Good News: Charges Against Tremaine McMillian Have Been Dropped!

I was so excited to get this in my email today:

Tremain McMillian - photo courtesy of Change.org

Tremain McMillian – photo courtesy of Change.org

Tremaine McMillian’s mother Maurissa watched as her 14-year-old son was forced to the ground in public by the police as he played with his puppy on the beach. He was choked in a headlock because the police said his body posture was “threatening” — and then charged with a felony.

Maurissa started a petition on Change.org to get the charges dropped against her son. After 186,539 people signed, including you, her petition won! Tremaine won’t be charged with any crimes.

Video of Tremaine being attacked on the beach quickly spread online, but after the initial media attention and outrage faded, Maurissa was afraid that her son would be convicted. That’s why it was so important that you and thousands of others signed her petition: she was able to show the Florida State Attorney that people still cared about what happened to Tremaine.

People like Tremaine’s mom are starting petitions on Change.org every day and winning. What do you want to change? Click here to start your own petition now in just three easy steps.

Thanks for being a change-maker,

The Change.org team

I posted this petition on my blog from Change.org after hearing about this case in the news. For everyone that signed it, Thank You! We can make a difference, we did make a difference. Let’s keep doing it! 😀

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Stevie Wonder Boycotts Performing in Florida Over Zimmerman Not Guilty Verdict

Stevie Wonder – photo courtesy of comicvine.com

 

According to Slate.com:

On Sunday night, Stevie Wonder declared that he would not perform in Florida until the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law is abolished. His boycott is politically savvy, morally righteous, and it could be enormously important.

While Stevie Wonder’s boycott of an entire state might have exerted real pressure in, say, 1976, in 2013 it’s almost entirely a symbolic act. But symbolic acts are often the first step toward kicking off concrete ones, and we should imagine what would happen if like-minded artists followed suit.

Beyoncé in 2013 might not be Stevie Wonder in ’76 but she’s not far behind, and her husband is said to be a figure of some renown. Rihanna’s 8.4 million Instagram followers felt her outrage on Sunday. If these [and other] artists were to join in Wonder’s boycott, the bottom lines of club promoters and festival organizers and concert arenas would start to look different in a hurry.

Stevie Wonder went on to say that he will not perform in any state that has Stand Your Ground laws in place.

As the article discusses, this may be more symbolic than anything else since Stevie Wonder has not released an album in quite a few years. This may also seem to some like a publicity stunt, but Stevie Wonder actually has quite a deep history with the Civil Rights Movement, according to Slate.com:

Stevie Wonder, some people might scoff, should stick to making music. But Wonder is one of the two or three most important American musicians walking the earth (Bob Dylan, maybe Aretha Franklin; end of list), with an unsurpassed track record for melding music and activism.

In 1961, a year before “Little” Stevie Wonder released his first album for Motown Records, two of the biggest stars in American music, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles, made headlines by refusing to perform before segregated audiences in the Jim Crow South; Charles opted to pay a breach-of-contract fine rather than sing in Augusta, one of the largest cities in his home state.

In the 1980s, Wonder was the musical spearhead of the campaign to make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday, and lent his talents to USA for Africa and the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

So his decision doesn’t appear to be a “Dancing With the Stars” kind of grasp for the spotlight. Seeing that his decision has made headlines in the news, other stars who decide to participate will likely bring more media attention, and more financial pressure on music venues, to result in some real change. Obviously, it won’t only be up to celebrities, but their high visibility and influence on fans could definitely help.

Stevie Wonder’s decision is an incredibly brave one. It will be interesting to see if other celebrities are brave enough to do the same.

Freedom in America: We’re Still Fighting For It

That’s from the youngprogressivevoices.com blog.

But to it, I’d like to add: I also believe that if the young black men of America, a group much of society likes to believe the worst of, cannot walk through the streets without fear of being gunned down due to the Stand Your Ground law, then this society is not free. A society that allows this should truly be ashamed of itself.

The George Zimmerman Trial: We Want a Rematch

Protesters after Zimmerman not guilty verdict (courtesy of the Grio.com)

Protesters after Zimmerman not guilty verdict (courtesy of TheGrio.com, AP Photo/David Goldman)

 

According to TheGrio.com: 

The Justice Department said Sunday it is looking into the shooting death of Trayvon Martin to determine whether federal prosecutors will file criminal civil rights charges now that George Zimmerman has been acquitted in the state case.

For civil rights advocates and anyone else passionate about this case, this is welcome news.

George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict was a sickening shock to many people, yet not wholly unexpected. To many watching the news at home, the killing of Trayvon Martin was a matter of race, with “self-defense” being merely a side issue. Yet, the trial was conducted in the complete reverse. It was revealed on the Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC) that the judge dismissed any mention or evidence pertaining to racism being a factor in Trayvon Martin’s death!

