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Snackville Junction De-Railed, Last Day is May 3

The iconic Snackville Junction that has been delighting three
generations of Southsiders by delivering hamburgers stacked on an
electric train, announced on Facebook over the weekend that the diner’s last day will be May 3.

The
owners lost their year long struggle against foreclosure when their
lender demanded full payment on a balloon mortgage. The Perez-Rogers
family, who got Snackville Junction back on track in 2008, said they had
attempted to negotiate with their lender but were out of options.

“It
is with a very heavy heart we notify you that the Perez-Rogers family
has lost their struggle against foreclosure of Snackville Junction,” the Perez-Rogers family announced on Facebook.
“We have worked very hard the last seven years to continue with this
beloved tradition. We’ve done everything in our power to comply with our
initial agreement with the bank that financed our mortgage.

“We
were diligent and prompt with our monthly payments, insurance and
everything else that a business owner is expected to do,” the owners
continued. “However, when the time came for a renewal of this loan, the
bank demanded the entire balance.”

Snackville Junction opened
Jan. 1, 1953 at its original location near 115th Street and Western
Avenue with instant success. Children marveled in the magic of
hamburgers coming toward them on an electric train announced by a
tooting train whistle.

Parents who visited Snackville Junction as
kids started bringing their own children there, and then their
grandchildren. The restaurant relocated to 9144 S, Kedzie Ave. in the
1970s. The Perez-Rogers family bought Snackville from the original
owner, and reopened it in 2008 at 9144 S. Kedzie Ave. in Evergreen Park.

The
family brightened Snackville’s decor while respecting the diner’s retro
traditions, and updated the menu with healthier offerings. Adults came
back with children and grandchildren in tow, wanting them to experience a
piece of their own childhood.

“What’s the name of the bank so I don’t go there,” said a supporter angered by the Perez-Rogers family’s Facebook announcement.

Fans
are organizing a phone campaign to try to buy the owners of this South
Side landmark some more time to work things out with their lender, Private Bank Trust in Chicago.

“ALL
WE CAN DO IS ASK [THE BANK] TO WORK WITH THE OWNERS ON THE MORTGAGE AND
AGAIN, NOT CLOSE A CHGO. LANDMARK. NO INSULTING, OR YELLING OR THINGS OF
THAT NATURE … LET’S NOT JUST COMPLAIN. LET’S CALL AND DO THIS. DON’T
YOU WANT YOUR GRANDCHILDREN TO BE ABLE TO BRING THEIR CHILDREN THERE AND
SO ON?”

Although BeverlyMorganPark.net crowns
Snackville the original rail-themed restaurant and the rest pale
copycats, its northern counterpart, The Choo-Choo in Des Plaines, opened
in 1951. It, too, has struggled to stay open amid eminent domain
threats.

Both eateries can share the throne of mid-20th century icons
that continue to enchant a new century of diners.

Meanwhile,
all the Perez-Rogers’ family can do is thank their loyal customers for
the honor of their business and prepare for the last train to leave
Snackville Junction.

“Thank you so much for sharing all of your
wonderful memories with us. We will miss all the adorable children and
their families,” the owners said. “We were so fortunate to have been a
part of this historical and iconic institution. We hope that somewhere
somehow the Snackville Junction choo-choo will return to deliver those
anticipated suckers.”

Stay tuned …

Article source: http://beverly-mtgreenwood.patch.com/groups/business-news/p/snackville-junctions-last-day-is-may-3-beverly-mtgreenwood

Springfield No One Leaves: foreclosures still damaging Springfield neighborhoods

SPRINGFIELD – A foreclosure auction scheduled for Monday postponed, Diane and Ray Perkins of Wilton Street. in Springfield got to stay in their home but they still live next door to a vacant home that has been owned by Bank of America for three years.

“All of us neighbors complained so they send a crew to cut the grass,” Diane Perkins said Monday during a foreclosure -prevention demonstration organized by Springfield No One Leaves. “I cut the bushes so It still looks nice. I want the neighborhood to be good. I want to stay here.”

The foreclosure was put off because the name on the paperwork, U.S. National Bank National Trust Co., didn’t mach the people Perkins thought owned her mortgage: Wells Fargo. the auction was rescheduled for next month.

