So what if Elizabeth Warren claims to be part Native American? She’s entitled, according to historical documents. Besides, Americans never have been all that clear or consistent about what distinguishes one race from another.
Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts is calling on his Democratic challenger Warren to clear the air over questions raised by the Boston Herald as to whether she has used her apparently ancient and diluted Indian heritage to give herself an unfair employment advantage.
At least she’s not lying about her background. Historical records seem to confirm that she has Cherokee ancestors. But is her background Indian enough?
That question looms after researcher Christopher Child at the New England Historic Genealogical Society turned up evidence of her Indian blood. A transcript of an 1894 marriage application shows Warren’s great-great-great-grandmother listed herself as Cherokee.
That would make Warren 1/32 Native American, although it is possible that more recent Indian ancestors could be turned up in further research. Child also found that Warren’s great-grandfather, John Houston Crawford, had lived in Native American territory but identified himself as white in the 1900 census.
However, Warren’s family is not included in the official Dawes Commission rolls, a census of major tribes completed in the early 20th century that Cherokees use to determine tribal citizenship.
Such a tenuous tie to her Indian past has led critics at the Boston Herald, which first broke the story, to label her “Fauxcahontas,” among other nicknames. Yet, I would ask, how much Indian blood do you need these days to claim Indian heritage?
In other words: Whatever happened to the one-drop rule?
That’s the rule in Americans past, you may recall, that declared anyone who had at least “one drop” of Black blood to be Black. The irony of this rule, invented by slave masters who wanted to have more slaves, is how it has been encouraged in modern times, particularly by Black leaders who want to have more Blacks.
Like other rules of race, this one is not applied uniformly or consistently. George Zimmerman, the accused murderer of Trayvon Martin in Florida, had an Afro-Peruvian great-grandfather on his mother’s side, according to his family. That would make him at least one-eighth Black, which is a lot more than Warren is Indian. Yet Zimmerman was reported first as “white” then a “white Hispanic.” If the old one-drop rule applies, he also could be called a white-Hispanic Black.
If taken literally, that would make the killing of the teen-aged Martin, about whose Blackness there is no confusion, a Black-on-Black crime — which, sad to say, attracts a lot less national attention than similar violence that crosses racial lines.
Zimmerman is not likely to be seen as Black by many people. However, like the Warren controversy, his case illustrates how quickly our old racial narratives are failing to keep up with changing times.
The Herald reported that Warren used to list herself as “Native American” in law school directories while teaching a several law schools across the country in the 1980s and ’90s.
She dropped the reference from her biography after she was hired at Harvard Law School in the 1990s at a time when protesting students and faculty had been pressuring the school to hire more minority female faculty. The law school says it has one faculty member of Native American heritage, according to reports, but won’t say which one. However, in 1998, a Harvard Crimson article identified the one “tenured minority woman” on the faculty as Warren, “who is Native American.”
If Warren was claiming Indian ancestry when it worked to her benefit, she was following another American tradition, writes David Treuer, an Ojibwe Indian from northern Minnesota and author of “Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey through Reservation Life.”
“An Indian identity has become a commodity,” he recently wrote in the Washington Post, “though not one that is openly traded. It has real value in only a few places; the academy is one of them. And like most commodities, it is largely controlled by the elite.”
Race is no longer as simple as black-and-white, but then it never really was. The real issue of what Warren, Zimmerman and the rest of us want to call ourselves has two sides: how we see ourselves and how we are seen by others.
If anything, Treur is right about elites. The Warren controversy illustrates how rapidly the one-drop rule and other old codes of race are fading at a time when race is becoming less of a problem than privilege — who has it and who doesn’t — regardless of race.
SANFORD, Fla. — A judge on Friday revoked the bond of the neighborhood watch volunteer charged with murdering Trayvon Martin and ordered him returned to jail within 48 hours, saying George Zimmerman and his wife misled the court about how much money they had available when his bond was set at $150,000.
Prosecutors claim Zimmerman had $135,000 available that had been raised by a website he set up. Zimmerman's wife, Shellie, testified at the bond hearing in April that they had limited funds available since she was a nursing student and Zimmerman wasn't working.
"He can't sit back and obtain the benefit of a lower bond based upon those material falsehoods," said Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester when he made his ruling.
Defense attorney Mark O'Mara said the fact that Zimmerman and his wife never used the money for anything indicated "there was no deceit." Since his release in late April, Zimmerman has been staying at an undisclosed location for his safety.
Prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda described the Zimmermans' testimony as "misleading."
"This court was led to believe they didn't have a single penny," said De la Rionda. "It was misleading and I don't know what words to use other than it was a blatant lie."
The judge said he would schedule a hearing after Zimmerman is back in custody so the neighborhood watch leader could explain himself.
Zimmerman is pleading not guilty to second-degree murder and claims self-defense. Zimmerman shot Martin in February during a confrontation at a gated community of townhouses in Sanford, Fla., where Zimmerman lived and where the 17-year-old Martin was visiting his father's fiancee.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Trayvon Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, said his clients have always said Zimmerman should remain in jail until trial, which O'Mara said he believed wouldn't be until next year.
