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GirlTrek to Host 80 National #BeLikeMaxine Walks to Celebrate Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ 80th Birthday on August 15th

(image courtesy GirlTrek)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

U.S. Representative Maxine Waters will celebrate her 80th birthday on Wednesday, August 15th. To pay tribute to this iconic woman who has dedicated 37 years to serving the people, speaking up against injustice and side-eyeing all manner of foolishness from all quarters, GirlTrek is joining AFROPUNK, Color of Change, and thousands of Black folks across the country in a nationwide #BeLikeMaxine celebration.

GirlTrek, the largest national public health nonprofit and movement for Black women and girls, is organizing 80 walks across the United States in honor of Congresswoman Waters’ 80th turn around the sun. With more than 150,000 members nationwide, GirlTrek encourages Black women and girls to use radical self-care and walking as the first practical step to leading a healthier, more fulfilled life.

“We did it for Harriet Tubman because she showed us the way. Reminded it us that it’s OK to walk alone. We did it for Fannie Lou Hamer because she taught us how to organize. Showed us that every woman can be a leader,” said GirlTrek cofounder T. Morgan Dixon. “Now, we do it for Auntie Maxine because she teaches us daily how to find our voice, how to speak truth to power, how to stand in grace against the storm and how to reclaim our time in the process.”

Elected in November 2016 to her fourteenth term in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 43rd Congressional District of California, Rep. Maxine Waters is considered to be one of the most powerful women in American politics today. She has gained a reputation as a fearless and outspoken advocate for women, children, people of color and the poor.

GirlTrek is inviting women everywhere to reclaim 30 minutes of time in honor of Auntie Maxine by hosting a #BeLikeMaxine walk in their community with their friends and loved ones. “No walk is too small. You + a friend = a celebration,” Dixon said. “Maxine Waters is a living foremother. We walk in her footsteps. We celebrate her.”

Register a #BeLikeMaxine walk here.

About GirlTrek:

GirlTrek encourages women to use walking as a practical first step to inspire healthy living, families, and communities. In five years, GirlTrek has mobilized more than 150,000 Black women and girls nationwide. By 2020, GirlTrek’s goal is to motivate 1 million Black women and girls to walk for better health.  GirlTrek has been featured in The New York Times, Essence, shondaland.com, E! News, People magazineThe Tom Joyner Morning Show,  and many other national and regional outlets. The TED TalkWalking as a Revolutionary Act of Self-Care has received more than 1 million views.

2018 American Book Awards Honor Cultural Diversity

This combination photo of book cover images shows “City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965,” by Kelly Lytle Hernandez, from left, “The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits,” by Tiya Miles and “South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s,” by Kellie Jones, which are among this year’s American Book Award winners for works reflecting the country’s diversity. (University of North Carolina Press, from left, The New Press and Duke University Press via AP)

via seattletimes.com

NEW YORK (AP) — Books on human caging, early Detroit and African-American culture in Los Angeles are among this year’s winners for works reflecting the country’s diversity.

The American Book Awards were announced Monday by the Before Columbus Foundation, founded in 1976 by author-poet Ishmael Reed.

Winners included Kelly Lytle Hernandez’s City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965 and Kellie JonesSouth of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970sTiya Miles was cited for her history The Dawn of Detroit.

Other recipients were Victor Lavalle for The Changeling: A Novel, Valeria Luiselli for Tell Me How It Ends, Tommy Pico for Nature Poem and Rena Priest for Patriarchy Blues.

Author-filmmaker Sequoyah Guess was given a lifetime achievement award. The poets-musicians Heroes are Gang Leaders were cited for oral literature and an Editor/Publisher Award was given to the late Charles F. Harris, who championed the works of Alice Walker, Nikki Giovanni and other black writers.

Source: https://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/books/american-book-awards-honor-cultural-diversity/?

Lezley McSpadden, Mother of Slain Teen Michael Brown, Announces Candidacy for Ferguson City Council

Lezley McSpadden, whose son Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, four years ago, announced that she is running for city council in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. (photo via thegrio.com)

by Natasha S. Alford via thegrio.com

Lezley McSpadden says Michael would’ve wanted it.

The mother of 18-year-old Michael Brown, unarmed Black teenager who was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson, is running for Ferguson City Council.

Four years after Brown’s death, McSpadden made the announcement Friday afternoon.

“Yesterday made four years for my son’s death. I thought that I would wake up and would be really sad… but when I woke up I had a different type of energy. I had a energy of get up out this bed and go.  You have work to do.” McSpadden told theGrio in an exclusive interview.

