According to jbhe.com, professor and writer John Warner Smith has been appointed by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and the state’s Governor, John Bel Edwards, to serve as the next Poet Laureate of Louisiana. This appointment makes Smith the first African American man to hold the position.
“John Warner Smith’s writing captures the human experience through meaningful, passionate poetry that moves your emotions. John is not only a talented and gifted poet, he is a trailblazer who devotes himself to education and the greater good of the community,” Gov. Edwards said.
“He is making history today as the first African American male appointed as Louisiana Poet Laureate, and I’m confident that John will serve our great state well. I want to thank the LEH for leading this search, and I congratulate all of the nominees whose writings tell the unique stories of Louisiana, the place we call home.”
Currently, Smith teaches English at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He has published four collections of poetry: Muhammad’s Mountain(Lavender Ink, 2018), Spirits of the Gods (University of Louisiana Lafayette Press, 2017), Soul Be A Witness(MadHat Press, 2016), and A Mandala of Hands(Kelsay Books-Aldrich Press, 2015). His fifth collection, Out Shut Eyes: New & Selected Poems on Race in America, is forthcoming this year from MadHat Press.
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.”
According to blavity.com, while attending Howard University, Damon Lawrence worked in the hotel industry as a front desk agent, and decided he would own his own hotels one day with one exception–his business would cater exclusively to blackness. “Black culture leads American culture and American culture leads global culture, so [we] think it’s time a hotel property reflected the best of black culture,” Lawrence.
The young entrepreneur, along with his business partner and co-founder of Homage Hospitality, Marcus Carey (also a Howard alum), opened the doors to The Moor in New Orleans, Louisiana, this week. The upscale 10-room hotel pays homage to the Moors of North Africa through its architecture aesthetic. (You can use the promo code “Launch” through July 4th for 60% off your stay.)
Lawrence and Carey plan to open locations where black “culture is thriving;” such as Washington, D.C., Brooklyn and Detroit. The duo plans to open a 102-room property called The Town Hotel in Downtown Oakland by 2019. Even sooner, they plan to launch another property in the Treme section of New Orleans called The Freeman; it is known as the first place in the U.S. black people could purchase property.
“We want to go everywhere that culture exists and thrives, so there’s plenty on the plate”, Lawrence says.
To learn more about these men and their mission, check out their recent interview with Rolling Out.
More than 20 years after he was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death, Corey Williams walked free from Louisiana’s Angola Prison last week.
Corey Williams was an intellectually disabled child just three weeks past his 16th birthday when he was arrested for the murder and robbery of a pizza delivery man in Shreveport in 1998. Impaired by severe lead poisoning, Corey was known in his community as a “chump” who would take the blame for things he had not done.
Police knew about Corey’s disability, but they interrogated him all night until he accepted blame for the murder and then told them, “I’m tired. I’m ready to go home and lay down.”
Caddo Parish District Attorney Hugo Holland aggressively sought the death penalty for Corey Williams. Along with his successor, Dale Cox, Mr. Holland is responsible for 75 percent of all death sentences imposed in Louisiana between 2010 and 2015.
No physical evidence linked Corey Williams to the crime. Instead, the evidence pointed to three men who were seen robbing the victim after he was shot. The victim’s money and pizzas were found in a dumpster near their house; one man’s fingerprints were found on the murder weapon; and the victim’s blood was found on another man’s clothing. Those three pinned the crime on Corey Williams.
The prosecution suppressed evidence that supported Corey’s innocence, including evidence that the police believed the other suspects conspired to set him up and admissions from multiple witnesses that they had falsely accused Mr. Williams after being threatened by men at the scene.
Mr. Williams was convicted and sentenced to death.
In 2002, the Supreme Court barred the death penalty for people with intellectual disability, in part because a person with intellectual disability is at heightened risk of “unwittingly confess[ing] to a crime that he did not commit.” As a result, Corey Williams was removed from death row. But Louisiana courts upheld his conviction after refusing to consider his age and intellectual disability in evaluating whether his confession was reliable.
In March 2018, attorneys for Mr. Williams filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to reverse Mr. Williams’s conviction because of prosecutorial misconduct, which included faking “summaries” of witness statements to incriminate Mr. Williams. A group of 44 former prosecutors and Justice Department officials, including former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, signed a brief in support of the petition. Caddo Parish District Attorney James Stewart responded by agreeing to immediately release Mr. Williams in exchange for a guilty plea to lesser offenses.
“Imagine your child leaving to hang out with friends, and then losing him or her for twenty years,” Mr. Williams’s attorney Amir Ali said in a statement. “No one can give Corey back the time that he wrongfully spent behind bars, away from his family and friends. Today, we ensure this tragedy ends here—Corey can finally go home.”
Nearly a year after protesters in Baton Rouge were arrested during marches for 37-year-old resident Alton Sterling – who was killed by police while selling CDs outside of a store – a federal judge approved a class-action settlement Friday, Oct. 27 that awards up to $1,000 to dozens. One of the most high-profile activists to be involved with the settlement was DeRay Mckesson, who was arrested along with 69 others. Besides cash payments, the victims will have their records expunged free of charge, the Associated Press reports.
