1. Justice for Ramarley Graham:
It’s been more than two years since the New York City Police Department broke down the door of unarmed 18-year-old Ramarley Graham’s Bronx home and shot him to death in front of his brother and grandmother. After initially failing to indict the officer who fired the fatal shots, the Bronx court has been unsuccessful in securing a conviction in Ramarley’s death. His family and his memory won’t know justice until that happens.
In my career as an activist, I have seen many cases of police misconduct and the untimely deaths of young men of color. To have cases like Trayvon Martin, Ramarley Graham, and Jordan Davis, back to back, to back is heartbreaking but not shocking. We have to stand up as a community to demand justice for these young men and to prevent tragedies like these in the future. The Color of Change, an organization that supports and expands the voice of Black America in national politics, started a petition to ask the Department of Justice and Attorney General Eric Holder to bring charges against the officers involved in Ramarley’s death. With enough signatures we may be able to show the DOJ, and the nation, that we are paying attention; that we see, and mourn, the mistreatment of our community; and above all, that we demand the equal value and right to life for all people of color.
If you want to sign the petition you can find it here. Let your voice be heard.
2. When Justice Comes, It’s Never Too Late
I believe that it is never too late for justice or hope in Ramarley’s case, or for anyone else who has been a victim of police misconduct, intentional or otherwise. And because of that, we as a community can never stop fighting for truth and for the rights of those who cannot fight for themselves.
The heartbreaking proof of this came in New York on Tuesday when Jonathan Fleming was freed after spending 24 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit. Fleming was tragically found guilty of the crime despite having an alibi that placed him out of state during the murders, despite evidence that the police purposely withheld, and despite a single eyewitness who later admitted to being coerced into giving false testimony for reduced jail time. For years his family and legal team worked to uncover the evidence that had been buried by the officers whose job it was to seek out justice not create more victims of their own.
3. And They Say Gun Violence is Down…
Let’s turn our attention to Philadelphia for a moment, where two 11-year-olds fell victim to gun violence within a few days of each other. And still people like to talk about decreases in gun violence like it’s a victory when we live in a world where a 2-year old child (barely a toddler!) can allegedly shoot and kill his 11-year old sister in their West Philadelphia home—all while her parents were in the next room. Or where an 11-year old boy, not far away in North Philadelphia, can be hit by a stray bullet from a drive-by shoot out while playing basketball in front of his doorstep. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t celebrate each life spared from the horror and heartbreak of gun violence, or recognize any decrease as progress, but that’s just what it is—progress.
So long as people are dying from this preventable public crisis, and so long as we are desensitized and unfazed by these shootings, we are still inarguably in the midst of a crisis. And I PROMISE to continue to talk about it for as long as that’s true. It was a crisis two years ago when I helped the mother of 4-year old Lloyd Morgan, Jr. shot to death by a stray bullet in a Bronx playground, order a specialized children’s casket because the smallest one available at the funeral home was too big for him. It was a crisis last Wednesday when 4 lives were taken due to gun violence at Fort Hood. And it will be a crisis the next time we turn on our television sets or open our newspapers to read of another gun violence related tragedy. The death of one child, one parent—one human life lost because of preventable gun violence is a crisis. So yes, progress matters and it is important to recognize that, but in the anti-violence community we cannot under value even one life lost to gun violence, especially that of an innocent child.
It’s up to us to keep this relevant, to help keep our communities safe. On April 6th Steven W. Hawkins of Amnesty International USA announced that they would sponsor a million-person march in Washington to end gun violence. Make sure to follow them on twitter and Facebook to figure out how you can be involved.
4. MoveOn.org Vs. Louisiana
There is absolutely no debate. After reaching more than 7 million sign ups before the March 31st deadline, the Affordable Care Act has proved to be an essential tool in providing healthcare to the American people. Forget about this being a victory for the White House, this is a victory for the Black community that has faced extreme health disparities for most of our nation’s history. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of people who refuse to accept the bill and stand in the way of its continued success.
Take Louisiana’s Republican Governor, Bobby Jindal, for example who refuses to enact the Medicaid expansions for his state, which were provided under ACA. According to MoveOn.org that means more than 240,000 Louisiana residents will miss out on Medicaid and the services it can provide. Holding hostage the potentially lifesaving healthcare benefits of your constituents doesn’t sound much like the actions of a Governor who values and fights for the rights of his constituents. So MoveOn.org decided to put up a billboard attacking the Governor’s position and exposing the Medicaid losses to all Louisianans who pass by. The State of Louisiana sued the organization to have them remove the sign, but a federal judge ruled this week that the sign was protected under the first amendment right to free speech. Too bad we can’t get the Governor to recognize the human right to healthcare. But bravo to the federal judge who gets it, and let’s salute MoveOn.org for refusing to give up on exposing the truth for all of us to see.
5. The 2014 National Action Network Convention
The annual National Action Network Convention started yesterday in New York City and will run through April 12th. This year’s conference will commemorate the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death on April 4th 1968, and celebrate the larger legacy of the Civil Rights Movement. During my time as Executive Director at the National Action Network, I always looked forward to the convention—let me tell you, it was and still is the place to be. From speakers like President Barack Obama to Attorney General Eric Holder, and panels featuring leaders from diverse industries across the country, this is a time to dig deep into the issues surrounding our community. This is a time celebrate how far we have come and unite to figure out how to cover the ground still ahead of us. I will be attending as many of the panels and events as I can this week, and if you’re in New York City you should meet me there. Registration is free, just go to NationalActionNetwork.net to sign up.
I’ve spent my entire career as a civil rights activist and anti-violence advocate. I hear from folks all over the country about how fed-up they are—how much they want change—but they don’t know where to start. It’s not enough just to be informed, we’ve got to work tirelessly to do better. With the “The Lookout,” I’ll collect the most important stories and action items that you need to know about and things you can do each week, keeping you involved so you can create positive change for yourself and your community.
I want to hear from you; what’s going on in your community? What stories or events should folks know about? Leave a comment below.