From March 2012

Female Condom Giveaway Is Expensive, but Still Cost-Effective, Report Says


Drew Angerer/Associated Press
A 2010 advertisement on a city bus promoted Washington’s female condom giveaway program.

By Donald G. McNeil Jr.

An experiment in giving away free female condoms in the nation’s capital is a “highly productive use of public health investment,” according to a new study by scientists at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study data shows that the giveaway is quite expensive, however, and cost-effective only because caring for AIDS patients is even more expensive.

Two years ago, Washington public health authorities started giving away 500,000 female condoms in a campaign called “D.C.’s Doin’ It!” The study, published online on Monday in the journal AIDS & Behavior, concluded that giving away the first 200,000 cost $414,000 — mostly for education — and prevented 23 infections. That came to $18,000 per infection prevented, but the study called that efficient because the lifetime cost of H.I.V. medical care is $367,000. No cost comparisons to male condoms, syringe exchange or AIDS testing were made.

Although they were invented 30 years ago by a Danish doctor, female condoms have never really caught on, either among wealthy women for birth control or among poor women for AIDS protection. In a few countries, like Zimbabwe, they are popular among prostitutes.

In Washington, Dr. Gregory Pappas, the district’s chief of AIDS prevention and an author of the study, said: “Sex workers like them, high school girls like them, and high school boys also like them. They think: ‘Cool — I don’t have to worry about anything.’ ”

South Side church leads charge against AIDS

Rev. Dorothy Williams

By Manya A. Brachear,
Chicago Tribune

It’s been three decades since HIV and AIDS invaded Chicago’s South Side and surrounded Bray Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Greater Grand Crossing in Chicago.
But it’s been less than three years since the little church at 73rd Street and Greenwood Avenue did anything to address the epidemic.
That’s when the Rev. Dorothy Williams arrived and made a change. As a female pastor in the Black church, she already had confronted plenty of discouragement. But as a crusader who believes the church should work to stop the spread of HIV in the African-American community, she faced straight-up resistance.
With some trepidation, the elders at Bray have embraced her mission. The church offers periodic HIV testing, and some who have tested positive have sought the pastor’s advice on treatment.
The only issue the congregation can’t seem to resolve is whether to distribute condoms. Williams preaches abstinence. But she’s no dummy. She knows people, including many of her aging and widowed members, are having sex.
“Older people, they find someone, and bada boom, the beat goes on,” she said. “A lot of churches are still not open to that ministry. It’s in your face and very personal. It tends to probe into your business. Some of these things people want to keep personal at the cost of hindering people around (them).”
Like many clergy, especially in the African-American community where HIV continues to take the greatest toll, Williams said she feels torn between her call to preserve the integrity of Scripture and the need to protect the people in the pews.
While she knows she must preach abstinence until matrimony, she said she doesn’t want to let her flock down and put others in danger by denying what goes on behind closed doors. Ignoring a threat that she knows looms large in the community seems almost as sinful as sex before marriage, Williams said.
“The church sometimes talks a dual language,” she said. “It defends itself theologically. We should be abstinent until God unites us with a husband or wife. But then how do we expect our young folk to be abstinent when we were young one time and risky as well?
“A considerable portion of me now still struggles with that. Are we talking the right language? We’re looking at saving lives. We’re looking at saving souls too.”
The Rev. Doris Green, director of correctional health and community relations for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, said she also once struggled to reconcile the contradictory calls when she first undertook HIV/AIDS ministry 15 years ago.
The rising numbers of HIV diagnoses in the Black community have convinced her that preaching only abstinence simply does more harm than good.
“I see the devastation in our communities,” she said. “If it had worked, I would be with them. I don’t see it working.”
Green is grateful to many of the larger African-American churches such as Trinity United Church of Christ and New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church for funding HIV/AIDS ministries and setting an example that helps lift the stigma of the disease in the black church community.
But she said smaller storefront and corner churches are as important, if not more so, because they offer a rare safe haven in highly infected areas.

Nigerian actress making it big in Hollywood

Not many people will be acquainted with Megalyn Echikunwoke, Nigerian international actress who is making it big time in Hollywood.Megalyn is the daughter of a Nigerian-Igbo father and a German/Scots-Irish American mother. Born 1983, in Washington, she is one of the country’s major exports to the outside world.
In Hollywood, Megalyn is most recognized for her recurring role of Nicole Palmer in the first season of the mega-hit action series “24″.
She has also played roles in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, the sci-fi series “The 4400″, “ER”, season 7 of CSI: Miami, the MTV soap opera – “Spyder Games”, “Like Family”, TNT’s “Raising the Bar”, and much more.
She was raised on a Navajo Indian Reservation in Chinle, Arizona. In early 2008, she starred opposite Alessandro Nivola in an independent movie, directed by Jerry Zaks, titled ” Who Do You Love” (2008) where she played a heroin-addicted lounge singer. She did all of her own singing in the movie.
Just last year, she starred in the Oscar nominated comedy flick “Damsels in Distress”, by Sony Pictures Classics.
Flaunting her rocking curves, the busy actress recently signed on for the innovative new NBC pilot Beautiful People, taking place in a not-too-distant future where mechanical human beings exist to service the human population, until some of the mechanicals begin to awaken.

LeBron James Tweets Picture Of Miami Heat Wearing Hoodies In Solidarity With Family Of Trayvon Martin

On the evening of Feb. 26, Martin, a 17-year-old Miami native, was returning from the convenience store to the home of his father’s girlfriend in an Orlando suburb. George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch member, reported Martin to the police, and told the 911 dispatcher that the teenager, who was wearing a hoodie, looked “suspicious.” Zimmerman was told by the dispatcher not to follow Martin, but a few minutes after the 911 call, Martin lay dead from a gunshot to the chest. Zimmerman admitted to police that he shot Martin, but claimed he acted in self-defense, and he has not been arrested or charged.

Dwayne Wade

The tweet from the NBA superstar comes days after the Million Hoodie March, during which protesters wore hoodies to show solidarity with Martin’s family. Pictures of people in hoodies in solidarity have been flooding social networking sites.

 

Earlier today, President Obama made his first comments on the Martin case. “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” the president said in a Rose Garden press conference.

Several of the Republican presidential candidates have weighed in as well.

Students in Miami, angered by a lack of action in the case, walked out of class.

 Gio Benitez @GioBenitez

Black student protesting in the name of #TrayvonMartin: “I just want to know if I’m next. All of us could be next.”

 

“For the most part they are being organized and are being supported by the school family as an outpouring show of support,” Broward County Public Schools spokesman Nadine Drew told NBC Miami. “I think the reaction is similar to the national reaction. I don’t think our students are any different than others.

Trayvon Martin, my son, and the Black Male Code

By JESSE WASHINGTON

The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — I thought my son would be much older before I had to tell him about the Black Male Code. He’s only 12, still sleeping with stuffed animals, still afraid of the dark. But after the Trayvon Martin tragedy, I needed to explain to my child that soon people might be afraid of him.

This undated file family photo shows Trayvon Martin. Martin was slain in the town of Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26 in a shooting that has set off a nationwide furor over race and justice.

Neighborhood crime-watch captain George Zimmerman claimed self-defense and has not been arrested, though state and federal authorities are still investigating. Since the slaying, a portrait has emerged of Martin as a laid-back young man who loved sports, was extremely close to his father, liked to crack jokes with friends and, according to a lawyer for his family, had never been in trouble with the law. (AP Photo/Martin Family, File)

This undated file photo provided by the Martin family, shows Trayvon Martin snowboarding.

Martin was slain in the town of Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26 in a shooting that has set off a nationwide furor over race and justice. Neighborhood crime-watch captain George Zimmerman claimed self-defense and has not been arrested, though state and federal authorities are still investigating. Since the slaying, a portrait has emerged of Martin as a laid-back young man who loved sports, was extremely close to his father, liked to crack jokes with friends and, according to a lawyer for his family, had never been in trouble with the law. (AP Photo/Martin Family, File)

In this Friday, March 23, 2012 photo, Bill Stephney talks to his son Trevor, 13, as they sit outside their home in Randolph Township, N.J.

Stephney, a media executive who lives in a New Jersey suburb that is mostly white and Asian, has two sons, ages 18 and 13. The killing of Trayvon Martin was an opportunity for him to repeat a longtime lesson: black men can get singled out, ì

“so please conduct yourself accordingly.” (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

In this Friday, March 23, 2012 photo, Bill Stephney talks to his son Trevor, 13, as they sit outside their home in Randolph Township, N.J.

