August 04, 2013

Jesse Jackson's updated slogan: "I am somebody... who misleads, inflames."


Jesse Jackson inspired generations with his mantra: “I am somebody.”

But these days, as he spouts misleading statistics and over-the-top rhetoric about Florida and gun violence, three alternatives to his famous slogan come to mind:

I am misleading.

I am inflammatory.

I am counterproductive.

While his call to fight racial injustice is righteous, Jackson’s tactics haven’t done much to help the Dream Defenders protestors, who have occupied a part of the Florida Capitol outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office in opposition to Florida’s Stand Your Ground self-defense law.

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August 03, 2013

Rap star Talib Kweli plans to visit Dream Defender protest outside Rick Scott's office


First, it was a Tweet from the rapper Nas.

Then legendary entertainer and civil-rights activist Harry Belafonte paid a visit to the Miami-based youth activists known as the Dream Defenders, who have spent nearly three weeks camped outside Gov. Rick Scott's office.

Then came Jesse Jackson, followed by activist and poet Kevin Powell.

Now Talib Kweli, one of the biggest names in thoughtful rap is planning to come by Thursday and lend his support, according to the group's organizer, Phillip Agnew.

The Dream Defenders have demanded Scott call a special session to address the Stand Your Ground self-defense law, racial profiling and the school-to-prison pipeline. They don't care that Scott has refused. The Dream Defenders say they won't leave until their demands are met.

Yesterday, some of their nonviolent protesting paid off when the House announced hearings into the self-defense law connected to the shooting death of Miami Gardens 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

The Dream Defenders, who began their protest July 16, three days after George Zimmerman's not guilty verdict in the case, has been allowed to stay in the Capitol on nights and weekends, though the number of protesters has been dwindling in recent days.

Visits like Talib Kweli's, and press from Michael Skolnik's Global Grind, are a must to help keep the group's message in the media and in the public.  (One Talib Kweil line from an old tracks, "Sharp Shooters," is particularly apt: "Know your gun laws.")

So the Dream Defenders might be there for the long haul. At this rate, the group could be in the Capitol until the first Tuesday in March, when the regular legislative session begins. And chances are slim that the Republican-controlled Legislature will change Stand Your Ground or reform the prison system amid protests from liberal-leaning activists.

But stranger things have happened.

--with Kathleen McGrory

July 29, 2013

Trayvon's mom: Stand Your Ground helped Zimmerman 'get away with murder'


The mother of Trayvon Martin said Monday that she believed Florida’s Stand Your Ground law played a role in son’s shooting death, but she wasn’t ready to back a boycott of the state for not changing the self-defense law.

“The thing about this law is I just think it assisted the person who killed my son to get away with murder,” Sybrina Fulton, the mother of the 17-year-old from Miami Gardens said at a National Bar Association event in Miami Beach.

“I think we have to change these laws so people don’t get away with murder,” she said, adding that her son was unarmed and peacefully walking back to his dad’s place when he was pursued initially by George Zimmerman.

Zimmerman successfully pleaded self defense in the killing when a jury acquitted him July 13 in Sanford.

But the exact role of Stand Your Ground in the case isn’t clear. Only two jurors have spoken up to CNN and ABC, and just one referenced the law, which allows a person to more easily use deadly force without having to first retreat in a confrontation.

Zimmerman’s legal team didn’t focus on mounting a Stand Your Ground defense, however, saying that a common self-defense justification was all the 29-year-old man needed because he reasonably feared that Trayvon, who jumped him, was going to gravely injure him during a fistfight.

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July 28, 2013

Rick Scott likely on safe ground backing Stand Your Ground


Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t want to change Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, and public opinion polls and even Democrats indicate the Republican might be on safe political ground.

The self-defense law became central to the nation’s political debate over guns after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in last year’s shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old from Miami Gardens.

A group of liberal-leaning protesters has occupied the governor’s office lobby calling for immediate changes to Stand Your Ground, echoing calls from activist and MSNBC host Al Sharpton.

But the exact role of Stand Your Ground in the verdict is unclear, and a new poll released last week showed 50 percent of Floridians support keeping the law intact, 31 percent want it changed and only 13 percent want a full repeal.

Though the poll was conducted by a Republican-led firm, Viewpoint Florida, the findings jibe with four other nonpartisan Florida surveys that have shown even greater support for the self-defense law, which gives a person more rights to use deadly force without having to retreat first in a confrontation.

The three Democrats who have the best shot at facing Scott in next year’s election say the law should be modified — not repealed — but they aren’t making Stand Your Ground a top issue, either.

“I don’t think it’s the litmus test for the election,” said former state Sen. Nan Rich, the only major announced candidate.

“There should be a discussion about it,” said Rich, who met Saturday with the Dream Defenders in Tallahassee. “But it’s not a litmus issue.”

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July 25, 2013

Sen. Bill Nelson: change Stand Your Ground, Florida


Florida Sen. Bill Nelson appeared on MSNBC today and spoke with Andrea Mitchell about the self-defense law connected to Trayvon Martin's shooting last year by George Zimmerman, who was acquitted July 13 of second-degree murder.

