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NAACP Press Statement: HB 1523 Found Unconstitutional

2016/07/01 – The Mississippi State Conference NAACP applauds the ruling issued by U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves on the true nature of H.B. 1523, deceptively named “Religious Freedom” law, as unconstitutional. H.B. 1523 was an attempt to legitimize discrimination and superimpose the rights and beliefs of some citizens over the rights and beliefs of others. “That is not how our society, how our state, or how our Constitution works,” stated President of the MS State Conference NAACP Derrick Johnson.
The court’s decision exposes the weak justifications and insidious purposes of the law. The law, by its own language and intent, sought to force a whole class of Mississippians into a second-class citizenship. Though plainly targeting the LGBT community in an attempt to win-back perceived lost ground, H.B. 1523’s sweeping language of discrimination also attacked single parents and any sexually active, unmarried adult making any of these citizens punishment-free targets for discrimination.
“The opinion and order issued by Judge Reeves rightfully condemns the State’s attempt to legislate hate and discrimination,” stated Johnson. Just as a person’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” were not found to be an adequate justification for past legislative discriminatory acts regarding race or gender, the “Religious Freedom” law and its purported reasons are also insufficient and ring hollow under any scrutiny.“There will always be someone who feels differently, thinks differently, believes differently than you,” Johnson said. “When that happens, it is not the state of Mississippi’s job or place to take sides. That’s what H.B. 1523 called for. It was a law designed to tell some Mississippians that my beliefs are worth more than your rights.”

Source: Mississippi State Conference NAACP

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Decades Later, Mississippi is Still Burning

2016/06/27 –

In 1964, the brutal slayings of three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, rocked the country. Their deaths cast a spotlight on the horrific violence and injustice already known by those who lived in the state of Mississippi.

In 1970, 18 members of Mississippi’s Ku Klux Klan were federally indicted for violating Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner’s civil rights. Of the 18 men indicted, only seven were found guilty, and none of those seven spent more than six years in prison. Despite the heinousness of the crime, the state of Mississippi chose not to pursue any murder charges.

What Mississippi did choose to do was create the very weapon that enabled the murders to happen. In 1956, the Legislature created the State Sovereignty Commission “to prevent encroachment upon the rights of this and other states by the federal government.” The rights they were speaking of were equal protection under the law for African-Americans — more specifically, the right to vote for African-Americans free of barriers and intimidation and the rights of an equal and integrated education.

To achieve its goals, the Sovereignty Commission and its spies and agents told the Klansmen what road the civil rights trio would be traveling and when. In these gruesome slaying and others, a man may have pulled the trigger, but it was the state of Mississippi that provided the gun.

After nearly 30 years of indifference and silence, the case was reopened. Still, it took six years before the instigator of the murderous plot, Edgar Ray Killen, was charged with three counts of murder; however, he was only convicted of three counts of manslaughter.

Other known conspirators were alive at that time, but no others were indicted, and the state’s collusion in the murders was never even considered.

Now, in 2016, Mississippi has chosen to close the case. There will be no further investigation into the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. The reason given for this closing is that it is unlikely that further investigation would result in any other prosecutions.

But at least one known conspirator is still around today and has yet to be held accountable. That conspirator is the state of Mississippi.

The tragic and senseless murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were made more famous with the motion picture “Mississippi Burning.” Although many civil rights veterans disagreed with the depictions of the hero, it was an appropriate title then and it has not lost its relevance today.

Because Mississippi still burns.

The fire did not begin in 1964. The sparks were born much earlier, and the embers have smouldered much longer than that. Even in 1817, at Mississippi’s birth, the fire was there, and its flames have constantly been stoked with racial hatred, inequities and terrorism. In the recent past, this fire has been fueled by burning crosses and firebombs, all under the Confederate symbol that still exists on the state flag today. While today’s accelerants do not light up the night, they still serve the same purposes of evil.

Mississippi still burns.

