by C.C. Campbell-Rock
The acquittal of George Zimmerman…
Slow to no action against the former NOPD officers responsible for the questionable, if not criminal, shooting deaths of Wendell Allen and Justin Sipp…
Then one small glimmer of justice in Milwaukee with the guilty verdict and life sentence for the elderly White man that killed his 13-year-old Black neighbor because he thought the teen was responsible for stealing weapons from his home is dimmed as 14-year-old Marshall Coulter fights for his life here in New Orleans after being shot in the head by 33-year-old Merritt Landry who claims he was defending his home and family from the teen though police have said that while Coulter was inside Landry’s fence he was not breaking into his home; nor was he armed; and he was shot from about 30 feet away…
It seems like a mixed bag of bad that includes everything from old fashioned bigotry and racism coupled with fear, bad laws and unfair practices—racial profiling Stop and Frisk, Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine laws like Louisiana’s.
Whatever it is, it is leaving many in the African-American community convinced that open season has been declared on Black men and boys…no hunting license required.
The murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the “not guilty” verdict for his killer George Zimmerman have re-ignited the smoldering embers of an all-too familiar chapter of American history that perhaps never really closed. The outright sadistic atrocity of lynching and discrimination of Jim Crow laws has morphed into modern-day goings-on like Stand your Ground laws, police brutality and racial profiling, which though arguably subtler, are no-less dehumanizing and unjust.
False assumptions, fears, distrust, and racial profiling have always been a large part of the battle African-Americans have fought against as they pursued civil rights and equal protection under the law. The list of victims—Black men killed because of the color of their skin—reminds us that some laws are inherently racist and discriminatory. And racial profiling is more deadly now in the wake of so-called ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws. Add to it the spate of Zimmerman copycats since the February 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin, and it becomes all the more frightening. In short, it is open season on Black men and boys.
John Henry Spooner, 76, was convicted on July 17, in the May 2012 shooting death of 13-years-old Darius Simmons. Just months after Zimmerman killed Martin in Sanford, Fla., Spooner, a White man, shot and killed Simmons, a Black teen, in Milwaukee after accusing him of breaking into his home and stealing his guns. Police searched the teen’s home and didn’t find the weapons.
Unlike the Zimmerman trial, where the case revolved around Zimmerman’s one-sided account and the testimony of friends and family, Spooner was caught on video shooting Darius Simmons, by his own surveillance cameras. Spooner received a life sentence, without the benefit of parole.
In a more recent case and one that hits even closer to home, Merritt Landry, 33, was charged with attempted second-degree murder for shooting Marshall Coulter, 14, in the head. Landry is White, Coulter is Black.
According to media reports, Landry said Coulter had crossed the fence into his yard. And while police say the teen was inside the fence, he was not breaking into the yard and posed no imminent threat.
Differing greatly from the Zimmerman case, local law enforcement officials – to their credit – wasted no time arresting and charging Landry with attempted second degree murder. Though the system certainly fell short with its quick release of Landry on a property bond, which should have taken days, within hours of his arrest approved by former family defense attorney turned criminal court Judge Franz Zibilich.
These ‘Shoot to Kill,” National Rifle Association (NRA) backed-laws give private citizens the right to kill anyone who they “reasonably believe,” intend to commit a crime against them. When coupled with the lack of accountability for gun buyers and owners, these laws have legalized racial profiling and murder.
The fact that fears, beliefs, perceptions, misperceptions and assumptions are all one needs to claim justifiable homicide against a Black person is an insane notion born of America’s violent history with slavery, Jim Crow, and racism. And children like Trayvon and Darius have become the today’s Emmett Tills—innocent martyrs of rabid racial profiling.
So, for many African-Americans the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the initial reluctance to arrest Zimmerman topped off by his ultimate acquittal have been painful reminders of a dismal reality for African-Americans, especially African-American men.
The first juror in the Zimmerman case to speak publicly, juror B-39, said she believed that Trayvon Martin caused his own death. “Trayvon had a chance to go home,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, echoing George Zimmerman’s defense lawyers. As she sat, hidden by shadows, she also said that Zimmerman may have ‘”gone too far in doing what he did.” And although the Puerto Rican juror, Maddy, has publicly apologized to Trayvon Martin’s family, her regrets are too little, too late. She had initially voted for a verdict of second-degree murder, she said. But she obviously caved into pressure by fellow jurors to acquit Zimmerman.
Maddy and juror B-39 both said the juror instructions left them no choice but to free Zimmerman. And, yet, we see that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is not evenly or fairly applied, when it comes to Black defendants.
Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville, Fla., received a 20-years prison sentence in May 2012 for firing warning shots in the air to keep her estranged husband, Rico Gray, from beating her. Gray had battered her before.
She was recently denied a new trial after appealing to the judge to reconsider her case based on Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law. The law states that the victim of a crime does not have to attempt to run for safety and can immediately retaliate in self-defense.
Alexander’s attorney said she was clearly defending herself and should not have to spend the next two decades behind bars. This college-educated woman was in her own home and had separated from her husband because of past abuse at his hands. Did she not have a reasonable belief that her estranged husband would commit a felony against her? If the Stand Your Ground law applies to anyone, it is Alexander.
Black New Orleanians have experienced more than their share of murders. And to be sure, a majority of these killings have been Blacks killing Blacks, in much the same way that the overwhelming majority of crime committed against Whites is committed by other Whites. People tend to stay in their comfort zones even when it comes to crime. However, what most Whites do not have to contend with in addition to the crime that emanates from within their communities is an outside assault often perpetrated by individuals who either use the law to mask their actions or by those who are sworn by law to protect and serve.
Consider the 2012 killings of Justin Sipp and Wendell Allen, by NOPD officers, just days apart from each other and from the murder of Trayvon Martin.
On March 1, 2012, Justin’s brother, Earl Sipp, III, was driving him to work, when Jason Giroir, off-duty and working a private detail, stopped him because the light bulb was out over his license plate. The confrontation left Justin Sipp dead, a bullet wound in Earl Sipp III’s leg, and two officers injured. Earl Sipp, III, had also been stomped and kicked in the head. He received a ticket for driving on a suspended license. But after six court dates, the charges were dropped because Giroir and the other cops did not show up in court.
A grand jury refused to indict Giroir, who remained on the job until he made racially profiled comments about Trayvon Martin. “Act like a thug, die like a thug,” he posted on line.
“It was definitely a case of racial profiling,” says Daniel Abel, the Sipp family’s attorney. Abel, who is white, said part of racial profiling is fabricating stories, like Giroir did when he claimed the brothers came out of the car with “guns blazing.”
As of yet, the city and NOPD refuses to give him any information in the wrongful death civil lawsuit he has filed on behalf of Justin’s family, Abel says, adding that Giroir has a history of racial profiling.
“On April 4, 2006, Giroir pulled a gun on Mrs. Jonie Pratt.” This happened in an upscale, uptown neighborhood. “He punched her, pulled her hair, and pepper-sprayed her,” Abel wrote in the legal brief. All of this took place while Mrs. Pratt was in front of her home she shares with her husband NOPD narcotics officer Desmond Pratt. She settled a lawsuit with the city for an undisclosed amount.
Then there is the case of Wendell Allen. On March 7, 2012—less than a week after Justin Sipp was killed—20-year-old Allen was gunned down by NOPD Officer Joshua Colclough in his mother’s Gentilly home. The cops broke the door down after allegedly announcing that they had a search warrant, and received no answer. They suspected drug dealing, marijuana sales, at that location. Allen unarmed, shirtless and wearing jeans, was shot in the back. There were three minor children in the home.
Colclough who killed Allen has been charged with manslaughter and recently asked for a change of venue.
One week after the Zimmerman verdict, tens of thousands filled the streets, in a 100-plus city protest, to demand the repeal of “Stand Your Ground” laws and the filing of federal hate crime charges against Zimmerman.
Here, New Orleanians gathered on the steps of the federal courthouse. National leaders continue to speak out.
“We will work hard to repeal these “Stand Your Ground” laws that allow people to play cops and robbers like Zimmerman did,” says Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League and former New Orleans mayor.
Adopted—in one form or another—by legislatures in 33 states, including Louisiana, these insidious laws provide racists with a license to kill. A person can use deadly force if that individual has a “reason to believe or reasonable belief,” his or her life is in danger.
While the multi-city protest was successful in rallying individuals to talk about the issues and make demands, protest organizer and civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton is on point when he says legislation is needed to fix the problem.
Everyone can and should do something. Call, write, text, contact your state legislators, the U.S. Attorney’s office, President Obama, your U.S. representatives and senators, and tell them to repeal these shoot to kill laws.
Start a blog, sign petitions, use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, letters to editors; whatever else you can think of to do to have your voice heard. Join advocacy groups, donate to those on the front lines for justice, march, protest, and pray. Do something.
Most importantly, now more than ever, it is imperative that people register to vote. And not only vote but hold elected officials accountable.