Perkins was joined Monday by two other owners of neighboring homes who also face foreclosure and subsequent eviction for their homes, an effort by Springfield No One Leaves to out a human face on an ongoing mortgage crises they say hasn’t been getting enough press lately.

According to figures at the Hampden County Registry of Deeds, there were 351 foreclosures in Hampden County in 2013, down for 730 the year before. The Warren Group, a provider of real-estate data , plans to release next week statewide mortgage foreclosure data for the first quarter of 2014.

Many homeowners are stuck in a sort of limbo, said Springfield No One Leaves organizer Roberto Garcia Ceballos. The holder of the mortgage won’t accept payments, won’t work out changes to the mortgage that would make it easier to pay of but yet is not foreclosing. Garcia Ceballos introduced two other homeowners within just a few blocks wore are also facing foreclosure by Wells Fargo and others.

Monday was a day of organized protests at Wells Fargo branches across the country by Springfield No One Leaves and organizations like it. Springfield No One Leaves, which has more than 300 members also facing foreclosure, dropped off petitions at the Wells Fargo mortgage office on Park Street in West Springfield.

Wells Fargo spokesman Kevin Friedlander said; ” We have been working with Mr. and Mrs. Perkins since 2012 to identify an option that would help them retain the home. During this time we have postponed the foreclosure sale twice while looking for alternatives. Regrettably, we have exhausted all retention options. Modifications are approved according to investor requirements which include debt-to-income that all applicants must meet,” he said.

As of February 2014, Wells Fargo had more than 926,000 home-loan modifications in place nationwide and those modifications included a total of approximately $8.0 billion in principal reduction.

Perkins and her husband bought the home in 2006, just before the real-estate crash, for $115,000.

Soon she was battling cancer and her husband, a mechanic, was fighting a painful skin condition. he’s back at work but she’s not been able to find anything steady since. She’s currently looking for a new job as a personal care assistant.

Perkins said she fell three months in arrears about a year ago and since then Wells Fargo won’t accept any more checks.

She has also had trouble speaking with bank representatives on the phone and complained of being passed from department to department. that’s why it really wasn’t a surprise when the paperwork for the aborted auction Monday had a name she did not recognize.

Organizer Garcia Ceballos said it is a common concern with mortgages being bought and sold on the market. Springfield No One Leaves’ plan is to try and get the mortgage modified and made easier to pay. Perkins has a 6-percent mortgage now, or failing in that to work out buyback or rental agreement to keep people in their homes and keep neighborhoods in tact.
Vacant homes, like the one next door to the Perkins family, attract crime and trash.

“Do you think the neighbors really want to k live near another vacant home?” he said.

Article source: http://www.masslive.com/business-news/index.ssf/2014/04/springfield_no_one_leaves_foreclosures_s.html

Chattanooga foreclosures drop 30 percent in first quarter

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In the past decade of peddling foreclosed and distressed properties in Chattanooga, Realtor Travis Shipley said he has never seen the inventory shrink as low as it is now.

“Some foreclosed properties are selling above their listed price because there just aren’t that many on the market compared to what we have seen in the past,” Shipley said. “The pickings are so slim now that we’ve had as many as 25 offers for one of our properties.”

After nearly five years of recovering home sales and tightened lending standards following the housing collapse in 2008-2009, the number of property foreclosures in Hamilton County during the first quarter of 2014 fell to the lowest level in a decade. Foreclosures were down 30 percent in the first three months of 2014 compared to the same period a year ago, according to filings with the Hamilton County Register of Deeds.

“We’re definitely seeing an improved real estate market and home prices are starting to rise as a result,” said Henry Glascock, a real estate auctioneer and appraiser in Chattanooga. “The inventory of foreclosed and bank-owned properties is declining and we’re seeing more interest from home buyers as well as investors at our auctions these days.”

Banks have worked through much of their unsold real estate inventory and more home owners are staying in their homes, aided by a better job market and improved home values and low interest rates to allow for more refinancing options.

At Cornerstone Bank in Chattanooga, for instance, foreclosed assets held by the bank plunged by nearly 41 percent in the past year.

