Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

February 17, 2014

Jordan Davis Murder Trial, Stand Your Ground and the Anti-lynching Movement of Our Time

Filed under: American Injustice,Racism,Trayvon Martin — millerlf @ 11:49 am

Rinku Sen of Colorlines

Comments on Melissa Harris Perry 2/16/14

We are still debating whether or not race is a factor in this case and in this trial. As long as we are debating that, we cannot get to the discussion of how race is a factor. The problem with the way the prosecution has carried out both of these trials (Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin murders), by refusing to put race on the table, they enable the bias that “stand your ground” codifies to continue to remain invisible and unclear and hidden.

What Michael Dunn expected from that interaction with Jordan Davis was not respect, but submission.”Stand your ground” laws codify the expectation of submission from young black people to white men. By not raising that at all, the prosecution enables that expectation to remain as an unwritten rule embedded into “stand your ground” laws.

Unless were going to deal with that in the course of “justice being carried out”, then we’re never going to get to the racial dimensions of the law and system and the racial dimensions of the shooters intentions. I think fighting “stand your ground” laws is the anti-lynching movement of our time.

That’s the way that we have to think about what is required to have Americans think and understand what is going on underneath those laws and develop the will to take them down.

Rinku referred to the following blog during her remarks on the Melissa Harris-Perry show.

How Keeping Our Sons Safe Makes It OK for Whites to Be Racists

The Jordan Davis case led some parents to give their kids “the talk.” But doing so absolves white people of their responsibility to unlearn stereotypes that scare them.

 

By: Tonyaa Weathersbee Posted: Feb. 12 2014 Roots

 

The slaying of 17-year-old Jordan Davis by a white man who didn’t appreciate his taste in music had some black people scrambling to give black boys “the talk” about how not to scare white people into shooting them.

The Rev. John Guns, pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., was one of them.

Using the trial of 47-year-old Michael Dunn—who, on Nov. 23, 2012, fired nine bullets into the SUV that Jordan and two of his friends were sitting in after he argued with the teens over loud music—as a launching point, Guns talked to black boys about the importance of not exacerbating trouble with people who might be threatened by them and their skin.

At one point Guns brought a young man up on the stage who was wearing a hoodie—which Trayvon Martin was wearing in February 2012 when he was stalked and fatally shot by George Zimmerman—and told him that whenever he walked inside a store, he needed to take the hood off. Better to walk out of the store, he said, than to wind up being killed at age 18 for … well, scaring some squirrelly store owner into thinking you were there to rob the place.

To be sure, Guns’ advice is sound and pragmatic—and a lot of black parents who love their children are probably repeating it. I understand it.

But I don’t like it.

I don’t like it because as practical as it is, it inadvertently feeds the notion that black youths, and black males in particular, ought to capitulate to racist whites in order not to suffer at their hands.

And any white man who believes that black kids ought to turn down their music because he doesn’t like it, even if they are only sharing the same parking lot for a few minutes, isn’t seeking respect.

He’s expecting submission.

Any white store owner, or night watchman, who expects a black youth to take off his hood because it scares him, even though that black youth has no plans to do anything scary, isn’t asking for respect but for his irrational fears to be coddled.

Jordan Davis’s Mother Speaks Out Against “Stand Your Ground Law”

Filed under: American Injustice,Racism,Trayvon Martin — millerlf @ 8:42 am

Photo from the January 14 cover of Jet Magazine


Words of Jordan’s Mother, Ms. Lucia McBath, at a hearing before the  United States Senate on “stand your ground” laws:

Some will tell you that the argument was about music, but I believe that it was about the availability of guns and the eagerness to hate. People like Mr. Dunn feel empowered to use their gun instead of their voice to reason with others. Now I face the very real possibility that my son’s killer will walk free, hiding behind a statute that lets people claim a threat where there was none.  

This law declares open season on anyone that we don’t trust for reasons that don’t even have to be true. In essence, it allows any armed citizen to “self-deputize” themselves and establish their own definition of law and order. It lets one and all define their own criteria for right and wrong and how justice will be carried out.  

Even the Wild West had more stringent laws governing the taking of life than we have now. “Stand Your Ground” defies all reason. It goes against the sound system of justice established long ago on this very Hill.

Jordan was named for a change in the tide, a decision to try harder and do better. He was my only child. He was raised with love and learning and a clear understanding of right and wrong. I have been without Jordan now since Thanksgiving weekend 2012, without him last Christmas and on his birthday in February. 