The current flames of hate still burn brightly as Mississippi, in defiance of reason and even in defiance of the sister states who have in the past stood proudly in the well of racism, Mississippi chooses to keep a symbol of racial hatred on its flag. Mississippi chooses to honor those who fought against the United States and fought for the right to own other human beings. Mississippi chooses to underfund education while teaching a, quite literally, white-washed history, according to which the white Citizens Councils weren’t “all that bad” and in which Confederate history doesn’t involve the mention of slavery or treats it as “no big deal.”

Hatred still sears. Intolerance still singes. Discrimination still scalds. Racism still scorches, but now indifference feeds these flames and the blaze grows higher. Indifference keeps the Confederate battle emblem on Mississippi’s flag flying over this state. Indifference has closed the case on the Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner slayings. Indifference has caused over 50 years of inaction and injustice for the dozens, maybe hundreds of others who died by racist violence. Eight bodies of African-American men were found while the FBI searched for Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, but where was their investigation? Where was the national outrage over their deaths? Where was their justice?

The state of Mississippi bears as much blood on its hands as any of the men who killed Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner, and the named and nameless others who fell victim to racist violence. Mississippi has closed this case, but the larger case will never be closed until the state is held accountable for its part in this crime.

Until that day, Mississippi will still burn.

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and the many, many others whose names are not known, whose faces are not pictured, whose full justice is still denied deserve more than just a nod of acknowledgment and a rueful shaking of a head. Their cases should not be closed, and their causes must not be forgotten because when we do that we fan the flames of this Mississippi burning.

 

Source: Derrick Johnson, Guest Columnist

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Sheriff Teaming Up with Unions to Offer Occupational Opportunity to Felons

2016/06/12 –

Hinds County Sheriff Victor Mason told the crowd at a recent “Take A.C.T.I.O.N Jackson Community Meeting,” sponsored by the Jackson Branch NAACP, that he was moving forward with the creation of a new education program for youth offenders and non-violent offenders.

“I’m working on a new prisoner re-entry project that promises more than just letting people go and then locking them up again when they make another mistake,” Mason told the audience at M.W. Stringer Lodge, in Jackson. “Young people who make mistakes need a way to re-enter society with skills that give them a stable income and no need to turn to crime. There’s no incentive to break the law if you earn a comfortable income and have a plan for life.”

Mason said he has not widely touted the incoming program because of the complexities involved in assembling a re-education package, but he said he has high hopes that it can come together.

Despite media and Hollywood fantasies, a large percentage of crime is unglamorous and economics-based. It’s less about thrills and malevolence and more about disadvantaged people looking for a way to put food on the table or pay bills. Mason said youths are more commonly prone to commit crime, due to economic problems and woefully underdeveloped judgement skills. Numerous socio-economic think tanks, such as the Brookings Institute, support his opinion.

Number of Offenders in the United States, by Age and Offense, 2012

Number of Offenders in the United States, by Age and Offense, 2012 (Source)

Underprivileged youths, having few economic prospects in the form of affordable education, affluent connections, or even reliable adult guidance, face a future containing a dismal minimum wage of slightly more than $7 hourly. A standard theory behind property crime is that the attractiveness of alternatives to crime—which likely includes a rotten minimum wage for hard, greasy work and long hours—is extremely low. For teens living in poor neighborhoods and facing such a depressing future, the prospect of property crime or illegal substance distribution becomes comparatively attractive. Couple these economic factors with the consistent risky behavior common to all youths, both poor and affluent, and you’ve got a high potential for incarceration, according to the Brookings Institute.

Once a youth stands before a judge, his or her potential for spinning out of control increases exponentially. In many cases, a criminal record, no matter how non-violent, means an instant lock-out for many well-paying and stable careers. From then on, a wayward youth is more liable to face a life of miserable instability that only exacerbates the problem.

Mason says he wants to offer an alternative to that, and he’s turning to local unions to de-rail disaster. The sheriff has been making overtures to John Smith, manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) to tweak a pre-existing union training program to give young felons valuable career skills that will ensure a lifetime of well-paid work and stability.

“We’ll be having some meetings with the sheriff and we’re working towards this, even though we can’t confirm if it’s a go just yet. We already have an apprenticeship program for younger guys that have had a little brush with the law, and we believe in giving folks a second chance,” Smith told the MSNAACP. “The jails are full of folks with non-violent offenses. They get in the system, and then they got conflict behind their name and they’re behind the eight ball after that.”

