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Blunt Trauma: Cop Beats Black Teen Over Cigar, Sparking Outrage and Familiar Swisher Sweet Debate

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shocking video of a police officer beating a 14-year-old African American boy over a Swisher tobacco cigarette is being shared across social media platforms around the world.

In the clip that has been re-posted tens of thousands of times, a Rancho Cordova deputy is captured pummeling the youth in his chest as he presses him to the ground in an incident that happened April 27.

Now, the family of the teen is calling for the firing of the officer, although stating that they understand the case involves a minor in possession of a cigarillo.

“There is no valid reason for Brian Fowell, an officer of the law, to punch a child in the face and chest. There is no valid reason for an officer to push a child’s face into the ground against a curb by their neck,” said Tanya Faison, founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento in a written statement to California Black Media. “This 14-year-old boy posed no threat to this officer and the actions officer Brian Fowell took are dangerous for our community.”

The incident happened near a 7-Eleven store where the Rancho Cordova Police Department (RCPD) reports that the youth received the tobacco cigarette from an adult.

“The video of the Rancho Cordova deputy repeatedly hitting and slapping a much smaller unarmed 14-year-old boy is disturbing to us as parents and frustrating to us as lawmakers,” reads a statement the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) released to California Black Media.

“Over the last few years, the legislature has made clear their expectations about the appropriate use of force and the need to find alternatives, especially when it comes to unarmed minors,” the statement continued.

Race, Police Use of Force, Black Teens and Nicotine Addiction

For decades now, activists have targeted tobacco products in the state of California, partially to deter young people from smoking or chewing the cured and dried leaves, which contain nicotine and can lead to addiction.

Carol McGruder, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, has been a major force in the anti-tobacco crusade in California. One of the main arguments she makes to lawmakers is her view that tobacco manufacturers target Black people with their products.

McGruder has been working hard to put the brakes on menthol cigarettes, cigarillos like Swishers, and e-cigarettes, which are used for vaping, a favorite way to consume tobacco among teens. Vaping has led to severe respiratory illnesses among first-time smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Anger, disgust, rage, these are the feelings we felt as we watched the video,” said McGruder. “Rage that another Black boy was traumatized by police brutality.  As horrific as this video is, what is more horrific is that the biggest invisible killer and profiler of Black boys, the tobacco industry, will be able to latch onto it and use the legitimate concerns of our community to block public health policies that would stop the industry from profiling and addicting our children.”

Some Black leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network agree that tobacco is harmful to Black teens. But they also believe that over-taxing or outlawing the substance – particularly menthol cigarettes which Blacks smoke the most — creates an illicit underground market that puts young Black people under the scrutiny of law enforcement officers. He cites the case of Eric Garner in New York City. Garner was illegally selling “loosies,” unlicensed retail cigarette sticks, before police officers subdued, suffocated and killed him. Police surveillance, they say, increases the odds of dangerous, often times deadly, run-ins with the law like the one involving the cops and Garner — or the teen in Rancho Cordova.

“Often, tobacco and marijuana are used as smoke screens for racism and abuse in policing in Black and Brown communities,” says the Rev. Tecoy Porter, President, Sacramento branch of the National Action Network. “We must condemn those practices.”

Anti-Tobacco Laws in California and Around the U.S.

The California legislature has passed several laws aimed at curbing the use of tobacco. But neither lawmakers, nor the state’s health – nor its law enforcement –  authorities have enacted explicit policy safeguards to prevent what happened in the Rancho Cordova incident, critics say.

San Francisco County was the first county in California to ban menthol cigarettes in the summer of 2017. In California, no state-wide ban has been put in place against the sale of flavored tobacco products. However, certain cities and counties in the state have instituted local ordinances prohibiting purchases.

The county of Sacramento banned the sale of menthol cigarettes as of January 1 of this year.

In September 2009, cigarettes with specific characterizing flavors were prohibited in the U.S., as part of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (TCA) that gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products.

Despite the FDA’s ban on flavored cigarettes, the overall market for flavored tobacco products continues to prosper. Tobacco companies significantly stepped up the introduction and marketing of flavored and other tobacco products (OTPs), particularly e-cigarettes and cigars, as well as smokeless tobacco and hookah tobacco.

“Black Boys Aren’t Born With a Newport or a Swisher Sweets in Their Mouths”

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says that tobacco companies claim to be responding to “adult tobacco” users’ demands for variety, but flavored tobacco products still have a key role in luring new users, they say, particularly kids, to a lifetime of addiction.