“Now that the foreclosure deluge has dried up, banks are turning their attention back to properties that have been sitting in foreclosure limbo for some time,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.

ReatyTrac, an online real estate company that tracks home foreclosures nationwide, said March was the 42nd consecutive month where U.S. foreclosure activity decreased from a year ago, helping to drop first quarter foreclosure activity to the lowest level since the second quarter of 2007. A total of 341,670 U.S. properties had a foreclosure notice in the first quarter, down 3 percent from the previous quarter and down 23 percent from a year ago.

Vicky Trapp, president of the Greater Chattanooga Associaton of Realtors, said the drop in foreclosed properties on the market is helping home prices to maintain or increase in value.

“Definitely, foreclosures are down, which is a very good thing because that means our average home prices will come back up again,” she said. “When you have a lot of foreclosures and they are selling $175,000 homes at distressed prices of $40,00 or $50,000 that hurt the prices of all homes.”

The National Association of Realtors said Monday the improving housing market helped boost pending home sales last month by 3.4 percent from February — the first such monthly increase in nine months. The pending-sales index covers contracts signed but not closed.

Lawrence Yun, the group’s chief economist, said a gain was to be expected after severe weather across much of the nation depressed sales in past months.

“Sales activity is expected to steadily pick up as more inventory reaches the market, and from ongoing job creation in the economy,” he said in a statement.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

Article source: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2014/apr/29/chattanooga-foreclosures-drop-30-percent-first-qua/

Foreclosure crisis eases, doesn’t end


(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) – Thanks to a rebounding housing market and a gradually recovering economy, the mortgage and foreclosure crisis doesn’t dominate the headlines the way it did two or three or four years ago – but that doesn’t mean it’s gone away.

One out of every 8 homeowners in Massachusetts still owes more on their mortgage than the home is worth, according to Zillow data, and one out of 11 mortgage holders is delinquent, having missed at least one payment. While data from The Warren Group show foreclosures in Massachusetts have dropped for 16 months in a row and are at a quarter of their March 2010 peak levels, there were still more than 400 new foreclosure proceedings launched in February across the state.

Monday, as she celebrated plans to turn the old Boston Police Station Six in Southie into 24 units of badly-needed housing for veterans, a project that got a boost from mortgage-meltdown settlement payments from banks, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said it’s important to recognize the crisis remains real for many Bay Staters.

“They need relief right now,” Coakley said. “Every day that goes by is another family that’s worried about what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

“We’ve seen some stabilization in the real estate market, so there are some signs of recovery, but you know, if you’re one of the families that still is underwater and can’t get a loan modification or doesn’t know if you might get one, you’re still living with that uncertainty, that emotional and financial stress, frankly,” Coakley said.

New data released by Coakley on the state’s response to the foreclosure crisis show that banks have put up $850 million in debt relief, principal reduction, and penalty payments to the state used to fund the HomeCorps program and its 617-573-5333 hotline that is still getting 25 calls a day on average.

“We all know, those who live in cities and are struggling, that the recession has not ended,” said Lew Finfer, director and organizer of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network in Dorchester.

Along with Coakley, Finfer laments that there’s been no real action by government-bailed-out mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on agreeing to write down bubble-inflated loans so that thousands of homeowners would have a better shot at getting off the foreclosure track.

“That would really help, because that would get a lot of people back on track, and that would help the economy, because that savings in the mortgage would be able to be spent in other parts of the economy,” Finfer said. “There’s still real vigilance needed, because the banks still drag their feet on following the foreclosure prevention rules that have been put into effect by the national attorneys general settlement,” which in Massachusetts included using bank funding to pay for HomeCorps counselors and services.

“We’ve seen some good results,” Coakley said, “but we’re not out of it yet.”

With videographer Rich Mazzarella

For up-to-the-minute news and weather, be sure to follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Tags: massachusetts, Martha Coakley, Peter Howe, foreclosures, Massachusetts Attorney General, MA foreclosures

Article source: http://www.necn.com/04/28/14/Foreclosure-crisis-eases-doesnt-end/landing_business.html?blockID=865707&feedID=11106

Ohio Foreclosure Prevention Program Ending This Week

A program to help struggling Ohio homeowners prevent foreclosure is coming to an end this week, but there’s still time to register for anyone who needs help.

