Immigration Temporary Status

SPEAKING UP ABOUT TPS STATUS

Farah Larrieux, right, spoke Friday during a news conference to address the issue of Temporary Protected Status for immigrants. She joined others at the event in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami to discuss the status of Haitians who emigrated to the U.S. after an earthquake devastated the Caribbean island in 2010. Their TPS status is due to expire next year. — AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

S.C. set to roll out new paper-based voting system

CHARLESTON, S.C. — State officials announced last week the awarding of a contract for a new statewide voting system.

An evaluation panel selected the ExpressVote voting system offered by Election Systems and Software, whose paper-based system will replace the current paperless process used since 2004. The ExpressVote device enables voters to use a touchscreen to make their selections and then take a printout to be recorded on a scanner. The paper ballots is saved for auditing and verification of results.

The system, which costs about $51 million, will be rolled out this year and used for all elections after Jan. 1.

— The Charleston Chronicle

Oregon city appoints first African-American fire chief

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland has appointed its first African American fire chief.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reported Thursday that Sara Boone was announced as the new head of the Portland Fire and Rescue Department. She was the first African-American woman to become a city firefighter in 1995 before rising through the ranks to division chief leading medical services and training.

Portland Fire Bureau Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who in January became the first Black woman to serve as city councilor, made the announcement.

- The Associated Press

Cutting short valedictorian’s speech brings apology

DALLAS — Dallas school officials have apologized after a high school valedictorian had her graduation speech interrupted by her principal when she said the names of shooting victims Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice.

The Dallas Independent School District said in a statement Tuesday that the decision to stop Rooha Haghar’s June 1 speech wasn’t “reflective of the core values we teach our students.”

Officials said it’s district practice to review student speeches and that Haghar chose “to share other remarks that were not prepared with the administration’s knowledge.” The unscripted comments led Conrad High Principal Temesghen Asmerom to cut Haghar’s microphone.

Haghar says she mentioned Tamir and Martin, because their deaths are “a reality that Black families have to deal with.” Officers in Cleveland shot 12-year-old Tamir in 2014, and a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida shot 17-year-old Martin in 2012.

— The Associated Press

S.C. State grad is youngest member of state board

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Juwan Ayers, a former student government president at South Carolina State University, became the youngest member of the state’s Commission for Minority Affairs with his recent appointment.

Ayers, 23, was confirmed to serve as the commissioner representing the 6th Congressional District of South Carolina. He said Tommie Windsor, the state director of Boards and Commissions, approached him about the post.

“When he called me, he stated the governor was looking for minorities, women and millennials to join state boards and there were two boards at the time that he needed help filling. The two boards were the S.C. Commission for Minority Affairs and S.C. Human Affairs Commission. I told him that I would be interested in joining the Minority Affairs board and from there, I went through the process of getting on the board,” Ayers said.

Ayers, who graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, served as the Student Government Association president, and cultivated relationships that have propelled him to succeed.

— The Charleston Chronicle

Family plans to sue university over shooting

PORTLAND, Ore. — The wife and daughters of a man fatally shot by Portland State University officers near the campus are planning to sue the university.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reported a law firm representing Jason Washington’s family notified the university of the pending lawsuit in a letter Tuesday.

The formal notice lists other potential defendants including the university’s Campus Public Safety Office; officers James Dewey and Shawn McKenzie; the school’s then police chief Donnell Tanksley; and former university president Rahmat Shoureshi.

Police body camera footage shows the officers shot Washington in a chaotic scene as he tried to break up a fight near a bar in June 2018. Washington was shot as he held a friend’s gun that he had confiscated earlier in the evening.

A Multnomah County grand jury found no criminal wrongdoing by the officers.

— The Associated Press

Md. brothers taste freedom after 24 years in prison

BALTIMORE — Two brothers — Kenneth McPherson and Eric Simmons — are finally walking free after spending 24 years in prison for a crime they never committed.

The pair was recently exonerated after finding out that they were wrongfully convicted of murder conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison in May 1995.

Last month, McPherson, 45, and Simmons, 48, were welcomed by family members following a hearing in Baltimore Circuit Court. Simmons, whose son was age 2 when he went to prison, finally hugged his now grown child.