“Black boys aren’t born with a Newport or a Swisher Sweet in their mouths,” says McGruder. “Our community must understand that there is a highly organized and efficient system that does that.”

McGruder and other anti-Tobacco lobbyists say the police-use-of-excessive-force case in Rancho Cordova may have blown the lid off a problem that has been simmering for years. It has also put a focus on the Rancho Cordova Police Department and past allegations of police brutality.

Black Lawmakers, Rancho Cordova PD Release Sparring Statements  

Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Sgt. Tess Deterding said in a written statement that the deputy was in the area responding to citizens’ complaints about sales of alcohol, tobacco and drugs to minors.

“It’s important to put the video footage into context, especially in relation to a use-of-force incident. In this case, the deputy saw what he believed to be a hand-to-hand exchange between an adult and juvenile,” Deterding stated.

The RCPD account stated that the officer had reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was occurring and the deputy attempted to detain the juvenile so he could continue the investigation. The juvenile became physically resistive, the RCDP continued in their written statement, causing the deputy to lose control of his handcuffs.

The deputy attempted to maintain control of the juvenile without his handcuffs while alone waiting for his partners to arrive and assist him, the report said. Ultimately, the deputy recovered tobacco products from the 14-year-old, which the RCDP presumes is the reason for his resistance.

“These are the facts as we understand them at this time. This investigation is in its infancy and the facts as we understand them now are subject to change as we conduct a more thorough and complete examination of the circumstances surrounding this incident,” Derterding stated.

But Black lawmakers responded to the RCPD official statement, countering that “this use of force is in no way proportional to the suspected crime or justified by the actions of the child. We will monitor this situation closely and expect that the officer will be held accountable for the abusive actions taken in the name of public safety.”

African Americans in Rancho Cordova

Rancho Cordova is approximately 14 miles east of downtown Sacramento. It was incorporated as a city in 2003, and has its own municipalities, including a mayor, city council, fire department and the Rancho Cordova Police department that is contracted through the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.

The city — whose history stretches back to the Gold Rush days of the mid-19th century and the era of the Pony Express — has a population of over 74,000, the World Population Review reported, a number based on a 2017 U.S. Census Bureau estimate.

The city, once home to Mather Air Force Base, is 60% White, 13% Asian, 21.6% Latino and 8.9% African American.

Out of 6,347 Black people who live in Rancho Cordova, 23% have household incomes below the poverty line, the highest number of all ethnic groups in the city, according to the World Population Review. Most African Americans live in some of the most underserved and hard-to-count census tracts in the state, according to California Black Media’s “Counting Black California: Roadmap to The Hardest-to-Count Census Tracts” report.

Past Allegations of Police Misconduct

Last week’s incident was not a first. The RCPD has been accused of aggression before and it has been hit by police misconduct lawsuits involving the Black community in the past.

In March 2019, African American twins, Carlos and Thomas Williams, say the officers of RCPD allegedly choked and beat them before taking them into custody.

The brothers filed a civil rights violation lawsuit, which claims they were arrested on a trumped up charge at Carlos Williams’ home.

Adanté Pointer, an attorney at the John L. Burris law firm in Oakland, who was speaking on behalf of the family of the 14-year-old Rancho Cordova teen, said this is too often the case.

“We’re talking about a kid buying tobacco and an officer with an opportunity to actually build community relationships in dealing with a young man,” said Pointer. “Instead, I’m certain, he’s left a mark on this young man’s spirit, soul and brain that will live with him for the rest of his life.”

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Activism

Tiny Homes Offer Hope for Holidays and Beyond

We are accepting applications for volunteers and accepting donations that we can use to build Tiny Homes. You might have things in your house or garage you haven’t used or extra construction tools, a bag of stud nails, used doors, windows, roofing materials, lumber, metal, hardwood flooring, sheetrock tape, paints, and anything that we can recycle to build and add to our Tiny Homes. 

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As chief operations officer for The Tiny Homes Project, I join Lackey in expressing gratitude for the support that the Oakland Post, as our media partner, has helped us with in gathering community and faith-based leaders to help solve our increasing homeless problem in the Bay Area. We can no longer ignore homelessness in Oakland, which has now reached a humanitarian crisis.
As chief operations officer for The Tiny Homes Project, I join Lackey in expressing gratitude for the support that the Oakland Post, as our media partner, has helped us with in gathering community and faith-based leaders to help solve our increasing homeless problem in the Bay Area. We can no longer ignore homelessness in Oakland, which has now reached a humanitarian crisis.