Save the Dream Ohio will stop accepting new applications on Wednesday.  The four-year-old program still has about $80 million on hand from the $570 million it received in federal foreclosure-prevention funds.
Through last month, about 18,000 people got an average of $16,000 each to help pay off liens or up to 18 months’ worth of mortgage payments.  Homeowners do not have to be delinquent, just have a hardship such as medical expenses or job loss.

Antoinette Smith with Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People, a non-profit housing counseling agency, says some people who did not qualify in the past, may be able to get help now.

“They were asking for a lot of documentation; some things that some people couldn’t get [if] the hardship was a few years ago.  Of course, they wanted something from their employer [but] that employer may not even be around anymore.  So the state recognized that and changed some of their program guidelines.”

Although applications need to be started by Wednesday, the deadline to complete applications is July 31.

Article source: http://wyso.org/post/ohio-foreclosure-prevention-program-ending-week

Foreclosure Fraud Whistleblower Says Government Is ‘Leaving Money On The …

By Alan Pyke
April 28, 2014 at 3:09 pm Updated: April 28, 2014 at 3:10 pm

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Foreclosure Fraud Whistleblower Says Government Is ‘Leaving Money On The Table’

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Foreclosure

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Government prosecutors who relied on a Florida whistleblower’s evidence to win foreclosure fraud settlements with major banks two years ago are declining to help her pursue identical claims against a second set of large financial institutions.

Lynn Szymoniak first found proof that millions of American foreclosures were based on faulty and falsified documents while fighting her own foreclosure. Her three-year legal fight helped uncover the fact that banks were “robosigning” documents — hiring people to forge signatures and backdate legal paperwork the firms needed in order to foreclose on people’s homes — as a routine practice. Court papers that were unsealed last summer show that the fraudulent practices Szymoniak discovered affect trillions of dollars worth of mortgages.

Government prosecutors intervened in Szymoniak’s case in 2012 and struck a deal with Bank of America, JP Morgan, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Ally Financial. The specific instances of fraud she uncovered accounted for $95 million out of a broader $25 billion settlement between the government and the five lenders. But when Szymoniak alleged similar misconduct at other major banks, including Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Bank of New York Mellon, and US Bancorp, the government left her to fight singlehanded against a horde of corporate attorneys, Bloomberg reports. A Department of Justice (DOJ) spokeswoman declined to comment on the government’s rationale, according to the report, and representatives for each bank did likewise. One of Szymoniak’s attorneys said the DOJ’s decision means that “they are leaving money on the table.”

Whatever its motives, the public record of the Obama administration’s foreclosure fraud cases and mortgage finance enforcement efforts suggests a pattern of letting powerful and abusive companies off the hook in various ways. The much-touted $25 billion settlement that absorbed Szymoniak’s initial lawsuits ultimately failed to stop the industry from continuing to violate homeowners’ rights. The failures were so persistent and widespread that the government ended up going back and rewriting the terms of the deal last fall. The settlement ended up helping far fewer people than it was supposed to and did nothing to stop the flood of faulty documents in foreclosure cases that continues to this day.

The government has offered similarly inflated and optimistic portrayals of other financial industry oversight efforts and legal settlements relating to the mortgage industry and the financial crisis. Administration spokespeople made exaggerated claims about a crackdown on mortgage fraud that never really materialized, according to the DOJ’s Inspector General. Attorney General Eric Holder even claimed that the department had filed five times as many cases relating to the housing market as it actually had under his watch. Holder’s purported $13 billion settlement with JP Morgan will cost the bank less than half that total because most of it is tax deductible and only a fraction of it is made up of actual payments by the bank. That deal is being used as a template for similar settlements with other major banks, indicating that the government is prepared to close the books on housing bubble misdeeds through deals that appear tough at a glance but crumble upon inspection.

On top of all that, federal regulators halted an independent nationwide review of foreclosure documents that had already uncovered more than a million suspicious cases at the time that it was quashed. While the regulators said that the settlements that stymied the review did more for homeowners than a full airing of those cases would have done, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee says documents cast doubt on that analysis. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) is seeking a hearing to investigate how the administration came to that decision.

