SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — An unarmed black teenager shot to death by a neighborhood watch captain told his girlfriend he was being followed shortly before the confrontation that killed him, a lawyer said Tuesday as federal and state prosecutors announced they would investigate.
“‘Oh he’s right behind me, he’s right behind me again,'” 17-year-old Trayvon Martin told his girlfriend on the phone, the Martin family’s attorney said.
The girl later heard Martin say, “Why are you following me?” Another man asked, “What are you doing around here?'” attorney Benjamin Crump said.
The phone call that recorded Martin’s final moments was disclosed as the U.S. Justice Department opened a federal civil rights probe into the Feb. 26 shooting and the local prosecutor convened a grand jury to investigate.
The neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, has not been charged and has said he shot Martin, who was returning to a gated community in Sanford after buying candy at a convenience store, in self-defense after Martin attacked him. Police say Zimmerman is white; his family says he is Hispanic.
The case has ignited racial tensions in this Orlando suburb of 53,500 people, sparking rallies and a protest in Gov. Rick Scott’s office on Tuesday. The Rev. Al Sharpton is joining Sanford city leaders at a town hall meeting later Tuesday to discuss the investigation.
Police say Zimmerman was bleeding from his nose and the back of his head, and told police he had yelled out for help before he shot Martin.
Crump told reporters Tuesday it was Martin who cried out when a man bearing a 9mm handgun came at him.
Martin called his 16-year-old girlfriend in Miami several times on Feb. 26, including just before the shooting, Crump said. The discovery of the lengthy conversations, including one moments before the shooting, was made over the weekend by Martin’s father by checking his son’s cell phone log, Crump said.
“She absolutely blows Zimmerman’s absurd self-defense claim out of the water,” Crump said of Martin’s girlfriend, whose name was withheld.
Martin told the girl on his way back from the store he’d taken shelter the rain briefly at an apartment building in the gated community where his father lives, Crump said. Martin then told the girl he was being followed and would try to lose the person, Crump said.
“She says: ‘Run.’ He says, ‘I’m not going to run, I’m just going to walk fast,'” Crump says, quoting the girl.
After Martin encountered Zimmerman, the girl thinks she heard a scuffle “because his voice changes like something interrupted his speech,” Crump said. The phone call ended before the girl heard gunshots.
The last call was at 7:12 p.m. Police arrived at 7:17 p.m. to find Martin lying face down on the ground.
Zimmerman was handcuffed after police arrived and taken into custody for questioning, but was released by police without being charged. Crump called the treatment patently unfair and asked if Martin would have received the same treatment if he had been the shooter.
“We will not rest until he is arrested. The more time that passes, this is going to be swept under the rug,” Crump said.
Crump said he plans to turn over information about the call to federal investigators; a grand jury in Seminole County is also likely to subpoena the records. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also involved in the state case.
Former federal prosecutors said there are limitations to a Justice Department civil rights probe, which typically would involve a sworn law enforcement officer accused of abusing his authority. In this case, they said, it’s not clear whether Zimmerman had any actual law enforcement authority or if the Sanford Police Department did anything improper.
“I think the community has the feeling that there’s some type of cover-up,” said Jeffrey Sloman, former U.S. attorney in Miami. “At least the department’s involvement makes sure it gets some review. He wasn’t a police officer. I’m sure that this is going to be a tough case to prosecute.”
Authorities may be hamstrung by a state “Stand Your Ground” law that allows people to defend themselves with deadly force and does not require a retreat in the face of danger. Asked Tuesday if that law needs change, Republican Gov. Rick Scott said “it’s always positive to go back and think about existing laws.”
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said it is sending its community relations service this week to Sanford to “address tension in the community.”
Seminole County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger said a grand jury will meet April 10 to consider evidence in the case.
An online petition urging local authorities to prosecute Zimmerman has drawn more than 500,000 signatures at website Change.org. About 50 defense attorneys and protesters filled the lobby in the governor’s office Tuesday to deliver a letter seeking an independent investigation and a task force to study racial profiling. They applauded when Scott came out of his office to talk to them.
“I will make sure justice prevails,” Scott said. “I’m very comfortable that (state law enforcement) is going to do the right thing. They’re not going to let somebody do something wrong and get away with it.”
