Dream Defenders Stand Their Ground, Occupying the New Jim Crow

September 18, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Gun Culture, Prison Industrial Complex, White Privilege

Dream Defenders and Trayvon Martin protesters take a stand in Sanford, FL. (Werth Media/Flickr)

From In These Times:

As nationwide protests erupted this July after a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of murdering Trayvon Martin, President Obama asked Americans to exercise “calm reflection” and reminded demonstrators that “we are a nation of laws.” But a group of young organizers in Florida decided that the moment instead called for civil disobedience to challenge unjust laws, and proceeded to hold a 31-day sit-in at the state Capitol in Tallahassee.

The Dream Defenders, formed in the aftermath of 17-year-old Martin’s killing last year, have chapters on 7 college campuses across Florida. The group, whose name alludes to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech at the 1963 March on Washington, aims to address the structural problems at the heart of the Martin case: the criminalization of people of color, police brutality and mass incarceration—all of which add up to a system law professor Michelle Alexander calls “the new Jim Crow.”

On July 16, the activists launched an occupation of the Florida Capitol, demanding that Gov. Rick Scott (R) convene a special session of the legislature to reform Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which figured prominently in the Martin case. During their sit-in, the Dream Defenders announced their support for Trayvon’s Law, drafted by the NAACP, which would repeal Stand Your Ground altogether. Trayvon’s Law would also curtail racial profiling by police through an independent civilian complaint review board with the power to discipline offending police officers and ban the “zero tolerance” policies that fuel the school-to-prison pipeline.

Though no special session was convened, by the time the sit-in ended, on August 15, they had met with the governor, several top-level state officials had agreed to talk with them, and Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford had committed to hold hearings on Trayvon’s Law this fall.

New study finds vast online marketplace for guns without background checks

August 06, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Gun Culture, Military Industrial Complex, White Privilege

From WashingtonPost:

How the NRA Exerts Influence Over Congress

The marketplace for firearms on the Internet, where buyers are not required to undergo background checks, is so vast that advocates for stricter regulations now consider online sales a greater threat than the gun show loophole.

A new study by Third Way, a centrist think tank with close ties to the Obama administration, found that thousands of guns, including so-called assault weapons, are for sale online and that many prospective buyers were shopping online specifically to avoid background checks.

The study focused on — a popular classified site similar to that facilitates private sales of firearms and ammunition based on location — and analyzed listings in 10 states where senators voted against a background checks compromise this spring.

At any given time, more than 15,000 guns were for sale in those states, according to the study, and more than 5,000 of them were semi-automatic weapons. Nearly 2,000 ads were from prospective buyers asking to buy specifically from private sellers, where no background checks are required.

“At this point, this is the biggest loophole in the background check system,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, director of social policy and politics at Third Way.

Background checks — designed to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons, domestic violence perpetrators or the severely mentally ill — are mandatory for gun sales at retail stores, but not at gun shows or for private sales, such as between neighbors and family members.

The National Rifle Association and other gun rights supporters have advocated against expanding the background check system because they believe doing so will not stop society’s most dangerous people from procuring weapons and eventually will lead to even stricter gun regulations, including a federal registry.

But gun-control advocates have long prioritized closing the gun show loophole, believing that is where people seeking to avoid background checks buy their firearms. Hatalsky noted that 17 states have closed the gun show loophole in their states, and that law enforcement officers have become savvy about scouring gun shows for people evading the law.

Florida Will Hold Hearings On ‘Stand Your Ground’ This Fall

August 05, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Imperialism, Military Industrial Complex, White Privilege

From ThinkProgress:

Will Weatherford, the Republican speaker of Florida’s House of Representatives, revealed on Friday that the state’s legislature will hold hearings on its infamous “Stand Your Ground” laws sometime this fall. While the announcement came buried in one sentence of a defensive opinion piece published this past Thursday in the Tampa Tribune, Reuters nonetheless characterized it as “the biggest concession yet by the state’s Republican leaders to protesters’ demands for a top-to-bottom review of the law.”

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law came in for widespread public criticism after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman on murder and manslaughter charges for the killing. Some version of the law has been passed by legislatures in 22 states, and it’s been defended as a “human right” by the National Rifle Association — which helped draft and disseminate the laws along with the American Legislative Exchange Council. Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Attorney General Eric Holder, and President Obama himself have said “Stand Your Ground” laws need to be re-examined in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict.