(AP Photo/Mel Evans)

We were in the car on the way to school when a story about Martin came on the radio. “The guy who killed him should get arrested. The dead guy was unarmed!” my son said after hearing that neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman had claimed self-defense in the shooting in Sanford, Fla.

We listened to the rest of the story, describing how Zimmerman had spotted Martin, who was 17, walking home from the store on a rainy night, the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head. When it was over, I turned off the radio and told my son about the rules he needs to follow to avoid becoming another Trayvon Martin — a black male who Zimmerman assumed was “suspicious” and “up to no good.”

As I explained it, the Code goes like this:

Always pay close attention to your surroundings, son, especially if you are in an affluent neighborhood where black folks are few. Understand that even though you are not a criminal, some people might assume you are, especially if you are wearing certain clothes.

Never argue with police, but protect your dignity and take pride in humility. When confronted by someone with a badge or a gun, do not flee, fight, or put your hands anywhere other than up.

Please don’t assume, son, that all white people view you as a threat. America is better than that. Suspicion and bitterness can imprison you. But as a black male, you must go above and beyond to show strangers what type of person you really are.

I was far from alone in laying out these instructions. Across the country this week, parents were talking to their children, especially their black sons, about the Code. It’s a talk the black community has passed down for generations, an evolving oral tradition from the days when an errant remark could easily cost black people their job, their freedom, or sometimes their life.

After Trayvon Martin was killed, Al Dotson Jr., a lawyer in Miami and chairman of the 100 Black Men of America organization, told his 14-year-old son that he should always be aware of his surroundings, and of the fact that people might view him differently “because he’s blessed to be an African-American.”

“It requires a sixth sense that not everyone needs to have,” Dotson said.

Dotson, 51, remembers receiving his own instructions as a youth, and hearing those instructions evolve over time.

His grandparents told Dotson that when dealing with authority figures, make it clear you are no threat at all — an attitude verging on submissive. Later, Dotson’s parents told him to respond with respect and not be combative.

Today, Dotson tells his children that they should always be respectful, but should not tolerate being disrespected — which would have been recklessly bold in his grandparents’ era.

Yet Dotson still has fears about the safety of his children, “about them understanding who they are and where they are, and how to respond to the environment they are in.”

Bill Stephney, a media executive who lives in a New Jersey suburb that is mostly white and Asian, has two sons, ages 18 and 13. The Martin killing was an opportunity for him to repeat a longtime lesson: Black men can get singled out, “so please conduct yourself accordingly.”

Like Dotson, Stephney mentioned an ultra-awareness — “a racial Spidey sense, a tingling” — that his sons should heed when stereotyping might place them in danger.

One night in the early 1980s, while a student at Adelphi University on Long Island, Stephney and about a dozen other hip-hop aficionados went to White Castle after their late-night DJ gig. They were gathered in the parking lot, eating and talking, when a squadron of police cars swooped in and a helicopter rumbled overhead.

“We got a report that a riot was going on,” police told them.

Stephney and his crew used to talk late into the night about how black men in New York were besieged by violence — graffiti artist Michael Stewart’s death after a rough arrest in 1983; Bernhard Goetz shooting four young black men who allegedly tried to mug him on the subway in 1984; Michael Griffith killed by a car while being chased by a white mob in 1986; the crack epidemic that rained black-on-black violence on the city. They felt under attack, as if society considered them the enemy.

This is how the legendary rap group Public Enemy was born. Their logo: A young black man in the crosshairs of a gun sight.

“Fast forward 25 years later,” Stephney said. “We’ve come a long way to get nowhere.”

But what about that long road traveled, which took a black man all the way to the White House? I can hear some of my white friends now: What evidence is there that Trayvon Martin caught George Zimmerman’s attention — and his bullet — because of his race? Lynching is a relic of the past, so why are you teaching your son to be so paranoid?

There is a difference between paranoia and protection. Much evidence shows that black males face unique risks: Psychological studies indicate they are often perceived as threatening; here in Philadelphia, police stop-and-frisk tactics overwhelmingly target African-Americans, according to a lawsuit settled by the city; research suggests that people are more likely to believe a poorly seen object is a gun if it’s held by a black person.

Yes, it was way back in 1955 when 14-year-old Emmitt Till was murdered in Mississippi for flirting with a white woman. But it was last Wednesday when a white Mississippi teenager pleaded guilty to murder for seeking out a black victim, coming across a man named James Craig Anderson, and running him over with his pickup truck.

Faced with this information, I’m doing what any responsible parent would do: Teaching my son how to protect himself.

Still, it requires a delicate balance. Steve Bumbaugh, a foundation director in Los Angeles, encourages his 8- and 5-year-old sons to talk to police officers, “and to otherwise develop a good relationship with the people and institutions that have the potential to give them trouble. I think this is the best defense.”

“I don’t want them to actually think that they are viewed suspiciously or treated differently,” Bumbaugh said. “I think that realization breeds resentment and anger. And that can contribute to dangerous situations.”

His sons are large for their age, however.

“I’m probably naive to think that they won’t realize they’re viewed differently when they’re 6-4 and 200 pounds,” Bumbaugh said, “but I’m going to try anyway.”

I am 6-4 and more than 200 pounds, son. You probably will be too. Depending on how we dress, act and speak, people might make negative assumptions about us. That doesn’t mean they must be racist; it means they must be human.

Let me tell you a story, son, about a time when I forgot about the Black Male Code.

One morning I left our car at the shop for repairs. I was walking home through our quiet suburban neighborhood, in a cold drizzle, wearing an all-black sweatsuit with the hood pulled over my head.

From two blocks away, I saw your mother pull out of our driveway and roll towards me. When she stopped next to me and rolled down the window, her brown face was full of laughter.

“When I saw you from up the street,” your mother told me, “I said to myself, what is that guy doing in our neighborhood?”

___

Jesse Washington covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. He is reachable at http://twitter.com/jessewashington or jwashington(at)ap.org

___

March 24, 2012 12:56 PM EDT

Copyright 2012, The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Sean Bell Killing: NYPD Fires Officer Involved In Shooting, Forces Three Others To Resign

New York Police Detectives Marc Cooper, left, Gescard Isnora, center, and Michael Oliver talk to media at a news conference, Friday, April 25, 2008 in New York. The three detectives were acquitted of all charges Friday in the 50-shot killing of an unarmed groom-to-be Sean Bell on his wedding day in November 2006, a case that put the New York Police Department at the center of another dispute involving allegations of excessive firepower. (AP Photo/Dima Gavrysh)

NEW YORK — An undercover police detective who fired the first bullets in a 50-shot barrage that killed an unarmed New York City man as he left his bachelor party has been fired and three other officers involved in the slaying will resign, ending a disciplinary process that dragged on for nearly 5 1/2 years.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly made the decision to push the four officers out Friday, four months after a department administrative trial judge concluded that detective Gescard Isnora acted improperly in the 2006 killing of the would-be groom, Sean Bell.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said Friday that “there was nothing in the record to warrant overturning the decision.”

Isnora and fellow detectives Marc Cooper and Michael Oliver and Lt. Gary Napoli were widely condemned and brought up on criminal charges following the shooting outside a Queens nightclub, but they were acquitted on all counts at their 2008 trial.

Bell was black; the officers involved in the shooting were black, white and Hispanic. The shooting drew national attention and reopened questions of race and whether black men were unfairly targeted by police, but critics eventually came to focus more on the use of deadly force.

The detectives, who had been monitoring the club for drug activity, decided to stop Bell and his friends after they left the nightspot and got into their car following a verbal altercation with another group of men. Isnora said he believed they were in the vehicle to retrieve a gun. In fact, the men were unarmed, but Isnora began shooting when the driver hit the gas and rammed a police van.

Isnora fired 11 shots into the car. The 23-year-old Bell was killed and two friends seriously wounded. Cooper and Oliver also fired shots. Another detective who fired his gun, Paul Headley, has already resigned, while a fifth shooter was ruled by the administrative judge not to have acted improperly. Napoli was a supervisor at the scene.

The firing means that Isnora will lose his pension and health care benefits.

Isnora’s lawyer, Philip Karasyk, told The New York Times () that the decision to fire the officer was “extremely disheartening and callous and sends an uncaring message to the hard-working officers of the New York Police Department who put their lives on the line every day.” http://nyti.ms/GU1fZz

Mike Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, said Saturday that the union and its lawyers were reviewing the decision to see if Isnora has any legal recourse.

“The decision is demoralizing and it’s unsetting for all members of the NYPD,” Palladino said. “The message is that you could be in a life-or-death situation, act within the law, be justified by the courts and still lose everything – your livelihood as well as your retirement.”

