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Walking While Black

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By Marian Wright Edelman

Every parent raising Black sons knows the dilemma: deciding how soon to have the talk. Choosing the words to explain to your beautiful child that there are some people who will never like or trust him just because of who he is—including some who should be there to protect him, but will instead have the power to hurt him. Training him how to walk, what to say, and how to act so he won’t seem like a threat. Teaching him that the burden of deflating stereotypes and reassuring other people’s ignorance will always fall on him, and while that isn’t fair, in some cases it may be the only way to keep him safe and alive.

But sometimes it isn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to protect Trayvon Martin. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon’s English teacher said he was “an A and B student who majored in cheerfulness.” Trayvon loved building models and taking things apart, his favorite subject was math, and he dreamed of becoming a pilot and an engineer. Instead, he was gunned down by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain vigilante who profiled him, followed him, and shot him in the chest. His killer, George Zimmerman, saw the teenager on the street and called the police to report he looked “like he’s up to no good.” At the time Trayvon was walking home from the nearby 7-11 carrying a bottle of Arizona iced tea and a bag of Skittles for his younger stepbrother, leaving many people to guess that the main thing he was doing that made him look “no good” was wearing a hooded sweatshirt in the rain and walking while Black. George Zimmerman’s decisions made that suspicious enough to be a death sentence.

Now there is widespread outrage over the senseless killing of a young Black man who was doing nothing wrong and the fact that the man who killed him has not been arrested. People are trying to make sense of the series of gun laws that allowed George Zimmerman to act as he did—starting with the Florida laws that allowed someone like Zimmerman, who had previously been charged for resisting arrest with violence and battery on a police officer, to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon in the first place. Many more questions are being raised about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which also has been described as the “shoot first, ask questions later” law, and gives the benefit of the doubt to Zimmerman and others claiming “self-defense” by allowing people who say they are in imminent danger to defend themselves. Some states limit this defense to people’s own homes, but others, like Florida, allow it anywhere.

As Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, says, this law “has turned common law—and common sense—on its head by enabling vigilantes to provoke conflicts, resolve them with deadly force, and avoid ever having to set foot in a courtroom.” The fear in Trayvon’s death is that this is exactly what has happened so far: that the story told by witnesses, phone records, and Zimmerman’s violent past and earlier complaints during his neighborhood patrols shows an overzealous armed aggressor who followed Trayvon even after police told him to stop, chased Trayvon down when the frightened boy tried to walk away from the stranger following him, and then shot the unarmed, 100-pounds-lighter teenager while neighbors said they heard a child crying for help. The prospect now that Zimmerman might never set foot in a courtroom for the shooting has caused widespread frustration and fury.

Just as sadly, Trayvon’s death was not unique. In 2008 and 2009, 2,582 Black children and teens were killed by gunfire. Black children and teens were only 15 percent of the child population, but 45 percent of the 5,740 child and teen gun deaths in those two years. Black males 15 to 19 years-old were eight times as likely as White males to be gun homicide victims. The outcry over Trayvon’s death is absolutely right and just. We need the same sense of outrage over every one of these child deaths. Above all, we need a nation where these senseless deaths no longer happen. But we won’t get it until we have common-sense gun laws that protect children instead of guns and don’t allow people like George Zimmerman to take the law into their own hands. We won’t get it until we have a culture that sees every child as a child of God and sacred, instead of seeing some as expendable statistics, and others as threats and “no good” because of the color of their skin or because they chose to walk home wearing a hood in the rain. And we won’t get it until enough of us—parents and grandparents—stand up and tell our political leaders that the National Rifle Association should not be in charge of our neighborhoods, streets, gun laws, and values. In Trayvon’s case, his father Tracy speaks for what his family needs: “The family is calling for justice. We don’t want our son’s death to be in vain.” I hope that enough voices will ensure that it is not.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

Captain Kennedy-Smith To Run Lake Elsinore Station

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Sheriff Sniff this week announced the transfer of Captain Shelley Kennedy-Smith from the Riverside Court Services Division to the Lake Elsinore Sheriff's Station. She will be replacing Captain Dave Fontneau who is retiring in July. She takes command of the station officially on July 12th, but will begin transitioning to her new duties immediately.

Sheriff Stan Sniff said, "Captain Kennedy-Smith has worked in varied assignments within the Department including patrol, jail, courts, personnel, and administration. She has been successful at each and every one of them. The experience she has gained will serve her well at her new assignment."

Captain Shelley Kennedy-Smith will assume the command of the Lake Elsinore Station which provides service to 270.1 square miles of Riverside County, serving and protecting more than 135,581 residents. The station proudly serves the contract cities of Lake Elsinore, and Wildomar, and the unincorporated areas of Alberhill, El Cariso, Glen Eden, Glen Ivy Hot Springs, Good Hope, La Cresta, Lakeland Village, Meadowbrook, Ortega Hills, Temescal Canyon, and Warm Springs.