By Dr. Maritony A. Yamot and Rev. Ken Lackey

The holidays are the season when we stop and begin to think, “How can I give back this year and what are some different ways to help out?”

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help out during the holidays that don’t cost a thing. The Tiny Homes Project — with Rev. Ken Lackey of the Center for the Perfect Marriage Church at 6101 International Blvd. — needs to increase its capacity and we wanted to remind our community that everybody matters to God.

As chief operations officer for The Tiny Homes Project, I join Lackey in expressing gratitude for the support that the Oakland Post, as our media partner, has helped us with in gathering community and faith-based leaders to help solve our increasing homeless problem in the Bay Area. We can no longer ignore homelessness in Oakland, which has now reached a humanitarian crisis.

We want to launch an intensive month-long generosity campaign to help the increasing homeless issues in our neighborhoods by adding to the number of tiny homes that we have already built at various private locations in Oakland.

We invite you to join us as we partner with some of Oakland’s fabulous nonprofit organizations to meet critical needs in our communities.

Whether through donation or action, there are plenty of opportunities to give.

We are accepting applications for volunteers and accepting donations that we can use to build Tiny Homes. You might have things in your house or garage you haven’t used or extra construction tools, a bag of stud nails, used doors, windows, roofing materials, lumber, metal, hardwood flooring, sheetrock tape, paints, and anything that we can recycle to build and add to our Tiny Homes.

We are also looking for vehicle donations of trailers or any truck for hauling material and picking up volunteers and homeless people that are helping to build Tiny Homes. We build our homes with primarily donated and surplus materials, allowing us to cut costs and provide a pleasant home for under $40,000.

Each and every person who wants to help out and eradicate the homeless problem in the City of Oakland can donate funds for us to build a Tiny Home. If donors want to give money to the ministry, we will build a tiny home and name it after them. Know that your donations will be able to take a whole family off the street during this cold season.

In addition, we are open to getting a sponsor or sponsors for an entire Tiny Homes Community Park and we have a separate location that will be designated for homeless veterans, the elderly, single mothers or single fathers, and any individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, such as those living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, places not meant for habitation, or sleeping on our streets.

Please spread the word and contact us about any way you can help our Tiny Homes Community Project with Rev. Ken Lackey.

There are three ways to contact us

  1. By Phone/toll-free number: 1-833-233-8900 ext. 1
  2. By Email: TinyHomesC@gmail.com
  3. By Appointment/Donation Drop off location at the All About Grits Restaurant at 6101 International Blvd., Oakland, CA

Or you can attend our next two major events:

  1. Tiny Homes Fundraising Event on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. Place to be announced.
  2. Tiny Homes Community Building Workshop with the help of our community and local partners in the Bay Area. Date and place to be announced.

Contact us for more details of these two events or any ways you can help in this season.

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Activism

Faith Baptist Church Becomes Oakland’s First Official Resiliency Hub

Faith Baptist Church was the recipient of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Legacy Award. Faith was chosen out of a pool of dozens of applicants for the award. The key differentiator was the Solar Battery Storage project. With that, Faith Baptist has the ability to totally exit the PG&E grid and generate 100% energy from its solar panels. That makes Faith Baptist a potential energy distributor.

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As members of the community that comprise Faith Baptist Church look on, California Interfaith Power and Light Executive Director Susan Stephenson, left (in white jacket), hands scissors to the eldest member of Faith Baptist for the ribbon cutting on Nov. 14 while Pastor Curtis Robinson stands just behind him. Also pictured are District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb (white hair, white shirt) and to his right (multi-colored top) is Shayna Hirschfield-Gold, Oakland’s Climate Program manager. Photo courtesy of Faith Baptist Church and California Interfaith Power and Light.
As members of the community that comprise Faith Baptist Church look on, California Interfaith Power and Light Executive Director Susan Stephenson, left (in white jacket), hands scissors to the eldest member of Faith Baptist for the ribbon cutting on Nov. 14 while Pastor Curtis Robinson stands just behind him. Also pictured are District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb (white hair, white shirt) and to his right (multi-colored top) is Shayna Hirschfield-Gold, Oakland’s Climate Program manager. Photo courtesy of Faith Baptist Church and California Interfaith Power and Light.

By Curtis O. Robinson, Sr., M.A., Harvard University fellow, ’19, Senior Pastor, Faith Baptist Church

So, when I say that Faith Baptist is Oakland’s first Resiliency Hub, the first question that many people ask is, “what is a resiliency hub?”