Crump was asked if he thought that if Zimmerman would be willing to lie about his finances that he would be willing to lie about what happen the night Martin was killed.
"We fully expect that the special prosecutor will make George Zimmerman's credibility be front and center in this entire case," Crump said. "And whatever dishonesty that comes forth by George Zimmerman that they can prove, you can best believe it will be the issue of this case and rightfully so."
Prosecutors also said Zimmerman had failed to surrender a second passport, but Lester dismissed that concern as the equivalent of someone who has lost a driver's license, applies for a new one and then finds the old driver's license.
The delay in an arrest for 44 days prompted protests nationwide and led to Sanford's police chief stepping aside so emotions could cool down.
At Friday's court hearing, De la Rionda and O'Mara also asked a judge to stop the public release of witness names and statements made by Zimmerman to police officers. Those documents normally are part of the public record under Florida law, and the judge agreed.
Lester said he would order the release of the documents once he has reviewed them and redacted items that aren't subject to disclosure under the state's public records law.
The prosecutor had argued that the case would be tried in the public arena rather than the courtroom if the documents were made public.
"We are in a new age with Twitter, Facebook, and all these things I've never heard of before in my career," De la Rionda said. "Everybody gets to find out intimate details about witnesses that never occurred before. Witnesses are going to be reluctant to get involved."
A consortium of more than a dozen media groups, including The Associated Press, asked the judge to ignore the request, saying such records are presumed to be publicly available under Florida law.
Rachel Fugate, an attorney for the Orlando Sentinel, cited the Casey Anthony trial as an example of a highly publicized case in which a jury was able to be seated despite intense media coverage. The Florida mother was acquitted last year of killing her 2-year-old daughter.
"Discovery in Florida has traditionally been open ... and Florida hasn't encountered problems seating juries and giving defendants fair trials," Fugate said.
O'Mara said Friday on a website that he doesn't expect the case to be ready for trial until next year.
O'Mara said he expects to call on 50 witnesses who need to be deposed before he decides whether to file a "stand your ground" motion which would ask for a hearing before a judge without a jury. At the hearing, Zimmerman would argue self-defense under the Florida law which gives wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat in a fight if people believe they are in danger of being killed or seriously injured. -- (AP)
A new Texas A&M study has found that the Castle Doctrine – on which Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law is based – does not deter crime and, in fact, increases the murder rate.
“This study provides further evidence that ‘stand-your-ground’ legislation does more harm than good,” NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement. “Too often these laws provide cover for vigilantes and hate groups who choose to take the law into their own hands. They have led to an increase in homicides, and people of color seem to always get caught in the crossfire.”
The study finds that these laws increase murder and manslaughter by a statistically significant seven to nine percent. The study also finds that they have no “meaningful deterrence” on theft-related crimes.
The killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in late February launched thousands of arguments about Castle Doctrine laws, which allow a person to use lethal force against an intruder in certain situations, provided they have a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm. Lawmakers in several states, including Texas, have debated revising their own self-defense laws.
"We found a seven to nine percent increase in homicides," says one of the study's authors, associate economics professor Mark Hoekstra. "That's significant. That's robust. We did comparisons in a bunch of different ways. We compared states that adopt (the law) to states that don't adopt. It doesn't matter if you control for things like policing or levels of incarceration. You can compare to only other states in the same region. It doesn't matter. At the end of the day, Castle Doctrine increased homicides by seven to nine percent."
Hoekstra and his co-author, grad student Chen Cheng, looked at 23 states where Castle Doctrine laws exist and found evidence that the Castle Doctrine increases justifiable homicides committed by civilians by anywhere from 17 to 50 percent. The reality is that justifiable homicide is narrowly defined and exceedingly rare: according to the FBI, a killing can only be classified that way when someone kills another person who's committing a felony. Fewer than 200 deaths are classified that way each year.
Instead, the study found that the Castle Doctrine increases total homicides, including murder and non-negligent homicide, by 500 to 700 additional deaths per year. Hoekstra says they see three distinct possibilities that might account for the increase.
"One theory is that these are in some sense legitimate self-defense killings that just don't meet the strict definition of justifiable homicide," he said. "On the other hand, it could be that the increase in homicide is due to criminals escalating. So one possible response to the Castle Doctrine is for criminals to carry and use guns more frequently, for example. We could be picking up the effect of that. The third possibly is that otherwise non-lethal conflicts turn deadly because of Castle Doctrine. It's really, really difficult to distinguish between those three possibilities."
In 2005, Florida became the first state to legally expand self-defense protections by removing the duty to retreat before using lethal force outside one’s own home, as well as by adding other provisions that address civil liability and a “presumption of reasonable fear” when acting in self-defense. Twenty-two other states have passed similar laws, though some are more restrictive than others.
