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Families, Activists Refuse to Forget Lives Lost to Police

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Marchers take to streets of Baltimore May 10 as part of continued demands for justice in the death of Freddie Gray, 25, who died a week after an encounter with police. (Courtesy of The Final Call)

Marchers take to streets of Baltimore May 10 as part of continued demands for justice in the death of Freddie Gray, 25, who died a week after an encounter with police. (Courtesy of The Final Call)

by Richard B. Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

BALTIMORE (The Final Call) – The tears Tawanda Jones sheds flow freely at times. Her voice breaks a little. But none of it stops her from pressing for justice for her brother, who died during an encounter with police officers, and standing for others who have suffered similar losses.

The death of Freddie Gray and the uprising that followed brought attention from around the world to this majority Black city with a long history of police problems.

Before Freddie Gray there was Tyrone West, who is Ms. Jones’ brother, and there was Anthony Anderson, Trayvon Scott, George V. King and others who died in police custody, or encounters, without prosecutors finding anything was wrong.

“My family means everything to me,” said the 38-year-old educator. The two-year anniversary of Tyrone’s death is July 18, 2015. She sits in church with family, without her big brother. She cries as she describes what happened:

It was a typical summer day. Tyrone, who worked part-time, would drive her car, pick her up and take her to work. “It worked out perfectly,” she recalled. They talked, dropped her children off, dropped her off. Tyrone went to work and some other appointments. At the end of the day, Tyrone was waiting for her. Ironically she would talk to her brother about Officer Friendly visiting her summer class that day. They would talk about the death of Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager in Florida, and the acquittal of his killer George Zimmerman. “We’re worried about Zimmerman’s there, we got Zimmerman’s on every corner in Baltimore,” Tyrone said, according to his sister. He got a call from a new acquaintance, a young woman, on the hot day. The tired schoolteacher agreed to have him use her car to pick up his niece and pick up the young woman who was stranded.

A half-hour later she had a kind of premonition, sharp sudden pains in her neck, her body, and fell to the floor. She didn’t know what was happening. Her thoughts turned to Tyrone and his safety. She had always hoped driving her car would make things a little easier and help shield him from Black on Black violence. She could not reach him.

Later that night her partner shared news a media report would verify: Tyrone was dead after an encounter with city police officers while driving her green Mercedes in northeast Baltimore.

“My whole world just ended that day. I couldn’t breathe. I was here physically but spiritually, I was gone. It was heartbreaking,” she said.

Eyewitnesses told her Tyrone was beaten worse than Rodney King and officers brutalized him, she said. Police officers and the medical examiner gave the family the runaround to get her brother’s body and her car was impounded, she said. It took five days to see his body, but when the family saw his body it was already made up, she said. It didn’t look like Tyrone and her family has refused to let questions about his death go unanswered. An appeal to the state’s attorney at the time for help was rebuffed, she recalled. Prosecutors said the death was from natural causes related to dehydration and cardiac arrest. The medical examiner was inconclusive on whether officers were responsible for the death.

After months of trying to get answers and access, the state’s attorney met with the family and was cordial while a videographer recorded the meeting, said Ms. Jones. The camera was turned off after introductions and the state’s attorney’s persona changed too, she said.

Don’t get too comfortable in those seats. I am not going to charge the officers, she recalls the state’s attorney saying. Ms. Jones also said then State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein gave immunity to the officers involved in her brother’s death.

A special investigation found the police department erred numerous times during the investigation into the West death, according to media reports. Police failed to say where an alleged bag with cocaine was found and did not test it for Tyrone’s fingerprints, crime scene photos weren’t organized properly and the investigation focused too heavily on Tyrone’s criminal past but did not examine the records of the officers involved. The department also failed to inform the family and needed more transparency, the report added. It did not find any evidence of excessive force.

Despite the pain and threats following a wrongly edited media statement attributed to her about holding “killer cops” accountable, Ms. Jones and her family members have refused to quit.

She backed current States Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby over Mr. Bernstein, who she said callously mishandled her family. Every week is “West Wednesday,” where she, family members and supporters go out and continue to demand justice for Tyrone.

None of the officers involved in Tyrone’s case have been fired and some have been involved in other instances of brutality and death, she charged. Attempts to reach Mr. Bernstein through law firm Zuckerman Spaeder LLP were unsuccessful at Final Call press time.