McPherson compared their life sentence to drowning in a swimming pool and their savior was Lauren Lipscomb, the chief of the conviction integrity unit of the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office.

“She dove in and she grabbed me… grabbed us out and gave us CPR. You saved my life,” he said.

In 1994, the brothers were arrested for allegedly killing 21-year old Anthony Wooden with at least a dozen shots fired. Police charged McPherson and Simmons with conspiracy to commit murder.

A 13-year old boy testified during the initial trial that he saw the crime from a 3rd-floor window that was about 150 feet away. He identified the brothers as the killers but later recanted his statement. It was found that police had threaten the boy with homicide charges.

At the time of the shooting, McPherson was at a party and Simmons was in bed at home. Investigators confirmed their alibis through evidence and another witness who said the brothers had no role in the shooting incident.

Two years ago, McPherson and Simmons wrote to the state’s attorney office. Lipscomb determined that the case should be investigated again. With the help of the innocence projects at George Washington University and the University of Baltimore, they have been exonerated.

— Great Diversity News

Parents sue over racial taunts of son at grade school

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Black elementary student endured months of racial harassment and was later called a “snitch” after he reported the verbal abuse to a teacher, according to a federal lawsuit.

Court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque last week said the boy faced “escalating race-based and physical harassment” from January to April at Parkview Elementary School in Socorro, a small city about 80 miles south of the New Mexico capital, and that teachers did little or nothing to stop it.

The boy’s parents tried repeatedly to convince school officials to intervene but the lawsuit said the abuse continued and that school officials made excuses, including blaming the boy for not reporting all the of alleged episodes. Their son was eventually suspended from school and now is being homeschooled, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in monetary damages and a judge’s order for the school district to adopt bullying prevention programs. The district has policies against bullying, according to its student handbook.

— The Associated Press

Arkansas accused of diluting Black votes in federal suit

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The voting system for electing judges to Arkansas’ top courts violates Black residents’ rights by diluting the strength of their votes, according to a federal lawsuit filed by civil rights lawyers.

The lawsuit filed Monday says that because the state’s seven Supreme Court justices are elected statewide, instead of by district, the white voting bloc overpowers the votes of Black Arkansas residents. The suit says that’s why no Black judge has ever been elected to the court.

The lawsuit points to several cases in which a Black candidate was supported by a majority of Black voters in an election, but was defeated by a white candidate supported by a majority of white voters.

Instead, lawyers suggest the state should change the voting system for Supreme Court justices by creating electoral districts, for which Black voters “in at least one district would constitute a majority of the voting-age population.”

The suit also alleges that voting by districts for the state’s 12 appellate judges lumps all Black voters into a single electoral district, reducing the strength of the population’s vote.

Lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed the lawsuit on behalf of three voters and two statewide organizations.

— The Associated Press

Racial makeup of Senate district back in court

NEW ORLEANS — Mississippi officials asked a federal appeals court Tuesday to overturn a lower court ruling that said boundary lines for a state Senate district illegally diluted African-American voting strength.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled in February that the district dilutes black voting power and ordered lawmakers to redraw it.

The legislature redrew the lines for Senate District 22 in March after the district judge issued his ruling and a 5th U.S. Circuit court of Appeals panel in New Orleans refused to block it while an appeal was filed. Another 5th Circuit panel heard the appeal Tuesday and it was unclear when it would rule.

Gov. Phil Bryant and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann had asked in a May letter that the court immediately overturn the district judge and re-instate the original lines. They said an immediate ruling would provide time to reopen qualifying for the state’s Aug. 6 election.

Plaintiffs in the voting rights lawsuit at issue said there was no need to change the lines again ahead of this year’s election. They noted that the plan adopted by the legislature this year to satisfy the judge’s ruling will likely only be used once as the U.S. Census results will likely lead to the redrawing of district lines due to tpopulation shifts.

District 22 stretches from mostly Black and poor parts of the rural Delta into mostly white and affluent suburbs outside Jackson. Court documents show the district had a nearly 51% Black voting age population — barely enough to be declared a majority Black district, according to the plaintiffs and a white Republican Eugene Clarke, who is not seeking re-election to the state Senate.

