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.
July 25, 2013
By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
The Black community joined the world in singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to ailing former South African president Nelson Mandela when he turned 95 on July 18. The Nelson Mandela Foundation created the international day of service following Mandela’s 90th birthday to celebrate the legacy of the anti-apartheid leader.
“Clearly we have chosen to honor President Nelson Mandela on his 95th birthday, but the truth of the matter is that this is a man of such significance, substance, and importance that we should be honoring him every day,” said Johnnetta Cole, director of the National African Art Museum and first African-American woman to serve as president of Spelman College in Atlanta.
The foundation encouraged people around the world to dedicate 67 minutes to serving their community, a minute for each year Mandela spent in public service.
Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., said that Black people in America shared a special connection to the Black people of South Africa, each group facing rigid forms of institutionalized racism in the 20th century – apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow in the United States.
“Black people understood the roots of that apartheid the vicious way in which the legal system worked against the freedoms of those people, and the way in which society prevented the flourishing and mobility of Black people in South Africa and in America,” said Dyson. “We understood when Black South Africans had to show their [identification] cards to any White person to prove their citizenship and their ability to move around. So we understood that our shared struggle was against a common enemy: White supremacy and colonialism.”
Cole said that Black Americans continue to feel solidarity with their South African sisters and brothers.
“There is a long and very deep and very important connection between African Americans and the people of South Africa,” she explained. “Apartheid and legalized racial discrimination in the United States were like kissing cousins and many people understood that relationship and we as African Americans contributed our support to the anti-Apartheid movement.”
Apartheid, a system of racial segregation in South Africa, began in 1948 when the minority ruling White Afrikaner party split South Africans into racial groups (“native”, “white”, “coloured“, and “Asian”). Families were uprooted, neighborhoods were razed in an effort to keep the racial groups separate. Under the brutal system, Black South Africans received inferior education, health care and public services. Nelson Mandela worked to organize Black South Africans in secrecy and in public fighting the racist apartheid policies. Mandela was arrested and sentenced to life in prison in June of 1964 and served 27 years. Even as Black Americans, suffered their own racism, they supported Black South Africans in their battle for equality. Following decades of political and economic pressure, the South African government began to dismantle apartheid in 1990 and freed Nelson Mandela that same year. In 1994, Mandela was elected South Africa’s first Black president.
Dyson said that for many Black Americans, Mandela was their substitute president.
“We were grateful for [Mandela’s] rise,” said Dyson. “We celebrate Mandela, because Mandela gave us that example that paradigm that inspiration even as we furnished some example and some inspiration for South Africa.”
During a Nelson Mandela Day event on Capitol Hill, members of Congress, civil rights leaders and shared stories of success and sacrifice inspired by the legendary South African leader that retired from public life in 2004.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said that President Mandela taught the world invaluable lessons about determination, leadership, and unity.
“I regard President Mandela as a personal hero, and I am among the many that have been profoundly moved by both him and the people of South Africa,” said Waters.
She added: “President Mandela once said that ‘What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.’ Few embody this quote better than Nelson Mandela himself, whose lifelong struggle against racism and apartheid not only improved the lives of all South Africans, but also showed the world what is possible when one man refuses to sacrifice his ideals.”