Is it any wonder, then, that Zimmerman was found not guilty? It is quite likely that if both Zimmerman (who is half Hispanic and half white) and Trayvon (black) were both white, the incident would have appeared very differently. If, for instance, Zimmerman had seen a hooded figure walking late at night and knew at some point, before any physical contact, that Trayvon was white ( in our hypothetical case), and had confronted him, what would’ve happened? Perhaps Zimmerman would have not done anything and went home. Perhaps he would have just asked Trayvon what he was doing, then called the police. Or, maybe he would have asked  Trayvon what he was doing, heard an unsatisfactory response, and somehow ended up in a physical fight. Let’s say that, for whatever reason, Zimmermann shot Trayvon during the brawl. Then the case goes to trial. In this scenario, the case would very well have centered around Zimmerman’s self-defense claim.

Self-defense arguments in court are successful only when the accused person can prove that he used force (a gun, for instance) against another person because he was in fear for his life and could find no way to escape. The the use of force must be a last resort. Self-defense is also only provable if the amount of force used to defend oneself is sufficient to end or pause the attack, but not meant to kill the attacker. So intent is also relevant. If the intention of the one being attacked is to kill the other person, that is not self-defense. If the intent is to simply stop the attack, then that is true self-defense.

So, in our hypothetical case, let’s say Zimmerman really was afraid. First of all, Zimmerman in not a small man, so the idea that he was truly frightened by a very young, skinny kid just isn’t plausible. The fact that this large, grown man was also armed makes the “frightened” scenario even less plausible. What is also problematic about his self-defense claim is that true self-defense requires that the person being threatened use only necessary force to end the attack long enough to escape, not to kill. Was it necessary, then, for Zimmerman to have shot Trayvon to death, or did he intend to kill him? It seems he did. Even the Stand Your Ground law shouldn’t have helped Zimmerman here because he chose not to use it in the trial. He used Stand Your Ground initially with success, which allowed him to go free without a trial. But once he was officially charged, his legal team used self-defense as his reason for the killing.

My blogger friend, The Secular Jurist, recently posted an article about Stand Your Ground and it’s influence on the trial. He mentions in his post that Judge Debra Nelson issued the jury these instructions during the trial:

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.

That is the definition of the Stand Your Ground law. What’s odd is that, though Zimmerman’s lawyers didn’t use that as a defense, the judge instructed the jury to consider it as a defense anyway!! And, lo and behold, they did, according to cfnews13.com:

While the defense did not use the Stand Your Ground law in Zimmerman’s trial, Juror B37, the only juror to speak out, told CNN that law was considered, along with the self-defense law, when the jury made its decision.

Race also very much complicates things. Because Zimmeriman is not black and Trayvon was, the question of intent becomes even more muddied. If Zimmerman is racist, then his mindset was not just on protecting his neighborhood (which he claimed in the trial), but on keeping “dangerous” black people out. So when Zimmerman saw this hooded black kid in his neighborhood, he wasn’t just thinking “intruder.” It is extremely likely that Zimmerman would not have physically confronted Trayvon at all, other than maybe asking for his name, if hadn’t been black. The fact that it become physical and that one person ended up dead says to me that Zimmerman’s actions went above and beyond what was necessary in every moment of that incident, and that his actions were excessive because of Trayvon’s race.

Judges are smart people (we assume). They have law degrees and usually have been lawyers for several years before becoming judges. So what went into the decision to exclude race from the trial proceedings? What were the judge’s motivations? Only she knows for sure, but she must have known that the task of obtaining a guilty verdict would be made more difficult by the exclusion of race. So why? And how could a decision like that even be allowed in a trial? Hopefully, the Dept. of Justice will consider that when they decide whether on not to take this case.

Justice Department confirms Zimmerman case is under review

George Zimmerman in Trial

George Zimmerman in Trial – courtesy of usmagazine.com

From TheGrio.com:

WASHINGTON (AP) (7/14/13) — The Justice Department said Sunday it is looking into the shooting death of Trayvon Martin to determine whether federal prosecutors will file criminal civil rights charges now that George Zimmerman has been acquitted in the state case.

The department opened an investigation into Martin’s death last year but stepped aside to allow the state prosecution to proceed.

In a statement, the Justice Department said the criminal section of its civil rights division, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Middle District of Florida are continuing to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal probe, in addition to the evidence and testimony from the state trial.

“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,” the statement said. Justice added that it will determine “whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial.”