“[Michael] was just speaking to me, ‘Mom it’s time for you to shake it off. It’s time for you to do what you say you want to do.  And get justice for me.”

McSpadden’s announcement comes on the heels of another game-changing candidate, Wesley Bell, who beat out incumbent St. Louis County prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, in the Democratic primary.

McCullouch was criticized for how he handled Brown’s case and was accused of being “buddy buddy” with police. McSpadden says Bell supports her candidacy and inspires her. “Seeing him win for St. Louis County prosecutor gave me hope that I can do this.  That I can state adversity in the face and be the change my son needs,” said the 38-year old McSpadden.

McSpadden says she wants to use her platform to advocate for economic equality, access to health care, and a topic which surely hits close to home — community policing. “One of the things that I know to be true; the people who are employed as police officers do not live in this area, they are not familiar with the community or a regular John Doe who walks to and from the store. That’s a big issue.” McSpadden told theGrio.

McSpadden says she will advocate for building better community relations. “That should keep down this repeated pattern of words we hear in encounters ‘I fear for my life.’”

Despite battling with depression, McSpadden has worked diligently through her grief, going back to school for her high school diploma, traveling the world to speak about her son’s death and even writing a book.

“The only thing that has changed within me is time. People say ‘time heals all wounds— I don’t know if this wound will ever heal, but I’ve gotten wiser and educated myself to know. I’m putting my faith into God. I have no doubt that I’ll be elected.”

Source: https://thegrio.com/2018/08/10/lezley-mcspadden-mother-michael-brown-announces-candidacy-for-ferguson-city-council/

Monsanto Ordered to Pay $289 Million to Dewayne Johnson, 46, as Jury Rules its Weedkiller Roundup Caused His Cancer

DeWayne Johnson listens during the Monsanto trial in San Francisco last month. (Photograph: Reuters)

by Sam Levin and Patrick Greenfield via theguardian.com

Monsanto suffered a major blow with a jury ruling that the company was liable for a terminally ill man’s cancer, awarding him $289 million in damages.

Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old former groundskeeper, won a huge victory in the landmark case on Friday, with the jury determining that Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller caused his cancer and that the corporation failed to warn him of the health hazards from exposure. The jury further found that Monsanto “acted with malice or oppression”.

Johnson’s lawyers argued over the course of a month-long trial in San Francisco that Monsanto had “fought science” for years and targeted academics who spoke up about possible health risks of the herbicide product. Johnson was the first person to take the agrochemical corporation to trial over allegations that the chemical sold under the brand Roundup causes cancer.

In the extraordinary verdict, which Monsanto said it intends to appeal, the jury ruled that the company was responsible for “negligent failure” and knew or should have known that its product was “dangerous”.

“We were finally able to show the jury the secret, internal Monsanto documents proving that Monsanto has known for decades that … Roundup could cause cancer,” Johnson’s lawyer Brent Wisner said in a statement. The verdict, he added, sent a “message to Monsanto that its years of deception regarding Roundup is over and that they should put consumer safety first over profits”.

Speaking in San Francisco on Friday, Johnson said that the jury’s verdict is far bigger than his lawsuit. He said he hopes the case bolsters the thousands of similar lawsuits pending against the company and brings national attention to the issue.

Johnson’s case was particularly significant because a judge allowed his team to present scientific arguments. The dispute centered on glyphosate, which is the world’s most widely used herbicide. The verdict came a month after a federal judge ruled that cancer survivors or relatives of the deceased could bring similar claims forward in another trial.

During the lengthy trial, the plaintiff’s attorneys brought forward internal emails from Monsanto executives that they said demonstrated how the corporation repeatedly ignored experts’ warnings, sought favorable scientific analyses and helped to “ghostwrite” research that encouraged continued usage.

Continue reading “Monsanto Ordered to Pay $289 Million to Dewayne Johnson, 46, as Jury Rules its Weedkiller Roundup Caused His Cancer”

Oregon State University Changes Three Building Names That Honored Proponents of Slavery

Oregon State University buildings to be renamed (photos via cbsnews.com; facebook.com/DailyBarometer)

by Saul Hubbard via registerguard.com

After a two-year process, Oregon State University President Ed Ray announced recently that he has chosen new monikers for three university buildings whose previous namesakes have ties to historical racist positions or beliefs.

