DOJ files lawsuit against Ruston Housing Authority alleging race discrimination | The News Star |

The Justice Department announced Monday that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that the Housing Authority for the City of Ruston has engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against African-American tenants, in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

The Ruston Housing Authority is a public housing authority that provides housing for persons of low income in Ruston. Currently, the Ruston Housing Authority owns and maintains five housing complexes in Ruston.

The complaint alleges that the Ruston Housing Authority maintained a racially segregated housing authority by steering and assigning applicants to its five complexes based on race, rather than in order of their placement on the Ruston Housing Authority’s waiting list. The complaint also alleges that the Ruston Housing Authority’s discriminatory assignment practices have harmed dozens of applicants and tenants who were assigned to segregated housing or delayed housing because of their race.

“Access to housing free from racial discrimination is everyone’s right, including those who seek public housing assistance,” said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The department will continue its vigorous enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.”

“The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to addressing unlawful discriminatory practices and enforcing anti-discrimination laws,” said Stephanie A. Finley, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana. “Today’s filing is an example of our continuing efforts to end discrimination.”

A message left for the Ruston Housing Authority was not returned Monday evening.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.

via DOJ files lawsuit against Ruston Housing Authority alleging race discrimination | The News Star |

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Wells Fargo Gets Away with $175 Million Penalty for Racist Lending Practices

John Stumpf, president of Wells Fargo since 2005

Wells Fargo, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, cheated at least 34,000 minority homeowners during the 2004-2008 housing boom, either charging them more for their mortgages or steering them into risky loans. For these acts of discrimination the bank has agreed to pay a penalty of $175 million, while not admitting any wrongdoing.
Out of the $175 million settlement, the bank will pay $125 million to the black and Hispanic individuals who were victimized by Wells Fargo’s racist lending practices. The other $50 million will go towards direct down payment assistance to borrowers in communities that were hit hard by the housing crisis and disproportionately impacted by the bank’s discriminatory loans.
The U.S. Department of Justice said it went after Wells Fargo after finding it had conned black and Hispanic borrowers into paying more than white homeowners—“not based on borrower risk, but because of their race or national origin.”
Using a practice known as “steering,” Wells Fargo gave 4,000 African-Americans and Hispanics subprime mortgages even when they qualified for prime loans.
Mike Heid, president of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, told The New York Times that the bank agreed to settle the case “because we believe it is in the best interest of our team members, customers, communities and investors to avoid a long and costly legal fight, and to instead devote our resources to continuing to contribute to the country’s housing recovery.”
The settlement awaits final approval by a federal judge.
The Wells Fargo case follows another involving Bank of America, which agreed late last year to pay $335 million to resolve similar charges against Countrywide, which it acquired in 2008.

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Albuquerque Police Department removes noose icon used for ‘elite’ gang unit

A hangman’s noose.

For two decades, that’s what the elite Albuquerque Police Department unit assigned to the city’s worst criminals has used as its symbol.

It will no more. After Journal inquiries, Police Chief Ray Schultz said in an email late Thursday that he is doing away with the noose image. He ordered one of his deputy chiefs to remove it from all documents and apologized “to anyone who may have been offended” by it.

When the Journal first asked another high-level APD officer about the symbol, which appeared on an internal APD wanted poster that came to light last week as part of a lawsuit in state District Court, the officer’s initial reaction was to question whether it was indeed a hangman’s noose.

APD Cmdr. Doug West, who oversees the Repeat Offender Project, known as the ROP team, said early Thursday he was “not a knot expert” when asked about the noose image. “The simple way I look at it is that it’s a rope, and it’s the ROP team. I don’t read into the hangman’s noose. I don’t know a whole lot about knots,” West said. “… It’s something that we need to look at and get rid of … because people would construe this as, like you, you’re looking at it as a hangman’s noose, and if that’s how people are perceiving this, it’s the wrong signal that we need to send. We need to not send that.”

He said similar police units across the country use similar imagery to identify themselves.

Two local civil rights attorneys said using the noose as a symbol for the ROP team goes far beyond creating an image problem for APD. Instead, it promotes violence and serves as another signal that APD is out of control, they said.

“It’s culturally insensitive at best,” attorney Shannon Kennedy said. “For them to say that it’s just a rope shows willful ignorance. It speaks directly to the cultural problem within this police department and encourages a gang-like, us-vs.-them mentality instead of service to the public.”

When asked about the image in a telephone interview, West said he was not familiar with it, had never seen it on any document and didn’t know whether it had anything to do with the ROP team.

After putting the reporter on hold for several minutes, West came back on the line and said it has been the ROP team’s “symbol” for 20 years and that APD now plans to change it.

The noose image is frequently used on internal documents such as wanted posters and is even painted on the wall of the unit’s office, officials said.

Schultz said it was brought to his attention by a city attorney last week, who suggested it might “be misinterpreted by some people in the community,” and that he agreed with that assessment.

The ROP team often works undercover to do exactly what its name suggests: track and arrest repeat offenders.

