NEWSBITS - 9.13

 

Anti-abortion Terrorists Must Pay Up

A federal jury on October 25 ordered three anti-abortion group - Operation Rescue, Missionaries to the Pre-Born, and the Dallas Pro-Life Action Network - and their leaders to pay Dallas obstetrician Norman Tompkins $8.6 million in damages for invading his privacy and inflicting emotional distress. The groups had demonstrated outside his hospital and home for over 10 months in 1992 to try to force him to stop performing abortions. Lawyers for Dr. Tompkins said that when thefor financial assistance, the sponsor's income would count for five years fr physician refused to stop performing abortions, "a pattern of abuse and harassment started, which included surveillance, stalking, telephone harassment and mail threats." Tompkins eventually shut down his practice, sold his house and moved out of town. Anti-abortion groups did not seem dissuaded from further protests by the ruling, and pro-choice organizations say they still fear violence and vow to maintain tight security. Operation Rescue head Flip Benham said the groups would appeal the verdict. "All we were doing was confront him with the truth, and because we did that, he sued us." Pro-choice groups "have every intention of collecting awards that have been adjudicated in a court of law," warned Mona Miller, senior press officer of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Unfortunately we know from experience that these violent actors have no respect for the law. We have to continue to protect the people who service our patients." In the past several years, clinics across the country have increased security to protect against anti-abortion demonstrators, some of them violent. In the past three years, five people - two doctors, a clinic escort and two clinic workers - have been murdered by anti-abortion activists. [Reuter]

Crack Vs. Powder: Elected Officials Deny That Skewed Penalties Are Racially Motivated

A bill that touched off an estimated 38 nationwide prison uprisings at federal penitentiaries in October was signed by US President Bill Clinton last week. The bill, overwhelmingly approved by Congress and the Senate, maintains cocaine sentencing guidelines widely viewed as racist. The guidelines mandate sentences for crack cocaine that are 5 times as harsh as sentences for powder cocaine. Blacks have a much higher conviction rate for crack cocaine possession while whites have a higher conviction rate for powder cocaine. Although more white people use crack, over 90% of those sentenced for crack possession are Black. The US Sentencing Commission had recommended that the sentences be brought into parity, but this recommendation has been rejected overwhelmingly by elected officials. Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court ruled last week that it will hear an appeal of a case involving allegations that Los Angeles prosecutors selectively prosecuted Blacks on crack cocaine trafficking charges. Lower court rulings had thrown out charges against 5 men charged due to alleged prosecutorial bias. Federal prosecutors refused to rebut charges by the defendants in the case that they were for financial assistance, the sponsor's income would count for five years frtargeted based on the fact that they are Black. The Supreme Court will decide whether or not it was incorrect for lower courts to mandate that the prosecution respond to the bias allegations. The case will be decided by July. The defendants in this case were charged under federal law, which imposes much stiffer penalties that California law. The defendants case of racial bias is based on the fact that of 24 cases involving crack cocaine closed by the federal public defender's office in Los Angeles, all 24 defendants were Black. A federal judge ordered the prosecution to provide racial data on their records and to explain how they chose which crack cases to pursue in federal courts. The prosecution refused to comply with the order and appealed it to the 9th US Circuit Court, which ruled that the defendants had presented facts "which establish a credible basis to believe that the government has engaged in selective prosecution." "What we have here is institutional racism. The fact of the matter is they are going after Black People," said David Dudley, an LA attorney who represents one of the defendants. [Newark Star Ledger]

