USA TODAY

Deportees from Dominican Republic land on Haiti border

USA TODAY, August 23, 2015

By Yamiche Alcindor

FOND BAYARD, Haiti – The children hunched over on a cement floor stare at flies on a dirty bed, living in squalor without books or toys, as refugees in this border town. They are unwanted by the Dominican Republic, their country of birth, and without a home in Haiti, their country of heritage.

Their Haitian parents claim the children, deported alongside adults, are citizens of the Dominican Republic – born and raised there – but they can’t prove it. The families have no birth certificates or naturalization papers. A local school, out for the summer, lets them sleep in their empty classrooms. They are uncertain how they will survive.

Francois Severin has lived among these stateless, homeless people at the school since June when he says he was deported with his pregnant wife and four children from their home in Neiba, Dominican Republic.

The family’s problems began with a 2013 the Dominican Supreme Court ruling that said people born in the country between 1929 and 2010 to non-citizen parents did not qualify as Dominican citizens. While the government said it would give long-term residents a path to citizenship, the decision effectively stripped tens of thousands of people of their nationality retroactively and prompted human rights activists to accuse the government of making people stateless.

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Dominican Republic fears tourism boycott over citizenship ruling

USA TODAY, July 31, 2015

By Yamiche Alcindor

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — Jude Payoute of Atlanta tried to cancel his $6,000 family vacation here after learning about calls to boycott this Caribbean nation for denying citizenship to thousands of Haitian descendants.

“I’m ashamed to tell my friends I’m here,” said Payoute, 64, a native Haitian who immigrated to the United States in the 1980s, as he walked around Santo Domingo’s 16th-century city. “It’s wrong for me to come here supporting the economy of the Dominican Republic because they are racist and they have no decency and they treat people like trash.”

Such strong feelings could force this country to pay a steep price in its dispute with neighboring Haiti if sought-after tourists decide to spend their vacations at other nearby Caribbean islands. (more…)

Baltimore residents say city struggled long before Freddie Gray protests

USA TODAY, May 1, 2015

By Yamiche Alcindor

BALTIMORE – Delilah Spriggs shrugs at the burned-out CVS pharmacy store looters set ablaze Monday. She sees it as just one of many blighted sites in a neighborhood filled with abandoned spaces.

For Spriggs and many residents of this city, the destruction left behind by Monday’s violence following the funeral of a man who died in police custody is simply the latest consequence of poverty and frustration grown from many years of neglect. While many residents condemned smashing windows and stealing goods, others say the vandals unleashed long-held anger to get the attention they had sought for years.

Now national attention is fixated on Baltimore after 10 days of protests following the death of Freddie Gray, 25, a black man who died of a severe spinal injury April 19 while in police custody. Tensions exploded into violence Monday. Clashes between police and demonstrators led to arrests of more than 200 protesters and injuries to 20 police officers.

Springs, a social worker, said the national attention should shift from the unrest to its underlying cause – the poverty that has robbed many of their homes and businesses. The neighborhood needs more grocery stores, healthier food options and better schools, she said.

“Change comes from conflict,” Spriggs, 22, said. “People are trying to act like all these depleted buildings are new. Baltimore has been depleted. Now they have two or three burned-up buildings and now it’s a problem? The landscape has not changed. Last week, everything looked just like this except the CVS was open.” (more…)

Ferguson struggles to grasp why protests turned violent

USA TODAY, December 2, 2014

By Yamiche Alcindor

FERGUSON, Mo. — Barry Perkins threw a rock at a line of officers at the Ferguson police station Monday night and thoroughly enjoyed it.

For a moment, Perkins said, he felt powerful.

In the weight of that rock, Perkins delivered the anger and frustration stored up inside from years of harassment from local police officers who he says stop him frequently and search his car. Perkins, who admits to a criminal past that includes dealing drugs and car theft, says that more than once officers have thrown him to the ground.

As police ducked and scrambled to safety, Perkins relished a fleeting sense of victory.

