Virginia capital shuts down homeless encampment

RICHMOND, Va. — Complete closure and removal.

That’s what’s ahead for Cathy’s Camp, the tent community that sprang up in recent months adjacent to the city’s winter overflow shelter and across the street from the Richmond Justice Center.

Despite failing to identify new resources or shelter space, a homeless task force of public and private service providers rolled out a plan to shut down the camp by the end of March.

The camp, which at one time housed more than 100 people, has become a visible symbol of the area’s affordable housing crisis that makes an outdoor field the only option for some.

Nonprofits have found temporary or permanent space for only seven people at Cathy’s Camp in the past two weeks. That’s only a fraction of the 50 to 80 people currently staying there, with the reminder having until March 30 to vacate the premise.

By April 1, Virginia Commonwealth University is expected to post one or more police officers at the site to prevent any new tents from being set up on the land, which is owned by the university and considered environmentally contaminated and listed as a brownfield.

It is not clear if people will be arrested if they refuse to leave the camp.

The decision to shut down the camp complies with the demands of 6th District City Councilwoman Ellen F. Robertson, who regards the camp as a blight on her district and wants other council members to find shelter space in their sections of the city.

— Richmond Free Press

Health safety prioritized in law enforcement moveCHICAGO — Amidst the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx recently announced that the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office was taking step to reduce court operations and staffing in light of the public health crisis regarding the global outbreak.

The measure means her office will not prosecute cases of non-violent, low-level narcotics offenses at this time. It also will review and prioritize other charges on a case-by-case basis.

Currently, individuals arrested and charged with minor, non-violent felony offenses spend up to 48 hours in custody before the State’s Attorney’s Office is able to dismiss the case at bond court.

The CCSAO’s moves are aimed at protecting the health and safety of police officers, first responders, medical professionals and jail staff and the Cook County community at large. By reducing the number of individuals who cycle through police stations and jail on minor offenses, Foxx looks to mitigate some of the exposure risk to coronavirus.

Also the Illinois State Police Forensic Sciences Command laboratory system has closed for the routine submission of evidence. Emergency testing is available in cases involving violent crimes.

“Out of an abundance of caution for the health of law enforcement and the community at large, the State’s Attorney’s Office will not be pursuing cases which pose little to no risk to public safety at this time,” said Foxx.

“An outbreak of coronavirus in our police stations or the Cook County Jail would be devastating, not just for those who are arrested or in-custody during this time, but for the officers, staff, and all of Cook County,” she added. “Everyone deserves to be protected, especially during these uncertain times, and we are obligated to ensure all members of our community feel safe, including those behind bars.”

— Chicago Defender

Report urges criminal justice reforms in Louisiana

LOUISIANA — A new report from the ACLU of Louisiana examines the state’s pre-trial detention system and has found that incarcerations occurred at a rate three times higher than the national average.

The study title “Justice Can’t Wait” uses data from thousands of jail records and interviews with Louisianans who spent time in jail before trial. It finds that the state incarcerates more people before trial than any other state on record since 1970, when record-keeping began.

Black Louisianans are disproportionately impacted by pre-trial detention, spending 36% more time in jail before trial on average, and being twice as likely to be jailed than whites. Black men and boys age 15-24 were more than five times more likely to be jailed following arrest than their white peers.

Pre-trial detainees spent an average of five and a half months behind bars before trial, with 57% of them being non-violent offenders. Drug possession was the most common charge, and bail was $24,000 on average. Over the last four years, Louisiana’s rate of pretrial incarceration has risen 10.3%, according to the ACLU report.

“These findings are a wake-up call that even as Louisiana has worked to reduce its prison population, a devastating epidemic of pre-trial incarceration has risen up in its wake,” Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director, said in a news release accompanying the report.

Louisiana spends nearly $300 million annually to pay for its population of pre-trial detainees.

The report recommends a range of reforms that include reducing the number of arrests, changing the bail process and better documenting prosecutors’ decisions during the pretrial process.

— Louisiana Weekly

Sharpton group providing needed meals during crisisNEW YORK — The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network is partnering with World Central Kitchen to deliver 500 hot and cold meals daily to those in need during the coronavirus outbreak.