Sharpton is attending the town hall meeting at a local church Tuesday night to discuss how the investigation is being handled. Students rallied on Monday at Florida A&M University’s campus in Tallahassee and outside the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center.
Anderson reported from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Associated Press writers Brendan Farrington and Brent Kallestad contributed from Tallahassee.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com.
Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation’s “triumph over race.” Obama’s election has been touted as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow, the bookend placed on the history of racial caste in America.
Obama’s mere presence in the Oval Office is offered as proof that “the land of the free” has finally made good on its promise of equality. There’s an implicit yet undeniable message embedded in his appearance on the world stage: this is what freedom looks like; this is what democracy can do for you. If you are poor, marginalized, or relegated to an inferior caste, there is hope for you. Trust us. Trust our rules, laws, customs, and wars. You, too, can get to the promised land.
Perhaps greater lies have been told in the past century, but they can be counted on one hand. Racial caste is alive and well in America.
Most people don’t like it when I say this. It makes them angry. In the “era of colorblindness” there’s a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have “moved beyond” race. Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:
*There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.
*As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.
* A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.
*If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste — not class, caste — permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.
Excuses for the Lockdown
There is, of course, a colorblind explanation for all this: crime rates. Our prison population has exploded from about 300,000 to more than 2 million in a few short decades, it is said, because of rampant crime. We’re told that the reason so many black and brown men find themselves behind bars and ushered into a permanent, second-class status is because they happen to be the bad guys.
The uncomfortable truth, however, is that crime rates do not explain the sudden and dramatic mass incarceration of African Americans during the past 30 years. Crime rates have fluctuated over the last few decades — they are currently are at historical lows — but imprisonment rates have consistently soared. Quintupled, in fact. And the vast majority of that increase is due to the War on Drugs. Drug offenses alone account for about two-thirds of the increase in the federal inmate population, and more than half of the increase in the state prison population.
The drug war has been brutal — complete with SWAT teams, tanks, bazookas, grenade launchers, and sweeps of entire neighborhoods — but those who live in white communities have little clue to the devastation wrought. This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth. Any notion that drug use among African Americans is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data. White youth, for example, have about three times the number of drug-related visits to the emergency room as their African American counterparts.
That is not what you would guess, though, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, overflowing as they are with black and brown drug offenders. In some states, African Americans comprise 80%-90% of all drug offenders sent to prison.
This is the point at which I am typically interrupted and reminded that black men have higher rates of violent crime. That’s why the drug war is waged in poor communities of color and not middle-class suburbs. Drug warriors are trying to get rid of those drug kingpins and violent offenders who make ghetto communities a living hell. It has nothing to do with race; it’s all about violent crime.
Again, not so. President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in 1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising. From the outset, the war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with racial politics. The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican Party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to attract poor and working class white voters who were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing, and affirmative action. In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff: “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
A few years after the drug war was announced, crack cocaine hit the streets of inner-city communities. The Reagan administration seized on this development with glee, hiring staff who were to be responsible for publicizing inner-city crack babies, crack mothers, crack whores, and drug-related violence. The goal was to make inner-city crack abuse and violence a media sensation, bolstering public support for the drug war which, it was hoped, would lead Congress to devote millions of dollars in additional funding to it.
The plan worked like a charm. For more than a decade, black drug dealers and users would be regulars in newspaper stories and would saturate the evening TV news. Congress and state legislatures nationwide would devote billions of dollars to the drug war and pass harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes — sentences longer than murderers receive in many countries.
Democrats began competing with Republicans to prove that they could be even tougher on the dark-skinned pariahs. In President Bill Clinton’s boastful words, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.” The facts bear him out. Clinton’s “tough on crime” policies resulted in the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. But Clinton was not satisfied with exploding prison populations. He and the “New Democrats” championed legislation banning drug felons from public housing (no matter how minor the offense) and denying them basic public benefits, including food stamps, for life. Discrimination in virtually every aspect of political, economic, and social life is now perfectly legal, if you’ve been labeled a felon.
But what about all those violent criminals and drug kingpins? Isn’t the drug war waged in ghetto communities because that’s where the violent offenders can be found? The answer is yes… in made-for-TV movies. In real life, the answer is no.
