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How Cases Involving 2 NYC Cops and 2 Unarmed Men Measure Up

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Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson speaks during a news conference in New York, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015. Peter Liang, a rookie police officer, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to manslaughter, official misconduct and other charges in the shooting death of a man in a pitch black stairwell of a Brooklyn public housing complex. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson speaks during a news conference in New York, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015. Peter Liang, a rookie police officer, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to manslaughter, official misconduct and other charges in the shooting death of a man in a pitch black stairwell of a Brooklyn public housing complex. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

COLLEEN LONG, Associated Press
TOM HAYS, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — The indictment of New York Police Department Officer Peter Liang Wednesday on charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the stairwell shooting of Akai Gurley comes two months after a grand jury declined to charge Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner. Both were unarmed black men who died at the hands of police, and the officers became the subject of criminal investigations.

“But the similarities stop there,” criminal law professor James Cohen said. Garner’s death touched off massive protests and calls for police reform. The encounter was captured on video and widely viewed online. The officer testified before the grand jury.

Gurley’s death occurred during a chance encounter on a pitch black stairwell in a Brooklyn housing project. Liang fired a single shot and his finger never should have been on the trigger, prosecutors said, but no one believes he intentionally wanted to kill Gurley. Liang didn’t testify in his defense.

Here’s a look at the two cases:

THE CIRCUMSTANCES:

Akai Gurley, 28, was having his hair braided by his girlfriend at her apartment in the Louis Pink Houses in Brooklyn on Nov. 20. He had just given up waiting for the elevator so he could leave when he stepped into a darkened stairwell to walk to the lobby. Meanwhile, Officer Peter Liang and his partner were patrolling the stairwells of the public housing complex. Liang, 27, had his gun drawn, his finger on the trigger, prosecutors said. As he pushed open the door with his shoulder, he fired one shot that ricocheted, striking Gurley on the floor above. Gurley made it down two flights before collapsing and later died. Liang is Chinese-American. His lawyer says the shooting was an accident.

Eric Garner, 43, was standing outside a Staten Island convenience store and was suspected of selling loose cigarettes on July 17. Officer Daniel Pantaleo and others accused tried to arrest him but he resisted. In an incident captured on video and widely viewed, the officer tries to take the heavyset Garner down, wrapping an arm around his neck. He cried “I can’t breathe,” lost consciousness and later died. The officer said he was using a legal takedown maneuver but critics said it was a chokehold, banned under NYPD policy. Pantaleo is white.

THE BOROUGHS:

Staten Island, where Garner died, is by far the least populated of the city’s five boroughs, with about 472,000 residents, the most conservative and least racially diverse, dominated by homeowners rather than renters, and home to many current and retired police officers. According to the 2010 census, it’s the only borough where non-Hispanic whites make up a majority — 64 percent. It had the lowest percentage of blacks at 9.5 percent. The borough leans Republican.

Brooklyn, where Gurley was killed, has 2.5 million people, and houses some of the wealthiest and poorest in the city. According to census figures, the borough is 36 percent non-Hispanic white, and 35 percent black. The median household income is $49,000. It contains areas with some of the highest crime rates in the city, and also the highest level of police involvement.

THE DISTRICT ATTORNEYS:

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson won a contentious race in 2013, displacing the longtime incumbent, and his tenure so far has been marked by a series of exonerations. The bulk of the cases stem from concerns about the investigative tactics of a now-retired detective. On Wednesday, Thompson said Liang’s case was not to be seen in the shadow of Garner. “This case has nothing to do with Ferguson or Eric Garner or any other case,” he said. “This case has to do with an innocent man who lost his life and a young New York City police officer who has now been charged with taking his life,” he said.

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan has held the job for a little over a decade. He is currently planning to run for the Congressional seat formerly occupied by disgraced Rep. Michael Grimm in a special election. Donovan asked for some details of the Garner grand jury to be released, but not a transcript of the minutes. The New York Civil Liberties Union and others asked a court to order Donovan to release the transcript, detailed descriptions of evidence and other documentation. A judge is weighing a request.

NOW WHAT:

Federal prosecutors are reviewing the Garner case, and the family has filed paperwork to sue the city.

Liang likely will face a judge, not a jury, and experts say it will be difficult to win a conviction because they will have to prove he knew there was a substantial risk of causing someone’s death and disregarded it to be convicted on the top charges. “It’s a very tough sell,” said Bennett Gershman, a Pace University law professor and former prosecutor. “I give the DA a lot of credit; it was a courageous use of authority here. Now comes the tough part. It’s easy to get a grand jury to indict; it’s quite different to win a conviction.” The family of Gurley also has filed paperwork to sue the city.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Black History

Alexandre Dumas: The French Author of ‘The Three Musketeers’

Alexandre Dumas wrote plays, both comedies and dramas. Scholars describe his writing as having a “heavy emphasis on plot; his primary skill as a writer consisted of his capacity to imagine and execute tales of breathtaking adventures that cause the reader to experience feelings of excitement.”