“It feels good,” Perkins, 24, said. “I want to do what they did to me. I want to physically fight the police for all the stuff they have done to me.”

More than a dozen buildings burned around Ferguson last Monday night after St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch announced that a grand jury had not indicted Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, 28, in the shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, who was unarmed. Wilson told the grand jury he struggled with Brown inside his police car and that the teen reached for Wilson’s weapon. Brown’s family and some witnesses say Wilson killed Brown as he raised his hands in surrender. (more…)

Brown’s mother screams, sobs over grand jury decision

USA TODAY, November 24, 2014

By Yamiche Alcindor

ST. LOUIS – As the world discussed the implications of Michael Brown’s death, his mother sat alone in a plush hotel room full of people, silent, stoic and staring at her phone as she awaited word from the grand jury.

When the word came, attorney Benjamin Crump fielded the phone call. “The jury was not inclined to indict on any charges,” he said.

Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mother, screamed and sobbed.

After months of press conferences and speeches and testimony before the United Nations, Lesley McSpadden now had few words. A button pinned to her chest read “Indict Now.” The white knit hat with photo of her son pulled tight on her head called for “Justice for Mike Brown.” (more…)

Amid furor over killing, Brown’s family seeks solace

USA TODAY, August 25, 2014

By Yamiche Alcindor

St. LOUIS — Lesley McSpadden waits for the crowds and the cameras to leave before she turns back to her son’s casket to kiss it goodbye.

Her moment to pay her last respects to her son, Michael Brown, came after his death from a police officer’s volley of gunshots, three autopsies and violent demonstrations in nearby Ferguson. It’s been two weeks of balancing grief with responsibilities. The teen’s parents have struggled with constant crying fits and sometimes paralyzing despair.

“It’s tough,” said Eric Davis, a cousin of Brown who has been supporting Brown’s mother throughout the ordeal. “My cousin Lesley has not been able to speak. She’s kind of been dazed, numb from everything that has been going on. Those are the times where I just hold her, talk to her, and try to comfort her.”

While the country has remained fixed on the vivid, tear-gas laden confrontations between police and angry residents in Ferguson, Brown’s family has been trying to cope with the media spotlight and a world without their son. The family granted a USA TODAY reporter exclusive access to Michael Brown’s funeral and memorial services.

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Many wrongfully convicted are simply on their own

Jonathan Fleming, 51, spent 24 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. He received no immediate financial support when released. Experts says dozens of other wrongfully convicted people face the same reality. (Photo by Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY)

Jonathan Fleming, 51, embraces his lawyers as he is freed after spending 24 years wrongfully imprisoned. (Photo: Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY)

USA TODAY, May 5, 2014

By Yamiche Alcindor

Video available at http://usat.ly/RdYRVC

NEW YORK — Jonathan Fleming is finally getting some rest, even if he’s sleeping on a cousin’s couch in Brooklyn after spending 24 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

Fleming, 52, was wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder in New York. He walked free on April 8, 2014.

More than a dozen news cameras crowded into and around the Brooklyn Supreme Court building to capture the moment. Nine days later, Fleming, minus the fanfare, stood in line to collect food stamps. He hopes to find a job and is looking for a permanent place to live.

And, it could take years before he receives any lawsuit settlement payments from New York, even though it is one of 29 states with compensation laws.

“It’s very hard, because they just pushed me out,” Fleming says. “I had a few people who gave me a couple of dollars so I can have some spending money, but it doesn’t go that far.”

A stranger set up an Indiegogo fundraising campaign that has collected more than $45,000 for him. It’s open for donations until May 9.

Fleming will live on that money and a loan against the compensation he expects to get from the city and state of New York. His lawyers say they are aiming to get him at least $6.4 million after another New York City exoneree received that amount recently.

In the meantime, Fleming is living in the vulnerable period that dozens of others face. It takes an average of three to seven years for the wrongfully convicted to receive compensation, experts say.

A record-breaking 90 wrongfully imprisoned people were released from prison in 2013, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. This year, already 31 exonerees have been set free.

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