The term “Castle Doctrine” comes from the English common law principle that people have no duty to retreat before using lethal force in self-defense when in their own home, or castle. The purpose of the laws is to help victims better protect themselves against violent crime.
For their study, Hoekstra and Cheng analyzed state-level crime data from 2000 to 2009 from FBI Uniform Crime Reports. They began their initial investigation last summer, well before the Martin case pushed self-defense laws into the spotlight.
To the untrained eye, their research doesn’t fall into a category of traditional economics, but Hoekstra says it is all about incentives.
“When you change self-defense law, you change incentives. You change the incentives of people protecting themselves — now it’s lower cost to use lethal force, for example, after a state passes a Castle Doctrine law,” Hoekstra said. “So … on the one hand you might expect to get more lethal force because you lowered the cost, and on the other hand, you might expect to get less crime because you raised the expected cost to criminals.”
But as Hoekstra found, the results indicated only that there was an increase in the use of lethal force. The main question now, Hoekstra says, is why homicides increased.
“I think there are several reasonable explanations for why homicides would go up, but I’m not sure which one is true,” he said. “It could be that the increase in homicides is driven by an increase in self-defense killings. On the other hand, it could be that the increase in homicides is due to an escalation of violence in otherwise nonviolent situations.”
The study says that self-defense alone probably doesn't explain the numbers, though.
"We suspect that self-defense situations are unlikely to explain all of the increase, as we also find that murder alone is increased by a statistically significant 6 to 11 percent," they write." "This is important because murder excludes non-negligent manslaughter classifications that one might think are used more frequently in self-defense cases. But regardless of how one interprets increases from various classifications, it is clear that the primary effect of strengthening self-defense law is to increase homicide."
Any hope that criminals in Castle Doctrine states might be deterred from robbing you by the knowledge that you could be packing heat are also incorrect.
"This is true not just of criminals, but of the general public: when it comes to things that involve probabilistic thinking, people have a pretty hard time with it,” he said. “What's the increase in the possibility that someone will defend themselves with lethal force against me? It's tough to answer that in a super rigorous way. The idea that a criminal is going to do a really great job of answering that, and if they'd be able to make these calculations – you're asking a lot of anybody to make that calculation."
The homicide increase also presents another issue for the researchers. How do you determine who died in a Castle Doctrine situation: the alleged criminal or the person allegedly defending themselves? The FBI data Hoekstra and Cheng studied doesn't show that kind of detail, and Hoekstra says it's crucial in figuring out what's driving the homicide increase. The answer, he says, is another study.
"The best idea I've come up with is to try to figure out if the people getting killed have criminal backgrounds," Hoekstra said. "If you see an increase in people getting killed without criminal backgrounds then at least part of what it suggests is escalation." But, he concedes, "It's going to be difficult. I don't know how optimistic I am."
Texas A&M University and the Dallas Observer contributed to this report.
Zack Burgess is the Enterprise Writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and Editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com and followed on Twitter @zackburgess1.
ORLANDO, Fla. — The wife of the Trayvon Martin's shooter was charged with perjury Tuesday, accused of lying when she told a judge that the couple had limited funds during a hearing that resulted in her husband being released on $150,000 bond.
Shellie Zimmerman, 25, was released on $1,000 bond. George Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the teen's slaying and had been out on the bond after the April hearing. However, Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester on June 1 revoked the bond and ordered Zimmerman returned to the Seminole County Jail. Lester in a strongly worded ruling said the Zimmermans lied about how much money they had.
An arrest affidavit for Shellie Zimmerman said that records show in April she transferred more than $85,500 from her bank account into her husband's account. The affidavit also said that jail call records show that George Zimmerman instructed her to "pay off all the bills," including an American Express and Sam's Club card.
A state attorney investigator met with credit union officials and learned that she had transfer control of his account.
Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara has said the Zimmermans were confused and fearful when they misled court officials about how much money they had.
George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, has maintained since the Feb. 26 killing that he shot Martin in self-defense because the unarmed 17-year-old was beating him up after confronting Zimmerman about following him in a gated community outside Orlando.
Zimmerman was arrested 44 days later and at the bond hearing, he took the stand and apologized to Martin's parents.
Prosecutors pointed out in their motion that Zimmerman had $135,000 available then. It had been raised from donations through a website he set up and they suggested more has been collected since and deposited in a bank account.
Shellie Zimmerman was asked about the website at the hearing, but she said she didn't know how much money had been raised. Lester set the $150,000 bail and Zimmerman was freed a few days later after posting $15,000 in cash — which is typical.
In bringing a motion to have Zimmerman's bond revoked lead prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda complained "This court was led to believe they didn't have a single penny. It was misleading and I don't know what words to use other than it was a blatant lie."
The judge agreed and ordered Zimmerman returned to jail where he has been since turning himself in on June 3.
"Does your client get to sit there like a potted plant and lead the court down the primrose path? That's the issue," Lester said in revoking Zimmerman's bond. "He can't sit back and obtain the benefit of a lower bond based upon those material falsehoods."