Stars and the presidential candidates they support

President Barack Obama, left, is introduced by actor and director Tyler Perry, right, before delivering remarks at a campaign event at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Friday, March, 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)Every presidential candidate needs celebrities to vouch for them to boost their image with voters. Tyler Perry hosted a gala event at his Atlanta movie studio for President Barack Obama. Later, Perry hosted a smaller fundraiser at his French provincial mansion along the Chattahoochee River. AP

Every presidential candidate needs celebrities to vouch for them to boost their image with voters. Tyler Perry hosted a gala event at his Atlanta movie studio for President Barack Obama. Later, Perry hosted a smaller fundraiser at his French provincial mansion along the Chattahoochee River. AP

Cheating our children: Suspicious school test scores across the nation

By Heather Vogell, John Perry and Alan Judd and M.B. Pell

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Suspicious test scores in roughly 200 school districts resemble those that entangled Atlanta in the biggest cheating scandal in American history, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.

The newspaper analyzed test results for 69,000 public schools and found high concentrations of suspect math or reading scores in school systems from coast to coast. The findings represent an unprecedented examination of the integrity of school testing.

The analysis doesn’t prove cheating. But it reveals that test scores in hundreds of cities followed a pattern that, in Atlanta, indicated cheating in multiple schools.

A tainted and largely unpoliced universe of untrustworthy test results underlies bold changes in education policy, the findings show. The tougher teacher evaluations many states are rolling out, for instance, place more weight than ever on tests.

Perhaps more important, the analysis suggests a broad betrayal of schoolchildren across the nation. As Atlanta learned after cheating was uncovered in half its elementary and middle schools last year, falsified test results deny struggling students access to extra help to which they are entitled, and erode confidence in a vital public institution.

“These findings are concerning,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in an emailed statement after being briefed on the AJC’s analysis.

He added: “States, districts, schools and testing companies should have sensible safeguards in place to ensure tests accurately reflect student learning.”

In nine districts, scores careened so unpredictably that the odds of such dramatic shifts occurring without an intervention such as tampering were worse than one in 1 billion.

In Houston, for instance, test results for entire grades of students jumped two, three or more times the amount expected in one year, the analysis shows. When children moved to a new grade the next year, their scores plummeted — a finding that suggests the gains were not due to learning.

Overall, 196 of the nation’s 3,125 largest school districts had enough suspect tests that the odds of the results occurring by chance alone were worse than one in 1,000.

For 33 of those districts, the odds were worse than one in a million.

A few of the districts already face accusations of cheating. But in most, no one has challenged the scores in a broad, public way.

The newspaper’s analysis suggests that tens of thousands of children may have been harmed by inflated scores that could have precluded tutoring or more drastic administrative actions.

The analysis shows that in 2010 alone, the grade-wide reading scores of 24,618 children nationwide — enough to populate a midsized school district — swung so improbably that the odds of it happening by chance were less than one in 10,000.

Cheating is one of few plausible explanations for why scores would change so dramatically for so many students in a district, said James Wollack, a University of Wisconsin-Madison expert in testing and cheating who reviewed the newspaper’s analysis.

“I can say with some confidence,” he said, “cheating is something you should be looking at.”

Statistical checks for extreme changes in scores are like medical tests, said Gary Phillips, a vice president and chief scientist for the large nonprofit American Institutes for Research, who advised the AJC on its methodology.

“This is a broad screening,” he said. “If you find something, you’re supposed to go to the doctor and follow up with a more detailed diagnostic process.”

The findings come as government officials, reeling from recent scandals, are beginning to acknowledge that a troubling amount of score manipulation occurs. Though the federal government requires the tests, it has not mandated screening scores for anomalies or investigating those that turn up.

Daria Hall, director of k-12 policy with the nonprofit The Education Trust, said education officials should take steps to ensure the validity of test results because of the critical role they play in policy and practice.

“If we are going to make important decisions based on test results — and we ought to be doing that — we have to make important decisions about how we are going to ensure their trustworthiness,” she said. “That means districts and states taking ownership of the test security issue in a way that they haven’t to date.”

‘Way too much pressure’

Both critics and supporters of testing said the newspaper’s findings are further evidence that in the frenzy to raise scores, the nation failed to pay enough attention to what was driving the gains.

“We are putting way too much pressure on people to raise scores at a very large clip without holding them accountable for how they are doing it,” said Daniel Koretz, a Harvard Graduate School of Education testing expert.

Test-score pressure is palpable in schools grappling with urban blight and poverty.

These are the schools that the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act was supposed to fix.

But at Patrick Henry Downtown Academy in St. Louis, airy red brick towers rising above the school belie a grimmer reality on the ground. Children leaving one recent afternoon passed piles of trash and a .45 caliber bullet tucked into the curb. Inside, their classrooms are beset by mold, rats, discipline problems and scandal.

Last year, the former principal — once hailed as among the district’s strongest — was accused by Missouri officials of falsifying attendance rolls to get more state money.

State investigators didn’t publicly question Henry’s test scores.

But the AJC’s analysis found suspicious scores in the school dating back to 2007. In 2010, for instance, about 42 percent of fourth-graders passed the state math test. When the class took the tests as fifth-graders the next year — with state investigators looking into cheating and other fraud allegations — just 4 percent passed math.

Experts say student learning doesn’t typically jump backwards.

Henry’s scores were consistently among the lowest in the state — except for the occasional sudden leap.

After school one recent afternoon, Deborah Dodson, who sends two children to the school, said she saw a teacher provide inappropriate one-on-one assistance during a state test. And she’s heard from other parents that teachers will give students answers.

Some students who aren’t likely to test well don’t receive tests at all, she said. “They don’t do anything by the book,” Dodson said. “That school and how they do things is not right.”

Rural, city schools flagged

The AJC used freedom of information laws to collect test scores from 50 states to look for the sort of patterns that signaled cheating in Atlanta. A Georgia investigation last year found at least 178 Atlanta educators — principals, teachers and other staff — took part in widespread test-tampering.

In each state, the newspaper used statistics to identify unusual score jumps and drops on state math and reading tests by grade and school. Declines can signal cheating the previous year. The calculations also sought to rule out other factors that can lead to big score shifts, such as small classes and dramatic changes in class size.

Some school leaders accused of cheating have attributed steep gains to exemplary teaching. But experts said instruction isn’t likely to move scores to the degree seen in the AJC’s analysis.

Through teaching alone, Wollack said, “it’s going to be pretty tough to have that sort of an impact.”

The AJC developed a statistical method to identify school systems with far more unusual tests than expected, which could signal endemic cheating such as that which occurred in Atlanta. The newspaper’s score analysis used conservative measures that highlighted extremes and were likely to miss many instances of cheating.

Big-to-medium-sized cities and rural districts harbored the highest concentrations of suspect tests. No Child Left Behind may help explain why. The law forced districts to contend with the scores of poor and minority students in an unprecedented way, judging schools by the performance of such “subgroups” as well as by overall achievement.

Hence, high-poverty schools faced some of the most relentless pressure of the kind critics say increases cheating.

Improbable scores were twice as likely to appear in charter schools as regular schools. Charters, which receive public money, can face intense pressure as supposed laboratories of innovation that, in theory, live or die by their academic performance.

Common problems unite the big-city districts with the most prevalent suspicious scores: Many faced state takeovers if scores didn’t improve quickly. Teachers’ pay or even their continued employment sometimes depended on test performance. And their students — mostly poor, mostly minority — were among those needing the most help.

The analysis, for instance, flagged more than one in six tests in St. Louis some years. In Detroit, it was one in seven.

Dozens of school systems in mid-sized cities — such as Gary, Ind.; East St. Louis, Ill., and Mobile, Ala. — exhibited high concentrations of suspicious tests, too.

Though high-poverty city schools were more likely to have suspicious tests, improbable scores also showed up in an exclusive public school for the gifted on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. And they appeared in a rural district roughly 70 miles south of Chicago with one school, dirt roads and a women’s prison.

The findings call into question the approach that dominated federal education policy over the past decade: Set a continuously rising bar and leave schools and districts essentially alone to figure out how to surmount it — or face penalties.

“If you want to keep your job, keep your school out of the news, keep winning awards and advance in your career, you need to make your school look better,” said Joseph Hawkins, a former testing official with the Montgomery County, Md., school system.

Koretz, the Harvard expert, said cheating is one extreme on a continuum that, at its other end, includes gaming the test in legal ways — such as through test-prep drills — that don’t significantly increase students’ overall knowledge or skills.

