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COMMENTARY: Justice for Jazmine

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Many in the Greater Houston community are relieved to know that Jazmine’s killers have been apprehended and may soon face justice. However, the road to finding these suspects has been a real rollercoaster of high emotions and cloudy details.

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By Jeffrey L. Boney, Associate Editor via Houston Forward Times

Since December 30th of last year, the Greater Houston community has been in a frenzy due to the fact that no one had been apprehended for the tragic drive-by shooting death of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes, who was shot in the head as she and her three sisters sat in their mother’s car while going to the store.

Now, many in the community are relieved to know that Jazmine’s killers have been apprehended and may soon face justice. However, the road to finding these suspects has been a real rollercoaster of high emotions and cloudy details.

Most of the frenzy came with the reports that the alleged shooter was a White male driving a red pickup truck. That information turned out not to be true.

Before the suspects were arrested, police had released a sketch of the suspect based on the description provided by Jazmine’s mother, LaPorsha Washington, and her three sisters. The description they gave identified the shooter as a White man in his 40s, driving away in a red pickup truck. However, we now know that Jazmine’s shooter was not a White man, but was actually a Black man, who was joined by another Black man as his accomplice.

Two suspects – Eric Black Jr. and Larry Woodruffe – have been identified as the individuals responsible for Jazmine’s murder.

As part of their investigation, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office states they received an anonymous tip from New York-based writer and activist, Shaun King, after someone reached out to him with information stating that Black and another person, identified in court as “L.W.,” shot at Jazmine’s family’s vehicle after mistaking it for another one. That person was later identified as Woodruffe.

According to an affidavit, Black was arrested this past Saturday during a traffic stop for allegedly not using his turn signal. He was taken into custody for marijuana possession and when he was questioned by homicide investigators about the murder based on the tips they had received, Black allegedly told investigators that he was the driver of the vehicle that was used in the shooting. He went on to say that a man in the passenger seat, who is believed to be Woodruffe, was the person who actually shot Jazmine, according to the affidavit.

Woodruffe was allegedly a passenger in a rental car when he and Black spotted a vehicle they thought they recognized and allegedly opened fire out the window as they drove by. The two men returned the rental car and picked up a new one that Black was driving when authorities stopped him.

The affidavit also states that Black told investigators the gun used in the shooting was at his home and that he gave officers permission to search for the gun, and upon doing so found a 9mm pistol consistent with shell casings recovered from the scene.

Black faces a capital murder charge for his role in the shooting death of Jazmine. According to jail records, Woodruffe is currently in custody on drug possession charges and has also been charged with capital murder in connection with the shooting.

In the meantime, investigators still want to locate the driver of the red pickup truck that was reported at the scene by many witnesses, including Jazmine’s family. According to Harris County Sheriff Gonzalez, his office does not believe that racism or the driver had any role to play in the shooting, as had been previously reported. Gonzalez wants that driver to come forward and hopes the arrest of the suspects can lead to healing for the family and the community.

“We still want that individual (driving the red truck) to come forward, as it appears this was a case of mistaken identity,” Gonzalez said at a press conference this past Sunday. “This death of Jazmine has sparked a lot of discussion on many different levels and I think that it is good that going forward we continue to have positive dialogue on a number of issues.”

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee also joined Gonzalez at the press conference and shared her thoughts on the tragic loss of life of this young girl.

“I ask for the continued prayers of the community for the family of Jazmine Barnes,” said Congresswoman Jackson Lee. “I commend Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and the entire Harris County Sheriff’s Department, Chief Art Acevedo and the Houston Police Department, Houston Constables, and all other law enforcement, including the Department of Justice, which offered and provided the services of their federal law enforcement operation. This was a heinous crime. Our entire community and the nation were filled with horror and thoughts of the real possibility, based on early descriptions, that this crime was based upon hate. Again, we hope the family will now have peace and will be able to funeralize little Jazmine Barnes and bring some solace and peace to all of their lives. They will never have this precious little girl again in their lives. This entirely premature death of this beautiful little girl has shocked me and our community and outraged the nation. May God bless the family and this community.”

The details of the shooting death are truly heart wrenching.

