The death of a Black motorist who was stopped by five white officers has revived visions of 19th century lynch mobs and hangings. Three white and three Black coroner's jurors recommended Friday that the five Pittsburgh, PA police officers face homicide charges for the death of Johnny Gammage. On the night of Oct. 12, the officers pulled over Gammage, 31, on a routine traffic stop. The officers testified during the three-day inquest that Gammage had been driving erratically in his 1988 Jaguar. But they also said they had to sit on Gammage and beat him with flashlights in order to control him. An autopsy later revealed that Gammage, a resident of Syracuse N.Y., suffocated from compression of his neck and chest. One juror said testimony showed that what began as a routine traffic stop turned into a racial incident once the officers realized that the man in the Jaguar was Black. The recommended charges against the officers are the harshest possible. The jury could have suggested the D.A. consider involuntary manslaughter, no charges at all, or homicide charges against only some of the officers. Pittsburgh NAACP president Tim Stevens said Saturday he hoped the verdict sends a message to police. "They have the power, literally, to take a life, and there are consequences to misusing the badge and the gun."
Prime Minister's Alain Juppe's pledge to cut the public sector deficit to the level set for France to join a European single currency in 1999 has resulted in nationwide protest. Juppe plans to cut the already inadequate funding for education and welfare. Students from seventeen French universities went on strike Friday and hundreds across the country staged street demonstrations as unrest over demands for more teachers and classrooms gathered momentum. About a thousand students demonstrated symbolically in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank of the Seine, scene of the most violent rioting in 1968. At one of the universities spearheading the protests, in the eastern city of Metz, students Thursday kidnapped Education Minister Francois Bayrou and released her only after Bayrou pledged to reopen negotiations on increasing state funds. Bayrou has promised to present an emergency four-year plan in the spring to redistribute resources among universities to help the poorer ones. But student unions object to the plan and insist that extra funds should be made available. Disappointed by talks with the government, students from four more universities have joined forces with left-wing trade union Force Ouvriere movement in calling for a national day of action on Nov. 21.
Detroit's striking newspaper unions announced Tuesday they will launch a weekly newspaper, called the Detroit Sunday Journal to capture upcoming holiday advertising and force an end to a violent labor battle that just entered its fifth month. About 2,500 reporters, mailers, press, and delivery workers from six unions walked off their jobs at the Free Press and Detroit News July 13, after talks broke down over proposed job cuts and changes in work rules. Appearing at a joint news conference, union leaders and editors for the Sunday Journal vowed the paper will keep publishing until the strike is settled. Morton Bahr, president of the Communications Workers of America, said the paper has the financial backing of several unions, including the AFL-CIO and its 78 affiliates. "The entire labor movement will see that no newspaper union will be broken in the city of Detroit," he said. Tim Kelleher, a senior vice president for Detroit Newspapers Inc., said the joint operating agency of the two papers said weekly and Sunday circulation has fallen about 25 percent at both papers since the strike began. As a result, the papers have cut their advertising rates about the same amount, but Kelleher claims that the company is not worried about losing advertisers for the upcoming holiday season. The Sunday Journal has received initial funding of $500,000 from the parent organizations of the six striking unions. The largest supporters so far are the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Graphic Communications International Union, and the Communications Workers of America.
The National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, Organization of Chinese Americans, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance - AFL/CIO, and the Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) are urging Congress to vote against the welfare reform bill and are calling for President Clinton to veto it if it passes. The groups believe that the anti-immigrant provisions in the final bill will have a devastating impact on the Asian Pacific American community. Under the bill current legal permanent residents, as well as new entrants, will be ineligible for Food Stamps and Supplemental Security Income for the aged, blind, and disabled, until they are citizens or have worked long enough to qualify for Social Security. The House agreed to drop an exemption that would have allowed benefits for legal permanent residents too mentally or physically disabled to complete the citizenship process. States will have the option of barring AFDC, Medicaid, and Title XX programs such as community health programs to legal and permanent residents. APIAHF Policy Analyst Staff Dong Suh stated, "With the bill's drastic reduction in federal spending on Medicaid, states will likely exercise their option of barring access to legal immigrants. There is no rationale for cutting preventative care. This bill is particularly harsh to pregnant women, children, the elderly, and disabled." The welfare bill is expected to be added to the budget reconciliation bill headed for a vote this week. If the President vetoes the budget bill, welfare reform will probably be voted on as a separate bill after Thanksgiving.
The House voted Wednesday to impose a two-year prison term for doctors who perform certain late-term abortions -- the first time Congress has moved to outlaw a specific abortion procedure. By a lopsided 288-139 vote, the House passed a bill banning so-called partial birth abortions. Supporters of the bill called it the most important vote since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973 and said it was just the beginning of efforts to restrict access by outlawing a series of abortion techniques. Opponents warned that the bill was a first step towards outlawing all abortions and said it was so loosely worded that it would ban other late-term abortion techniques; they charged that Congress did not have the expertise to determine whether a specific medical procedure was appropriate. "For American women, passage of this bill should be a wake-up call. The anti-choice extremists have unveiled a new plan: to outlaw abortion procedure by procedure," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat. Passage of a free-standing bill criminalizing a specific abortion procedure is a major step forward for abortion opponents. "This was probably the key vote of the 105th Congress ... This was the beginning of the debate on when life begins," said Rep. Bob Dornan, a California Republican.
