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Waiting for Justice

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Civil Rights ‘Cold Cases’ Drag On

Evangeline Moore holds photos of her parents, Florida civil rights activists Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore, in this 1999 file photo. (CHUCK KENNEDY/MCT)

Special to the NNPA from The Florida Courier

Juanita Evangeline Moore hates Christmas.

It was on Christmas night 1951 when her father, Harry T. Moore, was murdered instantly when a bomb placed by racists exploded under the family’s Mims home. Nine days later, her mother Harriette V. Moore died as a result of injuries sustained in the bombing.

The Moores were some of the earliest civil rights leaders in Florida and began their work in Brevard County. Harry Moore, a graduate of Bethune-Cookman College (now University), was the Florida state field secretary for the NAACP. He fought for equal pay for teachers, spoke out against violent atrocities against African-Americans, and registered thousands of voters.

At the time they were killed, Harry Moore, who also founded the Brevard County chapter of the NAACP, was registering large numbers of Blacks to vote and protesting the circumstances around a rape trial in Groveland – including the killings of two of the defendants by the Lake County sheriff.

Such activism, in a state still under the harsh rule of Jim Crow, drew the ire of the Ku Klux Klan.

Circumstantial Evidence

In 2006, Florida’s then-Attorney General Charlie Crist spoke about the Moores’ murders under a rambling oak tree just yards from where the Moore home stood, now the site of a cultural center honoring the couple.

Crist said strong circumstantial evidence – unearthed during a 20-month investigation – pointed to ultra-violent factions within the KKK “as being responsible for this horrible act.’’

In the Moore case, investigators interviewed more than 100 people and combed through 50 years of documents. The bombsite was even excavated, though it yielded no new evidence.

But the stories of witnesses did. They told of a particularly violent group of men who were working to squash the efforts of the Moores. Those implicated were Earl J. Brooklyn, Tillman H. Bevlin, Joseph N. Cox and Edward L. Spivey. Crist, who said others may have been involved, failed to elaborate on the roles each man played.

All Dead

Spivey reportedly confessed to investigators and an anonymous tipster before his death from cancer in 1980. But by that time, the case was nearly 30 years old and the other three men were long dead.

Bevlin died less than a year after the bombing, reportedly of natural causes. Brooklyn died on the attack’s one-year anniversary, and Cox committed suicide in 1952 – one day after an interview with the FBI about the case.

Investigators said Brooklyn and Bevlin had floor plans of the Moore home, and Cox may have been rewarded with a paid-off mortgage for participating in the crime. Spivey is believed to have been at the home on the night of the bombing.

‘Never Have Closure’

Sixty-three years later, Moore has given up hope that her parents will receive justice. She was praying that the four suspects in the killings would be formally named as suspects when she received a letter from the FBI telling her that investigators had been unable to find anything that would help them to definitively identify the culprits.

“I haven’t heard from them since. I guess I will never have closure,” said Moore, of New Carrollton, Maryland.

Moore, 84, is among hundreds of loved ones of men, women and children killed in decades-old civil rights cases who still yearn to have someone held accountable for the killings.

Congress Acts

In 2007, at the urging of civil rights activists, Congress passed the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act that was named for 14-year-old Emmett Till, a Chicago youth who, in 1955, was brutalized and killed by racists in Money, Miss. after he whistled at a White woman.

At a panel discussion Dec. 9 at Washington, D.C’s National Press Club, relatives of civil rights murder victims described their efforts to see done for their loved ones. The event was sponsored by the Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI) of the Syracuse University College of Law, one of a handful of university-based programs where law students investigate civil rights murders.

“For years, I didn’t know anything about what happened. I guess my mom didn’t want us to know what went on because we still live in that town,” said Darlene Morris-Newbill, 41, whose great grandfather, Frank Morris, died after he was set on fire by racists in Ferriday, La., in 1964. The case was investigated by the CCJI and turned its research over to the Department of Justice, which said it was unable to determine or prosecute a culprit.

Speakers urged Congress to extend the Till Act, which is set to expire in 2017. Under the act, Congress appropriated funding to the DOJ to investigate unsolved civil rights murder cases and, whenever possible, to bring killers to justice.

The panel included Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas); Emmett’s cousin, Thelma Edwards, who still remembers the night he was snatched from her parent’s home at gunpoint; Paul Delaney, a former editor at the New York Times who wrote extensively about civil rights murders; and Paula Johnson and Janis McDonald, the Syracuse law professors who co-direct the CCJI.