He has another bond hearing set for June 29. -- (AP)
On April 17, with outrage over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin resounding across the nation, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee was convened to discuss what role, if any, the federal government should have in putting an end, once and for all, to racial profiling by law enforcement officials.
The Senators could not have chosen a more poignant time to engage in a public dialogue on the topic.
Less than a week earlier, Florida Special Prosecutor Angela Corey issued a probable-cause affidavit stating that Martin — who was killed on Feb. 26 while walking home from a convenience store in Sanford, Fla. — was “profiled” by his assailant George Zimmerman. The 17-year-old was being followed by Zimmerman — a neighborhood watch captain — on the grounds that he looked “like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.”
The day before the hearing, four Associated Press reporters were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in recognition of their exhaustive exposé on the New York City Police Department’s controversial practice of targeted investigations of Muslim communities. The initiative — which has been operational since 2002 — included surveillance of student groups at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers and 13 other universities in the Northeast — based on no other factors than that their members happen to be Muslim.
And at the end of April, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” — an Arizona law that obligates police officers to determine an individual’s immigration status during arrests and routine traffic stops when there is “reasonable suspicion” that the suspect is an illegal immigrant. For all intents and purposes, the law requires law enforcement in the state to profile citizens of Latino heritage. A decision on the case is expected in June.
The subject of discussion on Capitol Hill was a measure introduced in October by Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md., that would prohibit law enforcement from using race or ethnicity to justify “spontaneous investigatory activities” — including random stops of motorists and pedestrians — and require police to undergo training about profiling.
Cardin calls profiling “sloppy police work” and says it not only infringes on the rights of individuals and makes communities unwilling to cooperate with cops, but it places unnecessary burdens on police departments, as well.
“Racial profiling is bad policy, but given the state of our budgets, it also diverts scarce resources from real law enforcement,” he said. “The more resources spent investigating individuals solely because of their race or religion, the fewer resources directed at suspects who are actually demonstrating illegal behavior.”
The bill defines profiling as “relying, to any degree, on race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin” in deciding who to search or investigate, except when there is “trustworthy information” that a person fitting the description committed a crime. In other words, it’s all right to randomly stop a young Black male if a person fitting that description just robbed a bank in the area, but it’s not OK to target the same person leaving a known drug area on the assumption he might be a drug dealer.
In a departure from existing federal investigatory guidelines, the law would also apply to travelers entering the United States, and would prohibit ethnically motivated immigration-related workplace investigations.
Class action suit
Though technically unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Bill of Rights, the use of racial and/or ethnic characteristics to initiate random investigations of citizens is standard operating procedure in many police jurisdictions across the country, and is well documented in most metropolitan areas.
Philadelphia has had its own problems with racial profiling under its controversial stop-and-frisk policy. In November 2010, the ACLU joined a local law firm to file suit on behalf of eight plaintiffs, all men of color, who say the Philadelphia Police Department misused the policy to conduct racially motivated stops of Black and Latino men in the city.
The plaintiffs included an attorney named Mahari Bailey, who says he was stopped and searched by police on four occasions between 2008 and 2010 for driving with tinted windows — a summary traffic offense. A Pennsylvania state representative who was handcuffed and detained for questioning the allegedly illegal stop of two of his elderly constituents was also part of the suit.
As part of a city settlement with the plaintiffs, last June Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order that requires all police officers to carry “definition cards,” explaining when and under what circumstances random stops are legal, and set a January 1, 2012 deadline for the establishment of an electronic database of Department Pedestrian Investigation Reports that outline random stops and the reasons for them.
According to Mark McDonald, the mayor’s press secretary, that database is now up and running, and the city will be making available, on a monthly basis, electronic copies of reports on every single pedestrian or vehicle stop conducted by police — which he says average 5,000 a week.
Dean JoAnne Epps of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law — who was appointed by the city to independently monitor the program’s progress — confirmed that she has been told a quarterly report is “forthcoming.”
An inefficient strategy
Law enforcement officials claim that spontaneous stop-and-frisk is a vital tool in community policing, without which more criminals would walk the streets and more crimes would go unsolved.
The problem with that assertion is that statistics simply don’t back it up. In 2011, for instance, the New York division of the American Civil Liberties Union documented 685,724 incidences of stop-and-frisk, 87 percent of them targeted against Blacks or Latinos. With numbers like that, you’d expect a lot of criminals to be behind bars. But the data shows that nearly nine out of ten of those stopped were never convicted of a crime. And that doesn’t even take into account the NYPD’s long-standing practice of targeting Muslims.
In Philadelphia, a survey of 253,333 stops conducted under stop-and-frisk in 2009 revealed that roughly 183,000, or 72.2 percent, were of African Americans. Only 8.4 percent of those stops led to an arrest.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law, numerous studies have shown that using race or ethnicity as a proxy for criminality is ineffective, and the likelihood of finding contraband is roughly equal — regardless of whether a suspect is Black or white. In fact, data suggests that using factors like race or ethnicity to initiate investigations actually produces fewer results. For instance, when the United States Customs Service changed its stop and search procedures to focus on race-neutral behavioral indicators, the Center noted, it conducted two-thirds fewer searches, but tripled its “hit rate.”
