August 01, 2013
By Suzanne Gamboa
WASHINGTON (AP) — As members of Congress marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the Senate majority leader warned Wednesday that civil rights the march helped to protect secure for disenfranchised Americans are “once again under siege.”
House and Senate leaders from both parties led the ceremony in the stately Statuary Hall to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which helped to pressure Congress to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. The bills won passage in 1964 and 1965, respectively.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, noted that after the Supreme Court’s June decision invalidating a key part of the Voting Rights Act, some states moved quickly to implement voting rules that he considers a threat to the votes of minorities, the elderly, women and others. He singled out Texas.
“Fifty years later, some of the progress made by the civil rights movement, and some of the protections made by the Voting Rights Act, are once again under siege,” Reid said. He urged those who value the movement’s key victories to “take this assault on freedom as seriously as you’ve taken anything.”
His comments drew enthusiastic applause, including from House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who sat onstage alongside Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who as a student activist endured a severe beating in the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” voting rights march in Selma, Ala.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not applaud Reid's remarks. Boehner turned to McConnell with a questioning glance during the applause.
Boehner spoke of the march with historical references, from Abraham Lincoln, who as a Republican senator from Illinois sponsored a bill to free District of Columbia slaves, to abolitionist Frederick Douglass, NAACP activist Rosa Parks and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the march and delivered his signature “I Have a Dream” speech from the Lincoln Memorial.
“This is a story of how a president, a slave, a seamstress and a minister locked arms across a period of time. A story that shakes us forward and shakes us free,” Boehner said.
McConnell recalled that the march inspired him to organize for change in Kentucky, and that he worked to help his boss, a U.S. senator, overcome opposition in Congress to help pass the Civil Rights Act.
The original march took place on Aug. 28, 1963. Congress observed the 50th anniversary early because it falls during its August recess.
The 1963 march drew approximately 250,000 people to the National Mall. Its purpose was to call attention to economic inequality, but it is most remembered for King’s speech.
Lewis, who was a leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in 1963, told Wednesday of his meeting with President John F. Kennedy before the march and of Kennedy expressing wariness that the march might turn violent.
Lewis told the crowd that he sees the March on Washington as one of the nation's finest hours and that it helped usher in a spirit of bipartisanship that moved the country forward.
“What would it take for us to come together and make that kind of progress for America once again?” Lewis asked.
David Cohen, 76, of Washington, was among those at Wednesday’s ceremony who attended the march. He said he was employed by a Washington lobbyist who was working on passage of the Civil Rights Act at the time. Banks and congressional offices were closed, the National Guard had been deployed and liquor sales were banned out of fear of violence during the march, Cohen said.
Cohen and his wife hosted several participants in their apartment, to the dismay of his landlord because of the racial mixing, said Cohen, who is white.
Also in the audience were Attorney General Eric Holder and District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray. Grammy award-winning opera singer Jessye Norman roused the crowd with a rendition of “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.”
Civil rights leaders are planning two major events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march: An Aug. 24 march from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial, and an Aug. 28 march that will stop at the Labor Department and the Justice Department buildings. Other activities are planned around the anniversary as well.
The Capitol ceremony Wednesday came as President Barack Obama toured the country to promote his agenda including jobs and economic growth. Obama met with several leaders on the voting rights issue on Monday and pledged his administration would work to strengthen the Voting Rights Act.
August 01, 2013
By Gary Fineout
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson isn't backing down from comments he made comparing Florida's struggle with the Trayvon Martin case to the civil rights clashes with police during the 1960s in Selma, Ala.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday demanded that Jackson apologize for his comments calling the state the “Selma of our time.” He also said Florida has been an “apartheid” state.
But Jackson, in an interview with The Associated Press, defended his remarks. He cited the state's voter laws and incarceration rates of blacks versus the general population as examples of “apartheid like conditions.”
Jackson made his original remarks while taking part in a protest at the Florida Capitol. He joined a group upset that George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Martin.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday demanded an apology from longtime civil rights activist Jesse Jackson for comparing the state’s struggle with the Trayvon Martin case to the civil rights clashes with police during the 1960s in Selma, Ala.
Jackson spent the night with protesters upset that George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Martin. They’ve refused to leave the Capitol until Scott calls a special session to have legislators overhaul the state’s self-defense laws.
Jackson called Florida the “Selma of our time” and even compared Scott to former Alabama Gov. George Wallace. While he was governor, Wallace famously stood in the door at the University of Alabama to try to block the entry of two black students.
Scott so far has refused the request and the protest has dragged on for more than two weeks. The protesters have gotten national media attention and won support from celebrities such as entertainer Harry Belafonte and others who have urged people to boycott Florida.
Scott in a release blasted Jackson’s comments as “reckless” and “divisive” and said that he should apologize to residents.
“It is unfortunate that he would come to Florida to insult Floridians and divide our state at a time when we are striving for unity and healing,” Scott said.
But Bishop Tavis Grant, national field director for the Rainbow PUSH coalition started by Jackson, said there was no need for an apology.
“The governor has a deafening ear to the cries of those asking him to take a moral stand, not a political stand,” Grant said.
Jackson left Tallahassee earlier Wednesday and wasn't immediately made available to comment.
Grant, though, said Jackson made his comments not only in response to the Zimmerman verdict but because of the case of Marissa Alexander.
Alexander, who is from Jacksonville, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a bullet at a wall to scare off her husband when she felt he was threatening her. A judge refused to let her use a “stand your ground” defense.