From the Rodney King case in Los Angeles to the Algiers Motel incident in Detroit more than four decades ago, the Justice Department has a long history of using federal civil rights law in an effort to convict defendants who have previously been acquitted in related state cases.

On Sunday, NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous started a petition calling for the Justice Department to open a civil rights case against Zimmerman for the shooting death of 17-year-old Martin, but experience has shown it’s almost never easy getting convictions in such high-profile prosecutions.

“The Justice Department would face significant challenges in bringing a federal civil rights case against Mr. Zimmerman,” said Alan Vinegrad, the former U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York. “There are several factual and legal hurdles that federal prosecutors would have to overcome: They’d have to show not only that the attack was unjustified, but that Mr. Zimmerman attacked Mr. Martin because of his race and because he was using a public facility, the street.”

As to the last element, the confrontation between Zimmerman and the shooting victim occurred in a gated community, which may not fit the legal definition of a public facility.

Lauren Resnick, a former federal prosecutor in New York who successfully tried a man in the killing of an Orthodox Jew during the 1991 Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn, said the Justice Department could conceivably proceed under a theory that Zimmerman interfered with Martin’s right to walk down a public street based on his race or religion. But that would be challenging, she said, because it would require prosecutors to prove, among other things, that trailing Martin on the street constituted interference.

“One could argue it did, if it freaked him out and he couldn’t comfortably walk down the street — there’s an argument here,” said Resnick, who is now in private practice.

But she said federal prosecutors were likely to encounter the same hurdles as state prosecutors in establishing that Zimmerman was driven by racial animus and was the initial aggressor, as opposed to someone who acted in self-defense.

“When you have a fact pattern where one person’s alive, and one person’s not, and the person alive is the defendant, it’s hard to prove things beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Resnick.

Samuel Bagenstos, a former No. 2 official in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said: “This is an administration that hasn’t shied away from bringing hate crimes cases that are solid prosecutions based on the facts and the law, but from what I’ve seen this would be a very difficult case to prosecute federally because the government would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman acted because of Trayvon Martin’s race. If you’re trying to prove racial motivation, you are usually looking for multiple statements related to why he is engaging in this act of violence. I think it’s a difficult case to prove.”

Another federal case, the Rodney King prosecution, illustrates just how difficult it can be for the federal government to come in behind a state prosecution that ended in acquittal, even when there’s videotaped evidence of the crime.

King was beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers after a high-speed car chase in 1991, but the four police officers charged in the incident were acquitted on state charges of assault with a deadly weapon and three of the four were acquitted on a charge of use of excessive force. The jury deadlocked on the excessive force charge against the fourth officer.

Federal prosecutors obtained an indictment on charges of violating King’s civil rights. Two of the officers were found guilty and were imprisoned. The other two officers were acquitted.

In a 1970 prosecution, the Justice Department charged three white Detroit police officers and one black private security guard with allegedly conspiring to deprive eight black youths and two white girls of their civil rights during the 1967 riots in Detroit.

The officers had gone to the Algiers Motel in a reported search for snipers. Three black teenagers were slain at the motel. One of the police officers had been acquitted earlier of a state charge of first-degree murder in the case; another officer had been found innocent in a separate state trial on a charge of felonious assault.

The federal case took place in Flint, Mich., an hour’s drive north of Detroit, after the defense complained that the defendants could not get a fair trial in the city where the slayings occurred. A jury acquitted all four defendants.

In prosecuting the law enforcement officers, the Justice Department invoked an 1871 civil rights law. Prosecutors alleged that the officers had lined up the people staying at the motel and slugged them with clubs and rifle butts. There was testimony that several of the guests were taken into separate rooms where shotguns were fired into the ceiling in an effort to get those in a nearby hallway to disclose the identity of the alleged snipers and the location of firearms.

In a defense that turned out to be successful, defense attorneys emphasized that the charge against their clients was conspiracy, not assault, coercion, intimidation or murder. Lawyers for the two officers previously charged in the state cases also argued that their clients were being charged with serious criminality even though they had already been acquitted.

Justice Department: Open a Civil Rights Case Against George Zimmerman

The Secular Jurist

Attorney General Eric Holder,

The Department of Justice has closely monitored the State of Florida’s prosecution of the case against George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin murder since it began. Today, with the acquittal of George Zimmerman, it is time for the Department of Justice to act.

The most fundamental of civil rights — the right to life — was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin. We ask that the Department of Justice file civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman for this egregious violation.

Please address the travesties of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin by acting today.

Thank you.

Please sign the petition:  http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/open-a-civil-rights-case

Commentary by The Secular Jurist:  This case demonstrates once again that it is acceptable in America, especially in the Deep South, to racially profile and kill Black people even when the excuses for doing so are…

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