Families Protest the Solitary Confinement of Loved Ones in Calif.

Families Protest the Solitary Confinement of Loved Ones in Calif.

Inmates throughout California’s prisons have begun their second week of a hunger strike to protest what they call the inhumane conditions of indefinite solitary confinement. An estimated 30,000 prisoners went on strike last week, calling for an end to the practice of indefinite confinement in the state’s high-security “special housing units” (SHU’s).

My former colleague Jorge Rivas caught up with families and supporters of hunger-striking inmates at California State Prison, Corcoran for ABC-Univision. “Family members are the invisible victims of solitary confinement,” says 24-year-old Reyna, who adds that she hasn’t touched her incarcerated father since she was about six years old.

Stevie Wonder Boycotts Florida — And Every Other Stand Your Ground State

Stevie Wonder Boycotts Florida -- And Every Other Stand Your Ground State

Stevie Wonder is taking a stand against ALEC-backed Stand Your Ground (aka “Kill at Will”) laws.  As Ta-Nehisi coates pointed out at The Altantic, the fast-moving legislation became a pivotal point in Trayvon Martin’s murder, with George Zimmerman successfully arguing that he shot Martin in self-defense and the law being cited in the jury’s instructions.

Stevie took to the stage in Quebec City recently and told the crowd that he’s finished with Florida. 

“I decided today that until the Stand Your Ground law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again,” Wonder said Sunday while performing in Quebec City. “As a matter of fact, wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world.”

“The truth is that—for those of you who’ve lost in the battle for justice, wherever that fits in any part of the world—we can’t bring them back,” he said. “What we can do is we can let our voices be heard. And we can vote in our various countries throughout the world for change and equality for everybody. That’s what I know we can do.”

Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws have everything to do with race, as illustrated by both Martin’s murder and the case of Marissa Alexander, a black woman who unsuccessfully used the defense and was sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing a warning shot at her abusive ex-husband. A Tampa Bay Times analysis of almost 200 cases shows that 73 percent of people who shoot blacks and use the Stand Your Ground defense eventually walk.

It’s Assata Shakur’s Birthday — And She’s Still America’s Most Wanted

It’s worth revisiting the FBI’s renewed manhunt for Assata Shakur, if only because today is her birthday. Here’s rare interview footage from 1998 that was re-broadcast on Democracy Now last spring, shortly after the FBI announced that it had added Shakur to its list of most wanted terrorists. 

Here’s Comedian Aziz Ansari On the Cover of Your Favorite Rap Albums

Here's Comedian Aziz Ansari On the Cover of Your Favorite Rap Albums

More at Emceez Ansari.

TAGS: Aziz Ansari

Watch Rachel Jeantel’s First Public Interview Since Zimmerman Verdict

It’s hard to watch Rachel Jeantel’s interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan. And it’s not because of the way she speaks. But because you’re watching a heartbroken young woman recount painful memories of a friend who was murdered. One of the most striking things about the segment is the tenderness with which Jeantel describes her friendship with Trayvon Martin; her face lights up and she smiles when she remembers talking to him on the phone all day. It’s a rare moment that humanizes Martin amid all of our national outcry.

Cities Rally and March Against the Zimmerman Verdict

Cities Rally and March Against the Zimmerman Verdict

People in some 70 cities in the US came out in protest Sunday—following this weekend’s not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial over the killing of Trayvon Martin. Several rallies grew into marches, taking over streets and even freeways in major cities. Despite a nearly heat wave across several states, more rallies are planned in various cities for Monday, as people continue to grapple with the verdict.

New York’s Union Square saw the biggest gathering Sunday; the original rally location was saturated with protestors, who spilled onto the streets and began moving towards Times Square. As some 10,000 people marched, they also cried call-and-response chants, especially “Don’t shoot me! Don’t hurt me! Just Skittles and ice tea!” referring to the candy and beverage 17-year-old Martin was carrying when he was shot and killed by Zimmerman last year. Traffic largely shut down as protestors made their way through the streets of Manhattan. 

And it was sometimes tiny voices that came together to inspire people to keep marching. Shanelle Curtis, a 29-year-old who hails from Brownsville, walked with a large group of people from the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, along with her two daughters, aged six and nine.