Grant said that thousands of Floridians support Jackson and agree that the state’s “stand your ground” law is egregious.
But that view isn’t shared by Scott or other Republican leaders in the Florida Legislature. Senate President Don Gaetz earlier this week that while he understands that some people are “frustrated” with the verdict that doesn't mean the law should be changed.
“In our system, a verdict is not then referred to a referendum of the people who are interested in the issue or who are passionate about the issue,” Gaetz said. “A verdict is a verdict.”
The protesters, many of whom belong to a group called the Dream Defenders, want the special session to consider changing state laws to repeal Florida’s “stand your ground” law and to end racial profiling and zero-tolerance policies in public schools.
Protesters this week started their own mock session in the Old Capitol. They also are trying to urge 32 legislators to ask for a special session. Under Florida law, if 32 legislators make that demand, then the Department of State must poll the Legislature. If three-fifths of lawmakers agree, then a special session must be called.
July 25, 2013
By Xavier Higgs
LAWT Contributing Writer
U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte, Jr. spoke about his role at the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles to the Black Journalists Association of Southern California last Saturday, while discussing the George Zimmerman case, national security and alternative sentencing.
Birotte, the state’s top law enforcement official, spent about 50 minutes with the group taking questions about initiatives that would reduce the rate of recidivism, or former inmates returning to prison after they've been released.
He reminded the group that one of his objectives is to be responsive to the needs of the community. But foremost is national security. It is the number one priority in the department of justice.
The U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California gets a briefing every Monday morning from the head of our national security section.
It’s my wake call,” says Birotte. .“It reminds me of why we are here and what issues throughout the district. They are the unsung heroes of the office,” said Birotte.
Though Birotte didn’t get into specifics of the George Zimmerman Second Degree murder trial, he focused on the Trayvon Martin tragedy in terms of how it’s creating negative emotions in the people.
“I was struck by the lack of understanding as to why people might be upset at the result,” says Birotte. “I am not in a position to criticize the verdict. But I am in a position to understand the emotions the verdict. It brings back all of the emotions I felt as a young person.”
Optimistically, he hoped that there would continue to be dialogue about the criminal justice and why we need to have diversity in the judicial system
He also stressed the Justice Department’s challenges in bringing civil rights charges against George Zimmerman.
My hope is that we can continue to have dialogue. It reminds me of
As Birotte spoke there were no doubt of his comfort and respect of the journalists in the room.
With a smile he asked, “who would have thought that this state would have an Attorney General, Los Angeles District Attorney, and the U.S. Attorney for Central District of California all being African American.”
July 25, 2013
By Xavier Higgs
LAWT Contributing Writer
As thousands around the country protest the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman, members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) are contemplating a boycott of Florida.
A resolution is being drafted that would ask civic organizations, individuals, and families that may be having conventions or thinking of doing business in Florida, to consider another state.
Chris Holden, (D) Pasadena, introduced the idea during a conference call last week. The details of the resolution are being drafted for presentation to the general assembly in August.
“This seems to be an effective way for the caucus to express ourselves and share with the greater community,” says Holden.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered in dozens of cities on Saturday July 20 to commemorate the death of Trayvon Martin and decry the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman.
Last week First A.M.E Church Pasadena had a “Call to Action” march to demonstrate frustration over the not guilty verdict of the George Zimmerman trial and to demand justice for Trayvon Martin.
Payne Butler, 84, who attended the march and rally, is still in disbelief. “How could they,” says Butler. “I would like to see a retrial.”
Meanwhile 44 Democrats members of the Florida House are asking for a special session to address Florida Statues “Chapter 776 Justifiable Use of Force.”
“We believe that people of the state of Florida want this to be decided right now,” says Florida State Rep. Perry Thurston.
He adds, “We understand the outcries for boycotts against the state but we are not in the position to advocate such actions. Our goal is to bring about change from within.”
Florida Governor Rick Scott is not inclined to call a special session because his task force recommended no changes should be made to the law.
Republicans who dominate the Legislature mostly oppose any change.
The killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager shot to death in a confrontation with a neighborhood watch volunteer early last year, has ignited an introspective and widespread national conversation about race and the criminal justice system.
Although Zimmerman did not specifically use a "stand your ground" law defense, the trial has regenerated scrutiny about the statutes.
President Obama on July 19 also called for reconsidering of such laws in the wake of the Martin killing and the acquittal of Zimmerman.
Holden agrees and said there has to be a way to continue the conversation, get people focusing on the “Stand Your Ground Law,” and put pressure on those elected officials who support such laws.
LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has also called for a national boycott of Florida. But no specifics have been given about how such an action would be implemented.
According to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, “Florida has a robust tourism industry that brought in $71.8 billion and attracted 91.4 million visitors last year.” He adds, “until Florida is free of these dangerous and unproductive laws that allow innocent young men to be shot to death with impunity, it is in our best interest to hold the state’s leadership accountable. We must act with our pocketbook—and that is quite significant.”
Even some of the music industry's biggest acts are boycotting Florida.
Stevie Wonder announced his intended boycott the day after a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of second-degree murder charges.
According to American Urban Network’s April Ryan, other acts are also joining Stevie Wonder in boycotting Florida over the state's controversial "stand your ground" law including Jay Z, Kanye West, as have pop acts like Rod Stewart, Madonna, R. Kelly, Rihanna and Alicia Keys.