As Jazmine’s mother drove them to the store to get items to cook breakfast that morning, the suspects pulled up next to their car around 7 a.m. and opened fire. Jazmine’s mother was shot in the arm, but Jazmine was shot in the head and was lifeless before even making it to a hospital. This situation has been truly traumatic for the parents.

Christopher Cevilla, Jazmine’s father, was relieved at the news of the suspects being caught. He said he breathed “a sigh of relief that police did their job and found who they feel is the right suspect.”

This case has garnered national attention in that Shaun King helped lead a charge to offer a $100,000 reward for information that would lead to the capture and conviction of Jazmine’s killers. No information has been released on whether the anonymous tipster will be receiving the reward for their helpful information. This past Saturday, a “Justice for Jazmine” rally drew hundreds of supporters and nearly 3,000 people have donated to a GoFundMe account that was set up for Jazmine’s funeral expenses and family. Even Houston Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins pledged to donate his entire playoff game check to the family.

Jazmine was laid to rest this past Tuesday at Green House International Church.

There is still more information forthcoming about this case.

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Bay Area

Popular Chief LeRonne Armstrong Placed on Administrative Leave During Investigation of Police Misconduct

In a press statement, Mayor Sheng Thao said that placing Armstrong on paid administrative leave was not punitive but was a standard procedure when investigating possible officer wrongdoing. “We must do what we need to do to get out of that oversight,” she said, explaining that she wants to show the public and the court monitor that there will be no favoritism. A rookie officer or the top officer will face the same investigative process.

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In his remarks, Armstrong defended OPD’s internal affairs department and fellow officers who were criticized in an independent report that found “systemic deficiencies” in the police department.

“I did nothing wrong. I violated no policies,” said Armstrong, speaking at a press conference

By Ken Epstein

Refusing to accept administrative leave during a police misconduct investigation, OPD Chief LeRonne Armstrong fired back with a press conference of his own this week, organized by a high-profile corporate public relations and communications firm.

“I should be the chief of police and remain in my position,” he said. “I did nothing wrong. I violated no policies.”

Mayor Sheng Thao placed Armstrong on administrative leave with pay while his role in an officer misconduct cover-up scandal is investigated by internal affairs. The case involves a highly paid police sergeant who was involved in a hit-and-run automobile accident in San Francisco and is accused of later discharging a gun in an OPD freight elevator and disposing of the shell casings by throwing them off the Bay Bridge.

At a press conference Monday at the office of PR consultant Sam Singer’s office in Emeryville, Armstrong did not blame Mayor Sheng Thao for placing him on leave but instead denounced federal monitor, Robert Warshaw, who oversees the police department and evaluates its reform efforts as a representative for the federal court that has overseen OPD for two decades.

In his remarks, Armstrong defended OPD’s internal affairs department and fellow officers who were criticized in an independent report that found “systemic deficiencies” in the police department.

“This to me, clearly, is a last-ditch effort to destroy the credibility of me…and to make the community believe that Oakland police is involved in some shady business,” he said.

He blasted Warshaw’s “ulterior motives,” accusing him and his team of seeking a reason to continue to be paid over $1 million a year to oversee the department, which was potentially set to exit from federal oversight at the end of May.

“It’s hard to say a mayor who’s been in the seat for just a couple of weeks would be able to push back against a monitor at this point,” Armstrong said, adding that some city officials might be “intimidated” by Warshaw’s team.

City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement that her office agreed that the recent report on OPD deficiencies “revealed failures that call into question the integrity of (OPD’s) internal investigation processes.”

Many observers and police accountability activists are saying that the present scandal and subsequent community uproar over Chief Armstrong is best resolved by removing police misconduct investigations from OPD and instead turning the cases over to an independent civilian body.

Defending the department’s internal investigation, Armstrong said the investigation that was conducted was “consistent with the findings that were presented to me.”

“To work and get to this point and have it taken away from you hurts. It doesn’t just hurt me, it hurts my community because every day I come into this job to try to make Oakland better,” he said. Prior to this incident, Armstrong has been widely praised for helping make significant reforms at OPD and paving the way for an end to federal court intervention.

Armstrong said the sergeant involved in the case, who was identified in the media as Michael Chung, was placed on leave following the shooting incident, but that the chief was unable to review the case because Warshaw had taken over the investigation.