There were fewer financial fraud prosecutions in 2011 than there had been in 20 years. The crisis that banks precipitated just a few years earlier has cost the world at least $6 trillion and probably closer to $20 or $30 trillion, and bank profits outweigh their legal costs by about three-to-one. Even in the rare instances where those companies have faced legal consequences, they have been too minor to dent banks’ bottom lines.

Article source: http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/04/28/3431580/foreclosure-whistleblower-criticize-government/

Chicago man sentenced to six years for criminal mortgage loan modification fraud

Chicago — Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced a six-year prison sentence for a Chicago man who stole more than $350,000 by preying on desperate homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure.

Warren Jackson, 44, of Chicago, pled guilty to criminal mortgage rescue fraud before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mary M. Brosnahan yesterday and was sentenced to six years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

“The defendant preyed on homeowners who were desperate for a lifeline but instead found themselves targets of a criminal,” Madigan said. “Homeowners who were victim to these schemes were left at an even greater risk of losing their homes.”

Jackson orchestrated two mortgage loan modification schemes involving Chicago homeowners. The first scam targeted homeowners at risk of foreclosure, promising to save their homes by negotiating lower mortgage payments with their banks. Jackson collected illegal upfront fees from the homeowners but never followed through on his claims to help reduce homeowners’ mortgage payments, placing the scheme’s victims at even greater risk of foreclosure.

In the second scheme, called a “sale-leaseback” that Jackson alleged would save a homeowner’s home, he used straw buyers to purchase homes from distressed homeowners, sometimes falsely promising them that they could pay rent for a year and then could potentially buy back the property. Jackson also tricked homeowners into unknowingly selling their homes to straw buyers by leading them to believe that they were signing paperwork for a new loan to help them avoid foreclosure. Jackson used the sale-leaseback scheme to transfer title from homeowners to straw buyers for the purpose of stripping the remaining equity from the home. Individual homeowners lost from $70,000 to $150,000 of equity in their homes as a result of the schemes.

Madigan has previously sued Jackson. In December 2010, Madigan filed suit for their illegal operation and solicitation for a Chicago charity, We Stop the Killings, and obtained an injunction in July 2011 that permanently barred Jackson from soliciting, receiving or holding assets for any charitable purpose in the state of Illinois or on behalf of any Illinois-based charity. Prior to that case, Madigan sued and obtained a judgment against Jackson for his involvement in companies W2X Inc., PTU1 Inc., Y2X LLC, and Goldberg Bail-Out Inc. for similar mortgage-related fraud.

Attorney General Madigan has aggressively targeted mortgage-rescue scams illegally charging homeowners upfront fees for rescue services. Madigan has previously filed 50 civil lawsuits against illegal operators and issued over 700 cease-and-desist letters. Madigan urged homeowners who are struggling to stay in their homes to contact her Homeowner Helpline, (866) 544-7151, for guidance on avoiding foreclosure and to seek help from a HUD-certified housing counselor to work out a solution with their lenders.

Assistant Attorneys General Paul Bervid and Anshuman Vaidya handled the case for Madigan’s Financial Crimes Bureau. The case was investigated by Associate Director James S. Dorger of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Bureau, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Article source: http://www.corrections.com/news/article/35953-chicago-man-sentenced-to-six-years-for-criminal-mortgage-loan-modification-fraud

Foreclosure Rescue Scams

By Charlene Crowell

Earlier this month Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged an organization known as Freedom by Faith Ministries with defrauding over 100 consumers in Southeast Michigan. The alleged crime: foreclosure rescue scams.

Unfortunately the circumstances that led to the Michigan lawsuit represent a continuation of a disturbing trend of profiteers seeking to financially exploit the misfortunes of troubled homeowners. The U.S. Government Accountability Office in 2013 found over 40,000 complaints of foreclosure fraud occurred nationwide and together totaled losses to homeowners of over $90 million.

Each year from 2010 through 2012, more than 18,000 foreclosure fraud complaints were filed beyond the 9,000 complaints received in 2009.