OSU’s Benton Hall will become Community Hall, honoring local residents who raised funds to start the college in 1860s and 1870s; Benton Annex, the university’s women center, will become the Hattie Redmond Women and Gender Center, after an African-American suffragette who lived in Portland in the early 20th century; and Avery Lodge will be renamed Champinefu Lodge, borrowing a word signifying “at the place of the blue elderberry” from the dialect of the local native Kalapuya Tribe.

“The names of buildings and places play a very important role in our university,” Ray said Monday in a prepared statement. “They speak to the history of OSU, the university’s values and mission, and our efforts to create an inclusive community for all. Names also recognize and honor the positive contributions of those associated with the university.”

The changes follow a push that has occurred across the country in recent years to proactively remove names and take down statues that honor people who held overtly racist views, in the name of improving race relations. Those efforts have faced blow-back from people who argue that they erase history and punish historical figures for views that were widely held during their lifetimes.

Ray decided last November that the building names associated with former Missouri U.S. Sen. Thomas Hart Benton and Corvallis co-founder Joseph C. Avery should be stripped from the buildings, following community input and scholarly research into their positions.

Hattie Redmond (photo via Ohio Historical Society)

An architect of the United States westward expansion and backer of the Manifest Destiny, Benton “supported federal legislation to remove Native Americans from their tribal lands and, while he was opposed to extending slavery into western states, he was not in favor of abolishing slavery elsewhere,” Ray wrote last November.

While the 1947 naming of Benton Hall was designed to honor Benton County residents, not Thomas Benton, Ray determined that the hall’s name didn’t make that distinction clear. Joseph Avery, meanwhile, pushed “views and political engagement in the 1850s to advance slavery in Oregon (that) are inconsistent with Oregon State’s values,” Ray wrote, making the 1966 name untenable.

Ray decided against renaming OSU’s Gill Coliseum and the Arnold Dining Center, however, after ruling that their namesakes, Benjamin Lee Arnold and Amory Gill, displayed some signs of forward-thinking racial acceptance, outweighing the more controversial parts of their biographies.

The new names announced Monday were chosen by Ray, after receiving input from OSU faculty, students and leaders of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon.

Champinefu, which is pronounced CHOM-pin-A-foo, was chosen because Native Americans of the Kalapuya Tribe traveled to the area around Corvallis to harvest wild blue elderberries.

Hattie Redmond, meanwhile, was part of the successful push in 1912 to give women the right to vote in Oregon, after voters previously had rejected it five times. According to the Oregon Historical Society, Redmond’s role was little known and not celebrated until 2012, when details of her biography were discovered during the centennial celebration of woman suffrage in Oregon. Redmond, the daughter of slaves, moved to Portland in 1880, in an era when the state still had a black exclusion law in its constitution. Redmond was the president of the Colored Women’s Equal Suffrage Association during the 1912 campaign and organized meetings and educational lectures on the issue in a local church.

Read more: http://www.registerguard.com/news/20180730/osu-changing-three-building-names-to-promote-inclusivity

Pharrell Williams Announces Yellow Ball Gala, Talks Protecting Artists & Taking a ‘People’s Stance’ on Federal Arts Funding

Artwork by Daniel Arsham, a member of the American Express Platinum Collective.
Courtesy Photo: Artwork by Daniel Arsham, a member of the American Express Platinum Collective.

by  via billboard.com

Since becoming the creative director for American Express Platinum in December 2016, Pharrell Williams has worked closely with the financial services company to bring awareness to the importance of arts education and advocacy. Nearly two years later, the “Happy” singer is taking his efforts one step further with the inaugural Yellow Ball gala.

The event will take place on Monday, Sept. 10 at the Brooklyn Museum and will benefit the Young Audiences Arts for Learning, the nation’s largest arts-in-education network. The Yellow Ball title was chosen by Pharrell himself, as the color has many meanings — and ties in with the purpose of the event.

“Pharrell views the color and event as helping to shine a light on the need for arts education and its ability to pave the way for a brighter future,” Elizabeth Rutledge, chief marketing officer of American Express, says. Pharrell adds, “That’s what this is about — bringing light to this cause.”

The Yellow Ball will feature musical performances, including a special set from Missy Elliott. Along with music, the event will also include multi-room art experiences from American Express Platinum Collective member Daniel Arsham, and a multi-course dinner experience by American Express Global Dining Collection Chef Dominique Crenn.

Ahead of the announcement, Billboard chatted with Pharrell about his latest initiative, his thoughts on today’s young generation of artists, and why the arts (and the color yellow) are so important for all ages.