The drug war has never been focused on rooting out drug kingpins or violent offenders. Federal funding flows to those agencies that increase dramatically the volume of drug arrests, not the agencies most successful in bringing down the bosses. What gets rewarded in this war is sheer numbers of drug arrests. To make matters worse, federal drug forfeiture laws allow state and local law enforcement agencies to keep for their own use 80% of the cash, cars, and homes seized from drug suspects, thus granting law enforcement a direct monetary interest in the profitability of the drug market.
The results have been predictable: people of color rounded up en masse for relatively minor, non-violent drug offenses. In 2005, four out of five drug arrests were for possession, only one out of five for sales. Most people in state prison have no history of violence or even of significant selling activity. In fact, during the 1990s — the period of the most dramatic expansion of the drug war — nearly 80% of the increase in drug arrests was for marijuana possession, a drug generally considered less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and at least as prevalent in middle-class white communities as in the inner city.
In this way, a new racial undercaste has been created in an astonishingly short period of time — a new Jim Crow system. Millions of people of color are now saddled with criminal records and legally denied the very rights that their parents and grandparents fought for and, in some cases, died for.
Affirmative action, though, has put a happy face on this racial reality. Seeing black people graduate from Harvard and Yale and become CEOs or corporate lawyers — not to mention president of the United States — causes us all to marvel at what a long way we’ve come.
Recent data shows, though, that much of black progress is a myth. In many respects, African Americans are doing no better than they were when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and uprisings swept inner cities across America. Nearly a quarter of African Americans live below the poverty line today, approximately the same percentage as in 1968. The black child poverty rate is actually higher now than it was then. Unemployment rates in black communities rival those in Third World countries. And that’s with affirmative action!
When we pull back the curtain and take a look at what our “colorblind” society creates without affirmative action, we see a familiar social, political, and economic structure — the structure of racial caste. The entrance into this new caste system can be found at the prison gate.
This is not Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. This is not the promised land. The cyclical rebirth of caste in America is a recurring racial nightmare.
Michelle Alexander is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2010). The former director of the Racial Justice Project of the ACLU in Northern California, she also served as a law clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun on the U.S. Supreme Court. Currently, she holds a joint appointment with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University.
aColorLines’ Thoai Lu is reporting that the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that as of 2008, there were more than 846,000 black men in prison, making up 40.2 percent of all inmates in the system. The article highlights a recent talk given by author Michelle Alexander, who puts those numbers in context. Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, told an audience at the Pasadena Branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, “More African-American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.”
Alexander argues that prisons have become the latest form of economic and social disenfranchisement for young people of color, particularly black men. In it, she grapples with a central question: If crime rates have fluctuated over the years and are now at historical lows, then why have rates of incarcerated men of color skyrocketed over the past 30 years? The “war on drugs,” which focuses primarily on communities of color, is the answer, although multiple studies have proved that whites use and sell illegal drugs at rates equal to or higher than blacks. Despite this data, four of five black youths in some inner-city communities can expect to be incarcerated in their lifetimes.
Alexander discusses how convicted felons are subject to forms of discrimination reminiscent of the Jim Crow era. This includes being denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits, much like their parents or grandparents.
Alexander raises a pressing issue as states like Florida move to privatize prison systems and strip convicted felons of the right to vote even after completing their sentences. The only thing sadder than having more men in prison now than in slavery during 1850 is that many don’t understand that slavery is still legal within the prison system. Indeed, it is the only place where slavery is still legal in the United States. It is clear that our community is in trouble. What are we going to do about it?
Read more at ColorLines.
Jsais: I believe the increase of black males being incarcerated is directly related to the increase of the down low brother lifestyle, and the increase of African American heterosexual women being infected with HIV/AIDs. Time to look at the big picture……..What are we going to do about it?!
