July 25, 2013
By Zenitha Prince
Special to the NNPA from the AFRO
The recent acquittal of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old unarmed Trayvon Martin has led to intense scrutiny of Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law and similar “no retreat” self-defense laws and their impact on people of color.
“I think the Trayvon Martin case highlighted the racial inequalities that exist in American society,” said Brendan Fischer, general counsel of the Center for Media and Democracy. “It is a symbol of how the American justice system devalues the lives of people of color. [And], ‘Stand Your Ground’ has embedded a lot of these injustices into the system. Statistics have shown its application has been anything but equitable.”
Supported by the National Rifle Association, “Stand Your Ground” was passed by the Florida legislature in 2005. The measure turned age-old self-defense principle on its head by allowing persons to use deadly force to defend themselves, without first trying to retreat, if they have what they consider a reasonable belief that they face a threat.
The law’s template was then adopted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit organization made up of corporations, foundations and legislators that advance federalist and conservative public policies, authorities said. Since Florida passed the law, similar measures have been introduced in one form or another in about 30 states, usually those with state legislatures dominated by Republicans.
“That law gives law-and-order activists, right-wingers and vigilantes an arguable basis for defense and opens up a pathway for unjust dispositions of justice because it allows civilians to shoot first and make certain determinations later,” said Dwight Pettit, 67, a renowned Black attorney in Baltimore.
Pettit drew comparisons to police-involved shootings of African Americans when the officers make claims such as “I was in fear for my life,” or “I thought he was reaching for his gun,” and are exonerated. He discusses the phenomenon in his soon-to-be-released book Under Color of Law.
“Blacks don’t fare well with these laws at all,” Pettit said. “It’s another lessening of protection for African Americans.”
An analysis conducted by the Tampa Bay Times last year showed that defendants in Florida who employ the “Stand Your Ground” defense are more successful when the victim is Black. In its examination of 200 applicable cases, the Times found that 73 percent of those who killed a Black person were acquitted, compared to 59 percent of those who killed a White.
Similarly, an analysis of Supplemental Homicide Reports (SHR) submitted by local law enforcement to the FBI between 2005 and 2010 demonstrates that in cases with a Black shooter and a White victim, the rate of justifiable homicide rulings is about 1 percent. However, if the shooter is White and the victim is Black, it is ruled justified in 9.5 percent of cases in non-Stand Your Ground states. In Stand Your Ground states, the rate is even higher—almost 17 percent, according to John Roman of the Urban Institute.
The trends could partly explain Zimmerman’s verdict, some legal experts said. While his defense team did not invoke the law, Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson introduced the principle in her instructions to the jury.
“If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony,” she said in her instructions to the jury of one Hispanic and five White women.
To police officers and prosecutors in Sanford, Fla.—who had initially decided not to charge Zimmerman—and to jurors in the case, Zimmerman’s “fear” of Trayvon Martin, a hoodie-wearing Black teenager, likely appeared to be justified, Fischer said.
“If you have a case like George Zimmerman, who is part White, alleging that a young Black male is a threat to him, a lot of times law enforcement would agree that such as person did [constitute] a threat because of the biases and presumptions about Black males, in particular, which exist in society,” he said.
Conversely, Stand Your Ground laws are less accommodating of Black defendants. Such was the case of successful African-American businessman John McNeil who was found guilty of aggravated assault and felony murder in Georgia in 2006 in connection with the fatal shooting of White contractor Brian Epp. McNeil said Epp threatened him and his son during a hostile encounter after going onto McNeil’s property to confront him. He was released earlier this year on time served.
Similarly, in July 2012, Marissa Alexander, 31, the mother of three, was given a 20-year mandatory sentence for an aggravated assault conviction for firing a warning shot into the air in the garage of her home at her abusive husband. Alexander said the man was moving toward her as she attempted to retreat from him when she fired the shot. He was not injured.
Florida Sen. Gary Siplin (D) said the Alexander case was his motivation to attempt to get the Stand Your Ground law overturned. He was unsuccessful, however, because “there are more Democrats in Florida, but more Republicans [are] in charge and they don’t want to change the law,” he told the AFRO.
Working toward a repeal of the laws would be a positive outcome or response to the verdict in the George Zimmerman case, Fischer said.
“People have to vote and elect legislators that would support more just laws that protect the rights of all people instead of just a few,” he said.
In the meantime, many officials are vowing to examine the laws and work toward their repeal, if necessary.
“It’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech to the NAACP on July 16. “By allowing, and perhaps encouraging, violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety.”
The Trayvon Martin case “opened up a nationwide inquiry into the appropriateness and efficacy of Stand Your Ground laws,” said Commissioner Michael Yaki, of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, who initiated the body’s investigation into racial bias in the application of such laws. He said the commission is committed to investigating the laws.
“To honor Trayvon and his family, we will continue this inquiry with resolve and renewed purpose,” Yaki said.
By CHRIS TALBOTT
Samuel L. Jackson’s just like everybody else: He has no idea what’s going on with the new “Star Wars” films.
Jackson was at Comic-Con on Saturday to promote his new film “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and held court on a number of subjects in an interview, including J.J. Abrams’ new installments in George Lucas’ cinema-changing franchise.
Unlike the tens of thousands of fans at the annual gathering of fans, though, Jackson has had the opportunity to ask what’s up. And he still doesn’t know.
Jackson played Jedi Master Mace Windu in the “Star Wars” prequels. He’d like more work for Windu and his purple light saber. But when he saw Abrams recently at Lucas’ wedding, he gleaned no information about what will come next as the franchise moves on to its seventh film in 2015.
“J.J. was there, I was there,” Jackson said in an interview at the Hard Rock Hotel. “I was like (raises eyebrows) and he was like (noncommittal shrug), and he just went about his business. I don’t know what that means. Harrison (Ford) was there too, and he was like (shrug). I just think it would be cool to have some of us that people relate to as being part of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise to give entre to the new characters that they’re going to bring to whatever the new thing is. It kind of makes it an easier entrance.”
Jackson also wonders why his Nick Fury character isn't part of the new “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” television series. Fury oversees the global security spy agency in Marvel’s cinematic universe, including “Marvel's The Avengers.” But so far he hasn’t been contacted about the show, which stars Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson and debuts on ABC in September.
“I don’t know how they’ve got the TV show without me, but they do,” Jackson said. “Maybe I could be like Charlie in ‘Charlie’s Angels.’ You just hear my voice. I send (the agents) out every week.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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