Dora Moses, 54, moved her children out of the city fearing for their lives. She grew up and raised children here, but fled to Pennsylvania as overall violence and police violence took its toll. She especially feared for her son. She fears for her grandsons who are toddlers.

“I don’t see the problems being resolved to the degree where I feel safe with them being,” said the grandmother.

Her daughter’s boyfriend’s death at the hands of police officers on Liberty Heights Avenue was the final straw. She packed up with no plans, found a cheap home and left.

Her daughters have moved back to Baltimore and she worries about her six grandsons. She would like to see her daughters and grandchildren come back to Pennsylvania. She was in town to help her daughter with the active and talkative young boys.

Sitting on the steps of a row house where her daughter lives, she saluted protestors who marched by calling for justice in the killing of Freddie Gray, an unarmed Black man who the state’s attorney says was illegally arrested and negligently handled by police officers. Charges have been filed against six officers in connection with the death of the Sandtown-Winchester resident.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, between 2010 and 2014, at least 109 people died in police encounters in Maryland. In a briefing paper released earlier this year, the ACLU found deaths dispersed throughout 18 different jurisdictions across the state. But “nearly 70 percent of those who died in police encounters were Black … more than 40 percent of those who died were unarmed, and that police officers were criminally charged in less than two percent of the 109 cases cited by the ACLU.”

The ACLU compiled the paper after learning state officials do not track these cases, the group said.

“State leaders must act now to send a clear message to families, communities and police that all lives matter and that these deaths are not inevitable,” said Sonia Kumar, ACLU staff attorney, at the paper’s release. “We must report and track deaths in police encounters in order to learn the lessons that will prevent these tragedies from recurring.”

“Outside of the families and communities who have borne the brunt of these losses, the full extent of deaths in police encounters has never been formally acknowledged by public officials in Maryland,” said the ACLU. “There is no centralized state or federal reporting requirement when people die in police encounters. There are more than 140 state and local law enforcement agencies in Maryland, but no official tracking of how frequently or under what circumstances they are involved in the loss of civilian lives. The scant national data that is available suggests that Maryland has a very high number of police-involved civilian deaths relative to other states.”

“Five Black people died at the hands of police for every White person who died, when the size of the Black and White populations were taken into account. Put another way, the rate at which Blacks died by a police encounter (deaths per population size) was five times that of Whites. Forty-one percent of those who died (45 people) were not armed with a weapon of any kind.

The number of unarmed Blacks who died (36 people) exceeded the total number of all Whites who died (30 people), armed or not,” the ACLU reported.

“Ten unarmed Black people died for every unarmed White person who died, when the size of the Black and White populations were taken into account. Put another way, the rate at which unarmed Blacks died by a police encounter (deaths per population size) was ten times that of Whites.”

“Thirty-eight percent of those who died (41 people) presented in a way that suggested a possible medical or mental health issue, disability, substance use or similar issue. Seventy-nine percent of those who died (86 people) were killed by police gunfire. Twenty-one percent of those who died (23 people) were not shot; in most of these cases police used handcuffs or other restraints, pepper spray, and/or a taser. Several individuals were killed in the course of a vehicle pursuit.

Ms. Jones said, “The only thing we can do is hold police accountable.  We need to put things in place to make sure nobody else goes through this.”

Cortly “C.D.” Witherspoon, Sr., head of the Baltimore Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, lives around the corner from where the incident with Freddie Gray happened. He has been working on police brutality for several years and was arrested at city hall trying to get attention to the problem from the mayor and city council president.

He started with the 2010 case of disabled man David Yem, who was shot by a police officer. Mr. Yem, who was already paralyzed on one side of his body and had emotional issues, was shot as an officer fired through a windshield in the Poplar Grove community in West Baltimore, he said. The man had a knife but was not a threat, he said. Mr. Yem recovered. No charges were filed against the police officer, who said the disabled man charged his car.

The shots were fired in broad daylight with children around, said Mr. Witherspoon.

Anthony Anderson was in East Baltimore, in front of family members and grandchildren, when officers said they saw a drug transaction and body slammed him on his head, said Mr. Witherspoon. He died and no drugs were found on the scene or in his system, he added.