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Alexandre Dumas.Wikipedia.org image.
Alexandre Dumas.Wikipedia.org image.

By Tamara Shiloh

Best known for having penned the historical adventure novels “The Three Musketeers” (1844) and “The Count of Monte Cristo,” (1846) Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870) established himself as one of the most popular and prolific authors in France.

He wrote essays, short stories, volumes of romantic novels, plays, and travelogues, many having been translated into more than 100 languages and adapted for numerous films. But Dumas’ own story begins with his father, Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie.

Thomas-Alexandre adopted the Dumas name from his Haitian grandmother. He did so just prior to enlisting in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. He rose to the rank of general, the highest rank of any Black man in a European army. He would separate from the military after clashing with Bonaparte over his Egyptian Campaign.

The elder Dumas left Egypt in 1799 traveling on what was known to be an unsound vessel. The ship’s troubles forced it to put aground in Naples, a city in southern Italy. There Thomas-Alexandre Dumas was arrested, thrown into a dungeon, and held for two years.

After his release, he returned to France. The following year, Alexandre was born. Thomas-Alexandre died when his son was four.

Dumas’ mother, Marie Louise Labouret, took on several jobs to ensure that her son was educated. He attended Abbé Grégoire’s school, but later quit to take a job assisting a local notary.

He held such a great interest in reading and books that he relocated to Paris at age 20 to immerse himself in literature. There he met the duc d’Orléans (later named King Louis Philippe) and began working for him as a scribe. It was then that Dumas dreamed of publishing his own works.

He wrote plays, both comedies and dramas. Scholars describe his writing as having a “heavy emphasis on plot; his primary skill as a writer consisted of his capacity to imagine and execute tales of breathtaking adventures that cause the reader to experience feelings of excitement.”

Dumas’ style is often compared to that of his contemporary and rival Victor Hugo.

It is estimated that all his published writings, if placed in one document, would span about 100,000 pages.

Dumas did well financially, but his spending rivaled his earnings. He spent much of his life in debt because of his extravagant lifestyle. He built a home in the country himself (now a museum), but after two years of lavish living, financial difficulties forced him to sell it. Another downfall was that he kept several mistresses.

Dumas married actress Ida Ferrier (1840) yet continued to have relationships with other women. According to scholar Claude Schopp, Dumas entertained about 40 women and fathered at least four children outside of the marriage.

To escape creditors, Dumas fled to Belgium, then to Russia. Still, he published his work, including travel books on Russia. He continued to take on mistresses, including much younger women in his old age. He remained married to Ferrier until his death in 1870.

Suggested reading: “Alexandre Dumas: Genius of Life,” by Claude Schopp.

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Activism

Collaboration Key to Anti-Trafficking Efforts

According to District Attorney Lori Frugoli, community education is paramount in the work of the coalition. Student, parent, and teacher education is also something that MCCEHT strongly supports through the PROTECT program, coordinated with the Marin County Office of Education (MCOE). MCCEHT member Marlene Capra has worked with MCOE and the 3 Strands Global Foundation to keep efforts to stop human trafficking in the spotlight and teach residents and school educators about the realities of human trafficking.

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Many human trafficking victims are reluctant to report the crime as they are genuinely in fear for their life or that of their family.
Many human trafficking victims are reluctant to report the crime as they are genuinely in fear for their life or that of their family.

Local work t stop human exploitation coordinated through DA’s Office

Courtesy of Marin County

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the North Bay region and San Francisco are among the top sex trafficking areas in the United States. As the co-chair organization of the Marin County Coalition to End Human Trafficking (MCCEHT), the Marin County District Attorney’s Office is addressing the problem and working with partnering nonprofits and agencies to increase public awareness, prosecute those who commit the crimes, and put a halt to all types of slavery.

On Jan. 11, the Marin County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to proclaim the month of January as National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Jan. 11 happened to be Human Trafficking Awareness Day as well. Video of the presentation is on the County website (skip ahead to agenda item #4, Consent Calendar A).

The DA’s staff has worked closely with key stakeholders to make sure the red-flag warnings of human trafficking are widely known, even using advertisements at bus stops to urge people to speak up and report potential exploitation.

According to District Attorney Lori Frugoli, community education is paramount in the work of the coalition. Student, parent, and teacher education is also something that MCCEHT strongly supports through the PROTECT program, coordinated with the Marin County Office of Education (MCOE). MCCEHT member Marlene Capra has worked with MCOE and the 3 Strands Global Foundation to keep efforts to stop human trafficking in the spotlight and teach residents and school educators about the realities of human trafficking.

A new nonprofit created by Capra arose from her community work. SpeakSAFE, with SAFE meaning Save Adolescents from Exploitation, assists with local fundraising for educational efforts and has provided online learning opportunities during the pandemic.

