Category: gun violence

Boycotts of ‘Stand Your Ground’ group

by Melanie Wilmoth Navarro

(Note: This article was updated on 4/10/12.)

In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s killing, groups are boycotting the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC is the well-funded conservative organization behind the controversial “stand your ground” gun laws.  Organizations like Color of Change have pressured groups to stop funding ALEC, and NPR reports that major U.S. companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have recently dropped their ALEC memberships:

“Two of America’s best-known companies, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, have dropped their memberships in the American Legislative Exchange Council, a low-profile conservative organization behind the national proliferation of “stand your ground” gun laws.

ALEC promotes business-friendly legislation in state capitols and drafts model bills for state legislatures to adopt. They range from little-noticed pro-business bills to more controversial measures, including voter-identification laws and stand your ground laws based on the Florida statute. About two-dozen states now have such laws.

Florida’s stand your ground law has been cited in the slaying of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen who was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on Feb. 26.”

In addition to stand your ground and voter ID laws, ALEC supports a number of disturbing initiatives, including prison privatization, anti-labor union bills, and Arizona-style immigration policies.  Other major companies that fund ALEC include Walmart, Kraft Foods, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, UPS, and ExxonMobil.

Let’s continue to put pressure on these organizations to divest from ALEC.  Hopefully, they will follow in the footsteps of Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Co.

UPDATE (4/10/12):

Several more groups, including Kraft Foods, Intuit (the maker of Turbo Tax), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and McDonalds, have decided to withdraw support for ALEC.


Did Kenneth Chamberlain have to die?

By Alan Bean

While the Trayvon Martin case dominates the headlines, this story hasn’t received the attention it deserves.  As usual, the facts are messy.  Police officers, accompanying a medical team responding to a medical alert, end up shooting a 68 year-old ex-marine to death.  The New York Times story below is over a month old.  More recently, Democracy Now devoted a segment to the tragedy.  Apart from that, the mainstream and alternative media have shown little interest.

The similarities between the Kenneth Chamberlain and Trayvon Martin stories are striking.  In both cases, men with guns manufactured crisis conditions that could have been easily avoided.  In both cases, an innocent man died.

It is difficult to assess how race played into either narrative.  George Zimmerman thought Trayvon Martin was suspicious.  Maybe it was the way he was walking or the way it was dressed.  It now appears that the 9-1-1 operator introduced the race issue, but Zimmerman was responding to visual cues of some kind.  I’m not sure how suspicious a skinny kid with iced tea and skittles can look.  But Zimmerman wasn’t seeing a kid with iced tea and skittles; he saw someone who didn’t belong in his neighborhood–an alien element.

One obvious difference between these tragic tales is that one involved police officers while the other involved an armed civilian.  The difference is more apparent than real.  Zimmerman, for reasons that are not yet clear, saw himself as a kind of reserve police officer.  If officers can pull over and question suspicious people, George thought he ought to be able to do it too.  Legally, he might have been on solid ground–that’s the scary thing about the Trayvon Martin case.

When it becomes necessary to question suspects, there are good reasons why we call police officers.  They have the training, experience, and procedures to handle potentially volatile confrontations with disciplined grace and professionalism.

At least that’s the theory.  Although the facts remain a bit unclear, it appears that the police officers responsible for Kenneth Chamberlain’s shooting intentionally and foolishly escalated the tension in the room.  This happens all too often.  Sometimes its an innocent civilian who takes the bullet; sometimes its the police officer.  But when fear overrides common sense, bad decisions are made. (more…)

Will Trayvon Martin’s death spark the movement to end mass incarceration?

After news spread about the killing of 17-year old Trayvon Martin, many began comparing Martin’s case to the 1955 murder of 14-year old Emmett Till.  Although some are critical of the comparison, arguing that comparing Martin to Till suggests nothing has changed since the 1950s, Ibram Rogers argues that we must look at the context of their deaths and what their murders symbolized.  Till’s death was a symbol of racism in the Jim Crow South.  Martin’s death is a symbol of racial profiling and the criminalization of black men in 2012.  Just as the death of Emmett Till galvanized the civil rights movement, Ibram wonders: “Will the anger over Martin’s death spark the New Abolitionist Movement against mass incarceration?” MWN 

Probing the Comparison – Trayvon Martin/Mass Incarceration and Emmett Till/Segregation

by Dr. Ibram Rogers

Protests are blooming this spring. Black Americans are enraged and emboldened, shouting entreaties for justice, justice, justice.

Stoking even more rage—or rather placing the rage in historical context—has been the continuous comparisons made between the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, murdered recently by a neighborhood watchman of a majority White gated community in Florida who is claiming self-defense, and Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago native murdered by Mississippi segregationists in 1955 for speaking “inappropriately” to a White woman.

A blog in The New Yorker on the Martin tragedy was entitled “Emmett Till in Sanford.” Hundreds of protesters gathered at a park in Sanford, Fla., on March 22, and dozens of them sported t-shirts with Martin’s photo next to a Till photo. These Martin-Till shirts have become widely popular among activists around the nation.