The Journal became aware of it when a document advising officers to be on the lookout for Nicholas Blume appeared in a court filing. The undated poster was produced by the APD Special Investigations Division and features the noose and the APD Gang Unit logo. It lists Blume’s criminal history and says he is wanted on a felony arrest warrant.

On Feb. 13, 2011, then-officers John Doyle and Robert Woolever wound up in a foot pursuit with Blume after a traffic stop in northeast Albuquerque. Woolever tackled Blume in a parking garage and, while he tried to get him into handcuffs, Doyle kicked Blume more than a dozen times.

The two officers were fired late last year after the Journal obtained a copy of the video, wrote about it and posted it online at

Ray Twohig, a longtime civil rights attorney who represents Blume, said he didn’t realize the ROP team used a noose as its symbol.

“I gather they were among the ones who were after Mr. Blume, and while they didn’t hang him, they sure kicked his head in, didn’t they?” Twohig said. “Certainly using a hangman’s noose does more than create an image. It would tend to motivate the people in the unit as well, and that is not the right motivation.”

A former ROP team member who has filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against APD claims someone left a shoestring tied into a noose in a box of her belongings when she left the team.

APD has faced repeated criticism in recent years over a litany of incidents that critics say points to a culture of brutality and disrespect toward the community within the department. Officers have shot 24 people since 2010, 17 of them fatally. Several officers have been disciplined for posting inappropriate comments on social media websites. And revelations that the police union had been paying officers involved in shootings up to $500 rocked the department earlier this year.

The U.S. Department of Justice has been considering since August whether to launch a full-scale civil rights investigation into APD, and many have called for Chief Schultz to resign.

The department has implemented numerous policy changes the past year. Schultz maintains that APD does not have a cultural problem and says the changes in policies adequately address the public’s concerns.

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safest place for black men is in prison, says report that found they are half as likely to die while behind bars

Locked up: A report found that black men are half as likely to die at any given time if they're in prison than if they aren't

Locked up: A report found that black men are half as likely to die at any given time if they’re in prison than if they

Black men are half as likely to die at any given time if they’re in prison than if they aren’t, suggests a new report.

A study looking at inmates in North Carolina found that black prisoners seemed to be especially protected against alcohol and drug-related deaths, as well as lethal accidents and certain chronic diseases.

But that pattern didn’t hold for white men, who on the whole were slightly more likely to die in prison than outside, according to findings published in Annals of Epidemiology.

Researchers say it’s not the first time a study has found lower death rates among certain groups of inmates – particularly disadvantaged people, who might get protection against violent injuries and murder.

‘Ironically, prisons are often the only provider of medical care accessible by these underserved and vulnerable Americans,’ said Hung-En Sung of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Behind bars: The report found that black men get better healthcare inside

Behind bars: The report found that black men get better healthcare inside

‘Typically, prison-based care is more comprehensive than what inmates have received prior to their admission.’

The new study involved about 100,000 men between age 20 and 79 who were held in North Carolina prisons at some point between 1995 and 2005. Sixty per cent of those men were black.

Researchers linked prison and state health records to determine which of the inmates died, and of what causes, during their prison stay.

Then they compared those figures with expected deaths in men of the same age and race in the general population.

Less than one per cent of men died during incarceration, and there was no difference between black and white inmates. But outside prison walls, blacks have a higher rate of death at any given age than whites.

‘What’s very sad about this is that if we are able to all of a sudden equalise or diminish these health inequalities that you see by race inside a place like prison, it should also be that in places like a poor neighbourhood we should be able to diminish these sort of inequities,’ said Evelyn Patterson, who studies correctional facilities at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

‘If it can be done [in prison], then certainly it can happen outside of prison.’

As in the general population, cancer and heart and blood vessel diseases were the most common cause of death among inmates – accounting for more than half of deaths.

White prisoners died of cardiovascular diseases as often as expected and died of cancer slightly more often than non-prisoners.

Black inmates, by contrast, were between 30 and 40 per cent less likely to die of those causes than those who weren’t incarcerated.

Contrast: For white men, the overall death rate was slightly higher than in the general population

Contrast: For white men, the overall death rate was slightly higher than in the general population

They were also less likely to die of diabetes, alcohol and drug-related causes, airway diseases, accidents, suicide and murder than black men not in prison.

All told, their risk of death at any age was only half that of men living in the community.

For white men, the overall death rate was slightly higher – by about 12 per cent – than in the general population, with some of that attributed to higher rates of death from infection, including HIV and hepatitis.

When the researchers broke prisoners up by age, death rates were only higher for white prisoners age 50 and older.

‘For some populations, being in prison likely provides benefits in regards to access to healthcare and life expectancy,’ said study author Dr David Rosen, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

But, he added: ‘It’s important to remember that there are many possible negative consequences of imprisonment – for example, broken relationships, loss of employment opportunities, and greater entrenchment in criminal activity — hat are not reflected in our study findings but nevertheless have an important influence on prisoners’ lives and their overall health.’

For Dr Rosen, one of the main messages from the study is the need to make the world outside of prison walls safer, and to make sure people living there have adequate access to healthcare.

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