Avis Thomas-Lester of NNPA and the Washington Informer contributed to this report.

Commentary

Biden’s “Plan” to Address the Racial Wealth Gap Won’t Cut It. Only Reparations Can Do That

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 

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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris/ Featured Web

OPINION

On June 1, the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, President Joe Biden announced a plan to support Black homeownership and Black-owned businesses, which he said was aimed at closing the racial wealth gap between Black people and white people. The plan received praise from those who celebrated Biden’s apparent attempt to address the gap, which his administration has identified as a key policy goal.

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 

These are all great steps worth taking, but we shouldn’t pretend like they will do anything to meaningfully narrow the racial wealth gap. Only reparations can do that.

According to a recent New York Times piece by Duke University economist William Darity, the wealth gap between Black and white Americans ranges from somewhere between nearly $54,700 a person and $280,300 a person. 

Using the larger estimate, which Darity argues is more appropriate, the total racial wealth gap amounts to $11.2 trillion–“a figure that implies that incremental measures will not be sufficient” to close it, he wrote. 

Another 2016 study from the Institute for Policy Studies and the Corporation for Enterprise Development suggests that white households are worth nearly 20 times more than Black households on average, and that it would take 228 years for Black folks to catch up. That’s assuming white people’s collective wealth doesn’t increase at all during that time. 

And that was before our households and businesses took the devastating economic hit of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing discrimination in homeownership and supporting Black entrepreneurship are worthwhile policy endeavors. But we should be honest about what they represent in the grand scheme of things: At best, they are marginal steps in the right direction. And that’s not going to cut it. If we are serious about addressing the racial wealth gap, then we must get serious about reparations. There’s no way around it. The numbers speak for themselves.

If our elected officials aren’t prepared to go that route, fine — but we should stop letting them pretend like they are serious about the racial wealth gap. A gap created out of centuries of stolen labor, stolen land, and stolen wealth and resources can’t be addressed by a new housing policy or small business grant program.

During the 2020 campaign, then-candidate Biden said he supported H.R. 40, a bill that would commission a congressional study on reparations to determine what that could actually look like. The House passed the bill last year. Biden should push the Senate to pass it, too–and then sign it. 

And even that would only be the beginning.

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Featured

Karine Jean-Pierre Makes History as First Openly Gay Person to Lead White House Press Briefing

Jean-Pierre got her start in politics as an activist, and later as a political commentator for MSNBC. She was chief public affairs officer at MoveOn.org — a website that allows people to circulate petitions for progressive causes online — and worked on the Reproductive Freedom Initiative campaign at the ACLU

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Karine Jean-Pierre/ Wikimedia Commons

Karine Jean-Pierre, who serves as White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary for the Biden administration, made history in late May, just ahead of Pride month, as the first openly gay person to lead the daily White House press briefing. Pierre, 43, was also the first Black woman to lead the briefing in 30 years. 

Jean-Pierre got her start in politics as an activist, and later as a political commentator for MSNBC. She was chief public affairs officer at MoveOn.org — a website that allows people to circulate petitions for progressive causes online — and worked on the Reproductive Freedom Initiative campaign at the ACLU. Jean-Pierre later served on presidential campaigns for former President Barack Obama and 2016 Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley. She was also senior adviser for the Biden campaign and chief of staff for Kamala Harris. Jean-Pierre was born in Martinique to Haitian parents but grew up in Queens, N.Y.

“It’s a real honor to be standing here today. I appreciate the historic nature. I really do. But I believe that…being behind this podium, being in this room, being in this building is not about one person. It’s about what we do on behalf of the American people,” said Jean-Pierre.

The first Black woman White House spokesperson was Judy Smith, who served under President George H.W. Bush, beginning in 1991. Jean-Pierre is a part of Biden’s all-female White House senior communications team of seven women — many of them women of color.

Jean-Pierre has held several press gaggles — or informal briefings on Air Force One for journalists traveling with the president. She often represents the Biden administration on cable news shows. Her briefing came as Jennifer Psaki, Biden’s current press secretary, has said that she plans to step down from her position next year. Jean-Pierre is seen as a potential replacement.

“This is not about me. This is not about any of us. And anytime I’m behind here, and I think you’ve progressive

progressive causesheard Jen say this as well — we are going to be truthful. We are going to be transparent as well,” Jean-Pierre said.