Police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, citing “Stand Your Ground” in their reasoning, and kicking off the initial round of protests over the case. But subsequent to his arrest, Zimmerman and his lawyer declined to raise the law as a defense, leading many commentators — including Weatherford in his op-ed — to characterize it as irrelevant. But “Stand Your Ground” was cited in the instructions given to the jury. And interviews with several jurors make it clear that, explicitly cited or not, “Stand Your Ground” now comprises part of the inescapable legal infrastructure Florida jurors must use when judging self-defense.

New plea for gun rights: NRA Petitions SCOTUS to Legalize Gun Sales to Minors

August 04, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Imperialism, Military Industrial Complex

(Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi)

The petition, with the lower court opinions attached, is now available, and can be read here. It is a large file.

From ScotusBlog:

The National Rifle Association and two individuals under the age of twenty-one have asked the Supreme Court to strike down a federal law that bans licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to minors. A federal appeals court upheld that law, ruling that Congress was justified in believing that easy commercial access to pistols for teenagers leads to violent crime.

The new case, NRA v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (docket 13-137), raises one of the broadest challenges to a gun control law to reach the Court in the five years since the Second Amendment was interpreted to protect a personal right to have a gun, at least for self-defense.

Under a law that dates to 1968, Congress imposed a series of limitations on access to guns for anyone under the age of twenty-one. The only restriction specifically at issue in the new case is a ban on purchasing a handgun from a federally licensed gun dealer, for anyone who is eighteen, nineteen, or twenty years old.

The law does not ban those in that age group from obtaining guns, or even from obtaining handguns. They may get such a weapon from their parents or a guardian, and may even buy a handgun in a private sale. They may also buy a rifle or shotgun from a licensed dealer. What is banned altogether is the purchase of a handgun from a dealer — the source that the NRA told the Court is “the most common” and “most logical.”

The NRA and two nineteen-year-olds who joined in the challenge filed their petition after the Fifth Circuit Court had split eight to seven in refusing to reconsider the ban that had been upheld by a unanimous three-judge Circuit panel. In upholding Congress’s power to single out a specific group in society for curbing its gun rights, the panel had raised doubts about whether young adults between the ages of eighteen to twenty are protected by the Second Amendment.

Turning Up the Heat on GOP During August Recess

August 01, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Development, Education, Immigration, Poverty, Workers' Rights

Tomas Martinez, of Atlanta, chants during a rally in front of the White House on July 24, calling for of immigration reform.
(Photo: Evan Vucci, AP)

From USA Today:

As they prepare to leave the Capitol for a month-long August recess, Republican members of the House of Representatives are taking with them legislative summaries and informational packets to tackle tough questions in their districts about immigration.

Supporters of a proposal to revamp the nation’s immigration laws plan to use the recess to pressure House GOP members in their districts to pass a plan like that which passed the Senate in June.

Those in favor of granting citizenship to an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants say they will use rallies, marches, coordinated phone calls, social media campaigns and pressure from big-dollar donors.

“This is the beginning of a long, hot summer for the House of Representatives,” said Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union, a labor union that supports the Senate’s immigration bill.

Republicans will also face pressure from Tea Party groups and other opponents of the Senate immigration bill.

From HuffPo:

“This is a new approach. The theory in the past has been to be stealth about the effort to confront members at town halls — but sometimes it’s been too stealth, and we haven’t generated enough activity,” said Brad Woodhouse, president of the progressive group Americans United for Change. “Since everyone knows that both sides are doing this, we’re going to be public-facing about it.”

On Wednesday, the group is launching Accountable Congress, a new website meant to be a summer toolkit for the progressive community, providing information about where Republican members of Congress and senators will be speaking during the August recess away from Capitol Hill. It includes progressive talking points on issues of the day, including immigration, climate change and gun violence, in addition to suggested questions to ask Republican lawmakers.

Woodhouse said he wants supporters to confront the elected officials, ask them tough questions and record the exchanges. The group plans to share noteworthy responses, and to collect and share information about what Republicans are doing and saying. Americans United has presented its plan to various progressive organizations already and will be holding daily calls with activists to coordinate the strategy.

“We’re also not just focusing exclusively on swings -– whether in the issue or electoral sense,” said Woodhouse. “We’ll try to have a presence at any GOP member event.”

House Republicans are putting together their own August recess playbook. The House Republican Conference has created a 31-page document offering instructions to members for meeting with constituents, promoting the House GOP’s agenda and garnering media attention. It does not, however, advise members on how to deal with confrontational town halls.

Democrats took a thumping during the 2009 summer recess, when lawmakers faced tea party activists at town hall meetings during the height of the health care debate. The party lost control of its message, with the myth of “death panels” often dominating discussions.