Gay Cook Sues ARAMARK at MIT

Charles Messina, a former cook at MIT, is suing the dining services provider Aramark for $2 million, for sexual harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. On October 12, despite Aramark's request for a dismissal, the US District Court of Massachusetts decided to hear the case. Messina claims that from September to November of 1993, he was harassed by his supervisor, D. David Dannells, and co-worker John Fell. On several occasions, Dannells allegedly called him names like "Chucky Sucky" and pushed Messina's head toward his crotch. Dannells would ridicule Messina when he was late for work saying such things as, "Where have you been? Dropping a load in someone's mouth?" Also, Dannells would mimic an "effeminate man," dancing around Messina in the kitchen. Although Messina was not out at work, rumors spread about his sexual orientation. Aramark claims that Messina "was not subjectively offended by their [Dannell's and Fell's] behavior, because he joked with the two instead of showing anger." Responds Messina, "By joking with them I thought it [the harassment] might stop. It made me feel really uncomfortable." However, when Messina filed a complaint with Aramark on October 26, 1993, its own investigation concluded that both Dannells and Fell had engaged in "unprofessional conduct." Fell was reprimanded; Dannells was suspended without pay for one week and was required to attend a seminar on sexual harassment. Messina was transferred to another dining hall, but he quit days later. William McLeod, attorney for Messina, charges that Aramark did not take his client's complaint seriously. Evading the issue, Aramark claims it was not responsible for Dannell's and Fell's behavior because it took "appropriate steps to stop it." Furthermore, the company argues that Dannells was not Messina's direct supervisor, even though Dannells was executive chef of the kitchen, overseeing food production and supervising the general cooks. Aramark asserts that joking and swearing are "routine" in their kitchens, so the behavior of Dannells and Fell "was not so severe or pervasive as to affect a reasonable person's work performance." [in newsweekly]

Prisoners as a Futures Commodity?

"I would never apply the word 'commodity' to human beings. I would say that they are becoming some kind of economic unit that represents a cost and, to the receiving facility or region, represents an economic benefit," explained James R. Roberts, VP of Dominion, an Oklahoma company that locates private prisons and brokers prisoner transfers for a fee. The New York Times reported last week that prisoners have become a "futures commodity." The paper was referring to competition between empty county jails and private prisons for excess prisoners and the revenue they generate. The phenomenon has given rise to a new profession: prisoner placement consultants. Rules have been devised to determine what sorts of prisoners can be shipped across state lines. A county in Texas which houses the most out-of-state prisoners, advertises that it aims to keep corrections employees employed and its local economy alive. Recently, 500 prisoners from Colorado were sent to the Texarkana County Prison in Texas and another 500 were sent to a privately run prison in Minnesota. About 10,000 prisoners nationwide, from about a dozen states, have been transferred across state lines. Massachusetts, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Missouri, Virginia, and Alaska have transferred prisoners out of state and Idaho, Oklahoma, and Hawai'i are considering it. In Texas, county facilities were emptied by a major build-up of new state prison facilities. Oregon will soon be sending 200 prisoners to Texas at a cost of $36.50 per day per prisoner, which is less than the $52 per day per prisoner it costs Oregon for in-state prisoner keeping. Lawsuits have been filed opposing the cross-state prisoner trafficking by families of prisoners and prisoner advocacy groups, primarily due to the burden placed on families in visiting their incarcerated loved ones. Prisoners with ties to family and their community have a lower likelihood of recidivism. [New York Times]

Police Cover Up Lynching

One day after the release of the verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial, Antwan Sedgwick, a 20-year-old Black man, was found hanged with his own belt from a playground gym in Hampton, Virginia. For the three weeks following his death, local police and media released no information about this occurrence. Finally on October 23, The Hampton Roads Voice, a Black newspaper, published an article revealing that before his death, two police officers had argued with Sedgwick. The officers expressed racist opinions about the Simpson verdict and called him a "nigger." Ten hours later, Sedgwick was dead; his belt tied around his neck in a sophisticated military knot. Family and friends of Sedgwick say he had no reason to kill himself and do not believe his death was the result of suicide. Hundreds of Hampton University students have protested the cover-up. [Challenge-Desafo]