Captain Kennedy-Smith has 26 years of law enforcement experience, having joined the Riverside County Sheriff's Department in 1986. Upon completion of the academy, she was assigned to the Riverside Jail and later the Lake Elsinore Station, Court Services and the Southwest Detention Center. She promoted to the rank of Investigator in 1999 and was assigned to the Lake Elsinore Station, where she handled all types of investigations and was designated as the station Elder Abuse Detective. In 2000, Captain Kennedy-Smith was promoted to Sergeant and transferred to the Southwest Detention Center. As a Sergeant, Captain Kennedy-Smith also served as the Department's Public Information Officer from 2001 to 2004.

Captain Kennedy-Smith was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in 2004 and placed in charge of the Sheriff's Personnel Bureau. In 2008, Captain Kennedy-Smith returned to the Lake Elsinore Station, where she served as the Patrol and Administrative Lieutenant responsible for the station budget along with the contract cities of Lake Elsinore and Wildomar. She was also responsible for management of the Detective Bureau, the Special Teams Unit, and Lake Operations.

In 2010, Captain Kennedy-Smith promoted to the rank of Captain and was placed in charge of Court Services West, Central, and East. These courts include the Historic Courthouse in Riverside, the Hall of Justice, the Family Law building, the Corona Court, Moreno Valley Court, Juvenile Court, Southwest Justice Center, the Hemet Court, the Banning Court, the Indio Court, the Civil Bureau, and the County Administrative Center.

In 2012, Captain Kennedy-Smith earned a Bachelor of Science Degree from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Captain Kennedy-Smith and her husband, Melvin, live in Murrieta and have two sons, and three grandchildren.

U.S. to Stop Deporting Young Illegal Immigrants

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BVN Staff Report

President Barack Obama said Friday that his administration would let many young illegal immigrants legally live and work in the U.S., sidestepping Congress after years of stalemate over the nation's immigration policy. The Obama administration says it won't deport many younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

Under the new rules, an estimated 800,000 young people brought to the U.S. as children could apply for work permits and enjoy a safe haven from deportation. Unlike with the Dream Act, a bill backed by Mr. Obama that has stalled in Congress, they would not be eligible for citizenship. The rules, which Mr. Obama announced Friday from the Rose Garden, may inject a needed jolt of enthusiasm for his campaign among Hispanic voters, who overwhelmingly support him but often turn out in smaller numbers than other groups.

Many Republicans criticized the rules as an amnesty for law breakers, an overreach of administrative authority and an election-year pander to Hispanics. The new rules may complicate GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's efforts to find a more nuanced position to appeal to Hispanics after a primary campaign in which he said he would veto the Dream Act.

S.M.A.S.H. GANG SWEEP BRINGS RELIEF – FOR NOW 90 arrested in weekend roundup

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Chris Levister

When Stephanie Ellis was awakened late Friday night by commotion outside her Orange Street apartment in San Bernardino, her first thought was to grab her two teen sons and run for cover. “My heart started pounding. I braced for gunfire, we hid in the closet.” Hearing no gunfire, Ellis said she saw police lights flashing outside her window. “I took a deep breath and thought maybe a child’s life will be saved tonight.”

Welcome to the war on criminal street gangs where long suffering residents like Ellis routinely find themselves caught in the crossfire of murder, mayhem and pain. In a 9-hour sweep that began at 3:00 p.m. Friday and ended at midnight, San Bernardino law enforcement officers rounded up and arrested more than 90 people targeting gang members, probation violators and drug dealers.

Police seized guns, crack co¬caine, marijuana, body armor, cash and stolen property. Those arrested were brought to a mobile command post in the parking lot of San Manuel Stadium before being transported to jail. “They were pretty much going after each other for territory,” said Police Chief Robert Handy. “The majority of them are drug dealers. They hang out near public housing and make quality of life untenable.”

Handy said while the peace officers fanned out across the county, key parts of the operation focused on low income housing areas such as Waterman Gardens at Baseline Street where 19-year- old Donald Ray McCall, Jr. was gunned down June 1. Handy called the sweeps routine and not tied to the city’s recent spate of homicides. He said the sweeps help the district attorney’s office keep track of area gang members and get them off the street.

The operations are something law enforcement conduct on a revolving basis, he said. Friday’s sweep was very successful. No one was injured and no shots were fired. Those arrested ranged in age from 17 to 66. They face charges ranging from drug posses¬sion and distribution to at¬tempted murder. Authorities say the gang unit SMASH has identified and documented some 20 homegrown gangs in the city. There is an estimated 40,000 documented gang members in San Bernardino County, according to police.

About 50 peace officers from law enforcement agencies from Barstow to Fontana and Redlands and the San Bernardino County Sheriff's and Probation departments participated in the sweep. Alfie Williams who lives Waterman Gardens with her two children welcomed the sweep. “You never get used to the gang drama,” says Williams, “them selling drugs and firing off their weapons at each other, cars, houses and at innocent bystanders. On top of that you have to deal with law enforcement raids and other police activity. The tug of war between the gangs and police, it’s always in your face.”