The oldest, Briana Jackson, seen in the photo above carrying a sign almost as big as herself, encouraged marchers to keep going, even after hours. Curtis explained that her daughters had been following the trial, and that despite their ages, were outraged with the verdict on Saturday night. She explained that her daughters began picking up chants at the protest, and spontaneously organized with their young friends to begin leading them. The family marched for hours, before Curtis had to leave in order to get to work at a discount store to begin her nine-hour shift at midnight. Clearly tired she explained that it was all worth it. “I’m here for all the Trayvon Martins who are still unheard of,” she explained. “But I’m here for my brother and for my kids, as well.”

The march moved and finally settled in to Times Square, where thousands of people sat down in protest. After about an hour, demonstrators were once again on the move, this time, headed to Park Avenue, where heavy-handed New York Police Department officers punched and pepper-sprayed marchers—despite no clear provocation.

Police officers were out in full force in Los Angeles, beginning with a citywide tactical alert on Saturday evening, following a demonstration in Leimert Park. By Sunday, hundreds of protestors there had taken over a major freeway, shutting traffic completely down for about half an hour. Los Angeles Police Department officers aimed and shot rubber bullets that eventually dispersed the demonstrators —who continued their protest on the streets.

And although Trayvon Martin never really lived in Sanford, Florida, the city came to represent the teenager since he was killed there. As the verdict came down on Saturday, demonstrators headed to the courthouse there—but were prevented from doing so by Seminole County Sheriff’s deputies. They were instead made to go to a local park, where they expressed their disappointment.

‘We Are Not Trayvon Martin’ Tumblr Explores White Privilege

'We Are Not Trayvon Martin' Tumblr Explores White Privilege

From the new We Are Not Trayvon Martin Tumblr:

I am not Trayvon Martin. I am a 22 year old upper class white female. I have red hair and a trust fund. I speed on the freeway, and have never been ticketed. When I walk on the street, men offer to drive me home. Police officers smile and wave. Everyday, people trust me with their children.

They do not know that 2 years ago, I daily transported heroin across state lines. I could be in prison, just like any other junkie. I am not Trayvon Martin, but was the person he was suspected of being.

Zimmerman Trial Juror Signs a Book Deal

Zimmerman Trial Juror Signs a Book Deal

…And the profits start rolling in. George Zimmerman juror B37 has inked a book deal to write about the trial. Details of the deal haven’t been confirmed, but there’s this from ABC News:

The former juror, still identified only by her court designation of B37, and her husband reached out to Sharlene Martin, president of Martin Literary Management, on July 14, one day after Zimmerman was found not guilty, according to Martin.

The identities of the jurors have been sealed by the court and Martin said in a statement, “It is not known whether they will … decide to reveal their identities given the sensitivity of the verdict and the outpouring of mixed reactions by the American public.”

Read more over at ABC News. 

73-Year-Old Lester Chambers Attacked by White Woman for Dedicating Song to Trayvon Martin

73-Year-Old Lester Chambers Attacked by White Woman for Dedicating Song to Trayvon Martin

In case this weekend’s George Zimmerman acquittal didn’t do enough to to illustrate how dangerous it is to be a black man in America, this also happened in Hayward, California — from The Nation:

Disturbing news emerged early Sunday that Lester Chambers, 73, a founder of the classic ’60s group The Chambers Brothers (who sang the immortal psychedelic/soul “Time Has Come Today” and much more) was attacked on stage by a white woman at a blues festival this weekend and rather badly hurt—after he dedicated “People Get Ready” to Trayvon Martin.

Details were murky for awhile, and based mainly on his son’s Facebook page, as covered in this report. The assault took place at a Blues Festival in Hayward, California. Chambers was hospitalized and seemed to be feeling better, with bruised ribs and more. His Facebook page soon filed with condolences and photo of damage to his back.

Chambers’ son Dylan posted a photo of his father’s injuries. See it after the jump.