I never got to take his prom picture or see him graduate from high school. I can tell you all about him-about his easy smile, his first girlfriend, and his plans to join the Marines. I can tell you how he loved his dad’s gumbo. And, how they both rooted for the NY Giants. But you can never really know my boy. 

Because an angry man owned a gun, kept it close at hand, and chose to demonstrate unbridled hatred one balmy evening for reasons I will never understand. These laws empowered his prejudiced beliefs and subsequent rage over my son’s own life, his liberty and pursuit of happiness. There will be no sense made of any of it, unless I and the families of other victims speak out to assure this kind of predatory violence ends.

It was fifty years ago that my father shook hands with Eleanor Roosevelt. She assured him of the validity of his struggle and the promise of better times. She, as he did, believed that this nation was righteous to the core. That we as a country would never stop striving to do better. And that was what made us better. 

 

Honorable men and women of the Senate, you can prove them right today. With your help and willingness to bring our laws back toward the true tenets of justice, you can lift this nation from its internal battle in which guns rule over right. You have the power to restore hope to a nation crying out for justice.

July 17, 2013

Zimmerman Verdict: It’s Time to Wake the Hell Up

Filed under: Trayvon Martin — millerlf @ 10:30 am

July 17, 2013 9:44 a.m. MJS Leonard Pitts

Four words of advice for African-Americans in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal:

Wake the hell up.

The Sunday after Zimmerman went free was a day of protest for many of us. From Biscayne Blvd. in Miami to Leimert Park in Los Angeles to the Daley Center in Chicago to Times Square in New York City, African-Americans — and others who believe in racial justice — carried out angry, but mostly peaceful demonstrations.

Good. This is as it should have been.

But if that’s the end, if you just get it out of your system, then move ahead with business as usual, then all you did Sunday was waste your time. You might as well have stayed home.

We are living in a perilous era for African-American freedom. The parallels to other eras have become too stark to ignore.

Every period of African-American advance has always been met by a crushing period of push-back, the crafting of laws and the use of violence with the intent of eroding the new freedoms. Look it up:

The 13th Amendment ended slavery. So the white South created a convict leasing system that was actually harsher.

The 14th Amendment guaranteed citizenship. So the white South rendered that citizenship meaningless with the imposition of Jim Crow laws.

The 15th Amendment gave us the right to vote; it was taken away by the so-called grandfather clause. The Supreme Court struck that down, so the white South relied on literacy tests and poll taxes to snatch our ballots all over again.

Our history is a litany: two steps forward, one step back.

The civil rights movement was the greatest step forward since emancipation. So we ought not be surprised to see voting rights eroded again, the Civil Rights Act attacked, the so-called War on Drugs used for the mass incarceration of black men. Or to see the killing of an unarmed child deliver a message as old as the Constitution itself: Black life is worth less.

We are in another period of push-back. And worse, we don’t even seem to know.

It feels as if we have taken the great advances of the last half century — the protective laws, the rise of the black middle class, the winning of the ballot, the flowering of options once considered unthinkable — for granted. It feels as if we have come to regard progress as somehow inevitable, preordained, carved in stone and irrevocable as a birthright.

So, yes, we need to wake the hell up.

While we were celebrating, others were calculating.

While we were writing nasty rap lyrics, they were writing senators.

While we were organizing Obama victory parties, they were organizing tea parties.

While we were buying DVDs, they were buying candidates.

While we were sending texts, they were building propaganda machinery.

While we were resting on the past, they were seizing the future.

Granted, the preceding casts a wide net. Yes, there are many of us, African-Americans and others, who don’t need the admonition, who are already awake, who have always been awake. More power to them.

But there are also many of us still sleeping. So let Trayvon Martin’s death and the acquittal of his killer be a wake-up call. Let it be a spur to stop reacting and start pro-acting. Let it be a goad to become better informed. Let it be a reminder to organize. Let it be a reason to send a check to the NAACP. Let it be an incentive to join the social justice ministry at church. Let it be cause to write your congressperson. Let it be an impetus to teach and nurture your kids.

Most of all, let it be an alarm clock, ringing in the darkness of a new morning, calling conscience to account. Do not waste this moment. The time for sleeping is done.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Email lpitts@miamiherald.com

The Truth About Trayvon

Filed under: Trayvon Martin — millerlf @ 10:19 am

July 15, 2013 NYTimes By EKOW N. YANKAH

THE Trayvon Martin verdict is frustrating, fracturing, angering and predictable. More than anything, for many of us, it is exhausting. Exhausting because nothing could bring back our lost child, exhausting because the verdict, which should have felt shocking, arrived with the inevitability that black Americans know too well when criminal law announces that they are worth less than other Americans.

