Once again Florida has a self-defense case that has drawn national attention.
This time, the case involves a 33-year-old African-American woman, using Florida’s “Standing Your Ground” law to defend herself. In the cases of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, two unarmed African-American teenagers were shot to death by men claiming self-defense.
This time a defendant failed in using the “Stand Your Ground” law in her defense and now faces an overly harsh sentence.
Marissa Alexander could end up in prison for 60 years when she’s retried this summer for firing a shot in the direction of her estranged husband and two of his children.
Alexander was convicted in 2012 on three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 20 years- three counts served concurrently. An appeals court tossed the conviction, saying the judge made a mistake in shifting the burden to Alexander to prove she acted in self-defense.
The case has drawn national attention after Alexander was denied immunity under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
It is outrageous that the state is seeking triple the original sentence for shooting a warning shot that actually injured no one.
Prosecutors say they are simply following state sentencing laws in seeking 60 years.
Alexander said she fired the warning shot a few days after giving birth. Her estranged husband Rico Gray accused her of having an affair and questioned whether the baby was his. Alexander said she locked herself in the bathroom until he broke through the door and shoved her to the floor. She said she ran into the garage, found a gun in a car and fired a “warning shot” after Rico said he would kill her.
Prosecutors say the shot hit the wall, not the ceiling and could have hit Gray and two of his children. Prosecutors said they offered Alexander a plea deal of three years in prison which she turned down and chose to go to trial.
Here we have a woman claiming self-defense, who injured no one, possibly receiving to what amounts to a life sentence.
Alexander’s case has inspired Florida lawmakers to consider the so-called “warning shot” bill in the state legislature.
The Alexander case should also inspire a national outcry and a demand for justice.
President Barack Obama announced a new initiative last week called “My Brother’s Keeper,” aimed at improving the lives of young African-American and Hispanic men.
The president urged stronger efforts to create more opportunities for young minority men and to improve conditions that keep them impoverished and imprisoned in disproportionate numbers.
Under the president’s initiative, businesses, foundations and community groups would coordinate and support programs that keep these young men in school and out of the criminal justice system, while improving their access to higher education. Several foundations have pledged at least $200 million over five years to promote these goals.
Obama’s initiative is the result of a promise he made in his State of the Union address in January. At that time, he pledged to “help more young men of color … stay on track and reach their full potential.”
The president’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative is an effort to make good on his promise.
There is no question that such an effort is long-awaited and necessary.
There is an urgent need for government, foundations, businesses, community and parents to do more to help young minority men improve their employment opportunities and to intervene and help these men whose lives are disproportionally affected by poverty and the criminal justice system.
The president correctly pointed out there is enough data to know which programs work. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. What is needed now is examining programs that work, publicizing and duplicating those that help improve the lives of young minority men.
One example of a highly effective program is “Becoming a Man,” in Chicago. Participation in the program increases graduation rates by 10 to 23 percent relative to students not in it, and reduces violent crime arrests by 44 percent, according to a study by the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab. The “reduced violent crime arrests together with schooling impacts generate benefits from the program that are from 3 to 31 times the $1,100 per youth program costs,” said a release from the Crime Lab.
The president’s new initiative is the latest way in which he has been addressing race more directly. The president and first lady Michelle Obama recently hosted a forum at the White House to persuade colleges to recruit more low-income Americans.
The Justice Department under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder has also been looking at ways to deal with racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
In his first term, the president was criticized by some for not doing enough to directly help African Americans. The administration pointed to the Affordable Care Act and other legislation as efforts that disproportionally impact African Americans even if the programs were for all Americans.
But there should be no question that more targeted efforts that will help young men at risk are needed and welcomed.
This week marked the second anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman on Feb 26, 2012.
The shooting death of 17-year-old Martin in Florida sparked a nationwide debate about race and Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground laws. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer at the time, who appeared to have racially profiled Martin, claimed he shot the teen to protect himself. Zimmerman was acquitted of fatally shooting the unarmed teenager.
On Wednesday, a day of outrage and remembrance was held around the country for Martin and 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who was shot and killed by Michael Dunn on Nov. 23, 2012 after Davis confronted the unarmed teenager in a parking lot over loud music. Dunn was found guilty of second degree murder but a Florida jury deadlocked over whether to convict Dunn of first degree murder.
Many of the participants in the rally wore a hoodie similar to the one Martin wore when he was fatally shot by Zimmerman. Many rally participants held up signs saying “No More.” Demonstrators said the aim of the event is to refuse acceptance of African-American and Hispanic youth as targets of violence in America.
This week it was also announced that the Goodman Theatre in Chicago joined a national push to stage a night of plays about the killing of Martin.
The rallies, plays and town hall meetings held to remember Martin are necessary outlets for giving people a sounding board for their outrage.
But what is also needed is continued organized action against the forces that led to the death of Martin and Dunn and so many others.
The criminalization of the image of young Black men must be seriously addressed.
If the dominant image of young African-American males in the popular media is of a thug, it gives rise to irrational fears.
Overall violent crime is down and there is no effort to remove guns or even modest gun control efforts, but the perception of violent Black thugs roaming the streets give rise to increased gun sales and a rise in vigilante type behavior imposed by the Zimmermans and Dunns of the world.
Dunn’s own words in letters from jail point to his vigilante beliefs. “The jail is full of Blacks and they all act like thugs. This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these [expletive] idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.”
When Dunn confronted Davis did he see him as an individual or as another thug?
Stand Your Ground laws must be removed.
