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Jan 25, 2013

Marc Morial, Rev. Al Sharpton, Benjamin Jealous, Melanie Campbell and Other Leaders Announce Jobs, Community Safety and Voter Protection Policy Recommendations

The reintroduction of the Urban Jobs Act, and American Jobs Act, comprehensive Senate hearings on voter suppression efforts, gun safety and juvenile justice reform are among the preliminary federal policy recommendations to emerge from today's reconvening of America's leading civil rights, social justice, business and community leaders in Washington, D.C.

"When we gathered here a little over a month ago, we urged our nation's leaders to commit to economic and educational parity for communities of color," said Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League and one of the organizers of the gathering along with National Action Network President Rev. Al Sharpton, NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous, and National Coalition on Black Civic Participation President and CEO Melanie Campbell. "Today, we present our recommendations on how best to achieve those goals. "

Sharpton added, "We cannot attain parity while the unemployment crisis goes unaddressed, while two-fifths of incarcerated youth are African-American, and while elected officials at the state level are more interested in excluding people of color from the democratic process than in addressing their concerns."

The leaders called for the reintroduction and passage of the Urban Jobs Act, which would allocate resources for job training, education, and support services and activities for eligible young adults to prepare them for entry into the workforce, and which would establish a National Jobs Council Advisory Committee.

"The Urban Jobs Act targets young people who did not finish high school, or who have been involved in the criminal justice system - two populations that are disproportionately African-American, and who have borne the harshest consequences of the unemployment crisis," Morial said.

The leaders encouraged President Obama to address the jobs crisis in urban communities during his upcoming State of the Union address and to reintroduce legislation which they had supported when it was introduced in 2011, the American Jobs Act -a combination of tax cuts, investments and incentives to put Americans back to work and speed the growth of the economy. Though the bill had broad bipartisan support, it was filibustered in the Senate and never was put to a fair up-or-down vote.

The leaders said President Obama's commitment to finally address the nation's plague of senseless gun violence is encouraging, but urged him and Congress to go even further with the strong and commonsense gun reforms needed for real and meaningful change. While they support a ban on all assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, closure of the gun show loophole and, universal background checks, they also recommended a focus on violence prevention, including investments in programs that create safe spaces for kids during out of school time and improved mental illnesss services and treatment.

The leaders called for a mobilization around the upcoming February 27th Supreme Court case, Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states and counties with a history of discriminatory voting practices to undergo Justice Department review of any change to their voting rules.

The leaders noted that this critical provision enforces the promise of the 15th Amendment; and urged people of color, in particular, to educate themselves on this issue, to remain engaged in the continuing struggle to fully protect the fundamental right to vote.

The leaders also endorsed Congressman Chaka Fattah's (D-PA) call for comprehensive Senate hearings into widespread voter suppression efforts, including field hearings to hear from citizens whose rights were trampled leading up to the 2012 election.

"It's ironic that the most serious challenge to voting rights in a generation has coincided with an unprecedented campaign to slash investments in education and economic development; not to mention the commemoration of two of the most pivotal events in our history-the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the Great March on Washington," Campbell said. "The right to vote will be pivotal to realizing our shared goals, which include education, job training and economic growth."

Further, the leaders pointed out that a major barrier to economic parity and full participation in the democratic process, especially for young men of color, is the nation's dysfunctional and discriminatory criminal justice system.

"Study after study has shown that students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, African-American students are arrested far more often than their white classmates, and African-American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison," Jealous said. "One in 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised because of a prior criminal conviction. That's a staggering statistic that reveals the desperate need for reform."

Today's meeting was the second step in a process that began Dec. 3, when more than 60 leaders issued a communiqué outlining five urgent priorities for the nation:

* Achieve Economic Parity for African-Americans

* Promote Equity in Educational Opportunity

* Protect and Defend Voting Rights

* Promote a Healthier Nation by Eliminating Healthcare Disparities

* Achieve Comprehensive Reform of the Criminal Justice System

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