Nelson, a Democrat, has repeatedly downplayed calls for him to run for governor against Republican Rick Scott, but interviews like this make you wonder.

The transcript:

MITCHELL: I want to just give you a quick chance to speak back to … the leader of the Urban League, who believes that Stand Your Ground laws really do lead to more violence. You’re not going to take, or take a position, I should say, on the Florida law ?

NELSON:  Oh, indeed I do.  I think the Florida law ought to be changed.  I think where there are the extreme cases – for example, a guy gets into a fight, he leaves, goes to his car, gets a gun, and comes back and kills the person he was fighting – to use Stand Your Ground in that circumstance is ridiculous.  And yet, in 200 cases in my state of Florida, they go all over the waterfront as to how they’ve been adjudicated, and so I think the law needs to be considerably tightened.  And since it’s in about two dozen states, you’re not going to wipe out the laws – maybe down the road we do need to change these and completely eliminate them – but in the meantime, they need to be severely constricted.

MITCHELL: Senator Bill Nelson, thank you very much.

NELSON: Thanks, Andrea.

July 24, 2013

Poll: Republicans like George Zimmerman more than President Obama. Independents not far behind


Fox News just released a nationwide poll that reflects many others by finding voters are unhappy with the economy and want Obamacare repealed.

But what's truly eye-opening are the comparisons of partisan opinions of President Barack Obama and George Zimmerman, who was acquitted July 13 of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges for shooting unarmed Miami Gardens 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012.

Republicans have a more-favorable opinion of Zimmerman, a figure of sympathy to a number of conservatives, than Obama. That's right: The Democratic occupant of the White House is held in less favorable regard by Republicans than the guy who shot an unarmed teenager and successfully pleaded self-defense.

Specifically: Republicans are two-and-a-half times more-likely to have a favorable opinion of Zimmerman than Obama. And they're almost three-times more likely to have an unfavorable opinion of Obama than Zimmerman.

Republicans, with independents siding more with them, also agree with the verdict more than Democrats (who disagree with it). There's also a clear racial divide, with blacks disagreeing most-strongly with the verdict than whites. African-Americans are more likely to see race as a major factor in the case.

Asked for whether they rate these people as favorable or unfavorable, here's how GOP respondents answered the pollster:

Obama: 18-79% favorable-unfavorable

Zimmerman: 45-27% fav-unfav

But independents aren't far behind Republicans.

Among them, Zimmerman's fav-unfav: 28-34%. Obama: 30-60. So while independents narrowly liked Obama more, they disliked him by an even greater margin.

Overall, Obama beat out Zimmerman with a 50-46% rating for the president, thanks to strong Democratic support (88-11%). Overall, Zimmerman's fav-unfav is 28-43%, due largely to extreme Democratic dislike (his fav-unfav among them: 14-64%).

This fav-unfav question, incidentally, is an apples-to-apples question. Earlier in the poll, respondents were asked to rate their approval or disapproval of the president's job performance. The overall numbers: 46-47%. (Dem: 84-12%. GOP: 14-82%. Ind: 25-60%).

The other Zimmerman-trial questions exposed also exposed a partisan divide. There's an even bigger racial gap as well.

The verdict, agree-disagree?
Overall: 49-40
Dem: 26-64.
Rep: 73-18.
Ind: 57-29.
White: 56-31.
Black: 10-87

Was race the single-most important factor, one of several important factors or not an important factor?

Overall: 19-34-36
Dem: 36-36-23
Rep: 8-31-51
Ind: 9-35-41
White: 14-36-39
Black 54-28-12

Bring civil rights charges, yes-no?
Overall 28-66
Dem: 48-47
Rep: 14-82
Ind: 15-76
White: 20-74
Black: 77-22



July 23, 2013

Sen. Smith vs. Uncle Luke: the perils of black politics, blogging, Stand Your Ground and being Mr. "Smith"


SmithBeware of looking up legislative votes. It's a tricky business. Especially if you're going to go after someone with the last name of Smith.

Luther Campbell, the rapper-turned-media-figure-turned-commentator, learned that Tuesday when he plugged a new Twitter handle, @UncleLukesEmpir, that linked to this scorching blog post on his website: Barack Obama Needs to Raise Money to Nail Sorry Black Politicians.

The post is a good example of the strong emotions in the black community over George Zimmerman's acquittal in shooting Trayvon Martin, and it underscores a focal point of the outrage: the Stand Your Ground self-defense law. Campbell offered to target those African-American pols who should be on a political "hit list" for having voted for Stand Your Ground in 2005:

"I'll start with U.S. Rep Frederica Wilson and state Sen. Chris Smith, two South Florida African-American pols who voted for the controversial law in 2005. Wilson, who at the time was a state senator, and Smith now claim they would have voted differently because they never imagined someone would invoke Stand Your Ground to kill an unarmed 17-year-old black boy."