After a divided 5th Circuit panel refused to block the order pending appeal results in March, legislators redrew the contested district. Their plan gives District 22 a 58% Black voting age population by swapping some Delta precincts with the adjoining District 13, whose Black voting age population will drop from 69% to 62%.

— The Associated Press

Mich. school district outlines plan to avert shutdown

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — A southwestern Michigan school board has released a plan aimed at keeping the district’s high school open and avoiding a state-threatened shutdown of the struggling district.

The Benton Harbor School Board said Monday night it wanted to collaborate with state and federal officials to improve student performance. The board has accused state officials of wanting to take money out of the “overwhelmingly poor and Black community.”

The administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, citing the district’s poor finances and weak academic performance, has sought for the board to close the high school. If not, the district could be shut down.

Also on Monday, the resignation of Superintendent Robert Herrera was accepted in a move giving the school board more power.

— The Associated Press

ROTC sets to drop N.C. cadet over racist postings

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A cadet will be removed from the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps for posting racist, anti-Semitic and “pro-Nazism” messages on social media.

U.S. Army Cadet Command spokesman Maj. Robert Carter said that Martha Gerdes was on a “leave of absence” from the program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte pending her dismissal from the ROTC.

Gerdes was a student at Davidson College when the Army began its investigation in November after ROTC officials learned of her online activities when a group called Carolina Workers Collective posted screenshots of tweets it attributed to Gerdes.

Carter said Gerdes’ online activities were “inconsistent with the high moral expectations of a future Army officer.”

— The Associated Press

Minn. leader of development agency to step down

MINNEAPOLIS — Gary Cunningham will step down as president and CEO of the Metropolitan Economic Development Association to become president of the nonprofit Prosperity Now based in Washington, D.C.

MEDA, under Cunningham, earned a national reputation for excellence, secured thousands of jobs in the local community and grew its financial assets.

According to the Minneaspolis-based organization, his work helped minority businesses create and retain 6,860 jobs, secure $86.2 million in lending capital and win $4.332 billion in corporate and governmental contracts. Meda’s financial assets grew 221 percent to $25.2 million and its lending capital for minority entrepreneurs by 535 percent to $21.4 million.

Cunningham will remain in his role at MEDA through June 28.

— Insight News

Independent review of museum incident set in motion

BOSTON — The Museum of Fine Arts has hired an outside law firm to investigate reports that a group of minority middle school students was subjected to racism by staff and patrons during a field trip last month.

Principal Arturo Forrest of the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy in Boston said museum security followed his students while leaving white students alone.

Museum leadership in a recent statement said former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger of Casner & Edwards LLC would lead the review.

The museum conducted an investigation that ,led to two patrons being banned for alleged disparaging remarks during the May 16 visit.

But the museum says “we came to the decision that an investigation by an external party could provide greater objectivity and clarity.”

— The Associated Press

Leader of historically Black school lines up new job

St. LOUIS — Dwaun J. Warmack is leaving Harris-Stowe State University, where he has served as president since 2015, to lead Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

He will assume his new duties as president on Aug. 1 at the school, which was founded in 1869 as the first South Carolina university open to all people regardless of race.

Dwyane Smith, provost at Harris-Stowe State, will assume the role of interim president as the board of regents begins the search for a new president.

As part of the institution’s strategic plan that Warmack spearheaded, the university expanded its academic offerings, with degrees, minors, and certificate programs increasing from 14 to more than 50. Also during his tenure, applications to attend the historically Black school soared to more than 7,000 in 2019 compared with 667 in 2013.

At Claflin University, Warmack will replace Henry N. Tisdale, who is retiring after 25 years of leadership.

— St. Louis American

Law professor named to state public defense board

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed WMU-Cooley Law School Associate Dean Tracey Brame to the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission, which was created in 2013 to ensure the state’s public defense system is fair, cost-effective and constitutional.

As a member of the commission, Brame will represent the chief justice of the state Supreme Court through April 1, 2023. In addition to her administrative duties at WMU-Cooley, Brame teaches law courses and is director of the school’s Access to Justice Clinic.

— Grand Rapids Times

Brame began her tenure at WMU-Cooley Law School in February 2006, and started the Access to Justice Clinic at the Grand Rapids campus that same year. She runs the West Michigan Public Defender Clinic.

- Grand Rapids Times

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