Smith said he agrees with Mason that poverty is central to the city’s crime issue.

“In the poorer parts of the state, in the inner cities, folks are just trapped. They’re stuck and they can’t get out and the only way to make a buck or get something to eat is to steal or sell something illegal. Then, if they get caught, they’re stuck in the revolving door of the prison system.”

The IBEW just recently sorted through its yearly selection of program trainees. The training program currently requires applicants to be a high school graduate or have a GED, and have at least one year of high school algebra under their belt, as well as reliable transportation.

Smith said most building and trades unions offer similar training programs. The IBEW program is five years long. Enrollees go to school one night a week from August to June 1, but it costs them no tuition. All they pay for is their books and their hand tools, their tool pouch and work boots and work clothes, since they are required to work in the field.

“Most of our jobs start at seven o’clock in the morning. We take a young man with zero experience, and give them a career. If you get through the program, there’s no way you won’t have a good job,” Smith said. “We have an agreement with contractors around the United States. People depend on us supplying them with labor, so our job placement is the highest around. You’re basically married to a job.”

 

Source: MSNAACP Writers

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Mother of the Year Awards Winners

2016/06/12 – 

Cynthia Lee, Biloxi Branch

Mrs. Cynthia Lee is married to Ephron Lee, has two beautiful daughters, Katherine and Amber, and one son-in-law, Michael. She enjoys cooking, entertaining, shopping, traveling, and volunteering. She attends First Missionary Baptist Chruch where she is a member of the Julia Moore Christian Women Society. She is also chairman of the Hospitality Committtee of Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Mississippi Gulf Coast. Cynthia believes that a person can achieve anything he or she sets their mind to stating that she lives her life by her parents’ often repeated phrase, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

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Mrs. Cynthia Lee with Mississippi State Conference President, Derrick Johnson

Rosie Kersh, Smith County Branch

Mrs. Rosie Kersh is a member of the Smith County branch of the NAACP and has been a member since 1972 and has served as 1st Vice President for over 20 years. Rosie is married to Arthur Kersh and is the proud mother of Andrea and Angela. Rosie is a retired school teacher having taught for over 45 years in the Mississippi Public School System. She attends Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church and she is a member of the Smith County Democratic Party Executive Committee, the Smith County Economics Board, the Smith County Voter’s League, the Smith County Retired Teachers Association, the NEA, and the Solomon Union Note Singers. Rosie believes that her success and happiness in life is due to her faith in God, always remembering, “to God be the glory.”

Mrs. Rosie Kersh

Mrs. Rosie Kersh

 

Mrs. Ellie Dahmer

Ellie Dahmer attended Alcorn A & M College, transferred to Tennessee State A & I, and received a Bachelor of Science in Home Economics in 1947. Mrs. Dahmer later did summer graduate studies at Indiana University and also earned an Elementary Education Certification from Jackson State University.

She was married to Vernon F. Dahmer, Sr. and was his most trusted confidant and biggest supporter. She was also an eye witness to the verbal threats, economic intimidation tactics, and violence directed towards her husband as a result of his Civil Rights activity.

Mrs. Ellie Dahmer with MS State Conference President Derrick Johnson

Mrs. Ellie Dahmer with MS State Conference President Derrick Johnson

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MSNAACP Official Statement on Clarksdale School District Investigation

2016/06/12 – 

The Mississippi State Conference NAACP is troubled by the progress of the Clarksdale hearings regarding the allegations of cheating at Heidelburg Elementary School in the Clarksdale Municipal School District. Our concern, at its heart, is for the well-being and best interests of the children involved. However, the way this investigation, and its subsequent hearing, has been conducted is questionable at best and suspicious at worst. From its inception, this investigation has been shrouded in darkness. Children have been interrogated without the consent, knowledge, or presence of their parents. Teachers have been harassed and threatened. And yet, the supposed “evidence” collected from these efforts has not been shown. When the “evidence” has been requested, those requests have been denied or parties have been told that the evidence has been destroyed.