In an article from the Christian Science Monitor entitled “Resilience hubs: A new approach to crisis response,” the author writes, “Things that shock a community have to do with climate, but more urgently they have to do with systemic inequities.”

He was referring to police shootings, civic unrest, the growth of homeless encampments and more. The resiliency hub approach to these inequities uses a respected local organization, such as a church or community center, and bolsters it to help neighborhoods prepare for crises — hurricanes, heat waves, pandemics or unrest — and to respond and recover from them.

When Faith was approached with the idea of solar panels for its rooftop as a source of heat, the decision was relatively a no-brainer.

As a House of Worship, there is a collective emphasis on the workings of God in the universe. The first job that God gave humanity was to tend the Garden. When it comes to environmental justice, our goal then is to take care of this place called planet Earth.

The world is now in an environmental tailspin. However, with technology that teaches us how to create sustainable outcomes, sprinkled with common sense, we can achieve an environmental balance that can create safe spaces environmentally for our children and for our future.

Faith Baptist Church was the recipient of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Legacy Award. Faith was chosen out of a pool of dozens of applicants for the award. The key differentiator was the Solar Battery Storage project.

With that, Faith Baptist has the ability to totally exit the PG&E grid and generate 100% energy from its solar panels. That makes Faith Baptist a potential energy distributor.

With the help of California Interfaith Power and Light and energy experts from the U.S. Green Building Council, we held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 14.

Joining us, among others, were Susan Stephenson, executive director of California Interfaith Power and Light, Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb of District 1, Shayna Hirschfield- Gold, Oakland’s Climate Program manager and members of Faith Baptist and the Pentecostal community that shares our space and Green Building volunteers.

We bask in the glory of energy independence, because we now tap into clean energy from above and not dirty energy from below.

Publisher’s note: Rev Curtis Robinson also is a columnist for the God on Wall Street column for the Post News Group.

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Activism

March Against Fear: When ‘Black Power’ Became Mainstream

What began as a solitary peaceful protest for voter registration became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmichael formed unlikely alliances that resulted in the Black Power movement. This ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

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James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. (Photo: Marion S. Trikosko, the United States Library of Congress.)
James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. (Photo: Marion S. Trikosko, the United States Library of Congress.)

By Tamara Shiloh

It was June 5, 1966.

James Howard Meredith (born 1933), on a mission to encourage Black voter registration and defy entrenched racism in the South, set out on a solitary walk from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi.

On the second day of his journey, Aubrey Norvell, a white gunman, waited on a roadside a few miles south of Hernando, Mississippi. He ambushed Meredith, shooting him in the neck, head, and back.

Within 24 hours, the nation’s three principal civil rights organizations vowed to continue the march: the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Success of the event could not be predicted. Leaders were aware that last-minute planning of a march could be dangerous, and the route chosen was not without uncertainty. The three-week march led to death threats, arrests, and the use of tear gas. Internal tensions surrounding leadership swelled and use of the slogan “Black Power” became a revolutionary phrase urging self-determination and Black pride.

The Deacons for Defense and Justice, a group of Black veterans from World War II who believed in armed self-defense, provided protection for participants. Founded in Jonesboro, La., in 1964, The Deacons for Defense had already protected civil rights activists from the Ku Klux Klan. About 20 chapters were created throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

The march ended on June 22, 1966. Meredith, sufficiently recovered, had been able to rejoin the event. Participants supporting Meredith along the way joined in, making the total number of marchers arriving in Jackson about 15,000. The March Against Fear was one of the largest marches in history for that geographical area. It was during the post-march rally that Stokely Carmichael first used the phrase “we want Black Power” during a public speech.

Carmichael sought to define the quest for Black Power in constructive terms, explaining to supporters in Detroit that “Black votes created Black Power…That doesn’t mean that we are anti-white. We are just developing Black pride.”

Meredith had become well known when he successfully challenged the Kennedy administration to protect his civil rights. His application for admission to the University of Mississippi, dubbed Ole Miss, had been twice denied. With backing from the NAACP, he filed suit for racial discrimination.

After heavy negotiations with U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Meredith was permitted to enroll at Ole Miss but only under escort of federal troops. He graduated in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

What began as a solitary peaceful protest for voter registration became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmichael formed unlikely alliances that resulted in the Black Power movement. This ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

Understand the complex issues of fear, injustice, and the challenges of change in Anne Bausum’s “The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power.”

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