Foreclosure scammers typically demand large, upfront cash payments from troubled homeowners and advise homeowners to stop making mortgage payments. They also dupe their victims into sharing important personal information such as Social Security and bank account numbers. After payment is received, the scammers do little or no work to obtain a loan modification for the homeowners. In the process, homeowners fall deeper into delinquency and also lose valuable time that could have yielded better results.

Free services of a HUD-certified housing counselor are available nationwide to help negotiate with mortgage servicers. Many times these housing counselors facilitate securing options to avoid foreclosure such as home modifications, refinance, forbearance, short sales and more.

A new research report, Foreclosure Rescue, Inc. by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law finds that foreclosure scams are beginning to take new forms while still fraudulently taking money from distressed homeowners. Some scammers falsely claim government affiliation while others include improper involvement of legal and real estate professionals

For example, in West Palm Beach, Florida, foreclosure rescue “consultants” held seminars to teach people how to make money off of distressed homeowners. In Atlanta, attorneys were reported to have been randomly solicited to sign up as “partners” or “affiliates” of foreclosure rescue operations. And in Long Island, New York, legitimate housing counselors unknowingly gave fraud actors powers of attorney to presumably talk to banks on behalf of homeowners.

“African-American and Latino homeowners, already victimized by targeted predatory lending, have been victimized by scams at disproportionate rates compared to their percentage of the population”, said Yolanda McGill, manager of the Loan Modification Scam Prevention Network for the Lawyers’ Committee.

When a troubled homeowner’s race is taken into account, stark racial differences emerge. White homeowners represent 78 percent of the nation’s homeowners and together account for less than half – 47 percent – of complaints filed. By contrast, Both Black and Latino homeowners combined represent 16 percent of the nation’s homeowners, their combined fraud complaints are nearly the same number as those filed by Whites: 44 percent.

“Senior homeowners also are victimized at high rates and their average loss is higher than other groups”, continued McGill. The Lawyers’ Committee and our federal state and community partners continue to fight back and put these scammers out of business, including through litigation.”

The Lawyers’ Committee litigation includes 14 lawsuits against loan scam operators whose collective efforts affected over 400 troubled homeowners. The lawsuits sought both monetary and injunctive relief. So far, 50 scam operations have been shut down and over $500,000 have been recovered on behalf of homeowners. Additionally, those found guilty have been banned from future participation in mortgage assistance relief servicers.

As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau continues its complaint resolution and the Lawyers’ Committee continues its litigation, Foreclosure Rescue, Inc. recommendations call for more policy reforms:
- Allowing homeowners to pursue private rights of actions;
- Enacting state laws that broaden fraud definitions to include any stage of the scam process; and
- Incorporating explicit government warnings to consumers regarding potential scammers and how to avoid fraud.

Created in the summer of 1963 by President John F. Kennedy an initial meeting of 244 lawyers, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a nonpartisan, nonprofit providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Anyone desiring more information on state and national resources for foreclosure fraud should visit www.preventloanscams.org.

To file an online mortgage complaint with CFPB, visit www.consumerfinance.gov.

Article source: http://www.charlestonchronicle.net/82431/2152/over-$90m-lost-to-foreclosure-rescue-scams

Nokomis house sold out of foreclosure for $1.35 million – Sarasota Herald

84e70bd872b745558283da8f749097ccSunTrust Bank sold a 4,585-square-foot house at 509 Bayshore Drive in Nokomis to a Sarasota company managed by Frank Cassata for $1.35 million.

SunTrust seized the house in October 2013 after winning a $1.165 million foreclosure judgment against the former owner – John L. Crofts.

Article source: http://insiderealestate.heraldtribune.com/2014/04/28/nokomis-house-sold-foreclosure-1-35-million/

Racism and Criminalization in the Media – Truth

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Paula Deen and George Stinney share the February 22, 2014 cover of People. (Image: ©Time Inc.)Paula Deen and George Stinney share the February 22, 2014 cover of People. (Image: ©Time Inc.)Also see: Truthout Interviews Bethania Palma Markus on Racism in the Media

A recent ‘People’ magazine cover sparks consideration of the hiding-in-plain-sight but never-discussed racism that characterizes the United States and the ways US media subtly sustain that racism.