This is not only unacceptable, it also suggests the possibility of wrong-doing by the state and the investigative firm.

Lowanda Tyler-Jones, principal at Heidelburg Elementary School, faces allegations that are damning to any education professional. The allegation itself is likely to forever cast a cloud of doubt upon her integrity. And yet,Tyler-Jones has been met with delays at the absence of a quorum of commission members. She has been informed that there exists testimony from witnesses supporting the allegations, but neither she nor her council has been allowed to interview these witnesses. There exists videos that capture the interrogation of some of the children involved, but once again, these videos have been produced to neither Tyler-Jones and her council nor to the children’s parents.

The costly erasure mark analysis provided by the Caveon Test Security Company is another questionable piece of evidence of against Tyler-Jones. Supposedly, the analysis shows that there is evidence of possible cheating on the children’s answers sheets. However, neither the comparison sheets nor the children’s sheets have been produced. All in all, the lack of

opportunity to review and respond to the evidence being used against her triggers some alarming due process concerns.

“It seems the position of MDE is that the growth seen at Heidelburg Elementary School could only be the result of cheating and not student, parent, teacher, and community effort,” stated Derrick Johnson, President of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP. “This entire process appears to be an assault on the possibility of success in impoverished districts.” Johnson continued saying, “This teaches our children the wrong lesson. It tells them that that their academic successes will be answered with scrutiny and not support, and with accusations and not applause. This is not the sort of lesson the state should be teaching.”

This entire process, so far, has been one questionable decision after another and has displayed none of the necessary transparency demanded in such proceedings.

“We do not support bad actors who undermine quality education for children nor do we support accusations without providing transparency and due process rights. Our concern is to ensure the best interest of children are protected.”

 

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Clarksdale Hearings Continue to Raise Suspicions

2016/06/12 – 

Jackson attorney Lisa Ross said she fears Mississippi Department of Education officials are defining the argument in their case against her client, Heidelberg Elementary School Principal Lawanda Tyler-Jones.

In its ongoing investigation into allegations of widespread teacher-assisted student cheating at the school, the department has accused three Heidelberg Elementary School educators of influencing standardized exam results in 2013, with Tyler-Jones being the latest case. The Department of Education alleges that Tyler-Jones instructed teachers to tamper with tests and artificially raise the school’s score. Teacher Frances Smith-Kemp surrendered her license for two years, while the state licensure board suspended Tetra Winters’s license for five years after allegations went public.

Students’ May 2013 Mississippi Curriculum Test scores at the Clarksdale elementary school gave the school an A-rating, up from an F-score two years earlier. Officials began an inquiry when the students were promoted to Oakhurst Intermediate School, but then appeared to have difficulties with basic math and reading.

Ross describes the investigation as a “witch hunt” aimed at a Clarksdale school that is already trying to do battle with widespread poverty and deflects many of the accusations hurled at her client. She kicked off the May 23 hearing by attacking the licensure commission subcommittee by objecting to panelists Rilla Jones and Chair Pamela Manners, who served on a related hearing last November that culminated in the suspension of Winters’s license. The commission overruled the motion, claiming the two panelists could be fair and impartial to Tyler-Jones. The department also submitted a motion to quash Ross’s subpoena to MS Education Superintendent Carey Wright, demanding Wright provide testimony over statements she released to the press alleging test tampering in Clarksdale.

“There’s no reason to believe that my client will get a fair hearing in this environment,” Ross said. “They have no real evidence upon which to base their argument. They have the word of educators who worked with them in an effort to preserve their own retirements and careers and the word of students who appear to be backing away from some of their initial allegations. They interviewed students without their parents’ consent.”

No students were named in the investigation and, so far, none have been called to the hearings for cross examination.

The Mississippi Department of Education paid Caveon Test Security and Caveon Investigative Services $246,000 to investigate the Clarksdale Municipal School District matter. Caveon Test Security data analyst Dennis Maynes testified that testing data revealed that the same students from Heidelberg scored lower than expected and made fewer wrong-to-right erasures a year later from when they attended school at Oakhurst.