Threats to file Freedom of Information Act requests forced police to recant the initial statement, but no one was charged, the activist continued. Last year George King went to a hospital for a tooth extraction and was tased to death by Baltimore city police officers, he said.

Within 48 hours protests were organized outside city hall and thousands came to a second protest in the community, said Mr. Witherspoon.

He said he was present when the former state’s attorney Bernstein told the family of Anthony Anderson no charges would be filed though the medical examiner declared death a homicide.

“This same state’s attorney tried two young African America men twice for harming a dog. The first time these two young men were acquitted. The second time they were acquitted. He tried them twice trying to ensure that these young men were convicted. We can’t even get an officer indicted in Baltimore—this was under the previous state’s attorney,” he said.

“What we are hoping to do is at some point to lobby this state’s attorney, the new state’s attorney that we elected, because of Gregg Bernstein’s complete lack of political will to do the right thing. We are hoping to present these cases back to her for reconsideration,” said Mr. Witherspoon, who has traveled to different places across the country supporting the calls for police accountability.

Charging the officers was step in the right direction, but there should have been first degree murder charges, he said. Mr. Gray should have been in an ambulance, not a police wagon, he said.
“We are tired of the double standard that exists in our society that has it so that officers are allowed to get away with murder. The murder of Black men in every city across this country,” he said.

“I say the integrity of these people who are questioning (Mrs. Mosby), in lieu of this, their integrity should be questioned. Their competency should be questioned. When somebody is held accountable for killing an African America man, then their competency is questioned? That’s racist in nature,” he said.

History

The Black Press: Our Trusted Messenger

Our Black newspapers are now celebrating 194 years of being the keeper of the flame of liberty and the source of information in “our” struggle for freedom and equality.

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Cover of the Oakland Post

Sometimes it’s necessary to be reminded who we are and who our friends are.  It’s also important to remember from whence we have come. 

Such is the case this week with the Black Press. Our Black newspapers are now celebrating 194 years of being the keeper of the flame of liberty and the source of information in “our” struggle for freedom and equality.

With the advent of the recent pandemic and the visible disparity of Blacks dying at greater numbers than others, getting fewer vaccines, working in the highest risk occupations and death at the hands of law enforcement, our need for a “trusted” source of information is greater than social media, which has become an alternative for many.

 At the same time, the interest in reaching our communities has increased on all levels. The question has become “who is in touch with the Black community” as injustice, murder and social disparity continues to grow among Blacks. 

The NAACP and the Urban League gave the impression that they were in touch with the Black community. But the reality is neither organization has ever been in touch with the Black community without the Black Press.  It is Black newspapers and not CNN, ABC, NBC or CBS that carries the articles and commentaries of these organizations to the Black community. 

Yet, neither of these organizations ever mentions the Black Press when taking both credit and dollars for outreach to the Black community.

The African American and Black communities of America should not be duped into believing that social media has become a substitute for the Black Press. The Black Press is now both print and electronic, it’s a newswire service as provided by the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), providing coverage of both news here in America and around the world.

 It is the Black Press that has been the “Trusted Messenger” to our communities for 194 years, and that says a lot. Our newspapers are the rear guard, the battle ground against the efforts to resegregate America and return to “Jim Crow” racism.

As we celebrate Juneteenth, let us remember that we are not only free but capable of defending and determining our futures if we get serious. Let’s remember how we got here, on the backs of those like the Black Press who bought us thus far; let us not forget in the words of James Weldon Johnson: that “ we have come over a way that with tears has been watered, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.” We are still being slaughtered today by others as well as each other.

Let’s remember who is truly telling our story and our obligation to keep and support that effort. Pick up a Black newspaper and get involved. You owe that and more to keeping the Juneteenth principle of freedom alive today.

Editor-in-Chief note:  The Post News Group consists of nine newspapers:  Oakland, South County, San Francisco, Vallejo, Marin, Stockton, Richmond, Berkeley Tri-City and El Mundo.  We are also online at postnewsgroup.com.

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Black History

Juneteenth: Our Independence Day

Also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, it commemorates the end of slavery, the seminal event in Black history.

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Graphic courtesy istock.

June 19, or Juneteenth, is independence day for many Americans of African descent.

Also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, it commemorates the end of slavery, the seminal event in Black history.

