July 18, 2013
By Thandisizwe Chimurenga
LAWT Contributing Writer
More than 400 people from Southern, Central and Northern California converged on Corcoran State Prison on July 13 to show solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike throughout the state. An estimated 30,000 prisoners have been refusing their meals since July 8, resuming a hunger strike begun in 2011 over what they say are torturous conditions in some of the state prison’s Security Housing Units (SHU).
Family members of prisoners, former prisoners and supporters congregated at Corcoran State Prison where an SHU currently holds close to 2,000 prisoners in solitary confinement. The Hunger Strike was initiated by prisoners in the SHU program at the Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California near the Oregon border..
More than 6,000 prisoners throughout the state of California went on a hunger strike in the summer of 2011 to protest inhumane conditions in the state’s prisons. Confinement in the SHU program, which has been labeled as a form of torture by various human rights organizations, means a person is confined to a cell by themselves, sometimes for decades, with no human contact with other prisoners, guards or correctional workers, or even family members during visits. The men on hunger strike say those conditions are designed to lead to their mental and physical breakdown and a hunger strike is the only weapon they have as prisoners to dramatize how depraved the conditions are inside the SHU programs.
On July 8, close to 100 people also demonstrated in solidarity with the Hunger Strikers in front of the Ronald Reagan State Office Building in downtown Los Angeles.
John Imani, a long-time Los Angeles activist, took part in the July 8 action even though he has no relatives or acquaintances currently being held in Pelican Bay or any of the three other state institutions that have SHU programs. “I was there to empathize with ... a whole class of humans,” he said. “It isn’t this or that person in ‘solitary confinement’ but all who face that inhumane form of societal retribution.”
Other actions in support of the hunger strikers were held in Seattle, WA and as far away as Pennsylvania. Matt Graber, a local Philadelphia activist, helped coordinate publicity about a solidarity action organized by the Global Womens’ Strike because, he said, “...What our society is doing ... there’s people all over this country who have been held in solitary confinement for decades, and its inspiring to see so many people rising up and resisting torture such as this.”
Graber agreed with hunger strikers that solitary confinement was torture because “ ... human touch is so essential to life; I was listening to a radio program, a profile of one of the hunger strikers — his sister hadn’t touched him since 1983, and that just seemed so inhumane — that people cannot touch their loved ones, that people have to go decades without human touch.”
The July 8 action was organized in part by the Community Coalition for Self-Defense, “an initiative of the National Hood Alliance, which grew out of the Occupy Movement, that seeks to unify Black struggles in America," which it sees as being “fragmented on issues of dire concern to the Black community,” said Bilal Ali, a founder of the group.
The Coalition, along with others, delivered a package containing a typed copy of the five core demands of the hunger strikers, which they say prison officials have reneged on during the 2011 Hunger Strike, to the Speaker of the California Assembly John Perez; California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Governor Jerry Brown. One of the primary demands is that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) abolish what it calls Gang Validation; a process where prisoners are identified as being a member of a prison gang and then placed in the SHU program. The strikers maintain that the only way out of the SHU program is to inform or “provide intelligence” on other gang members in the prisons, a process known as “debriefing.”
Ostensibly to cut down on violence in the prisons and maintain safety, critics and supporters of the strikers say that removing suspected prison gang members from general population and placing them in solitary confinement has become a punitive issue for prisoners who have a political and activist orientation.
Forty-six year old Mutope Duguma (aka James Crawford), has been incarcerated in Pelican Bay since 1988 and he’s been in the SHU program since 2001. Duguma was placed in the SHU because he was “validated” as a member of the Black Guerilla Family (BGF), a charge which he denies. “I was involved in gang life as a young man in South Los Angeles ... but I was never a member or associate of the BGF. I never even met a member of the BGF during my first decade in prison,” said Duguma, who claims he was targeted for the SHU program because of his political activity; Duguma won a lawsuit against CDCR for keeping his mail from him on the basis that his political writings constituted “gang activity,” according to the website Solitary Watch.
The strikers want an end to the long term solitary confinement as well as the debriefing policy which places so many men in the SHU program in the first place, as well as an expansion of programs and resources for the men who are held in the SHU program with no release date, as well as adequate and nutritious food since since their confinement also affects them physically.