Ross claims Caveon limited their testing group by not comparing it against that of the whole school.

“Our expert says they didn’t pick a big enough sample to test,” said Ross, “and now we know that a bigger sample will never be done because they destroyed the (test) booklets. Why would you do that? When their expert was on the stand he kept talking about this Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) down in Georgia and the work they’d done for the Atlanta school district. Well, guess what: The same criticism we use is the same criticism Georgia had with their work. They didn’t save the booklets to make a proper sample.”

In 2011, after a scathing report by the Georgia governor’s office, the BRC hired Caveon as one of two firms crunching Atlanta testing data. However, Caveon only compared Atlanta’s 58 suspicious schools to each other, rather than statewide students.

State investigators called the report flawed and claimed using the “worst of the worst” skewed the data. Task force investigator Richard Hyde compared the situation to “trying to determine the average height of an Atlantan by only using Atlanta Hawks.”

The Clarion-Ledger reported a statement by University of Kansas Associate Statistics Professor William Skorupski expressing concern over Caveon’s methods, which make no use of a control group because test booklets belonging to other Georgia state students weren’t examined.

“It’s our theory that Caveon makes their numbers say whatever the person paying them wants them to say,” Ross said. “They’ve been doing business with Mississippi since 2006, but nobody’s vetting this company.”

Department of Education officials piled onto Tyler-Jones throughout the course of the three-day hearing, with Mississippi Department of Education Student Assessment and Accountability Executive Director Walt Drane claiming the principal coaxed good test scores when she “anointed the desks, the pencils, the doorways, and also the students’ heads with holy water.”

Ross called Drane’s statement “embellished.”

“It was a statement made to embarrass her,” Ross said. “If they really want the public to know what my client said, they have a taped recording of that interview. Why won’t they just release it to the public? Again, why are they hiding these tapes, these witnesses, and this paperwork? If I’ve got testimony of them saying horrible things about my client, don’t you think I’d use it in my case? I certainly wouldn’t be hiding them. But they don’t want to produce the tapes because people have lied, and they want us to believe the lie. If they’re not using their evidence then it must not be favorable.”

 

Source: MSNAACP Writers

ACLU Story

ACLU Takes Civil Rights to the Community

2016/06/12 –

The Mississippi ACLU is teaming up with local NAACP branches to convince the public to back a proposed Mississippi Civil Rights Act as well as other progressive issues.

The group met in Tupelo last month and has been working with small organizations to host a series of town hall meetings, titled “Community Conversations.” These town halls meeting have been conducted throughout May and early June in the cities of Biloxi, Hattiesburg, McComb, Natchez, Jackson, and other spots. The town halls provide an open space for concerned community members to ask questions and get answers. The forums also serve as a safe place to vent frustrations regarding the recent legislation that legalized religion-based discrimination.

“Are we preaching to the choir? Yes, we are,” said ACLU Equality Advocate Todd Allen. “We’re not so much trying to win over new converts as we are helping the choir get active and organize more choir members.”

The group promoted the idea of a Mississippi Civil Rights Act to protect vulnerable populations and urged voters to push their representatives to favor such a bill. The state of Mississippi currently has no law explicitly protecting individuals from discrimination in housing, employment, or in the use of public accommodations. Both the ACLU and the MSNAACP supported bills during the 2016 legislative session that would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation, but the bills failed to survive the session.

ACLU Advocacy and Policy Director Erik Fleming said the failure should have sparked outrage considering that the majority of Mississippians are women, and an additional 37 percent of the state is African-American, with no state civil rights protections.

Fleming said the ACLU and its supporters will again push for passage of the Mississippi Civil Rights Act next year, but the probability of its survival depends on how vocal correct-thinking voters are next year.

“We need pressure on legislators to get it through. It only happens when we use our voices,” Fleming said.