Even as state test scores have soared, students’ performance on national and international exams has been more mediocre. Cheating and gaming may help explain why.

“The big picture is: Are we seeing apparent gains in student achievement that are bogus?” Koretz asked.

Decade of tumult

Test scores show that instead of progressing steadily in their academics, districts have endured a decade of tumult.

In some of the nation’s biggest cities, dynamic district leaders preached “data-driven” decision-making and even linked test scores to bonuses or principal hiring and firing decisions. Many boasted of taking a corporate approach to education, focusing on student test achievement as the single most important measure of success.

Some of the most persistently suspicious test scores nationwide, however, occurred in districts renowned for cutting-edge reforms.

In Atlanta, for instance, former Superintendent Beverly Hall won national recognition as Superintendent of the Year in 2009. State investigators later confirmed scores that year were widely manipulated by educators who assisted students improperly and outright changed tens of thousands of their answers on state tests.

In some Atlanta schools, cheating was an open secret for years. After students turned in their tests, teachers and administrators erased and corrected their mistakes — even holding a “changing party” at a teacher’s home. In another school, staff cut plastic wrap securing test booklets with a razor, then melted the wrap shut again after making forbidden copies.

State investigators accused a total of 38 principals with participating in test-tampering. One allegedly wore gloves while erasing to avoid leaving fingerprints.

Ultimately, the cheating supported a massive effort to bolster the Atlanta superintendent’s image as a tough reformer who had turned around a struggling system.

In 2002, Houston was the first winner of the Broad Prize, which has become the most coveted award in urban education. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation praised Houston’s intense focus on test results. More recently, Houston has been among the leaders in tying teacher pay to student test scores.

But twice in the past seven years, the AJC found, Houston exhibited fluctuations with virtually no chance of occurring except through tampering.

In 2005, scores fell precipitously in five dozen classes in 38 schools after a statistical analysis by the Dallas Morning News suggested test-tampering in Houston. The district fired teachers and principals and improved test security.

In 2011, however, as three-fourths of Houston teachers earned performance-based bonuses, scores rose improbably in a similar number of classes in the same number of schools. In the same year, Houston confirmed nine cheating allegations and fired or took other action against 21 employees.

Through Jason Spencer, a spokesman for the district, Houston officials questioned whether cheating caused all of the unusual score changes the AJC found. He said the district doesn’t think its pay-for-performance plan has made cheating more likely.

“We feel like we put a lot of safeguards in place,” he said, but added: “We know it happens. We would never pretend it’s not an issue.”

Teachers and other school staff in Atlanta were eligible for mostly small bonuses if scores hit district targets. Perhaps more worrisome for principals were the penalties: Former Superintendent Hall boasted of replacing about 90 percent of principals and told new hires they had three years to deliver high scores. Her mantra: “no exceptions, no excuses.”

Three studies of merit-pay programs did not show they consistently produce higher test scores, either legitimately or through cheating, said Matthew Springer, director of the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University.

Yet, he added that “it’s incredibly important that we systematically monitor these programs for opportunistic gaming of the system.”

Pushback from officials

Some school districts and states have taken an apathetic, if not defiant, stance in the face of cheating accusations in recent years.

The AJC sent detailed findings to districts with some of the most suspicious clusters of scores. For those not already publicly looking at cheating, the responses were similar: Officials said they were unaware of most anomalies, but protested characterizing the score changes as cheating.

Several local and state school officials objected to conducting the analysis at all, saying it doesn’t consider enough variables.

Some districts simply denied any problems exist. Detroit, for instance, claimed its scores were not “unusual or out of line in any way” and that Michigan officials had not identified irregularities “with respect to an erasure analysis, suspected cheating, or any other issue.”

In fact, Michigan’s education agency identified six Detroit schools as having statistically unlikely gains on a state test in 2009. At one school, the state determined, sixth-graders averaged 7.4 wrong-to-right erasures. Their peers statewide averaged fewer than one such change.

Analyzing Detroit’s scores from 2008 and 2009, the AJC found suspicious swings in 14 percent of classes. The statistical probability: zero.

Regardless, Detroit officials offered an explanation that experts have said is among the least likely: better teaching.

Steven Wasko, an assistant superintendent in Detroit, said the district has offered before- and after-school programs, expanded summer school, and added extra reading and math instruction. “Increases in student performance,” Wasko said in an email, “could be attributed in part to these factors.”

In a statement, St. Louis school district officials acknowledged the strangeness of score changes, but disagreed that cheating was to blame. They said neither the district nor state education officials have any “credible evidence that testing improprieties have occurred at the schools in question.”

Officials acknowledged, however, that the district has a cheating investigation open at one school. The state said that since 2010 it has received allegations of cheating at two other St. Louis schools identified as suspicious by the AJC analysis. Accusations of cheating persist.

State officials say they do not screen test scores for possible cheating and do not consider unusually high gains to be a sign of test-tampering — if schools provide an explanation.

“We hope to see great gains in our proficiency levels,” said Michele Clark, a spokeswoman.

Dallas officials said that when irregularities surfaced several years ago, they instituted new test security measures and started screening for anomalies.

Few big-city districts have attacked cheating as aggressively as Baltimore.

After he became the district’s chief executive in 2007, Andrés Alonso heard a whistle-blower complain at a PTA meeting about the district’s lax investigation into cheating allegations at her school.

With accused educators sitting nearby, Alonso recalled recently, the room became “a deafening vacuum.”

Alonso ordered a new investigation, which spread into 15 other schools. The district posted independent monitors in each school during tests. In the suspected schools, scores fell dramatically. In other schools, scores continued to rise.

Alonso asked state officials to check test papers for illicit erasures and changes. Their analysis confirmed his suspicions.

At Fort Worthington Elementary, for instance, as many as 20 mistakes were corrected on some students’ tests, often in a lighter shade of pencil.

All of Fort Worthington’s classes posted improbable gains in 2008, the AJC’s analysis shows. The performance level held for two more years, when the school faced the threat of state takeover. After the cheating was detected, statistically unlikely score drops multiplied, occurring in three-quarters of the school’s classes. Similar patterns show up across the district.

Sitting outside the school in her aging station wagon one late winter day, Vernetta Jones-Marshall said Fort Worthington is doing the best it can.

“I don’t even know if it was really a true statement,” Jones-Marshall, 57, said of the cheating allegations as she waited to pick up her son, a fifth-grader. “We didn’t make a big deal about it.”

Cheating is a big deal to Alonso, however.

Most educators act with integrity, he said, but others “feel a sense of impunity” because school officials haven’t always held cheaters accountable.

“I was doing this before the Atlanta story broke,” he said. “This was me feeling that nothing mattered more than the integrity of the school system.”

Call for vigilance

Leaders need to maintain that tough stance even after cheating disappears from the headlines, experts say.

In Dallas, for instance, the score analysis shows the number of suspicious gains dropped after cheating allegations surfaced in late 2004 — but then began inching up again a few years later.

For years, Los Angeles’ scores were among the least suspicious for big-city districts. But when California stopped conducting routine erasure analysis in 2008 for budget reasons, the number of improbable score changes in L.A. climbed steeply.

States and districts find little advice when they do decide to conduct erasure or statistical screenings of test scores.

Federal education officials and testing experts have begun working on new recommendations for detecting and investigating test-score anomalies.

Wollack, the Wisconsin testing expert, said there is room to improve. “Some of the investigations that have taken place in the past have been less than thorough, have been less exhaustive than they should have been,” he said. “Cheating went undetected as a result.”

Districts don’t have a big incentive to unearth ugly truths about their own testing programs. What’s more, most screening methods miss instances of cheating by setting high thresholds in an effort not to falsely identify innocent schools.

“It’s clear there are schools, there are districts, that are under that threshold that are still engaged in some level of misconduct,” Wollack said.

Critics of testing have complained for years that increased pressure brought on by accountability measures leads to more testing abuses.

Education historian and New York University Professor Diane Ravitch said the incessant focus on testing has eroded the quality of instruction.

“All of this is predictable,” said Ravitch, a former top U.S. Department of Education official who in recent years reversed her support for testing and tough accountability measures. “We’re warping the education system in order to meet artificial targets.”

Through programs such as Race to the Top, federal education officials have pushed states to adopt more aggressive teacher evaluation systems that, typically, consider test scores.

“Whatever the stakes were under No Child Left Behind,” Ravitch said, “they are going to be much higher, now that teachers are being told your scores are going to be public and you’re going to be fired if they don’t go up X number of years in a row.”