East Palo Alto Police Chief Ronald Davis, who testified at the Senate hearing, says that in his experience, profiling based on race or ethnicity is counter productive, because it draws attention away from legitimate investigatory practices.
“I cannot think of any context in which race is appropriate, other than when you’re describing someone that’s committed a crime, and in fact ... I would say that, what race ends up doing is being a huge distracter,” he said.
Davis says there are much better ways to determine if someone is committing a crime than the color of their skin.
“To know whether a particular vehicle traveling down an interstate highway might be carrying a load of illegal drugs, the most important thing a police officer can do is to observe the behavior of the driver and any passengers,” he said. “Behavior can be used to successfully predict other behavior. Appearance does not predict behavior, except in the most misleading ways. To use the old baseball cliché, using racial or ethnic appearance as a factor in deciding who to stop or search takes one’s eyes off the ball.”
Effectiveness aside, not everyone thinks federal legislation is the right course of action. In testimony, Frank Gale — the national second vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police — called the bill’s language over-broad and insisted that racial profiling is “hyped by activists, media and others with political agendas.”
Gale, who is Black, said the legislation would inhibit even the most basic discretionary policing, leaving beat cops hamstrung without the presence of an eyewitness to point out crimes in the act.
“No one ought to be stopped solely on the basis of their race,” Gale told the subcommittee. “But to contend that the successful practice of profiling — which does not consider race exclusively — be abandoned when it has proved to be a successful tool to prevent crime and catch criminals is not the answer.”
A decade-long effort
This isn’t the first time Congress has attempted to legislate racial profiling at the federal level. Identical bills have been introduced in every session of Congress since 2001. In February of that year, in his first Joint Address to Congress, President George W. Bush said that racial profiling is “wrong and we will end it in America.”
Then came 9/11, and fear of a terrorist attack made the idea of a law prohibiting racial and ethnic profiling seem like a quaint holdover from less dangerous times. In the meantime, racially motivated arrest, prosecution and incarceration have been dubbed the “New Jim Crow” by advocates for criminal justice reform, while targeted investigations of Muslims and persons of Middle Eastern descent have drawn a strong backlash from civil libertarians and constitutional rights experts.
It remains to be seen if this latest attempt to bring an end to racial profiling will fare any better than those before it.
The Sanford, Fla., police chief who was strongly criticized for his department’s failure to arrest of the shooter in the killing of Trayvon Martin, was fired Wednesday June 20.
City Manager Norton Bonaparte said he relieved Chief Bill Lee of duty because the manager “determined “the police chief needs to have the trust and respect of the officials and confidence of the entire community.”
“We need to move forward with a police chief that all the citizens of Sanford can support. I have come to this decision in light of the escalating divisiveness that has taken hold of the city,” Bonaparte said.
The city manager made the right decision in firing the police chief whose department mishandled the Martin case.
To keep Chief Lee would have only prolonged the pain and polarization of this central Florida city, near Orlando.
Lee’s firing is a direct result of the Martin case.
The 17-year-old was shot Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in the city of Sanford, as Martin walked back from a local convenience store to the apartment where he and his father were staying. Martin was unarmed, carrying only a can of iced tea and a pack of candy, when Zimmerman shot him. Zimmerman claimed he shot the teen in self-defense, under Florida’s stand your ground law.
However, the evidence suggests Zimmerman was the aggressor. Zimmerman spotted the Black teenager walking from the store through the gated community and started following him, according to the police report.
Zimmerman called police after spotting Martin. Despite a dispatcher telling him not to follow the teen, Zimmerman kept up his pursuit, even getting out of his truck to look for him. Martin appears to have been the victim of racial profiling by Zimmerman.
Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
When city officials fired Chief Lee it was long overdue.
In April, city commissioners made a mistake in rejecting Chief Lee’s resignation. Lee had temporarily stepped down in March because he said this would let emotions cool in the aftermath of Martin’s slaying.
At the time the city commissioners attempted to blame the city’s polarization on outside groups instead of carrying outa tough examination of a police department that botched the investigation of the Martin slaying.
What “outside groups” did was force Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott and the U.S. Justice Department to take another look at the Martin case.
Protests over the lack of an arrest led to a federal investigation and the local prosecutor removing himself from the case, prompting the governor to appoint a special prosecutor who eventually charged Zimmerman.
Lee had to be fired because of his police department’s lack of a thorough investigation and arrest in the killing of an unarmed teen.
In an interview with Fox News televised last week, George Zimmerman said he felt the course of the night that 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed “was all God’s plan.”
Zimmerman’s comments reflect a callous disregard for human life.
Martin’s parents immediately rejected Zimmerman’s absurd and offensive claim that the death was part of God’s plan.