President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect on Jan. 1, 1863, but was read to slaves in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, more than two years later.

There are several different accounts of why the news of freedom took so long to arrive.

One story has it that slaves were intentionally kept ignorant about their freedom in order to allow crops to continue being harvested. Another has a messenger traveling by mule to deliver the news, and it simply took more than two years to arrive from Washington, D.C., to Texas. Yet another story has the messenger being murdered before he could deliver the message.

No matter the origin of Juneteenth, the end of slavery is definitely worth celebrating. But while much has happened in the 158 years since slavery officially ended, its legacies still remain in the form of disparate salaries, educational levels and incarceration rates.

Juneteenth, which is now observed in 48 states (North Dakota and Hawaii do not observe)  and the District of Columbia, is a time to take stock of our progress — and of the work that remains.

Last year, during the pandemic our current vice president and former senator, Kamala Harris, said:  “[m]y message on this Juneteenth:  may we honor those who suffered, died and survived the crushing reality of slavery by looking to the future.”

Twelve years ago President Barack Obama said: “African Americans helped to build our nation brick by brick and have contributed to her growth in every way, even when rights and liberties were denied to them.”

We’re still building it.

In 2021, as our state opens up post-pandemic and we deal with racial reckoning as we never have before  #BlackLivesMatter is becoming a reality. 

This year is truly our Independence Day.

Happy Juneteenth.

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Community

Turner Family Patriarch Turns 100, Passes the Torch

A huge fan of the L.A. Dodgers, Turner was invited to try out for the Dodgers Minor System in the early 1950s and the ambidextrous Turner once pitched a double header left-handed in the first game and right-handed in the second.

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Caption: Douglas “Buster” Turner looks out over Oakland and the San Francisco Bay from his back porch on May 28, 2021, just six days after his 100th birthday. Photo by Christy Price.

A poem written for Douglas “Buster” Turner’s 100th birthday is entitled “My Eyes Have Seen a Lot of Things.” After 100 years on Earth, that is an understatement. Turner’s life began on May 22, 1921, in Ansley, La., as the son of Nada and John Turner. 

Turner had a full childhood surrounded by his 13 siblings in Morton, Miss., where they were raised. Turner’s parents instilled in their children a sense of honor and pride by teaching them to be accountable and take responsibility for their actions while still giving them the autonomy they needed to become their own people. 

And become his own person, he did!

A young Turner served in the United States Army, completing a tour of duty in Nazi Germany during World War II. After an honorable discharge from the military, Turner utilized the benefits being a veteran offered him through the GI Bill. 

Turner married Coreene in 1940 and they took up a nomadic lifestyle in the Deep South during the Jim Crow era. They adjusted and adapted as they traveled along what his son, Eddie Turner, refers to as the ‘Chitlin Circuit,’ barnstorming with various Negro League Baseball teams through Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Georgia. Turner moved to Oakland in 1949 with the rest of the family joining him about a year later. 

A huge fan of the L.A. Dodgers, Turner was invited to try out for the Dodgers Minor System in the early 1950s and the ambidextrous Turner once pitched a double header left-handed in the first game and right-handed in the second.

The time spent on the road with Coreene, who passed away in 2015, created a bond that lasted 75 years and produced seven children. The Turners would raise Albertine, Eddie, Fred, Johnny, Michael, Mary, and Sherrie with the same family values that Turner had been raised with. 

Their door was always open to the neighborhood children and the family never met a stranger. Douglas Turner’s legacy is an open, helping hand, one of caring and sharing. 

To provide for his family, both close and extended, Turner became a union journeyman machinist. Turner employed many workers at his Mohawk Gas Station in Oakland, Calif. before the brand changed hands. When his budget kept him from buying a much needed truck, Turner’s innovation and imagination led him to repurpose a car into a truck, well before the El Camino made its debut. 

As Mr. Turner turns 100 years old and dementia confuses time and memories for him; he often revisits the past. His son becomes his brother, and he is once again a young man. 

Though the memories are fading for him, the stories of his epic journeys will not end: Turner’s children will carry on the Turner legacy of accountability, responsibility, integrity, and autonomy. The Turner family is the product of all the hard work that Turner did in making a strong family unit filled with the wonderful tales they saw through their father’s eyes. 

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