But Daria Hall, of the Education Trust, said most educators don’t cheat, and testing data is essential for determining if students have basic skills — such as the ability to read.

“What parent doesn’t want to know how their child is doing in reading and in math? What teacher doesn’t want to know how their student is doing?” she said. “You can’t take away the source of the information. We have to make the information better.”

Crisis of confidence

For parents, questions of academic integrity can lead to a crisis of confidence.

The chronically low-performing Nashville district illustrates the conundrum. Test scores in some of the district’s schools have alternately soared and swooped to improbable degrees. Sixth-graders at Two Rivers Middle School ranked among the 10 worst in reading scores in the state in 2010, for instance. One year later, as seventh-graders, they skyrocketed to among the top 25 percent.

Nashville school officials said the data raises concerns about their effectiveness as educators, but not cheating. They echoed other districts’ objections to the analysis, including their relatively high percentage of students learning English and the number of students changing schools from one year to the next.

In Hermitage, a working-class section east of downtown Nashville, Megan McGowan said she was torn about whether to send her son to Dupont Tyler Middle School.

Tests carry too much weight, she said, and teachers face tremendous pressure to produce results. Still, she said, cheating is inexcusable. If it happened at Dupont Tyler, she said, she’d think twice about sending her son there.

“I expect teachers to be ethical,” she said.

EJS Mourns the Loss of John Payton

Photo via BET

The Equal Justice Society mourns the loss of John Payton, the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., who died late Thursday after a brief illness. He was 65. EJS expresses our deep condolences to his wife, Gay, and to the LDF family on this tragic loss.

“John Payton was a champion for civil rights for all of his legal career,” said Eva Paterson. EJS President. “His masterly defense of race conscious remedies in his argument before the Supreme Court in Croson v City of Richmond is one of the many highlights of a brilliant career. His impish delight in developing strategies for maintaining and extending rights for all in our society is in my mind’s eye as I think about John. He was a first rate successor to the legacies of Thurgood Marshall, Jack Greenberg, Julius Chambers, Elaine Jones, and Ted Shaw. He will be missed. Gay is another warrior. We send our love and support. Onward.”

Read ” John Payton In Memoriam” on the LDF site.

About Equal Justice Society. The Equal Justice Society is a national strategy group heightening consciousness on race in the law and popular discourse. Using a three-pronged strategy of law and public policy advocacy, cross-disciplinary convenings and strategic public communications, EJS seeks to restore race equity issues to the national consciousness, build effective progressive alliances, and advance the discourse on the positive role of government. Learn more about us athttp://equaljusticesociety.org.

GILBERT JOINS RAIDERS AS DIRECTOR OF MEDIA RELATIONS; TAYLOR NAMED DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS

The Oakland Raiders have announced the hiring of Zak Gilbert as director of media relations, and have named Mike Taylor director of public affairs.

Taylor, who has been with the Raiders organization since 1988, welcomes Gilbert to the Raiders organization.

Gilbert, 36, most recently served in the NFL from 2001-07, leaving as the chief assistant in the Green Bay Packers public relations office, a role in which he handled publicity for Brett Favre and worked to shed light on the unique history of the organization and its home, Lambeau Field.

Gilbert comes to Oakland from Colorado State University, where he had served as director of athletic media relations, working most recently with Tim Skipper, the brother of Raiders running backs coach Kelly Skipper, as well as former Raiders wide receiver Alvis Whitted and former Oakland quarterbacks coach Jim McElwain, who won two national championships as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.

A 1997 graduate of the University of Colorado’s journalism school, Gilbert worked four seasons in the Buffaloes’ sports information office, a span in which the program won a Heisman Trophy in addition to Butkus and Thorpe awards. After completing a PR internship with the Broncos during their Super Bowl XXXII season, he served as the top assistant in the Colorado Rockies public relations office until joining the Packers.

Gilbert will begin his duties at the league meetings this week.

Democratic agenda has not been a friend to black Americans

By Walter E. Williams

Published: Wednesday, March 21 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

It’s not unreasonable to ask how valuable the variously labeled liberal, Democratic or progressive agenda has been to black Americans and whether blacks should proceed in political lock step with this agenda.

According to an American Community Survey, by the U.S. Census Bureau, the top 10 poorest cities with populations more than 250,000 are Detroit, with 33 percent of its residents below the poverty line; Buffalo, N.Y., 30 percent; Cincinnati, 28 percent; Cleveland, 27 percent; Miami, 27 percent; St. Louis, 27 percent; El Paso, Texas, 26 percent; Milwaukee, 26 percent; Philadelphia, 25 percent; and Newark, N.J., 24 percent.

The most common characteristic of these cities is that for decades, all of them have been run by Democratic and presumably liberal administrations. Some of them — such as Detroit, Buffalo, Newark and Philadelphia — haven’t elected a Republican mayor for more than a half-century. What’s more is that, in some cases for decades, the mayors of six of these high-poverty cities have been black Americans. You say, “What’s the point, Williams?” Let’s be clear about it. I’m not stating a causal relationship between poverty and Democratic and/or black political control over a city. What I am saying is that if one is strategizing on how to help poor people, he wants to leave off his list of objectives Democratic and black political control of cities. According to Albert Einstein (attributed), the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Crime is one of the results of the liberal agenda. Blacks are 13 percent of the population but are more than 50 percent of murder victims. About 95 percent of black homicide victims had a black person as their murderer. Blacks are not only the major victims of murder but also suffer high victimization rates of all categories of serious violent crime. Most often, another black is the perpetrator. During the 1960s, academic liberals and hustling politicians told us that to deal with crime, we had to deal with its “root causes,” poverty and discrimination. My colleague Thomas Sowell has pointed out that in 1960, the total number of murders in the United States was lower than in 1950, 1940 and 1930, even though our population had grown and two new states had been added. The liberal agenda, coupled with courts granting criminals new rights, later caused the murder rate to double, and the rates of other violent crimes also began to skyrocket.

Crime imposes a hefty tax on law-abiding residents of black neighborhoods. Residents bear costs of having to shop outside of their neighborhoods; criminals have driven many businesses out. Children can’t play safely in front of their homes. Fearing robberies, taxi drivers, including black drivers, often refuse to accept telephone calls for home pickups and frequently pass black customers by on the street. Neighborhood property values are lower as a result of crime. Plus, there’s the insult associated with not being able to receive pizza or other deliveries on the same terms as people in other neighborhoods.

Often, politicians who call for law and order are viewed negatively, but poor people, particularly poor black people, are the most dependent on law and order. In the face of high crime, wealthier people can afford to purchase alarms, buy guard dogs, hire guards and, if things get too bad, move to a gated community. These options are not available to poor people. The only protection they have is an orderly society.

Democratic and black politicians are beholden to and serve the interests of the powerful vested interest groups, such as labor unions, teachers unions and assorted liberals, not the ordinary people who voted them into office. Otherwise, they wouldn’t begin to allow the rampant crime and nearly systematic destruction of learning opportunities for generations of black children by governmental schools.

None of this is to say that blacks should vote Republican. It is to say that political power doesn’t necessarily translate into economic power and well-being for the ordinary citizen.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.