When you were named creative director of AmEx Platinum, what were your goals and where does the yellow ball kind of fit into all of that?

My goals were to work with a company that I felt like had the means to make a difference, but just maybe needed a nudging, or maybe needed some direction. But then when I started working with them and got an education on all the things that they’ve done — from the Tribeca Film Festival to the sales program they have for small businesses on Saturdays — I realized that they had been doing this the entire time. When we talked about doing the Yellow Ball and I told them I wanted it to be about arts and education, they didn’t blink. What I wanted to do with them was just going to be just yet another great thing that they do in the world.

Why did you decide on the name the Yellow Ball, and what does the color yellow mean to you?

Not to get all esoteric, but yellow is like the color of the solar plexus. Yellow is the color for creativity, yellow is the color for curiosity. Art is largely diminishing throughout the curriculum throughout this country, and we need to protect the creative mind.

Everything around you right now versus everything you’re using, it’s just not organic, it was someone’s epiphany. That’s creativity, that needs to be protected. If we don’t have that, I don’t know what kind of future we have. We have to protect the artist community at all costs, across all artistic disciplines.

Why do you think it’s so important for people to be exposed to the arts and learn from it at a young age?

On a more paramount level, everyone is a creative. Everyone that makes a move or does anything in life is a co-creator, but the ones who actually create things that we use and things that we need, that needs to be protected. There is a future that will have corporations that will have more say. You see all the things happening with lobbyists now, you just can never doubt that. In the artistic community, it’s the educational portion of it is eroding, what kind of future is that for us? So we need to talk to all the corporations that we can — that care — now.

Did the controversy surrounding the funding cuts for the NEA change the course of action for you in your involvement with AmEx platinum in any way?

A lot of decisions that are being made are having a domino effect on programs like the [NEA]. And while we might not like that, the powers that be are the powers that be, but we are still the people and we can do things to help the people with the resources that we have access to. That’s literally all we’re doing, there’s no political stance, it’s more of a people’s stance.

Has becoming a father had an impact on the way you think about how art can affect lives?

I want all children to have access to that kind of creative growth, access and support. All kids, not just my own. There’s a lot of variables in a situation as to why something falls apart, but there’s only one scenario where it holds together, and that’s when all the variables are there. The environment, the family, the school, the system — there’s so many things. We just want to do what we can to balance the odds so that as many kids as we can afford, or help and assist in whatever ways, get this access and support.

What do you think the younger generation of today’s musical artists are bringing to the table?

I love what they do and how they express themselves. It’s like these amazing pockets of lyrics or melodies that feel good to them. The music just takes on a direction of its own, it’s not so formatted. I love that this generation is just grabbing the instruments and using them in whatever way feels good to them. That’s just like a sign of how the times have changed.

It’s kind of like the fourth time that I’ve seen music and the spirit of it change — like drastically change. It’s been amazing to see it. You see certain things that feel familiar, then you see things that you’ve never seen or thought of in your entire life. As a musician I can feel connected to it.

Source: https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/8469193/pharrell-williams-interview-yellow-ball-gala-art-education

HISTORY: Meet Solitude, the Great Warrior Woman of Guadeloupe who Fought Against French Troops in 1802 while Pregnant

Statue of Solitude of Guadeloupe

by Mildred Europa Taylor via face2faceafrica.com

“Live free or die” were Solitude’s last words when she was executed for her involvement in the 1802 slave rebellion in Guadeloupe.

Born in slavery in the plantations of Guadeloupe in 1772, Solitude’s father was a French sailor and her mother was an African woman who was reportedly raped during a voyage on the slave ship.

A beautiful woman with a brown skin and charming eyes which were of different colouration, Solitude was admired by many. When her mother fled the plantation where she was enslaved, Solitude was left all alone with her enslavers.

Slavery was abolished in 1794 in the French colonies due to the Haitian slave revolt. The French government took that move in order to avoid a generalized slave revolt in all its colonies.

But eight years after the abolition, Napoleon Bonaparte restored slavery in the French colonies and sent about 3,500 troops led by General Antoine Richepance to Guadeloupe to enforce that decree.

Solitude was freed in the first abolition of 1794, but after Napoleon’s decree, she was classified as a “maroon” and joined a group of freedom fighters that were led by men such as Louis Delgrès, Ignace, Paleme and Jacquet.

They organized as a small army and fought against the French troops. On May 10, 1802, Delgrès launched a proclamation entitled “To the whole universe, the last cry of innocence and despair”.