“With the traditional safety nets like school feeding programs, childcare services, and senior centers closing, many in the Harlem community will not to be able to provide for their families,” said Sharpton. “Our partnership with World Central Kitchen is to ensure our community that we are here for them. In times of stress and struggle, we all need to support one another.”

World Central Kitchen, through its #ChefsForAmerica response to the current crisis, is taking action with a multi-pronged approach. The organization is already distributing thousands of packaged grab-and-go meals to local families in New York and other cities.

The program began serving meals on March 21 at the NAN headquarters in Harlem section of the city. Distributions will continue every Monday through Saturday until the food is depleted.

— New York Amsterdam News

Widespread discrimination alleged at VA hospitalKANSAS CITY, Mo. — A U.S. senator from Kansas and the NAACP are demanding action after up to 50 black employees of the Kansas City Veterans Affairs Medical Center have complained about widespread discrimination.

Their complaints, filed earlier this month, include hearing jokes about lynchings and being compared to monkeys, having white co-workers secretly monitor them for supervisors, a lack of promotions and bonuses, and being fired without cause. Some female employees say they have also faced sexual harassment.

The Kansas City chapter of the NAACP said it has met with between 45 and 50 employees, from cooks and janitor to doctors, since television station WDAF-TV in Kansas City aired a report March 3 on the conditions.

Hospital spokesman Vernon Stewart said in a statement that the hospital is proud of its diverse culture, doesn’t tolerate discrimination and thoroughly investigates all complaints.

Employees say that hospital administrators and the Office of Resolution Management and Equal Employment Opportunity have addressed complaints by retaliating against the workers who filed them.

“I felt like I was in jail,” said Shominicia Banks, a nurse assistant who was fired in March after she filed several complaints during her 10 years at the hospital. “They were monitoring my every move. I didn’t know when (her firing) would happen but I knew it was coming because I spoke up.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, said in a letter sent March 6 to Robert Wilkie, secretary of Veterans Affairs, that the hospital is crucial to thousands of veterans in Kansas and Missouri. He demanded that the VA provide documentation of all discrimination complaints the hospital had received in the past 10 years and a description of how the hospital responded.

— The Associated Press

Biennial report places urgency on Census 2020 filingsNEW YORK — Over half of New York City’s children live in or near poverty, according to the latest biennial report released recently by the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York.

The 2020 edition of “Keeping Track of New York City’s Children” highlights how, despite improved citywide outcomes, children and families continue to experience significant disparities based on their race, ethnicity, immigration status, residency and other demographics.

CCC is calling attention to these disparities as the self-response period for the 2020 Census begins because Black, Latino and Asian children in low-income families and those in immigrant families are the most likely to be missed in the census count. An undercount jeopardizes federal resources for programs such as nutrition, child care, education, health care, housing, and other essential services affecting children.

Almost 5 million New Yorkers live in communities designated as hard-to-count areas. An estimated 70,000 city children were missed in the last census in 2010.

— New York Amsterdam News

NYC street sign honors revered Black journalistNEW YORK — A new street sign went up in the downtown Brooklyn area of New York City to commemorate the life of Ida B. Wells, one of this nation’s most revered investigative journalists.

The designation of Ida B. Wells Place took place on March 7 in co-naming Gold Street and Myrtle Avenue. The event was attended by Wells’ great-grandson Benjamin Duster IV along with his family, the author Paula Giddings, members of the Brooklyn NAACP, New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, NYC Council Member Stephen Levin and supporters of the Harlem Historical Society.

The Harlem Historical Society led the push for the newly minted street signs and the informational plaque detailing Wells’ life in Brooklyn.

Wells was born into slavery in Holly Springs, Miss., and moved to Memphis, Tenn., with her siblings after their parents died from yellow fever. In Memphis, Wells was a teacher and began writing for local Black newspapers, particularly about how whites used the threat of lynching to terrorize African Americans. The power of her words led a mob of whites to burn down her newspaper office and Wells was forced to flee for her life.

Before moving to Chicago, where she married and became a nationally known figure, Wells had continued her work while living in a home located at Gold Street and Myrtle Avenue.

— New York Amsterdam News

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