Had the Mississippi Civil Rights Act passed, it would have provided legal protection to successfully counter the recent state legislature launched attacks on individual rights. Legislation like “The Regligious Freedom Bill” (House Bill 1523) would have been prevented from providing state protection to business-owners and government agencies that seek to discriminate against others based on religion or morality. Unfortunately, without the MS Civil Rights Act, or a bill like it, to stop it House Bill 1523 was pushed through by the new Republican super-majority in the House. The law has already made national news by allowing businesses to deny services specifically to same-sex couples, transgender people, and single parents despite the national trend toward tolerance. The new law also allows an employer, government, or private school to restrict bathroom privileges to the gender specified on a person’s birth certificate.

The Mississippi NAACP, like the ACLU and other progressive organizations, opposed the bill because it mirrored similar denial of service state sanctions imposed against people of color during the infamous Jim Crow era.

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, who also attended the Tupelo meeting, slammed both the bill and the legislators who passed it.

“It was the deadest, most putrefied skunk of a bill I have ever seen leave the legislature, and I have served in the legislature for 35 years,” said Holland. “It passed with no public hearing. It was out (of committee) at 1:30 and on the House floor for consideration by 2:00. They passed it because they could.”

Holland said he was particularly disgusted at what he described as the militaristic, lock-step of the new Republican majority. Members, he said, ignore the will of voters and business interests and are completely beholden to their GOP masters, following them without question, even if the marching orders passed down from the House Speaker’s office and the Lt. Governor’s office ultimately embarrass the state and wreck the economy. Holland said he knew of at least 13 potential business prospects for the state that have evaporated since the bill’s passage.

“The GOP loves Wall Street. They love the Mississippi Economic Council and the Mississippi Manufacturer’s Association, all of whom hated this bill. But the GOP went ahead and voted to pass it anyway. Hell, they’re crazy. There’s no nice way to put it anymore.”

The law takes effect July 1.

One of the attendees, Amory resident Judy Crump, lamented that there were no black residents in the audience even thought the city is about 30 percent black. She fretted that both races had to meet on a united front in order to tackle new discriminatory laws emerging from the backwards state legislature. Unity was equally required, she said, to get rid of the state’s racist flag, which still contains the Confederate battle emblem representing slavery and oppression.

Fleming pointed out that blacks are indeed strongly united behind progressive efforts and that similar meetings in towns like Holly Springs had just as many black participants as Tupelo had whites.

“I can’t say African-Americans in Mississippi are in any way homophobic or discriminatory,” Allen said in the minutes leading up to the meeting. “Keep in mind that almost every black Mississippi legislator united in opposition to the passage of HB 1523. That really says something right there.”

Fleming and other leaders urged audience members to “get loud” and make their anger heard through “letters to the editor” and through localized efforts to pass city ordinances and referendums against discriminatory laws and symbols.

“Local government generally leads the way,” Fleming said. “You can be heard on the local level, but each community is different. You know your community better than we do. Get out there and organize.”

Crump, for example, approached the Amory City Board of Alderman to pass a resolution against discriminatory laws in the weeks following the passage of HB 1523 and easily succeeded in her effort.

“They were already open to it,” Crump told the MSNAACP. “It was hardly even a fight. Nobody wanted to be on the wrong side of that issue.”

Source: MSNAACP Writers

Tyra Tucker via Facebook Basketball

MSNAACP Release Statement: Tyla Tucker Salutatorian Situation

2016/05/17 – The Mississippi State Conference NAACP is deeply concerned with the current plight of Calhoun County District School senior Tyra Tucker. The Calhoun County School Board informed Tyra, who holds the number two GPA in her class, that she would share the title of co-salutatorian with Taylor Collums, a junior who would be graduating early. Then only two weeks later, Tyra was informed that she would not be a co-salutatorian, and, in fact, would be no salutatorian at all.

The timing and circumstances of the Board’s abrupt change of position raises concerns and questions that this decision was not based on student merit, but on racial motivations. “This new decision is especially disturbing in the light of new information that indicates that Tyra’s GPA was miscalculated because two of her grades were not included in her final GPA” says Derrick Johnson, President of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP. “When the missing classes are added to the calculation, Tyra’s GPA increases. This is significant because the miscalculation resulted in Taylor’s GPA being only hundredths of a point higher than Tyra’s.”