Asiana Airlines to Sue Bay Area TV News Over Racist Name Prank

Asiana Airlines to Sue Bay Area TV News Over Racist Name Prank

Turns out that it’s expensive to be careless. Bay Area’s KTVU news was duped into airing racist fake names for the pilots of the plane that crash landed at San Francisco International Airport earlier this month.

From SFist:

Asiana Airlines said today that they will sue Bay Area station KTVU for accidentally broadcasting the now-infamous fake pilot names of flight 214. This comes one week after the airline killed three passengers and injured 180 others during a crash at San Francisco International Airport.

According to AP, Asiana spokeswoman Lee Hyomin said the airlines wants to “strongly respond to its racially discriminatory report” that disparaged Asians and Asiana Airlines, so they plan on filing suit in U.S. court. (A feeble way of shifting attention away from their own shoddy pilots’ plane-landing skills seems another reasonable explanation.)

100 Young Black Activists Respond to George Zimmerman’s Acquittal

100 Young Black Activists Respond to George Zimmerman's Acquittal

While George Zimmerman was being acquitted on all charges in a Florida courtroom, dozens of young black activists were meeting in Chicago. The convening was hosted by the Black Youth Project, a group dedicated to research and action to increase the political power of today’s young black leaders. Known as the “Beyond November Movement”, their voices are especially important in this moment, when the value of black life has once again seriously been put into question by America’s judicial system.

Read their statement after the jump.

Thousands Protest for Trayvon Martin, Black Boys’ Lives [Photos]

Thousands Protest for Trayvon Martin, Black Boys' Lives [Photos] Photo

Thousands of people took to the streets in cities across the country over the weekend following George Zimmerman’s acquittal on charges in the murder of Trayvon Martin. The demonstrations were largely peaceful and brought people together to mourn Martin’s death as the latest marker in a long history of violence brought against black bodies. Historian Jelani Cobb summed up the sense of injustice at the New Yorker on Saturday night when he wrote, “To be black at times like this is to see current events on a real-time ticker, a Dow Jones average measuring the quality of one’s citizenship.”

Below are some of the most poignant images of the weekend’s protests.

Hurt, Sorrow, Anger: A First Look at Reactions to the Zimmerman Verdict

A six-person jury in Sanford, Florida found George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black teen, on Saturday. The jury, composed of six women, all but one of whom were white, acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder as well as a lesser charge of manslaughter.

On February 26 of last year, Zimmerman saw Martin walking home in the rain in his father’s gated community and thinking Martin a dangerous threat, approached him and soon after shot and killed the unarmed black teen. The jury deliberated for 16 hours after a nearly three-week trial during which Zimmerman’s defense argued that he’d been shaken by home break-ins and was attacked by Martin, killing him out of fear for his own life. The prosecution argued that Zimmerman, who ignored a dispatcher warning not to approach Martin, was driven by malice toward Martin. With their verdict, the jury decided that Zimmerman could have been justified in killing Martin that rainy night.

Courtroom proceedings during the trial studiously sidestepped race—Judge Debra Nelson barred attorneys from using the word “racial profiling” during the trial in a murder case that was driven entirely by racial profiling. 

Observers of the trial reacted to the verdict with outrage on social media. Below are a few of the responses from folks in the racial justice world.

Bay Area TV News Airs Racist Asiana Airlines Prank

Bay Area TV News Airs Racist Asiana Airlines Prank

It’s hard to feel sympathy for KTVU right now. During its noon broadcast today the local San Francisco Fox affiliate announced the supposedly newly released names of the pilots of the Asiana Airlines flight crash—“Sum Ting Wong,” “Wi Tu Lo,” “Ho Lee Fuk,” and “Bang Ding Ow.” This, despite the fact that the pilots had already been identified

The fake names are so obviously fake and deeply offensive that it makes KTVU’s error that much more embarrassing. Whoever pranked the station’s probably gleefully enjoying their little success, but there’s no victory here. 

The prank is just the latest of the racist ignorance news outlets have been circulating in the wake of the deadly plane crash.

KTVU apologized later, in the same broadcast, for their error. 