“With our coalition, the DA’s Office [has] been extremely supportive and helpful in partnering on our work and connecting us with law enforcement, service providers and community members,” Capra said. “It really is all hands on deck, and their involvement has been pivotal. Our work has always been a priority with them in supporting our youth.”

Frugoli said human trafficking is difficult to detect and rarely reported. Many victims are moved from county to county or state to state, making the trafficker harder to follow and the victim feel isolated and unfamiliar with surroundings.

“Many victims are reluctant to report the crime as they are genuinely in fear for their life or that of their family,” Frugoli said. “Our coalition’s mission is to develop our regional collaborative approach to end all forms of human trafficking. We’ve focused our efforts on education and outreach advocacy. We have turned several cases over to state and federal authorities because the conduct occurred over multiple jurisdictions.”

Cecilia Zamora, Executive Director of the Latino Council and Co-Chair of MCCEHT, emphasized the need to have the coalition’s work be grounded in multicultural best practices, ensuring that the messaging and resources are shared with our thriving Latino communities across the county.

“We do this,” she said, “by successfully utilizing our nonprofit members as partners in the education and outreach to their own constituents.”

The Human Trafficking Prevention Education and Training Act (AB 1227) became California law in 2017 and provides a basis for localized anti-trafficking work. The MCCEHT Steering Committee meets monthly. MCCEHT’s quarterly online meeting on Jan. 19 will feature guest speaker Antonia Lavine of the San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking and County Supervisor Judy Arnold. The videoconference begins at 11 a.m., Spanish translation will be provided. Participation details are on the MCCEHT website.

Learn more about local anti-trafficking efforts via the PROTECT website or call the DA’s Office at (415) 473-6450.

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Black History

Fort Mose: The First Free Black Settlement

Fort Mose was the first free Black settlement in what is now the United States, and the only one known to have been sponsored by a European colonial government. Two Fort Mose sites eventually existed: one occupied by the Spanish (1737–1740) and the other by Blacks (1752–1763). Although living there was peaceful, the settlement was not immune to violent opposition.

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Fort Mose as it may have appeared in the 1700s. PBChistoryonline.org photo.
Fort Mose as it may have appeared in the 1700s. PBChistoryonline.org photo.Fort Mose as it may have appeared in the 1700s. PBChistoryonline.org photo.

By Tamara Shiloh

During the 18th century, Florida had become a haven for colonial South Carolina’s fugitive slaves. This was a result of the competition between Spain and Britain. Spain held a flexible attitude toward slaves and Black freedmen and thus encouraged British-owned slaves to escape to Florida. Such a move would inevitably destabilize British colonization in the north.

Runaway slaves crossed swamps and forestlands on foot. Help provided by Native Americans along the way created the first Underground Railroad. Parts of the journey were treacherous, and many did not survive. Those who reached St. Augustine, Fla., were granted asylum by the Spanish government: freedom in exchange for converting to Catholicism. Male slaves served a term of military service.

The first group seeking these freedoms arrived in 1687: eight men, two women, and a three-year-old child. By 1738, the numbers increased to more than 100. That’s when the fortified town of Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose (Fort Mose) was constructed on St. Augustine’s northernmost border. (A fortified town is one with strong defenses, usually a massive wall structure and inner citadels or strongholds.)

Fort Mose was the first free Black settlement in what is now the United States, and the only one known to have been sponsored by a European colonial government. Two Fort Mose sites eventually existed: one occupied by the Spanish (1737–1740) and the other by Blacks (1752–1763). Although living there was peaceful, the settlement was not immune to violent opposition.

A war broke out between England and Spain (The War of Jenkins’ Ear: 1740–1750). Citizens of St. Augustine and Fort Mose had suddenly found themselves involved in a conflict spanning three continents. This action of war was The Battle of Fort Mose (then dubbed Bloody Mose or Bloody Moosa).

The English employed thousands of soldiers and dozens of ships to destroy St. Augustine. All runaway slaves were to be returned to their former owners. A blockade was set up and the city was bombarded for 27 consecutive days. Those protecting St. Augustine and Fort Mose were hopelessly outnumbered. But that did not stop a group of Blacks, whites, and Native Americans from pulling together and fighting back.

Capt. Francisco Menéndez, a formerly enslaved African, led Fort Mose’s free Black militia in protecting St. Augustine. They lost the fort briefly but were able to recapture it, holding back English forces. In 1763, Spain ceded all of La Florida to England (Treaty of Paris). The citizens of Fort Mose once again faced enslavement. To maintain their freedom, they abandoned the fort for safety in Havana, Cuba, then a colony of Spain.

Fort Mose was demolished by the British during the War of 1812. As the years passed, the land was swallowed by marsh; the important legacy of its community was forgotten.

But later in the 20th century, a team of archaeologists, historians, government leaders, and citizens restored Fort Mose to its rightful place of honor.

Today, the location of the fort occupied by Blacks is recognized as a significant local, national, and international historic landmark.

Image: http://www.fortwiki.com/Fort_Mose

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