Oil giant Shell and its partners decided on Wednesday to sign a contract to build a $4 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Nigeria despite the international furor over the Nigerian government's execution of nine minority rights activists on November 10. Nigerian author Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight members of his Movement for the Survival of Ogoni Peoples (MOSOP) were hanged on November 10, for the murder of four Ogoni chiefs last year. Human rights groups said it was a political trial and the Commonwealth has suspended Nigeria from its ranks. Pressure groups in the West have urged Shell, an Anglo-Dutch company and the technical leader in the LNG project, to abandon the project in protest at the executions of the campaigners for the rights of the 500,000-strong Ogoni people living in the Niger river delta. Shell has rejected the calls. The project is the biggest of its kind in Africa and its go-ahead will give a boost to Nigeria's embattled military government which ratified the death sentences on the nine men. Shell denies that its Nigerian operations have caused devastating environmental damage, but concedes that the oil industry has caused problems in the Niger Delta. Last Tuesday, Alan Detheridge, the London-based Shell director responsible for Nigeria, said, "We don't see any commercial or technical problems why the project should not go ahead." Detheridge reiterated Shell's position that it did not want to get involved in local political issues and said dropping the project would not only hurt the Nigerian people but the environment too. Currently the state owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation holds 49 percent in the Nigeria LNG Ltd. Shell International Gas Ltd has 24 percent; Elf Aquitaine of France holds 15 percent and Agip SpA of Italy holds 10 percent. The World Bank's investment arm declined last week to pick up a two percent stake offered to it and Shell has said that will be shared among the foreign partners. The partners in Nigerian LNG Limited met last Wednesday in Nigeria and decided to proceed with construction. The project has been mooted for the past 20 years and Shell fears that it will collapse altogether if it does not go ahead now. Ken Wiwa, son of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, denounced Shell's decision to proceed with the LNG project before the European Parliament in Strasbourg. "The mere fact that less than a week after Ogoni activists have been executed they are planning to go ahead with the biggest venture they've ever had in Nigeria, it is absolutely astonishing and is in line with the insensitivity of that company," said Wiwa. Citing his father, Wiwa called for a boycott of Shell. The late Ken Saro-Wiwa had led a campaign of self-determination for the Ogoni minority, whose homeland has been exploited for oil and gas by Shell and other companies. Responding to a call by the Trans-African pressure group for an oil embargo, he wrote before his death, " Nigerian oil is what sustains the Nigerian military dictators, enabling them to survive even though they collect no taxes and misgovern in every sense of the word." Several groups have already begun boycotting Shell. Body Shop International, the environmental-friendly retailer, said on Tuesday it would step up its boycott of Shell products. The Luxembourg-based human rights group, The Society for Threatened Peoples, is also urging consumers to boycott Royal Dutch/Shell Group until Shell "stops destroying Ogoni land in eastern Nigeria's Niger Delta, launches an ecological clean-up program for the region and uses its significant influence in Nigeria for the withdrawal of the army and the release of 17 detained Ogoni."
On Tuesday, Maine voters defeated an anti-gay rights measure by a 53% to 47% margin. The initiative was conceived by Portland housewife Carolyn Crosby, a founding member of the conservative organization Concerned Maine Families. The initiative, without explicitly mentioning sexual orientation or homosexuality, proposed the exclusion of any new categories from state and local human rights laws. It would also have nulled Portland's gay rights protections. Portland resident Panthea Burns took to heart the defeat her fellow Maine voters dealt an anti-gay rights measure. "The thought of this passing and the feeling of being rejected by my own home state because I'm a lesbian would have been hard," she said. Opponents of the initiative had formed a coalition, "Maine Won't Discriminate," that won the backing of such leaders as independent Gov. Angus King, business groups and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. National gay rights activists helped collect some of the $1 million used to defeat the initiative, whose backers outspent proponents by a 10-1 margin. Voters have turned down anti-gay rights proposals in Idaho and Oregon in the past few years. In 1992, Colorado voters approved a ban on gay rights laws, but the state"s high court threw it out and it is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. But Carolyn Crosby has vowed to "continue to fight on" next year, when Maine lawmakers are expected to propose a gay rights bill.
Hundreds of prisoners, including many foreigners, seized Athens's top security jail and were holding six staff hostage, police said on Wednesday. Riot police surrounded the prison on the western outskirts of the Greek capital after prisoners rioted through the night. Fires were lit, facilities were ransacked, the hospital was raided. Inmates currently control three of Korydallos prison's four wings, police said. Their demands ranged from better food to less overcrowding. "About 1,100 inmates are out of control and out of their cells," a senior police officer said. "Many of those joining the uprising were foreigners, mostly Albanians," he added. Several inmates have already been hospitalized for injuries suffered during fights between prisoner factions. Hundreds of riot police surrounded the prison in a tense stand-off and schools in the area were closed for the day as a precaution. The uprising began last Tuesday night when inmates, armed with shards of glass, took hostages in a failed attempt to break out. They then seized more hostages and began opening cells as other prisoners joined in. Police had fired tear gas and plastic bullets to try to stop the siege but the tactic failed. One prisoner talking to a reporter from Athens's private Skai radio channel said that they were protesting "unbearable prison conditions. We need better medical care. We're people, too."