“We must worship a different God,” Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, told The Associated Press. “There is no way that my God wanted George Zimmerman to murder my teenage son.”
Months after killing the unarmed teenager, Zimmerman accepts no personal responsibility for what he did.
The shooting in February led to weeks of nationwide protests over race and self-defense laws as police didn’t arrest Zimmerman for more than a month. Zimmerman now faces a charge of second-degree murder. Zimmerman claimed self-defense under Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law.
The Fox interview last week was Zimmerman’s first lengthy television interview. Most defense lawyers would advise clients facing murder charges not to give televised interviews that could be used as evidence against them in a trial. While it is not clear why Zimmerman gave the televised interview some legal observers suspect that Zimmerman did the interview in an attempt to try to influence potential jurors.
The interview that Zimmerman gave to FOX News was revealing. He blankly told interviewer Sean Hannity that he wouldn’t do anything differently the night of Martin’s death.
Martin said he was merely trying to keep an eye on Martin to tell police. However 911 tapes show that Zimmerman told a police dispatcher he was following Martin.
Whether Zimmerman was the aggressor is critical to his self-defense claim.
In the Fox News interview, Zimmerman contradicted himself and continued to show no moral accountability for what he did.
Ask Americans how race relations have changed under their first Black president and they are ready with answers.
Ashley Ray, a white woman, hears more people debating racial issues. “I know a lot of people who really thought we were OK as a nation, a culture, and now they understand that we’re not,” she says.
Karl Douglass, a Black man, sees stereotypes easing. “White people deal with me and my family differently,” he says.
Jose Lozano, who is Hispanic by way of Puerto Rico, believes prejudice is emerging from the shadows. “Now the racism is coming out,” he says.
In the afterglow of Barack Obama’s historic victory, most people in the United States believed that race relations would improve. Nearly four years later, has that dream come true? Americans have no shortage of thoughtful opinions, and no consensus.
As the nation moves toward the multiracial future heralded by this son of an African father and white mother, the events of Obama’s first term, and what people make of them, help trace the racial arc of his presidency.
Shortly before the 2008 election, 56 percent of Americans surveyed by the Gallup organization said that race relations would improve if Obama were elected. One day after his victory, 70 percent said race relations would improve and only 10 percent predicted they would get worse.
Just weeks after taking office, Obama said, “There was justifiable pride on the part of the country that we had taken a step to move us beyond some of the searing legacies of racial discrimination.”
Then he joked, “But that lasted about a day.”
Or, rather, three months.
By July 2009, the Black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested for yelling at a white police officer who questioned whether Gates had broken into his own home. Asked to comment, Obama said he didn’t know all the facts, but Gates was a personal friend and the officer had acted “stupidly.”
The uproar was immediate. Obama acknowledged afterward, “I could’ve calibrated those words differently.”
Ed Cattaneo, a retired computer training manager from Cape May, N.J., points to that episode as evidence of how Obama has hurt race relations.
“He’s made them terrible,” says Cattaneo, who is white. He also sees Obama as siding against white people through actions such as his Justice Department’s decision to drop voter intimidation charges against New Black Panthers and in a program to turn out the Black vote called “African Americans for Obama.”
Larry Sharkey, also white, draws different conclusions from the past four years.
“Attitudes are much better,” Sharkey says as he slices raw meat in a Philadelphia butcher shop. He remembers welcoming a Black family that moved next door to him 20 years ago in Claymont, Del. A white neighbor advised him not to associate with the new arrivals, warning, “Your property values are going to go down.”
That kind of thing would never happen today, Sharkey says.
As Obama dealt with fallout from the Gates affair during the summer of 2009, the tea party coalesced out of opposition to Obama’s stimulus and health care proposals. The vast majority of tea partyers were white. A small number of them displayed racist signs or were connected to white supremacist groups, prompting the question: Are Obama’s opponents motivated by dislike of the president’s policies, his race — or both?
As that debate grew, Obama retreated to the race-neutral stance that has been a hallmark of his career. An October 2009 Gallup poll showed a large drop in racial optimism since the election, with 41 percent of respondents saying that race relations had improved under Obama. Thirty-five percent said there was no change and 22 percent said race relations were worse.
The president has discussed race in occasional speeches to groups such as the National Urban League or the National Council of La Raza, and in interviews with Hispanic and African-American media outlets. But he usually walks a careful line, allowing the nation to get used to the idea of a Black president without doing things to make race seem a central aspect of his governance.
“There is a totally different psychological frame of reference that this country has never had,” says William Smith, executive director of the National Center for Race Amity at Wheelock College.
He cites evidence of progress from the mindset of children in his programs to new history curriculums in Deep South schools.
“To me, that’s a quantum leap,” Smith says.
Douglass, a real estate agent from Columbus, Ga., says white people seem less surprised to see him with his wife and daughter in places such as an art museum or a foreign language school.
“I think white people deal with me and my family differently since an African-American man is leader of the free world and a nuclear Black family lives in the White House,” he says.
