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To Be Equal

Stop The War On Young Black Men In America

“Never did we think we would be planning a funeral, we were waiting on his first day of school. They robbed us of that." Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown
“In too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement. In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear.” President Barack Obama

I had originally planned to use this column to denounce the July 17th death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old, unarmed Black man following the unlawful use of a chokehold by New York City police officers who suspected Garner of selling untaxed cigarettes on a Staten Island street corner. Garner, an asthmatic who repeatedly yelled, “I can’t breathe!” while being wrestled to the ground by at least five officers, died at the scene, leading to calls of police brutality from his family and members of the community. I had planned to point to the death of Eric Garner as the latest in what has become an all-too-frequent occurrence in communities of color across America—the excessive and often fatal use of force by police against young, unarmed Black men. Then came the August 9 fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown, who was unarmed and was preparing for his first year in college, was stopped and then shot by Officer Darren Wilson for the alleged crime of jaywalking, or specifically according to Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson, of “walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic.”

I have never witnessed a situation more poorly handled than this one. For almost two weeks following Brown’s death, his family, community and outraged citizens across the nation have sought answers and justice from the local authorities, who have been slow to respond and quick to blame the victim, leading to intense demonstrations. Our thoughts and prayers are with Michael Brown’s family. Now that the Justice Department and FBI have entered the investigation, we have confidence that justice will ultimately prevail. Attorney General Eric Holder is doing the right thing by conducting a comprehensive parallel investigation and not waiting for local authorities – a refreshing departure from the traditional approach. But this is not enough.

The tragedies in Ferguson and Staten Island are not isolated incidents. Just four days before Brown’s death, on August 5, police shot and killed 22-year-old John Crawford in a Beavercreek, Ohio Walmart, after responding to a call that a man was wielding a gun in the store. It turns out that Crawford was holding a BB rifle which he had picked up while shopping in the store. Clearly, racial suspicion and harassment of Black men, especially by law enforcement, has become an often deadly epidemic in many parts of the country. That is why we are urgently calling upon the White House, the Department of Justice and congressional leaders to review and address the ongoing pattern and practice of racial violence and systemic discriminatory treatment by law enforcement in so many of our communities.

Too often, tactics like the “broken windows” strategy result in the targeting of communities of color for enforcement of minor offenses. Too often, there is a rush by police and the media to portray Black male victims who have been killed by whites as “thugs” as we saw with Trayvon Martin, Ramarley Graham, Jordan Davis, and now with Michael Brown—particularly regarding the Ferguson Police Department’s attempt at character assassination by releasing the store video of Michael Brown and attempting to deceptively link it to his killing. Add to that the militarization of police departments and the overuse of tear gas, stun grenades and other tools of war in response to largely peaceful demonstrations, as we have seen in Ferguson, and a toxic relationship between police and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve is all but certain.

Let’s be clear. There is no justification for looting, property destruction and otherwise breaking the law in the name of the First Amendment, and the irresponsible actions of an ill-intentioned few do not represent the legitimate grievances of an entire community. The civil rights movement has always been and continues to be one of peaceful—yet effective and strategic—protests and actions that have initiated massive change.

As we look to solutions to ensure that a higher value – a human value – is placed on the lives of our Black men, legal remedies are absolutely needed, but this is essentially a problem of the heart. Until white Americans and police departments begin to see and treat young African American and Latino males with the dignity and deference afforded to their white counterparts, nothing will change. The death of Michael Brown has once again exposed the widespread and dangerous mistrust that exists between law enforcement and too many communities of color in America. For the sake of our nation, our communities and equal justice, we must bridge that divide.

Marc H. Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

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In 4 Years, CFPB Returns $4.6B To 15 Million Consumers


In recent days, many policymakers and analysts have noted the July 21 anniversary of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This day marks the anniversary of President Obama signing the historic Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act into law.

The cornerstone of the law’s reform was the creation of a new bureau dedicated solely to ensuring that when it came to financial services, consumers would have a cop-on-the-beat, fighting for and ensuring transparency and fairness.

CFPB has vigorously pursued its mission. In celebrating the anniversary, the Bureau announced that $4.6 billion has been returned to 15 million consumers. And here are four more consumer victories thanks to CFPB actions:

1. First-time federal protections and oversight for 30 million consumers involved in abusive debt collection and another 12 million consumers who use payday loans;

2. 2.8 million unique visitors to its web, where information and complaint forms are available;

3. $150 million in civil penalties ordered as a result of enforcement actions against businesses that violated consumer laws; and

4. 775,000 consumers who have been helped to by CFPB’s supervisory actions.

The irony is that despite these positive results, the 113th Congress has continued to propose a series of bills all designed to dilute the power and effectiveness of the CFPB. From changing CFPB’s governance to a multi-member commission, or revoking its independent, the anti-regulation players are still at work and according to Open Secrets, have donated nearly $248 million to anti-regulatory candidates.

In many ways, these are the same failed arguments that were made at the height of the nation’s housing crisis and the advisability of reform.