Solitude, though a few months pregnant, joined this fight against Richepance’s troops. She was said to be a fierce and fearless warrior who “pushed herself and her belly into the heart of the battles” at Dole, Trou-aux-chiens, Fond-Bananier, and Capesterre.

“From victory to victory, and then from setback to setback, she pushed herself and her womb all the way up into the mountains before the final defeat,” according to accounts. After eighteen days of combat, Richepance’s side overpowered the rebels and Delgrès and his comrades died in an explosion.

Solitude got injured in the explosion and was captured and sentenced to death. But since the child in her womb was to become the property of her slave owner, she was temporarily pardoned and her execution was rescheduled to the day after the birth.

She gave birth on November 28, 1802, and on the morning of the following day, the greatest heroine of the revolution, who was now 30 years, stepped out of jail peacefully while, according to accounts, maternity’s milk slowly stained her nightshirt.

She was then executed with no one knowing the whereabouts of her child.

Solitude has since been described as the symbol of Caribbean women who fought to protect the ideals of equality and freedom. Her name is still on the lips of many, and now graces squares and avenues in Guadeloupe. According to accounts, she has also been featured in a poem, a song, a library, and a museum room.

A statue honouring Solitude was erected in 1999 in the community called les Abymes (Guadeloupe).

Source: https://face2faceafrica.com/article/meet-the-great-warrior-woman-of-guadeloupe-who-fought-against-french-troops-in-1802-while-pregnant

Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga to Star in Adaptation of Nella Larsen’s Harlem Renaissance Era Novel ‘Passing’

The Hollywood Reporter recently reported that Ruth Negga (“Loving”) and Tessa Thompson(“Sorry to Bother You”) will star in a film adaptation of Nella Larsen’s novel “Passing.”

Larsen’s novel explores the practice of passing as a race different from one’s own. “Passing” focuses on childhood friends, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, who reconnect in adulthood. Kendry passes as White, but longs for connection with Redfield and her life in Harlem’s Black community. The friends’ obsession with one another pushes their lives together in ways that prove risky for both women.

The critical acclaim that “Passing” earned after its 1929 publication cemented Larson’s legacy among the most celebrated authors of the Harlem Renaissance.

Thompson, who is of Afro-Panamanian and Mexican descent, and Negga, the daughter of an Ethiopian man and Irish woman, will portray the pair at the center of the story. Rebecca Hall, a British actress of partial Black ancestry, will direct.

Source: https://www.colorlines.com/articles/tessa-thompson-ruth-negga-star-passing-adaptation

How Senegal and its Astronomers are Helping NASA’s New Horizons Program Make Discoveries in Space

Outside Dakar, people got a look at the heavens last week through one of the New Horizons space program’s telescopes. (Credit: Tomas Munita for The New York Times)

by Jaime Yaya Barry and Dionne Searcey via nytimes.com

DAKAR, Senegal — When Salma Sylla was a little girl, she tried to find relief from Senegal’s steamy hot season by retreating to the roof of her home to sleep. Restless and overheated, she would lie awake staring at the stars.

The area where she lived outside Dakar, the capital, had no electricity, and the heavens sparkled. She tried to count the stars, realizing more shone on some nights than on others.

Ms. Sylla, now 37, was intrigued. But studying the stars in Senegal was not easy: High school courses were limited; libraries rarely had books on space; telescopes were few and expensive.

Not much has improved since Ms. Sylla was a girl; astronomy offerings are extremely limited in Senegal’s universities. But officials here hope to change that, as part of a mission to improve science, technology, engineering and math skills by bolstering the country’s university programs and building a science and research center.

The undertaking is part of “Emerging Senegal,” a broad development strategy by President Macky Sall that also includes plans for a planetarium.

The effort got a lift last week, when Senegal welcomed a team of more than three dozen scientists from the United States and France, part of NASA’s New Horizons program. The scientists fanned out across the countryside in hopes of observing the silhouette cast by an ancient chunk of rock orbiting beyond Pluto as it passed in front of a bright star.

The viewing was intended to help the team prepare for when the plutonium-powered New Horizons spacecraft passes by the object — nicknamed Ultima Thule (Beyond the Known World) — on New Year’s Eve. “This is the farthest exploration of anything in space that has ever taken place, by quite a lot,” said Alan Stern, project leader for NASA’s New Horizons mission. “We are way, way out there.”

For the scientists, coming to Senegal was a process of elimination. Most of the areas that offered the best viewing were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The other options — in neighboring Mali, for example — were in areas patrolled by violent extremists.