Those of us who covered Tallahassee at the time knew there was a problem with that: Smith voted against Stand Your Ground.

So I trolled Uncle Luke on Twitter (repaying the favor for his sometime-Miami Herald bashing) and noted the error by including a link to the vote sheet. Smith was more-circumspect in his Tweet that followed: "Please check your records, I argued against and voted against Stand Your Ground in 2005."

But whoever was manning @UncleLukesEmpir wasn't ready to give in and made the mistake of compounding the error. "Smith is yr name, I see a Y. This is the government site Stop misleading the people," the reply read, providing a link to the state Senate vote.


Wrong chamber. Wrong Smith.

Sen. Smith Tweeted back: "I was in the house of representatives. You are looking at The Senate. Please educate yourself."

The current Fort Lauderdale senator, the Democrats' leader in his chamber, is right.

In 2005, Chris Smith was a state representative. The Smith in the state Senate was Alachua Democrat Rod Smith, who seldom met a gun-rights bill that he didn't back. Smith, who went on to unsuccessfully run for governor and then lieutenant governor and then served as Florida Democratic Party chair, helped persuade his colleagues in the state Senate to vote for the Stand Your Ground bill (which includes now U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson).

Smith told The Herald he called Campbell.

"I was like, dude! I’ve got every 2 Live Cru album in my house! Why is Uncle Luke getting into a Twitter war with me?" Smith said.

The real Campbell, Tweeting from his @unclelukereal1 handle, acknowledged the error. First he told me that and said his staff would get "an earful." I noted he'd definitely get us back when we screw up. Campbell's response: "you know I will lol only person over there get the pass is Jackie Charles." (He also referenced "Audra," which probably refers to Audra Burch).

Campbell then manned up some more: "in my blog today I said that representative Smith voted for standing your ground I was incorrect he an 5 others voted no." (Not sure what the "5" is. Six other black House lawmakers were part of the 20 total no votes, all from Democrats.)

Smith appreciated it. Welcome to blogging about national politics, Uncle Luke.

July 22, 2013

Poll shows vast racial divide between blacks and whites over Trayvon, Zimmerman, justice system


American public opinion about race, the justice system and George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin are as starkly different as black and white, a new poll shows.

African-Americans disapproved of Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict 86-9 percent and  Hispanics disapproved 50-24 percent, according to Langer Research Associates national survey conducted for ABC News and the Washington Post.

Non-Hispanic whites approved of the jury’s decision 51-31 percent.

By an 81-13 percent split, blacks support brining federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, 58 percent of Hispanics support the idea.

But whites are opposed to any civil-rights charge. Only 27 percent favor it, 59 percent oppose.

The poll of more than 1,002 people was being conducted at the same time President Obama unexpectedly gave a White House speech Friday in reaction to Zimmerman's not guilty verdict. Obama steered clear of talking about a federal civil-rights probe, launched by his attorney general, and focused instead on the realities and perceptions of race and justice.

"I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away," Obama said, noting the ravages of black-on-black crime and the problem of racial profiling.

The poll indicates that racial division is deep. It was also in general perceptions of the fairness of the justice system, with 86 percent of blacks and 60 percent of Hispanics saying minorities don’t receive fair treatment.

Only 41 percent of whites shared the view.

Younger people, liberals and Democrats tended to be more in line with African-Americans, a key Democratic constituency. The elderly were more in line with whites, Republicans and conservatives, who tend to be overwhelmingly white in the first place.

White public opinion shifted decidedly in favor of Zimmerman since the last poll on the topic in April 2012.

Back then, at the height of public pressure calling for Zimmerman's arrest, only 5 percent of whites felt Zimmerman’s shooting of the Miami Gardens teen was justified. That percentage soared in this poll to 33 percent – the same percentage of whites who now think the shooting was unjustified.

Here’s the poll Download 1150a1TheMartinZimmermanCase

July 19, 2013

July 17, 2013

The shocking racial Stand Your Ground-related case in Port St. Joe


As Florida’s Stand Your Ground self-defense law goes on trial in the court of public opinion, more lethal force cases – especially those involving race -- are again making national headlines.

There’s the case of Marissa Alexander, sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot at her husband. And there’s the case of Michael Dunn, accused of first-degree murder in the July 30, 2012 shooting death of an unarmed teenager. Mother Jones branded it the "Next Trayvon Martin Case."

Here’s a shocking case has been barely mentioned: The killing of a 32-year-old black man named Everett Gant by 60-year-old Walter Butler in Port St. Joe, an old Florida Panhandle town.

Butler, who allegedly used the n-word to describe both the victim and a child in the neighborhood, is seeking immunity from prosecution under Stand Your Ground. He has a court hearing in September.

The prosecutor, Bob Sombathy, said Butler does not have much to stand on. He said Butler, charged with second-degree murder, "laid in wait" with a .22 rifle for Gant, who was coming over with a friend to discuss Butler's racist comments to a kid in the neighborhood.

"Someone opened the door and Butler shot him in the eye," Sombathy said. "There were no real words exchanged, no threats."

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