence incidents that included a video of Baltimore Raven Ray Rice who was seen knocking out Janay Palmer his former girlfriend, and now wife.  The video went viral and Rice was suspended from the team.

This and several other incidents in the NFL surrounding violence against women has prompted the NFL to take a look at how the incidents should be handled and what the punishment should be for the perpetrator.  Commissioner Roger Goodell, speaking at a press conference, also on Friday said the league will establish a committee to review NFL personal conduct cases.

What did I do?

Often times the victim, and society, will wonder what did they to cause an assault.  

That question was put to the test earlier this summer when ESPN Analyst Stephen A. Smith, suggested that women need to become aware of items that could "provoke" abuse from a man.  Smith was subsequently suspended for two weeks, and issued several apologies.

"It is NEVER", get this straight", exclaimed Biden, "Never the right question for a woman to ask, "what did I do?"  Said Biden, "the question is, why was that done to me, and will someone do something about it?" 

Attitudes about women and their roles in society have often been debated.

Nikhil Bhai, a doctor visiting Washington from the Europe, in our conversation with him, told us that women should focus more on being like women, and not being like men, suggesting that there is a power conflict between the two sexes.

"A man’s world is where women want to be", said Bhai. “Let’s not be like men, rather exercise your strengths as a woman”, he said.

While Bhai’s seemingly archaic views have taken the efforts of the women’s suffrage movement back to prehistoric times, to his credit, both his wife and daughter are doctors, but suggest the pressures stemming from a professional career can put undue stress on the family structure.

Perhaps it is these types of attitudes that continue to help foster patterns of unproductive views and overall attitudes toward women and girls that needs to be changed.

Abuse - know the signs. Know your rights.

BreaktheCycle, an organization geared toward empowering youth to end domestic violence (including sexual assaults) recommends knowing these warning signs of a potential abuser:

·         Checking cell phones, emails or social networks without permission
·         Extreme jealousy or insecurity
·         Constant belittling or put-downs
·         Explosive temper
·         Isolation from family and friends
·         Making false accusations
·         Erratic mood swings
·         Physically inflicting pain or hurt in any way
·         Possessiveness
·         Telling someone what to do
·         Repeatedly pressuring someone to have sex

Sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX. Know your rights.

See also


Friday, September 12, 2014

COMMUNITY ORIENTED POLICING SERVICES OUTLINES BEST PRACTICES FOR USE OF BODY-WORN CAMERAS FOR POLICE OFFICERS

Today the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) released Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned.  The report analyzes some of the costs and benefits of law enforcement using body-worn video technology.

“Law enforcement agencies across the nation are contemplating how best to use body-worn cameras and these guidelines will help them weight the costs and benefits,” said COPS Office Director Ronald L. Davis.  “There are many considerations when implementing a body-worn camera and this report will help chiefs and sheriffs make the best decision for their jurisdiction.”

The publication was developed jointly by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and COPS through a cooperative agreement under the FY 2013 Community Policing Development Program.  PERF conducted research on the use of body-worn cameras, identified promising practices and lessons learned from the field, and produced a set of guidelines for agencies interested in implement a body-worn camera program.  Included in this effort was a one-day executive session with more than 200 police chiefs, sheriffs, scholars, representatives from federal criminal justice agencies, and other experts present to share experiences and lessons learned about body-worn cameras, to identify promising practices from the field, and to engage in a dialogue about the issues surrounding cameras.

The publication reviews the perceived benefits of body-worn cameras and considerations surrounding body-worn cameras before proposing a set of comprehensive policy recommendations that reflect the promising practices and lessons that emerged from PERF’s conference and its extensive discussions with police executives and other experts following the conference.