The countryside of Senegal is peaceful, parts of it do not have electricity, and many rural areas are sparsely populated. That was a bonus for the scientists, who wanted a clear sky, free of light. Still, Senegal was a risky proposition. The area is on the cusp of the rainy season, and cloudy skies threatened to block the event, which occurred early Saturday and lasted less than a second.

Scientists are still evaluating data from the viewing, but the skies turned out to be clear and they are hopeful. Senegal was an enthusiastic host. About two dozen Senegalese astronomers and scientists, including Ms. Sylla, accompanied the New Horizons team in the field and contributed to the viewing.

African countries have racked up their own space achievements. Moroccan astronomers have discovered comets, asteroids and planets outside our solar system. Ghana’s first satellite is now orbiting the earth. Students in Tunisia have organized public events to observe the sky, even though they do not have an observatory.

“Astronomy is virtually as popular in Africa as it is everywhere in the world,” said David Baratoux, the president of the African Initiative for Planetary Sciences and Space, who is based in France.

The biggest hindrance is money. The United States spends more on its space program than the value of Senegal’s entire economy. The 21 high-powered telescopes brought by the New Horizons team were nearly double the number of telescopes available in all of Senegal.

Continue reading “How Senegal and its Astronomers are Helping NASA’s New Horizons Program Make Discoveries in Space”

U.S. District Judge Rules Orleans Criminal Court Can No Longer Jail Anyone for Failing to Pay Fines or Fees Without Neutral Hearing

Carvings on the Orleans Parish Courthouse read: THE IMPARTIAL ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE IS THE FOUNDATION OF LIBERTY. (Photo by Seth Gaines)

by  via theadvocate.com

Everyone who owes fines and fees from criminal convictions in Orleans Parish must have the chance to plead poverty in a “neutral forum” before landing in jail for failing to pay, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Barring an appeal, the ruling from U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance marks the end of a three-year legal battle over the so-called “debtors’ prison” lawsuit brought by a handful of criminal convicts who were jailed for days or longer in Orleans Parish without a chance to prove they couldn’t afford to pay the fines and fees they owed.

Vance broadened the scope of the case Thursday with a 35-page order granting class-action status to anyone who owes court-issued fines and fees now or in the future.

On Friday, Vance declared that “undisputed evidence” shows the 13 judges of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court have “a policy or practice of not inquiring into criminal defendants’ ability to pay before those individuals are imprisoned for nonpayment of court debts.”

She also declared that the judges have an “institutional conflict of interest” in making such poverty determinations themselves. That’s because the proceeds from fines and fees go directly to the court’s Judicial Expense Fund, a kitty controlled by the judges that can be used for a broad range of judicial expenses. Fines and fees have contributed about $1 million a year to the court’s coffers.

Vance ruled that the court’s failure to “provide a neutral forum for determination of such persons’ ability to pay is unconstitutional.” The decision appears to leave it up to the court to decide how to set up a mechanism for such decisions.

Vance telegraphed her final ruling with a preliminary decision on key issues in the case in December.

On Friday, she cited a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars states from arresting or detaining a defendant solely for failing to pay court costs, without determining if that failure was willful.

For years, the Orleans Parish court’s collections department — and individual judges — routinely issued arrest warrants for people who failed to pay fines and fees assessed after a conviction. Civil rights groups claimed that practice created an “unconstitutional and unjust modern debtors’ prison.”

In response to the legal attack, court officials recalled thousands of arrest warrants issued solely on the basis of unpaid fines or fees, writing off about $1 million in debts in the process.

Other warrants remain in place, such as those involving failure to appear in court or lapsed restitution payments to victims. Vance settled most of the issues from the federal lawsuit in December. But on Thursday, she ruled that her decision applies to a broad class of people: everyone who now owes money from fines and fees, and everyone who will incur those debts in the future.

However, she threw out a separate claim by the plaintiffs, who argued that it is unconstitutional to jail people who fail to pay criminal fines when those who owe fines from civil judgments don’t face the same threat.

Regardless, attorneys for the plaintiffs claimed a big win Friday.

“This is a victory for the people of New Orleans and for those committed to fixing the breaks in the criminal justice system,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“America treats being poor as a crime, disproportionately victimizing people of color. This ruling ensures that people can no longer be thrown in jail in Orleans Parish for their poverty alone.”

Read more: https://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/news/courts/article_92c18cda-9754-11e8-8ab4-d326e5f47bbc.html

The Good Things Black People Do, Give and Receive All Over The World
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