U.S. District Judge John W. deGravelles gave the final approval regarding the settlement after a hearing with McKesson and other plaintiffs. The 69 plaintiffs will ultimately be rewarded amounts ranging from $500 to $1,000 out of the total value of the settlement estimated at $136,000. “It obviously is a matter that touches on a lot of sensitive issues and had the potential for being very contentious and destructive,” deGravelles said.
Kira Marrero, a 24-year-old plaintiff from New Orleans, was arrested while protesting the police-involved shooting of Sterling. “I’m definitely glad that we’re getting some justice, though at the same time it’s a really painful memory to dig up,” she said. “I’m still pretty heartbroken, I guess, by everything that happened. I think everyone who knew me trusted that I wasn’t out there breaking the law and that clearly something was wrong.”
Fats Domino, the New Orleans rhythm-and-blues singer whose two-fisted boogie-woogie piano and nonchalant vocals, heard on dozens of hits, made him one of the biggest stars of the early rock ’n’ roll era, has died in Louisiana. He was 89.
His death was confirmed by his brother-in-law and former road manager Reggie Hall, who said he had no other details. Mr. Domino lived in Harvey, La., across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. Mr. Domino had more than three dozen Top 40 pop hits through the 1950s and early ’60s, among them “Blueberry Hill,”“Ain’t It a Shame” (also known as “Ain’t That a Shame,” which is the actual lyric), “I’m Walkin’,” “Blue Monday” and “Walkin’ to New Orleans.”
Throughout he displayed both the buoyant spirit of New Orleans, his hometown, and a droll resilience that reached listeners worldwide.He sold 65 million singles in those years, with 23 gold records, making him second only to Elvis Presley as a commercial force. Presley acknowledged Mr. Domino as a predecessor. “A lot of people seem to think I started this business,” Presley told Jet magazine in 1957. “But rock ’n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that music like colored people. Let’s face it: I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that.”
Rotund and standing 5 feet 5 inches — he would joke that he was as wide as he was tall — Mr. Domino had a big, infectious grin, a fondness for ornate, jewel-encrusted rings and an easygoing manner in performance; even in plaintive songs his voice had a smile in it. And he was a master of the wordless vocal, making hits out of songs full of “woo-woos” and “la-las.”Working with the songwriter, producer and arranger David Bartholomew, Mr. Domino and his band carried New Orleans parade rhythms into rock ’n’ roll and put a local stamp on nearly everything they touched, even country tunes like “Jambalaya” or big-band songs like “My Blue Heaven” and “When My Dreamboat Comes Home.”
Antoine Dominique Domino Jr. was born on Feb. 26, 1928, the youngest of eight children in a family with Creole roots. He grew up in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, where he spent most of his life.Music filled his life from the age of 10, when his family inherited an old piano. After his brother-in-law Harrison Verrett, a traditional-jazz musician, wrote down the notes on the keys and taught him a few chords, Antoine threw himself at the instrument — so enthusiastically that his parents moved it to the garage.
He was almost entirely self-taught, picking up ideas from boogie-woogie masters like Meade Lux Lewis, Pinetop Smith and Amos Milburn. “Back then I used to play everybody’s records; everybody’s records who made records,” he told the New Orleans music magazine Offbeat in 2004. “I used to hear ’em, listen at ’em five, six, seven, eight times and I could play it just like the record because I had a good ear for catchin’ notes and different things.” He attended the Louis B. Macarty School but dropped out in the fourth grade to work as an iceman’s helper. “In the houses where people had a piano in their rooms, I’d stop and play,” he told USA Today in 2007. “That’s how I practiced.”
In his teens, he started working at a club called the Hideaway with a band led by the bassist Billy Diamond, who nicknamed him Fats. Mr. Domino soon became the band’s frontman and a local draw.“Fats was breaking up the place, man,” Mr. Bartholomew told The Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2010. “He was singing and playing the piano and carrying on. Everyone was having a good time. When you saw Fats Domino, it was ‘Let’s have a party!’ ”He added: “My first impression was a lasting impression. He was a great singer. He was a great artist. And whatever he was doing, nobody could beat him.”
In 1947 Mr. Domino married Rosemary Hall, and they had eight children, Antoine III, Anatole, Andre, Anonio, Antoinette, Andrea, Anola and Adonica. His wife died in 2008. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
Single-night tickets are now on sale and are priced starting at $50 per person per night.
The concerts will feature more than 40 acts across five stages in the Superdome throughout the weekend on the festival’s renowned Mainstage and in the intimate Superlounges. Festival first-timers Diana Ross and Chance the Rapper will open and close the weekend concert series with headlining performances on Friday and Sunday night respectively – along with a special all-female Saturday night lineup, inspired by headliner Mary J. Blige’s forthcoming album Strength of A Woman.