Zimmerman Defense: “Trayvon Armed Himself with Concrete”

Zimmerman Defense:

George Zimmerman’s future is largely in the hands of a jury that’s finally deliberating after a nearly three week trial in connection with the killing of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s defense team presented its closing arguments, followed by the state’s rebuttal. The jury of six women, five of whom are white, was given instructions by Judge Debra Nelson, and will decide whether Zimmerman is not guilty, guilty of manslaughter, or guilty of second-degree murder.

Despite a trial that has rather cautiously avoided race up until closing, defense attorney Mark O’Mara explicitly cited early-on that most of the break-ins in his client’s neighborhood were committed by criminal “young black men.” Martin, of course, was not breaking into a home on the night in question. He was also unarmed. But while awkwardly lugging a considerably large piece of sidewalk in the courtroom, O’Mara did argue that the victim was equipped with a weapon, telling the jury  “Trayvon Martin armed himself with concrete.”

O’Mara also played for jurors a controversial animation, created by an artist, that’s based on shoddy assumptions—like Martin using his left hand to swing at Zimmerman, although Martin was right handed. The defense attorney closed his statement by asking jurors to allow Zimmerman to “get back to his life” by acquitting him.

After a short break, state prosecutor John Guy began with a slow moving, and poignant argument about the human heart. He reminded jurors that Martin was the victim, and that, like any other child, his fear was to be followed by a stranger in the dark. Responding to the defense’s claim that Zimmerman was innocent, Guy argued, “If ever there was a window into a man’s soul,” it was Zimmerman’s spiteful voice on the 9-11 call. He repeatedly asked the jury if Trayvon Martin did not also have the right to defend himself the night he was killed by George Zimmerman.

After a lunch recess, Judge Nelson instructed the jury from a document that clearly lays out the jury’s responsibilities and options. AP reporter Kyle Hightower tweeted that the one juror appeared to be wiping a tear from her eye during rebuttal; it happens to be the one juror of color in the trial. But it remains unknown, of course, when the jury will come to a decision, or what that decision will be. 

South Carolina’s Voting Walking Dead Story Proven Fluke

South Carolina's Voting Walking Dead Story Proven Fluke

According to some state lawmakers, there is an alternate universe where zombies run amok, looking not to physically attack us but vote us out of existence through fraudulent ballot casting.

To fight off the World War Z scourge, they say, we don’t need Brad Pitt but photo voter ID cards. South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles director Kevin Shwedo said as much last year during hearings where he pushed for voter ID, claiming he had a list of over 900 voters who cast ballots from the grave.  

As reported by Corey Hutchins in the Columbia Free Times, state Rep. Alan Clemmons, a Horry County Republican, ran with Shwedo’s unsubstantiated claim, telling the public, “We must have certainty in South Carolina that zombies aren’t voting.”

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, also a Republican, made the same claim and used it to crusade against President Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ). Along with his friends at True the Vote, Wilson spun a narrative about how the federal government was preventing him from defending his state against the zombie voter fraud attacks.

But it turns out that, like most zombie stories, this was pure comic book plot. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division conducted an 18-month investigation into whether dead people voted — and found not one legitimate case of any such thing happening.

The Division’s report was released quietly just before the Fourth of July holiday, following an information request by Hutchins, who noted in his article that the agency made no comment about their findings.

And it’s not just South Carolina. This same voter fraud mythology has been peddled in Pennsylvania by lawmakers as they made a case for a voter ID law — only to walk it backwhen it was time to go on the record during a legal challenge to the law.

Similar voter fraud claims have also been made — and debunked — in TexasWisconsinMississippi, and Minnesota. And who can forget voter fraud hustler James O’Keefe’s attempt to stage a zombie voter fraud outbreak in North Carolina?

In all of these situations, Republican lawmakers and conservative activists drummed up tales of voter fraud, made outrageous claims in public, but failed to apologize when the data contradicted them. Meanwhile, photo voter ID laws are still being passed based on bad information.