The NAACP wants only to ensure that the process of graduation honors and class ranking has only been determined by merit and not ulterior motivations, that the awards and titles have been given for achievement and on the correct calculation of GPAs. Johnson continued stating that, “the naming of a graduating class’s valedictorian and salutatorian should always be fair and balanced. That is what we want to see here and that is what Tyra Tucker deserves.”

Source: MSNAACP Writers

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Hundreds March on Governor’s Mansion to Repeal HB 1523

2016/05/10 – The Mississippi State Conference NAACP joined the Human Rights Campaign and hundreds of people, both in and out of state, in a passionate protest against House Bill 1523.  The bill promises state legal protection to religious groups and some private businesses that deny services to same-sex couples and transgender people.  The new law also allows an employer or government or private school to restrict a person’s bathroom privileges to the gender he or she was assigned at birth.  This means that if you were told you were a male as a child, but as an adult you identify as a woman, you could be restricted to the male bathroom no matter how inaccurate the classification is.

HB 1523 takes effect July 1 and hundreds marched upon the Governor’s Mansion demanding that the governor and the legislature voluntarily nullify the impending law.  The Human Rights Campaign organized the May 1 event.  Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said the bill essentially closes Mississippi for business.

“We’re gathered here today because a few weeks ago Mississippi lawmakers and Gov. Bryant inflicted a great injustice on this state and on its people.  In doing so, Gov. Bryant sent a message to this country and to this world that the state of Mississippi is closed for business,” Griffin said.  “And I bet he’s hearing that every day, because every day another CEO and another business speaks out (against the law).”

Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and Speaker Philip Gunn, he said, had firmly planted themselves on the wrong side of history – a darker side of history.  “They’ve added their names to a list of disgraced southern politicians who have used fear throughout history to divide us,” Griffin said.

Susan Hrostowski, vicar of St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Collins, made a similar argument, claiming that shallow, cynical lawmakers had passed the bill specifically to divide the public and keep them from uniting against them in upcoming elections.  She said the law perfectly mimics similar laws used against minorities in the past.

“This is a smokescreen,” Hrostowski told the energetic crowd.  “Watch what happens now that our health department is cut, now that our mental health systems are cut, now that our social service system is gone, and our education (system) goes unfunded.  Ladies and gentleman, Lyndon B. Johnson once said during the Civil Rights Movement that when we help the white man feel superior to the black man then he won’t scream so much while we’re picking his pocket.”

Other speakers also noted the unsettling similarity HB 1523 shares with past efforts by Mississippi politicians to use disingenuous, moral high-ground arguments to mask their more insidious attempts to manipulate voters Derrick Johnson, President of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP, warned the crowd to recognize the law for what it is.

“In a state steeped in a history of discrimination and racial division, with leaders that use the politics of division to maintain power, we must stand united,” Johnson urged.  “This so-called religious freedom act has nothing to do with any religion that I’m aware of.”

Johnson lambasted the lawmakers’ effort to hide their bigotry behind the Bible.

“It was interesting that they said they’re doing this because of some ‘sincerely held religious and moral beliefs.’  I’ve heard this language before.  This is the language used to justify slavery. …  This is the language used to justify women being second-class citizens. …  This is the language used to divide individuals and justify a racist symbol in our state flag,” Johnson said.  “If we want to stand as a united community, we must stand to fight against this bill.  We must stand with Planned Parenthood when they attack women, and we must stand with the NAACP to remove the state flag.”

Other speakers attending the rally opined that proponents of the bill were merely trying to use the controversial law to distract the public from their miserable voting records and political impotence.  American Civil Liberties Union Legislative Strategist Erik Fleming was one of many who felt legislators backing the bill had plenty of incompetence to hide.

“It’s more pandering than anything else,” said Fleming, a former Democratic State Representative from Jackson.  “This state is the poorest state in the nation, but instead of dealing with how to advance us they’re taking the lazy way and trying to distract us from the problems that they’re failing to fix.”

Jody Owens, a Jackson attorney who also works with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the new bill, should it become law in July, would set off a volley of lawsuits against the State.