As we prepare to recognize National Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day, a new research study has served as a wake up call for a community that might have gone too far. The Center for Disease Control now estimates that 1 out of every 32 black women will be infected with HIV during her lifetime. Although black women represent only 14 percent of the US female population, they constitute 66 percent of all new HIV infections. The infection rates of black women in the United States rival those in the Congo and Kenya.After hearing about this alarming study and realizing that I have daughters that I have to protect, my mind starting racing. I thought about the things I’ve observed after countless conversations with other black men and interacting with black women in the dating pool. I also thought about what I’ve read and analyzed as a social commentator and scholar, thus coming to these conclusions:
1) We must take a serious look at the prison industrial complex: The war on drugs sent hundreds of thousands of black men to prison for long periods of time. This dramatic move was no less devastating to the black family ecosystem than removing an entire species from the animal kingdom. Women have fewer men to marry, the children of these men grow up without fathers, and men come out of prison without the ability to provide for a family. Additionally, the fact that we’ve decided to make prison rape into some kind of joke at cocktail parties means that many lives are lost when women are infected by the men for whom they’ve been waiting.
2) Too many black men don’t go to the doctor: A scholar reached out to me stating that he does research on heterosexual black men (not just the downlow brothers that Oprah likes to talk about). The researcher took a random test for Chlamydia at a local barbershop. During the test, it was determined that nearly half (45%) of these men were infected with the disease, and none of them knew they were infected. In a world where mass media encourages black men to have sex with anything that moves, it’s frightening that there are men who’ve literally slept with 5 or 10 women per year for the last several years and have never taken an HIV test.
3) Most of the women in the study didn’t know their own status or that of their partners: It was bad enough when many men began teaching each other to be irresponsible in their sexual choices. Things got worse when women started to behave like men. While we can continue scapegoating gay and heterosexual men for the problems with the spread of HIV, many of our so-called “good Christian black girls” are “gettin it in” in their own little sexual revolution. Not that sex is a bad thing, but many of these women have been led to believe that you can do whatever you want and are completely safe as long as you wear a condom. So, the next time you share your body with the guy who swoons you with smooth words and nice smile, remember that there may be hundreds of other women who’ve shared the same man.
4) Many African Americans are delaying or walking away from marriage: I am not here to thump a bible and promote the values of marriage, for we’ve all seen the tragedy and financial devastation that occurs during divorce. But the deterioration of the black family has occurred largely because many of us don’t know the first thing about what it takes to keep a marriage together. The answer does NOT lie in a damn Steve Harvey book (the last thing we need is for women to start thinking like men).
Without judging one way or the other, the fact remains that when people get married, they usually have sex with fewer partners than they did when they were single. So, the 30-something year old black woman who might have focused all of her energy on one man suddenly finds herself going through 2 or 3 guys per year and promptly ends up on the wrong end of an STD exam. It happens regularly, but this quiet epidemic is hardly something that any of these women would advertise on the six o’clock news.
Life would be a lot simpler if every 25-year old black woman was assigned a 42 -year old mentor who could be honest about the consequences of her sexual choices. Unfortunately, sex is like going to the bathroom: Everyone does it, but no one talks about it. We then end up repeating the mistakes of our predecessors.
5) We seem to forget that there are STDs other than HIV: While everyone loves to focus on the deadliest and most highly publicized sexually transmitted disease, HIV, we often forget that there is an equally-alarming rise in the percentage of black folks being diagnosed with Herpes, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, HPV and Syphilis. So, checking your partner’s HIV status, quite frankly, isn’t enough. The sexually promiscuous person who brags about his/her negative HIV test may be carrying other “goodies” that can be yours for just one drunken night in the sack.
The fact is that sex in America has become dangerous and serious. While getting tested, checking your partner’s status and protecting yourself are incredibly important, this may not be enough. Instead, we must reconsider the systemic, cultural and personal factors that keep us from building sustainable families. We must also think about how these factors encourage us to engage in risky behavior (yes, black men and women are influenced by hip hop artists who brag about having sex with hundreds of women at the same time). There is no such thing as 100% safe sex, so perhaps the old fashioned idea of respecting your body might apply from here on out. Either way, something needs to change, and following the crowd is a great way to end up dead.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.
Jsais: It’s official, I’m practicing celibacy……for-real!
Jsais: This show was broadcasted in 2004; the AIDs rates among black women have more than tripled since the showed aired. How is it that we have not gotten the picture? This has been an epidemic for more than 20 years. It’s time for us to wake up, time to be conscious about what’s going on in our community. We have no one to blame but ourselves, the information is out there. We can’t afford to live in our bubbles of denial. Shees, at the very least health care cost toO damn much! Magic Johnson is not the face of AIDs, he is the exception. Please don’t let this disease do what 246 years of slavery could not……..destroy us!