Syracuse professor Boyce Watkins wrote that Martin “has become a modern day Emmett Till.” University of Maryland law professor Sherrilyn A. Ifill insightfully compared Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, to Mamie Mae Till, who courageously allowed an open casket funeral and circulated pictures of her son’s tattered face around the world. Mamie Till’s public fight to get justice for her son is one of the untold sparks of the Civil Rights Movement.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson dismissed the “facile comparison” as “a disservice to history—and the memory of both young men. It is ridiculous to imply that nothing has changed.”

Robinson is correct and incorrect. The link is a service and disserve to history. The widely touted comparison of Martin to Till is profound and “facile.”  (more…)

Learning from messy narratives

By Alan Bean

The Trayvon Martin case is following a predictable trajectory.  Calls for the arrest of George Zimmerman centered on the self-appointed neighborhood watch captain’s unprovoked vigilante pursuit of an unarmed citizen.  Now comes the inevitable backlash as the Sanford, Florida police department leaks reports that Martin had been suspended from school after being connected to an empty marijuana baggie.  The unspoken message is that Trayvon Martin really was the flipped-out druggie Zimmerman initially reported in a 911 call.

In addition, Zimmerman’s attorney is suggesting that Martin initiated the physical altercation that lead to his own death.

A certain amount of speculation is unavoidable in this case.  We know that Zimmerman decided to leave his vehicle, against the advice of the 911 operator, with the clear intention of confronting Martin.   We know that Martin was aware that he was being followed because he was on the phone to his girlfriend at the time.  We know a physical altercation preceded the shooting because of the grass stains on the back of Zimmerman’s shirt and his bloody nose.  We know that Zimmerman used deadly force to resolve the situation.

Frankly, I was surprised that it took so long for the champions of the status quo to start spinning the story to their own advantage.  For two weeks, black civil rights groups and bloggers have had the mainstream media all to themselves.  That couldn’t last.  It never does. (more…)

We’re Still Talking about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, and That’s a Good Thing

By Lisa D’Souza

News reports and discussions about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin continue.   The Sanford police have provided information about George Zimmerman’s statement to themZimmerman’s friend has spoken out on his behalf.  This week, both The Diane Rehm Show and Talk of the Nation aired shows discussing the tragedy with experts and callers.  With a federal investigation underway and the autopsy results still sealed, we will learn more as the days and weeks unfold.

Why was George Zimmerman suspicious of Trayvon Martin?  What happened in the 20 minutes that elapsed between Zimmerman’s first seeing Martin and the shooting?  How do Florida’s self defense and gun laws affect police decisions?

And the big question: what about race?  Some have remembered the similarities between Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin’s deaths.  President Obama encouraged us all to do some “soul searching” about not just this incident but the history and context in which it happened.  In response, Newt Gingrich decried the insertion of race into the discussion of this case.  When we can admit that black males are just over 6% of our nation’s population, and yet they are more than 40% of our murder victims (and this data likely doesn’t include the deaths of black men that are not prosecuted due to self-defense claims made by the killer), then we must acknowledge that a discussion of race, violence and criminal justice is long overdue.

It is good that one month after his death, we are still talking about Trayvon Martin.  Let us hope that we remember him for a long time, and that his memory moves us to act so that his tragic and untimely death is the last one of its kind.

Star of “The Wire” hooked by the streets of Baltimore

David Simon (R) and Ed Burns (L) on the set of The Wire

By Alan Bean

I learned about The Wire from former homicide detective Ed Burns.  He was sitting next to me at a convening of people concerned about the abuse of snitch testimony. “What do you do?” I asked.  When he told me he co-produced The Wire I said, “what’s the wire?”

Burns took my gnorance in stride.  “It’s an HBO drama about the war on drugs,” he replied.  I suspect I wasn’t the first person Burns had met who hadn’t heard of The Wire, a production widely regarded as the best dramatic series in the history of television.  The show had a rabidly loyal following, but it never rivalled HBO productions like The Sopranos.  The subject matter was gritty, intense, profane and troubling.  But from the moment we popped in the first rented DVD, my wife and I were hooked.

Sonja Sohn working with Baltimore street kids

Sonja Sohn played Detective Shakima “Kima” Greggs on The Wire, a role she initially struggled with.  Like the “corner boys” of Baltimore featured in The Wire, Sohn grew up in a world marked by deprivation, street hustling, violence and fear.  According to this Washington Post article, playing a cop was hard for Sohn; in the world she was raised in, law enforcement was the enemy.

The Wire played for five critically acclaimed seasons before Ed Burns and co-producer David Simon moved on to other things.  Sohn couldn’t move on.  The streets of Baltimore were wrapped around her soul.  This feature article in the Post is worthy of your time, and your reflection. 