“A few weeks ago we asked (a certain politician) not to sign this bill and he (still) did it. …  We said ‘we promise you that if you sign this bill we’re going to take the fight to the courthouse,’ and that’s exactly what we intend on doing,” Owens told the crowd.

Owens said he and his affiliates were already on the lookout for plaintiffs in the upcoming suit.

Source: MSNAACP Writers

One Person, One Vote

Democracy Spring Met with Media Silence

2016/05/11 – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People joined more than 100 organizations in a massive protest in Washington, DC last month.  The expansive sit-in culminated in noise, marches, shouting, and arrests – and you probably never heard about it.

The NAACP joined hands with hundreds of followers and members of sister organizations protesting the corrupting power of money in politics.  Public Citizen, People for the American Way, AAUW, American Postal Workers Union, Common Cause, Greenpeace, Communications Workers of America, Democracy Initiative, and countless other pro-democracy organizations participated in the three-day event that began with a 140-mile walk from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to the U.S. Capitol.

“Every American deserves an equal voice in government.  That is our birthright of freedom, won through generations of struggle, but today our democracy is in crisis,” according to Democracy Now’s website.

“American elections are dominated by billionaires and big money interests who can spend unlimited sums of money on political campaigns to protect their special interests at the general expense.  Meanwhile, as the super-rich dominate the ‘money primary’ that decides who can run for office, almost half of the states in the union have passed new laws that disenfranchise everyday voters, especially people of color and the poor.”

The coalition and the NAACP point to anti-democratic efforts to stifle votes in states by enacting new disfranchising laws, including new voter registration deadlines and restrictive identification requirements.

The U.S. Supreme Court aided the effort to lock out voters by nullifying the section of the Voting Rights Act requiring federal permission before states could do anything that might tamper with voting.  Within weeks of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, North Carolina and Mississippi began passing new laws imposing voting restrictions.

Protestors criticized the emerging American oligarchy, wherein the rich and powerful have more say in politics than the voters.  Examples, according to protesters, include the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United v. FEC case, which opened the floodgates to new money in politics by enabling new political action committees (Super PACS) that can raise limitless amounts of cash from any source and buy influence with elected politicians. One of the more obvious examples of influence-peddling includes House

Democrats’ attempts to jettison an Obama administration plan to reduce drug prices for regular Americans, spurred by wealthy doctors and the pharmaceutical industry who donate heavily to their campaigns.

Participants in the protest included NAACP President and CEO Cornell Brooks, as well as actress Rosario Dawson and Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, among others.  The event was a protest, in every sense of the word, meaning many participants participated in what amounted to civil disobedience and were consequently rounded up and charged with “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding,” according to DC police.

Despite the arrest of nearly 1,400 individuals, however, the media largely ignored the event.  Rebecca Lenn, outreach director for media watchdog group Media Matters for America, told the Mississippi NAACP that the national press never gave the event coverage because wealthy media owners don’t want money out of politics.  The media is, they claim, part of the establishment that wants moneyed interests to retain political power.

“Thousands gathered in Washington last week to protest the outsized influence of money in politics and unprecedented restrictions on voting rights, yet most broadcast evening programs and the top five Sunday shows failed to take notice.  This election cycle, too many network hosts and pundits have prioritized horse race campaign coverage over the substance of issues that matter most to their viewers,” Lenn stated.

She went on to explain that a huge majority of Americans believe that money matters more than voters in shaping U.S. policy and that money’s corrupting influence ranks as a top concern.
The Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening demonstrations weren’t the only ball that large media dropped, however.  Lenn explained that her organization’s “last analysis revealed that six years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the same networks have largely neglected to cover the need for campaign finance reform,” with publicly owned PBS being the lone exception.

“This lack of coverage often presents the problem as intractable and the new status quo and disregards the growing movement of Americans working to implement solutions that can reverse it  – a movement reflected in both Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening,” Lenn said.

The coalition remains stalwart in its demand for Congress and the President to pass laws such as the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which restores the protections against voting discrimination that were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in its Shelby County v. Holder decision, as well as the Voter Empowerment Act, which will modernize voter registration and stop “deceptive practices” that turn voters away from polls.

Source: MSNAACP Writers