Lawyers on both sides argued repeatedly that this case was never about race, but only whether prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman was not simply defending himself when he shot Mr. Martin. And, indeed, race was only whispered in the incomplete invocation that Mr. Zimmerman had “profiled” Mr. Martin. But what this case reveals in its overall shape is precisely what the law is unable to see in its narrow focus on the details.

The anger felt by so many African-Americans speaks to the simplest of truths: that race and law cannot be cleanly separated. We are tired of hearing that race is a conversation for another day. We are tired of pretending that “reasonable doubt” is not, in every sense of the word, colored.

Every step Mr. Martin took toward the end of his too-short life was defined by his race. I do not have to believe that Mr. Zimmerman is a hate-filled racist to recognize that he would probably not even have noticed Mr. Martin if he had been a casually dressed white teenager.

But because Mr. Martin was one of those “punks” who “always get away,” as Mr. Zimmerman characterized him in a call to the police, Mr. Zimmerman felt he was justified in following him. After all, a young black man matched the criminal descriptions, not just in local police reports, but in those most firmly lodged in Mr. Zimmerman’s imagination.

Whether the law judges Trayvon Martin’s behavior to be reasonable is also deeply colored by race. Imagine that a militant black man, with a history of race-based suspicion and a loaded gun, followed an unarmed white teenager around his neighborhood. The young man is scared, and runs through the streets trying to get away. Unable to elude his black stalker and, perhaps, feeling cornered, he finally holds his ground — only to be shot at point-blank range after a confrontation.

Would we throw up our hands, unable to conclude what really happened? Would we struggle to find a reasonable doubt about whether the shooter acted in self-defense? A young, white Trayvon Martin would unquestionably be said to have behaved reasonably, while it is unimaginable that a militant, black George Zimmerman would not be viewed as the legal aggressor, and thus guilty of at least manslaughter.

This is about more than one case. Our reasons for presuming, profiling and acting are always deeply racialized, and the Zimmerman trial, in ignoring that, left those reasons unexplored and unrefuted.

What is reasonable to do, especially in the dark of night, is defined by preconceived social roles that paint young black men as potential criminals and predators. Black men, the narrative dictates, are dangerous, to be watched and put down at the first false move. This pain is one all black men know; putting away the tie you wear to the office means peeling off the assumption that you are owed equal respect. Mr. Martin’s hoodie struck the deepest chord because we know that daring to wear jeans and a hooded sweatshirt too often means that the police or other citizens are judged to be reasonable in fearing you.

We know this, yet every time a case like this offers a chance for the country to tackle the evil of racial discrimination in our criminal law, courts have deliberately silenced our ability to expose it. The Supreme Court has held that even if your race is what makes your actions suspicious to the police, their suspicions are reasonable so long as an officer can later construct a race-neutral narrative.

Likewise, our death penalty cases have long presaged the Zimmerman verdict, exposing how racial disparities, which make a white life more valuable, do not undermine the constitutionality of the death sentence. And even the most casual observer recognizes the painful racial disparities in our prison population — the new Jim Crow, in the account of the legal scholar Michelle Alexander. Our prisons are full of young, black men for whom guilty beyond a reasonable doubt was easy enough to reach.

There is no quick answer for the historical use of our criminal law to reinforce and then punish social stereotypes. But pretending that reasonable doubt is a value-free clinical term, as so many people did so readily in the Zimmerman case, only insulates injustice in plain sight.

Without an honest jurisprudence that is brave enough to tackle the way race infuses our criminal law, Trayvon Martin’s voice will be silenced again.

What would such a jurisprudence look like? The Supreme Court could hold, for example, that the unjustified use of race by the police in determining “reasonable suspicion” constituted an unreasonable stop, tainting captured evidence. Likewise, in the same way we have started to attack racial disparities in other areas of criminal law, we could consider it a violation of someone’s constitutional rights if, controlling for all else, his race was what determined whether the state executed him.

I can imagine a jurisprudence that at least begins to use racial disparities as a tool to question the constitutionality of criminal punishment. And above all, I can imagine a jurisprudence that does not pretend, as lawyers for both sides (but no one else) did in the Zimmerman case, that doubts have no color.

Ekow N. Yankah is a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.

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