The cover of the February 22, 2014, edition of People magazine features a telling representation of the status of race relations in this country.

It features Southern chef Paula Deen promising a story about how she’s “rebuilding her world” and “hoping for a rebirth.” On the bottom left of the cover, there is the infamous mug shot of George Stinney, the Southern black child who was tried, convicted and executed in South Carolina in a murder trial that has since been called the equivalent of a lynching. At 14, he was the youngest person executed by the state in the 20th century.

Of course, the magazine didn’t acknowledge the irony of placing the two in the same edition or the way in which the stories overlap. Longtime journalist and author Thandisizwe Chimurenga said this instance is hardly isolated, and she pointed to long-standing biases and insidious contradictions in the way the media handles whites versus blacks.

“George Stinney’s case . . . is a very sad and tragic one,” Chimurenga noted. “It is also a story that is overrun with white supremacist complicity.” People magazine, in its own complicity, described Deen’s words and actions leading to her downfall as a “scandal,” as opposed to identifying them as part and parcel to the systemic racism responsible for the horrifying death of Stinney.

Deen, a white Southern woman, had admitted in a deposition to using the N-word and that she fantasized about a plantation-style wedding reception. She was also accused by a black former employee of using racial slurs, paying black employees less than whites, telling black employees to ring dinner bells and wear “Aunt Jemima” clothing. The kind of racism Deen displayed is rooted deep in the Jim Crow South.

After two white girls were murdered in 1944, Stinney was quickly arrested and charged, his family chased out of town by angry white mobs. In custody, he had no access to his parents and – despite the lack of physical evidence – was quickly convicted. He was too little to fit in the electric chair, and in the grisly scene, he was somehow disfigured by flames, as his family reported burying his burned remains.

While Deen enjoys a multimillion-dollar “comeback,” Stinney’s now-elderly siblings seek only to clear the child’s name.

Aside from the gross insensitivity of juxtaposing the two stories and the questionable editorial decision to give Deen precedence over Stinney and his family, the People cover seems emblematic of the brutal dishonesty and contrived ignorance about racism that pervades dominant media discourse in the United States.

Sometimes, as in the Central Park Jogger case of 1989, the modern media can contribute to the same kind of racially charged, feverish frenzy that surrounded Stinney. In that case, five teens – four black and one Latino – were convicted of raping and beating a white woman in Central Park. The media dubbed them the “wolf pack” and coined the term “wilding” to describe their alleged deeds. But in 2002, after serving their full sentences, all of the men were cleared by a court of any wrongdoing, with little media notice.

Other times, it’s more subtle but just as damaging.

“Remember that picture of the white couple who ‘found’ food during the flooding of Hurricane Katrina and the young Black man who had ‘looted’ a store?” Chimurenga asked, referring to an infamous pair of photos by Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press, respectively, which featured the couple and young man in almost identical circumstances – chest-deep in water dragging food, with captions that described the man as “looting” and the white couple “finding” food.

Chimurenga also pointed out disparities in the media’s handling of the recent, tragic shooting death of John Winkler, an aspiring producer who was white, versus the reportage on unarmed men of color who are shot by police. Winkler was killed by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies who misidentified him as the aggressor in a hostage situation.

“Every media outlet that I’ve seen report on (the Winkler) story has used the word ‘mistake’ or ‘accident’ in the headline and the lede,” she said. “The concept of unintentional killing, of a ‘mistake’ or ‘accident’ is being reinforced, drummed into people. But I have yet to see numerous headlines and ledes using the words ‘mistake’ or ‘accident’ when a young Black man is shot in the back while running away from police; while holding his cellphone or his wallet or with his hands raised in the air.”

The effects are devastating, even if they aren’t immediately obvious to those impacted.

Multiracial TV programs, newscasts and even the composition of the White House residence and presidential cabinet belie continuing, even worsening, de facto racial inequality in which Americans of color are racially profiled, disproportionately incarcerated and suffer more poverty, unemployment, education inequality and foreclosure.