After ‘The Wire’ ended, actress Sonja Sohn couldn’t leave Baltimore’s troubled streets behind

By Phil Zabriskie, Published: January 27

Sonja Sohn stood in front of her audience, confident about the performance she was about to give. This wasn’t surprising, considering her history as an actress who was just coming off a five-year run as Det. Shakima “Kima” Greggs on HBO’s “The Wire,” one of the most critically acclaimed shows in television history. To project professionalism, she had pulled her hair back and was wearing pressed slacks and a collared shirt. Her motivation was clear, her research was done, and after many months of preparation, she was ready. (more…)

Pastor W.G. Daniels waged peace in Fort Worth, Texas

PASTOR 4By Alan Bean

No one can account for the dramatic drop in violent crime.  According to the Washington Post, in 2011 the DC homicide rate reached its lowest point since 1963.  But just across the county line, the homicide rate is experiencing an upswing.  When violent crime drops there is always a reason.  When gang-related violence plunged in Fort Worth, TX, a big part of the reason was the Rev. W.G. Daniels. 

Daniels died this week.  Marty Sabota’s obituary shows that Daniels grasped many of the principles criminologist  David Kennedy outlines in his excellent book Don’t Shoot:

America has four inextricably linked problems that converge in its most troubled communities.   There’s the violence that terrorizes many of its, especially, black and minority communities. There’s the chaos that comes with, especially, public drug markets.  There’s the devastation being wrought on, especially, troubled black and minority communities by our criminal justice in response to the first two problems.  And there’ the worsening racial divide that’s causing.

In Fort Worth, Pastor W.G. Daniels stopped the violence by forging a creative dialogue between law enforcement and the communities most affected by violent crime.  A former police officer who understood the law enforcement mindset, Daniels made the perfect peacemaker.  He knew why his neighbors didn’t want to talk to the police, but he also understood why law enforcement will always concentrate on high crime communities.  Daniels didn’t want the police to ignore the hot neighborhoods; he just wanted them to show more respect and professionalism.  

Getting gang members, community members and the police on the same page isn’t easy, but it can be done.  As Daniels once told the Star-Telegram:

You had gangs like the Crips and the Bloods fighting against each other, but after we conducted a survey, we found that there just needed to be somebody to bring a truce to stop the madness and no better people to do it than pastors who meet every Sunday. We needed to send a message that it would not be tolerated, and by the help of God and Christ we were able to bring about peace.

When people are talking to one another behavior changes.  Open air drug markets move underground, police officers feel more appreciated and behave with a higher level of professionalism, residents of high crime neighborhoods gain a new sense of confidence and self-respect.  Criminologist David Kennedy and pastor W.G. Daniels heal communities because they understand the spiritual nature of the war they are fighting.  (more…)

“Both sides are us”: Stuntz and Kennedy unpack the spirituality of criminal justice reform

By Alan Bean

In 2010, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, rocked the civil rights community back on its heels.  Alexander accused the criminal justice reform movement of seeking legal solutions to a moral problem, of fighting for affirmative action while abandoning the victims of a brutal and counter-productive drug war, of telling pretty stories about wrongfully convicted poster-boys while ignoring the social nightmares unfolding in poor communities of color.

 If the way we pursue reforms does not contribute to the building of a movement to dismantle the system of mass incarceration, and if our advocacy does not upset the prevailing public consensus that supports the new caste system, none of the reforms, even if won, will successfully disrupt the nation’s racial equilibrium.  Challenges to the system will be easily absorbed or deflected, and the accommodations made will serve primarily to legitimate the system, not undermine it.  We run the risk of winning isolated battles but losing the larger war.

In 2011, two books by white males revealed that Michelle Alexander is not the only American scholar in search of a new moral consensus for ending mass incarceration.   The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz, and Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America by David M. Kennedy are not books written in response to Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.  Stuntz and Kennedy are white male academics who see mass incarceration and the war on drugs as unmitigated disasters.  These authors tackle America’s racial history head on.  Most importantly, they agree with Alexander that a movement to end mass incarceration must begin with a new moral consensus.    (more…)

Psychopaths and gun violence

By Alan Bean

Fifteen years ago, David Kennedy decided to do something about street violence in Boston.  The first step was to discern who was doing most of the shooting and why.  “When it came to any particular shooting,” he says in his new book Don’t Shoot, “it was practically obligatory to tack on ‘senseless,’ ‘inexplicable,’ ‘irrational.'”  But when Kennedy analyzed the data he discovered that the most of the gun violence could be traced to “a small number of very exceptional kids whose names we know doing things we understand pretty damned clearly.”

Gun violence isn’t spread evenly across communities, it’s concentrated in a handful of neighborhoods.  In Boston, the mayhem was largely relegated to “sixty-one crews (gangs), with between 1,100 and 1,300 members” living in six sections of the city.  The problem is driven by “3 percent of the right age group in those neighborhoods, 1 percent of the right age group citywide,” Kennedy writes.  “All the gang turf put together was less than 4 percent of the city; it generated nearly a quarter of Boston’s serious crime.” (more…)