Miami Heat Protest Trayvon Martin Case, Beat Detroit Pistons 88-73

By NOAH TRISTER

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — LeBron James had 17 points and 10 assists to lead the Miami Heat to their fourth straight victory, 88-73 over the Detroit Pistons on Friday night.
Dwyane Wade added 24 points for the Heat, who posed for a photo earlier in the day wearing team-logo hoodies. Players were speaking out following the death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager wearing a hooded sweatshirt who was shot by a neighborhood crime-watch volunteer last month in a suburb of Orlando, Fla.
Several Heat players, including Wade and James, took the floor with messages such as “RIP Trayvon Martin” and “We want justice” scrawled on their sneakers.
Brandon Knight scored 18 points for the Pistons, who have lost five of six.
Wade posted a photo of himself from a previous photo shoot wearing a hooded shirt, otherwise known as a hoodie, to his Twitter and Facebook pages on Friday morning. A couple hours later, James posted another photo – this one of 13 Heat players, all wearing team-logo hoodies, their heads bowed, their hands stuffed into their pockets.
Martin was killed as he was returning to a gated community, carrying candy and iced tea. A neighborhood crime-watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, said he acted in self-defense. He has not been arrested, though state and federal authorities are still investigating.
Protests have popped up nationwide in recent days, with thousands of people – many of them wearing hoodies – calling for action. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra called the team photo “a powerful move.”
Once the game started, the Heat made quick work of the Pistons. Miami led by 26 in the third quarter, although Detroit did rally to make it respectable.
Detroit trailed 72-57 after three and cut the deficit to single digits early in the fourth. After Jonas Jerebko’s reverse dunk on a breakaway made it 74-65, the Heat took a timeout with 8:58 to play.
Wade made a floater to start a 10-2 run.
Detroit was without guard Rodney Stuckey, out with a sore left big toe. Ben Gordon, who made all nine of his 3-point attempts in a 45-point effort at Denver on Wednesday night, went 0 for 4 from beyond the arc and scored 10 points.
Miami’s Joel Anthony returned to the lineup after missing Tuesday’s win over Phoenix with a sprained left ankle. He scored six points.
The Heat shot 57 percent in the first half and finished the second quarter strong. Wade’s layup off a pass from James with 4.3 seconds remaining made it 59-36, and Chris Bosh blocked Will Bynum’s attempt at a driving layup at the other end.
James intercepted a pass near midcourt in the third quarter and found Wade alone downcourt for an alley-oop dunk. Mario Chalmers then sank a 3-pointer to make it 70-44.
NOTES: Knight now holds Detroit’s rookie record for 3-pointers after making four Friday for a season total of 73. Lindsey Hunter made 69 in 1993-94. … Miami’s Mike Miller remained out with a sprained left ankle. … Wade missed a streaking James in the fourth quarter on an alley-oop attempt when James was unable to handle a high pass.

After Trayvon Martin, hoodie goes from fashion statement to socio-political one

BY AUDRA D.S. BURCH

The Trayvon Martin case forces a reckoning of what it means to be young and black and male — and to wear a certain garment. From the wreckage of the Trayvon Martin killing, the hoodie has emerged as an unlikely symbol, a silent way of expressing solidarity and anger over justice delayed as protests erupt nationwide over the death of an unarmed black teenager at the hands of a Central Florida neighborhood watch captain who viewed the boy as suspicious.
From a downtown outdoor mall in Iowa City to the expanse of Union Square in New York City, from a historic church in Atlanta to a plaza in Washington, D.C., thousands of demonstrators have been protesting the 17-year-old’s death by donning hoodies like the one Trayvon wore that Sunday night a month ago when he was killed in a gated townhouse community in Sanford. Thousands more have posted, shared and tweeted photos of themselves wearing the hooded jackets. Still others have used Trayvon’s haunting black-and-white image as their own profile pictures on the Internet, creating a boundless digital imprint in a case fueled by social media, the focus intensifying Friday with the release of a Miami Heat photo and a controversial remark by TV personality Geraldo Rivera.
“Before the incident, there was a cultural understanding that the African-American male wore hoodies as a way to be under the radar, to be ambiguous, but not because of any malicious intent, not because he was up to no good,’’ says Jason Campbell, an assistant professor of conflict resolution and philosophy at Nova Southeastern University. “Now, it’s visual shorthand that has transcended, used as a way to say I am lending my voice to the cause. It’s not a black cause, or a male cause, it’s a national cause.’’
Trayvon was wearing a hoodie — and carrying a bag of Skittles and an Arizona iced tea purchased from a nearby convenience store — as he returned to the townhouse of his father’s girlfriend. He had been suspended from high school in Miami and was spending time in Sanford with his father. The shooter, George Zimmerman, 28, told police the boy was wearing a dark hoodie, looked “suspicious” and thought he was “up to no good.’’ He said Trayvon jumped him and he shot in self-defense. The boy died on the grass, 70 yards from the backdoor of the townhouse. Trayvon’s girlfriend, who was on a cellphone with him moments before, said it was not until he noticed he was being followed by a stranger that he cloaked himself with the hood.
In the month since the boy’s Feb. 26 death, with no arrests made, a national social movement has grown, exposing the fault lines of race and exploring what it means to be young, black and wearing a hoodie.
The hooded jacket or pullover — an ubiquitous uniform for the youth, hip-hop and sports worlds, a sideline favorite of New England Patriot Coach Bill Belichick and a casual outfit for Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg — has become a powerful part of the Trayvon Martin narrative. Ordinary citizens, political personalities, athletes and big-name celebrities have joined the cause, posting hooded images of themselves, people as disparate as Oscar winner Jamie Foxx; Marian Wright Edelman, who heads the Children’s Defense Fund; and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Many of the images included simple text, asking “Do I Look Suspicious?” or stating, “I am Trayvon.”
For the newly minted hoodie movement, the goal is both to protest Trayvon’s death and also to take back the clothing item, to remove the sting of its sometimes sinister image.
“The meaning has changed for me. Now, I am honored to wear my hoodie because it is showing respect toward Trayvon,’’ said Desrick Hudson, 17, a junior at Norland Senior High who went to elementary and middle school with Trayvon.
The Miami-Dade school district allows hoodies as long as the hood remains down so that students can be easily identified.
“I wore them to school as a fashion thing, no different than putting on a hat,’’ Desrick said. “Now it means something bigger.’’
The hoodie discourse exploded Friday after Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera asserted that the hoodie — and Trayvon’s decision to wear it — was a factor in his shooting death, comments that drew fiery responses from the social media world, including from his own son.
“I believe that George Zimmerman, the overzealous neighborhood watch captain, should be investigated to the fullest extent of the law and if he is criminally liable, he should be prosecuted,’’ Rivera said Friday morning on Fox & Friends. “But I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters, particularly, to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.’’
He said the hoodies, first produced by clothing company Champion in the 1930s for laborers working in the New York winters, have become a menacing symbol of criminality. Merely wearing one forced people to respond, he said, adding that the image of a black or Latino male in a hoodie is so provocative, the clothing should come with a warning label, like cigarettes — “caution, wearing this could get you killed.”
“When you see a black or Latino youngster, particularly on the street, you walk to the other side of the street. You try to avoid that confrontation. Trayvon Martin you know, God bless him, he’s an innocent kid, a wonderful kid, a box of Skittles in his hand. He didn’t deserve to die,’’ Rivera said. “But I’ll bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that — that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.’’
Rivera, who is Hispanic, admitted over Twitter that his son, Gabriel, was “ashamed” of the stance he has taken on wearing hoodies.
Trayvon’s death and his choice of clothing have renewed the focus on the never-ending conversation about race and stereotypes and the inherent difficulties of being a black male.
“The country is following the narrative of George Zimmerman. He tells 911 he sees someone who is suspicious. So what do we know about Trayvon? He was wearing jeans, tennis shoes and a hoodie. Somehow, Zimmerman arrives at the notion that because he is wearing this hoodie, he is suspicious,’’ says journalist Roland Martin, host of TV One’s Washington Watch and author of Speak, Brother! A Black Man’s View of America. “The reason the hoodie is so important in this narrative, it is a symbolic piece of clothing that speaks to the stereotypes people carry.’’
Martin, who also is a CNN contributor, said the case is weighed down by institutional racism and age-old assumptions.
“If I see a white kid in a hoodie or a dark trench coat and tattoos, I do not think he is a skinhead. If I see a white guy on Wall Street in a suit, I don’t automatically think he is a white-collar criminal. And if I see a Hispanic person speaking Spanish instead of English, I don’t assume they are an illegal alien,’’ he said. “Hoodies are deeply entrenched in American culture, not just urban culture, so the problem is not the hoodie. it’s the person who carries the stereotype that hoodies represent a black or Hispanic up to no good.’’
On Friday, Heat star Dwyane Wade posted an old photo of himself on Facebook in a hoodie to show support for the Martin family. While in town for that night’s game against the Detroit Pistons, LeBron James also tweeted a stark photograph of himself and 12 other teammates including Wade, heads dropped, faces shadowed by dark hooded sweatshirts, evoking an almost monk-like image. The point, perhaps, is to change the perception of the clothing item from dangerous to sacred. The photo, posted to James’ Twitter account — he is followed by four million people — was taken at the Heat’s team hotel in Birmingham, Mich., meant to demonstrate the team was united in the battle for justice.
“I’m a father. It’s support of the tragic thing that has taken place. No matter what color, race, we’re all fathers,’’ Wade told the Sun Sentinel. “When you think about what that family’s going through, it hits you hard and it hurts your heart to think about it. Just anything you can do, obviously we can’t bring him back, but anything you can do to get behind and support is what we’re doing.’’
Miami Herald staff writer Laura Isensee contributed to this report.