The Hidden Epidemic: White Women and HIV
By Terri L. Wilder, M.S.W.
From AIDS Survival Project
“People see me — I’m blonde, I live at the beach, I’m the girl next door — and when we go into schools, you should see their faces change when I tell them I’m HIV positive. That’s why my AIDS education work is so important — they’ll remember me in the future.”
— Laura Roberts
After I finished reading Karin Timour’s article “White Women and HIV,” I was amazed at how little “we” (read: HIV prevention educators, AIDS service organizations and society at large) think about white women in relation to HIV. When I say white women and HIV, I mean testing, statistics, diagnosis, prevention information or even the fact that white women would even be considered at risk.
Do you know that I have never been offered an HIV test? Any time I had a test it was because I asked for it. Why is that? I am a white, college-educated, working professional and no one seems to think that I could be at risk. I think it is because “we” still buy into “risk groups” despite our efforts to get rid of that term.
How many times have you read a report that mentioned the percentage of white women diagnosed with HIV or AIDS? My experience is that it is a rare occasion at best.
AdvertisementFor example, I just finished pulling up the May 2001 NIH Fact Sheet labeled “HIV Infection in Women” and it does not even mention white or Caucasian women. If I had read that report and had no clue about HIV, I would think that only African American and Latino women got HIV. We must start including all the statistics even if they are low in number. White women need to hear that there are white women who are living with HIV/AIDS or they will never understand the possibility.
I question dividing our prevention messages into individual campaigns. Aren’t we all at risk? Shouldn’t the posters and brochures come out at the same time with all races equally represented instead of this patchwork of racial representation coming out one by one?
My friend Kellie is a white woman with three children and educated as a Licensed Practical Nurse. She was diagnosed with HIV in October 2000. Kellie was tested for HIV in 1988, 1989, and 1990 because she was pregnant and that was during the big push to get pregnant women tested. During the next ten years, no one offered her the test. She said, “I went to my family practitioner at least two times a year during that ten-year period and HIV was never even mentioned. In 1999, I was having ‘female’ surgery and asked for an HIV test, it came back negative. While separated from my husband at the end of 2000, I received a call from my county health department informing me they needed to come to my house and talk with me. During the home visit, they disclosed that my husband had tested HIV positive at a hospital in South Carolina. I got tested, and the results came back that I too, was positive.”
Kellie re-connected with her family practitioner and disclosed her HIV status during an appointment. The response was “Are you sure?” and “How did you get infected?” Even after her conclusive test results, she still had experiences where people could not believe that she was HIV positive. She said, “It was almost as if society has been so accustomed to hearing about HIV in relation to the gay community or the IV-drug using community that no one was willing to believe that I could actually have this virus in my body.”
Even upon her entry into a local HIV clinic in Georgia, the intake representative stopped half way through the interview and said, “You know this is a clinic for people who have HIV and AIDS.” By this time, Kellie was so frustrated that she wanted to yell at the top of her lungs, “Oh my God, I must be at the wrong clinic.” But, she wasn’t.
Women Get HIV/AIDS! White Women Get HIV/AIDS!
Jsais: To those of you who are wondering why I’m going black girl AIDs crazy, let me start off by saying this; No I’m not HIV positive, and no I do not have the monster! Yes a sista does get it in, but because I’m single, I trust no one, condoms are must. I am happy to say that I’ve not had to insist that my partner wear a condom; because that’s the first thing he reaches for. Guess he doesn’t trust me either, and he shouldn’t. Trust no one when it comes to your life, no one! Anyway, I was scared to death after reading about the growing number of black women with HIV, the numbers are alarming. I realized the conversation has to be had!!
In an attempt to bring awareness and change in our community regarding this epidemic, I’ve decided to make as many people aware about this problem as I can. I hope it scares the hell out of you. Scare you enough to protect yourself, to get tested, and to insist that your partners do the same. No more pity parties, no more woe is me… time to take responsibility for our actions, time to make conscious decisions when it comes to our sex life. …When its’ all said and done, we will when this fight!!
NOW SCROLL DOWN…………….PLEASE;-)