The policy recommendations cover all aspects of what a police department should consider when deciding to use body cameras including:

·         Basic camera usage, such as who will be assigned to wear the cameras and where on the body the cameras are authorized to be placed;
·         Recording protocols, including when to activate the camera, when to turn it off, and the types of circumstances in which recording is required, allowed or prohibited;
·         The process for downloading recorded data from the camera, including who is responsible for downloading, when data must be downloaded, where data will be stored, and how to safeguard against data tampering or deletion;
·         The length of time recorded data will be retained by the agency in various circumstances;
·         The process and policies for accessing and reviewing recorded data, including the persons authorized to access data and the circumstances in which recorded data can be reviewed; and
·         Policies for releasing recorded data to the public, including protocols regarding redactions and responding to public disclosure requests.

HHS awards more than $295 million in Affordable Care Act funds to increase access to primary care at health centers



Funding creates an estimated 4,750 new jobs; Helps newly insured access care
 
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced today $295 million in Affordable Care Act funding to 1,195 health centers in every U.S. State, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Pacific Basin to expand primary care services.

Today’s awards enable  health centers to increase access to comprehensive primary health care services by hiring an estimated 4,750 new staff including new health care providers, staying open for longer hours, and expanding the care they provide to include new services such as oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy, and vision services.  These investments will help health centers reach an estimated 1.5 million new patients nationwide, including over 137,000 oral health patients and more than 38,000 mental and substance abuse patients.

“Health centers are a key part of how the Affordable Care Act is working to improve access to care for millions of Americans,” said Secretary Burwell. “These funds will enable health centers to provide high-quality primary health care to more people including the newly insured, many of whom may be accessing primary care for the first time.”

Health centers are helping to implement the Affordable Care Act, not only as providers of care but also by linking individuals to coverage through outreach and enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace.  Recent statistics show that health centers provided enrollment assistance to more than 6 million people over the last year.

“Health centers provide comprehensive primary and preventive services in their communities” said HRSA Administrator Mary K. Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N. “Today’s awards will be used to expand access to care, to the people that need it most.”

Today, nearly 1,300 health centers operate more than 9,200 service delivery sites that provide care to over 21.7 million patients. Since the start of this Administration, health centers have increased the number of patients served by health centers by more than 4.5 million people.

To see a list of award winners, visit www.hrsa.gov/about/news/2014tables/expandedservices/.

To learn more about the Affordable Care Act and Community Health Centers, visithttp://bphc.hrsa.gov/about/healthcenterfactsheet.pdf.

To learn more about HRSA’s Community Health Center Program, visithttp://bphc.hrsa.gov/about/index.html.

To find a health center in your area, visit http://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Former Virginia governor, wife, found guilty

Bob McDonnell, former governor of Virginia, has been found guilty on 11 of 13 counts on conspiracy to commit wire fraud, illegally obtaining property, making false statements, and other actions unbecoming of a state governor.
Former VA governor Bob McDonnell and former first lady Maureen McDonnell found guilty of corruption.
The McDonnell trial lasted for more than three weeks when former chef, Todd Schneider, dropped a dime on the McDonnells after Schneider was accused of stealing food from the executive pantry of the governor's mansion for his side catering jobs.  Schneider maintained his innocence saying the food was payment for services rendered.

After the firing, Schneider informed law enforcement that the McDonnells had taken money from wealthy Star Scientific businessman Johnny Williams.  Williams allegedly gave the McDonnells gifts to include a Rolex watch, paid for the wedding of the McDonnells' daughter, and for designer clothing for former first lady Maureen McDonnell.

The former first lady was found guilty on 9 of the 13 counts.

Throughout the trial that questioned the McDonnell's relationship with Williams, and each other, Bob McDonnell maintained his innocence.

A jury found the McDonnells guilty, however, and the pair will be sentenced on January 6, 2015 where they are expected to serve considerable time in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said of the convictions, "Today's convictions should send a message that corruption in any form, at any level of government, will not be tolerated.

McDonnell served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and as Virginia's Attorney General.

Caldwell said McDonnell's public service career was one of a "money-making enterprise."

Attorneys for the McDonnells say they will appeal next year's sentencing.

See also
Richmond Times Dispatch coverage of trial

In other Richmond news
Senator Mark Warner talks student debt at VCU