“I worry about my children’s future. The violence leaves you in a constant state of fear and peril,” says Williams, who can’t afford to move out of the neighborhood. “The struggle bends lives in different ways.”

Rodney King Dies at 47

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Police Beating Victim Who Asked ‘Can We All Get Along?’

Circumstances surrounding his sudden death remain a mystery

Chris Levister

Rodney King, whose 1991 videotaped beating by the Los Angeles police became a symbol of the nation’s continuing racial tensions that subsequently led to a week of deadly race riots after the officers were acquitted, was found dead Sunday in a swimming pool at the home he shared with his fiancée Cynthia Kelly in Rialto. He was 47.

Rialto Police Capt. Randy De Anda said Tuesday that authorities have found no signs of foul play. Coroner's officials completed their autopsy of Mr. King on Monday. An official cause of death was deferred pending toxicological tests, expected within six weeks. The investigation into Mr. King’s sudden and unexpected death continued to raise more questions than answers as Rialto police tried to unravel why the avid swimmer was found lifeless at the bottom of his pool early Sunday.

Investigators remained tight-lipped about statements made by a next-door-neighbor who claimed she heard King “sobbing uncontrollably before hearing a splash.” Police say Ms. Kelly, called 911 at 5:25 a.m. after finding Mr. King at the bottom of the pool. Authorities say Kelly’s description of the incident during a frantic 911 call is consistent with the investigation.

Neighbors say the couple kept a low profile but questioned how King “an avid swimmer” could have drowned in his backyard pool.

“He built that pool himself and inscribed the dates of his beating and the riots on two of the pool tiles,” said a neighbor who asked not to be identified. “He loved the water. He was an accomplished swimmer. Swimming was his way of getting away from it all.” Mr. King was catapulted onto the international stage after his brutal beating by Los Angeles police in 1991 was captured on video tape and broadcast worldwide. The trial of four White officers charged with felony assault in the beating ended after a jury with no Black members acquitted three of the officers on state charges; a mistrial was declared for a fourth. The verdict sparked one of the most costly and deadly race riots in American history.

At a press conference on the third day of the riots King’s magnanimous statement “People, I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we get along?" helped staunch the violence and sealed his iconic legacy.

“People look at me like I should have been like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks,” he told the Los Angeles Times in April. “I should have seen life like that and stayed out of trouble, and don’t do this and don’t do that. But it’s hard to live up to some people’s expectations.” Mr. King still walked with a limp and several of his scars were visible. His best outlets for relaxation, he said, were fishing and swimming. He published a memoir in April detailing his struggles, saying in several interviews that he had not been able to find steady work. Mourners gathered at Leimert Park in South Los Angeles Monday evening for a community tribute organized by Project Islamic Hope.

“His life is one for the history books,” said Executive Director, Najee Ali. “He was not the heartless thug portrayed by police and the media,” said his former high school teacher Linda Heeley. Heeley who attended the tribute remembered Mr. King as a ‘kind, humble man who will be remembered for his good and bad’. “He taught a nation to look in the mirror and forgive,” she said.

“I realize I will always be the poster child for police brutality,” Mr. King said, “but I can try to use that as a positive force for healing and restraint.” He said he had once blamed politicians and lawyers “for taking a battered and confused addict and trying to make him into a symbol for civil rights.” But he was unable to escape that role. On Sunday, the Rev. Al Sharpton, said in a statement, “History will record that it was Rodney King’s beating and his actions that made America deal with the excessive misconduct of law enforcement.” Mr. King said he was essentially broke, though he said he received an advance for his book, “The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption,” published to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the riots.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, is a nationally acclaimed journalist, media critic and the author of nine books about the African American experience. In his June 17 blog “The Tragedy, Triumph and Tragedy of Rodney King,” Hutchinson wrote: “The tragedy was those few brutal, savage, and violent moments that catapulted King, a marginally employed, poorly educated, ex-con, into a virtual global household name. It cast the spotlight on one of the nation’s deepest sore spots, police abuse, brutality and misconduct against African-Americans, minorities and the poor.”

The triumph Hutchinson wrote was that King lived long enough to see the issue of police misconduct especially that of the LAPD, become the focus of intense discussion, debate, and ultimately reform measures that transformed some police agencies into better models of control, accountability, the reduction of use of force violence, and more emphasis on community partnership. “The recent spate of police shootings of young unarmed Black and Hispanic males in some cities under dubious circumstances shows that the job of full police reform is still very much a work in progress, with room for backsliding.”

The final tragedy Hutchinson said was King's surprising and untimely death. “He was only 47. He had attained a partial rehabilitation in terms of his bad guy image. He was a recognized author. His name was eternally synonymous with a pantheon of transformative figures at the center of the many monumental events in the nation's history. This indeed was the tragedy, triumph and final tragedy of Rodney King.”

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