Other well-known performers in this year’s line-up include John Legend, india.arie, Jill Scott, Chaka Khan and Solange.
Roy Wood Jr. from Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” will serve as the Mainstage host for the weekend, with more surprise guest performances to be announced.
For more information about ticket sales and accommodations and for the latest news about the ESSENCE Festival®, visit www.essencefestival.com, join the festival community by following us on Twitter @essencefest #EssenceFest and become a fan of 2017 ESSENCE Festival® on Facebook.
Today I woke up to a Facebook post that my roommate from college shared on her feed. Her response to that tauntingly generic Facebook encouragement— “What’s on your mind?” seemed a little more perturbed, urgent and determined than usual: “This is a must read! #blacklivesmatter#takeaknee and if u don’t like my hashtags feel free to unfollow me.” Whoa… okay, she had my attention. I found my glasses and I was in. The share was an essay by Solange Knowles about her recent experience with racial discrimination at a Kraftwerk concert.
The essay is entitled “And Do You Belong? I Do…”, and the title is a pretty good indication of what follows. Here we go, I thought… I am about to read about how someone had caused Beyoncé’s sister to feel some type of way. I knew it would be a truthful expression of Solange having to deal with some, well… ignorant mess. I’ve certainly been there. This was going to be a level of discrimination probably more than the norm though, because why else make such an effort to share?
Solange’s essay is thought-provoking and definitely worth the read. She is insightful and honest about her past experiences with racial discrimination, as well as her recent encounter while trying to dance and enjoy music with her family.
Though the content of the post is not surprising – again, so many of us have been there – the trash throwing did surprise me. (Yes, someone throws trash at Solange and her family.) Really?? It was taken there??? But instead of responding in the moment in a way that likely would have brought negative attention to her and her family, I have to applaud Solange for instead turning to Twitter, then laying it out there again in writing, as well as covering the anticipated naysayers with intelligent responses.
We are reminded by her action that knowledge is power, well-chosen words are power, and speaking up in protest is power. I think it’s important that she bravely lays it out there for the world to hear.
article by Ben Poston, Veronica Rocha, Joseph Serna and Kate Mather via latimes.com
Rappers and Los Angeles-area natives the Game and Snoop Dogg led a unification march for men of color Friday morning to the Los Angeles Police Department’s graduation of its newest officers, hours after five Dallas police officers were shot and killed and seven others were wounded during a sniper attack.
About 6:30 a.m., the Game posted on his Instagram account a call for black, Mexican and men of all races to march to the Los Angeles Police Department’s headquarters to “make the Californian government & its law branches aware that from today forward, we will be UNIFIED as minorities & we will no longer allow them to hunt us or be hunted by us!!!”
He said women and children should stay away, “THIS IS OUR MISSION FOR THEM,” he wrote.
The Game, a Compton native whose legal name is Jayceon Terrell Taylor, said in his announcement the march had to be peaceful.
“Do not: bring any weapons or anything illegal. Do not come high or belligerent … We don’t need any HOT HEADS or anyone there for the wrong reasons… We will stand as we are, UNIFIED. I’m calling ALL GANGS, ALL RACES, ALL GROWN MEN affiliated or not & we will stand UNIFIED.”
A post shared by The Game (@losangelesconfidential) on
Snoop Dogg, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, said organizers didn’t know there was an LAPD recruit graduation scheduled for Friday morning. The point of the march was to reintroduce the Police Department to members of the community it serves, he told reporters at the scene.
About 50 men joined the march to LAPD headquarters.
“The mission is to reintroduce our community to the LAPD… just to get some understanding and dialogue,” he said. “We’re the ones they’re going to be dealing with, we’re the ones that are going to be pulled over. … We’re here on peace.”
The group began planning the march before dawn, the Game said. Organizers spoke with marchers about their unifying, peaceful message so it couldn’t be misconstrued by police, and conversely, so they would listen when law enforcement responded.
“We don’t have to fear each other today,” he said.
By now, most have heard about the latest in the incredibly disturbing string of homicides of black citizens at the hands of local police. Alton Sterling was shot and killed after two police officers approached him on Tuesday evening for selling CDs near a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
According to CNN, the state’s governor, John Bel Edwards, announced that the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division will investigate the shooting. Edwards added that the Middle District of Louisiana’s U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI will also assist in the investigation.
Officers say they arrived at the scene when an anonymous 911 caller reported a man threatening him with a gun. A struggle ensued between Sterling and the two officers. Sterling was pinned down, then shot multiple times in the head and chest, eventually succumbing to his injuries.
The encounter was caught on camera and went viral yesterday evening, sparking protests and national media attention. After observing video of the encounter, Edwards said he had “very serious concerns.”
“The video is disturbing to say the least,” he added.
Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden said he is also committed to working with federal investigators.
At a morning press conference, Sterling’s family tearfully condemned the actions of the BRPD officers involved in the shooting, asking for justice while visually broken and dismayed.