This was cross-posted from the Institute for Southern Studies blog “Facing South,” where I’m guest-blogging for July. Read the rest of the post here

Farm Bill Passes House Without a Dollar for SNAP Food Assistance

Farm Bill Passes House Without a Dollar for SNAP Food Assistance

The farm bill passed by the House yesterday is but the latest symbol of the political polarization in Congress right now. GOP leaders successfully separated SNAP “food stamp” funding from the bill for the first time in decades against Democrats’ loudest protests and tears. The bill includes $195 billion in subsidies exclusively for farmers over the next 10 years. Not a single Dem voted for the bill, which passed 216-208. A month ago, the House attempted to pass a farm bill that included SNAP subsidies, but cut it by $20 billion, from $763 billion to $743 billion. During debate for that bill Louisiana Sen. David Vitter infamously attempted a permanent ban for anyone ever convicted of a violent crime from accepting SNAP benefits — a deal Democrats at the time accepted. That bill did not pass. 

The decision to strip away SNAP benefits — which will be considered in their own separate bill, according to Republican majority leaders  — was urged by the conservative Club for Growth, whose founder Stephen Moore is a scholar at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation. The SNAP subtraction reportedy moved Rep. Corrine Brown, an African-American Congresswoman from Florida, to tears. Meanwhile, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer said he had no confidence that Republicans will pass a SNAP bill later. 

The bill is now supposed to go to conference to negotiate with Senate leaders over the bill it passed last month, which includes $760.5 billion for food stamps and nutrition. But some are doubtul that any agreement can be made between the chambers without the SNAP assistance in the House bill — nor would a SNAP-less bill likely have the votes to override a veto from President Obama if it did. 

The current SNAP program ends September 30, so either way new legislation would need to happen before then. Last year close to 47 million people received food assistance, a consequence of the recession, a 13 percent increase on average since 2008. Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said that if House Republicans decide to take up a separate SNAP bill later, it is “very likely” that they would pass one with more “severe” cuts. 

“Splitting the farm bill and paving the way for the House to pass a more draconian SNAP-only bill in coming weeks would be the latest demonstration of how dysfunctional the House is becoming,” said Greenstein in his blog yesterday.

A Tribe Called Red Asks That Fans Stop Coming to Shows in ‘Redface’

A Tribe Called Red Asks That Fans Stop Coming to Shows in 'Redface'

This year has been huge for “A Tribe Called Red.” The trio of Native American DJ’s has become widely popular, and that’s great. But what’s not so great is the fact that their newfound fame also invites some fans to act out their racist impulses by showing up to performances in red face. Now, the group is asking folks to stop. 

From CBC:

Ava DuVernay to Direct An Episode of Next Season’s ‘Scandal’

Ava DuVernay to Direct An Episode of Next Season's 'Scandal'

“Scandal” producer Merri Howard announced this week on Twitter that Ava DuVernay, the acclaimed director of “Middle of Nowhere”, will be directing the eigth episode of the ABC hit drama next season.

In other news, DuVernay has also been tapped to direct Lee Daniels’ Martin Luther King, Jr. drama “Selma”, which also stars Kerry Washington. 

(H/T Shadow and Act)

Janet Napolitano’s Next Stop? University of California

Janet Napolitano's Next Stop? University of California

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is leaving her post to lead the University of California system, Reuters reported this morning. In her tenure as head of the Department of Homeland Security Napolitano has responded to bombings like the Boston Marathon attack and natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. But for racial justice watchers in particular, Napolitano will be forever remembered for overseeing the largest and most aggressive deportation program of any presidential administration. Under her leadership, the Obama administration deported over 1.5 million people, ramped up the deadly militarization of the border and expanded the enforcement program Secure Communities, which criminalized everyday immigrants.

“After four plus years of focusing on these challenges, I will be nominated as the next President of the University of California to play a role in educating our nation’s next generation of leaders,” Napolitano said in a statement today. She called her time as DHS Secretary the “highlight” of her professional career. 

“Since day one, Janet has led my administration’s effort to secure our borders, deploying a historic number of resources, while also taking steps to make our immigration system fairer and more consistent with our values,” President Obama said in a statement, Reuters reported. “The American people are safer and more secure thanks to Janet’s leadership.”

It’s not clear who will take Napolitano’s spot, but in California, she will be greeted by a prestigious network of public universities struggling with sagging investment in public education and the long-simmering ire of students who’ve been made to bear the brunt of the system’s economic woes.

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