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In The News

Nov 23, 2009

NATIONAL – Last month, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it is revamping a controversial program that allows state and local police officers to enforce federal immigration law. It will now focus on rooting out undocumented persons who have committed serious crimes, officials said, pledging to supervise the program more closely, flag problems and field complaints from the public, the New York Times reports. Immigration advocacy groups have charged that some police agencies have targeted immigrants who commit minor offenses, like traffic violations, and engaged in racial profiling.

NATIONAL – On October 28, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which covers crimes against people based on their real or perceived gender identity and sexual orientation. The Act expands a 1969 federal hate-crimes law that covered crimes motivated by race, color, religion, national origin, and disability. The measure was attached to a military-spending bill.

AR – Curtis Vance was sentenced to life in prison on November 12 for the brutal rape and murder of Little Rock television news anchor Anne Pressly, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. Vance broke into Pressly’s home last October and beat her so viciously that she died. Vance was arrested a month after the crime because he was implicated by DNA evidence collected from another rape.

CA – After an intensive and effective campaign by advocates throughout the state, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed emergency legislation on October 21 restoring $16.3 million in funding for 94 domestic violence shelters and centers. Three months earlier, he eliminated all state funding for domestic violence shelters in response to budget shortfalls. The restored funds were borrowed from California’s Alternative Fuel and Vehicle Technology Fund, and must be repaid. “This one-year funding allocation means that we can prevent further shelter closures and restore services in agencies that have already closed,” said California Partnership to End Domestic Violence Executive Director Tara Shabazz. But “the governor’s veto eliminated the state shelter funding program, which this bill does not revive. We will not rest until we have found a permanent funding source for shelters.” Click here and here for additional background on California’s budget crisis.

MD – Mark Castillo pled guilty and was sentenced to three life terms without parole on October 14 for drowning his three young children in a bathtub last year, the Washington Post reports. After the murders, Castillo told police investigators that he was going through a bitter custody dispute with his wife and that he killed their children partly to spite her.

GUINEA – Gruesome pictures of women who suffered rapes, beatings and other acts of intentional humiliation surfaced on cell phones this month after soldiers reportedly joined a violent mob in attacking political demonstrators, and targeting women for extreme sexual violence, in Conakry, the country’s capital. Soldiers shot and killed unarmed demonstrators, women were stripped and raped, and other acts of violence stunned the country. Human rights groups estimate that about 150 people died in the violence. Doctors Without Borders has corroborated the brutal sexual assaults, and Human Rights Watch asserts that top aides to military leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara were at the stadium and did nothing to stop them, the Associated Press reports. The international community has begun to take actions to hold his government accountable. “Women as battlefield targets. We could never have imagined that,” said Sidya Touré, a former primer minister who was beaten at the stadium, told the New York Times.

SUDAN – The Obama Administration announced a shift away from sanctions and toward “engagement” in the way the United States deals with President Omar al-Bashir’s regime, the Christian Science Monitor reports. President Obama calls the new policy, “a comprehensive strategy to confront the serious and urgent situation in Sudan,” a country the United States has accused of genocide. President Obama says the United States will offer “incentives” if the Sudan improves its record on human rights and advances peace. Human rights groups have said the U.S. is treading too cautiously in dealing with al-Bashir’s government.