But Steven Chen, an Asian-American graduate student in Philadelphia, points to racial rhetoric he has heard directed toward Obama, in person and online, as proof that race relations have deteriorated.
He also has observed a more visible sign of division: fewer Obama T-shirts.
“When he was elected, it was an American thing. People of all races wore them,” says Chen. “Today it’s a distinctly Black phenomenon.”
Ray, a graduate school administrator from Chicago, is uncertain whether race relations have remained the same or gotten worse.
It’s good that people are talking about race more, she says, “but I know quite a few people who are sick of those discussions and blame him for all of it.”
In the summer of 2010, race and politics collided again when Arizona Republicans passed an immigration law that critics said would lead to racial profiling of Hispanics.
Lozano, the police sergeant, remembers that when Obama visited Arizona and met with the governor, who supported the law, she wagged an angry finger in the president’s face.
“That was ugly, I’ve never seen anything like that,” says Lozano, who also is vice president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers. “There’s no way that would have ever happened to a white president.”
By the fall of 2010, Republicans had triumphed in the midterm elections and made history by electing Hispanic and Indian-American governors in New Mexico, South Carolina, and Nevada. Two Black Republicans also went to Congress, from South Carolina and Florida.
Less than a year later, an August 2011 Gallup poll showed a further decline in racial optimism: 35 percent said race relations had improved due to Obama’s election, 41 percent said no change, and 23 percent said things were worse.
Around this time, some African-American lawmakers and pundits openly complained about the president’s refusal to specifically target any programs at high Black unemployment. An interviewer from Black Entertainment Television asked Obama why not.
“That’s not how America works,” Obama replied.
Then came this February’s killing of unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is from Peru. Authorities initially declined to charge Zimmerman with a crime, causing a polarizing uproar.
This time, when asked about the case, Obama delivered a carefully calibrated message. He said all the facts were not known, the legal system should take its course — and that “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”
The comment was factual, but it still strikes Cattaneo as a coded message to Black people that Obama is on their side. “A lot of people I talk to can’t understand why a man who’s half-white and half-Black is so anti-white.”
This April, in a poll by the National Journal and the University of Phoenix, 33 percent felt race relations were getting better, 23 percent said they were getting worse, and 42 percent said they were staying about the same.
So where are we now?
Four years after Obama smashed the nation’s highest racial barrier, and less than four months before America will decide whether he deserves a second term, the nation is uncertain about the meaning of a Black president.
Recently, Obama was asked in a Rolling Stone magazine interview if race relations were any different than when he took office.
“I never bought into the notion,” Obama said, “that by electing me, somehow we were entering into a post-racial period.” — (AP)
ORLANDO, Fla. — The neighborhood watch volunteer who killed Trayvon Martin can be released from jail on $1 million bond while he awaits trial on a second-degree murder charge, a judge ruled Thursday.
Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester granted bond to George Zimmerman for a second time. Lester had revoked Zimmerman's $150,000 bond last month after prosecutors told the judge Zimmerman and his wife misled the court about how much money they had during an April bond hearing.
Prosecutors said a website Zimmerman created for his legal defense had raised $135,000 at the time of his first bond hearing. Zimmerman and his wife did not mention the money then, and Shellie Zimmerman even said the couple had limited resources because she was a student and he wasn't working.
The judge made his decision after listening last week to Zimmerman's attorney and a forensic financial analyst explain why he wasn't more forthcoming.
The judge expressed his unhappiness with Zimmerman and said that his actions suggest a possibility that he was preparing to flee to avoid prosecution.
"Under any definition, the defendant has flaunted the system," Lester wrote in the order. "The defendant has tried to manipulate the system when he has been presented the opportunity to do so."
Lester said he was granting bond because Zimmerman posed no threat to the community, and Florida law requires that most defendants receive bond if they pose no threat and can assure their presence for trial. The judge's order requires Zimmerman to be electronically monitored and residing in Seminole County, prohibits him from opening a bank account or obtaining a passport and implements a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. Zimmerman had been allowed to leave Florida under the conditions of his first bond release.
Prosecutors previously argued Zimmerman and his wife talked in code during recorded jailhouse conversations about how to transfer the donations to different bank accounts. For example, George Zimmerman at one point asked how much money they had. She replied "$155." Prosecutors allege that was code for $155,000. Their reference to "Peter Pan" was code for the PayPal system through which the donations were made, prosecutors said.
Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara sparred with prosecutors over those finances last week and questioned why his client is in jail at all, arguing that Martin's actions led to his death.
O'Mara ultimately decided against calling his client to the stand during last Friday's hearing, unlike during the first bond hearing, when Zimmerman apologized to Martin's family.
The defense attorney called Zimmerman's father to testify, and played a chilling 911 call from the Feb. 26 night when Martin was killed. The call includes a disputed cry for help and the fatal gunshot. Robert Zimmerman said he was sure that was his son's cry.
Shellie Zimmerman has since been charged with perjury. She is out of jail on $1,000 bond and her arraignment is set for July 31.
Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting the unarmed 17-year-old Martin on Feb. 26 at a gated apartment community in Sanford. Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty and claims the shooting was self-defense under the state's "stand your ground" law.
Martin's parents and supporters claim that the teenager was targeted because he was black and that Zimmerman started the confrontation that led to the shooting. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
The 44 days between the shooting and Zimmerman's arrest inspired nationwide protests, led to the departure of the Sanford police chief and prompted a U.S. Justice Department probe. -- (AP)
The shooting death of Trayvon Martin has been called everything from a national tragedy to a national disgrace; a hate crime with more and more rallies taking place everyday calling for George Zimmerman’s arrest and justice for the victim and his grieving family.
President Barack Obama has also weighed in on the issue, leaving behind the sound bite, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”
But absent from most of the discussions, most of the rallies, most of the righteous anger and all of the remarks from an increasing plethora of Black leaders and media figures is the other national disgrace — the abominably high murder rate among young Black males.
“This is an epidemic that’s been going on too long,” said Mayor Michael Nutter in a recent interview. “And unfortunately, you will find African-American males at the bottom of good categories and at the top of negative categories.”
Last Thursday, Mayor Nutter spoke at a rally in Love Park regarding the Martin killing. Nutter said people are concerned over Trayvon Martin, but also need to be outraged over what’s happening on their own street corners.
“How is it possible that thousands of Black men, thousands of Black people, [are] killed every year, and no one says a word?” asked Nutter in a published report.
Community leader and anti-violence activist Bilal Qayyum, who is also working with other community leaders on the new media campaign Live and Let Live: Promoting Peace and Eradicating the Culture of Violence, also questioned the Black community’s lack of outrage over the meaningless killings that happen in its neighborhoods every single day.
“Everyone is angry about what happened to this kid Trayvon Martin in Florida, but I tell people that in Philadelphia in the last ten years we’ve had 3,760 people killed. And over 2,600 of them were Black males,” Qayyum said. “Where’s the anger about that? In Chicago, there were a bunch of shootings just a couple of weekends ago and again, mostly Black males killing other Black males. Where is the outrage over that?”
The Black genocide taking place in the African-American communities didn’t happen overnight, social experts say. And, many of the factors contributing to it weren’t spawned in the Black community. Systemic racism, government apathy, the poor quality of education in many predominantly Black public schools and the loss of living wage jobs, have all played a part in creating the ongoing bloodshed.
“This is something that affects every aspect of life in our city,” said Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW and president of Black Men at Penn. Lassiter said the level of anger isn’t the same because people are being reactive rather than proactive, which is harder.
“It’s easier to be visceral rather than do the hard work of violence prevention,” Lassiter said. “We’re silent over the Black genocide, yet Trayvon Martin’s assassination gives us an example of the level of outrage that could take place — but deafening silence when the same thing happens on the street corners of our neighborhoods. I think it’s because we’re hypocrites; we’re okay with the moral erosion happening right in front of our eyes. There’s too much talk and too much inactivity — too much silence from the Black churches and the Black community. There are too many Black Zimmermans in our communities right now. Curtis up the street can commit two murders, and no one is willing to say anything. Are we really going to be okay with that?”
To cite a recent example, on March 20 at around 3:30 p.m., an unidentified Black male pulled up in a gold colored car in the vicinity of Fifth and Pierce streets. The still unidentified male fired several shots at a 19-year-old Black male. The victim ran south on Fifth and then onto Pierce Street, according to police. The unidentified shooter pursued him, still firing, and striking two men, ages 51 and 52. The victims were hospitalized in stable condition. That same evening, just before 9 p.m., gunfire exploded again inside a playground near Fourth and Washington where at least 60 people were gathered. An unidentified gunman fired several shots into the crowd, striking a 12-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl. The boy suffered a graze wound to the ankle and the girl was struck in the thigh. Both were rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where they were treated and released.
At the publishing of this article, the number of homicides in Philadelphia this year has climbed to 92. According to figures from reports researched by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, across the nation, 85 percent of the Black victims of homicide are male, and 51 percent are between the ages of 17 and 19.
“Should we be outraged over the death of Trayvon Martin? Yes, but cases like this happen everyday,” said Minister Rodney Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. “Martin’s death symbolizes the injustices done to us on a daily basis. The hoodie he wore was part of the stereotypical profile, but Wall Street stuck up the whole nation wearing business suits. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan called it justifiable homicide — that Zimmerman felt justified because our Black genocide gives a license to people like him. There has to be resentment over the wide spread murder of ourselves and our injustices to each other. I think for too long we’ve relied on someone else for our own betterment. We’re overdue to stop asking America for what’s due to us. We’ve done a great work for America and now it’s time to do a great work for ourselves. We have geniuses in every field of human endeavor, and we need to marshal those strengths. When we do better, America does better. There was a time when our children would walk ten miles to learn to read and write. Now we have children who live across the street from a Free Library and have never been inside it.”