Republican Bumperstickers Slam Gays, Blacks, and People with AIDS

At a recent convention of the National Federation of Republican Women, a number of bumperstickers highly offensive to gays, people with AIDS, and others were prominently displayed for sale. One of the bumperstickers, which slammed people with AIDS, read, "The Miracle of AIDS Turned Fruits Into Vegetables." Another, aimed at President Clinton but also targeting gays, said, "Roosevelt - A Chicken in Every Pot; Clinton - A Fag in Every Pup Tent." One bumpersticker, apparently commenting on African-American welfare recipients, said, "Work - It's the White Thing To Do," while another urged "Renuke Japan." If these are the attitudes promoted by Republican women, one can only guess at those of Republican men. Ironically, the Roosevelt bumper sticker refers to a campaign slogan that Franklin Roosevelt never actually used. It was broadcast by the Republican Party during Herbert Hoover's successful presidential campaign of 1928. A GOP circular claimed that if Hoover won, there would be "A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." The National Federation of Republican Women can be contacted at 124 N. Alfred Street, Alexandria, VA 22314-3011; phone: 703/548-9688. [From The Letter, Kentucky's gay and lesbian newspaper. Based on information from the Albuquerque Journal, September 24, 1995, as reported by GLAAD]

Rule Changes Imperil College Aid To Immigrant Students

Little-noted provisions in the Senate and House of Representatives welfare bills will deny federal education aid to legal immigrants. This will effectively strip the rungs from a ladder that has allowed generations of immigrants to assimilate into American society and climb out of poverty, and instead further marginalize them, making them more easily exploitable. In the Senate version, when a legal immigrant applies for financial assistance, the sponsor's income would count for five years from the date the student entered the country. For new immigrants, that income would be counted until they worked and paid taxes for at least 10 years - even if the immigrant became a naturalized US citizen in the meantime. Critics say that would create two classes of US citizens. In the House version, immigrants who are already in the country would not be affected. For new immigrants, sponsors would have to report their income indefinitely - or until the immigrant they sponsored becomes a naturalized citizen. Education officials say that could disqualify many legal immigrants who now receive financial aid, particularly the most common form of federal assistance - the Pell grant. Most immigrants who cannot demonstrate financial independence or who do not have an approved job when they enter the country must have a sponsor. Sponsors, usually distant family members, must prove that they have enough money to prevent an immigrant from becoming a "public charge" - meaning they have enough money to prevent an immigrant from receiving federal aid - although in many cases they may not be willing or able to pay for the immigrant's education. The effect on immigrants' losing aid, educators say, would be taking longer to graduate, transferring to a less expensive school, or simply dropping out. Said City University of New York chancellor W. Ann Reynolds, "We are simply knocking that poor, talented, energetic student out of college with this.'' Approximately 390,000 legal immigrants nationwide received Pell grants in 1992-1993, representing about 10 percent of all students who received the grants. The maximum grant is $2,400 a year. The report showed that 82 percent of those immigrants lived in seven states, led by California with 31 percent and New York with 25 percent. The other top states were Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois and Massachusetts. [New York Times]

Economy Booms! (But No One Asks "Where are the Profits Going?") Worker Earnings Flop

"There is something wrong with rising profits, rising productivity, and a soaring stock market, but employee compensation heading nowhere." Thus was Labor Secretary Robert Reich's reaction to news last week that the expanding economy, which has propelled stock prices to record levels, has not spilled over to the paychecks of American workers. The Labor Department reported that wages have risen by only 2.7 percent in the last 12 months, the smallest increase on record. White-collar worker wages increased by 2.8 percent while blue collar workers experienced a 2.3 percent increase - a net loss in income as inflation for the same period rose by 2.5 percent. Economic growth was 3.5 percent. Profits for most major corporations continue to reach record levels while increases in median executive pay exceeded 8 percent last year. Since the mid-1980's, the incomes of middle-class households have stagnated, while executive pay has risen and entry level compensation has fallen. But these new figures underscore the view that even in a year with a solidly expanding economy, a roaring stock market, and strong corporate profits, many American workers cannot find perceptible improvements in their earnings. Plenty of experts tried to explain this phenomenon, but all stopped short of admitting that soaring profits and executive compensation was being achieved at the expense of most of the workforce. Rep. Marge Roukema (R-NJ) stated dismissively, "It's the fundamental changes in the technological base and employment patterns." She illustrated her confusion about the nature of the problem by plugging the current Republican congressional agenda, "If we don't get the budget deficit down and we don't reorder our savings and tax policies, we'll never be able to tackle this." Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers contended that economic growth had not been high enough, but the hope that higher growth will lift compensation may be of scant comfort to workers who are worried about just keeping their jobs. In spite of the present economic growth, companies are continuing to shed workers by the thousands to increase profits even more. Federal Reserve Board Chairperson Alan Greenspan cited job insecurity as a major factor in the reduction in labor compensation. "Workers, in effect, have sought to preserve their jobs by accepting lesser increases in wages," he said. [from reports in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal]