In both the Zimmerman and Dunn case, Stand Your Ground was used in the instructions to the jury.
In the 22 states with Stand Your Ground type laws, the justifiable homicide rate has risen by an average of 53 percent in the five years following their passage, according to a report issued last September by the National Urban League, the nonpartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition and VoteVets. In just Florida alone, justifiable homicides have increase by 200 percent since the law took effect in 2005.
We believe in the right of self-defense but these statistics show that the unnecessary expansive Stand Your Ground laws are doing serious harm.
We honor the memory of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis by working to overturn these harmful laws.
After decades of decline, the size of Philadelphia’s middle class has essentially stabilized in the past decade, according to an analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The report “Philadelphia’s Changing Middle Class: After Decades of Decline, Prospects for Growth,” released Monday, analyzed current and past data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The report has both good and bad news about the state of Philadelphia’s middle class and should provide valuable information to the city’s elected officials and policy makers on how to retain and grow the city’s middle class.
The good news is that the city has a rising African-American middle class. In 1970, just 26 percent of the city’s middle class was African American. In 2010, 42 percent of the city’s middle class were African American.
The other good news is that after decades of decline the city’s middle class has stabilized.
The bad news: The city’s middle class has declined significantly since 1970, when the middle class made up 59 percent of Philadelphia’s population, and the city had 400,000 more residents then it does now.
Studies show there are several factors behind Philadelphia’s middle class loss, including, the disappearance of higher-wage blue-collar jobs, particularly in manufacturing and construction. Other factors for the decline are city schools became less attractive to middle class residents, the rise in crime and better jobs opportunities in the suburbs.
The loss of the city’s middle class from 59 percent in 1970 until today has been dramatic.
In 2010, 42 percent of the city’s adults qualified as members of the middle class, which is defined in the report as those with a median income of $41,258 to $123,157 in 2010.
The decline in the city’s middle class comes after an extended exodus that has transformed the city’s economic makeup.
In the past four decades, Philadelphia’s overall population dropped by nearly 22 percent. In that time, the city lost more than 4 in 10 of its middle-class adults. During that same time period, the lower-income population rose by about a quarter, and the higher-income population fell about the same percentage.
The type of jobs and education levels of the middle class has also changed.
In 1970, 44 percent of Philadelphians attained middle class status without having earned a high school degree, and just 8 percent of the middle class had attended four or more years of college.
Today having a high school degree is an essential minimum requirement for being in the city’s middle class. In 2010, just 8 percent of the city’s middle class lacked a high school degree. More than a third had attended four of more years of college.
Middle-class employment has also changed.
Working-class jobs in manufacturing fell from a third of all middle-class jobs to 10 percent. Most of the jobs of the city’s middle class work in white-collar work such as finance and other professional services.
Retaining the city’s middle class is essential to any city’s economic stability and vitality. Middle-class residents pay more in taxes, spend more and use fewer services against the taxes they pay.
The Pew poll found that crime, jobs and school issues were top on the minds of middle-class residents contemplating leaving Philadelphia. These are the same issues identified by the poor as being a top concern.
While there are some differences between the priorities of the city’s middle class and the poor, the main concerns are about the same. If elected officials and policy makers focus on improving the basics of public safety, good public schools and attracting good-paying jobs they can find a way to retain the middle class without neglecting the needs of the city’s poor.
A fact of American political life is that elected officials get called some awful names, especially presidents.
But the recent remarks by rock musician and gun-rights advocate Ted Nugent about President Barack Obama are both racist and repulsive.
Nugent was quoted in an interview with Guns.com last month as calling Obama a “subhuman mongrel.”
A few days after going on an extensive Twitter frenzy asking his followers if his words were “really more offensive” than certain qualms of his with the Obama administration, Nugent finally apologized.
The questions remains why Republican politicians associated themselves with Nugent, and will they continue to associate with him in the future.
Nugent’s comments weren’t just a normal insult hurled at a politician.
The words “subhuman mongrel” were used by the Nazis to justify the genocide of the Jewish community.
While the president is an African-American Christian and not Jewish, the term is particularly offensive since he is biracial.
In 1899, the English anti-Semite Houston Stewart wrote extensively about physical characteristics and race. He claimed “the Semites belong to the mulatto class, a transition state between Black and white” and “were a mongrel race which always retains this mongrel character,” wrote the nonpartisan fact-checking website Politifact.
The other problem is that Nugent is not simply a rock musician and gun-rights advocate. He is someone that conservative Republican candidates including 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have used in their political campaigns.
The rocker has appeared with Greg Abbott, Republican candidate for governor of Texas.
Abbott last week sidestepped questions about Nugent’s recent remarks and his past comments, including Nugent’s suggestion that immigrants who aren’t in the country legally should be treated like “indentured servants” until they earn citizenship.
To his credit Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky who is frequently mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate, denounced Nugent and said he should apologize.
Another possible Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told CNN that he disagreed with Nugent’s comments and would never use similar words.
Former 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry mildly condemned Nugent’s remarks about Obama.
“I got a problem calling the president a mongrel. I do have a problem with that,” said Perry on CNN’s “Situation Room.” “This is an inappropriate thing to say.”
Perry, who had Nugent perform at his inauguration in 2007, declined to address whether it was appropriate for Abbott to campaign with Nugent. Perry predicted the controversy would soon fade.
Nugent’s remarks are more than just inappropriate. They are reprehensible, and it’s absolutely wrong for any political candidate to campaign with someone who makes such racist remarks.