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Civil Rights community mourns the loss of John Payton


“Diverse democracies depend on diverse people who know and respect each other.” - John Payton

Over the past century, the most powerful force behind America’s on-going struggle for equality has been an outstanding group of civil rights attorneys. Imagine where we would be today without lawyers like Charles Hamilton Houston - “the man who killed Jim Crow” - or his protégé, Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, who in 1940 founded the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF). For over 70 years, LDF has been America's first and foremost civil and human rights law firm. During that time, the organization has had just six leaders: Thurgood Marshall, Jack Greenberg, Julius Chambers, Elaine Jones, Ted Shaw and the LDF’s sixth President and Director-Counsel, John Payton who passed away last week at the age of 65.

Whether he was defending affirmative action before the United States Supreme Court or leading the fight to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, John Payton was one of the most brilliant and fearless civil rights champi- ons of our generation. A graduate of Pomona College and Harvard Law School, Payton’s commitment to civil rights led him from a career at WilmerHale, one of Washington, DC’s most prestigious law firms, to his lead- ership of LDF beginning in 2008. It was at WilmerHale that Payton laid the foundation as a great civil rights attorney.

According to a statement on the firm’s web- site, “Beginning in 1997, he led the firm’s rep- resentation of the University of Michigan- from the district court through the Supreme Court-in the Gratz and Grutter cases, which hold that public institutions of higher educa- tion may consider race as a factor in admis- sions in order to achieve the educational ben- efits that flow from having a racially-diverse student body.”

Payton continued his exemplary defense of By Donna Cassata

WASHINGTON (AP) - The voices demand- ing that Congress stop the brutality of African warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army belong to America’s chil- dren.

Just ask their parents. “All three of my kids, in different context

John Payton

civil rights at LDF where, in 2010, he won a Supreme Court employment discrimination case on behalf of a group of Chicago African American fire fighters. He also won a Supreme Court victory in Northwest Austin v. Holder, which upheld the constitutionality of a core provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

On a personal note, John Payton was a dear friend and colleague. I had the pleasure of working closely with him on a number of ini- tiatives, including a new effort just underway to develop a collective voice on Education among civil rights leaders. He also recently arranged for the National Urban League to sign onto an amicus brief on the Health Care case that will be argued before the Supreme Court beginning this week. I admired John’s sharp intellect and enjoyed the lively talks we had about the law and Supreme Court strategy. He was a seasoned, thoughtful litigator who earned a place along- side great civil rights lawyers like Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall. President Obama called Payton “A true cham- pion of equality who helped protect civil rights in the classroom and at the ballot box.” I will miss his friendship, his partnership and his humanity. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Gay McDougall, and his wide cir- cle of family and friends.

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

and different times, said, ‘So what are you doing about Joseph Kony and the LRA?’” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said in a recent interview. Coons, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations African affairs subcom- mittee, is father to twins Michael and Jack, 12, and Maggie, 11.

“Mom, you have to watch this video,” Mary Shannon, the 14-year-old daughter of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., insisted during a break from school. “It’s about Joseph Kony.” Coons and Landrieu know all too well about Kony. The two senators have traveled to Africa and have heard firsthand about the killings and child abductions of tens of thou- sands in Central Africa, the young boys forced to fight as soldiers, the girls turned into sex slaves. Today, the lawmakers’ children, and mil- lions of others in the United States and around the world, are almost as well-versed about Kony’s 26-year reign of terror. A 30- minute video by the advocacy group Invisible Children to raise public awareness about the guerrilla group exploded on the Internet after its early March release. The Kony2012 video has been viewed by some 100 million on YouTube and shared on Facebook and Twitter. “There’s 100 million people who know the name of a war criminal now that didn't nec- essarily before, and that’s a good thing,” actor and activist George Clooney, who is part of a video on the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, said in a recent interview. The confluence of a compelling film focused on the fate of children, the power of social media to spread information instanta- neously and an unprecedented global con-

Children clamor for Congress to act against Kony

nection has turned Kony into a household name. High school and middle school stu- dents - some as young as 10, the same age as some of the LRA’s victims - are outraged that children are suffering.

One group of students experienced a unique civics lesson.

Last week, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., conducted a Skype interview with a 6th grade social studies class from Westside Middle School in Winder, Ga. The first ques- tion Isakson got from the 30 students was “Are you doing anything about Joseph Kony?” “It’s a tragedy,” Isakson, the top Republican on the African affairs subcom- mittee, said of the atrocities. He told the stu- dents that President Barack Obama dis- patched 100 U.S. troops - mostly Army Special Forces - to central Africa in October to advise regional forces in their hunt for Kony, a military move that received strong bipartisan support.

Dustin Davis, who teaches the Westside class, said his students heard about Kony from the Internet, raised questions in class and discussed it as part of the current events curriculum. Some students were near tears; some boys were ready to take up arms and fight.

“My students were very adamant that they want to do more about it,” Davis said in an interview. “And part of what I do is teach them what is the role of a citizen in our coun- try. You make contact with your representa- tives, and you do it daily if need be. That's the only way things are going to happen, is if you put pressure on your representatives.” In recent weeks, a bipartisan group of 40 senators led by Coons and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., has backed a resolution condemn- ing Kony. The measure also endorses the effort by Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan to stop him and the LRA. It sig- nals support for the U.S. effort to help regional forces pursue commanders of the militia group.

NYPD fires Black Sean Bell cop, two others forced to retire After being acquitted in a tense trial in 2008, the


Gescard Isnora, one of the undercover police detectives who shot 50 bullets at an unarmed Sean Bell, was fired this last Monday almost six years after the sensational killing. The two other officers involved in the shooting, Marc Cooper and Michael Oliver, were forced to retire but kept their mighty pensions. This has out- raged many, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, who demanded to know why taxpayers still have to end up paying officers who killed the unarmed man just hours before his wedding.

three officers faced a departmental trial. Isnora’s fir- ing was the result of this trial.

“This is normal but too late. He is the sacrificial lamb of a corrupted police department led by Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who has no credibil- ity and should have resigned long since,” Bell fami- ly attorney Neville Mitchell told the Amsterdam News.

Mitchell said that it is “unbelievable” that the other detectives were allowed to keep their pensions upon resigning.

“This is a disgrace, but it’s not unexpected, given the process that occurred. These persons were not properly prosecuted by the police. If they think that


they acted wrongfully, they should have been prose- cuted just the same way as Gescard [was],” the lawyer added.

In 2006, Bell and two friends were partying at a Jamaica, Queens, club, when police confronted them and shots rang out.

Bell passed away and his friends were seriously

injured. Today, the Bell family does not consider Isnora’s firing a victory.

“I’m thankful that finally, after six years, the offi- cer was terminated, but honestly, it should have been terminations across the board,” said Nicole Paultre Bell, Bell’s fiancée, in a published report. “It’s little justice for us at this point.”

Gescard Isnora

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