The Bureau’s anniversary comes at a time of increasing partisan divides. Two separate reports offered diverging views on Dodd-Frank and CFPB. While one stressed that the legislation failed to end ‘too big to fail’, the other extolled the resulting efforts to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive practices and products that led to the 2008 crisis.

In a CNBC interview, the two former public servants whose names were added to the historic legislation, Barney Frank, former House Financial Services Committee Chair, and Chris Dodd, former Senate Banking Committee Chair, reminded viewers of why major reform was needed.

Noting the loss of $12 trillion in national wealth, 5 million homes foreclosed, taxpayer bailouts and more, Mr. Dodd remarked, “The carnage of the collapse of six years ago—we’re still paying a price for it—dearly.”

“The point of the legislation was to bring stability to it [the system], modernize regulation so that we could have a 21st Century system and get us out of the shadow banking system”, Dodd continued.

Speaking directly to the purpose of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Dodd added, “Have a consumer protection bureau that would give consumers with financial grievances some redress.”

Concurring, Mr. Frank added, “The abusive mortgage loans that hurt consumers, hurt financial services and hurt the economy—we outlawed them and they haven’t been made since then. That’s a real accomplishment. CFPB has recovered a lot of money for consumers.”

From a consumer perspective, CFPB is clearly working. Further and as an old Southern homily advises, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at

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Studying Medical Cannabis In Georgia


As the clock approached midnight on March 20, the final night of the 2014 Georgia legislative session, it became apparent that a final vote to send a medical cannabis oil bill to the Governor’s desk for his signature was not going to happen this year. So, I decided to avoid the usual “Sine Die” celebration in the House Chamber because I knew I needed to be in the Senate gallery with the families that fought so courageously for this bill. The mood was obviously somber among the parents, some of whom had brought their children with them, hoping to watch as history was made. The families were crushed, and defeated, that the legislature had failed them and their children. And I shared their frustration.

The feeling of despair that evening was not from anger at the process failing. Instead, we were all aware of the terrifying thought that some of the children that this very bill was intended to help would not make it until the start of the next legislative session in January 2015 when we could try again to legalize medical cannabis oil. A child, or maybe several, would die because they didn’t have access to a medicine that offered life-changing positive effects for children in states where it is legal. Which one of these families would fall victim to the nightmare of every parent who has a child suffering from a seizure disorder—the one final seizure that takes their precious loved one from this earth? That was my fear that night.

Well now we know - his name was Abe. Abe was the six year old child of Mike and Kelli Hopkins, who live in Covington. In July, he died as a result of a seizure.

His parents came to the Capitol last session to beg legislators to pass HB 885, the medical cannabis bill. They are some of the most courageous parents I have ever met. They have three special needs children, and one healthy daughter. The Hopkins family didn’t have the option of moving to another state to obtain cannabis oil for Abe. The logistics, finances, and travel challenges were too great. Therefore, they pinned their hopes on Georgia passing a bill that would allow them to give their child this life changing oil. This strain of cannabis has elevated levels of CBD, and is low in THC (the psychoactive component in marijuana) and has been drastically reducing seizures for kids in Colorado and other states where cannabis oil is legal. This particular cannabis oil cannot make their child ‘high.’ CBD can only help reduce, or even eliminate seizures. But they couldn’t obtain this particular strain of cannabis in Georgia. So the Hopkins family worked to help pass the bill, and when it failed, prayed that Abe would not have that final, fatal seizure before next Session in January. Tragically, he did.

So now we are left to wonder – how many more children won’t make it until next year? How many more funerals will those fighting for this cause have to attend? How many more parents will have to bury their child as a result of a seizure?

Over the next several weeks, the Medical Cannabis Study Committee will be meeting all over the state to hear from families, law enforcement, the medical community, and medical cannabis experts about why, and how, to draft legislation in 2015 to legalize medical cannabis in Georgia. You can find out more at the Facebook page “Georgia Medical Cannabis Study Committee,” or call my office. We want to hear from citizens regarding this issue.

My colleagues—both Democrat and Republican, black and white, liberal and conservative—support this legislation and are committed to passing a good bill that works in Georgia. And Governor Nathan Deal has taken the leadership to find a solution within current state and federal law through clinical trials at Georgia Regents University. This effort is about helping citizens in our state, giving hope to families, and offering relief to those who are suffering. Many have taken bold stances to stand up and fight for this cause, and I couldn’t be more proud to stand with them. House Speaker David Ralston has become a passionate supporter of finding a solution for Georgia families. The momentum is there—we just need the wisdom to find the right solution, one that really does work for Georgia. We owe that to our citizens.

We owe that to Mike and Kelli Hopkins. We owe that to Abe. To honor him, and the memory of his short life.

We. Cannot. Move. Fast. Enough.

Representative Allen Peake represents the citizens of District 141, which includes portions of Bibb and Monroe counties. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2006, and currently serves as the Secretary and Treasurer of the House Majority Caucus, the Vice Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, and the Ex-Officio of the Appropriations Committee. He also serves on the Health & Human Services, Rules, and Small Business Development committees.