From behind bars, Marissa Alexander awaits appeal, yearns for an emotional bond with daughter

July 24, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, White Privilege

Marisa Alexander, the thirty year-old mother of three sentenced to twenty years in prison for firing a warning shot to fend off an attack form her husband.

From The Grio/Joy-Ann Reid:

Marissa Alexander’s daughter turns three today but there is not plan for a birthday party. Instead, the 31-year-old remains in a Duval County Florida jail awaiting the latest hearing in her case.

Last spring, Alexander was sentenced to a mandatory 20-year sentence under Florida’s 10-20-life statute, after a jury took 12 minutes to convict her of three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm for firing a warning shot over the head of her husband, Rico Gray, who Alexander said abused and threatened her. She faced three counts because Gray’s two sons, aged 10 and 12 at the time, were with him in the kitchen when the confrontation took place.

Alexander said she acted out of fear when she ran into her garage and retrieved a gun from her car, then returned to the house to confront Gray. The prosecutor, Angela Corey, argued she acted in anger. Alexander said she was just standing her ground, but a judge rejected that claim. Her lawyers have begun the process of filing an appeal, lead attorney Bruce Zimet, told theGrio.

“We have filed our briefs, the state of Florida has filed their briefs, and we’re waiting for the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee to set oral arguments or render an opinion,” Zimet said on Monday. “We have no real timetable as to when that’s going to happen.”

In the meantime, Alexander is expected to be transported from the county jail back to prison on Wednesday.

Zimet explained the options before the three-judge panel: they could reverse the conviction based on errors found in Alexander’s trial, or they can find that the judge in the case made a mistake by not granting Alexander immunity under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which would result in her being freed. There is a third option: that the judges could reject Alexander’s appeal altogether, leaving her to face 20 years behind bars.

19 Shot on Mother’s Day in New Orleans – Why Isn’t This a National Tragedy?

May 14, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Poverty, White Privilege

From Colorlines:

Cotton herself got caught in the crossfire of all of those broken systems that produced her shooter, as did the 18 others who were shot and wounded. In this video, posted eerily almost one year ago exactly by Park Triangle Productions, Cotton expressed her concern about New Orleans violence and also her compassion and love for black men in the city who are too often the perpetrators and victims of that violence:

FBI officials remarked that yesterday’s shooting was “street violence” not an act of terror, but Ariella Cohen, a friend of Cotton’s and editor of Next American City, questioned why that distinction is even necessary. Wrote Cohen:

This distinction is troubling because it distinguishes between crime that is seen as against ‘all Americans’ from crime that is seen as a byproduct of an urban American sub-culture, a subculture that happens to have racial and class associations.

Local attorney Samantha Kennedy, who’s also a capital mitigation specialist who worked in Tucson after the mass shootings there, questioned if trauma services would be available to the New Orleans communities as they were offered in Arizona and Colorado. “We have a multigenerational multi-layered PTSD in this community,” wrote Kennedy on Facebook. “Violence begets violence because trauma begets trauma. We live in a highly traumatized community. When are we going to take the biopsyhochemical and emotional needs of our people seriously?”

Gov. Jindal allowed a behavioral health program in Louisiana that served “at-risk,” low-income children to close, but has proposed legislation that would streamline case management services for that population of children.

NY Passes First US Gun Control Bill Since Newton Massacre

January 15, 2013 By: seeta Category: Civil Rights

From AP:

New York’s Assembly on Tuesday easily passed the toughest gun control law in the nation and the first since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, calling for a tougher assault weapons ban and provisions to try to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill who make threats.

Under current state law, assault weapons are defined by having two “military rifle” features such as folding stock, muzzle flash suppressor or bayonet mount. The proposal reduces that to one feature and includes the popular pistol grip.

Private sales of assault weapons to someone other than an immediate family will be subject to a background check through a dealer. New Yorkers also would be barred from buying assault weapons over the Internet, and failing to safely store a weapon could lead to a misdemeanor charge.

Ammunition magazines will be restricted to seven bullets, from the current 10, and current owners of higher-capacity magazines will have a year to sell them out of state. An owner caught at home with eight or more bullets in a magazine will face a misdemeanor charge.

Another provision places requirements on therapists, psychologists, registered nurses and licensed social workers who believe a mental health patient made a credible threat to use a gun illegally. They would be required to report such a threat to a mental health director, who would have to notify the state. Any registered handguns — or registered assault weapons purchased before the ban — could be taken from the patient.

The legislation also increases sentences for gun crimes including the shooting of a first responder that Cuomo called the “Webster provision.” Last month in the western New York town of Webster, two firefighters were killed after responding to a fire set by the shooter, who eventually killed himself.