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Commentary

Will Alameda’s Rob Bonta Save Assault Weapons Ban and Make His Mark?

Instead of strengthening or fixing the law, federal judge Roger Benitez, a Bush appointee based in Southern California, just declared it unconstitutional on June 4.

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What Is Picture Perfect/ Unsplash

When was the last time you heard about an assault weapon wreaking havoc in California? How about two weeks ago in San Jose when nine innocent lives were lost when they were shot and killed by a disgruntled white male who had a problem with diversity. 

Technically, the weapon used wasn’t an assault rifle, but a 9mm pistol jacked up with a high capacity magazine. Still, it’s illegal in California. The point is, there are laws and there are loopholes. But it’s no reason to get rid of California’s assault weapons ban, the first such law in the nation. 

Instead of strengthening or fixing the law, federal judge Roger Benitez, a Bush appointee based in Southern California, just declared it unconstitutional on June 4.

And now, the ban that Asian Americans as victims brought 32 years ago in California will need the new Asian American Filipino attorney general to show his true mettle to make sure he reverses the judge and stays the law.

Bet you didn’t know there even was such a ban in California? Yep, and in states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, and Massachusetts, as well as Wash., D.C.

There was even a ban in place for a brief time nationwide.

The pro-gun logic of the judge essentially was that since people in other states could get assault weapons and the ban hasn’t stopped mass shootings, what good was the law? “A 30-year-old failed experiment,” said Benitez, who called the AR-15 assault weapons “fairly ordinary, popular modern rifles.” For example, the law allowed those who owned assault weapons before the ban to register their guns. To date, there are 185,569 assault weapons in the state even with a ban.

But popularity doesn’t make them benign.

Benitez even compared the AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife as “a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.”

That’s such a strange comparison.

I have a small Swiss Army knife that comes with a toothpick and tweezers. I’ve never seen an AR-15 come with either. Does that make the SA knife the superior tool?

Of course, you’re not really looking to pick the spinach off anyone’s teeth, nor pluck a splinter from a finger, with an AR-15. It’s a weapon with one purpose— to kill. And keep killing. Fast.

Not just one, but many. E pluribus Mass Shootings.

That makes the comparison to a Swiss Army anything absurd. But the judge piled it on. He added that knives kill seven times more people in California than rifles do. Maybe. But around the nation, assault rifles are the death-per-minute king.

The AR-15 was used at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in 2016, when 49 people were killed. In Las Vegas, an AR-15 was used to kill 58 people at an outdoor concert in 2017.

Imagine the killings in California if the state ban wasn’t in place. That’s an unknowable statistic. But the most important one. 

Without the ban, is there any doubt deaths by assault rifles would rise? More assault rifles. More incidents. More deaths per minute. 

Asian Victims Brought on Ban

The reason we have the law in the first place was because of a school shooting in 1989 in Stockton when Patrick Purdy killed five children of Southeast Asian refugees and wounded 30 others.

Purdy, a 25-year-old unemployed welder was reported to have said he hated Vietnamese immigrants, whom he believed were stealing jobs from native-born Americans. He was also fond of carrying a book from the white supremacy group, Aryan Nations.

That was his book of choice. But his gun of choice was an assault-style weapon, not the AR-15, but a Chinese-made AK-47. On Jan. 17, 1989, Purdy went to the Cleveland School and fired 106 rounds in three minutes, before taking a pistol and shooting himself in the head.

Because of that crime, the state passed the nation’s first assault weapons ban, signed by a Republican governor, George Deukmejian. What a different time. It seems like such a normal reaction. Nowadays, the deaths at Sandy Hook or Parkland  schools aren’t enough to get any law passed, and we fight over gadgets that make regular guns emulate semi-automatic weapons. 

Bonta to the Rescue?

Enter Rob Bonta, Oakland’s former state Assemblyman, a little more than a month into his new job as state Attorney General. He’s called the decision “fundamentally flawed” and now has 30 days to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. From there, whatever the decision, the case will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the constitutional right to have assault weapons.

I imagine the six conservative justices are dying to inject some steroids into the Second Amendment.

But this could also be the case where Bonta, the pride of the Filipino American community, gets to showcase his mettle on a national scale. After just being appointed, he’s already thrust into campaign mode and has at least one strong victims’ rights candidate, vying for his job.

This could be a big-time moment for him and for us. Let’s hope he’s up for the polarizing fight against a gun lobby that twists the 2nd Amendment and forces us to live with unwanted and excessive violence.

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