Sergeant Chung, one of Oakland’s most highly paid employees, received total pay and benefits of $492,779.77 in 2021, including regular pay of $160,828.84 and overtime pay of $276,959.38.

Armstrong, who has deep ties in the Oakland community, was born and raised in West Oakland, California, and was a graduate of McClymond’s High School. He joined the OPD as a police officer in 1999, after spending four years with the Alameda County Probation Department. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

In a press statement, Mayor Sheng Thao said that placing Armstrong on paid administrative leave was not punitive but was a standard procedure when investigating possible officer wrongdoing.

“We must do what we need to do to get out of that oversight,” she said, explaining that she wants to show the public and the court monitor that there will be no favoritism. A rookie officer or the top officer will face the same investigative process.

“I want to make sure that everyone understands that, under our administration, that we take these findings seriously and it’s important that we look at taking the corrective action that is needed to make sure that we stay on track to make sure that we get out of the federal oversight,” she said.

“My belief is that, by holding ourselves accountable, we can be safer and a more just city,” Mayor Thao said.

At a federal court hearing Tuesday, Judge William Orrick, not addressing the criticisms of Warshaw’s role, said he was “profoundly disappointed” by the findings of the outside report conducted by attorneys hired by the City of Oakland, which revealed “significant cultural problems” that still exist after 20 years of court oversight.

The oversight began as a result of the negotiated resolution to a civil rights lawsuit in the Riders scandal in which plaintiffs alleged that four veteran officers, known as the ‘Riders,’ planted evidence and beat residents, while OPD turned a blind eye to the police misconduct.

“This is the third time since I’ve been overseeing the implementation of the (settlement) that the city has seemed to come close to full compliance,” Judge Orrick said, “only to have a serious episode arise that exposes rot within the department.”

Mayor Sheng Thao said she takes this case seriously, not a minor fender bender as some have dismissed it, and that said those involved will be “disciplined appropriately.”

“This particular misconduct is serious because it provides fertile ground for other misconduct to thrive,” she said at the hearing. “I will not tolerate toxic subcultures that try to demonize or deter officers who do the right thing.”

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Arts and Culture

IN MEMORIAM: Autris Paige

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

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AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.
AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

August 17, 1938 – January 12, 2023

AUTRIS T. PAIGE was the youngest child born to Estella and Overton Paige in Sugar Land, Texas on Aug. 17, 1938.  He passed away on Jan. 12, 2023 in Oakland after a brief illness.  He was supported and comforted by his longtime companion Donna Vaughan.

Mr. Paige grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

He served in the U.S. Air Force.

In 1971, he made his debut with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, appearing in Candide at the Los Angeles Music Center and at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. He appeared with Ray Charles and the American Ballet Theatre and performed in several musical theatre productions on Broadway including Lost in the Stars; Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope; as Walter Lee in Raisin; and in Timbuktu with Eartha Kitt.

Mr. Paige has also sung with the New York City Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and with the San Francisco Opera. Other opera companies in which he performed include the Seattle Opera and the Glyndebourne Opera in England. He was featured in the PBS film and award-winning EMI recording of Porgy and Bess as well as the recording of the opera X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X.

When he returned to Oakland to “retire” he met Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams, Founder and Director of Today’s Artists Concerts (now Four Seasons Arts), who auditioned Paige and invited him to perform on his series. Mr. Paige began a new phase of his musical career.

He appeared many times under the auspices of Today’s Artists Concerts/Four Seasons Arts in New York’s Alice Tully Hall and in venues around the Bay Area in their Art of the Spiritual programs. He was featured in his own Spiritual Journey in 2009. His recently released solo CD, Spiritual Journey, based on this program, has received critical acclaim.

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

In 2011, Mr. Paige was featured in Four Seasons Arts’ annual W. Hazaiah Williams Memorial Concert with the Lucy Kinchen Chorale and later with soprano Alison Buchanan. In 2013, he performed his Spiritual Journey II in Berkeley with pianist Othello Jefferson. A second CD entitled Classics and Spirituals was released in September 2013. Pianist Jerry Donaldson of Oakland was a frequent collaborator with Mr. Paige, performing throughout the Bay Area.

A Celebration of Life for Autris Paige will take place Friday, Feb. 3 at 11:00 a.m. at Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, 1399 McAllister Street, San Francisco.

A repast will follow the service.

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