January 25, 2018 GMT

Lansing Catholic Diocese starts diversity task force

LANSING, Mich. — The Catholic Diocese of Lansing has formed a diversity task force following controversy over the diocese’s approach to racial issues.

The Lansing State Journal reports that one of the policies being criticized is Lansing Catholic High School’s decision to punish four athletes who kneeled during the national anthem before games. More than 150 people protested the policy outside the diocese on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The diocese says Bishop Earl Boyea met with parents during the protest. Boyea says asking students to stand and honor the flag isn’t racist, but after speaking with parents he realized that some people view the flag differently.

The task force aims to “listen to and meet the needs of racial and ethnic minorities.” It will present the bishop with recommendations in the fall.

Protesters drape museum lawn jockeys with flags

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Police are searching for five people who draped Confederate flags on more than a dozen lawn jockeys in front of an upstate New York horse racing museum.

Authorities say surveillance video captured people hanging flags on jockeys at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York, at about 2 a.m. Tuesday. None of the jockeys were damaged. Museum staff removed the flags that morning.

People who claim to have placed the flags have told news outlets they were protesting against symbols of slavery. They want the museum to remove the current pale-skinned statues and replace them with historically accurate black jockeys.

The museum says the statues do not carry racial overtones and instead represent historic racing stables.

Virginia AG wants new laws for “domestic terrorism”

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is pushing to make “domestic terrorism” a state crime in response to a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last year.

The Daily Press reports that Herring and Democratic Del. Marcia Price are pushing for legislation that would define domestic terrorism as a violent or criminal act aimed at intimidating someone based on race, religious or other factors.

The legislation would also require the state police to identify and “designate domestic terrorist organizations” and assign penalties for helping those groups or participating in them.

Ex-police chief pleads not guilty to misdemeanor

AKRON, Ohio — A former Ohio police chief who resigned amid accusations of potential misconduct has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge accusing him of attempted unauthorized use of a police database.

Former Akron chief James Nice pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Summit County to a count of attempted unauthorized use of property. Court documents accuse him of attempting to access the Law Enforcement Automated Data System database on Feb. 10, 2017.

Nice resigned as chief last August amid allegations of potential misconduct related to an investigation into his nephew and accusations of using a racial slur and having a sexual relationship with a department member. He denied any criminal wrongdoing.

Cleveland.com reports the ex-chief’s attorney said after court Tuesday that Nice intends to change his plea at next month’s sentencing hearing.

Indiana Senate panel delays vote on hate crime bill

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana Senate panel delayed voting Tuesday on legislation targeting hate crimes, a move that followed emotional testimony from a mother who said police disregarded race as a motive when her son was severely beaten for being black.

Indiana is one of just five states without laws that specifically take into account crimes fueled by biases toward things like race, religion and sexual orientation. But every year, efforts to change that founder amid fierce opposition from conservatives who say it would unfairly create a specially-protected class of victims.

Tuesday’s hearing came one day after the sentencing of a white Allen County teen, who will serve 30 days for attacking a 16-year-old African-American last June near a Fort Wayne-area trailer park.

The victim’s mother accused police during her testimony of not taking into account a pattern of racially motivated terror surrounding the attack. That’s in addition to threatening messages, dead animals left outside their home afterward, as well as a group of men that she said displayed a gun to some of her other children.

“Right now I am a Hoosier, but I wish I wasn’t,” the mother testified, adding that she moved her family from Illinois to the town of New Haven, not knowing they picked the “wrong community.”

Leaders of Indiana’s GOP-dominated Statehouse have consistently opposed hate crimes legislation. That changed in the wake of clashes between white supremacists and counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one woman dead in August.

Now House Speaker Brian Bosma of Indianapolis and Senate leader David Long of Fort Wayne both said they favor the idea. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has also said that he is open to it.

What remains to be seen is if they can get rank-and-file Republicans to go along with the bill by GOP Sen. Sue Glick, a former county prosecutor from LaGrange County.

Her bill would allow a judge to take into account whether a crime was motivated by someone’s race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation or ethnicity. It would also require such crimes to be reported to the FBI. Currently, Indiana law enforcement agencies are not required to do so.

Much of the state’s business community is in lockstep support. They argue the lack of a hate crimes law makes Indiana look backward to corporations and skilled workers who may otherwise consider moving here.

Indeed, Indianapolis was named last week as one of 20 potential sites for a second Amazon headquarters.

Social conservatives, however, are mobilizing in opposition. They argue that a hate crimes law would punish thoughts, instead of focusing on the severity of a crime.

Jim Bopp, an influential Republican attorney from Terre Haute, testified the bill would recognize a “selected list of privileged people” favored by “liberal and corporate elites.”

Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute, questioned whether there is actually a problem that needs to be addressed.

“There has been a suggestion that communities and municipalities and police departments are underreporting crimes — that judges need to be prodded,” Smith said. “What if Hoosiers really are tolerant and welcoming?”

Bopp and the Indiana Family Institute have previously opposed statewide protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Advocates say anecdotal accounts suggest the number of so-called bias crimes are on the rise and the Southern Poverty Law Center reports 26 active hate groups in the state.

Glick’s bill was scheduled for a vote Tuesday, according to the Senate’s committee schedule. But Corrections and Criminal Law Committee Chairman Mike Young said additional time is needed to review a slew of proposed amendments and work on striking a deal.

Meanwhile, some African American lawmakers said the proposal doesn’t go far enough. They called for even stiffer sentences for hate crimes.

The mother of the teen beating victim agreed. She said her son was called “the n-word and told him to go back to Africa” before he was beaten unconscious.

“I oppose this bill because it’s just not enough,” she said.

Grand-nephew to run for Conyers’ Michigan seat

Democratic state Sen. Ian Conyers says he is running for the Michigan congressional seat long held by his grand-uncle, John Conyers.

Ian Conyers made his announcement Friday in to join the 13th Congressional District .

The 88-year-old Democrat John Conyers was facing sexual harassment allegations and cited health reasons when he resigned in December from the post he held since 1964.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has said a special election to fill the seat will be held during regular primary and general elections in August and November.

Democratic state Sen. Coleman Young II and attorney Michael Gilmore already have announced their plans to replace John Conyers. He’s endorsed his son, John Conyers III, to succeed him. John Conyers III hasn’t said whether he’ll run.

Ill. lawmakers hold hearing on marijuana legalization

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle cited a disparity in enforcement of laws against the use of marijuana as the reason she now favors legalization of the drug.

Preckwinkle made her assertion during a public hearing Monday in about legalizing recreational marijuana in Illinois.

Democratic State Sen. Heather Steans of has proposed legislation that would legalize the possession of up to 28 grams of marijuana and allow facilities to sell marijuana products.

During her testimony, Preckwinkle noted her daughter visited a friend attending Northwestern University and came back with a story of students smoking pot in public and no one objecting.

Lawmakers are also hearing from opponents to marijuana legalization, including doctors who deal with addiction and members of the religious community. Many contend legalization will have a negative impact.

Bill seeks to repeal ‘racist’ wage law

RICHMOND, Va. — More than half a century after the end of Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South, legislators are finding remnants of racism in Virginia law.

The Code of Virginia makes it legal for employers to pay less than minimum wage to “newsboys, shoe-shine boys, caddies on golf courses, babysitters, ushers, doormen, concession attendants and cashiers in theaters.”

The common thread among those professions? When the law was written in 1975, they were all considered low-income, low-skill jobs overwhelmingly occupied by African Americans who were systematically denied advanced employment opportunities.

Now, two members of the Virginia House of Delegates — Paul Krizek and Jennifer Boysko, both Democrats from Fairfax — are sponsoring legislation to delete such outdated language from state law.

“This is a list that has Jim Crow written all over it,” Krizek said. “There’s a lot of old language that was obviously aimed at African Americans who were in these service jobs because those were the jobs they could get at the time.”

The language was originally pulled verbatim from North Carolina’s legal code, which was written a decade earlier, in 1965.

“There is some fairly widespread agreement and research supporting the conclusion that a lot of these exemptions were based on race,” said Ann Hodges, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

The wage discrimination doesn’t stop at race. Virginians with mental, intellectual and physical disabilities also may receive subminimum wage because their “earning capacity is impaired,” according to the state code.

— Compiled from The Associated Press

According to Hodges, at the time the law was written, many people believed that individuals with intellectual, physical and mental disabilities could not be as productive and generate as much labor as able-bodied workers.

“There was a sense that if you couldn’t pay them less, they probably wouldn’t be employed at all,” Hodges said.

Under HB 1259, it would no longer be legal in Virginia for employers to pay laborers in certain service industries less than minimum wage. (The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and Virginia has not adopted a higher level. However, Krizek, Boysko and other Democrats are pushing to raise it to $9 an hour this year and to $15 an hour by 2022.)

The bill would affect other employees, such as restaurant servers, in addition to the positions the sponsors say are directly connected to race.

“While doing research for a $15 minimum wage bill, I was angry and disappointed to learn that the Virginia Code includes exceptions to its minimum wage law that are clearly racist, meant to exclude jobs that have been mostly held historically by minorities,” Boysko said.

“As we continue to build our new Virginia economy, we must ensure that all people are treated fairly and have the same opportunities.”

HB 1259 has been assigned to the House Committee on Commerce and Labor.

— Compiled from The Associated Press