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.”
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.
LAWT News Service
“HERO” portrays the life of Justice Ulric Cross – World War II navigator, jurist and diplomat
A documentary film inspired by the life of West Indian war hero, jurist and diplomat Ulric Cross is scheduled to be released next year by the award-winning Caribbean filmmaker Frances-Anne Solomon.
Addressing an audience packed into the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in London last month, Solomon announced that Justice Cross, “a hero for all time”, will be the central feature in the 75-minute documentary which also highlights the accomplishments of fellow Trinidadian legends George Padmore, C.L.R. James, Henry Sylvester Williams, Learie Constantine, and Jamaican Una Marsden.
From an ordinary Belmont childhood in colonial Trinidad, Ulric Cross vaulted the barriers of color, race and class to realize his extraordinary destiny.
The most decorated West Indian Squadron Leader of World War II, Cross was a navigator with the elite Pathfinders Force of Britain's Royal Air Force and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for meritorious service during wartime combat; and the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial exercises.
After the war, he trained as a lawyer, worked as a producer at the BBC, then went on to shine in key advisory roles in three newly independent African States – as a trusted advisor to President Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, as Attorney General in Cameroon, and as an advisor to President Julius Nyerere in Tanzania.
He returned to Trinidad to serve his country as judge, mediator and diplomat, before heading back to Britain as T&T’s High Commissioner in the 1990s. In 2011, Ambassador Ulric Cross received The Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the highest honor of the twin island Caribbean state.
Reflecting on Ulric Cross’ accomplishments, acclaimed actor Rudolph Walker, the film’s UK Patron, stressed the importance of role models. “We need to tell our stories especially for the benefit of our young people and the generations to come,” said Walker, whose Rudolph Walker Foundation provides theatrical training to inner city youth in the UK.
Cross’ nephew Felix Cross, a composer and theatre director, explained “as a young man, Uncle Ulric inspired us all because his life spanned key moments of the 20th Century: the Second World War, the rise of Pan Africanism, the birth of Independence in Africa and the Caribbean, the emergence of powerful Black Leaders across the Diaspora, and the coming to voice of Caribbean societies.”
“HERO explores not just the life, but also the dynamic and transformative times that Ulric Cross was born into, and starred in. Ultimately, the film is about us, who we are as Caribbean people and as citizens of the world,” said Frances-Anne Solomon.
“HERO” is co-produced by Solomon’s CaribbeanTales Film Group, and Timmy Mora’s Trinidad and Tobago-based Visual Art and Production, both established film and television production entities.
Republic Bank of Trinidad and Tobago has joined the project as title sponsor.
Interviews and dramatizations have already been filmed in Trinidad. Over the next few months, the HERO team will recruit actors, crew and partners to shoot in the UK.
For further information, visit www.ulriccross.com or email
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.”
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.
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