But while discussion of these issues is gaining steam, People magazine is still far from alone in tripping over the contradictions between reality and a topic they don’t want to deal with. The Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin said last year that Americans should “not be held prisoner forever in a past that most Americans have never personally experienced. And I think it is time to stop using (race and racism) both as a crutch or as a method of stirring up (Obama’s) base.”

Perhaps Rubin should read the publication she writes for, The Post, reporting on a Brandeis University study that contradicted her:

A long-term examination of the financial lives of black and white Americans revealed that African Americans typically face a subtle but persistent opportunity gap that has served to widen financial disparities remaining from a long history of overt discrimination, according to a report to be released Wednesday by Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy.

Behind the income gap lie inequalities in wealth attained via access to real estate ownership and higher-paying jobs, according to the report. This is due to historical and continuing racism, including factors such as blacks having been disproportionately targeted for subprime mortgage loans.

Thus the idea that racism is used by people of color as a “crutch” in the face of an ongoing institutional racism is as troubling as the phenomenon described by a Tufts University study in which whites in the United States now see themselves as the main victims of racism at the hands of African Americans.

Sometimes the bias is in what the media doesn’t report.

After the Boston Marathon bombing last year garnered a constant barrage of 24-hour news coverage, David Dennis wondered in The Guardian why a deadly shooting spree at a Mother’s Day parade in New Orleans a couple months later didn’t get the same level of coverage and points out that the New Orleans shooting affected mostly “inner city,” working-class people of color. He wrote:

Deaths and mayhem anywhere are tragic. That should always be the case. The story here is where American tragedies don’t occur. American tragedies don’t occur on the southside of Chicago or the New Orleans 9th Ward. They don’t occur where inner city high school kids shoot into school buses or someone shoots at a10-year old’s birthday partyin New Orleans. Or Gary, Indiana. Or Compton. Or Newport News. These are where the forgotten tragedies happen and the cities are left to persevere on their own.

Problem Driven by Media

“In my experience and observation, mainstream media treat people of color, especially those of African descent, as criminals, suspects, or as having some kind of character defect when they are victims of crime, and whites tend to receive sympathy and be painted as completely innocent,” Chimurenga observed. “Sometimes it’s blatant and sometimes it’s subtle, but since antiblack bias is so pervasive in this society, subtlety is just as powerful as that which is blatant.”

Criminalization by the media creates an environment that permits the killing of blacks in the name of “self-defense,” by law enforcement or otherwise, she noted.

There is no government database on the number of people shot by police in the United States, but the activist group Malcolm X Grassroots Movement compiled media reports from 2012 and counted 313 deaths of black men at the hands of police, security guards or vigilantes that year – or one every 28 hours. Its tally included the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teenager who was followed and shot dead by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. Martin’s death pushed racism in the United States to the forefront of consciousness, with even President Obama weighing in.

But while the right-wing blog and media juggernaut wasted no time digging through Martin’s past for proof of criminality, less obvious forms of bias make their way into mainstream news reporting daily, Chimurenga said.

“Mainstream media gives credence, too much credence, to ‘authority’ figures – government officials and law enforcement,” she said. “In too many ways, media carries their water for them. There is not enough basic skepticism or digging for deeper context and meaning. Many times, media is both cheerleader and megaphone for police terror in how they report on crime.”

When police shoot a black man, often the first question reporters will ask is whether the victim had any “gang ties,” she pointed out.

The problem is so pronounced and frequent that Los Angeles’ Youth Justice Coalition has demanded that law enforcement no longer identify the victim of an officer-involved shooting as a “gang member” until they have found that to be unquestionably the case.

“Not only can that be false, but also re-criminalizes a person after death” when they never had a trial, said Emilio Lacques-Zapien of the Youth Justice Coalition. Lacques-Zapien gave the example of 22-year-old Deangelo Lopez, who was shot and killed by LA County sheriff’s deputies last year.

“They said he’s a gang member who has a criminal history; he has tattoos – all these things that criminalize him,” Lacques-Zapien said. “He’s dead, and his family is still trying to figure out what happened.”

Hopefully they won’t have to wait as long as Stinney’s family has had to for a resolution.

 

Article source: http://truth-out.org/news/item/23288-racism-and-criminalization-in-the-media