Immigrant Discrimination Gets Computerized

The Immigration and Naturalization Service Agency (INS) is implementing a computerized database for employers to check the legal status of their job applicants. The INS also intends to conduct more frequent work site visits at 223 Southern California companies. Critics of the computerized harassment believe that it will violate privacy rights and increase discrimination against all immigrants. They believe that it could lead to a national identification system, mandatory identification cards and in employers illegally checking the status of potential hires. Anti-discrimination laws prevent employers from checking immigrations status before a worker is hired. Critics also believe the system will be unreliable, pointing to the notoriously inaccurate INS database that contains 50 million names. [Newark Star Ledger]

Student Protest in Third Week: Affirmative Action Hunger Strike Goes to California Capitol

SACRAMENTO - Four university students now entering their 16th day of a hunger strike traveled to the state Capitol yesterday to tell Governor Wilson that they would rather die than give up the advances that have been made through affirmative action for minorities and women. The visibly weakened young men - three from the University of California at Irvine and one from the Claremont Colleges - rolled their wheelchairs onto the blue carpet of Wilson's office to demand that the governor and other UC regents rescind their vote to end affirmative action at the 154,000-student UC system. "I'll be honest with you - I don't want to die," said 21-year-old protester Cesar Cruz. "But they say if you don't live fighting for social justice, you're already dead. If my small life means social justice, I'm willing to risk that for our people." Cruz and the other protesters say they decided that, rather than resorting to violence, they would fast in the tradition of Gandhi and Cesar Chavez to defend a principle: affirmative action, which they believe gives thousands of minorities a chance to compete in higher education. Although some allies are asking the students to quit fasting before they hurt themselves, their action is beginning to attract national attention and could further inflame a debate that has already galvanized intense passions on all sides. Hunger strikes have been employed by student groups in the past with some success. In 1993, a 14-day hunger strike by Latino students at UCLA led to an expanded Latino studies program at that school and to a $100,000 appropriation for a Latino studies center at San Francisco State University. "There is a long and proud tradition of individuals fighting on behalf of civil rights through protest, fasting, and other forms of civil disobedience," said Francisco Lobaco, lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union. "We should applaud those who are willing to take a personal stance in support of affirmative action." But few observers believe the hunger strike will work this time, and some supporters have urged the students to start eating again. "I don't think the governor is going to respond to their concerns," said Rodrigo Torres, who along with his brother has written a statewide ballot initiative to preserve affirmative action. "It's an exercise in futility." Wilson spokesman Paul Kranhold met the students yesterday and told them the governor was not at the office. But, he told them, Wilson has no intentions of being swayed by the hunger strikers. Although he once supported affirmative action, Wilson now says it is unfair and he is leading an attack on programs which address race and gender issues. Cruz and four other students began drinking only water and Gatorade on October 17 to protest the vote to end programs that consider race and gender in hiring, public contracting and admissions. University officials allowed the students to camp out at their school if they agreed to end their fast after 10 days. But they decided to continue. On Sunday, UC Irvine police arrested the five hunger-strikers and two other protesters and charged them with violating campus rules that forbid overnight camping. The students also were kicked off campus. Since then, one student has dropped out of the protest because of medical concerns. Ailing health also prevented another student from finishing yesterday's protest at the office of Assemblyman Bernie Richter, R-Chico, a leading affirmative action opponent. The protesters were disillusioned with the response at the state Capitol. But they are hoping many more students will join their fight at upcoming campus rallies planned across the state. [San Francisco Chronicle]


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