Family Of Ramarley Graham, Unarmed Black Teen Killed By NYPD, Rallies For Justice In The Bronx

The family of Ramarley Graham, the unarmed Bronx 18-year-old shot and killed by an NYPD officer in February, says they will hold rallies and marches every Thursday for 18 weeks to demand justice, CBS reports.
“We’re not waiting patiently. We will be here this Thursday, next Thursday and Thursdays beyond that until we see some type of movement,” the family’s attorney Royce Russell said to a large crowd of supporters at a rally Thursday.Graham’s father, Franclot Graham, said “there’s not a day [that] goes by that I don’t cry,” adding, “All we want for our son is justice.”
Security footage from the February incident shows Ramarley Graham entering his grandmother’s home and police following him shortly thereafter. Cops said they had witnessed Graham participate in a drug deal and thought he had a gun. They illegally entered the home without a search warrant.
Inside the home Graham went into the bathroom, where he may have been trying to flush some marijuana down the toilet, when Officer Richard Haste–now on restrictive duty while Internal affairs investigates the incident–fired one shot and killed the teen.
Graham did not have a gun.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, whose department initially said there had been a struggle with Graham before the gun fired (there was not), later met with the family to express his sympathies.
The DA’s office has convened a grand jury to determine whether charges should be brought against the cops involved in the incident.
Traditionally high tensions between the Bronx black community and the NYPD have continued to escalate since Ramarley’s death. At a rally shortly after the tragedy where protesters chanted, “NYPD: KKK,” Ramarley’s sister, Leona Virgo, told reporters, “This is not just about Ramarley. This is about all young black men.”
Many have attributed Ramarley’s death to the NYPD’s aggressive “stop-and-frisk” progam, which disproportionately targets low-income minority neighborhoods, and to the NYPD’s penchant for arresting low-level marijuana offenders. In 2011, the NYPD stopped and frisked more than 500,000 New Yorkers, 87 percent of them black or Latino.
Meanwhile in Florida, outrage continues over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, another unarmed black teen, shot to death by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. The Sanford Police Chief has stepped down over his handling of Trayvon’s case. No charges have been made against Zimmerman.
On a Facebook page called, “Justice For Ramarley Graham, assassinated by Police in the Bronx!”, there are numerous posts regarding Trayvon Martin.

City Creek, Mormon Shopping Mall, Boasts Flame-Shooting Fountains, Biblical Splendor

City Creek Shopping Mall.

City Creek Center in Salt Lake City, Utah Need some Jesus with your jeggings? Head to Salt Lake City. On Thursday morning, City Creek Center, the first indoor mall built in nearly three years, opened its doors to the public. Its owner is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which hopes that the $1.5 billion temple of consumption will redeem Salt Lake City’s blighted downtown, where the Church is also headquartered. The 700,000-square-foot mall certainly gives off a Biblical air. According to its website, City Creek has two 18-foot waterfalls, fountains that shoot water and bursts of flame while playing synchronized music, a fully retractable glass roof (the first outside of Dubai) and a man-made recreation of the south fork of City Creek, the mountain stream where, in 1847, Mormon pioneer Brigham Young founded the settlement that would later become Salt Lake City. It is a mall fit for a president — and might even be graced by one some day if Mitt Romney, one of the Church’s most famous members, can score the Republican nomination. City Creek is located just across the street from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ headquarters, the Temple Square complex. The stores, which include Tiffany & Co., Coach, Nordstrom, Porsche Design, H&M and Macy’s will all be closed on Sunday. No restaurants will serve alcohol, save for the Cheesecake Factory and Texas de Brazil. There are no bars. It has been years since any developer, private or otherwise, has backed such a grand project, given the bleak retail landscape. The last indoor mall built in the U.S., Crystals at CityCenter, opened in Las Vegas in 2009. Since, more malls have been foreclosed on than have opened, with shoppers cutting back on spending and chain stores downsizing. So far, City Creek looks like an exception. Two thousand people paid $50 to attend the opening gala Wednesday night, while crowds started to line up on the nearby Main St. at 2:00 a.m. in preparation for Thursday’s 10:00 a.m. opening. Ninety-two percent of the mall’s space is already leased. The Church has an enviable partner in the venture: Taubman Properties, the Detroit-based owner of some of the world’s most successful luxury malls. Taubman, which developed the property and leases the underlying land from the Church, invested $76 million on top of the estimated $1.5 billion in cash that the Church gave to the project. The Church’s money came from City Creek Reserve Inc., a private real estate company it owns. According to the Church, all the money was raised through private business ventures, and none from the 10 percent of income Mormons are required donate, or tithe, to the Church. With City Creek, Mormons have a new way of showing financial devotion. Through its rental contract with Taubman, the Church gets a percentage of mall revenue — and its fortunes rise and fall depending on sales. City Creek shoppers can rest assured that their purchases — a $535 Porsche Design tobacco pipe, perhaps? — will bring them a little closer to God, or at least Temple Square.

Sgt. Bales Charged With 17 Counts Of Murder; Could Get Death Penalty

by Eyder Peralta

Mar 23, 2012 — The 38-year-old soldier allegedly killed 17 Afghan men, women and children in cold blood on March 11. He also faces six counts each of assault and attempted murder.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has been officially been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder for the March 11 killings of unarmed men, women and children in Southern Afghanistan, The Associated Press just reported from Kabul.

It adds that “premeditated murder is a capital offense and if convicted, Bales could be sentenced to death.”

The 38-year-old soldier also faces six charges of attempted murder and six counts of assault. He is currently being held at Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas.

As the AP notes, the massacre “was the worst allegation of civilian killings by an American and has severely strained U.S.-Afghan ties at a critical time in the decade-old war.”

Update at 3:07 p.m. ET. ‘Hard Time Proving Its Case’:

Echoing what he told NPR yesterday, Bales’ civilian attorney John Henry Browne told MSNBC “he believes the government will have a hard time proving its case and that at some stage in the prosecution his client’s mental state will be an important issue.”

Yesterday, Browne told NPR’s Martin Kaste that in this case, “there’s no traditional crime scene, there’s no DNA. There’s no ballistics. We don’t know of the validity of any eyewitnesses. It’s really going to be a very interesting case in the sense of what the government can prove.”

Update at 3:03 p.m. ET. The Process Explained:

The military’s investigative process is quite different from the civil system. If you want a primer on the system, The Los Angeles Times has put one together.

Update at 2:47 p.m. ET. Consciously Conceived Of Killings:

The Seattle Times says the charge of premeditated murder gives us a hint as to how the government will try to prosecute Bales:

“The decision to charge him with premeditated murder suggests that prosecutors plan to argue that he consciously conceived the killings. A military legal official for U.S. forces in Afghanistan who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the case, noted that premeditated murder is not something that has to have been contemplated for a long time.”

According to the ISAF press release, if Bales is convicted of premeditated murder he could face the death penalty with a “mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment for life with eligibility for parole.”

The Times adds:

“Legal experts have said the death penalty would be unlikely in the case. The military hasn’t executed a service member since 1961 when an Army ammunition handler was hanged for raping an 11-year-old girl in Austria. None of the six men currently on death row at Fort Leavenworth was convicted for atrocities against foreign civilians.”

Update at 2:40 p.m. ET. What’s Next?

The Army will now commence an Article 32 hearing, which is the military equivalent of a grand jury. An investigating officer will submit a recommendation on whether there is sufficient evidence to move forward with a general court-martial.

According to an International Security Assistance Force press release, the proceedings will take place at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

Source: NPR

Senator Loni Hancock and Supervisor Keith Carson Honored by National Women’s Political Caucus

From left: Amy Shrago, Co-President, NWPC-AN; Keith Carson, Alameda County Supervisor; Loni Hancock, State Senator; Annie Flores, Co-President, NPWC-AN

State Senator Loni Hancock received the “Woman of the Year” award and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson was honored with a “Good Guy” award at the annual Susan B. Anthony event, a fundraiser for the National Women’s Political Caucus-Alameda North (NWPC-AN) Sunday, March 18, 2012 at the Greek Cathedral in Oakland.

Senator Hancock was honored for her 40 years in public service and for her leadership in Sacramento fighting for the rights of women, children and the underserved. Supervisor Carson’s long history of support for women’s rights issues, particularly in the area of health care services, earned him praise from NWPC.

Proceeds from the event will support female candidates running for office in Alameda County.

The National Women’s Political Caucus is a national, multi-partisan organization committed to increasing women’s participation in the political process by increasing the number of pro-choice women in elected and appointed positions, by recruiting, training, and supporting women seeking those offices. NWPC-Alameda North is the largest caucus in California, and is working proactively to reach the national organization’s goal of 50/50 participation by 2020.