Bilal Ali of the Community Coalition for Self Defense says that the group will hold additional actions in the future to continue to show solidarity with and raise awareness of the conditions of the Hunger Strikers.
“We organized families in the 2011 hunger strikes and we’re doing this in solidarity because the strike was resumed because the CDCR reneged on their agreements with the prisoners to end these torturous conditions,” said Ali. “We see this as a catalyst; genocide is being waged against the Black community here in America through the prison system. We can’t sit idly by.”
July 18, 2013
By Thandisizwe Chimurenga
Sentinel Contributing Writer
George Michael Zimmerman, the accused murderer of Trayvon Benjamin Martin, was found not guilty by a jury of his peers on July 13, 2013. The insurance investigator and self-proclaimed neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Florida, had been charged with 2nd degree murder in the death of Martin, 17, who was on his way home after going to a 7/11 store to purchase some Skittles and iced tea.
The verdict was shocking but not necessarily surprising. “Long before the jury announced its decision, many people had seen what the outcome would be, had known that it would be a strange echo of the words Zimmerman uttered that rainy night in central Florida: they always get away,” stated Jelani Cobb in the New Yorker magazine not long after the verdict was announced on July 13.
Around the country, civil rights and social justice leaders, activists, journalists, parents, and others have decried the verdict, stating that the message it represents is that “Black life has no value.”
“The Zimmerman jury told young Black men what we already knew,” said Cord Jefferson writing on the online site Gawker.
“To the contrary, what is constantly reinforced and restated in every way imaginable is the idea that in this country a white life is more valuable than a Black life,” wrote Bakari Kitwana. “It’s part of our educational structure. It comes screaming daily through our news media, our criminal justice system, and from all three branches of the federal government, be it the Supreme Court, Congress or even the president himself,” said Kitwana on the Global Grind online news site.
Contrarian voices have also been raised throughout this entire ordeal, asserting that had the murderer of Trayvon Martin been African-American there would have been no outcry and no movement at all.
“49% of murder victims are black men. 93% of those are killed by other blacks. Media don’t care. Obama doesn’t care, according to Ben Shapiro, an editor for the Breitbart News website. Shapiro is a conservative, but his central thesis that violent acts such as murder committed by Blacks against other Blacks is a non- issue in the Black community was echoed long before Zimmerman shot Martin through the heart with a 9 mm.
The issue of Black on Black on violence is important however there is one glaring difference between the majority of such instances and the death of Trayvon Martin: Zimmerman was not charged with a crime until six weeks later after both social/new and traditional media picked up the case and a special prosecutor had been appointed by Florida’s governor. As Jamelle Bouie wrote on The Daily Beast on July 15, “ ... Martin’s case had less to do with the identity of the shooter and everything to do with the appalling disinterest of the local police department.”
Just like with the initial attempts to have George Zimmerman arrested and stand trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin, calls for George Zimmerman to be tried on federal charges of violating Trayvon Martin’s civil rights have been made by the NACCP and Rev. Jesse Jackson. Speaking on the CNN program New Day on July 14, Rev. Jackson stated “There's a Trayvon in every town. That's why the Department of Justice has a role to play, to look at this pattern, because equal protection under the law remains elusive.”
Benjamin Todd Jealous, executive director of the NAACP, said “We will pursue civil rights charges with the Department of Justice, we will continue to fight for the removal of Stand Your Ground laws in every state, and we will not rest until racial profiling in all its forms is outlawed.”
The U.S. Justice Department has stated that they will look into the case to see if it is feasible to bring civil rights charges against Zimmerman. “Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the Department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial,” Dena W. Iverson, a Justice spokesperson, said in a statement released July 14.
Relying on federal intervention to correct wrongs that go unaddressed (or inflicted by) the states is a time-honored Civil Rights tactic that also comes as no surprise.
Beyond the legal and investigative routes and the time it takes for such matters to conclude however, there remains another unanswered question: how do we protect ourselves and our children from this happening again?
Bakari Kitwana’s answer is blunt and to the point: “ ... the takeaway message from the “not guilty” verdict is this: if police, law enforcement and by extension, self-appointed neighborhood watch vigilantes are authorized to kill your son or mine with impunity, then it is up to us to invoke our own justice — because today the country we call home has shown us again that we have no justice coming from anywhere else.”