Hepatitis C Kills More Than HIV

Alex Monto, MD

Hepatitis C virus — not AIDS-causing HIV — is the leading chronic virus infection leading to death in the United States, and its victims most often are baby boomers. More than half who are infected do not know it.
Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found in a study published in the February 21 issue of the “Annals of Internal Medicine” that hepatitis C had overtaken HIV as a cause of death in the United States by 2007.
Deaths in the United States due to HIV infection have been steadily decreasing, and dropped below 13,000 in 2007, while deaths from hepatitis C infection have been steadily increasing, first surpassing 15,000 per year in 2007.
The good news, according to UCSF liver specialist Alex Monto, MD, is that there has been progress in fighting both diseases, and the kinds of drug combination strategies that have done so much to transform HIV infection from a death sentence to a manageable disease are poised to further boost cure rates for those infected with hepatitis C.
“We know that not enough people with risk factors get tested,” Monto said. “There are a lot of people walking around with hepatitis C who don’t know it.”
Monto directs the liver clinic at the UCSF-affiliated San Francisco Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center, one of four hepatitis C centers nationally within the VA system. Like boomers, veterans are disproportionately affected by hepatitis C. The VA cares for 165,000 patients who are chronically infected with the virus.
Chronic Hepatitis C has been diagnosed in about three million people in the United States. It often causes no symptoms, and many who have been infected for years or even decades may remain unaware of it until symptoms finally appear.
The ultimate cause of death attributable to chronic infection is cirrhosis or liver cancer, although the disease progresses to cirrhosis in fewer than half of cases. There is no vaccine.
“The main risk factor in the United States is past injection-drug use,” Monto said “The others most at risk are those who received blood transfusions before 1992,” he said, referring to the year when high-quality screening of the blood supply was implemented.

Homeless Man Finds a Place to Live

C.L. Dellums Apartments in Oakland.

By Armond S. Robinson

Formerly homeless, Armond Robinson has found a place to live at C.L. Dellums Apartments at 644 14th St. in Oakland.
I was homeless for over a year. I yearned to have the stability and peace of mind of having my own place, where I could resurrect the normalcy in my life that I had when I taught college.
So, when I got the call that I could move into the C.L. Dellums, my heart leapt for joy as my soul calmed and breathed a sigh of relief.  Finally, I would have my own space and my own bathroom, the physical beginnings of stability.
And because I met the income requirements, my rent would always be an affordable 30 percent of my income.
Wanting to know more about the Dellums, I researched and discovered that this building was completed in 1912 and originally had been the Alamo hotel.  Later, it became the Drake Hotel, and in February 1995, it opened as an affordable housing apartment building, renting to homeless people seeking a permanent residence.
I am glad this homeless person found permanent residence here. I was happy just to have my own place.  Little did I know that I had also inherited access to healthcare.
Due to an affiliation with Lifelong Health Care, we residents have our own doctor – Dr. Susan Ferguson.  She conducts a noon meeting twice a month called “Lunch and Learn” where she answers questions and gives us important information.
After the meeting we have a tasty, nutritious catered lunch.  But the piece de resistance for me is that she comes in weekly and sees people individually. All we have to do is sign up.
Since I am increasingly concerned about my health as I get older, meeting with her is invaluable.  She cares, listens attentively, and counsels wisely, but, most importantly, she never rushes,
There are four other things that make living at the Dellums satisfying. First, someone covers the door 24/7, so I feel safe. Second, I can do laundry in the building.  Third, I have easy access to public transportation, the bus and BART.  Fourth, I have a great view because I was fortunate and got a room on the 6th floor.  Looking left, I can see the Bay Bridge, and looking right I can see the hills.
I wouldn’t mind having a larger room, and I have to go to the second floor if I want to use a stove to cook because I only have a microwave in my room. But I really can’t complain.  I have good neighbors, healthcare, security and a great location. I am blessed.

Global Cooking: Subha’s Cranberry Cookies

By Subhashini
Coburn

Cranberry Cookies

This cookie recipe combines the spicy citrus flavors of oranges, originally from China, and the native American cranberry, which is full of nutrients and a high antioxidant food.
This recipe is an easy mixture to put together to enjoy the taste  of homemade cookies. Traditionally in American food, the use of cranberries is associated with the holiday season, but these days fresh cranberries are available in the grocery stores for extended periods of time.
Particularly good for their nutritional value as well as their taste, cranberries can be used, not only to flavor cookies, but also salads with other fruits and vegetables, muffins, cornbread and other confections.
Cranberries also store well for months on end in the refrigerator, making it easy to occasionally pull out some for extra flavor. These days one easily finds dried cranberries in the produce bins next to raisins and other dried fruit.
Consider using them as an alternative to raisins in any recipe calling for raisins.
Ingredients
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
2 cups self rising flour
1 cup dried cranberries (finely chopped)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
2 eggs
4 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
Step 1 – Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Step 2- Cream butter, and sugar. Add egg, nutmeg and cinnamon, followed by orange zest. Mix ingredients well. Add orange juice. Combine the flour. Gradually fold in the chopped cranberries. Drop the mixture by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet or line the cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Step 3 – Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies look golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Local Toastmasters Bolden and Taylor Win Competition

Lia Bolden (left) and Bruce Taylor.

Members of Oakland ARPB Toastmasters Lia Bolden and Bruce Taylor took first and second place in this year’s area-wide speech contest.
Contestants were competing for the opportunity to move on to the District 57 semi-finals. Toastmasters International’s District 57, also known as the Redwood Empire (www.d57tm.org), encompasses most of Northern California, east and north of the San Francisco Bay.
Bolden, a real estate broker, competed in the annual International Speech contest.  She won first place with her speech titled “Living Out Loud,” which touched on lessons she learned as a child.
As the Area D30, champion, she will advance to the Division D contest, which will be held April 18 at the Islamic Cultural Center in Oakland.
Taylor, a commercial finance consultant and mobile app developer, represented ARPB Toastmasters in the Table Topics competition, which pits contestants against each other who are quick thinkers and great communicators.
Table Topics contestants are allowed up to 2 minutes to respond to the same challenging question that is poised to them in front of the audience. The question in this contest was, “If you could be 10 years old again, what advice would you give yourself?”
Taylor placed second in the Table Topics contest.
ARPB Toastmasters Club 8933, located in the San Francisco Metropolitan East Bay Area, holds meetings Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. at the Downtown Oakland Senior Center at 200 Grand Ave.  For information visit www.arpbtoastmasters.org.

Beth Eden Pastor Celebrates 41 Years

By David Scott

The congregation of Beth Eden Baptist Church recently celebrated 41 years of service that Pastor Dr. Gillette O. James and First Lady Dr. Rosa James have dedicated to the church and its members.
The March 11 celebration featured praise songs by Celestial Voices,  Daughters of Praise, a Poem by Sister Nola Devereaux-Martin and presentations by the auxiliaries and deacons of Beth Eden.
Brother Cameron Stanton dressed in a tuxedo and Sister Jamicia Scoggins wearing an elegant evening dress escorted Pastor James and the First Lady down the center aisle.
Dr. Kevin B. Hall, Pastor of St. John Baptist Church in Richmond, delivered a sermon, “Order My Steps,” on the difficulties and challenges that face a pastor who leads well.
The American Baptist Seminary of the West recently announced that it will confer a Doctor of Divinity degree on Pastor Gillette “in recognition to (his) superb service to church, community and the seminary.”
Beth  Eden Baptist Church is located at 1183 10th St in Oakland.

Soweto Gospel Choir April 5th in SF

The Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir is returning to the Bay Area for a performance, 8 p.m., Thursday April 5 at the Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness in San Francisco.
The choir was formed to celebrate the unique and inspirational power of African gospel music. The 26-member-strong ensemble draws on  talent from the many churches in and around Soweto, South Africa.
The choir has performed to sell-out crowds at major concert halls across the globe and alongside stars such as Bono, Queen, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder.
For information on the Soweto Gospel Choir go to www.sowetogospelchoir.com. To purchase tickets go to www.cityboxoffice.com or call 415-392-4400.

Help Former Foster Youth Thrive

Beyond Emancipation, Alameda County’s primary provider of services for former foster youth ages 18-24, is holding a fundraising dinner 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday, March 28 at Italian Colors, 2220 Mountain Blvd. in Oakland.
Italian Colors will donate a percentage of the cost of dinner support Beyond Emancipation programs, which include transitional housing, education and employment programs, case management and emancipation support.
For information call (510) 667-7683 or email jennifer@beyondemancipation.org.  Find out about Beyond Emancipation on the web at www.beyondemancipation.org.