July 18, 2013
By PETE YOST
Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday called the killing of Trayvon Martin a “tragic, unnecessary shooting,” and said the Justice Department will follow “the facts and the law” as it reviews evidence to see whether federal criminal charges are warranted.
In his first comments since the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Martin case, the attorney general said the 17-year-old's death provides an opportunity for the nation to speak honestly about complicated and emotionally charged issues.
He said the nation must not forgo an opportunity toward better understanding of one another.
On Sunday, the Justice Department said it is reviewing evidence in the case to determine whether criminal civil rights charges would be brought.
The department opened an investigation into Martin’s death last year but stepped aside to allow the state prosecution to proceed.
Holder said, “We are ... mindful of the pain felt by our nation surrounding the tragic, unnecessary shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., last year.” The attorney general’s characterization of the killing drew strong applause from the audience at the 51st national convention of the Delta Sigma Theta, the nation’s largest African-American sorority.
“Independent of the legal determination that will be made, I believe that this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly about the complicated and emotionally charged issues that this case has raised,” Holder said.
“We must not — as we have too often in the past — let this opportunity pass,” he added.
“I hope that we will approach this necessarily difficult dialogue with the same dignity that those who have lost the most, Trayvon’s parents, have demonstrated throughout the last year — and especially over the past few days,” said Holder. “They suffered a pain that no parent should have to endure — and one that I, as a father, cannot begin to conceive.”
The Justice Department says the criminal section of the agency’s civil rights division, along with the FBI and federal prosecutors in Florida, are all continuing to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal investigation, plus evidence and testimony from the state trial.
The NAACP and others are calling on the Justice Department to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman. Thousands of demonstrators from across the country protested the jury's decision to clear Zimmerman in the shooting death of the unarmed black teenager.
Also on Monday, the White House said President Barack Obama won’t involve himself in the Justice Department decision on whether to pursue civil rights charges against Zimmerman. White House spokesman Jay Carney said it would be inappropriate for Obama to express an opinion on how the department deals with Zimmerman.
Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called the verdict “a travesty and miscarriage of justice” and urged the Justice Department to bring criminal civil rights charges against Zimmerman.
July 18, 2013
City News Service
Two men convicted of the January 2008 fatal shootings of two teenagers at a crowded birthday party in Long Beach were sentenced again on Tuesday July 16, to lengthy state prison terms. A three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal had sent the case back to Long Beach Superior Court for re-sentencing after reversing Izac McCloud’s conviction on 38 of 46 counts of assault with a firearm and Jonzel Stringer’s conviction on 46 counts of attempted murder involving others who were at the Jan. 19, 2008, party at the Masonic hall in the 5900 block of Parkcrest Street.
The justices upheld the convictions of the two for second-degree murder in the slayings of 15-year-old Breon Taylor of Los Angeles and 17-year-old Dennis Moses of Long Beach but ordered McCloud and Stringer to be re-sentenced. Long Beach Superior Court Judge Mark C. Kim ordered McCloud —who had been sentenced in October 2010 to 202 years to life in state prison — to serve a minimum of 111 years to life in prison. Stringer —who had initially been sentenced to 198 years to life — was sentenced to a minimum of 36 years to life in prison at the new sentencing hearing.
“I think they deserve at least that much time,” Deputy District Attorney Karen Thorp said outside court.
“They actually deserve a lot more time than they got based on the lives they took and the lives they endangered. But I think justice has been served.”
In its December 2012 ruling, the state appellate court panel agreed with Stringer’s contention that a judge prejudicially erred by instructing jurors on the “kill zone” theory of liability for attempted murder.
“In a kill zone case, the defendant does not merely subject everyone in the kill zone to lethal risk. Rather, the defendant specifically intends that everyone in the kill zone die,” Associate Justice Frances Rothschild wrote on behalf of the panel.
The justices also found that there was sufficient evidence to support only eight of the 46 assault with a firearm convictions against McCloud, noting that 10 shots were fired but that two of them killed the murder victims, both of whom were shot in the head. A 17-year-old boy survived being shot in the leg. Stringer — who was 19 at the time of the crime — and McCloud — 16 at the time — were indicted in August 2008 for the killings, which occurred at a party that had drawn more than 400 youths.